Monthly Archives: May 2011

INSPIRED DIALOGUES: LENA BLOCH and EVGENY SIVTSOV (CAFFE VIVALDI, May 8, 2011)

I have thought tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch a remarkable player in the too-few times I have seen and heard her.

Last Sunday (Mother’s Day 2011) I finally had an opportunity to experience her in a most intriguing duo with pianist Evgeny Sivtsov, appearing at Caffe Vivaldi (32 Jones Street in West Greenwich Village, New York City).

Duet playing is a fascinating balancing act.  As in any other relationship where two people have strong personalities and solidly established selves, the paradox emerges immediately that each one must be ready, at a moment’s notice, to switch roles.

And it’s much more subtle than Leader and Follower — in this case, Lena and Evgeny didn’t always follow the typical patterns, but they engage in playful, often dramatic dialogues.  At times I thought of Steve Lacy, other moments reminded me of Al Cohn and Jimmy Rowles, of Ted Brown and Michael Kanan — all fine echoes and resonances.

At first, Evgeny impressed me as a powerful, imposing player (although he is tall and thin), making great clusters of sound — more THE GREAT GATES OF KIEV than FIFTY-SECOND STREET THEME, but beneath his apparent ferocity was a playful self that emerged later in the set, where I heard prancing echoes of Erroll Garner, or Johnny Guarneri.

Lena has her own sound and conceptions.  She has a beautiful tone (even when she chooses to make it dry for a moment) and she understands melodic playing.  She is no rhapsodist, but an explorer, not afraid of venturing outside the contours of the expected melody.  But she never uses her tenor saxophone to make sounds that might assault us.

This session found Lena and Evgeny inventing inspired dialogues — a set of improvisations on standard songs that made the familiar fresh, with Lena’s tenor lines often riding the currents of Evgeny’s piano — a little boat in powerful currents, able to ride them without ever going under.  Exultant music — serious, playful, unpredictable.

And from behind my video camera, I found the faces and bodies of the two players visually fascinating, their artless movements and expressions compelling proof of how music moves us.  Watch Evgeny as he bravely makes his way through the thickets — unknown territory! — bobbing and weaving like the truly impassioned man he is.  And observe the wonderful way Lena’s face, while she was listening and leaning, reflects every note and nuance she heard on the piano.

Great, playful art.

Cole Porter’s I LOVE YOU:

I’LL REMEMBER APRIL.  (And I’ll smile):

I HEAR A RHAPSODY (an accurate title):

EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (with its serious, grieving air):

YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:

Frank Loesser’s jaunty IVE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE:

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:

THE HOT JAZZ ALLIANCE SWINGS OUT (April 20, 2011)

When my learned and hot Australian friend Michael McQuaid (clarinet, alto sax, cornet, and leader of the Late Hour Boys) told me sometime last year about a tour he and his colleagues intended to do, I badly wanted to join them as an aging roadie, carrying the cases and music stands, finding places to recharge my video camera’s batteries, recording every second for posterity.  I would have worn a cap and held the door open.

My idea was one whose time had not yet come.  But thanks to fellow reed wizard Jason Downes, we now have eighteen video performances to thrill us.  Michael and Jason on their own are — to quote the late Pee Wee Erwin, “hotter than a depot stove” (you could look it up) . . . and here they are joined by guitarist / banjoist John Scurry, bassist Leigh Barker, and two Americans whose names will be familiar to JAZZ LIVES: Andy Schumm on cornet and Josh Duffee on drums.  The results are nearly incendiary, and would be so even if the surroundings didn’t suggest Hades reborn as a speakeasy in color and decor.

I think I am performing a public service by alerting my readers of these clips.  See if you don’t agree.  And I can’t wait for the double CD-DVD set.  (Yes, one of the titles below is DON’T WAKE ME UP, LET ME DREAM, but any causal connection here is incidental, of course.)

Wow!  As we say in the States.

This session was recorded on April 20, 2011, in Club Cursley, Near Cobargo, NSW, Australia.  I was told that this lavish interior is inside a generous host’s country house . . . one with its own stage.  Some people know how to live.

How about a searing WILD MAN BLUES, styled after Johnny Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers — and hear young Mister Schumm get into his 1927 Louis-regalia in the most convincing way:

Here is the aforementioned request (or command?), DON’T WAKE ME UP, LET ME DREAM (which has a chorus-ending tag that sounds like a thousand other tunes — I thought of WHY COULDN’T IT BE POOR LITTLE ME and GOOD LITTLE, BAD LITTLE YOU but might be mistaken in both counts).  From the title, I would have expected a snoozy sweet composition, so this romper is a delightful surprise.  The closing chorus is superheated:

And a slow-drag, almost melancholy BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? (in keeping with the yearning lyrics):

And a nearly ominous reading of BLACK SNAKE BLUES:

I have purposely left the remaining fourteen videos unposted: visit “jasondownes” on YouTube and enjoy yourselves.  If you are measured in your enjoyment, that’s two weeks of joy at breakfast.  I still wish with all my heart that I had been along on this tour — maybe next year if I buy a cap that has THE HOT JAZZ ALLIANCE embroidered on it in gold braid, the fellows will make room for me in the band bus?

MICK CARLON RECALLS RUBY BRAFF, BEAUTIFULLY

Reprinted from JAZZ TIMES, May 2011:

05/04/11 • By Mick Carlon

Ruby Braff: The Beauty in Music

It’s 1999 and I’m watching a PBS special on Mark Twain. The phone rings. It’s Ruby Braff. “Are you watching the show about Twain?” he asks. “It’s superb. The man was one of our nation’s greatest geniuses.”

I agree. “Too bad Twain didn’t live to be one hundred,” I say.

“Why?” asks Ruby.

“Because then he could’ve heard Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5 and Hot 7 recordings and we’d have Twain’s reaction to them.”

I hear an intake of breath. “Why the (bleep) would you care about that? Why would anyone want to know how Mark Twain felt about Pops? What a (bleeping) stupid thing to say.”

Not taking Ruby’s insults personally (for some reason, I never did), I reply, “Well, I think it would have been interesting.”

“That’s because you’re a (bleep),” and, once again, Ruby Braff hangs up on me.

For the past quarter century, I’ve lived on Cape Cod. Believe it or not, this sandy peninsula, about an hour south of Boston, was once a garden of jazz delights. Although his fans in Japan and Denmark stood in line to buy tickets to his gigs, Dave McKenna’s local gigs were ridiculously easy to attend. My wife and I would simply stroll into Hyannis’ Road House Café to delight in the world-class sounds of Dave on his “saloon piano”—for free.

And we could hear Ruby Braff, playing the most gorgeous cornet in the world–with a sound redolent of summer dusks and autumn wood-smoke—often with McKenna and bassist Marshall Wood.

I met Ruby through Jack Bradley, his old friend who had once actually saved Ruby’s life. In the depths of a three day coma, Ruby was responding to nothing and nobody. Deciding to visit Ruby at Cape Cod Hospital, Jack brought along a cassette player and a Louis Armstrong tape. He pressed play and the sound of Pops playing “I’m In the Mood For Love” filled the hospital room. Amazingly, Ruby’s eyelids began to flutter. The color returned to his cheeks. A few moments later, his eyes opened. “Hey,” he said in his Beantown Dead End Kid voice, “that’s not the 1935 version.”

“Nope,” replied Jack. “It’s from ’38—Pops with the Dorsey band.”

A few minutes later, now fully awake, Ruby said, “You know, that’s the second time Pops saved my life.”

“When was the first?” asked Jack.

“The first time I heard him.”

Ruby, of course, was a graduate of the Louis Armstrong School of Music. “It doesn’t matter what instrument you play—you’re supposed to be listening to Louis Armstrong. It doesn’t matter whether you write, sing, dance, or anything. If you haven’t listened to Louis Armstrong, there’s nothing, nothing going to come out of your playing that will ever please me. I can tell you that.”

And Ruby would tell you. When I once mentioned a young hot-shot trumpeter, Ruby scoffed, “He can’t play (beep). And you know why? He’s never listened to Louis. I can tell.”

However, one time the young hot-shot trumpeter I admired was Ruby himself. “I love those albums you made with Dave McKenna in 1956,” I said.

“What? Are you nuts?” Ruby thundered. “Do you have ears? I couldn’t play worth crap back then. Only an ignorant fool would like that playing. Dave’s the only reason to listen to those pieces of (beep). I thought you had more sense than that!”

I guess I didn’t. I stand by my high opinion of Ruby’s 1950s music. But his later work, recorded when he was often breathless with emphysema, is among the greatest jazz of the past thirty years: On the Arbors label: Variety is the Spice of Braff; Being With You (Ruby’s lovely Pops tribute); Live at the Regattabar; Music for the Still of the Night; Controlled Nonchalance at the Regattabar I and II (with Dave McKenna and Scott Hamilton). On the Concord label: Ruby Braff and His New England Song Hounds I and II (once again with McKenna and Hamilton, along with Howard Alden; Frank Tate; and the immortal Alan Dawson). I also have big eyes for The Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet Live at the New School album (Chiaroscuro) and (sorry, Ruby!) his 1956 duets with Ellis Larkins (Vanguard).

My friend rarely had a good word to say about anyone—myself included—but I never heard him say anything negative about a fellow he had known since boyhood in Roxbury: Nat Hentoff. “That man,” said Ruby one evening, “has never written one phony word in his life. God knows how many bum notes I’ve hit over the years—but as a writer, Nat has never hit a bum note.”

When illness struck again, in the autumn of 2002, I visited Ruby often at Cape Cod Hospital. Strangely, amazingly, he was now always kind, with never a negative word for anyone. It worried me. “I don’t think I’ll ever play my horn again,” he said one rainy November afternoon. I kept quiet. With Ruby, phony optimism would’ve rung false—a bum note.

He died on February 9, 2003, a month short of his 76th birthday. Cape Cod has been one quiet place since.

I’ll let Ruby himself take one last word-solo. In 1979 he told Wayne Enstice: “I believe in beauty, and there’s got to be nothing but beauty in music. And if you’re not playing beautiful music that takes people to another plane, to a delicious place that they can’t ordinarily get to in their own lives, then you’re producing nothing. I want delicious sounds…that’ll take me away on a dream.”

Thanks, Ruby. You gave the world countless such delicious sounds.

P.S.  I hope that neither JAZZ TIMES nor Mick Carlon mind my reprinting this delicious piece that catches Ruby whole.  I, too, loved his music and followed him around with a camera (once) and a cassette recorder (many times) to be closer to the source of that wonderful sound.  And who’s Mick Carlon, aside from being a good friend and a fine writer?

Mick Carlon is a 27- year veteran public school teacher.  His young adult novel, Riding on Duke’s Train, starring Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra, will be published in December by Leapfrog Press.  Says Nat Hentoff: “I knew Duke Ellington for over 25 years.  He was my mentor.  The Ellington in Carlon’s book is the man I knew.”  In 2014, Leapfrog will publish Carlon’s young adult novel on Louis Armstrong, Little Fred and Louis.  Carlon lives on Cape Cod with his wife Lisa and his daughters, Hannah and Sarah.

MARK SHANE at THE PIANO: THE TICKLIN’S TERRIFIC

Mark Shane is one of the finest jazz pianists alive.  Don’t take my word for it — ask the musicians who have played alongside him, whose music he has enlivened and uplifted.  Or ask any other jazz pianist who knows how to swing.

He can swing in a way that is deeply reminiscent of Fats, Teddy, James P. — but he is no archaeologist, no copyist perfecting what he’s memorized from the manuscript.  (He’s no museum piece, either — having learned a great deal from Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan, too.)  A long apprenticeship as an improvising player — with Bob Wilber and Ruby Braff, among others — made him a fully mature player.

In his work, you’ll hear great subtleties — his harmonies, his intertwining lines — but he never shows off his technique.  Rather, he is both eloquent and plain, serving the song and its emotions.  Shane is instantly recognizable (his four-bar introductions are lovely compositions on their own) and he is his own man.

His music is delicate — because of his beautifully executed ideas and his touch (there’s classical training in his background and it shows) but he is a powerful player and his rhythm engine is always well-tuned, his swinging time impeccable.

What is the reason for all this praise?

Shane has issued another self-produced solo CD — TICKLIN’ — its title in honor of the great Harlem piano virtuosi, the “ticklers” of the last century.  It took me a long time to listen to it all the way through because I kept playing tracks over and over, returning to a certain passage to marvel at its own kind of luminescence, its joyous forward motion.  Under his fingers, Newton’s laws seem to be modified in the happiest of ways — you find yourself delighting in his intensity, his moving things forward in a delightful fashion, while at the same time there is the utmost relaxation, the absence of hurry, of rush.  Mark doesn’t like what he calls “draggy ballads,” so most of the CD takes place at a variety of nimble medium tempos . . . music to pat your foot by, but also lovely music to meditate by.

And to practical matters: the piano sounds lovely; the repertoire is varied, offering both the familiar — BODY AND SOUL — and the less so — CRYIN’ FOR THE CAROLINES and James P.’s FASCINATION.  No tricks, nothing fancy, just one glorious improvisation after another.

To learn more, visit his site (the CD is $15 including shipping):

http://www.shanepianojazz.com/pages/media.php

Shane’s music is a wonderful cure for whatever darkness may pass through your days.

And just in case his name is new to you, here’s a performance I captured from 2009 — Mark Shane exploring the old sweet nonsense tune JADA in a solo outing at Birdland:

DEEP JAZZ AHEAD: MICHAEL KANAN QUARTET with JOEL PRESS (May 13 and 14, 2011)

These are gigs to plan for — with the subtle and moving Michael Kanan at the piano; the veterans Joel Press (the Swing Explorer on tenor and soprano) and Joe Hunt (by way of Bill Evans and Getz, on drums) with expert bassists Sean Smith (the 13th) and Lee Hudson (the 14th).

As Michael writes, “Joe Hunt lived in New York and played with many of the jazz greats like Bill Evans, Stan Getz, George Russell, Charles Mingus, and many others. Check out this article about him”: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=26099

“Joel Press is also a veteran of the New York jazz scene in the 50’s and 60’s.  He had the great experience of hearing giants like Bird, Pres, Coleman Hawkins, and Monk.  He truly embodies their sound and spirit.  Hearing him is hearing the sound of swing!  And New York audiences are familiar with fantastic bassists Sean Smith and Lee Hudson.”

Michael speaks the truth — here and at the piano.  I know some deep jazz will be played on these two nights by people of feeling.

Friiday, May 13th: Smalls Jazz Club, New York City.  183 West 10th Street (just west of 7th Ave).  7:30 – 9:45.  $20 admission, well-stocked bar.  www.smallsjazzclub.com

Saturday, May 14th: Sofia’s Ristorante, New York City.  221 West 46th Street, between Broadway and 8th Ave.  7:00 – 11:30.  no cover/minimum, bar seating available.

LEO AND FRIENDS: MORE FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Seven)

Here’s the subject of our inquiry himself — inscribing a portrait to . . . . Hadley?  Hadey (as in “Hayden”?).  No reasonable suggestion refused:

And here’s Conrad Thibault:

That man might be unfamiliar to most people (Rob Rothberg recognized him immediately) but he was exceedingly popular on radio from the Thirties onward — the classically trained baritone (1903-1987).

You can hear Thibault (from a fascinating site called “Grandpa’s iPod”) as he sounded in July 1943 on a radio program, THE AMERICAN MELODY HOUR:

http://www.grandpasipod.com/tag/conrad-thibault/

The best part of the photograph above, aside from the soft focus so characteristic of portraits of the time, and the sharp suit, is the inscription: even though Thiebault was hardly a jazz singer, he knew HOT when he heard it in Leo’s playing!

Don Voorhees (1903-89) is more well-known because of his dance / hot dance recordings of the Twenties, his radio work of the following decades, and his work with THE BELL TELEPHONE HOUR.  I presume that Leo could be heard on some of the Twenties recordings, and this photograph is especially interesting to me because it suggests that everyone in the music business who knew Leo knew that he yearned to leave it (perhaps when he’d made enough money to be comfortable) and start his own chicken farm.  Voorhees teases him about that rural dream on a portrait that is almost unnervingly intense:

Finally, there’s Harry Glantz — the memorable first-chair symphonic trumpeter who was chosen by Arturo Toscanini.  A delightful biographical sketch of Glantz (1896-1982) can be found here:

http://abel.hive.no/oj/musikk/trompet/glantz/

I didn’t know much about Mister Glantz before this, although I recognized the name — but have to conclude with this puckish anecdote, recalled by one of his students, Joe Alessi, Sr.:

Joe would come into his lessons and say politely, “Hello Mr. Glantz!”  Mr. Glantz would reply in a friendly tone, “Call me Harry!”  They would get down to business, and of course, out of respect, Joe was not going to call him Harry.  Next lesson… “Hello Mr. Glantz!”… “Call me Harry!”  This went on for some weeks. Joe finally got up the courage to enter the lesson and said “Hello Harry!”To which Harry shouted “Call me MISTER GLANTZ!!

And Chris Griffin remembered Harry in a 2005 ALL ABOUT JAZZ interview:  “Probably the greatest first trumpet player the New York Philharmonic ever had was a guy named Harry Glantz,” said Griffin with a smile.  “He was a friend of Benny’s.  He came in to hear the Benny Goodman band in the Paramount Theater.  He got Benny’s ear afterwards and he said, ‘What the hell do you feed those trumpet players?  Raw meat?'”

They all knew and respected Leo McConville, Sr.!

THE JAZZ FEAST AT SACRAMENTO (May 2011)

The 2011 Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee has just come out with its detailed schedule . . . and it took me several hours before I could begin this post, because the schedule made my head spin.

In the best way, you understand.

Those of my readers who have never been to a jazz party / festival / jubilee which features simultaneous bands or artists in different venues will not quite empathize, but let me explain.  In some jazz spectaculars, it is simply a matter of coming to the main ballroom or the one stage, sitting down, and hearing music for a long period of time.

Not so at Sacramento, an absolute jazz cornucopia.  The festival begins at 11:45 on Friday, May 27, and rollicks on until late afternoon on Monday, May 30.  And what happens during any given time period is nearly overwhelming.  At 5:30 PM on Monday there are eighteen separate bands playing in eighteen venues.  

“Feast or famine,” my mother used to say.

Here’s the schedule, in case you wish to jump ahead and simply immerse yourself in the mathematically delightful possibilities:

http://www.sacjazz.com/schedule/

The result of such abundance, for me, is a mixture of elation and anxiety.  Elation because, “My goodness, look at all the wonderful things there are arranged here for my delight!”  Anxiety: “What if A and B are playing opposite each other, and I want to see both?  What should I do?  Should I commit to one and miss the other, or should I rudely get up in the middle of A’s set and truck on down to B, hoping there should be a seat?”

We should all have such worries, and I plan on working things out — perhaps with a printed schedule on the flight from New York to California.  And having an absolute surfeit of jazz riches is not the worst fate I will face.

Be sure to check out the schedule: even if you cannot see your way to Sacramento this year, perhaps it will act as an inducement to raid the children’s dental fund or the like . . . ?

A FIVE-MINUTE SEMINAR IN “HOT”: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS PLAY “CHINA BOY”

This performance — recorded by the percussive and erudite Sue Fischer at the Chattanooga Traditional Jazz Festival on May 1, 2011 — is both casual and extraordinary.

Facts first: that’s Ray Sklelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, bass; Hal Smith, drums.

And they’re playing — not too fast — the late-Twenties favorite CHINA BOY in a way that summons up early Benny, Fud Livingston, Tesch, Cless, and Pee Wee; Stacy, Hines, and Sullivan; Eddie Condon and Steve Jordan; Wellman Braud and Jim Lanigan; Baby Dodds, George Wettling, Zutty Singleton, and more.

You might think the shades of the dead crowd the stage.  You might wonder whether the living players have breathing room amidst all those Deceased Eminences.  They certainly do!  These are real people in the twenty-first century, playing their hearts out.  Bless them!

And I want to sign up for the Cubs’ fifty-city national tour.  Don’t you?

REMEMBER! JACK ROTHSTEIN RECALLS BOBBY HACKETT

Bobby was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island.  He told me that he became an alcoholic playing at Portuguese weddings there in his early teens.

In the 40’s after a concert, a few members of the Boston Symphony decided to walk a couple of blocks to the Savoy for a drink and persuaded Roger Voisin — the first trumpeter — to go with them.  Hackett was playing.

Some time later George Poor (a Hackett admirer, a cornetist himself) asked Voisin what he thought of it and he replied, “I do not much care for jazz, but Bobby Hackett – he is an artist.”

TO GLADDEN THE HEART: JUMPIN’ AT SWINGLANDIA

I found out about the video below through the magic of YouTube — “luh2” found me . . . and I casually began to watch this. 

And found myself on a gray day feeling mightily elated.  The music?  Decca, Basie, JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE.  The dancers?  Athetic, spinning, stomping, joyous. 

(Dance purists please take a deep breath before commenting on violations of historical purity.) 

The place?  SWINGLANDIA, September 2010 . . . . Kiev, Ukraine!

Wouldn’t Herschel Evans have been tickled beyond words to know that his music had such vitality seventy years after his death in a place he’d only seen on a map . . . and that young young young folks were still swinging out to it?

As if their lives depended on it, which of course they do!  (Ours too.  Imagine a life without music or dancers. . . . )

“PERFECT!”: THE EARREGULARS “COAST TO COAST” (May 1, 2011)

My title comes from a wonderful Bobby Hackett Capitol record date where Bobby (New York by profession, Massachusetts by birth) went out to California with one Jack Teagarden and played with the West Coast boys — COAST CONCERT or COAST TO COAST.  Years ago, such sessions were both novel and fashionable — one side of a Columbia lp devoted to Eddie Condon, the other to the Rampart Street Paraders, or “battles” between East and West Coast players.

No battle here, no head-cutting or manicuring, just beauty.

Last Sunday, the EarRegulars were having a wonderful time at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) — they were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Frank Tate, bass.  They devoted their first set to GREAT JAZZ CITIES OF THE WORLD (without saying a word): thus, CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME; ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS; a slow-drag CHICAGO; ST. LOUIS BLUES; MEMPHIS BLUES, and a few others.  Exquisite soloing, interplay, and creativity.

But I had noticed two familiar faces who nearly surprised me off my barstool — the great San Francisco acoustic guitarist Craig Ventresco and the singer Meredith Axelrod.  They were in town for a flying unannounced family visit — celebrating Craig’s parents’ fiftieth anniversary (hooray for Mr. and Mrs. Ventresco of Maine, hooray!).

Matt Munisteri, bless him, had known Craig was coming . . . so he brought a second guitar for Craig to play.  And lovely things happened.  I knew Craig from my jazz rebirth in 2005 — he played with the Red Onion Jazz Band as well as other floating ensembles (often in the noble company of Kevin Dorn, Jesse Gelber, Barbara Rosene, Michael Bank): he is the poet of archaic music that should never be forgotten — waltzes, stomps, blues, rags, tangos, pop songs — but he also brings depth and richness to any ensemble he’s in.  And Meredith is an unusual combination of demure and passionate, as you’ll hear.

After the set break, everyone settled in for four long sweet performances, which I present here with great delight and pride.  You’ll hear musical jokes, echoes of Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang, the Mississippi Delta coming to Soho, and a great ocean-swell rocking swing . . . music to live for!

They began with the seductively rolling WABASH BLUES — its climbing and descending lines gaining momentum although never getting louder or faster.  Jon-Erik preached through his plunger mute (his sermons are secular but compelling); Pete Martinez showed himself a wonderful dramatic actor on the clarinet, alternating between the primitive and serene; Matt’s lines rang and chimed; Frank brought forth his own brand of casual eloquence.  And Craig played as if sitting on the porch, with all the time in the world:

“Perfect!” you can hear Terry Waldo say — the only thing anyone could say!

After some discussion, the quintet arrived at ROSE ROOM (was it a memory of Charlie Christian or just a good tune to jam on): I savor the conversation between Jon-Erik and Pete in the second chorus, followed by the string section and Pete.  Then there’s Mister Tate, the Abraham Lincoln of the string bass — every note resonating with joy and seriousness.  He knows how to do it, he does!  And then the band, led by Slidin’ Jon Kellso, eases into a rocking motion that would have made the Goodman Sextet of 1941 happy.  (I thought also of the way Ruby Braff slid and danced over his two guitars and bass viol in 1974-5, not a bad memory to have.)  Matt winds and sways in his own fashion — it’s like observing a championship skater improvising on the ice, isn’t it?  And those deliciously playful conversations between Pete and Jon-Erik, then Matt and Craig . . . then some powerful riffing and jiving.  Wow, as we say!

Charlie Levenson, patron saint of informal jazz, suggested SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, and although it was late and ordinary circumstances a closing hot tune would have been the only choice, it was clear that the EarRegulars were having such a good time that no one wanted to end the music a moment too soon.  The EarRegulars and Craig immediately settle into a kind of well-oiled glide that summons up Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, and Benny Goodman — or perhaps an imagined Vanguard Records session — swaying sweetly for a good long time.  Soulful is the word for this performance:

For the closing song, Jon-Erik brought Meredith up for MY BLUE HEAVEN — that pastoral / domestic celebration.  Only a very few singers are invited to sit in at The Ear, but Meredith stepped right into the role!  Celebration was what I felt, and I daresay that my joy was shared by many people at The Ear — with more to come because of these videos.  And — since I love cats — Pete’s solo reminds me so much of a kitten with a toy furry mouse, turning it over and batting it around.  He is at the very apex — ask another clarinetist, such as Dan Block!  While the fellows were playing, the political news was on the television above — and Jon-Erik wove DING, DONG, THE WITCH IS DEAD! and YOU RASCAL YOU into his solo — although JAZZ LIVES isn’t about politics but sharing beauty:

This is what Fifty-Second Street must have sounded like.  Only better!  And it exists here and now.  What blessings!

ARE YOU FREE AT 5:30?

Meet me in front of Town Hall.  I’ll be wearing clothing and I’ll have two tickets in my hand.  What else would I need?

BRIAN HARKER: LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S HOT FIVES AND SEVENS

Because so many uninformed or skewed pages have been written about Louis Armstrong, a new book that offers close scrutiny and original research is a pleasure.

Brian Harker’s LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S HOT FIVE AND HOT SEVEN RECORDINGS (Oxford) is just such a book.

Harker bravely and capably combines musicology (attentive readings of Louis’s playing on six famous sides recorded between 1926 and 1928) and cultural history (how were these performances influenced, shaped, and perceived).

So readers need not fear being overwhelmed by transcribed solos being subjected to pages of analysis, because Harker has done other kinds of work — presenting excerpts from Dave Peyton’s columns in the Chicago Defender, offering Armstrong’s comments on his music, as well as making imaginative connections between “sweet music,” vaudeville, the cornet / trumpet tradition, and show dancing.  All of these investigations add up to new ways of understanding Louis’s growth, his powerful influence.

Harker’s book (his dissertation, but with none of the inherent stuffiness and tedium of that form) devotes itself to CORNET CHOP SUEY, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, POTATO HEAD BLUES, S.O.L. BLUES / GULLY LOW BLUES, SAVOY BLUES, and WEST END BLUES — as masterpieces in themselves, and as monuments in jazz changing from an ensemble music to a soloist’s art.  Harker examines each recording as exemplifying a different aspect of Louis’s creative process.

However, he doesn’t ignore the fact that these recordings — now perceived as iconic — were created (aside from WEST END BLUES) with some degree of casualness, ideas that Louis and his friends worked up for record dates.  Ironically or paradoxically, Louis — who treasured his own recordings — said little about these records in his lifetime.  But we can be sure that he remembered every note.

But ultimately the recordings are all we have and all that generations to come will have.  Harker makes intriguing use of the most unusual detritus of Louis’s Chicago existence — imagining Louis and friends listening to Guy Lombardo’s radio broadcasts, bringing in excerpts from newspaper writing to suggest what it was like to be a jazz musician of the time.

His research is delightful, often surprising, and almost always conclusive.  Occasionally, I found myself saying, “Well, do we know that Louis heard that / read that / cared about that?”  But such skepticism vanished by the next page.  Harker is a clear, understated, witty writer, and he avoids the cliches of Louis-exegesis: Louis the flawed artist who had no idea of what he was doing, or Louis the God, who could make no mistakes.

I learned a great deal about Louis the musician and the man (like Houdini, holding his breath under water, about his changing from cornet to trumpet, about Louis’s playing for the dancers Brown & McGraw (this last a revelation) . . . and I can think of no other book that so joyously and effectively moves from Bud Freeman to the jurist Charles L. Black to Maynard Ferguson.

Since the book costs what a CD would — and it is more rewarding than many — I commend it to you.  Brian Harker is clearly a Big Butter and Egg Man of music.

MONDAYS WITH HARRY: RIGHT NOW!

Arbors Records has created a new series featuring jazz performances and dancing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency Hotel, 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street, NYC.  And it begins tomorrow!

Harry Allen’s Monday Night Jazz

It begins May 2, 2011, and will happen the first Monday of each month through the end of the year (except the second Monday in July and September).   Most performances will feature The Harry Allen Quartet (Harry, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs) with guest artists as listed below.

Dining and dancing from 7:00-8:00 PM — — Concert from 8:00-10:00 PM

Music Charge: $20.00, One drink minimum

May 2:  Frank Wess, Joe Wilder, Harry Allen, Norman Simmons, Joel Forbes, Ed Metz

June 6:  Harry Allen’s Four Others (Harry’s original arrangements based on Woody Herman’s Four Brothers) featuring Grant Stewart, Gary Smulyan and Eric Alexander with The Harry Allen Quartet

July 11:  Warren Vaché and John Allred with The Harry Allen Quartet

August 1:  Bucky Pizzarelli, Terell Stafford and Freddy Cole with The Harry Allen Quartet

September 12:  Ken Peplowski and Houston Person with Larry Fuller, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs

October 3:  An evening of song with Lynn Roberts, Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Dan Barrett with Mike Renzi, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs

November 7:  An evening of Brazilian music with Maucha Adnet (vocalist with Jobim for 10 years), Duduka DaFonseca (drummer with Jobim for many years), Nilson Matta (bass), Klaus Mueller (piano) and The Harry Allen Quartet

December 5:  Hooray for Christmas show with John Sheridan, Rebecca Kilgore, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Sandke, John Allred, Tom Artin, Dan Block, Scott Robinson,James Chirillo with The Harry Allen Quartet

Reservations: Loews Regency Hotel, 540 Park Avenue, NY, NY 10065.   Telephone: 212-339-4095

P.S.  When I was a child, I had a Danny Kaye record on which he impersonated a little boy, “Maurice.”  And the line that sticks in my head is Maurice’s insistent, “Not LATER!  NOW!”  Consider it your mantra for this series, no?