Daily Archives: December 9, 2009

A JOHNNY DODDS SIGHTING

It’s been almost seventy years since anyone could hope to glimpse Johnny Dodds in the flesh . . . so this will have to do.  

The Beloved and I were seriously downtown in New York City a few weeks ago, on our way to a presentation.  She spotted a little antique store — “A Repeat Performance,” 156 First Avenue (212. 529.0832) and we walked in.  It’s a long narrow shop, crammed with more than the eye can take in — but all of it neatly arranged, including vintage clothing, musical instruments, typewriters, books.  My eye was caught and held immediately by an elementary-school style phonograph near the entrance.  (I find phonographs captivating, having spent so much of my life in front of them, and the equation is not complicated.  Phonograph = Music = Pleasure.)  

But what really drew me was the 78 on the turntable.  It was a Bluebird 78, which might have resulted in something less than enthralling: Charlie Barnet or Freddy Martin.  But not this time.  I stood still, picked it up, admired its shiny surface, and asked the proprietor, as casually as I could, “How much do you want for this?”  “Five dollars,” she said, perhaps seeing something in my eye that said she had a customer’s interest in something that clearly was worth more than fifty cents.  “Done,” I said, paid her, and we went on our way — because otherwise I would have made us seriously late.

I’ve heard this music before on various vinyl issues, but never seen it on a shiny Bluebird 78 reissue, I presume ten or so years after it was first recorded.  All hail Johnny Dodds! 

We haven’t found our way back to that shop yet, but I wonder what other treasures are there.  Where there’s one jazz record, usually there are more . . . hiding.

TWO SHADES OF “BLUE”

Jazz is full of songs that have BLUE in the title that aren’t actually blues, whether 8, 12, or 16 bars.  And the EarRegulars played two of the nicest ones last Sunday night, December 6, 2009, at The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, New York City).

For that night, the EarRegulars were anchored by their co-founders, Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri.  The other members of the quartet were trombonist Harvey Tibbs and bassist (often vocalist) Nicki Parrott.

Harvey Tibbs is a quiet, jovial person — not someone looking for his moment in the spotlight, so he hasn’t received as much recognition as his talent deserves.  It’s a real pity: although I’ve heard him play with the Gully Low Jazz Band and with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks in person, and with Buck Clayton’s Swing Legacy Band on CD, I’ve never heard him lead an ensemble for a gig.  He knows a wide variety of music and would fit in anywhere.  His style is low-key but effective: his technique never outruns his feeling, and he fits his playing into the song, rather than the reverse.  Officially, he was Sergeant First Class with the West Point Jazz Knights for 22 years, and he continues to pop up in a variety of settings (from “swing dance” bands to “Dixieland” and “Latin” bands and the pit orchestras of Broadway shows.  Listen closely to what he plays on these two selections: his fellow musicians know just how fine a player he is. 

Nicki Parrott is such an ebullient personality on the stand — singing or not — that audiences have been seriously distracted from her fine bass playing, which has continued to develop as she plays alongside different musicians in a variety of settings.  At the Ear (as well as at Chautauqua), I admired Nicki’s steady time, her thoughtful, melodic phrasing (she knows how to take a breath!) and her innate swing. 

Jon-Erik and Matt were themselves . . . nothing more needs to be said!

My videos include the back of a pretty grey-haired woman’s head.  I didn’t ask her to move, because she is Jon-Erik’s sweetly amiable Aunt Debby, whose presence added to the video rather than detracted from it.

The first “blues” was the Twenties novelty tune, BLUES (MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME), made famous in a jazz context by Jimmy Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra, although I am sure it was a hit in vaudeville as well.  Here it’s taken at a vigorous Condon-in-the Fifties tempo:

The quartet also ventured into Benny Carter’s pretty, moody BLUES IN MY HEART, which dates from 1931 but still sounds so fresh:

These compositions are not official “blues,” but are unmistakably rewarding jazz.