Daily Archives: October 26, 2009

PETRA and ANDY REWARD US

One of the many pleasures of the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua was hearing Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown perform in front of a live audience, and I think the performance clips I’ve posted are solid evidence of their talents.  I was hoping that the duo’s new CD would provide the same experience.  Sometimes, of course, magic dissolves in the recording studio amid attempts to make recordings flawless.     

But I need not have worried.  Petra and Andy’s new CD is splendid.

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Where to begin?  (Once we’ve taken in the picture of the happy good-looking couple above . . . )  The songs on the CD are DESTINATION MOON, FAR AWAY PLACES, FROM THIS MOMENT ON, I’LL NEVER STOP LOVING YOU, CARAVAN, BORN TO BLOW THE BLUES, LET’S DO IT, BIM BOM (a solo for Andy), A COTTAGE FOR SALE, HOW LITTLE WE KNOW, INVITATION, ME MYSELF AND I, WITH A SONG IN MY HEART. 

That song list speaks to a wide-ranging and discerning knowledge of the great songs of the last eighty or so years, a delight in itself: Porter, Ellington, Robison, Rodgers, and some delightful oddities.  I know, for instance, that DESTINATION MOON is attached to a film of the same name and it even appears on a Lester Young live date c. 1950, but how many people have ever recorded it?  (If you don’t know the song, imagine IN MY MERRY OLDSMOBILE updated to the era of fantasy rocket travel.)  And BORN TO BLOW THE BLUES is associated with Marilyn Moore — but I haven’t heard it in ages.  But this CD isn’t a high-toned musical archeology lesson, either.

Andy Brown, first: barring a half-dozen I admire, most jazz guitarists have become entranced, Narcissus staring at their own reflection in the shiny body of the Gibson or Macaferri, with the endless possibilities of their own technique.  (You could blame Charlie Parker or Jimi Hendrix for this, but we’re here to celebrate.)  So the notes pour out in what sound like endless streams; the fingers fly.  Few guitarists seem to understand the value of space, of breathing pauses, of logical solo construction — with music delivered at an intelligible rate.  Andy could cover the fingerboard, digits a blur, if he chose to.  But he knows better.  So his playing unfolds beautifully in its own song, no matter what tempo or what chords.  He loves melody; he can swing any band several steps closer to Heaven with his chordal strum, and he is an absolutely flawless team-player, never fixated on the limelight.  Accompanying a singer isn’t easy, either, but Andy is rather like a tactful, energized conversationalist at the party: he has things to tell us, he has comments to offer and support by the bucketful, but he never tries to outshine Petra.

And Petra?  The first thing I noticed about Petra (before I had heard her in person) was the focus she brought to her songs.  She isn’t one of these gospel whoopers; she hasn’t channelled Aretha or Billie; she isn’t a Broadway belter.  All to the good, let me assure you.  It means that she doesn’t overact, that she fits the word to the deed and the notes to the emotion, never smudging a lyric to appear hip, never landing in the wrong place.  She can romp very happily (her enunciation is flawless, even in fourth gear) and she has a speaking presence.  And before I had heard this CD, I would have praised Petra for avoiding the dramatic excesses I hear from so many singers.  But then I heard her version of A COTTAGE FOR SALE, and I was just about stunned by its great dramatic range, mixing ruefulness, poignancy, and loss — without overacting so much as a hair.  It was pure feeling, captured beautifully.  I might never hear that song sung so heartbreakingly again.      

Both Petra and Andy get first place in my imagined TALENT DESERVING COSMIC RECOGNITION category!  Check out their websites — www.petrasings.com., and www.andybrownguitar.com — to find out such useful information as “May I hear some audio clips?” and, following quickly,”How can I buy these CDs?”

cdcover_recession7_smPsst!  Want something for free?  Go to Petra’s site and you’ll be able to see many more clips of this duo and other combinations . . . and you can listen to a four-tune demo CD of Petra with her RECESSION SEVEN, which is a sort of well-behaved small swing band (think Eddie Condon – Lee Wiley – Teddy Wilson – Mildred Bailey) including legendary Chicagoans Kim Cusack and Russ Phillips.

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RARE DISCS FOR SALE

I find it soothing to visit eBay on a regular basis to see what’s for sale and to muse about it. 

Our topic for today is 78 rpm jazz records, which used to be the only kind until the early Fifties.  I was somewhat overwhelmed the profusion of them on eBay — 1,183 items!  Of course, some of them had no business being in that category — a Dutch hand organ record, Clyde McCoy picture discs, records by Dinah Shore, Xavier Cugat . . . but there were more than enough authentic jazz rarities to make my head spin.  Here are some remarkable ones:

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The combination of the Gennett label and Earl Hines is a potent one.

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When was the last time you saw a Jack Purvis 78 for sale?

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Squirrel Ashcraft and the boys, when they were very youthful.

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Eddie sang on this one and apologized later . . . but it has Tesch, Sullivan, and Krupa, too.

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I think this is a song from an otherwise forgotten musical production; if memory serves, the other side is YOU HAVE MONEY, DON’T YOU? — a song title that doesn’t make my heart leap with anticipation.  I want to know what the record under this one is!

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Early Barry Harris and Frank Foster in Detroit, on the NEW SONG label.

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The other side of this Wardell Gray record is called THE TOUP, no kidding.

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I believe, although perhaps incorrectly, that this record has an early Jess Stacy solo passage; at least he remembered playing with this band.  (The leader would say, “Are you ready, Kittens?”  And they would have to answer “Meow!”  The life of a working musician.)

78 Fats Japan

And finally . . . an eBay seller is offering a dozen Japanese Victor Fats Waller and his Rhythm records . . . for some exorbitant price.  Who knew that Fats had such a reputation in Japan?  Did that country enter the Second World War because they wanted Fats to play for them?  It’s a theory no one, as far as I know, has yet explored.

The larger social significance of this list might be summarized quickly.  78s are unplayable artifacts for almost everyone in this iPod era and they look like valuable antiques that will fetch pleasing prices.  But the economy has made many people look for things to sell that they would otherwise have held on to.  Better that these records get sold on eBay to enthusiasts who can play them, so the music doesn’t vanish entirely.  Who knows how many wonderful 78s get thrown out when collectors die?  “Provide, provide,” as Robert Frost wrote.

43-30 46th STREET

I find this photograph of this commemorative plaque in Sunnyside, Queens (a New York City suburb) sad but also glorious: sad that Bix Beiderbecke lived so short a life, and that the plaque marks the building in which he died . . . but glorious in that his sound and spirit continue to inspire both listeners and musicians. 

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Thanks to Albert Haim, patriarch and guiding spirit of the Bixography Forum, for sharing this with us, and for Dan Saltzstein, who took the photograph of the plaque for the New York Times.  And if the Times can break away from its contemplation of the present day, its failing ad revenues, and rumors of the death of print journalism to celebrate Bix — even in death — that’s a good thing.

A NIGHT AT THE EMBERS

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Although I keep muttering to myself, “I really don’t like jazz violin all that much,” I find myself entranced by the new CD that the jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett has just issued on his ABFable label.  It features about an hour of live jazz from the Embers night club — with pianist Joe Bushkin, violin wizard Stuff Smith, under-praised bassist Whitey Mitchell, and the irreplaceable Jo Jones.  In addition, there’s a fourteen-minute solo private tape of Stuff, solo, exploring some of his compositions, as “Sketches for a Symphony.”

Is it the rarity of the performances?  I admit that might initially be captivating — but if you gave me the most unknown / rarest music by someone whose work I couldn’t tolerate, I would listen for sixty seconds and take it off.  The music itself is splendid: Bushkin’s energetic playing (his characteristic arpeggios and ripples) never falters, and he seems to be having the time of his life, and his trumpet playing is much more convincing than I remember it as being.  (He must have been practicing!)  Stuff, although not featured throughout the hour, is in peak form, able to swing ferociously with the minimum of notes, possessed of true jazz passion.  Whitey Mitchell plays so well that he had me fooled: I would have sworn that Bushkin’s regular bassist, the beloved Milt Hinton, was there under an alias.  And then Jo Jones is in prime form, delighting in playing in this band.  He and Bushkin had a special rapport — I saw it once, years later, when they came into the midtown Eddie Condon’s and sat in with Ruby Braff and Milt Hinton for an extended, riotous YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY that became MOTEN SWING perhaps ten or twelve minutes later. 

But what captured me more than anything else was the intimacy of the two sessions presented here.  I was not attending jazz clubs in 1964, being too young, but the taping of the Embers session is done from the bandstand microphone (as far as I can tell) so we get all the musicians’ asides, the teasing, the inside jokes.  It has the feel of being part of the band — and part of a vanished scene, as when Bushkin ends the set by saying that they’ll be back at 2 AM, but they can be found at P.J. Clarke’s or The Strollers in the meantime.  And the private tape that Stuff made (for himself, or as a demonstration of themes for a larger work?) is entrancing because it is quite clearly a composer playing for himself: you can hear him breathe.  It’s a divine kind of eavesdropping on a Master. 

Barnett’s CDs have always been wonderful productions: the music is presented as clearly as the original sources allow, there are many rare photographs, the annotations are through without being stodgy. 

But wait!  There’s more!  Something to look forward to. . . .

b_cd024_lucidinThis one is scheduled for 2010.  Did you know that Stuff Smith had a radio gig (sponsored by an eye lotion, Lucidin) for which he assembled an all-star band, drawing on his own group and Chick Webb’s aggregation — including the youthful Ella Fitzgerald?  (An early broadcast for Lucidin had him leading a small combo with Jonah Jones, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson, with vocals by Helen Ward.)  I’ve heard some of this music, and it is spectacular — the height of the Swing Era, I think.  So look for this next year!  For more information (and to order any of Barnett’s CDs and books), visit www.abar.net.  Even if you think you don’t like jazz violin!

ABFable discs are available in the United States from CADENCE — the honest Jazz journal: www.cadencebuilding.com.

LEON OAKLEY SMILES!

“RaeAnn Berry” is, I believe, what it says on her driver’s license — but for fans of Hot Music, she’s “SFRaeAnn,” and we owe her many thanks for the jazz she posts with unflagging regularity on YouTube.  She takes her camera down to Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California, to record a few performance by Clint Baker’s All-Stars, and every week I watch the clips with pleasure.  Two tiny mysteries always are a part of the experience: Clint is truly multi-instrumental and multi-talented, so I always wonder, “What instrument(s) will he be playing this week?”  And most sessions feature the wonderful work of trumpeter Leon Oakley.  But Leon always looks serious, pensive, even when he’s just played a beautiful impromptu creation.  I was beginning to wonder about his worldview, although no unhappy man could play so well.

Thus, it is with elation and relief that I post two clips from the All-Stars’ performances of October 23, 2009.  And, rather like the advertisements for early sound pictures that told us GARBO TALKS! — I report with pleasure that 1) Leon is playing splendidly, beyond splendidly, and 2) he grins now and again through these two performances.  You had me worried, my man!

The first performance is EXACTLY LIKE YOU — which Leon starts off with a melodic improvisation instead of a straight melody line — quite fetching — and things get hotter from then on!

Then, a rarely-played Twenties favorite, paying tribute to that kid from New Orleans, PAPA DIP.  Here, I delight in Clint’s directing of musical traffic during the breaks.  Good job!

The other All-Stars are having a good time, as always: Clint on clarinet; Katie Cavera, banjo and vocal; Robert Young, alto and tenor sax; Jim Klippert, trombone; Bill Reinhart, bass; Tom Wilson, guitar; J. Hansen, drums.  Visit Clint at: http://www.clintbakerjazz.com