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2006 Convention - Nashville, Tennessee

By Horace Meunier Harris

It was in 1981 that the Association last met in Nashville, Tennessee. Twenty-five years later, the weather was predictably hot, rising to 96 Fahrenheit most afternoons, but the efficiently air-conditioned Renaissance Hotel - with 25 floors, 649 rooms and 24 suites - took care of that. Our attendance overlapped with that of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., being held in the Nashville Convention Center next door, whose myriad attendees were always milling around the enormous hotel foyer in large numbers - very polite, mostly black and extremely well dressed, some strikingly so. For a visiting Englishman their presence added a distinctive southern flavour to the week.

Chairman Andy “Jazzman” Smith and his hard working committee laid on an interesting program. At Registration, everyone’s photo was taken with a Polaroid camera. We were asked to sign our own print, which was displayed with all the others on a large notice board in the Ryman Suite on the second floor, home for the time being of the IAJRC. Some 50 members duly registered, plus guests. Four members came from overseas - two from the U.K., our editor, Andrew Simons, and myself, plus two from Denmark - last year's Convention Chairman, Anders Stefansen, and Committee Member, Leis Lomholt.

Everyone received a beautifully inscribed handwritten name badge, plus an envelope containing another lapel badge made from a replica of the label for Columbia 14090-D, Bessie Smith’s Nashville Woman’s Blues - a nice touch. Also enclosed were the Program for the next few days and a very well illustrated book, A4 size, written and compiled by Paul Broome and Clay Tucker, called The Other Music City - The Dance Bands and Jazz Musicians of Nashville 1920 to 1970, which proved conclusively that Nashville was by no means solely the capital of Country and Western music.

On Thursday morning, following the Board Meeting, Andy Smith introduced a discussion entitled The Nashville Music Scene, with Dr Billy Burke, a dentist by profession who played guitar and piano-accordion, and who had studied arranging with Spud Murphy at Glendale, when he was stationed in California with the U.S. Navy for six years. He knew well and admired the playing of Art Van Damme. Also part of the discussion was jazz bass player Bob Moore, who calculated he had played on some 15,000 recordings over the years, admittedly mostly of Country and Western music. They talked of Les Paul, Bob Wills and Hank Garland, plus many names unknown to me.

This was followed by The Real Boogie Woogie, also presented by Andy, which related to his various visits to Paris and Germany, during which he was always accompanied by his ubiquitous video recorder. He showed films of so-named Rent Parties in Paris, mostly featuring Charlie Booty on piano, accompanying flamboyant dancing by an uninhibited couple, somewhat disparate in age. In Hamburg at the railway station we saw the Boogie Woogie Train, featuring more piano by Booty, plus Axel Zwingenberger and Bob Seeley. Then Charlie Booty, who was present throughout the Convention, gave us a talk.

That evening the Big Time Bebop Band, who billed themselves as the Nashville Jazz Workshop Band, gave a live concert. This comprised six local professional musicians who do not normally play together as a band: George Tidwell, trumpet; Roy Agee, trombone; Denis Solee, tenor sax; Lou Meecham, piano; Roger Spencer, bass; Chris Brown, drums. I was impressed by their version of Dexter Gordon’s The Chase, on which they each took four solo choruses.

The Member’s Jam started well past 10.30p.m., comprising three pianists, one after another: Bill Lavin, from Ohio, Duncan Schiedt, from Indiana, and Dick Raichelson, from Memphis. They were accompanied by our own Editor, Andy Simons, from London, on a guitar he took the trouble to hire locally for the occasion, plus Austin Bealmear, with drumsticks on a pad which he placed on top of the grand piano. He is the presenter of a radio program every Sunday at noon on WMOT Jazz 89.5FM, called Jazz On The Side.

On Friday morning Andy Simons expounded on Black British Swing, a development of the talk he gave at the Hamburg Convention, illustrated by excellent slides and musical examples, not least of the great Ken “Snakehips” Johnson’s West Indian Dance Orchestra.

Ed Steane, a Past President of the IAJRC, who lives locally, led thirty members on foot in the hot sunshine to the enormous Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, opened in 2001. We were taken by elevators to the fourth floor Boardroom, where the Chief Curator and other executives described their archival methods. To appropriately set the scene they commenced by playing Jimmie Rodgers' Blue Yodel No.9, on which he was accompanied by Louis Armstrong on trumpet and Lil Armstrong on piano. We were given a tour, then left to explore. The museum has over a million items on display, including one of Elvis Presley’s flashy cars and two vast walls displaying umpteen gold discs. Sadly I did not come face to face with Dolly Parton!

We returned to the hotel, to hear Paul Wells, Director of The Center For Popular Music, at Middle Tennessee University, some 30 miles away, give a talk, focussing, because of our jazz interests, on the archives it holds by Mike Doty, a reeds player with the big bands of the 1930s, and past IAJRC members, jazz photographer Ray Avery, record producer Brad McCuen and Past President Bruce Davidson.

He handed over to David Jellema, a local trumpet player who also works there, who expounded at length about McCuen and his work at RCA-Victor, including commissioning records by Duke Ellington and many others.

That evening was devoted to Mark Cantor’s always welcome presentation of jazz on film. Beforehand, though, Charlie Booty played for an hour, with accompaniment from Gerald Ruark, snare drum - an enjoyably informal session. Mark commenced promptly at nine. One item in particular was of great interest to me: the original members of Graeme Bell’s Band, re-formed for the occasion of the 25th Australian Jazz Convention in 1970, playing At a Georgia Camp Meeting with vim and vigour.

Saturday morning was devoted to the Members’ Meeting. Our Editor was congratulated for producing three issues of the Journal since last October, with a fourth on the way. Dick Raichelson described the newly published Monograph, The Jump Records Story, compiled by Sonny McGown and Bert Whyatt and brought with him to the Convention the first two dozen copies of this handsome publication, which were eagerly snapped up. There was much discussion but not a lot of progress on a venue for next year’s Convention.

Next came the Discographical Forum, presented by Dick Raichelson, who talked eloquently about his researches into appearances in the early 1930s in the Tennessee area by King Oliver and his Band. He then played an obscure record he had at last found, Champion 16534, by Jimmy Raschel and his Orchestra, with Estelle Galloway singing It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing. He detailed his subsequent researches into discovering the personnel.

Sonny McGown then took over, describing the history of the Jump label, supported on the screen by a comprehensive set of pictures and by musical illustrations, many from alternate takes. Sonny then called member Tom Pletcher to come to the stand, who reminisced about his acquaintanceship, when living in California, with trumpeter Rico Vallese, featured on some of the sides by Charles LaVere.

The Ryman Suite was then reorganised and the evening Banquet took place, a very pleasing occasion and an enjoyable dinner, after which the band set up - The David Hungate and April Barrows All Stars. Hungate proved himself to be highly competent on trombone and also guitar, while from the bebop band came Denis Solee on clarinet, soprano and tenor saxes, also Chris Brown on drums.

The trumpet player was David Jellema, who had talked to us about Brad McCuen the previous day, and the pianist was Steve Kummer, with Charlie Chadwick on bass. The first set was of instrumental numbers and the next featured April’s singing, both standards and competently pleasant compositions of her own, regrettably little known, for example, the charmingly plaintive My Dream Is You. She was a diminutive lady with long blond hair, whose singing was most tasteful. There are not too many singers who also double as talented songwriters. For the third set Tom Pletcher joined the band on trumpet and there were several enjoyable trumpet duets.

When it finally wound up we stood around talking for a while, with everyone complimenting Andy Smith and his colleagues on a rewarding few days, and then making our fond farewells.

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