1 IAJRC Journal March 2010 Traveling Blues - The Life and Music of Tommy Ladnier by Bo Lindstrom and Dan Vernhettes Jazz'Edit, Paris, 2009; 216pp, pb, 56 Europe / 60 USA A hot CD of 189 Ladnier tracks is also available 72 / 76 This is a most remarkable book by any standards, a tome of impressive weight: 31/4 lbs (1½ Kgs), measuring the squared-off size of a 78, and containing no less than 306 illustrations, mostly in colour, adorning nearly every page, many previously unpublished. To call it a paperback is almost an insult. As regards the content, this is surely the most detailed and researched biography of a jazz musician ever. It is written in impeccable English and this is all the more impressive when one realises that the two authors are a Swede and a Frenchman who reside far from each other and from the locus in quo. Further, they had not previously met prior to the ten years spent on this compilation Rather than mere words of mine, the depth of the research can best be gauged by referring to the chapter from the book entitled "The Fletcher Henderson Days" which appeared in two parts in the June 2009 and September 2009 issues of the IAJRC Journal At that time the authors were seeking a publisher. They have since bravely decided upon self-publishing and this printing of 500 copies is the result. You will find a visit to their website illuminating : dsdwww.jazzedit.org. Of special note is the wide range of rare photographs, of bands, original shellac labels, contemporary advertisements in the African-American press, and even of Ladnier's gravestone. Frank Driggs supplied amazing rarities, such as the image below of Sidney Bechet getting on well ät the Moscow Artists' & \\ riters' Club in the 1920s. The book is divided into 14 chapters plus a full discogra-phy, an index, and a music index. It commences with a detailed description of the historic colonisation of Louisiana, supported by several worthwhile maps, and is the best coverage of these events I have read. There follows a close-up of the parishes of St Tammany and Mandeville, north of Lake Pontchartrain, where the Ladnier family came from, with an in-depth examination of their family tree, going back to a German Swiss named Christian de L'Adner born in 1690! Tommy's childhood and early musical early life is described, then his emigration to Chicago at the age of seventeen. The next three chapters cover this Chicago period extensively, especially his recordings with Lovie Austin and blues singers Ida Cox, Ma Rainey, Edmonia Henderson, Edna Hicks and Ethel Waters. Other chapters deal in detail with his time in New York and Europe with Noble Sissle, Sam Wooding and others, including being part of The Chocolate Kiddies Revue, resulting in his fascination with life on the Continent of Europe. There follows a vivid chapter devoted to his tough time in New York in the Depression, with the lack of work and the opening of the Southern Tailor Shop together with Sidney Bechet, and the formation with the latter of the New Orleans Feetwarmers An especially worthwhile section concerns the arrival in New York in 1938 of Hugues Panassié and the description of Ladnier's part in the classic recordings Panassié made with Mezz Mezzrow and Bechet, and his participation in the 'Spirituals to Swing' concert. And all the recordings made by Ladnier are scrupulously analysed, ending with his last session accompanying Rosetta Crawford. The book closes with the tragic death of Tommy from heart disease at age 39 and a final chapter of reminiscences about him from his contemporaries. I could go on at length with this panegyric but you will already have deduced my unfettered enthusiasm for such a beautiful production, which is worth every penny. The Fore-word, by Frank Driggs, proclaims "The depth of research is, I believe, unparalleled". I recommend it unreservedly. Horace Meunier Harris
2 Jazz Journal TRAVELING BLUES The Life And Music Of Tommy Ladnier, by Bo Lindstrom and Dan Vernhettes; foreword by Frank Driggs. Jazz'Edit, 218 pp, pb, col. illus. 40+pp. Details from Tommy Ladnier has been the love of my jazz life and this book covers all one could possibly need to know about him, starting with a history of Louisiana leading up to his descent from a Swiss immigrant farmer settling in Mississippi in 1719 to logging camps on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain and thence to Chicago where young Tommy came under the spell of King Oliver and made a reputation as the 'talking blues cornet'. A period in Europe with Sam Wooding was followed by great success in New York with Fletcher Henderson but a liking for a less prejudiced way of life took him back to Europe with Wooding again and then Noble Sissle. Return to the States with his friend Sidney Bechet was followed by obscurity until the French writer Hugues Panassié, who had admired Tommy in Paris, set him up in a series of recordings for Victor. Fame beckoned but, alas, ill-health and dissipation had taken their toll and he died shortly afterwards. The detail about Ladnier and the musicians he played with and the circumstances he worked under is amazing. Some of the filling in between the documented facts is speculative, but in an informed and intelligent way supported by a great deal of original research. Every recording on which the trumpeter appeared is analysed in a musically coherent manner. There are many photographs (some new to me), diagrams, maps and label scans, done in such a way that although this is a work of academic stature it also looks good on the coffee table. Although the mass of information means that it is not a quick read, the narrative flows enough to carry the reader along while it is also a valuable work of reference with a comprehensive discography and index. This book which could claim to be one of the best ever written about an individual jazz musician. Apart from its specific subject, it tells us a great deal about jazz and society as a whole. Christopher Hillman
3 BÖCKER Storartat om en underskattad Bo Lindström & Dan Vernhettes Traveling blues - The life and music of Tommy Ladnier Trumpetaren och kornettisten Tommy Ladnier var en av de många jazzpionjärer som föddes i trakterna av New Orleans kring (förra) sekelskiftet. Hans namn nämns ofta i jazzens annaler, men sällan bland stora stilbildåre som Louis Armstrong, Roy Eidridge, l)i//v Gillespie eller Miles Davis. Ladnier har dock länge varit ett aktat namn bland musiker, skivsamlare och ja/zhist< >riker, men inte förrän nu har han förärats en bi»»urati. <»d med besked. "/)</: < fög bhk -. måste \ ära en av de mest ambitiösa levnadsbeskrivningar som gjorts! Pä drygt 200 tullmatade sidor beskriver törtattarna ingående miljöer, kulturella, sociala och politiska förhållanden i såväl USA som Europa och sätter in Tommy Ladniers korta karriär i sitt sammanhang. Här finner vi tidigare okända dokument och fotografier och, inte minst, en Fullständig diskografi. Som honus far vi också en cd med samtliga 190 inspelningar Ladnier gjorde (i mp3-format). Författarna gar grundligt tillväga. Det första av de fjorton kapitlen ägnas ät fransmännens kolonisering av Louisiana pä ijoö-talet och framåt, det andra kapitlet ät de bada kommunerna St. Tammanys och Mandervilles utveckling. Det var där, i New Orleans omedelbara närhet, som Ladnier växte upp och lärde sig sitt hantverk och mänga av den tidiga jazzens företeelser nådde dit: flodbåtarna, brassbanden och inte minst dansorkestrar frän den större huvudorten, och inspirerad av allt detta valde han kornetten som uttrycksmedel. Följande kapitel beskriver Tommy Ladniers liv och karriär i USA och Europa. Mellan 1915 och 1920 flyttade uppemot en miljon svarta frän förtryck och eländiga förhallanden i Södern till större städer i norr, som förhoppningsvis kunde leda till ett värdigare liv följde Ladnier samma ström och slog sig ner i Chicago, där New Orleansmusiken utgjorde en naturlig del av ett hektiskt nöjesliv, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory och, sa småningom, Louis Armstrong var några som formade "jazzalderns" dansmusik, en musik som skulle bli smörjmedlet i ett helt nöjesmaskineri, en helt ny livsstil. Ladnier blev en uppskattad trumpi och i början av 2o-talet förekommer han pä ett fyrtiotal inspehhngar med flera av de sa kallade "bluesdrottningarna": Ida C'ox, Alberta Hunter, Ma Rainey och inte minst Bessie Smith. Den förnämlige orkesterledaren Sam \\boding fick upp ögonen för den bluesige trumpetaren komettisten och tog med honom i sin orkester som turnerade i Europa i 13 månader under aren 1925 och Orkestern nådde till och med Stockholm, där de bland annat uppträdde pä Cirkus, ett framträdande som gav förvånansvärt lite eko i pressen. Ladnier trivdes i Europa, han kände sig uppskattad och han skulle komma att återvända till den här sidan av Atlanten. i MITTEN AV 2O-TALET lämnade mänga musiker det gangsterkontrollerade Chicago till förmån for New York och Harlem. Sa gjorde också den främste av dem alla, Louis Armstrong, som anställdes av Fletcher Henderson som solist. När Ladnier återvände frän Europa-turnén 1926 anställdes han av Henderson som Armstrongs efterträdare. Louis var vid den här tiden den stora förebilden för alla jazzmusiker, och Tommy hade anammat hans stil och spelsätt, dock utan att hemfalla åt plagiat. Aret med Henderson blev både händelserikt och framgångsrikt, men hade även trista inslag som trakningar från kolleger - inte minst från clen andre stjärnan i orkestern, Coleman Hawkins, som retade sig pä den självsäkre och stolte Louisana-musi- Tominy Ladnier under en konsert i Nice med Benny Peytons orkester, troligen tidigt 3o-tal. kern och den uppmärksamhet denne fick. Ladnier gick tillbaks till Sam Wooding i förhoppningen att han skulle kunna turnera i det förhållandevis "färgblinda" Europa igen. Det blev ytterligare turnéer i Europa, och inte minst i Paris knöt Ladnier livslånga bekantskaper med blå. Sidney Bechet och den förmögne och inflytelserike jazzentusiasten Hugties Panassié. Till skillnad från många musikerkolleger hade Ladnier intellektuella intressen, och fann stimulans bland sina nya vänner inom den franska bourgeoisien. Det faktum att han nu spelade ofta enahanda kommersiell musik uppvägdes av den positiva atmosfär han upplevde bland vänner och kolleger i Europa. Men det ekonomiska och politiska klimatet i 3O-tålets början tvingade tillbaks Ladnier till ett New York där depressionen tagit sitt grepp om musikbranschen. Han slog sig ihop med vännen Bechet och
4 jazzpionjär öppnade ett skrädderi(i) i Harlem, vilket i praktiken fungerade som en mötesplats för andra arbetslösa musiker. Ingen av dem kunde något om sömnad. DE AVSLUTANDE KAPITLEN ägnas huvudsakligen ät Ladniers karriär tillsammans med den temperamentsfiille och egensinnige Bechet samt med sina nya vänner Panassié och klarinettisten saxofonisten Me// Mezzrow. Tillsammans med dessa upplever Ladnier en musikalisk berg-ochdalbana som pendlar mellan avgudande och total misär. Till exempel renderade en utsåld Carnegie Hall-konsert inför en hysteriskt jublande publik Ladnier blott 10 dollar! Man gjorde mänga lyckade inspelningar tillsammans och förebådade revivalvagen under swingens jo-tal under orkesternamnet "New Orleans Feetwarmers". När en större publik under 4O-talet skulle komma att återupptäcka de genuina New Orleansmusikerna fanns dock Tommy Ladnier inte ined. Han avled i armod Mänga jazzbiografier, skrivna av entusiaster, tenderar att bli svårlästa eftersom författarna är hängivna ämnet och förlorar sig i lovsång till objektet. Detta undviker Lindström och Vemhettes tack vare att de har vinnlagt sig om att placera Ladnier i ett historiskt, socialt, politiskt, musikaliskt sammanhang. Travel ing Blues känns aldrig som en katalog över Ladniers engagemang, medmusiker eller inspelningar, snarare som en spännande kulturhistorisk exposé över en tidigare icke uppmärksammad musiker. Språkligt är boken lättillgänglig..\ led hjälp av hundratals fotografier, karton kulturhistoriska utvikningar om företeelser som slaveriet, industrimiljöer i ^o-talets Chicago, dramatiska händelser beskrivna i tidningsartiklar, annonser, skivetiketter. passagerarlistor. programhäften, passhandlingar, turnérutter och personliga brev, formas bilden av en lika begåvad som underskattad jazzpionjär. Boken har samma yttermatt som ett js-varvsfodral och illustrationerna är dekoratiu utplacerade pä sidonia. De mänga nothänvisningarna är bekvämt placerade i marginalen. Den kände jazzforskaren och samlaren av jazzfotografier Frank Driggs blev sa imponerad av de bada författarnas forskningsmaterial att han utan ersättning ställde sina unika bilder till förfogande, vilket har lett till att alla kända bilder pä Ladnier finns med. VERNHETTES, SOM ÄR. FRANSMAN, hade också vid samma tid påbörjat forskning kring den klent dokumenterade Ladnier och hade tidigare publicerat artiklar kring okända New Orleans-musiker i tidskriften Jazz Classique. Hans material om Ladnier hade blivit alltför omfattande för tidskriften och kontakten med Lindström blev förlösande. Yernhettes har ett förflutet som typograf och jazztrumpetare, kunskaper som kommit väl till pass vid sammanställningen av detta praktverk. Efter tvä personliga möten och 7500 utväxlade mejl mellan författarna, föreligger nu alltså en av de märkvärdigaste och mest allmänbildande jazzböcker som nånsin sammanställts, läsvärd långt utanför de invigdas krets. JENS LINDGREN Tolv nedslag i svensk jazz För ett par ar sedan var Lisbeth Axelsson medförfattare till boken / afton Landgrens där hon och Rolf Jansson Lisbeth Axelsson All That Swedishjazz - 12 svenska jazzstjärnor som erövrar världen grävde djupt och omsorgsfullt i Nils Landgrens karriär och inte minst den spännande historien bakom den. Nu kommer Lisbeth Axelsson med ett liknande arbete. Denna gäng grävs det inte sa djupt, men a andra sidan pä rler ställen. Tolv jazzartister far varsitt kapitel där utvecklingen skildras frän det lilla barnet som greppar en trumpet eller en gitarr, och som via stöd, klok omgivning och lite tillfälligheter hamnar där man är idag. Men det är inte sa stereotypt som det kan lata. Varje berättelse tar sin form utifrån dess huvudperson. Det som inspirerar och driver pä far uppmärksamhet. Lisen Rylander som gar igång pä ett läte i en rulltrappa eller ljudet av en tändkulemotor, Peter Asplund som föredrog Basie framför Bamse i bandspelaren när han åkte med föräldrarna pä bilsemester, och Magnum Coltrane Frice med ett socialt engagemang som gar hand i hand med musiken. Texten kryddas med anekdoter och minnen - hur fick egentligen Jan Lundgren upp 400 kilo Steimvayrlygel till andra vaningen i sitt Ystadshus: Förutom de som nämnts ovan finns Viktoria Tolstoy, Magnus Lindgren, Andreas Oberg, Rigmor Gustafsson, Jon Fält, Karin Hammar och Martin Tingvall representerade i boken. Vissa delar känns välbekanta för den som följer med i branschen, men det är roligt när de med mindre publicitet i ryggen uppmärksammas. Det minst affischaktiga namnet frän svensk horisont är väl Martin Tingvall, frän Ystad men med sin karriär och verksamhet förlagd till Tyskland. Att AU that Szwdis/i jazz kommer i en tysk upplaga är inte överraskande, Av de tolv är de allra flesta kopplade till något av de tyska bolagen ACT. KCM eller Skip. Men sa är också Tyskland ett av de främsta mottagarländerna för svensk ja// export. Bokens sidor är kryddade med ett rikt och varierat bildmaterial mycket hämtat ur artistens egna privata gömmor som familjebilder och tidningsurklipp. Dessutom finns en cd med ett smakprov frän varje artist. OLLE HERNECREN O} l 201O
5 New Orleans Music Vol. 15, No. 4 June 2010 "Travelling Blues" The Life And Music Of Tommy Ladnier by Bo Lindström and Dan Vernhettes. Foreword by Frank Driggs. Published by Jazz-Edit. Large Pb (28.5 X 28.5 cm) 218 pp Illustrated in colour. Limited edition of 500 copies. Price 56 Euros (or 72 Euros with the Mp-3 CD) +16 Euro postage to Europe or 20 Euros to the rest of the World. Order from JAZZ'EDIT, Dan Vernhettes, 45 rue Roger Buessard, Ivry sur Seine, France. Futher details from Jazz-Edit.org website. Tommy Ladnier has been the love of my jazz life. I have written many things about him and had hopes of compiling a modest bio-discographical type of book. I then learned of work proceeding on this undertaking and on a 2006 visit to Stockholm to talk to the Swedish Bunk Johnson Society I met Bo Lindström to compare notes with him. On being told of his plans for so exhaustive a work as this I decided to hand the baton to him while giving him all the help I could. On a recent visit to New Orleans I also met Dan Vernhettes and saw the almost completed product on his laptop and was told of plans for publication. The fact that it has become available so soon is great credit to their determination and perspicacity and it is everything I could have hoped for and more. The book covers all one could possibly need to know about Ladnier, starting with a history of Louisiana leading up to his descent from a Swiss immigrant farmer settling in Mississippi in 1719, through miscegenation, to logging camps on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain, where young Tommy learned trumpet from Bunk Johnson, and thence to Chicago where he came under the spell of King Oliver and Consolidated a reputation as the "talking blues cornet" with a string of fine blues accompaniments to such as Ma Rainey and Ida Cox as a member of Lovie Austin's Blues Serenaders. A period in Europe with Sam Wooding during which he refined his technique was followed on his return to New York by a spell with Fletcher Henderson's orchestra during which he illuminated a number of masterpieces which could have elevated him to the highest rank of trumpet players; but a liking for a less prejudiced way of life took him back to Europe with Wooding again and then Noble Sissle. Return to the States with his friend Sidney Bechet was followed by obscurity until the French writer Hugues Panassié, who had been entranced by Tommy's playing in Paris, set him up in a series of recordings for Victor, some of them with Bechet. Fame beckoned once again but, alas, ill-health and dissipation had taken their toll and he died shortly afterwards. I thought I knew a good deal about Tommy Ladnier but I have learned a lot from this book. The amount of detail it contains about Ladnier himself and about the musicians he played with and the circumstances he worked under is amazing. Some of the filling in between the documented facts is speculative, but in an informed and intelligent way supported by a great deal of original research. Every recording on which the trumpeter appeared is analysed in a musically coherent manner but with the enthusiasm of the authors shining through showing how much they love the music. There are many photographs (some new to me), diagrams, maps and label scans giving point to the text, done in such a way that although this is a work of academic stature it also looks good on the coffee table. Although the mass of information means that it is not a quick read, the narrative flows enough to carry the reader along while it is also a valuable work of reference with a comprehensive discography and index. There are, of course, a few typographical and factual errors in all the detail and occasionally it is evident that neither of the authors have English as their native language; but these are negligible shortcomings beside the great virtues of the book which can claim to be one of the best ever written about an individual jazz musician; and in my view and in the light of the authors' advocacy, one which Tommy Ladnier richly deserves especially after listening to his music again with this volume as a guide. In order to see the fruits of their labours the authors have been forced to finance the publication themselves at considerable cost. It would be a great shame if they were to suffer because the book fails to reach the readership it deserves, as a fascinating document of interest to all serious lovers of jazz of all kinds. Apart from its specific subject, it tells us a great deal about jazz and society as a whole. Christopher Hillman
6 VJM'S REVIEW PAGES 18 January 2010 BOOK: TRAVELING BLUES: The Life and Times of Tommy Ladnier. By Bo Lindstrom and Dan Vernhettes. 216 pp. Available from Most books about (or by) jazz musicians are glorified recounts of their professional engagements, music and recordings. This work on Tommy Ladnier sets an entirely new standard; particularly in light of the fact that the subject died 70 years ago and left little in the way of a written trail. The authors spent years reviewing press accounts and official records in the US and Europe to assemble this immensely detailed and visually stunning work to create a volume that looks as if the authors had followed the man around for most of his life. Photos, many never published before (or poorly reproduced in limited circulation magazines), concert posters, newspaper accounts, private letters are all beautifully presented here indeed there s a visual treasure on every large format, full-color page. The first three chapters of this book trace the Ladnier family roots back to the 18th century. Like many New Orleans musicians, Ladnier had both white and black ancestors; the white lineage traced to a Swiss émigré named Ladner. By the onset of the 19th Century there were two racial branches of the family and by 1900 a number of them were living around Mandeville, La., where Tommy Ladnier was born. Ladnier s early career with the Independence Band is reasonably well-presented but the Chicago chapter is where the authors begin to excel, placing Ladnier into the context of the times and environment. He arrived in the city with his mother in 1917 and took a day job in the Armour meat packing factory. Chicago life was difficult, there were vicious race riots in 1917 and work at the Armour meat packing company was the subject of a muck-raking novel by Upton Sinclair a decade before his employment there. In this environment, Ladnier began his professional life, playing with a number of New Orleans bands and, like many of his peers, listening mainly to King Oliver who was the city s most popular black band leader. From here the authors detail histories of bands and singers with whom Ladnier worked Ollie Powers, Lovie Austin and Milton Vassar with extremely well-reproduced photos of Ollie Powers band and Vassar s Scale Steppers. In 1923, Ladnier became the "house cornettist" for Paramount records, appearing on dozens of discs as an accompanist to Ma Rainey, Ida Cox., Monette Moore. His open horn playing was strong, direct and blues drenched. He was also a master of the plunger muted growl that was all the rage then all discussed in great detail, session-by-session, here. In 1925, Ladnier was recruited by bandleader Sam Wooding to tour Europe with an "all-negro" Revue called the Chocolate Kiddies. From here the graphics get even better (down to a photo of the manifest of the steamer that carried him and the rest of Wooding s band to Germany). But the authors also begin tracking what Ladnier was like as a person proud, reserved with an intellectual curiosity that went beyond music. He sought to learn about all of the places he would visit, the culture and history. Working in a large ensemble that played for a revue (and hence a relatively small jazz content) certainly broadened his music horizons to the point that his playing changed dramatically during his year with Wooding; his phrasing was much more varied and less blues-based. European reaction to the Wooding band was mixed, ranging from a few enthusiastic supports to (more often) disbelief over how music could be relegated to such clowning and cacophony.
7 Ladnier left Wooding during a month-long stay in Danzig (now Gdansk) and headed for New York where, in fairly short order, he found a job with the top Black dance orchestra in the US. The 1927 Fletcher Henderson unit was truly all-star with Ladnier being one of the brightest stars. He was well-paid and highly regarded but apparently he was never happy with the "here and now" because he left it all in a year to go back to Europe with Wooding. The second European tour chapter features some incredible photos including one group shot of the leading black musicians in Paris in 1929 which I had never seen before. Ladnier didn t stay with Wooding long the pay was allegedly quite poor and jumped to Bennie Peyton s Jazz Kings. Then led his own group before moving on to Noble Sissle with whom he returned to the US in The authors speculate that Ladnier departed Sissle s band in the middle of the Depression because Ladnier got little chance to solo, but such must have been the case with Peyton and Wooding as well. Again, Ladnier simply seemed to be unhappy with present circumstances regardless of what they were. After Ladnier and Sidney Bechet made six extraordinary sides for Victor at the New Orleans Footwarmers in the Fall of 1932, his career was nearly over. Retreating to rural northern New York, Ladnier apparently tried to make a go of an off-again, on-again marriage and had fallen so out of touch that, when French jazz critic Hughes Panassie came to New York inquiring about him, he was told that Tommy had gone mad and was locked up. Of course, Panassie locates him, but the comeback recording sessions do not have a storybook ending. Tommy s wife didn t like him sharing the record billing with Bechet or clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow. And trusting musicians, even great ones (apart from Mezzrow was a disaster as a player), to simply create great music on the spot could lead to more discord and disorganization. And finally, the recording supervisor, Eli Oberstein, could not keep his hand out of the proceedings. All of this is noted in great and fascinating detail here. Following the sessions was a stellar, if all too brief, appearance in John Hammond s Spirituals to Swing Concert in Carnegie Hall. But by the time the records, under Ladnier s name (the only ones to do so) were issued, he was dead of a heart attack. Traveling Blues also includes a full discography, though some of the entries are still open to debate the May, 1927 Georgia Strutters Harmony session and the Jelly Roll "Marton" Paramount from May/June A full CD set of Ladnier s work is also available from the same publisher, but not previewed by the editors. On the minus side quibbles really there are a number of typographical and grammatical errors (most of which would have been picked up had it been proof-read by a reader with English as their first language) and the occasional factual lapse - such as stating that Louis Armstrong s February, 1926 recording of Heebie Jeebies was recorded before Lovie Austin s April, 1925 disc of the same name. In addition, the authors sometimes draw a blurry line between guesswork and empirical evidence; particularly in describing motives as to why the subject of their book took certain actions; for example stating that one of the main reasons he left an excellent job with Fletcher Henderson was because of the musical compromises and sameness of the repertoire. But Sam Wooding s repertoire was far less jazz-worthy, and Noble Sissle s even less than Wooding s, with a lot of anachronistic minstrelsy thrown in. These are minor, however, and scarcely detract from a landmark work that future jazz biographies will be hard-pressed to equal. RUSS SHOR
8 Jazzbeat Paige van Vorst TRAVELING BLUES: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF TOMMY LADNIER by Bo Lindström and Dan Vernhettes (Paris, JazzEdit, 2009, 215 pp paperbound) This is without doubt the handsomest jazz book I ve ever seen. The pages are the size of an LP sleeve and they are filled with information about Ladnier, the bands he was with, the records he made, the places he played and almost every fact about the man ever ascertained. Writing anything definitive about someone who died young seventy years ago would seem to be a daunting project, but Bo Lindström and Dan Vernhettes each began researching Ladnier separately several years ago. Fortunately, they met through the offices of the Swedish Bunk Johnson Society, a group many of us belong to - Claes Ringkvist, the President of the SBJS, found out both were working on Tommy Ladnier, introduced them, and they decided to write a. book rather than the articles each was writing. Vernhettes, who leads France's Vintage Jazzmen, and Lindström, a clarinetist and saxophonist, have the musical credentials to fully analyze Ladnier's music and they have been able to utilize all the genealogical resources available on the Internet to fully trace Ladnier's ancestry back to, of all places, fifteenth century Switzerland. Ladnier was born in Mandeville LA, not New Orleans as most people think, and the authors have exhaustively traced his musical roots to local groups in the area where he probably began his career. Unlike many of his New Orleans compatriots, Ladnier was a wanderer-while people like Red Allén and Lee Collins were content to work locally for most of their lives, Ladnier spent much of his early career in Europe -he appears to have been an inquisitive sort, always looking to better himself, and he enjoyed his time in Europe, where he was free of all the social problems in the US at the time. As a result, he never became as well known in the US as he should have been, and when he returned to the US the music business had changed and he appears not to have been able to adjust to the new realities of the Swing Era - what should have been his most productive years were spent working, if at all, in total obscurity in Upstate New York and Connecticut. When he was rediscovered by Hughes Panassié in 1938, no one had seen him in years and he was rumored to be either dead or hopelessly insane. Tommy Ladnier evolved as a musician throughout his career and the authors have analyzed all of the nearly 200 recordings he made to trace the changes in his style, from the fierce blues player of the early 1920s, to the more Armstrong-influenced player of the mid-20s, to the simplified yet forceful player who finished his career with a series of brilliant recordings for Hughes Panassié. There is a set of two MP3 CDs that can be purchased extra including all of Ladnier's recorded output in chronological order. Fortunately for Ladnier, he was befriended in his late years by two of the most prolific writers of the era - Mezz Mezzrow and Hughes Panassié-both were deeply involved with Tommy ät the time of his death and wrote extensively about him, and the authors have been able to make good use of their remembrances, which were in some cases written down as they occurred. The book is extensively illustrated with copies of record labels, photos of many of the places Tommy played, as well as photos of an amazing array of musicians, many of whom have never before been identified. The authors tracked Ladnier all over Europe and the US and have as close to a day-by-day reconstruction of his life as I've seen. As I indicated at the beginning, the book is absolutely beautiful -Vernhettes is a typographer by trade and he has put together a book that is not only fun to read but beautiful to look at. I spend several days just paging through it when it first came, hoping it would be as good as it looked. Now that 1've finished it, I can assure you it both looks and reads well. Tommy Ladnier died at age 39 and has been largely forgotten today, but hopefully this book will keep his reputation alive for another generation or two - he was considered second only to Louis Armstrong by some observers in the 1920s yet he had the bad habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and repeatedly making poor career moves. As Frank Driggs indicates in his preface, "God bless the two fanatics who have devoted so much of their time and energy to bring this work of love to fruition." This is a limited edition of 400 copies so if you're interested the address is The book costs $40 plus postage. There hasn't been a book like this in a long time.
9 TRAVELING BLUES: TOMMY LADNIER November 13, 2009 For the second time this season, a jazz book has so astonished me that I want to write about it before I take the time to read it at the leisurely pace it deserves. This book is published in a limited edition of 500 copies, so I hope that someone might be moved sufficiently to order a copy before they are all gone. TRAVELING BLUES: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF TOMMY LADNIER, bybo Lindstrom and Dan Vernhettes, is a lively yet scholarly study of the life and music of the shortlived trumpeter. Many jazz books are enthusiastic but lopsided; books that collect beautiful photographs sometimes have minimal or unsatisfying text; scholarly books are often not appealing to the eye. This book strikes sparks in every way: the diligent research that has gone into it, the expansive prose; the wonderful illustrations. I have been reluctant to put it down. Each page offers surprises. Tommy Ladnier isn t widely known: he has been dead seventy years. The fame he deserved never came, even though he had enthusiastic champions in Mezz Mezzrow, Hughes Panassie, and Sidney Bechet. But a brief list of the people Ladnier played alongside will testify to his talent: Bechet, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, Jimmy Harrison, Coleman Hawkins, Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Noone, Fletcher Henderson, Clarence Williams, Sam Wooding, Doc Cheatham, Noble Sissle, Chick Webb, James P. Johnson, Teddy Bunn, Walter Page, Jo Jones. He was known as a sensational trumpeter in Chicago in 1921: he appeared in Carnegie Hall in The reasons he is so little known have nothing to do with the quality of his art. Ladnier did not enjoy the high-pressure urban scene, and he occasionally retreated from it (in , when he could have been playing more often in the city, he he lived upstate); he also spent a good deal of his playing career in Europe (including a sojourn in Russia) before it was fashionable. And in a period when hot trumpet playing was fashioned in splendidly extravagant Louis-fashion, someone like Ladnier quieter, even pensive, choosing to stay in the middle register might have been overlooked. (At times, he makes me think of a New Orleans version of Joe Thomas, Shorty Baker, or Tony Fruscella.) I first came to Ladnier s music indirectly, by way of his most enthusiastic colleague, reedman, potsupplier, and proseltyzer Milton Mezz Mezzrow, who saw Tommy as someone with pure jazz instincts. Mezzrow idolized Tommy as a quiet prophet of soulful New Orleans jazz, music not corrupted by the evil influence of big-band swing. My youthful purchase of the RCA Victor record THE PANASSIE SESSIONS (circa 1967) was motivated by my reading of Mezzrow s autobiography, REALLY THE BLUES. But Mezzrow played and improvised so poorly, never stopping for a moment, that I could hardly hear Ladnier properly. Eventually I heard the 1932 New Orleans Feetwarmers session, where Ladnier and Bechet were effectively the front line, and too-brief live performances from John Hammond s 1938 FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING concert where Ladnier, Bechet, Dan Minor, James P. Johnson, Walter Page, and Jo Jones roared through WEARY BLUES. Finally, I understood what it was that others admired so in Ladnier s work. A terse, nearly laconic player, he placed his notes and phrases perfectly. His solos never overwhelm; his forthright earnestness is convincing; he doesn t care to shout and swagger, but he is intense.
10 As is this book. Other scholars might have rearranged the easily accessible evidence: the recollections of Mezzrow, Bechet, and Panassie, written admiringly of Ladnier s recording career, and left it at that. Some writers might have brought melodrama to the facts of Ladnier s life his ambitious wife jeopardized a number of opportunities for him (one possible drama). Ladnier died of a heart attack at 39, and could perhaps have been saved (another drama). One could cast him as a victim of a variety of forces and people including the recording supervisor Eli Oberstein. But the authors avoid these inviting errors. They succeed not only in examining every scrap of evidence they could find their research has been cautious, comprehensive, and lengthy about Ladnier as a musician, born in Louisiana, migrating to Chicago, taking on the life of a jazz player in the Twenties and Thirties, dying in Harlem. But there s more. These scholars are also thoughtful historians who delight in placing the subject of their loving scrutiny in a larger context. What did it mean? I can hear them asking. So that their inquiry broadens beyond the simple chronological tracing of Ladnier s life. When we learn (through a beautiful reproduction of Ladnier s draft card) that he worked for the Armour meatpacking company so justly excoriated in Upton Sinclair s THE JUNGLE we can read about Armour and what it meant to Chicago and Chicagoans. What did it mean to be an African-American musician traveling overseas in the Twenties? The appropriate footnotes are easily accessible on each page. The book also concludes with a detailed discography noting not only the labels and issues, but on which performances Ladnier has a solo, a break, accompaniment, and the like. And the book is also visually quite beautiful. A large-format book (the size of a 12 record, appropriately) it is generously illustrated in color, with fine reproductions, nicely varied. I was happily reminded of a beautifully-designed history or biology textbook, where the book designers had sought to set up harmonious vibrations between print and illustrations. Indeed, one could spend an afternoon immersed in the illustrations: maps, a handwritten letter from Ladnier, record labels, photographs of individual players and of bands. One illustration I particularly prize is an advertising handbill for a dinner-dance, A Night At Sea, to be held at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn Heights, New York, on January 22, In part, the music was provided by Milton Mez Mezzrow and his Bluebird Recording Orchestra featuring Tommy Ladnier. Even better: heading the bill were Henny Youngman and Molly Picon. Without this book, I would never have known. The music? Well, the authors have taken care of that, too. As part of the complete Ladnier experience, they have created a CD containing all 189 of Tommy s recordings in mp3 format. I don t entirely understand the technology, but the CD is certainly the ideal companion to the book containing the equivalent of eight CDs of music. I urge you to visit and see for yourself. In this era of deeply discounted books, the initial price of this one might seem serious, but its beauty, thoroughness, and devotion make it a masterpiece. As a coda: the noted jazz scholar and collector of rare photographs Frank Driggs wrote an introduction to the book. Here s its closing paragraph: This remarkable book is loaded with details on the lives of Tommy Ladnier and most of the people he played with. There are hundreds of illustrations, photos of people I ve never even seen before and I ve seen most of the photos of jazz musicians over the last fifty years. The depth of research is I believe unparalleled. God bless these two fanatics who have devoted so much of their time and energy to bring this work of love to fruition. My sentiments exactly!