Daily Archives: October 22, 2010

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.