REMEMBERING SAMMY MARGOLIS (1923-1996)

Some years before I met the reedman Sammy Margolis in New York City (at the Half Note, 1971, sitting in with his friend Ruby Braff) I had heard and admired him on record: a floating player, thoughtful, incorporating Bud Freeman, Lester Young, and Pee Wee Russell into his own gentle conception. He was never loud or forceful, but a sonic watercolorist.

In the next few years, I had the good fortune to hear and record him in several gigs: at Brew’s, at the New School, on an afternoon gig in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, at the Root Cellar in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, along with Vic Dickenson, Jack Fine, Marshall Brown, Doc Cheatham, Mike Burgevin, Dick Wellstood, Dill Jones, and others. I was a shy college student, reluctant to impose myself in conversation with my heroes, although from what I know of Sam, he would have made me welcome.

This was my first aural introduction to Sammy, serene in Ruby Braff’s energized wake, thoughtfully creating songs of his own:

and Sammy’s beautiful interlude in the company of George Wein:

About a year ago, I made friends (thanks to Facebook) with his multi-talented daughter Carla, who generously shared her memories of her father. I offer her extended loving portrait to you now, with thanks.

Sammy and Louis: photograph by Jack Bradley, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

My dad had a fraternal twin brother who was also musically talented. He played piano by ear and whenever they went to the movies as kids, his brother would come home and play themes the pianist played during the showings, having somehow retained all of that musical information in his head. My Uncle Carl (for who I am named) tragically died young (I think from glomular neuphritis) after having returned home from WWII.

His father was a housepainter who died from a burst appendix when my dad was eight. His 12 year old (?) brother Mortie had to go to work as did his mother. He had two sisters as well.

I’m not even sure how he and Ruby came to be friends.  As my dad often loved to say, “Oh, yes, I’ve been friends with Ruby many times.”  My mother actually dated Ruby first.  I don’t know what happened there, but then my mother started dating my dad.

Sammy and Ruby Braff, photograph by Jack Bradley, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

The recordings that you sent me, around 1974, I was surprised that Ruby was on there.  I heard so much about Ruby, but I never met him until I was a teenager.  I was under the impression that they were on the outs, and I thought maybe it was because of the relationship with my mother, but I don’t know.  They both were Boston people who came to New York, but they were really not the same people, my father and Ruby.   

On records, he was the sideman for Ruby most of the time.  But he was on a Martin Mull recording that Ruby wasn’t on.  I didn’t know that he was on fifteen recordings!  He talked about how much he hated doing studio work, that it made him very anxious.  He didn’t like recording.  And I didn’t find out until maybe two and a half years ago that he was on so many recordings.  

Ruby and my dad loved Bud Freeman and Lester Young, but he had considered jumping the fence into be-bop.  He strongly considered that, because that was what was coming, what was current.  He claimed that Ruby had talked him out of it, so they both stayed on that side of the fence.  I don’t know if he was happy about that decision or not, I don’t know how that went.  He didn’t have a great opinion about bop — I went to Indiana University and I was a jazz studies major, and he was kind of unenthusiastic about it, but then he started listening to it more . . . 

I do remember going to Brew’s and the Red Blazer with him.  I remember going to Doylestown, Pennsylvania with him, the club that had the big murals at the back of the stage, Mike Burgevin’s THE ROOT CELLAR.  He took me to the hotel once, and I remember telling him that I wouldn’t go to bed until he played SATIN DOLL.  I was about nine.

Kenny Davern, Mike Burgevin, and Sammy at Brew’s, New York City: courtesy Chuck Slate

When I was in my teens, he had me sitting in a lot, singing, when he was playing at Jimmy Ryan’s with Max Kaminsky, who was the leader.  Ernie Hackett, Bobby Hackett’s son, was playing drums.  The trombonist might have been Bobby Pratt.  One night I sat in and Roy Eldridge was in the audience, my dad introduced me to him, and I was “Yeah, okay, I don’t know who that is.”  I’m really glad I didn’t know who Roy was when I was singing!  I remember going to Eddie Condon’s with him, and he played a lot in the basement of the Empire State Building, at a restaurant called the Riverboat. 

Back row: Sammy, Ruby, Vic Dickenson, Jackie Williams, Al Hall; front: Wayne Wright, Jimmy Andrews. Brew’s, New York City. Photograph by Mike Burgevin, courtesy Chuck Slate.

A musical interlude, 1974, part one:

and part two:

He was really making a living doing these gigs.  He wasn’t doing anything else.  In the summers he would play in the Catskills, all summer.  The Italian Catskills, not the Jewish Catskills.  I went with him one time; I usually spent my summers with him because my mom and dad weren’t together.  From the time I was about eight I spent summers with him in New York.  My mother sang a little bit but I wouldn’t call her a singer although she liked to sing.  She was an actor and dancer who sang.  She came to New York for that, and my dad was impressed with her dancing but he never saw her act, which I find astonishing, because that’s what her big aspirations were, and that’s what she did, mostly.  She was a dancer at the Copacabana, and I don’t know where else.  And she studied at the Herbert Berghoff Studio.  But she later became a lawyer.  Because of them, I grew up with a lot of exposure to musical theater and to jazz.   

My father was really sweet and affectionate.  He read a lot of Krishnamurti.  He was very much into health foods and supplements, always reading up on those things.  He was into ayurvedic medicine.  He ate other things, but he wanted me to be very healthy.  He was, although culturally, ethnically and gastronomically Jewish, an atheist, but interested in Eastern philosophy. Despite his avid interest in health foods, supplements, etc., he did enjoy the occasional hamburger and jelly doughnut and Sanka with Sweet and Low. When I asked him about that he responded “Years of bad habits.”

He was also a really good athlete, very athletic, forever, up until right before he died.  He played golf and tennis.  I remember he and Ruby had done a date in Hawaii with Tony Bennett, and when they came back he and Tony played tennis often.  Once when they were playing tennis, some guy from the club asked Tony if he would play with him after he got done playing with his instructor (meaning my dad)…my mom loved telling that story.

I remember we went to Tony’s apartment one time and had lunch.  Tony had artwork there and I thought that was really cool, because my dad was also a really lovely artist as well.  He did a lot of watercolors.  I don’t know what happened to his art, whether he got rid of it when he moved to Florida in 1990 or 1991, but it disappeared and I wanted to have some of it.

Portrait of the singer Connie Greco by Sammy Margolis

In NYC, he lived in Hell’s Kitchen on 44th and 10th Avenue. At that time, one had to be rather paranoid to stay safe from crime. Of course he was diligent about locking his car and his apartment. Once he moved to Deerfield Beach, Florida, he refused to live in fear and refused to lock his apartment or his car. Whenever I visited him in Florida, he would not allow me to lock anything either, which I found hilarious. I lived in NYC at the time, and understood completely.

He had had rheumatic fever as a child, and later that caused a leaky heart valve, so some time in the late Eighties he had surgery to replace the heart valve – several surgeries, because there was an artificial heart valve that his body rejected, then there was a pig valve which worked, but he had to be very careful.  I’m not sure if he knew that he had prostate cancer before he moved to Florida.  He moved down there to relax, to be a “snowbird” with family who spent winters in Palm Springs.  There were a lot of musician friends who had retired to Florida, so he did do some gigs there – but he was basically retired when he went down there.  He was very worried that the heart problem was going to do him in, but it was the prostate cancer, and they couldn’t do surgery because of the heart problem. 

When I took my son down to Florida as a baby (I think that was the last time my dad saw him), I had to go to the laundry room in his complex, leaving him alone with my son (who could stand up but wasn’t yet talking). He played clarinet for my son to keep him amused. I only caught the tail end of it when I returned. It was so cute, my son was enthralled.

He was very funny, very outgoing, and he had hilarious stories.  He was a very good storyteller, and I loved that.  There was a story about a tiger in Bermuda, but I don’t remember how it went.  He spent some time on cruise ships going to Bermuda, and he used to bring back gifts for me and art.  There’s one statue of a woman which I have in my house now that he always had on the mantel in his living room. 

He loved taking me to museums, to art museums, oh my gosh.  He would talk to me about composition, and he loved Matisse and vibrant colors.  Did you know he studied at the Art Students’ League?  I mean, he felt it was really kind of a curse to be really good at a lot of things, but not just art.  He was an intellectual, and some things he didn’t really have to try to be good at.  Cooking and art and more.  He was a thinker, and that may have been hard for him later.  He loved Nature, and we’d go to Central Park, and he’d set up some watercolors and we’d draw, but he didn’t interfere with what I was doing, he would just let me do my thing. 

Whenever we were walking down the street in New York, and we did a lot of walking together, and he was always singing or humming.  All the time! – when we were talking or even when we were.  He was a man full of music.  There was never ever a second when it wasn’t turned on.  I should record THE MORE I SEE YOU for him, because he always wanted me to do that song.  I don’t know why it was that particular one, but he did.  And he used to sing ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET all the time. 

He loved having me sing, whenever I was with him in a club.  Once I started that, he loved it.  And he would give me really, really helpful feedback.  Truly helpful.  He was not overly critical of my singing at all.  No, he was lavishing praise,  But when I wanted to be a music major in college – I started out as a French major –which was actually useless to me (what was I going to do with that?) when I was at Indiana University.  But I had friends who were musicians, I interacted with them, and they were super-surprised that I was not a music major.  “You should be a music major!” they told me.  I was terrified that I would not get in to the program.  I went and did an unofficial audition for David Baker first, and he sent me to this classical vocal teacher, then, with their blessing, I officially auditioned for the music school there.  I got it, but I didn’t tell anybody at all that I had auditioned. 

Then I called my dad to tell him I had gotten in, and he was tickled, he was beside himself with joy.  He hung up the phone, and thirty seconds later he called me back.  “Are you sure you don’t want to get a different major as a backup?  Why don’t you stick with the French?”  And I looked at the phone, and I was like, “French???  French is more useless than music.  I don’t know what the hell I would do with French.  Go somewhere and translate?”  I had no vision how that would work into my life.  It cracked me up that he was so overjoyed and then called me back and was “Wait, wait, wait . . . . “  It was the mentality he grew up with; my dad was born in 1923.  I mean, when I moved back to New York as an adult, I saw him every week, at least once a week, we had our official dinner once a week.  I had a day gig at a Japanese insurance company, because I could type.  And he would tell me, “You know, my dream for  you, my goal for you, my life-dream is for you to marry some businessman you meet around there.”  “Wow.  Really? Your dream for me?”  It didn’t work out that way.  Maybe he was right, I don’t know.  He was worried that if I became a singer I would become an alcoholic.  He was sure those two things went together.  It did not happen, but he was very, very worried about that. 

He also helped me be prepared when dealing with musicians, even on pick-up dates, sitting in, or being a leader.  He really told me, “You know, musicians are going to hate you because you’re a singer.  You really have to be super prepared so that they respect you.”  I thought that was the best piece of advice anybody could give me.  I was incredibly spoiled by all the musicians I met even when I was a little girl.  But when I was little even though I played a little piano, I didn’t know what keys I sang in.  I’d just start to sing, they would find the key, and it would be fine.  I was spoiled by that.  But things change.

I remember meeting Vic Dickenson and Doc Cheatham, Marshall Brown, Mike Burgevin, Kenny Davern, and of course Max Kaminsky.  Oh, there’s a sad thing.  I was supposed to meet Louis Armstrong, my dad really wanted to introduce me to him, but I was in Michigan and Louis died before I got back to New York, but later I did meet Lucille Armstrong.  Dill Jones was the first pianist to play for me in public.  My mom and dad were both really good friends with Jack Bradley.  My sister said – I wasn’t old enough to understand this – that Jack facilitated it so that my mother bought Louis’ cream-colored Cadillac from Louis for five hundred dollars.  I remember that car very well and I know there was some connection to Jack Bradley and Louis. 

That same evening. Photograph by Mike Burgevin.

In the Seventies, when I was in New York with him, he would go off and do gigs at night, and I wasn’t going out at night so I would stay at the apartment watching TV, but I got hold of his fakebook, and I was going through it, listening to jazz recordings that he had, and jazz radio – he listened to WNEW – teaching myself songs from that fakebook.  Even though I couldn’t really read music yet, I would listen to people singing the songs and I would follow along.  I learned a lot of tunes that way.  I wouldn’t have learned them with him around, or my mother around: that was solo contemplation.  

And on those recordings you sent, you said there were people talking at the start, and I thought, “Oh, I hope I get to hear his voice!” and he wasn’t talking, but he was in the background warming up his saxophone, and that’s why he wasn’t talking, he was on the stand already.       

There’s a story my dad liked to tell, and in my recollection I cannot do it justice because I cannot give you his facial expressions or inflections. He was at his friend’s apartment in upper Manhattan (I don’t remember whose apartment, possibly Lou Levy’s?). Dave Lambert was at the party. Jazz records were being played (of course). Someone knocked on the door and the host asked my dad to answer. He opened the door and Duke Ellington was standing there. My dad was so surprised to see one of his idols standing there. After he let him in, the host asked my dad to pick the next record for everyone to listen to. My dad was so nervous because he couldn’t believe he was picking music for Ellington to listen to. I wish I could remember what he chose. But evidently it was something Ellington liked.

Here is Ruby Braff’s elegy for his friend, Ruby’s liner note to the 1996 BEING WITH YOU (Arbors):

This album, this salute to Louis, is as much about Sam Margolis as it is about Pops!

So much of my musical thinking was formed and inspired by the musical dedication and artistic humility of Sam, my old friend and teacher. No one ever did or could pay more homage to the genius and influence that Louis had on every aspect of American music. In that sense, Sam was a great champ and winner.

On March 23, 1996 tragedy struck out group of friends and many others! Our Sammy lost his fight with cancer. To the end he went with great courage and gallantry! My thoughts were about him as we made this recording a scant few weeks later.

Every one who knew him will miss this enormously talented person of profound influence. Jack Bradley’s great picture of Sam and Pops is the way I think he’d like to be remembered.

May God grant him the eternal peace his great soul deserves.

We will never forget you, Sam . . .

I would add to those grieving words my own perception that Sammy Margolis, up close or at a distance, was a joyous individual, a remarkable man: gentle, funny, modest, multi-talented. I regret now that my shyness got in the way of a real conversation, because I feel that Sammy would have engaged my young self with kindness.

There will be more music to celebrate Sammy, and perhaps JAZZ LIVES’ readers have their own tales. He deserves to be well-remembered. And my deep thanks to Carla Margolis for her memories above.

May your happiness increase!

“BESIDE THE BAY”: NIRAV SANGHANI and the PACIFIC SIX

This new CD is delightful. To be formal about it, the sounds embrace the ear.

A sample — the first track, Nirav’s IRRATIONAL BLUES. (Don’t let the title throw you: more whimsical than irrational.)

The brief Bandcamp note adds some more detail: Led by longtime musician and swing dancer Nirav Sanghani, the Pacific Six play tight arrangements of early jazz and swing tunes for dancers and more. Their repertoire includes transcriptions of small group swing recordings by Benny Goodman, Johnny Hodges & Coleman Hawkins, fresh arrangements of well-loved standards, and vintage-inspired originals composed and arranged by Nirav.

But here I must add a few words. This is music to dance to, music to dance with (for those of us who listen while seated). It is lively and expert — lovely solos and witty arranging touches throughout. For those who need historical landmarks, let us say “Keynote Records,” or “1945 meets 2022 with affection and swing,” or “late Swing Era with modern flourishes.” Think “Teddy Wilson” or “the Blue Note Jazzmen,” but with singularities beyond copying. It’s a lovely ensemble with brilliant individualistic soloists. But your ears will tell you better than those catch-phrases can.

Another taste? Why not: EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY. You hear what I mean about the refreshing mixture of homage and originality.

The cover photograph shows that this CD captures the band at a swing dance — hence the increased enthusiasm that recording studios don’t always make possible — but the sound is so much better than what one would have heard from the dance floor. Nirav tells me, “There were actually not dancers at the recording, but the night before we played a swing dance in that same hall with the same musicians and I like to think that we carried that energy with us into the session!”

Here are the credits: Nirav Sanghani, guitar, arrangements, compositions (1, 4, 7, 8, 12); Jonathan Doyle, clarinet, alto saxophone; Sean Krazit, tenor saxophone; Justin Au: trumpet; Rob Reich, piano; Jen Hodge, string bass; Riley Baker, drums; Clint Baker: trombone (1, 6, 15).

Recorded on February 23, 2020 at Community Music Center in the Mission District of San Francisco. IRRATIONAL BLUES / IT HAD TO BE YOU / TEA FOR TWO / MOODY TOM / AVALON / I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS / SUNSET SWING / EASY SAUNTER / OH, LADY BE GOOD / ROSE ROOM / EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY / REACTIVITY BLUES / SOMEBODY LOVES ME / THE MAN I LOVE / JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE //

The music (in digital form) can be found and purchased here for a pittance. It will reward you with pleasure far greater than the price.

May your happiness increase!

SOMETHING TO SWING ABOUT: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and DANNY TOBIAS, PART TWO (Pennsylvania Jazz Society, October 30, 2022.)

Just what it says: the second installment of joys created for us on the spot by Danny Tobias, trumpet, flugelhorn, Eb alto horn, and Rossano Sportiello, piano –at Brith Sholom Synagogue in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — made possible by the gracious people of the Pennsylvania Jazz Society.

Thanks to the PJS for having the foresight to present these two friend-heroes; thanks to Peter Reichlin for tuning the piano and many other generosities; thanks to the good people who filled the hall.

In my first post, I shared LADY BE GOOD, EMILY, I GOT IT BAD, and IF DREAMS COME TRUE — a wonderful assortment. Here’s more.

First, a solo interlude by Rossano, connecting Ralph Sutton, Fred Chopin, and Willie “the Lion” Smith — pianists who had much in common when it came to melody and drama:

A completely tender SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME:

and Rossano’s sweet commentary on it:

I’LL CLOSE MY EYES:

and the concluding performance of the concert’s first half, I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

It was an extraordinary afternoon. And there’s a whole second half to be shared.

May your happiness increase!

MOMENTS LIKE THIS (THAT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD BEFORE, 1938)

This post is in honor of Luigi Lucaccini, Javier Soria Laso, and Nick Rossi.

First, data. Then, music.

and something even more unusual:

and . . .

On Thanksgiving evening, I published PLAY IT, TEDDY (April and August 1939)

which contained six sides that Teddy had recorded as a sideman with “Redd Evans and his Billy Boys” for Vocalion Records — great records I think few had ever heard.

But a little online research — my effort to answer the question, “How had Teddy or John Hammond or someone else heard of Redd Evans, and what had they heard that would lead them to offer him more than one record date?” led me to these listings in the DAHR:

Victor BS-019565 10-in. 2/11/1938 A shack in the back of the hills Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

Victor BS-019566 10-in. 2/11/1938 Please be kind Bama Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

Victor BS-019567 10-in. 2/11/1938 Thanks for the memory Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

Victor BS-019572 10-in. 2/11/1938 Thanks for the memory Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

Victor BS-019573 10-in. 2/11/1938 Prove it Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

Victor BS-019574 10-in. 2/11/1938 Moments like this Bama Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

I also found out that the February 11, 1938 session had the following personnel, some names completely unknown, others familiar to those of us who have studied the period: Russ Case, trumpet; John Potoker, piano; Art Ryerson, guitar; Syd Debin, string bass; Bobby Jones, drums. February 11, 1938, New York City.

I have been able to find nothing about Debin and Jones. Potoker was recognizable to me as a member of Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra, and part of a Charlie Shavers date (1946) for Vogue on its short-lived picture record line. But the first record date I found for him was in 1945. Russ Case was famous — an early Goodman trumpeter, someone appearing with Teagarden, the Boswell Sisters, and Trumbauer. Most intriguing was this early appearance by guitarist Art or Artie Ryerson, explicated by guitarist-scholar Nick Rossi: Artie staking his claim as perhaps one of the first US guitarists to show an explicit Django influence! Ryerson told my friend (and journalist) Jim Carlton that he heard Django on record in 1935 and was influenced by him for the next several years. This, to my ears, is proof of that claim. Ryerson elsewhere in the interview was pretty good with dates by the way – even if he is off by a year or so (which he may very well be based on the research I’ve done around Django’s US record releases), that still gives him ample time to absorb the influence by the time of the recording in question. And who else WAS showing a Django influence in the USA on record in February 1938?

Luigi Lucaccini pointed the way to this gem:

and Javier Soria Laso added more delightful evidence:

MOMENTS LIKE THIS:

https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/matrix/detail/200031157/BS-019574-Moments_like_this?fbclid=IwAR2wTkbwuUNTXkemqfTz2gMmQfi-Vn7p-pm15MbcIh4_cyq0LcljWYlch_A

and THANKS FOR THE MEMORY, in a two-sided issue so that all the verses could be included:

https://archive.org/details/78_thanks-for-the-memory-gracias-por-la-memoria-part-2_lewis-red-evans-and-the-b_gbia0037633

These sides are hidden gems in the best pop-songs-swung Thirties tradition. Yes, Evans was more confident on the later sides (or was it Victor’s microphone setup?) but the instrumentalists are splendid; the ocarina solos are delightful — not jokey at all — and the overall effect is polished and homespun at once. And we remember that these three pop tunes were classics in their own way — more memorably recorded, perhaps, by Mildred and Maxine, but touching. I am especially fond of Leo Robin’s wry-mounful lyrics to MEMORY, so true and witty at once; his niece told me a few years ago in conversation that the narrative came from her uncle’s very real heartbreak, and the genuineness comes through in every turn of phrase.

I decided to look deeper on my own and found the two remaining sides from the 1938 date, surprising myself.

PROVE IT:

A SHACK IN THE BACK OF THE HILLS:

If I’d heard any of those sides coming out of a record store speaker or jukebox, I would have been entranced, As I am now. And the gentlemen of the ensemble play so sweetly and easily.

And by the way, if you want what Germans call “the thing in itself,” a reputable eBay seller has the 78 of MOMENTS LIKE THIS and PLEASE BE KIND for sale — $25.00 plus 8.63 shipping) here.

Thanks again for kind erudite diligence, Luigi, Javier, and Nick.

May your happiness increase!

HIS MAJESTY, JOEL PRESS (March 14, 1930 – November 23, 2022)

The saxophonist, teacher, and majestic figure Joel Press has left us. Joel wasn’t tall (neither am I) but he carried himself powerfully. My nickname for him — which I never told him, fearing he might be offended — was THE LITTLE LION. (Joel might have disliked being characterized as little in anything.)

Not aggressive, not arrogant, but a man who knew himself and was proud of what he knew.

I met Joel in sound before I met him in person. In 2004, I was reviewing CDs for CADENCE, the wide-ranging and deeply ethical magazine devoted to “creative improvised music,” The editor, Robert D. Rusch, a wonderful man, knew of my more traditional bent and often tossed me recordings slightly outside my known Paradise — “to make me stretch,” he said. I had not heard of Joel or his fellows, but the CD above convinced me that I had passed by a master. Here is some of what I wrote.

He is one of those musicians—and they are rarer than you might think—who has digested the history of the music and the instrumental tradition that has come before him without parading an assortment of favorite phrases from his five tenor idols. Yes, he has a purring, mellow approach reminiscent of Harold Ashby, but he is no easy-listening recreator: he knows Rollins and Lacy as well as Hawkins and Young. But Press sounds so much like himself that you cannot predict what his next phrase will be – and he is worth championing just because he does not think in four or eight-bar modules. To add to this, his melodic lines are logical, they are rhythmically intriguing, and he has a wonderful respect for songs, savoring their emotions. His version of “Lover Man,” for one example, will make it hard for me to listen to anyone else’s. And he is not harnessed by “Swing” conventions: the repertoire moves easily from classic Bebop to the much more abstract “Is What Is” (based on “What Is This Thing Called Love”). Even better—he plays soprano with fervor, accuracy, and beautiful intonation, no sourness, no intentional harshness. Although the repertoire is primarily standard material, the performances are original—not in some self-consciously radical way, but they encourage listeners to forget how well-worn they might have thought “Groovin’ High,” for instance.

Joel was pleased by the review and we began a correspondence. I no longer have my emails from 2004, but I know his were warm and gracious. And because he had “been there,” he sent me snippets of first-hand jazz history that delighted me. He had seen Sidney Catlett at Town Hall. He could tell me that the hamburgers at Julius’ in Greenwich Village were exceptional. he had seen Charlie Parker live; he had glimpsed obscure worthies: “One of my favorite musicians during the 60s was the alto saxophonist Dave Schildkraut, who played there in a small group led by Buddy Rich. Dave was the hero of all of the young New York saxophone players. Arnie Lawrence, with whom I often jammed after our gigs in the Catskill Mountains, probably switched from tenor to alto because of Dave. Schildkraut’s pianist and close friend, Bill Triglia was a mentor to Lawrence.” Joel had heard Steve Lacy sitting in at Arthur’s Tavern with Loumell Morgan at Arthur’s Tavern; he had played with Peter Ind.

He was a first-class hilarious memoirist: here is his portrait of Jo Jones.

In 1979 I played the Sunday brunch at “Lulu White’s” in Boston’s South End. The club was run by a young Ivy League fellow. Jo Jones had played there and discovered that said owner had an apartment across the street from the club. Jo made himself “guest in residence,” despite the lack of a formal invitation. On Sunday Jo would appear at lunchtime, handsome, elegant and charming. Despite our efforts to get him to sit in, he declined. Although he appeared to enjoy the group’s overall playing, we suspected that our mediocre bassist was not up to his standard.

During my  residence in New York during the 60s, several of us were in the Colony Record Shop on Broadway, opposite Birdland when Jo entered. He was elated and told us with a big smile on his face that he had, to his great delight, added a tenor saxophonist to his group who sounded like Prez. It was Paul Quinichette.

On the dark side, Jo played at Sandy’s in Beverly, Massachusetts in the 80s. The band members , including Budd Johnson, altered the band’s name from “Jo Jones and Friends” to “Jo Jones and Enemies,” each member attempting to stay as distant from the drummer as the bandstand would allow.

When Warne Marsh played at Lulu white’s on a Sunday night, Jo, without being invited, sat down at the drums and started to play, angering the equally temperamental Sal Mosca. The confrontation was thankfully verbal, but no music ensued and Jo left the stand after a few hits on the snare drum.

And here he is on Coleman Hawkins:

Those Coleman Hawkins sides on Asch have always knocked me out. He is still the King. He was our Picasso, constantly changing and showing us the way over many decades. I am so happy to have heard him in many settings…first at The Apollo, when I absented myself from afternoon high school classes to dig a matinee. The band included both Monk and Dizzy…in the 6o’s at MOMA, in the sculpture court, with Roy….at Birdland with Milt Jackson, and alongside Fats Navarro at a JATP concert in Denver. In the 60s I attended a memorable concert at The Little Theater between Broadway and 8th Avenue, with Ben Webster, the pianist Paul Neves, Major Holley, and Eddie Locke. Hawk was on fire. Ben, smiled, obviously enraptured by Coleman, and played well, but didn’t even attempt to match Hawk’s passion. As is so often the case, the best music played goes out the window, unless, of course there is a happy man present with a video camera.

We met in person when Joel moved to New York in 2010 to play: the scene was so much more lively than the one outside of Boston. By then, I had both this blog and a video camera — and I was able to see and capture the magical rapport between Joel and his friend and student, the splendid pianist Michael Kanan.

Here is a splendidly touching example of Joel and Michael, at Smalls, on October 20, 2011:

Listeners with good ears will hear the jaunty approach that comes from Jimmie Rowles. Others, even if the Rowles current is not evident, will note the mix of tenderness and playfulness, the mutual respect for melody and its possibilities. Joel was fascinated with the purr of the tenor, its ability to glide between notes and phrases: songs were his friends, his ideals.

Joel was pleased to have me in evidence, “a happy man with a video camera,” and so, between 2010 and 2016, I captured him at a goodly number of New York City gigs — with Michael, Neal Miner, Spike Wilner, Tardo Hammer, Joe Hunt, Fukushi Tainaka, and others. Were you to look Joel up on YouTube, some eighty-plus videos there are my attempts to honor him and his music in perpetuity. And they are lovely, satisfying, multi-dimensional. I hope you visit and enjoy them.

Michael Kanan speaks beautifully of Joel:

Joel used to play with my first piano teacher, Harvey Diamond: they played a lot together.  When I first heard Joel play I was probably a teenager, and I went to many gigs before I played with him.  I don’t remember my first introduction to him but everyone in Boston at some point was at Joel’s sessions in his house in Newton. He had six or seven sessions a week, where people got together and played tunes.  More experienced players were going there every week, young Berklee students – I don’t know how he would find them — young to old, sometimes his contemporaries.  It would be one group, usually a quartet. 

At some point I started going there to play.  I was very young: looking back on it now, I enjoyed it but I really didn’t deeply understand what was so great about his playing.  After I moved to New York in 1991 I lost touch with him.  When my mother was in her declining years, I was spending more time in Boston – sometimes a week at a time.  Then I went to Joel’s every day to play, and I really started understanding musically what he was doing.  The most basic things: what does it mean to have a good rhythm, what does it mean to have a swing feel – the things the older generation knew naturally.  Going to Joel’s that second time I was really stunned. Here was someone who was a great example of everything I was trying to do myself. 

He had a real appreciation for Lennie Tristano and his whole approach to music.  Initially, that’s what bonded me to Joel, because that way of playing was what I was interested in.  But there was a lot more to him than that.  He had heard Konitz and Marsh but there was also Ben and Hawk and Lester and everyone else, so when I was interested in things other than the Tristano tradition, it was a experience to talk and play with Joel, who had been at their gigs. 

It wasn’t about building a huge repertoire, it was about getting deeper with the tunes you were playing.  I appreciated that – I could play the tunes I loved over and over.  You can get in deeper if you know the terrain. 

Joel was a master of melody, he had a beautiful sound, and he also played with real fire and passion.  He always taught by example – sometimes I would ask him questions.  I asked him once how he developed his kind of rhythmic feel, and he told me when he was doing gigs as a young guy, it would be a horn, piano, and drums, and he figured out he had to play with real command because there was no bass player. 

We had a mutual feeling.  He told me once that he loved how I comped, that it must be because I had played with singers for so many years that I knew how to lay in a chord at the right moment. 

Joel loved all the masters, Pres, Hawk, Ben, Warne, all the great players.  He talked about getting to hear them in person.  He knew how to get a big sound without it being a loud harsh sound.  He had a huge sound but it wasn’t overwhelming – it was more of an inviting sound. 

I had something to do with Joel’s moving to New York in 2010.  I knew there would be players here who would get out of him what I got out of him, so I set up sessions with people just as he had done for me.  It was a homecoming.  He was so thrilled and energized by it that he moved here in his eighties – dragging that tenor saxophone on the subway to go to people’s sessions and gigs. 

He lived the way he wanted to live.  It was great to witness that.  Once we were both here he talked a lot about the history of the city and places – the gigs he had attended and ones he had played.  Joel was so enamored of the city.  He and Steve Little had done sessions in the Sixties, so I arranged a jam session for the two of them, and they looked at each other and said, “Is that YOU?  Is that YOU?”  Getting to play with the two of them it was just amazing.  And there was an excitement in the clubs when Joel played, you could feel that crackling electric atmosphere.  I’m glad he got to experience that. 

A life beautifully lived.  I want to celebrate Joel.        

The string bassist and jazz scholar Stu Zimny also learned from and played with Joel:

I was very surprised and and saddened to hear of the passing of Joel Press at age 92. Partly because I did not think he was much older than I. He was always youthful in demeanor, appearance and attitude.

I have not seen him for a long time but our association goes back to the 1980’s in the Boston area. I was an aspiring bassist and Joel would hold regular weekly sessions at his home in Newton, which was almost next door to where I lived. His was a rambling old house with many rooms. Downstairs was a spacious living room hosting a nice piano and, if I recall correctly, a drum set and amps.

Most of the attendees were skilled players so there was not the customary 27 choruses of “Donna Lee” by players who could barely carry off a single chorus with interest. Joel was also aware of “musical life outside the Berklee Real Book”. The home also served as a landing area for various touring jazz and classical players so one could be pleasantly surprised by unexpected guests. We would play for a while, retire to the kitchen for some high-octane Java, then return to playing. I suspect Joel kept going even after we left!
Joel had a gig as a musical contractor I believe, among other pursuits. He introduced me to a great classical bassist (a laid-back Midwesterner, on the BSO sub-list, with a plethora of talent) with whom I studied intermittently for a few years.

Joel himself, judging by his style and and vinyl records being spun on his coveted stereo gear, preferred the older styles. One was more likely to hear Ben Webster than Hank Mobley. That was rare in those days and I appreciated it since it aligned with my own archeological musical interests. I suspect that he also appreciated that about me. Joel’s style placed an emphasis on tone and swing rather than proffering strings of eighth and sixteenth notes. He had “chops” but governed by a great deal of discernment and seemed more interested in hearing what others might be putting out there. We also shared an interest in high-end audio and, in particular, McIntosh electronics. There was a local Mac dealership which became an audiophile watering hole of sorts for both of us.

He was a sweetheart. His passing leaves a gap in the musical firmament.

Happy travels, my friend.

Let us honor this man, both durable and playful — a model of how to live a long creative life.

Thank you, Joel. In your honor, I forego the usual closing words and pictures.

MENNO DAAMS and ALEX HILL INTRODUCE US TO GLORY (Thursday, November 4, 2016, 11:30 AM, the Village Hotel, Newcastle, UK)

I admit that my title may seem over-detailed. But take those details with some whimsy, and I will explain. Of course, impatient or eager readers may skip right to the video and return or not. Having retired from what was called “college teaching,” I no longer take attendance. But here are the principal players.

Menno Daams (cornet, trumpet, compositions, arrangements) is a brilliant friend and musical hero, someone balancing taste, wit, bravura, and subtlety in all his musical endeavors. When last seen, he was playing brilliantly at this year’s Ascona Jazz Festival.

Pianist, composer, arranger, singer Alexander Hill, alas, lived a truly intense and truncated life — one of those driven geniuses who didn’t seem to sleep and whose bright spark flickered out at 30. Tuberculosis was the culprit or perhaps he was one of those people meant to cram several lifetimes of art and work into one short span.

I attended the Whitley Bay Jazz Party (now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) from 2009 to 2016, as a jazz enthusiast, blogger, and videographer . . . and in that last capacity I posted almost 450 videos of bands large and small, formal and informal, and a variety of singers. Exhausting but joyous work and you can see the results of my “swingyoucats” YouTube channel.

Certain managerial decisions made it first difficult, then impossible for me to continue, and I haven’t been back. Others have taken on my role, and I now have the perhaps odd luxury of watching their videos from my computer. But that is another novella entirely.

One of the delights of the weekend was the opportunity to watch and record bands rehearsing in the morning and afternoon — large combinations of musicians who didn’t play together, reading manuscripts — reading charts for the first time, stopping and starting. No one told me to leave (bless you, heroes) and once in a great while the rehearsals, unbuttoned and playful, surpassed the evening’s “concert” performance. An example you can find on YouTube is my capture of the rehearsal by a Bent Persson group of CAFE CAPERS. And this: Menno Daams’ International Serenaders paying tribute to Alex Hill by performing his spiritual, KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL.

Menno had granted me permission to post the video, which I did in 2019. Recently, as a delightful surprise, he reposted it with the musical information rolling along above the image. You can call it the “director’s cut” or the “DVD version with special enhanced features.” Call it what you will, but it’s lovely.

I confess to a didactic-emotional-spiritual purpose of mine. The band sounds so good, and the enhanced version is such a work of art, that it bothers me how few people have seen this: fewer than 200 took in the first posting (three years ago) and fewer than 70 have seen this version. People! This will make you sit up straight in your chairs: it will spark joy for free. (Take that, Marie Kondo.)

I bow to Menno, to Alex, and to this great band. Thank you for letting me visit, thank you for certain.

May your happiness increase!

“PLAY IT, TEDDY” (April and August 1939)

One of the great pleasures of jazz recording and performance is the sound of Teddy Wilson, born 110 years ago today: a complete orchestra, every measure of jewel-box of shining details. The records he made with Billie Holiday have to be among the most famous in the last century, with his sides with Benny Goodman, Mildred Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong, Jo Jones creating a galaxy of pleasures.

But here are some sides from 1939 that few have heard.

They require a bit of speculative research for context. It’s hard in 2022 to imagine how violently the world, and, yes, the entertainment world, was racially segregated. Benny Goodman had broken “the color line” by hiring black musicians who would appear on the same bandstand, but the integration of those artists into radio orchestras and recording groups (as in “studio work”) happened very slowly.

One of the people fighting to break this barrier was John Hammond. I have a good deal of ambivalence about him: he created self-glorifying narratives, he played favorites, he had numerous agendas — but the results of his crusading cannot be denied.

At the start of 1939, Wilson had had almost five years in the spotlight from his work with Goodman; he made many small-group recordings under his own name for Brunswick; he even had a business venture, the “Teddy Wilson School for Pianists.” This was a transitional period: he appeared on a few broadcasts as a member of Benny’s band while his own orchestra was taking shape and broadcasting from the Savoy Ballroom.

Hammond tried, often without success, to stage-manage musicians’ careers (Ellington, Holiday, Frank Newton, and Rex Stewart are the most dramatic examples) and often those musicians grew exasperated and broke off the relationship. But I think he and Teddy respected each other, and Teddy was grateful.

One of John’s ideas was to slowly, subversively mix white popular artists with black jazzmen and women on record. So in 1939-41, Wilson was part of a band or the leader of his own unit for record dates with Redd Evans, Eddy Howard, and Chick Bullock. All of those sessions are rewarding and more: the mix of sweet crooning and hot solos and accompaniment is, to me, irresistible.

Of the three, Redd Evans is perhaps the most obscure, and his fame is now as a lyricist for NO MOON AT ALL, THERE! I’VE SAID IT AGAIN, THE FRIM FRAM SAUCE, ROSIE THE RIVETER, LET ME OFF UPTOWN, and DON’T GO TO STRANGERS. But in 1938 he made six sides for Victor or Bluebird as “Lewis Evans and his Bama Boys,” which I have never seen nor heard. (Anyone?) Here the connections become pure speculation. Did Hammond hear those records, or was Evans performing in a club or on the radio? Or did Evans reach out to Wilson or Hammond? A side note: an internet source says that Evans was a saxophonist and that he played the ocarina.

This just in, as they say on news programs. Luigi Lucaccini pointed me to the one “Bama Boys” record — on Bluebird — that not only delights but answers the question. It’s PLEASE BE KIND:

That’s perfectly charming — I want to hear all of them! And I can completely understand Hammond or someone else wanting Evans, a delightful singer and ocarina soloist, to record again with jazz accompaniment. The facts about this session are: Russ Case, trumpet; John Potoker, piano; Art Ryerson, guitar; Syd Debin, string bass; Bobby Jones, drums. February 11, 1938, New York City. Again, this is a worthy entry in the pop-song-swung tradition, and it shows that fine music was played by people who weren’t stars, although Potoker, Case, and Ryerson are certainly known.

So these would be called “crossover” recordings, mixing jazz and Western swing. And here is the discographical data, thanks to Tom Lord (I’m puzzled by the note that Evans sings on the first session but the vocals are done by “Hot Sweet Potato,” since Evans played the ocarina. But this doesn’t stop me from enjoying the music.)

Redd Evans (vcl) acc by tp, ts, g, Buster Bailey (cl) Teddy Wilson (p) unknown (b) J.C. Heard (d).  New York, April 17, 1939.
W24381 They cut down the old pine tree Voc 4836
W24382 Red wing –
W24383-B Carry me back to the lone prairie 4920
W24384-A Red River Valley –

Here are files (courtesy of the Internet Archive) of the first four songs.

https://archive.org/details/78_they-cut-down-the-old-pine-tree_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-raskin-eli_gbia0465068a

https://archive.org/details/78_red-wing_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-mills_gbia0465068b/RED+WING+-+REDD+EVANS+and+his+BILLY+BOYS.flac

https://archive.org/details/78_carry-me-back-to-the-lone-prairie_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-robison_gbia0446460b

https://archive.org/details/78_red-river-valley_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans_gbia0446460a/RED+RIVER+VALLEY+-+REDD+EVANS+and+his+BILLY+BOYS.flac

The trumpeter sounds both fine and familiar: Emmett Berry, possibly?

Those four sides enjoyed some popularity — if you count appearances on eBay as a valid indicator. I have one of the two discs (OLD PINE TREE and RED WING) and made rudimentary transfers of the worn 78 for YouTube, for those who like to see the disc spin.

RED RIVER VALLEY and RED WING were classic Americana; the other two were more contemporary creations, with the light-hearted morbidity of OLD PINE TREE, which always catches me unaware.

The other two sides were both fascinating and elusive: the digital transfers are a gift from collector Peter J. Doyle, although I have never seen the disc. But brace yourself for BAGGAGE COACH, which is an ancient barroom ballad (Eugene O’Neill used it in A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN) much more morbid than OLD PINE TREE. This rocking version owes something to Jerry Colonna and the Tommy Dorsey “glee club.” It’s a favorite record of mine. And MILENBERG JOYS simply rocks: when wasn’t that the case?

Redd Evans And His Billy Boys : Willis Kelly (tp) Floyd Brady (tb) Reggie Merrill (as) Clark Galehouse (ts) Teddy Wilson (p) Al Casey (g) Al Hall (b) Cozy Cole (d) Redd Evans, “Hot Sweet Potato” (vcl).  New York, August 11, 1939.
25189-1 Milenberg joys (re vcl) Voc 5173
25190-1 In the baggage coach ahead (re vcl) –
25191-1,2 Am I blue ? (re,hsp vcl) (unissued)
25192-1,2 When it’s springtime in the Rockies (hsp vcl) –

and a less unusual composition:

Are these six sides imperishable jazz classics? Perhaps not. But Teddy’s work is stunning — a magical combination of ease and intensity. As always.

Thank you, Mister Wilson, for all you gave us and continue to give us.

May your happiness increase!

CAIT JONES BEAMS AT US

Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Cait Jones, vocal. Fine and Rare, November 21, 2022.

I’m late to the party, because Cait Jones has been singing and leading small swinging bands in New York City and around the world for more than a half-dozen years; she has YouTube videos and several CDs as “Cait and the Critters.”

But what I heard in person last Monday night convinced me thoroughly that she has and is a rare talent.

In the course of a set-and-a-half, Cait sang a baker’s dozen classic songs: YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / JUST IN TIME / WHERE OR WHEN / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / FOOLIN’ MYSELF / ZING! WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART / I HADN’T ANYONE TILL YOU / BLUES IN THE NIGHT / THEM THERE EYES // NICE AND EASY / YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME / ALL TOO SOON / WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW //

(I noted with pleasure the absence of GOD BLESS THE CHILD, MY FUNNY VALENTINE, and WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO — marvelous songs done threadbare through repetition. And because this post is about Cait, I am not writing at length about the superb intuitive playing of Michael and Neal, two heroes of the art. But you know.)

Because Cait has a background in swing dancing and music for those agile people, each song had a pulse, which enabled her, Michael, and Neal to explore the endless variations in Medium Tempo. No “racetrack tempos” (to quote Jimmie Rowles) and no sentimental dirges. In another singer’s hands, a dozen vintage affection-themed songs might have sounded too similar. But Cait had a clear idea of what I will call the landscape of each song, or perhaps its interior decor. So the mood of each song was unique unto itself. I never thought to myself, “Well, we just heard that,” because each pearl was remarkable on its own terms.

Her approach is at once plain and filigreed.

Plain in that she respects the composers’ intentions without melodramatic ego-displays. The result is a friendly convincing understatement, where the song itself is the star. She has a lovely voice, splendid clear diction, admirable microphone technique (somewhat of a lost art) dead-on pitch, and subtle swing. Her first choruses honored the melody; her second choruses wandered in the meadow of possibilities, changing a pitch here and there in a manner that would have pleased Richard Rodgers or Ann Ronell.

The filigree entered in her small but moving variations on the melodic line, and — even better — her delightful way of handling the lyrics as if they were emotive speech, compressing a phrase into a few beats and elongating another over the rhythm — as if the words had just occurred to her as needing to be shared, said, sung. I felt that she had moved into each song, made herself comfortable, and delicately rearranged its moving parts so that we could hear it anew. To me that is an art both considerable and subtle, never in capital letters but affecting nonetheless.

As you can tell, I was impressed. And I don’t impress easily these days. A publicist recently sent me a CD by a well-advertised young singer, and I put it in the player with the best expectations. Midway through the first chorus, I thought, “This young woman is doing a superb job of impersonating Sarah Vaughan — a great feat — but I can listen to Sarah unadorned whenever I like.” Cait Jones sounds like herself, although it’s clear she’s heard the masters. But delightfully, I think her inspirations are also the great instrumentalists, more Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges than cloning singers.

Cait has two new CDs coming out. On one, she composes lyrics to the music of Mathieu Najean; on the other, she is accompanied by Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, and Greg Ruggiero . . . none better. I will keep you informed about both issues, which I am looking forward to.

Thank you, Cait!

May your happiness increase!


THEY’RE BACK!

This is AN EVENT.

I’ve been a fan of Vince and the Nighthawks for twenty years or more, and they are unique at what they do. And now, a weekly gig again!

Almost all of the shows are sold out, but tickets are still available for December 13 and January 3. The Birdland Theater is a compact space, so I suggest you get tickets without delay. Visit BirdlandJazz.com . . . .

You’ll notice that I don’t offer video evidence, although I often brought my camera to the Nighthawks’ gigs. They are too large, too splendid for a camera of my sort — and Birdland does not allow video-ing, so they have to be caught live, hot, in person. If you know them, you know, and if you don’t know, come and be uplifted.

See you there, I hope.

May your happiness increase!

INDIGO HUES: DAVE STUCKEY and THE HOT HOUSE GANG at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, KATIE CAVERA, JOSH COLLAZO (September 29, 2022)

Dave Stuckey is a beacon of swing and fun, presenting both while compromising neither. He lives the double truth, that jazz can be hilarious without being childish, and that entertainment can be high-level art, simultaneously satisfying. Before the band comes in, he’s set a danceable groove, and even people like myself, who leave their seats only when the set is over, feel it. Although Google Maps will tell you something else, Dave and the Hot House Gang are firmly situated at the intersection of Cindy Walker Drive and Fats Waller Terrace, which is to say the mid-Thirties meadow where sad songs were swung so hard that we couldn’t remember how sad they actually were. And he feels the music: no postmodern irony for this fellow.

Here’s a little Blue Suite, performed at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on September 29, 2022, with the best cast of characters: Dave, guitar, vocal, and inspirations; Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, tenor saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, keyboard; Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.

First, Fats’ BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU, which (as its lyrics would suggest) is usually slow, verging on the melodramatic (or in the case of Fifties’ Louis, the operatic). But Fats and his Rhythm made a 12″ 78 of this tune for Victor in 1937, completely instrumental and at a faster tempo. Dave sings it but also nudges it along into late-Thirties swing dance tempo:

then, almost without a break, into BLUE DRAG, which many know from early Django:

But no one in the audience felt blue. That’s what Dave does. What a spirit, and what a band!

There’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, MISTER JELLY!” (Part Three): THE MORTONIA SEVEN LAYS IT DOWN at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: HAL SMITH, DAVE KOSMYNA, DAVE BENNETT, TJ MULLER, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOHN GILL, SAM ROCHA (October 1, 2022)

Here are the final three performances from the rocking set performed by Hal Smith’s MORTONIA SEVEN at the Redwood Coast Music Festival — jazz of such a high order that I am sorry I caught only nine songs by this band.

Mister Morton looks over Mister Smith’s shoulder.

At the Redwood Coast Music Festival, they performed MILENBERG JOYS, SMOKE-HOUSE BLUES, BALLIN’ THE JACK, BLUE BLOOD BLUES, STEAMBOAT STOMP, MAMIE’S BLUES, visible and audible here and three others:

FROGGIE MOORE RAG (or FROG-I-MORE if you prefer):

NEW ORLEANS BLUES:

and for a rousing climax, PANAMA:

I look forward to hearing this band at festivals in the year to come.

May your happiness increase!

THEIR “MOST ENJOYABLE GIG”: JAMES DAPOGNY, MIKE KAROUB, ROD McDONALD, SHANNON WADE, DAWN GIBLIN (with thanks to Wyman Video): “CULTIVATE,” Ann Arbor, Michigan, August 25, 2016.

James Dapogny’s absence is painful to me, and I know I am not alone. The eight videos of him and the band he called PLENTY RHYTHM — thank you, Ferdinand — are joyous and poignant. I asked Laura Wyman, videographer and dear friend, to offer commentary, which she does beautifully.

James Dapogny

Laura writes:

Those Thursday nights were relaxed, fun, magical, and giddy while they lasted. It’s hard to believe a hundred people would cram into an old garage to talk, dance, drink, play, and listen to live music. Before Erin Morris moved, before Jim died, before Covid. But this life IS coming back – with most of the same players, carrying much of that music, adding new tunes, in re-opened and new venues.

Plenty Rhythm was started by Erin (on tuba, but you probably know her better as a dancer) and Jim Dapogny, about May 2016. Erin got them the weekly gig at Cultivate Coffeehouse (in Ypsilanti: Ann Arbor’s grittier, less-pretentious cousin, a few miles to the east). They dragged in Erin’s (or was it Jim’s?) upright piano, and Jim brought his music. He’d run a similar group several years earlier, and added more music to the books: 1920s-1940s standards, Dapogny originals, almost everything written in his distinctive handwriting.

The most important part: Jim said Cultivate was his most enjoyable gig – this as a “retired” professor who still had at least 2 gigs every week, and often 4 or 5. (Karoub said it was his MEG also) No setlists, no complicated choreography. Just calling tunes, setting the tempo by starting in, and playing with talented and inventive players, making things happen – and often getting fiery and/or pretty results. Regardless of money or listeners. (Though we see Jim, at times, looking out into the room with a “do you people realize what’s going on up here?!” )

(On that note, I like watching JD and MK work out stuff mid-tune, or Jim pointing to Rod or Shannon: “You’re up!”)

The group was always 4 people. After Erin moved to St Louis, Jim led the group, usually with Mike Karoub on cello, sometimes Chris Smith on trombone, or Chris Tabaczynski on sax/clar. In addition to the official 4, people always sat in – Dawn Giblin on vocals, and Chris T on reeds. It became a laboratory, where the band could try new (or new-old) tunes, in front of a noisy oblivious forgiving audience. All the players loved learning and playing together. There were always dancers in that tiny crowded space.

Cultivate paid the band $100 (a whopping $25 each!) and they divided the tip-jar. CTabs remembers Jim slipping him $5 for sitting in.

I guess that band is extinct now, though Chris S. still uses Jim’s black folders, and continues to add to the library.

I went every Thursday for a few years, but because it was so noisy, filmed only a handful of times. Jim suggested I put an Elizabethan collar around the video camera’s microphone.

I’d help Jim and Rod set up, then get a couple orders of toast (turkey/pear/honey, or PBJ), dark coffee, Chicago popcorn, beer and stout. The music ran from 7-10pm. The building was a former truck repair garage, converted into a community gathering place. The band played inside in cold weather, and outside in their beautiful flower & vegetable garden in warm and hot weather.

Plenty Rhythm stopped playing there in 2017. Cultivate didn’t survive the pandemic and is currently closed indefinitely.

Laura pointed out that the room was noisy. True. On one visit to Cultivate, in August 2016, I also shot video but the results were unusable. So these are a blessing. If you find the chatter intrusive, I understand, but I will bet that the crowd listening to Basie at the Savoy (insert your favorite band and time-travel site) was not hushed, even when Pres was soloing. Savor the music: this band will not come again.

For those making notes: the band performed twenty-five songs in three sets that night, and these are presented in performance order.

SWEET LORRAINE:

TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME:

OH, BABY!:

IF I HAD YOU, vocal by Dawn Giblin:

MY BLUE HEAVEN:

SWEET GEORGIA BROWN:


I think you can understand why both Jim and Mike Karoub said that this was their most enjoyable gig. These sounds are precious. Bless Prof, Mike, Shannon, Rod, and Dawn — and a special bow and hug to Laura, videographer, archivist, and friend-of-the-music, without whom this gig would only be something talked about in “Wow, you should have been there!” reverent tones.

May your happiness increase!

CHINESE TAKEAWAY, HOT AND FRESH (JON-ERIK KELLSO, GRAHAM HUGHES, MICHAEL McQUAID, LARS FRANK, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, FELIX HUNOT, HARRY EVANS, RICHARD PITE at the Mike Durham Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, November 3, 2022)

Whose honey are you? In 2009, Billie supervised the breakfast condiments.

Forward to the 2022 Mike Durham Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.

CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN might have stayed as an obscure pop tune, its lyrics more than slightly suspect, if Louis Armstrong — who loved Asian cuisine — had not recorded it. You can find his versions and those of Red Nichols, Fletcher Henderson, and the Cambridge University Quinquaginta Ramblers online without wrinkling your clothing through exertion.

But as an appetizer to the delightful cuisine that follows, I offer a recording that not enough people have heard, Reginald Foresythe’s HOMAGE TO ARMSTRONG:

You can also chase down versions by Art Tatum, Jack Teagarden, the Georgia Washboard Stompers, Hot Lips Page with Eddie Condon, Lionel Hampton, Roy Eldridge, Slim and Slam, Sidney Bechet, Teddy Wilson, Punch Miller, Kid Ory, Louis Prima, George Lewis.

But here’s a wonderful version from just a few days ago, captured at a night-time jam session at this year’s Mike Durham Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party by Emrah Erken, he of the roving iPhone (his YouTube channel, a basket of marvels, is “Atticus Jazz”). The participants are Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone; Michael McQuaid, clarinet; Lars Frank, tenor saxophone; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Felix Hunot, banjo; Harry Evans, string bass; Richard Pite, drums.

This music doesn’t come tepid in a little cardboard box. Thank you, all!

May your happiness increase!

SO LOVELY, SO BRIEF: WATCH IT TWICE

Melody means so much; a rounded tone is thrilling; a gentle swing is sublime.

Here’s Josh Dunn, solo, playing I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE.

Jazz / pop fans with a certain aesthetic grounding will find it hard to remain silent while Josh plays, but I don’t think he will object if we throw in a “Listen here, honey child,” now and again.

I can’t let beauty like this go by without celebrating it, and I hope you are equally moved. Thank you, Josh!

May your happiness increase!

AT THE SUMMIT, or the CORK OPERA HOUSE: BOB WILBER, KENNY DAVERN, MICK PYNE, DAVE CLIFF, DAVE GREEN, BOBBY WORTH (October 1993)

Here’s a lively hour-long presentation (with interview segments) of the remarkable SUMMIT REUNION (which followed SOPRANO SUMMIT) at the Cork Opera House, during the 1993 Guinness Jazz Festival, presented by RTE. For this concert, the personnel was Kenny Davern, clarinet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, soprano saxophones; Mick Pyne, piano; Dave Cliff, guitar; Dave Green, string bass; Bobby Worth, drums.

And the selections performed were ROSETTA / interview / BLACK AND BLUE / interview / Oscar Pettiford line (?) [Cliff, Green, Worth] / PALESTEENA / station break / IF DREAMS COME TRUE / interview / TREASURE (Davern out) / interview / SUMMERTIME (Davern, Green, Worth) / ST. LOUIS BLUES //

I saw Davern and Wilber in person several times, and the heat they generated was extraordinary — as well as the subtleties when the building wasn’t in flames. And the British rhythm section is superb in the best Mainstream ways.

The Europeans certainly knew (and know) something valuable about the presentation and preservation of art.

May your happiness increase!

SOMETHING TO SWING ABOUT: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and DANNY TOBIAS, PART ONE (Pennsylvania Jazz Society, October 30, 2022.)

Although I can calculate the tip without problems, math did not come easily to me in school, and at this late date, I couldn’t easily concoct an equation. But one occurs to me on a regular basis: let X equal travel and inconvenience, balanced against Y, the amount of pleasure I will get from hearing live jazz face-to-face. It is a very rare instance where I can say to myself, returning home, “That was not worth the trip.”

The equation came into play last Sunday. 2 1/2 hours in the car to get to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; 4 1/2 hours (Sunday-night traffic from New Jersey) returning, balanced against 2 hours of music, friendly community, emotional-aesthetic pleasures. What I and others heard and saw from Danny Tobias, trumpet, flugelhorn, and Eb alto horn; Rossano Sportiello, piano, was beyond delightful. The time in the car didn’t matter.

I know both hero-friends since we met, in different places, in 2005, and admire them greatly. But I’d never heard them in duet, and a fraternal playfulness and joy was immediately evident: two minds and hearts going down the same path, creating, laughing, striving. A harmony of individual energies.

Here are the first four performances from that duo-concert.

When in doubt, play LADY BE GOOD:

Johnny Mandel’s lovely EMILY:

a performance of I GOT IT BAD where Danny becomes an Ellington trumpet section:

and IF DREAMS COME TRUE, which could have been re-titled WHEN:

Look up SYNERGY online: the link will lead you to this concert. More music to come in future posts, I promise you.

May your happiness increase!

“LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S BLACK AND BLUES”

My wife gave this documentary the best capsule review last night: “It made you fall in love with the guy.”

Perhaps nothing more needs to be said.

But I earnestly want to send JAZZ LIVES readers to theatres (ideally) to watch this film. In 104 minutes, it offers a compact, fast-moving portrait of a man at once complicated and plain. It offers a generous sampling of music — most of it filmed performance. But it is far more than a filmed concert. It demonstrates the joy Louis so open-handedly created while revealing the rage and sadness inseparable from it.

We see him grin, we see him hit high notes, we see him sing soulfully, but this is not the cardboard caricature, not the man-child some have attacked. There is JEEPERS CREEPERS and YOU RASCAL YOU, but there is also SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD. Time after time, he comes forth as the Grave Wise Elder, pained and serious, the man who kept silent, choosing rather the cause of happiness.

Louis Armstrong, 1969. Photograph by Jack Bradley. Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

The street isn’t always sunny. vividly, we see corrosive racism throughout his career, from his childhood to the 1931 Suburban Gardens; we hear Orval Faubus and hear from the reporters who caught Louis’ response to Little Rock. There is the Caucasian fan (one out of how many thousand) who tells Louis that he admires him but “doesn’t like Negroes.” We hear Louis say that his flag is a Black one, but we also hear him talk about the great honor of playing THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER.

And the information is stunningly first-hand: his written words and his voice — taken from the hours of private, uncensored, often scalding conversations he recorded on tape, for he was a man who knew that he would have a place “in the history books.” Sometimes his voice is world-weary, sometimes enraged, but there is no polite expurgation. The man comes through whole, a colossus of awareness and emotion.

Unlike the often hypnotic but sometimes gelatinous cinematography of Ken Burns’ JAZZ, this film is so packed with information — auditory, visual, emotional — that the screen is always busy. I have studied and idolized Louis my whole life and I was consistently surprised and elated by what was so generously offered. And the narration by rapper Nas is so emotionally right that it adds a great deal, subliminally reminding us that Louis was not always a senior citizen.

The range of the documentary is astounding. The cameo appearances by Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie are splendidly on target but we have seen those heroes before. I hoped Bobby Hackett would put in an appearance, and was thrilled that Count Basie did also.

But to hear the voices of Arche Shepp, Miles Davis, and Amiri Braka alongside Danny Barker, Barney Bigard, George James is a series of delightful shocks, showing just how many artists understood and respected Louis.

Thanks to the preeminent Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi, the film never loses its way in detail or inaccuracy. Jimi Hendrix makes a brief but telling appearance; senior eminence and friend-of-Louis Dan Morgenstern brings in James Baldwin and has some pointed comments as well. Lucille Armstrong and Lil Hardin tell hilarious loving tales. Swiss Kriss is here, the little Selmer trumpet, and so is “Mary Warner.”

I thought I might be one of the worst people to write a review of this documentary, because Louis has been a hero, an old friend, a beacon, a father-once-removed since childhood. So I braced myself for oversimplifications and inaccuracies. Given the title, I worried that the film would show Louis as undermined by racism (jazz chroniclers love tragic stories) without letting his essence blaze through. I thought it might tell the same dusty stories in order, making him mythical and distant.

I need not have worried. It is an honest thoughtful respectful work. No life so charged could be captured in under two hours, and some have written that they wanted more of X or of Y. But Louis is there for the discovery for those who want to go deeper.

I was in tears at the start, the middle, and the finish, with interludes for catching my breath and wiping my eyes.

If you know everything about Louis, this is a film not to be missed; if you know little or nothing, the same assertion holds true. If you are intrigued by film-making, by popular culture, it is also a revealing delight. It is the story of a jazz creator, a beloved entertainer, a Black man in a systematically hostile world, an American so relevant, and so much more. Louis stands tall and energized as an exceptional human being who sent love out like a clarion trumpet call to all who could hear.

May your happiness increase!

“I JUST BELIEVE IN MUSIC”: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO RAY SKJELBRED (with KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 28, 2015)

Yesterday, “on or about” (as the lawyers say) November 2, was Ray Skjelbred’s birthday. But oddly enough, he has the celebration in reverse, for he keeps giving us presents — of swing, whimsy, empathy, and life-affirming joy.

Here’s a sample, with the Cubs, Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar — captured in flight at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 28, 2015.

“I just believe in music,” Ray says. And his faith repays us a thousand-fold.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, HOW THE GHOST OF YOU CLINGS”: DAWN LAMBETH (with DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, JONATHAN DOYLE, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, KATIE CAVERA, JOSH COLLAZO: Redwood Coast Music Festival, September 29, 2022)

Dawn Lambeth has been one of my favorite singers for more than fifteen years now. I’d never heard of her (such is the East Coast / West Coast divide in Jazz America) until I was asked to review her CD, MIDNIGHT BLUE, for the much-missed Mississippi Rag, and I was astonished. Her lovely voice, her warm phrasing, her love of the melody, her understanding of the lyrics — all splendidly touching. She swings; she embodies the great traditions but sounds like herself, understated and passionate at the same time.

And I could marvel at her work in a variety of contexts at the most recent Redwood Coast Music Festival. Here she is with Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang: Dave, guitar, vocals, and fun; Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.

Many people feel that singing isn’t, after all, so difficult. You learn a song by listening to recordings, perhaps you ask friends who play what key you are singing in, you hope to remember the lyrics and to not hang on to the mike stand too ostentatiously, the pianist plays four bars, you open your mouth — and look, ma, I’m singing! Nice clothing, good hair — also essential.

But this art is so much more complex, and it rests on the dual mastery of the song (how to get from one note to another with grace and personality, and then, how to courageously improvise and land well) and the lyrics (what do those words actually mean? what’s “the story” here? where should I take a breath?) and the deeper understanding of the emotions a song is meant to stir. I could be very wrong here, but an eighteen-year old might not sing THANKS FOR THE MEMORY with the deep rueful sensitivity that the song requires, in the same way that same youthful striver might not deeply understand the feelings of a literary character.

And there’s an even more difficult art — drama without acting — or how to make a group of people in a large hall, through your voice and gesture sent through a microphone, feel the nuances that composer, lyricist, and singer must convey.

I write this perhaps discouraging prelude to simply say that Dawn Lambeth not only knows how to do these rare things, but she embodies the art of communicating information and feeling while the notes roll on. We know, in the song I am about to present here, the joy of past experience and the ruefulness that the experiences are past.

THESE FOOLISH THINGS, by Jack Strachey and Eric Maschwitz (and perhaps Harry Link), has been sung often since its emergence in 1935, and inexperienced singers can make the melody a series of predictable steps, the lyrics a shopping list of sentimental fragments of memory. It has been sung so often that in the wrong hands, its sharp edges have been blurred. But Dawn reaches into the song, without overacting, and offers us the novella of love unattained but recalled that it really is. Hear her poignant variations on “You conquered me!” and know what this rare art truly is.

So moving. Thank you so much, Dawn and friends, for these tender, candid moments.

May your happiness increase!

UPLIFTING MUSIC, ALL AROUND: HARRY ALLEN and GABRIELE DONATI (Swiss Consulate, October 19, 2022)

The wonderful artist — whose work combines fantasy, comedy, and beauty — Ivana Falconi — has a show of her work at the Swiss Consulate in Manhattan (open by appointment until February 23, 2003). She regularly displays new creations on Facebook: see more here and here.

Ivana’s husband is the splendid tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, and he and the marvelous string bassist Gabriele Donati gave us a little night music. I recorded this on my iPhone because I couldn’t bear to let it go away into the air. “Splendid!” to quote our mutual friend and hero, pianist Rossano Sportiello.

I have had the immense good fortune to know Harry (thanks to Jazz at Chautauqua), Gabriele (thanks to the 75 Club, as well as his charming family), and Ivana (through becoming an art-delighter) for years now, and they repaid me and the OAO and everyone else in the room with beauty.

and . . . .

and the delightful sight-and-soundtrack:

Beautiful music is in the air; it surrounds us. Of course, it helps to be in the right place at the right time, surrounded by brilliant generous friends. Often you have to leave the house, but no surprise there.

May your happiness increase!

A SUNDAY KIND OF PLEASURE: DANNY TOBIAS and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO (October 30, 2022: Pennsylvania Jazz Society, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania)

Maestro Tobias:

Photograph by Lynn Redmile

and Maestro Sportiello:

Attentive readers will note that it is not yet Sunday, so this post is to inform or remind you that a wonderful duo-concert is about to happen, featuring Danny Tobias, trumpet and perhaps Eb alto horn, with Rossano Sportiello, piano. It’s given by the Pennsylvania Jazz Society at Congregation Brith Sholom, 1190 West Macada Road, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I believe the times are 2 to 4:30. I don’t know the admission price, but my previous experience with the PJS has shown they are reasonable people; should any JAZZ LIVES readers show up and find themselves short of a few dollars, I will be happy to offer the official Blog-Subsidy.

In announcing and promoting concerts, I’ve always tried to offer musical evidence — the equivalent of the tasting table at Trader Joe’s — but here I am slightly at a loss. One of the most exciting aspects of this concert is that, although I know Rossano and Danny have played together, they have not yet recorded in duet. So I cannot say to you, “This is what it will sound like on Sunday!” However, Danny’s newest CD, SILVER LININGS, features himself and Rossano along with Scott Robinson, reeds and brass; Joe Plowman, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums — so I present two delightful musical interludes as somewhat larger versions of the blisses to come our way on Sunday.

I know there will be Pretty:

and I know there will be Swing:

As Elizabethan-era bloggers used to write c. 1604, “Get thee hence.” “Thee” means you; “hence” means 1190 West Macada Road, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

May your happiness increase!

SEVENTY MINUTES WITH GERRY MULLIGAN, HARRY “SWEETS” EDISON, VIC DICKENSON, MARIAN McPARTLAND, DAVE SAMUELS, PERCY HEATH, ALAN DAWSON (Nice Jazz Festival, July 15, 1976)

People who draw “jazz history trees” love to create categories that are often divisive, at best restrictive. For those so inclined, whether critics, journalists, or “fans,” the art form is defined as discrete sections, painted lines in an aesthetic shopping-center parking lot.

The musicians laugh about such dopiness, and not only talk to their friends but play alongside them. Happily.

Here’s a passionate interlude that refutes such categorization, from the Nice Jazz Festival of July 15, 1976. The set was called “Jeru and some friends,” “Jeru” being the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, who made himself at home with musicians “from different schools” where and whenever he could, including Count Basie, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, and Joe Sullivan — and I am sure that is only a fraction of the friendly gatherings he participated in.

I love the fact that the common language is “the three B’s,” or in jazz terms, “Basie,” “the blues,” and “ballads.”

Nice Jazz Festival (audio only); “”Grande Parade du Jazz,” July 15, 1976.

Gerry Mulligan, baritone saxophone; Harry “Sweets” Edison, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Marian McPartland, piano; Dave Samuels, vibraphone; Percy Heath, string bass; Alan Dawson, drums. I FOUND A NEW BABY / NIGHT LIGHTS / WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (Marian, solo) / I’LL BE AROUND (Mullgan-Marian) / YESTERDAYS (Sweets) / TEA FOR TWO / SHINY STOCKINGS.

Miraculous to me, but common friendly practice to these wise feeling players:

“Ain’t that something?” to quote Bill Robinson.

May your happiness increase!