HOT PIANO AND WELCOME DRUMS, 2019: “GUILLAUME NOUAUX & THE STRIDE PIANO KINGS”

Although the idea of stride piano is that the singular player on the piano bench is able to simulate the depth and textures of a larger ensemble in their solo playing, I recall very clearly that my earliest exposure to stride playing was in hearing duets between piano and drums: James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty (and Sidney Catlett’s work with James P. as part of a rhythm section), Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison . . . later, Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones — and of course, Fats Waller with Al Casey, bass, and drums.  So there is a real tradition, and an intuitive percussionist is a bonus rather than an intrusion.

Guillaume Nouaux is such a player, and his new CD is wonderful.  But you don’t have to take my non-playing word for it: I shared it with Mr. Kadison, the man about whom Donald Lambert said, “That’s my drummer!” and Howard was delighted by it.

“Delight” is appropriate here, because listening again to the CD — once won’t be enough for anyone — I was reminded of one of the stories I’ve probably told too often here, my feeling when Jo Jones came and sat in with Ellis Larkins and Al Hall.  Guillaume is just that kind of player: varied, intuitive, swinging, always making great sounds, adding some flavors that increase our aural joys.  He is a wonderful accompanist — like a great witty conversationalist who always knows the right thing to say, or perhaps a sly supple dance partner — but also a splendid melodic soloist, someone whose terse outings are shapely and welcome.  I can’t emphasize enough the glorious variety of sounds he gets out of his kit, although he’s not fidgety (some drummers won’t stay in one place for more than four bars) so he’s not restricted to one approach.  He can be very gentle, but he can also create great joyous noises.  (Hear his MOP MOP on this disc.) And neither he nor his great collection of pianists is aiming for the consciously archaic: the music on this disc isn’t trying to wear the same trousers it wore in adolescence, if you get the metaphor.

Each of the seven pianists (some very well-known to me, others new marvels) has two selections — loosely speaking, one up and one down — which is to say one a quick-tempoed stride showcase, the other more ruminative, which makes this disc so refreshing.  The songs are HARLEM STRUT / DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM / I WISH I WERE TWINS / WILLOW WEEP FOR ME / RUNNIN’ WILD / JITTERBUG WALTZ / CHEROKEE – SALT PEANUTS / WHY DID YOU TELL ME “I LOVE YOU”? / HANDFUL OF KEYS / OVERNIGHT / MOP MOP (For Big Sid) — Guillaume’s brief solo feature / TEA FOR TWO / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / THE LADY IS A TRAMP / OVER THE RAINBOW.

Before you read a syllable more: discs and downloads can be obtained through Bandcamp here.  It’s also one of those rare discs — because of its premise (a rainbow of artists) that I play all the way through with pleasure.  And I believe you can hear some of the music for yourself there.  But if you need sonic breakfast-in-bed, here are Guillaume and Louis Mazetier trotting deliciously through DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:

You can find out more about Guillaume and his imaginative projects here.

I will leave it to you to decide who plays on which track — it would make a very sophisticated Blindfold Test even for those who consider themselves stride experts.

Several other things need to be said.  The recorded sound is lovely (the piano is well-tuned and the balance between piano and drums, ideal).  You might think this is overly finicky of me, but one of my favorite sessions ever is the 1956 PRES AND TEDDY, where — I believe — the piano could have been tuned again before the session: I hear its glassy-tinkly upper registers and wince.  Not so here.

The repertoire is in part familiar, but hooray! no AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, no HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  And although both stride piano and jazz drumming are, even at slow tempos, displays of athleticism (try tapping your finger for three minutes and keeping steady time), this isn’t a collection of fifteen kinds of Fast and Loud.  Oh, there’s dazzling playing here . . . but there are also caresses and meanders of the best kind.  And each of the pianists brings his own particular approach to the material.  The CD delights me, and I think it will do the same for you.

Fats would have called it “a killer-diller from Manila.”  Don’t be the last one on your block to be grinning.

May your happiness increase!

“JUST A GLANCE AT YOU”: EDDY DAVIS, CONAL FOWKES, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

It’s reassuring to think that romantic songs nearly ninety years old still have the power to move us.  I know nothing about the  composers of the 1931 LITTLE GIRL, Madeline Hyde and Francis Henry, aside from their credits on this Deco cover, but the song has an irresistible three-note hook that, as they say, hooks the listener.

Proof?  Here’s a sweetly swinging performance of that song from a memorable Thursday-night session at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, at the very end of 2019 (December 26) by Eddy Davis, banjo; Conal Fowkes, string bass and endearing vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

That was the last time I saw and heard Eddy, who was in wonderful form on and off the bandstand, making this video both sad and joyous.

Moments like this . . . .

May your happiness increase!

WITH THANKS AND APOLOGIES (November 26, 2020)

I don’t know what your Thanksgiving is going to be like this year.  We are adaptable beings, but it’s at moments like this we feel keenly how strange the world has become.  But since everything is constantly in flux, I extend hope to all of you — all of us — for easier times coming soon.

I think of Josh Billings, who played suitcase with whisk brooms for the Mound City Blue Blowers, who said to one of my heroes (perhaps Eddie Condon) when asked for his opinion about the future, “Better times are coming . . . . now and then.”  That seems right: guarded optimism.

But I wanted to take sixteen bars to say how deeply grateful I am to the musicians who elevate my spirits, who make me feel more alive, who give me reason to get out of bed when the skies have seemed most dark.  You Ladies and Gents, you Cats, give me regular infusions of joy — which it is my privilege to share here.

And I thank the people who “tune in” to JAZZ LIVES on a regular basis.  When I began to float this little paper boat down the river in February 2008 — before Facebook — I would email friends and say, “I just posted a new blog.  You might like it,” which is a thinly-hidden “Pleeeeeeeeeease look at the bookshelf I made in Wood Shop.”  Eventually JAZZ LIVES was able to breathe on its own, and people I’ve never met before come up to me at clubs and festivals and speak gratefully to me.  So thank YOU, in both cases:

I also have to apologize to musicians who have sent me CDs, worthy offerings that they hoped I would publicize.  There are piles of CDs all around this cluttered apartment. Sometimes I think that the stress generated since March has unscrewed crucial connections on the Michael circuit-board.  I know it has wrecked my concentration.  I hope to get to all the CDs, but the focus I had pre-pandemic is not what I have now.  If I’ve let you down, I am really sorry, because I know that a silence feels hard these days.  I’ll keep trying.

Those are all the words I have for now.  I send love.  I am thankful for everyone who even sniffs at a post I write.  And now I am going to attempt some fresh cranberry-orange relish, which has at most four ingredients, five if you count the food processor.

May your happiness increase!

 

MASTERS OF ART: RUBY BRAFF, HARRY “SWEETS” EDISON, JOE NEWMAN, JOHNNY GUARNIERI, MICHAEL MOORE, RAY MOSCA (Nice Jazz Festival, July 26-27, 1975)

Ruby Braff

This musical interlude is an absolute triumph — not a cutting contest, but a jovial conversation among three brass legends (Braff, cornet; Sweets and Joe, trumpet) with a thoroughly congenial modern-swing rhythm section (the splendid virtuosi Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Michael Moore, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums).

Harry “Sweets” Edison

Ruby, Joe, and Sweets are vehement individualists with roots in the same earth that gave us Louis and Basie.  You’ll hear florid declamatory phrases, side-of-the-mouth whispers and in-jokes, loud blasts and half-valve things a gentleman does not say in company.  They live in 1975 yet are completely aware of the half-century of music that came before.  And they live now, thirty-five years later.

Joe Newman

The songs are ROSETTA, JUST FRIENDS, CAROLINA SHOUT (Guarnieri, solo), TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, all performed at the Nice Jazz Festival, July 26 and 27th, 1975.  Heartfelt thanks to Tom Hustad, who made all this possible:

What gifts these magicians gave us.  What gifts the music continues to give us.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Twenty-Four) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Only a fool would disagree with Billy Kyle.  But reserved for what, and where?

We’re a day late for a celebration of Coleman Hawkins’ birthday, but Hawk would be pleased to know that there were noble tenor saxophonists playing at The Ear Inn on 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, in these videos from June 27, 2010, featuring Harry Allen and Scott Robinson on tenors; James Chirillo, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

Asking the musical question:

WILL YOU STILL BE MINE? — where the quartet is joined by violinist Valerie Levy and tenorist Evan Schwam:

BLUE SKIES, scored for sextet:

WHERE OR WHEN, with Valerie and Evan:

WHERE OR WHEN, concluded:

BROADWAY, with guests Valerie and Evan adding to the fun:

TOO LATE NOW, back to the original quartet:

ON THE ALAMO:

STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, concluded:

Bless these musicians, for what they give us so generously.

May your happiness increase!

“SUMMIT REUNION”: BOB WILBER, KENNY DAVERN, and the “Mega Swing Trio” (Berlin, 1993)

Bob Wilber with the superb drummer Bernard Flegar, after their gig in Bülach, Switzerland, June 11th 2005.

My good friend, the swinging drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, has come up with another treasure: forty minutes of “Summit Reunion,” the wonderful quintet (sometimes sextet) co-led by the much-missed Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern.  Here they are in Berlin, in 1993, accompanied by the fine — and superbly unfussy — “Mega Swing Trio,” Franck Jaccard, piano; Jean-Pierre Rebillard, string bass; Stéphane Roger, drums.  Thanks to Robeurt Feneck for the identifications!

As for Kenny and Bob, they remain masters with sublimely strong personalities and individual voices.  I first saw the two of them at a (free) outdoor lunchtime concert in 1973 and was thrilled — an emotion that is just as strong now.

ST. LOUIS BLUES (beginning edited) / SUMMERTIME (Davern, bass, drums) / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID / INDIAN SUMMER (Wilber, bass, drums) / S.K.J. BLUES (piano, bass, drums) / SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (with a fine drum solo that nods to Zutty and Jo, a splendid surprise) //

Blessings on Bernard, Kenny, Bob, and the trio.  Surprises like this give me and others joyous resilience . . . to keep on keeping on.

And for those of you who know JAZZ LIVES’ Sunday routine, of course we will meet metaphysically at The Ear Inn tonight also — this is just an extra dollop of swing.

May your happiness increase!

“WERELD’S BESTE”

Are you free tonight?

Oh, I wish.  They have a great trio.  Never mind that it’s 1937 in Holland:

That’s Coleman Hawkins with Freddy Johnson, recorded August 13, 1937.

and with the addition of Maurice van Kleef, drums:

You can hear more from this date (and much more rare jazz) at the YouTube channel of Heinz Becker.  But wouldn’t it be nice to get away from the computer for an evening?

I entertain these thoughts because of an autographed postcard that turned up on eBay.  (The winning bid was $223, I believe, and it wasn’t mine.)  The blank back-side is above (although it has the valuable information of address and phone number) but what caught me is the front:

Today, November 21, is Hawk’s birthday.  If you are reading this in what is loosely called “real time,” WKCR-FM in New York is playing his music all day and night: you can hear it online as well at wkcr.org.  He’s never gone away.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS (July 12, 2014)

Take a deep breath, see that your eyeglasses are clean, ask your neighbor to take a break from leaf blowing . . . and get ready to admire.

What follows is a wonderful assemblage of rewarding details that make a performance soar and shine.  Everybody knows EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, ninety years old in 2014, and the song flexibly lends itself to many approaches: a slow-drag tempo with the verse (think: Blue Note Jazzmen) or delightedly skittering around the room, making all the turns (any Fifties Eddie Condon performance).

The creators here are Ray Skjelbred, piano and imagination; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar, and this took place at the one-day jazz festival at Cline Cellars Winery in Sonoma, California.

The pleasures of this al fresco performance are double: first, the joy of hearing Ray and his Cubs do anything, and second, the little architectural details that delight and surprise, throughout. Ray says this performance takes some of its inspiration from the 1929 Earl Hines Victor recording of the tune, but it’s clear that the record is a leaping-off place rather than a model to be copied.

The DETAILS I celebrate here are Clint’s arco string bass work, Jeff’s tom-toms, Kim’s magical ability to sing and play at the same time, or nearly so, the duet scored for Cusack and Skjelbred; evocations of Jess Stacy’s 1938 “A-minor thing” even if it’s not in A-minor, and the delicious surprise of the bridge of the last chorus:

I so admire the romping large-scale scope of this performance — people confident and joyous in the sunshine — but the details that poke their heads through from below I find thrilling.

Here’s Earl Hines, playing, leading, and scat-singing:

I couldn’t close this blogpost without commenting that Benny Hill used to announce this song on his television show as EVERY BABY LOVES MY BODY, which works also.

May your happiness increase!

“THINK LOVELY WONDERFUL THOUGHTS” (of NEW ORLEANS): HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE” JAZZ BAND at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: BEN POLCER, JOE GOLDBERG, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, ALEX BELHAJ, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH (Part One: May 12, 2019)

Hal Smith’s “On the Levee” band plays danceable New Orleans jazz, inspired equally by the later Kid Ory bands and the splendid individualists who make hot / lyrical sounds right now.  Along with Hal on drums, there’s Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone.  Here are the first three performances from a set that OTL played at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 12, 2019.  Keep absolutely still as you listen: I dare you.

COME BACK, SWEET PAPA:

BEALE STREET BLUES:

TAILGATE RAMBLE:

There will be more from this band that you haven’t seen, and I’ve presented a good deal on JAZZ LIVES: search for LEVEE and you’ll find the right spot.

In J.M. Barrie’s play of the same name, Peter Pan explains to the children how they can fly: “You just think lovely wonderful thoughts,” Peter explained, “and they lift you up in the air.”  If we all do just that, perhaps we will get to hear On the Levee again soon, and we will meet again at the Redwood-Coast-Music-Festival at the last weekend of September 2021.

I’m thinking now.  Join me in those thoughts?

May your happiness increase!

MANTLE or MARIS? and other PLAYGROUND ARGUMENTS

I have never been involved in sports as participant or spectator.  But when I was not yet ten, at recess, there were intense discussions, often arguments, among my male classmates about the merits of baseball stars Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris, competing to break Babe Ruth’s home run record.  I tried to join in, because I wanted to belong, and it would have been foolish to say, “Who cares?”  Looking back at least in this situation, we had statistical evidence: hits, runs, RBI’s and the like.  But this hierarchical squabbling struck me as silly then, and seems even sillier now when applied to art and creativity.

I should preface what follows by writing that jazz is a holy art to me, to quote Schubert.  And if what follows sounds irritable, you can say, “Michael’s gotten crabby in semi-quarantine, I see,” and I wouldn’t argue the point.  But the reason for this post is that it disturbs me when I see people who believe themselves experts and advocates about the music debasing it by their reactions.

A day or so ago I made the mistake of entering into a Facebook discussion on a wonderful page devoted to Lester Young, where someone with fine taste posted Lester’s 1942 version of BODY AND SOUL (Nat Cole and Red Callender).  The first response that caught my eye?  I quote, “Sorry, but coleman hawkins owns this song.”  Various people chimed in to proclaim the superiority of their favorite player, and I, rather than leaving the keyboard, wrote, “Art is not a competitive sport,” which also met with a variety of responses, which I won’t go into here.

On another page, someone posted that a revered drummer was the “GOAT,” or “Greatest of All Time,” not an omnivorous animal.  You can imagine the discussions that ensued, the rimshots and ride-cymbal crashes.

I found it odd that fans were so much more vehement about presumed superiority than most musicians were and are.

I don’t deny that some musicians were competitive by nature, wanting to show their powers, their mastery.  Some of the greatest lived to “battle,” among them Roy Eldridge, and “cutting contests” have a long history.  Norman Granz, knowing his audience, made these tests of strength and audience appeal the center of Jazz at the Philharmonic with “the drum battle” between Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, or gladiatorial exercises between Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips, between Roy and Dizzy GIllespie.  However, when the concert was over, these musicians were friends who rode the band bus in harmony.  Artists with even a small amount of self-awareness respect each other, because they know how hard it is to play or to sing well, how it requires great skill and constant devotion to the art and the craft.

So these discussions of WHO’S THE BEST? are driven by audiences who want to see their team win.  They are also fueled by journalism and press-agentry.  Jazz has been weighed and measured by people who gave recordings and concerts stars and letter grades, in magazines that encouraged readers to vote for their favorites.  People would then buy the next issue to see how their votes counted.  All of this seems inexplicable now, that in 1956 a new record that we think a classic was given two stars in Down Beat when it appeared.  Or that X placed forty-seventh in the Critics’ Poll for that year.  Polls and year-end lists of the Ten Best CDs of the Year still go on, the latter energized by people of good character, but I think of them as marketing tools, not much else.  These competitions were good business for winners: if you won the poll, your price would increase.

We continue to live in a culture that greatly values the subjective opinion of the audience member(s).  I bought kitchen knives recently, and the company invited me to “submit my review.”  I was happy to, because the knives are exceedingly sharp.  But my review was a way of their getting free copywriting.  What I wrote might motivate someone to buy a knife, but it would have no effect on the knife’s quality.  It remains that way in art.  If you say that Tatum is your favorite pianist, does his work get any better: if you say he is too ornate, does he falter?  I am also reminded of someone who ran a jazz club, who told me that the way they knew if a band was good was the number of people in the room.  To me, the symphony means more than the volume of applause.

In print and in person, there were and are the jazz ideologues offering verdicts.  M “is the greatest jazz singer,” where P “is just a pop vocalist.”  C is “ground-breaking,” “harmonically adventurous,” “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” “genre-bending.” Reading this, I must assume that everyone else is sitting in the dirt, looking sadly at their dinner, a half-done potato covered with ash.

Art does not lend itself to the collection of evidence that baseball does.  If a singer has a larger range, is she a “better” artist?  If a drummer has a more dazzling technique, is he the King?  Is the superior musician the one who has more gigs, more fame, more money, more recognition?

I understand that there are artists who have been justifiably elevated to the pantheon (which, to me, is different than anyone’s “Hall of Fame”) but this also speaks to the Star System in Jazz, where there must be only one supernova in the galaxy.  For you, it’s Miles or Trane, for you Bird or Rollins, for you, Duke, for you, Louis.  The Star System is evident in what passes for “jazz criticism,” but perhaps most forcefully in Jazz Studies textbooks, where the Stars whiz by at blurry speed.  Louis-Roy-Dizzy-Miles.  James P.-Earl-Teddy-Tatum-Monk-Cecil.  And so on.  No room for Tony Fruscella or Buster Bailey because the publisher’s budget only allows for 650 pages and this price point.

Mind you, not only have I no objection to a rainbow of personal tastes, because I am a walking collection of them, and I revel in this.  If the music that makes you most happy is on an Impulse CD or a Dial 78 or an American Music one, who would I be to say that your feelings should be challenged?

But let us give up pretending that preference is empirical judgment.  Let us not treat individual reaction as law for everyone.  To write that someone is “the best,” or “better than,” is an attempt to say, “I like this.  Therefore it is good, because my judgment is always valid,” and then, “Why do you assert that something else that I do not champion is better?  Are you attacking my discernment?  I must defend my family’s honor!  Pistols at dawn!”

We are thus back at recess, a bunch of quarrelsome fourth-grade boys.  Art deserves reverence.  And the most reverent response may be rapt silence.

Try it here:

May your happiness increase!

A HOT NIGHT IN MARTINEZ, CALIFORNIA, with THE IVORY CLUB BOYS: PAUL MEHLING, ISABELLE MAGIDSON, EVAN PRICE, SAM ROCHA, MARC CAPARONE (Armando’s, May 31, 2014)

I’m happy to have gone into the JAZZ LIVES archives for more good sounds (and sights as well) from the Ivory Club Boys — a band that knew how to groove in the best Swing Street ways.  Caution: you might have to hold on to your chair. Here are some more delights, previously unseen, from Paul Mehling’s evocation of Stuff Smith’s hot little band: Paul, guitar; Evan Price, violin; Marc Caparone, cornet (subbing for Clint Baker); Sam Rocha, string bass; Isabelle Magidson, guitar. Recorded on May 31, 2014, at Armando’s in Martinez, California.

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

IT’S WONDERFUL:

AVALON, “with vocal chorus” by Isabelle:

I’ve posted a good deal more from this gig: search for IVORY and you will find an abundance of joyous heat.

May your happiness increase!

“TELL ME SOMETHING SWEET!”

The beautiful long run of Victor records Fats Waller made from 1934 to 1942 often simulate a party in three minutes, where everyone is having an unrestrained good time.  The best of them are remarkable energetic fun, and a classic example is THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’.  Here’s a less famous explosion, FLOATIN’ DOWN TO COTTON TOWN, with sound effects as well as extraordinary stride piano from Fats:

Note Fats’ subversion of the minstrel-show question and answer, and his updating of the 1919 song lyrics to “children.”

But Fats could also be tender, quiet, and pensive.  Here is FAIR AND SQUARE, music by Ada Rubin (“Queenie” when she performed with Tempo King for Bluebird Records), lyrics by Andy Razaf:

The first chorus, featuring Fats without the horns, is wonderful dance music; the second chorus, where the horns hum respectfully behind him, has him making his way through the lyrics with only the slightest hint of comedy; the third chorus (only the last sixteen bars) beginning with a hint of rolling bass before the horns come in, is almost as delicate.

And here is one of his most touching performances:

But Fats’ natural exuberance, his true life-force, was joyous.  Trying to restrain it was like telling a puppy not to wag its tail.  So here are two other less-known favorites of mine, not necessarily “great songs,” although SOMETHING TELLS ME is irresistible, but I love the way Fats gently builds from quiet restrained tenderness to real joy.  SOMETHING TELLS ME (Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer) also has the distinction of fine recordings by Louis and Connie Boswell.  Fats’ record starts with Gene Sedric in his best dance-band mode, with occasional celeste interjections, and then hits its swinging stride:

Candidly, WHAT WILL I DO IN THE MORNING? has most of its brilliance in its title.  The A and B sections are fairly thin variations on a repeated pianistic motif — although the bridge is an imaginative change — and the lyrics rely heavily on the end-rhymes.  But listen to how Fats moves gently from what I would call anxiety in swingtime for the first sixteen bars to hilarity, with his quacking repetition of “What!” seven or eight times, which always makes me laugh:

For many, the joyous clamor Fats generates obscures his subtleties, his gentleness and delicacy, as if it had been decided he was Our Jazz Clown.  He could whisper and cajole as well as shout.  I am amazed that no one celebrates him as a memorable singer as well as pianist and composer, creating three-minute dramas that continue to gratify us.  The “Rhythm” records could occasionally seem formulaic, but treasures abound.

May your happiness increase!  

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Twenty-Three) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

I’m told it’s Sunday again.  How this happened, I have no idea, but here we are.

Sunday means that it’s time to saddle the cyberspace pack animals and head to 326 Spring Street, The Ear Inn, the home of happy ears, for a restorative session with the EarRegulars: our weekly uplift. I am assuming you can find your way “there,” to the previous twenty-two weekly posts.  If not, just ask.

Ready?  Bang your ruby slippers together and it’s Sunday night, June 13, 2010.  And although our Guardian Angel might be Billy Kyle, that night it was a quiet, witty, irreplaceable fellow from New Jersey, Bill Basie — with the swinging music being created by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass:

Here’s Herschel Evans’ DOGGIN’ AROUND:

and a Youmans melody that started its life with Jimmie Noone and still keeps its freshness, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

For Ruby Braff as well as Herschel, we have BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:

Thinking of Lester Young, we have Andy Farber, Dan Block, tenors left and right; Chris Flory, guitar; Fumi Tomita, string bass:

Beautiful, isn’t it?  I know better times are coming, and I hope to celebrate with you all at 326 Spring Street . . . sooner rather than later.

May your happiness increase!

JACK PURVIS, DAN MORGENSTERN, COLEMAN HAWKINS, CHARLIE BARNET

Jack Purvis: trumpeter, trombonist, composer, arranger, incidental singer, adventurer, chef, imposter, con man, vandal, sociopath, thief, fabulist, inmate, and more.  There are few photographs of Purvis, appropriate to his slippery self.  I offer the cover of the superb Jazz Oracle three-CD set, which is a consistent delight, both in the rare music and the stories:

Here is a well-researched chronicle of his parents, his birth, and his early life as (if we are to be charitable) a Scamp, a Rogue, and A Rascal, written by George A. and Eric B. Borgman.

And, there is a delightful Facebook Trumpeter Jack Purvis Appreciation Page Group — full of photographs and music new to me.

Now, to my particular views of Purvis.  First, some music, WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYIN’, BABY (May 1, 1930) with J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Greeley Walton, tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini, bass saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Charles Kegley, drums:

Then, three famous sides from April 4, 1930, whose personnel has been in dispute for decades, but there’s Purvis, Higginbotham, Rollini, Froeba, Kegley, and Will Johnson, guitar.  Some sources listed Coleman Hawkins on tenor, but Bob Stephens, recording director for OKeh Records said no, it was Castor McCord, as quoted by Jan Evensmo: “Bob Stephens, studio manager at Okeh and responsible for organizing virtually all the Okeh race sessions, stated in connection with the Purvis sides : ‘Hawk wasn’t on those. We used another guy who played like him – Castor McCord. I was organizing the Blue Rhythm at the time, and I hired him because we wanted a rival attraction to get business away from Henderson.'”

We’ll settle that shortly.

First, DISMAL DAN (an odd title for this cheerful original):

POOR RICHARD:

DOWN GEORGIA WAY:

When I visited Dan Morgenstern at his Manhattan apartment last year, I did not expect him to bring up Purvis.  But I was delighted when he did:

Yesterday, I asked Dan to clarify something I thought was part of our off-camera conversation, and he wrote, “The issue of the tenor on the Poor Richard date was settled for me when Hawk’s response to my bringing up Purvis was instant,
as he recalled, without prompting, that very session and that he was
astonished at what he considered a most peculiar manner of paying
tribute to his recently deceased brother. He added some positive comments about his playing and amusing eccentricity. So I consider that my greatest contribution to discography.”

And the Facebook page notes that Richard Purvis lived on until 2014.

My friend Connor Cole suggested, some months ago, that I might find Charlie Barnet’s autobiography, THOSE SWINGING YEARS, worth reading — warning me in advance that it was often more a chronicle of sex and drink than music, which did not scare me away.  Barnet knew Purvis, who, “after all, could charm you to death while he picked your pocket,” and had some remarkable stories.  He refers to Purvis as “one of the wildest men I have ever met in my life” and praises him as a trumpeter far ahead of his peers, both in jazz and in symphonic music.  Quickly, though, Purvis became a burden: “By this time [circa 1930] I had had my fill of Jack. There was enough trouble to get into without his help, but he was a mad genius and a wonderful trumpet player.  You couldn’t be a close friend, because you couldn’t trust him.  You never knew what he was going to do.”

Barnet hires him in 1933: “Jack started to write some charts for us, but even in this area he had to indulge his diabolical whims.  He would figure out the weaknesses of each member of the band–low notes, high notes, strange key signatures, whatever–and that would be central to each individual’s part.  And Jack chuckled to himself at the struggle.”

Certainly “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

But on this 1935 recording, from his last session — where he speaks and sings — you hear his swinging ease alongside Slats Long, clarinet; Herbie Haymer, tenor saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano and leader; Clayton “Sunshine” Duerr, guitar; Carroll Waldron, string bass; as well as some powerful drumming from the elusive Eddie Dougherty:

A sad footnote.  Dan and I had wondered about the writer / researcher / archivist Michael Brooks, whose idiosyncratic liner notes still stick in my head — he took great chances and usually got away with them.  I learned today that Michael had died (he was born in 1935) on November 20, 2020: details here.

May your happiness increase!

“EDDIE CONDON REVISITED”: MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL (May 19, 1989, Set Two) featuring JOHNNY BLOWERS, BETTY COMORA, KENNY DAVERN, BOBBY GORDON, MARTY GROSZ, TOMMY GWALTNEY, JIMMY HAMILTON, CLYDE HUNT, JOHN JENSEN, CONNIE JONES, STEVE JORDAN, ART PONCHERI, TOMMY SAUNDERS, AL STEVENS, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, and JOHNSON “FAT CAT” McREE

By day a tax accountant and perhaps a financial advisor, by night a deep jazz enthusiast, concert producer, record producer, singer and kazoo player, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee” knew and loved Eddie (and Phyllis) Condon, and the music that Eddie and friends made.

When “Fat Cat” began his jazz festivals in Manassas, Virginia, Eddie, Wild Bill Davison, George Brunis, Bobby Hackett, Jimmy McPartland, Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, Vic Dickenson, Bob Wilber, and many of Eddie’s stalwart individualists were alive and well.  By 1989, few were left and playing (Max Kaminsky had just turned eighty and was advised by his doctor not to join in).  But over the weekend of May 19-21, 1989, he staged a series of CONDON REVISITED / CONDON REUNION concerts, each attempting to reproduce a precious 1944-45 Town Hall or Carnegie Hall or Blue Network broadcast from 1944-45.  It was a hot jazz repertory company: Connie Jones acted the part of Bobby Hackett, Betty Comora played Lee Wiley, Bobby Gordon was Pee Wee Russell, Tommy Saunders became Wild Bill Davison, and so on.

The results were sometimes uneven yet the concerts were beautiful.

I’ve acquired these videos through the kindness of deep jazz collectors and here’s a listing of everyone who takes part, to the best of my record-keeping ability.  I asked permission to post from the Survivors who appear in this and other concert videos — the very gracious Brooks Tegler, drums; Jimmy Hamilton, baritone saxophone and clarinet; Tommy Cecil, string bass; Betty Comora, vocals.  (Update: my friend Sonny McGown told me that John Jensen, Clyde Hunt, and Al Stevens are still with us, which I had not known.  I’ve reached out to John and Clyde but haven’t found Al.  Any leads gratefully accepted.)  Had I been able to, I might have edited out the kazoo solos, but I leave them in as a tribute to “Fat Cat.”  Imperial privilege.

Here’s the bill of fare: ‘S’WONDERFUL Clyde Hunt, trumpet; Tommy Saunders, cornet; Art Poncheri, trombone; Tommy Gwaltney, Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Jimmy Hamilton, baritone saxophone; Al Stevens, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass; Johnny Blowers, drums; Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, kazoo / DINAH Marty Grosz – Bobby Gordon / CLARINET CHASE Bobby Gordon, Tommy Gwaltney, Kenny Davern / THE ONE I LOVE / I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON YOU Betty Comora, vocal; Connie Jones, cornet; John Jensen, trombone / THAT DA DA STRAIN / RIVERSIDE BLUES Connie Jones, Al Stevens, Marty Grosz, Johnny Williams, Johnny Blowers / OL’ MISS McRee, ensemble.

Thank goodness for such tributes — full of individualists who have the right feeling — and for the video-recording.  As Eddie would say, WHEE!

May your happiness increase!

WHEN JOY WAS UNCONFINED: MARC CAPARONE, JOHN REYNOLDS, KATIE CAVERA, RALF REYNOLDS, CLINT BAKER, BOB DRAGA, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS (Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California, March 1, 2013)

Ten years ago, this band changed my life.  Because of RaeAnn Berry’s videos of the Reynolds Brothers, I urgently wanted to visit California, to hear and see them, which I did in 2011.  I’d already admired Marc Caparone’s work on records with Dawn Lambeth as far back as 2003, so it was a natural development.

I had visited California once before, but that was in utero.  There, no bands were playing, although my mother had a swinging 4 / 4 heartbeat and my father certainly knew how to arrange two-part harmony.

Back to our subject: here are four glorious jam-session styled performances, previously unseen, by the Brothers and Friends from March 1, 2013, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, in Monterey, California, by John Reynolds, resonator guitar, vocal, whistling; Marc Caparone, cornet; Katie Cavera, string bass, vocal; Ralf Reynolds, washboard, and guests Bob Draga, clarinet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; later, Clint Baker, resonator tenor guitar.

Every jazz festival should have at least one Lillie Delk Christian tribute.  Katie Cavera sings TOO BUSY with a band and guests never too busy to swing:

A riotously fast CHINA BOY, Clint Baker joining on resonator tenor guitar, in honor of the many Mike McKendricks:

Something tender to follow, EMBRACEABLE YOU, sung by John:

and a romping SOME OF THESE DAYS to close off this segment:

The next Jazz Bash by the Bay is planned for 2021, and we live in hope that such gatherings can happen again, and I can return, if not to the land of my birth, to the closest thing, for more joy.  I know “you can’t go home again,” but you can park across the street and take phone pictures.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

 

A ONE-ACT DRAMA ABOUT THE FRAGILITY OF ROMANCE, by CONNIE BOSWELL, SAM COSLOW, and VICTOR YOUNG

Sometimes, even for someone like me, enthralled by the computer, it’s worth checking the mail (aside from the usual deforesting) . . . when it’s something like this.  Disregard the 1935 jingoism (were Americans being besieged from abroad by records made by foreigners?) and consider this lovely artifact:

I thought, when I saw this precious disc, that perhaps some JAZZ LIVES readers might not know it, might not have risen in hope and fallen in sorrow along with Connie, in her three-minute journey from exultant hope to rueful acceptance (all thanks to Sam Coslow, who didn’t need any collaborator on this song, Victor Young, and the only identified member of the orchestra, Larry Altpeter, trombone).  The steps up are also the steps down, only more steep:

Connie is passionate, yet she never overacts: she doesn’t break up the line to impress us, to convey her authenticity.  And the result is a deeply-felt soliloquy and a three-minute dance record, succeeding at both.  If you haven’t, investigate Connie’s solo recordings from 1931 onwards.  I mean no slight to Vet and Martha, but Connie can go right to your heart in four bars.

May your happiness increase!

HEAVEN RIGHT HERE ON EARTH: MARTY GROSZ, JAMES DAPOGNY, JON BURR, PETE SIERS, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, BOB HAVENS, ANDY SCHUMM (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 19, 2014)

News flash: Laura Beth Wyman, the CEO of Wyman Video and a fellow videographer, has pointed out that in September 2014, Jazz at Chautauqua had morphed into the Allegheny Jazz Party and moved west to Cleveland.  Since a lesson of later life is that I have to live with my errors, I do so here: some of the prose details that follow are now in the wrong state, but the music still gleams.

Making the annual trip to the Athenaeum Hotel for the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend was never that easy, so once there I felt relief as well as excitement.  But it was heavenly once I could see the people I love whom I saw so rarely, and even more blissful once the music began.  Now, through the lens of 2020, Jazz at Chautauqua seems poignant as well as heavenly.

So it’s with those emotions — joy, nostalgia, wistfulness — that I offer you eight minutes of an elixir for the ears and heart: ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, which used to be a medium-tempo saunter.  I present the first recording of this 1922 Creamer and Layton song, with its “Spanish tinge” verse.  And note that the Crescent City angels are wearing blue jeans, a garment that goes back to the end of the nineteenth century: see here:

But we can talk about clothing another time.  Now, a mighty crew of hot players take this jazz standard for a gentle yet propulsive ride: Marty Grosz, guitar; Andy Schumm, cornet; James Dapogny, our Prof., piano; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. I offer a special bow of gratitude to Nancy Hancock Griffith, who we see briefly at the start: she never sat in on an instrument, but she and her mother, Kathy Hancock, made it all happen.

Such a weekend will probably never come again, but I bless the players and the organizers . . . and I’m grateful for my little camera, that made audio-visual souvenirs like this possible.

May your happiness increase!

MARY LOU WILLIAMS and JOHN LEWIS IN DUET at the NICE JAZZ FESTIVAL (Grande Parade du Jazz, July 12, 1978)

John Lewis and Mary Lou Williams certainly knew and admired each other, but this is the only documented evidence I know of them in performance.  They were strong personalities, born only a decade apart, spiritually connected.  I hear two artists with expansive imaginations, their improvisations based in the blues and always showing deep respect for melody and swing.  Her playing is percussive; his, much more assertive than his work with the Modern Jazz Quartet — but it’s a dialogue, not a tussle.

The recording of this set — happily longer than thirty minutes — begins with the television crew and sound people setting up — you can  hear Mary Lou asking, “Aren’t they ready yet?”  Then the two pianists embark on deep explorations of the most familiar territory, making it vivid at every turn: I’LL REMEMBER APRIL / BODY AND SOUL / BLUES / THE MAN I LOVE / COTTON TAIL.

Let no one say that the standard repertoire is exhausted.  I feel this concert doesn’t require annotation.  It does inspire reverence.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Twenty-Two) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

I confess I’ve been a little distracted by the events of the past week, but I haven’t forgotten what we all do on Sundays.  Priorities.  So let me escort you, once again, to The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, for our weekly prayer meeting.

We return to the summer of 2010 — June 6, for two selections by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, alto saxophone and clarinet; Jon Burr, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar.  The first one’s a full-tilt version of the Rodgers and Hart THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, where everyone navigates the turns magnificently:

And the EarRegulars were joined for their second set by a venerable jazz hero — Robert Sage Wilber, then 82, with his curved soprano saxophone — for CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Join me next Sunday for more controlled explosions of joy.

May your happiness increase!

THE ARTIE MATTHEWS PARADOX: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ALBANIE FALLETTA, SEAN CRONIN, JOSH DUNN (Cafe Bohemia, March 12, 2020)

This 1915 composition is not only one but several paradoxes.  It’s a multi-strain ragtime composition, not a blues, and it is anything but WEARY.  For more about Artie Matthews, who had a rich life when he wasn’t composing, click here to read an impressive biographical sketch by Bill Edwards.

Appropriately, the gentleman pictured above resembles some of us in early-pandemic, with a bundle of hand sanitizer, wipes, masks, gloves, and angst.

An electrifying performance of the WEARY BLUES is our centerpiece today.  It leads us back to mid-March of this year.  I won’t write about my experiences as the familiar world constricted, because everyone has their stories.  But I am sure that none of your stories has such an inspired soundtrack.

This performance comes from my March 12, 2020, trip to Manhattan.  Should I call it my “last” night in the city or my “most recent” one?  Both are accurate, but the latter sounds more hopeful.  And the music below radiates hope: created at Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street on that Thursday night by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, Sean Cronin, string bass, and guest Josh Dunn, guitar.

As you drink it all in, please admire the beauties below: a tempo both leisurely and intense, an ensemble that knows all the strains (so beautifully directed by Maestro JEK), eloquent lessons in individual approach and timbre, graduate work in the art of building solos and ensemble playing.  Although there are only five players, this performance has all the orchestral density of a composed piece, yet it’s invented in front of our glistening eyes. There was only a small audience at Cafe Bohemia that night for this set — more cautious people were huddling at home or nervous at the grocery store — but now the audience can be world-wide:

What’s the paradox here?

The song is called Weary, but it’s joyously exuberant.  Let it be our theme song as we turn aside from weariness to embrace life-affirming emotions.

May your happiness increase!

WE RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAM, FOR A HALF-HOUR: JIMMY McPARTLAND, DICKY WELLS, CECIL SCOTT, JOE SULLIVAN, WALTER PAGE, GEORGE WETTLING, MARIAN McPARTLAND (“Jazz Club USA,” broadcast 1952)

Thanks to CB Detective Agency for this newspaper ad.

The music that follows is brilliant, but the details surrounding it are vague.  For one thing, most writers have misspelled the restaurant owner’s name as Terassi for decades.  I’ve done it myself.  Apologies to Lou.

I read in a British trade paper that this band, the Jimmy McPartland Sextet, was appearing at Lou Terrasi’s Hickory Log at the end of 1952, but I haven’t found a specific date for this recording.  All trace of the Hickory Log has vanished, although it was still in operation in 1964.  In 1975, the address was a restaurant that also featured music, the Spindletop (there’s a review of Maxene Andrews at that time) and should you go to that address now, it is Trattoria Tricolore.

Assuming that Terrasi was Italian, I’ve always thought the cuisine was also, but “Hickory Log” suggests charcoal-broiled steaks.  I had two friends who celebrated their engagement at the bar in 1952, between Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton — a story I love.  But I can no longer ask them for details.

Here’s a 1952 portrait by Bob Parent of Joe Sullivan at the Hickory Log piano, which also shows something of the decor.  That curtain would haunt me:

2nd October 1952: American jazz musician Joe Sullivan (1906-1971) plays piano at Lou Terrasi’s ‘Hickory Log’ on West 47th St., New York City. (Photo by Bob Parent/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

But the music is vivid, a previously unknown version of the half-hour broadcasts done by Aime Gauvin, “Dr. Jazz,” featuring the Jimmy McPartland Sextet: McPartland, cornet; Dicky Wells, trombone; Cecil Scott, clarinet; Joe Sullivan, piano; Walter Page, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Marian McPartland, piano, on EMBRACEABLE YOU and SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.  A bonus: even though we hear the crash of dishes (the kitchen and bandstand always seem to be adjacent) the ambiance is serene in comparison to Central Plaza or the Stuyvesant Casino.

The band, introduced by Leonard Feather, who also chats with both McPartlands, plays LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / TIN ROOF BLUES / EMBRACEABLE YOU / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.

Broadcasts like this originated with the Voice of America, beamed overseas to show the Communists the virtues of democracy and capitalism.  Leaving the ideological wrappings aside, the music is superb: everyone is focused and effective, and no one sounds bored by the repertoire or its conventions.  I don’t know if Walter or Dicky missed being with Basie, but I am sure they were pleased to spend their days at home rather than being on the band bus; Jimmy, Joe, George, Cecil, and Marian had been playing in small groups for decades.  We hear the assurance of people who know the way, and that’s truly delicious.

May your happiness increase!