Remembering Ralph Sutton
To the Editor:
What a great surprise and delight to see the photo and read the article by Jeff Barnhart about Jeff, the sadly late John Sheridan, and myself playing two pianos with Ralph Sutton. Besides that wonderful memory with those great pianists, it reminded me of other experiences and some Colorado jazz history.
My first steady paying gig in Denver was in 1975 at a place called Herby’s Bar in the Executive Tower Inn downtown. It was heady for me as I was making $20/hour playing Sunday brunch and Monday nights—$160/week, which was all my wife and I needed to live on at the time. It allowed me to work (for no pay) as music director in a community theater with friends who I am still in touch with.
The Monday night slot at Herby’s was available because it was Ralph Sutton’s night off…so it was also my first encounter with the great pianist. We didn’t see each other much, but I would go in to hear him play during his five nights. The hotel bar was mostly filled with traveling businessmen who couldn’t care less about the piano player, which allowed Ralph, as he told me, to play what he damn well pleased and also to have a steady job “at home” after his world travels. He was living near Bailey, a little mountain town about an hour drive away. For my part, it gave me the opportunity to sight-read my way through fake books and begin to learn tunes…and to be inspired by Ralph.
I never dreamed I would actually have a chance to make music with Ralph. That happened, as Jeff’s article relates, at the Summit Jazz Festival in Denver, run by Juanita Greenwood and Alan Frederickson. The festival itself had been started in the late 1970s by Juanita and another jazz fan and supporter named Alan Granruth, with venues first in Breckenridge and Silverthorne, Colorado (in Summit County, get it?). As I recall, it lasted only a couple of years there, I’m thinking mostly because the out-of-town horn players had such a difficult time blowing at 9000 feet elevation.
Alan Granruth had also been the moving force behind the Central City (Colorado) Jazz Festival, which began in 1976. After a few years of their working together, Juanita took over the Summit operation and moved it to the Denver hotel ballroom, and in due time began working with Alan Frederickson, whom Jeff so colorfully describes in his article. I also got to know Juanita quite well in her role as bookkeeper for the Queen City Jazz Band, and as a piano student of mine for a short time. She told me she wanted to learn a bit about playing music in order to better understand her musician friends.
The Summit Jazz Festival weekends were well attended by jazz fans from all over, and usually featured four bands, three from out-of-town and always the Alan Frederickson Jazz Ensemble, of which I was a member for about three years. Alan had co-founded the Queen City Jazz Band in 1958, and in about 1980, thought that without him as leader the band would shut down. After he returned from a two year around-the-world sailing experience, he came back to Colorado to find the band still holding forth and his slot as trombonist in the group taken. He played with the QCJB anyway for a couple of years (“2 trombones, no waiting”), but then decided to start his ensemble. It was a great swinging group and lives on under the name Summit Hot Seven.
Thanks to you for all the great information in The Syncopated Times. It was also wonderful for me to read about fellow Coloradoan Max Morath, who was another inspiration to me. Keep up the good work!
Made in Harlem
To the Editor:
I much appreciated the recent article on the singing Smiths: Mamie, Trixie, and Laura. I do want to offer a possible correction. It is often written that Mamie was appearing in a revue titled Maid of Harlem at the time she first recorded. However, I believe, based on an item in the Chicago Defender from September 1916, the title was probably Made in Harlem, which at one time featured Perry Bradford. Either way, I doubt that Sophie Tucker was ever part of this company.
Keep Up the Good Work
To the Editor:
I love getting TST. I received it last year for a present on my 80th birthday. It is especially welcomed at this time when we can’t go to any live festivals in my area of Oregon and Washington.
Keep up the good work. I read it cover to cover.
Mary Jane McDonald
Thank you so much for your kind words—and your renewal! -Ed.
Our Hometown Brew
To the Editor:
Do they still make Utica Club beer? As a kid growing up in northern New York in the ’60s I loved the Schultz & Dooley commercials.
Utica Club is still in production and is a big seller in the region. The local hipsters prefer it to PBR. In the 1960s, UC went national with the Schultz & Dooley ad campaign. The reason those commercials were so good was that Jonathan Winters provided the voices for those well-loved talking beer steins. The ads, still hilarious, can easily be found on YouTube. – Ed.