Saturday, May 30, 2009

Benny Goodman

When I was 10 years old, I wanted to play the tenor sax. I just loved the music of Jr. Walker and the All Stars at that time. I asked my parents if we could rent one, but I was told that the family finances wouldn't allow it. Plus I was told that it would be doubtful if I'd stick with it. But, if I wanted to try the clarinet, I could use the one my mother played when she was in grade school. Clarinet? That's a girl's instrument! No thanks!

Well, a few months later, I happened to see The Benny Goodman Story on one of those television Saturday matinees. Wow, all those horns! Sing, Sing, Sing! Maybe clarinet wouldn't be so bad after all. With that, I joined the beginner's class mid-year. (To catch up on the fingering, I wrote a number system under every note. Unfortunately, it became a crutch for me and I didn't stop until my 7th grade band director saw it and gave me grief for it.)

My grandmother had some big band records. In addition to Benny Goodman, she had Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, to name a few. I would listen to these like crazy and I also listened to the radio to get more of this music. Besides the FM jazz station, KFI 640 used to play big band music. (The host was Chuck Cecil, who is still at it, although now on KJAZ 88.1. )

Eventually, I was able to discover so many other artists after the initial discovery of Benny Goodman. You can see where the ensuing 40 years have led me from the entries in this blog. Occasionally, I still like to remind my mother that she said I'd never stick with the horn!

I never got to see Benny in person. He didn't play in LA much, but I remember he played at the Hollywood Bowl at the 1979 Playboy Jazz Festival. As a college student, it didn't work out dough-wise.

Benny Goodman was born 100 years ago today. Thanks for everything, Benny!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Duke Ellington plays the Beatles! (reposted)

File this under things that jazz musicians had to do to survive during the rock and roll era. Those sleeves!!!

I had identified most of the personnel in the above video. A reader [Idiom59] left a comment that added the full list. His illuminating comment has been moved to the post:

"Great Sleeves. The personnel is:

Cootie Williams, Mercer Ellington, Willie Cook, Cat Anderson tpts.

Booty Wood, Chuck Connors, Julian Preister tmbs

Paul Gonsalves, Harold Asby, Norris Turney, Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope saxes

[Wild Bill Davis - organ] Victor Gaskin e-bass Joe Benjamin bass Tiny Grimes guitar Rufus Jones drums

Harry Carney was present for the pre-recordings on the 22/2/70 but his Father died on that day so he was missing for the actual telecast on the 23rd.What we see is Russell Procope miming Harry's part! I think that this was also Johnny Hodges final TV appearance as he died the following May. "

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sidney Bechet: May 14, 1897 - May 14, 1959

I was in high school when I first heard soprano saxophonist/clarinetist Sidney Bechet on the local radio station. Back then (the mid-70s), the Los Angeles Jazz Station, KBCA 105.1 used to feature a traditional jazz program on Sunday afternoons. It was called "Strictly From Dixie" and was hosted by Benson Curtis. The great thing about his show was he told you background information about the recordings and the players. (Now, it seems like you don't even get the names of the sidemen.) Although Bechet's wide vibrato takes some getting used to, his inventive and powerful improvisations don't.
(Many of the Bechet songs that I recorded off the radio years ago were recently reissued on CD by Mosaic.)
Sidney Bechet was born on May 14, 1897 in New Orleans. He died on May 14, 1959 in France, 50 years ago today.

This video of Bechet features Teddy Buckner on trumpet. For many years, Buckner led the trad jazz band that played at Disneyland's New Orleans Square. Every time we'd go, it was always fun to listen to his group. (Also, the drummer on this is Roy Eldridge, usually heard on trumpet. He was definitely no slouch on la batterie, either!)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Cat Who Went To Heaven

A Jazz Opera! Starting next week (May 13th), you can see some jazz greats in an unusual setting.

Jazz singer and songwriter Nancy Harrow has teamed up with the Culture Project, to present a jazz puppet show based on the Newbery Award-winning book, The Cat Who Went To Heaven, by Elizabeth Coatsworth. Harrow is best known for recording jazz albums inspired by literary subjects; her album The Lost Lady was dubbed one of the best jazz albums of the year by both the Village Voice and Boston Globe. In this live production of her children’s book-inspired album, she tells the story through 26 contemporary jazz tracks and the traditional Japanese art of Bunraku puppetry. The all-star ensemble includes Nancy Harrow, notable instrumentalists Clark Terry, Kenny Barron, Frank Wess, George Mraz and the voice of Grady Tate.

Suggested donation is $10. For more information, go to or Reservations can be made at 212-479-0829. The six performances will take place at The Harlem School of the Arts Theater, 647 St. Nicholas Avenue between West 145th and 141st Streets, New York, NY 10030 as follows:

· Wednesday, May 13 at 7 p.m.
· Saturday, May 16 at 11a.m.
· Wednesday, May 20 at 7 p.m.
· Wednesday, May 27 at 7 p.m.
· Saturday, May 30 at 5 p.m.
· Wednesday, June 3 at 7 p.m.

If you're in the area, check it out!