Scribble Scrabble

My Scrabble© Score is: 20.
What is your score?

My friend Phil sent this to me because he knows that I like to play Scrabble. Also, he’s the Executive Director of Information Technology for the Pasadena Unified School District — computer code and internet, words and spelling — makes sense to me. Anyway, I come by the Scrabble affinity naturally as my mother is a Scrabble Queen. She even knows words that the English allow but are not found in our American Scrabble dictionaries. Many years ago Phil and I played a game of Scrabble with my mother, and all I had on hand was a regular dictionary. We doubted many of her words — jo comes to mind — but later found them all to be valid in the official Scrabble dictionary. She won, of course. I prefer to remember the day I beat Phil at Scrabble — I was in the hospital, dopey on pain killers….he must have let me win, but swears he didn’t. If you want to read up on the rules, go here, or visit The Official Worldwide Scrabble Home Page

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.

It’s A Small World…Again

Every once in a while, I comment on how small the world is, as I did here and here. Yesterday it happened again. I received an email from Ms. Yarns&Yarns whose lastname is the same as that of a noted jazz writer. Before reading the email, seeing only the name, I thought perhaps it was a missive from a jazz newsgroup, but then realized that couldn’t be the case, because the writer I was thinking of died several years ago. The last name is rather unusual, but there must be others in the world so named.

When I read the email, I saw that it had nothing to do with jazz. Ms. Yarns&Yarns had written to say that she, too, loved the movie The Five Pennies, and she reminded me that Barbara Bel Gedes died a couple of weeks ago. “I thought you should schedule another viewing of the film, in honor!” she wrote. I agree. She said a few nice things about the design of my blog, and questioned the fact that I do not allow readers to post comments. I wrote back to her, saying that in lieu of allowing comments, I often post interesting emails I receive from readers. And so began a brief flurry of emails between us.

While I perused her blog and found this post about Barbara Bel Gedes titled Farewell, BBG , she was perusing and wrote back: “Your jazz connections mean that you and I have another connection, by the way. My father was a jazz critic of some note….”

I was on the right track from the beginning, and in reviewing her father’s works, I realize that some of it is relevant to my current research. So, the moral of this story is threefold:

1) trust your instincts and listen to those inner voices;
2) people cross your path for a reason — be open to the experience; and
3) talk to strangers as they may turn out to be someone you know.

Mail Re Techno-Stuff

After my Interview Process: Technicalities post last week, Mr. Rifftides wrote that he, too, recorded to minidiscs when conducting interviews for his Desmond book.

I have the Sony MZ-B100. Great invention. I use the Sony ECM-MS907 microphone and, for phone interviews, a JK Audio QuickTap, the same sort of gizzmo as your Radio Shack mini recorder control. I transferred some of the interviews to CD through my sound system, but it was cumbersome and time-consuming and I decided that for archive purposes, I didn’t really need to. … I ended up doing all of the transcribing. It’s a great, if laborious, way to get to know your material. I found that some of my best ideas came to me while I was transcribing. I think that if I were starting over, I’d go solid state digital with something like the Marantz PMD660, but the minidisc system is fine.

Then Ted Panken, a fellow jazz writer and terrific interviewer whose byline you can find in The Village Voice, Downbeat, and other notable publications, chimed in to tell me about WavPedal.

It’s software that allows you to connect a foot pedal (it’s part of the package) to your USB outlet, and transforms your computer into a virtual transcription machine.

You know I’ve got to check that out. If it works well, bye bye cassettes! I’ll be able to take Ted to lunch and still save money.

I also heard from Lynn whose Reflections in d minor blog subhead reads “Music, art, culture, Web-surfing, backwoods living and arrogant opinions” — you know it’s the arrogant opinions that keep me coming back. She had an excellent suggestion:

To protect your email address from spam-bots put it in a non-clickable graphic.

I have taken a chance and put a clickable email button in the left panel of this blog, see it? It says “To Email Me click here.” If I end up getting spammed, I’ll have to remove it and use Lynn’s solution. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll avail yourself of the easy-to-use button and write to me.

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.

I’ve Got Mail: Jazz Is In The Air

Jazz Outside of the City

Since Whiplash, lots of people have sent well-wishes, including bassist Bill Crow who also mentioned a new venue:

There’s a new restaurant, called Division Street, in Peekskill NY that is trying out a jazz policy. I played there Friday night with Carmen Leggio and Bucky Pizzarelli, and it was nice. Good sounding room, and the people actually shut up and listened to the music! The boss says he plans to buy a good piano soon, so we’re hopeful. I’ve closed several jazz clubs in Westchester over the years, and another one, 17 Main, just bit the dust in Mt. Kisco. So it is good to see a decent venue open up. Carmen is a rare treat…playing a style that ranges from Hawk and Byas to Al and Zoot, he’s one of the last of that breed of instinctive players with a great sound and easy swing.

I am not familiar with Mr. Leggio, so I did a little googling and found this recording of Smile/Tarrytown Tenor with Milt Hinton, Derek Smith, George Duvivier, Ronnie Bedford, John Bunch and Butch Miles, and a 1999 article – Carmen Leggio: Young Man With A Horn – by Fred Cicetti that included this intriguing analogy: Leggio blows tenor the way Willie Mays ran down a flyball. They both let you know from the get-go that you’ll never be able to do it their way.

Speaking of outside the city, I also received well wishes from drummer Kenny Harris in England. You can also find him on page 248 of Doug Ramsey‘s Desmond bio, Take Five.

Emails about Al McKibbon included

“Dear sweet Al…..” (a mutual friend)

“This summer has been tough on old bass players…I’m starting to look over my shoulder.” (a bassist)


“I had the opportunity to play with Al on several occasions throughout the years here in L.A., and the things that impressed and inspired me the most were his deep, dark sound and the notes he chose to play. Al played the bass in a manner that you felt as well as heard. His sound came up at you from the floor. And no matter how convoluted the chord changes might be on any given song, Al always seemed to find the best notes to play. He was truly the heartbeat and, to my way of thinking, one of the unsung heroes of the bass world.”

That last one was from drummer Michael Stephans, who just launched a very lovely website of his own.

Radio Days

I’ve been corresponding with discjockey/drummer Dick McGarvin (he was also at McKibbon’s funeral) and he wrote belatedly about last month’s Johnny Pate piece

The day you had the piece on Johnny Pate, I played my LP of “Round Trip” by Phil Woods – it hadn’t been off the shelf in years – and was reminded of what a good album it is. Oh, and thanks to your blog, I finally learned who was in the great sounding rhythm section on “Round Trip”. There was no mention of personnel on the album!

That’s why I blog – not for the thanks, but for the kick of introducing, or in this case, reintroducing someone to some good music, a great book, or even just an interesting thought. Spotlighting those who go unnoticed or unmentioned is another good reason.

McGarvin went on to reminsce about the good old days of radio:

I remember playing it [“Round Trip”] on the radio when it was released…and I wasn’t even working at a jazz station then. It was at KSFO, San Francisco, which was an AM personality oriented MOR station playing everything from Sinatra to Paul Simon, Peggy Lee to the Carpenters, Shearing to the Tijuana Brass. That list also included Ella, Steve Lawrence, Brazil 66, Otis Redding, The Fifth Dimension, Kenny Rankin, Stevie Wonder, Nancy Wilson, Cannonball’s MERCY MERCY MERCY, Van Morrison. Well, you get the idea. (WNEW probably would have been the closest New York equivalent at the time.) What’s amazing, considering today’s homogenized radio, is that each disc jockey in those days picked his own music, so I was able to mix in the occasional Oscar Peterson or something like one of the more familiar songs from the Phil Woods album. It was wonderful to be able to program such a wide variety of music into one show…and it worked. But, sadly, that kind of radio station is of another time and doesn’t exist anymore.

The pendulum is bound to swing again…someday. Meanwhile, I am wondering if it is time to check out the XM Satellite. TT seems to think so.

I’ve Got Mail: Jazz In The Woods

recent crow The Bill Crow photo I posted previously was a tad dated, so Bill sent me this one taken by Judy Kirtley (wife of pianist Bill Mays) a little over a year ago. He wrote of the first photo:

That’s an old picture of me, back when I had more hair. It was taken at Struggles in Edgewater, NJ, on the last gig that Al and Zoot played together before Zoot passed. (That’s Zoot’s shoulder sharing the photo with me.)

Bill also told me that he is going on vacation, and taking his tuba with him:

It’s nice to practice on the deck of our cabin in the wood…the tuba sounds lovely ringing out across the treetops and distant hills. No complaints from the neighbors or the deer so far.

That’s a scene I can clearly envision, not because I have such a great imagination, but because I have seen a similar sight. Here is the first paragraph of the liner notes I wrote for Jim Hall’s 1997 CD, Textures.

The screened-in porch of the Hall country retreat is in the middle of the woods. The birds chirp and the chipmunks splash through the fallen leaves getting ready for winter. The cacophony of the city is far away and here we sit, my father and I, talking about Textures, his latest recording. From my perspective this project reveals a startling and wonderful new persona.

Coincidentally, this CD includes three pieces written for a brass ensemble. I know that the tuba has a long history in jazz, but outside of marching bands, it’s not heard all that often these days. My favorite tune from this recording is Circus Dance, a lumbering waltz for two trumpets, trombone, tuba, guitar and drums. [I’ve posted a pdf of the liner notes here]

I’ve Got Mail: Sleepless in Emeryville

Levy StoryCreative nonfiction, sometimes called narrative nonfiction, is my genre of choice. Actually, it’s more of a content description than a genre – to me it simply means using creative writing techniques such as scenes and dialogue and description to tell a true story. Storytelling is what it’s all about, spinning a good yarn that happens to be factual. That true story might be a biography, or a memoir, or about a subject such as a racehorse or heart transplants or orchids. When I began writing John Levy’s autobiography, I knew that it would never be a bestseller. I wanted to preserve John’s legacy as a manager who believed in building an artist’s career for the long-run (as opposed to today’s “one hit wonders”) and to give jazz fans an entertaining look behind the scenes. With one thousand or so copies sold over the last few years, the book continues to sell, a few at a time, here and there, and we occassionally get a piece or two of fan mail like this one received last Friday:

I finally received my copy of Men, Women and Girl Singers on Tuesday. I ordered it through Borders Books here in Emeryville. They got it for me within one week which was really fast.

I can’t put it down…last night I read through to daybreak… Thank God I’m on vacation this week…I’m usually up for work at 5 am. I simply could not stop reading… you are a good storyteller. The story about Otis Wilson tickled me to near ’bout death. I could not contain myself as I visualized it.

This is very interesting and entertaining reading…thanks for writing and sharing this era.

Here’s the Otis Wilson story mentioned by our correspondent:

Joe Williams used to tell my favorite story about Art Tatum and a policeman named Otis Wilson, with whom I went to school. Otis became a policeman working nights in this real tough neighborhood. When he got off work he used to come by the after hours joint and listen to the music. One morning when Tatum was playing, some drunk started up the jukebox. According to Joe, “Otis Wilson grabbed this cat and beat him all the way down the steps and put him in jail. It was like he’d broke the law.”

When the paddy wagon came and the white cops asked what the man had done, Otis said, “He disturbed the peace. Book him for disturbing the peace.”

You can read more about John, and the book, on his website.