I made it to Smalls, that casual jazz mecca, on Thursday night to sit close to the bandstand and absorb the sounds. Smalls seems a blessed place as soon as you descend the stairs and see the huge portrait of Louis, sharp as a tack, dressed in high British style, circa 1933. And the two players who improvised under that portrait were clearly in tune with his spirit. The immensely talented Dan Block, bringing his alto and clarinet, filled the hour with melodic shapes inhabited by notes that were full of meaning but never weighty. And pianist Ehud Asherie gets wittier and wittier, more rhythmically subtle and melodically free, every time I see him. And more modest, too!
I brought my little friend — Flip the Video Camera — and have two delightful bits of cinema verite to offer here. The first, “Thanks A Million,” was a pop hit — from a Dick Powell film — in 1935. Most of us know this pretty tune (expressing gratitudes in swing) from the eloquent Decca recording Louis did — and later versions by Bobby Hackett and Jon-Erik Kellso (the only one of the three who includes the pretty verse when he plays the song).
Following this, the duo offered a leisurely, ranging “The Love Nest,” a 1920 song that was later taken up by George Burns and Gracie Allen as their theme song. I always think of a wonderfully hot medium-tempo version by Max Kaminsky on Commodore — with Frank Orchard, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey (I think), and George Wettling. (Sometimes I think I started a blog only for the pure pleasure of writing “Rod Cless” in public, in a quietly worshipful way.)
Incidentally, there are more clips of Ehud on YouTube — with Harry Allen and the aforementioned Jon-Erik.
Then, a beautifully dressed Rossano Sportiello took the stage with his Amici — the brothers Luigi and Pasquale Grasso on alto and guitar, Luca Santangelo on drums, and Joel Forbes (an honorary Italian-American for the occasion) to saunter through a slow “Lady Be Good” in honor of Basie and “I’m Through With Love” in honor of Bing, perhaps. Wonderful music — and I was sorry I had to leave, but Friday morning was calling. (It sounds like an alarm clock.)
That would have been enough to make a splendid evening for anyone — including chats with Ehud and Rossano, with Mitch Borden and pianist Spike Wilner, two of the people who have kept Smalls alive and vibrant. But two other incidents brought delight. I had told Mitch about posting here, announcing the pleasures to come. He looked slightly skeptical (although it might be his typical expression) and began asking people seated near us how they had heard about these Thursday sessions. And an attractive black-haired young woman said pertly to Mitch, “Online,” with the (“. . . of course . . . “) unspoken but hanging visible in the air. Blessings on your head, my dear woman, whoever you are.
After the gig, I made my way — valiant warrior that I am — to Penn Station for the trek back to my nest. Dinner with the Beloved (at Bar Pitti) had been delicious but early, so I was peckish, not an unusual condition. I headed to one of the better pizza palaces in Penn and bought a slice. On line ahead of me there was a man and woman, of my generation, arousing no particular notice aside from being the people who had to be served before I could get fed. This pizza oasis has a seating area, usually filled with sports fans because a television set is tuned to some game or the other. (Like the audience at old-style movie theatres, the patrons here — sipping beer in plastic cups and eating — talk loudly to each other and to the set.)
All this is elaborate prelude to my finding a seat near this couple: he gray-haired, she auburn-tressed. They were having an animated conversation, with him in the lead. He was telling her what had happened at the concert — what the bass player did, where the drummer went, etc. He sounded hip; he used the word “gig”; he was clearly a professional musician. My eavesdropping talents, always highly honed, went into higher gear. I finished my pizza and took one of my business cards out of my wallet, and gingerly approached the couple. “Eavesdropping is very rude, so I apologize . . . but it sounded as if you were a New York musician. I have a jazz blog and perhaps you might like to see it sometime.” Unabashed self-promotion, I admit, but the man smiled and said, “Sure. My name is Warren Chiasson, and I play the vibes.”
After a brief pause, I closed my mouth and told Warren he needed no introduction, and we had a brief, happy chat. I had to make my train, so the three of us grinned at the coincidence and went our separate ways. But I was elated all the way home. Warren gave me his business card — so I know this was no hallucination — and I’ve added his website to my blogroll. Hope he sees this posting someday!