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.