Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nat Gonella: A Real Gone Gonella

Louis Armstrong's influence on music and musicians was immense. He was exceedingly popular in the British Isles as well in Europe and the States. One of his greatest British disciples was the talented trumpeter/vocalist Nat Gonella.

Nat took his own great talents as a trumpeter and vocalist and used Pops as basis for his style. He wasn't an Armstrong imitater, but always had the spirit of Pops in his playing and singing. This post will celebrate his story and talents.

Like Louis, Nat came from poor beginnings, being born in the Bow section of London on March 7, 1908. He learned trumpet in grade school and progressed to lead cornet in the school's brass band. Despite a severe case of glandular fever, by age 15 he had left school and was working as a professional musician. His first band was led by impresario Archie Pitt, the Busby Boys. In 1927 Nat heard Louis' Wild Man Blues and he was hooked-he became a lifelong fan and eventual friend of Pops.

Nat had a pure almost classical type of trumpet sound , however he had a real jazz feel and phrasing to his playing. The Louis influence was evident in his ability to play melodically in the higher register. He also developed his own personal vocal style with a nod to Pops- he had a cute Cockney accent coupled with a slight lisp and was also adept at scatting.

Nat quickly ran the gamut of top English dance bands starting with drummer Bob Dryden in 1928. (Bob would later work in Nat's band) followed by Andy Alexander, Billy Cotton (he made his first records with Cotton) and on to the popular Roy Fox band. Fox, himself a trumpeter was an American who had emmigrated to England. Nat scored a hit in 1931 with Oh. Mo'nah an old folk tune also made popular by Ted Weems. (It would be one of Nat's signature tunes). Pianist/arranger Lew Stone took over the Fox band in 1932 and it became one of England's top bands rivaling Jack Hylton and Ray Noble. Nat became so popular that he was given a band within the band called the Georgians. (Nat had recorded Hoagy Carmichael's Georgia on my Mind with Stone in 1932-it would become his theme song). In 1930 Nat married his first wife Betty, they had one daughter, Natalie.

Nat's first sides as a leader were made for English Decca in Sept. of 1932. Labelled Nat Gonella and his Trumpet, the sides feature Nat's solos and vocals backed by Ray Noble's rhythm section. Noble's popular vocalist Al Bowly plays guitar and is a solid rhythm man. I Heard features nice muted horn byNat, an engaging vocal and some impressive runs on the horn. I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me is played at a slow tempo with a muted chorus and double time passage before the coda. We also hear a bit of single stringing from Bowlly. A nice maiden voyage for Nat.

The sessions of Nov. 1932 and March 1933 produced more delightful sides with a heavy Louis influence. A trumpet, trombone and 3 saxes were added to get more of a Big band sound. When You're Smiling features the saxes along with Nat's vocal and some high register trumpet.obviously inspired by Louis' recording. Rockin' Chair has a nice muted intro and chorus by Nat, his vocal and another double time passage highlighted by glisses and a classic coda ala Louis. Sing (It's Good for You) has a tangy trumpet solo with tricky runs, a nice scat vocal, a bit of Bowlly's guitar and some nice arranged passages, The coda features some nice glisses and octave jumps. That's my Home, another Louis classic has muted horn, vocal with shades of Pops and a lovely solo going down low and using a No place like Home quote.

In 1934 Nat left Stone to form his own Georgians featuring his trumpet and vocals backed by a small combo of saxophone and rhythm. (Occasionally Nat's trumpet playing brother Bruts was added, along with an extra trumpet or sax) .Standout players in the group were reedmen Pat Smuts and Don Barrigo , pianists Monia Liter and Harold Hood (who joined Nat at the age of 16), basist Charlie Winter , drummer Bob Dryden and guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Mesene. The repertoire of the Georgians featured jazz standards, pop tunesof the day and many covers of Louis classics. They have that infectious 1930s small band feel of the Fats Waller, Wingy Manone and Louis Prima groups. Most of the sides were recorded for Parlophone.

There are many highlights from the 1930s Georgians series-here are a few. The Clarence Williams favorite E Flat Blues and Basin St. Blues both have engaging vocals by Nat along with his stirring horn work. The influence of Louis is apparent , but Nat goes his own way. He met Louis in 1932 when Pops toured the Isles , they became fast friends-Pops always referred to Nat as "My Man". Nagasaki would become a Gonella staple, he and the boys give it a swinging ride. Nat puts his own stamp on Tiger Rag but keeps Louis' dialog and high notes intact. For a lovely change of pace , try Ellington's Delta Serenade. The Georgians get that Dukish sound and vocalist Stella Moya impresses. (she would eventually marry Nat). The instumental Wabash Blues has a lovely solo by Nat , some arranged horn passages, a piano solo and closing spot by Nat. Square Face (previously recorded by Wingy Manone) has a tenor lead with muted backgrounds from Nat. Nat does the talking vocal and takes things home with a pure toned chorus and classic coda. Sweet and Hot has a tricky opening ensemble and on Nat's vocal various horn players make cute quotes. Nat goes up high on the out chorus with a semi- symphonic ending. I Want to be Happy (instrumental) gives a good idea of how the band sounded in person. A fast tempo uses a repeated horn passage to bring in all the solos. Nat eggs the guys on-a la Louis and Fats. All the soloists shine and Nat goes from low register to high in his outchoruses. He sounds a bit like the early Louis Prima here.

The 1935-8 period was a golden one for Nat and the Georgians. Along with Nat's standout horn and vocal work, the solos of Pat Smuts and Don Barrigo on sax and clarinet. pianists Monia Liter and Harold Hood and the solid contributions of brother Bruts made these sides so enjoyable.

We'd also like to mention Mr. Rhythm Man from Jan.1935 , an exellent side with some stoptime trumpet, piano, scatting by Nat and a high register finalw with a scat tag. Besides the Louis covers, Nat also recorded many current pop and swing favorites. I'm Gonna Wash my Hands of You (Jan.1935) is a nice minor theme in the style of You Rascal,You with Nat trading his vocal and horn spots with the other soloists. The Larry Clinton hit, The Dipsy Doodle (Jan.1938) fea tures Nat singing with a trio known as the Jackdaws and has a nice piano spot by Hood. Me, Myself and I (Feb.1938) a Billie Holiday favorite has some Harlem-like brass figures, a nice Nat vocal backed by Bruts and a short but sweet spot by Smuts. Now they call it Swing (April 1938), also waxed by Louis Prima highlights Nat's horn trading with piano and tenor and a standout vocal. Someone Stole Gabriel's Horn (Jan.1936) has Nat and the boys singing and some very inspired Louislike horn work, especially in the upper register.(Jack Teagarden and the Dorsey Bros. had previously recorded this title). An interesting session of Feb. 1936 had Nat recording a pre-cursor to Music Minus One. His versions of Tiger Rag and When You're Smiling. accompanied by rhythm section have the flip side open for a soloist to play on. Nat states the melody on each side and takes an exellent jazz solo split up by a piano solo.

In January of 1939, Nat visited the United States. He was a hit visiting and sitting in at Harlem nightspots, including a memorable jam session with Fats Waller. On Jan. 20 he recorded 4 sides for Parlophone with 6 excellent American pros including Benny Carter,alto, Buster Bailey,clarinet and Billy Kyle,piano. On Jeepers Creepers(introduced by Louis), Nat leads the ensembles,takes an engaging vocal complete with Pops-isms and takes the side out up high. The solos by Carter, Bailey and Kyle are first class. A pop tune of the day, Just a Kid named Joe became a regular part of Nat's repertoire. He sings it with great feeling and plays nice trumpet complete with a Loui-ish coda.

Back in England, the Georgians sides continued. The band was getting bigger and the sounds of the swing era were becoming more prevelent. A standout side is Tain't what cha Do(June 1939), made so popular by Trummy Young with the Jimmy Lunceford band. Nat sings it with help from the boys and the horn sections are real solid. Hood's piano and Nat's closing trumpet ride are highlights. Most of the post 1939 sides would be titled The New Georgians, as the band now was at full 12-14 piece size. There were new faces in the band, but Stella Moya continued as female vocalist. In Sept. of 1939, Nat, brother Bruts and pianist Hood were on tour in Holland. The oncoming war resulted in their making a quick trip to Stockholm where they recorded two sides for Odeon backed by Swedish players. Along with Frankie Carle's Sunrise Serenade, Nat cut another of his standbys, It's a Pair of Wings for Me.

The Big Band sound of the New Georgians features a very solid band with capable soloists and Nat's ever-dazzling solos and vocals. Like Louis, Nat was a natural in front of a Big Band. His personality and showmanship add to these sides. Also like Pops, Nat was the "real thing" off stage-a very warm and humorous man. Here are some highlights of their many English Columbia sides of 1939-42.

Along with re-recording staples such as Georgia, It's a Pair of Wings, Oh Mo'nah and Louis' That's my Home, Nat covered many of the current Big Band hits from the States. Tuxedo Junction(Sept.1940) features many of the original Erskine Hawkins' parts. Nat handles the familiar muted passage and adds a nice open chorus along with exellent tenor, alto and a swinging band sound. I Understand (May 1941) a Jimmy Dorsey hit shows the sweet side of the band. Guitarist Roy Dexter handles the vocal and Nat has a nice muted spot. His version of Sunrise Serenade (same date)also impresses with pretty band voicings and muted Gonella. Woodchopper's Ball (Oct. 1940)follows Woody Herman's chart quite faithfully with spots for tenor, clarinet and Nat himself. The Will Bradley Boogie Woogie hit, Beat me Daddy, Eight to the Bar (May 1941) features pianist Norm Stenfalt and some nice scat by Nat. Nat's version of In the Mood (Oct. 1940) is a good one. Besides the familiar Miller riffs, Nat opens and closes with a neat scat passage and lends a solid horn solo. Drummer Johnny Roland also gets some nice fills. Nat and wife/vocalist Stella Moyer also teamed up on some vocals, predating the Louis Prima/Keely Smith routines. If you Were the Only Girl (Feb. 1941) and Yes, my Darling Daughter (May 1941) are standouts. The last title is one of those popular minor/major Jewish melodies that were so popular in the 40s-Nat adds a bit of fralich horn. Other popular swing favorites covered by the New Georgians included Big Noise from Winnetka, Hot Mallets, Sent for you Yesterday, Jumpin' Jive and Johnson Rag.

In 1942, Nat was called into the service. He served with the Pioneers Corps and saw action in Africa. Following the war, he re-formed the New Georgians, but like in the states the Big Band era was coming to a close. He made a brief stab at be-bop then went back to leading a smaller band. By the start of the 50s he was doing a lot of music hall work, teamed with Leon Cortez then later Max Miller. By the end of the war, Nat and Stella had divorced. He met his third wife Dorothy in 1946, they had a very happy marriage until Dorothy's passing in 1996.

With the trad jazz boom of the 50s/60s in England, Nat got back to small group jazz with his Georgia Jazz Band, styled after the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. A 1958 session with clarinetist Archie Semple's group shows him in great form on trumpet and vocals. Semple was a devotee of Edmond Hall and his band gives Nat great support. He takes some fine vocals including a duet with Beryl Bryden on Ma,He's Makin' Eyes at Me. Nat's horn work is solid as ever on such standbys as Confessin' , Dinah, All ofMe, Ain't Misbehavin', Who's Sorry Now, I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles and The Blues. He also made a session with his own band in 1960.(not available for review). Nat also appeared on the British version of This is Your Life. He didn't seem to reep the rewards of the trad boom like Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk, Chris Barber et al., perhaps the audience was more into the aforementioned youthful bands. Nevertheless, Nat was back playing his kind of jazz and sounding as great as ever.

In 1961 Nat made an excellent lp for EMI titled The Nat Gonella Story. The album was similar to Louis' Musical Autobiography on Decca. Nat took 14 of his landmark tunes and like Pops added his own colorful narration before each selection. (that's where we got the Gone Gonella line from). Nat was backed by a sextet for the Georgians-type tunes and a great studio big band including some of the top British players such as Tony Coe, Don Lusher, Phil Seaman , Jim Skidmore, Joe Temperly and Lennie Bush. The staples such as Georgia, Oh Mo'nah, Pair of Wings, Nagasaki and Kid named Joe are all there. Nat includes a great sextet version of Wild Man Blues to honor his introduction to Louis. Other favorites such as Bessie Couldn't Help It and Miss Otis Regrets from his early dance band days get nice up to date big band backup. Other favorites such as Honeysuckle, Them There Eyes and Stompin' at the Savoy are included. Nat's horn and voice are as stellar as always. This one is well worth searching for.

Nat continued to perform and record thru the 60s. The Beatles had usurped the Trad Boom, but there was still an enthuisiastic audience for jazz in England. Just when Nat was planning a semi-retirement from music he did some appearances and recordings with the Dutch trad band of drummer Ted Easton. Ted featured many visiting American stars such as Bud Freeman, Billy Butterfield, Peanuts Hucko and Ralph Sutton. He made several live recordings with Nat in the early to mid 70s along with a 1975 Christmas album. In 1977 Nat re-recorded his old standby Oh Mo'nah with Easton and it became a surprise hit on the Dutch music charts. This gave Nat a well-deserved career boost. Youtube has an exellent clip from this period of Nat doing Oh Mo'nah with the Easton band. He looks great and sings up a storm along with some nice trumpet fours with Easton's trumpeter Bob Wulffers. (we hope some more clips will surface).

By the 80s Nat and Dorothy had retired to the Gosport section of Hampshire. He stopped playing trumpet but continued to sing with local bands. 1985 saw a biography, Georgia on my Mind by Ron Brown published and a BBC tribute hosted by trumpeters Humphrey Lyttleton and Digby Fairweather with Nat himself contributing. Digby put together a New Georgians tribute band and Nat made many singing appearances with them. Nat lived a happy, comfortable life until his passing on August 6, 1998 at the age of 90.

Nat was a consumate musician who used Louis Armstrong as his model but also put his own talented take on the Satchmo style of trumpeting and singing.Like Louis, he was an inspiration to countless British jazz players. Here's hoping this post will help to keep his spirit alive.

Hip Hip to Brother Nat!

There are many European Gonella CDs available. Amazon and Worlds Records are a good starting point.

Highly recomended are Pavilion/Flapper 9750 by the Georgians of 1935-8 and Empress 804 "Naturally", a collection of the New Georgians Big Band sides.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wally Brown and Alan Carney: B Movie Buffoons

The amazing 1940s success of Abbott and Costello at Universal Studios inspired RKO pictures to create their own Abbott and Costello-like comedy team. Thus was born the team of Wally Brown (1904-61) and Alan Carney (1909-73). RKO had great success with the team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey from 1929-37 (they'll be the subject of a future post) and the Marx Bros. made a one-stop at RKO for Room Service in 1938. RKO was also the home of many short comedies headlined by Leon Erroll and Edgar Kennedy.

Brown and Carney were both ex-vaudevillians who happened to be working at RKO at the time.
Brown took the Abbott part-fast talking straightman who pushed his gullible partner around. Carney, chubby and dumb was the Costello prototype. Though not highly original, they were a decent team. (seeing they were manufactured by the studio). Their films while no classics are fun B pictures with good gags, pretty girls and music. (the perfect wartime anecdote.). This post will take a look at their output. (not all the films were available for review, but we're up for an addedum).

The first B & C comedy was Adventures of a Rookie (1943). This entry treaded on familiar ground as it did the RKO take on Abbott & Costello's Buck Privates. Wally and Alan play a nightclub entertainer and moving man who get drafted into the same unit along with a rich playboy (Richard Martin) whose uncle is the base commander. For some reason in most of the films their names were Jerry Miles(Brown) and Mike Strager (Carney)-not very funny or inventive , but this was RKO, not the Hal Roach Fun Factory. Director Leslie Goodwin helmed many of the RKO shorts

The minute the boys meet, they go into an Abbott & Costello like bit about A and B driving to Chicago. Of course we have the usual induction gags, drill routines and army maneuvers.Along the way the boys go awol, wind up at a party and get quarantined along with their unit. Like in Buck Privates , the boys and their rich buddy redeem themselves and become heroes with a patriotic ending. In one short scene Carney shows off his talent for mimicry, impersonating Edward G. Robinson and Charles Laughton. At a service hospital sequence we meet Claire Carleton , a cute blonde with great comic timing. She worked in a lot of RKO shorts and at Columbia popped up in the 3 Stooges short Fright Night and the Schilling and Lane classic, Two Nuts in a Rut .(see our Schilling and Lane post). She would be back with B & C for two more appearances. John Hamilton (Perry White from Superman) also appears as the base commander). All in all , this was a good introduction to Brown and Carney.

The next B & C entry was a sequel , Rookies in Burma (1943). Although not available for review the boys reprieved their army characters and met up with two USO showgirls , Claire Carleton and Joan Barclay. Most critics feel this is their best comedy, Leslie Goodwin returned as director.In 1944 Wally and Alan teamed up with George Murphy for a remake of the Marx Bros. Room Service. Murphy played Miller(Groucho) , Brown was Binion (Chico) and Carney took the Harpo role of Harry. Also along for the ride were Frank Sinatra, Gloria DeHaven and Adolph Menjou. It was a pleasant remake of the original plus songs.

Next up was the musical comedy Seven Days Ashore (1944). This time the boys are merchant marines who get their leave in San Francisco and get involved in buddy Gordon Oliver's romantic problems -he's trying to balance girlfriend Elaine Shepard along with entertainers Virginia Mayo and Amelita Ward. For some reason the boys are Monty (Wally) and Orval (Alan), guess it had more of an Abbott and Costello ring to it. The boys are paired up with the two showgirls until Gordon straightens things out and we get another patrotic ending with the marines marching out on orders.

There's a lot of music in this film. Marcy McGuire, a cute teenager who RKO was building up sings some songs in a pseudo Judy Garland style. Also along is pianist Freddie Slack and his Band(including clarinetist Barney Bigard) and Freddie"Schnickelfritz" Fisher, a popular Spike Jones style comedy band. (future Jones star George Rock is very prominent). B & C and their dates enjoy the band's rendition of Poor Little Fly. Margaret Dumont makes a cameo as-what else?- a dowager and Claire Carleton has a cute cameo as a harried telephone operator. The boys only get to do a few routines including an Abbott & Costello like bit on oysters and some horseplay on the nightclub phone. All in all, a very entertaining little film, this time produced and directed by John Auer.

The next entry was The Girl Rush (1944) One of the boy's best comedies. This time our heroes(back to Jerry and Mike) are out west in the Gold Rush days getting mixed up with girls and outlaws. Westerns were always a surefire premise for comedy teams. The girls are headed up by vocalist Frances Langford and Barbara Jo Allen (Vera Vague), a popular radio comedieene and star of Columbia shorts. Also aboard was a young Robert Mitchum as a cowboy and Patti Brill from Adventures of a Rookie. The film was directed by Hal Roach veteran Gordon Douglas. The boys get to sing and dance (they were both capable performers) and perform the old vaudeville "shell game" bit,along with a wild stagecoach getaway and a melee in a saloon with Brown,Carney, Mitchum and Co. all in drag fighting the bad guys!

Next up for the funsters was Radio Stars on Parade (1945)-not available for review. This was a rather mediocre showcase for popular radio performers of the day. Our heroes play talent agent managers trying to help vocalist Frances Langford rid herself of gangster Sheldon Leonard. (typecast as always). Along the way the boys get mixed up with Ralph Edwards' Truth or Consequences show. (later a TV favorite). Also featured were Don Wilson, Tony Romano (Bob Hope's USO guitarist) , Skinnay Ennis and his Band, country comic Rufe Davis and the Town Criers vocal group. (the Polk brothers and sisters who sang with Les Brown). Robert Clarke (of the KIng family) also appears and Frances gets to sing two great songs- That Old Black Magic and I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night. (they must have been RKO property , like Columbia they reused footage and songs ad nauseum). From the reviews we have it seems like the boys didn't get enough to do in this one.

The last two films in the series were surefire material for the boys,horror and spook comedy-always a can't miss formula for slapstick comics. First up was Zombies on Broadway (1945)-what a great title! In this film , RKO borrowed from their own horror classic , Val Lewton's I Walked with a Zombie (1943). This time Jerry and Mike are press agents working for gangster Sheldon Leonard (who else?) and promoting his Zombie Hut nightclub. The boys are sent to the island of San Sebastian to bring back a real zombie! The island's zombie expert is Dr. Renault (Bela Lugosi).Bela had been sleepwalking thru most of his roles and this was no exception. Along the way the boys meet stranded entertainer Anne Jeffreys as Jean (a great beauty with vocal talent and comic timing, remember her in Topper?). Anne was an RKO contract player and had been aappearing as Tess Trueheart in the Dick Tracy series. Back from the original is native zombie Darby Jones and calypso singer Sir Lancelot. The boys go thru the usual jungle gags, get captured by Renault and Mike is injected with zombie serum! The trio gat away and back to their boat by joining Mike as zombies! Back at the club Mike comes out of the trance only to have Sheldon get the needle and turn into the star of the show! Before the happy ending Wally winds up getting zombie-fied too.
This is certainly a wild one and the boys rise to the occasion. Anne is a lovely plus-her song Que Chica was used in the RKO Kay Kayser film Playmates( resourceful RKO). The jungle scenes look authentic-they were shot at the Los Angeles Arboretum where Johnny Weissmuller was filming his RKO Tarzan series.Direction was by Gordon Douglas who helmed many of the Hal Roach Our Gang shorts. Certainly one of the best Brown and Carneys.

The last B & C comedy was Genius at Work (1946). This was a remake of a 1937 RKO comedy, Super Sleuth (1937) starring Jack Oakie. It also resembled Abbott and Costello's Who Done It? a bit. Directed by Leslie Goodwins , the boys played radio actors on a popular mystery show. Anne Jeffreys as Ellen is back as the show's writer and their sidekick. Lionel Atwill as Latimer Marsh is a famous criminoligist who turns out to be the "Cobra", a killer on the loose! Bela Lugosi is back in a thanless role as Marsh's butler and henchman. Also along for the ride are two cops , Marc Cramer (Anne's love interest) and veteran serial and shorts actor Ralph Dunn.There are plenty of scare gags at Marsh's house including a chamber of horrors and the boys almost get bumped off on their radio show. The finale has some "high and dizzy" gags-surefire comic stuff when the heroes are teetering on building ledges. Wally gets to do the old "my buddy is dead" crying bit when he thinks Alan has fallen off the ledge. He quickly recovers when he sees Carney hanging on a flagpole! This is a fun little comedy-thriller and a good capper to the series.

After this entry the Brown and Carney series was ended, the studio felt they had exhausted the possibilities. It's too bad the boys were'nt allowed to continue and develop their characters more. They were consumate pros and made the best of the obvious Abbott and Costello cloning.

Wally and Alan continued their separate careers in film and both made the transition to television.Wally popped up a lot on shows such as My 3 Sons, Perry Mason, I Married Joan and Wagon Train. He was also a regular on the George Montgomery western, Cimarron City in 1958. (Claire Carleton was also in the cast. He and Alan were reunited in the Disney classic, The Absent Minded Professor although in sepate roles. He was slated to appear in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (also with Alan) but passed on before shooting started.

Alan kept busy with roles on Jack Benny , Dobie Gillis, Have Gun will Travel and a short lived comedy Take it from Me (1953) starring Jean Carroll. He also became a regular in Disney comedies.The Brown and Carney comedies are not classics but still offer lots of fun and 1940s entertainment to the viewer. AMC ran them for a while , now they're popping up on Turner Movie Classics.Otherwise you might find them on Ebay or in a vintage film catalog.

Till next time- Keep Laughing!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Andy Secrest:Shadowing Bix

This post celebrates the career and music of cornetist Andy Secrest (1907-77) , a very competent jazz and dance band musician who possessed a unique talent, an uncanny ability to sound like his idol, Bix Beiderbecke. This talent brought him into the Paul Whiteman Orchestra at the tender age of 21.

Although he has been unfairly labeled a Bix copier, he managed to carve out a nice career and later develop a mature style of his own. This post will explore that interesting career.

In the 1920s most trumpeters and cornetists were under the spell of Louis Armstrong for obvious reasons. However, Bix Beiderbecke had a large number of musical followers including Jimmy McPartland(who replaced Bix in the Wolverines and came very close to his sound), Sterling Bose, Leo Mc Conville, Bob Mayhew, Chealsea Quealey and Secrest. (to name but a few).

Like Bix, Andy was a midwesterner, born in Muncie,Indiana. From his teen years he worked with various midwest territory bands gaining great experience as a jazzman and dance band musician. He made his recording debut with a Hoagy Carmichael band session for Gennett in Oct. 1927. Hoagy of corse was a great friend of Bix and I'm sure appreciated Andy's Bixian tones.While with a group called the Indiana Royal Peacock Orchestra, he recorded for Victor under the name of Jean Goldkette, who Bix had worked for. This session in Dec. 1927 produced a side Here Comes the Showboat that featured some Bix-like trading between him and Sterling Bose. Secrest did further work for Goldkette in 1928 along with free-lancing. Word of his abilities reached Paul Whiteman who was looking for a temporary replacement for Bix who was rehabbing from his alchohol problems. (This was in Dec. of 1928).

Secrest joined Whiteman in Jan. of 1929. Not only was he a capable jazzman but he was a sure reader and section man, not a strong suit with Bix. Secrest, like many of the aforementioned players, never tried to copy Bix, but were so influenced by him that their sound was very similar to the master's. He didn't have Bix's great harmonic sense or jazz ideas but was a very capable player in the idiom and his Whiteman and Frank Trumbauer Orch. solos have fooled many historians who though it was Bix. (Bix had lost a bit of his luster due to drink and was still capable of producing great solos but sometimes would sound rather ordinary.)

When Bix returned to the Whiteman Orch. in Feb. of 1929, Andy was retained. Whiteman obviously appreciated his talents and wanted to have him in place in case Bix wasn't up to the rigors of the band's schedule. Bix, of course, resumed his work with Frank Trumbauer's recording units, although Tram used Andy too, most likely as a safeguard plus utilizing Secrests' abilities as a leadman. These Trumbauer sessions have caused confusion as to who is playing what, although Bix still had the bulk of the solo spots with Andy filling in here and there. In March and April of 1929, Bix and Andy were on 7 sides by the Trumbauer band. Bix still has the majority of solos but Andy also has some spots and their sounds are both very close at this point.
Baby, Won't You Please Come Home? (4/17/29) has caused the most confusion over the years. We now know that Andy plays lead and the verse and Bix backs Tram's vocal and takes the solo. After the April 30 session Bix dropped out of the Trumbauer sides to conserve his energy for the Whiteman band. Andy would take over the solo duties on the Trumbauer sessions.

Andy's work on the post Bix-Trumbauer(1929-30) sides shows a very capable jazz cornetist. Although not the brilliant improviser that Bix was, he holds his own on sides such as Nobody but You, Shivery Stomp, Turn on the Heat, My Sweeter than Sweet and especially on Hoagy Carmichael's Manhattan Rag. This selection obviously intended for Bix gives Secrest much to do and he rises to the occasion.

Bix continued with Whiteman until Sept. of 1929. He still produced classic solos such as China Boy, Oh! Miss Hannah and Reaching for Someone. After the session of Sept. 13, he returned to Davenport to rehab once again. Bix wouldn't return to Whiteman and Andy assumed the role of cornet soloist in the orchestra.

His work with Whiteman during the 1929-30 period also shows his solid and ever improving solo ability. For years the solos on Nobody's Sweetheart and Great Day were thought to be by Bix. The Great Day solo is very adventurous with some descending phrases and a neat shake, more from the Louis style. Andy also has nice spots on After You've Gone and If I Had a Talking Picture of You. He also appeared with the band in the film King of Jazz (1930); however, he had little to do musically. He continued with Whiteman until 1932. An Eddie Lang session of Oct. 1929 has one of Andy's finest solos on Walkin' the Dog(very Bix-like).

From 1932-3 Andy worked with the popular Ted Weems band. The Weems band of this time played a lot of hot music. At this writing we don't have any recordings from Andy's stay with Weems but hope to do an addendum when we locate some. After some work with Rudy Vallee, Andy drifted into the Hollywood studio scene. His flair for jazz and orchestra experience made him the perfect studio musician. He worked a lot for Victor Young and John Scott Trotter. Ironically, the Trotter association brought him into several Bing Crosby recordings and programs. Bing, of course, was a former Whiteman bandmate. Smarty, recorded with Bing in 1937, shows a more mature Secrest with hints of Bix, Red Nichols and his own tasty touches. On Basin St. Blues with Connee Boswell (1937) Andy gets off a lovely solo with some hints of Louis. (What horn man didn't love Louis?) A Bing version of Aren't You Glad You're You has a solo that sounds like Andy, too. (circa 1942).

Andy also had a short stint with the Ben Pollack band in the spring of 1938. Two Decca sides, After You've Gone and Looking thru the World with Rose Colored Glasses, feature his tasty solo work. Bio. information on Andy is sketchy. We don't know if he married or had a family. We do know that he had a stint in the Coast Guard during WW2. A 1/1/43 Down Beat shows Andy in uniform guesting on Ginny Simms' radio show. (She featured guest service musicians.)

Thanks to good friend and collector Ed Reynolds of Wakefield, Mass. I was able to hear a fascinating recording in the Secrest collection. A Hollywood producer and jazz fan named Boris Rose put together a private session around 1944 or 45. Along with Andy were fellow Hollywood studio pros Joe Yukl, trombone, Peyton LeGere, clarinet, Stan Wrightsman, piano, Ed Scrirerick, bass, and Nick Fatool; drums. The sides recorded were Samandy Stomp (perhaps a play on words for Andy?) and Jive for Jeeves. Samandy has a Jazz Band Ball type feel with Andy's Bix/Nichols-ish horn proudly leading the way. The surprise is Jeeves, a typical riff tune of the 40s. Andy does a cornet-drum duet with Nick right out of the Harry James book. This type of versatility must have made him a very popular studio man. In the fall of 1949 , Andy recorded a session at Capitol co-led by Nappy Lamare(banjo/guitar) and Marvin Ash(piano). Also in the band were Irving Verret(trombone), Eddie Miller(tenor), Country Washburn(tuba/bass) and Zutty Singleton(drums). Andy sounds more into his Red Nichols vein here, especially his proud, strutting lead on Washington and Lee Swing. On How Come You Do Me , he's more bluesy with a nice growl passage. Sweethearts on Parade has some of the Bix touch along with fine leadwork.

In the 50s Andy continued working the Hollywood studio and jazz scene. He popped up on a few of the Gene Norman dixieland festivals. (I believe one of his sessions was recorded by Decca).
By the late 50s he had dropped out of music and was working in real estate. He died in California in 1977. We wish we had more bio. info on Andy but highly recommend Tom Pletcher's In a Myth site devoted to Bix and his associates along with the Bixology Discussion Group. (There are several articles on Andy). Here's hoping this post brings some long overdue attention to a fine jazzman who overcame the Bix-copier tag and produced some wonderful recordings.

I'm sure Bix would approve.

CD- Notes:The 1927 Hoagy session is on Timeless CBC 1011
The post Bix Trumbauer sides and some by Whiteman are on The OLd Masters 107-9 , Frank Trumbauer. Mosaic also has an exellent Bix/Tram/Teagarden set with Andy's Trumbauer sides.
The Basin St. with Bing and Connee Boswell is on Decca Jazz- Bing and some Jazz Friends.
The Whiteman and Trumbauer sides with Bix are all on Bix Restored. (try Amazon). The 1949 Capitol session is part of the Mosaic Records' Capitol Small Group Sessions anthology.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Gene Krupa Story (1959)

Continuing our Hollywood jazz bios, we come to another personal favorite, The Gene Krupa Story. This 1959 Columbia release has the usual Hollywood cliches , unintentional laughs and the most historical gaffes of any of the bios. (Miller, Nichols , Goodman , et al).

However, the film gets high marks for a powerhouse per-formance from Sal Mineo as Gene. A drummer himself, he captures the technique and mannerisms of Gene to a tee. We also benefit from Gene's own soundtrack work and the contributions of Musical Director Leith Stevens and Arranger Heinie Beau. (both worked on The Five Pennies that year).

Gene(1909-73) of course opened the door for drums in jazz as a solo instrument. His great technique, swing and personality made him the perfect benchmark for drummers. (as Louis was to trumpet ,vocals and swing conception).). Gene also led one of the top bands of the swing era. His 1941-2 unit featuring Roy Eldridge and Ania O'Day was one of the era's finest.

The film was produced by Phil Waxman , directed by Don Weis with screenplay by the associate producer Orin Jannings. Mineo's co-star was lovely Susan Kohner. She gave an excellent performance as Ethel Maguire, Gene's girlfriend and first wife. (they were married for 20 years , she passed away in 1955). Susan resembled Natalie Wood a bit and had great chemistry with Sal as the long-suffering ladyfriend. She left acting early to marry menswear mogul John Weitz.

James Darren (of Gidget, Time Tunnell and T.J. Hooker fame) was a talented actor and singer. He plays Gene's buddy trumpeter Eddie Sirota (a fictional character). Susan Oliver plays Dorissa Dinell, a singer with a crush on Gene. (her character is a bit over the top but fun). Celia Lovsky plays Gene's mom and Gavin MacLeod has a small role as Gene's brother, Ted. (a few years before his TV fame). Lawrence Dobkin plays Gene's manager , Speaker Willis. (another fictional character- Gene's real manager was Leonard Gluskin).

Also cast was pianist Bobby Troup as Tommy Dorsey , he looked a bit like Tommy. (in the 5 Pennies he played pianist Artie Schutt). The great drummer Shelly Manne plays Dave Tough. (he played him in the 5 Pennies too). Red Nichols , who gave Gene a lot of work in the early days plays himself. (surprisingly , we see the Red of 1959 with silver hair and crewcut!). For some reason comedian Buddy Lester shows up in a party scene that also features a cameo by Anita O'Day. Gene himself had appeared in the Glenn Miller Story and had a meaty role in the Benny Goodman Story. Apparently budget-consious Columbia didn't make an effort to engage Benny Goodman.

The story opens in Chicago of 1927 as Gene is starting to make a name for himself with local Chicago jazz players. (no mention of the Austin High gang or any real musicians of the day). Gene's parents want him to be a priest (a real part of his life) , but his love for music is too strong. In an early jam session scene we hear a lively version of Royal Garden Blues. Gene has taken over Dave Tough's chair. (Dave was a great Chicago drummer who later played with many of the great Big Bands).

One of the first of many gaffes has Gene and the band at a clambake where Darren sings a very Sinatra-like version of Let There be Love. (very nice, but this is 1927!). At the clambake Gene is pursued by a comely socialite. (Yvonne Craig-later of Batgirl fame). Eddie's girl Ethel starts to fall for Gene and the romance escalates. After the death of Gene's father , he tries the seminary but quickly drifts back into jazz to the regret of his mom. During a speakeasy sequence we get a nice version of Way down Yonder in New Orleans. Gene and Eddie decide to seek their musical fortunes in New York.

At a jazz party Gene gets to sit in with Red Nichols and the Dorsey Bros.(played by actors). The version of Indiana is a good one with nice licks by Gene, Red and Heinie Beau (on the soundtrack). Red is impressed with Gene's work and promises him some work. In the film we see Gene get a pit job in the show Strike Up the Band which Red contracted. We also meet Darissa , a popular singer of the day who initially dislikes Gene then begins an affair with him. (she hangs around as Gene's band vocalist). At this point of the film Gene is briefly introduced to marijuana, soon to be a stumbling block in his career.

A corny but effective scene has Gene playing a club date and receiving a letter from his mother disapproving of his lifestyle. Gene puts the letter on his drum and starts a solo that builds up with the crowd chanting Go, Gene, Go. Gene cries out- Here that, Mama, They're yellin' for your Boy, They approve-- typical Hollywood, but a lot of fun. At this point Speaker Willis enters as Gene's manager and he and Ethel drift apart. A montage scene includes real bands Gene worked with in the early 30s including Bix Beiderbecke, Mal Hallett, Irving Aaronson, Russ Columbo, Buddy Rogers and finally Benny Goodman in 1934. There are no sequences of Gene with the Goodman band.

Next, Gene decides to start his own big band. (This occurred in March of 1938). Gene throws a party and we hear Anita O'Day sing Memories of You. However she doesn't join the Krupa band! Also at this party Bunny Berigan, Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke show up. (Bix had died in 1931!). At the party Gene puffs on a reefer to relax.

The next sequence shows Gene with his big band and is an excellent re-creation of one of his stage shows. During the version of Indiana the band members answer Gene's licks on small tom-toms attached to their bandstands. This was a real Krupa showstopper in the swing years.

Gene is riding high during the swing years but a marijuana possession wrap curtails his ride. (This was a real life low in Gene's career). He has to scrap the band and get legal representation. Darissa, who can help erase the wrap, bails out on Gene. There is a touching scene where Gene receives a call from his Mom offering her support. Gene has to serve a 90 day sentence. The real case got a lot of bad press and hurt Gene's career. In the film we get the usual Hollywood cliches of Gene playing with corny bands and in a strip joint. Ethel comes back into the picture to give Gene her support and suggest he try out with a new band Tommy Dorsey is forming. (In real life Gene made his comeback with Goodman (1943), then joined Dorsey for a while (thru 1944).

Gene met with Dorsey (Troup) who already has Dave Tough on drums. (He was actually with Woody Herman at this point). However, Eddie (conveniently playing with Tommy) suggests Gene be booked as a special guest for Tommy's Paramount Theatre opener. Gene gets mixed reaction from the crowd. We hear chants of Got a Reefer?, Hey Jailbird and Smoke One for Me. On Hawaiian War Chant Gene drops his sticks in mid-solo. Dave Tough gives Gene some support and the two trade passages and Gene recovers to give an electrifying solo getting the crowd yelling Go, Gene, Go! once again as the band seques into Cherokee for a fitting climax.

After a jovial reunion with the musicians backstage, Gene runs after Ethel. This time he's not going to lose her and the film ends on a happy note.

Gene himself left us with a great legacy of recordings and also appeared in many short films, features and TV shows.(Youtube has a large sampling) An interesting sidelight to the film was a Columbia promotional short called Jammin' with Gene in which Sal Mineo meets Gene on the set and trades drum licks with Gene. It's worth searching out on Ebay or Youtube. The Gene Krupa Story was available for years on VHS, has had some DVD distribution, but may be hard to find. (Try Amazon). Verve also issued a soundtrack lp which is long out of print. (again, try Ebay).

Special thanks to a good friend and great drummer, Steve Taddeo for his input. Steve is the keeper of the Krupa flame in New England. Check him out on Youtube under Seacoast Stompers. Despite it's flaws and innacuracies, The Gene Krupa Story offers solid entertainment and great music.

Until next time- Keep Swingin'