Monthly Archives: June 2009

“I’LL SEE YOU IN C-U-B-A”

On June 26, 2009, SFRaeAnn, that generous jazz videographer, took her camera to “America’s Festival,” in Lacey, Washington, and captured cornetist Bob Schultz’s Frisco Jazz Band playing the now-rare Irving Berlin song, “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A.” 

Berlin wasn’t an anarchist; this 1920 song teasingly proposes a visit to a country where Prohibiition wasn’t law.  (Other songs looked to Montreal for rehydration.) 

The performance has an easy, tango-inflected swing, helped immeasurably by Hal Smith on drums — a master chef behind his set, mixing and flavoring with his wire brushes, swinging without getting louder or faster.  I thought of Walter Johnson, among others: watch the way Hal moves!  Cornetist Schultz has a fine Spanier-Marsala passion, matched by trombonist Doug Finke, whom I associate with rousing Stomp Off CDs by his Independence Hall Jazz Band. 

I recently reviewed a Fifties jazz-goes-medieval effort where the participants earnestly jammed on recorders: they should have studied Jim Rothermel, sweetly wailing away.  Thanks to Scott Anthony on banjo, who delivers the song stylishly, Chuck Stewart on tuba, and another one of my heroes, pianist Ray Skjelbred, for keeping the ship rocking but afloat. 

Our travel plans for the summer have us heading north, not south — so I’ll content myself with this YouTube clip, spicy and sweet. 

JAZZ TRANSPORTS!

Like most Americans, I commute to work by car, even though I know that my choice has huge adverse effects on the planet.  When I can, I take the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan, but the train is at best inconvenient.  Even when I bring my iPod or The New Yorker, the LIRR is tedium on wheels.

Here’s the ideal solution to the problem.  If my train ride could be like this, morning and evening, I swear I would sell my car:

This catches the West End Jazz Band (with friends) on the South Shore train line, recorded May 31, 2009, on their way to the annual Hudson Lake celebration.  (Hudson Lake, as you know, is a sacred site that connects Bix Beiderbecke, Pee Wee Russell, and other kindred spirits.)  You hear and see Mike Bezin and Sue Fischer on washboards; John Otto on clarinet; Frank Gualtieri on trombone; Andy Schumm and Mike Walbridge on cornets; Leah Bezin on banjo; Dave Bock on tuba; Josh Duffee on drums, performing LOUISIANA.  And a slightly smaller version of the group offers a spirited SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL. 

These clips are courtesy of “manidig” on YouTube — a fellow after my own heart.  I subscribed to his channel about two minutes into LOUISIANA.  Thanks, Mr. Dig!

What time will the next jazz train arrive?

JAZZ’S BRIGHT FUTURE

A new documentary, CHOPS, is opening tomorrow (that’s June 26, 2009).  Directed by Bruce Broder, it’s not another run-through of the life of a famous — and sometimes bedraggled — musician, a life viewed retrospectively.  No, this one peeks into the future in a very hopeful way.  It’s the story of a group of young musicians from Florida — let’s be honest and call them kids! — who come together to become a jazz band, a swinging community that wins the Essentially Ellington competition.

Here’s a trailer, which should certainly make you smile:

The film’s official website, http://chopsthemovie.com/, has all the information you need — where it’s screening, and more.  I don’t normally endorse anything having to do with Facebook, a phenomenon which makes me nearly as anxious as does Twitter, but CHOPS also has a Facebook site, where you can find updates about the film –
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Chops/85540964870.

What’s important to me is that these kids are thrilled by Charlie Parker, by playing good hot jazz expressively.  Even the young saxophonist who admires Kenny G (much to the puzzlement of one of his bandmates) — give him time.  He’ll discover Harold Ashby and Bud Freeman, Norris Turney and Happy Caldwell, Steve Lacy and Harry Carney eventually.

Go see CHOPS!

ALISON KERR CELEBRATES JABBO SMITH

This is a wonderful piece by the Scottish journalist and friend of jazz, in celebration of one of the music’s most free spirits, the trumpeter Jabbo Smith.  I would add only that the 1961 sessions she refers to have priceless playing not only by Jabbo, Marty Grosz, and Mike McKendrick — but astounding solos and ensemble alchemy from clarinetist Frank Chace. 

The Contender

In Jazz Profiles on June 24, 2009 at 1:07 am

Jabbo 1 Amongst the many notable jazz anniversaries of recent months, one important one has been pretty much universally overlooked. December 2008 was the centenary of a trumpet legend with whom jazz history has been particularly careless. He was lost, found and lost and found again – so it’s almost fitting that his centenary went by unnoticed. Even in death, he’s an elusive character.

His name was Jabbo Smith, and, at the peak of his powers and the height of his celebrity, he was regarded by many as the only serious challenge to Louis Armstrong’s position as the greatest trumpet player of them all. But just over a decade later, he had slid out of the limelight and was all but forgotten.

Born in Georgia in December 1908, Jabbo Smith was christened Cladys to complement the name of a cousin, Gladys, who was just a few days older. His mother, who played the church organ, struggled to raise him by herself. Eventually, when Jabbo was six, she was forced to hand him over to the care of the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston, South Carolina. This institution supported itself by teaching the children to play music and then sending its student bands all over the country, to all the major cities. Jabbo quickly mastered trumpet and trombone and was duly sent out on tour from an early age. He invariably used these excursions as a launchpad for an escape bid..

When he was 14 years old, he ran away and remained free for three months, during which time he worked with a professional band in Florida. Two years later, he left the orphanage for good and headed for his half-sister’s home in Philadelphia. There, he immediately found work.

In 1925, at the age of just 17, he was playing in one of the most popular bands of the day, the Charlie Johnson band in New York – having already made his recording debut with no less a bandleader than Clarence Williams.

Jabbo – whose nickname came from an Indian character in a William S Hartman western – was already beginning to be regarded as something of a sensation when he replaced Bubber Miley for the Duke Ellington band’s November 1927 recordings of Black and Tan Fantasy. So impressed was Ellington with Jabbo’s playing that he offered him a job. Happy with the Charlie Johnson band and unimpressed by the money being offered, Jabbo turned him down – a move which he may not have regretted, but subsequent generations of his admirers undoubtedly have.

He went on, in 1928, to join Fats Waller, James P Johnson and Garvin Bushell in the band playing for the Broadway show Keep Shufflin’ – the results can be heard on the four numbers this band, known as the Louisiana Sugar Babies, recorded together.

Keep Shufflin’ closed suddenly in Chicago in 1929 when its backer, Arnold Rothstein, notorious as the mobster who had fixed the 1919 baseball World Series, was the victim of a gangland murder. Jabbo may have found himself stranded in the Windy City, but the show’s impromptu closing had fortunate results for jazz recording history: the Chicago-based Brunswick Record Company offered him the chance to record 19 sides designed to compete with Louis Armstrong’s hugely successful Hot Five and Hot Seven records, which were making money by the bucket-load for the rival Okeh label.

For what became the definitive Jabbo Smith sides, Jabbo not only led the band, which was assembled by the banjo player Ikey Robinson and christened the Rhythm Aces, but he also wrote all the numbers and sang on many of them – in his distinctive scat style. He was still only 20, and his youthful energy simply explodes out of tracks such as Sau-Sha Stomp, Take Your Time and Boston Skuffle.

Not only that, but his style of playing is dazzling. He was technically brilliant, completely at ease playing in the upper register and able to deliver one fantastic break after another. In 1955, the bass player Milt Hinton was quoted as saying: “Jabbo was as good as Louis then. He was the Dizzy Gillespie of that era. He played rapid-fire passages while Louis was melodic and beautiful.” Another trumpet great who was around at the same time as both Jabbo and Louis was Doc Cheatham who said that in the late 1920s, Jabbo was as good as Armstrong but that they were “very different players and that Jabbo shouldn’t be judged by comparisons”.

Despite his astonishing and highly individual style of playing on the Brunswick sides, Jabbo couldn’t shake off hims image as an Armstrong imitator – much to his chagrin. The record company pulled the plug on the Rhythm Aces recordings because the records weren’t the commercial success that they’d hoped for. A year after their release, Jabbo went to Milwaukee and spent several years playing with different bands there and in Chicago. He seems to have drifted between the two cities. Late in his life, he told the trumpeter Michel Bastide: “You get into a little trouble in Chicago – you run to Milwaukee… You get into a little trouble in Milwaukee – you run to Chicago.”

In 1936, the bandleader Claude Hopkins heard Jabbo as he passed through Milwaukee and signed him up for two years. Then, in 1938, Jabbo made what would turn out to be his last recordings for over 20 years, when he recorded four more of his own compositions for Decca – including the gorgeous ballad Absolutely and the jaw-droppingly complex Rhythm in Spain.

Jabbo slid into obscurity but seems to have been content to do so. Although he was wild and unruly as a young man, he has been described by many who knew him later in his life as a quiet, introverted character – something of a loner – who seems to have been quite happy to take whatever came his way. He certainly never sought fame – which is just as well, because he never again reached the heights he scaled when he was just 20.

Jabbo was more or less forgotten about by the mid-1950s when Milt Hinton’s comments for the Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya oral history prompted renewed interest in him. However, it wasn’t until 1961 that he was tracked down to Milwaukee and brought to Chicago for a recording session with a local rhythm section which included the guitarist Marty Grosz.

Grosz has described Jabbo as a free spirit, someone who followed his own path. It’s an assessment which ties in with Milt Hinton’s statement that if Jabbo made enough money for drinks and women in any small town, he would stay put. Michel Bastide, whose Hot Antic Jazz Band toured and recorded with Jabbo in the trumpeter’s seventies, believes that Jabbo was easily distracted by women and might have fared better in his musical career if he had had someone to look after him and advise him in the way that Lil Hardin did for Louis Armstrong.

When Jabbo was tracked down in 1961, he hadn’t touched his trumpet for nearly two decades and had been working for Avis car hire for many years. He said that he had married and settled down in Milwaukee, playing trumpet in a nightclub at first. When the club closed down, he simply put his horn under his bed and found himself another job. But he did continue composing.

After his rediscovery in the early 1960s, Jabbo seems to have retreated from the limelight once more. He next popped up in the mid-1970s when the impresario George Wein invited him to New York to receive an award as one of the greatest living musicians in jazz history. This time, he was back to stay: he began practising the trumpet again thanks to the encouragement of the clarinettist Orange Kellin who invited him to New Orleans, to play in his band. This led to his being hired for the show One More Time which earned him euphoric reviews.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Jabbo enjoyed a last blast of glory. He played the New York jazz clubs and worked with such diverse names as Thad Jones and Don Cherry. He also toured in Europe, in the company of a French jazz band which had been born out of a shared love of his recordings. The members of the Hot Antic Jazz Band – led by trumpeter Michel Bastide – spent three years mastering Jabbo’s 1929 repertoire and were thrilled when he agreed to come on tour and record with them.

Their affection for him and enthusiasm for his music clearly paid off: the resulting LPs (Zoo and We Love You Jabbo) are delightful and provide a happy ending for what could have been yet another sad jazz tale. Jabbo Smith died in January 1991, leaving his trumpet to the Antics’ Michel Bastide.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

* Jabbo Smith: The Complete Jabbo Smith Hidden Treasure Sessions (Lonehill Jazz LHJ10352) is newly out

* Jabbo Smith’s Rhythm Aces 1929-1938 (Classics Records 669)

A NICE BIG PIECE OF BIRTHDAY CAKE (July 4, 2009)

News, always welcome, from the Louis Armstrong House Museum.  I know that July 4, 1900, has been disproven as Louis’s actual birthdate — in some inspired, diligent sleuthing — but I don’t particularly care.  Louis thought it was his birthday, and that’s always been enough reason for me to celebrate, especially since I am past the age of getting excited as cherry bombs and M-14s turn the night air into Armageddon.

First, the famous picture: Louis with the kids.  Our eyes are drawn, of course, to the fellow on the right with his plastic trumpet, following the Master’s lead.  But I am intrigued by the child in the center, who doesn’t have a trumpet (it seems unfortunate that there weren’t dozens to go around, so that Louis could have had his own Corona Brass Band of kids in the street) — notice how earnestly he’s practicing his embouchure until the day that he can get a horn and swing out.  I hope he did.  His eyes gleam as brightly as Louis’s do — a good sign. 

LA%20with%20neighbors_Oct15

There will be many events celebrating Louis’s life and music (as if the two could be separated) courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.  You haven’t been there yet?  Chaucer’s pilgrims had Canterbury: the LAHM is easier to get to and I am sure it’s more fun.  There will be a scat-singing lesson, a concert by the Red Hook Ramblers, a presentation on Louis’s collages by the esteemed Deslyn Dyer, a tour of the house (don’t forget to admire the turquoise kitchen!). 

AND there’s cake.  We won’t be there, but cake freezes very well.

Here’s the link to the schedule: https://webmail.optimum.net/attach/LAHM%20July%204%20Events%20Listing.doc?sid=&mbox=INBOX&charset=escaped_unicode&uid=20333&number=4&filename=LAHM%20July%204%20Events%20Listing.doc

Happy Birthday in advance to Mr. Strong!

LANGUAGE LAB, or JAZZ MANGLISH EN CROUTE

Paris

Jazz photographer John Herr sends along this jeu d’esprit, a bit of French jazz Manglish.  To get the full flavor of it, I suggest that this note — a confirmation of purchase from a French record dealer — be read aloud in a suitable accent.  You know, the one we learned from Sid Caesar, from Warner Brothers cartoons.

Bonjour

Votre commande a ete prise en compte !

La livraison interviendra dans les meilleurs delais.

Merci et a bientot

Dear customer,

Thank you for your order.

The delivery of your records will be done in the best delay.

“SUNDAY”: HONORING JOEL HELLENY

This performance — faster than usual, happily so — took place last night, Sunday, June 21, 2009, at The Ear Inn.  Wedged into their usual corner were that night’s brilliant edition of The Ear Regulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Jon Burr, bass.  The song — written by (among others) Jule Styne in 1927 — is usually taken at an easy lope, but the Regulars tore through it as a change of pace. 

To look at this band, you’d think them entirely involved in giving and receiving pleasure: they listen in a kind of rapture to each other’s solos; they construct witty, pointed, empathic backgrounds and riffs.  And the communion, creativity, and joy we sense are obviously coming from deep inside them, individually and collectively.  But there’s a paradox at work in this performance: everyone on this bandstand had only learned that day of the death of trombonist Joel Helleny — someone they had all respected, played alongside, and known.  One way to handle their grief might have been to refuse to play, to go off somewhere to grieve in solitude.  But these artists chose to heal themselves by offering their energies as only they could.  Their spirit and their choruses healed us.

THE STATE OF THE JAZZ ECONOMY?

 pound 2I just received an email from a UK record company, Edition Records, which offered this inducement:

Pre-order the new DSQ album in return for a credit in the liner notes.

DSQ are giving you the chance to participate in the making of the album in return for a credit in the liner notes. They are offering three levels of contribution starting at £12. At the higher levels you will receive much, much more for your support.

pound 3Perhaps this isn’t very different than sending money to a public radio station to support its programming and getting one’s name read aloud over the air, or writing a check to get a PBS totebag.  In fact, it harks back to the old model of print publishing, where a privately-printed book could be sold only to a number of readers willing to subscribe and thus underwrite its costs. 

poundI post this to offer evidence about what we all know to be true — namely, that jazz groups and jazz record labels have a hard time of it and find it necessary to resort to ingenious measures.  What’s next?

MOURNING JOEL HELLENY (1956-2009)

The news of anyone’s death reminds us of how insufficient language really is.  I learned of trombonist Joel Helleny’s death last night at The Ear Inn. 

Helleny was one of those musicians I didn’t have the good fortune to hear in perfomance, which means I missed a thousand opportunities, because he performed with Dick Hyman, Buck Clayton, Randy Sandke, Frank Wess, Benny Goodman, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Roy Eldridge, Vince Giordano, Eddy Davis, Jon-Erik Kellso, Marty Grosz, and many other luminaries.  But I heard him subliminally on the soundtrack of two Woody Allen films, and I have a good number of CDs (Arbors, Concord, Ney York Jazz, Nagel-Heyer, and others) on which he shines.  This morning I was listening to his work on Kenny Davern’s EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (Arbors) and marveled once again: he could do it all: purr, shout, cajole, sweet-talk or say the nastiest things . . . all through his horn. 

He played beutifully; he had his own sound.  And he’s gone.  

Marty Elkins knew him well, and wrote to say this:

I got the news from Murray Wall. We were both old friends of Joel’s, and we are very sad about his death. Joel was a super smart, very talented guy, at the top of his field back in the 80’s and 90’s – doing gigs with Dick Hyman, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra (where he was a featured soloist), he was a member of George Wein’s New York All Stars and played on sound tracks for Woody Allen films, among other credits. He even toured with the OJays. He was a very loyal and devoted friend, also one of the only people who talked faster than I do!

He and I were really close around the deaths of our parents in the 90’s – providing a lot of support for one another. Joel was an only child and really attached to his folks.  He leaves a lot of saddened friends and an empty space in the jazz community. He will be remembered.

 But if you never heard Joel play, all this might seem only verbal gestures.  Here’s Joel in what I believe is a 1992 television appeance with clarinetist Walt Levinsky’s “Great American Swing Band,” including trumpeters Spanky Davis, Randy Sandke, Glenn Drewes, and Bob Millikan; trombonists Eddie Bert and Paul Faulise; reedmen Mike Migliore, Chuck Wilson, Frank Wess, Ted Nash, and Sol Schlinger;  pianist Marty Napoleon, bassist Murray Wall; drummer Butch Miles. 

Joel Helleny will be remembered. 

MARTY ELKINS: “IN ANOTHER LIFE”

When I get new jazz compact discs to review, a good percentage feature women jazz singers.  I am sure that they are wonderful people who love the music, but many of them have odd ideas of forming a style.  Some have ingested every syllable Billie Holiday ever recorded; some rely on huge voices with gospel trimmings to get them through; some meow and growl their way through a lyric, suggesting an undiagnosed hairball problem.  Almost all of the new singers emote in capital letters, their voices rich with imagined melodrama.  None of these tricks works, but the singers press on.

For me, there are perhaps a dozen women singing jazz today — if you’ve been reading my posts, you can count them off.  Now it’s time to increase that number.  May I introduce  (or re-introduce) Marty Elkins? 

I first met Marty perhaps a year ago when she and I ended up sharing a table at the crowded Ear Inn.  We chatted pleasantly, and I really had no idea of her talents until Jon-Erik Kellso asked her to sit in and she sang a few choruses of YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME with the band.  The Ear Inn is more conducive to trumpets and trombones than to unamplified singers, but I could hear that Marty swung, knew the harmonic ins and outs of the song, could improvise neatly, and was expressive without being melodramatic.  She used her quiet talents to make the material sound good rather than asking Rodgers and Hart to step aside so that she could shine.  When she was through, I asked her if she had recorded CDs that I could hear her better and at greater length.  She casually mentioned that she had done a duet session with Dave McKenna years back, and that it would be issued some day. 

Now we can all stop holding our breath: it’s here.  And it’s splendid. 

in_another_life_5The disc is called IN ANOTHER LIFE, and it’s issued on the splendidly reliable Nagel-Heyer label (CD 114).  It captures Marty and Dave in an informal session with good sound, in 1988 — when Dave was still in full command.  The songs suggest a shared affection for solid melodies and a deep knowledge of the great jazz repertoire: WILLOW WEEP FOR ME / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / JIM / GIMME A PIGFOOT AND A BOTTLE OF BEER / UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG / I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART / WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE / I WISHED ON THE MOON / WILLOW WEEP FOR ME (alternate ) / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? (alternate) / FUSE BLUES (alternate). 

The first thing that must be said will seem tactless, but this CD is not the combination of a young, untried singer with a master pianist.  Not at all.  The Elkins – McKenna pairing is a meeting of convivial equals.  From the very first notes of this session, she shows off her relaxed, expert naturalness.  Her naturalness comes from loving the lyrics — that is, knowing what the words mean! — and admiring the composer’s original lines.  She has a sweet, earnest phrase-ending vibrato, reminiscent of a great trumpet player, and she holds her notes beautifully.  Marty’s delivery is full of feeling and warmth, but she doesn’t shout, grind, or act self-consciously hip.  Her voice is also attractive wholly on its own terms — it has a yearning, plaintive quality that fits the material, but that never overwhelms the song or the listener. 

On JIM, for instance, a rather masochistic song, Marty embraces and entrances the lyrics without ever suggesting that things are so dire that she needs therapy or an intervention.  It’s a performance I found myself going back to several times.  And she’s equally home with the somewhat archaic enthusiams of GIMME A PIGFOOT — she sings the song rather than singing at it from an ironic distance.  (And, as a sidelight, her diction is razor-sharp, enabling me to hear a phrase in the lyrics that has always mystified me in Bessie Smith’s version.)  On a number of the other selections, she avoids the perils of over-dramatization (I’m thinking especially of SUMMERTIME, which has attained the status of National Monument, making it almost impossible to sing it plainly without histrionics) by lifting the tempo just a touch — what Billie and Mildred did in the Thirties.  It works.  I was able to hear the most famous and well-worn songs on this disc without thinking of their more famous progenitors.  On her second choruses, she improvises, subtly and effectively; her voice takes delicate little turns up or down, which seem both new and natural.  And she knows the verse to WHEN YOUR LOVER IS GONE!  What more could we ask for?

For his part, McKenna is in especially empathetic form: he doesn’t put on his locomotive-roaring-down-the-tracks self, but you always know he’s there.  And at times his accompaniment sounds so delicately shaped that I would have sworn Ellis Larkins had slid onto the piano bench. 

The alternate takes are revealing — for both Marty’s subtle reshapings of her first inspirations, and for Dave’s inventiveness and drive.  The CD’s last track, FUSE BLUES, comes from a 1999 Nagel-Heyer session Marty did with Houston Person, Tardo Hammer, Herb Pomeroy, Greg Skaff, Dennis Irwin, Mark Taylor, and it’s a thoroughly naughty composition of Marty’s that will make you look at your electrician in a whole new way.  I think it should be Consolidated Edison’s theme song, but doubt that they’ll take me up on it.

As an afterthought, because the liner notes are very spare, I asked Marty to comment on the session, which she did:

The original recording was just for a demo for me, and Dave really did it as a favor for very little bread as he was an old friend from my days in Boston. I went to Boston U and just kind of stayed up there, hanging around with musicians for about ten years after college. I met Dave at the Copley Plaza hotel, where he was a regular performer, and he let me sing with him and was pretty much my first accompanist. The funny story I always tell is that he said, “When you go out there and sing with other musicians, don’t expect them to play in the key of B…” because he would say “Just start singing, baby, I’ll follow you.”  I guess that really was starting at the top! Everyone loved Dave – he was the most accessible guy and not even aware of his own genius. He leaves a lot of broken hearted pals. We did the recording at Jimmy Madison’s (the great drummer) studio on the Upper West Side. I think Dave was in town for a gig at the old Hanratty’s, because by then I was living in New York. The Nagel-Heyers did the remastering, and it really sounds good now.  I hear new things in Dave’s playing every time I listen to it.  I had hoped it would come out before Dave left us, but it was not to be.   

Marty is planning a late-summer CD release party at Smalls — with, among others, Jon-Erik Kellso — and she has promised to let me know the details so that I can alert all of you.  Until then, this CD is winning music.

SWEET MUSIC, WITH FEELING

Jamaica Knauer, who seems to bring her video camera along whenever there’s good music, captured this performance for us: the West End Jazz Band performing at the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks Fans’ Bash on May 16, 2009 in Huntington, West Virginia.  The WEJB features Leah Bezin, guitar and vocal; Mike Bezin, trumpet; John Otto, alto sax; Frank Gualtieri, trombone; Mike Walbridge, tuba; Andy Schumm, covering the drum chair rather than his usual cornet or piano. 

This song, OUT WHERE THE LITTLE MOONBEAMS ARE BORN, recorded by George Olsen and other bands in 1929, was new to me.  I couldn’t find its composer credits in the ASCAP database, so I would be interested in knowing who wrote it. 

Experienced listeners with good memories might find phrases in it reminiscent (forwards as well as backwards) of more famous songs, but all of that fades away in this sweetly earnest performance.  And it passed my tests: I found myself humming it and had to play the clip several times in a row before moving on.  Maybe it’s perfect music for all of our yearnings to get away to a magical place where no one can intrude on our romances.  See if it doesn’t become part of your mental musical library, too!  

Heartfelt thanks to the WEJB and to Jamaica for preserving this sweet moment.

PAPER EPHEMERA, CONTINUED

Drummer and jazz scholar Kevin Dorn and I were discussing these historical drum ads at Birdland last week.  Although we delight in them, we share the same skepticism.  A drum company representative came up to George Wettling, say, and asked, “George, would you like a new set of _ _ _ _ _ drums for free?  And we’ll give you a hundred dollars to let us use your picture in an ad?”  Wettling or anyone else always could use another set of drums, as well as the money, so he posed for a photo behind the set of drums that he swore were his favorites.  Perhaps a thousand young men went out and beleaguered their parents to buy just that set because their idol played it. 

Mildly fraudulent or not, full of language we doubt the drummer himself used, these pages are enchanting.  How many times in our lives will we see Dave Tough (not Davey, mind you) advertising something in a magazine — as if people would follow his lead?  It suggests a pre-Fall universe, now vanished.  This ad (like the Ray Bauduc autograph in the previous post) is available for purchase at eBay.  A thrilling oddity, never to come again.

Tough

RAY BAUDUC PREACHES THE GOSPEL

Aspiring novelists in Creative Writing classes are told, “Write what you know.”  In jazz, musicians play what they know; they live what they know. 

And sometimes they sign autograph books with what they know and wish to convey to us.  Hence this page inscribed by the inspiring percussionist Ray Bauduc (an artifact now up for bid on eBay). 

Ignore its message at your peril!

RAY BAUDUC

DREAMS OF CHAUTAUQUA 2009

I may have overwhelmed readers of this blog with my new enthusiasm for the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, less than a month away.  But I hope you understand. 

Chau foliageHowever, when falling in love with something new it would be ungracious in the extreme to forget the familiar — and, in this case, the familiar (but ecstatic) is Joe Boughton’s western New York State extravaganza, Jazz at Chautauqua.  This year the dates are September 17-20. 

I know all of the reasons people decide not to go to jazz parties.  The money.  Their health.  The potential inconvenience.  The economy.  And so on.  I would be remiss if I suggested that any of these reasons should be ignored.  But I am writing this post, of my own accord, to tempt people into Pleasure.

Although at times the modern world seems to be a gaudy hedonistic circus, I still think that Pleasure gets a bad rap.  We’re always urged to hang out with Prudence, that rather severe woman in the corner.  You know — she’s drinking water when everyone else is having Campari; she doesn’t eat anything fried, ever . . . she knows what’s in her 401K plan to the penny.  Prudence will outlive all of us.  But is she having any fun?  Do her investments make her tap her foot and bob her head?

Here endeth the sermon.  I’ll suggest, however, what the Beloved and I are looking forward to at this year’s Chautauqua:

Leaves under our feet in the walkways between the houses.  Stories, on and off the bandstand, from that bow-tied master of badinage Marty Grosz.  Joe Wilder playing SAMBA DE ORFEU.  Jon-Erik Kellso saying naughty things through his plunger mute.  Jim Dapogny rocking the piano in the parlor with a song no one’s ever heard before.  Newcomers Andy Brown (guitar), Petra van Nuis (vocal), Ehud Asherie (piano), and Tom Pletcher (cornet) making everyone lean forward, intently, when they play.  Andy Schumm, Dave Bock, and Tom bringing Bix into the Hotel Athenaeum.  Duke Heitger leading the troops through some romping ensemble.  Dan Block and Harry Allen caressing a ballad.  Rebecca Kilgore being tender or perky, as required.  Dan Barrett being himself.  Vince Giordano, likewise, and leading the best version of the Nighthawks anyone could imagine.   

I can hear it now!

I can hear it now!

That’s only a small sampling, and I mean no disrespect to the musicians I’ve left out of my list. 

So perhaps you might consider slipping out the side door while dour Prudence squats watchfully in the kitchen, making sure that no one puts butter on their bagel.  You can always explain to Prudence when you get back!  Tell her that it was your moral duty to be there.  Moral duty she understands.  And perhaps you can bring her a CD, too.

For details, prices, and availability, you can visit the Allegheny Jazz Society website at www.alleghenyjazz.com, or call the ever affable Apryl Sievert at the Hotel Athenaeum (1-800-821-1881.)  Remember, no one has yet invented a way to make carpe diem work retrospectively.

“WHERE’D YOU GET THOSE EYES?”

Daryl Sherman knows the answer to that question, and so much more.  Here she is, having the time of everyone’s life, on June 8, 2009, at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, paying tribute to Johnny Mercer — with the able help of Wycliffe Gordon, who also seems to be enjoying himself. 

The song (music by Harry Warren) comes from an otherwise frail movie, GOING PLACES, where Louis Armstrong sang it to a horse, conveniently named “Jeepers Creepers.”  This must have been one of those films where Faulkner, Huxley, or Fitzgerald had nothing to do with the screenplay.  But the equine clamor Wycliffe invents late in his solo is obviously a tribute to Louis, the film, and — dare I say it? — his own brand of horseplay.

If you’d like to hear more of Miss Sherman and Mister Gordon paying tribute to Mister Mercer, check out Daryl’s new Arbors CD — it’s a beauty!

SMILING JO JONES

As a high school student, I supplemented my intermittent jazz record purchases by listening to the records available at my local public library.  One of the librarians was hip.  Someone had good taste!  The collection included Ellington and George Lewis, Jimmy Rushing and Vic Dickenson, Benny Goodman and “The Sound of Jazz,” among others.  On those records — particularly the Vanguard sessions supervised in the early and middle Fifties by John Hammond — I first heard the sound of Jo Jones, his swishing hi-hat cymbals, his emphatic rimshots, his irresistible swing. 

I had already fallen in love with the propulsion and pure sounds of Catlett and Wettling, but Jo was a revelation: I can still hear the way he brought the band in on Vic’s RUNNIN’ WILD, or the three perfectly placed accents (all different) he used to propel Tommy Ladnier in a fast WEARY BLUES at the 1938 “From Spirituals to Swing” concert.  And, a little later, when I bought my first Billie Holiday records, the Kansas City Fiva and Six, the Decca Basie band . . . I wanted to hear every record Jo Jones had ever been part of.   

Here is Jo — exuberant, explosive, grinning, soloing at the end of a fast blues, on a 1957 Nat King Cole television show devoted to Norman Granz and the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe.  This clip begins at the end of Roy Eldridge’s solo (in mid-scream) and at the end Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, and Ray Brown are visible:

But that clip gives way to my own memories of Jo in person, onstage and off. 

This post is motivated by a recent conversation I had with the Beloved about the subject of retiring from one’s job, leaving a career behind.  I told her one of the stories below and she said, astonished, “You spoke to Jo Jones?  Smiling Jo Jones?” hence my title. 

Not only did I speak to Jo Jones: I took this photograph of him in 1981:

Jo Jones at the West End Cafe

Jo Jones at the West End Cafe

True, the shot is amateurish: a head is in the way, my flash’s explosion is visible, the overall hue suggests Halloween . . . but Jo’s slow-motion mallet, on its ways down, pleases me greatly.  And the photo evidence that I was there, capturing this moment, which is no small thing.

Many other moments come back to me now. 

My friend Stu Zimny found out, sometime before 1972, that one could see Jo at Frank Ippolito’s drum shop.  We decided to go there, as if we were making a pilgrimage to some sacred place.  Was Jo holding court there, as befits an artist and aristocrat, or was he making a few dollars in a job unworthy of him, as I have read?  I don’t know.  I do remember buying a pair of 5B parade drumsticks from him — to practice with — and snippets of this conversation. 

In person, Jo was animated, inscrutable, vehement.  Something in his manner and approach defied easy explanation.  It felt as if we were speaking to a character in a play — and only Jo had the script.  There was also some element of unpredictability, even of danger, as if he might suddenly get furious at you in the middle of a conversation, as I saw happen with Ruby Braff.   

(Ruby, incidentally, told us a wonderful story about working with Jo at Storyville, almost twenty years earlier: Jo would never say, “Let’s play ROSETTA,” but start a rhythmic pattern and tempo on his hi-hat or snare and leave it up to the musician to guess which tune might best go with that tempo.  Ruby shook his head in disbelief when he recalled, somewhat in desperation, picking some song that he thought might be fine at that tempo, and Jo saying, “That’s it!  You got it!” as if Ruby had telepathically found the answer.  “I don’t play with him any more.  He’s nuts,” said Ruby.) 

Even when speaking to people he knew and liked, Jo had a particular tone of voice that in someone else might have been ironic verging on contemptuous.  But with him it was a form of emphasis.  You could hear capital letters, boldface, italics in his voice.  And he had a fierce energy in his speech: a conversation with him was like being strapped into a centrifuge, an untiring monologue, rising and falling. 

Spotting Jo at Ippolito’s, I imagine that we introduced ourselves as jazz listeners, fans, admirers.  And then one of us asked Jo where we could hear him play.  Was he gigging anywhere?   

He looked at us with weary resignation, two innocent Caucasian college boys who had asked a silly question.

“I’m re-ti-red,” he said, by way of explanation.  “I don’t play the drums anymore.  Leave all that to the kiddies,” he continued.  We couldn’t believe it, and asked him again.  He wasn’t playing any gigs, no festivals?  All he would say was that he was “re-ti-red.”  If we needed a drummer, he suggested that we call Buddy Rich.  Stu points out that Jo offered no contact information for Buddy.  

We went away from that encounter half grieving, half amazed.  We had gone to the mountaintop to meet one of the elders, to receive counsel and inspiration, and the elder had said he had packed it in.

The sequel to all this is that some months later we saw Jo’s name prominently advertised as one of the musicians who would appear in the Newport-New York Jazz Festival.  I think, now, that he had been putting us on.  But perhaps in his own head he had decided to retire.      

In the next decade, we had the opportunity to see him in a variety of situations: concert halls and jazz clubs.  He drove Benny Carter’s SWING MASTERS at their 1972 concert appearance (a band that included Joe Thomas, Benny Morton, Buddy Tate, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and an out-of-tune Bernard Addison) and took a long solo in the middle of SLEEP — a virtuosic exercise that stopped the song and the show.  Two years later, he appeared at the Newport “Hall of Fame,” as part of a quintet with Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Wilson, and Hinton, his playing was immaculate, sensitive, not showy — Hackett turned the last bridge in “Body and Soul” over to Jo, who filled the air with urging, whispering brush strokes and accents.  

Tom Piazza, then a student at Williams College, arranged a concert of the jazz elders — when such things were still possible: Milt Hinton, Roy Eldridge, Benny Morton, Budd Johnson, Claude Hopkins, and Jo.  Stu and I went there, armed with a heavy tape recorder, and (in the face of numerous obstacles: an inebriated Budd, a student running the sound board who turned the record level up and down for no reason, an over-exuberant audience) we focused on the band.  Jo traded eights and fours with Milt on a leisurely STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, and did his volcanic version of CARAVAN, with every grimace, every surprise firmly choreographed. 

He smiled incessantly when he played: he glowed.  But when we saw Jo in clubs, at close range, he often appeared to be brimful of some barely contained anger.  And though we had come to the gig hoping to hear something delicate, witty — that magical hi-hat sound, those quietly insistent brushes that had levitated so many recordings — he would beat out the time loudly, indefatigably, on a brassily resonant ride cymbal.  It was clear that there were two Jonathan David Samuel Joneses: one, the player we had heard on records, lifting the band with what Donne called “gold to airy thinness beat”; the other, furious at something, wanting to control it by pure sound and pure volume.  Stanley Dance told me about producing a 1961 session that paired Jo with some Ellington alumni — Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby, Ray Nance, Sir Charles Thompson — and Jo being infuriated about something, then playing as loudly as he could. 

I recall several instances of this irritation-translated-into-music.  When there was a ragtag band of “Basie alumni” assembled at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage: sic transit gloria mundi), Jo walloped the ride cymbal as if wanting to drown everyone out.  At a short-lived spinoff of the Half Note, “The Onliest Place,” a venture that lasted only a few weekends, Jo led a little band one night.  If I remember correctly, it included bassist Tommy Bryant, Ben Richardson on clarinet, Skeeter Best on guitar, and one or two other players.  They embarked on a nearly forgotten Thirties pop tune, CALL ME DARLING, which was not terribly familiar, and some members of the band got lost.  I can hear Jo shouting, “The middle!  The middle!” although I am not sure that this advice averted chaos.  Irritability and delighted in-jokes always characterized his appearances with “The Countsmen,” a group that included Doc Cheatham, Benny Morton, Earle Warren, Buddy Tate, Chuck Folds, Franklyn Skeete, and Jo.   

Jo could play magically in clubs, though.  I remember going to Gregory’s, a tiny room, to hear Ellis Larkins and Al Hall.  That duo played splendid embroidered jazz for one set and then Jo walked in, unfurled his newspaper, took out a set of folding wire brushes, spread the paper on a chair, and played with elegance, amusement, and grace.   

At the West End Cafe, thanks to Phil Schaap, Jo had a fairly steady gig: “Jo Jones and Friends,” which was most often a quartet of Harold Ashby on tenor, a pianist (sometimes Don Coates), and bassist John Ore, who had played with Monk.  One rainy night in particular stands out.  It was time for the band to begin and Ore had not arrived.  Jo began his sets with a medium-tempo blues in G, and, muttering to himself, he set the tempo by tapping his snare drum with his fingers.  Ashby soloed; the pianist soloed, and when it came to the two or four choruses that would have been taken by Ore, Jo grimaced, muttered loudly and incomprehensibly to himself, and played choruses of accompaniment — as if Ore had been there — with the tenor and piano silent.  It was mildly eerie.  Ore came in soon after, apologized for being late (he lived in Brooklyn), but it took the rest of the night for Jo to become calmer.      

One summer on Long Island, I read that Buddy Tate would be bringing a band, including Jo, to play a free outdoor concert somewhere miles from Manhattan on the North Fork.  It may have been Southold.  We drove out there and saw Tate’s outfit play the first half of the concert, with some of their members, including Jo, missing.  Jo’s son may have subbed for his father on drums.  Eventually, much later, a fire engine drove up, with a few cars following.  Jo came out of one of them.  They had gotten lost and asked directions at a firehouse.  I would like to report that the Tate band, plus Jo, played magnificently, but that wasn’t the case.  The group reassembled itself, and Jo demanded his feature on CARAVAN.  It went on, no nuance or flourish omitted, for something like eleven minutes.  After that, there was only time for Tate to play a hasty LESTER LEAPS IN, and the concert ended.  Perhaps it was because of episodes like this that when we mentioned Jo’s name to musicians of a certain era, their expressions grew wary and guarded.  “He’s crazy, man,” was the response we got from more than one well-established player.

But he could be politely accessible to fans.  I recall approaching him at the West End, before the gig had started, with a new vinyl copy of a record, FOR BASIE.  I had bought it that afternoon and hoped that Jo would autograph it for me.  Recorded in 1957 for Prestige-Swingville, it brought together Shad Collins on trumpet, Paul Quinichette on tenor, Nat Pierce on piano, Walter Page on bass (one of his last recordings), and Jo.  The cover picture showed Jo in a heavy flannel buffalo-plaid shirt with wide suspenders over it, and he grew animated and showed the other musicians at the table.  “See that?” he demanded of them.  “That is style!” he insisted, happily.  And he autographed the back side of the cover in a large ornate hand.  When he was through signing, he said to me that he had never heard the music.  I could take a hint, and offered him this copy (I had another at home).  I hope that it gave him pleasure. 

At another, later West End gig, I had with me a new record, OUR MAN, PAPA JO! — on the Denon label, which had a picture of Jo in full glower at his drum set, on the cover.  Thinking that one can never have too many Jo Jones signatures, I asked him to autograph this one also.  He stared at the cover, held it at arm’s length.

This will keep the burglars from your house!” he gleefully told me. 

In 1981 and early 1982, he was getting more frail and having more difficulty.  Jo played with great delicacy at a “Salute to Pres” concert, offering his familiar dancing trades with Milt Hinton — but he had to be helped up on the drum throne.  At the last West End gig I recall, playing was becoming more and more arduous for him.  When I heard about him next it was the news of his death in 1985.

Photographer Richard H. Merle was at Jo’s funeral, and he caught this poignant moment of Max Roach at Jo’s coffin — the flag draped over the back because Jo had served  — with great reluctance — in the Army in World War Two. 

 

Jo Jones Funeral

Jo Jones’s body has been gone for almost twenty-five years.  Yet his sound remains, and his smile — like the Cheshire Cat’s — has never been effaced.  

Copyright 1985 by Richard H. Merle.  All rights reserved.

TAKING HIS TIME

No matter how fast the tempo becomes, the greatest jazz players don’t rush.  They breathe between phrases, they don’t hurry; in fact, they often seem to float above the rhythm.  In these live performances, captured yesterday (June 16, 2009) by YouTube’s SFRaeAnn, pianist Ray Skjelbred once again shows his greatness, the easy splendor of his style. 

Here’s Ray’s version of the 1928 Armstrong – Hines classic, TWO DEUCES:

And his relaxed, mournful TISHOMINGO BLUES:

Lucky people who can visit Pier 23 in San Francisco and see Ray Skjelbred weave such spells!

KATIE CAVERA, FILM MAKER

I knew of Katie Cavera as a fine rhythm guitarist and a charming, unaffected singer — but I didn’t know that she was such an adept film maker . . . as evidenced by her YouTube film of the California band Gremoli, sauntering through IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE at the Montrose Farmer’s Market.  I feel very bad about the poor chickens on the spit, but (once warned) viewers can avert their eyes.  Wish I was there to put a twenty in the band’s tip jar!

NEW FAVORITES!

Since I am old-fashioned and like my recorded music in tangible form (no liner notes on a mp3 download) I surround myself with compact discs in arrangements both vertical and horizontal.  However, this post is not about Jazz Decor, but to celebrate three new discs that readers should know about.  And, even better, they are performances by living musicians, people you could actually see and hear in person. 

chasing_shadowsThe first is CHASING SHADOWS, by “Spats and his Rhythm Boys.”  (WVR 1005) “Spats,” of course, is singer / plectrist Spats Langham, who’s appeared on this site in a video clip.  On this disc, he’s accompanied by trumpeter Mike Durham, trombonist Paul Munnery, reed wizard Norman Field, Keith Nichols on piano and accordion, John Carstairs Hallam, string bass, Frans Sjostrom, bass sax, Nick Ward, drums, and Mike Piggott, violin.  The sessions were recorded in November 2008, and a glance at the tune listing will tell all: Spats and friends are thoroughly steeped in the “hot jazz with vocal refrain” of the late Twenties, extended forward into the late Thirties (from Cliff Edwards and Bing Crosby to Jimmy Rushing and Putney Dandridge): CRAZY WORDS, CRAZY TUNE / CHASING SHADOWS / I’M IN THE SEVENTH HEAVEN / CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS / HANG ON TO ME / ME AND THE MOON / ACCORDION JOE / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / BROWN BOTTLE BLUES / WHAT DO I CARE WHAT SOMEBODY SAID? / HALFWAY TO HEAVEN / SMILIN’ SAM / OH, IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN / HIAWATHA’S LULLABY / YOU DO THE DARNEDEST THINGS, BABY / SWING BRIDGE STOMP.

Like Barbara Rosene and a very few other singers, Spats isn’t trying to offer CD-quality imitations of the original recordings.  Rather, he gets inside the idiom, so that you hear the sound of the period, the rhythmic energy, the delicate ornamentations — but it’s all new.  And hugely entertaining!  He has a light tenor voice, but he has listened thoroughly to Crosby and post-Crosby as well.  On this disc, his singing is thoroughly integrated into a hot improvising ensemble.  I would have wanted this CD because of Sjostrom, Field, Nichols, and Ward — but the best surprise is the playing of trumpeter Mike Durham.  Many trumpeters are in love with the sheer power of their instrument; they shout and carry on.  Mike can, of course, do this capably — leading an ensemble majestically.  But his more usual mode of expression is tender, inquiring, almost pleading.  You need to hear him if you haven’t already!  And his composition SMILIN’ SAM (dedicated to his happy grandson) is a wonderful mood piece with Norman Field on bass clarinet — instantly memorable. 

For information about ordering this CD, visit http://uk.geocities.com/mdurham@btinternet.com/wjrk/recordings.htm.  By email, contact mikedurham_jazz@hotmail.com., or (the old-fashioned way) write to WVR Records at 60 Highbury, Newcatle upon Tyne, NE2 2LN. 

Ray Skjelbred CDI’ve been listening to pianist Ray Skjelbred and drummer Hal Smith for some time in a variety of settings — Ray, playing Frank Melrose songs or cowboy ballads, Hal, rocking every band he’s ever been with.  Ray’s new CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO (Jazzology Records, recorded August 2008), is a real winner, featuring delectable hot jazz from Ray, Hal, clarinetist Kim Cusack, guitarist Katie Cavera, and Clint Baker on a variety of songs, familiar and rare, each one with deep associations: OH, BABY (DON’T SAY NO, SAY “MAYBE”) / SUGAR / MY GALVESTON GAL / IT’S BEEN SO LONG / I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS / BULL FROG BLUES / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / IDOLIZING / I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS / FRIARS POINT SHUFFLE / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN / SHANGHAI HONEYMOON / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / UP A LAZY RIVER / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / AM I BLUE? / LAUGHING AT YOU / RING DEM BELLS.  This group knows how, through long playing experience, to approach each song on its own terms — wistful or fiery — and the down-home vocals by each member of the quintet are charming.  I have a special fondness for the repertoire of the early Red Allen Vocalions, and my hunger has been satisfied by this band’s versions of MY GALVESTON GAL and I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS.  (But it sure sounds good to me!)  This one’s available through Jazzology and perhaps other places online: for information, visit   http://www.jazzology.com/index.php.

GILL 3Finally, a sentimental favorite.  When I encountered guitarist / singer / multi-instrumentalist John Gill in a club in 2007, he casually told me that he was planning to record a tribute to Bing Crosby, focusing on the dreamy (and often swinging) repertoire of 1931-35.  As politely as I could, I beseeched John to let me be part of this project: Crosby is one of my heroes, and that period of Crosbyana is a consistent delight.  John, most graciously, invited me to the sessions and I ended up writing the notes for the CD, which was immensely rewarding.  The performances on this disc are sweet evocations with a pulsing jazz heart — accompaniment and solos by Jon-Erik Kellso (cornet and trumpet), Jim Fryer (trombone), Matt Munisteri (guitar and banjo), Orange Kellin, Dan Levinson, Marc Phaneuf (reeds), Conal Fowkes (piano), Kevin Dorn (drums), Brian Nalepka (bass and tuba), Andy Stein, Matt Szemela (violins).  The songs are beautiful and well-chosen: DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? / HAPPY-GO-LUCKY YOU / A FADED SUMMER LOVE / STAR DUST / I SURRENDER, DEAR / I FOUND A MILLION-DOLLAR BABY / IF I HAD YOU / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / STREET OF DREAMS / BABY – OH WHERE CAN YOU BE? / SWEET LEILANI – BLUE HAWAII / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / MUDDY WATER / I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE / PLEASE / WERE YOU SINCERE? / WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THE MEAN LOW-DOWN / RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET / WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT MEETS THE GOLD OF THE DAY / JUST ONE MORE CHANCE / LEARN TO CROON / OUT OF NOWHERE.

I managed to make two of the three sessions, and when I walked into the first one and the band was running through DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? — well, I was transported.  John’s vocals are touching; the band is sensitive and danceable; the session is a priceless tribute.  The CD is available at a variety of online sources (Jazz By Mail, Worlds Records) but the nicest thing would be to buy a copy directly from John himself at a New York gig.  He’ll be happy to sign it, too.  (And he has enough material for another volume or two: I hope to hear him record RIDIN’ ROUND IN THE RAIN someday.)

P.S.  I know all about the economy, and if your restaurant has closed or you are looking for work, I apologize for suggesting that you buy things that are perhaps less essential than coffee or shoes.  But if you’re managing to limp along with some degree of optimism, if you’ve decided that your aging car can hold out another year or that you don’t really need a new suit to go with the others in the closet, then you might consider one or all of these new CDs.  For less than the cost of a prix-fixe dinner, they lift the spirits.

JAZZ SUSTAINS US

I don’t think I ever heard an actual solo by the acoustic guitarist Huey Long on the recordings he made with Fletcher Henderson and Lil Armstrong, but no matter.  Guitarists then were expected to keep good time, move subtly from chord to chord, and blend with the band — which he did ably.  He comes to our notice today because of a long and detailed obituary in the New York Times.  What a wonderful long creative life he had!  Some of it, no doubt, is the result of character and genetics, but a good part must also be traced to the healing, energizing powers of the music we love.  Hail, Huey Long!

Here’s a link to his obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/13/arts/music/13long.html

OUR NEW YORK JAZZ HOLIDAY (June 7-10, 2009)

It wasn’t really a holiday.  I still had to get up and go to work, which I proudly did, even when mildly wobbly.  The Beloved had her deadlines to meet, too. 

But last Sunday – Wednesday were a jazz feast in New York City, and (remembering my loyal readers who don’t always get to the same gigs we do) I brought my trusty video camera.* 

I won’t rhapsodize about the music.  As Charlie Parker told the terminally unhip Earl Wilson, “Music speaks louder than words.” 

The week began on Sunday (that’s The Ear Inn calendar rather than the Julian or the Georgian) at 8 PM, when New Orleanian Duke Heitger joined Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, and Neal Miner for hot, soulful jazz.  Here, from the first set, is a rollicking yet serious WEARY BLUES:

Those who know their Hot History will already be aware that Duke comes from a musical family (his father, Ray, is a splendid clarinetist) but that Duke himself was inspired to dig deeper and soar higher by his exposure to another Michigander, Maestro Kellso.  So this was a playing reunion of two friends, brotherly improvisers. 

The second set at the Ear usually brings surprises.  Trombonist Harvey Tibbs had joined the band at the end of the first set, and he was joined by Dan Block on clarinet and the truly divine Tamar Korn, who sings with the Cangelosi Cards. 

Tamar’s final song (of three) was a genuinely ethereal MOONGLOW — and even the rocking head of the woman in front of me couldn’t distract me from the beauty Tamar and the band created.  Not only did Tamar become one lonely Mills Brother; she became Eddie South; she sang most touchingly.  And, in the middle, Jon-Erik and Duke growled, moaned, and plunged; then Harvey and Dan summoned up the ghosts of Lawrence Brown and Barney Bigard.  When it was all over, Jackie Kellso turned to me and reverently said, “That has to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” and I wasn’t about to argue with her. 

Monday found the Beloved and myself dressed up for a visit to the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel — where singer / pianist Daryl Sherman was performing a centennial tribute to Johnny Mercer with the help of Wycliffe Gordon, James Chirillo, and Boots Maleson.  Daryl, bless her, gave my favorite unknown Mercer song its “live premiere,” as a sweet duet with Wycliffe.  THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN, for that’s its name, has never been performed much — but its classic debut was on a 1934 Decca session where Mercer himself sang it (he was a wonderfully wry singer) with the help of Jack Teagarden, Sterling Bose, and Dick McDonough.  The recording’s hard to find but it is a prize, as is this performance, impish and sweet at the same time.  (Matilda, the Algonquin’s resident cat, now thirteen, was snooty as always to us, but beauty is its own burden, even if you’re a Ragdoll.  Perhaps especially so?)

Tuesday found us uptown at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse for a duet session by Duke and pianist Ehud Asherie.  They began with a dreamily romantic YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME at a slow tempo, which suggested to me that the advantage-taking was something sought after.  Without imitating anyone, Duke evoked Ruby Braff and Bobby Hackett; Ehud’s stroll had the leisurely pace of great slow-motion stride playing. 

Then, the duo performed one of my favorite 1939-40 Basie classics, Lester Young’s dancing TICKLE-TOE, with true gliding style.

Duke and Ehud then decided to explore ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (thought by some to be the sole property of “modern” jazzmen — how wrong such narrow thinking is!) — complete with its lovely verse.

Trombonist John Allred, who had been waiting for his steak to arrive, decided to jump forward to dessert, so he joined Duke and Ehud for a rousing TEA FOR TWO:

Duke and Ehud then created a sprinting version of James P. Johnson’s RUNNIN’ WILD:

After dinner, John came back for a jubilant THEM THERE EYES:

 On Wednesday, I met the Beloved at Birdland (which could be the title of a good Thirties pop song) for a special assemblage — David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (David, Anat Cohen, Dion Tucker, Kevin Dorn) plus guests Duke Heitger and Dick Hyman.  Here they are for a beautiful, hymnlike reading of Ellington’s SOLITUDE.  Duke’s Louis-lyricism and Hyman’s chiming chords are specially moving here:

Clarinetist and prankster Ken Peplowski had been in the club (before the music began) for an informal photo shoot, and he came onstage to join them for a frisky version of Don Redman’s HEAH ME TALKIN’ TO YA (or YOU, for the formal):

 

More to come!  Watch this space! 

*The asterisk is to remind any cinematic auteurs that my cinematography is at best functional: the music’s the thing, no matter how many people walk through my shot or sit in front of my lens.  I haven’t managed to make any dark, cluttered, noisy club into an ideal set, but I keep trying.

TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS!

As a characteristically generous response to my post on the trumpeter Joe Thomas, my longtime friend Rob Rothberg sent me pictures of these two records from his collection.  It isn’t exaggeration to say that they made me catch my breath.

 GWet

That would be enough — that it happens to be a magnificent record is not at all incidental.  But here’s something much more remarkable:

BigSid

The whole notion of “getting an autograph” is reasonably strange but I’ve always found it irresistible.  Why should we stand in line or wait shyly, reverently for One of Our Heroes to write his or her name on something — be it an index card, a menu, a record label or jacket, even now a CD’s liner notes? 

Comes the day everything exists only in cyber-space without any tangible reality, what will we ask someone to sign?  “Oh, Mr. Jazzman!  Would you autograph my mp3 download, which neither of us can see?”  But I digress.

I waited for Joe Thomas, Louis, Bobby Hackett, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton,  Ruby Braff, Jo Jones, Zoot Sims, Bob Wilber, and a half-dozen others to sign their names for me, and I recall each instance.  From this distance, it seems as if I was asking the musician to acknowledge me and take notice of me, a worshipful hearer holding out a rare record, some treasured music.  That signing his name for a stranger was an odd ritual that did not mean a great deal to the musician didn’t matter at the moment. 

Acquiring an autograph has a great deal to do with the urge we all have to give our memories physical shape; an autograph gave me something I could pretend was unique to take home as well as the sounds captured in my memory and my cassette recorder.  Occasionally, my hero would say, “What’s your name?” and inscribe the record jacket to me — a small sweet polite moment which made me feel seen.

For the musicians, the act of signing autographs had long since become a task to be performed between sets when they would much rather have been left in peace to chat with their peers, a responsibility they had to take care of before going home.  Cultivating their audience, perhaps.    

But to have something that Sidney Catlett or George Wettling touched!  To me, these two record labels are miraculous relics of our own saints.