Monthly Archives: October 2010

BLISS: RUBY, RALPH, MILT, GUS, and DON (1988)

Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Milt Hinton, and Gus Johnson — at the Mid-America Jazz Festival in St. Louis . . . blessedly recorded for us by Don Wolff:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE:

Although Ruby’s microphone seems earthbound, the music soars up to the heavens. 

And if you visit YouTube and look for “MrDonWolff,” you will find that generous Don has also shared performances by Rossano Sportiello, Soprano Summit, Milt, and Kenny Davern. 

Wonderful!

DAN BARRETT and THE EarRegulars (Oct. 17, 2010)

Sadly, Dan Barrett is flying back to California as I write this.  I know he’ll be happy to be reunited with Laura and Andy, but we’ll miss him here terribly.

In the past ten days, he’s done a number of club gigs, a concert, a private party, and maybe some other playing I missed.  I couldn’t follow him around as much as I would have liked, but I did catch him on video on three occasions — twice at The Ear Inn and once at Arthur’s Tavern with Bill Dunham’s Grove Street Stompers. 

Highlights of those three glorious nights are a-coming! 

I don’t know when Dan touched down in New York City, but after a triumphant jazz afternoon playing alongside Dan Levinson, Dan Tobias, Keith Ingham, and Kevin Dorn in celebration of Ray Cerino’s ninety-first birthday party, a joyous event, Dan (after a nap) made his way downtown to that Soho salon of swing, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) for another Sunday extravaganza with The EarRegulars. 

Here are several performances, featuring the charter co-leaders Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet) and Matt Munisteri (guitar), with Joel Forbes (bass) and several esteemed joiners-in.

How about a paean to the power of love to keep superstition at bay that isn’t YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME?  Rather, I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED, memorably done by Louis and Fats in their respective recording studios in 1935:

Someone requested DONNA LEE, perhaps knowing what a delicious meal the EarRegulars could make of this variation on INDIANA:

Jon-Erik gave the trumpet chair to his friend and ours Danny Tobias, and the two Dans lingered deliciously in a wistful IF I HAD YOU:

Jon-Erik came back to make a three-man brass frontline.  They did a beautiful job on that old favorite, LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART, with the innocently tender lyrics.  And the instrumental trades near the end are worth their weight in Vocalion test pressings:

And the second-set jam session called in Dan Block (clarinet) and Simon Wettenhall (on Eb alto horn rather than trumpet) for a lively ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash, I hope it’s Sunday night at The Ear Inn!  (Incidentally, many more marvelous things happened . . . but you’d have to be there to share the experience.  There’s nothing like seeing this music live!)

ANDY FARBER: MAKING BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS

Having a large jazz orchestra in this century has often posed challenges besides the economic ones. 

Many “big bands” get formed only for special occasions and are thus not well-rehearsed.  Then there’s the matter of repertoire: should a band made up of improvising jazz players go into the past or boldly plunge into the future, however one defines it?  Or should such an orchestra bridge Past and Present — not an easy thing: it means more than letting the saxophone soloist play GIANT STEPS licks in the middle of A STRING OF PEARLS. 

Saxophonist Andy Farber has found his own answer to these questions.  He’s worked with all kinds and sizes of ensembles comfortably.  But his own orchestra has found its own path that pays homage to the past without being anyone’s ghost band — in a way that’s both reassuring and innovative.

Here’s what Andy told Alvester Garnett, who not only plays wonderful big band drums but also wrote fine liner notes (!): “The goal of this record is to focus on the emotional and spiritual element of large group ensemble playing.  I feel like there is a great amount of nuance in this band, ao conscious effort in playing pretty, shaping lines, playing parts as if it were a solo.”  Does that give you a sense of the silken textures Andy and his Orchestra have created?

You don’t have to take it on faith.  The band sounds wonderful — and its overall sound is not heavy or ponderous, nor does it make you wonder what all the players in the band are doing (some “big bands” quickly break down into soloist-plus-rhythm that you wonder if the other players have gotten off the bandstand to check their email — not here). 

And the names of the players will tell you a great deal.  Andy himself is a fine solo player (as I hope you’ve seen in my videos of him sitting in at The Ear Inn): here he’s joined by Dan Block, Chuck Wilson, Jay Brandford, Marc Phaneuf, Kurt Bacher, saxes (with a special guest appearance by Jerry Dodgion); Brian Pareschi, Irv Grossman, Kenny Rampton, and Alex Norris are the trumpets; Art Baron, Harvey Tibbs, Wayne Goodman, Max Seigel the trombones; Bob Grillo plays guitar; Mark Sherman, vibraphone; Kenny Ascher, piano; Jennifer Vincent, bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.  And there is some hip vocalizing from the Prince of Hip, Jon Hendricks and his Singers.

The repertoire includes the happily familiar (BODY AND SOUL, MIDNIGHT, THE STARS AND YOU, THE MAN I LOVE, SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, JACK THE BELLBOY) and Andy’s witty, swinging originals (SPACE SUIT, BOMBERS, IT IS WHAT IT IS, and SHORT YARN) — and more.  All sinuously played, with a delight in sound rather than volume, texture rather than speed. 

If someone were to ask me the honorably weary question, “Are the big bands ever coming back?” I would play them this CD.  This band has no need to return: it is most reassuringly here. 

The CD is on BWR (Black Warrior Records) and can be found at better record stores everywhere?  Well, not quite — but it is available online through a number of sites and (of course) from Andy when you see him playing, which I urge you to do.

DON’T FORGET EDDIE LANG, PLEASE!

Our ’20s guitar man

South Philadelphia’s Eddie Lang, the “Father of Jazz Guitar” who died in 1933, lives again at Chris’ Jazz Cafe.
By Dan DeLuca

Inquirer Music Critic

From Django Reinhardt to Jimi Hendrix, the names that commonly appear on argument-starting lists of the greatest and most influential guitarists of the 20th century are familiar.

But there’s one flat-picking virtuoso from South Philadelphia typically left out of the conversation, whose music has receded into obscurity despite a trailblazing career cut short by his tragic death in 1933: Eddie Lang.

That’s an injustice an aggregation of local musicians and Lang enthusiasts are doing their best to redress, starting with a multi-act show that will bring Lang’s music to life at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Center City on Monday.

It’s the 108th anniversary of the birth of Lang, who died of complications from a tonsillectomy that his friend and collaborator, Bing Crosby, urged him to get. And it’s been declared Eddie Lang Day in Philadelphia in a proclamation from Mayor Nutter that “urges all citizens to be aware of Eddie Lang’s history-making musical legacy as well as the role of Philadelphia in the development of early jazz music.”

And it’s about time, say ardent fans of Lang, frustrated that such a prodigiously talented and innovative figure could be all but forgotten by all but jazz cognoscenti.

“He’s somebody who died at a young age who had a brief, meteoric career,” says Aaron Luis Levinson, the Grammy-winning Philadelphia record producer who helmed Rediscovering Lonnie Johnson, the 2008 release that re-created three of the historic guitar duets between Lang and African American guitarist Johnson that broke the recording industry’s color line in 1928 and 1929.

At Chris’ on Monday, all 12 of the duets – which Lang recorded under the pseudonym Blind Willie Dunn so as to not arouse suspicion of music miscegenation – will be reprised by guitarists Jef Lee Johnson and Jonathan Dichter, who will “play” Lang.

“He’s not someone anybody ever remembers to talk about when they talk about Philadelphia music,” Levinson says. “There’s something really unfair about cultural memory. It’s like anything that happened before Elvis Presley gets treated like it happened in the dinosaur age.”

Lang’s life story may be little known, but it reads like an unwritten screenplay about a dazzlingly talented, thoroughly modern musician. Born Salvatore Massaro in 1902, Lang took his stage name from a favorite basketball player for the club team the Philadelphia Sphas (an acronym for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association).

The son of an Italian American immigrant instrument maker was among the pioneers of the flat-picking style (which involves playing with a plectrum held by, rather than attached to, the fingers) and is credited with popularizing the guitar over the louder, previously more prevalent banjo, as a key instrument for the jazz bands of the 1920s. So much so that the historical marker across the street from the Saloon restaurant in Lang’s old neighborhood at Seventh and Clymer Streets, put up in 1995, proclaims him “the Father of Jazz Guitar.”

Along with his childhood friend, violinist Joe Venuti, Lang laid the foundation for the improvisational gypsy jazz stylings of Reinhardt and his violin-playing counterpart, Stephane Grappelli.

Crosby biographer Gary Giddins writes that in contrast to Venuti’s merry-prankster personality, Lang was “quiet, thoughtful and responsible, a ruminative Catholic.”

In A Pocketful of Dreams: Bing Crosby, The Early Years, 1903-1940, Giddins writes that after cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, Lang and Venuti were “arguably the most influential white jazz musicians of the 1920s, serving as a sort of template for the famed European jazz ensemble of the 1930s, the Quintette du Hot Club de France.”

Lang and Venuti made their names together playing in Philadelphia and Atlantic City showrooms, and according to Dichter, a music historian as well as a guitar teacher at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, toured in England with the novelty band the Mound City Blue Blowers.

In 1929, they were hired by bandleader Paul Whiteman, and it was there that Lang first began to accompany Crosby, who said of Lang’s playing: “He made you want to ride and go.” Giddins calls Lang Crosby’s “jazz conscience,” and the singer’s “most intimate friend, almost certainly the closest he would ever have.”

Crosby brought Lang for the 1932 film The Big Broadcast. He also negotiated a deal for Lang to have speaking parts in all his movies, which is why he urged him to have an operation to rectify the chronic hoarseness attributed to tonsillitis.

Richard Barnes, a guitarist and photographer who lives in Aston, is the driving force behind Eddie Lang Day in Philadelphia and will perform at Chris’ with his band, the Blackbird Society Orchestra. He’ll also do a number of Lang-Venuti duets with violinist Michael Salsburg. Barnes first got the Lang bug after he saw Leon Redbone perform in West Philadelphia in the early 1990s.

“That was my exposure to 1920s music,” Barnes says. “I got a couple of CDs, and when you listen to Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbecke, there was always this one guitar player that I really liked. It was totally different. Not strumming.

“Not blues. He plays in an almost pianolike style. Very interesting chord inversions, always complementing the singer. A real distinct sound. It turns out it was Eddie Lang.”

Barnes put an ad on Craigslist this year, reading “Eddie Lang Day, This October.” One of the interested parties to inquire was Mike Hood, who suggested Chris’ as a venue, and will play on Monday with his band Cornbread Five.

The event will raise money for the Eddie Lang Music Scholarship Program for underprivileged children, and Barnes hopes to turn it into an annual Eddie Lang Festival at Chris’ every October.

Barnes, who says business for his 1920s-style Blackbird Society Orchestra is looking up thanks to interest in HBO’s Atlantic City mob drama Boardwalk Empire, got the idea to approach the Nutter administration from one of his first musical memories.

“When I was 13, my first concert was seeing Elton John at the Spectrum,” he remembers. “And there was a picture of Frank Rizzo in the newspaper with Elton John, when he declared it Elton John Day. I thought it would be so cool if I could get the mayor to do that with Eddie Lang.”

The attention is well-deserved, says Dichter, who plays in a band called Beau Django, and who talked to Les Paul about Lang’s influence before the guitarist’s death at 94 last year. “He said it was just too long ago,” Dichter says. “It’s convenient to forget.”

Barnes says he’s always on a mission to bring Lang’s music to a wider audience. “I’m not trying to form the fan club or anything,” he says. “But I do think that people would appreciate this music and enjoy it. It’s something you don’t hear all the time.”

“He invented single-string guitar playing,” Dichter says of Lang, who is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon. “I would call him the most influential guitarist in terms of melody, and then he had this incredible sense of rhythm that really made you want to dance. He laid the foundation, and then he died.

“Charlie Christian is remembered. Jimi Hendrix is remembered. What about Eddie Lang?”

“BEAUTY IS TRUTH,” SAY THE BLUE NOTE JAZZMEN

A friend who is new to the music gently asked me by email, “Hey, Michael, what’s all the fuss you’re making about this Sidney Catlett?”  And it’s a valid question deserving an answer.  But the best way to answer it is not through words, but through the experience.  Thanks to “cdbpdx” on YouTube, here’s a 1943 recording of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES by Edmond Hall’s Blue Note Jazzmen.  Let their names never be erased: Sidney deParis, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Arthur Shirley, Israel Crosby, Sidney Catlett.  If you’d want to understand what Sidney is doing — playfully and with the utmost art — listen to the little conversations he has with the ensemble (both as part of it and joyously commenting on the good time everyone’s having) urging, encouraging, applauding — especially alongside the solos of deParis and Vic. 

I don’t mean to give my readers homework, but someday soon, listen to this recording twice with all your attention: once in its glorious complete beauty, then for Sidney Catlett himself.  Jubilation indeed.  And everyone on this recording is dead, but like Keats’s urn, they transcend mere mortality: this music is alive!

“I WANT! I WANT!” (Part Two)

From Fernando de la Riestra (translated by Samantha Avila):

Why have so many records?

There is no reason even for necessity or for accumulation.  Simply said, I get a great amount of tranquility in knowing that they will grow old beside me.  The tranquility that comes with the knowledge of the absolutely precious existence of the music and being able to enjoy it.  There are occasions when I enjoy putting the disc in the player and I profoundly enjoy the prolonged sounds of the music, just the way it was originally presented to us.  The amount of music makes it easy to finding the rhythm that’s just right.  Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or even next week, that may the state that coincides with the determined work of Sonny Rollins, and it is a great thing to have Sonny in my home to immerse myself in his music.  But sometimes the rhythm is very fast and other times it’s irritatingly slow.  But just to know that it’s there at anyone’s disposition, as a stimulus to ultimate knowledge — as well as the guarantee of a simple and sure life full of momentum.  I have many records and CDs but I never speculate about the possibility of being able to listen to every single one of them all the time, and I don’t speculate about the absurd question whether there will be time to listen to all of them. 

From KING LEAR:  “”O reason not the need!  Our basest beggars / Are in the poorest thing superfluous.  Allow not nature more than nature needs, / Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.”

From “Willie The Weeper” (thanks to Mike Durham):  “Now tell me, what would you do? / If you could have all your dreams come true?  / There’s something tells me, you’d lock the door, / Like Willie the Weeper, you’d cry for more.”   

Three very different perspectives, no? 

Fernando de la Riestra speaks of the possibility for pleasure the sprawling amplitude of music can give us, and suggests we live in these moments of gratification and amplitude without needlessly gnawing on the darker questions: “Will I live to hear all of this?  Am I greedy?  Do I deserve to have all this?”

And since some of our musical idols are now dead, having as much of their music around us is a way to make it feel as if they never died: fantasy and fancy, but a way to stop our grief at their absence.  In my ears, Louis is alive . . .  But I am a Lapsed or an Enlightened Completist who no longer strains to have every note his idols ever recorded.  I did that often in my youth and found it frustrating: I did not have the resources to buy or trade for every Ben Webster recording (for example) and some of them were less than perfect . . . with apologies to Ben, of course.

Lear (early on in his painful path to seeing clearly) says to his hard-hearted daughters that the difference between people and animals is that we can allow ourselves more than bare subsistence. 

The anonymous lyricist of “Willie the Weeper” suggests that it is human nature to want and want more — although in the interests of accuracy, I must point out that Lear has yet to realize that a complete human being (king or not) is not defined by the number of knights in his entourage, but by how deeply and well he loves and forgives and receives the loving forgiveness of others. 

And Willie, having a wonderful time in his dreams, is driven by opium — so he might not speak for us all.

I am returning to this topic because the enthusiasm of the comments suggested to me that these were serious questions that went deep.  And I wanted to offer a musing illustration. 

In my previous post, SIDNEY CATLETT, TRIUMPHANT, I shared three images of photographs of Big Sid that had appeared for sale on eBay.  Sidney is my hero: he made everyone else sound better; he was himself; he brought joy; he was deeply loved and is deeply missed.  And he is not a recognizable figure to many beyond this world of jazz and percussion.

Now it can be told: I bid on and won the large portrait at the bottom of that blogpost. 

I am a very restrained bidder: I bid on less than one percent of the things I covet, and I set a monetary ceiling for myself: had the bidding gone up and up, I would have left the arena early.  And I am not a vindictive bidder: I will not purchase something to be the only one on the planet who has it.  If someone had outbid me — as has happened before — I assume only that my rival has more money and more desire . . . and I hope (s)he enjoys the purchase immensely! 

Did I NEED the photograph?  Certainly not. 

I need to pay my bills, have clean clothing, food and drink . . . but I could certainly have proceeded forward in my life without this purchase.  And in a world where so many people are less fortuntate, it would seem an impiety to proclaim that I needed this object.

But I did WANT it.  Why?

Some of my feeling comes from the adult desire for autonomy.  We are, as children and perhaps as adults, surrounded by people who don’t necessarily see the world as we do and disapprove of our pleasures.  In bidding on this photograph, I am not automatically responding to the people who said, sometimes angrily, “What do you need that for?  Haven’t you got enough of that as it is?” 

But perhaps part of being an adult with freedom and some disposable income (thus terribly fortunate) is the Thorstein Veblen principle in a mild, non-judgmental way: I can afford to buy myself something that won’t keep me warm or house me — but something that will please me when I perceive it. 

I no longer have to ask my mother for an advance on my allowance to buy a Louis Armstrong record I had never seen before (she was good about such things) so buying the portrait of Sidney is a way of saying, “I am adult enough to trust myself to spend a little money on something not essential to my life; I am adult enough to spend money on something that will please me whenever I look at it.”   

Another person might say, “What I want for dinner tonight is simply a bowl of cereal.  Or scrambled eggs and toast.  Why should I not please myself?”

Freedom to act with individuality, the maturity and self-knowledge to trust one’s impulses. 

And I will be able to hang the photograph on the wall at eye-level so that I will see Sidney as I go past him, and will be able to muse on his generous brilliance. 

I can never BE Sidney, but I can hope to draw something from his example: Be youself.  Be excellent at whatever it is you do.  Do it so that you give your gift to others. 

And there’s more.  I would call my bidding on that photograph a selective acquisition: were I to feel passionately that I had to have copies (or originals) of every photograph taken of Sidney Catlett, then I would be in a different realm.  Frankly, although I revere Sidney, I do not want to have him on every wall of the apartment: he would become inescapable.  There’s room for Pee Wee Russell, too, and my own photographs of living musicians.

I also think that my desire for the photograph is a quiet response to ignorance and mediocrity.  Strong words, you say.  Fighting words, even.  But my words are not idly chosen.  The world outside has very little interest in or knowledge of the music I and others love and celebrate here. 

Having a portrait of Sidney is my own way of saying to the world that ignores him, the world that raises mediocrities to stardom, “THIS is what you should be honoring.  I know he means nothing to you, but I refuse to forget him and what he did.”  

Having things that give us pleasure will not keep us alive a moment longer; our collections of beloved objects will have to find other owners when we die. 

But if we enter into an uplifting spiritual relationship with the things we do purchase, perhaps our lives will be enhanced by the powers they continue to possess.

And — a mournful postscript: there are so many things in our lives that we cannot control, so making these small decisions to bring beauty, elation, and solace into our existence is very important . . .

COMING SOON: MICHAEL BANK (October 28, 2010)

The excellent young pianist Michael Bank, whose jazz appearances usually take place north of New York City, is coming to Brooklyn to show off his understated swinging creativity. 

He’ll be joined by the superb bassist Murray Wall, the young guitarist Matt Smith . . . and perhaps other friends as well.  All of this will unfold on Thursday, October 28, 2010 from 6 to 8:30 at PUPPETS JAZZ BAR in Park Slope, located at 481 Fifth Avenue, (718) 499-2622.

Michael has played with a great many swinging small groups in New York and environs: his colleagues include Kevin Dorn, Dan Levinson, Craig Ventresco, Ben Polcer.  He has a witty way of looking at the world — reflected not only in his amused commentaries on his surroundings but also in his playing: restrained, sly, epigrammatic. 

Although he can launch into Waller-stride, he is much more likely (a la Basie, Nat Cole, and Wilson) to let a few notes ring out and ride the rhythmic flow.  I’ve heard him in the worst situations — on an electric keyboard in a room full of noisy brunchers, in the middle of a wildly disorganized big band — and he always provides light.

Here’s Michael with Kevin Dorn’s THE BIG 72, something I recorded live in March 2010 at the Garage in downtown New York City.  Joining him are Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Adrian Cunningham, alto sax; Pete Martinez, clarinet and vocal; Kelly Friesen, bass; Kevin, drums. 

Don’t miss this!

FOR BIX: ANDY SCHUMM AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

To those who haven’t yet heard him, the delight I and others take in Andy Schumm’s playing might seem a bit excessive. 

“Who is this young whipper-snapper?  If he were any good — to paraphrase Larkin’s Law of Reissues — I’d have all his Orthophonic Victors in green sleeves by now.  There are no entries for ANDY SCHUMM AND HIS SHOOTING STARS in any of my discographies!”

Andy has us all waiting for his first — of many — compact disc as a leader.  But what he have in the meantime is evidence of his mastery.

He has a serene way of phrasing (although his notes can rush and tumble when the musical context is red hot), a clarion tone, a way of creating melodic lines that stick in the memory after the song is ended.  Like another young Midwestern cornet player, he balances energetic propulsion and cool musing consideration, memorably.  And although he knows the records by heart (he’s quite the scholar of the period he loves — see more on his new website, http://www.andyschumm.com — he’s no reverent antiquarian content with copying what he’s heard on those black-label OKehs.  (By the way, he also understands Joe Oliver and Ed Allen, among others, from the inside out.)

Andy got to lead two sets at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua (I’ve posted the first).  This one found him among players who understand his vision — swinging, emotionally lively, often witty:  Dan Barrett, Dan Block, John Sheridan, Marty Grosz, Vince Giordano, Pete Siers.

The program was called SPOTLIGHT ON BIX, but Andy didn’t choose the most famous of the Beiderbecke-associated repetoire.  Rather, he and the band peered into less-frequently investigated corners and came up with songs that rewarded us more than another go-round on ROYAL GARDEN or SINGIN’ THE BLUES.

TIA JUANA was his opener — reminding us both of the Wolverine Orchestra and of the 1939 records by Bud Freeman (on Decca) that Eddie Condon wanted to call SONS OF BIXES:

LAZY DADDY comes from the same period, and is rarely played:

Jumping forward to the end of Bix’s Whiteman period, Andy offered the sad yet hopeful Irving Berlin composition WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, which I always hear in my imagination with a vocal by the youthful Bing Crosby:

When was the last time you heard a  band play FLOCK O’BLUES (with or without solos!):

Finally, Andy called for LOVE AFFAIRS — an undistinguished yet bouncy tune (I hear the vocal refrain on this one, too, although with more amusement than affection) that we wouldn’t think of if illustrious improvisers hadn’t played it.  I’m especially fond of the pairings of two horns here (the two Dans) balancing melody and improvised embellishment:

I’m going to see this young fellow in person on Sunday, October 24, and will report back: it may be premature elation, but I’m looking forward to it!

THREE REEDS, FOUR RHYTHM = DELIGHT (Sept 18, 2010)

My title is particularly true when you have Dan Block, Harry Allen, and Scott Robinson as the three reed wizards, floating over and around the playing of Rossano Sportiello, piano; Gene Bertoncini, guitar; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums.  All of this took place in front of “my own two looking eyes” at Jazz at Chautauqua this past September. 

I’ve seen same-instrument extravaganzas slide into machismo, but it didn’t happen with these improvisers, who know how to play softly, with feeling, with intensity.  Dan Block certainly knows how to program a set — some Fifties Basie (composed by Freddie Green, I believe), a less-played Irving Berlin composition from CALL ME MADAM, and a sweet Ellington classic.   

CORNER POCKET (or UNTIL I MET YOU) started things off in a properly rocking groove: Rossano easily gets that Basie glide without copying the most tired trademarks of the Count’s style.  Pete Siers and Jon Burr rock without raising the volume, and even when you don’t quite hear what Gene Bertoncini is doing, the musicians do — he’s in there, as they used to say:

And the sweetly swaying conclusion (I was so delighted by what Gene had played and by the smiles on the musicians’ faces that I missed the start of Rossano’s solo):

THE BEST THING FOR ME (WOULD BE YOU) is often mis-announced as THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE, but we know that the first title is sometimes truer than the second.  I first heard the song on a wonderful Vanguard session led by Mel Powell, with Ruby Braff, Skeeter Best, Oscar Pettiford, and Bobby Donaldson, all masters.  Here the first chorus is For Saxes Only, then with the rhythm section joining in, Scott, Harry, Dan, Rossano, and Gene — each one his own brilliant shooting star:

And the best thing for us is more (beginning with an energetic conversation among the horns and ending at such a high level of collective improvisation, those lines weaving and swirling masterfully):

I associate IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD with Vic Dickenson and the sound of the early-Thirties Ellington band (Otto Hardwick singing out the lead): here, the eloquent melody statement and embellishment is handled nobly by Jon Burr, before the horns have a quietly rueful conversation backed by the whispering rhythm section:

More than enough inspiration for anyone!

SIDNEY CATLETT, TRIUMPHANT

Two of these photographs are new to me — they are objects of desire in eBay bidding skirmishes.  But here we can admire them without having to skimp on groceries. 

Presumably they date from the early Forties and come from the estate of John C. Brown of Baltimore, Maryland.  Brown (so the eBay bio says) was a jazz drummer into the Fifties, associated early on with Jack Teagarden; later a popular concert promoter and jazz writer.  Other photographs for sale depict Earl Hines, Benny Goodman, Slick Jones, Jo Jones, Benny Carter, Eddie Duchin, Billy Eckstine . . . .  

But Sidney Catlett, short-lived and magisterial, is our subject here. 

The first photograph is a famous one, a still from one of Louis Armstrong’s Soundies, circa 1942.  The second is less familiar: Teddy Wilson’s sextet at Cafe Society, circa 1944: WIlson, Benny Morton, Emmett Berry, Ed Hall, Sid, Johnny Williams. 

But this one is the masterpiece, I think. 

As a composition, it’s not flawless; the empty space to Sidney’s left suggests it was less posed than captured.  But I imagine that the photographer was moderately hemmed in by the situation.  The setting seems a concert stage; (s)he may have been using natural light (I don’t catch the reflections one associates with a flashbulb) — thus the portrait has a candid character to it and Sidney seems caught unaware, in motion. 

Sidney’s mouth is half-open, as if he was making an emphatic sound in tune with his drums; his eyes seem half-focused, as if he was in a rhythmic trance.  But his face seems peaceful and youthful: could this be from the late Thirties? 

I know I have drum scholars in my reading audience — Hal Smith, Mike Burgevin, Kevin Dorn, Jeff Hamilton among them — what does anyone think about Sidney, the landscape, and his set? 

I love the cymbal holder on the right, Sidney’s ring, the way he is holding one brush quite firmly and the other is caught in mid-stroke, an accent off the snare. 

And I would wear that necktie myself. 

A wonderful moment in time, and we can imagine the floating, urgent sound he created: how much energy his image can still create, one hundred years after his birth.

 

JOE WILDER’S MAGIC

 Ask any musician, “Tell me about Joe Wilder,” and watch the warm smile that immediately emerges.  He’s a rare being — generous in person and in his music, warm and caring, whether the horn is up to his lips or he’s chatting over lunch, in a cab, or at an airport.  There’s no division between the public man and the private one: both are genuinely loving, open individuals.     

I met him in person perhaps thirty years ago at an outdoor concert in Glen Cove, New York.  Joe travels in the best company, so he was playing in a little band with Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, Phil Bodner, and perhaps Bobby Rosengarden.  And I’ve gotten to know him better by seeing him at Jazz at Chautauqua for the past six years.  Joe never forgets a friend or a kindness, so although he knows thousands of people, he remembered me kindly.  

I had heard Joe on records for a long time — the golden arching phrases of his Columbia records of the Fifties, the warm balletic phrases of his Savoy session, his more recent work for the Evening Star and Arbors labels. 

But this was the first year I really accomplished what I’d hoped to do — catch Joe in performance with groups of his friends.  And here are two examples of Mr. Wilder’s subtle magic — in company with Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, bass; John Von Ohlen, drums — as he approaches two familiar jazz standards, making them brand-new by his delight in playing.  Keith had his back to me, but he was grinning — and you can see the delight on the faces of Frank and John as well.   

Joe’s style is a wonderful mixture of the singing embrace of a melody — great ringing “lead” playing that would point the way for a big band or a symphonic trumpet section — mixed with a dancing harmonic and rhythmic subtlety worthy of the great modernists that would be impossible to notate.  Joe loves to play with what he’s given, and he is a born experimenter. 

He took great delight in something that I’d written in CODA: that I could hear him in solos getting into what other musicians would think of as traps or dead-ends, and then getting himself out without creasing his clothes.  His solos sound like the conversation of someone bursting with ideas whose straight-ahead expositions are always full of thoughtful, witty parentheses. 

And you can hear his whimsical embellishment at work on these songs, as if he was constantly amusing himself by testing his artistic ingenuity: “Can I get this rapid-fire reference to THE CONTINENTAL in this phrase and get out again without messing up in relation to the rapidly moving chords under me?  Wow, I can and I could!  What’s next?”  He’s always thinking while he’s playing, and his solos aren’t formulaic arrangements of familiar modules laid end to end. 

Here he is, dancing around HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES:

And being the perfect gentleman escorting that SATIN DOLL:

By the way: did I mention that Joe Wilder was born February 22, 1922? 

Don’t let the numbers fool you: he has the youngest and biggest heart I know — and he never closes it off to the music or to us.

ANDY SCHUMM COMES ON (IN TWO TAKES)

Good news!  Andy Schumm, the sterling cornetist, is making a New York visit.  He’ll be playing at The Ear Inn this coming Sunday (October 24) with our other delightful visitor from afar Dan Barrett, Matt Munisteri, Scott Robinson on bass sax — a heavenly jazz crew!  And no doubt other New York friends and admirers who have their horns with them.  That’s 326 Spring Street from 8-11 PM. 

I confess that I would like the Ear to be jammed with sympathetic wise listeners who sit reverently and know that SUSIE (OF THE ISLANDS) was issued in two takes.  But I hope the throng of admiring Bixians will save me a seat at the bar, too. 

And — long-term good news — Andy’s just started his own website: www.andyschumm.com.  You can see what a pleasure and resource it’s going to be — not just the usual LOOK AT ME! extravaganza.  Andy wants to make his site a place where people can chat about their jazz interests, share their discoveries, get answers to their questions — which will be valuable indeed.  Do take a look!

THE SPARKS WILL FLY (November 21, 2010)

Tri-State Jazz Society presents Cynthia Sayer and the Sparks Fly Quintet, Sunday November 21, from  2 – 5 pm.

Cynthia’s quintet features herself on banjo, vocals, and irrepressible enthusiasm; Charlie Caranicas on trumpet and eloquence; Scott Robinson on many saxophones and gratifying surprises; Mike Weatherly on string bass, vocals, and rocking swing; Larry Eagle on percussive propulsion (also called his trap kit).  Having seen and admired Cynthia in many performance settings, I can assure readers that they will be enlightened, entertained, and never bored — her musical and emotional range is wide and deep.

This concert will be held at the Brooklawn American Legion Post at 11 Railroad Ave, Brooklawn NJ 08030. Half-price admission is $10 available for first-time attendees and members.  High school and college students with IDs and children accompanied by a paying adult are free.  Pay at the door; there are no advance sales or reservations. The American Legion hall is approximately 10 minutes from the Walt Whitman Bridge. For information call (856) 720-0232 or visit www.tristatejazz.org.

 Cynthia has accumulated numerous awards and honors, including induction into the National Banjo Hall of Fame. Her most recent CD release, “Attractions,” which includes legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, received two 2009 award nominations. She is also a subject of a PBS documentary about the banjo, expected to be aired in 2011. Please visit www.cynthiasayer.com for more about Cynthia, the band, their concert performances and samples of music and video recordings.

WHOLLY WRIT

As I see it, here are the three possibilities.

The best thing that might have happened to one of us would have been to play alongside Adrian Rollini in a band.

The next best thing would have been to have heard that band and gotten Rollini’s autograph.  (Extra points if he wrote your name on the piece of paper.)

The next best thing would be to be able to purchase a Rollini autograph:

Now, here’s another example.  See if you can do this one on your own:

If that signature seems tantalizingly elusive, it’s Glenn Miller.

Those two pieces of paper are both for sale (as I write this) in the same eBay lot — the third is a Les Brown autograph.  Stranger things have happened, but I can’t quite think of them at the moment.

FIFTY-SECOND STREET WEST (Cafe Borrone, Oct. 15, 2010)

Because of the wonderful photographs that Charles Peterson and others took, some of my readers will be able to visualize the bandstand at Jimmy Ryan’s sixty-five years ago — crowded with hot musicians jamming on, say, BUGLE CALL RAG, with every luminary in New York City eagerly improvising at the peak of their powers.

Now imagine that scene with additions.  A wondrous singer — let’s say Connee Boswell, Lee Wiley, or Mildred Bailey is joining in for a few numbers. 

And, if your imagination can hold this, Django Reinhardt and some members of his group are also there, off to the side, having a fine time.  Bob Wills is coming through the door, too. 

Did this happen?  If it did — in New York City, circa 1945 — it hasn’t been documented.  But something very much like it happened last Friday, October 15, 2010, in Cafe Borrone, which sits happily in Menlo Park, California.

Cafe Borrone has — through the generosity and prescience of its owner, Roy Borrone — having Clint Baker’s All-Stars as its Friday night jazz band.  For twenty years of Fridays, mind you.  And the 15th was a twentieth-anniversary party.

And “SFRaeAnn,” who is Rae Ann Berry on her driver’s license, was there to record this occasion.  Clint’s regulars were in attendance, but so were some instrumentally-minded friends.  As was the eloquently hot Gypsy-tinged small group Gaucho, and New York’s own wonder, Tamar Korn.  The musicians (collectively) are Clint Baker, playing everything expertly; Robert Young, saxophone; Leon Oakley, cornet; Katie Cavera, banjo, guitar; Tom Wilson, trombone; Jim Klippert, trombone; Dave Ricketts, guitar; Rob Reich, accordion; Mike Groh, guitar; Ari Munkres, bass, J. Hansen, drums, Riley Baker, drums.

A word about GAUCHO — a group I’ve seen in San Francisco (and I’ve also listened happily to their recordings): many “Gypsy swing” groups that loosely resemble this one specialize in superhero-speedy readings of the Reinhart-Grappelly repertoire.  In such cases, I agree with my friend Anthony Barnett when he proposes a moratorium on such endeavors.  In my case, all I want is not to be pummelled with notes.  But GAUCHO is superbly different.  The overall affect is superficially of music you’d hear on the porch or in the living room, but that feeling is undercut by the instant awareness that no amateur musicians ever, ever sounded this good.  Its two guitarists play and swap roles with grace and a stylish casualness.  Rob Reich makes the accordion an instrument I would happily listen to, as he spins out wandering lines (I was traumatized by an accordion as a child.)  And Ari Munkeres brings together Pops Foster and Paul Chambers very adeptly.  The overall feeling brings together Teddy Bunn and Western swing and a whole host of refreshing improvisations on various subtle, profound models.   

Here’s part of a delightful EXACTLY LIKE YOU, where Tamar and Leon converse:

And a full-fledged YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — where Tamar’s eyes and facial expressions reveal a great comic actress, singing the twisty lyrics at a rapid clip.  (Not only that: she sings the verse twice!)  This performance becomes a series of witty conversations and overlapping monologues, most fetchingly: 

How about SOME OF THESE DAYS, with an incredible outchorus where instruments and Tamar (the Mills Sister) blend so exuberantly:

Here’s a  delicate, unaffected I’M CONFESSIN’ — a performance where Ari’s arco bass, Leon’s Ziggy Elman – Harry James emoting, Robert’s sweet alto, and more theoretically disparate elements come together to create something terribly moving:

The simplistic philosophy of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING remains true — complain too much and even the dog walks out of the room — but what catches my eye in the first minute of this performance is that an audience member has asked Tamar to dance (unless I am missing the essential subtext).  At what other site do band members dance with the audience?  I ask you!  And don’t miss the vocal duet between Tamar and Jim Klippert, a man who is having just too much fun to keep it to himself:

Tamar sat out PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE (perhaps the jitterbugging had worn her out for the moment?) and Clint took the vocal, with solos from everyone: 

And the evening ended with a romp nothing short of ecstatic on BILL BAILEY (or, as Joe Wilder calls it, THE RETURN OF WILLIAM BAILEY), which should have you grinning for days:

I’m thrilled that this music was created and that the apparently tireless Rae Ann Berry saved it for us and for posterity.  Bless Roy Borrone, all the musicians, and our own devoted videographer, too.

P.S.  And I have it from good authority that GAUCHO’s new CD has Miss Korn and Mister Oakley in attendance — with some songs that Tamar has written lyrics for.  I check the mailbox every day . . . and will let you know when it arrives!

RINGSIDE AT RANDY’S: JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

Here’s another tangible reminder of how wonderful the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua experience was.  

In four songs, cornetist Randy Reinhart created a rewarding reflection of the jazz played by Eddie Condon and friends.

I can’t say for sure that Randy had this theme in mind at all.  Perhaps he thought, “OK, here’s the band I’ve been asked to lead — great soloists and a cooking rhythm section.  Let’s make it easy for the guys to have fun and the audience, too — a reliable swinger to start with, a pretty change of pace, a feature for someone, and a hot one to go out on!” 

But much more happened on that bandstand.  First off, Randy had prime melodists and swingers around him: Bob Havens, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Sheridan, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass and bass sax (Vince never sidled over to the tuba on this set); Arnie Kinsella, drums. 

A band like that can do anything — especially with a leader who has the good sense to keep things reasonably uncomplicated (save the fugues for later) and to give his players — almost all of them leaders on their own — space to invent.

Randy began his set with a Gershwin classic, another piece of music whose title is a witty affirmation, ‘S’WONDERFUL, and kicked it off at a nice tempo, not too fast.  You’ll notice that although no one is consciously “modernistic,” the harmonic vocabulary here hasn’t stopped at 1936.  Hear the wonderful teamwork between Bobby and Marty when Bobby takes his winding, musing solo.  Bob Havens here reminds me of the great and under-celebrated Lou McGarity, and Vince (in his own way) summons up both Adrian Rollini and Ernie Caceres in his bass sax solo.  Everyone gets aphoristic in the four-bar trades that follow before the final sauntering ensemble:

Randy featured himself — but in a very modest fashion — in duet with the thoughtfully swinging John Sheridan on something that was the very opposite of formulaic: a wonderful song from the 1933 Bing Crosby book, LEARN TO CROON — and the duet showed that they, too, had already passed the graduate course with honors: Randy’s ringing tone, John’s harmonic subtleties show that they’ve eliminated each rival immediately:

Turning to one of the sidemen and saying, “Here’s your turn; do whatever you’d like,” might lead even the most creative musician into His or Her Feature.  Vic Dickenson played MANHATTAN for years, alternating with IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD; Jack Teagarden had his half-dozen specialties. 

Bob Havens always surprises — not only with his super-gliding technique — but this choice was extra-special: BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILV’RY MOON, a pretty song that used to be part of the American musical landscape (and was parodied in cartoons) before lesser music came along.  I suspect that Bob, a solid product of the sweet Midwest, had heard, sung and played the song, through childhood and adulthood.  And what he and the immensely melodic Mr. Giordano did here is priceless and touching.  I only regret that there wasn’t time for us all to sing along, two choruses — one to fumble, one to sing out now that everyone had recalled the words.  No matter: you can harmonize with the video; thinking of people here and there singing along with Bob and Vince will please me for a long time.  Even Arnie’s train whistle doesn’t intrude on the sweet moment.  And for those who are taking notes, Bob had turned eighty a few months before, which makes his continued mastery an astonishment:

Affirmation, crooning, sweet sentimentality . . . how to conclude this session?  How about a hot Chicago-style paean to the beauty and charms and fidelity of one’s Beloved — EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (But My Baby Loves Nobody But Me):

Early in this posting, I mentioned the name of Eddie Condon.  I don’t want that man and his music ever to be forgotten, or for our recollection to be eroded by time and inaccurate recollection.  Watching these videos again, I thought how well — and without fanfare — Randy and his friends had made the spirit of Condon alive and vigorous: tributes to friends George and Bing, to Louis and Bechet, to sweet sentimental music.  

And the ambiance — hot playing, correct tempos, sweet melodies, easy improvisation — brought back the various Condon clubs, Commodore Records, Town Hall, the Floor Show, the Deccas and Columbias. 

To paraphrase Eddie, whose understatements were high praise, that set didn’t harm anyone!

“I WANT! I WANT!”

I have been trying to put all my compact discs away neatly in alphabetical order, and the very dullness of doing this made me think . . .

When I was collecting records in my late teens (before CDs and cyber-space) the music I could obtain was narrowly defined by fixed circumstances: money was one, availability another.  Originally what I heard and could possess was limited to what was played on the radio; what records were available from department stores and the Salvation Army; the records my friends had, and not much more.

Eventually my horizons (but not necessarily my fortune) blossomed: there were wonderfully enticing record stores on and near Eighth Street in New York City; I could send money off to “Tony’s” in the UK for treasures unheard and unimagined. 

But it was nearly impossible to get more than a sampling of the work of an artist or band, so that when I was able to buy a copy of Brian Rust’s two-volume JAZZ RECORDS, I began checking off the performances I had copies of.  I still have those books nearby, their bindings worn through being handled and loved and held. 

So underneath listening and acquiring was The Quest.  Occasionally there would be a jazz rescuer on the horizon — say, the late Jerry Valburn, who put out record after record containing performances that had been marked “rejected” in Rust and performances no one knew existed.  And it moved listeners like myself closer to the elusive goal of “having it all.” 

“Having it all” became easier through vinyl box sets and European issues — for instance the French CBS Ellington two-record sets or the French Victors, which I bought earnestly.  

Oddly, though, although the music was delicious, I would often play those records once or twice and put them on my shelf, where their spines were very fulfilling to look at: I was that much closer to having it all, complete! 

If I woke up seized with the desire to hear the two takes of STARS, to pick the most esoteric example I can now think of, they were there, on the shelves, ready to be played.  That was comforting, although I can’t think of playing STARS more than once or twice.

With box sets, as well, I knew but didn’t want to admit to myself that the allure of completeness was different from listening to the music.  Would I ever sit down and work my way through (note the language of obligation) the entire output of Fats Waller and his Rhythm, although I loved Fats?  Not likely, because the sheer imposing bulk of that collection quickly began to feel like homework.  “Uh oh, I’ve been bad and neglected my aesthetic responsibilities; I’ve got to listen to 1939 before nightfall or I won’t get any supper.”

Forward to 2010, where CD collections and internet access are both so taken-for-granted that the idea of not being able to hear a particular performance for twenty years seems fascinatingly, weirdly antiquated . . . . when we are able to buy all the recordings of Louis or Django at one expensive shelf-filling gulp, do we listen to them completely?  Or are we perversely overawed by the completeness, the profusion? 

I love the Mosaic box sets I’ve bought and would fight to keep them, but the experience of having them, gazing on their spines, and listening to them is somehow different than the Quest of my teens, where hearing on the radio one three-minute track I did not know about was an illuminating experience. 

The extension of this idea, of course, is the spiritual balancing act: in one hand you hold Everything; in the other Just One Thing — and I am reminded of my conversation with a musician who is now eighty, who talked about being able to buy one 78 record a week, so it had better be perfect.  I am sure that had he, in 1944, been able to visualize the Complete Art Tatum Solo Performances in one package, he would have seen it as a wondrous mirage.  How does it make us feel, I wonder.  When our wants are gratified, will we be happier?

ANDY SCHUMM LEADS THE WAY at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

If you’ve been reading this blog even casually, the name Andy Schumm — the hot cornet / piano man from Milwaukee — will not be new to you.  And he continues to offer surprises: his fine, ringing lead; his well-chosen tempos; his deep immersion in the repertoire; the ease with which he melds the heroic choruses of the recordings we’ve all come to treasure with his own improvisations . . . and more.

Here’s the first set he led at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua, a fine, compact outing.  It says a great deal about Andy and the respect that his peers offer him that he was so capably able to get all these personalities — these veteran musicians, for the most part, men of strong opinions — going in his direction.  And that says that his direction pleased them and it was right!  

The band had its own delightful reed section in Bobby Gordon, clarinet, and Dan Block, tenor sax and (wonderfully on WHISPERING), bass clarinet; a one-man trombone section in Bob Havens, and a bouncing rhythm team of John Sheridan, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Jon Burr, bass (Jon fits in everywhere!); Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Andy began with CRAZY RHYTHM, properly not too fast, with Bobby in a wailing Pee Wee Russell mood:

He then called WHISPERING, such a pretty melody (I applaud the inventions of Dizzy and Bird but always hear WHISPERING poking through GROOVIN’ HIGH), where Dan Block picks up his bass clarinet and steals the show until Bobby reminds us of late Lester Young — wandering yet hopeful:

What would a a session be without some homage, large or small, to Louis?  Here, Andy’s idea was a rocking WEARY BLUES, with all the strains of this 1927 favorite firmly in place — fine leadership here:

And, to close, the old anthem to the-eyes-are-the-windows-of-the-soul metaphysical conceit, THEM THERE EYES.  Don’t miss John Sheridan’s romping, tumbling stride chorus:

What a band!  I thought of a Hackett group — from any period — crossed with a Condon Town Hall concert with some Keynote spices and a touch of Fifties Vanguard.  And although it might seem immodest, I keep revisiting these video performances, grinning and bobbing rhythmically in front of the computer, no doubt to the astonishment of my neighbors, should any of them climb a ladder to peer into my second-floor window.

JAZZ CASUAL: BOB BARNARD at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 17, 2010)

No muss, no fuss.

For a too-brief period at the close of September 17, 2010, the great trumpeter Bob Barnard and poet-friends John Sheridan (piano), Jon Burr (bass), Gene Bertoncini (guitar), and Arnie Kinsella (drums) took the stage at Jazz at Chautauqua.

And they could have convinced anyone that making beautiful music is the easiest thing in the world.  Bob tossed off sky-climbing melodic phrases as if playing the trumpet was something you could do in your spare time; John laid down just the right chords and spun out dancing lines; Gene created chiming melodies and ringing single notes; Jon gave everyone a solid foundation for their own ballets and then spun and pirouetted by himself; Arnie made sounds that propelled everyone (musicians and listeners alike) closer to jazz bliss. 

Easy, right?  Try it sometime (in a safe place at home).

Bob began by calling RAIN — which is what it was conveniently doing outdoors — to honor not only the weather but this pretty tune that Bobby Hackett used to play:

And here’s IT’S BEEN SO LONG, a Walter Donaldson song from 1936 that has a long line of heroic brassmen in its history: Bunny Berigan, Bobby Hackett, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson . . . but Bob and friends had their own stories to tell us:

MARTY GROSZ’S BASS MOTIVES at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

My flippant title is not completely irrelevant.

For starters, at jazz clubs and parties and festivals, there are performances ranging from humdrum to spectacular.  And — not very often — there are performances that viewers and listeners know they won’t ever forget. 

I take great pride in presenting one such episode: around four minutes long, quietly rocking rather than explosive, and performed before noon — an unseemly time of day for most jazz musicians.

The band was officially titled Marty Grosz and “The Mouldy Figs,” referring to those rather artificial wars between musical ideologies stirred up by jazz critics and fans in the Forties and Fifties.  A “Mouldy Fig” read Rudi Blesh rather than Barry Ulanov or Leonard Feather, revered Bunk Johnson rather than Fats Navarro.  Figs deplored “be-bop,” horn-rimmed glasses, and berets.

Since Marty Grosz has displayed a serious leaning towards band-names no one has thought of before (his Hot Puppies, his Orphan Newsboys, and so on) I have taken the liberty of renaming the band — for this performance only “Bass Motives.”  Why?  Well, there’s Arnie Kinsella on drums — someone who knows how to make a particular point with a ferocious hit to his bass drum; Andy Stein, usually playing violin but here picking up his baritone sax; Vince Giordano, bass saxophonist supreme; Scott Robinson, the Doc Savage of the instrument room, also playing bass saxophone. 

The tune they launch into is the pretty old Eddie Cantor tribute to his wife, Ida — IDA (SWEET AS APPLE CIDER).  But behind Eddie and Ida and their family is the far more serious presence of Red Nichols and his Five Pennies in the Brunswick studios in 1927 — the Pennies including Pee Wee Russell and Adrian Rollini, perhaps the finest bass saxophonist ever, ever.  And one of the songs they took on was a moving ballad-tempo version of IDA. 

Marty and his Bass Motives not only evoke that lovely recording but sing out in their own style.  When I wrote that some rare performances are unforgettable, I wasn’t over-praising this one:

Incidentally, for the chroniclers in the audience: Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke have received a good deal of well-earned praise for their imperishable recordings in early 1927 of two “jazz ballads,” that is, improvisation carried out at a medium-slow tempo: SINGIN’ THE BLUES and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (with a sweet reading of ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS not far behind).  The original Nichols recording — in August of that same year — seems deeply emotionally influenced by the pretty playing of Bix and Tram.

AN OSCAR FOR HOWARD!

I nominate Howard Miyata for an Academy Award: BEST ACTOR IN A PERFORMANCE BY A JAZZ BAND.  Here’s why:  

Rambling around YouTube, I saw a clip posted by Tom Warner (his channel is “tdub1941”) of the High Sierra Jazz Band performing at the 17th Annual Glacier Bay Jazz Stampede in Kalispell, Montata, earlier this month.  The band is led by reedman Pieter Meijers.  Its other members in this clip are Bruce Huddleston, piano; my man Marc Caparone, trumpet; Howard Miyata, trombone / vocal; Charlie Castro, drums; Stan Huddleston, banjo; Earl McKee, sousaphone.

This would have been enticement enough. 

But then I saw the clip was of THE YAMA YAMA MAN with Howard Miyata singing.  I am very fond of that song for purely sentimental reasons: when I was young, perhaps still in the single digits, Ray Nolan, a friend of my father’s used to sing it (in part) and I was enraptured.*  Both my father and Ray are gone now, and the sound of this song is one of the many comforting memories of my childhood. 

And anything that features Howard Miyata is, as they used to say, just my dish.  We’ve never met, but he has a special place in my heart as “Uncle Howie” to Gordon, Justin, and Brandon Au — one of the true up-and-coming dynasties of jazz.  I first saw Howard as part of a High Sierra brass trio playing POTATO HEAD BLUES on cornets with unforgettable accuracy and power.

So be brave and watch this performance:

Even though the Yama Yama Man might be hiding behind the armoire, just tell him that you’re a friend of Uncle Howie’s and everything will be fine. 

P.S.  An easy question: just which irreplaceable vocalist and trumpet player, initials L. A., does Howard remind you of?  Hilariously from the heart!  

*Off the track of jazz: Ray also sang something which was presumably a Civil War song (!) although he must have heard it from his grandfather or father.  The singer is presumably a young man going off to fight, and what I remember of the lyrics are, “Good-bye, Ma / Good-bye, Pa / Good-bye, mule with the old hee-haw / I may not know what this war’s about / But you bet by gosh that I’ll sure find out.”  Can any reader identify this?

JUST SAY YES: SCOTT ROBINSON and DAN BLOCK (Jazz at Chautauqua 2010)

Scott Robinson and Dan Block (reeds) romp through Cole Porter’s affirmation, IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME, at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua party, with the nimble unflagging aid of Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate, and Pete Siers.  Never has “Yes!” been said so emphatically — not since Joyce’s Molly Bloom, of course: