Monthly Archives: October 2011

THE EARREGULARS TAKE CHAUTAUQUA! (Sept. 16, 2011)

For the past four years and more, Sunday nights in lower Manhattan have been set aside — at least for those in the know — for experiments in hot improvisation.  The location was and is The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City), 8-11 PM.  The bold creators and co-leaders are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar — with a cast of characters of the highest order.

When The EarRegulars were set to make their debut at Jazz at Chautauqua, they followed the opening spectacular, which brought fifteen musicians onstage . . . this little quartet (Howard Alden [sitting in for Matt Munisteri], Kellso, Scott Robinson, and Jon Burr) might have looked fragile on the stage . . . but those who knew these players and the joyous music they create weren’t worried.  The EarRegulars — nearly eight hours from the beer and talk of a Soho club, outdid themselves.  Here’s the evidence:

She may have been “a peculiar sort of a gal,” but MY GAL SAL didn’t do anyone any harm:

A little Fats Waller pairing: the first song celebrating the virtues of brand-new good behavior, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW:

And as a tribute to (high) fidelity, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

Something for Bing Crosby (circa 1934), a special ballad by Scott Robinson, WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE:

And a patented EarRegular Special, SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Nice to know that this group “travels well”!

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THE TWO SIDES OF JOHN SHERIDAN (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011)

Pianist John Sheridan — like most of us — is a multi-faceted personality on and off the bandstand.  Musically, he can play forceful, stomping piano that elevates a band or builds up an astonishing momentum in a solo; that Sheridan in person is a man of strong opinions with a kind of amused defiance.  But there’s the other Sheridan, who gets used to a new piano by playing a sweet minute of IN A MIST, who has a deep feeling for the most tender love ballads, a real romantic.

Both sides of this intriguing pianist and individual were on display in his too-brief solo recital at this year’s JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA. 

He began with the beautiful LOVE LIES, a favorite of Ralph Sutton and Jack Teagarden:

I haven’t heard MARIA MY OWN (MARIA LA O) — an obscure song by Ernesto Lecuona, who wrote THE BREEZE AND I — for years, and I’m so happy that John plays it:

I know that MY FOOLISH HEART has deep meaning for John — in the best ways — so that even though this version began with a cheerful interruption, it never loses sight of its deep romantic center:

Time for a different kind of musing — PETE KELLY’S BLUES, which reminds me of a time and place when hot jazz could still be part of popular culture (a film, a radio series, a television show):

And finally a rollicking INDIAN LOVE CALL, as far from the warbling sweethearts as one could get: John’s tribute to the hard-driving Artie Shaw band version (with a hot Louis-flavored vocal by Tony Pastor):

We’re all complex personalities, but who among us makes as much music as John?

LOCAL NEWS: “A FREAKISH STORM” (Oct. 29, 2011)

It was snowing today in New York City — earlier in the year than ever recorded, and records go back to 1879.  More than a million people in the area lost power; tree limbs fell . . . more details here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/us/northeast-snow-storm.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&src=igw

The Beloved and I were out on the street (on our way to a fascinating documentary called URBANIZED) and she started to sing this song (it seems to some who know us a theme-song-in-the-making), so I thought I would provide the musical soundtrack, even if the JAZZ LIVES audience is far from snow and slush.

You’ll recognize the eminent participants: Clint Baker on banjo and trumpet; Marc Caparone on string bass; Katie Cavera on banjo; Ralf Reynolds on washboard; Paul Mehling on banjo; John Reynolds on banjo . . . all recorded at the 2011 Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California:

If that performance doesn’t make the temperature rise, I give up.

PAGES WORTH READING: “HEAVEN ON THE SIDE: A JAZZ LIFE” by JAMES LEIGH

I knew Jim Leigh as a writer covering the West Coast scene for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG — someone observant, witty, occasionally satiric.  Later, I knew him as a solidly rough-hewn trombonist, with plenty of pep and lowdown spice, what Dicky Wells called “fuzz.” 

But it’s only recently that I have had the opportunity to savor his prose at length, and his memoir, HEAVEN ON THE SIDE: A JAZZ LIFE, is a splendidly moving book.  I apologize to Jim for coming to it so late — it was published in 2000 — but I bow to no one in my enthusiasm for it.  When a friend gave me a copy in September, I found myself reading it while standing up in my hotel room, and I quickly was so entranced that I rationed myself to only a few pages at a time because I didn’t want it to end too quickly.

Readers familiar with the literature of jazz know that many jazz memoirs follow predictable patterns.  Some musicians offer us the familiar path: early discovery of the music, early study, scuffling, the first breakthrough, then a listing of gigs and encounters.  Other books are a series of vignettes — associations with famous people . . . “and then I told Louis,” and so on.  Other chronicles depict battles with addiction and other unhappinesses — ideally they end in triumph and freedom.  All of these books can be irresistible on their own terms, but they often become cheerfully formulaic once the subject has succeeded.   

Jim’s book is not only a history of his own musical development (how he learned to play “Whispering” in its key, not Bb), or his brushes with the great and near-great . . . but, like A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, it is a record, seen retrospectively, of the growth of a consciosness, the creation of a discerning self.  The combination of his prose (modest, expert, not calling attention to itself) and the insights he has come to — makes for a book that’s not only readable but memorable.

I won’t summarize the insights — that would do Jim an injustice — but they have to do with his development not only as a trombonist and a listener, but as a full-fledged adult with a deep understanding of himself, of his relations with others, and of the music.  In these pages, we observe someone grow, which restores us as we participate in it.

The temptation for me, as someone fascinated by HEAVEN ON THE SIDE: A JAZZ LIFE, is to retype great chunks of it.  I will let readers take their pleasures and surprises on their own — and offer only one excerpt from the book, Jim’s encounter with the great and somewhat inscrutable Herb Flemming (world-traveler and Ellington alumnus) in Fuengirola, Spain, circa 1965:

. . . a man considerably older than I lived with a small white mixed-breed dog.  I kept imagining that I heard the sound of a trombone from his second-floor apartment, often playing a part of “Sophisticated Lady” or “In My Solitude,” typically the bridge, repeating it, perfectly, perhaps a dozen times.  Discreet inquiry in the large and heterogeneous foreign community provided only a rumor that the man, “some kind of an Arab,” had “played with Duke Ellington, a long time ago.”  Whether because he was too self-sufficient to require conversation or too anti-social to permit it, he was said to be taciturn to the point of utter silence.  Or, as Wacker, the retired Australian soap opera writer down the street, put it, “Bloke seems to be missing the old vocal chords.”

One day when I was walking along the Paseo Maritimo, next to the beach, I saw him coming, as always with his dog on a leash.  Thinking that it was perhaps now or never, I spoke to him.  He stopped and listened, impassive, his eyes focused on a patch of Mediterranean somewhere beyond my shoulder, but did not answer.  “I’ve  heard that you used to play with Duke,” I said. 

He echoed me tonelessly.  “Duke,” as if the word meant nothing to him.

“Ellington.”

He let me wait a bit.  “Yes, I did.”

I told him my name, and that I lived across the street from him.  “Next to the Casa Blanca,” I said.  “You know, the Danish bar?”

“I don’t pass my time in bars,” he said.  He let his eyes rest steadily on my face then.  I saw his calm gaze, but decided not to mention that I, too, had played the trombone, and waited.  He must have reached some sort of decision, because, without looking away, he stuck his free hand inside his jacket and brought forth a calling card, which he handed me.  I thanked him.

“Mm,” he said, and resumed his stroll.  The card read Nicolaiih El-Michelle (Formerly Herb Flemming),” and below that “Trombonist”.  It bore a Paris address, pencilled out but not amended.  He and his doggy were already on their way.  We never spoke again.

There are writers who would make an equisitely sad little vignete out of the former Herb Flemming.  I might have been one of them 30 or 40 years ago, but no longer.  If our brief experience taught me anything at that time it was that the former Herb Flemming did not require pity any  more than he required conversation.  He had his dog,  he had his trombone: what more, his manner said, did a man need?  Someone might call him for a gig, I thought.  As Sister Rosetta Tharpe so memorably sang, strange things happen every day.  If someone did call, I was sure the Former Herb Flemming would have his chops together.

The book is full of these brief moments of revelation, quietly persuasive but never self-congratulatory.  Any of us might have encountered Herb Flemming, and perhaps with similar results, but only Jim Leigh would have come to understand that moment as he has . . . and only Leigh would have written of it in such a sweetly understated way.  HEAVEN ON THE SIDE: A JAZZ LIFE is full of personalities and stories, from Turk Murphy to Louis to Frank “Big Boy” Goudie and Django Reinhardt, to Dan Barrett and Clint Baker . . . but what compels me is the steady, often amused, man and writer, experiencing his life and learning from it, every chorus, every day. 

It’s an invaluable book.  Visit http://www.xibris.com/sales to obtain a copy.  An actual bookstore (they still exist!) could order it under its ISBN number, which is 0-7388-5602-9.

FROM THEIR HEARTS: DAN BARRETT AND ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at CHAUTAUQUA 2011

This beautiful rendition is in honor of (and thanks to) our friend Barb Hauser, attending her first Jazz at Chautauqua.  Thanks to Barb for letting us hear this lesser-known ballad, WHAT WILL I TELL MY HEART?  And thanks to Dan and Rossano for making it come alive so sweetly:

This beauty kept a large room full of people in a hush: testifying to the beauty they were hearing.

WE’RE THE LUCKY ONES: BECKY KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 16, 2011)

Without fanfare, something rare happened on Sept. 16, 2011, onstage at the Hotel Athaenum in Chautauqua, New York.

Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, and Rossano Sportiello were onstage: that in iself is great good fortune.  But what they created seems nearly miraculous. 

They began “I’m Just A Lucky So-and-So” at a walking medium tempo.  It immediately became apparent that their collective interpretation was combining a sweet delicacy with deep emotional roots.  It was wholly natural — as if three friends had gotten together in some private place to make music — but we knew they were inventing this subtle intimacy in front of a large room full of people.  Here’s that amazing performance.    

I think it is the greatest good luck that we live in a time and place where we can witness such lovely art being created.

A ROSSANO SPORTIELLO RECITAL at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 16, 2011)

Friday afternoon, before Jazz at Chautauqua “officially” begins, is given over to a series of solo recitals in the Hotel Athenaeum — around a grand piano.  I will be posting music by John Sheridan, Keith Ingham, James Dapogny, Howard Alden, and Maestro Sportiello, who embarked on an unbroken solo recital that began with pop classics — WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER and LUCKY TO BE ME — then segues into Schumann’s SCENES FROM CHILDHOOD and more:

Here’s the second part, featuring George Shearing, Bach, Chopin, and Don Lambert:

All I could say, then or now, is, “Beautiful, Rossano!”