Monthly Archives: November 2011

FOUR LETTERS FOR BIX AND LESTER: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ANDY SCHUMM, RANDY SANDKE, DAN LEVINSON, JOHN VON OHLEN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 17, 2011)

Not every successful jazz group has to have an orthodox shape or instrumentation: in fact, the absence of a crucial or expected instrument often galvanizes the other players into something rich and rare, as was the case on September 17, 2011, at Jazz at Chautauqua.

I don’t know if anyone started out playing with Bix or Lester in mind, but the results summon up those two quiet geniuses most beautifully.  And when we remember that Lester learned so much about lyricism — in addition to his own singular impulses — from listening to Bix and Tram records with Eddie Barefield — the connection isn’t far-fetched.

Here we have Rossano Sportiello on piano and quiet aesthetic leadership; Randy Sandke on soaring trumpet; Andy Schumm on hot introspective cornet; Dan Levinson on sweet clarinet and tenor sax; John Von Ohlen on subtly propulsive drums.

I associate MARGIE with Bix Beiderbecke in 1928, with Duke in 1935, and with a wonderful rarity — a collector’s tape of Jack Teagarden soloing over that very same Bix recording.  It’s an old-fashioned song that doesn’t get old, and this performance has some of the rattling good humor of the Ruby Braff – Mel Powell – Paul Quinichette – Bobby Donaldson trio recordings for Vanguard:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS, to me, always summons up Lester Young — and Rossano’s piano playing evokes Ellis Larkins and Nat Cole without copying them.  Dan’s tenor solo shows that he might be thinking about the President as well:

SUNDAY hadn’t come yet, but this cheerful Jule Styne 1927 hit always evokes memories of the happy past — and the Jean Goldkette Victor.  (“Wanna see you next Sunday!  Ah-ha!  Ah-ha!” or words to that effect).  Some stride and a swinging wire brush solo do no one any harm:

Most jazz sets close with something quick, dramatic, loud.  If the audience isn’t standing and cheering, what went wrong?  But not this evocative group of brave explorers.  Rossano started off at a lovely slow tempo — seeming to creep sideways into a slow, slow blues — so reminiscent of the Lester / Nat Cole BACK TO THE LAND.  But we’ll just call it a BLUES:

Remarkable and unhackneyed.

SO LITTLE TIME (A Shopping Pilgrimage to the Louis Armstrong House Museum, Corona, New York)

I was very excited to read all the good press surrounding yesterday’s blogpost by Elvis Costello where he urged his fans to buy the ten-CD Louis Armstrong box set, SATCHMO: AMBASSADOR OF JAZZ, instead of his own (overpriced) one.

Hooray for Mister Costello’s candor and love!

But I didn’t own a copy of SATCHMO.  And that bothered me.  I have some of the music on other sources, but I felt like a hypocrite.  How could I urge my readers to get to the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, New York, if I wasn’t ready to go there myself, unsheath my trusty credit card, and walk out with a box for myself?

This afternoon I made a Jazz Pilgrimage to the LAHM, and I can report that the Universal Music box is sitting next to me (like a well-trained rectangular puppy) as I write this.  I feel richer rather than poorer.  That’s the good news.

The less-than-good news is that the LAHM is the only place you can buy the box — it was produced in the United Kingdom in limited quantities, and they bought the remaining stock from the distributor.  Today I found out that there are fewer than forty copies for sale.  And when they’re gone . . .

So don’t wait for January 2012 to lament that the boxes are no longer available (although I am sure someone is planning to buy a few to sell on eBay at inflated prices).  The LAHM opens at 10 AM!  Here’s the link to contact them:

http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/visiting/overview.htm

Now, what’s in the nifty box seen above?  The first seven discs are a comprehensive survey of Louis’s recorded career, from the Creole Jazz Band’s 1923 JUST GONE to two tracks recorded at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival.  Then, there’s a seventy-five minute segment from Louis talking with friends Dan Morgenstern and Jack Bradley in 1965, with some assistance from Papa Slivovice.  And — courtesy of our very own Ricky Riccardi, there are two discs of material — unissued and alternate takes — no one’s ever heard before, including scorching material from a Hollywood Bowl concert that concludes with a version of WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN that has the All-Stars joined by the Norman Granz JATP troupe; much new material with Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson . . . and on.  I have attached Ricky’s marathon blogpost about the set — complete with track listings and explanations — for your dining and dancing pleasure:

http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2011/07/satchmo-louis-armstrong-ambassador-of.html

And if you can’t get to Corona, can’t afford the set, but love Louis, call the LAHM anyway.  They are wonderful people down there, full of ideas on how to make the legacy of Louis continue in soaring shape.  (There’s the gala on December 6, and any monetary contribution would come in W.C. Handy.)

JOEL PRESS and SPIKE WILNER and DWAYNE CLEMONS at SMALLS (Nov. 17, 2011)

It’s always a delight when reedman Joel Press comes to town, and he proved that once again in his duets with pianist Spike Wilner at Smalls (West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) on November 17, 2011.

I’ve admired Joel’s playing for some time — first on record, then live — his soulful way of exploring a melody without being tied to familiar harmonic patterns . . . but he never loses the thread.  And although he denies this (“How could a Jewish boy from Brooklyn sound like a Southwest tenor player?”) he has deep roots not only in Lester but in Herschel and that moaning saxophone sound.

Spike was a mature player when I first heard him perhaps six years ago — lithe, swinging, witty, surprising — but now he sounds like a pianistic version of 1957 Coleman Hawkins: he knows the risks and rewards of throwing away the polite rulebook of jazz-school-piano and he often sounds like someone who has decided to let his deepest impulses guide him — without a life vest — and those impulses take him and us to wonderful surprising places.

Both players, also, have a fine sense of the past: Joel lives in 2011 but sneaks glances back at 1944 and 1956, and Spike is always playing / playing with walking tenths and stride bass patterns (as well as hilarious glances at the Swing repertoire, such as I FOUND A NEW BABY seen out of the corner of his eye).

Here are two performances — complex, surging but delicate — by this duo, a pair of masterful conversationalists who point the way for each other and for us at every turn.

A strong-willed reading of IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

An improvisation on OUT OF NOWHERE:

Spike and Joel invited trumpeter Dwayne Clemons up to join them for a leisurely look at Sonny Rollins’ BLUE SEVEN — both forward-looking and affectionately Basie-flavored.  At times I thought I was listening to Nat Cole, Illinois Jacquet, and Harry Edison time=traveled to Greenwich Village, Autumn 2011.  And that’s a compliment, even though none of the players had any desire to imitate anything:

This is one version of what improvisation is supposed to sound like!

CHRISTMAS COMES EARLY WITH JOHN SHERIDAN, REBECCA KILGORE, HARRY ALLEN and FRIENDS: MONDAY NIGHT JAZZ at FEINSTEIN’S (December 5, 2011)

The Beloved and I had a wonderful time at our October 2011 visit to Feinstein’s at the Regency for Harry Allen’s Monday Night Jazz — a monthly series featuring the finest jazz musicians, sponsored by Arbors Records.  The music was splendid; the room was comfortable and the atmosphere warm; the drinks huge (for those who need to know such things).

Feinstein’s (at the Loew’s Regency Hotel) is located at 540 Park Avenue — at 61st Street, New York City.  You may dine and dance from 7 to 8 PM; the concert will continue from 8-10 PM.   The music charge is $20 and there is a one-drink minimum.  For reservations, telephone 212-339-4095

December 5:  Hooray for Christmas show with Bob Wilber and John Sheridan, Rebecca Kilgore, Jon- Erik Kellso, Randy Sandke, John Allred, Tom Artin, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, James Chirillo, with The Harry Allen Quartet

And the good news is that the series has been extended into 2012 — as they used to say, “by popular demand,” which is a nice way of saying that the room was filled.  (So don’t wait to reserve!)  I hope to see you there!

A footnote.  I wouldn’t recommend an ordinary Christmas show to my readers — because I am an aesthetic Scrooge about the music that starts everywhere even before Christmas.  So much of it is frankly hackneyed that it gets by on pure sentiment rather than virtue — at least to my ears.  But Sheridan’s HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS project is the very opposite of hackneyed.  Rudolph takes a nap, and Velcro keeps those infernal bells from jingling.  Based on Sheridan’s Dream Band of the same name, the repertoire is full of surprises — lonely love ballads, growly blues, pretty heartfelt songs by Harry Warren and Irving Berlin (but not the one you’d expect from the latter genius) — a whole bagful of variety.  If there is no way you are going to make it to Feinstein’s, you might want to investigate the CD — it’s a present that won’t end up in the closet:

http://www.arborsrecords.com/recordtemplate.html?ProductID=19397.

LUCY’S SECRETS

If you saw this young woman on the street, you would think, “She has a nice smile,” but you might not know that she has several secret lives.

All will be revealed about Lucy Weinman in this post.  She doesn’t have multiple-personality disorder, her own lingerie business, nor a quiz show with Garry Moore.  Her Columbia University transcript would show that she is majoring in biology, is a research fellow at the Kelley Lab — far beyond the high school biology I knew.  You might also encounter her as an enthusiastic swing dancer at a number of venues or a delighted audience member at jazz concerts by people like Dennis Lichtman and Gordon Au.

But this is how I first encountered Lucy.  In full flight and in good company — with Dennis Lichtman and Chloe Feoranzo, Kevin Dorn and other notable souls:

Notice the trumpet attached to our Miss Weinman.  To quote Eddie Condon, she owns it and she plays it.  In fact, Lucy is a really impressive hot trumpeter with a large sound, a truly swinging conception, and a good deal of spice.  She, Jeff Weinman (guitarist / pianist / and also Lucy’s father) and Miss Cherry Delight (vocals) make up the Big Tent Jazz Band with a variety of ringers and sitters-in.  Their Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/pages/Miss-Cherry-Delight-and-The-Big-Tent-Jazz-Band/343542389217?v=info&sk=info.

That should be enough.  BIO WHIZ GIRL ALSO HOT TRUMPETER would be a nifty headline on an imagined newspaper in a Thirties movie.  But Lucy has more surprises for us.

One is the Columbia University Semi-Formal Swing Dance — coming up on December 9, 2011.  Here (in excited prose I didn’t dare edit) are the details:

CU Swing Dance – This Joint is Jumpin’
: a stompin’ swing dance fiesta featuring New York’s own Grand Street Stompers. Feel-good New Orleans jazz, lovely dancing, lovelier company, and good times will abound. Show up in your semi-finest attire and stretch out those hamstrings cause THIS JOINT’S GONNA BE JUMPIN’!
How it’s gonna go down:
8:30- 9pm – A beginner swing dance lesson provided by CU Swing Dance (No prior experience or partner necessary, ya dig? You got no excuse!)
9pm-12am – The band JUMPS and so do we. It’s that simple.
CUID holders: $8
Non-CUID: $10
*The Grand St. Stompers is a swinging-hot traditional jazz band led by rising young trumpeter Gordon Au and featuring the evocative and joyous vocals of Tamar Korn. With one foot stomping in vintage tradition and the other in modern style, they’ll throw down everything from Louis Armstrong hits and New Orleans standards to Gordon’s exciting originals to surprisingly swinging adaptations of classical pieces and Disney tunes. The bottom line is this: whenever they play, it’s a helluva show.
**Directions: Take the 1 train to 116th St. Walk north on Broadway to Barnard’s Gates at 119th St. Enter campus, turn right, and look for the orange building (The Diana Center). Go down one floor to LL1. Give money to the smiling Columbia students, get your hand stamped, and dance to your heart’s content!

But wait!  There’s more.  WKCR-FM (the radio station of Columbia University, also accessible streaming live on the web at http://www.wkcr.org) is known for seventy years of jazz programming.  One of its long-standing programs — I remember listening to it as far back as the early Seventies — is OUT TO LUNCH, a weekday jazz show from 12-3.  This radio station plays the whole range of recorded jazz from 1917 to the present, from the ODJB to the world of free.  Splendid!  But often — not surprisingly — what’s known as “traditional jazz,” loosely defined as New Orleans, Chicago, early Swing — is left to the very scholarly divagations of the Dean of New York Jazz Radio, Phil Schaap.

Some weeks ago, I was driving home in the early afternoon on a Tuesday, and I turned on my car radio, whose first preset is 89.9, WKCR.  I forget what exactly was coming out of the speaker — was it I MUST HAVE IT by King Oliver or was it FAREWELL BLUES by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings? — but it was a delicious jolt.  The “disc jockey,” the archaic term for the person choosing what records to play, stayed out of the way of the music for a good long time.  Then she announced herself as “Lucy,” and the veils dropped from my eyes.  I am not embarrassed to say that I called the station and said, mock-ominously, “WHAT are you doing playing all that good hot jazz?  What’s the matter with you?” or words to that effect.  Then I introduced myself — Lucy and I know each other from Radegast and The Ear Inn — and we both started laughing happily.

Lucy Weinman is on the air every other Tuesday — her next show is December 13.  She has a clear voice, can pronounce the musicians’ names correctly, and her love for the music comes right through the speaker.  Today, when she was through playing a nice long set of Louis and Earl from 1928, including KNEE DROPS, she began her commentary with a hushed, “Oh, my God.  Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines,” which is proper reverence.

She has at least three or four brilliant careers in front of her, and JAZZ LIVES salutes her varied endeavors — while unmasking her secrets, which is the privilege of Hot Jazz Journalism.  Find out more about her lives at http://www.facebook.com/Lucy.Rae.W.  And if you’re lucky, she’ll bring her horn to a gig.  Pleasant surprises await!

ELVIS COSTELLO in JAZZ LIVES? YES, DO READ ON . . .

My friend Bobby Hacksaw (known as “little Bobby Hacksaw” to Louis) put down his Special Cigar long enough to email this to me.  I never cared much for Elvis Costello, but Mr. Costello’s recent blogpost, STEAL THIS RECORD, has caused me to change my thinking.  He’s gone up, up, up in my estimation: skip forward to the boldface if you’re an impatient reader:

A Pastoral Address From The Right Reverend Jimmy Quickly

There was a time when the release of a new title by your favourite record artist was a cause for excitement and rejoicing but sadly no more.

6th December 2011 sees the issue of “The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook” by Elvis Costello and the Imposters.

This beautifully designed compendium contains all manner of whimsical scribblings, photographs and cartoons, together with some rock and roll music and vaudevillian ballads.

Tape and celluloid were rolling at the Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles in April this year and present a vivid snapshot of the early days of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook show on “The Revolver Tour” of 2011.

The live recording finds the Imposters in rare form, while the accompanying motion picture blueprints the wilder possibilities of the show, as it made its acclaimed progress across the United States throughout the year.

Unfortunately, we at http://www.elviscostello.com find ourselves unable to recommend this lovely item to you as the price appears to be either a misprint or a satire.

All our attempts to have this number revised have been fruitless but rather than detain you with tedious arguments about morality, panache and book-keeping – when there are really bigger fish to filet these days – we are taking the following unusual step.

If you should really want to buy something special for your loved one at this time of seasonal giving, we can whole-heartedly recommend, “Ambassador Of Jazz” – a cute little imitation suitcase, covered in travel stickers and embossed with the name “Satchmo” but more importantly containing TEN re-mastered albums by one of the most beautiful and loving revolutionaries who ever lived – Louis Armstrong.  The box should be available for under one hundred and fifty American dollars and includes a number of other tricks and treats. Frankly, the music is vastly superior.

If on the other hand you should still want to hear and view the component parts of the above mentioned elaborate hoax, then those items will be available separately at a more affordable price in the New Year, assuming that you have not already obtained them by more unconventional means.

Tickets are currently on-sale for the Spectacular Spinning Songbook appearances in the U.S., U.K. and Europe during April, May and June in the Spring of 2012. More dates will be announced in the very near future.

If I ever meet Elvis Costello in the flesh (unlikely) and I get past the expected security guards (even more unlikely) I will deliver a most embarrassing hug of thanks.  You can depend on me!

I CAN EAR IT NOW!: “JAZZ ME BLUES” (The Ear Inn, Nov. 20, 2011)

I tend to hold myself back from making requests of jazz musicians — you know, “would you play _____ in the next set?” because I often see the brief flicker of pain in the hearer’s face or — in more severe cases — note the sudden attack of temporary deafness when someone requests a favorite song that is in some way not right for the band, the venue, the collective mood.

But even though I don’t come from a family of aristocrats — at least in the sense of official genealogies — I have this small fantasy of having the band play “songs I like.”  Of course this is specious, because the reality of improvisation is that even if I dread another rendition of, say, MUSKRAT RAMBLE, a fine band can make me forget my initial dread and even reproach myself silently for those vestiges of judgmental small-mindedness.

This brings us to The Ear Inn, always a good thing.  In my previous post, CONN MEN AT THE EAR INN, I shared some of the delights of that evening.

Here’s another, taken from the second-set-EarRegulars-and-friends celebration.  (If you ask, “Celebrating what?” one answer might be, “The joy of being alive and making music for people who are listening to it,” not small things.)

The Regulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, trumpet, metal clarinet, tenor sax; Chris Flory, guitar; Joel Forbes, string bass.  The Visitors were Dan Block, tenor sax; Simon Wettenhall, baritone horn.

When they assembled in their corner (sprawling out in a line past the telephone booth) there was a momentary pause for thought: what should they play next?  I forgot my cautious self and said aloud, “JAZZ ME BLUES?”  And because the stars were in the right alignment and the EarRegulars know I am Friend, not Foe, it was taken up as the common theme.  Part Bix, part Eddie Condon, part Lester Young, part Goodman Sextet, part Basie at the Famous Door 1938 — all the parts coalescing into something romping and glorious — at an especially sweet medium tempo (with breaks and riffs and a real surprise at 8:47).

Come on, Professors, come on and Jazz Me!

I heard the music of the spheres at The Ear.

CELEBRATE THE ONLY MUSEUM THAT SWINGS! (December 6, 2011)

Who was Dorothy?

Jazz listeners, whether they acknowledge their indebtedness or voice their gratitudes aloud, celebrate Louis Armstrong in every bar of music they enjoy.  Louis lives on in his own music, whether one is tenderly playing a red-label OKeh 78 or savoring the Ambassador CDs as they pleasingly rattle one’s earbuds.  To think of Louis reverberating through the universe is one of the most pleasant thoughts I could ever have.

The tangible embodiment of the great man and his happy later life is, of course, the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, New York.  Quite simply, it is a down-home shrine: a sacred place full of music, domestic bliss, and contentment.  Parallel to it are the Archives housed in Queens College: the repository for all things Louis — a wonderful place, where one can hear and see treasures beyond my powers to describe.

Such enterprises need our loving support.  And while this is not a “they need money” solicitation, expecting the house and the archives to go on without bucks (or “brucks,” if you have “S.O.L. Blues” in your memory) would be at best unrealistic.

The LAHM has created its first-ever gala celebration — to honor Louis, of course, through the music of Jon Faddis and a stellar rhythm section — but also to pay homage to George Avakian, at 92 our patriarch and wonderful storyteller, and Dr. James Muyskens, the president of Queens College.   The gala will be held on Tuesday, December 6, 2011, at the 3 West Club: located at 3 West 51st street, New York, NY 10019.  My friends Michael Cogswell and Ricky Riccardi will be there, too!

What began as a stack of 72 shipping cartons of “Satchmo’s stuff” has grown to become the world’s largest research archives for a jazz musician.  The Armstrong House is completely preserved, restored, and open to the public six days per week.  People from all over the world come to visit.

After providing services and programs for 25 years, LAHM will hold its first annual gala on Tuesday, December 6, 2011.  Every cent raised will go to fund operations; including the historic house tours, jazz performances, free children’s concerts, and making the archives accessible to the public at no charge. 

A who’s who of the jazz and cultural world is expected to attend.  The event will honor George Avakian, a legendary jazz record producer who recorded some of Armstrong’s greatest albums.  Jon Faddis, one of the world’s finest trumpeters past and present.  And Dr. James Muyskens, the ninth president of Queens College/CUNY, the parent organization of the Museum.  Under his dynamic leadership, the college has enjoyed a period of outstanding growth and achievement.   Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be served at 6 pm followed by an awards ceremony and dinner. The evening will conclude with a performance by Jon Faddis, accompanied by David Hazeltine (piano), Todd Coolman (bass), and Dion Parson (drums). 

Tickets are going quickly!  To purchase Gala tickets and sponsorships contact Nayelli DiSpaltro at 718-997-3589 or by visiting www.louisarmstronghouse.org

If I may be so bold . . . .

I know many readers of JAZZ LIVES might be saying to themselves, “I adore Louis and admire his friends, but a Gala is beyond me.”  I understand.  But in the words of “Shoe Shine Boy” — one of my favorite Louis recordings — every nickel helps a lot.  If everyone reading this blogpost sent the LAHM one dollar, it would mean more than a lot.  Please consider this — with Louis, every day’s a holiday — at least if we remember to make it so.

Thanks to Chris Tyle for letting me know about this photograph.  Lucky Dorothy, I say.

CONN MEN at THE EAR INN (November 20, 2011)

The Conn men came to town last Sunday.  I don’t mean shifty-eyed slickers who shortchange you, sell you a dying car with a new paint job or a service contract on a $10 item.

No, the players at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) — the EarRegulars — were candid, frank, open and aboveboard.  Good men and true.  But enough of them were playing musical instruments manufactured by the C.G. Conn Company to make the title of this post a whimsical statement of fact.

Jon-Erik Kellso played a 40s Conn 22B trumpet; Scott Robinson an 1931 Olds French model trumpet, as well as his metal clarinet and tenor saxophone); Joel Forbes on string bass and Chris Flory on guitar had their own allegiances, but they looked pleased by the Conn job they were hearing.

I am not enough of a trumpet maven to know who was playing which horn when, so I was sorely tempted to call this blog TWO OLDS CONN MEN, but I calmed down just in time.  Whatever name you might give the horns and stringed instruments, the music was delicious.  Scott and Jon have elegant surprising fun — a pair of starlings having an energetic conversation on the fence as the sun comes up — and they clearly are laughing like mad through their horns.  Watch the great grins that blossom at the end of every performance.  Joel Forbes was in particularly eloquent and super-charged form this night: bass players should be making pilgrimages to study his lavishly huge sound, his fine time, his melodic inventions.  Chris Flory can swing seventeen men with his guitar, so what he can do for three or four is spectacularly mobile.

A tune from 1928 — a show tune, as a matter of fact — more like a delighted effusion as the title suggests — OH, BABY!:

For Billie Holiday and the great balladeers, Scott essays YOU’VE CHANGED — on both tenor sax and then trumpet.  What a combo he is!

Two trumpets paying tribute primarily to the Kansas City Six, sexondarily to a whole romping trumpet tradition: not a cutting contest, but friendly fun on ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

“Don’t forget — this was your idea!” says Scott as they start.

And a closing BLUES FROM THE HEART (my title, but no one objected):

Next week I will post a jam session JAZZ ME BLUES from the second set that mixes Bix and Basie.  I think it will seem superb.

Would I Conn you?

THANKS TWO MILLIONS, or GRATITUDE WITH SWING

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, an official holiday created for us to join with family and friends to be thankful for what we have.  But I’ve been thinking about gratitude for some time now.  (The Beloved lights the way here and in so much else.)  It’s easy to take our bounty for granted: the color of the sky, a bed in a clean warm room, clean water to drink, coffee to start the day, the affection of people near to us and those in cyber-space, and so much more.  Each one of us should have no trouble making an individual little list.

Among so many other marvelous phenomena, I am grateful to the point of tears for the music we love.  Isn’t it remarkable and beyond that we should live in a time where such creativity, such joy is possible — and we can enjoy it over and over?

I give thanks to these wonderful living musicians who have learned so much about creating beauty and having the generosity to share it with us.  Behind them, of course, is that fellow Louis.  Scott Robinson told me (last Sunday at The Ear Inn) that if you listen closely to any kind of jazz, no matter how “far out” it might initially appear, it all comes from that fellow.  Hearing this — I am very constrained in what I say, as some of you will know; I never express any emotions at all — I grinned at Scott and said, “Now I know why I love you!” and we both broke up.

So here are two versions of THANKS A MILLION: for the musicians, for the prosperity that enabled me to buy a video camera and be on the scene, for the love in the air:

That’s Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Levinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.  Recorded on September 15, 2011, at Jazz at Chautauqua.

There’s Ehud Asherie, piano; Dan Block, clarinet.  Recorded at Smalls on October 16, 2008.

And a footnote, nothing preachy.  I teach English — literature and writing — to four classes of college freshmen and sophomores, and I met with them this last Monday and Tuesday.  At the end of each class, I looked at them very sternly and said, “I have a Thanksgiving homework assignment for you.”  I can’t describe the collective skepticism in the room, because I never give “homework,” and asking students to “do work” over a holiday when the college is closed seems to them a violation of their basic rights.  And some of them know my deadpan humor.  (Others were simply waiting for me to stop talking so that their holiday could begin, and I understand this completely.)

I said, “I assume many of you are going off to have some sort of meal with family or friends this holiday?” and many of them agreed.

“OK,” I said.  “Here’s your assignment.  Find someone in that room, someone you love.  TELL that person you love him or her.”

Some of them giggled; they all looked relieved.  Maybe that’s the most important thing I will teach them this semester.

One more four-bar break.  I do, of course, have a secret purpose in all of this.  If everyone got in the habit of acknowledging their gratitude, it would be a world full of people saying and thinking THANK YOU! and I AM SO FORTUNATE, which would be lovely additions to the cosmic atmosphere.  And perhaps then we could move into the next phase: noticing those who have less to be thankful for, whether they are homeless people on the street, the Chinese workers who suffer to make our technology (see Mike Daisey’s play about Steve Jobs if you have a heart!) . . . the list is longer and sadder than I can say.  And we could then move from noticing to taking action.  What a wonderful world, then, indeed.

Wishing you all happiness — and not just on Thursday.  JAZZ LIVES wouldn’t have a reason to exist without you.

“I NEVER KNEW”: GERRY GREEN’S CRESCENT CITY SHAKERS with SPECIAL GUESTS DAN BARRETT and CLINT BAKER

Usually ignorance isn’t bliss — but when the condition of Unknowing sounds like this (a cross between a jam session, the 1933 Chocolate Dandies, and an unissued Keynote Records session done in New Orleans) it’s a very good thing.

This band — to be more serious for a few words — was having a good time in Vancouver, B.C., on November 20, 2011, as part of the Vancouver Jazz Dance festival.  Its regular personnel includes leader Gerry Green on reeds, Bob Pelland on piano, Jim Armstrong on trombone and vocal, Bill Dixon on banjo, and the very solid Dave Brown on string bass.  That would be enough for most hearers, but the two guests were truly special: Dan Barrett on trumpet, trombone, and vocal; Clint Baker on drums.

Here they are contradicting the title of the song — I NEVER KNEW.  You don’t learn to play like this in school, and there’s nothing ignorant about this music:

Thanks to the elusive but expert for capturing this performance and others with such skill!

THE WORD FOR THAT IS “STYLE”: JO JONES and HIS MAGIC HI-HAT, July 7, 1973

It’s not how much equipment you have, it’s what you do with it.  Ida Cox knew this, so did the great Sages, and Jo Jones exemplified it.  Thanks to George Wein, the “Gretsch Greats” performed outdoors at the Newport Jazz Festival in New York on July 7, 1973.  Jo Jones was at that time the Elder Statesman and the Famously Unpredictable Eccentric of the art form.

Legend has it that the young (Tony Williams) and the middle-aged (Max Roach) came out and did their best to show all the ways in which they could make sounds by using every part of their drum kits.  (On the recording we have here, the drummers are Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis, and Freddie Waits.)

Sly and subversive, Papa Jo came out with only his hi-hat cymbals and a pair of sticks and “washed them all away.”

It may be difficult at this remove to imagine the whole spectacle: Jo was entirely theatrical, and it is a pity we don’t have a video recording of his grimaces, his eye-poppings, his grin turning on and off like a massive searchlight, his mutterings (those meant to be heard and the rest) but JAZZ LIVES readers do not lack imagination and will be able to improvise from what they hear.

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/gretsch-greats/concerts/central-park-july-07-1973.html

This recording comes to us through “Wolfgang’s Vault,” which has already offered such treasures as the Benny Carter Swing Masters concert (1972), the Braff-Barnes Quartet, and a number of Newport rarities only imagined before this.  Thanks also to the great friend of JAZZ LIVES and of living jazz everywhere, Ricky Riccardi, for pointing this out.

And, as he should, George Wein — who worked with Jo perhaps twenty years before — has the last word, admiringly.

LYNN REDMILE: PAINTER WITH A CAMERA

Since it appears that everyone has a camera or a camera phone, I sometimes imagine the cosmos brimful of pixels flying hither and yon.  But often the results suggest that these well-intentioned people are aiming their cameras in the approximate vicinity of something they like and hoping for the best.  Consider the two high-school girls exuberantly aiming their phone at their own happy faces.  It’s a way to create lovely memories, but it is far from photography, the art of creating portraits that will stand deep scrutiny.

Lynn Redmile is a genuine photographer, the exception to the proliferation of cheerfully evanescent candid shots.  In a world of pointers and shooters, she is a painter who happens to have a camera rather than a set of brushes and a palette.

Because Lynn so deeply loves the sound of the music that improvisers create and the motions that she and other dancers invent in response, her photography has a sweet willingness to take risks, a smile as part of the ultimate exposure.

Consider the photograph below, taken at a November 11, 2011, evening in honor of Diane Naegel*, who died at 31 of breast cancer.  It presents three young women, each singularly beautiful, assembled as if into a casually friendly constellation.  The bright star on the right (dressed in red) is Nasiveli Sarygulova.  (I am sure she or someone else will provide the name of the two other luminaries.)  You might be thinking, “With such extraordinary human material to work with, anyone could take a great photo,” but I think this would be incorrect.

I see the careful artistic imagination of the photographer here, making choices: arranging the three friends in this way, with a wise intuitive knowledge of colors and shapes in balance.  And it is not simply their beauty that makes the portrait so compelling, but the way in which these three Graces have revealed themselves to Lynn.

Having seen both the reality — life as it appears to one’s eyes — and the photographic portraits Lynn has made of that reality, I know that she creates depths and shadings that we would not have seen before.  This isn’t a matter of equipment — to ask Lynn what camera she uses is an irrelevancy.  And the beauty of this portrait has nothing to do with Photoshop.  No, Lynn has seen something in her subject that might not otherwise have been accessible to our eyes or to a quick snapshot.

Lynn’s site is full of such portraits — that make even the most hasty scanner stop, consider, and savor.  And I can say quietly — receiving no commission for these words — she is available for swing dances, baby pictures, dog and cat portraits, nude studies of your heartthrob, weddings, and more.

Works of art.  See for yourself at http://www.lynnredmile.com.

*Diane and Don Spiro created the magazine ZELDA — a witty, precise piece of art devoted to all things vintage —  http://www.zeldamag.com/  — which I will write more about in another post.  For now, visit the magazine’s website and marvel.

THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO DIE

Jo Jones once told an interviewer that he was writing a book, THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO DIE, a chronicle of musicians he was devoted to who had died too young.  He recalled saxophonist Dick Wilson, hospitalized and on a no-salt diet,  — begging his friends to bring him salt.  Someone did and the thoughtless kindness hastened the saxophonist’s death.

But this post isn’t about excessive sodium.  Today is November 21, 2011, and because it is Coleman Hawkins’ birthday — even though he is no longer here to enjoy the attention — radio station WKCR-FM plays his music for 24 hours.

I always think of Hawkins as being aware of his purpose.  His playing reveals a strong, focused individual: neither tentative nor timorous.  He seems to have known he was meant to be the king of the tenor saxophonists, whether he was competing with Lester Young or Sonny Rollins.  Hawk was a gladiator, intolerant of limitations, a musician who would test others — asking a youthful Oscar Peterson to play IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN — but in B natural.  In photographs, Hawkins has the amused swagger of the man who knows he can back up anything he says.  Yet late in his career he became indifferent to anything but his horn and cognac, the latter often taking precedence.  To say only that he “was an alcoholic” is the most limited judgmental of assessments.

His contemporary (and his equal) Lester Young seems a man with an almost unbearable sensitivity, deeply wounded, carrying a lifetime of hurt — from being exiled from the family band to his victimization in the US military, to hearing his music taken over by younger copyists.  I can see why Lester eventually did not care whether he lived or not.

But the mystery of Hawkins — a powerful man defeated — leads me to the question of why some musicians prevail and others succumb.  Some players seem to be — and I write this without moral condemnation — eternal children, deeply in love with play to the exclusion of all else.  Consider Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmie Blanton, Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker.  That sweetly intense focus is both their glory and their doom.  No one can say that they were meant to live to be middle-aged or more.

Some musicians, surrounded early on by situations where alcohol is the common bond, expected reward, the needed stimulus, lose their balance.  When once a drink or two was the impetus to be loose enough to improvise, to “get in the zone,” the servant becomes the master.  At the ends of their careers, both Hawkins and Young had no interest in food.  Too, some of these players seemed to cultivate relationships only with their instruments.  They had friends and colleagues on the bandstand, yes — but not spouses or lovers.  Monogamy has never been the universal panacea, but sympathetic intimate companionship can do a great deal to keep loneliness and despair at bay.

I cannot take Louis as my sole example (tempting as it is) but he was conscientious about his health, had a loving wife and a home, preferred marijuana to alcohol, and took joy in his existence and its simple pleasures.  Perhaps we all need these balances in our life: to be grateful for simple things, to keep our pleasures from overwhelming us, to cultivate a sunny disposition.  Then again, who knows what mixture of nurture and nature is at work?  Perhaps I wish only that both Hawkins and Lester had been happier in their twilights.  It is something I would wish for all of us, not just musicians.

MUSINGS IN RHYTHM: HARRY ALLEN and KEITH INGHAM at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 17, 2011)

I think my description is accurate: two deep players united by mutual admiration and a love for melody and where it might go — performing leisurely duets at Jazz at Chautauqua on some less-familiar songs.  Close your eyes and go deeply inside this lovely music!

BAUBLES, BANGLES, AND BEADS (from the musical KISMET — based on the music of Borodin, if I recall correctly) seguing into THE DRIFTERS:

A lovely song I’d never heard before — written by Percy Faith — MAYBE SEPTEMBER:

And to close, music by Irving Berlin for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, CHANGE PARTNERS:

By the way, Harry often tours Europe and the UK.  I know that Keith would be delighted to visit his homeland for a playing tour.  Any UK bookers reading JAZZ LIVES?  They should be!

HOWARD ALDEN AND FRIENDS PLAY JACOB DO BANDOLIM at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 17, 2011)

I trust guitarist Howard Alden’s taste in music.  But I had never heard of the Brazilian mandolinist / composer Jacob Do Bandolim before this session at Jazz at Chautauqua started.  I had heard of the pop music form “choro” (a kind of cousin to ragtime) from conversations with Ehud Asherie and Julio Andrade Schwarz, but their words didn’t prepare me for this set. 

The melodies are lovely and the playing is . . . well, “sublime” is not too strong a word, I think.  Howard’s colleagues here are Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums.  

Howard began with a trio version of SIMPLICIDADE:

BENZINHO:

MIGHALAS DE AMOR (TEARS OF LOVE):

The set ended with a glorious version of ASSANHADO:

Beautiful melodies, tenderly explicated by jazz masters . . . !

P.S.  I heard a rumor that the Hotel Athenaeum is going to start serving freshly-made chimichurri sauce with every meal in honor of this new and delicious Brazilian trend . . . I hope it’s true!

SLIM AND SPAM

One of the fascinating aspects of having a blog is the spam messages sent to it, or to me.  It’s hard to take them personally: they are rather like flyers for the local Chinese restaurant stuck under the door, or the thick wad of newspaper (with ads for everything I really don’t plan to purchase) that is sent to me weekly.  I am not talking here about the gibberish studded with references to “payday loans” and enhancements to body parts, but to something more subtle — at first glance — that I will call the ALL-PURPOSE HALF-TRANSLATED COMPLIMENT.  The English here is almost idiomatic, but it doesn’t arrive where it’s intended (which makes me suspect that these rote encomia are written in another language and fed into Google Translate) and the results are just slightly out of tune.  I go on deleting them, sometimes laughing as I do so, but I thought that those readers who don’t have blogs might enjoy a handful of auto-compliments floating in cyberspace. 

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THE SWING SESSION’S CALLED TO ORDER: HARRY ALLEN, DAN BLOCK, DAN LEVINSON, SCOTT ROBINSON, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS, REBECCA KILGORE at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 17, 2011)

I was tempted to call this post COUNT BASIE MEETS MARILYN MONROE, but thought better of it and opted for the title of a 1937 Victor 78 with Mezz Mezzrow, Sy Oliver, J.C. Higginbotham, and others — for this delightful late-night saxophone / vocal gala. 

Sessions featuring a proliferation of one kind of instrument (you know, four trumpets and a rhythm section) sometimes rely on drama for their motivating force: will A outplay B?  But these musicians are united my love and admiration rather than competition, so they left the cutting contest out on the Hotel Athenaeum lawn.  Basie, not JATP. 

And what musicians!  On the reeds, we have Scott Robinson, Dan Levinson, Dan Block, Harry Allen; with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, bass; Pete Siers, drums — with a lovely cameo appearance by Becky Kilgore, singing two songs associated with Marilyn Monroe — while remaining our Becky. 

Theu began this session with a BASIE BLUES — a time-tested stress reliever and my secret recipe for world peace:

In the same lovely mindset, TICKLE-TOE —  Lester Young’s tribute to a marvelous dancer . . . in music that keeps dancing in our heads:

For Hawkins, but also for Lester (think 1942) and Sonny Rollins, a series of improvisations on BODY AND SOUL:

Something sweet from Miss Kilgore — evoking Marilyn Monroe but not copying any of her vocal mannerisms on a song few people know, INCURABLY ROMANTIC:

And something witty and silly, A LITTLE GIRL FROM LITTLE ROCK:

To close, a saxophone opus (think of Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Lockjaw Davis, Gene Ammons, and Sonny Stitt), BLUES UP AND DOWN:

What a marvelous session — not exactly DANCING WITH THE STARS . . . more like ROCKING WITH THE MASTERS.

THE (POSSIBLY REVERSIBLE) DECLINE OF THE WEST (Nov. 18, 2011)

Last night, on my way to Smalls to hear Joel Press and Spike Wilner, I walked past a Greenwich Village bar / restaurant that was advertising JAZZ on its sandwich board outside.  This was exciting news, and I was hopeful and curious.  I ventured in and listened for ten minutes.  It seemed to be a good-natured jam session — trumpet, saxophone, guitar, drums, with one of the horns occasionally sitting at the piano and chording when not taking a solo.  It was pleasing to see that the players were a diversified little group.  They finished their improvisation on some mildly familiar changes and launched into the very pretty ballad POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS.

The guitarist was more than competent, but his volume was high, and it seemed as if he couldn’t wait to begin playing double-time.  The drummer had a pair of wire brushes (a great thing) but was out of synch with the rest of the group — so busily accenting phrases that the time was often lost; the saxophonist had a pleasant tone but was offering a mix of famous Bird licks; the trumpeter didn’t seem to realize that he was playing a love song.

I sighed, and thought (not for the first time) that I want a second business card — in addition to the JAZZ LIVES ones now fluttering through the universe.  It wouldn’t advertise anything, but would make two moral statements:

BRING BACK MEDIUM TEMPO

REMEMBER BEN WEBSTER

Does this sound like a good idea?  I could leave them on music stands . . . .

P.S.  Then I went to hear Spike and Joel — fellows who know these things deep in their souls, so all was well.

ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY SEA, THREE BY ANDY STEIN (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 17, 2011)

Violinist / saxophonist / vocalist / composer Andy Stein is very serious about his music but light-hearted about many other things, and this comes through in performance as a kind of ebullient playfulness.

Here’s a refreshing sample of the Stein magic from Jazz at Chautauqua (Sept. 17, 2011): hot jazz, sweet music, and a good dose of hilarity — not in that order, but you will see that for yourself.  Andy’s compatriots are Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Levinson, reeds; Bob Havens, trombone; Keith Ingham, piano; Glenn Holmes, string bass; Bill Ransom, drums.

From the 1936 Fletcher Henderson book (a comedy-meets-jazz number that we hope was a wow at the Grand Terrace: it must have impressed the Victor people as well), a precursor to JEOPARDY — KNOCK, KNOCK, WHO’S THERE?:

And something pretty — I hear Vic Dickenson in my mind’s ear, since this was the feature number he chose most often, with good reason — IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

From the Twenties but still lively – for Bix and Eddie, for Joe Venuti and Joe Sullivan, Lester and Lee Castle, JAZZ ME BLUES:

Long may Andy and his Gang — in whatever version! — prosper.

“MINGUS ON MINGUS” — BETTER GET IT IN YOUR SOUL!

Film producer Valeria Rios is in the process of filming a documentary on Charles Mingus — that man and musician whose mystery and intensity seems inexhaustible.

Kevin Ellington Mingus, grandson of the great man, is the documentary’s director.  And its title, quite naturally, will be MINGUS ON MINGUS.  Last week Kevin and Valeria launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for filming the rest of the interviews of the documentary.  Their goal is  $45,000 in 40 days.  And to add to the drama (Charles Mingus was nothing if not dramatic), if they do not reach their goal, they get nothing.

The link to our video: http://kck.st/vCCn8N

For more info, visit their website: www.orangethenblue.com

Mingus deserves the attention, the reverence, and the support.

Music to support bold enterprises by — nearly an hour of Mingus live in Norway, 1964:

JAZZ WORTH READING: “NORMAN GRANZ: THE MAN WHO USED JAZZ FOR JUSTICE,” by TAD HERSHORN

Three singular personalities have been responsible for much of what we now take for granted in jazz in the last hundred years in recordings and public performance: John Hammond, George Wein, and Norman Granz.

Hammond wrote his own somewhat mythic autobiography and was the subject of a tepid posthumous biography.  Wein, the only member of the trio still with us, has an expansive autobiography.  Granz, who died in 2001, discouraged efforts to write his story until journalist and jazz scholar Tad Hershorn entered his life.  And Hershorn’s biography of Granz is a substantial accomplishment.

A book on Granz as record producer (for fifty years) would have been intriguing in itself, for even though Granz alternated between being controlling and negligent, he recorded Armstrong, Fitzgerald, Holiday, Young, Webster, Tatum, Parker, Gillespie, O’Day, Getz, Hampton, Wilson, Konitz, Hawkins, Eldridge, Rich, Peterson, Ellington, Basie . . . The sessions are uneven, but the energy animating them is undeniable, and the successes are memorable.  Imagine a jazz cosmos without JATP, Norgran, Clef, Verve, Pablo.

Another book might have chronicled Granz the concert promoter — the inventor of Jazz at the Philharmonic, the model for many concerts to come after its inception in the early Forties.  (Who else would have Louis, Ella, and Tatum on the same bill?)

And there might have been another book concerning Granz as friend-of and sometimes enemy-of: his relations with Picasso, with Sinatra, Ellington, Peterson, Fitzgerald, among others, are intriguing windows into his character and theirs, providing both inspiring and acrimonious anecdotes.

But the narrative Hershorn chose to tie these stories together is Granz’s vehement, unwavering vision of jazz as a racially integrated music played in public for integrated audiences.  Younger (or more idealistic) readers may be startled by the historical information that emerges in the first fifteen years of Granz’s years as a concert promoter: yes, there were drinking fountains for “colored” and “white,” as well as restaurants that did not serve anyone appropriately light-skinned.  Granz, who often appears to be someone indifferent to social grace, an abrasive, self-righteous and self-absorbed figure, comes through as a heroic figure who made it possible for “mixed” audiences to sit together and to hear American music (a struggle, I must point out, that he didn’t originate — although he continued it valiantly).

Hershorn’s book is the result of fifteen years of work on the subject, including a number of in-person interviews of an ailing (although still acerbic) Granz.  The book is thoroughly researched — some forty pages of footnotes, a chronology, an extensive bibliography, rare photographs.  The book has no competition, and he has spoken with people who knew Granz — from publicist Virginia Wicks to Peterson to Quincy Jones and Nat Hentoff — so this book has a freshness many other jazz biographies lack because the important sources are long dead.

But Granz — energetic, willful, moving quickly — is a difficult subject because he is always in motion.  Occasionally Hershorn’s chronological organization (with extended considerations of important musicians and friends) seems like an airport walkway, efficient but constraining.  At times the mere data seems overwhelming: during the JATP period, we learn about every concert tour — the players, itinerary, gross receipts.  A biographer should fall in love with the material, and is writing both for the contemporary audience and for future generations who may use the book as an invaluable research tool.  But some of this material might have profitably been placed in an appendix, unless it was needed for the dramatic arc of the story.

Granz’a extended career and long active life — I would not have wished it otherwise — also pose problems for a biographer properly intent on showing him an unacknowledged civil rights pioneer.  Once Granz can be sure that the local police won’t attempt to plant drugs on his musicians; once they can stay at the best hotels; once there is no restriction on who can sit where in the audience, much of the air goes out of the book.  Once the battle has been won, Granz can go on being a wealthy businessman, an art collector, friends with Picasso, playing tennis.  To be fair, this diminuendo is often the inevitable pattern of biographies: when the book is focused on its subject’s struggle towards a goal, what happens to the biography once that goal is achieved?

But overall the book is a fine one.  Hershorn has managed his relationship to his subject with great grace.  Some biographers loathe their subject and crow over errors of judgment,  meanness of spirit.  Others adore their subjects and make excuses for bad behavior.  Hershorn is careful, accurate, and fair, permitting us to applaud what Granz made possible even if we find the man unpleasant.  Hershorn is also a clear writer, although too fond of casual cliche — “the red carpet treatment,” “made no bones about it,” “wined and dined” — for me, but this will not bother others.  And in an era where large, detailed books are becoming more and more rare, to have published this one is a remarkable accomplishment.

If occasionally the reader tires of Granz, the book can be put aside for a day.  Or one might listen to a half-hour of Pres and Teddy, Ben Webster with strings, Billie Holiday with Jimmy Rowles, or one of the Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks.  For those masterpieces, one would forgive Granz anything.