Monthly Archives: March 2011

MARTY ELKINS SINGS! EHUD ASHERIE PLAYS! at SMALLS, March 29, 2011

The singer Marty Elkins is so good-natured that I know she won’t mind being compared to an imaginary restaurant.

That’s the way I can explain her most easily.  Wherever you live, there are hidden treasures: the little place without a sign that does wonderful authentic tamales, or the serene old-fashioned restaurant with wonderful food and loving service . . . places that aren’t “popular” or “trendy” but that you prize dearly.

Although Marty isn’t An Official Jazz Star, she is a treasure: someone who easily, lightly makes her way through a lyric without overacting — letting the meanings shine through.  She doesn’t aim to be Ella or Sarah, so her vocal style is heartfelt rather than histrionic.  Hearing her sing, you know what the lyrics mean, and you know that she knows.

And her voice is a simple pleasure in itself: she has some of Lady Day’s loving tartness, but she never descends to imitation or emotive caricature.  And she swings!

I had the pleasure of seeing (and recording) Marty and her pal, the ever-developing Ehud Asherie, on March 29 at Smalls.

(Just eight bars: let’s say a good word for Smalls!  (183 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City.)  Quiet, with the underground secret-cellar feeling of an old-time jazz club — a twenty-dollar admission fee lets you stay until the next morning; a well-stocked bar; portraits of Louis and James P. Johnson; a Maine Coon cat.  What more could we want?)

Hear how sweetly Marty glides through her lines and how tenderly, wittily Ehud adds his own thoughts.  (One of them that made me laugh was a famous Tatum riff from the 1944 Metropolitan Opera House jam session: listen and you’ll hear it, too.)  Listen to Ehud’s introductions: each is a satisfying meal in itself, and his left hand does what a pianist’s left hand should do.

They began with the nicest of commands — JUST SQUEEZE ME (BUT PLEASE DON’T TEASE ME):

And Marty knows a good deal about the subject and can sing with rueful amusement of what happens — COMES LOVE:

Another stop on the romantic Ellingtonian highway — DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME:

Then, a deep but swinging WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

And, finally, a rocking LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

I hope for many more opportunities to hear Ms. Elkins and Mr. Asherie — what a team!  (I wouldn’t mind a duo CD, either . . . .)

TWO’S COMPANY: KATIE CAVERA and CLINT BAKER: “Who’s Foolin’ Who?”

Katie Cavera is a woman of many talents: she can play anything with strings (a variety of banjos, guitars, and string basses).  Her ideal is Freddie Green, which should tell you something about her taste and swing.

She is also a sweetly unaffected but convincing singer, able to create delightful variations.  (She played trombone in high school and is currently picking up the trumpet to fill in for a scarcity of trumpet players in her area: very little holds Katie back!)

Katie is also a nifty creator of short films that are both funny and sweet, some starring Tofu, the naughty Sock Monkey, who goes everywhere and breaks the rules wherever he goes.  More about that in a minute.

Clint Baker can do it all: he can lead a band gently but effectively.  He can write arrangements or create head-arrangements on the spot; he’s a good down-home singer, a hot cornetist, drummer, trombonist, reedman, guitarist, banjoist, bassist, tubaist, washboardist.

Katie and Clint made a CD.  It’s a doozy, a honey, a wow, the cat’s whiskers / pajamas / meow.  (Translation: I won’t be parted from my copy.)

Before we move on to the details, here’s a sample (courtesy of my pal Rae Ann Berry) of Katie and Clint — with Ray Templin at the piano — romping through TOO BUSY in 2009.  (Katie likes the approach and repertoire of Lillie Delk Christian, and this performance is a particular favorite.)

The CD Katie and Clint collaborated on is called WHO’S FOOLIN’ WHO? — but the title doesn’t mean that you will be taken in if you purchase it.  Oh, no — quite the contrary.  Aside from a guest appearance by Monte Reyes on tenor banjo (on one track) and a piano feature for Robert Young on a rag Katie composed — which combines Satie, Joseph Lamb, and Spike Jones — the CD is entirely given over to Katie and Clint.  “Uh oh.  Banjo and cornet, maybe, for an hour?” I hear some of you muttering.

No.  Through the magic of beautifully-done overdubbing, it’s a full hot band.  Katie sings and plays five instruments; Clint plays ten.  I know that overdubbing doesn’t always work.  Sidney Bechet’s One-Man-Band worked because it was Bechet (a matter of sheer passion); George Avakian’s cut-and-paste experiments with Louis Armstrong were miraculous because they allowed us to hear Louis accompany Louis.  (Is there anything finer?)

But the Katie-Clint endeavor works so well because the recording was done by Monte Reyes, who knows how jazz should sound, and because Katie and Clint are on the same wavelength.  So the result swings most enchantingly — a nice mix of standards and a few originals.

I must report that one of the originals, YOU’VE BEEN A NAUGHTY BOY — somewhere between Annette Hanshaw and Mae West — so captivated me that I played it over and over in the car, grinning as I drove.

I have little patience for Christmas songs — especially at the end of March — but this Christmas song promises something sweetly, tenderly romantic as a present, and it rolls along irresistibly.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Fortunately for us, Katie used her song — in this version– as the soundtrack for one of her “silent” films, where she reveals yet another talent . . . as subtly funny philosopher.  The film features Katie’s husband, magician Woody Pittman, in a starring role:

To find out more about the CD (such as the important question: How can I buy several?) visit http://www.katiecavera.com/disc.html and find out all the answers.

And — just in a musing way — I think the moral of the film, tenderly enacted, is that our life’s pleasures are often under our noses, so much so that we take them for granted.  (You may begin to hum BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD at this point.)  I feel this way about Katie and Clint’s CD: once you have a copy, you will wonder how you got along without it to listen to.

“HEY! HEY!” or “OH, TURN THAT DIAL!”

This song chronicles elation, although I suspect that the song is not one of James P.’s most lasting, and Bob Hayes looks more dour than thrilled.  But no matter.

What’s the reason for the cheer?

Carl Sonny Leyland, pianist extraordinaire, also has his own radio show.  He creates it from his home and relies on his large collection of jazz, pop, and blues rarities, so it is worth tuning in to.

Marc Caparone tells me that it’s on the Paso Robles NPR radio station, KCBX, which streams it live on the web as well.  Sonny broadcasts live on Friday nights  at 8pm Pacific time.  The link for the station: http://www.kcbx.org/ and the link for streaming:
http://www.kcbx.org/Pages/Programming/listen_live.html.

Hey! Hey!  Listen your cares away!

ROCKING WITH DENNIS LICHTMAN’S BRAIN CLOUD (at the Jalopy Theatre, March 25, 2011)

Dennis Lichtman’s Brain Cloud is a hot band.

Never mind that its guiding star is Bob Wills rather than King Oliver: don’t let it bother you.

There was a time in American popular music where these “genres” overlapped so happily that Western Swing recordings looked back to Lang and Venuti, sideways to Bennie Moten and later to Charlie Christian. . . and often swung as hard as the Condon Commodores.  Is that sufficient recommendation?

The Brain Cloud takes its name from a Wills song — where having a “cloudy” brain is related to the deep blues — but there’s nothing particularly foggy or ambiguous about the band.

Nice unison arrangements, intense (and not overlong) solos for everyone, and wonderfully on-target singing and impromptu choreography from Miz Tamar Korn.  Dennis plays electric mandolin, clarinet, and fiddle — and chooses the good-natured tempos; he’s joined by Andrew Hall, bass, and one of my dear friends, drummer Kevin Dorn.  Raphael McGregor plays the pedal steel guitar, and Skip Krevens the electric guitar — and sings a few.

At the Jalopy Theatre in Red Hook, Brooklyn — where the Brain Cloud had their CD release party on March 25, 2011, Dennis had a few special guests — and I don’t use that term lightly: Noam Pikelny on banjo; Scott Kettner on snare drum and triangle; Matt Munisteri on guitar; Pete Martinez on clarinet.  I was there on camera and tripod, along with JAZZ LIVES’ pal Doug Pomeroy, recording engineer extraordinaire.

Here’s what we saw.

As if to welcome the most finicky of JAZZ LIVES readers into the Brain Cloud tent, Dennis began with Mel Powell’s 1942 MISSION TO MOSCOW — a most interesting chart / composition for the Benny Goodman band.  Hear how it blends what the critics would later call “pre-bop” with sections coming straight from the Ellington “doo-wah, doo-wah” of IT DON’T MEAN A THING:

Then, the moody Wills song the band was named for, BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES:

Another piece of “crossover” music — HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY?  I have the 1931 sheet music which has the face of that famous Western swingster, Harry Lillis Crosby, on the cover:

The mournful BLUES FOR DIXIE, which has neat lyrics:

I may have the title wrong, but I believe this is DARK AS THE NIGHT (BLUE AS THE DAY):

Courtesy of the well-versed Matt Munisteri (who sat in), HONEY FINGERS:

I learned MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH from another famous Western swing star, Thomas “Grits” Waller:

Dennis’ story of playing PEACOCK RAG in Hawaii is a rare piece of narrative plumage in itself:

RHYTHM IN MY SOUL is an apt title for this band’s efforts:

A 1939 Broadway song (from a production called YOKEL BOY, no kidding) that became a favorite with Billie Holiday and Summit Reunion, among others — it’s COMES LOVE:

Florists take note!  Here’s WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (a song I associate with New Orleans bands and — perhaps oddly? — Judy Garland and Gene Kelly):

The sweet Jimmie Rodgers lament, MISS THE MISSISSIPPI AND YOU:

A different variety of sweetness, SUGAR MOON:

The very funny up-tempo narrative of love unfulfilled: girls, don’t ever hang out with a fiddler if he won’t put his instrument in the case for you — HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED:

And a closing rouser with all the guests — James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE (with the Western Swing changes, you’ll hear):

.

What a wonderfully spirited band!  And now you know what band to engage for your daughter’s graduation, your son’s bris, your husband’s retirement, the mutual celebration of someone’s divorce coming through . . .

The only problem with these videos (of which I am quite proud) is that you can’t watch them in the car — except, of course, if you’re a passenger.  May I offer a safer solution?

Clock here: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/braincloud to purchase the BRAIN CLOUD debut CD — which has the same band (Dennis, Tamar, Kevin, Skip, Andrew, and Raphael) performing ten selections: MISSION TO MOSCOW / BLUES FOR DIXIE / BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES / MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH / PEACOCK RAG / HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED / COMES LOVE / SWEET CHORUS / SUGAR MOON / SITTIN’ ALONE IN THE MOONLIGHT — beautifully recorded, so that you will hear things that the videos can’t capture.

Illustration by Jillian Johnson

LISTEN TO THIS!

From Mike Schwimmer, one of JAZZ LIVES’ readers:

You asked if any of your readers have a radio show. I do. It’s called The Yesterday Shop and it’s a 3-hour program airing the 2nd and 4th Sundays each month on WOMR-FM, Provincetown, Massachusetts. Better yet, it’s streamed on the Web and you can listen on your computer at WOMR.org. I was on yesterday and will be back on April 10th.

I play trad, early jazz-oriented big bands (pre-WW II) and dixieland. Yesterday, I devoted the program to current or recent jazz groups playing OKOM (our kind of music). I am a percussionist, specializing in washboard. I have a long history as a Midwest musician out of Chicago and founded and led the Red Rose Ragtime Band for many years until moving away from that city.

I would very much like to feature more current bands, groups and musicians and would be grateful for any material you could send my way.

Mike Schwimmer, Brewster MA

lordpeter@comcast.net

GIGS TO GET TO!

I’ve written at length about the luxury of Regular Gigs in New York City: the EarRegulars (The Ear Inn) on Sunday; Terry Waldo’s regular sessions at Fat Cat; Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks at Club Cache (Hotel Edison) on Monday and Tuesday; the Grove Street Stompers (Arthur’s Tavern) on Monday; David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (Birdland) on Wednesdays.  All those bands and venues have much to offer and I hope JAZZ LIVES readers in the vicinity.

But in the middle of this coming week there is a trio of gigs that aren’t everyday (or night) events.  And they all begin reasonably early — important to someone like me whose alarm goes off before 6 AM.  I hope to go to all three!

The first is on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 from 7:30 to 9:15.  It features the engaging singer MARTY ELKINS with the reliably surprising pianist EHUD ASHERIE at Smalls, 183 West 10th Street, New York, NY  10014.  $20 gets you in and you can stay.  And perhaps Minnow will leap in, again. 

On Wednesday, the 30th, the GRAND STREET STOMPERS will be appearing at the Radegast Bierhall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — beginning at 9 and probably going until midnight.  Wonderful food, fizzy blond(e) beer, no cover charge — a tip basket circulates — and lots of informal dancing.  It’s at 113 North 3rd Street (I believe the intersection is Berry Street).

Did I mention the music?  Trumpeter / composer / arranger GORDON AU will be there — and usually his colleagues are ROB ADKINS on bass, NICK RUSSO on banjo / guitar, EMILY ASHER on trombone, DENNIS LICHTMAN on clarinet — a lovely swinging compact inventive group.  And for the Brooklyn-timid, Radegast isn’t more than a few minutes walk from the Bedford Ave. stop on the L, although Doug Pomeroy says there are other ways to arrive at Jazz Paradise.

On Thursday, the inspiring pianist MICHAEL KANAN will be joined by the emotionally deep guitarist PETER BERNSTEIN for a series of duets at Smalls — again 7:30 to 9:15.  Come early but leave two seats in the front for the Beloved and her beau, please!

As Ralf Reynolds says, “Thank you for keeping LIVE JAZZ . . . . ALIVE!”

THE ART of PIOTR SIATKOWSKI

Many jazz photographers — even some with grand reputations and extensive bodies of work — fall into cliched, formulaic photographs.  You know the familiar ones: the trumpeter or clarinetist with horn held to the sky, brow furrowed, sweat in profusion. 

Every photograph, for them, has to have the admired individual playing, exerting, on the wing.  All well and good, but once you establish that X plays the tenor saxophone you don’t always have to show her with it in the middle of a complicated twisting phrase.  I don’t suggest that photographers should be forbidden to take the usual shots, but that the usual shots usually produce the expected results. 

Polish jazz photographer Piotr Siatkowski is one of a small number of artists (another one will be the subject of a posting soon) who have understood this perspective, that the musician might be an intriguing human study even he or she has put the horn down for a moment, perhaps to face the camera or to be caught listening to someone else in the band or simply musing.  He has captured Hank Jones, Maria Schneider, Johnny Griffin, Don Cherry, and many musicians whose work I do not know but whose faces I find arresting.

Piotr’s photographs — justifiably praised — can be found at his site: http://www.slojazz.net/., and I asked him if he would tell me something about this portrait of cornetist Wild Bill Davison:

Piotr tells me, “As far as I can remember, I took this picture of Wild Bill Davison around 1979.  He lived in Denmark at that time and he was visiting Poland for a couple of gigs, being backed by a Polish group (most probably Old Timers).  I met him the next day after he had played in Krakow, for an exclusive photoshoot and an interview.  He was extremely nice and friendly.  It was very easy to arrange the meeting. At those times you had no restrictions, rules, and regulations that you do now.  I think he was also happy that I was so interested as his kind of jazz was a bit neglected then, to say the least.”

On first glance, this looks familiar.  Wild Bill is in mid-phrase, head at its usual angle, his pinky ring a proud ornament.  But one is drawn to Davison’s eyes: shaded, pensive, even sad.  And Piotr has drawn an invisible line from those eyes to the bell of the horn, suggesting something deep, beyond words, about the distance the impulses had to travel from Bill’s nights of playing to the sound that would emerge . . . and that although the sound was brash and joyous, there was melancholy behind it, perhaps the sadness of someone who felt neglected by the larger world.  The portrait isn’t stiff or studied, but it opens up to suggest things deeper than mere surface. 

Visit http://www.slojazz.net  for more evocative art — Piotr is also a fine jazz chronicler with words: he is doing noble work!

DELICIOUS GOOD FORTUNE

Ruby Braff wasn’t terribly interested in what was on his plate — the way others obsessively considered their food bored him, but one of his favorite words of praise was DELICIOUS.  It applies to the video below, courtesy of Bob Erwig:

He would have told you that Louis, Lester, and Billie were his deities — so YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY resonated with him as one of the handful of songs recorded by all three of them. 

In this nice little band — loose and focused at the same time — are Gray Sargent and Howard Alden on guitar; Eddie Jones on bass; Oliver Jackson on drums.  And Ruby, his hair mussed, in wonderful form. 

Although Ruby was classified as “retro,” looking back when everyone else was looking forward to Miles, there is an intriguing balance here.  Yes, you will hear Louis-intensity, Billie-cool, Lester-space, but there are many Bird and Dizzy phrases in Ruby’s 1989 vocabulary.  And he was never in the position of trying to steal anyone else’s stuff to improve his identity, so the wide emotional and stylistc range is evidence of his mastery.

No one can deny!

LOUIS GETS THE GROCERIES

“No I don’t try to make an art of my music,” Louis Armstrong once said. “Music is a day’s work and we all ought to do a day’s work. That buys the pork chops.”

The quotation comes from Brian Harker’s new book, the result of a decade’s study of these irreplaceable but often misinterpreted recordings:

I’ve heard only good things about this book and can’t wait to read it myself (I will report back): here’s the link to Mother Amazon —

http://www.amazon.com/Armstrongs-Recordings-Oxford-Studies-Recorded/dp/0195388402/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1301153143&sr=1-1

HOT STRINGS AT MONTEREY (Dixieland Monterey 2011: The Final Set)

I know it’s subjective, but I find some instruments intrinsically more pleasing than others.  I am slightly ashamed that when someone asked, “Are you going to hear the four-banjo set at the Wharf Theatre?” the words “four” and “banjos” in such proximity made me a little nervous.

But then I got more information.  “It should be good, Michael.  The four banjos will be played by Clint Baker, Katie Cavera, Paul Mehling, and John Reynolds.  Marc Caparone will play bass, and Ralf Reynolds will swing out on the washboard and blow his whistle whenever he hears a musical ‘Foul!'”

I headed north to the Wharf with expectations that it would be, well, not bad.  I could endure four banjos . . .

The music I heard not only lifted me out of my seat but is a rebuke to my inherent jazz snobbery.  This set swung as hard as anything I’ve ever heard live, and you will see that I ain’t jiving.

And since I am still grappling with a wicked cold as I write this post, I think of Aimee Gauvin’s words (when he put on his white coat and became Dr. Jazz): GOOD FOR WHAT AILS YOU!

For once, I will present with a minimum of comment.  If this music needs explanation (and the onstage speakers are wonderfully, hilariously articulate), you need more than Sudafed.

Politically incorrect intro, please?  CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Something for Louis!  SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

John explains that shiny thing!  DIGA DIGA DOO:

Clint warns us — SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Did you know the secret rules of banjo culture?  Now you do.  And Katie (Baby Face) explains it all, in the key of Ab.  I wanted so badly to sing along but didn’t want my voice to overwhelm the video, so you are encouraged to sing loudly at home:

Something pretty — the 1931 DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME:

Paul reinforces the banjo’s international theme with DARK EYES:

Once Katie explains the great gender-divide, we can head into what I think is a highlight of my life in 2011.  If you watch only clip in this posting (perhaps being banjo-timid) please watch this one. Surprises abound!  Watch out for flying cornets on CHARLEY, MY BOY:

Something hinting at Claude Hopkins and Fletcher Henderson c. 1932-33, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  Identify the quotations and win the prize:

Since these folks love their home state, what would be a better closer than CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME with a cornet interlude:

My pal Ricky Riccardi says he wants to see the Reynolds Brothers on Mount Rushmore — a fine sentiment.  But I am a man of more modest dreams.  I’d like to hear the Reynolds Brothers’ music being played on jazz / vintage pop radio shows — do any of my readers have a radio program?  Get in touch with me!

I’d like to see the Brothers appearing at jazz festivals outside of their home state.  California will just have to stop being selfish and allow the boys to travel.  We’ll change that restrictive law.  What, New York doesn’t need ferocious, hilarious swing?  England?  Really!

These are the last of the videos I took at Monterey — a mere ninety or so.  I am very proud of what I captured and have shared, and am only sad that I didn’t take more . . . But Rae Ann Berry (that’s SFRaeAnn to YouTube) has posted videos of a session or two that I didn’t catch, so head on over to YouTube to see more.

I know it is a bad idea to rush time away — with every day a wrapped box full of surprises! — but I can’t wait for the 2012 Jazz Bash By The Bay.  Thanks to all of the musicians for lifting the stage up and up and up; thanks to Sue Kroninger for creating a wonderful world for all of us to float in for that weekend.

I will close with a very personal note.

At the end of the set, Clint — who has a heart as big as the Bay Area — asked all the musicians to sign his banjo head.  I watched from a distance, not wanting to intrude.  How sweet!  His way of saying, “I never want to forget this moment, and we are all brothers and sisters.”  Then he asked me to sign it also.

I have never been so honored in my life.

I’ve won awards.  I’ve had my books reviewed in the New York Times.  But to be handed a Sharpie and encouraged to sign was something I wouldn’t have had the temerity to dream of.  I wrote only three words, “With deep love,” but that was what I felt and feel.  No one is going to ask me to sit in by playing, and that’s a good thing for the jazz cosmos, but I’ve been embraced by the people I love and admire.

WOW! to quote the Sage, Eddie Erickson.

“THAT TRUMPET WANTS TO PLAY JAZZ”

Randy Cole’s touching new film — starring trumpeter Kevin Dean and a lovely 1944 Martin Committee trumpet:

Even if you bristle slightly at the name of Miles Davis (as I do) don’t let that put you off.  Listen to Kevin’s beautiful solo rendition of EASY LIVING, admire the beautiful curves of the Martin, and then (if you care to) admire the film as film: Randy is a subtly brilliant artist who doesn’t spoil the mood with three hundred changes of scene in three minutes, but the merging of sound and image is an understated delight.

And one of my heroes, that Jon-Erik Kellso fellow, has and plays a Martin Committee model when the mood strikes him!  So modernism is alive and well in Soho, too, in the Year 2011.

OUR GOOD FORTUNE!

Very simple, beautiful, swinging, and uplifting: a kind of SUNRISE SEMESTER in jazz.

The easy floating and unaffected sincerity (and understatement) of Miss Maxine Sullivan in Bern, 1986.

She’s singing one of my favorite songs;  even when the lyrics are a bit thin at points, the sunny affirmation is worth hearing.  It’s the Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY, from a Cotton Club show that featured both Maxine and that Louis fellow.  (His Decca recording of the song has a wonderful J.C. Higginbotham break and Sid Catlett accent that I can hear in my head right now.)

And alongside Maxine — as we say, “Couldn’t they get anyone good?” — a perfect rhythm section: Jack Lesberg on bass, Dick Hyman on piano, and Uncle Jake, Jake Hanna, on the drums.

Thanks to Bob Erwig for sharing this.  Breathing?  Have music?  We’re lucky!

SATURDAY AT SMALLS WITH TAD SHULL (March 26, 2011)

I just found out that the fine tenor saxophonist Tad Shull will be leading a quartet including pianist Rob Schneidermann at Smalls Jazz Club this coming Saturday, March 26, 2011 — from 7:30 to 9:45.  Admission is $20, and for that you can stay until the single digit-hours of the morning and hear truly intriguing groups and jam sessions.  (Smalls — at 183 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village — has a wonderfully-stocked bar and a resident Maine Coon Cat, Minnow, with her own aesthetic standards.)

Tad is one of those young men and women who took New York over — with swing — a few years back: he performed and recorded with the Widespread Depression Orchestra (later, the Widespread Jazz Orchestra) and made some very impressive CDs under his own name.  Although it’s clear he’s absorbed the whole jazz tenor tradition, he’s no one’s clone: you won’t hear a phrase in his playing and think, “Wow, that comes right from Forties Ben or Sixties Dexter.”  Whether floating along behind the beat or playing vigorously, intensely, he makes his own beautiful shapes.

Here’s my own little bit of praise for Mister Tad — he was part of the EarRegulars on Jan. 23, 2011 (with Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, and Neal Miner): they rocked ROSE ROOM at The Ear Inn:

Since Tad is not one of those musicians who pops up all over town on a regular basis, why not make a point of stopping by?

MORE FROM CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND at DIXIELAND MONTEREY (March 6, 2011)

Through the magic of YouTube and the generosity of Rae Ann Berry, I had been watching the extraordinary Clint Baker lead bands, generate swing, and dazzle on a good number of instruments for years before I was privileged to meet him.

He turned out to be a real kindred spirit: funny, genuine, candid.  And he throws himself into whatever musical environment he finds himself, never standing back at a reserved distance.  His groups swing — you can take that for granted — but Clint has different varieties of swing for different musical contexts — as you will hear in this set.

Clint’s New Orleans Jazz Band is clearly a group of friends, which is always a plus.  There’s Marc Caparone on cornet; Howard Miyata on trombone; jazz patriarch Mike Baird on reeds; Dawn Lambeth on piano and vocals; Jeff Hamilton on piano and drums; Katie Cavera on guitar and vocals; Paul Mehling on bass . . . a versatile band of shape-shifters who are true to their own deep conception of rocking improvised music.

The set began with a funky ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU (its antecedent more Bunk than Hamp): Uncle How had to scurry from one set to another but did make it!

Katie came to the microphone to do one of her specialties, DO SOMETHING, what I think of as the flapper’s sweetly impatient updating of TO HIS COY MISTRESS, or “Shut up and kiss me, will you?”  I’ve posted several versions of this song from Monterey, and each one’s been a pleasure:

Now that we’ve gotten the erotic carpe diem out of the way (at least for the moment), it’s time to honor Paul Barbarin with BOURBON STREET PARADE and the appropriate vocal chorus:

Something a little closer to the North: the lovely singing of Dawn Lambeth (with Jeff Hamilton taking over at the piano bench) — turning this New Orleans street parade into a time-travel back to the Vocalion studios with everyone making it up for the first time on THEM THERE EYES:

And Dawn follows with the tender THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME.  Listen closely to her sweet, original phrasing — a delight:

I knew MILENBERG JOYS was going to be something special when the ever-useful Jeff moved back to the drums, Dawn regained her seat at the piano, and Clint broke out his cornet.  Please sit a safe distance from the monitor!  The brass interplay is just extraordinary.  I was wiping the sweat from my brow, and I was only videorecording.  Later that day, I caught Clint taking a break betwen sets and I approached him with my best ominous look.  “That MILENBERG JOYS you played earlier caused me a real problem,” I said unhappily.  “Why?  What happened?” he said with the deep gloom of a teenage boy whose misdeed has been found out.  “It was so hot it melted part of my camera, you know!” I said, and he relaxed and grinned.  I felt guilty for tormenting him, but it was worth it:

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is often the closing song of a set — and this would have satisfied any dreamy jazzlover, with Dawn’s gentle, heartfelt vocal:

But this is a New Orleans band . . . so they had to go out with something assertive, even something feline.  Here’s TIGER RAG, which begins with a loud MEOW.  It offers more of that two-cornet arson!  And sharp-eyed cornet detectives will note that at some point in the performance (probably during the banjo solo) Marc and Clint switched cornets, although surely keeping their own mouthpieces.  No matter: this music brings down the house even when you watch it with your eyes closed:

Glorious!

And for those who can’t miss a minute or an alternate take . . . you should know that the devoted Rae Ann Berry has put her own videos of this band on YouTube (see “SFRaeAnn”) and you might find the variations in cinematography and sound of interest.  I know I do.  And I imagine someone with two computers, synchronized, digging Clint and this band in surround-sound-and-Hot-Cinerama.

THE IMAGININGS OF EARL HINES

Earl Hines is both revered and under-acknowledged, a position many jazz legends find themselves in.  He was in the public eye for more than sixty years, playing everywhere.  But his energy and abundance have often tended to make him a caricature of himself: late in life, he surrounded himself with functional but less inspiring musicians, and the listener was often treated to spectacles: mountainous versions of BOOGIE WOOGIE ON THE SAINT LOUIS BLUES that seemed to go on forever.

But in his prime — and that lasted, intermittently, throughout his life, he could be mesmerizing.  I remember seeing him at a solo concert at The New School in 1972: his pyrotechnics on BWOTSLB made me look at my watch, but his tender, mournful playing and singing of I’M A LITTLE BROWN BIRD LOOKING FOR A BLACKBIRD stays in my mind all these years.

When he was fully realized — often when playing solo — he reminded me of Emerson’s comment that the best journey is a series of zigzag tacks.  Stride piano proceeded in straight lines (and that’s no insult); Hines started from apparently simple but highly embellished statements of the melody and grew wilder and wilder, even at slow tempos, seeming like the Japanese brush painter beginning a view of Mount Fuji with only four calligraphic strokes but ending up, three or four minutes later, with an intensely detailed mosaic — the canvas filled to the edges with flourishes and dancing satyrs.  Hines didn’t know “restraint”; “ornate” to him was like breathing.  In some ways, he resembles the Joyce of Ulysses, who found simple linear narrative constricting and boring, preferring to present a reader (a hearer) with simultaneous conversations going on.  You forget that it’s only one piano and one musician, only ten fingers: a full Hines solo defies all logic.  “That can’t be one person playing!” the ears insist.  But it is.  His own Charles Ives, with no orchestra but his own ten fingers.

Here he is, explaining his style to Ralph J. Gleason and the television audience on Gleason’s JAZZ CASUAL, circa 1961:

And the gorgeous and dense GLAD RAG DOLL from 1929 — a wandering universe complete in itself, full of light and shade and surprises:

A year earlier, his ruminations on I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, which takes its beautiful time to get there:

Finally, two little lessons by contemporary jazz masters of the keyboard.  First, Chris Dawson’s transcription of Hines’s 1934 ROSETTA solo:

Then Dick Hyman tells us how to become Hines at home.  Remember to keep counting!

Thanks to Robert D. Rusch, whose gentle urging made this happen, and of course to Louis Armstrong, whose gentle prodding made Hines leap forward into the power of his own audacities.

“AIR MAIL SPECIAL”: JOHN COCUZZI, ANTTI SARPILA, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, JASON WANNER, RICHARD SIMON, and BUTCH MILES

Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian and the small groups they levitated (for only a brief time, 1939-41) continue to resonate, even though I believe that none of the original players survive.

But the music does.

Here is a fervent sample — recorded live at the 2011 San Diego Jazz Party.  (It comes from the “swingink” YouTube channel.)

This all-star sextet (led by Antti Sarpila) is playing AIR MAIL SPECIAL — composer credits Goodman, Christian, and Mundy — although my guess is that the composition should read CHARLES CHRISTIAN (100%), BENJAMIN DAVID GOODMAN (fine-tuning after the fact, percentage undetermined), and JAMES MUNDY (arrangement for big band).  Poor Charlie didn’t even live long enough to enjoy the royalties from his one-third, but that’s another story.

Many Goodman tributes are overseen by clarinetists, senior or junior, who have memorized the King’s fleet set-pieces without understanding the central nervous system that made them work so well.  Goodman seemed to use many notes, but he also had an intuitive grasp of space — how silence, like breathing, was essential to swing.  He had great flexibility on his instrument but was never shrill; he was melodic rather than loud.  Finnish clarinetist ANTTI SARPILA knows this from the inside out, having studied with the Master Robert Sage Wilber.

Then there’s the vibraphone / vibraharp — another instrument that lends itself, in the wrong hands, to swirling excesses: too many arpeggiated chords, too much jumping up and down a la Hamp, too much pounding.  If you simply watch JOHN COCUZZI’s mallets, you’ll be hypnotized — they go so fast, and in this performance one disintegrates under the strain (where is Dixie Rollini when you need her now?) but don’t let the flashing sticks fool you.  John’s phrases are elegant, his constructions logical and hot but never losing their cool.  He rocks!

Then there’s that wonderfully age-defying rhythm section: Uncle BUCKY PIZZARELLI, who is both the single-string Friend of Charlie Christian and a chording dynamo (a long-time Goodman alumnus); young titan JASON WANNER, spinning out beautifully nuanced piano lines; reliable swinger RICHARD SIMON; engine-room man BUTCH MILES.

Put them all together and you have an AIR MAIL SPECIAL that’s both riotous and right on time!

And for a reason to save your pennies or to make your own coffee now and again — John Cocuzzi has just recorded a delicious CD called GROOVE MERCHANT for the Arbors people — with Antti, the irreplaceable pianist John Sheridan, guitarist James Chirillo, bassist Frank Tate, and drummer Joe Ascione.  I’ve heard an advance copy and it swings in a lovely, insinuating way — and some tracks have become instant classics, stuck in the JAZZ LIVES car player.  Coming soon!

For now, dig this AIR MAIL SPECIAL: it repays frequent watchings.

CAUTION! HOT! THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and FRIENDS at DIXIELAND MONTEREY (March 5, 2011)

Looking back on it, I believe my parents were over-cautious: the air was full of BE CAREFUL!  But perhaps they knew more than I gave them credit for at the time.

It is in their spirit that I post the following warning before my latest jazz videos, and I think you should take it very seriously:

The Reynolds Brothers could singe your fingers, your clothing, or anything else available.  They are dangerous!  I was driving home from work about ten days ago with one of their CDs in the player — it was on a seven-minute plus romp on HAPPY FEET featuring Scott Black, Dan Levinson, Allan Vache, and others — and I couldn’t help myself.  I am only glad that no police officer saw me joyously whacking my head into the headrest (what else is it there for?) on 2 and 4.  And then I played the track again.  Ecstatic jive!

By the Reynolds Brothers, I mean John (guitar, vocal, scat, whistling); Ralf (washboard, commentary, whistle-blowing); Marc Caparone (cornet); Katie Cavera (string bass); and special guest pianist Marc Allen Jones.  This set was recorded at Dixieland Monterey (the Jazz Bash by the Bay) on March 5. 2011.

Here we go!  And you can put the boys in white dinner jackets and bow ties, but you can’t stop them from swinging like mad.  How about a little FUTURISTIC JUNGLEISM to scare the next-door neighbors?

In the mood for something Asian?  Here’s CHINA BOY:

Be kind to all living creatures (say McKinney’s Cotton Pickers), so NEVER SWAT A FLY (and Ralf tells about Grandma ZaSu Pitts):

Something familiar — LADY BE GOOD in the key of love:

And Katie comes out to do her winsomely naughty-but-innocent DO SOMETHING.  (She’s happily married, though, fellows, so sit back down.):

I don’t know what the subconscious link between Katie’s song and the Boswell Sisters’ classic SENTIMENTAL GENTLEMAN FROM GEORGIA is, but if anyone could “do something” to relax those jangled nerves it would be this Southern swain:

Shelley Burns joins in for that sweet tune — Louis and Fats both loved it! — I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED:

In the name of geography, and for all the women named Merry in the audience, here’s CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:

Homage to Jack Teagarden and Johnny Mercer, DR. HECKLE AND MR. JIBE (Mercer loved such wordpplay — a later song is DR. WATSON AND MR. HOLMES):

And, to finish, an ecstatic HAPPY FEET — which ours were!

Jazz ecstasy — or have I said that already?

“ONE OF THE BEST”: LEO McCONVILLE

A postscript to my tribute to Leo McConville, provided by Rob Rothberg — its source is the Evans and Evans book on Bix:

To Leo:

One of the best personally and musically — thanks for saving my life on the Camel Hour numerous times — The Best

Bix Beiderbecke

What more would anyone ever want?

HOT, MELODIC, ELUSIVE

All right, class.  Are you ready for this week’s Jazz Quiz?  (Put that phone away, please: you won’t find the answer there.)

Name a jazz trumpeter who worked and recorded with Eddie Lang, Jean Goldkette, Paul Specht, Don Voorhees, Emmett Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Red Nichols, Joe Venuti, Gene Krupa, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Vic Berton, the Georgians, Adrian Rollini, Mannie Klein, Stan King, Ben Selvin, Eugene Ormandy, Jack Teagarden, Eva Taylor, Fred Rich, Sam Lanin, Dick McDonough, Bunny Berigan, Carl Kress, Babe Russin, Hoagy Carmichael, Glenn Miller, Elizabeth Welch, Benny Goodman . . . .

OK.  Hand your papers in.  Who knows the answer?  Henry?

“Is it Jack Purvis, Professor?”

“A very good answer, but no — this trumpet player never went to jail.”

“Yes, Jennifer?”

“Leo McConville, Professor?”

“Good job, Jennifer!”

Here’s a sample of Leo at work and play:

And a more elusive one, where the listener is waiting for Leo to emerge into the open — which he does in the last seconds of the record:

And another (with lovely still photographs of Clara Bow to muse on):

McConville comes across as a very “clean” player, capable of a strong clear lead, accurate and correct, but also comfortable with a Bixian kind of melodic embellishment that could be very heated and relaxed at the same time.  He was born in 1900 in Baltimore and began playing professionally in 1914, working and recording with the Louisiana Five.  At some point, he was one of the very busy New York studio musicians and he seems to have raced from one record session to the next with stops in between for radio work.  (It’s difficult for modern listeners to imagine that radio was so important as a medium for live music, when each network had a large orchestra on staff, but it’s true.)

McConville had the good or bad fortune, depending on how you look at it, to work often in the groups of Red Nichols.  Good — in that this was steady, well-paying work; bad in that he was not going to get to play hot choruses and make a name for himself.  There are no LEO AND HIS GANG sessions for OKeh.  He did not record after 1930, and four years later he retired from the New York music scene, preferring the more tranquil life of raising chickens in Maryland to standing around at the bar with the Dorsey Brothers in Plunkett’s.  But he continued to play gigs with local bands — so his retirement seems to have been his choice rather than a matter of a failing lip.  And he lived until 1968.

I hope to be able to tell you more about the elusive Mr. McConville in days to come.  For the moment, I offer these pages from the September 1931 RHYTHM magazine — courtesy of my generous friend, the brass scholar Rob Rothberg — which show that Leo was taken very seriously in his lifetime.  And there are many more recordings with Leo to be heard on YouTube.

It interests me that Leo was being featured in this magazine even when he was no longer recording . . . or is it that his post-1930 recordings have not been documented?  Anyway, I would like a subscription to RHYTHM and would be more than happy to pay six pence a month for the privilege — look at that snappy Deco cover!

and . . .

and . . .

Leo comes across as poised, polite, with his own views — his own man, admirably so.  We should know more about him . . .

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS and SOUNDS LIKE (at DIXIELAND MONTEREY): March 5, 2011

More from Dixieland Monterey 2011 (the Jazz Bash by the Bay)!

On paper, this was advertised as simply another session by the Reynolds Brothers, which was good enough for me: I had been following them around, a dazed and grinning hero-worshipper.  They’re John (National steel guitar, vocals, whistling), Ralf (washboard), Katie Cavera (string bass, vocal), Marc Caparone (cornet).  More than enough for anyone!

But when I saw their friends — Jeff Barnhart (piano), Dan Barrett (trombone), Bryan Shaw (trumpet), I settled into my seat knowing that great things — a jazz colloquy on Olympus — would come.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

They began with I NEVER KNEW (homage to that wonderful recording by Benny Carter, Floyd O’Brien, Teddy Wilson, Chu Berry, Ernest Hill, Sidney Catlett, and Max Kaminsky, as “The Chocolate Dandies”).  Their reimagining has stunning brass playing and a delightfully weird harmonic interlude by Jeff — picked up by the horns — before they rock on out:

I adjusted my camera’s white balance so the scene looked less like a Vincent Price film in time for the second number, I WANT A LITTLE GIRL.  Originally recorded in 1930 by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (with a vocal by George Thomas, if I remember correctly), it was rediscovered in 1945-6 by Buck Clayton and Louis.

The spirits of Mr. Strong and Mr. Clayton — tender yet annunciatory — permeate this performance.  And look at the faces of the musicians!  Watch Dan listening to Marc and Bryan!  Catch the dreamy don’t-wake-me-now look on Katie’s face!  It’s thrilling to see musicians afloat on mutual love for beautiful sounds:

I don’t know who suggested the next tune — a wonderful one, almost forgotten, by Harry Warren from FORTY-SECOND STREET, recorded by Bing Crosby and (much later) by Ruby Braff — another jazz carpe diem for the ages.  The clever lyrics are by Al Dubin.  This version has the approving ghosts of Bing and Putney Dandridge hovering around it — with the brass section discoursing in the happiest way on the beauties of Thirties and Forties swing epigrams.  And Jeff’s performance (swinging, hilarious, sweet) suggests what Fats might have done with the song:

Because I had made dinner plans with the irrepressible Jack Rothstein, I had to leave at this point, but I turned to my dear friend Rae Ann Berry and begged her in an insistent whisper, “Please.  Please tape the rest of this?  I have to go but I can’t stand missing the rest.”  And Rae Ann, truly a good sport, took over.  So the remaining videos exist because of her generosity.

And they are generous!

Katie asks the lover’s question — DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?  Oh, we do, Katie.  Her sweetly unaffected vocal gives way to a brass fantasy (who needs clarinets?) in solos and riffs.  And in the middle, there is a perfectly astonishing piano solo — try this at home.  I dare you!  And catch Jeff watching John in delighted amazement while John scrolls through one of his amazing solos (Jeff is chording with his left hand).  Another Katie chorus, and then Brass Ecstasy — circa 1933 (I think), with everyone shouting for joy to the heavens:

Then something beautiful and rare — a Bryan Shaw ballad feature!  It’s I’M CONFESSIN’ (with the bridge of his first solo loving embodiment of Buck Clayton) — again embodying the tradition of singing trumpets born from Louis.  (I’ve heard that Bryan has completed a new Arbors CD with Dan Barrett and friends, coming soon!)  Then a weirdly sweet Jeff Barnhart piano interlude before Bryan offers his own mixture of drama and sweetness:

Back to Louis and Fats (what could be wrong?) for the 1935 GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT — in the key of G, by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz.  About a minute into this performance, you’ll hear that delicious sound of a band locking into swing — a swing that some bands reach only in the last chorus and some never reach at all!  John’s sweet, flying vocal is appropriate for this song and for a man so beautifully dressed:

I’ve already written encomia for Becky Kilgore’s guest appearance with this band on WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA — but I’m including this video because I think it cannot be seen too many times:

And to close — a simple Louis blues, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, absolutely exultant:

This music gave and gives so much pleasure that I had trouble finding a title for this posting.  I am content with mine — see the smiles on the faces of the musicians! — but have to share another story, with apologies for the dropping of names.  When I was fortunate enough to chat with clarinetist Frank Chace (now more than a decade ago), he remembered that he and Marty Grosz had listened, rapt, to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on SWEET SUE with the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers.  Marty’s comment was, “Well, if that doesn’t scrape the clouds . . . !” which is as good a summation of what artistic bliss feels like.

Thank you, Jeff, Dan, Marc, Ralf, Bryan, Katie, John, and Rae Ann — for keeping Beautiful Music Alive!

DENNIS LICHTMAN’S BRAIN CLOUD IS HAVING A PARTY! (Friday, March 25, 2011)

Mark it down!

The BRAIN CLOUD — Dennis Lichtman’s twenty-first century hot Western Swing band — is having a party to celebrate the release of their debut CD on Friday, March 25, 2011.  It will be held at the Jalopy Theatre in Red Hook, Brooklyn, beginning at 10 PM.  Dennis says that the show will feature the full six-piece band plus special guests — and that the new disc will be on sale there for only ten dollars.  A winning combination!

This band rocks.  Even if your tastes run more to MILENBURG JOYS than to Bob Wills, it’s all the same.  I hope to be there . . . but you’d better make plans for yourselves!

For the Brooklyn-phobic among us, those of us lost in the darkness or wondering if Thomas Wolfe was right, the Jalopy Theatre is not at the end of the earth.  Here’s their website:

http://www.jalopy.biz/performance.php

I believe you could take the F or the G subway down to Carroll Street and walk south to 315 Columbia Street . . . asking the hipsters as you go by whether you are on the right path.  (Any path that leads to the BRAIN CLOUD is the right one.)

Here’s a video of an earlier incarnation of the CLOUD performing Mel Powell’s MISSION TO MOSCOW at the Jalopy Theatre, June 2010:

JEFF HEALEY IS STILL WITH US

One of the privileges of being who I am at this moment is the ability to burst into tears while watching a video at the computer. 

I clicked on the video below, of trumpeter / singer Jeff Healey and friends swinging through I’M GOING TO SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER and found myself crying.

I felt grief that Jeff is no longer alive and joy at the music he created and creates.  No one who can create such beauty is dead, I think, although I mourn his departure from the scene.

Here’s the music; all the details are explained at the end: