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 seventh 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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Remembering Bill Russell

In my recollections of the 1961 New Orleans "Living Legends" trip, I mention William Russell, the man who was, in good measure, responsible for a 1940s awakening that is often referred to as the "New Orleans Jazz Revival." His bringing trumpeter Bunk Johnson out of an Iberia rice field, buying him a horn and refurnishing his mouth may be apocryphal, but it is still being told some seven decades later. While the revival, per se, was fairly short-lived, it laid the groundwork for the "trad" movement in Europe and eventually morphed into that which sparked the British invasion—Animals, Beatles, Stones...you get the idea.

Bill was a month away from his 65th birthday when I first met him, but he looked older and  acted older still. I was in New Orleans to make recordings of the music he loved and almost considered proprietary, so I expected him to pop up, which he did. Had he not, it was on my do list to look him up. On the first recordings I ever made, about 12 years earlier, I captured a Jacinto Hall-like ambiance at the Gentofte Hotel, in a Copenhagen suburb. The band on that occasion was Ken Colyer's Jazzmen, a group that took to Bill Russell's recordings like bees to nectar. In fact, there would not have been a band like Colyer's (actually Chris Barber's with Ken up front) were it not for the sessions Bill issued on his American Music label. 

Bill and Dick Allen (pictured here conducting an interview) documented much New Orleans jazz history for the Tulane Jazz Archives. Unfortunately, some of those tapes may have been "censored"  (see something on that here, starting with the 7th paragraph). I hope I am wrong. Nevertheless, I was delighted to meet this man whose work had so impressed me. When I learned that he owned a small record shop nearby, I asked if he had any of his American Music recordings available. Not for the public, he said, but you are welcome.

During a rare moment of leisure that week, I went to visit Bill at his shop. It was as I had imagined it, full of abundant local sounds, a bit cluttered, and very warm or, as we say in Denmark, "hyggelig". There is no word in the English language that quite covers the meaning of hyggelig—"cozy" is halfway there, but only half way. Let's just say that the shop had an inviting, lived-in look and that Bill was very much a part of his surroundings. No, he had an apartment elsewhere in the Quarter, but one sensed that this was as much a home to him as any other might be.

My opening the door activated a tinkly bell. Bill,  crouched, Geppetto-like, over something that obviously had his full attention, looked over his glasses, recognized me instantly, pushed away a large mounted magnifying glass, and gave me a welcoming smile. He had been repairing a violin, which, as I soon discovered, was just another of his many talents. 

The one-room shop almost begged one to look around, so I instinctively complied, spotting a row of violins hanging from the ceiling, and a large single-occupancy bird cage suspended nearby.

Bill and I had just started a conversation when he asked if I was still interested in the American Music albums. Of course I was, so he disappeared into a back room and returned with three discs in the familiar pink and green cardboard sleeves. "This is all I have left," he said, and if you want them, you will have to give me some time to fix them."

Fix them? I didn't know what he meant by that, but it turned out that his remaining stock of discs had tiny vinyl bumps that needed to be filed down before he let anyone have them. Then he pushed away the violin and began to meticulously file away bumps so small that I couldn't see them. This took a couple of hours, but our conversation made the time seem shorter. Bill also gave me permission to peruse his vast collection of historic New Orleans post cards. They were not for sale, he told me, but it was one of his hobbies.

While Bill filed away and I gently leafed through rows of fascinating cards, the bell tinkled again. A typical white, middle-aged tourist couple entered the store. They were in love with the city and wanted to take some of the great music back home with them. Bill did not get up, he just gestured toward the record bins with his file and told them to pick out what they wanted.

They finally found something, but when Bill saw the Dukes of Dixieland album in the man's hands, he told him that this one was not for sale. "But it was in the bin," the startled man said. "I know," said Bill, as he stood up, "but it's not for sale." Then he walked over to the bins and extracted a Bunk Johnson album, the one on Columbia. "Here, take this one," he said, "it's much better and it's free."

The couple were speechless as they left the store with their free album. I had to smile, for I knew what that was all about.

Bill sat down and continued his de-bumping.

Bill Russell (far right) played regularly with the New Orleans Ragtime Band.

I will soon tell another Bill Russell story, so stay tuned.


The Armstrong file (Helen Hayes)

It has been far too long since I last posted material from the Louis Armstrong file. Here are a few more letters and there will be many more. This batch deals with such things as a benefit with Helen Hayes and an invitation to a student party at Yale. The letters actually speak for themselves, so I just present them in chronological order, leaving out a few things that are less interesting.

In case you missed my explanation of how this file came into my possession, here is a link to that.

The first letter brings up plans for a Lewisohn Stadium concert with Dave Brubeck and a Chicago fund-raiser for MS with Helen Hayes appearing as narrator. (To better read these letters, a click on them will make them grow).

These letters are not earth-shattering, but I think they give us a peek behind the scenes and tell us a little bit about the little gangster with the huge signature.

Then there's this cocktail party at Yale. Louis was a busy man and Mack the Knife had given his celebrity a boost—as if that was needed.

A continuation of letters from this file can be found here, a click away!


My Bessie Book Tour - Part 2

NOTE: If you have not read part I of this reminiscence, and wish to do so before reading this conclusion, here is a link to Part I.

My bed at the St. Francis in San Francisco was huge, but I don't think it was designed to accommodate five or six people. That, however, is what it was doing when my PR escort brought me back for what he described as "an underground group interview."

 One of his colleagues was there, to oversee things, I suppose, but I still saw this as an invasion of my privacy. On the other hand, it was great to be out in the real world after spending so many months staring at the keyboard of my IBM Selectric and hoping that the right words would come to me. How many cups of coffee went cold on my desk? How many cigarettes did I leave in the ashtray to burn out? How many times did I greet the rising sun? I would have tackled the task at a more leisurely pace, but there was another Bessie Smith book in the works, and my publisher had come to see this as a race. He gave me six months in which to research and write the book: Mission impossible. It actually took me closer to a couple of years, and I still didn't feel that I had gotten it right. But here it was, the end result of countless late hours spent in solitude, drinking that coffee and filling ashtrays with half-smoked cigarettes. Two editors had done their best to refurbish English that I had imported from Scandinavia, but they sometimes compounded my mistakes and injected a few of their own, such as routinely deleting the "P" in James P. Johnson, because "we don't use middle initials." While finishing the book brought me great relief, I could not shake the nagging feeling that I had not done as good a job as my subject deserved. This tour, though hectic, was a good way to unwind—I was ready for anything, even a bedful of nonconformist strangers.

The underground press contrasted rather nicely with the more business-like mainstreamers. They asked quirky questions and viewed Bessie from a very different angle. Not only were they interested in what she did, they also wanted to know why she did it, the motivating social aspects of her life. This was a group that would have understood the german shepherd incident, but even, here I wasn't telling.

Thirty years later, I became deeply embarrassed after reading my book from cover to cover and finding flaws that had originally eluded me. So—again leaving the dog out of it—I gave Bessie a makeover, added much that should have been there in the first place, and found a new publisher. This time around, there was no book tour, just a couple of "signings" and interviews, but at least I felt much better about the reborn edition.

My next stop was Los Angeles, where a very different escort met me at the airport. We shall call her Tina, a beautiful, trim-bodied Valley girl with sun bleached hair and carefree ways. No black sedan this time, Tina had the appropriate wheels, a Volkswagen beetle decorated with flowers and a peace sign. Making a stop to pick up a watercress sandwich—what else?—she took me straight to the hotel, the Hyatt House on Sunset Strip, a place that had been owned by Gene Austin but now regularly housed the biggest rock stars, whose antics earned the hotel its nickname, "Riot House." This was where I had my first encounter with a waterbed, but I was its sole occupant—that San Francisco crowd would surely have punctured it.

Barely giving me time to freshen up, Tina went to work, driving me from one interview to another.  At one radio station, she liked the potted plants in the lobby, so she helped herself to a couple of them. Embarrassed, I pretended not have seen that. That night, after an exhausting day, she left me in the hotel's cocktail lounge for a print interview with a very effeminate reporter whom she described as the "West Coast Rex Reed." She told me not to worry about him, he was harmless, and asked me to meet her in the coffee shop at 6 AM.

We were having our coffee when she told me that she knew this hotel better than her bungalow, but she had never seen the rooms—until last night, that is. She went on to tell me that, after leaving me in the lounge, she met this "groovy guy" in the lobby and spent the night in his room. "But you are wearing different clothes," said. "Oh, I always keep a change of clothes in my car—you never know when you might need them."

As we got up to leave, Tina spotted a tip left on the adjoining table and swiftly moved it over to ours. I, again, pretended not to have seen that. Tina knew her job, but there was no chapter on social graces in her manual. Although I enjoyed the free spirit that she represented, I was always afraid that Tina might get caught performing her indiscretions. For all I know, that might have been a good thing, something that sells extra copies—isn't that what all this was about? I was sorry to leave Tina, but the show must go on and I looked forward to Seattle, where I would also have an opportunity to see my mother.

Nudists hated Sally Rand's fans (1936 photo)

 One thing that inevitably happens on  a book tour is that you run into others who are making the same rounds to sell something—themselves, perhaps. On several occasions, I ran into Barbara Woodhouse, a no-nonsense English lady for whom tweed suits seem to have been invented. The author of many books, she was a publisher's dream when it came to promotion.  A very take-charge sort, she was, and British to the core. Mrs. Woodhouse had written a dog training book to make her point: there are no bad dogs, just bad owners. A brilliant twist which she proved on the spot, so to speak. To do that, she required the studio presence of unruly local dogs and their owners. Our paths crossed on three occasions and each time I saw her perform small miracles on stunned (and grateful) pet owners.

From Seattle, I flew to Minneapolis for a day of back to back interviews. It was still mostly about Bessie's death, but I was in the home stretch and further encouraged by news of favorable reviews in my wake. Though her obligatory dogs were pesky scene stealers, I welcomed the break in routine that the English lady represented. In Chicago, my next stop, I appeared on a TV book show with Mickey Spillane and the legendary fan dancer, Sally Rand. I mentioned earlier that I traveled with instructions to mention my book as often as possible and, basically, steal the spotlight from fellow guests. Frankly, I had not done that, because I was raised better, but in Chicago I had help.

At 69, Sally Rand (who was given her name by Cecil B. DeMille) had retired her bubbles and ostrich feathers, but she still had fans of the whistling kind. Her career had been a fascinating one and I would have loved to interview her. So would our host on this show, but Ms. Rand was a PR person's nightmare, for every time the focus shifted to her, she let our host know that she was more interested in hearing how somebody from Iceland decided to write a book about Bessie Smith. That fascinated her.

I finally got back to New York, by way of Detroit, but was soon off to Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. In Philly, I called WFIL from my hotel room and was told to take a cab to the station and ask for Mrs. Martelle (not the actual name), the talent coordinator. I did as told. "She'll be right with you," the receptionist said, "please have a seat." I had barely seated myself when an exuberant voice turned everybody's head.

"Chris!, hey, how are you?"

I looked up and saw this elegantly dressed brunette approaching me with outstretched arms. She looked familiar. Could it be? Yes—it was a totally transformed Tina! I couldn't believe it. "What happened?," I asked her.

"Remember that guy I met in the lobby?" I nodded. "Well, I married him. He's from Philly and he got me this job."

As she led me to the green room, I muttered something stupid about her sure acting fast. Tina assured me that she would just as quickly undo her metamorphosis if her "groovy guy" didn't act right.

One could write books about book tours.

This is a two-part post. If you missed it, here is a link to Part I 


My Bessie Book Tour - Part 1

A few days ago, I made one of my daily visits to the BBC World News site and saw there a video clip of Terry Teachout being interviewed about his fine book on Louis Armstrong. Because so much has been written about this remarkable man, it isn’t easy to come up with an original Armstrong biography at this point, but Terry met the challenge and is enjoying extraordinary results. There are probably enough dedicated books on Armstrong alone to rival a modest home library, and I highly recommend Terry’s Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, even if you have a dozen these books. That said, this is not intended to be a book review, but Terry's extended book tour and the reports he posts on his blog, About Last Night, brought me back to January of 1973, when my biography of Bessie Smith, Bessie, came off the presses and I was sent out on a hectic two-week coast-to-coast promotional tour. I don’t know what Terry’s recent experience was, but I imagine that the traveling alone must be a nightmare these days, what with constant orders to disrobe, pirouette for the scanner, and have stone-faced strangers examine one’s most personal belongings. While necessary in today's climate of real or imagined fear, such security measures are always intrusive—bearable on the occasional trip, but surely a bloody nuisance on nomadic hops, such as book tours are. Back in '73, people still dressed up for flights, food and drinks were givens, and the only issue one might have had with baggage was its weight. This is one area in which we have regressed far beyond expectations.

Before departing for my first stop, Highpoint, North Carolina, I was briefed by my publisher’s promotional people. They instructed me to be sure to mention the book’s title as often as possible and not to be afraid to cut in on other guests, to always carry the book with me and make sure that cameras catch it.

I was also told to autograph as many books as possible when making store appearances. Don't wait for a customer to buy it, offer to sign every copy. The store will appreciate that, they assured me, because an autographed book is easier to sell. That is probably true, but the main reason for robbing books of their virginity is that it renders them non-returnable. I was still a rather reserved guy, so most of these lessons in brashness were against my nature, but I promised to adhere to the manual.

Bessie's tent show traversed North Carolina regularly in the 1920s, always stopping in the High Point area. This  is also where John Coltrane attended high school, but neither of these facts matter much to a town that proudly proclaims itself to be "The Home Furnishings Capital of the World." I still don't know why High Point was on my itinerary, but it was a good stop, because the TV interviewer, Bill Boggs, was a thoroughly professional man whose career is still going strong. Unfortunately, he had received the book on that same day, so he apologized for only having skimmed its text and proceeded to ask intelligent questions. I would soon discover that most interviewers barely read past the dust cover blurb, even when they received the book well in advance.

Of the many myths that developed around Bessie Smith, the most prominent was that she bled to death after a 1937 automobile accident and died when a Southern white hospital refused her admittance. Such racism was real back then, but this was an apocryphal story. A simple phone call would have revealed that, but the "Empress of the Blues" dying at the hands of racism was too good a story for John Hammond to disprove, so—rather than pick up a phone and find the truth—he lent the rumor credence in a 1937 Down Beat article. John Lomax discovered the truth in the early Forties, but kept quiet about it, and nobody paid attention in 1957 when George Hoefer seriously questioned the myth and offered valuable evidence to the contrary in Down Beat. Three years later, when the myth that refused to die made its way to playwright Edward Albee’s typewriter, its eternal life was practically assured. I am pleased to say that it was finally quashed in 1972, in the closing pages of my biography.

Given all that, I was not surprised to find that throughout my book tour the question du jour was, “How did Bessie Smith die?” Being repeatedly asked the same question eventually triggers an automatic response and, like one of Pavlov's dogs, I was already programmed to give one by the time I reached New Orleans. At first, I fought it by injecting a slight variation here and there, but I eventually etched the story into a boring recitation. It was always a pleasant surprise when I encountered an interviewer who had not only had read the book, but also had the mental ability to formulate original questions. That sort of thing woke me up and resulted in a far better interview. On a New Orleans radio show, I was also given a reality jolt by a listener who called in to "remind" me of the debt all black blues singers owed to Sophie Tucker! My interviewer seemed somewhat ill at ease when I set the record straight.

One longs for original questions, but they can throw you a curve, as happened on a one-hour TV show in St. Louis, where I was the only guest. The host was a young black man who had read my book thoroughly and asked refreshingly intelligent questions, but he caught me off guard with this one.

“Why is it that white authors who write about black people are so preoccupied with sex?”

Huh? I wasn’t expecting that one, but neither was my host ready for the response.

“Do you think my book reflects a preoccupation with sex?,” I asked, as it occurred to me that this might actually sell a few extra copies.

“Well, you do seem to have a lot of it in there,” he said.

“Really?," I said, pretending to be more surprised than I actually was. I should point out that forty years ago one was hard put to find even a mild reference to sexual experience in biographical jazz literature, much less a mention of homosexuality. “The truth is that there was a great deal of sexual activity going on during those tours," I continued. "Many stories were told me and I am sure that many more were not.”

My host nodded and seemed ready with a follow-up, but I wasn't finished. “In fact,” I continued, “I deliberately left many stories of sexual activity out of the book. For example, nowhere do I mention the german shepherd.”

My interviewer had no comeback for that one. He took a deep breath and announced a commercial break.

As soon as the red camera lights went off, he asked, “German shepherd?”

I just nodded. This was not a story I was prepared to tell, not even off the air.

Like any work-generated tour, flying around to hawk a book leaves little or no time for relaxation or sightseeing. The itinerary looks like something one might look forward to good but one is basically moving through a series of near-identical environments to answer the same questions asked—or so it seems—by the same people. I was on my own for most of my tour, armed with a list of scheduled appearances, the necessary airline tickets, hotel reservations and local contacts, I had but to follow my publisher's well laid-out agenda. Because I was spending several days in San Francisco and Los Angeles to accommodate a heavier schedule, local PR firms had been engaged to pick me up at the airports and see me through the visit.

I was met at San Francisco airport by a man in black with a matching sedan and a business-like demeanor. He represented my publisher's advertising agency and was assigned to take me around for the next three days. He handed me a revised itinerary as we headed for the St. Francis hotel, where my sizable room was already occupied by an entertainment reporter and his camera man. It was 3 PM and my PR escort told me that we would be leaving in an hour for an  "underground" rock station, KSAN. I barely had time to comb my hair before the room interview began and I was asked to talk about Bessie's death. It was brief and I wanted nothing more than to take a shower and lie down on that great big bed. Could I at least take a leak? Well, yes, but Mr. PR man was getting fidgety.

I soon discovered that the PR people had the media split into two groups: the conservatively-dressed, middle-aged, overwhelmingly white press that politely asked standard questions, and the more perceptive, ethnically mixed rag tag underground press that seemed mostly to be interested in the wilder side of Bessie's lifestyle. They were, however, well acquainted with her music.  

My first full day in San Francisco started with seven radio and TV appearances before noon, lunch at Orsi's Wine Cellar with the city's most respected entertainment journalists, and follow-up interviews. After a KQED-TV session with Phil Elwood, I returned to the St. Francis to find my room filled with a group that might well have answered a Fellini casting call—this was the "underground" press and much of it was on my bed. Apropos that bed, I had to do a 3:30 AM call-in show on KSFX before I finally was allowed three hours of sleep.

Here is a link to Part II of this post, wherein I write about the characters on my bed, the unforgettable transformation of a valley girl, and how Sally Rand, the legendary fan/bubble dancer, helped me out in Chicago. Note: Clicking on images enlarges them.


WBAI - A sad 50th anniversary

The blog entry originally posted to this spot has been moved to my WBAI-dedicated blog. To go there, please use this link


Umbria Jazz 1984 (a video of stills)

I decided to make a little video using some of the photos I took at Umbria '84 and a track from "The Sharp Edge",  a Howard McGhee album I produced 23 years earlier. Hope you like it.


Chicago 1961 - Part 1 (Julie and Henry)

This is the continuation of a previous post. If you wish to (re)read Part I, here's a link.

As I mentioned in my previous recollections of this 1961 recording trip, photographer Steve Schapiro and I stayed at the Croydon Hotel, a place where a who's who of visiting sidemen and touring "canaries" stayed during the big band era. Even back then, the hotel had been nothing to write home about, but its clientele lent it a special atmosphere, and that hadn't changed. Sidemen were still checking into the Croydon, as were the chorus lines and secondary stars of touring musicals. In their clean and functional, faceless rooms, they applied that little dab of Brylcreem (its days were numbered), splashed on something just slightly more acceptable than Old Spice, and breezed across a dreary lobby to a room full of promise: the lively Croydon Bar. Here they would unwind while mingling with each other and likeminded locals. All this gave the Croydon a special—dare I say, gay—character that kept away the samples-toting traveling salesman.

The tuxedoed house pianist was quite good and he had a long repertoire that belied his age. Call out the title of an obscure song and he soon filled the room with it, verse and all, and since there was never a dearth of good voices in the crowd, the entertainment was non-stop. Not all the performers were hotel residents, many dropped in from the outside to have fun, gossip, and entertain when the spirit moved them. One such person was Julie London, who came by every night during my stay and always found a most receptive audience. She was a fairly big celebrity in 1961, but she did not let that get in her way, nor did I see her decline an invitation to perform.

One night, having herself delivered a couple of sultry songs, Ms. London had a request of her own. “Somebody please get Henry up here,” she said, “and let’s hear some blues.”

Henry was the men’s room attendant. A somewhat shy man with a winning smile, he worked two jobs and clearly had a fan in Julie London. Emerging from the restroom, he was given an enthusiastic welcome such as is accorded celebrities upon making a grand entrance, but Henry seemed almost embarrassed as patrons stepped aside to create a path for him. This was obviously a repeat event, but—like a Louis Armstrong solo—heart gave it the feel of spontaneity. Ms. London turned her outstretched arms into a warm hug and made a pro forma request for a song. Giving the pianist a courtesy nod, Henry whipped out his harmonica, placed it to his lips, and did a solo version of Lonnie Johnson's Jelly Roll Baker. In an instant, his self-effacing bearing was gone and augmented cheers drowned out his first notes. It seemed that everybody knew Henry Benson, even beyond the men’s restroom.

Chicago being a town that toddled to the blues and was home to some of its finest exponents, I planned to devote an album to that idiom. Besides Little Brother Montgomery, I had contacted Mama Yancey and—through legendary producer Mayo Williams, who fortuitously popped up—Walter Vinson. Hearing Henry Benson gave me the idea of including him to represent the city's many totally obscure blues performers. Had I taken the time, I could certainly have come up with a more articulate blues person, but as I listen to the album decades later, I am not so sure that Henry wasn't a good choice. His timing was off, but he had a good voice and the right spirit. I don't think he believed me at first when I told him why I was in town and that I would like to record him singing a couple of blues. He had a regular job at a hospital and worried about losing a day's pay, but that turned out to be less than I had to offer him, so he agreed. I'm getting ahead of my story—more on the blues session later.

Henry Benson

We had started the project with Alberta Hunter and Lovie Austin on September 1, at the woefully unsuitable Masonic Temple. Four days later, I had found a better location, The Birdhouse, and we resumed recording with bands led by trombonist Al Wynn and clarinetist Franz Jackson, each doing one album. By the end of September 6, we also had Little Brother Montgomery's session in the can—at least I hoped so, but one could never be sure. Earl Hines and Lil Armstrong were scheduled for the following day. I had hoped to finish the first half of the Hines set by noon and complete the day with two separate Armstrong sets, each with different personnel. That would have worked if only the equipment and our two recordists had shown up, but the morning was spent waiting. I don't recall what excuse I was given, but I do remember being unhappy and stressed, to say the least. I must say that the performers were understanding far beyond what one might have expected.

Waiting for the Riverside bus. L to r: Harlen Floyd, Pops Foster,
Lil Armstrong, Darnell Howard, Booker Washington (standing),
Preston Jackson, Franz Jackson. The Birdhouse reserved a part
of the room for patrons under the drinking age, hence the ropes behind Lil.

The Birdhouse opened the bar, and that helped, as did the fact that our assembled performers—many of whom hadn't seen each other in years—now found time to socialize and catch up with each other. When the equipment was finally in place, so was the Earl Hines band, and we wasted no time. Since this was a working band, I thought we might breeze right through the album, as we had in New Orleans, but of course not—nine alternate takes were needed before eight selections could be put to bed. Even then, I couldn't be sure that Barrett Clark had captured every note—it was like playing a lottery. We decided to continue the Hines session the following day, because both of Lil's bands were there, patiently waiting their turn. Then, too, we had to get our stuff together and vacate the club by six, giving the staff and a piano tuner time to prepare for the evening's attraction, Oscar Peterson.

Left to right: Franz Jackson, Al Wynn, Leroi Nabors, Booker Washington,
Bill Martin, Pops Foster. Lil, Preston Jackson, Eddie Smith, Darnell Howard.
That's me seated in the upper left corner.

Given the situation and time limit, I decided to combine the two bands rather than proceed as planned. That's how Lil ended up with three trumpets (Eddie Smith, from Earl's band, Leroi Nabors, and Bill Martin), two clarinets (Darnell Howard and Franz Jackson), and two trombones (Al Wynn and Preston Jackson). I placed Martin in the center, flanked by the two original front lines, and—unable to use the arrangements Lil had thrown together—decided to have the horns do a back and forth ping-pong sort of thing. It was an unorthodox approach, but it kinda worked and brought to my mind an old Danish saying: "The naked lady soon learns how to spin." We spun.

We had a full schedule for Friday, September 8, our last day of recording. The day began with a band put together by Junie C. Cobb, a multi-instrumentalist who appeared on many collector's items and made some of his own.

The day continued with the second Earl Hines session, and ended with the blues set. Poor Henry, perhaps it was unfair of me to bring him into the mix. Not only had he never before recorded, this would also be the first time he had accompaniment. So, there he was, all dressed up for the occasion and surrounded by professionals, four of whom would back him up. Little Brother Montgomery and Pops Foster went out of their way to make Henry feel relaxed, but it must have been an overwhelming experience for him.

I have only my own very amateurish photos of that day's sessions, because Steve Schapiro had taken his camera into the streets of the South Side on the day before to get more cover shots. In doing so, he apparently aimed his lens at the wrong person, a man who obviously wasn't ready for his closeup. He ran over to Steve and snatched his camera, but little Steve was not going to let him get away with it, so he grappled with the man and managed to wrest it back. Someone yelled for the cops and send the culprit running. As I recall, the damage to Steve's camera was minimal, but he suffered a broken nose and caught the next flight back to New York. Considering what a disaster this trip had been, with great musicians recorded as were they whistling kettles, Steve's misadventure could have been in the script.

The second Hines session went fairly well, except that Earl wanted to sing a couple of numbers and, as I mentioned in the previous post, Barrett left his voice microphone open to catch a whole lot of grunting that I could not remove in edit.

Not having a photo of Estella Yancey from our session, here is one taken a year later and autographed for Elmer Snowden. The bassist is Wellman Braud. Mama Yancey was widow of the wonderful blues pianist, Jimmy Yancey, who had died ten years earlier. She was having a beer while we waited for the setup to be changed, and when I told her that Barrett wanted her to step up to the microphone so that he could get the balance (this was something new for us), Mrs. Yancey lifted her bottle and winked. "Honey," she said, "let Mama get her own balance first."

With Little Brother, Pops, Earl Watkins and guitarist Sam Hill accompanying her, a perfectly balanced Mama Yancey rendered four songs from a repertoire she and her late husband had honed well. Henry Benson was next, with only one change in personnel, guitarist Walter Vinson replacing Sam Hill. He stepped on Little Brother's solo, but did rather well, all things considered. After I returned to New York, I learned that Henry had been diagnosed with cancer and that he was not given much of a chance to survive it. The album's release was still several months away, so I asked Ray Fowler to cut the two Benson numbers onto a 45rpm acetate that could be played on a juke box. I made arrangements with the Croydon bartender to have the disc placed on the box, as a surprise for Henry. Not long thereafter, I received a letter notifying me of his death—the letter pointed out that he had heard himself sing on the bar's juke box and that it had cheered him up.

It had been a nightmare experience, but some good music came out of it and—for me, personally—so did lasting friendships. Unlike the harvest reaped in New Orleans earlier in the year, this crop was seriously damaged by poor engineering and the stress it engendered. I felt bad for the wonderful artists who should have been able to add to their legacies another memorable recording, but if they knew that the Riverside series had shortchanged them, they never let on. It wasn't their fault, it was ours, and I think they themselves took it more in stride than I did.

Remember Bill Nichols? He is the NBC television producer who came along to look over my shoulder. Well, he liked what he saw and heard, so a few of the artists were invited to New York the following year to perform in the Dupont Show of the Week, Chicago and All That Jazz. That was another experience, a good one for me, as well. That show has barely survived, and only in the form of a very poor black and white copy, which may be a Kinescope. I was present at some of the many rehearsals and the taping itself. This was early color tape and the technology was rather crude, but more about that and the show in a future post. Bill Nichols had impressive theater and TV credits and things seemed to be going very well for him, but he shocked many of us by committing suicide before the end of the decade.

The entire show can be found on YouTube—here are the first ten minutes: