Daily Archives: December 20, 2010

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 . . . )