Monthly Archives: March 2010

SAN FRANCISCO JOYS (March 24, 2010)

Rae Ann Berry took her video camera to Cafe Divine yesterday (that’s March 24, 2010) to capture the inspired duo of Clint Baker (trumpet, trombone, and more) and Craig Ventresco (the guitar-orchestra).  These two videos are a special kind of jazz — the music that musicians play for themselves when they’re alone or when no one is listening too closely.  It’s hot, fervent, and adventurous — if you make a mistake, you moan and keep playing, for this kind of relaxed playing needs a mistake or two to be real. 

Here Clint and Craig perform a properly slow-moving version of SAVOY BLUES, from the Hot Five book:

And — also circa 1926 — here’s ORIENTAL MAN, complete with verse:

Divine stuff!  I’m looking forward to meeting Rae Ann — in a non-cyber incarnation — this weekend in San Francisco, where I can say THANK YOU! in person.

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JACK, MUGGSY, JO, JAKE, GENE, SONNY

Truth in advertising?  I hope so — and it’s a pleasure to see these artists portrayed in the media as if their playing was meaningful art and their opinions meant something.

Of course, I don’t want to think about how many young men and women were disillusioned when they found out that owning a Gene Krupa drum set didn’t make them Gene Krupa . . . but I admire they for hoping and trying.  And I thank eBay for being our national museum, ever-changing, of such endearingly weird memorabilia.

VIC DICKENSON in LIFE

Some jazz musicians are garrulous, bubbly; Vic Dickenson barely spoke, and when he did address a comment to someone else on the stand, it was hard even for a practiced eavesdropper to catch what he was saying.  Often his words were punctuated by a laugh that would be difficult to describe. 

When Vic was photographed, because of the trombone’s intrusive size and shape, he often looked like a man at the mercy of his instrument, his brow furrowed.  Photographs also captured him looking angry — which was misleading, for he seemed the least contentious of men.

Here’s an uncredited photo study of Vic from LIFE magazine, presumably from the Fifties (I date it by his hairline).  It captures his seriousness, as well as some delightful reflections in the trombone’s bell, although it can’t summon up his sense of humor, his wonderful sound and sounds. 

For that, thankfully, we have the recordings he made over nearly half a century.

EIGHT DOLLARS BUYS A JAZZ WEEKEND!

Eight dollars might buy you a restaurant lunch but it won’t cover a ticket to the movies.  It doesn’t go very far in the world of jazz, although it would be enough for a used CD or some downloaded songs. 

But here’s a bargain!  

This coming weekend, March 26-28, the clever folks who run the Bohem Ragtime and Jazz Festival in Kecsemet, Hungary, will be broadcasting the proceedings online as they occur for the eight dollar fee mentioned above.  And the eight dollars that would buy you a hamburger and drink will also allow you to view the concerts as you like from April 1 – May 31, with unlimited visits to the site (www.bohemragtime.com.)  

The players include the Washboard Wizardz (USA), Nicolas Montier (France) – ts, Thilo Wagner (Germany) – p, Jennifer Leitham (USA) – sb, Vince Bartels (USA) – dr, Bohém Ragtime Jazz Band (Hungary), PapaJazz (Hungary) Swing Manouche Project (Hungary), Balázs Dániel (Hungary) Iván Nagy (Hungary) Penge Benge Jazz Band (Hungary). 

I know that people are used to viewing video music clips online for free, and I’ve contributed to that phenomenon.  But your eight dollars will also support the continuation of the Bohem Festival in years to come — surely a worthy endeavor. 

Here’s a clip from the 2009 Festival — an all-star group playing SOMEDAY SWEETHEART — proof of the musical and cinematic quality you can expect:

(The players were Herbert Christ, trumpet; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Tamás Ittzés, violin, vocal;  Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Ad van Beerendonk, bass; Nick Ward, drums.)

LOCAL HEROES: THE EAR REGULARS (March 21, 2010)

Why do some combinations of musicians coalesce memorably, and others not?  I suspect that it is a matter of forces the players themselves can’t explain.  They can tell you in detail why things don’t work: someone’s tired or annoyed; X dislikes that tempo; Y can’t stand the song; Z doesn’t feel well. 

But when all the stars are in alignment, the music is uplifting.  And the players look contented when they hear their colleagues; the smiles you see at the end of a song add up to a contented glow around the band.

This unpredictable magic happened on Sunday, March 21, 2010, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City). 

Two of the Ear Regulars were the valiant co-leaders: guitarist Matt Munisteri and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, brave and true, who have led their little band on Sunday nights for thirty months now, a delightfully consistent series of small-band jam sessions.  One of the horn players, clarinetist Pete Martinez, had played there a week ago in concert with trombonist Harvey Tibbs.  And Scott Robinson has been a Regular, off and on, since the start — but this time he was featured on bass sax (with a surprise appearance on piccolo late in the evening). 

Were they especially happy to be playing together, although they knew each other from other appearances?  Was pleasurable anticipation, soon realized, in the air?  I don’t know.  But on this Sunday, the Ear Regulars reminded me of the great New York sessions of my youth — small groups featuring Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Milt Hinton, and others — lyrical, singing hot jazz.

Here are nine performances from this wondrous constellation of players, with guests coming by.  I know that the videos aren’t the same as being there, but perhaps if you raise the volume and get in the groove, you’ll catch the fervent spirit.  And I know it wasn’t just my happy hallucination: you can ask Jackie Kellso, Kevin Dorn, Doug Pomeroy, Molly Ryan, Dan Levinson, Barbara Rosene, and the elated Friends of The Ear whose names I didn’t catch. 

After a spirited warmup on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, Jon-Erik did something unusual by suggesting an even faster CHINA BOY.  It summoned up the drive of the Bechet-Spanier HRS session, with a good deal of Adrian Rollini added, as well as some Quintet of the Hot Club of France flavoring from guitarist Julian Lage:

Then, the Ear Regulars decided to try that very pretty Arthur Schwartz song, I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN (associated in my mind with Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden), happily asking Scott to take the melody statement, a splendid idea:

Do you associate LOUISIANA with Bix, Bing, or Lester and Basie?  Whichever version you prefer, this one rocks:

I don’t know who thought of CREOLE LOVE CALL, but any time Jon-Erik takes out his plunger mute, I listen attentively to the secret messages he’s sending:

And the set closed with a minor romp, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME, which gave Pete another chance to sear us with his lovely exuberant upper register:

After a break for dinner, it was time (however late) for a sensitive reading of Walter Donaldson’s AT SUNDOWN, at a lovely ballad tempo:

Cornetist John Bucher had come in when the second set started, and Jon-Erik invited him aboard for I NEVER KNEW, with closing riffs reminiscent of the 1933 Chocolate Dandies record:

Guitarist Dave Gross joined in for the final two numbers: a beautifully articulated IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Finally, after some discussion, the Regulars chose WHISPERING to end the evening:

This music speaks for itself.  If you’ve never been to The Ear Inn on a Sunday, you’re denying yourself rare pleasure.

MR. RUSSELL POSES FOR THE CAMERA

The eBay listing is http://cgi.ebay.com/Photo-JAZZ-MUSIC-Comedian-Clarinettist-PEE-WEE-RUSSELL_W0QQitemZ160416144676QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item25598c1d24. 

I think this cheerful shot comes from the middle Forties: the PIX photographer was E. Colman.  If you can’t make money, make friends . . . or make faces? 

And here’s the unintentionally hilarious text on the photograph’s back:

“What do you know, chum?  Someone thinks I was a ‘Comedian’?”

THEY CALL IT MUSIC: “THE BIG 72” (March 19, 2010)

Last night I went to another of Kevin Dorn’s late-Friday evening gigs at The Garage (Seventh Avenue South).  The band, “The Big 72,” plays from 10:30 to 2:30.  Staying for all four sets would require a preparatory nap, something I’ve never managed to do — but I was so delighted with the music that I stayed for two sets rather than my customary one.  You’ll see why. 

Like his hero Eddie Condon, Kevin likes to employ his friends for gigs (you’d be surprised at the rancor floating around the bandstand on some gigs — not Kevin’s) and he had a particularly congenial crew of individualists last night. 

For lyricism, there’s the always-surprising Charlie Caranicas on cornet, who has a singing tone and many nimble approaches, not just one.  The clarinet master (and occasional singer) Pete Martinez was in splendid form, murmuring in his lower register or letting himself go with whoops and Ed Hall-shrieks.  I’d heard Adrian Cunningham only on clarinet before (at The Ear Inn and Sweet Rhythm): it was a revelation to hear him on alto, where he showed raucous rhythm-and-blues tendencies, bending notes in the manner of Pete Brown.  In the background, Michael Bank took tidy, swinging solos and offered just the right chords behind soloists.  He deserves a better piano, but he added so much.  Kelly Friesen, hero of a thousand bands, pushed the beat but never raced the time, and his woody sound cut through the Garage’s constant aural ruckus.  And Kevin — well, he was in his element, letting the music take its own path without getting in its way by “leading.”  His solos were delicious sound-structures, full of variety and propulsion, but I found myself listening even more to his accompaniments: the sound of a stick on a half-closed hi-hat cymbal, the steady heartbeat of his bass drum, the tap of his stick on the hi-hat stem.

Here are ten performances I recorded.  At first the Garage’s patrons were unusually chatty and ambulatory (or should I say Talky and Walky?)  but many of them noticed that me and my video camera.  Surprisingly, they executed sweet arabesques of ducking down and getting small so they wouldn’t walk in front of my lens.  Thank you! 

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, a pop tune beloved by late-Twenties jazz players (I think of Teagarden and Condon among them):

A devoted, serious reading of SUGAR by Pete Martinez:

If Louis Armstrong didn’t invent THEM THERE EYES, he certainly owned this bright, silly song (until Billie Holiday came and reinvented it for everyone):

That probing, perhaps unanswered question (before Charles Ives), HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, played as a Wettling-Davison romp rather than a lament:

MY GAL SAL (whose title musicians happily corrupted into “They called her Syphillis Sal”):

Homage to Bix Beiderbecke — here’s JAZZ ME BLUES:

IDA (Sweet As Apple Cider) is forever associated in my memory with Pee Wee Russell, whose choruses were always unusual in the best way:

BALLIN’ THE JACK, an eternally popular “here’s how to do this new dance” song:

Finally, BLUES MY NAAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME, recollecting JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S:

The Big 72 calls what they play music.  Or what would you suggest?