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”!

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!”

IT TAKES FOREVER TO SET UP, BUT IT’S WORTH IT!

Advertised as Tiny Kahn at his drum set — but it’s really Remo Bell (thanks to my accurate commenters).  But no matter who’s grinning, that drum is surely something to keep the neighbors in line.

JAZZ LIVES readers are free to invent the most appropriate captions (although this is a family blog, often).

“BOYCE BROWN: JAZZMAN IN TWO WORLDS” by Hal Willard (1999)

BOYCE BROWN: JAZZMAN IN TWO WORLDS by Hal Willard

Originally published in The Mississippi Rag, February 1999

In the relatively short history of jazz, many strange and spectacular characters have made unique contributions to the music and its lore.  April 1999 marks the 43rd anniversary of the time one of the strangest, and in some ways most spectacular characters attracted attention with a comeback album.

His name was Boyce Brown, and he had been among the best saxophonists in jazz, rating high in the survey lists of Down Beat magazine, the bible of jazz.  But it wasn’t so much the comeback as it was where he came back from that attracted attention.

Brown had given up music to become a Brother in the Catholic Church and was in the midst of undergoing years of training to enter the strict Servite Order.  He was having a middle-age metamorphosis, and his effort to create a new life was causing considerable controversy within the Church, where many priests and Servites questioned his seriousness of purpose and wondered whether he really had abandoned his former life.

Boyce Brown was a man out of place — out of place in jazz, and, because he came from the jazz world, perhaps out of place in the world of Catholicism that he sought.

If ever a soul seemed lost in the raucous, raunchy, rigorous life of jazzmen, it was the gentle, contemplative, ascetic Boyce Brown, whose quiet, unobtrusive nature was made the more so by impaired vision, an odd appearance, and herky-jerky body movements caused by physical deformities.  Yes, for 20 years or more, he was listed among the top alto saxophonists in jazz.

His birth in Chicago, or April 16, 1910, had been difficult.  It was a breech delivery, and when Boyce finally emerged, he was seriously injured.  The doctor put Boyce aside and devoted his attention to saving the mother.  Boyce’s Aunt Harriet, who was in the delivery room, saw what was happening and moved to do what she could for the baby.  She picked up the misshapen and struggling newborn and literally shaped his head with her hands, saving his life.  But, among other injuries he suffered, one eye was gone and the other was damaged.

So, as an adult, Boyce Brown faced the world with a glass eye, limited vision in the other eye,an oddly-shaped head and a partially caved-in chest.  He walked sort of lop-sided, with a halting, loping gait, one shoulder drooping.  Sometimes he would hold his head at funny angles, stretching out his neck like a bird truing to find kernels of grain.  Some people even called him “Bird” in those days before fellow altoist Charlie Parker came along and became “Bird” for all time.

It wasn’t just his appearance that set Brown apart in the jazz world.  He liked to write poetry, and he liked to talk about it and discuss philosophy and other deep, unjazz-like subjects, to the confusion and consternation of his fellow musicians.  Besides, he lived with his mother.

Boyce started playing the saxophone at 14 and by the time he was 17 in 1927 got his first job.  It was with a trio in a joint called Amber Light, owned by Al Capone and managed by Bugs Moran.  Moran showed solicitude for the youngsters in the band by telling them to hide behind the piano if customers started shooting.

Brown’s playing attracted the attention of other musicians, and when Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey came to town with their new joint band, Tommy went to hear Boyce and then asked him to join them.  But when Boyce sat in with the Dorsey band, he got the volatile Tommy upset when he cocked his head at a strange angle and leaned over to squint at the music.  Tommy thought the audience would be distracted and put off by the contortions.  Boyce told Tommy he had to bend over only once per sheet of music because he could memorize it at a glance, despite his poor vision.  He had a photographic memory, and perfect pitch as well.

Nevertheless, Brown lacked self-confidence, and he also was afflicted by a sense of responsibility.  He felt he should stay with and support his mother because his father was an alcoholic and unreliable.

So, Brown stayed home.  Although he subsequently toured around the country with different bands, he chose to play most of the 20 prime years of his musical career at the Liberty Inn, a strip joint on Chicago’s rowdy North Clark Street.

Boyce Brown in the Liberty Inn was the definition of incongruity.  He drank, but not to excess, and, of course, he couldn’t see much of what was going on.  Sometimes he sat backstage between shows reading philosophy, his face literally buried in the book.  This disturbed some people because they didn’t understand it.

Despite his aloofness, Brown liked the girls.  They were kind to him and seemed to understand him — although they perhaps wondered why he never made passes at them and otherwise ignored their nakedness.  He told friends that the girls were nice and not bad as most people seemed to think.  At one point, Brown was briefly engaged to a girl outside the business, but he again decided he couldn’t leave his mother and Aunt Harriet, whom he also was helping.

Time and again he left the Liberty Inn to play with other bands, but he always returned.  Something there suited him.  Maybe it was a psychological refuge; there was much honesty and little pretense in the Liberty Inn.

As the years passed, Brown was bothered more and more by the contrast between his manner of making a living and his attitudes about life and people developed through his philosophical readings.  He got in the habit of going for long walks in the early morning hours after work, wondering about his life as a musician, the paradoxes and the fact that he wasn’t fully utilizing his abilities.  He became depressed and even thought about suicide.

One morning his walk took him past St. Gertrude’s Catholic Church on Granville Avenue, and he heard organ music.  He stopped to listen.  As children, he and his brother, Harvey, had been iterested enough in classical music to stage record concerts for their friends.

Brown returned to the church morning after morning to listen to the music, and he soon began going inside to hear better.  One morning a priest noticed him standing in the shadows at the back of the church and approached to welcome him.  From that contact, one thing led to another and on August 12, 1952, Boyce Brown, who had been raised an Episcopalian, became a Catholic.  He was 42 years old.

But just being a Catholic didn’t satisfy him.  He wanted deeper involvement.  One day at St. Gertrude’s, he met Father Ed Calkins, a missionary of the Servites, a religious order of friars started in the 13th century.  Brown asked about taking his religious feelings further.

Father Ed sent Brown to the Servites’ director of vocation, Father Hugh Calkins, his brother (two other Calkins brothers also were priests).  Father Hugh listened as Brown described his concern about being accepted for further work in the church.  He feared his background of playing jazz in “low” places for so many years would rule him out.  Father Hugh let Brown ramble on about his worries for a time, and then told him he would make a good Brother in the Servite Order.

As for jazz, Father Hugh said, it just so happened that he himself was fond of jazz.  In fact he was a pretty good amateur pianist, if he did say so himself, and felt he and Brown would enjoy playing together.

After a few more interviews, in the fall of 1953 Boyce Brown entered the monastery and began training to become a Brother.  When Father Hugh was questioned by a superior about Brown’s seriousness of purpose, he said Brown was one of the most deeply spiritual men he had ever met.

That was fine, the superior said, bring him in.  “He might say enough prayers to get the rest of us into Heaven.”

Two years later, Brown entered the Novitiate at Mount Saint Philip Monastery about 10 miles north of Milwaukee and on Feb. 26, 1956, took his vows as Brother Matthew.

Part of Boyce Brown’s training, and his vocation as a Brother, involved menial work in the monastery, kitchen, tailor shop, laundry, bakery, and boiler room, and he swept the halls.  Sometimes, when his work was done, he played the saxophone, but not often.  His first year of training, he played hardly at all, so everyone was surprised when, at the Christmas party, Brother Hugh sat down to play the piano — and called on Brown to get his saxophone.  When he and Brown got going, Father Hugh said, they “rocked the refectory,” and played together many times after that.

Father Hugh, outgoing and enthusiastic, had a talent for public relations — another incongruity — and when Brown took his vows, the priest sent out a press release.  A week later, Time Magazine and other publications carried items with the news.

About two weeks after that, the Chicago Tribune carried a front-page story about the jazzman turned Brother.  This was followed by a picture story in the Trib‘s rotogravure section.

As the word spread, ABC-Paramount telephoned Father Hugh and asked if Brother Matthew could go to New York and make a record.  Father Hugh, bursting with excitement, got an okay from church superiors and then got in touch with jazz spokesman Eddie Condon, who knew Brown in his early days, and asked him to handle arrangements for a record date.

Father Hugh’s press release now had gathered maximum momentum.  Father Hugh had become official spokesman, escort, PR man and general factotum for Brother Matthew.  (Later, he collected considerable information and provided much of the material for this article.)  Father Hugh and his charge appeared and played on Garry Moore’s “I’ve Got A Secret” television program, with Moore himself on drums, the day before the record session.  They played “My Blue Heaven.”

Boyce Brown’s and Father Hugh’s “secret” was that they played jazz in a monastery.  The panel was game show host Bill Cullen, who was raised a Catholic, radio comedian Henry Morgan, supposedly an agnostic; and actress Faye Emerson, then married to bandleader and pianist Skitch Henderson.  Her religious beliefs were unknown, but she was the one who guessed the “secret,” but not until the time allotted to do so had expired.  She finally remembered seeing Brown’s picture in Time, and Henderson had told her about Brown’s past and background.

Father Hugh and Boyce spent that night in the Abbey Hotel, and the religious motif was played to the hilt.  The next day, a Life Magazine photographer showed up at the recording session, and a spread of pictures appeared in the April 23, 1956 issue.

Condon had rounded up a band of star jazzmen: on cornet, Wild Bill Davison, who had played with Brown in the old days; Gene Schroeder on piano; Pee Wee Russell on clarinet; Ernie Caceres on baritone sax; Cutty Cutshall on trombone; George Wettling on drums; Bob Casey on bass and on a few numbers, Paul Smith on guitar.  The session was a little more orderly, somber and sober than might have been the case in Brown’s former life, but Davison and a couple of others nevertheless broke out the booze, and Brown joined in without hesitation, showing he still was one of the boys.

Unfortunately, he still wasn’t one of them musically.  The tunes played included Brown’s “theme song,” “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,” plus “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Blues for Boyce,” a tune improvised for the occasion.  While Brown still was holed up in the Liberty Inn tootling for the strippers, the others had been learning from each other and their colleagues and developing as musicians.  The upshot was that his horn figuratively became caked with rust.  However, the record was issued, entitled Brother Matthew, and although it wasn’t really that bad, it was not a success.  It did not create a demand for more music from the monastery.  This was a disappointment to Father Hugh, but probably not to Brown.

Father Hugh had hoped to use the record as a fund-raiser for the Servites and their missions in South Africa, but a hit record and satisfying demands for more might not have been Brother Matthew’s idea of serving God, his fellow man and himself in the quietude of a monastery.  Brown told Father Hugh he felt he had said all he had to say through his music.  After all, that was a life he voluntarily gave up.

So, sans success, Brother Matthew was allowed to go back to his chores and his meditations, but his serenity was gone.

In early 1957, Dave Garroway called and wanted to do a segment on Brother Matthew for NBC’s “Wide Wide World” program on Sunday afternoon.  The idea was to contrast Brother Matthew’s playing with a dixieland band with the Gregorian music sung by the Servite members.  This was done and went out over the network, live.  Father Hugh described the broadcast as a success, but perhaps the superiors were beginning to wonder about all the worldliness and all the talk from Father Hugh about good public relations.  Was this a religious order or was it Madison Avenue?

Whatever was actually said, or implied, brown began to worry about his future with the Servites.  Final vows to enter the Servite Order for life were coming up, and Brows was afraid he wouldn’t be accepted.  He told Father Hugh of his concern, and when the priest went before his superiors in the monastery at Hillside, a Chicago suburb, he discovered that Brown’s fears were well-founded.

They thought Boyce Brown was an alcoholic and not ready to devote his life to the Servite Order.  Sometimes the other members smelled alcohol on his breath.  A bottle of booze was found in his room.  One Sunday, he left the monastery to play  a few hours in a band led by drummer Danny Alvin and returned with the smell of liquor about him.  Once, his hands shook when he was helping a priest serve Mass.

Father Hugh pleaded the case.  He pointed out that members of the Order were allowed to drink in moderation and that’s all Brown was doing.  He said there was no evidence that he ever drank to excess.  His hands shook because of nervousness.  Father Hugh cited Brown’s value to the Order as a fund-raiser and as an entertainer of the other members (which may have been the wrong approach).  Father Hugh said he had never known anyone with a deeper spirituality, with a richer goodness of soul.

The superiors were unmoved.  They told Father Hugh he was prejudiced in favor of Brown because they were friends, they played jazz together and Father Hugh loved jazz.  There was every indication they would not accept Boyce Brown when he came up for consideration.  Father Hugh’s grand public relations gambit — a Brother who played jazz — had backfired.

But Brown never came up for consideration.  A few days before the day he was to face the superiors, he helped serve a meal at the monastery, then sat down to eat.  But instead of eating, he got back up and went to his room.  He took off his robe and folded it neatly.  Then he lay down on his bed.  A few minutes later, a painter working in the next room heard an unearthly, terrible moan.  He called a priest.

Boyce Brown was dead.  It was Jan. 30, 1959 — two months and 16 days before his 39th birthday and two years and 10 months after the Brother Matthew record was made.

“God spared him from possible being rejected,” Father Hugh said.

Father Hugh’s feelings about Boyce Brown were profound.  “He was without a doubt one of the most genuinely religious-minded persons I have ever met.  In the sense that he had an intuitive awareness of things that even many priests, many theologians, never grasp.  He said he saw music in colors — he heard chord changes, but he saw them, too.  Some sounds were a rich purple or a deep blue.  I checked with a psychologist and he said that some artists do that; their senses coordinate.  It’s an overlapping of senses.”

In the aftermath of Brown’s departure, Columbia Pictures called Father Hugh to talk about making a movie of Brown’s life, with Father Hugh as technical adviser.  He was, of course, enthusiastic and the idea went as far as a scriptwriter coming to interview Father Hugh in depth.  Then he told the monastery superiors about it.  The rejection was flat and unequivocal; the lives of the seminarians would be disrupted by movie people wandering around and climbing all over the monastery.  The project was called off.

By the way, Father Hugh had envisioned Anthony Perkins in the role.

******************************************************************

Note: I’m very grateful to Jim Denham of SHIRAZ SOCIALIST (http://www.shirazsocialist.wordpress.com.) for uncovering a copy of this truly detailed article.  Hal Willard died not long ago, so I can’t thank him in person, but his research into Boyce’s life and his conversations with Father Hugh Calkins were invaluable.  A long and beautiful overview of Boyce’s life and recordings can be found in Richard M. Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS, with comments from Dave Dexter, Jimmy McPartland, George Avakian, and others — including excerpts from Boyce’s poetry and a letter he wrote to that “bible of jazz,” Down Beat . . . where he had won the 1940 poll for alto saxophone.

LET ME DREAM SOME MORE: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BARRETT, DAN LEVINSON, JOHN SHERIDAN, JON BURR, RICKY MALICHI (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011)

Trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso knows how to have a good time, and to make sure that the fun envelops everyone in the room.  He showed this from the first notes of his set at this year’s Jazz at Chautauqua — one of the informal sessions that took place in the parlor on Thursday night, September 15, 2011.

He also knows how to plan sets: a nice Thirties medium swinger by Walter Donaldson, a pretty ballad associated with Louis, a nod to John Sheridan’s Dream Band and Fats Waller in a little-played pop tune of the period, and something really sweet to send us off to bed (the Beloved called it “melty” and she was of course correct).

Of course Jon-Erik had the finest kind of friendly assistance from Jon Burr, bass; John Sheridan, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Levinson, reeds; Ricky Malichi, drums.  (By name alone, Ricky might have felt left out of this jazz poker hand — but he’s such a fine drummer that we don’t care what his first name is.)

Here’s IT’S BEEN SO LONG, made memorable by Bunny Berigan, Ruby Braff, and many others:

Then, the lovely expression of gratitude — complete with the verse (only Jon-Erik plays this!) — THANKS A MILLION:

And something delightful — the 1935 pop song I associate with Fats Waller and a soaring Bill Coleman, DREAM MAN (“Let me dream some more!”):

And something stunning in its simple hymnlike beauty, Johnny Mercer’s DREAM:

The stuff that dreams are made on!

LOVE IN SWINGTIME (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011)

Jazz isn’t binary by nature, but occasionally it seems to fit Groucho Marx’s whimsical definition of the two kinds of Broadway plays: Sad or High-Kicking.  What was played at Jazz at Chautauqua on September 15, 2011 (the informal Thursday night sessions) went beyond those categories, but they will do for now.  Here are two splendid examples.

LOVE, of course, is personified by Harry Allen, tenor sax; Rossano Sportiello, piano, supported by Glenn Holmes, bass; Bill Ransom, drums — whispering through the Rodgers and Hart MY ROMANCE:

SWINGTIME came out to play with Randy Sandke and Duke Heitger, trumpets; Scott Robinson, Dan Block, and Andy Stein, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Jon Burr, bass; John Von Ohlen, drums — having a good time with STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

Something for everyone!

BARBARA JEAN REINVENTS “BODY AND SOUL” (Jazz at Chautauqua 2011)

Coleman Hawkins always used to tell interviewers that the country was full of world-class players they hadn’t yet heard of.  My experiences in the last few years prove he was right — even in this age of instantaneous communication, there are immensely talented people working at their craft whose names haven’t yet become common knowledge.

You should know the singer Barbara Jean.  Here’s why:

I met her for the first time at the Thursday night sessions at this year’s Jazz at Chautauqua — where she was introduced by our own Rebecca Kilgore.  The Athenaeum Hotel had sponsored the first-ever traditional jazz workshop at Chautauqua — and, as Becky said, one of her vocal students was already an accomplished singer.  Barbara Jean not only has a quiet sincerity, but she’s also a good lyric writer, improving a great deal on the rather tortured syntax we find in BODY AND SOUL.  She’s fortunate to be accompanied by the best: Dan Barrett, John Sheridan, Frank Tate, and Ricky Malichi.

Here’s her website:  http://www.barbarajeanjazz.com/index.html

JAZZ LIVES wishes her well!

BECKY BRINGS BEAUTY (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011)

It looks very simple on paper: Becky Kilgore sings an Irving Berlin classic with the help of John Sheridan, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Frank Tate, string bass; Ricky Malichi.  A casual session at the beginning of the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua party (Sept. 15, 2011, to be precise).

But so much more is going on here.  The song, SAY IT ISN’T SO, balances between sorrow — “I know what people are saying, and I am sorrowful and frightened because it might be true,” and optimism, “Oh, tell me that what they’re saying isn’t so,” admittedly with the weight coming down tangibly on the side of bad news.  A lesser singer might draw this out into a weepy lament, as the lyrics suggest; an emotionally unaware vocalist might think that the lyrics could be transmuted or discarded, and “swing it,” against all reasonable practice.

Our Ms. Kilgore, Rebecca or Becky, knows how sad those lyrics are.  But she chooses, by temperament and perhaps by training, to make even the most mournful song hopeful through the swing feeling beneath it.  The slightly-more-hopeful-than-self-pitying tempo she chooses says to us, subliminally and silently, “Look.  Things are truly rotten now.  But don’t lose heart.  All is possible.  Everything will be OK.  Follow me: keep your heart in the rhythm and we’ll be safe.”

Quietly, subtly, she makes each song an understated drama, convincing us without an act.

GLIDING AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011 with HOWARD ALDEN, HARRY ALLEN, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, PETE SIERS, and LYNN STEIN

The Thursday-night informal sessions at the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua turned from homegrown Gypsy jazz (the Faux Frenchmen) to modern Chicago-style (Marty Grosz and his Peerless Players) to deep Mainstream with Howard Alden, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor sax; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums; Lynn Stein, vocal.

They began with an improvisation on the Forties jump tune IDAHO which then offered Coleman Hawkins’ line on the theme (was it BEAN STALKING or SPORTMAN’S HOP?):

Then, a Cole Porter song introduced by Bing Crosby in the film HIGH SOCIETY (sung to the lovely Grace Kelly) — Ruby Braff loved it too, I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA:

Jon Burr invited the singer Lynn Stein to join in, and she gave us a sweet jazz affirmation in I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT:

And the session ended (to make way for another community of great minds who think alike in 4 /4) with a romp on I GOT RHYTHM changes, APPLE HONEY (associated with Woody Herman’s First Herd):

Gliding with intensity and grace . . . .

HOT NOTES IN THE PARLOR WITH MARTY GROSZ AND FRIENDS at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

All I will say about the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua is that Western New York State was rocking as it probably hadn’t rocked since the mastodons held an Ice Age party.  The music started off wonderfully — after a sweet warmup set by the Faux Fenchmen, we were into serious rhythm business with Marty Grosz.

Marty hadn’t had time to invent a new band name for this informal Thursday-night session, but you can think up your own.  They were Randy Reinhart on cornet; Scott Robinson and Dan Levinson on reeds; Jim Dapogny on piano; Jon Burr (for the first two songs) and Frank Tate (for the next) on string bass; Pete Siers on drums.  As always, Marty was in charge of repertoire, tempos, vocalizing, guitar, and badinage.

To start things off in the best Hot manner, he chose CRAZY RHYTHM:

Then, a song associated with (among others) McKinney’s Cotton Pickers — not played enough these days — CHERRY:

The eternal question, perhaps unanswerable: HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?

And to close out, a Louis-associated romper, I DOUBLE DARE YOU:

We were off to a splendid start that Thursday night (Sept. 15, 2011) in the parlor of the Hotel Athaeneum.

SOUL / SEARCHING: JOEL PRESS and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (Oct. 20, 2011)

I told both Michael Kanan (piano) and Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophones) that I had been waiting a few years to hear them perform as a duo.  I knew that they had done this informally for twenty-five years in their respective studios and even appeared in public (probably in the Boston area) but I had always heard them in less intimate settings.  Last Thursday, October 20, 2011, I had my chance, and the music was memorable.

Michael is younger than Joel, whom he met when he was only seventeen or eighteen, and he looks up to the saxophonist with love and reverence — as a great melodic improviser, someone full of surprises, able to create new things on the most familiar standard.  But Joel, for his part, says he keeps learning from Michael — and hearing the depths and subtleties of Michael’s playing, it’s no hyperbole.

It would be very easy to skate over the surface of these familiar songs, but these two players know what it is to listen, to respond, to improvise.  It’s lovely to witness the deep, playful interchanges of artists so attuned to one another yet so able to take off on small experimental impulses.  Their friendship and telepathy imbue every note, every phrase.

Here is the first set of this magical evening at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City).

And this posting is especially for RDR, without whom it would have taken me much longer to hear and meet Joel and Michael . . .

GONE WITH THE WIND always makes me think of Ben Webster and Art Tatum, not a bad pair of heroic ancestors:

HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? is both Joel’s whimsical memory of Steve Lacy, who would ask him this question as a greeting (the soprano saxophone is notoriously unforgiving) and an improvisation on I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU:

A very lovely yet intense DON’T BLAME ME:

Truer words were never spoken: I HEAR A RHAPSODY:

SOMEBODY LOVES ME, the Gershwin standard (now right years old) that Joel begins, solo:

For Lester and Billie, in loving swing memory, FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

And a cheerful LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (at such a pretty tempo) to close off the first set:

More to come!

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAR GORDON!” (October 19, 2011)

Trumpeter / composer / arranger Gordon Au is a generous person, and so I was delighted to be in the room wtih a video camera when it was time to celebrate him.  But it happened in a delightfully subversive way.  I was on hand last Wednesday night, October 19, 2011, which happened to be Gordon’s birthday.  (I don’t know the exact number of years he has amassed, but it can’t be all that many.)  But I hadn’t driven all the way into Williamsburg for a slice of cake.  Something better!  Gordon’s Grand Street Stompers were playing.  That night, the Stompers were Dennis Lichtman (clarinet); Matt Musselman (trombone); Nick Russo (banjo, guitar); Rob Adkins (string bass); Tamar Korn (vocal).

Late in the evening, Nick Russo pulled me aside to let me know a happy plot was hatching — the results of which you’ll see in the video below.  The song was CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU — which was appropriate, because if you turn away, you’ll miss Gordon’s expressions as the band makes a sharp right turn into HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

Dancer, photographer, and dance scholar Lynn Redmile was there also, and (at my request) she provided this valuable annotation:

The shenanigans started with Matt at 1.55 but Gordon only realized at 2.05 (his face was priceless).  His girlfriend Veronica Lynn (tap dancer extraordinaire) came through with the cake, and the jam started at 3.20.  Jennifer Sowden started the jam with Gordon, followed by Shana Kalson (Gordon doing some great Charleston with her), then Michelle de Castro, Tamar Korn, and finally Veronica Lynn.

Happy birthday, dear Gordon Au!  Thanks for all you have given us, and we look forward to much more through many happy years.

“BOY, DO THEY ROCK!”: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (SWEET AND HOT, Sept. 5, 2011)

Here are two splashes of musical hot sauce.  My title comes from an overheard comment (accurate music criticism) from a happy audience member at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival in Los Angeles, California. 

And the objects of this praise?  None other than pianist (and gutty singer) Carl Sonny Leyland, string bass master Marty Eggers, and percussion wizard Hal Smith. 

How about a stomping version of James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, which suggests that the amorous tempo was allegretto, not lento.  (So this is what Grandma and Grandpa were up to when we thought they were watching Art Linkletter!):

And something of a spiritual nature, with Brother Hal playing a melodic solo, echoing Zutty Singleton — OVER IN THE GLORYLAND:

Gloryland isn’t the half of it, I think.

“ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: A GRAND FINALE: SWEET AND HOT 2011

Everyone on stage!

This ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, a hilarious jazz extravaganza, closed the festivites at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  You’ll have to navigate the solo order yourself, but the participants (more or less) include the guiding genius of festival, Wally Holmes.  Then you’ll encounter John Sheridan, piano; Allan Vache, Bob Draga, clarinet; Richard Simon, bass; Connie Jones, cornet, Jennifer Leitham, Nedra Wheeler, bass; Jim Galloway, reeds; Ed Polcer, Corey Gemme, Randy Reinhart, cornet; Tim Laughlin, Dan Levinson, reeds; Russ Phillips, John Allred, Dan Barrett, trombones; Mark Shane, Johnny Varro, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Dick Shanahan, Frank DiVito, drums . . . and perhaps some unidentified flying swingers in the background as well. 

When the applause had died down, I heard a woman near me say happily, “Boy, that was fun!”  Absolutely right, ma’am.  I never thought I would want to spend Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles, but I’ve already (mentally) marked my 2012 calendar.  You come, too.

SWEET TOOTH / HAPPY HOUR: NEAL MINER’S MUSICAL WORLDS

Neal Miner doesn’t look anything like Oscar Pettiford, but the connections between the two men, jazz bassists and composers, are profound.  Like Pettiford, Neal is instantly recognizable — his large yet focused woody sound, his heartbeat pulse, his way of playing both in and around the beat, his innate musicality in the simplest melodic statement.  As an ensemble player, he is the person who always instinctively knows the right thing to say — as well as knowing when to keep still.  And he shares with Pettiford an instinctive ability to make friends with Time: Neal’s music seems comfortable, spacious, each composition or performance its own large room where a listener take a deep easy breath. 

It’s no surprise that Neal is the first-choice bassist for artists as diverse as Jane Monheit, Warren Vache, Jr., Annie Ross, Chris Byars, Ehud Asherie, and two dozen others.

He also thinks beyond playing four supportive beats to the bar and creating arching solos.  Neal isn’t waiting impatiently for his solo; he doesn’t ache for the limelight.  But he has large visions.  Many improvising artists imagine themselves composers as well, but their work seems self-conscious or derivative.  Neal’s originals have the startling flavor of great melodic writing: they surprise us but seem just right.  He also assembles neat small bands of people who like one another — a sweet respect that comes out in the music.

Here’s a sample of Neal’s musical and cinematic worlds on the same path.  Oh, yes, he’s an inspiring videographer.  That, too!  Here’s SWEET TOOTH, from his most recent CD, with Peter Bernstein, guitar; Chris Byars, sax; Joe Strasser, drums:

and I REMEMBER YOU, with Michael Kanan, piano; Rick Montalbano, drums:

I knew and admired Neal from his work with Michael Kanan and his appearances at The Ear Inn and Smalls, but I first got the opportunity to hear him in different ways through his recordings — most notably the trio of Neal, Michael, and Joe Strasser on HAPPY HOUR, which quickly became one of my favorite discs — with standards and originals treated respectfully but with animation and wit.  Now, Neal has issued SWEET TOOTH (he has a knack for allying his music to titles that sound appealing!) on his own Gut String Records — a session of six originals that stick in the mind when the disc is through. 

Neal’s also released a slice-of-life DVD documentary — beautifully photographed and revealing — about the making of SWEET TOOTH.  Here’s a sample:

I know that some of my readers can’t get to The Ear Inn or Smalls to hear Neal live (although they might very well get to enjoy his work as a member of Jane Monheit’s group) . . . but all is not lost.  Neal’s website is a delight: with information about his recordings and videos — well worth a visit.  He is, as they used to say back in the last century, someone to watch.  And listen to.  And be inspired by.

http://nealminer.com/recordings/

“IS THIS WORTH ANYTHING?”

Reprinted from the British newspaper THE MIRROR — in a column entitled “The value of Louis Armstrong’s signature revealed,” written by Jamie Breese — an ANTIQUES ROADSHOW in print form:


Q: I’ve got a book titled ­Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans printed in 1956 and autographed “Satchmo Louis Armstrong”. The autograph was obtained at a book signing in London. Is this worth anything?


– David Ayres, Rainham, Essex


A: Louis Armstrong, or “Satchmo”, is a 20th Century icon. A similar copy complete with autograph sold in the US a couple of years ago for approximately £150. This book would appeal to a jazz collector and at that sort of price it’s an ­affordable slice of history handled by one of the jazz greats.


Read more: http://www.mirror.co.uk/advice/money/2011/10/16/antiques-expert-james-breese-reveals-the-value-of-a-piece-of-cake-from-prince-charles-and-diana-s-wedding-a-satchmo-louis-armstrong-signed-book-and-a-1936-beano-115875-23490375/#ixzz1bWJ1WsoB

FLOATING LYRICISM: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, CLINT BAKER, CHRIS DAWSON, MARTY EGGERS, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH at SWEET AND HOT 2011 (Sept. 5, 2011)

The renowned jazz reedman Joel Press made a point last night at Smalls, in between-set conversation, of praising the clarinetist Tim Laughlin — someone whom I hadn’t heard in person before the Sweet and Hot Music Festival this last September.  And I agreed, enthusiastically.

“Tonation and phrasing” is how Louis described the ideal: that the sound coming out of someone’s horn, the audible beauty of someone’s vocal sound, is as important as the notes played.  Music, said Eddie Condon, should come in the ear like honey.  Tim understands that so well and puts it into practice: the simplest melody statement gleams.  And as for “phrasing,” he’s a master at taking his time, making space so that those notes resonate in our ears and hearts.  Not surprisingly, his partners in the band are great lyrical players.  I’ve praised them before and this time will let the music speak for itself — and will only, as Yeats wrote, murmur name upon name: Connie Jones, cornet and sky-architecture; Clint Baker, trombone and funk; Chris Dawson, piano and elegance; Katie Cavera, guitar and automatic transmission; Marty Eggers, string bass and solid rock; Hal Smith, drums and sound-sculptures.  And late in this set they were visited by the slippery and thoughtful trombonist Russ Phillips. 

Oh, play those things!

They began the set with a nice easy version of SHINE — a song looked on with some disapproval for its lyrics, but once you move the difficult words aside, the melody rings beautifully.  It’s one of those classic-but-neglected songs I could hear much more often:

Then a real surprise — Tim loves pretty melodies, which is appropriate, so he called for IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD, which rises to sweet splendor early on:

If you think only of the lyrics, I CRIED FOR YOU strikes a more unhappy note, but jazz players and singers have been ignoring its potantial vindictiveness since the middle Thirties — as the band does here:

Then came one of the high points of the festival — Connie Jones’ absolutely heartfelt performance of a song Louis Jordan recorded, NEW ORLEANS AND A RUSTY OLD HORN, which sums up a good deal of Connie’s love for that city, the music, and how they intertwine.  It’s also a song Connie recorded with Tim on their latest CD (visit http://www.timlaughlin.com. for the details):

Russ Phillips came onstage (always something to celebrate) and the band swung out into the old Berlin favorite, ALL BY MYSELF:

And they ended the set with a good old good one, evoking what Louis would have called a street parade in his home town, HIGH SOCIETY:

Here’s a bit of what they call laginappe — something extra and extra-special — as they call it in New Orleans: a Connie Jones / Tim Laughlin / Corey Gemme / John Sheridan / Richard Simon / Frank DiVito gift from the last set of Sweet and Hot: MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE (listen closely to Connie’s generous, pensive obbligatos to Corey’s lead):

I’m very sorry that these are the last videos of the Laughlin – Jones band I have from Sweet and Hot 2011, but thrilled to be able to share them with you.  This band — almost identical except that Bob Havens will be playing trombone — will be featured at the San Diego Dixieland Festival this coming November.  Maybe Clint (who will be playing with two other bands at that festival — trumpet with Grand Dominion and tuba with the Yerba Buena Stompers — will come and make himself to home with Tim and Connie, too.  I’ll be there.