Captain John Handy's New Orleans All-Star Band-2nd Half
AMG EXPERT REVIEW - U. S. A.
[JCCD-3073] Although born in Mississippi, Captain John Handy was as New
Orleans traditional jazz as they come. Along with his brothers, he worked
in that city with his Louisiana Shakers. Like most traditional jazz reedmen,
Handy was trained on the clarinet, but later switched to sax on which
he was a pioneer. Given the snobbish attitude toward that instrument by
too many traditional jazz performers and listeners, it was an uphill battle
for Handy to get accepted into the fraternity. But talent overcame prejudice
and obdurateness and for years he was a leading practitioner of the curved
horn in a traditional jazz context. This CD is one of a two volume set
of a concert Handy and his jazz band gave before The Connecticut Traditional
Jazz Club in 1970, about 6 months before he passed on. With him he had
his long time playing companion, trumpeter and vocalist Punch Miller who
was in especially good form on such tunes as "Exactly Like You".
Andrew Morgan, whose clarinet and rough and ready vocalizing were the
highlights of a swinging "St. Louis Blues" and "On the
Sunny Side of the Street". But it was Handy on his alto that drove
the group. The man played in a seamless way as if he never needed a breath.
Maybe Charlie Parker listened to some of his albums during his formative
years. A relatively youngish Dick Wellstood - - at least compared to the
ages of the others on the bandstand - - was on piano. It was kind of a
passing of the torch from the older generation of trad jazz players to
one from a newer generation. The members of the CTJC were treated to almost
three hours of exciting heart pumping music that May evening in 1970 by
a pathfinder of the genre. Recommended.
[JCCD-3074] This is the second half of a long concert John Handy's New
Orleans All-Star Jazz Band gave in 1970 at the Connecticut Traditional
Jazz Club. Highlights of the second half of the concert included Punch
Miller's vocal on "Bourbon Street Parade" where he takes on
the gruff voice of Louis Armstrong. Handy's pioneering traditional jazz
alto sax, light and swinging, is heard to its best advantage on such cuts
as "Bill Bailey" and "Joe Avery's Piece". There's
a particularly woeful version of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee"
with the Captain's alto taking on a very sweet tone with a heavy vibrato
and Andrew Morgan's vocals almost bringing tears to one's eyes. And, of
course, the whole affair ends with a marching around the concert hall,
a syncopating, scintillating rendition of the national anthem of traditional
jazz, "When the Saints Go Marching in". Along with the CD of
the first half of this concert this two album set offers more than two
hours of some of the best traditional jazz being played in those late
days of the genre. In addition to the exceptional performances, the sound
is excellent. Recommended.
- Dave Nathan
JazzGazzette.com - Internet Magazine
I had heard some of these Connecticut Traditional Jazz Club concerts
at the home of Pete Campbell in Woodbury, CT. and ever since those days
I've been looking forward to have them in my collection. Those were still
the golden days of New Orleans jazz with many of the original musicians
still alive and kicking. Today in 2003, it is wonderful to have more than
two unissued hours of music by some of New Orleans' finest musicians.
Listening to this CD I realised this was a quite sophisticated bunch of
performers. Looking at their careers it was obvious they were. Trumpet
player Ernest "Punch" Miller had a long and busy career including
many years in Chicago and New York before he returned to New Orleans late
1956. In the twenties he was considered as serious competition to Louis
Armstrong. Later on he played in carnival shows, circus bands and even
rock 'n' roll revues. After a serious illness in 1959 he became very active
again in his native city. He was leading his own band at Preservation
Hall and toured Japan with George Lewis. He was almost 76 at the time
of this recording, but still in superb shape. He died at the end of the
following year. His playing at this concert still featured the long, flowing
lines so typical for him and his singing was exciting and cheerful.
On trombone was Wendell Eugene's older brother Homer born in 1914. Whenever
Wendell, now 79 and still active in New Orleans, is complimented for his
playing his answer is: "You should have heard my brother Homer."
Homer not only played trombone, but banjo, guitar and saxophone as well.
As far as I know he never recorded on the sax, but he can be heard on
amplified guitar at the famous Barnes/Bocage Big Five session of 1954
and on banjo at a Kid Howard Icon session. Like Louis Nelson he also played
trombone with a big band (Lucky Millinder) and recorded on this instrument
with a.o. Peter Bocage's Creole Serenaders (Riverside and Mono) and with
Albert "Papa" French. On my first trip to New Orleans in 1977
I heard him with Kid Thomas at Preservation Hall and was impressed by
his elegant but forceful playing. Homer was a real dandy with his latin-lover
looks and his colourful dressing. In contrast with his colleagues at the
Hall who mostly wore black suits, Homer came one day in an outfit of different
shades of green, the next day in different shades of red and pink, very
colourful but also very tasteful. When I returned to the city the next
year I found out he had suffered a stroke and was unable to play. He was
still in good spirits and later on I interviewed him and wrote a double
biographical article on him and his brother Wendell which appeared in
Footnote and may be one day reprinted in this magazine. His playing on
this CD shows technical facility and imagination. He can be heard soloing
on banjo on "Blue Skies". Because of his relatively few recordings
this addition to his discography is more than welcome!
On tenor sax and clarinet we have Andrew Morgan (1903-1972) of the famous
Sam Morgan Band that recorded those 8 exciting sides for Columbia in 1927.
Together with alto sax player Earl Fouché he proved once and for
all at this historical session that there WAS room for saxophones in a
New Orleans band. At the end of his career he was a regular at Preservation
Hall. He toured and recorded with Barry Martyn in Europe. At this concert
in Connecticut he is heard mostly on tenor sax. Unlike Manny Paul's his
vigorous playing shows influences of the early Coleman Hawkins. His beautiful
low register clarinet can be heard on "Just A Closer Walk With Thee",
which he also sings with great feeling. Andrew Morgan too wasn't recorded
as often as he deserved. These two hours of fine music are an important
addition to his recorded legacy.
I quote my good friend Brian Wood, who says in his informative liner notes
to these CDs: "What can be said about Capt. John Handy that hasn't
been said before?" This remarkable musician's playing fitted different
kinds of music without him changing his own very personal style. He was
as well at home in a mainstream group (remember one of his two RCA Victor
LPs in company of a bunch of swing musicians!), a rhythm & blues outfit
(the Louisiana Shakers) as in a traditional New Orleans style band. He
stood model for a lot of today's New Orleans style saxophone players.
Listening to him on these CDs, the story that he had an influence on Earl
Bostic's style looks completely true to me. Captain John died in January
1971, so this might be his last recording. Watch out for how he incorporates
"The Stars And Stripes Forever" in his solo on "Tiger Rag"!
Listen, on the other hand, to his delicate playing on the dirge version
of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee".
Pianist Dick Wellstood is the only musician on this session not coming
from New Orleans. He was born in Connecticut and started his musical career
with Bob Wilber's Wildcats with whom he recorded with Sidney Bechet. He
doesn't play many solos at this concert and I presume that was his own
choice. His work behind the others is exemplary. He follows every move
the soloist makes. He solos with great effect on "Shuffle Boogie"
and "The Saints".
On bass we have Captain John's brother Sylvester, another one who didn't
record too much. The reason for this has nothing to do with the quality
of his playing, but most probably more with him being a non-union musician.
Barry Martyn recorded him with his own band for his Mono label. Those
who want to hear more of him should listen to the session on Mono or to
one of the first Icon sessions, the one with Punch Miller and John Handy
(on clarinet!), now on American Music CD AMCD-52 and AMCD-67 respectively.
Least recorded of all was drummer Lester Alexis. His simple but effective
playing can be heard clearly throughout this concert. At a private party
in New Orleans, where the expected drum kit hadn't shown up, I heard him
play a complete and exciting drum part on only snare and bass drum. Lester
(born 1898) was the younger brother of trumpet player and bass player
A lot of the material played at this concert belongs to the category "old
war horses", but let's not forget these musicians were the ones who
established this repertory. Nevertheless there are some unexpected items
turning up like "Nagasaki", "Perdido" (a composition
by Ellington trombonist Juan Tizol), Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies"
and "Tuck Me To Sleep" a favourite of Punch Miller.These two
CD's not only contain historical important material, but are a joy to
listen to from start to finish.
- Marcel Joly
Cadence Magazine - U. S. A.
These two compact discs represent music heard one evening during the
spring of 1970. This collective of New Orleans stalwarts, in addition
to a young Dick Wellstood, played before an audience of the Connecticut
Traditional Jazz Club and share over two hours worth of Traditional Jazz
with the loyalists. To be sure, the presentation of this music here, appearing
for the first time, will likely serve as a bit of a dream for revivalists.
After all, at the time of this recording, many of the players here were
in their seventies and while some are clearly past their prime, these
musicians still show those whip-persnappers a thing or two (unfortunately,
both Handy and Miller passed away a year after these recordings). As a
whole, this concert is guaranteed to bring a smile to many faces, as good
humor and fun abounds. This is a rousing, freewheeling concert presenting
rollicking versions of many great Trad Jazz standards, and yes, even "When
The Saints Go Marching In" is included.
Captain John Handy is notable for his choice of instrument, the alto saxophone.
It is not generally one heard in Trad Jazz circles and even more interesting
is his tone. He employs a soulful, R&B sound that reveals that he
is influenced by more
"modern" approaches. His wide vibrato technique also suggests
ties with the great Sidney Bechet (although a very different player, Johnny
Hodges might be a starting point of reference for the Bechet connection).
Handy originally started out on the clarinet in the '20s and then switched
to alto, becoming somewhat known in the 1950's and especially after the
introduction of the Preservation Hall Band, of which Handy was a member.
His greatest asset is not his solo ideas, although he shines particularly
on "On The Sunny Side of The Street." Rather, he is most interesting
during the ensemble passages, where his vibrato-laden alto twists and
floats around the other members' lines. Although he gets top billing here,
he is not necessarily this recording's only star. In fact, all ensemble
members make significant contributions to the evening's performance.
While these New Orleans musicians may technically be going through the
motions here, having performed these songs probably a thousand times,
there are plenty of hot solos. For instance, the old war-horse "Tiger
Rag" gets an exciting treatment with swinging ensemble playing, with
Handy's patriotic references, including "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
Both "Joe Avery's Place" and "Saints" demonstrate
the excitement that contrapuntal New Orleans music can generate, both
for the listener and the players themselves. Also, as mentioned, there
is almost constant clapping and clamoring for more.
As for the others, trumpeter Punch Miller demonstrates that, while he
may be past his prime, he still has plenty of spunk and a stream of ideas
left to bring to the table. He offers a great deal of excitement here,
particularly during the vocal tracks, including a lyrically enhanced "Exactly
Like You." Andrew Morgan plays the primary role of being the chief
inspiration throughout. When he is not playing one of several instruments,
he is constantly clapping, whooping, and hollering in encouragement to
the others. His showcase number "On The Sunny Side of The Street,
typifies his festive attitude. His circular breathing on "St. Louis
Blues" demonstrates that even in the twilight of his career, he still
had plenty to share with the faithful (note that he ends each tenor sax
solo with a honk, effectively "giving the people what they want!").
Homer Eugene also contributes strong trombone solos, even taking a banjo
solo on "Blue Skies." Dick Wellstood, the youngun' of the group,
provides convincing accompaniment throughout, particularly strong on the
boogie woogie-flavored "Shuffle Boogie" and the bluesy "Blueberry
Hill." Bassist Sylvester Handy and Drummer Lester Alexis round out
the show, providing a steady driving rhythm, particularly Alexis's marching
band snare and bass combo that rallies the troops.
Audiophiles take note: the tapes are not in perfect shape. There are moments
of phase shifting, strange tape splices, as well as moments of mono fidelity.
However, fans of this music will most likely be able to look past such
minor quibbles, as these issues do not take away from the overall impact
of these performances.
Although over two hours of Trad Jazz may be quite a bit to take for some
listeners, the performances heard here are about a celebration and thus,
the lively atmosphere is hard to resist. Sure, they might not always be
in tune or play the music with the utmost precision. However, this group
of old timers are not resting on their laurels or simply coasting, but
providing a crowd pleasing performance for the faithful.
- Jay Collins
Mississippi Rag - U. S. A.
Before you look askance at a New Orleans band with a saxophone section
and a repertoire which includes material like Juan Tizol's "Perdido,"
you should read the liner notes Brian Woods wrote to go with volume one
of this two-CD set. You will find that in the collection of musician's
business cards in the New Orleans Jazz Museum most musicians do not identify
themselves as "jazz musicians" but proclaim they play "music
for all occasions." Let's also remember that the manager of Reisenweber's
New York Restaurant admonished the patrons that the music of the Original
Dixieland Jazz Band was music for dancing. I don't know if there was a
dance floor at the Materese Restaurant in Newington, Conn., or if it was
put to use by those attending the Connecticut Traditional Jazz Club event
there on May 7,1970, but if there was no dancing, there should have been.
And as for "Perdido > "remember that it was also in the book
of Louis Armstrong's All Stars.
This is a classic New Orleans jazz/dance band. The musicians have a New
Orleans jazz pedigree; they include Andrew Morgan, brother of Sam Morgan
and Isaiah Morgan, trumpeter/singer Punch Miller, pianist Dick Wellstood
and leader/alto saxophone stylist Captain John Handy.
Captain Handy was a veteran New Orleans musician. His biography in The
New Grove Dictionary of Jazz lists the bands of Kid Howard, Jim Robinson,
Lee Collins, Charles Creath, The Young Tuxedo Brass Band and Preservation
Hall. If his sound and style remind you of the King of Jump Jazz, Louis
Jordan, that shouldn't surprise anyone. For years the cream of the crop
of New Orleans musicians have walked that thin line between the rhythm
and blues of Fats Domino and the classic New Orleans jazz of Storyville.
And Louis Jordan himself was a member of the Charlie Gaines band that
made records with Louis Armstrong in 1932. Jordan also recorded with Satchmo
again in 1950 when Decca Records paired them on a double feature recording
of "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You."
For yours truly, the major joy of these two CDs is another recorded example
of the singing and trumpet of Ernest "Punch" Miller. Despite
the fact that Punch was in the twilight of his career (he was to die on
December 2, 1971), there was still enough energetic drive left to lift
his playing far above the ordinary. So, once you get past the culture
shock of a band that plays both "Perdido" and "Bourbon
Street Parade," just sit back and enjoy a good two hours of New Orleans
R & B and jazz crossover.
- Joe Klee
Jazz Journal International - British
The Connecticut Traditional Jazz Club organised many concerts featuring
visitors up from New Orleans, often with the results captured on record.
Among these the so-called December band (under Jim Robinson's nominal
leadership) is rightly hailed as an outstanding example. This group, also
recorded at a live event, again features Captain John Handy; it has its
moments but it is no December band. By comparison it lacks atmosphere,
thanks to a dry acoustic which sometimes makes the musicians seem strangers
to each other. Handy is on his best form, but the lack of presence in
the recording reduces his powerful impact and also puts Andrew Morgan
very much in the background on both clarinet and tenor sax. Punch Miller
is his usual ebullient, athletic self despite being very close to the
end of his life, and when he is good he is very good; but his playing
quite often comes a bit unstuck while Homer Eugene's raw, wry style suffers
from the overall lack of resonance-as does the whole ensemble effect.
The rhythm section is effective, with Dick Wellstood contributing some
very attractive and supportive piano \work in the back-ground,V and it
is also good to nbve a rare chance to hear the lively drumming of Lester
Alexis-though Sylvester Hanov's bass is almost inaudible. At\times there
is some inspiring interplay between the front-liners, but at other times
the lack of cohesion is compounded by the sharp sound and poor balance.
With all its faults, understandable in an extempore live recordings, as
a record of times and heroes long departed this will be welcomed by New
Orleans enthusiasts, especially as illuminated by Brian Wood's historically
informative notes. The two CDs, of which the first is marginally the better,
are available separately.
- Christopher Hillman
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