CANGELOSI CARDS: LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS

Often, when the Beloved and I go to a wonderful restaurant the second time, hoping to repeat the delicious experiences, Disappointment is one of the specials, on or off the menu.  What was blissful now seems formulaic; the shine is off of everything.

So I am thrilled to report that I dared the Fates and went back to Banjo Jim’s last night to repeat the experience of one week earlier — seeing the Cangelosi Cards perform on a Monday night.

And I brought a friend: the clarinetist and reed explorer / jazz scholar / memoirist Leroy “Sam” Parkins, whose words you’ve been reading in these pages.

Or, rather, he couldn’t stay away.  He had seen my January 30 posting about the Cards: CANGELOSI CARDS: SWEET SATORI! and wondered what they were like in person, and if he should bring his “Klarinette.”  I gave him encouraging answers to both questions.  The result was that Sam sat next to me right in front of the band for the first four songs (you’ll see them below) transfixed.  In fact, if you listen closely, you’ll hear an astonished man’s voice commenting on what’s going on in a kind of jazz rapture.

Tamar and Jake were happy to meet him and delighted with the idea that he wanted to sit in once the band got itself into its groove.

The Cards began as a band-within-the-band (a neat trick for such a compact touring ensemble) in Hot Club style.  Tamar Korn stood at our left, and you’ll see Karl Meyer on violin, Marcus Millius on harmonica, Jake Sanders on guitar, and Cassidy Holden on bass, pizzicato and arco both.  Everyone was in splendid form, with solo honors often going to Jake and Cassidy, both of whom soloed at greater length than I had heard them do a week ago.

The set began unusually with a soulful rendition of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, one of those songs (like GOODNIGHT, SWEETHEART) I expect bands to play at the end of the night, the close of the gig.  Here it was a wistful jumping-off place, quite remarkable.

Then, another piece associated with farewells (what was going through everyone’s mind?): AFTER YOU’VE GONE.

Gordon Webster, pianist of note, came in just in time to join the Cards on EXACTLY LIKE YOU — which I think of as ‘ZACKLY — and he was more than welcome.

Another admonitory song (in the “you’d better watch your step” mode) followed: SOME OF THESE DAYS.

Next to me, Sam alternated between rapture and impatience — this, after all, is truly his music, the sounds he grew up with.  Ever the instigator, I suggested he politely let everyone see that his clarinet was assembled, the reed properly moist and seated happily in the ligature . . . and it worked.  He was invited to the bandstand (an illusion at Banjo Jim’s) and, even better, the estimable trombonist Matt Musselman and Dennis Lichtman (usually on clarinet but initially doubling mandolin with great style and skill) came in.

Once the front line (actually leaning against the back wall and window) had settled itself in and introductions had been accomplished, someone asked Sam if he knew IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE.  This courtesy made me smile: it’s graciousness of the highest order when the members of the band want to make sure that the newcomer is comfortable with their repertoire.  But it was a kindness that Sam didn’t need, as he smiled gently and said that it was the first song he had learned to play as a young man in the Thirties.  He has an innate gleeful sense of his environment, and he let them know how pleased he was that they had chosen something that was in his very capillaries.)

And did they swing out.  Catch Matt grinning while Sam plays, and notice that although Tamar has taken her inspiration from Fats Waller’s recording (always a good idea!) that her scat singing goes deep inside.  It’s plaintive and nearly primitive, reaching back before recordings.

After a sweet, long MOONGLOW and a deep-down TISHOMINGO BLUES (not visible here because so many eager, expert dancers — including the nimbly stomping Mimi Terris — obscured Flip’s view), the Cards decided to end their set with another surprise.  Eddie Cantor’s theme, IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, is almost always done at a medium tempo.  Red Nichols took it very slowly; Eddie Condon (twenty years later) repeated the same wonderful idea (Pee Wee Russell in charge, both times).  But I’d really never heard it done as a stomp — which it is here. (Incidentally, all the percussive accents you hear in these clips are Tamar’s inventions.)

When this set was over, I was both elated and drained.  I had said I would stay for the second one, but I ended up taking my leave by saying to Tamar, “I’m full!  I don’t need to hear any more music,” and I happily drove home, thinking about the experience — which is at once jazz, country, Hot Club stomp, and music with a timeless yearning delicacy.  And a good deal of my pleasure is that Flip and I can share essential portions of it with you.

It just might be that the Cards are a pleasure we can go back to again and again with no diminuition of joy or insight.  At least I can testify that their brand of heartfelt, romping lightning struck twice — in the same place, no less.

3 responses to “CANGELOSI CARDS: LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS

  1. themusicologist

    excellent

    thanks for sharing

    themusicologist

  2. a tip to the hat & thanks!

  3. Ear witness account: Jazz Lives heard right. Particularly as Tamar sang, eerily and perfectly, I kept muttering in his ear, “Oh my god…” or – “Did you hear that?” I have assumed that ‘perfect’ was over – given that Louis, Caruso, and early Prez are gone. But it’s a new century, and to celebrate it here comes Tamar with Jake Sanders and the Cangelosi Cards. Tamar has a couple of things in common with Louis: She’s incapable of hitting a wrong note, or singing even slightly out of tune. And in common with really only Louis and Caruso (Louis’ idol) she bypasses hearing and goes straight to that primitive part of the soul that only Oliver Sacks knows about. I call it ‘The Gizzard’. And – I sincerely doubt that Tamar has heard Red McKenzie, tissue-paper and comb virtuoso, fl. around 1930. (For readers who escaped advanced music or art history in school, someone ‘fls’ when they’re at their peak; ‘flourishing’. ‘Jazz Lives’ seems to think I’m flsing about now – advt,) It holds up on JzLv’s video – particularly when she’s scatting (impeccably). She even has the tonal quality of McKenzie, and the free and easy improvisation which must have started in the crib.

    Walking in on the Cards is to experience a major time warp. First of all Banjo Jim’s must either pay the cabaret tax or the Dance Police never get that far East (almost to Bangladesh). I’ve been playing in saloons since early WW II and except for the big clubs built to snag soldiers and sailors, or the now extinct Latin Quarters of this world, dancing is out. The 10% cabaret tax is prohibitive:

    “Could Bloomberg’s nanny state be loosening up? The Daily News has it that the mayor is considering relaxing the city’s Prohibition-era “Cabaret laws,” which make it illegal for three or more people to dance in a bar or restaurant unless the owner gets a costly and difficult-to-obtain permit. ‘We either want to eliminate the license or establish a different license so that it would be less onerous for people to engage in dancing,’ says an anonymous source in the Mayor’s office” – Gothamist.com, July 2008. This is wandering far afield, but dancers in the meat-packing district recently staged a protest when they discovered that the vibe behind the law was to discourage inter-racial dating. Digression over.

    I can’t over-emphasize what dancers mean to a swing band musician (or I’m sure to rock people, who took over dancing in the 50s/60s). This from my massive ms., ‘Journey to Bohemia’, after playing a trillionaire’s wedding with lots of dancing:

    “I hadn’t realized what an integral part the dancing audience was of the music making I’d done all my life. All the pressure is off; when it works, band and dancers are one body in motion…

    I’ll let Dick Nash have the last word: Dick is one of our best young reed players; he has been alto sax in Wynton Marslis’ Lincoln Center Jazz band for years. A few summers ago the band was booked for a cross-country, 27-city tour of dance-only venues – mostly colleges. They put in the book items like Tommy Dorsey’s ‘Op. 1’, Basie’s ‘Jumpin’ at the Woodside’ and Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’ – swing dancing’s national anthem – and they sold out everywhere.

    Colleges had started including Swing Dancing in their curricula and been deluged with students. At the end of the tour, Dick, who is of the generation that has done very little dance work, remarking in a New York Times interview on the vitality and feedback the band got from the dancers, said, ‘I never want to play another concert again’. “

    Keep that in mind as I walk into Banjo Jim’s at 9th St. and Ave. C in New York last Monday. I’ve walked into about 1936; the core band is just beginning to play – Jake Sanders, rhythm guitar, Cassidy Holden on bass, Karl Meyer, violin – the Hot Club basics – Marcus Millius on harmonica. And the slightly unearthly Tamar. I’m going to play, but later, as more troops arrive. The absence of drums is liberating, the swing is utterly relaxed and absolutely together, which matters. A lot. Pianist Gordon Webster strolls in and I think “oh hell – will this screw up the balance?” What am I thinking? Not a chance. These folks are so mellow that all that happens is that the sound is a bit thicker – and that Gordon Webster has more technique than he’ll ever need, and never shows it off. Much like Dave McKenna.

    Listening to Karl Meyer’s violin on “I’ll See You in my Dreams” I had a visitation somewhat like when I discovered Red McKenzie in Tamar’s voice. I said – “Hey wait a minute — this guy reminds me of Fritz Kreisler”, my lifetime favorite. On the money. Still in the 20s and 30s.

    Jazz Lives describes the rest. Trombonist Matt Musselman enters, somewhere between Vic Dickenson and Roswell Rudd, but very much his own, lyrical self, I hit the bandstand, clarinetist Dennis Lichtman joins, but on mandolin (at first) and we’re off, as Jz Lvs describes – but never forget the dancing, including some intricate ballroom steps the like of which I haven’t seen for fifty years.

    What’s it like for a veteran who has been away from this world for decades to wake up at Banjo Jim’s? Bliss, that’s what. Out of body, just glowing with the music, probably smiling foolishly – and why we used to drink strong beverages, smoke funny cigarettes suddenly comes clear (no I won’t – not ever again). You want to keep this state going forever, and – sorry – you can’t get there from here…sam p

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