I’ve Got Mail: Al Casey

Guitarist Al Casey, known for his work with Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, and Billie Holiday, among others, died last week, just a few days short of his 90th birthday. Loren Schoenberg, executive director of The Jazz Museum of Harlem writes:

“A birthday tribute scheduled for 7:30 P.M. Thursday 9/15/05 at St. Peter’s Church, NYC will now be a memorial. No admission charge. Reception to follow. Musicians are invited to perform and should contact Al Vollmer at 914-834-6882 in this regard.”

Note: This photograph was taken by William P. Gottlieb at the Pied Piper in New York City in the mid 1940s: (l to r) Denzil Best, Al Casey, John Levy.

I’ve Got Mail: Brick Fleagle

Bill Crow, bassist and a man of many Jazz Anecdotes, wrote:

Brick was an interesting guy…I met him at the 54th St Eddie Condon’s one night when I was subbing there. I was back by the bar during the first intermission, and Vic Dickenson was introducing me to a friend of his who was sitting on a barstool. The guy next to him stuck out his hand and said, “..And I’m what’s left of Brick Fleagle.” I wish I could remember what we chatted about, but I found him charming and engaging, though quite loaded. I often saw him at the bar there, and wonder what became of him.

Brick had cancer. When he was in the hospital (St. Vincent’s), Luther tried everything he could to help his friend, and that included bringing to the hospital a voodoo woman with a live chicken for sacrifice. Brick won that battle with cancer and was able to leave the hospital, but he later lost the war. I haven’t verified the dates yet, but think it was 1981 when he died.

Weekend Extras

Jesse Hamlin, staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle has a wonderful piece in today’s paper “Paul Desmond’s sound was like a dry martini, and his melodies flowed like sweet wine.” The article also praises the biography, “Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond,” written by Doug Ramsey, aka Mr. Rifftides. I’m looking forward to seeing Doug in person at the Monterey Jazz Festival where he’ll be signing copies of the book week from today.

Just received in the mail the October issue of Jazz Times, in which appears my husband’s Letter to the Editor regarding the August issue articles about Wes Montgomery. You can also read it on John’s web site — click here.

A number of friends have asked me if I know of any organizations that are a) specifically helping New Orleans musicians, and b) that do not take a huge adminsitrative cut off the top of monies raised. Preservation Hall has established a fund

“to provide musicians with financial support during this tragic time. 100% of money raised through this fund will go directly to New orleans musicians.”

Jazz impressario George Wein knows the people running this fund, so I believe it’s legit. Info online can be found here and/or you can donate by calling 1-888-229-7911 and providing your credit card info over the phone.


A while back, Mr. Rifftides sent me an email in response to my post about Brick Fleagle. He was disappointed that Brick’s entry had been dropped from the last edition of the Encyclopedia of Jazz. “A name like that should be kept alive. It’s right up there with Fud Livingston.”

Okay, I admit it, I had never heard of Fud Livingston. Google led me to the American Big Bands Database web site where, under a heading The Big Band Arrangers, I found this:

Fud Livingston (né: Anthony Joseph Livingston). Born April 10, 1906, in Charleston, S.C., USA, he died on March 25, 1957, in New York, NY. USA. Fud originally studied Piano, Clarinet and Sax. His first professional experience came as a member of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, where for five years he played sax and did arranging. After Whiteman, he worked with Freddie Rich and with Andre Kostelanetz, and others.

Fud was one of the important figures in the early “White” Jazz genre, playing clarinet and writing many arrangements. During 1927-’29, he was working with Red Nichols, then with Frankie Trumbauer, In 1928, the Red Nichols group recorded (under the name of “Miff Mole and The Little Molers”) one of Fud’s original compositions “Imagination”, Fud can also be heard playing his clarinet on this tune.

Here’s what R. G. V. Venables, wrote in an English publication [Melody Maker Mag. Jan. 5, 1940]: “Fud Livingston — a composer of infinitely greater range and harmonic sophistication than [Jelly Roll] Morton — had reached, by 1928, a degree of accomplishment in scoring unmatched by Duke Ellington and Don Redman.”

Apparently, when recording for the Okeh Company, Red Nichols Five Pennies used the pseudonym Miff Mole and his Molers. Now the Five Pennies does ring a bell for me, not because I ever heard them in person, but because of an old (1959) Danny Kaye/Louis Armstrong movie with Barbara Bel Geddes. I saw Five Pennies many times as a small child, and wore out my mother’s soundtrack LP. I also had a five pennies charm bracelet, and would sing the song on request.

This little penny is to wish on
To make your wishes come true
This little penny is to dream on
To dream of all you can do
This little penny is a dancing penny
See how it glitters and it glows
Bright as a whistle
Light as a thistle
Quick, quick as a wink
Up on it’s twinkling toes
This little penny is to laugh on
To see that tears never fall
This this little penny
Is the last little penny
And the most important of all
For this penny is to love on
And where love is, heaven is there
So with just five pennies, if they’re these five pennies
You’ll be a millionaire

About ten years ago, I was trying to get my husband to remember the movie, and especially the three songs that were sung in tandem — “Good Night, Sleep Tight,” “Lullabye in Ragtime,” and “Five Pennies.” He didn’t remember the movie or the song titles, so I thought maybe an aural reminder would help. We were walking down a street, no audio equipment handy, so I started to sing. Now I may not be Nancy Wilson, but I can carry a tune. I don’t think I got more than eight bars out when John was laughing so hard he had to wipe his eyes. I was mortified, confused. What on earth could be so funny? It turns out that unwittingly, in reaching back to my childhood, I remembered not only the lyrics, but unconsciously employed the little-girl voice with which I used to sing the song.

Anyway, the nicest off-shoot of this little trip down memory lane is that I have now discovered that just last year The Five Pennies soundtrack was finally released on CD. I haven’t yet found a DVD of the movie, but it is available on VHS.

Brick Fleagle

Born August 22, 1906, Brick Fleagle would have been 99 years old today. Before beginning research on Luther Henderson’s biography, I knew of Fleagle only as Luther’s friend and chief copyist. I didn’t know that he started out playing banjo, then switched to guitar and worked with trumpeter Rex Stewart. I didn’t know that he was also an arranger who penned charts for Stewart, Chick Webb, Jimmie Lunceford, Fletcher Henderson, and Duke Ellington. I haven’t yet documented when Luther and Fleagle first met. I have read that Fleagle did a lot of music copying for Ellington, but was that in the 1930s, the 1940s, or possible even later? Did Luther ever go to hear Fleagle’s group at the Arcadia Ballroom in the mid 30s? Did Fleagle hear about the kid who won an amatuer contest at The Apollo Theater in 1934? Fresh out of Julliard in 1944, Luther was working for Ellington — was Fleagle already on Duke’s payroll then? Did Luther hear the tracks arranged and recorded in 1945 by Fleagle and his Orchestra for H.R.S.? [These can be heard on Mosaic’s reissue of The Complete H.R.S. Sessions and include The Fried Piper, When The Mice Are Away, Double Doghouse, among others.] Did Luther read the July 30, 1945 review, “Brick’s Boys Go Riding,” in Time magazine? All I know so far is that Luther and Fleagle worked closely together for many years, and that when Fleagle died, he left his belongings to Luther, who, in turn, later donated the wonderful collection to The Peabody Institute. I expect to learn more about that later today when I interview David Alan Bunn who was a protege of Luther. Mr. Bunn, who is a conductor, composer, arranger, and pianist for Broadway, recordings, and television, is also the founder of the Jazz Studies Department for the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. Oh yeah, there’s also a great story about Luther visiting Fleagle in the hospital and bringing a voodoo woman with a live chicken for sacrifice…you’ll have to read the book when it comes out.

Here’s To Life

Call it coincidence, or the work of spirits, but a few hours after I posted yesterday’s blog entry, Shirley Horn’s husband had his California friend to call John again. Shirley is indeed conscious, aware of what she sees and hears, even though she is unable to speak. John was able to call and speak to her while her husband held the phone to her ear; “she smiled when she heard your voice,” he told John.

The voice, whether used in speech or song, is a powerful instrument. When I was in the hospital with a breathing tube that rendered me speechless, the voices of friends calling from the opposite coast were comforting, but the most uplifting call of all was Joe Williams singing Here’s To Life a capella over the phone. I wish Joe were still here to sing it to Shirley.

Here’s To Life is a beautiful song by Artie Butler* who originally intended the song for Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes passed on it, so Artie gave it to Joe, who performed it many times in concert, especially when accompanied by an orchestra. Joe wanted to record it, but only if he could do so with strings. The record company didn’t want the expense and so when Gitane came up with the money for Shirley to record with strings, Shirley called Artie, Artie called John who then called Joe, who, being his gracious self said, “but of course Shirley can record it.” Shirley’s CD, “Here’s To Life” was released by Polygram in 1992. Two years later, Joe recorded in England with Robert Farnon’s orchestra, and his “Here’s To Life” CD was released by Telarc.

Shirley is a fighter, and your prayers and well-wishes will give her strength. Cards and flowers may be sent to her at:

Gladys Spellman Specialty Hospital and Nursing Center
2900 Mercy Lane
Cheverly, MD 20785

*lyrics were written by Phyllis Molinary

Joyce Alexander Wein: October 21, 1928 – August 15, 2005

The following announcement was released today and I share it with you courtesy of publicist Sue Auclair:

Joyce Wein, wife and business partner of jazz impresario George Wein, passed away quietly Monday, August 15, at New York Presbyterian Hospital following a battle with cancer. She was 76.

Joyce Alexander Wein was born in October 21, 1928, in Boston, Massachusetts, the sixth of seven children of Columbia and Hayes Alexander. Her mother was the youngest of thirteen children, two of whom were born into slavery. Joyce attended Girls Latin School and at the age of 15, entered Simmons College, where she graduated with a major in chemistry in 1948 at the age of 19. After graduation, she started her career as a biochemist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and later in New York at Columbia Medical School.

In 1959, Joyce Alexander married George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, and gave up her career in biochemistry. Mr. Wein, an internationally known impresario, leaned heavily on her advice and partnership in the Newport Opera Festival and Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Hampton Jazz Festival, and the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France. In 1963, Mrs. Wein joined her husband and Pete and Toshi Seeger in founding the Newport Folk Festival, a major engine of the 1960s folk revival; her tireless work behind the scenes was critical to that event’s success.

A woman of great intelligence and tremendous dignity, she was a renowned art collector, extraordinary hostess, devoted friend and avid supporter of the arts.

A founder of the New York Coalition of 100 Black Women, the forerunner of coalitions around the nation, Mrs. Wein has been deeply involved with philanthropy and the arts. She was responsible for establishing the Joyce and George Wein Professorship Fund in African-American Studies at Boston University, and recently set up the Alexander Family Endowed Scholarship Fund at Simmons College. She has served on the Board of the Studio Museum in Harlem for ten years, and has partnered with her husband in amassing an important collection of paintings and drawings by African-American artists. (The George and Joyce Wein Collection of African-American Art will be shown at an exhibition at the Boston University Art Gallery from November 18, 2005 through January 22, 2006.) For the past ten years, she and her husband have partnered with Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault, the CEO of American Express and his wife, to host an annual dinner for Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone, raising over $500,000.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Wein leaves two sisters, Eugenia Manning of San Francisco, California and Theodora McLaurin of Hingham, Massachusetts and many nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews.

Funeral Services will be held on Friday, August 19, at 11:30 a.m. at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel, 81st & Madison. Interment following service at Woodlawn Cemetery. Donations can be made in her name to Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, NY 10027.

Frank E. Campbell The Funeral Chapel
1076 Madison Avenue at 81st Street
New York, NY 10028
Telephone: 212 288 3500
Toll Free: 800 423 5928

[Photo of Joyce & George Wein in Newport, 2004 copyright Sue Auclair]

A Reviewer’s Nightmare

It was a sad night. Sad to see an old friend who no longer has what it takes, surrounded by second or third rate musicians. He wears a suit jacket that looks slept in and no one on the bandstand smiles. He wanders on stage alone, and starts to play. I wonder if he begins his program solo, then works up to duo and builds on – then I realize he’s just warming up almost as if unaware he’s on stage. The pianist arrives, as does the sax. The drummer gets seated. He counts off and they begin just as the bassist walks on stage. They’ve begun anyway.

We hear the pop when the bass connects to the amplifier. What happened to “the presentation”? Why no announcement, no disembodied voice of introduction, no reverence, no respect. And now the flash bulbs are popping as Japanese and German tourists take pictures of a relic. The drummer is too busy, his licks inappropriate. The first tune ends and the voice finally says “Ladies and Gentlemen please welcome the Quintet.” He nods and then they hit, sounding more like they should have to start with. Maybe we can all forget the preamble?

They overplay, as if to cover up for him – instead they should provide a simple swinging support in which he could shine. Here he scuffles. The sax is masturbating and even he doesn’t get himself excited. The pianist doesn’t know the right chord changes, or maybe he just can’t find the right voicings. Everybody looks independently bored. He plays a ballad accompanied at first only by the piano and then the trio joins in – you can hear the poignancy and lyricism that marked his playing for all these years. Even if not all the notes are perfectly hit.

I would hate to have to review this show! What would I say? That he should have retired? That’s a death sentence. What would he do then? It’s like not wanting to see someone in the hospital, preferring to remember them in their better days, but now is when they need you.
The audience has no idea what it’s hearing – no clue as to whether it’s good or bad musically. Volume and velocity elicit the only major reactions. There’s no music education, no basis on which to form a discerning opinion. Perhaps, on nights like this, that’s a good thing.

I’ve Got Mail: Addendum 2

I had really been hoping that Kenny Harris would not see my faux pas before I had corrected my mistake. Alas, no such luck. And to compound my embarassment, he informs me that he resides in Bermuda, not England, though he did hail from there at one time. This was truly sloppy work on my part, definitely not up to my journalistic standards. Geez! A gander at an email address will tell — .uk stands for United Kingdom, and I’m guessing .bm must be Bermuda . Mea culpa. I apologize.

I’ve Got Mail: Addendum

Rifftides wrote in from “somewhere in rainy, steamy, Maryland” to pull my coattails. Seems that in the haze of painkilling drugs I managed to type “bassist Kenny Harris’ in my last post, when I know full well he’s a drummer and colleague of an old family friend, drummer Allan Ganley. I have fixed that most eggregious error and am now going online to fix an error of ommission in my jazz education by ordering the Carmen Leggio CD. About him Rifftides wrote:

Carmen Leggio is a wonderful player. He should be rich, famous and winning polls. He sounds like no one else. Betcha can’t say that about one out a thousand tenor players under forty, probably under fifty.