Levy, Mulligan, Café Society, Gaines and Price

Many years ago I was in contact with Albert Goldman, the celebrity biographer. During one conversation in the early 90s, he said he was between projects. I suggested that he do a biography of Morris Levy and he replied that he had considered it but “Nobody will talk”.
With GODFATHER OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS: Morris Levy by Richard Carlin (University Press of Mississippi, 2016) we have, at last, the book that couldn’t be written. The work is thorough and well researched. It is also even-handed in that Levy’s accomplishments are well delineated in addition to his associations and scams. Carlin makes it very clear that Levy’s reputation rested on the fact that his word was his bond.

Levy came up as a teen aged hat-check concessionaire in a number of New York nightclubs in the immediate post-WWII era. By 1949, at the age of twenty-two, he was the co-owner of Birdland, the famed “Jazz Corner of the World”, on Broadway just north of 52d Street. We learn some things we didn’t know: the club was NOT named for Charlie Parker and Levy’s brother, Irving, who was murdered at the club, was not the subject of a mob hit. While this is an example of solid investigative work by Carlin, the section is marred by the misidentification of Pee Wee Marquette in two separate photos.

By the mid-1950s, Birdland had its own radio show, began a touring show in the image of JATP and opened a second club in Miami. Within a short period of time, Levy opened two more nightclubs: The Roundtable and The Embers. He began a long career in music publishing with his first copyright, “Lullaby of Birdland”.

Levy also took over management of Alan Freed, the disc jockey who introduced rock ‘n’ roll to the world. He helped launch the series of Freed concerts at various New York theaters which became enormously successful. He got Freed a national radio show The Camel Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance Party, complete with a sponsor! After a couple of aborted attempts, he entered the record business with Roulette Records in 1957. For the first few years, Roulette was a powerhouse in jazz (Count Basie, Maynard Ferguson, Sarah Vaughan) and pop (Buddy Knox, Jimmy Bowen, Jimmy Rodgers). When Birdland closed in 1964, Levy lost interest in jazz and concentrated on his record business.

With Roulette, we see the more active involvement of the Mob, in this case the Genovese family. Carlin is very good at identifying who the characters were but he should have made the distinction that these guys were in no way involved with the operation of the label. Roulette continued to have success in the 60s with Joey Dee and Tommy James but Levy also developed a chain of retail record stores, Strawberries, and was involved in the cut-out business with PROMO records a firm that sold manufacturers deletions and overstock. One area that Carlin missed was the counterfeiting of LPs that was endemic in the late ‘70s.
Because of his associations and “tough guy” stance, Levy was pursued by law enforcement for most of his professional career. In the mid-1980s, they finally got him. There is a heavily detailed discussion of his legal difficulties which led to his 1988 conviction. In the wake of that, Levy began to divest himself of most of his businesses. He also developed colon cancer and passed away in 1990.

Carlin has done an exceptional job in telling the Levy story. Highly recommended.


The fourth volume in the Hal Leonard Jazz Biography series is JERU’S JOURNEY by Sanford Josephson. There have been several previous books on Mulligan and this one has some strengths and weaknesses. Josephson is clearly more interested in Mulligan’s composing and arranging than his work as a blowing soloist. There is no mention of his playing on sessions for Roost and New Jazz in 1949, dates that took place during the same period that the Birth of the Cool sessions were being recorded. His playing on records by Kai Winding, Dave Lambert and Chubby Jackson were likely the first time people were aware of Mulligan as Mulligan.
Considering their celebrity, the Miles Davis and Concert Jazz Band albums rightfully have most of the space but it would have been nice to have a mention of his Prestige Quintet album and the album co-led with Ben Webster. There is a valuable discussion of the quartet with Art Farmer, one of Mulligan’s favorite groups, but I missed not having more about the sextet with Zoot.

There is plenty on Judy Holiday and a little on Sandy Dennis but the most important woman in Mulligan’s life was Contessa Franca Rota. They first met in 1974 and were married in 1982. She was the indispensable navigator of Mulligan’s last years. This late period is the best part of the book.

On balance, this is an above average job. There are photos, an index and an album discography. Another twenty pages to cover those topics left out would have made this a better book. BTW, Josephson in two spots suggests that Mulligan is the first soloist on Billie Holliday’s “Fine And Mellow” from The Sound of Jazz. Has he ever seen it?


CAFÉ SOCIETY: The Wrong Place for The Right People by Barney Josephson and Terry Trilling-Josephson (University of Illinois Press, 2009) is accurately titled. The story of the two fabled New York City nightspots is told in Barney’s words edited by his wife. Café Society Downtown was opened December 1938 and its Uptown sibling twenty-two months later. The entertainment policy was that of a revue: band, singer, comedian, etc. Among the major performers in the early years were Albert Ammons-Pete Johnson-Meade Lux Lewis, Big Joe Turner, Frankie Newton and Billie Holiday. It was at Café Society where Holiday first performed “Strange Fruit” and there is a considerable amount of discussion of this song and how it developed. Other stars that were developed through Café Society appearances included Jack Gilford, Hazel Scott, Zero Mostel, Josh White and the Golden Gate Quartet.

Josephson was not a music man and relied on the suggestions of John Hammond. He shared Hammond’s left-of-center political leanings. Audience integration was the policy at Café Society from day one at a time when this was not the case in most New York clubs. By most accounts Josephson was a good businessman, a respected boss and a successful entrepreneur.
Cafe Society Uptown, always a slightly more upscale place, folded in December 1947. Josephson was savaged by the gossip columnists. His business counted on mentions in the press for publicity but the very writers who loved his clubs turned on him when his brother Leon, an avowed Communist, was brought to trial for Contempt of Congress. Downtown held on for another eighteen months.

In 1951, he returned to the business with The Cookery. Initially three different locations none of which had entertainment, the location at University and Eighth Street proved to be the most popular and by 1955, Josephson had coordinated all his activities there. In 1970, Mary Lou Williams talked him into starting an entertainment policy and Josephson was back in the nightclub business again. Helen Humes, Susannah McCorkle and the incomparable Alberta Hunter are among the singers associated with The Cookery. The Cookery closed in 1984 and Josephson died in 1988. His was a life well-lived and this book is a story well told. Photos and an index. Recommended.

I”VE BEEN OUT THERE by Grady Gaines with Rod Evans (Texas A&M University Press, 2015) is a slim volume devoted to the life of Gaines (1934-), a Texas tenor player in the R&B field. Gaines was best known as the leader of the Texas Upsetters, the band that played for Little Richard in his halcyon years and later backed Sam Cooke. Along the way we meet men such as Calvin Owens, Clarence Holiman, Joe Tex and many others with whom Gaines was associated. His brother Roy, a splendid guitarist, is still active. Tall and handsome, Gaines was constantly pursued by women of all shapes and sizes.

Houston was his base of activity and we note that players such as Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb were held in the highest esteem by Gaines and his cohorts. We also learn much about the R&B circuit and the travails of being a bandleader. Gaines made few recordings under his own name but those done for the Black Top label in the 1980s are excellent examples of his abilities.

Readers with an interest in the R&B business will enjoy this. Lots of photos and an index.


We do not get serviced with review copies all that frequently so we often spend our own money on books that look as though they would appeal to the membership. Generally, we are pretty good at finding interesting items but sometimes we come across clunkers.
The most annoying purchase in quite a while was SUMDUMHONKY by Lloyd Price. Price had an interesting, hit-making, career from the early 1950s when he hit with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” through the mid-1960s. He led a great big band in the 1960s, one virtually forgotten today. He managed to hold on to his money.

Most of this is just rant against white people. His music, after the early years, is not discussed. His ignorance of music history is in full flower and he is the hero, the only one, of all his stories. NOT RECOMMENDED.

FINDING SON HOUSE: One Searcher’s Story by Richard Shade Gardner is a pamphlet-length work devoted to the great Mississippi born blues man. The title is misleading in the sense that the discovery of House by Dick Waterman and company had been accomplished in 1964. This is about the author’s discovery of House many years later. As such it tells us less about House and more about the author, not a good idea. There are a few photos but to demonstrate where the author is coming from consider that the selected discography, quite good, is joined by title listings from two Rolling Stones album and another two from The Beatles.

Do Not Sell At Any Price, Van Ronk, Levey and C.L. Franklin

Many years ago while visiting Jack’s Record Cellar in San Francisco, I was engaged in a conversation with Norman Pierce, the proprietor, when all of a sudden he stopped. He looked around the room, eyeing his stock, and declared that he had decided to cut the price of LPs in half and double the price of 78s. When asked about the decision and why he would do such a crazy thing, he replied that “LPs weren’t really records”.

Doubtless, some of us have entertained that thought for a moment, however brief. In DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE by Amanda Petrusich (Simon and Schuster, 2014) we come into contact with collectors, who not only believe it, but don’t think that it is a crazy idea. Why a seemingly normal woman would end up chasing the rarest Paramount 78s with obsessed collectors such as John Heneghan, Christopher King, John Tefteller, Pete Whelan and Joe Bussard makes for a fascinating tale.

Eccentricity is the norm amongst these mostly blues, folk and country collectors. Ms. Petrusich attended The Collectors Bash one year, early in her quest, and came away relatively unscathed but I wonder how she would have dealt with likes of Ken Crawford, Jerry Valburn or Harold Flaxer. In my early years as a collector, I was introduced to Bill Russell, Merrill Hammond and Boris Rose-all imminently reasonable people. But the more I think about it, perhaps the word reasonable no longer applies to collectors. Perhaps it never did. Recommended.

Dave Van Ronk thought of himself as a failed traditional jazz player. After years of perseverance, he emerged as one of the finest folk/blues stylists of the late 20th century and someone who, more than any other, was a reminder of the folk music boom that swept New York and later the whole country in the early 60s. Van Ronk died in 2002 prior to the completion of THE MAYOR OF MacDOUGAL STREET so the work was tied together in expert fashion by Elijah Wald. Originally published in 2005, the paperback which followed a year later has now been reissued courtesy of Da Capo Press.

Van Ronk’s own singing wears very well fifty years after its heyday. During his first brush with fame, he recorded three albums for Prestige Folklore-one with The Red Onion Jazz Band-and there are some interesting negotiations with Bob Weinstock included. There are also very revealing portraits of young Bob Dylan, a just as young Joni Mitchell, a never young Moe Asch and other assorted hustlers, boosters and good guys. As one might suspect, Van Ronk is a wonderful story teller. Recommended.

STAN LEVEY: JAZZ HEAVYWEIGHT by Frank R. Hayde (Santa Monica Press, 2016) is the best biography of a jazz musician in quite a while. A slim volume, it is 224 pages including index and discography (plus a nice selection of photos) and there is not a wasted word to be had. The work alternates between Levey’s first-hand accounts and the author’s third person narrative. It is a seamless linkage and one that should serve as a model for other such endeavors. The title refers not only to his percussive ability but the fact that he was a boxer who fought professionally for several years.

It is easy to forget Levey when discussing modern jazz drummers because he retired in 1973. Consider the fact that he was a part of the Dizzy Gillespie Rebop Six that brought modern jazz to Los Angeles in late 1945 and also was a key contributor to the 1953 Stan Kenton band. He was not as ubiquitous as Shelly Manne on LA sessions but he was on lots of great Bethlehem albums (including two of his own) from 1954-1956 and also recorded with Stan Getz, Ben Webster, Bill Harris and Chet Baker.

As one might surmise, given his pugilistic abilities, Levey pulls no punches. He provides warts and all encounters with Charlie Parker (with whom he roomed in New York), Ben Webster, Sonny Stitt, Al Haig and more. He is frank about his drug use and the prison time he served.

The one good guy, throughout, is his old Philadelphia pal, Gillespie. As his career involved more and more commercial music, Levey decided to get out and work on his career as a photographer. Diagnosed with cancer in 1988, he undertook a risky operation, survived, and lived another seventeen years.
The best kind of jazz reading is a book that provides plenty of information you didn’t previously have but also makes you reassess things you did know. STAN LEVEY: JAZZ HEAVYWEIGHT is such a book. Highly recommended.

SINGING IN A STRANGE LAND by Nick Salvatore (University of Illinois Press, 2006) is a biography of the Reverend C. L. Franklin, father to Erma, Carolyn and Aretha Franklin and one of the truly legendary preachers of the black Baptist church. The biography follows Franklin from his humble Mississippi roots to pastoral duties in Memphis (where Aretha was born), Buffalo and Detroit where he presided at New Bethel Baptist Church for more than thirty years.

To a certain extent, prominent preachers were treated like star entertainers by their constituents. Their choice of vehicle, the cut of their clothes and their circle of friends all reflected the success of their endeavors. His recorded sermons were in great demand and he recorded fifty-eight LPs (as well as fifteen 78rpm albums) worth of sermons for Chess. Record sales helped make Franklin a wealthy man. There is a considerable discussion of “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest”, his most famous sermon, one that he repeated on many occasions.

His involvement with civil rights brought him into contact with major political figures. He generally avoided mixing in local Detroit politics but he would endorse candidates when he felt it appropriate. Like many other preachers, Franklin also liked the ladies. While there is not a lot of detail, his peccadilloes are noted rather than avoided. He was friendly with major entertainers such as Lionel Hampton, Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Arthur Prysock-many of whom stayed at his mansion while working the Motor City.

Franklin was shot during a home invasion in 1979 and while he lived until 1984, he was never the same. There will never be another one like him. Recommended.
BTW, I found this at a Barnes & Noble stocked with new editions so it is probably still available


Rumor has it that Zoot Sims, when asked about Stan Getz, replied that he thought of him as “a nice bunch of guys”. Much the same thing could probably be said about Charles Lloyd. In CHARLES LLOYD: A WILD, BLATANT TRUTH by Josef Woodard (Silman-James Press, 2015) he is revealed to be someone who works, even thinks, in strange, unconventional ways.

Born in Memphis in 1938, he was one of the last of his generation to get a jazz vibe from the Bluff City. Among his contemporaries were Harold Mabern, Frank Strozier and Booker Little. By the mid-50s, those worthies had departed Memphis as rockabilly and soul music engulfed the city. Lloyd went to the University of Southern California and quickly immersed himself in the musical scene in Los Angeles.
His descriptions of that scene are a bit discursive and difficult to evaluate due to the compression of facts but Lloyd did hook up with Chico Hamilton and made some memorable music on albums such as Passin’ Through (Impulse) and Man From Two Worlds (Impulse) and A Different Journey (Reprise) from 1962 and ‘63. After a spell with Cannonball Adderley, he was signed to Atlantic, by George Avakian, (not mentioned in the book). He formed a quartet with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette that found great success. His live album Forest Flower was a tremendous hit.

But soon thereafter he was involved with LSD and playing with rock bands. There were long periods of inactivity but his early ‘80s quartet that featured pianist Michel Petrucciani was a reminder that he was still on the planet. He began a lengthy association with ECM records in 1989 and while he continues to make music, how much of it would be of interest to IAJRC members is open to question. The book is not quite a puff job but clearly Woodard is a fan and is quite deferential to his subject. Still, as an attempt to understand, the enigma that is Charles Lloyd, this is not a bad place to start. There are photos but no index or discography.

While researching a talk on Sister Rosetta Tharpe, I found SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT by Gayle Wald on Amazon. This biography was published in 2006 by Beacon Press and is probably out of print. I learned much about the black church and the “gospel highway” but there is too little specificity here for a solid recommendation as a biography. Sister Tharpe was one of the great guitarists of the era and the records she made with Sam Price for Decca are outstanding examples of how Saturday night and Sunday morning can come together with splendid results. It is not much of a stretch to go from there to Chuck Berry and Johnnie Johnson a decade later. Research on black gospel performers has lagged well behind work on jazz and blues and while SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT is a beginning, let us hope for a better, more comprehensive biography to come. There are photos and an index but, alas, no discography.

Dennis McNally’s ON HIGHWAY 61 (Counterpoint, 2014) is a selective history of American attitudes and music that has little to do with its title. We begin with a discussion of H.D. Thoreau, Mark Twain and the evolution of cultural freedom and finish with a more than hundred-page discussion on Bob Dylan. The theory is that the Mississippi River is a common link to the best of American music: jazz, blues, and folk.
While there is certainly something to that thesis, McNally parcels out his discussion in a somewhat random fashion. Louis Armstrong gets twelve pages, Robert Johnson gets eleven and bebop ten. There are minor bobbles here and there when recounting details but, generally, McNally’s narrative flows smoothly and is highly readable. Some of his conclusions are tendentious and it sometimes feels as though he is attempting to put a square peg into a round hole. In retrospect, I’m not certain that the task McNally has undertaken can be adequately completed in 430 pages. Photos and an index.

BLUES HANDS (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2015) is a truly unique book of photographs by Joseph A. Rosen. In addition to the 88-or more-hands photographed here there are brief comments on the how and where of the actual photos and sometimes personal observations by the author. While the preponderance of subjects are blues players, there is a special photo of the hand of Eubie Blake, in his late 90s, that is my favorite.
Rosen was a protégé of the late Herman Leonard and you can expect that kind of quality here whether the photos are color (most of them) or black and white. I had the honor of writing the introduction to this and could not be more pleased with the outcome. Recommended.

Herbie, Hefner, Klein, Beale Street & Joe

Possibilities by Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey (Viking, 2014) is an autobiography of one of our era’s most prominent musicians. There are frank discussions of various aspects of the working jazz musicians’ life. From his first major gig (with Coleman Hawkins) until the time he leaves Miles Davis covers 9 years and 72 pages. His own leadership career begin in November 1968 and we are introduced to his groups including the first Sextet through The Headhunters as well as all-star relationships such as VSOP and his two piano pairing with Chick Corea. Along the way we meet family and friends who have been influential in his life and career.

Hancock received good advice early on from Donald Byrd, his first bandleader, about publishing and it has made a considerable difference to his financial wellbeing. Hancock was involved with making commercial music almost from the beginning and so it should come as no surprise that, as time passes, it takes up more of his energy. Over the course of the book, Wayne Shorter is the one jazz artist who remains a constant factor in his life and work.

Hancock has delivered an honest account of his life without ducking any controversy. His awards and honors keep piling up due to his continuing presence on the music scene. Many of his contemporaries have either passed away or have less to offer these days. In the long term, jazz is only a part of what he does today but given the right opportunity, he’ll join his favorite players and get into a jazz-playing situation at the drop of a hat.

It seems unusual to think of Hugh Hefner as an important part of the jazz scene but there is no question about that fact. His magazine, TV shows, Playboy clubs and festivals provided opportunities and exposure to musicians from the mid-50s until the mid-60s. This is nicely detailed by Patty Farmer in Playboy Swings (Beaufort Books, 2015). Ms. Farmer has managed to track down key employees and musicians to provide details on Hefner’s various enterprises. When Playboy began to pay more attention to pop music, jazz coverage was cut. Hefner came back to jazz after weathering some financial turbulence in the 1970s when he lent the Playboy name to the jazz festival at the Hollywood Bowl which has been a fixture on the Southern California music calendar since 1979.

Allen Klein (HMH, 2015) by Fred Goodman is a biography of perhaps the most controversial wheeler-dealer of the Rock era. An accountant by trade, Klein was involved with major performers such as Sam Cooke, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Recording contracts and publishing agreements can be very difficult to understand for the average musician and still are to this day. Klein knew the inner workings of such documents better than anyone and after an initial breakthrough with RCA Victor on behalf of Cooke; he was sought out by other artists.

His managerial relationship with the Rolling Stones was tempestuous and while he made a lot of money for the band, he made a lot for himself. Yet the Stones learned the business from Klein and they have not looked back. It is said that it was Klein who broke up the Beatles yet there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Certainly an equal share of the blame could be given to Paul McCartney. There is lots of inside baseball here but the narrative rarely drags. There are also some very funny stories.

Goodman has written three other books on the business of the music industry. Each is a superb piece of work and all are recommended. Add Alan Klein to that list.

Preston Lauterbach’s last book was The Chittlin’ Circuit, an exceptional work dealing with the underside of the black entertainment business. Beale Street Dynasty his latest is a history of the politics and rare relations of Memphis, Tennessee. There is not much in the way of music involved in this but WC Handy is here and so, briefly, is Jimmie Lunceford.

The emphasis is on Beale Street and the area around it. Beale was the focal point of much of the black activity covered by the book which begins in the mid-1860s and ends with the death of Robert Church, Jr. in 1952. Church and his father Robert Reed Church had been the black power brokers in the Bluff City throughout the entire period. The family accumulated substantial wealth largely through illicit means. The relationship between the Churches, who controlled blocks of votes, and Memphis boss E.W. Crump, who needed those votes, was sometimes cozy and sometimes contentious but as recounted here, always fascinating.

The fixers, bag men, hoodlums and crooks were all a part of the system. The Churches were Republicans (except in municipal elections) while Crump and his cronies were Democrats. Crump, himself, served a term as Mayor but preferred play the role of strategist and kingmaker. He built a machine every bit as corrupt as Tammany Hall in New York or that of Tom Pendergast in Kansas City.

With the death of Church, Jr and Crump in the early 50s things begin to wind down. Beale Street starts to decline in the early 70s and by the late 70s is a wasteland surrounded by barb wire. In 1983, the revitalization of Beale Street began and nowadays it is a tourist destination with restaurants and blues bars up and down the street. There are twenty vintage photographs.
Ed Berger, long the Associate Director of The Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers, has fashioned a thorough look at one of the great, completely underrated, musicians in jazz, Joe Wilder.

Softly, With Feeling (Temple University Press, 2014) covers Wilder’s career as a sideman with big bands (Les Hite, Lionel Hampton, Jimmie Lunceford, Lucky Millinder, and Count Basie), staff and studio musician and freelance jazz player. In many cases, Wilder is the first black player in a situation such as Network staff musician or classical orchestra. He had endure routine indignities from stagehands and others workers on a nightly basis.

Berger, who has previously written about George Duvivier and Benny Carter, is dry. There is no hint of scandal here, nothing salacious and apart from the courtship of his wife Solveig, little of Wilder’s family life. There is much about the various types of music he is hired to play. Wilder seems to find new inspiration on each of his jobs, the mark of a true professional. Many times Wilder is quoted as finding fresh challenges in work that would not seem to provide it. Wilder’s albums as a leader are few but well worth checking out and his solos with other artists are invariably among the highlights of the performance.

There are sections dealing with different classical conductors, Broadway pit contractors and his own teaching methods. Wilder also developed a love of photography and frequently took his camera to sessions. So we have photos here from The Sound of Jazz by Wilder as well as several photos by the author featuring his subject in a variety of settings. A first rate job on the life of a first rate jazz musician.


Mel Lewis was a talker. “How you doing ,Mel?” could lead to a reply lasting thirty minutes or more. He was well read on a wide variety of topics. He was also opinionated, argumentative and funny. And he could really play drums.

I first became aware of him on the Terry Gibbs band Mercury albums. He had been around for many years prior to that and while I had been aware of him, I think I “heard” him for the first time on those sides. My impression was that he played the job exceptionally well without calling much attention to himself.

I got to know him when we were both Governors of the New York NARAS chapter. Dick Katz, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Helen Merrill and Margaret Whiting were others involved around that time. He was proud of his ability to swing in any context. He reminded me on more than one occasion that it was he who played on Jimmy McGriff’s hit THE WORM.

THE VIEW FROM THE BACK OF THE BAND by Chris Smith (University of North Texas Press, 2014) is a thorough biography of Melvin Sokoloff and covers his entire professional career in depth, with great insight.

His relationships with Ray Anthony, Stan Kenton, Bob Brookmeyer and Thad Jones are explored in exemplary fashion. A complete history of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band, and the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra is detailed. (The band continues, with several original members, as The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.)

There are photos from family and professional sources and  twenty-four pages of sessions-leader and sideman-in chronological order. This book is recommended to anyone who loves jazz.

One closing thought: Back in the late 1980s, Buck Clayton, who could no longer play, was writing and leading a genuine swing band. He made several CDs and I remember coming across one, A SWINGIN’ DREAM on Stash. I listened and thoroughly enjoyed it. Buck’s writing was Old Testament Basie and the band was loaded with New York guys who could play that style. A drummer who could do so was more of a problem but this drummer was great and really swung the band. I looked it up and the drummer was Mel. I thought to myself: of course, who else?


My many ways, Bernard Purdie is the flip side of Mel Lewis. A relentless self-promoter, Purdie has made his reputation as the quintessential drummer of Soul Music. Not that he can’t and doesn’t play other material, but for Soul Drums not only is there no one better there is no DISCUSSION of anyone better.  LET THE DRUMS SPEAK (Pretty Media, 2014) is an auto-biography, told in the third person, covering his rise from the beginning until today. There is considerable family background including the fact that Purdie was the first black student enrolled at Elkton (Maryland) High School, graduating in 1960.

After a year and a half at Morgan State, Purdie-everybody calls him Purdie-left for New York. Here the story gets very interesting. There are few better discussions of the inner workings of the music industry from a musician’s perspective than what you get here. Moving up the ladder was the goal. Which groups to join, what clubs to play, what progress could be gained and how to take advantage of a break are a part of this story. Along the way he had mentors such as Joe Robinson, Herbie Lovelle and King Curtis and worked days in a laundry to keep things together. He began cutting “demos” for certain producers. Not the leader, he was merely the dummer.

Demos are sent to record labels more for an opportunity to hear the lyric and suggested grove of a song. When he made “Wiggle Wobble” with Les Cooper, he helped create a hit but when he cut a demo on Doris Troy for arranger Horace Ott, Atlantic issued the demo as is and had a huge smash with “Just One Look”. Purdie was moving up that ladder.

Panama Francis and Les Paul lent further assistance. Francis, the busiest New York drummer of the period, passed work on to Purdie while Paul taught him how to get the best sound from his instrument. King Curtis by this time, was a producer and hit-making recording artist and hired Purdie for most of his Atlantic dates.

This led to the rhythm section of Richard Tee, Cornell Dupree, Chuck Rainy and Purdie-the greatest R&B rhythm team of the time and the backbone of so many Atlantic Records hits. When they toured with Curtis, the were known as The King Pins. They began to tour with Aretha Franklin. Upon Curtis’ 1971 death, Purdie took over leadership of The King Pins. Later associations with Steely Dan and Galt McDermott are discussed thoroughly. He played for McDermott’s revival of the Broadway show, HAIR.

Along the way Purdie has made albums of his own and been a part of such groups as the Godfathers of Groove (with Reuben Wilson and Grant Green, Jr.) and the Hudson River Rats (with Rob Paparozzi). Still active, his infectious enthusiasm is a joy to behold.


In 1997, Rob Bowman wrote a history of Stax Records, SOULSVILLE USA, which was quite well done. I thought when Robert Gordon’s RESPECT YOURSELF: STAX RECORDS and the SOUL EXPLOSION appeared, why would it be necessary? Bowman was Canadian and Gordon is from Memphis, the home of Stax Records. If anything this is an even more diligent job and I learned much not available in Bowman’s work.

For those unaware of the history, Stax was the brainchild of a banker and sometime country fiddle player, Jim STewart and his sister Estelle AXton. From 1960 to 1975 they managed to create Southern Soul Music largely by themselves. Along the way, they had the good fortune of a brilliant self-contained house band, the MGs of Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Lewie Steinberg-later Duck Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr. Other bands such as the Mar-Keys and Bar-Kays were developed along with such talent as Rufus Thomas; his daughter Carla Thomas; Eddie Floyd, Albert King, William Bell, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and The Staple Singers. And while all this was going on the Civil Rights explosion was under way. White owners, integrated bands and black singers was not the sort of thing the Southern establishment looked kindly upon.

The Stax owners were unsophisticated in almost every way. They had help from their distributor, Atlantic, in the person of Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd. But when Atlantic lawyers drew up a revised distribution deal, they signed without even reading it, something they would come to deeply regret. Gordon records the mistakes made in great detail and it is a wonder that the music succeeded given the frequently amateurish approach to business.

That changed in 1965 when Al Bell was brought in to do radio promotion. Bell’s influence grew and when the Atlantic distribution deal blew up in 1968, Bell began to exert greater influence. The label did become

more professional but there is a litany of classic blunders made by Bell as well. He hired gangsters to do

promotion for him and each time the label made a new distribution change, they made a worse deal. The Columbia deal, signed in  1973, led to their 1975 bankruptcy. Several attempts have been made to revive the label to no great result.

Yet the music made by Stax in its earliest years lingers in the ear. Songs by Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and

others have a feeling that has never been replicated. All the money in the world will not change that.


Huey Smith, Lonnie Johnson, New Orleans

The New Orleans Jazz Scene, 1970-2000 by Thomas W. Jacobsen (LSU Press, 2014) is a slim paperback focused on the younger and newly arrived veterans who provided most of the best jazz in the Crescent City in the late 20th Century. There are descriptions of clubs, many now defunct, that flourished during the era in question. There is a good deal on media and its reaction-or lack of reaction to the music being made. But the focus is on the musicians, many still active, who provided a spark to the scene.

If we think of Banu Gibson and Jacques Gauthe as the leaders who introduced many of new arrivals they are not the only ones. Preservation Hall and the PHJB are properly accorded center stage since the continued popularity of that travelling ensemble served to introduce New Orleans jazz to more people than Armstrong, Morton or Bechet. The Dukes of Dixieland are also given a good deal of space, rightfully so.

The discussion is chronological so that the impact of certain players is allowed to build or fade naturally. The importance of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is given plenty of space but its importance as far as jazz is concerned lessens over the scope of the work.

As someone who was a frequent visitor to New Orleans during the period, I recognize the scene and Jacobsen does a fine job of getting it all out there. Lots of photos.

New Orleans Rhythm & Blues has been the flip side of the New Orleans musical coin since the 1950s. One of the finest practitioners of that music was Huey “Piano” Smith, the subject of a new biography, Huey “Piano” Smith and the Rockin’ Pneumonia Blues by John Wirt (LSU Press, 2014).

Smith was not a singer but an organizer, pianist and songwriter of the first rank. His music has lasted so well that is hard to believe his heyday lasted less than a decade. The making of that joyous sound takes up about 40 % of the book while the hassles, legalities and Smith’s inability to take care of business comprise much of the rest. Along the way we meet the notorious Johnny Vincent, owner of Ace records, Smith’s label.

That Johnny Vincent screwed Huey Smith is well known. What is revealed here is that it happened time and time again. If there was a fork in the road, Smith invariably chose the one fraught with trouble. The lawsuits and court battles go on and on until the eyes start to glaze over the page. A good manager probably solves most of Smith’s problems. Sometimes, do-it-yourself is not good advice

There have been few musicians over the long history of jazz to have matched the talent and versatility of Lonnie Johnson. In one of the longest titled biographies I’ve seen, The Original Guitar Hero and The Power Of Music: The Legendary Lonnie Johnson, Music and Civil Rights by Dean Alger (University of North Texas Press, 2014), the artist is covered from stem to stern and back again.

As a studio sideman in the 1920s, Johnson was good enough to record with Louis Armstrong , Eddie Lang and Duke Ellington. As an artist making his own vocal blues recordings, he cut hundreds of sides for Okeh and Bluebird with a style closer to crooning than shouting. And at a time when his career should be winding down, it actually took off like a rocket: he scored a #1 Race Hit with “Tomorrow Night” in 1948 and followed that with two other Top Ten hits. Following another slump, he emerged just prior to the blues revival with some marvelous LPs recorded for Prestige/Bluesville.

Alger quotes Chris Albertson, who was responsible for Johnson’s rediscovery in 1959, as bringing Johnson to play for John Hammond and Orrin Keepnews with little positive results. Bob Weinstock, on the other hand, said, ”let’s do an album” and thus the Bluesville association began. This is just one example of the thoroughness of the research. There is virtually no aspect of Johnson’s professional career that is not carefully detailed.

On the other hand, Alger tends to gild the lilly from time to time. Enthusiasm for one’s subject is fine (and Alger has that in abundance) but the attempt to raise him to a level beyond his achievement helps nobody. Still, that seems a small price to pay for such a wonderful read. This one is likely to appear on Best Of The Year lists.


Bob Porter

Lundvall, LaVette, Lomax, etc

Bruce Lundvall has been a prominent record company executive for more than fifty years. He was at Columbia, Elektra and Blue Note. He interacted with some legendary players, signed some important artists and was an important force for jazz promotion wherever he was.

BRUCE LUNDVALL: PLAYING BY EAR by Dan Ouellette (Artist Share, 2013) is as even-handed a biography as one will find in a business populated by men with enormous egos. Compared with the biographies of Clive Davis and Walter Yetnikoff, whom he worked with at Columbia, Lundvall comes off as a human being with normal human frailties. He also has a bushel basket full of accomplishments: Columbia signings such as Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw, Paquito D’Rivera and The Heath Brothers among them.

I was told that when Lundvall departed Columbia that it was because he couldn’t say no. In time he acquired the nickname Dr. Yes. And while yes meant a lot of agita for suits with pencils, it resulted in lots of projects that might not have happened without him. Think HAVANA JAM, the Elektra Musician label or ONE NIGHT WITH BLUE NOTE. His entire professional career is well documented.

If there is a weakness it is in Ouelette’s recounting of the business before Lundvall got in. There are several bobbles in that area. Ouelette gets the Columbia payola mess right although his statement that there was no payola in jazz is a bit naïve. Lundvall’s Elektra association was short-lived and, in the long run, should probably be viewed as a transitional period. There are those who would take him to task for changing the nature of Blue Note but, in the record industry, the rule is adapt or die. The last time I looked Blue Note was still out there.

A WOMAN LIKE ME by Bettye LaVette with David Ritz (Plume,2013) is one of the wildest autobiographies out there. Born Betty Jo Haskins in 1946, she was raised in Michigan, mostly in Detroit. That town turned out lots of important musical talent in the 60s and 70s and Bettye was right in the middle of all that. There are plenty of stories here involving major players in the music business. She began recording before she was seventeen and had five or six R&B hits during the 1970s. There is plenty of drugs, booze and sex activity detailed here and while Ms. LaVette gets knocked down a lot, she gets right back up again. She is nobody’s victim.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this is Bettye’s relationship with record labels. She walked away from Atlantic when she was in her teens and had almost no luck despite a number of records-virtually all of them superb R&B. She kept looking and working. She joined the national touring company of the Broadway show Bubbling Brown Sugar in 1977. During that run, Honi Coles mentored her and there is a very funny exchange between the two with Bettye attempting a seduction and Honi resisting as best he can.

A turn into 2000 set the stage for her renaissance but once again she had to survive some craziness. Imagine taking a cold phone call from someone who claims to own a record label but can’t record her! Eventually her talent wins out and she found the right people to handle the business side of her career. She has done a couple of seasons at the Café Carlyle in New York and recently played Carnegie Hall. She has come all the way forward. There is a selected discography and some wonderful photos. Highly recommended.

The name Alan Lomax can mean different things to different people. To say that he was America’s foremost folklorist was certainly true and THE SOUTHERN JOURNEY OF ALAN LOMAX: WORDS, PHOTOGRAPHS, AND MUSIC by Tom Piazza (Library of Congress, 2013) celebrates his career in three different sections. The first, a reprint of a 2006 speech, published in essay form as Alan Lomax: The Long Journey by William Ferris, former Chairman of the NEH; then a thirty-five page essay by Piazza, The Found World which fleshes out the story and brings it up to date and finally The Southern Journey, photos of rural America: families, individuals, kids, musicians, convicts and preachers.- black and white. Lomax and his father John, who initiated the trips to the south in search of songs, can be credited with the discovery of Leadbelly, Muddy Waters and Fred McDowell. If they had done nothing more than that they would be deserving of our praise and respect and fortunately they did a lot more than that. A music CD with thirteen selections is included.

EXPERIENCING JAZZ: A LISTENER’S COMPANION by Michael Stephans (Scarecrow Press, 2013) is a work for newcomers rather than experienced listeners. The author’s point of view is decidedly post-modern. He condenses the history of jazz into two chapters: Jazz as A Mirror Of Our Times-birth to the 1940s and Jazz As A Mirror Of Our Times-from the 50s to the present. There are many errors of fact here and the prose is rather artless. Stephans teaches at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and also plays drums. Among the stories that worked for me was one involving a pair of meetings with Buddy Rich, many years apart.

The bulk of the book is divided into chapters on instruments and at the end of each chapter the author invites comments from players such as Roswell Rudd, Dave Liebman, Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano. As an addenda, each chapter has some reading suggestions and the location of web sites for selected musicians. The discussion in each chapter tends to be random and reflects a white, academic point of view. For example, jazz organ is given a page and a half in a thirty-seven page piano chapter. There is no mentions of Bill Doggett, Jimmy McGriff, Johnny Hammond, Groove Holmes or Charles Earland. And Stephans doesn’t realize that Lonnie Smith and Lonnie Liston Smith are two different people.

To celebrate Jazz History month, Hal Leonard books has published three books in a Jazz Biography Series. WALK TALL: THE MUSIC AND LIFE OF JULIAN “CANNONBALL” ADDERLEY by Cary Ginnel (Hal Leonard Books, 2013) contains a Foreword by Quincy Jones and a Preface my Dan Morgenstern. In terms of Adderley’s history this covers the full gamut but the work contains a number of speculative conclusions and lots of outright errors in its 190 pages. On page 15 alone, there are three errors and two questionable attributions. Clearly the publisher did not have anyone read this in advance. So many minor bobbles could have been easily corrected.

There is an album discography and eight pages of photographs including one where Ozzie Cadena is identified as Jerome Richardson. I’ll read the books on Billy Eckstine and Herbie Mann in this series but I hope they don’t have the careless mistakes of this volume.



Terry Teachout’s DUKE: A Life of Duke Ellington (Gotham Books, 2013) will certainly be among the most discussed books of this era. Part of the reason is that the book, as Teachout freely admits, is not a work of scholarship but a synthesis of previously researched information. On the one hand this is valuable because it corrects mistakes and resolves inconsistencies. Yet it is also a missed opportunity to call our attention to the overlooked and underappreciated.

Teachout’s day gig is for the Wall Street Journal where he is the drama critic. He has written previous biographies of H.L. Mencken, George Balanchine and Louis Armstrong. He is thorough in discussing his choice of topics but it is that choice where one can immediately take issue.

There is considerable space devoted to the longer works. This would start with the 1935 version of “Reminiscing In Tempo” and carry through to the “3d Sacred Concert” of 1973. Ellington’s reasons for undertaking these various projects and how he dealt with each one is dealt with at great length.

Why? Ellington’s longer works after A Tone Parallel To Harlem in 1951 were often patchwork assemblies of earlier material fleshed out by a few new items, frequently the work of Billy Strayhorn. A production such as My People, from 1963, would contain music which was originally a part of Black, Brown and Beige and would have a newer piece, such as “David Danced”, later integrated into The First Sacred Concert. The Newport Jazz Festival Suite, from 1956, was three separate tunes, two of them written by Strayhorn, with little in the way of connective tissue.

Porter’s theory is that Ellington recognized that the black audience was not going to be there for him with the numbers and enthusiasm of the 1930s. The white media was impressed by Carnegie Hall appearances, fancy sounding compositions, special commissions, etc. That coverage was the entrée to the white audience which he would need in greater numbers in the coming years. It was unlikely that they would be interested in ‘A Portrait of Bert Williams”, “Across The Tracks Blues” or “ A Gathering In a Clearing”.

Those three titles are glowing examples of what Ellington did best-short form, not long form. There are dozens of Ellington recordings, big band and small, that deserve to be better known. At its core, the Duke Ellington Orchestra was a great blues band and what it did with longer works is not nearly as important as what it recorded on 78s.

Teachout is a big fan of Billy Strayhorn, who gets more coverage than Johnny Hodges. There is a lengthy discussion of who did what in the Ellington-Strayhorn writing partnership but the Strayhorn presented here comes off as something of a whiner. He is constantly complaining about one thing or another without recognizing that his own choices are as much at fault for his problems with Ellington.

A discussion of Newport 1956 is told largely in the words of George Avakian. There is lingering doubt about some of the events of that day and Teachout repeats the canard that somehow Jo Jones, neither seen nor heard by the band members, helped to inspire the performance of “Diminuendo and Crescendo In Blue”. And Avakian doesn’t address the fact that there is overdubbed applause on the original LP. Teachout doesn’t get the Gonsalves solo which he refers to as “banal and repetitive”. How silly.

After reading DUKE, I’m not certain that the Ellington story can be told in a single volume. Teachout brings in too much about Ellington’s romantic relationships, especially those with Evie Ellis and Fernanda de Castro Monte. To say that Ellington liked sex is a considerable understatement but Teachout seems to fault him for not adhering to a celibate lifestyle while on the road. If the idea was to personalize Ellington, he succeeds as much as he can but Ellington was not forthcoming with personal details and Teachout admits on his final page of text: “Everybody knows him-yet no one knows him. That was the way he wanted it.”

PLAYING FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE BAND (Yale University Art Gallery/Yale University Press) is a new compilation of photography by Lee Friedlander. Shot in New Orleans on various visits from the late 1950s to the early 1980s, these are page size black and white photos. And the full range of black music is covered here: individual portraits (including one of Papa Jack Laine), brass bands shot mostly on the street, blues artists, Mardi Gras Indians (including a very young
Monk Boudreaux), street preachers and gospel singers including several of Mahalia Jackson. There are introductory remarks from a 1958 interview of Baby Dodds.

Friedlander is one of our great photographers and this is his third book devoted to musical subjects. More, please.

Pat Martino, Bobby Bland, Boston, etc.

I ran into Richard Vacca at the Detroit International Jazz Festival a couple of years ago. He was working on a book about jazz in Boston. I tend to come out of such meetings with few expectations. I think we have all met jazz fans who are writing books on some subject or other. So often, they never materialize.

I am pleased to say that not only has the work been completed but that the results are first rate all around. The Boston Jazz Chronicles by Richard Vacca (Troy Street Publishing, 2012) has a model in the work of Jim Gallert and Lars Bjorn on Detroit Before Motown, a bracketed history of the Motor City and its jazz scene. The Boston one encounters here begins in the big band era and concludes prior to the time that the Berklee kids took over the scene.

There are twenty chapters and some are devoted to nightclubs, others to the legendary ballroom operators Cy & Charlie Shribman, some to musicians such as Nat Pierce and Sabby Lewis. There are great photos taken from jam sessions as well as ads taken from newspaper archives. There are very good profiles of George Wein, Jaki Byard, Charlie Mariano, Serge Chaloff, Joe Gordon and Herb Pomeroy among many others.

Most helpful are the four maps of neighborhoods such as the South End, Copley Square and Downtown which provide the exact location of various clubs, theaters and ballrooms. There is a discussion of jazz on radio in Boston and here there are some weaknesses. There is no mention of Norm Nathan whose Sounds In The Night show, overnights on WHDH, was an important late 50s-early 60s program. Milt Krey, who had the first jazz show (Jazz Matinee) on FM, is not here either. But there is good coverage of Symphony Sid, John McLellan and Father Norman O’Connor.

There are no stylistic problems here: modern jazz, the Dixieland revival, big bands and piano trios are covered without any discernible favoritism. There is a selective list of recommended records, mostly favorites of the author, some of them impossibly rare. Highly recommended.

In terms of pure playing ability, most musicians of the 1960s would name Pat Martino as the best guitarist. I know all about Green, Montgomery and Benson and I’m pretty certain they would say the same thing. In his autobiography, Here And Now written with Bill Milkowski (Backbeat Books, 2011), Martino details his family life, his professional career and, in chilling fashion, his medical problems culminating in the discovery of a brain aneurysm in 1980. He came up in the Soul Jazz era: his first major employers were Lloyd Price, Willis “Gatortail” Jackson and Jack McDuff. There is a wonderful chapter about playing with Jackson at Small’s Paradise in Harlem. Pat also presents a valuable reminiscence of the Price big band, a short-lived but star studded organization that has been given almost no space in the jazz history books. His contemporaries also get their innings in a twenty-seven page section of commentary, by guitar players, about Pat and his ability.

The section on his recordings brings the medical issues to the fore. In a seventeen year period there is exactly one newly-recorded album. Fortunately there is plenty to be heard before and after and anything Pat Martino has recorded is worth hearing.

Holger Peterson is a veteran Canadian broadcaster and the owner of Stony Plain Records, one of the very best roots music labels anywhere. In Talking Music (Insomniac Press, 2011) he collects nineteen of the interviews he has conducted for his shows: Saturday Night Blues on CNBC and Natch’l Blues on CKUA in Alberta. While the interviewees are mostly folk, rock & blues personalities, we do get a twelve page interview with Jay McShann as well as a revealing look at the late Jeff Healey, a star in the electric blues-rock world, who was a serious 78collector (a collection estimated at 30,000!) and the leader of his own trad jazz band. Ike Turner, Mavis Staples, Honeyboy Edwards, Rosco Gordon and Chris Barber are among the others. Lots of photos by the author as well.

Soul Of A Man by Charles Farley (University Press of Mississippi, 2011) is a superb biography of Bobby ”Blue” Bland. The fact that Bobby Bland is still out there at the age of eighty-two means that there is a lot of territory to cover. The level of detail one encounters here is much better than one would ordinarily find.

The story starts at age fifteen when Bland discovers Beale Street. By the late 1940s, Beale is not on only the main drag of black Memphis but a destination for black people from all over the country. We meet many of the local characters as well as club owners, radio announcers, record people and fellow members of the Beale Streeters (Bland, BB King, Johnny Ace, Rosco Gordon, Earl Forest and others) who were attempting to break into show business.

Things start to happen in a big way for Bland once he returns from Army service in 1955. His label, Duke Records, had been bought out by Don Robey of Houston Texas. He begins to record under the helpful supervision of Joe Scott, the trumpet playing arranger and bandleader responsible for much of the music produced by Duke artists during that era. After a couple of years of encouraging but far from spectacular results, Bland hit in 1957 with “Further Up The Road”, a #1 R&B hit and the first of his 63 hit singles.

He soon teams with fellow Duke artist Junior Parker to form a revue entitled Blues Consolidated which a hugely successful show for about eight years. Bland stayed with Duke until the label was sold to ABC and stayed with ABC until it was sold to MCA before joining Malaco in 1985. The first two hundred pages take us to 1985 and the tale begins to wind down at that point. While there are not a lot of photos there are several showing Bland in action. Those are first rate.

This is one of the best biographies I have read in many years and is highly recommended.


Whenever I begin to feel annoyance at the very nature of the politically correct, buttoned-down jazz world of the twenty-first century, I like to think of Charles Mingus. From, roughly, the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, Mingus was able to summon forth controversy at hurricane force levels on a regular basis.

He had his chance with Beneath The Underdog, his 1971 autobiography. He had a major publisher behind him and was preparing his recording comeback so the time was right for Mingus to talk about music. Instead he talked about his sex life and the result was awful-I couldn’t finish it. His liner notes to the Columbia album Let My Children Hear Music, on the other hand, were eloquent and are well worth reading these many years later.

Mingus was one of the first leaders I gravitated toward when I was getting into jazz in the late 1950s. My crew used to hear him at jazz festivals in the summer and buy his Columbia, Atlantic, Candid and Impulse albums. When he was at his best, as he was during this period, he was really great. What came later in the 1970s never measured up to that earlier period.
Given all that, I’m delighted to report that Mingus Speaks by John F. Goodman (University of California Press, 2013) is something that all Mingus fans will enjoy. The work consists of two in-depth interviews done by Goodman with Mingus, during 1972 and 74. For the first time, we really get Mingus talking about music.
The interviews are arranged by Goodman so that certain topics are discussed at one time. Chapters include: Avant-Garde and Tradition; Studying, Teaching and Earning a Living; Authenticty: Whose Tribe Are You In? and Debut Records and the Music Business. The interviews are conducted in the 1970s so there is only one mention of Booker Ervin and none of Horace Parlan. Yet Mingus provides wonderful insight into how his music is made and with whom.

Sy Johnson, who worked with Mingus, provides some of his own photos and contributes commentary which helps to clarify much of the material. Highly recommended.

Oxford University Press has undertaken a series titled Oxford Studies in Recorded Jazz. These are medium-length paperbacks dedicated to individual groups and specific periods or in the case of Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert by Catherine Tackley, a single event.

Tackley presents her material in three segments: Context, Performance and Representation. They deal with 1) events leading up to the concert 2) the concert itself and 3) the release of the music on LP/CD. Tackley is an especially good researcher and it is unlikely one will find any related subject matter not covered thoroughly here. One bobble: she suggests that “in 1950 RCA abandoned the 45rpm extended play format”. Not true since RCA would continue to issue EPs for another ten years. They did issue their first LPs in 1950.
There has been a lot of controversy regarding the various issues and reissues of this music. The pros and cons of the various editions, the contents and sound quality, are thoroughly discussed. Names are named.

It is only in the musical analysis that one finds some shortcomings. Ms. Tackley is a British academic and distance has always seemed to be the insurmountable barrier. When she suggests that Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges are “asked to indulge in what might be perceived as inauthentic jazz practice” because they reference their own recorded solos on “Blue Reverie”, she reveals that it is she who misunderstands the jazz process. And just out of curiosity, who would have done the asking?

A second volume in the Oxford series is Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings by Brian Harker. Harker, I think wisely, decides to concentrate on seven performances from this cannon and he dissects each thoroughly. They are: “Cornet Chop Suey”, “Big Butter And Egg Man”; “Potato Head Blues”, “S.O.L. Blues”/”Gully Low Blues”, “Savoy Blues” and “West End Blues”. There are no photos but lots of musical notation. I’m not sure how much can be added to the discussion of these sides that hasn’t been done before. There were times that felt as though the author was indulging in overkill-too much analysis can lead to tedium. Still if you had a jazz student who wanted a place to learn about these spectacular examples of recorded jazz, this would be a good place to go.

It is surely time for a thorough examination of the life and music of Bud Powell but alas The Amazing Bud Powell by Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr. (University of California Press/Center For Black Music Research, 2013) is not that work. Subtitled Black Genius, Jazz History and The Challenge of Bebop, this work is at least as much about Professor Ramsey’s own theories as it is about anything else. The first forty-two pages including the author’s introduction, acknowledgements and ruminations on people such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Wynton Marsalis have almost nothing to do with Bud Powell.

Ramsey is better when he writes about Bud. Yet what ultimately amounts to one hundred and fifty pages devoted to Powell seems to be very skimpy. There is not even a discography. Peter Pullman, who had been researching Bud for many years, finished his work titled Wail but was only able to publish on the internet. I have not seen this but I am told that it runs about three times as long as The Amazing Bud Powell and for someone seeking the best current information on Bud Powell, this would appear to be the place to go.



Let’s see, Charlie Parker was one of the three or four best ballad players in recorded history. He was also one of the three or four best blues players in history. And then, he invented bebop. Taken in the aggregate, those are good enough reasons to justify the books that people keep writing about him. But I think we finally have something definitive: Bird, The Life and Legend of Charlie Parker by Chuck Haddix (University of Illinois Press, 2013) is the best of an odd lot of Parker books for a number of reasons. First, we have a timeline that is not only accurate but is backed up with significant documentation, Secondly, a few myths are finally put to rest and lastly, there are no lengthy passages of psycho-babble attempting to justify one theory or another.

The Kansas City period is rich in detail here. Haddix, who works at the Marr Sound Archive at the University of Missouri-KC, has addresses and historical details about the era not available elsewhere. There is a thorough discussion of the 1936 auto accident that left a sixteen-year old Charlie Parker with three broken ribs and a fractured spine. He was treated with heroin for the pain. Parker and his mother were also warned by the doctor that continued usage might cut his life short and that he might live only ”eighteen to twenty more years”. How’s that for an accurate diagnosis!
Both Ross Russell and Teddy Reig, record producers who worked with Bird, have written about him and each had his own axe to grind. There is none of that here and while it is refreshing to read about events without the attendant drama involved, some peripheral details are missing.
And there are a few bobbles;

-A lengthy story by Jay McShann about a battle of the bands, in Houston, between McShann and Milton Larkin could not have happened as described.
-The December 1945-January 1946 engagement at Billy Berg’s in Los Angeles is further obfuscated rather than unraveled. The engagement was for eight weeks: if business was so bad, why didn’t Berg negotiate out of the deal? There is no mention of the radio broadcasts from the club. Would not the Defense plant closures and high unemployment in Los Angeles have had something to do with reduced attendance?
-There is no mention of the Norman Granz Jam Session that featured Parker alongside Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges.

But what sets this book apart from the competition is the concise nature of the prose. There is no wastage here. Another fifty pages to visit some events not discussed and flesh out some others might have been valuable but I have few complaints with what we have. Sixteen photos, some common, some rare (one with Dean Benedetti, another on stage with the Earl Hines band playing tenor). Highly recommended. Alyn Shipton’s excellent biography of Cab Calloway, Hi-De-Ho which was published by Oxford University Press in 2010 is now in paperback. If you missed it the first time around, try to catch this edition. Shipton is very good on the transition from the show band, The Missourians, which Cab had at his 1931 opening at The Cotton Club to the dynamic jazz band of 1939-1941. Only Lunceford could compete with Cab during that time for the dual qualities of polished precision and jazz soloist abilities. There is considerable information on Jonah Jones which is good but not nearly enough on Chu Berry.

Shipton should have corrected mistakes such as his suggestion that Lionel Hampton cut the size of his big band in the 1940s. He actually increased it, having as many as twenty-one pieces in 1949. There is a good deal regarding Irving Mills but a suggestion that Columbia was “one of Mills’ stable of labels” is ridiculous. As is the quote of Illinois Jacquet that he was paid “$100 a bar” for writing a Stormy Weather film arrangement. For a novice arranger? In 1943 dollars? Cab cuts down to seven pieces in 1947 or ’48-there is conflicting evidence-but like other big band leaders in similar situations could and did expand to full size if a week-long theater engagement opened up. After 1949, the jazz interest tails off as Cab got more into acting. No photos and no discography although there is a list of CD reissues.

Inside The Music: The Life Of Idris Muhammad (Xlibris Corp., 2012) is an auto-biography of the great drummer. I know this artist and without question this is his voice on the page rather than an as-told-to production. Would that more autobios were this candid!
His given name was Leo Morris and he is related to the Neviiles, a premier music making family. The first two chapters are set in New Orleans and the discussion of Mardi Gras Indians is of great value here.

There were two tribes, The Guardians of the Flame and the Wild Tchoupitoulas, in his neighborhood and the description of the pecking order, common to all tribes, is welcome. Muhammad also describes following the bass drummer in a Mardi Gras parade too closely and being warned that he’d get hit with a mallet if he didn’t move away!
When he moved to New York in the mid-60s he wanted to play jazz. But the jazz guys wanted his New Orleans street beat! He came to prominence with Lou Donaldson and soon was drumming with all manner of Blue Note and Prestige artists. He was present on more than a dozen hit albums during the 1967-71 Soul Jazz era. He also joined the original cast of the Broadway show Hair. He has since made ten or twelve albums as a leader.

When things slowed down he went out with Roberta Flack or Ahmad Jamal, making each of those artists sound better because of his presence. He has been happily married to Lala Brooks, former lead singer of The Crystals, for many years. There are discussions and evaluations of projects he was involved in in a way that doesn’t happen every day. There is music business inside stuff that is of considerable value as well. No discography and unfortunately no photos but well worth it for the story he tells.

Bob Porter on Books Lightnin’, Ory & Cinemajazzamatazz

I ran into Richard Vacca at the Detroit International Jazz Festival a couple of years ago. He was working on a book about jazz in Boston. I tend to come out of such meetings with few expectations. I think we have all met jazz fans who are writing books on some subject or other. So often, they never materialize.\r\nI am pleased to say that not only has the work been completed but that the results are first rate all around. The Boston Jazz Chronicles by Richard Vacca (Troy Street Publishing, 2012) has a model in the work of Jim Gallert and Lars Bjorn on Detroit Before Motown, a bracketed history of the Motor City and its jazz scene. The Boston one encounters here begins in the big band era and concludes prior to the time that the Berklee kids took over the scene.

There are twenty chapters and some are devoted to nightclubs, others to the legendary ballroom operators Cy & Charlie Shribman, some to musicians such as Nat Pierce and Sabby Lewis. There are great photos taken from jam sessions as well as ads taken from newspaper archives. There are very good profiles of George Wein, Jaki Byard, Charlie Mariano, Serge Chaloff, Joe Gordon and Herb Pomeroy among many others.

Most helpful are the four maps of neighborhoods such as the South End, Copley Square and Downtown which provide the exact location of various clubs, theaters and ballrooms. There is a discussion of jazz on radio in Boston and here there are some weaknesses. There is no mention of Norm Nathan whose Sounds In The Night show, overnights on WHDH, was an important late 50s-early 60s program. Milt Krey, who had the first jazz show (Jazz Matinee) on FM, is not here either. But there is good coverage of Symphony Sid, John McLellan and Father Norman O’Connor. There are no stylistic problems here: modern jazz, the Dixieland revival, big bands and piano trios are covered without any discernible favoritism. There is a selective list of recommended records, mostly favorites of the author, some of them impossibly rare. Highly recommended.

In terms of pure playing ability, most musicians of the 1960s would name Pat Martino as the best guitarist. I know all about Green, Montgomery and Benson and I’m pretty certain they would say the same thing. In his autobiography, Here And Now written with Bill Milkowski (Backbeat Books, 2011), Martino details his family life, his professional career and, in chilling fashion, his medical problems culminating in the discovery of a brain aneurysm in 1980.

He came up in the Soul Jazz era: his first major employers were Lloyd Price, Willis “Gatortail” Jackson and Jack McDuff. There is a wonderful chapter about playing with Jackson at Small’s Paradise in Harlem. Pat also presents a valuable reminiscence of the Price big band, a short-lived but star studded organization that has been given almost no space in the jazz history books. His contemporaries also get their innings in a twenty-seven page section of commentary, by guitar players, about Pat and his ability.

The section on his recordings brings the medical issues to the fore. In a seventeen year period there is exactly one newly-recorded album. Fortunately there is plenty to be heard before and after and anything Pat Martino has recorded is worth hearing.

Holger Peterson is a veteran Canadian broadcaster and the owner of Stony Plain Records, one of the very best roots music labels anywhere. In Talking Music (Insomniac Press, 2011) he collects nineteen of the interviews he has conducted for his shows: Saturday Night Blues on CNBC and Natch’l Blues on CKUA in Alberta. While the interviewees are mostly folk, rock & blues personalities, we do get a twelve page interview with Jay McShann as well as a revealing look at the late Jeff Healey, a star in the electric blues-rock world, who was a serious 78collector (a collection estimated at 30,000!) and the leader of his own trad jazz band. Ike Turner, Mavis Staples, Honeyboy Edwards, Rosco Gordon and Chris Barber are among the others. Lots of photos by the author as well.

Soul Of A Man by Charles Farley (University Press of Mississippi, 2011) is a superb biography of Bobby ”Blue” Bland. The fact that Bobby Bland is still out there at the age of eighty-two means that there is a lot of territory to cover. The level of detail one encounters here is much better than one would ordinarily find.

The story starts at age fifteen when Bland discovers Beale Street. By the late 1940s, Beale is not on only the main drag of black Memphis but a destination for black people from all over the country. We meet many of the local characters as well as club owners, radio announcers, record people and fellow members of the Beale Streeters (Bland, BB King, Johnny Ace, Rosco Gordon, Earl Forest and others) who were attempting to break into show business.

Things start to happen in a big way for Bland once he returns from Army service in 1955. His label, Duke Records, had been bought out by Don Robey of Houston Texas. He begins to record under the helpful supervision of Joe Scott, the trumpet playing arranger and bandleader responsible for much of the music produced by Duke artists during that era. After a couple of years of encouraging but far from spectacular results, Bland hit in 1957 with “Further Up The Road”, a #1 R&B hit and the first of his 63 hit singles.

He soon teams with fellow Duke artist Junior Parker to form a revue entitled Blues Consolidated which a hugely successful show for about eight years. Bland stayed with Duke until the label was sold to ABC and stayed with ABC until it was sold to MCA before joining Malaco in 1985. The first two hundred pages take us to 1985 and the tale begins to wind down at that point. While there are not a lot of photos there are several showing Bland in action. Those are first rate.\r\nThis is one of the best biographies I have read in many years and is highly recommended.


Johnny Otis died earlier this year at the age of 90. He had been a part of the black music scene in Los Angeles from the mid-1940s until his retirement, about fifteen years ago. His earliest records were with an exceptional, Basie-style big band which featured Teddy Buckner, Henry Coker, Paul Quinichette and Jimmy Rushing. The band didn’t last that long but the recordings (which were all available on the French Classics label) are well worth seeking out. He played drums, piano, vibes and sang a little but he was better known as an exceptional organizer and bandleader.

Otis came to the fore in the early days of Rhythm & Blues and his biggest years were 1949-1951 when he was one of the top artists in the field. His touring Rhythm & Blues Caravan was a model for the R&B package shows of the 1950s. His Savoy singles produced eleven hits-some double-sided-including three number one R&B chart hits! He had another huge hit with “Willie And The Hand Jive” for Capitol in 1958.

Otis was also a song-writer, producer, DJ and label owner in a lengthy career that was nothing if not diverse. In addition, he worked for Congressman Mervyn Dymally and was an ordained preacher. With all this activity going on one might expect an encyclopedia-sized biography but Midnight At The Barrelhouse by George Lipsitz (University of Minnesota Press, 2010) weighs in at only two hundred thirty pages including index. There are nineteen photos which seems a bit skimpy considering the career of the subject.

Lipsitz is a professor of black studies and sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara and there will be too much of his theorizing for many readers. There is no discography and some key members of the Otis group are barely mentioned. At least two of his producers, including Ralph Bass, are not mentioned at all. As one view of black society in LA, 1940s-70s, this is pretty good but in terms of musical emphasis and what the book could have been, the professor gets a B-.

Biography is different than autobiography and while it is nice to get the word from the horse’s mouth, there are inherent problems in dealing with a man in his late eighties. I’m sad to report that Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry with Gwen Terry (University of California Press, 2011) comes up short in several regards. When recounting the personnel for a particular edition of the Basie band, Terry could remember only two of the five saxophonists. That information is a matter of public record. Why did someone not supply the details? Terry’s memory plays tricks with him on several occasions and results in some stories being run together. About a third of the book deals with his personal side, military experience and family relationships prior to his professional career. There is much to admire here. Terry’s memories of Duke Ellington are vivid and compelling. His baptism of fire came on November 11, 1951 when he joined the band, in St. Louis, for a concert at Kiel auditorium. There are four pages devoted to this single occasion and they are fascinating. Chapters tend to be short but focused.

The racist policies of television network big wheels come in for discussion and the role of the Urban League in helping him become the first black staff musician at NBC is well detailed. Clearly incidents such as this linger in his memory and the stories are told in detail. His memories of the Tonight Show years are lots of fun although some details get mangled in the telling. His complicated relationship with Quincy Jones seems a bit truncated and one wishes for more details of the European episode.

There are plenty of photos but there seems to be a casual attitude toward who gets identified and there are some bad gaffes such as Harry James being identified as an actor and Charlie Rouse miss-identified as Wardell Gray. There is what is listed as a discography but it is merely a list of sessions, in chronological order, with album titles and one issue number, not always the original. No personnel details or tune titles are provided and there are sessions missing. When this is good, it is very good indeed but Clark Terry is a Hall of Fame jazzman and one wishes he could have had the Hall of Fame autobiography he deserves. With a little extra effort, he would have.

Timme Rosenkrantz was a jazz fan of epic enthusiasm and someone who seemed to be a part of the New York scene for most of the era covered by Harlem Jazz Adventures: A European Baron’s Memoir 1934-1969, adapted and edited by Fradley Hamilton Garner (Scarecrow Press, 2012). What Garner has done is to translate and edit the Rosenkrantz memoir originally published in his native Denmark in 1964. What brings the book up to 1969 was Timme’s remembrance of Coleman Hawkins which was originally published elsewhere.

A couple of very good things about this work: 32 photos, most coming from publicity sources but a few taken by Timme himself and the contribution of Donald Clarke, who in notes concluding most chapters corrects the memory and rights the facts. This is a very good idea and should be adopted by others in similar works. Timme liked his sauce and clearly wasn’t taking notes during these fabled evenings.

Outstanding is the inside view of the Savoy Ballroom and its people. There are other descriptions of legendary Harlem locations such as Pod’s and Jerry’s and the Renaissance Ballroom and 52d Street rooms such as the Onyx Club and Kelly’s Stable. You’ll meet some of the legendary “ticklers” of the stride piano scene. You’ll have a better understanding of characters such as Leo Watson, Slim Gaillard, Adrian Rollini and Mezz Mezzrow.

Timme was a colossal failure as a businessman. He tried opening a record shop in Harlem but it operated below street level and served more as a hangout for musicians. He promoted the legendary Town Hall Concert in 1945, well known through the Commodore Records issues, and details how the event was sabotaged by Symphony Sid.

There is a complete listing of the dozens of informal sessions recorded in Timme’s apartment from 1944-46, some of which appeared on 78s back in the day. There are also discussions of the official record dates that he was involved with such as the Barrelhouse Barons (Victor, 1938), which provided the debut of Don Byas, and the Bernard Addison All-Stars (77 Records, 1961) which gave us the last work of Pete Brown.

Major figures such as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Erroll Garner and Art Tatum are in and out of this work but Timme valued Ellington over all others. Bebop was not his cup of tea but he admired Bud Powell. Alas, the chapter on Powell is inexplicably taken up with thoughts of a Down Beat writer offered many years after both Bud and Timme were dead.

By all accounts, Timme Rosenkrantz loved jazz and treasured the friendships he made with its practitioners both well-known and unknown. That it comes through so well in this delightful read is a tribute to all involved. BTW, Scarecrow Press now has sixty-five entries in its catalog. Bravo!

Bob Porter


Biographies of record men have become more and more common in recent years. Often these works are quick cut-and-paste jobs offering little in the way of original research and even less of an understanding of a very complex business. As the record business continues to fade out slowly but inexorably it is a good time to visit with two recent endeavors. In terms of black music and how it was performed, recorded, promoted and sold, Ahmet Ertegun and Norman Granz were important figures.

Granz was older and while he began recording (July 1942, Lester Young-Nat Cole) before he began promoting, it was as a promoter that he was best known in the first few years of his career. When the first JATP records hit in 1946, he realized their potential and recorded almost everything he promoted for many years. He also was active in recording studios with his artists and had an especially astute vision for major projects such as The Jazz Scene, The Astaire Story and the Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks. He was a publicity magnet and a very good businessman.

Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice by Tad Hershorn (University of California Press) is a thorough piece of work and examines it’s subject from every possible angle. The strengths of the book are an extensive investigation of his early years and an equally imp-ressive look at his life in Europe in the last part of his life. And the title is a bit misleading. Granz surely did do battle with public accommodation laws (and attitudes) in many locales and fought for his artists at all times. A liberal politically, Granz had a token membership in the Los Angeles County Communist Party for a period in the mid-40s. But the idea that Granz was a crusader for Civil Rights above all else is simply not true.

What Granz did do was build a major international touring organization, Jazz At The Philharmonic, by himself, from the ground up. He also built his own record label Verve (which consolidated his earlier Clef, Norgran and Down Home labels) by a series of very savvy moves. This combination gave him unrivaled power in the jazz business. As a record producer, he used the best players and left them alone. The number of memorable sessions he produced between 1945 and 1960 is remarkable. It was a rare occasion to find a copy of Down Beat or Metronome (the jazz magazines of the era) from that time without some mention, pro or con, of Granz. He was not shy about writing letters or rebutting his critics.

Granz could also be curt, irascible and arrogant and get away with it. Herschorn goes to great lengths to show that Granz was probably not a very likeable man. By 1960, when he sold Verve, he consolidated his promotional enterprises and moved to Switzerland. He returned to the record business, with Pablo, in 1973 but with little commercial success and a great-session batting average well below that of his earlier venture. There is much in this work about his friendship with Picasso and his interest in art.

If there is something missing here it is an idea of how Granz negotiated the mine field of a record business. It’s a shame that friends such as Saul Zaentz or Mo Ostin were unable to contribute to this work. There isn’t much here to suggest the visceral excitement that one hears on the JATP recordings. The highly contentious relationship between Flip Phillips and Illinois Jacquet is barely hinted at. Or Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie: more collegial but just as competitive read this work in galleys when it was a considerably longer work. There are a number of niggling little errors, some of which seem to have been introduced in the editing process. Yet overall, this is an extensive look at a man who did it his way and absolutely didn’t care whether you liked it or not.

Ahmet Ertegun (1923-2006) was a record man of immense accomplishments and a man who could be at ease in virtually any social setting. His father was a diplomat and he was raised in a series of Turkish embassies, arriving in America at the age of twelve. His brother Nesuhi, older by six years, was the major influence in his life. The Last Sultan: The Life And Times Of Ahmet Ertegun by Robert Greenfield (Simon and Shuster) gets some of it right, some of it wrong but is saddled with a task that would need at least twice the length to do his subject justice.

Greenfield’s major weakness is the early music of Atlantic, formed in 1948. He gets the principal characters right, he gets the relationships right but he talks about records that he never heard-always a bad sign.

Among the major errors are Mitch Miller telling Ahmet that Mercury “would not distribute masters they didn’t own” (not true since they had a deal with Norman Granz doing exactly that)). He has Ahmet convincing Lionel Hampton to start a label called Hamptone (the label existed long before Ahmet got into the record business) and that many of the sessions recorded in 1947 and 48 were “just thrown in the garbage” when in fact most of the sessions produced something issuable. Stuff like this can be easily checked.

On the plus side, the story of the first Atlantic hit, “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-De-O-De” is delivered in perfect detail. But, then, some of the Ruth Brown story is mangled as is the Willie McTell episode. The history of the 50s music is has so many bobbles that it is quite annoying. Jesse Stone, an important part of Atlantic during the first decade, is quoted about a trip to New Orleans that is pure fiction. It is this constant inconsistency that should have been rectified.

Greenfield is on firmer ground when dealing with the 60s onward. The Ertegun-Wexler producing partnership was over by 1959. Atlantic had become so successful that a division of labor was necessary: Ahmet worked on most of the English rock and California pop while Wexler stayed with Black music (Nesuhi was in the mix as well, handling Jazz and International A&R). Those combined efforts produced a spectacular track record of hit records across the idioms.

Like many of the original R&B record men, Ahmet was lionized by the British rockers, many of whom he helped to stardom. They, in turn, always enjoyed his company. Famous for being in the Atlantic offices any day he was in town (but never before noon), it would not be unusual to find some member of Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills & Nash or The Rolling Stones hanging out with him. \r\nThere was also a high society component to his life. His wife, Mica, was a successful interior designer and together they became one of the great New York power couples. Friendships with Henry Kissinger, Oscar de la Renta and Pat Buckley were just as important to him as friendships with Jimmy McPartland, Hal Jackson and Mabel Mercer.

Ahmet Ertegun is a member of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the Soccer Hall of Fame (he convinced Time Warner to buy the New York Cosmos and was involved in the great success of the team in the late 1970s). He endowed the Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame at Jazz At Lincoln Center. All these accomplishments could have been emphasized to a greater degree. Yet many of the classic stories are repeated here and there is lots of insight gleaned from interviews with Jerry Wexler, Doug Morris, Paul Marshall and younger record executives. That Ahmet Ertegun was a complex, multi-talented, individual is obvious. What one also gets out of The Last Sultan is that nobody ever had more fun in the music business. In the end, isn’t that what a life should be about?

Bob’s book reviews also appear in the IAJRC Journal.

For information on the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors contact registrar@iajrc.org

Sweet Man

For much of the 1980s, I was a Governor of the New York NARAS chapter. One of the fringe benefits of such a position was the opportunity to hang out with and make friends with fellow Govs, in this case musicians such as Pepper Adams, Mel Lewis, Helen Merrill, Gerry Mulligan and Dick Katz. George Simon and Dan Morgenstern were also involved so there was a lot of jazz knowledge on our panel.

Together we schemed to get as much recognition as possible for jazz. One year we even managed to get Pepper, who was nominated for a Grammy, to appear on the TV show! On the other hand, we worked, to no avail, to get some relief for Woody Herman from his oppressive tax burden. I got a chance to do a record with Pepper and another with Katz, records that probably would not have been made were it not for the monthly NARAS Governors meetings. The Pepper Adams album was entitled”Urban Dreams” and featured Jimmy Rowles on piano. It was the only time I ever worked with Rowles but I managed to pick up two or three great stories from him and I’m still living off those stories after all these years. When Pepper discovered that the budget was all inclusive and that what was left, after all the other costs were covered, went to him, he knocked that album out in about two and a half hours! The Katz album was one of three I did for Jim Neumann and his Beehive label. Neumann was one of great LP collectors of the twentieth century (his collection was recently donated to Oberlin). A successful businessman, Jim always wanted to run things his way and the record business was a challenge. It wasn’t easy for him to run his business in Chicago and make records in New York. I suggested Junior Mance to him, knowing that Neumann was ready to record almost any good jazz player with Windy City roots. We did a mostly quartet date with Junior’s working trio and David Newman added. In another conversation with Jim, I suggested Dick Katz.

Through our monthly meetings and the conversations that ensued, I found Katz to be extremely well versed on pianists. He knew Teddy Wilson, his original inspiration, but he knew Monk’s music far better than most. He had a slim discography but one that had quality as its recurring theme. Every time I heard him play, I was impressed, thinking that lots of people were sleeping on his talent. And he wrote about jazz with authority. Add to all that was the fact that he was truly a caring human being, one sweet man. The Dick Katz album was part trio, part quintet. It was taped in May of 1984 with Jimmy Knepper and Frank Wess as our horns. Marc Johnson and Al Harewood provided the rhythm. Dick prepared well in advance of the session. “A Few Bars For Basie”, written to honor the recent passing of Count Basie, was the only tune featuring Wess on tenor, everything else featured his flute. I remember thinking at the end of the date that Katz was very well represented on the album. His choice of material was exemplary, his trio playing elegant and he seemed to get everything possible from the quintet. The album was titled, “In High Profile” (Bee Hive 7016). The album was issued on LP but when I asked about CD, Neumann showed no enthusiasm.

After the expiration of our NARAS Governor terms, I would encounter Dick Katz occasionally, playing with Roy Eldridge , in a meeting of some sort, once at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The conversations were always brief but always contained a reference to “In High Profile” and the question of when it might be issued on CD. To me, he referred to the album as his personal favorite.\r\nThe last time I saw him, perhaps five years ago, a different attitude showed up. Beehive had been gone for a long time and the only music from the label that had appeared on CD was the Johnny Hartman material used on ‘The Bridges of Madison County” soundtrack. Neumann still held his masters but wasn’t doing any deals to get the music to CD. Katz said to me, “I never should have made that album for Beehive.

“For many years, I held to the belief that because the record industry had supplied much of my living for a long time that I should abide by their rules. Thus, I had resisted burning vinyl to CD-thinking that in time, the labels would get around to what I wanted. Well some of them, namely Beehive, never got around to it. When Dick Katz died in November last year, there were obituaries that discussed his career in considerable detail. Not once was “In High Profile” mentioned. Because it wasn’t on CD, it didn’t exist.

Well it exists on CD in my collection now. I burned it and sent a check to The Jazz Foundation of America in his memory. Dick Katz, writer, teacher, pianist, friend of mine. One sweet man.



These remarks were given, in somewhat edited form, by Bob at a Memorial Service for Jerry Wexler in New York, October 30, 2009.

Jerry Wexler joined Atlantic Records in June 1953. He didn’t come in with a job, he came in as a partner. He had been a successful song-plugger in the music publishing business and had also worked as a Billboard reporter where he coined the term, “Rhythm and Blues” He had never produced a record.

He always credited his partner, Ahmet Ertegun, with showing him the way yet Jerry had an impact almost immediately: the accompaniment got better. It was Jerry who brought in Sam “The Man” Taylor, Mickey Baker and Lloyd Trotman, not on an occasional basis but to be part of a house band-years before The Funk Brothers at Motown. These three men joined Harry Van Walls and Connie Kay in the evening musicales that took place at 236 W. 56th Street. Throughout the entire period of the Ertegun-Wexler producing partnership, they always chose the musicians.

The music they produced was the greatest Rhythm and Blues of its time. Think of the storied names: Ruth Brown, Lavern Baker, Clyde McPhatter-with and without The Drifters, The Clovers, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles. Jerry’s partner, Ahmet, was very much a night creature. He could usually be found late at night in a Village jazz club, listening to blues in Harlem or chatting up his high society friends at El Morocco. He rarely showed up at the office before noon. It was left to Jerry to mind the store: to deal with suppliers, pound on the distributors and sweet-talk the disc jockeys. When Ahmet’s older brother, Nesuhi, joined the firm in January 1955, Jerry’s duties remained the same. It would be Nesuhi who was charged with creating an LP catalogue and developing a jazz roster. When tastes began to change, it was Jerry who brought in arranger Ray Ellis and did the first independent production deal with Leiber and Stoller. Yet when things began to slow down, as they inevitably would, Jerry was known to lament that, “The Coasters were drifting and The Drifters were coasting” The situation couldn’t last-and didn’t last. The company had grown so successful that Ertegun and Wexler could no longer work together. The division of responsibilities was broken out so that Nesuhi would be involved with International A&R while Ahmet took the lead on the California pop and English rock. Jerry stayed with what he loved best: Rhythm and Blues. When Jerry signed Solomon Burke in 1960, he began anew. In time he would nurture the next generation of Atlantic producers: Bert Berns, Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin and King Curtis. He made a distribution deal with Stax.The music he produced, co-produced, executive-produced or did deals for generated another list of storied names: Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Ben E King-with and without The Drifters, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin. In later years, Jerry would reflect on his term “Rhythm and Blues” suggesting that he should have called it “Blues and Rhythm” or, on another occasion, “Rhythm and Gospel”.

Now it had a new name, “Soul Music”. The name Jerry Wexler may have been linked with others in shared credits but there was never any question as to the identity of the lead dog. Make no mistake about it, it was Jerry Wexler and no other who was most responsible for bringing Soul Music to America.



Linda and I spent the best vacation of our lives on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruisefrom January 24-31. We sailed from Fort Lauderdale aboard Holland America”s MS Eurodam with stops at Samana, Dominican Republic; Tortola and Dominica.”” I went ashore at Tortola (more about that later) but spent the rest of the time digging music, hanging out with musicians and fans and reading (Rick Coleman”s very fine biography of Fats Domino: Blue Monday).

The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise has been operating since 2002 -this was cruise number 13.They started with a January Cruise to the Caribbean but have since expanded with an October voyage from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas. We were aboard for the first West Coast Cruise which was four days. It has since has grown to a full seven days. Things tend to wind up late on the LR&BC but you can still view the proceedings from your cabin via two different closed circuit television channels. Another channel was showing Bob Mugge films, including Deep Blues.

There are several unique features of the LR&BC. First and foremost is the loyalty of their clientele: there is an 80% return rate among its customers! This is unheard of in any business. Roger Naber was once a club owner in Kansas City (The Grand Emporium) and he has an instinctive feel for what his Cruisers want. Attention to detail is important and Naber”s staff is fully attuned to the needs of everyone.

The music was glorious! We began on Saturday by renewing acquaintances with Dion. He and his wife Susan are veteran cruisers on the Holland America line however this was their first time aboard the LR&BC. We met them in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards a few years ago. Dion has recorded a couple of blues CDs that are well worth your attention. They are Bronx In Blue and Son of Skip James. When Roger found out that he would be aboard, he invited him to do a solo set which was scheduled for the following afternoon. We sat together, and were joined by Guy Davis, to hear John Hammond, (whom Dion had known since the 1960s). John keeps getting better and now that he is writing songs, his sets are more varied and interesting. On a Jimmy Reed tune, he got as close to the Reed harmonica sound as anyone I”ve ever heard.

Linda and I went to hear Terrance Simien and his band (complete with guest flute player). Terrance has more fun performing than anyone I know and he insists that his audience get into the act. He flung Mardi Gras beads into the crowd (but not, as he did at The Poconos Blues Festival, with his feet) and answered requests for traditional zydeco tunes. When he sang a Bob Dylan song he set himself apart from everyone. What a voice! I was set to emcee three shows on Sunday but prior to that we stopped in to hear the Gospel Brunch hosted by The Holmes Brothers. Wendell Holmes did not make the trip due to health reasons and was replaced by Ray Schinery on guitar. In addition, Catherine Russell was added to the trio playing keyboards and adding a fourth voice. In this first of five shows the band would perform over the week, things were not quite in synch with the blend of the voices, and not exactly what I would have preferred. After lunch, I headed to the Queen”s Lounge where Dion would do his solo set. Although I was about fifteen minutes early, I couldn”t get near the stage! The room had begun to fill up when he started his sound check and quickly was packed to overflowing. Roger Naber handled the introductions in my absence and Dion proceeded to completely enthrall the crowd. He is a natural storyteller and mixed up country blues with versions of his own hits and even hits by other writers (he had the audience singing along with Neil Sedaka”s “Calendar Girl”!). His set was one of the many big hits of the cruise.

I had the pleasure of introducing The Georgia Songbird, E.G. Kight for a solo set in the late afternoon slot. I have followed this lady for more than ten years since she moved into the blues field. She is a gifted songwriter-her tunes are being performed by a growing number of singers these days. The house was about one-third full when she began however people began drifting in and they stayed. E.G. has an easy manner with her songs and was, to me, a surprisingly good guitarist. By the time she finished the room was full. She is a class act. We joined Terrance Simien for dinner and had some wonderful conversation. He is someone who has benefited considerably since becoming the first recipient of the Cajun/Zydeco Grammy. Many of the players in his band have been with him ten years or more so the sound of the group is tight and the repertoire wide.

I have been introducing Guy Davis for many years and have always appreciated his versatility on banjo, guitar and harmonica. He is one who is completely at ease in front of an audience and his own songs blend in perfectly with the songs by other writers (he had the audience singing along with Mississippi John Hurt”s “Candy Man”). We heard a taste of Irma Thomas before turning in. We have heard her on any number of occasions and we know her basic set well. Yet she is so thoroughly consistent in her performances, she is always worth a listen. The audience, many of whom have heard her as often as we have, simply adores her.

While in port, there was no music until late afternoon and while some checked out Samana, I chilled with my book and dug some of the films. By this time, Linda & I would head in different directions but we rendezvoused at the Queen”s Lounge for a mostly acoustic jam which featured Bob Margolin and E.G. There were lots of guests including Ana Popovic and Guy Davis. Margolin is a perfect host for this sort of thing since he tells funny stories (the one about Big Joe Williams and Muddy was a favorite) and is able to bend his own playing to suit anyone else. We were especially impressed with Ms. Popovic, whose playing, in this loose relaxed context, was quite good and very different from what one hears in her own shows. She has an eight month old son Luke, and is thus far managing to balance the demands of motherhood, with those of a professional entertainer. Linda turned in but we hung out with Steve Simon, who runs a Blues Festival on St. John”s in March, ace photographer Joe Rosen and some other kindred spirits until way past late. The piano bar was still jumping and Mitch Woods made the most of his many appearances there. Tomorrow, Tortola.


Stitt Plays Bird: New Japanese Release

Stitt is a member of the New England Jazz Hall of Fame but his entry there, though surely deserved, is probably due to the accident of birth. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (Oxford University Press) lists his place of birth as Boston and the date as February 2, 1924. Yet Stitt was raised in Saginaw, Michigan and was an active part of the Detroit jazz scene in his formative years.

Most fans are aware of the massive migration of Motor City jazzmen to New York in the 1950s. Thad Jones, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Curtis Fuller, Doug Watkins, Donald Byrd, Pepper Adams and Sonny Red were some of the most prominent. During the early years of World War II, Detroit harbored an extraordinary group of saxophonists. Yusef Lateef (then known as Bill Evans), Wardell Gray, Big Nick Nicholas, Lucky Thompson, Teddy Edwards and Stitt were all active. Stitt and Edwards were the youngest and at the time each was playing alto sax. There is a good deal of information on this period in “Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit, 1940-1960” by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert (University of Michigan Press).

Gradually the name bands of the time plucked these budding stars out of Michigan. Gray went with Earl Hines, Thompson with Lionel Hampton, Edwards with Ernie Fields while Nicholas and Stitt both joined Tiny Bradshaw. Stitt was with Bradshaw until he joined Billy Eckstine in early 1945. From there he joined Dizzy Gillespie and made a big impression in his earliest recordings with Dizzy as well as some Savoy sides with Kenny Dorham and Bud Powell. He also acquired a heroin habit which dominated his life during much of 1947 at which point he had moved back to Detroit. While in Detroit, he recorded for Sensation under the pseudonym Lord Nelson and took part in a session led by Russell Jacquet for the same label.

Much of 1948 and a period of 1949 were spent in prison after Stitt had been convicted of narcotics possession. When he returned, he was playing tenor and he impressed everyone with his ability on the larger horn. He began a three year association with Prestige Records and at the same time put together a band with an old friend from the Billy Eckstine band, Gene Ammons.

The recordings for Prestige by Ammons & Stitt used joint billing because each man had his individual deal with Prestige but, in terms of billing on the road, Ammons was the man and Stitt was more of a junior partner. When Stitt left the group in 1952, he began a life as a jazz nomad, constantly traveling and working with a new rhythm section in each town. He began an association with Roost Records in 1952 and for a while he featured alto, tenor and baritone sax in his shows.

The last association of Sonny Stitt to have a significant effect on his playing came in 1956 when he joined the Jazz at the Philharmonic organization of Norman Granz. Stitt toured the US with JATP in 1956 and 1957 and appeared with the JATP troupe in Europe as well. Being on stage with the likes of Flip Phillips, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Coleman Hawkins and Stan Getz each night made Stitt not only appreciate the opportunity he had but inspired him to make the most of it. For many years, he carried a clipping from a Melody Maker review in London headlined “Sonny Stitt Stole the Show”.

The JATP experience provided a leg up in stature but all of a sudden his ballad playing, especially on alto, got better. He was paying closer attention to the melody now and the occasional impatience he displayed in stating themes completely disappeared. During his JATP years he became quite friendly with Stan Getz and discovered that they shared the same birthday. It became a ritual for the two men to find each other, regardless of where in the world they might be, on February 2 in order to wish a Happy Birthday.

By the time we get to “Stitt Plays Bird”, Sonny Stitt had become the complete freelancer, with no exclusivity in his booking or record company deals. The Atlantic record date was his first of the year but before 1963 was over he would also have recorded for Pacific Jazz, Impulse, Argo, Roost and Prestige. Yet this album project would be a departure for Stitt. It was repertoire driven and a salute to the giant of bebop saxophone. You don”t give that kind of assignment to anyone less than a great player.

The results provided the single most heralded album in Stitt”s career to this point. The combination of fresh players such as Jim Hall and Richard Davis with veterans such as John Lewis and Connie Kay proved to be the right mix although none had appeared on a Sonny Stitt album before. There is delightful interplay between alto and guitar on the second chorus of the faster than usual “Now”s The Time” while “Yardbird Suite”, slower than usual, finds a perfect, utterly relaxed groove. These two performances, not released in the original LP, had to be rescued from a playback reel when the masters were destroyed in a fire. “Hootie Blues” might better be titled “Blues for Hootie”. This performance does not feature that melody and contains very few allusions to the magnificent single chorus Parker solo on the original Jay McShann band recording of “Hootie Blues”.

Sonny Stitt died in 1982. He recorded over one hundred albums in his life but few of them achieved the kind of celebrity as “Stitt Plays Bird”. While he recorded three separate tributes to Duke Ellington and he continued to play Charlie Parker tunes, he never revisited the idea of doing another album of Charlie Parker music. What makes this homage so compelling forty years after the fact is that it was played by Sonny Stitt in the spirit of but not the letter of Charlie Parker. There have been vocalese treatments and Super Sax arrangements of Charlie Parker songs and solos that recreate each note perfectly. The ability to make Charlie Parker”s music come alive requires someone who knows the material and knows himself .It requires someone who has met the challenges, climbed the mountains and achieved Hall of Fame stature. It needs a great player such as Sonny Stitt.

Newly discovered Jimmy Blanton photos

In September 2007 Fred Reif sent me these photos. He had obtained them from the original photographer (now deceased) with the note that they were taken at the Michigan State Fair, probably in 1941.

I threw this out to some jazz scholars who wrestled with the problem: Cootie Williams left the band in November 1940.The Ellington band was in California in 1941 with Jump For Joy. Using the tracking skills of several Ellington experts, we came up with the possibility of MSF in late August of1940. Would anyone like to opine on this?

Janiva Magness in Worcester

Janiva Magness wowed her fans on Friday July 11 at the EcoTarium in a concert co-produced by the EcoTarium and WICN public radio. She performed two sets, eleven songs, going back as far as her 1999 album, MY BAD LUCK SOUL and coming all the way forward to her most recent outing, THAT”S WHAT LOVE WILL MAKE YOU DO (Alligator 4924). All this despite an injury which resulted from a fall while loading her tour van ten days ago. For this show a foot cast and cane replaced her signature hand fan!

Her first set included three songs from the new album, finishing up with “Get It, Get It”, which was the closer. The dance floor was full and the enthusiastic fans moved over to the CD table where there was a long line waiting to buy autographed CDs.

The dancers returned for set two which began with “I”m Lost Without You” from her USE WHAT YOU GOT album. Guitarist Zach Zunis was on the record and he was featured here. A pair of songs from the 2006 album DO I MOVE YOU (“Workin” On Me Baby” and “You Were Never Mine”) were met with enthusiastic approval. “Ain”t Lost Nothin”” followed an autobiographical recitation of some of the many tragedies she has endured. “You Sound Pretty Good” from the latest album, written with her husband Jeff Turnes, presented a more upbeat look at her current situation in the music business.

She concluded the evening by singing, rather than talking, to her fans. She introduced the band and expressed her gratitude to the audience for its support.
The Band: Benny Yee, keyboards; Zach Zunis, guitar; Gary Davenport, bass; Perry Senn, drums.


Ike Turner Remembered

When I heard of Ike’s Turners death in December 2007, I had several immediate thoughts: his accomplishments, his concerns, his reputation but more than anything else, his music.

It is different for each person as to how and when they come upon this music. I had first known about him through the success of the Ike & Tina Sue recordings that got plenty of play over WEZE/WILD in Boston. In my teens and twenties when I discovered someone I liked, it became an obsession: I had to hear everything. I soon discovered the instrumentals that he had recorded, notably for Pompeii, but also as one part of what he routinely did through the years. I also loved the live material Ike & Tina had done for Kent/Modern.

I didn’t start going back to hear his recordings from the 1950s until later. I can’t remember when I first heard “Rocket 88” but its greatness made me realize there was much I didn’t know or understand about Ike Turner. For one thing, he played piano. The intro on “Rocket 88″ is one of those perfect moments that stay with the listener forever.

While I was rummaging through cutout bins or chasing down reviewer copies of Ike & Tina”s LPs, Ike hit the big time with his Liberty deal. At that point, the records began selling in huge quantities and the group became nationally known. And then came the breakup, the burnout, the fire which destroyed his studio and the jail time, all fueled by cocaine.

Along the way Kurt Loder had written a best-sellingbiography of Tina, (“I, TINA”) which was made into a movie, “What”s Love Got To Do With It”. The film was a big hit and the portrayal of Ike by Lawrence Fishburne made him out to be a despicable human being. The performance was splendid drama but the difference in physical stature created an enduring problem: Fishburne is well over six feet tall, Ike Turner wasn”t more than five-seven. He may have been shorter than Tina. Film has a way of forming lasting impressions in the mind and the vision of Fishburne looming over Angela Bassett is probably the way most people think of Ike Turner.

Cut to the summer of 1996 when I was doing afternoon drivetime at WBGO. Word came down that the Blue Note, a major night club in New York, had booked a blues show featuring the groups of Joe Louis Walker and Ike Turner. Would I like to interview Ike Turner? I jumped at the opportunity.

Alas WBGO was not archiving interviews in those days so I have nothing other my memory of the event to consult. Most interview subjects, in my experience, want to discuss the gig, the record, the book or whatever else they are selling. If you can get a clean focus on those things, you”ll usually have a decent interview. In Ike”s case, he hadn”t had a record in many years and surely hadn’t played New York or its environs since the 1970s.

I started by playing “Rocket 88”. Off mike, he asked why I chose it. I told him that the audience would expect him to play it and he seemed genuinely surprised. His show, the Ike Turner Revue, was largely built along the lines of what he had been doing with Tina. His wife Jeanette would be the singer. He had a couple of piano features in the show and said he would think about adding “Rocket 88”. He began to open up.

He talked about his upbringing in the Mississippi delta. He spoke freely of the Bihari family and Sam Phillips, whom he had worked with before Sun was founded. He talked of knowing BB King when he was still called Riley. He talked about the move to St. Louis and the founding of The Kings of Rhythm. I suggested he revive the The Kings of Rhythm name.

We continued to play music from his past rather than just the hits. He stopped the thread of the conversation at one point and began to speak of his own mortality. He would be sixty-five years old later that year and he knew that sixty-five was the average life span of black men. He wondered whether his accomplishments in the development of modern blues would ever be acknowledged. He was concerned whether he would have enough time to complete the things he was working on. This was not your run-of-the-mill interview subject matter. I asked him, since he had been a bandleader, a songwriter, a pianist and guitarist, how he thought of himself. While not exactly answering the question, he responded without hesitation, “I can make a monkey out of a piano but I only do tricks on guitar”. As we were concluding the conversation he gave me a CD containing rough mixes of songs he was working on. He autographed a photo with a tag that said”stay strong”.

I saw the show at the Blue Note and it was pretty lame except for the piano things, including “Rocket 88″, which got a very good response from the crowd. I kept thinking about the conversation and the thoughts stayed with me. I didn”t think all that much about Ike”s music until the release of “Here and Now” (Ikon 8850) in 2001. The band was listed as Ike Turner & the Kings of Rhythm. Fifty years from the release of “Rocket 88”, Ike Turner was back where he belonged. The album got raves and Ike was given an award for Comeback Album of The Year by the Blues Foundation.

He took the Kings of Rhythm on the road playing festivals all over the world. He had a triumphant couple of sets at the Chicago Blues Festival in 2001. The first, on the main stage, was with his own band while the second was a reunion with Pinetop Perkins, his first piano teacher. This latterset got some of the most tumultuous applause in the history of the CBF. Then came the Zoho release, “Risin” With The Blues” (Zoho 200611) from 2006. While not quite up to the level of the Ikon album, there was plenty of solid stuff on this and it also won a Grammy award for Best Traditional Blues Album. Ike Turner had come all the way back.

The last time I heard him was in October 2006 on a cruise ship, in the Pacific Ocean, off the Mexican coast. He came on about midnight before an appreciative, well-oiled crowd that was expecting great things. That night they got them. The augmented Kings of Rhythm now contained three horns, three keyboards including his old friend from Mississippi Ernest Lane, full rhythm section and Audrey Madison, an energetic young lady doing the obligatory “Nutbush CityLimits” and “Proud Mary”. Ike played piano and guitar as well as he ever played them. It was a show that took no prisoners and simply blasted the blues from bar one. I thought to myself that this had to be the best blues band I had overheard. Thinking back to that interview in 1996, I”d say that Ike made the most of his time. He was able in the course of those last two albums to reestablish his blues credentials to everyone”s satisfaction. A thorough reexamination of his early years had provided more than enough evidence of his ability to bring a modern take on the blues out of the Mississippi delta. His own book, TAKIN” BACK MY NAME, sadly lacking an editor, was flawed but still contained fascinating bits and pieces relating to his whole career.

The general public, who read Tina”s book and saw the movie, would never get it but then I don”t think Ike cared about that. His people were blues people and music people who, now more than ever, knew what he had done and how well he did it.


There is an especially well-done farewell to Ike by Cilla Huggins in issue #65 of JUKE BLUES, the English magazine that had been very much in Ike”s corner for a long time. Here”s Ike”s original “Rocket 88” for your listening pleasure, thanks to HuckToohey from YouTube.