Wise New Yorkers know that the place to be on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7:15 is Birdland, where tubaist David Ostwald leads the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band through music associated with the man Eddie Condon affectionately called “Mr. Strong.”
Last Wednesday, even though the rain was occasionally torrential, we were warm, even hot, indoors, listening to a wonderful edition of the LACB, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet, alto, and vocal; Jim Fryer, trombone, euphonium, and vocal; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums. And here are some highlights:
The LACB always begins its set with a living homage to Louis and the All-Stars: a powerful reading of WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH that picks up the tempo for a rousing BACK HOME IN INDIANA:
In keeping with Louis’s avowed romantic nature, they played I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at a bouncing tempo — exultant rather than pensive — imagine Louis hearing that Lucille would marry him! Beautiful creamy alto playing from Dan Block, and some apt cantorial comments from Jon-Erik Kellso:
In the same mood (although a little slower), Eubie Blake’s YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME, where Jon-Erik’s solo, full of death-defying leaps, has a good deal of Eldridge bravura:
SHINE has appalling lyrics, but Louis, Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers, and Benny Goodman had a wonderful time playing and singing it:
THE MEMPHIS BLUES is another classic by “Debussy” Handy – – -and Jim Fryer sings it most convincingly without strain (don’t miss Jon-Erik on air trombone in the chorus!):
Bless Harry Barris — not only WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, IT MUST BE TRUE, and IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL, but I SURRENDER, DEAR. Mellow and ruminative indeed, suggesting Eldridge, Hilton Jefferson, and Bing (with Jim picking up his euphonium, which sounds like a lower-pitched French horn rather than a baby tuba, owing to his graceful playing). Rossano’s little interlude is another gem:
The LACB usually ends its Birdland gigs with a romping statement of purpose: they’re as happy as they can be when they SWING THAT MUSIC for us. And please watch the hilarious yet meaningful pantomime before the song begins (Jon-Erik is directing the band, not making shadow puppets on the rear wall). The result is a wonderful vocal interlude from Dan, someone who doesn’t sing enough on gigs, and a seriously swinging performance, thanks to everyone, especially Rossano and Kevin.
When we had said our good-byes and left Birdland, the rain had stopped; the skies were clear. The Weather Channel must have had its own explanation, but I think the hot music inside chased the clouds and torrents away.