Daily Archives: May 2, 2012

BLOSSOMS AND TREES: CLICK HERE FOR LOUIS!

As a recovering homeowner, I remember working in the suburban garden . . . without much pleasure.  It’s all a blur of shovels and gloves, pine bark chips, perennials and annuals.

But now you and I have an opportunity to make a garden grow — without raising a blister or breaking a sweat.  Perhaps you will also grow enthusiastic about this project when I remind you that it is the garden of the Louis Armstrong House Museum I am referring to.

If you like a logical Mobius strip, let me propose this one.

Louis Armstrong continues to make us happy even though the medical examiner said he was dead on July 6, 1971.  We can do something to make him — wherever his spirit is — happier by moving our respective computer mice.  And we are alive . . .

The Louis Armstrong House Museum was named one of forty historic places by American Express and the National Historic Trust for Historic Preservation. There’s a competition  — which began on April 26, 2012.   New York City’s first-ever citywide grassroots preservation contest will run through May 21st, 2012.

Partners in Preservation asks the public to vote online for the preservation project they like best.

And — no surprise — the Louis Armstrong House Museum is the only preserved home of a jazz legend in the contest!

“We are honored and excited to be among 40 organizations to compete in this preservation grant contest,” noted Michael Cogswell, Executive Director of the LAHM. “If we win, and we hope we do, the funds will preserve Louis and Lucille’s garden.” Louis Armstrong celebrated his 71st birthday in his beloved garden, two days before his death.

The Louis Armstrong House Museum is a living memoir of Louis and Lucille Armstrong: the house where they entertained friends; the den where Louis practiced, ate sardines, had a good time for nearly thirty years. LAHM, a non-profit 501c(3) organization, is a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark. All of its furnishings are original and have been preserved, giving visitors the feeling that Louis and Lucille just stepped out for a minute. The Louis Armstrong House Museum holds collections of photographs, sound recordings, letters, manuscripts, instruments, and artifacts, making it the largest publicly held archival collection in the world devoted to a jazz musician.

Until May 21, 2012, anyone 13 years of age and older, anywhere in the world can vote online for the Louis Armstrong House Museum either from their web-enabled mobile device, online or on Facebook.

The best way to vote is at http://www.facebook.com/louisarmstronghousemuseum.

Votes can be cast directly at http://partnersinpreservation.com/

Everyone can vote once a day for Louis Armstrong House Museum for 26 days up through May 21. On May 22, the top three vote-getters and the grants for their preservation projects will be announced.  Money will also be awarded for the most imaginative campaign . . . which we hope this is!

American Express, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and an advisory committee, will review the votes of the remaining sites along with each site’s monetary and preservation needs to determine how the rest of the $3 million in grants will be awarded.

“We are thrilled to bring this important preservation program to New York and highlight this city’s many historic treasures while emphasizing the importance of grassroots preservation efforts,” said Stephanie Meeks, President, the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Preservation of our historic places helps strengthen communities, generate jobs and build sustainable cities and towns. We hope Partners in Preservation will foster a deeper interest in protecting New York’s important historic and cultural sites for many decades to come.”

What does this mean to JAZZ LIVES readers, people who (I assume) love Louis and his music? It means we all have a chance to honor and help Louis and Lucille and their house . . . with a click of a mouse.

Spread joy — as Louis did — even if you never picked up a rake, a bag of fertilizer, or a trumpet. I’ve done my daily click. Won’t you?

Here’s a swinging pastoral reward for your good works:

May your happiness increase.

TRANSLUCENT EXPLORATIONS: LENA BLOCH QUARTET at SOMETHIN’ JAZZ (April 29, 2012)

I first met the tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch in fast company — alongside Joel Press, Brad Linde, Ted Brown, Michael Kanan.  And I was impressed immediately by her expertise and willingness to explore the unknown, what Sam Parkins called “precision and abandon.”

I haven’t managed to make it to as many of Lena’s gigs as I would like, but I made a special effort to get to this one: at a new club, Somethin’ Jazz (very nice!) on East 52nd Street between Second and Third Avenues, a ten-dollar cover and a ten-dollar minimum, with a new group for Lena — guitarist Dave Miller, drummer Billy Mintz, and bassist Putter Smith.  (With this group, she will be recording her debut CD, UNFOREHEARD.)  On the final two performances of this evening, pianist Roberta Piket sat in, most eloquently.

The music created wasn’t a reheating of the familiar.  In fact, the first two selections were floating inquiries rather than boxed-in statements of formulas, and I felt that the musicians had embarked on improvisational journeys even when the chord structures beneath the performances were familiar.  Lena guided the group but was also a gentle participant who didn’t demand the prerogatives of A Leader.  Each song embodied a gentle communal awareness, with a crucial openness-to-experience that we could feel.

Much of my pleasure was also in encountering musicians I had not known well if at all before this evening.  I had heard Putter Smith on several recordings, and musicians whose opinions I respect had spoken most fervently of him, but I was not prepared for the variety of sonorities he created, the sweet validity of his sound.  Dave Miller, bless him, didn’t feel compelled to fill space with notes and runs.  I could feel him thinking, quietly, “What might I add here?  Perhaps it could be a lovely silence.”

Billy Mintz is a revelation.  My drumming heroes of the past and present keep time, create colors, and drive the band forward — all noble aspirations.  Although Billy is intuitively connected to the rhythms that the band might float on, he is never mechanical, never content to create predictable patterns.  He struck me most strongly as thinking of what color, what texture, would best fit the situation — making it happen and then moving on to something new, never entrapping himself or the band.  He is soft-spoken and intent in person, equally so at the drums.  Like Dave and Putter, he is poetic without being showy, generous yet spare.

All I will say about Roberta Piket is that I want to hear her play more and again: she has a great deal of technique and accuracy, but it never dominates her music.  Her soloing and accompaniment were elegant but not fussy; she added so much without calling attention to herself.

Lena was free and brave, questing towards something whose name she might not have known, but getting somewhere satisfying — whether humming almost in a whisper, echoing the songs of a mythological bird, or showing that she, too, could follow the Tristano – Konitz – Marsh – Brown path without being hemmed in by its rules and obligations.

At the end of the evening, I felt as if I had witnessed art both translucent and powerful, with echoes of Lester Young and Brahms, of Eastern meditation and collective invention: strong but never harsh, sweetly fulfilling in its desire to ask questions without worrying about conclusions.

Some of my more “traditionally-minded” readers might think this music more open-ended than they would like . . . and they are free, as always, to recall Chaucer’s gentle encouragement to choose another page.  But if they embrace the bravery that animates the jazz they so love, I invite them to choose a performance based on “familiar chord changes” and start there.  I predict that open-hearted listening will make their hearts more light and more full.

Here is the music that made me write the elated words you have, I hope, read.

Lena’s questing original, 33:

Billy’s BEAUTIFUL YOU:

Ted Brown’s FEATHER BED (based on the chord changes of YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO):

Lena’s mournful reharmonization of STAR EYES — making it both deep and surprising:

MARSHMALLOW (based on CHEROKEE — by Warne Marsh with the bridge written by Lee Konitz:

Dave Miller’s deep searching RUBATO:

Roberta Piket joined in for Lena’s own HI LEE (based on HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN):

And Lena concluded the evening’s explorations with SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (written by Mr. Konitz but not titled by him — based on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?):

These musicians take us with them on their voyages.  I am exceedingly grateful.

May your happiness increase.