Cathy Segal-Garcia Revisits Two Old Flames


STRAIGHT AHEAD TO THE U.K. / FRISHBERG: Wheelers and Dealers.8 COREA-COHAN: Highwire.1,5 ABERCROMBIE-SEGAL GARCIA: Hippityville (2 vers).1,5,6,9 ADDERLY-HENDRICKS: Sermonette.4,7,8 CARMICHAEL: I Get Along Without You Very Well.3,6 SEGAL-GARCIA: Shake it Down.4,8 Recipe of Love.2,4,6 Song 4 Sandy.2,4 FLINT: Something We May Never Know.1,4,6 MANCINI-LIVINGSTON-EVANS: Dreamsville.4 BOLAND-JAFFE: Gypsy in My Soul.4,8 ARLEN-HARBURG: Last Night When We Were Young2,5,6 / Cathy Segal-Garcia, voc; Simon Gardner, tpt; Andy MacIntosh, a-sax; Katisse Buckingham, s-sax; 1Cliff Hall, 2John Pearce, 3Roy Hilton, pno; 4Paul Morgan, 5Laurence Cottle, 6John Leftwich, bs; Isamu McGregor, 7pno/Rhodes; 8Carey Frank, pno/Hammond B3 org; Ian Thomas, dm; 9Norma Winstone, voc; Brad Dutz, perc / Dash Hoffman Records DHR 1024

Now, here’s a record with a complicated history. Buckle your seat belts for this one, sports fans. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

To begin, Cathy Garcia-Segal was born in 1953 and grew up in the Boston area, where her father played saxophone in local bands and her mother was a singer. Cathy studied flute, guitar and piano as a child and attended the Berklee College of Music from 1972 to 1975. In the latter year, she traveled to the U.K. to sing, and when there she dated alto saxist Andy MacIntosh, who came to the U.S. when Segal returned and played with Maynard Ferguson, Louie Bellson and others. But they broke up, MacIntosh returned to England, and they lost touch for many years until 2011, when he found her on Facebook, now as Segal-Garcia. Their friendship was rekindled, and they made this album.

For some reason, however, Segal-Garcia let the master tapes sit on a shelf and never released the album, and in 2013 MacIntosh died. That might have been the end of it, but Dan Davilla, a friend and executive producer, heard her talking about the album one day on a radio interview and encouraged her to “revisit” it. In doing so, she decided to do something different with the music. She brought in John Leftwich, a bass player, engineer, producer and arranger. Segal-Garcia also decided that she wanted to bring the vocals up-to-date, so she re-sang almost the entire album. Leftwich also hired some top studio pros from the L.A. area like Isamu McGregor, Carey Frank, Katisse Buckingham and Brad Dutz to bolster up the sound. This CD is the result of all this activity.

Whew! Now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about the music.

One of the things I liked about Segal-Garcia is that she sings out. She’s not one of these “soulful whisperers” who pass as jazz singers nowadays, but remember, she came up in the 1970s when being a jazz singer meant swinging hard and using all of your voice. At age 66, her timbre isn’t what it had been in her prime, but she can still swing, and the electronically-assembled band, which includes both the original musicians from 2011 (including the now-deceased MacIntosh) and the new ones brought in by John Leftwich. Of these, I was particularly impressed by Cary Frank on the Hammond B3 organ; he’s quite a player.

Another thing I really liked about the album is that Segal-Garcia doesn’t let the ballads sag. They’re sung and played with a jazz beat that really moves; in fact, I’d say that this is the overriding feeling of the entire album: .it moves. I also liked Leftwich’s arrangements; he knows exactly how to use a trumpet here, a Fender Rhodes there, a soprano sax there, and in the end it all works together.

About the only thing that disappointed me about the album was the fact that there aren’t that many instrumental solos. Heck, even Annette Hanshaw, way back in the late 1920s/early ‘30s, allowed her musicians a lot more solo room on her records. Just saying. Fortunately, when we do get solos, they’re all first rate. The only song I really disliked was Hippityville, despite a duo-scat chorus by Segal-Garcia and Norma Winstone. The song really doesn’t have much going for it in terms of tune construction or lyrics, it goes on too long, and Winstone, unfortunately, is one of those whispery lounge jazz singers I normally ignore.

Segal-Garcia’s performance of Sermonette, originally adapted from Cannonball Adderly’s original instrumental by Jon Hendricks for the super-group of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, is a very good one, and here we get a nice trumpet-alto sax duet with wonderful backup vocals by Bill Redd and Irene Cathaway. There’s also a really bluesy, swinging bass solo by Paul Morgan. This one’s so good that it makes up for Hippityville.

I Get Along Without You Very Well is a perfect example of what I meant regarding her ability to keep “moving the beat forward” even in a ballad. It’s exactly the sort of thing that Nat Cole did so successfully throughout his 37-year career as a jazz singer and pianist. I strongly urge all young prospective jazz singers to listen carefully to this track and study what she does; you’ll learn a LOT even from such normally ignored lines as “to think my breaking heart” when you hear what Segal-Garcia does with it. This, folks, is masterly jazz phrasing. It keeps the song from “sagging” and losing shape.

Following this is another self-composed song, Shake it Down, and this one swings nicely from first note to last. Yet again, listen to the way she throws in those off-beat accents when she sings. The late Andy MacIntosh plays an excellent alto solo on this one, as does pianist Carey Frank. Recipe of Love is that rarity, a jazz waltz, and although the lyrics are fairly silly the tune is a good one and MacIntosh sounds particularly good here in his solo. Song 4 Sandy was written for Segal-Garcia’s niece when she was eight years old. The lyrics are cute, the song a swinger with a nice scat chorus and an excellent solo by MacIntosh.

Dreansville is a ballad by Henry Mancini. Again, listen to the way Segal-Garcia links the lines and the words. This is jazz singers used to do it, and should return to ASAP. Gypsy in My Soul is a medium-slow piece written by Clay Boland; it’s a nice song, but not a very interesting one. Happily, the closer is a nice uptempo version of Harold Arlen’s Gypsy in My Soul, and both Segal-Garcia and the band have a ball on this one. At long last, we finally get a trumpet solo (after the organ), and Simon Gardner acquits himself well with nice, clean bop lines. Segal-Garcia also sings a full chorus in scat. An abridged version of Hippityville closes out the CD.

Taken all together, this is a wonderfully upbeat CD with some really outstanding singing and killer playing from the band as a whole.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Liebreich’s Great Szymanowski & Lutosławski


LUTOSŁAWSKI: Concerto for Orchestra. Livre pour Orchestre. Musique funèbre à la memoire de Béla Bartók. Cello Concerto.+ Symphony No. 4. SZYMANOWSKI: 3 Fragments from Poems of Jan Kasprowicz.* Concert Overture. Symphony No. 2 / *Ewa Podleś, alto; +Gautier Capuçon, cel; Polish National Radio Orch.; Alexander Liebreich, cond / Accentus ACC80498

This lavishly-produced boxed set, which includes three fairly thick fold-over cardboard containers, each containing a CD and a fairly thick booklet with notes in Polish, German, French and English, contrasts and compares the music of the two best Polish composers of the 20th century. The liner notes are written in a fairly generic, conversational style and don’t really explain or explore the contrasts or connections between Szymanowski and Lutosławski; rather, they merely extol the virtues of both composers while explaining how Lutosławski became a part of Katowice, all of which is well and good but doesn’t help us regarding the actual music.

Each CD is actually split between the two composers. The contents of each disc is as follows:

CD 1
Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra (1954)
Szymanowski: 3 Fragments from Poems by Jan Kasprowicz (1902)

CD 2
Szymanowski: Symphony No. 2 (1909-10)
Lutosławski: Livre pour Orchestre (1968)
Lutosławski: Musique funèbre à la mémoire de Béla Bartók (1958)

CD 3
Szymanowski: Concert Overture in E (1904-05/1910-13)
Lutosławski: Cello Concerto (1969-70)
Lutosławski: Symphony No. 4 (1988-92)

As you can seem then, it is Lutosławski who receives the lion’s share of the CDs. The only large-scale Szymanowski work included here is his Second Symphony, the other two being relatively smaller works while Lutosławski gets two concerti, a symphony and at least one other large-scale orchestral work (the Livre pour Orchestre) in addition to the relatively smaller Bartók funeral music. Yet I’m happy to have these works in my collection; the only one of these I already had was the Cello Concerto, in a fine performance by soloist Johannes Moser with the Berlin Radio Symphony conducted by Thomas Sondergård, and to be honest, this performance is even better. In fact, I was literally bowled over by the power and emotionally-charged energy of Liebreich’s conducting in work after work and movement after movement. Everything about these performances have the feel of an event about them, thus I was not surprised to discover that they were taped during live performances for Polish Radio.

Listening to Lutosławski’s music, one can hear an even more “Polish” influence in them than in the works of his predecessor, great though he was. Like Bartók, Lutosławski had a knack for using traditional folk melodies or of writing melodic lines that sounded like folk melodies and then transforming them with modern harmonies. Compared to the dodecaphonic school or the abrasive, clashing and often harsh harmonies of his successor, Penderecki, Lutosławski’s music is practically lyrical. Granted, there are some abrasive chords here and there, i.e. in the second movement of his Concerto for Orchestra, but by and large the overall impression is of consonance because he always returns to a tonal or modal home key. Moreover, by using folk-like tunes and particularly folk-like rhythms, his music is actually less impressionistic and more appealing to the general listener, for whom rhythm is the soul of music.

The Concerto for Orchestra, in fact, concludes with a huge Passacaglia that runs longer than the first two movements combined. Lutosławski vacillated between bright colors and soft textures, walking a tightrope between two most dominant trends of the mid-20th century. He was, indeed, the Polish Bartók, thus it made perfect sense that he would dedicate a piece of funeral music to a man he considered his musical guide. With that being said, his own Concerto for Orchestra lacks the immediate popular appeal of Bartók’s, simply because when the music becomes dense it is denser and less easily digested than the music of the Hungarian composer.

But appealing to populist tastes and appealing to me are two different things, and I found all of his music on this set endlessly fascinating. Young composers today who like to fall into the popular style of writing edgy, abrasive music that sounds like a boiler factory exploding would do well to study his scores (as well as those of the sadly-neglected American composer William Schuman). Beneath the sometimes abrasive harmonies, Lutosławski was very strict in his formal structures. He didn’t like or want his music to end up being a series of cheap “effects” over real musical substance, thus he always tied form to sound, as Stravinsky did. Indeed, one can compare his orchestral works on this set to some of the music of Stravinsky, except that he was more emotionally effusive than the great Russian composer.

Considering the year of its performance (2014) and the number of years she has spent singing, Ewa Podleś’ voice is in remarkably good shape for Szymanowski’s 3 Fragments from Poems by Jan Kasparowicz. I can only ascribe this to the fact that, because she is an undisputedly great singer yet chooses her operatic and concert dates very carefully, Podleś does not fly all over the world like a chicken with her head cut off as her peers do. Listening to her sing here is like listening to Schumann-Heink or Irina Arkhipova in their sixties, singing with still-firm and well-controlled voices. The comparison is apt in yet another sense, since all three contraltos are as famous for their interpretive skills as for their voices. A former friend of mine, the late Dr. Louis A. Leslie—co-founder of the Gregg Shorthand Method and successor to John Gregg when he died—had seen and heard Schumann-Heink at age 71 sing Erda in Das Rheingold at the Metropolitan Opera, and was utterly amazed by the power, beauty and drama of her voice. I could echo those sentiments while listening here to the 62-year-old Podleś. May she go on as long as Ernestine and Irina did! Being early pieces by Szymanowski, the 3 Fragments are more tonal and less amorphous in form than his later music, though still showing us the Szymanowski to come, particularly in his often opaque orchestral scoring which owed much to Debussy, Duparc and late Wagner.

I was particularly fascinated by Liebreich’s performance of Szymanowski’s second symphony, as it was considerably different from that of Antoni Wit with the Warsaw Philharmonic. The German-born Liebreich takes a more tightly structured view of this music where Wit is more impressionistic. Both approaches are valid, however, particularly since this is still in the composer’s earlier style, before he became imbued by the music of Scriabin. And once again, Liebreich’s conducting is emotionally alive; it gets under your skin and moves you. I’m willing to bet that he has more than a cursory knowledge of how Toscanini conducted; the only thing he lacks is the ultra-clarity of texture that the Italian produced. Otherwise, you hear the same “long view” of the works he performs, developed logically from first note to last, the same excellent top-to-bottom orchestral balance in every note and phrase, the same consistent forward movement and, as already mentioned, the same emotional energy without becoming sentimental. For an example of what I mean, compare Toscanini’s performance of the Sibelius Fourth Symphony to the one by Sir Thomas Beecham or any of his performances of Debussy’s La Mer (the late NBC recording being the best) to those of such French conductors as Désiré-Émile Engelbrecht. Without sacrificing a good legato, Toscanini is consistently more energized, more personally invested in the music-making process than the others, and this is how I feel when listening to Liebreich.

Compared to the Szymanowski symphony, Lutosławski’s late (1968) Livre pour orchestre almost sounds like something from outer space. Here, the structural clarity one heard in the Concerto for Orchestra is bent and blurred; careful listening reveals the structure underneath, but it requires greater concentration to detect. Falling chromatics, diminished chords and whole-tone scales also find their way into this music. Indeed, there are moments here where Lutosławski sounds prescient of early Leif Segerstam or, perhaps, somewhat influenced by George Crumb. The earlier Marcia funèbre for Bartók is in his earlier, Bartók-influenced style, and here, in fact, Lutosławski’s music does bear a strong resemblance to the earlier composer’s Concerto for Orchestra.

Interestingly, Szymanowski’s Concert Overture sounds much like one of the large orchestral tone poems of Richard Strauss—or perhaps that’s because Liebreich is conducting it, as Antoni Wit’s performance is less taut and more amorphic in contour. Yet I couldn’t get away from the similarities, not only in his use of a very large orchestra but also in his use of a few of Strauss’ trademark sounds, i.e. the soft, high violins , the swooping horns and the manner in which he dropped from the upper stratosphere to suddenly “build up” his orchestral sound from the basses and cellos, slowly working his way through low trumpets and winds as the violins again start soaring overhead…and even spot violin solos. I daresay that, if played for a classical lover with little or no knowledge of Szymanowski without saying who the composer is, many will guess Strauss without being able to pinpoint the name of the work. And once again, the conducting is simply exuberant.

By contrast, Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto almost sounds like something from another planet: a handful of soft, low strings introduce it, and when the solo cello enters he is playing strange figures, really little more than gestures, some of the notes purposely distorted. Eventually we hear some wacky, atonal trumpet fanfares, almost as a distraction, before returning to the solo cello, now playing a bit more of a melodic line while soft clarinets, basses and percussion rumble in the background. This is a piece that takes all of Liebreich’s conducting skills to pull together due to its odd juxtaposition of what sound like disparate sections, yet he manages to do a pretty good job of it. In places, Lutosławski’s use of sirens and raucous percussion and brass almost reminds you of George Antheil.

The late Symphony No. 4 is, oddly enough, both more modern and more tightly structured than the Cello Concerto, although the composer’s use of several spot solos almost make it sound like a concerto grosso or another concerto for orchestra. Here, too, the structure is tighter and clearer, which plays into Liebreich’s skilled hands very well.

No two ways about it, this set is one of the sleepers of the year. Very highly recommended!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Behle’s Fine Mozart Recital


ZERO TO HERO / MOZART: Don Giovanni: Overture; Dalla sua pace; Il mio tesoro. Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Hier soll ich dich den sehen…Konstanze, Konstanze; Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen; Ich baue ganz. Die Zauberflöte: Dies bildnis. Così fan Tutte: Overture; Un’aura amorosa; Ah, lo veggio. La Betulia Liberata: D’ogni colpa la colpa maggiore. La Clemenza di Tito: Se all’impero, amici Dei. Idomeneo: Fuor del mar / Daniel Behle, ten; L’Orfeo Barockorchester; Michi Gaigg, cond / Sony 19075864582

Daniel Behle, one of my favorite modern tenors, presents here a recital of Mozart arias which he raised money for via crowdfunding. I’m a little surprised that he chose to record an album of music done so many times by so many other tenors when other, less-well-traveled repertoire awaits him, but he probably wanted to make his mark.

The good news is that he’s in excellent voice and sings these arias superbly. The bad news is that he’s accompanied by one of those generic HIP orchestras that sound like a MIDI and bulldoze their way through the music with tempi that are too fast and phrasing that has no feeling. Indeed, they have chosen to underscore their lameness by including two of Mozart’s overtures on this disc, and neither one is very good. They sound like a 12-piece band trying to convince us that this is what Mozart heard in his day, As Baron Munchausen once said, “Vas you dere, Sharlie?”

Conductor Michi Gaigg also rushes the tempo in “Dalla sua pace,” which didn’t thrill me a lot, but as I said, Behle sings beautifully, shaping the musical line and being able to affect fine dynamics shadings while still maintaining a firm voice regardless of volume level. His forte singing does not become hard, and his piano singing still has body to the tone. “Il mio tesoro” gallops along at a very brisk pace, which makes the aria sound more like a Presto. At this tempo, Behle is easily able to sing the long run on “tornar” in one breath, though the note separation almost sounds like “Di quella pira”—clean but fast. Mind you, I have some Mozart tenor recitals in my collection that certainly could have been conducted at a brisker clip, particularly the Stuart Burrows album on which he is accompanied by the stodgy John Pritchard, but there is a happy medium that can be found between Pritchard and Gaigg. I should also note that the hall acoustics are much too dry and airless, making this album almost sound like something recorded in NBC’s notorious Studio 8-H.

Much to my surprise, “Hier soll ich dich den sehen” from Die Entführung opens at a sensible tempo, but as soon as we get into the aria proper the tempo is pressed a bit too much. Nonetheless, Behle interprets this well, even adding a little cadenza at one point that I’d never heard before but which made perfect musical sense. He also imbues “Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen” with considerable charm thus offsetting the coldness of his accompaniment to some degree. Happily, Gaigg takes the fiendishly difficult “Ich baue ganz” at a somewhat moderate pace, thus allowing Behle the opportunity to get through his runs without sounding too pressed. Both conductor and tenor also take a sensible tempo for “Dies bildnis” from Die Zauberflöte; this is one of the real gems of this album, strange orchestral sound aside.

“Un’aura amorosa” also comes out well, with Behle singing the slow descending scale passage between verses in one breath, connecting the words as well as the music. He even attempts the seldom-sung trill in the final phrase. “Ah, lo veggio” is also taken at a fast pace, but here the quicker tempo actually helps the aria. Following this is a real rarity, an aria from the very early La betulia Liberata. It’s basically a fast, florid piece with tricky runs and, yes, yet another trill, which he sings perfectly.

We end this recital with an aria from Mozart’s last opera, La clemenza di Tito, and his most Gluck-like opera, Idomeneo. The latter is, of course, the now-justly-famous “Fuor del mar” which was once considered a great rarity. This latter aria is again taken at a moderate pace, and although the small (40-piece) orchestra again sounds rather anemic Behle does not, singing with a fuller tone and a rather heroic attack. He does, however, drop his voice to half volume for the runs—listen to Ben Heppner or Hermann Jadlowker if you want to hear them sung at full voice.

But here’s something very weird: about two minutes after the aria ends, if you haven’t already taken the CD off your player, you’ll hear someone (Behle?) talking in German. It sounds like stage dialogue, but since it’s in German, is not mentioned in the booklet at all or identified on the inlay, I have no idea what it is or what it means.

All in all, a good album for Behle despite the dry, claustrophobic sound, but only just acceptable (if that) for the orchestra.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Sama Plays Medtner


MEDTNER: 4 Morceaux. 3 Novellen. Skazi, Opp. 35 & 42. 3 Hymnen an die Arbeit. When Roses Fade / Gunnar Sama, pno / 2L 156

The music of Nikolai Medtner occupies a strange space in the classical world. The composer considered himself a hardcore Romantic who had little sympathy with either the modern Russian composers like Scriabin or those who wrote modern music in France, yet his actual scores contain elements of both. A high-born intellectual, he never understood that giving piano recitals in foreign countries did not mean only playing his own music, thus he was never able to replicate the successes of his countryman Rachmaninov, who was indeed far more “Romantic” than he was. He ended up old and broke in England after World War II, needing to depend on wealthy music lovers to create a “Medtner Society” in order to raise money to allow him to record his concertos and smaller piano works.

Unfortunately, the odd space that his music occupied, and still does, has precluded his becoming a mainstream composer, but I find his work endlessly fascinating as in the similar case of British pianist-composer York Bowen. In this beautifully recorded recital, Norwegian pianist Gunnar Sama presents a recital of several of his works. The only ones that Medtner himself recorded are the Novellen.

There is, however, quite a difference between listening to Sama play Medtner and hearing Medtner himself play his music. Like the majority of modern pianists, Sama’s style is crisp, no-nonsense and straightforward, which helps us hear the structure of the music well but which erases the myriad little coloristic touches that the composer himself played. Of course, music is music, meaning that it is a science as well as an art, thus the music can to some extent take this kind of treatment, but as I listened to the 4 Morceaux which open this recital I couldn’t help feeling that I was only hearing half of what Medtner intended this music to sound like. To draw an analogy which I have made previously, it’s like listening to Bartók play Bartók and then listening to modern pianists play his music, proof positive (in my view) that the historically0informed performance movement is just a load of B.S. If we can’t play the music of Bartók or Medtner like the composers did, how can you claim that your whiny straight-tone performances of 18th and 19th-century music are the least bit authentic? (One commentator on my blog opined that if course no one can play Bartók like Bartók, but if that is so, why bother ruining earlier music by pretending that you know how it should sound?)

Within its limits this recital is good because it gives you the chance to hear some pieces that Medtner did not record but are worthwhile to hear, yet listening to Sama run glibly through them  I had to wonder if he really had a feeling for this music. This is not a rhetorical question. By and large, Scandinavians do not feel music as deeply as the Latin or Slavic people do. Rumanian pianist Dinu Lipatti played the Chopin waltzes, concerti and sonatas with much less rhetorical phrasing than Polish, French or British pianists, but you could tell that he really loved the music. Every note was imbued with feeling. Sama plays Medtner about as well as a very high-grade player piano. All of the music is there, but there’s no “there” there.

Nonetheless, since many of these pieces are rare and infrequently recorded, I give this CD a thumbs up with reservations. Medtner’s music is always worth exploring. Perhaps someday a truly great pianist like Michael Korstick will take on his music, and we’ll hear more of it than is on this particular release.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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More Eccentric Music from Ketil Hvoslef


CHAMBER WORKS Vol. 6 / HVOSPEF: Trombone Quartet / Sverre Riise, Petter Winroth, Audun Breen, Clare Farr, tb / Clarinet Quintet / Diego Lucchesi, cl; Ricardo Odriozola, Mara Haugen, vln; Ilze Klava, vla; John Ehde, cel / Hardingtrio / Hilde Harakdsen Sveen, sop; Håkon Asheim, hardanger fiddle; Einar Røttingen, pno / Trio for Thirteen / Kaia Rullestad Teigen, sop; Christina Jønsi, alto; Fredrik Schjerve, ten; Frida Andreassen Lereng, fl; Isabel Maria Velasco, ob; Aksel Hovar, cl; Håvard Løkting Larsen, bsn; Vladimir Ščigulinska, Oddhild Nyberg, vln; Eugenio Meneghel, vla; Carmen Bóveda, cel; Sigvald Fersum, perc; Ricardo Odriozola, cond / Lawo LWC 1180

Wacky Norwegian composer Ketil Hvoslef, whose music I have praised on this blog previously, returns here with Vol. 6 of his chamber music. Like the previous five volumes, the music herein is engaging despite its modern bent. Hvoslef has a knack for writing in odd rhythms and meters, leans towards modality even as he frequently shifts the tonality, yet always seems to be in a playful mood—sometimes almost maniacally so.

The Trombone Quartet is a perfect example of his work, being both playful and subtle. Indeed, much of this piece is comprised of soft chords, something quite out of the ordinary for Hvoslef. The composer, now in his 80th year, has often said that “he wishes for his listeners to lean forward on the edge of their chairs rather than sit back.” In the case of this work, leaning forward pays off, since so much of the music is quiet and the little humorous touches come and go rather subtly, such as the rapid rising eighth-note passages towards the end, almost sounding like some old geese honking near a pond.

By contrast, the Clarinet Quintet is a cheerful, chirpy piece in which Hvoslef uses the clarinet and strings in a very peculiar manner. The clarinet plays chirpy figures in the foreground while the viola adds little pizzicato notes here and there, the cello plays counterpoint in the low range while the two violins play very softly in the background. The humor here is a little more extrovert than in the trombone piece, but no less effective. Although written in one long, continuous movement, the work is internally divided into different section.

The Hardingtrio, divided into two sections, has more of a local flavor and less of an international one. Commissioned by Reidun Horvei, Knut Hamre and Geir Botnen in 1995, the premise was to create a work in which a wordless soprano line would weave its way in and out of a tune played in the style of a “Hardanger fiddle,” accompanied at times by piano, which is used in many places as a string instrument with different playing techniques. The two folk songs used here, for those readers who are Norwegian, are Håstadbespringar and Bjølleslåtten. The second was, to my ears, far less interesting than the first, as it gets stuck on one chord and doesn’t budge from it.

Ironically, the Trio for Thirteen is not only the most complex but also the most interesting piece on this album. Written in Rome in 1987, Hvoslef explains that the trio moniker is explained by the fact that it consists of three groups: four singers, four strings, and four winds in addition to a percussionist. The performance also includes the pre-recorded sound of barnyard animals, and the singers laugh at once point to provide a whimsical rhythmic counterpoint to the instruments. Interestingly, the singers generally perform as a quartet, almost sounding like The Pied Pipers. When they do sing solo, it is to perform sliding portamento lines up and down or to offset each other in wordless, rhythmic figures. The rhythmic displacements, odd chromatic passages and constantly shifting dynamics make this piece a real gem.

A bit of a split review, then. As a non-Norwegian, I really didn’t “get” or enjoy the Hardingtrio and moments here and there in the Trombone Quartet left me cold, but the rest of it was very fine indeed.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Enja’s Saxophone Summit


STREET TALK: SAXOPHONE SUMMIT / LOVANO-LIEBMAN-OSBY: Intro. LOVANO: Street Talk. MARKOWITZ: Point. LIEBMAN: Loudly. McBEE: A Portrait. OSBY: Carousel. HART: Toli’s Dance (arr. Liebman). LOVANO-LIEBMAN-OSBY: Outro / Joe Lovano, t-sax; Greg Osby, a-sax; Dave Liebman, s-sax; Phil Markowitz, pno; Cecil McBee, bs; Billy Hart, dm / Enja-Yellowbird ENJA 9769

Somehow I just knew, sooner or later, that we’d reach a day when CDs would be issues without any liner notes at all. This is the first I’ve encountered, but I know there will be more to come. This one features the talents of three top jazz saxists, one each on soprano, alto and tenor, with the excellent bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart along with pianist Phil Markowitz.

The Intro is pretty much just free-jazz squealing by the three horns sans rhythm, though it does settle down into a chord just before it finishes. Lovano’s Street Talk is a Monk-like piece with appropriately Monk-like playing from Markowitz before the sax trio plays its quirky, angular melody line. Lovano is up first with a solo, his vibrato-less tenor tone instantly recognizable, somehow managing to sneak in a bit of a Latin beat here and there. When he finishes, Liebman and Osby play a sort of modified chase chorus with the soprano player echoing the alto’s lines and vice-versa before they join forces to play opposing improvisations against each other. I was very impressed by Markowitz’ piano solo, which is even more cohesive than the saxes. The horns then return to ride things out.

Markowitz’ Point opens with a simple yet odd melody that sounded to me like the opening bars of Arditi’s famous song Il Bacio, but it quickly morphs into a strange-sounding piece in an off-meter, with Liebman running up and down his soprano with scalar and arpeggiated figures. The other two saxes then enter, playing a more sustained line as the rhythm slowly seems to iron itself out, approaching a standard 4. Osby is the first soloist here, sounding surprisingly lyrical, with Lovano coming in with a rough, dirty sound as contrast. They play against each other for some time, and Liebman also joins the fray. Markowitz’ solo is also quite angular, with a few Cecil Taylor-like flourishes up and down the keyboard.

Liebman’s soprano opens Loudly, an uptempo romp with a catchy but elusive melodic line. The composer dominates the first two choruses, playing angular, atonal lines up and down his horn. Truthfully, this didn’t say anything to me; it just sounded like exhibitionistic showing off without substance. Osby, however, is all business, playing a most interesting solo with form and shape. Markowitz plays another Monk-inspired solo, also quite good, and Lovano is really inspired, contributing a solo that, though somewhat angular, has shape and form and really swings.

Bassist McBee opens up his own A Portrait, which has a sort of quasi-Latin rhythm. The three saxes play together in thirds through the opening melody as well as the beginning of the next chorus, finally splitting up with Liebman first and then Lovano. Markowitz is his usual excellent self following the tenor, after which McBee gets a full chorus a cappella. I was rather disappointed by the ending, however, which just stops as if they couldn’t think how to end it. Following this is Osby’s Carousel. Considering the ordered logic of his solos, I was surprised to hear such an abstract piece, although careful listening reveals how well it is constructed. Then suddenly at the 1:30 mark, we get a regular rhythm (either 6/8 or 3/4) as the rhythm section and other two saxes come in. The reeds then play what sounds like a collective improvisation, following each other slowly up the scales in thirds, before splitting up to play a three-way conversation as McBee works out, double-time, behind them. A very interesting piece!

Tolji’s Dance is the contribution of drummer Billy Hart, who appropriately opens the proceeding with a solo. When the horns are at last heard, they are playing the swirling, quasi-Middle Eastern melody line before the three of them engage in an alternating reed trialogue. Osby gets an extended solo, followed by McBee in fine shape. The three horns, playing together, ride it out, followed by an Outro as wild and cacophonous as the Intro.

I found this to be an interesting album, but not one I’d willingly listen to a second time. The music just wasn’t all that interesting to me personally, but of course you may feel differently.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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The Marsalas: A Love Story


Back in the early 1970s, I occasionally dropped into a junk shop in Passaic, New Jersey that had, among other things, large piles—and yes, they were just heaped into piles, not placed on shelves or anything else—of old LPs and 45s. Most came from the period 1952-1964, many were out of their original covers, and more than a few were scratched, chipped at the edges or even cracked, but they were cheap (LPs for a quarter, 45s for a dime) and amidst all the garbage were some real rarities. One such that I picked up was an old 10” Brunswick LP featuring reissues of Vocalion-Decca-Brunswick jazz 78s from the late 1930s-early ‘40s. One side was by Bud Freeman and his Summa Cum Laude Orchestra; the other side was by someone named Joe Marsala, with harpist Adele Girard on some of the tracks.

Of course I knew who Bud Freeman was; his name was legendary, he had been a charter member of the Austin High Gang in the late 1920s and was still playing here and there. Joe Marsala was a name new to me. I listened to the recordings, which were updated versions of old trad jazz pieces from the 1920s. They sounded pretty nice, but they didn’t grab me at the time.

Talking to older jazz musicians and critics, I learned that I was by no means alone in my assessment of them. I was told that Marsala was a “pretty good” clarinetist who played at the Hickory House in New York City for a decade, and that Girard played “very pretty” on the harp but couldn’t swing. As the years went by, I also noticed that the Marsalas were consistently left out of jazz histories (such as Gunther Schuller’s The Swing Era). They were considered to be fairly marginal figures.

Yet with time, a greater knowledge of jazz history and a deeper appreciation of what certain older jazz musicians could and couldn’t do, I came to appreciate Marsala quite a bit and his wife (as I learned), harpist Adele Girard, even more. Joe Marsala was a technically superb clarinetist who had a brighter top range than that of Artie Shaw and a deeper, richer low range than that of Benny Goodman. A product of the Chicago jazz scene in the 1920s, he gravitated to the playing of both Johnny Dodds and Jimmie Noone and fused elements of both of their styles into his own. His improvisations were adventurous when compared to those of such late-‘20s New Orleans players like Barney Bigard or Omer Simeon, he swung hard, and he could (and did) play both traditional jazz (or Dixieland, if you prefer) and the contemporary jazz styles of his time. His only sin was that he was, to coin a phrase, conventionally excellent but not a groundbreaker, and for this reason he has been pushed to the side in jazz histories.

Adele Girard, however, is another story. Her only real predecessor in the realm of jazz harp was Casper Reardon, who died young in 1941 and is largely forgotten. But since Reardon was a man, and recorded with Jack Teagarden, he is sometimes considered to have been a better jazz harpist than Girard. That simply is not so. Although a fine technician, Reardon’s improvisations were fairly tame and didn’t swing. Within the limitations of her instrument, Girard did swing, and her improvisations are much better than his. It is a testament to her excellence that almost no one other than LaVilla Tulos, an African-American jazz harpist with a very limited repertoire, could equal her in swinging (though Tulos’ improvisations were not as complex). The reason is, as Girard explained so well, the harp is probably the most difficult instrument to “swing” on because it is so technically complex. You have seven pedals to deal with, each controlling a small group of strings, therefore one’s hand and foot manipulation is considerably more complex than on a piano. It’s like the difference between playing jazz on an actual, full-sized, fill-up-the-building pipe organ or one of those portable electric organs. Even the most complex of the latter, like the Hammond B-3, are relatively easy to control compared to the former, which is why Fats Waller’s 1926-27 jazz recordings on the pipe organ still hold up as marvels.

In some ways, Girard’s improvisations were similar to those of her husband, but at times she differed from him. This, I have since discovered, was because she was trained in jazz improvisation by three of the best white musicians of her day: Frank Trumbauer and Charlie and Jack Teagarden. But more on that in a bit.

First, we need to trace the history of the leader, the man she married, from his early days to the years of stardom on 52nd Street. This isn’t terribly easy to do; Joe was a modest man who didn’t talk a lot about his past, even to his wife, thus all we have are the tidbits of information which she passed along.

Marsala was born on January 4, 1907, which would have put him on the Chicago jazz scene during its heyday, the mid-1920s. His immigrant parents originally settled in New Orleans, which made Joe’s connection with jazz all the more likely, and his father Pietro played valve trombone on the riverboats. But Pietro, who was also known as Pete, married and had five children, which forced him to get a job as a stock clerk to supplement his part-time trombone playing.

Joe had to toughen up quickly as a youth in order to survive Al Capone’s gangster-run city. According to Adele, at about age 12 his mother sent Joe to the local grocer to buy some food, and with the little money left over he bought a peanut butter sandwich and began eating it as he left the store. Suddenly, “a black limousine wheeled around the corner, the doors flew open, and machine gun bullets riddled a man standing next to him. Joe dropped everything and ran, but before going half a block, an old man on his porch said, ‘Walk, son, walk. Don’t call attention to yourself.’ And Joe did. He never ate peanut butter again nor could tolerate the smell of it.”

Marsala quit school at age 15 to help his family and naively took a job that paid pretty well to help them out: running liquor for a bootlegger. According to his daughter Eleisa Marsala Trampler, his father hauled him off the premises, letting him know that he could get killed that way, so Joe shoveled cinders off freight cars and tried both factory and office work. He couldn’t keep up physically enough to handle those jobs. While working for a trucking company he was thrown through the windshield in an accident, which permanently scarred his face and neck. If you look closely at photos of Marsala, you will notice that he wore makeup to cover the scars as best he could.

Attracted to jazz and having tried out several instruments, Joe and his younger brother Marty eventually settled on the clarinet and trumpet, respectively. Again according to Eleisa Trampler, “When Joe could afford a clarinet, an African-American neighbor gave him tips on playing the blues. Marsala was greatly inspired by Jimmie Noone [who played with a little band at the Apex Club], but it was after hearing Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five in the 1920s that he decided to be a musician” Unable to afford lessons, he was noticed by Clarence Warmelin, the former clarinetist for the Minneapolis Symphony. Warmelin told Joe that he knew he couldn’t afford lessons, but if he came to his studio he’d leave the door open so he could listen to the instructions he gave to his paying pupil. “After my student leaves,” he told him, “I’ll go out for a sandwich, that way I won’t have to charge you.” Marsala thus picked up the all-important basics of clarinet playing this way, though Eleisa insists that “he was mainly self-taught.”

Joe MarsalaFor a time, Marsala played with fellow-Chicagoan Francis “Muggsy” Spanier, six years his senior. Spanier, already established as a professional musician at the time, loved Marsala’s playing, and both of them were of the same mind about updating the old jazz standards for the more modern audiences of the 1930s. Ironically, this paid off more for Spanier than for Marsala. Muggsy’s “Ragtime Band” of 1939-40 recorded 16 sides for RCA Bluebird that were praised to the skies by jazz critics of the time and have come to be known as “The Great 16,” credited with sparking the Dixieland revival of the 1940s, while Marsala’s late-1930s updates of such tunes as Clarinet Marmalade, Walkin’ the Dog and Wolverine Blues are generally ignored or dismissed. Much of this has to do with promotion and location. Although Spanier felt to his dying day that his band never got the gigs or promotion that it needed and deserved, the promotion he did get was like a blockbuster compared to Marsala.

In 1935, Marsala joined the band of New Orleans trumpeter Joe “Wingy” Manone (sometimes, even on record labels, erroneously spelled “Mannone”) at Adrian Rollini’s Tap room. Although Joe could read music and Wingy couldn’t, they got along famously, with Wingy helping to loosen up the somewhat shy youngster. And each time Wingy got a better gig, he took Joe along with him, moving first from the Tap Room to the Famous Door and then to the Hickory House at 144 West 52nd Street. Being older and better known, Manone was able to wangle a good recording contract with RCA Victor, first on their full-priced black label records in 1935 and then, the following year, on their less Bluebirdexpensive Bluebird label, and of course Marsala was a part of his band—as were Adrian Rollini, the Tap Room’s owner and a formidable bass saxist, and Putney Dandridge, a black vaudeville singer who at the time was trying to make it in New York. In between his Victor black label and Bluebird contracts, Manone recorded for Vocalion, once a “name” company in the 1920s but then a budget label on a par with Bluebird discs. Somewhere in the middle of this, Marsala managed to wangle a deal with Decca to record six sides, two of them under the name of “The Six Blue Chips” featuring a then-little-known trumpeter named Roy Eldridge. Ironically, however, these were Dixieland-styled records, the only time Eldridge was known to play in that style. On one of his General recording sessions, he used African-American trumpeter/vocalist Bill Coleman and alto saxist Pete Brown, one of the forerunners of rhythm & blues.

But now let us divert our attention from Marsala for a bit to check in on the career of his lovely future harpist and bride. Unlike Marsala, Adele Girard came from a French Canadian family which was originally well-off: her grandfather was one of the original contractors of Williams College, her father a violinist, and her mother had a fine soprano voice. But you can see how their “blue blood” interfered with their business decisions when you read that her mother won both a scholarship to study voice at Williams and an opportunity to study and sing at the La Scala Opera in Milan, but turned both down because she believed that singing onstage was “unladylike.”

Fortunately for us, the Girards fell on hard times during the Depression and daughter Adele was much more realistic about making it in the world. Originally a pianist (though she began taking harp lessons at age 14), Adele’s older brother Don found her some jobs in the Catskills. Her mother was set against it, but when Adele packed her bags and showed she was serious, Mother just had to come with her to protect her good name. After landing a job as pianist and vocalist with the fairly well-known society bandleader Harry Sosnick in 1933, she eventually switched from piano to harp the following year, and it was on this job that she honed her skills on the instrument. In the winter of 1935, she joined the band of another fairly well-known leader, saxophonist Dick Stabile, this time strictly as singer-harpist. Her skills rapidly improved.

Adele GirardIn early 1936, Stabile decided to go on the road and couldn’t afford to take a harp with him, so Adele lost her job. Feeling dejected, she was approached, in her own words, by “a formal-looking, goateed gentleman” who walked up to her and offered her a job playing in his small band. This “gentleman” was the famous C-melody saxist Frank Trumbauer and his bandmates, in a group they called “The Three T’s,” were Charlie and Jack Teagarden. According to Girard, “Their harpist, Casper Reardon, had taken a job in the Broadway production of I Married an Angel,” and this was “the first musically challenging job I ever had” because she knew very little about jazz despite playing dance music for several years. “But the Teagardens and Frankie Trumbauer were fine musicians and treated me well. From them I learned the jazz repertoire. But even more importantly, I learned how to improvise. My having been forced to play without music so much had given me a knack for knowing which notes to play, but I had no sense of the feel, phrasing, and logic that go into jazz improvisation. I learned those from listening to the Teagardens and Frankie every night.”[1]

Girard thought she had finally made it, playing with these top professionals in their field, but after playing in several of the best New York nightclubs, most often at the Hickory House, she was told that “Paul Whiteman had hired Jack, Charlie, and Frankie. My situation was desperate this time because I had just purchased a $2,500 gold Lyon and Healy harp. So I went to Jack Goldman, owner of the Hickory House, to see if he could help me. He told me that a young clarinetist, Joe Marsala, was putting a group together to replace us.”


Marsala with Mort Stuhlmaker and Henry “Red” Allen, 1936

Although this scenario sounds logical, there’s a bit of a problem with the chronology, because the Teagarden brothers both signed five-year contracts to play in Whiteman’s band in 1933, not 1936, and Trumbauer himself played in the Whiteman orchestra during 1935-36. There’s a famous 1935 recording of Announcer’s Blues featuring both Tram and Big T to prove it. The only thing I can think of to explain this scenario is that Whiteman, who always allowed his top jazz talent to make recordings on the side, possibly also allowed them a chance to play on nights of the week when his orchestra wasn’t performing to supplement their incomes. There are no recordings by “The Three T’s” to substantiate their existence, but there is a 1934 recording under Jack Teagarden’s name called Junk Man which featured both his brother Charlie on trumpet and the afore-mentioned harpist Casper Reardon.

As it turned out, Jack Goldman was well acquainted with Joe Marsala due to his prior affiliation with Manone. One of the reasons why Marsala was chosen to be the new band’s leader was that he suffered from colitis and therefore had no tolerance for alcohol. This meant that it was guaranteed that he, at least, would be sober by the night’s end!

Of course Marsala hired the pretty young harpist, and was delighted when he learned that she not only knew a lot of jazz standards but could also improvise. It was musical love at first sight for both of them, and within a few months of their opening at the Hickory House on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1937, they eloped to get married. Joe had wanted a full wedding with all the trimmings, but Adele knew her mother too well to know that she’d even allow such a union, let alone attend the ceremony. They eloped and were married at the “actor’s chapel” on 49th Street in July. As it turned out, Adele was right. When she broke the news to her mother a few months later, her comment was, “Adele, he’s a damned Italian who will murder us in our beds!” Mama Girard had seen one too many gangster movies, and was convinced that every Italian from Chicago was a gangster.

Toots Thielemans, Girard, Marsala

Guitarist Toots Thielemans with Adele and Joe on 52nd Street c. 1947.

But Marsala was anything but. Polite, soft-spoken, modest about his talents, he did everything he could to make the band a success, hiring the top jazz talent in New York as they became available. At one point, his lead trumpet player was the great Henry “Red” Allen, Jr. When his band was booked to play a different venue in New York, he was told that “the colored gentleman” would have to leave. “In that case,” said Joe, “I leave too.” It was only when the manager saw them actually packing up their instruments that he allowed Allen to stay.

Hot String BeansThus we have the beginnings of an anomaly. Marsala, as I mentioned earlier, stayed at the Hickory House for 11 years, so he had to be doing something right, and even a cursory glance at the musicians on his many recordings will show you that he did indeed have top talent in his band: trumpeters Bill Coleman, Benny Carter, Max Kaminsky and Bobby Hackett in addition to his regular trumpeter, brother Marty (and later, one session with Dizzy Gillespie) and drummers George Wettling, Buddy Rich, Shelly Manne, Dave Tough and Zutty Singleton. Like Benny Goodman, Marsala was a pioneer in the integration of live jazz, but Benny got all the credit while Marsala did even more than him. Also, in a way, this revolving door of stars made the Marsala band look like a temporary haven for these musicians to hang out and play good jazz until something better came along, for none of them stayed very long.

General labelAnd there was another problem. Although Marsala insisted on always playing good jazz, whether swing or streamlined New Orleans style, he never, ever condescended to record any pop tunes of the day, so he never had any hit records. Without hit records, no one but hardcore jazz collectors—who even then only represented 30% of the population at best—were going to buy his records, and none of them would be played on the radio (except by real jazz DJs like Ralph Berton). Marsala’s band recorded for Vocalion and, for two or three years, for Decca, but most of the time they had to make do with small indie labels like General Records, known almost exclusively for having made Jelly Roll Morton’s last recordings. Most people who are not Joe Marsala fans don’t even know that he did record for General. Later on, he recorded on the Black & White and Musicraft labels, neither one with really good distribution. When his Decca recording of Twelve Bar Stampede b/w Feather Bed Lament was issued in England, his name didn’t even appear on the label. Instead, the session was credited to British-born jazz critic Leonard Feather because he had written those tunes.

brown DeccaAdd to that the fact that the Marsala band never toured but only played in New York and mostly at the Hickory House, and you have a recipe for a modest, solid income but nothing approaching stardom. Of course Marsala, being a modest man with no exhibitionist tendencies, probably would have crumbled under the weight of stardom and particularly its grueling one-night stands across the country, and toting Adele’s $2,500 harp around would have made such travels cumbersome. At one point, from 1939 to 1941, he expanded his group to nine pieces which was scored like a big band to take advantage of the swing jazz orchestra craze of the time, but nine pieces—in which there was only one trumpet (brother Marty) and no trombones—weren’t going to bowl anyone over, especially (again) with not a single hit record to their credit. Ironically, he received what was possibly his widest exposure as an occasional guest on Eddie Condon’s trad-jazz radio broadcasts beginning in 1943, first from Town Hall and then, from 1945 onward, from his own nightclub, Condon’s.

Black and White labelMarsala’s musical curiosity extended briefly into the bebop era. In 1945 he recorded two sessions with the very advanced bop guitarist Chuck Wayne, and in the first of these he had Dizzy Gillespie as a guest artist. Yet again, the records only appealed to the jazz cognoscenti.

By 1948, Marsala had had enough. In an ironic twist of fate, one of his last recordings was a middle-of-the-road pop version of Someone to Watch Over Me, complete with a chorus of singers behind himself and Adele. Although it didn’t make the top ten, it was the best-selling record of his career. That’s when he knew it was time to leave. Also, in addition to his colitis, Joe had developed an allergy to nickel and had a constant rash on his hands from the nickel-plated keys on his instrument, so he decided to stop playing. In its place, he wrote—of all things—popular songs, some of which were recorded by Frank Sinatra and Patti Page. The lifelong, hardcore jazz man became mainstream at last.

Musicraft 2Joe Marsala died at age 71 in 1978. Adele outlived him by 15 years, dying in 1993 at the age of 80. She missed him terribly to her dying day, but managed to leave us one last memento of her talent. Clarinetist Bobby Gordon, who had studied with Joe, made an album of standards with her in 1991. Although her playing is evidently a bit less energetic than it had been in her prime, Adele played very well on it. It was her way of saying both “Thank you” and “Goodbye” to the man she loved.

Below are links to the performances I like the most:

Swingin’ at the Hickory House (w/Manone)
A Star Fell Out of Heaven (w/Red Allen)
Wolverine Blues
Feather Bed Lament
Jim Jam Stomp (w/Buddy Rich)
Hot String Beans (w/Buddy Rich)
Twelve Bar Stampede
Three O’Clock Jump (w/Bill Coleman & Pete Brown)
Reunion in Harlem (w/Bill Coleman & Pete Brown)
Salty Mama Blues (w/Bill Coleman & Pete Brown)
Clarinet Marmalade
Bull’s Eye (w/Shelly Manne)
Slow Down (w/Shelly Manne)
Solid Geometry for Squares (w/Shelly Manne)
With a Twist of the Wrist (w/Dave Tough)
Soft Winds (w/Dave Tough)
Walkin’ the Dog (w/Max Kaminsky)
Sweet Mama, Papa’s Getting’ Mad (w/Kaminsky)
I Know That You Know (w/Eddie Condon & Gene Krupa)
Clarinet Chase (w/Ernie Caceres, Pee Wee Russell, Krupa)
Zero Hour (w/Joe Thomas & Chuck Wayne)
Joe Joe Jump (w/Joe Thomas & Chuck Wayne)
Slightly Dizzy (w/Chuck Wayne)
My Melancholy Baby (w/Wayne, Dizzy Gillespie)
Cherokee (w/Wayne, Dizzy Gillespie)
Southern Comfort (w/Joe Thomas, Buddy Christian)
Gotta Be This or That (w/Joe Thomas, Buddy Christian)
Harp Boogie (Adele Girard, solo)

Check them out…you’ll be glad you did.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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[1] Adele Girard quotes from The Sweethearts of Swing,, © Phillip D. Atterberry.