Monthly Archives: July 2011

“TRIBUTE TO THE JAZZ GREATS” at the 2011 SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE (May 28, 2011)

Another highlight of the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee was this tribute — lively and touching — to the recently departed “jazz greats” who had played the Jubilee many times in the past: Jake Hanna, drums; Eddie Higgins, piano; Tommy Saunders, trumpet; Chuck Hedges, clarinet. 

The band was led by the affable and funny Bill Allred (who also happens to be a superb trombonist), with Bob Schulz, cornet, vocals; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Johnny Varro, piano; Darrell Fernandez, bass; Vince Bartels, drums.  And two New York visitors!

They began with a Condonite ROSETTA:

Then a lovely I REMEMBER YOU by the rhythm section:

AS LONG AS I LIVE was good reason to invite Jon-Erik Kellso and John Allred (The Ear Inn’s superheroes) up to the stand to play some:

A touching rendition of OLD FOLKS, highlighted by Bob’s heartfelt singing:

 And the set ended with a leisurely SINGIN’ THE BLUES, for Bix and Tommy and all the dear departed:

Remembering the dead through living music and stories makes them seem to be with us still . . . .

LOOKING FOR UNCLE GEORGE

This is what I knew about the hot New Orleans trumpeter George Girard, born in 1930. 

Girard died far too young (in 1957) of cancer. 

He studied music with one of my heroes, Johnny Wiggs, and went on to a professional career early — at 16. 

His band, the Basin Street Six, included a young Pete Fountain, made records, and was captured on local television (although no videos have yet made their way to YouTube).  Later, his own band, George Girard and the New Orleans Five, had a residency at the Famous Door, but he became ill and died all too soon.  His music can be heard on several compact discs — the most intriguing of which pairs him with a young Rosemary Clooney:

Then I received this email:  

 

 

Dear Mr Steinman,
     I am a relative of the late George Girard, a gifted trumpeter from New Orleans, during the early 50’s.  My mother & father were Doris & Lloyd Girard and grandmother & grandfather were Sadie & Louis Girard.  I was born in Metarie Parish in New Orleans in 1954, and Uncle George did visit and hold me before I was 3 years old.
     For the last 3 years, I have devoted much time to the study of jazz guitar in college, studying theory, applied lessons, jaz history classes, etc..  During my current research, your name has been listed as being related somehow, to Uncle George.
     The reason I am contacting you is because I’d like to gather as much information, photos, and contacts, of his, that still may be alive.  I don’t wish to disturb any that may have known him, and wondered if you might be able to steer me in the right direction.  My goal is to gather a history of my Uncle George for my own personal use and for no monetary gain or otherwise.  It’s just so cool to have a relative that loved jazz as much as I do now, and it’s important for me to have a better history of my musical family.
     Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your reply.
Dan Girard

Dan’s an excellent jazz guitarist; he lives in Portland, Maine, and his email is daniel.girard@maine.edu.  Both he and I would be grateful for any leads in his search for more information about Uncle George.

YOURS SWEETLY, JACK PURVIS

Trumpeter / composer Jack Purvis is known not only for his brilliant playing but for his incredibly strange adventures — suicide attempts, thefts, deceptions, impersonations befitting a Baron Munchausen.  A good deal of the Purvis saga suggests mental instability or someone with no discernable impulse control: if the woman you are infatuated with plays the harp, what could be wrong with smashing a plate glass window, stealing a harp, asking her for lessons, and then (when rebuffed) smashing the window again to return the harp to its display? 

These exploits — colorful reading now, probably deeply puzzling and irritating to all who knew Purvis — are recounted in the very detailed and entertaining booklet by Michael Brooks, part of the definitive Purvis set (three CDs) on the Jazz Oracle label. 

Purvis’ recorded performances often show a kind of nervous excitability — hot playing in the extreme, courageous leaping here and there with a quick vibrato, no mountain too high to scale. 

So it’s a surprise to once again come across a 1931 California Ramblers recording of the pretty Fats Waller song, CONCENTRATIN’ ON YOU (with funny, sweet lyrics) — recorded on other occasions  by Connee Boswell and Mildred Bailey — that has Purvis noted as the trumpet soloist.  This generosity is courtesy of the record collector and silent-film scholar “Atticus70” on YouTube:

The probable personnel is Chelsea Quealey, Jack Purvis, Fred van Eps Jr., trumpets; Carl Loeffler, trombone; Bobby Davis, clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Elmer Feldkamp, clarinet, alto, vocal; Joe Gillespie, clarinet, tenor;  Adrian Rollini, bass sax when used [and possibly chimes or vibraphone]; Jack Wechsler, violin; Lew Cobey, piano; Noel Kilgen, guitar;  Carl Smith, bass; Herb Weil, drums. New York, October 5, 1931.

Could it be that the recordin contractor told Purvis to behave himself and play sweetly, or was Jack deeply in one of his romantic infatuations?

Of course, if the trumpet work is by Chelsea Quealey, my theories go to the ocean bottom — but it’s a pretty dance record, no matter who’s playing what.

SOULFUL CANDOR: MARIANNE SOLIVAN and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (July 12, 2011)

JAZZ LIVES readers will already know the work of pianist Michael Kanan — his deep sensitivity to his fellow musicians, his splendidly intuitive accompaniment, his whimsical paths, reminiscent of Jimmy Rowles and Nat Cole. 

But the singer Marianne Solivan may be new to you, as she was to me before July 12, 2011, when she and Michael performed thirteen songs at Smalls in New York City.

The cosmos is full of people who sing, and then there are singers: people who have studied the melodies and lyrics so seriously that they have absorbed their messages . . . and then feel free to take risks, to play with what’s been given to them on the lead sheets.  Marianne is playful in the best sense of the word.  I don’t mean that she abandons the original contours and intent to go off on her own peregrinations, but you can hear, in a few notes, that she honors the music enough to know that if she takes chances, her byways may arrive at surprising places that would please the composer and lyricist. 

She proceeds to experiment — gently and persuasively — with the words, the arc of melody, the emotions, with depth and freshness, making us feel the joy of the small hotel, the sorrow of hanging her tears out to dry, of finding love in vain, or asking for just the right squeeze from the loved one.  Her delivery is witty yet heartfelt; her leaps land in the right places; her hesitations and rushes make perfect emotional and dramatic sense.  Her embellishments and improvisations are that of a great horn player: they enhance rather than flatten.  She is sincere but she doesn’t “act”; she lets the music take her in exultant ripples, while her phrases bubble up and out for us to savor. 

And the interplay between Marianne and Michael is remarkable, unstudied but wise and full of feeling.  Magic in a Greenwich Village basement on a hot July evening!

I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU:

THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL:

BEAUTIFUL MOONS AGO:

JUST SQUEEZE ME:

GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

MOON RAY:

ALL TOO SOON:

TWISTED:

MY IDEAL:

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

PRISONER OF LOVE:

I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE:

SIGNING OFF:

Marianne has a new CD coming out in the fall: I look forward to it!

HARLEM MAD: GLENN CRYTZER AND HIS SYNCOPATORS

The stuff is here and it’s mellow!

Many jazz musicans present themselves not only as players but as composers, with varying results. 

Seattle-based Glenn Crytzer — guitarist, banjoist, singer — is one of those rare creative beings who beautifully fills both roles.  The evidence is on YouTube, and most recently on a new small-band CD, HARLEM MAD, which presents twenty (count ’em) originals by Glenn, with star turns by Meschiya Lake, Solomon Douglas, and Ray Skjelbred. 

Instead of brooding “compositions” that serve only as jumping-off places for long solos, or thirty-two bar borrowings that take their A section from something familiar and their B from something even more so, Glenn’s songs have real shape and authenticity. 

On HARLEM MAD, you’ll hear a broad variety of performances that could be taken from the archives — unissued takes and masters from 1926 to 1949, from Glenn’s own take on rough-hewn South Side Chicago of the Twenties (Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Bertrand) to cheerfully lopsided jump tunes that nod to Monk as well as Jacquet and Byas. 

And there are vocals as well — for the justly-praised Meschiya Lake, who comes through on this CD as a fully-developed star personality, whether moaning the blues or suggesting that we get rhythm and jump with her.  The songs romp, groove, and moan — there are paeans to getting frisky on the dance floor, as well as heartbroken blues and naughty laments about making love to the wrong woman in the dark . . . all genres are more than adequately spoken for!’

I thought of Rod Serling — a jazz fan wanders into a diner where he’s never been, in an unidentified time and place.  The coffee is hot; the apple pie is fine . . . . and the jukebox needs no coins and plays one wildly appealing yet unfamiliar song after another . . .  But this isn’t the Twilight Zone, and HARLEM MAD isn’t a science-fiction dreamlike artifact.  

Here are Glenn, Meschiya, and the Syncopators performing one of Glenn’s originals from HARLEM MAD, NEW YEAR BLUES.  (And, yes, who could mistake the trumpet player in the clip?  That’s our own Bria Skonberg.):

And TEN ‘TIL FIVE, which suggests both the 1941 Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian and one of the Minton’s sessions recorded that same year by Jerry Newman:

See what I mean?  The compositions on HARLEM MAD are the title song / TEN ‘TIL FIVE / YOU DON’T SAY / WITCHING HOUR BLUES / FORTUNATE LOVE / BARNEY’S BOUNCE / PAYIN’ NO MIND / CENTURY STOMPS / NEW YEAR BLUES / WALLINGFORD WIGGLES / I GOT NOTHIN’ / LAZY / THE CLAWJAMMER / MR. RHYTHM / FUMBLIN’ AROUND / THE DEPRIVATION BLUES / RAINIER VALLEY RHYTHM / PARC ON SUMMIT / THE BEAVER BUMP / NICE AND SLOE. 

The multi-talented musicians on the CD are Steve Mostovoy, trumpet / cornet; Dave Loomis, trombone; Craig Flory, clarinet / tenor; Paul Woltz, alto / brass bass; Ray Skjelbred or Solomon Douglas, piano; Glenn Crytzer, guitar / banjo / vocal; Dave Brown or Matt Weiner, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums / washboard; Meschiya Lake, vocals. 

It’s not nice to tease people, but if you’re feeling whimsical when one of your jazz pals is visiting, you might pick a track from this CD and put it on, unannounced and unidentified . . . when the eyebrows go up and the friend wants to know exactly what that music (newly encountered) is, see how far you can go with a straight face, “Oh, that’s an unissued 1930 Champion by an otherwise unknown Chicago band,” or “That’s something they dug out of the Savoy vaults from 1947.  Like it?” 

Glenn  Crytzer and the Syncopators are just that good, just that swinging. 

There’s a great interview with Glenn at SWUNGOVER: http://swungover.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/interview-with-glenn-crytzer-of-the-syncopators/

and for more information about HARLEM MAD, visit Glenn’s website: http://www.syncopators.com.  Mellow indeed.

JUST SAY YES: JOEL PRESS and SPIKE WILNER at SMALLS (July 7, 2011)

Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophone) and Spike Wilner (piano) created life-affirming music at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, New York City) on July 7, 2011.  Joel and Spike had played together once before, but this was their first official performance — and we hope it’s the first of many. 

Both Joel and Spike love to create energetically rollicking melodies — theirs is true playfulness.  And the ideas that come from one are heard and bounced back by the other.  Although Joel says he’s only a Boston boy, I hear a true Southwestern depth of feeling in his playing, with Herschel Evans sitting alongside Lester Young and Charlie Parker . . . although what comes out is unmistakably Joel, from those mobile knees on up.  I first heard Spike six yers ago and admired his playing — orchestral but incisive, making space for Cliff Jackson and Bud Powell.  Now, in 2011, he has grown so much more into himself, with a joyous inventiveness that inspires both Joel and hearers from the first note. 

See and hear for yourself!

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

For Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and Lester Young, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA taken at a hilariously brisk tempo — are we in Beijing already, Captain?

A GHOST OF A CHANCE, explicitly for Lester:

Charlie Parker’s DEWEY SQUARE, complete with geo-historical commentary by Joel:

I REMEMBER YOU, with a lovely rubato beginning:

BLUES IN B FLAT:

THREE LITTLE WORDS:

Fats Navarro’s line on OUT OF NOWHERE changes, NOSTALGIA:

Finally, YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:

Thanks to Joel and Spike for such joyous surprises, and to Doug Panero and Louise Farrell for just the right kind of moral support!

CHICAGO CLARINETS: HAL SMITH’S INTERNATIONAL SEXTET (Sacramento Jazz Jubilee 2011)

This little map celebrates the intersection of 35th Street and Calumet Avenue in Chicago, a place Jess Stacy called “the center of the universe.”  Cosmologically he may have been inexact, but in jazz terms in the Twenties and early Thirties, he was precisely correct — especially when it came to clarinet players.  How about Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, Leon Roppolo, Volly de Faut, Rod Cless, Benny Goodman, Omer Simeon, Pee Wee Russell, and two dozen more?

At the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, drummer Hal Smith took the stage with his International Sextet to commemorate this reedy legacy.  And he had swinging, creative players around him — reed wizards Kim Cusack and Anita Thomas, pianist Carl Sonny Leyland, guitarist / banjoist Katie Cavera, and bassist / tubaist Clint Baker.  Here’s the vivid, rocking jazz history they offered at the Sheraton ballroom, miles away from Chicago on the map but right there in spirit.

Nothing says “Chicago hot” more than I FOUND A NEW BABY:

BLUE CLARINET STOMP doesn’t stomp in the formal sense of the word — a fast tempo — but Anita’s evocation of Johnny Dodds (or “Dotts,” as he and friends pronounced it) is full-blooded and blue:

For Jimmie Noone and Joe Poston, that hymn to simultaneous enlightenment, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

An extra-groovy slow-drag version of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings’ classic, FAREWELL BLUES:

“She’d be out of place in her own home town,” the twenties version of Thomas Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid,” but she was having a really good time — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

One of my favorite naughty-but-nice songs, about a Chicago Clark Kent who turns into Harry Reams when the time is right — HE’S THE LAST WORD — sung most engagingly by the winsome but well-informed Katie Cavera:

In honor of a great and less-heralded session in 1935, featuring Omer Simeon, Paul Mares, Santo Pecora, Jess Stacy, Marvin Saxbe, Pat Pattison, and George Wettling (have I got that right?), NAGASAKI:

And when “Chicago style” moved to New York City, it was caught hot and fresh on Commodore Records in 1938, with Pee Wee Russell’s marvelous star turn on LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

As Art Hodes sadi so often, “Man, I remember Chicago!”

WE GO FOR STEVE JORDAN (and VAN PERRY), 1980

Rhythm guitar — with its bouncing pulse, its swinging elasticity, and the ripe-fruit sound of those strings — isn’t a dying art, as I’ve seen happily on both coasts and overseas.  But the late Steve Jordan was one of the art’s finest creators — hired by Benny Goodman, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Buck Clayton, and others (the thread here is the enthusiastic advocacy of John Hammond).  Later in his career, Jordan got more opportunities to show off his soloing in support of his dry, witty singing. 

Here he is, captured by my YouTube friend Sfair (I know his real name but keep it to myself) at a National Press Club function in Washington, D.C., on December 4, 1980, with bassist Van Perry, a Virginia stalwart who played so often and so well on Johnson McRee’s Manassas Jazz Festival recordings:

Jordan’s  feature is a 1938 song — music by Matty Malneck, lyrics by Frank Loesser, I GO FOR THAT, a slangy, snappy version of what I call The Insulting Love Song (the earlier MY FUNNY VALENTINE is a much more gentle example) where the lover rues the inadequacies of the loved one and finds him/herself smitten nevertheless.  The version I hear in my head is Mildred Bailey’s, but Steve Jordan is doing a good job, two decades later, of displacing it.

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT EIGHT (July 10, 2011)

In the Fifties and Sixties, Sunday night at eight o’clock meant The Ed Sullivan Show — Asian acrobats, stand-up comedians, Phil Ford and Mimi Hines, the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Totie Fields, Sophie Tucker, Barbra Streisand, and more.

I no longer have a television set, and almost all the people on that list are now performing on The Other Side.  But there’s something that draws me even more strongly on Sunday nights at eight o’clock.  If you’ve been reading JAZZ LIVES, you might have guessed . . . . it’s The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn (or The Famous Ear) at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

July 10, 2011, at The Ear Inn was especially good — or should I say typically uplifting.  And I have a certain bittersweet exultation about that evening, which I will explain at the end of this post.

The EarRegulars that night were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Nicki Parrott, bass.  Old friends and a stellar group, in tune with each other — great soloists but also deeply attentive ensemble players.  I am already heroically impressed by Jon-Erik and Matt, but John’s easy range and melodic playing gets better every time I hear him, and Nicki’s speaking eloquence is ever more impressive.

I felt as if I was among friends — not only the musicians, but Jackie Kellso, Victor Villar-Hauser, John Rogers, Peter Collins, and Peter Jung . . . !

The first set was a lovely mix of “traditional” and “modern,” but I’ll let my readers decide where the boundary lines — if they still exist — can be seen.

The Ear Inn has never gone in for Lapsang Souchong or cucumber sandwiches, but we came close enough with the Jazz Age paean to romance, WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA:

An improvisation on I WANT TO BE HAPPY changes from 1947 or thereabouts, retitled MOVE (is it by Denzil Best?):

Two Italian ladies were celebrating a birthday at a table near the band, so PANAMA (with all its strains intact and a habanera beat) made room for HAPPY BIRTHDAY, seamlessly and hilariously:

Then, a collection of boppish lines on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN chords — DIG (by either Miles Davis or Sonny Rollins) and BRIGHT MISSISSIPPI (by Monk):

And a song I associate with Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, and Richard M. Sudhalter, PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY:

Then it was time for the special guests — as if the ensemble wasn’t heated, subtle, and special enough!  Chris Flory came in and took over the electric guitar, while Matt brought out his fine-toned acoustic; Nick Hempton came in on saxophone, for a Basie classic followed by more BABY songs.

First, NINE-TWENTY SPECIAL:

I FOUND A NEW BABY:

Then, Don Redman’s wooing lament, GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU?:

Corin Stiggall took over for Nicki Parrott, and Tamar Korn had a wonderful time with the sweetly sad BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU.  Catch Matt’s own version of Eddie Lang:

Nicki came back in for the last song of the night, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

The bittersweet pleasure of this July 10 evening is purely personal: the Beloved and I embark this week for a long stay in California, where we will meet and hear some of our friends and heroes: Marc Caparone and Dawn Lambeth, and nascent cultural critic James Arden Caparone; Rae Ann Berry, Clint Baker, Jeff and Barbara Hamilton, Katie Cavera, Hal Smith, Dan Barrett, Ralf Reynolds, John Reynolds, and I hope many more . . . as well as exploring the Golden State.  But The Ear Inn will have to wait until early September . . . anyone with a video camera want to step in?  No audition required!  Or — much simpler — go and enjoy for yourselves in my stead.

“RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED, JEROME F. NEWHOUSE”

This is the most fascinating (and witty) bill I’ve ever seen, and I would have gladly paid it. 

The letter below will not be new to Charlie Christian devotees, but I recently learned about it from Peter Jung.  Its owner Chris Albertson (jazz scholar, record producer, and blogger) very graciously encouraged me to repost it here. 

In the late Thirties, Jerome F. “Jerry” Newhouse of Minneapolis was a devout swing fan.  This profile in itself would not be unusual, but Jerry did more than sourrounding himself with Benny Goodman Victors and Columbias.  He bought a professional disc-cutting machine and began recording Goodman and other bands off the radio: And he took his disc cutter with him to the Harlem Breakfast Club for an after-hours session with two players from the Goodman band and two local players.  Although the session had not been issued commercially, it was known among Charlie’s admirers — who understandably treasured every note their laconic, short-lived hero had played.     

I don’t know how Newhouse and John Hammond came to know each other, but when Hammond was producing a new two-lp Charlie Christian collection, the  session that Newhouse had recorded in 1939 emerged as exciting material for reissue.  It was a remarkable session — one of Charlie’s earliest live appearances on record, an unusual opportunity for him to be recorded after hours (Jerry Newman’s Harlem sessions were still two years in the future), and it found Christian among excellent players. 

Pianist (presumably a local Minneapolis player) Frankie Hines lacks some of the flash of his almost-namesake, but his ump-cha is all that is needed to accompany the soloists, and he plays credible solos.  

Tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome was one of the hot soloists of the 1939 Goodman band, merging Lester and Ben in his own fashion, and I suspect he did not get space to stretch out on solos within that orchestra.  Jerome continued to have a rolling fluid approach to his instrument for many decades. 

Bassist Oscar Pettiford was still a minor in the eyes of the law, and although his playing is not assertive in the fashion of his great Forties and Fifties playing, this is his earliest appearance on disc. 

Charlie Christian lived for the hours he could spend on the bandstand without facing arrangements on manuscript paper: although someone on YouTube has commented that Charlie is “overrated,” that is only because his graceful, pulsing work has been so absorbed into the collective unconscious of all jazz guitarists that it takes a small leap backwards to understand just how striking his work was.

The letter is a hilarious recounting (masquerading as a bill) of what the session must have been like.  Close your eyes and imagine — in appropriate black-and-white — Newhouse waiting until the Goodman band had finished to bundle Jerome and Christian into his car, guitar, heavy amplifier, tenor sax included.  Imagine the delight of the patrons of the Harlem Breakfast Club when the jazz stars showed up; invent some small dialogue between Hines, Pettiford, Jerome, and Christian.  I don’t know (in my imagined screenplay) where the two bottles of liquor and the ccome in, but they were invaluable.  Don’t leave out the dialogue — polite for sure — of Newhouse trying to get Charlie to stop stomping his foot so energetically.  “General malaise and headaches” will have to be imagined individually by each reader.  And gasoline at thirty cents a gallon . . . .

Who cares that Newhouse couldn’t spell RHYTHM?  This piece of paper takes us behind the scenes . . .and is thus priceless, especially since none of the participants are living to tell their version of the story.

And because technology makes many surprising things possible, here is TEA FOR TWO recorded at that session:

Here’s a link to Leo Valdes’ analysis and transcription of Charlie’s solo:

http://home.roadrunner.com/~valdes/xTea%204%202.htm

And the thing in itself, a disc from Jerry Jerome’s collection: not Newhouse’s original Presto, but what I assume is a contemporaneous copy. 

Thank you, musicians, Jerry Newhouse, Columbia Records, and the enterprising (and generous) Chris Albertson.

SPONTANEOUS EXPERIMENTS IN BLUE at THE FAMOUS EAR (July 3, 2011)

Maybe it was all because of the blue lights at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) last Sunday night, that things took on such a loose experimental flavor.

More likely it was the presence of Scott Robinson — a free spirit who encourages others to drop their inhibitions in a corner and proceed bravely into unexplored realms.

And Scott brought three instruments: his familiar tenor saxophone, his Hungarian taragota (originally owned and played by Joe Muranyi) — that sounds like a cross between a soprano saxophone and something else, while resembling a thick clarinet — and his German Jazzophone, a trumpet of sorts that is bent into the shape of a curved saxophone . . . with two bells, one open, the other able to be closed off for muted hallooing sounds.

This isn’t to say that Scott ran over everyone else in the EarRegulars — it’s not his style — but he did inspire one and all.  The other players were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jon Burr, bass; Joe Cohn, guitar; and guests Elana James (of the Hot Club of Cowtown) on fiddle and vocals; Tim Newman on bass trombone, and Vinny Raniolo on guitar. You’ll hear a good many playful conversations (especially between old friends Jon-Erik and Scott) that take us well beyond the ordinary excellence one finds at The Ear Inn.

Here are some highlights of a luminescent indigo get-together!

From the first set, a stirring COQUETTE that keeps thinking of P-TOWN, an original by guitarist Joe’s most esteemed father — Al Cohn:

An old favorite, MEAN TO ME, takes on a new shape as Jon-Erik plunges ahead and Scott brings out the taratgota:

IF I WERE A BELL (with two bells) is a showcase for the many lives of the Jazzophone:

And a rocking PERDIDO (the missed beginning is my fault; the surprise ending is no one’s fault):

The second set at The Famous Ear always has some surprises, and July 3 was chock-full of surprising, inventive players, two on “miscellaneous instruments.”

BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? sounds even more mournfully pleading when played on the taragota, you’ll agree:

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET began as a feature for Tim Newman on the bass trombone.  Catch the Forties Ellington band riffs under him!

‘ZACKLY (or EXACTLY LIKE YOU for the precise) shows off the double talents — fiddle and vocal — of Elena Davis, one of the sparkplugs of the Hot Club of Cowtown:

DARK EYES had guitarist Vinny Raniolo, a real swinger, taking Joe’s chair:

And a closing BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA [with a goodly outing for the Magic Jazzophone] made me sorry that this evening (the band played for more than a half-hour extra . . . having a ball!) had to end:

When I dream about inspiration and creative camaraderie, I dream of the Ear Inn and anyplace else these players can be found!

JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, TAL RONEN, STEVE LITTLE at FAT CAT (July 5, 2011)

FAT CAT (located at 75 Christopher Street in New York City, just off Seventh Avenue South) is, at first glance, an odd place to hear rewarding jazz.

You climb down a steep staircase, meet up with someone who asks for proof of age and three dollars, stamps your hand with a blue-ink drawing of a grinning feline, and you turn a corner . . . into what resembles a Fifties rec room at a huge scale.  Past a bar (with an intriguing selection of beers on tap — I had Old Speckled Hen, a UK favorite — and wines) into a large basement filled with chess tables, billiard tables, ping pong tables, foosball tables, shuffleboard, and more.  In fact, one of Fat Cat’s two sites asserts proudly that it is “NYC’s best-equipped gaming center” and  “best pool hall.”

It’s far from dreary and ominous — perhaps a youthful Minnesota Fats and Eddie Felson might be doing battle here — on my most recent trip to Fat Cat, two young couples were playing pool with more enthusiasm than skill.  There is a good deal of late-adolescent shouting when someone makes a great shot or a disastrous move, but it’s all cheerful.  (One night, behind me was a chili-cookoff, or so it seemed, with aluminum tins of chili for a birthday party, a cake, and a long version of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU.)  And I understand that it is jammed at 1:30 AM.

Here’s the “gaming site” for the skeptical:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/gaming.html

What the youngbloods at their Scrabble boards might not know is that Fat Cat is a secret jazz hangout as well.  How do the names Frank Wess, Ned Goold, Terry Waldo, Grant Stewart, Ehud Asherie, Corin Stiggall, Alex Hoffman — and more —  sound to you?

The other Fat Cat website has all the musical information you need:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/

On Tuesday, July 5, a quartet gathered (there are soft couches — the sort of furniture it is difficult to leap up from) in a smaller quadrant not far from the bar.  The corner was dark in portions, gleefully lit in primary colors near the back.  A large sign announcing FEATRING _______________ and HIS ORCHESTRA (approximately, with the leader’s name never filled in) hangs over the proceedings.

But even given the shouts of joy or disdain from the players (not at all critical comments on the music), the quartet accomplished great things and brought wonderful lilting sounds to Fat Cat.

The players?

On tenor and soprano saxophone, the whimsical monument, the Swing Explorer, Joel Press . . . . making his own way, often sideways, in the great singing saxophone tradition bounded on one end by Eddie Miller and on the other by Steve Lacy.  Although Joel says it’s impossible for him, given his origins, I hear a deep Southwestern moan and lope in his playing.  He bounces when he plays, and you would hear the bounce with your eyes closed.  His sound is tender yet burry: I thought of a favorite rough blanket, cozy but assertive, as he glides from one idea to the next.  Lester Young peeks in approvingly over Joel’s shoulder, although Joel is much more than a purveyor of Prez-isms.

Pianist Michael Kanan never does the expected, yet when his notes and pauses have settled in, they seem exactly right — with the epigrammatic power and amusement of a Nat Cole, a Jimmy Rowles — although he, too, covers the entire spectrum from Willie the Lion Smith to Ray Bryant and Red Garland.  Michael makes wonderful sound-clusters come out of the piano: rippling trills and tremolos, single-note stabs, chords that seem lopsided but fit just right.  He and Joel float on a wave of loving respect, and several songs feature a sweetly chatty interlude, where ideas are tossed back and forth in polite yet eager conversation.

I hadn’t met Tal Ronen before, although I’d admired his work on a variety of CDs.  And I was delighted by the big warm sound he got — even when tuning his bass.  His pulse was absolutely right, although never obtrusive, and his solo lines were worthy of being transcribed.  Although some players bridle at being compared with the Great Dead, Tal made me think — many times during the evening — of both George Duvivier and Paul Chambers.

Steve Little and Joel go back a long way — and this session was a reunion of sorts after a thirty-year hiatus.  Steve’s gently prodding drums make a band sound better, and his movement around his set (from brushes on the snare to a variety of cymbal strokes) leave us enlivened rather than somnolent.  Hear how deeply he pays attention to what’s going on within the band — but never letting his commentaries obscure the other players.

Some highlights:

Charlie Parker’s DEWEY SQUARE, a New York landmark as well as a musical statement:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — in the best Kansas City tradition — turned the corner into MOTEN SWING before it finshed.  Here’s the first Kanan – Press chat, too:

Joel named his variation on the chords of OUT OF NOWHERE “LAST EXIT” in honor of Warne Marsh, who died onstage while playing his own improvisation on the same changes:

LOVER MAN, for Billie Holiday and Ram Ramirez:

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, taken at an easy romantic trot, was a real pleasure:

INDIANA was the occasion for another Press – Kanan conversation:

Joel turned to his soprano sax for Thelonious Monk’s improvisation on LADY BE GOOD chord changes, which Monk called HACKENSACK:

And Joel closed the two sets with an easy Bb blues — the line, written by Sonny Rollins (but reaching back many generations before him) was called RELAXIN’, and it was an apt title:

Beauty and fervor and whimsy in the darkness.

FIRST-HAND: JACK ROTHSTEIN RECALLS LEE WILEY

Lee Wiley and Jess Stacy, by Gjon Mili

never knew that Lee was so overbearing [as described in CHICAGO JAZZ AND THEN SOME, the recent book of Jess Stacy’s memories] but was not surprised.  After all, she had been a star in the late 20’s and early 30’s.  She had had her own radio program and had been a headliner at the best supper clubs in New York but by the late 30’s she was considered a has-been.  The only people in the business whose admiration for her singing never wavered were the Condon group.  Her Rogers & Hart session with Bushkin, Freeman,etc. was for the Liberty Music Shop, not exactly a major label.  She probably visualized Stacy as her ticket back to stardom. 

I only saw her with the Stacy orchestra once, in the fall of 1945 at the Panther Room of the Hotel Sherman in Chicago.  My only memory of that evening is that she sang IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON better than anyone I have ever heard, before or since.

The comments about her adultery seemed quite disingenuous.  Well before Stacy, she had a reputation of only going to bed with guys she liked and that she didn’t have an enemy in the world.  Her lovers allegedly included Bunny Berigan and Fats Waller.

The only time I met her was at a club in New York in 1952.  She was sitting with a couple of musicians who invited me to their table.  She impressed me as not being very bright but extremely honest.  Her language was exceedingly vulgar, although not at all malicious.

(Postscript: nothing of Lee as overbearing or vulgar comes through in the 1945 recording of IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, which has all of her inimitable tenderness, that sweet phrase-ending vibrato, and the improvisatory playfulness, as if she had learned a great deal from Berigan and Hackett in taking risks.)

JOEL PRESS COMES TO NEW YORK! (July 2011)

Short notice: the splendid saxophonist Joel Press is paying a brief visit to New York City.  As always, he will be creating bouncing riffs and casually eloquent, speaking melodic lines.  I think of his metaphysical street address as the corner of Swing and Lyricism.

Joel has three performances planned — with fine musical friends, as always.  Joel will be playing duets with the wonderful pianist Spike Wilner at SMALLS, 183 W 10th Street @ 7th Avenue South on Thursday, July 7th.  Their set begins at 7:30.  They will be followed by the Jeff Williams Quintet.

Sunday, July 3rd, 1:30 AM (if you’re awake) Joel, the cherished pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Tal Ronen, drummer Steve Little, will be playing at FAT CAT, 75 Chistopher Street @ 7th Avenue.

Tuesday, July 5th, at 7PM,  the same quartet will be at FAT CAT, 75 Chistopher Street @ 7th Avenue.

Carpe Press, JAZZ LIVES readers!

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN CORONA, QUEENS (June 26, 2011)

Louis Armstrong was (appropriately) born in Louisiana, but his country is everywhere someone is humming a few notes from BLUEBERRY HILL or remembering that his face (in the words of Ida Melrose) radiates “kindness and compassion.”

But perhaps the capital of the land of Louis, the vortex, is in the garden of a brick house in Corona, Queens, where he and Lucille lived for over twenty-five years.   It’s now called the Louis Armstrong House Museum, and it will be the site of jazz concerts and other celebrations this summer: check out http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org. for the good news.

Louis and the neighbors in Corona, celebrating on July 4, 1969

What could be more appropriate than assembling there, among friends, for a Sunday afternoon celebration of Ricky Riccardi’s moving new book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS? 

Here are three video clips from Ricky’s presentation.  Hide the children: Louis himself utters a naughty word . . . . but with good reason, as the story is one of his being treated in a demeaning way because of the color of his skin.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Thank you, Ricky, for working on that beautiful book and telling us all about it.  Thank you, Louis, for being!

FAST COMPANY at THE EAR INN (June 26, 2011)

The music played at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) this last Sunday night — June 26, 2011 — was inspiring.  And you won’t have to take my word for it.

The EarRegulars that night were a slightly different crew, although three of the four players were SemiRegulars: guitarist Chris Flory, tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, and trumpeter Charlie Caranicas.

The fourth player was new to me — bassist Corin Stiggall — but I can only reproach myself for not knowing his work before this: he is a find, indeed.  All I will say about Corin (you will hear the truth for yourself) is that he reminds me greatly of Oscar Pettiford — strong, steady, inventive, with his own deep sound, and he doesn’t think of his instrument as an overfed guitar.

Here’s the quartet on a truly exuberant reading of Billy Strayhorn’s early don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out, I’M CHECKING OUT, GOOM-BYE (the brisk tempo courtesy of Mr. Allen):

A little good blues?  Here’s JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID, celebrating the days when Lester played and Sidney Torin spoke on your AM radio:

For Rodgers and Hart, an enthusiastic, twining THIS CAN’T BE LOVE:

In the middle of the evening, the marvelous community of friends old and new — so often encountered these Sunday nights at The Ear — began to come together.  Earlier, trumpeter, dancer, and scientist Lucy Weinman came up to me and introduced her West Coast buddy, reed expert Chloe Feoranzo.  (Chloe has made two CDs already — the second in the company of serious players: Dan Barrett, Hal Smith, Chris Dawson, Bryan Shaw, Dave Koonse, Richard Simon*.  She’s no tyro, tentative and unsure.)

Chloe had brought her clarinet and was welcomed to the Ear Inn “bandstand” for PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.  Her bell-bright sound is a treat, as is her reluctance to go familiar ways.  Many clarinet players are tempted towards glibness — “I can play a fast run here, so why not?” — but Chloe seems to be thinking about what phrases she might create (without hesitating), her sound reminding me of Tony Scott, of early Jimmy Hamilton — with Teddy Wilson in 1941 — and now and again Lester on clarinet:

Friends came by — a whole reed section began to assemble.  Dan Block unpacked his alto saxophone.  Pete Anderson and Andy Farber brought their tenors.  And I felt as if I had been happily dropped into the middle of this: as you will see on the videos, Harry stood in front of me, as did Chloe; Dan was seated to my right on a barstool, Andy on the next one away, Pete diagonally across from me.  Reed rapture!

And although I am usually much more interested in the sound of my videos than the visual aspects, I was very happy to be able to capture Harry’s happiness, his eyes half-closed, while he listened to Chloe play.

How about that romping affirmation of joy, I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

A sweet IF I HAD YOU:

For the closer, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the Soho version of the Henderson / Hopkins riffs:

Incidentally, speaking of community, there were old friends and new at The Ear — among them man of music Doug, the inspiring singer Jewel, and Claiborne (the last a genuine movie star — catch her in PAGE ONE).

You’ve never been to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night, never heard the EarRegulars, never met Victor Villar-Hauser (a gentleman, a scholar, and a serious actor)?  Alas.

*Chloe’s second CD looks like this: I predict there will be many more!