Jazz Institute of Chicago

Growing Up Musically in Chicago

Gene Esposito
Marty at the drums
Johnny Howell
Engineer Bruce Luedien
Rehearsal band
Marty and Marge

Growing Up Musically in Chicago
by Marty Clausen

I was lucky to be born in Chicago when I was. It was the end of the roaring '20s, and jazz was already a huge part of our culture. When I started playing drums in the early '40s, we were in transition between swing and bebop. The "new music" was drawing a lot of us into a whole different way of playing, and thinking.

When I was about sixteen I met Sandy Mosse while rehearsing with Don Newey's small band. We didn't think of it at the time, but we were to be lifelong friends and fellow players in many different musical situations.

There were so many guys around who played well. A partial list includes: Eddie Baker, Billy Cannon, Irv Craig, Miff Cunliff, Ike Day, Gene Esposito, Kenny Fredrickson, Burrell Gluskin, Billy Gaeto, Dom Jaconetty, Joe Iaco, Ronnie Kolber, Lee Konitz, Red Lionberg, Gary Miller, Larry Novak, Hal Russell, Ira Shulman, Ira Sullivan, Cy Touff, Kenny Verdun, Guy Viveros and George Ziskind.

When Charlie Parker played the Blue Note with the full string section, Kenny Fredrickson was the pianist. This didn't surprise anyone. Kenny is also the guy who, when a particularly awful trumpet player sat in with him at a session at the old Key of 'C' club at Montrose and Broadway, turned to him after he played his alleged chorus and said, "What are you man, the fuzz?"

Hal Fox had a tailor-made clothing store at 712 West Roosevelt Road that made clothes for many show-biz folks, and practically all the musicians in the name bands. On any given day you could run into people like Lionel Hampton, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Jordan...EVERYONE. It was very hip to have a Fox Brothers suit. It took me about 5 years before I could afford one, even though they only cost about $55.

At Fox Bros. Tailors, in addition to Hal Fox, were Hal's brother Victor, their mother, and the manager, Morris. They were all like an extended family to us youngsters.

Hal Fox was also "Jimmy Dale" of Jimmy Dale and his Orchestra. He bankrolled the band with some of the profits from the store. What this usually meant was that if six trumpet players showed up for the gig, and seven or eight saxophone players, they all got paid. I was not the drummer with that band but Hal would call me once in a while to make the rehearsals. I was thrilled to get to play with those guys.

Some of the people I recall who were with that band: vocalist June Davis; drummer Joe Sperry, and later trumpets Wesley Landers, Red Higgins, Gayle Brockman, Ed Badgley, and Wayne Anderson; bass trumpet Cy Touff; trombones Ralph Meltzer, John Avant; saxes Lee Konitz, Pat Bolby, Ted Kay; piano Lou Levy; and guitar Norm Galenter. Dozens of other guys also went through this great band.

One summer I had steady Monday nights at the Vanity Show Lounge in the 3900 Block of North Broadway, across from the Vogue Theatre. The regular group was Ira Shulman, tenor; Burrell Gluskin, piano; Bob Fahsbender, bass; and me.

This gig was a session night, and a lot of players would show up on that little bandstand. We played anything we wanted, and on more than one occasion Bill Russo would show up with the lovely and talented vocalist Shelby Davis, and an armload of small group charts. Shelby and Bill would later marry. We always had fun playing these different styles for our $10 a night.

By now the bebop pieces were standard repertoire, and were even well received by the public. Speaking of the ubiquitous Bill Russo, he organized a large group and called it "An Experiment in Jazz." It was Stan Kenton-esque in style and approach, although I'm sure Bill might have some comment about that. Anyway, it was interesting to play those arrangements in that environment.

This was where I met Johnny Howell, who was, until the day he died, everyone's favorite trumpet player, especially drummers. Because of the importance of proximity between the lead trumpet player and the drummer, John and I always set up next to each other on gigs. His warm, beautiful sound, his spirit, and his heart, were all immense. There very likely will never be another like him. Others on Russo's band were; Ed Avis, Burrell Gluskin, Eddie Baker, Ira Shulman, Dom Carone, and Steve Novacells.

This Russo band recorded at Universal Studios, which was located on the 42nd floor of the Civic Opera House, and was the same studio in which that wonderful, ground-breaking Billy Eckstine band recorded. Because a record ban was about to start, recording was going on 24 hours a day, and our session time was from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m.

The four sides we recorded were: "Lonely Town", vocal by Shelby; "Orion", "For Roger", and "Stairway to the Stars", featuring Johnny Howell. Walking out into the cold, gray dawn of Chicago at around 5 a.m. felt pretty good after that date, which was the first for many of us.

Universal Studio was also the place where the Harmonicats recorded the big commercial hit, "Peg O' My Heart." The famous "echo" effect on that record was accomplished by running the sound by wire down the hall into the men's room which was, as was typical in those old classic buildings, lined with marble. The sound came out of a speaker in the men's room, where it bounced all over the place on those hard marble surfaces. A microphone then picked up all of this, and sent it back to the stylus digging into the acetate disc...bingo, "Peg O' My Heart."
John Howell had various rehearsal bands that met Sunday afternoons in the front room of his house on Tahoma in Edgebrook. Once again, a lot of guys participated in those good bands. A partial list includes—Marty Marshak, Joe Kaply, Angelo Basagas, Tom Dolan, Ron Kolber, Fred Karlin, Mel Schmidt, Bart Deming, Ted Pethes, Lenny Druss, and Warren Kime. The charts we played were the best around at the time, and included many we had never seen before.

John's wonderful playing was, of course, his gift to us all, but his ability to eat was almost unchallenged. One time a bunch of us went into the La Margarita on Rush St. for Mexican food after a gig, and we had a contest to see who could eat the most at one sitting; many of you know how hungry you can get after a gig, (heh-heh). The winner would eat free.

Out of about eight contestants John and I, each of us tipping the scales at about 230 at the time, tied at two and a half combination plates each, plus chips, salsa, and drinks. We ate for nothing.

One night John came home from a late gig and discovered a giant plate of Swedish meatballs in the refrigerator. He wolfed them all down in no time, and went to bed. He was shaken awake early the next morning by his wife, Kirsten. He had eaten the very special meatballs she had made for her P.T.A. meeting that day. John said she seemed upset.

In 1960, trumpeter Bobby Bryant called me for a double record date at Universal Studio. It was a big band session including John Howell, Bill Adkins, Bill Porter, John Avant, Kenny Soderblum, Johnny Board, Truck Parham, John Young; all in all I seem to remember around 17 or 18 guys. This was a very good band.

Bobby wrote the charts, and as is the case with good writing, they played themselves. We did 12 tunes, but unfortunately the album never came out. Somehow, I was able to get a copy of this session, which I occasionally dig out and listen to...it still holds up quite well.
I worked with Art Van Damme for a long time in the sixties. I know some people might think the accordion is not exactly a jazz instrument. Whether it is or isn't, I must say it was a big kick to play with Art and guys like Fred Rundquist, Bob Wessberg, Herb Knapp, and Chuck Calzarreta.

We worked in every imaginable environment—recording studio, concerts, Dave Garroway's Today Show, the Desert Inn in Vegas, even little dumpy clubs—all over the place. Sometimes, as we would be waiting to go onstage at a concert, Art would come over to me, accordion strapped on, and say, "Marty, would you tell me which one of these keys is middle C?"

Jimmy Ille, a cornet player, had a dixie/jazz band at the Brass Rail in the fifties which had Eddie Higgins on piano; Scotty MacLaury, clarinet; Bill Johnson, trombone; Jimmy on cornet; and myself. Opposite us was a group that included the terrific drummer Guy Viveros.

Guy had well-formed opinions on various subjects. One night he and the trombone player got into an argument on the bandstand. Tempers flared, and Guy took a poke at him. Louis, the "manager" of the place hated any kind of disturbance, and ran after Guy. Guy wisely jumped from the bandstand onto the bar, ran its entire length, hopped off, and disappeared into the crowd on Randolph Street.

Louis ran up on the stand, picked up Guy's drums and hauled them out to the gutter, then charged back into the club and emerged again clutching a bottle of their fine bourbon. He poured the liquor over Guy's drums but no matter how many matches he struck they wouldn't burn! The popular theory was that the bourbon must have had some water in it. This is a kind of ugly story, but knowing Guy, and knowing Louie, believe me this is a happy ending compared to what could have been.

That club was owned by the "World's Biggest Company," and one night Louie came to us and told us to pack everything and go over to the Stevens hotel and play for a half hour at a big celebration in the main ballroom.

We got there, and were among ten other bands, singers, comedians, etc. that were lined up to provide the volunteered entertainment. I looked around and saw a gathering of the most prominent members of that famous "World's Biggest Company" (I think you know who I mean, some of them were featured in "The Godfather"); and what was the occasion?? It was the retirement party for Chicago's police commissioner. What a roomful of strange bedfellows. On one end of the long main table were the highest ranking police and political figures of Chicago; and on the other end those other guys!

Sandy Mosse recorded an album on Argo in 1958 that was mentioned in a Jazzgram recently. The players involved, in different combinations were Sandy, Junior Mance, Bob Cranshaw, Eddie Higgins, myself, and on some tracks, a string group. This album was titled "Relaxin' with Sandy Mosse." Cy Touff also did an album that year for Argo called, "Touff Assignment", with Sandy, Ed Higgins, Bob Cranshaw and me. The music that you hear on these records, I think, reflects the spirit of those times, and I'll never forget it.

The great part of this period was the fact that all of us were so close. My wife Marge went to school with Cy and Bill Russo. Sandy and his wife Clara were our neighbors for years. Ed Higgins and I worked many gigs together. Marge and I were so lucky to have such good friends for so long.

Yet another Argo album was one by Vito Price. It's called "Swingin' the Loop." I played on one side of the album, Gus Johnson was on the other. You probably know Gus Johnson spent some time with Basie's band. Bill McRea, from WGN, did the big band charts. The rhythm section was Max Bennet, Lou Levy, Remo Biondi, Gus Johnson, and me. To say it was a pleasure playing with these guys is an understatement.

Another gig with Sandy was at the Ivy Lounge on the northwest side. Irv Craig was the pianist, Ernest Outlaw played bass, and Renee Roberts was the singer. It was a short summer gig, but memorable for me because of the high-horsepower playing that took place.

This club was owned by a Chicago cop, so you probably know that there was more than a little action around. One night three plainclothes cops came rushing into the small parking lot next to the club, where we were out having a smoke. They went from car to car, feeling the hoods of the cars, in order to tell who came in last by the temperature of the hood. They had been chasing the car of someone they wanted real bad. They went inside and found their guy sitting in a corner booth, pretending he'd been there all night. Just another night at the neighborhood joint.

Some other groups I had the good fortune to work with: Audrey Morris and Stu Genovese; Johnny Frigo and Dick Marx; Larry Novak; Haig Chitjian, Lucy Reed.

A few of the places to hear great Jazz in the 50s and 60s were The Bee Hive (Clifford Brown and Max Roach); Crown Propeller (Bud Powell); Sutherland Lounge (Miles); Savoy Ballroom (Basie); Argyle Show Lounge (Bird and Miles); Tailspin Lounge (Roy Eldridge); Plugged Nickel (Miles); Regal Theatre (Everybody)!

Writing these words has been a pleasure; revisiting those days and those people who mean so much to me. I love them more than they could ever know.

I'm still playing out here in sunny California and loving it. There is a very good bass player here with whom I often work. His name is Fred Atwood and he was around Chicago in the days mentioned above.

When we play something that drops "in the pocket," it makes it all worth while. That magic feeling never changes—that feeling called Jazz!

Marty's e-mail is Marty1450@aol.com

Copyright 1998 Marty Clausen.
All rights reserved.

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