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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Cliff Jackson's Crazy Rhythm

Here's another keyboard romp by Cliff Jackson. He was a stride pianist and first-class guy who had lived and participated in decades of extraordinary jazz development, making many recordings under someone else's leadership, including Dizzy Gillespie's. He and his devoted wife, the wonderful Maxine Sullivan, owned a house in the Bronx where Cliff would spend hours in his basement lab, experimenting with chemistry while she sometimes played a trombone. Not your average couple! 

This is a track from the first of two sessions we did for my own company. This one kicked off the December 30, 1961 date. We had planned a single date, but the piano's baseboard broke, so we ended up doing a second session the following month.

If you wish to know more about the stride piano style that Cliff represented, may I suggest that you visit pianist Mike Lipskin's site. This link will take you directly to his page on Harlem Stride Piano.


Ruby Smith: A cab ride to Columbus

Tired of their cat and mouse game, Bessie decided to appease her husband, Jack Gee, by making him the producer of her touring show. She knew that Jack wasn't fit for the job, but felt that her brother, Clarence, would guide him. Impressed by her box office success, T.O.B.A bigwig Sam Reevin gave Jack a $3,000 budget for Bessie's next show. Getting Jack involved in her business was supposed to cement the ever-widening cracks in their relationship, but it did just the opposite.

Jack threw together as cheap a production as possible for Bessie and decided to use the remainder of the money for personal gain—not to enrich himself financially, but to win the heart of Gertrude Saunders, a singer of striking looks and impressive past accomplishments. Ms. Saunders had starred successfully in the title role of Irvin C. Miller’s Red Hot Mama show during the 1926 season, and headed the cast of various subsequent editions, but her most successful shows had been Liza and the 1921 Sissle and Blake hit, Shuffle Along (which included Josephine Baker in the chorus line). The latter production would probably have secured Ms. Saunders’ stage future, but she made a fateful decision and allowed herself to be lured away from the original cast by an offer that never materialized. Gertrude Saunders’ bad move opened the door for the ultimate black beauty of the day, Florence Mills, who took over the role and was such a hit that she became the toast of Broadway. Ms. Mills career was cut short in November,1927, when she died at the age of 35, but the bright spotlight Gertrude Saunders so foolishly relinquished was never restored to her.

It is not known when Jack’s relationship with Ms. Saunders began, but Ruby thought it had gone on for some time before Jack produced her show, and that it accounted for some of his “hunting” trips. Gertrude Saunders was the antithesis of Bessie Smith, their personalities and looks contrasted sharply: Gertrude’s complexion was light, her hair long and soft, her disposition gentle. She was also slim and quite a bit younger than Bessie—a typical “Miller beauty.” The artistic gap that separated the two was equally wide: Gertrude Saunders relied more on her looks than on her voice, which had about it an unfortunate Florence Foster Jenkins quality and a range that could have made her the Yma Sumac of her day. 

“She was the opposite of Bessie,” said Ruby, making no secret of her disdain. “She had light skin and long curly hair and a gorgeous figure, and she knew it. In fact, she thought her shit didn’t stink." 
Jack strikes a Benny pose, Gertie mesmerizes.

In a 1971 interview, I asked Ms. Saunders if she had known that Bessie’s money went to back her show. “No,” she replied, emphatically, “but Jack could very well have put the money in my show without telling Bessie. Naturally he wouldn’t tell me if it was her money, he’d want to act like a big shot.” Which, of course, was exactly what he was doing. 

“I don’t know how he thought he could get away with it,” said Ruby, “but he wasn’t never too bright and he didn’t know anything about show business. He should have known that you can’t keep something like that a secret, not with all them blabbermouths around. His show only lasted about five or six months, then it folded up. He couldn't get enough bookings. And,” she added acerbically, “his star wasn’t strong enough to hold it up.” After a short run in New York, Bessie’s own show, Steamboat Days, hit the road again—back to Detroit’s Koppin Theater, then on to the Globe in Cleveland, and, on March 11, a week at the Roosevelt in Cincinnati. That's where we pick up on Ruby's recollection.

And here is Ruby performing live over New York radio station WNYC, February 19, 1949. Her accompanists are trumpeter Gus Aiken, pianist Lannie Scott, Ellington veteran Wellman Braud on bass, and drummer Freddie Moore, who made his recording debut with King Oliver. Ruby complained to me that John Hammond insisted on her singing in Bessie's style, ignoring the fact that Bessie had moved herself into the Swing Era. Determined not to be regarded as a 1920s relic, she renders a couple of songs from Bessie's early repertoire and ends with a "modern" number—she had it all figured out. 


Howard McGhee 1961

As far as recording activity is concerned, 1961 was a productive year for me. Trips to New Orleans and Chicago resulted in several Riverside albums (the "Living Legends" series) and I produced a number of Prestige albums at Rudy Van Gelder's New Jersey studio. In New York, there were sessions with Meade Lux Lewis, Ida Cox and Elmer Snowden, and I ventured out on my own with a one-man production company that yielded four albums, but no income. Had I made money on this, I would have been long gone by now, but the music is still there and possibly to be found on the Fontana or Black Lion labels, but only if you rummage deep enough.

I started that venture with a Howard McGhee date. He was rehabilitating himself at the time and had been off the scene for far too long, but—as you will hear on the sample that now is but a click away, Howard still had it going. He was beginning to get work, and was with Duke Ellington at the time when I contacted him, but great as that looks on a resume, it was possible to play with Duke and never have the spotlight hit you. Many promoters were wary of hiring serious drug addicts, even if they were recovering, and Howard sometimes found himself regarded as a great player gone good, a sideman with name recognition. He liked my suggestion that we should change that image, so my solo walk was off to a good start. Howard knew exactly what he wanted to do and who he wanted involved, so he got together a stellar group. I will, from time to time, post selections from this and other of my own sessions, because I know that these recordings—although actually issued—are not easy to find. Unfortunately, I could not afford a studio whose sound was commensurate with these performances, but Stea-Phillips—located off the lobby of the Wellington Hotel on Seventh Avenue—did a decent job. Here is Howard's own composition, "Sharp Edge," which he had originally titled "Mag-San."  Let me know what you think. 

For a larger view of this post's heading, please click on it.

Cliff Jackson strides

If you wish to know more about the stride piano style that Cliff represented, may I suggest that you visit pianist Mike Lipskin's site. This link will take you directly to his page on Harlem Stride Piano.


Humph and Neva '53

The first time I heard of Neva Raphaello was March 16, 1953, when I recorded a night at the Lyttelton Club on my new B&O tape machine. I only had about five years of experience listening to jazz, but I knew instantly that this was not a singer whose career I would follow. I still haven't figured out why the Dutch Swing College Band recorded with her or, for that matter, what she was doing with Humph at 100 Oxford Street—she simply was not in their league. That said, here is Neva with the intermission group, Mike McKenzie's trio (he was a decent pianist) in a performance made listenable by Humph's participation.