Monthly Archives: June 2011

SOMETHING TENDER: CHRIS MADSEN, JOE POLICASTRO, ANDY BROWN

We all need beauty in our lives. 

Here’s a wonderfully singing example of it — saxophonist Chris Madsen, string bassist Joe Policastro, and guitarist Andy Brown taking their time through STARDUST — recorded June 12, 2011, at an event for the Brookfield Jazz Society. 

Chris purrs; Andy chimes; Joe supports.  Each one has a story to tell, of stardust, of love, of hope and yearning.

And since we also need community and communities, let us enjoy this trio as a living example: how Joe so lovingly plays those deep resonant notes throughout, commenting, adding, urging, without saying “Pay attention to me!”  How Chris rumbles and sings harmonies behind Andy’s ringing lines; how the trio works as a gathering of generous individuals who have chosen to make something much larger than three.  What a serene world they create, on the stand, in the mirror, in our ears!

And let me praise Cheryl Fort, who created the video: I applaud her as a kindred soul who wants to present a moving picture of what the players created.  By her restraint, her seeming reluctance to interfere through “modern” actions that draw our attention from the music to the video, she is a collaborative creator.

I don’t think this could be improved on.  A deep admiring bow and thank-you to the four of you!  (And to those fellows, Hoagy and Ben and Blanton, off in space.)

You can hear more beautiful music, including the subtle singing of Petra Van Nuis — at Andy’s YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/stringdamper.

A THOUSAND SURPRISES

More amazing items from eBay, all related to THE KING OF JAZZ, Whiteman’s epic Hollywood debut.  The pages below are from what the seller calls the “Lavish souvenir program for a showing of the film in London.” and the “Atmospheric flyer advertising the film at the Elphinstone Picture Palace (“The House of the World’s Best Talkies”) in Calcutta, India!”

The two covers.

 That face, that face, that fabulous face!

Come with me to the cinema!

We’ll have a wonderful outing!

And . . .

THE TALKIE HITS — that’s my stuff!

This, too!

Super Extravaganza for sure.

Ah, I sigh for the film that might have been — with Bix, Bing, Lang, and Venuti featured.  Star-crossed, I think. 

A THOUSAND SURPRISES!

Thank you, oh eBay!

“FOR YOUR PRIVATE COLLECTION”

From the national attic / museum / antique store / informal auction room, eBay:

When bandleaders looked like movie stars!  I’d never seen a picture of Mr. Kahn before, and even if his secretary autographed it, this photograph is a rarity.

In a recent posting, I showed off one of my latest treasured purchases — a Pee Wee Russell 78 of JELLY ROLL and INDIANA on the short-lived Manhattan label.  Here’s the advertising brochure for three 78 sets to be sold at Nick’s — with autographs of the principal players!

Hurry, this is a limited edition.

Mr. Spanier, if you please.

Mr. Mole (born in “the country,” Freeport, Long Island).

Charles Ellsworth Russell, irreplaceable.

Jimmy Rushing didn’t look like he could move around easily (although a film clip with the Basie band shows him to be a very nimble dancer) but this document seems to say otherwise.  Entering Kansas City, Missouri, in 1930 — the beginning of great things for Jimmy and for us.

I never joined a fraternity, so all of this is somewhat mysterious . . . but I would guess that this is St. Louis, circa 1936-7?  I am sure that the college men and women danced to some fine music for $1.75 apiece.

FROM AUSTIN COMES JAZZ: HAL SMITH’S INTERNATIONAL SEXTET and FRIENDS at SACRAMENTO (May 28, 2011)

What you will see and hear below is the second half of a set of music performed outdoors at the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee by Hal Smith’s International Sextet and some musical friends from Austin, Texas. 

The Sextet is comprised of Hal, drums; Kim Cusack, tenor sax, clarinet; Anita Thomas, alto sax, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano [in this case a keyboard, which he transformed heroically into an almost-piano]; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass. 

The guests were bassist Ryan Gould and clarinetist Stanley Smith (the latter leader of the Jazz Pharoahs). 

To give Ryan a chance to show off his bass playing, Clint switched over to cornet and there is an unannounced guest appearance by a steam train during Anita’s solo on the first song, which is a hymn to the United States Post Office (vocal by Carl), ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU:

Here’s a rocking HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

And an even more exuberant closer, with Clint singing, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Jazz al fresco!

Just a note about my title, a JAZZ LIVES in-joke.  In 1940, John Hammond arranged for a session with Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude Orchestra.  A nearly perfect group with Freeman, Pee Wee Russell, Max Kaminsky, Dave Bowman, Eddie Condon, and a variety of bassists and drummers, including Mort Stuhlmaker, Clyde Newcombe, Al Sidell, Fred Moynahan, Stan King, and Dave Tough.  For the recording, Hammond (an inspired meddler) brought in Jack Teagarden instead of Gowans (for which Gowans never forgave Hammond, understandably) and the rest of the band was the same: Bud, Max, Pee Wee, Bowman, Condon, Mort Stuhlmaker, and an incandescent Tough.  The eight sides they made are in their own way as glorious as the Kansas City Seven or any Ellington small group, although only Richard M. Sudhalter, I think, has properly celebrated them.  They were (not incidentally) recorded in Liederkrantz Hall, and their sound was and is resonantly beautiful.  Search out THAT DA DA STRAIN, AFTER AWHILE, PRINCE OF WAILS, SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, JACK HITS THE ROAD, FORTY-SEVENTH AND STATE, MUSKRAT RAMBLE.

WHAT does all this have to do with the title?  The Chicagoans — real, imagined, and honorary — stem from fellows who went to Austin High School, thus the title of the 78s in their album: “From Austin High COMES JAZZ.”  My title has everything to do with Austin, Texas, but I could not resist writing encomia about those 1940 sides.  If you haven’t heard them, you are missing something luminous, moving, and thrilling; if you know them but haven’t heard them recently, you will feel the same way, I am sure.

And it is a tribute to Hal Smith’s International Sextet that I associate them with these 1940 marvels!

A postscript: I was web-searching for material about the 1940 session, and found this March 1954 review of the music in the UK GRAMOPHONE by Edgar Jackson, someone I believed had taste that was allied alongside mine.  But to call Pee Wee Russell a “cackler”?  My word, indeed . . . !

Just why this has been named “Comes Jazz” I am at a loss to understand.

Jazz had ” arrived ” long before Bud Freeman and his cohorts here became prominent, towards the end of the mid-1920’s. Admittedly the music is in a mode brought about by the younger, mostly collegiate amateur, white musicians of Chicago, such as Freeman, Benny Goodman, et al, as a result of the influence of various New Orleans coloured jazz musicians who had commenced to emigrate north and made Chicago more or less their headquarters. But it adhered too closely to the New Orleans tradition to be looked upon as anything sufficiently different to warrant any suggestion that it was a new jazz, let alone one which came to be accepted as the jazz. That distinction remained then, as it still does, the honour of the original New Orleans jazz.

Furthermore the purists will tell you that for all their enthusiasm the Chicagoans missed something of the basic New Orleans character that was the essence of what they still call true jazz, and that in fact there was something slightly phoney about their music.

As time went on, and jazz became even more adulterated by the dictates of “commerciality”, this accusation was dropped. For at any rate the Chicagoans had come much nearer to playing real jazz than did such other so-called jazz bands of the time, as for instance Paul Whiteman’s, and to-day Chicago jazz is accepted as more or less righteous.

This LP shows that some of the practitioners of Chicago style deserve the esteem in which they are still held, but that others do not.

Taking Freeman’s Chicagoans as a group, and remembering that these records by them were made in 1940, by when all those who were ever going to understand must have reached that stage, we find an ensemble which is not only technically competent, but which, with the excellent Dave Tough driving it exhilaratingly, also swings in the better sense of the word.

But the solos are not all so impressive. Jack Teagarden proves that he well merits the great reputation he has for so long enjoyed. Max Kaminsky also does well. So does Freeman himself, except that his style has dated somewhat noticeably and his ideas are rather limited. He is best remembered for his work in The Eel by Eddie Condon’s Orchestra (Parlophone R28o7), and no matter what the tune might be, Bud always still played The Eel.

Of Pee Wee Russell I am afraid I can only say that he indicates all too clearly that he was never much more than a cackler whose melodic lines were more conspicuous for the ” jazzy ” way in which he played them than for anything worth praising in their construction.

Which leaves among the soloists pianist Dave Bowman—the problem child of the proceedings because his style is a curious mixture of Chicago, New Orleans and ragtime. But somehow he gets there all the same.

Thank you, Mr. Jackson.  Here in the Colonies we have a saying, “There’s no accounting for the lack of taste.”

MOONLIGHT PICNIC: JESSE GELBER and KATE MANNING

If you woke up this morning with a yearning for something more endearing than the caress of your hand on your iPhone, something more romantic than coffee in a cardboard cup . . . if you long for something to touch the heart more directly than the friendship of Facebook, may I recommend this new CD?  It might not be the Magic Eraser for all that’s annoying in this century, but it feels like a spiritual panacea in musical form. 

Jesse Gelber is a fine laconic pianist — his playing can summon up the right-hand epigrams of the great Harlem ticklers but I also hear the brisk cadences of nineteenth-century parlor piano and a hint of Garner.  His partner in time is songbird Kate Manning, who can belt as forcibly as any Broadway star, but here displays a sweet, resonant tonality that will woo even the coolest character.  On this CD, they are surrounded by New York’s finest — not the NYPD, but Charlie Caranicas on hot (often muted) trumpet and cornet; Kevin Dorn on drums; Andrew Hall or Doug Largent on drums; Matt Munisteri or Eric Baldwin on guitar.  The songs date from the first half of the last century, but they are not at all dated — the performances by this band are neither self-consciously ironic (“Look at how corny these old songs were!  Look us US!”) nor are they museum-quality respectfully nostalgic: Gelber and Manning seem to be having fun, and that feeling is contagious in the nicest way.  And the CD also offers two of their ingenious, hummable originals — one of them the disc’s title song. 

If you’d like to hear snippets from the CD (and I assure you that snippets won’t be enough) here’s a link:

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/gelbermanning2

Here’s more about the team of Gelber and Manning — available for all kinds of festivities, and capable of making the dullest day festive:

http://www.katesmithpromotions.com/artists/gelber_and_manning.html

And on their website (http://gelberandmanning.com/) you can watch a video of one of their web-productions, GINTOWN . . . very much inside the loop!

ROCK AND ROLL WITH CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH at SACRAMENTO (May 28, 2011)

One of the highlights of the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee was getting to meet the great jazz drummer Hal Smith in person.  I’d heard him on records (and eventually seen him in videos) for twenty-five years, but to hang out with him and see him play was a deep pleasure. 

I had recorded some fine music by the Carl Sonny Leyland trio — that’s the barrelhouse pianist and singer Carl, solid-as-a-rock string bassist Marty, and Hal — where I (perhaps appropriately) set up my camera so that you and I could admire Carl’s neat fingering, his joyously gutty singing.  For this set, I decided (in the ancient jazz phrase) to “give the drummer some,” and you will get to see as well as hear why Hal is so respected by musicians and listeners — the variety of tonal colors he offers from his drum set, his intense but relaxed swing. 

Here are five performances from a May 28, 2011 set.  They remind us of what rock and roll originally meant!

Carl recreated Tampa Red’s suggestion that we be loving and honest — hinting at the dark rewards for those who told fibs and falsehoods or bent the truth — DON’T YOU LIE TO ME:

Then, a little “postcard” for one of the most  warm-hearted, spiritually generous people it will ever be my privilege to know — Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler.  She is the surviving child of the legendary pianist / composer Frank Melrose, a jazz and blues lover (she plays the piano and sings, too) and I am proud to be able to send her this little video.  (I met her through Hal — another thing I have to thank him for!)  Here’s a romping Chicago version of a sweet late-Twenties pop song, MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS, which I associate with fellows named Crosby and Condon, who also happened to admire one another:

Don’t play near those tracks, boy.  Don’t you know that Cripple Clarence Lofton’s  STREAMLINE TRAIN is coming?

Another Twenties pop song (I think of Helen Humes and the Basie boys when I hear it), SONG OF THE WANDERER, made truly groovy by this trio:

And a piece of Americana that I believe dates from 1919, MARGIE:

What a band!

TREASURE ISLAND, 2011

As a young jazz fan, I acquired as many records as I could by musicians and singers I admired.  (There was an Earl Hines phase, a Tatum infatuation, a Ben Webster obsession among many.)  The impulse is still there, but economics, space, and selectivity have tempered it somewhat.  I’ve written elsewhere about Wanting and Having and Enjoying, and those states of being are in precarious balance.

But these philosophical considerations don’t stop me from being excited at the thought of visiting Hudson, New York, once again — and my favorite antique store, “Carousel,” on Warren Street.

Carousel was once a “National Shoe Store,” as it says on the floor in the entrance way, and it specializes in a variety of intriguing goods — furniture, books, planters, metalwork . . . but in the very back of the store, past the cash register most often supervised by the exceedingly pleasant Dan, is a galaxy of records.  I skip the 45s and go to the stacks of 10″ 78s, the browsers full of 12″ lps and one devoted solely to 10″ lps (where one might find THE DINAH SHORE TV SHOW and BRAD GOWANS’ NEW YORK NINE).

Here’s what I found — and purchased — one day last week. 

Richard M. Jones was a pianist and composer who accompanied blues singers, led a few dates in the Twenties . . . and this one in 1944.  The rarity of this 10″ French Vogue vinyl reissue is evident.  The original tracks (four by Jones, two by the ebullient trumpeter Punch Miller) were recorded in Chicago for the Session label — 12″ 78s — with a band including the under-recorded Bob Shoffner, wonderfully boisterous trombonist Preston Jackson, and the heroic Baby Dodds.  I’d seen these sides listed in discographies for years, and the Sessions appeared on a vinyl issue on the Gannet label (with alternate takes!) but I’ve never heard them . . . and any version of NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES is all right with me.  I haven’t heard the music yet, but have high hopes.

 Decca and Brunswick collected four-tune recording sessions as GEMS OF JAZZ and the more pugnacious BATTLE OF JAZZ.  Zutty didn’t record many times as a leader, and this is one of the rarer sessions: 1936, I think, with hot Chicagoans who didn’t reach great fame.  I had these four sides (once upon a time) on sunburst Deccas . . . gone now, so I anticipate hot music here. 

(The shadow above speaks to the haste of JAZZ LIVES’ official photographer.)

The four sides above have often been reissued, although the most recent Tatum Decca CD split them between Tatum and Big Joe Turner.  No matter: they are imperishable, not only for Big Joe, in pearly form, but for the pairing of Joe Thomas and Ed Hall, saints and scholars.

Now for two rare 78s: their music reissued on European vinyl and CD, but how often do the original discs surface?

Whoever Herman was, he had good taste.  The WAX label was the brainchild of solid reliable string bassist Al Hall in 1946-7: its output might have been twenty sides (including a piano recital by Jimmy Jones) using the best musicians one could find in New York or the world.  Herman bought the first issue!

That quintet wasn’t made up of stars — except for Ben — but they were all splendid creative improvisers.

Is the next 78 more rare?  It might be . . .

I believe these 78s were made especially for purchase at the club — and Eddie Condon might have been under exclusive contract with Decca at the time (on other sides, I recall the guitarist as being the much more elusive Fred Sharp).  I recently looked up Joe Grauso in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ and was saddened to find that he had died in 1952, which is why we have so little of him aside from the Commodores and the Town Hall Concert broadcasts.

I love the composer credit.  Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

YOUNG MISTER TOUGH: LOOK CLOSELY

My dear friend Uwe Zanisch is a generous fellow, as his website SATCHMOTUBE proves — on it he collects television appearances of Louis Armstrong, some of them never seen before.

But this post, for a change, isn’t about Mister Strong.

It’s about the New Yorkers — the “New Yorkers Tanzorchester” made up of hot players including George Carhart and Danny Polo and one other, who made some wonderful Goldkette-inflected records in Berlin in late 1927 / early 1928.  Here’s the label of one of the more incendiary sides, OSTRICH WALK:

And something even better — although how many of us have seen a picture of that 78?  Here’s a formal portrait of the band, with young David Tough to the right. 

As a typical Twenties band portrait, it is oddly diffuse: the young men in their tuxedoes look as if they did not know one another, as if their clothing fit very poorly.  Three of them are gazing off to the left — two skeptically, one far away; one stares challengingly, coldly at the camera; one takes its measure.  And then there’s Mister Tough — not even identified by name in the Bear Family booklet from which this picture comes (thanks to Uwe!). 

His hair threatens to explode from its pomaded state; his light eyes are both searching and even suspicious.  Do we read into this face the one that William P. Gottlieb captured in the basement of the Greenwich Village club — amused, mournful, rueful, trapped?  When we see two pictures, two decades apart, we might play the game of IS IT THE SAME PERSON — but all we know of him is the lovely singular music he had in front of him, his intelligence, and the sadness of short life and helpless self-immolation.   

When I think of Tough, I think of his cymbals and bass drum accents on FORTY-SEVENTH AND STATE, of his solo on the Charlie Ventura Town Hall Concert, his relentless playing behind Hot Lips Page on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, and those are exaltations of body and spirit.  But it’s impossible to think of him without grieving for him.  And I may assume too much, but sadness and distance are in the early photograph as well.

 

REASONS TO CELEBRATE at THE FAMOUS EAR (June 19, 2011)

Being alive is cause for celebration.

And being someplace where beauty is being created is even more reason to feel joy.  Last Sunday, June 19, 2011, was a happy time at The Famous Ear (The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) for many reasons.  The EarRegulars knew it was Father’s Day and played one song — you’ll hear it here — to celebrate our Papas (whimsically, mind you).

The EarRegulars that night were co-founders Matt Munisteri (guitar); Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet); Pete Martinez (clarinet); Jon Burr (bass) — with a visit from Andy Stein, often playing his violin with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, but here toting his tenor saxophone for the first set (a surprise!) and his baritone for the second.   

The EarRegulars are not a group of antiquarians, “playing old records live.”  Nay, nay.  But they do honor their creative parents all the time: their jazz Dads and Moms — with great love, in the best way . . . by making something new and fresh and striking out of their own experiences.  Every Sunday at The Famous Ear is a kind of spiritual Father’s Day, because Louis and Bix, Roy and Ruby, Eddie and Django, and a hundred others are remembered and cherished in the solos, the ensembles, the tempos, the swing.

And there was another reason to celebrate: the EarRegulars marked a run of steady gigs — four years of glorious Sunday evening sessions — that June 19.  Was it their fourth birthday or their fourth anniversary?  I can’t tell (someone will surely write in to explain which it was) but it was a sweet occasion, especially in a world where a “steady gig” is usually measured in shorter timespans.

Here are some soul-uplifting performances from that night:

A lilting, sweet SLEEPY TIME GAL that had the pleasure of staying at home with the Beloved in every note:

For Jimmie Noone and all the jam sessions that followed him, a profoundly swinging statement of mutual knowledge, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

From that certainty, a troubling question: HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?

And a cheerful THREE LITTLE WORDS:

Then (a request from JAZZ LIVES), that romantic entreaty — LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART:

A groovy I COVER THE WATERFRONT, suggesting that the waterfront in question was Danish, circa 1933:

For Fathers everywhere (or forefathers?): I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS, with an utterly unexpected vocal chorus by Herr Stein:

Jon Burr, brave explorer, led everyone into a deep IT HAD TO BE YOU:

And there was HAPPY BIRTHDAY (TO US)* — but since that song is only eight bars long, which is rather like a soliloquy of ten words, Matt led the EarRegulars into adding an I GOT RHTYHM bridge, for variety — I thought of Lester Young’s BLUE LESTER, but there was nothing seriously historical in the air, just jubilation, well-deserved:

May the EarRegulars and The Famous Ear prosper and continue to spread joy!

*I called this version on YouTube LET’S GET HAPPY, in honor of the 1938 Commodore recording featuring Bobby Hackett and Leo Watson, a stunning combination.

BETWEEN THE SHEETS (in Fayetteville, New York)

Some months back, my friend — jazz photographer John Herr — told me about an invaluable resource for people trying to track down sheet music. 

You remember sheet music, don’t you?

Sheet music (individual publications for specific songs, often with beautiful Art Deco cover illustrations and portraits of the artists — famous or obscure — who performed the songs) was once a predictable part of any even mildly musical household.  Before the iPod, when people relied on records and the radio for the hits of the day, they more than not played those hits on the piano, guitar, ukulele, or sang them together.  When the newest Astaire-Rogers film came out, or Bing Crosby sang something pretty on the radio, the sheet music was right there.

Those of us who love jazz and pop music are fascinated by these sheets, and readers have seen a good number of them here: James P. Johnson, Fud Livingston, Ben Pollack, Louis, and many others.  But sheet music was inexpensive and printed on fragile paper, so the years have often not treated the pages well. 

So if you have a deep need to find the sheet music (words, music for verse and chorus, ukulele chords) for NEVER SWAT A FLY or IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN IN CHERRY BLOSSOM LANE or even I’VE GOT ELGIN MOVEMENTS IN MY HIPS (WITH A TWENTY-YEAR GUARANTEE), you could go on eBay and you might find the sheet music for sale; some is even available at Amazon.  But here’s a better way — intelligent, reliable, and inexpensive. 

It’s the MOTTO COLLECTION at the FAYETTEVILLE FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY in Fayetteville, New York.  But please don’t panic at the unfamiliar name.  You don’t have to find Fayetteville on the map to get ready to make an automobile pilgrimage.  It’s easier than that. 

But first: the collection contains 35,000 sheets of popular American songs from the last 150 years.  It also includes 900 music and reference books which circulate.  The sheet music presents a chronological picture of American life and popular culture from the Civil War through the 1980s.

The Collection was donated to the library by the late Lucy Motto in memory of her husband, Vincent, who died in 1995.  Vincent was an amateur collector who pursued his interest for thirty years (he had sung with bands in Utica and Syracuse).  Rod Hampson, a long-time community volunteer, became the collection’s first curator in 1996.  It is now taken care of by Roberta Hampson (who won’t mind overmuch if you call her “Bobbi”: she is very friendly) who knows a great deal — she is a wonderful resource in herself.

To reach Mrs. Hampson, you may call the library at 315-637-6374 or leave a message for her at extension 328.  Or you may email her at mottomusic@fayettevillefreelibrary.org.

The collection is meticulously indexed with extensive cross-references; if you are searching for a particular song, for a theme, for personal entertainment or scholarship on a larger scale.  It continues to grow through donations and subscriptions.  About those donations: if you can’t sleep at night because you need the music for IF YOU’RE A VIPER, check with Bobbi Hampson to see if the collection has it.  The library requests a donation of at least $3.00 for a song, plus postage if it’s mailed to you — a pittance compared to eBay. 

And soon you can be playing and singing MAKE MY COT WHERE THE COT-COT-COTTON GROWS at home.  Amaze your friends and delight your neighbors!

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! — THE FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (ON DISC and VIDEO)

Imagine a jam session after hours in Chicago, circa 1934 or so (the date, being imagined, is flexible).  Waiting their turn to play are Pee Wee Russell, Rod Cless, Omer Simeon, Boyce Brown, Guy Kelly, Jess Stacy, Earl Hines, Cassino Simpson, Frank Melrose, Joe Sullivan, Wellman Braud, Truck Parham, Zutty Singleton, George Wettling, and others.

No, the late John Steiner didn’t record such a gathering of saints and heroes. 

But a modern evocation of such a gathering is to be found when one of my new-irreplaceable-favorite jazz groups, the FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND, comes to play. 

They are Ray Skjelbred, leader, piano; Steve Wright, reeds, cornet; Dave Brown, string bass, Mike Daugherty, drums.  Everyone in the quartet has been known to sing a chorus or two.  It’s a thrifty, focused, engaging quartet — listeners get more than their money’s worth!

I’ve shared some YouTube videos of the band, performing at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington — and more are at the bottom of this blogpost. 

But there’s good news tonight, as a famous radio broadcaster used to say.  The First Thursday Jazz Band has just come out with their debut CD — drop evertyhing and pay attention, please! 

It’s an old-fashioned production: recorded on the job (but with a sweetly attentive audience) in good sound, with a variety of songs and approaches — one of those CDs you can listen to the whole way through and come back to again right away. 

If you know anything about Ray Skjelbred, you know that he rocks — and he loves both classic and unusual material.  And people who admire him can argue (in the nicest of ways) if he is a greater soloist than an accompanist.  Like Stacy, Ray is so fine backing up someone else that occasionally I want to listen to the track again just to hear his bubbling down-home fills and figures. 

Ray’s partner in the rhythm section is the quietly propulsive Dave Brown.  String bassists tend to get less respect than they deserve, but rhythm is Dave’s business.  And business sure is swell.  He has a big plush sound (no amps, thank you kindly) but he doesn’t need one.  And his time is neither stodgy nor over-eager: I think of the Blessed Walter Page when I hear Dave play.

Mike Daugherty (the man with the red drum) is a jovial player with fine time and a whole galaxy of sonic effects from his kit.  He doesn’t opt for the usual tricks, but often just stays on his snare with a rich, padding brush carpet, or moves around his set in a way that feels just right.  No showboating, no look-at-me, not ever.

Steve Wright should get triple or quadruple pay, but I don’t think he’d even entertain the notion of asking for it.  A sweet alto player (a style I miss a great deal) with deep but casual lyricism, a clarinet player who can be Russell-tart or Darnell Howard-smooth, and a neat, unflurried Bixian trumpeter — sweetly to the point.

That’s the band — and these fellows are having a good time purling through the repertoire.  Their quiet pleasure comes through from the first note.

The CD is called simple RAY SKJELBRED and the FIRST THURSDAY BAND, and it’s on the Orangapoid label (number 103).  It has a wonderfully diverse repertoire — Don Redman and Chris Smith, Louis and Red McKenzie, old favorites, oddities, and deep blues.  (JAMES ALLEY BLUES, sung guttily by Bob Jackson, is priceless — immediately identifiable as authentic.) 

The songs are YELLOW DOG BLUES / YEARNING AND BLUE / CAVERNISM / SOLID ROCK / TRY GETTING A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP / DON’T BLAME ME / LOVER COME BACK TO ME / FAR AWAY BLUES / NEVER HAD A REASON TO BELIEVE IN YOU / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY / LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART / HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY / JAMES ALLEY BLUES / CHERRY / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / SHAKE THAT JELLY ROLL. 

I wish I could send you to your local record shop and be assured that it would be there — several copies! — but I think those days are gone, gone, gone.  However.  Obviously if you meet Ray at a gig (or the other FT chaps) you can buy a copy for the pittance of $15.  But for most of us, the idea of meeting Ray or the FTJB in person has a certain dreamlike quality.  So for $18, Ray himself will mail you a copy.  He promises!  The details go like this.  Ray Skjelbred can be found at 19526 40th PL. NE., Lake Forest Park, Washington 98155.  If you need more information or want to make a quantity order of a hundred copies, feel free to let me know and I will tell Ray immediately.  Here’s what the cover looks like.

Now.  I promised some new YouTube clips (I regret that they aren’t mine, but they are still lovely) recorded at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant on June 2, 2011.

Let’s begin with a ruminative PENNIES FROM HEAVEN that has all sorts of bonuses — Ray plays the verse in fine Crosby fashion, and Steve solos on clarinet and cornet:

Something in memory of Frank Melrose and George Wettling (with Tesch and Bud in the dim background), the WAILING BLUES:

Want to be some place where they huggy and kissy nice?  How about NAGASAKI?

And two highly reason-able songs, with connections to Red McKenzie, Wingy Mannone, Jack Teagarden, Fats Waller — the first being NEVER HAD A REASON TO BELIEVE IN YOU (vocalizing by Mike Daugherty):

And that eternal plaint, WHAT’S THE REASON (I’M NOT PLEASIN’ YOU)?

ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON might have been just another Thirties cowboy song if Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham hadn’t been handed it in the Vocalion studios.  “Take another one, Higgy!”  I think also of the version with vocal by Al Bowlly to which Bob Hoskins emoted in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.  Vocal by Mike, doubling by Steve:

And THE SONG IS ENDED:

But that last song title (with apologies to Mr. Berlin) isn’t accurate.  There are more videos from this evening on YouTube, and — that new CD! 

Be the first one in your neighborhood to be walking around with a wide grin — and when someone says, “Why the hell are YOU so happy?” you can say, “Have you heard the new CD by The First Thursday Jazz Band?”  And — if you’re a really charitable spreader-of-the-good-word, you can share your headphones / iPod, or even invite them into your car for a few minutes of The Real Thing.

THE EARREGULARS AT “THE FAMOUS EAR” (June 12, 2011)

I had a minor jazz-history epiphany last Sunday at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) early in the second set, when past and present coincided.

The Ear Inn, for those who have never been there, isn’t a huge space (it is New York real estate) but everyone gets comfortable. 

The second set at the Ear began with that Sunday’s edition of the EarRegulars: charter members and co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri on trumpet and guitar, respectively; Greg Cohen on string bass; Michael Blake (a risk-embracer who loves Lester Young) on tenor saxophone. 

Here, they embark on RIFFTIDE, a variation on LADY BE GOOD chord changes that began with Coleman Hawkins and ended up in the hands of Thelonious Monk as HACKENSACK:

For good reasons, musicians often come to the Ear — not only to sit in, but to enjoy the sounds.  Last Sunday the musicians were bassist Jon Burr and singer Lynn Stein, reed master Dan Block, then (slightly later) tenorist Nick Hempton and drummer Dan Aran (toting a snare drum).  The observant Nan Irwin was there, also, keeping everyone reasonably honest. 

Michael Blake thought aloud about a great tune whose title he couldn’t quite remember — one of those riffy Basie things connected (like so many jazz classics) to trains — and Jon-Erik or Matt remembered it, 9:20 SPECIAL.  They invited Dan Block to join them, and the two tenors had much pleasing interplay:

Then, Jon-Erik invited Nick and Dan to join in, and what marvels ensued!

The first was a long, swaying WABASH BLUES — with Jon-Erik using both his metal mute and an empty beer glass to make growling, hallooing, far-away Cootie Williams musings.  That interlude (Beery or Hoppy?) lasted only a minute, but it was remarkable and remains so now.  And the ensemble swelled and reinvented itself throughout:

And that nifty swing tune of Edgar Sampson’s, beloved by stride pianists and bands, by James P. and Billie, Lester and Dick Wellstood, a masterpiece of quiet optimism, IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

For a finale — JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE — where Jon-Erik, for a moment, becomes a hilarious three-man Basie trombone section:

At some point during those final three performances, I looked at the bandstand, saw the musicians and their instruments — trumpet, guitar, bass, drum, and three tenor saxophones jammed in (my choice of words is no accident) shoulder to shoulder, having a good time.  

I thought, “Where have I seen this before?”  And — as my UK friends might say — the penny dropped. 

Basie.  1938.  The Famous Door.

Some will know the story of that Fifty-Second Street paradise.  A small club with a low ceiling, it had been host to a variety of bands in the middle Thirties but — with no air-conditioning — had always closed in the summer.  John Hammond, always full of ideas, paid for the installation of an air-conditioning system so that his favorite band, led by one Bill Basie from New Jersey, could play there in the summer.  The Basieties had to play softly at first, but it’s clear from the radio airshots that exist — not enough for my taste! — that they had a wonderful time and made irreplaceable music.

Here’s a photo essay from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University(photographs from the Frank Driggs Collection) of that musical splendor.  Look for Herschel Evans, short-lived and insufficiently-photographed:

http://newarkwww.rutgers.edu/ijs/cb/famousDoor.htm

Yes, the physical resemblance between The Famous Door and The Ear Inn is not exact, but the two places share the same ebullient spirit, with brilliant musicians improvising at the peak of their powers in a small space. 

Henceforth, I dub 326 Spring Street THE FAMOUS EAR.  It well deserves the new name!

And to finish the thought: the EarRegulars continue to swing as beautifully and as joyously as the 1938 Basie band.  No doubt about it!

P.S.  If you’re reading this in real time (however you wish to define it) you might want to know that The EarRegulars will be celebrating their fourth anniversary of steady Sunday-night gigs at The Famous Ear this Sunday, June 19, 2011.  Gifts, please!  (I meant their gifts — not that people have to show up with trinkets, although trinkets might be pleasant, too.)

P.P.S.  On June 12, I was able to savor Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan, creating music with delicacy and strength — then I drove from Brooklyn to Soho to capture these five performances, hilariously creative.  This, to me, says only one thing:  JAZZ (emphatic pause) LIVES (exultant exclamation point)!

JESSICA ROEMISCHER’S GENEROUS IMAGINATION

The imagination of pianist Jessica Roemischer is roomy and ranging.

At the keyboard, she creates cathedrals of sound: visible, tangible, not just audible.  Improvising on familiar themes — the blues, traditional melodies, folk songs, hymns — she may begin with plain-spoken melodic lines, simple chords.

She doesn’t rush; she doesn’t intimdate the listener by jumping into complexities before the music is ready for them.  She takes her time.  A murmuring, rumbling bass becomes more turbulent water.  Blue notes make themselves felt in surprising places.  Her harmonies deepen; her chords grow more dense, each sonority given its own space to echo before a new cluster tumbles in.  Single-note lines give way to arpeggios, creating impressionistic washes of sound and timbre.  Clouds and rippling pools emerge from treble and bass; simple lines and chords become a conversation, then an orchestra.

The listener sees something three-dimensional ascend towards the sky, its base solid, its foundation broad, its spires reaching upwards, large but never imposing.  And her improvisations settle and become more quiet; then, the listener is back on the ground, enriched and delighted.

I have heard and seen this in performance: she wove together the strains of SHENANDOAH and WALTZING MATILDA, slowing down the latter to match its American cousin, making the intertwined melodies both mournfully yearning and hopeful.  AMAZING GRACE moved from quiet simplicity to great cloud-rhapsodies of sound and back to an eloquent plainness.

Here is one version of AMAZING GRACE — but it is only one set of variations on a theme.  Roemischer is a true improviser, bravely venturing, her vistas unrestricted, but always honoring the melody and its harmonic richness.

Roemischer has a new solo CD, called HAVEN, which mixes traditional material, Sixties pop, Bruce Springsteen, and her own lilting originals.  It’s a rewarding series of journeys, inward and outward.  Visit her at http://www.pianobeautiful.com.

BIRD, JO JONES, AND THAT CYMBAL

Here, once again, is the story of a teenaged Charlie Parker, brilliant but incomplete, getting humiliated in public by drummer Jo Jones:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/jun/17/charlie-parker-cymbal-thrown

The tale is always told as a defining moment in the history of jazz: a youth on his own self-defined quest, being mocked and deflated by one of the aging masters — someone whom he ultimately surpasses.  It is thus a narrative of payback, of the underdog becoming the sun-god.

But every time I read it, especially since it is substantiated by Ross Russell, a notable fictionalizer, I wonder if it ever happened.  Or if it happened this way.  I met and spoke with and heard Papa Jo in his later years, and I have no trouble imagining him as a man intolerant of mediocrity, a man who spoke his mind, a man who would even be contemptuous of what he considered incompetence.

But drummers know and value and love their equipment.  They spend hours selecting the right cymbals, the right sticks.  Cymbals may be metal but they break, they bend, they become unplayable.

So I propose that what we have here is myth, inflating and uncontrolled.  Perhaps Jo made loud gonging sounds on his cymbal; perhaps his derision was palpable.  But I can’t see him throwing a cymbal, the cymbal sailing through the air, landing at the poor humiliated altoist’s feet.  You can, if you like.

UPDATE as of March 2017: all of the above might well be emotionally correct, but I must stand corrected.  I’ve learned from several sources including the very revered and reliable Dan Morgenstern that the incident of Jo, Bird, and the cymbal did happen, as witnessed by string bassist Gene Ramey.  Why am I letting this post stand, then?  Call it perversity, or call it this: anyone has the right to be wrong, and let wrongness stand as an expression of feeling, unaffected by those annoying facts.

THE HEART OF THE SONG: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN (June 12, 2011)

Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan inspire awe and wonder.

I experienced this first-hand in a small Brooklyn studio last Sunday, June 12, 2011, and share the music with you here. 

These two artists created music full of feeling but never “dramatic.”  Each song had its own pliant shape, with unaffected casual intensity and splendor. 

Abigail has a speaking directness.  Her mobile voice arches into long tones and soaring phrases; she lives within the lyric and the melody she is singing.  She makes each song full of small peaks of intelligence and emotion. 

Hear, for instance, how she handles the words “drop a line” in Wilder’s I’LL BE AROUND.  Her TOO LATE NOW is almost unbearably poignant yet it doesn’t whimper or carry on.  Her approach is at once serious and joyous.  BLUE SKIES cavorts. 

And although these songs are not new — each one has powerful ghosts standing behind the curtain to upstage the living artists — Abigail takes her own small liberties and makes them work, turning IN LOVE IN VAIN (one of the saddest songs I know) into something a little more resilient, in the same fashion that Billie Holiday recreated TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE as her own nearly defiant statement. 

Abigail’s singing touched everyone in the room: even in the videos here, you can feel their powerful quiet empathy and delight.  I hear a great artistry.

Michael is a poet at the keyboard with none of the pretense some have brought to that role.  I think often of Jimmy Rowles when he plays, and at times of the witty, pointed spareness of John Lewis.  Like Abigail, he never overacts, never calls attention to himself in some look-at-me way, but you can’t help but pay attention — both to what he is creating and what trodden ways he is wisely avoiding. 

His sound is lucent; his pauses are knowing and subtle; he is a master of light and shade and shadow.  At its most serene and quiet, his playing is resonant. 

The art of accompaniment might be the most arduous of endeavors, and Michael is the most generous of partners, sweetly creating just the right sound-shape to make the singer or players around him seem even better. 

And these two artists create a delicate yet powerful musical world in duet — their playful energies complementing each other.  They are gracious; they are polite; they don’t interrupt each other’s sentences, but together they make something wise and subtle and rich that wasn’t there a minute before. 

They offer and enact deep calm and brave experiment.

LUCKY TO BE ME:

TOO LATE NOW:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

THE MORE I SEE YOU:

I’LL BE AROUND:

I’M OLD-FASHIONED:

ALL THE WAY:

BLUE SKIES:

EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE:

Throughout this performance, I kept feeling it was an honor to be in the same room, a privilege to witness and record such art.  I still do.

PIPING HOT at CAFE BORRONE (June 10, 2011)

You might need to get a pot-holder from the kitchen before proceeding.  Perhaps you’d like to turn on the air conditioning?

Through the generosity of Rae Ann Berry and Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All-Stars, I am able to share with you two video performances that perfectly exemplify HOT JAZZ at its finest.  The first is a pretty, mournfully rocking “rhythm ballad,” TRUE:

The wizards on your screen are Clint Baker, clarinet; Leon Oakley, cornet; Jim Klippert, trombone; Jeff Magidson, guitar; Sam Rocha, bass; Bill Reinhart, banjo; and Isabelle Fontaine, washboard.

HOT, to remind you, isn’t fast or loud: it’s intense while all the time pretending with the greatest casualness that nothing difficult is being accomplished.  Here’s something that is both HOT and romping, a performance of WEARY BLUES that is anything but — with Riley Baker added on drums:

It is HOT in here — it isn’t just me.

“THE CAUSE OF HAPPINESS”: WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS

Ricky Riccardi’s new book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS (Pantheon), will be published in a week, and it has already gotten a glowing review in the Washington Post, with NPR and The New York Times coverage to come.  (You can read the reviews and Ricky’s interview in JAZZ TIMES by clicking here):

http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2011/06/more-news-and-reviews.html

Full disclosure: my name crops up in the acknowledgments, and I admired Ricky’s work long before this book came out.  But I would think this book was magical even if I’d never met its author.

On its surface, this biography depicts the last quarter-century of Louis Armstrong’s life — his years of global popularity as a beloved figure, the years of HELLO, DOLLY! and WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.

But the real story in this book is the gap between public perception and essential reality.  “To be great is to be misunderstood,” Emerson wrote, and it rings true here.  Artists cannot defend themselves against those who choose to interpret their work.  There is often a huge gap between what artists create, how the “experts” and “critics” perceive it, and how the art is represented to the world.

There have been many books about Louis — the best of them have been Terry Teachout’s POPS, and LOUIS by Max Jones and John Chilton.  (I am passing over the other biographies, marred by their distance from the subject or by personal rancors.)

But Ricky’s book deeply and effectively faces the complex question of what it is to be a working artist in the modern world.  An artist working in the public world — not a painter or a poet in a studio, but a “performer” on television, on records, onstage.

Louis lived to make music, and to “lay it on the public.”  A musician needs a community, both on and off stage.  Louis was no recluse; he didn’t scorn his audiences.  He spent his days and nights, consciously and subconsciously, living for what would come out of his horn, how he would sing.

This was his quest, his joy, and his “hustle,” what he did for a living.  He didn’t demand to be taken seriously as An Artist, but he did know that he was creating masterpieces; he was proud of his art and the pleasure it brought and continues to bring.

Thus, when he began to be sneered at (and that’s not too strong a word) as an Uncle Tom, an “entertainer,” someone who had sold out, had lost his creativity, had turned his back on “the truth,” even “a good-natured buffoon,” these cruel misinterpretations turned Emerson’s words into knives.

Another artist might have turned his back on his critics and spent his last quarter-century in wounded seclusion.  Louis worked harder; he toured the world; he became “Ambassador Satch,” he created astonishing beauties.  The audiences understood this in deep spiritual ways, even if they had never read Gunther Schuller.

But it took this book — the new material in it and Ricky’s affectionate, dogged diligence — to bring Louis, complete and complicated, to life once again.  And here I want to move slightly to the book itself — and its author.

Ricky Riccardi is, first off, a fine writer.  Not fussy, not academic, but someone whose vigorous, human speaking voice resonates through these pages.  So the book is a pleasure to read: I rationed the pages I allowed myself each night so that it wouldn’t end too soon, as I knew it had to.  He has so steeped himself in the life of the man he is celebrating (and it is a celebratory book!) that his easy assurance illuminates every page.  But the reader never feels intimidated by an impending avalanche of facts and dates and itineraries.

This book places the living Louis Armstrong in front of us, seen anew — the man who had a very intricate relationship with his manager, Joe Glaser, but was in charge of that relationship, not its victim.  There is an astonishing long letter from Louis to Glaser on the subject of marijuana — a revelation not only in the tale it tells, but in Louis’s angry eloquence.

Ricky has delved more deeply into Louis’s private tapes than any biographer before him, thus the book is full of new insights rather than being a synthetic assemblage of what other people have written.  I was surprised and delighted (dee-lighted, really) on every page.  And while this biography is no uncritical fan letter, its affection comes through from start to finish — a fitting celebration of Louis, who created and felt “the love and warmth of a million people.”

As a working jazz musician, Ricky also understands much more about the music than many writers who have been on the scene longer.  Even though you don’t need to be a musicologist to read this book, and there is not one intimidating transcribed solo (just lovely photographs), the book never feels distant from Louis’s art.

Louis Armstrong lived “in the cause of happiness.”  Although he knew his art was unique, he wore his achievements lightly, “I’m not lookin’ to be on no high pedestal.  [The people who hear me] get their soul lifted because they got the same soul I have the moment I hit a note.”

More than any other biography of Louis Armstrong, Ricky’s book vibrates with those truths.  Even if you are someone who appreciates Louis Armstrong only casually, you will find in this book a deep, rewarding, honest portrait of a man, an artist, his century.

It’s an extraordinary biography and a wonderful book.  And it brings to same joy that Louis did.

SWINGING FOR JOHN PENDLETON: HAL SMITH’S INTERNATIONAL SEXTET at SACRAMENTO (May 27, 2011)

What better way to honor a beloved jazz friend, now gone, than with the music he loved so much?  And played so eloquently by the people he admired so deeply. 

The man: John Pendleton, whom you’ll hear spoken of in the videos that follow.

The musicians: Hal Smith’s International Sextet, recorded on May 27 at the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee.  That’s Hal (drums), Katie Cavera (guitar / vocals), Clint Baker (string bass / vocals), Anita Thomas (clarinet, alto, vocals), Kim Cusack (clarinet, tenor, vocals), Carl Sonny Leyland (piano, vocals).

“Music speaks louder than words,” Charlie Parker told condescending Earl Wilson in that famous film clip, and Bird was right, so I won’t elaborate the virtues of this rocking group at length: viewers can find their own pleasures for themselves. 

But I would point out that Hal, Katie, Sonny, and Clint make a peerless rhythm section, with their four sonorities weaving together, their pulses aligned without their individualities being flattened for some specious idea of the common good.  Hear the ripe-fruit sound of Katie’s guitar; the swish and flow of Hal’s cymbals, the deep commentaries of Clint’s bass, the down-home rock of Carl’s piano.  And the horns intertwine with each other and float over this sweet propulsion: Kim, bringing his own perspective to Bud Freeman, Eddie Miller, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, and Frank Chace; Anita, completely in control but entirely fearless, following her impulses in the best self-reliant way.  And the vocalizing is wonderful (jazz instrumentalists make the best singers!) neither slick nor amateurish.

Watch everyone on the stand smiling — always a guarantee of heartfelt music and deep gratifications being spread all around. 

Katie and Anita tell us all about the new dance craze that everyone’s doing — or should be doing — that’s TRUCKIN’:

RIDIN’ ON THE L&N celebrates a train that ran between Louisville and Nashville, according to Brother Hal, who knows these things:

John loved baseball and swing.  Hence this funny, surprising TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME:

A hot one!  RUNNIN’ WILD (hear Clint’s bass behind Kim):

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY is such a simple song, but it works so well on our deepest impulses to go home, or some imagined version of it.  Katie and Anita remind us that Doris Day had a great hit with this song; the rest of the band says (implicitly), “Hey, remember the great Buck Clayton Jam Session?”  Works perfectly:

Here’s Carl’s version of the 1949 hit by Sticks McGhee (younger brother of Brownie), DRINKIN’ WINE (SPO-DEE-O-DEE).  Original lyrics — according to Nick Tosches and Wikipedia — reprinted below, definitely unvarnished and unsanitized.*

Katie is not salacious in person, but she loves songs about Twenties flirtation — perhaps she was a naughty flapper in a past life?  Here’s MA! (HE’S MAKING EYES AT ME):

I couldn’t abide THIS OLD HOUSE even when I owned one (no real-life workmen were ever such models of decorum and skill) but I love LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, and it’s clear that Anita does too.  Music by J. Fred Coots, Danny’s uncle:

And a little Basie is always good for the soul, as Hal reminds us with JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE:

I never met John Pendleton, but he must have been what the Irish call a grand fellow to have these candid people so deeply devoted to him.  And to have such wonderful music played in his memory!

======================================================

*”Drinkin’ that mess is our delight, And when we get drunk, start fightin’ all night. Knockin’ out windows and learnin’ down doors, Drinkin’ half-gallons and callin’ for more. Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Pass that bottle to me!”

“WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” at The Ear Inn (June 5, 2011)

Last Sunday, June 5, 2011, was an unsual evening at that Soho mecca of swing, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) in that a band that wasn’t The EarRegulars was playing. 

It was a reunion of sorts for an inspired hot band of individualists that hadn’t played regularly for some time.  In 2005-6, this band had a regular Wednesday-night gig at The Cajun (a now-departed home for jazz in Chelsea).  The quartet was led by banjoist / singer / composer Eddy Davis, who called it WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHTYHM.  The title was more than accurate, and I miss those Wednesday nights.

Eddy’s compatriots were most often Scott Robinson on C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin on clarinet; Conal Fowkes or Debbie Kennedy on string bass.  Sitters-in were made welcome (an extraordinary visitor was cornetist Bob Barnard) — but this little quartet didn’t need anyone else.  It swung hard and played rhapsodic melodies, as well as exploring Eddy’s own compositions (they had a down-home feel but the harmonies were never predictable).

At the Ear, this band came together once again — Eddy, Scott, Orange (up from New Orleans), and Conal (catch him singing Cole Porter in Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS) — as well as second-set guests Dan Block and Pete Anderson on saxophones. 

Eddy had grown a fine bushy beard since the last time I saw him, but nothing else had changed — not the riotous joy the musicians took in egging each other on, the deep feeling, the intuitive ensemble cohesiveness, the startling solos . . .

Here’s a tune that all the musicians in the house love to jam!  No, not really — it’s a fairly obscure Washboard Rhythm Kings specialty circa 1931 that I’ve only heard done by the heroic / illustrious Reynolds Brothers.  It has a wonderful title — Eddy tried explaining it to a curious audience member when the performance had ended, with only mild success — FUTURISTIC JUNGLEISM:

Time for something pretty, suggested by Pete Anderson — MEMORIES OF YOU:

And a finale to end all finales — what began as a moody, building WILD MAN BLUES (running ten minutes) and then segued into a hilarious-then-serious romp on FINE AND DANDY . . . reed rapture plus hot strings! 

If that isn’t ecstatic to you, perhaps we should compare definitions of ecstasy?

“ON A COCONUT ISLAND” (March 26, 2011)

Here’s a delightful example of the multiculturalism that jazz embodies. 

What could be more expansive than a band of French musicians (with an American pianist sitting in) playing music created by a mixture of races and ethnicities in New Orleans? 

They’re playing a Hawaiian pop song (or at least its subject is Hawaii) recorded by an African-American trumpet player and singer — and my friend Melissa Collard, too.

And they’re playing it in Hungary. 

Call that narrow or insular at your own peril!

The facts:

The Night Owls, from Paris, play a leisurely ON A COCONUT ISLAND, at the 20th International Bohém Ragtime and Jazz Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 26, 2011.  The Owls are Jerome Etcheberry, trumpet; Christophe Deret, trombone; Enzo Mucci, banjo; Sebastien Girardot, string bass; Guillaume Nouaux, drums.  And the meditative-looking fellow at the piano is none other than Butch Thompson!

The 2011 Bohém Festival DVD compilation can be obtained from order@bohemragtime.com.  See more at: www.bohemragtime.com.

“NOTHING BUT LOVE”: ROB HECHT, TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, ROB ADKINS (May 19, 2011)

Walter Donaldson knew “what makes the world go round,” and it was displayed in many ways at Teddy’s (that’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York) on the night of May 19, 2011.

Violinist Rob Hecht (he plays a five-string fiddle) was joined by singer / actress Tamar Korn, trumpeter Gordon Au, and string bassist Rob Adkins for a few sets of familiar music made new. 

I was there with the Beloved. and UK comrades Sir Robert Cox, his wife Bobbie, and sons Tom and Ed — representing the Empire most happily amidst barbecued spareribs and appropriate beverages. 

Here are seven performances from that evening: musicians in love with the music, creative artists able to focus on making beauty in the midst of an amiable crowd enwrapped in their own conversations.  I make a point of the chatty crowd not to rebuke them — they’re used to background music. even if it’s coming from live musicians.  But I applaud the unselfconscious integrity and focus of these (and other) musicians who shut out the distractions and go straight ahead, sending beauty and swing into the world even if the world seems not to pay much attention.  Musicians know that there’s always someone listening . . . !

Here’s some optimism.  THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE (which we are reasonably sure will come again tomorrow morning):

Another kind of optimism is a little more didactic.  There’s only one thing to do, so WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

I suppose it’s hard not to take it personally, but YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, which Tamar sings with great good humor (and the verse!) rather than rancor or frustration:

Donaldson’s paean to domestic bliss, from whence this posting’s title comes, MY BLUE HEAVEN:

A sweet old-fashioned song (Wayne King’s theme), THE WALTZ YOU SAVED FOR ME, gets a beautifully delicate and convincing performance here:

STARDUST, a song that doesn’t grow old:

Do you run your hands / through silv’ry strands?  You might be BLUE, TURNING GREY (OVER YOU) or over someone:

Beautiful music, bravely made!

SWING / DANCE! — JAKE SANDERS QUINTET (May 18, 2011)

Professor Jim Fryer tells his students, “Dancing is what music looks like; music is what dancing sounds like.”  A swinging mantra if ever there was one, and the videos below prove his points.

I’ve been admiring the swinging banjo / mandolin playing of Jake Sanders for some time now — but it didn’t prepare me for the groovy jazz he and his Quintet offered a room full of dancers on May 18, 2011. 

The occasion was a swing dance extravaganza, “White Heat,” sponsored by Dance Manhattan on a perilously rainy night.  But the music dried my clothing and lifted my spirits in four bars.  You’ll see and hear what I mean.

Jake’s colleagues were bassist Ian Riggs (whom I’d met at Teddy’s), guitarist Michael Gomez (new to me, but a wizard), Will Anderson (a young swinger who’s seen all over town), Gordon Au (one of my heroes, here on cornet).  They were tucked away in the corner of a small gymnasium-like room (with pillars) where a small number of intrepid dancers swirled around. 

The fine photographer Lynn Redmile was herself one of the dancers, and she tells me that the other twirlers and dippers included Caroline Ruda, Eli Charne, Sam Huang, Eve Polich, Tina Micic, Pauline Pechin, Kathy Stokes, Steve Rekhler, Richard Kurtzer, Neal Groothuis, Charles Herold, Nina Galilcheva, Marty Visconti, Sallie Stutz.  (If you were there and haven’t been included in this list, do let me know.)

Here’s I WONDER WHERE MY BABY IS TONIGHT, a Twenties tune (known more widely because Django and Stephane took it up in the late Thirties).  The lyrics tell us that a dancing fool who could do the Charleston took the singer’s Baby away, and the singer is both morose and homicidal (“I’d like to kill the man who made the Charleston,” which I hope wasn’t meant for the sainted James P. Johnson) while the music has a Charleston-interlude at regular intervals – – – an early postmodern episode in Twenties pop:

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:  what other jazz classic brings together the 1940-1 Goodman Sextet, Bix, Louis, Basie, Eddie Condon, and is still being swung in 2011?  Jake’s tempo is in the groove: they’re solid senders!

A straight-ahead reading of BRAZIL, which rocks:

DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL (with or without the apostrophe) is one of those songs that’s usually played too fast — perhaps as homage to dancing off both (y)our shoes.  Here it’s “very groovy, very mellow,” to quote Mr. Gaillard:

Want to see and hear more?  I’ve posted seven other videos at my YouTube channel — http://www.youtube.com/user/swingyoucats — which (as the old record jackets used to proclaim), “You’re sure to enjoy.”  I hope so!