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If this is your first visit, welcome to my blog of memories and observations. If you wish to be notified of new posts, enter an e-mail address above, and click on "Submit." As we move through a sixth year of this venture, I thank all who have made regular visits, as well as fellow bloggers who have found Stomp Off worth linking to. Doing this sort of thing is time-consuming, but I try to post fresh material at least once a week—let me know what you think. There is a Commentary option at the end of each post and a Guest Book can be reached by scrolling down and clicking on the quill image. I welcome your observations, reaction and/or suggestions in either spot—or both. As for blog content, the most current posts are on the home page, starting at the top. Earlier items are listed by month, year and title in the archive index. To zero in on a particular key word or subject, use the search option that is located directly beneath the blog's masthead. Most images can be enlarged with a mouse click, and there are links to some of my favorite blogs, etc. Since visitors have come from 150 countries, a translator with numerous languages is located below. You can at any time revert to English with a click at the top left of this page:

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6/17/12

On the Road: Ruby meets Ma Rainey



This is a continuation of my first book interview with Ruby. We had known each other for some time and the rapport was already in place. If you wish to hear the first part of this interview, here is a direct link.

If you heard the portions that were released on CD by Columbia, you may recognize a passage or two, but this is, basically, the raw tape. I added a qualifier, because I made a couple of edits to remove brief extraneous passages. I left in the advice Ruby gave to Mingus, my doberman, because it's funny. Also intact is Ruby's notion of what happened the night Bessie's fatal accident took place, her impression of Bessie's relationship with Richard Morgan, and young Bessie being kidnapped by "gypsies." As she admitted, these views were based on hearsay; they contrast the first-hand observations I heard and often also the facts turned up by research. When Ruby had read the published book, I asked her to tell me if I had written anything with which she disagreed—her answer was that she hadn't.

Ruby's advice to my doberman, Mingus
Apropos first-hand accounts, you will likely be amused by Ruby's recollection of meeting Ma Rainey when Bessie took her backstage. It's in my book, but much better when you hear Ruby tell it.

6/13/12

Meade Lux Lewis: Last solo session


When you hear the name, Meade Lux Lewis, chances are that his extraordinary Honky Tonk Train Blues comes to mind. Lewis recorded it for the Paramount label in 1927 and performed it in 1938 and '39 at the two "From Spirituals to Swing" Carnegie Hall concerts. It was at the 1938 concert that Lewis caught the ears of Alfred Lion, who made him the first artist to record for his new label, Blue Note. Meade Lux Lewis joined with Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson to form The Boogie Woogie Trio, which ignited a brief but rollicking fad that had the big bands boogying onto the charts as the Swing Era rose to its peak.

I met Meade Lux Lewis in 1961 when NBC hired me as a talent scout of sorts for "Chicago, and All That Jazz," a Dupont Show of the Week special presented in early "Living Color." He had not recorded a solo session in ten years, so I suggested that we do one, and he liked the idea. He seemed pleased when I told him that I wasn't looking for yet another rendition of his famous hit, and asked if he could do tunes that he hadn't done before—I liked that idea. He also wanted to do a few tracks on a celeste, so that was arranged.

At the bottom of this post (below the photo) is a link to one of the piano selections, You Were Meant for Me, a standard written by Nacio Herb Brown in 1929 for an early film musical, "The Broadway Melody". It has appeared in numerous films over the years and is not the type of song one might expect Meade Lux Lewis to play, but he told me that he had "liked it for many years." This may well be the most unusual version of this song.

The original Riverside cover illustration by Peter Max.
I don't think the album did very well, but I'm glad we made it, because Meade Lux only had one more session, with a band, before he was killed in a Minneapolis car accident. He was only 58. 

There is an interesting story behind the original album cover, which was designed by Ken Deardoff, who was Riverside's in-house Art Director. What most people don't know, because it is far from apparent, is that Ken commissioned a young relatively unknown illustrator to come up with a cover painting. It would win 26-year-old Peter Max the Society of Illustrators' Advertising Gold Medal for 1963. By the end of the decade, Peter Max's unique style—dubbed "Cosmic Art" and very different from this cover—had captured the imagination of  new generation. Ken Deardoff gets the usual design credit on the album, but nowhere is there any mention of Peter Max.

I took this photo of Meade Lux Lewis in the studio. Amazingly, it's almost focused!

6/9/12

On the Road with Bessie Smith


Ruby Walker was Bessie Smith's niece by marriage. You may have noticed several posts on this blog containing excerpts from the interviews I conducted with her in 1971, as I was preparing to write her aunt's biography. Without Ruby and her remarkable memory, I would not have been able to write the book. We had known each other for a relatively short while, but we clicked from the time we first met, in John Hammond's office. If you wish to read about that, here is a link.

When Sol Stein, the publisher, called and asked me if I would be interested in writing Bessie's biography, I told him that I felt there was a need for a comprehensive book, but that I would only agree if Ruby allowed me to interview her. Obviously, she did and what you hear in this post is the first of many interviews that led to the book. It was recorded 41 years ago, on February 7, 1971, and I am seated at my computer, entering this text in the very spot where Ruby faced my microphone. How she would have marveled at today's technology! She would also have loved to see herself portrayed by a white actress in an off-the-beaten-path play I caught in Stockholm a few years back.

I should mention that all the previously posted segments from these interviews duplicated material previously issued on a Columbia CD in connection with a 5-box Bessie Smith release. What you hear from now on will almost entirely new to you—there are raw spots, both technically and and as far as content goes, but I removed some of the former (change of cassette, phone call, etc.). When you hear Ruby talk to/about her "soul brother," she is addressing Mingus, my doberman pinscher (I would later acquire another dobie and name her Bessie).

Notice the Parental Advisory label.
This part of the interview runs about 45 minutes and starts with Ruby talking about her first meeting with Bessie, who came to the Walker house on West 132nd Street to rehearse with Clarence Williams for her first recording. You will also hear her recall going to a drag ball at Harlem's Rockland Palace, where Bessie had drinks with Jack Dempsey and Bing Crosby, and she talks about her brother, Leroy, and how he wrote a blues to get out of jail ten years early. The continuation of the first day's interview is ready to go, so I will post it in a couple of weeks—and there is more coming. 


6/8/12


Berlin, 1928
Here, at last, is the continuation of a series of interviews in which Sam Wooding recalls his life as a pianist, bandleader, choir master, and music teacher. His career took him to European capitals and audiences who never before had heard "such music." Sam had a remarkable memory and an eventful history. This is the fifth interview that I conducted with Sam for the Smithsonian in April of 1975. There is one more to come, because Sam returned to Europe after WWII and again in the early Seventies with his new big band!

Here he also recalls a young music student named Clifford Brown, who became the most celebrated of his students but was not the best trumpet player in the class.

6/7/12

Elmer Snowden Sextet: One for the Money



In February of 1962, I did a couple of sessions with a group I put together under Elmer Snowden's name. It included Roy Eldridge, who was a member of one of Elmer's early bands, and the brothers Ray and Tommy Bryant, to whom Elmer was a mentor when they were coming on the scene in Philadelphia. I added Bud Freeman, one of the prominent "Chicagoans", which some critics thought odd, and Jo Jones on drums.

On this track, recorded February 2, 1962 Roy sings, backed up by incidental unison shouting that includes Dan Morgenstern and John Hammond, two prominent jazz figures who usually are not heard as performers. I hope you like "One for the Money."