November 2005

Fradley Garner By

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What was it like to record with Fats Waller? Fat's guitarist, Al Casey, called it "a light- hearted business. In the studio, "the record people would give him all those pop tunes the other artists refused. Fats would look through the music. 'OK,' he'd say. 'We'll try this one.' Then we'd make the record. Just like that. Sometimes we cut seven or eight numbers in three hours. Casey was 14 when Fats signed him to record. 'He insisted that I go back to school to complete my education. But in June 1933, three weeks after graduating, I was in the bus and riding with Fats.

Al Casey
Louisville, KY, Sept. 15, 1915
New York, NY, Sept. 11, 2005

Albert Aloysius "Al Casey, a guitarist who recorded more than 230 record sides with Fats Waller, enlivening the band with teasing rhythms and solos from 1934 until the great pianist's death in 1943, died of colon cancer in Manhattan. He was 89. A celebration of Casey's 90th birthday was turned into a memorial tribute Sept. 15, at Saint Peter's Church in midtown Manhattan. The Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, under Al Volmer, was joined by pianists Brooks Kerr, Chuck Folds, Frank Owens and others. Volmer had coaxed Casey out of musical retirement in 1981 to join his band. They toured the world for 20 years. Casey played on all Waller's hit releases, adding his light touches to classics such as "My Very Good Friend the Milkman Said and "When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful. He left Waller for part of 1939 and 1940 to play rhythm guitar in Teddy Wilson's big band. He also worked and recorded with Billie Holiday, Frankie Newton, Chuck Berry, Mezz Mezzrow, Earl Hines and James P. Johnson, switching from acoustic to electric guitar along the way. Casey's feature number with Waller was "Buck Jumping, a blues he recorded with Waller and later for his Swingville album. After touring widely in the 1980s, Casey recorded "A Tribute to Fats in 1994 as a leader for Jazzpoint. He toured and recorded with Louis Armstrong in 1944—both were feted in the 1944-45 Esquire magazine Gold Awards. In 2002, Casey was inducted into the American Jazz Hall of Fame, a joint undertaking of the New Jersey Jazz Society and Rutgers University since 1983.

Charlie Hampton
Greenville, SC, Feb. 8, 1930
Riverdale, MD, Aug. 17, 2005

Charles "Hamp Hampton, an arranger, composer, bandleader and musician who played the family of saxophones as well as clarinet, flute and piano, was a major force on the Washington jazz scene for more than 40 years. He was 75 and had Alzheimer's disease. Some sidemen said they believed Hampton would have been recognized as one of the premiere saxophonists of his age had he moved to New York. Playing in many jazz idioms, "Charlie Hampton was the spitting image of Charlie Parker, Steve Novosel, a bassist who worked with him since 1962, told The Washington Post. "He could have been his twin brother. He played the saxophone like an angel, and some guys even called him Bird. For its final seven seasons, Hampton led the racially integrated, 16-piece band at the Howard Theater, entertainment mecca of Washington's black community. The band backed hundreds of guest performers, from Earl Hines to B.B. King and Stevie Wonder. "Some would show up with no music, Novosel recalled. "He would sometimes have to arrange for the band with an hour's notice.

Mel Wanzo
Cleveland, OH, Nov. 22, 1930
Detroit, MI, Sept. 9, 2005

Melvin "Mel Wanzo, 74, one of the great section trombonists of his time, who played in the Glenn Miller Orchestra led by Ray McKinley and toured America and Europe with Woody Herman before joining Count Basie, died of unreported causes. Wanzo was Basie's lead trombonist from 1969 to 1980. After four years of freelancing on the west coast, he rejoined Basie in 1984. He can be heard on CDs with Basie (Telarc and Pablo labels), Frank Capp (Concord), and Milt Jackson with Basie (Pablo).

Jack Lesberg
Boston, MA, Feb. 14, 1920
Hillsdale, NJ, Sept. 17, 2005

Jack Lesberg, a leading traditional jazz and classical bassist who played with Muggsy Spanier and Willie "The Lion Smith before joining the NBC staff in 1944 and becoming associate principal bassist with the New York City Center Symphony under Leonard Bernstein, died apparently of Alzheimer's complications. He was 85. Lesberg studied classical bass with Fred Zimmerman in 1946-1953, while freelancing with Sarah Vaughan, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and others. He worked with Eddie Condon in 1944-1950, and from the late 1940s with Wild Bill Davison, Coleman Hawkins, Peanuts Hucko and many others. In 1950-1957 he played with Raymond Scott on the Lucky Strike Hit Parade. He toured Europe with Armstrong in 1956, and the next year with Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines. Living in Australia in 1971-1974, he played with the Sidney Symphony and led his own quartet. Back in America, Lesberg worked at the major jazz festivals from the 1950s, and in the Tonight Show and other major network programs. He recorded CD albums with Howard Alden (Chiaro label), Ruby Braff (Concord and Black Lion), Dan Barrett, Flip Phillips and Warren Vaché (Concord), as well as with Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins (Blue Bird) and many others. "He was a good player, bassist Bill Crow told AAJ. "I heard him mostly with traditional bands like Condon and Ruby Braff. He was involved with the production of some of those jazz parties out in Odessa and Midland, Texas for a while. Nice man, too!

Other departures:

Eddie Stapleton, a South Florida trad jazz pianist and bassist out of Chicago, who once worked for Les Paul and Mary Ford, and for a period with Benny Goodman in New York, and most recently with Will Connelly's Roaring Tusker Jazz Band. He was an early member of the Hot Jazz and Alligator Jumbo Society. (Places and dates unavailable at presstime.)

Phil Howe, 73, a West Coast traditional jazz clarinetist, died in late September of lung cancer. He worked for Turk Murphy in San Francisco and led his own bands for many years.

Readers can search Google and www.obitsarchive.com. The New York Times online covers many important jazz deaths.

Reader comments and obit tips are always welcome.

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