We hope this truth can be made evident.  The new CD by The Fat Babies, SOLID GASSUH, on Delmark Records, embodies Truth in Advertising in its title and its contents.


“Solid gassuh,” as Ricky Riccardi — the Master of all things Louis — informs us in his excellent liner notes, was Louis’ highest expression of praise.  (I’d like to see it replace “sick” and “killin'” in the contemporary lexicon.  Do I dream?)

The Fat Babies are a superb band — well-rehearsed but sublimely loose, authentic but not stiff.  If you don’t know them, you are on the very precipice of Having Missed Out On Something Wonderful — which I can rectify herehere, and here.  (Those posts come from July 29, 2016 at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and feature the “new” Fat Babies with the addition of the heroic Jonathan Doyle on reeds.)

SOLID GASSUH was recorded at the Babies’ hangout, the Honky Tonk BBQ, but there’s no crowd noise — which is fine — and the recorded sound is especially spacious and genuine, thanks to Mark Haynes and Alex Hall.  I know it’s unusual to credit the sound engineers first, but when so many recordings sound like recordings rather than music, they deserve applause.

The Babies, for this recording, their third, are Andy Schumm, cornet and arrangements; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals (also the chart for EGYPTIAN ELLA), Jake Sanders, banjo and guitar, Beau Sample, leader, string bass; Alex Hall, drums.

Their repertoire, for those deep in this music, says so much about this band — DOCTOR BLUES / AFTER A WHILE / FEELIN’ GOOD / DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? / ORIGINAL CHARLESTON STRUT / PENCIL PAPA / I MISS A LITTLE MISS / PARKWAY STOMP / YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME / ALABAMY BOUND / SLOW RIVER / DELIRIUM / EGYPTIAN ELLA / SING SONG GIRL / MAPLE LEAF RAG.  There are many associations here, but without looking anything up I think of Ben Pollack, Paul Mares, Boyce Brown, Ted Lewis, Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, Fud Livingston, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Luis Russell, Bud Freeman, Bing Crosby, Nat Finston, Thomas Morris, Lil Hardin, Sidney Catlett, Al Wynn, Punch Miller, Alex Hill . . . and you can fill in the other blanks for yourself.  And even though some of the songs may be “obscure,” each track is highly melodic and dramatic without ever being melodramatic.  (As much as we love ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, it’s reassuring to know that it wasn’t the only song ever played.)

The Babies are remarkable for what they aren’t — not a “Dixieland” or “New Orleans” or “Condon” ensemble, but a group of musicians who obviously have studied the players, singers, and the recordings, but use them as inspired framework for their own creativity.  Occasionally, the Babies do offer us a transcription of a venerable recorded performance, but it is so energized (and by that I don’t mean faster or louder) that it seems as if someone has cleaned centuries of dust off an Old Master and it’s seen freshly.  More often, they use portions of an original arrangement, honoring it, as a way to show off their own bright solos.  So the effect at times is not an “updating,” but music seen from another angle, an alternate take full of verve and charm, as if the fellows had been playing the song on the job rather than in the studio.

If you follow the Babies, and many do, you will have known that this recording is coming, and will already have it.  When my copy arrived, I played it through three times in a row, marveling at its energy and precision, its lively beating heart.  SOLID GASSUH is immensely satisfying, as are the Fat Babies themselves.

You can purchase the disc and hear sound samples here, and  this is the Delmark Records site, where good music (traditional and utterly untraditional) flourishes.

May your happiness increase!


You don’t have to be a specialist in Morton’s neuroma to appreciate this excursion into happiness: a delicious romp on the 1930 Yellen and Ager paean to dancing, written for THE KING OF JAZZ.


That is an image — the famous Paul Whiteman recording.  Here’s something that is even more multi-dimensional.  The performance took place on September 23, 2016, at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe, as part of the Steamboat Stomp (thanks again and again to Duke Heitger for making his and our dreams come true).  The noble participants here are James Evans, clarinet; Andy Schumm, cornet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Tom Saunders, bass saxophone; Hal Smith, drums.  And do they rock!

I find it hilariously fitting that because of the intermittent lighting in the room (everyone knows that jazz clubs, to be atmospheric, must be dark) that the most brightly lit area of this video — leaving aside James’ brilliantly white shirt — is one or both of Andy’s shoes.  HAPPY FEET, no doubt.


There’s more to come from the Stomp and other joyous events . . . so keep following JAZZ LIVES.  Good value for your money, if I may be so bold.

May your happiness increase!

SARAH AT SARAH’S: AUGUST 28, 2016 (Part Two)


On August 18, 2016, Sarah Spencer — the UK-born phenomenon on saxophones and vocal — led a quartet that created romping New Orleans jazz.  This took place at the happily named Sarah’s Wine Bar in Ridgefield, Connecticut, where a Jazz Masters Series takes place on the last Sunday of each month.  Sarah’s colleagues are banjoist /singer Jimmy Mazzy, pianist Bill Sinclair, bassist / tubaist Art Hovey.

Here is Part One, and here are two special features by the lyric troubadour and entertainer Jimmy Mazzy from that same evening.

And here are some more delights.


A cautionary sermon on the virtues of taciturnity, Morton’s BIG LIP BLUES (which starts out with an unintentional reference to A. A. Milne):


And the closing numbers with special significance for Sarah and all of us, I’M WITH YOU WHERE YOU ARE:


Sarah, as she points out, will be returning home to the UK on January 3, 2017 — although she promises to visit us again for gigs in the autumn.  Wherever she goes, she will spread joy, as she has here.

May your happiness increase!



Fats Waller, Andy Razaf, and Shelton Brooks wrote this song in 1929 for the revue CONNIE’S HOT CHOCOLATES.  I’ve read that Fats sold the rights to this and nearly 20 other songs to Irving Mills for $500 — a fortune in those days, but nothing compared to the money Mills made from that bundle.  Alas.

But back to the theme. To some, it’s not the most memorable composition — melody, rhythm, or lyrics — but I love it ardently because of the music its inspired, and because I always imagine a line of nimble chorus girls dancing to it. Like many of Fats’ most memorable tunes, it relies greatly on repeated melodic phrases moved around over the harmonies — simple to annotate but not as simple to create.

Here are four recordings from 1929, in chronological order, and a later masterpiece.  Consider the delightful possibilities.

The first ever: Louis Armstrong And His Orchestra: Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Homer Hobson, trumpet; Fred Robinson, trombone; Jimmy Strong, clarinet; Bert Curry, Crawford Wethington, alto saxophone; Carroll Dickerson, violin, conductor; Gene Anderson, piano; Mancy Carr, banjo; Pete Briggs, tuba; Zutty Singleton, drums.  New York, July 22, 1929.  (I think the intuitive relationship between Louis and Zutty — the latter on bock-a-de-bock cymbals and solidly thudding accents) foreshadows that of Louis and Big Sid. July 22, 1929:

Irving Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang.  Mannie Klein, Phil Napoleon, trumpet; Miff Mole, trombone; possibly Arnold Brilhart, clarinet, alto; Larry Binyon, tenor saxophone; possibly Arthur Schutt, piano; unknown banjo, guitar; Joe Tarto, tuba; Chauncey Morehouse, drums; Lilian Morton, vocal.  July 31, 1929:

I wonder what else can be known about Lilian Morton, aside from the two sides she made for Parlophone, THAT’S MY MAMMY and AFTER MY LAUGHTER CAME TEARS (accompaniment unknown) and that in 1926, she was praised in a tiny notice in The Scranton Republican from Scranton, Pennsylvania, as “Broadway’s well known singing comedienne … a peppery singer of the original type,” with “a splendid voice.”  She sounds very good on this recording.

Here’s the non-vocal version (made for the European market) with Miss Morton’s place taken by a duet for Arthur Schutt (perhaps?) and wonderful drumming by Chauncey Morehouse.  Praise to Larry Binyon, too:

And for the Lilian Morton completists in the viewing audience, the other Fats song — a good one! — from the same score, with Miss Morton’s vocal:

The originator, Fats Waller, at the piano, August 2, 1929:

And an utterly remarkable recording of SUE by Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra, September 20, 1929.  The Louis and Mills recordings seem to use the same stock arrangement, but this recording is notable for a slap-tongue clarinet solo after the last eight bars, completely satisfying vaudeville singing from the leader, wondrous piano by Hank Duncan, and delightful trumpet work from either Temple or Brown.  Fess Williams, clarinet, alto, vocal, leader; George Temple, trumpet; John Brown, trumpet, vocal; David “Jelly” James, trombone; Ralph Brown, Felix Gregory, alto saxophone; Perry Smith, clarinet, tenor, vocal; Henry “Hank” Duncan, piano; Ollie Blackwell or Andy Pendleton, banjo; Emanuel Casamore, tuba; Ralph Bedell, drums, vocal:

and one of the most endearing recordings I know — in its own way evoking Louis and Fats together in the persons of Ruby Braff, cornet; Dick Hyman, piano; July 2, 1994:

May your happiness increase!


We must acknowledge the passage of time.  Art Tatum, Johnny Guarneri, Hank Jones have become Ancestors.  Israel Crosby, Milt Hinton, and Oscar Pettiford have moved to another neighborhood.  Sidney Catlett, Dave Tough, and Jo Jones have passed into spirit.



But we cannot mourn those shifts too sorrowfully, because we have Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Hal Smith, drums to show us how it’s done in 2016 — Old Time Modern, flawlessly.

They did it (perhaps for the first time ever?) at the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, for a short spell.  It seemed that by the time I had set up my camera, their set was over.



This year, on September 16, 2016, I was better prepared . . . and caught the whole glorious effusion.  I was transported, and the audience was rocking alongside me.  You’ll hear immediately that I don’t list the names of the illustrious forbears in vain. This trio has a lightness and grit that I don’t hear very often, and it is good medicine for troubled times and happy ones.  They perform two early-twentieth century pop classics, two blues, with nods to Basie, Charlie Christian, and the boogie-woogie masters, as well as Rossano’s Chopin-into-jazz transformations.  All with style, grace, and enthusiasm beyond compare.  And this is a blissfully natural-sounding group: a fine grand piano (no microphones pushed under its lid); an unamplified string bass; a drum kit of snare drum and hi-hat cymbal, wire brushes to the fore — the old days without anything dusty about them.



SHOULD I? (from Rhapsody to Romp, which could serve as a title for the set):




BASIE BLUES / BOOGIE (exalted dance music):

I have it on good authority that this trio is accepting gigs.  Private parties, public concert tours, canonization . . . what you will.  They deserve it, and so do we.

May your happiness increase!



I had known of the engaging young trumpeter / vocalist Alex Owen through his own band, the Messy Cookers, whose debut CD also features guitarist John Eubanks.

Alex and John and friends on another gig.

Alex and John and friends on another gig.

When I visited New Orleans last month for the Steamboat Stomp, Alex and I got together for pleasant conversation and dinner.  And when I heard he would be playing with John and string bassist  / vocalist Mark Brooks as “Joe Simon’s Jazz Trio” for Sunday brunch at Muriel’s Jackson Square , my camera, tripod, and I took over a table for four and had a good time.  The food was both elaborate and pleasing; the service even more so (thanks to Patrick and David L.) but the music was the truly satisfying main dish: lyrical, hot but gentle, entertaining without pandering.

Now, you may see and hear for yourself.  JAZZ LIVES can’t provide shrimp and grits or a salad of fresh greens and fruit, and you’ll have to pour your own coffee. But I’ll wait while you prepare yourself for the musical delights offered by Alex, John, and Mark: gently swinging and never hackneyed.

Usually I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is a closing number, but it works very well as a welcome to the gig:

I need Fats in my diet:

A good old good one from Mark:

Venerable and hot, courtesy of the ODJB, Condon, and many more:

A memorable 1920 pop tune:

You’ll miss me, honey!

We never get tired of marveling at Irving Berlin’s genius:

A request, handled with style:

Another paean in praise of the state:

And, as a closer to the second set, ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

What lovely sounds.

May your happiness increase!



In the August 28, 1984 obituary for Truman Capote, who died at 59 [born September 30, 1924], New York Times staff writer Albin Krebs noted this:

Most summers the boy returned to New Orleans for a month or so, and accompanied his father on trips up and down the Mississippi aboard the riverboat on which Mr. Persons worked as a purser. Truman learned to tap dance, he said, and was proud of the fact that he once danced for the passengers accompanied by Louis Armstrong, whose band was playing on the steamboat.

The source of this anecdote is an excerpt Capote included in his 1973 anthology of his own prose, THE DOGS BARK.  (The rest of the quotation is, “and the caravan moves on.”  Make of that what you will.)


Thanks to Professor Barbara Bengels of Hofstra University, who has observed my obsession with Louis for decades, I can now offer you the Truman Meets Louis story.  It appears in an anthology for freshman college students, and the headnote reads, in part, “. . . Capote uses a unique blend of sensual and realistic description to convey to us his fondness for one of jazz’s all time greats”:

Surely the Satch has forgotten, still, he was one of this writer’s first friends.  I met him when I was four, that would be around 1928, and he, a hard-plump and belligerently happy brown Buddha, was playing aboard a pleasure steamer that paddled between New Orleans and St. Louis.  Never mind why, but I had occasion to take this trip very often, and for me the sweet anger of Armstrong’s trumpet, the froggy exuberance of his come-to-me-baby mouthings, are a piece of Proust’s madeleine cake: they make Mississippi moons rise again, summon the muddy lights of river towns, the sound, like an alligator’s yawn, of river horns–I hear the rush of the mulatto river pushing by, hear, always, stomp! stomp! the beat of the grinning Buddha’s foot as he shouts his way into “Sunny Side of the Street” and the honeymooning dancers, dazed with bootleg brew and sweating through their talcum, bunny-hug around the ship’s saloony ballroom. The Satch, he was good to me, he gave me a bamboo cane and a straw boater with a peppermint headband; and every night from the stand announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, now we’re going to present you one of America’s nice kids, he’s going to do a little tap dance.”  Afterward I passed along the passengers, collecting in my hat nickels and dimes.  This went on all summer, I grew rich and vain; but in October the river roughened, the moon whitened, the customers ended, the boatrides ended, and with them my career.  Six years later, while living at a boarding school from which I wanted to run away, I wrote my former, now famous, benefactor, and said if I came to New York couldn’t he get me a job at the Cotton Club or somewhere?  There was no reply, maybe he never got the letter, it doesn’t matter, I still loved him, still do. 

I can add only a few perhaps pedantic asides to this narrative of love scorned, the tale of how the Big Star forgot the Nice Kid.  Louis’ time on Mississippi riverboats began in 1918 but certainly was over long before 1928, with long runs at Chicago nightclubs his main occupation.  ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET was not yet written in 1928; Louis might not have received Capote’s letter in 1934 because he was in Paris.

If you were to ask me why Capote would invent such a tale, I could only say that he built his later reputation on such inventions, and was praised for being “careless with the truth.”

Although the editor of the freshman anthology sees “fondness” here, I see a pulling-down of the beloved icon, for Louis was dead and could not rebut a word. Did the child Capote ask Louis for a spot in the show and get turned down?  I cannot say why, but the tone of the piece says as much as the events: the “belligerent” happiness displayed by “the Satch,” “the brown Buddha,” seems to irk the adult Capote as an adult for reasons I cannot discern. Here, to me, is a resentful variety of tap-dancing.

Two postscripts:

One.  In Jay Preston Allen’s “TRU,” a 1989 Broadway play depicting the aging Capote, Times theater critic Frank Rich wrote, the star, Robert Morse (then famous for his role in HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS) turned this myth into a musical number:

And when, late in Act II, Tru takes to tapping and strutting to a Louis Armstrong recording of ”The Sunny Side of the Street,” Mr. Morse kicks a loose-limbed leg as high and friskily as he did when joining Bob Fosse’s hoedown for the ”Brotherhood of Man” finale in ”How to Succeed.”

Two.  Larger than malicious “recollection,” here is beauty:

May your happiness increase!