SWINGIN’ IN THE RAIN: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JIM DAPOGNY (Part One)

Rainbow One

Rainbow over Evergreen, Colorado, late July 2014

Today, James Dapogny (“Jim” to some, “Prof” to some of his devoted students) celebrates a major birthday.  I can’t remember what the number is, and I don’t quite care, but JAZZ LIVES wants to return the compliment and celebrate Jim. It is perhaps offensive to value one mortal over another, but he’s been giving us musical presents — and presence — for a good long time now, as a pianist, arranger, bandleader, scholar, researcher {Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson primarily] trumpeter, valve trombonist . . . on recordings from 1975 on and in person before that.

Many people know Jim as a stomping yet subtle pianist on records and now on videos, and we cherish that.  But I’ve been privileged over the past decade to encounter him as a friend, and in that role he is someone I deeply value: under an occasionally gruff or satiric exoskeleton, there is someone wise, generous, and thoughtful, someone I am proud to know.

But back to the music.  Last year, at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, Jim brought his “A-team” Chicago Jazz Band: Pete Siers, drums; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross [a Denver native], string bass; Russ Whitman, Kim Cusack, reeds, Christopher Smith, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  They played a number of sets and I’ve posted a good deal of the music on JAZZ LIVES.  But one set was particularly dear to my heart.  Jim is a master arranger — one way he makes the hallowed music of our shared past come alive in this century — but this set was outdoors, and it was raining seriously.  As a result, no music and no music stands.  The Chicago Jazz Band wailed — on six glorious romping selections. “The way it used to was,” came to my lips then and now.

Here are the first three:

THREE LITTLE WORDS (yes, Jon-Erik does reference Ravel’s BOLERO):

JAZZ ME BLUES:

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (with a musical in-joke at the start and a chorus of DICKIE’S DREAM at the end):

Jim is atypically modest.  When I asked him whether he was OK with my making these videos public, he wrote back:

These show what a wonderful group of musicians this is.  I can take no credit for how well these guys play as individuals.  And here, unfettered by my jottings and scribblings, unreasonable demands and Draconian discipline, is the band as a group, just playing nice material without preparation–in a conversation in the rain.  I listen to these and gasp at the ingenuity here, laugh out loud at the fun and interaction, and realize why, every day, I lament the lack of opportunity to play more with them.  No matter whose name is on the posters, a band like this has eight de facto leaders who make things happen.

Thank you, Professor Jim, for being.  You improve our world.

May your happiness increase!

TRAVELS WITH MOLLY: “LET’S FLY AWAY”

Molly Ryan by Don Spiro

Molly Ryan by Don Spiro

I’ve been admiring Molly Ryan’s singing — and her instrumental bandmates — for almost a decade now.  Her latest CD, her third, LET’S FLY AWAY, is a beautifully elaborate production, consistently aloft.

Molly Ryan CD cover

Here are the details.  The CD features a theme (hooray!) — the delights of travel, with some ingenious choices of repertoire:  WANDERER / BEYOND THE BLUE HORIZON / FAR AWAY PLACES / LET’S FLY AWAY / FLYING DOWN TO RIO / A RAINY NIGHT IN RIO / SOUTH SEA ISLAND MAGIC / THE GYPSY IN MY SOUL / THE ROAD TO MOROCCO / UNDER PARIS SKIES / TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE / IT’S NICE TO GO TRAV’LIN’ / ANYWHERE I WANDER . . .

and alongside Molly (vocal and guitar) some of the finest jazz players on the planet:  Bria Skonberg, Randy Reinhart, Dan Barrett, Dan Levinson, Adrien Chevalier, John Reynolds, Joel Forbes, Mike Weatherly, Mark Shane, Dick Hyman, Kevin Dorn, Scott Kettner, Raphael McGregor, with arrangements by the two Dans, Levinson and Barrett.

When I first heard Molly — we were all much younger — I was immediately charmed by her voice, which in its youthful warmth and tenderness summoned up the beautiful Helen Ward.  But Molly, then and now, does more than imitate. She has a gorgeous sound but she also knows a good deal about unaffected swing, and in the years she’s been singing, her lyrical deftness has increased, and without dramatizing, she has become a fine singing actress, giving each song its proper emotional context.  She can be a blazing trumpet (evidence below) or a wistful yearner, on the edge of tears, or someone tart and wry.

The band, as you’d expect, is full of great soloists — everyone gets a taste, as they deserve, and I won’t spoil the surprises.  But what’s most notable is the care given to the arrangements.  Many CDs sound as if the fellows and gals are on a live club date — “Whaddaya want to play next, Marty?” “I don’t know.  How about X?” and those informal sessions often produce unbuttoned memorable sounds.  But a production like LET’S FLY AWAY is a happy throwback to the glory days of long-playing records of the Fifties and Sixties, where a singer — Teddi King, Lena Horne, Doris Day, Carmen McRae — was taken very good care of by Neal Hefti or Frank DeVol or Ralph Burns, creating a musical tapestry of rich sensations.

Now, below on this very same page, you can visit the page where LET’S FLY AWAY is for sale, and hear samples.  But Molly and friends have cooked up something far more hilariously gratifying — a short film with an oddly off-center plot, dancers, visual effects, hard to describe but a pleasure to experience:

Yes, it does make me think of Mildred Bailey’s WEEK-END OF A PRIVATE SECRETARY, but perhaps that association is my own personal problem.

And tomorrow — yes, tomorrow, Thursday, September 3, at 9:30 PM — Molly and friends are having a CD release show at Joe’s Pub, with Dan Levinson, Mike Davis, Vincent Gardner, Dalton Ridenhour, Brandi Disterheft, Kevin Dorn.  You may purchase tickets (they’re quite inexpensive) here.  Details about the show here, and Molly’s Facebook page.

Purchase a digital download of the CD (with two hidden tracks) OR the physical disc itself (with twenty pages of liner notes and wonderful art / photographs) OR hear sound samples here.

Airborne, delightful swing.  Why not FLY AWAY?  Let’s.

May your happiness increase!

A STEAMBOAT, HOT JAZZ, THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, A STEAM CALLIOPE, STRIDE PIANO, THE BLUES, and FRIENDS (September 18-20, 2015)

My title is, to me, the best one-line description of the Steamboat Stomp — happening in New Orleans, on the Steamboat Natchez, from September 18-20, 2015.

640_steamboat-natchez-new-orleans-reviews

Some of the performers who will be on the boat are Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stompers, Steve Pistorius, Evan Christopher, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Solid Harmony, Yerba Buena Stompers, Miss Ida Blue, New Orleans Classic Jazz Orchestra, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Debbie Fagnano on the steam calliope, and more.

The schedule is here, and I can see myself fretting over it on the plane ride.  “If I see X now, I can’t see Y.  But I can see Y the next day.”  Jazz fest calculus, or perhaps chess.  But it’s always delightful to have more than one can handle rather than having long stretches of time.  However, on the Natchez, it’s entirely delightful to cruise up and down the Mississippi.  If one ignores the oil rigs outside, one can think of Huckleberry Finn.  Or, better, Fate Marable.

Here  is another site (the Stomp’s Facebook page) that offers different perspectives.

Finally, the hard facts one needs to know: prices, tickets, packages, reservations.

But here’s the best evidence, taken from the 2013 Stomp.

The official Jelly Roll Morton anthem of this carnival of joy:

Yes, you’ll have to pay something to board the Natchez, but your dollars will feel like dimes:

The way you’ll feel as soon as the music begins:

As Justin Wilson used to say, “I guarantee it!”

May your happiness increase!

JUMP IN AT WOODSIDE! STEPHANIE TRICK, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, MARTY EGGERS, DANNY COOTS (September 13, 2015)

Jammin' at Filoli 2012 with Stephanie Trick, Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, Hal Smith

Jazz at Filoli ’12: Stephanie Trick, Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, Hal Smith

No, this isn’t a post about Count Basie’s marvelous 1938 swing number.  Rather, I want to let people know about a concert soon to take place — Sunday, September 13, 2015 — at the gorgeous green space  / park / horticultural paradise / mansion called FILOLI in Woodside, California featuring the Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi Double Trio.  The noble music-makers are Stephanie and Paolo, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Danny Coots, drums.

Visit here for all the needed information.  There are tickets for a 12:55 seating, a 1 PM seating; one can buy a lunch (up to Wednesday, September 9), and the host will be the very remarkable Alisa Clancy, known to all who can hear KCSM.

And Fioli — Jazz at Filoli,  that is — is such a wonderful corrective to all the places in which one usually hears jazz: you don’t need me to describe their discomforts. When I’ve been there for music, I could immerse myself in the gorgeous pastoral without straining my neck.  Hot Music, Green Shade.  Wonderful.

But back to Stephanie, Paolo, Marty, Danny.

What’s a Double Trio?  It really means that these four players — dear friends and happy long-standing colleagues — know how to play nice.  Infinite variety.  Solo piano by two of the finest, a piano duet, two piano-bass-drums trios, a romping quartet.

Suppose the whole concept is new to you and thus intimidating.  Imagine if I could transport you to a lovely hall (indoors) and wonderful music by this group at the Rossmoor Jazz Club in Walnut Creek, California, in March 2014.  How about here and here.  And, as Jack Teagarden sang on SAY IT SIMPLE, “If that don’t get it, well, forget it for now.”

Don’t be the last one on your block to experience Pleasure — in the shape of Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Marty Eggers, and Danny Coots, this September 13, at Jazz at Filoli.  Your nervous system will thank me.

(And if you can’t make this one — like me, because I’ll be at the Allegheny Jazz Party — catch Stephanie and Paolo at the 2015 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans, which begins on September 18.)

May your happiness increase!

LOUIS, 1953. “RAMONA” / “APRIL IN PORTUGAL”

This post was inspired by an object– odd, rare, mysterious — that surfaced here for a few days.  I assume that fans and “music lovers” still ask their idols to autograph objects for them, and the obvious one used to be a record.  In 2015, with so much music being conveyed digitally, does one go to a concert and hope that The Star will sign one’s iPhone cover with her Sharpie?  (I am not being facetious here; I think the owner of the 45 rpm single below had it easier.)

Whatever circumstances led to the owner of this record obtaining Louis Armstrong’s genuine signature on a paper label on top of another label, here we have the evidence.  And not irrelevantly, Louis had a particularly angular calligraphy: this was on sale at eBay next to a particularly inept forgery.  Starting bid $19.99, should you be curious.  I left it for another Louis-worshipper to buy, frame, possess, venerate, adore.  (Had it been one of the recordings Louis did with Gordon Jenkins, I would have indeed bought it.)

Update: For those who like financial dramas, the record sold for $55.78; there were four bids and the winning bid came in seconds before the bidding closed, perhaps suggesting someone with much eBay experience.

LOUIS Ramona Decca 45 autograph

I find this fascinating on several levels.  Autographs are a gossamer bridge between us and the people we admire and revere: for as long as it took to write those letters, Louis Armstrong touched the piece of paper that we, too, can touch.

And the music.

It is now possible to “do” the entire Louis tour.  Here’s the Oliver band, there’s Henderson and Bessie, Hot Fives and Sevens; wave to Lillie Delk Christian and to Johnny Dodds; big bands, Okehs, SONG OF THE VIPERS, Deccas, Victors, Columbias, MUMBO JUMBO, airshots and broadcasts, all the way up to THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.  It would take some time — one might need a college course to do it properly (calling Professor Ricky Riccardi of Queens College) — but much of the music is available, however poorly or incorrectly annotated, in cyberspace.

But how many people, like me, begin their Louis-journey with music recorded in the Fifties that has small credibility as “jazz”?  I bought many Decca compilation long-playing records before bravely encountering the Hot Fives and Sevens, and these — apparently not very important — records were my introduction to the man.  Legend has it that Joe Glaser, who managed Louis for decades, was always fiercely longing for a hit, a pop record that would sell millions and make money. Thus, we have APRIL IN PORTUGAL (originally written in 1947 and a substantial hit in April 1953) backed by RAMONA, from a 1928 film.

The band — Louis Armstrong And His Orchestra — with arrangements by Sy Oliver, was an expanded version of Louis’ All-Stars, with Louis, trumpet, vocal; Trummy Young, trombone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Milt Yaner, Dick Jacobs, alto saxophone; Sam Taylor [a/k/a Sam “The Man” Taylor], tenor saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Everett Barksdale, guitar; Arvell Shaw, bass; Cozy Cole, drums.  New York, April 21, 1953

RAMONA:

and the “flip side,” APRIL IN PORTUGAL:

I won’t attempt to elevate this “popular music” to the level of “high art,” except to ask you to listen closely to Louis’ trumpet on RAMONA, which to me is astonishing, and to the casual conviction with which he sings both songs.  And if you are one of those who refuses to surrender the myth that Louis, genius, was forced to parade himself and record such inferior materials when he should have been playing WEATHER BIRD, I leave you to your myths.

He did it; he could do it; he always did it.

This just in: if you’d like a truly comprehensive look at these performances, visit here.  But beware!  Ricky’s blogposts — although legal and non-caloric — are seriously addictive.

May your happiness increase!

“WE’RE HERE FOR THE BLUES!”

For about seventy-five minutes last night, Ida Blue showed great passionate artistry once again.  The occasion was her evening of blues — riotous, carnal, spiritual, hushed — performed at Joe’s Pub:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub cover

and here’s Ben Guthrie’s photograph of the Blues Debut as it was actually happening:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub Ben Guthrie

Usually, when I attend a music event that I plan to write about, I make notes. You may have seen me writing: song titles, distinctive things that happened during a particular performance, my own critical shorthand of checks and question marks, of YES, NO, and WOW.

My notes from last night are a delighted mess, because I was having such a wildly good time that the idea of leaning forward attentively to catch when Ida identified the song title and the famous blues performer it was associated with soon became an idea whose time had not come.  Early on in the evening, I gave up the idea of being the careful archivist.  Instead I chose to write down phrases that struck my fancy — from the lyrics and from Ida’s interchanges with her audience.

I can tell you this: the exuberant young woman — The Lady in Red — who took the stage and told us all that she was sweating (out of emotional enthusiasm, for it wasn’t necessarily warm in Joe’s Pub) won us over time after time.  As did her band: a glorious quintet, the likes of which I’d never seen together: Kevin Dorn, drums; John Gill, National guitar; Dan Block, bass clarinet / baritone saxophone; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / tenor saxophone.  That band rocked.  And it wasn’t a matter of volume or bar-walking. Rather, each of the musicians showed the finest subtlety — as soloist, and even more as an essential part of an ensemble, organically shape-shifting as the mood struck them.  So the saxophones hummed behind Ida or a guitar solo, or they took solos, or there were gloriously happy dialogues between two and three, phrases traded — in the best New Orleans / Memphis / New York City traditions, traditions being created on the spot in Joe’s Pub.

For her part, Ida was having a wonderful time and shared her joys with us.  No matter what she was singing — songs associated with Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, Victoria Spivey — her delight came through even when the lyrics were grim.  (That’s what I think of as the Basie paradox: “Look! I’m having such a good time playing these sad, dark blues!  I can’t believe how good this misery makes me feel!”)

Ida’s voice was entirely at her command, and her improvisatory courage utterly commanded the audience.  She sang lyrics with the force of a cornet; growled and moaned, even offering a cantorial cadenza.  Sometimes she sounded on the edge of tears; sometimes she boldly told us something naughty with a great wink. Some lines, although the words weren’t necessarily funny in themselves, became small comedies; other times, she resorted to her own stutter-phrasing, repeating a word or a syllable five or six times for emphasis (as if Kevin was hitting the snare with pistol-shot force).

And, as always, she was in motion.  Hands held high above her head; dancing as wildly as she could on the small stage; ruffling her hair violently; grinning, laughing, having herself a fine time.  She looked out into the audience, saying with great pleasure, “I KNOW you!  I KNOW you too!” She wished her friend Sunny (of Sunny’s Bar in Brooklyn) a happy eighty-first birthday, and asked us all to raise our glasses.  We could refuse her nothing, and we followed suit.  She kicked off each song at a particularly groovy tempo, and although the repertoire was primarily twelve-bar blues, one song did not feel like its predecessor.

Although the mood was often lovelorn, Ida performed a few blues hymns — I’M A PILGRIM TRAVELER (which has “I’ll make it if He holds my hand” as a particularly moving affirmation).  And when she sang “It keeps me singing in my soul,” I felt as if she’d made 425 Lafayette Street into a pop-up revival meeting.

To give you a flavor of the evening, here are a few phrases from assorted lyrics:

I got those itty-bitty legs!

When you see me comin’, pull down your window blind.

Some cold rainy day.

Lord  have mercy on me.

I took his last nickel.

EVERY DAY!

My man’s done evil, and I’ve done evil too.

Buy me a shotgun.

I’m going to shoot my pistol.

Where did you stay last night?

I could make a case that all human experience could be encapsulated in those words — and others — that Ida delivered with such fervent honesty last night.

After the show, when photographer Ben Guthrie and I were standing outside the Public Theater, I said to Ben — fully aware that it was both the truth and a terrible cliche, “When PBS comes around, if we’re still here, we’ll be able to say, ‘We saw her when . . . ‘”

Some ecstatic evening, it was.

May your happiness increase!

“WILL YOU PLEASE PAGE MR. TRUMPET?” (1946)

Rarely do recordings duplicate hearing musicians live, but when the musician we think of has passed into spirit in 1954, records are all we have.

LIPS PAGE photo

I’m speaking of the most exalted Oran Thaddeus “Hot Lips” Page, trumpet, mellophone, vocals, born in Corsicana, Texas.  On January 26 and 31, 1946, a group of musicians led by pianist / composer Pete Johnson assembled in a New York studio to make records.  Thankfully.  Someone had the idea of asking the musicians to simulate a house party, a “housewarming,” where Pete would play a solo (one record side), then musicians would be added.  They were given a few words to say at the beginning of each side — which have been edited out of almost all contemporary issues.  The collective personnel was Lips, Ben Webster, J. C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Pete Johnson, Jimmy Shirley, Al Hall, J.C. Heard.  For PAGE MR. TRUMPET, the front line is simply Page and Nicholas, a combination not otherwise on record.

Here’s what I believe is the first take (the alternate), a rocking medium blues:

And the master take, with a cleaner start from an apparently inexhaustible Lips:

And, because no scrap of Lips Page is to be ignored, here is a transfer from the original 78 that includes the opening dialogue:

If this posting has so excited you that you feel thirsty, may I suggest a bottle of this.  Lips himself took the test and the results are in:

LIPS PAGE COLA

May your happiness increase!