Monday, December 18, 2017

Book Review: The Boston Jazz Chronicles

Somehow, I seem to have let this wonderful book slip through the cracks, but my recent post on the Duke Ellington band shook the cobwebs out and I'm back to feature it today. Author Richard Vacca does a wonderful job bringing back a Boston long gone, a city just over the horizon for many of us. Vacca gives us the people, the music and the clubs that once made Boston a swingin' town, if not a center of jazz like the behemoth to our south-west.

Rather than go through the book, I'll send you to his web site, which is chock-full of great little articles on local musicians, visiting giants and the clubs where they played.

Monday, December 11, 2017

On July 26, 1939, the Duke Ellington band played a show on the summer terrace rooftop venue of Boston's Ritz Carlton hotel. One set was broadcast by the NBC network by way of WBZ in Boston. Live music from remote sites were a programming bonanza for the radio networks. The bands weren't paid by the stations or networks, but the publicity generated by the shows nationwide allowed bands to ask for more money from live gigs. The Ellington band made its name nationally with its broadcasts from the Cotton Club in Harlem.

This version of the Ellington band carried two Bostonians - alto sax master Johnny Hodges (born in Cambridge) and baritone sax pioneer Harry Carney. Both lived on Hammond street, where the South End and lower Roxbury meet. The band spent quite a bit of time in New England and the Boston area. Early on, they played summers in Salem, MA, and later played the New England circuit of clubs, dance halls and theatres. With a fairly dense population, New England allowed the band to play many one nighters in a row with little travel from location to location. Thus, they could give New York a rest, squeeze in a lot of paydays, and get home in reasonable time. Regions like the Midwest required much more travel between gigs, and made less money for them.

The Ellington band with Ivie Anderson.

The songs:

a jazz potpourri
lawrence brown stomething to live for
johnny hodges old king dooji?
ivie anderson in a mist
ivie again rose of the rio grande
pussy willow
ivie you can count on me
way low

The band:

Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet – Harry Carney
Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – Johnny Hodges
Tenor Saxophone – Otto Hardwicke*
Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet – Barney Bigard
Trombone – Joe Nanton, Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown
Trumpet – Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, Wallace Jones
Bass – Billy Taylor
Drums – Sonny Greer
Piano – Duke Ellington

Monday, December 4, 2017

Shocking Murder of Bandleader!

May 10, 1919

In the early years of the 20th century, James Reese Europe was probably the leading African American figure in popular music. Reese came to New York at a time when it was difficult for black musicians to get jobs in theaters and dance halls. He helped organize the first African American musician's hiring hall in Harlem, and led a major fund-raising concert that gave the group its first publicity. Soon after, he connected with Vernon and Irene Castle, providing them with music for their dance shows.

The Castles were among the first superstars of 20th century entertainment, teaching the New York social set - and the rest of the country - to do the new social partner dances that were sweeping the nation. Irene has been called the first modern woman, and Vernon showed that a man who spent his time dancing - rather than sticeng to the business of making money around the clock at the office - could be a respected figure. Irene said that Europe had taught them with Foxtrot (which they then 'cleaned up' for genteel society), and the  association with the Castles made Europe the black bandleader of the era.

Europe enlisted in the army during WWI, and was asked to form a band for his regiment. The band, known as the 'Hellfighters' due to their regimental name, became the favorite of General Pershing, and played to the acclaim of French audiences.

On his return from France (I almost wrote Europe), Europe and the band began a tour to take advantage of the publicity they had been accorded. The Boston Globe article that reports the crime states that the Mechanics's Building show was his first in Boston. I have a book that says they played at the Boston Opera House first, and moved to the Mechanic's Building for its larger hall.

One of two drummers, a young man named Herbert Wright, had been acting strangely during recent concerts, wandering across the stage while singers were performing. It seems as if between shows, Wright approached Europe in his dressing room, ranted at him, and then struck him across the neck with a pocket knife. Wright was subdued by some musicians, and the police called. Europe's jugular vein had been cut, and while he was taken to a hospital, he did not survive the attack.