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.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Pete Fountain * Pete's Place * Coral Records (LVA 9228) * 1965

Oh, Lady Be Good (*)
Fascination Medley: 
       Fascination/Basin St Blues/Tin Roof Blues/Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
It's Just a Little While (To Stay Here)
That's A Plenty (*)

The Sheik of Araby (*)
The Preacher
(What Did I Do to Be So) Black & Blue
March to Peruna (*)

Pete Fountain * clarinet
Godfrey Hirsch * vibes
Earl Vuiovich * piano
Paul Guna * guitar/banjo
Oliver Felix * bass
(*)Nick Fatool * drums
Paul Edwards * drums

Recorded on the Saturday before Mardi Gras in February of 1964 at Pete Fountain's French Quarter Inn on the corner of Bourbon and St Anne Streets in New Orleans, and released in 1965, Pete's Place is both a continuation and the beginning of a new era in the clarinetist's development. In terms of continuity,  this album flows perfectly in the stream of 'golden era' Pete Fountain live recordings, following Pete Fountain Day (1959), At the Bateau Lounge (1960), and Live in Santa Monica (1961). The newness is subtle, but to Fountain aficionados noticeable: Pete's tempi aren't quite as burning, he's both more patient and inventive as a soloist on tunes like The Sheik of Araby, and most significantly, this is perhaps the first small combo album of the Coral era that substantially features Nick Fatool on drums rather than Jack Sperling. Sperling's flash and fire had been a major component of every previous small group album for Coral, and the body of work that Fountain and the virtuosic drummer built, stretching over eight or nine albums (depending on how you count them) rightfully takes its place in jazz history alongside other inspired duos such as Goodman & Krupa, or Brown & Roach. Pete & Jack's sympathetic musicality bordering on a type of telepathy was of that rare kind, surpassing normal ensemble brilliance. This album, without Sperling's presence, is immediately different in timbre and groove.

Having given credit where it is due, few drummers could have stepped in with the degree of success of Nick Fatool. Nick was a true jazz veteran by this point in his career, having recorded with Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw as early as the 1940s, making him possibly the only drummer to record with that triumvirate on classic small combo albums. Too often overlooked by jazz history, it's worth pointing out that Fatool provided the perfect pocket grooves for Artie Shaw's original Gramercy 5 recordings and the deep backbeats and streetbeats for Pete's Place. While not as flashy as some other drummers, Fatool was a musician's musician--making every ensemble better for his musical presence, subtlety, and unique 'cushion.'

Highlights of this album include Fatool's solo on 'Oh, Lady Be Good' and the interaction he has with Fountain on 'The Sheik of Araby.' It's telling to contrast Fatool's duo style with Sperling's on 'I've Found a New Baby' from Live At The Bateau Lounge a few years earlier: where Sperling was expert at building tension and driving Pete's fire, Nick encourages Pete to dig into the backbeat, hit harder and longer. Both end up lighting the crowd on fire.

The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams once suggested to American composers that they not neglect the tunes of Stephen Foster. Such songs, he felt, bore the seeds of a great musical culture to be built. The last tune of this album demonstrates the time had come by 1965, with Pete and the band elevating Foster's 'She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain' to a joyous mini-epic of street beats, climaxes, and a coda to an album that jazz fans will want to return to for years.

This is yet another classic Pete Fountain album in need of reissuing.


Pete Fountain Autograph (Eric Seddon Collection)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Pete Fountain with Charles 'Bud' Dant & His Orchestra * Licorice Stick * Coral Records (CRL 57460) * 1964

Side 1

1. Licorice Stick (Fountain-Owen Bradley-Dant)
2. Young Maiden's Prayer 
3. Gravy Waltz
4. Fountain Blue
5. Tippin In
6. Estrellita

Side 2

1. Hello Dolly
2. Maria Elena
3. Clairnet Strip 
4. Born To Lose
5. The Honey Wind Blows
6. I Love You So Much It Hurts

Clarinet solo with Orchestra and Choir accompaniment 

From the outset of this odd album we're greeted by a wordless chorus, banjo, and simplistic clarinet melody over 'rhythm changes.' It sounds a bit as though Ravel got lost in a department store in the Ozarks. For all it's odd simplicity, though, the tune is an historic one, at least in a crossover sense. Entitled 'Licorice Stick', it was co-written by Fountain, Owen Bradley, and Charles 'Bud' Dant. Jazz fans might not recognize the name of Owen Bradley (who shares composer credits with Fountain and Dant on three numbers), but to the history of Nashville, he is quite an important figure. His Country Music Hall of Fame page credits him with shaping what became known as the "Nashville Sound" and even mentions Pete Fountain:

Owen Bradley was named head of Decca’s Nashville division in 1958, from which position he helped shape the evolution of the Nashville Sound. Like Chet Atkins, his counterpart at RCA, Bradley put singers out front, using rhythm sections consisting of guitars, bass, drums, and piano to provide basic support and adding background harmony parts or string sections as needed. The resulting music was easily accessible to a wide range of listeners. In addition to turning out hits by Decca’s country acts, Bradley also produced a Grammy-winning record for folk star Burl Ives (1962) and attracted Dixieland clarinetist Pete Fountain and pop organist Lenny Dee to Nashville. Bradley himself scored pop hits for Decca in 1957 (“White Silver Sands”) and 1958 (“Big Guitar”).  

So far as I can tell, this album is the first of Pete's artistic efforts to combine New Orleans clarinet with the Nashville sound. Before purists get themselves into too much of a frenzy, and start shouting about 'commercialism' it's important to consider a couple of things. First, Pete never abandoned his hard earned jazz style, which was a combination of New Orleans, swing, and cooler west coast jazz. He continued to perform and record in that style for the rest of his days. Second, Pete's interest in the Nashville sound might not have been so completely mercenary as fans often assume. In his autobiography, he pointed out that his father was never much of a jazz fan--his dad actually preferred Country music. Discussing a later album, for instance, Pete tells this story:

Recently I have been recording in Nashville, where Owen Bradley has shown me some fantastic things about the business. There are more great musicians sitting around in the recording studios there than you can believe. They are loose. 
My most recent album, New Orleans, Tennessee, was done there. It has a great country flair, really a swinging sound. Pop listened to it and said,"I'm glad you finally started to play some good music." He is still a staunch country-and-western fan. [pg 191] 

It's in this spirit that we ought to listen to the Nashville efforts of Pete Fountain--not as a contribution to New Orleans style jazz, but as a new type of fusion. As such, they are at least unique, and as I have suggested before, seem a forerunner to Pat Metheny's Americana tinged guitar works.

'Young Maiden's Prayer' is another Fountain-Bradley-Dant collaboration, featuring Pete's full chalumeau singing a melody that hints at 'Amazing Grace', 'Deep River', and any number of other old spirituals. The backbeat is Nashville, with guitar giving country blues fills, and a twanged bass guitar that will be tough for some jazz fans to adjust to, but if accepted on its own terms is decent enough, if dated.

Ray Brown and Steve Allen's 'Gravy Waltz' is a return to the more easy listening jazz style Dant and Fountain cultivated on I Love Paris a year before. The strings are less country, more Hollywood tinged.

Rod McKuen's 'Fountain Blue' is a pretty little ballad for Pete to play, with the Nashville sound (wordless female vocal, rhythm section, plinking piano) backing him up. Tunes like this are strong enough to warrant more performances, especially among clarinetists.

With 'Tippin' In' the album goes honky-tonk suddenly, and honestly, the record starts to seem a bit of a bizarre hodge-podge. 'Estrellita' rights the ship a bit, focusing once again on Pete's mellow chalumeau ballad capabilities.

One Side Two, Pete attempts to draft a bit off of Louis Armstrong's mega-hit 'Hello Dolly.' It would probably have benefited from a real jazz treatment with Pete's gigging band. This version comes off sounding too canned. There's a strange moment when a female voice says "Play it one more time"--the whole thing seems disembodied, as though the woman wasn't even in the same room as the band. It's a weird dissociated feeling one gets from some of this music, which I find paradoxically interesting but a bit creepy too--like hanging out in an abandoned shopping center after hours. This is even the zeitgeist for 'Maria Elena', a beautiful little melody Pete was to perform and record often. With 'Clarinet Strip,' we get some timbres that seem to have been sampled and used by They Might Be Giants thirty years later. To quote Johnny Carson, it's "weird, wild stuff." 

This is a strange, sometimes awkward album for a jazz fan to listen to. I have no idea how it was received in 1964. It must have done well enough for Pete to make several more in the Nashville style. It's not my cup of tea...though I'll admit to a sort of strange attraction to figuring it out. To me it's like seeing your favorite Shakespearean in a really odd B movie. You can't help but watch it. Besides, as I wrote above, it really did aim at something unique--and at moments comes close to reaching something special. As a musician always looking for more creative projects and ways to reach out to new audiences, I think this album (and the Nashville projects which followed) are of definite value.

In the end, though, I think Pete will be best remembered for his New Orleans style work, and of albums that are like this one,  I prefer 1962's Swing Low, Sweet Clarinet, which already hinted at this direction.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Pete Fountain * Plenty of Pete * Coral Records (CRL 757424) * 1963

Side One

After You've Gone
Medleya. Stardust b. Is It True What They Say About Dixie 
c. When The Saints Go Marching In d. Dixie
Don't Be That Way
On The Sunny Side Of The Street

Side Two

Just One Of Those Things
Stranger On The Shore
Jazz Me Blues
Blue Skies

Pete Fountain, clarinet
Jack Sperling, drums
Morty Corb, bass 
Godfrey Hirsch, vibes
Bobbie Gibbons, guitar 
John Propst, piano

Rigid traditionalists (perhaps more than a little intimidated by Pete's virtuosity) dismiss Pete Fountain as tainted by styles beyond the borders of the Crescent City. Conversely, modernists (perhaps jealous of his emotional connection with audiences) dismiss him as too traditional. Albums like this, however, reveal Fountain for what he was: a jazzman very much of his day and age, fusing the old seamlessly with the new; respecting the traditions of his native city while moving them forward.

Plenty of Pete is first and foremost one of those clear, crisp nightclub sets he was so adept at shaping, and perfectly in the line of his earlier small combo albums for Coral. Listeners familiar with Pete Fountain's New OrleansAt the Bateau LoungePete Fountain's French Quarter, and Pete Fountain's Music from Dixie will find themselves once again at Pete Fountain's French Quarter Inn on Bourbon Street, sipping a drink in the cool air conditioning. It's also one of Pete's more outward looking albums of that era, paying homage to Benny Goodman in particular by featuring a number of tunes directly associated with the King of Swing, beginning with 'After You've Gone.'

'After You've Gone' is one of those tunes that was lodged permanently in the jazz clarinet canon by Jimmie Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra, from there influencing a young Benny Goodman, who went global with it, using the tune as a small group show piece from the mid-1930s throughout the rest of his career. Fountain's version is based substantially on Goodman's, but the execution, tempo, and head arrangement are uniquely Fountain-esque, with lilt, drive, and virtuosity all his own.

After a medley that includes 'Stardust' and a couple of standard New Orleans tunes ('Is It True What They Say About Dixie?" and 'The Saints') we're back in Benny's territory with a smooth version of 'Don't Be That Way.' Side One wraps up with a cool, subtle, take 'On the Sunny Side of the Street', Godfrey Hirsh's vibes setting the table perfectly each time for Pete's main course. 

Side Two opens with 'Just One of Those Things', the band moving very much like other modern jazz ensembles of the early '60s, then taking on Acker Bilk's smash hit 'Stranger on the Shore.' I'm not sure if this is the first example of an American clarinetist covering a British clarinetist's tune (there had of course been plenty of trans-atlantic influences among other song writers earlier than this), but it's certainly a very successful one. Pete and the boys give their own Gulf Coast take, adding some walking up-tempo choruses after the theme, in nice contrast to the original.

The album closes out with satisfying versions of 'Jazz Me Blues' and 'Blue Skies', demonstrating the permanent value of both numbers in the repertoire.

As I continue to survey these classic albums (this is my seventeenth Pete Fountain album reviewed on The Jazz Clarinet to date)  I'm astonished by the lack of reissues. To my knowledge, other than tracks which have been reissued on compilation albums, Plenty of Pete remains available only on the original vinyl, if a collector can procure a copy. I firmly believe that the jazz Pete and his groups produced--especially in the early 1960's--was as good as any recorded. In some ways, his work even exceeds the more critically touted modernists. If the public was given the chance to hear this beautiful music again in its original context, who knows what renaissance might be spurred? C.S. Lewis once mused that his age might be one day remembered as that of Tolkien and Wodehouse, rather than Lawrence and Joyce. As time progressed, he turned out to be more prophetic than the scoffers imagined. What if the '60s, someday, are similarly remembered as much for Fountain as Miles? They'd have to be re-released, of course, but the amount of beauty and joy to be found here ought to be enough to inspire such a project. Is there really so much beauty and joy in the world that we can afford to leave any of it behind?

Pete Fountain Mardi Gras Medallion
(Eric Seddon Collection)

Monday, July 30, 2018

Pete Fountain with Phil Zito * Dixieland Express * Columbia (CL 6110) * 1950

Side One

Bob Cats
Bye and Bye
Original Dixieland One Step

Side Two

She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain
Zito's Zag
Clarinet Marmalade
Tulane Swing

Phil Zito and his New Orleans International City Dixielanders

Phil Zito, drums
Pete Fountain, clarinet
George Girard, trumpet
Joe Rotis, trombone
Roy Zimmerman, piano
Emile Christian, bass

In the last months of 1949, a nineteen year old Pete Fountain went into the studio to record with Phil Zito's band, the somewhat wordily named New Orleans International City Dixielanders. Until someone tells me otherwise, from the research I've managed, these appear to be the first commercial recordings of Pete Fountain.

Impressively, Pete was already a mature New Orleans style player--in fact,  he was beyond what most players reach in terms of the technical demands of this music. To perform this style effectively, a clarinetist needs a commanding sound in all registers--one that can cut through trumpet, trombone, and rhythm section with equal polyphonic strength, all while maintaining a good tone and intonation. Most clarinetists fall short in one or more of these categories. Beyond that, the clarinetist must maintain excellent rhythmic drive, playing firmly in the groove of the beat, and swinging effectively. Because the clarinet is the fleetest instrument on the front line, with the largest tesitura, arpeggiating the chord structures and outlining the harmonies is often a primary task. In short, the clarinet's role, like all others in a New Orleans style band, has specific demands rhythmically and harmonically. Fountain, by age 19, was already master of these aspects--forming rococo embellishments to the melodies at times, harmonizing George Girard's trumpet leads at others, creating altissimo obligatos at climaxes--all while making sure not to step on anyone else's line. He was also a strong soloist, featured throughout this album from the very first chorus on 'Bob Cats' forward.

This is a short, ten-inch LP, featuring only eight numbers which average somewhere around two minutes and fifty seconds or so per tune. That means there isn't much musical 'stretching out' in terms of soloing here. Indeed, most of these numbers sound like previews--we're left to imagine what the band sounded like live when they really took off from these templates and let it rip.

Highlights include Pete's work on 'Bob Cats', and his obligato playing on the opening of 'Bye and Bye' followed by his uptempo comping and chorus. This recording of 'Bye and Bye' is particularly interesting in that it attests to the influence of George Lewis, which Pete was to cite later in his career. While Faz and Benny were his most dominant influences, Pete often talked about the importance of sitting in with Lewis: this early recording is probably the most eloquent example of the fruits of that relationship. Pete was already the more technically adept player, and would go on to musical projects beyond the abilities of Lewis, but the focus on soul, the spiritual, and tradition was to play an important and decisive part in Fountain's art throughout his career.

The rest of this band is excellent--truly complimentary musicians for Pete, and an excellent example of Hot Jazz, New Orleans Style, Dixieland or whatever you want to call it. The polyphony is there, the groove, the mastery of their instruments. The only complaint: there isn't more of it. Fortunately Pete was to spend a long lifetime adding recordings for us...

Friday, July 27, 2018

Pete Fountain's Music from Dixie * Coral Records (CRL 757401) * 1963

Bye Bye Bill Bailey
I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate
High Society
(When It's) Darkness on the Delta
Song of the Wanderer (Where Shall I Go?)
Dixie Jubilee

Struttin' With Some Barbeque
Chlo-e (Song of the Swamp)
Milenberg Joys
When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)

Pete Fountain * Clarinet
Charles Teagarden * Trumpet
Eddie Miller * Tenor Saxophone
Moe Schneider * Trombone
Bobby Gibbons * Guitar
Stan Wrightsman * Piano
Morty Corb * Bass
Jack Sperling * Drums

As a general rule, any album from the early 1960s that says "Coral" and "Pete Fountain" on the cover is worth listening to, over and over again. Pete Fountain's Music from Dixie is no exception, proof of which is that several cuts from this album have been re-released many times on 'Greatest Hits' albums.

From the opening 'Bye Bye Bill Bailey' we know it's going to be a swinging time--the band sounds relaxed, comfortable, and ready to play. Fans of the raw energy of the old Pete Fountain/Al Hirt sides of the mid-1950s might wish this set wasn't mellower in comparison, but these twelve standards give us a different feel--instead of that youthful exuberance, we get the more polished, professional work the band was doing nightly at Pete Fountain's French Quarter Inn.

Charles Teagarden (brother of the more famous, trombone playing Jack) plays an excellent New Orleans style lead trumpet when called upon (as in 'High Society') but we've certainly moved to the model Pete was use for most of his career: a less boisterous trumpet, allowing his clarinet to take center stage. The same approach was used by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Edmond Hall in their small groups--trumpeters, even when they had the lead, were kept more mellow--often playing lead lines muted, or underlining melodies played by the clarinetists. Truth be told, Pete stayed closer to the earlier New Orleans model than most of the others--he really gives Charley the lead, without mute, while weaving his harmonies and countermelodies in true polyphonic style. In many ways Pete was unparalleled in this quintessentially New Orleans function of clarinetistry--his lines, whether closely harmonizing or in soaring obligato, were some of the finest and most diverse ever captured on recording. Because Pete has this extended band (a full New Orleans contingent), this album can alternate between intimate ballad material to uptempo street beats and swing--sometimes shifting back and forth between those poles in the same tunes.

'Darkness on the Delta' from this album is one of my favorite renditions for the beautiful interplay between Fountain and Stan Wrightsman's piano comping. Also for smaller combo, Pete's version of 'Shine' is a real treat, for the reason that so many of his Goodman quartet inspired covers are: he makes the tune his own, resisting the temptation of playing at break neck speed. Here, and many other places, Pete demonstrates a principle of importance to any jazz clarinetist: more phrasing, more character, and more attention to groove will yield a far better result than turning a tune into 'Jazz Kroepsch' with a polka beat (we've all heard that, haven't we?) Pete was sometimes criticized by clarinetist's with less competent technique for being 'too flashy' during his career, but reengaging his actual work shows otherwise -- he rarely took extreme tempos, more frequently crafting beautiful vibrant up tempo choruses.

Pete's version of 'Chlo-e' is of very different character than Goodman's lilting big band chart. The Fountain ensemble takes a full verse before the chorus, and plays in a deep, relaxed ballad manner. Really the diversity of moods on the album us exceptional, and an indication of why his nightclub shows were so successful.

'Struttin' with some Barbeque' for the full band is another highlight--one of Pete's earlier recordings of the classic Armstrong tune. 'Milenberg Joys' shows how well old standards can be updated--a listener would be forgiven for thinking it was a relatively new tune for 1963, and it sounds pretty well timeless even now. The whole album comes to a satisfying conclusion with 'Hallelujah', which is exactly what I want to say now that this music is available once again, in downloadable reissue.

Music from Dixie captures the mature Fountain ensemble and concept--a format he would maintain for a significant portion of his career. Some of the earlier Coral albums are notable for their sheer excitement and freshness. This one is more measured, but it's a solid, professional outing of interest that never lets the listener down.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Eric Seddon's Hot Club * CD Release Party at The Bop Stop in Cleveland * Thursday August 16th

Just about a year ago, Gabe Pollack gave our band the unprecedented opportunity to play six concerts of New Orleans style jazz over a twelve week period at the BOP STOP -- arguably the best listening room for jazz in Cleveland. Three weeks from tonight, we're going to return there to celebrate our live CD pulled from those evenings--Eric Seddon's Hot Club: Bootlegs from the Bop Stop. 

I'd like to repay Gabe's faith in us with a packed house this August 16th. Tickets are only $12, and can be purchased here. 

In addition to hearing material from the new album, you'll be treated to real NOLA style hot jazz from my clarinet,  George Foley on the Bop Stop's Steinway piano, Kevin T. Richards on guitar, Gene Epstein on bass, and Bill Fuller on drums. The new CD will also be available for purchase! 

"Seddon, who has a large tone and extroverted style on clarinet...dominates the music, playing with infectious spirit and creativity within the classic format. His songs, which include a tribute to the late Acker Bilk ("Goodbye Bowler Hat"), are natural fits for New Orleans jazz bands..." 
--Scott Yanow, The Syncopated Times

Eric Seddon's Hot Club [photo: Bill Laufer]

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Pete Fountain * New Orleans to Los Angeles * Southland Records (S-LP 215) * 1956

Side One 

1. Farewell Blues
2. At the Jazz Band Ball
3. March of the Bob Cats
4. Jazz Me Blues

Side Two (*)
1. Cherry
2. Struttin' With Some Bar-B-Q
3. Home
4. Song of the Wanderer

Pete Fountain - clarinet
Al Hirt - trumpet
Eddie Miller - tenor Sax
Ray Bauduc - drums
Abe Lincoln - trombone
Morty Corb - bass
Stan Wrightsman - piano

(*) Pete Fountain And His Three Coins

Pete Fountain - clarinet
Roy Zimmerman - piano
Phil Darios - string bass/tuba
Johnny Edwards - drums

This is a relatively obscure, yet important record for Pete Fountain fans. Side One features his work in 1956 with Al Hirt's band. The four tracks recorded here by Southland Records (a local New Orleans label) were recycled six years later by Coral Records for the Pete Fountain/Al Hirt Bourbon Street album. There are significant differences, however. Anyone listening carefully to the Coral record can discern an edit to Abe Lincoln's opening trombone break in 'Farewell Blues.' The Southland original reveals that there were in fact three original breaks--an extra ten seconds of music that Coral cut for some unknown reason. The Coral edit is very puzzling, as the LP they ultimately released wasn't anywhere near full. Another difference, to my ears, is the quality of the reproductions. The Southland disc is mellower and deeper sounding--the Coral a bit high in treble and more shrill. This might just be a reflection of my copies and turntable set-up, but audiophiles will want to check the Southland recording out.

The four numbers themselves, especially the tunes dating all the way back to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings -- 'Farewell Blues', 'At the Jazz Band Ball', and 'Jazz Me Blues' -- are simply among the finest versions of these tunes on record. Al Hirt is in great form, blasting but with tonal depth, and carving lines that seem both contemporary and firmly planted in the New Orleans tradition. Pete was the perfect compliment to him, with his smooth refreshing clarinet sound and graceful lines. Abe Lincoln and Eddie Miller solo strongly, and most importantly, no one steps on anyone else's line. This is New Orleans style done at an exceptional level, and we can only imagine what a super-group like this might have accomplished if they'd wanted to systematically record the repertoire together (like the Dukes of Dixieland of that era were doing).

The flip side of this interesting LP features relatively rare recordings of Pete, which Dr. Edmond Souchon's liner notes declare to be the first by Fountain as a leader. I have been told (by those who know better than I could) that these recordings were made prior to Pete Fountain's exclusive deal with Leblanc clarinets--and to that end, even the cover photo seems to depict a Selmer in his hands. I'm not sure how many other recordings feature Pete on a Selmer, but some Fountain aficionado's say they prefer his work pre-Leblanc. For whatever it's worth, Pete told me that he loved the sound of Selmers, but the keywork bothered him--he preferred the sturdier keys of a Leblanc.

'Cherry', 'Struttin' with some Bar-B-Q', and 'Home' are all essential recordings for Fountain fans--typically beautiful in sound and execution. 'Song of the Wanderer',  however, might be the biggest surprise, as it features Pete on Tenor Saxophone! His style on the cut is that of a fledgling Eddie Miller or Bud Freeman, and his soloing very much in the New Orleans style, devoid of any modern jazz influence. His control of the instrument and his tone are good, and his intonation solid, so either he'd spent quite a bit of time with the instrument, or had a natural talent for the sax. It's interesting to think what he would have done on tenor, had he continued. My guess is that he missed the extended range of the clarinet. I'm undoubtedly biased, but I really think of the woodwinds the clarinet is king in New Orleans style. This number is very interesting to hear, though, if only to see the scope of Pete's talent.

All in all, an important and enjoyable album from Pete's early years.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

New Logos for Eric Seddon's Hot Club

Emphasizing our New Orleans roots, we've officially updated our band logo as of today:

'Like' and follow us on FaceBook for all the latest information about gigs and recordings! 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Pete Fountain * "On Tour" * Coral Records (CRL 757357) * 1961

Side 1

1. Hindustan
2. New Orleans
3. Mississippi Mud
4. San Antonio Rose
5. Manhattan
6. Isle Of Capri

Side 2

1. Swanee River Rag
2. Indiana
3. Sentimental Journey
4. I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City
5. Moonlight In Vermont
6. Chicago

Pete Fountain, clarinet 
Jack Sperling, drums
Morty Corb, bass
Stan Wrightsman, piano

Though it's not one of my favorites, this album falls chronologically into what I consider Pete Fountain's golden era of small combo recordings for Coral Records. Like Pete Fountain's New Orleans (1959) and Pete Fountain's French Quarter (released in the same year as this, 1961), 'On Tour' features Pete's Los Angeles based colleagues: Jack Sperling on drums, Morty Corb on bass, and Stan Wrightsman on piano. Contrasting the earlier albums' programs, which evoked Pete's hometown, each standard selected  for 'On Tour' is named for a different locale--perhaps as a reminder that if you couldn't make it to Bourbon Street, perhaps Pete might make it to you.

Listening to the opening track, we're reminded how young stereo technology was in 1961, as the recording engineer has a little fun towards the end of Pete's 'Hindustan' solo. He puts Pete's three note motif first on one channel, then on the next during Morty Corb's bass solo, switching Jack Sperling's drums a couple of times as well, apparently hinting at the 'touring' program of the album. Two years later, Coral recording engineers would use the antiphonal channels more effectively with Pete's I Love Paris album. It's use here in 'Hindustan' comes off as a little too cute--gratuitous rather than enjoyable. Fortunately, it was a one-time gimmick, and doesn't haunt the entire album.

In the liner notes, Bud Dant, Pete's longtime collaborator and Coral A&R man, hinted that they'd put more work into polishing this album than others, explaining that they used four sessions (in contrast to the single session for Pete Fountain's New Orleans). Apparently, because these were all head arrangements, they felt a need to refine them a bit. I'm not sure if that helped the reception of the album at the time--perhaps critics and public were looking for something very clear and clean--but unfortunately, to my ear at least, that extra time and expense resulted in an album that sounds more scripted and far less spontaneous. The grooves are just a little on the cautious side, sounding a bit measured and stiff on tunes like 'Chicago' and 'Isle of Capri.'

That aside, there is still plenty of great playing on this album. It's nice to hear Pete on some numbers he didn't ordinarily record. 'Manhattan' and 'Moonlight in Vermont' are presented with the patented Fountain sound and phrasing. 'San Antonio Rose' gives a hint of Pete's interest in Country and Western (his father's favorite genre), which he would revisit throughout his career. For fans of Pete's up tempo work, there is plenty of crisp, tight, driving soloing on 'Hindustan', 'Swanee River Rag', and 'Indiana'. So this is a very good, solid album from an important era of Pete's work. But perhaps, just as his heart was at home in New Orleans, so too, if only coincidentally, with the albums. 'On Tour' simply sounds a bit less inspired than the other, NOLA themed records. For those wanting to hear an example of Pete's playing in a looser, more free wheeling environment in 1961, I recommend Live in Santa Monica which features brilliant playing by the same group of Sperling, Corb, Wrightsman, (adding Godfrey Hirsch on vibes).  It would be interesting to know whether 'On Tour' and the Santa Monica concert were recorded during the same trip west for Pete. If so, they really demonstrate the difference between the group's studio and live work at the time. Either way, they are an interesting contrast, and both are worth having in your collection.     

Pete Fountain Mardi Gras Medallion
(Eric Seddon Collection)