Monday, June 29, 2020

Ralph Gleason opens for Art Hodes

I wish I could remember which Art Hodes LP I found that quote on.  But it was how I first found that Art Hodes was a DJ in addition to being a jazz writer, and frequently recorded jazz pianist. He played with Sidney Bechet, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Marsala, Louis Armstrong, Wingy Manone, Gene Krupa, Muggsy Spanier and Mezz Mezzrow. More here.

Hodes was born in Ukraine and moved to the U.S. with his family as an infant. He got his start as a musician in Chicago, his big break came when he moved to New York in 1938. But it wasn't until April 6th, 1942 that he stepped into radio.

From 1940 to 1942 Ralph Berton hosted WNYC's daily foray into jazz called Metropolitan Revue, dedicated to "the finest in recorded hot jazz." It was the first jazz program on 830 WNYC-AM and possibly the first serious jazz music show in New York. [LINK] Berton played hot jazz, black and white, both A sides and B sides, big hits and out of print obscurities. His show was free-wheeling in a way that somewhat presaged Free Form FM, he was funny, and really knew his jazz and he sprinkled in a little folk music too.  He analyzed jazz records in depth, and even gave lectures on jazz that his listeners and the general public attended. But he had blind spots, he didn't understand the gravitas of Nina Simone, and despised electric instruments. (He also hated modern art and avant garde jazz.)

It was Gene Williams and Ralph Gleason who published the magazine Jazz Information. It was a 4-page newsletter that was printed irregularly out of the back room of the Commodore Music Shop but it was big with jazz heads.  (The magazine ran from 1939 - 1941) When Ralph was leaving the show, they suggested Art Hodes as a replacement.
"...they wrote some scripts for me. When I strayed from what they had written, they left me on my own. I didn't have many records, so I had to borrow things to play, which led me to get interested in collecting. I got really involved, and haunted the record shops, and junk shops, and rummage sales. the program was on six days a week in the early afternoon, and generally it lasted half an hour on weekdays and an hour on Saturday, when I'd ask guests in to play. I was playing the records I grew up with. It was beautiful jazz music going out into the air, and all I had to do, except for saying a few words, was sit there and listen."

He played Louis Armstrong's intro to West End Blues as his theme and once or twice every show Hodes played piano himself, often playing his own exit theme. It aired from 1:30 to 2:00 Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then 1:45 to 2:00 Tuesday and Thursday. But it all came to an abrupt end one week when the Mayor made an appearance on the show following Metropolitan Revue.
"Everything was fine until the day Mayor LaGuardia broadcast right after me. While he was waiting to go on the air, he heard me announce what label each tune was on, and the label number. I guess it was the first time he'd ever heard the show, and he told the station manager to get rid of me—that I was giving commercials on a noncommercial station. Of course what I was doing was giving my listeners the information they needed to get the records I had played. Otherwise they would write me by the dozen..."
He had the option to be fired or quit, so he resigned. But the show had made Art Hodes a made-man in the New York jazz community so the Art Hodes Band didn't exactly struggle for gigs after that. Before he got the boot Hodes had started a magazine, The Jazz record. He moved on from radio and didn't go back. Hodes went on to edit The Jazz Record for five years, and he continued to play with his own band for another 40 years.

But there were details missing from Hodes' version of the story. Hodes already knew Ralph Gleason. Mr. Gleason had recorded jazz sessions at WNYC which included some live sets at the Village Vanguard. One of these was released as "Matinee Jam Session" recorded December 29th, 1940. Alongside Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins was a young Art Hodes. The Art Hodes discography Hot Man, specifically notes that Ralph Gleason transcribed it, and "possibly" broadcast it on WNYC.

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