Monthly Archives: March 2012

CATHERINE RUSSELL WELCOMES US IN!

Photograph by Richard Conde

The Beloved and I were in the presence of magic at the Allen Room (Jazz at Lincoln Center) last night when singer Catherine Russell welcomed us in.

I don’t mean that she just began her show by saying, “I’m glad you are all here,” as artists usually tell an audience.

But from the first phrase of her opening song, I’M SHOOTING HIGH, she turned the Allen Room into something warm, making us feel both as if we were in her own magically cozy space.  Although she was stylishly dressed, in front of a ten-piece band, with the great New York street scene viewed from above, none of this distracted her from her great purpose: to lift us up through sweet swinging music.

She is such an expert performer that she made her art – clearly the result of great attention to detail — seem natural and intuitive, as if she and the band had just gotten together to have a good time.

Her delight in being with us was genuine.  When a couple, arriving late, made their way to their seats down front, Catherine beamed at them and said the most encouraging thing, “Welcome, welcome!” — and we relaxed even more, knowing that she meant it.

What she was welcoming us to was a musical evening of the most gratifying kind.  It was inspired by Louis Armstrong, for one, always a good start.  Most of the songs she and the band offered were connected to Louis, but she remained herself: no growl, no handkerchief, no mugging.  Rather she understood and demonstrated what Louis was all about — deep romance, great fun, rocking rhythm, daring improvisations.  Love, whether eager celebration or brokenhearted lament — was her theme.  And there was another man inspiring her performance: Louis’ friend, pianist, and musical director for many years: Luis Russell, who (by the way) happened to be Catherine’s father.  Pops and Daddy, if you will.

She drew most of her material from the great period of the Louis / Luis collaboration — 1935-42, the songs now collected on the great Louis Mosaic box set, so we got to exult with her for I’M SHOOTING HIGH (“Got my eye / On a star / In the sky”), dream along with I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, swing out on I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, mourn to I COVER THE WATERFRONT, laugh out loud to PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE.  Catherine’s vision of Louis reached back to the Twenties for STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, SUGAR FOOT STRUT (now, finally, I know what the lyrics are talking about!), and a romping EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY.

And it expanded to include BACK O’TOWN BLUES and LUCILLE, songs with which she had a very personal connection.  The first of those two — written by Louis and Luis – was the flip side of Louis’ 1956 hit, MACK THE KNIFE.  For some, that fact would be only a jazz-fiend’s winning Trivial Pursuit answer.  But for Catherine it was so much more.  The royalties from BACK O’TOWN BLUES enabled her parents, Luis and Carline Ray (Catherine’s mother had been in the audience for the first show) to purchase their first new car — a two-tone blue 1956 Mercury.  Even from row N, the Beloved and I could see how much that car had meant to the Russells from Catherine’s very warm retelling of the story.  And the very touching LUCILLE had been written by Luis in 1961 for Louis to try — a loving tribute to Lucille Wilson Armstrong . . . and, not incidentally, a beautiful song, now fully realized by Catherine.

She also showed her great emotional range in a dark reading of NO MORE, a sultry evocation of ROMANCE IN THE DARK, a hilarious I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE (evoking Abbey Lincoln, Lil Green, and Ivie Anderson, respectively).

Catherine is also an astonishing singer, if you haven’t guessed by now.  She has a perfectly placed voice, with power and depth but a kind of reedy intensity (she can sound like an alto saxophone but more often she reminded me of a whole reed section coming out of her long lithe frame).  Her sound is sweet yet pungent.  She has great dramatic intensity but she never seems as if she’s “acting.”  From somewhere inside the song, she lights the way, matching her readings of lyrics and melody exactly to the emotions . . . making familiar songs feel roomy and new.  And rhythm bubbles up through her — she was always in motion, rollicking around the stage, expertly dancing, embodying joy in person.

And the band was just as delightful: let me write their names here again to celebrate them: Matt Munisteri, Mark Shane, Lee Hudson, Mark McLean, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dave Brown, John Allred, Scott Robinson, Andy Farber, Dan Block.  New York’s finest!  Each one of them had something deliciously incisive to bring, from McLean’s saucepan-percussion reminding us of Zutty Singleton on SUGAR FOOT STRUT, Allred’s plunger-dialogue on GOOM-BYE, Scott Robinson’s soprano taragota on NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS (a whole surrealistic play in itself, with the horn section picking up their paper parts to read the unforgettable Dada poetry: “Stick out your can / here comes the garbage man. . . . “).  Kellso, once again, became the Upper West Side Louis, and Matt swung us into bliss — to say nothing of the eloquent gents of the sax section, Mister Brown to You, the reliable Hudson keeping it all together, Mark Shane pointing the way — Jess Stacy to Catherine’s Helen Ward.  The brilliant arrangements by Matt, Jon-Erik, and Andy gave us a rocking big band distilled to its essence.

The Beloved and I enjoyed every note.  We would be there tonight if we could.  If you can, stop reading this post right now and get a pair (or more) of tickets for the Saturday night shows — 7:30 or 9:30.  Or if that’s not possible, do what I did and buy Catherine’s latest CD, STRICTLY ROMANCIN’ — it has some of the same songs and almost the same band.

Miss Russell will welcome you in, too!

May your happiness increase.

LOVE IN SWINGTIME: “THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG,” THREE WAYS

One idyllic version of early twentieth-century modernism is the intersection of great artists considering the same theme.  Here, the lost paradise of 1933 where Bing Crosby and Coleman Hawkins could each rhapsodize beautifully on the same song.  It was THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG — a sweet romantic rhapsody of love’s fulfillment by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston, a Crosby hit from the film TOO MUCH HARMONY.  Here’s Bing’s version, where sensuality and delight combine:

That same year, a small band of Coleman Hawkins, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Hilton Jefferson, Horace Henderson, Bernard Addison, John Kirby, and Walter Johnson devoted themselves to the same theme:

Nearly ninety years later, the Harlem Jazz Camels pay tribute to the song, to love in swingtime:

This performance (recorded by the very gracious “jazze1947″) comes from Aneby, Sweden, on Feb. 7, 2012.  The Camels are Bent Persson, trumpet; Göran Eriksson, alto / clarinet; Stephan Lindsein, trombone; Claes Brodda, clarinet / baritone / tenor; Lasse Lindbäck. string bass; Ulf Lindberg, piano; Sigge Delert, drums; Göran Stachewsky. guitar / banjo.

“What’s the most important day in history?”

“The day you came along.”

“Of course!”

“SHINE,” RECONSIDERED

It’s always fascinating to take old assumptions and hold them up to the light.  For years, I assumed along with most that the song called “SHINE,” or sometimes “S-H-I-N-E,” had disgracefully racist lyrics, and that having someone proud of his African-American heritage — such as Louis Armstrong — sing it was a deep insult.  “Poor Louis,” we thought, “forced to endure material unworthy of him, degrading to his race and self,” although he doesn’t seem abashed in what follows.

Here’s the version from RHAPSODY IN BLACK AND BLUE (with a nice close-up of drummer Tubby Hall):

And a decade or so later, a Soundie of SHINE from 1942 (with closeups of Sidney Catlett and dancer Nick Stewart):

“Those poor Mills Brothers — other singers saddled with demeaning material.”  That there seemed to be other lyrics — in Bing Crosby’s version — was puzzling, but I think many assumed that this was part of a clean-up campaign or some racist plot against people of color.

No, not at all.

The song — as “THAT’S WHY THEY CALL ME ‘SHINE,’” dates from 1910* and was composed by Ford Dabney (music) and, more importantly, Cecil Mack (born Richard C. McPherson), both African-Americans.  That in itself wouldn’t have prevented them from creating a song that later generations would have found demeaning.  But the lyrics of “THAT’S WHY THEY CALL ME ‘SHINE’” are anything but self-deprecating.

Verse 1:

When I was born they christened me plain Samuel Johnson Brown,

I hadn’t grown so very big ‘fore some folks in the town

Had changed it ’round to Sambo, I was Rastus to a few,

Then Choc’late Drop was added by some others that I knew,

And then to cap the climax I was strolling down the line

When someone shouted, “Fellers, hey, come on and pipe the Shine.”

But I don’t care a bit,

Here’s how I figure it.

Refrain:

‘Cause my hair is curly,

‘Cause my teeth are pearly,

Just because I always wear a smile,

Like to dress up in the latest style,

‘Cause I’m glad I’m living.

Take troubles smiling, never whine;

Just because my color’s shady,

Slightly diff’rent maybe,

That’s why they call me “Shine.”

Verse 2:

A rose, they say, by any other name would smell as sweet,

So if that’s right, why should a nickname take me off my feet?

Why, ev’rything that’s precious from a gold piece to a dime

And diamonds, pearls, and rubies ain’t no good unless they shine.

So when these clever people call me “shine” or “coon” or “smoke,”

I simply smile, and smile some more, and vote them all a joke.

I’m thinking just the same,

What is there in a name?

Repeat Refrain.

I think — having read these lyrics, especially the verse! — some of us might have to reconsider our perceptions of this song.  The lyrics, by the way, come from READING LYRICS, ed. Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball (Pantheon, 2000); they date the song as 1924.  Text courtesy of the Beloved’s bookcase.

A SMALL MASTERPIECE: CHRIS DAWSON’S “BEAUTIFUL LOVE”

This performance of Victor Young’s BEAUTIFUL LOVE — by the subtle, heartfelt pianist Chris Dawson — is aptly named.  The 1931 song was originally a waltz, but that was before Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Jimmy Rowles, and many singers got to it.  (That the song appeared in the film THE MUMMY still continues to baffle and amaze.  Who sang it and to whom?

Here’s Chris — every note a pearl, but there’s nothing precious about his approach to the keyboard:

And for the Jazz Karaoke fans out there, here’s an online version of the lyrics.

Beautiful love, you’re all a mystery

Beautiful love, what have you done to me?

I was contented till you came along

Thrilling my soul with your song

Beautiful love, I’ve roamed your paradise

Searching for love, my dream to realize

Reaching for heaven, depending on you

Beautiful love, will my dreams come true?

Just please don’t drown out the quietly brilliant Mr. Dawson.  That wouldn’t be Beautiful Love at all.

PAY ATTENTION! NO FOOLIN’: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI and FRIENDS in THE DRAWING ROOM (April 1, 2012)

Singer Gabrielle Stravelli is a delight.

I first heard her only a few weeks ago at a noisy brunch gig.  Unruffled by the loud laughter, the eager conversations,  the crash of dishes, she sailed on, serenely swinging, opening her heart to the audience.

She has feeling but no melodrama, an easy, open approach to the song — with a casual natural style that fits her varied material.

And if an artist is judged by the company he or she keeps, please take a look at the instrumentalists below.  This Sunday-evening gig will take place at pianist Michael Kanan’s beautifully calm studio, The Drawing Room.  Michael will be at the piano; the stellar, mobile bassist Pat O’Leary will be doing what he does so well; the nimble Michael Petrosino will be behind his drum kit.

The Drawing Room is at 70 Willoughby Street #2A, in Brooklyn.  The “R” train stops at the corner; many other trains make it their business to come to a halt at the Jay Street station, two blocks away.  Even I could find my way.  April 1, but no joke — 8 to 10 PM.    $10 admission, with a cash wine bar.  And beautiful music!

COMES IN LIKE A LION, SWINGS OUT LIKE A CAT

We have delightful plans for this Friday night — March 30, 2012: we’ll be at the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center to hear the remarkable singer Catherine Russell and her all-star band:

Our Catherine’s pedigree is impeccable — daughter of pianist-composer-bandleader Luis Russell and string bassist-bandleader Carline Ray, she grew up with the music (how about childhood acquaintance with one Mister Armstrong?) and she keeps swinging with a big heart.   And her new program will not only connect with her CD, STRICTLY ROMANCIN’ but will focus on Louis and Luis — lifelong friends.  The concerts will take place on Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, 2012, with two shows nightly (7:30 and 9:30), located on Broadway at 60th Street in New York City.

And Grammy-winner Miss Russell is wise enough to know that a great singer deserves a great band — with new arrangements.  The sterling fellows onstage will be  Matt Munisteri, guitar, arranger, musical director;  Mark Shane, piano;  Jon Erik-Kellso, trumpet, arranger;  John Allred, trombone;  Dan Block, saxophones, clarinet;  Andy Farber, saxophones, arranger; Lee Hudson, string bass;  Mark McLean, drums; Dave Brown, trumpet; Scott Robinson, whatever he likes.   For tickets visit the JALC Box Office at Broadway at 60th, or www.jalc.org — or call Center Charge at 212-721-6500.  The Beloved and I will be there — I’ll be making notes on a pad to tell you what happened . . . be sure to get there on your own!

SCALING MOUNTAINS AT MONTEREY 2012 with the HIGH SIERRA JAZZ BAND and MARC CAPARONE (March 2, 2012)

No, no one burst into CLIMB EV’RY MOUNTAIN, and Julie Andrews was otherwise engaged.  But the High Sierra Jazz Band — here with guest hero Marc Caparone added to an already hot front line — knows how to get to the top and stay there.  I present (for your listening, dining, and dancing pleasure) an early set from the 2012 Dixieland Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay — with leader and raconteur Pieter Meijers on reeds and wry commentary; Charlie Castro, drums; Earl McKee, sousaphone and vocals; Stan Huddleston, banjo; Bruce Huddleston, piano; Howard Miyata (“the happiest man in Dixieland,” but why stop there?) on trombone, misc. brass, and vocal; and the electrifying two-cornet team of Bryan Shaw and Marc.

They began with the Creole Jazz Band’s irresistible MABEL’S DREAM.  Pieter has obviously told many audiences a long wooly tale about who Mabel was and what she dreamed about (thrilling but somehow dubious).  Does anyone know the real story?  Was Mabel someone’s girlfriend, and did she dream lucky?  Do tell:

Earl McKee takes us under her wing — let’s go DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN:

Ah, that Boy is here again — and he has something to tell us named the WININ’ BOY BLUES:

Mister Morton, take the stand!  KANSAS CITY STOMPS:

When Sidney Bechet and Pieter book the tour, PASSPORT TO PARADISE is not merely an extravagant figure of speech:

Oh, Mister Jelly!  “Get off the sidewalk, can’t you?”  SIDEWALK BLUES:

They concluded their set with Fats Waller’s composed-in-a-taxicab-on-the-way-to-the-recording-studio-and-possibly-misidentified-on-the-label MINOR DRAG.  Another thing we have Eddie Condon to thank for.  (Should this song have been issued as HARLEM FUSS?  One never knows.  Do one?):

Good, good, good — hot and powerful, at the very peak.

May your happiness increase.