Daily Archives: April 8, 2010

LEAVING SPACE(S)

Some years back, I took one of the six-hour driver training courses designed to reduce my auto insurance bill.  What I remember most was the instructor exhorting everyone to leave space — that is, not to get right up behind cars on the highway (“tailgating”) or even when stopped at a light. 

But “leaving space(s)” is just as valid in a jazz context.  Last night, when the Beloved and I were at Birdland, I was admiring the way the front-line players — Gordon Au, Jim Fryer, and Dan Block — intertwined but stayed out of each other’s way.  The space between their phrases was almost as important as the phrases themselves. 

Think of the Basie rhythm section: a pianist who could, when younger, fill every bar in the best Waller manner — but came to understand that his job was to be an aphorist, a tap dancer over the sweet cushion of Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones.  As phenomenally brilliant as Art Tatum was, if Tatum were to replace Basie for a number, the world would be irreparably out of balance.  Consider a solo by Louis or Lester, or Buck Clayton’s accompaniment to Billie Holiday, Bobby Hackett’s to Lee Wiley.  Their pauses are essential to the shapes of their sound-sculptures.   

Jonathan Swift defined style in writing as the proper words in the proper order.  He might also have encouraged speakers and writers to leave space for breath, as the best jazz soloists and singers always do.

Or (as the story goes) when a young John Coltrane asked Miles Davis what he could do to improve his playing, Miles is supposed to have replied, “Try taking the horn out of your mouth once in a while.”

“OH, PLAY THOSE THINGS!” (April 7, 2010)

The Beloved and I haven’t been to Birdland for the early-evening Wednesday gig of David Ostwald’s GULLY LOW JAZZ BAND (a/k/a LOUIS ARMSTRONG CENTENNIAL BAND) for some time.  The music we heard there tonight convinced me that we — and everyone else — should show up far more often. 

For those of you who don’t know the place or the circumstances, Birdland is on 44th Street in New York City between Eighth and Ninth Avenue, and David’s band will be celebrating its tenth anniversay there this May — a remarkable achievement in these times or in any times.  Speaking of times, the band plays two sets — from 5:30 to 7:15 — convenient for an early dinner or a pre-theatre visit.  The cover is $10 / person — less than a movie!

This edition of the GLJB was made up almost entirely of leaders, but it was delightful, rather than a disharmonious ego-scuffle.  Here are four highlights in an evening devoted to the music of Louis, early and late.  In addition to David, the band featured Marion Felder on drums (swinging his snare drum in a manner that suggested New Orleans street parades as well as Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton), Vince Giordano on banjo, vocals, and two spots on piano; Gordon Au on trumpet, characteristically eloquent; Jim Fryer on trombone and vocals, playing masterfully; Dan Block, fervent as always on clarinet and tenor sax. 

First, a tender, earnest, and swinging version of I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, sweetly sung by Vince.  After the first set, he spoke disparagingly of his singing, which I flatly refused to countenance: it’s the heartfelt, casual style so prevalent in the Thirties, and so appropriate:

Then, a chugging BEALE STREET BLUES which owed just as much to a 1953 Eddie Condon session as to Louis’s performance, slightly later.  A highlight for me (and the other people at Birdland) was the entirely unexpected scat battle between Vince and Jim — priceless fun:

Then it was time for beauty — IN MY SOLITUDE.  How many people recall Louis’s lovely 1935 Decca recording, with vocal?  This performance, although instrumental, is entirely in the right spirit — both hushed and emotionally forthright:

Finally, a romp through DIPPER MOUTH BLUES . . . from which I take my title:

There were distinguished guests in the audience, too: broadcaster and writer Lloyd Moss, trumpeter Charlie Caranicas, acupuncturist Marcia Salter.  See you there some Wednesday!  Worth every penny!