Here’s a message from Bill Crow following the recent Rifftides piece about pianist John Williams.
There is a recent release on Hep Records of a Spike Robinson CD, The C.T.S. Session, on which John is the pianist. I am the bassist, and Peter Cater of London is the drummer.Louis Stewart plays guitar on a few tracks. We made it in 1998 after our appearance at the Cork Jazz Festival, but it sat on the shelf for a few years after Spike died. Johnny Williams was a great pleasure to play with on that tour.
Thanks to Jim Wardrop for also calling the Robinson album to our attention.
The critic Larry Kart sent this:
Thanks for the heads up on that John Williams CD and the neat (sorry to sound like a ’50s teenager, but that’s the word that came to mind) profile of him. I’ve always enjoyed Williams’ playing, which was, as you say, a unique personal offshoot of his influences; no one could mistake Williams for anyone else. Percussive and rollicking, but there were times when he got so rumbustious that it seemed as though he were about to throw some furniture around the room. In that vein, he sounded to me like a modern Joe Sullivan. Wonder if Williams knew Sullivan’s stuff. Speaking of which, here’s a remarkable (I think) poem by Englishman Roy Fisher (b. 1930), who’s also a jazz pianist. It’s in his new book The Long and Short of It: Poems 1955-2005:
THE THING ABOUT JOE SULLIVAN
The pianist Joe Sullivan
jamming sound against idea
hard as it can go
florid and dangerous
slams at the beat, or hovers,
drumming, along its spikes,
in his time almost the only
one of them to ignore
the chance of easing down,
walking it leisurely,
he’ll strut, with gambling shapes,
underpinning by James P.,
amble, and then stride over
gulfs of his own leaving, perilously
toppling octaves down to where
the chords grow fat again
and ride hard-edged, most lucidly
voiced, and in good inversions even when
the piano seems at risk of being
hammered the next second into scrap.
For all that, he won’t swing
like all the others;
disregards mere continuity,
the snakecharming business,
the ‘masturbator’s rhythm’
under the long variations:
Sullivan can gut a sequence
in one chorus–
–approach, development, climax, discard–
and sound magnanimous.
The mannerism of intensity
often with him seems true,
too much to be said, the mood
pressing in right at the start, then
running among stock forms
that could play themselves
and moving there with such
quickness of intellect
that shapes flaw and fuse,
altering without much sign,
so wrapped up in thoroughness
it can sound bluff, bustling
just big-handed stuff–
belied by what drives him in
to make rigid, display,
shout and abscond, rather
than just let it come, let it go–
And that thing is his mood:
a feeling violent and ordinary
that runs in among standard forms so
wrapped up in clarity
that fingers following his
through figures that sound obvious
find corners everywhere,
marks of invention, wakefulness;
the rapid and perverse
tracks that ordinary feelings
make when they get driven
hard enough against time.
COMMENT 3: WELLSTOOD AND SULLIVAN
When Dick Wellstood was a young man beginning to play piano around New York in the mid-1940s, he was so thoroughly under Sullivanâ€™s spell that he handed out business cards reading, â€œPerhaps you can help me to meet Joe Sullivan. My name is Dick Wellstood.â€ With a tip from cornetist Muggsy Spanier, he finally did meet Sullivan. The story, told by clarinetist Kenny Davern, is in Edward N. Meyerâ€™s valuable biography of Wellstood, Giant Strides.
Mugsy looked at him and said, â€œWell, he lives right around the corner.â€ Muggsy gave him the number and said, â€œWhy donâ€™t you knock on the door and tell him Muggsy sent you, as a way of introduction, kid.â€ So Dick said, â€œAre you sure itâ€™s not too late?â€ He looked at his watch. It was 1:30 in the morning and Muiggsy said, â€œOh, no, no. Sullivan is up all the time, heâ€™s up at all hours.
So Dick goes over there and rings the doorbell. Soon this disheveled figure in slippers and a bathrobe comes shuffling through. Joe opens the door and says, â€œYeah?â€ Dick says, â€œHi, my name is Dick Wellstood and Muggsy Spanier said to say hello.â€ And Joe Sullivan said, â€œTell Muggsy Spanier to go f____ himself,â€ and slammed the door right in Dickâ€™s face.
There is a reasonably comprehensive short biography of Sullilvan on the Red Hot Jazz website, and a batch of MP3 tracks of his playing. They include Gin Mill Blues and Little Rock Getaway, two of his most famousâ€”and most imitatedâ€”recordings. This CD has those tracks and twenty-two others from 1933 to 1941.
COMMENTS 4 & 5: WILLIAMS AND COSTA. GREAT MINDS WITH….Well, you know
Speaking of “rumbling boisterously in the basement of the piano”, as you did in reference to John Williams on a Stan Getz recording, it reminded me of how few pianists explore the left side of the keyboard and how, done properly, it can be an additional arrow in the quiver.
Eddie Costa was a very special practitioner who rumbled about as boisterously as I’ve ever heard. He is missed.
Although I’m “not from the discographers” (as my grandmother might have worded it), I can offer a little more info on the recorded output of the unique player John Williams. (BTW, his lower register rumblings and his general attack always, to my ear, have brought Eddie Costa to mind.)
But wait a sec: practically unknown is a CD issued by the ever-resourceful Japanese (the imprint is Marshmallow, #MVCJ 30061, recorded October 20 and 21, 1994). This gives us ten tracks by Williams, Jeff Grubbs and Frank Isola; on 5 of the tracks Spike Robinson on tenor is added. Title of the side is Welcome Back.
Speaking of ever-resourceful, the Rifftides staff went on a googling expedition into the darkest recesses of the internet and tracked down (heh heh) the mysterious Marshallow in its lair, a Japanese website.Welcome Back is the third item on the page. A click on the button quaintly labeled “Listen More” will bring up a box with audio samples of three tracks. The page gives the price, 2,800 yen, but, alas, nary a hint about how to acquire this CD, so perhaps the staff is merely semi-ever-resourceful. A message to email@example.com may bring ordering information. If you try, please let us know what happens.