Monthly Archives: July 2007

J17: The unreleased Howie Jefferson session

In his 18 years at Long View Farm recording studios in North Brookfield, MA, owner and founder Gil Markle amassed a recorded library of music that has become literally the sound of the generation. Between the years of 1973 and 1991, he hosted such seminal artists and acts as Aerosmith, the J. Geils Band, Arlo Guthrie, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, numerous jazz fusion artists and a cast of thousands more.

For the past seven years, Markle has been painstakingly preserving these recordings, rescuing them from oxidation in hopes of maintaining the integrity of their original quality. If you missed them the first time around, in the vinyl format maybe, he has recently reissued the material on his web site, www.studiowner.com. Once there, click on “Media Library,” enter your email address, log in and enjoy the music.

In addition to the stars, Markle also captured hundreds of local and regional bands that also worked at Long View during his tenure. Among the jazz sides in the collection is a never-before-released 1980 session led by Howie Jefferson, which is quite possibly the last recording of the saxophonist. He died the following year.

The date featured Jefferson on tenor with pianist Jeff Lass, guitarist Jay Conte, bassist Paul Sokolow (overdubs) and drummer Grover Mooney. Bassist Bob Conte played bass during the original recording but his performance had to be scrapped after it was discovered that his track was damaged. Lass has since gone on to make a name for himself nationally in the film industry, scoring for such films as Dick Tracy, Iron Jawed Angels and The Killing Zone. The New York-based Sokolow has appeared in a variety of settings, including with Leni Stern, Dar Williams and Herbie Mann. Grover Mooney is no stranger to local audiences having performed in the city numerous times with Rebecca Parris. Bob Conte is still active throughout Worcester County.

The song list is basically standards and blues, including “Green Dolphin Street,” “I’ll Remember April,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “One Note Samba,” “Secret Love,” “Summertime,” “There Will Never Be Another You,” and untitled blues and another untitled jam. They are listed on the Studiowner Media Library as “J. B. Railstop,” named after the Spencer restaurant, where Carmella’s on Rte. 9 sits today. It was then owned by the Conte brothers.

Markle says he was a big fan of Jefferson and a regular at the restaurant. “I had eyes for one of the young waitresses,” he says laughing. “So I found myself going there to get a bit closer to her, which never occurred. The residuals involved Howie Jefferson.”

Markle was uniquely qualified for such recordings. His father was an audio engineer for NBC and his mother was the big band singer, Connie Gates. The Media Library is actually a page on Markle’s web site, which is virtually an interactive memoir titled, Diary of a Studio Owner. Today, Markle is the owner of Passports Educational Travel, which sponsors the overseas travel for several thousand American students each year. He no longer has any involvement with the recording studio.

As a fan of Jefferson, Markle arranged the session in 1980 on his time and his dime. “I invited them back there for the hell of it,” he says. “I wanted Jefferson to meet Jeff Lass, the piano player, knowing they were playing the same material. They just sat down together and played, basically with no rehearsal. It was all one session.”

Reading from notes he took on the session, Markle says the songs were minimally rehearsed. “Structurally, they were all classical jazz renditions,” he says. “They all typically begin with an intro piano. Howie then jumps in and plays the melody once or twice. Then there’s a guitar solo which plays a couple of verses. Then it goes back to Jeff Lass on piano. Then bass solo. Then Howie jumps back in on the finale, which generally ends with a piano outro. They are all the same.”

Markle recalls how Jefferson liked to set up in front of a microphone. “He put one of our condenser mikes into the horn of his saxophone. He said he liked to record that way. It rattled. Instead, we positioned him between two very expensive Neumann condenser microphones.”

When asked why the bass was replaced, he says, “I forget what the reason was. It was technically defective. Wouldn’t work. So it was a couple of weeks later that we replaced the bass using Sokolow – one of Jeff Lass’ guys. Bob Conte may not even know about it, and it may not be apparent to him when he listens to it. Sokolow pretty much emulated his performance.”

The Media Library offers both audio and video files of exceptionally high quality. They can be played in real time (streamed) using Flash technology, encoded at uncommonly high bit-rates. Another exceptional feature about the site is that the archival files may be downloaded for personal (only) use, in iPod-ready format.

The amazing thing about the Jefferson material is that it was never mixed. “They were what we called board mixes,” he says. “I did it on the spot in order to check out the integrity of the Sokolow bass overdubs. I made a straight copy without any EQ, without any volume moves in order to focus the attention on the artist doing the solo. Just a flat, straight-across, board mix. It was a seven-and-a-half ips copy of that board mix that was
recovered quite by accident from a mis-labeled packing case, 25 years later, unplayed.”

Markle reports that the original 24-track tape may still exist at Long View Farm. “It should still be there, and someone competent should mix it. I’d love to do it. The fact is, that 24-track tape belongs to Howie Jefferson’s estate. I basically gifted the entire project to him. I’d involve myself with the mix project in a heartbeat. Maybe the studio will ask
me to do so.”

After the session ended, Howie wrote Markle a letter of thanks that he (Markle) still has in his possession. “It’s a wonderful letter. I saw it just a month ago. It’s in one of our red Pendaflex files in the basement. He raves on and on about the experience and thanks me for having done it for them,” Markle says.

He also reports that he had used Jefferson on other dates as well. Howie can be heard on Markle productions including three tunes sung by Joanne Barnard, “Carnival,” “Brahms’ Lullaby” and “Second Time Around,” all in the Studiowner Media Library. Click here to see Jo sing “Over the Rainbow.”

Continuing to read from his notes, Markle says, “Howie Jefferson was a consummate gentleman — no indication of any illness. His wife [actually girlfriend at the time, Joyce Burrell] however was always and painstakingly deferential to him.”

“Now that I think back on it,” Markle says. “She knew something that we didn’t, and was obviously taking care of him.”

For those who have heard Jefferson in his prime, clearly he was not on top of his game. Still, even a less-than-great rediscovered Howie Jefferson session is reason to celebrate.

Though some of his parts may have ended up on the cutting room floor, bassist Bob Conte fondly remembers Jefferson and the session.

“Gil used to come into the restaurant a lot,” he says. “He used to like listening to the music. He had also heard of Howie Jefferson. So he set up this session at Long View for Howie with brother Jay and myself and a drummer from Boston, who did a lot of work around town, Grover Mooney. He was a little bit high the day we recorded that.”

Now in his 70s and active, Conte lives in the Stiles Reservoir-area of Spencer. His real surname is Contestabile. Before Jay died 12 years ago, the Conte Brothers worked together for more than 40 years. In the early 50s they replaced the famous Soft Winds that featured Herb Ellis, Lou Carter and Johnny Frigo at the Darbry Room in Boston. In the mid-’50s they worked at the Maridor in Framingham and in the ’60s at the Sea & Surf. A list of those who sat in with the rhythm mates include such jazz stars as Errol Garner, Zoot Sims, Bobby Brookmeyer, Slam Stewart and Dave Bailey. In the two decades that they were active in Rte. 9 East clubs, young players such as Chick Corea, Steve Kuhn, Akira Tana and John Abercrombie had joined the brothers. Jay’s daughter is in the business. She is the jazz singer, Zephryn, who works in the Arizona area.

When asked how he hooked up with Jefferson, Bob says, “My brother and I were playing a duo thing at Spencer Seafood. It was Saturdays. One night Howie came in with Bill Fanning, a piano player. Howie was digging all the stuff my brother was doing. On the break, he says, ‘Yeah, I heard of you guys.’ My brother says, ‘Howie Jefferson. Yeah, I heard of you all these years.’ He heard of us but never heard us.

“So he and my brother struck up a warm relationship. He started going to my brother’s house with records. Then he started bringing his horn and sitting in down there. Before you know it, we were in the process of opening the restaurant out there. He used to come out all the time. He’s the one that suggested having jazz on Sundays.”

J. B. (Jay and Bob) Railstop was own by the Conte brothers. “We were there for four years,” Bob says. “We used to play nightly. We were there all day and we would play at night. Sunday was the jazz thing. We had various musicians — guys that we knew from Boston that would come in and sit in and play.

“One night this fellow came in and said, ‘I heard that you had jazz on Sundays. He was kind of bent-over, a skinny looking guy. He says, ‘My name is Bobby Sherwood. That name might not mean anything to you, but this guy had a band in the ’30s. He did this thing called, ‘Elks Parade,’ it was a famous song. He was married to Judy Garland’s sister, Dorothy Gumm.”

Sherwood, who was also a guitarist who replaced Eddie Lang in Bing Crosby’s band, was living in Auburn at the time of his illness. “He was staying with this woman. He was going to the Dana Farber Cancer place to get treatment,” Conte says.

Conte says playing and having guests sit-in was the best part of owning the restaurant. “The rest of it was a lot of headache,” he says. “See what happened was my brother got sick while we were there. He had congestive heart failure. He wound up in the hospital. Then I was running the place with my sister in-law and my wife. We were working our heads off. Eventually we sold the place.”

Conte says he certainly knew of Long View before recording the session.

“They used to get a lot of big names up there recording,” he says. “They’d stay over. They had the facilities. Gil had the Rolling Stones up there recording and they all came down to hear us play one night. I never got into rock stuff but they were all there sitting in the bar drinking. What’s his name, Keith Richards? He was diggin’ Jay’s playing.”

When asked if he recalled the Long View session with Jefferson, Conte says “I have a rough copy. It was all done in one session, everything was impromtu. We recorded in the house. Howie played very nicely. I enjoyed his work. Gil Markle enjoyed it too because he got it all on tape, smilin’ all the time. Jeff Lass was the piano player that Gil brought in. Excellent piano player. He was leaving to go to California right after that session.

“I actually didn’t know Howie was sick. He was going with Joyce. She used to come out with him all the time. She called me and said, ‘Howie is real sick. He’s got cancer.’

“A strange thing happened. My sister-in law had to rush my brother to the hospital one night. He couldn’t breathe. She took him to City Hospital. Howie was there at the same time. They were both being treated at the same time.”

Jay recovered. He died of a heart attack in 1995. He was 68. Howie did not, dying after being hospitalized in June of 1981. He was 67. “Howie was a real gentleman, a very nice person,” Bob says. “My brother was really sad about the whole thing.”

J16: The rediscovered radio days of Dol Brissette

A trumpeting brass section enters with great fanfare. After four bars they stop on count and an announcer’s voice bellows: “SYNCOPATION FOR THE NATION.” The orchestra then skates into its theme song. A couple of bars into it, the disembodied voice returns confidently to proclaim: “From deep in the heart of New England, that’s Worcester, Massachusetts, the National Broadcasting Company is happy to present from coast to coast music by Dol Brissette and his Orchestra with songs by Winnie Stone and Georgie Roy.”

With that, the tune approaches its cadenza. At song’s end, the broadcaster returns to introduce the first piece of the show saying, “Dol digs deep into the files for this first tune, a classic of the jazz era you’ll all remember as, ‘That’s My Weakness Now.”

The four bar intro is counted off by piano, bass and accordion before the full complement of the 12-piece ensemble joins in. The sound is archaic and ghostly. It instantly evokes the aural grist of radio’s glory days.

The tune is a happy-go-lucky little fox trot reeking of sentiment. It features a Bix-wannabe who takes a hot trumpet solo before handing it off to the trombonist who takes it for a spin a la Tommy Dorsey. The piano player also gets to shine and squeezes out a few nifty blues licks before stepping back into the fold.

The live session was recorded sometime around 1940 at WTAG AM 580, when the studios were still on the fourth floor of the Telegram & Gazette building on Franklin Street. Other syndicated shows heard on NBC at the time featured such bandleaders as Fred Waring, Guy Lombardo and Benny Goodman.

In the October 19, 1940 edition of Worcester Telegram & Gazette there is a photo of the band. The caption reads: “Dol Brissette and his WTAG-NBC orchestra which will be an entertainment feature evenings at the seventh annual Telegram and Gazette Progress Exposition in the Auditorium next week. Left to right: George Krikorian [piano], soloist Helen Dennison, violins, Elmer Johnson and Daniel Sylvester; saxophones, Frank Bicknell, Louis Alpert, Paul Rhode and Bernard Cormier; drums, Joseph Parks; trombone, George Robinson; trumpets, Lloyd Dinsdale and Frank O’Connor; director, Dol Brissette; bass violin, George Cove.”

Although it would certainly be a stretch to call him a jazz musician, Brissette was a territory bandleader of the 1930s and ’40s, who hired such players for his orchestra. Therefore he is an important figure in the development of the music locally. In his brilliant T&G article titled, Worcester Jazz: This being a requiem for the way it was when Al Hirt fell-in at the Saxtrum Club, Ev Skehan talked about the lost early days saying, “The territory bands were working the Worcester area then, playing ballroom and club dates. The Watson Brothers, Dol Brissette, Gene Broadman, Bob Pooley, and Phil Scott all had bands that featured a few good jazz men like [Ockie] Menard, [Emil] Haddad and [Paul] Kukonen.”

Adolphus J. “Dol” Brissette is originally from Haverill. He came to Worcester to study at Holy Cross. His intent was to become a lawyer, but after picking up the banjo – as a kind of a lark — and discovering a natural inclination for the instrument, the birds of music took over.

An early bio written by a WTAG writer with no byline said: “He became so good that he was able to take a part time job playing banjo with Hughie Connors and the Bancroft Hotel Orchestra. After graduation he found that the magic of music was greater than the lure of the law. He stayed with Hughie Connors.”

Brissette built a name for himself at the Bancroft, playing five years at the hotel in the late 1920s and early ’30s. By all accounts, he was a hum and strum banjo player – like that of Arthur Godfrey on ukulele. In the early ’30s, Brissette also played the Palace Theater where he met such stars of the day as Ted Lewis, Gilda Grey, Trixie Friganza, and Joe Penner. However, Brissette reported that the single most important event was the opportunity to play duets with the king of banjo, the great Eddie Peabody at the Theater.

Brissette viewed himself as an “entertainer.” “Give them not only what they want, but more than they expect. That’s showmanship,” he was quoted as saying. It was also reported that his favorite slogan was: “Don’t kick the doorman; he may be the manager tomorrow.”

The banjo player formed his own band in 1933 and before the year was out, The Dol Brissette Orchestra headlined the Holy Cross Fieldhouse. It was a prestigious gig on the national circuit. Two years later Benny Goodman performed there.

The Brissette bio states: “When WTAG decided to become that first station in Worcester to have its own live studio orchestra on call for daily performances and accompaniment, Dol Brissette and the studio orchestra was first intoned into a microphone in 1937 and repeated for the last time in 1945.”

Before joining WTAG, Brissette estimated that he had played more than 2000 dates including such places as the Totem Pole in Auburndale, Kimball’s Starlight in Lynn, and the Bai-a-l’Air in Shrewsbury.

Another T&G photo from Brissette’s glory days has a caption that reads: “Maestro Dol Brissette faces his orchestra, baton poised, ready to serve up at the downbeat for the show’s first chorde (sic). And look at the glint in his eye, wouldja! Dol is liable to do anything from sleep to handsprings while he’s directing. That coat comes off and his hair ‘goes native’ while working.”

Returning to the recording, the singing “soloist” is not the aforementioned Dennison. The NBC announcer introduces her on the next track. “Wini Stone uses a familiar satellite as a measure of affection as she sings the romantic ballad from Two for the Show, “How High the Moon.”

Written by Nancy Hamilton and Morgan Lewis, “How High” was also recorded by Benny Goodman with Helen Forrest supplying vocals in 1940. Stone no doubt heard the Forrest version, but gives her own competent, though somewhat affected, reading.

Another T&G clipping from the period states: “Each day, on ‘Noonday Revue,’ you hear Dol Brissette and his band serve out musical hits to New England. But each Saturday the nation is audience to Worcester’s Musical Ambassador when the National Broadcasting Company network carries this period of modern melody through the nation. This aggregation of 12 musicians and their dainty vocalist Wini Stone, are line up particularly for our reception – usually, for correct microphone balance on the broadcast, you will find the band in much more separated positions.”

Singling out the group in yet another photo from the era, there is a shot of Wini Stone standing in front of a huge microphone with the WTAG call letters mounted on top. The caption reads: “That position is no pose for Wini Stone, “singcopator” on our NBC program “Noonday Revue.” She always folds her arms while singing. So carried away is she by her songs that at times she will completely forget the mike.

Another little tidbit on Stone is an item that reads: “Wini is a native New Englander who hates being called ‘Toots,’ and collects ashtrays as a hobby. She plays piano, too and is unwed – to date.”

Track number four is introduced by the announcer as “From the mighty west, the stomping grounds of the Lone Ranger, Dol Brissette plays an upcoming melody titled, ‘Stagebrush Serenade.”

Brissette was quoted as describing his music as having “simple good taste,” the kind that “wears well.” The WTAG promotional bio material also noted that the orchestra was accorded national recognition by NBC when, “it was selected for network programming originating in Worcester.” It goes on to report that during 1939-40, Brissette was also the musical director on Sunday shows in the Worcester Auditorium, playing with such stars as Kay Kiser, Tommy Tucker, the Andrew Sisters and Betty Hutton.

The recording, which was transcribed from the original acetate recordings features 12 tracks, that includes, “Romance from Another World,” “Ain’t She Sweet” (with George Roy on vocals), “In the Silence of the Dawn,” “My, My,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “We Could Make Such Beautiful Music,” and “The Woodpecker Song.”

At the closing of the show the announcer says “From the radio theater of WTAG at Worcester, Massachusetts the National Broadcasting Company has presented from coast to coast music by one of America’s great young bands Dol Brissette and his orchestra with songs by Wini Stone and Georgie Roy. This program was heard in Canada through the facilities of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.”

Brissette is not heard on banjo on these recordings. Chances are that he shed the instrument for the baton. Documents of his playing may exist, but as of this writing none are known.

Being an NBC affiliate, WTAG was a major promotional outlet for touring groups at the time. Between 1941 and ’42, the station interviewed such jazz stars of the day as “jitterbug orchestra leader,” Ina Ray Hutton; Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald (who was appearing at the Plymouth Theater); Duke Ellington; Jimmy Lunceford and Charlie Barnet. Other entertainers who stopped by the station for conversation were Sigmond Romberg, the Mills Brothers and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

Local guitarist Peter Clemente, Sr., had a daily show where he was featured on his “electric guitar” and future movie and television actor, Tony Randall was a broadcaster at WTAG during those years.

Brissette kept various versions of the band together until 1945. A photograph of one of the last editions has the caption that reads: “A quintet made up of members of WTAG’s first own live studio orchestra conducted by Dol Brissette with drummer Jack Morrissey, clarinetist Paul Rhode, saxophonist Joe Ferrezano, trumpeter George Ray, pianist George Gregory and vocalist Mary Conlon.”

After breaking up the group altogether, Brissette became the program production manager at WTAG. It’s been said that if his music was in “simple good taste” the same has been said of his skill in his new role at that station.

Richard “Dick” Wright worked at WTAG for 37 years and was quite familiar with Dol Brissette, the program director. “He hired me,” Wright says. “I came from New York State. I applied for the job in 1952 and he hired me three years later. I’ll never forget the day he called. I was out of radio at that point. I had lost my job in Manchester. I had to earn a living so I had been doing private investigation work in Brooklyn. I had applied at virtually every radio station on the East Coast.”

Wright was hired in 1955; 10 years after Brissette quit the band business. “His band was long gone by that time,” Wright recalls. “That all took place in the 1940s. He gave up the band business, like so many of them did, at the period in history when big bands were going out.”

Wright doesn’t know exactly when Brissette became the program director, but says he definitely knew how to manage a radio station. “Dol was the one who hired and fired, scheduled and taught people,” he says. “He knew what he was doing. Extremely intelligent. Very well read. He kept his finger on what was going on. We started in the morning doing news at five o’clock. He had already read the three additions of the Telegram to make sure you got it all. If you missed something he’d just call up and say, ‘Did you happen to notice there was another story?’”

In his tenure, Wright worked for Brissette as an announcer and newscaster. “Jim Little was the news director at the time. He left and they gave me the job,” Wright recalls. “Then after Dol left us, I became news and program director and eventually station manager and eventually vice president and general manager.”

Brissette died in 1970. In his radio tribute Wright said, “As far as he was concerned, the radio station, its programs, its success depended on people who worked here and [Brissette's] first concern always was for his people.”

Commenting further about his former boss, friend and mentor, Wright today adds, “I tell you he was one of the greatest men I have ever known. He taught me a lot of things about people and the way to live your life. He was always gracious. He always could see the other guy’s position. He was firm and played it by the book. If you performed you were great. If you didn’t you heard from him.”

Tony Guida was a freshman at Holy Cross in 1959 when he first met Brissette. Today he works for WCBS in New York City. His online bio opens with this statement: “It began after the Great War but before Woodstock at WTAG in Worcester, Mass. Mr. Guida prospered under the wise tutelage of Adolph J. “Dol” Brissette who whispered the secret to radio success: ‘Always write down your ad-libs.’ It is advice that Mr. Guida has tattooed to his left forearm.”

When contacted to comment further, Guida, speaking by phone from the NYC studio says, “I looked at him and I didn’t know what it meant – an ad lib is an ad lib. I thought this guy is losing it. I’m 20 years old, what the hell do I know. When I think back on it, I didn’t know a microphone from a fishing rod. It took me years to realize the wisdom, the Zen.

“He had such a remarkable way of saying things. He was a very quiet man. He was a minimalist. Very present in his role as program director. He was always soft and gentle. He was like a cat. He was just a remarkable man.”