Monthly Archives: March 2010

THE INTERNATIONAL SEXTET (Part Two)

“Chicago style” is such a misnomer, because only a handful of musicians associated with it were born or worked in that city.  But it is a particular style to cherish — with certain little conventions (flares and explosions) and marked overall by hot intensity (not expressed in volume or speed but in emotional strength). 

Here are two more examples from Anita Thomas, Kim Cusack (reeds), Carl Sonny Leyland (piano), Katie Cavera (guitar), Clint Baker (bass), Hal Smith (drums) — improvising on two old favorites that deserve to be played often:

MY GAL SAL:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Recorded by Rae Ann Berry on March 7, 2010 at Doxieland Monterey.  Of course!

A WILD BLEND — COMING SOON!

The PENNSYLVANIA JAZZ SOCIETY is presenting A WILD BLEND OF HOT JAZZ AND SWINGING TUNES featuring THE PRESIDENT’S MEN JAZZ BAND. . . ! 

MIKE KUEHN – leader, banjo, guitar

DREW NUGENT – piano, vocals, cornet

RANDY REINHART – cornet, trombone

DAN BLOCK – clarinet

GARY CATTLEY – tuba, string bass

JOHNNY PEPPERS – bass saxophone

JASON SHIPTOSKI – percussion

SUNDAY, APRIL 11, 2010, 2 – 5 P.M.

EASTON MOOSE LODGE, 3320 FOX HILL ROAD, EASTON, PA 18045

TICKETS: $ 20.00 at the door, $ 18.00 members, STUDENTS FREE

SWING DANCERS – DRESSED TO IMPRESS – $ 10.00

For more information phone 610-625-4640 or visit www.pajazzsociety.org

PAPER GOODS, or GOOD PAPER

Who would have thought that advertisements could be so compelling?  But now I know.  If I were to find a Rudy Muck cornet, I could sound as good as Bobby Hackett did in 1939, which is saying something.  It would be helpful if I’d mastered the umlaut, but I could do that:

Then I could go to the Zildjian factory, try out some cymbals.  Look out, Gene!  Watch out, Dave!

Finally, I could model myself on George Wettling (not a bad thing, ever) — someone who actually seemed to be loyal to the brand he espoused, by playing Gretsch drums in 1949 and 1954:

eBay, of course . . . !

RETTA CHRISTIE SINGS! (Volume Two)

Retta Christie continues to delight. 

Some contemporary singers approach their material through an ironic, cool pose.  Retta faces her songs directly.  Without being sentimental, she conveys their emotional force, letting lyrics and melody pass through her, opening herself to emotions.  She doesn’t overact; she doesn’t linger on syllables for “dramatic effect,” but you hear her heart. 

But don’t take my word for it — here’s a review by Maxwell Chandler (February 15, 2010) that echoes my sentiments: http://www.jazzpolice.com/content/view/8850/79/.

Retta’s first CD continues to give me much pleasure.  Simple rather than fussy, it is a trio — Retta on vocals and discreet brushes-on-snare drum backing; David Evans on tenor and clarinet; the splendid Dave Frishberg on piano.  The trio’s approach is easy, relaxed without being sleepy.  And they animate a wide variety of material, from Thirties pops and ballads to a few country classics.  I was amazed and amused to find myself playing RIDIN’ DOWN THE CANYON as my getting-to-work theme song.  Evans is a potent, light-toned player (I thought of Al Cohn) and Frishberg remains my favorite piano accompanist — tender, apt, and humorous.  The music I heard reminded me, in equal measure, of the Mel Powell – Bobby Donaldson – Paul Quinichette Vanguard session; the Cohn – Jimmy Rowles duet, with Retta adding to the ambiance rather than intruding. 

The second volume of this group’s brave yet casual exploration is just as satisfying, and that’s saying a good deal.  Retta’s swinging candor is worth the price of the disc — so that when she sings I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS, I think that she actually does — no fooling, no pretense.  She is no amateur, someone who just decided on whim,  “Gee, it would be fun to sing!” but she conveys the freshness of someone enthusiastic rather than someone who has studied hard at seeming enthusiastic.  I have no particular love for the conventions of “country” music, but I find Retta’s approach to her material charming.  I could listen to Evans and Frishberg all day — or until the cows come home, whichever is later.  

Retta has a touch of quiet audacity — the courage to approach FOOLIN’ MYSELF and A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT on their own terms, so that the listener never thinks, “Oh, no, not another Little Billie.”  I found myself truly listening to the lyrics anew, hearing the song as if I hadn’t had Holiday’s records burned into my consciousness.  

This second session is openly a tribute to Retta’s great friend and musical mentor Jim Goodwin, a memorable cornetist, pianist, and life-force.  I would urge you to listen closely to her version of OLD FOLKS — a song she recorded specifically as a loving tribute to Goodwin, who died in 2009.  If you can listen to it without being moved by its peaceful sadness, by the love in eery turn of phrase, you are made of stern stuff.  

Retta also brings back I ONLY WANT A BUDDY, NOT A SWEETHEART (a song I know from the Dick Robertson Decca with Bobby Hackett) and she introduced me to ‘NEATH THE PURPLE ON THE HILLS, which has its own irresistible swaying motion, complete with “Yoo hoo”s at the right place.  I am very fond of the two instrumental tracks — ONLY A ROSE and SWEET AND SLOW — which showcase the two Davids, eloquently.  Doug Ramsey’s gently erudite liner notes are just right.  Like him, I am waiting for Volumes Three and Four and more.  Till that day, you should investigate One and Two.  Retta’s musical honesty is something I cherish.  Visit www.rettachristie.com. for more information.

Part Three: THE CARDS OUTDO THEMSELVES (February 27, 2010)

I’ve been parcelling out these delicious performances by the Cangelosi Cards, being reluctant to come to the end of the music I recorded.  And my reluctance is especially strong because I’ve learned that the Cards now have an extended gig (two months?) in Shanghai.  If they can’t fix US-Sino relations, who could? 

So here are two more from the video cookie jar —  I don’t want my viewers to spoil their appetites!

The first is a song I find so touching — and always have, even when the lyrics were more optimistic than I could afford to be at the time: WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS.  Thanks to Harry Barris and his one-time colleague, Mister Crosby:

The other side of hope might not be love-jealousy, but here’s an old Carter Family blues — JEALOUS HEARTED ME — which has an extra bar at the end of each chorus, ready to trip up any musicians on auto-pilot.  Which the Cards never are:

Thank you, Tamar, Jake, Dennis, Gordon, Marcus, and Debbie!

And if all of this is new to some viewers, they need only go back a few blogposts to read and experience the whole story — the best homework assignment any academic could impose.  More to come!

THE INTERNATIONAL SEXTET (March 7, 2010)

Brought to you through the goodness of the indefatigable Rae Ann Berry . . . live from Dixieland Monterey . . . here’s Hal Smith, drums and leader; Anita Thomas and Kim Cusack, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, bass.

And here’s some down-home rock, reminiscent of New Orleans street parade bounce — WHEN MY DREAMBOAT COMES HOME.  How about the leafy intertwining of Anita and Kim, creating a whole universe of reed sounds (Pee Wee pokes in there, as does Herschel); CSL’s rocking piano (did I hear the FAREWELL BLUES?); Clint’s woody pulse; Katie’s solid guidance (she remembers Carmen Mastren).  And Hal — not raucous, loud, or showy, but melodic — singing out on his snare and bass drum.  I heard Warren and Arthur and Raymond (that’s Messrs. Dodds, Singleton, and Bauduc) with a soupcon of Sidney (that’s Catlett) but Hal’s beat could make the sleepers awake, smiling.  As I am:

WHERE THE DARK AND THE LIGHT FOLKS MEET

Unfortunately, the history that seems to stick in the mind is oversimplified beyond belief.  Although jazz is a reasonably young phenomenon, it has attracted too many watery half-truths.  When enthusiasts began to write about the music and its performers in the Thirties, they were so in love with what they heard that they created and embellished myths appropriate to its magical, transporting nature.  Perhaps we have come some distance from Buddy Bolden’s cornet being heard miles away and Bix Beiderbecke carrying his horn in a paper sack, but the myths have been maintained tenderly for decades.  Closely examined, these cherished bits of apocrypha turn out to be dangerous rather than dreamlike. 

In his new book, musician, harmonic theorist, and writer Randall Sandke (we know him as Randy) has done a magnificent job of spring cleaning jazz’s mythic house, writing truths others wouldn’t.  It might be the only book of its kind; it needed to be written.  More to the point, it needs to be read.

Sandke’s WHERE THE DARK AND THE LIGHT FOLKS MEET: RACE AND THE MYTHOLOGY, POLITICS, AND BUSINESS OF JAZZ (Scarecrow Press: 2010, 275 pages) takes its title from the verse to “Basin Street Blues,” but it is neither an exercise in jazz nostalgicizing (“Oh, the glories of the past . . . all gone now . . . how those boys could play . . . who remembers them?”) nor is it a spattering of irascibility (“Those damned hip-hop musicians . . . those promoters . . . Oprah . . . those record labels . . . the end of beauty as we know it.” 

Sandke is angry, but his is a righteous indignation.  The book isn’t his story of how badly he’s been treated, but a wide-ranging evidence-based study of the distortions that pass for received wisdom.  His goal is to point out the fallacies, inconsistencies, and contradictions that have become jazz history (and by extension, the curricular truths on which jazz education has been built).  He can be sharp-tongued, especially about biased statements made by people who don’t play instruments — but the book is not a vindictive jamboree.

What Sandke is particularly unhappy about are attempts to portray jazz as a racially divided music, where African-Americans took their inspiration directly from Africa (where else?) and brought it to America only to have it stolen by greedy, ignorant Caucasians who copied their innovations, ran record labels and jazz clubs. 

Jazz, to Sandke, isn’t Black music popularized by White men: it is a musical continuum where Ornette Coleman can speak sadly about young “Scotty” LaFaro, his favorite bassist, where Louis Armstrong and Doc Cheatham can speak reverently of Bix Beiderbecke.  The musicians know that the notes are not connected to skin pigment. 

The critics, Black and White, have not gotten that point. 

And the writers who have, intentionally or through ignorance, nurtured alsehoods are famous — Rudi Blesh, John Hammond, Hugues Panassie, Albert Murray, Stanley Crouch, Marshall Stearns, Amiri Baraka, Martin Williams, Gary Giddins. 

If this ideological slant had only been condescension to Benny Goodman and Bix because as, Rob Gibson (the director of Jazz at Lincoln Center) told someone, Benny and Bix didn’t write any jazz compositions of significance, it would be foolish and sad.  If this racial perspective had only ignored the creative White improvisers, Sandke’s work could have been seen as a continuation of Richard Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS — but Sandke has larger aims in mind than simply saying, “You know, when Louis and Bunk were playing jazz in New Orleans, the Prima brothers, the Brunies brothers, Tony Parenti, Johnny Wiggs, and fifty more people whose names aren’t caled, were also playing.”

What Sandke wants is fairness, not music being distorted to serve anyone’s ideology.  He wants readers to know the reality of the music business — something he’s learned from experience on the bandstand and off — and to examine how race applies to jazz, which it certainly does.  He wants us to know what musicians were paid in different contexts from New Orleans gigs to current festivals.  He would like us to think deeply about the problems of “authorship” — when a composition was re-copyrighted under a different title, when such august figures as Clarence Williams made money off more credulous younger players, one being Louis Armstrong. 

And he poses philosophical questions without being didactic, merely by positioning first-hand narratives side-by-side, so that we are asked to think about Duke Ellington’s taking the ideas his musicians brought to him and making hit songs out of them, adding his name . . . and the same process done to those compositions by Ellington’s White manager Irving Mills. 

Many readers will be drawn to Sandke’s careful yet impassioned examination of what he calls “the Wynton Marsalis phenomenon,” giving Marsalis credit as a player and influential figure but taking issue with the social and poitical implications of his elevation to a primary role as jazz’s sole figurehead.  But Sandke is not out to win notoriety by attacking Marsalis, as will become obvious even to the most Marsalistic of readers.

Sandke also works hard to remove the mythic accretions of decades in favor of first-hand narratives: the racial balance in the recording studios; the complex and sometimes painful relations between musicians and record companies, managers, and promoters, and the role of White listeners as essential to the survival and continuation of jazz.  For jazz, he sees a hopeful future — that is, I think, if much could be left in the hands of the musicians rather than the ideologues.

This book will be greeted with some dispeasure.  Sandke is Caucasian; he will be seen by some who do not read his book closely as writing as a jealous, disgruntled outsider.  He does portray some musicians and writers, living and dead, as unfair, hardly objective.  But five pages of his book will easily dispel any sense that he is acting out of acrimony.  Those tempted to call him racist will have to ignore the evenhandedness on every page. 

And — to back away from disputation for a moment — Sandke is a fine literate plain-spoken writer.  The book is heroically researched without being dull or stodgy.  And it comes to seem a series of brief interconnected essays on the larger theme, essays that can successfully stand on their own.  I dream of an upper-level jazz course for musicians as well as educators that would take each essay as a seminar text: perhaps some perceptive university will offer Professor Sandke a steady Tuesday-afternoon gig. 

Ultimately, it all comes back to the book’s title.  Jam sessions and jazz clubs have long been places where dark and light folks met in joyous exploration, creative harmony.  Eddie Condon was arranging “mixed” record sessions long before this country could accustom itself to the possibility of Barack Obama.  Jazz, rather than having been the reactionary, nearly moribund phenomenon some of its critics see it as, could still be the vision of a loving collective world.  Now, that’s hopeful!

BIG SID, CHICK, and PRES (from eBay)

Sidney Catlett, on the front cover of Art Hodes’s little magazine, THE JAZZ RECORD, December 1946:

I admire the eBay seller of the next item for honesty, admitting that Chick Webb’s secretary probably signed the photograph.  But it would still look good over my piano:

And for fashion, who’d be a better model than the Pres?

Beloved icons, all for a high, timely bid . . .

Part Two: THE CARDS OUTDO THEMSELVES (Feb. 27, 2010)

Blessings on their heads, one and all. That’s Tamar Korn, vocals, impromptu dancing, mouth trumpet, air violin, percussive effects; Jake Sanders, banjo; Debbie Kennedy, string bass; Marcus Milius, harmonica; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet, electric mandolin; Gordon Au, trumpet. 

I cherish them all: their passionate seriousness and rhythmic drive.  Jake’s intelligent, quiet way of shaping an ensemble rather than letting everyone take two choruses; his powerful but never noisy playing.  Debbie’s swinging pulse; her good cheer.  Marcus’s intent candor.  Dennis’s big tone and shapely phrases.  Gordon, quietly majestic, roaming around in what I think are the most beautiful registers of the trumpet.  

Tamar isn’t the only one singing in this band.   And look at what a good time they’re having! 

A thousand thanks to Paul Wegener for bringing the Cards to the Shambhala Meditation Center on 22nd Street, which will be hosting other swing dance groups in future — with the Cards scheduled for an August return (they’re the toast of Shanghai as I write this!).  That’s http://ny.shambhala.org/music.php.  The Shambhala Meditation Center Of New York is located at 118 West 22nd Street, 6th Floor, New York,  New York 10011.  Tel. 212-675-6544    Email: // info@shambhalanyc.org

Now, four more performances from February 27, presented with pleasure:

Here’s the very pretty and optimistic APRIL SHOWERS, a song that inspires Tamar to take chances (as she does beautifully in the last sixteen bars) and there’s a nice extended dialogue between Dennis and Gordon that is reminiscent in spirit of Jimmie Noone and Guy Kelly, circa 1935 Chicago:

I had never heard the verse to SUGAR BLUES.  Another thing to be thankful to the Cards for!  It’s always a good sign in a band when musicians are smiing at what their colleagues are playing, and joy is contagious here.  Perhaps emboldened by Gordon’s utterly perverse reference to “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” at the end of his first chorus, Tamar embarks on her own chorus of mouth trumpet, sounding like a particularly expressive Siamese cat:

What happens when the beat gets to you?  CRAZY RHYTHM, of course.  Honors here might go to Marcus and Jake, as well as the Korn Percussion Section.  But be patient: there’s a rocking out-chorus to come:

A jaunty reading of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, featuring an adventurous exploration by Gordon and Tamar and her Magic Violin (or the 101 Strings, made much more personal):

Delicious!  And there’s more . . .

Part One: THE CARDS OUTDO THEMSELVES (Feb. 27, 2010)

It was an immense thrill to hear and see the Cangelosi Cards on Saturday, February 27, 2010, at the Shambhala Meditation Center in New York City on 22nd Street.  That’s not an idle statement.

Before this, I had seen the Cards primarily at Banjo Jim’s, where the atmosphere was exuberant and loud.  And for all their own exuberance, they are truly a subtle band, so I had to strain to hear them.  But the Shambhala provided a large, quiet wood-floored space.  True, an overhead fan clicks at the beginning of this performance, but that sound is swallowed up by the rhythm section.  And (perhaps a small point?) the dancers were in back of me and the room was well-lit, so I was able to capture the Cards as they should be captured.  Those dancers, by the way, included Eve Polich of “Avalon” and Heidi Rosenau and Joe McGlynn.  The whole delightful event was the idea of Paul Wegener, a fan of the Cards from way back, who had the inspired idea of bringing them to this wonderfully open, serene, receptive space.

This edition of the Cards included the regular brilliant musicians: Jake Sanders on banjo, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet and mandolin, Tamar Korn on vocals.  And there were Debbie Kennedy on bass and Gordon Au on trumpet. 

Here is the third performance of the night (after two jaunty warm-up songs): I SURRENDER, DEAR.

It’s a masterpiece of sorrowing intensity, supported throughout by the bring bring bring of Jake’s banjo and the melodic pulse of Debbie’s bass.  Marcus and Dennis seem transported; Gordon takes his time, creating one sad, thoughtful phrase after another. 

And Tamar.  I told her during the set break that I thought she was growing as a dramatic actress, and her delicate face registers every nuance of the song.  Not only in the first chorus, where she outlines the text, but in her return — becoming a muted trumpet for sixteen bars and then returning to the lyrics.  She told me that she sings this song as an expression of penitence, which is undeniable, but I also hear barely controlled rage in the way she bites off the words “a spice to the wooing.”

I dedicate this lovely, deep exploration of music and lyrics to Bing Crosby, to Harry Barris, to Louis Armstrong, to the Mills Brothers, and to Sam Parkins, who told Tamar that her singing “got him right in the gizzard.”  Truer words were never spoken, and they apply equally to the Cards as a whole.

Did I say it was a thrill to hear the Cards?  No, an honor.  A privilege.

MY HEART’S AT EASE

The title refers to a pretty Fats Waller song from 1932 — the version I know is by Marty Grosz, although Hal Smith and Co. might have recorded it.  But the phrase has larger implications.

I don’t ordinarily use the blog as an extra-musical diary, but here are sixteen bars of news.

My faithful readers will have noticed a cessation of blog-activity; I wrote my most recent blogpost a week ago and skidded to a halt.  What could have made me give up one of my great pleasures?

How about a hospital visit that ended with me the happy owner-wearer of a defibrillator?

I could think of other gadgets that initially would have given me more pleasure but this one will keep me from fainting, falling down, and whacking my face into the sidewalk.  (The sidewalk won that contest.)

I expect to be back to blogging very soon — I have video footage from a wondrous Cangelosi Cards concert as well as Hot glories from Orange Kellin’s most recent visit to The Ear Inn.  So stay tuned!

And aside from the predictably drab food, I had a gratifying stay: the doctors at North Shore Hospital in Great Neck, New York, found the problem and fixed it.  Everyone here deserves special prizes and treats for humor, sweetness, and compassion.  Heartfelt thanks to Drs. Meir Friedman and Jeffrey N. Berger.

AND!  I almost forgot . . . during the four-hour procedure that ended with the implanting of the defibrillator, the sweetly gracious nurses — Pat, Wendy, and Edna –turned the ambient music (Pandora) to Ben Webster playing YOU’RE MINE, YOU, and Coleman Hawkins doing UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE.  What more could a temporarily-incapacitated jazz blogger want than to have Doctors Webster and Hawkins in attendance?  No wonder I am happily recovered . . .

More to come!