Monthly Archives: June 2012

KALLY PRICE’S DEEP SOUL (Red Poppy Art House, June 17, 2012)

I’ve admired the singer / songwriter Kally Price for some time now, and think it’s a very good omen that she was appearing at the very cozily singular Red Poppy Art House in San Francisco (visit it here) three days after we arrived in California.  She was joined by pianist / accordionist / composer Rob Reich (of Gaucho and other groups), string bassist Dan Fabricant, and drummer Beth Goodfellow.  Kally doesn’t shout or scream or gyrate, but it’s clear that her singing and her songs come from deep within her — a powerful private soul that she shares most readily with us.  She doesn’t sing at her songs, or even sing her songs . . . she becomes them.  And the three other musicians on the little stage gave her empathic support and love.

Here are some of the highlights of their two sets.

After a terse, romping I GOT RHYTHM (mixing Fifty-Second Street, Mel Powell, Bud Powell, and Kansas City) that the trio played while I was getting my camera accustomed to the dark, Rob offered his own composition, an unnamed waltz that he said was somewhat spooky.  For the moment, then, it’s SPOOKY WALTZ:

Kally shared one of her songs — simple yet intense, apparently plain but full of oblique twists and turns.  She calls it MY JOB:

She is very fond of the great singers of the Thirties, and here’s a medley that connects Billie Holiday and Ivie Anderson, in LET’S CALL A HEART A HEART and LOVE IS LIKE A CIGARETTE:

Tampa Red’s ROCK IT IN RHTYHM, which everyone on the stand was more than able to enact with style:

Rob, Dan, and Beth offer a spirited GLADIOLUS RAG:

I associate FLAMINGO with the 1941 Ellington band and rhapsodic delivery of the lyrics by Herb Jeffries (still with us!); here, Dan Fabricant takes it on himself to reinvent those same lyrics: the effect is mesmerizing, more or less:

Kally returns for a fervent WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

Her tribute to the late Regina Pontillo, THE HOPEFUL PLACE, a small devout masterpiece:

MELT MY HEART, a song with hymnlike intensity:

And finally her own LOVE FOR THE ASKING:

I hope the world keeps discovering Kally Price and her noble abetters.  I can’t decide if she sings with a powerful delicacy or a delicate power, but it really doesn’t matter.  We are so very lucky to have her.

May your happiness increase.

MORE FROM HARRY ALLEN AND FRIENDS at FEINSTEIN’S (June 10, 2012)

People are surely known by the company they keep.  Harry Allen is not only a splendid creative musician and a deeply gracious person — he also has superb friends.  Three of them are in his Quartet — Chuck Riggs (drums), Joel Forbes (string bass), and Rossano Sportiello (piano).

This delicious combination took the stage on Sunday, June 10, 2012, at Feinstein’s (the comfortable club nestled within Loews Regency, 540 Park Avenue, New York City). Harry and his friends were there thanks to Mat and Rachel Domber, the generous spirits responsible for so much good music through Arbors Records and live concerts.

It was a privilege to be there, and the Beloved and I basked in the warm, friendly atmosphere of that room — and the warm creativity of the players. And for the first time, I was allowed to video-record the evening, so consider yourself invited to the extraordinary musical scene created magically by Harry and friends — with surprises to come.  (In the house were Dan Morgenstern, Daryl Sherman, Marlene VerPlanck, Gwen Calvier and her beau Joe, and a few surprises . . . )

I posted the first glorious set of that evening here.  Delicious, isn’t it?

Two of Harry’s friends joined the band for a second helping — Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), well-known to JAZZ LIVES, and the majestic Joe Temperley (baritone sax), whom I am honored to have here.

They began their explorations with BLUE SKIES:

Only bands that are this far from being lost — in any way — can play PERDIDO so wonderfully:

Joe offered us a beautifully mobile THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU:

For his part, Jon-Erik made us feel good with a romping THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU:

And, as Louis would write at the end of a page, S’all — but there will be more to come.

May your happiness increase.

THE GLORY DAYS: FRANK CHACE in CHICAGO, MARCH 30,1964

This newspaper photograph depicts a wonderful band caught in action at the Chicago Historical Society.  The leader is the elusive, wise, generous, acerbic, witty, sad clarinetist Frank Chace — you can see his bass sax to the rear.  Next to him is cornetist Lew Green, then cornetist Jim Dapogny, surely also playing piano on the date, and the late trombonist Jim Snyder.

Brother Hal Smith filled in the other personnel for us, people not shown in the photograph but essential: Bob Sundstrom, banjo; Mike Walbridge, tuba; Wayne Jones, drums.  An unissued on-location recording also exists, although I think I have not heard it.

Were they playing THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE or perhaps RIVERSIDE BLUES?  Ah, to have been there!

But we have the photograph — courtesy of a Chicago wire service and then eBay.  For once, I succumbed and bought it.  There’s a space on my bedroom wall that needs filling with memorable hot jazz.

May your happiness increase.

GET HAPPY?

Over breakfast, the Beloved and I were talking about worry.  Everyone knows in some logical way that worry is useless and destructive, but most people have a hard time asking our anxieties to take a nap.

You can read her moving ruminations on the subject here

As is my habit, my thoughts drifted to music . . . and I started telling her about the paradoxical phenomenon I associate with 1931-33: delightful songs where the singer cheerfully tells the audience that WE’RE OUT OF THE RED, WE’RE IN THE MONEY, HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN, and so on.  The title of this post — with no question mark — is a Harold Arlen-Ted Koehler exhortation.

“Better times are coming . . . now and then,” said philosopher Josh Billings, musing over his suitcase and whiskbrooms.

Then, there’s WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, whose lyrics still make a good deal of emotional sense (although the verse and the chorus seem to have come from two different songs):

and the more manic (or is it simply Ted Lewis’ delivery) DIP YOUR BRUSH IN THE SUNSHINE — where Benny Goodman and Muggsy Spanier embody optimism without speaking a word:

and the songs that silently say, “We have no place to go and no money, so let’s tell ourselves it’s fine and perhaps it will be,” such as LET’S SPEND AN EVENING AT HOME and the older SLEEPY TIME GAL, where the singer tells his partner that it would be so delightful to forgo “cabaretting” and staying out late in favor of domesticity.  KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE — because, as the subtitle tells us, TROUBLE’S A BUBBLE.

Or the culinary versions of this sentiment: A CUP OF COFFEE, A SANDWICH, AND YOU, and LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES.

My question — unanswerable although enticing — is whether these songs made a difference or they were lies manufactured by people in the Brill Building who knew that writing about imaginary prosperity could make them fifty dollars.  Were these songs the musical version of cheap gin, another effort to keep the peasants from overturning their apple carts and marching on the government with pitchforks and bricks?

From my vantage point in 2012 with breakfast consumed and the promise of a lunch, I can find these songs enchanting.  I can grin at RAISIN’ THE RENT and GET YOURSELF A NEW BROOM (AND SWEEP YOUR CARES AWAY) but I wonder how people who were hungry felt when they heard these Timely Tunes.  Did hearing BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? make anyone without coinage feel better?

May you all find that your troubles vanish when wrapped in dreams.

May your happiness increase.

JOHN GILL’S AMERICAN SONGS (Part Two: May 30, 2012)

It’s easy to tell the truth . . . so I will write it again.  (If you didn’t see Part One of this happy musical evening, here it is.)

Although John Gill is soft-spoken and wryly modest, he’s an extraordinary figure. It’s not just that he is a swinging banjoist, guitarist, drummer, and trombonist. It’s not merely that he is an intuitively fine bandleader: his bands have a certain serious lope, and the musicians look happy (no small thing). It’s not simply that he is a splendidly moving singer.

What makes John unique to me is the range and depth of his musical imagination. Many musicians have found a repertoire they prefer and it becomes their identity: when you go to hear X, you know that (s)he will play RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE. Y will break out one of the OLOGY tunes — ANTHROP or ORNITH. Z likes SATIN DOLL.

But John Gill’s world isn’t narrowly defined by one group of songs, one “genre,” one “style.” His knowledge of American music and performance styles is long, deep, and wide. In his spacious imagination, Bix and Louis visit Bing and Pat Boone; Elvis has coffee with Jolson; they hang out with Hank Williams and Buddy Holly, while Johnny Dodds, Billy Murray, Turk Murphy, and Lu Watters gossip about Tommy Rockwell and what’s new at the OKeh studios. Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker talk fashion; Cole Porter, George M. Cohan, and W. C. Handy compare royalty statements. King Oliver lifts the sugar bowl from Scott Joplin’s table, and Jimmie Rodgers does the Shim-me-Sha-Wabble.

When John is in charge, none of this seems synthetic or forced; you never hear the sound of gears changing. All of these musics live comfortably within him, and he generously shares them with us in his heartfelt, swinging ways. I had another opportunity to watch him in action at the National Underground on May 30 with his National Saloon Band — Will Reardon Anderson on clarinet and alto; Simon Wettenhall on trumpet; Kevin Dorn on drums; Steve Alcott on string bass.

Here’s the second part of that wide-ranging musical offering.

The NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES, which I associate with Bessie Smith and a 1940 Johnny Dodds recording:

Leadbelly’s THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL:

For Sophie Tucker, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and a thousand others — that hot jazz admonition, SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Another Jimmie Rodgers evergreen, THE DESERT BLUES:

I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned Cole Porter above; here’s I LOVE PARIS:

A song by Ewan MacColl from 1949, made famous by The Dubliners, DIRTY OLD TOWN:

Lots of fun with THE SECOND LINE IN NEW ORLEANS, a rocking good time:

John evokes Bing Crosby splendidly — without imitating him note-for-note — and he performed one of my favorite early Bing romantic songs, PLEASE (it’s part of the Polite Bing Trilogy: MAY I? / PLEASE / THANKS:

And to close off the performance (they kept on, but bourgeois responsibilities called me home), they performed John’s own salute to New Orleans, THE BORDER OF THE QUARTER:

In my ideal world, Professor Gill would be both Artist-in-Residence at any number of prestigious universities with American Studies programs . . . but he would have time to lead bands regularly.  Any takers?

May your happiness increase.

“STOP! DON’T SHOOT!”

I’m writing this post on behalf of a musician I respect — let’s call him Theodosius — who came to me at a jazz party with a reasonable request.

“Michael, could you spread the word in JAZZ LIVES — whose readers love the music and the musicians — that flash photography is very hard on us?  I’m in the middle of a solo, trying to make something beautiful and swinging, and a fan — no doubt a nice man or woman — sticks a camera or an iPhone in my face and the flash goes off and nearly blinds me for the next sixteen bars.  I know these folks only want an on-the-spot photo of someone they admire to take home, but it’s hard having explosions of light in our faces.”

I would be the last person to discourage people from taking photographs of our heroes . . . but Theodosius has a point.  In the most kind-hearted enthusiastic ways, people are sweetly oblivious of the havoc they create with their cameras.  I’ve seen fans who want to get close to the band stand up in front of large audience and push cameras into the band as it’s performing . . . distracting to the audience as well as the players.  Only at crime scenes in Forties movies do photographers — real ones — get in front of other people who are trying to see.

And even photographers with elaborately “professional” equipment have cameras that set off strobe flashes with the impact of small-arms fire (to say nothing of the clicking and beeping with each shot).

I asked several professional photographers I know — people who make their living photographing musicians and dancers — about this, and the consensus was solid: people who know how to use their cameras shut off the flash and set the camera or phone for a higher ISO speed . . . so the camera and the photographer are both unobtrusive, which is the ideal we all might aim for.

Wouldn’t it be delightful if the musicians were the whole show, not the fireworks in the audience?

May your happiness increase.

SUNDAY, MONDAY, and ALWAYS: THE HARRY ALLEN QUARTET at FEINSTEIN’S: The First Set (June 10, 2012)

Harry Allen is one of those rare musicians who needs only his horn to get something started — but when he’s joined by Chuck Riggs (drums), Joel Forbes (string bass), and Rossano Sportiello, a delicious combination of excitement and relaxation fills the room.  This happened once again on Sunday, June 10, 2012, at Feinstein’s (the comfortable club nestled within Loews Regency, 540 Park Avenue, New York City).  Harry and his friends were there — thanks to Mat and Rachel Domber, the generous spirits responsible for so much good music through Arbors Records and live concerts.

It was a privilege to be there, and the Beloved and I basked in the warm, friendly atmosphere of that room — and the warm creativity of the players.  And for the first time, I was allowed to video-record the evening, so consider yourself invited to the extraordinary musical scene created magically by Harry and friends — with surprises to come.

Harry began the evening with a loping performance of CHEEK TO CHEEK that would have pleased Fred, Ginger, and Mr. Berlin as well:

Then, something really pretty — a pensive reading of Kern’s SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES that, surprising us all, segued into a rollicking I WANT TO BE HAPPY with the first of several extraordinary outings from our hero Rossano at the piano:

The familiar anthem of hipness, SATIN DOLL:

And A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP (with such beautiful support from Joel and Chuck):

A tender MY FOOLISH HEART (did the SATIN DOLL prove fickle?):

Harry closed off the first set — a satisfying offering of jazz — with the always-delicious  (Basie-flavored) BLUES, this time in Ab:

Harry and friends have been a regular attraction on the first Monday of every month — for over a year now.  (The Sunday, June 10, date was an exception.)  They will return on the first Monday of September with more good sounds and special guests.  Here’s the schedule:

September 10th: (Harry and the young saxophone masters!)  Luigi Grasso, Jesse Davis, Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

October 8th: (Harry and splendid singers!)  Lynn Roberts, Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Mike Renzi, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

November 5th: (Harry and the jazz masters!)  Bucky Pizzarelli, Ken Peplowski, John Allred, Bill Allred, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

December 2nd: (Harry and the jazz masters, continued!)  George Wein and the Newport All Stars

You can find out more about the musical bill of fare offered at Feinstein’s by visiting http://www.fesinsteinsattheregency.com.

And I’ll be back shortly with more music from this glorious evening.  May your happiness increase.