Jazz is Not for the Faint of Heart – Scat!

Yve Evans Jazz ArtistAs a singer of Jazz, some would say that “scat” is the ultimate.   Ella Fitzgerald, in the early years, found the band she sang with being downsized to be more affordable to clients. (If you don’t already know…the singer is most often first to go) She memorized some (all) of the horn parts and pulled double duty. The consonants used along with open and closed vowels sounded like the horns in the section she was singing.  This later translated to a few songs and then to that spectacular performance where she forgot the lyric…and reverted to what she knew best…the music.  The era was bebop…and scat was fresh.  It only was part and partial to jazz because it was innovative compared to other singers’ delivery.

But I need not remind you that for ANY jazz singer…scat is not the jazz end all.

Jazz has always been a collaboration of heartbeat, a shout and a wail…humans, in a fleeting moment… attempting creation.

In the 21st century, it appears that the singer wants to mimic the instrument…and the lyric; the essence of the song…falls by the wayside.

Jazz sung and unsung delivers what all the music of the world deliver separately….hope, healing, joy, disdain, revenge, love, purity, flight and knowing.

Why the passion?  Jazz is not for the faint of heart! Jazz is by and for people who are unafraid to explore possibilities.

Yve Evans

Sue Palmer Takes a Look at Musical and Family History

Sue Palmer & Her Motel Swing Orchestra

Sue Palmer & Her Motel Swing Orchestra

“St. Louis Woman…..with all her diamond rings……” Some of my earliest memories are of hearing strains of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” being played by my mother’s very musical family: my Aunt Arlene blowing alto sax, Auntie Sallie’s smoky voice, and Aunt Toot playing the sexy blues on piano.

Sue Palmer Family History of MusicI was lucky enough to have cool musical role models to grow up with. My grandparents, Virgie and P.G.Turner, were born in the late 1880’s, and were both musicians. Virgie taught all her 6 children piano and P.G. was a fiddler who played and called all the square dances in their little town, Chilicothe , Texas. While Grandpa played Turkey in the Straw type tunes, his children were all swing musicians. My mother was the youngest and played drums and percussion. When the family came to town, the primary event, other than eating and drinking, was making music.


Family history photos – Top Left to Right: Sallie, Jerrie now, Gal Band, Jerrie 1945.

It was assumed that everyone would participate, even if it was just to clap at the end of a song. It wasn’t necessary to be good, just to participate. While I was always encouraged to play, my mother did not really want me to be a professional musician. She thought it was a “hard life.” I think part of this was based on her lack of knowledge of the “life,” and how one would make a living.

Sue Palmer Queen of the Boogie Woogie!Perhaps the most professional of all my aunts and uncle (Uncle Douglas played trumpet), was Auntie Arlene. Arlene Turner migrated to California during World War II, and lived in Hollywood, with her girlfriend, singer Sallie Davis. While playing at gangster Mickey Cohen’s Continental Club , her drummer broke her foot, so she needed an emergency drummer. She ended up using Jerrie Thill, who had recently moved there from Iowa. She and Jerrie later both played with the Ada Leonard All Girl Orchestra, and went on to form a quintet, with Sallie Davis and 2 others, and tour the West Coast as The Biltmore Girls. While my aunts retired from the music business in the ’50’s and died over 20 years ago, Jerrie lived to be over 90 and I was lucky enough to meet her before she died . She filled in lots of the details I didn’t know and provided me countless precious pictures.

Growing up in an atmosphere of music appreciation, I have always associated music with the joys of life, the fun of life. My school friends that came over to the house in that period remember it well, as it was unusual. Probably the fact that there were so many women doing it too, was unusual. I learned to be inclusive and open, encouraging everyone to just play, and try it. I have my family to thank for that. “St. Louis woman, with all her store bought hair……”

Sue Palmer Queen of the Boogie Woogie!

Click here to Enter to Win the Party Favorites CD from Sue Palmer and her Motel Swing Orchestra.

Music Invites a Global Journey

Jeff and Anne BarnhartWhen Anne and I first met we could not have been more ill suited for partnership, either personal or professional.  I had learned, and was still plying, my trade as a barroom pianist:  traveling over 1000 miles a week to play my 9 steadies—earning as much back then weekly as on a single well-paying gig now.  During the day, I would lure students at a community music school into the great swamp of jazz.

Anne was teaching a huge parade of classical students at that same school; she remains a gifted pedagogue with a formidable pedigree, having studied with some of the most important flautists on the East Coast, among them Rampal’s most celebrated American protegé, Ransom Wilson.  When we encountered one another it was electrifying “love at first sight” dampened only by the inconvenient presence of her mortician husband (no joke!).  As I chastely waited on the sidelines, Anne’s first marriage ran its course and we became musical and life-partners in 2000.

We immediately set about finding some musical common ground—beginning with ragtime—while expanding each other’s musical abilities; she encouraged me to improve as an accompanist while I bade her dip her toe into the miasma of improvisation.  There are too many influences and experiences to list exhaustively here, so a broad foray into highlights of our musical life will have to suffice.

I Remember Vividly:

  • Our first public performance in the Lodge Dining Room at Sun Valley during the Jamboree; Anne was so scared to have people sitting two feet away from her that she didn’t blink once.
  • Exploring tunes and styles:  Anne has most likely performed more Fats Waller during the last decade then any other flutist in musical history.
  • Our performance of Summertime in Caesarea, Israel in 2008 in front of an audience in lawn chairs 2500 strong; the plethora of frogs in the moat underneath the stage began singing along during the unaccompanied flute introduction to the tune.
  • Traveling to Rwanda in 2010 at the invitation of the Swiss Ambassador to that troubled country to share cultural awareness and appreciation through music.  Here we jammed on everything from Scott Joplin to Jimi Hendrix.

For us, music invites a global journey to teach and learn about one another. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue this adventure.

Jeff & Anne Barnhart

“I Fell in Love with the Trombone”

Jim FryerGeorge Robinson: My Teacher

As a young boy, living in Tennessee (I was six when we moved to Massachusetts), I loved tooting on a toy saxophone, figuring out simple tunes. A couple years later, my big brother and I became fans of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. We bought each album and played them, relentlessly. The albums also merited intense visual inspection, especially the one with the lady covered in whipped cream.

My ambition was to play the trumpet, like my hero. At eight I was too young; band began in fourth grade, and I was still in second. Perhaps I should have had piano lessons before starting on a horn. My Mom is a good classical pianist, and I grew up listening to her play Beethoven and Brahms on her treasured five-foot grand. She taught me the notes on the piano, but I wanted to play a horn!

Mom found a teacher who would see if I was strong enough to play a real horn. We met Mr. Robinson at his front door; he seemed a nice man. His studio was in the half-finished basement. Anything new to an eight-year-old seems strange, and I’m sure I was shy and uncertain of myself, but Mr. Robinson was friendly and my Mom was there. I was excited by the trumpet, but when given the chance to blow into it, trying to buzz my lips as instructed, I could produce no notes. This was crushing. Mr. Robinson consoled me: “Try the trombone, the mouthpiece is bigger, it’s easier to get your first notes.” I fell in love with the trombone and my weekly lessons.

Later on the lessons took place in an upstairs space he began renting in the center of our small town, where he also stored musical supplies for sale; a few years after, in the studio underneath the new music store, which he and his wife opened when he daringly quit his day job (selling office supplies, I recall). The passing of years and my own attempt to make a living and raise a family have made me appreciate what Mr. and Mrs. Robinson accomplished.

Mr. Robinson was a master teacher: jovial, insistent on doing things correctly, teaching mechanics well, and having fun. He was excited to be there, teaching his music. The process of turning dots on a page into a song fascinated me. He spawned several generations of fine trombonists in that little music store studio.

It was hard for him to keep the lesson to the 30 minutes allotted, and so over the course of the afternoon and evening he would run further and further behind schedule. We forgave him this weakness, coming as it did from his generous heart. It could be a long wait: the student scheduled before me, who ought to have been in the studio, sometimes still sat outside the door. I suppose I had my homework or a book with me, and anyway, time seemed more flexible and in greater abundance in those days. When I began teaching I had the same trouble, and it was in remembering Mr. Robinson that I realized I had to be more strict with time.

My mother still claims that I never needed to be reminded to practice; maybe that was generally true. But I was a boy like any other. I remember one particular summer lesson. Mom dropped my horn at the store while running morning errands, and I biked the couple of miles into town later. (I pretty well lived on my bicycle that summer.) After the lesson I set the trombone in the corner of the studio to pick up later. Summer vacation was a miracle: baseball, friends, cookouts, fireflies, and always the bike. The week passed and lesson day came round. I looked for my trombone in its usual places, but it was nowhere to be found. Suddenly I remembered: it was still at Mr. Robinson’s store. All he said when he saw me was, “I kept looking at your horn, wondering when you were coming to get it.” No chastising: he understood.

As a high school senior, I interned at the store, which then became a paid job. I worked in the store for about a year, before going away, first briefly to one school, then another. I know now that the Robinsons might have thought I would keep an interest in the store and my hometown. It was expected that I would attend a fine conservatory for my full training. That didn’t happen. I went in other directions, and drifted away, into a different life.

I last saw Mr. Robinson years later when he was terminally ill. He was quite upset that he wasn’t going to be able to play the horn he had just sent off to be newly lacquered.

In my own teaching I use his techniques, and tell stories about him. The Daily Practice Routine, sound and logical. Important instructions scribbled in large letters on a small lesson notepad: DON’T PUFF CHEEKS! Strength and flexibility exercises, always. For students becoming advanced in the high register, I produce Mr. Robinson’s original handwritten version of “Getting Sentimental Over You,” in Tommy Dorsey’s key, with startling high notes and my own penciled position numbers from when I first figured it out, so long ago. Mr. Robinson said to me, “If you are gonna be a real trombonist, you HAVE to play this.”

I love that the trombone links us to the long trail of history, from mine to Mr. Robinson’s, to Johannes Rochut and his wonderful Melodious Etudes (19th-century Italian arias — Mr. Robinson taught these superbly), Bach Two-Part Inventions and Cello Suites, and all the way back to Orlando di Lasso, more than half a millennium ago. I say to my students as they are going out the door: “You’ve traveled 500 years in the last 45 minutes, bet none of your friends can say that!” Mr. Robinson was my portal to those stories.

George Robinson was born and educated in Worcester, Massachusetts. He graduated from Holy Cross College and went on the road after World War II, the Big Bands still holding sway. He was a consummate lead trombonist with a silky tone and absolute command of his high register: a child of Dorsey, as so many of us are. For several years he was a full-time musician, before settling in the small town of Westboro, where he raised his family and started his music business.

He can be heard on Vaughn Monroe’s 1945 hit, “There, I’ve Said It Again.” After Monroe sings the song so beautifully, the band returns to the bridge, and George’s lovely playing leads the trombone section for four bars. Here’s a link to the recording.

Visit the Robinson Music Store, still spreading George’s joy.

Thanks, George!

Jim Fryer (February 2014)

An Important Slice Of My Musical Life

Bill Allred

After years of wanting to be a professional musician, I finally found myself deeply rooted in the full-time music business. The year was 1972. I was 36 years old. After getting discharged from the Navy in 1958 and the playing part time in my home town of Rock Island, Illinois for quite a few years, I had finally realized my wish of becoming a full-time musician. I was among the 2500 who had auditioned for the Disney Company in Orlando and was one of the 250 who got the job. I was a full-time staff Disney musician. I did it!

I moved to Orlando and joined Disney in 1971, played in the big band, the Marching World Band, the Dixieland group, and did quite an assortment of music jobs around the new Disney property. To me all this was musical heaven. When the incoming act at the Top Of the World dinner show required multiple trombones, I got to sub in the band there. The Hotel band was full of former pros from the big band era, Ray McKinley, then Don Lamond, Gene Traxler, Sam Marowitz and a special guy that was to make a major impact on my musical career, Deane Kincade. Deane had an incredible career with Ray Noble, Tommy Dorsey, Bob Crosby and was staff Orchestrator for the Jackie Gleason Shows.

Dean was great reed player, he played baritone sax in the show band there. He also used his fantastic arranging talents to help Disney with some of their shows. One night after work he said to me: “Man, I sure like the way you play. Have you ever done a jazz festival?” I told him no. I hadn’t. He then said that he had been doing the Manassas Jazz Festival near Washington DC and was sure he could get me on it. I was quite excited and was more excited when I got the call that fall to be on the bill at Manassas. Oh My god, I was thrilled but scared at the same time. I was able to get some time off from my regular Disney job and headed for Manassas. A then huge festival organized by an eccentric CPA and amateur jazz vocalist, Fat Cat McCree.

Playing the Manassas festival was the step that really put me in the jazz business. Without a doubt, I met everyone in the early trad and Swing business and got to play with them. Deane, of course and Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Erwin, Bud Freeman, Kenny Davern, Wallace Davenport (whom I later recorded with) Max Kaminski, Bob Wilber, Eddie Condon, Cliff Leeman, Bob Haggart, Yank Lawson…I could go on and on. These were jazz stars I had only read about. And after my first appearance there, I returned to Manassas for quite a few successive years, got a lot of recording work and was invited to more and more festivals. All of this happened because of a recommendation from the great Deane Kincade. As a matter of fact, when wild Bill Davision later hired me to go on my first European tour with his band in 1979, it was a direct result of my playing a set with him at Manassas that got me the job. I was with Wild Bill for over 10 years.

Years later when Deane’s Kincade’s health took a tragic turn and he was in the hospital, I spent quite a bit of time with him and I always reminded him that it was his recommendation that got me introduced to the real jazz business. He always said that I would have done the same on my own. Believe me, I wouldn’t have. Deane died in 1992. But to this day, I owe him my Jazz career.

by Bill Allred
Bill Allred’s Classic Jazz Band

The First Time –
“It just completely floored me!”

Michael Gray

I still remember the first time I heard Stephane Grappelli on record. I was living in Alaska and having a beer at the University Pub in Fairbanks. The tune was on a Paul Simon record of all places, a simple duo with Paul Simon on acoustic guitar and Stephane on violin. It was called “Hobo’s Blues” and it just completely floored me. The smooth effortless technique, the beautiful tone, that elegant swing…..I could go on and on with ever increasing accolades. Suffice it to say, it was one of those revelatory moments that happen only all too infrequently. My thoughts then are the same as now…WOW!

After leaving home in Philadelphia in 1971 and hitchhiking to Alaska, I had fallen in love with the musical culture of rural Alaska, in particular the string music of the Appalachians that was one of the hallmarks of the social network of a bunch of young kids loosely involved in the Alaskan Back- to- the- Land movement of the early 1970’s. I had just started playing the fiddle and had taught myself some traditional dance tunes and learned as much as I could through osmosis; listening on my battery operated cassette deck to as much “old timey” music as I could get my hands on, going to square dances and watching other fiddlers and just groping and stumbling my way into playing the violin. I learned everything by ear initially as reading music wasn’t really an option…I had no printed music available.

Hearing “Hobo’s Blues” certainly changed that approach. Not immediately though….. that duo recording was so beyond my capabilities that I didn’t know where to start. To begin, Stephane was playing in F, definitely not one of the usual old time fiddle keys of G, D or A. Yikes! That became Question #1, how did he do that? Question #2, that vibrato thing he was doing, it wasn’t classical sounding, it wasn’t non-existent as in an old timey fiddle tune…..how did he do that? It sounded to me then, and still does, like a jazz singer at the end of a vocal phrase, imbuing those phrases with his own personality.

And, as luck would have it, those questions are still there. Forty years later, I still am a perennial student of great soloist’s like Stephane, Joe Venuti and Didier Lockwood and still manage to transcribe a solo of Stephane’s every now and then. So, whenever you get a chance, go have a beer and listen to some music. You never know what might happen.

All the best and see you all in Sun Valley,

Michael Gray