Norman’s Corner

Velkommen til Norman’s Corner!

Her finder du levende beretninger fra jazzens verden skrevet af klubbens æresmedlem, den amerikanske jazzskribent Norman R. Leer, der i mange år har forfattet artikler og poesi om emnet. Hans viden indenfor jazzens verden er enorm, og hans tekster er læsningen værd.

God fornøjelse!

norman
Norman R. Leer
Foto: Poul Henning Thureby


A Second Line for Papa Bue

By Norman Leer, Jazz editor, USA

Papa Bue is dead at 81. One of Grethe’s (my wife) sisters has sent a “Dódsfald” clipping from Jyllands Posten, with a photo of Papa Bue holding his trombone and looking legendary, like a modern-day Julemand. I feel like another of my cultural heroes is gone, and know he will be missed by traditional jazz fans all over the world.

I’d known about him and heard a few records even before my Fulbright year in Denmark in 1974-75. And there are some good memories from that year. In the fall, before I met Grethe, I was spending a weekend in Kóbenhavn, and went one night to Vingården to hear the band. When I arrived at the restaurant, the set hadn’t yet begun. I sat at the bar, and recognized George Lewis playing on the sound system. I felt right at home, and started talking about Lewis to the bartender. The next night when I came in, he put another Lewis record on, and this along with Papa Bue’s music was one of my first personal connections in Denmark. Later in the spring, after I’d met Grethe, we went to hear Papa Bue’s band at Tivoli, By this time, I’d become a big fan, and started to collect as many of his LP’s and later CD’s as I could find.

Somewhere in the universe, all our energies, including the art and music we create, come or are together. We imagine we can recognize ourselves and others in this cosmic jam-session, and call it heaven. Whatever form there is or isn’t, I want to think that somewhere out in space Arne Bue Jensen is having a New Orleans funeral parade. All his sidemen are there: Finn Otto Hansen, Jórgen Svare, Mogens Seidelin, Jens Sólund, Bjarne “Liller” Petersen, Ib Lindschouw and all the others. The bands he played with before he formed the Vikings are also present: Henrik Johansen’s group and the Bohana Jazzband. And joining in the procession, paying their tribute, are all the American jazz musicians who played with Papa Bue: George Lewis, Wild Bill Davison, Ben Webster, Edmund Hall, and in the rear, with his piano up on a wagon and playing a heartfelt blues, Art Hodes.

As the marchers and musicians weave their way through Nyhavn, Papa Bue’s favorite part of Kóbenhavn, the band breaks into the achingly spare lamentations of the spirituals. Led by Jórgen Svare on clarinet, they play “Sometimes my Burden is Hard to Bear” and “When I Leave this World Behind.” Saying their final farewell to Papa Bue, in good New Orleans style they pause. Only the slow muffled heartbeat of Ib Lindschouw’s snare drum breaks the still light. The memory of Papa Bue’s long artistic life, all the music he left for all of us, fills the quiet space with formless shapes. Everyone pauses, and is both sad and grateful.

As the memorial procession begins to move again, the band breaks into “Schlafe Mein Prinzchen,” the German lullaby that Papa Bue turned into a mixture of blues and spiritual, the opening notes like the sad ticking of a clock. Somewhere, he is shapelessly sleeping. And now the band begins to celebrate, to draw us back into the life we shared with him, the life he made richer and more vibrant with his music. “Oh, Didn’t He Ramble,” “Bourbon Street Parade,” “All the Girls Go Crazy;” the raspy raucous voice and banjo twang of Liller fill the emptiness. More and more fans and followers get the spirit of the second line, jumping and dancing like stars or particles in space, celebrating the life that Papa Bue was and created, that we all are part of in deeper, more invisible ways because of him and his musicians.

He is gone, but still with us. A whole shelf of my CD collection is lined with his records. And Denmark is alive and swinging with bands influenced by the New Orleans sound, learned from old records but also through the conduit of Papa Bue. I look forward to sitting again next summer at På Havnen in Juelsminde, listening to bands like The Tuxedo, The Lake City and Dixieland Jubilees, all enlarging a Danish tradition begun by Arne Papa Bue Jensen, who “rambled till the butcher cut him down.”

(November 11, 2011)

Anmeldelse af biografi, Leo ‘The Lion’ Mathisen

On to Leo Mathisen. It was fun to listen to the Leo Mathiesen pieces on your website. They definitely swing, and particularly enjoyed “Anita,” which it turns out is a Fats Waller number, so I was on the right track. Grethe (wife, Ed.) had fun listening too.

One should not underestimate the music of Leo Mathiesen. His music may sound a bit tame to our ears, but it seems quite similar to me to much of the big band music that was popular during the ’30’s and ’40’s in the US. Mathisen’s music may not be as artistically daring as the work of the greatest big bands: Duke Ellington’s and Count Basie’s aggregations. But it certainly stands very nicely alongside the recordings of Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Cab Calloway and others in this popular genre. Mathiesen’s piano playing is in the Harlem stride style, influenced by Fats Waller and Willie ‘the Lion’ Smith. It’s interesting that Mathiesen’s nickname is the same as Smith’s and one of the tunes on the Basin Street website, “Anita” is a Waller composition.

In addition, it’s important to remember that while Danish jazz flowered in the middle 1950’s, with the music of Papa Bue’s Viking Jazz Band and Niels Henning Orsted-Petersen [sorry, I can’t type the Danish letters on email], it had earlier beginnings. Before forming his own band, Arne “Bue” Jensen played with a group called the Bohana Jazz Band that included Niels “Ricardo” Hansen on banjo. This band tried to sound like Bunk Johnson’s band of the 1940’s, complete with an echo effect that recalled the wooden New Orleans Dance Halls. But Mathiesen went even further back. He was playing that jazz during World War II. And Mike Zwerin reminds us, in his book, La Tristesse de Saint Louis, played a special and important role in Europe during the 1940’s, especially in Nazi Germany. It existed underground, and was a way of declaring individual and artistic freedom. I know that Danish cabaret songs had a similar function in Denmark during the occupation, and I suspect that Mathiesen’s jazz played a similar role.

Enjoy the good humor and the swinging sounds. But remember that this music was also an indirect humanistic and political affirmation. So have some fun listening, and “Take it Easy, Boy, Boy.”


På Havnen

A seagull shapes a phrase
of light, solos in a shiny arc,

fading toward the sun. The clarinet
follows the bird; they are playing

“Basin Street Blues” by the harbor
in Juelsminde. The trumpet player

sings a verse in thirsty English
and takes a furtive gulp of beer,

while the trombone walks them
through a light night blues. The sun

will stay up almost all night,
and disappear a month from now.

A small child dances alone,
not knowing; the parents watch

and smile. A dog chases a fish
along the pier. It is perfect, this fading

arc of afternoon, a shining song
between the darkness and the light.

Norman Leer, January 17. 2011

Serious Fun: Some Danish Jazz Impressions

The summer of 2010 was warmer than usual in Denmark. This might have been because of global warming since much of the U.S. and Europe saw similar temperatures, or it could have been the atmosphere registering all the hot sounds coming from the small coastal town of Juelsminde, where the series of Sunday afternoon concerts at På Havnen has now become the “Juelsminde Jazzfestival.” Each week for eight consecutive Sunday afternoons, the harbor café run by Johnny Valentin features three hours of live traditional jazz, with an occasional small swing combo. The bands are mostly from central or southern Jutland; Juelsminde is on the east coast, south of Ǻrhus, Denmark’s second largest, which is one hour away. All are worth hearing. Since I last described the Juelsminde scene in 2005 (Jazz Beat, vol. 17, no. 1), the bands have crystallized, each developing and refining its own style and voice. In 2005, Johnny Valentin told me the musicians were interchangeable, and moved almost randomly between the different bands. Now, while two have some players in common, each group has evolved  a distinct identity; the musicians know each other and work creatively together, and several bands have made their own CD’s.

I was lucky to hear five concerts this summer. My wife and I were again visiting her Danish family, and were as always enjoying the busy idyllic harbor, the clean natural beaches, small shops and cafes of this indigenous fishing village which has reinvented itself as a green tourist destination. Johnny Valentin’s efforts have been a significant part of this transformation. På Havnen (which means “by the harbor”) occupies a former restaurant space, but has added to good traditional Danish food a mix of jazz and other community events and a welcoming informal atmosphere. Johnny is himself a clarinet player, who began to hear and like traditional jazz while he was living in the nearby city of Horsens. His providing a venue for the music has pulled together a jazz culture that was already quite active in the surrounding area. It’s not uncommon to find a New Orleans style band playing “Canal St. Blues” on the pedestrian streets of neighboring towns, and one of these, Silkeborg, has a Riverboat Festival in late June which also attracts many local players and their fans.

But the concerts at På Havnen have given jazz a steady visibility over most of the summer. The Danes, stoic about their long and rainy winters, worship their summers and love their jazz. The atmosphere on the restaurant’s terrace is very special. The bands occupy a stage that is also the steps to an indoor dining room, where a jazz buffet  is laid out for customers. The audience outside is seated close to the musicians, and this intimacy is reinforced during breaks, when the players often join various table groups for a sandwich and a beer. Dogs and children sit with their families and sometimes wander across the stage. Next to the band is a small bar area, where Johnny dispenses generous glasses of Tuborg ól or an occasional vin. There’s no cover charge; you can sit for the entire afternoon over a glass or two, or you can enjoy the buffet lunch. Many of the people in the audience are regulars, coming each week to hear the music. They either know each other or become new friends, linked by their interest in the music. They are mostly Danes, with a few Germans and an occasional American, either an expatriate or a visitor like myself. The atmosphere is warm and easygoing – plenty of fun; but at the same time there’s a seriousness about the music. This interest and knowledge are in fact so strong that the locals have formed a Basin Street Jazz Club, chaired by Jens Jórgen Larsen, which has one-hundred-and-eighty paid members and sponsors other concerts and discussions during the year. (disclosure of interest: I’ve been given a lifetime honorary membership).

It’s this combination of seriousness and fun that struck me this summer. I can’t think of any small town in America where the interest in and knowledge of traditional jazz are so active and involve so many people. New Orleans, of course, has Preservation Hall, the Palm Court Café and the Hogan Archives at Tulane. But you’d expect nothing less of Louis Armstrong’s birthplace and the first focal point of jazz. Denmark, and Juelsminde in particular, are fast becoming another worldwide focal point for classic jazz activity. Copenhagen and Ǻrhus both have excellent jazz festivals which used to feature all styles. I remember hearing both Papa Bue and John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet on the streets of Copenhagen. But lately these festivals have focused more on avant-garde and fusion jazz, and you have to go three hours west by train to Juelsminde to find the older styles done with a unique Danish twist. I hope more people will come and listen.

In his commentary for the autobiographical Hot Man, Art Hodes’ co-writer and editor Chadwick Hansen, writes that Hodes made his first trip to Europe in 1970. A major stop was in Denmark, where Hodes recorded four band sides and one trio arrangement with Papa Bue’s Viking Jazz Band (two of these have recently been reissued in a Papa Bue 80th birthday commemorative set by Storyville Records), as well as a solo album with Papa Bue’s bass player, Jens Sóland. Hodes himself writes about the large crowds he later drew at concerts in Germany:

That evening we had an equally large crowd. I keep asking myself why. Is it because Europeans have a love for American jazz and we haven’t? It would seem so. They buy the recordings, and when an American jazzman comes to their land, they flock to hear him. Many are well informed of our jazz heritage. The best jazz discographies come from abroad. It’s like we have the music and don’t value it, and they value it and pursue it.
(Hodes and Hansen, p. 103)

I thought of Art Hodes this summer on our last Sunday, as I heard one of the bands, Dixieland Jubilees, journey deep inside “See See Rider,” the blues-laden sounds driven by the piano of Jens Petersen. I was a little sad about leaving in a few days, and suddenly everything the blues can stir up swelled inside my throat, and the music seemed for a moment to be just for me. I felt grateful. This band has a driving bite; the interplay between Ole Kirk on trumpet, Freddie Bang on trombone Bent Østergaard on clarinet and sax and the rhythm section lit by drummer Kim Kjær is full of sparks and surprises. But it’s clear that everyone knows where the music comes from and can paint with a wide palette of emotional colors.

All the bands are very good, but along with Dixieland Jubilees two others stand out for me personally: the Lake City Jazz Band and the Tuxedo New Orleans Jazz Band. Their names tell the story. While Dixieland Jubilees strives for a blend of Chicago style and swing reminiscent of the New York bands of the ‘forties, the Lake City band is clearly inspired by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, the Armstrong Hot Fives and Sevens and other Chicago bands of the ‘twenties, and the Tuxedo Band looks back to Papa Celestin’s and other classic Crescent City groups. The last two bands share two musicians. Poul Christensen plays trombone with the Lake City Band and tuba (called a sousaphone in Denmark) with the Tuxedo. Christensen was, I believe, also involved with an earlier Danish group, the Jutlandia Jazz Band. Stig Fisker does banjo, guitar and vocal duties with both the Lake City and the Tuxedo groups, and is an organizing force on the local jazz scene in general. He told me he would also like to play trumpet with a modern jazz group.

The Lake City Band has a strong ensemble sound, and builds on both short ‘twenties-style breaks and longer solos. The repertoire on their CD features numbers such as “Black and Blue,” “Mama’s Gone Goodbye” and the later Bechet showpiece “Petite Fleur.” The Tuxedo’s repertoire can overlap on some numbers, but the band is also strong on spirituals, with clarinetist Leif Bjórnó gliding soulfully through “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” or “Over in the Gloryland,” and touching deep layers of communal sadness and hope.

If space allowed, I’d mention all the musicians I heard, sitting on the På Havnen terrace. They know their sources, and are serious about their art. When I asked Stig Fisker about his, I’d expected him to mention Bjarne “Liller” Petersen, the popular and slightly raucous banjo player and singer with Papa Bue’s band. But instead the first name he brought up was Johnny St. Cyr. Drummer Kim Kjær lists Ray Baduc as an influence, and trumpeter Ole Kirk writes in Dixieland Jubilees’ flyer that he’s played with Alton Purnell. The entire band has collaborated with New Orleans trumpeter Wendell Brunious.

Another indication of this seriousness is that none of the bands are simply imitating other musicians or their recordings. Certainly, the clarinet player will do the standard Alphonse Picou solo on “High Society” and the bands incorporate other solos that are almost part of jazz folklore. But I often sensed new solos and dialogues being created on the spot. Improvisation is central to jazz, and there was the tangible excitement of the best live sessions, with the musicians hearing each other and the audience listening to all of them. At the same time, both musicians and audience were sipping their beers and watching the changing light and swirling seagulls on a Danish summer afternoon.

I’ve begun to sense this mix of seriousness and fun as essential to an elusive Danish national character. Cultural generalizations are too easy, but the Danes have certainly demonstrated their deeper values by developing one of the most effective social democracies in the world, and also by their strong resistance during World War II, when they saved most of their Jews and other targeted groups from extermination by the Nazis. At the same time, the Danes view conflict with a lovely irony. There’s a story that if there was a war and it started raining, the Danes would stop the battle and go in for a cup of strong coffee or a beer. I hope I’d join them.

Behind all the serious fun at På Havnen is the owner, Johnny Valentin. You’ll find him usually behind the tiny outdoor bar, serving drinks and talking with customers. Sometimes he wanders between the tables, bringing orders, and here again he usually stops to chat or wave to someone. He often sports a wide brimmed sun hat, and a summer outfit that’s almost Danish tradition: knicker-length shorts and a light shirt. If the weather gets cool or rainy, as if often does, you simply add a sweater or a vest. After all, it’s still summer, at least for a short two months.  And there’s great jazz to listen to, so why get too concerned about a little wind or rain.

**********

A brief postscript: if this article induces you to visit Juelsminde and På Havnen and hear the music for yourself, travel information can be found and accommodations arranged through the Juelsminde Tourist Bureau, www.visitjuelsminde.dk. And information about På Havnen, including concert schedules when ready, is available at www.pahavnen.dk.

(September 25, 2010)

Norman Leer
301 S. Yellowstone Drive, Apt. 301
Madison, WI 53705-4378
Email: normanleer@att.net