If faced with a new theory, William James always wanted to ask: would my life be better if I believed it? Confronted with a volume on jazz of 890 pages it seems reasonable to ask: if I read all this, will it make the music sound any different? One can think of few books on this subject which do that.1.
Sudhalter goes only up to 1945 yet, given the scope and diversity of the music covered and the physical dimensions of this volume, that is far enough. One hopes that he is already at work on the Part II promised in his Preface, but one does so with no more optimism than can be extended to Part III of Gunther Schuller's parallel history. Personally, I thank Heaven that Sudhalter (and Schuller) made no attempt to deal with the so-called ''New Orleans revival'' performances of Lu Watters, which have long appeared to me as being -- apart from 1960s British trad (Barber, Bilk, Ball, etc.) -- the worst noises ever made in the name of jazz.
Yet he was, on the other hand, mistaken to omit the Charlie Barnet outfit and in particular to depend on George T. Simon's short-sighted 1939 assessment. With ocean liners and Hollywood behind him, Barnet properly started bandleading with echoes of Basie and especially Ellington. But a performance such as the 1944 ''Gulf Coast Blues,'' composed long before by Clarence Williams and scored for Barnet by Andy Gibson and Ralph Flanagan, shows, with such features as bitonal harmony, that the band had developed a style of its own. Other pieces like ''Shady Lady,'' ''The Moose,'' and ''West End Blues'' confirm this.
A beginning is made by Sudhalter with a quotation from
Lesson 2 of Stravinsky's Poetics of Music to the effect that
the past slips away from 1. One of the very few, though evidently
ignored by most American readers, is André Hodeir, The
Worlds of Jazz (New York: Grove Press, 1972).
1. One of the very few, though evidently ignored by most American readers, is André Hodeir, The Worlds of Jazz (New York: Grove Press, 1972).
Of course, numerous actual facts do stubbornly survive. Books and newspapers were printed, photographs taken, recordings made at perfectly specific times. But is it likely that we experience them years and even decades later exactly as they were experienced when new?
This book is primarily concerned with music, secondarily with the music business, yet a third consideration is the society in which the music, and the musicians, found themselves. This last brings in all the highly personal factors just referred to; and others. It is a disagreeable paradox that although America, and especially the United States, has been a racial melting pot, with all that implies in cultural terms, the States in particular has been a segregated society. As we might expect of a melting pot, whites as well as blacks have always taken part in jazz. Yet as if to reverse the social effects of segregation, the slant of most commentary on jazz has been to exalt the -- obviously central -- contribution of blacks and diminish that of whites.
Many have seen poetic justice in this, but however much our memories and the memories of others distort the past, we should at least try to establish what really happened. Both in his Introduction and at many points later in this giant text Sudhalter deals with the interplay between actual events and subjective factors such as those to which I have referred. This accounts for the specific character of the book under review, its subtitle, its unusual contents.
A second beginning is made in Chapter 1 with the arrival
of Tom Brown's band in Chicago during 1915, a year ahead of the
Original Dixieland 2. Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music
in the Form of Six Lessons (New York: Vintage Books, 1956), 26.
2. Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons (New York: Vintage Books, 1956), 26.
Until recently, most reminiscences of New Orleans musical life in the [twentieth] century's first two decades have been highly romanticized. Emphasis was on black and Creole musicians, with whites assigned a secondary, carbon-copy role. A growing body of research has now begun to place early accounts by all parties in an accurate temporal and factual matrix. One effect has been a shift in balance: Storyville, long thought a jazz seedbed, is now seen as far less important than, for example, the turn-of-the-century brass band movement. Such figures as the cornettist Buddy Bolden, once imbued with almost superhuman powers, have been gradually stripped of their veneer of legend (5).
Yet this book pursues its main line of argument anecdotally -- there remain an awful lot of stories in as inherently nomadic music as jazz, with its constant arrivals and departures. At the same time Sudhalter is always ready to break off into strict musical analysis, with notated examples whenever appropriate. Of necessity, he has listened to a vast number of records, some of them exceedingly rare, and did so with real independence, hearing many things that had been passed over until now. From this it follows that many buried careers and movements or tendencies within the music are examined, often for the first time. Among the more famous unknowns, largely because of his link with Bix Beiderbecke, is Emmett Hardy, who, although he made no records beyond the inevitably rumored cylinder, has a chapter to himself.
Two almost random instances of hitherto neglected movements are, firstly, the specifically Italo-American, and in particular Sicilian, vein in New Orleans jazz. This is typified by Charlie Scaglioni's contrapuntal, and beautiful, contribution to Johnny Bayersdorffer's ''The Waffle Man's Call,'' although the author provides quite a list of names on page 69 and of course further recorded examples. Another case is the music of itinerant bands active through the South, Southwest and Middle Atlantic states in the 1920s and early 1930s, such as Mart Britt (''Goose Creek Stomp''), Sunny Clapp, Slim Lamar (''Memphis Kick-up''), Blue Steele, Doc Daugherty (''Alcoholic Blues''), and others. But there is a limit to what Sudhalter can tell us, and we still wonder about the true relationship of these bands' work to more familiar paths in early jazz development.
Another glimpse of the vastly complex matrix of black and
white activity which lurks behind the rather simple tales that have
shaped so many
Returning to small groups, in fact to the ''Bands from Dixieland'' of Chapter 1, we soon leave Tom Brown and arrive at the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. I have always thought the demonic energy of the ODJB -- what is later called its ''superheated appeal'' (187) -- had more to do with New York, or perhaps Chicago, than with New Orleans. Though valuing the band, the author does not overrate it. Unlike most commentators, such as Wilfrid Mellers,3. however, he has heard all the records and knows there is more to be said about the ODJB, for instance with regard to tempo, than is hinted at by the usual dismissals. But the fluid melodic sensibility of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings is rightly discussed in more detail, and they are given a chapter to themselves, particular attention being paid to Leon Roppolo, especially to his solos on ''Tiger Rag'' and the three takes of ''Tin Roof Blues.''
After the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and Emmett Hardy, there are chapters on ''White New Orleans Jazz in the 1920s'' and ''White Chicago Jazz 1923-26,'' the latter implying that jazz would leave the South. Indeed Sudhalter asserts that ''By the end of the 1930s it was clear that the days of New Orleans as a jazz gestation center belonged to the past'' (84). Because he at various points in this large text justifiably reproaches several authorities for not having paid due attention to the relevant recordings, one must here turn the accusation back on him. As is proved by performances, especially on the American Music label, by Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, Wooden Joe Nicholas and others, jazz did continue developing in and around New Orleans, and on significantly new lines.
Having notionally got jazz out of New Orleans, it is
excellent that the author deals with what he calls the ''encyclopaedic
permutations'' (121) of such long-neglected bands as the Original
Memphis Five, the Georgians (who, with their trumpeter, Frank Guarente,
included perhaps the earliest notable jazzman born outside the USA) and
the California Ramblers. Having done a little pioneering work in that
direction myself,4. it is
encouraging to see it followed up in such detail and with such
perceptive enthusiasm. His account of the Original Memphis Five is part
of a chapter on Miff 3. Wilfrid Mellers, Music in a New
Found Land: Themes and Developments in the History of American Music
(London: Barrie & Rockliff, 1964). 4. Max Harrison, Charles Fox, Eric
Thacker, The Essential Jazz Records, Vol. 1: Ragtime to Swing
(London: Mansell Publishing, 1984), 26-29, 152-54.
3. Wilfrid Mellers, Music in a New Found Land: Themes and Developments in the History of American Music (London: Barrie & Rockliff, 1964).
4. Max Harrison, Charles Fox, Eric Thacker, The Essential Jazz Records, Vol. 1: Ragtime to Swing (London: Mansell Publishing, 1984), 26-29, 152-54.
A chapter inevitably follows on Red Nichols, who is a more complex figure than Mole, if partly for nonmusical reasons. The author explains why he was formerly overrated and ever since underrated, and there are wise words on the questions of influence and imitation in jazz. In particular he shows how differently the Nichols influence worked out in the music of several quite separate and distinct trumpeters. There is even a good contribution from Nichols himself. Concerning his relationship with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s, he says, ''The jazz musicians of that day were a kind of fraternity -- all working together to promote and advance the music and each other'' (132). He is here speaking about Armstrong's interest in his false-fingering ideas, yet if we may judge by Armstrong's 1928 recordings with Earl Hines -- the most overtly modernistic of his career -- Armstrong was even more affected by Nichols's music than by technicalities of trumpet playing.
Certainly Nichols recordings like ''That's No Bargain,'' ''Washboard Blues,'' ''Buddy's Habit,'' and ''Get a Load of This,'' as Schuller belatedly acknowledged, shone with invention shaped by ideas and procedures that were new to jazz in their time. And quite apart from their immediate effect on creative virtuosos such as Armstrong and Hines, Nichols, Mole and their associates were the first, despite striking precursors like Loring McMurray and the rather separate case of Frankie Trumbauer, extensively to explore the cool vein in jazz. This had consequences which have lasted up until today.
If Nichols was, as suggested, ''a more complex figure''
than certain others, it is partly because of the ''widespread animus''
(134) which has attached to his name. This mainly was the work of
supposed authorities such as John Hammond, Hugues Panassié, and
the latter's many European toadies, among whom Stanley F. Dance was the
most abject. These are the sort of people who typify what the author
describes in a slightly different connection as the ''generations of
writers who would have trouble finding middle C on a keyboard'' (200).
He deals trenchantly and repeatedly with the
Along the way Sudhalter makes numerous and highly specific critical points, for example about Arthur Schutt's piano solo on the Charleston Chasers' ''Delirium.'' And besides acute appreciations of Nichols, Mole, and Jimmy Dorsey, he is especially good on Fud Livingston and his ''compositions for band'' such as ''Imagination,'' ''Feelin' No Pain'' and ''Humpty Dumpty.'' Special note should be made of the detailed treatment of every aspect of Adrian Rollini's music, this embodying the sort of devoted attention that has seldom been applied to such jazz before.
Having dealt with New Orleans beginnings and aspects of New York sophistication, the author gives four chapters to Chicago, going well beyond what was said earlier about 1923-26 jazz activities there. In so doing he puts an unfamiliar perspective on the whole matter: we are told of so many other people beside the Austin High School Gang. He also puts paid to concepts of the 1920s, in Chicago or anywhere else, being in any sense a ''jazz age.'' Most adults then had come of age before the postwar social rebellion and did not like jazz. Sudhalter quotes Jess Stacy saying, ''Chicago was really kind of a corny town. [Customers] went for people like Ace Brigode, Wayne King, Art Kassel. There was really no audience for what we were doing'' (193). Yet the mere fact that most people, then as now, did not like jazz will never stop the 1920s being called, perhaps for so long as ''history'' lasts, the ''jazz age.''
It is interesting, even amusing, that the author
identifies Chicago style with ''four equally demarcated steady beats''
(196) in the 1920s because that, according to dogmatic commentators
basing themselves on little evidence, was supposedly a feature
introduced into jazz only by Count Basie a decade or so later. One of
the things initially defining Chicago style was the attitude of the
young-men-in-a-hurry who first played it, and played it for themselves.
Their stance was quite different from the more elegant manner which
prevailed with New Orleans musicians. Beyond such matters, however,
Sudhalter identifies many specific musical features in careful analyses
of classic recordings. And no matter how familiar we are with ''China
Boy,'' ''Bull Frog Blues,'' ''Sister Kate,'' ''Nobody's Sweetheart''
and the rest, he has found new things to say about them. He offers
thoughtful remarks about Frank Teschemacher as well, especially on
''Jazz Me Blues'' and ''I've Found a New Baby.''
The diversity which this kind of jazz later took on is demonstrated in Chapter 10, ''Chicago Jazz in the 1930s'' and, again, many names appear. Among them is the curious figure of Boyce Brown, who is almost disconcerting in his strange originality. With his long, sometimes chromatic phrases, often employing substitute chords and altered scales, Brown was, as the author remarks, something of a proto-bopper. Here as so often, the book's anecdotal flow is relieved by a careful account of a specific recording date, in this case Paul Mares's ''Reincarnation'' session, in which Brown took part. Quite another aspect of this same chapter is the serious attention paid to somebody like Ted Weems, who would not normally figure -- or would only figure ignominiously -- in a book like this. And in this connection we hear also about another forgotten arranger, Joe Haymes, with his ''unusual voicings, daring modulations'' (218).
At 33 pages, Chapter 11, ''Bud Freeman and the Tenor Saxophone,'' is one of the finest in the book, and it contains more and longer music examples than any other. At one level it is, again, anecdotal, but it is mainly a careful survey of Freeman's development, going into highly specific detail about certain crucial recordings. Thus it is fascinating to have scored one above the other his solos on the 1928, 1939, and 1957 versions of ''China Boy,'' this providing a miniature demonstration of how a style can be renewed as it were from within. Of course there are many factors in this, and Sudhalter identifies some of them; yet instrumental tone and slight rhythmic inflections are often the most important, and they are the least susceptible to notation. Further enlightening scored comparisons involve Freeman and Lester Young on ''I've Found a New Baby'' and Freeman, Young, and Eddie Miller on ''Honeysuckle Rose.'' The author's comments on the relationship between Freeman and Young as different ways of evading the once-pervasive Coleman Hawkins influence are of interest, as is his detailed comparison between Freeman and Miller, the latter being a musician not often discussed in serious contexts. Still more rarely mentioned are people influenced by Freeman like Tony Zimmers, whose contributions to Larry Clinton's ''Chant of the Jungle,'' ''How Am I to Know?'' and ''Dodging the Dean'' merit attention. Altogether this chapter makes up for Schuller's bypassing of Freeman's ''harshly gutteral'' tone in The Swing Era.5.
Chapter 12, ''Dixieland,'' is in part about what that word
does and does not mean. In fact, terms like ''dixieland'' or ''bop''
are a convenient shorthand, as Orrin Keepnews is here quoted as saying.
We are told that although personal ties, to home and to one another,
remained strong among southern black players, their musical focus had
shifted north, first to Chicago and then to New 5. Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era:
The Development of Jazz, 1930-45 (New York and Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1989), 601.
5. Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-45 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 601.
Beyond such matters this chapter turns first into a celebration of the Commodore catalogue, then into a celebration of the chronically neglected Brad Gowans. This latter includes, yet again, detailed comment on some of his records, in particular his solo on the 1940 ''Ja-Da.'' Actually I would have said that Gowans's use of 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, etc., following on from Beiderbecke, looked forward to Charlie Parker and bop rather than, as Sudhalter claims, to Bob Brookmeyer. He has incidentally, in another fine bit of tune detection, traced the opening phrase of Livingston's ''Humpty Dumpty'' back to one of Gowans's breaks in Nichols's ''Heebie Jeebies,'' something which, again, I had never noticed. Next we pass on to George Wettling, Lee Wiley, and others. Along the way this chapter includes many sidelights on its main story, on the unintended musical effects of the 20 percent entertainment tax levied early in World War II, for example, and why this ''Americondon music'' is now long gone, except on records.
A start is made in Chapter 13 -- ''The Jean Goldkette and
Ben Pollack Orchestras'' -- on a largely, and healthily, unorthodox
view of the big bands, starting by reminding us that stereotyped
attitudes by record companies sometimes led to bands not being allowed
to record their best material. Additional factors were the companies'
assumptions about what the tastes of record buyers were. Goldkette
serves as the main instance of the resulting misrepresentation. The
author supplies a great deal of background material -- not just after
Beiderbecke and Trumbauer had joined. And he makes interesting comments
on the Goldkette-style scores written by Bill Challis for Paul
Whiteman, not recorded by him but preserved in the Williams College
Library in Massachusetts. The reason Goldkette's band did not last long
was excellently summarized by one of its members, ''Doc'' Ryker, who is
quoted here: ''We were strictly a musicians' band. We played the way we
wanted, and didn't care whether the people liked it or not'' 6. These quotations from Johnson and
Benford occurred in a personal communication from the author to me,
dated May 16, 2001.
6. These quotations from Johnson and Benford occurred in a personal communication from the author to me, dated May 16, 2001.
With Pollack even more than with Goldkette, there is no gainsaying the favorable comments of all the people, musicians especially, who heard the band. Yet very little of its apparently singular character emerges on records. What it lacked was a composer/arranger to shape and direct it -- which is what Goldkette had with Challis. I would suggest, too, that the Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra, dealt with in Chapter 15, for all its good qualities, similarly lacked a dominant composer/arranger to impart a consistent musical character. As against this we should, in Pollack's case, note a remark quoted from Ruby Weinstein, at one time the band's lead trumpeter, to the effect that it was essentially a soloist-led ensemble, and that all its good arrangements were head arrangements (330).
After Goldkette and Pollack, we at last get, in Chapter
14, a full treatment of the Casa Loma Band, hitherto usually an
energetically misrepresented phenomenon. Aside from its originality,
about which I have written briefly in another place,7. there is also the matter of the Casa
Loma's uncommonly wide influence. The effect of what Gene Gifford wrote
for the Casa Loma Band on Jimmy Lunceford's (Will Hudson's)
''Jazznocracy'' and ''White Heat,'' Henderson's ''Tidal Wave,'' Hines's
''Sensational Mood,'' the Blue Rhythm Band's ''Blue Rhythm,'' Goodman's
''Cokey'' and ''Nitwit Serenade'' and other pieces is obvious. But
despite the quality of its finest music, and even despite Coleman
Hawkins once speaking of it as ''my favorite band'' (347), the Casa
Loma has for several decades had a uniformly bad press. Quoted at this
point in the book is James T. Maher, who is not alone among those who
have actually listened to the records in finding ''the anti-Casa Loma
attacks in the jazz press baffling and provocative. All I can assume is
that the writers were basing their criticism on a few recordings''
(354). I would suggest, however, that they were writing in imitation of
Hammond, Panassié, George Frazier, and other all-too-influential
opinion-formers. The author deals with all this 7. Harrison et al., The Essential Jazz
Records Vol. 1, 267-69.
7. Harrison et al., The Essential Jazz Records Vol. 1, 267-69.
More to the point, he tackles the ways in which the Casa Loma Band's music gradually changed and developed, not only in Gifford's hands with such pieces as ''Chant of the Jungle,'' ''Avalon,'' and ''Stompin' Around,'' but with other composer/arrangers approximating to his manner, like ''A Study in Brown'' by Larry Clinton and Larry Wagner's two-part ''No Name Jive,'' a blues. And, besides a just tribute to Clarence Hutchenrider, we also are told of Pat Davis, Sonny Dunham, Grady Watts, Billy Rauch, and others.
The next chapter in this perhaps rather defiantly unorthodox survey of big band music is called ''Dorseys and Boswells,'' and my earlier point about the Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra needing an arranger is here confirmed in a 1992 conversation between Sudhalter and Ray McKinley. ''What they really needed,'' he said, ''was an arranger who understood and could exploit that baritone-register sonority. But they never got it'' (376). As to the jazz playing of the brothers themselves, the author mounts a staunch defense against the attacks of Schuller in particular, being especially eloquent on Jimmy's behalf as he had on earlier pages for Bud Freeman and as he would later on behalf of Artie Shaw. But even in the face of the flood tide of music examined here as in all other parts of this book, I am surprised he did not mention Jimmy's clarinet and alto work on ''Aunt Hagar's Blues'' and his clarinet and baritone on ''Yellow Dog Blues'' with the ineffable Ted Lewis.
Such favorites of mine are the Boswell Sisters -- their early
work -- that, although I must resist the temptation, I am tempted to
quote Sudhalter at length. Certainly the neglect of recent decades of
their great and natural musicianship is -- almost -- inexplicable, and
nearly everything in their performances is subject not to alteration
for its own sake but in order subtly to improve what too often started
as uninspired material. They fragment, interpolate, reharmonize, even
recompose structures which end by being far less simple than they were
at the beginning. As I write this I must stop and play for the nth
time ''There'll Be Some Changes Made,'' ''Roll On, Mississippi, Roll
On,'' ''Got the South in My Soul,'' ''Down Among the Sheltering
Palms,'' ''We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye.''...And there are the
contributions of their accompanists, Bunny Berigan on ''Everybody Loves
My Baby,'' Jimmy Dorsey on ''Sleep, Come On and Take Me,'' Tommy Dorsey
on ''Hand Me Down My Walking Cane,'' Eddie Lang on ''It's the Girl.''
And there are Connie's solo recordings, ''Time on My Hands,''
''Concentratin','' ''Me Minus You.''
Bob Crosby's outfit grew out of the old Ben Pollack band, with arrangements by Matty Matlock, Dean Kincaide, and Bob Haggart. Maybe Luis Russell's Orchestra of a few years before was a kind of precedent and certainly the superimposing of Matlock's freewheeling clarinet over well-drilled, tightly scored imitative section readings achieved a lively evocation of a traditional form. The effectiveness of ''Dogtown Blues'' relies partly on rich harmonic drama, partly on the solo expression of Matlock and Yank Lawson. This is a finer distillation of early band blues than ''Dixieland Shuffle,'' recorded over a year before and unashamedly based on King Oliver's ''Riverside Blues.'' The Crosby account of ''Royal Garden Blues'' makes references to Beiderbecke's 1927 version and, although that would have been a source of pleasure to connoisseurs of jazz history, one does wonder how many people there were who could answer to such a description when Crosby recorded. The author makes useful analytical comments on, for example, ''In a Minor Mood'' with its debts to both Sergei Rachmaninoff and Fats Waller, and to Haggart's notable arrangement of ''Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.''
By natural progression we move from such preoccupations to ''Bix Beiderbecke and Some of His Friends,'' Chapter 17. Here we meet the concept of ''layering,'' of an improvised solo speaking on several levels at once and arousing in a sensitive listener a mixture of responses. That was extremely original in the context of 1920s jazz. Certainly, and as Sudhalter remarks, the thought that Beiderbecke's vein of expression was something which came from just one musician is ''hard to grasp'' (416), and, however fruitlessly, one does wonder if Emmett Hardy made a significant contribution. Where did Beiderbecke's style come from?
We are taken, anyway, through the extremely familiar
recordings -- which most of us have played countless times ever since
our teens. That the author still finds new things to say about them is
perhaps less surprising in this case than others. Like other great
artists, Beiderbecke's work is inexhaustible, and he is an
inexhaustible subject for commentary. Quoted verbatim is Jay Arnold's
1944 analysis of Beiderbecke's 16 bars on ''Krazy Kat,'' and there is a
fascinating comparison between Beiderbecke and Pee Wee Russell on
''Crying All Day,'' which was very advanced jazz thinking for 1927.
Trumbauer's solo on ''Singin' the Blues'' from that same year is shaped
by what might be described as a thoughtful craftsmanship in
contrast with Beiderbecke's free flight of genius, even if the latter
is well inside the soloistic language he had (and so quickly)
established by then. We are reminded that he was only 23, and in the
newsreel unearthed in the 1990s, to which Sudhalter refers, he
His dissatisfaction with his own work is surely unsurprising for real artists are nearly always dissatisfied. With regard to jazz not being enough for this curiously mesmerizing figure, we are at once reminded of Parker, who expressed a comparable discontent and, to quote the author on Beiderbecke, likewise ''did not avail himself of opportunities to perfect his reading, learn theory and explore composition'' (432). The great altoist had a few more years than Beiderbecke, however, and did want to study with Edgard Varèse, did try to persuade Stefan Wolpe to compose some kind of concerto-like vehicle for him. This all came to nothing amid the final confusion, even chaos, of Parker's last months. Likewise it is perhaps apt that Chapter 17 is a bit episodic, shapeless; but Sudhalter does make a sensitive attempt to approach Beiderbecke the man.
There next come pages on Trumbauer which must surprise those among us who have got no further than what I have above called the ''thoughtful craftsmanship'' of his solos with Beiderbecke. There is considerable buried matter here, such as his solo on the Benson Orchestra's 1923 recording of ''I Don't Miss the Sunshine.'' This had a considerable effect on other saxophonists at the time, as Benny Carter (quoted on page 448) well remembered. Also notable was his 1924 solo on the Mound City Blue Blowers' ''San.'' The evidence of the influence of much of this work has been swept under the carpet, yet the music itself continues obstinately to exist on discs. Examples include Challis's 1928 scoring of ''Singin' the Blues'' for Whiteman with Trumbauer's solo written out for the whole reed section. Another is Henderson's version of ''Singin' the Blues'' with Rex Stewart's perceptive rendering of the Beiderbecke solo.
Trumbauer and Beiderbecke did share duets and chases, the
main point of which, as the author says, is the differences between
their solo styles, as in their 32 bars on Whiteman's ''You Took
Advantage of Me'' or their 16-bar solos on ''China Boy.'' And there is
also, with Lang, their ''For No Reason at All,'' notated in part on
pages 454-56. Inevitably Trumbauer is seen to a considerable extent in
the light of his association with Beiderbecke, perhaps above all on
''For No Reason at All.'' Yet other fine Trumbauer solos, pace
Martin Williams,8. have now
been identified, beginning with ''Let's Do It,'' ''How About Me?''
''Don't Leave Me, Daddy'' and a version of ''Singin' the Blues'' with
Bee Palmer singing the words to the notes of Trumbauer's old solo.
There are a considerable number of others. 8. Martin Williams, The Jazz Tradition
(New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 72.
8. Martin Williams, The Jazz Tradition (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 72.
Jack Purvis was a surprising choice for Chapter 19. He was an eccentric who covered his tracks with what might be called a consistent inconsistency. Yet he was an interesting, even original, musician. A title such as ''Copyin' Louis'' is partly misleading and perhaps deliberately so. Armstrong's influence is plain, yet the detail is different and often arresting in its aggressive elegance, the degree of rhythmic freedom being rather unusual for the period. Purvis had abundant agility and power, and the stinging attack of his trumpet galvanizes the ensembles of, say, ''Dismal Dan'' or ''Be Bo Bo.'' Many of the themes he recorded were his own, and they show he possessed considerable flair for composition and arrangement. Some of Purvis's recordings are, characteristically, rather obscure, as Sudhalter acknowledges, and I regret that I have not heard them.
It is curiously apt that we pass from the almost invisible Purvis to one who was born for fame. Not that Bunny Berigan (Chapter 20) is the easiest person to get into sharp focus. A doctor can bury his failures, an architect can advise discontented clients to plant trees, but a jazzman, living or dead, has no protection against reissue programs, and evaluation of Berigan has been made difficult by the little matter of what performances have and have not been put back into circulation. The fact remains that almost every recorded solo by this great romantic trumpeter is concise, exactly to the point notwithstanding a virtuosity that allows him to send phrases soaring complexly across the entire range of his instrument, their effect heightened by variety of timbre and attack, and a fine harmonic sense.
During the long years of work on this book the author located all the great Berigan performances even if some of them have not of late been widely circulated, and one could do worse than append a partial list: ''Troubled'' with Trumbauer, ''Nothing but the Blues'' and ''Squareface'' with Gene Gifford, ''In a Little Spanish Town'' with Glenn Miller, ''Jingle Bells'' and ''Sometimes I'm Happy'' with Goodman, ''Keep Smilin' at Trouble'' with Freeman (whose dry, laconic phrases are a particularly apt foil to the trumpet's more expressionistic manner), ''Mr Ghost Goes to Town'' with Tommy Dorsey; and Berigan under his own name: ''The Wearing of the Green,'' ''Russian Lullaby,'' ''Jelly Roll Blues,'' ''Candlelights,'' and the earlier 1936 Vocalion ''I Can't Get Started.'' The absolutely wholesale enthusiasm for Berigan's playing expressed by virtually all the musicians who worked with him and are frequently quoted in Chapter 20 can arouse one's suspicions yet almost any reservations are soon quieted by jazz like this.
Moving on, we reach Benny Goodman, who both as a musician
and as a man was both very fortunate and very unfortunate. As a
And yet we are also told of Goodman walking nine blocks down New York's Second Avenue one morning and during those ten minutes being stopped by no fewer than four strangers who recognized him and vigorously shook his hand (554). They varied in age from near contemporaries to youngsters born long after Goodman's period of maximum fame, yet they all had much the same thing to say, namely ''I can't imagine my life without you and your music...'' This is the other side of the coin from his former employees' resentment. I am in no position to suggest that their complaints are not truthful, but Goodman reached a vast number of people, perhaps more than Ellington, perhaps even more than Armstrong. Rather typical was the Carnegie Hall occasion marking the 40th anniversary of his 1938 triumph there: it was sold out within 24 hours.
The author does not follow his usual procedure of taking
us through carefully chosen recordings and identifying their
outstanding musical features. This is most disappointing, not least
because I was allotted so very little space to say anything about
Goodman in the appropriate chapter of the recent Oxford Companion
to Jazz.10. Instead
Sudhalter provides a question-and-answer sequence with Goodman, which
is not without value yet is on a different level from the rest of this
book. A few points of interest do emerge but also further
disappointments. Anyone who has repeatedly listened to Goodman records
over a long period of years can only be discouraged by the great
clarinetist's obvious preference for stale arrangements by Henderson,
Jimmy Mundy, etc., over scores from Eddie Sauter which still sound as
fresh as when they were recorded. 9. Bill Crow, ''To Russia without Love:
the Benny Goodman Tour of the USSR,'' Jazzletter (August,
September, October, November 1986). The two following issues, December
1986 and January 1987, plus May 1987, carried letters from readers
mostly saying how marvelous this attack was, admittedly with a few
saying the opposite. 10. ''Swing Era Big Bands and Jazz
Composing and Arranging'' in Bill Kirchner (ed.), The Oxford
Companion to Jazz (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press,
9. Bill Crow, ''To Russia without Love: the Benny Goodman Tour of the USSR,'' Jazzletter (August, September, October, November 1986). The two following issues, December 1986 and January 1987, plus May 1987, carried letters from readers mostly saying how marvelous this attack was, admittedly with a few saying the opposite.
10. ''Swing Era Big Bands and Jazz Composing and Arranging'' in Bill Kirchner (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Jazz (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 277-91.
It is no great surprise that this book's treatment of Goodman is followed by one of Shaw, except that the latter is the subject of two chapters which are richly detailed and far superior to what was done for his rival. Thus we are taken through Shaw's early records from 1934 onwards, with ''Interlude'' (1936) as the first to show real independence. In another sense, however, most of them show independence, being a reaction against what most other bandleaders were playing. Shaw much later wrote, ''I thought Fletcher Henderson's was one of the most boring bands in the world. You knew exactly what was going to happen unless somebody like Coleman [Hawkins] or Louis [Armstrong] was in there doing something.''11. At this much later date one can only agree, although it is far more to the point that a few other bandleaders such as Red Norvo and Bob Haggart agreed at the time. Besides being a reaction against music like Henderson's, some parts of what Shaw would do were a continuation of lines Whiteman had earlier undertaken. See the long footnote 21 on page 821, which indicates that the so-called ''King of Jazz'' remains a largely unexplored subject. Also see footnote 10 on page 830 concerning his role as a talent scout.
Meanwhile Shaw's musical convictions were seconded by clarinet playing which by now had only one rival, and its most distinctive feature was its tone. As the author says, it was ''centered in all registers, its sweetness balanced by a minty astringency of attack and warmed by a violin-like vibrato; it is almost from date to date (''My Blue Heaven'' is particularly good) an increasingly personal expressive vehicle'' (579). Yet however consistent his clarinet work, Shaw contradicted himself when it came to words rather than notes. Thus at the start of Chapter 23 he is quoted as making fun of Goodman for being ''too hung up on the goddam clarinet'' (569) while a few pages later saying the instrument ''calls for total concentration....I used up a large part of my life developing and honing my technique'' (579).
The various Shaw outfits' use of strings was the most
musical in jazz since that of Whiteman's arrangers and remained the
best at least until Robert Graettinger started writing for Kenton's
Innovations in Modern Music band. Of course, the string scoring, by
Shaw or Jerry Gray, is never ''Stravinsky-esque'' (578) and, as
elsewhere in this volume, there are plenty of assertions with which to
disagree. For example I would suggest that Sammy Weiss's drumming is
far more offensive in ''It Ain't Right'' than in ''Japanese Sandman''
and that the treatment of ''Skeleton in the Closet'' is hardly
''dixielandish'' (578). However, I agree with Sudhalter that this score
is likely to be where Shaw got his idea for ''Nightmare.'' Concerning
Shaw's reported pompous remarks on ''Cream Puff'' -- where he almost
compares himself with Mozart! (580) -- it was 11. Artie Shaw, The Trouble with
Cinderella (New York: Farrar, Straus & Young, 1952).
11. Artie Shaw, The Trouble with Cinderella (New York: Farrar, Straus & Young, 1952).
Some of these early Shaw recordings, like ''Darling, Not without You,'' are very soft-centered, but every performance is most carefully rehearsed, and the clarinet playing is every bit as good as nearly everyone always said it was. The author is excellent on the specific qualities of the RCA Victor band and grows positively eloquent about Shaw's solos both on studio recordings and various air shots: ''Lover, Come Back to Me,'' ''Out of Nowhere,'' ''Just You, Just Me,'' ''Deep Purple,'' ''Say It with a Kiss,'' ''It Had to Be You'' (compare this with the Goodman version set down only a week earlier), ''Carioca,'' and ''Begin the Beguine.''
Shaw was so very much in control of his bands -- the way as well as what they played -- that some people would say the result was not quite jazz. Faced with such achievements as his wonderful ''Stardust'' -- the 1938 air shot as well as the 1940 studio recording -- I disagree. However, I am glad that he had the grace to admit that his tawdry ''Concerto for Clarinet'' was ''a fraud, a pasteup'' (593). Yet this lapse can be forgotten in view of such absorbing later Shaw ventures as the unlikely four tracks with Henry Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, and Benny Carter; Fred Norman's ''Solid Sam''; Ray Conniff's ''Just Kiddin' Around'' (alias ''Savoy Jump'') and ''Lament'' (a great improvement on ''Concerto''); Margie Gibson's ''Deuces Wild''; Thomas Griselle's ''Nocturne''; Paul Jordan's ''Suite No. 8,'' ''Evensong'' (alias ''Dusk''), ''Carnival,'' and ''Two in One Blues.'' And beside such ''poems for band'' there were ''Through the Years,'' where Shaw's playing is so touching, and the two-part ''Saint James Infirmary.'' Several of these essays have a rather Ellingtonian orientation, for however much Shaw was the boss with the master plan, he persuaded some other people to write extremely well for him.
Comparing his solos on the 1939 and 1945 recordings of
''The Man I Love'' is a quick way of grasping how Shaw's sensibility
had changed during those years, and such pieces as Coniff's ''Lucky
Number'' indicate that he was aware of what had been going on elsewhere
in jazz. This led beyond the Gramercy Five's tightly pattered mosaics
in ''The Sad Sack,'' ''The Gentle Grifter,'' well beyond ''Summit Ridge
Drive'' -- that absolute contradiction in terms, a million-seller which
also was good music -- to a band that had a more intelligent
relationship with the new music than those led by Goodman or Barnet.
Like theirs, Shaw's attempt at fronting a ''bop band'' did not last for
long, but it recorded some highly intriguing scores, such as Gene
Roland's ''Aesop's Foibles,'' Tadd Dameron's ''So Easy,'' and, perhaps
above all, George Russell's ''Similau.''
Whether Shaw recognized it or not, that was a sort of climax and not very much lay beyond it except a final edition of the Gramercy Five, which managed to discover new facets even in such things as ''Begin the Beguine.'' Much later Shaw said of these final performances, ''That isn't jazz, that's music!'' (615). Though many features of his public career and, one suspects, of his private life suggest that he was utterly lacking any sense of humor, Shaw may have been the rare case of a musician who was too intelligent for jazz. At least, unlike Kenton, Herman, and several others, he avoided becoming a prisoner of his own past.
The last section of this book, ''The Fine Art of Sui Generis,'' consists of four chapters, two on Red Norvo and Mildred Bailey, one on either side about Bobby Hackett, and a final one about Pee Wee Russell and Jack Teagarden. Sudhalter is astute on the qualities of such things as Hackett's 1938 ''Small Fry'' solo, his ''Embraceable You'' of the following year, his 1945 ''Body and Soul,'' his ''I'm Comin', Virginia'' in Condon's Bixieland set of a decade later. Indeed we are given a full account of the many facets of Hackett's subtle art; one has only to disagree with his asserting that Armstrong and Billy Butterfield were the only trumpeters ''who can play up high and always make it musical'' (645). Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Navarro could do this as well. Along the way there are also words on such neglected figures as Butterfield and Ernie Caceres. Speaking of the latter, there also is interesting detail on the independently instrumented group which Hackett led at the Voyager Room during the mid-1950s, and rather than the Capitol LP we are led to the three-LP set of its broadcasts on Shoestring. This was a descendant of the group Norvo fronted at the Famous Door in the 1930s, which also had an unusual instrumentation and, more to the point, was among the great bands of the swing era though still not generally recognized as such.
Spread over two chapters, we are given all necessary details on Norvo's and Bailey's records, centering on such items as Norvo's nearly atonal ''Dance of the Octopus,'' a rather astonishing jazz composition for 1933 even if only half of it got on disc. Perhaps Sauter's 1937 scoring of ''Smoke Dreams'' for Norvo's band was no more than a curiosity, but elsewhere I have described his ''Remember'' as ''cool big band jazz a decade before Gil Evans's work for Claude Thornhill.''12. Particularly welcome in this chapter -- in this book, in any book -- is Norvo's detailed putdown, quoted on pages 697-8, of the grotesquely overrated Billie Holiday. He rightly preferred Ethel Waters, Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, Connie Boswell.
There is also, as there should be in a book like this, a
full account of Teagarden's unique music and, in the end, rather sad
career. As the author says, 12. Harrison et al., 439-41.
12. Harrison et al., 439-41.
On Russell he has some interesting thoughts too, for instance about the clarinetist's virtual ''deconstruction'' of the usual way of going about making an improvised solo grow. In part this seemed to arise out of an unusually sensitive response to Beiderbecke's ideas. He refers to Russell as being, like Henry Allen, ''an architect of wonderfully asymmetrical musical structures,'' as in their jousting on the Rhythmakers' ''Who's Sorry Now?'' The way they both play here manages, as Charles Fox said, to avoid the ensemble patterns established both in Chicago and New Orleans.13. Meanwhile the author identifies several of the well-known Russell occasions, such as ''Love is Just Around the Corner'' on Commodore, ''Fidgety Feet'' with the 1940 Summa Cum Laude band, the following year's ''The Last Time I Saw Chicago,'' ''Sunrise Serenade'' with Hackett's big band, his 1944 quartet recordings with Stacy like ''Take Me to the Land of Jazz.'' And Sudhalter even roots out the little-known Russell solos with Louis Prima, above all ''Cross Patch,'' besides taking in the altogether exceptional renewal of the clarinetist's last years, when he performed and recorded such items as Strayhorn's ''Chelsea Bridge,'' Dameron's ''Good Bait,'' and Coltrane's ''Red Planet.''
That is the kind of happy note upon which my brief account
of what the author calls ''this vast and sprawling chronicle'' (744)
should end. Yet along with being vast and sprawling it is also original
and above all independent, and these latter qualities, especially the
last, will ensure that it receives much adverse comment in the expected
places from the expected people. Indeed, I should like, however
belatedly, to get in on this act myself. 13. Ibid., 123-24.
13. Ibid., 123-24.
The book is naturally written from an American viewpoint, yet Sudhalter should have realized that such a volume will reach an international readership. He assumes knowledge which no doubt is shared by countless citizens of the U.S.A. but may be quite unfamiliar to people elsewhere. Thus he writes of Venice Beach as ''a kind of southern Californian equivalent of Atlantic City.'' What does that mean? What is the significance of Atlantic City? Someone is called ''Harry Reser-like'' (341). Who is this Reser? Who are Edward Hopper and Thomas Hart Benton (687-98)? And on page 403 he writes ''thumb and pinky.'' Pinky? And entertaining though she sounds, I have no idea of who Betty Boop (661) is, or was.
The correct year for Milhaud's ''La Création du Monde'' is 1923, and on page 428 better instances of the influence of jazz on modern classical music would have been the slow movement, actually titled ''Blues,'' of Ravel's Violin Sonata (1923-27) and Antheil's Jazz Symphony (1925). On page 429, Sudhalter notes that there is no improvisation in Bloom's ''Soliloquy,'' but neither is there improvisation in Ellington's ''Reminiscing in Tempo'' or Dameron's ''Fontainebleau,'' yet each is just as ''unmistakeably a jazz composition.''
Misinformation continues to spread about Reginald Foresythe (223) despite his fascinating, almost unknown music. Rather than a West Indian, his father was West African (a barrister) and his mother German.
On another non-American, it is a pity no mention was made in Chapter 21 of Django Reinhardt's status as a composer nor of his big band music, particularly as most of this was several years ago reissued on CD, at least in Scotland, on the Hep label.
Further on non-American activities, it is yet again claimed for Commodore that it was ''The first label wholly devoted to recording hot jazz of any sort'' (281, author's italics). The label which actually was first was Swing, in Paris.
Still further on non-Americans, I am twice given credit which is not due to me. It was Charles Fox who wrote those nice words about Lee Wiley attributed to me (294),14. and it was Eric Thacker (585), not I, who in the same place15. spoke up for Artie Shaw. Each piece in that book is clearly initialled so there is no excuse for misattributions.
Yet, Reinhardt's music aside, these are small failures of
scholarship. Scholarship is about information and knowledge whereas
criticism, like poetry, is about something else. This book fuses
together information, knowledge, criticism and even wisdom to a degree
that will surely remain uncommon. And -- to return to my initial
question -- reading it twice, including the 93 pages of footnotes, and
listening repeatedly to as many of 14. Ibid., 447. 15. Harrison et al., 330-32.
14. Ibid., 447.
15. Harrison et al., 330-32.