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 . . . .)

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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!