Likeable rogue on guitar

Astonishing, the human stories which lie behind the neat gold lettering on a gramophone label. “Never heard of him,” I thought of Vic Lewis, placing this 1946 shellac disc on the turntable. Lowered the needle. And, wow. Lovely jazz guitar in front of a tight band. But not just tight, there’s real feeling in this. That extra “something” – indefinable but unmissable.

So, who is this Vic Lewis? An Englishman, he was born in 1919. Inspired by American recordings, he became one of the pioneers of jazz guitar in Britain. He visited America and at different times played with the cream: Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli, George Shearing. At least, he claimed to have played with them, and this was mostly true. Vic Lewis was, you see, not the most reliable witness.

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Vic Lewis

He served in the RAF during the war, and it was there that he met the other musicians on this record. He was successful as a band leader and arranger after the war.

When rock’n’roll arrived, he shifted into management. He worked with Brian Epstein, and was involved in the careers of Cilla Black, Elton John and The Beatles. Like most managers, he was a bit of a spiv. His business dealings were not always honourable; his word, not always his bond. But people liked him: he might cheat you, but he was also generous with his time, his talents, his connections and his money.

And he never lost his love for jazz. And that shines through on this recording. “That’s a Plenty” is an up-tempo stomper, with a Dixie feel; “Singin’ the Blues” more mellow. Something special about them both, I reckon. Just listen!

That’s a Plenty

Singin’ the Blues

  • Artist: Vic Lewis and Jack Parnell’s Jazzmen,
  • A side: That’s a Plenty
  • B side: Singin’ The Blues
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Parlophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: A7551
  • Year: 1946

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

The name suggests a gangster

Muggsy Spanier. The name suggests a gangster from the Al Capone era, but Francis Joseph “Muggsy” Spanier was a musician. Given that the mob controlled all the best nightclubs in those days, and that, like Capone, Spanier was a native of Chicago, they might have crossed paths.

Muggsy played the cornet. The what? It’s a cousin of the trumpet – same basic design but a bit smaller, and the tube is differently shaped, and has a mellower sound. For many years it was the preferred instrument in jazz bands. The trumpet was all a bit bold and, well, brassy.

Spanier was just outside the absolute top flight of jazz musicians in the 1930s and 1940s. He played with the big guys: Fats Waller, Sidney Bechet, Bob Crosby, many more. Just didn’t quite crack the A-list, but surely not through lack of talent.

Trumpet playing evolved, and that instrument became king in jazz. The cornet – well, it’s still around, but a minority thing. But, man, does it sound great? Certainly in the hands of Muggsy Spanier it does. This is a 1941 recording, a shellac cutting of a sort of Dixieland-meets-swing version of a gospel tune, “Little David, Play Your Harp”. Actually, no harp is played, but there are lots of horns, played with skill and exuberance. Just listen, especially to Muggsy on the cornet.

  • Artist: Muggsy Spanier And His Orchestra
  • A side: Little David, Play Your Harp
  • B side: Hesitating Blues
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Decca
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: Y5972
  • Year: 1941

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

Five things I did not know about Ella Fitzgerald

Five things I did not know about Ella Fitzgerald

  1. She was born in 1917 in Virginia, but moved with her mother to New York State as a child, part of the Great Migration of African Americans seeking a better life in the northern states.
  2. Her mother died in a car crash in 1932, when Ella was only 15. She fell out with her stepfather and became homeless for a time.
  3. Her first hit was a version of a children’s rhyme “A Tisket A Tasket”, released in 1938
  4. In 1954 she was three days late to a tour of Australia, because she and three other black tour members were not allowed to board their flight from Honolulu to Sydney.
  5. She was active in the Civil Rights movement and refused to perform at segregated venues.

512px-Ella_Fitzgerald_in_September_1947

Something I did know: Ella’s was one of the great singing voices. This is one of her back catalogue. “I’ll Never Be Free” was a minor hit for her in 1950. Singing with Louis Jordan and his fine band, Ella makes it just shine.

3170

  • Artist: Ella Fitzgerald
  • A side: “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (with Louis Armstrong)
  • B side: “I’ll Never Be Free” (with Louis Jordan)
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Decca
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: Y6302
  • Year: 1950

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

Liquorice stick

On Sunday, my wife and I saw a jazz band, Sandra Tulty’s Swing Quartet. Australians all, and all stellar musicians: one of those jaw-dropping jazz ensembles, which sing, play multiple instruments, and take on solos without so much as raising a sweat. I was particularly impressed by the clarinettist, Michael McQuaid. He moved in and out of the music, soloing with extraordinary power and dexterity.

It reminded me of the great Artie Shaw – one of those musicians I have discovered through Planet Vinyl. Shaw was a contemporary of Benny Goodman, and they were built up as rivals, though the two men liked and respected each other. They were both Jewish (Shaw was an anglicization of Arshawsky) and they both took the jazz clarinet, the “liquorice stick” as it was called, into aural spaces no one had ever even thought of.

IMG_2241This is Artie Shaw’s recording of “Begin the Beguine”, released in 1938. The record has been played so often that the label is hard to read, but it once belonged to someone called Dawson. Whoever that was, they took good care of their records – the shellac still plays well, letting the smooth, sinuous clarinet sound shine.

  • Artist: Artie Shaw And His Orchestra,
  • Track: “Beguine the Beguine”
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue: EA 2369
  • Year: 1938

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

 

A strange democracy

“Jazz is a team game”. This was said a few days ago by T. S. Monk, a stellar jazz drummer who is touring Australia. Monk (son of Thelonious) was chatting on community radio about his art. “In a jazz group, everyone gets to solo. No one is the star, because everyone’s the star.” I’d never really thought about it this way, but he’s right. A jazz group is a strange democracy of geniuses.

Solid_(Grant_Green_album)

Case in point. Grant Green was a guitarist. I didn’t know that when I found this LP – I had never heard of him. I still didn’t know it when I had listened to the record. I loved it: dazzling be-bop, amazing musical prowess. But no instrument stands out. Everyone solos, even the drummer. I guessed Grant Green might have been on sax.

All this shows that I don’t know much about jazz, but I’m learning. That is part of the point of Planet Vinyl. Grant Green, who has been described as “one of the great unsung heroes of jazz guitar” was born in Missouri in 1935, and recorded prolifically, mostly for Blue Note records and mostly in groups headlined by others. Like many other jazz greats of that time, drug addiction marred his career and ruined his health, and he died aged only 38.

But, man, could he play. The LP was originally recorded in 1964, but inexplicably not released until 1979. Even a jazz neophyte like me can recognise it as a work of genius. This track, a Duke Pearson tune called “Minor League”, is the album’s opener. Like everything else, it is brilliant, with solos all round. Green shines on guitar, but so does everyone else: James Spaulding on alto sax, Joe Henderson on tenor sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.

I used to wonder why, when you hear jazz on the radio, the announcer gives the name of every musician. This is why. Jazz is a team game.

  • Artist: Grant Green
  • LP Title: Solid
  • Side 1, Track 1: “Minor League”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Blue Note
  • Catalogue: LT 990
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Year: 1995 (reissue: recorded 1964, first released 1979)

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter special

How many pop songs about Easter do you know?

It’s is a curious thing. There is lots of lovely church music for Easter, just as there is for Christmas. But popular music? Every man and his dog has released a Christmas album – there are so many in the op-shops of Australia that they effect Earth’s gravitational pull. But there is no “Rudolph the Red Nosed Rabbit”, no “I Saw Mummy Kiss the Easter Bunny”.

vaughan and erskineIf you want something rare, though, Planet Vinyl is the place to go.

In 1958, the great Sarah Vaughan teamed up with Billy Eckstine – not so well-remembered now, but a star singer and bandleader in his day – to collaborate on an album of Irving Berlin songs. One of them is “Easter Parade”, written by Berlin in 1933 and later a hit for Bing Crosby and Liberace, among others. Sage observers declare “The song is often considered to be one of the most popular Easter songs of all time”. Not sure that it has a great deal of competition, but it’s fun and happy and Sarah and Billy sing it beautifully.

Happy Easter from Planet Vinyl.

  • Artist: Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine
  • LP Title: Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine ‎Sing The Best Of Irving Berlin
  • Side 2, Track 4 “Easter Parade”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, mono
  • Label: Mercury
  • Catalogue number: MG 20316
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1958

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

Jamming with le dieu

Sidney Bechet was among the very first improvising soloists in jazz. He was a Creole, born in New Orleans in 1897, and so a contemporary of friend and rival Louis Armstrong.

Bechet started out on the clarinet, but while touring Europe in 1919 he discovered the soprano saxophone, and made it his own. He pretty much invented jazz saxophone, and was an astonishing and inventive stylist. He was not, however, an easy man to get along with, and for many years what a biographer delicately calls his “erratic temperament” prevented him from gaining the full success he deserved.

sidney_bechet_freddie_moore_lloyd_phillips_gottlieb_00521

Sidney Bechet in 1947. Picture: Library of Congress, via WikiMedia Commons

However, he mellowed with age, and in 1950 he settled in France, and there became a genuine star. Very popular among bohemian intellectuals, in Existentialist circles he was known as “le dieu” (“the god”).

Here is one of his works, recorded in duet with trumpeter Jonah Jones, with their take on the Fats Waller tune “Squeeze Me”, recorded in Paris in 1954.

  • Artist: Sidney Bechet and Jonah Jones
  • EP Title: Sidney Bechet – Jonah Jones
  • Series Title: Paris by Night
  • Track: B1 “Squeeze Me”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, mono
  • Label: PYE International
  • Catalogue: IEP008
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1960 (recorded Paris, 1954)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs.