On Don Murray's 114th birthday, I'm wondering...

Joined: March 18th, 2018, 7:37 am

June 7th, 2018, 5:44 am #1

Does anyone have a source for Ted Lewis allegedly saying that Murray was the best clarinetist who ever played with his band?  "Ted Lewis said that Murray was the greatest clarinetist he ever had in his band—high praise indeed since Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman had also been in Lewis's band [and Frank Teschemacher as well--DT]."  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Murray_(clarinetist)  The Wikipedia article does not give a source, and neither do the other sites I have seen which mention this alleged remark.  I do not at all doubt that Lewis had a (deservedly) high opinion of Murray, but again I would like to know specifically where he said Murray was his best clarinetist.
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Joined: March 15th, 2018, 4:43 pm

June 7th, 2018, 4:18 pm #2

I know this quote as well. I think it came from one of the Bix bios. I think I've read 2 or 3; I'm only sure I've read the
J P Lion since that's the most recent, except for that nonsense one "Finding Bix..." which is mostly an essay.  The other I read (some years back) were either the Sudhalter or Evans - or did they combine on one book?  I've also read both of Hoagy's autobiographies (rambling timewise) but feel that is a less likely source.
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Joined: March 15th, 2018, 4:43 pm

June 8th, 2018, 2:58 pm #3

I just thought of another possible source: The Mezz Mezzrow autobiography whose name I can't recall.  He wrote about Bix a lot, mostly with admiration but with also a criticism for his being too European, meaning restrained, disciplined and conscious of structure, in contrast to Black musicians of the time.
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Joined: March 18th, 2018, 7:37 am

June 9th, 2018, 4:23 pm #4

fidinoir wrote: I just thought of another possible source: The Mezz Mezzrow autobiography whose name I can't recall.  He wrote about Bix a lot, mostly with admiration but with also a criticism for his being too European, meaning restrained, disciplined and conscious of structure, in contrast to Black musicians of the time.
That would be Really the Blues (written with Bernard Wolfe) but looking at books.google.com I don't see any references in it to Don Murray and only one (very offhand one) to Ted Lewis. https://books.google.com/books?id=sGA9DwAAQBAJ&pg=PA52
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Joined: March 15th, 2018, 6:05 am

June 29th, 2018, 8:00 am #5

The suggestions here are all incorrect. I am currently tracing the source myself.
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Joined: March 15th, 2018, 4:43 pm

June 29th, 2018, 8:37 pm #6

Since I've already guessed wrong 3 or 4 times, I might as well go for a 5th.  And probably last guess, since this
is (I believe) the final bio on a jazzman that I recall reading - the one on and perhaps also written by Frank Trumbauer.
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Joined: March 15th, 2018, 6:05 am

June 29th, 2018, 9:20 pm #7

Nope. Trumbauer was not a fan of Murray though he protested he had nothing against him. He fell just short of proclaiming such assumptions as "fake news".

The book contained excerpts of Trumbauer's writing.
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Joined: March 15th, 2018, 6:05 am

June 30th, 2018, 6:09 am #8

Here's what I suspect. There may be no contemporary documented source for that appraisal of Murray by Ted Lewis. As far as I can determine, it first appeared in the original Wikipedia Don Murray entry in 2003. The Wikipedia author is known as Infrogmation.

Infrogmation, a native of New Orleans, is now a Wikipedia sysop and an Admin and refers to founder Jimmy Wales as Jimbo. I've attempted to pry loose a source for that Lewis/Murray appraisal but Infrogmation has thus far not cooperated. He is now more closely attached to Wikipedia Commons.

If Infrogmation does respond to me, he may not have written documentation. Others who've used that comment attributed to Lewis most likely got it from Wikipedia. I am close to ashamed to tell you how much I have researched Don Murray - and have not found that statement in print anywhere pre-Wikipedia.

This doesn't mean Lewis didn't verbally offer something like that appraisal to, say, Murray's grieving family. Murray was the first talented jazz clarinetist in Lewis's band in its jazz heyday. Lewis had to have been impressed by his work - and hadn't yet employed Tesch, Dorsey or Goodman. Still, proclaiming Murray as "the best" is such high praise that it seems unlikely it would have later gotten lost if Lewis had said that in an interview that has managed to escape me. To which I'd add that Lewis didn't tend to mention by name any of his musicians in interviews during or reflecting on that era. He'd later talk about Sophie Tucker or Snowball or something else deliberately attention getting.

Purely as theory: It's possible that Lewis felt well-disposed towards Murray for personal reasons. First, the shock of Murray's mysterious sudden death. And secondly, the two seem to have gotten along. Murray was well-liked within the band and seems to have enjoyed himself and his colleagues. Also, there's no indication that Murray indulged in the mockery of Lewis that's been attributed to Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey.  So Lewis may have felt positively about Murray for reasons beyond the solely technical. But again, this is purely my theory which I am offering in default of certainty.

If I learn something more definite, I'll let you know.
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Joined: March 15th, 2018, 6:05 am

June 30th, 2018, 7:12 am #9

Speak of the devil. Infrogmation has just answered me! He doesn't recall the source but thinks it may have been an interview with Ted Lewis conducted by Richard B. Allen in the Hogan Jazz Archive. I've listened to or read transcripts of those oral histories available online. Unfortunately, there's no transcription of the Ted Lewis interview online. The archive has a cassette and a digest. I will pursue this Monday, hoping they're not taking off the entire week for the July 4th holiday.

To be continued!
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Joined: March 15th, 2018, 6:05 am

July 30th, 2018, 11:40 pm #10

Feeling rather bitter. After research, negotiation, and the very kind help and intercession of the Hogan Jazz Archive, I now have the rough transcript of the Ted Lewis interview. They're still attempting to locate the original cassette. The interviewer was not Richard B. Allen but someone who was never identified. The interview took place in Las Vegas, apparently in 1970.

Unless the cassette differed dramatically from the rough draft of the transcript, Ted Lewis does NOT say Don Murray was the greatest clarinetist in his band. Not once does he speak of Don Murray! Among "his" musicians, Ted praises Muggsy Spanier, George Brunies, Harry Raderman and Mannie Klein, "the greatest trumpet player in the world...he had the first Ted Lewis Junior Jazz Band when he was a kid." In passing, Ted barely references Dave Klein, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey -- and Tommy Dorsey. A new one to me, shall we say? And slide trombonist Sammy Blank, though Lewis does not refer to having filed a suit against Blank with the musicians union for allegedly appropriating the tag "Is Everybody Happy" in a subsequent act. 

This unhappily reminds me of the three Ted Lewis interviews with James A. Drake that I linked here in April, courtesy of the Mainspring Press blog. The only musical selections included were in Part 2, all specifically highlighted by Mainspring as featuring Don Murray: MAYBE, WHO KNOWS; JUNGLE BLUES; and A JAZZ HOLIDAY. Yet not once in the course of those interviews did Ted mention Murray by name or inference. Just now, I checked and Mainspring appears to have pulled all three Lewis interviews, and the Murray recordings, from its blog.

And so it goes.
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