PARADISE FOR STRINGS: MARTIN WHEATLEY’S IMAGINATIVE WORLDS

Photograph by Andrew Wittenborn, 2015

Photograph by Andrew Wittenborn, 2015

I know Martin Wheatley as an astonishingly talented player of the guitar, banjo, electric guitar, ukulele.  I’ve heard him on a variety of recordings as a wonderful rhythm player and striking soloist, and had the good fortune to see him in person at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) from 2009 to 2015.

One facet of his talent is as a virtuosic ukulele player (and arranger for that instrument): a 2010 solo performance of THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER:

Here’s Martin on electric guitar from the November 2015 Party in a salute to Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, with Lars Frank, Martin Litton, Enrico Tomasso, Richard Pite, Henry Lemaire:

From that same weekend, here are Emma Fisk, Spats Langham, Henry Lemaire, and Martin doing their own evocation of the Quintette of the Hot Club of France on J’ATTENDRAI:

Here’s Martin on banjo in 2010 with the Chalumeau Serenaders — Matthias Seuffert, Norman Field, Nick Ward, Keith Nichols, Malcolm Sked — performing A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY:

And there’s more.  But the point of this blogpost is to let you know that Martin has made a truly imaginative CD under his own name, called LUCKY STAR — a musical sample below:

Martin says of LUCKY STAR, “Quite a mixture of things, lots of my own compositions and some standards.  Some solos –  plenty of overdub extravaganzas.  All me apart from Tom Wheatley (one of Martin’s sons) on bass.”

Solo efforts that have a good deal of overdubbing might suffer from sameness, because of the strength of the soloist’s personality, but not this CD: Martin is seriously and playfully imaginative.  And when you open the disc and read the instruments he plays, you know the disc is expansive, not constricted: guitar, tenor guitar, Hawaiian guitar, lap steel guitar, soprano / tenor / baritone ukulele; tenor / five-string / fretless banjo; moonlute, mandolin, octophone, percussion, keyboard, vocals.

The five standards are IF DREAMS COME TRUE, ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR, MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE, and MY SWEET.  I couldn’t tell absolutely which instruments Martin is playing on any track, but I can say that DREAMS sounds like a one-man Spirits of Rhythm, with a swinging bass interlude by Tom after Martin’s absolutely charming vocal (think Bowlly crossed with McKenzie, Decca sunburst edition); CHILLUN is Pizzarelli-style with more of the same swing crooning intermingled with virtuosic playing — but no notes are smudged or harmed, and there’s a cameo for Hawaiian guitar at a rocking tempo.  LUCKY STAR begins with harp-like ukulele chords and Martin picks up the never-heard verse, turning the corner into the sweet chorus in the most light-hearted sincere way, and MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE follows — a quiet instrumental masterpiece, a hymn to secular devotion. MY SWEET — beloved of Louis and Django — begins with serene chiming notes picking out the melody delicately and then builds into a rocking vocal / guitar production worthy of the QHCF — ending with waves rhythmically yet gently coming up the beach.

I’ve given these details because if I had heard one of those tracks I would want to know who the fine singer and the fine guitarists were, and I would buy the CD. They are that delightful.

But that survey would leave out the majority of the disc, Martin’s original compositions: STARGAZING / ON THE BANKS OF THE WINDRUSH, FAR AWAY / EPPING FOREST / GOLDEN HILL / THE OTTER / BRUNTCLIFFE / FOUND & LOST / COLONEL FAWCETT’S UKULELE / IN THE MERRY LAND OF UZ / X.  They aren’t easy to describe, much less categorize.  I hear lullabies, rhapsodies, inquiries, echoes of Hawaii, of Weill and Broadway shows, of Bach and modern classical, Forties film soundtracks, harp choirs, Scottish folk music, bluegrass, birdsong and forest sounds — all immaculately and warmly played.  Words fail me here, but the journey through this CD is rather like reading short stories or being shown a series of watercolors — nothing harsh, but everything evocative.

Martin told me, “Over the last seven or eight years I’ve returned to writing music and wanted it to have an outlet, which it wouldn’t get on gigs.  Although jazz is what I do, I have other musical interests and have played other sorts of music in the past. Without making any self-conscious attempts at ‘fusions’ I’ve tried to allow it all to come out – English folk tunes, Psychedelia, classical music – especially English 20th century, Hawaiian music, doubtless others. I don’t know how evident any of those is but they’re in there somewhere!

It probably is evident that most of it is romantic – Bruntcliffe, for example, I wrote as an organ piece to be played as entrance music for my wedding to Lindsay in 2011.  Most of it is less specific.  One piece with something of a programme is Colonel Fawcett’s Ukulele. Aside from punning on Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, it was inspired by reading about Colonel Percy Fawcett and his habit of playing his ukulele to the natives he encountered in the Amazon.  What he played and how they reacted is unrecorded.  It’s an amazing tale.  The obvious conclusion is that he was deluded in his belief in the Lost City of Z and its civilization from which we could learn; however, we know that with no more certainty than we know what he played on his ukulele.”

A technical note: “Overdubs were done usually to a guide track which is not heard on the final mix (pulling up the ladder after climbing up!).  This allows for a steady pulse and changes in tempo when required.  Wayne McIntyre, the sound engineer, did a terrific job.”

“If anyone would like a copy please contact me. £10 incl p&. Hope you like it!”

Find Martin on Facebook here.  If it’s not evident, I recommend this disc fervently.  It’s original yet melodic, lyrical, sweet and rocking.

May your happiness increase!

 

LUCKY STAR

THE ROMANCE OF SUMMER: HARRY ALLEN / EHUD ASHERIE (CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, SEPT. 13, 2015)

For readers many born before this century, THE THINGS WE DID LAST SUMMER (1946) might well be part of our emotional landscape.  How could it be otherwise with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Sammy Cahn?

SUMMERI can’t be sure if it is because summer’s “lease hath all too short a date,” or because we have all had a romance that was too brief.  But the song is inescapably memorable.  If examined coldly, the melody is simple, yet combined with the simple-yet-evocative lyrics it causes me to imagine summers and summer romances I didn’t actually have but still seem real yet off in the distance.  “We never could explain / That sudden summer rain / The looks we got when we got back.”  The lyrics approach remembered elation and present loss indirectly.  Cahn never states openly, “You broke my heart.  Where did you go?” but offers a catalogue of pleasures experienced, now  gone.

But enough of memories, of sunscreen, watermelon, lemonade, bathing suits.

Instead, evocative music created for us by Harry Allen and Ehud Asherie, masters of emotion in swing, performed at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (the party formerly known as Allegheny) on September 13, 2015:

Ah, summer.  Ah, romance.  And the imagined past, possibly more real than the experienced one.  And — for some of us — the music that will happen at the 2016 Party, something to look forward to.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERY: JON DE LUCIA, GREG RUGGIERO, AIDAN O’DONNELL, STEVE LITTLE, RAY GALLON (CITY COLLEGE, APRIL 15, 2016)

I first met Jon De Lucia at a concert celebrating tenor legend Ted Brown’s birthday.  The concert was held at Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s The Drawing Room, so I knew the very gracious young man traveled in the best company.

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

But I hadn’t heard him play.  It turns out that my ignorance of Jon — altoist, clarinetist, and imaginative composer / improviser — was a serious loss, which I remedied on April 15, 2016.  Slightly after noon on that day, Jon gave a graduate recital at City College of New York — a degree requirement so that he could receive his Master’s in Jazz Studies.  With him (and alongside him) were Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums.  Pianist Ray Gallon joined in for two performances.

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

A Master in Jazz Studies is what Jon De Lucia is, and as I write this he hasn’t even worn the robes or gotten his diploma.

Jon’s recital lasted about an hour, and he and his ensemble performed seven improvisations — most of them his own arrangements and reinventions over moderately familiar chord sequences (with one glorious ballad).  But this wasn’t an afternoon of thin contrefacts, so that the members of the audience could say in two bars, “Oh, that’s LADY BE GOOD.”  “Again.”  No, Jon showed off his craft, his subtle gift for creating luxurious melodies, actual songs.

As  you’ll hear, some of the music had a dreamlike serenity — elusive and lovely; at other points I thought of the dear seriousness of Fifties West Coast jazz, or dance movements from early modern classical yet with a strong pulse.  It was delicate yet pointed, light-hearted but never effete.

Jon’s music didn’t fit easily into stylistic boxes (which is delightful): his lines soared, his solos had their own internal logic; the music breathed and rang and glistened. Not only is he a wonderfully seductive altoist, his tone sweet and tart, avoiding avian flurries of notes or post-Parker harshness, he is a master of that unforgiving horn, the clarinet.

I was thrilled to be in the audience.  And once you’ve heard only a few minutes of this music, you will understand why.

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST:

CONFLAGRATION:

I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU (a breathtakingly gorgeous performance):

VALSE VIVIENNE:

RONDO A LA RUSSO, featuring Aidan O’Donnell:

THE Q 25 BLUES, inspired by a bus and its route:

LOST AND FOUND, by Hod O’Brien, its title a sly wink at its origin, as is the riff that sets up Steve’s solo passages:

Now I see that Jon and friends have gigs in Manhattan and Brooklyn — information you can find out here and there is more information at his website.

I salute him and his colleagues, and look forward to hearing more.

May your happiness increase!

MELLOW / NOIR: DANNY TOBIAS, EVAN ARNTZEN, CHRIS FLORY, TAL RONEN at THE EAR INN (February 21, 2016)

The Ear Inn is its own shaded little world, but on Sunday nights even more so.

EAR INN sign

Between eight and eleven PM, all schedules subject to change, the EarRegulars turn 326 Spring Street in Soho into a cozy embodiment (note I didn’t say re-enactment) of Fifty-Second Street.  Ordinarily the EarRegulars are led, and courageously so, by Jon-Erik Kellso, but when Jon’s away, the cats still play. On Sunday, February 21, the felines were Danny Tobias, cornet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / tenor; Chris Flory, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.  They swung most mellowly.

Because of an idiosyncracy in the lighting, or perhaps an idiosyncracy in the camera (or its owner) I experimented with the videos I’d shot and found they looked much better in atmospheric black and white.  I wanted to warn people so that they wouldn’t think they’d wandered into a land where Rod Serling was the tour guide.  There is also an incomplete video below . . . for reasons non-musical that I will explain.

That being said . . . .

BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME?:

DOIN’ THE NEW LOWDOWN:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

I FOUND A NEW BABY (very mellow, very groovy):

SHINE (here in truncated form, the first three minutes, an aesthetic choice made necessary by three maidens, bearing full glasses, who collided with me and my camera.  You can imagine the rest):

ALL MY LIFE:

ONE HOUR:

The building that houses The Ear Inn is a Historic Landmark.  Even if it weren’t about to celebrate its 200th anniversary next year, the music and good spirits would make this true.

May your happiness increase!

FOR CONNIE JONES

small purple flower

Only a few words here, because the subject is, as Kris Tokarski wrote, “bittersweet.”  One of my heroes — a player and singer of amazing grace, the cornetist and singer Connie Jones, has retired from performance due to ill health.

The trombonist Charlie Halloran wrote this morning on Facebook, “Pretty amazing playing alongside Connie Jones for his final performance.  He’s headed into an unbelievably well earned retirement.  But man, how am I going to hear those melodies without him just to my right?!  Even today he played at the highest level, world class.  Congrats Connie!”

That was Connie — among friends Tim Laughlin, Michael Pittsley, Chris Dawson, Katie Cavera, Marty Eggers, and Hal Smith — in November 2012 at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

Connie’s art comes from his heart, and it has touched ours.  His music has been quiet, gentle, searching — apparently simple melodic embellishment for those who aren’t listening closely, but truly a journey of small elegant surprises.  A Connie solo is like walking in a field and discovering a small purple blossom, fragrant, fragile.

His has never been a loud art.  It doesn’t abuse the air.  But it has been the most singular lesson: how to breathe warm air into metal and create lasting song. How to take familiar words and melody and infuse them with new yet lasting truth.

Another example.

When I was a semi-Californian, I had the privilege of seeing and hearing Connie in performance in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 (as well as in New Orleans at the Steamboat Stomp in 2015).  I came to him late in his career, and thus missed thousands of opportunities, but Connie never objected to being video-ed . . . so I have posted more than a hundred of his quiet poetic masterpieces on this blog and on YouTube.  (And more have not yet been seen.)  Most of those performances have had Connie at the side of Tim Laughlin, someone who completely understood Connie’s genius and took very good care of him.

I urge you to return to those performances and to Connie’s recordings with Tim, with Dick Sudhalter, and in other contexts.  Connie’s delicacy, his striving to find deep emotions in familiar material, has always shown him the most subtle of poets.

I wish him joy and health and ice cream in his retirement, alongside Elaine.  I send love and admiration and gratitude.

May your happiness increase!

BILLIE, FATS, AND OTHER IMPROVISERS on eBay

Another small yet momentous eBay surprise: this seller has a mere five items to sell.  Two are intensely interesting to me, and I would assume, also to readers of this blog.

One, a young lady from Baltimore:

BILLIE autograph 4 16

Two, a born spreader of joy:

FATS autograph 4 16

I went to the seller’s site, expecting other marvels.  They are there, but not in the same realm.

Three, the comic film actor James Finlayson:

JAMES FINLAYSON

Four, Groucho’s memorable foil, Margaret Dumont (who, according to Groucho, was a peerless straight woman who had no sense of humor and would ask him, “Julie, why are they laughing?”:

MARGARET DUMONT

Five, a collection of signatures from the OUR GANG gang:

OUR GANG 4 16Jazz and comedy have this much in common: they rely on improvisation and when they work, they catch us by surprise and the surprise is integral to our delight.

May your happiness increase!

MORE HOT NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (March 13, 2016)

Fat-CatBilliards, ping pong, and Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — on appropriate Sunday afternoons at Fat Cat.  On March 13, 2016, the downstairs revelers were Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Daniel Glass, drums, with a guest appearance by Eldar Tsalikov on the final three performances.  I posted the first half of this delightful session here.

Here are some highlights from the latter half of this hot session.

A song I associate with that hilly city: setting the cordial barroom atmosphere firmly in place, SAN FRANCISCO BAY BLUES.  Terry’s vocal is confidential, but that’s part of the theatre — one doesn’t shout one’s heartbreak across the room:

Something for Bix, RHYTHM KING, with an appearance by Doctor Kellso and his patented glass medical appliance (it saves lives):

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (vocal by Terry):

Hot from the oven, I AIN’T  GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL, sung with serious charm by Evan (and hear the delightful alto sax of sitter-in Eldar Tsalikov).  Magnificent playing on this one — the power of sugar and white flour, no doubt:

BEALE STREET BLUES, with Jim telling the story, vocally and instrumentally:

RUNNIN’ WILD (with choreography, too!):

For more of the same, be sure to check the schedule at Fat Cat — where there’s interesting jazz seven afternoons and evenings a week (and admission is unbelievably inexpensive): that’s 75 Christopher Street, right off Seventh Avenue South, and very close to the subway.

May your happiness increase!