Monthly Archives: May 2011

POETIC (The Second Set): MICHAEL KANAN, JOEL PRESS, SEAN SMITH, JOE HUNT (Smalls, May 13, 2011)

Michael Kanan, piano; Joel Press, tenor / soprano saxophone; Sean Smith, string bass; and Joe Hunt, drums, created a memorable first set at Smalls jazz club on May 13, 2011.

Happily for us, their sustained creativity lit up the second set as well.  The music was easy, thoughful, emotionally intense but never losing its cool.

Monk’s HACKENSACK:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO, with Michael’s lovely rubato reading of the verse:

I HEAR A RHAPSODY (which could stand as a title for my postings of this group):

SOPHISTICATED LADY — with a floating duet for tenor and piano:

and the closing RED TOP (in F):

Joel plans to be back in New York City from June 23d through July 7th.  And on the 7th, he will be playing duets at Smalls with the excellent pianist Spike Wilner.

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ESSENTIAL LISTENING: CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND “TEARS”

Some time ago on JAZZ LIVES, I had some fun posting two Desert Island Disc lists of my own — one of the Great Dead, one of the Happily Living.

Now, it’s time to revise those lists — because TEARS, by Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, is an absolute delight.

It’s not a respectful museum-piece, but a lively, surprising evocation of many jazz eras — one of those CDs you will listen to all the way through and then want to play again.

Clint Baker is one of those blessed players who can swing the band no matter what instrument he picks up.  On Rae Ann Berry’s YouTube videos (and some of mine), the exciting evidence is there: Clint on trumpet, cornet, trombone, clarinet, guitar, banjo, drums, vocal — all superbly.  On this CD, he plays trombone — moving around stylistically from the hot roughness of the late Twenties to the smoothness of mid-Thirties Benny Morton, all with conviction and wit.  In the front line, he has Marc Caparone (punching out that fine lead in the best Mutt Carey manner or looping around in the sky a la Buck Clayton) and Mike Baird (think Johnny Dodds or Prince Robinson).

But the best front line imaginable sinks without a cohesive, friendly rhythm section — like the one on this CD: Dawn Lambeth on piano (more about Dawn in a minute), Katie Cavera on swinging guitar and banjo (ditto); Mike Fay (did someone say “Wellman Braud”?) and the wonderful Hal Smith, propulsive but always deeply sensitive to the band as a whole.

Katie delivers one of her delicious sweet-tart, almost-innocent vocals on SWEET MAN, which is a treat.  And Clint convinces us of the earnest message of WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.  But this CD also has a vocal masterpiece: Dawn Lambeth’s pure, yearning I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?  And Dawn illuminates four more selections — jazz singing at its best.

Clint favors what he calls “musical whiplash,” which has a rather ominous ring to it — but it’s not what happens when you’re driving, engrossed in a new CD.  No, what he means is a wide-ranging repertoire, a band comfortable with playing music from the ODJB, King Oliver, operetta and opera (Saint-Saens!), Twenties pop and novelty tunes . . . all with precision and abandon, intensity and relaxation.

The CD runs 73;34, and the songs are OSTRICH WALK / I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I? / TEARS / SWEET MAN / ONE HOUR / YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (the Hot Five song, not Jolson’s) / LOVING YOU THE WAY I DO / MY HEART AT THY SWEET VOICE / WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE / ORIENTAL STRUT / BLUES IN THIRDS / IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.

Need more information?  It’s all here: http://www.katiecavera.net/ctb_tears.html

COME AND JOIN THE JUBILEE!

I had the great pleasure of meeting the Louis Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi at the Armstrong Archives (they’re in the Queens College Library and they’re a marvel) so that we could have a brief chat about his new book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS (Pantheon).  The book will be out on June 21 although you can pre-order it on Amazon.

It’s a wonderful book, and I’ll have more to say about that in a few weeks.  But here’s its young author — informed, sincere, down-to-earth and full of love for his subject.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so:

“The story of Louis Armstrong’s later years is the great untold tale of postwar jazz.  Now Ricky Riccardi has told it to perfection,” says Terry Teachout, author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong

Now do you understand why Louis smiles while Ricky is speaking?

You’ll have another opportunity to meet Ricky, to buy an autographed copy of his book . . . and where better than at a summer garden party at the Louis Armstrong House Museum?     The book party will take place in the Armstrong Garden at the Louis Armstrong House Museum,  Sunday, June 26 from 2-4 PM.

Tickets are $35, which includes an autographed book, a guided tour of the Armstrong House and refreshments.  $25 for LAHM members.

Space is limited. Make your reservation today!   

Reservations can be made at:  reservations@louisarmstronghouse.org.

For further questions call the museum at  (718) 478-8274.

The LOUIS ARMSTRONG HOUSE MUSEUM is located at 34-56 107th Street, Corona, Queens, New York City 11368.  It’s easy to get there by car or by public transportation.

If you can’t come to the party, I hope you will buy a copy of Ricky’s book and consider becoming a member of the Louis Armstrong House Museum — a down-home shrine visited by people from every country on the globe.     Members support their mission — making sure the joy Louis spread is never forgotten — and receive exclusive benefits throughout the year, including: free admission for historic house tours, special member discount to all events, a subscription to Dippermouth News, a sneak peek of upcoming events, 10% discount in our museum store, pre-show parties with other members, and much more.

PAGES WORTH READING: JESS STACY’S STORIES

Jess Stacy

Because I’ve been reading about jazz for decades, I prefer books that offer first-hand information rather than pastiches of familiar quotations.  Reading a revered musician’s own words is a special pleasure.

A new book presenting the reminiscences of pianist Jess Stacy is a delight.

It’s called CHICAGO JAZZ AND THEN SOME: AS TOLD BE ONE OF THE ORIGINAL CHICAGOANS, JESS STACY.  The author is Jean Porter Dmytryk — who, with her husband Edward (the film director), had the good fortune to live next door to Jess and his wife Patricia from 1951.  The book was published in 2010 by Bear Manor Media, and you can find it through their site — http://www.bearmanormedia.com., or through Amazon.

It’s only 138 pages, but it contains more new information — and wonderful rare photographs — than many jazz books weighing three times as much.  Those who love cats will find especially endearing the photograph of the Stacys’ cat, Dollface, peering over the top of the music as Jess plays the piano at home.  Worth the price of admission.  And what comes through on every page is the affection Jess had for his neighbors and his pleasure in telling his stories.

The book takes Jess from his childhood in Cape Giardeau, Missouri, up to his 1974 triumph at the Newport Jazz Festival (I was there, and can testify that he played beautifully — solo and with Bud Freeman), and the back cover mentions that he celebrated his ninetieth birthday with the Dmytryks.

In between there are some stories we know well — Jess’s first meeting with Bix Beiderbecke and his sorrow at Bix’s death, his urging Benny Goodman to keep on going to California and the band’s triumph at the Palomar Ballroom, his eventual retirement from the music business and later return to New York.

But for every familiar story there are five brand-new ones.  Stacy was a keen observer of Chicago nightlife and of the gangsters he worked for: so there are sharply-realized, often surprising sketches of Al Capone, Machine Gun Jack McGurk, even of John Dillinger’s body in the morgue.  Decades after he had left Chicago, Jess would still call the intersection of Thirty-Fifth and Calumet “the center of the universe” and speak fondly of King Oliver, a young Louis Armstrong, of how George Wettling was punished by the gangsters for bad behavior.  And the stories aren’t all about jazz musicians: Sally Rand and Texas Guinan make appearances, as does a forgotten singer named Muriel Leigh who tried to pull a fast one, and two singers who would become deservedly famous — Frankie Laine and Doris Day.

Other personalities — occasionally helpful, more often frustrating — are seen at close range.  I speak of Benny Goodman (Stacy’s association with the King lasted a quarter-century but was often unhappy) and Lee Wiley (their brief but nearly toxic love affair, marriage, and musical partnership).  Those who rhapsodize over Wiley might find the pages where she appears startling, but the stories have the ring of truth.  But Jess is never mean, never vindictive.

Readers will be moved by Jess’s close friendship with Frank Teschemacher (who else could have told us what Stacy does?), his affection for Wingy Manone and Jack Teagarden, for Muggsy Spanier and Wettling, for Bessie Smith, Bunny Berigan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tommy Dorsey.

The story of Jess’s long-time romance with Patricia Peck (with enough twists and turns for a perfect 1946 movie) is a highlight of this book.  Unlike the stereotypical jazz musician, he recognized true love — and even though he almost lost it, it couldn’t be stifled.

Stacy seems a cheerful, down-to-earth person, someone we would have been honored to meet, someone who would have made us feel at home in a sentence: a man who can say that he had liked gin and tried pot, but that nothing beats a Hershey bar.

Two other biographies of Stacy have already been published, but even if you own the admirable books by Derek Coller and Keith Keller, make room on your shelf for this one.

P.S.  Perfectionists will see that Jean Porter Dmytryk is not a polished writer.  Jazz scholars will notice some inaccuracies.  But the pleasure of hearing Jess Stacy tell his own stories far outweighs any flaws in the book.

POETIC: MICHAEL KANAN, JOEL PRESS, SEAN SMITH, JOE HUNT (Smalls, May 13, 2011)

There are many first-rate jazz players and many inspiring ones — but only a few reach deeply into the poetry at the heart of the music. 

Last Friday, May 12, 2011, I saw four of these jazz poets at work at Smalls: Michael Kanan, piano; Joel Press, tenor and soprano sax; Sean Smith, bass; Joe Hunt, drums.  Their two sets reached heights that even the best music doesn’t always attain.

I could attempt to describe what I heard in words: Joel’s soulful, conversational approach to melody and his rhythmic energies; Michael’s thoughtful, surprising lines and deep harmonies; Sean’s pulse and empathy; Joe’s array of sweetly musical sounds that embrace the group and push it along.  The animation this quartet brought to well-known material.  But I’d rather let these shining performances speak for themselves . . .

THAT OLD FEELING:

INDIANA:

LOVER MAN:

ERONEL:

BLUES FOR LESTER:

Pure poetry — deep art that doesn’t call attention to itself but lingers in the mind and the heart.  And there’s more to come.

THOSE RHYTHM MEN: RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (May 5, 2011)

Here are some more uplifting moments in jazz, courtesy of  on YouTube. 

The prime movers here are Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, performing at Seattle’s New Orleans Restaurant, on May 5, 2011.  That’s Ray on piano and vocal; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

I would write “Four minds with but a single thought — to swing,” but that would be an oversimplification.  The beauty of this little band is that they are unified, presenting something irresistible, but each player shines through, his individual sensibility intact yet happily part of the group.  Ray, Steve, Dave, and Mike surely rock — in the best old-time-modern ways.  Savor those tempos!  Many bands with less feeling for the music play only Fast or Slow . . . . not this quartet.  But you don’t need me to tell you how good this band is: the music will do that in a minute. 

THAT RHYTHM MAN — connected to Louis and Fats in 1929 — was originally a dance number for the chorus line, I recall, so its tempo would have been hot.  The FTB takes it at an insinuating medium-tempo, just intoxicating:

Something for Bix — even if the debate goes on whether he is on the Irving Mills 1930 recording of this song — LOVED ONE:

Jelly Roll Morton’s tune WHY asks that puzzling question:

And for the vipers in the house . . . here’s a Thirties paean to the joys of muta.  Mike shows how it would feel to be Tall: he’s VIPER MAD:

More delights await — video performances of AVALON, STUMBLING, MOANIN’, ONE HOUR, AFTER YOU’VE GONE, and a favorite of mine, the lovely FOREVERMORE.

But wait!  There’s more!  “Informed sources,” as I used to read about in the New York Times, have told me that there is a First Thursday Band CD in the works.  What good news!  Watch this space!

“MUSICALLY YOURS” on eBay

Two more surprises from the national museum / flea market / antique store / attic:

Minimum bid $100 . . . .

Minimum bid $6500.  It is a lovely picture, though. 

Thanks to diligent JAZZ LIVES scout David J. Weiner for pointing the way!