IVIE’S BLUES: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, PAOLO ALDERIGHI at MONTEREY (March 9, 2014)

Ivie Anderson was a memorable singer whose records with the Duke Ellington Orchestra between 1932-42 resonate in my mind. She’s not immediately known by many jazz fans, which is a pity. But our Becky knows and loves Ivie’s music deeply and well.

Here is a gritty sad blues, ROCKS IN MY BED, from Becky Kilgore’s heartfelt tribute to Ivie and the Duke — with delicious playing from Dan Barrett, trombone, and Paolo Alderighi, piano. This performance comes from JazzAge Monterey’s Jazz Bash by the Bay, on March 9, 2014:

“Underloved, overfed.”

May your happiness increase!

LINGER AWHILE: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS at SAN DIEGO (November 30, 2013)

Living in New York, twenty and more years ago, I had heard Ray Skjelbred in a variety of contexts: with Berkeley Rhythm, with Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers featuring Bobby Gordon and Rebecca Kilgore, and on his own. One of the great pleasures of being on this coast is the chance to see him and his band at various festivals (at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 23-26; and at various California locations July 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 — see here for details).

I am glad that Ray and his Cubs have steady gigs on the West Coast, but I wish they were better known worldwide.

It would be ironic but somehow fitting if what I see as their essential virtues had kept them slightly out of prominence in the world of “traditional” jazz.  The group isn’t loud and it doesn’t have an identifying trademark unless you consider a deeply-rooted blues-based hot lyricism a trademark.  No parasol parades; no singing along. Just intense yet relaxed Chicago jazz for this century.

They call it music.

I shy away from “best” or “favorite,” but I am drawn to this band as if magnetically.  I know that a set from Ray or from Ray and his pals will make me feel better — and the side effects of deep elation and gratitude won’t wear off soon if at all.

The band in its most recent incarnation was Ray, piano, vocals, intuition; Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass and tuba, vocal; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

Here is a full set (why skimp on pleasure?) from the Thanksgiving 2013 San Diego Jazz Fest (November 30, 2013, to be exact).

LINGER AWHILE:

BULL FROG BLUES:

WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

SUGAR:

OUR MONDAY DATE:

OH, BABY (DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE):

OUT OF NOWHERE (with a lovely streamlined homage to Bing by Mister Daugherty, man of many talents):

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON (Katie always gives such good advice);

SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES:

THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

As I said, we are so lucky to have them!

May your happiness increase! 

A LETTER FROM MR. WEBSTER

I know that reading someone else’s mail is supposed to be a great sin on many levels, but I don’t think that Claire Gordon (the recipient), Larry Rafferty (the eventual owner), and Ben Webster (the writer) would mind overmuch.  Claire, happily, is still with us; she was a dear friend of Rex Stewart.

BEN LETTER ENVELOPE

The envelope, please:

BEN LETTER ONE

and

BEN LETTER TWO

Sincerely.

BEN LETTER FOURI never met Ben Webster, and who knows how he would have responded to me?  But I miss a world where he might have been writing letters.

Here’s the Ben that can never go away:

May your happiness increase!

CHRIS SENDS HIS LOVE

Many people revere Louis Armstrong.

Chris Clifton of New Orleans is one of the lucky few who can put reverence into practice.  He’s also been blessed to know his hero, so what Chris plays comes from deep loving knowledge.  As he says in the video below, he met Louis in 1952; they became friends and exchanged letters.  Louis has been the light on the paths Chris has taken through life.

Enjoy the soulful tribute and beautiful melodies from Chris. Standing behind him, I know, is an older man, smiling as broadly as he can:

In the video, Chris tells of his meeting Louis (the thought of the “chubby youngster” fingering imaginary valves right in front of the band is touching) but I hadn’t known that Louis introduced Chris to Lillian Hardin Armstrong, pianist, singer, composer — and that Chris became a member of her band when he was 18, and would often stay at her house in Idlewild, Michigan.

In another interview, Chris said, Lil’s cottage had “a screened gazebo where I used to sit and practice.  While I played, the neighbors would come over, thinking Louis was there. Lil would say ‘No, that’s not Louis. Go out back and see who’s playing.’”

Follow Chris, a longtime New Orleans native, here.

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING: WELCOME, KRIS TOKARSKI!

If you’ve been paying attention on the New Orleans jazz scene, you will already know the brilliant pianist Kris Tokarski, and the news of his debut CD, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, will be a pleasure but not a surprise.

If Kris is new to you, listen to these two selections here before moving on.

The first is the Hoagy Carmichael treasure (eternally associated with Billie) APRIL IN MY HEART; the second is Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF.  You can also hear him play CAROLINA SHOUT and QUASIMODO if you are even the slightest bit diligent.  On the first three tracks, his cohorts are the splendid Evan Christopher or James Evans, and fine drummer Benji Bohannon.

cover

But today our focus is properly on Kris.  Yes, there are echoes of Teddy Wilson in his work, and I celebrate that, but he is on his own paths.

Kris has a strong but never overbearing reverence for the melody; his touch is lovely; he knows how to breathe through a phrase, when to leave notes out, how to create subtle carpets of harmony and oceanic swells of rhythm.  Although he is not interested in making the beauties of the past “modern” (whatever that might mean) he has a wide harmonic range; he’s heard the music that was played after 1936 and is being played now. He is a delightfully clear yet ringing orchestral pianist, someone who doesn’t lag or rush, push or pound.

He’s there when you need him, and his delicate playing isn’t effete but full of restrained wit and emotional empathy.  He knows how to swing and stride — with both hands — and his playing is fluid, supple — never stiff.  His accompaniment is the very definition of sweet teamwork, and his solos are full of surprises: you can’t tell where he is about to land, but it’s graceful and satisfying when he does.

Did I mention that this young man is 25 years old?  Allow that fact to settle in for a bit.  What graceful mastery for someone so young — let me correct myself here — gracious mastery for anyone!

His debut disc is consistently delightful.  Kris loves melodies and brings new light and shade to ones I thought had been done to a crisp by now.  He understands that the role of a jazz pianist is also to float alongside great players.  The first eight tracks are very lively homage to the piano-clarinet-drums trio so beloved of Goodman and Morton — with the clarinet offerings shared by Evan Christopher (LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, CAROLINA SHOUT, and APRIL IN MY HEART) and James Evans (DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, IF DREAMS COME TRUE, PLEASE BE KIND, ALL BY MYSELF).  Two tracks that follow are duets for Kris and tenor saxophonist James Partridge (PRISONER OF LOVE, SWEET LORRAINE), and the closing WHAT’S NEW? is a piano solo.

The trio and duo selections honor but do not imitate any of the great recordings; rather they say implicitly, “Here we are together.  We know the tradition, but we trust ourselves to make our own lovely music.  What shall we do together as a friendly community with this song to delight ourselves and our future hearers?”

Thus a gently swinging lyricism permeates every note on the CD.  At times, I thought of PRES AND TEDDY; once or twice, of HEAVY LOVE (if you don’t know the references, they bear investigating); at other times I could find no objective correlative but simply basked in the sounds these people were so generously offering.

And where some young musicians feel the need to show off their skills — “Look how fast I can play this!  Look how many new chord changes I can put into this song!  Look how I can transform this standard into a ________!” Chris is serene and secure in his trust in melodic improvisation over swinging backgrounds.

He is also — and I admire this greatly — a deep romantic.  The disc is full of affection for the music and what it can give to us.  It’s not about egotistic display; it’s about affection.  Why else would someone begin a CD with the rhapsodic and optimistic and eternally hopeful LOVE WILL FIND A WAY?  And the closing WHAT’S NEW? is — while rueful — not bleak in its melancholy. I suspect that Kris has in his heart a deep knowledge of “love’s sweet amen.”  It comes through in his music.

I encourage you to follow this young man, to buy his CD, to cheer him on.  To buy the disc, follow the trail of breadcrumbs here.  Or if you are within range of the Louisiana Music Factory, lucky you! — click here.  The nicest thing to do, of course, would be to find Kris at a gig — his itinerary is posted on his site — and say, “Mr. Tokarski, could I buy a box of your CDs?  I heard about you and about it on JAZZ LIVES.” And then everyone would be beaming.

To know that Kris Tokarski exists, that he creates such lovely music, is very heartening news.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING MELODIES RING: MUNDELL LOWE / BUCKY PIZZARELLI: GUITAR DUETS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 22, 2014)

The title says it all.  I am honored to have been there and to have captured these performances.  Mundell Lowe and Bucky Pizzarelli are masters, having a heartfelt conversation about all the important matters in the universe: love, light and dark, cosmic rhythms, melodies that sound like birdsong, all in front of us. We celebrate their endurance, but more than that we celebrate their art.

If you need official information about Mundell, here is his website; Bucky is moving too quickly to care about such things, so we must make do with Wikipedia.

Recorded at the 26th annual San Diego Jazz Party, on February 22, 2014.  On that day, Mundell was 91, Bucky 88.

JITTERBUG WALTZ (the crowd quiets down after a bit):

EMILY:

BODY AND SOUL:

STUFFY:

DARN THAT DREAM:

How often will any of us be in the presence of such Sages?

May your happiness increase!

ESSENTIAL READING: “THE BALLAD OF GEESHIE AND ELVIE,” by JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN

I don’t write “essential reading” casually. I had no idea who Geeshie and Elvie were before I read John Jeremiah Sullivan’s extraordinary extended research piece in the New York Times Magazine Section: here it is, with the relevant music included.

The sub-headline of this piece is “On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace.” That in itself piqued my curiosity, and a recommendation from the superb writer Amanda Petrusich urged me on.

I won’t give away the stories Sullivan and others have for us.

But it’s as engrossing a piece of non-fiction as you are likely to read this year or perhaps this decade: warmly human, full of unmistakable personalities, beautifully written by someone who keeps his story in full view, taking no detours into ideological warfare or autobiographical preening.

Jazz has had many “writers” and “critics” and “researchers,” but I wish it had another dozen with the beautiful tenacity and style of John Jeremiah Sullivan.

“Read this!” is all I can say.

May your happiness increase!