In 1976 Milt Buckner was on tour in Europe with his Lionel Hampton Alumni band, a mix of old veterans from the Hampton band such as Arnett Cobb or Eddie Chamblee and younger french musicians.
In Paris they made a stop at the Barclay Studio to record what was to become Eddie Chamblee’s LP “Ten Years After” for the Black & Blue label (one track was later released on a Black & Blue CD of previously unreleased material by the Alumni band, see details in my Milt Buckner discography).
Black & Blue LP 33097
Only recently I discovered some highly interesting footage from the Barclay studio in Otto Flückiger’s large collection of material related to Milt Buckner. Apparently someone had a camera with him on April 30 and filmed the band while it was relaxing and rehearsing. Unfortunately I do not know who is responsible for this footage. It might have well been dutch Milt Buckner fanatic Kees Bakker. If you watch some of the videos of Milt Buckner that I put up on my youtube account – which definitely were filmed by Bakker –, you will notice that they have the very same camera noise.
In this rare and precious seven minute glimpse into the Barclay studios you will encounter: Milt Buckner, Wallace Davenport, Buster Cooper, Earl Warren, Arnett Cobb, André Persiany, Roland Lobligeois, Panama Francis, Eddie Chamblee and visiting guest Sam Woodyard. Enjoy!
Milt Buckner in the 1970s. Location, exact date and photographer
not identified. From the Otto Flückiger collection.
For some weeks in 1975 Milt Buckner had an engagement at the Hotel Novapark in Zurich, entertaining the hotel guests of the bar on piano and organ. My friend Otto Flückiger took the opportunity and made the one hour train drive to Zurich to talk to Milt and maybe record him. Otto was at the Novapark on November 6 and November 8. All in all 34 tracks were recorded by Otto – Buckner had a wide repertoire: From Siboney to Yes, We Have No Bananas. I especially like the two joyous renditions Buckner plays of Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train”, which I am presenting you here. It is to be hoped that more people than Otto realized what a great musician they heard here.
So here’s Milt Buckner playing Take The A Train on November 6, 1975:
Trumpet man Wendell Cull(e)y (1906–1983) played in Lionel Hampton’s orchestra from 1944 to 1949, a period in which Milt Buckner was Hampton’s pianist. Culley (as his name is mostly written) and Buckner seem to have kept in contact over the years. There is a letter in Otto Flückiger’s files about Milt Buckner that Culley wrote to Buckner in August 1971 (the letter arrived after a longer journey).
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I decided to present this very interesting letter in full, since I think it contains nothing of a too personal nature. In addition I have some very nice other documents to offer here that somehow have a connection to this letter. But let’s start with a question first: Who is “your former vocalist named Jerald” (??)” on the first page? Although being quite knowledgeable about Buckner’s career, I have no idea.
Culley writes about Million Dollar Smile here. This gives us the opportunity to leave the letter for a while:
Since Wendell Culley writes about Eddie Jones buying the record, it’s clear that Culley is talking about the version Hamp recorded for Decca in October 1944:
Lionel Hampton: Million Dollar Smile (L3644 on Decca 18719, October 16, 1944)
But there were people who liked another version (also arranged by Buckner) much better (scroll a little down to hear that one). As Buckner remembered in a 1975 conversation with Otto Flückiger and Kees Bakker:
We got Dinah Washington out of Chicago where she was singing with a church group. Sometimes she was singing there in a club. Hamp heard her somewhere, and before I knew it, she was in the band. I made about all the arrangements for her in Hamp’s band, the first I made was My Bill. I always liked her voice. Gladys Hampton always tried to teach Dinah how to dress. You might remember Million Dollar Smile. I wrote that arrangement so that Dinah could sing it. We got into the Decca studio in Hollywood and we played the thing down and she sang beautifully. Hamp said: ‘Listen, Buck, there should be no singing on this arrangement!’.
This Million Dollar Smile was one of the best records Hamp ever made, because of the sound. The guy that wrote this tune is Porter Roberts. He wrote for a little newspaper in Toledo, Ohio and he is still living there [Buckner was talking in 1975]. Before I came over here, I talked to him on the phone.
I once made a deposition for Porter Roberts in Toledo in the 1950s against Lionel Hampton to describe the scene where Hapmton canceled the vocals. Well Dinah sat there and cried on that deposition and Roberts used it in a trial against Hampton. He was sure that the song was supposed to be a hit. He was sueing on the possibility that his song would have become a hit if Dinah would have sung on it.
An unsigned short article from Jet (dated July 8, 1954) also is related to unhappy feelings in connection with Million Dollar Smile:
Composer Sues Hampton For “Violating” Song Pact
Bandleader Lionel Hampton was sued in Toledo for failing to keep an agreement to record and publish a song titled Your Million-Dollar Smile (sic!). The action was filed by Porter Roberts, who contended he composed the tune and registered it for copyright, then gave half interest to Hampton. He claims Hampton promised to record and publish the song through his firm, Swing and Tempo Music Co., with profits to be equally shared.
I could not find out what the result of this legal hassles were (and I would like to know the publisher and composer credits on the original 78). But if you listen to the arrangement of Million Dollar Smile featuring Dinah Washington – recorded for the Jubilee series – you can in no way doubt its great potential for becoming a hit.
Lionel Hampton: Million Dollar Smile (Jubilee, recorded summer 1944)
There are not many sources on the internet that mention Porter Roberts, but it looks like Roberts was a very interesting person. In the thirties (exact date unknown) he had a column called “Praise And Criticism” in the Pittsburgh Courier, in the fourties this column probably appeared in the Chicago Defender.
Roberts probably had his home base in Detroit in 1945, because that is the place where he started “The Entertainer”, a magazine which was to supply “National Theatrical News Weekly”. In Otto Flückiger’s archives I found a copy of “The Entertainer’s” pilot issue. This is just a one-pager – on the flip there is just a list (how much advertising in future issues will cost). Read the fierce editorial – also named “Praise And Criticism” here – Roberts is not holding anything back.
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The other texts on this page are more or less the usual PR announcements send out by the promoters. But note the blurb about Hampton, which means a year after “Million Dollar Smile” was recorded there seem to no hard feelings between Hampton and Roberts. Have there ever been any regular issues of “The Entertainer”? I could not find out.
So back to the letter:
If Wendell Culley indeed writes about multiinstrumentalist Ben Kynard here, he was misinformed about this supposedly early death. Kynard, (pictured above in an undated, unsigned photograph) the alleged composer of famous tune “Red Top” passed on July 5th 2012, aged 92. Kynard had played with Hampton from 1946–1953.
In the P.S. of his letter, Wendell Culley (as his name is mostly written – but note the signature!) mentions Milt Buckner’s “Fiesta” in Carnegîe Hall 1945. This most probably is “Fiesta de l’Amour” [sic!] a “semi-classical” piece Buckner wrote in the mid-fourties. He had copyrighted it on January 23, 1945 along with seven other compositions that apparently never were recorded.
The program for Hampton’s 1945 Carnegie Hall Concert on April 15th (front pictured above) unfortunately does not mention “Fiesta” among the compositions to be played:
As you see, Herb Quigley’s composition “Three Minutes With Three Notes” was to be the composition played with strings featured. The members of the string section are not known, since the program only mentions Eddie South:
So did Hampton change his mind and have the band with the string section play Buckner’s “Fiesta”? It will be hard to find the exact truth.
Although no recording of “Fiesta” as played by the Lionel Hampton orchestra at the Carnegie Hall is extant, “Fiesta de l’Amor” can be heard on a very rare recording by Milt Buckner’s Orchestra from a “Band For Bonds” broadcast recorded two weeks after Buckner’s first session for MGM in March 1949. The broadcast (details in my Milt Buckner discography) was preserved on glass-based acetate records that were in Milt Buckner’s personal collection. It is not known what became of these glass records, but fortunately Kees Bakker or Otto Flückiger had the opportunity to dub them sometime in the 1970s.
Milt Buckner and his Orchestra: “Fiesta de l’Amour” (“Bands For Bonds” broadcast, recorded probably March 26, 1949)
This version has no strings but nice parts for Milt Buckner on vibraphone and unaccompanied Julius Watkins on french horn.
Four years ago I found in Otto Flückiger’s archive a 20 minute clip of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra playing Air Mail Special in Prague 1977 with Milt Buckner featured on the organ. It soon turned out that sound and picture lost their synchronicity during the upload to youtube. At that time I did not see what I had done wrong, so I decided to not go through the digitizing process again and leave it the way it is.
But now yesterday I found out that even more footage exists from this concert. So I digitized all 43 minutes that are there (it still ends rather abrupt, so there probably is even more footage extant). Besides Hampton and big-mustached Milt Buckner you get to see and hear Cat Anderson on trumpet, Pauel Moen and the legendary Eddie Chamblee on saxophones, guitarist Billy Mackel and drummer Frankie Dunlop.
Here is another track from the mysterious set of KAKE acetates featuring a 1953 Lionel Hampton concert as well as some solo piano tracks by Milt Buckner. Here you get Milt playing Lionel Hampton’s classic “Flyin’ Home” in a wonderfully agitated solo piano version. If anyone does know anything set about these mysterious acetates, do not hesitate and tell me!
Some days ago I received a very nice email from Ruth Gilson who has – as she says – “been an avid Milt Buckner for years”. Ruth who is now 80 years of age wanted to know if I would like to read about her personal interactions with Milt Buckner when he was booked into her local Holiday Inn Supper Club for a month every year. And of course I wanted to read that! Continue reading →
UPDATE (August 19, 2012): The handwriting on the Srand Theatre photograph is not by Otto Flückiger, but by Milt Buckner (see comments section).
When I was down at the archives last week looking for documents in relation to Don Redman’s 1946 tour, I accidentally found a batch of gorgeous photos of Lionel Hampton’s band in 1948 and 1949 at New York’s Strand Theatre as well as from the Howard Theatre Washington 1948.
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The photograph above was taken at the Strand Theatre in N.Y.C, between January 23 and February 1948. Unfortunately the photographer is not known (to me at least). On the edge of the photo Milt Buckner himself noted down the names of the musicians to be seen. I photoshopped the edge just enough to make his handwriting (very pale pencil) readable again. Too make identification easier, I have cut up the photo into several parts below. Continue reading →
I have added some information to all three parts of my Milt Buckner discography. There are some new photos, some old photos in better copies than before, as well as information about some previously known and some previously unknown recordings from broadcasts as well as from records or notes in Milt Buckner’s diaries. For example, there is this entry:
which led to this LP (details are in the discography):
I have also added an unreleased 1947 session for Don Gabor’s Continental Records, featuring a Lionel Hampton small group with Arnett Cobb and others, but without Hampton.
Does anyone have an idea who might have the masters for these Continental tracks– if any do still exist?
I have also made discographical – and photographical – additions to part 2 and part 3. So it’s worth having a look there. I have noted the last changes on top of each part.
I know some of you are here because you are interested in Milt Buckner. Well, this really fantastic footage is not from the Otto Flückiger archives, it comes from Youtube user bioskopvozdovac. It shows Buckner with some swiss guys playing for the Swiss television journal “Carrefour in” 1967. It is just so great to see Buckner in high quality that I had to post it here: