Those were the times!

Fletcher Henderson, Peanuts Hucko and Jimmy Crawford at the Central Plaza? Wild Bill Davison, Max Kaminsky, Rex Stewart, Mezz Mezzrow, Bud Freeman and Omer Simeon in the same bill? Henry Red Allen, George Wettling, Pee Wee Russell, Claude Hopkins... Those were the times!


Clark Terry on Jabbo Smith

"I feel extremely privileged and honored to be on the same planet with Jabbo Smith because he's the man who set down many of the standards that those of us who call ourselves jazz trumpet players follow today. He's a man of deep wit and humor and, of course, he's extremely talented... he has never lost his yen for fun and indulgence in his craft. When I grow up I want to be just like Jabbo."

[Clark Terry, January 1984]


"Me siento tremendamente privilegiado y honrado de estar en el mismo planeta que Jabbo Smith, porque él es el hombre que estableció muchos de los estándares que seguimos hoy en día los que nos hacemos llamar trompetistas. Es un hombre de profundo ingenio y humor y, por supuesto, tiene muchísimo talento... nunca ha perdido las ganas de divertirse y de regodearse con sus bromas. Cuando sea mayor, quiero ser como Jabbo."

[Clark Terry, enero de 1984]


Jabbo Smith with the Hot Antic Jazz Band - 1982

The Hot Antic Jazz Band was born in 1979, after a jam session in which five amateur musicians discovered that they had a common passion for the music of the legendary trumpet player Jabbo Smith. They then decided to meet regularly in order to play his repertoire. The funding members were Michel Bastide (cornet and valve trombone), Jean-François Bonnel (clarinet and cornet), Gilles Berrut (piano), Jean-Pierre Dubois (banjo and reeds) and Christian Lefevre (tuba and valve trombone).

In 1982, Jabbo Smith played ten concerts in Europe (Switzerland, Italy and France) with the Hot Antic Jazz Band. This tour, a dream come true for the French band, was organized by Jean-Pierre Daubresse and got immortalized on the CD Jabbo Smith & the Hot Antic Jazz Band (Memories MECD04). In the book Voices Of The Jazz Age: Profiles Of Eight Vintage Jazzmen by Chip Deffaa (University of Illinois Press, 1990), leader Michel Bastide recalls that "It was for us a great shock: Jabbo was playing with a fire, enthusiasm, inventivity, technical possibilities, so far from what we heard in the recordings he did in the 1970s. Of course he was not the Jabbo of 1929, but he was not the tired old man who he was said to be". Just after Smith returned to the United States, he suffered a second stroke which affected the motor control of his voice and some facial muscles.

I will try to write in-depth on Jabbo Smith in the near future but, for the time being, let me bring my diligent readers two youtube.com videos from this 1982 European tour.


Jabbo Smith - Juan-les-Pins, 1979

Cladys 'Jabbo' Smith was one of the three members in the trumpet triumvirate of the late 1920s (Louis Armstrong -OKeh-, Henry 'Red' Allen -Victor- and himself -Brunswick-) but, in the 1930s, he moved to Milwaukee, which would be his home for many years, alternating with several returns to New York and the musical scene. Back in Milwaukee in the last 1940s, he married and raised two children while playing local gigs as a musician and working for Avis Rent-a-Car during the day.

Rehearsal recordings with Marty Grosz from Jun 3, 1961 were issued as Hidden Treasure on Jazz Art TR-520699/700 (and recently reissued on CD by Lone Hill Jazz), but his real comeback started in the late 1960s, when musicians, fans and record collectors were surprised to learn that the star of those great 1920s recordings was still alive. Smith successfully played with bands and shows in New York, New Orleans, Louisiana, London and France through the 1970s and into the 1980s. He appeared at the 1974 Newport Jazz Festival and four years later at the Village Gate and on tour with the off-Broadway show One Mo' Time.

Here's Jabbo Smith's band at the 1979 Juan-les-Pines Jazz Festival in France with Orange Kellin on clarinet, Waldren 'Frog' Joseph on trombone, Danny Barker on guitar, Lars Edegram on piano, Frank Fields on bass and John Robichaux on drums. This group had previously recorded on December 12, 1978, the album being issued as Jabbo! (Memories ME03). While, obviously, Jabbo is not at the height of his trumpet and vocal powers, he still can take the lead very solidly and play some real hot solos.


James P. Johnson's last rent party!

James P. Johnson was admitted to Queens General Hospital on November 15, 1955, after having suffered his eighth stroke at home and, on November 17, he died due to a final massive stroke. All the major New York newspapers published his obituary, and he was identified not only as a pianist but also as a prolific composer but, according to Down Beat (December 28, 1955), fewer than 75 persons attended the funeral services at University Chapel in midtown Manhattan two days later.

James P. Johnson, the father of stride piano, composer of The Charleston and The Carolina Shout and one of the founders of modern jazz piano lies, shockingly, in an unmarked grave in Maspeth, Queens, Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

The James P. Johnson Foundation, the Johnson family and Smalls Club have organized an all day “rent party” to raise money to buy a monument to commemorate this great musician. It will take place on Sunday, October 4th beginning at 1:00 PM at Smalls Jazz Club, located at 183 West 10th Street at 7th Avenue.

The afternoon will begin with a symposium by musicologist and Johnson scholar Scott Brown on the life and work of James P. Johnson, followed by Mark Borowsky from the James P. Johnson Foundation and, around 3:00 will then be a steady stream of pianists to play solo piano in tribute to James P. Johnson.

This is the complete schedule:

  • 1:00 PM Doors Open

  • 1:30 PM Opening Words – Barry Glover and The James P. Johson Society

  • 2:00 PM Symposium – James P. Johnson: The Man Who Made The Twenties Roar – Scott E. Brown (this will include an exhibit from The James P. Johnson archive housed at The Rutgers Institute for Jazz Studies)

  • 3:00 PM Symposium - James P. Johnson: Invisible Pianist of the Harlem Renaissance – Mark Borowsky

  • 4:00 PM J. Michael O’Neal and Natalie Wright

  • 4:30 PM John Bunch

  • 5:00 PM Tardo Hammer

  • 5:30 PM Conal Fowkes

  • 6:00 PM Terry Waldo

  • 6:30 PM Spike Wilner

  • 7:00 PM Ethan Iverson

  • 7:30 PM Mike Lipskin

  • 8:00 PM Aaron Diehl

  • 8:30 PM Ted Rosenthal

  • 9:00 PM Dick Hyman

Suggested tax-free donations are $20 with all the proceeds to go to the James P. Johnson Foundation.


Bessie Smith at the Douglass Theater (Dec. 17-23, 1923)

According to Chris Albertson’s Bessie (Yale University Press, 2003), on December 17, 1923, Bessie Smith returned to the Douglass Theater in Baltimore to fulfil a week’s engagement as a headliner. According to Albertson, “being signed to a major label (Columbia Records) gave Bessie an imprimatur that registered dramatically at the box office: the Douglass’s manager declared the engagement the most successful in the theater’s history”.

Strangely, the following article, published in the Afro American, December 21, 1923, reports that “she (Bessie) expressed disgust at the poor attendance at the Douglass, stating that everywhere else they have appeared they have done turn-away business”.

[Click on image to see full size version]

On December 22, 1923, four months before Bessie’s first contract with Columbia was to expire, the company signed her to a new and better contract: she would record a minimum of twelve sides a year, $200 apiece.

Bessie concluded her week at the Douglass Theater on the following day, and opened Christmas Eve at the Dunbar in Philadelphia.

Here’s an ad for the Douglass Theater engagement, published in the Afro American, December 14, 1923, followed by a photograph of Bessie with a footnote that includes a description of her voice as “full, round, strong and clear with an unusual sweetness, tempered with an original plaintive note that goes straight to the heart of the listener, and has put her on the top round of the vaudeville performers of the race”.

[Click on image to see full size version]


De acuerdo con el libro “Bessie” (Yale University Press, 2003) de Chris Albertson, el 17 de diciembre de 1923, Bessie Smith volvía al Douglass Theater de Baltimore con un contrato de una semana como cabeza de cartel. Según Albertson, “el tener contrato con una discográfica grande (Columbia Records) le daba a Bessie un estatus que se reflejaba dramáticamente en taquilla: el manager del Douglass declaró esos conciertos como los más exitosos de la historia del teatro”.

Extrañamente, el siguiente artículo, publicado en el Afro American (21 de diciembre de 1923) informaba que “Bessie expresó su disgusto por la poca asistencia de público en el Douglass (…)”.

El 22 de diciembre de 1923, cuatro meses antes de que el primer contrato de Bessie con Columbia expirase, la compañía firmó un nuevo y mejor contrato: Bessie grabaría un mínimo de doce temas al año, a razón de 200 dólares cada uno.

Bessie finalizó su semana en el Douglass Theater el día siguiente y abrió en el Dunbar de Filadelfia en Nochebuena.

Este anuncio de los conciertos en el Douglass Theater se publicó en el Afro American el 14 de diciembre de 1923. A continuación, se adjunta una foto de Bessie Smith (publicada el mismo día) que incluye una descripción de su voz como: “plena, redonda, fuerte y clara, con una dulzura inusual, matizada con un original tono lastimero que va directo al corazón del oyente y la ha colocado en la primera fila de intérpretes de vaudeville de color”.


El Siglo Del Jazz

La exposición El Siglo Del Jazz, organizada conjuntamente por el Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, el Musée du quai Branly de París y el Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona, es un proyecto interdisciplinar dirigido por Daniel Soutif que pretende repasar cien años de historia del jazz tanto a partir de una perspectiva puramente musical como a través de sus interrelaciones con otras artes (pintura, fotografía, cine o diseño gráfico). Se encuentra actualmente en Barcelona (del 22 de julio hasta el 18 de octubre), tras haber pasado por Trento y París.

La muestra se estructura en varias secciones cronológicas (Arqueología del Jazz; La Era del Jazz 1917-1930; La Era del Swing 1930-1939; Tiempos de Guerra 1939-1945; Bebop 1945-1960; La Revolución Free 1960-1980; Época Contemporánea 1980-2002) y supone un viaje fascinante por el mundo del jazz, partiendo de una buena colección de partituras, revistas, libros, carátulas de discos, fotografías, pinturas, dibujos, carteles de conciertos, recortes de prensa y proyecciones.

Tras dos horas de visita, y sin ninguna pretensión crítica ni ánimo de exhaustividad, estos son los tres aspectos que más captaron mi atención:

- Por encima de todo, la magnífica selección de partituras, procedente casi en su totalidad de la colección privada de Philippe Baudoin y que se inicia a mediados del siglo XIX (incluye, por ejemplo, “The Banjo, American Sketch” y “Bamboula” de Louis Moreau Gottschalk o “Music Of The Ethiopian Serenaders”, de 1847) y recoge una buena selección de rags, temas populares de principio de siglo y composiciones del Tin Pan Alley y de la era del swing.

- Otro elemento fascinante es una imitación (en cartón, eso sí) de una Panoram, una de aquellas máquinas que, instaladas en bares, cafeterías y clubs entre 1940 y 1947, permitían reproducir por sólo diez centavos un soundie de tres minutos. La selección proyectada en la exposición incluye ocho soundies, entre ellos el divertido “Your Feet’s Too Big” de Fats Waller o el vibrante “Thanks For The Boogie Ride” de la orquesta de Gene Krupa, con ese picante dúo de Anita O’Day y Roy Eldridge.

- Y para finalizar, la adaptación barcelonesa de la muestra contiene una interesante sección centrada en conciertos históricos acaecidos en la ciudad condal, por lo que incluye una selección de carteles, programas y recortes de prensa y revistas especializadas, con especial referencia a la colección de programas de mano de los conciertos, conferencias y audiciones organizadas por el Hot Club de Barcelona.


Will Marion Cook's Clef Club Orch. with Fletcher Henderson

According to Swing Along: The Musical Life Of Will Marion Cook by Marva Griffin Carter (Oxford University Press, 2008), when Will Marion Cook returned from Europe in March 1923, he toured with a 25-piece Clef Club Orchestra, performing at Baltimore's Douglass Theatre (March 23, 1923) and Philadelphia's Dunbar Theater, with 'Paramount Recording Wizard' Fletcher Henderson at the piano.

Here's the ad for the first concert, published in the Afro American, March 16, 1923 (note the "35 Musicians and Players" tag).

[Click on image to see full size version]


Bessie Smith ads [part 1]

Here's a first batch of Bessie Smith ads, all taken from the Afro American (December 21, 1928). More to come!

[Click on images to see a full size version]


Leonard Feather on Duke Ellington (NYT, Dec. 1944)

Between May and December 1943, a series of articles on Ellington's Carnegie Hall debut was published in the American magazine Jazz.

John Hammond fired the controversy up with his article "Is The Duke Deserting Jazz?", published in the May 1943 issue, where he criticized Ellington's music (particularly Black, Brown & Beige) for having lost connection with its original function for dancing, and for having become too complex. Hammmond had previously criticized Ellington's Reminiscing In Tempo in his article "The Tragedy Of Duke Ellington", published in the November 1935 issue of Downbeat, for not showing any commitment to social causes.

Leonard Feather, acting both as a critic and as Ellington's press agent, responded to Hammond with a ferocious rebuttal in the May 1943 issue, suggesting possible personal reasons behind Hammond's criticism of Ellington.

Jazz's editor Bob Thiele took a more moderate possition in the July 1943 issue, with an article called "The Case Of Jazz Music". Three other articles were added to this debate: Jake Trussell's "Ellington Hits The Top, And The Bottom" (May 1943) and "In Defense Of Hammond" (July 1943) and Jim Weaver's "Jazz And Ellingtonia" (December 1943).

The following article by Leonard Feather, "The Duke And His Place In Jazz History", was published in the New York Times twelve months after this controversy.

[Click on image to see a full size version]