Monthly Archives: April 2008

RHYTHM MAN by TERRY TEACHOUT

I confess that I haven’t always agreed with Terry Teachout on everything. But I was greatly impressed and moved by his piece on the late singer Nancy La Mott that appeared in A Terry Teachout Reader, so I have revised my opinion.

And when I read on Marc Myers’ perceptive and diligent blog, JazzWax, that Teachout had just completed a new biography of Louis, called RHYTHM MAN, to be published by Harcourt next year, I was hopeful.

Louis has been the beneficiary — sometimes the victim — of a good deal of prose. Some of it has been properly adulatory, although uncritical in its admiration. Some has been the businesslike writing of a competent for-hire biographer who lacked a feeling for jazz. And, of course, there was the book that I believe began by wanting to be fair and objective but ending up trying to cut Louis down to human size, to knock him off the pedestal. None of these books has gotten the real man, profoundly simple and elegantly complex, across to us in some satisfying way. Perhaps Teachout’s book will do a better job? If you check out his blog, you will find his comments about Louis and “Hello, Dolly,” for instance, to be plain-spoken and thoughtful. He just might be able to balance the contradictions that ruled Louis’s life and art: how the man who created something astoundingly new whenever he played or sang could become the happy creature of habit who gave the people “a good show” by playing and singing the same songs almost note-for-note. I know it isn’t fashionable to say this, and musicians who worked with Louis say that he gave such meaning to the apparently similar notes that the experience transcended itself . . . but the sad facts are also available to anyone who wishes to listen to more than an hour of the All-Stars plowing through, say, “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” once Catlett and Teagarden left. Perhaps, just perhaps, Teachout will reconcile those two men and artists for us. Even an irritating book on Louis might well be worth reading. We’ll see next year.

SWEET AND HOT! BARBARA ROSENE (May 10, 7-10 PM)

I’ve heard Barbara Rosene sing at a variety of places since late 2004, and I’ve always been impressed by her sincerity, her knowledge of her material, and the sympathetic way she worked with jazz players. You have another chance to catch her, surrounded by her creative friends, in the most congenial of settings. The friends? Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Jesse Gelber, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Another smoky night club with a high cover charge? Or a dimly lit cabaret?

No, it’s down-to-earth and local: Barbara’s annual appearance at “Cabaret Night,” sponsored by the jazz-loving folks at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 130 Jerusalem Avenue, Hicksville, New York 11801. Not only do Barbara and friends do the songs she’s famous for — in person and on her Stomp Off, Arbors, and Azica CDs — but the ambiance is much like Thornton Wilder’s Grovers Corners. That is, if Our Town had a hip soundtrack and Emily knew all about Annette Hanshaw, Ruth Etting, and Bessie Smith. (I had this vision of a production where Emily sang “You’ve Got The Right Key, But The Wrong Keyhole” to George and scared him to death.)

Where else can you hear hot jazz, watch expert dancing, eat potato chips, and end the evening with sheet cake and coffee?

For more information, Holy Trinity’s number is 516-931-1920. Be sure to visit www.barbararosene.com., too. Saturday night doesn’t have to be the loneliest night of the week.

THE MANY FACES OF CHARLIE CARANICAS

I first heard the impressive trumpet player Charlie Caranicas one night in 2005 at the much-missed jazz club, The Cajun, when he was part of Kevin Dorn’s devil-may-care ensemble, the Traditional Jazz Collective. Tall and serious-looking, Charlie offered one shapely solo after another, playing throughout the range of his horn with a glossy brilliance, never straining for effect but making us sit up and take admiring notice. He had his own sound, his own easy swing. At the time, he had only one CD under his own name, GREEN CHIMNEYS.

But there’s cause for celebration: a new duet CD featuring Charlie and pianist Tom Roberts has come out, and he has recorded another as a sideman with pianist Jesse Gelber and singer Kate Manning. A veritable onslaught of Caranicas!

His most recent CD, MOVE OVER (Black Knight Records) is compelling, whether it’s romping or thoughtful. I leave the entire history of trumpet (cornet) piano duets to Phil Schaap’s learned notes. This CD captures Charlie’s lovely sound and amazing stylistic range. That last phrase might alarm some readers, but Charlie is real to the core. He’s not another one of those players who can “do” the whole history of jazz, making all local stops — but it’s all synthetic. (You can draw up your own list of such highly-praised players, slithering from one unconvincing pastiche after another: no need to abuse them here.)

Charlie gets under the skin of the song he’s playing: he can comfortably settle down in Twenties Louis (“Once In A While,” “Wild Man Blues,” a muted “Willie the Weeper,” and my favorite, “Yes, I’m In the Barrel”) without being hemmed in by stylistic conventions. And “Move Over,” the CD’s title track, evokes the whole Ellington band — in addition, it’s a fine, neglected song. Charlie’s “I’m Comin’ Virginia,” a heartfelt tribute, has a bounce, rather than being another semi-elegiac homage to Bix. And catch Charlie’s admirable technique in the closing arpeggio, ascending into the sky! His versions of two of the most beautiful melodies imaginable, “Lotus Blossom” and “Blame It On My Youth” are all heart. The repertoire is admittedly traditional, but Charlie’s traditionalism isn’t narrow: his solos have the energy of the great Swing Era trumpeters, but I also found myself thinking of Clifford Brown’s recordings with strings. And the comparison does Charlie every credit.

The other half of the duo, Tom Roberts, is a masterful accompanist, whose knowledge of the piano tradition is happily on display at every turn. Here’s a Morton flourish, a singing Stacy line, a Hines tremolo, some fervent stride. His solos dance and strut, but it’s his teamwork, generous and intuitive, that shines. This one’s a keeper! Check out www.charliejazz.com or call 800-543-9158 for more information, or if your local record store (remember record stores?) is all out, the Caranicas bin understandably depleted.

About GREEN CHIMNEYS. I had to ask Charlie to dig out a copy of his 1994 CD for me, and it may be a rarity, hard to find. But it’s worth searching for. On it, he plays fluegelhorn as well as trumpet, and is joined by reedman Bob Parsons, pianist Frank Kimbrough, Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass, and Tim Horner on drums and percussion. On the surface, it is a post-bop excursion worlds away from MOVE OVER, but that’s only the surface. The opening track rocks Monk’s dissonant blues as it deserves, with Parsons’ tart alto perfectly paired to Charlie (over a propulsive rhythm section). Because much of the music is blues-based, I thought of the Horace Silver and Cannonball Adderley groups, but there’s a timeless swing to the CD — with Charlie summoning up Sweets Edison and a whole host of Ellington brass. I was particularly moved by his touching “Diane,” Strayhorn-inspired without being derivative. His “Prelude and Jam” begins as a growly soliloquy, then with Parsons’ lovely clarinet flourishes underneath, turns the corner into a soundtrack for a yet-unfilmed adventure movie. “Makin’ Whoopee” is a properly winking trumpet-bass duet. Even at the fastest tempos, Charlie doesn’t do what Louis Armstrong deplored: he doesn’t “run away from his notes,” and every one’s a pearl.

As fine a leader as Charlie is, he’s also a peerless sideman, getting in to the mood of whatever ensemble he’s in. A particularly happy example of this is GELBER AND MANNING GOES PUBLIC, subtitled “The Latest Musical Gaiety,” an accurate description for sure. Gelber is Jesse, an energetic pianist-singer (and underrated composer) who goes his own ways at the keyboard, concocting his own heady version of stride and parlor piano. His partner, Kate Manning, is blessed with a wondrous voice — as brassy as Judy Garland at her best, as tender as Mildred Bailey at her most blue. What distinguishes them from anyone else now performing is that they have An Act with the most novel repertoire: good songs, mostly frisky but a few yearning, from the Public Domain — before anyone reading this post was born, perhaps. Their CD and live appearances also feature a line of snappy boy-girl patter (wistful, romantic, or double-entendre) that would have made them the hit of the Keith-Orpheum circuit. On their CD, they are nobly supported by our men Charlie and Kevin Dorn. You can rely on Kevin to keep a steady, rocking four-bar pulse, ornamented with touches of Krupa, Wettling, or Leeman, and Charlie offers “hot” playing that made me think of a caffeinated Muggsy Spanier who had left all his cliches at home. You’ll have to hear the CD to savor its pleasures, and I urge you to do so (check out www.gelbermusic.com).

Charlie and his friends, whatever the context, are multi-talented, highly rewarding players.


DAWN LAMBETH

Dawn Lambeth, the quiet West Coast sensation, has just released her second CD, in the fine tradition of Maxine Sullivan and Mildred Bailey. She is an understated but compelling singer who fits wonderfully into small jazz groups — there’s no letdown when the soloists give way to the vocal — and the results are charming without ever being self-consciously nostalgic. Dawn isn’t one of those girl singers who found a Billie Holiday record a life-changing experience, not that there’s anything wrong with that — but then went off to imitate Lady Day. Dawn sounds like herself, which is a fine thing. You won’t think of her voice first — she doesn’t strive for coloratura effects — but she swings and can tell a story. What more could anyone wish for? She has a dark-toned alto and an easy, conversational way of addressing lyrics as if she believed in the words and the sentiment. She finds new notes to sing that seem just right, and her time (crucial for this lilting variety of jazz) is both right-on and flexible: she plays with the beat, pushing forward here and hesitating there, elongating a syllable you wouldn’t expect or cutting one short that another singer would have drawn out for melodrama. She fits right in with the instrumental soloists, stays at their level, and inspires them. But you’ll hear this for yourself. And hear this you should! Both of her CDs are available through Worlds Records and CD Baby (see the blogroll to visit their sites) and they are rare pleasures.

IT’S ON EBAY

. . . which is rather like finding a sacred talisman for sale online, although I know not everyone will share my moment of hushed reverence and deep temptation.

JAZZ AND POETRY AND JAZZ

Consider these four pictures, if you will:

Their arrangement isn’t perverse or arbitrary. But it occurred to me that they sum up the two great currents of being in American art over the last two hundred years: the Includers and the Excluders. Those who try to encompass their own huge vision within the bounds of a form; those who pare away anything extraneous to offer us epigrams, tiny cryptic near-riddles. What if Emily Dickinson is really poetry’s Thelonious Monk — sharp-edged, caustically lovely creative force, saying all that needs to be said in her hymnlike stanzas? Perhaps we should only read her to the accompaniment of Monk’s version of “Abide With Me,” which might be his shortest recording? And, to turn the proposition around, doesn’t Art Tatum make much more sense if we hear every solo, every chorus, as his personal Song of Myself ? It’s true, the proposition might need work. Dickinson might really be Count Basie. Consider it. For myself, I’m wondering if Wordsworth is more a James P. Johnson or perhaps even Earl Hines.

FEELING THE SPIRIT

People danced in the aisles at The Ear Inn last night.

In the movies, when a scene takes place in a jazz club, inevitably, the music is transcendent, the audience transported. Experienced listeners know that this doesn’t happen often. And sometimes it happens for the wrong reasons, showmanship or Scotch-induced euphoria. When the musicians play wondrously and the audience understands what they are hearing, that’s rare and thrilling.

Last night at The Ear Inn was one of those splendid times when everything coalesced, lifting the already fine players to a higher plane, uplifting all of us, too. The music was quietly spectacular, the audience attentive and enthusiastic.

The Ear Regulars who came together on April 20 were old friends: Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Scott Robinson on reeds, James Chirillo on guitar, and Greg Cohen on bass. Each of these players is special, someone able to lift up a group of musicians by himself. Scott deserves a special note about his instruments. I imagine his studio as wall-to-wall instruments, each more rare and strange than the next. To list all his usual reed and brass instruments would be exhausting. Last night, he brought his tenor, but also two reeds, surpassing strange — a tenor Rothaphone, resembling a tenor sax seen through the wrong end of the binoculars, thicker than a fountain pen but not much. Its adenoidal sound suggests that there was a naughty interlude with a bassoon in its past. But Scott played it with his characteristic easy splendor. Aside from his tenor sax, his other horn was a taragato, apparently a Hungarian version of a straight soprano, with a sweeter sound and a wooden barrel. Give Scott a pencil sharpener and stand back — lovely music will come out.

I’ve praised Kellso elsewhere in this blog as the Prince of Growl, someone whose ascents and descents get to the deep heart of jazz. He said to me that this band brought together Don Cherry (Ornette Coleman’s early colleague) and Dixieland, and he was right. Chirillo and Cohen had a solid rhythmic wave going — no mere matter of metronomic precision. Flexibility was the key, as this quartet listened to each other and reacted in nanoseconds. Many times, listening, I was reminded of why we say jazz musicians play — jubilant experimentation was in the air. The music started out simply — melody plus variations over a swinging pulse, but it went to the Edge, gave the Edge a friendly hug, and then explored uncharted territories, scaring no one in the process.

The band kicked off with “Sunday,” an early Jule Styne song — the Regulars had been playing for almost a year of Sundays, but hadn’t called this song, which seemed perfectly on target. Taken at a slightly slower tempo than its usual bounce, it felt like a ballad with a Basie heart: Jon began his solo with cries that suggested someone calling out to see if there were any other hikers in the woods. With whimsical logic, he called “From Monday On” next. Chirillo had fun laying The Third Man theme over whatever chords were moving along. Scott’s momentum took him seamlessly from one chorus to the next, and Greg, in high spirits, stayed on one good note for some time, enjoying it, prompting Scott to launch into a witty rendition of “One Note Samba,” a great jazz witticism.

After some not-too-serious discussion about what songs could follow — Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were vetoed — Scott launched into a solo rubato introduction to “The More I See You.” Aside from brief solos by Jon and James, the latter tinkering with the line to make it more of a blues, it was all Scott, reaching into the upper register with the utmost delicacy. A little comedy took over when the lovely ballad had ended, perhaps as a release from the tension of creating great beauty — Scott paraphrased the melody as a slap-tongue interlude. For a moment, I thought Chuck Jones had come to 326 Spring Street.

A fast “Whispering” came next, reminiscent of the glory days of the Braff-Barnes quartet. Scott stretched the expected chords in his solo, Greg, happily floating on the rhythm wave, bobbed his head. The Ear Regulars have returned often to “Some of These Days,” an old-time classic with a built-in swing, but this time, it was “Samba These Days,” with twangy abstract dissonances from James, upward slides from Jon, a joyous momentum.

Strayhorn’s “The Intimacy of the Blues” followed — a walking slow blues introduced by Greg and James, with the horns taking their time, earnest and sad against a slow-motion boogie woogie background. Chirillo did his own version of an Earl Hines tremolo in a solo that sounded as if he was sitting on a Mississippi porch at dusk. With each chorus, the song became a grieving lullaby, as slow as possible but with a fierce pulse underneath. I couldn’t imagine what could follow that, but Jon pulled something else out of his substantial memory, a stomping “Farewell Blues,” lifted up by Greg’s slapped bass and propulsive one-note riffs that backed Louis on his early Thirties records. Scott took out his Rothaphone and wailed away on it.

That’s when it happened.

At a table in front of me, a slender woman had been gyrating, holding on to the shoulders of the man seated in front of her. Without a word, the two of them, lithe and graceful, started to jitterbug ferociously in the smallest possible space, moving in tiny but energetic arcs, dancing on a dime — with hip-wiggling, dips, and spins that would have wowed them at the Savoy Ballroom. It was brilliant, funny, heartwarming. Whoever you are, O dancing couple, blessings on your nimble selves!

I was grateful for the break — I didn’t think my nervous system could absorb much more delightful stimulation — and it gave me a chance to talk to Doug Pomeroy, veteran recording engineer and wise listener. And, during the first set, a half-dozen extraordinary musicians had come in — trombonists Harvey Tibbs and Jim Fryer; the young trumpet sensation Bria Skonberg; reedmen Dan Block and Mark Phaneuf, singers Tamar Korn and Gina Sicilia, guitarist Dave Gross, banjoist Cynthia Sayer.

The quartet reassembled for a breezy, affectionate “The Lady’s in Love With You,” and then Jon invited Bria Skonberg to sit in. Bria, from Vancouver, is a Louis-and-Roy-inspired hot trumpeter. She has a big sound, impressive technique, a thoughtful way of constructing phrases, a fervent vibrato (used judiciously) and a throaty growl. All of this was on display in a jogging “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” with the two trumpeters graciously trading places — one playing embellished melody, the other improvising around the lead or offering echoing harmony parts.

Then it happened again, as if one piece of jubilant choreography wasn’t enough. A solidly-built woman in a navy-blue dress, her hair cropped short, decided that the narrow aisle of the Ear’s main room, was a New Orleans street parade, and began, with a paper napkin waving flirtatiously from her mobile right hand, to sashay up and down the room. The grins that were already there — on the bandstand and in the audience — grew wider, and I heard more than one voice say approvingly, “Second line!” which is the name given to the dancing bystanders in the Crescent City. Thank you, ma’am, for sharing your good times with us.

A new quintet of Bria, Harvey, Scott, James, and Greg turned to a heart-on-sleeve “Out of Nowhere,” before the singer Tamar Korn (of the new band, The Cangelosi Cards) was invited to sing, Scott turning to his taragato for an Ellington-shaded version of “Dinah,” at a fervently slow tempo. Korn, tiny and emotive, showed off a nearly operatic voice with deep jazz roots. I heard Adelaide Hall and Lee Morse in her scat exchanges with Jon. She is her own woman, someone to search out. She was invited to stay on for a brisk “After You’ve Gone” which gave all the sitters-in space in the best Thirties manner of two compact choruses apiece. Gina Sicilia took over from Tamar for a dark, smoky “Fine and Mellow,” and Cynthia Sayer joined the congregation — making for a string section of electric and acoustic guitars and banjo, each individualistic yet meshing. It was well past eleven, but no one wanted to go home, so Jon called for a closing “You’re Driving Me Crazy” which gave the trombones room to trade solos.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier group — not artificial enthusiasm whipped up by drum solos and high notes, by volume and showmanship, but by the energy and joy the musicians (and dancers) so generously shared with us. Everything possible in jazz had happened here, and more. Inspired solos, of course, but jammed counterpoint, stop-time backgrounds, riffs and organ-note backgrounds, sotto voce hums, four and eight-bar trades, key changes, spontaneous head arrangements.

I walked to the subway, so dreamily happy that I walked right past the entrance, thinking what a privilege it had been to be there. I’ve had a great deal of aesthetic levitation at The Ear Inn, and I expect to have a good deal more, but I won’t ever forget last night.

I GOT THEM REISSUE BLUES, THEY HAUNT ME NIGHT AND DAY

Does anyone else suffer with this particular moral dilemma?

The major American record companies are massively uninterested in keeping their catalogues of what is, after all, essential music in print.  So that Columbia (now absorbed into the Sony-BMG megalith) let its seminal THE JAZZ ODYSSEY OF JAMES RUSHING, ESQ., vanish.  The sessions John Hammond did for Vanguard in the Fifties with Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Paul Quinichette, Coleman Hawkins, Mel Powell, Sir Charles Thompson, Jo Jones, etc., got sold to a company who issued them piecemeal, picking assorted tracks blindly to create “anthologies” they assumed would sell.  Ellis Larkins playing Victor Young on Decca; Lou McGarity on Argo; Tony Fruscella on Atlantic . . . all disappeared as if the ground opened up.

If readers have the original vinyl issues and a functioning turntable, perhaps haunt used record shops, where the price may be wondrously inflated, all may be well.   But for those of us who like our CDs, a morally slippery solution whispers to us.  Because European and UK copyright laws are less stringent — or, perhaps, because the authorities have other crimes to investigate beyond illicit issues of JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S, inconceivable as that may seem, bootleg issues seem to escape notice.

Thus, mea maxima culpa, I have purchased Lone Hill Jazz issues of Jimmy Rushing’s Jazz Odyssey; Lou McGarity playing music from Some Like It Hot, the Ellis Larkins Deccas, a four-CD Tony Fruscella collection on Jazz Factory, and many others.   I feel guilty.

I don’t know which, if any, of these musicians have living children or other relatives — but the new CD reissues don’t ask players or their estates for permission, nor do they offer payment for the rights to the material.  You could say that all of this is permitted in the name of music, and that the publicity given the dead artist by such reissues offsets the offense.  Perhaps if a bootleg issue had to take on the cost of permissions and royalties, nothing would be issued.

All these things are true.  But my pleasure at hearing Jimmy Rushing swing “Lullaby of Broadway,” a transcendent pleasure, is undermined just a little by the thought that I am cheating his estate by buying this CD or others.

Do any readers have a solution to such dilemmas?

RANDY SANDKE, DOWNTOWN

This notice should be all anyone needs, but if you don’t know about Randy’s many deep talents, here’s a quick primer.  He’s one of those rare musicians who moves easily from Bix Beiderbecke to free-thinking modern classical composing and playing without strain or artificiality.  His CDs on the Evening Star label, including THE SUBWAY BALLET, THE MYSTIC TRUMPETER, and one pairing him with an ensemble of ancient viols and Bill Charlap (!) testify to his boundless creativity and ability to create beauty that always surprises.


Friday, April 25, 2008

HARLEM IN THE HIMALAYAS
Performer: Randy Sandke, Trumpet
7:00 pm | Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th Street
Box Office: 212.620.5000 ext. 344
$18 in advance | $20 at door

JUDY CARMICHAEL STRIDES AWAY

The Beloved and I went to Olga Bloom’s “Bargemusic” last Thursday to hear the ebullient stride pianist Judy Carmichael and her trio — with sterling fellows Jon-Erik Kellso and Chris Flory — and the barge wasn’t the only thing a-rockin’. I’ll be writing up that concert for Jazz Improv (www.jazzimprov.com), but take that opening sentence as a preview.

Judy’s new CD, SOUTHERN SWING, just out, pairs her with two like-minded Australian stars, cornetist Stephen Grant and guitarist John Scurry, at the 2007 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz. It presents her set at the festival as it occurred, and the results are cheering. Judy offers a bouncy, streamlined version of many of Fats Waller’s most famous pianistic motifs. Her rhythm is energetic, her pleasure in what she is doing comes through wholly. Catch her bell-like solo passages late in “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” quite moving in their patient simplicity, her willingness to let the piano ring out. Some of Judy’s pleasure, however, comes through in her chatty banter between numbers: the band is so rewarding that I would have traded much of the banter for one or two more songs.

I knew Stephen Grant and John Scurry from hearing them on the CDs recorded live at cornetist Bob Barnard’s annual jazz parties. Scurry I was accustomed to as a limber single-string soloist and rhythm player: here, he offers acoustic chordal solos, heartening suggestions of players like Bernard Addison and Carmen Mastren. Grant is even more astonishing: he appears at the Barnard parties as a pianist — one so splendid that I found myself listening to ensemble passages to hear his uplifting Jess Stacy – Teddy Wilson lines. Here — damn him for being so excessively talented — he shows off his heartfelt, loose-limbed cornet playing. It sounds simple, but every note is perfectly placed, his tone is quietly burnished. Like Scurry, he’s absorbed the great players but isn’t imitating them: a listener catches an annunciatory Joe Thomas arpeggio or a Buck Clayton epigram, but it’s all Grant.  (I also learned that Grant’s talents extend beyond straight-ahead jazz, and that he has recorded on accordion and saxophone.  Highly envy-provoking, I must say.)

The trio creates some very pleasing moments of improvised synergy — the riffs that close the Wilson-Holiday inspired “If Dreams Come True,” the pretty Grant-Scurry duet on “Crazy He Calls Me,” and the mournful yet swinging “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” suggesting a Basie small group after hours, taking its time.

Visit www.judycarmichael.com to purchase this and other CDs, to see Judy with an alligator on her lap, as well as a ckip of her sextet (featuring Kellso and Michael Hashim) on Brazillian television. For CDs recorded at Bob Barnard’s Jazz Parties from 1999 on, don’t miss www.rockyotway.com.

MODERN MASTERS: SACHA PERRY, GRANT STEWART

Since many of the jazz musicians I revere are now dead, my musical immersions have a touch of necrology: this, I say, to someone, is the last recording ever made by Kid Lemon’s Happy Pals before the fatal club fire. Art blends with mourning and mortality — we can never hear Charlie Christian alive again! — to intensify the beauty of the music and our feeling of loss.

So it is both a pleasure and our responsibility to praise the living while they are still with us. The living, in this case, are pianist Sacha Perry and tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart, both often found playing at the darkly congenial Greenwich Village jazz club Smalls.

But my subject is two performances, found on separate CDs, less than fifteen minutes of music of a rare intensity: Perry’s trio exploration of the Depression lament, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime”?” and Stewart’s “You’re My Thrill.”

Perry’s trio session (where he is joined by bassist Ari Roland and drummer Phil Stewart) came out on Not Brand X (Smalls Records srcd-0022). Perry has composed and recorded many originals, but this CD is devoted to standards by Porter, Rodgers, Gershwin. But these aren’t the same old jazz tunes-to-blow-on, nor are they treated in formulaic ways. “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” was a song rooted in a deep social awareness — Yip Harburg’s lyrics spring from the pageant of World War One veterans who were destitute in the early Thirties — and Jay Gorney’s strong melody verges on the operatic, as in Bing Crosby’s contemporaneous version, powerful and sad.

Perry takes this song at a properly elegiac tempo, reharmonizing its simple chords into granitic blocks, dense, weighty, and mournful. It becomes both dirge and angry protest: how could you have abandoned us? There are hints of Herbie Nichols, but Perry is blazing new trails, creating an intensely moving performance, serious, nearly grief-stricken.

Dark beauty of another kind comes through from the first notes of Grant Stewart’s “You’re My Thrill,” from his new CD, Young At Heart (Sharp Nine 1041), where he is joined by Tardo Hammer, Peter Washington, and Joe Farnsworth. Most listeners associate this song with Billie Holiday’s late-Forties Decca recording (I was astonished to learn that the song was written in 1933, also by Jay Gorney — are we on the verge of a Gorney renaissance? It wouldn’t be a bad idea: Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, and Ruby Braff did great things with another Gorney song with a political edge, “It’s The Same Old South.”)

I heard this performance — without knowing the players — coming through my car radio while I was on my way to work — courtesy of WKCR’s longtime Tuesday “Daybreak Express” man, Sid Gribetz, the latter-day Symphony Sid. It held me spellbound, or as spellbound as I could be without driving off the road. Stewart takes the song at a steady slow pace, from his rubato duet with pianist Hammer, creating something that is half paean, half prayer. His tone is mahogany and port wine; his timbre is deep-hued fabric, passionate and rich. And he refuses to rush: he lingers over his notes — in a way that suggests a combination of Ben Webster and Pablo Casals.

Both of these performances are music to marvel at, music to savor. Bless Perry and Stewart: may they continue to create masterpieces that can stop listeners in their tracks in astonished surprise and joy.

As an aside: Grant’s CD has the additional boon of fine straightforward notes by writer Marc Myers. If you haven’t visited his blog, JazzWax, where he writes about a jazz record –78 to CD — every blessed day, you have missed out on a real pleasure. He’s also interviewed many of the great masters (Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter!) in addition.

JAZZ SCORE: MUSEUM OF MODERN ART FILMS (April 17 – September 15, 2008)

Jazz and film seem to be meant for each other, if only because musicians are such unaffected dramatic creatures when playing or singing. The two art forms first met in the late Twenties where, when the script had characters go into a nightclub, a hot band was playing, as part of the nocturnal anything-goes ambiance. Later, jazz fanciers peered with religious devotion at the uncredited band, visible only for seconds at a time. Was that trumpet player Freddie Jenkins ( a sublime possibility) or just an actor miming to a pre-recorded soundtrack? There were also the Star Turns — Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, in their paper-thin biography, The Fabulous Dorseys, go “uptown” to a club where Art Tatum is playing, and, out of nowhere, Charlie Barnet and other big-name bandleaders materialize to join Art on a blues. Silly stuff, but it adds a precious few minutes to our visual memories of Tatum, caught in a dimension beyond pure sound.

A full understanding of what jazz could bring to films that had nothing to do with nightlife or musicians had to wait some decades, but this rewarding marriage of art forms has been alive and well for more than fifty years now. The Museum of Modern Art is hosting a lengthy exhibition of these films — among them, some particularly satisfying and well-known examples of the genre: Mickey One, dir. Arthur Penn, music by Eddie Sauter and Stan Getz; Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows), dir. Louis Malle, music by Miles Davis; Paris Blues, dir. Martin Ritt, featuring Duke and Louis; Anatomy of A Murder, dir Preminger, feat. Duke; Odds Against Tomorrow, dir. Robert Wise, music by John Lewis, performed by the MJQ and Bill Evans; I Want To Live!, dir. Wise, music by Johnny Mandel . . . as well as rarer Japanese films, Robert Frank’s OK End Here, a short film with music by Ornette Coleman, and films with music by Blakey, Roach, Benny Carter, David Amram, Mal Waldron, Teo MaceroHerbie Hancock, Lalo Schifrin, and more.

Visit http://www/moma.org/exhibitions/exhibitions.php?id=8162 for a full schedule of screenings and ticket information. If you’ve never been there for just this purpose, MOMA is a wonderful place to see films, and your admission ticket to the museum buys you a seat. So you can have your fill of a multiplicity of modern arts. (The Beloved and I spent a happy afternoon there, some months ago, watching the only film footage — silent, alas! — of Bert Williams.)

THE GLORY OF HOT LIPS PAGE

Having a plethora of new compact discs to listen to is a wonderful thing, but it can make even the most devoted listener forget about the records of one’s past. But all of this can be repaired easily, and I am grateful to Todd Bryant Weeks, jazz scholar and trumpeter, for reminding me about Oran “Hot Lips” Page, the Texas-born trumpeter and jazz singer. Weeks’s biography of Lips, Luck’s In My Corner: The Life and Music of Hot Lips Page (Routledge) has just come out — and it is a thoroughly rewarding study.

It is impossible not to regret that such a book wasn’t written in the 1980s, when Lips’s colleagues Jo Jones, Buddy Tate, Vic Dickenson, Sammy Price (the list could go on) were alive and talkative, but Weeks is a first-rate researcher, so he has gleaned more than one would expect from oral histories, newspapers, letters, and interviews with the survivors, including Lips’s family. Weeks is also a calm, plain-spoken prose stylist, which makes the book a pleasure to read. As well, he is a jazz trumpeter himself, so the examination of Lips’s music is clear and enlightening. (In the evocative photograph by Charles Peterson, Lips is having a joyous time playing alongside another jazz warrior, Sidney Bechet, at Jimmy Ryan’s.)

Who was “Hot Lips” Page? An early Basieite, a Louis Armstrong disciple, a trumpeter with power, subtlety, and seemingly indefatigable swing, an inventive and touching blues singer, a musical sparkplug — the hero of “Harlem after hours,” an ebullient, down-home man and player. Although his career never blossomed as it should have, given his talents, he was also visible and active in changing styles in jazz and popular music: he could play with Eddie Condon, Fats Waller, Charlie Parker, Pearl Bailey, Big Joe Turner, Billie Holiday, and Wynonie Harris. His recorded career bridges early Kansas City swing and jump blues, Swing Era big bands, the transitional groups of the Forties and Fifties — and when he died, far too young, in 1954, rhythm and blues and early rock were in place. He could have given Ray Charles some fierce competition, the records prove.

Although Lips did not get the opportunities he deserved, and Weeks’s rather sunny biography is at times more optimistic than the facts would suggest, Lips left a splendid musical legacy.

The biography has a fine discography, so I hope that suitably-inspired readers will be able to search out such masterpieces as the 1951 “Sweet Sue,” recorded at a Rudi Blesh party, the irreplaceable live material Jerry Newman caught in 1940 and 1941 with pianist Donald Lambert, among others, including “I Got Rhythm,” “Konk,” and “My Melancholy Baby,” and the ad hoc 1950 Philadelphia concert that had Lips holding forth majestically on “Muskrat Ramble” and “Squeeze Me.” There’s a priceless duet with Fats Waller at Carnegie Hall in 1942, and some whooping 1952 sessions taken down from the Stuyvesant Casino with Joe Sullivan, Lou McGarity, and George Wettling.

Lips always had a great time working with Eddie Condon, as the rare Floor Show recordings and the — happily available — Town Hall broadcasts show. Search out “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street,” “Chinatown,” “What’cha Doin’ After The War?,” “Uncle Sam Blues,” and “The Sheik of Araby.” Glorious playing from a man whose casual intensity comes right through your headphones, someone worth discovering and re-discovering.

SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG

Readers who know me know that my small techno-knowledge is hard-won and home-grown and other hyphenated words. I have been fighting the good fight trying to understand how to concoct an RSS feed, so that readers who liked such things could be notified automatically when there was a new post . . . .

but the technological waters have parted. So if you would like, go to www.google.com/reader, and type in “jazzlives” at the bottom of the page where there’s a blank search. And you will then be subscribed to this blog. It’s all good.

A FEW MORE WORDS ABOUT JEFF HEALEY (by Brad Kay)

Melissa Collard sent me a copy of Brad Kay’s loving, funny, and beautifully-realized piece about the late Jeff Healey, and it is reprinted here with Brad’s permission.  If Brad’s name is not familiar to you, he is a wizard cornetist, pianist, jazz scholar and researcher, and composer — someone you should get to know!  It’s also obvious that he is a splendid writer, too.

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I will miss Jeff Healey. He was as singular a human being as has ever lived. Our every encounter was, for me, an exercise in amazement. Others will speak of his great heart and humanity, his unique musicianship (with which I collaborated on several occasions), his modest, “just folks” demeanor, his dry, acerbic wit and sheer intelligence. I would like to speak mostly about his nervous system.

It took knowing Jeff only a short time (starting in the early ’90s) before I concluded that his blindness was not a handicap, but an enhancement, which endowed him with almost supernatural powers. Neurologists have shown that when a person is deprived of sight, the visual cortex – fully one-third of the brain – does not lie fallow, but its functions are redistributed to the other senses, especially hearing and touch. Nobody ever demonstrated this kind of synaptic recycling more convincingly than Jeff, whose remaining senses were heightened – and combined! – to a colossal degree. Coupled with his immense and unfailing memory, he seemed to be the very embodiment of human potential, a forerunner of how our species could evolve.

Ironically, he fueled these exotic sensibilities with the worst junk-food diet imaginable – McDonald’s, Pizza, Wonder Bread, Coke, Jo-Jo’s, Twinkies – a cornucopia of dreck. I witnessed this. In hindsight, I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did!

Jeff and I encountered each other most frequently on the bandstand playing jazz, and in various listening rooms, with our venerable 78-rpm records.

He could identify records by touch alone, abetted by his immaculate, eidetic memory. One night, on a visit to Los Angeles, he flabbergasted Steven Lasker and me with his shellac-detecting prowess. When I handed him a certain 78, he palmed it, probed its edge and surfaces with his fingertips, and said, “Hmm. It’s an acoustic Victor – Let’s see… number 18457. It’s the ODJB – ‘Ostrich Walk.’ Nice condition, too.” A distinct hurl of the gauntlet, this. Steven and I took turns at this new game of “Stump Jeff,” pulling increasingly obscure and anomalous records off the shelf. Nothing fazed him. “Well … this is obviously a Columbia product… about 1930, I reckon – but with this matrix — it’s got to be a Clarion. It’s “Blue Again” by Ben Selvin, as ‘Ford Britten and his Blue Comets’.” … “Hmmm – Nice late Paramount – lousy condition – you sonuvabitch! When did you get a Charley Patton?” It went like this for over an hour, until, in a final spasm of esoteric perversity, I pulled out a fabulously rare, freak Gennett Champion release of a Brunswick master, “Cho-King” by the Dixie Serenaders. Jeff palpated the shellac, and cogitated. “Must be a Brunswick.” “It’s NOT! I crowed, exchanging evil grins with Steven. “Not a Brunswick? This is odd indeed… Are you sure??” “Yep!” More evil grins. A pause. Finally: “Hmmm… Okay. I’m licked. What label is it?” “It’s a CHAMPION!” “Oh, of course,” said Jeff, not losing a beat. “It’s the Dixie Serenaders doing ‘Cho-King.'” He retired undefeated, leaving Steven and me blubbering incoherently.

The speed of his thinking kept me in stitches. Another 78 story: Once on eBay, I scored the jazz record find of a lifetime. It was a copy of the incredibly rare 1924 “Naughty Man,” by Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra, featuring Louis Armstrong, on the scarce Oriole label. To boot, it was a different take from the three other known copies, making it unique. Of course, I had to phone and tell Jeff, who had just co-produced a three-CD set of the “Complete Louis Armstrong with Fletcher Henderson.” The finding of this record “un-completed” it. I craved to keep Jeff dangling on tenterhooks, to savor stretching out the story in excruciating detail. Our actual conversation was:

Me: (excited) “Hey Jeff! Guess what? I won this album of Oriole records on eBay, and…”

Jeff: (instantly) “You’re going to tell me you got a copy of ‘Naughty Man.'”

Me: (rattled) “Er, well …yes.”

Jeff: (half a beat pause) “You sonuvabitch.”

Me: (deflated) “Uh, there’s more…”

Jeff: (annoyed)What!?

Me: (sighing) “It’s take 2.”

Jeff: (another half-beat) “You sonuvabitch.”

End of story.

I visited Jeff in his Mississauga home in 1999 and we spent several days bumming around together. Walking the streets of Toronto with him exploded any idea I had of mincing my steps to match the pace of a blind man. I had to run to keep up with him! He barely touched his cane to the pavement as he hurtled ahead. He even warned me of an oncoming truck, which might have flattened me otherwise. Fame pursued him everywhere we walked. Person after person, on foot and from cars, greeted him as if he were an especially benevolent mayor, who had recently distributed free money. “Hey JEFF!” “We love you, Jeff Healey!!” “Yo, HEALEY!! You RULE, Man!!” The air was thick with goodwill.

One night, there was a gathering of the Toronto 78-collecting Mafia in his basement, with its thirty thousand records. Jeff’s records were not kept in sleeves – there were five shelves of naked 78s stretching thirty feet from wall to wall, looking like five branches of the Trans-Canadian oil pipeline running through his basement. When you requested a tune, Jeff would go to a section of pipeline, and in a fluid motion, run his hand across it, and yank out the precise record.

There were nine of us in the basement that night, but only eight chairs. After almost everyone had settled in, Jeff blinked quizzically and said, “Somebody doesn’t have a place to sit. Just a minute…” He bounded up the stairs and returned a moment later, brandishing a metal folding chair. Without breaking stride, with inches to spare either way, he marched between the two rows of us who were seated, and placed the chair directly in front of the lone standee. Nobody (but me!) was even slightly alarmed about possibly being clobbered by this reckless blind guy. They had seen Jeff in action too many times to be concerned, or even vaguely impressed, by this demonstration of borderline ESP.

Our last encounter was in September, 2006, when, with Dan Levinson, we played in a benefit concert for the ailing Richard Sudhalter, in New York. Though Jeff was now in treatment for cancer, he was the same fun-loving, serene, brilliant, unflappable guy. He was in great musical form that night, playing hot trumpet and his unique “piano style” guitar. I felt sure this disease was a temporary annoyance and he’d be around forever. At this juncture, I’m glad he was around at all. I will miss Jeff Healey.

Brad Kay

THE EAR INN, APRIL 6

Candid portraits taken from the ideal vantage point — a barstool right in front of the band:

Matt Munisteri (guitar) and Harvey Tibbs (trombone) deep in thought at a medium tempo.

Brad Shigeta (trombone), Marty Elkins (vocal), Greg Cohen (bass), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Stanley King (washboard). Notice that both Brad and Jon-Erik have mutes in their horns — essential for growling, although not at the audience or each other!

Greg, Jon-Erik, Orange Kellin (clarinet), Matt

LISTENING FOR HENRY CROWDER

The music historian ANTHONY BARNETT does nothing halfway, and his enterprises are never predictable. He is a scholar — a term I do not use casually – on the subject of Jazz violin who has published extensive bio-discographies of Eddie South and Stuff Smith. He has also done remarkable research on less famous players (Harry Lookofsky, Ginger Smock), and published a journal devoted to violin improvisation. But Barnett does not restrict himself to print: his AB Fable CDs are full of marvels: airshots of Stuff Smith leading a band of Fats Waller alumni; homemade 78s of Ray Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, and Sonny Greer jamming; a 1966 home recording of Rex Stewart and Stuff Smith chatting and playing. Scratchy one-of-a-kind acetates are restored carefully and annotated superbly. And all of his research is presented in lively, witty, and sharp-edged prose. I would expect no less from a poet who has also been a percussionist with Don Cherry and John Tchicai.

Barnett’s newest project is unusual even for him, and its lengthy title doesn’t even begin to explain it: LISTENING FOR HENRY CROWDER: A MONOGRAPH ON HIS ALMOST LOST MUSIC with the poems and music of Henry-Music (Allardyce Book / AB Fable Recording, 2007, paper, 128 pages, with CD). I had never heard of Crowder or his music, but that is the point. The most superficial way to explain Crowder as a fit subject for Barnett’s investigations is that Crowder (1890-1955), a Jazz pianist, singer, and bandleader, recorded with Eddie South’s Alabamians in 1927-28. The “almost lost” of Barnett’s title first becomes comprehensible when we learn that all discographies prior to 2000 incorrectly stated that Antonio Spaulding was the pianist on these Victor sessions, unwittingly erasing Crowder in his two most accessible musical appearances.

But this is not simply a book about “finding” Crowder, a Jazz legend; readers should not hope to discover a homegrown Tatum, for Crowder was a capable player and improviser on the basis of the limited evidence we possess. But his pianistic talents are only a small part of his portrait and of this book. No other study justifiably intertwines Ezra Pound and the singer Bee Palmer (“The Shimmy Queen”), Jelly Roll Morton and Nancy Cunard, Samuel Beckett and Sidney Bechet (a felicitous although unlikely pairing). Crowder, the book reveals, was more than a little-known African-American musician and sideman whose band Morton fronted for a 1927 tour. He and Cunard had a seven-year relationship, with Crowder the inspiration for and a contributor to her 1934 Negro: An Anthology. Henry-Music, a tantalizing part of Barnett’s title, was a 1930 folio of poems by Cunard, Richard Aldington, Beckett, and others, with musical settings by Crowder. He is thus a tangential but intriguing figure – someone who visited Pound in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital — in the cross-continental modernist culture of the period.

Barnett’s book contains everything knowable at this distance about Crowder: a forty-page biographical profile, an itinerary of the places he played, press clippings, many photographs, reproductions of letters, record labels, drawings, articles written by and pertaining to Crowder, the poems and musical settings in Henry-Music, a discography of recordings and piano rolls and more. Crowder was, it should be said, a fine prose writer: his “Hitting Back,” published in Negro, should be far better known. And – sensibly and graciously – the book has its own CD, broad in scope but exceedingly relevant, containing not only the thirteen 78 sides on which Crowder plays and sings, but the half-dozen 1926 piano rolls he made (restored and played on modern equipment), new recordings of Crowder’s compositions – sung beautifully by Allan Harris, and four sides by orchestras with whom Crowder was associated although he did not play on these sessions.

Here, I can imagine readers muttering their version of poet Philip Larkin’s Law of Reissues, which (paraphrased) is “If you haven’t heard of this musician or these recordings before, he or they can’t be worth your interest,” which is amusing but reductionist and illogical. Crowder himself is not the sole subject of Barnett’s book, although his life, alternating between highly illuminated and shadowy, is. It isn’t one of those pretentious books about My Search for Some Famous Recluse where the author’s ego becomes the subject. This book and the accompanying CD provoke philosophical stirrings on the chord changes of “What can and cannot be known about anyone’s life?” followed by “How can anyone assemble – properly and doing justice to the subject – the posthumous fragments of evidence anyone will leave behind – to make some valid overview of what has been lived?” This book may not be Barnett’s Citizen Kane, but it awakened some of the same concerns and speculations. Because his research is so scrupulous and diligent, his delight in fact over conjecture so enlivening, I would like to see this book in universities – not just on the library shelves – because it is an essential text for anyone interested in the culture of the last century and its implications. I am also certain that readers who would profess no interest in Crowder or Cunard will delight in its perceptive, stubborn, inquiring ways.

(Copyright 2008 Cadence Magazine: www.cadencemagazine.com.)

 

WHY MUSICIANS DISTRUST CRITICS, PERHAPS?

Paging through the April 7, 2008 issue of The New Yorker, I was delighted to find “Hail To The Chief,” a brief essay by Colin Fleming commenting approvingly on the most recent Mosaic Records release — four CDs devoted to the 1936-40 recordings Lester Young did with the Count Basie Orchestra and small groups. To find Lester noted in this magazine was a surprise, for The New Yorker, since Whitney Balliett died, has acted as if jazz no longer existed.

But then I came upon this sentence:

A handful of previously unissued takes were culled from a vault treasure hunt, foremost among them a treatment of “I Left My Baby,” a gutbucket blues shorn of any hokum by a Young riff that seems to inhabit its own private atmosphere.

Fleming has good taste in admiring Lester (“Pres” or “Prez,” not “Chief,” but we shouldn’t split hairs) but I wonder if he knows what the words he uses so cavalierly actually mean. “Gutbucket” and “hokum”? Indeed. As homework, perhaps he should be asked to listen to Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five record of “Gut Bucket Blues” and the complete output of the Hokum Boys. Maybe then he will temper his verbal flourishes with some accuracy?

MELISSA COLLARD

Old Fashioned Love One of the great insiders of San Francisco jazz, Barb Hauser, wangled a copy of this CD for me a few years ago. I had never heard of the singer, although I admired her sidemen (Barrett, Skjelbred, Erickson) as well as her repertoire and, not least, her fashion sense. From the crooning opening of “I’ve Had My Moments” (a song I associated with Django and Marty Grosz, a heady pair) I was smitten. In the most Platonic artistic way, I must add. The great Thirties jazz records which merged a small, intuitive hot band with sensitive yet rhythmic singing were, I thought, gone with that decade. But Melissa’s gentle way with the lyrics was entirely convincing. Without demanding our attention or making a show of it, she sings as if she had fully absorbed not only what the words mean but what their message implies. Calmly, when she sings “Nevertheless, I’m in love with you,” it sounds like a truth. And the instrumentalists play at their very best: Barrett, whose solo skills often make us forget what a peerless ensemble trombonist he is, is in splendid form on his usual horn and even better on cornet. Skjelbred offered his usual blend of lopsided Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy, leavened with splashes of his own idiosyncrasies. Erickson, whose exuberance has sometimes obscured his subtler musical virtues, is just as fine. But Melissa is something to hear. Some current retro-jazz recordings put an ordinary singer in front of a swing group, give her some Thirties tunes to perform, and hope for the best. Often the singer imitates Lady Day — a truly bad idea, for Holiday’s style can in the wrong hands be reduced to a handful of growls and meows. (Yes, meows.) Melissa has a yearning but understated delivery: her singing is based on her speaking voice rather than a melodramatized persona; she sings from the heart. Each performance has its own mood and approach, and it’s clear that she chooses songs whose musical ambiance makes her comfortable and whose lyrics speak to her. It isn’t the high drama of “these songs are my autobiography,” but it is clear that Melissa knows what it is to miss “the you and me that used to be,” the impact of having “had her moments,” and does indeed value “old fashioned love.” It approaches heresy, but I think her version of “When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful” is even better than Fats’s. And her appeal is not narrowly limited to some imagined Brunswick-Vocalion evocation of the 78 past: she can move nimbly from small-band swing into Thirties Hawaiian (her “On A Cocoanut Island” is funny, genuine, and sweet). Her approach is always imbued with tenderness, whether the mood is bouncy (“Why Don’t We Do This More Often?”) or darker (“Street of Dreams”).Thinking her thoughts, no doubt It’s a rewarding CD — one with a true, beating heart. Melissa, of late, has found new musical partnerships in California, and I hope that a second CD, with equally rare and heartfelt performances, will come along soon. Check out her website (www.melissacollard.com) and visit CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com/cd/mcollard) to hear sound clips. She’s got it, as they used to say.

THE MISSISSIPPI RAG ROLLS ON

The April issue of the online Mississippi Rag has just appeared, once more testifying to the energy and devotion of its editor, Leslie Johnson, who has celebrated traditional jazz and ragtime for more than three decades now. You can read it for free every month by simply clicking on www.mississippirag.com., and why wouldn’t you?

For a number of years, I’ve written CD and book reviews and profiles for the Rag, but this issue marks my first regular column covering the New York hot jazz scene — so I am especially proud to be there. I hope you’ll keep me informed on happenings in and around the five boroughs, and I know you’ll find something worth reading on every page. Onwards to May!

ANOTHER SUTTON SPECTACULAR

The jazz party — an institution that’s more than forty years old — sometimes appears to be struggling under the double burdens of a shrinking audience and rising costs. But some noble warriors take these things in their stride. One of them is our friend Sunnie Sutton, who began a rewarding series of parties with her husband Ralph — that’s the Ralph Sutton — and continued them after his death. Her Denver parties are joyous, well-run affairs: everyone has a good time, musicians and guests alike, all of them old friends.

Sunnie’s 2008 spectacular is the Sutton PianoRama, and with the musicians she has lined up, it will live up to its promise: pianists Dick Hyman, Rossano Sportiello, Louis Mazetier, and Shelley Berg; rhythm men of great renown Bucky Pizzarelli, Jay Leonhart, Chuck Berghoffer, Frank Capp, and the inimitable Jake Hanna. Add a quartet of illustrious horn players — Warren Vache, John Allred, Ken Peplowski, and Houston Person — who needs more? The pianos will be well-tuned and Denver is lovely in October.

This will all happen on Saturday and Sunday, October 18 and 19, at the Marriott City Center. Only 200 seats are available, and the cost is a neat $200 per person. For hotel reservations, call 303-297-1300 ext. 6617, and ask for Joanne: mention the party and get a special room rate of $129 a night. Send your checks for the party to “Sutton’s Rocky Mountain Jazz Party” at P.O. Box 1684, Bailey, CO 80421, or call 303-838-4240 for more good news.

CELEBRATING LOUIS

Louis

Many jazz bands pay tribute to the man Eddie Condon called, in whimsical admiration, “Mr. Strong,” but few have done it with such tenacity and success as David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band — also known as the Louis Armstrong Centennial Jazz Band. Every Wednesday night for the past eight years, they have turned Birdland into a friendly New York shrine to his beloved memory.

Last night, the Beloved and I came on the scene a few minutes late, so we missed the opening “Sleepy Time Down South” which turns into a rousing “Indiana,” in the manner of the All-Stars, but once we settled down, the band was romping through the Hot Five classic “Once In A While,” with gusto and deep feeling for the idiom.

The band consisted of David Ostwald, tuba and bon mots; Howard Alden, banjo; Rob Garcia, drums; Joe Muranyi (who played alongside Louis in the last edition of the All-Stars), clarinet, vocals, and anecdotes; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. And we had the good fortune to join British friends old and new: John Whiteborn, the renowned jazz essayist and historian Peter Vacher, and Clive Smith — in town on the way to New Orleans.

Because George Avakian was seated at the bar (having just celebrated his eighty-ninth birthday at Birdland) David opted for “Melancholy Blues,” which had been first issued on microgroove in the Fifties on an Avakian project, The Louis Armstrong Story, as well as “No One Else But You.” A cheerful “Them There Eyes” featured a Kellso solo full of downward cascades and some exuberant Gardner trombone. Left to his own devices, Joe Muranyi told a story about Louis and Red Allen, New Orleans friends, and then sauntered through an easy “Rosetta” that echoed PeeWee Russell to great effect. The second set offered a nearly-riotous “Everybody Loves My Baby,” harking back to the glory days of 1925. Kellso (now a happily married man) was in fine form, and Gardner was especially vibrant, yet never abandoning the ensemble for virtuosic displays. And the rhythm section swung as it does every Wednesday.

But everything changed when David asked Vince Giordano, enjoying the sounds, to sit in. Vince usually brings at least one hefty instrument, but he was unencumbered by tuba, aluminum string bass, bass sax, banjo, or tenor guitar. However, he sat down at the piano, stage left, and prepared to join in. Perhaps stimulated by this happy oddity, David called “Maybe You’ll Be There,” a song only devotees connect with Louis, as it appears just on a few 1949 radio broadcasts as a Jack Teagarden feature. Written by the pianist Charles LaVere, it combines mournfulness and hopefulness: I search for you, and you don’t appear, but maybe . . . . Vince played his ensemble parts very simply, reading the chords off the music in front of them, but offering ringing Hines octaves and Jess Stacy tremolos, affecting everyone on and off the stand. Gardner showed just how original his interpretation of Teagarden could be, and the Kellso cadenza that ended it all was a gracious piece of sorrowing Baroque. David offered Gardner the spotlight for “Mississippi Basin,” one of those songs requiring the singer to extol the virtues of manual labor on the docks. Gardner played it plunger-muted, but without irony, and sang the banal lyrics as if they were emotionally valid, two great accomplishments.

And, in a handful of minutes, all of Louis’s great virtues — the irresistible swing balanced with his passionate seriousness — had come to life, without a note of “What A Wonderful World” to be heard. It was alchemy indeed.