November 27, 2012
During his short and troubled life, Dave Tough consistently proved himself to be a masterful drummer, comfortable in a wide range of settings, willing to confront and overcome stylistic revolutions. He always displayed musical, technical and intellectual gifts, that might well have taken him to the top of any artistic pursuit and served him for a generous lifetime. At times, he seemed to have the ambition for this; but he also had disturbing flaws that not only circumscribed his career but also tragically shortened his life.
He was born, David Jarvis Tough, on 26 April 1907, in Oak Park, Illinois. First playing drums while a small child, he was still a Chicago schoolboy when he became, appropriately enough, a member of the Austin High School Gang. Not quite what their name implied, this was a loose gathering of white tyro jazzmen all of whom were fascinated with black jazz musicians whose playing set alight the clubs and speakeasies of 1920s Chicago. Deeply influenced by these musicians, the Gang formulated what became known as Chicago-style jazz and Dave, who early mastered the art of playing subtle and infectiously swinging drums, was a significant member of the group.
In that same decade, Dave visited Europe and also spent time in New York City where he made records under the nominal leadership of other members of the Chicago school, notably Eddie Condon and Red Nichols but by the start of the 1930s, this tiny and frail young man was repeatedly struck by illnesses that more robust individuals might have shrugged off. He thus began the new decade inauspiciously, spending many months inactive through illness.
This was a portent of the future; and he gave himself no help by drinking heavily. By 1935, however, Dave was ready to make a mark in a different area of jazz. Until now, the bulk of his work had been in small groups, but the big bands that would dominate the forthcoming swing era were on the rise. He played first with Tommy Dorsey, then moved swiftly (and often fleetingly) through many bands: Red Norvo, Bunny Berigan, Benny Goodman, back to Tommy Dorsey, then Jimmy Dorsey, Bud Freeman, Jack Teagarden, Artie Shaw, and others, including depping with Woody Herman.
There were several reasons for his restlessness. Dave insisted on musical perfection: while this was a characteristic shared by some of the leaders for whom he played, it was ignored by others. Added to personal differences, he had an intense dislike for the characterless music demanded by the realities of commercial success that were a sometimes onerous feature of life in the swing era. And there was his own occasionally unstable personality, a characteristic aggravated by his drinking, which was now sometimes excessive. In his private life, he flouted the racial and social taboos of the time by marrying a black dancer. He also found himself often at odds with former musical associates, and sought to establish an alternative career as a writer. He was briefly inducted into the military during World War 2, playing for a short while in the US Navy band directed by Artie Shaw, but was soon discharged on medical grounds.
It was shortly after his discharge that Dave made his greatest impact on the jazz world when he joined Woody Herman. As the records of Herman’s First Herd were played around the world, fans of big band jazz became aware that for all his physical frailty, tiny Dave Tough was a powerful giant among drummers. Yet, despite his undoubted playing skills, Dave had serious doubts about his suitability for bop.
It certainly didn’t help that his drinking habit had by now became uncontrollable. Observers at the time remarked upon the combination of his discomfort with his role in the changing jazz scene and a deterioration in his physical and mental state, and how it led inexorably to fits. Sometimes, and deeply disturbing to fellow musicians and audiences alike, these fits occurred on the bandstand.
Many of the people who knew him, did their best to help him; not just musician friends but also the writer Leonard Feather and impresario John Hammond Jnr. But Dave would not be helped; portents of disaster had shadowed his entire professional life, and finally they came to pass. Exactly what happened one winter night can never be known. He appears to have fallen in the street while walking home from a gig. Maybe he had another fit; perhaps he was drunk; or he might simply have slipped or stumbled in the dark. Whatever the cause, he fell, fractured his skull, and died from the injury on 9 December 1948 in Newark, New Jersey. For three days, his body lay in the morgue unclaimed, indeed unrecognized.
Whether playing in the small Chicago-style groups of which he was a charter member, or in any of the big bands to which he brought uncommon fluidity, Dave consistently demonstrated his subtle talents.
It was with Woody Herman, however, that he reached the apogee of his brief but shining career. In that band Dave Tough exceeded even his own high standards, urging along one of the finest of the Swing Era’s jazz orchestras with sizzling enthusiasm, flair and irresistible swing that was rarely equaled and almost never surpassed.
August 20, 2012
A master of the art of jazz drumming, Zutty Singleton played with a springy, joyous beat, usually displaying more flexibility than his often more stately contemporaries. Even Baby Dodds, generally regarded as the finest of New Orleans drummers, rarely played with Zutty’s sprightly grace.
He was born Arthur James Singleton in Bunkie, Louisiana, on 14 May 1898. Zutty’s nickname was bestowed upon him while still a babe-in-arms, the name reflecting the happy countenance he retained throughout his life. Playing drums from a very early age, he worked professionally for the first time in his mid-teens. After military service during World War 1, he played drums with numerous bands in New Orleans, including those of Oscar ‘Papa’ Celestin, ‘Big Eye’ Louis Nelson and Luis Russell, before joining the educational hothouse that was Fate Marable’s riverboat band.
The riverboat experience spread Zutty’s reputation to St. Louis where he played in Charlie Creath’s band and married Charlie’s sister, pianist Marge Creath. In Chicago he drummed with headlining leaders such as Doc Cooke, Dave Peyton and Jimmie Noone, before teaming up with Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines. Among the most important jazz recordings ever made are his late 1920s sessions with Louis Armstrong’s Savoy Ballroom small band.
New York beckoned and there Zutty played with Carroll Dickerson’s top flight band and freelanced throughout the 1930s. He played on numerous recording sessions, including dates with Sidney Bechet, Roy Eldridge and Lionel Hampton. In the early 1940s, Zutty frequently led his own band, and also backed frontline artists, among whom were such disparate figures as bluesman T-Bone Walker and proto-bopper Charlie Parker. He worked on radio and in films, appearing on-screen in Stormy Weather (1943) and New Orleans (1946).
Unhappy that he was not invited to join the all-star band formed to back Armstrong in the mid-1940s, Zutty remained active, working with many jazzmen, including Eddie Condon, Joe Marsala and Wingy Manone.
Early in the 1950s, Zutty spent time in Europe in bands led by Mezz Mezzrow, Bill Coleman, Hot Lips Page and Lillian Armstrong. During the rest of the 1950s and on through the 1960s, Zutty worked mostly in New York, which is where he had made his home. Towards the end of the 1960s, he appeared in the remarkable French documentary film, L’Aventure Du Jazz (1969), playing unaccompanied drum solos. The soundtrack of this film was released on a double LP, but I think not yet on CD; similarly, I believe that the film has yet to become available on DVD.
Zutty’s playing career ended following a stroke in 1970 and he lived out his life in New York with Marge. Widely admired and regarded as a father figure to the city’s jazz community, he died there on 14 July 1975.
The buoyancy Zutty brought to his playing ensured that any session on which he played swung mightily. An early champion of wire brushes and a distinctive user of the sock cymbal, together with other ear-catching effects, placed him well ahead of his time as a jazz drummer. A wide-ranging compilation of Zutty’s recordings over the years can be heard on a two-volume set issued by Big Bill Bissonnette on his Jazz Crusade label.
A gifted soloist, Zutty would sometimes follow the penchant of New Orleans drummers for starting a solo playing the melodic line of the number before creating rhythmic variations. A memorable example of his skill as a drum soloist is the unaccompanied Drum Face on a Mezzrow date in Paris in 1951 (released on a Jazz Legacy LP); other fine examples are heard on sessions recorded for Fat Cat’s Jazz, notably the LP, Zutty And The Clarinet Kings. These records show him to be witty, inventive, always swinging, and offering much to be admired and emulated by later generations of jazz drummers.
August 1, 2012
Jeff Hamilton Trio Red Sparkle (Capri Records 74114-2)
When he first appeared on the jazz scene back in the mid-1970s, Jeff Hamilton’s youthful appearance, allied as it was to sprightly playing, was a joy to many who feared that subtle, rhythmic and always swinging drumming was fading from the jazz scene. These days, happily, there are many jazz drummers who play like this, and it must be acknowledged that Hamilton has rather more gray in his hair than most. But listening to his playing on this CD you would certainly never know it. He is joined here by the regular piano player and bass player of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and the fluid interplay of these three fine musicians, Hamilton, Tamir Hendelman and Christoph Luty, makes clear how attuned each is to the others. This musical empathy provides one of the reasons why that particular big band is so good and so popular. But this is trio time, and as the spotlight shifts from one to another of the trio’s members it is fascinating to hear how all consistently contribute to the group’s overall well-being. Hendelman is a thoughtful jazz pianist, popular with singers, who need a musician of subtlety and grace. But he is also a soloist of distinction and his always inventive playing is a source of great delight. Luty plays with a solid sense of swing, urging along his companions and finding in his solo moments touches of brilliance, especially apparent when, appropriately enough, he takes an arco solo on a Ray Brown composition. But this is Hamilton’s group, and although throughout he makes clear that this is a joint enterprise, the ears are constantly drawn to his tasteful accompaniment, especially notable in his brush work, and in solos that are crisp and perfectly timed and placed. Red Sparkle, in case you are wondering, was the color of Jeff Hamilton’s first drum kit. Fortunate for all of us, it wasn’t his last.
Daryl Sherman Mississippi Belle (Audiophile ACD 342)
One of the most entertaining of musicians, Daryl Sherman has a fully deserved worldwide reputation as a fine jazz pianist and singer. On this CD, she delves into a trove of music with which she is wonderfully familiar, the songs of Cole Porter. For many years, Daryl Sherman has played and sung regularly at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel; what’s more, she has done so seated at the piano Cole Porter had in his suite when he stayed there, a Steinway given to him by the hotel. This CD is subtitled ‘Cole Porter in the Quarter’, that being, of course, the French Quarter of New Orleans, which is not only home to Audiophile Records but also where Sherman has often chosen to perform, particularly after Hurricane Katrina. Among the songs Sherman sings here are the familiar, which include Let’s Do It, Rosalie, Get Out Of Town, You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To and From This Moment On, and some that are less so, including Ours, Tale Of The Oyster, Use Your Imagination and Looking At You. To her interpretations of all the songs, Sherman brings her unmistakable charm and wit, cloaking everything in superb musicianship. Sherman’s instrumental collaborators here are clarinetist-tenor saxophonist Tom Fischer and bassist Jesse Boyd. The always admirable New Orleans-based jazz singer, Banu Gibson, joins Daryl Sherman for By The Mississinewah. This is lovely stuff, a CD that will have very wide appeal.
Jane Stuart Don’t Look Back (Jane Stuart Music JSM 002)
Jazz singer Jane Stuart’s debut CD was 2007’s Beginning To See The Light, which won the Blue Chip Award for ‘Best Jazz Vocals’ from the International Association of Jazz Educators. By now very much appreciated for her live performances, sometimes solo and sometimes as leader of her band, Airtight, in the New York and New Jersey area, Jane Stuart has built upon her very good start in the tough world of jazz singing and her new CD shows just how far she has come. This is a mature and confident performance, and her repertoire shows the breadth of her musical appreciation; among the songs here are Cole Porter’s Experiment, Dave Frishberg’s Wheelers And Dealers and You Are There (co-composed with Johnny Mandel), Lennon and McCartney’s Eleanor Rigby and I’ll Follow The Sun, Rodgers and Hart’s I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, and an especially attractive version of the Gershwin classic, Summertime. Stuart’s accompanists are pianist Rave Tesar, tenor saxophonist Frank Elmo, bassists Kermit Driscoll and Sue Williams (who share tracks), and drummer Rick De Kovessey (who is her husband). Also on hand are percussionist Emedin Rivera and background vocalists Orlando Quinones and Paige Sandusky. There are also guests in the very welcome form of guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Dick Oatts. Jane Stuart is a jazz singer who deserves your attention.
Natalie Cressman Unfolding (own label)
Natalie Cressman and her band, Secret Garden, are quite new to the jazz scene, and very welcome additions they are. Natalie is a trombonist, composer, and singer, and that might well be the right sequence in which to list her exceptional talent. Although stylistically centered firmly in contemporary jazz, it is clear that she has special affection for the music of Latin America. Among Natalie’s musical companions here are pianist Pascal Le Boeuf, trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg, and tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, and they, together with Ruben Samama and Jake Goldbas, bass and drums, and guest tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, create an inventive and always appropriate framework for Natalie’s performance. In interviews, with, for example, Indie Music Reviewer’s Dan MacIntosh, Natalie has cited trombonist Melba Liston and singer Joni Mitchell as key influences. From the wealth of involving and thought-provoking music that Natalie creates it is tempting to suggest that a few decades down the road, new young singer-instrumentalists will cite her as a guiding light.
Kat Parra Las Aventuras de ¡Pasión! (JazzMa JMR 1004)
Very popular in South America as well as in the USA, Kat Parra has a voice that demands attention and rewards the listener with wholly satisfying interpretations of an always interesting selection of songs. While much of Kat’s repertoire is suffused with Latin sounds, especially the rich song books of Brazil and Cuba, she also draws from jazz and the great popular standards. Unusually, Kat also explores in contemporary jazz terms the music of the Sephardic Jews of Spain. Blending this ancient form with contemporary jazz and Afro Caribbean styles is a leap for the imagination, yet Kat achieves this with seeming ease. Here, Kat is joined by some of her near neighbors in the Bay Area, among whom are trombonist Wayne Wallace, pianist Murray Low, saxophonist-flautist Masaru Koga, and drummer Paul van Wageningen. Kat’s earlier albums include Birds In Flight (JazzMa JMR 1001), Azucar De Amor (Patois PRCD 005) and Dos Amantes (JazzMa JMR 1003), the last named also draws upon the Sephardic tradition and seamlessly blends fiery flamenco, lively Hanukkah, and insinuatingly rhythmic Caribbean airs. It is a delight and, indeed, all of her albums are very warmly recommended, overflowing as they are with music that is emotionally rich and moving and performed in a voice that is burnished and flowing and touched with an attractive sinewy edge.