Tag Archives: Fats Waller

WHEREVER THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY

Let me begin with a jubilant piece of music from the 1929 McKinney’s Cotton Pickers — featuring a wistful vocal by Don Redman, rousing solos from Coleman Hawkins and Fats Waller and beautiful ensemble playing from Joe Smith, Leonard Davis, Sidney De Paris, Claude Jones, Benny Carter, Ted McCord, Dave Wilborn, Billy Taylor, Kaiser Marshall:

That cheerful recording will seem an odd introduction to my topic, which is Death.

I think about that subject a great deal — not in a terrified way — because I am surrounded by reminders of those dear ones who have moved on (or away) and the Things that people leave behind.

When I go to an estate sale and I learn that the beautiful shirt I am wearing belonged to a man who is now dead, it is a spiritual lesson — intense and to the point.  When I go to Amoeba Music or the Down Home Music Store and find a dozen records all autographed to the same person — let us call him Dewey — I can safely guess that Dewey is no longer here, listening to those discs.

I feel grateful to be the recipient of objects that people cherished so when they were alive, yet sad that they are no longer here to enjoy them, and of course it makes me think of the finite shape of our lives.

So let us assume you have — as many jazz-lovers have — amassed a hoard, large or small, of objects related to the music you love.  Maybe they are records (cylinder to CD), autographs, photographs, ephemera (DOWN BEAT from 1939, a necktie that once belonged to _____): there are a thousand possibilities.

I wish no one of my readers of JAZZ LIVES to vanish, but I must ask them, collectively and singly, to imagine the possibility, and then to ask the question, “What will happen to my Treasures when I’m not here?”

For those who are prepared, the answer is easy.  “I’ve made a will.  I have an executor.  I have another name should that executor not be able to do what I’ve asked.  My executors have copies of the will; we have discussed what I have asked them to do. The will is recent; it was witnessed, notarized, and is properly done.  I do not like to think of my own death, but I have Taken Care of Business.”

Others say, “Oh, this is such a dreadful topic.  I don’t want to think about it today [this month, this year, ever, ever].  I know I should do something but I find it so depressing.  Besides, I have great plans for my collection of Tiny Parham Victors. And I think my infant grandchild Parham will want them when she grows up.  I’ll take care of it.”

I understand this.  It is very difficult for some of us to imagine the universe without us. But it will happen.

In my most kind voice, may I suggest that this pretending it will not happen is not wise. When the jazz collector dies, if (s)he dies without a will, the collection and all the deceased’s possessions have to be appraised — which costs money — before an item can be given away, disposed of, sold. This process isn’t quick, and establishing the value of anyone’s things — unless the dead person was a true minimalist — takes time and costs money.

If you have a partner or children, do you wish to add to their grief the burden of this legal and economic maze?  Or, if you have no one close to you, what will happen to your precious collection of deep-groove blue label Riversides?  My guess is that the landlord will haul them out to the curb or perhaps sell them to the local record store (not the worst thing).

Let me suggest an alternative, although I am not a lawyer nor do I pretend to be offering legal advice.  One can find an online form to create one’s own will.  Make it as specific as possible.  If you want your magazines to go to Clement, your 78s to go to Marjorie, and so on, put it in writing.  Such directions will not take the place of a will, but wills themselves need not be complicated, and I believe you can name someone (preferably somewhat younger and in good health) to be your executor, and then give that person a clear idea of what you would like.  “When I die, please check my email to see whom I have corresponded most frequently about the music.  Since we have spoken, you know the names of the people involved in jazz of whom I am most fond.  Invite them to the house; let them take home what they want.  Have a little party in my honor.  Save a thousand dollars from my savings.  Hire my favorite band.  Have they play FLEE AS A BIRD TO THE MOUNTAIN . . . and then DIDN’T HE RAMBLE.”

Of late, I am observing the partners of several friends who did not write wills, and their troubles are truly painful.  I am not talking about, “My goodness, I hear that all of Joe’s Paramounts went to Goodwill!  It was horrific!”  I am talking about the bereaved partner who not only has to deal with loss, but has to deal with The Stuff.

It is all too easy to say, “Oh, I think it should all go to this jazz institution or the other. They will want my Harry James and Benny Goodman 78s.”  Don’t be too sure. Libraries and institutions do not have infinitely expanding budgets, and to collect your beloved records, catalog them, store them in the proper fashion . . . all of this requires money and a staff.  Be sure to be sure — before saying, “I’d like my collection to go to ______,” that they really want it and will want it in some time in the future.

All this will sound too grim to some readers, and I apologize.

It was not easy for me to write a will, nor is it pleasant dinner conversation to discuss such things with the Beloved.

But benign neglect is a terrible — even a selfish — burden on the people who live on, and if you care about them, if you care about your Things, you might want to take what I am writing seriously.  (For me, my concern is with the people: once I am dead, I hope that my cherished objects go away in the most easy manner — ideally in to the hands of people I love and admire, but if my records go to Goodwill, it’s no disaster, since I bought many of them there.)

And I’m not just writing this to jazz collectors. Please pass this blogpost on to anyone you know who has more than a few of Anything — whether it’s copies of MARTHA STEWART LIVING in MSL binders or first editions or swizzle sticks.

Please do consider this yourself, though, and act on it, promptly.  I write these paternalistic nagging words with love.

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!

 

“HERETIZ”

Lucky Dean.  To be tops always with Fats Waller meant something then and it means more now.

FATS to DEAN

May your happiness increase!

FRIENDS OF FATS (Part Two): SUE, CHRIS, and EDDIE (March 7, 2014)

FATS TO SEDRIC

One of the pleasures of regularly attending the Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay (the first weekend of March) is the delicious musical program put on for Road Scholars by Sue Kroninger, Chris Calabrese, and Eddie Erickson (vocal and lively edification; piano and ditto; vocal and banjo, respectively).

This year, on March 7, it was the life and times of Fats Waller, which I’ve titled FRIENDS OF FATS for the alliterative bounce it offers. Here’s the first half: erudite without being stuffy — witty, joyous, and tender — much like its subject.

And the second:

I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING:

A solo by Chris, ALLIGATOR CRAWL:

THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART:

Another solo, VIPER’S DRAG:

KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW:

LULU’S BACK IN TOWN:

TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE:

SWEET AND SLOW:

Another solo, and a good thing, THE JITTERBUG WALTZ:

THE JOINT IS JUMPIN':

Some impatient viewers will want “to get to the music.” However, Sue has done intriguing research and she ties the threads together with great skill.  Even though I have read biographies of Fats, Sue had new stories for me, and the presentation was delightfully unlike an academic lecture. (I wish there were programs like this all across the country, and for audiences who had never heard of Harlem stride piano or Bluebird Records.)

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know that I cherish great jazz pianists playing today as well as the great Begetters of the Past.  I won’t dare embark on a list for fear of leaving someone out and creating a mortal wound. But how many people have listened seriously to the man in the brightly colored shirt at the piano bench — one Chris Calabrese. Beautiful playing here! I don’t just mean his obvious gleaming technical mastery, but the small subtleties: the surprising passing chords, the wonderful harmonic shifts and nuances, and the lovely elastic swing — what seems like an effortless glide but anyone who’s ever come near a piano is true artistry.  Chris is A Master — and more people need to know about him.

A word about the other two people onstage.  Susan Kroninger is more often referred to as “Big Mama Sue,” but I don’t care for that overly familiar monicker.  To me, she is a swinging percussionist (catch those wire whisks!) and a deep, warm singer — capable of jolliness and great affectionate seriousness. The fellow with the banjo, Eddie Erickson, has a million ways to make us laugh — but he is a wonderfully sincere singer and a real string virtuoso.  This team has a delightful chemistry: they are clearly enjoying themselves, and they don’t plan to leave us out.

This band — Sue, Chris, and Eddie, with one crucial addition — Clint Baker on tuba and perhaps other instruments (!) — will be performing at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado, on July 25, 26, 27, 2014.  Details here.  They swing; they enlighten; they spread joy.

May your happiness increase! 

JAZZ ARCHAEOLOGY, or A NEW TROVE

After my most recent venture into unexpected hot music (finding Lester Young and Charlie Parker 78s) Mal Sharpe told me I was a “jazz archaeologist,” which I take as a great compliment.

I have emerged from another rich unexpected dig, brushed the dust off of my khakis, taken my pith helmet off, and put down my shovels.  Here is my tale.

Yesterday afternoon, while much of the world was engaged in its own pursuits, the Beloved and I were meandering around Sebastopol, California: a paradise of nurseries and antique shops.  We arrived at one of our favorites, FOOD FOR THOUGHT ANTIQUES (2701 Gravenstein Highway South), a non-profit enterprise which gives the proceeds from its sales to the local food bank.  In the past, I’ve found some sheet music there and the odd record or two.  Nothing could have prepared me for the treasure that had arrived there four or five days ago. See for yourself:

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Yes, perhaps eight hundred ten-inch 78 RPM records in their original paper sleeves. I thought the hoard had some connection to a record store, since many of the discs were blue-label Bing Crosby from 1936 onwards, but I was told that this wasn’t the case: a woman brought them to the store, explained that they were her much-loved collection, and that she now felt it was time to pass them on. I wish I could find out her name to send her thanks, but that might never happen.

And since you’d want to know, the records were one dollar each.

The first afternoon I went through about one-half of the collection: it was a good omen that the first record I picked up was the Victor ST. JAMES INFIRMARY BLUES by Artie Shaw featuring Hot Lips Page. Yes, there were many red-label Columbias by the early-Forties Harry James band, but that’s not a terrible phenomenon.

I gravitated towards the more unusual: KING JOE by Count Basie and Paul Robeson; a Bluebird coupling by Freddy Martin of MILENBERG JOYS and WOLVERINE BLUES; several Fats Waller and his Rhythm sides; a Bob Howard Decca; many Dick Robertson sides featuring a dewy Bobby Hackett; INKA DINKA DOO by Guy Lombardo on Brunswick; BLUE PRELUDE and WE’RE A COUPLE OF SOLDIERS by Bing Crosby on the same label; Johnny Hamp and Arnold Johnson; OLD MAN MOSE by Willie Farmer; a Meade Lux Lewis album set on Disc; Joe Sullivan and his Cafe Society Orchestra on OKeh; WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME by Ted Weems on Victor; a blue wax Columbia by Ted Lewis of TEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO — with his special label; a Johnny Marvin Victor solo and duet; THE LADY WHO SWINGS THE BAND (that’s Mary Lou Williams) by Andy Kirk on Decca; Bunny Berigan’s SWANEE RIVER; a Gene Kardos Melotone; the Rhythm Wreckers’ TWELFTH STREET RAG on Vocalion; the Bluebird BODY AND SOUL by Coleman Hawkins; JEEPERS  CREEPERS by Ethel Waters; Deccas by Lennie Hayton and Edgar Hayes.

(Who can tell me more about Willie Farmer?)

I returned this afternoon, and found the little flowered stool Valerie had offered me in the same place, so I resumed my inspection — many records but with far fewer surprises.  Wingy, BG, Fats, Jack Leonard, Ginny Simms, Bob Howard, Dick Robertson, Milt Herth (with Teddy Bunn and the Lion) and a few oddities. FOOTBALL FREDDY and FRATERNITY BLUES by “Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys” on Columbia (with, yes, Jack Purvis as the sole trumpet); the Mills Brothers singing lyrics to Pete Johnson’s 627 STOMP.  Les Brown performing two James P. Johnson songs from his 1939 POLICY KINGS: YOU, YOU, YOU and HARLEM WOOGIE. Jean Sablon singing TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE . . . and a few more.

I passed up a few country records, Julia Sanderson solos, Nat Shilkret and Charles Dornberger waltzes . . . but the collection was a rich cross-section of good popular music of the Thirties and middle Forties, with a few detours into the late Twenties. No specialist jazz labels, no country blues rarities — but the middle-of-the-road pop music of that period was rich and honest.

I feel honored to be partaking of this experience — this voyage into a time when Freddy Martin and Coleman Hawkins occupied the same space in the collective consciousness. . . . and when a purchase of a thirty-five cent Decca or Bluebird was a real commitment to art, both economic and emotional.

On the way home yesterday, the Beloved (after congratulating me on this find and rejoicing with me — she’s like that!) asked me pensively, “What do you get out of those records?”

I thought for a minute and said, “First, the music. I am trying not to buy everything just because it’s there, so I am buying discs I don’t have on CD or on my iPod. Second, there’s a kind of delight in handling artifacts from a lost time, relics that were well-loved, and imagining their original owners. Third, and perhaps it’s peculiar to me, these records are a way of visiting childhood and adolescence once again, going back to a leisurely time where I could sit next to a phonograph, listen to the music, and absorb joy in three-minute portions. I know that I won’t keep these records forever, and I hope — maybe in twenty years? — to pass them on to someone who will delight in them as I do now.”

And delight is at the heart of the experience.

To find out more about the Food For Thought antiques store and the food bank the proceeds go to (the staff is not paid; they volunteer their time and friendship) see here. The store — which has other surprises for those immune to “old records” — is at  2701 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol. Lovely people, and cookies at the cash register for the low-blood-sugar crowd (like myself: record-hunting is draining work).

May your happiness increase!

LOOK. LISTEN.

Considering the context — James P. Johnson, solo piano, playing his own HARLEM STRUT — the advertising exhortations seem reasonable.

BLACK SWAN

Over a twenty-five year period, James P. was recorded — in the studio, on radio, and in concert — alongside Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Henry “Red” Allen, Sidney Catlett, Pee Wee Russell, Freddie Green, Dicky Wells, Max Kaminsky, Zutty Singleton, Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools (with Louis, Buster Bailey, Kaiser Marshall), Lavinia Turner, Trixie Smith, Fats Waller, Sadie Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Cootie Williams, Garvin Bushell, Jabbo Smith, Gene Sedric, Johnny Dunn, Ethel Waters, King Oliver, Teddy Bunn, Spencer Williams, Cecil Scott, Roy Smeck, Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Ladnier, Eddie Dougherty, Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, Pops Foster, Omer Simeon, Ida Cox, Pete Brown, Frank Newton, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Al Casey, Yank Lawson, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Rushing, Vic Dickenson, Vernon Brown, Sidney Bachet, Tommy Dorsey, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, Johnny Windhurst, George Brunis, Albert Nicholas, Bunk Johnson, George Wettling . . . which sounds as if he recorded with everyone in creation.

Here is his 1923 solo, BLEEDING HEARTED BLUES:

And his 1930 romp, JINGLES:

And the musing 1944 ARKANSAW BLUES:

From the middle of the Twenties, James P. (1894-1955) was comfortably earning money because of royalties on his most famous compositions (consider CHARLESTON, ONE HOUR) but he wasn’t satisfied to be a composer of hit songs.  He wanted to be known and respected as a serious composer of extended works, perhaps the race’s answer to George Gershwin.  He didn’t gain the respect and attention he desired, which hurt him. Both his discography and biography suggest that he was not always in good health — another good reason for our not having even more recorded evidence.

I wonder if James P. was more than the cliche of the popular entertainer yearning for serious acceptance, but a man who knew that he had more to offer than writing thirty-two bar songs and playing piano, solo or in bands.  Did he distance himself from “the music business” or did it ignore him because he would not fit in to one of its tidy categories?

James P.’s pupil Fats Waller died younger, but received more attention because of his ebullient personality: hundreds of recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances.  Willie “the Lion” Smith outlived them both and was always ready to play, sing, and talk.

I wish James P. had recorded more, had received more attention of the kind his talents deserved. If someone uncovers a James P. trove, I’d like to know about it.

Because this blogpost threatens to slide into the morose, I will offer a recording that has never failed to cheer me up: the duet of James P. and Clarence Williams on HOW COULD I BE BLUE? What a pleasure to hear James P. somewhat awkwardly negotiate the vaudeville dialogue . . . and then to hear his intense rhythmic lead, his melodic inventiveness, in the duet that follows:

May your happiness increase!

STEPHANIE TRICK, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, MARTY EGGERS, DANNY COOTS: A NIGHT AT THE ROSSMOOR JAZZ CLUB, MARCH 11, 2014 (Part Two)

We had such a good time!  Fine music and warm feelings filled the room when Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, played to a full house at the Rossmoor Jazz Club in Walnut Creek, California, on March 11, 2014. For those of you who couldn’t make it, here is the first half of this glorious concert.

“Effervescent” and “versatile” are the two words that come to mind when I think of Stephanie and Paolo.

While you are admiring the beaming pair, please don’t neglect Marty and Danny — rocking and flexible, rhythm men of great renown.

And here’s the rest, with a chocolate-covered surprise at the end.

GRANDPA’S SPELLS (with Paolo’s dangerous but perfectly controlled elbow):

CLOTHESLINE BALLET:

MINOR DRAG:

BOOGIE WOOGIE:

RUNNIN’ WILD:

‘DEED I DO:

IT HAD TO BE YOU:

EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I WISH I WERE TWINS (as a samba):

TEA FOR TWO CHA CHA CHA:

BALLAD MEDLEY:

ST. LOUIS BLUES:

A Surprise:

(The Rossmoor Jazz Club offers concerts monthly in a beautiful hall for reasonable prices: see here for their schedule and details. Additional concerts are November 19: the Crown Syncopators — Frederick Hodges, Marty Eggers, and Virginia Tichenor; December 10, the Devil Mountain Jazz Band. The Beloved and I will for certain be there when Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs play, and when Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band romps. Check the schedule for these marvels in the offing.)

May your happiness increase!

“FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO” (1928)

I’d never heard of John Forrest “Fuzzy” Knight (1901-1976), perhaps because I’d rarely watched Westerns, in theatres or on television. (He had a long career playing the hero’s friend.)

But when Jeff Hamilton nudged me towards this short film on YouTube, from 1928, I was immediately captivated by Fuzzy (so nicknamed because of his soft voice). He is s delightfully absurdist comedian, someone who swings from first to last, whose scat singing is hilariously unfettered (I think of both Harry Barris and Leo Watson) . . . and whose habit of singing into the piano is making me laugh as I write these words.

I can’t suggest even a hint of FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO by writing about it. You’d better try it for yourselves:

If you are wondering, “Ordinarily I comprehend Michael’s taste, or some of it.  Why is FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO appearing on JAZZ LIVES?  Are we going to be told that the Dorsey Brothers are hidden in the backing orchestra?”

Maybe they are, but that’s not the point.

This short subject is evidence to me of the cross-fertilization of hot music with more sedate forms of art by 1928. Whether Fuzzy was influenced by scat choruses on hot recordings — the Rhythm Boys or Louis Armstrong — I can’t say.  (But in your mind, put Fuzzy near to Eddie Condon in the 1929 Red Nichols short, and you’ll see the resemblance — not influence, but something more tenuous.)

He seems to be operating on his own energetic impulses, while pretending to be a full band when the mood strikes, and his unaccompanied interludes swing as well as any hot soloist.

To me, the film also says that the people who divide music into “art” (serious) and “showmanship” (low and banal) might be in error. Fuzzy Knight didn’t make Fats Waller possible, but some of the same riotous feeling is there, however transmuted.

Ultimately, the film delights me. May it please you, too.

I find it sad that John Forrest Knight is buried in an unmarked grave. But no one this lively and memorably himself as Fuzzy Knight, with or without his Little Piano, is ever dead.

May your happiness increase!

FRIENDS OF FATS (Part One): SUE, CHRIS, and EDDIE (March 7, 2014)

Any friend of Fats is a friend of mine.

FATS TO SEDRIC

One of the pleasures of regularly attending the Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay (the first weekend of March) is the delicious musical program put on for Road Scholars by Sue Kroninger, Chris Calabrese, and Eddie Erickson (vocal and lively edification; piano and ditto; vocal and banjo, respectively).

This year, on March 7, it was the life and times of Fats Waller, which I’ve titled FRIENDS OF FATS for the alliterative bounce it offers. Here’s the first half: erudite without being stuffy, witty and tender — much like its subject.

IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

SQUEEZE ME:

I AIN’T GOT NOBODY:

STRIDE PIANO and HANDFUL OF KEYS:

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN':

BLACK AND BLUE:

Some impatient viewers will want “to get to the music.” However, Sue has done intriguing research, and even though I have read biographies of Fats, I was reminded of details I had forgotten, and she ties the threads together with great skill — this is no academic lecture, for sure. (I wish there were programs like this all across the country, and for audiences who had never heard of Harlem stride piano or Bluebird Records.)

Two, readers of JAZZ LIVES know that I cherish great jazz pianists playing today as well as the great Begetters of the Past.  I won’t dare embark on a list for fear of leaving someone out and creating a mortal wound. But how many people have listened seriously to the man in the brightly colored shirt at the piano bench — one Chris Calabrese. Beautiful playing here! I don’t just mean his obvious gleaming technical mastery, but the small subtleties: the surprising passing chords, the wonderful harmonic shifts and nuances, and the lovely elastic swing — what seems like an effortless glide but anyone who’s ever come near a piano is true artistry.  Chris is A Master — and more people need to know about him.

A word about the other two people onstage.  Susan Kroninger is more often referred to as “Big Mama Sue,” but I don’t care for that useful appellation.  To me, she is a swinging percussionist (catch those wire whisks!) and a deep, warm singer — capable of jolliness and great affectionate seriousness. The fellow with the banjo, Eddie Erickson, has a million ways to make us laugh — but he is a wonderfully sincere singer and a real string virtuoso.  This team has a delightful chemistry: they are clearly enjoying themselves, and they don’t plan to leave us out.

Three, this band — Sue, Chris, and Eddie, with one crucial addition — Clint Baker on tuba and perhaps other instruments (!) — will be performing at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado, on July 25, 26, 27, 2014.  Details here.  They swing; they enlighten; they spread joy.

And there’s a second part of the Fats program . . . to come.

May your happiness increase! 

STEPHANIE TRICK, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, MARTY EGGERS, DANNY COOTS: A NIGHT AT THE ROSSMOOR JAZZ CLUB, MARCH 11, 2014 (Part One)

Good music and good feelings filled the room when Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, played to a full house at the Rossmoor Jazz Club in Walnut Creek, California, on March 11, 2014.  (The RJC offers concerts monthly in a beautiful hall for reasonable prices: see here for their schedule and details.  Additional concerts are November 19: the Crown Syncopators — Frederick Hodges, Marty Eggers, and Virginia Tichenor; December 10, the Devil Mountain Jazz Band.)

I don’t have to introduce Stephanie, Paolo, Marty, or Danny to JAZZ LIVES, or the reverse, so here is the first portion of the concert, for your enjoyment.

I NEVER KNEW:

JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE:

THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

HANDFUL OF KEYS:

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY:

Two more segments — and an after-concert surprise — to come.

May your happiness increase!

MARK CANTOR’S CELLULOID IMPROVISATIONS (JAZZ ON FILM)

celluloidimprovisations

The renowned (diligent but never stuffy) scholar of jazz on film, Mark Cantor, is also a generous fellow, and he has launched a new website.

There, you can see and hear Fats Waller, Joe Marsala and Adele Girard, Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, the Washboard Serenaders, Andy Secrest, Benny Carter, Connee Boswell, Red Nichols, Lionel Hampton, Harry James, Dave Brubeck, Punch Miller, Lady Will Carr, Ethel Merman and Johnny Green, the Max Fleischer team of surrealists, Leo Watson, Teddy Bunn, Ray Eberle, Sidney Bechet, Thelma White, Buck and Bubbles, Maude Mills, Gerry Mullingan, the MJQ, Jack Teagarden, Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson, Bill Robinson, Louis Jordan, Joe Williams, as well as groups and musicians we might never have heard about — the daring Sandra among them — and a few mysteries: unidentified players just waiting for you to recognize them. (If you are interested in footage of “the girls in the band,” you will find some here as well.)

Some of these films and excerpts are familiar, but many are rare: offered here for your viewing in the best available prints with good sound and clear images.

May your happiness increase! 

SWING SYNERGY: MIKE LIPSKIN, LEON OAKLEY, PAUL MEHLING at RANCHO NICASIO (March 24, 2014)

Some groups sound larger than their numbers.  Whether the reason is experience, community, or intuition, they blossom on the stand, emerging as an entity more gratifying and complete than their individual personalities, instruments, and sounds.

Here’s a trio of piano, cornet, and guitar.  Close your eyes and you could think you are listening to a six or seven-piece band.  Open your eyes, and you wouldn’t miss a clarinet, trombone, string bass, or drums.

Such magical synergy doesn’t happen as a matter of course — but it did last Sunday, March 24, 2014, when Mike Lipskin (piano), Leon Oakley (cornet), and Paul Mehling (guitar) delighted us.

Here are eight performances from that evening — cheerful music imbued with the sweet spirit of Fats Waller and his Rhythm. Mike, Leon, and Paul don’t copy people or records, but their buoyant joy in playing evoked the swing Masters.

James P. Johnson’s OLD FASHIONED LOVE:

BABY BROWN, for and by Alex Hill:

UNDECIDED, for Charlie Shavers:

SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND, that 1935 anthem:

James P.’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES, a solo for Mike:

Hoagy Carmichael’s OLD MAN HARLEM:

A romp on AVALON:

YESTERDAY (the Lennon-McCartney soundtrack of the late Sixties, but watch out for the later choruses):

Messrs. Lipskin, Oakley, and Mehling play a variety of gigs with a variety of ensembles, from solo piano to gypsy jazz to a stomping two-trumpet band . . . catch them while you can!  (They are, singly and collectively, the real thing.)

May your happiness increase!

JAMES DAPOGNY and his LYRICAL FELLOWS

One of the highlights of the jazz weekend formerly known as “Jazz at Chautauqua” — now the Allegheny Jazz Party – is the opportunity to hear and admire the music of James Dapogny.  Here he is on September 20, 2013, with a small group of like-minded creators, waxing poetic on three jazz classics. I mean no disrespect to the other four luminaries onstage by writing that a particular pleasure of my vantage point is being able to see and hear the pianist so clearly. All hail!

The Lyrical Fellows are Andy Stein, violin; Dan Levinson, reeds; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

SHINE:

Shades of Joe Venuti and Jimmy Dorsey, of Joe Sullivan and Fats Waller, among others, with a healthy dose of homeopathic Chicago barrelhouse.  To be taken as needed.  Renew your prescription here.

May your happiness increase!

“RUMP STEAK SERENADE”: JEFF BARNHART and HIS CONTINENTAL RHYTHM PLAY FATS WALLER, SPLENDIDLY (The Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party 2013)

Pianist, singer, and jazz scholar Jeff Barnhart is in better shape than Thomas “Fats” Waller, which is a good thing for him, for his wife Anne, and for all of us.  But Jeff has a good deal of Waller’s two great qualities: his ebullient swing (the joint can always be encouraged to jump) and his less-acknowledged tenderness.  Both qualities and more were in evidence throughout a very joyous set of music Jeff and friends performed at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party on November 1, 2013.  His Continental Rhythm (my title) here is comprised of Richard Pite, drums; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Spats Langham, guitar and vocal on SAY IT WITH YOUR FEET; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Duke Heitger, trumpet.

And the Wallerizing includes some beautiful compositions you rarely hear — not the usual two or three that, although memorable, get done to death:

HOLD MY HAND:

AT TWILIGHT:

PLEASE TELL ME WHY:

RUMP STEAK SERENADE:

SAY IT WITH YOUR FEET:

MOPPIN’ AND BOPPIN':

KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL:

DO YOU HAVE TO GO?:

TWELFTH STREET RAG:

Tender and juicy.  Just like Mama made!

May your happiness increase!

SEARCH ENGINE TERMS, CONTINUED (MARCH 2014 EDITION)

Questions or search engine terms in bold. These entries, I promise you, are recorded verbatim, not embellished or invented.

 was fats waller in it’s a wonderful life?

(No, but he improved ours.)

who were turk murphy’s wives

(“Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Murphy . . . ” I long to respond.)

did billie holiday die

Define your terms.

autograph of not that famous deceased guitar teachers 1987

(Possibly the only response here is “Huh?”)

connie boswell reserved

(Ditto.)

thelonious monk and moms mabley

(If there’s a recording of that duet, I want it now.)

louis armstrong uncle tom

(Some people who didn’t understand Louis might have called him that, but you won’t find those four words linked in any equation on this blog.)

and here, a rash of Holiday-fetishism, all in the space of a half-hour one night:

louis mckay 5

louis mckay pictures 2

billie holiday drug use 2 (a constant search for this)

billie holiday husband 2

louis mckay’s death 2

billie holiday funeral 1

billie holiday funeral photos 1

billie holiday weight 1 (this one recurs)

lewis mckay 1

louis mckay and billie holiday 1

louis mckay photos 1

louis mckay and billie holiday obituary 1

was there really a louis mckay in billie holiday’s life? 1

what happened to lois mckay, billie holiday’s third husband 1

louis mckay husband 1

what happen to louis mckay husband of billie holiday 1

billie holiday father

billie holiday’s husbands

I wait for the search engine term “billie holiday music,” but that must be my naivete.

Following on the same logic: great singer = great addiction, we have this question:

was ella fitzgerald a heroin addict

and my current inexplicable favorite:

have you ever heard anything about jazz we are sure you have

perhaps because that was too unwieldy, it returned a week later as:

have you ever heard anything about jazz

Keep searching, Sisters and Brothers!  Do let me know what you find.

May your happiness increase!

MEAN.

Fats Waller said that one of his ambitions was to travel the country, preaching sermons with a big band in back of him. I feel the same tendency twice a year, so I encourage any reader who might find me even slightly didactic to turn the leaf and choose another page.

My travels in the land of jazz (and elsewhere) bring me face to face with men of my generation who affect a certain bluff, gruff heartiness as their mode of conversation with other men. It is meant to resemble comic friendliness, but it has bits of broken glass mixed in. This “being funny” has come to feel downright hurtful.  “Making a joke” isn’t amusing when it’s at someone’s expense.

I do not exempt myself from blame.  For a long time I was a small-time energetic Mocker, a Satirist, someone made fun of the failings of himself and his friends. I’ve tried to stop doing this.  It’s mean. It is the very opposite of welcoming and loving.

I guess that many men grew up believing that if you displayed your affection for another man, if you showed that you were delighted he was there, you were girlish — behavior to be avoided lest someone think you insufficiently manly.

But if “Joe, you old rascal. Tired of bothering the girls at Safeway and they let you out to come here?” really means, “Joe, I am always glad to see you and am happy you are here,” or even, “Joe, I love you,” why not say it and drop all the “funny” banter that is really nasty stuff?

I suspect that some of the “comedy” is because we feel Small in ourselves (“Will anyone notice how tiny I have gotten? Does anyone love me?”) and one way to feel Bigger is to make others feel Small.  If everyone is busy laughing at Joe, they will be too busy to laugh at Us.

But I believe that when we act lovingly, the questions of Who’s Bigger and Who’s Smaller quickly become inconsequential.  And laughter with an edge is like any sharp thing: you never know who’s bleeding once the ruckus stops.  (In this century, “edgy” has come to seem a term of modern praise. Think about it.)

Should any reader think I am being too hard on my fellow Males, I know that Women do this too — I think of Mildred and Bessie meeting on the street and one saying to the other, “I have this dress that’s too big for me.  Why don’t you take it?” which I used to think was hilarious. Now I wish they could just have given each other a hug and shut up. Love is more important than what the scale says.

I offer two kinds of music for meditations on Meanness, which you know used to mean a kind of ungenerous smallness.  Although these songs are based on the drama of the unresponsive or cold lover, let their melody and words (thank you, Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert) ring in your head before you — out of careless habit — say something Mean:

and almost a decade later:

If you show your heart to people, they show theirs back to you.

May your happiness increase!

“GEORGE WETTLING, MARCH 1953″

That’s written on the back of this snapshot — originally taken by drummer Walt Gifford, later held by jazz enthusiast Joe Boughton:

GEORGE WETTLING 3 53

I am assuming that it was taken in the Boston area, but Wettling is the main attraction.  In the great tradition, Wettling played drums for the band — caring more for that than for any extended solo, although his four-bar breaks at the end of Eddie Condon recordings (Commodore, Decca, and Columbia) are justly famous.  He wasn’t as dramatic as some of his more celebrated peers, but any group that had Wettling in the rhythm section could relax, secure that the tempo would be steady, that every accent or sound would make sense as a complementary part of the whole.

Here are two samples of George at work — atypically visible as well — along with Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, Cutty Cutshall, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Al Hall, and Eddie himself — from a 1964 television program:

and

and — nearly a quarter-century earlier, sounds only:

and

If you follow the recordings he left behind — with Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Fats Waller, Joe Sullivan, Hot Lips Page, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, Louis Armstrong, Chu Berry, Teddy Wilson, Muggsy Spanier, Jess Stacy, Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Boyce Brown, Paul Mares, Omer Simeon, Wingy Manone, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Marsala, Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, Pete Brown, Jack Teagarden, Joe Bushkin, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Paul Whiteman, Coleman Hawkins, Max Kaminsky, Danny Polo, Herman Chittison, Joe Thomas, Mezz Mezzrow, Benny Carter, Miff Mole, Brad Gowans, Marty Marsala, George Brunis, Ed Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Yank Lawson, Jerry Jerome, Billy Butterfield, Una Mae Carlisle, Dick Cary, Benny Morton, Jonah Jones, Errol Garner, Billie Holiday, Bujie Centobie, Red McKenzie, Chuck Wayne, Lucky Thompson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jo Stafford, Martha Tilton, Connee Boswell, Sidney Bechet, Frank Newton, Bing Crosby, Art Hodes, Doc Evans, Bob Wilber, Tony Parenti, Charlie Parker, Ralph Sutton, Barbara Lea, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Kenny Kersey, Frank Signorelli, Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Urbie Green, Marian McPartland, Stuff Smith, Big Joe Turner, Buck Clayton, Claude Hopkins, Nat Pierce, Jimmy Jones, Marty Napoleon, Buster Bailey, Shorty Baker, Tyree Glenn, Kenny Davern, and many others — you will always hear rewarding music.

May your happiness increase!

TWO HOT, ONE WISTFUL: UNSEEN MUSICAL TREASURES FROM THE 2012 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY

Three New Beauties from the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — recorded on October 26 and 27, 2012 — living advertisements of what the musicians and the Party-givers do so superbly.

Part of a rousing tribute to the power behind the throne, Lil Hardin Armstrong (pianist, composer, bandleader, inspiration) — a song named for her young husband, PAPA DIP.  It’s performed here by Bent Persson, cornet; Stephane Gillot, alto saxophone; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Martin Seck, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Malcolm Sked, string bass.

YOU RASCAL YOU has serious Armstrongian associations, although the performance here takes its impetus from the magnificent series of 1932-33 recordings by the “Rhythmakers,” ostensibly led by Billy Banks or Jack Bland — but really driven by Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Lord, Tommy Dorsey, Joe Sullivan, Fats Waller, Pops Foster, Eddie Condon, Zutty Singleton and other luminaries.  At the Classic Jazz Party, the New Rhythmakers kept things hot — Andy Schumm, cornet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Norman Field, clarinet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, tenor; Martin Seck, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Spats Langham, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Josh Duffee, drums. This video also contains a sweet, sad memento: the voice and right hand of our much-missed Mike Durham introducing the band and cracking wise (as was his habit).  Thank you, Mike, for everything:

After all that violent heat, something rueful seems just right, so here is Cecile McLorin Salvant’s melancholy reading of the Willard Robison song A COTTAGE FOR SALE, with the empathic assistance of Norman Field, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Spats Langham, guitar; Alistair Allan, trombone; Emma Fisk, violin; Martin Litton, piano; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums:

We don’t have to end on a wistful note.  I have three more 2012 delights to post and many more from 2013 . . . and (with a Nick Ward drum roll) the 2014 Party is happening this November 7 through 9 — details here.

You can learn all about it — the accomodations, pricing, concert themes . . . I’ll content myself my lingering over the list of musicians who will be there:

Trumpets: Bent Persson (Sweden), Duke Heitger (USA), Andy Schumm (USA), Ben Cummings (UK), Enrico Tomasso (UK) / Trombones: Kristoffer Kompen (Norway), Alistair Allan (UK), Graham Hughes (UK) / Reeds: Jean-François Bonnel (France), Mauro Porro (Italy), Claus Jacobi (Germany), Matthias Seuffert (Germany), Lars Frank (Norway), Thomas Winteler, (Switzerland) / Piano: Keith Nichols (UK), Martin Litton, (UK), Morten Gunnar Larsen (Norway), David Boeddinghaus (USA) / Banjo/Guitar: Spats Langham (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Jacob Ullberger (Sweden), Martin Wheatley (UK) / String Bass: Richard Pite (UK), Henry Lemaire (France) / Brass Bass: Phil Rutherford (UK), Malcolm Sked (UK) / Drums: Josh Duffee (USA), Richard Pite (UK), Debbie Arthurs (UK) / Bass Sax: Frans Sjöström (Sweden) / Violin: Emma Fisk (UK) / Vocals: Janice Day (UK), Debbie Arthurs, (UK), Spats Langham (UK).

May your happiness increase!

FOR CAREN BRODSKY, A SMALL SWING ADIEU: JOHN SHERIDAN, SOLO (September 20, 2013)

I just learned yesterday of the death of Philadelphia-based jazz fan Caren Brodsky, someone deeply in love with the music. She died in her sleep on January 31.

Caren loved the hot jazz of the Twenties and the swing of the Thirties and Forties; her heroes were Marty Grosz and Vince Giordano. I believe I first met her at a Jazz at Chautauqua weekend. I am grieved that she left us so young.

Somehow, this sweet adieu — a farewell, for now — seems the right music.

The song is I HATE TO LEAVE YOU NOW (our man Thomas Waller, with lyrics by Harry Link and Dorothy Dick), played with great sweetness by John Sheridan, with a rapt audience at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party) on September 20, 2013:

Two choruses, a key change, and an extended ending, conjuring up a beautiful world in under three minutes.

The unseen musical figure here is Louis, who recorded this lovely song in 1932.  Click here and be transported, thanks to Louis, Chick Webb, Mezz Mezzrow, and Ricky Riccardi.

Caren was a true enthusiast.  I post this in her honor, and send my sorrow to her husband Chris and her family.

Friends and family will be celebrating Caren’s life at Goldsteins’ Rosenberg’s Raphael Sacks memorial chapel, at 310 Second Street Pike, Southhampton, Pennsylvania 18966. It will be conducted on Sunday, February 9 at 3 pm.  Memorial contributions can be made to House Rabbit Society, Southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Chapter, 478 East Ayres Street, Newport DE 19084-2503, or Little Furries Rescue & Referral, 154 Newton Street, Browns Mills NJ 08015.

Caren, we will miss you.

CATHERINE RUSSELL BRINGS IT BACK, INDEED

We’re glad that there is a Catherine Russell, and she’s generously offered us another delicious helping of the heartfelt swing she and her colleagues create — in a new CD, called BRING IT BACK:

CATHERINE RUSSELL: BRING IT BACK (Jazz Village JVS 97001) Bring it Back; I’m Shooting High; I Let A Song Go out of My Heart; You Got To Swing and Sway; Aged and Mellow; the Darktown Strutters’ Ball; Lucille; You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb; After the Lights Go Down Low; I’m Sticking With You Baby; Strange As It Seems; Public Melody Number One; I Cover The Waterfront.

Catherine Russell is a marvel: a great star and entertainer who gives herself utterly to the music, the rhythm, the words, and the emotions. She could have been a true rival for any of the great singers of the past, but she sounds utterly like herself.

She doesn’t have a gravelly voice or carry a handkerchief, but she embodies the warm, vibrant spirit of Louis Armstrong. That isn’t surprising, because her parents were Armstrong’s long-time pianist and musical director Luis Russell and singer / bassist Carline Ray.

BRING IT BACK continues her series of energized yet subtle CDs that draw on little-known tunes from an earlier era (composers from her father to Fats Waller, Harold Arlen, Jimmy McHugh, and Ida Cox) and blues-based material associated with Esther Phillips, Al Hibbler, Wynonie Harris and Little Willie John. The disc is emotionally satisfying, because Russell proves herself an adult who brings a consistent understanding to the emotions of each song. When the CD is over, it seems as if it’s just begun — and that’s not a matter of timing but of our pleasure: we want to hear more!

Russell’s voice is a pleasure in itself, with a high clear cornet-like attack when she chooses to croon an optimistic love song or romp through a swing fiesta such as SWING AND SWAY or PUBLIC MELODY. (At times she sounds like Ray Nance. Is there a higher compliment?) She takes on the dark rasp of a tenor saxophone when she sings the blues: Ben Webster, feeling low-down and grouchy, awakened too early.

Whatever the material or tempo, her intonation and time are splendid; no faux-Holiday lingering behind the beat for her. Russell’s energy comes through whole on BRING IT BACK, just as audiences worldwide have seen her dancing around the stage, a woman giving herself to rhythm.

On this disc, she is surrounded by a limber medium-sized band of New York swing stars: Mark Shane, piano; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Andy Farber, Dan Block, Mark Lopeman, reeds; Lee Hudson, string bass; Mark McLean, drums; Brian Pareschi, trumpet; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Glenn Patscha, Hammond B-3 organ. The band evokes but doesn’t copy swing and rhythm and blues from the last century, encouraging Russell to be inspired, never derivative. The CD moves from jitterbug extravaganzas to dark midnight blues without a letup. I found myself playing my favorite tracks over and over.

Louis would be proud.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE MAGIC LAND OF WHAT’S TO BE

When I have a momentary spell of feeling the world’s weight on my shoulders and the Beloved isn’t around, I turn to the wise spiritual counsel of Doctor Thomas Waller — here, in 1934, singing HAVE A LITTLE DREAM ON ME, by Phil Baxter, music; John P. Murray, lyrics, with the name of Billy Rose added to the lyric credits:

This song makes me think of the optimism that people deep in the Great Depression had to muster to keep afloat — the revolution wasn’t coming any time soon — and music might have been one of the most ready, if transitory, palliatives for gloom.

We still need this buoyancy in our lives.  The Big Bad Wolf is always ready to pounce, with dire financial news, terrifying medical results, baskets full of disappointments.

I can only hope that your dreams remain so brightly-colored, so tangible, that you can close your eyes and have them appear at will.

Have a little dream on JAZZ LIVES, won’t you?

May your happiness increase!

THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG ETERNITY BAND at BIRDLAND (Dec. 11, 2013) PART ONE

David Ostwald takes Louis Armstrong very seriously — not only as a philosophical model, but as a musical beacon.  That’s why he’s created and led a small hot jazz group devoted to Louis and the music he loved — now called the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band — that has had a regular Wednesday gig at Birdland for fourteen years.

But sometimes honoring Louis takes David off the bandstand.  On December 11, he stopped in at Birdland to say hello to everyone before heading to the Louis Armstrong House Museum gala which was honoring Quincy Jones and Dan Morgenstern.  But David wanted to make sure that the music at Birdland would be right on target, so he asked his friend and ours, Brian Nalepka, to lead the band.

Brian brought his string bass and sang on a few songs, and had the best assistance from Danny Tobias, cornet; Tom Artin, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Vinny Raniolo, banjo; Kevin Dorn, drums. Here’s the first half of that delightful concert for Louis.

SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH / INDIANA:

OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE:

STAR DUST:

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

BODY AND SOUL (featuring Pete Martinez, King of Tones):

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

Many first-class songs associated with that Armstrong fellow, and what a band!

May your happiness increase!