Monthly Archives: November 2008

HIDE AND SEEK (IN IRELAND)

The Beloved and I just returned from a week in Ireland.  Our itinerary included University College Cork and Dalkey (a suburb of Dublin where Harriet O’Donovan Sheehy, Maeve Binchy, Bono, Van Morrison, and other notables live).   And the sun shone for all but one day. 

When I first visited Ireland, continuing my work on the short-story writer Frank O’Connor, I didn’t expect to find jazz.  In fact, in those pre-iPod days, I brought pounds of CDs, trying to prevent the deprivation that I was sure would befall me.  But jazz kept on popping up to surprise me.  I heard CDs by guitarists Louis Stewart and Hugh Buckley, and was invited to jam sessions featuring Toddy’s Hot Stompers and other congenial assemblages.  

So I shouldn’t have been surprised this time when I stumbled onto my favorite art form.   

But I was.  People who love this music are forever lamenting dwindling audiences, the closing of clubs, the names in the obituary pages . . . . with very good reason.  And the sweet ubiquity of jazz in my childhood — Louis and Duke on television, Jimmy McPartland playing a free concert in a Long Island park, Bobby Hackett on the radio — is surely nostalgia rather than current reality.  These days, I can expect to hear Ben Webster as dinner music only if I’ve put his CDs on while the chicken is roasting. 

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And yet . . . . there was Denise Connolly’s fascinating Cork bookshop.  It was a sweet, enlightened disorder of books of all kinds, opera records, and more.  But what caught my attention was the music coming out of Ms. Connolly’s mini stereo system: Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelly playing “Limehouse Blues,” then “I’ve Had My Moments,” and more — vintage 1937.  When I told her how delighted I was by her soundtrack, she smiled and said that, yes, Django, Lionel Hampton, and Thelonious Monk were her favorites.  Visit Connolly’s Bookshop, not only for the jazz, but the books! 

And the HMV store on Grafton Street has sections devoted not only to Louis and Duke, but also to Bix Beiderbecke and Humphrey Lyttelton.

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It did my heart good.  Just when I thought jazz had gone into hiding, it poked its head out of the shadows and gave me a big wink.

MY JAZZ MADELEINE (October 20-21, 2004)

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Yesterday, I was sifting through one of the mountains of papers I carefully cultivate in my apartment.  Unlike orchids, superfluous papers flourish even when neglected.  Horticulturists take note!  I found a large envelope on which I’d written details of a jam session at the now-vanished Chelsea jazz club, The Cajun, on October 20, 2004.  Marcel Proust tidying the kitchen counter, if you will.

October 20, 2004 was a Wednesday, and Wednesdays were given over to Eddy Davis’s compact, surprising ensemble. “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm,” which had as its core clarinetist Orange Kellin, multi-instrumentalist and interstellar denizen Scott Robinson, Eddy on banjo, vocals, and original compositions, and Debbie Kennedy on bass.  You could always find WQXR-FM broadcaster Lloyd Moss, happily attentive at a table right in front of the band.

My involvement in this story began in mid-September 2004, when I went to Jazz at Chautauqua for the first time, a rapturous weekend.  There, I met Becky Kilgore in person, although we already knew about each other. Either she or trombonist Dan Barrett invited me to come along for their upcoming East Coast gig at Shanghai Jazz in Madison, New Jersey.  A version of their then new group, BED, would make a rare Eastern appearance.  B and D (that’s Becky and Dan) had been able to make the trip, but E (that’s Eddie Erickson, on guitar, banjo, ballads, and comedy) had commitments in California and couldn’t.  The “silent J,” bassist Joel Forbes would be there, and the Erickson-gap would be filled by the endearing pianist Rossano Sportiello.

Here the story becomes more autobiographical.  I had spent Wednesday with a small group of amiable but somewhat untrained moving men who lugged my belongings up the stairs to my new apartment.  They were sweet-natured, funny, and hard-working.  And from this experience I gleaned one piece of irreplaceable vaudeville:

Mover 1, holding up one end of my piano, “Henry, are you ready, for God’s sake?”

Mover 2, getting into position at the other end: “Man, I was born ready!”

But what was supposed to take four hours took nine.  It was physically exhausting for them, psychically draining for me.  A reasonable man would have taken to his bed (amidst the neatly-labeled cardboard boxes) with a Scotch or two, but in the short scuffle between Prudence and Hedonism inside my brain, Prudence didn’t have a chance.

Thus, I found myself in the New Jersey train station, with Dan, Becky, Rossano, and the ever-ebullient Shirley Scott, who seemed to personally know every jazz musician in a ten-state area.  Shirley had brought the daily New York Times crossword puzzle, which we did, collectively and hilariously.

I don’t recall much about the Shanghai Jazz gig except that the club seemed to be an odd place for BED. They played and sang gloriously, but the patrons focused on the excellent food, loudly praising their spicy noodles.  When BED finished their second set, we left, and after some adventures in the cold and dark on the train platform, were on our way back to New York.  Shirley called ahead and found that the Cajun was still open; Eddy and his musicians were eager to meet up with BED.

When we arrived, Eddy’s group was on the stand, with Orange, Scott, Pete Martinez on clarinet, and Conal Fowkes (a sterling pianist) on bass.  Dan took out his cornet and they played an easy “Somebody Loves Me,” one of those let’s-see-where-we’re-at opening tunes musicians like (another one is “Sunday”).  Everyone wanted Becky to sing, and she offered a lightly swinging “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me,” and Barbara Rosene, sitting in the audience and enjoying it all, was asked to follow, and offered a wistful “Fools Rush In.”  At some point, Dan switched back to trombone, and the band tried out the rare “I Had Somebody Else,” the familiar “St. James Infirmary” and a charging “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” with Pete Martinez ripping through splendid Ed Hall whoops and runs.

I was ecstatic, and the players were having a great deal of fun as well.  Rossano picked up Dan’s trombone for a multi-clarinet “Somebody Stole My Gal.”  Although Rossano says that he doesn’t play the instrument well, he sounds like a homespun Sandy Williams.  Scott Robinson and Dan both took cornet solos on “A Melody From The Sky,” Dan led the group through “A Monday Date,” and things concluded with a riotous “Dinah,” Debbie Kennedy taking over the bass.  Trimphantly and joyously, Dan sounded much like 1933 Louis in Copenhagen.

The Cajun session came to an end, but the story doesn’t: Shirley called the fine guitarist Joe Cohn, and everyone took over his midtown  apartment.  What I remember now is a series of brilliant flashes: sitting on Joe’s low couch with a tiny glass of demonic grappa in hand, listening to Becky sing “These Foolish Things” with deep tenderness, Rossano playing his own version of Teddy Wilson behind her — a time machine trip back to 1938.  Joe taking out his trumpet (he played it with real style), he and Dan duetting on a line of his father’s (that’s Al Cohn); Joe playing violin for us.  I sat, silently beaming.

The session broke up around 2:30 in the morning, and I made my way to Penn Station — conveniently missing the last LIRR train, so I waited in the nearly-deserted, cavernous station for another two hours.  Fast forward to a blissful man walking home at 6 in the morning, not believing his own good fortune.

I didn’t have my camera with me, and the minidisc recorder I’ve written about here was not yet an indispendsable part of my luggage — but the envelope reminded me of this intensely happy time.  And, even better, all of the players and singers I’ve celebrated here are alive and well.  May they be well, happy, and prosperous!  And thanks to Arlene Lichterman and Herb Maslin: you know who you are!

“INTEGRITY OF BEING”: SONNY ROLLINS ON COLEMAN HAWKINS

hawkins1First, November 21 is Coleman Hawkins’s birthday — not a national holiday, yet.  But WKCR-FM, the jazz station of Columbia University, will play his music for twenty-four hours in his honor.  And if you’re not within reach of an FM radio, you can hear it online at http://www.wkcr.org.

The letter printed below originally came from the esteemed player and thinker Phil Woods, making its way to Jon-Erik Kellso, who sent me a copy of it.  I hope that no one minds my offering it here: I think it is an important document for reasons both musical and spiritual.


10/13/62 P.M.

My Dear Mr. Hawkins,

Your recent performance at the ‘Village Gate’ was magnificent!!  Quite aside from the fact that you have maintained a position of dominance and leadership in the highly competitive field of ‘Jazz’ for the time that you have there remains the more significant fact that such tested and tried musical achievement denoted and is subsidiary to personal character and integrity of being.

There have been many young men of high potential and demonstrated ability who have unfortunately not been ‘MEN’ in their personal and offstage practices and who soon found themselves devoid of the ability to create music.  Perhaps these chaps were unable to understand why their musical powers left them so suddenly.  Or perhaps they knew what actions were constructive as opposed to destructive but were too weak and not men enough to command the course of their lives.  But certain it is that character, knowledge and virtue are superior to ‘Music’ as such.  And that ‘success’ is relative to the evolution of those qualities within us all.  That it has been positive and lasting for you Coleman is to the honor and credit of us, your colleagues, as well as to your credit.  For you have ‘lit the flame’ of aspiration within so many of us and you have epitomized the superiority of ‘excellence of endeavor’ and you stand today as a clear living picture and example for us to learn from.

It has always been a task to explain in words those things which in nature are the most profound and meaningful.  Now you have shown me why I thought so much of you for so long.  Godspeed in your travels and may I be fortunate enough to hear you play the tenor saxophone again in person.

sonny_rollinsYours truly,

Sonny Rollins

The letter is deeply moving, its individuality emphasized by Sonny’s sincerity, his eighteenth-century prose flourishes.  Of course, it is a heartfelt expression of gratitude and admiration.  But what moves me is that Rollins isn’t praising Hawk’s musical inventiveness.  No, he pays tribute is to the maturity of character Hawkins showed; a moral tenacity displayed in his devotion to his art.

When Sonny praises Hawk for resisting the temptations that other, weaker players fell prey to, I suspect that he has Charlie Parker in mind and those players who fell under the spell of Bird’s music and his self-destructive persona.   “Character, knowledge and virtue” — rare qualities in themselves or in such a combination.

We praise Hawkins for making the tenor saxophone into a true jazz instrument, for helping to continue and expand the jazz ballad tradition.  He kept his own identity but he played alongside Mamie Smith in 1920 and with Monk, Coltrane, and Rollins forty years later, still immediately identifiable.  But I think we should also praise Rollins for his humility and his willingness to honor his ancestors.  Many of us might think some of the same thoughts about a person who has inspired us, but how many of us will write the letter?

Hawkins died in 1969, so he cannot hear our praise.  But we can still honor him by reminding others of the celebration on Friday, by listeining to it ourselves, and by keeping his music in our ears whenever we can.

AWFUL SAD . . .

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I didn’t have to go to graduate school to learn that things come to an end, including the summer, the bag of potato chips, and the cup of Earl Grey tea.  Of course we know that change may be the only constant.  But I was saddened to find that Jon-Erik Kellso’s Sunday gig at Sweet Rhythm is no more.

The reasons surely weren’t musical, and the audience had grown exponentially from the first Sunday to the fourth, which was November 16.  No, the gig ended for economic reasons, understandable but sorrowful nonetheless.  I envision this blog as a place to celebrate, so I will not embark on dark ruminations.

What I prefer to do here is thank the musicians who played so beautifully: Jon-Erik, Chuck Wilson, Will Anderson, Peter Reardon-Anderson, John Allred, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello, Kelly Friesen, Andrew Swann, and a host of gifted sitters-in including Lisa Hearns and Adrian Cunningham.  And the Friends of Jazz who filled the room: the Beloved, of course; Jackie, Lala, and Nina Favara; Bill and Sonya Dunham; Dick Dreiwitz; Jim and Grace Balantic; Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  And thanks to the people I didn’t get to meet who grinned and clapped and were moved along with us.

The music lives on in our memories and on YouTube.  You can visit my “swingyoucats” account and Jim’s “recquilt” for clips on this band in action.  But even the best live video isn’t the same thing.

AWFUL SAD, to quote Ellington.

SUNDAY’S JAZZ DELIGHTS: NOV. 16, 2008

A congenial quartet of the Beloved, myself, Erin Elliott, and Flip went to Sweet Rhythm this afternoon for what is becoming a delightful weekly ritual: to spend two hours in the happily inspired company of Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends.  This week, the Friends included some familiar faces: pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Kelly Friesen, and drummer Andrew Swann.  Jon-Erik’s front-line colleague this week was his friend and (often) EarRegular, trombonist John Allred.

At times, I was reminded of the interplay between Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson, not that Jon and John imitated those masterful players, but in the easy, dancing way their lines intertwined and complemented, feinted and echoed.  And the rhythm section was a joy, as always.

The band started off at a high level, with their comfortable, trotting version of the old standard MY GAL SAL:

They then offered a musing, sweet WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, that optimistic piece of good advice courtesy of Harry Barris and Bing Crosby:

And I close this post with the first feature of the afternoon: Ehud, Kelly, and Andrew playing LOUISE at a deliciously slow tempo.  I was so fascinated by the gliding pace Ehud had chosen that I missed the first half-chorus: I hope that I redeemed myself to watchers and readers by capturing the rest.  This performance reminds me, not of Maurice Chevalier, but of Lester Young and Teddy Wilson in 1956, although the tempo they chose was brighter:

Magical music!

Later on, Lisa Hearns sang DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE and AFTER YOU’VE GONE, and sitters-in proliferated: Chris Lacamac and Gerald Kavanagh on drums, and Adrian Cunningham, an Australian clarinetist who has already distinguished himself at The Ear Inn.

We’ll be out of the country next Sunday, but that’s the only reason we would miss one of these sessions at 88 Seventh Avenue South.

BOSWELL SISTERS PROVE JAZZ IS HEALTHY: “CLOSE FARM-ONY”

This 1932 short is the first film appearance of the Boswell Sisters.  True, it’s light-years away from CITIZEN KANE, but I don’t care.  The silly and witty lyrics, the Sisters’ beautiful harmonies and irrepressible swing, and that hay-covered piano make this hilariously memorable.

Although we intuitively knew that jazz was good for us, proof like this is extremely comforting.

STILL MORE CAPTAIN VIDEO! THE CANGELOSI CARDS, NOVEMBER 10, 2008

A warning to the aesthetically sensitized: the video clips below are cinematographically substandard.  In video and films, if you are offended by the distracting sight of people walking in front of the camera, obscuring your view, the purported subjects appearing tiny, please don’t attempt to watch this (especially without a parent or guardian present).

However, you would then be depriving yourself of evidence of one of the great moments in recent jazz: the meeting of the Cangelosi Cards and members of the Traditional Jazz Collective.  As an alternative, turn away from the monitor and delight in the sounds.

There!  These videos would never get me into the cafeteria of the world’s least accomplished film school, but they do — however weirdly — record what I saw and heard from the back of the room at Banjo Jim’s, 11 PM on Monday night, November 10, 2008.  As I’ve written, that performance seemed one of those ecstatic moments where everyone in the room understood the joyous purposes that had brought them together: the musicians, the dancers, the crowd.  I thought it a thrilling experience, and I hope that some small fragment of the emotion comes through on these clips.

On the first one, Tamar Korn sings “Milenberg Joys,” accompanied by Jake Sanders, guitar; Karl Meyer, violin; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Cassidy Holden, bass; Marcus Milius, harmonica, and sitters-in Jesse Gelber, piano; Charlie Caranicas, cornet; Michael Hashim, alto sax.  The “drums” you hear are from Tamar’s repertoire of sounds — rimshots, hi-hat cymbal hisses and swishes . . . frankly amazing, even for someone who catches himself doing Jo Jones when he thinks that the recorded music needs it.

And here’s a tender, searching exploration of “I’m Confessin'”:

And for those of you whose eyes cry out for visual representation that won’t cause eyestrain, after those minutes of cinema-excessively-verite, here is Jim Balantic’s lovely candid portrait of the Cards at Harefield Road, looking alternatively happy, pensive, and peaceful.  Thanks, Jim!

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MORE CAPTAIN VIDEO! KEVIN DORN AND THE TJC, NOVEMBER 10, 2008

One of the highlights of my recent life has been getting to know and to admire Kevin Dorn — a creative musician blessed with singular perceptions.  He’s been leading his own Traditional Jazz Collective, a stirring group of improvisers.  Here’s a recent incarnation of the TJC at Banjo Jim’s, doing a fast one and a slow one.  From the left, there’s Michael Hashim on alto sax, Kevin on drums, Charlie Caranicas on cornet, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, and Jesse Gelber on piano.  Nadia’s in the audience, although she’s hard to see here.

First, the TJC has an energetic workout on “Everybody Loves My Baby,” which goes back to the middle Twenties but has lost none of its liveliness:

When the TJC had a regular Monday-night gig at the Cajun, one of the songs I loved most was J. Walter Hawkes’s slow, soulful rendition of “Rose Room.”  Most of us Art Hickman’s ballad simply as an instrumental, as a set of chord changes to improvise on at a medium tempo, but JWH, sweetly perverse, sings it as it was originally written: a yearning plaint.

“Oh! to be sweetly reclining.”

I didn’t request that Walter sing this one, but I’m thrilled to have caught it on video — and to be able to share it here.  (Did you know that he’s an Emmy-award winning composer as well as one of the great unheralded jazz trombonists?  You do now.)

Kevin and the TJC appear intermittently at a variety of New York jazz haunts, including the Garage; Kevin himself plays with the Gully Low Jazz Band at Birdland and with John Gill at The Ear Inn.  Check his website, on my blogroll, for vital information on when and where you can hear him play.

CAPTAIN VIDEO! KELLSO AND FRIENDS, NOV. 9, 2008

Here’s a sampling of the remarkable jazz that Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends (Peter Reardon-Anderson, tenor and clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kelly Friesen, bass; Andrew Swann, drums) played last Sunday at Sweet Rhythm, 88 Seventh Avenue South (5-7 PM).  I’m still a novice cinematographer — someone who accidentally cuts off the top of heads — but the sound is good, so perhaps that counts for more?

First, the lovely Harry Barris song, immortalized by Bing and Louis, “I Surrender, Dear”:

Then, the Twenties pop hit, “Linger Awhile,” a jam tune much beloved of Forties players (Dicky Wells, Lester Young, and Bill Coleman did it magnificently on Signature).  This version has a wonderfully twisty line, courtesy of Master Kellso, who calls his creation “Stick Around.”  Somehow, that line summons up the 1945 band Coleman Hawkins led, with Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, Denzil Best, and (memorably) Vic Dickenson.  Do you agree?  (Wily man that he is, Jon-Erik quotes Mingus’s “Fables of Faubus” on his first bridge, but I had to have it pointed out to me by another listener.)

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And here’s that lively Sophie Tucker warning, “Some of These Days.”  This performance isn’t fast or loud, but it is the very definition of propulsive fun.  Everyone in this quintet has his own sound, but the ghosts of Louis, the entire Basie band, Ed Hall, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones were grinning, too:

The next two performances take us back to the glory days of 1938 — the hot summer when the Basie band appeared at the Famous Door, jammed in next to one another.  Here’s Eddie Durham’s “Topsy,” a minor blues with a bridge:

From the same blue-label Decca period, here’s Herschel Evans’s “Doggin’ Around,” taken at just the right tempo:

Finally, in quite a different mood but just as impassioned, here is bassist Kelly Friesen’s eloquent version of the Ellington classic “All Too Sooon”:

If you’re looking for more of the same on YouTube, Jim Balantic (jazz fan and DVD videographer) captured this group doing a swinging “Limehouse Blues.”  His account is called “recquilt,” and it should come up when these videos are selected.

And on November 16 (that’s this coming Sunday) we should all extricate ourselves from our computers to meet up at Sweet Rhythm and see Jon-Erik, pianist Ehud Asherie, trombonist John Allred, Kelly Friesen, and Andrew Swann.

As rewarding as these video clips are, isn’t it better when the musicians are life-size?  I think so.

P.S.  That being said, look for my postings of video clips from Kevin Dorn and the Traditional Jazz Collective and two from the Cangelosi Cards with members of the TJC sitting in — captured at Banjo Jim’s on Monday, November 10, 2008.

JULIE FOLLANSBEE, MANNY FARBER, AND KID ORY

kid-ory-78As much as I love jazz, I love the stories that attach themselves to the players, the records, the places the music inhabits.  Earlier today, on WNYC-FM, Leonard Lopate spoke with Kent Jones and Philip Lopate about the flim critic and painter Manny Farber, who celebrated subversive “termite art.” I never met Manny Farber, so my connection to him, perhaps tenuous, exemplifies two or perhaps three degrees of New York separation.

It was, however, my privilege to know the actress and entrancing personality Julie Pratt Shattuck, born Julie Follansbee.  Julie died on August 16 of this year.  She was 88.  I  was introduced to her by her dear friend Harriet O’Donovan Sheehy (widow of the great Irish writer Frank O’Connor — and my benefactor as well).

Julie wasn’t tall, but she seemed regally so — without being stuffy.  Her diction was elegant,  but she delighted in delivering tiny hilarious shocks.  I was standing next to her at a downtown art show when, for whatever reason, she turned to me and recited the limerick about the young man from Madras.  I still haven’t recovered.

Her blue eyes would flash and she would laugh uproariously.  She was one of the most vividly alive people I have ever met; she loved a party, and until her final illness, the word “Whee!” punctuated her talk.  Lucky me! — to have been invited to 242 East 68th Street for tea, the occasional tiny glass of bourbon, dinner — and wonderful stories.

Julie knew that I was immersed in jazz.  I gave a party at her brownstone where the great guitarist Craig Ventresco played and awed everyone.  I also remember a wonderful evening when a trio of Julie, myself, and her friend Roseli Olivera went to the Cajun to hear Kevin Dorn’s band play, where Julie sat, awash in the music, her eyes closed, her head swaying, her face a portrait of bliss.  Once, she mentioned that she had a small collection of 78 rpm records.  Would I like them?  Yes, I said, I would.

Sometime in 2007, then, I went to her brownstone and Julie gave me these 78 rpm records:

Jack Teagarden (Brunswick): Ol’ Pappy / Fate-thee-Well to Harlem

Duke Ellington (Victor): Jubilee Stomp / Black Beauty

Gene Krupa’s Swing Band (Victor): I’m Gonna Clap My Hands / Mutiny in the Parlor

Bessie Smith (Columbia): Empty Bed Blues, Part I and 2

Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers (Victor): Shake It and Break It / Wild Man Blues

Old Man Blues / Nobody Knows the Way I Feels Dis Morning (as printed on the label)

Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven / Five (UHCA): Potato Head Blues / Put ‘Em Down Blues

Sister Ernestine Anderson acc. Bunk Johnson’s Jazz Band (Disc): Does Jesus Care / The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow

Kid Ory’s Jazz Band (Crescent): Creole Song / South

J.C. Higginbotham / Frank Newton Quintets (Blue Note): Weary Land Blues / Daybreak Blues

Boris Rose acetate disc: Body and Soul (Hawkins) / I Can’t Get Started (Berigan)

Dizzy Gillespie (Manor): I Can’t Get Started / Good Bait

Bob Wilber’s Wildcats, with Dick Wellstood at the Barrelhouse Steinway (Rampart): Chimes Blues / Old Fashioned Love

I was thrilled: Julie had always been generous to me, and she saw the joy on my face of even having these precious artifacts to leaf through.  The records had been well-played, which I found touching, and they, taken together, suggested someone’s deep love and understanding of jazz in its many manifestations.

“Did you collect jazz records?” I asked Julie.

“Oh, no, these weren’t mine,” she said.

I looked at her quizzically.

manny-farber“Do you know of Manny Farber?” she continued, and I was happy to say that I did.

“Well, when I was living in the Village, sometime in the late Forties, he came around to call.  I don’t recall how I met him.  But he brought these records with him, and he left them behind.”

Sensing that there was some bit of narrative hidden under that calm surface, I just looked at her.

Julie said cheerfully, “Oh, he wanted to sleep with me.  But I wasn’t interested in him.  And he never came back for the records.”

At that time, Manny Farber was still alive, 90 or 91years old.  Julie and I discussed, whimsically, whether I should write him a note and say, “By the way, would you like your records back?  Julie has been keeping them for you,” an idea that never took shape.  For those who savor coincidence, Manny Farber died on August 17, 2008, one day after Julie did.

I miss her.  I’m sorry I didn’t visit her more often.  And I’m sorry that when I looked for a picture of her on Google, none came up — although the many DVDs of the films in which she appears did.  I say “Whee!” in her honor, and thank her for this story and this gift, one of so many.

P.S.  And my hero Eddie Condon signed people’s autograph books with “Whee!”  Great minds think alike, exuberantly so.

THE OAXACA WANDERERS

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Whenever we travel away from our native New York, we always seek out the local musicians.  In Oaxaca, where we just experienced the Days of the Dead, marimba bands were easy to find, hot jazz less so.  But we persevered!  And we were rewarded.

Here you have a rare picture of the Oaxaca Wanderers in action.  It would be both unkind and inaccurate to say that their jam session is in the least wooden.  From the left, there’s Lester “Presidente” Joven on tenor and overalls.  He really sinks his teeth into his solos.  To his right, we have Horacio “Caliente” Vaca and his sister Elsie on trumpets.  Elsie used to be a  stripper but has given it up for a strong lead in the fashion of Conrad Gozzo.

Jazz lives!

GOOD NEWS FROM THAT OTHER COAST

Hello, Michael – – –

Jazz Lives on the Left Coast, too.
I have no idea how many of your subscribers live in Southern California and hereabouts; I can only humbly ask that you consider sending out a notice (attached) about an upcoming event sponsored by JazzAmerica.  We’re  a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation co-founded by Los Angeles by jazz legend Buddy Collette. Since our inception in 1994, we have provided continuous jazz instruction to hundreds of middle- and high-school students, and it’s always tuition-free.from the early teens. 

On November 23 – sandwiched between nights of the Pharoah Sanders Quartet – we will take over LA’s top jazz venue, Catalina Bar & Grill, for a jazz brunch.  We’ll open with the Fairfax high school Young Lions, a fledgling jazz band comprised mostly of members of that school’s marching band. The Fairfax Lions marched their way to top honors in statewide competition last year.  We’re sharing with them information, recordings and charts that reflect the transition between marching music and early jazz. In that vein, their opening number is a Victor Goines arrangement of “Second Line,” a traditional sound from New Orleans.  Then they’ll play W.C. Handy’s “Beale Street Blues,” James P. Johnson’s “Victory Stride,” and make their way through the big band era, early Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder.
Following the Young Lions will be String Fever, a new ensemble consisting of classically-trained cellists, violinists and violists.  We’re exploring the sophisticated harmonic subtleties of Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments,”   some Ellingtonia (“It Don’t Mean a Thing…” and “Caravan,”) plus some original material provided by the eclectic Turtle Island String Quartet.
Closing the show will be some traditional/swing performers based in Sacramento, CA: vocalist Brady McKay,pianist/vibist John Cocuzzi, reedman Otis Mourning and drummer Daryl von Druff.
Why should your readers know about this, especially if they aren’t local?  Maybe it will spawn some interest in generating jazz instruction for youngsters where it doesn’t already exist.
Before we knew the outcome of the recent election, we took a chance and billed the event as “A November to Remember.”  With the sea change of last Tuesday, there’s an added gravitas to the banner.   Candidate Obama was asked what appealed to him so much about playing basketball. He compared it to the improvisational essence and collaborative excitement of jazz.  Imagine the possibilities of inspired young people turning to music to experience that same adrenaline rush.  At JazzAmerica, we think it’s a slam-dunk.
Fraternally,
Richard Simon
Program Director
www.JazzAmerica.org

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P.S. from the East Coast “Jazz Lives” person: When I first read this letter, I was enthusiastic about the enterprise.  Anything that helps children become jazz musicians or even exposes them to jazz is, no question, valid and valuable.  Then I remembered that Richard Simon is an ace jazz bassist himself, who played splendidly on Eddie Erickson’s CD, IT’S A GREAT FEELING.  Any friend of Eddie Erickson is a friend of mine! 

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OUR OWN FOUR-DAY NYC JAZZ FESTIVAL

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This remarkable weekend began on Friday night (November 7) at the New York Historical Society on Central Park West, with a free one-hour concert featuring bassist-singer-composer Jay Leonhart, amidst what the MC introduced, somewhat oddly, as “rising stars” Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals, Ted Rosenthal, piano, and Alvin Atkinson, drums. The program mixed several Richard Rodgers classics, “Shall We Dance,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” Bernstein’s “Cool,” with two Leonhart originals and a closing romp through “Lester Leaps In.”  Rosenthal sparkled; Atkinson swung.

But the high point of the evening was an exploration of what Leonhart called “a jazz prayer,” “Body and Soul.”  That 1930 song can be a problem for musicians, as it has been played so nobly by so many: Coleman Hawkins, Louis, Bird in his first flights, Duke and Blanton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Lucky Thompson, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, the Benny Goodman Trio, etc.   This performance began with Leonhart’s arco solo and then reached heights with Wycliffe’s plunger-muted, stately exploration of the theme.  Wycliffe knows full well how to honor a melody rather than simply leaping into variations on chord changes).  Waggling his plunger in and out, he mixed growls and moans, naughty comedy and deep sighs, as if Tricky Sam Nanton or Vic Dickenson was playing a hymn.  The solo ended all too soon.

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Not only was the concert free, but the museum was open to all, so the Beloved and I wandered through lovely landscape paintings.  Future Fridays at the NYHS (all beginning at 6:30 PM) will feature The Western Wind (a contemporary classical vocal sextet) on November 14, on the 21, guitarists from the Manhattan School of Music (teachers and proteges); Cheryl B. Engelhardt and Oscar Rodriguez (guitar) on December 5, jazz again on December 12, with Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Tootie Heath, and ending with Latin music on the 19th from the Samuel Torres Group.

We rested on Saturday to prepare ourselves for the exuberances to come.

Sunday afternoon found us at Sweet Rhythm on Seventh Avenue South for the third gathering of Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends: this time bassist Kelly Friesen, drummer Andrew Swann, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and reedman Peter Reardon-Anderson, doubling tenor and clarinet.  Hyperbole is a dangerous thing, but I came away from these two sets thinking that I had heard the most exciting jazz in years.

I so admire Jon-Erik’s ability to shape an ad hoc ensemble into a cohesive one, and he did it through the two sets, creating jazz that was of this time and place, looking back to New Orleans and collective improvisation, forward to contemporary “Mainstream” solos.  If I kept thinking of Keynote Records 1943-46, perhaps that’s because those jubilant performances kept being evoked on the stand at Sweet Rhythm.  Rossano strode and glided, sometimes in a Basie mood (appropriately) on “Doggin’ Around” and “Topsy”; Kelly took the glories of Milt Hinton (powerful rhythm, a huge tone, beautiful arco work on “All Too Soon”) and made them his own, and Andrew Swann, slyly grinning, added Sidney Catlett and Cliff Leeman to his swinging progenitors.  Anderson, twenty-one years old, is someone we can greet at the beginning of a brilliant career (to quote Emerson on Whitman): Zoot Sims and Ed Hall stand in back of his graceful, energetic playing.  Basie got honored, but so did Bing and Louis in “I Surrender, Dear,” and Kellso reminded us that not only is he playing marvelously but he is a first-rate composer: his line on “Linger Awhile” was a memorable hide-and-seek creation.  We cheered this band, and with good reason.

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And the room was full of Jazz Friends who didn’t get up on the bandstand: Bill and Sonya Dunham, Jim and Grace Balantic, Nina Favara, Lawri Moore, Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  A righteous congregation!

And the five portraits you see here — from the top, Jon-Erik, Rossano, Kelly, Andrew, and Peter — come from this gig, courtesy of Lorna Sass, jazz photographer.

Perhaps I am a jazz glutton, but those two sets weren’t enough: I walked downtown to the Ear Inn to soak up one more set by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik, Chris Flory on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass, and Michael Blake on tenor, someone entirely new to me.  (He and Jon-Erik go ‘way back, although they hadn’t played together in years.)  Blake is exceedingly amiable, so we found ourselves chatting at the bar — about small towns near Victoria (Souk for one) and Pee Wee Russell, about the odd and gratifying ways people come to jazz, about Lucky Thompson and jazz clarinet.  Then it was time for the EarRegulars to hit, and they surely did — from a “Blue Skies” that became “In Walked Bud,” to Blake’s feature on (what else?) “Body and Soul.”  Here, backed by the wonderfully sensitive duo of Chris and Greg, he broke the theme into fragments, speculating on their possibilities, becoming harmonically bolder with a tone that ranged from purring to rasping (some echoes of Lacy), exploring the range of his instrument in a delicate, earnest, probing way.  It was a masterful performance, and I am particularly delighted to encounter such brave creativity from a player I didn’t know before.

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Of course, the near-collisions of beauty and contemporary weirdness never fail to amaze.  I was sitting at the bar at the Ear, welcomed there by Victor, who knows more jazz than most critics.  At the bar, to my left, three and sometimes four people were facing away from the band, hunched over their Black Berry or Black Berries, their iPhones, what have you.  Electronically glowing tiny screens, blue and white, shone throughout the club.  I too am a techno-addict — but why go to a bar to check your BlackBerry and ignore the live art being created not five feet away?  To treat Kellso, Blake, Flory, and Cohen as background music seems oblivious or rude.

Monday there was work — but that is always a finite obligation, even when it looms inescapably — but soon I was back in Manhattan, drawn inexorably with the Beloved to Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and Ninth Street) to hear two groups in one night.  Banjo Jim’s seems ideal — small, congenial, a private neighborhood bar full of young people listening to the music, a real blessing.

The first group was full of old friends — Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  This incarnation included Charlie Caranicas on cornet, Michael Hashim on alto sax, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, Jesse Gelber on piano, Kevin on drums.  Kevin kicked things off with a romping “I Want To Be Happy,” explicitly summoning up the 1972 New School concert where Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood — someone named Eddie Condon in charge — showed what could be done with that simple line.  (I was at that concert, too.)  J. Walter Hawkes, one of my favorite unsung singers, did his wonderful, yearning “Rose Room.”  Barbara Rosene sat in for a thoughtful “Pennies From Heaven,” complete with the fairy-tale verse, and the proceedings closed with a hot “China Boy.”

And then — as if it that hadn’t been enough — the Cangelosi Cards took the stand.  They are the stuff of local legend and they deserve every accolade.  A loosely-arranged ensemble: Jake Sanders on acoustic guitar, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Gordon Webster on piano, Karl Meyer on violin, Cassidy Holden on bass.  They are all fine players, better than many with larger reputations.  I thought I heard a drummer but saw no one at the trap set: later I found out that their singer, Tamar Korn, has a remarkable vocabulary of clicks, hisses, and swishes — she fooled me and she swung.  The group has a Django-and-Stephane flavor, but they are not prisoners of that sound, that chugging rhythm, that repertoire.  They began with “Douce Ambiance,” moved to Harry Barris’s “It Was So Beautiful,” and then Eddie Durham’s “Topsy.”

Early on in the set, it became clear that this band has a devoted following — not just of listeners, but of dancers, who threw themselves into making the music physically three-dimensional in a limited space.  Wonderful inspired on-the-spot choreography added to the occasion, an exultant Happening.

Then Tamar Korn got up to sing — she is so petite that I hadn’t quite seen her, because I was seated at the back of the small square room.  But I heard her, and her five songs are still vibrating in my mind as I write this.  Without attempting to be mysterious in any way (she is friendly and open) she is someone unusual.  Rumor has it that she hails from California, but I secretly believe she is not from our planetary system.  When I’ve suggested this to her, she laughs . . . but doesn’t deny it.

Tamar’s singing is focused, experimental, powerful.  In her performance of “Avalon,” she began by singing the lyrics clearly, with emotion but not ever “acting,” then shifted into a wordless line, high long held notes in harmony with the horns, as if she were Adelaide Hall or a soprano saxophone, then did two choruses of the most evocative scat-singing I’ve ever heard (it went beyond Leo Watson into pure sound) and then came back to the lyrics.

Her voice is small but not narrow, her range impressive.  What I find most exhilirating is the freedom of her approach: I hear old-time country music (not, I must add, “country and western,” but real roots music), blues and bluegrass, the parlor soprano essaying light classics, opera, yodeling, swing — and pure sound.  She never appears to be singing a song in any formulaic way.  Rather, she is a vessel through whom the force of music passes: she is embraced by the emotions, the notes, the words.

And when the Cards invited their friends — that is, Charlie Caranicas, Michael Hashim, and Jesse Gelber — to join them for “Milenberg Joys,” “I’m Confessin’,” and “Avalon,” it was as close to soul-stirring ritual in a New York club as I can remember.  The room vibrated; the dancers threw their hands in the air, people stood up to see better, the music expressed intense joy.  I don’t know whether Margaret Mead had rhythm in her feet, but she would have recognized what went on at Banjo Jim’s.

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I hope to have video, thanks to Flip, to post shortly.  Tune in again!  (And another weekend is coming soon . . . tempus fugit isn’t so terrifying when there are glories like this to look forward to.)

Only in New York, I am sure.

All photographs by Lorna Sass, copyright 2008.

ST. RAYMOND’S CEMETERY, BRONX, NEW YORK

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Thanks to the Unofficial Billie Holiday Website, http://www.ladyday.net., where I found this.  The headstone saddens me.  Also sorrowful, but in more complex ways, are the pages from Billie’s FBI file, available also on this site.  Those pages, even with large portions blacked out, suggest that J. Edgar Hoover and his men were star-struck (see his response to a letter from Tallulah Bankhead) but incapable of understanding that artists might be exceptional individuals in many ways. 

Perhaps it is naive of me to be surprised that the FBI lacked sympathy and compassion.  But the pages of Billie’s dossier made this lack painfully evident.

MISS HOLIDAY TO YOU

billie-jpegIn the last few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to talk to groups, often senior citizens, at libraries and community centers.  And although I started out with literary subjects (Frank O’Connor, William Maxwell, Sylvia Townsend Warner) I decided I might have much more fun talking about Louis, Billie, and Fats.  And that has been the case.

Last Friday morning, I spent a pleasant ninety minutes at the JCC (that’s the Jewish Community Center) in Commack, talking about Billie Holiday to a large group of serious, receptive people.  Of course I played “Miss Brown to You,” “Now They Call It Swing,” “Back in Your Own Backyard,” “Strange Fruit,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and the kinescope from The Sound of Jazz where Billie sings “Fine and Mellow.”  I talked about Billie’s Baltimore chum who described her as “don’t-careish,” about Linda Kuehl, Artie Shaw, Lester Young, Count Basie, John Hammond, about gin and heroin, about Louis McKay and Joe Guy, about the jukebox phenomenon that made Billie’s Thirties sessions possible, about Milt Gabler and Billy Crystal.

And the people in the audience were good listeners.  They swayed and rocked to the beat of “Now They Call It Swing,” and one woman in the front softly sang along with “Back in Your Own Backyard.”  “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Strange Fruit” left them appropriately silent, awed.

But this posting isn’t about my talk so much as it is about the questions it provoked.  “Was Billie Holiday Jewish?” (No, I’m afraid not.)  “Did she have any formal training?” (Ditto.  She didn’t need it, did she?)

The best colloquy came from a well-dressed woman with brown hair and lively eyes.  When I mentioned the blessed name of Hot Lips Page, this woman — twenty rows back — got elated and shot me a huge grin.  I stopped and said, “You know about Lips Page?” and her grin got wider.  I told her that she had to come up after the talk to receive a hug.

Well, she did and I did . . . and it turned out that her parents, who ran twenty-four hour candy / convenience stores, were both mad for music.  Although she was raised as an Orthodox Jew, her mother had taken her and her younger brother to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Christmas Eve to hear the holy music.  Her first piano teacher was Conrad Janis.  And she recalled other kinds of holiness: Tuesday night jam sessions at Eddie Condon’s, the Suyvesant Casino, the Central Plaza.  Oh, to have had those experiences!  And I hope she reads this blog.  Whoever you are, dear lady, you made my day.  Thank you!

P.S.  The photograph of Billie with her dog comes from http://www.ladyday.net, “The Unofficial Billie Holiday Website,” which has other lovely photographs.

SUNNY MURRAY AND BIG SID

Sunny Murray tells a story:

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“We took some cheap wine, 35 cents a bottle, ‘Death Valley’, ‘Thunderbird’ shit, and we cooked it, we heated it up, and we took some nutmeg, a spoonful of nutmeg and then we smoked some J… And I played and I played and I played (nobody complained in those days!), and then I lay on the bed and – this is still clear in my mind – I was so smashed that I began to levitate and honest to God I saw SID CATLETT standing there, and he was like smiling, and I was looking at Sid Catlett and I was tripping and he… dissolved right inside me. I swear today, I’ll never forget that. (Pause) And I fell boom back on the bed. I got back on the drums and I was playing, man! And three years later I was playing with Cecil. Six years and I was playing with John. I went up like that in drums, man… I still believe that’s still some part of my success, that the spirit of this man has been… not haunting but, part of me. I find now Catlett’s spirit is one of the most liberating in music. It’s one of those burning bush experiences for me.”

This tale just appeared online on a site devoted to all varieties of percussion, http://www.tomtomtime.com/2008/11/sunny-murray-tells-a-story.html

I hope they don’t mind my reprinting it here: everyone should have such inspiring visions, although perhaps not by beginning with Thunderbird?  But welcoming the dead, asking them to live through us — who would disapprove of that?

DIAL B FOR BEAUTY, T FOR TARDO

One of the pleasures of writing for the journal Cadence is in working with its editor, Bob Rusch, who has great faith in his reviewers’ intellectual elasticity, their ability to consider art that falls slightly outside their accustomed orbit.  Although I could be happy listening to James P. Johnson until the day of doom, Bob has asked me to listen closely and think about recordings I wouldn’t have ordinarily purchased, artists I wouldn’t have otherwise known.  One such CD was a trio recording on the Sharp Nine label (its title an emblem of witty hipness) featuring the pianist Tardo Hammer, bassist Dennis Irwin, and drummer Jimmy Wormworth, Tardo’s Tempo.  I thought it a remarkable recording because of Hammer’s beautiful touch, his unhurried melodic sense, the way the trio worked together, and (no small matter) the beauty of the recorded sound.  Although Hammer might have been classified superficially as a boppish pianist of the Bud Powell persuasion, he has and had a thoughtful restraint, his lines distilled musings rather than violent displays of pianistic ferocity.

Then Tardo surfaced on a particularly moving quartet effort by saxophonist Grant Stewart, Young At Heart, and a live session featuring Stewart and the trumpeter John Marshall, Live at Le Pirate.  I confess that all of his fine playing on these discs did not add up to a conversion experience.  That took place when I heard his latest recording, Look   Stop   Listen: The Music of Tadd Dameron, also on Sharp Nine.  It features Tardo, John Webber, and Joe Fransworth, a truly empathetic trio.  All of their virtues are even more beautifully on display here.  Because Dameron created ringing, mournful melodies, Tardo has wonderful material to explore, and he is someone who (in Eubie Blake’s phrase) knows how to make the piano sing.  He takes his time, he considers the implications of each note without ever getting bogged down in his own cogitations; his tone is like nothing so much as a fine cognac.  Listen to his thoughtful exploration of something as well-worn as “Hot House,” made into a headlong rush by generations of eager emulators of Bird and Diz; hear the pearls he creates out of “Dial B for Beauty” and “If You Could See Me Now.”  Webber is every pianist’s dream: solid but supportive, his focused sonority relaxed yet pulsing.  And Farnsworth (especially on brushes) urges and comments without changing the tempo a hair.  It is one of those sessions that without being in the slightest bit backwards-looking, summons up all the glories of the past without imitating anyone’s familiar gestures.

Because I organize my compact discs alphabetically, Hammer will now have his own section among Ed Hall, Scott Hamilton, Lionel Hampton, Annette Hanshaw, Michael Hashim, and Coleman Hawkins — a set of great melodists.  Those players will welcome him; he’ll be right at home.

Visit Tardo’s website and Sharp Nine’s:http://home.earthlink.net/~tardo/ and http://www.sharpnine.com.

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TOP HAT, WHITE TIE AND TAIL

A portrait by Amy King of two faithful blog-followers: poet Ana Bozicevic and Walt Whitman King-Bozicevic.  To quote Trummy Young, “‘T’aint what you do, it’s the way that’cha do it.”  Some of us have style, others only dream of it. 

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FOR THE LOVE OF LOUIS AND DOC

Louis Armstrong understandably provoked awe, admiration, protectiveness, gratitude, reverence.  And those who know his life will think without hesitation of the people who cherished him: his beloved wife Lucille, his manager Joe Glaser, his friend Jack Bradley, recently celebrated in The New York Times for his astonishing collection of sacred artifacts. 

You can read the story about Jack here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/29/nyregion/29satchmo.html?_r=2&ref=nyregion&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

But Gosta Hagglof, perhaps less famous, has done heroic things to keep Louis’s music alive.  Gosta is an Armstrong scholar and aficionado as well as an enterprising record producer.  On his own Ambassador label, he has created a wonderful multi-disc edition of Louis’s 1935-49 recordings, primarily for Decca, including alternate takes, airshots, and film soundtracks.  Much of this material is not only new to CD but new to everyone.  And it’s beautifully annotated and carefully speed-corrected: the ideal!  On his Kenneth label, its label imitating the Gennett company’s baroque whorls, he also made it possible for us to hear Bent Persson’s awe-inspiring recreations and imaginings of Louis’s 1927 Hot Choruses and Breaks.

With typical generosity, Gosta has just issued / re–issued a Doc Cheatham CD tribute to Louis, a gem.  It’s called THE EMINENCE, VOLUME 2: DOC CHEATHAM: “A TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG,” and nothing in that title is hyperbolic.  (Kenneth Records CKS 3408)

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Cheatham is someone I think of as jazz’s Yeats, getting wiser and deeper and subtler as he grew older.  Brassmen have a hard time because trumpets and trombones require such focused physical energy and skill just to get from one note to another with a pleasing tone.  Doc truly did seem ageless, pulling airy solos out of nowhere, then embarking on weirdly charming vocals that mixed crooning, speech, and bits of Wallerish comedy.  He hasn’t been well represented on compact discs, and this one is a particular pleasure because his Scandinavian friends, both reverent and playful, inspire him to majestic yet casual playing and singing.  Those players, as an aside, are Gosta’s stock company — many of them playing nobly behind Maxine Sullivan in her finest late recordings (five compact discs worth!), the ambiance being somewhere between the Teddy Wilson Brunswicks and the Fifties John Hammond Vanguard sessions.

The original sessions from 1988 and 1989 also feature wonderful playing — piano and Eb alto horn — and arrangements by Dick Cary, someone who knew Louis well, having been the first pianist in the All-Stars at the irreplaceable Town Hall Concert.  (Gosta asked Cary to replicate his original piano introduction to “Save It Pretty Mama,” which Cary does here.  It is immensely touching.)  The gifted but less-known pianist Rolf Larsson shines on two songs not originally issued.  The gutty, loose trombone work of Staffan Arnberg is delightful, and the reed section — Claes Brodda, Goran Eriksson, Erik Persson, and Jan Akerman are all original, fervent players.  I heard hints and echoes of Pete Brown and Charlie Holmes, of Herschel Evans, early Hawkins and Hodges, but they have their own styles, a swinging earnestness.  The rhythm section, collectively featuring Mikael Selander, guitar; Olle Brostedt, bass, guitar; Goran Lind, bass, and Sigge Dellert, drums, rocks in a gentle, homemade, Thirties fashion.  I imagine everyone in shirtsleeves.  I especially enjoyed the hardworking lyricism of Selander, combining the great acoustic guitar styles of the period without imitating anyone: he has a Reinhardt eloquence without entrapping himself in QHCF cliches.

The sessions embraced the expected hot tunes: “Swing That Music,” “Our Monday Date,” a version of “Sweethearts on Parade” with Cary’s alto horn and Cheatham’s trumpet in jousting tandem, “I Double Dare You,” and “Jeepers Creepers,” all essayed with the looseness you would expect from expert players who love to take chances.  The Swedish All-Stars play with daredevil ease — I don’t mean high notes or technical displays — but we hear them experimenting with the possibilities of the songs and the ensembles.  The result is impromptu rather than overly polished, and I can imagine the musicians grinning triumphantly at the end of each take, as if to say, “Hey! We did it!” or the equivalent.

But the best performances here are painted in deep romantic, yearning hues.  “Confessin,” a trio performance for Doc, Selander, and Lind, is the very epitome of tenderness, as is “I’m in the Mood for Love,” complete with the rarely-heard verse.  “Save It Pretty Mama” has Cheatham at his most convincing as a singer; he pours his heart into “A Kiss To Build A Dream On,” a rueful “I Guess I’ll Get the Papers and Go Home” (the song with which he concluded his Sunday brunch performances at Sweet Basil for years), a slow “Dinah” and “Drop Me Off At Harlem,” “Sugar,” and “That’s My Home.”  We often associate Louis with bouncy numbers, with “Tiger Rag” and “Indiana,” but Cheatham draws on his awareness of Louis the romantic, early and late.

Especially in these performances, Cheatham and his young colleagues get at Louis’s huge heart — his wistfulness, hopefulness, and deep feeling, without ever overacting.  Many of these slow performances left me with a lump in my throat.  The results are music to treasure.  Visit Classic Jazz Productions (http://www.classicjazz.eu) for more details.

MUSIC IN THE MOMENT: NOVEMBER 10, 2008

In the spirit of the previous post, where I paradoxically urged my readers to stop reading, to abandon their screens to go hear some live jazz, I have a Real Gig to be enthusiastic about.

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That thinking drummer Kevin Dorn will be leading his Traditional Jazz Collective — the title alone should tell you that it is both serious and playful — for a one-hour set at Banjo Jim’s (that’s Avenue C and Ninth Street), 8:30 – 9:30 PM on Monday, November 10.  The TJC will include some of the finest players I know: trumpeter Charlie Caranicas, trombonist and soulful singer J. Walter Hawkes, pianist-singer Jesse Gelber, and other friends.  We used to be lucky enough to hear versions of this band on Monday nights at the vanished Cajun, so this is a treat.

I’ve written elsewhere about Kevin as a musician (check out his website, http://www.kevindorn.com) but here I want to say a few words about him as a philosopher-artist.  Kevin thinks about the music — not breaking it down into tiny theoretical toast-crumbs, but considering what it is to play jazz.  It isn’t, for him, a matter of copying a record or a style; it isn’t a matter of making sure you insert your favorite technically-impressive licks in every solo; it isn’t trying to “sound like” anyone but yourself.  Music, for Kevin and his pals, is a living thing — it happens under their fingers, as we watch and marvel.  They know how to play, but they abandon themselves to the music, and are often happily surprised at where they end up, whether they are stomping through “Limehouse Blues,” “Louisiana,” or breathing new life into “Royal Garden Blues.”

And, as a happy postscript, the Cangelosi Cards — featuring the slow-burning Jake Sanders and Tamar Korn — will follow the TJC.  For some of us, the next day (Veterans’ Day) is a holiday, so this is reason to celebrate.  “We called it music,” said Eddie Condon, “Guess that’s good enough.”  For me, it certainly is.

KEEP LIVE JAZZ ALIVE!

nicksChecking this blog’s stats this afternoon, I note with pleasure that the preceding post, featuring live video of Jon-Erik Kellso, Chuck Wilson, Ehud Asherie, Kelly Friesen, and Andy Swann, has broken records.  More people have seen this post than any I’ve ever created.  I don’t take credit for this.  Credit belongs to the musicians and to Sweet Rhythm for providing a place for them to create magic on Sunday afternoons.

But I also hope that the people who, like me, are glued to their computers, actually get out and hear jazz live.  That’s one part of the punning title of this blog.  Enjoy this video.  Come up and see me sometime.  I send you a cyber-embrace and real gratutude.  But live jazz has qualities that equal and surpass the finest recordings.  And we need to support it tangibly so that it continues, even flourishes.

Club owners are unmistakably pragmatic.  They will hire those musicians who bring people into the club (people who also spend a dollar or two, if at all possible).  When the musicians outnumber the audience, club owners just turn up the sound on the large-screen televisions mounted over the bar.

So please visit the sites where jazz is being kept alive.  In a random list, they include Sweet Rhythm, Smalls, The Ear Inn, Sofia’s, Birdland, Arthur’s Tavern, Roth’s, Fat Cat, Banjo Jim’s, Cafe Steinhof, the Garage, the Telephone Bar, Moto, Harefield Road, the National Underground, Iridium, the Blue Note . . . and so on.

Nick’s, the home of hot jazz and sizzling steaks, became Your Father’s Mustache, and is now a Gourmet Garage.  As much as I admire the fresh produce and farmhouse cheddars on sale there, I would trade it all for one more thriving jazz club.  We can’t bring back the lost Edens: the Onyx Club, the Half Note, or any of the clubs once called Eddie Condon’s.  But we can keep alive what we have now.  There!  I’ve said it.  See you soon, in the flesh.

VOTE FOR CHANGE THE JAZZ WAY! (JON-ERIK KELLSO AND FRIENDS)

Two Sundays ago, October 26, I took my little pal Flip downtown to document the musical happiness at Sweet Rhythm, where Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends were starting a new gig.  Jon-Erik was in fine happy form with Chuck Wilson on alto, Ehud Asherie on piano, Kelly Friesen on bass, and a surprise — Andy Swann on drums.

Why a surprise?

Well, I hope that readers know, applaud, and admire Jon-Erik, Ehud, and Kelly by now, and Chuck has been a standout at Jazz at Chautauqua as well as in the fabled ABQ (Alden-Barrett Quartet).  I had never met Andy, but his name rang a bell: as one of the uniquely hot Australians, he has graced a number of Bob Barnard’s jazz parties, and his swinging work has lifted sessions you can hear on the long series of Nif Nuf CDs.  He is thoughtful and hot; he gets a variety of sounds out of his set, with brushwork that reminds me of Denzil Best (a great compliment).  This was a wonderful quartet before he joined them — Ehud and Kelly meshed like ideal partners, as did Jon-Erik and Chuck.  But Andy’s drums added something special.

Here, for your listening and dancing pleasure, is a wondrous version of THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, a song chosen for its swinging persistence as well as its barely-concealed political implications.  Condon and McKenzie didn’t have Election Day on their minds in the OKeh studios in 1927, but some of us do.  Whatever your political persuasion, though, this is the kind of change (and changes) we all can approve of.

Sweet Rhythm, to remind everyone, is a small friendly nook of a club at 88 Seventh Avenue South between Grove and Bleecker (on the east side of the street): check out http://www.sweetrhythmny.com. for details.  I hope to be there next Sunday, with Jon-Erik and his friends.  See you there!  A $10 cover takes care of everything.

A postscript: Jon-Erik, Ehud, Kelly, and Andy swung out last Sunday, with Will Anderson (of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks) on reeds — with a variety of sitters-in.  I wasn’t there, but my spies tell me that the music was splendid.