Monthly Archives: December 2010

“SING ON!”: GAUCHO with TAMAR KORN, 2010

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the new CD, PEARL, on Porto Franco Records, featuring the San Francisco group Gaucho with special guests Tamar Korn and Leon Oakley.  It’s a fascinating disc, full of unusual twists and turns.  Here’s a video from the actual recording session: Tamar singing her own lyrics to (what else?) SING ON:

Gaucho will be appearing in New York City on January 9, 2011, for those of us who get to the West Coast only intermittently.  They’re worth searching out in the flesh (there is life beyond YouTube).  Details are available at http://www.portofrancorecords.com.

ANDY STEIN and JOE WILDER at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2010

The pairing of violin and trumpet as a jazz front line might initially seem odd until one thinks of Stuff Smith and Jonah Jones, Stephane Grappelli and Bill Coleman, even Joe Venuti and Jimmy Dorsey.  Then, of course, there’s Ray Nance, who was his own pairing.

Someone at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua had the good idea of putting violinist (and vocalist and saxophonist) Andy Stein together with trumpeter-fluegelhornist Joe Wilder for a set, and backing them with Arnie Kinsella, drums; Keith Ingham, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass and more — all New York friends and long-time associates.  Andy and Joe had worked together for Garrison Keillor on the PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION show, and (as the Irish say) this band “worked a treat.”

Here’s what happened!  I first must note — admiringly — the way Andy and Joe play so beautifully as front-line partners, each allowing the other space, their lines intertwining beautifully. 

They began with the jazz standard CHEROKEE, played at a tempo more easy than blistering, with the original melody being heard:

I suspect that Don Redman understood that GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? was one of those rhetorical questions: if the object of one’s affection replied, “I don’t think so,” the relationship was in trouble.  But this performance of this mournful song is anything but that:

Joe spent many years in the pit orchestras of Broadway shows, although I don’t know if he was there for Irving Berlin’s CALL ME MADAM.  But the duet YOU’RE JUST IN LOVE is, well, lovely:

Andy’s BLOZIN’ — as he explains — is his own satire on the pretentions of the bebop generation.  You’ll have to listen twice to catch all his funny, snide lyrics:

Finally, the old jazz chestnut BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA — but with the proper melody line, as Andy (he’s quite exact) explains it to us, to conclude a winning set of sweet Mainstream jazz:

And — is it too unsubtle to point this out?  Joe Wilder was eighty-eight years old when he performed this set.  He is one of the marvels of the age, no question!

PAY ATTENTION: TED BROWN RETURNS! (Jan. 12, 2011)

Mark your calendars: saxophonist Ted Brown will be playing his first official New York gig in thirty years this coming January 12th at the Kitano Hotel — with a congenial rhythm section of Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, bass, and Taro Okamoto, drums.  

In the late 1940s, Ted Brown, Warne Marsh, and Lee Konitz were among the first students of jazz innovator Lennie Tristano.  And Brown continues to evoke the spirit of Lester Young — as he did when I saw him play alongside Joel Press and Michael Kanan at the end of June 2010.  Here are Ted, Joel, Michael, Neal Kanan, and Joe Hunt exploring ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE at Sofia’s Ristorante (Ted is wearing the red shirt, if you don’t know him by sight or sound):

Brown has performed and recorded with Tristano, Marsh, Konitz, Art Pepper, Kenny Clarke, Art Taylor, Jimmy Giuffre, Jimmy Raney, and many others.  His best-known recordings are probably JAZZ OF TWO CITIES with Marsh and FIGURE AND SPIRIT with Konitz.  (Both also feature Brown’s own compositions.)

Brown’s more recent years have often been lean: he has worked as a computer programmer.  But even when not performing regularly, he continued to practice at home and play private jam sessions.  His sound has retained its purity, warmth, and intimacy.  Perhaps he’s even grown as artist; certainly he is playing just as strong as on his classic recordings.

Supporting Brown at the Kitano are players connected to both the Tristano universe and serious swing:

Michael Kanan (piano) studied with Tristano-disciples Harvey Diamond and Sal Mosca.  He was a member of the International Hashva Orchestra (Mark Turner, Nat Su, Jorge Rossy) which explored original Tristano/Marsh/Konitz repertoire.  Kanan appears on Kurt Rosenwinkel’s INTUIT and has had long term associations with Jimmy Scott and Jane Monheit.

Murray Wall (bass) has performed Clark Terry, Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton, Ken Peplowski, Jon Hendricks, Marty Grosz, Annie Ross, Billy Eckstine, the EarRegulars, Michael Bank, and Mel Torme.  And upon arriving in New York from Australia in the 1970ss, he also  studied with Tristano.

Taro Okamoto (drums) has performed with Sal Mosca, Warne Marsh, Hank Jones and Sadik Hakim.  He was also an assistant to Elvin Jones. Most importantly for this gig, Wall and Okamoto have been playing together for 30 years!

The Kitano Hotel: 66 Park Avenue at 38th Street, NYC.  Sets at 8:00 and 10:00.  No cover charge, $15 minimum good for food or drink.  Reservations recommended: 212-885-7119.  http://www.kitano.com.

P.S.  I saw Ehud Asherie and Harry Allen at the Kitano this summer.  There’s a first-rate piano and they make a fine mojito!  Look for me — in between sets, of course: I’ll be the person intently looking through a viewfinder.

FOR AL and ZOOT — by HARRY and DAN (at CHAUTAUQUA 2010)

I saw Al Cohn and Zoot Sims play only twice.  Once was at Town Hall in 1969, where they were part of a stellar bill arranged by the late Dick Gibson.  The other occasion was at the last “Eddie Condon’s” on a Sunday night in 1976, and was of course tremendously impressed by their neat and joyous intertwinings, but I was most impressed when they slowed down enough to play Gary McFarland’s BLUE HODGE.  (And, yes, somewhere I still have my cassette tape of that hour-plus of music at Condon’s!)

When modern tenor players honor the late Messrs. Sims and Cohn, they often opt for the romps — THE RED DOOR, MOTORING ALONG, and others.  Harry Allen and Dan Block, appearing at Chautauqua this last September 19, did play YOU ‘N’ ME (the Cohn-Sims line on TEA FOR TWO) but they also luxuriated in two ballads — which were a high point.  Dan led off with TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS (created by the sometimes-untender Harry Woods) and Harry followed with CRY ME A RIVER:

And then they tumbled over each other like kittens in YOU ‘ N’ ME:

Sterling platying, as well, by Mike Greensill, piano; Gene Bertoncini, guitar; Frank Tate, bass; Pete Siers, drums.

KENNY DAVERN, IRREPLACEABLE

Thanks to Don Wolff for recording and posting this splendidly moving reading of ONE HOUR — from the 1997 Mid-America Jazz Festival — by Kenny, Howard Alden, Johnny Varro, Bob Haggart, and Joe Ascione.  Majesty, simplicity, delicacy, and power . . . . and the first chorus alone is a graduate seminar in lovely melodic embellishment:

And when you’ve gotten through marveling at what Kenny plays, fore and aft, check Johnny Varro’s one chorus — equally marvelous, understated, easy to overlook. 

Don Wolff’s YouTube channel is “MrDonWolff” or a reasonable facsimile thereof — worth several hours of fascinated watching . . . .

KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA

It’s possible that you haven’t heard of Ken Mathieson, the leader-percussionist-arranger of the Classic Jazz Orchestra, but this post is designed to remedy this omission right away.

For Ken Mathieson is a truly ingenious man who has made the CJO an equally flexible, innovative orchestra. 

The CJO has been working since 2004, and Ken is a veteran leader, arrangger, and drummer with impeccable credits.  For fifteen years, he was the resident drummer at the famous Black Bull Club near Glasgow — where he supported and learned from Bud Freeman, the aforementioned King, Mr. Carter, Wild Bill Davison, Sonny Stitt, Art Farmer, Bobby Hackett, Al Cohn, Johnny Griffin, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison,  Teddy Wilson, Tal Farlow, and more.

And he’s offered his own solution to one of the problems of classic jazz performance.  Suppose the leader of a “classic” jazz ensemble wants to pay tribute to Ellington, Morton, Carter, or Armstrong.  Commendable enough.  One way is to transcribe every note and aural flutter on the great records.  Then, the imaginary leader can gather the musicians, rehearse them for long hours until they sound just like a twenty-first century rendition of this or that hallowed disc. 

Admirable, but somewhat limited.  Emerson said that imitation is suicide, and although I would love to have my own private ensemble on call to reproduce the Morton Victors, what would be the point?  (In concert, hearing a band pretend to be the Red Hot Peppers can be thrilling in the same way watching acrobats — but on record, it seems less compelling.) 

Getting free of this “repertory” experience, although liberating, has its disadvantages for some who take their new freedom too energetically.  Is POTATO HEAD BLUES still true to its essential self if played in 5/4. as a waltz, as a dirge, by a flute quintet?  Is it possible to lose the thread? 

Faced with these binary extremes — wanting to praise the past while remembering that the innovations we so prize were, in fact, innovations, Mathieson has steered an imaginative middle course.  On three CDs, he has managed to heed Exra Pound’s MAKE IT NEW while keeping the original essences.

Ken and the CJO have an open-ended and open-minded approach to jazz history and performance.  The original compositions stay recognizable but the stylistic approach to each one is modified.  Listening to the CJO, I heard not only powerful swinging reflections of the original recordings and period idioms, but also a flexibility that suggested that Mingus, Morton, Oliver Nelson, and Benny Carter were on an equal footing, respectfully swapping ideas.

The CJO has an unusual instrumentation which allows it to simulate a Swing Era big band or a hot trio: Billy Hunter plays trumpet and fluegelhorn; Ewan McAllan or Phil O’Malley, trombone; Dick Lee, soprano and alto sax, clarinet and bass clarinet; Keith Edwards or Konrad Wiszniewski, tenor; Martin Foster, alto, baritone, and bass sax, clarinet and bass clarinet; Paul Kirby or Tom Finlay, piano; Roy Percy, bass. 

And what’s most refreshing is that both Ken and his players seem to have made a silent pact with the music to treat it as if it were new: so the solos on CORNET CHOP SUEY do not emulate Johnny Dodds and Kid Ory; the ensemble work on SORRY doesn’t hark back to 1928 Bix and his Gang; the sound of BOJANGLES reflects on 1940 Ellington without copying it.  And the solos exist in a broadly-defined area of modern Mainstream: thus, you are much more likely to think of Roy Williams or Scott Robinson than of Clarence Williams or Prince Robinson. 

I’ll leave the surprises on these three CDs to the buyers and listeners.  But in almost every case I found myself hearing the music with a delighted grim, thinking, “Wow!  That’s what they’re doing with that old chestnut?” 

(Ironically, one of Matheson’s triumphs as an arranger is the wisdom to leave well enough alone.  So one of the memorable tracks on his Louis CD (with the glowing Duke Heitger in the lead) is a very simple and touching AMONG MY SOUVENIRS.) 

The experience of listening to these discs was as if my old friends had gotten new wardrobes and hairstyles — immensely flattering but startling at first.  And Ken seems to have the same playful idea, for his Morton CD is called JELLY’S NEW CLOTHES.  On the back there is the famous portrait of Jelly, his arms raised to conduct, wearing a suit with six huge buttons and pressed white trousers.  On the front, Mathieson has reinvented Jelly as a twenty-first century hip teenager, wearing a short-sleeved yellow t-shirt, earbuds around his neck, the cable leading to an iPod, baggy denim jeans, running shoes.  And Jelly looks happy!

Their three CDs are KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA SALUTES THE KINGS OF JAZZ (Lake LACD 261), JELLY’S NEW CLOTHES (CJO 001), and CELEBRATING SATCHMO, featuring Duke Heitger (LACD 286). 

Details of the CJO’s history and current performing schedule can be found at http://www.classicjazzorchestra.org.uk/diary.htm

Information about their Lake Records CDs is available here: http://www.fellside.com/Shop/Results1.asp?Category=2

MORE, OR LESS?

Meditations from mid-December 2010 (but they could be anytime in the last few years):

Both Oscar Wilde and Mae West, in very different contexts, had their personae utter the sentiment that too much was just enough — barely so.  I am musing on plenitude.  Plenitude and its discontents?  Or its contents?  

When I was a young record collector, with fewer records available to me and limited funds, I would sometimes imagine that one vision of jazz paradise would be having more music than I could possibly listen to.  Standing in front of the racks of records in a Greenwich Village shop, I would think covetously of having it all.

Now that my weekly allowance is larger and it seems that everything ever recorded is available for purchase, I haven’t turned demonically acquisitive.  I am pleased to report that when I visited two of those shops on a rainy afternoon ten days ago, I found one CD I really wanted to buy, bought it, and was delighted.  And I left the stores without any wistful backwards glances.  Better to have one CD I would listen to and prize than a half-dozen ones that I would not get through ever.    

But at home I am surrounded by music, and not just because I own an iPod.  I don’t just mean the CDs and records I’ve acquired over the decades, nor the ones that come through the mail (both solicited and not).  As I write this, I am trying not to consider the boxes of cassette tapes next to my desk, or the small hoard of vinyl records.   

What caused me even to think of writing this post was a moment this evening where I found myself downloading jazz videos I had taken onto YouTube (something that doesn’t require minute-by-minute supervision) on one computer while listening to a new CD that I wanted to review on my stereo system.  In another room, I was using my laptop to transfer music from one format to another. 

I wonder what a moralist would make of this scene — a somber illustration of “Be careful what you wish for,” or the epitome of delight?  (Of course, I would only consider with any seriousness the opinions of moralists who knew who Walter Page was.)