One of the regular features of JAZZ LIVES is my reporting on what delights occurred at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on the preceding Sunday night. Saying that I have a good time would be an understatement.
But even I — expecting the finest kind of jazz synergy on a regular basis — was astonished by what happened on January 2, 2011.
The EarRegulars and their friends created extraordinary music last Sunday night as 2011 took hold. I had the privilege of watching individual creative impulses coalesce into something larger, something casually magnificent — all only a few feet from my camera.
If this seems overstatement, a kind of “witness to history” pronouncement appropriate only to breaking news, the music will explain my feelings. I’m delighted to present some of the evening’s many highlights.
The EarRegulars, for the first set, were a quartet of friends: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Nicki Parrott, bass; John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar.
They began with OH, BABY! — a song beloved of Jazz Age Chicagoans and of Eddie Condon and friends. Because of the season, this performance was full of sly references to wintry / holiday tunes, causing Matt to say it should have been called OH, BROTHER! But now that I am safe from FROSTY THE SNOWMAN for another eleven months, I didn’t mind. See if you can catch all the in-and-out jokes. And see if you can keep from laughing at the musical frolics:
Another good old good one, AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, reminiscent of Bix as well, could easily have been the title for this posting. Enjoy the conversational games played so well by these four brilliant improvisers:
To cool things off a bit, Jon-Erik asked John to choose one with a trombone lead, and John suggested the timeless “rhythm ballad” THESE FOOLISH THINGS, a performance full of quiet feeling:
Early on in the evening, there were intimations of a jam session to come. I had spotted trombonist Emily Asher sitting at one table, then saxophonist Lisa Parrott, then trumpeter Bria Skonberg. To my right appeared (like a belated holiday gift) the cornetist Dan Tobias, who was invited to join the festivities for a romping FROM MONDAY ON:
When the first set had ended, even more musicians came in, among them the ever-faithful Dan Block, clarinet at the ready. I chatted with another clarinet wizard, Pete Martinez, about the Albert system, Johnny Windhurst, Eddie Condon in the 1950s, Skeets Tolbert and his Gentlemen of Swing, and TISHOMINGO BLUES. Where else but at The Ear Inn?
Later, Howard Alden came in — first to listen — and I eventually noticed the broad back of someone I didn’t recognize, but when he began to play wire brushes on the paper-covered table, I knew that he knew: it was Chuck Redd!
(In the break, the actor James Gandolfini had come in, had a drink or two, and decided not to stay — a grave mistake. When Jeremy Irons had visited The Ear Inn some years back, he had the good sense to stick around for The EarRegulars!)
The second set was masterfully orchestrated by Maestro Kellso, who invited these friends up one at a time. It swelled into a thirteen-piece ensemble for AFTER YOU’VE GONE (which — if you’re keeping score — began with the last eight bars — more accurately, the last sixteen played double-time, says Jon-Erik). And please note how each jam-session performance levitates itself on a flying carpet of Kellso-driven riffs, some from Basie, some from Louis, all in the grand tradition:
Then, a more moderate approach to WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM, an unlikely prospect for both players and audience. In F, please:
Seeing the three trombones, Jon-Erik suggested TIGER RAG — an ecstatic romp presented here in two parts, because I couldn’t bear to lose even the final thirty-five seconds:
The last little bit (good to the last drop!):
Writing about this experience two days later, I don’t think that this music — simultaneously ecstatic and expert — needs much explication. But more was going on at The Ear Inn than musicians stopping by to play a chorus or two.
It was the creation of an inspired, mutually supportive community, nothing less.
Jon-Erik, Matt, Victor Villar-Hauser (behind the bar but so much more than a mere pourer of libations), and the owners of The Ear Inn have all worked without calling attention to themselves to make 326 Spring Street on Sunday nights a remarkable place.
It’s that rare spot where jazz musicians know they will be allowed and encouraged to play their own music with their peers. Those of us who value such an unusual occurrence come to the Ear as if on a pilgrimage — and the musicians feel the same way. (In the audience but not playing were Chuck Wilson, Barbara Dreiwitz, and many others.)
And there’s more.
In our time, where texting offers itself as equal to experience, the creation of such a community is both beautiful and special. The sense of separateness that underlies much of our daily life disappears while the music is playing.
“Here we are!” say the musicians. “Come with us!” The smiles of the players and the observers light the dark room. And a singular cohesiveness blossoms, a solace we seek all through our waking hours without knowing it.
As the new year begins, may we all embody our work as beautifully as these musicians do. May we all wear our accomplishments with such easy grace.
And while writing these words, I felt for a moment, “I have witnessed something that will never come again,” but who knows? There’s always next Sunday at The Ear Inn, which is hopeful and uplifting.
Eight o’clock (really seven-thirty or earlier if you like sitting).
You come, too.
Bring your appreciative self and something for the tip jar. The EarRegulars will supply the joy.