"Eddie Condon: Renaissance Man of Jazz" This Week on Riverwalk Jazz


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This week, Riverwalk Jazz presents Eddie Condon: Renaissance Man of Jazz. A fast-talking, wisecracking Midwesterner, Condon epitomized Chicago Jazz.

The show is distributed in the US by Public Radio International, on Sirius/XM Sattelite Radio and streamed worldwide from the Riverwalk Jazz website.

Joining us this week is photographer, author and record producer Hank O'Neal, who collaborated on Eddie Condon's Scrapbook of Jazz. Also, daughter Maggie Condon shares her wealth of memories. She paints this picture of her father at the height of his career:

“A couple facts about Eddie: he didn't own a watch; he never did, never carried a wallet and had absolutely no ID on him wherever he went. When he went to Toots Shoors, or to any bar in NYC in the '40s and '50s they knew who he was. Inside his Cavanaugh (hat) his name was inscribed in the hat band— Eddie Condon. He'd order a couple of drinks, he'd take his hat off, he'd show it to the bartender and that was it, he was good to go. His hat was his ID. That's what it was like for Eddie in New York in the heyday."

Condon was a guitarist, bandleader, nightclub owner, author and first-rate wit. He won the Down Beat poll for “Best Jazz Guitar" in both 1943 and '44. When he passed away at age 67 in 1973, Condon left a rich legacy in his extensive catalogue of recorded music, and in his jazz lore collected in his autobiography, We Called It Music.

Albert “Eddie" Condon was born in 1905 in Goodland, Indiana. Based in Chicago for much of the 1920s, he played banjo with the Austin High Gang—Jimmy McPartland, Gene Krupa and Frank Frank Teschemacher. Condon switched to guitar and moved to New York in 1929, where he worked with Red Nichols' Five Pennies and Red McKenzie's Mound City Blue Blowers.

Throughout the '30s, Condon organized and contracted musicians for New York recording sessions. Many were racially mixed—a rarity at the time. Record collectors prize the incomparable 1932 Rhythmakers sessions with Henry "Red" Allen, Zutty Singleton, Pee Wee Russell, Fats Waller and Joe Sullivan, among others.

Hank O'Neal says:

“From the time Eddie Condon arrived in New York at the age of 22 on the eve of the Great Depression, he was a guy who could get things done. He always had tremendous energy. He talked fast and moved fast and jumped at every opportunity to put bands together and make records. And, Eddie couldn't care less whether a musician was black or white."

In the late '30s and early '40s, Eddie Condon led recording sessions for Milt Gablerr's Commodore label, had a nightly gig at Nick's in the Village, and then produced a stellar series of live sessions at Town Hall for broadcast weekly on national radio. In the process, Eddie Condon became a star of the Manhattan jazz scene.

Condon opened his first nightclub in 1945 on West Third in the Village. Simply called Condon's, the club featured legendary soloists of the era—Bobby Hackett, "Wild Bill" Davison, Pee Wee Russell, Edmond Hall Peanuts Hucko, Bob Wilber, Bud Freeman, Ralph Sutton, and a host of others.

To this day, to describe a jazz band as playing “in the style of Eddie Condon" means that the band has a guitar and string bass in the rhythm section, and that it plays in a swinging 4/4 rhythm more closely related to a swing band than to a traditional New Orleans ensemble with banjo and tuba playing in 2/4. The “Condon Style" is synonymous with “Chicago Style," and Condon's nightclub was at the heart of that scene.

Hank O'Neal says about Condon's nightclub:

..."it was a cauldron where wonderful people came together on a nightly basis. Not only the customers but the musicians came there. If you look at the photographs and the scrapbook that Eddie and I did all those years ago it was a Who's Who of movie stars and writers and painters and musicians. And it wasn't just jazz musicians, it was pop musicians, it was classical musicians. It was as famous as the Stork Club was uptown... Eddie wanted to make people feel good with his music and I think he succeeded admirably."

When Maggie was asked by host David Holt how her famous father would like to be remembered, she replied:

“I think Eddie's small band was like a democracy. Every player was equal. Every player had a unique voice that they expressed when they took their solos—except Dad—who never took a solo. He was the spark plug. I think that's how he thought of himself. It was a different band when he was there and when he wasn't. Everyone was equal in the band. There was no 'leader.' He thought of himself as one of the guys. I think that's how he'd like to be remembered. And the music. He lived for the music. That was probably number one."

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