by Scott Yanow
Happy 2021 everyone!
Hopefully in a few months the jazz clubs will reopen and the world will become alive again.
We just need a little more patience and have to stay careful in the meantime.
Pianist Joe Castro (1927-2009) had a unique life. He was born in Miami, Arizona and grew up in Pittsburg, California near the San Francisco Bay area. Castro was a professional musician from the age of 15, spent 1946-47 in the Army, and formed a trio that often worked in Hawaii. In 1952 he met Doris Duke, one of the richest women in the world, and they started a 13-year relationship that had its ups and downs.
Duke had homes in both Beverly Hills and New York. For several years in the 1950s, Castro hosted all-star jam sessions at her residences. A fine bop-based pianist originally influenced by Bud Powell but developing his own approach to straight-ahead jazz, Castro led two albums for the Atlantic label: 1956’s Mood Jazz and 1959’s Groove Funk Soul. The latter was a quartet date with tenor-saxophonist Teddy Edwards, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Billy Higgins. Castro worked frequently with Edwards’ group and Vinnegar’s trio in Los Angeles in the late 1950s. He also accompanied singers Anita O’Day, June Christy and Tony Martin (1961-63). By 1963 his relationship with Doris Duke was failing but they decided that it might help their situation if they formed a record label. Clover Records (which had Duke Ellington as a silent partner) resulted in several albums being recorded but only 1965’s Lush Life being released plus a few singles. In 1966 both the label and the relationship were finished.
Despite living another 43 years, Joe Castro made no recordings after 1966 (other than a cassette with Anita O’Day in 1985). He moved to Las Vegas, worked in pit bands, and became the musical director for the Tropicana Hotel’s Folies Bergere for many years. He was also happily married during 1967-2008 until his wife’s death. His obscurity and complete absence from records during his later years is a bit of a mystery.
Fortunately many of the mid-1950s jam sessions were documented and are very well recorded. Two six-CD sets of Joe Castro’s music have been released by Sunnyside. Lush Life – A Musical Journey, which came out in 2019, is comprised entirely of previously unreleased performances. The first CD starts off with Castro leading a quintet with Buddy Collette on flute and clarinet, trumpeter John Anderson, bassist Buddy Woodson, and drummer Chico Hamilton in 1954. The two lengthy performances (“Abstract Candy Part 1” is over 31 minutes long), which predate the Chico Hamilton Quintet with Collette, are quite intriguing. The music is improvised as it goes along with Castro going from one infectious groove to another and the other musicians following. In a similar vein is the 22-minute “Abstract Sweets” except that it has Castro leading a trio with Hamilton and bassist Bob Berteaux.
Joe Castro is actually absent on the second disc but apparently he organized these jam sessions from 1955-56. The first five numbers, for the only time ever on record, team together Stan Getz and Teddy Wilson in a quartet. Their only other recorded meetings were on larger group sessions having to do with the filming of The Benny Goodman Story. That is a pity for plenty of musical magic occurs between the two giants. In addition, Wilson is featured on three trio numbers and a five-song quartet date with tenor-saxophonist Zoot Sims, both of which are quite rewarding.
The third disc, also from 1956, has Castro heading groups that at various times feature Zoot Sims and Lucky Thompson on tenors (two songs have both of them), trombonist Sonny Truitt, trumpeter John Glasel, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Ron Jefferson. The six selections are lengthy and sometimes loose but contain more than their share of rewarding moments.
The Edwards-Castro-Vinnegar-Higgins quartet is heard on the fourth disc during a 1959 practice that predates their recordings. The last two CDs are from unreleased projects for the Clovis label that really should have come out at the time. Disc five has Castro heading a big band in 1966 filled with West Coast greats with solo space for Teddy Edwards and Bob Cooper on tenors, altoist Gabe Baltazar, trumpeter Conte Candoli, and trombonist Frank Rosolino in addition to Castro. The final disc features Edwards leading and arranging for a tentet that includes trumpeter Freddie Hill and four trombonists. Oddly enough, the Lush Life album that was released by Clovis is not included on this set despite the box being called Lush Life; hopefully that album will be reissued someday.
Passion Flower – For Doris Duke was released in 2019. As with Lush Life, it includes an informative booklet that fills in gaps in the Joe Castro story. The opening disc features the pianist in trios with Leroy Vinnegar, Red Mitchell or Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Pratt, Lawrence Marable or Philly Joe Jones on drums from 1955-56. This is an excellent place to start for it gives listeners some very good examples of Castro’s playing. As on Lush Life, Castro does not appear on the second disc. Pianist Paul Bley is featured on ten numbers from early in his career in 1956 when he was strongly influenced by Bud Powell and had not yet formed his own style. In addition, there are eight odd numbers featuring singer Flo Handy, her husband pianist George Handy and, on three songs, an orchestra. These renditions are art songs and could be considered avant-garde cabaret rather than jazz.
The third disc reissues Castro’s Mood Jazz album which has the pianist in the spotlight while accompanied by the Ray Ellis Orchestra and Voices, the Neal Hefti String Orchestra, or the Neal Hefti Singers. Castro actually flourishes in these settings with the strings and voices not weighing down the music too much. The original nine selections are joined by six “new” ones (including four alternate takes) and happily altoist Cannonball Adderley and cornetist Nat Adderley help out on six numbers. Disc four brings back the Groove Funk Soul album which, although originally issued under Castro’s name, is really the Teddy Edwards Quartet performing six numbers augmented by two other songs and two alternates. Edwards, as is true throughout both of these boxes, is in excellent form.
The trio of Castro, bassist Teddy Kotick and drummer Paul Motian is featured throughout the final two discs from 1965-66 with four numbers adding horns (billed as the Bob Cooper Ensemble), plus there is a guest appearance by Edwards on one song. The last two pieces (“Passion Flower” and “Remind Me”) feature Castro interacting with another pianist who might be Doris Duke.
With the exception of the Lush Life Clovis album and his sessions backing singers, these two packages contain the complete Joe Castro, at least so far. While Lush Life gets the edge, they are both highly recommended and available from www.sunnysiderecords.com. I hope that eventually there will be a third set.
Frank “Big Boy” Goudie (1899-1964) had a wide ranging and episodic career. He grew up in New Orleans where he started on the cornet and soon learned clarinet and tenor. He worked early on with Papa Celestin’s Original Tuxedo Band and the Magnolia Band. During 1921-25 he traveled and played throughout the South with various bands. In 1925 Goudie moved to Paris where during the next 14 years he performed with the top American expatriates including with the bands of Sam Wooding, Noble Sissle (with whom he first recorded in 1930), Freddy Johnson, Bill Coleman and Willie Lewis. He also played and recorded with Django Reinhardt (playing trumpet, tenor and clarinet on two titles with Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli in 1935). When World War II. was about to begin, Goudie moved to South America, working with guitarist Oscar Aleman and other local musicians. After the war, he spent 1946-51 in Paris and 1951-57 in Berlin. In 1957, Goudie returned to the U.S., settling in San Francisco. During his last years he played with trad bands including those of Marty Marsala, Earl Hines and Burt Bales.
Goudie gave up the trumpet in the early 1940s and, by the time he was in San Francisco, he was exclusively playing clarinet where he had a passionate New Orleans tone a little reminiscent of Edmond Hall but very much his own. Goudie barely recorded after 1954 but Grammercy Records and producer-engineer Dave Radlauer have unearthed a dozen hours of well-recorded performances from Goudie’s stint at Berkeley’s Monkey Inn from 1961-62. Over four hours have been released on Volume 1: The Quartet, Volume 2: The Mystery Horn Sessions, and the double-CD Volume 3: Jamming In The Woodshed.
During these freewheeling performances, Goudie is part of a group with trombonist Bob Mielke, pianist Bill Erickson, drummer Jimmy Carter and, on Vol. 2 and part of Vol. 3, an unidentified trumpeter who is believed to be Jerry Blumberg. Vol. 1 is particularly noteworthy for the consistently brilliant and inventive playing of Mielke (1926-2020). Known for leading the Bearcats starting in the 1950s and for his associations with many top trad artists including Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Bob Wilbur and Muggsy Spanier, Mielke was a very inventive soloist on the level of a Jack Teagarden. He often takes the lead during the ensembles with Goudie playing countermelodies and harmonies behind him. Vol. 1 is also notable for the high-quality material including a few standards (such as “China Boy” and “Weary Blues”) and such fresh material as “Joseph, Joseph,” “The Old Spinning Wheel,” “Breeze,” “Get Out Of Town,” and “Walking With The King.” Pianist Bill Erickson (1929-67) had a short life but, as one can hear throughout these sessions, he had a large talent, striding away and making up for the absence of a string bass. Drummer Jimmy Carter knew when to play loud accents and when to be more subtle, inspiring the other musicians.
Vol. 2 has the quartet expanding to a quintet with the addition of the unknown trumpeter. While research points towards it being Jerry Blumberg, he stated 50 years after the sessions that it was not him although he did occasionally play with the band. Other listeners including producer Radlauer believe it is Blumberg, comparing it to his other recordings of the era. In any case, the trumpeter is outstanding, driving the ensembles and soloing like a mixture of Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky and Jimmy McPartland. The repertoire on Vol. 2 includes more warhorses and generally lengthier performances than the first disc, but it is its equal in quality. Vol. 3, which is split between quartet and quintet performances with banjoist Dick Oxtot sitting in on two numbers, is also a winner.
Dave Radlauer and Grammercy Records deserve thanks for making these highly enjoyable performances available, not just for the quality and joy of the music but for shining a light on the often-forgotten Big Boy Goudie. Two other CDs of previously unreleased Goudie performances from other venues during the time period will be reviewed here in the near future. All are recommended to Dixieland and small-group swing fans and are available from www.grammercy.com.
An excellent swing and Dixieland trombonist, Herb Gardner was part of the New York jazz scene during 1963-2014 and has been based in Boston during the past seven years. He worked with the who’s who of prebop jazz, everyone from Wild Bill Davison, Eddie Condon, Kenny Davern and Henry “Red” Allen to Roy Eldridge, Gene Krupa, Banu Gibson, Ed Polcer, and Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks. He was a regular at the Metropole, Jimmy Ryan’s and Eddie Condon’s.
Recently Gardner self-published his book At The Jazz Band Ball. Although just 44 pages, his memoirs are quite likable and informative. Gardner briefly covers his playing career, talks about some of the greats who he shared the bandstand with, and includes both heartwarming and humorous stories. His daughter Kathy Gardner’s many photos add to the value of the book.
While At The Jazz Band Ball could have been much larger (there must be a countless number of other stories that are going untold), it is an enjoyable book (available from www.herb-gardner.com) that is worth picking up.