Tag Archives: Rossano Sportiello

DAN BLOCK AND FRIENDS at THE ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 18, 2014): DAN BLOCK, HARRY ALLEN, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, PETE SIERS

What follows is a glowing sample of what the masters of any art do, communally and individually: assembling without fanfare for a common purpose, speaking their piece in turn, collaborating to create something beautiful that never existed before.

The inspiring Dan Block (reed master, here playing tenor saxophone) got together with friends and peers at the informal Thursday night session at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party and showed us — without being didactic — how it is done.

The friends are Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. The text for their sweet explorations was FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE — by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, but presented without Hart’s rather dark lyrics, and moved into a lilting swing rhythm for us:

I think music-making at this level is an absolute gift, given freely and generously by the finest artists. Happily, they were performing for an attentive, hushed audience who were, in every sense of the phrase, “getting it.”  Gifts like these come back to the givers.  See the contented smiles on the faces of the musicians as they bask in the warmth of their own creations.  Not immodestly, but joyously, congratulating each other on creating such an uplifting community.

This beauty — in varied hues — sprang to life often during the Allegheny Jazz Party.  I am certain such beauty will flourish again in September 2015.

But that’s a long way away, so let me point you to something closer (if you live in New York or environs).  I will be away, so you have to see and hear for yourself.

The Dan Block Quintet will offer a program he calls “Mary Lou Williams and Benny Carter Meet Hard Bop” at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (that’s Broadway and 60th Street) on Wednesday, October 8th.  Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM.  The Quintet is Dan, saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.  One may reserve by phone (212-258-9595) or in person after 6P.M. daily at the club.  It’s a $30 cover, $20 for students.

Block, Allen, Barrett, Sportiello, Burr, Siers — all masters.  Follow them and be uplifted.

May your happiness increase!

WE HAD A BALL: THE 2014 ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY

The first thing you need to know is that the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party will take place on September 10-13, 2015, at the Inter-Continental Hotel (near the Cleveland Clinic) in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Michael, that’s a year from now.  Why are you telling us this?”

I had such a good time at the AJP just concluded that I want everyone to get ready for next year: wonderful music in profusion, comfortable surroundings, a quiet and attentive audience paying serious attention to the good sounds, good food, comfortable rooms in a hotel full of very friendly staff.  Ease and friendliness prevailed, thanks to Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock, who could run a medium-sized country with gentleness and efficiency.

You’ll notice I put MUSIC at the top of that list.  Here’s a sample — the second performance from the informal session on Thursday night, created by Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens (amazing at 84 or any age), trombone; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Howard Alden, guitar; Rossano Sportiello, piano:

You can keep up with the AJP here or at website.

The experience at the AJP was special for reasons beyond the splendid music: a rare comfort was in the air and the guests were so easy with one another.  If you have a 2015 calendar, I encourage you to mark the dates on it now.  You won’t be sorry.

More videos to come.

May your happiness increase!   

FUN FOR ALL AGES: DANNY COOTS PLUS TEN at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 26, 2014)

Large groupings of musicians on the stand of a jazz  party look impressive but they don’t always come off as well as they might.

But this one was even better than the best I could have imagined — genial, melodic, and always inspired: led by Danny Coots, drums; with Paul Keller, string bass; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibes; Dan Block, tenor sax; Allan Vache, clarinet; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Ed Polcer, cornet; Bria Skonberg, trumpet. All this delightful music was created at the 15th Atlanta Jazz Party, late in the evening of April 26, 2014.

The set began with a romping version of PANAMA, but my camera betrayed me. (Note to self: never change batteries in midstream.) So you will have to imagine it. But what followed was even better, WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

After the comedy by Allan Vache, Dan Barrett, and Danny himself, we move into a deeply satisfying series of “conversations,” starting with the two trombones.  If you want to go back into recorded history, this device reminds me of Red Nichols sessions where Jack Teagarden played a “hot” chorus while Glenn Miller played the melody sweetly — a delicious simultaneous mixing of tastes.  (I also recall, since Ed Polcer was on this session, nights at the last Eddie Condon’s where Ed and Ruby Braff would switch off — melody and improvisation — for a few choruses, always very inspiring.)  The device also solves the unstated problem — if each of the soloists takes the traditional two choruses, performances stretch out to amazing lengths.  This DREAM is about five minutes of music, but it feels filled to the very brim with melody and swing that floats through the conversations of Ed and Bria, of Dan and Allan (over the rhythm section’s rocking two-beat) — followed by sweet epistles by Randy, Rossano, Paul, and then the tidy but never constricted ensemble — a model of letting everyone have his / her say in a flexible, compact fashion.

I think everyone on the stand was elated by what they had created, and I know the audience was joyful.  Danny then (after more comedy) called for MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME (another “ancient” pop tune that is rarely played — and if it is, not at this walking tempo) that reminds me of the best swing sessions I’ve ever heard, playful improvisation never flagging:

What could top that?  Well, nothing — but adding Rebecca Kilgore to the band to sing some Anita O’Day – Gene Krupa blues, DRUM BOOGIE / BOOGIE BLUES, which is closely related to SENT FOR YOU YESTERDAY, but we’ll let people who care about provenance argue over that.  Me, I simply love to hear Ms. Kilgore sing — and over this sweetly-Basie group, it is a treat:

Couldn’t be better. And I think it’s relevant to mention that another version of all this good feeling and good sounds will be taking place in April 2015.  I’ll be at the Atlanta Jazz Party (April 17-19) as will many of the brilliant players you see here — with some surprises.  Make plans!

May your happiness increase!

“SO MUCH DEPENDS UPON YOU.”

I wouldn’t have considered Cleveland, Ohio, a destination spot for fine hot and sweet improvised music.  But I am ready to do so now.  In fact, I will be on a plane this coming Thursday, September 18, 2014, to be part of the first Allegheny Jazz Party  (here, too, on Facebook).

(Thursday evening until Sunday afternoon, to be precise, in a modern hotel.)

I hope that JAZZ LIVES readers and like-minded friends will be joining me there. Not, mind you, because I get paid for writing about the AJP.  I do not.  Nor do I get a bounty for each attendee I bring in.

No, I write a post like this in the same spirit that I would eagerly tell you about a fine restaurant I had just discovered that you, too, could enjoy.  There is jazz enough for everyone, and no one has to keep it to him or herself.

I also have the motive — is it selfish or altruistic or both? — of wanting these enterprises to continue.  The finest musicians in the cosmos can sing and play to a half-empty room once, but not more than that.

So I urge YOU to come along.  Yes, YOU.

And to make the point in a more cheerful, less didactic way, here are four of my idols — Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Harry Allen — romping through a Walter Donaldson song whose title you will guess quickly:

And it is appropriate to point out that this music was created at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua, so I think the spirit and joy will certainly follow us westward to Cleveland.  See YOU there.

May your happiness increase!

BALLADS BY HARRY ALLEN, DAN BLOCK, BOB HAVENS, DUKE HEITGER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, RANDY REINHART, ANDY SCHUMM, REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, MARTY GROSZ, FRANK TATE, JOHN VON OHLEN (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 22, 2013)

Norman Granz took credit for inventing what came to be called “the ballad medley” for his concert performances.  Rather than have everyone stand onstage and take solo choruses on what might be a fourteen-minute BODY AND SOUL, Granz proposed — for variety’s sake — that each of the musicians would emerge from the wings, hastily tell the rhythm section what (s)he had chosen, both song and key, and play or sing a chorus of it, then exit.

For the audience, it is a parade of small memorable delights. First, it reminds us what great players and singers can create within the space of one chorus of a song — note that, at their most leisurely, these performances are two minutes apiece. They offer us subtle embellishments on enduring melodies.  And the tempos!  Once upon a time, there was a precious little thing called the RHYTHM BALLAD, which meant that even if the lyrics said, “I am throwing myself out of the window because you don’t love me,” the rhythm ticked quietly underneath in medium tempo.  The ballad medley requires a perfectly attentive and wise rhythm section, especially a pianist who can respond in a second to something muttered, “WHEN DAY IS DONE, three flats,” modulate in to the proper key and be ready.

The late Joe Boughton, who delighted in jazz ballads, made sure that his jazz parties always included such interludes.

On September 22, 2013, at the closing set of Jazz at Chautauqua, a series of small miraculous evocations came and went in front of our eyes.  I am honored to have been there and privileged to capture much of the ballad medley for you.

The participants are Rossano Sportiello, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar / vocal; Frank Tate, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, Andy Schumm, Randy Reinhart, Duke Heitger, trumpets; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombones; Andy Stein, violin; Harry Allen, Dan Block, reeds; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal.

EASY LIVING (Harry Allen), DAY DREAM (Dan Block), CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN (Bob Havens), I KNOW WHY (Duke Heitger):

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (Jon-Erik Kellso):

MY FUNNY VALENTINE (Randy Reinhart); PLEASE (Andy Schumm); LAURA (Andy Stein); IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN (Marty Grosz); SOPHISTICATED LADY (Rossano Sportiello):

And a wonderful closing serenade, OHIO by Rebecca Kilgore and Dan Barrett:

OHIO offers a perfect transition.  Jazz at Chautauqua has changed its name and moved west — to Cleveland, Ohio — but I know its essential musical nature will not diminish or change.  It’s now the Allegheny Jazz Party, beginning on Thursday, September 18, and concluding (with a ballad medley) on Sunday, September 21.  I hope your life-path and travel plans allow you to be there!

May your happiness increase!

THE MIGHTY MEZZ: A NEW NYC JAZZ CLUB OPENS (September 3, 2014)

MEZZROW club

Spike Wilner, pianist, clubowner, and a true Disciple of Swing, has another bold idea: a new New York City jazz club that presents genuine improvised music in kind settings.

Simple facts first: the club opens on September 3, 2014.  It will thrive in the basement of 163 West 1oth Street, steps away from the happily thriving SMALLS, co-piloted by Spike and Mitch Borden.  (For those who worry about such things, both clubs are a few minutes’ walk from the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square station on the Seventh Avenue subway line. And it’s a calm area to be in.)

The club is a “piano room,” which is a term that needs a little explanation.  I don’t mean a “piano bar,” where people accost the pianist at close range and insist (s)he play songs whose title they half know, or where sing-alongs explode like small wildfires — with much the same result.  No.

Once upon a time, New York City had a number of such rooms, usually small, with well-tuned pianos where solos and duos were what you came to hear.  I saw Jimmy Rowles at Bradley’s, Ellis Larkins and Al Hall at Gregory’s.  Although horn players might sit in, these rooms were meant for thoughtful improvisation. In this century, where patrons have a hard time keeping still, paying attention, turning their phones off, Spike’s determination to make such a spot possible is a beautiful and courageous act — in a city that prides itself on having every kind of entertainment and enlightenment in profusion, his new club is a rarity if not a solitary gem.  (Yes, there is the Knickerbocker, and thankfully so, but that large room is a different species entirely.)

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

Spike has named the club for one of his musical heroes, the clarinetist / saxophonist / organizer / man with plans Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow. Mezzrow was a fascinating figure, someone whose deep-hued nearly-surrealistic autobiography REALLY THE BLUES made a profound impression on me when my sister gave it to me as a birthday gift (I was, I think, 14).  The dream of this century and the preceding one is “You can be anything you want to be if you only want it fiercely enough,” and Mezz — in his own way — exemplified that romantic notion.  Mezz was a White Jewish Chicago kid (those identifiers are important to the story) who was so entranced by the Black music he heard that he knew that was what he wanted to play.  More importantly, he knew that “that” was the person he wanted to be, the life he wanted to lead.

So, although he was never a great musician, he became a friend to Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier; he heard and hung around Bix, Joe Oliver, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, and the rest.  He organized record dates with Teddy Bunn, Bechet, Hot Lips Page, Chick Webb, Frank Newton, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Benny Carter, J.C. Higginbotham, Sidney Catlett, Art Hodes, George Wettling, Zutty Singleton, and more.  He was deeply involved in a near-religious crusade to offer marijuana as a more healthy alternative to whiskey or hard drugs.

And he crossed the color line early and without pretense.  In an era when having mixed-race record sessions was rare, Mezzrow (like Eddie Condon) pushed this idea forward with historic results.  He led a band, the Disciples of Swing, where “white” and “colored” musicians played together.  And more seriously, he identified as Black — marrying a woman of color, and taking his convictions into everyday life.

I think (although I could be presuming here) that this latter figure — the man so deeply committed to a music and the ideas behind it: community, equality, creativity — is the man Spike honors by naming this new club MEZZROW.

Here is the club’s website, where you can learn more about it — the schedule, ticketing, about Mezz himself, and more. I don’t know when I’ll make my first visit, but since I see my friends Rebecca Kilgore, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello, Michael Kanan, Scott Robinson, Neal Miner . . . I expect to be there often, and it may well be a deeply needed oasis of quiet creativity in New York. And https://www.facebook.com/mezzrowclub is the club’s Facebook page.

Blessings on you, Spike.

May your happiness increase!

BECKY AND THE BOYS

BECKY MEN

The title of Rebecca Kilgore’s new CD for Arbors Records comes from a Peggy Lee song, I LIKE MEN — but the simple title belies the variety of expression the session offers. There’s delight that echoes the title (I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY, HE’S MY GUY); yearning for the relationship that hasn’t happened (THE BOY NEXT DOOR, THE MAN I LOVE); sorrow over one that has ended (THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY); an admonition to a puppyish too-eager fellow (DOWN BOY); comments on the possibilities of monogamy and other variations (AN OCCASIONAL MAN, FOR EVERY MAN THERE’S A WOMAN, ONE MAN AIN’T QUITE ENOUGH).

And more! — sharp-eyed contemplation of the movement from romance to marriage (MARRY THE MAN TODAY); a song balanced between yearning and annoyance at the Love Object’s inability to see what’s in front of him (THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE); songs that characterize both the Man’s desirability and his flaws (HE’S A TRAMP, HE NEEDS ME); a few unclassifiables (GOLDFINGER and an instrumental version of BALLAD OF THE SAD YOUNG MEN).

The recital by Rebecca, Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Kevin Kanner is emotionally and artistically varied; the disc moves easily from uptempo swing to sorrowful ruminations to light-hearted wit.  And although the title seems one-sided, it is really an hour-plus trip through the Land of Relationships, with Rebecca offering commentary on the foibles, rewards, and terrors that are part of the journey. She and the instrumental foursome fit the mood of each song without strain or artifice.

Here’s a song you will hear on the new CD, although with a different instrumental contingent.  HE’S A TRAMP comes from LADY AND THE TRAMP — written by Peggy Lee, and sung sweetly by Becky with superb accompaniment from Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz, drums. This performance took place at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, on April 25, 2014:

If you’re anywhere near Cleveland, Ohio, September 18-21, this year (coming soon!) you can catch Becky, Harry, Rossano, and other luminaries at the Allegheny Jazz Party.

Becky and the Boys (known more respectfully as the Harry Allen Quartet — Harry, Rossano, Joel, and Kevin) will be offering an urban and urbane I LIKE MEN to a New York City audience on Thursday, September 25, 2014, at 6-7:15 PM at Birdland (315 West 44th Street: doors open at 5 PM).

Wherever you find Ms. Kilgore, she and her friends — male or female — create great music. A friend of ours, staying for dinner tonight, said, “I don’t like most of the singers you have on your blog.  But that Becky Kilgore!  She flies when she sings.”  True story.

May your happiness increase!