Daily Archives: April 24, 2010

WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE A WALK?

Yes, it is a pretty Harry Warren song from 1931.  But I mean a real walk — a jazz walk. 

Paul Blair, someone who knows his jazz, has been editing the local jazz monthly called Hot House for the past six years.   And he’s also been conducting walking tours through various New York neighborhoods.   This home-grown enterprise – operating under the name SwingStreets (www.SwingStreets.com) – began with a focus on historic local jazz addresses:  musicians’ homes and hangouts, clubs past and present.  Paul’s led outings in Midtown, Greenwich Village, the East Village, Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene-Clinton Hill. 

Lately, he’s broadened his approach and now also leads folks with absolutely no interest in jazz through particularly distinctive Outer Borough neighborhoods they’d be unlikely to explore on their own.  Still, his most popular tour remains the one covering Harlem. 
 
A typical tour (one Paul conducted two weeks ago) went like this: “We begin at 11:30 AM in front of 3940 Broadway (a prominently numbered building situated on the NE corner of Broadway and 165th St.) and, after strolling at a fairly leisurely pace, end up at the corner of Lenox Ave. and W. 125th St., near Sylvia’s Restaurant.   I’m always willing to take people further, if they wish, to see Minton’s, down on W. 118th St, near where Otto Hardwicke and Benny Carter once lived.   For those arriving from downtown for a tour, I always suggest taking a subway (either the A or the 1) to the 168th St. station, then walking three short blocks south to our meeting point.  People purchase tickets for those Harlem tours online through my website.  And many of my fellow strollers have surnames suggesting that they’re overseas visitors to the city.”

It costs $25 for two hours, and each participant takes home a free jazz CD. 

I want to see where Otto Hardwicke lived.  Don’t you?

BUZZY DROOTIN, TWICE

First, a story from the man I call The Swing Explorer — the magnificent saxophonist Joel Press:

Buzzy Drootin spent his final decades in the Boston area, initially, with brother Al’s excellent Dixie band at the Scotch and Sirloin (Al rescued him from a day gig at Manny’s Music Store in New York City), and later on the Cape and at Sandy’s Jazz Revival in Beverly, Massachusetts.

When Sandy’s reopened in the Eighties, Bob Wilber led a band which included guitarist Gray Sargent, trumpeters Jeff Stout and Dave Whitney, trombonist Phil Wilson, tenor saxophonists Art Bartol and myself.  Gray, Jeff, and I played in Buzzy’s quintet throughout the following  summer.

Buzzy retained his love for the music and his sense of humor throughout his final years. When a member of the audience requested a Latin number, Buzzy replied, “We only play American music.”

Second, a video preserved for us by archivist and musician Bob Erwig, of a Wild Bill Davison group performing in Sweden in 1984:

The other musicians are trombonist Bill Allred, clarinetist Chuck Hedges, pianist Bob Pilsbury, and bassist Jack Lesberg.  Listen to Buzzy behind the first choruses of Bill and Wild Bill, and his work in the final chorus.  You can’t hear Buzzy’s trademark growl-roar as well as you should, but the joy on his face is vivid, his energy is audible, and his pulse is wonderful.

ERNIE KRIVDA KNOWS

It’s possible that some readers have never heard of Cleveland-born saxophonist Ernie Krivda, now 65.  I’d like to change that, for I have been impressed by his work in various contexts for some time.  And musicians in the know (among them Quincy Jones and Joe Lovano) have always admired Ernie as a person and a player. 

Thanks to Bob Rusch, I first heard Ernie on a magical tribute to Stan Getz, where Ernie had assembled a large ensemble, including forty strings. to play Eddie Sauter’s film music for FOCUS and then, taking Getz as his inspiration but not copying him, had soared over that background.  The disc, “Ernie Krivda: Focus on Stan Getz: Live at Severance Hall,” (Cadence Jazz 1165)  remains one of my favorites — tumultuous, tender, sweet, ferocious — and I am not exaggerating when I say that I bought a copy of Getz’s FOCUS and preferred Ernie’s version.  (Heresy, I know, but true.)  Here’s some first-hand (or first-heard evidence of what Ernie does so magnificently: his 1993 duo exploration of LOVE WALKED IN with pianist Bill Dobbins):

Although Ernie clearly has a whole range of saxophone influences in his mind, from early Hawkins and Young onwards to Rollins, he is an individualist with his own sound and approach.  He’s not one of those musicians who has only two approaches: one, the respectful first chorus of a ballad; two, the abrupt deconstruction of the melody and harmony into abstract fragments.  Krivda, as you can hear in LOVE WALKED IN, honors George Gershwin’s melody, but is also making the terrain his own, gently pulling and tugging at the music’s familiar contours, experimenting with timbre, harmony, rhythmic alterations.  His playing is hard to categorize (for those who need categories), but I hear the sound of a man thinking, feeling, and exploring. 

Since this blog is often devoted to musicians who are no longer with us, I am pleased to be able to write about one who is alive and inventive.  Ernie had three new CDs: a solo saxophone effort, “November Man,”a second, “The Art of the Trio,” and a third (in process), “Ernie Krivda and The Detroit Connection,” featuring Dominick Farinacci and Sean Jones.  Krivda has also received the nationally recognized Cleveland Arts Prize for career achievement and a major fellowship acknowledging him as a player and composer.  His next album with The Detroit Connection is a tribute to the music of John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, and Sonny Rollins.  The Detroit Connection band includes 78-year-old pianist Claude Black, Marion Hayden on bass (the matriarch of the Detroit jazz world), and Paul Gonsalves’ son Renell Gonsalves on drums.  It will be Ernie’s 30th album.

To learn more about Ernie, visit http://www.erniekrivda.com/index.php.. One of the categories I invented for this blog, early on, is “Pay Attention!” — profoundly relevant to the man and the music I’ve been describing here.

FAVORABLE JAZZ OMENS (April 2010)

Omens aren’t always ominous.  And while I wouldn’t see a groundswell of interest in jazz in these two recent sightings, they are cheering little incidents.

Around the corner from the Beloved’s digs, a new restaurant opened, an odd pairing, offering gourmet coffees, Shanghai dumplings, and Asian noodle dishes.  The food isn’t bad, but what caught me even before our orders came was the musical soundtrack — jazz performances I couldn’t recognize in a Fifties-plus style.  What did they sound like?  A tenor sax / piano duet on I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME; a woman singing about Jack and Jill and wishing that she and her love were young again; a piano trio trotting through S’WONDERFUL with an arco bass solo — the players sounded vaguely like Red Garland and Paul Chambers; KANSAS CITY sung by a man in front of a small group whose sound mixed Sixties Ellington with a Hammond organ. 

I pride myself on being able to recognize the great players and soloists of the jazz I appreciate, and midway through the first number (whose participants had clearly listened to Ben Webster and Hank Jones without being Ben or Hank) I asked my amiable waiter, “Who picks out the music?” wanting to extend my compliments to the hip person in charge.  He didn’t know, but went and asked.  When he returned, the answer was that the restaurant paid for a service (was its name DBX?) that selected the music.  I said, “I guess it’s called RESTAURANT JAZZ?” and he grinned.  The music, as is always the case in restaurants, got a bit too loud and its beat too urgent, but it was well-played, even if I wondered if capable musicians had been brought into the studio to deliver music that Sounds Like Famous People.  Derivative isn’t always a bad thing: it depends on what the source is.

Last night, I was on a subway platform in downtown New York City, waiting for the train.  Two neatly-dressed men were having an energetic conversation.  Or, to be accurate, one man was eagerly talking to the other, who kept smiling and nodding his head.  I couldn’t help but hear — in bits and pieces — what they were talking about.  I should confess that I edged nearer because I kept hearing familiar names: “Wynton” and “Roy Hargrove,” and the enthusiastic speaker kept miming trumpet playing by leaning back, raising his hands at a slight angle, and fluttering his fingers rapidly to simulate the pressing of valves.  (Those who know will recognize “air trumpet,” simulated by people who don’t play it.)  Where the speaker had been, I don’t know, but he was narrating his experience of witnessing a public trumpet battle where, according to him, Wynton had carved Roy a dozen different ways before turning him loose.  I heard, “And Wynton said, ‘I don’t want to leave your blood all over the stage,'” which was followed by gusts of laughter. 

The train came along before I could intrude myself into the conversation and advertise this blog, but that was fine.  I had the sense that I had been transported, for two minutes, to a universe full of wondrous jazz possibilities — where listeners simply had to tell their friends about the jam session they’d been to, and which trumpet player triumphed.  Someone out there is listening and loving the sounds!