FOR LOUIS: BIRDLAND, April 14, 2010

It’s very simple.  For just about ten years, David Ostwald (tubaist-raconteur) has organized regular Wednesday jazz sessions at Birdland in midtown Manhattan, getting congenial friends together to honor Louis Armstrong.  Depending on the phase of the moon, the band is called either the GULLY LOW JAZZ BAND or the LOUIS ARMSTRONG CENTENNIAL BAND.  Names don’t matter much — GULLY LOW BLUES was one of Louis’s most stirring recordings of 1927, and the CENTENNIAL BAND plays music associated with The Master.

David could not be there this night — April 14, 2010 — and it took two players to replace him.  One was Vince Giordano, singing, announcing tunes, and playing banjo, keeping the rhythm riding.  Bass chores were handled nimbly by Brian Nalepka, who slapped away in fine style and also sang on SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  That hero of the snare drum, Marion Felder, kept a swinging pulse without raising his volume.  In the front line, a newcomer to Birdland (but not to us), clarinetist Dennis Lichtman wove beautiful curlicues around the melody, making every note count.  Dion Tucker, sometimes gruff, sometimes tender, shone in solo and in ensemble.  And Gordon Au constructed lovely solos whether the band was lamenting or shouting. 

(I only found out something about Gordon’s heroic ancestry — and that’s because the Beloved asked the right question: did you know that his “Uncle Howie” is the extraordinary trumpet / tuba / trombone / vocalist Howard Miyata, with the High Sierra Jazz Band and the New El Dorado Jazz Band?  Gordon didn’t take lessons from his uncle, but Howard did give his young nephew a cornet . . . from which marvels have come.)

The band began, as it usually does, with WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH that segues into INDIANA, the way Louis used to begin his concerts with the All-Stars:

Then Vince called the joyous Fats Waller tune, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (something Louis sang and played so beautifully in the Fifties).  And Vince sang, exuberantly:

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, a classic at a number of tempos, was Brian Nalepka’s choice for a vocal feature:

(For his feature, Dion Tucker did a sorrowing I SURRENDER, DEAR, but I had technical problems with the video — the sweet-natured waitperson came over in the middle of it to ask us culinary questions.  Sorry, Dion!)

Returning to the Land of Waller, Vince called for a brisk AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — at a tempo that reminded him of the 1929 version that Bill Robinson recorded with a small Ellington contingent:

Dennis Lichtman showed his fluid swing on BLUE SKIES (fitting because Louis loved Irving Berlin’s melodies and, I think, recorded this one circa 1943 with his big band):

An audience member (was it Steve?) called out HELLO, DOLLY! when Vince asked for requests:

The second set began with a rocking CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Vince reminded us that Louis’s recordings of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING are slow and spacious, frankly operatic:

And — for a closing rouser — the band launched into AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

All for you, Louis!

6 responses to “FOR LOUIS: BIRDLAND, April 14, 2010

  1. Gordon Au is something ELSE!
    Several years ago, while he was still considered to be a “music student,” or “student musician” he and his brother sat in with Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band at the Pismo Beach Jubilee.
    Bob asked Gordon “What would you like to play” and I’m sure we were expecting something along the lines of “The Saints” or “Tin Roof Blues.” Instead, Gordon responded, “How about NEW ORLEANS STOMP?” And did he EVER stomp that one!!!

  2. I know that you know and respect Uncle Howie, and I am delighted that you have made Gordon’s acquaintance: he is a pistol, and not just in matters of how he knows the repertoire. Gordon is a thinking player . . . someone who considers his phrases before letting them loose, but all spontaneous and right. Now, you say he has A BROTHER . . . what is this, a new Jazz dynasty? Do tell! MS

  3. Pingback: FOR LOUIS: BIRDLAND, April 14, 2010

  4. Wow, what a great little jam session I missed! I was working a night shift one street higher on 45th Street. Had I known what was going on nearby I would have gotten myself fired!
    Thanks Michael for this great share – the audience is respectfully quiet and the sound and image quality top notch.

  5. Thanks for this wonderful post, Michael, and for your compliments, Hal! In all honesty, though, I believe the honor of playing with you at Pismo was my brother’s. My youngest brother Justin plays a mean trumpet, and he’s in college down there at Cal Poly. Brandon, our middle brother, plays trombone and is based in San Francisco. I’ve been in Boston and New Orleans for the last five years, and now NY.
    Hope to see you both again soon! Cheers.

  6. We need a CD by this clan: Uncle Howie, Gordon, Justin, Brandon. Skip the rhythm section! Cheers, Michael

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s