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.)

THE PIED PIPER, 1940

Pee Wee Russell, in the center of a group of admiring children at the Little Red School House, New York City, 1940 — photographed by the ever-inventive Charles Peterson:

As is the case with any Peterson photograph, one not only reads the visual information on the surface but intuits a story of a moment or moments captured for those of us not even born in 1940. 

We don’t get to see enough of the children’s faces, but their expressions — ranging from exultant to puzzled — say a great deal about the sounds Charles Ellsworth Russell gave to his listeners. 

I don’t know what to say about the oddly industrial-looking ceiling, and I assume that horizontal stripes were the thing in children’s fashions in 1940.  Pee Wee (whisper it) needs a shave, although he’s wearing a neat striped suit, pocket handketchief properly aligned . . . so we can assume that a morning session with the young students was far too early for him. 

But his expression was exultant: if he was hungover, if he hadn’t been to bed, no matter: he was the Pied Piper leading this young band of boys and girls to jazz.

Thanks to Charles (Russell) and Charles (Peterson) and Don (Peterson) for this precious portrait.

CLASSIC BALLADS FROM JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 19, 2010)

The late Joe Boughton, commander-in-chief of Jazz at Chautauqua and other jazz parties, had very definite ideas about what should go on in a jazz performance and what was verboten, taboo, unforgivable.  So it would have caused him some astonishment to be told that he and Norman Granz (whose Jazz at the Philharmonic — with its long themeless blues, drum solos, and explorations of I GOT RHYTHM changes — represented everything he deplored) agreed on anything.  But they both understood something crucial about the performance of jazz ballads before a live audience.

Both men knew, through experience, that having all the musicians on the stand play BODY AND SOUL, for instance, each one taking two choruses, could lead to a certain sameness, not only for the audience but for the players.  Granz got there first with the solution: a ballad medley, where each of the horn players told the rhythm section what their chosen song was, the key (the tempo remained fixed throughout) and played a chorus in leisurely fashion.  You can hear this on Granz’s recordings, live and in the studio.

Joe Boughton didn’t release any of his ballad medleys, but the one that closed off the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua — the most recent party, and not the last — was particularly moving.  Here are three videos that capture most of it (with some editing for a variety of reasons, none of them musical).

We begin with an extraordinary rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums, and an unusual combination of songs: Rossano tenderly delineates I GOT IT BAD (AND THAT AIN’T GOOD) then turns it over to Marty, who sings and plays the Louis Armstrong – Horace Gerlach IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN:

Randy Reinhart climbs the stage to deliver an absolutely velvety APRIL IN PARIS, a performance that seems untoppable until Dan Barrett convincingly explains how THAT OLD FEELING is still in his heart.  (The crowd properly gives it a small ovation, and Dan looks does a comic double-take of surprise, “Me?”  Yes, you!) 

The very gentlemanly and polite Bob Havens asks PLEASE — doing Bing very proud.  Continuing in this most gallant fashion, clarinetist Bob Reitmeier very quietly asks us in for TEA FOR TWO.  Harry Allen sweetly tells us I WISH YOU LOVE, with Dan Block coming up immediately after!  

The Man of Feeling, Dan Block, assures us (the stakes are getting higher with each delicious cameo) that EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS.  Scott Robinson isn’t a combative, competitive player, but his version of SLEEPY TIME GAL — on the bass sax, which he carries — would be a masterpiece anywhere.  Scott Robinson heroically lifts the bass sax for SLEEPY TIME GAL.  Bobby Gordon tenderly whispers his love for the music in SUGAR; Andy Stein devotes himself to LAURA; Jon Burr emotes lyrically with PRELUDE TO A KISS — which is received with the proper hush (how nice to hear a bass solo receive such quiet attention):

Extraordinarily lovely, with not a hackneyed or overdramatized note in the bunch.  I’d like to make these clips required viewing for jazz musicians and singers of all vintages — to say nothing of those of us who can’t live without beauty.  And not incidentally — the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua will be held from September 15-18.  If you have already purchased your 2011 calendar . . . .

“YOUNG JAZZ ENTERTAINERS”

From a news story in the Westerly Sun (author unknown) on photographer Carmel Vitullo, born in 1925, whose works are being exhibited in the Bert Gallery in Provincetown, Rhode Island:

Curious to develop new subject matter, Vitullo attended the First Newport Jazz Festival and photographed young jazz entertainers such as Louis Armstrong on the trumpet, Jo Jones on the drums and others. Today these works are important historical documentation of people and events in Rhode Island.

I agree with this anonymous journalist: Louis and Jo are “young” forever.

HEARING IS BELIEVING: GORDON AU / TAMAR KORN (Dec. 16, 2010)

If you close your eyes, something interesting might happen.  Listen deeply. 

Last Thursday, I made a pilgrimage to Williamsburgh in Brooklyn, New York, and eventually arrived at RADEGAST, a beer garden on the corner of Berry and North Third Streets.  The Grand Street Stompers were playing: they are directed by trumpeter Gordon Au (always a good thing) and this edition was all-star: Emily Asher, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Nick Russo, guitar / banjo; Rob Adkins, bass.  And Tamar Korn sang.

But.

Before anyone embarks on the first video, the viewers I call the Corrections Officers should know that Radegast is the darkest club I have ever been in.  Cozy but Stygian.  My video camera was not entirely happy.  So the result is nocturnal, visually. 

Also, the dance floor in front of me was properly filled with dancers: once your eyes get accustomed to the whirling shadows you can discern the most graceful pair, in harmony with each other and the music.

Because of the season, Gordon chose to play I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS.  Leaving aside the psychological associations: adultery, roleplay with costumes, the primal scene, love-for-sale . . . it’s a Thirties tune that I can hear in my head as a Teddy Wilson Brunswick . . . or what would Fats have done with this?  This version has some of the rocking motion of a Goodman Sextet circa 1941, thanks to Nick and Dennis; also echoes of a Fifties date for, say, Ruby Braff and Benny Morton, courtesy of Gordon, Emily, and Rob:

The same flavors continue into I’M CONFESSIN’ — with the addition of the remarkable Tamar Korn, singing from her heart while standing to the left of Rob’s bass.  Catch the whimsical contrast between Tamar’s air-trajectories and Gordon’s muted answers: is he our modern Hot Lips Page?  And Emily Asher’s tone gets bigger, broader, and more lovely every time I hear her:

With music like this, who couldn’t weather the storm?  Homage to Irving Berlin and more of that Thirties combination of sweet-tart vocals and hot playing, I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM.  I’ve always admired Tamar as a singer who doesn’t cling to safe routines, and her reach continues to expand into space:

I knew the next performance was Serious Business when someone turned on the light above the music stand.  I didn’t immediately recognize the pretty melody Dennis was delicately playing, but I knew I had heard it once.  Then Gordon braved the way into . . . . THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which came back to me from 1962.  As the performance progressed and everyone relaxed (Rodgers’ melody takes a few unexpected turns), I had a different aural epiphany. 

Joe Glaser, Louis Armstrong’s manager, was obsessed with the quest for more popular hits for Louis.  Sometimes this worked: consider MACK THE KNIFE and HELLO, DOLLY!  But Joe missed this one!  I can hear an imagined All-Stars version of this song (with banjo) that would have been extraordinary.  And Gordon might have felt it too, as he launched into his solo with a passage that suggests Louis — hinting at the bluesy flourishes of the Hot Seven and the cosmic scope of the 1932 Victor sides.  Then Nick’s chimes before settling into a very non-von Trapp Family (say that three times) segment backed by Rob’s Hintonian bass.  Hear and see for yourself:

Tamar returned, for one of her classics — LOVER, COME BACK TO ME — that would have pleased Sigmund Romberg, especially if he’d had some of the delicious German beer that Radegast offers all and sundry.  And she swings out on invisible trumpet (meeting Gordon’s!) in her second outing. 

But I have to apologize to the gifted tenor saxophonist who appeared to the right and began to swing out.  Who are you, kind Sir?  Are you the ghost of Dick Wilson?

Finally, in honor of the season and of Elvis, Tamar creates a mourning rockabilly interlude in BLUE CHRISTMAS, with Nick going a-sliding along.  (I can hear Louis and Trummy Young doing this one, too.  Where was Joe Glaser?):

I hope the only thing of yours that’s blue this holiday season is the sky.  Or socks, lingerie, or a fleece sweatshirt!

“OH, MERCY!”: MARTY GROSZ PLAYS JAMES P. JOHNSON at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

Twenty years ago and more, Marty Grosz told an interviewer, somewhat wistfully, “I would have been dynamite in 1933.”

I agreed wholeheartedly when I read those words, and although time has passed, Martin Oliver Grosz can still create spontaneous combustion on the bandstand.

It’s not just his chordal acoustic guitar playing, nor his sweet ballad singing or his romping comedy (vocally and in his extended introductions to each song): it’s the combination of all three.  Marty summons up not only Fats Waller and Red McKenzie but also Dick McDonough and Carl Kress, with a healthy overlay of wicked humor. 

Marty was in characteristic form at Jazz at Chautauqua 2010 — leavening his own recipe for hot music with acidic commentaries.  He had been assembling obscure material and writing charts for a CD devoted to the music of pianist-composer James P. Johnson (pictured above in a 1946 photograph), but when Marty arrived at Chautauqua, he decided to improvise his tribute to James P. — with delightful results.  (I’ll have more to say about that Arbors CD when it appears.)

Marty’s friends and colleagues here are the blazing cornetist Randy Reinhart, reed wizards Dan Block (here on clarinet and bass clarinet) and Scott Robinson (on alto clarinet, I think, and a German version of the echo cornet whose name I have forgotten), the steadily rollicking John Sheridan on piano and double-takes, Vince Giordano on string bass, and Arnie Kinsella on drums.

They began with a sweet ONE HOUR (properly called IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT) which had the right spirit all the way through.  Marty doesn’t recycle Vic Dickenson’s naughty gesture — when Vic, singing, came to “one hour,” he held up two fingers — but he puts his own spin on it, turning this pretty rhythm ballad into a Fats Waller and his Rhythm evocation (what a pity Fats never recorded this one!).  And what a front line — bass clarinet, cornet, and alto clarinet!  Watch Dan Block delight in Randy and Scott; hear Arnie behind Sheridan; savor Marty’s guitar propulsions, pure Albert Edwin Condon — appropriately leading into a modern version of a 1938 Commodore ensemble.  “Oh, mercy!” indeed:

Then, one of Marty’s specialties, A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID (even though he required a second take — jazz while you wait! — to get Andy Razaf’s lyrics in the correct order) — after one of Marty’s ad libs cracks Sheridan up completely.  But once things get properly underway, everyone is in the groove — beautiful horn solos and rocking piano from John, then a surprise bass sax solo from Vince and an interlude from Marty:

Finally, Marty has said that he finds James P.’s most famous song a little limiting as it’s written and performed — so here’s CHARLESTON performed as if Bizet’s Carmen had decided to go uptown (after a let’s-put-on-a-show-in-my-father’s-barn prelude).  Habanera?  Tango?  Spanish tinge?  Whatever it is, does it ever swing (after John delineates the verse in near-classical shadings).  I don’t exactly remember the name of Scott Robinson’s new find (is it a love-child of the echo-cornet?) but he plays it splendidly, even though it was a very new acquisition — leading into Dan on bass clarinet with band interjections behind him (and Arnie’s Cuban enthusiasms), then Randy, soaring, Sheridan rollicking, Arnie stomping — and it gets even better:

Have my viewers guessed just how much I loved this little set?  Or have I successfully concealed my enthusiasm in the name of objectivity?  It’s hard, no, impossible, to be objective about what these musicians create — especially when they are led by M. Grosz.  He can make as many savage jokes as he likes or forget the proper order of lyrics: he’s still dynamite.

MOODY, MAXINE, MUGGSY, J.D., ERROLL, SLIM

It has its own rhythm, doesn’t it?  Here are the latest delicacies up for bid on eBay.

James Moody, who just left us, with his whimsical signature:

Dear Maxine Sullivan, giving someone her home address, once upon a time:

Kid Muggsy, faithful to the spirit of Joe Oliver to the end:

Jimmy Dorsey, his coiffure gleaming:

Very unusual — an Erroll Garner inscription:

And finally, the uncontrolled and perhaps uncontrollable Bulee “Slim” Gaillard, posing with a more serious young couple, circumstances unknown:

Now . . . shut your eyes and imagine the sound of this collective ensemble.  I hear Maxine carrying the melody line, Moody and Slim improvising vocal counterpoint behind her; Muggsy, Erroll, and Slim keep the rhythm going. 

That should take your mind off of holiday shopping!

PIANO SUMMIT at SOFIA’S (Part Two): Dec. 4, 2010

The music I heard and captured at Michael Kanan’s piano soiree at Sofia’s Ristorante (in the Hotel Edison, 211 West 46th Street, New York City) on Dec. 4, 2010, so captivated me that I decided to post another half-dozen performances from that splendid night. 

The participants were Larry Ham, Pete Malinverni, Tardo Hammer, and Michael, piano; Neal Miner, bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.  What continues to fascinate me is the wide emotional range in these performances — from spiky to tender, from witty to rhapsodic.  Although these players know the traditions deeply and empathically, this wasn’t a repertory evening, with the ghosts of (say) Nat Cole, Bud Powell, Fats Waller, McCoy Tyner . . . etc., being feted.  It was enthralling to hear these men at the piano and the warm-hearted playing of Neal and Eliot — a gathering of friends.

When I met Michael about a week later (he was playing alongside Dan Block at the Brooklyn Lyceum) I complimented him on his format for the evening, where each of the four pianists played two leisurely selections, then got off the bench for the next player.  I thought it went a long way in preventing the usual set-shaping that musicians fall into, but Michael pointed out one of his aims (fully realized) that I hadn’t consciously absorbed.  I had seen the other players paying close attention while they were members of the listening audience — but Michael had more than this in mind: that each player would be influenced (subliminally or directly) by what his colleagues had played — making the evening an organic artistic whole rather than simply a round-robin.

It worked — and it transcended my already high expectations.  Here are a half-dozen more opportunities to savor this evening.

Tardo Hammer, sure-footed yet loving risks, began the evening with an individualistic reading of Gigi Gryce’s MINORITY (a composition whose title I had to ask):

Pete Malinverni (“It’s melody, man!”) embarked on a pair of standards, at once tenderly reverent and quietly, subversively, taking them apart from inside.  Here’s I REMEMBER YOU:

And a romantic MY IDEAL:

Michael Kanan continued with two delicious explorations: on ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE, he didn’t presume to imitate Art Tatum, but I swear I keep waiting for Ben Webster to join in.  Then he turned it into a spiky BLUE SKIES.  I wonder how audible the woman who wanted to sing along is (although she had a pleasant enough voice, she was standing — by my lights — far too close).  Youth must be served, I suppose:

And here’s Michael’s controlled but enthusiastic reading of LET’S FALL IN LOVE:

And we’ll let have Larry Ham lovingly have the last word with CLOSE ENOUGH FOR LOVE:

This was a wholly gratifying jazz evening: I hope Michael can arrange piano soirees on a regular basis!

EUDORA, BILL, and FATS

Mississippian Eudora Welty isn’t known as a “jazz fiction writer,” but her short story POWERHOUSE is the best imaginative rendition of what Fats Waller and his Rhythm must have seemed like while playing a dance in the Thirties.

When I was fortunate enought to work with William Maxwell (a sensitive writer and peerless editor) I sensed from a comment or two that he preferred other music to jazz.  He and Welty were dear friends for fifty years, writing to one another often, reading each other’s work with delight, exchanging gifts.

But where does Fats Waller come in?  Ah, Mr. Waller always has and had a transformational effect. 

I was reading a proof copy of new book of Welty-Maxwell correspondence, WHAT THERE IS TO SAY WE HAVE SAID (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), edited by Suzanne Marrs, and this jumped out at me, a Maxwell thank-you note from late 1978:

The Fats Waller records are delightful.  Humphrey [Maxwell’s brother-in-law] and Emmy [Maxwell’s wife] go searching earnestly for their favorites.  It is all new to me, or practically, since I was an opera buff at the time when I could have been listening to jazz.

Not to slight opera, but one never knows, do one?

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND (Dec. 19, 2010)

This isn’t about Dostoevsky or his grim-pre-existential narrator.

No, the subject is much happier and equally profound. 

I had learned from trumpeter Gordon Au that there would be a below-ground wingding on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010: he and the Grand Street Stompers would play an hour’s gig down on the subway platform, the F train at Second Avenue for those taking notes.  Even better, they would be joined by New York City swing dancers in vintage attire.  Then, everyone would board an antique subway train (circa 1960 with yellow / blue rattan seats), do a round-trip out to Queens and make way for a second train trip. 

I could only take the vintage subway a few stops uptown, but I did capture the vivid action on the platform.  The Grand Street Stompers began as a trio — Gordon, Pete Anderson on clarinet, Rob Adkins on bass — but soon became a quartet when guitarist Mikey Freedom Hart arrived.

Their first number was a nicely rocking / sentimental BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, perhaps a homage to Louis, who began his concerts with this sweet old song for nearly twenty-five years:

Then, in the first acknowledgment of the season, IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS in two tempos, the dancers dipping and whirling even in the confined space (everyone was fully aware that overdramatic dancing would take them and us too close to the edges of the platform):

An unusual (and brave) choice for the context, Hoagy Carmichael’s NEW ORLEANS, with Gordon growling passionately, Rob bowing in the best old-New-Orleans manner:

SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN (the song that made J. Fred Coots financially secure forever) here sounds as if BLUE MONK was not far in the background — it’s really a good, simplistic Thirties song:

I don’t know if Fats Waller ever took the subway, but he would have been pleased by this pretty — although brief — version of his 1929 hit AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Finally, the pop lexicon’s version of the primal scene — Freudian or out of PEYTON PLACE? — I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS.  Let’s hope it was Daddy in the red suit, shall we?

I delighted in the lovely playing of the quartet, the delicious incongruity of the music and the setting — but the real pleasure was in watching the dancers reflect the music in their bodies, singly and in pairs, switching off, having a fine time.  Lynn Redmile, who appears in the beginning of the last video (to the right), promised she would tell me the names of the spirited and agile dancers we so admire here.  

The Home of Happy Feet for the price of a Metrocard swipe — !

LESSONS IN LOVE, 1923

The smoothest operator in jazz had to be young Albert Edwin Condon, with the best lines in Indiana — recalled in his autobiography WE CALLED IT MUSIC: 

“I suppose you picked that dress yourself because a girl as young as you wouldn’t know how pretty it makes her look.”

“I suppose you’re going to let me go and eat a banana split all by myself and get indigestion.”

“Do you think if I cross the street I might be able to keep from falling in love with you?”

If there was a lake and a canoe it was simple.  “Don’t you know it’s dangerous to go out in a canoe alone?”  “But I’m not going out in a canoe alone,” she would answer.  “But I am,” was the clincher.  She went along to save me.

“If you have no objection to dancing with me I have no objection to dancing with you.” 

“Too bad we can both swim.  Otherwise we could go out in a canoe and drown.”

Girls weren’t hard to find; there was always at least one around with a soft eye and an easy laugh.  Usually she lived in a large house with a wide front porch and a hammock.  The later the season and the bigger the moon the more  romantic she became.  One night in early September I sat on a porch and saw, in the moonlight, apples shining on a tree in the front yard.  I forgot romance and picked a few.  As I sat in the hammock munching noisily the girl said, a little coldly I thought, “If you find a worm don’t eat it.  Today is Friday.”

A BLOCK PARTY! (Dec. 12, 2010)

For some readers, a block party may summon up images of neighbors having a good time in the street, eating barbecue and drinking beer, the children running around, perhaps fireworks . . .

That sounds fine to me, but somewhat complicated.  My idea of a Block Party is any place where Dan Block plays.  In this case, it was the Brooklyn Lyceum last Sunday night, December 12, 2010.

Although many listeners have associated Dan with older Jazz styles, his range goes far beyond the Ben Pollack BASHFUL BABY or the Basie LOUISIANA.  He always creates splendid melodies, and he always swings — but occasionally we get to hear his questing spirit, which is a rewarding thing.  It happened during the second set at the Lyceum: where he was joined by vibraphonist Mark Sherman, guitarist James Chirillo, pianist Michael Kanan (three colleagues on his superb new CD of Ellington / Strayhorn music, FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE), trombonist Ryan Keberle, bassist Jennifer Vincent, and ex-Ellingtonian drummer Steve Little.  ( I hadn’t heard either Ryan or Jennifer before, and I was profoundly impressed.  Listen for yourself.)

Because the audience was congenial — many friends of the players filling the room — Dan chose to have “an open rehearsal” on an original song of his, later explained as OUT OF TOUCH (not a reference to the moody piece we heard unforld in front of us):

Then to more familiar Ellingtonia — (YOU’RE JUST A) KISSING BUG, which rocked:

Looking for something to blow on, Dan entertained suggestions from the band before choosing Bud Powell’s CELIA:

And the set closed with MOUNT HARISSA, from Ellington’s FAR EAST SUITE:

Wonderful, inquisitive, exploratory jazz — with nothing hackneyed or formulaic — worthy of Dan Block, which is high praise.

A postscript: That Sunday, I had heard one set at The Ear Inn — wondrous music from Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Randy Reinhart, and Joel Forbes — then raced over to Brooklyn . . . which remains somewhat uncharted for me.  I wasn’t assisted by rain, and a perverse GPS who (that?) urged me to make an illegal left turn or go into the Holland Tunnel.  But prevail I did, and I even found a legal parking space.  The young man in charge of things at the Brooklyn Lyceum was as pleasant as could be and we chatted amiably while I was waiting for the first set to conclude.  On the way out at the end, I heard those words that make lives like mine worth living, “We have some free bagels.  Would you like them?  Otherwise they’re going to be thrown out.”  Dan Block AND free bagels?  Could anyone even imagine a better evening?  (Or five happy breakfasts in the next week, for that matter . . . )

MICHAEL McQUAID’S RHYTHMS

Michael McQuaid — reedman, trumpeter, gifted bandleader — is articulate, sharply witty, a fine player who knows his music and is a delightful writer, able to put the music into words.

Among his other endeavors, he is the sole proprietor of a fairly new blog, RHYTHM OF THE DAY, which appears at intervals (when the spirit moves him).  Its premise is simple, the results effective and charming. 

Michael finds a YouTube clip of a recording that moves him.  He then writes about the recording in a way that moves us.  It’s not simply, “Isn’t that a beautiful chorus?” but much more.  Each record, for Michael, is a way into the larger, mysterious universe of creativity, beauty, and the puzzles of “Why do musicians play the way they play?”  “How do we hear what we hear?”  “What is the relationship between recorded sound and feeling, memory, and the music itself?”

The only caveat is that Michael has at least four careers, or so it seems, and he was initially reluctant to allow me to write about his blog for fear he would then have to turn it into another obligation.  

As I’ve suggested, he is a fine thinker and writer — so much so that I have said to myself after reading two recent postings (“Jazz doesn’t know who’s playing it,” and “Bobby Hackett and ‘technique'”) that I would have been delighted to have written that.  See for yourself at RHYTHM OF THE DAY: http://rhythmoftheday.blogspot.com/

“DO YOU LIKE JAZZ?”

I’ve decided to post a photograph of myself — but with an explanation.

The Beloved (as a special gift to me) commissioned Lorna Sass, photographer and transformational life-coach, to do a photo shoot.  The rather serious portrait above is the result, taken in Central Park, with your blogger in full outdoor regalia.  (We attempted photos of me in my natural habitat: in darkness with a video camera obscuring half my face, but the results were less successful.)

Why am I showing off in this fashion? 

For me, some of the deepest rewards of the hours I spend on this blog have been my getting to meet kindred souls at a jazz gig. 

Politely, they ask, “Excuse me, are you JAZZ LIVES?”  “Are you that person who comes here all the time and posts things on a blog?”

These inquiries give me great pleasure — not for ego alone, but for the chance to meet someone new who shares my feelings for the music and the musicians.  I get to talk with someone who loves the way Joel Forbes plays the blues, who gets excited when talking about Bill Savory’s discs. 

And my sense of a large, living, friendly jazz community is renewed and enhanced in the most warm way. 

I don’t go home thinking, “The music I love will not survive”; rather, I think, “Lucy or Jerome or X or Y is a wonderful person, and I’ve made a new friend who shares my essential values.  We are not so alone!”

I would have stayed undercover except for a sweetly amusing incident that happened two nights ago at a Brooklyn beer garden that featured, for that night, a wonderful band and singer, with enthusiastic swing dancers enjoying themselves.  One pair of dancers was particularly sinuous and expert, in close physical harmony, and I couldn’t stop watching them even as a video-recorded the music. 

At a set break, I walked over to compliment them.  And the young woman (a wonderful dancer), having noted me at the bar with my videocamera, hearing my enthusiasm, asked very kindly, “Do you like jazz?” 

I restrained any impulses to say, “Do bears like honey?” or the like.  I grinned at the couple, took out my card, and presented it to her.  “Oh!” she said, “I follow your blog!” 

The interchange was very nice, but it made me think that perhaps I should come out into the public eye just a few tentative steps more.  It might say something about my nature that I took to the woods to do so, but you are free to draw your own conclusions. 

I don’t want more attention; in fact, I want to be unobtrusive and let the musicians shine — but I thought that emerging in this way wouldn’t (as the Sage Condon said) do anyone any harm.

THE GOLDEN EAR(A) (Dec. 12, 2010)

I’ve heard live jazz in many settings here and abroad.  In New York City, I can think of the last Eddie Condon’s, Jimmy Ryan’s, The Cajun, Smoke, Cleopatra’s Needle, Gregory’s, The Cookery, Arthur’s Tavern, Smoke, Iridium, Jazz Standard, The Garage, Bradley’s, The Half Note, The Onliest Place, Banjo Jim’s, Your Father’s Mustache, Bourbon Street, Sweet Rhythm, Smalls, Fat Cat, and many more. 

With all due respect to these clubs that have provided lasting memories from the early Seventies onward, I can’t over-estimate the joyous resonance of the Sunday night sessions at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) which have been going on for nearly three and a half years now.

The EarRegulars — co-led by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, and Matt Munisteri, guitar — have offered serene / hot chamber jazz by a quartet staffed by a changing cast of characters . . . with expansion possibilities up to a dozen strolling players. 

But Sunday night, December 12, 2010, was a high point: two brass, two rhythm.  That combination might have been challenging with other players, but when the two others were Joel Forbes, bass, and Randy Reinhart, cornet, I knew great jazz was in store.  Joel and Matt are a wonderful team — as soloists and a wasteless, energetic but never noisy rhythm section.  Piano?  Drums?  Not missed.

Jon-Erik and Randy are pals (as you’ll hear) and although an evening featuring two other trumpeters — even though Randy plays cornet — might turn into a competitive display of ferocity, an old-time cutting contest, nothing of the sort happened here.  The two hornmen sounded for all the world like dear friends having a polite but involved conversation.  They soloed without interruption; their contrapuntal lines tumbled and soared; they created great hot ensembles, each one handing off the lead to the other.

Deep music and rollicking fun as well.

How about two tributes to the forever-young man from Davenport,  the dear boy Bix, compositions that have become hot jazz standards, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and JAZZ ME BLUES? 

Written by Earl Hines, performed by Louis and Basie — some solid credentials for the song YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

What followed was a highlight of the evening — a deep, rocking exploration of DALLAS BLUES.  They’re on the right track!

Honesty counts, and candor is a great virtue.  So IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE, as Fats Waller told us:

Fidelity, even for a short period, is a great thing.  IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) is James P. Johnson’s wistful evocation of the desire for more than sixty minutes:

But everything in this life is mutable (root word: “muta”) and so THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

I’m so grateful that such music is being created where I and others can see and hear it!

GIFTS FROM LOUIS — ONLINE!

Louis Armstrong was a generous man and artist — and his legacy of generosity continues through the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, which I visited Wednesday night. 

But this isn’t about the house itself, delightful as that shrine is (a combination of modest comfort and lovely trappings): it was about the splendid news that the museum director, Michael Cogswell, laid on us (as Louis would say).

The Louis Armstrong House Museum has launched an online catalog of its vast collections.  It’s the world’s largest archives devoted to a jazz musician available to all on the World Wide Web. 

The 24/7 offering can be accessed at the LAHM site — http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/.  By the end of 2011, the Museum’s entire catalog will be online.  New items will be added every week!  

The direct link is http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/collections/online_catalog.htm.  But don’t take my word for it.  Try it for yourself!  

The Museum’s collections encompass more that 5,000 sound recordings, 15,000 photographs, 30 films, 100 scrapbooks, 20 linear feet of letters and papers, and (last but not least) six trumpets.  The essential core of the archives is the Louis Armstrong Collection — Louis’s personal treasures: home-recorded tapes, photographs, scrapbooks, collaged tape-boxes, manuscript band parts, and other delights discovered inside the Corona house after the death of his wife, Lucille, in 1983.  

A grant from the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation made it possible for the Museum to acquire the world’s largest private collection of Armstrong material — the loving life-work of Louis’s friend Jack Bradley, the noted jazz photographer.  Hundreds of candid, never before seen photographs taken or collected by Bradley are a highlight of the collection.  The materials are currently housed in the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library at Queens College, New York.  And it’s so delightful that the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences offered a two-year grant that made processing the Bradley collection and publishing the Museum’s catalog online. 

Noted Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi has worked for the past fifteen months documenting, arranging, preserving, and cataloging more than two hundred cubic feet of Armstrong material.  “Working with this collection has been an absolute dream come true, but getting to share it online with other Armstrong lovers from around the world really makes this something special.  And it’s not just for Armstrong experts; the online collection will appeal to music fans, art historians, 20th-century pop culture buffs, musicians, photographers, you name it.  “There’s something for everyone,” says Riccardi. 

And that’s no stage joke!

When I went to the LAHM — the Corona house that Louis and Lucille loved so, where they lived for almost thirty years — I captured Michael Cogswell and Ricky Riccardi describing the online catalog, fielding questions from the audience, and playing one of Louis’s private tapes — in honor of the holiday season, one recorded close to Christmas, 1950.  Some of you might find the prospect of so many video clips daunting . . . but at the end of Michael’s explanation, he hands the stage (in a manner of speaking) over to Ricky to play excerpts from that never-before-heard tape . . . a priceless experience.  (In the second clip, the woman who asks about Lucille Armstrong is Phoebe Jacobs, Lucille’s close friend and intimate of many famous jazzmen.)

Just as a postscript: I just about made myself late for work this morning because I couldn’t stop looking at the rare, delightful, hilarious, moving photographs. 

Long live Louis!  May he never be forgotten!

And if you would like to skip the videos and read a detailed explanation by the young master of all things Strong, go right to Ricky’s blog: http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2010/12/louis-armstrong-house-museum-online.html