SOLACE IN SWING (June 26, 2015)

Though it’s a fickle age, beauty can always rescue us if we know where to look. And how to listen.  This spiritual panacea is brought to us by James Dapogny, piano; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass. Recorded by Laura Beth Wyman on June 26, 2015, at Glacier Hills Senior Living Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Fats Waller’s declaration of high fidelity:

Irving Berlin’s celebration of bliss (here with a little DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM nuance at the start and a little Spanish binge on the bridge):

How lyrical, how sublime.  I feel so much better.

May your happiness increase!

EDDIE CONDON, BUD FREEMAN, and THE CREATION OF JOY

Commodore Love

Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, and I go ‘way back, although those two gentlemen would not have noticed me all that much.  I only saw Eddie once at close range, in the summer of 1972, and at several late concerts; I saw Bud once at a Newport in New York tribute to Eddie.

But I have been following both men since I was a youth in suburbia, when department stores had record departments and there was always a reason to walk to the one nearby or tag along when my parents, who loved to shop for what I think of as home-trivia, went to one that I couldn’t walk to.

I started collecting Louis Armstrong records, which should not shock anyone. But soon I decided that Jack Teagarden was fascinating as well, and bought THE GOLDEN HORN OF JACK TEAGARDEN, which featured Pee Wee Russell, Eddie, Wild Bill Davison, George Wettling, and others.  Then, in 1969, the Mainstream label started to issue vinyl compilations drawn from the Commodore Records catalogue.  Most, if not all, were in reprocessed stereo, had obtuse liner notes, limited discographical information . . . but here I could hear SERENADE TO A SHYLOCK.  I was hooked for life.  And I became a deep convert to Condonia, and the territory known as the Land of Bud.

Both of them are ferociously underrated musicians and their music, when mentioned, is often viewed patronizingly.  More about that later.  But I would fight for the Commodores and later Deccas to be taken as seriously as any small-group recordings of the period.  Click here for several sound samples: clear your mind of jazz-history debris (the categorization of this music as Not Terribly Innovative and Created Mostly by Caucasians) and listen.

CONDON MOSAIC

I’ve had the new Mosaic Records cornucopia of the Condon / Freeman Commodore / Deccas 1938-1950 sitting on my coffee table, the box unwrapped but the discs still virginal, for two weeks now.  I think I was afraid of breaking the spell.  Sometimes the hallowed records one remembers just aren’t what one has idealized, and one hears all the flaws.

But I began to listen, and disillusionment never appeared.  I approached the set in two ways — front and back — starting with the first Commodore session (admiring the way that I could hear shadings and subtleties I’d never heard before) and then the later Deccas . . . unheard Dave Tough, James P. Johnson, Johnny Windhurst, and more.

Here are the details.  Eight CDs, 199 tracks, many new Decca alternates, everything in gorgeous sound, $136.00.  Wonderful photographs, many new to me — and I’m a Condon obsessive.  Notes by Dan Morgenstern, a real plus.

The Commodore and Decca band sides of the first period, 1938 to 1944, are elated and elating music.  Even at slow tempos, a delicious energy bubbles through.  Condon and the Blessed Milt Gabler, the guiding light of Commodore, favored obscure pop songs of the early Twenties — PRAY FOR THE LIGHTS TO GO OUT, TELL ‘EM ABOUT ME, YOU CAN’T CHEAT A CHEATER, IT’S TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND, as well as impromptu blues and durable ballads. Where some of the later Commodore sessions (for example, those led by Muggsy Spanier) sound heavy in their earnestness, the Condons sound light, frisky.  One can study a record like MEET ME TONIGHT IN DREAMLAND or TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL for its ensemble lightness or densities, as well as the glowing solos.

And the Deccas that follow are almost as glorious — with alternate takes of beloved performances (IDA and JUST YOU, JUST ME) as well as familiar ones in wonderfully clear sound.

As with any Mosaic set, the incautious listener will go down into the depths and arise befuddled by an over-abundance of beauty.  Although the price is far lower than a collection of the original 78s, I urge any student of the music to listen with serious caution, as one might have in 1938 or 1945: two sides, at most, making up a listening session.

I have written elsewhere at length about my hopes for a re-evaluation of Eddie Condon as a color-blind prophet of authentic music, but here I wish to praise him as a beautiful Intuitive, someone who knew what tempos (the plural is intentional) would work, a guitarist who knew the right chords and whose beautiful sound uplifted any group.  Even in his last appearances, when the guitar was more an ornament than an instrument, Eddie knew how to make a group cohesive and sprightly.  I mean to take nothing away from Freddie Green, but rhythm guitarists and aspiring swingsters should study his work on these sides.  And if you take contemporaneous sides recorded by similar bands where Condon is not present, his absence is immediately heard and felt.  That’s the musician.  As for the man, history — taking his actions and utterances as the only evidence — has leaned towards a portrait of a man more enamored of alcohol than anything else, a wise-cracking smart-ass whose jibes were often mean. Some of that might be true: his quick-witted retorts were often not gentle, but the music, ultimately, is what counts.  And the Mosaic set offers it in glorious profusion.  (I would offer the WOLVERINE JAZZ sides as an engaging way to play “jazz repertory” that isn’t bound and gagged by the originals.)

Several heroes also shine through these sides.  One of the most noble is Jack Teagarden — as singer and trombonist.  I suspect that Teagarden has been ill-served by his durability (which is an odd statement, I admit) and his narrowing repertoire.  If one were to see him merely as a re-creator, say, of BASIN STREET BLUES into infinity, one would do him a great disservice.  I defy any trombonist to be as limber, as inventive, as surprising.  And as a singer he is simply glorious, even on the less inspiring material, such as IT’S TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND (which I find and always found terribly endearing).

I can’t say enough about Charles Ellsworth Russell, so I will simply say this.  To me he is the equal of Lester Young, of Benny Carter, and (yes!) of the King of Swing.  Too much has been made of his “eccentricities,” which are ultimately the hallmarks of an utterly self-aware and courageous musician.

The later Commodores often featured a violently effective front-line pairing of Wild Bill Davison and George Brunis, but these sides most often have Bobby Hackett and other lyrical trumpeters / cornetists: Max Kaminsky, Billy Butterfield, even Johnny Windhurst.  Hackett is my idea of angelic music: let that statement stand by itself, and Kaminsky’s even, compact playing is a wonderful model.  The rhythm sections on these records are delights in themselves: consider Jess Stacy or Joe Bushkin, George Wettling, Dave Tough, coming-to-the-rescue Lionel Hampton and even on one long delicious 1943 date, Sidney Catlett.  I can’t ignore delicious cameos by Fats Waller and Lee Wiley.

In 1969 and onwards, I tended to skip over the Bud Freeman trio sessions (with Stacy and Wettling).  How narrow my perspective was.  I now hear them as gloriously radical creations, slyly subversive answers to the Goodman Trio. In some ways, they are the most “free” recordings before the term became more common in jazz: three rollicking eccentrics going at it, each on his own path, improvising wildly and sometimes acrobatically.

And since Miles Davis is the Great Exalted Potentate of All Jazz in the past decades, I present this little passage (found my accident) where he speaks of Lawrence Freeman:

Lester had a sound and an approach like Louis Armstrong, only he had it on tenor sax. Billie Holiday had that same sound and style; so did Budd Johnson and that white dude, Bud Freeman. They all had that running style of playing and singing. That’s the style I like, when it’s running. It floods the tone. It has a softness in the approach and concept, and places emphasis on one note.

I didn’t make that up.

Rather than reading more of my words, I hope you listen to the music presented on the Mosaic site.  These sessions are as precious as any of the more “hallowed” contemporaries.  I would put them next to the Ellington, Hampton, Basie small groups of the period, and they stand up splendidly in comparison to the independent-label recordings of the Forties.  Clear your mind of the odious categorizations and enjoy.

Postscript: before writing this post, I intentionally did not read the beautiful liner notes by Dan Morgenstern, who was on the scene and knew Eddie . . . because Dan’s influence is so strong (in the best way) that I wanted to attempt to write this from my own perspective.  But I know that Mister Morgenstern and I will agree.

May your happiness increase!

May your happiness increase!

“IF LOVE IS A TRANSACTION, CAN IT BE GIVEN FREELY?”: WHERE ALL THE RIVERS GO TO SLEEP (NYMF, July 18-19, 2015)

I first met jazz pianist / composer / singer Jesse Gelber in the early part of 2005, when he was playing a Sunday brunch gig deep in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and was impressed by his music, his wit, and his imagination.  Soon after I met his wife, Kate Manning, and heard her beautiful focused singing.  We’ve crossed paths infrequently in the last decade, but I am pleased to be able to tell you about their musical — set in the early part of the last century, in New Orleans, in Storyville. Kate has written the book and lyrics; Jesse, the music and story.  I didn’t know when I first met Jesse that he was a “serious” composer, but since then he has won an ASCAP Foundation’s Morton Gould Young Composer Award for his opera, and has arranged music for Itzhak Perelman and PBS.  And here I thought he was simply an inventive musician — praised by Kevin Dorn, Craig Ventresco, and Tamar Korn.

RIVERS Gelber Manning

You can learn more about this project here — and, if you are so inclined, support it.  To quote Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, every nickel helps a lot. And this is the production’s website, where you can hear such enticing songs as MID-COITAL MUSINGS (MONEY ON THE TABLE); WE HAD TODAY; IF IT FEELS GOOD, IT’S GOOD.  You see a general trend, I hope: this is an officially hedonistic musical, and we could use more of those.

The story — in brief — is this: the musical follows Cora Covington, a young prostitute in Storyville, the fabled New Orleans red-light district, who falls in love with Apolline Albert, a beautiful Creole woman. Cora draws Apolline into a life of prostitution at one of the district’s most extravagant brothels, servicing the city’s wealthiest and most powerful men, and run by the notoriously cold Madame and voodoo priestess Marie Snow. When Apolline’s husband Joe returns from up North and wants her back, a desperate Cora will do anything to keep her from leaving. She commits a terrible crime, for which she then seeks redemption.  In a world where love is a transaction, can it ever be given freely?

Ordinarily I have to be lassoed to a musical newer than 1936, but I trust Gelber and Manning’s artistic instincts, so I will be at the July 18 performance of WHERE ALL THE RIVERS GO TO SLEEP at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.  It’s a concert performance, with a twelve-person cast and twelve-person orchestra.

Since this is JAZZ LIVES, let’s start with the orchestra: Peter Yarin, piano; Andrew Hall, string bass; David Langlois, washboard; Nick Russo, guitar and  banjo; Benjamin Ickies, accordion; Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Matthew Koza, clarinet; Jake Handelman, trombone; Josh Henderson, Eddie Fin, violin; Sarah Haines, viola; Emily Hope Price, cello.

And the cast, under the direction of Tony nominee Randal Myler and the musical direction of Dan Lipton (The Last Ship): Carole J. Bufford (Broadway By The Year, speak easy, Body and Soul) as Cora, and Ann McCormack (West Side Story 50th Anniversary World Tour) as Apolline, with Jacqueline Antaramian (Dr. Zhivago, Coram Boy, Julius Caesar), Kenny Brawner (Kenny Brawner is Ray Charles), Damian Norfleet (Show Boat, Ragtime), Brynn Williams (In My Life, 13), Amanda Castaños (Spring Awakening), Mariah MacFarlane (Nice Work If You Can Get It, American Idiot), Ryan Clardy, David Lajoie, Michael Lanning, and Erika Peterson.

Here is the link to buy tickets for the Saturday, July 18 performance at 8 PM and the Sunday, July 19 one at noon. Performances will take place at PTC Performance Space, 555 West 42nd Street, New York City.  I’m told that tickets are going quickly, and since this is not a huge space, I know it’s true.

See you there.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE NAME OF BEAUTY: MORE FROM HILARY GARDNER / EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (May 18, 2015)

It was great good fortune and the generous impulse of Spike Wilner, the owner-patron saint of Mezzrow (163 West 10th Street, New York City) that brought singer Hilary Gardner and pianist Ehud Asherie together for an offering of beauty on May 18, 2015.  Here are some remarkable performances from that evening of song:

For Fred and Ginger and lovers everywhere, Mister Berlin’s divine CHEEK TO CHEEK:

EVERYTHING I’VE GOT speaks to a more dangerous romantic entanglement, with physical force, courtesy of Rodgers and Hart, and rollicking piano by Ehud:

Think globally, sing locally — as in A BROOKLYN LOVE SONG.  Hey!:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, a fitting farewell, loose-jointed and completely playful (including explosively joyous piano from Ehud):

and, if you missed the earlier postings, here are two sublime performances of songs not heard enough in this century:

AZALEA:

I USED TO BE COLOR-BLIND:

which wins the JAZZ LIVES award for Gorgeousness.

May your happiness increase!

WITH A GOOD TEACHER, A STUDENT CAN DO ANYTHING!

I had to post this.  It’s so inspiring.  Watching Cammie (brave, willing, shy) try to shed her downy feathers on the dance floor — with the inspiring guidance of Erin Morris and the equally inspiring sounds of James Dapogny’s Jazz Band . . . well, anything is possible.  Even Peckin':

For this occasion, June 21, 2015, at the Zal Gaz Grotto in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the JDJB is James Dapogny, piano; Tom Bogardus, clarinet;  Paul Finkbeiner, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; Shannon Wade, string bass; Rod McDonald, banjo; Van Hunsberger, drums.

Brought to us by the nimble lens, microphone, and tripod of Laura Beth Wyman (“Better living through cinematography.”)

Sing on!  Dance on!  Play on!

P.S.  A medical note.  Erin Morris and her Ragdolls now have over 500 “likes,” so I am sleeping better.  But have you done your part?  I haven’t verified this yet, but the thousandth person to “like” them, once verified, will receive a free lesson in Peckin’ from Erin herself.

May your happiness increase!

MORRIS, MORTON, MOTION

RAGDOLLS in blue

Somehow I don’t think that a troupe of young women dancers should have gone into The Jungle dressed the way they are in the video below.  Do I worry too much?  No reflection on their handmade costumes, mind you, but they don’t strike me as adequate protection. Where are the machetes, first aid kits, tropical chocolate, water distilling gear, bug repellent?

But they braved The Jungle, they entranced their audience, and we can now see the results of Erin Morris and her Ragdolls, supported by James Dapogny’s Jazz Band, mutually creating something slithery to Jelly Roll Morton’s JUNGLE BLUES:

I especially like the way the quintet keeps subdividing into a trio and a duo: watch the most vivid embodiment of this at 2:58 and again at 3:16: music reflected in physical grace.

Thanks to Erin Morris and Her RagdollsErin Morris, Brittany Armstrong Morton, Sarah Campbell, Rachel Bomphray, Hayden Nickel.

Thanks to James Dapogny and his Jazz Band: Tom Bogardus, clarinet; Paul Finkbeiner, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; James Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Shannon Wade, string bass; Rod McDonald, banjo; Van Hunsberger, drums.

Thanks to Laura Beth Wyman, who filmed this delight at the Zal Gaz Grotto, Ann Arbor, Michigan on June 21, 2015.

We live amidst marvels.

May your happiness increase!

JANICE DAY IS OPTIMISTIC AND RIGHTLY SO

And in a few seconds more than three minutes — the length of a 78 — she makes us all feel more optimistic.  Janice can affect us in many ways, but at her core is a gentle winsomeness, which comes through so easily here.

This performance of LAUGHING AT LIFE — at its 1930 tempo — comes from the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, and Janice’s accompanists are Keith Nichols, piano; Menno Daams, cornet; Graham Hughes, trombone; Mauro Porro, reeds; Martin Wheatley, guitar /banjo; Malcolm Sked, bass; Emma Fisk, violin; Richard Pite, drums:

“Why not grin?” indeed.  We have Janice Day and Her Gang to inspire us.  And this November, there will be another Party — celebrating a quarter-century of the best hot music, November 6-8, 2015.

May your happiness increase!