Hoping for a Happy 2011!
Many of you know that the past few years have not been great ones personally or professionally. Things are starting to improve on all fronts slightly. I am doing a good bit of writing for Jazz Times (be sure to log on the JazzTimes.com and go to the “community articles” section to see a bunch of neat stuff), Modern Drummer magazine (we’re talking about doing profiles of Marty Morrell and Nick Fatool as among my 2011 projects), and have another new CD release out with the marvelous Fresh Sound Records.
The Fresh Sound release is the “entire” Jazz at the Philharmonic concert of September, 1952, that highlighted by the legendary Krupa/Rich drum battle. It has been issued in bits and pieces though the years on LP and CD, but this is the whole show. Completely remastered with comprehensive notes, the original program and actual, 1952 reviews of the show, the CD also has bonus tracks by Billie Holiday, Buddy Rich and another unissued JATP program featuring Max Roach, Flip Phillips and the gang. If it were not for Jordi Pujol and his colleagues at Fresh Sound, thousands of hours of incomparable music would be lost. I urge everyone to visit them on the web at www.FreshSound.com. You won’t believe what you’ll find there.
In line with the difficulties of the past year or two, there was a point where JazzLegends.com was close to being history. But, due to your patience, support and understanding, we are now more than afloat. I am filling orders, depending on size, the day they come in, and those of you who have ordered recently know that if something isn’t right, I’ll make it right, with replacement copies and some gratis product included as a way of thanks. In line with “new” recordings here—though it won’t be officially posted for a while—courtesy of Paul Testa we have a great audio recording of Krupa on the “Dave Garroway at Large” radio program of the 1950s. There’s some comedy, some drum instruction, and as Paul has said, is likely the only example we have of Gene playing on a practice pad. To order, just other anything else we have, and in the messages section, type in “Garroway.”
As hard as I try, it is impossible to satisfy all of the people all of the time. Although complaints have been few and far between in the 10 or so years JazzLegends has been on the air, one of the things I hear from time to time is that some customers have expected a factory sealed, commercial issue of a CD or a DVD complete with artwork and booklet. Let me stress this again: Nothing we have is available commercially. If a CD or DVD that we carry is newly issued commercially and domestically—and I don’t see that happening soon—I immediately pull it from the site. Our material, some of it going back to the 1920s, is, by and large, either non-commercial, private footage from concerts, television and films; or is in the public domain, long out-of-print or out-of-copyright. Much of the material comes from overseas. The DVDs and CDs are packaged in a white, paper sleeve, with the title hand-printed on the CD. I found out long ago that those stick-on labels I used for so long caused a lot of problems in the playback process. CDs come with art. DVDs do not. In that we have, and will continue to offer, free shipping all over the world, no matter how large or small the order, and that tracking down this vintage stuff has not happened cheaply, “bells and whistles” packaging is not an option. If that’s what you’re after, go to Tower Records. Oops. There is no more Tower Records. I hope this makes things clear.
Some tidbits since the last time we spoke: As far as I know, the famed, Academy Award-winning documentary on Artie Shaw is still not available commercially. The one on Anita O’Day is, but because of lack of funds and support, almost no one knows about it, which is terribly sad but not surprising. I wish someone like Hudson Music, Alfred Publishing or V.I.E.W. Video would pick it up to distribute it properly. You may want to check Amazon.com about its availability.
There is a great new book out for anyone interested in drums or drumming. The legendary Lennie DiMuzio, the go-to artist relations guy at Zildjian for years who now serves in a similar capacity at Sabian, has written a funny, touching, eye-opening and comprehensive book about his life in the industry: “Tales from the Cymbal Bag,” published by Jump Back Baby Productions, is the title, and it’s a must have. For details, check out the review on JazzTimes.com. “Tales from the Cymbal Bag” is available at dozens of web sites worldwide.
Finally, and this isn’t big news to anyone, but the “officially sanctioned” Gene Krupa model drumsticks are out of production. At times, the process of getting this off the ground was simultaneously joyous and frustrating, but the bottom line is, that unless a company has the wherewithal to spend mega-bucks in advertising, promotion and PR, success will be difficult. Like everything Chris Bennett did and does at Bopworks—and Chris really did all the work—the product was superior. But, as someone once said, “Maybe it ain’t over yet.”
Also reviewed on JazzTimes.com is a new book about Louis Prima, Keely Smith and the heyday of Las Vegas, written by Tom Clavin and called “Louis Prima, Keely Smith and the Golden Age of Las Vegas” (Chicago Review Press). It’s received a lot of ink lately, and I don’t know why. It relies, for the most part on material that was previously published, with the only really original stuff coming from the likes of Connie Stevens, Shecky Greene, Debbie Reynolds, and one or two others who hardly knew Louis or Keely. The story that the self-serving Reynolds tells about “impersonating” Keely for a week because Smith was ill—and that know one ever knew about it—is beyond ridiculous. And more inaccuracies abound.
The great Gia Maione, the final Mrs. Prima, and most dedicted to his legacy—she is the keeper of the Louis Prima flame via the LouisPrima.com website and other activities–should have been a journalist. She’s getting there! Like a precious few in the business, she will not tolerate false information, inaccuracy and/or those who lack integrity, whatever their field. For a number of reasons, Gia is deservedly not happy with this work, and some of her comments, I hope, show up in the print version of Jazz Times and/or on the JazzTimes.com web site.
If you want to read about Louis Prima, try and get a copy of the book written by Garry Boulard in 1986. Another edition came out in 2002. The official title is “Just a Gigolo: The Life and Times of Louis Prima. The original publisher was The Center for Louisiana Studies, a relatively small outfit, which is possibly the reason that few have heard of this essential work. Boulard conducted a bunch of first-person interviews with people who were essential to the lives and careers of Louis, Keely, and Gia as well. Better yet, go to the www.LouisPrima.com site. It’s no surprise that Clavin’s new book cribs liberally from Boulard’s work. It’s a cut-and-paste job from top to bottom, but if it inspires more interest in the music of the principals, then it has served some valuable purpose.
You won’t find a lot of quotes in any book, or in the documentary films on Louis, from the man himself. From what little I know, his personal thoughts and feelings were not for broadcast or publication. That is how gentlemen used to behave, and had there been an “Oprah Winfrey Show” on television during the lifetime of Louis Prima, I doubt whether he would ever consent to appear as a guest. I think that only two things were really important to him: family and music. And that’s how it should have been.
I had, at one-time, a vested interest in the music of Louis, Keely and Gia, too. I sang and played his music in clubs for years, with varying results. In 1978, I recorded a note-for-note remake of Louis’ legendary “Just a Gigolo,” which was going to be released on the record label owned by Robert Stigwood of “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” fame. The timeless Sam Butera arrangement was produced for me by industry hit-maker Andy Kahn, best known for composing, producing and engineering the number one disco record of 1978, “Hot Shot.” Due to the almost overnight bust of the disco bubble, my version was never released. Rocker David Lee Roth did it six years later and sold millions. Those in the business tell me he didn’t copy from Louis’ version, but from ours! Believe me, had he heard the original, his version would have been much better.
Keely Smith, as of this writing, is said to be still recording and making public appearances from time to time. I wish Gia Maione would do the same.
The loss of drummer Jake Hanna was a blow to the world of percussion. If you want to hear how drums should be played in a big band, listen to Hanna’s work with the early 1960s Woody Herman Herd. No one played like him, and as the story goes, other than Dave Tough, Hanna was the only drummer in Herman history to be accorded complete freedom—to play in any way he saw fit—by the leader himself. And talk about a character! There was only one, and I do owe him a debt of thanks for introducing me to drinking a “Black and Tan” at The Irish Pub in Atlantic City, at 6 a.m., circa 1986.
We’ve lost a host of others recently as well, including the irreplaceable James Moody, Philadelphia piano icon Sid Simmons and organist/pianist Trudy Pitts. Trudy was a friend—she was friends to dozens of us here in Philadelphia—and she never really got the credit she deserved. Guitarist Pat Martino, among others, started his recording career with her, and her sidemen on some early dates included names like Roland Kirk and John Coltrane. Ultimately, family was more important to her, and she gave up the road life. Fortunately, she had a bunch of long-running playing and teaching gigs locally, and was always supported by her loving husband and drummer “Mr. C.”, aka Bill Carney. An essential part of the Philadelphia music scene is now gone. Trudy Pitts was loved by all of us.
My dear colleague from the UK, Peter Brightman, who has been so helpful and encouraging to me through the years—and by way of his is encouragement, has helped keep JazzLegends.com afloat– came up with a nifty and rather generous idea some months ago. If you visit our “Community” pages, and I hope you do, Peter has helped institute a “Donations” icon, whereby those who click on it can donate to the JazzLegends.com cause.
As far as I can determine, everyone—in some way, shape or form—has felt the effect of the economic downturn. Even the wealthy have lost tons of bread, though I don’t stay up nights worrying about them. In times like this, music and almost everything entertainment-related are the first jobs to get cut. Advertising dollars have been slashed to the minimum, resulting in magazines and newspapers fighting for survival. All the free stuff on the net has taken a bite out of those who play music, record music or write and produce DVDs. Six-piece bands have been cut to duos. Duos have been replaced by disc jockeys. In Philadelphia, we now have only one, full-time jazz club, with the decades-old Ortleib’s closing last year and Zanzibar Blue the year before. I cannot tell you the number of people I know in the industry who have been laid off or simply let go.
Human beings, however, have proven to be remarkably adaptable and resilient people. That’s why we’re still here. I’m still here as well and I intend in continue in my attempt to make a contribution to music history and jazz scholarship with JazzLegends.com and other projects.