Over the past half-dozen years, it’s been a rare pleasure to see and hear Bobby Gordon at Jazz at Chautauqua. Without making a fuss about it or announcing himself unduly, he has always been one of the poets of jazz — and not simply of the clarinet. He takes his own unpredictable ways to get where he’s going, and when he arrives you find the journey has been both moving and surprising.
It’s not surprising that one of Bobby’s clarinet heroes is that rare explorer Pee Wee Russell — but Bobby is too much in touch with his own essence to copy Russell’s leaps and weavings. Bobby’s approach is also tempered by the deep-blue sounds and thought patterns of the great but not well-remembered Joe Marsala, a consummate melodist who much admired Jimmie Noone.
Here at Jazz at Chautauqua Bobby was joined by the nimble and down-home pianist Keith Ingham (who has wonderful stories of a career that began when he was a mere boy alongside the finest American and British improvisers), the splendidly multi-instrumental Vince Giordano, here toting his aluminum string bass, and the man of mysterious percussive rumbles and swooshes, Arnie Kinsella. If they sound a little bit like Joe Sullivan / Jess Stacy / Artie Shapiro / Bob Casey / George Wettling / Dave Tough, we don’t mind at all.
Bobby began with a pretty but mobile AT SUNDOWN, a song recorded by an Eddie Condon group back in the halcyon Commodore days:
Another performance with a Commodore pedigree is KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, homage to Fats as well:
A tribute to the later life of Charles Ellsworth Russell (and his friend Nat Pierce), PEE WEE’S BLUES:
Keith, for his feature, thought of the brilliant and much-missed Mel Powell, who wrote this piece as a tribute to Earl Hines when Mel was with the Benny Goodman band — it’s THE EARL:
And Bobby closed his set with a limpid MY MELANCHOLY BABY, in honor of that pretty tune and of Joe Marsala, too:
Bobby’s style is so thoughtful, his voice so human — jazz poetry that comes straight from his heart.