Cocoanut GroveCocoanut Grove

Cocoanut Grove

Dobbin's Den

October 5, 2005


Jack Lesberg, born in Boston on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1920, died of complications of Alzheimer's disease in the Lillian Booth Actor's Home in Englewood, N.J. on September 17. He began his musical life as a violinist, switching to bass in the late 30s. He survived a fire at the Cocoanut Grove night spot in 1942, a fire that took 492 lives. Moving to NYC the following year, he quickly developed a reputation as a first-class bassist and in the mid-to-late 40s played in the New York Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Bernstein. In the early 70s he appeared with the Sydney Symphony in Australia. During the latter part of his life he lived on Roosevelt Island, working steadily until just recently. His first record date was in 1944 with Eddie Condon and what's been called his last noteworthy appearance occurred in March 2003 at "Mat Domber's March of Jazz" in Clearwater, Florida. Lesberg was one of the most prolific bassists in the history of recorded jazz. In the Tom Lord Discography, Jack Lesberg is listed on 274 sessions, Milt Hinton appears on 1168, Ray Brown on 830, Red Mitchell on 509 (but he plays piano or sings on a number of these), Oscar Pettiford 391, Paul Chambers 331, Pops Foster 328, Percy Heath 304, Charles Mingus 223, Arvell Shaw, 197, Slam Stewart 175 and Gary Peacock 140. Two hundred, seventy-four sessions in 55 years, quite an archivement and (as you will note below) what a list of players involved!



On September 16, 1944, Jack recorded with an All-Star Eddie Condon band at Town Hall along with Pee Wee Russell, Miff Mole, Muggsy Spanier and Gene Krupa. October 7th saw the first of a series of Condon recordings from "The Ritz Theater" and Max Kaminsky, Ed Hall, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Cozy Cole and singer Lee Wiley were on the initial release. One done on December 2nd had Bobby Hackett, Jack and Norma Teagarden, Jimmy Sherman and Cliff Jackson on board, and on New Year's Eve, he did a Sarah Vaughan session that included Dizzy Gillespie, Aaron Sachs, Georgie Auld and Chuck Wayne. 1945 saw a number of Condon sessions with musicians like Dick Cary, Sidney Bechet, Jess Stacy and Billy Butterfield. On April he did a V Disc session with Jo Stafford that included Boomie Richman. May 7th found Jack in the studio with Harry "The Hipster" Gibson and 11 days later he did a session with Art Hodes' "Hot 7". A Commodore session with Wild Bill Davison followed on September 19. In 1946 he did another session with Davison that included George Brunis and Dave Tough followed by a session with that drummer as leader with trumpeter Joe Thomas, Ted Nash (the uncle of the younger tenorman) and Bernie Leighton. Jack was in LA to do a session with Brad Gowans in April, one that had Billy Butterfield on trumpet. Back in NYC on May 7th, he did a session with singer Stella Brooks that had Sidney Bechet and Joe Sullivan. His first in a series of sessions with the Benny Goodman big band took place on July 18 and Art Lund and Louis Bellson were part of the band that day. 1947 began with a Jack Teagarden session for RCA Victor session with Tough and Chuck Wayne. Three sessions with Peanuts Hucko followed and, on June 19, he did his first recording with the Louis Armstrong All-Stars, a broadcast with Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden and guest Big Sid Catlett. On December 10 and 11, he recorded for RCA with Coleman Hawkins with people like Hank Jones, Wayne and Max Roach and, on the second day, Fats Navarro, J.J. Johnson and Budd Johnson. In October 1948 there was a Raymond Scott date with Louis Mucci on trumpet and in 1949 there was a Condon broadcast with Lee Wiley. In March, there was a Teddy Wilson Trio date with Buddy Rich on drums, followed by sessions with Ruth Brown including Catlett, Hackett and Will Bradley, a Sarah Vaughan Columbia session with Jimmy Jones that included "Just Friends," and an August Condon broadcast that had Billie Holiday, "Hot Lips" Page and Horace Henderson. The September Louis Armstrong session that produced "Lucky Old Sun" and "Blueberry Hill" was followed by another Decca session, Billie Holiday's October 19th session that included "Crazy He Calls Me" and "You're My Thrill".

The 1950s

The decade began with a wonderful Columbia session by pianist Bernie Leighton. In February, Jack was on "If I Knew You Were Coming I'd Of Baked A Cake" by Georgia Gibbs, with Munn Ware, Kansas Fields and Max Kaminsky, followed in April by a session with Tommy Dorsey's "Clambake 7" with Hucko, Hackett and drummer Buzzy Drootin. Then he did a session with Bechet's "New Orleans Footwarmers" for Commodore. In July he was on "A Tribute To Fats," a Waller tribute by Ralph Sutton with George Wettling. In September it was the Ray McKinley big band that included Sonny Salad and Mundell Lowe. An oddity from November was a session with Tallulah Bankhead that included both Joe Bushkin and Stan Getz. In 1951 there was a Kai Winding session with vocalist Melvin Moore and the great Warne Marsh followed by another Winding session in May that included Brew Moore and Don Lamond. That famous "Diz and Bird" video clip with Jack, Dick Hyman and Charlie Smith was recorded in early 1952. Then, some sessions with Peggy Lee under Gordon Jenkins' direction with Leighton on piano including "Be Anything (But Be Mine)", "You Go To My Head" and the famed version of "Lover." The year ended with a Buddy Morrow big band date and a Birdland "Hot vs. Cool" set with Jimmy McPartland and Vic Dickenson. In 1953 there was "Bunny Hop" with Leo Anthony and a Bud Freeman session with George Barnes and Don Lamond. In May 1954, Lesberg did a session with Billy Butterfield and singer Sylvia Syms. 1955 saw the recording of "Annotation of the Muses" by Johnny Richards, a suite in three parts that included Joe Wilder and Johnny Smith. In June there was a session with "Little" Jimmy Scott that included Sal Salvador. In 1956 there was another RCA set with "Bean" where they did a remake of "Body and Soul" with Hank Jones and Osie Johnson. In July there was an Urbie Green ABC Paramount date with John Carisi, Joe Wilder, Al Cohn, Bill Barber and Dave McKenna followed a Tom Talbert date for Atlantic in August with vocalist Patty McGovern. In the fall of 1957 he did "Jazz Ultimate" a session co-led by Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden, in October and November there were live sessions with Earl Hines in London and Paris. 1958 brought sessions by Billy Butterfield and by Teagarden and the following year there was a Goodman broadcast from Freedom Land which included Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Andre Previn and Lionel Hampton.

The 1960s

In 1961 Jack Lesberg recorded with the "Jazz Renaissance Quartet," Hank D'Amico, George Barnes and Cliff Leeman as well as some Barnes sessions that included Al Cohn, Eddie Costa, Clark Terry and Ed Shaughnessy and, in September, more "Goodman from Freedom Land" including Hank Jones and Frank Rehak as well as vocalist Lynn Roberts. In January 1962 there was a Jackie Paris session for Impulse and 1963 brought "Blue Rabbit," a Johnny Hodges Verve session with Kenny Burrell on guitar and (20 years later) in 1964 Jack was still returning to sessions by Eddie Condon -- the locales were Australia and Japan and Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Buck Clayton and Vic Dickenson were on those sessions. The 1966 Newport Jazz Festival All-Stars including Gerry Mulligan, Ruby Braff, Freeman, Buddy Rich and George Wein recorded on July 1 and a similar band with Pee Wee and Don Lamond was recorded in Mexico in May of 1967, a year when Jack again recorded with Goodman in a big band that included Gene Bertoncini and an edition of the Newport All-Stars was recorded in London and Jack was also involved in "Guitar Workshop" sessions recorded in Berlin with string players such as Barney Kessel and Elmer Snowden.

The 1970s

Beginning in 1969 Lesberg did a number of Bobby Hackett sessions from the Roosevelt Grill in NYC that included Vic Dickenson, Dave McKenna and Cliff Leeman. On December in Meriden, Ct. (where I spent many a summer vacation) Jack recorded a festival session with Wild Bill Davison, Lou McGarity and Leeman. In April 1971 there was a Kenny Davern session in Syracuse with Dill Jones on piano. In 1973, in Australia, Lesberg did his first session as a leader, one that featured Bob Barnard and on October 18, 1977 Jack did a sextet session in LA with Dick Cary, Bob Enevoldsen and Eddie Miller. In 1979 Jack was in a George Masso group recorded at "Eddie Condon's" with Lou Stein on piano and later there was a Ralph Sutton-Ruby Braff Quartet with Gus Johnson on drums.

The 1980s

In early 1981 Jack recorded in Bern, Switzerland with Wild Bill Davison -- Barrett Deems was on drums. In March there was a live duo session from Hanratty's with Ralph Sutton. In June he was in Wayzata, Minnesota quartet session by the Hucko-Sutton 4 with Cliff Leeman and in October it was a date in Stockholm with Davison that had Buzzy Drootin, drums. In '83 Jack was recorded in Menlo Park, Ca. with Jim Galloway, Kenny Davern, Jack McShann and drummer Butch Miles. In April 1986 it was back to Bern for a session with Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman and Jake Hanna. A Tribute to Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman was recorded in July in Monster, Holland with Al Grey, Randy Sandke and John Bunch and in October Lesberg recorded at sea on the SS Norway with Warren Vache, Eddie Higgins and Mel Lewis followed by Vache studio session with Dan Barrett and Howard Alden. In June of '87, with Barrett as leader, there was a session with Ken Peplowski, Dick Wellstood and Jackie Williams and 1988 brought a great duo session "No Amps Allowed" with Alden and then a Flip Phillips and Dick Hyman session plus "Me Myself and I" and "Bravura Eloquence" under Ruby Braff's name.

The 1990s

In 1991 there was a session with cornetist Ed Polcer that had Alan Vache, Martz Grosz and Johnny Varro followed by a session in Raleigh, N.C. with Randy Sandke, Sutton and Jake Hanna. "New Yorkers," a Sandke group with Mark Shane and Dave Ratajczak, was recorded in 1992 while there were a number of sessions in St. Petersburg, Fla. in 1994 with musicians like Flip Phillips, George Masso, Bucky Pizzarelli, Jake Hanna and George Van Eps. Lesberg recorded with Ralph Sutton's All-Stars in Hamburg, Germany in 1997, and in September 1999 there was a NY jam session recording with Wycliffe Gordon, Mark Shane and Jackie Williams.

The only time I was to hear this widely appreciated bassist live was at the initial Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island in 1954 where he appeared with a Condon group made up of Davison, McGarity, Hucko, Sutton and Leeman that opened the event.

© Len Dobbin 2005
Montreal, Quebec, Canada