Daily Archives: June 22, 2009

“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.

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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.