Daily Archives: August 5, 2009

DOGGIN’ AROUND, or SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Melissa Collard pointed out this YouTube extravaganza.  It has something for everyone: lovers of custom-made guitars, dog fanciers, ukulele mavens, conoisseurs of SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.  Of course it comes from the dynamic duo of West Coast string music, Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod:

Here’s Meredith’s commentary: “Craig Ventresco the Mad Scientist of the Strings (as I call him) plays Sweet Georgia Brown on ukulele. This feat is especially impressive because he has his dog sleeping in his lap the whole time.  He is one talented virtuoso!  (Craig’s not so bad either.  We almost had the dog play uke, but decided at the last minute to use Craig instead.)  I accompany him on a custom-made guitar build by Todd Cambio of Wisconsin.  The brand is Fraulini.  Dog is Mr. Woofles.  Mr. Woofles plays the ukulele about as well as Craig, and he also can perform operations in advanced algebra at the university level.”

I see a future for this trio!

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NORMAN FIELD’S HAPPY HARMONISTS, July 11, 2009

Before I saw him in the flesh at Whitley Bay, I had heard Norman Field on several CDs — the most extraordinary of them being a small group with Matthias Seuffert, Spats Langham, and Nick Ward on the Stomp Off, called  THE CHALUMEAU SERENADERS.  Many artists don’t live up to their recordings, but Norman transcends his.  In fact, when I had an opportunity to tell him this, he said, accepting my praise but deflecting it,”Imagine how good the old guys must have been because they came through the 78s so!”  Which nobody can deny.

Norman came through — inventive, witty, original yet steeped in jazz tradition — on every set I caught.  Here he is leading his own combo, the Happy Harmonists (named in honor of an early Twenties band that recorded for Gennett).  They were Andy Woon, cornet; Paul Munnery, trombone; Martin Litton, piano; Spats Langham, banjo / guitar; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Mike Piggott, violin; Debbie Arthurs, drums and percussion. (Late emendation: that’s stride wiz Paul Asaro on the first tune, Martin on the second.)

Here they are having a fine time on THE BALTIMORE (or BALTIMORE) — one of those Twenties songs whose writers hoped to launch a new (and rewarding) dance craze, like the Fox Trot, which obviously didn’t come to pass.  The song is fine, though:

Norman doesn’t solo at length on that song, but his colleagues float along on the buoyant ambiance he’s created: Spats, singing enthusiastically (as always), gruff Munnery, Bixish Woon, eloquent Frans (notice how everyone turns around to watch him as he solos), and the keepers of the rhythmic faith — Martin Litton, offering just the right chords behind soloists and Wallerizing in his brief passage, with Debbie rocking the beat on her snare, choke cymbal, and temple blocks.  Anthropologists will want to study this clip just for the nonverbal communication: we’ll split a chorus; let’s change key; time to conclude (all together now!).  Dance music of the highest order!

And the hypnotic Chicagoan favorite SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, which, I am told, actually was a dance.  Few bands know the routines these days; go back and study the Red Nichols version or, even better, the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans.  Or transcribe this rocking performance!

BENNY GOODMAN REHEARSES, 1945

BG rehearses“The first radio broadcast to emanate from Camp Kilmer was heard over 193 stations of the Blue Network on March 15 (1945?) when the “Victory Parade of Spotlight Bands,” featuring Benny Goodman and his orchestra, came to camp.  Here the “King of Swing” and the rest of the show hold rehearsal on the stage of Theater 4, which had been equipped for radio broadcasting.”

http://www.archives.gov/northeast/nyc/exhibits/camp-kilmer/

I hadn’t known about any of this — but my friend, jazz scholar David Weiner, sent it along.  Now I also know that there’s a New York City office of the National Archives — a place to visit!