Both of Louis Armstrong’s birthdays — July and August — had passed by the time that Jazz at Chautauqua started its informal Thursday night sessions this September 2010. But celebrating Louis Armstrong’s music needs no occasion besides itself, and always refreshes the most tired soul.
A beautifully empathic trio gathered for four Louis-associated numbers, and did the great man honor.
Trumpeter Bob Barnard saw Louis on his four Australian tours, played for him, followed him around, saw every show, even tried to get a handkerchief (but was thwarted in this by the rather sour Doc Pugh) . . . but his love of Louis goes deeper than simple hero-worship. Rather, Bob has gotten to the warm heart of Louis’s music — understanding it rather than copying it. You’ll hear a good deal of another Master, Bobby Hackett, here, which is appropriate — for Louis and Bobby loved one another. Bob’s deep golden tone, his skipping phrases, the way he wears his heart on his sleeve without proclaiming it’s there — all add up to an emotional resonance that belies the apparent casualness of his approach to the horn. And although Bob can amaze with his mountain-climbing phrases, this quiet session found him tempering his approach to the band, the size of the room — without losing an iota of feeling.
John Sheridan is a fertile, swinging embodiment of all that’s eloquent in jazz piano: in him, the elements of the great tradition come together for an instantly recognizable style that’s both light-hearted and serious, taking flight while keeping a fine beat and resonant harmonies going.
Arnie Kinsella is in love with sound — the tapping a stick makes on a closed hi-hat, the wallop of another stick on a tom-tom head, rattlings and speakings all around his set. Vince Giordano has called him LITTLE THUNDER: this trio finds Arnie in a mellow mood, not calling down the cosmic forces but being an engaging part of this high-level jazz conversation.
Bob began by calling Louis’ 1936 novelty hit, THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET (which strikes me now as an interesting song to improvise on as an instrumental if enough musicians would learn its ins and outs) — with a rocking result, frightening no one:
Then, he thought of one of Cole Porter’s ballads from the film HIGH SOCIETY — indirectly honoring Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly as well as Louis. Listen closely to John’s thoughtful exploration here, too:
Louis and Hoagy Carmichael were meant for each other — think of Louis’s STARDUST, GEORGIA ON MY MIND, and JUBILEE for three stellar examples — and LYIN’ TO MYSELF is one of those Carmichael songs so stamped with Louis’s personality that it takes strong players to attempt it, as this trio does nobly:
Finally, the set ended with a more mellow-than-usual version of I DOUBLE DARE YOU, which is often played fast, high, and exultantly. (It initially begins as a cousin of SWING THAT MUSIC, but people who spend their creative lives on the high wire can be forgiven a brief detour into another Louis classic.) Bob and John seem to make themselves comfortable within the song, making it more a wooing theme than a true dare:
In these performances, there’s love, mastery, humor, teamwork — lessons for everyone!