I am what Jo Jones called “a nine-to-fiver,” his way of saying I am not a musician; I have a day gig; I go to sleep when interesting things are happening. My workday starts even earlier, which means that many late-night jazz bacchanals are impossible for me, a man yawning at 11:30.
But one semester ended and the summer courses have not yet begun, which meant that I was free to stay up late. So I could go to the late-night-Tuesday-into-early-morning-Wednesday jam session at Mona’s (Avenue B between 13th and 14th Street in New York City). Mona’s doesn’t have a sign out front, but the music would let you know you were in the right place. I went there on Tuesday, May 24.
I am embarrassed to say that I only lasted one long set, and I was told that the music — starting at 11 PM — would go at least until 2 AM. But what I saw was delightful.
The jam session began with Gordon Au on trumpet and Mikey Hart on piano (and singing): soon Jared Engel, bass, and Nick Russo, banjo and guitar, joined in. Mikey, Jared, and Nick are strong players. Mikey coaxes a great deal of music out of that piano, and he has the patience to let his solos build; his singing is fervent, down-home. Jared has a huge sound: he’s a one-man rhythm section. And Nick (whom I’ve seen in many bands) can do Minton’s 1941 on his electric guitar or swing out 1929 Luis Russell style on the banjo.
I save my greatest praise for the gentleman with the trumpet in the corner, situated underneath the bright cartoonish painting: Mister Gordon Au. Gordon is comfortable in any idiom and is fearless . . . so he has no problem launching into a song that might perhaps be slightly unfamiliar to the other players and tugging them along by his energetic example. He is not only a masterful improviser, he is a peerless bandleader, leading the way without saying a word. And he’s having such a good time! A model for us all, I think.
Hoagy Carmichael’s RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE (originally FREE WHEELING, when Bix Beiderbecke first heard it) is not your standard AABA song — it has dips and weaves, many little places in which someone could get lost, like a multi-strain ragtime piece. But Gordon sets the tempo and leads his colleagues splendidly:
Then (after a brief talk-through) they launched into LONESOME BLUES, which I believe was Mikey’s idea. He not only knows the song but the lyrics. I include this in his honor as well as in honor of Louis’s Hot Five — this is the first time I’ve ever heard this rare tune performed live, which is more than enough reason to include it here:
Finally, a version of THE PREACHER, which would surely act to convert any unbelievers in the audience:
When I left (prematurely and with regrets) Gordon said, “This is a very quiet night. Usually there are two or three other horns there,” and he pointed to the spot where he had been playing. Very tantalizing. So I’m trying to think of ways to stay up late and still be able to go to work on Wednesday mornings. I invite any suggestions that are more healthy than caffeine pills.