[Dixielandjazz] Bozy White

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Apr 17 17:02:26 PDT 2004

Sheik mentioned the death of Bozy White. Mr. White should be known by
all fans of Bunny Berrigan and folks like Bill Haesler. Bozy was THE
authority on Berrigan. He was last seen leaving his house in the company
of a woman, a coiuple of months ago. Hmmm. Here's a note on it.

Steve Barbone

Farewell Blues for Bozy White

A while ago you may recall on this blog I mentioned that 78-yeard old
jazz historian Bozy White had been missing since February. This evening
I learned the painful and tragic outcome of this through a letter I got
from one of Bozy's friends:

Uncle Dave Lewis -

I am a former neighbor of Bozy White. Bozy has been missing since
February and we've all been very concerned. We have just learned that
his body was discovered in his basement and people to whom he had let
rooms have been arrested. I was not sure if you were aware of this -
sorry for the sad news if you are hearing it for the first time. We are
all grieving the loss of this interesting man.

(I have withheld the name of the writer.)

So there's the word. Believe me, I sincerly feel for anyone who'd
considered Bozy a friend. I didn't know him that well, and this is
terribly sad even unto myself. Word has it that the louts who killed him
were selling off his stuff for quick cash as well. I'd imagine Bozy
White's house in Oakland would've been like a g_ddamn museum - hopefully
the police have sealed it off by now.

Bozy wrote a book on Bunny Berigan that is the state of the art text on
this player. Bozy truly was the ultimate authority on Berigan - he could
tell you what Bunny had for breakfast on April 26, 1941. The discography
in the back of the book was deliberately sketchy, as Bozy was writing
that as a separate work. Unless you have had some deep contact with
Berigan, you'd have no idea how unbelievably prolific he was as a
recording artist, not only in the many studio recordings made under his
own name, but those made with other leaders (like Benny Goodman), radio
recordings, you name it. Bozy's discography was recently finished and as
this is written is in the galleys at the publisher, ready to be printed,
although it looks like now Bozy won't be able to correct the proofs
himself. What a pity!

Bozy took me to task once in a major way. Like my late friend Frank
Powers, who was much closer to Bozy than I, he didn't like anything that
smelled like "bullsh*t." When I was working in the Raymond Scott
collection at the Marr in Kansas City in 1998, I happened to meet a
fellow who was working on a book about Joe Venuti. I pointed out that a
1934 radio transcription of Raymond Scott's group The Instrumentalists
had a fiddle solo which I thought might be Joe. We gave it a spin, and
the author couldn't rule Joe out as he could place Joe in New York in
September-October 1934 when the recording was made, though by November
Joe was on board ship headed for Paris.

A couple weeks later I get a really ANGRY email -- from Bozy White.
Where did I get off saying the violin on this Raymond Scott record was
Joe Venuti? What's my evidence? Am I out of my mind? etc. I wrote him
back and told him that to me it did sound like Joe, owing to some
mannerisms that are familiar from Blue Four recordings like "Running
Ragged" for example.

Well, about a month later I get another letter from Bozy, the tone of
which was completely different. He had heard the recording and a
similar, second one of the same piece ("Here Comes the King," by the
way). He'd identified the trumpet as Bunny Berigan, whom I had missed
identifying anyway - "very good Berigan, and good violin, though
not-in-a-million-years Joe Venuti..." Bozy did thank me, however for the
tip, however indirect, on these Berigan recordings with Scott, which he
had not heard and could not have imagined

Frank, who was highly amused by the whole affair, suggested that perhaps
Scott's violinist was a fellow named Bruce Yantis, a little-known hot
player who appears in some early Vitaphone jazz shorts. I still don't
know that anyone has really nailed down who the violinist is, and as the
Instrumentalists' output is not addressed on the recent Scott re-issue
"Microphone Music" even the folks at Basta have yet to weigh in on it.
I'm wrong, I guess - but it still sounds to me like Joe Venuti.
Nonetheless I was happy to help introduce Bozy to the seven great 1934
and 1935 Bunny Berigan recordings in the Raymond Scott collection.
Berigan, playing with Scott, sounds like a 1930s version of Don Cherry,
swingin' in the stratosphere, full of wild notes, shouts, exclamations,
sounds for effect, tootin' thru the roof....

Bozy interviewed guys like Saxie Dowell and Gus Mayhew - crazy cats who
played in the Hal Kemp band along with Berigan. Both were heavy drinkers
who died in the 1950s. And somehow Bozy got to them, collected their
stories before they croaked. No one in the 'fifties gave a tinker's dam
about these players, but they'd played with Bunny and that was all that
mattered to Bozy.

Bozy didn't share my views on the Kemp band. My feeling has been that
they were the absolute greatest of the so-called "Sweet bands," the one
group that really mastered the soft-focus approach to Big Band jazz
without making it sound corny. Bozy felt that Kemp's group was a "funny
hat band" that eventually turned into a "mickey mouse" ensemble. But I
never needed Bozy to like what I like - after all, I wasn't there and
know everything in this period from recordings, so my outlook is bound
to be different.

Mike Montgomery said after Frank passed, "You know the terrible thing
about when these guys go is that you can't ask questions of them
anymore." And when an old-timer goes like Bozy did, stuffed into a
corner of his basement, his precious artifacts going out the door and
into some pawnshop, that really hurts. That someone could be so stupid
and heartless to disperse and scatter the things that can help to answer
some of those questions in the wake of the loss of a major historian is
to take away something of value to each and every one of us, our
children and our children's children. May the California courts throw
the book at these

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