MY CREATIVE DOUBLE: “CURRENT RESIDENCE”

My name is not all that unusual, if Google is any indication. There’s me, then a Michael Steinman who’s a doctor, an authority on world government, an attorney, a provost, the deceased frontman for the band Inch, a realtor, an actor, a college dean, an author of a book on domestic abuse, a math teacher.  I gave up on the fourth page of the search because the apartment seemed crowded with ectoplasmic figures who were insisting that they were real and I wasn’t.

But I was greatly amused and pleased to encounter the Michael Steinman who is an appealing jazz trombonist and singer.  Born in Santa Clarita, California, this MS has lived and studied in Bloomington, Indiana, and now calls Six-Fours-les-Plage, France, home.  I was delighted — after the initial shock of seeing “my” name in print attached to another person — to meet this other (and talented) Michael here.

MS tbn w Alamel Giles

Michael, trombone, with Alamel Gilles

 

And the pleasure continues with Michael’s new CD, appropriately called CURRENT RESIDENCE.  It is an appealing blend: “traditional” repertoire with a charmingly quirky twist.  The songs would lead you to believe that the approach would be firmly grounded in early-jazz conventions: STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL / IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN / I DIDDLE / JACK, YOU’RE DEAD / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID / JUST A GIGOLO — but there are no straw hats, striped blazers, or sleeve garters here.  An unorthodox yet swinging instrumentation also helps the music be lively rather than formulaic.

What makes this CD special is a combination of a few things.  First, Michael is a splendid trombonist.  He doesn’t see the instrument as a way of spraying notes at a captive audience; he is a swinging melodist, a modern mainstreamer who doesn’t copy anyone.  He is also a really fine — and not ordinary — singer, someone who seems like a distant cousin of Mose Allison and one of the Everly Brothers (you can pick) without ever losing a jazz feel.  And the strolling players who accompany him (most often alto saxophone and a small quiet rhythm section) are on the same wavelength: thoughtful without being numb, enthusiastic without being raucous. Praise to his colleagues: Jonathan Soncasse, Willy Quiko, Lionel Pellister, Eric Merdiano, Gerard Murphy, Anne Carriere, Eric Fillou, Lorenzo Brignone, and Gabriel Charrier.

Here’s an auditory sample: 

Serious and ready for swing action

Serious and ready for swing action

I would have a listener begin at the end — a fitting tribute to quirkiness with its own reward — with a deeply tender reading of JUST A GIGOLO that begins with a smoothed down Monkish piano solo, then moves to trombone / piano, alto saxophone / piano, and finally vocal / piano — sweetly and sadly, more Crosby than Prima.  It’s one of those recorded musical performances that is shapely, quiet yet deep, and completely satisfying.

Here are more sound samples, and a way to make a purchase for the motivated among us.

michael-steinman-album-cover

The CD is also available through the usual sources — as a download on Amazon or iTunes, and at Michael’s website, herewhere the essay that accompanies the CD cover is both charming and candid.

This other MS has a future: his music is lively and full of feeling, and his CD sounds as if he knows the past but is not condemned to repeat it.  I recommend it highly, and would do so even if his name was not so melodious to my ears.

May your happiness increase!

A DEEP QUESTION, THE RIGHT ANSWER at THE EAR INN: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, ATTILA KORB, EVAN ARNTZEN (January 25, 2015)

Sunday, January 25, 2015, the generous and inventive EarRegulars laid out a big banquet of delicious sounds at The Ear Inn in Soho — 326 Spring Street, where they are every Sunday evening from about 8 to about 11 PM.  Here are two tastes — to me they are precious, creations that do not and will not diminish.

But The EarRegulars proved once again that life is the best fiction writer.  You’ll see what I mean.

Later in the evening one of the Majesties called an old favorite, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? (There have been several songs with this title — understandably — but this is from 1920, by Harry D. Kerr, John Cooper, and Earl Burnett. )

In its 1920 incarnation, it must have been a very sad ballad: the forgotten lover wondering just how deeply and why (s)he has been forgotten.  But The EarRegulars are not always given to maudlin expressions like that; they follow the great jazz tradition of turning pathos into swing.  As they did here:

What next?  Someone then suggested a great 1927 hot number by William H. Butler (not the ballad of a decade later) made famous by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.  The brilliant young clarinetist Evan Arntzen had dropped by and was all ready to join them, too.

The title?

ONCE IN A WHILE:

Imagine the dialogue between those two song titles at your leisure, please.

Don’t miss the entirely impromptu duet for taragoto (Robinson) and guitar (Munisteri) late in the performance, and the band’s collective decision to visit Dardanella in her tent.

It’s just one of the brilliant moments in art-becomes-life-while-life-is-being-artistic that happens every Sunday evening at The Ear Inn. . . . a pleasure that started in summer 2007.  Get some for yourself.

May your happiness increase!

YOUR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: JOHNNY MERCER, 1934

Please put your phones away and let’s begin.

I first heard this song in its original performance many years ago — it was issued on a Jack Teagarden compilation — and fell in love with it.  Later, I’ve heard the three other versions (Joe Haymes, Chris Ellis, and the happily-still-singing Daryl Sherman) but I keep coming back to Mister Mercer’s original, recorded on August 24, 1934, with Sterling (or Stirling) Bose, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone; Fulton McGrath, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Hank Wayland, string bass — and the session was directed by Victor Young.

I should mention that the music was composed by Bernard Hanighen — who’s not well-known today, but he is responsible for WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN, lyrics to Monk’s ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT, and he co-produced Billie Holiday’s 1936-39 records . . . and was her dear friend and advocate.

Daniel, do you have a notebook?  Would it be a good idea to open it up and write some things down?  As I’ve said, you can burn it in the backyard when this course ends.  But I digress.

The song is THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN, and blissfully this recording has everything: an unaccompanied Jack Teagarden cadenza to start and a Dick McDonough coda to close.  In between, we hear Mercer — someone I think of as one of the finest singers ever in his early phase, with a distinctive boyish twang to his lyric delivery and a real flair for playful improvising (measure his second chorus against his first):

Everything on this recording works for me — the cheerful rhythm section behind Mercer’s first chorus, and the tag, “So before I drown / The whole darn town / I think you better say ‘I do,'” which to me is the first marriage-proposal-with-the-threat-of-apocalypse-attached I know.  (So there, Andrew Marvell!)  Then the instrumental interludes: Bose sounds just a touch uncertain, and my guess is that he hadn’t seen the song before, since it was brand new, but he doesn’t lose the thread.  Teagarden’s minor bridge is easily tossed off, but what sounds!  And McDonough’s accompaniment is a wondrous etude in itself.  In the second chorus, I adore the larger freedom Mercer allows himself, the murmur of Teagarden’s horn under Johnny’s singing, the little break and stop-time additions.

I know.  I tend to get carried away.  But even when your professor is ecstatic in front of the room, if you take out your phone and begin to text, you will be asked to leave.

I assume that the song is meant for a male singer, but there are no explicit references.  So the vision of someone in the bathtub, sprucing up for an eight o’clock date with someone so adored that a marriage can be envisioned, is dear. And the conceit that the bather is so deeply in dreamland that the tub overflows and the very polite people underneath protest in the most genial way, “Dreamin’ ’bout your baby’s OK / but the house is floating away!” is beyond charming.  I know it is not an environmentally-correct song: wasting water is criminal, but I hope that in the name of dear love all things can be forgiven.

Any questions?

Your assignment for next class.  Learn this song.  Learn it so deeply that you can sing it, verse and chorus, with a smile on your face, with no lyrics in front of you. Sing it to the one you love; sing it to your children; hum it on the subway.  I want to hear THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN being whistled on the street; I want to hear Mr. Mercer’s voice coming out of earbuds on this campus and elsewhere, I want to hear four men or four women harmonizing on it as they walk down the street, arm in arm, grinning.

It’s not too much to ask.

I have some papers to give back.  Enjoy yourselves, and I’ll see you next class, when we’ll be reading Whitman.

May your happiness increase!

 

“I’LL ALWAYS KEEP THAT.”

If you are chatting with me for more than a few minutes, it is a sure thing that the name of Louis Armstrong will emerge from my lips.  Musician, man, inspiration. And I knew very well that the superb musician (he’s too large for simply “trumpeter”) Humphrey Lyttelton felt the same way.  Humph, bless him, was able to embody his love of Louis by playing in ways that honored Louis while keeping his individual self.

Doing research for a piece about Humph in the NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD, I was delighted to come across the official Humphrey Lyttelton website, maintained by his son Stephen — so full of information, pictures, memorabilia, and drawings, good prose, and deep feeling, that it will take several days for me to feel that I had explored it all.

Two photographs and one story I found superbly touching — tribute to Louis’ character and to Humph’s as well.  Here is the page.

One photograph shows an ecstatic happy Louis in front of drummer Barrett Deems and near a British trombonist (who is also laughing) while a pair of arms are tenderly placing a crown on Louis’ head — the crown is labeled KING LOUIS. The handwritten caption (in very recognizable script, because Humph was also artist and calligrapher) reads “‘Crowning’ of Louis Armstrong, Empress Hall, 1956.”  This photograph was taken onstage, and Louis is in white shirt, jacket, and bow tie.  In the second shot, presumably posed for a press photographer, Louis has changed to a neat checked shirt, no tie; he sits happily while Humph, in white formal garb, carefully places the crown once again so that the inscription can be seen.  The crown itself is beyond description.

And the brief story, told by Humph:

Another indicator of the strength of Louis Armstrong’s character was his unshakable loyalty towards those he regarded as his friends. I have personal and proud experience of the warmth with which he responds to any action which he regards as a favour to him. At the end of his 1956 season at the Empress Hall in London, when my band was privileged to share the bill, I spent a couple of days making a crown out of cardboard, Woolworth jewellery and ping-pong balls, and inscribed ‘King Louis’. At the end of the show, when I was called up on stage to take a bow in the finale, I made the announcement: ‘On behalf of all British musicians, I crown Louis Armstrong the undisputed King of Jazz,’ and plonked the crown on his head. A day or two later, I saw him backstage at Manchester. I asked him casually if he still had his crown. ‘Of course I have – I had it shipped back home today. I’ll always keep that – you gave it to me.’

Why do I find that so touching?  Even if it were not an anecdote about people I deeply admire — revere, in truth — the emotions and their expression are clear and intensely valuable.

We live in an age of milkless milk and silkless silk, and for me the metaphor has nothing to do with soy beverages and rayon, but everything to do with the many layers of hurry and self-absorption many people wrap themselves and their essential selves in.

The true self feels love and responds with gratitude, which is a deep expression of love.

Although Humph’s gesture had a small element of do-it-yourself comedy in it (I especially like the gilded ping-pong balls) the deep love that animates the creation of such a crown is true and not purchasable at any store.  The love is measurable in the impulse to make such a crown for Louis, and the act of making the impulse real, and the time taken to make the object a fitting tribute.

And Louis’ understanding of the love in the gesture is simple in words, but deep in feeling.  It is the antithesis of contemporary entitlement (“Of course, I am the King! So your gesture is only what I deserve. It’s about time.”) and of checking-the-price-tag-scorn (“Oh, that cardboard crown? I tossed it away.  It would be very hard to pack, and it’s only cardboard.”)

Recognize love.  Send it back in acts and gratitude.

Stories like this are the reason I wrote WHAT WOULD LOUIS DO? — but we don’t have to play trumpet to be loving, grateful, or loyal.  It requires only that we slow down, breathe deeply, be open to feeling, and respond in fitting ways.

P.S.  This post is about the power of generosity and gratitude, and I could have no better example than an email I received from my friend, the superb jazz writer Peter Vacher, less than thirty minutes after my post had appeared:

The trombonist in the Louis picture, taken at Empress Hall, London, a boxing arena now demolished, on the occasion of Louis’s first return to the UK since 1932, is bandleader Vic Lewis. Vic, a sometime trombonist and guitarist, was leading a modern big band which alternated with Humph’s band as the introductory act on the Louis programme. Also on the bill were singer Ella Logan, Annie Ross’s auntie, and African-American dancer Peg-Leg Bates. They all set up and did their stuff in the Hall’s boxing ring, which rotated meaning that at one moment one saw Deems’s backside and at the other Louis full-on frontally. A strange experience but a memorable one as I should know as I was there on one of the nights, in Army uniform, having hitched down from Yorkshire where I was doing my basic training. Sat at ringside, I even managed a brief congratulatory word with the great man who responded as I remember with the immortal phrase, ‘Yeah, Daddy, yeah.’
And this just in — from Harvey Bard, friend of Bob and Pug Wilber:

Yes it is Vic Lewis – see the attached article with photo. He did play trombone and together with Humph, Freddy Randall and Cy Laurie he was one of the band leaders in the reception party for Louis when he landed at London airport on 3rd May 1956, so it’s seems likely he was also present at the Empress Hall. The regular trombonist with the All Stars at that time was Trummy Young and he did play the Empress Hall concert (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcgoJkU6t7M) but maybe as Vic Lewis was around they let him sit in!

Incidentally I was on duty at The State Kilburn when Louis and the All Stars appeared there on their 1956 tour. I get as far as the corridor leading to Louis’ dressing room and glimpsed him sitting there over the shoulders of the crowd. I had hoped to get his autograph but no luck – there were too many people in the way.

May your happiness increase!

“IN SWEET CONTENT, DREAMING AWAY”: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, DUKE HEITGER, DAN BLOCK, ED METZ, PAUL KELLER, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at the 2014 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY

It might be impolite to ask someone “What did you dream last night?” unless you are on very intimate terms, but here’s a deeply swinging answer to that question.

It’s an ancient but durable pop classic done with great style by Rebecca Kilgore, Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, bass; Ed Metz, drums.

This glowing performance took place on April 25, 2014, at the place where such things flourish — the Atlanta Jazz Party – which this year takes place from April 17 to April 19, which, like love, is just around the corner:

It would be nice to see you there, and you will get your money’s worth and more of music that makes you feel very good. Sweet content, in fact.

May your happiness increase!

 

TWO MINUTES AND TWENTY-SEVEN SECONDS

My title doesn’t refer to someone’s hallowed solo or a famous 78 recording.  No, it’s music created this month, March 2015.

I have watched with pleasure and amusement the birth and development of a new band — no, a new instrumental ensemble with its own gravely whimsical music.  The object of my affection is the Endangered Species Trio, which brings together Emily Asher, trombone; Tom Abbott, bass saxophone; Rob Reich, accordion.

I could make a case for all species as being endangered these days, but the title refers more to the three instruments, which have been the subject of curiosity (at best), sliding down to active mockery, contempt, disdain, and incredulity. Except for the trombone, which has a certain acceptance — although there are many jokes about trombones and trombonists — the bass saxophone and the accordion are regarded, at best, as highly miscellaneous instruments, even though both of them are capable of great beauty.

Tom, Emily, and Rob just returned from a brief stay at an artists’ retreat in Banff, and they shared this delicious musical vignette, TOM AND LIZ, on YouTube.

Humor me.  Even if you have deep reservations about “original compositions” by jazz artists; even if the thought of the accordion brings up deep childhood traumas, experience this beautiful cockeyed swinging melodic many-textured interlude:

I expect to have a good day — pleasing experiences have already taken place and there are more to come — but for sheer compact pleasure, these two minutes and twenty-seven seconds will be hard to top.

Go ahead:  see if you can listen to it only once.  I dare you.

More about this wonderful group here.

May your happiness increase! 

LYRICALLY ALIVE: AI MURAKAMI QUARTET: “CONCEPTION”

For the moment, the usual media sources have tired of telling us that jazz is dead, but some anonymous blogger launches heavy satire that it is “the worst,” while another source reports that jazz is the least popular music on the planet.  I find it difficult to care about such blurts . . . because beautiful performances and many new discs prove those slighting words untrue.

aimurakami

Today’s delight is drummer Ai Murakami’s CONCEPTION (Gut String Records) where she leads Zaid Nasser, alto saxophone; Tardo Hammer, piano; Hassan Shakur, string bass, through eight lyrically swinging performances: ON A MISTY NIGHT / CONCEPTION / SWEET LORRAINE / OLD DEVIL MOON / WHEN JOHNNY COMES MARCHING HOME / SAUCER EYES / WE’LL BE TOGETHER AGAIN / RAY’S IDEA.

I had never encountered Ai, but when I had the opportunity to hear her music, I was very pleased.  (I must point out that my apartment, rather like the late Ed Beach’s, is primarily furnished in music — a wall of CDs, boxes of cassettes, and a collection of what is now called fashionably “vinyl,” so that I turn down offerings of most CDs, thinking that I will never live to hear one-fourth of what I now own. For me to eagerly ask for a CD is in itself an enthusiastic endorsement of the music it contains.)

First off, although this is a drummer-led quartet, Ai is a percussionist more interested in propelling the group than in soloing.  The two extended solos she takes, on SAUCER EYES and RAY’S IDEA, are each slightly more than a minute long, and are deliciously melodic displays of accents, rolls, and rimshots — compositionally deep, as one motif naturally builds into the next.  Throughout this session, she plays “for the comfort of the band, ” creating a flowing swing tapestry for the quartet.  She moves quietly around her set as the context changes, and her work is full of subtle colorations of sound that show how deeply and lovingly she listens to her colleagues.  Pianist Hammer is one of the great lyrical players of this era, his work simultaneously definite and airy; bassist Shakur is a melodic player who keeps beautiful time and has a deep resonant tone; altoist Nasser is a post-Parker songbird with a citrusy tone, moving easily from one great lyrical paean to the next.

This recording is “old-fashioned” in beautiful ways, which I write as a great compliment: it shows their respect for song offered in swinging ways.  Melodies are caressed rather than demolished, and the result is gratifying mainstream jazz played in this century.  It isn’t an attempt to reproduce great performances or familiar solos in better fidelity, but one could pass it off as a lovely unissued Prestige session and the collectors would be racing to buy copies.

I asked Ai for her thoughts, and they are candid and modest.

“First of all, I love each one of these players as a great musician.  They have their own unique sound and their phrasing is so musical.  I have worked with each member in different band situations and always enjoyed it.  But when we played together for the first time, it was very different. I felt full of joy while I was playing as the band was so swinging. After several gigs together, I felt even better! Then I started thinking that I should do a recording with this band. I wanted more people to hear our music and feel like I do.

The most significant tune for me on this recording is Conception, which is why I named my album after it! I always love this tune, but I don’t hear many musicians play it nowadays. So I wanted to try it on our recording.  I guess it is a tough tune, but I’m happy about the way we sound on the recording.  The drum trading was a bit complicated, but we nailed it! I really like the ending too.

On our recording, I selected tunes the way I do for the gig.  I wanted our recording to be like a good set, with various tempos, different feels, a mix of standards and bebop tunes… so that we enjoy our playing and hopefully our listeners do too.  I’m quite happy about the way it came out.

I also wanted to feature all the members on my recording. I asked Tardo and Hassan to pick their own featured tunes.  Tardo picked When Johnny Comes Marching Home and Hassan picked We’ll Be Together Again.  Tardo and Hassan played great in general, but I think they especially sounded wonderful on their tunes.”

Here you can find out more. And here are two complete performances from the disc itself:

SWEET LORRAINE:

WE’LL BE TOGETHER AGAIN:

CONCEPTION is both an idea and a giving birth — here it is deeply satisfying lyrical music, a living embodiment of sophisticated swinging improvisations . . . the kind of rich music the media tells is finished.  How wrong they are.

You can learn more about Ai and her bands here.

May your happiness increase!