Daily Archives: April 22, 2010

BLISS IN THE NIGHT (APRIL 18, 2010)

You know how “the jam session” is handled in films of a certain vintage.  Magically, the cameras take us to a clearly fictive basement club where Art Tatum is playing.  He plays for a few bars, then the door opens and a whole troop of musicians who apparently have unpacked their horns outside on the sidewalk burst in, exchange a few words of greeting, and a whirlwind jam session begins, only to end in two or three minutes.  (The 1947 THE FABULOUS DORSEYS.)

Or there’s the cutting contest between trumpet players, perhaps the Young Cub and the Old Lion, aiming their horns at each other, playing higher and louder.  (The scene here is between Louis and “Red Nichols,” played by Danny Kaye in 1959 THE FIVE PENNIES, is a most benign example, and Louis gets to make some good, albeit scripted jokes.)

But real jam sessions, especially the magical ones that happen during the second set at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street in New York City) have little to do with either fantasy.  For one thing, they are a collection of friends.  In the videos below the two trumpeters (or, to be precise, the trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and the cornetist Marc Caparone) or the two guitarists (Matt Munisteri on electric and Julian Lage on acoustic) and the reed players (Dan Block on clarinet, Andy Farber on tenor saxophone, Nick Hempton on alto) have no aggression in their souls.  No one seeks to play higher, faster, louder.  And those single men — Harvey Tibbs on trombone and Jon Burr on bass — don’t pick fights with anyone.  It’s all congenial. 

Imagined dialogue, overheard in part: “What would you like to play?”  “RITE OF SPRING?”  “Sure.  How many flats?  Your tempo . . . ”  And off they go.  There’s no JATP crowd-pleasing (or crowd-baiting); the music just grows.  The musicians smile at each other.  They listen closely, even if the crowd sometimes doesn’t. 

The second set of Sunday, April 18, 2010, began with a swinging version of AVALON that harked back to the Benny Goodman Quartet — in arrangement only, since the Ear Regulars had cleverly decided that they didn’t need a vibraphone, piano, or drum kit.  But hear how nimbly they negotiate the closing chorus — “they” being Jon-Erik, Harvey, Matt, Jon, and guest Julian Lage, playing somewhere over my left shoulder:

Then Jon-Erik called up the Pride of Paso Robles, California — someone I would give every honor I could — the noble cornetist Marc Caparone, here on a week’s visit to New York City.  Marc should be better known here: he is a plain-spoken but subtle player who favors such delightful left-handers as Henry “Red” Allen and Jim Goodwin.  In his approach, ferocity and delicacy are pals.  Here, he makes the quintet of AVALON a sextet for a lively ONE HOUR, a performance that would have pleased the very finicky Ruby Braff.  His wife, the wonderful singer Dawn Lambeth, watched Marc happily (I was grinning widely from behind my video camera, I assure you):

Each selection seemed to add a new player: next up was the gifted Dan Block, who joined in for a strolling WHISPERING, while Jon-Erik caught his breath:

Tenorist Andy Farber joined in (his back is to the camera, but I didn’t take it personally) for PERDIDO, a song with a historically-established countermelody.  Tizol’s line lends itself to long performances, and this one needed two sections to be visible on YouTube.  What passes for a bandstand at The Ear Inn (flat on the floor, really a space cleared among the diners) was too small for the musicians, so Jon-Erik was now playing somewhat over my right shoulder, with Marc employing a thoroughly Ellingtonian plunger mute. 

Some viewers will be disturbed by the intrusive white piece of paper at the lower right: it is the banner reading TIPS that lets people know what the jar was for.  I preferred to keep on filming rather than miss a note by indulging in feng shui): 

And the conclusion:

To finish, something melodic, a long romp on THREE LITTLE WORDS.  The common language is so well established here that all Jon-Erik had to do was to say to the horns, “A little Lester,” and everyone fell into the riff taken from the 1943 Kansas City Six date for Commodore — you can’t miss it.  And, in true Hollywood fashion, the Australian Nick Hempton appeared, apparently from nowhere, to offer his singular evocation of right-this-minute mixed with 1940 Charlie Parker:

The concluding moments:

I know that the “three little words” of the title are “I love you” — but certainly “The Ear Inn” is a close second.  If you know of another place where such marvels happen on a weekly basis, do write in!

MISS BARBARA LEA

April 10 was Barbara Lea’s eighty-first birthday.  I am quite late, but hope that no one minds my tardiness. 

She is deeply respected by those who know, although by my reckoning there could be many more people aware of her special approach.  Barbara has always worked wonderfully with jazz performers of a subtle kind — she is not someone shouting over a full-tilt ensemble . . . but like her idols Mildred Bailey and Lee Wiley, she is a singer comfortable with a few horns threading through her vocal and a supportive rhythm section. 

In some ways, she is the musical equivalent to Ruby Braff, somewhat of a delicious anachronism, making her peaceful way amidst the noise of the last fifty years.  The recordings I most treasure of Barbara’s find her alongside players who summon up great emotional force without ever raising their voices: Johnny Windhurst (her Bobby Hackett), Dick Sudhalter, and Vic Dickenson at the very end of his recording career. 

Barbara’s recording career began with a two-song session for Graham Prince’s Cadillac label in 1954 (those days of transition where a new single was issued both on 45 and 78): a pop trifle called I’LL BET YOU A KISS backed with Barbara’s choice, ANYPLACE I HANG MY HAT IS HOME.  The band?  Amateurs . . . Pee Wee Erwin, Cutty Cutshall, Bill Pemberton, George Wettling, and Bill Austin.  Here’s a photograph from that session:

Here’s Barbara with an unknown fan, some hanger-on:

At the Village Vanguard, 1956:

With the noted cellist Morey Amsterdam:

And in the present day, with her dear friend Jeanie Wilson, both in high style:

It’s sad to report that Barbara no longer sings, owing to Alzheimer’s disease.  But she enjoys listening to music and is strong in body — and much loved.  We have the music she made — a substantial legacy.

WHAT, NO CAKE? (April 22, 2010)

There are Underrated Musicians, Musicians Deserving Wider Recognition, Neglected Musicians, and Ignored Musicians.

Here’s a picture of a very fine jazz individualist, born one hundred years ago today.  How many people will recognize him?

“That’s BUZZY DROOTIN!” I hear some of my readers saying.  Right you are. 

Buzzy played most often with Eddie Condon’s bands — in the club and on records — but you can also hear him with Ruby Braff, George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, Max Kaminsky, Sidney Bechet, Jack Teagarden, Vic Dickenson, Jimmy McPartland, Ralph Sutton, Wild Bill Davison, Herman Autrey, Herb Hall, Claude Hopkins, Benny Morton, Pee Wee Russell, and family members Al and Sonny Drootin. 

I was lucky enough to see him at close — sometimes deafening range — in 1972, at the Sunday afternoon jam sessions run by Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache.  We sat right up in front of the bandstand, so Buzzy and his drums were about ten feet away, and his characteristic snare and ride-cymbal work drove the band.  His playing wasn’t fussy; he didn’t make aural jokes as did Jo Jones — but his tempos never faltered, and he had immense energy.  His sound was entirely his own, and I can still hear and see in my mind’s eye the simultaneous open-mouthed sounds (somewhere between a roar and a growl) that he made in the last sixteen bars of his solo. 

His intensity was remarkable: I never saw George Wettling or Dave Tough in the flesh, but Buzzy had some of that same “I don’t care!” energy and ferocity.  Yet who remembers him today? 

Kevin Dorn met Buzzy and celebrates him in his own playing, of course. 

I would like to take credit for remembering his birthday, his centenary, but I have to give credit to Confetta Ras and her magnificent ON THIS DAY IN JAZZ AGE MUSIC website (one of the most generous cornucopias I’ve ever seen) for reminding us all of what April 22 is all about (http://jazzagemusic.blogspot.com/). 

P.S.  I know I have among my readers not only people who’ve heard Buzzy but also those rare folks who have played alongside him.  Comments and celebrations, anyone?

“SWEET MAN”: BOB PORTER REMEMBERS DICK KATZ

I know Bob Porter as a jazz scholar, record producer, radio broadcaster — and fine writer.  Here’s his recent piece on the much-missed Dick Katz, reprinted with permission from Bob’s website, where you’ll find many rare records for sale in his auctions, “JAZZ ETC.” (http://www.jazzetc.net):

For much of the 1980s, I was a Governor of the New York NARAS chapter. One of the fringe benefits of such a position was the opportunity to hang out with and make friends with fellow Govs, in this case musicians such as Pepper Adams, Mel Lewis, Helen Merrill, Gerry Mulligan and Dick Katz. George Simon and Dan Morgenstern were also involved so there was a lot of jazz knowledge on our panel.

Together we schemed to get as much recognition as possible for jazz. One year we even managed to get Pepper, who was nominated for a Grammy, to appear on the TV show! On the other hand, we worked, to no avail, to get some relief for Woody Herman from his oppressive tax burden. I got a chance to do a record with Pepper and another with Katz, records that probably would not have been made were it not for the monthly NARAS Governors meetings.

The Pepper Adams album was entitled”Urban Dreams” and featured Jimmy Rowles on piano. It was the only time I ever worked with Rowles but I managed to pick up two or three great stories from him and I’m still living off those stories after all these years. When Pepper discovered that the budget was all inclusive and that what was left, after all the other costs were covered, went to him, he knocked that album out in about two and a half hours!

The Katz album was one of three I did for Jim Neumann and his Beehive label. Neumann was one of great LP collectors of the twentieth century (his collection was recently donated to Oberlin). A successful businessman, Jim always wanted to run things his way and the record business was a challenge. It wasn’t easy for him to run his business in Chicago and make records in New York. I suggested Junior Mance to him, knowing that Neumann was ready to record almost any good jazz player with Windy City roots. We did a mostly quartet date with Junior’s working trio and David Newman added. In another conversation with Jim, I suggested Dick Katz.

Through our monthly meetings and the conversations that ensued, I found Katz to be extremely well versed on pianists. He knew Teddy Wilson, his original inspiration, but he knew Monk’s music far better than most. He had a slim discography but one that had quality as its recurring theme. Every time I heard him play, I was impressed, thinking that lots of people were sleeping on his talent. And he wrote about jazz with authority. Add to all that was the fact that he was truly a caring human being, one sweet man.

The Dick Katz album was part trio, part quintet. It was taped in May of 1984 with Jimmy Knepper and Frank Wess as our horns. Marc Johnson and Al Harewood provided the rhythm. Dick prepared well in advance of the session. “A Few Bars For Basie”, written to honor the recent passing of Count Basie, was the only tune featuring Wess on tenor, everything else featured his flute. I remember thinking at the end of the date that Katz was very well represented on the album. His choice of material was exemplary, his trio playing elegant and he seemed to get everything possible from the quintet. The album was titled, “In High Profile” (Bee Hive 7016). The album was issued on LP but when I asked about CD, Neumann showed no enthusiasm.

After the expiration of our NARAS Governor terms, I would encounter Dick Katz occasionally, playing with Roy Eldridge , in a meeting of some sort, once at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The conversations were always brief but always contained a reference to “In High Profile” and the question of when it might be issued on CD. To me, he referred to the album as his personal favorite.

The last time I saw him, perhaps five years ago, a different attitude showed up. Beehive had been gone for a long time and the only music from the label that had appeared on CD was the Johnny Hartman material used on ‘The Bridges of Madison County” soundtrack. Neumann still held his masters but wasn’t doing any deals to get the music to CD. Katz said to me, “I never should have made that album for Beehive.”

For many years, I held to the belief that because the record industry had supplied much of my living for a long time that I should abide by their rules. Thus, I had resisted burning vinyl to CD-thinking that in time, the labels would get around to what I wanted. Well some of them, namely Beehive, never got around to it. When Dick Katz died in November last year, there were obituaries that discussed his career in considerable detail. Not once was “In High Profile” mentioned. Because it wasn’t on CD, it didn’t exist.

Well it exists on CD in my collection now. I burned it and sent a check to The Jazz Foundation of America in his memory. Dick Katz, writer, teacher, pianist, friend of mine. One sweet man.