Daily Archives: May 25, 2010

IMMENSELY SAD / WEIRDLY CHEERFUL

You never know what you might find on a casual browse through eBay.  This time, I feel sure I’ve caromed from one emotion to another.  Because of its rarity, I would love to own the first photograph — Chick Webb lying in state — but it would make me far too sad to look at it on the wall:

And for those who need verification, here’s the reverse side:

But I couldn’t, as a responsible blog-guardian, leave my readers with that image burned into their memories.  So here’s the other side of the coin — an autographed picture of clarinetist Tony Parenti, wearing a hat that I can’t quite identify (is it the French Foreign Legion or the Fraternal Order of You-Name-It?  Please advise if you know.) and grinning happily, clarinet over his shoulder.  More mysteries: it’s inscribed to “Martha,” with regards to “Muggsy.”  Is that our Mr. Spanier?  Anyway, it’s a happy man, facing the camera, full of life:

I invite deconstructive analysis from my readers, as always —

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VINCE, GREAT NEWS, HOT MUSIC, SWING DANCERS! (May 24, 2010)

Last night, Monday, May 24, 2010, I went to Club Cache, which is part of Sofia’s Ristorante, in the lower level of the Hotel Edison, 221 West 46th Street, New York City — to hear Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, who play there every Monday from 8-11. 

The GREAT NEWS is that beginning June 1, Vince and the boys will be playing at Sofia’s not only Monday but TUESDAYS . . . giving us two chances to hear their wide repertoire.  Double your pleasure, double your fun . . .

The HOT MUSIC and SWING DANCERS follow below.  The first was provided, lavishly, by Vince himself, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella (trumpets), Harvey Tibbs (trombone), Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman, Andy Farber (reeds), Andy Stein (violin), Pater Yarin (piano and celeste), Ken Salvo (banjo and guitar), and Arnie Kinsella (drums).  And the accompanying dancing was made possible by Scott McNabb and Cheryll Lynn; Eric Schlesinger and Joan Leibowitz; Ruthanne Geraghty and James Lake — as well as other stylish sliders whose names I didn’t get.  I was in the back of the room amidst Jackie Kellso and Molly Ryan; other notables scattered around included Rich Conaty, Lloyd Moss, Joan Peyser, Frank Driggs, Sandy Jaffe, Barbara and Dick Dreiwitz.

Here are four performances, recorded from the back of the room to capture the entire ambiance, both frisky and musically immensely rewarding:

SAY YES TODAY is an even more obscure song — circa 1928, summoning up the sound of the Roger Wolfe Kahn band in an Arthur Schutt arrangement:

What would a jazz evening be without a little Morton?  Here’s LITTLE LAWRENCE, one of Jelly Roll’s later Victor efforts, transcribed by Jim Dapogny, a peerless Morton scholar and pianist himself:

LAZY RIVER, written by Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin, is an opportunity for some hot small-band improvisation by Jon-Erik, Harvey, Dan, and the rhythm section:

And I HEARD (a mock-stern sermon about the wickedness of gossip) is taken twice as fast as the original Don Redman chart:

Irreplaceable, wouldn’t you say?  (And on Tuesdays, too, Toto!)

“JAZZ FUTURIST, MAD SCIENTIST”: SCOTT ROBINSON in the WALL STREET JOURNAL!

Thanks to the tireless Will Friedwald, we have this wonderful portrait and juxtaposition of two unlikely spheres —

‘What planet did this guy come from?” That was how Benny Goodman reacted when he heard the legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke for the first time. Trumpeter Randy Sandke has been known to use the same line to introduce the multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson.

Although Beiderbecke’s music has a certain futuristic quality to it, Mr. Robinson is even more aptly compared to an otherworldly visitor. There’s no one else doing anything close to what Mr. Robinson is doing: playing every style that exists in the jazz world (and classical, pop and world music besides), on almost every horn known to man (reeds, brass) and even some rhythm instruments. He is the only musician I have encountered who is equally likely to play clarinet in a re-creation of the music of Sidney Bechet on a Monday, and then turn up on Tuesday playing tenor saxophone with a swing-era big band. On the next night, you might spot him playing baritone in the sax section of a contemporary orchestral jazz composer; then on Thursday, he’ll bring out his really far-out horns for an outerspace jam with musicians from the Sun Ra Arkestra.

[ccrobinson] Ken Fallin

During a concert earlier this year at the Riverdale YM-YWHA in Bronx, N.Y., Mr. Robinson played cornet alongside two trumpets (Mr. Sandke and Jon-Erik Kellso) in a harmonized transcription of Beiderbecke’s classic solo to “At the Jazz Band Ball.” In “Waiting at the End of the Road,” Mr. Robinson and co-leader Dan Levinson crossed swords on two C-melody saxophones. And throughout the evening, Mr. Robinson also held down the bottom of the ensemble on another horn rarely heard since the 1920s—the bass saxophone, which gave the group a vigorous two-four rhythmic push that bands without a horn bass simply don’t have.

This week, Mr. Robinson plays with the legendary Bob Brookmeyer as part of “East Coast Sounds,” as presented by the L.A. Jazz Institute.

At his home in Teaneck, N.J., Mr. Robinson recently told me, “I’ve had so many comfortable years being everybody’s sideman, in every style, and I’m still going to keep doing that.” But after playing on more than 200 albums mostly for other people, he now wants to devote more time to pursuing his own musical visions. “I think of music as a big world that you can go into and never come back out of. It’s endless, and it’s filled with endless rooms and funny doors and branches that go off like caves.” Mr. Robinson has released four highly eclectic albums for Arbors Jazz and was determined to start his own label, “ScienSonic Laboratories,” by the time he turned 50; the label launch occurred earlier this year, a few weeks before his 51st birthday.

Born in New Jersey and raised in a farmhouse in Virginia, Mr. Robinson was encouraged to play jazz by a father who collected old records, a mother who taught piano, and an older brother, Dave, who plays traditional jazz cornet. He read a children’s book about a geeky kid who “found himself” by playing the saxophone, which inspired him to start studying that instrument, especially when he discovered that his high school had a bass sax that no one had touched for 50 years. Later, he bought a beat-up trumpet for $3 and taught himself to play that as well. “My home base,” he insists, however, “is the tenor sax, which is a whole musical universe unto itself.”

The same can be said of Mr. Robinson’s “laboratory,” a converted garage behind his house, where he stores his working instruments; thousands of additional parts and incomplete horns are stashed in his basement. Lanky, bearded and bespectacled, Mr. Robinson plays up the idea of looking and acting like a mad scientist of jazz; he has a custom lab coat that he wears to his own gigs, and hands out specially made test tubes as souvenirs. Although comfortable in the jazz past, his own ScienSonic projects are distinctly futuristic and avant-garde, starting with the album covers, which use paintings from ’50s science-fiction paperbacks by the late Richard Powers.

Scott Robinson’s collection of musical oddities includes variations on the saxophone, a couple of theramins, and a marimba set once used by Sun Ra’s Arkestra. When he plays music, his genre of jazz is equally eclectic.

The centerpiece of his collection is the contrabass saxophone, one of only 16 or so believed to exist, a seven-foot monster of a horn. Mr. Robinson discovered it in a secondhand-furniture store in Rome about 15 years ago, and it took more than two years to convince the owner to part with it. It was worth the effort: The contra produces a beautiful roar that might be likened to the love dance of a pair of happy hippopotami but is like nothing else in the human world. Then there’s the normaphone, an utterly Martian device invented in Germany that seems to be a saxophone, a trumpet, a trombone and bicycle pump all at once. Wildest of all is the slide saxophone, in which the pitches are controlled by a slide instead of keys and pads. Mr. Robinson once brought the slide sax over to the home of Ornette Coleman—godfather of all musical experimentalists—who somehow managed to play it in tune. The sound it produces is rather like the hybrid of a sax and a theremin.

Along with the giant saxophone, Mr. Robinson has stuffed his garage with what looks like King Kong’s rhythm section: a bass marimba (the very same one used by Sun Ra on his famous “Heliocentric Worlds” album) that you have to climb a ladder to play; a 180-pound Chinese ceremonial drum; a 7-foot banjo; and what looks like a 9-foot conga from the Philippines. At the opposite end of the spectrum, he also plays teeny-tiny devices like the sopranino sax and the indescribable octavin; there’s also the sarrusophone (played on one famous recording by Bechet), which looks like a brass-band marching instrument but uses a bassoon-like reed.

Only a handful of these implements are brought to bear on the first ScienSonic release, “Live at Space Farm,” a facility that is itself a unique hybrid of zoo and museum in Sussex, N.J. (whose exhibitions include a giant stuffed bear, once the largest in captivity, big enough to play the contrabass). The music is a completely free-form piece improvised by Mr. Robinson and a quartet co-starring saxophonist Marshall Allen, current leader of the Sun Ra Arkestra. Recorded in a bell tower in the middle of a cow pasture, the last note of the work was spontaneously provided by an obliging bull.

Meanwhile, a firm in Brazil is building Mr. Robinson the world’s first subcontrabass saxophone, which promises to be the biggest and lowest sax in history. The saxophonist also looks with a mischievous glint in his eye at his slide soprano: “If only I could get one of these on a bass sax,” he says.

WELCOME TO HANK O’NEAL’S NEW BLOG

You can find it here: http://www.hankoneal.com/index.php?option=com_lyftenbloggie&view=lyftenbloggie&category=0&Itemid=73.

I’m thrilled that Hank has entered the blogosphere.  We have so much to thank him for: the long series of Chiaroscuro recordings, the concerts at the New School (I was there for a few and treasure the experience), his Floating Jazz Festivals, his wonderful photographs, his book THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM.  In general, he’s been one of the most energetic and thoughtful friends this music has.  (And any man who was a friend of Eddie Condon, Ruby Braff, and Squirrel Ashcraft deserves canonization.)

Now he’s got a wonderful blog — with long, lively entries on Earl Hines, John Bunch, Hank Jones (all of whom he knew and worked with), and this splendid picture of Jacqueline Onassis:

Hank is also a very fine writer: gracious, natural, sharp-eyed.  What he writes is first-hand; it’s not a series of other people’s observations.  I’ve added his blog to my list of morning must-reads and think you’ll want to do so also.

“OH, SISTER! AIN’T THAT HOT?” (The Ear Inn, May 23, 2010)

Befire we begin our almost-weekly celebration of high incendiary art in the West Village (that’s The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street in New York City, Sunday 8-11 PM), a little history.

The title I’ve chosen for this blog refers back to a spirited song first made famous in jazz circles through a 1928 recording by Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra.  Later, Eddie Condon, who had an ear for good, nearly forgotten songs, brought it back through a 1940 Commodore recording that featured Pee Wee Russell and Fats Waller (transparently incognito as “Maurice,” his son’s given name).  Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern resuscitated it once more in performances as Soprano Summit and Summit Reunion.  Marty Grosz loves the song and has performed it at Chautauqua and with Frank Chace.  But it’s far from a part of the standard “traditional” repertoire, so I was delighted to hear the Ear Regulars begin their first set last Sunday, May 23, with it.

But here’s the history.  I searched for a copy of the sheet music online (wanting, among other things, to see how the cover artist handled this exuberant there) — with no success.  But the YouTube channel of “victrolaman” turned up something even better, perhaps more authentic: the 1923 Edison recording with vocal by Vernon Dalhart.  Some of the lyrics are slightly hard to follow, but the general idea is quite clear — a song celebrating just how good the music is!

History class concluded; everyone gets an A; have a wonderful summer!

Back to the present or at least the recent past.  Most ad hoc groups begin their first set of the night with something familiar, not too complicated — perhaps SUNDAY — but The Ear Regulars are more ambitious.  So even I, with nearly three years’ happy experience of watching them in action, can’t predict what Jon-Erik or Matt is going to pull out of their imaginary song-files.  I was thrilled to hear them launch into this song.  By the second chorus, this band was in overdrive or turbo-charged or whatever automotive metaphor might appeal:

And the answer to the title’s somewhat rhetorical question was, of course, “Yes!”

For contrast, the Regulars proceeded to make the very familiar ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET seem new and lively:

Harking back to the Thirties (to Billie and Lester, perhaps even to James P. Johnson), they then explored IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

They were taking their time, thankfully, so here’s the conclusion:

One of the band’s friends, the most gifted guitarist Julian Lage, came in at the start, and the Ear Regulars are very well-schooled jazz hosts, so they invited Julian to join the fun, which he did on a slow, rocking WABASH BLUES.  Please pay special attention to the ringing dissonances with which Matt begins his solo: he has an IMAGINATION, he does:

And here’s the second part, just as groovy, beginning with Jon-Erik’s plunger-muted magic:

They decided to finish the set with STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, a tune “all the musicians love to jam,” here in two parts:

And the conclusion:

I couldn’t stay for the second set, but was very pleased to have been there for this musicale.  Everyone was individually inspired, and inspired by their colleagues on the stand.  

If I haven’t gone on at length about Kellso’s intensity, Scott’s ability to play any instrument marvelously and his urging playing, Matt’s wise risk-taking, Neil’s lovely sound and solid tempo, Julian’s delving and swooping melody lines . . . it’s because I think all of that should be evident to anyone watching one of the performances above.