Thursday, April 26, 2007

At the Bateau Lounge - Coral Records

At the Bateau Lounge

1960 Coral Records CRL 757314 Stereo / CRL 57314 Mono

Side One
1. Deep River
2. My Melancholy Baby
3. I've Found A New Baby
4. Mack The Knife
5. Creole Gumbo
6. You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me

Side Two
1. Londonderry Air
2. Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen
3. After You've Gone
4. Gin Mill Blues
5. Little Rock Getaway
6. Blue Lou

Liner Notes:


Recorded In New Orleans At Dan's Bateau Lounge, Bourbon And Toulouse Streets

You know the old wheeze to the effect that ". . . you can take the boy out of the country; but you can't take the country out of the boy". Equally true, I think, is the fact that you can take a New Orleans musician away from New Orleans...but you won't be able to keep him away for very long. There are some exceptions, of course. such as Louis Armstrong; but by and large the lure of this fascinating city has its effect on its native sons, and back they come to the sights, smells, sounds that combine in a distinctive aura that means home...New Orleans! And Pete Fountain is one of the latest of a long string of New Orleans musicians who found that fame and fortune elsewhere were not attractive enough to keep them away from the jazz scene in which they were steeped. Two years on the West Coast, as featured jazz clarinetist with the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, were enough for Pete; and now he's back - and Dan Levy's Bateau Lounge on Bourbon Street is resounding with more fine music - and catering to larger crowds of enthusiastic customers than it has in many a moon.

Pete started to study clarinet when he was twelve years old. He was twenty-nine last July 3rd - having been born in 1930). Probably because he was impatient to play he didn't spend much time learning to read music; he preferred to listen to other clarinetists - and to practice. It's evident, then, that the man has a great ear as well as a wonderful tone and talent for improvisation. Although he improved his reading ability through study while with Welk, it hasn't lessened his spontaneity or flair for jazz. Rather it has undoubtedly increased his ability to arrange some things, to point up the imnromptu solos that are to follow.

When Fountain returned to New Orleans from California in the spring of 1959 to set up shop at The Bateau Lounge, fronting his own combo, he brought with him a pianist whom he had met at a houseparty in Los Angeles. A jam session at the houseparty had developed; and it was sufficient introduction to pianist Merle Koch (pronounced Cook) for Pete to realize that this was a musically kindred spirit: and forthwith asked Merle to come with him to New Orleans. Merle was born in Lexington, Nebraska in 1914, and was trying his hand at the keyboard even at the age of four. When Merle was eight, his father decided it was high time he took some lessons; but the idea was short-lived, as Merle was too used to playing by ear. It was only much later that he learned to read. He played piano all through school: and had his first professional job immediately upon finishing high school. When he was twenty-two he headed for Los Angeles: and there he stayed until he accepted Pete's bid to become his pianist in his new group in New Orleans.

Merle is well aware of all eighty-eight keys on the piano; and he uses both hands to excellent advantage. One reason may be because of his familiarity with many of the old Jelly Roll Morton compositions. His usual style, however, reminds this writer quite a hit of the Bob Zurke and Joe Sullivan school of thought but with plenty of Koch touch and ideas, too.

Two West Coast musicians were brought to New Orleans for this recording date. Bassist Don Bagley and drummer Jack Sperling. Don was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 18, 1927. He studied bass with Arthur Pabst. composition with Dr. Wesley La Violette, and is a graduate of Los Angeles City College. Not only has he had considerable experience with small bands; but he is an alumnus of the Stan Kenton Orchestra (1950-54) and the Les Brown Band.

Jack Sperling was with the big Glenn Miller Orchestra that Tex Beneke took on the road back in the '40s after World War II. He was with the Les Brown Band for several years, and still is Les's drummer for the Bob Hope shows - although most of his work is as a member of the musicians staff at NBC in Hollywood.

About the Music .. .

Side One
(1) Maestro Fountain is at the helm for the traditional crossing of that "Deep River"; and since there are no oars for this modern day musical journey, Pete revs up the engine with five-note clusters in the 8-bar intro: and it's full-speed ahead. A minor motif hints of a storm in the third chorus: First Mate Koch wails "Land-ho!" for sixteen bars (musical, not sand ...) A repeat of the original intro leads into the last two choruses of smooth sailing, finally coasting into Canaan's dock for the last eight bars...

(2) A soothing first chorus lifts Baby out of her melancholia. at least temporarily; and Jack Sperling's 4-bar break leads into a swinging second chorus. After kicking up their heels for 24 bars, Sperling puts his foot (and the beat) down on all this frivolity; and the rest of the chorus is taken at the original tempo and lower register for Pete's clarinet. The group eases out on a 4-bar coda (a repeat of the intro, actually) leaving Baby decidedly less melancholy than when they started this serenade...

(3) The logically joyous connotations of "I Found A New Baby" are apparent in this rendition of the old Spencer Williams "tour de force." The ensemble gathers steam during the first two choruses: then it's solos all around - a chorus each by Koch and Bagley - followed by two choruses by drummer Sperling, who has both bass drums going in ecstatic fashion, in his second chorus. Merle Koch's descending harmonics (rather reminiscent in melody to the old "Egyptian Ella") were not lost on bassist Bagley, who echoes them in his solo. Pete leads the way for the final two choruses with a skill and exuberance that will remind many of the palmy days of the swing era.

(4) "Mack The Knife" ("Moritat" or "The Theme from The Three-Penny Opera" by Kurt Weill) sneaks in with cat-like tread, mysterioso fashion: but the happy sounds that follow lead one to believe that "Mack" is not nearly as ominous a person as he is reputed to be. Rather, he gives the impression of being a sort of Til Eulenspiegel - type fellow...

(5) As tasty as the New Orleans dish for which it was named. "Creole Gumbo" has just the right amount of musical tabasco to set all feet a-tapping. It's an original devised by Pete, pianist Koch, and Bud Dant - based on the chord progression of "When The Saints Come Marching In". The close-harmony figure between clarinet and piano, comprised of five-note clusters, is repeated during Jack Sperling's 16-bar drum solo to the extent that it sounds like he's playing melody!

(6) No nightingale ever sang any sweeter than Pete's clarinet on this one. Merle's tasty chord work is heard to advantage in the second chorus, with "Bags" playing real pretty on the release. Chances are "You Brought A New Kind of Love To Me" will inspire you to dance, rather than dream,"...the whole night through...

Side Two
(1) This slightly up-tempo Fountain-Dant adaptation of the traditional "Danny Boy" of Londonderry fame is appropriately happy in mode rather than doleful - as it is dedicated to the genial, portly proprietor of The Bateau Lounge, Dan Levy. Jack sets the tempo in the eight-bar intro; and Pete gives it the nostalgic touch for 3/4ths of the first chorus until a burst from Jack's drums sends them off and flying. Notice the simple but effective "stops" by unison bass and piano behind Pete's solo work.

(2) The piano opening and closing on the old traditional spiritual "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen" is in the expected pensive mood. However, music has the power to lift folks out of their "miseries"; and by the second chorus, although the tempo never changes, there is a lift to the mood, and it becomes a wail of new hope and vigor. Again, simplicity is the keynote.

(3) Despite the rather "torchy" lyrics of "After You've Gone", instrumentally it has been a happy swinger for combos and big bands alike - and this rendition is no exception. Don Bagley not only solos well for a chorus, but lays a steady beat throughout. Sperling gets loose at the drums for two; and then Pete's clarinet comes in with a wail of approval to lead 'em out.

(4) The blues have long been a favorite mode of expression - undoubtedly because they mean so many different things to different people; and different things to the same people at different times. When played or sung simply and honestly, the blues are an outpouring of the soul - a sort of musical psychiatrist's couch, a communication of ideas (happy or sad); and when there is a rapport among the musicians such as exists here, the response is a sympathetic one. Notice in the intro when Merle at the piano states the mood in the first bar how Pete answers him in the second as if to say "Yeah, Dad: WE know..." and again in the third and fourth bars. "Gin Mill" follows the traditional 12-bar pattern - following the 8-bar introduction, with solos by Pete, Merle and Don - as Jack lays down a stable though unobtrusive beat and brings them in nicely for the ensemble final chorus. The introductory motif is repeated in the 8-bar coda. "Gin Mill" is not as widely known as some of the blues songs; but I expect you'll find this "spinning 'round in (your) brain" frequently after hearing it...

(5) Merle Koch's piano solo on "Little Rock Getaway" is in the Bob Zurke-Joe Sullivan tradition - a most worth-while tradition which Koch's own taste and touch enable him to carry on in authentic fashion, yet with fresh ideas. Pete joins in for some precise work on the last go-round; and the rhythm hacking is light and tasty throughout.

(6) The old Edgar Sampson favorite, "Blue Lou". is taken at a funky tempo, and rounds out this session. Piano and clarinet add Pete's "theme", a five-note sequence usually heard else-where in more strident fashion; but played here a la tongue-in-cheek with t.l.c.* So endeth a typical set at The Bateau Lounge in New Orleans before a properly appreciative audience - an audience that remained to hear even more after the microphones and recording equipment had been stashed away.

Dick Martin
Radio Station WWL, New Orleans

* (Tender Loving Care)

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