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.
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!