Daily Archives: October 10, 2011

SUBTLY SWINGING: DAN LEVINSON, MOLLY RYAN, MARK SHANE, CONNIE JONES, HOWARD ALDEN at SWEET AND HOT 2011

That title, I hope, says it all.  This session took place at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival in Los Angeles — on September 4, 2011, at the upwardly mobile aerie called Cheap Seats, a tiny room on the eighteenth floor.  It was crowded, for very good reason, and I had to use all my wiles and obstinacy to get in, stay in, and video-record over the protests of a well-intentioned volunteer concerned about the fire laws, but I am glad I practiced my passive resistance a la Thoreau and captured this session for JAZZ LIVES.

It began as yet another chamber-jazz outing for the trio of Dan Levinson (clarinet and tenor); Mark Shane (piano); Molly Ryan (voice and rhythm guitar), with the astronomical marvel (much more than “guest star”) cornetist Connie Jones.  Later in the set a noble visitor came in: the title gives it away, but Howard Alden is always welcome on the bandstand: here he brought his acoustic guitar and added so much to the proceedings.

The quartet began the set with a sweet / silly Thirties song I associate with Shirley Temple in a film — but more to the point, with Edythe Wright and Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven.  Kevin Dorn wasn’t on the stand, so you have to imagine “Take it away, Davey,” all on your own:

Next was BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, which went from sweetly rustic / nostalgic very quickly.  Don’t look away from the monitor to check on dinner, for around 2:20 Dan comes back into camera view apparently dragging a miscreant (a jazz “perp”) onto the stand . . . Mr. Alden, who manages to unpack and join in the choruses:

Molly Ryan is a very agreeable young woman, so it would make perfect sense for her to sing the anthem of assent, ‘DEED I DO:

On a Hines-Noone kick?  Here’s BLUES IN THIRDS:

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS usually closes the night’s entertainment, but here it shows off the brilliance of Howard Alden, who performed it so memorably (behind the scenes) in Woody Allen’s SWEET AND LOWDOWN:

One of the wonderful quasi-spiritual exhortations of the early Thirties, suggesting that music could cure one’s tendencies towards evil, SING YOU SINNERS:

The set ended most beautifully — not with a rouser full of climaxes, but with something tender and most sweet, SAY IT WITH A KISS (echoing Maxine, Billie, and a bygone era of love songs):

Just a family note: the fellow to the left (blue flowered shirt, video camera) isn’t me by some trick of telekinesis: that’s Molly’s devoted father, eager to record every note for posterity.  And rightly so!

THERE’S GOOD READING TONIGHT: NEW ORLEANS STORIES

When I am looking for new information about jazz, often I have much more fun and learn more from the musicians themselves — as opposed to reading analyses of the music from well-intentioned people who don’t play instruments, so I can recommend a new book to you.  It’s called TRADITIONAL NEW ORLEANS JAZZ: CONVERSATIONS WITH THE MEN WHO MAKE THE MUSIC (Louisiana State Univ. Press, 244 pages, 2011), by Thomas W. Jacobsen, it is accurately titled, and it fills a gap. 

Although jazz often revels in its status as a subversive art form, the literature of jazz is as star-struck as any glossy magazine.  When it comes to New Orleans jazz, there are multiple books on Louis, Bechet, Jelly Roll, Bunk, and George Lewis – all deserving the attention.  But Jacobsen’s book collects interviews with musicians who play New Orleans jazz or who have strong ties to the city.  And only a few of the players depicted here are dead or inactive, which lends this collection a more lively aura. 

Jacobsen’s portraits are rewarding: he introduces his subject, provides scaffolding, but much of the text is first-hand.  We read of Duke Heitger’s early inspiration, trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso; of Trevor Richards’ involvement with Zutty Singleton; of Brian Oglivie’s musical family; of Tom Fischer and John Royen’s early gigs; of Evan Christopher’s investigations of the Creole roots of New Orleans jazz.  Jacobsen also offers a group portrait of the young New Orleanians who came up under Danny Barker’s affectionate supervision – among them Herlin Riley, Gregg Stafford, and Dr. Michael White.  The oral histories touch on race relations and the business of playing Jazz in the city that was supposedly devoted to it. 

Jacobsen originally created these interviews for The Mississippi Rag, and most of them were published there in slightly altered form.  But now that the Rag has ended its long run, this book is a valuable collection.  Some of the interviews done between 1995 and 2006 leave us wanting to know more about the current lives of their subjects.  To that end, he has written brief introductions to say something about life after Hurricane Katrina).  The book is an original work, full of lively stories that only Rag readers with long memories or piles of newsprint would have access to.  I found it entertaining, heartfelt, and worth its price in compact discs.  You can find out more about it here: http://lsupress.org/authors/detail/thomas-w-jacobsen/