Monthly Archives: October 2010

DUKE ELLINGTON AT THE COTTON CLUB

I’m delighted to report a new 2-CD set of Ellington broadcast material from the Cotton Club — with some new things never otherwise issued, and a good deal of material that only serious Ellington collectors had at their fingertips.  (I know that the music world might seem to some to be awash in Ellington CDs, but I think this set essential.)

The set is called, logically, DUKE ELLINGTON AT THE COTTON CLUB (Storyville 1038415).  It begins with two selections — piano solos — taken from a “Saturday Night Swing Club” broadcast on May 8, 1937, and ends with the Ellington band broadcasting from Sweden on April 20, 1939, as part of an exultant tour.

In between there are forty-two selections broadcast live from the Cotton Club, from April 17 to May 29, 1938. 

“Why is this essential?” you might ask.  Most improvising ensembles, then and now, might find themselves somewhat confined by the limitations of the recording studio.  It wasn’t always a matter of the time constraints imposed by the 78 rpm disc — two-thirds of the selections in this set would have fit on commercial releases. 

But a recording session brought with it the pressure to make a mistake-free performance, which sometimes stifled the spontaneity so needed for improvisational brilliance.  There is also the indefinable but audible give-and-take between a happy nightclub audience and the musicians on these discs, something that the dead air and clock of the recording studio could not reproduce. 

These broadcasts give us tangible swinging evidence of what the Ellington band sounded when playing for real audiences — and of the variety of its approaches to identical material (three versions of IF DREAMS COME TRUE, for instance). 

The accepted Ellington history is that the band reached a peak in 1940-1 when Ben Webster joined the band and Jimmy Blanton became the bassist, and the Victor recordings in this period are extraordinary.  And the Fargo, North Dakota, dance date of November 1940 (seventy years ago next month!) has a swaying unbuttoned splendor. 

But any history that deals in peaks and apexes is suspect, and if Ellington had disbanded in spring 1938 I think we would be mourning this orchestra as a great accomplishment, a merging of vividly disparate personalities all going in the same direction on the bandstand. 

What we hear in these airshots is the band taking on pop tunes, originals, jamming in small-group contexts, melting Ivie Anderson vocals — a wonderful banquet with extraordinary solo and ensemble work from the Masters: Bigard, Carney, Hodges, Cootie, Rex, Greer, Lawrence Brown, Tricky Sam, and so on. 

The set begins with two Ellington piano solos — SWING SESSION (SODA FOUNTAIN RAG in new attire) and a ruminative medley of two ballads, and it ends with a priceless long airshot from Sweden, where ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM is framed by a mournful, pensive SERENADE TO SWEDEN and a Swedish pop tune, IN A LITTLE RED COTTAGE (BY THE SEA) which Ivie sings most tenderly.  And there’s even a one-minute video clip of the Cotton Club itself. 

Ellington collectors will have known this material (discs were cut for composer / arranger / theorist Joseph Schillinger) when it was issued in part on two Jazz Archives records perhaps thirty-five years ago.  And some of the tracks were issued elsewhere on even more elusive issues.  But the Duke Ellington Society bulletin informs me that several tracks here were never issued anywhere, and it is delightful to have it all collected — in clear transfers with erudite notes by Andrew Homzy. 

As the announcer says, “The Duke is on the air!”   

Track listing:

CD 1
1 Swing Session 2:00
2 Medley: Solitude/In A Sentimental Mood 3:00
3 Harmony In Harlem 3:20
4 If You Were In My Place 3:20
5 Mood Indigo 2:44
6 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 1:14
7 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 0:25
8 Oh Babe, Maybe Someday 2:58
9 Dinah’s In A Jam 2:12
10 If Dreams Come True 1:45
11 Scrontch 1:49
12 You Went To My head 1:42
13 Three Blind Mice 3:11
14 Solitude 3:28
15 Downtown Uproar 3:12
16 Dinah’s In A Jam 3:26
17 On The Sunny Side Of The Street 4:09
18 Ev’ry Day 2:45
19 Azure 2:46
20 Carnival In Caroline 2:50
21 Harmony In Harlem 3:35
22 At Your Back And Call 2:22
23 Solitude 3:18
24 The Gal From Joe’s 3:06
25 Riding On A Blue Note 2:38
26 If Dreams Come True 2:54

Total time:70:23

CD 2
1 Oh Babe, Maybe Someday 2:51
2 I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart 1:31
3 Birmingham Breakdown 2:38
4 Rose Room 2:10
5 If Dreams Come True 2:34
6 It’s The Dreamer In Me 4:37
7 Lost In Meditation 3:53
8 Ev’ry Day 2:40
9 Echoes Of Harlem 4:40
10 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 0:58
11 Jig Walk 2:02
12 In A Sentimental Mood 1:13
13 I’m Slapping 7th Avenue2:50
14 Lost In Meditation 2:45
15 Alabamy Home 3:32
16 If You Were In My Place 2:15
17 Prelude in C Sharp Minor 2:56
18 Rockin’ In Rhythm 3:58
19 Serenade To Sweden 5:38
20 Rockin’ In Rhythm 4:24
21 In A Red Little Cottage 5:13
22 Video Clip from the Cotton Club 1:00

Total time: 66:28

For more details, visit http://www.storyvillerecords.com/default.aspx?tabID=2633&productId=27279&state_2838=2

SWINGIN’ THE DREAM

One of the nicest jazz traditions is “the band within a band,” most popular in the Swing Era.  Think of the Goodman Trio, the Dorsey Clambake Seven, all those “Ellington units,” which gave the musicians a chance to unwind, play something that wasn’t written down, have a little fun.   

These young people in Spain — a little group from the Sant Andreu Jazz Orchestra — are just one cheerful face of the lively present and future of jazz, which is more than reassuring.  And they’re carrying on many traditions in this performance. 

I expected and happily watched a lovely slow-medium reading of DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME, a song that goes back to 1931 (!) and which I associate first with Ella and Louis — before Mama Cass. 

But look out there, Pops — watch that tempo! 

This dreamy little song becomes A Hot Number and the swing dancers are clearly in terpsichorean heaven.  Watch their faces as well as their bodies! 

These “swing kids” deserve a whole helping of praise. 

They are EVA FERNANDEZ (vocal / alto sax); ISCLE DATZIRA (tenor); ANDREA MOTIS (trumpet); MARC MARTIN (piano); CARLA MOTIS (guitar); MAGALI DATZIRA (bass); ARNAU JULIA (drums).  Their leader is JOAN CHAMORRO; he’s assisted by MONTSE JORBA.  (Joan Chamorro has posted a number of clips of the SAJB on his YouTube channel, “sergech,” named for his hero Serge Chaloff.)

The performance was recorded — obviously very live! — in the Plaza Virrena (which I am perhaps naively assuming is in Barcelona). 

Hooray for dreams that do come true . . . .

MORE FROM ANDY SCHUMM at WHITLEY BAY (July 11, 2010)

We were very fortunate that Andy Schumm had three concert-length appearances at the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, each with his Bixologists.  On the final day of the festival, the Bixologists were Norman Field, reeds; Paul Munnery, trombone; Keith Nichols, piano and vocals; Spats Langham, guitar, banjo, vocals; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone, with guest appearances by Michael McQuaid, clarinet, and Nick Ward, drums (the latter in the second part of this posting). 

Here are ten marvelous performances from that session!

Howdy Quicksell’s SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN is unusually sprightly for its rather sad theme.  Two conventions are also at work here: the witty imitation of a wind-up phonograph at the start, sliding into pitch on the first note, and the slow-drag break at the end.  (They are as solidly accepted pieces of performance practice as the whole-tone break in SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, something that Dan Barrett and Jon-Erik Kellso do perfectly when the stars are right.):

SUGAR isn’t the more famous Maceo Pinkard song, beloved of Ethel Waters and Louis Armstrong, but a bouncy concoction on its own, here sung most convincingly by Mr. Langham:

RHYTHM KING (listen to that Rhythm King, I tell you!) falls to Keith Nichols, so ably:

Bix and his friends didn’t exist in a vacuum, though: while they were in the OKeh studios, so were Louis and Bessie Smith and Clarence Williams. Andy invited our friend Michael McQuaid up to the stand to whip up a ferocious version of Clarence Williams’ CUSHION FOOT STOMP, which suggests a healing visit to the podiatrist or something else whose meaning eludes me:

Letting Michael off the stand after only one number would have been a bad idea, so he and Norman embarked on a two-clarinet version of the ODJB (and Beiderbecke) CLARINET MARMALADE, which paid homage not only to Johnny Dodds and Boyd Senter but to Olympic gymnasts as well:

Who was CLORINDA?  Only the Chicago Loopers knew for sure:

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band affected everyone who had even fleeting thoughts of playing jazz at the beginning of the last century: here’s their ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JAZZ BAND ONE-STEP, which has no relation whatsoever to CUSHION FOOT STOMP:

Andy Secrest would be jazz’s most forgotten man if it weren’t for the affectionate recall of people like Andy Schumm and Dick Sudhalter, who brought him out of the shadows (he was rather like the understudy forced to step into an unfillable role).  WHAT A DAY! is in his honor:

I’M GOING TO  MEET MY SWEETIE NOW — always a delightful thought — brings us back to the days of those all-too-few romping recordings the Jean Goldkette Orchestra made for Victor Records:

And (finally, for this posting) another version of BALTIMORE — the new dance craze — a rhythm that’s hot, as Keith Nichols knows so well:

More to come (on the other side, of course)!

“GOOD NEWS, PARTY-GOERS!”

Mike Durham’s Classic Jazz Party is on — that’s November 4-5-6, 2011, and I’m going. 

It’s a little early to pack my bag, but I have made my reservation (Kelly at the Village Hotel Newcastle took my information but won’t charge my card until I commit, two weeks in advance.) and I can’t wait! 

You come, too!

KENNY DAVERN: JUST FOUR BARS

Readers accustomed to novels may find most jazz biographies only intermittently satisfying.  Lives, of course, cannot be arranged into dramatic arcs worthy of Trollope or Faulkner — but, just the same, the chronicle of the life and music of your favorite musician often has all its drama in the beginning: attempts to find a personal style, to become proficient, to be recognized. 

Once the musician is reasonably successful, the narrative might become a listing of gigs, concerts, recordings.  Some musicians aid a biographer (unintentionally) by having dramatic or melodramatic lives — drug use, illness, marital and economic strife — but a comfortable musician with a spouse, family, regular income and housing, might offer a biographer a challenge.

It’s a pleasure to write that Edward N. Meyer’s biiography of Kenny Davern’s life and music, JUST FOUR BARS, published by Scarecrow Press and available through Amazon, is a triumphant book on all its many levels. 

Meyer, best-known in the field for his bio-discography of Dick Wellstood, GIANT STRIDES, was the logical one to write about Davern, and although Davern said at first he did not want a biography, he eventually told his wife that Meyer would be his choice. 

Meyer’s coverage of the facts of Davern’s musical life couldn’t be better.  With diligent accuracy, he chronicles appearances, recordings, gigs satisfying and frustrating, the bands Davern led and was part of for more than fifty years. 

If a reader might weary momentarily of the data from Davern’s date book, it should be said that the biographer is writing for two audiences at once — people like me who saw Davern and for whom he is a living presence still, and the Future — those readers for whom it will be crucial to have all this data properly arranged and assessed in one place.  The result is satisfying throughout, especially because Meyer interviewed Davern — making one wish that Davern had written more on his own, for his voice is salty, witty, and precise.  Also invaluable are the voices of Davern’s friends and colleagues: Marty Grosz, Greg Cohen, Dave Frishberg, Warren Vache, James Chirillo.    

Where Meyer is even more fascinating is in what he has uncovered of Davern the private man: the child (the painful twists and turns of his childhood are too complicated to be retold here, but they would have ruined a more fragile person), his development as an adult, husband, father, grandfather. 

In his conversations with everyone who knew Davern on and off the stand — including candid passages from his wife and children — Meyer has shown us the man we didn’t know.  And that man is an enthralling study, because the public Kenny was often comically irascible in ways that felt dangerous to onlookers.  But the private man was erudite, deeply-interested in a variety of subjects, generous, and introspective — genuinely lovable and deeply loved. 

The record of Davern’s musical life is equally detailed and rewarding.  We read of his musical apprenticeship with big bands (which he hated), with Jack Teagarden, Phil Napoleon, musical maturity alongside Bob Wilber and Dick Wellstood, Dick Hyman, and his later quartets and quintets.  And through it all we see a man always striving for something beyond the heights he had already scaled — subtlety, emotional connection, mastery of the horn and the idiom.  His life’s goal, he said, was to be recognized in “just four bars.”  And he did just that, and more. 

Meyer’s biography of Kenny Davern is wide-ranging, analytical as well as enlightening, generous to its subject as well as to readers, now and in the future.  It made me want to revisit my Davern collection, and it brought up memories of seeing the great man plain — for which I am grateful.

FOR JOSEPHINE BAKER: BOHEM RAGTIME JAZZ BAND at WHITLEY BAY, July 11, 2010

She was a sensation.

When Josephine Baker toured Europe in 1928, one of the places she was most enthuastically welcomed was Hungary.  In fact, a popular hit of that year was COME, JOSEPHINE, 

I would have known nothing of this had it not been for my first face-to-face meeting, a delightful one, with the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival.  And here — explained so convincingly by Tamas Itzes, is COME, JOSEPHINE:

The BRJB bills itself as a versatile jazz ensemble, and they can do everything from the “traditional” repertoire to later small-band swing, ragtime, jazzing the classics, and more. 

You can see a good deal of them on their YouTube channel (“fobohem”) and on their website, where (dare I say it) there are CDs and DVDs of the band, by itself and with eminent international guests.  You’ll find them at  http://www.bohemragtime.com/

  The BRJB satisfies!

THREE BY THREE AT WHITLEY BAY (July 11, 2010)

Originally I thought of calling this post COULDN’T BE BETTER, but I decided to be less emphatic.  Still, I am a devout and devoted admirer of the Hot Jazz Trio, one of the few aggregations on this planet that not only lives up to their billing but usually transcends it. 

Who are (or is?) the Hot Jazz Trio?  The simple answer is Bent Persson, trumpet, cornet, mellophone, and even vocals; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone and masterful master of ceremonies; Jacob Ullberger, banjo, guitar, and more. 

These three musicians are Swedish, but they don’t get together that frquently for gigs, because they don’t all live nearby.  So what I have in my mind and ears is a wondrous CD on the Kenneth label, titled HOT JAZZ TRIO, their 2009 performance at Whitley Bay, and their briefer one this year.  That’s not enough, but it will have to do for the moment.

The three videos below tell the story of a versatile jazz ensemble, who (collectively and singly) are able to get inside the skins of Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers, Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, the Ellington orchestra of the late Thirties and early Forties, Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang.  They aren’t trying to “play old records live,” but they do bring those noble ghosts into the room and make them welcome.

Here’s their AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, both energized and focused:

And in the name of good Middle East relations, they summon up not only an amusing period piece (LENA suggested EGYPTIAN ELLA and more) but also the ODJB and all that vaguely exotic splendor of the beginning of the last century — in LENA FROM PALESTEENA:

And, because everyone needs a little more disposable income, here’s BEAU KOO JACK — in honor of Louis, Earl, and Don Redman:

Live, lively, and more — the Hot Jazz Trio!

DMITRY BAEVSKY’S STORIES: “DOWN WITH IT”

I’m proud to say that I knew the brilliant young altoist Dmitry Baevsky even before his new CD, DOWN WITH IT (Sharp Nine) appeared.

I’d heard about him in the best possible way — a musician who had played alongside Dmitry and admired him told me I had to come hear him.  The musician, incidentally, was pianist Ehud Asherie, whose taste I trust. 

I heard them in duet at Smalls and was delighted by Dmitry’s sensibility, where all schools of melodic jazz improvisation co-exist.  In his cosmos, Hilton Jefferson shares the sidewalk with Sonny Rollins.  Clearly he hasn’t been narrowed down to the thickness of a reed; he’s learned through playing rather than seeing himself as a product to be marketed. 

I was delighted by being able to capture him live on video, and caught him recently at The Ear Inn, marveling at his sweet-tart inventiveness.

Here’s a sample — Dmitry and Joe Cohn musing on I WONDER WHERE OUR LOVE HAS GONE:

DOWN WITH IT is beautifully recorded and presented by Sharp Nine Records.  On the surface, it looks like many other sessions created by young musicians with an eye to the past: Dmitry plus a empathic rhythm section of Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Jason Brown, with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt joining in for a few songs, a repertoire that draws on Monk, Gryce, Powell, Brown. Ellington, Harry Warren and others. 

But this disc is no collection of Official hard Bop gestures, nor a formulaic homage to the past.  Dmitry is neither an imitator nor someone self-consciously, perhaps stridently, “innovative.” 

Rather, his spinning lines are songs — new expressions, complete in themselves — more than lunges through the chord changes.  He is open to the broadest jazz traditions, so his alto playing is conceived as more than an evocation of Bird.  In his tone, I hear lovely sweetness, which can be traced back to Carter and Cannonball, Hodges and Woods. 

In the notes to the CD, Dmitry speaks of improvising as a language, a solo as a nicely-shaped, colorful story or anecdote.  His performances thus seem engaging narratives: he has songs to sing, stories to tell us. 

And he’s not afraid of beautiful sounds, although the overall effect is anything but soothing syrup for the ears.  In his style, everything is in balance, although he will surprise listeners as he creates.     

Find out more at http://www.dmitrybaevsky.com/home.htm; you can buy the CD at http://www.sharpnine.com/ — or check Dmitry’s schedule and buy one from him at the gig.  Welcome and congratulations! 

THE SECOND WHITLEY BAY JAM SESSION (July 10, 2010)

Jam sessions don’t always work out.  But the one that took place in the Victory Pub on Saturday, July 10, 2010, during the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, succeeded nobly.  And I stopped finding the television screens distracting as soon as the music began. 

The core group, “Doc’s Night Owls,” remained — and grew.  Michel Bastide, cornet; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Christian LeFevre, brass bass, Martin Seck, washboard, were joined by Mike Durham, trumpet and master organizer; Andy Schumm, cornet; Ian Smith, cornet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Attila Korb, trombone; Nicolas Montier, alto sax . . . and various gifted enthusiastic players.  I apologize to anyone I haven’t identified above: it’s not discourtesy, but having my hands full (thus taking poor notes).  And the players at a jam session don’t always introduce themselves.  So I will add identifications if and when they are supplied!

Perhaps owing to the previous set, the repertoire had a deep Twenties feel.  They began with the Dodds classic, FORTY AND TIGHT.  A prize to the reader(s) who can unravel the etymology of that slang praise.  “Tight,” I can certainly guess at, but “forty” as an accolade?  Research! — while the music is playing, please:

The next song was again associated with Johnny Dodds (and in more recent times, Soprano Summit), OH, DADDY (with or without comma or exclamation point, the meaning is clear):

In memory of Clarence Williams, Alberta Hunter, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong, someone suggested CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME (although there were no titanic solo duels here — the atmosphere was more friendly than combative):

With Andy Schumm in evidence, there is always the possibility that the Twenties will include that young fellow from Davenport, Iowa, whose shade surfaced most pleasingly for SAN.  How nice that this band knew the verse as well:

And the last song I captured was (and is) a good old good one from the Midwest, full of sweet sentiment, MY GAL SAL (by Paul Dresser, brother of the more celebrated novelist Theodore Dreiser — I prefer Paul’s works to his brother’s, but that’s a purely personal statement — they get to the point more quickly and with greater effectiveness):

The collective ensemble began AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL — which, in retrospect, I regret having missed — but my video-taping arm had begun to quiver and I feared the rest of me would shortly follow suit.  But I hope that these videos suggest some of the delicious enthusiasm and deep artistry that ruled this evening.  Victory indeed!

“AM RICELY AND CHICKENLY YOURS”

Thanks to Will Friedwald for pointing this out — courtesy of “Letters of Note” (http://www.lettersofnote.com/search?updated-max=2010-09-28T14:18:00%2B01:00&max-results=6).   (Will told me that Nancy Franklin of THE NEW YORKER brought it to his attention, so thanks, Nancy!)

The original source was a Sotheby’s auction (http://www.sothebys.com/app/live/lot/LotDetail.jsp?lot_id=47TQW) where this and four other latters to the singer Gina Gardner sold for  £1440. 

‘Yea Man’ . . . . . . . . !

DOC’S NIGHT OWLS at WHITLEY BAY (July 10, 2010)

What’s up, Doc?

If the Doc in question is ophthalmologist Michel Bastide, the answer is going to be idiomatic hot jazz.  Michel is a licensed medical practitioner by day, a searing cornetist / trombonist / singer / bandleader of the Hot Antic Jazz Band by night (or when he’s not in the office). 

At the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, I had another delightful opportunity to hear Michel in a perfectly balanced hot group — four virtuosi with but a single thought — which festival organizer Mike Durham called DOC’S NIGHT OWLS because they began their hour-long session at 11 PM.  (For jazz musicians, of course, that time is rather like brunch, but no matter.) 

The other OWLS were Matthias Seuffert on clarinet and tenor sax; Jacob Ullberger on banjo; Christian LeFevre on brass bass.  Martin Seck, the pianist with the Hot Antics (and last year with Les Red Hot Reedwarmers) joined in on washboard for the final number as prelude to the jam session that followed.

They began their session with a tune associated with Johnny and Baby Dodds, PIGGLY WIGGLY.  Until I hear evidence to the contrary, I will assume that it celebrates the famous Chicago supermarket (was it the first one in the United States?) now famous for its design and floor plan which compelled people entering to walk past every item in the store before they found the way out, something that I assume guaranteed many more purchases:

MESSIN’ AROUND followed — a hot tune recorded by Freddie Keppard:

I CAN’T SAY, another Dodds-related opus, must have been named in one of those classic recording-studio moments:

Michel showed himself a fine, amused singer on a very hot I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS (the band knew chapter and verse!); this song reminds me of the brief Victor recording career of trumpeter Bubber Miley and his Mileage Makers, an idea of recording executive L.R. “Loren” Watson, who was cultivating Miley as hot player supreme, perhaps another version of Louis.  I don’t always find myself able to take notes while video-recording, but I wrote down in my notebook “Matthias on fire.”  See if you don’t agree:

A gutty E FLAT BLUES (what session is complete without one?) was very gratifying:

WA WA WA, presumably celebrating the sound of Joe Oliver’s plunger mute, is not the usual official jazz chestnut:

SISTER KATE (or her cousin) followed:

And the session concluded with RED HOT HOTTENTOT, possibly politically incorrect but no less rewarding:

The Doctor is in — as are these fine consulting specialists.  (Thanks to the erudite Michael McQuaid for some correct song titles.)

SWING SCENES

A friend sent me links to two YouTube videos I wouldn’t have otherwise found — posted by “swingscenevideos”: what they have in common is the presence of Jonathan Stout and that they both swing mightily in their own fashion.

Jonathan Stout leads a small hot group called the Campus Five — and he’s posted half-hour shows on YouTube, beautifully recorded and presented, on the “famouspictures” channel.  Here’s a more informal combo performing THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE led by Western Swing guitarist and singer Dave Stuckey — featuring Corey Gemme on cornet, Dan Barrett on valve trombone, Chris Dawson on piano, Wally Hersom on bass, and Jonathan on drums rather than his customary guitar.  (Fine drumming, there!)

With the Campus Five, Jonathan offers a swinging version of JAMMIN’ THE BLUES (complete with their own take on the famous Illinois Jacquet – Jo Jones duet near the end).  The band is Albert Alva, tenor; Jim Ziegler, trumpet; Richard Geere, piano, Art Gibson, bass; Josh Collazo, drums:

.

While I’m asleep on the East Coast, these scenes are going on out West, which is very reassuring.

DAN BLOCK / DUKE ELLINGTON at CHAUTAUQUA 2010

The multi-talented reed wizard Dan Block thinks as deeply as he plays. 

Dan’s evocation of the musical world of Duke Ellington (and Billy Strayhorn) is more than a trip through familiar Ellingtonia; rather, Dan seeks to inhabit that singular world and at the same time make it his own (as he’s done brilliantly on his new CD, FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE). 

Obviously, his reverence for Ellington’s music comes through from the first note, but he doesn’t attempt to recreate old recordings.  Dan honors Ellington’s startling inventiveness by offering his own versions of memorable — but often lesser-known — melodies.  The songs are there, but Dan has felt free to alter their rhythmic underpinnings, to change their expected tempos — with wonderful results.   

Here, Dan and a splendid rhythm section of Ehud Asherie, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums, invent and reinvent at Jazz at Chautauqua on September 17, 2010.

KISSING BUG, a pretty Forties lament about a wandering lover, is here shaken (not stirred) with a delightfully energetic rhythmic pattern, which shows this tune in a new light:

CREOLE BLUES, the main theme from Ellington’s pioneering extended work CREOLE RHAPSODY, is a tender rhapsody in its own: how well this quartet sings!

OLD KING DOOJI is Dan’s romping homage to the unparalleled 1940-41 orchestra:

And rather than offer MOOD INDIGO or SOLITUDE for Ellington ballads, Dan went through the repertoire and found ALL HEART (a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, originally played by Harold “Shorty” Baker) and the late-Forties CHANGE MY WAYS:

Finally (Dan had many more songs to play, but more about that below) the set ended with an exuberant reading of the first COTTON CLUB STOMP, which proved true to its title:

I mentioned above that Dan had much more music that he wanted to play.  “How can we hear it?” you ask.  The Ellington CD, FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE, is an absolute reward from start to finish.  Here’s the piece I wrote about it when it first appeared in June 2010: https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/dan-blocks-vivid-imaginations/.  Not to be missed!

BOBBY GORDON, POET-AT-LARGE

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.

HARRY ALLEN and EHUD ASHERIE at CHAUTAUQUA 2010

This very inspired duo — Harry on tenor, Ehud on piano — took the stage early on at Jazz at Chautauqua and left a deep impression.  Although their play looks casual, they reach memorable heights — whether they are handling the twists and turns of PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ like a pair of gliding skiers, or turning SOME OTHER SPRING into a rueful ode. 

Some duos are an exhibition of two very ego-driven selves who happen — sometimes under duress — to occupy the same space.  Harry and Ehud listen seriously to each other, and their duo becomes more than the two men standing on a much larger stage.  Ehud’s spikiness plays off Harry’s creamy tone; they complement rather than collide.  A witty telepathy governs their interplay.  Even the people trotting to and fro with full plates were grinning at what they were hearing.

For Mr. Berlin, Mr. Astaire, and Miss Rogers — ISN’T IT A LOVELY DAY?  Who could say anything but “Yes”?  Hear Harry’s purring, yearning sound; admire Ehud’s most sympathetic commentary: adding up to a lovely quiet seriousness with not one superfluous note:

Ehud loves James P. Johnson, and here the duo takes that lovely ballad IF IF COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT (or “ONE HOUR” for those in a hurry) at a surprising clip — a young Bud Powell has entered the room.  But there’s a sterling precedent for this kind of audacity: think of Bill Basie and his little band riding high on SHOE SHINE BOY in 1936.  Midway through the exultant performance, you’ll have to remind yourself that this is a duo, not the Blue Note Jazzmen:

THE LITTLE THINGS THAT MEAN SO MUCH was the song Teddy Wilson used as the theme for his short-lived big band.  And as Ehud says, it’s so true — not only for this kind of heartfelt chamber jazz, where every nuance counts — but as a life-motto:

PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ is virtuosic but never exhibitionistic:

And, to close, a sweetly sad SOME OTHER SPRING, with memories of Lady Day:

Jazz, stripped down to its essential selves, with no distractions!