Monthly Archives: October 2008

TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS, 1947

These beautiful photographs of the first Louis Armstrong All-Stars onstage at Town Hall were taken by William P. Gottlieb, and will be included in Terry Teachout’s biography of Louis, now titled A Cluster of Sunlight: The Life of Louis Armstrong. And these images come from Terry’s blog, “About Last Night,” noted on my blogroll.  From the left, that’s Dick Cary, Jack Teagarden, Louis, Bobby Hackett, Peanuts Hucko, Bob Haggart, and Sidney Catlett — a Condon-infused group of harmonious geniuses.  Lest we forget, the concert was envisioned, produced, and financed by Ernest Anderson, Condon’s pal and co-producer of Eddie’s Town Hall concerts.  At the top, we have the photo as cropped by Down Beat; at the bottom, Gottlieb’s original.

I’m printing them here because they may be new to some readers, and we all should admire the leader’s beautiful two-color shoes!  The music of this concert — initially, only six songs released on Victor — is also the music of my childhood.  The first Louis recording I fell in love with was the Decca 10″ he made with Gordon Jenkins (now issued on CD under the slightly dopey title SATCHMO IN STYLE with a cover shot that has a superimposed tiny bowler hat floating over his head . . . ?).  By the time RCA Victor had issued a 12″ version of the Town Hall Concert, TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS, I was a deep Louis acolyte — pre-pubescent, mind you — and I begged my father to order it through a “record club,” one of those mail-in enterprises where you could get four records for a dollar, then return the three you didn’t like and keep one.  I don’t know what record my father wanted to hear for himself, but he must have seen true religious fervor on my face, and he ordered the Louis for me.  It was one of his many generosities.  I have the record still.  It speaks to me on so many levels.  About the larger photo: it seems a blasphemy to me to cut Big Sid off as this blogpost does.  He was, you see, just too big for the room!  Take heart, though, he is intact in Gottlieb’s original photograph, and yet another reason to buy Terry’s book when it appears.

BLACK AND TAN . . . AT THE POST OFFICE

Ordinarily, I don’t feel a need to promote the Post Office.  I look forward to my mail; I have pleasant relationships with mail carriers.  But the USPS seems a ubiquitous business that doesn’t need publicity from me.  However, I am finicky about the stamps I buy, and carefully consider their appearance and their messages before buying them.

When I went to my Post Office today and asked what new 42-cent stamps they had, I was offered sunflowers, Latin jazz, baseball games, Bette Davis, Alzheimer’s research, and a few others.  Latin jazz and Bette Davis were competing for my attention until I saw this sheet:

“Vintage Black Cinema” I can support wholeheartedly: homages to Paul Laurence Dunbar, Duke Ellington and Fredi Washington, Josephine Baker, Nina Mae McKinney, and Louis Jordan, as well as African-American film production companies going back to 1921.  I bought two hundred stamps, which will get me into 2009 in fine cinematic style.  Maybe next year the USPS will consider a second series, including SEPIA CINDERELLA, BOY! WHAT A GIRL, and JAMMIN’ THE BLUES, among others?

Putting these stamps on the envelopes that hold my bills won’t make that task seem any easier, but the stamps themselves give pleasure — not only for the way they look (I grew up around films and movie theatres) but what they represent.

For more information about the stamps, the designers of the film posters, and the films themselves. visit http://www.usps.com. (The link to the stamps themselves is http://www.usps.com/communications/newsroom/2008/sr08_074.htm., but it hasn’t been particularly responsive.)

KELLSO’S SWEET RHYTHMS

Sweet rhythm captivates me,

Hot rhythm stimulates me,

Can’t help but swing, 

Swing it, brother, swing . . . .

Billie Holiday sang these words with the Basie band in 1937, and they came to mind this morning when I heard the good news:

Jon-Erik Kellso, Ehud Asherie, Kelly Friesen, and A.N. Other will be starting a potentially steady gig at Sweet Rhythm (88 Seventh Avenue South, New York, New York 10014, 212-255-3626, between Bleecker and Grove Streets) this Sunday, October 26, from 4 – 7.  A paltry $10 cover charge, an attractive menu.  (http://www.sweetrhythmny.com.) 

By 4 PM, most New Yorkers should have read all that’s fit to print in their Sunday Times, and they can bestir themselves to walk in that special late-afternoon autumnal light. 

The timing is right for other reasons.  Jazz musicians tend to be nocturnal, and noon is the middle of their night, so brunch sometimes seems like an affront to their senses: bright lights, people being unduly cheerful, the smell of eggs and bacon. 

And for the rest of us, those oppressed creatures Jo Jones called “the nine to fivers,” a Sunday night gig sometimes means feeling even more downtrodden when the alarm clock goes off at 5:45 on Monday morning. 

This seems just right.  I look forward to being both Stimulated and Captivated.  You come, too.

P.S.     Readers who know their New York jazz history will know that Sweet Rhythm used to be Sweet Basil, where (among other pleasures) Doc Cheatham did Sunday brunches for a long long time.  And he lived to be a vigorous jazz patriarch.  Maybe this site has some good anti-aging karma in its walls.

P.P.S.   In the name of accuracy — an hour after posting this blog, I remembered that Billie actually sang “Deep rhythm,” but I am not going to let evidence like that destroy my tenuous intellectual construction.  Kellso’s rhythms are deep, too.

I, PODIUS

I didn’t want an iPod.

There, I’ve said it.  It must have been my perverse snobbery, my badly-concealed elitism.  I made fun of the millions of people who had little white earbud phones in their ears and (for the most part) dreamy vapid expressions.  I’d see them on the subway, where the clamor coming through those earbuds was audible over the roar of the C train.  Did I fear that if I bought an iPod my musical tastes would become like theirs?  I don’t know.

I kept doing this even when Kevin Dorn, my spiritual guide in many things, said, mildly, that he had the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans session on his iPod and could thus listen to “Prince of Wails” whenever he liked.  Even that failed to move me.  Now I am not an unregenerate Luddite: I am addicted to email, and would rather hear 1929 Ellington on CD than on a V- Victor.  But still I resisted.

However, I can’t be separated from the music I love for any length of time.  I’ve brought compact discs to Ireland, to Germany, to Mexico, to Sicily.  Take me away from my jazz library and I start fidgeting because I can’t hear Teddy Bunn sing and play “Blues Without Words.”  So when the Beloved and I went away this summer, the physical manifestation of this urge was a heavy shopping bag of discs in the back of the car.  Did I play them all?  Of course not.  It was exceedingly comforting to know that they were there, but I knew that this was not a good solution to the anticipated deprivation.  (It was the aesthetic equivalent of having five dozen cans of black beans in the kitchen cabinets so that you will never run out.)

At some point, I began, reluctantly and grudgingly, to think about an iPod.  Even when the Beloved insisted on buying it for me as a premature-birthday present, I was still worried, even suspicious.  Part of the dread was, of course, provoked by the mythology that Apple and other firms have created, making a simple purchase seem unfathomable, mystical.  I stared at the online displays, feeling overwhelmed and ignorant.  Did I want a New Generation iPod, a Classic, a Nano?  Finally, I gave in and asked the people who know these things by heart — my sweet-natured students, for whom Technology is a first language.  To their credit, even if it seemed to them that Grandpa was asking about which skateboard to buy, they didn’t snicker but entered eagerly into the game of Teaching Their Professor.  Emboldened, I bought a black Classic and plunged headfirst into the world of iTunes, and syncing.

The result?  Had you seen me on the Long Island Rail Road last night, sleepy and disarranged, with a dreamy vapid look on my face, you might have noticed the white earbuds nearly falling out of my ears (they fit poorly).  But I was twenty feet underwater in my own version of bliss: Mildred Bailey singing “Little High Chairman,” a Buck Clayton Jam Session, Louis playing “Muggles.”  Is there a moral?  I doubt it.  But pick your own cliche: 1) You can teach an old dog new tricks, or 2) Better late than never, if late isn’t too late.

STEVE SANDO’S RED HOT PEPPERS (AND HEIRLOOM BEANS)

I admit it.  This is an extremely indirect jazz post.  Steve Sando is not a hot cornetist.  He doesn’t lead a band dedicated to the music of Jelly Roll Morton.

But I live for spicy food.  And Steve Sando makes the best hot sauce I’ve ever tasted, complex and not just tongue-burning.  And jazz musicians themselves will tell you that the food and the music go together.  And Steve loves jazz.  All right?

His company is called RANCHO GORDO (http:www.ranchogordo.com) — with a naughty logo of a lip-licking bombshell.  And his beans are delicious: rich, deeply-flavored, not just carbs with a nasty after-effect.  And aren’t those dried limas truly pretty?

I wouldn’t be blogging about Steve — this is a jazz blog, not a food blog, even if the latter interests me greatly — except for something written about him in a recent Washington Post story: that he has one wall of his house floor-to-ceiling with jazz CDs.  My kind of fellow.  And I’ve taken a quick look at his new book, HEIRLOOM BEANS (Chronicle), where the recipes are inventive, the writing straightforward.

Swing it, Rancho Gordo!

OFFENSIVE YET ENTHRALLING

Courtesy of Hans Koert’s “Keep Swinging” blog, here is a 1943 Merrie Melodies cartoon, “TIN PAN ALLEY CATS.”  It offers a buffet of demeaning racial stereotypes and is thus not available on American DVD collections.  It is shocking that such caricatures could be shown in public in America so late in our history, although not terribly surprising.

But after I got through being offended, I was amused — subversively tickled.  And I don’t know: does it denigrate or slyly celebrate Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Slam Stewart, Leo Watson, African-American night life and religious fervor, two sides of the same coin?  Add in sideswipes at Al Jolson, blackface, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, and Fats’s own 1942 “By the Light of the Si;very Moon” for good measure.  Then there’s the idea that jazz leads straight to Hell.

This cartoon was surely Caucasian Middle America’s idea of Blackness — exuberant, uncontrolled, foolish, Godless.  But joyous, too.  And we note that so much of the cartoon’s seven-plus minutes are given over to a tut-tut and tsk-tsk depiction of Hot and Naughty . . . . with much less attention paid to old-time-religion.  I doubt that James Baldwin had ever seen this, but doesn’t it noisily depict the conflict between Sacred and Profane that emerges again in his story “Sonny’s Blues”?

As Kevin Dorn once pointed out to me, the Bad Night Life portrayed in the Fallen World segment of “It’s A Wonderful Life” still seems reasonably appealing, even when you consider the charms of Goodness, friends, family, and Donna Reed.

One never knows, DO ONE?

JAZZ FINDS ME IN NEW YORK

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!

UP TO DATE WITH BILL DUNHAM

Hi…………..
– Last Monday was a bumper night at Arthur’s Tavern – the West Side’s smartest supper club. Sitting in was Jiri Kripac, a pocket cornet player from Australia (Bob Barnard referred him). He is a hot player and along with our regular hot cornet player, Scott Black, we peeled some paint off the wall. Subbing for our regular bass player was Brian Nalepka of Manhattan Rhythm Kings fame. Also sitting in was Jack Watanabe – a Japanese stride piano player.
– The Monday before Gary Pace (clarinetist Sol’s son) sat in on piano. Great player!
– Notes from the world of jazz violin players:
– Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, a 13 year old violin player, also sat in with us on the Monday cited above. Jonathan started sitting in with us once a month starting when he was a mop-haired 7 year old.! He has really developed. He recently won the WINS “Tomorrow’s Newsmaker” award in the field of Arts and Entertainment. Past winners have all been classical musicians. He is also playing with Wynton Marsalis and the JALC orchestra on Nov. 6,7 & 8 at Rose Hall as a guest artist in the Nursery Song Swing Series. Quite an accomplishment.
–    A friend dragged me up to Dizzy’s Place at 11:00 P.M. to hear the Caswell Sisters group featuring Sara Caswell on hot violin. I’m glad I went. She is extraordinary – what technique! Turns out she was once Jonathan’s teacher.
Cabaret notes:
–Except to hear Barbara Lea I’m not one to go to cabaret shows. We however have a friend, Chris Marlowe, who is an excellent arranger and piano player for singers who is highly sought after by the top singers. Mostly to see and hear him we went to the Metropolitan Room to hear Marianne Challis. Wow! what an act – great singer with a really funny routine and stage persona! I highly recommend Challis! She’s the one who told this one:
A chicken and an egg were lying on a bed recovering from a steamy session. The egg rolled over and said to the chicken, ” Well, we certainly have the answer to the proverbial question!”
I arranged to have Marianne and Chris booked into the Harvard Club recently and she laid (Ha Ha) that joke on the well heeled audience. I was the only one who laughed! Not to worry, said the entertainment director at the club, it is very difficult to get a Harvard Club audience to laugh at anything!
Regards
Stringer Minion
.

GOODBYE, DAVE McKENNA, HAIL WAYNE WRIGHT

The extraordinary pianist Dave McKenna, who had been ill and unable to play for some time, died peacefully on October 18.  McKenna’s playing seemed to synthesize all the jazz piano that had come before him: the romping left-hand, both violent and precise, that summoned up the great stride players and the Boogie Woogie Trio at once — balanced against ricocheting treble lines that swerved and darted.  A McKenna solo in high gear (I think of his Chiaroscuro “C Jam Blues”) was a swinging juggernaut, but the McKenna locomotive was so smooth that the glasses of water in the dining room never sloshed.  He was a remarkable player who dazzled Oscar Peterson, and someone who had an immense affectionate recall for the best American popular songs, which he strung together in great thematic melodies (the Street medley, the Rain medley).  The Chiaroscuro, Shiah, Concord, and JUMP recordings he left behind — mostly solo, but some with Dick Johnson, Scott Hamilton, Ruby Braff, and Zoot Sims (not bad company) are imperishable.  And what more can anyone say about Dave except to recall that he was Bobby Hackett’s favorite pianist.

News also comes of a memorial service — with music, of course — celebrating the life of guitarist Wayne Wright.  Produced and organized by Chris Ambadjes of the American Guitar Museum, the concert will be held on Tuesday, November 11, 7:30-9:30 P.M, at Five Towns College in Dix Hills, New York. Center for Performing Arts – Main Stage. _

“SITTING IN” by WHITNEY BALLIETT

Searching online, Marianne Mangan found something I treasure — Whitney Balliett’s January 1998 piece from The Atlantic, “Sitting In,” his recollection of playing drums on one of Hank O’Neal’s jazz cruises.

This semi-autobiographical piece was the only time I know that Balliett wrote about himself.  True, it was possible to intuit his shadowy presence in the Profiles published in The New Yorker — after all, a human being was sitting with Ruby Braff in that coffee shop, a person was getting ready to eat peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches with Bobby Hackett.  But Balliett was as far from a narcissist as it is possible to be without vanishing utterly behind the wallpaper, and he kept out of sight.

I told Balliett more than once that I loved this piece and thought he should be writing his autobiography.  He only laughed and shrugged his shoulders.  So “Sitting In” offers us glimpses of a young Balliett, sitting in for a brief hapless interlude at Sidney Catlett’s drums, losing his way with Hackett and Dave McKenna, then finally vindicating himself with pianist Bob Greene on the jazz cruise.  I’m sorry that I never heard him swing the band, and I miss his gentle, perceptive view of the world.

I was sorely tempted to shoplift the whole Atlantic piece directly into this blog, but I have some vestiges of respect for intellectual property remaining, so I will try to keep my criminality down to a minimum, and simply say to my readers, “Pssssst!  Check out http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/98jan/jazz.htm for some irreplaceable reading.”

P. S.   I have had trouble with the link above — for whatever reason — so I went back to Google and accessed the piece that way.  I never promised my readers a high level of technological finesse, but I apologize in advance!

THURSDAY NIGHT AT SMALLS (October 16)

You won’t want to miss this triple-feature.  At 8, pianist Ehud Asherie and reedman Dan Block will embark on an hour of duets, introspective to fiercely swinging.

Visual aids: a photograph of Ehud at the piano, taken by your humble correspondent.  Dan Block and Harry Allen (in that order), photo by J. Elkins. 

At 9:30 and 11, “The Italians are coming!  The Italians are coming!”

Don’t be alarmed, though: these Italians are extraordinary jazz players, led by the inspiring pianist Rossano Sportiello — someone we hope to hear on a regular basis in New York City.  Rossano’s friends — as he tells me — are the noble bassist Joel Forbes (he’s the “silent J” of BED), Luca Santaniello on drums, and “two fantastic young Italian brothers, Luigi and Pasquale Grasso, alto sax and guitar.  They are only 22 and 20, but they play the most amazing stuff.  They are students of Barry Harris since they were babies!”

Smalls lives up to its name, so be sure to get there early.  It’s on 183 West Tenth Street, near Seventh Avenue South (www.smallsjazzclub.com).

And here’s Rossano Sportiello, characteristically cheerful, in a photo by Duncan Schiedt:

CD OF THE MONTH: “BED: FOUR + 1”

This new CD by B E D (that’s Becky Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, and Dan Barrett — joined by Joel Forbes and Jeff Hamilton) is a wonder.  But since aesthetic criticism should have more substance than that, I must tell you about the late Howard Siegman, who was my professor of Dramatic Literature in the days when we wrote our essays on typewriters and went to the card catalogue to look up information in books.  Professor Siegman began the Drama Appreciation course by teaching us the three principles of criticism — precepts we had to master before we could be allowed to visit the college theatre.  “I liked it,” “I didn’t like it” were both punishable by serious frowning and lowered grades.

The precepts were:

1. What is the artist attempting to do?

2.   How well has he or she succeeded at doing it?

3.   Was it worth doing in the first place?

Applying these precepts to the new BED CD (Blue Swing Fine Recordings BSR 008) I came up with these answers after much listening and serious study.

1.   The stated purpose of BED is “To swing and have fun.”  This translates into beautiful rhythmic singing and playing, full of subtle improvisation — with joy being the prevailing emotion, even on the ballads.  The group is a living example of jazz empathy: the rocking backgrounds to the singing of the three participants, the delicious instrumental solos and jamming, the peerless support of Joel’s bass and Jeff’s drums.  In addition, Dan shifts from trombone to cornet to piano, and the repertoire is wonderfully varied.  This is one of the few CDs in recent memory that I listened to in one sitting.

2.   See # 1.  And: I think this group has gotten better and better on each of its CDs.  In addition, the recorded sound (courtesy of the fine trumpeter and recording engineer Bryan Shaw) is faultless.  And the repertoire: a groovy “Hucklebuck,” a deeply felt “East of the Sun,” a down-home “Seven Lonely Days,” a romping instrumental version of “Midnight in Moscow.”  The group also takes chances that come off in high style.  The first gamble is in performing James P. Johnson’s pretty “You Can’t Lose A Broken Heart,” most memorably recorded in 1949 by Louis and Billie — a tough act to follow.  Becky and Dan do a fairly close version of that record without adopting the surface mannerisms of either singer, and it works — against anyone’s expectations.  A 1937 Tommy Dorsey-style “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” with the men of the chorus offering witty rejoinders to Becky’s reading of the melody, is nearly as much fun.    And Jeff Hamilton drives this combo along perfectly: the sound of his silvery cymbals is music to exult by.  Eddie’s “Jubilee” is suitably groovy; Becky has uncovered the verse to “You’re A Lucky Guy,” and these days, doesn’t everyone need to be reminded that “The Best Things in Life Are Free”?

3.   There are two possible answers here: a) “See # 1 and # 2.  b) “Hell, yes!”

This is an extraordinarily fine session — playful, soulful, hot, and subtle.  The songs are: I’ve Heard That Song Before / This Can’t Be Love / East of the Sun / Jubilee / Cheek to Cheek / Say It (Over and Over Again) / The Hucklebuck / You Can’t Lose A Broken Heart / Midnight in Moscow / You’re A Lucky Guy / Cross Your Heart / The Best Things in Life Are Free / Seven Lonely Days / Drum Boogie / I’ll See You In My Dreams //

It’s available through www.worldsrecords.com.  Don’t be the last one on your block!

P. S.  If you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of Worlds Records, you’re missing out on a great firm.  I’ve been buying CDs from them for years.  And if we want small indepent businesses to survive, we need to support them.

MIDTOWN HEAT: THE GULLY LOW JAZZ BAND

As I’ve written, I have a real need to capture the jazz performances I attend — they are precious to me.  My most recent techno-acquisition was enabled by my close friend Amy King (a brilliant poet and philosopher): it’s a Flip video camera, which I took to Birdland, that jazz club in midtown Manhattan — 44th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues — on Wednesday, October 8.

There, for many Wednesdays, tubaist David Ostwald has led the Gully Low Jazz Band (a/k/a Louis Armstrong Centennial Band) — a sextet devoted to the music of Louis Armstrong, always a good thing.  This version of the band boasted (from the back) the explosive percussion of Kevin Dorn, the only man I know who keeps Herman Hesse, both Lon Chaneys, and Cliff Leeman in exquisite balance; pianist Ehud Asherie, who knows all there is to know about Bud Powell but has become a spiritual devotee of Francois Rilhac, Teddy Wilson, and Donald Lambert; clarinetist Anat Cohen, enthusiastically swinging; Jim Fryer, gutty and sweet on trombone and a wonderfully heartfelt singer; Jon-Erik Kellso, driving and profound, with mute in or naked to the world.

Dan Morgenstern, George Avakian, and photographer Lorna Sass were in the audience — if you needed any more evidence that this was a first-class gig!  Here’s the GLJB doing “Lover, Come Back To Me”:

and a steadily persuasive “Everybody Loves My Baby”:

and here Jim Fryer sings “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” a song that goes back to 1931 — from the heart:

Jim comes back for one of Fats Waller’s most tender creations, “I’ve Got A Feelin’ I’m Falling:

Finally, a closing blowout on “Swing That Music”!

Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson that music speaks louder than words: how true that was last Wednesday, when these musicians showed off their rare eloquence.

CLASSIC SMALL-BAND JAZZ: “MY BUDDY” (TWICE)

I keep returning to these two YouTube videos.  One reason is my fondness for Donaldson’s sweet song, written to mourn the death of his young wife, and how beautifully it lends itself to jazz improvisation.  (Benny Carter recorded it memorably in the late Thirties, as did Lionel Hampton.)

Another is my admiration for this variety of loose-limbed Australian jazz — here exemplified by the heart-on-sleeve playing of Neville Stribling and Bob Barnard, among others.  Barnard makes what he does seem so easy while he is pulling off breathtaking marvels.  Ask any trumpet player!  The rhythm sections rock; the soloists create friendly, cohesive ensembles.

The first clip features Neville Stribling’s Jazz Players at the Eureka Jazz Festival in Ballarat in 1986: Ian Smith (tpt), Neville Stribling (rds), Ade Monsbourgh (rds), Graham Coyle (pno), Joe McConechy (bs), Peter Cleaver (bjo/gtr), Allan Browne (dms).

The second version, from the same place, features “The Australians”: Bob Barnard (cnt), Stribling, Monsbourgh, Coyle, Conrad Joyce (bs), Cleaver, and Browne.

Thanks to Simon Stribling, himself an extraordinary trumpeter (catch his own sessions and his CD with Jon-Erik Kellso, KELLSO’S BC BUDDIES, on Gen-Erik Records, for evidence) for these clips.  And he’s living proof that children of artists do sometimes grow up to be wonderfully creative: he’s Neville Stribling’s son.

Category: Music

YOU’RE DRIVING US CRAZY (WITH PLEASURE, THAT IS)

Courtesy of Howard Alden, Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Harvey Tibbs, Evan Christopher, Dan Block, Sebastien Giradot, Chuck Redd, and a receptive crowd — here’s a stirring jam session at the Ear Inn on Walter Donaldson’s wonderful song.  Don’t tune out before the final chorus, which is explosive and impassioned — the reason that wise jazz listeners make pilgrimages to 326 Spring Street every Sunday night.

JAZZ MANGLISH 4

This morning, over coffee, I was perusing a new CD catalogue that, of course, lists the song titles, when my eye fell on this favorite, associated with Ted Lewis;

WHEN  MY  BABY  SMILE  SAT  ME

Oh, how I wish I could draw!  But then the authorities would shut this blog down for indecency.

BASIE’S BAD BOYS: ADVENTURES IN LISTENING

In jazz, the most rewarding art combines mature technique, deep feeling, and the willingness of players and singers to become carefree children, trying new things with no censorious adults looking on.

Consider a four-song Chicago recording session that took place one day before Valentine’s Day in 1939.  In total, the results are slightly less than twelve minutes.  But what a memorable brief expression!  The players, perhaps named years later, are “Basie’s Bad Boys,” a title both accurate and inspired.  Basie played not only piano but organ (according to Jo Jones, the organ was particularly ancient, recalcitrant).

He was joined by the rest of his irreplaceable late-Thirties rhythm section: Walter Page, bass; Freddie Green, guitar; Jo Jones, drums.  Jimmy Rushing sang the blues on one number and trombonist Dan Minor accompanied him on it; trumpeters Buck Clayton and Shad Collins stood side-by-side with Lester Young, playing clarinet as well as tenor on “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Goin’ to Chicago,” “Live and Love Tonight,” and “Love Me Or Leave Me.”

I have occasionally been severe about John Hammond-as-mythologizer in this blog, but this session was one of his finest ideas, a worthy addition to “Jones-Smith, Inc.” and the 1940 rehearsal session that paired Goodman and Basie, Young and Christian.  The November 1936 session that produced “Shoe Shine Boy” and “Lady Be Good” was Hammond’s revenge on Decca, the company that had signed Basie to a restrictive contract, the payoff being $750, a paltry sum even in 1936 dollars.  I believe that the Basie band was just about to escape from its Decca servitude in early 1939, so this session might have been another naughty gesture on Hammond’s part – making recordings for Vocalion while the band was still under contract to Decca, sides that then could be issued once the band was free.  These sides were recorded in Chicago, in what Hammond remembered as a really terrible studio, making them impossible to issue.  Ironically, the studio was called United – and that the Basie small band certainly was on this date.

I first heard this music on a precious vinyl record issued in Sweden on the Tax label, “The Alternative Lester,” which contained, among other things, previously unissued takes of “Shoe Shine Boy,” “Dickie’s Dream,” and “Lester Leaps In,” heady stuff in the late Seventies.

Tidied up, all four sides then appeared on a two-record Columbia anthology, “Super Chief,” which had a color drawing of Basie’s smiling visage superimposed on the front of a locomotive (Basie, like Ellington, loved trains and the music they made).  This anthology also offered brilliantly idiosyncratic notes by Michael Brooks, a writer who took chances: some of his swooping metaphorical leaps are audacious.  Brooks had also interviewed Jones and other Basieites, and their recollections are priceless.

The four sides are now available on the Lester Young Mosaic box set (MD4-239), and they sound spectacular.  I had not heard them for a few years, having been separated from my copy of “Super Chief,” but they burst through the speakers.

They represent an Edenic glimpse into what the Basie band truly was – a good-natured, intense traveling jam session made up of supremely telepathic players.  For me, the great period of that band was delineated by Lester Young’s arrival and departure.  I can still marvel at individual solos recorded from 1940 onwards by Clayton, Dicky Wells, Buddy Tate. Don Byas, Vic Dickenson, that gliding rhythm section, Rushing and Helen Humes.  But the demands or expectations of the marketplace made the band outgrow itself.  What was a small group at the Reno Club in Kansas City was compelled to become a Swing Era big band – nearly doubling in size and heft.  It gained power yet lost mobility.  Some of the early Deccas show the ghost of the Reno Club band: “Panassie Stomp” and “Out the Window” come to mind.  But as arrangers came in, capable ones, and popular tunes became part of the repertoire in hopes of a hit record, the Basie band sounds like someone who has gained fifty pounds overnight.  On the 1938 radio airshots from the Famous Door (the two versions of “Indiana”) – soloists have room to invent, to play. Behind a trumpet solo, Lester creates a background, which the reeds fall in with instantaneously.  The two dozen-plus men on the stand function as a small group, musically jostling and joking.  The best recordings of the period balance soloists, the rhythm section, and spare riff backgrounds.  But as the Basie band became identified with “One O’Clock Jump” and “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” those sliding trombones, trumpets fanning their metal derbies, saxes repeating patterns, became the norm.  What had been extemporaneous became more mechanical.  Arrangements might have been necessary as the band grew, to prevent small collisions, but no wonder Lester complained that rehearsals had become tiresome, that Vic Dickenson, legend has it, was fired for falling asleep on the stand.  The unthinkable had happened: the band had become dull.

But it had not happened yet at this session.  “I Ain’t Got Nobody” had been a favorite of both Basie and Hammond as a piano feature; on another clandestine 1938 session, Basie, Page, and Jones, strolled through that potentially lachrymose song, first as a meditative Fats Waller medium-tempo rhapsody, full of baroque excursions – a tribute to Basie’s friend and mentor.  Then, as if moving into Modern Times, away from His Master’s Voice, Basie played it in his own faster tempo, leaving spaces all along for Page and Jo to propel, to encourage.  This three-minute lesson in jazz piano history is available on the Vanguard “From Spirituals to Swing” set and the Phontastic “Lester – Amadeus” disc.

The 1939 “I Ain’t Got Nobody” from Chicago begins at the brisk tempo Basie had concluded with in 1938, yet with an unusual Basie-with-rhythm introduction: his first phrase a characteristic simple riff owing something to “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me.” I suspect that it was one of Basie’s beloved gestures, but it would have been a sly in-joke if he had been thinking of “Habit,” whose opening phrase states that the lover is addicted to the Love Object – while playing “Nobody,” whose lyrics drip lonely self-pity.  His second figure moves into an upwards chromatic run, something Basie would often use to end a number rather than begin it.  Even though Green’s guitar is deeply buried, felt rather than heard at best, the sound of the rhythm is so instantly infectious that a listener does not notice the oddity of Basie’s introduction at first.

Then he launches into the familiar melody, leaving only the most bare contours, stating the theme in widely spaced, ringing chords.  Basie casually alternates passages of embellished melody with his familiar catch-phrases: what makes this potentially threadbare style so winning is his rhythmic sense, as well as the nearly choral support the rhythm section gives, Page’s bass resounding like a reassuring heartbeat.  Even when the gesture Basie launches into (the phrase just before the bridge) is such a timeworn Waller phrase, his good humor and rhythmic delight maskits familiarity.  (Even when borrowing from Waller, Basie’s individuality is as strong as Louis’s or Bird’s: who, on hearing this, would mistake him for another pianist?)

During that bridge, I hear some talking, perhaps merely an affirmative grunt from Basie or one of the musicians?  Was Basie telling Lester that he was up next, or was Hammond directing traffic?  It’s clearly not a Fats-aside, meant to be heard, but a private nudge or reminder – teasingly audible but not decipherable, even given the clarity of the CD.  Readers with better hearing than mine — it has stumped fellow listeners! — are invited to send their conjectures for appropriate prizes.

But musicians did not give such verbal cues on record unless it was an informal session or if the take was to be scrapped.  This makes me wonder if this performance, the first one mastered that session, was originally a casual warm-up, a run-through to get a balance in this murky studio.  But I can imagine that the musicians and Hammond, at the end of this take, thought that this performance too good to discard.  Basie ends his chorus with a single repeated note, one of his trademarks (where else did Harry Edison get this ultimately irritating mannerism from?) that perhaps he used as a signal, “I’m finished.  Your turn now.”

Everything we might expect is transformed when Lester enters, not dancing in on a complex swooping tenor phrase, but announcing his presence on clarinet.  His announcement is a simple phrase followed by a rest, but it is arresting.  What strikes the listener is Lester’s particular tone.  Early in his career, he played a cheap metal clarinet – the kind of instrument students and band musicians, who marched outdoors, would have used instead of the more delicate wooden models.  And Lester’s particular sound is supposed to have been the result of this instrument.  Benny Goodman is supposed to have been so entranced with the way Lester played clarinet that he gave Lester a better one (one rebuttal to tales of Goodman’s stinginess).  This instrument was stolen some time during Lester’s stay with the band, but his colleagues say that he never played a metal clarinet on records.  But his tone, piping, narrow, almost shrill, forceful, is not like any other clarinetist’s, not Shaw, Bigard, Noone . . . .

A digression here.  While vacationing in Maine, the Beloved and I went twice to an open-air flea market, the most varied and intriguing one I ever saw.  There I saw not one but two metal clarinets for sale, and nearly succumbed to their lure.  Visible rust kept me from even inquiring the price.  If I could have been sure that a metal clarinet would enable me to approach Lester’s sound(s), I would have bought one happily.  But I remembered a conversation with a musician in his eighties, who said that everyone who plays an instrument inevitably sounds different, because of the shape of one’s skull and the cavities within it govern what happens when a player buzzes into a metal mouthpiece or makes the reed vibrate.  That anyone could sound like anyone else would be miraculous, and that someone like Paul Quinichette succeeded so well in copying aspects of Lester’s tone is remarkable rather than deplorable.

But back to Lester.  we hear that tone first, then his eloquent use of space, one tumbling phrase separated from the next by breathing-pauses.  Although his range is consciously limited (most clarinetists cannot resist the temptation to fill the air with ornamental notes that show off technique but destroy potential architecture) and his note choices restrained, he is bobbing and weaving over the background.  What we hear is greatly influenced by Basie’s spareness, translated into Lester’s vocabulary, sensibility, and instrument.

That background is both plain and propulsive: the muted trumpets of Clayton (left) and Collins (right)  doing four doo-wahs in succession behind him.  No doubt that phrase was a familiar one for jazz players well before Ellington popularized it in capital letters as part of the lyrics and music of the 1932 “It Don’t Mean A Thing.”  But one doesn’t notice its familiarity because it fits so well.  A listener senses only that something dynamic and irresistible has taken place, as the texture of the rhythm section (Basie’s treble line, Page’s steady tread, the whish of Jones’s hi-hat) has suddenly exploded into a much more richly textured sound, Lester’s thin, penetrating line undulating over the deeper, half-muffled choral punctuations of the horns.  Basie’s chorus was anything but monochromatic, but when the horns enter, color explodes in the listener’s consciousness.

And the dynamic contrast is not only strong but unexpected: often, recordings began with the piano or the rhythm section, then went to a chorus of a soloist over that rhythm, then (and only then) was the soloist joined by other horns in support.  Because of the time limitations of the 78 rpm record, everything seems telescoped: not overly fast, but moving at top speed with no time for elaborate transitions between one kind of display and the next.  As was common practice, the trumpets laid out during the bridge, their absence letting us hear the dry slap of Jo Jones’s wire brushes on his snare drum.  (In my mind’s eye, I see him, even late in life, boisterous, grinning, wrists and elbows in motion.) Lester remembered his childhood in New Orleans with affection, and here he offers his own version of the clarinet’s traditional place in the ensemble, dancing in arcs of notes over the brass.  The remainder of his solo, its balance between a bridge made up mostly of passages of repeated notes, the upward arpeggios that bookend that bridge (their highest note verging on the shrill) — could be committed to memory, genuinely his, simple yet inevitable.  And its tonal variations, so different from what a “better” clarinet player might have offered, and so much more rewarding. Another clarinet player might have worked up to a high note, a dazzling technical flurry to conclude his solo; Lester, making way for the next player, winds down into a sweet decrescendo, a musing figure, generously bowing out as if to prepare the way.

When he concludes, the transition is seamless and wondrous.  From clarinet-backed-by-trumpets, we have Buck backed by Lester and Shad, the two of them using another simple Swing Era convention that develops the earlier backing riff but doesn’t repeat it.  (This was the glory of the Basie “Kansas City” style that other orchestras tried to imitate but failed at, choosing instead to repeat the same riff for chorus after chorus.)  This figure seems an orchestral transcription of one of Basie’s favorite triplet figures.

In some ways, what one realizes in this performance is the strength and pervasive durability of Basie’s personality.  Although he was a modest, reticent man, his artistic identity was so strong that his soloists seem to share his most characteristic thoughts, shapes, and utterances, as he is drawing upon theirs.  This record is of course the triumph of individualists, having their instantly recognizable time to say their piece, but it is also the triumph of a completely integrated artistic community, where ideas have become generously-shared communal property.  And the two kinds of expression balance.  Soloists step forward, testify, and then take their place in the congregation so that the next person can speak.

Clayton’s solo is another triumph of what Louis called “tonation and phrasing,” Buck’s sound, his way of attacking his notes.  Like Lester, he announces himself – his choice being a punchy, staccato phrase reminiscent of the spare closing riffs of “Every Tub.”  Although the trumpet style of the late Thirties was often commanding, insisting, Clayton’s sound (his horn cup-muted as it often was) asks rather than demands, hitting some notes precisely, bending and slurring others.  But his originality is paramount.  Even when he fills his second phrase with one of the oldest motifs in jazz, a direct reference to Bolden’s “funky butt, funky butt, take it away,” the borrowing does not intrude.  The listener, again, doesn’t think, “Oh, that old thing?” because the notes tumble on, one of Clayton’s talents being in rhythmic placement, instinctively knowing how many notes would fit neatly in a scalar phrase.  His solo is not made of a series of ascents, but a progression of descending phrases, somewhere between Bill Robinson dancing down the stairs and a waiter with a full tray of dishes making his way, carefully but rapidly.  And Buck seems to improvise on his own ideas: the beginning of his bridge contains a clearly articulated descending figure, which he later turns into a half-comedic slide down an imagined slope.  At times, the solo uses repeated notes (not as Lester did) in a way that players like Muggsy Spanier would flatten into predictable pounding of simple ideas.  What makes Clayton’s work pleasing is his vocalized tone, his rhythmic subtleties.  And, as Basie had signaled the end of his solo by playing with one note, Clayton earnestly turns the same figure over and over as his thirty-two bars come to a close.

On a more predictable recording, with everyone given a turn, the next soloist would have been Collins, but that would have courted the monotony of one trumpet following another.  What comes next is a brilliant offering, something that didn’t happen often: Lester coming back for another solo, this time on tenor.  (It happens on the Kansas City Six recording of “Them There Eyes” and on the Glenn Hardman session, on “China Boy” and perhaps elsewhere.)  With feline grace, Lester doesn’t “leap in” immediately, but there is the pause of a short breath, the silence heightening our expectations: what will happen next?  And instead of a horn or horns backing him, there is only the rhythm section – but Basie has become his own orchestra, his simple bell-like rhythmic figures (new ones this time) urging Lester on.  Behind him, one must marvel at the supple, pulsing time that Jo, Walter, and Freddie grant – a rhythmic wave that could sustain a weaker soloist and push a strong one to creative heights.  Again, in Lester’s solo, one hears those arpeggios, up and down, his turning melodic lines into a blues.  This second solo seems to encapsulate all of his style.  It could be sung; it is full of unexpected pauses; it has its own wandering yet logical shape.  On tenor, he purrs, cajoles in a more mellow way.  I would love to hear his two solos on this recording played simultaneously, Lester as one-man band, playing counterpoint with himself.  I’d be nearly as happy to see the two solos notated in parallel, to see their shapes over the same chords.  Until then, I will simply play this record over and over.

Records made for issue on the expected 10″ 78 discs were planned to be somewhere between three and three-and-a-half minutes long.  Studios had clocks, but experienced musicians had to know how many choruses could fit at a particular tempo.  After Lester’s chorus, one way to conclude the record – with time for one chorus – would have been a collective improvisation, or a riff beneath another soloist leading to a final four bars of jamming.  (Think of the Holiday-Wilson “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” and how it ends, for instance.)  This record’s final chorus is an egalitarian one, audibly something worked out in progress, which completes the circle that records were.  In the first instance, Clayton’s chorus came between Lester’s two solos, affording him time to put down his clarinet and clip his tenor on to his neck strap – something that big-band reed players were expected to do with ease, even in the middle of an arrangement, although photographs show them having stands for their instruments on the job.  However, after Lester’s tenor chorus is concluded, there is a brief space, not quite strictly delineated, where all one hears is Basie responding with punctuations to the initial two-trumpet riff, Jones’s accents moving the music along.  It takes Lester four bars, more or less, to get his clarinet into play, and then we hear him begin to dance over the background again.  The listener who is prepared for another clarinet-with-rhythm bridge is in for a surprise, as that bridge is given over to trumpeter Shad Collins, a new member of the band whose style came out of the same roots as Clayton’s – but one would never mistake one for the other.  Jo Jones said that Shad made each note pop out as if he were making spitballs, but there is more to his style than a simple percussive attack.  As Clayton’s tone is beseeching, fragile, Collins’s tone is nearly derisive, needling, a buzzing that is, in some way, insect-like.  Yes, there is a stylized bit of Armstrong declaration, but also the teasing sonic play of Rex Stewart.  His solo goes by so fast but deserves a rehearing.  And, in the last eight bars, everything coalesces precisely because the band seems willing to go on forever, happily unchecked – Lester singing his wry song over the trumpets, Basie commenting and urging everyone on, and the rhythm pulsing without strain or exhaustion.  Everyone pedals happily off into some imagined swing paradise.

Ezra Pound, always writing manifestoes, had a simple one: MAKE IT NEW.  This 2:55 of recorded time is a true embodiment of that principle.  Take ideas going back to Economy Hall and make them ardent, emotionally strong, by blending individuality and community.  Synthesize without ever seeming synthetic.  All this in a badly-designed recording studio in Chicago one day in February nearly seventy years ago.

The other three sides will reveal their beauties with repeated listening, but I will suggest only these.  The sound that Basie got from the organ on “Goin’ to Chicago,” his familiar piano gestures transfigured by that instrument, and the beautiful depth of Page’s bass.  The way Basie and Jo accompany Clayton’s lovely open blues chorus; the sound of Lester’s clarinet behind Jimmy Rushing’s voice, veering in 1939 between entreaty and delicacy; Dan Minor’s plainer version of Dicky Wells’s familiar phrases behind Jimmy, and Shad’s commentary, which gives way to another rocking episode of Lester, on clarinet, riffing over the two trumpets in what was the simplest of blues riffs.  (Where was Dicky?  Had he misbehaved, or was Minor finally being given a chance to have a solo – a mere twelve bars of traditional blues accompaniment?  Hammond must have approved of Minor’s playing, because Minor stands alongside Bechet, Ladnier, James P. Johnson, Page, and Jo – some band! – on the 1938 Spirituals to Swing concert.)  On “Live and Love Tonight,” a 1934 movie song – recorded by the Ellington band and who else in a jazz context, and whose choice was it? – Basie’s organ introduction is melodramatic, suggesting the Saturday afternoon matinee at the Bijou, his volume nearly overwhelming the microphone, before it settles down into a marvelous Clayton melodic statement.  Listeners who don’t quite understand the reverence musicians had for Basie might listen closely to his accompaniment – on a bulky and balky instrument – behind Clayton.  It is a graduate seminar on how to guide, cheer, and raise a soloist and the band.  And Basie’s solo chorus that follows is anything but a solo – in fact, the soloists who should get our attention are Page and Jones.  February in Chicago might have been brutal, for someone coughs quietly during that bridge, too.  And the Waller-Basie trill that he can’t help inserting near the end of the chorus is hilarious: given the bulk of the organ’s sound, it is like Oliver Hardy on point, executing a pirouette.  Lester’s chorus is emotionally and rhythmically moving, apparently a series of easy ascents and descents through the chorus – but his tone is earnest and unfulfilled, as if whatever request he was making was, he knew, not going to be granted.  The ending is more pious than one might have expected, but I suspect it was a combination of time running out and no one having anything to say after Lester’s exposition.  Jo Jones said of “Love Me Or Leave Me,” happily, that he could be heard now, which is true, and we hear him closing his hi-hat cymbals decisively rather than keeping them part open, but the sound is crisp, especially considering the murk which dominated the previous three sides.  This version of Donaldson’s edgy lament predates “Dickie’s Dream,” but it suggests that these chord changes were meat and drink to this Basie band much as “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” also by Donaldson, pared down to “Moten Swing,” was for the 1932 band on into 1937 or so, as broadcast openings and closings show.  This, one feels, is what the band must have sounded like when everyone was fully warmed up: hear how Clayton manages to turn a phrase over and over in the middle of his solo, how Lester dances in to his, followed by a full Collins chorus, and then an abbreviated chorus, the sound of a band running out of time.  This recording – a simple series of solos over rhythm with a get-it-all-in final sixteen bars – is a banquet, even though it leaves us wanting more.

Artists at play, blessedly and brilliantly.

POSTSCRIPT: Both Dan Block and Doug Pomeroy, whose opinions I trust, feel that Lester was probably playing a metal clarinet on the 1938 Kansas City Six recordings.

THREE CHEERS FOR PETER ECKLUND!

One of the pleasures of this blog is the attentive local correspondents who come bearing gifts of information and insight.  Marianne Mangan is the most recent addition to the unpaid Jazz Lives staff of roving reporters, and I hope she phones in her stories frequently!

Hi Michael,

What a night Monday is for the hot stuff! You’ve talked about Vince & the Nighthawks at Sofia’s, and we know about the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s (VERY good on Sunday, too, with the Creole Cooking Jazz Band), but here’s one more. On Monday night we (my “beloved” / husband is writer / one-time jazz critic Robert Levin) had occasion to hear the Stan Rubin Jazz All-Stars at Charley O’s Time Square Grill. The poster outside still shows Dan Levinson and Jon-Erik Kellso…not so and no matter. The multi-talented and always able Herb Gardner led on keyboard, with young Peter Reardon Anderson on clarinet and tenor sax, steady Steve Alcott on bass, Arnie Kinsella hammering those accents home on drums (and using brushes more than anyone around) and the remarkable Peter Ecklund on trumpet and four-valve flugelhorn. They swung and stomped their way through the likes of “Milenberg Joys,” “Who’s Sorry Now?,” “Big Butter & Egg Man” and “Oh, Baby,” pausing occasionally to temper  the heat with the out & out heart-melting: “One Hundred Years From Today” and “I Surrender, Dear.”

Ecklund played every song like he had a personal connection to it: so musical, so smart, sometimes sly, sometimes sweet, always accurate. He’s generous with the other players, leading them into phrasings that are unexpected and just right. They seemed happy for the inspiration and played like a tight unit, although he’s only with them once or twice a month.

Peter also plays with the Gotham Jazzmen on Wednesdays 12:30 to 2:00 at the Greenwich Village Bistro, 13 Carmine Street at Bleecker & 6th. With Jim Collier leading on trombone, Sam Parkins on clarinet, Dick Miller on piano and Peter on whatever he feels like (which was flugelhorn and ukelele last week), the old pros wove a spell around “Rosetta,” “Deed I Do,” “China Boy,” and more. Subtle, nuanced–lovely stuff.  Peter’s played like this every time I’ve seen him recently.  In person, he sounds like his CDs, made when he was the hot hand among cornet players.  I, for one, would like the opportunity to see him work a lot more.

Thanks for all the great information (and mood elevating, too!) you get out there, Michael!

Sincerely,

Marianne

A few more words about Peter Ecklund.  Perceptive, witty, and insightful, he’s been a jazz scholar of great renown — his work on Bix and Louis is hugely admired in the field and by his colleagues.  I first heard him on a Stomp Off vinyl issue, PETER ECKLUND AND THE MELODY MAKERS, which featured him in the congenial company of Dan Barrett, Ken Peplowski, Joe Muranyi, Barbara Dreiwitz, Marty Grosz, Eddy Davis — the finest players then in New York.  Happily, that CD has just been reissued as HORN OF PLENTY on the Classic Jazz label — eminently worthwhile listening, vigorous, lyrical, and hot.  Even when Peter puts down his horns on these sessions, his whistling on “Take Your Tomorrow” is reason enough to buy the CD.

I had the opportunity to hear him twice in 1990 in concerts held in Babylon, New York (no one’s idea of a jazz hotbed) with Muranyi, Grosz, and Barrett — wonderful stuff.  I remember with pleasure Muranyi’s singing of “Louisiana Fairy Tale,” which was still the theme song of THIS OLD HOUSE.  Days gone by!

I followed Peter’s playing through several Arbors CDs, and then caught up with him a few years ago — at the Cajun with the Gotham Jazzmen, with other pickup groups, and as a noble guest at the Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri.  Peter has always had a variety of approaches — his early work had some of the tumbling bravado of Jabbo Smith balanced against the sweetness of Bix and Bobby Hackett.  When he used his mute, his personality as well as his sound changed, sometimes summoning up the growls and moans of the Thirties Ellington brass.  Peter always offered shining melodic improvisations that went in unexpected ways, and his recent playing, focused and fervent, is reminiscent of the delicate yet arching trajectories of Doc Cheatham.  I hope we hear Peter more and more . . . and that, like Doc, his playing career is long and delightful.  All hail a great talent!

As a postscript, at Marianne’s suggestion, I put on the Jazzology CD of 1994, ECKLUND AT ELKHART: Peter leading what might be The Perfect Band: Dan Barrett, Bobby Gordon, Mark Shane, Marty Grosz, Greg Cohen, and Hal Smith.  Music to rejoice by, and sorely needed, too.