Fond memories of Vileda mops and the jazz band that never existed

Vileda mops speak to me. Nothing inanimate other than Vileda mops speaks to me or makes me relive difficult times. But every time I see the Vileda brand in the supermarket, it brings me back to when, on my way home from school, my mother sat me down at the kitchen table with a sheet of paper on top of which she wrote: “I love my Vileda fabric because…”.

My mission, whether I accept it or not, was to finish that first sentence in no more than 15 words in order to win a contest.

Since I had no special relationship with housekeeping, other than generating the need for it, I hated this task and asked in vain why my clever sister didn’t do it, especially since she was naturally cleaner than me. , although it was not difficult . A disturbed skunk would be cleaner than me.

The crisp answer given by my mother was that my sister was good with facts and data, but I was creative. You might think my sister would be offended to be portrayed as a math savant, but not by her smirk. I had to produce 10 affirmations of undying love for Vileda clothing before I could resume my own life.

It was part of the phase of my mother’s life when she strove to win every contest that offered something, even though winning filled our storeroom with prizes no one would have died with.

The same goes for competitions at school. In a year, I gained a fortnight at the Gaeltacht and a week at the Butlins holiday camp.

The prospect of being sent to the Gaeltacht terrified me so much that my mother negotiated with the organizers and got money instead. After the week at Butlins, my father muttered that my mother had better get away with it too, but I didn’t know why, since all the meals included chips and custard. In separate courses.

Generally, however, the awards I’ve won for being a mother-driven overachiever have been pretty soft, with the one exception of an LP awarded in an essay contest.

My sister owned the record player and considered any LP other than Flight of the Valkyries (when she was in a bad mood, which was not uncommon) or Pat Boone (when she was in a good mood) like was not worth a needle. I produced the LP for its inaugural release and we all judged.

Even my sister thought it was awfully good, even though we had never heard of the jazz band involved, called The Left-Bank Bearcats.

The Left Bank Bearcats, according to the liner notes, were Parisian musicians who took an American-origin jazz form and owned it for La France. None of the young male musicians, the writer explained, had had any formal musical training, with the exception of Marcel Durand.

Marcel was offered in the reverential tones you would expect if it were King Oliver or Satchmo. He was the trombonist and led the Bearcats as they played in cool cafes and bistros in Montmartre.

The album was recorded at the Maison Diabolique, ‘after hours’. We guessed we’d never heard of the Evil House because we weren’t cosmopolitan and also had to spend a lot of time writing love letters to Vileda washcloths, but the idea of ​​recording “after hours” had an illicit and possibly illegal flavor. at the LP.

The large cover did not carry any photographs of the players. Just a Growing-up-on-Fry illustration of standing bears playing instruments, each standing on a tilted letter from the band’s trademark.

It was like being knighted or visited by an archangel, our family relationship with the Bearcats. Because we knew jazz, we knew these guys were good. Because we had never been to Paris, it was something to see in the future, like the Eiffel Tower. And because no one else had ever heard of them, we felt very special, to the point of being unbearable.

Except that we were coded up to the two eyes, all of us.

They never existed, these talented young French people (one of whom would be a former ocean liner sailor) who adopted and developed the jazz of their time. My dear friend, Marcel Durand, was actually a trombonist from Philadelphia by the name of Al Leopold, and there is no support for the idea that he or his fellow musicians from Philadelphia ever approached a Parisian café.

The recordings were undoubtedly made clandestinely, but they were made in Philadelphia, using well-established jazz musicians of the day. They played with musical standards as jazz musicians do when they come together, notably infusing the liveliness of George M Cohan’s compositions.

They had fun making these recordings in secret, and that fun is evident in every groove. The first album sold well and spawned two more.

The Left Bank Bearcats created a minor cult following, with people flattering themselves that this French group was among the most interesting jazz works of the time.

One fan even told Al Leopold that he, the fan, attended one of the Bearcats performances in Paris and was blown away. Leopold did not destroy the fan’s illusion by revealing the identity of the real Marcel Durand.

It was not, however, a complete secret. Other Philadelphia musicians, while listening to the LPs, picked up aspects of the style unique to musicians they knew and joked them about it, but their suspicions were never confirmed. Over time, the Bearcats became an aspect of jazz history, and when no new album came out of Maison Diabolique, fans like me thought the young Frenchmen were out of their first love affair. music and moved on.

And then, a few years ago, the False Ducks Blahg, which researches bands from the early 20th century, busted the whole Bearcats mythos, right down to featuring audio interviews with Al, the trombonist, AKA Marcel Durand.

My sister, who keeps the family vinyl collection, got upset when I asked her to find my school album recently. She wasn’t sure she ever had it, but she was sure she didn’t now.

I accused her of incompetence or wanting to make a fortune on the web by whipping my price. She told me to get over it. I told her I bet she still has the Pat Boone records and she got even more squirrely, like you would if you were about to be revealed as a lifelong Pat Boone fan.

I purchased a replacement copy online. Anyone seriously interested in jazz could do the same.


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Henry R. Wright