May I recommend something to the tristate JAZZ LIVES audience? It’s an evening of music coming this Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, beginning at 8 PM. Guitarist / singer / songwirter / thinker Matt Munisteri will be presenting THE LOST MUSIC OF WILLARD ROBISON along with friends Matt Ray on piano and Danton Boller on bass. Barbes is an intriguing spot in Brooklyn, New York: their site is Barbes — and they are located at 376 Ninth Street (corner of Sixth Avenue) in Park Slope; their phone is 347.422.0248. Barbes is — for the geographically anxious — reachable by the F train, which should calm us all.
Matt Munisteri is well-known as a fine guitarist to JAZZ LIVES — creating looping down-home solos and playing rocking rhythms — and as co-founder of The EarRegulars. But Matt rarely sings at The Ear Inn, so the evening at Barbes will allow us to hear him: a mixture of earnest and sly, heartfelt and ironic. Matt Ray creates note clusters that seem like small stars; Danton Boller is a great swing melodist. This trio would be worth the trip to Park Slope on their own collective / individual merits and voices, but since the subject (and the musical text) is Willard Robison, it will be an extra-special evening.
If people know of Robison at all, it is for his jazz connections — with Bix, Jack Teagarden, Eddie Lang, and other luminaries in the Twenties. Later on, his songs were sung in the most touching way by Mildred Bailey. A few became unforgettable pieces of the musical landscape: OLD FOLKS, A COTTAGE FOR SALE, and DON’T SMOKE IN BED. Robison was so popular that he made many recordings as a vocalist, pianist, bandleader, and composer; he had his own radio show.
But I fear that he has been misunderstood as a folksy poet of rural pieties — go to church, keep your hand on the plow, tell the truth. He did have strong moral beliefs and he did weave them into his songs, but I never find a bar of Robison’s music didactic or preachy.
And there is a sharp wit under the surface; his melodic lines often go in unexpected directions, and his “folksiness” is very expertly crafted. And he is very deep: listen to ‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM for one example.
Although Robison died in 1968, he has found someone who not only loves but understands him in Matt Munisteri — a romantic with a sharp eye for the absurdities of the world, a city boy who knows what it is to burn wood in a stove for heat. And even better: this appearance at Barbes is a preview, a coming-to-a-theatre-near-you for Matt’s CD devoted to Robison that will be released next year.
Skip the office party; don’t go to the department store. I’ll see you at Barbes!