Tag Archives: Fats Waller

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!

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!

EXCELLENT MEDICAL ADVICE (from DOCTORS McHUGH, FIELDS, OPPENHEIM, and WALLER)

YOUR SPEED

Yes, I know we are all important people with critically important time-sensitive tasks to accomplish, but still I inquire:

What’s the rush?

Where’s the fire?

Who’s chasing you?

TAKE IT EASY.

Instead of my telling you, here is the message in musical form . . . delivered by the best shamans I know.

It was snowing this morning: I suspect that a good number of the accidents I saw were caused by hurry.  My students, eager for the semester to be over, rush through their final explications and are then puzzled when their grades are low.  Life is meant to be lived in a leisurely way — a steady rocking medium tempo.

TAKE IT EASY.  Thanks to Jimmy McHugh (melody); Dorothy Fields and George Oppenheim (lyrics); Fats Waller and his Rhythm (1935).

May your happiness increase!

ONE SOUNDTRACK FOR MY IDEAL WORLD

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW was a very popular song in the late Twenties: in my memory, it is connected to Whiteman, Bix, and the Rhythm Boys; Helen Kane; Cliff Edwards, and I am sure two dozen others.

If you’ve never heard it, here is Miss Kane’s 1927 version (with the verse and at a sweet tempo):

Its bouncy melody and amorous conceit –”[S]he loves these [apparently difficult] acts, so I am compelled to perform them also — pity poor me who has to suffer billing and cooing [but not really]” — made both singers and audiences float along in amusement.

THAT-S-MY-WEAKNESS-NOW

But between 1929 and 1939 no one recorded it in a jazz context (according to Tom Lord’s discography) and it’s understandable: its bouncy two-beat melody line and rhythms didn’t lend themselves all that easily to a smoother Swing Era treatment, and it may have seemed to contemporary audiences a relic of their parents’ now-ancient flapper / sheik past.  (The song re-emerged in later decades — with recordings by George Lewis and Humphrey Lyttelton — as a sweet homage to the late Twenties, and that is how modern bands play it today.)

I don’t know who thought of the song for this July 1944 record date, but it’s a wonderful choice.  This was one of Harry Lim’s Keynote dates, so he might have been the inspiration — or leader Pete Brown might have liked the song as a perfect match for his own jaunty, accented, ebullient playing.

As a record producer, Harry Lim had a thousand virtues: good taste in musicians, a liking for medium tempos and melodic improvisation, and the courage to have players who weren’t household names lead sessions.  His 12″ 78 recordings are a body of work that remains its freshness.  (I am only sad that when I was a young record-buyer at one branch of the New York City Sam Goody’s, I didn’t recognize him, wring his hand embarrassingly and tell him how much his fine musical taste had enriched my life.)

Here is THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW, performed by Brown, alto saxophone; Joe Thomas, trumpet; Kenny Kersey, piano; Milt Hinton, string bass; J.C. Heard, drums.

I think the beauties of this recording are self-evident to anyone willing to listen closely for just over four minutes — perhaps a seeming-lifetime in our restless century.

The disc starts with an unaccompanied introduction by the under-celebrated Kenny Kersey, who had absorbed Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines but also was very much aware of what the jazz critics like to call, retrospectively, “advanced harmonies,” but which musicians of the time might have called “funny chords.” Kersey had played with Andy Kirk as well as with Red Allen’s Cafe Society band, and (for me) his accompaniment nearly steals the show during the first chorus, where the melody is played in a neat, clipped way by the horns.  And as for bass and drums: they provide a swing heartbeat.

The horns offer very individual sounds.  I don’t think an experienced listener would mistake Brown for any other altoist: the way he pushes the beat, as if his notes and phrases were impetuous, his solos impatient to get out of the horn where they could be heard.  And his tone!  Lemony, bittersweet, tart?  One would need a truly subtle food writer to describe the sound of his alto.  Joe Thomas, ah, Joe Thomas — glowing and spare but deeply emotive without playing one more note than needed . . . a true lesson in storytelling, full of nuance but never over-elaborated.  In the melding of the horns, they are synchronous (you hear the professionalism of musicians used to working in sections, in big bands, where blending was essential) but their individual voices are audible, their sounds so personal.

Even on longer-playing discs, the idea of splitting a chorus (the horns play the first sixteen bars of a thirty-two bar chorus; another instrument takes the eight-bar “bridge,” then the horns return or let the other players have the second half) was nothing new, but Kersey’s piano, spare and elegant, is refreshing.  But while Kersey is exploring, so — in the most sympathetic way — is Milt, climbing higher on his instrument without ever seeming to solo.  Heard’s emphatic brushwork (out of Sidney Catlett) never falters, wavers, or becomes mechanical.  The following sixteen bars are equally calm — they are riffing this evening! — with an emphatic flare on the last notes of the chorus, where the horns seem especially determined to repeat the title in song.

Brown was either a  generous or wise leader — I think both — content to build a performance architecturally rather than saying THIS IS MY RECORD and playing all through it, so if we are waiting for the leader to solo, it doesn’t happen for some time.

So the next chorus is apparently a Kersey solo, and what an elegantly swinging pianist — great musical intelligence and no cliches — he was.  But just as Kersey stole the show behind the horns, the horns (with their simple little pushing riff) might easily distract us from his gleam.  Horn backgrounds to a piano solo used to be commonplace — in the departed ideal world — but one does not hear them in this century, with some exceptions.  The way the whole band — is it only a quintet? — sounds, with such sweet subtle variety — is gratifying.  Kersey has some of the same quiet energy of Johnny Guarneri (someone Lim also loved and featured) but he is his own man, steering his own course between Fats and Bud Powell.

With a push from Heard, Thomas is on.  And how beautiful his tone is — dark, clear, not “sweet” but not harsh, brassy.  All his trademarks are in place: the careful repeated notes, the breath-like phrasing, the upward arpeggios, the pace (no matter how fast the tempo gets, at his best, Thomas mastered the Louis trick of relaxing, of “playing whole notes,” of letting everyone else seem hurried while he takes his time, admires the scenery, adjusts the knot on his tie just so.  His bridge is especially luxurious.  If, perhaps, you think, “Oh, that’s just Louis-influenced Swing Era trumpet playing, and everyone was doing that,” may I respectfully suggest that a deep immersion in the period will prove revelatory. No one sounded like Joe.  Ask a trumpet player you know to listen to that solo, closely, and see if it’s easy to create such a sound, such an effect.

Behind Thomas, Brown has been nudging the band along (there are no dead spots on this record) as it shifts into a higher gear, with Heard and everyone else deciding — to use the Thirties expression — “to put the pots and pans on,” to get seriously playful.

And then comes our leader — Mister Brown to you.  What a remarkable sound!  At first, it makes me think of someone with laryngitis who insists on speaking although his voice croaks and cracks, but one quickly gets accustomed to the sound because Brown’s pulse is so warm and enthusiastic.  He doesn’t rush, but he intently gives each phrase its own shape and a rocking momentum.  And his solo is made up of small gems, a phrase turned round and round over the harmonies, without pressure or monotony.  (I am not usually fond of quotations — some musicians overindulge — but Brown’s reference to FUNKY BUTT at 3:12 is hilarious. I hope that there is no particular connection between that subject and what the imagined lover prefers, but more likely it was just a witty idea, floating by, that laid nicely over the chords.)

And that last chorus is a marvel of tidy architecture, of generosity, of variety: sixteen glorious bars for the Judge, Milt Hinton — no one ever talked through his solos! — with the band riffing around and through his sonorous notes, then a “modern” bridge featuring Kersey, four more bars for Milt (how many people understand what Milt understood about the string bass, parallel to Jimmy Blanton?) then four bars where the band says in a politely declamatory ensemble, “THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW!” and the record is over.

Yes, I have heard recordings like this in our century, and, better yet, bands actually doing these glorious acts of solo brilliance and communal swing on the bandstand, in person, but this 12″ 78 is imperishable.  There are a million ways for an improvising jazz group to sound, and I wouldn’t be such a bully to insist that this is the only one, or the best one, but it moves me every time I hear it.

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! 

EMILY ASHER’S JOYOUS CARNIVAL CONTINUES

Some months back, I wrote an eager announcement of a new compact disc by Emily Asher’s Garden Party — a six-song tribute to Hoagy Carmichael, called CARNIVAL OF JOY.  Truth in advertising!  The disc is one of those creative efforts that grows deeper with each visit, and it balances exuberance, intelligence, and subtle understanding.

CARNIVAL OF JOY

The facts.  The personnel (are they Partiers or Gardeners or Garden Partiers?) are Emily Asher, trombone / vocals / arrangements; Mike Davis, trumpet / cornet / vocal; Tom Abbott, clarinet / alto saxophone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Nick Russo, guitar / banjo; Sean Cronin, string bass (2, 4) / arrangement and vocal (6); Rob Adkins, string bass, 1, 3, 5, 6); Jay Lepley, drums.  The songs: RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / LAZY BONES / JUBILEE / TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE / BALTIMORE ORIOLE / ROCKIN’ CHAIR.

Click here to hear LAZY BONES from the CD — and, not incidentally, learn more about the many swinging exploits of our Ms. Asher.

I said above, “exuberance, intelligence, and deep understanding.”  High praise and, for some, difficult to live up to.  But not for Emily and her colleagues.

The exuberance comes through from the start of the disc.  It’s not loud music (although there is the delightful possibility of good-humored raucousness on several of the tracks) but to me it felt very much like young Judy and Mickey with his father’s barn — the quality of “Let’s put on a show!” And the glee is authentic: it’s not the stagy “enthusiasm,” part of the act, we sometimes see.

What I perceive as “intelligence” and “deep understanding” come through in the thought-processes behind this disc.  Tributes are sometimes easy ways for artists who haven’t decided who they are to masquerade as more remarkable ones — the more enlightened artists come to understand that wearing a gardenia in your hair may be an absolute impediment to understanding Billie Holiday or becoming one’s self.

But CARNIVAL OF JOY is not an attempt to copy hallowed recordings or performances.  Of course I hear sly touches of Louis and Fats and Hoagy himself in these performances, but they are admiring glances rather than full-dress impersonations.  Emily and her friends have understood something deep about the delicate balance between honoring the originals and creating something new, so each of the six songs here is a small, casual drama in itself — joyous or somber, wild or pensive (and in the case of ROCKIN’ CHAIR, nearly ominous) — with singing and playing that adeptly honor the song and carry its many messages straight to us.

I’ve been playing CARNIVAL OF JOY often, and my only reservation about the disc is that it contains six songs . . . not eighteen or more.  Listen and see if you don’t agree.  Thank you, Emily, Mike, Sean, Tom, Dalton, Nick, Rob, Jay, and of course Hoagy.

May your happiness increase!

“SWEETIE DEAR”: MIKE LIPSKIN AT THE PIANO (August 15, 2013)

Authenticity is immediately recognizable, no matter where one finds it.

Hearing Mike Lipskin at the piano, it’s immediately evident that he didn’t learn his stride from a DVD or a book of transcriptions.  No, he lived and breathed it as a young man — studying with Willie “the Lion” Smith, learning from Cliff Jackson, Willie Gant, and by playing alongside such modern masters as Dick Hyman (their friendship goes back 45 years and continues to this day).  Experience and improvisation rather than copying gestures and figures.

Although Mike is seriously influenced by the great players who were the Lion’s contemporaries — James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Don Lambert — and later generations, his style is much more than pastiche: he has his own sound, a steady yet flexible pace, delicious voicings, a nimble tread at the keyboard.

In addition, Mike is a humorist at play: in any performance, there will be playful surprises — modulations up a step or down, key changes for a few bars, and more.  Anything to keep the terrain from becoming too level and too predictable.

The Beloved and I had the great good fortune to hear a mini-recital by Mike, happily at his own piano in his Nicasio home (with the very loving audience including his wife, the swinging Dinah Lee).  Here’s one of the highlights: Mike’s solo rendition of SWEETIE DEAR, composed by Joe Jordan, most well-known for the quick one-step recording from 1932 by Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier, and Hank Duncan (as the New Orleans Feetwarmers) — riffing seriously all the way through:

Mike’s version is calmer, although subtly propulsive.  In the great piano tradition, his sweet improvisation begins in affectionate rubato mode (love can’t be rushed), moves into a strolling tempo, and then to a jaunt before settling down for a conclusion.

On the West Coast, Mike can be found at Bix Restaurant and Pier 23 in San Francisco, and there will be another Stride Summit in Filoli in 2014.  You can keep up with him on his Facebook page or website.

He brings joy, and young players should be coming to study him.  He has much to share with us — not only about music but about joy.

And if you missed the Stride Summits of August 2013, or the resulting videos, you have only to click here to admire Mike amidst his friends Dick Hyman, Stephanie Trick, Clint Baker, and Paul Mehling.  Swing, you cats!

May your happiness increase!