In July of 1993, the well-known New York City theater district nightclub the Red Blazer Too hosted the Riverwalk Jazz radio show. Located on West 46th St., the club featured “Jazz and Swing every night.” (The Red Blazer Too closed on June 1, 1997, and the venue is currently occupied by Swing 46, another jazz & supper club.) Attendees to the radio show were invited to a ‘Christmas in July’ themed event where a “New Year’s Eve All Star Jam” was the episode to be recorded for broadcast six months later. It was a sweltering evening in Manhattan and the audience gathered outside while final sound checks and rehearsals took place on stage. A stellar roster of featured guest artists filled the bill: Actor and singer Carol Woods, trumpet legend Doc Cheatham, bassist Bob Haggart, guitarist and vocalist Marty Grosz, and trombonist Dan Barrett.
The show opens with a smoking hot Jim Cullum Jazz Band version of the Sidney Bechet tune, “Sweetie Dear,” followed by Jelly Roll Morton’s “Black Bottom Stomp.” Next up, trombonist Dan Barrett joins the Band with his smooth and sophisticated rendition of the romantic classic “Wherever There’s Love,” a tune associated with bandleader and bon vivant Eddie Condon whose nightclub often featured Barrett on the bandstand.
Bassist and Crosby Band veteran Bob Haggart steps up to the mic and lightens the mood, performing two crowning achievements— his hit “Big Noise From Winnetka,” which started out as an improvisation between Haggart and drummer Ray Bauduc on a live radio broadcast from the Blackhawk Hotel in 1930s Chicago; and another original, the bluesy Spiritual-inspired “Dog Town Blues,” named after Haggart’s Long Island home town, Douglastown.
Our New York recording session captures vocalist Carol Woods as a rising star of Broadway. Carol had recently starred as “Stella Deems” in the Tony-nominated Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies and as “Jeanette” in the National Company of The Full Monty. For this radio show, Ms. Woods offers her Harold Arlen – Johnny Mercer favorite “Blues in the Night,” and Bessie Smith’s “Muddy Water (A Mississippi Moan).” This would be her third Riverwalk production session in two years, following sessions at the Landing in San Antonio for tributes to Johnny Mercer, the First Ladies of Jazz, 52nd Street, the golden age of Hollywood musicals.
The legendary jazz trumpet player and vocalist Doc Cheatham (who lived from 1905 to 1997) gave the audience one of his signature songs, sweetly singing and swinging “I’ve Got the World on a String.” Doc was 87 years old and happily going strong with a jazz career that began in the 1920s, subbing for Louis Armstrong at the Vendome Theater on Chicago’s South Side. Doc Cheatham entertained everyone within earshot with his quirky and funny reminiscences of his life in jazz, rubbing shoulders and working with iconic figures like Benny Goodman and Cab Calloway. Doc continued playing until two days before his death, eleven days shy of his 92nd birthday, four years after this performance.
The irrepressible Marty Grosz was there, too. A matchless rhythm and chord-melody solo guitarist, Marty’s vocals are famous for their wry wit inspired by, among others, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong. Now an octogenarian, Marty continues to be in demand at jazz parties, concerts and festivals worldwide. For this show, Marty holds forth with “Isn’t Love the Strangest Thing?” and “You Hit the Spot.”
Our radio show closes in time-honored tradition with a 1940s historical recording of the countdown to midnight in Times Square when the illumined ball drops and the crowd erupts with shouts of joy, ushering in the New Year. Our audience joins in with the Band and our guests to close the broadcast with the perennial sentiment — “Auld Lang Syne.”
Photo credit for Home Page image: Dan Barrett photo courtesy of the artist.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©1993