Monthly Archives: October 2011

SOME FINE RIFFIN’ THIS EVENING: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and FRIENDS (DAWN LAMBETH, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, CHLOE FEORANZO, and COREY GEMME) at SWEET AND HOT 2011

On the closing day of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, the Reynolds Brothers (and friends) performed their ninth set — and it was as Hot and Ready as the previous eight.  The Brothers are Ralf (washboard), John (guitar, vocal, whistling), with help from Marc Caparone (cornet), Katie Cavera (string bass), as well as Chloe Feoranzo (reeds), Corey Gemme (cornet, trombone), David Boeddinghaus (piano), Dawn Lambeth (vocal).  It seemed, then and now, that the vibrations the Brothers launch into the universe are so strong and so sweet that everyone wants a chance to stand on the same stage and feel that energy.

But music speaks louder than words.

The session began with a not-too-fast SHINE, John singing the somewhat treacherous lyrics with great style after hot solos from the horns and a surging outchorus:

Keeping Mr. Strong in mind, Chloe suggested LAZY RIVER, and kicked it off at just the right easy tempo:

The extraordinary singer Dawn Lambeth kept the Louis-connection going with a sprightly JEEPERS CREEPERS, complete with the verse.  Her phrasing is so subtle and so delicious.  And “Ole!” sums it up for me, too:

Pianist David Boeddinghaus came on the stand (he sits in with the Brothers whenever he can) and Dawn — knowing that David is both sensitive and well-acquainted with a million songs, asked him if he’d follow her on WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR — a song that Dawn has been singing to young Master James Arden.  Aren’t we lucky that she was able to let us in on this tender creation (with a lovely piano chorus and a courageous bridge).  Dawn’s second chorus brings tears to my eyes, and I’m much older than James Arden, that lucky boy.  (Incidentally, the Louis-connection is intact: check out DISNEY SONGS THE SATCHMO WAY, a late masterpiece):

From those holy moments, a U-turn.  SING YOU SINNERS:

For his feature, Corey did beautiful things with a song about candor, I’M CONFESSIN’:

And the Brothers closed their set with a real rouser — their habit always, reminding us to have and cherish HAPPY FEET:

I will be seeing and exulting in the Reynolds Brothers at the 32nd Annual San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival (Nov. 23-27, 2011) — http://www.dixielandjazzfestival.org. — and I’d love to see you there!

JOHN SHERIDAN KICKS IT (Sept. 5, 2011)

Underestimate pianist / composer / arranger John Sheridan at your peril.  Neatly dressed, apparently serious-minded, he is really a volcanic eruption of swing just waiting for the proper moment.  Yes, he can play the most delicate traceries behind a soloist or our Becky Kilgore, and when he sits down at a new piano he is more likely to venture into IN A MIST than HONKY TONK TRAIN BLUES (although his version of the latter song is peerless).  But he’s a Force of Nature when seated at the piano.  No cascades of notes; no violent runs up and down the keyboard; no “displays of technique”: John simply starts plainly and builds and builds — at these times, the pianist he summons up most is the much-missed Dave McKenna, without consciously aping the Woonsocket, R.I. master’s locomotive patterns.

Sheridan remains Sheridan, and that’s a good thing.

Here he is (with Richard Simon, bass; Dick Shanahan, drums) in the final set of the final afternoon of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  All the musicians and the varied audiences were in a state of Jazz Satiety: whatever could have been played or heard was in the preceding four days.

So wily Mr. Sheridan eschewed his stride extravaganzas and tender ballads: instead, he suggested something both elementary and profound, Sonny Rollins’ calypso ST. THOMAS.  And from those simple chords and potentially repetitive rhythmic patterns he built a powerful edifice — a masterpiece of variations on themes, of creative improvisation.  And it rocked the house there — as I think it will do for yours now:

Another winning play from John Sheridan, man of many surprises!

“SUNDAY, BY THE POOL, IN LOS ANGELES”: DAN LEVINSON, MOLLY RYAN, MARK SHANE, KATIE CAVERA, RALF REYNOLDS, REBECCA ZOE LEIGH (Sept. 5, 2011)

Certain phrases evoke an instantaneous positive reaction: “on the beach in Maui,” “No school today,” “Friday after work,” “hand in hand in the park.”  You can certainly invent those that make for happy vibrations.

A new one to add to my personal lexicon is “Sunday, by the pool, in Los Angeles.”  It needs some clarification: I don’t swim well and Los Angeles is not the California city closest to my heart . . . but when these words connect with the Sweet and Hot Music Festival (as they did in September 2011), what could possibly go wrong?

Nothing, as far as I am concerned.  And the measure of this swing session is that even with the bright light, the early hour, and the wind gusts, the music was sweetly triumphant.  The participants were Dan Levinson, his phrasing so easy and comfortable on clarinet and tenor sax; Mark Shane, a pianist who has a real problem in that he finds it impossible not to swing; the tenderly compelling singer (and solid rhythm guitarist) Molly Ryan; the invaluable Katie Cavera on guitar.  (Scientific studies, for what it’s worth, say that “multi-tasking” is a sham, that we can’t do more than one thing at once well: I would like to say, “Science, meet Katie Cavera.”)  And then some guests — one an Eminence, one a Newcomer, showed up and made us even happier.

Myabe because the sun was out, they began with SHINE:

Poolside, unfortunately, is not the best place for a singer with a microphone — the Weather Channel could explain the prevalence of gusty winds.  But Molly Ryan, who is a resilient performer used to transcending larger obstacles than this, absolutely triumphed with a heartbreaking rendition of the Ink Spots’ hit, IF I DIDN’T CARE.  Molly cares!  And her swinging empathy comes through in every note — a performance that was one of the highlights of Sweet and Hot 2011 for me.  No, it’s not a 1938 Vocalion or Victor — it’s happening now:

And here comes the Eminence — not His Holiness, but the Prince of the Washboard, the Sultan of Hot, Mister Ralf Reynolds, to join in the fun.  I don’t know if Ralf is essentially an optimist, but he spreads joy copiously — so he suggested WHEN YOU’RE SMILING (rather than GLOOMY SUNDAY):

Then Dan invited a young woman up from the crowd and asked her to sing something.  She really can and does — I introduce you to Miss Rebecca Zoe Leigh, having a good time with BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME?  (She knows the verse: extra credit on the final):

The sky is dark and stormy: I wish we were back at poolside right now.  And if that’s not possible, I’ll immerse myself in these delightful performances.

OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNIN’: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, CLINT BAKER, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (Sept. 5, 2011)

When someone tried to get Thelonious Monk up early for the GREAT DAY IN HARLEM photo shoot in 1958, Monk is supposed to have replied — and I don’t think he was joking — that he didn’t know there were two ten o’clocks in the day.  Perhaps an extreme statement, but many jazz musicians — by habit, temperament, and experience — are nocturnal creatures.  They aren’t terrified of daylight, just unaccustomed to it.

Thus the session that follows is special for reasons above and beyond the fine music that these players produced.  It took place on Sunday, September 5, 2011, at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival — and it began at 9:45 AM.  But no one complained, because they were taking such delight in each other’s company.

And, even better (perhaps a nod to the irritable shade of the late Kenny Davern) it was a totally acoustic session.  No microphones in sight!  That’s the way it’s supposed to be but so rarely is — electrified instruments or a forest of microphones.  Some sound men and women are expert, sensitive listeners, but it’s such a treat to hear acoustic music in a quiet room — it happens infrequently.

All of this wouldn’t matter if the musicians were ordinary . . . but this band is made up of great players, individualists willing to create something synergistic, a musical entity larger than themselves.  Tim Laughlin is a model clarinetist — his sweet, full tone is a pleasure to hear whatever he plays; his swinging playing never lets us down.  Connie Jones is a quiet master, offering one subtle, peaceably emotive solo after another.  He never reaches for a cliche of the idiom or of his instrument, and his knowledge of harmony is so deep that he never plays an expected or an overemphatic phrase.  I think of Bobby Hackett and Doc Cheatham, but also the translucent quality of early Lester Young.  Chris Dawson makes his hard work look easy, spinning airy phrases out as he goes — glistening arpeggios bolster and urge on the soloist, the band — without playing one superfluous note.

Next to these three polished stylists, we have the untrammeled man of jazz, the master of grease and fuzz, Clint Baker, reminding us that if it ain’t gutbucket, it ain’t worth playing.  Clint dosen’t demand the spotlight and is soft-spoken, but is a serious purveyor of darker impulses on his horn.

That rhythm section?  Sweetly propulsive!  Katie Cavera knows her harmony and pushes everyone forward in the most affecting way — a Freddie Green with a West Coast bite (as if Mr. Green had eaten many more ripe avocados in his day).  Marty Eggers plays his bass the old-fashioned way, the Wellman Braud way, without being overpowering or raucous.  And Hal Smith just shines back there at his drum kit: offering the exactly right sound, push, or rhythmic seasoning for this or any other band.

As an extra bonus: no terribly hackneyed “Dixieland” tunes — no muskrats rambling . . . just melodic favorites, some less-played, most at nice rocking tempos.

They started with a song whose title well represents this band’s feeling — a Twenties pop song not often recorded by jazz players, although Louis and the All-Stars did it more than once in 1948 — TOGETHER (an apt description of this band’s overall conception):

SPAIN (by Isham Jones) was ornamented with the Irving Fazola introduction — a lovely touch — and was taken at a sweet tempo (rather than a near-run):

WANG WANG BLUES might have called forth memories of the earliest Paul Whiteman Orchestra . . . . but the easy tempo here evoked the Benny Goodman Sextet of 1945 where the front line was BG and the much-missed Atlanta stalwart, trombonist Lou McGarity (ain’t nobody played like him yet!):

(WHAT CAN I SAY, DEAR?) AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY is not only a song with two identities; it also lends itself to varied approaches and tempi.  Here Tim counts it off as if we really should know the emotional intent — a deep apology — and the band catches the sweet rueful mood immediately — after Chris, a soulful fellow, points the way:

Chris Dawson deserves more attention — he is such a fine (although understated) player that I think many people haven’t given his quiet swinging playing the applause it deserves.  Listen to what he and the rhythm section do to and for Berlin’s PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ:

They called her frivolous Sal.  Enough said — but MY GAL SAL commemorates this lively young woman:

There are two songs called ONCE IN A WHILE associated with Louis Armstrong.  One, a Hot Five display piece; the other, a lovely pop ballad that Louis played and sang with a small group for Decca in 1938 — that’s the one Tim and friends chose here:

Finally, the Louis-Hoagy Carmichael connection (such a fertile partnership over the years) gets its moment with JUBILEE:

Mister Gloom won’t be about / Music always knocks him out — even before 10 AM!  And lyricism at this level makes Mister Gloom pack up and go somewhere else forever.

MEET “LES SWINGBERRIES”!

These delightful performances — poised yet utterly relaxed — emerged on YouTube only two weeks ago.  I’ve been enjoying them over and over: they owe a good deal to the glory days of the John Kirby Sextet, always a debt to be celebrated.  The four musicians here are trumpeter / arranger Jérôme Etcheberry, the cherished clarinetist Aurélie Tropez,  pianist Jacques Schneck, and guitarist Nicolas Montier.  In the great tradition of “swinging the classics,” les Swingberries offer Offenbach’s “Cancan” from Orpheus in the Underworld:

From Hades to religious exaltation might be a substantial leap, but not for this compact hot band — here, they perform Youmans’ HALLELUJAH:

It looks like a happy band — that’s why LAUGHING AT LIFE (with hints of BROADWAY, Charlie Christian, and Lester Young) seems just right:

Another “classical” piece — the RADETZKY MARCH by Johann Strauss — is transformed into the “JAZZETZKY MARCH,” and not a moment too soon.  Admire the clarinet-guitar duet: simple splendor!

Here’s a romping BLUE ROOM (leaving no time for “my wee head upon your knee,” because that knee is rocking so violently):

I hear beautifully-executed ensemble work, lovely tempos, exquisite solo playing (not a note too many), and a deeply felt intuitive swing.  The group isn’t copying — they’re evoking and reinventing in their own ways — but if I heard this music in the other room, I could be fooled into thinking that 1941 had come again.  And I would want to follow those notes!  And for connoisseurs of “. . . they sound like,” I would offer the little band that Lester and Shad Collins led in 1941, the Goodman Sextet of that same year, the early-Forties Teddy Wilson groups with joe Thomas, Emmett Berry, Ed Hall, Jimmy Hamilton.  V-Discs and Keynote Records, too.  But they sound just wonderful — as a new species of delicious jazz fruit.

My only complaint is that they seem to be playing in someone else’s living room.  Why not mine?

REBECCA AMIDST THE REEDS at SWEET AND HOT 2011

I’ve seen the peerless singer Rebecca Kilgore perform live for the past seven years, and have always marveled how easily she made herself — and everyone else — comfortable in ad hoc situations.  And her easy confidence radiates to the other musicians; we in the audience feel it, too.  No one sits tensely on the edge of a seat when Becky takes the mike to sing: we know that something good, something surprising and persuasive, is coming.

It certainly happened at her closing set of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, which took place on Sunday, September 5, 2011.  Someone had the interesting idea of splitting the RK4 (that’s the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, the group formerly known as BED) into two.  In one room, Dan Barrett and Joel Forbes improvised alongside pianist Chris Dawson, reedman Jim Galloway, and drummer Frank DiVito.  I’m sure that was a delight.  Down the hall, Becky found herself surrounded by clarinets — Bob Draga and Chloe Feoranzo, with comrade Eddie Erickson on the stand and the irreplaceable pianist / singer Mark Shane.

What resulted was superb, and you can see for yourself.

Becky began with a song — of no great lyrical depth but immensely memorable — that I’d never heard her sing before, THE FLAT FOOT FLOOGIE (which segued into a later bit of pop drollery, SHOO FLY PIE AND APPLE PAN DOWDY, known only to scholars of dance-band arcana).  But she and the band floated on air, with our without a floy floy:

Another new-old song, YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS, was more lyrically dense but equally rewarding:

Becky then became a fine rhythm guitarist, while the clarinetists, Mark, and Eddie capered around in BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN at a nice tempo:

Becky teased us and the audience about Eddie Erickson’s feature, WHAT’LL I DO? as a genuine weeper, but at heart she’s right — what a lovely performance of that beautiful song, with Eddie’s voice full of shadings that change from word to word:

Usually pianists as splendidly gifted as Mark Shane choose to wow the crowd with a stride firecracker for a feature — but our Mr. Shane is a wily programmer, and he called the 2:19 BLUES (or MAMIE’S BLUES) for his star turn, which led to a deep-blue seven minute performance of which Mr. Morton would (“no doubt”) have approved:

In response to an audience member’s request, Becky tenderly sang that Swing Era carpe diem,  A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY, in duet with Mark — the result touching without being sentimental:

And the whole group re-assembled so that Becky could lead them out with a hymn to self-love in the form of snail-mail: I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER:

What grace!  Thanks to Becky and the ensemble, and special thanks to the Canadian Board of Film for its gracious assistance.  This posting was made possible by a grant from the Frida Foundation.

P.S.  While I was writing this post, I took a phone call from my friend Destiny Sneath and explained what I was doing.  “You won’t believe it,” I said.  And — she knows the right thing to say — Destiny replied, “I can’t wait!”  This one’s for you, Destiny — and for all of us who admire our Miss Kilgore.

IT’S TOO HOT FOR WORDS: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at SWEET AND HOT 2011 (Sept. 4, 2011)

I was very happy at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, if my postings haven’t made that obvious.

But initially I was not terribly happy to watch the Reynolds Brothers in this outdoor venue — called RAMPART STREET because it seemed to be under a freeway ramp, which is either black humor or making the best of things.

A few minutes into the set I realized why the Brothers were playing outdoors.  I had seen various members of the Los Angeles Fire Department outside, and several parked trucks were there (with quietly observant firemen and women in uniform taking in the scene).  It made sense.

The people who operated the hotel had become aware that this band generated so much heat that it was thought better for all concerned if they performed outside.  I asked one of the firefighters and she agreed, but asked me not to tell people because there might be panic . . . but I can let the secret out now.

The Brothers, as always, lived up to their name — by featuring two men related by blood and parentage.  John (with the less effusive mustache) on National steel guitar, a tiny National ukulele, banjo, vocals, and whistling; brother Ralf on washboard and exhortation; Marc Caparone on cornet and vocal; Katie Cavera on string bass and vocal; guest star Larry Wright on alto sax, ocarina, and “vocal”; the gloriously down-in-the-gutter (only metaphorically) Clint Baker on trombone and vocal.

Here’s what they sounded like.  You might want to make sure that you know where your fire extinguisher is, or have a glass of water near the computer.

They began with CHINA BOY:

Then Clint was featured on I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME — dig the wonderful J. C. Higginbotham birdge he creates:

John sang I COVER THE WATERFRONT — so stylishly:

SAN (which always brings memories of Bix) had a whistling interlude from John, a “vocal” and ocarina display from Larry, and a wonderful duet for Marc and John:

Katie (having a good time) stepped forward for the pretty Walter Donaldson AT SUNDOWN:

And John offered CRAZY RHYTHM:

Marc, honoring Mister Armstrong, Mister Crosby, and indirectly Jones and Smith, gave out on a sweet, intense SHOE SHINE BOY:

John changed over to banjo for a hot lament about the BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

Note Marc’s beautiful lead playing on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, so lovely:

And the Brothers scorched the stage with their closing HINDUSTAN:

Everyone thanked the firemen and women — who were wiping the sweat out of their eyes — for protecting us from what might have been a jazz inferno.  Our heroes on the stage, our heroes in uniforms outside.

MAKING LIGHT OF OUR GRIEF

Why should someone happy sing a sad song?

This question has been part of my thoughts since Labor Day weekend.  At the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, I had seen Dan Barrett and Marc Caparone join Dan Levinson on the stand — very informally.  (Molly Ryan and Mark Shane were already there, and even though they are not the focus of this posting, they are dear to me and anyone who listens.)

Dan L. has long been making good things happen with the somewhat obscure Jimmie Noone repertoire, and he called READY FOR THE RIVER.  After the instrumental choruses, he  asked, “Want to do it as a band vocal?” — the three hornmen decided in the space of a few seconds that they all knew the words to the song, and this resulted:

I haven’t been able to get that song or that performance out of my mind.  Although my life is happier than it ever has been, at odd moments through the day I find myself cheerfully sotto voce singing about committing suicide.  Trying to plumb this mystery, I cheerfully told the Beloved once again about the song and sang it to her as we walked through Central Park this afternoon.

There’s no post-modern ambiguity in the lyrics.  The singer is planning to drown himself.  The lyrics to the bridge are “Made my will, wrote some notes.  Goin’ to keep on walking till my straw hat floats.”  But the paradox of the pleasure I am taking in this sad song doesn’t frighten me.  Rather, it opens out into broader vistas.

I could start with the simple pleasure of a catchy melody and well-crafted, surprising lyrics.  The song has an irresistibly simple melody: the “A” sections are within the span of an octave, and the bridge uses only four notes.  Easy to remember, to hum, to whistle, full of emphatic repeated notes.  They lyrics are clever: suicide never seemed so much like a nifty thing to do.  The contrast between playful melody and direly witty lyrics is intriguing in itself.  But I had heard the Noone record of READY FOR THE RIVER years ago with no particular compulsion to revisit it.  I didn’t sing it to myself when I might have had much better reason to take it seriously.

And this rumination is not entirely self-referential: two Dans and one Marc take great joy out of singing those sorrowful lyrics on the stand.  Watch them sing, and I believe you see three men singing a dark song — but they are so delighted with the music passing through them that they are having a hard time not giggling.

I am entranced by the performance and its implications.  We perceive three artists, united by common language, shared knowledge, simultaneous emotions, breaking into song — harmonizing on a shared theme.  They create a community that transmutes gloom.  In performance, READY FOR THE RIVER is so much more than sheet of music or a disc.

And, as with all improvisation, a transformation happens: something is created that did not exist before.  Marc Caparone inhales, passes his exhaled breath vibrating through the metal of his cornet, and what comes out perhaps twenty inches from his face is music.  He sends his notes out into the room — “This is what I have to tell you!” — and the sound bounces back to him.  Dan and Dan hear it; the three voices are triply individual and at the same time a choir.

In making a song about deep sadness, our feeling that nothing can be fixed, these artists turn the grieving darkness into something beautiful that will sustain us.  If we sing about ending our lives, perhaps we have defused the impulse and have purged the need to act on it.  If we can put our sorrows into song, we can endure the worst of them.  Grief that once weighed us down is now just a bubble.

Thanks to them, my straw hat floats.  Joyously.

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

I had assumed that READY FOR THE RIVER dated from late 1929, a song naturally catching the mood of the country after the Wall Street Crash.  But I was mistaken: it was first recorded (according to Tom Lord) on March 27, 1928, by Emerson Gill and His Bamboo Garden Orchestra, vocal by Pinkey Hunter.

I’m always happy to have my assumptions refuted by evidence, and I now envision well-dressed men and women happily dancing to a snappy song about suicide.  I wish that the late Dennis Potter (of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and THE SINGING POLICEMAN) were here to savor this image:

“A LITTLE BIT INDEPENDENT”: JANET KLEIN and HER PARLOR BOYS at SWEET AND HOT 2011

I had heard a number of Janet Klein’s performances on CD and seen some videos on YouTube, but they hadn’t prepared me for her work in person.  Although she may be perfectly at ease in this century, someone who can use an ATM while drinking her latte, when she gets onstage, she seems to be absolutely from another world.  As someone once said of Max Morath, Janet is consciously out of touch with her environment, and that is a compliment.

Although her musicians may have iPhones in their pockets, Janet creates a small time-bubble that sits comfortably in some undefined realm between 1929 and 1936.  Mae Questel hangs out there, as do Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.  See for yourself.  Here are Janet (vocal and ukulele) and her Parlor Boys (Dan Weinstein on a variety of instruments, including violin, cornet, and trombone; Marquis Howell on string bass; our own John Reynolds on guitar and other things with strings; Brad Kay on piano as a guest star).

A LITTLE BIT INDEPENDENT was a very popular song in 1936, I believe, and it was recorded by Fats Waller and several of the pianist-singers who floated in his wake.  It’s not Porter, but you’ll find yourself humming it for some time:

MOUNTAIN GREENERY was a sweetly ironic commentary on the urban surroundings:

And a song recorded (as far as I know) only by Baby Rose Marie, who grew up to be a mainstay of the Dick Van Dyke television show — SAY THAT YOU WERE TEASING ME, its content more sad than frolicsome:

I’m glad that Janet and her Parlor Boys took us away from 2011 for a little while!

DAN BARRETT, CATALYST, AND FRIENDS (The Ear Inn, October 2, 2011)

I had a hard time with high school chemistry, but I was fascinated with the idea of the catalyst — that substance that, when added to some combination of chemicals, made them spring into life it hadn’t imagined before.  Dan Barrett has no connection with test tubes that anyone knows of, but he is a magical substance in human form.  And he proved this once again on his second visit to The Ear Inn in his too-brief New York City sojourn of early autumn 2011.

The EarRegulars, at the start, were Dan (cornet and trombone), Scott Robinson (tenor, metal clarinet, trumpet, and the elusive Magic Jazzophone), Matt Munisteri (guitar), Joel Forbes (string bass).  Here they are offering an atypically fast MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR (ATLANTA BLUES to some) that begins with a lustrous Munisteri exploration of the theme:

Then, harking back to the Forties (I thought of an imagined 12″ Keynote 78), Dan and Scott essayed a leisurely, romantic IF I HAD YOU at a wondrously slow tempo:

IN A MELLOTONE appropriately (if for the scansion alone) required the Jazzophone — which is apparently a saxophone-shaped trumpet with two bells, one open, the other muted, which the player opens and closes with machinery I haven’t been able to imagine, but you see that it works.  Amazingly!

And as an acknowledgment that The EarRegulars, on land or sea, whatever their personnel, are not hemmed in by narrow ideological definitions of pre-this and post-that, here is their version of ANTHROPOLOGY:

While all this was going on, the Ear was full of musicians — cornetist David Robinson (brother of Scott) was near the bandstand, his horn hung up on a hook, taking his time before leaping in.  (The patriarch of the Robinson clan, also David, couldn’t get closer to the music than the back room, but when I went to speak with him he was beaming — as well he should!  Trumpeters Gordon Au and Peter Ecklund stopped in to play, as did reed guru Dan Block, trombonist Matt Haviland and guitarist Chris Flory . . . as well as Miss Tamar Korn.

Dave Robinson joined the original quartet for a gutty LONESOME ROAD:

And a buoyant JAZZ ME BLUES:

Gordon took over the trumpet chair, Matt Haviland came in on trombone for a groovy OUT OF NOWHERE:

The two Dans (Barrett and Block) returned for a seriously rocking I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, with no MOST about it:

IF DREAMS COME TRUE, that Swing Era evergreen, brought together Chris Flory, Joel, Peter Ecklund, the two Dans, and Matt Haviland (if my notes, taken in the dark) are correct:

And Dave Robinson came back to join the ensemble backing Tamar on IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE (even the back of Miss Korn’s head radiates music, and hang on for the second vocal chorus!):

I would have gotten a higher grade in chemistry had I known about Dan Barrett; high school is long behind me, but I’m still learning a great deal whenever he appears on the scene.

“SWING OUT, YOU CATS!”: The YERBA BUENA STOMPERS SHOW US HOW (October 6, 2011)

That generous fellow Tom Warner took his video camera to the Glacier Jazz Stampede in Kalispell, Montana, just a few days ago, and captured this wonderful performance by John Gill’s hot band, the Yerba Buena Stompers — of SWING THAT MUSIC.

My heart gets a chill when I hear this song (especially when it’s taken at the just-right tempo it is here) not because the room is chilly, but because it summons up the Fountainhead, Louis Armstrong.  And the members of the band feel this too: touched by the glory of Louis!  Watch John Gill’s face break into an even broader grin when Chris Tyle exhorts the band to SWING! in a deep evocative voice.

What joy!

The YBS (in this incarnation) are John Gill, banjo and vocals; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Leon Oakley, cornet; Chris Tyle, cornet and vocal.

I hope that the joy these musicians send out into the world bounces back to them every day: they deserve it and more.  And that wish includes Tom Warner, my hero for moving forward during Kevin’s solo to make sure we could see those sticks in motion.

Swing out, you cats!

P.S.  I’ve never been to Kalispell, Montana . . . this makes me wonder what the early part of October 2012 holds for me and the Beloved?  I’m going to check out http://glacierjazzstampede.com., and I suggest you do likewise.

I do know — not to have jazz festivals compete for your attention — that the Yerba Buena Stompers with a similar personnel will be at the 32nd Annual San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival (http://www.dixielandjazzfestival.org) and I most assuredly am going to be there . . .

“WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT?”

With some regularity, I get an email note from a sincere, curious JAZZ LIVES reader or viewer who has encountered a stirring, perhaps unclassifiable musical performance: “What style is that?” or “What do you call that kind of jazz?”

The questions make me sad.  Sometimes it seems as if listeners are made nervous by the music’s potential to surprise, as if jazz had become a little dog, very sweet-natured, that could turn around and bite badly.

Uncertainty makes us tremble, but I didn’t think that the need for certainties would have so infected our ability to love the music on its own terms.  Some people with good hearts and ears will only be truly easy and happy when they know that a performance of ATLANTA BLUES is “down-home,” “Mainstream,” “pre-bop,” “trad,” “neo-retro,” and the like.  Pick your terminology.  It reminds me of those charts in INTRODUCTION TO JAZZ books with everyone neatly listed, either in tables or in timelines, from Buddy Bolden (he was “New Orleans,” we knew) to Charlie Parker (safe at home in “be-bop”).  Roy Eldridge gave birth to Dizzy Gillespie, and so on.  I always found those charts annoying because of their conservative narrowness: were Ben Webster and Lester Young “Swing” players who weren’t allowed to go out of their front yards?  And the charts left so many people out: I never saw Joe Thomas anywhere.

Although I am an “academic” by profession (I have taught English to college freshmen and sophomores for longer than Bix Beiderbecke’s time on earth) I blame the academics even before there were Jazz History courses, in their attempts to standardize, categorize an organic art form into something teachable — with final exam questions to be determined later.  Charts and boxes, timelines and categories are attempts to quantify something that threatens to spill out and over the edges.  These restrictive mechanisms have governed literary anthologies (organized by “schools” and arranged by the birthdates of the writers being studied) for many generations.

It’s a tribute to any art — jazz, poetry, painting — that such well-meaning acts haven’t killed it dead.

Then, of course, jazz is a music that blessedly stirs up fierce allegiances.  That’s a good thing!  I love to see people who hug their music to their hearts: both they and the music are fully alive in such moments.  But allegiance devolves into party skirmishes and ideological statements: my music is PURE; yours is COMMERCIAL.  Mine is THE TRUTH; yours is CORRUPTED.  The journalists and critics saw good copy here and thus we had DIXIELAND versus BE-BOP and the like, the ancient doing battle with the new.  The musicians knew better and respected each other: Baby Dodds and Max Roach weren’t at war.

But the need to name, to classify, to take big living entities and force them into little boxes — a chilling process — hasn’t gone away.  Too bad.  It gets in the way of our ability to sink deeply into the collective creativity that jazz offers us if we’re wondering what to call what we’re hearing.

Let us be guided by Eddie Condon: WE CALLED IT MUSIC.

MAYA HED’S PHOTOGRAPHY: ON EXHIBIT

I don’t think I’ll make it to Tel Aviv for Maya Hed’s wonderful photography of musicians and other singular creatures, but I would encourage anyone in that neighborhood to visit: her work shines the light in unusual corners.  No cliches and many surprises.

WITH YOUR HELP . . . CADENCE MAGAZINE LIVES ON!

Since 2003, I have written for CADENCE — a truly independent journal of creative improvised music — and I was heartbroken when I heard it might cease publication at the end of the year.  It gives me great pleasure to print this letter from the magazine’s new publisher:

Dear Cadence Magazine Subscribers:

Hello, my name is David Haney.  I have been a subscriber to Cadence Magazine.  I am also a pianist and composer.  Some of you may have read reviews of my music in Cadence.  Over the past eleven years, I have successfully worked with Cadence to complete 14 albums for C.I.M.P. Records and Cadence Jazz Records. Recording for Cadence/CIMP has been a great boon and I have always appreciated Cadence‘s non-commercial approach.

I now face my most daunting task: to maintain the standards of excellence established by the previous publishers, and to steer Cadence toward a new generation of readers in a viable format that ensures the future of Cadence, the Independent Journal of Creative Improvised Music.  The content will remain the same, including columns and reviews from many of the existing Cadence writers.  The format will change to include an online site hosting Cadence Magazine plus an annual print edition.  The new Cadence contains a few new features such as “Jazz Stories – A Video History”; video interviews with living jazz masters.  There is also a new section targeting higher educational needs with resources such as lesson plans, crosswords, and contests.

I am excited at this new endeavor and hope you will be too.  With over 25 years experience in magazine publishing, I have dealt with many of the same difficulties that Cadence has experienced.

I am ready to go.  I do need your help though. Cadence is a community and in this spirit, I need the readership to step forward.  We need financial contributors and we need you to renew your subscription as soon as possible.  We are accepting subscription pre-orders for the January 2012 launch date.

CADENCE MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION PRICES (includes First-Class shipping):

Single subscription (online plus annual PRINT edition):

One year: $65 / Outside USA: $70

Two years: $120 / Outside USA: $130

Annual PRINT edition only (without online features):

One year: $30 / Outside USA: $35

Two years: $55 / Outside USA: $65

College and institutional subscriptions: multiple users can access Cadence Magazine online.  Order also includes two copies of the print edition.

One year: $300, multi-year discounts available.

See the link at WWW.CADENCEMAGAZINE.COM

Or send your contributions and orders to:

CADENCE MAGAZINE, P.O. BOX 282, RICHLAND, OR 97870

Contact us by email at CADENCEMAGAZINE@GMAIL.COM

or call (315) 289-1444

We also need a host of volunteers and contributors.  We are seeking photographers, writers, reviewers, artists, proof-readers, transcribers, “Short Takes” correspondents and more.  I invite you to lend your talents to the historic magazine and join us in chronicling jazz history.

Call me if you have questions (315-289-1444).  I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

David

A comment from JAZZ LIVES: I don’t think I spend that much energy asking or telling my readers how they should spend their money.  I think it would be impudent of me to do so, unless I could say, “This is something that gives great value and enlightenment for your dollar(s).”  CADENCE is and has been just that way: honest in an environment where honesty isn’t always present; witty, sharp, full of feeling and perception.  And I would say this if I were not writing for it and hoping to write for it more in future.  It deserves your support.

“A GOOD TIME WAS HAD BY ALL”: EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY at RADEGAST (Sept. 27, 2011)

Emily Asher certainly knows how to throw a party.  And her brilliance isn’t a matter of laying in huge quantities of blue corn chips and IPA, nor is it because of those cookies she bakes.  In fact, Emily comes to the party with little except her trombone, some sheet music, and her insistence that everyone have a good time and swing.

She accomplishes this nicely — and she’s also one of those musicians who seems to be growing and developing before our eyes . . . not that she was a novice when I first encountered her!

For her midweek session at the Radegast Bierhalle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Emily assembled her “Garden Party,” a hot band despite its refined UK title.  This version had our Ms. Asher on trombone / vocals; Bria Skonberg on trumpet / vocals; Dan Levinson on clarinet / tenor; Kelly Friesen on string bass; Nick Russo on banjo / guitar; Kevin Dorn on drums.  And since it was a Wednesday during the two-week Dan Barrett Celebratory East Coast Tour, Dan came uptown from his earlier gig with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band and brought the fiery clarinetist Pete Martinez with him.

Here are a goodly handful of video performances from that night at Radegast.  Expert dancing provided by Sam Huang and Michelle DeCastro — other dancers unidentified.

The Garden Party began with something fierce and New Orleanian — Jelly Roll Morton’s MILENBERG JOYS:

Then, the hot yet admonitory SOME OF THESE DAYS, with a Charleston beat:

Emily very sweetly offered a slow waltz-time HEY, LOOK ME OVER! — commenting that her father had taught her the song when she was three, and she retains some of the choreography from her childhood.  I find it absolutely charming.  (Thanks, Dad!):

And a perennial: ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

I was embarrassed by my ignorance, having no idea of what this song was — but Emily told me in a kind way that it was EMPEROR NORTON’S HUNCH.  I think I have to take Remedial Turk Murphy over the summer:

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW featured a harmonized vocal chorus from Emily and Bria, who remain our sweethearts:

For the last few numbers of the third set, Dan Barrett and Pete Martinez joined in (up until this point, they had been enjoying the sounds) on an energetic but not-too-fast MUSKRAT RAMBLE (beginnig a compact Louis-tribute, but all jazz is a Louis-tribute, isn’t it?):

Dan borrowed Bria’s trumpet for a nifty BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, and I thought, “Where else on the planet could I hear Louis’ 1926 chorus played with such accuracy and fervor?”:

And we close this visit to Emily’s wonderful party with a sweet ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, with Bria back on trumpet and Dan on trombone, trading phrases:

Wonderful!  And if you get on Emily’s email list (visit her site at http://www.emilyasher.com.) you can find out when the next party is — as well as learning about her upcoming CD, which needs your support:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/712404112/emily-ashers-debut-cd-featuring-garden-party-and-e

DON’T FORGET OUR WHITLEY BAY DATE!

The days go by so quickly that I awoke with a start from some non-musical activity to realize, “It’s only three weeks until the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party!”  This is thrilling rather than anxiety-producing, because I know that I will be eyebrow-deep in the best jazz imaginable, with Jean-Francois Bonnel, Bent Persson, Josh Duffee, Norman Field, Cecile McLorin, Nick Ward, Matthias Seuffert, Andy Schumm, Mike Durham, Kristoffer Kompen, Keith Nichols, Rico Tomassi . . . do I have to go on? 

The party is being held at the Village Newcastle (a comfy hotel) and will begin on Friday, November 4, and go rocketing through to early Monday morning, November 7. 

And Mike has very good ideas (aside from being a fine hot trumpet player himself): all the sets in the Party are thematic — except for jam sessions in the pub every night, which have been marvelous.  The sets run an hour or so; they take place in the same large comfortable room; it will be a pageant of the best jazz and vintage pop music.  I can’t wait.

And there’s more: a concert at the extraordinary Sage Gateshead concert hall on Thursday, November 3, featuring the music of the Goodman small groups with Wheatley, Seuffert, Nichols, Tomassi, and others.

I know that some of you are thinking, “Hey, I can’t fly to England just like that.”  And others might say to themselves, “I know Michael.  Michael will be bringing his video camera, so even if I can’t go, I’ll see some of this.”  I sympathize with the first statement, and the second one is also true.  However, videos aren’t the real thing, so I hope people realize 1) that there is a life beyond the monitor, and 2) these enterprises need paying customers to survive (the musicians need you to BE THERE). 

All this is being launched at JAZZ LIVES readers because some seats are still available for the Party, and day tickets are on sale here:

http://www.whitleybayjazzfest.org/booking.html

So don’t let this opportunity pass you by — and come up and say “Hello!” in your best Clarence Williams manner.

THE RETURN OF “SEARCH ENGINE TERMS”

It’s that time again: when I share with JAZZ LIVES readers the delightful and often perplexing phrases that readers online have used — like tiny inflatable rafts — to drift towards this blog.  I don’t know what they were thinking to begin with or whether they found solace on the shores of this blog, but I collect these verbal and logical oddities with a mixture of affection and puzzlement.

The first two leave me without an appropriate response:

dressed as a girl by my mother

green and purple flying insect

This search term is a little more relevant, but one wonders what the seeker had in mind: an ordinary picture of someone playing a large brass instrument, its coils wrapped around the player’s head, or someone with his / her head stuck in the instrument.  All suggestions entertained:

head in tuba

The next one makes me think of Zutty Singleton’s ability to play the melody — often in press rolls — on his drum set.  But could Zutty convince us of BODY AND SOUL or perhaps YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS?  I wonder:

ballad snare drum

Jazz musicians have social lives, spouses, houses, pets, and more — but why didn’t anyone tell me about this young lady?  I’m at Sofia’s to hear Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks fairly often.  Peter, you could bring her over to say “Hello,” couldn’t you?

peter yarin’s cute girlfriend from iowa

The next artifact is something I must have; I’ll file it next to the Buddy Bolden iPhone app:

joe oliver’s first cd

Louis Armstrong sang that OLD MAN MOSE was dead (a sad thing); here I think we have someone in the grip of phonetic spelling who connects the song to an All-Stars version after 1950.  All right, so I’m trying to make something logical out of this.  (Frankly, it’s “the old man mous” that gets me.):

the old man mous is dead cozy cole

Real estate questions, no doubt, concerning the most popular woman in jazz necrology:

billi holiday’s hous in harlrm

Is this a reference to OSTRICH WALK, or perhaps to a picture of an ostrich playing a plunger-muted trumpet a la Cootie Williams?  The mind reels:

ostrich muffled trumpet music

He didn’t look that large or imposing in the few photos we have of Mr. Beiderbecke, but perhaps the writer is referring to his psychic presence, which is admittedly huge.  At least it’s not the cornet-playing arachnid, Big Spider Back:

big beiderback jazz

I know why the next search engine term makes me rancorous.  It suggests a student in a jazz history program in what we call the Academy looking for a quick answer to a homework assignment / oral presentation / paper.  Plagiarism is the most common and least curable ailment of our times!  And I am also sure that the approved answer is No, because everyone knows that Goodman stole his clarinet technique from Noone and his arrangements from Henderson.  Now I have to lie down:

did benny goodman offer any thing new to jazz

I am amused by this Zionist approach to someone I admire, even though I think Albert Edwin Condon never had a bar mitzvah:

eddie condon jewish

Spelling counts:

mike the knife buddy tate

Does “Swat And Lowdown Low-Down” have anything to do with”green and purple flying insect“?

woody allen benny goodman swat and lowdown low-down

Here’s a pharmacy student who loves jazz, I think:

what drugs billie holiday

The references to Billie make me write, once again, that there is a worldwide fascination with her last husband, Louis McKay, which I would like someone to explain to me.

Until the next batch of SEARCH ENGINE TERMS accumulates, may I wish you all happy searching?

RIFFTIDE: FRAGMENTS FROM A DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE BY JO JONES

I’ve never before seen a YouTube video promoting a book, but if any book deserved one, it would be RIFFTIDE: THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF PAPA JO JONES (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), edited and compiled by Paul Devlin from taped conversations that drummer and raconteur Jo Jones had with writer Albert Murray:

Like its subject, RIFFTIDE is simultaneously enthralling, elusive, irritating, and unsettling.  Jones (1910-85) was a great innovator and an equally great synthesizer of percussion technique, someone who understood that the drummer could liberate both himself and the band by rethinking jazz rhythm, by creating a flow rather than a series of demarcations.  Although Henderson drummer Walter Johnson was working towards similar goals, Jones’ great sound was that of the floating, whispering hi-hat cymbal, carrying any band forward and upwards — but most especially the Count Basie band in its most glorious years.  Behind the drums, at his best, he was both Loki and Dionysus — unpredictable, boyish, shape-changing, his sound always right.  Away from the drums he was someone else, a monologist who rarely let his listeners know the plot of his play.

Jo Jones would have been furious if described as “normal.”  That condescending description was for the “nine-to-fivers.”  A self-described “nut,” he was a cosmos unto himself: elliptical, often enraged in conversation, given to diatribes that served to push most listeners away, the result seeming at best irritating, at worst irrational.  (On that score, many have theorized that Jones’ behavior was the result of syphilis contracted early and not entirely cured.)

In the Seventies and early Eighties, Jones was eager to get his stories on paper, and he spoke to (rarely “with”) the African-American scholar Albert Murray, while Murray was working on another “as told to” book, the unsuccessful autobiography of Count Basie, GOOD MORNING BLUES.  (Either Basie was too modest or he didn’t entirely trust Murray; the real stories went with Basie to the grave.)  The tapes of Jones’s “autobiography” came to Devlin when Murray was too ill to edit and transcribe them, although the two men discussed what Devlin had come up with.

RIFFTIDE is made up of several short parts: an informal essay by Devlin, part reminiscence, part explanation of his editorial method, part graduate-school essay on Jones.  What closes the book is a more effective (although cliché-ridden) twenty-two page essay by Phil Schaap, who knew Jones for the last thirty years of Jones’ life.  Those two sections contain some fascinating information: Devlin’s comments on editing the tapes reveal much about Jones, although I wished Devlin had been willing to incorporate the stories Jones categorized as “private stock” to Murray.  Schaap’s section is characteristically windy, he was a first-hand observer and participant: for example, musicians as mild-mannered as Buddy Tate and Doc Cheatham refused to ride in cars with Jones; Cheatham going so far as to purchase a small car because it would make it impossible to have Jo as a passenger.  The book closes with useful footnotes and rare photographs.

The center of this paperback is, of course, Jones’ recollections, rants, enthusiasms, stories, anecdotes, score-settling . . . fervent yet digressive.  I’m not sure if Jo was at this stage unable or unwilling to narrate a conventional autobiography in chronological sequence.  I think his mind went in violently associative ways, so that everything reminded him of something or someone else he couldn’t bear to leave out.  Early on in RIFFTIDE I felt as if I had signed on for an often airless monologue by someone with great energies and purposes known only to himself.

That, however, is the beauty of RIFFTIDE: Jo spoke at me several times in this period, when I met him at Frank Ippolito’s drum shop or asked for an autograph or the like, and the book captures those experiences.  One listened while he spoke; one did not converse or attempt to direct the flow of conversation.   The book is most readable in Jones’ brief portraits of people he knew, liked, or detested as fraudulent. He praises Ralph Ellison, Duke Ellington, the Harlem Globetrotters, Louis Bellson, his colleagues in the Basie band, the jockey Isaac Murphy, Bill Robinson, violinist Claude Williams, Basie’s manager Maceo Birch; scorns James Baldwin and John Hammond (the latter is a “R.P.P.,” a “Racist Prejudiced Prick”), is ambivalent about Count Basie in the present.

Here is a brief sample of his voice, digressive, oratorical: “Take me forty-something years to earn my keep.  I’m fifty-six years in show business.  I have earned my keep.  There won’t be but two people in the United States can tell you.  Now ask the president of France.  I got my picture with the president of France.  You know what I’m saying?  But I’m into something heavy.  Like when I go down with Grace Kelly; she’s got Josephine Baker’s thirteen children!  I’m with the policeman that held the umbrella overhead when they’re dispossessing her.  See, I’m kinda odd out here.  I sleep with my door unlocked: me and my Bible.  My friend comes in, she locks the door.  I’ve never locked my door in fifty-six years.  Everybody understands how I play: I play free.  I’m not afraid of a living person. I fear God: I got four hundred religions and five hundred cults. There are two people that give me strength: Billie Holiday and Lester Young.”

These excerpts and portraits are both elusive and invaluable: as close to hearing Jo Jones as most will ever come.  If at times I thought I had wandered into a Beckett play or reborn into a Browning dramatic monologue, that was the feeling that an encounter with Jo in the flesh created.

We are lucky to have RIFFTIDE, although its fragmentary nature makes me wish that a more comprehensive oral history had been taken and made accessible while Jones was eager and able to tell his stories.

For those who wish to read about my own encounters with the great man, here is SMILING JO JONES: https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/smiling-jo-jones/ — complete with the photograph I took of Papa Jo in action at the West End Cafe in New York City, circa 1981.

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/

YOUR OPINION, PLEASE.

I just posted this YouTube clip from the March of Time documentary about the making of records, “It’s In The Groove,” because it features an Eddie Condon band in 1949.  The personnel seen on screen is Bobby Hackett, trumpet; Will Bradley, trombone; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Joe Bushkin, piano, Eddie, guitar; presumably Jack Lesberg, bass (well out of camera range) and Buddy Rich, drums. 

Here it is again:

Why am I bringing this up again, you might ask?  Well, there’s the simple pleasure of viewing it again, of reminding people of EDDIE CONDON and what beauty he created whenever he got his friends together.

But there’s something else.  I knew that Sidney Catlett was on the record session for which this was presumably a rehearsal, although the time sequence is a bit puzzling to me. 

Now there’s another puzzle, posed by the great drummer / listener / jazz scholar Hal Smith — and I quote:

To the best of my knowledge, that clip of Condon & Co. is lip-synched, and it’s BIG SID on the soundtrack.  I read an article–I think in Down Beat–mentioning that Sid played the soundtrack, but was too ill to make the filming.  Anyway, I remember seeing/hearing that clip several years ago and thinking “That doesn’t sound anything like Buddy Rich.”  The news item about Sid confirmed my suspicions!

I invite JAZZ LIVES readers to watch the clip again for evidence of the musicians miming their playing to a pre-recorded soundtrack, and then (if they will indulge me in this jazz-mystery-solving), to listen, eyes closed.  It might be Sidney, although it sounds simpler than he often chose to be . . . another bit of evidence that suggests he was ailing, although recordings with Muggsy Spanier in 1950 and a WMEX broadcast from that same year have him much more recognizable. 

Your thoughts?

FINE TIMES at FEINSTEIN’S with HARRY ALLEN and FRIENDS (Oct. 3, 2011)

The first Monday night of every month has taken on new significance since Harry Allen and his world-class musical friends (courtesy of Arbors Records) have been appearing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City (540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street, 212-339-4095). 

The Beloved and I went there for the festivities of October 3, 2011, for what was whimsically but accurately called a Cavalcade of Singers.  The singers?  Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, and Lynn Roberts — backed by Harry Allen (tenor sax); Mike Renzi (piano); Joel Forbes (bass); Chuck Riggs (drums), and guest star Dan Barrett (trombone). 

Feinstein’s at the Regency is a very warm place — we got a friendly greeting and a very nice table with a good view of the stage, in a comfortably appointed, intimate room.  The atmosphere was very relaxed: a few of the musicians made their way from table to table, greeting old friends and making new ones, chatting and joking.  By the time the music started, the room was full, a very good sign — and we talked with Bill and Sonya Dunham (celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary!), Will Friedwald and friends, photographer Alan Nashigian, jazz friends Steve and Dafna, singer Melissa Hamilton, and a sweet surprise — I finally met Jeanie Wilson (whom I’ve known in cyberspace), the great good friend of Barbara Lea.

Everyone felt included, as if we had come to the most hip living room for a great yet casual evening of music.  And this warm feeling was firmly established even before I embarked on the Bloody Mary I had ordered, of a size and depth to require the Coast Guard.  The well-chosen soundtrack / background music was authentic Swing Era hits, entirely in keeping with the music we had come to hear, sweet and propulsive both. 

The instrumental quintet — Harry and Dan in the front line — began with a chipper PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, perhaps a nod to the weather that night, then moved to a sweet EMBRACEABLE YOU, where Dan showed off his Tommy Dorsey blue-steel control in the upper register, a rocking BEAN AND THE BOYS that featured some heartening cymbal playing from Chuck, a solo feature for Dan on a plunger-muted THE GLORY OF LOVE.  They ended the set with a deep-down version of Harry Edison’s blues, CENTERPIECE, which Dan introduced with the appropriate suggestion, “Turn out all the lights.”  Harry Allen usually looks serious, unflappable (unless he’s laughing or has his tennis racket), but he was rocking from side to side while the rhythm section was playing, and his solos soared throughout the set.

The Cavalcade of Singers began with our Becky: a cheerful PICK YOURSELF UP (“Good words to live by”), I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO that moved from a pensive start to deep improvising in the second chorus, with Harry purring obbligati behind her.  Nicki Parrott joined Becky for a duet on BETTER THAN ANYTHING, and took off on her own sultry BESAME MUCHO and an unusual WHERE OR WHEN — taken at a fast tempo with the verse.  Lynn Roberts (whose experience dates back to Tommy Dorsey in the Fifties but looks perky) joked with the audience before singing in her trumpetlike way THE LADY IS A TRAMP and a forceful AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  At the end of the set, the three women of song stood side by side and floated a deft S’WONDERFUL over Mike Renzi’s powerful chording, Joel’s splendidly deep bass, and Chuck’s floating hi-hat.

After a break, the band assembled for a vigorous LADY BE GOOD — Dan and Harry playing Lester Young’s 1936 solo in unison, before Lynn offered I’M CONFESSIN’ and a medley of Sinatra’s “saloon songs.”  Nicki created a sweet HEY THERE in honor of Rosemary Clooney, and then moved from the wistful to the straight-ahead with THE MORE I SEE YOU.  Becky returned for a sweet OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY in honor of the Dunhams’ anniversary (her singing provoking the Beloved to turn to me and say, “She has an understated elegance,” which is entirely true) and — in amusing contrast — an energetic THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.  The three singers assembled for a proper finger-snapping rendition of FEVER, for which they received great applause. 

When we went out into the night, we had been cheered, amused, elated, and warmed.  Great music, good value, and fine times at Feinstein’s at the Regency.

And for the future — the first Monday in November will be Harry’s Brazilian evening, and the December show will be John Sheridan’s Christmas extravaganza, with reindeer and drummer boys in residence elsewhere . . . not to be missed!  Visit http://feinsteinsattheregency.com/. for all the useful details.