“Oh, my goodness! Come in! May I make you some tea?”
Entirely fanciful, I know, but I am honored to welcome the most esteemed Ms. Kilgore to JAZZ LIVES in all her glory.
Becky (or Rebecca), citizen of the world, bringer of joy, much-loved swingstress — all I can say is that when she sings, I feel the same pleasure as when I hear Ben or Bobby or Vic. Enough said!
Here is a video performance by Becky, the Reynolds Brothers (sublime hot men and no fooling: John on guitar, Ralf on washboard), cornetist Marc Caparone, trumpeter Bryan Shaw, trombonist and wit Dan Barrett, pianist Jeff Barnhart, and bassist Katie Cavera — onstage at Dixieland Monterey, March 5, 2011.
And we owe this video to my pal, saintly and salty and tireless Rae Ann Berry.
One of the things I love most about the great recordings of the Thirties is their sweet seamless ability to mix fun and swing: Fats. Louis. Mildred. The Boswell Sisters.
Perhaps the closest I will ever get to Satori — at least Jazz Satori — is the state of laughing, nearly crying, and moving my body in time, helplessly surrendering myself to joy. This performance of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, both impromptu and cohesive, makes me feel just like that. But onwards. See for yourself, brothers and sisters:
Readers who wish to watch the clip again (I can’t watch it only once) are allowed to skip what follows — the spectacle of a man deep in love with this music and so grateful for it, explicating it at length — and go back to the clip. I have put my enthusiasm in italics for those who are enthusiasm-averse or for whom it is contraindicated. Meet me at the end of the post!
Comedy and deep feeling and joy and swing all intertwine here. My pleasure starts instantly with Jeff’s sweet, insinuating piano introduction — you know you’re in for a good time when the music starts that way (bless you, Jeff!) and Becky’s got the feeling right off — dig her playful, floppy hand gestures and the smile on John Reynolds’ face. Katie Cavera hasn’t yet started to swing out, but she’s in the groove — listening to Ralf’s beat.
And Ms. Kilgore starts, in the easiest, most unaffected way, to tell the story of the verse (I’ve found love and my life has changed — let me tell you all about it!) as if she were telling us a life-story, rather than Singing A Song. Feel the difference? It’s a deep yet casual human narrative our Becky is unreeling for us. When Becky gets to “done” and “Mmmmm,” I’m entranced . . . she has my rapt attention! Notice the expressions on the musicians’ faces — the brass section alternates between puppyish joy (bouncing around in happiness) and deep contemplation. And how does Ralf swing out so much on one cymbal? I have to sign up for the correspondence course.
Then we turn the corner into the chorus . . . the audience recognizes the song (you can hear sighs of pleasurable relief-of-suspense) — they relax even more because of the way Becky is floating over that rhythm section.
(Make note: send thanks to Ralf, Jeff, Katie, and John for swinging so luxuriantly.)
Deep listening — being Present — enhances every experience, even if it’s drinking your breakfast coffee — and there is a perfect example of that here: Jeff hits a bass note three times to emphasize a Becky-phrase and the brass section — as one — silently says, “Hey, what a good idea!” and picks it up as a riff. That phrase is a Louis-idea that the Basie boys picked up . . . all roads lead back to Louis.
And Becky is both deep inside the music and lying in a hammock, free to sing the melody straight while simultaneously embellishing it with bends and dips, changes in timbre, shadings. A fellow named Bing comes to mind, also a gal named Connee — but it’s all Becky. Singers, take note! Players, take note! What she does with sound, with the beat — a light shines out of her to us.
Dan Barrett. Ain’t he something? Hilarious and profound, bringing together Vic and Dicky Wells and Louis and a little bit of Jackie Gleason — showing us how to construct a solo by putting together different pieces, in thirty-two bars, less than a minute.
Bryan and Marc — children of Louis — begin their exalted conversation. They shout for joy. I have watched this clip many times since Rae Ann posted it and this is always the moment I find it hard not to cry. As the late Sam Parkins used to say, “Gets me right in the gizzard!” I still can’t locate my gizzard, but I know what he meant.
Becky returns for another exploration of the chorus — looser, more playful, gliding like an Olympic ice skater over the notes, over that brass section, over Jeff’s traceries, over that rocking rhythm section. Her witty blues inflections while Jeff is playing at being Earl Hines! And the last minute or so of this clip is so full of marvels that to tell all the tale would tax my five wits (memories of Sir Gawain and his Green Stompers) . . . it’s the performance of a lifetime. Mister Barnhart offers a gallant arm to Miss Kilgore and they walk off the stage . . .
In some ways, the twenty-first century has proven to be grueling. You can supply your own examples. But isn’t it a blessing that we can hear and see WHEN I TAKE ME SUGAR TO TEA whenever we want? It is an honor to live in the same world as the one Becky, Jeff, Dan, John, Ralf, Marc, Bryan, Katie, Rae Ann, and the Brooklyn Kid do. Thank you. I bow low before you and your generosities.
And that’s no stage joke.
SATORI DESERVES GENEROSITY: LOVE THE LIVING MUSICIANS. CLICK HERE! ALL MONEY GOES TO THEM: