Young Red Nichols And Friends

The jet lag is pretty much gone now, and I’m settling back into a normal routine, or as normal as routines get around here. Before memories begin to fade, I will post a few illustrated impressions of the Ystad festival that did not make it into the Rifftides posts from Sweden or my Wall Street Journal report, and perhaps a few of our visit to Copenhagen, which was too short. For the next day or two, however, I’m on deadline for liner notes to accompany Houston Person’s next album.

For the moment, I leave you with film from 85 years ago, a performance by Red Nichols and His Five Pennies. It’s a rare glimpse of a popular 1920s jazz band in action, professionally filmed with good sound. It shows us Nichols, Pee Wee Russell and Eddie Condon when they were in their early-to-middle Red Nicholstwenties, years from becoming institutions. Those who think of Russell as an eccentric clarinetist may be surprised at his relatively straightforward playing here. The film showcases Condon’s singing, not to mention his lightfooted returns to the bandstand, but don’t miss the swing he generates on rhythm banjo. He was always much more than a curmudgeonly front man who ran a nightclub.

The musicians: Red Nichols (cornet), Tommy Thune and John Egan (trumpet), Herb Taylor (trombone), Pee Wee Russell (clarinet), Irving Brodsky (piano), Eddie Condon (banjo and vega lute) and George Beebe (drums).

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  1. Andrew Homzy says

    Great film. The musicality is wonderful – a variety of dynamics, texture & colours – which was lost by the boppers and beyond – and only recently reinstated in jazz performance.

    Note that we hear trumpet when Red does not have his trumpet to his lips.

    • says

      That’s a puzzle. It could be that one of the players who joined Nichols for the trumpet trio performance was playing off camera. If so, he was an expert imitator of Nichols’ style. There are moments when Nichols’ breathing doesn’t synch with what we’re hearing and others when his breathing and finger movements on his valves are perfectly matched. Russell’s solos seem unquestionably live, not synched to a pre-recorded track.

  2. dick vartanian says

    Thanks for this, Doug. I’ve been a fan of Nichols since the first time I heard him at a saloon on Mason St. in San Francisco when he came here to work in the shipyards. Great stuff!!

  3. says

    I was the house bass player at Condon’s for a while (weekends only… they did without the bass four nights a week). Eddie spent a lot of time chinning with the customers, but he did come up and play with us regularly, and I was always glad when he did. He kept a lively beat, played the right chords, and got a nice sound out of his four-string “pork chop.”

  4. Ted O'Reilly says

    This is a lovely artifact, likely with live sound. So, I wonder who is playing the trumpet solo at 6:17?

  5. Rob D says

    What a delight….The irrepressible nature of the music of that era of jazz is contagious..

    I think I have over 40 new CD”s and 10 books as a direct result of reading this blog..long may you scribble, Doug…:)

  6. Mike Davis says

    Condon was certainly a man of many parts – not all of them necessarily connected, but his memorable cure for a hangover: “Firstly, extract the juice from a quart of whiskey” still brings a smile to my lips half a century after I first heard him utter it.

  7. Bob Godfrey says

    I find the most amazing information from this posting is Bill Crow’s comments about working only on weekends at Eddie Condon’s——that Condon’s was bass-less for the first four days of the week !

  8. says

    Well, in Vitaphone, sound wasn’t synched on the film, but was on a separate turntable, so they probably chose the audio take they wanted and used it with the film take they wanted. No doubt it would have stretched the budget too far to keep shooting film-or recording audio-that matched really well.