BLUE AND POIGNANT. FOR BIX. FOR US: THE EARREGULARS IN EUROPE (MATT MUNISTERI, JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, GREG COHEN in HUNGARY: MARCH 28, 2014)

This video celebrates one of many interlocked triumphs.  For one, the wonderful elastic small group known as the EarRegulars (most often spotted on Sunday nights at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York, from 8-11 PM) made their maiden voyage to Europe.  They recorded a CD — something the faithful, like myself, have been waiting for . . . for a number of years) and they performed, as a justly featured ensemble, at the 23rd International Bohém Ragtime & Jazz Festival.

Here’s one of their performances — captured with many cameras in rapt silence (as opposed to the homespun videos I’ve shot at The Ear Inn) of a song always associated with Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and Eddie Lang — SINGIN’ THE BLUES (by J. Russell Robinson, Con Conrad, Sam M. Lewis, and Joe Young.  Matt Munisteri, vocal and guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Greg Cohen, string bass:

Recorded at the Bohém Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 28, 2014.  More info about the Bohém Festival here.

Now, the beauties of that performance will be evident to anyone willing to sit still and listen. But a few things need to be said. One is the sustained sweet delicate understatement shown by all four players, singly and as an ensemble. No one weeps or carries on; no one has to step to the microphone and sing or play LOOK AT ME, I AM SO UNHAPPY. They trust themselves, and they trust the power of the notes and words to convey the complex messages of this song.

And — rather like the Willard Robison songs of which Matt is the master — the sadness has a slight tinge of wry self-awareness. I’m singin’ the blues, my baby is somewhere else, life is so sad . . . but I am going to make something beautiful out of my sorrows.

And since 1927, when Bix, Tram, and Lang (among others) recorded SINGIN’ THE BLUES, it’s been one of the most imitated recorded performances in classic jazz. Notice, please, that the EarRegulars are not in the business of xerography, of necrography, of exact reproduction. They know the recording; they could play the solos, but they have faith in the music . . . to carry them to beautiful new places that echo old glories.

Poignant and worth several visits.

May your happiness increase!

STOP THE TRAFFIC TO DIXIE: AFTER HOURS AT THE WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 1, 2013)

Something for the dear boy, created in the darkness of the Victory Pub in Newcastle, England, on November 1, 2013: with the sterling assistance of Andy Schumm, cornet; Jeff Barnhart, keyboard; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Stephane GIllot, alto saxophone; Jacob Ullberger, guitar; Henri Lemaire, string bass, Josh Duffee, drums. Other luminaries may be there, audible but hardly visible:

This is the sort of music so generously offered at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party. Will you be there?

May your happiness increase!

TODD LONDAGIN’S EXTRAORDINARY RANGE: “LOOK OUT FOR LOVE”

I met and admired the trombonist and singer Todd Londagin several times in 2005 and onwards; he was one of the crew of cheerful individualists who played gleeful or dark music with the drummer Kevin Dorn.  A fine trombonist (with a seamless reach from New Orleans to this century) and an engaging singer, Todd is someone I have faith in musically.  But when I received his second CD, LOOK OUT FOR LOVE, I hardly expected it to be as remarkable as it is.

TODD LONDAGIN cover

On it, Todd sings and plays (occasionally doing both simultaneously, through an Avakian-like graceful use of multi-tracking . . . even sounding like Jay and Kai here and there), with a splendid small band: Pete Smith, guitar; Matt Ray, piano, Jennifer Vincent, string bass; David Berger, drums.  Singer Toby Williams joins in on BRAZIL.  The presentation is neither self-consciously sparse or overproduced. With all due respect to Todd, the foursome of Pete, Matt, Jennifer, and David could easily sustain their own CD or gig. I had only met Matt (unpredictable) and Jennifer (a swing heartbeat) in person, but this “rhythm section” is a wonderful — and quirky — democratic conversation of singular voices, each one of them a powerful yet gracious rhythm orchestra.

But I keep returning to Todd.  And his “extraordinary range” doesn’t refer to the notes he can hit on trombone or sing.  It’s really a matter of a deep emotional intelligence, and I can’t think of anyone who can equal him here. (That’s no stage joke.)

Consider these songs: LOOK OUT FOR LOVE / BYE BYE BABY / SOME OF THESE DAYS / BRAZIL / I CONCENTRATE ON YOU / LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / YOU GO TO MY HEAD / I CAN’T HELP IT / BUST YOUR WINDOWS.  The first two songs show off Todd’s sly, ingratiating self — witty and wily on the first (with a neo-Basie rock) and endearing on the second. Those who have to think of Echoes might hear Chet Baker, Harry Connick, Jr., a young Bob Dorough, or Dave Frishberg. I thought on the first playing and continue to think that if there were aesthetic justice in the world, the first two songs would be coming out of every car radio for miles.  (Todd would also be starring on every enlightened late-night television show, or do I dream?)

The pop classics that follow are always served with a twist — a slightly different tempo, a different rhythmic angle, a beautiful seriousness (I’ve never heard CONCENTRATE interpreted so well).

Maybe Todd is understandably afraid of being pigeonholed as Another Interpreter of The Great American Songbook — with all the attendant reverence and dismissal that comes with that assessment — so the closing songs are “more modern.”  I think he does Stevie Wonder’s I CAN’T HELP IT justice in his own light-hearted, sincere, swinging way.

I am not attuned to contemporary pop culture, except to cringe when I hear loud music coming from the car next to mine, so I had no historical awareness with which to approach BUST YOUR WINDOWS.

In fact, I thought the title would herald some exuberant love song, “My love for you is so strong, it’s going to bust your windows,” or something equally cheerful.

Thus I was horrified to hear Todd sing, “I had to bust the windows out your car,” and all my literate-snobbish-overeducated revulsion came to the surface, as I called upon the shades of Leo Robin and Yip Harburg to watch over me.

But then I calmed down and reminded myself just how much fun the preceding nine tracks had been, and that I would be very surprised if Todd — bowing to whatever notion of modernity — had gone entirely off the rails. And I listened to BUST YOUR WINDOWS again. And again. For those who don’t know the song, it was an immense hit for one Jazmine Sullivan in 2008, and there’s a YouTube video of her doing it. The premise is that the singer finds her lover has been untrue with another (not a new idea) but (s)he then takes a crowbar to her lover’s car so that her lover will know what faithlessness does to others. Tough love, indeed.  I researched Sullivan’s music video — where she is threatening to unzip herself to a tango / rhythm and blues beat — and disliked it.

But I had no patience for her rendition of her own song because I had been struck so powerfully by Todd’s — almost a stifled scream of brokenhearted passion worthy of a great opera’s finish before the grieving one, betrayed, commits suicide. Todd’s performance has no tango beat, no intrusive orchestration: he merely presents the lyrics and melody as if he is showing us his bleeding heart . . . as if he has used the crowbar on himself.  It is a performance both bone-dry and powerful, understated and unforgettable. I can’t forget it, just as I keep on wanting to replay LOOK OUT FOR LOVE.

You can find out more about Todd here, and after you’ve heard the three samples, I hope you will chase down a copy of this CD. It is wildly rewarding and beautifully-textured music, and it will stay with you when other CDs by more “famous” players and singers have grown tedious. I don’t like “best” or “favorite,” but this CD is magnificently musical in so many ways that it will astonish.

May your happiness increase!

A RHYTHMIC ECSTASY, 1950

The British Pathe newsreel organization has released 85,000 films to YouTube — they can be found here.  Of course, I went to that channel and entered “jazz” in the search box.  Some of the film footage is silent, which is its own kind of frustration, but this one isn’t:

Three and a half minutes of Humphrey Lyttelton and his band, culminating in an ecstatic SNAKE RAG — played for young dancers thoroughly captivated by the music, the rhythm, and their own movement.  No stimulus but rhythm and “ginger pop,” the narrator tells us.

At first, I yearned for those good old days.  Imagine rooms full of young people dancing all night to King Oliver’s music . . .but then I realized that the best swing dance extravaganzas I’ve been to, in California and New York, with bands led by Clint Baker and Gordon Au, and others, have been just as evocative, just as moving.  So there’s hope.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN THE MUSIC REWARDS YOU: CLINT BAKER’S CAFE BORRONE ALL-STARS (Part Two) APRIL 4, 2014

For a New Yorker in California, it’s always seemed like a long trip from Novato, through San Francisco, down to Menlo Park to enjoy the Friday-night jamborees that Clint Baker has put on for many years, with his “Cafe Borrone All-Stars.”

But I’ve had a conversion experience because of the delicious hot music I saw and heard a few nights ago, on April 4, 2014.  And you can share the experience, too. Here is the first part.

Clint played banjo and guitar and sang, leaving the front-line responsibilities to men stout-hearted and true: Jim Klippert, trombone, Bill Carter, clarinet; Robert Young, cornet and vocal.  The rhythm section was completed by Bill Reinhart, string bass, and thirteen=year old Riley Baker, drums, who knows how to roll and  swing and how to stay out of the way for the collective pleasure of the band.

Here are six delights from the second set, a lovely mix of gutty blues, venerable pop tunes, and a folk-spiritual.

MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:

SWEET SUE:

SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE:

SEE SEE RIDER:

WE SHALL WALK THROUGH THE STREETS OF THE CITY (also known as RED RIVER VALLEY):

MY LITTLE GIRL:

Clint will be back at Cafe Borrone in April and May — and he has many other gigs. You can check here for details of his future escapades in the name of swing.

May your happiness increase!

IVIE’S BLUES: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, PAOLO ALDERIGHI at MONTEREY (March 9, 2014)

Ivie Anderson was a memorable singer whose records with the Duke Ellington Orchestra between 1932-42 resonate in my mind. She’s not immediately known by many jazz fans, which is a pity. But our Becky knows and loves Ivie’s music deeply and well.

Here is a gritty sad blues, ROCKS IN MY BED, from Becky Kilgore’s heartfelt tribute to Ivie and the Duke — with delicious playing from Dan Barrett, trombone, and Paolo Alderighi, piano. This performance comes from JazzAge Monterey’s Jazz Bash by the Bay, on March 9, 2014:

May your happiness increase!

LINGER AWHILE: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS at SAN DIEGO (November 30, 2013)

Living in New York, twenty and more years ago, I had heard Ray Skjelbred in a variety of contexts: with Berkeley Rhythm, with Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers featuring Bobby Gordon and Rebecca Kilgore, and on his own. One of the great pleasures of being on this coast is the chance to see him and his band at various festivals (at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 23-26; and at various California locations July 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 — see here for details).

I am glad that Ray and his Cubs have steady gigs on the West Coast, but I wish they were better known worldwide.

It would be ironic but somehow fitting if what I see as their essential virtues had kept them slightly out of prominence in the world of “traditional” jazz.  The group isn’t loud and it doesn’t have an identifying trademark unless you consider a deeply-rooted blues-based hot lyricism a trademark.  No parasol parades; no singing along. Just intense yet relaxed Chicago jazz for this century.

They call it music.

I shy away from “best” or “favorite,” but I am drawn to this band as if magnetically.  I know that a set from Ray or from Ray and his pals will make me feel better — and the side effects of deep elation and gratitude won’t wear off soon if at all.

The band in its most recent incarnation was Ray, piano, vocals, intuition; Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass and tuba, vocal; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

Here is a full set (why skimp on pleasure?) from the Thanksgiving 2013 San Diego Jazz Fest (November 30, 2013, to be exact).

LINGER AWHILE:

BULL FROG BLUES:

WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

SUGAR:

OUR MONDAY DATE:

OH, BABY (DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE):

OUT OF NOWHERE (with a lovely streamlined homage to Bing by Mister Daugherty, man of many talents):

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON (Katie always gives such good advice);

SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES:

THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

As I said, we are so lucky to have them!

May your happiness increase!