Thursday, January 22, 2009

Scobey and Clancy Raid the Juke Box (1958)

One of my many early jazz heroes was the trumpeter and bandleader Bob Scobey (1916-63). Bob was one of the leading figures in the traditional jazz revival of the 1940s. His work with Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band of California and his own bands consisted of some of the finest examples of this great art form.

Bob was born in Tucumcari, New Mexico on December 9, 1916. His family settled in Stockton, Calif. He learned cornet in grade school and also had a strong interest in chemistry. For a time he thought of a career in science. After high school he played in radio and dance bands in the Bay area.

Bob first joined Lu Watters in 1938 when Lu was leading a conventional dance band. By 1940 Lu had changed over to the Yerba Buena band and the sound of 1920s jazz. Lu, Bob and trombonist Turk Murphy made up one of the most powerful and exciting brass teams in trad jazz. The YBJB brought back much of the great jazz repertoire of the 20s and earlier. As exciting as the band was, they could be very heavy sounding and did not have an easy swing. Bob had spent the war years of 1942-6 playing in a service band around the Bay area. When Bob started his own group in 1949, Alexander's Jazz Band, then the Frisco Jazz Band, he made a swinging, danceable rhythm a priority.

His percussive, booting horn was a perfect lead instrument for his brand of trad jazz and dixie. Like Louis Bob knew how to put a lot of feeling into a modicum of notes. What he lacked in technique, he more than made up for in swing and passion. He was also a sensitive ballad and blues player. Bob's big, throaty sound also reminded one of the great Bunny Berigan.

Bob's merging with singer and banjoist Clancy Hayes (a former YBJB member) was the perfect partnership. Clancy's mellow, easygoing vocals, always sung with great swing and feeling, were a perfect fit for Bob and the band. Clancy knew just about every trad jazz,
vaudeville and folk song, verse and all. He was a consummate entertainer. The band got better and better and more successful with each passing year. They made many great Good Time Jazz albums. This one is a personal favorite of mine.

By 1958 the Scobey band had made Chicago their home base, playing many engagements in the Windy City and Midwest.

Scobey and Clancy Raid the Juke Box is a collection of pop favorites from 1957, sort of a dixieland Hit Parade. As it turned out, two tunes were revivals from the trad jazz repertoire (Yellow Dog Blues and See See Rider).

Along with Bob and Clancy was Pud Brown on clarinet, a popular West Coast reed man, well known for his work with Pete Daily and Kid Ory. He had a great, reedy sound and could get dirty when needed. He played a mean tenor sax, too. Jack Buck, Bob's trombone man since '49 (also a fine pianist) is joined by Doug Skinner for a trombone duo. Bob went with this setup for a few years. On piano is the great Stan Wrightsman, a very busy studio man in Hollywood. Stan had that nice Jess Stacy type approach to piano and had stints with Wingy Manone, Spike Jones, Matty Matlock and Bob Crosby. His solos are a highlight of the album. On tuba and string bass is Bob Short, one of the finest West Coast trad bassists. Bob was a mainstay with Turk Murphy, Lu Watters and the Castle Jazz Band, among others. Dave Black on drums joined Bob in 1956 and stayed to the end. He was a brilliant, swinging player and played with Duke Ellington before joining the Frisco Jazz Band.

Here's our playlist:

Bye Bye Love

The Everly Bros. hit gets a nice Frisco Band ride with the two trombones simulating the brothers and Pud getting in some nice low-register clarinet. Bob boots the whole production along nicely.

Singing the Blues

Not the Bix classic, but a Guy Mitchell charter of '57. This is a perfect vehicle for Clancy's easy-going style with a nice ratio of Bob's percussive horn. Dig Bob's funky fills behind Clancy. They will be many more coming up.

Yellow Dog Blues

New Orleans clarinetist Joe Darensbourg had a surprise hit with this revival of the W.C. Handy classic. Pud gives Joe a respectful nod and Clancy sings all the verses before Bob drives the band home.


One of my all time favorite Scobey solos. This was a hit for Debbie Reynolds from her movie of the same name. Following Stan's pretty intro, Bob shows that uncanny ability to "sing" the melody with so much feeling that it touches you deeply. Pud noodles for a half-chorus with nice fills by Stan before Bob closes out this lovely reading.

These albums were made for dancing and this is a perfect slow one for you and your girl.

Round and Round

A Perry Como hit gets a nice Scobey bounce with some neat rounds by the horns. Clancy's peppy vocal and a swinging out chorus are highlights.

All Shook Up

The King, Elvis, gets a Frisco salute. Clancy sings his own take on the King's lyrics with Bob and the boys playing the Jordanaires. Things get swinging in the second chorus with Stan adding some nice boogie woogie. This is my kind of rock and roll.

Love Letters in the Sand

Another revival of an earlier hit, this time by Pat Boone. Bob gives us the rarely heard verse, then swings us along with Clancy vocalizing, some Pud clarinet and a vocal reprise with Bob riding the band home.


Originally a calypso by Terry Gillykson, this clever arrangement transforms the melody into the Maryland, My Maryland / March of the Bob Cats theme. Dave Black's great drumming and the two bones give us that parade feel. Bob's horn swings the parade and as the liner notes stated, this could be dubbed Marianne, my Marianne. One of Bob's most clever arrangements.

See See Rider

Ma Rainey's classic blues was revived in 1957 by Chuck Willis of the "stroll" dance craze. Clancy sings the verse and familiar chorus with Bob and the boys swinging over an R&B beat.

So Rare

Another revival of a 1930s hit, Jimmy Dorsey brought this great tune back but passed on while it hit the charts. We get another tasty verse by Bob followed by a tender reading of the chorus with Stan doing some pretty piano. Another great Scobey showcase and dance tempo.

Blueberry Hill

Originally a 1940 Gene Autry hit Fats Domino had the biggie in 1957. We all loved Louis' own hit version from '49. Bob belts out the lead with more of that R&B rhythm and Clancy gives us a mellow vocal, before Bob takes us home.

Don't Forbid Me

This was another Pat Boone hit and gets a swinging Scobey instrumental version. More nice Wrightsman piano, the two bones and Pud, before Bob marches us home.

All of Bob's Good Time Jazz albums have that perfect combination of swing, bounce and passion within the framework of traditional jazz. In 1957 he moved over to RCA for more great albums including a tremendous pairing with Bing Crosby, Bing with a Beat. We''ll cover that one on a future post. (It's available on CD).

Bob left us too early in 1963 after bravely battling cancer. He was only 46 years old. The Good Time Jazz sides were reissued on CD by Fantasy, but I understand they have been cut out. You can try ebay or the used section of a good disc store. George Buck issued Bob's Ragtime sessions from 1956 on his Jazzology label. You could also drop a line to Bob's widow, Jan, at Jan, a lovely singer, kept Bob's band going in the 60s and even learned to play his Martin trumpet. I'm sure she still has some of Bob's material available.

I can't think of a better tribute than to note that Bob's lovely recording of Strange Blues (GTJ L 12006) has been the closing theme of Ray Smith's wonderful PBS radio series, The Jazz Decades
for over 50 years!

As long as there is an audience for good, swinging traditional jazz, we'll still be hearing Bob's great horn and band!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pete Kelly's Blues (1955)

It was only a matter of time before we did a post on the namesake of this blog. The film Pete Kelly's Blues is a personal favorite, along with the beautiful title song and the various musical offshoots of Pete Kelly, all involving the great trumpet of Dick Cathcart (see my Cathcart post).

The many "Hollywood" music bios and jazz films are guilty pleasures of me and many of my fellow musicians. Despite their flaws, historic inaccuracies and unintentionally laughable dialog, the music always saves the day.

The creator and star/director of the film was Jack Webb of Dragnet fame. Jack was a big jazz fan and earlier in 1951 had a Pete Kelly's Blues radio series. The radio show and movie (and subsequent TV series) revolved around Pete, a 1920's jazz cornetist working at the 17 Cherry St. Club in Kansas City with his band, the Big 7. Along the way Pete has many adventures with musicians, flappers and gangsters, all part of the Roaring 20s scene. Each one of the various versions of Pete featured Dick Cathcart with the band of Matty Matlock on clarinet and handling the arrangements, Moe Schneider, trombone, Ray Sherman, piano, George Van Eps, guitar, Jud DeNault, bass and Nick Fatool, drums. All of the players were big band veterans and experts in the Dixieland style. (Many were Bob Crosby veterans, especially Matlock and Miller, both longtime Crosbyites).

In 1955 Jack Webb brought his radio play to the big screen and the
Warner Brothers Studio. Dick, Matty and the boys were back. Jack did the directing and Richard L. Breen (an Academy Award winner and frequent collaborator of Billy Wilder) handled the screenplay. He had written a lot of Jack's Dragnet shows, hence that classic "just the facts" clipped dialog, so central to Webb productions.

Jack assembled an excellent and varied cast. Future cops Martin Milner (Adam 12) as drummer Joey Firestone and Lee Marvin (M Squad) as clarinetist Al Gannaway were aboard. Edmond O'Brien played the nasty racketeer, Fran McHarg. Janet Leigh was the lovely flapper socialite, Ivy Conrad, who falls for Pete. Two of our greatest female jazz singers have strong roles. Ella Fitzgerald plays Maggie Jackson, singer at a musicians' club who befriends Pete. Peggy Lee gave a great dramatic performance as the alcoholic singer, Rose Hopkins. She was deservedly nominated for an academy award. Also making a small appearances was Jayne Mansfield as a nightclub cigarette girl, hardly recognizable as a brunette. Firehouse Five banjoist, Harper Goff, who was the film's production designer, got in a cameo with banjo. Silent comic, Snub Pollard, has some scenes as a waiter and Than Wyenn as Rudy Shulak, the tightwad owner of the club is great. (He reprised the role on the television version). The biggest surprise is Andy Devine as a tough, no nonsense cop out to get McHarg. There is no trace of his "cowboy sidekick" persona.

Band members Matty Matlock and George VanEps and Ray Sherman can be seen onscreen as Big 7 members. The basic plot of the film involves Pete dealing with McHarg who tries to get a piece of the band, and the resulting turmoil and band wars. Mixed in is Pete's romance with Ivy and the tragic story of Rose, who McHarg tries to match with Kelly's band for one last chance at stardom. Along the way we get vignettes of other band members and characters who populate the club. The final shootout at the Everglade Ballroom with Pete against McHarg and Co. is right out of Dragnet. (I guess Pete learned to shoot in World War I. )

The prologue that opens the film is a beautiful recreation of a New Orleans funeral. Filmed at the Fleming Plantation in Lafitte,Louisiana we hear Teddy Buckner on cornet along with the Israelite Spiritual Chorus performing
Didn't He Ramble. The service is for an old jazzman whose cornet finds it's way to Pete Kelly.

The film's sets and atmosphere are perfect, everything has the right look. Any shortcomings are more than made up for by the music. The Big 7 sequences are all expertly played with great contributions from Cathcart, Matlock, Miller and Co. Old favorites such as Smiles,What can I say Dear, Bye Bye Blackbird and Breezin' along with the Breeze are played by the Big 7. Even the background music has nice moments, including the society
Tuxedo Band heard at Ivy's party. Ella and Peggy's vocals are superb, both were at the top of their game and Peggy never looked lovelier. The Pete/Ivy relationship is nicely played. As Pete starts to fall for the lovely Ivy, he starts to loosen up a bit and even cracks a smile or two (unusual for the taciturn Webb). Janet Leigh as Ivy gets to sing an old favorite, I'm Gonna meet my Sweetie Now (recorded by Jean Goldkette with Bix).

About the music: the lovely title theme was written by veteran film composer, Ray Heindorf, and the great lyricist Sammy Cahn. The haunting, bluesy melody is perfect for Cathcart's mellow, Bix-like horn. Ella also gets to sing the lyrics during a scene when Pete comes to her club for help. The old Ted Fiorito favorite,
I Never Knew, gets a new take as the love theme for Pete and Ivy. They dance to it several times, especially charming is the player piano rendition at the ballroom. During Peggy's "audition" with the band she gets to sing a pretty Arthur Hamilton tune, He Needs Me.(Hamilton was a frequent contributor to the radio show) .This didn't go anywhere: too bad! Eddie Miller can be heard with some pretty noodling, and the favorite, Sugar. Later on she does a bit of Somebody Loves Me and in a touching scene Sing a Rainbow. At this point Rose is in an insane asylum. Peggy deserved her Oscar nomination. It's too bad she didn't get more acting offers. Ella encores a great Hard Hearted Hannah and scats some blues. I have to mention some of the classic dialog. Here are some of my favorites. Jack's opening, after playing a band set: If you're looking for a new way to grow old, this is the place to come.

When drummer Joey Firestone is gunned down in the alley by McHarg's boys, here's Pete's response: Somebody bring Joey in-it's rainin' on him. Here's a trumpet player's delight. When Ivy notices Pete's cute parakeet, he retorts: I may have to eat that bird someday, but in the meantime, he can hit a high G above C, so I keep him around.

Here's a Joe Friday special. When asked about using Tin Roof Blues on a record date, Pete's response is, "It'll Keep!" And I love the reference to Pete playing with a heavy mute during his troubles with the gangsters. When Pete informs his bass man that a new sideman had worked with the Mound City Blue Blowers, the bassist's reply is, "If he worked for them, it was carrying beer!"

Jack did his homework, too. Early in the film the young Jayne Mansfield asks Pete if he's going to catch Bennie Moten at The Plantation. Pete's answer, "We'll see. Pack a lunch!" Clarinetist Al mentions that Pete should try out for the Goldkette band. When Pete is told Bix is in the band, his comeback is, "I'm safer here!"

The popularity of the movie and the
Big 7's music spawned quite a few albums. First up was the RCA LP Pete Kelly's Blues with most of the featured songs played by the band along with Jack's unique narrative! This made it to CD on Collector's Choice. Another RCA LP, Pete Kelly at Home, featured some unusual tunes such as Mandy, Fight On, Sweet Eloise, Old Pigeon Toed Joe and Out of Nowhere. A Capitol EP featured the band with Louisiana, Roses of Picardy, Bflat Blues and Till we Meet Again. Dick's lovely, Bix-like solo on Louisiana was singled out by several critics. At the same time a Columbia album featured the Big 7 on eight tunes from the film and Ray Heindorf conducting a large studio orchestra on four selections. A later LP, Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down (1958) on Warner Bros., has a unique concept of blues themes titled by different colors.

In 1959 Pete Kelly's Blues made the transition to television as Jack Webb produced a weekly series during the spring and summer of that year. Thirteen episodes were filmed. This time Jack gave the lead to William Reynolds, later of the F.B.I. Also featured was the great singer, Connee Boswell, as Savannah Brown, a take-off on the Ella character. Than Wyenn was back as the 17 Cherry St. Club's
owner, this time as George Lupo. Phil Gordon played Fred, Pete's pianist and buddy. The stories revolved around the musicians' problems, missing persons, murder and various non-musical conflicts. Dick, Matty and the band were back to provide music and Warner Bros. put out a nice LP of music featured in the series. I still have my old copy! The show hasn't made it to DVD yet, but there is still hope for a private collection on Ebay or YouTube.

After the TV run, Dick, Matty and most of the band occasionally played as the
Big 7 at California clubs and jazz festivals. Sad to say, most of the band members have passed. I believe Ray Sherman is still active. He put out some nice sides on the Arbors label.

On future posts we'll survey the various Hollywood bios. (Goodman, Miller, Krupa, The Five Pennies) and some of the jazz oriented films such as Young Man with a Horn, Second Chorus, A Man called Adam and Orchestra Wives.

Pete Kelly's Blues can be enjoyed for it's great musical value, for it's camp and fun dialog or just as great 1950s movie entertainment. Whatever your preference is, you're in for a great show. The film is available on aWarner Bros. DVD.

Wail on, Pete!