Monthly Archives: March 2009

JOEL PRESS, SWING EXPLORER

joel-press

Photograph by Herb Snitzer

When I get a boxful of compact discs to review from CADENCE — the honest jazz magazine* — I am full of anticipation.  It’s a jazz birthday party in my apartment, as I find a knife to cut through the tape and unwrap the newspaper protecting the CDs.  Now, my first reactions aren’t always trustworthy.  Sometimes a CD I greet with glee turns out to be dull.  And occasionally something that looks tepid jumps right out of the chamber into my heart. 

This time, the box included a new CD by saxophonist Joel Press (known far and wide in Newton, Massachusetts and the Boston jazz scene) and pianist Kyle Aho.  It’s called UNTYING THE STANDARDS (Cadence Jazz Records 1204) and I admire it tremendously — for the way it balances “traditionalism” (the loving respect for the original melodies and a seductive rhythmic pulse) and “freedom” (brave explorations outside and inside).  I expect I will have more to say about this CD soon. 

But, for the moment, I would urge you to visit Joel’s site — www.joelpress.com. — to see a video clip of him blowing the blues with a purring tone and high emotional intensity, rocking back and forth as if caught wholly by jazz.  And you can read his own reminiscences of musicians and scenes past, although he is no museum exhibit himself.  In addition, you can read my own 2006 review of his CD, HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? — where I couldn’t restrain my enthusiasm.  He’s someone you ought to know.  And I’m going back to my slow savoring of his new CD — an aesthetic meal too rich to be gobbled up in a sitting.

*This isn’t the place to launch into polemic, because I wrote this post to praise Joel Press — but I mean “honest” in that CADENCE separates the advertisements and the reviews, which is not typical of jazz magazines.  If editors of other magazines wish to respond to this and say why a glowing review on page 8 and an ad on page 9 poses no conflict of interest as they see it, I would be happy to discuss the issue with them in this blog.

SIXTY-MINUTE MEN

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.

HIGH SOCIETY

Even bathed in unearthly purple stage lights, Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman — recorded for British television circa 1990 — still amaze and delight.  “High Society” indeed!

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT

Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Gene Krupa back together again on television (although not the 1940s, as it is captioned).  Idyllically.

Not only is the song a wonderful Gershwin compostion, its title is so apt here.

JESSE KING’S TREASURES

Even though it is an ancient cliche, we are known by the company we keep, and so I think that the late Jesse King must have been someone remarkable.

I know nothing about her except what I’ve been told — that she was located in Richmond, Virginia.  But photographs from her estate just recently turned up on Ebay (sorry, the bidding is over, so you missed your chance to squander the grocery money on these unique artifacts).  Not just snapshots of the cabin at Schroon Lake or of the kids cavorting — but Thirties studio photographs of some of the world’s most remarkable musicians — AUTOGRAPHED to Jesse.

Here they are in roughly alphabetical order:

ebay-red-allenA very slender and dapper Henry “Red” Allen in a very hip suit with what looks like the world’s longest trumpet.  The pose isn’t exactly, “Look, Ma, no hands!” but it comes close.  “I can hit those high notes with one hand tied behind my back,” it suggests.”

ebay-louis

Water damage or not, this is still Mr. Strong.  And he threatens to burst out of this tiny picture (really an eight-by-ten).

ebay-duke-ellington1

Edward Kennedy Ellington, sharp as a tack and a long way from “Soda Fountain Rag.”

ebay-wc-handy“A fellow named Handy, with a band you should hear.”

ebay-edgar-hayes

Who remembers Edgar Hayes?  I certainly do.

ebay-johnny-hodgesThis one was signed “Johnnie,” which initially mystified the seller.  But WE know who these fellows are: how about the Ellington reed section pre-Ben Webster, in a photograph I had never seen before.  (Barney Bigard, Otto Hardwicke, Hodges, and Harry Carney.)    Postscript: I wanted this one for my wall and was outbid, which is fine.

ebay-claude-hopkins2Here’s Claude Hopkins and his alter ego, both dressed for success.

ebay-harlan-lattimoreHarlan Lattimore, a sweet singer who worked and recorded with many classic big bands.  Perhaps his portrait is the largest here because of that nifty cap.

ebay-don-redmanDon Redman, so influential and so under-acknowledged.

ebay-luis-russell

Luis Russell was not a thrilling pianist.  I doubt he would have lasted long among the striders uptown.  But his bands were very fine: his 1929-30 group can still melt your earbuds.

ebay-chick-webbAnd something quite astonishing — a portrait of Chick Webb!  Helen Oakley Dance told the story of asking Chick to autograph a photo and his saying, shyly, “Oh, my secretary will sign it for you.  She has such beautiful handwriting.”  Finally, Helen prevailed on Chick to sign his name himself.  The photograph here is too small to see if it is “authentic” by the standards of autograph collectors, but it’s close enough for me.

ebay-unknown-trumpeter2Does anyone recognize this trumpeter?

ebay-fitz1This photo (inscribed to his honey) is signed “Fitz,” which is quite mysterious — although if I had a world-class magnifying glass, there is a slim chance that All might be Revealed.  Which one is Fitz?

ebay-three-dukesThen there are “The Three Dukes,” clearly to the manor born.

One photograph eluded me — of the bandleader Baron Lee — but the others suggest what riches are in trunks and attics.  But who was Jesse King?

And a larger question.  I understand the collacting urge, to have the rarities for oneself.  But I also wonder if these delicious photographs shouldn’t have ended up in a museum where everyone could see them.  Perhaps they will someday, but the waywardness of people’s heirs and the fragility of paper make this unlikely.  And perhaps it is right not to put too much emphasis on mere objects, even if they have been touched by Red Allen or Johnny Hodges.

But what if Ebay is our new museum, and these objects have stopped being accessible once they are bought?  I would find that troubling.  “Art for sale!  Get your red-hot art!  Peanuts, popcorn, relics!”  Well, at least we have gotten an opportunity to see these photographs.  That is more than I would have expected.

SEASONS GREETINGS, EARLY

I know it’s only March.  And Christmas cards are not in my tradition or genetics.  But this one — advertised on Ebay (I learned about it by way of a kindly nudge from a much more experienced collector) — made me grin.

ebay-red-allen-xmas-cardSince the exuberantly gifted trumpeter and singer Henry “Red” Allen died in 1967, it hasn’t been possible to get a holiday card from him for a long time.  This is the closest most of us will get.  What truly caught my attention was the Ebay description that the card is signed in blue and red ink.  Did Red sign “Red” in the appropriate color while reserving a more conservative pen for Henry and Allen?  That would be something to see.

Treasures, wherever you look!  And if this card — only a piece of paper that one of my heroes touched for a moment or two — is important, it is so because it reminds us of a great person who is now physically dead yet still artistically alive.  If you don’t believe that, reach into your CD collection for almost any Red Allen solo or vocal over a forty-year period.  Listen and marvel, once again.

REMEMBERING GOSTA HAGGLOF

gosta-hagglof-1965

You know the man on the right in this 1965 picture, taken in Sweden.

The man shaking Louis’ hand is less well-known, but he was one of the most generous advocates of jazz that it has ever been my privilege to know.  His name was Gosta Hagglof, and he died on March 8, 2009.  Gosta had been ill for some time, but he never gave any indication of it.  He was as enthusiastic as ever about the music in what were the last emails I was to receive from him.

For a much fuller appreciation of his life, I would have you “turn over the leaf and choose another page,” to quote Chaucer.  The other page is Ricky Riccardi’s extraordinarily touching essay on the man:

http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2009/03/in-loving-memory-of-gosta-hagglof.html

But a few words of my own might be apt here.  I first encountered Gosta in an extremely indirect but effective way.

In 1927, the Melrose brothers of Chicago, music publishers, had wanted to capitalize on Louis’ clearly increasing fame — not by making records, but by publishing a folio of music for aspiring trumpeters to copy.  Or to attempt to copy!  The story goes that they gave Louis a cylinder phonograph and a goodly number of blank cylinders, asked him to play solos on familiar jazz tunes (many of them published by Melrose) as well as recording many of his famous jazz breaks.  The pianist Elmer Schoebel transcribed the music, and the folio was published (the solos and breaks only, no harmony supplied).  That was 1927.  By the way — and it’s an important comment — the cylinders have never surfaced.  louis-hot-choruses

Gosta thought it would be a brilliant idea if the phenomenal cornetist / trumpeter Bent Persson recorded the solos and breaks.  But the idea didn’t stop there.  It would have been easy to hand the folio to Bent, somene who is himself a rich treasury of Armstrong-lore and music, and ask him to play them with rhythm accompaniment.  Gosta and Bent went far deeper — and the records that resulted are extraordinary, not only in the instrumental playing, but in their conception.  Each performance is clearly the result of creative investigation and experimentation, and the formats are varied and rewarding.

I didn’t know anything of this, one day perhaps thirty years ago, when I found myself at J&R Music in downtown Manhattan.  It is even possible that in those pre-internet days I had not heard of either Bent or of Gosta.  But I bought one of those “imported” records as an experiment, a leap of faith.  If it hadn’t worked out, I would have squandered perhaps seven dollars.

When I played the record at home, the jazz leapt out of the speakers at me in the very best way.  I couldn’t believe it.  Some day I will write more about Bentlouis-hot-choruses-lp1 Persson, but for now I would simply send you to his site (listed on my blogroll, as is Gosta’s “Classic Jazz Productions”).   When I could, I returned to J&R and bought the remaining volumes in the series.  Happily, this music has been issued on CD.  Incidentally, this for was Gosta’s “Kenneth” label, its actual paper label an ornately witty takeoff on the Gennett logo.  I looked for all the Kenneths I could find — some featuring Maxine Sullivan in her finest recordings, others spotlighting Doc Cheatham.  Each one was better than its predecessor.

And then I learned about the “Ambassador” label.  Gosta loved swinging jazz, but his heart belonged to Louis.  At that time, Louis’ most under-reissued and misunderstood recordings were the series (usually done with a big band) for Decca between 1935 and 1942, with later sessions here and there.  Gosta took it upon himself to create a series of the Deccas, in chronological order, in the best sound possible, speed-corrected without annoying “improvements” to the sound.  In addition, to compile as complete an aural portrait of Louis’ life in those years, the Ambassador compact discs offered radio broadcasts, concert performances — whatever evidence there was.  They were and are beautiful recordings, beautifully researched, full of new discoveries.  However, in the United States, they were not well-known.  Decca had very intermittently issued a number of records and eventually compact discs, but the Ambassadors were unequalled.

In 1999 or 2000, I wrote to Gosta and asked him a favor.  I was then writing reviews for the IAJRC Journal, a publication that let me review whatever I wanted as long as I bought the recordings myself and paid for my subscription.  (That’s another story.)  Gosta generously sent me a set of the Ambassadors, and I wrote a leisurely appreciation — perhaps twenty thousand words.  I don’t know how many people ever read it, but it made us friends.  And the Ambassadors are among my most treasured discs.

This led to what I consider a stroke of luck for me.  One day a letter came from Gosta: he had noticed the number of times I had reverentially mentioned Big Sid Catlett in my writing.  Would I like to write the notes for a CD that would make available new material by Louis and Sid from 1939 to 1942.   I can’t remember how quickly I wrote back to say “Yes,” but I think it was the same day.  And that CD is something I am very proud of — it also has rare performances by Louis  of “As Time Goes By” and “Don’t Take Your Love From Me,” unbelievably tender and knowing.

When I began this blog, I looked for opportunities to tell everyone about Gosta’s handiwork — most recently CDs featuring Doc Cheatham and Dick Cary (the latter a tribute to Hoagy Carmichael).  Those CDs are rewarding in every way but also clearly labors of love because Gosta never made much profit, if any, on them.

I was heartbroken to read of his death, and not just because he and I loved the same music.  Gosta was devoted to something larger than himself.  And he was one of those lucky individuals who gave his energies to something he loved passionately.  What Gosta loved so deeply and so well he also shared with us.

I have read no obituaries of Gosta except Ricky’s, but I tell you that we have lost someone rare.

I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES

That title isn’t just a pretty Thirties song recorded by Fats Waller, Ruby Braff, Bob Wilber, Ralph Sutton, and Marty Grosz.  Although I am incorrigibly secular, my version of a jazz miracle took place a few days ago when I learned that the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua party was going on, full speed ahead, this year.  It will take place, as it has for some time, at the lovely, old-fashioned Athenaeum Hotel, looking out over Lake Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton, who has a deep affection for improvised lyricism and wondrous songs that haven’t been overplayed, is once again at the helm.  He tells me he’s grown a beard, but I expect that the faithful will still recognize him.  And he has once again triumphed over the obstacles that would have stopped an army in their tracks to create this party.

Loyal readers of this blog — if they search for “Chautauqua” — will find that it was the subject of my very first posting.  I am very sentimental about this party, because I’ve heard some of the best impromptu jazz of my life there.  The party starts with informal music (sometimes the best of the whole weekend, but that’s a secret) on Thursday night, September 17 — and it goes apparently without a four-bar rest up to the early afternoon of Sunday, September 20.

I won’t clutter up this blog with the annoying details of prices, but you can find all of that out for yourself by contacting Apryl Seivert, reservations manager and tracer of lost persons at the Athenaeum — at 1-800-821-1881 or at athenaeum1881@hotmail.com.

I know that September seems a long way off, but it’s not too early to close your eyes and imagine the music that you’ve heard at past Chautauquas . . . or the music you know that the players below will invent.  Here’s the magical cast of characters, most of them returning veterans with a few new stars:

Cornet / trumpet: Duke Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Joe Wilder, Andy Schumm, Tom Pletcher

Trombone: Dan Barrett, Bob Havens

Reeds: Dan Block, Harry Allen, Bob Reitmeier, Bobby Gordon, Chuck Wilson, Scott Robinson

Piano: Keith Ingham, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, Rossano Sportiello

Guitar: Marty Grosz, Howard Alden, Andy Brown

Bass: Jon Burr, Frank Tate, Vince Giordano

Tuba / Bass Sax: Vince Giordano

Drums: John Von Ohlen, Pete Siers, Arnie Kinsella

Vocal: Rebecca Kilgore, Petra van Nuis, Marty Grosz

Extra Added Attractions: the faux frenchmen with Andy Stein and Joe Lukasik

I know that it is a really bad idea to rush time ahead — you never get those days back! — but I’m looking forward eagerly to this.  More to come!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE, IN ADVANCE!

george-avakian-1956The photograph on the right was taken more than a half-century ago, in the Columbia studios, where Louis Armstrong was recording a tribute to W.C. Handy.  The fellow on the right is our subject today: record producer and jazz scholar George Avakian.  He’s made wonderful recordings with everyone from Louis to Duke to Johnny Mathis t0 Buck Clayton to Miles Davis to Eddie Condon to Jimmy Rushing and on and on . . . .

And, for those of us with long memories, there were the CHICAGO JAZZ sessions for Decca — a mere seventy years ago.

George is turning ninety!  And we will be among the happy, grateful people celebrating this at Birdland next Wednesday, March 18.

But it’s not simply a matter of cake and soda in paper cups.  Nay nay.

David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band will be on the stand from 5:30 to 8 PM (a longer stretch than usual) — David on tuba, Randy Sandke on trumpet, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, Anat Cohen on clarinet, Mark Shane on piano, and Kevin Dorn on drums.  I would be very surprised if some friends of the band — and of George — didn’t come by and sit in.

For reservations at Birdland, the place David calls “New York’s friendliest jazz club,” 315 West 44th Street, call 212-581-3080.


MORE BIRDLAND BLISS (March 4, 2009)

The heroes return: David Ostwald (tuba), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Dion Tucker (trombone), Anat Cohen (clarinet), Mark Shane (piano), Kevin Dorn (drums) for “one up, one down.”

The “one up” is I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, one of those Thirties songs that can find its own identity at a variety of tempos, from ballad slow to this cheerful rock.  I like the Kellso-inspired riffs behind Anat’s solo, Mark’s playing behind the soloists, Dion’s modern guttiness, another Braffish riff, Kevin’s brushwork, and Mark’s energetic delicacy — catch what he does in the bridge of his first chorus.  Something for everyone!

A highlight of the evening was David’s calling MAYBE YOU’LL BE THERE (written, I think, by Charles LaVere) — a wistful, lonely ballad immortalized first by Jack Teagarden with the Armstrong All-Stars, later by Frank Sinatra.  It it not only a lovely song, but a wonderful performance — a true example of jazz heroism for Dion, who was not terribly familiar with its contours, but played it beautifully with one eye on the lead sheet.  In fact, Jon-Erik, Dion, and Mark do that most rewarding thing — summoning up the great forefathers Louis, Jack, and Teddy — without copying a note or a gesture.  Three cheers!

And more to come!  We expect to be at Birdland on March 18th to celebrate George Avakian’s ninetieth birthday.  You come, too . . . !

LOUIS ARMSTRONG CENTENNIAL BAND, MARCH 4, 2009

What do you get when you put David Ostwald, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dion Tucker, Anat Cohen, Mark Shane, and Kevin Dorn — with their respective instruments — in front of an appreciative audience?  You get hot, heartfelt jazz.  And it happened in front of my very eyes and ears at Birdland last Wednesday night — the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band’s regular gig.

David, who plays tuba, leads the band, and offers vaudeville commentary, is deeply devoted to Louis.  But he understands that repertory recreation is not the way.  So he will call songs that Louis played without insisting that his star musicians copy the recorded performances, and this freedom is ennobling.

The band characteristically begins its early evening gigs with Louis’s theme, SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH — which (after a drum break) becomes BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA.  What wistful domestic thoughts were going through David’s head last Wednesday night I can’t know, but they had a wonderful result, as he called one of my favorite songs, HOME, subtitled “When Shadows Fall.”  And the band seemed just as inspired.  Catch Jon-Erik’s passion-barely-under-control upward emoting at the end of the ensemble chorus, before Mark explores the lovely possibilities of this song in his best thoughtful, ambling way — out of Teddy and Fats (singing quietly to himself) with Kevin’s padding brushwork behind it all.  Brief solos by Dion (gruff and feeling) and Anat (exploring the clarinet’s chalumeau register) give way to Jon-Erik’s solo, embodying everything Louis did without ever moving from his own creative sense.  Discographical digression: Louis recorded it for the first time in 1931, with his introduction a quote from “Home Sweet Home,” and then revisited the song with Russ Garcia in the middle Fifties for one of his most moving sessions, LOUIS UNDER THE STARS.  The other version that is firmly implanted in loving memory is on the Keynote label, 1944, featuring George Wettling and his New Yorkers — with devastating playing and singing from Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, and the Blessed Joe Thomas.  But here it is in 2009:

Mark Shane’s solo feature, a happy romp through that old nonsense ditty, JADA, showed off what he does so well.  Not only has the the technical capacity to seamlessly recreate the ambiance of Fats and Teddy, but he has so intuited their playing that he sounds like himself rather than someone offering gestures learned from the records.  A good deal of this comes from Mark’s deep listening — we were talking about early Miles Davis before the set began–that goes far and wide.  He’s heard and thought about all the great jazz players, and they smile on his playing.

Finally, for this post, we have MELANCHOLY (or MELANCHOLY BLUES), a song Louis recorded twice in 1927.  It has the same chords as I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, and here the mood vacillates between sorrow, resignation, and some impassioned frustration — especially in the playing of Jon-Erik and Dion.  But you should also listen to and admire the band’s rocking cohesiveness. 

More to come in a future post . . . . so there will be no reason for anyone to be melancholy or Melancholy.  Trust me. 

Sharp-eyed viewers may note that the video quality is different from those occasions when Flip was in charge.  Flip didn’t accompany me on this gig, his place having been taken by a more elaborate Sony camcorder, whose intricacies I am still mastering (exposure and the like).  But Flip will be back when the occasion suits him, I assure my tender-hearted readers who might be anxious about his fate and well-being.

VAUDEVILLE / JAZZ MIGHT CURE EVERYTHING


Gelber & Manning in ‘Vaudeville’
Every Friday and Saturday!!!!


Dear Friends,

The 1920’s are where it’s at in New York these days.  If you don’t believe us, check out this article from last week’s Daily News.  It mentions Gelber & Manning’s new show, Vaudeville at the Gin Mill, which opens at Drom Supper Club on March 13th after two sold-out weekend engagments at Corio.  Robert Dominguez writes, “Entertainment choices in the city these days seem like a throwback to 80 years ago, when talking pictures were still a novelty, television was a far-off fantasy and the only illegal substance baseball sluggers ingested was Prohibition-era booze.”  Come escape with us to another era – it’s a lot more fun than reality these days.  We’ll all “drink a toast to temperence” together.

Most Sincerely,


Gelber & Manning


Vaudeville at the Gin Mill Flyer

Check out a live radio performance of our original song Comin’ Coney Island (featured in Vaudeville at the Gin Mill)

Vaudeville at the Gin Mill


Every Friday & Saturday at 7:30pm
beginning March 13th
at Drom Supper Club
85 Ave. A (bet. 5th&6th Sts.)

Advance Tickets $25 available at Smarttix
or call 212-868-4444
Day of show $35

Bill Edwards and Gloria Stewart

W.C. Edwards and Gloria Stewart (photo c. Don Spiro)

starring
Gelber & Manning
and their 1920’s jazz band
and
W.C. Edwards, Adam Linet, Gloria Stewart, Jezebel Express and Sarah Skinner

produced by
Lee Sobel
directed by
David Eiduks
written by
Sharon Cacciabaudo, Gelber & Manning and Lee Sobel
tech direction by
Aaron Riley
styled by
Jen Zak

Quick Links…

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Gelber & Manning Goes Public

Gelber & Manning Goes Public is available at CDBaby.com

The Beloved and I saw Jesse and Kate do their thing — wild, lowdown, and unpredictable — one night at the Triad.  And, not coincidentally, they had two of the best jazz players ever with them: Charlie Caranicas (cornet) and Kevin Dorn (drums), both heroes of mine.  Are the clouds hanging low?  Is Spring slow to arrive?  This might be the cure.

And I see that their original material (reprinted above) is too large for this space.  Take it as a good omen: larger-than-life performers who fill the room!

TAKE TEA AND SEE

This YouTube gem is taken from an appearance (on French television?) in 1980 by the Concord All-Stars: Warren Vache, Jr., on cornet and flugelhorn; Scott Hamilton, tenor; Dave McKenna, piano; Cal Collins, guitar; Michael Moore, bass; Jake Hanna, drums.  Their TEA FOR TWO turns into a late-swing line by Coleman Hawkins (its name eludes me — is it BEAN SOUP or BEAN STALKIN’?).  What impresses me here is how young everyone once was.  The living members of this combo (McKenna and Collins having left us) are still sustaining us, fortunately.

JOE SULLIVAN, IRREPLACEABLE

A new YouTube find is this 1962 clip of the wondrous Joe Sullivan playing Fats Waller’s SQUEEZE ME — on Ralph J. Gleason’s JAZZ CASUAL program.  Many of Sullivan’s recordings from the Fifties onward find him at too-fast tempos: this one is marvelously even-tempered.  I am reminded that an early Sullivan original was called JUST STROLLING, which is what he seems to be doing here.  Until, of course, one watches closely and marvels at the combination of down-home textures and deep subtlety.

RONNIE WASHAM SINGS BILLIE HOLIDAY

An eloquent dispatch from the front lines of Greenwich Village jazz, sent in by Marianne Mangan, one of our blog’s faithful unpaid local correspondents:

Singer Ronnie Washam and her friends Peter Sokolow (piano), Sam Parkins (clarinet) and Dave Winograd (bass) visited with Billie Holiday at the Greenwich Village Bistro last Thursday evening. That illustrious songbook was handled admirably, an echo of Billie’s timbre here, a sliver of her phrasing there, a large helping of Ronnie’s valuable interpretative skill and flexible technique throughout.

The instrumentalists supported her ably, soloing to their own advantage as called for. And so the buoyancy of “Them There Eyes” turned to poignant regret in “I Wished On the Moon” hardening to the wry resolve of “God Bless the Child.” Fine entertainment, all, plus one superb bonus track: “I Cried For You.” A wistful first chorus, a scornful second, slowly built to a revengeful release, the guys swinging out, and all vocal indicators pointing towards a well-forged iron having entered Ronnie’s soul. The tone was sweet and true as always, but the attitude was pure woman done wrong. Blasphemous as it may sound, by the end of “I Cried For You,” Billie was forgotten for a few minutes. This one was all Ronnie & Her Friends.

They’ll be getting together again next Tuesday evening, March 10th, 9 to 11.

JAZZ HEAVEN: ANDY, BRAD, DAVE, JOSH (2008)

That’s “My Blue Heaven,” played sweetly and almost lazily by Andy Schumm on cornet, Brad Kay on piano, Dave Bock on tuba, and Josh Duffee on drums.

It was recorded on March 14, 2008, at the Bix Beiderbecke Birthday Tribute in Racine, Wisconsin.

This foursome understands that capturing Bix’s essence — simultaneously sad and ebullient, musing and propulsive, has less to do with playing the notes and copying the familiar phrases than with understanding his spirit, which they do with reverence and affection.  All four of them have wonderful musical pedigrees, and I would call your attention to Brad’s winding, thoughtful piano — harmonically deep but always mobile.  Josh Duffee keeps splendid time in a timeless way.  Dave Bock I knew only as a trombonist, but here he wields his tuba with grace.  He and Andy impressed me tremendously at last year’s Jazz at Chautauqua, where they were billed as “the Bixians,” which they are.  And Andy?  Andy Schumm has got it.  No question there, and the music, thanks to Walter Donaldson and other gracious spirits, is as near to heavenly as we will get.

SWING ARCHAEOLOGY

jelly-78I just visited Agustin Perez’s very enlightening and heartfelt blog, MULE WALK AND JAZZ TALK — where he has arranged for our delight a series of jazz record advertisements from magazines circa 1938-1944: Hot Record Society, Blue Note, Signature, Bluebird, Solo Art, and more.  If you don’t know the music represented here, these ads might seem charmingly archaic but no more meaningful than drawings of old-time detergent boxes or tubes of toothpaste.

But if you do know what it must have meant to buy the new Art Hodes session on Signature, these ads are tender artifacts of a time when “a record” was a two-sided 78 rpm disk, highly breakable, costing anywhere from thirty-five cents to a dollar, and it was something to treasure.  We who collect jazz now and are able to buy every record Fats Waller made (for example) on twenty-four compact discs, should stop a minute and recall such pleasures, even if they had vanished before we were born.

(In the spirit of accuracy, I must note that the label on the left isn’t advertised in Agustin’s pages — but I was looking for an appropriate illustration and found this: the first of the Circle label’s issues of Jelly Roll’s Library of Congress recordings — a rarity I had never seen before and wanted to share here.)

THE GROVE STREET STOMPERS

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As fond as I am of the West Village, I can’t say that Grove Street is architecturally distinguished.  But it is memorable for the landmark shown above — Arthur’s Tavern — where pianist Bill Dunham has led the Grove Street Stompers for forty-seven years of Monday nights.  By even the most stringent calculations, that’s over seven thousand sets of loose improvised jazz, over seven thousand brief renditions of “Mood Indigo,” the song that the Stompers use as their closing theme.  I’ll leave it to Bill, who is charmingly gregarious, to list the great jazz players who have been regulars or guests in that astonishing long run.

Last night was a particularly unusual Monday for me: my college had closed itself down because of the snow, and I was unexpectedly free to hear some live jazz.  I hadn’t been at Arthur’s for some time, so I decided to visit an old haunt.  Bill had told me that his front line was going to feature cornetist Randy Reinhart and clarinetist Joe Muranyi, which was an inducement to brave the cold winds.  Bill would be on piano, and regulars Peter Ballance (trombone and general keeper-of-decorum) and drummer Giampaolo Biagi would be there.  Bassist Tim Ferguson and pianist-visitor Ron Ferry completed the dramatis personae.

The Stompers are a home-grown jazz band in the finest old style: drawing on a wide variety of material, they take medium-tempo jogs through spirituals, pop tunes, Tin Pan Alley classics, Condon and Armstrong favorites, and jazz evergreens.  Last night, “Dixieland” was represented by CHINA BOY, CHANGES MADE, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?, I FOUND A NEW BABY, JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE, SWEET GEORGIA BROWN and a few more.  But the band’s range is happily broader: THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE, WININ’ BOY BLUES, OUT OF NOWHERE, and MY BUDDY lit up the place.

A word about “lighting up the place.”  The Tavern should be seen not only for the music, but for its general decor.  On the wall above my head, signs wishing me a Happy Halloween were much in evidence; over the bar’s cash register was a sign reading CLOSED, and strings of brightly colored lights — Christmas, probably — are always on.  The wine list is, shall we say, limited, but the amiable waitress was busy supplying everyone’s alcohol-related needs.  I was fortunate to be among friendly Spouses: Sonya Dunham and Nina Favara (Mrs. Reinhart) who were listening intently and cheering the band on.

And the music?  Well, the Stompers are the very antithesis of slick.  Yes, there is an occasional lead sheet passed around in case someone in uncertain about the chords on the bridge, but any arranging is done in the heat of the moment.  Last night, Randy decided, as he always does, to act as a prime mover, and he drove the band, choosing to play brass eight-bar trades with trombonist Peter, to leap into solos as if his life depended on it, to show off his beautiful command of the horn from bottom to top, mixing Berigan and Fifties Mainstream with delicacy and fervor.  Joe Muranyi, who’s seen many ensembles come and go, including Louis’s, was in fine quiet form, showing off his lovely chalumeau register.  The regulars — Bill, Peter, and Giampaolo — aren’t fancy, and their solos are concise, but they’ve got the feeling.  And Tim Ferguson, someone I’d not heard before, kept everything in good order and took nice resonant solos.

This musical convocation takes place from 7-10 on Monday nights, and worth the trip — just south of the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square subway stop.  The Stompers won’t necessarily be there for another forty-seven years, so you might well want to visit.

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LOVE AND THE BLUES, TWICE

Even though they have the most expressive faces imaginable, so many inspiring jazz players and singers were passed over by film producers because they weren’t conventionally “attractive.”  Think of how wonderful it would be to see Mildred Bailey sing.  Alas.

But here are two clips of jazz / blues singers that we are lucky to have.  And, coincidentally or not, the blues they are singing talk about Love, from very different perspectives.

First, the under-acknowledged Ida Cox, “Miss Ida” to even the most illustrious musicians, captured here with her husband, pianist Jesse Crump, some time in the Forties.  I can’t find the source of this clip — which seems to be two versions of “‘Fore Day Creep” from different camera angles, spliced together.  “‘Fore Day” is almost always incorrectly written and conceived as “Four Day Creep,” which suggests that the Wandering Man will be away Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Nay nay, to quote Louis.  It’s “‘fore day,” as in “before sunrise,” but logic is elusive for some people.

Miss Ida looks healthy, assured, sure of herself and her advice.  I love the Twenties hand gestures as well as the nimble, rippling piano accompaniment — a mixture of tidy minimalist stride and slowed-down boogie woogie figures.  And her commentary?  It might strike some as pre-feminist, but it comes from the same tributary as the song DON’T ADVERTISE YOUR MAN.  Obviously, it’s a pre-internet conception of what can be kept private!

Here’s another bit of enticing memorabilia: an autographed Ida Cox publicity picture.

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The second clip comes from a May 1965 BBC television program called JAZZ 625, which featured Humphrey Lyttelton and some of jazz’s finest players and singers: here, Big Joe Turner, Buck Clayton, and Vic Dickenson — here with Tony Coe, tenor sax; Joe Temperley, baritone sax, Eddie Harvey, piano; Dave Green, bass; Johnny Butts, drums.  The song is CHAINS OF LOVE, much sadder and more uncertain — although Big Joe looks so powerful and assured here that the pleading questions he is asking of His Woman must be purely rhetorical.  This clip also gives us Vic Dickenson up close, a beret over the bell of his horn, playing the blues ever so masterfully.  Vic sang on his horn better than most singers.

Perhaps these two performances speak to our age much more that Petrarch spoke to his.

TELEPATHY AND TUXEDOS!

Last night, the Sunday that began March 2009, the Beloved and I took up our positions at the Ear Inn, close enough to the band to hear some of the muttered in-jokes.  And what a band!  Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Mark Lopeman on tenor sax, James Chirillo on guitar, Jon Burr on bass — and, after the first number, Dan Block on alto sax.

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That’s the reed and rhythm sections.  Here’s the trumpet section, with friends.  Everyone’s concentrating hard, eyes shut:

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Photographs copyright 2009 by Lorna Sass.  All rights reserved.

You’ll notice that two of the EarRegulars are tuxedo-clad, although with room to breathe.  Not the usual Ear Inn dress code!  We in the fashion world call this Unbuttoned Formal.  Lest you were wondering if this was a new West Village aesthetic, the more obvious reason is that Jon-Erik, Dan, and Mark had just come from an afternoon gig with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks — the Pee Wee Russell Memorial Stomp, or “the PeeWee Stomp” to those in the know.  Dan and Jon-Erik were wearing their Nighthawks regalia.  Where Mark hid his is currently unknown.

I won’t say that the band’s particularly splendid playing last night was due to their clothing, but the situation reminded me of something common in the Thirties and Forties.  Jazzmen spent the evening sitting in a big band, soloing occasionally but more often reading the charts — and then went someplace to blow, to get all of those arrangements out of their system.  Vince, as you know, is no Swing Era martinet, and those charts are a pleasure to play . . . but there was a noticeable absence of printed music at the Ear last night.  No one missed it.

Jon-Erik suggested Fats Waller’s cheerful I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY as an opener.  Was he thinking about his own delightful Jackie, sitting nearby, or Liz, Jon Burr’s endearing partner, or even myself and the Beloved?  Who can tell?  But it’s always a good tune to play, and the streamlined quartet dug in joyously.

For any other jazz group, it would have been a triumphant performance.  For the EarRegulars, who happily set their standards so high, it was only a casual romp, a friendly warm-up.  An appetizer!

Dan Block, his injured finger still bandaged but playing marvelously, came aboard for Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR, taken at a less lugubrious tempo than usual.  And it was a stirring lesson in the many shades an improvising ensemble can bring to a piece of music — from intense hymnlike beginnings, with the saxes humming behind Jon-Erik, to a downhome shuffle with hints of rhythm and blues, coming full circle with Jon-Erik’s Braffish cadenza.  We cheered, and the set was still young.

JEEPERS CREEPERS (in Bb) was another subliminal homage to Louis (with thanks to Johnny Mercer).  Here the band rose to new peaks of swinging empathy.  Jon-Erik ended his solo with a sideways homage to the Basie EVERY TUB, and Dan picked up the phrase to start his own solo.  Jon Burr was particularly eloquent, shaping his phrases and leaving elegant spaces in between, and the “telepathy” of my title was at its height, with the two-man sax section answering Jon-Erik in the final ensemble with the wonderful intuition of artists fluent in a shared language.  Everyone in this quintet knows how to respond to each other without taking time to intellectualize.  I thought of the little bands that Hot Lips Page used to lead — trumpet, three saxes, and rhythm — a great compliment to the EarRegulars.

Mark Lopeman shone on a grooving, rhapsodic IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN that showed off his beautiful tone.

Then it was “tempo di jump” once again, and Jon-Erik, feeling cheerful and with good reason, called I WANT TO BE HAPPY.  For the semanticists in the audience, of course the wish expressed in that title would have been a redundancy, but perhaps Jon-Erik wanted to make sure that every molecule in the Ear Inn felt the way he did.  The performance began with a wondrously dissonant introduction by Chirillo — who occasionally delights everyone with thrillingly weird chords and jagged lines that meld Appalachia and Charles Ives — and everyone riffed behind Dan, who was flying.  His Muse was not only Charlie Parker, but Charlie Holmes.  Beautiful solos led into what I think of as Keynote Records-riffs, a shout chorus, an upwards key change (thanks, James!) for another exuberant finish.

The EarRegulars were having too much fun to stop, and it was time to let Phillip DeBucket, who loves to visit at every table,  make his rounds of the Ear, so Jon-Erik called for the blues, which happily took shape as Strayhorn’s THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES — spiritual, groovy, sad and spirited.

It was a thrilling hour.  Creativity, a common jazz vocabulary, and high-level telepathy were all on display.  Good job!  Well done!  Blessings on all your heads!