PASS THE JUG, PLEASE, or IF YOU DON’T KNOW FRANK MELROSE, YOU SHOULD

frank-melrose

One of the great tragedies in the music we love is the premature and violent death of Frank Melrose — really a brutal murder of a beloved father and husband and a great artist. . . . “Franklyn Taft Melrose (November 26, 1907 – September 1, 1941)” says it all.

But for three minutes or so, you and I can choose to celebrate as well as mourn. Thanks to “Atticus Jazz” on YouTube, the deft and generous Emrah Erken, you may hear a beautiful copy of PASS THE JUG, with Melrose on piano (billed as “Kansas City Frank”) and Tommy Taylor on drums — recorded in Chicago on March 8, 1929.

That rocks!

This one’s for my dear Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, who understands.  And it is in memory of Frances Melrose, Frank’s wife and Ida’s mother . . . seen below at the  piano, because she shouldn’t be left out, either.

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May your happiness increase!

MAKING MELODY COME ALIVE: TED BROWN, ETHAN IVERSON, PUTTER SMITH, HYLAND HARRIS (December 2, 2012)

Listening to Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett is reported as saying, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come so alive?”  I don’t know if Bobby and tenor saxophonist / poet Ted Brown ever encountered each other, but my guess is that Hackett would have said or thought much the same thing.  And, somewhere, Lester Young approves.

The video below comes from a celebration of Ted’s eighty-fifth birthday party at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room, then at 70 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn.  (It’s now at #56.)  The song, THESE FOOLISH THINGS; the performers, Ted, Ethan Iverson, piano; Putter Smith, string bass; Hyland Harris, drums.  Melody reigns here — but softly, with deep feeling, almost in whispers.  The heart never needs to shout its truths.

On Saturday, December 3, 2016, Ted will be celebrating his eighty-ninth birthday at The Drawing Room from 7-11 with friends including the fine saxophonist Brad Linde; guitarist Aaron Quinn; drummer Jeff Brown, and other surprises.  Here is the Facebook event page.

This will be special.  But please leave me a seat.

May your happiness increase!

LOUIS SHINES THROUGH HIM: THE GLORY OF ENRICO TOMASSO at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 5, 2016)

When I first met the trumpeter / vocalist Enrico Tomasso at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party a few years ago, I was stunned by the warmth and energy of the man and the beauty of his music.  I rather timidly came up to him in the pub and introduced myself, received a big grin, and said, “The light of Louis shines right through you,” which pleased him.  Rico proved that once again at the 2016 Party.

But first, a bit of history: Rico, at seven, having played trumpet for Louis at the Leeds airport in 1968.  Note Louis’s inscription: THE KISS OF JOY.

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The sounds of joy were in the air at the Party on Saturday, November 5, 2016, when Rico performed several Louis features from 1930 . . . miraculously, in front of us, with fine support from Keith Nichols, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Claus Jacobi, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Emma Fisk, Martin Wheatley, Phil Rutherford, Nick Ball.

Extraordinary, no?  And it’s not simply the virtuosity.  Rico sends a glowing message of loving exuberance to everyone.

And should you fall into the trap of reflexively assuming that any song called SHINE must be racist, please visit this 2012 shine-reconsidered and learn the truth.

Many thanks to Eric Devine (“CineDevine”) for kind and invaluable technical expertise.

May your happiness increase!

DAWN LAMBETH SINGS! (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 25, 2016)

Singing looks as if it should be effortless.  Learn the words or keep them visible, remember the melody, get some good accompaniment, open your mouth and let the swing come out.  No valves to oil, no reeds to pamper, no dishes to wash. We all have voices and they sound good inside our head. Jazz singing — no worries. We’ve all heard Louis and Billie, maybe even sung along with them in the car.

Dream on, I say.  Singing is the most treacherous act, requiring great courage and skill.  There is an art to staying on pitch, having the proper intonation, remembering the lyrics, not getting lost.

Then there are the mysteries arts of appearing natural, having a pleasing voice (whether it is beautiful or not), understanding the song so that one can deliver its message without copying the famous recorded performance.  Telling a story. Telling several stories.

DAWN headshot

Dawn Lambeth isn’t simply someone who sings.  Dawn is a singer, and there is a great difference.

I first heard her on a CD, her debut as a leader, a dozen years ago, and I was enchanted by her lovely dark voice, her graceful swing, her great variety of easy medium tempos, her gentle expression of the apt feeling for each song.

She also possesses great humility — something rare — which one sees in her choice to serve the song rather than making the song a blank canvas for her own ego.  Dawn wants us to hear just how beautiful a song is — Hart’s wry rhymes, Rodgers’ soaring melody — rather than insisting that we admire her, her hair stylist, her attitude.  She doesn’t belt; she doesn’t carry on or dramatize.  Among other singers, she admires Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, Connee Boswell, but she makes sure that any performance is more than her download of an mp3 of the original Brunswick or Vocalion.

So one of the greatest pleasures of the recent San Diego Jazz Fest was a plenitude of performances by Dawn: she sang with her own trio (Ray Skjelbred and Marc Caparone, with a guest appearance by John Otto), with Ray’s Cubs (Ray, Marc, Jeff Hamilton, Katie Cavera, Clint Baker), with Conal Fowkes in a wonderful duo, and with Dave Stuckey’s Hot House Gang (among others, Dan Barrett, Corey Gemme, Nate Kettner, Katie Cavera) . . . abundance in abundance.

Here are three very subtle, very warm performances by Dawn, Ray, piano; Marc, cornet, on November 25, 2016.

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME:

S’POSIN’:

More to come, thank goodness.  And thank Dawn for keeping swinging sweet melody so alive.

May your happiness increase!

A HOT BAND IS GOOD TO FIND: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, CLINT BAKER (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 2016)

The “where” in this case is the San Diego Jazz Fest, which delighted me last weekend.  I wrote about some of my experiences here.  Words first, then music.

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The song has several virtues that account for its durability: a hummable melody, enough material for several vaudeville routines (complete with patter), and it lends itself to a variety of tempos and to improvisation.

good-man-label

A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND goes back to 1918, and Lord lists an early recording by the Louisiana Five.  The recorded version pictured above (it’s only the label) is justifiably famous: four 12″ 78 sides recorded in 1940 by an assemblage of brilliant improvisers for Milt Gabler’s Commodore label.

But I promised you music, and music you shall have.

A performance created on November 25 by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, who were Ray, piano; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet [sitting in for reedman Kim Cusack):

The weekend was full of delights like this.  More to come.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR DAYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24-27, 2016)

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THINGS I LEARNED (OR RE-LEARNED) AT THE 2016 SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST:

1. Never set up a travel schedule that gets you home (after a long weekend of life-changing music) at 5:20 AM Monday.  Not “sleeping” on a plane is worth a higher fare.

2. Music is best experienced in the company of friends — those on the bandstand, those in the audience.  The former, a partial list: Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Ray Skjelbred, Conal Fowkes, Kris Tokarski, Clint Baker, John Gill, Duke Heitger, Jeff Hamilton, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Leon Oakley, Dan Barrett, Tom Bartlett, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Katie Cavera, Josh Duffee, Andy Schumm, John Otto, Dave Stuckey, Dan Barrett, Larry Scala, David Boeddinghaus, Nobu Ozaki, Virginia Tichenor, Marty Eggers, Mike Davis.

Off the stand: John Ochs, Pamela Ochs, Donna Feoranzo, Allene Harding, Rae Ann Berry, Barbara L. Sully, Judith Navoy, Mary (“The Ambassador of Fun”) and her twin, Chris and Chris, Paul Daspit, Jim and Mary McNaughton, Gretchen Haugen, Patti Durham, Angelica, Carol Andersen, Bess Wade, Cat and Scotty Doggett, Ed Adams.

Much-missed and I await their return: Hal Smith, Janie McCue Lynch, Donna Courtney, Mary Cross.

I know those lists are incomplete, and I apologize to any reader I’ve accidentally omitted.

3. This festival is delightfully overwhelming.  At any given time, music was happening in seven rooms simultaneously.  There was a Wednesday night session, a Thursday night session, full days on Friday and Saturday (with approximately seventy offerings of music, most an hour long) and a full afternoon on Monday.  By six PM on Monday, I was full and sloshing.

4. I am a man of narrow, precisely defined “tastes.”  I didn’t grow up sitting in Turk Murphy’s lap — now there’s a picture! — I began my listening education with Forties and Fifties Louis, so I need lyricism and melody the way plants need sun and air.

Many of the bands so dear to my California friends strike me as perhaps over-exuberant.  And when a fellow listener, politely curious, asked me “When did you get into trad?” I had to consider that question for a moment before saying, “I didn’t start listening to ‘trad’ . . . ”  As I get older, I find my compass needle points much more to subtle, quiet, sweet, witty, delicate — rather than the Dixie-Apocalypse.  Each to his or her own, though.

5. Videos: I videoed approximately eighteen sets, and came home with perhaps ten times that number of individual videos.  They won’t all surface; the musicians have to approve.  And I probably didn’t video your favorite band, The New Orleans Pop Tarts.  Rather than mumble about the unfairness of it all, come to next year’s Fest and live in reality rather than virtually!  Or buy an RV and a good camera so that you can become an official NOPT groupie-roadie-archivist.

6.  For the first time in my life I helped sponsor a group.  It was extremely rewarding to think that I had helped some music to be heard in public that otherwise would not have.  I’ve offered to do it again for 2017.  And, not incidentally, sponsors get to sit in the very front row, a great boon for people like me who want to capture the music to share with you.  Videographers like myself want to be made welcome.

7.  Moral tradeoffs are always possible and sometimes happily inevitable.  At the San Diego Jazz Fest, one can share a large platter of tempura-batter-fried pickle slices and fresh jalapenos . . . because one is doing so much walking that the second activity outweighs the first.  Or one tells oneself this.

8.  On a darker note, odd public behavior is more pungently evident. People who call themselves jazz fans talk through a whole set about the new puppy (and I like puppies).  Years ago I would have blamed this on television and the way viewers have been able to forget the difference between private and public behavior.  Now I simply call it self-absorption, and look for a window that I can open.

Others stand up in front of a band to take iPhone photos of the musicians, pushing their phones into the faces of people who are playing and singing. Photographers have treasured costly cameras that beep, whir, and snap — we ignore these aberrations at many events (I think some photographers are secretly excited by such things) but at musical performances these noises are distracting.

I won’t say anything about those folks who fire off flash explosions in well-lit rooms.

I cannot be the only person who thinks of creatively improvised music as holy, a phenomenon not to be soiled by oblivious behavior.  As a friend of mine says, “You’re not the only person on the planet.”

9. The previous paragraph cannot overshadow the generosity of the people who put on the Fest and the extreme generosity of those who create the music.  Bless them.  And the nice young sound people who worked hard to make music sound as it should!

It’s appropriate that the Fest takes place at Thanksgiving: I feel so much gratitude as I write these words, upload videos, and look at my notes of the performances I attended.

More — including videos! — to come.  Start planning to come to the 2017 Fest, to bring your friends, to sponsor a band.  Any or all of these activities are so much more life-enhancing than Black Friday.

May your happiness increase!

YOU CAN’T BUY THIS AT THE MALL

At $950. 00 on Ebay, it’s well out of my price range, but we are allowed to gawk at such marvels.  Here is the link, for any prosperous readers.

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That signature is authentic, for certain.  As opposed to the one below, which is on the level of a middle-school student’s forgery of Mom’s signature:

louis-fake

May your happiness increase!