Category Archives: Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

“A CONTROLLED, FEVERISH LYRICISM”: COLUMBIA AND RCA VICTOR LIVE RECORDINGS OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND THE ALL STARS

A musician friend of mine who is listening to this new set of rare Louis Armstrong music from 1947-58 wrote me that he has been waiting for this set for ten years. Without being competitive, I can say that I have been waiting for this Mosaic box set — a glorious and rewarding one — for almost fifty.

louis-armstrong-mosaic-records

Yes, I was introduced to Louis and his music through the sessions with Gordon Jenkins and THE FIVE PENNIES, but I treasured my copy of TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS and (later) AMBASSADOR SATCH, playing those records over and over. (When I bought my first Hot Five compilation — the Louis Armstrong Story, Volume One, with a bow to George Avakian — it sounded strange and distant, as did the Creole Jazz Band sessions.  But Thirties – Fifties Louis came to me like a vibrating force of nature.)

There are still too many listeners — and writers, unfortunately — who hold to the great myths we so love in this century — the great narrative of Early Promise and Later Stagnation.  Louis has been a true victim of such mythography: people who don’t listen think that he stopped being creative in 1929, that the All-Stars’ performances were simply crowd-pleasing note-for-note repetitions of perhaps a dozen tunes.

I do not write what follows casually: the music contained on these nine compact discs (over eleven hours of music) will be a revelation.

My title comes from Whitney Balliett’s review of Louis’ concert at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, and it is so very true.  Louis plays, throughout this set, like a man on a fierce mission of joy. Forget the cliche of the small, stocky, tired man, sweating and grinning and mopping his face while he grins his way through some paper-thin song about what a wonderful world it is or some woman named Dolly or Mame.  What you hear on these discs is not tired, not ever.

Indeed, if you were able to take one of the performances on this set and play it for someone whose ears were open, whose mind and heart were wiped clean of stereotype and assumption, I guarantee that my imagined listener would be in awe at the powerful energies to be experienced here.  The Mosaic set is not a loving tribute to a failing Elder; it is an explosive package of evidence showing that Louis was truly powerful and energized in his forties and fifties, playing and singing wonderfully — full of life.  Although a well-known reviewer in a well-known jazz publication called Louis’ performances with his chosen band a “cage,” and others have created platitudes about “antebellum” music, the sounds on this box set transcend all such shallow reportage.

Here is some musical evidence.  And for those of you who might say, “Oh, gee, another version of BLUEBERRY HILL?  For goodness’ sakes, I’ve heard Pops do that song a thousand times,” I would ask only that you sit still, put the iPhone or other distractions at a safe distance, and listen.  Listen anew.  Listen once again. What you hear is not routine, not repetition, not rote — but subtle creations, music springing to life for the millionth time, a piece of metal tubing and a human voice sending gifts of love and wisdom to all of us.

Listening to Louis Armstrong is not only a pleasurable experience but a transformative one, because Louis reminds us to not get weary, to never say, “You know, I am bored with doing, with making, with being.”  Louis never tired of that “show,” of letting music pass through him so it could be aimed like a caress at every member of the audience.  And even though Louis’ mortal body is no more, those vibrations are still able to rattle us in the nicest ways.

Larry Eanet, pianist, trombonist, creative thinker, once said that a gift (1940 or 41) of a set of Louis Armstrong 78s changed his life.  “It hit me,” he said, “like Cupid’s arrow.”

The Mosaic set has the loving power of a whole quiver of such arrows.  They stick but they never wound.

The recordings that changed Larry Eanet’s life were produced (and in some cases unearthed) by the man who, next to Louis and his musicians, is most responsible for this joy: producer and jazz-lover extraordinaire George Avakian.  When Louis was signed by Columbia Records, his record dates were supervised, shaped, and imagined by George — still with us at 95.  It’s clear that Louis trusted George to help him get his message across to as many people as possible, and the idea of AMBASSADOR SATCH owes much to George’s expansive, playful imagination. Almost seventy percent of the music in this set was overseen by George, and the box is a vibrant testimony to the power of someone who never played an instrument to create art that will outlive us all.

There are other figures to be thanked: Mosaic guardian angel Scott Wenzel; heroic engineer Andreas Meyer, and Louis Armstrong scholar and enthusiast and biographer Ricky Riccardi, who first had his encounter with Cupid’s arrow some years back. (Ricky’s is a particular triumph, because he wrote the eloquent notes; he worked to get this project moving into reality for more than a few years; this music was his entrance to the Universe of Louis as well.  The set, not incidentally, makes the perfect soundtrack to his book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS.)

It is tribute to all of these men that this set exists, and to Ricky’s dogged loving persistence that we can hear HOURS of previously unheard music in beautiful sound, exquisitely annotated, with rare photographs.

incidentally, in the name of candor, I contributed a rare photograph to the set and its liner-note writer thanks me.  I was honored to be even a small part of the effort — and the glowing result.

I could not leave out the Victor recordings on this set. And though the Columbia material pairs Louis with his most powerful front-line friends, Trummy Young and Edmond Hall, I have a personal delight in the 1947-9 All Stars because of the otherworldly playing of Sidney Catlett and Jack Teagarden — also the too-brief appearances of Dick Cary. The Mosaic set offers the twenty performances from the life-changing Town Hall Concert (it changed mine, so it’s not hyperbole) in the best sound, and then — an entire and previously unheard All Star concert (ninety minutes is all, but that’s a plenty) from Carnegie Hall that same year. And although the same songs are performed, don’t think for a minute these are identical performances.

I know that it is a critical commonplace to look down upon Louis as someone who traded in his vital jazz creativity for “showmanship.”  Louis thought that “pleasing the people” was a good thing, giving them soaring melodies, hot rhythms, and hilarious comedy was what he was on stage for.  I can listen to improvised music that goes in different directions, but the snobbery that puts Louis down is frankly inconceivable and intolerable to me.  Miles Davis, the enduring icon of cool disdain for the audience, loved Louis and was not ashamed to say so.  James Baldwin, too.  Louis had so deeply mastered the art of multifaceted and multilayered art that when he looked like he was “clowning,” he was delivering very subtle music and very deep performance.

A few candid words about Mosaic sets in general.  In my long experience of purchasing and listening, I think they have no equal. Rare material, issued legitimately for the first time, beautiful thorough documentation, wonderful sound. I know that box sets like this seem costly.  $149.00 plus shipping. But there are more than one hundred and sixty performances and interviews here. And I would propose that one purchases a Mosaic set in the same way one buys a new edition of Proust, of the complete Shakespeare, the Mozart symphonies. One is not expected to listen to the nine discs all at once, in one continual immersion, on the bus, while eating, and so on.  The music blurs and may even cloy.  One purchases such a set as a long-term investment: a wise listener would play ONE Louis track a day — that would take half a year — and savor each moment.  And then one could take a brief rest and begin in 1947, all over again.  This set has been produced in a limited edition of 5000 copies, and I can guarantee that when they are all purchased, they will appear on eBay for much much more.

And if you really want to say, “Well, I have heard enough (later) Louis Armstrong for my life,” I am afraid you will get no sympathy from me.  It’s rather like saying, “I don’t feel like laughing any more.  Been there, done that.”  And I am someone who, this last Friday, when a Louis record came on over the sound system at Cafe Borrone, I stood up and put my hand over my heart.  I wasn’t exaggerating my feelings at all. I don’t exaggerate them here.

Just for inspiration: Louis signs someone's telephone book in France.

Just for inspiration: Louis signs someone’s telephone book in France.

May your happiness increase!

NO COMEDY, JUST MUSIC: “THE BOB AND RAY SHOW” (BOB SCHULZ / RAY SKJELBRED)

The CD I present to you is a good idea whose time has come — growing out of the inevitable amusement one would have at a jazz duo CD titled THE BOB AND RAY SHOW.  No Elliott or Goulding, just Schulz (cornet, vocals), and Skjelbred (piano) in duets recorded in 2009 and 2013.

Here’s how the duo sounded — on a slightly crowded bandstand — on May 26, 2014, at the Sacramento Music Festival:

The songs on this wonderful CD, each one with singular associations, are ‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO (Robison, Bix, Whiteman, Crosby); WININ’ BOY BLUES (Mr. Morton); I AIN’T GOT NOBODY (everyone from Bessie Smith onwards); SHOE SHINE BOY (Louis, Basie, and Bing); SAVE IT, PRETTY MAMA (again Louis, Earl Hines, Don Redman); BECAUSE MY BABY DON’T MEAN ‘MAYBE” NOW (Bix, Whiteman, Bing); PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (Bing, Louis, and almost everyone else from Billie to Dick Wellstood); MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND ( Clarence Williams into the twenty-first century); ‘TIL TIMES GET BETTER (Jabbo Smith); REACHING FOR SOMEONE (Bix and Tram, also Dick Sudhalter); I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (Bix and Jimmy Rushing); MONDAY DATE (Earl, Louis, and more); KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW (Fats, Ruby Braff, and more); OH, BABY! (Tesch, Sullivan, Condon, Krupa, and more); WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Bing, Louis, and many others); WEATHER BIRD RAG (King Oliver; Louis and Earl; Braff and Hyman, and more).

The tempos chosen for this disc are primarily pretty Medium Tempos, reminding us of the infinite variations possible in that sonic meadow, the results neither soporific nor hasty.

I imagine that the improvising duet of cornet and piano goes back to the late eighteen-hundreds, when that brass instrument was a feature of homegrown ensembles and pianos were in many parlors. On record, I think of Oliver and Morton, first in a long line including Louis and Earl, Ruby and Ellis, Ruby and Dick, Sweets and Earl, a long series of trumpet duets with Oscar Peterson . . . a lineage continuing as I write this.

The duo of Schulz and Skjelbred is special — for its consistent pervasive lyricism. Many of these pairings have a playful acrobatic quality, with one of the musicians saying to the other, “Oh, yeah?  Top this!”  Some of the playfulness becomes cheerfully competitive, assertive or even aggressive. The two players trot along through each song as friendly equals, neither trying to overpower the other. Bob and Ray aren’t out to show off; they like beautiful melodies and the little surprises that can be found within even the most familiar song.  Hear, for instance, Skjelbred’s harmonic surprises and suspensions that he offers early in the video of SHOE SHINE BOY.

One of the pleasures of the disc is the easy, ardent yet understated singing of Bob — he is known to burst into song when the mood and the material are appropriate during a session of his Frisco Jazz Band, but I find his vocals particularly charming: a Crosby mordent here or there. His singing — clear, unaffected, gentle — is the expression of his cornet playing, which is a model of middle-range melodic improvisation. (In it, one hears a spring-water clarity out of Bix and Hackett, then a Spanier-intensity when Bob takes up the plunger mute.)

Bob’s partner in these explorations, Ray Skjelbred, continues to amaze and delight: his off-center approach, original yet always elating, his rollicking rhythms, his bluesy depths. Ray takes risks, and his playing is deliciously unpredictable, but it is always in the  groove. (With headphones, I could hear Bob say, softly, “Yeah!” at a felicitous Skjelbred pathway — over the rough road to the stars.) Yes, that’s a Sullivan rattle, a Stacy octave, or a Hines daredevil-leap you are hearing, but it’s all transformed in the hands of Mr. Skjelbred, who is one of the finest orchestral pianists I will ever hear — but whose orchestra is shot through with light and shade, never ponderous.

And this is not a disc of two great soloists who happen, perhaps against their will, to find themselves asked to become members of a team and do it with some reluctance. It’s clear that Bob and Ray are musical comrades who look forward to exchanging ideas, celebrating the dear old tunes while making them feel just like new.  Incidentally, the disc offers — in the best homage to George Avakian — an example or two of judicious overdubbing, with Bob both singing and playing at once. . . . something we would like to hear and see in real life, but he hasn’t managed such magic on the stand. Yet.

The thoughtful musical conversations Bob and Ray have on this disc are emotionally sustaining. Each performance has its own dramatic shape, its own structure — more than a series of ensemble / solo choruses — and I would send copies of this disc to all the young musicians in and out of this idiom.  And a test: I would ask purchasers to pick out what they think is the most “overplayed” song on the disc and listen seriously to the Bob-and-Ray version, to see what magic can be made when two earnestly playful masters go to work on rich materials. Not incidentally, the sound on this disc captures all the nuances without any engineering-strangeness, and the neatly comprehensive liner notes by drummer / historian / writer Hal Smith are a pleasure.

You can hear musical samples here (go to the “CD” section — this disc is at the top of the page). Even better, you can search out Bob or Ray at an upcoming gig and press some accepted local currency into one or the other master’s hand. As I’ve noted, Ray is touring California (that’s San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Menlo Park, Sonoma, and back to San Francisco) between July 8 and the 14th, so you can have the double pleasure of hearing him live and purchasing a CD.

Unlike the shows put on by Elliott and Goulding, I didn’t find myself laughing while I was listening, although I was smiling all the time, at the beautiful, wise, mellow music.  Get yourself some.

May your happiness increase!

 

RED HOT CHICAGO at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, ANDY SCHUMM, DUKE HEITGER, GRAHAM HUGHES, MARTIN SECK, JACOB ULLBERGER, PHIL RUTHERFORD, NICK WARD (November 3, 2013)

Erastus was very pleased, and told me so.  He wasn’t alone.

One of the things the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party does best — perhaps with no equals — is to offer vivid panoramas-in-sound of what our heroes sounded like . . . not exactly copying the records, but swinging out in devoted, accurate loving style

Here’s one such example: four beautiful evocations of hot Chicago 1927, in honor of Johnny Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers (and its close relatives) — brought to life again in 2013 by clarinetist (and Dodds scholar) Matthias Seuffert, Andy Schumm, Duke Heitger, trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone; Martin Seck, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Phil Rutherford, brass bass; Nick Ward, drums.

The players in this video are really in there, as they used to say: I delight in the intricate ensemble dance they do and their intense yet loose soloing.

WILD MAN BLUES:

WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO:

MELANCHOLY:

WEARY BLUES:

More of these uplifting sounds to come in November: details here. I am gently nudging those JAZZ LIVES readers who can attend this year’s Party to not wait: both seating and hotel rooms sold out months in advance in prior years.

May your happiness increase!

UP WITH THE ROOSTER EACH MORNING: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, HOWARD ALDEN, KERRY LEWIS, RICKY MALICHI (September 22, 2013)

By temperament, training, or circumstance, most jazz musicians are nocturnal creatures.  The corporate world expects one to be fully aware (hence the essential coffee intake) several hours before noon. But most jazz musicians begin work in the evening, so asking them to perform and improvise at nine o’clock in the morning is . . . unusual.

However, this valiant crew did nobly at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party) so we commend them here for two particularly sterling performances.  These wide-awake heroes are Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.

And the songs chosen: first, Jimmie Noone’s blues named for the club he performed in — Chicago, 1928, APEX BLUES (usually done at a slower tempo, but very successful at this one):

Harking back to Fred Waring, Benny Carter, or the Ben Webster Quartet, or just a desire to be in this serene state, SLEEP (with grand frolics from Messrs. Sportiello and Malichi):

This set was recorded on September 22, 2013, at what was once called”Jazz at Chautauqua.” That jazz party has assembled its wagon train and headed for Ohio — to Cleveland, where it will be flourishing as the Allegheny Jazz Party, this September 2014. For more good sounds, check out the AJP at their website and Facebook page and even here.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGS ‘EM HOT

Thanks to Geoffrey Martin of the Great Drummers’ Group on Facebook, for this visual reminder of “a Solid Cinder” . . .

HE SWINGS 'EM HOT

A serving of what Sidney and Louis were cooking — in 1947, at Boston’s Symphony Hall — which happens to be a favorite recording of mine for many years, the blues named for Louis’ Boston terrier, General, STEAK FACE:

May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part Two: June 15, 2014)

Good things happen at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California) — the food and the North Beach ambiance — but for me the best things happen on the third Sunday of each month, when the Esteemed Leon Oakley, cornet,and Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo, improvise lyrically on pop tunes and authentic blues for two hours.  I posted four performances from their satisfying June 15, 2014, session here. I was taught as a child to share . . . so here are five more beauties, in living color both in the view and the soaring improvisations.

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (with Craig on banjo, delightfully):

BLUES IN F (nothing more, nothing less — evoking Joseph Oliver):

MARGIE (that 1920 lovers’ classic):

And two songs that make requests — one spiritual, connected to Bunk Johnson and Sidney Bechet, LORD, LET ME IN THE LIFEBOAT:

and one secular — I think of Pee Wee Russell with TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF JAZZ:

Which they do.  More Divine Music to come.

 May your happiness increase!

EVERY EVENING: RAY SKJELBRED AND THE CUBS at SAN DIEGO (November 29, 2013): RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, MIKE DAUGHERTY

Pianist, bandleader, composer, and occasional vocalist Ray Skjelbred is gently but obstinately authentic, a prophet and beacon of deep Chicago jazz — whether it’s tender, gritty, or romping.  He and the Cubs proved this again (they always do) at their November 2013 appearances at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  For this weekend, The Cubs were Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass, tuba, vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

SIX POINT BLUES:

EVERY EVENING:

A highlight for all of us — heartfelt and quietly fervent — ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE:

Alienation of affections or kidnapping was never so festive as this rendition of SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

HO HUM!:

PIANO MAN:

DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL:

That music is good news for us all.  But more good news — larger and more tangible than the computer monitor — is coming: the Cubs are making a California tour in early July 2014, beginning in two weeks. Jeff Hamilton will be on drums, along with the regulars you see above.

Thursday, July 10: Rossmoor Dixieland Jazz Club in Walnut Creek CA. For more information visit here.

Friday, July 11: Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California. 7:30 – 10:00 PM. (1010 El Camino Real, dress casual, good food and drink and a sweet atmosphere).

Saturday, July 12: Cline Wine and Jazz Festival in Sonoma, California. The Cubs will play three sets: for details, visit here.

Sunday, July 13: Napa Valley Dixieland Jazz Society. For more information visit: here.

Monday, July 14: Le Colonial in San Francisco, California (20 Cosmo Place). For more information visit here.

The admiring shades of Alex Hill, Sidney Catlett, Lee Wiley, Eddie Condon, Count Basie, Earl Hines, Sippie Wallace, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, Cassino Simpson, Tut Soper, Frank Melrose, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Wellman Braud, Frank Teschemacher, Gene Krupa, and scores of unheralded blues musicians stand behind this band — as the Cubs make their own lovely ways to our ears and hearts.  Panaceas without side-effects.

May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part One: June 15, 2014)

Have you been? I refer to the hot chamber music sessions created by Maestro Leon Oakley and Professor Craig Ventresco — improvising on classic themes — held at Cafe Divine, 1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California, on the third Sunday of each month.

Here are the first four of a dozen treats — in living color visually as well as musically:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

MOONGLOW:

May your happiness increase!

FRIDAY NIGHT SWING SESSION AT CAFE BORRONE: CLINT BAKER, LEON OAKLEY, ROBERT YOUNG, BILL REINHART, SAM ROCHA, TOM WILSON, RILEY BAKER (June 13, 2013)

We didn’t dream it.  It happened last Friday night at Cafe Borrone (1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, California) — exalted swing time-travels thanks to Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, alto and soprano saxophone; Clint Baker, guitar; Tom Wilson, string bass; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Riley Baker, drums — a 1937 Fifty-Second Street group transplanted south and west.  The evidence, please.

A good tune to jam on, and one Charlie Christian knew well, ROSE ROOM:

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN was the first song played at Eddie Condon’s Third Street club, and the one Ed Polcer chose to close the midtown incarnation, forty years later:

Delighting in the sound of that floating rhythm, a nod to Count Basie and SWINGIN’ THE BLUES:

And a sweet homage to Mister Strong, the wellspring, with THAT’S MY HOME:

After a brief break for nourishment and friendly conversation, the band reassembled itself — with Clint shifting over to trombone and Sam Rocha joining on guitar.

Louis was still on everyone’s mind with BYE AND BYE:

Robert Young sang his own regional lyrics to AVALON:

Blues from that exalted meeting of Django and the Ellingtonians, SOLID OLD MAN:

More Louis (and why not?) with BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

Memories of Wild Bill Davison, who loved to play BLUE AGAIN:

Care for some Hot Five?  Not only ONCE IN A WHILE:

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, with an unexpected reference to someone who is rich in music:

Magic. (To say nothing of the sweet-natured staff at Cafe Borrone, the good food and drinks — a wonderful experience and place.)

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE RHYTHM CRAZY NOW: THE IVORY CLUB BOYS at ARMANDO’S (May 31, 2014): PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, ISABELLE FONTAINE, MARC CAPARONE, SAM ROCHA

The Ivory Club Boys create wonderful music. Here are two more songs from the soundcheck at their May 31, 2014 performance at Armando’s in Martinez.  The ICB are Paul Mehling, guitar; Evan Price, violin; Isabelle Fontaine, guitar / vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet (sitting in for Clint Baker that night).

CRAZY RHYTHM:

‘DEED I DO (pertly sung by Isabelle):

Here is my most recent post from this wonderful evening’s performance (including a glorious BUGLE CALL RAG and a thoroughly spiritual NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN).

I’ll be looking forward to the ICB’s next gig at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California, on August 19 (8 PM, one show).  I hope to see you there.

May your happiness increase!

JUST DIVINE, or SOME SWEET DAY WITH DINAH (LEON OAKLEY / CRAIG VENTRESCO: May 18, 2014)

In the middle of last month, on a Sunday evening, I made my way to Cafe Divine on Stockton Street in San Francisco for music that was, in its own way, simply divine: duets by cornetist Leon Oakley and guitarist Craig Ventresco — with a visit from singer Meredith Axelrod. My previous posting about this May 2014 evening can be found here.

By popular demand, I present two more video performances from that night. One is of Tony Jackson’s song, SOME SWEET DAY — an early example of revenge-with-music, a lineage that also included YOU RASCAL YOU, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, YOU’LL WISH YOU’D NEVER BEEN BORN, GOODY GOODY, I WANNA BE AROUND . . . and a hundred more. I wonder if there are more revenge songs than gratified-love songs, and what that would say about our collective character if it were true.  That a number of the songs above have connections to Louis Armstrong should not encourage us to label him as personally vindictive, though.  The second selection, DINAH, goes back to the early Twenties, and (in the hands of Louis and others) has often been treated as a jubilant romp. But this version — so reminiscent of Ruby Braff — is sweetly ruminative and completely winning.

SOME SWEET DAY (with the verse!):

DINAH:

Craig and Leon will be at Cafe Divine, barring tectonic shifts, the third Sunday of every month . . . . so don’t miss out!

May your happiness increase!

 

ACES OF RHYTHM: BEN CUMMINGS, JEAN-FRANCOIS BONNEL, KEITH NICHOLS, JACOB ULLBERGER, PHIL RUTHERFORD at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 2, 2013)

Jabbo Smith — that precise daredevil, that trumpet superhero — has often been emulated but rarely equalled.  This hot little band in honor of Jabbo’s searing Rhythm Aces recordings does everything mere mortals could do in Jabbo’s honor, with delightfully incendiary results: Ben Cummings, trumpet / vocal; Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Keith Nichols, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Phil Rutherford, brass bass. This session took place on November 2, 2013, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party. You might want to have an iced drink handy before viewing this set: it raises the temperature of the room precipitously.

ACE OF RHYTHM:

BOSTON SKUFFLE:

MICHIGANDER BLUES:

LINA BLUES:

JAZZ BATTLE:

As brilliant as this hot evocation was, it wasn’t an isolated event at the 2013 Party (more videos to come as proof) and I know it will happen again, over and over in different contexts, at this year’s Party — details here.

Thanks to Clint Baker and David Jellema for assistance and inspiration, as always.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR TWO PIANOS, AS IMAGINED, CREATED, AND PERFORMED BY RAY SKJELBRED and CARL SONNY LEYLAND, PART TWO (March 9, 2014)

The music you are about to experience was created on the spot at JazzAge Monterey’s 2014 Jazz Bash by the Bay — by two of the most expansive improvisers I know: expansive in the sense of imagination and feeling and play. Together and singly,they have  the years of experience that allow them to envision something musical and give it physical shape at the keyboard so that we can rejoice in it.

Exquisitely dancing at the piano, they offer us a magical balance of power and control, abandon and exactness. I do not exaggerate when I speak of Ray Skjelbred and Carl Sonny Leyland, wizards of sound. Here are four more selections from their hour-long offering.

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

WININ’ BOY BLUES:

FAN IT (always good advice!) then OH, BABY!:

You’ll notice a few things. One is how the two deep individualists here blend their singular styles so that their individual selves are never obscured, but they pool their efforts for the larger community of four hands and two keyboards.  Two is that the chosen repertoire bounces back and forth between romping tunes — pop or blues — and deep dark sad mournful utterances . . . covering the whole emotional range, whether evoking Alex Hill, the Chicagoans, Jelly Roll Morton, or Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, the last a name and presence to be reckoned with.

Finally, a cinematographic comment. I wanted to be as close to the pianos as possible for the clearest sound, but even with my wide-angle lens, I had to pan back and forth, which means that at times one can’t see what Ray is doing while Carl is playing, and vice versa.  Sorry about this . . . to be deeper in to the auditorium would give me more muddy sound and (I fear) a bad case of head-in-the-way. I have been listening to these videos through headphones — no picture — and find them particularly entrancing.

My previous posting of the final song of the set, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, can be found here.

Blessings on people who get deep in to the blues and who can romp ecstatically: Ray Skjlebred and Carl Sonny Leyland are two noble souls of those realms.

NEW ORLEANS JOYS: CLINT BAKER, BILL CARTER, JIM KLIPPERT, MONTE REYES, BILL REINHART, SAM ROCHA, J HANSEN at CAFE BORRONE (June 6, 2014)

A few nights ago, on Friday, June 6, 2014, Clint Baker and friends turned Cafe Borrone (1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, California) into a New Orleans dance hall for two sets from 7:30 to 10 PM. Clint and friends are usually known as Clint Baker and his Cafe Borrone All Stars; for this night, because of so many long-time friends and colleagues gathered together to make music, they were his New Orleans Jazz Band.  Appropriately!

“Hear me talkin’ to you!” Clint, trumpet, vocal; Bill Carter, clarinet, ensemble vocal; Jim Klippert, trombone, ensemble vocal; Monte Reyes, banjo, vocal; Bill Reinhart, guitar; Sam Rocha, string bass, vocal; J Hansen, drums.

PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET (with ensemble warbling):

CARELESS LOVE:

BUGLE BOY MARCH:

I’M ALONE BECAUSE I LOVE YOU (vocal by Sam):

THE SECOND LINE:

SOME OF THESE DAYS (vocal by Clint):

OLE MISS:

SWEET LOTUS BLOSSOM (vocal by Clint):

ICE CREAM (ensemble chorusing. no artificial ingredients):

“KEEP IT REAL” Bb BLUES:

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE (that rocking carpe diem):

LADY BE GOOD (with Monte’s justly famous vocal):

A friend gave me a copy of the latest issue of DOWN BEAT — with nice coverage of Eric Alexander, Brian Blade, Sonny Rollins, even a review of a new Bucky Pizzarelli CD.  But no feature on Clint Baker or the wonderful happenings at Cafe Borrone.  Their loss.  What would it take to get DOWN BEAT to come down here? I would buy the reporter a nice plate of polenta, carrots, kale, and cauliflower, or something else from their good kitchen: you have my word.  Until then, if you can get down here, you won’t regret the trip; if it’s too far away, please share this blogpost with people you know who would like it.  Clint and his pals are creating hot, subtle delights regularly — and your attention is perhaps the best tribute.

 May your happiness increase!

FROM SPIRITUAL TO SWING: THE IVORY CLUB BOYS at ARMANDO’S (May 31, 2014): “NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN,” Take One: PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, MARC CAPARONE, SAM ROCHA, ISABELLE FONTAINE

Hot music straight from their hearts: NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN, as performed by the IVORY CLUB BOYS, Paul Mehling’s evocation of Stuff Smith’s delicious swing on Fifty-Second Street circa 1946-45. They are, for this hot concert, Paul, guitar; Evan Price, violin; Marc Caparone, cornet (subbing for Clint Baker); Sam Rocha, string bass; Isabelle Fontaine, guitar. This was recorded on May 31, 2014, at Armando’s in Martinez, California.  I was behind the camera, so you can’t see how much I was and am grinning. emotionally deep but very light-hearted improvisations, the work of swing masters:

Oh, and for those in the know . . . that was the soundcheck.  Draw your own conclusions about how wonderful this band is.

Here is the first posting — a riotous BUGLE CALL RAG from that same session. More to come, thank goodness. And the IVORY CLUB BOYS (with Clint on trumpet) will be appearing at Yoshi’s in Oakland on August 19.  Make a note of that, please.

May your happiness increase!

“BAKER, RILEY (tuba);”

I celebrate the public performance and video debut of Riley Baker. You’ve seen and heard (and I trust admired) him on drums, but this is his first appearance in public with a band while he is so allied to metal tubing.

This took place a few days ago — May 30, 2014 — at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, where Riley’s father (that fellow Clint) put down the tuba so that Riley could join in. The other members of the All Stars are Leon Oakley, cornet; Jim Klippert, trombone; Robert Young, soprano and alto saxophone; Jason Vanderford, guitar; Bill Reinhart, banjo; J Hansen, drums.

BOURBON STREET PARADE:

MECCA FLAT BLUES:

Except for one chorus on BOURBON STREET PARADE, you can’t see a great deal of Riley’s face, but you can hear and feel him.  His tone is nice and full; he’s playing the right notes; his time is good.

And don’t rely on me: look at Jason’s face on MECCA and look at Leon’s enthusiastic “Welcome to the brotherhood!” grin and gesture at the end of that same tune.

Welcome, young Mister Baker!  And for the detail-obsessed, Riley and twin sister Ramona (a brilliant star in her own orbits) were born on November 28, 2000.  Not yet fourteen.  Hooray for the youngbloods!

May your happiness increase!

HOT STUFF: “BUGLE CALL RAG”: THE IVORY CLUB BOYS at ARMANDO’S (PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, MARC CAPARONE, SAM ROCHA, ISABELLE FONTAINE) MAY 31, 2014

Here’s music to feel very very good about.  In fact, you might have to hold on to your chair. Here is the BUGLE CALL RAG, as performed by the IVORY CLUB BOYS, Paul Mehling’s evocation of Stuff Smith’s delicious swing on Fifty-Second Street circa 1946-45. They are, for this hot concert, Paul, guitar; Evan Price, violin; Marc Caparone, cornet (subbing for Clint Baker); Sam Rocha, string bass; Isabelle Fontaine, guitar. This was recorded on May 31, 2014, at Armando’s in Martinez, California.  I was behind the camera, so you can’t see how much I was and am grinning.

May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE MUSIC (Part One): LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO (with MISS MEREDITH AXELROD)

Just beautiful.  Leon, cornet; Craig, guitar; guest star Meredith, vocals — at Cafe Divine (a fine restaurant at 1600 Stockton Street in San Francisco). Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco play there on the third Sunday of every month, and this session — in two parts — took place on May 18, 2014.

A caveat to start.  Leon and Craig play without amplification, and Cafe Divine is a restaurant, not a concert hall, so you will hear the conversation of the diners. I don’t think that the Savoy Ballroom was reverently still, or the dinners at which Bach and Mozart swung out with their latest compositions.

Their intoxicating music soars.  I told Craig after the first set that he and Leon had performed time-and-space-warping magic: they had made 2014 North Beach into 1928 Chicago, and he agreed: that was their intention!

Here is the first of two tasting menus offered for your delectation.

The Hot Five’s ONCE IN A WHILE:

A very moving MEMORIES OF YOU:

Robert Johnson’s HOT TAMALES (THEY’RE RED HOT) which at first I mistook for HOW’M I DOIN’? — being more familiar with Redman than Johnson:

A song I didn’t know, from Amanda Randoph’s repertoire, here sung by Meredith, HONEY, DON’T YOU TURN YOUR BACK ON ME:

A highlight: MABEL’S DREAM:

Meredith offers I’M A LITTLE BLACKBIRD from the Clarence Williams book:

And we close with a spicy MESSIN’ AROUND:

Other bands are playing these songs, and beautifully, too, but no one else is making music quite like this in 2014, I propose. I’ve marked my calendar for the Oakley-Ventresco magical appearances at Cafe Divine, a place that lives up to its name.

May your happiness increase!

May your happiness increase!

“WHO’S SORRY NOW?” “NOT ME.” PAOLO ALDERIGHI, PHIL FLANIGAN, JEFF HAMILTON at MONTEREY (March 8, 2014)

May I humbly suggest that you put everything down (yes, leave the pretense of multi-tasking alone) and enjoy yourself for six minutes’ plus.

I present three modern swing masters exploring WHO’S SORRY NOW? at the 2014 Jazz Bash by the Bay: Paolo Alderighi, piano; Phil Flanigan, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

You’ll find your own delights in this performance: there’s the heartbeat sound of Phil’s bass, his time so “right” and his solo voice so sweetly deep; Jeff’s variety of sounds, his dancing wire-brush playing on the cymbals and drumheads; his witty conversation with Paolo — who here reminds me a little of his hero Erroll Garner, but much more of a pianist who’s rarely celebrated, Sir Charles Thompson (still active in his early nineties!) — with a beautiful blend of light-hearted swing and subtle harmonic explorations, offering us the sacred past and his own 2014 variations on theme, sound, voicing, melodic embellishment, dynamics.

I’d offer this performance to any rhythm-section players as a model of communal gracefulness: in it, the soloists speak for themselves but build lovely creations that are far more than three players proceeding down familiar roads together.  Thanks to Rebecca Kilgore for getting these three fellows together, and for creating an atmosphere where such things happen naturally.

This performance is a lesson in beautiful PLAY.

May your happiness increase!

FRIENDLY HOT LYRICISM: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PAUL KELLER, DANNY COOTS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 26, 2014)

Duke Heitger — playing or singing — makes special music, lyrical and hot. I’ve had the great privilege to see him in action for ten years now, and he never coasts in on autopilot.  His lip may be worn down after a full day of playing; he may be asked to sing in a key that’s not the right one . . . but he always reaches deep down and creates beautiful music. He did it many times at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, but a special treat was this set, one he led, on Saturday, April 26, 2014.

It didn’t hurt at all that he had wonderful lyrical players alongside him: Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet / tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, bass; Danny Coots, drums.

They performed four numbers, each one a beauty of its own singular kind:

The classic ode to sweet summer, JUNE NIGHT:

A surprise! Lester Young’s TICKLE-TOE (one of the highlights of the weekend for me):

A dark sweet exploration of WHEN DAY IS DONE (where Dan Barrett showed at the start that he, too, could play trombone the Bob Havens way):

And a romping New Orleans take on HIGH SOCIETY:

I look forward to encountering Duke again in Cleveland at the September Allegheny Jazz Party and two months later, in Newcastle, England, for the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, later that month in New Orleans, for the Steamboat Stomp . . . and in April, the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party.  He is an inspiring fellow indeed, and he has great musical pals, as you can see here.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR STRING ENSEMBLE, 1938

Bobby Sherwood (1914-81) isn’t well-known as a jazz guitarist today, but in the early Thirties he was so deeply respected that he was Bing Crosby’s accompanist on 1934 recordings (MOONBURN and SOMEDAY SWEETHEART); he recorded with the Boswell Sisters, Cleo Brown, and Joe Venuti.  (In 1940 he was guitarist and one of the arrangers for Artie Shaw.)

To me, this means he was viewed as a player equal to the late Eddie Lang, and his beautiful sonority and chordal subtleties — and swing — don’t disappoint.

A few years earlier, violinist Harry Bluestone (1907-92) was recording with hot dance studio bands, Connee Boswell, the Boswell Sisters, Lee Wiley, the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Bill Challis, Casper Reardon, and again Artie Shaw . . . .

While Sherwood eventually led his own band (playing a variety of instruments, composing, and singing), Bluestone became the first-chair violinist and concertmaster for many many recordings with everyone from Peggy Lee to Quincy Jones.

But this Decca 78, recorded in November 1938, shows them quietly and wittily evoking Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti — to great effect — while sounding like themselves.

First, the punning KIDDIN’ ON THE STRINGS:

Then, a sweet AM I BLUE?:

The moral?  Great music is made by people you might not have heard of except as side-people on more famous people’s record date.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS LIKE (September 16, 1952)

Untitled-2Bobby Hackett admired Louis Armstrong — the man and his music — throughout his life, and Louis felt the same way about the younger man.  Louis and Bobby were friends, enjoyed each other’s company, and played alongside each other for nearly three decades.  Charles Peterson took photographs of them at the Walt Whitman School in 1942 (see that frankly astonishing offering here) and we have video footage of them at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1970.

The photograph above comes from drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook, lent to me by the very generous Duncan Schiedt.  The photographer was Bob Parent, but the photograph is otherwise not annotated.  But the “Childs” menu or drink list that Louis is resting his hand on tells me that this was taken during a Hackett gig at Childs Paramount; Louis’ informal attire suggests that he was visiting rather than playing, and that this happy meeting took place in warm weather.

My research team of Riccardi, Caparone, DeCarlis, and Rothberg, LLC, has noted that Hackett is playing a Besson trumpet with a Bach mouthpiece; The New Yorker has listed Hackett as playing at Childs in September 1952, and Louis was playing with Gordon Jenkins at the Paramount Theatre (immediately above the restaurant) in September, before he left for Europe.  Even better, the Hackett gig began on September 16, 1952, and it has been documented that Louis dropped in to visit and hear.  And smile.

I could show you a picture photograph of the restaurant — at 1501 Broadway (at 43rd Street) beneath the Paramount Theatre, or a 1947 menu that lists as its highest-priced supper item a plate of fried oysters, potatoes, and cole slaw — seventy-five cents. I could point out that Louis’ watch seems to say it is just past 11:30.

But the picture says more about what happiness is than any of that historical detritus, and Louis and Bobby are secure in their brotherly love and respect forever.

Here’s another lovely kind of evidence, music I have known since childhood:

and another version, from 1970:

(More evidence of Louis and Bobby’s deep love can be found here — coming soon!)

Incidentally, Louis was quoted as saying, “I’m the coffee, and Bobby’s the cream,” which I suppose one could take as a racial joke about their outer coverings — but I see it as something deeper, the way two elements combine in a sweet synergy to create something that neither of them would have been, separate.

May your happiness increase!