The title refers to a famous rhythm and blues hit by Billy Ward and his Dominoes — a song that celebrates the romantic expertise of one “Lovin’ Dan.” Having spent a very rewarding hour last night at Smalls listening to the eloquent jazz duetting of pianist Ehud Asherie and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, I award them the same praise — in musical terms.
Jon-Erik and Ehud were supposed to play a set from eight to nine, but they got onstage ten minutes early. That should tell you something about the pleasure these two friends take in their mutual improvisations. And they began with a bouncy WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE. Jon-Erik decided that the pastoral exploits of Maggie and her now ancient beau could only have been evoked accurately with plunger-mute growls and halloos. We were off to a very eloquent start. Ehud was in fine form, daring and playful, offering unexpected crashing chords and stabbing single bass notes that reverberated through the basement room. Moving to the more tender Fats Waller composition, MY FATE IS IN YOUR HANDS, Ehud began with a thoughtful exposition of the verse. Then they played the chorus, with Jon-Erik especially soulful on open horn. On a jogging THREE LITTLE WORDS, Jon-Erik chose a metal mute and Ehud raised some eyebrows (happily) by referring to Bud Powell’s PARISIAN THOROUGHFARE.
Ehud called for Eubie Blake’s LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, a truly delicate love song from the pioneering 1921 musical SHUFFLE ALONG. (Incidentally, Ehud and Jon-Erik, who together know thousands of songs other players don’t or have forgotten, could plan a whole evening around the compositions of great jazz pianists.) Eubie’s love song is often played at a nearly operatic tempo, but the duo gave it a Thirties bounce, as if imagining the recording that Mildred Bailey might have made of it in 1936. (I imagine it as an unissed Vocalion side, myself.)
After a growly DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM (one of those Ellington songs everyone vaguely knows but few play), Ehud became “the band within a band” for a grieving, abstract reading of Billy Strayhorn’s A FLOWER IS A LOVESOME THING, with dark, affecting funeral-march chords in the bass clef.
Jon-Erik returned for a trotting Burns-and-Allen LOVE NEST, homey and affectionate. I NEVER KNEW had ornate trumpet lines weaving in and out of lush pianistic tapestries — Baroque music, swinging fiercely. When it came time for the bridge of Jon-Erik’s second chorus, somehow BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN worked itself in there — a perfect fit, and Sholom Secunda would have been pleased indeed. SOMEDAY SWEETHEART led to the closing song, Eubie Blake’s exultant I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY. Before embarking on this romp, Jon-Erik turned to Ehud and asked, “What key are we wild about in?” a question surely applicable to other contexts. Ehud knows the verse and shared it with us in rhapsodic style — then the two players shouted and pranced. Which Harry we were celebrating I do not know, but I hope he was near enough to Seventh Avenue South to enjoy the tribute.
Ehud and Jon-Erik made this a memorable hour — moving from peak to peak, from mood to mood without faltering or running out of inspiration. Every minute counted, memorably.