Strictly a Musician: Dick Cary -- A Biography and Discography

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9780615538679: Strictly a Musician: Dick Cary -- A Biography and Discography
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Dick Cary was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1916 and became a sought-after performer and arranger in the jazz world of New York City, especially in the 1940s and '50s. He reached the very pinnacle of jazz as the pianist in the Louis Armstrong All Stars beginning in 1947. Among the marvelous musicians who created jazz in its early decades, Cary was extraordinary in several ways -- and absolutely unique in one: he was the only one who kept a diary. And not just any diary, but a highly literate series of detailed diaries covering a span of over 60 years of a life in jazz.

In "Strictly A Musician," Derek Coller reveals a vivid picture of a working jazz musician by combining the details of Cary's daily life with Cary's own personal thoughts as articulated in his diaries. The portrait is highlighted by hundreds of heretofore unknown details about an important era in jazz.

Although not a household name, Dick Cary has come to be recognized as one of the greatest jazz musicians of his age. He was a pianist, trumpeter, alto-horn player, composer and arranger. Besides his association with Louis Armstrong, Cary is admired as the multi-instrumentalist member (and chief arranger for) trumpeter Bobby Hackett's jazz band during its heyday. Cary was also in the inner circle of elite musicians who helped bring guitarist Eddie Condon to fame.

Derek Coller's work colorfully illustrates a great jazzman's life: the glamorless drudgery of uninspiring gigs, the thrill of performing for huge audiences, the all-too-frequent misery of dealing with the inconsistency, pettiness and incompetence of colleagues, and the ultimate reward -- creating and recording improvised musical art alongside the world's greatest musicians.

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About the Author:

Derek Coller is a veteran jazz journalist and researcher who has covered the fields of traditional and mainstream jazz for over 60 years. His writings are frequently published in the Journal of the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors and he has won the Journal's Annual Award for Best Article three times.

Mr. Coller's interest in jazz goes back to 1942 when he was still a teenager. In 1947, he published the short-lived S.E.A.C Jazz News. Then in 1948, after Army service, he founded the Discophile Magazine which he edited for 11 years. Subsequently, he authored articles for such jazz periodicals as Jazz Music, Vintage Jazz Mart, R&B Panorama, Footnote, New Orleans Music, The Mississippi Rag and Storyville Magazine. Coller has also contributed discographies to the magazine publications Matrix and Blues Unlimited. His previous full-length books include biographies of jazz artists Jess Stacy and Tony Parenti.

In recent years, Derek Coller has covered individual musicians, recordings and jazz festivals for jazz publications worldwide. He lives in Wokingham, Berkshire, England.

Review:

Strictly A Musician: Dick Cary

by Derek Coller

Dick Cary (1916-1994) may not be one of the best-known names in jazz, but his career intersected with a number of greats in 20th Century jazz music. Likely his best-known work was as the first pianist with Louis Armstrong's All Stars, and as a frequent member of Eddie Condon's various bands and those of his associates. A multi-instrumentalist (piano, trumpet and alto-horn were his primary instruments), Cary was also an excellent arranger and songwriter.

This book is an interesting read for a number of reasons. First, since much of the material came from Cary's own diaries, there is a lot of anecdotal information about the musicians Cary knew and worked with. This material was supplemented by interviews with Cary and with information from musicians who worked with him -- in the New York area until 1959, when he moved to Los Angeles and where he lived until his death.

Cary sheds light on much that went on behind-the-scenes in the music world, and new information is presented about a number of his colleagues -- including his experience working with Louis Armstrong. At times Cary's assessments are terse and he pulls no punches -- with others and himself.

One of the best lines from the book, from an interview, is this about playing in Wild Bill Davison's band at Nick's in New York: "When it jells on the right thing and you're playing well, everybody at the same time, something happens. It's a feeling I never got from anything else in my life. If that happens once in those seven hours, or maybe twice, it's wonderful. I can't explain what it is. Everything is flowing and it's the greatest thrill I've ever had."

Another classic snipped is this: "That horrible word Dixieland -- it just kills your career -- that's if you want to do any studio or any other kind of (music) work. Eddie Condon hated that word and so did everybody else. Imagine calling Billy Butterfield or Bobby Hackett Dixieland trumpet players. It's an insult."

This is quite likely the best, most comprehensive jazz biography I've read. Although it gets a bit tedious at times with the wealth of gig information, it more than makes up for that by the insight into a difficult business, that wasn t any easier in the "good old days" than it is today.

Coller has included photos, a comprehensive discography, and five appendices with additional information -- from a survey of Cary's recordings to opinions on colleagues. This is a must-have volume for those interested in getting a perspective on the jazz scene in the United States from the late-1920s to the 1990s.

Chris Tyle --Just Jazz Magazine, June 2012

Strictly A Musician: Dick Cary

by Derek Coller

Derek Coller is admired internationally for his writing and research on pre-bop jazz over the past 60 years and recently for his acclaimed books on Jess Stacy and Tony Parenti. His latest opus is one of the most exhaustingly detailed and insightful accounts of the working life of a jazz musician. We learn of the triumphs and disappointments, the struggle to make a living as an artist in a mostly hostile environment, problems with relationships, drink and declining health and the compensation derived from creative activity.

Dick Cary (1916-1994) was a schooled multi-instrumentalist, concentrating mainly on piano, alto-horn and trumpet, and a prolific composer-arranger. He played jazz whenever he could, supplemented by the economic necessity to write and play for commercial sessions, advertising jingles and country dance music. He was closely involved with the Eddie Condon crowd during his early career in NYC and with the circle of former Bob Crosby players when he relocated to the West Coast. He had wide tastes in jazz and always resented being stuck with the Dixieland label which restricted his opportunitie --Jazzology Newsletter, October 2012

Strictly A Musician: Dick Cary

by Derek Coller

Derek Coller is admired internationally for his writing and research on pre-bop jazz over the past 60 years and recently for his acclaimed books on Jess Stacy and Tony Parenti. His latest opus is one of the most exhaustingly detailed and insightful accounts of the working life of a jazz musician. We learn of the triumphs and disappointments, the struggle to make a living as an artist in a mostly hostile environment, problems with relationships, drink and declining health and the compensation derived from creative activity.

Dick Cary (1916-1994) was a schooled multi-instrumentalist, concentrating mainly on piano, alto-horn and trumpet, and a prolific composer-arranger. He played jazz whenever he could, supplemented by the economic necessity to write and play for commercial sessions, advertising jingles and country dance music. He was closely involved with the Eddie Condon crowd during his early career in NYC and with the circle of former Bob Crosby players when he relocated to the West Coast. He had wide tastes in jazz and always resented being stuck with the Dixieland label which restricted his opportunities for more challenging musical experiences.

There were short periods of career prominence (with the first Louis Armstrong All Stars, Bobby Hackett's Hudson Hotel Band, the World's Greatest Jazz Band and latterly headlining on foreign tours) but he found his most enduring satisfaction from his leadership of various rehearsal ensembles.

The book is so richly detailed because Derek had access to the diaries which Cary maintained throughout most of his career. They list his engagements, his fellow musician and how much (or little) he was paid and more unusually his acute and articulate observations on the scene -- his heroes and villains, his frustrations and hope and much more. This give an intimate account of what it is like to be a struggling jazz musician to an extent rarely encountered elsewhere in the literature.

The biography has 24 chronological Chapters with a wealth of factual information enlivened by Cary's immediate impressions of the events and Derek's contextual comments. The thoroughly researched discography has all the necessary information on Cary's half-century of recording activity and benefits from the inclusion of many session only known about from the diaries.

There are supplementary sections on the country music recordings, Cary's compositions and arrangements and separate indexes of names for the biography and discography. The book is illustrated with photographs (often from the Cary Archive) and interesting label shots.

Bob Weir --Jazz Journal, 2012

Strictly A Musician: Dick Cary

by Derek Coller

This is an amazingly detailed biography of a musician with a long career both in the Northeast and in California. Derek Coller, an English jazz journalist responsible for our Tony Parenti and Jess Stacy books, was handed what must have been both a blessing and a curse: Dick Cary was an inveterate diarist, jotting down a note or two every day for fifty years -- his private thoughts, notes about his various gigs or lack thereof, and observations on politics.

Cary was a multi-instrumentalist -- he worked professionally on almost all instruments at one time or another, but mainly performed as a trumpeter, pianist and alto horn player, one of perhaps two known jazz alto hornists. In addition he was a dynamite arranger, credited with thousands of arrangements over his career. He was not, however, given to long-term relationships -- other than six months with the Louis Armstrong original All-Stars and over a year with Bobby Hackett's Henry Hudson Band, he just played spot jobs. His longest-term group was his rehearsal band, which met weekly for over thirty years, playing his charts for their own enlightenment.

It's fascinating to get his perspective on the jazz greats he worked with -- he had no use for Ruby Braff, Art Hodes, and Yank Lawson, liked Wild Bill Davison most of the time, and really liked Bobby Hackett, Bud Freeman, and the Condonites with more open outlooks. He comes across as a modernist trapped in a traditionalist s body. Thankfully he's dead as there are a few comments that could invite litigation or threats of bodily harm from the recipients.

Derek Coller has done a great job organizing a wealth of information into a coherent narrative. Almost everyone who played jazz over the last fifty years is mentioned, and it provides a great insight into the daily life of a jazz musician. An excellent read!

Paige Van Vorst --Jazzology Newsletter, October 2012

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