Friday, December 7, 2018

The Jazz Clarinet featured in The Clarinet!

I'm a little late in mentioning this on the blog, but it was very gratifying to have The Jazz Clarinet reviewed in the September issue of The Clarinet (The Journal of the International Clarinet Association). 

Reviewer Kellie Lignitz-Hahn had some very kind words for the blog:

"Created by writer and jazz clarinetist Eric Seddon, The Jazz Clarinet blog is sure to be of interest to any clarinet enthusiast..."

"[Seddon's] lengthy posts are well-written and full of tidbits of historical information. This site is a great starting point for clarinetists wanting to know more about jazz players and equipment, and it is also a great read for seasoned players."

The Jazz Clarinet in The Clarinet!

As far as publications go, The Clarinet is the standard bearer for our instrument. To be mentioned so positively there is really an honor. I encourage all clarinetists to join the International Clarinet Association--among other benefits, you'll receive a subscription to The Clarinet, which is worth the price of membership alone. 

The September Issue of  The Clarinet,
appropriately sporting the image of Sidney Bechet


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Bootlegs from the Bop Stop

One year ago tonight, Eric Seddon's Hot Club was in the middle of a six concert 'Trad Jazz Invasion' of the Bop Stop in Cleveland. Several of the numbers we performed that night were captured and released on our first CD: Eric Seddon's Hot Club: Bootlegs from the Bop Stop. (Click link and scroll down for CD ordering information.)

Here are some clips of the band from that was a special time.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Teddy Buckner & His All Stars (featuring Caughey Roberts on clarinet) * Midnight in Moscow * GNP Crescendo Records (GNP 68) * 1962

Side One

Midnight in Moscow
Lonesome Road
Fidgety Feet
Ballin' the Jack
Somebody Stole My Gal

Side Two

Bill Bailey
My Gal Sal 
Sister Kate
My Blue Heaven

Teddy Buckner, trumpet
Caughey Roberts, clarinet (soprano sax on 'My Gal Sal')
Willie Woodman, trombone
Chester Lane, Piano
Art Edwards, Bass
Jesse Sailes, Drums

From the late 1940's through the early '60s there was such cross-pollination between the Trad Jazz scenes in the UK and United States, it becomes difficult to determine who was really taking the lead at various times. While Ken Colyer and Chris Barber lead the charge on the London scene at the beginning of the era, emulating New Orleans style bands especially, by the late '50s Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball had reached the top of the pop charts in both Britain and the US and were influencing American set lists and albums.

That the students had become at least in some ways the masters can be born  out by the caliber of artists covering their tunes. Acker Bilk's 'Stranger on the Shore', released in 1961,  became a number one hit in the US, subsequently covered by Pete Fountain on his 1963 Coral record, Plenty of Pete. Likewise, Kenny Ball's greatest hit from 1961 was a Russian song originally entitled "Leningrad Nights," renamed "Midnight in Moscow." Ball's version hit the number two spot on in both the UK and the US, inspiring Los Angeles-based trad jazz trumpeter Teddy Buckner to cover the tune, releasing an album of the same name in 1962.

Teddy Buckner was a fine Trad trumpeter in the style of Louis Armstrong and Bunk Johnson, who served his musical apprenticeship in the Kid Ory Band during the first wave of West Coast Trad revivals. Among jazz clarinetists, he is probably best known for the recordings his band did with Edmond Hall. This 1962 release, however, and the clarinetist who played on it, ought to be remembered as well.

In the history of jazz, there are many local legends who, for some reason or another, never capture the imagination of the press or public. It can be difficult to figure out why, but it's simply a fact that some players turn into celebrities while others labor in relative obscurity--sometimes possessing the same or greater levels of talent and ability as their more famous counterparts. One of the great gifts of recorded history, however, is our ability to find these underappreciated players and shine some light on their important music making, even decades after they have passed away. Caughey Roberts (first name pronounced 'Couch-ie') is one of those players deserving far wider fame and respect in the history of jazz clarinet. This album is eloquent proof.

First of all, he is the main featured soloist on this album--taking at least as much solo time as the bandleader, Buckner. His sound is comparable to Edmond Hall's, except (and may the righteous legions of Edmond Hall admirers forgive me for saying it) he tends to play better in tune, at least on this album. His fire is also a bit like the mighty Hall, but reminds me most of another neglected flame-thrower of the early '60s: Doug Richford, whose clarinet work with Bob Wallis's Storyville Jazz Men ought to be legendary. In all, I think these men tend to create a core of clarinet style characterized by their use of persistent growl texture (almost a permanent part of their tones), unique and characteristic blues shadings, and aggressive style. I love this 'school' of Trad Clarinet and suggest players listen to all three of them to gain perspective on the scope the style suggests. Too often Edmond Hall is considered a unique loner in the world of jazz clarinet, when in fact he was part of a movement of playing, and perhaps the originator of a style.

All the cuts on this album are worth listening to--Caughey plays clarinet except on 'My Gal Sal', where he shows his skill on soprano sax, strongly in the tradition of Sidney Bechet. One moment of interest comes on 'Bill Bailey', where he hits and holds an altissimo A (concert G). Because this sort of range is rare among Trad Jazz clarinetists of that era, it seems even higher than usual, becoming quite a dramatic statement.

Those wanting to know more about this remarkable clarinetist are encouraged to read Peter Vacher's obituary of this great musician from August of 1991.     

"Moscow Nights"

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Pete Fountain And Friends * Capitol Records (SN-16224) * 1981

Side One

1. When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)
2. Love Walked In
3. Just Friends
4. Shine
5. Maria Elena

Side Two

1. Honeysuckle Rose
2. Scatter-Brain
3. Rain
4. The One I Love Belongs To
5. Somebody Else
6. Oh, Lady Be Good!

Pete Fountain - Clarinet
Frank Flynn - Amplified Marimba
Jack Sperling - Drums
Bob Bain - Guitar
Ray Leatherwood - Bass

This 1981 session is one of my favorites recorded by Pete Fountain after his golden era with Coral Records in the early 1960s. Here he's reunited with old friends in Hollywood, among them the great Jack Sperling, twenty years after he and Pete had made jazz history with classic albums like Pete Fountain Day, At the Bateau Lounge, Pete Fountain's New Orleans, and so many others. 

Instead of a traditional rhythm section with piano, or even vibes, Pete employs Frank Flynn for this date on Amplified Marimba. If there are any other albums of Pete's with marimba featured so prominently, I haven't heard them, so as far as I know, this is unique, giving us a chance to hear a more intimate type of ensemble work. Partially because of this, the lines among the musicians are very clearly delineated, and that's a treat. More than any of his other albums, this one comes closest to giving us Pete Fountain take on 'chamber jazz.'

Having said that, while this is a real jazz combo album, as opposed to Pete's forays into easy listening concept albums or big band work, those expecting the old intensity between Fountain and Sperling might be disappointed. Jack is tasteful and swinging on this session, but the old fire -- the pushing and prodding  back and forth with Pete that added so much to the early Coral discs-- just isn't here. Instead, the drums become subdued accompaniment.

Highlights of this album include Pete's takes on 'Just Friends' and a ballad he was to record in many settings, 'Maria Elena.' For me, this recording of the latter is his finest--gentle, sweet, intimate, with perfect personnel. 

The sound quality on this album is also excellent, giving us a different perspective on the classic 'Pete Fountain sound.' Unlike the early Coral discs, the whole ambiance is much more 'dry', with less reverb. Pete's playing is captured slightly brighter than usual, with more edge. For aficionados of sound, this will give different angles on a master's playing.

I'm one who unabashedly prefers Pete's small ensemble work--with all it's polyphonic implications, creativity, and extended solos--to his larger ensemble or orchestral albums (though many of those are favorites too, for different reasons). So for me this unique ensemble release is a part of the essential collection.  

Pete Fountain Mardi Gras Doubloon (Eric Seddon Collection)

Monday, August 13, 2018

CD Release Party at the BOP STOP in Cleveland

Eric Seddon's Hot Club at the BOP STOP (photo: Bill Laufer)

This is the Big One at Last! If you're wondering which of our upcoming gigs to attend, our CD release party at the Bop Stop is the one I'd suggest. I usually don't discriminate when it comes to gigs, but last year Gabe Pollack gave our band the unprecedented opportunity to play a six concert 'Trad Jazz Invasion' of the Bop Stop in Cleveland. We covered rarely heard Sidney Bechet numbers, Jimmie Noone, George Lewis, Benny Goodman, Acker Bilk, Hubert Rostaing, and an evening of my own tunes.
One of the results of that series was our new CD--Bootlegs from the Bop Stop, recorded by Bill Laufer and my wife Elisa, which we'll be selling at this gig.

Also joining us this Thursday will be the legendary Dean of the Trad Jazz Scene here in Cleveland-- George Foley--on the Bop Stop's famous Steinway. If you haven't heard George on a Steinway, this is one of the great opportunities to do so.

George Foley (piano) with Eric Seddon (clarinet)

Mostly, I'd like to thank Gabe with a packed house--for backing our group throughout all of last Fall, and allowing our mission of bringing Traditional New Orleans style jazz played at the highest level of artistry a chance to shine at one of the top nightclubs in Cleveland.
Eric Seddon, clarinet
George Foley, piano
Kevin T Richards, guitar
Gene Epstein, bass
Bill Fuller, drums
Songs from Bechet to Today....

You can purchase your tickets here.

2920 Detroit Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113

Thank you and KEEP SWINGING!!!

Monday, August 6, 2018

Pete Fountain * New Orleans at Midnight * Coral Records (CRL 757429 Stereo / CRL 57429 Mono) * 1963

Side One

1. Creole Love Call (*)
2. I Want To Be Happy
3. Brahms' Lullaby (+)
4. Ballin' The Jack
5. Moonglow (++)
6. Rockin' Chair (*)

Side Two

1. Midnight Pete (+)
2. Bourbon Street Parade
3. Swing Low
4. Makin' Whoopee
5. Battle Hymn Of The Republic
6. Midnight Boogie (++)

Pete Fountain, clarinet
Bobby Gibbons, guitar 
Godfrey Hirsch, vibes
Stan Wrightsman, piano 
Morty Corb, bass
Jack Sperling, drums 
(*) Nick Fatool, drums
(+) John Propst, piano
(++)Ray Sherman, piano 

1963 was a remarkable year for Pete Fountain, and for jazz clarinet in general. Pete's contributions include no fewer than four albums: Plenty of Pete, Music from Dixie, Mr. New Orleans, and the subject of this review, New Orleans at Midnight. The year also featured a ground breaking opus of the Buddy DeFranco/Tommy Gumina Quartet entitled pol*y*tones (a very important album desperately in need of reissue), and the classic Benny Goodman Quartet reunited for their last studio recording, Together Again.  

Compared with the other albums from this year, New Orleans at Midnight is a real 'sound'-focused album: Pete's crooning side is on full display. The arrangements are tight and well thought out, and like its name, this album gives the vibe of an 'after hours' set, less focused on hot soloing. One exception, and a high point of the album that has been reissued on various "Best of" compilations, is Pete's rendition of 'Bourbon Street Parade', which is among his finest recordings and my personal favorite by a clarinetist of this classic Paul Barbarin tune. 

It's also with gratitude that I find the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' on this album, played with depth and reverence. This makes a nice contrast with Pete's spirited version of 'Dixie' from his earlier French Quarter album, perhaps handling respectfully and symbolically some of the difficulties of American history that were still turbulent in the 1960s, and resonate even today.

When dealing with New Orleans jazz, or jazz in general, there is no way of avoiding America's trouble history with race and racism. I might as well say here that I'm always a bit on edge when I hear a jazz band play 'Dixie.' I know that for white southerners of Pete's generation it might have meant something different, but there are too many disturbing stories such as those related in Tom Sancton's book Song for My Fathers  (a must read for anyone interested in the history of New Orleans jazz, particularly in the 1960s) detailing humiliating circumstances of black bands being forced to play the tune under racist circumstances. Like so many of our symbols, which get necessarily reevaluated as time progresses, this tune has its baggage that cannot be ignored. Let me try to be clear on a subject that is anything but easy: I think 'Dixie' is a great tune, musically. But symbolically it is problematic for me in the context of the 1960s, especially. This would be a very troubled thing for me if we didn't have Pete's clear pronouncement on race and jazz, along with his own homage and gratitude to George Lewis and other great black musicians, in his autobiography:

I used to go down to St. Bernard Street and sit in with a lot of the black bands. I must have been one of the only white musicians doing that because the union frowned on it. But I wasn't a member of the union, and I felt too that if they were nice enough to let me sit in, I was going to give them the best I had. I've never been at all concerned about the way a musician looks. I listen to what comes out of his horn, and judge only that. And jazz and blues are black music first; some of the sounds I was hearing were mighty good. 
I sat in with George Lewis and Papa Celestin and some of the greatest black bands in jazz. George Lewis particularly fascinated me. He played a fine clarinet, and I would always watch him closely; then I would get up and add my own piece to what he was playing. We had a great time, and I learned a great deal from these sessions. [from A Closer Walk: The Pete Fountain Story. The Henry Regnery Company, Chicago (1972) pg 38-39] 

This sort of acknowledgement, and the sort of risk taking Pete Fountain, George Lewis, and others engaged in for the sake of sharing and making music, is very powerful. One can make an argument (and I often do!) that in mid-century, the two most important New Orleans jazz musicians were Lewis and Fountain. Lewis lead the charge of the New Orleans revival from the late 1940s through the 60s, and was responsible for much of the global Trad Jazz explosion during those years, while Pete took the music to new levels of virtuosity, fusing it with other forms in the process. This quiet, after hours version of the 'Battle Hymn', so unusual for a white southerner to play in that era, seems to me an beautiful and eloquent statement.

All the other tunes on this remarkably mixed bag of an album are well performed and satisfying. It might not be the greatest of Pete's golden era Coral records, but it is a worthy entry, with a touch of important symbolism.

Pete Fountain Mardi Gras Beads (Eric Seddon Collection)

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Pete Fountain * Standing Room Only * Coral Records (CRL 757474) * 1965

Side One

1. Muskrat Ramble
2. Memories Of You
3. Christopher Columbus
4. I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues
5. Struttin' With Some Barbecue

Side Two

1. Ramblin' Medley: a) Oh, Didn't He Ramble b) St. Louis Blues c) Comin' Round The Mountain d) Tiger Rag
2. Embraceable You 
3. When My Sugar Walks Down The Street
4. You Are My Sunshine

Pete Fountain, clarinet
Nick Fatool, drums 
Bob Havens, trombone
Eddie Miller, tenor sax 
Charley Teagarden, trumpet
Godfrey Hirsch, vibes
Earl Vuiovich, piano
Oliver Felix, bass

Recorded 'Live' at Pete Fountain's French Quarter Inn, New Orleans

With this octet, Pete Fountain broke the mold of his Coral small combo records by including Eddie Miller on tenor sax, Charley Teagarden on trumpet, and Bob Haven on trombone. Instead of emphasizing the intimate nightclub feel his earlier efforts had captured so successfully, Pete opens up as a leader on this one, giving leads to all of his wind players and driving the polyphony in a unique, clarinet-focused way. This is also the first Pete Fountain album to feature Nick Fatool on drums for the entire album. The result is a more street-beat oriented and at times more raucous live experience--very different from Pete's Place and At The Bateau Lounge. The arrangements are also a little more scripted, and not really reminiscent of his earlier work with Al Hirt or others from the 1950s, so listeners hoping for more of that should mitigate their expectations. 

Some notes:

'Muskrat Ramble' leads off with a bass/drums duo into, not usual for the tune, which is interesting. 

Eddie Miller takes a tenor sax lead on 'Memories of You.' His playing is solid, but not inspired. This is a tough tune for any clarinetist taking at the ballad tempo of  Benny Goodman, as it was so deeply associated with him, not only through the great sextet recordings,  but the fact that it was ingrained in pop culture as a leitmotif in The Benny Goodman Story. When Pete takes his chorus, he makes the homage clear.

Bob Havens' trombone takes the lead on both 'Christopher Columbus' (rarely performed outside of its more famous spot in Jimmy Mundy's 'Sing Sing Sing' arrangement for the Goodman band) and 'I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues.' Adding the diversity of voices, on side two, Charley Teagarden, trumpet player and brother of the more famous Jack Teagarden,  leads on 'Embraceable You.' Unfortunately, the playing, while nice and solid, is unexceptional and a seems a bit scripted. 

The climax of the album comes with Side Two's 'Ramblin' Medley'. I'm not a big fan of medleys, though they were quite popular at the time (Duke Ellington employed them regularly in his set lists during the 1960s as well). On this album, for once the medley is on side 2, and seems really well placed in the overall form of the album. Nick Fatool's street beat drumming is intense and pushes the whole thing beautifully.

I don't want to give the wrong impression: Pete's playing is excellent on this album, as it is for all of the live Coral albums of the late '50s through the '60s. Any fan of his virtuosic clarinet style will enjoy it, and the album has very interesting things about it, along with satisfying emotional climaxes. But for me, personally, the true golden era of those Coral nightclub albums comes to a close with Pete's Place. There is something special about the string of small combo, clarinet dominated albums from 1959-1965, and with Standing Room Only, I think we sense Pete's recording career in transition to other, larger ensemble projects.