Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

SWINGTIME AT THE LIBRARY with LAURA WINDLEY and the MINT JULEP JAZZ BAND

I haven’t had a librarian say “Shhhhhh!” to me since junior high school, so I know that stereotype might be long gone. But it’s lovely to see a library expand into sweet, swinging music, as it does here.

The wonderful musicians are the warm, easy singer Laura Windley and the Mint Julep Jazz Band: Lucian Cobb, trombone; Paul Rogers, trumpet; Aaron Hill, alto sax and clarinet; Keenan McKenzie, tenor sax and clarinet; Ben Lassiter, guitar; Aaron Tucker, drums; Jason Foureman, string bass. They perform the magical time-travel of bringing a 1938 Cotton Club show with an Ellington small group to the library in Greensboro, North Carolina (videos shot by Our State magazine). I’m very happy to see and hear this, and I am sure you will like it / them, too.

SWINGTIME IN HONOLULU:

ROCK IT FOR ME:

and a rollicking instrumental invention (I think of the John Kirby Sextet in its 1943-44 guise plus gallons of coffee) called MIAMI BOULEVARD:

And here is the band’s website. If they come to the library, what could prevent them from coming to you?  Or the reverse.

May your happiness increase!

MELLOW and DIVINE: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO at CAFE DIVINE (June 15, 2014)

The final three duet improvisations by the masterful Leon Oakley, cornet, and Craig Ventresco, guitar, at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco), recorded on Sunday, June 15, 2014:

SATURDAY NIGHT FUNCTION:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND (with a particularly lovely rubato verse):

Leon and Craig will be back in their chosen spot on Sunday, July 20 — making their way, tender and brave, through the worlds of music.  Divine for sure. And the pizza was delicious.

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!

(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!

LARGER THAN ANY TEXTBOOK

I opened a jazz-history textbook the other day, and was struck once again by the packaging of the music as a chronologically-unfolding procession. Each “style” is afforded a chapter. World musics lead to ragtime, to Bolden, to Louis, Henderson, Ellington, Lester, Bird, Miles, Coltrane, Ornette, and “the future of jazz.”

Implicit in this survey, since “progress is our most important product” in this contemporary landscape, is the idea that the music began in simplicity (acceptable because they didn’t know any better) and added on new densities of harmony, rhythm (all to be applauded).

I find the idea that New is an improvement on Old distasteful, but I will leave that for now.  (By the same token, I do not automatically think Old = True, and New = Corrupt.)

What fascinated me so much in this textbook was the presentation of The Great Innovators.  The “Stars,” if you will. I am proud of what others might call unrestrained admiration for Louis Armstrong — a love perhaps bordering on idolatry. I feel the same way about Jack Teagarden, Lester Young, Billie Holiday and a hundred others. But this book made clear that when the New Innovator came to town, everyone tried to play or sing like him / her, so immense was their powerful artistic identity.

The Innovators, to be sure, affected musicians with seismic force. Rex Stewart wrote of hearing Louis with Henderson that he, Rex, tried to not only play like Louis but affect all things Louis-like.

But we see in Rex’s case, that imitation very quickly becomes a subtler thing, and that Rex absorbed from Louis certain shadings and approaches that fit into his own conception of what he was meant to do and be.

There is, of course, the other example: the Innovator comes to town, the critics go wild, the fans bow down — but some musicians say, “That is not for me at all,” and keep developing their own sounds in a sweetly defiant individuality. Pee Wee Russell is very much aware of Benny Goodman; Miff Mole knows about Jack Teagarden; Pete Brown lives in the same city as Charlie Parker . . . but Russell, Mole, and Brown go their own ways.

All this is meant only to suggest that the creative improvised music we love is too large, too organic, too fluid to be compressed into a forward-moving history textbook.

May your happiness increase!

CREATING BEAUTY: THE THRIFT SET ORCHESTRA

Festival promoters, swing dance bookers, people who love good music, beautifully played, take note!

(If John Hammond were alive, this band would already have a contract with English Parlophone, be playing at Smalls Paradise, and be broadcasting over WEVD . . . but it’s 2014, and we have to make such things happen for ourselves):

KRAZY KAPERS (take 1):

and another set of KAPERS:

Who are these Swing miracle-workers?  Why, they are the Thrift Set Orchestra, a band based in Austin, Texas.  At their site, you can read the biographies of the individual musicians and learn more about the group. I don’t see a place where one can request an autographed picture of the TSO, but soon that will be necessary, as jazz and swing dance fans coast-to-coast get the message.

If the Thrift Set Orchestra looks familiar to you, it might be because I posted two versions of their THE MOOCHE in honor of the band and of Ellington’s birthday here.

What makes them so special? I have to put them in context. There are many other youthful jazz bands out there devoted to the music of the Swing Era (and by that I do not mean formulaic versions of IN THE MOOD for dancers), and they all serve a useful function.  But few of them play as convincingly and with as much inventiveness as the TSO.

Some bands execute transcriptions of the original arrangements and recorded solos splendidly (no harm done there); other bands offer their own improvisations (likewise); some bands woo audiences with energy and vintage clothing or snappy uniforms and Art Deco stands (visually appealing for those who like spectacle).

But for me the deepest question is always: “What does the music sound like if I close my eyes?  Does it please my deepest self?”

I know it might seem odd, but for me, the test for a new CD is the car — my Old New Car with a decent sound system.  Driving somewhere with a previously unheard disc in the player, I can’t read the liner notes or check who’s soloing on track six.  I can only listen. And my response to the TSO disc was nearly ecstatic. I played it once, then again. And in the next few days I played it every time I drove, even for a five-minute errand. Driving on a main street in a suburban business district, I made sure to lower my windows so that everyone could hear the TSO put their own stamp on NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, BLUE DRAG, or HELLO BABE. No one came over at a stop light to ask the source of this joy, but I am convinced that I did some good, even subliminally, by offering this swinging beauty to innocent bystanders. Spreading joy to children who have never read a book about improvisation.  “Mama, that man had music coming from his car!” “Hush, child! We’re going home right now.”

Back to the sounds. The TSO is a compact, energetic, and accurate jazz-swing orchestra, with players who can read and improvise in an idiomatic yet loose manner, and who can swing convincingly on their own solos. Their ensemble playing is authentic but not stiff, the solos inventive and personal. The band echoes Ellington and Bennie Moten, but it has its own Western Swing spiciness too.  The CD offers a pleasing mix of classic songs and originals, as well as less familiar Thirties evocations (not copies) of Freddy Taylor, Cab Calloway, Bob Crosby, Jean Goldkette, informal sessions at Squirrel Ashcraft’s featuring Bill Priestley on cornet. Guitarist / vocalist Albanie Faletta sings deliciously on BLUE DRAG, and trombonist Mark “Speedy” Gonsalez plays Roy Eldridge’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR marvelously as a feature for the lower-register horn, getting every note splendidly in place. David Jellema’s cornet shines throughout, nimbly evoking early Hackett, and he adds his clarinet to the ensemble when a trio is called for. The two-man sax section of Graulty and Doyle, switching horns, is absolutely a model — and their soloing is individual yet idiomatic in the best way.  Anchored by Hal Smith’s perfect drumming (you could listen to any of these tracks for the drumming alone and be refreshed), the rhythm section rocks — no pianists need apply.

The overall sound of the band is both light and intense, and there is no hint of pretension or stiffness. They don’t sound as if they can’t wait to get back to their post-Coltrane modal studies. The rhythm section is powerful but never obtrusive, and the horns glide from lyrical solos to speaking gutty truths through their horns (trombonist Mark could be our generation’s Snub Moseley, and we welcome him!).  The TSO, in addition, has the sound of a working band: people who are used to playing together and who enjoy each other’s musical company.

Had this CD had simply been expert recreations of recordings, I would have been far less enthusiastic.  Although eleven of the tracks here display some allegiance to recorded performances, each of them has small delicious surprises: brief horn solos where one wouldn’t expect them, a brief horns-only passage in SUNDAY; the welcome presence of a banjo on HELLO BABE; friendly adjustments, adaptations, and inventions: new touches that seem just right, something that Foots Thomas or Bill Challis would have liked just fine.  Witty musical ingenuity rather than idolatrous museum-quality reproduction is the result.

And in case you are someone with a record collection, muttering, “I’d rather hear the originals,” the TSO has some new originals to offer you, danceable melodies with memorable lines — most of them taking a single melodic phrase and moving it around in the best Waller style to create tunes that don’t leave your head.

The musicians are David Jellema, cornet, clarinet; Jonathan Doyle, soprano, alto, clarinet; Lyon Graulty, tenor, clarinet, vocal; Albanie Faletta, guitar, vocal; Westen Borghesi, banjo, vocal; Ryan Gould, string bass, vocal; Hal Smith, drums, performing NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / SURE FINE / BLUE DRAG / SHAGTOWN JUBILEE / ROCKIN’ CHAIR / SNOWBOUND IN A CABIN / SUNDAY / SUGAR / HELLO BABE / SWEET IS THE NIGHT / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / KRAZY KAPERS / HANG ON EVERY WORD / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM / THE MOOCHE.  Good sound from sessions recorded July 2013.

You can purchase the CD here for $15 plus $3 shipping.

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I predict a brilliant future for the TSO. I’m delighted they exist. We need them — a musical embodiment of Bach’s Rescue Remedy.

And as for its band name — the Thrift Set Orchestra, here’s what its creator Jonathan Doyle told me: “The name came from a thought around the idea of the economy of size of the orchestra, or maybe about an economy of musical style. It might have been about recycled culture too, finding clothes and records in thrift stores and putting all of the styles from the different eras together as one pleases, embracing beautiful and interesting things from the past that have lost value in contemporary society.”

The TSO embodies a beautiful philosophy in their music.

May your happiness increase!

MEET ME AT THE CORNER OF THEN AND NOW

Although the physicists explain gravely that time — make that Time — is not a straight line but a field in which we may meander, it often feels as if we are characters in a Saul Steinberg cartoon, squinting into the looming Future while the Past stretches behind us, intriguing but closed off.  We anxiously stand on a sliver of Now the thickness and length of a new pencil, hoping for the best.

Jazz, or at least the kind that occupies my internal jukebox, is always balancing (not always adeptly) Then and Now.  For some, Then is marked in terms of dates: this afternoon in November 1940, or this one in July 1922. The most absorbed of us can even add artifacts and sound effects: uncontrollable coughing, a trout sandwich, the sound of dancers’ feet in a ballroom.

But for me, Then is a series of manifestations, imagined as well as real, that have no particular date and time.

Bix and Don Murray watching a baseball game. The Chicago flat where Louis and friends drank Mrs. Circe’s gin and told stories. Mezz Mezzrow on the subway. Strayhorn auditioning in Ellington’s dressing room. Mystics Boyce Brown, Tut Soper, and Don Carter, each imagining the universe in his own way. Eddie Condon picking up the tenor guitar. Hot Lips Page shaking a Texan’s hand. Art Hodes and Wingy Manone politely deciding who gets to wear the bear coat tonight. Francene and Frank Melrose having Dave Tough and friends over for a scant but happy meal of rice and peppers. E.A. Fearn making a suggestion. Billy Banks arriving late for the record date. Bird washing dishes while hearing Art Tatum. Joe Oliver having a snack in a Chinese restaurant.

Any jazz fan who has read enough biography can invent her own mythography of the landmarks of Then.

Now, although it recedes as I write this, is a little easier to fix in time and space, in the way one pushes a colored push-pin through a map.

Andy Schumm, cornet and archives; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Levinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Howard Alden, banjo; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums: late in the evening of September 20 at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua, now reinvented as the Allegheny Jazz Party.

OLD MAN SUNSHINE (LITTLE BOY BLUEBIRD):

SHAKE THAT JELLY ROLL:

LITTLE WHITE LIES (in an arrangement inspired by British Pathe sound film of the Noble Sissle band — and piling rarity upon rarity — giving us a glimpse of Tommy Ladnier playing):

DEEP NIGHT:

GET GOIN’ (in honor of the Bennie Moten band, which also had spiders to deal with in Kansas City):

KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW (Sheridan’s verse gets everyone in the right mood):

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

18TH AND RACINE (a street intersection in Chicago / an Andy Schumm original / the title track of the Fat Babies’ delicious new CD on Delmark Records):

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (with a wonderful surprise at 3:00 — why isn’t there a whole CD of this?):

See you in Cleveland, Ohio, between September 18 and 21, 2014, for more of the same delicious time-superimpositions, courtesy of the Allegheny Jazz Party, where such things happen as a matter of course.

May your happiness increase!

DUKE WAS YOUNG ONCE, TOO

Yes, today is Duke Ellington’s birthday. But isn’t every day?

By a happy confluence, last night I was listening to the Thrift Set Orchestra‘s debut CD. Talk about rocking in rhythm! (I will have more to say about that disc soon.  But don’t wait for me: I assure you it is an aural treat.)

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Here is the band’s Facebook page, and their website.

And here is some wonderful evidence I can share with you: to celebrate Duke and to delight us: two versions of THE MOOCHE, that sinuous dance, recorded by the TSO in 2013.

Take Two:

Take Three:

The clarinetists are Jonathan Doyle, David Jellema (the band’s fine cornetist), and Lyon Graulty; that naughty trombone is played by Mark Gonzales; the rhythm section is Albanie Falletta, guitar (she also sings!); Westen Borghesi, banjo; Ryan Gould, string bass; and the always propulsive Hal Smith, drums.

On this day and other days, many of us recall Duke as famous, world-renowned, yet older.  I summon up that electric-blue suit; that elaborate hairdo; the deep expression balancing knowledge, sadness, too many late nights.

But Duke was young once. He would have loved the Thrift Set Orchestra. As do I.

May your happiness increase!

IVIE’S BLUES: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, PAOLO ALDERIGHI at MONTEREY (March 9, 2014)

Ivie Anderson was a memorable singer whose records with the Duke Ellington Orchestra between 1932-42 resonate in my mind. She’s not immediately known by many jazz fans, which is a pity. But our Becky knows and loves Ivie’s music deeply and well.

Here is a gritty sad blues, ROCKS IN MY BED, from Becky Kilgore’s heartfelt tribute to Ivie and the Duke — with delicious playing from Dan Barrett, trombone, and Paolo Alderighi, piano. This performance comes from JazzAge Monterey’s Jazz Bash by the Bay, on March 9, 2014:

May your happiness increase!

“BLUE NOTES THAT FRAME THE PASSION”: RAY SKJELBRED’S TRIBAL WISDOM

Pianist / composer / scholar / poet Ray Skjelbred is one of the rare ones.

I don’t say this only because of his deeply rewarding piano playing — soloist, accompanist, bandleader — but because of the understanding that it rests upon.  Ray understands that he is one of long line of creators — members of the tribe of improvising storytellers, some of them no longer on the planet but their energies still vividly alive.

He doesn’t strive to copy or to “recreate”; rather, he honors and embodies in ways that words can only hint at.  Call it an enlightened reverence that takes its form in blues-based melodic inventions, and you’ll be close to understanding the essence of what Ray does, feels, and is.

Here are some of his own introspections: “I get ideas by trying to hear the world differently, sometimes even misunderstanding sound on purpose. . . . I like to see things differently, to shape a song, to make it mine. I like to make tempo changes, especially fast to slow, I like to make the notes as round and warm as possible and part of that comes from shading a composition with blue notes that frame the passion. I like to fill in harmonies when the melody feels a little bony to me. . . . I think music is an adventure, a chance to shape sound with your bare hands.”

I’ve admired his playing for some years now — before I knew him as a soloist, I heard him through ensembles on recordings led by other musicians, rather in the way one would hear Hines, Horace Henderson, Joe Sullivan, Frank Melrose, Jess Stacy, Zinky Cohn, Tut Soper, Cassino Simpson, Alex Hill, or a dozen others subversively and happily animating the largest group.

There are several ways to experience this magic — Ray making himself a portal through which the elders can speak, while adding his own personal experiences.  One, of course, is to witness his transformations in person.  To do this, you’d have to know where he is going to be playing — check out the bottom of the page here for his appearances in the near future.

Another way t0 have a portable Skjelbred festival is through his compact discs, recent and otherwise, listed here. I call two new issues to your attention.  One, RAGTIME PIANO, is — beneath its rather plain title — a continued exploration of subversive possibilities, witty and warm.

I remember the first time I began to listen to it — with small surprises popping through the surface like small flowers, catching me off guard, subtler than Monk creating his own version of stride piano but with some of the same effect.  Each track is a small hot sonata, with the surprises resurfacing to make the whole disc a suite of unusual yet comfortable syncopated dance music.

The sixteen solo piano performances offer classics, stretched and reconsidered: SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / SOMETHING DOING / WHOOPEE STOMP / LOUISIANA RAG / MOURNFUL SERENADE / DANCE OF THE WITCH HAZELS / PINEAPPLE RAG / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING, as well as Ray’s originals — inspired by everyone from Emily Dickinson to Julia Child: SMILING RAG / LEAN AND GRIEFY RAG / DON’T CROWD THE MUSHROOMS / COCHINEAL RAG / LITTLE ELMER’S RAG / THE PICOT RAG / REFLECTIONS RAG / BALLS AND STRIKES FOREVER.

Another deep lesson in how to get the most music possible — and then some — from the piano can be found in Ray’s PIANO PORTRAITS, which demonstrates his range of endearing associations, from the Hot Five and early blues singers to Carl Kress and Eddie Lang, from Jimmie Noone and early Ellington to Bix, Hines, and Charlie Shavers. It’s a filling and fulfilling musical banquet: SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD / FEELING MY WAY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / WEATHER BIRD RAG / SQUEEZE ME / I NEED YOU BY MY SIDE / DINAH / READY FOR THE RIVER / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / CLARK AND RANDOLPH / CANNED MEAT RAG / BLUES FROM “CREOLE RHAPSODY” / BLUES FOR MILLIE LAMMOREUX / FATHER SWING / WHEN I DREAM OF YOU / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / MY HEART / MUGGLES / UNDECIDED.  Ray’s prose is as forthright and evocative as his playing, so this CD is worth reading as well as hearing for his recollections of Johnny Wittwer, Joe Sullivan, Burt Bales, Art Hodes, and Earl Hines.

Another way to experience Ray, his mastery of “those pretty notes and jangly octaves,” can be through these video performances.  He has been more than gracious to me, allowing me to capture him in a variety of settings.  I offer one here, BULL FROG BLUES, recorded on November 29, 2013, at the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival — with his Cubs, that savory band: Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Mike Daugherty, drums:

Wherever Ray goes, whatever the context in which he makes music, it’s always rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

ESCAPING THE BOX

William Carlos Williams: “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet—gosh, how I hate sonnets—is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through, you don’t have a crab any more.”

Robert Frost: “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”

Younger, I would have sided with Frost: too much freedom leads to chaos. But I celebrate Williams’ position (even though his metaphor makes me wince) more as I age, feel, and listen.  Tidiness is a wonderful thing in the kitchen cabinets, but it might lead to the slow death of creative improvising.

In that spirit, I present the latest works of saxophonist / composer / historian / scholar / seeker Allen Lowe, a four-CD set of original compositions with one exception, a spoken-word piece by the novelist Rick Moody.

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JAZZ LIVES readers will be familiar with many of the names on that cover; others will provide engaging and sometimes quizzical surprises in listening and emotion.

Lowe’s works don’t seek to present snapshots of particular eras; they don’t offer “styles or schools.” Rather, his imaginations are intense, deep, yet unfettered. FIELD RECORDINGS, Lowe says in his liner notes, grew out of an argument he had with Wnton Marsalis — during Lowe’s attempt to interview Marsalis.  Disagreeing about “minstrelsy,” Marsalis characterized Lowe — in Lowe’s words — as “merely another in a long line of deluded white academics.”

Lowe spent the next six years immersing himself in “early entertainments of every racial persuasion,” which led him to compositions — song forms — that reflected what he had heard and experienced.  He also plays and improvises on many of these performances heard in this CD set.  More details here.

Lowe writes, “There is a tradition in certain kinds of writing in which the writer takes past works and puts them to his own use for very specific philosophical and artistic reasons. Brecht called this copien, as in the use of older texts as a means to something new and different, as a method from which to challenge prior ideas and forms. This project was done in exactly this spirit, as a way of altering certain received ideas of popular and jazz song. It is also a challenge to certain formal and intellectual assumptions.”

I haven’t heard more than one quarter of the set, but found the music so inspiring that I wanted to spread the word about it.   The performances weren’t always easy to listen to — Lowe, as composer and player, doesn’t shy away from improvisation’s rough edges, but he doesn’t run into harshness for its own sake.

What I appreciate most about the music — I was listening both with and without the benefit of Lowe’s commentaries — was its depth of feeling and innate ability to surprise.  The surprises weren’t ones I could predict (I know that sounds like an illogical paradox, but listening to many of the great musicians, I feel I know “where (s)he might be going” in the next chorus).

Rather, I felt the ground shifting under me in the best sense of the metaphor. Over and over, I felt beautifully startled, gently lifted out of my expectations and planted somewhere else, experiencing the sounds from a different perspective.  Each voyage was a fascinating series of what Emerson calls “zig-zag tacks.”  I heard echoes of New Orleans polyphony and street parade, dark unrequited blues, ensemble questing that echoed Mingus and freer improvsations, with searching, winding melodic lines, unpredictable harmonies that felt good as soon as they found my ears.

Language has a hard time describing music in the best of circumstances, and words are particularly inadequate here. One must be a creative listener to feel Lowe’s many musics, but they are well worth the investigation.  He is honest, inquiring, and sly — as is his work on these four CDs.  But beware!  This set is not ear-cushioning, to be listened to in conjunction with household chores, nor is it meant to be heard as one hears some discs: seventy-five minutes of supple protection from the world.  I predict that the listener wise and brave enough to purchase the FIELD RECORDINGS will approach the music as one does a new book of poems: a poem or two at a time, rather than as an artistic devouring of it all.

As a measure of the breadth and often witty depths of Lowe’s imagination, I would list some of the names he calls in his notes and compositions: Bunk Johnson, Tony Jackson, Roswell Rudd, Ernest Hogan, Mantan Moreland, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Lennie Tristano, James Reese Europe, Wilbur Sweatman, Thelonious Monk, Zora Neale Hurston, Jelly Roll Morton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Varese, Dave Schildkraut, Bud Powell, W.E.B. DuBois, Frank Melrose, Paul Whiteman, Bill Challis, Harry Barris, George Bacquet, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James P. Johnson, Albert Ayler, Ran Blake, Henry Mancini, Sun Ra, Mezz Mezzrow, Pete Daily, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Bill Triglia, George Gershwin, Frank Teschemacher, Jess Stacy, Bix Beiderbecke, Arizona Dranes, Bert Williams, George Wheeler, Barbara Payne, Clyde Bernhardt, Ma Rainey, Anthony Braxton, Joe Jordan, Jaki Byard, Fess Manetta, Lester Young, Duke Ellington . . . and more.

The curious — and I hope there are many — will listen to samples here and then plunge in — this set costs less than two CDs and is wonderfully lively. You can also learn more at Allen’s website and blog (called EVERYTHING ELSE IS POST MODERNISM) — where Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon and Norman Mailer, compelled to share a subway seat, eye each other with suspicion.

I admire Allen Lowe’s courage, range, and audacities. The music is often, on first hearing, “weird,” but that’s a compliment. A little weirdness is like good seasoning: so much missed in the music we are sold, so richly enhancing in the right proportions.

And to return to the austere Robert Frost.  My letter to him, unsent and unread, is as follows:Dear Mr. Frost. If you removed the net, you might not have tennis, but you certainly would have an engaging dance.”

May your happiness increase!

BEN WEBSTER – JOHNNY HODGES SEXTET 1960 PLUS

A caveat to begin with.  This is a video of a “bootleg” recording. And I know that no one’s estate is getting paid for this.  I apologize to everyone who might be offended by such illicitness.  But the music is beyond your wildest dreams of lyrical swing.  And since both of the horn soloists were sometimes surrounded by musicians who didn’t understand their essential selves as well, this session is priceless. (Even Norman Granz, who loved and encouraged both Ben and Hodges, sometimes paired them with musicians who didn’t give them perfect rhythmic support . . . in my opinion.)

Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster officially played together for the first time in the 1935 Ellington band, and their mutual love and admiration went on for nearly four decades after that.  In 1960, they recorded a dozen tracks at a remarkable session — two horns, four rhythm — that wasn’t issued until much later.  It benefits greatly from a swinging rhythm section of Lou Levy, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Wilfred Middlebrooks, string bass; Gus Johnson, drums.  (I believe that this was the quartet supporting Ella Fitzgerald in concert at the time.) The remaining four tracks feature a different band: Hodges, Ben, Ray Nance, cornet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Emil Richards, vibes; Russ Freeman, piano; Joe Mondragon, string bass; Mel Lewis, drums; Jimmy Hamilton, arrangements: Los Angeles, January 31, 1961.

The material was first issued on a now out-of-print Mosaic box set, and surfaced on this European CD . . . and this YouTube video.  The songs are BEN’S WEB / SIDE DOOR (DON’T KID YOURSELF) / BLUES’LL BLOW YOUR FUSE / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / DUAL HIGHWAY / BIG EARS / SHORTY GULL / IFIDA / BIG SMACK / I’D BE THERE / JUST ANOTHER DAY / LOLLAGAGIN NOW / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT / VAL’S LAMENT / TIPSY JOE / WAITING ON THE CHAMPAGNE.

Posted by Thelasttavern – we send thanks for the rarely heard music. And I’d like everyone who thinks they know what swing is to pay close attention to the two rhythm sections, especially to the floating work of the under-celebrated Gus Johnson.

(A linguistic aside: the title IFIDA was mysterious to me for a long time until I realized that it was pronounced as several words, as in “If I’d – a” done this or that . . . )

May your happiness increase!

MORE FROM FABULOUS FRIDAY at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 21, 2014)

Here is the first installment of my delighted reportage from the San Diego Jazz Party, complete with music.  I had a wonderful time there, and I wasn’t alone: the audience was happy and the musicians likewise. The collective pleasure is reflected in the music.

I present three more living examples.

SOLITUDE (John Allred, trombone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, vibraphone; Jason Wanner, piano; Dave Stone, string bass; Butch Miles, drums):

CHEROKEE (as above):

IN A LITTLE GYPSY TEAROOM (Eddie Erickson, vocal / guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone / vocal; Becky Kilgore, vocal; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ed Metz, drums):

A moody evocation of a classic Ellington ballad, a swinging version of a timeless jazz standard (thanks to Ray Noble), and a Thirties romantic romp, complete with impromptu group harmony, lots of fun, and a nice cup of tea.  Who would ask for more?

And, for those keeping track — Fabulous Friday had more than these six performances to offer, to enthrall . . . it was succeeded by Super Saturday and Sublime Sunday.  If you had any doubts.

May your happiness increase!

“JUST IMAGINE: CLASSIC JAZZ AT CLASSIC PIANOS”: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, PAOLO ALDERIGHI

Stampa

I am very happy to announce a new CD by the Rebecca Kilgore Trio (Rebecca, vocal and rhythm guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone, piano, arrangements; Paolo Alderighi, piano) — on Blue Swing Fine Recordings 014.  Recorded at the end of 2013 in Portland, Oregon, it’s called CLASSIC JAZZ AT CLASSIC PIANOS, the latter half of that title referring to the congenial place where the Trio performed and where the disc was masterfully recorded by Randy Porter.  Click here to hear samples.

It’s a delicious session, with Rebecca singing (and playing rhythm guitar on a track or two), Dan on trombone, piano, and providing arrangements, Paolo holding everything together on piano for these selections: OH, LOOK AT ME NOW / DADDY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / JUST A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA / SONG OF THE BLUES / JUST IMAGINE / THIS IS MY LUCKY DAY / ALMOST IN YOUR ARMS / I’M IN A LOWDOWN GROOVE / I’M RHYTHM CRAZY NOW / THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN / CRY ME A RIVER / SERENADE TO SWEDEN / SOFT WINDS / MIS’RY AND THE BLUES.  Connoisseurs of Song will note the wonderfully varied repertoire, with loving connections to Billie Holiday, Sammy Cahn, Jack Teagarden, Charles LaVere, Annette Hanshaw, Jean Goldkette, Joe Bushkin, Frank Sinatra, Lester Young, Anita O’Day, Sophia Loren, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Julie London, Jim Goodwin, Duke Ellington and more, but this isn’t a history lesson.  Rather it is fresh buoyant Music — a rare commodity.

I was doubly privileged to be at the recording session and to be asked to write something for the CD, which also has notes by Dan and Becky. Here’s what I wrote:

More often than not, jazz is asked to blossom forth in inhospitable places: the noisy club where musicians must compete with the bartender’s blender, or the recording studio, a maze of headphones and wires. Imagine a quiet room, shaded as if an Edward Hopper nightscape, with three musicians, two grand pianos, the only other people a recording engineer, himself a musician; another man taking notes. It was no fantasy, for this all happened during two December 2013 sessions in Portland, Oregon, in a back room at CLASSIC PIANOS, where three friends gathered for warm, intimate musical conversations in the name of classic jazz.

Becky, Dan, and Paolo believe that music, created on the spot, can bring joy in the moment and renew us in the future. They gave each of the songs they had chosen its own life, reflective or ebullient: the poignancy of DADDY, the bounce of CAROLINA, the swagger of RHYTHM CRAZY, the romance of COINS, the melancholy of MIS’RY AND THE BLUES. Many of the songs have associations with Annette Hanshaw, Anita O’Day, Jack Teagarden, Julie London, Billie Holiday, Ellington, Charlie Christian, Trummy Young, Sophia Loren, Joe Bushkin, Lee Wiley, Fletcher Henderson. But these sessions were no “tribute,” no “repertory” re-creation, for the musicians brought their own personalities to this project, adding new melodies to the ones we know.

When Becky sings, we hear a gently compelling honesty. Yes, we admire the way she glides from note to note, the creamy naturalness of her voice, the way her smallest melodic embellishments enhance the song, her infallible swing. But what sets her apart is her quiet determination to share the song’s emotional message candidly, fully. Becky doesn’t overstate or dramatize. She doesn’t place herself in front of the material, but she opens the song for us, so that we feel what its creators hoped for.

Hearing Dan, I think, “That is how any creative player should sound: forthright, assured, subtle, inventive.” Like a great musical conversationalist, he always knows the right epigram to add at the right time. I can guess what some other musicians might play in their next phrase, but Dan’s imagination is larger and more rewarding than we expect. His reading of a melody is a joy; his improvisations are witty, pungent. The trombone can be a buffoon or a bully; in his hands it can be divinely inspired, even when Dan’s aural messages are earthy indeed.

Becky and Dan could float or soar all by themselves, and they’ve proved that many times in concert and on recordings since they first met in 1994. CRY ME A RIVER on this disc, majestic and mournful, is proof. But recently they have called in an Italian sorcerer, Paolo Alderighi, who generously spreads rich sound-weavings, Garneresque threads glittering – lovely orchestral tapestries, neither formulaic nor overemphatic. His solos gleam and chime.

In duet, Dan and Paolo are a model of creative conversation in jazz – empathic, intuitive, concise yet fervent. And when they sat down at the two pianos to accompany Becky for MIS’RY AND THE BLUES their contrasting textures were a delight. Completely original, too – neither Evans and Brookmeyer nor Ferrante and Teicher, but splendidly themselves.

What we call The Great American Songbook sometimes weaves helplessly towards songs that, if their lyrics were actual speech, would be legal documentation of domestic abuse, self-inflicted destruction. Over time, Becky has turned away from these famous masochistic outcries. But this disc shows her playing bravely in the dark, getting in a lowdown groove, calling out to an absent lover, creating rueful and vengeful tears. This isn’t a major life-shift in all things Kilgore, but a willingness to expand her repertoire into classic songs based on real life-experiences. She is having a good time being so sad for a few minutes: like Basie, she keeps the blues at bay by playing them. Or it might be her own particular jazz homeopathy practice, where dark cures dark.

These sessions produced lasting music, the rare kind that emerges from a devotion to the art. What a gift to us all!

JUST IMAGINE is now available here.  You can also purchase copies directly from Becky, Dan, or Paolo at their gigs — the most personal way to do it.  I’ve seen them with Sharpies after a session, so going home with an autographed copy is a real possibility.

I understand that JAZZ LIVES readers sometimes skip the text and look for the tasty music video. In this case, the sound that Randy Porter recorded of Rebecca’s floating voice was so lovely that it would do everyone a disservice to post one of my session videos.  But I think I will be forgiven if I post Dan and Paolo’s memorably dark and lovely SERENADE TO SWEDEN as a musical appetizer.  Thanks to Randy, it sounds even more glorious on the CD:

Intimate, refreshing, and warm music.

May your happiness increase! 

IRRESISTIBLE READING: “TRAVELS WITH LOUIS” and “RIDING ON DUKE’S TRAIN”

I have to tell you about two jazz books that have given me immense pleasure: Mick Carlon’s TRAVELS WITH LOUIS and RIDING ON DUKE’S TRAIN.  Yes, they are officially “children’s books” or “YA fiction,” but I delighted in every page.

I confess that I initially resisted both of Carlon’s books for reasons peculiar to me.  I was a precocious sort who grew up among adult readers and got into their books as soon as I could.  So I have no deep connections to children’s literature. And having seen some books “about jazz” or “about jazz heroes and heroines” for children, books that were inaccurate, oversimplified, or were unintentionally condescending, I was exceedingly wary of the genre. (Much “adult” fiction about jazz strikes me the same way, including the revered Baldwin story “Sonny’s Blues.”)

Because I’ve spent my life studying and revering Louis and Duke, I was ready to pick a fight with any book that didn’t do them justice. So even though both books had been praised by people I respect — Dan Morgenstern, George Avakian, Nat Hentoff, Jack Bradley, even Ruby Braff — I found other things to read.

But when the books came to me, I decided to treat them fairly. Within twenty pages into TRAVELS WITH LOUIS I was hooked.  I am a quick reader, and yesterday and today you could have found me ignoring what I was supposed to be doing to sneak in a few more pages. (This, for me, is the test of fiction: do I care about the characters and what happens to them?  If not, down the book goes, no matter how respected the author.)

Both these books are heartfelt, endearing, and the jazz heroes come off true to their essential selves.  Louis first.

TRAVELS WITH LOUIS follows a twelve-year old African-American neighbor of Louis’ — little Fred Bradley — who is an aspiring trumpeter.  Louis is his neighbor, supremely kind not only to Fred but to all his neighbors (something we know to be true) and the book charts their sweet relationship as Fred grows as a young man and an aspiring musician.  I won’t give away the plot, but it isn’t all ice cream and good times: there is grief over a parent’s death, race prejudice, a sit-in in a Southern town, failure, embarrassment, danger.  But Fred’s love for the music, for his family, and for his Corona world shines through.  And Louis is a beaming avuncular presence not only for Fred but for us.  In some ways, this book is the fulfillment of what must have been the dream of many: “Suppose Louis Armstrong was my friend and I could hang out with him!”  The book is not restricted to one Corona street, and the outside world intrudes, but I will leave those episodes for readers, without spoiling their surprises.  (But Langston Hughes, John Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Duke Ellington make appearances, speaking convincing dialogue and acting in ways that don’t seem out of character.)

Carlon is an easy, plain-spoken writer who has avoided many traps. For one thing, he has based his knowledge of Louis on first-hand real-life experience: twenty years of conversations with Jack Bradley, who loved and loves Louis deeply and followed him everywhere.  So one never feels that the author is at a distance from his subject — picking up his subject’s DNA from hours in the library.  Affection is the spine of this book, and I had tears in my eyes more than once.  Carlon also has neatly sidestepped areas of Louis’ life that would be troublesome for a YA audience.  Louis doesn’t tell dirty jokes, nor does he smoke pot in front of Little Fred, but that seems true to life.  The slippery presence of Joe Glaser doesn’t pop up here, and that’s a relief.

RIDING ON DUKE’S TRAIN, Carlon’s first book, is in some ways even more ambitious, because it attempts to portray Ellington (that intriguing mixture of declarations of verbal love and a deep distance from anyone) as well as his 1937-39 band here and in Europe. I was charmed by his portrayal of Ivie Anderson, both gentle and salty, of Juan Tizol, of all the Ellingtonians.  Django Reinhardt shows up here, as do the Nazis and the Swing Kids — in this tale of nine-year old Danny, an African-American Georgia orphan who finds himself nearly adopted by the whole band, especially Rex Stewart, and begins a career in Ellingtonia.  At times I thought Danny was much more eloquent and perceptive than a nine-year old might be expected to be, but then again, the young Danny is a quick study and the narrator is Danny, grown much older, who is telling his story retrospectively (a device often used by the Irish writer Frank O’Connor.)

Both books work.  I love this music and the people who create it so much that if I am taken to a film with jazz in it, I will be muttering to myself, “That record wasn’t out in 1944,” and “People didn’t use that expression in 1939,” but I had very little of that bristling in either book.  Of course the jazz scholars among us can pick at some of Carlon’s poetic license: “Louis never played POTATO HEAD BLUES in his shows.”  “Louis never played the Village Vanguard.”  “Sonny Greer wasn’t tall.”  “Billy Taylor was Duke’s bassist then, not Jimmie Blanton.”  “Where’s Strayhorn?” And the scholars would be right.

But Carlon is writing fiction, not a discography, and it is much easier to criticize someone’s efforts for their imperfections than it is to create them.

And the poetic license ultimately isn’t the point.

These books aren’t written to please adults who have spent their lives figuring out what ever happened to the Hot Choruses cylinders, but for new audiences. Heaven knows jazz needs new audiences!  Carlon is writing for the next generation who might, let us hope, be stirred by these fast-moving, varied human stories here to check out what Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington sounded like.

And who knows?  Conversion experiences have happened with less inspiring encouragement than these two books offer.  All I can say is that I am looking forward to Mick’s next book, GIRL SINGER, which will have a female protagonist (hooray!) and be set in 1938 with a band out of Kansas City led by a pianist named Basie.  It should swing.

Rather than keep these books on my shelf, I’m giving them away to jazz friends I know who have young children: it couldn’t hurt.  I encourage you — even if you think you know all about Louis and Duke — to buy copies of these books, read them, savor them, and then give them away to the youngbloods we know. Something good could happen.

You can purchase the two books in the usual places, and you can find out more about Mick Carlon here.

May your happiness increase!

JOHN SHERIDAN’S AMERICANA: A SOLO RECITAL (September 20, 2013)

The steadfastly swinging pianist John Sheridan is seriously underrated because of two virtues, often misinterpreted.  John never makes what he is doing at the piano look hard; he never sweats or tells us — in words or body language — that he is Accomplishing Something Really Difficult.  No, Sheridan sits down at the piano, makes an offhanded remark or a quick joke, identifies the previous tune, gazes at the keyboard for two seconds, and then is off into another wholly realized creation.  Unless John is telling a shaggy-dog story or relating something that pleases him deeply, he also looks very serious most of the time.  That, I think, has made listeners forget that under that serious exterior there is a deep romantic soul, a very expansive heart — all of which comes through in his playing.

Sheridan’s musical scope is as broad as his mastery at the keyboard. If you listen casually, you will hear his bright clarity steady swing; listen deeper and hear subtle harmonies and his lovely but not over-elaborate improvisations, his beautiful touch.

Here is a very brief solo recital — captured at Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party) — a half-hour of pleasure, recorded on September 20, 2013.  Hear and admire how easily he moves from one composer to the next, one “genre” to another, always exhibiting a wonderful clarity, sounding just like John Sheridan . . . a very great gift to us.

Ellington’s BLACK BUTTERFLY (which I associate forever with Joe Thomas on a 1946 Keynote Records session):

COME BACK, SWEET PAPA (with fond thoughts of Louis’ Hot Five and,  later on, bands led by Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart):

THE LEGEND OF LONESOME LAKE (Eastwood Lane, for Bix):

IN A MIST (the young man from Davenport, himself):

THIS YEAR’S KISSES (Billie, Lester, and Irving Berlin):

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET (Mister Astaire but also Louis, twice):

Thank you, John, for inviting us to join you on these excursions.

May your happiness increase! 

BRYAN SHAW’S BLUEBIRD BRINGS HAPPINESS

I first wrote a few lines about Bryan Shaw’s most recent CD, THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS (Arbors Records) here, last year, because its music made a small sweet story possible.  For those who have been listening to jazz recordings, I will say only that this CD has the savor of an early-Fifties Vanguard session, and that I have returned to it often with increased pleasure.

BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS

I first heard Bryan on CD more than a decade ago, on his first Arbors release, NIGHT OWL.  At the time, he was only a name to me — but the CD found him among others whose work I knew and valued: Dan Barrett, the late Brian Ogilvie, Scott Robinson, Chuck Wilson, Dave Frishberg, Jeff Hamilton, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joel Forbes, Rebecca Kilgore, David Stone, Eddie Erickson.  I was impressed with the playing and singing of those people, but Bryan struck me as a true find — a trumpet player with a singing lyricism, deep swing, real imagination . . . and although you could play the game that Barbara Lea called “Sounding Like,” that favorite pastime of critics and liner-note writers, Bryan sounded most like himself.

I had the opportunity to meet and hear Bryan in March 2010, and found all the virtues he had displayed on NIGHT OWL just as vivid in person.  And, at one of our meetings, I said, “When are you going to make another CD?”  Eventually, he told me about THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS . . . and now I can share it with you.

This CD features Bryan, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Ehud Asherie, piano; John Dominguez, string bass; Brad Roth, guitar / banjo; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  And the songs are in themselves a telling guide to the breadth of Bryan’s musical imagination — reaching back to Clarence Williams and forward into the future with equal ease: LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / ALL MY LIFE / WANG WANG BLUES / VIGNETTE / PAPA DE DA DA / SONG OF DREAMS / I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO / OLD MAN BOWERS / BLOOMIN’ BLUES / I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS / ELLIE / BLUE ROOM / CHLOE / STRANGE BLUES / THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS.  Four of these songs — ELLIE, SONG OF DREAMS, OLD MAN BOWERS, and BLOOMIN’ BLUES — are flavorful originals by Brad Roth: each of them with a distinctive character, so much more than lines superimposed on familiar chord changes.  And the tidy, ingenious arrangements are by Dan Barrett, master of written charts and impromptu riffs and backgrounds.

If you wanted a compact living definition of what Stanley Dance called “Mainstream” in the twenty-first century, this CD would be a vivid multi-dimensional example.

The instrumental performances themselves are marvelous: Bryan’s trumpet, glowing or growling, seems to move from one beautiful phrase to the next without strain — no cliches here — and his solos have their own architectural sense, which translates into performances with shape, starting simply and rising to emotional peaks.  To me, Dan Barrett has been a model of the way to play trombone since I first heard him about a quarter-century ago. Evan Arntzen shines on clarinet and saxophone, finding just the right lines to enhance an ensemble and creating soaring solos.  And the rhythm section is all anyone could want: our splendid friend Ehud Asherie, who can merge Fats or the Lion, sauntering down the street (from one hot-dog stand to the next) with his own version of witty “modernist” swing.  Brad Roth — whether on banjo, sweet rhythm guitar, or single-string electric, adds so much to the ensemble, as do John Dominguez (supple and solid) and the ever-surprising Jeff Hamilton.

The overall effect varies from selection to selection, but I heard evocations of a Johnny Hodges small group, a live Basie performance circa 1940; a Buck Clayton Jam Session; the 1940 Ellington band, and more — and the performances benefit so much from what Ruby Braff used to do on the stand: to avoid monotony, he would subdivide a quartet into even smaller bands, playing duets and trios within it. BLUE ROOM offers us a trumpet-banjo verse; I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO does the same but with trumpet and piano.

Even though there are a few mood pieces, this is a reassuringly optimistic CD, from the absolutely delicious swing of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, ALL MY LIFE, BLUE ROOM . . . to the soaring (nearly operatic) assertion of the title song. Bryan believes in that BLUEBIRD, and the CD will bring happiness to anyone able to listen — and listen — to it in the right spirit. You can hear brief excerpts (each slightly less than thirty seconds) here and here, but I predict those tiny tastes will serve only to whet your appetite for the whole experience.

Some words from Bryan about the whole delicious enterprise:

This album was recorded by me, Bryan Shaw, at my studio in Costa Mesa, California, over 2 days in early November 2010. No overdubs. I met with Brad and John several time to brainstorm tunes, but no rehearsals. Dan had told me that he didn’t have time for any arrangements, then he showed up at the session with a key drive full of new charts, having stayed up all night for several days. We would record the charts as they came out of the printer.

I picked the songs with my heart, not my head.

The odd cover, initially a pencil sketch drawn by my daughter, shows a cozy old fashioned cottage with a garden and an old car. But when you open it up, you realize that there is a futuristic hovering BLUE spacecar in front. In the background is a big city of the future — and it may not even be earth.

Why?

I enjoy old jazz, gardening, old values, and more.  But I have my hovering space car to be able to function in the modern world. In my real life, I have fruit trees, extensive gardens, chickens, I raise fish in aquaponics. My roof is covered in solar panels and I generate all my own electricity. My hovering space car is my minivan that will drop me off at the airport for the next festival or cruise.

My concept on this album was a response to the world as I see it today. I believe that people need to turn off the TV and follow their hearts. I decided to follow mine long ago. I wanted to make music, even though playing a musical instrument is impossible. If you give any adult a musical instrument for the first time, they can’t play it. To become a musician you have to do the impossible — every day, over and over, till some day you can do it in public.

This CD is my attempt to put some basic principles of mine into music.  TIME: “When” is more important than “What.”  TONE: Be true to the voice you have. I don’t have a singing voice so I sing through the trumpet.  ENSEMBLE: A good jazz ensemble is a spontaneous conversation of seven players, each with an story to tell. You can tell that we actually were listening to each other and responding to the conversation. DYNAMICS: A jazz band with dynamics! We did bring it down to simmer at times. HARMONY: I’m tired of jazz players making everything sound ugly. I’m tired of chord changes, I wanted chord progressions. MELODY: Another forgotten concept. I lose interest in jazz when the melody becomes “the head” and the ensemble becomes “playing the head” (in a bad unison). RHYTHM: I’ve been fortunate to play a fair amount of swing dances and I wanted this CD to be something people could dance to. Rhythm is really the foundation of jazz and it provides the when to the what. BLEND: Fit in, support, harmonize, another lost concept in jazz.

Bryan’s THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS exemplifies his beliefs in the most melodic, swinging ways possible.

I’ve learned that wishes have power. What I wish for is that people buy this Hot Shots CD and find it as life-enhancing as I have. And then these same people make it known that they want to see this band in action.  It could happen, you know.

May your happiness increase!

TOMMY THUNEN, SEEN (THANKS TO MARK CANTOR)

The very diligent film historian Mark Cantor reminded me that unsung trumpeter Tommy Thunen (chronicled here)can be seen on film in the 1929 Vitaphone short, RED NICHOLS AND HIS FIVE PENNIES.  Understandably, much has been made of the short film for its hot qualities — Pee Wee Russell soloing, two vocals from Eddie Condon — but at the two-minute mark, Nichols and two other trumpeters (John Egan to his right, Thunen to his left) play an a cappella chorus of WHISPERING:

This is the sort of research we’ve relied on Mark for — and his generosity is legendary.  But you don’t have to be in the inner circle of jazz film collectors to enjoy his offerings.  In January, March, and May 2014, Mark will be offering his annual film programs at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco at 3200 California Street, (415) 292-1200.  We attended last year and found the program and Mark both equally delightful and informative. You can read more about Mark here.

January 25 – Treasures From the Archive – a potpourri of rarities from the collection.  “Join us for an evening of film clips showcasing some of the finest names in big band and small combo jazz, including many never before screened at the JCCSF. Among the artists to be featured are Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Shorty Rogers, Buddy Rich and Thelonious Monk.”

March 22 – Showtime at the Apollo – a compilation of artists and bands that appeared at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. “The stage shows at the Apollo had it all: jazz bands and combos, vocalists, R&B, dance and comedy routines. Join us to watch clips of Dizzy Gillespie and his Orchestra, Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five, “Moms” Mabley, The Berry Brothers, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and many more.”

May 3 – Broadway to Hollywood – jazz performances based on music from the Broadway and Hollywood musicals.  “A lot of the repertoire of classic jazz can be largely traced to the Broadway stage and Hollywood musical. Join us for an evening of film featuring jazz performances of compositions by the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer and many more.”

Mark says he has been digging through his treasures for these three programs and expects to offer performances by Joe Venuti, “Red” Allen All Stars, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Thelma White, Buddy Rich, Bob Crosby’s Bobcats, Stan Getz, Billy Eckstine, Yusef Lateef. John Coltrane. Nat “King” Cole, Marian McPartland . . .

The programs begin at 8 PM; tickets for non-members are $25.  Details and ordering here.

May your happiness increase!

BASIE SAYS YES

Miles Davis has often been quoted as saying, “All the musicians should get together one certain day and get down on their knees and thank Duke.”

I would never disagree with this. I don’t wish to set up any competition, but I think everyone should give thanks to Count Basie — and not just once. And not just musicians, either.

It is fashionable, still, to affect hipness, and that is not limited to people under 30. And some intriguing theoretician has suggested that the qualities we praise as hip — subtlety, originality, a wry way of perceiving the world — were exemplified by Lester Young before Kerouac and the Beats took them as their own. I like this theory, although what Pres would have made of a Williamsburg or Berkeley or Portland hipster is not known.

But I would propose Basie as the original Parent of many virtues we prize. Singularity, although a loving reverence for one’s ancestors (as in Basie’s affectionate nods to Fats Waller), an awareness that joy and sorrow are not only wedded but interdependent (that the blues are at the heart of everything), and a deep emotional commitment to swinging one’s way through life.  Swinging, as embodied by Basie, his peers and their descendants, meant the maximum of grace with the minimum of visible labor.  The style later exemplified by Astaire with a Kansas City world-view. Passion and fun, no less powerful for being streamlined to their essentials. His playing and his approach have been characterized and parodied as “minimalist,” but I think of it more as a Thoreau-inspired simplicity. Don’t need that note, do we? Let it be implied. Unheard melodies and all that. How Basie knew what he knew is beyond us, but the evidence is there for us to hear.

Here’s an audible example of what Basie did. And does:

That’s the 1939 Chicago session, issued in the Seventies as “Basie’s Bad Boys”: Buck Clayton, Shad Collins, trumpets; Dan Minor, trombone (audibly?), Lester Young, tenor saxophone; Basie, piano; Freddie Green, guitar; Walter Page; string bass; Jo Jones, drums. Yes, the studio sound is foggy and dense, but the music just flies and smiles and rocks.

These thoughts are provoked by two photographs for sale on eBay — from the Frank Driggs Collection (each one for three hundred dollars plus) — of Basie and his colleagues and friends in 1941 and 1943.  Lester had leapt out, but they seemed to be doing fine on their own.  Here’s a rehearsal session at the New York studio of Columbia Records. They are apparently listening to a playback.  Details first:

BASIE IN THE STUDIO 1941 true front

The front:

COUNT BASIE REHEARSAL 1941

What I notice first, always (this is a photograph often reproduced but also often cropped) is Basie’s dreamily unfocused expression which might be deep concentration.  Jo’s nearly angry attentiveness, his thinness (that protruding Adam’s apple), his full head of hair and tidy mustache.  Walter Page’s substantial girth. The handkerchief not quite tucked away in his back pocket.  The way his vest is strained by what’s in it.  The height of Jo’s beautiful trousers, and his suspenders.  The way Page (casually?) is listening to what handsome Buck Clayton is playing.  How beautifully everyone is dressed, in an era before jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, and knapsacks.

And a more formal pose, 1943, where cake predominates:BASIE'S BIRTHDAY 1942 back

Jimmy Rushing steals the show, and all eyes are on him (although Buck is somewhat quizzical and Basie — aware of the photographer — doesn’t turn around; Jo’s smile is world-weary).  What, I must know, is Rushing saying to that forkful? “Sent for you yesterday and here you come today,” perhaps? Or “Tell me, pretty baby, how you want your lovin’ done”?  Or perhaps the plainer, “I am going to EAT YOU ALL UP!” 

BASIE'S BIRTHDAY 1942 front

I chose to title this posting BASIE SAYS YES because I believe he always did. Although Basie spent his life “playing the blues,” his approach to them was always life-affirming.  Even on the darkest dirge, there is a slight grin. “Look how sad I can make this music sound.  Isn’t it a lot of fun to play such sad music?”

Cool, swinging, affirmative.  We could follow him, a Sage, for life-lessons.

May your happiness increase! 

WINGY and IVIE ASK THE SAME DEEP QUESTION, 1936

What a lovely song this is — by Benny Davis and J. Fred Coots in 1936.  I heard it first on record (the second version below) and then I was charmed by it in person when Marty Grosz sang and played it with Soprano Summit in 1976. Characteristically, Marty introduced it by saying it was written by a house detective in a famous St. Louis hotel.  (That version of the Summit had Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Marty, Mickey Golizio, and Cliff Leeman.  Yes indeed.)

Here’s Wingy Manone in an uncharacteristically serious, tender performance (even though the lyrics elude him about two-thirds through) both on trumpet and vocal.  The other philosophers are Joe Marsala, clarinet; Tom Mace, alto saxophone; Eddie Miller, tenor saxophone; Conrad Lanoue, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sam Weiss, drums:

Then, the masterpiece: Ivie Anderson with the Duke, featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, and Barney Bigard:

Wishing you love that is anything but puzzling.  You can have it as strange as you want it, but I hope it’s always rewarding.

Postscript: later versions of this song were recorded by two other fellows named Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles.  Quality!  I know more than a few fine singers — at least — who would have a fine time with this song. Any takers?

May your happiness increase!

A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE: THE SWINGING SWEDES IN CONCERT (KUSTBANDET, NOVEMBER 22, 2013)

Thanks to Claes Jansson, we have these performances by the hot, expert Swedish band KUSTBANDET — a band with fifty years of experience! — recorded in concert on November 22, 2013.

The members are Goran Eriksson, Jon “Jonte” Högman, and Klas Toresson, reeds; Jens “Jesse” Lindgren, trombone / vocal; Bent Persson, Fredrik Olsson, trumpet; Peter Lind, trumpet / vocal; Claes Göran Högman, piano; Hans Gustavsson, guitar / banjo; Bo Juhlin, tuba, string bass; Christer “Cacka” Ekhé, drums / vocal.

Onstage with OVER IN THE GLORYLAND into BIRMINGHAM BREAKDOWN:

More early Ellington with THE MOOCHE:

TISHOMINGO BLUES:

For Luis Russell, Red Allen, and the New Orleans boys in New York, SUGAR HILL FUNCTION:

Then, some Louis-inspired hot music:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY (thanks, Peter!):

YOU RASCAL YOU (with mock-threats from Peter and Jesse, who mean no one any harm):

and swing for saxophones with LADY BE GOOD:

What a band!  (How do you say, “Romp it, boys!” in Swedish?  No matter.)

May your happiness increase!