Daily Archives: January 10, 2010

THE INTERNATIONAL “HOT” CONSPIRACY

There are always rumors of dark international conspiracies and cartels . . . but what of the jazz underground, a secret force for good? 

Eighty years ago, this generous conspiracy meant that someone would play you a record you hadn’t heard or even heard of — treasured OKeh of SINGIN’ THE BLUES or ORIENTAL STRUT — and change your life forever.  Or someone would tell you about this tenor player in Minneapolis you have to hear. 

Technology has changed the speed and the scope of these epiphanies, but the intent is the same. 

This morning I awoke to an email from the jazz enthusiast and scholar Andre G. Growald (of Sao Paulo, Brazil) telling me about a band I would like to hear — the Original Prague Syncopated Orchestra.  The clips are posted on YouTube by “indyhoppers,” who lives in Italy.  I watched the clips in Maui. 

I rest my case. 

It gets better.  In the first clip, four Czech musicians do their own version of the Rhythm Boys’ THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW, in Czech, of course:

Here the full orchestra takes off on PLEASURE MAD, a Sidney Bechet composition from 1924 which he updated in 1938 to VIPER MAD:

In both cases, they tend to speed up a bit, but that’s what weakness and pleasure-madness will do to you, I guess.  And this conspiracy is one that inspires me: may it keep flourishing!  And deep thanks to Andre and every other conspirator in the name of HOT.

“JONATHAN STOUT and his CAMPUS FIVE” SWING!

Perhaps it’s because I live in New York, but I had heard little about guitarist Jonathan Stout and his various swing ensembles until recently, but when I heard that Jonathan often employed pianist Chris Dawson and Hal Smith, when I read that he considers Allan Reuss his favorite rhythm guitarist . . . then I began to pay attention.

And, as Arthur Miller has Linda Loman say in DEATH OF A SALESMAN in quite a different context, “Attention must be paid.”

To be blunt, there are many orchestras and combos billing themselves as “Swing bands.”  Most of them, although diligent, miss the point.  Swing isn’t simply a matter of wearing the appropriate period clothing; it isn’t a matter of copying arrangements off the records or from the page.  Ellington called it “bouncing bouyancy,” and he was of course right.  It isn’t a matter of letting the tenor soloist wail in a post-bop manner for a number of choruses on A STRING OF PEARLS.  To play Swing convincingly, it’s necessary to swing — and not everyone is born with that rhythmic / harmonic / melodic DNA.  But the musicians who make up Jonathan Stout’s “Campus Five” know what it’s all about — not in some academic way, not by reproducing old records live.  They feel it, and the evidence is right here. 

The band appeared at the Cicada Club in Hollywood on May 17, 2009, for three long sets.  Amazingly, these performances are accessible in their entirety on YouTube (which usually restricts civillians to ten minutes) and in High Definition.  The band, for this occasion, is made up of  Jim Ziegler, trumpet (and an engaging Southern-tinged vocal on CHEEK TO CHEEK), Albert Alva on tenor sax and clarinet; Richard Geere on piano; Jonathan himself on acoustic and electric guitar; Wally Hersom on bass; and, for this occasion, Hal Smith on drums; Hilary Alexander is the sweetly genial girl singer.

Here’s the first set — including a number of variations on jazz classics, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE and S’WONDERFUL; material made famous by the Benny Goodman Sextet featuring Charlie Christian, BENNY’S BUGLE and ROSE ROOM, the Lionel Hampton FLYIN’ HOME, and several charming vocals from Miss Alexander, including COW COW BOOGIE, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and Lester Young’s vocal feature, JUST A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA. 

The dancers enjoyed themselves: I did as well.    

P.S.  Ending the set is some rather tedious period banter between the master of ceremonies and the owner of the club, which some may wish to avoid.

A PROFILE OF MILDRED BAILEY

Looking very pretty and coquettish, although heavily made up.  At last some photographer figured out that it wasn’t always necessary for the subject to face the merciless camera.  This portrait is dated November 14, 1934, but that’s open to question.