Monthly Archives: April 2009

“LEGENDARY PRODUCER GEORGE AVAKYANU – 90!” (from a Russian jazz site)

18 марта в нью-йоркском клубеBirdlandпрошло чествование легендарного продюсераДжорджа Авакяна, которому 15 марта исполнилось 90 лет. Клуб был набит битком; среди публики можно было видеть легендарного певца Тони Беннетта, директора Института джазовых исследований в Ньюарке Дана Моргенстерна (бывшего шеф-редактора журнала DownBeat), внучку Дюка Эллингтона (карьеру которого Авакян успешно «перезапустил» в 1956 г.) – хореографа Мерседес Эллингтон, певицу Дэрил Шерман, бэндлидера Винса Джордано, распорядителя Фонда Луи Армстронга – бывшего пресс-агента Сатчмо, Фиби Джейкобс и десятки других людей, в чьей жизни участие Авакяна значило и значит чрезвычайно много. О значении Джорджа в своих жизнях говорили с видеоэкрана и приславшие записанные поздравления пианист Дейв Брубек, саксофонист Сонни Роллинз, композитор и пианист Мишель Легран, продюсер и композитор Куинси Джонс и другие.
Джордж Авакян не только придумал (ещё в 1940 г.) понятие и формат джазового альбома, не только вёл важнейшие первые в истории программы переизданий раннего джаза на лейбле Columbia, не только придал новый вес и значение карьерам Луи Армстронга (выпустив ряд важнейших его альбомов в 50-е), Дюка Эллингтона (спродюсировав его лучшие записи второй половины 50-х, вернувшие оркестр Дюка в фокус общественного внимания), Сонни Роллинза, Майлса Дэйвиса и др., не только был пионером в деле создания отделений «молодёжной» музыки на крупнейших фирмах грамзаписи на рубеже 50-60-х гг. Он сыграл важнейшую роль, как ни странно, и в истории советского джаза – прежде всего организовав приезд в СССР в 1960-70-х гг. целого ряда самых известных джазовых музыкантов (Бенни Гудман, Дюк Эллингтон, Чарлз Ллойд, Тэд Джонс и Мэл Луис, Дейв Брубек и другие), причём каждый такой приезд оказывал огромное воздействие на советское джазовое сообщество, позволяя отечественным музыкантам вживую увидеть и услышать самых известных американских коллег, пообщаться с ними, перенять их опыт. Кроме того, Джордж оказывал поддержку и ряду советских джазовых музыкантов, эмигрировавших в США в 70-80-е гг. – например, именно он спродюсировал первый американский альбом вокалистки Татевик Оганесян. С нашей точки зрения, вполне заслуженно Авакян был в 1990 г. награждён за развитие культурных связей между США и СССР высшей наградой Советского Союза – орденом Ленина, став первым и единственным американцем, удостоенным этой награды.
«Полный джаз» писал о Джордже Авакяне летом 2001 г., когда главному редактору «Джаз.Ру» удалось взять в Нью-Йоркеинтервью у легендарного продюсера. В 2006 г. мы снова встречались с Джорджем в Нью-Йорке – результатом стало ещё одно интереснейшее интервью, которое было опубликовано в печатной версии журнала «Джаз.Ру» (#3-2008) и войдёт в книгу «Великие люди джаза» (сборник портретных материалов «Джаз.Ру»), которая сейчас готовится к изданию.
На праздновании 90-летия Джорджа Авакяна в Нью-Йорке для него играло множество музыкантов, опиравшихся в основном на материал его любимых джазменов – Армстронга, Эллингтона и т.п. Вот только один пример: ансамбль The Louis Armstrong Centennial Band, специализирующийся на творческом наследии Сатчмо, играет «Rocking Chair» – на тромбоне Уайклифф Гордон из оркестра Уинтона Марсалиса (Уайклифф также поёт), на тубе – Дэвид Оствальд, на кларнете – стремительно взлетевшая в последние пять лет к вершинам известности живущая в Нью-Йорке израильтянка Анат Коэн, на трубе – Рэнди Сэндке, Марк Шэйн на фортепиано и Кевин Дорн на ударных. 
Съёмка любительская – её сделал один из крупнейших специалистов по Армстронгу, Майкл Стайнман, который и опубликовал её в своём блоге Jazz Lives. В его записи, посвящённой 90-летию Авакяна, есть ещё несколько любопытных видеофрагментов, но самое интересное – это выступление самого юбиляра, который говорил с присущим ему юмором и живостью ума:С днём рождения, Джордж!

Кирилл Мошков,
главный редактор «Джаз.Ру»

 

 

Постсоветское пространство:
что было
В 2009 году ярославский

HIS GRIEF, HIS ART: BEN WEBSTER, 1970

I’ve been listening to a new double-CD set of Ben Webster recordings assembled in honor of his hundredth birthday, titled THE BRUTE AND THE BEAUTIFUL (Storyville 103 8407).  Most of the music in this set comes from Webster’s last years in Europe.  Depending on the musicians accompanying Ben and his own health, the results are either lovely or uneven.  Occasionally a boppish rhythm section intrudes, or sweet symphonic orchestrations threaten to drown everything.  But two recordings in this set done with Teddy Wilson are irreplaceable — one, a version of STARDUST done in Copenhagen in 1969, is yearning and intense.  (The video of this performance, once available on YouTube, apparently has been removed, which is a pity.)

But the more dramatic OLD FOLKS (Hugo Rasmussen, bass; Ole Streenberg, drums) from May 1970, is still accessible.  It is also very deep music.

Webster is casually, almost sloppily dressed, his great bulk protruding in front of him.  Because he had broken an ankle in a fall eight months before, he is seated.  The performance begins with a small display of will, as Ben refuses to play the song at the medium-tempo jog Wilson chose.  Instead, Ben snaps his fingers insistently, slowing the tempo to a ballad, a lament.

Teddy Wilson also has the sheet music in front of him and gazes at it intently, his lips moving silently.  During the last twenty-five years of his career, Wilson stuck to his own familiar repertoire, medleys of songs associated with Waller, Goodman, Gershwin, Basie, and so on, so this is unusual.  The unfmiliarity of OLD FOLKS accounts for the atypical mistake he makes at the end of his second chorus.  Viewers will notice the difficulty or pain evident in his right hand as he pauses between phrases to turn his wrist inwards, perhaps the inevitable result of so much muscular exertion at the piano night after night.  Watching these two men play, one is aware of their age, their occasional struggles; hearing them is a different matter.

This performance is Webster’s, although Wilson’s accompaniment is gentle, supportive, and simple.  Ben’s first chorus is apparently close to the melody, with some tender arpeggios and pauses, but playing melody in this fashion is anything but simple, something only learned through forty years of devotion and practice.  The song comes alive.  Ben’s sound, his tone, his phrase-ending vibratos, full of air, are the very opposite of uninflected playing.  In the middle of the bridge, Ben removes the mouthpiece from his lips, shakes his head in exasperation (with himself or with his instrument?) but does not stop or give in.

To me, the polite applause that greets the end of his chorus is inadequate response, suggesting that the audience does not entirely grasp what they have just heard, but that might do them an injustice.  Teddy’s  chorus is a mixture of embellishments and his patented arpeggios.  Midway through it, though, the camera pulls back and we see Ben nodding silently, “Yes, I know,” empathic, hearing Wilson’s playing.  They had known and worked with each other as early as 1935, so there may havebeen the kinship of people who have shared the same experiences over time.  Ben told the British interviewer Henry Whiston in 1971 that he had leased a “beautiful piano” for his home, “I got that piano so that Teddy Wilson could have a piano to play on.”

(While Wilson is concluding his seond chorus, the camera pans to a handsome African-American of this same generation, dressed in a pink shirt, the trumpeter Bill Coleman, another long-term expatriate.)

Then we see that Webster has been crying: a tear is spilling out of his eye.  And he nods again, sadly agreeing with what Wilson has been saying without words, before picking up his horn a few beats later.

When I first saw this performance perhaps twenty years ago, I was unaware of any context, and thought perhaps that Ben had been moved to tears by the beauty of Wilson’s solo, which I still believe.  Was he also thinking of his peers — the American jazz musicians who knew and lived the music he loved — the men and women he had left behind to come to Europe?  The friends he had lost, the musicians he might never play with again?  Johan van der Keuken, who knew Ben well in Scandinavia, has spoken of the “essential loneliness” that “became more heavy” for him as he remained there.

But I read in Frank Buchmann-Moller’s excellent biography of Webster, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, that Ben had learned of the death of Johnny Hodges only a short time before this broadcast.  Although Ben might very well be weeping over Wilson’s solo, its beauty and its larger implications, his grief takes on a new dimension.

The fine tenor saxophonist Jesper Thilo said of Ben, “He was 100 percent honest.  Everything came from the heart; there was no acting involved.  He wasn’t very good at sweeping things under the carpet.”

Ben had sat in the reed section of the Ellington band for almost four years, hearing Johnny Hodges every night and marveling.  He had come to the band a fully developed soloist, but he learned so much about the subtleties of technique and emotion, about singing from Hodges.  A year before this performance, Coleman Hawkins had died — an event that had upset Ben greatly.  Hodges’s sudden death — a heart attack in the dentist’s chair — was even more devastating.  Ben told Whiston, “It was . . . like if you hit me in the head with a sledgehammer.  It knocked me down.  I really didn’t know what to do.”

I do not think that Ben chose OLD FOLKS as a tribute to Hodges: that song, that piece of Americana, had been part of his repertoire since 1969, and an Ellington ballad such as I GOT IT BAD or SOPHISTICATED LADY would have been more predictable.  But OLD FOLKS was Ben’s idea rather than Wilson’s, the evidence suggested by Wilson’s unfamiliarity.

However it came to be part of this performance, OLD FOLKS is an integral part of the emotions we and the musicians come to feel.  Written by Willard Robison and performed by Mildred Bailey, among others, it is an affectionate, sly, sentimental portrait of a grandfatherly character whose habits are rustic, who tells “tall tales” that everyone knows are doubtful . . . yet he is beloved.  The lyrics emphasize his age; someday “Old Folks” will be dead and everyone will grieve.

Was Ben Webster weeping not only for the deaths of Hawkins and Hodges, Sid Catlett and Jimmy Blanton, but for an entire generation of his friends, artistic colleagues?  For the inevitability of their deaths, all the Old Folks of jazz?  Was he even wondering how long he would live?  Perhaps.

But his tears do not disable him.  He does not, in Yeats’s words, “break up his lines to weep.”  It all had to be saved for the music — a professional musician, a grown man, he had his job to do, whether or not tears were spilling out of his eyes.  And so he continues playing OLD FOLKS, hesitantly, but with such feeling.  It almost makes me weep, watching it: Ben’s slow pace, his patient, sorrowful exploration of its lines.

But it took me twenty years to realize that ben’s closing solo is a musical evocation of the weeping he would not surrender to.  His eyes dry up; he gains control of himself.  But he weeps through his horn.  What are his brief, irregular phrases, separated by gulps of air, but sobs and gasps?  His loss, his tenacity, his art — inseparable.  Watch closely: here is Ben Webster, a man, majestic and infirm at once, someone who would die in two years, racked by emotions, playing as beautifully as any musician ever did.  Without ever being didactic, this performance has so much to say to us, to teach us.

Two postscripts.

One: this clip has detestable advertisements crawling along the bottom of the frame.  But a reasonably nimble viewer can find the X and make the ads vanish.  I know that jazz needs financial support, but the ads seem a repellent intrusion here.

Two, much happier: the quotations here come from Buchmann-Moller’s biography of Ben, published in 2006 by the University of Michigan Press.  Buchmann-Moller is also the author of two indispensable books on Lester Young’s life and music, their titles taken from Lester’s own defining expressions: YOU JUST FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE, and YOU GOT TO BE ORIGINAL, MAN!  His work is accurate, compassionate, and fair — worthy of the great John Chilton.

HOT REUNION! THE UNION RHYTHM KINGS on CD

On April 17, when I wrote a few lines about this wonderful hot band (see UNION RHYTHM KINGS) I had already had the pleasure of hearing several tracks from their debut CD on their MySpace page.  Now, through the kindness of Trygve Hernaes, the CD’s executive producer, I’ve heard the disc, called A HOT REUNION.  That it is!  Astonishing music, precise yet abandoned, fierce yet relaxed — the qualities that characterizes the best jazz, perhaps the finest art.  And the band’s “heat” is not a matter of speed and volume; most of the performances on this disc are at at medium tempos, but they swing and stomp remarkably.

The band title, I now know, harks back to the peaceable union of Norway and Sweden (1814-1905), and it’s not a history lesson.  Three members of the URK (Bent Persson, cornet / trumpet;  Frans Sjostrom, bass sax; Jacob Ullberger, banjo/guitar) are Swedish; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Lars Frank, reeds, and Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano, are Norwegian.  A most equitable balance, giving new meaning to the idea of a “mixed band.”  Kristoffer and Lars are stars of the Jazzin’ Babies; Bent, Frans, and Jacob play and record as the Hot Jazz Trio, and Morten is an institution unto himself.

The CD pays tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and (by extension) Bing Crosby with AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, THE LOVE NEST, YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, WA-DA-DA, RHYTHM KING, JAZZ ME BLUES, and ROYAL GARDEN BLUES; it honors Louis and King Oliver with KEYHOLE BLUES and CHATTANOOGA STOMP; Jelly Roll Morton has his moments with THE CHANT, KANSAS CITY STOMPS, THE PEARLS, and BLACK BOTTOM STOMP.  That would be enough for anyone — but this band has a particular fondness for the music that Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham made while members of the Luis Russell Orchestra, perhaps the hottest band on record in 1929-30: the URK revisits DOCTOR BLUES and HIGGINBOTHAM BLUES.

Some readers might think, “Do I really need another version of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”?

Yes, when the Union Rhythm Kings play it.

Much of the repertoire above from 1923-30 has already been explored by “traditional” bands all over the world.  And if you were to listen to all those recordings, an arduous task, you would note many “recreations” and many “improvisations.”  Some bands feel that the only way to pay our ancestors proper homage is to treat the Victors, OKehs, and Gennetts as sacred text to be copied note for note.  Although this can be electrifying when done expertly in concert, for example, it has serious philosophical limitations.  And simply “jamming” on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, for instance, means that once the players are through the first two strains, it’s a medium-tempo blues, perhaps characterless.

The URK steer between these two extremes: their performances take inspiration, shape, and often tempos from the originals, but the solos are fresh, inventive.  And the results are glorious.  Hearing CHATTANOOGA STOMP, I thought, for the first time, “This must have been what the Creole Jazz Band really sounded like.”  Now, it didn’t hurt that each man here is a brilliant soloist, “tops on his instrument for tonation and phrasing,” and that each soloist knows the repertoire intimately.  But they all are brilliant team players.  Often, collections of “all-stars” turn out to be exercises in ego, muted or open, with the players less concerned about creating a band than about playing their solo.  Nothere.

And the CD is brimful with additional delights: on-target notes by trumpeter Mike Durham (who really can write!), and beautiful SACD Surround Sound.

I originally wanted to title this post THE STUFF IS HERE AND IT’S MELLOW, but I thought my esoteric reference to the marijuana culture of the Thirties might be too arcane.  But mellow the music is, indeed.

You can purchase this CD by contacting the producer, Trygve Hernaes, at Sonor as/Herman Records, Postbox 4275, NO-7436 Trondheim, Norway, or via email: sonoras@online.no., or trygve.hernes@bntv.no.  A CD costs $25, and payments can be made only by MasterCard or Visa, but this hot music is worth the effort.  I look forward to many more such reunions!

LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT, OR JON-ERIK’S PLUNGER MUTE (April 27, 2009)

I hadn’t been to the Ear Inn for some time, and was suffering Ear-deprivation, so I was intent on being there last night for a session with the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Chuck Wilson on alto sax, Joe Cohn on guitar, and Pat O’Leary on bass.  The good news is that they were all happy and in fine form, joined almost immediately by trombonist Harvey Tibbs.  (I knew it was a good omen when Victor’s iPod found its way to Billie Holiday’s 1942 “Wherever You Are,” a recording I thought I’d only hear in my apartment.)

A jaunty SUNDAY began the proceedings, then a properly huggable version of JUST SQUEEZE ME, followed by a truly quick STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY which cried out for dancing in the narrow aisles, a “groovy” COME RAIN OR COME SHINE (an O’Leary suggestion that worked mightily), a twelve-minute jammed BLUES, and a romping SOME OF THESE DAYS.  Chuck soared and preached, his style encompassing the sweetness of Hilton Jefferson and the lemony tang of post-Parker mainstream wisdom; Harvey once again showed how his compact, sleek style fits anywhere; Joe was a lucent soloist and a dedicated rhythm man; Pat was eloquent and inventive.  Little touches shone: trades between Jon-Erik and Harvey on the blues, Pat’s double-stop punctuations behind Chuck in that same performance.

But I’ve left the most memorable detail for last.  You know that Jon-Erik is a great passionate player who doesn’t coast.  Not everyone knows how witty he is.  Few know that he is also capable of hilarious social commentary as well . . . . through his horn.

The Ear is filled (blessedly) but not always with people who are in touch with the music.  Last night there was a good-hearted gentleman standing at the bar, enthusiastically clapping along with the band, although a bit behind the beat.  But he was trying.

Next to him, for most of the first set, was a pretty young woman of substantial build, her hair blonde, her short dress white in honor of the summer heat.  She was very much amused by her own conversation and that of her ladyfriends, and her amusement came out in a walloping five-beat laugh that could have been heard in the last row of a Broadway theatre: “HA HA HA HA HA!” (pause) “HA HA HA HA HA!” and so on.  I don’t deny anyone pleasure, but she was as loud as the band. Beginning JUST SQUEEZE ME, Jon-Erik equipped himself with his plunger mute — an adventurer going into the dark forest.  When it came time for his solo, the blonde was in full voice — but Jon-Erik played her laughter back at her, “WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH!”  Perhaps half a dozen people in the Ear (in addition to the band) got it, but his mockery was brilliant.  A dangerous satirist lurks among us, disguised as a jazz trumpeter.  Watch out!

BARBARA LEA’S 80th BIRTHDAY (AND MORE)

Etiquette books don’t line my shelves (I find the word difficult to spell), so I don’t know if sending someone birthday felicitations this late is forgivable.  But Barbara Lea, the wonderful but oddly under-recognized singer, turned eighty years old on April 10.

b-leaReaders of this blog should know her and have her imperishable recordings with Johnny Windhurst, Dick Sudhalter, Loren Schoenberg, and others.  (Barbara was a fine writer, too: her liner notes to the Sudhalter-Connie Jones CD, GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON, still stick in my memory.)  But for those of you who never heard her sing, a few words.  Although Barbara has been compared to Lee Wiley, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey, she sounds like herself.  Her voice is warm, her delivery powerful yet subtle.  She conveys emotion without strain; she swings in the great manner.  She is at home with a solo pianist, a Condon-style ensemble, a lush big band.

Her most recent CDs find her in the latter two settings. The first, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? (Audiophile) was recorded there in March 2006, with Barbara fronting a small band featuring such wonderful players as Hal Smith and Bob Havens.  Here, she shows her fine unfettered range of feeling, from the Morton romp DR. JAZZ to the rather ephemeral wartime favorites I COULDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT and MY DREAMS ARE GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME — songs that have never sounded so good.  She weaves in and out of the band with great style.

The second CD, BLACK BUTTERFLY, has special meaning for me.  The only time I ever saw Barbara perform was at the benefit for Dick Sudhalter held in St. Peter’s Church in New York City.  And if memory serves me, she sang only one song — Ellington’s sorrowing BLACK BUTTERFLY — backed by the Loren Schoenberg big band.  Her performance had the intensity of a great aria and the intimate immediacy of trumpeter Joe Thomas’s magnificent 1946 Keynote version.  This CD captures Barbara and Loren’s big band doing that song and sixteen others — ranging from classic themes by Arlen, Wilder, Victor Young, Oscar Levant, Berlin, and Monk — to lesser-known gems: RESTLESS (Sam Coslow) and WHEN THEY ASK ABOUT YOU (Sam H. Stept) as well as a few songs composed in part by Barbara herself.  To accompany Barbara, there are lovely curtains of sound illuminated by beautiful solos by Mark Lopeman, Bobby Pring, James Chirillo, and Loren himself.  It’s an ambitious recording but a hugely gratifying one.

Barbara’s health hasn’t been good of late, and her medical bills arrive with the regularity of the Basie rhythm section. Why not give yourself a gift in honor of her birthday and consider purchasing one of her CDs from her?  (I know that buying CDs from a variety of third-party sellers is economically tempting, but the artists get nothing for their work.)

The list of CDs currently available is at the bottom of this posting.  Each one is $17 (including postage).  Send your check or money order to Jeanie Wilson, 212 Ramblewood Drive, Raleigh, NC 27609-6404.

2007 Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? (Audiophile)
2006 Black Butterfly (THPOPS)
2005 Deep In A Dream, Barbara Lea Sings Jimmy Van Heusen (Leacock Does Babcock) (Cape Song)
2004 Barbara Lea and Keith Ingham Celebrate Vincent Youmans (Challenge)
2004 Barbara Lea and Wes McAfee Live @ RED — our love rolls on (THPOPS)
2002 The Melody Lingers On (BL)
1999 Barbara Lea and Keith Ingham Are Mad About The Boy: The Songs Of Noel Coward (Challenge)
1997 The Devil Is Afraid Of Music (Audiophile) Added tracks. Original LP 1976
1996 Fine & Dandy: Barbara Lea and Keith Ingham Celebrate The Women Songwriters (Challenge)
1995 Do It Again (Audiophile) Added tracks. Original LP 1983
1995 Remembering Remembering Lee Wiley (Audiophile) Added tracks. Original LP 1976
1994 Hoagy’s Children: A Celebration of Hoagy Carmichael’s Music, v. 1 & 2 (Audiophile) Added tracks. Original LP 1983
1993 Barbara Lea & The Ed Polcer All-Stars “At The Atlanta Jazz Party” (Jazzology)
1991 Barbara Lea (OJC/Fantasy) Added tracks. Original LP 1956
1991 A Woman In Love (Audiophile) Added tracks. Original LP 1955
1990 Sweet and Slow (Audiophile)
1990 Lea In Love (OJC/Fantasy) Original LP 1957
1989 Getting Some Fun Out Of Life with Mr. Tram Associates (Audiophile)
1989 You’re The Cats! (Audiophile)

RUSSELL, SMITH, CONDON, DAVISON, FELD, LLC.

A gathering of individualists, playing the blues in two moods.

PeeWee Russell, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Wild Bill Davison, Eddie Condon, Morey Feld.  The film, made for Canadian television, purports to capture what it was like after hours at Condon’s club (the midtown version) in December 1963.  How close it is to reality is anyone’s guess.  Did Helen Ward, looking so pretty here, drop by to sing when there was no camera crew in attendance, and was there usually someone sitting at a table, sketching?

But the music that initially feels tenuous, ready to fall off the edge into disunity, comes together surprisingly.  The sounds are genuine, and so are the smiles on everyone’s face at the close.  “All the Olympians,” to quote Yeats.

Thanks to Bob Erwig for posting this on Dailymotion, and to David Weiner for reminding me about it.

HENRY “RED” ALLEN, 1964

The deservedly famous version of ROSETTA by trumpeter Red Allen comes from the 1957 THE SOUND OF JAZZ — this version is far less well-known and pairs the ebullient Red, singing as well, with the Alex Welsh band in 1964.  Welsh was a fine trumpeter, joined by trombonist Roy Crimmins, tenorist Al Gay, pianist Fred Hunt, guitarist Jim Douglas, bassist Ron Mathiewson, and drummer Lennie Hastings.  I especially enjoy the quiet, moaning tones with which Red begins his second solo . . . .before the performance starts up again with even greater vehemence.



THREE WISE MEN (OF JAZZ)

three-wise-men-jpeg

The wonderful reed player Frank Roberscheuten, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and drummer Martin Breinschmid mad a CD — they call their trio THREE WISE MEN.  And they are!  Here’s what I had to say in Cadence (January-March 2008) about the disc:

Often, the most traditional Jazz trio format – a reed player, pianist, and drummer – leads well-intentioned players into tributes to Goodman. That is hardly a bad thing, and I’ve heard many stirring evocations, but there is more to say from the instrumentation and the format. This CD goes its own way in featuring a balanced international small group whose scope reaches from James P. Johnson and Bud Freeman to Horace Silver, Monk, and Miles, never compromising the material or forcing it into stylistic boxes. Roberschuten can purl through a lovely rubato verse and then shift into tempo to deliver swinging improvisations, concise yet musically expansive. He has learned a great deal from his instrumental ancestors but his approach is a creative synthesis. On tenor, he has a Getz-Cohn fluidity, which doesn’t stop him from doing a splendid version of Bud Freeman’s bubbles and flourishes on “The Eel.” His clarinet playing is nuanced, caressing, and free from cliché, whether he is playing a Thirties pop song or a Jim Hall waltz. And his charming alto sound blends Phil Woods and Hilton Jefferson to great effect. He loves to linger over the melody, as on “You’re Mine, You,” a rewarding song that hasn’t been overdone. And his original, “From the East,” suggests late-period Ellington and Strayhorn. Throughout, I was reminded of the marvelous cohesiveness of sound, rhythm, and conception that distinguished the early Fifties Vanguard sessions – in particular the trios of Ruby Braff or Paul Quinichette with Mel Powell and Bobby Donaldson. Pianist Sportiello remains a champion: hear his beautiful touch on “Detour Ahead,” and “You’re A Sweetheart,” his astonishing whirlwind on “Dearest,” and marvel at his pushing accompaniment throughout. He suggests Jimmy Rowles or Tommy Flanagan when he is being serene; Ralph Sutton, Donald Lambert, and Dave McKenna when he chooses to stomp. A loud, uneven, or passive-aggressive drummer can sink a trio, but there’s no danger here. Breinschmid has listened closely to Krupa, but isn’t hemmed in by that style: his work on “Dark Eyes” is both homage to the originals and his own improvement on them; his brushwork on “You’re A Sweetheart” is reminiscent of Jo Jones in his prime. I never yearned for the absent bass player or guitarist, and there’s no monotony on this disc. I would begin with “How Deep Is the Ocean?” which combines deep feeling and forward motion at the same time. (The session is beautifully recorded, too.) If Roberscheuten is an unfamiliar name, he has also been an integral part of the debut CD by “Three’s A Crowd,” which matches him with the fine singer Shaunette Hildabrand and pianist Bernd Lhozsky. And the witty, ambling liner notes by trombonist Dan Barrett are assurance of Jazz quality.

The good news is twofold.  First, you can order the CD from frank.roberscheuten@planet.nl for $18, including shipping.  And I recommend that you do so!

Even better: the trio recorded another excellent session last month, which they are calling GETTING TOGETHER.  It should be available for purchase in a few weeks.  I will point out, immodestly, that I wrote the notes for the CD — music that’s easy to praise.

JIM GOODWIN, 1943-2009

I have just learned that the brilliantly individualistic musician Jim Goodwin has died.  He had been ill for some time and had concentrated on the piano rather than his first love, the cornet.  On that instrument, he had much of the same surprising intensity and off-center majesty of Red Allen: you didn’t know where his phrases came from or where they were going, but they always fit.  An eloquent player, he knew how to drive a band!

His most accessible CD, perhaps, may be his Arbors Records duet session with Dave Frishberg, DOUBLE PLAY, but the Blue Swing Fine Recordings label has just reissued music from the Sunset Music Company (including Dan Barrett, Jeff Hamilton, and Bill Carter) at their 1979 concert in Dusseldorf.   Thanks to Bob Erwig for the Dailymotion video below.

This post is written in haste, so it’s not a full tribute to Jim — but he was a HOT jazz player, fervent and intense, someone who didn’t know what it was to coast through a chorus.  I never met him, but his death is a real loss.  I send condolences to Retta Christie and all of Jim’s family and friends.

The remarkable singer Melissa Collard said this of Jim: “I didn’t know him well but was just lucky to be around during some blessed moments when his playing seemed to make heavens open up and rain down beauty so clear it made you laugh.”

JEEPERS CREEPERS (1938)

jeepers-creepersHere’s two minutes of Louis Armstrong in shining form, in the 1938 film “Going Places.”  I will brush aside the obvious objections, that Louis, dressed as a groom, sings and plays to a horse; his music is interrupted and nearly obscured by foolish dialogue and shots of that same horse whinnying; the synchronization of music and image is faulty at times.

Louis loved JEEPERS CREEPERS and performed it until the end of his life, always buoyantly, and this version allows him a full instrumental chorus with no accompaniment, then, when he starts to sing, the studio orchestra’s backing is both simple and sympathetic — piano, bass, and guitar, reminiscent of Joe Sullivan and Bobby Sherwood on Bing Crosby’s MOONBURN.  Catch the wonderful rubato turn as Louis slows down the end of the verse, eyes aglow, before joyously entering the chorus.  Lucky horse, lucky us.

(A postscript: when I had finished writing this post, I did as many bloggers do — went to Google Images to find some visual representation of the Harry Warren – Johnny Mercer song whose goofy lyrics Louis renders so cheerfully.  The first seventeen pages of Google Images for “Jeepers Creepers,” top left, are devoted to stills from a horror movie of the same name.  We live in interesting times to be sure.)

WILLIE THE LION-HEARTED

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When I first discovered Stride piano, now about forty years ago, Willie “The Lion” Smith was a paradox – at once ubiquitous and inaccessible.  I bought a copy of his two-disc “Memoirs” in a now vanished Greenwich Village record store, and his autobiography was on the shelves of my local library.  Even better, he appeared twice on network television.  Once, he was Dick Cavett’s guest, turning Cavett speechless in response to the Lion’s inquiry if he spoke Yiddish.  That avenue having proven a dead end, the Lion then launched into a nearly violent rendition of what may have been “Here Comes the Band.”

The other occasion was one of those Sunday morning or afternoon documentaries purporting to explain jazz to the masses.  Whether the masses were attentive to this I don’t know, but they were offered one of the most unusual collections of idiosyncratic New York veterans imaginable: Wild Bill Davison, Tyree Glenn, Tony Parenti, Milt Hinton, Buzzy Drootin, and the Lion.

In retrospect, it does seem that Giants Walked the Earth in 1971.  But I arrived on the scene too late to see the Lion in person: his death in 1973 left Eubie Blake as official representative of the Good Old Days (able to sit down at the piano) .

Listeners only superficially acquainted with jazz of the great period might think it characterized primarily by rhythm, its unflagging beat taking precedence, its dynamic range Loud, its characteristic tempo Fast.  But the Lion’s music is a charming antidote, suggesting a pastoral world.  His rhythmic engines are never still, but both his melodies and his decorative embellishments are unusually elegant: no one sounds like him!  Consider the pensive delicacy of the opening strain of “Fading Star.”  Played at a slower tempo by a small string ensemble, it would fit neatly into a chamber-music concert.  The strains that begin “Rippling Waters,” although taken briskly, are ornate and lovely.  The compositions are marked by echoes of ragtime and turn-of-the-century parlor piano: multiple strains, tempo and volume changes, varied bass lines, dense interplay between both hands.  But this is not to suggest that he was Debussy with a cigar – “Rippling Waters” becomes a stomping test piece to send other pianists back to their keyboards in gloom. And for those who rate the Lion the least of the great Stride triumvirate of Johnson and Waller, I direct them to “Sneakaway,” which combines power, delicacy, and inventiveness.

The Lion recorded many times over a long career, and new performances are emerging on compact disc. He deserves our reverent attention.  I am delighted to find television performances by the Lion on YouTube: in particular, his performance on the BBC’s “Jazz 625” program from 1966, hosted by the late Humphrey Lyttelton.  Here’s the final portion, where the Lion faces a wildly enthusiastic audience and concludes with a gently rocking version of his own “Relaxin’,” memorably.

THE DEAR DEPARTED PAST: 1948, 1959

Billie Holiday on the Eddie Condon Floor Show, 1948, by Genevieve Naylor

Billie Holiday on the Eddie Condon Floor Show, 1948, by Genevieve Naylor

George Wettling and Hot Lips Page, Eddie Condon's Floor Show, 1948, by Genevieve Naylor

George Wettling and Hot Lips Page, Eddie Condon's Floor Show, 1948, by Genevieve Naylor

Newport 1959: Buck Clayton, PeeWee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Ruby Braff

Newport 1959: Buck Clayton, PeeWee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Ruby Braff

WHO DO YOU THINK IS COMING TO TOWN?

“You’ll never guess who.”

dawnlambethIt’s much too early for Santa, and it’s not Emily Brown from “Miss Brown to You,” but someone real — the wonderful singer Dawn Lambeth, making another rare visit to this coast.  Dawn and her husband Marc Caparone (a brilliant trumpeter) make their home in California, and work most often with their own Usonia Jazz Band or with the Reynolds Brothers Rhythm Rascals.  So it’s a delight to have Dawn back again for a flying tri-state visit, singing with her friends, the Boilermaker Jazz Band.  Details below:

Wednesday April 22nd,  8 PM, Newark Museum Centennial
49 Washington St., Newark, New Jersey  

This is a dance party, celebrating the museum’s hendredth anniversary, so be ready to cut a rug. More info at www.newarkmuseum.org.

Friday April 24th, 9 PM, High Street Ballroom
310 East High St., Pottstown, Pennsylvania

8 pm: Dance Lesson.  9 PM:  Boilermaker Jazz Band plays for dancing!  This cozy ballroom is  just a short drive from Phiadelphia.  More info at www.swingkat.com.

Saturday April 25th, 8 PM, Wesleyan University
Beckham Hall, 45 Wyllys Ave., Middletown, Connecticut

7 PM: Dance Lesson.  8-11 PM, Boilermaker Jazz Band plays for dancing.  Their first time in the Hartford area- make them feel welcome!  More info at www.vinniesjumpandjive.com.

Sunday April 26th, 8 PM,  New York Swing Dance Society
St. Jean’s Church, 76th and Lexington, New York City

This is part of the Babble NYC weekend.  More info at www.nysds.org or www.nycbabble.com.

 If Dawn’s lovely singing is new to you, check out her CDs — MIDNIGHT BLUE and LET’S GET LOST.  She has a warm, comfortable way with a melody, delivering it lightly and conversationally in the manner of Maxine Sullivan, and she can improvise without thrusting herself into the limelight.  Even better, she knows what the lyrics mean.  Her recordings and live performances are happy evocations of the small-group swing records of the Thirties and Forties, and she sounds like herself — no tortured meowing in the style of Billie.  Don’t miss her!

(I heard a rumor that Dawn will pay a visit to Sofia’s Restaurant this Monday to hear Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.  Who knows what could happen?  We can only imagine. . . . . )

TODAY’S SERMON (in under a minute)

carpe-diemAt work, I am surrounded by people who have made their job their life.  Devotion to one’s work is noble, but some of my friends have made themselves ill from stress.  So the gospel for today is the Latin motto.  To me, seizing the day isn’t about abandoning one’s responsibilities for self-absorption, but it does mean paying attention to the self.  While we’re young, as Alec Wilder wrote.

For me, carpe diem translates into making plans to go to the Whitley Bay Jazz Festival; for the Beloved, it means walking around the reservoir in Central Park.  And you?

Note:  the image comes from https://shopstampafe.com/home.php?cat=270…

UNION RHYTHM KINGS

Bent Persson, the amazing trumpeter / cornetist, has a new band.  It includes Frans Sjostrom, the genius of the bass saxophone, the inimitable Morten Gunnar Larsen on piano, reedman Lars Frank, Kristoffer Kompen on trombone, and the versatile Jacob Ullberger on banjo and guitar.  (Lars and Kristoffer are new to me, so I haven’t invented adjectives for them, but they are fine players indeed.)

union-rhythm-kingsAnd here’s the link to the band’s MySpace page, where you can hear them romp through five selections from their debut CD on Herman Records:

http://www.myspace.com/unionrhythmkings

A blog is about sharing pleasure as well as information: I hope I’ve fulfilled my moral obligations for the morning!

A PORTRAIT OF BOBBY HACKETT

This marvelous documentary in miniature — a precious tribute to the cornetist Bobby Hackett — surfaced recently on YouTube, courtesy of “The Murphy Family.”

I saw Hackett play less than a dozen times in the last five years of his life, twice at close range.  I was too awed and too shy to attempt conversation, but he was gracious to me, a fan lugging a heavy tape recorder, asking for an autograph.  His autograph, incidentally, says a good deal about the man: “Thanks, Bobby Hackett.”

So I cannot claim any particular intimacy.  But when I was growing up in darkest suburbia, the New Jersey radio station WPAT-FM often played Hackett’s recordings with strings — extraordinary traceries against dark blue skies.  My mother loved melodies: Puccini and Verdi, Streisand and Anna Moffo, and she shared my affection for Hackett.  The YouTube documentary awakened a memory: my mother calling me to come downstairs quickly, “Your friend is on the radio!”  And it would be Hackett, playing LAURA or MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU.  And we would stand in front of the speakers, marveling.

Years later, a Hackett solo has the power to make me wonder at its shape, its logic, its warmth.  His music makes me feel his absence as a true loss.

The YouTube documentary, created by Kathleen Griffin, is touching for other reasons.  The photographs — from the collection of Michelle , Hackett’s granddaughter, remind us that the jazz musicians whose sounds we cherish and annotate are people when not behind their cornets or drum sets — people with families and houses, lounging on couches, eating dinner, hugging their children, caught in snapshots.  The soundtrack seems to be taken from a concert or concerts Hackett played with Benny Goodman in the 1970s.  And the jazz fanciers will notice rare pictures of Hackett in performance as well, amidst Punch Miller, Pete Fountain, Vic Dickenson, Dizzy Gillespie, George Brunis, Maxine Sullivan, and many others — but the eye comes back to Hackett.  As does the ear, inevitably.

I urge every reader of this blog to listen closely to a Bobby Hackett solo today.  And give thanks.

EDDIE CONDON, 1945, TOWN HALL (by Gjon Mili)

condon-mmili-group

Had I a jazz time machine, the front row of Town Hall at this moment would be on the list of my musical Paradises.

From the left, courtesy of Gjon Mili and Ernie Anderson: Cozy Cole, perhaps James P. Johnson, Miff Mole, Benny Morton, Bobby Hackett, possibly Bill Coleman, Max Kaminsky, Muggsy Spanier, Ed Hall, PeeWee Russell, Ernie Caceres (on clarinet, too), Eddie Condon, leading the congregation, and Kansas Fields.  As I write this, the other musicians don’t reveal themselves, but I am sure my sharp-eyed readers will have educated surmises.

FATS WALLER AT CARNEGIE HALL, 1942 (and 1944)

Adventures in jazz discography follow.

Because my friend Agustin Perez (proprietor of the wonderful blog “Mule Walk & Jazz Talk,” often devoted to stride piano) asked me for some information, I’ve been thinking a great deal about Fats Waller’s uneven Carnegie Hall concert of 1942.  And my very hip readers are on the same wavelength, because two people searching for “Fats Waller,” “Carnegie Hall,” “lost acetates,” found this blog.

So — as a brief respite from grading student essays — let me share my ruminations on this subject and a related one — the 1944 Memorial Concert.

fats-jpegIf ever anyone deserved his own concert, it would have been Fats — for his compositions, his joyous playing and singing, his ability to become an entire orchestra at the piano, to say nothing of the way he could drive a band.  And the 1942 Carnegie Hall concert (an idea of Ernie Anderson’s) would have been splendid except for Fats’s nervousness and the resulting over-imbibing.

Eddie Condon recalled that the second half of the concert was nearly disastrous, with Fats unable to free himself from “Summertime.”  (Condon’s recollections come from his WE CALLED IT MUSIC, and the later EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ, and there are some comments — and photographs by Charles Peterson — in the book of Peterson’s photographs, SWING ERA NEW YORK.  Several of them show Fats getting dressed and are thus scarily irreplaceable.)

I don’t think that I need recordings of Fats imprisoned in “Summertime,” but two tantalizing pieces of recorded evidence do remain, both impressive.

One is a duet for Fats and Lips Page, an unbeatable idea, playing the blues both slow and fast.  I never think of Fats as a compelling blues player, but he is in splendid form alongside Lips, and the duet ends too soon . . . about an hour too soon for my taste.  It was originally issued on a French bootleg lp (Palm Club) and an American one (Radiola) and most recently was dropped into the French Neatwork CD of Lips Page alternate takes, probably out of print.

The other comes from the closing jam session, and is predictably HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, with Max Kaminsky, Bud Freeman, PeeWee Russell, Condon, John Kirby, and Gene Krupa — issued circa 1974 on the very first Jazz Archives lp (one of the many labels invented by Jerry Valburn), CHICAGO STYLE.  This suggests that Valburn, who had resources beyond my imagination and a phenomenal jazz collection — his Ellington collection is now in the Library of Congress — had managed to acquire the acetates of the concert.  From whom, from whence, I cannot say.

What interests me even more is both Waller and Valburn-related: music recorded at the 1944 Waller Memorial Concert.  One track, a rather lopsided LADY BE GOOD by the “Mezz Mezzrow Sextet,” turned up on a Valburn collection devoted to Ben Webster.  Ben is there for sure, alongside a piping Mezz and an unidentified tenor player, possibly Gene Sedric, a pianist who paddles away in the background rather mechanically, Sidney Catlett doing the best he could, and a trombonist mis-identified as Dicky Wells who clearly is Trummy Young.

Others who appeared at the concert were James P. Johnson, Art Hodes, and Frank Newton — and, as readers of this blog know, the possibility of hearing some otherwise unknown Newton would make my year.  Valburn also issued two songs from the concert performed by a Teddy Wilson sextet — HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, again, and a blues called GET THE MOP, on a Lips Page anthology full of errors, famously.  First, the record was called “Play the Blues in B,” which few musicians would think of doing — those blues were audibly in the most common key of Bb; Lips didn’t play with the Wilson group (Emmett Berry, Benny Morton, Ed Hall, Wilson, Al Hall, and Catlett), and the final track on the recording had Paul Quinichette identified as Lester Young even though Lips hailed his tenor player by name.   Such things might not seem important to those beyond the pale, but they received a good deal of attention from the faithful.  Valburn also issued an AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ by the whole Basie band — including the real Lester — on a Lester compilation on his “Everybody’s” label.

Where’s the rest of this music?  Could we hear it now?  Please?

JACK TRACY’S WONDERFUL STORIES

For some delicious anecdotage from former Down Beat anchor Jack Tracy, now eighty-two, be sure to visit Steven Cerra’s JAZZ PROFILES – – http://jazzprofiles.blogspot.com/2009/04/jack-tracy.html — where Tracy, who was there, shares first-hand tales of Bill Harris’s boxer shorts, Dorothy Donegan’s napkin, Duke Ellington’s wise, generous con, Artie Shaw’s bad behavior, Oscar Peterson, Sidney Catlett, as well as a gracious and near-saintly owner of a Chicago jazz club, and much more.

Worth every penny, to quote David Ostwald!

NEVER TOO BUSY . . .

Courtesy of “SFRaeAnn,” here’s just under five minutes of pure relaxed pleasure: Clint Baker and his Cafe Borrone All-Stars, recordeon on April 3 at Menlo Park, California, with Robert Young, C-meloody sax;  Leon Oakley, cornet;  Jim Klippert, trombone; Jason Vanderford,  guitar;  Monte Reyes, banjo; and Bill Reinhart, bass.  Visit Clint at: http://www.clintbakerjazz.com

I’m especially fond of this almost-forgotten tune (memorable to me because of a 1928 recording where Louis Armstrong backs Lillie Delk Christian) but this performance is special in itself.  No one rushes the tempo; no one gets loud or louder, and the musicians work together in a casual, affectionate understanding of what a band needs.  Great fun, and if you’re too busy for this, what can I say?

JAZZ IN “THE NEW YORKER,” CONTINUED

I’m always happy to see any coverage of jazz in The New Yorker, which has been my essential reading for forty years, ever since I discovered their fine short fiction, the drawings of William Steig and Saul Steinberg, and the irreplaceable writing of Whitney Balliett.  But their latest coverage is profoundly disappointing, both in itself and its implications.

Here’s Colin Fleming’s piece in “Talk of the Town,” March 30, 2009, called MORE SATCHMO:

After virtually inventing the lexicon for jazz soloists with his epochal Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, Louis Armstrong set up shop at Decca Records in the mid-thirties. The Armstrong Deccas have not fared as well as their forebears, having been knocked about on compilations of dubious legality and dogged by various aspersions-mainly, that Armstrong had become a puppet for his manager Joe Glaser, who had turned Armstrong into a happy-go-lucky song-and-dance man ready to ham it up on cue.

But as “The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions, 1935-1946” (Mosaic Records) attests, Armstrong wasn’t one to be intimidated by his past. The corking take on “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” makes the Okeh version seem positively weak-kneed, with Armstrong’s big band ripping through the breaks. Armstrong the vocalist is arguably at his apex here, and it was through his vocalizations that Armstrong’s chamber jazz took on a second life as pure pop manna. “On the Sunny Side of the Street” is a glorious hybrid: a mix of Stephen Foster-esque Americana and unprecedented vocal inflections that must have pricked up the ears of Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. The Decca sessions even venture into hardcore R. & B. terrain, once the drummer “Big” Sid Catlett turns up. A fleeting discographical presence over his career, Catlett was at his best with Armstrong, his offbeat accents on “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home” presaging soul’s infatuation with syncopation.

As a trumpet player, there was no one to touch Armstrong, but Bing Crosby was an apt vocal foil. The two had their summit meeting in 1960, resulting in “Bing and Satchmo” (DRG Records), previously unavailable on compact disk. “Dardanella” suggests how keenly these men must have listened to each other: Crosby’s sly syllabic upticks at the end of each line show how readily he had absorbed Armstrong’s methodology, while Armstrong’s vocal is a blend of full-on melody and smart, conversational tones, a Crosby staple. Throughout, Billy May’s arrangements have plenty of starch to them, but “Lazy River” borders on a kind of laconic grace, two voices whiling the day away before drifting home. ♦

First, there’s Fleming’s remarkable prose style: exuberantly glib, cliched, and apparently unedited: he comes across as a writer in love with his own special effects.  Then come the errors of fact (how casually Fleming, like Mosaic Records, dismisses the work of Gosta Hagglof).   In addition, there’s his adolescent critical point of view, granting Armstrong’s singing special validity (“pop manna,” no less) because it must have caught the attention of Presley and Dylan, how Catlett’s playing prefigures rhythm and blues and soul’s “infatuation with syncopation.”  The “old,” it seems, is meaningful only when it acts as a springboard for the “new.”

Perhaps I should be grateful that Louis Armstrong receives notice of any sort in The New Yorker, even if the praise is appallingly written and full of misinterpretations.

But in the same issue, Anthony Lane writes thoughtfully about a new book of Samuel Beckett’s early letters; Paul Goldberger has a beautifully provocative essay on the architect Palladio.  So The New Yorker can and indeed does think some art that occured before the twenty-first century is worth serious consideration in serious prose.  It’s a pity the magazine’s editors haven’t recognized that jazz might be owed equal respect.