Because I have been rovlowing only contemporary bands and records in this column, I have been accused of ignoring the old stuff, the brave true stuff, the righteous stuff, or whatever you call it. But I just want to go on record now as saying that I have limited myself to recent stuff for obvious reasons, all the while chafing at the bit to tell you of my sincere appreciation and admiration for the old stuff. The relaxation and sincerity of the old bands of the twenties have never been touched by any outfit in the past few years, nor can I say that I have much expectation of seeing it touched in the future. I, who am certainly the only collector in the country with every single copy of Louis Armstrong's Hot Five recordings (including Big Butter and Egg Man and Irish Black Bottom, on both of which Louis takes superb vocals), can assure you that this is strictly hep information.
When I talked over the situation the other night down in New York with Coleman Hawkins, who has been living sadly on his sax ever since he returned from France last fall, he agreed completely with me. He then went on to play for me, in the style that I have always considered to be tops on tenor sax, a full hour of "Limehouse Blues," Improvising all the while around a little riff that I swiped from Chu Berry down at the Southland last week.
I hummed the riff once and the Hawk used it for a full hour in the most relaxed and sincere style that I've heard since his One Hour with Red McKenzie eleven years ago. But Hawk agreed with me that the stuff today is, definitely not relaxed or sincere like it used to be, to wit: Count Basie's rough house rhythm, Jimmy Dorsey's twittering saxophone, and Kostelanetz's weeping violin cadenzas. He went on to say that he reads my column faithfully every week and shows it around Gotham, where they're beginning to realize that Harvard guys have really got the stuff after all.
Clarifying my stand, any interest I may take in this contemporary hog-wash and sticky twaddle handed out by the so-called name bands of today is merely to uplift, to purge for the benefit of you cats, to reform jazz style back to the days of its pristine glory--the days when jazz was the finest expression of The American Ideal and a bulwark of democracy. When those things go, where is America? But I have been trying to uplift the present stuff and even my enemies, of whom I have legion, will admit that my attempt has been gallant. I am, of course, well-known in all circles where the righteous jumpin' Jive is purveyed and I am confident that my influence is a steadying and inspiring one.
Space will not permit of dilation on the many all-night, private jam sessions I have attended, listening to the all-star jamming of such gates as Chu Berry, Louis Armstrong, Leon Roppolo, and Jimmy Harrisson. But I have not listened to their improvising purely with my emotions, for me "toujours I'approche intellectuelle au sujet" (always the intellectual approach for any subject). For instance, I am ravished by the celestial ninths which J. C. Higginbotham (Higgy to his friends, among whom I am proud to say I am numbered) plays on that good old slush-pump, and I am not alone in believing that Artie Shaw heaves a mean tonic triad.
The state of the hot is indeed deplorable at present, Dorsey, Miller, Goodman, et al. are quite incapable of even the most juvenile attempts at the righteous stuff. The hope of jaxx is the new string, reed, and brass ensemble of Artie Shaw. He plays strictly out of this world stuff. It is RELAXED and SINCERE. And that's what jazz needs, relaxation and sincerity. Artie informs me by telegram that Louis Armstrong may soon add depth to the orchestra by taking the second chair in the trumpet section.
Listening the other night to the Stradivarius Quartet, a small string combo which is definitely good listening. Violin Wolfe Wolfinsohn is strictly gate stuff--being the only man I have ever heard who can cut Joe Venuti in his better days. He told me after the concert that he had often listened to Joe and that he enjoyed him very much. I am sorry to say that I didn't like the way the Strad boys played the Haydn. They rushed it like Toscanini playing the blues and I expected. Uncle Joe Haydn to pop through the skylight.
But the Kodaly was as great as that side cut by the New Orleans Rhythm kings in 1922--"Tin Roof Blues." Wolfe and his mates were as relaxed as a good Negro band at its best. All the way through they came in smoothly, just behind the beat (that's what I mean by relaxed). Relaxation is undoubtedly the main stuff in all good playing and very few white outfits have the trick, but I mean these boys really have. Hear this combo by all means. Give a listen too, to their neat v-shaped phrases. They got the gift and no less a guy than Jan Sibellus once agreed with me.
I've meant to review that Chicago Style Album that Decca put out a few weeks ago and it's just as well I've let it run a few weeks before attempting it, because the records are definitely poorer after listening to them forty or fifty times. In fact they are strictly mediocre. Next week this column will discuss the individual records in the Album and the Chicago style in general.