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:

Search This Blog


Shameless Selfie

As a rule, I don't carry ads on this blog, but friends tell me that I should at least run one for my Bessie Smith biography, so here is one that you can easily skip. The attached audio features actor Robertson Dean reading a short excerpt from my introduction to the book. The entire, unabridged reading runs 13 hours and comes in a Tantor Audiobooks boxed set of 11 CDs. A readable Kindle edition is also available for download, and Yale University Press still has it in book form. Mr. Dean does an excellent job of reading on the audiobook version. As for the HBO film, Queen Latifah's singing and Music Director Evyen J. Klean's instrumental setting lend an authenticity to the music that is rarely captured in biographical films but the rest of this atrocious film is a crude travesty of Bessie Smith, her era, and her life. You can blame a woman named Dee Rees for that—her writing and direction are disgraceful insults to Bessie Smith. 

I hope this commercial intrusion does not offend anyone. 

Links to Amazon for the Audiobook, Paperback, and Kindle editions:


Jackie Robinson jazz afternoon

The year was 1963 and the Civil Rights Movement was in full gear. Jackie Robinson and his wife threw a summer afternoon benefit party on their back lawn in Stamford, Connecticut. The purpose was to raise bail money for jailed SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) demonstrators in the South. It was an all-star jazz concert held in an idyllic setting, by a small lake at the end of the garden. Not surprisingly, the Robinson's attracted stellar performers and this became an annual event so popular that it soon had to be moved to a more capacious location.

I was working at WNEW Radio back then, so I went there with William B. Williams, Bob Hodges, and light equipment that included one of the station's portable Ampex recorders. The sound is not the greatest, but you will get a bit of atmosphere and hear some fine players.

I thought these tapes were lost, but my old friend, Mona Granager of Storyville Records, located them for me at—of all places—the Royal Library in Copenhagen. I had lent several reels of tape to my friend, Karl Emil Knudsen, and this is where some of them ended up after his death.
That's me on the far left, with the Ampex, Bob Hodges, and William
B. Williams on right.

On the first clip, Mercer Ellington introduces members of his band before kicking things off with one of his own compositions,  "Jumpin' Punkins" (thanks to Michael Leddy for furnishing the right title). The soloists are Clark Terry, Taft Jordan, Zoot Sims and Quentin Jackson.

From Billboard July 6, '63
Click to enlarge

Staying in the "jump" groove, the band continues with Duke's "Jump for Joy"...

...and a fine Jerome Richardson feature...

More to come...


Charles Mingus Sextet: Trenton - May 9, 1972

If you were around, in the U.S., and into jazz forty years ago, you may have seen a weekly half-hour television show called The Jazz Set, which I hosted and co-produced. We had many great musicians as guests, in a jazz club setting that some people took to be the real thing. After the show went national on the PBS network, we began receiving letters from people who were planning a trip to New York and wanted the club's address. Actually, our set was in Trenton, New Jersey, but we did have a real audience seated at tables and sipping cleverly disguised sodas.

Since I commuted from New York for the tapings, I frequently took the train with some of the performers, and I can still see Mingus on the platform at Penn Station, his arm around his bass and a snack in the other hand. When we boarded the train, he headed straight for the dining car, with me tagging behind.

We ordered a three-course lunch and had a delightful trip during which music never came up in our conversation. When I told him that I had named my dog Mingus, he stopped eating, looked up from his plate and asked, "What kind of dog do you have?"

He looked relieved when I replied that Mingus was a doberman, and told me that someone in Greenwich Village had named a beauty shop after him—this had obviously not pleased him.

We were still a good way from Princeton when Mingus finished his dessert, called the stewart over and—aiming a circular gesture at the table—said, "let's do this again." I limited my request to a second cup of coffee and watch with amazement as Mingus did his encore.

When we arrived at the studio, there was a huge chocolate cake, baked by the wife of one of our cameramen in honor of Mingus. We all had some, but Mingus enjoyed about half of it.

He was in a great mood that day, and I think it is reflected in his performance, which includes Peggy's Blue Skylight and Orange is the Color Of Her Dress.
Mingus, Charles McPherson, Lonnie Hillyer, Bobby Jones

There is also my interview, which you may have seen in the film, "Triumph of the Underdog." Unfortunately, I do not have this show on video, but it's all about the music—besides, I look silly in my dawn of disco locks and outfit. 

COMING UP: The next scheduled post will comprise recordings I made at a 1964 Jackie Robinson lawn party. You will hear performances by the Duke Ellington Alumni Orchestra (led by Mercer) and the Dave Brubeck Quartet.


Barry Miles Trio - 1972

These performances are from my TV show, The Jazz Set, taped in 1972. It was one of the first shows I did and the only one where the guest  was not my choice. Barry Miles was a good musician who received very early recognition (notice his age on the poster above), but he was on my new show because a New Jersey politician had "suggested" it to station management. I should mention that the shows originated in Trenton at New Jersey Television and only 13 were picked up for network airing by PBS—this was not one of them.

Barry Miles in later years.
Please don't interpret this as a put-down of Barry Miles, who delivered fine performances, I just resented the fact that I and my co-producer/director, Peter Anderson, were given no say in the choice. Barry made eleven albums under his own name before moving into other areas of the music business (see details here).

This audio includes my interview with Barry, and three selections by the trio: Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock," "Frenchie," a tune on which he performs an odd vocal form that I don't think caught on, and "White Heat," the title tune from his 1971 album. The tape ends rather abruptly, so I did a quick fadeout. The bassist is Gene Perla, the drummer is Barry's brother, Terry Silverlight. 


Jeremy Steig Quartet 1972

I wish I had video of all the episodes in The Jazz Set series of half-hour shows director Peter Anderson and I did for New Jersey Television and PBS in 1972. I have already posted most of what I have on this blog, but some of my own favorites are missing. Recently, I came across an audio tape that had landed in a box at the Royal Library, Copenhagen. I am indebted to Mona Granager of Storyville Records for locating this box and having the label's engineer make the digital transfer. What we have is The Jazz Set from April 24, 1972, when my guest was flutist Jeremy Steig. He brought with him a stellar working group comprising bassists Eddie Gomez and Gene Perla, and
Eddie Gomez, Don Alias, Gene Perla.
percussionist Don Alias. I hope you agree that some good things came out of that combination. Two of the three numbers are identified, but I don't recall the title of the last one—if you know it, please share it with us.

Jeremy impressed me from the very beginning. A somewhat withdrawn young man, his style was just the opposite. Oh, he could be quite lyrical, but when a robust approach was called for, he became a powerhouse and those notes flew out of his flute as were it an AK-47. 
This PR glossy was stamped
"Historic." It made me feel a
bit older than old.

Jeremy's fondness for kids often brought him back to school, and especially, kindergarten. Children ought to be introduced to jazz at an early age, he felt, and it was difficult for them to relate to improvisation, so he had the great idea of taking tunes they all knew, playing them straight at first, then improvising on them. He said it was amazing to see the faces of little kids when they detected a familiar tune in new dress.

Jeremy, the son of New Yorker magazine cartoonist William Steig, died in May, 20016, at the age of 73. He and his wife lived in Japan.  Here's a Wikipedia link that will tell you more.

Here is my interview with Jeremy, and his Quartet's performance on The Jazz Set.

The box of tapes that turned up in Copenhagen contained more sounds that I will be sharing with you here in the future.


Buddy Bolden: First-hand Impressions

Jelly Roll Morton turned a tune called "Funky Butt" into "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say," and he was among many who actually did hear Mr. Bolden and lived to talk about it when the "moldy Fygs" of decades past started digging up whatever jazz information they could find. They were funny guys, these early collectors, obsessed as such people tend to be, but in a humorous sort of fashion. Some jazz veterans (still relatively young in those days), had their own fun with the collectors, feeding them an assortment of tales, some of which have yet to be debunked.

New Orleans banjo player Danny Barker made up a story that had jazz writer-historian Rudi Blesh wasting days scouring a Long Island town for the garage in which Barker said King Oliver made some mysterious recordings. 

Myths about pioneers—real and imagined—abounded, but no character was more intriguing than the cornet-playing barber whose horn could be heard from one end of New Orleans to the other, until he blew his mind right into an asylum. His name was Charles Joseph Bolden, known as "Buddy," and no more mysterious figure could be found in all of jazz. He may not have been a barber, but he was definitely a mental patient, and if he is not the only true "legendary" figure in jazz, he is certainly the one most qualified for that hackneyed title.

Many years ago, when Sammy Davis, Jr. hosted his own TV show, he introduced his guest, Sarah Vaughan, as "The legendary..." As if to underscore how misused the tag had become, Ms. Vaughan exclaimed, "Thank you, Sammy!," as she walked in to take her seat. "You know, every morning when I wake up, I look at myself in the mirror and shout, 'I'm a legend! I'm a legend!"

These days, referring to someone as legendary is a polite way of saying that they have been around for years. Ironically, Buddy Bolden's life was relatively short, but he was on the jazz scene before anyone knew what to call the music, and he blew his horn with such force that those who claimed to have heard him perform recalled the sheer volume of his playing more vividly than the music itself. Although jazz recordings had been around for fourteen years in 1931, when Bolden died at age 54, he never appeared on one. Diagnosed as having dementia, he spent his last 23 years as a mental patient. Yes, there's the old rumor of the "lost" Bolden cylinder, but I doubt if anyone ever took that tale seriously. A legend is, of course, a tale, especially one told far and wide, and with either missing or conflicting details. In jazz, Bix Beiderbecke left an aura of qualifying blurriness, but, unlike Bolden, he made many recordings and left tangible footprints. Bolden's legacy comprises the stories, a misty face in a group photo, and equally fading recollections. It is possible that more people thought they heard Bolden than actually did, but, even though the clear across town story is among the exaggerations, some had to have listened. One being Peter Bocage, who was in his mid seventies in 1961, when I recorded his band for the Riverside label and taped a brief interview.
I assume that today's racial attitude is considerably better in New Orleans than it was a half century ago. Back then, I could not share a taxi with guitarist Emanuel Sayles nor eat at bassist McNeal Breaux's restaurant (the back door solved that problem), and there are no longer separate Musicians Union locals for black performers. It was remarkable to find such racism existing by law in 1961, but it was only eight years ago that Hurricane Katrina blew off a mask of mardi gras harmony and reveal the extent to which the city discriminated against non-whites, 

Some have observed that a more covert, but no less hateful form of discrimination was practiced by black people of light complexion—some of whom were "passing," as the saying went. "When I want to pass," the late Moms Mabley used to say, "I carry under my arm a copy of El Diario." 

We get an inkling of this racially-based class distinction when Peter Bocage, a man of light hue, speaks of Buddy Bolden. For more about Mr. Bocage, I suggest that you go to Wikipedia.

The interview took place during a break at the Société des Jeunes Amis hall, where we recorded the sessions, so there were musicians milling about, causing Bocage to lower his voice at one point. Since I haven't the equipment to digitize the original tape, I have taken this excerpt from a weekly radio show that I conducted over the WQXR network in 1961, so you will hear my introduction.

When I relayed Bocage's views on modern jazz to Dizzy Gillespie, he rather liked hearing his music described as "eccentric."

Bocage, McNeal Breaux, photographer Ralston Crawford, and Benjamin Turner. Insert shows Bocage around 1910. (photo by Chris Albertson)

Here is "Bouncing Around," as played by Peter Bocage and His Creole Serenaders that day. Bocage is heard on trumpet, along with Homer Eugene, trombone, Louis Cottrell, clarinet, Benjamin Turner, piano, Sidney Pfluger, electric guitar, McNeal Breaux, bass, and Alfred Williams, drums. The recording engineer was Dave Jones.

COMING UP: The next scheduled post will comprise recordings made by me at a 1964 Jackie Robinson lawn party. Performances by Mercer Ellington and Duke's alumni orchestra, the the Dave Brubeck Quartet.