Perhaps my title is slightly inaccurate. I didn’t see this brass band coming down the street; rather, they slowly and cheerfully assembled themselves on the imagined bandstand of Radegast Bierhalle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, around nine o’clock on Wednesday, March 7, 2012.
But they were a stirring group. No surprise, because Gordon Au was in charge (he wields his power very lightly and politely) of this different-yet-exhilarating version of the Grand Street Stompers. Different in that the front line was entirely brass — not brassy, but three players of brass instruments: Gordon on cornet; Jim Fryer on trombone and euphonium; Matt Musselman on trombone, with a rhythmic rhythm section of Nick Russo, banjo; Peter Maness, string bass; Giampaolo Biagi, drums. They rocked, they strode, they created a joyous atmosphere. And the two trombones gave this band a solid center that delighted me — especially since Jim and Matt are wonderful ensemble players, skilled at dancing around the other horns with great grace. For me, it summoned up sweet memories of one of the first jazz groups I ever saw in concert — the World’s Greatest Jazz Band at a 1969 New York City concert steered by Dick Gibson (Zoot, Al, and Joe Newman were in one group) featuring the trombone duo of Vic Dickenson and Eddie Hubble, memorably.
At the end of this set, I left to get some sleep before my appointed rounds began on Thursday morning, but I asked Gordon if he would consider other unusual balances and instrumentations for the GSS, since this one was a honey. We shall see! Gordon called an easy one to start, but a meaningful choice. Even though he is a young man, he understands something about jazz’s responsibility to remind people that life is finite and you had better have a good time — so CABARET, a Broadway-via-Christopher Isherwood carpe diem, made sense to set the mood of the evening. It also harks back to everyone’s patron Saint, Mister Armstrong . . . it’s impossible for me to hear this song without thinking of Louis, which is always a good thing:
To quote Cootie Williams, “Ain’t the gravy good?”
I wouldn’t be surprised if Gordon is telepathic, for he certainly seemed to be reading my mind. LIMEHOUSE BLUES, with the verse, was the feature number when I saw Vic and Eddie Hubble with the WGJB, so I was more than pleased to hear it here:
On the theme of psychic abilities . . . there’s a lady they call THE GYPSY. Thank you, Louis! And thank you, GSS — Jim Fryer’s euphonium sound is good enough to eat:
The GRAND STREET Stompers then launched into CANAL STREET BLUES — a geographical paradox that upset no one::
And here’s Gordon’s winning original, ONCE, DEAR:
I was thrilled to hear I MAY BE WRONG — memories of the John Kirby Sextet and (more memorably for me) a 1960 recording of the song by Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson . . . on Prestige-Swingville:
Without a hint of uncertainty, the GSS proceeded to light up Charlie Shavers’ UNDECIDED:
And going back to Louis — BLUEBERRY HILL:
It was a wonderful set by a wonderful band . . . .
May your happiness increase.