Dan Block is full of refreshing, gratifying ideas.
His imagining Fats Waller’s compositions as played by the John Kirby Sextet in the twenty-first century makes its own appealing sense. Kirby and Waller knew each other and even show up in the same place (as in Fats’ Carnegie Hall concert in 1942). Their paths probably crossed in ways not documented in jazz histories or discographies. One can, without much exertion, imagine them having a drink — or several — uptown, and we know they both had a Henderson connection and they both led very well-known and immediately identifiable small jazz groups.
I suspect also that Dan, a thinking person — engage him on a political question and you’ll see what I mean — enjoys puzzles that require imagination to solve or untangle. So the idea of writing arrangements within (and without) a clearly defined style for songs that have powerful melodic lines would have intrigued him. And the music intrigues me.
At Jazz at Chautauqua, the results of this industry were clear: visually, in the pages of music unfurled in front of expert sight-readers Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan and Scott Robinson, reeds; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums. And what we heard was instantly entrancing: part of it was the pleasure of the band’s innate swing. (Whisper this: they swung much more than the Kirby crew did . . . ) The other pleasure was in hearing something both old and new at once: beautiful skirling Waller melodies from new angles. It was a remarkable occasion and a stirring set, as you will see.
Here’s a very pretty ballad, IF IT AIN’T LOVE (listeners with substantial record collections may want to revisit the Boswell Sisters version or the Bobby Hackett serenade done at a Condon Town Hall concert as well):
What started out as I WISH I WERE TWINS, when cross-bred with Bach’s A minor violin concerto, became in the fertile Block imagination I WISH BACH COULD SEE MY TWINS:
LONESOME ME, sweetly sorrowful:
I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, perennially swinging:
And HENDERSON STOMP, a “secret” Waller composition: did he sell it for alimony money or for other, more pleasant rewards?
In an ideal world, DAN BLOCK PLAYS JOHN KIRBY PLAYS FATS WALLER would be a hit at jazz festivals, and there would be several CD sets, for Dan’s imagination is just that splendidly sprawling. I can dream, can’t I?