Jazz Jottings October 20175 minute read

“August 21, 1935 is often cited as the birth of The Swing Era. What Goodman thought was going to be the end—was just the beginning." - Dan Levinson

Wesla Whitfield Retires

Posting an announcement on Facebook that his wife, vocalist Wesla Whitfield is retiring due to health issues that affect her singing, Mike Greensill, her husband and accompanist, wrote: “For a long time, Wesla has had a bad infection that’s growing and won’t go away, and the drugs she has to take to treat the infection are playing havoc with her voice and throat. She’s just not happy with her ability to sing up to her standards, so has decided, reluctantly, that it’s time to hang it all up, concentrate on getting better, and not have to worry about the energy needed for performing.”

“Wesla is looking forward to enjoying a well-earned and contented retirement. Speaking of ‘well earned’, I’m really proud of the extensive body of work we’ve produced together from the 22 albums to performances at the White House and Carnegie Hall. And you can still bask in the over 350 songs that she’s has recorded.”

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Wesla Whitfield

– Always a Singer

A native Californian, Weslia Edwards (with the added “i” in her given name) acknowledges she knew at the age of two-and-a-half that she would grow up to be a singer. She has a degree in music from San Francisco State University, and her first job was as a salaried chorister with the San Francisco Opera. She performed at various San Francisco cabarets along the way and also worked as a singing waitress at a restaurant in nearby Burlingame.

On April 12, 1977 following a rehearsal, she was walking back to her car when she was hit in the back by a random .22-caliber bullet that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Two years of arduous physical therapy followed, but in less than three months and confined to a wheelchair, she was back on stage. “There was no way I wasn’t going to sing,” she recalled. “In the midst of being depressed, I knew I would figure out how to do things. I just went on doing what I had been doing before the accident.”

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When Wesla received SFSU’s Alumna of the Year Award in 2001, the citation noted, “Wesla Whitfield’s story is one of amazing talent, dedication, perseverance and strength. The career that she has built is an inspiration to us all.”

Related: Wesla Whitfield: “Time to Leave the Room”The Final Chorus March 2018

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It didn’t take the folks who run the Colorado Springs Jazz Party long to decided that bassist Nicki Parrott should be the “Honored Musician of 2017” at their October 27-29 event held at the Antlers Hotel in downtown Colorado Springs. Ken Peplowski and Johnny Varro will be back in the lineup of 15 musicians (along with Joe Smith & the Spicy Pickles) after an extended absence, and New York-based drummer and educator Alvin Atkinson will be making his first appearance. A special treat on Sunday will be a program of gypsy jazz by local artists David Siegel and Stefan Doucette, and the inaugural broadcast of a new jazz station, 93.5 JAZZ will originate from the Antlers ballroom.

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While the country was absorbed with the total eclipse this past August 21, Dan Levinson made note of another momentous event that took place on that date. Dapper Dan wrote: “On August 21, 1935, the fledgling Benny Goodman Orchestra arrived at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, the final stop on their disastrous cross-country tour, having played to mostly empty houses. Lined up outside the door and stretching down Vermont Avenue were several thousand swing-crazed Goodman fans, who had been tuning in to the band’s weekly radio broadcasts. The members of the band became overnight stars, and Goodman himself went on to become the first pop icon.

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“August 21, 1935 is often cited as the birth of The Swing Era. What Goodman thought was going to be the end—was just the beginning. Let’s not let the total eclipse totally eclipse the anniversary of this monumental event!”
The advertisement that appeared in Los Angeles newspapers listed the charge for dancing, cover, loges and entertainment at The Palomar as 30 cents for ladies and 40 cents for gentlemen.

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Trombonist Russ Phillips will be the guest artist at the 12th annual Traditional Jazz Youth Band Festival February 10, 2018 at Sacramento State University. A stellar lineup of clinicians include Joe and Paul Midiri, Bob Draga, Bill Dendle, Katie Cavera, Justin Au, Jason Wanner, Steve Holman, and Ron Jones.

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Every band at the upcoming Arizona Classic Jazz Festival in Chandler will be doing a special educational set during the November 2-5 weekend. There will be sets featuring the music associated with Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Errol Garner, the San Francisco Revival, the blues, and rock ‘n’ roll. Igor Glenn of the Jazz Cowboys fame will lead a sing-along Saturday morning at 10:30.

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The American Jazz Museum is struggling to deal with some financial issues resulting from a festival it sponsored this past May. Musicians have had checks for their performances bounce, and vendors are reported to be owed at least $150,000.

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A Museum official was quoted as saying, “The Museum was too ambitious in forecasting our estimated ticket sales for the festival, and weekend storms further depressed our ticket and vendor sales. The Board has a plan in place to eliminate the fiscal deficit from the festival that includes raising funds from sponsors as well as reducing expenses.”
Located in the historic 18th and Vine district in Kansas City, Missouri in a building that also houses the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Jazz Museum features exhibits on Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and others. Items on display include a saxophone owned by Parker and various DownBeat awards. The Blue Room is a fully-functioning jazz club on site, and the Gem Theatre across the street is a larger venue hosting jazz music.

Related story: American Jazz Museum in KC Restructuring

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If you’re in the Big Apple and looking for some hot jazz, wander down to the tip of Manhattan to a Cuban-inspired cantina that sits atop the Pier A Harbor House to hear the Black Tail Songbirds on Thursday nights. Pianist Terry Waldo is the leader of the group that includes Dan Levinson on reeds, trumpeter Mike Davis and vocalist Molly Ryan. (Other musical groups hold forth on Tuesdays and Saturdays.)

BlackTail is meant to suggest what an American bar in Havana may have been like during Prohibition, when Americans flocked to Cuba in search of the liquid refreshment denied them (legally, anyway) in their own country. The bar’s name refers to Aeromarine Airways, a short-lived luxury fleet that made regular trips to Havana and whose tail fins were painted black.

Seats at the bar are adorned with inlaid brass plaques bearing the names of famous Havana visitors like Ernest Hemingway, Al Capone and Alec Guinness. The bar stools are patterned after those at the famous El Floridita, one of Hemingway’s favorite haunts in the city.

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The boyhood home of pianist Art Tatum (1909-1956) on City Park Avenue in the Junction neighborhood of Toledo, Ohio has been targeted as part of a revitalization project to cover windows and entryways of vacant and blighted homes with murals. The home has been unoccupied for more than a decade.

Tatum is widely considered one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time and influenced generations of jazz pianists. Hailed for the technical proficiency of his performances, which set a new standard for jazz piano virtuosity, he was blind in one eye and had only partial vision in the other. Fellow TST writer Scott Yanow praised “Tatum’s quick reflexes and boundless imagination that kept his improvisations filled with fresh (and sometimes futuristic) ideas and put him way ahead of his contemporaries.”

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Jazz blogger Marc Myers had an interesting take when reporting Larry Elgart’s passing: “Larry Elgart was an alto saxophonist and enterprising and tireless big-band leader whose major success began at the very moment when nearly all other swing orchestras were arthritic relics and the word ‘band’ typically referred to four guys with long hair playing electric instruments and a drum set.”

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“Today, jazz music is a miscellaneous collection of wide-ranging and disputed genres that stands to the side of American culture. How did the train go off the tracks?” – The New Yorker


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Jazz Jottings October 2017

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