Sunday, February 27, 2011


The End is Near
photo by Danny O'Bryan


We are born into mystery
Never lose the magic
Always be astounded by
Life and you will
Never be

Danny O'Bryan

"Whatever I may do in this world, disturbing it, transforming it, or
rather imagining I've transformed it - whatever use I may make of the world,
even if I venture into the planets - it is always what it is. And what is it?
Nothing can surpass my astonishment at its being what it is, at its being and
at me being here. If I could succeed in opening every door, there would still
be the unopenable door of astonishment."

Eugene Ionesco

Yardhog's Journals

"Kathy Acker loved Miles Davis and like Miles didn't give a fuck - except
about the things she gave a fuck about."

"Who ever controls the words controls our thoughts."

"Reality is a fucked up place to live and we can do a lot better."

"Well I think writing is basically about time and rhythm. Like with jazz, you
have your basic melody and you riff off it. And the riffs are about timing,
and about sex."

Kathy Acker

"The reduction of nearly every man to the partial social function of the
specialist has produced a society of ennuchs..."


Friday, February 25, 2011

Pianist Billy Taylor in Louisville

Pianist Billy Taylor educates a full house of jazz enthusiasts

In an interview before his concert last night at Bellarmine College’s new Wyatt Theater Recital Hall, jazz pianist Billy Taylor, said that he considered himself a musical missionary.

Since the 1950s, Taylor who holds a combined masters and doctorate degree in music education from the University of Massachusetts, has been one of the most articulate spokesman for jazz in the United States.

Through his lectures, books and appearances on radio and television -
He was host of National Public Radio’s “Jazz Alive” series for six years and won an Emmy for a segment on CBS television’s “Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt” - Taylor spends most of his time winning new converts for jazz.

But the full house at the Wyatt last night got to see another side of Taylor’s manifold personality, that of the musician. At 63, Taylor is a masterful jazz pianist who cut his teeth playing with the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Ben Webster.

He began the concert with a Latin flavored song entitled “You Tempt Me,” lightly tickling the piano keyboard for the first few bars of the tune. Taylor set up the rhythm before being joined by bassist Victor Gaskin and drummer Curtis Boyd, who added the percussive effects with his high hat cymbal.

Like fellow pianist Ahmad Jamal, Taylor has a penchant for Latin rhythms and it shows through much of his playing.

Taylor shares another thing with Jamal; he likes to refer to jazz as America’s classical music. He said during the interview, “Jazz is America’s classical music because for over 100 years it has taken all the elements of our society and put them in a musical perspective which represents more accurately than any other musical form who we are and what we are about.”

He told the audience pretty much the same thing during last night’s concert. Then he proved his point by playing “Make a Joyful Noise,” his own six-part, sacred composition, which contains nearly every mood that can be conveyed by music.

During “Rejoice,” the third movement of this work, drummer Boyd put down his sticks and began to play his drum set with his bare hands, stopping at times to rest an elbow on his snare drum to produce a desired effect. The audience loved it and gave him loud applause.

On “Prayer,” the fourth movement, Taylor reached inside his piano and strummed the strings before setting up the haunting theme. The final movement “Walking in the Light,” featured the trio swinging together furiously.

At one point during the concert Taylor took time out to commend local jazz educator and musician Jamey Aebersold, who was in the audience.

“Jamey has had a tremendous effect on musicians all over the world with his jazz clinics, books, and play along records. We should honor a person when they are alive, not wait until they are dead,” he said. The audience then gave Aebersold a round of applause.

Taylor ended the concert by playing another original composition of his, “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free.”

He said the song had been named one of the most important songs of 1960s by the New York Times and he was playing it to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s freedom march to Selma, Ala.

Danny O’Bryan
The Louisville Times
March 4, 1985

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yardhog's Journal 1999

Trumpeter Ansyn Banks at Ear-xtacy concert.
photo by Danny O'Bryan

"I don't see how people can do anything at all without writing or painting or
something of the like, some excessive splash against the darkness. It's just
too damned dumb to sit and take it straight like most of them do. No wonder
people look, act, are do awful, awful, awful.."

Charles BuKowski

"Unless a man is continuously occupied in the creation of a form
material or intellectual modeled after the immaterial eternal form which he
either creates or perceives in his own soul...he cannot live alive, he's just
a dead object floating in space."

Allen Ginsberg's Journals

Yardhog's Journals 1999

Friday night I went to Bobby J's. I was sitting at the bar when a
young blond woman sat down next to me. We talked for a short while the band
played. All of a sudden there was a great deal of commotion in front of the
stage. An elderly man dropped like a dead raccoon in front of the band. A
woman started screaming. The bartender was trying to call 911 but all the
lines were busy. Soon, EMS arrived but the man had already gotten up and left
the room.

The blond left but not before inviting me to join her and her girl
friends in a booth in the front room but I declined wanting to watch the
action from my perch at the bar. All of a sudden there is a loud scream and
down the stairs by the bar comes a man and woman yelling at one another.
Throughout this madness the alto player in he band is wailing his ass off.
Two or three people jump in to break up the spat and the blond and a couple
of her friends return and start dancing in front of the bandstand.

I walked up to the blond and we started dancing, in her case jumping
up and down. Her girl friend introduced herself as Carol Yeager, a painter
who lives in Lexington. We had a nice conversation about California. She
lived there several years as a hippy.

Saturday night I went to the Sextacy Ball at Club X on Main St. Very
strange scene in the former home Murphy's Bar Complex. Upstairs are two large
rooms. One area was blocked off by yellow "Caution" tape. Behind stood
several domminatixes dressed in short black costumes, black nylons and high
heels. They all had an attitude. Nobody was smiling. This was serious
business. Soon the slaves were led into the room. Several not very attractive
men who were shirtless and dressed in leather shorts.

There were several wood crosses and stocks set up in the room and the
doms spent a lot of time tying their slaves to them. Mistress A was there
with a female slave, or so I thought. The she/he had long blond hair, nice
legs and a shapely ass, which the Mistress caressed liberally before applying
her paddle. I learned quickly that night I don't enjoy looking at men in
bondage. Nothing at all stimulating about it, at least for me. But young
shapely women being tied and flogged is quite another matter. Mistress A's
slave looked very appealing until she turned around and I realized she was a
trans-sexual or something like that. Definitely not a female.

I sat and watched this scene for an hour or two and could only think
of one word to describe it, dispassion. Despite the whips, the leather, the
semi-nudity and loud Xtreme music the word for it wsa dispassion. Neither the
Doms aor the slaves being punished showed any emotion. These were indeed some
strange sights. One young man was tied shirtless to a cross while a Dom
whipped his nipples, later attaching clothes pins. One of the women who was
anything but attractive, wearing a long shapeless dress was led into the room
by a male Master. He tied her to a cross and raised her skirt and used a
leather paddle to redden her back side.

Everyone in the room was dressed in black, including me in my black
suit, but I felt totally ignored, like a ghost, invisible. One fellow who
looked a little like Ron Whitehead, was dressed in an outfit that included a
top hat and a long coat. He had a large prosthesis of some sort on one hand
and was carrying a cane.

In one room they were giving bondage and s & m demonstrations. One
very attractive young girl in a very revealing outfit was all trussed up with
knotted ropes. Some kind of elaborate breast bondage.

When the Doms applied their whips they started out with light,
innocuous strokes, almost caressing their slaves with the leather. But
suddenly the rhythm and intensity of their strokes increased until the whips
landed with a solid SLAP! that elicited oohs and aahs from the crowd. The
next night I could still hear the sound in my ears.

Yardhog's Journal

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monk's Main Man Plays Louisville

Saxophonist Charlie Rouse Delivers Some Hot Jazz

The weather was frigid last night, but during tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse’s concert at Downstairs at Actors it was Le Jazz Hot.

The concert put Rouse, best know for the years he spent from 1959 to 1970 as a member of the legendary jazz pianist Thelonius Monk’s Quartet, together with a rhythm section composed of some of this area’s finest jazz musicians. It’s hard to say who played better, Rouse or the local boys.

One of the problems that besets traveling jazz solo acts is they must depend on local musicians to accompany them. Sometimes the musicians or good, and sometimes they’re bad. Last night’s players - pianist Ray Johnson, bassist Mark McCulloch and drummer Jonathan Higgins were more than good they were excellent.

Johnson, who spent 20 years as a jazz pianist in New York City before returning to his hometown of Louisville a few years ago, got things going with a driving rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Billies Bounce.” McCulloch held things together with a solid bass line and drummer Higgins poured on the steam.

When Rouse came on stage for the first number, “What is this Thing Called Love,” the air was already charged with excitement he added even more by rushing through the song’s chord changes and interjecting his own unique musical ideas. Johnson came up from behind playing like a mad man on several smoking choruses, McCulloch and Higgins followed with good solos.

And it went on like that throughout the concert on a string of Monk standards like “Bolivar Blues,” “Light Blue” and “Straight No Chaser.” Rouse would state the theme, play the first couple of choruses and then turn it over to Johnson, who would take the song apart and put it back together, being careful to throw in a few Monk-like licks of his own.

Only once, on a standard “Lover Man,” did Rouse fail to deliver. On this song the tenor star had some intonation problems that caused him to play sharp through most of the piece.

But he made up for this infraction with a fireball version of “Straight No Chaser” that showcased his jagged phrasing and gruff tone. Johnson was particularly exciting on this song, bouncing up and down as his fingers raced along the keyboard. Bassist McCulloch also played a fine solo on this tune, which gained a laugh of recognition from leader Rouse and a round of applause from the audience.

After an intermission, Rouse and the band came back with an imaginative jazz line based on the chord changes of the standard “Out of Nowhere.” By this time the saxophonist was really getting loose, biting off huge chunks of changes and molding them to fit his peculiar taste and style.

The only problem with last night’s concert was that Rouse is the third saxophonist in less than a year to be featured in concert by the Louisville Jazz Society. It would be nice to see the society bring in some jazz vocalists like Sheila Jordan, Ben Sidran or Mark Murphy. After all, diversity is what jazz is all about.

Danny O’Bryan
The Louisville Times
January 28, 1986

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Jazz Great Charlie Rouse

Jazz Great Charlie Rouse to play Louisville

In the summer of 1964 I attended the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Ohio. The performers that night included the legendary pianist Thelonious Monk and his quartet.

Monk was in a fickle mood during the concert, occasionally jumping up from the piano and dancing around the stage while his saxophonist played with the bass and drums.

Monk’s saxophonist, Charlie Rouse was in great form, blowing chorus after chorus of strong angular jazz. Rouse’s tenor sax was a perfect complement to Monk’s unorthodox piano style. Some critics said he sounded like Monk playing saxophone.

Monday at 5:30 p.m. Louisville jazz fans will get a chance to see Rouse when he performs with the local rhythm section of pianist Ray Johnson, bassist Mark McCulloch and drummer Jonathan Higgins at the Louisville Jazz Society’s Jazz Party at Downstairs at Actors, 316 W. Main St.

Rouse, 61, was born in Washington, D.C. In 1943, he joined Billy Eckstine’s orchestra, which was one of the greatest all-star big bands in jazz history. It included such luminaries as singer Sarah Vaughn, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.

In a telephone interview, Rouse talked about those days.

“When I was growing up there were so many places to play and there was a wealth of jazz talent. Everyone has their own individual styles and all the great jazz artists were working back then,” Rouse said.

Saxophonist Ben Webster was the first established jazz musician to befriend Rouse. Later he would be Webster’s replacement in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. But the new sounds of bebop that were being created by musicians like Parker, Gillespie and Monk were to be Rouse’s major influence.

After leaving Eckstine, Rouse joined Gillespie’s band.
“Dizzy left Eckstine about the same time I did. He formed the big band, and we did a tour down south. After that I joined a group headed by pianist Tadd Dameron featuring trumpeter Fats Navarro,” he said.

Rouse also worked with trombonist Benny Green, saxophonist and vocalist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and a small band led by Count Basie. But he’s probably best known for the years, from 1959 to 1970, that he spent with Monk.

“Monk was a genius. He was one of the great American composers and jazz pianists. He could get a sound out of a piano that no one else had,”
Rouse said.

He said his best years with Monk’s quartet was from 1960 to around 1968. During that time the group recorded numerous albums for Columbia Records and toured Europe on a yearly basis.

“Playing with Monk was a real challenge because you never knew what tunes he was going to do on any given night,” Rouse said.

In recent years, Rouse has been playing with Sphere, a quartet that specializes in Monk’s music.

“I’ll be playing a concert with Sphere at Purdue University the day before I perform in Louisville,” he said.

Danny O’Bryan
The Louisville Times
January 25, 1986

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bits and Pieces

A dangerous woman
photo by Danny O'Bryan

"Trying to penetrate the act of naming (language) is like trying to see a
mirror while standing in front of it. Trying to get a hold of it is like
trying to get a hold of the means of which we get a hold of everything else."

"The universe and all known phenomena within it maybe accurately described
according to one term - dyadic - interactions - cause and effect."

Walker Percy

"Existentialism is based on the doctrine that existence takes precedence over
essence and holds that man is totally free and responsible for his acts, and
that this responsibility is the source of the dread and anguish that
encompasses him."

Yardhog's Journals
February 3, 1997

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Indulge in JOY

photo by Danny O'Bryan

"Man is a wanting animal and one desire is no sooner satisfied than another
takes its place."


"If the self does not become itself it's in despair whether it knows it or

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that
the dunces are all in confederacy against him."

Jonathan Swift

"The finest people marry the two sexes in their own person. Hermaphrodite is
the symbol of the finished soul."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

For flowing is the secret of things. No wonder the children love masks and to
trick themselves in endless costumes and be a horse, a soldier, a parson or a
bear and older delight in theatricals as in nature, the egg is passing to a
grub, the grub to a fly, and the vegetable eye to a bud, the bud to a leaf, a
stem, a flower, a fruit. The children have only the instinct of their race,
the instinct of the universe in which becoming something else is the whole
game of nature and death the penalty of standing still - Liberty means the
power to flow."


Yardhog's Journals

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jazz Drummer John Roy

Front & Center - John Roy

John Roy and I recently did a bit of time travel. When the 68-year old veteran Louisville percussionist arrived at my studio for our interview, I was playing a recording of “Bernie’s Tune” on my phonograph. The musicians on the 1969 date, recorded at the old Port O’Call on Zane St were guitarists Jimmy Raney, tenor saxophonist Bobby Jones, pianist Bobby Lam, bassist Jack Brengle and Roy on drums. Tragically, all the musicians featured in that concert are deceased today excepting Roy and Brengle.

Even back then, Roy was keeping the best of company, Raney one of the world’s finest jazz guitarists, had returned to his hometown from New York city and was being showcased along with some of Louisville’s finest.
Bobby Jones had already proved his musical worth in the bands of Tex Beneke and Woody Herman and would soon become the featured saxophonist with jazz bassist Charles Mingus’ band.

Bobby Lam was soon to move to New York City and even Brengle, who normally liked to stay in one place, would venture on the road with the Buddy Rich Orchestra.

Roy instead chose to spend most of his time in Louisville playing and teaching drums.

“I started raising a family when I was in my 20s. I had a wife and four children and I didn’t want to leave town on a permanent basis,” Roy said.

Despite his lack of wanderlust, Roy managed to become one of the city’s most respected musicians, playing for everyone from the Glenn Miller Band to the Louisville Orchestra and backing up stars like Bob Hope and Eartha Kitt, plus spending nine years as President of the Musicians Union, Local 11-637.

How did it all start?

“I was born in the inner-city around Shelby Park. When I was real young, my parents moved to the south end. From the time I was about three years old, I would always ask for a toy drum for Christmas,” Roy said.
“Finally when I was about six, they bought a real field drum at Durlauf’s music store. When I was nine, they got me into a drum and bugle choir. We wound up playing at the World’s Fair in New York City.”

When he entered the old Louisville Junior High School his drumming career took off. He played drums in the junior high school band but also was chosen to play with the Louisville Girl’s High School Orchestra, which was in the same building.

“It was a great experience for three years I got to play everyday with the band and the orchestra,” Roy said.

When he transferred to Manual High School, he got a scholarship to a summer band program at Eastern State University.

“Kids came from all over the country. We played music eight hours a day for five weeks during the summer, with about three concerts a week. That was a great experience for me,” Roy said.

When he was 17, Roy joined the Musicians Union and began substituting with the Louisville Orchestra and playing weekend jobs with dance bands. During the 1950s he worked industrial shows for big companies like Zenith Appliances and Ford.

“They would put together a musical show to enhance their product for the dealers, it’s something you don’t see that much today,” Roy said.

Roy was also a regular on local television for 15 years. He was the drummer in pianist Johnny Schrader’s band, which backed up performer’s on WHAS teenage variety “High Varieties.” Joining him in the band over the year’s was bassist Ralph Lampton, saxophonist and clarinetist Mel Owen and guitarist Gene Klingman.

Roy, who was divorced from his current wife, met his current wife, singer June Kelly on that show.

“She was 16 and I was about 32 at the time. Years later we met again and got together,” Roy said.

During the early 1970s, Roy played on the WAVE “Morning Show” with pianist Bob Millard and bassist Neil Burris. At about the same time, after years of teaching drums at Durlauf’s Music Store, Roy decided to open his own drum shop in St. Matthews. Some of Roy’s favorite drummers are his former students.

“Terry O’Mahoney is wonderful. I just had lunch with him the other day. He just finished a three-month touring show in Japan. I also taught Marvin Maxwell, Bruce Morrow and Mike Hyman.

Roy’s favorite drummer of all time was Buddy Rich.

“The first time I heard Rich I was eight or nine years old and he was 19 or 20. He was terrific then. I saw him again at least 20 times and he always seemed to get better,” Roy said.

During his years of playing Roy had to contend with some strange personalities.

“I once played with trombonist Buddy Morrow who was fronting the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. He had a unique way of calling up tunes. He would call up one chart at a time and while you were playing it he would walk around the band an call the next chart. Everybody in the horn section had a little break to get up but the rhythm section didn’t. So, when we finished he’d kick off the next tune and we’d be scrambling. The first time I worked with him, I was sight reading the book and it was all new to me. But he wouldn’t waste time, you either got it up or had to wing it,” Roy said.

Another time, Roy played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra that was being led by drummer Ray McKinley. McKinley, who had played with the original Miller Orchestra, was only featuring himself a few times a night.

“When that happened, I’d get up off my drum set and he’d be the star. He told me when I started the job that he wouldn’t bother my drums but as the evening went on, he would keep lowering my cymbals or changing the angle on my toms toms until pretty soon I felt like I wasn’t working on my set. Finally I told him I didn’t want him to change anything so, he left it alone.

Since 1994 Roy has suffered a number of physical setbacks. That year he had an aneurysm of the aorta and in 1995 he under-went triple heart by-pass surgery. This spring he was operated on for cancer of the esophagus.

Despite these traumas, Roy continues to perform with the Ovation Orchestra, which features his wife June Kelly Roy as vocalist. He also leads a jazz quartet that regularly performs on Sunday nights at Bobby J’s nightclub. Like all of Roy’s bands it features some of the best musicians in town, which includes pianist Todd Hildreth, trumpeter Charlie Nieoff and saxophonist and flutist Dick Hiller.

A modest man, Roy calls himself not necessarily a jazz drummer, but instead a drummer who likes to play jazz.

“When students used to ask me what was the most important thing about playing drums, I’d tell them if you could get from beat two to three at the same distance that you got form beat one to two, you’d be a winner, because that’s called keeping good time,” Roy said.

“And no matter what rhythm you play on each beat, what style your playing, the evenness from beat to beat is the most important thing a drummer does. The licks that you play or the icing on the cake. But if you can’t put it together in a steady flowing manner, then you’re not a drummer, you’re just a person playing a set of drums,” Roy said.

After 40 years of teaching drums, what are Roy’s thoughts on the current state of the art.

“The printed material today is unbelievable. If a drummer wants to learn how to play rock, funk or jazz the instructional material is just endless. All they have to do is practice and listen and they can be proficient on their instrument,” Roy said.

Danny O’Bryan
Louisville Music News - September 1997

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bits and Pieces From the Past

Laurel Fleury "The Goddess of Fire" doing her thing.
photo by Danny O'Bryan

"In 1889 Nietzsche suffered a breakdown. At first he raved, singing wildly,
banging on his piano, tearing off his clothes in the street. He wrote letters
to friends and the courts of Europe announcing that he was Dionysus and the
"Crucified." Gradually he withdrew, until near the end he was barely aware of
the world...!

New York Times
Yardhog's Journal

Technical Education
(for a student

A pocket full of Mozart
A tool box stuffed with

A man alive with learnin'
Wants to know all about
That guy named Plato

While hammering nails
All day straight and true
Radio tuned to classical or jazz

He reaches into his heavy coat
And retrieves a page of The Republic
To roll across his tongue

While adjusting a bathroom pipe or
Whispering Shakespeare sonnets
Composing love lines to his girl

A man alive with learnin'
With a pocket full of Mozart
And a tool box stuffed with Kant

Danny O'Bryan

Monday, February 7, 2011


‘Little Giant’ Swings Mighty Jazz

The Louisville Jazz Society brought a giant of the tenor saxophone to Louisville last night for a concert at Downstairs at Actors, in fact, saxophonist Johnny Griffin is known as the “Little Giant” to his many fans all over the world.

Griffin, 58, was born in Chicago and is a graduate of Dusable High School, the same school that produced singer Nat King Cole, saxophonist Gene Ammons, and trombonist Benny Green, among others.

His first major job was with Lionel Hampton’s band in the forties. He later went on to play and record with a virtual pantheon of jazz that included pianists Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk and drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach.

In 1963 he left the United States for Europe and didn’t return until 1978. He still lives in Paris, visiting the U. S. only for concert tours.

Last night’s near capacity audience was treated to one of Griffin’s rare American appearances. It’s a concert few of them will ever forget.

After he was announced by WFPL-FM’s “Jazz Tonight” host Gerry Weston, Griffin gingerly walked on the stage to join his rhythm section: pianist Harry Pickins, bassist Curtis Lundy, and drummer Kenny Washington. He exchanged a couple of tuning notes with Pickins and then went head first into an up tempo number he later called, appropriately for the season, “The Hay Fever Blues.”

Griffin is one of the fastest tenor men on the scene today. But a lot of thought also goes into his playing. As jazz critic Nat Hentoff once said, “Griffin thinks as swiftly as he swings.”

During the first set last night Griffin interpolated humorous quotes from a number of songs like “Pop-eye the Sailor Man,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” into his solos.

Before playing “If I Should Lose You,” Griffin announced he was going to play a nice ballad with a businessman’s bounce. The bounce turned into a ball of fire as he raced through the song’s changes. Bassist Lundy also turned in a fine solo on this tune, wrapping his tall, thin frame around the large acoustic instrument.

In an interview before the concert, Griffin said that of all the musicians he’d played with, his favorite was Thelonious Monk.

He showed his allegiance to Monk during the second set when he played “I Mean You.” Griffin, a master of dynamics, used the song to showcase all the different sounds he can coax from his horn. A very “vocal” player, Griffin regularly moved from a soft, breathy whisper of a tone to a loud honk.

Griffin also saluted another jazz legend last night. Billie Holiday or “the lady from Baltimore,” as Griffin called her, was remembered during Griffin’s emotional rendering of “Lover Man.” Pianist Pickins also contributed a moving solo on this song.

Danny O’Bryan
The Louisville Times
April 1986

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Sunday, February 6, 2011


The International Sweethearts of Rhythm

Anna Mae Pilgrim recalls the days when her all-girl orchestra made history

Anna Mae Pilgrim is a 69-year old west Louisville widow whose life today is not much different from other devout women her age. She is a Jehovah’s Witness.

But during the 1940s and early ‘50s, Pilgrim, whose stage name was Anna Mae Winburn, led one of the most popular all-female orchestras in the United States - the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

Pilgrim, an elegant and articulate lady who was described in a ‘50s music program as being “a slender mite of a woman, equally popular for her Oriental-like beauty as for her talent as a bandleader,” talked recently about her early years in jazz.

“My maiden name was Darden, I was born in Port Royal, Tenn., in 1914, but I was raised in Kokomo, Ind. I came from a large family of 10, and my mother died when I was in my teens. I married a young basketball player named Charles Winburn when I was 15, but it didn’t last.

“I hadn’t finished high school, so I wasn’t equipped to do office work. But I thought I had a little talent, everyone in my family played guitar and sang.

This background prompted young Anna Mae to enter a talent contest at the Isis Theater in Kokomo singing the old Ethel Waters song “Lovey Joe” and as she put it, “amusing myself on guitar.”

The Hoosier Hotshots won the contest, but Anna Mae came in second, causing her to get a job with a white band over radio station WOW in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Soon afterward, she hired a manager who arranged an impromptu audition with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

“Ellington’s girl singer, Ivie Anderson had hurt herself, and he needed a replacement. My manager was as young as I was and didn’t know anything about the business, but he got the audition for me anyway. It was at a music store in Dayton, Ohio, and Ellington accompanied me on piano. But when it was time for me to sing. I froze and couldn’t get my mouth to open,” she said, adding “I failed the audition.”

Stage fright didn’t stop her, however and she continued to pursue her budding career, fronting several large bands in the Midwest. She was leading Lloyd Hunter’s Serenaders in Omaha when WWII began.

“When the war started, most of my musicians were drafted out of the orchestra, and I needed another band. So, my manager located one for me in Oklahoma City.”

This band that was later billed as “Anna Mae Winburn and her Cotton Boys,” was made up of what remained of the original Kansas City Blue Devils. It had in its ranks some of the finest jazz musicians in the Midwest, including the legendary guitarist Charlie Christian.

“We were a tremendous hit packing in crowds everywhere until one night in Minneapolis, Minn., when jazz producer and entrepreneur John Hammond came through town with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra. They were playing a benefit, and some of my musicians asked me if they could sit in and show them what they could do. I told them they could as long as they didn’t disrupt the dance,” she said.

When Anna Mae’s band members, who included not only Christian but tenor saxophonist Henry Bridges, sat in with Dorsey’s band, Hammond was so impressed he hired them all on the spot and took them back to New York City. Later, Hammond would place Christian with Benny Goodman’s band, making jazz history.

But with many of her musicians gone and jobs getting harder to come by, Anna Mae was starting to get discouraged. It was then that the owner of the Dreamland Ballroom in Omaha asked her to listen to an all-girl orchestra he had working for him.

“They were 18 teen-age girls from the Piney Woods Country Life School in Piney Woods, Miss., and they called themselves the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.”

The Sweethearts were originally organized to raise money for the school, which had been funded by Lawrence Clifton Jones in 1910 for indigent black and racially mixed children. But because a few of their members had been refused graduation, they ran away and turned professional. They needed someone to lead the band, and Anna Mae agreed to take the job.

“When I first saw those girls, I was really amazed. They were very young and composed of many different races and nationalities. Some of them were mullatoes, others were part Italian or Chinese. When they came on stage in their colorful gowns, they looked like a beautiful bouquet of mixed flowers,” she recalled.

After Anna Mae took over the Sweethearts, they moved to Arlington, Va., purchased a 10-room house, set up a corporation to support themselves and began to rehearse for the first time.

“We hired some professional arrangers to write for the band. One of them was Eddie Durham, who also worked for Count Basie, Glenn Miller, and Jimmie Lunsford. He wrote ‘I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire’ and a couple of other hit songs.”

But despite the box office appeal of her beautiful mixed bouquet, very few white people were aware of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Anna Mae said.

“We mostly played black circuits like the Paradise Theater in Baltimore, Md., and the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C.”

The Sweethearts did appear often in Louisville during the ‘40s and ‘50s at the Lyric Theater on Walnut Street and the National Theater at Fifth and Walnut streets. They were one of the last acts to appear at the National before it was torn down in 1951.

But then as now, a band had to be booked in New York City in order to be a big hit. And in 1941 the Sweethearts got their chance at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

“We were a big hit at the Apollo and New York City is where I first met Leonard Feather, the now famous jazz critic who was just getting started in the business. We hired him as our agent,” she said.

Feather wrote a song for the Sweethearts called the “Blow Top Blues” which they recorded with Anna Mae doing the vocal.

“It was never pushed very hard by the record company, but Lionel Hampton later recorded it with Dinah Washington, and it became a big hit,” she said.

Even without a hit of their own, however, Anna Mae Winburn and her International Sweethearts of Rhythm crossed paths with some of the greatest names in jazz.

“The great tenor saxophonist Ben Webster would often come and sit in with our band. And Louis Armstrong loved our group and would play trumpet with us whenever he could, just to give the girls a lift.”

Once at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., Anna Mae helped a worry-torn Billie Holiday after a severe auto accident.

“Billie had come down from New York to appear at the Brown Derby. She wrecked her car on the way and it caught fire, destroying all her gowns. Her manager asked me if Billie could borrow some of my parachute silk for her costume. I always carried the silk to make turbans. I gave her what I had and she made the first night at the Brown Derby, but she couldn’t finish the week. She was very sick at the time,” Anna Mae said.

In 1945 the Sweethearts traveled to Europe for what turned out to be a highly successful USO tour.

“There were 2,500 soldiers in the lower decks of the ship on the way over. All the entertainers were housed on the upper decks. Our troupe was made up of Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, the cast from the Fred Allen (radio) show, actors from the play “Arsenic and Old Lace,” the Shep Fields Orchestra and the Sweethearts.”

When the captain found out he had two bands aboard, he asked the musicians if they would play for a dance in the ship’s ballroom. Shep Field’s and his orchestra played first and the Sweethearts followed.

“I’ll never forget it,” Anna Mae said, “We started playing our theme song, ’Fascination’ and Pauline Williams our drummer, gave us a big fanfare on the drums. After the overture I turned to the crowd and said, ’Ladies and Gentleman, let me introduce you to the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.”

“The audience went wild and we really upset the ship before it was over. All the musicians from Shep Fields’ Orchestra came over and told us, “We had no idea girls could play jazz like that.”

It was an opinion she had to contend with many times over the years. And when it wasn’t sexual discrimination in the Sweethearts way, it was racial discrimination.

“Once in Alabama our band was eating in a colored restaurant and a policeman came in and walked over to our bus driver, who was white and asked him, “Why are you eating in a colored restaurant? Don’t you know it’s against the law? Our driver said, ’I’m working for these ladies,’ but they put him in jail anyway, and it cost $90 to get him out. We had to endure a lot of incidents like that on the road,” she said.

The world was not eager to admit that women could play jazz, either, she said.

We never got the recognition we deserved. Men would say, “Oh they’re a bunch of cute girls, but they can’t really play.” They were wrong I’d put some of those girls up against any man. People are now just realizing how good those girls were.”

In the ’50s, Anna Mae gave up jazz, she married her manager, the late Duke Pilgrim and disbanded the last of her Sweethearts units so she could devote more time to her family. Today she has four children and seven grandchildren.

But her place in music didn’t go totally unnoticed, because in 1980 she and her surviving Sweethearts were honored during a special program at the Women’s Jazz Festival in Kansas City, Mo. She even received a telegram from President Jimmy Carter thanking her for her contributions to jazz.

And last year, a new book entitled “American Women in Jazz” (by Sally Placksin) examined the Sweethearts role and importance in jazz.

Today, Anna Mae doesn’t flinch remembering her past. She said she doesn’t regret a single minute she spent in music.

“The International Sweethearts of Rhythm were way ahead of their time, and they did a lot to break down racial and sexual prejudice in this country,” she said.

“We were a close knit family of 18 girls who helped bring people together through the International language of jazz.”

Danny O’Bryan
Louisville Times SCENE magazine
October 22, 1983

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Friday, February 4, 2011

Maynard Ferguson in Louisville

Maynard Ferguson and his trumpet blow a brand new big-band sound

Trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and his band blew the lid right off nostalgia during their concert last night in Whitney Hall at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. The concert was part of the Hilliard Lyons Big Band Series, but anyone who came expecting to hear the sweet innocuous sounds of yesteryear must have been sorely disappointed.

If the big bands ever do come back it will be because of musicians like Ferguson and his crew who refuse to wallow in the past and instead play the best contemporary jazz, funk, and fusion around.

Last night’s large audience was the youngest I’ve ever seen attending a Big Band Series Concert. Many in attendance were music students and music educators out to see the high note master do his stuff.

And Ferguson didn’t disappoint anybody. I’ve seen this band, and different versions of it, at least five times in recent years and I’ve never heard them play any better than they did last night.

Ferguson’s latest 10-piece aggregation - he’s dropped a couple of horns and added a guitarist and multi-percussionist - is one of the biggest small bands around. The concert began with “South 21st Shuffle,” the band’s theme, featuring a solo by guitarist Michael Higgins.

During the next song, the Latin “Expresso” alto and soprano saxophonist Tim Ries was featured on a solo in which he played both horns at the same time a la Roland Kirk. It’s a trick I’ve seen him perform in concert here before but it never ceases to amaze.

Throughout the first part of the concert Ferguson dressed in a gray jump suit, minced around the stage like a trumpet playing Liberace, occasionally adding ear piercing high notes to the ensemble and directing the band.

Whenever he soloed he gave the impression that he was going to explode before the last note sounded. When he finished he’d tear the trumpet from his mouth, shake his head of curly gray hair, and raise his arms in victory.
But there is more than hyperbole to this 52-year old Canadian who got his first break with the Stan Kenton Orchestra during the 1950s. Besides being an astounding trumpet player with the endurance of a bull, Ferguson is a humble artist who delights in showcasing his musicians, all of whom look young enough to be his grandchildren.

If bandleader Kay Kaiser had a “College of Musical Knowledge” Ferguson must have the graduate school. Virtually all of his musicians are music school graduates.

The second half of the concert opened with a duet between drummer Dave Miller and multi-percussionist Steve Fisher. Fisher plays a huge array of exotic percussion instruments that are almost as visually interesting as they are aurally. The solo ended with a dazzling display that had both men using lighted drum sticks.

During “Hey Jude,” which featured a medley of Ferguson’s greatest hits, several of the horn players went out into the audience while Ferguson and the rest of the band remained on stage building the tension. And before the song ended, the band engaged in a little free form cacophony that had them chasing each other both literally and figuratively all over the stage.

For an encore, Ferguson and his band played a dynamite arrangement of pianist Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland.”

Danny O’Bryan
Louisville Times
October 30, 1985

from the up-coming book "Derby City Jazz"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Frog Man in Frankfort
photo by Danny O'Bryan

Saturday I went to Bobby J’s, another strange fellow at the bar. He looks at me and says, “You’re a very unusual looking man. You look like Sean Connery.”

Then he proceeds to buy me drinks, all night long. He was sitting with an English woman and was hitting on every woman in the bar. “I really hate women. You know, all these women in here are married. Their husbands don’t like anything about them. They don’t like the way they smell. They don’t like their pussies or their tits,” he said.

He was a short fellow with a slight build and very comical looking. “I’ll play their game and make over them while their husbands sit at home jacking off to porno. Funny when I’m talking to you, I feel like I’m talking to a woman.”

At one point he’s standing rather close to me at the bar and I could feel his penis against my leg but I ignored it and it didn’t go any farther.

I finally sat down next to the English woman he’d been sitting with. “He’s crazy, he really scares me. You look like a hair dresser I know. You’ve got the same hair style,” she says.

Meanwhile the crazy guy is dancing with every woman in the place, he’s totally rabid.

Finally he says to me, “You’re a really nice looking guy, why aren’t you hitting on any of the women?

I tell him, I’m married to a powerful attorney and music is my mistress and that’s the reason I’m in this bar listening to his madness and watching all these poor souls hopelessly trying to make a connection.

Meanwhile the black alto player is blowing his soul out on stage and I’m in heaven.

But the crazy guy won’t give up. “Doesn’t something really piss you off, I mean, look at Yugoslavia, all the refuges!”

Yardhog’s Journals
April 12, 1999