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Re: Sugar Underwood

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  • rag1916
    Brilliant research! You guys are geniuses! Major kudos to Mr. Rye and Mr. Miller for digging up data on this guy. With that kind of technique and musicianship,
    Message 1 of 18 , Apr 1, 2009
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      Brilliant research! You guys are geniuses! Major kudos to Mr. Rye and Mr. Miller for digging up data on this guy. With that kind of technique and musicianship, there is no way this guy was a shoe reparier, so the "Matthew Underwood" listed as a professional musician must be him. I thought that Matthew was an unusual name for a black man, but then again I am no expert in these matters.

      Does he have any surviving relatives?

      One thing's for sure, "Sugar"'s few records reveal him to be a consumate, first-rate musician and a fantastic pianist who probably held his own quite well in the "cutting contests" (in fact, when I first heard the original recording of "...Stomp", my jaw hit the floor and I instantly thought of Art Tatum).

      After reading through books like "They All Played Ragtime" and "Music on My Mind" [Willie the Lion Smith's memoirs], you get a bit jaded with the dozens of pianists' names that get thrown at you which don't mean anything because there are apparently no recordings, piano rolls, or sheet music exisiting by many of said legendary pianists. Or is there? I propose that for those pianists who lived past 1950 and continued playing piano to any extent in that time (for example, Walter "One-Leg Shadow" Gould died in 1959 in upstate New York), we try to locate any surviving relatives, or at least what became of the person's personal memorabilia when they died.

      Usually, this stuff gets thrown out, but you never know what is hiding in a drawer of an old family cabinet, etc. There could be one-of-a-kind home recordings (on 78 or reel-to-reel tape) of the pianist playing, there could be handwritten sheet music, there could be photos or even a scrapbook. All of this stuff is very important no matter how obscure the pianist was, because relatively little of this stuff survives for ANY pianist of the ragtime/early jazz eras.

      I am constantly amazed at how much commercially-issued stuff certain pianists DID manage to leave behind, as a good documentation of their work and musicianship.

      For example, Clarence "Jelly" Johnson was one of the VERY BEST pianists of the 1920's, yet on records he is only present accompanying a few blues singers (perhaps maybe two dozen such accompaniments in all). HOWEVER, he made over 200 piano rolls which, generally with tasteful editing and little embellishment, are an excellent document of his personal and exciting playing.

      We may not see some of the pianists rattled off in Willie's harlem stride lists present on any recording dates, but we do see some equally interesting pianists (whom he fails to mention) recording a few things here and there; such as Fred Longshaw and Everett Robbins.

      Of course, most of the white pianists recorded in droves, and if they didn't record solo, it was with a band and (usually) also on piano roll. Black pianists had a much harder time of it because the studios didn't want to give them the time to record, except if it was "blues" for the "race" label. This is why we stereotype so many fine early musicians as "blues" musicians, because that's all the recording engineers would let them play.

      The flip side of that "Sugar" Underwood record; "Davis Street Blues" is a fantastic recording and reveals many other facets of his musicianship not heard in the more famous number. Still, I'm sure glad the Victor engineers consented to let him record his "stomp", since [to paraphrase Lemuel Fowler]: "That stomp just won't don't, and that's that!"

      -Andrew


      --- In RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com, Howard Rye <howard@...> wrote:
      >
      > on 13/10/05 16:04, Howard Rye at howard@... wrote:
      >
      > > on 2/10/05 11:24, Prof_Hi_Jinx at prof_hi_jinx@... wrote:
      > >
      > >> Sugar Underwood recorded the instrumental "Davis Street Blues" which
      > >> suggests he also came from Jacksonville, because Davis Street is apparently
      > >> one of the streets in the black section, whereas I understand there is none
      > >> of that name in the black section of Savannah.
      > >>
      > >> Underwood is a common name in Jacksonville, but Sugar seems to have been a
      > >> nickname.
      > >>
      > >> He accompanied the Jacksonville Harmony Trio (including Charles Frazier and
      > >> Lester Pratt), including "Jacksonville Blues".
      > >
      > > I was just playing Jazz Oracle's Florida Rhythm set (BDW8011) which includes
      > > all four of the Jacksonville Harmony Trio sides, and noted that note writer
      > > Mark Miller (a very good researcher indeed) has located a Matthew Underwood,
      > > black, musician, in a 1927 Jacksonville City Directory. I agree him that
      > > Matthew is a pretty good candidate for Sugar Underwood and would make a good
      > > starting point for further research.
      > >
      > >
      > And indeed can be found in the 1930 census at 625 and a half West Ashley,
      > Jacksonville, aged 31, described as Musician, Club. He was born in Florida,
      > both parents in Georgia. Wife Lottie, 37, is a cook in a restaurant.
      >
      > Short of absolute proof, but better than much of what is in discographies!
      >
      > Howard Rye, 20 Coppermill Lane, London, England, E17 7HB
      > howard@...
      > Tel/FAX: +44 20 8521 1098
      >
    • ROBERT R. CALDER
      I ve wondered about Sugar Underwood since I first heard Dew Drop Alley Stomp during my schooldays. Delighted to read the information and approve the wise
      Message 2 of 18 , Oct 23, 2010
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        I've wondered about Sugar Underwood since I first heard Dew Drop Alley Stomp
        during my schooldays.
        Delighted to read the information and approve the wise comments!

        All the very best to the Ragtime professor of Professors!#

        Robert R. Calder
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