May 25 – 10:20 AM
Finally got some sleep. Woke up at 9:30 AM but stayed in bed until John brought some vitamin C. Things a little looser this morning.
Eleanor called and I was a little startled. I expected the call resulted from some trouble at home. To the contrary, she has the lawn tractor together, is expecting Ed and his friend back from Algonquin Park and, best of all, Bryce has been accepted at Fanshawe College. It was so good to hear her voice. It is time to go home.
I bought two skirts for her in the hotel boutique. Checked out cameras and calculators with Russ and Dave and we had lunch at Parco – seventh floor. No bargains in cameras these days. The Nikon F3 is well over $1000 Canadian. Calculators are good bargains. Went to a building called Wave, owned by Seibu, and containing the theater in which we play, is convenient. I am continually amazed by things and the way the Japanese do them. Eight floors of records, scores, books, tapes – and display of bird calls – very expensive – and sound effects. I could easily spend a small fortune there. The stairwells are lined with photos of Toru and original fragments of his scores – friends, photos, and memorabilia.. The concert is in Cine Vivant, a small, 185 seat movie theater in the basement. A beautiful theater. Concert is sold out and wonderful warm responsive audience with a sense of humor.
Our dressing room has cable TV and we watch a funny installment of the Muppets on English language TV. Just before we go on – first-half Rags, second half “Teddy” – just one hour. The audience, after one encore won’t stop applauding so after our last encore, Bill does his shtick of holding up his hands for silence and when the audience responses, he walks off stage. Always gets a laugh.
Asaka and Maki are at the concert. Toru asks what my plans are for the weekend and says he is coming to our hotel for two days. Maki says. “Ohhhh” and tells me to give her father my key. I tell her that she has an American mind and what she says is jive. She blushes, Toru laughs.
Louis Hamel, Canadian Cultural Attache is at the concert and presents us with bouquets of flowers and then takes them back. Big laugh. I tell Toru I’m getting all the flowers from the people going to Kyoto and will arrange them around me in bed and spend the whole weekend watching them die. Toru loves stories like that. We will get together. It could be a very fun weekend.
Louis Hamel comes back to the hotel with us and we go to a sushi bar just behind Tobu. I can’t possibly describe the meal. A small place and there are only three men – buddies at the bar. They are all classmates of the owner and play baseball on weekends. After quite a few beers, much conversation, and compliments on our chopstick technique, we get into questions about the odd shellfish in his refrigerator. One is called Oh Gai. The owner, Yanagi, from very old family from Edo period, hits the protuberance with his finger and the thing retracts partially. It looks so much like an old shriveled penis, it’s hilarious. He brings some smaller shellfish out that are partially opened – reddish orange in color and look like vaginas. He puts a chopstick in one and it clamps on the stick. Then he lays the “penis” on the “vagina” and presents them to Joanne. He asks her to hit the penis and for once Joanne is nonplussed.
He opens a huge shell and inside is a very large scallop but with an incredible digestive tract and a reddish spleen or liver. He takes a piece of sashimi, palms it and slams his palm on the glass counter. When he removes his hand, the sashimi curls up. They are all still “alive”.
Jean asked the men to guess the oldest member of our group and they guess me. This startles everyone and John says they are the first to ever guess correctly. They explain that I am the most civilized in my eating and drinking and therefore am more experienced and older. I bow and “Domo Arigato”. We toast and applaud each other. John presents the owner and his son with marimba pins and a photo of the group which will be go on his wall. A very funny, warm, beer boozy evening. Hope I get a lot of sleep tonight.
Had coffee and morning paper with Russ. See ad for Iannis Xenakis concerts. Wonder if he is in town. Russ looks up and Iannis is sitting at a table behind us. We join him and talk of Chinese and Korean music. Will probably go to his concert tomorrow. Sylvio Gualdo is playing percussion amplifier with amplified harpsichord.
Went shopping with Russ. Just about finished except for Dorothy and I know what I want. Dinner with John, Jean, Russ at Seibu, seventh floor. Drinks later with Toru who is now with Iannis interviewing for magazine.
Miniskirts are in. Many Japanese women are knock-kneed and, from the knees down, bowlegged. Most of the baseball games I’ve seen are played on grassless infields. The Mitsubishi Gallant golf tournament was played on what appears to be a rather uninteresting course. Most of the male Japanese golfers do not seem to generate the fluid powerful body motion and hence, a seemingly slower clubhead speed and awkward appearance.
Just saw a Christine McVey rock video – nice vibe.
May 27th – 9 AM
Here in the center of Tokyo – cement – cars – people, lives a solitary raven. Each morning he walks the brick wall outside the coffee shop and his caw can be heard inside the hotel. Sunday morning early, and less traffic, my window open to the sixth floor, his caw echoes as against hills across water. He is a foot-long and he seems to be the only significant, omnipotent resident of Shibuyu. This one bird – circling the hotel makes Shibuyu small. In the paddling silence of an Algonquin river, a blue heron pounds the air and reeds in a startled take-off, and remains, still, only a fragment of the whole.
May 28 – 12:30 PM
Lunch and dinner with Toru – lunch of barbecued eel in Akasaka – dessert in Shibuyu ice cream parlor. I ask if Toru would write a piece for John and me. He is delighted, accepts and immediately suggests the title “We” (Wyre and Engelman). Toru wants John and me to give him a list of instruments for which he can write “WE”. We both promise to practice.
Armstrong and Bechet, a Precise Freedom.
My brother was an avid collector of early Dixieland Jazz recordings and I grew up with the sounds of great singers, the likes of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Lizzy Miles and King Oliver’s band, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven, and the Original Dixeland Jazz Band. [1.] With incomparable panache these artists wrote and recorded some of America’s most expressive music. Today, much of this legacy is available in digital format, though pureists may insist on listening to the original 78s and LPs.
In the 1950s Armstrong (1901-71) assembled his All Stars. Recently, I revisited two of my favourite Armstrong recordings from those years, Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy and Ambassador Satch. The players were the same on both albums and long time Armstrong collaborators. The band was Barney Bigard, clarinet; Arvell Shaw, bass; Billy Kyle, piano; Trummy Young, trombone; Armstrong, trumpet; Barrett Deems, drums; and Velma Middleton, vocals. Edmond Hall, clarinet, replaced Bigard on Ambassador Satch. [2.]
Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy was recorded in a studio under the supervision of the composer William Christopher Handy(1873-1958). The tunes on Ambassador Satch were recorded live during a European tour, with Edmond Hall’s lush clarinet tones and incomparably mellifluous lines, Arvel Shaw’s rock solid bass, Kyle’s tasty piano rhythms and sweet solos, Trummy Young’s rip saw Gut Bucket trombone, and Deems, “the Fastest Drummer in the World” tasty back ups and roisterous solos.
These guys played with a joy European fans had been waiting for years to experience. They were not disappointed. Within Europe’s music community, Armstrong and his All Stars were post World War II’s most appreciated ambassadors.
Note: To access audio files, go to my web site http://www.robinengelman.com
“Royal Garden Blues”, Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955. Columbia LP, CL840.
“Dardanella”, Edmond Hall, Clarinet on Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955.
“West End Blues”, Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955. Columbia LP, CL840.
In 1957, a high school teacher played me a recording of le Sacre du Printemps. Its fagotto castrato launched me into an adventure with Western Art Music that held my interest for Dixieland in abeyance for many years. I’ve since played le Sacre more than a few times and have about half a dozen LP and CD recordings by as many orchestras and conductors. During a conversation with Toru Takemitsu, I mentioned my love for early Dixieland. Toru replied, “Sidney Bechet”. Bechet (1897-1959) was familiar to me. Some years earlier I had purchased two recordings he’d made in France. [3.] Unfortunately, their quality was very poor and I vowed to revisit his music.
Recently I purchased 115 Bechet recordings. As I made my way through this lode, I struck gold on almost every track. I was delighted by Bechet’s mastery of the soprano saxophone and his endlessly brilliant improvisations. There was one tune I had to include here. According to one aficionado, Shag is not only a prime example of Bechet’s art, it contains perhaps the greatest Jazz vocal, ever. That aside, this masterful example of Scat singing by Ernest Meyers offers an enlightening contrast to Louis Armstrong’s style. Shag was written by Bechet and this recording was made in New York City in 1932 with his band, New Orleans Feetwarmers. The Bechet Quintet performance of Summertime is ineffably beautiful.[4.]
“Shag”, Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano sax; Don Donaldson, piano; Wilson Myers, Bass; Wilbert Kirk , drums. New York, 1943.
“Summertime”, Sidney Bechet Quintet: Meade Lux Lewis, piano; Teddy Bunn, guitar; Johnny Williams, bass; Sid (Big Sid) Catlett, drums. New York, 1939.
“After You’ve Gone”, Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano sax; Don Donaldson, piano; Wilson Myers, bass; Wilbert Kirk, drums. New York, 1943.
I wrote an article titled Music Appreciation 101. It’s a tribute to Janis Joplan and her album Pearl, one of the alltime great rock albums. Now, Armstrong and Bechet et al are providing me with further hours of pleasure. Their amazingly precise freedom gives me endless “What have I been missing” moments. After listening to a couple of cuts in this article, fellow drummer Rick Sacks said, “In this music you can hear all the voices.” So true. Next, I might check out Eddie Condon. Edmond Hall played with Condon as did drummers Cliff Leeman and George Wettling; trombonist Cutty Cutshall; and trumpet fireball Wild Bill Davidson, father of Toronto harpist Sarah Davidson.
[1.] Ironically, an all white band and the first to make a commercial Dixieland recording.
The band recorded two sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company, “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixie Jass Band One Step”, on February 26, 1917, for the Victor label. These titles were released as the sides of a 78 record on March 7, the first issued jazz record. The band records, first marketed simply as a novelty, were a surprise hit, and gave many Americans their first taste of jazz. (from Wikipedia)
[2.] I recommend exploring the biographies of these great players. The band members dates: Barney Bigard, clarinet (1906-80); Emond Hall, clarinet (1901-67); Arvell Shaw, bass (1923-2002); Billy Kyle, piano (1914-66); Trummy Young, trombone (1912-84); Louis Armstrong, trumpet (1901-71); Barrett (the world’s fastest drummer) Deems (1914-98); and Velma Middleton, vocalist (1917-61). Velma died in Sierra Leone of a stroke or heart attack while touring with Armstrong. She can be heard on Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy. Though some critics considered her voice average and suggested Armstrong replace her with someone better, Louis refused, stating “she was family”. On this tour, the All Stars were official representatives of the U.S. government, hence the album title Ambassador Satch.
[3.] Bechet was a Creole. He was born in New Orleans and died in Garches, France, the country where he made more than half his recordings. Both his birth and death occured on May 14, reminding me of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who died on the same day, July 4, in the same year, 1826.
[4.] This reminds me of the late Eva Cassidy singing Autumn Leaves on her CD Live at Blues Alley.
Posted by robinengelman on April 22, 2015 in Articles, Commentaries & Critiques, Composers, History
Tags: Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong, New Orleans Feetwarmers, Sarah Davidson, Sidney Bechet, Toru Takemitsu, W. C. Handy, Wild Bill Davidson