In my latest Drink column, I discuss how prominently and evocatively the culture of drink features in the paintings of the Harlem Renaissance artist Archibald Motley. Drinking might get some serious thematic competition from music, except that the two so frequently go together in Motley’s paintings, as in life.
I found myself listening to Louis Armstrong a lot while I worked on the column, specifically the 2000 release “The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings,” produced and engineered by Phil Schaap.
The last name might look familiar — even familial. Two or three times a year, when I’m introduced to someone I’ve never met, that person hears my last name and asks, “Are you related to Phil Schaap?” Few questions delight me more. “Yes I am,” I get to answer, nearly bursting with pride. “He’s my first cousin, once removed.”
Phil is the host of WKCR’s “Bird Flight,” a five-mornings-a-week consideration of the music of Charlie Parker, and the curator of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. He’s known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the music form and his exacting attention to details. “There is no exaggerating the relentlessness of Schaap’s approach,” David Remnick wrote in a 2008 New Yorker profile. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration, either, to say that cousin Phil probably knows more about jazz than anybody in the world.
So when I decided my latest column should have a playlist composed of jazz tunes that Archibald Motley himself might have listened to, I asked my cousin to help me out. I told Phil that Motley was born in New Orleans, raised in Chicago and lived briefly in Paris. I said that the paintings that interested me most were from the years 1926 to 1945. And I couldn’t help mentioning that, yes, there’s a lot of drinking going on. With only these pieces of information, Phil devised this six-song playlist, with notes:
“Stock Yards Strut” (1926), Freddie Keppard and His Jazz Cardinals.
“Done in Chicago by New Orleanian Freddie Keppard in his only leader date. Keppard was the hot-jazz trumpeter in the Creole Band, which brought jazz to the full U.S.A. when featured in vaudeville 1914 to 1917,” Phil says, adding: “Keppard drank a lot!”
“Louisianna” (1928), Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang.
Of this, Phil remarks succinctly: “Bix drank a lot!” (I’d add that anyone who knows the sad, short story of the genius cornetist’s life and death might say that’s an understatement.)
Another piece “done in Chicago,” Phil notes that “it’s about getting some prohibition booze.”
“Honeysuckle Rose” (1937), Coleman Hawkins All-Star Jam Band.
This piece was recorded in Paris. Phil notes that it was the first title on the first session for Swing Records — the first all-jazz record company, and “it was a breakthrough in showcasing the reed section. It is a most masterful arrangement by Benny Carter.”
“Goin’ to Chicago” (1941), Count Basie Orchestra.
This song, Phil says, “would become a signature piece for Joe Williams singing with the Count Basie Band — ‘New Testament edition’ — during the 1950s and 1960s. But this April 10, 1941, recording was the hit single, done by the original Count Basie Orchestra and featuring the singing of ‘Mr. Five by Five,’ Jimmy Rushing. This one was actually recorded in Chicago!”
“Perdido Street Blues” (1940), Louis Armstrong With Sidney Bechet.
Armstrong, of course, had to make an appearance on the list. The title, Phil notes, makes reference to “a once-famous block in the Crescent City,” the city where Armstrong, Bechet — and Motley — were born.
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