Daily Archives: December 3, 2010

“A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE”: JEFF BARNHART / DANNY COOTS 2010

There was a time — let’s say 1936 — where the pop hits of the day were getting recorded regularly in small-band jazz versions. 

The songs were often paper-thin and sounded as if they’d been written in half an hour in the pastoral fields of the Brill Building, but it didn’t matter. 

Who recorded them?  Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Tempo King, Red Allen, Red McKenzie, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Bob Howard come to mind.  The records were made for the jukebox market and jazz collectors treasure them for their good-time atmosphere and the hot playing. 

I haven’t ever seen a jukebox stocked with new Vocalion and Decca 78s, and don’t expect to in this century.  But I did find this YouTube video of pianist-singer Jeff Barnhart and drummer Danny Coots performing A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE at the 2010 West Coast Ragtime Festival (it’s nicely recorded by my yet-unmet pal Tom Warner) and it absolutely made my day, suggesting Fats and Slick Jones and a whole era that I thought I’d only hear on records.  Good for stompin’, as Lips Page would say:

Did you get up this morning feeling gloomy?  Growly?  Overwhelmed by things to do?  Might I suggest a consult with Doctors Barnhart and Coots: this will cure many of those ills that affect modern men and women . . . or your co-pay will be refunded.  Cheerfully!

DOIN’ THE MIDTOWN LOWDOWN at Birdland (Dec. 1, 2010)

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.