lunes, 24 de octubre de 2011

Willie "The Lion" Smith

William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith (23 November 1893 – 18 April 1973), a.k.a. "The Lion", was an American jazz pianist and one of the masters of the stride style, usually grouped with James P. Johnson and Thomas "Fats" Waller as the three greatest practitioners of the genre from its Golden Age, c. 1920–1943.
William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith was born in Goshen, New York. His mother and grandmother chose the names to reflect the different parts of his heritage; Joseph after Saint Joseph (Bible), Bonaparte (French), Bertholoff (biological father's last name), Smith (added when he was three, his stepfather's name), and William and Henry which were added for "spiritual balance". In his memoir he reports that his father, Frank Bertholoff, was Jewish. Willie was at least somewhat conversant in Yiddish, as he demonstrated in a television interview late in his life. Willie's mother, Ida Oliver, had "Spanish, Negro, and Mohawk Indian blood". Her mother, Ann Oliver, was a banjo player and had been in Primrose and West minstrel shows (Smith also had two cousins who were dancers in the shows, Etta and John Bloom). According to Ida, "Frank Bertholoff was a light skinned playboy who loved his liquor, girls, and gambling." His mother threw Frank out of the house when "The Lion" was two years old. When his father died in 1901, his mother married John Smith, a master mechanic from Paterson, NJ. The surname Smith was added to that of "The Lion" at age 3. He grew up living at 76 Academy Street in Newark.

John Smith worked for C.M. Bailey, Pork Packers, and he would leave the house around midnight to pick up the freshly killed pigs and bring them to the packing house. He was supposed to be home by 4 A.M., but would usually go to bars. Eventually, Willie's mother wanted him to accompany his stepfather to work to hopefully ensure that John Smith would come straight home and not go drinking. Willie said he actually enjoyed his job, but most of the time he would have to drive the horses home. He also could only work on Fridays and Saturdays, as his mother did not want him to miss school. He wrote about the experience of being at the slaughterhouse with his stepfather:
I couldn't stand to see what I saw at the slaughterhouse. I would watch wide-eyed as the squealling pigs slid down the iron rails to the cutter where they were slashed through the middle, with the two halves falling into a tank of hot water. The kill sometimes went to as many as four hundred pigs a night. It was a sickening sight to watch. But the cries from the pigs brought forth an emotional excitement. It was another weird but musical sound that I can still hear in my head. The squeeks, the squeels, the dipping them in hot water, they put them on a hook, take off the head, the legs, going down an aisle--I hear it on an oboe. That's what you hear in a symphony: destruction, war, peace, beauty, all mixed.
In 1907, the family moved to 90 Bloome Street in Newark, but moved again around 1912. His stepfather got a new job at Crucible Steel Company, across the Passaic River in Harrison, New Jersey. The job paid more, and Willie would have to get him before his bosses got him drunk on his own money.
He attended the Baxter School, rumored to be a school for bad children. The school was notorious for brawls between Irish, Italian, and African-American children. Willie was in Mrs. Black's fruit store and was caught with his hand in her register. He had wanted to borrow a dime to see S.H. Dudley's traveling road show at Blaney's Theater. The thing that shocked Willie the most was the fact that she turned him over to the police. Mrs. Black's son-in-law was the number three tough guy in Newark, and their whole family hated policemen and wouldn't allow them into their store. Willie would later write, "But they sure didn't mind turning over a 10 year old boy to the police." He went to children's court and was sentenced to a ten dollar fine and probation.

After that incident, he was transferred to Morton School, and began sixth grade at his new school (which had a lot less brawling). He would go onto attend Barringer High School (then known as Newark High School). In an effort to get the attention of the ladies, he attempted sports including swimming, skating, track, basketball, sledding, cycling, and boxing. He learned to swim in the Morris Canal.
Prizefighting was the sport he was most interested in. Willie says that "maybe that because I've known most of the great fighters from way back. They liked to visit the night clubs...". He got to kid around with Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Battling Siki, Kid Chocolate, Sam Langford, Joe Gans, Bob Fitzsimmons, Harry Greb, Joe Louis, and Gene Tunney. Fitzsimmons owned a saloon on Market Street in Newark, and that is where While learned about Stanley Ketchel, Kid McCoy, Benny Leonard, Jimmy Britt, and Charlie Warner.
Willie also belonged to a gang, and the gang had a club called The Ramblers (two famous members were Abner Zwillman and Niggy Rutman). Willie was one of two colored men in the gang, the other being Louis Moss, who Willie referred to as a "sweet talker, who could take his foes apart". Moss later became known as "Big Sue" and owned a saloon in Tenderloin, Manhattan. Moss was his own bouncer at his club (according to Willie, Moss was 6'4 and about 240 pounds). Willie says he used to help him out by playing piano in his back room.
When Willie was about six, he went downstairs to the basement of his Academy Street home and found the organ his mother used to play. It was not in good shape, and nearly half of the keys were missing. After his mother discovered his interest in the instrument, she taught him the melodies she knew. One of the first songs he learned was Home! Sweet Home!. His uncle Rob, who was a bass singer and ran his own quartet, would teach Willie how to dance. Willie entered an amateur dance contest at the Arcadia Theater and won first place and the prize, ten dollars. After that, he focused more on playing music at the clubs.

Willie had wanted a new piano very badly, but every time he thought his mother was able to afford it, there was a new mouth to feed. Willie got a job at Hauseman's Footwear store shining shoes and running errands, where he was paid five dollars a week. "Old Man" Hauseman paid that much because he liked the fact that Willie could speak Hebrew and also because Willie wanted to buy a piano with the money. As it turned out, Marshall & Wendell's was holding a contest: the object was to guess how many dots there were in a printed circle in their newspaper advertisement. Willie used arithmetic to help guess the number, and the upright piano was delivered the next day. From that day forth, he sat down at the piano and played. He would play songs he heard in the clubs, including Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin, Cannonball Rag by Joe Northrup, Black and White Rag by George Botsford, and Don't Hit that Lady Dressed in Green, about which he said "the lyrics to this song were a sex education, especially for a twelve year old boy.". His other favorites picked up from the saloons were She's Got Good Booty and Baby, Let Your Drawers Hang Low.
By the early 1910s he was playing in New York City and Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Smith served in World War I, where he saw action in France, and played drum with the African-American regimental band led by Tim Brymn. He also played basketball with the regimental team. Legend has it that his nickname "The Lion" came from his reported bravery while serving as a heavy artillery gunner. He was a decorated veteran of the 350th Field Artillery.
Around 1915, he married Blanche Merrill (née Howard), a song writer and lyricist who wrote a number of songs and lyrics for Broadway shows from about 1912 to 1925, particularly for Fanny Brice. Smith and Merrill are thought to have separated before Smith joined the army in 1917, serving as a corporal (he claimed sergeant was his rank), but were still living together in Newark, New Jersey at the time of the 1920 census. Merrill was white and Smith was the only black man living in their apartment building at the time.
He returned to working in Harlem clubs and in rent parties, where Smith and his contemporaries James P. Johnson and Fats Waller developed a new, more sophisticated piano style later called “stride.” also after the war, where he worked for decades, often as a soloist, sometimes in bands and accompanying blues singers such as Mamie Smith. Although working in relative obscurity, he was a "musician's musician", influencing countless others including Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, and Artie Shaw.
In the 1940s his music found appreciation with a wider audience, and he toured North America and Europe up to 1971. To leave the US, he needed a birth certificate. He went to the Orange County Courthouse and found it, but discovered that the birth certificate said he was born on November 25, in contradiction to his mother telling him he was born on November 23.

 Willie "The Lion" Smith died in New York City. His autobiography, Music on My Mind, The Memoirs Of An American Pianist written with the assistance of George Hoefer, was published by Doubleday and Company in 1964. It included a generous foreword written by Duke Ellington. It also includes a comprehensive list of his compositions and a discography. His students included such notable names as Mel Powell, Brooks Kerr, and Mike Lipskin. With the latter, he made two albums: a two-LP set of playing and reminiscences, The Memoirs of Willie the Lion Smith, done in 1965, and an album of solos and duets from 1971: California Here I Come, which coincided with Mike's relocation from New York to Marin County.
He was present during the taking of the famous Jazz photograph A Great Day in Harlem in 1958. However, he famously was sitting down resting when the selected shot was taken, leaving him out of the final picture. This is discussed in depth in Jean Bach's award winning 1994 documentary on the history of this photo, released on DVD.
Willie Smith had 10 brothers and a sister (including half-siblings). His older brother Jerome would die at the age of 15. His other older brother, George, became an officer in Atlantic City, and he would pass away in 1946. Willie said of George, "Our paths didn't cross very often in later life. His friends and connections were always on the other side of the fence from mine." His half-brother Robert owned a bar on West Street in Newark. His half-brother Melvin lived on Mulberry Street in Manhattan. As for his other two half-brothers, Norman and Ralph, he had no idea what became of them. All of the other siblings lived to the ages of 3 to 7.
He was, for a short while, working as a Hebrew cantor in a Harlem Synagogue.

Willie "The Lion" Smith, cuyo verdadero nombre era William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff (Goshen, Nueva York, 25 de noviembre de 1897 - [[Nueva York, 18 de abril de 1973) fue un pianista, compositor y cantante de jazz tradicional, norteamericano.
Inicia su carrera profesional en 1912, tocando en clubs de Atlantic City, aunque se ve interrumpida por su llamamiento a filas durante la Gran Guerra de 1914-18. A su vuelta a Nueva York, continua tocando en clubs y realiza varias grabaciones, tocando además frecuentemente en comedias musicales. Toca y graba con un gran número de músicos, entre los que destacan Mamie Smith (1920), clarence Williams (1933-1935), Mezz Mezzrow (1934-1936), Sidney Bechet (1939-1941) o Max Kaminsky (1944). Hace diversas giras por Europa (1949, 1950, 1965, 1966).

Smith es uno de los representantes más avanzados del llamaso "stride piano style", típico de los pianistas de Harlem, que desarrollaba con un potente swing. Fue profesor de músicos como Artie Shaw.

domingo, 23 de octubre de 2011

Bill Haley

Bill Haley (July 6, 1925 – February 9, 1981) was one of the first American rock and roll musicians. He is credited by many with first popularizing this form of music in the early 1950s with his group Bill Haley & His Comets and their hit song "Rock Around the Clock".
Bill Haley was born in Highland Park, Michigan. Because of the effects of the Great Depression on the Detroit area, his father moved the family to Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, near the town of Chester, when Bill was seven years old. Haley's father played the banjo, and his mother was a technically accomplished keyboardist with classical training. Haley told the story that when he made a simulated guitar out of cardboard, his parents bought him a real one.
The anonymous sleeve notes accompanying the 1956 Decca album "Rock Around The Clock" describe Haley's early life and career thus: "Bill got his first professional job at the age of 13, playing and entertaining at an auction for the fee of $1 a night. Very soon after this he formed a group of equally enthusiastic youngsters and managed to get quite a few local bookings for his band."
The sleeve notes continue: "When Bill Haley was fifteen [c.1940] he left home with his guitar and very little else and set out on the hard road to fame and fortune. The next few years, continuing this story in a fairy-tale manner, were hard and poverty stricken, but cramful of useful experience. Apart from learning how to exist on one meal a day and other artistic exercises, he worked at an open-air park show, sang and yodelled with any band that would have him and worked with a traveling medicine show. Eventually he got a job with a popular group known as the "Down Homers" while they were in Hartford, Connecticut. Soon after this he decided, as all successful people must decide at some time or another, to be his own boss again - and he has been that ever since.’ [Note: these notes fail to account for his early band, known as the Four Aces of Western Swing. They later changed their name to avoid confusion with the pop vocal group the Four Aces. During the 1940s Haley was considered one of the top cowboy yodelers in America as "Silver Yodeling Bill Haley".
The sleeve notes conclude: "For six years Bill Haley was a musical director of Radio Station WPWA in Chester, Pennsylvania, and led his own band all through this period. It was then known as Bill Haley's Saddlemen, indicating their definite leaning toward the tough Western style. They continued playing in clubs as well as over the radio around Philadelphia, and in 1951 made their first recordings."
During the Labor Day weekend in 1952, The Saddlemen were renamed Bill Haley with Haley's Comets (inspired by a popular mispronunciation of Halley's Comet), and in 1953, Haley's recording of "Crazy Man, Crazy" (co-written by Haley and his bass player, Marshall Lytle although Lytle would not receive credit until 2001) became the first rock and roll song to hit the American charts, peaking at no.15 on Billboard and no.11 on Cash Box. Soon after, the band's name was revised to Bill Haley & His Comets.

In 1953, a song called "Rock Around the Clock" was written for Haley. He was unable to record it until April 12, 1954. Initially, it was relatively unsuccessful, staying at the charts for only one week, but Haley soon scored a major worldwide hit with a cover version of Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll", which went on to sell a million copies and became the first ever rock 'n' roll song to enter British singles charts in December 1954 and became a Gold Record. He retained elements of the original, but threw some country music aspects in to the song (specifically, Western Swing) and cleaned up the lyrics. Haley and his band were important in launching the music known as "Rock and Roll" to a wider, mostly white audience after years of it being considered an underground genre. When "Rock Around the Clock" appeared behind the opening credits of the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford, it soared to the top of the American Billboard chart for eight weeks. The single is commonly used as a convenient line of demarcation between the "rock era" and the music industry that preceded it; Billboard separated its statistical tabulations into 1890-1954 and 1955–present. After the record rose to number one, Haley was quickly given the title "Father of Rock and Roll," by the media, and by teenagers that had come to embrace the new style of music.
"Rock Around the Clock" was the first record ever to sell over one million copies in both Britain and Germany and, in 1957, Haley became the first major American rock singer to tour Europe. Haley continued to score hits throughout the 1950s such as "See You Later, Alligator" and he starred in the first rock and roll musical movies Rock Around the Clock and Don't Knock the Rock, both in 1956. Haley was soon eclipsed in the United States by the younger, sexier Elvis, but continued to enjoy great popularity in Latin America, Europe, and Australia through the 1960s.
A self-admitted alcoholic (as indicated in a 1974 radio interview for the BBC), Haley fought a battle with alcohol into the 1970s. Nonetheless, he and his band continued to be a popular touring act, enjoying a career resurgence in the late 1960s with the Rock and roll revival movement and the signing of a lucrative record deal with the European Sonet Records label. After performing for Queen Elizabeth II at a command performance in 1979, Haley made his final performances in South Africa in May and June 1980. Prior to the South African tour, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and a planned tour of Germany in the fall of 1980 was canceled.

The October 25, 1980 edition of the German paper Bild reported that Haley had a brain tumor. It quoted British manager Patrick Maylan as saying that Haley "had taken a fit and went over the seat. He didn't recognize anyone anymore" after being taken to his home in Beverly Hills. It also reported that a doctor at the clinic where Haley had been taken said, "The tumor can't be operated on anymore."
"The Berliner Zeitung" reported a few days later that Haley had collapsed after a performance in Texas and been taken to the hospital in his home town of Harlingen, Texas.
Despite his ill health, Haley began compiling notes for possible use as a basis for either a biographical film based on his life, or a published autobiography (accounts differ), and there were plans for him to record an album in Memphis, Tennessee, when the brain tumor began affecting his behavior and he went back to his home in Harlingen, Texas, where he died early in the morning of February 9, 1981.
Martha, Bill's wife who was with him in these troubling times, denies he had a brain tumor as does his old, very close friend, Hugh McCallum. Martha and friends related that Bill did not want to go on the road any more and that ticket sales for that planned tour of Germany in the fall of 1980 were slow. According to McCallum, "It's my unproven gut feeling that that [the brain tumor] was said to curtail talks about the tour and play the sympathy card."
It was obvious that his drinking problem was getting worse. According to Martha, by this time she and Bill fought all the time and she told him to stop drinking or move out so he moved out into a room in their pool house. Martha still took care of him and sometimes he would come in the house to eat, but he ate very little. "There were days we never saw him," said his daughter Martha Maria.
In addition to the drinking problems, it had become obvious that he also was having serious mental problems; Martha Maria said that, "It was like sometimes he was drunk even when he wasn't drinking." After having been jailed by the Harlingen Police, Martha had the judge put Haley in the hospital where he was seen by a psychiatrist who said Bill's brain was overproducing a chemical, like adrenaline. The doctor prescribed a medication to stop the overproduction but said Bill would have to stop drinking. Martha said, "This is pointless." She took him home, however, fed him and gave him his first dose. As soon as he felt better, he went back out the his room in the pool house and the downward spiral continued until his death.
Haley's death certificate listed "Natural causes: Most likely heart attack" as the 'Immediate Cause' of death. The next lines, 'Due to, or as a consequence Of" were blank.

Haley made a succession of bizarre, mostly monologue late-night phone calls to friends and relatives in which he seemed incoherently drunk or ill. Haley's first wife has been quoted as saying, "He would call and ramble and dwell on the past, his mind was really warped." A belligerent phone call to a business associate was taped and gives evidence of Haley's troubled state of mind.
Media reports immediately following his death indicated Haley displayed deranged and erratic behavior in his final weeks, although beyond a biography of Haley by John Swenson, released a year later, which described Haley painting the windows of his home black, there is little information extant about Haley's final days.
Haley was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Songwriters Tom Russell and Dave Alvin addressed Haley's demise in musical terms with "Haley's Comet" on Alvin's 1991 album Blue Blvd. Dwight Yoakam sang backup on the tribute.
Haley's original Comets still tour the world. They released a concert DVD in 2004 on Hydra Records, played the Viper Room in West Hollywood in 2005, and performed at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Missouri in 2006-07.
In March 2007, the Original Comets pre-opened the Bill Haley Museum in Munich, Germany. On October 27, 2007, ex-Comets guitar player Bill Turner opened the Bill Haley Museum for the public.

Bill Haley (Highland Park, Detroit, Estados Unidos, 6 de julio de 1925 - Texas, Estados Unidos, 9 de febrero de 1981), cuyo nombre completo era William John Clifton Haley (pronunciado IPA:[ˈheɪliː], aprox. hey-lii) fue un músico estadounidense, uno de los fundadores del rock and roll, considerado el padre del rock and roll.
Hay quienes datan el origen del rock and roll en 1954, con el trabajo discográfico de Bill Haley y su grupo "Bill Haley and his Comets", evolucionando desde el country y el rockabilly, así como desde el rhythm and blues, especialmente con Crazy Man Crazy (1954) y su gran éxito Rock Around The Clock (1955), una reinterpretación del clásico de Jimmy Myers y Max Freedman, y que ya había sido grabado en 1952 por Sunny Dae & His Nights.
A diferencia de la mayoría de las grandes estrellas del rock and roll, Bill Haley realizó importantes giras por América Latina que tuvieron una gran influencia en la difusión del nuevo estilo. En 1958 debutó en Buenos Aires (Argentina), 1960 en Ciudad de México (Teatro Follies) y 1962 en Bogotá (Colombia), donde fue todo un éxito.
Grabó varios discos en español durante su estancia en México, con los que comenzó a promover un nuevo ritmo que finalmente desplazaría al Rock & Roll, el Twist, estilo musical que entró pisando fuerte en 1962. Entre sus discos de Twist se encuentran La Paloma y Florida Twist. El Twist, vino a marcar el fin de la era del Rock & Roll original e inalterado (1955 a 1961). En 1964 el grupo británico los Beatles (más la gran ola inglesa que les siguió), vino a desplazar al Twist, o sea que el Twist reinó únicamente por dos años.

El gran mérito de Bill Haley y sus Cometas1 es que comenzaron a tocar música de rock unos tres años antes que Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Anka, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley o The Platters. Resulta difícil determinar quien fue el "Padre" o fundador del Rock & Roll, lo que si se puede asegurar, es que Bill Haley y su banda fueron auténticos pioneros del género. Uno de sus temas mas conocidos (aunque no compuesto por ellos) es "Rock Around The Clock".