Saturday, March 27, 2010

In Search of Jimmy Vincent

It's not only frustrating when researching Jimmy Vincent, but, considering his influence on countless drummers, it's almost criminal that there is such a dearth of information about him.

Jimmy Vincent was born 30 June 1923 in Boston, MA as James Vincent Faraci, and passed away on 15 April 2005 in Las Vegas

He is mainly associated with Louis Prima with whom he began his 40-year relationship at 16. Prior to joining Prima he was in a teen band called The Goofers, and resurrected incarnations of that band later in life.

His influence, though, is beyond measure. For example, during the Louis Prima Las Vegas years Prima's shows were one of the most popular attractions in the city. According to narrators in the biographical movie The Wildest: Louis Prima, major stars, such Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack, regularly caught Prima's show. You can be sure that there were more than a few drummers, and, perhaps many of those were drawn to the shows to admire Jimmy's style and learn a thing or two about shuffles.

However, Vincent's drumming influence extended well beyond Las Vegas - if you were an Italian-American of my generation Prima's music was inescapable. And Jimmy's shuffle was a constant rhythm that permeated your DNA. These examples of his amazing shuffle and tasteful playing showcase Vincent's skill behind the kit:

Shuffle after shuffle. It's axiomatic that any drummer sitting behind Prima needed to be a master of shuffles, which accounts for the fact that Jimmy was known for them. In fact, Jimmy so perfected shuffles that the Jimmy Vincent Shuffle was named for his style. It is also not surprising that Prima's music employed shuffles. The rhythm is embedded into Italian festive music, and it made people want to dance. Prima was renown for his ability to read audiences and engage them, and the bouncy, happy music based on a shuffle rhythm is a perfect vehicle. Prima's Italian heritage (as well as Jimmy's and sax master Sam Buttera's) was always a part of the act, so infusing such rhythms into their music is not a far-fetched idea. The story behind Luna Mezzo Mare explains the Italian connection.

However, Jimmy's music wasn't entirely about playing shuffles. Consider this gem, which Jimmy's drums drove with an exquisite groove that shows his touch and versatility behind the kit:

Or this one that not only shuffles, but alternates with a solid backbeat while swinging like crazy:

Jimmy is featured as a performer and commentator in The Wildest: Louis Prima - not surprising - but is also featured in Classic Rock Drum Solos! In both DVDs he is shown playing Sing, Sing, Sing with Louis Prima (who wrote the song that Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa made famous.)

If you want to study Jimmy's playing in depth I recommend these CDs as a good starting point:

For the drummers among us, and especially the Slingerland fans such as myself, Jimmy was a Slingerland Endorser:

Sadly, the above is all I could find about this great drummer, and I would love it if you have information to share, which I will gratefully include in an update to this post.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ray Bauduc

He would probably not make the top ten list of greatest drummers, or even influential drummers, but Bauduc's influence on me is strong.

Among the music my parents listened to when I was growing up in the 1950s were Dixieland albums. I am sure they were caught up in the end of the Dixieland revival. At any rate, many of those albums featured Bauduc as drummer. It was much later that I learned to appreciate the music, but at the time the beat was sinking into me at a subconscious level.

A brief, but accurate biography of Bauduc is about as much meat as you are going to find about him on the web. However, he is given a four-page chapter in Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years, and is also mentioned elsewhere in that excellent book. Helen Oakley Dance, quoted in the chapter on Chick Webb, mentioned that Bauduc was one of the drummers that Chick admired. Considering that Chick is [arguably] the best drum kit player ever born that is high praise of Bauduc's abilities.

He will be best remembered for his drum and bass duet with Bob Haggert, Big Noise from Winetka, shown here:

However, I will always be inspired by his fluid movement around the drum kit and his amazing press rolls, all of which are shown in this clip:

His drumming was tasteful, and despite being typecast as a 2/4 time Dixieland drummer, Ray could swing. Indeed, this was noted by Louis Bellson in the video Legends of Jazz Drumming. In the video segment that focused on Bauduc, Bellson also related a story about when he asked Benny Goodman who his favorite drummers were. Goodman cited Gene Krupa, Ray Bauduc and Ray McKinley. When Bellson told Goodman that he understood Krupa, since Goodman always had a love for Gene's playing, but why the other two? Goodman replied that they really knew how to play the snare drum. Indeed, Bauduc was a master on snare drum, which should be evident from the two clips provided above.

Here is Ray in a more swinging performance that shows his versatility. This song, Dark Eyes, is one of Gene Krupa's signature songs, and Ray does it justice:

Less known about Bauduc is the fact that he had a hand in both the design of the swish cymbal for Zildjian, and the Speedking for W. F. Ludwig.

From Jazz Archivist, Volume 4:

An imaginative drummer, who listed Zutty Singleton and Baby Dodds among his favorites, Ray Bauduc collaborated with Avedis Zildjian on a new cymbal design. Their Zildjian Swish Cymbal replaced a Chinese-manufactured cymbal no longer available in the 1930s because of the China-Japan war.
And from Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years:

Impressive credentials that indicate Bauduc's influence extended well beyond the bandstand.

If the music from the video clips above inspires you to learn more about Ray Bauduc's style I recommend Dixieland Generation, which combines the 24 tracks from Riverboat Dandies and Two Beat Generation into a single CD. You will be treated to the full spectrum of Ray Bauduc's playing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lester Young & Billie Holiday: the Krishna and Radha of Jazz

We'll overlook the fact that Lord Krishna played flute instead of tenor sax, but the divine (and platonic) love that is central to the story of Krishna and Radha is similar to the complex and deep relationship that the Prez and Lady Day enjoyed. And, it is also legendary in the history of jazz.

The Prez and Lady Day at their last session together

My intent isn't to delve too deeply into Lester or Billie, but to remind those who know, and introduce those who don't, to their incredible synergy.

For those who are not familiar, here are a few links to background information that will catch you up:

In addition, there are a few articles about them as a musical unit that are worth reading: Billie and Lester against the world is a touching retrospective by James Maycock, while Marc Myers' Lester Young, Singer gives insights about why Lester and Billie were magic together. However, words cannot convey that magic (or the Krishna and Radha connection) nearly as well as this 1957 session that was to prove to be their last together:

This excellent article, Reunion written by Joe Milazzo sums up that session perfectly.

Billie probably said it better than anyone:

Lester sings with his horn. You listen to him and can almost hear the words. People think he's so cocky and secure, but you can hurt his feelings in two seconds. I know, because I found out once that I had. from Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday and William Duffy

On their first meeting, in Lester's own words:

As for their estrangement prior to this session, Donald Clarke alludes to the cause in Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon:
In early 1951, Lady met Lester Young in Philadelphia, and thereafter did not see him for three years, as she wallowed in drugs and he withdrew in alcohol, each seeking release from several kinds of pain ... at the Newport 1954 reunion, Lester Young had refused to play with her. Gerry Mulligan did and Down Beat magazine hinted that Mulligan's baritone sax had stung Lester into taking his rightful place: He shuffled on stage and once again was part of a Billie presentation. They later embraced in the dressing room and the feud was over.
Another book that covers much of Lester's and Billie's relationship is Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester "Pres" Young, which is essential reading for any Lester Young fan. You can read an interview with the author, Douglas Henry Daniels, as well as excerpts from the book on this page.

Before recommending albums that showcase the Prez and Lady Day I'll add a few of my favorites from Youtube for your enjoyment:

Recommended listening: The aptly titled, A Musical Romance is one of my favorites, while a more comprehensive, 2 CD set titled Complete Recordings, features Lester and Billie on 42 tracks. It just doesn't get any better.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Norman Granz: An Angel in Disguise

In my earlier post about Granz I focused on two movies he helped to produce: Improvisation and Jammin' the Blues (which is also included in the 2-DVD Improvisation set.)

Since that post I have been digging deeper into Granz' accomplishments and have come away in awe.

If he never produced a single movie he would have still left behind a body of recorded work that, in my opinion, is a national treasure. Music aside, what made him an angel in disguise were his moral and physical courage when it came to fighting segregation, his willingness to record artists because of their art when it made no business sense to do so, and his staunch insistence on paying equal wages (above the standard for the day, by the way) for white and black artists.

If you are young you may not understand my statement regarding physical courage. Back in the 1940s and 1950s Granz refused to play to segregated audiences or at venues that denied artists full use of facilities based on skin color. During those times that was a dangerous stance. It's one thing to publicly espouse those views from a remote office, and quite another to hold one's ground in a face-to-face confrontation in the US South. Granz did that at a time when lynchings were still too common, and such an act required the utmost in moral and physical courage. The following story, from this source, speaks volumes:

Oscar Peterson recounted how Granz once continued to insist that white cabdrivers take his black artists as customers even while a policeman was pointing a loaded pistol at his stomach from close range (Granz won).

Ella Fitzgerald was among the artists who Granz rescued from fading into obscurity and irrelevance, while countless other artists were given career boosts through Granz' Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) tours, and his unyielding insistence that they be recorded when conventional business wisdom would have dictated otherwise.

The best way to know and understand Granz is via this BBC Radio 2 program that was broadcast in eighteen segments starting in December 2003. Here is the opening show:

The entire series, comprising nearly three hours, can be watched on this Youtube playlist

Augmenting this material is a two piece Les Tomkins interview with Granz conducted between 1966 and 1967: Part I, and the concluding Part II.

I have compiled some of the more famous works produced by Granz in this list, however, two that truly showcase his contributions are The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions, and a box set titled The Complete Jazz At The Philharmonic On Verve: 1944-1949. Both sets document some of the most important live sessions recorded in jazz history. Interestingly, most of the performances on the Classic Drummer and Legends of Jazz Drumming videos come from concerts that Granz promoted and produced.

I hope you come away with the same appreciation for this remarkable man as I have. His memory deserves to be preserved.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dave Tough's Advanced Paradiddle Exercises

Thanks to Todd Reid this rare copy is available for download in PDF format. According to Todd there are three known copies in libraries, so enjoy this piece of history.

For more about Dave Tough see my previous entry.

Another piece of historical trivia is contained in these two articles, Dave Tough's proclamation that Dixieland is dead and a scathing rebuttal in a follow-on piece by Eddie Condon proclaiming otherwise.

Dave Tough

Alcoholic ... intellectual ... one of the greatest drummers ever born. Those words sum up Dave Tough, and only scratch the surface when describing this complex man with God-given talent and a life cut short by his own vices.

I was planning to add to World's Greatest Drummers: My Short List by giving Dave Tough the number four slot. In researching material I immediately turned to my favorite resource, Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years. This great book devotes 39 pages to Dave, which provided me with ample background. When I went looking for secondary material I stumbled across what I consider to be the definitive source of material about Dave, and there is little I can add to it: Steve Cerra's excellent article titled, Davy Tough: 1908 -1948.

Mr. Cerra's blog, Jazz Profiles, is one which I either frequently visit on purpose to catch up on what he's writing about, or is at the top of the list when I am researching some of my favorite drummers. His articles are well researched, and always provide his personal perspective. He truly gets inside the drummers or music about which he writes, and I have always come away with insights and facts that I would not have otherwise known.

Although I have little to add to Cerra's article or the excellent background material and personal anecdotes of some famous drummers and musicians contained in Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years, I do have some personal perspectives to add regarding why Tough should be on the short list of the world's greatest drummers. First, the man could drive a band. Not just drive it, but swing it. His playing inspired his fellow musicians to perform at their best. In the video, Legends of Jazz Drumming, Louie Bellson related that one night while playing Apple Honey the saxophone player was so driven by Tough's groove that he played thirty choruses before he finally stopped, put his instrument down, and proclaimed he was in heaven. Few drummers can pull that off.

Another thing that draws me to Tough is he never took solos - he was focused on the groove and supporting the band. Woody Herman said it best:

A giant rhythm player! With the least amount of ‘chops,’ Dave inspired a whole big screamin’ band with his subtleties and strong feeling for time. And he was probably the most gentle, the kindest, one of the grooviest cats you’d ever want to know.
Thus Tough's approach to drumming has so influenced me that I consciously avoid fills unless they truly fit what the musicians are doing, and I eschew solos for the same reason. Not that I don't practice those things. I feel that I need to be prepared when they are called for, but I have learned to listen to what the musicians are doing and support them, in large part thanks to Dave Tough's playing as my imspiration.

The best way to understand what Tough did behind a band is to listen to him. I selected this performance because it is musically beautiful, and also because it will give you insights into Tough's playing. Notice that he in under the music and supporting each musician as they solo. His drumming stands out by not standing out. He was there to make those musicians play their best and to provide the pulse and groove to make the song sound the best:

Here is a rare clip as well:

Eccentric Rag-Condon
by boberwig

Loren Schoenberg's interview of Mel from 1989 is also invaluable to understanding Dave Tough as a musician:

Before closing this piece on who I consider to be the fourth greatest drummer ever born, I have a few recommendations for anyone who wants to learn more about the man or hear the music he played. First, do visit Steve Cerra's excellent article, Davy Tough: 1908 -1948. Second, if you want to study Tough's style listen carefully to Woody Herman's The V-Disc Years 1944-46, Vol. 1 & 2. You can also hear Dave Tough (and many more drummers) on the 4-CD set titled, Engine Room: History of Jazz Drumming.