DUKE HEITGER’S STEAMBOAT STOMP (November 14-16, 2014)

I had a wonderful time at the inaugural Steamboat Stomp last fall — the pure pleasure of hearing hot New Orleans jazz on a steamboat cruising up and down the Mississippi River.  Mark Twain, Fate Marable, David Jones, and young Mister Armstrong all combined.

I cannot go to this year’s effusion of good times and good music (three festivals in one month is too much for me while I am attempting to hold a full-time job), so there will be an empty seat.  So I urge you to go in my place, and bring your jazz-loving friends.

Musical evidence here and here  — and there is more from the 2013 Stomp if you search JAZZ LIVES.

And here is what Duke Heitger, the generous beacon of hot jazz, has to tell us:

The second annual Steamboat Stomp is about 2 months out (November 14-16). This is a wonderful time of year to be in New Orleans, and we have added some marquee names to the already stellar roster including Evan Christopher, Jon-Erik Kellso and Hal Smith. This will surely be a weekend of great music and great fun. Weekend packages and a variety of exciting sponsorship opportunities are still available. As you know, the support and participation of folks like you are key to the success of events like Steamboat Stomp. Please visit www.steamboatstompneworleans.com for more information. If you have any questions with regards to hotels, reservations, etc… I will be happy to assist you personally at dukeheit@bellsouth.net. This promises to be a very special event. I hope to see you there!

What Duke’s letter does not say is . . . the Yerba Buena Stompers, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Topsy Chapman, Solid Harmony, the Dukes of Dixieland . . . joy-spreaders all.  Don’t let this weekend event steam right by you.

May your happiness increase!

MEREDITH AXELROD, CRAIG VENTRESCO, LEON OAKLEY, ROBERT YOUNG, ARI MUNKRES (The JAZZ LIVES House Concert Series, August 24, 2014)

Two very creative souls are singer / guitarist Meredith Axelrod and guitarist Craig Ventresco — wonderful elliptical individualists who energetically and sweetly reinvent the larger musics (the plural is intentional) of nearly-forgotten times.  I’ve known and admired them for nearly a decade now, but was often slightly frustrated because they send out extraordinary music that has to battle with conversation.  I know this is a fact of playing and singing in this century, but I was involved in a little house party that featured Meredith and Craig.  And there were friends making music, too: Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, saxophone; Ari Munkres, string bass.  I asked this group if they would perform a few tunes just for you — the JAZZ LIVES audience.  They did, and here are three delicious unbuttoned but precise offerings:

NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES:

EGYPTIAN ELLA:

I’M GOING TO MEET MY SWEETIE NOW:

I wish there were some way to hear Meredith and Craig with a small cast of strolling players on a regular basis, and several ideas come to mind.

If this music appeals to you, contact Meredith at her whimsical email address, meredithanthraxelrod@gmail.com and she will respond promptly.  They love the idea of coming to your home and making merry.

Or you can check her website to see videos of the two of them in performance, to learn their current schedule, to have deep metaphysical queries answered — perhaps with more queries, but that’s metaphysics. Here is Meredith’s website, a very educational experience.

If you live near North Beach in San Francisco, in Berkeley, or Oakland, you have a good chance to see these two — and friends — on a regular basis.  But I hear the New Yorkers whimpering, “What about US?”

Good news.  Meredith and Craig will be making a brief but intense New York tour in less than two weeks, and on Saturday, September 27, they will be appearing at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn — along with Dennis Lichtman, Matt Munisteri, and Tamar Korn — for a 9 – 11:30 PM show.  Buy tickets here. Jalopy is at 315 Columbia Street, and their many-splendored website is here.

East or West, Meredith and Craig and their exalted friends make refreshing music.

May your happiness increase!

FUN FOR ALL AGES: DANNY COOTS PLUS TEN at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 26, 2014)

Large groupings of musicians on the stand of a jazz  party look impressive but they don’t always come off as well as they might.

But this one was even better than the best I could have imagined — genial, melodic, and always inspired: led by Danny Coots, drums; with Paul Keller, string bass; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibes; Dan Block, tenor sax; Allan Vache, clarinet; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Ed Polcer, cornet; Bria Skonberg, trumpet. All this delightful music was created at the 15th Atlanta Jazz Party, late in the evening of April 26, 2014.

The set began with a romping version of PANAMA, but my camera betrayed me. (Note to self: never change batteries in midstream.) So you will have to imagine it. But what followed was even better, WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

After the comedy by Allan Vache, Dan Barrett, and Danny himself, we move into a deeply satisfying series of “conversations,” starting with the two trombones.  If you want to go back into recorded history, this device reminds me of Red Nichols sessions where Jack Teagarden played a “hot” chorus while Glenn Miller played the melody sweetly — a delicious simultaneous mixing of tastes.  (I also recall, since Ed Polcer was on this session, nights at the last Eddie Condon’s where Ed and Ruby Braff would switch off — melody and improvisation — for a few choruses, always very inspiring.)  The device also solves the unstated problem — if each of the soloists takes the traditional two choruses, performances stretch out to amazing lengths.  This DREAM is about five minutes of music, but it feels filled to the very brim with melody and swing that floats through the conversations of Ed and Bria, of Dan and Allan (over the rhythm section’s rocking two-beat) — followed by sweet epistles by Randy, Rossano, Paul, and then the tidy but never constricted ensemble — a model of letting everyone have his / her say in a flexible, compact fashion.

I think everyone on the stand was elated by what they had created, and I know the audience was joyful.  Danny then (after more comedy) called for MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME (another “ancient” pop tune that is rarely played — and if it is, not at this walking tempo) that reminds me of the best swing sessions I’ve ever heard, playful improvisation never flagging:

What could top that?  Well, nothing — but adding Rebecca Kilgore to the band to sing some Anita O’Day – Gene Krupa blues, DRUM BOOGIE / BOOGIE BLUES, which is closely related to SENT FOR YOU YESTERDAY, but we’ll let people who care about provenance argue over that.  Me, I simply love to hear Ms. Kilgore sing — and over this sweetly-Basie group, it is a treat:

Couldn’t be better. And I think it’s relevant to mention that another version of all this good feeling and good sounds will be taking place in April 2015.  I’ll be at the Atlanta Jazz Party (April 17-19) as will many of the brilliant players you see here — with some surprises.  Make plans!

May your happiness increase!

A FEW GLOWING SECONDS OF GLORY

When I returned to my apartment in New York, I thought, “I need music in here. Music will help remind me who I am, what I am supposed to be doing, where my path might lead.”  Initially I reached for some favorite performances for consolation, then moved over to the crates of homemade audiocassettes — evidence of more than twenty-five years of tape-trading with like-minded souls.

One tape had the notation PRIVATE CHICAGO, and looking at it, I knew that it was the gift of Leonora Taylor, who preferred to be called “Gypsy,” and who had an unusual collection of music.  When I asked drummer / scholar Hal Smith about her, he reminded me that she loved the UK clarinetist Archie Semple. Although I don’t recall having much if any Archie to offer her, we traded twenty or thirty cassettes.

PRIVATE CHICAGO had some delightful material recorded (presumably) at the Evanston, Illinois house of Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft — amateur pianist, sometime composer, friend / benefactor to jazz musicians. Squirrel was both a dear friend of Pee Wee Russell, Joe Rushton, Eddie Condon, Boyce Brown, Johnny Mercer, George Barnes, Lee Wiley, Jimmy McPartland, Bud Freeman, and many others — one facet of a very intriguing life.  He deserves a biography.

But back to the music.

I played through the side of the cassette, rewound it, and played it again.  And I kept returning to a short improvisation: BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC, played by Johnny Windhurst (cornet or trumpet) and Jack Gardner (piano) with possibly other players in the background — I hear a murmuring clarinet offering harmony notes — recorded, Gypsy’s typed notes say, circa 1950.

Neither Windhurst nor Gardner is as well known as they should be. Windhurst (1926-1981) was recognized young as a brilliant player, and got to play with the best — Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster in Boston when he wasn’t voting age, then Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Kenny Kersey, John Field, Jimmy Crawford a few years later, moving on to be one of Eddie Condon’s regulars, briefly recording with Jack Teagarden and on his own date with Buell Neidlinger, on a Walt Gifford session, with Barbara Lea (he was both colleague and boyfriend) then moving upstate to Poughkeepsie, New York, where he died too young (once being mugged and beaten) of a heart attack.

I saw him in person once, at Your Father’s Mustache in New York in 1972 — with Herb Hall and Herb Gardner (the latter someone who is very much with us) and Red Balaban.  Windhurst was capable of the most beautiful melodic flights of fancy — a cross between heavenly music of the highest order and Bobby Hackett — but he couldn’t read music, disdained the idea of doing so, and thus turned down higher-paying and possibly higher-visibility gigs from bandleaders.  I read somewhere that Woody Herman wanted to hire him, offered him good pay, promised to teach him to read, but Windhurst — a free spirit — would have none of it.

There is one video extant of Windhurst — I wrote about it, and him, in 2009 (and received wonderful comments from people who had played alongside him) here.

I did not know much about pianist Gardner, except that what I’ve heard suggests a delicate barrelhouse approach, and I seem to recall he was a large man called by some “Jumbo Jack.” But an exquisite biographical sketch of Jack by the diligent writer and researcher Derek Coller can be found here.  (Our Jack Gardner is not the man who led an orchestra in Dallas in 1924-5.)  Jack first recorded with Wingy Manone and Jimmy McPartland, then got more visibility with Harry James (you can hear him on SLEEPY TIME GAL and he is also on Sinatra’s first recording with James) 1939-40, then he crops up with Muggsy Spanier, Red Nichols, Bud Freeman, and after being captured on sessions at Squirrel’s from 1950-52, we hear no more from him.

I know THE BATTLE  HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC as a very assertive religious song in which the enemies of the Lord receive divine punishment:  “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored / He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,” and so on, even though later verses of the song — known to how many? — suggest that there is a balm of kindness.

More importantly than the theological, I and others know it as a hot number — think of “Red Nichols” as played by Danny Kaye and “Louis Armstrong” as played by himself in THE FIVE PENNIES, sending the sermon. Everyone from Art Hodes to George Lewis to Gerry Mulligan has recorded it, but I suggest that no version you will ever hear matches the sweet delicacy of this brief celestial interlude by Windhurst and Gardner.

Windhurst doesn’t venture far from the melody — the recording catches less than a whole chorus, and aside from a bluesy transformation near the end, it is melodic embellishment rather than harmonic improvisation.  But he treats the melodic line with lightness, fervor, and love; every note is caressed; his tone is so beautiful as to make “golden” into an affront.  Gardner plays a simplified version of barrelhouse support but never gets in Windhurst’s way. The whole duet is tender, yearning — the music of the spheres in under a minute.

Glory, glory, hallelujah.

May your happiness increase!

“SO MUCH DEPENDS UPON YOU.”

I wouldn’t have considered Cleveland, Ohio, a destination spot for fine hot and sweet improvised music.  But I am ready to do so now.  In fact, I will be on a plane this coming Thursday, September 18, 2014, to be part of the first Allegheny Jazz Party  (here, too, on Facebook).

(Thursday evening until Sunday afternoon, to be precise, in a modern hotel.)

I hope that JAZZ LIVES readers and like-minded friends will be joining me there. Not, mind you, because I get paid for writing about the AJP.  I do not.  Nor do I get a bounty for each attendee I bring in.

No, I write a post like this in the same spirit that I would eagerly tell you about a fine restaurant I had just discovered that you, too, could enjoy.  There is jazz enough for everyone, and no one has to keep it to him or herself.

I also have the motive — is it selfish or altruistic or both? — of wanting these enterprises to continue.  The finest musicians in the cosmos can sing and play to a half-empty room once, but not more than that.

So I urge YOU to come along.  Yes, YOU.

And to make the point in a more cheerful, less didactic way, here are four of my idols — Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Harry Allen — romping through a Walter Donaldson song whose title you will guess quickly:

And it is appropriate to point out that this music was created at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua, so I think the spirit and joy will certainly follow us westward to Cleveland.  See YOU there.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET AND SALTY: EDDIE ERICKSON’S AMERICANA at the 2014 SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY

This version of SIDE BY SIDE, performed by Mr. Erickson at the  February 2014 San Diego Jazz Party, has some surprises.

Eddie’s co-conspirators (some of them who may not know the script) are Johnny Varro, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Antti Sarpila, clarinet.  But the spotlight is justifiably on Mr. Erickson, great guitarist, seductive vocalist, splendid improvisatory-theatre director and comedian, creating a sweet collective experience that turns comic at the end:

I read what I could about the closing verse and one source says that of course the author is Anonymous, but this set of lyrics is said to have originated during the Second World War.  Seems right to me: the sort of thing that soldiers could sing to amuse themselves, that children could learn and horrify their parents, and that we could all remember — a sort of guilty pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

AN EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT FROM ORAN THADDEUS PAGE

On eBay!

OLD MAN BEN

As an English professor, I shiver at the misplaced apostrophe.  But were he in my class, I would have given Mister Page an A.  Why?  Listen to this:

and this:

and this:

I rest my case.  I would have liked to be someone he called “Chum.”

Thanks to friend and eBay spotter extraordinaire David J. Weiner for this treasure.

May your happiness increase!