Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Rare Artie Shaw Documentary on its Way

Friday, September 18th, 2009

By all accounts, clarinetist and bandleader Artie Shaw was quite the difficult guy, before, during and after his days as a working musician.

Still, Shaw, born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in 1910—who passed in December of 2004 at the age of 94—is still regarded in many quarters as the greatest jazz clarinetist who ever lived.

For those of a certain age, his story is a familiar one, which included eight marriages to the likes of Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and Evelyn Keyes; the wild success of his various bands; Shaw’s inability or unwillingness to deal with much of this success and various other emotional factors which resulted in his giving up the horn for good in 1954.

It’s one of the great stories in jazz, if only because Artie Shaw was among the few players in history who actually evolved as a player. It’s not that he suddenly became a Charlie Parker-like be-bopper. It just seemed that, as time went on, his style just became more modern and more timeless within the parameters that he had already set. And those were very, very high-level parameters. Technically, harmonically and emotionally? He couldn’t be touched. Though there who continue to argue about such matters, Benny Goodman had very, very little of what Artie Shaw had. “You play clarinet, I play music,” Shaw once said to Goodman.

I’d bet BG had no idea what Artie Shaw was talking about.

After leaving the music business, Shaw involved himself in various activities, which included work as a film distributor, gentleman farmer, and mainly, as a writer. For years, he was said to be working on a gargantuan, fictionalized version of his own life, titled “The Education of Albie Show,” said to be around 1,900 pages—double-spaced—in length. According to those few who have read all or part of it, it is not an easy read.

Jazz writer Gene Lees, in fact, described Shaw as “a second-rate writer.” The presumption of course, is that Lees is a first-rate writer.

There have been various attempts to get Shaw involved in telling his own life story through the years, and there was actually a documentary film produced and released around 1987. Titled “Time is All You’ve Got,” it was produced by Brigitte Berman, critically acclaimed for her work on a Bix Beiderbecke documentary several years before this.

“Time is All You’ve Got” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature film in 1987. Shaw participated in it enthusiastically, and is also boasted the participation of Shaw cohorts like Buddy Rich, Helen Forrest, Lee Castle, ex-wife Evelyn Keyes and many, many others via vintage footage and interviews.

For reasons still not widely known, outside of a few showings around 1987, the film was pulled from distribution and has not been seen since. In terms of film rarities, “Time is All You’ve Got” is one of the rarest.

Who knows what happened? Shaw was well known for putting roadblocks in the path of various projects over the years.

Seasons back, after the release of the “Buddy Rich: Jazz Legend” video, Artie Shaw called my office. He was not happy.

“By whose authority are you using this clip of my band with Buddy Rich from 1937?” he asked me.

“Well, Mr., Shaw,” I began to explain, “the clip is over 60 years old and has been used in over a dozen documentaries over the years.”

He then tried to argue that he owned the film clip, ignoring the fact that Vitaphone, an operation that had been out of business for decades, was actually the producer/distributor of the film short, “Artie Shaw’s Class in Swing.”

I cleared a payment of $500 to Shaw with the DCI Music Video offices—distributors of the Buddy Rich video—as a courtesy to Mr. Shaw. That seemed to do the trick.

Then again, perhaps Evelyn Keyes’ successful lawsuit a few years ago, in pursuit of half of her ex’s estate, was a factor in getting “Time is All You’ve Got” pulled. Who knows?

The important thing is, this deserves to be seen. will be getting a copy shortly, and the moment we do, we’ll try to make it available as soon as we can, and as long as we can.

But knowing Artie Shaw, you never know how long that will be.

Louis Prima, Jimmy Vincent and 9/11

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Wherever and whenever live music is played—in Naples, Florida, or otherwise—people of a certain age will often request a song made famous by the late and great Louis Prima.

Last season in Naples at The Cafe’ on Fifth Avenue, when I had the privilege of playing with the great trumpter Bob Zottola, a customer approached me and requested that we do something by Louis.

Zottola, to his eternal and idealistic credit, is a music guy, not an entertainment guy, but wanted to honor the customer’s request.

Knowing I sang and played pretty much the complete Prima repertoire through the years—“if you want to make a dollar, you’ve got to make them holler,” has long been my credo–Bob asked me, “Is there anything like a tasteful Louis Prima song?”

“No, unfortunately, there isn’t,” I told Bob.

Louis was never a darling of the jazz critics.

We did “Oh Marie” anyway and the crowd loved it. Bob was really cooking on that one. It couldn’t be helped.

Prima’s sound was and is an electrifying, timeless and swinging one that transcended labels, genres, timelines or categories. In his early days, Louis was a good, traditionally oriented trumpeter and singer out of the Louis Armstrong mold, but as time went on, he moved farther and father away from jazz into the world of entertainment.

Indeed, via his group in Las Vegas that featured vocalist Keely Smith, to whom he was married from 1953 to 1961, he made one of the biggest splashes in entertainment history in the Vegas lounges, on records, and in clubs throughout the country. Along with the architect of the Prima sound –the recently-departed saxophonist Sam Butera—the Prima book combined elements of Dixieland jazz, early rhythm and blues, the Italian jive novelties he had been doing for years, plus the deadpan vocals of Keely, to fashion an eclectic and singular sound that has never been duplicated. Many have tried, included Sonny and Cher, who basically lifted the Louie and Keely act, updated it and tried to make it their own,

Prima continued, with varying degrees of success and with changes in music policy—he was almost doing a rock and roll show at one point in later years—until he lapsed into a coma in October of 1975. He died in August, 1978.

Prima’s drummer on and off since the early 1940s was a superb player by the name of Jimmy Vincent, who died on April 15, 2002.

You can hear Vincent wailing away on some of Louis’ most famous songs, including “Jump Jive and Wail,” “Just a Gigolo” and all of the rest.

Vincent also had a good deal of success with another, semi-famed, Las Vegas-based lounge group called “The Goofers.” Drum fans, in particular, may remember Vincent appearing in ads for the Slingerland Drum Company, where he was wearing a monkey mask.

Vincent never cared about critics. If you wear a monkey mask while playing the drums, that’s obvious. But Buddy Rich, among well-known players, is said to have loved him. No one could play the shuffle beat like Jimmy Vincent.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, singer Joy Adams and I were waiting for a cab to pick us up at our Philadelphia home to take us to the airport. We were flying to Las Vegas to get together with drummer Jimmy Vincent, who was to be interviewed and featured in a Hudson Music DVD, which then had the working title of “Roots of Roll Drumming.” Eventually, it was released as “Classic Rock Drum Solos,” but the idea was the same, which was to trace the evolution of the drum solo as it ultimately applied to rock and roll,

Vincent was an important figure in this area, having helped pioneer and perfect the shuffle beat on drums, an important component of early rock.

At about 10 a.m., a few minutes before our taxi was scheduled to arrive in Philadelphia, Joy’s daughter, Lauren, called us at home. “Turn on the television, now,” she told her mother.

“What channel?” Joy asked.

“Any channel,” Lauren said.

There it was. The tragic bombing of the Word Trade Centers. Live, on television.

We didn’t believe what we were seeing.

The taxi had arrived to take us to the airport. My first thought was to call the airport to see if planes were still flying. Whomever answered the phone at the airport said that nothing had changed, Planes were still taking off.

They didn’t for long.

The trip to Vegas never happened and we never hooked up with Jimmy Vincent, who passed away about a year and one-half later.

“Classic Rock Solos” features an early, 1940s drum solo by a 16-year-old player by the name of Jimmy Vincent, tearing it up on a song written by his long-time boss, Louis Prima. The song’s title was “Sing Sing Sing.”

Bob Zottola has spoken often about doing that number when I come back to Naples.

I plan on it.

Jerry Lewis Leaves Them Laughing

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Jerry Lewis. Funniest man who ever lived, in my opinion, anyway. “The Nutty Professor?” I mean the original. Greatest film ever made. It still cracks me up. Forget about Eddie Murphy. Let’s talk about Professor Julius Kelp.

Today, in terms of showbiz icons who are still standing, Lewis is it, and he is still very much on view. At the age of 84, he spent a considerable amount onscreen hosting the “Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon on Labor Day weekend. He still gets top billing over the illness and the kids he supports. God bless him. He deserves it.

He looked and sounded like an older Jerry Lewis, though at his age, he is certainly to be forgiven for not looking like a day older than he actually is.

In fact, this year, after a couple of seasons of severe illness that would have taken out weaker souls, he helped raise over 60 million dollars for Muscular Dystrophy, down over five million dollars than last year, but given the state of the economy, still a grand amount. And this without the participation, for the first time in years, of sidekick Ed MacMahon.

What was surprising, entertaining and inspiring, was that Lewis was on screen as much as he was. He no longer gets the cover of the Sunday newspaper insert, “Parade” magazine, nor does he – or the telethon – get the advance press it used to get, but the telecast still garners a huge audience. You don’t get over 60 million dollars in contributions otherwise.

Lewis, often sitting down this year, sang songs, bantered with the orchestra, and performed his famed, “Al Jolson Medley,” which he first introduced at the Palace Theater in New York City shortly after breaking up with his partner, Dean Martin. By the way, it was in that year–1957–when Lewis’ vocal recording of “Rockabye Your Baby (With a Dixie Melody)” became a surprise hit. Dean Martin was more surprised than anyone that year. Yes, there were plenty of on-air gaffes and screw-ups in this year’s telethon as always—centered on one of Jerry’s favorite subjects, Adolf Hitler, among other things—but that’s what happens every Labor Day weekend.

For the past several telethons and a camp highlight for me, Lewis has introduced a young, Buddy Love / Bobby Darin-type singer named “Michael Andrew,” who is supposedly being pegged to play the young Jerry in the Lewis-directed, Broadway production of “The Nutty Professsor.” Now, the show is supposedly set for 2011 and is said to have the participation of Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes. I’ll believe it when I see it. The Broadway version of “Professor” has been in the planning stages for five years now. “Michael Andrew will be a big star if he does what I tell him,” Lewis said on the telethon. I hope Michael Andrew will listen to Jerry Lewis.

Stranger things have happened.

Here’s one of them:

My first job after graduating Temple University was with a publication devoted to the film industry, called Film BULLETIN. The intent of this magazine, which had been published since the 1930s, was to help motion picture theater exhibitors choose the films they wanted to show.

Film BULLETIN was already an anachronism when I came aboard, but a job was a job and show biz was show biz. After roughly three years there, from about 1975 to 1978, I had built up some good contacts in the film industry, and I came up with what I thought were a couple of good ideas about what would fly in the film marketplace as well.

One of my more brilliant concepts was an idea for a screenplay. This would tell the fictionalized story of none other than Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

I felt so strongly about it, I quit my job. I was out $125 per week.

Making a call to the story department of United Artists in New York where I had some connections, I spoke to a story editor. I introduced myself as being the Managing Editor of Film BULLETIN, and said, “I know you get thousands of phone calls like this, but I have an idea for a film.”

“Let’s hear it,” the woman on the phone said.

“Three words,” I said fearlessly. “Martin and Lewis.”

“Wow,” was the initial reply. “How soon can you have a screenplay on our desk?”

“Two weeks,” I said, thinking that sounded good.

The next call I made was to a high school colleague who graduated college with a degree in theater. I thought it would be a good move to contact someone who knew something about writing a play, which I didn’t.

His name was and is Eric Diamond. He had a wonderful sense of humor, a marvelous sense of theater and of music—remember that Martin and Lewis were as much about music as they were about comedy– and to me, seemed to be the perfect collaborator. We could bounce stuff off each other, and we would become big screenwriters.

Eric, by the way, has carved out a fabulous, 20-plus year career for himself in the theater department of Montclair State College in New Jersey. This guy knew, and knows, theater. He is currently the Chairperson of the Departments of Theater and Dance.

It also seemed to me that Eric, who had taken the plunge and the risk of moving to New York City right after graduating college, had the perfect locale—just off Broadway, as I recall—for two, fledgling screenwriters. This was as close as “let’s put on a show” as one could get circa 1978.

Though Diamond had a theater degree and I had worked as a magazine editor, the two of us had no idea as to the actual “form” that a movie screenplay should take.

We bought a book at a Manhattan book store. I think it was entitled “How to Write a Screenplay.”

I knew the story of Dean and Jerry pretty well from the book that Arthur Marx, Groucho’s kid, had written about them, and Eric Diamond had a good sense of the dramatic, what worked and what didn’t.

We had two weeks to write this thing.

We took individual turns writing sections of the script, which included entire musical sections of what was Martin and Lewis’ actual act at the 500 Club, the Copa, etc.

I was in heaven in New York, and why I didn’t stay, I still can’t say. During my first week in NYC, I grabbed the Times to see who was playing, jazz-wise in the area. Screenwriter or no screenwriter, I was and I am, first and foremost, a jazz drummer, and there was no way I could ignore where I was living, for the moment. On Broadway. I could see Howard Johnson’s when I looked out the window.

In the Times was a small ad for a tourist-type place called “Joe’s Pier 52,” that featured the piano “stylings” of the one and only Mary Napoleon and “his trio.”

Marty Napoleon? Jeez! He was the brother of longtime Gene Krupa pianist Teddy Napoleon (Teddy had passed in 1958), but more importantly, Marty had played with saxophonist Charlie Ventura. I had played with Charlie in Philadelphia several years before, so I had a connection. My goal? To sit in on drums, of course.

I think I schlepped Eric Diamond with me to Joe’s Pier 52. The next thing I knew, I introduced myself to Marty Napoleon and told him of my connection with Charlie Ventura. I was asked to sit in and I evidently, as they say, acquitted myself well.

I was asked to take the job playing drums, but I turned it down, telling Marty that I was occupied writing a screenplay.

Marty Napoleon, by the way, is still very much with us at the age of 88 and recently appeared as a part of the Harlem Jazz Museum’s lecture series in New York city.

Truth be told after all these years, I was scared to death to sever my ties with my hometown of Philadelphia and move to New York, screenplay or no screenplay.

The two week script deadline was approaching. Diamond and I put the finishing touches on our draft, which I think we called “Leave Them Laughing.” We used fictitious names for Martin and Lewis to dodge any possible legal action and registered the work with an organization called The Writer’s Guild of America/East. I don’t think either of us read the thing the whole way through.

I think Eric Diamond lent me a coat and tie for our impending meeting at United Artists in New York City.

We met with a woman who was an executive in the UA the story department. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. She asked us who we had in mind to play Martin and Lewis. I suggested Vic Damone and Charlie Callas. I remember distinctly that she said something about Al Pacino being under contract, and that she mentioned to us, “What if the Jerry Lewis part were played by a woman?”

I told her that the “dynamic” of our work would be changed, but that we were open to anything and that we would rewrite it if necessary. We could have it done in two weeks.

Several weeks later, back in Philadelphia, I received a call from United Artists, saying that they had passed on our screenplay.

I asked why.

“There is no conflict,” I was told. “A movie has to have a conflict that is somehow eventually resolved. Your script is just a straightforward telling, and a good one, of the story of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.”

“But the whole Martin and Lewis story was a conflict,” I replied.

“No one would really care today,” was the United Artists’ verdict.

On November 24, 2002, 24 years after our screenplay on the life of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis was submitted to United Artists, a television movie entitled “Martin and Lewis” aired on CBS Television. Sean Hayes, who starred on the television program “Will and Grace,” played Jerry Lewis. An English actor with a lot of B-movie credits, named Jeremy Northam, portrayed Dean Martin. A good deal of it was based on the Arthur Marx book that Eric Diamond and I used as our source material, and plenty of our shtick was in there. The project supposedly had the blessings of both the Lewis and Martin estates. The reviews of the show were lukewarm. They should have used Vic Damone. And Charlie Callas, too.

I remember trying to call Eric Diamond on the telephone the night the program aired. I couldn’t get through.

After seeing Lewis on television during this year’s telethon, and realizing that this may be one of the last times anyone might even see Jerry Lewis, I was moved to try to contact my collaborator again.

Though I’ve never been interested in reliving anything, perhaps I’m getting sentimental as I grow older. Or, quite simply, I just wanted to make contact with the talented young fellow who co-wrote the screenplay, “Leave Them Laughing,” that could have been made into a major motion picture by United Artists. Starring Al Pacino. And Charlie Callas.

This time, Eric Diamond answered the telephone, and we had a wonderful, long and heart warming conversation about Martin and Lewis and other matters. I think, as usual, I did most of the talking. Mainly about myself.

Eric will be visiting his family in Philadelphia within the coming weeks, and we have made plans to get together. I hope we do. Perhaps we’ll collaborate on something again.

This time, maybe it will be the story of The Ritz Brothers.

Starring Al Pacino.

So what is Jerry Lewis really like?

Let me tell you.

In 2001, I was in the midst of writing and co-producing a Hudson Music video production called “Classic Drum Solos and Drum Battles.” After being involved in a number of Hudson projects through the years–on Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and various others–I became firmly convinced that the main reason folks bought these things was to hear the drum solos, and that everyone could live without the music portions leading up to it. “Classic Drum Solos and Drum Battles” would be just that. All drums and nothing but.

By the time we were set to go start putting this thing together, I realized I was about eight minutes shy of an hour, the bare, time minimum needed to release this thing to the marketplace.

I received a call, just in the nick of time, from a gentleman who then headed the international Buddy Rich fan club, Charles Braun.

“You won’t believe what I just found,” Charles breathlessly told me over the phone. It’s an eight-minute drum battle from 1955 between Jerry Lewis and Buddy Rich.”

I didn’t believe him. No one had ever heard of the existence of such a thing.

“Charles,” I said, “if this is true, then get it on my desk by tomorrow.”

He did, and it did exist. It was a segment from the television program, “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” which frequently played host to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The actual segment began as a comedy, featuring Jerry battling Buddy with a bunch of film tricks, various drums and dozens of pairs of sticks (Jerry was a good amateur drummer and the godfather of Buddy’s daughter, Cathy), but gave way to a fabulous, extended workout by Buddy Rich. In terms of time and material, it was just what “Classic Drum Solos and Drum Battles” needed.

I was wary of using it without permission, however. Jerry Lewis was still very much on the scene, and I was told that he kept a pretty close eye on how vintage film — with him in it — was used. I sent a letter to his Las Vegas offices, asking for permission to use the clip in our video, “for the good of jazz education and scholarship.”

Several weeks went by, and I heard nothing. Time was getting short. What was missing from this picture?

I sent the letter to Las Vegas again, this time with a check made out to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Five days later, on a Saturday morning, the telephone rang at my home.

It was Jerry Lewis.

Forgive me for being star-struck, and I’ve known a lot of celebrities on a personal basis over the years, but it is not every day when Jerry Lewis calls your home.

Buddy Love himself. On the phone with me.

He was personable but very businesslike. I told him, before he even began, that not only was his call sincerely appreciated, but how much of an inspiration he had been to so many of us through the years. He thanked me and told me he knew of my work.

“I’m going to give you permission to use this film,” he told me, “and I’m going to send you a package next week of everything Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa did on the telethon over the years. Use it as you see fit. The only thing I ask is that I be remembered to Cathy and the family for this.”

I assured him that I would let Cathy and Marie Rich know.

“Classic Drum Solos and Drum Battles” was released by Hudson Music in 2001 and continues to do well, spawning two sequels in the process.

During my conversation with Jerry Lewis, there was no mention made of my screenplay, of Eric Diamond or of Al Pacino.

But Jerry Lewis called my house. I hope he will again. Maybe during next year’s telethon.

Chris Connor: 1927-1981

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Chris Connor, last of the triumvirate of the “cool school” of jazz singers that included Anita O’Day and June Christy, died on August 29, at the age of 81, from cancer.

Born Mary Loutsenhizer in Kansas City, MO, Connor studied clarinet for eight years. She first sang publicly–the song was “Amor”– in 1945 at her junior high school graduation.

Three years later, she moved to New York City, hoping to begin a singing career. It only took two months until she joined the “Snowflakes,” the vocal group that was a part of the well-known orchestra led by pianist Claude Thornhill.

She stayed with Thornhill on and off through 1952, then joined the band of Jerry Wald briefly.

In that year, Stan Kenton’s well-known singer, June Christy, announced her attention to leave the band in pursuit of a solo career. Christy had heard Connor singing on a radio broadcast and recommended her to Kenton. She formally joined the band in February of 1953. She stayed a year, constantly touring and recording, and had something of a hit in the form of a song entitled “All About Ronnie.”

Like Christy, Connor left the Kenton band to work as a solo attraction. She moved to New York city in the fall of 1953 and quickly signed a contract with the jazz-oriented, Bethlehem Records. Her first two outings for that label, “Chris Connor Sings Lullabies of Birdland” and “Chris Connor Sings Lullabies for Lovers,” were bestsellers. In 1956 she signed with a bigger label, Atlantic Records, and remained until 1963. Connor was the first, white, female jazz singer to join Atlantic.

Without exception, the productions were superb, and always included the finest jazz players on the scene at the time, from Herbie Mann and Zoot SIms, to Hank Jones and Kenny Burrell. A highlight were two recordings she did in tandem with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and his orchestra.

Connor’s Atlantic years, many believe, were her finest.

As a singer, Chris Connor was not the inventive, risk-taking scat singer that Anita O’Day was, nor was she the manufactured cool of June Christy. Connor had a wonderfully cool but sometimes smoky, throaty sound. Her singular inventiveness came by way of her sound, the way she toyed, subtly with the melody without ignoring the composer’s intentions, and above all, via her eclectic choice of material. Her time was superb and she knew how to use space. In many ways, she was a minimalist, entirely opposite of the style of Anita O’Day.

She could virtually inhabit everything from a simple pops like “I Miss You So” to the complexity of an “All About Ronnie.” And in 1962, she really took a risk, recording a vocal version of avant-garde saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.”

During the Atlantic years, she performed in nightspots all over the country, and sold out most of them. To the public at large, she was the epitome of the “cool jazz singer.”

She left Atlantic Records in 1963 to join a label called FM, started by her manager, Monte Kay. It was not a wise decision, as the label folded the following year. Her career never really recovered totally, and changing tastes didn’t help.

There was always a following for Connor, however, particularly in Japan.

She recorded for various labels through the years, including ABC / Paramount, Japanese Sony, Progressive Records and Highnote. Her final recording, “Everything I Love,” was released circa 2001.

In the critically acclaimed book, “Jazz In Search of Itself,” writer Larry Kart aptly summed up the aura that was Chris Connor.

Cool, breathy, and almost barren of vibrato, Chris Connor’s voice is a haunted house,” Kart said. “Its tone color alone would be enough to freeze the soul, and the way each phrase seems to be exhaled more than sung only increases the impression that in her music Connor must contend with ghostly powers-either that, or she herself is a spirit summoned unwillingly from beyond.”

Quite a statement. But those fortunate enough to see her and hear her would agree.

Connor made a rare visit to Philadelphia about a half-dozen years ago, and jazz singer Joy Adams and I made sure we were at the club, the now-defunct Zanzibar Blue, as often as possible during her engagement.

She was backed by a very, very modern-sounding group that included long-time pianist Mike Abene and drummer Danny Gottleib. She did wonderful business at the venue, sounded great and was surprisingly contemporary. There was no living in the past for Connor. She wasn’t reprising Kenton or anyone else for that matter. Still, we wanted to hear “Ronnie” and were quite taken aback when she said she wasn’t performing it much these days and didn’t even have the music.

“I do, Joy Adams told her.

“So bring it in tomorrow and I’ll see if I remember it,” Connor answered.

She did. It gave us, and the audience, the chills. Chris Connor’s singing could have that effect.

Of her latter-day work, Connor herself said that she wasn’t taking vocal “chances” as much as she once did.

“I haven’t changed my approach, although my voice has become deeper and softer, and I don’t experiment as much,” she explained several years ago. “When you’re young, you overplay as a musician and you over-sing as a singer because you’re trying all these ideas, and I was throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. I’ve eliminated a lot of things I used to do. The simpler it is, the better it works for me.”

Indeed, it worked. For over 50 years.

Where’s Benny Revisited

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Maybe Benny Goodman thought the swing era would never end. For him, perhaps it didn’t, as he continued doing what we did from the 1930s onward, rather successfully, until his death in 1986.

In jazz lore, such as it is, it is said there supposedly is not a day that goes by without someone telling a story, somewhere, about the odd and off-putting behavior of “The King of Swing.” Many of the stories, as chronicled by bassist Bill Crow in his book, Jazz Anecdotes, Gene Lees’ Jazzletter and other publications, had to do with what went on during Goodman’s highly publicized tour of Russia in 1962.

There was, however, an earlier instance whereby, some say, The King couldn’t handle what may have been a certifiable career highlight.

Goodman had several triumphs throughout his long career, with the most famous being his groundbreaking jazz concert at Carnegie Hall on January 16, 1938. It was the first time jazz had been presented at that venerable hall, and, believe it or not, as everyone now knows, the darn thing was recorded.

The acetates of the night were given to Benny, but, in typical Goodman fashion, he just ignored them and put them in a closet. Around 1950, he “rediscovered” the sides, took them to engineers at Columbia Records, and no one could believe what they heard.

They were finally issued and not only became best sellers, but spawned a series of other Goodman “discoveries” that were issued on record–mainly live, radio airchecks from 1937 and 1938–that received much attention in the marketplace. They deserved the attention, as they were are fabulous.

BG became convinced that, either the swing era was back, and/or he could capitalize on the popularity of these recorded releases.

He was, by all accounts, very, very enthused. And it wasn’t easy to enthuse Benny. His idea, around 1953, was to recruit as many of the veterans of his 1937-1938 band to get together again and tour. As a special added attraction, and in order to ensure full houses, the tremendously popular Louis Armstrong and the All-stars would join the program. As a grand finale, BG and Pops would do some stuff together.

Sounded like can’t miss material.

Drummer Gene Krupa, pianist Teddy Wilson, trombonist Vernon Brown, trumpeter Ziggy Elman, vocalist Helen Ward, and from a later Goodman band, tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld joined up for the show. Others, like Harry James and Lionel Hampton did not, as they were leaders in their own rights and would not cancel lucrative bookings they had. There was a question of money, always an issue with BG, as well.

Still, it was a great crew, fleshed out by reedmen Willie Smith and Clint Neagly, trombonist Rex Peer, trumpeters Charlie Shavers and Al Stewart, and rhythm guitarist Steve Jordan.

Goodman enlisted the aid of his brother-in-law, the famed record producer and discoverer of talent, John Hammond, to help launch and promote the tour. The relationship between the two was always strained for various reasons–including Hammond being accused of taking credit for Goodman’s successes– but this particular project would bring things to a boil.

The band was assembled, programs were printed, and tickets were sold for the upcoming tour. All sellouts, by the way.

There is evidence that Goodman believed, even before the gigs began, that he didn’t need Louis Armstrong. However, Pops was contracted, and showed up dutifully to rehearse his part in the program.

Here’s where things went wrong, and everyone who was there, including Hammond’s account of it in his autobiography, Steve Jordan in his own book, Bobby Hackett and Georgie Auld who were there at rehearsals, has a different account.

The gist of it is that Goodman and Armstrong finally met for a rehearsal, only days before the tour began, to determine what Armstrong’s role would be in the program, other to serve as “opening act.”

As the story goes, Pops and the All-stars, weary from yet another one-nighter, showed up at the rehearsal hall early the next day, while Goodman was in the midst of drilling his reconstituted big band in yet another rundown of “Don’t Be That Way.”

Armstrong wanted to rehearse his piece of the show with Goodman and get out of there ASAP, as he–and the All-stars–were dead tired. Goodman indicated that Armstrong and the gang would have to wait until he was through rehearsing his own band.

Pops, rightly, was insulted and incensed, and unceremoniously split the scene.

The band had a tryout date in Boston and two, sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall.

“It was clear to observers that Goodman wasn’t himself,” according to John Hammond biographer Dunstan Prial. “Goodman acted erratically, he was drinking more than usual, and that he seemed generally distracted. Finally, barely two weeks into the tour, Goodman apparently collapsed in his hotel room. A week later, he withdrew from the tour, citing health problems.”

Prial’s version shouldn’t be accepted verbatim–his book on Hammond is rife with errors, as he identifies Helen Ward as Helen Humes–but what he described is basically what happened.

What occurred, it appears, is that Armstrong and the All-stars, doing their normal, vaudeville act at the actual show, totally upstaged the Goodman crew. And Benny, with his Mount Rushmore-sized ego, just couldn’t handle it, saw everything slipping away, and just abandoned the tour citing illness as a way of getting out of the tour. Some who were around at the time, however, do say that Goodman was actually very ill. We’ll never know for sure.

It could have been marvelous, if Benny would have just let everyone do what they did. There are thousands of folks out there who would have loved to hear just what things really sounded like.

Goodman never rejoined the tour, and Hammond and promoter Norman Granz threatened to sue BG. An immediate solution in terms of playing the dates that were already booked and sold, came in the form of Gene Krupa, who took over leadership of what remained of the tour, circa May, 1953.

It has long been believed that this band was never recorded.

It was.

A recording of one engagement, under Krupa’s leadership, on May 20, 1953, has come to light, and demonstrates what might have been and what could have been.

In all the years I’ve heard Krupa, under many conditions, I’ve never heard him the way he sounded leading this band. Multiply Buddy Rich’s energy times two, and you’ve got it. From the opening “Let’s Dance,” through “Don’t Be That Way,” some fabulous Ward vocals, through “Sing Sing Sing,” Krupa plays with more energy and sheer power than has ever been captured on record.

In many ways, this recording comes off more like a Jazz at the Philharmonic cutting session, than it does a Goodman band, mainly due to the presence of tenor saxophonist Auld, whose playing throughout veers been that of Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young. And trumpeter Charlie Shavers, always the extrovert, left nothing to the imagination as well.

Of particular interest to Goodman alumni fans, is that these recordings contain the last, great jazz solos of Ziggy Elman and Vernon Brown. Ziggy lost his lip a few years later, and Brown joined the studios.

In an effort to give everyone their money’s worth in lieu of Goodman’s absence, Krupa also threw in an unbelievable Krupa Trio version of Drum Boogie,” featuring Willie Smith and Teddy Wilson, and a drum duel with Armstrong’s Cozy Cole, and an encore of “The Saints.”

Although some are partial recordings (“Sing Sing Sing” cuts off near the end and Armstrong’s formal program has not been included), this recording shows that Benny should have never abandoned the tour.

The only thing missing from all of this is the discipline the Goodman would have demanded over the band. There would have been less showboating by Krupa, Auld and WIllie Smith, and I’m sure, less spirit.

I’ve rather have heard it this way.

What is particularly fascinating, given that Goodman was supposedly deathly ill at the time, is that “someone” decreed that, if the band were to continue without him, there would be absolutely no clarinet solos permitted. Indeed, Georgie Auld takes all the solos Goodman would have. Illness or not, Benny’s ego was evidently still pretty intact.

We, of course, have this very rare recording. It’s something to have.


Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Anita O’Day. There will never be another like her in the history of jazz. Along with Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and perhaps one or two others, she influenced scores of jazz singers and virtually created a language — and set the standard– for true, modern jazz singing.

And yes, she lived what used to be called the “jazz life,” with a decades-long substance abuse problem, destructive relationships, and what can gently be termed as career highs and career lows.

But through her astounding professional life, that lasted from the early 1930s to her death in 2006, she always, always performed at the highest level. As detailed in her 1981 autobiography, “High Times, Hard Times,” life was rarely easy, and she almost lost that life more than once due to addiction.

Professionally, she was a perfectionist who only demanded of her accompanists what she demanded of herself.

Above all, Anita O’Day was a survivor. In the true sense of the word.

Jazz aficionados are fortunate that O’Day was amply represented on recordings, both authorized and unauthorized, from 1941 until her death, and that a good amount of performance film exists. Those films include her film shorts with Gene Krupa from the early 1940s, her memorable appearance in the legendary “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” documentary about the Newport Jazz Festival from 1958 and a guest stint on the Timex All-Star Jazz television show from the same year with Krupa and Lionel Hampton, a wonderful concert from Japan in 1963, a hard-hitting turn on “60 Minutes” profile from 1980, and various other odds and ends.

As incisive as her autobiography was and is (none other than Madonna was reported to have owned the rights to it for some time) along with the great recordings and videos, Anita O’Day’s real story–and the impact she had and has in the world of jazz–has never really been told. Until now.

“Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer” is an award-winning film, completed in 2007 and now available on DVD for the first time, that truly tells the tale of a certifiable legend. Co-directed by Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden, this marvelous production includes film of Anita’s interviews with Dick Cavett, David Frost, Bryant Gumble (that one is worth the price of admission), and comments from her fellow artists and collaborators through the years, including Buddy Bregman, Russ Garcia, Bill Holman, Johnny Mandel, Annie Ross, George Wein and Joe Wilder.

Taken as a cinematic whole, “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer” is, quite simply, Academy Award-winning material.

Most visitors know O’Day’;s history, but for those who may want a refresher, her first break as a singer was in 1938, when she began appearing at Chicago’s Off-Beat club, where she caught the attention of Krupa. She continued working around Chicago until she joined the GK crew in 1941. Her duet with Krupa trumpeter Roy Eldridge, “Let Me Off Uptown,” became a hit, and she was named “New Star of the Year” by DownBeat magazine. When Krupa disbanded in 1943, she briefly joined Woody Herman’s band, then the orchestra of Stan Kenton, where she again hit on wax with “And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine.” She rejoined Krupa in 1945 and stayed a year. Many fans of that “ace drummer man” consider the his 1945 band to be his best. After that, she worked as a single.

Her contribution to the Krupa band was a substantial one (and they had a number of live and recorded reunions until Gene’s death in 1973). Before her arrival in the Krupa fold in 1941, and the arrival of co-hort Roy Eldridge, the band was a not-particularly-distinguished swing crew that was highlighted by a few decent soloists and more than a few drum features by the leader. When Anita and Roy came on the scene, the band caught fire–and Gene said this many times throughout his career– and remained one of the top bands in the business until Gene gave it up in 1951.

From 1952 to 1962, in addition to touring nationwide, she recorded a series of 17 albums for Norman Granz’ Verve label and its various imprints. On an artistic basis and without exception, they still stand up today as among the most remarkable recordings in jazz history. Individually and collectively, they reveal a timeless “hipness,” sense of swing and overall sensitivity that will never, ever go out of style.

In the latter 1960s, O’Day recorded a well-received series of albums for a record company she owned and operated, Emily Records. Indeed, aside from the efforts of Max Roach, Charles Mingus and Dizzy Gillespie in the early 1950s, Emily was among the few, “jazz artist owned and operated” record companies in the history of jazz.

Her final album, “Indestructible,” was recorded in 2004 and 2005, and released in 2006. It was her first recorded effort in 13 years. She died in November of 2006, seven months after its release.

Singular credit must be given to Robbie Cavolina, who was O’Day’s manager for some years, and truly the mastermind behind “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer.” He almost single-handedly ensured that O’Day got the credit she deserved as an icon and an innovator during her lifetime, and that, almost until the end, she kept working. That Anita O’Day was around for 87 years–and still singing–had much to do with his dedication.

Jazz has been blessed with a pretty comprehensive filmed history, especially in the last 15 years or so, with performance films, features and documentaries. I’ve made a few of them myself.

This one is the best. — Bruce Klauber

“Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer” is available in two editions: The standard edition is a two-DVD set that includes a 32-page, full color booklet with essays by noted jazz historians James Gavin and Will Friedwald, plus 16 pages of Anita O’Day’s scrapbooks. The deluxe edition includes the above, along with a 144-page, hard bound coffee table book of O’Day’s 1939 to 1969 scrapbooks.This edition contains much rare Krupa material as well Both are available via most online ordering outlets. For more information, visit, the official web site of Anita O’Day.

Philadelphia, Jazz, Race and Vic Damone

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009


I am becoming increasingly embarrassed these days to mention that my home town is Philadelphia.

In terms of a jazz scene, we have several, wonderful colleges with top-notch jazz programs, including Temple University, University of the Arts and Rowan University. Drexel University’s music program is growing as well. But in terms of places to work? Forget it.

There are two clubs that book jazz regularly in Philadelphia, Ortleib’s and Chris Jazz Cafe’, but for the fifth–or sixth–largest city in the country, and one with such a jazz history, to have only two jazz venues is disgraceful. And though some may argue the point about this, I’ve long felt there is a racial polarization here, with groups being all white or all black. That’s not what jazz is about, and that’s not why I wanted to get into it.

The racial issue recently reared its sorry head here via an incident now receiving national attention and deserved Federal investigation. A suburban Philadelphia country club cut a deal with an organization called Creative Steps, Inc., a day camp for underprivileged children. For a fee of $1,950, about 65 children, mostly Hispanic and Afro-American, would be allowed to swim in the club’s pool, every Monday for a few hours through August 10th. Allegedly, when some of the club members got a gander at the youngster’s ethnicity, they began making insulting remarks. Ultimately, the club nixed the deal, the Creative Steps’ money was refunded, and the kids were no longer welcome to use the facilities. When asked for an explanation, club president John Duesler said, if you can believe this, “There was concern that a lot of the kids would change the complexion and the atmosphere of the club.” said something about the kids “changing the complexion” of the club. Hoo boy. Several area columnists have commented that, based on those remarks, Duesler is either racist or incredibly stupid.” I think he’s both.

Incidents like these, to be sure, are not indigenous to Philadelphia, and I’ve often wondered why the Feds have never bothered looking into the fact that two of Palm Beach, Florida’s most illustrious private clubs refuse to allow Jews as members and very, very rarely as guests. Why hasn’t that made the front pages? For the sordid details on that horrible policy, pick up a copy of Ronald Kessler’s book, “The Season: Inside Palm Beach and America’s Richest Society.” It is absolutely impossible to believe that garbage like this still goes on. See you at the club.


On the good news side, word has come that Jazz Times magazine has found a buyer, and will continue publication with an August issue. This is a rarity in the business of publications. Usually, once a “brand” is gone, it’s gone. Jazz Times boasts a great group of writers, reviewers and editors whose voices need to be heard. And though there is more than plenty of jazz information available via hundreds of web sites, there is nothing like holding–and reading–an actual magazine. There is, to me, a permanence to something like that. It’s the same feeling I used to get from holding an LP.


Around 1965, none other than Frank Sinatra said that Vic Damone “has the best pipes in the business.”

Ol’ Blue Eyes may have been right.

“My gift was singing,” Damone says in his generally delightful autobiography, written with David Chanoff, entitled Singing Was the Easy Part.’ “I had been given a voice and the ability to use it. I can only think that God gave that to me. I always felt somehow that it was my obligation to use that gift I had been given.”

And use it he did, for an astounding seven decades, beginning at the age of 19 when he recorded “I Have But One Heart” in 1947 for Mercury Records. It was the first of many hits, the biggest being “On The Street Where You Live.”

Born Vito Farinola in Brooklyn in 1928, Damone was singing professionally at age 12 on a radio program called “Rainbow House,” broadcast via WOR radio in New York city. Things moved quickly for the youngster with the big voice after that. He sang with Ted Mack (co-creator of the original “Amateur Hour”), then caught the ears of Perry Como, Milton Berle and Arthur Godfrey. While singing on Godfrey’s “Talent Scouts” program, one of the original, reality television shows, Berle promised to take Damone under his wing…if Damone won the competition.

Damone did indeed win, and Berle took him to the famed, William Morris Agency and said, “Sign this kid.”

Shortly after, Damone had his own “Saturday Night Serenade” radio show, was appearing in theaters, the better clubs and standing in for Frank Sinatra on “Your Hit Parade.” Movie star handsome, he was signed by MGM in 1950, by noted film executive Joe Pasternak, who saw Damone with comic Danny Thomas at the Riviera in New York city.

Through the years, there were four marriages to certifiable beauties–including film star Pier Angeli and singer Diahann Carroll–plenty of unavoidable contacts with the mob (who owned most of the nightclubs through the 1960s), close friendships with Sinatra and the Rat Pack, the Kennedys, golf stars like Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, and his conversion to the Baha’i faith.

Quite a career, and one that seemed to have “superstardom” written all over it.

Vic Damone did well and worked the “better rooms” and Vegas regularly, but true superstardom never happened.

One of the key reasons why has do to with the second half of Frank Sinatra’s legendary, “best pipes in the business” quote, that is often omitted these days. What Sinatra actually said, was, “Vic has the best pipes in the business…but he doesn’t always know what to do with them.”

Movies, television programs, influential friends and hit l records notwithstanding, Damone never made it to the top rung. In Vegas, Sinatra sang in the main room while Damone worked the lounge. Yes, he may have had great pipes, but what he lacked was showmanship and charisma.

He acknowledges this in his book and has no apologies for it.

“I just did not feel comfortable with what show business expected of me,” he explains. “I was not given a special talent as a show person. That wasn’t my particular gift.”

Damone actually turned down appearances on “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson.

“If I had a movie coming out, or a TV show I was starting, or a hit record, I’d want to go on Johnny Carson to talk about it,” he says. “But if I had nothing like that, what would I do? I’d sing my song and go and sit there. Johnny would say, ‘Hey, Vic. Great song. What’s new?’ What would I say? ‘Nothing, Johnny. Nothing’s new.’ The point was, I was just not motivated to get my face in front of people all the time, no matter what. That attitude was detrimental to my career, I’m sure.”

This is an attitude pretty rare in celebrities of any magnitude, though his ego did seem to get the best of him during his marriage to Diahann Carroll (appearing frequently in tandem with her, she received first billing, and Damone writes that he “began to feel less and less valued”).

Ultimately, he appears to be peacefully comfortable with himself. He married Philadelphian Rena Rowan, co-founder, with Sidney Kimmel, of the Jones New York women’s clothing company, in 1998. The matchmaker was none other than Cissy Hurst, wife of the famed, Philadelphia radio personality Ed Hurst.

“We both wanted,” Damone says, “what I think most everybody wants: love with someone who loves you.”

Despite his immense talent and extraordinary career, above all, Vic Damone comes off as surprisingly normal, a rarity in show business.

The only disappointments in the book are a number of errors that could and should have caught by editors and/or fact checkers:

Bandleader Benny Goodman did break the color line by hiring black pianist Teddy Wilson, not vibist Lionel Hampton. Hampton was hired after Wilson.

The Frank Sinatra film is called “Step Lively,” not “Step Widely” as identified in the book.

The song title identified as “Embrace Me (My Sweet Embraceable You)” is actually “Embraceable You.”

The actual title of what Damone names as “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” is, simply, “White Christmas.”

There are others, which is surprising, given that the correct information is commonly available.

No, you won’t find out what Sinatra was really like, but you will learn how Damone almost got thrown out of a window by a member of the mob and other neat anecdotes. Singing Was the Easy Part is an often fascinating read that stands as a fine addition to showbiz lore.

SInging was the Easy Part
Vic Damone with David Chanoff
Foreword by Larry King
St. Martin’s Press, New York
271 pages, $25.95

Slingerland Dies. Again.

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

A bit over a year ago, I received a call from an executive of the Gibson guitar company, owners of the Slingerland name since 1994. The executive thanked me for helping keep the Slingerland name alive through the years with books, DVDs and CDs, and to my astonishment, said that Gibson wanted to sell the name and asked if I would help broker the deal.

While I was certainly surprised to have received the call, I was more astonished by the fact that Gibson—finally—was going to do something with the Slingerland name. Gibson, of course, has done virtually nothing with the Slingerland brand for years, and also has continually refused to respond to parties who were very much interested in resurrecting it.

Slingerland’s slow demise was a particularly sad one, especially when you bear in mind that the greatest drummers in history endorsed that brand.

I had several ideas as to how to proceed. I strongly believed that only an American drum company could do the name justice, and that whatever outfit bought the name should have at least a modicum of jazz orientation, and an interest in the Slingerland legacy.

What I did not want to see repeated was what happened when Yamaha bought the venerable name of Rogers. For some unknown reason, Yamaha slapped the Rogers name on a student line of drum sets that have nothing whatsoever to do with what Rogers was

Though Gibson expressed interest in continuing to manufacture Slingerland drums—and claimed to be able to gear up in a short time—I was of the opinion that only the name would be of interest to a potential buyer. Since being taken over by Gibson in 1994, Slingerland’s quality and distribution were variable, at best, and manufacturing techniques had changed since the last time Gibson manufactured them.

I went to work immediately, and took the proposal to two, percussion industry titans. The first was a company best known for making drum heads, and I was told they wanted to stay that way. The other company was and is one that I consider to be the finest in the industry, domestic or stateside.

It did take some convincing in terms of what a drum with the Slingerland name on it could mean in the contemporary marketplace, as, let’s face it, it’s the young rockers most companies are interested in these days.

They proceeded with caution, but at least they proceeded.

And what has happened in over a years’ time?

Nothing. Those familiar with Gibson management are not surprised.

It’s likely too late to bring back Slingerland in any form, as with each passing day, the brand name becomes less and less of a memory.

Gibson owns a host of names—including Baldwin, Hamilton, Epiphone, Wurlitzer, Tobias, Nordiska, Chickering and Kramer—some are dormant and some are not.

But for the life of me—and to drum fans of a certain age all over the world—I cannot figure out why Gibson would let the legacy, tradition and the legend of Slingerland die. Again.

Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

In 1965, Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen wrote a song for Frank Sinatra entitled “Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong.” That tune has been running through my mind a lot these days in line with some recent comments I made about DownBeat magazine in a story I wrote about the unfortunate demise of Jazz Times magazine.

With the publication of the July issue of DownBeat, which in fact is their 75th anniversary collector’s edition, I have come to the realization that I should not have dismissed them in such a cavalier manner. Indeed, with the publication of this issue, DownBeat has demonstrated everything that it was, is and likely will be.

DownBeat has what the other publications do not have, and likely could never have.

An incomparable legac editorial and photographic legacy. 75 years’ worth.

The hefty, 130-pager is well-balanced and thought out via archival pieces featuring everyone from Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk to Hank Mobley and Mel Torme’. Portions of several pieces have been widely quoted through the years in a number of books, notably Louis Armstrong’s 1948 thoughts about bop (he described it as “modern malice”) and Monk’s famed, 1958 answer to the question about where jazz is going (“I don’t know where its going,” Monk said. “Maybe it’s going to hell”).

The editors also came up with quite the incisive concept via giving a number of artists the chance to explore their own, DownBeat archives. Sonny Rolllins, Dave Brubeck and Marian McPartland have been given the opportunity to comment on pieces written about them for, in some cases, six decades.

The roster of writers in this issue constitute a list of names never equaled in jazz journalism history, including Nat Hentoff, Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler, Don Gold, Don DeMicheal, Pete Welding, Michael Cuscuna, John Litweiler, Chuck Berg, Elliot Meadow, Bill Coss, Joe Goldberg, Gordon Kopulos, Ralph J. Gleason, Dom Cerulli, Dave Dexter and Barbara Gardner. I grew up with many of these names as did many an aspiring jazz journalist. Its wonderful and heartwarming to read them again.

A marvelous feature of the publication through the years were the articles written by the artists themselves. Artists/contributors represented here include Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Anita O’Day, Count Basie, Jimmy Giuffre, Chick Corea and Benny Golson. Fascinating.

“On its 75th birthday, DownBeat can stand tall knowing that it has become an integral part of so many peoples’ lives,” says Jason Koransky, in his “First Take” column.

It has become an integral part of mine. “Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong.”

I stand corrected.

Jazz Times: They Are A Changin’

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Jazz Times magazine, considered, in many quarters, to be the jazz magazine “of record” for over 30 years, has temporarily suspended publication, according to a notice posted on its web site,

The owners are reportedly speaking to a potential buyer interested in taking over publishing reigns.

Rumors have been rampant about this for some months, with some unnamed staffers and contributors saying they haven’t been paid since March.

Jazz Times began its life in Washington, D.C. in 1970 under publisher Ira Sabin, an ex-drummer and former owner of a popular, D.C. record store. Originally called “Radio Free Jazz,” it was initially a free publication printed on newsprint. It’s first paid advertisers, according to Sabin? None other than pianist Kenny Drew and the one and only Dizzy Gillespie.

“Radio Free Jazz” morphed into the slick known as Jazz Times in 1980, and through the years, attracted the most renowned writers, critics, historians and musicologists jazz has ever known, including Martin Williams, Leonard Feather, Stanley Dance, Ira Gitler, Doug Ramsey, Nat Hentoff, Gary Giddins, Howard Mandel and Nate Chinen.

While there are two other jazz-oriented publications out there–the venerable, 75-year old Down Beat and the smooth jazz-geared Jazziz, now age 25–none has the credibility or the quality of writing that Jazz Times had. For too long, Down Beat has attempted to be “all things to all readers,” with a below-the-title catchline that reads “Jazz, Blues and Beyond.”

Jazziz, a slicker-than-slick product that may have set the record for cover stories devoted to Steely Dan, may be facing some print problems as well. Jazziz has recently announced that it’s switching from monthly to quarterly publication–with each magazine containing two CDs–and that the print “slack” will be taken up by the web site, which promises daily updates, a monthly online version of the mag, and all kinds of downloads, including music, video and ability to read back issues. For, presumably, a price.

Curiously, although advertising revenues were down, Jazz Times outdistanced the competition in terms of subscribers, boasting a 100,000-plus readership.

Both Jazz Times and Down Beat have had web sites for some time, but none as sophisticated or as inclusive as what Jazziz promises. There is no word on whether or not the Jazz Times site and its newly introduced “community pages” will continue to be updated.

The past few years have seen the demise of other, traditionally oriented operations devoted to jazz, including the International Association of Jazz Educators, Coda Magazine (the jazz magazine of Canada) , and that bible of traditional jazz, the Mississippi Rag.

Still, online sites about jazz, its players and its genres, are growing in number each day. Indeed, the U.K.-based “Jazz Greats Online” offers a monthly magazine and downloadable CD each and every month, delivered to subscribers online.

And, with the end of Tower Records, there may be few real “record stores” out there anymore, but, aficionados can purchase anything imaginable on CD, DVD or otherwise, via web sites like, and dozens of others.

Then there is the singular case of the eight-year-old print upstart, Jazz Improv, put together by publisher/vibist/entrepreneur Eric Neymeyer. This quarterly magazine, which also includes a CD, seems to grow heftier with each issue, and their New York city-based “Jazz Improv Convention” is now looked upon as the replacement for the annual confab put on by the defunct International Association of Jazz Educators.

JI publishes a good mix of reviews, interviews, solo transcriptions, stylistic analysis and motivational pieces. Though things seem to be improving in terms of editorial professionalism–and it’s very, very pleasing to note that the deservedly famed writer, Ira Gitler, is contributing–there are still problems with their reviews. By and large, they are amateurish and clearly the work of the publisher and/or a staffer writing under pseudonyms like “Curtis Davenport.”

Their editorial policy, as set forth on the site, unfortunately does not allow room for unsolicited manuscripts. Nemeyer, understandably, runs a tight ship in that area.

It is also clear that, in terms of ad revenues, the magazine operates on a rather strange barter and vanity system, i.e., “take an ad and Jazz Improv will write about you, your CD, your book or your whatever.” The positive side of this is that JI’s ad-to-editorial ratio is lower–at around 15 percent–than the others.

Not that there’s anything wrong with all of this, but given what appears to be their method of operating, it is just not possible to take everything within their pages seriously.

Nemeyer isn’t selling credibility. He’s selling exposure, and to his credit, Jazz Improv has given international publicity to hundreds of artists–self-produced and otherwise–who likely wouldn’t get ink anywhere else.

The downside to this is that the serious journalists devoted to improvisational music and its history–i.e. the many writers, past and present, who contributed to Jazz Times–have seemingly been edged out by the “Curtis Davenports” who, too often, highly rate anything arriving on the desk.

This is not to suggest that anyone be negative. The jazz community is too small for that–and constructive criticism need not be destructive–but when too many self-produced CDs by anonymous singers are given rave reviews by a writer who may or may not exist, then it becomes difficult to take anything on any other page as the truth.

But again, that’s not what Jazz Improv is selling, and the suspicion is that serious, credible writing and constructive criticism–be it about jazz or otherwise–will mainly exist on blogs and web sites, rather than in print

There is not a publication, about anything, that has not, in one way or another, been touched by the economy and the increased competition of the web, where surfers can now get what they used to have to pay for, for free.

Hopefully, Jazz Times will continue to exist in some way, shape or form, free or otherwise, as for more than 30 years, that publication–like Zildjian Cymbals in the world of percussion–has been “the only serious choice.”