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.

TWO RARE BEINGS, ONSTAGE, LAS VEGAS (February 19, 1962)

Photographs by Walter Fischer.

I know you all know these two highly recognizable individuals, but there’s a quiz below:

One . . .

Two . . .

Three!

Everyone suitably astonished, as I am?  Pencils ready?

Question: What song are they singing?  Points will be deducted for fanciful or offensive answers.

Question 2: Would they be the same height without top hat and high heels?

Extra Credit: Where can I purchase this Zenith radio?

May your happiness increase.

JOHN GILL’S AMERICAN SONGS: PART ONE (May 30, 2012)

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.  They began the evening with a MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR, which W. C. Handy then “adapted” as the ATLANTA BLUES:

One of those good old good ones that all the musicians love to play (and that includes Bix, Louis, Benny, and Basie), the ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

Here’s where John differs from the “traditional jazz” formula: how about the Jimmie Rodgers song T FOR TEXAS:

For the dancers (and they were at the National Underground that night), SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

If you enjoy odd intersections, I think MUDDY WATER counts as one, a song both Bing Crosby and Bessie Smith recorded in 1927:

Here’s a pretty 1931 pop tune that came back to life a quarter-century later (Vic Dickenson liked to play it, too), LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND:

And — to close off this segment — a song I’d only heard on recordings (Johnny Dodds); next time, I’ll ask John to sing WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO:

In my ideal New York City, John Gill is leading small hot bands like this on a regular basis.  It would take months before he and his colleagues had to repeat a song . . .  More to come!

May your happiness increase.

A DECADE OF SWING AND FUN!

Congratulations are in order to the splendidly swinging Rebecca Kilgore Quartet (formerly known as B E D) — a very gratifying group that has just completed its first decade of appearances, recordings, and accolades.  They are Rebecca Kilgore, vocals and rhythm guitar; Eddie Erickson, vocals, guitar, banjo, and hi-jinks; Dan Barrett, trombone, cornet, arrangements, vocals, piano, and travelogues; Joel Forbes, string bass.

Here they are — plus the wonderful New Orleans clarinetist Tim Laughlin — to show us what true spaciousness, even amplitude means — I’ll translate that as THAT’S A PLENTY — recorded at the much-missed Sweet and Hot Music Festival in 2011:

There are many other small groups out there clamoring for our attention, but the RK4 is special.  For one thing, they are an engaging bunch: there is always laughter on the stand, and the audience is encouraged to join in.  This quartet quickly turns listeners into friends.  There’s always something happening during their performances, which are delightfully varied — Becky floats delicately above the rocking rhythms provided by Eddie and Joel; Dan takes a cornet solo backed by Eddie’s banjo; Eddie sings a tender ballad or Becky shows off her multilingual prowess in French or Portuguese.  Dan shifts over to the piano to turn the band into a modern King Cole trio . . . the hour goes by too quickly.

Here’s what I wrote in 2010 about their glorious CD, YES, INDEED!

The Rebecca Kilgore Quartet has appeared at jazz festivals and parties worldwide — from Roswell, New Mexico, to Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Monterey in California, to Odessa, Texas and Clearwater Beach, Florida; they’ve done concerts and student outreach programs; they’ve appeared on the JazzFest at Sea Cruise; they perform at private parties big and small.  Since they joined forces a decade ago, they’ve created five rewarding compact discs: GET READY FOR B E D (2002) ; BEDlam (2004); WATCH OUT! (2006); B E D Four + 1 (2008); YES, INDEED! (2010) — all available on the Blue Swing Fine Recordings label.*

When they began to delight listeners a decade ago, their stated goal was “to swing and have fun.”  This hasn’t changed.  In fact, they’ve gotten better — offering lively, joyous music that you don’t have to be a “jazz fan” to enjoy.

I hear them in my dreams.

For bookings please contact Michael Francis: (575) 653-4603 or (575) 937-6304.  His email is: mfjazz@pvtnetworks.net — or find him at www.mfjazz.com

My only problem in writing this celebratory post is a philosophical one.  Should we be wishing the RK4 a Happy Birthday or a Happy Anniversary?  Readers are invited to write in with suggestions — but, better yet, pick a date for your next celebration and make sure that the RK4 is there, too.

*About those discs.  Each one is a treat . . . but that’s no surprise.  I always think the best way to buy one is to find the RK4 on a gig and get the discs direct, but I realize that isn’t always possible. The most recent one, YES, INDEED! is available here (that’s CDBaby).  For the others, you could go to the source — www.rebeccakilgore.com or email the lady herself at   info@rebeccakilgore.  (Becky’s got info. Who could ask for anything more?)

May your happiness increase.

CHICK WEBB, “THE SAVOY KING”: SWING SPIRITS HAUNT SEATTLE

The fine writer and musician Candace Brown attended the premiere of the new feature film, THE SAVOY KING: CHICK WEBB AND THE MUSIC THAT CHANGED AMERICA.  (You may know Candace through her perceptive, heartfelt blog, GOOD LIFE NORTHWEST — and if she’s new to you, you will want to make her acquaintance here.)

Here’s her review (interspersed with clips from THE SAVOY KING).  I can’t wait to see the film for myself!

Spirits haunt the Harvard Exit Theatre, some Seattleites say.  I do know that the spirit of Swing era drummer and band leader William Henry “Chick” Webb visited this 1925 building recently and played to a packed house.  While there for the Seattle International Film Festival (http://siff.net), I felt surrounded by his presence, his zest for life, and his passion for the music on which he left his mark, as I watched the world premiere of a film called “The Savoy King: Chick Webb and The Music That Changed America.”

The film’s writer, director and producer, Jeff Kaufman, described that music as “incredibly hot”during an interview on KUOW radio. “The music was made to light a fire inside of people and to charge a dance floor,” Kaufman remarked.  Chick Webb, as much as anyone, struck the match that lit that fire.  No wonder drummer Louie Bellson called him “the Louis Armstrong of drums.”

The film begins with the words “Giants come in all sizes.”  Chick Webb was indeed small.  He broke his back in a fall during childhood and never grew any taller, remaining under five feet. Compounding the crippling aftermath of his accident, he developed tuberculosis of the spine, which caused him to have a hunched back, limited use of his legs, and chronic pain.  Advised to take up drumming as a form of therapy, Webb found his life’s passion.  Then the world of Swing found him. Soon Louis Armstrong heard, and hired, the sensational young drummer, and they toured together with the musical HOT CHOCOLATES.

During a life that would last not much more than three decades, Webb came to be the father of modern jazz drumming.  He mentored Ella Fitzgerald.  He led the first black band to play in a number of white hotels, the first black band to host a national radio show.  He earned the title “King of the Savoy Ballroom” with his steady gig there leading the house band.

The story of this “King” and his ballroom go hand in hand and the film weaves the two together with a firm grip.  On opposing stages, bands battled in popular “cutting contests.” Webb’s band beat, among many others, those of Count Basie and Benny Goodman, defeated only by Duke Ellington.  And it was here that drummer Gene Krupa bowed to the “King” and told him, “I was never cut by a better man.”

The Savoy Ballroom, the first integrated music venue in America, opened in Harlem in 1926.  Reputed to be the world’s best, it attracted crowds of 5,000 to 6,000 dancers.  Kaufman recreates that scene through vintage film footage, computer wizardry, and quotes.  A Jewish man, Moe Gale, owned it and a black man, Charles Buchanan, ran it. Kaufman said, “It was sort of the Rosa Parks bus of music of the 1930s, and you can’t underestimate the impact that had.”  His amazement over how the Savoy brought people together helped drive the project.

Because so little footage of Webb exists, “The Savoy King” tells its story mostly through countless photos, filmed interviews, and old clips backed with narration, sometimes in the form of voice-overs by several of today’s celebrities reading quotes from Webb’s contemporaries.  Janet Jackson speaks the words of Ella Fitzgerald, Ron Perlman reads Gene Krupa, and Bill Cosby gives voice to Webb himself.  Kaufman included filmed interviews with several people who knew Webb personally, such as Louie Bellson, Lindy Hop dancers Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, playwright and actress Gertrude Jeanette, and others.  Fitzgerald’s son, Ray Brown Jr., shares his mother’s memories of Webb.

Kaufman devoted months, sometimes years, to finding and connecting with his interviewees and he has my gratitude. Priceless film footage of Gale’s son, Dr. Richard Gale, recalling stories and describing the intensity of his father’s grief over Webb’s death, underscores one of the major points of this film, that whatever degree of racial equality we now have in America was hard won, and music played a part.  The blunt portrayal of racial prejudice, through eyewitness accounts, could shock even those who consider themselves aware.  But that prejudice ended at the edge of the dance floor, where all that mattered was the feeling of swing.

“The Savoy King” should go down on record as one of the most important films shown at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival because of its significance to not only music history, but American history.  It goes far beyond documenting the life of one musician—no matter how influential he was.  The film offers lessons and inspiration.  It shows how America has changed, how a person can overcome incredible hurdles to reach their dreams, how one person can make a difference.

In his radio interview, Kaufman described Chick Webb as “the first drummer to drum with emotion.”  Webb died 73 years ago, on June 16, 1939, but that emotion lives on.  I heard it in the music and in the voices of those who knew him, and I felt it when the film’s audience gave a standing ovation.  I hope the presence of Chick Webb’s spirit added to the vibe at the Harvard Exit.  Maybe late at night, when the lights go out, the ghosts dance the jitterbug.  And I hope that vibrant energy will reverberate in my own soul forever.

The film’s website can be found here.

May your happiness increase.

JANE HARVEY SINGS: A RARE CLUB DATE (June 20, 2012)

Yes, that Jane Harvey!

JANE HARVEY RETURNS TO CATALINA JAZZ CLUB

Jazz and cabaret singer Jane Harvey, who first won fame with the bands of Benny Goodman, Les Brown, and Desi Arnaz in the 1940’s and went on to continued success on records, TV and nightclubs throughout the country, makes a rare Hollywood appearance at the Catalina Jazz Club on Wednesday, June 20, at 8 PM. accompanied by the Nick Fryman Trio with Kirk Smith on bass and Jack La Compte on drums.

She will be performing a new show featuring from her five critically-acclaimed new CD releases, featuring recordings that she’s made over past seven decades with Goodman, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Les Paul, Ellis Larkins, Zoot Sims, Doc Cheatham, Bucky Pizzarrelli, and many others.

Harvey, who was discovered by the legendary John Hammond in 1944, made many classic recordings with Benny Goodman for Columbia Records, among them “Gotta Be This or That,“ “He‘s Funny That Way,” “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me” and “Close as Pages in a Book,“ later winning new acclaim at New York’s Blue Angel and recording with the Desi Arnaz Orchestra for RCA Victor.

She headlined such legendary clubs as Ciro’s in Hollywood and the Copacabana in New York City, made many radio and TV appearances with Bob Hope and appeared on Broadway with Pearl Bailey in the Harold Rome musical “Bless You All.”

Her critically-acclaimed solo albums through the years have appeared on the Dot, Audio Fidelity, RCA and Atlantic labels.   Little Jazz Bird Records recently issued a five-CD set of the singer’s rare archival material that amazingly spans 1944 to 1996, with the titles “Lady Jazz,” “I’ll Never Go There Anymore,” “The Jazz Side of Sondheim,” “Travelin’ Light” and “The Undiscovered Jane Harvey,” featuring never-issued tracks with Ellington and Les Paul.

Reviewing a recent performance at Feinstein’s, critic Rex Reed wrote: “She knocked their socks off and is living proof that real talent never fades. It would be hard to imagine a more natural or heartfelt interpreter of this material. Jane Harvey is a true treasure brought back to life just when we need her most.”

The Catalina Jazz Club is located at 6725 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood and the phone is 323-466-2210. Find the club online here.   Visit Jane’s website here; for bookings, call Alan Eichler, 818-507-8918.

May your happiness increase.

ANOTHER JAZZ FATHER GONE: JIM LEIGH (June 18, 2012)

One of the rewards of being human is being able to form deep attachments with people we know for only a short time, or people we don’t get to know as well as we would like.  The trombonist and writer Jim Leigh died this afternoon (June 18, 2012) after a brief illness, and although my contact with him was scant and tardy — others knew him better and longer — I know we have lost someone remarkable.

I “met” Jim first in the pages of The Mississippi Rag, where he displayed an amused, observant intelligence — quick to praise but politely acerbic about those things that deserved a quick four-bar break.  I admired his candor and his affection for the music.  Much later, my dear friend Marc Caparone gave me a copy of Jim’s book and I was delighted, page after page.  When Jim read what I had written, he sent me a nearly astonished email and we corresponded intermittently, Jim showing his generosity by completing my Gremoli collection and also sending his copy of Herb Flemming’s memoir, wanting nothing in return.

Dick Karner had kindly sent me a copy of a TradJazz Productions CD, taken from tapes made at the Sail’N in 1958 — with a front line of Jim, Bob Helm, and Ev Farey.  I brought it with me this summer, intending to write about it — not only the joyous rough-hewn music but also Jim’s funny, sharp notes.  I will still do this, but it saddens me that Jim will not be reading it.

The only tribute I can pay Jim is to reprint what I wrote about his book, HEAVEN ON THE SIDE: A JAZZ LIFE, and to say that I will keep him alive in the only way I can, by missing him and feeling that another one of the Wise Elders — modest, incisive, swinging — has gone.

Knowing Jim Leigh, even as briefly as I did, was a privilege.

May your happiness increase.

———————————————————————————–

I knew Jim Leigh as a writer covering the West Coast scene for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG — someone observant, witty, occasionally satiric. Later, I knew him as a solidly rough-hewn trombonist, with plenty of pep and lowdown spice, what Dicky Wells called “fuzz.”

But it’s only recently that I have had the opportunity to savor his prose at length, and his memoir, HEAVEN ON THE SIDE: A JAZZ LIFE, is a splendidly moving book. I apologize to Jim for coming to it so late — it was published in 2000 — but I bow to no one in my enthusiasm for it. When a friend gave me a copy in September, I found myself reading it while standing up in my hotel room, and I quickly was so entranced that I rationed myself to only a few pages at a time because I didn’t want it to end too quickly.

Readers familiar with the literature of jazz know that many jazz memoirs follow predictable patterns. Some musicians offer us the familiar path: early discovery of the music, early study, scuffling, the first breakthrough, then a listing of gigs and encounters. Other books are a series of vignettes — associations with famous people . . . “and then I told Louis,” and so on. Other chronicles depict battles with addiction and other unhappinesses — ideally they end in triumph and freedom. All of these books can be irresistible on their own terms, but they often become cheerfully formulaic once the subject has succeeded.

Jim’s book is not only a history of his own musical development (how he learned to play “Whispering” in its key, not Bb), or his brushes with the great and near-great . . . but, like A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, it is a record, seen retrospectively, of the growth of a consciosness, the creation of a discerning self. The combination of his prose (modest, expert, not calling attention to itself) and the insights he has come to — makes for a book that’s not only readable but memorable.

I won’t summarize the insights — that would do Jim an injustice — but they have to do with his development not only as a trombonist and a listener, but as a full-fledged adult with a deep understanding of himself, of his relations with others, and of the music. In these pages, we observe someone grow, which restores us as we participate in it.

The temptation for me, as someone fascinated by HEAVEN ON THE SIDE: A JAZZ LIFE, is to retype great chunks of it. I will let readers take their pleasures and surprises on their own — and offer only one excerpt from the book, Jim’s encounter with the great and somewhat inscrutable Herb Flemming (world-traveler and Ellington alumnus) in Fuengirola, Spain, circa 1965:

. . . a man considerably older than I lived with a small white mixed-breed dog. I kept imagining that I heard the sound of a trombone from his second-floor apartment, often playing a part of “Sophisticated Lady” or “In My Solitude,” typically the bridge, repeating it, perfectly, perhaps a dozen times. Discreet inquiry in the large and heterogeneous foreign community provided only a rumor that the man, “some kind of an Arab,” had “played with Duke Ellington, a long time ago.” Whether because he was too self-sufficient to require conversation or too anti-social to permit it, he was said to be taciturn to the point of utter silence. Or, as Wacker, the retired Australian soap opera writer down the street, put it, “Bloke seems to be missing the old vocal chords.”

One day when I was walking along the Paseo Maritimo, next to the beach, I saw him coming, as always with his dog on a leash.  Thinking that it was perhaps now or never, I spoke to him.  He stopped and listened, impassive, his eyes focused on a patch of Mediterranean somewhere beyond my shoulder, but did not answer.  “I’ve  heard that you used to play with Duke,” I said. 

He echoed me tonelessly.  “Duke,” as if the word meant nothing to him.

“Ellington.”

 He let me wait a bit. “Yes, I did.”

 I told him my name, and that I lived across the street from him. “Next to the Casa Blanca,” I said. “You know, the Danish bar?”

“I don’t pass my time in bars,” he said. He let his eyes rest steadily on my face then. I saw his calm gaze, but decided not to mention that I, too, had played the trombone, and waited. He must have reached some sort of decision, because, without looking away, he stuck his free hand inside his jacket and brought forth a calling card, which he handed me. I thanked him.

“Mm,” he said, and resumed his stroll. The card read Nicolaiih El-Michelle (Formerly Herb Flemming),” and below that “Trombonist”. It bore a Paris address, pencilled out but not amended. He and his doggy were already on their way. We never spoke again.

There are writers who would make an exquisitely sad little vignette out of the former Herb Flemming. I might have been one of them 30 or 40 years ago, but no longer. If our brief experience taught me anything at that time it was that the former Herb Flemming did not require pity any more than he required conversation. He had his dog, he had his trombone: what more, his manner said, did a man need? Someone might call him for a gig, I thought. As Sister Rosetta Tharpe so memorably sang, strange things happen every day. If someone did call, I was sure the Former Herb Flemming would have his chops together.

The book is full of these brief moments of revelation, quietly persuasive but never self-congratulatory. Any of us might have encountered Herb Flemming, and perhaps with similar results, but only Jim Leigh would have come to understand that moment as he has . . . and only Leigh would have written of it in such a sweetly understated way. HEAVEN ON THE SIDE: A JAZZ LIFE is full of personalities and stories, from Turk Murphy to Louis to Frank “Big Boy” Goudie and Django Reinhardt, to Dan Barrett and Clint Baker . . . but what compels me is the steady, often amused, man and writer, experiencing his life and learning from it, every chorus, every day.

It’s an invaluable book. Visit http://www.xibris.com/sales to obtain a copy. An actual bookstore (they still exist!) could order it under its ISBN number, which is 0-7388-5602-9.

———————————————————————————-

BUCK CLAYTON’S JAZZ WORLD

People who listen to jazz, read about it, write about it, seem to be entranced by drama.  So many of them are drawn to artists whose careers and lives are boldly delineated: the arc of early promise and a life cut short through self-destructive behavior or illness; the narrative of great achievement that tails off into stark decline.  Early Fame, Great Decline.  Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker, Jimmie Blanton, Billie Holiday, Charlie Christian, Bix Beiderbecke, Lester Young . . . the list is long.

But what of those musicians who had long careers, functioned at a high level of creativity, were undramatic in their professionalism?  They get less media attention in life and in death; their sheer reliability makes them almost shadowy figures.  (Of course, if they happen to live long lives — Doc Cheatham, Benny Waters, Eubie Blake, Hank Jones, Lionel Ferbos — then they may get a story in the paper.  But that’s another subject.)

One of the greatest trumpet players — also a wonderful composer and arranger — doesn’t get the attention he should: Buck Clayton from Parsons, Kansas, whose recordings over a thirty-year span are exceptional but not always celebrated as they should be.  Anyone familiar with the best music of that period can call to mind a dozen sessions that Buck not only plays on, but elevates: consider the dates with Basie, the Kansas City Five and Six and Seven, Billie, Mildred, Teddy and Ben, Hawkins on Keynote, Ike Quebec on Blue Note, his own dates for HRS, the Jam Sessions for Columbia and the later ones for Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro label, his recordings with Mel Powell at Carnegie Hall, the Vanguard sessions, a Verve date with Harry Edison, his own small band (circa 1961), recordings with Jimmy Rushing and Ada Moore and Mae Barnes, with Earl Hines, Bill Coleman, Don Byas, Flip Phillips, Horace Henderson, Sir Charles Thompson, Charlie Parker, Ed Hall, Alex Combelle, Joe Turner, Big Joe Turner, “Jazz From A Swinging Era,” Humphrey Lyttelton, Eddie Condon, J. J. Johnson, Benny Goodman . . . and I am sure I am leaving out many sessions.

Shanghai, 1934

Even though Buck was playing jazz in Shanghai in 1934, before he came home and stopped off in Kansas City, he seems to have been a rather undramatic man for all his exploits.  He showed up on time for the gig; he could talk to the audience; he wrote excellent charts and swinging originals; he was beautifully dressed; he transcended late-in-life health problems to launch a new career as a bandleader when the trumpet no longer responded to his urgings.  How unfortunate to be so bourgeois.

I only encountered him in person once: in 1971, there was a New York Jazz Museum Christmas party (if I have this right) where he was among a large number of musicians advertised as performing.  Buck was there, not playing, but splendidly dressed and very polite to a young fan who asked for his autograph.  (A side story: the musicians who actually did play, beautifully, were Chuck Folds, Gene Ramey, and Jackie Williams.  Someone requested MISTY and Ramey, upon hearing the song title, said, quietly, “I don’t play that shit,” and leaned his bass against the wall for the next three minutes, returning when the music was more to his liking.)

I also saw Buck — perhaps in 1980 — at a Newport in New York concert possibly paying tribute to Billie, with musicians including Zoot Sims and Harry Edison — attempting to return to playing.  His beautiful tone was intact on a fairly fast SUGAR, but he was having trouble hitting the notes one could sense he was aiming for . . . heroic but painful.)

Let’s listen to Buck again.

Here are the two takes of WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS from the 1938 Kansas City Six session for Commodore — with Lester Young, Eddie Durham, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Jo Jones.  It’s hard not to focus on Lester — but it can be done. Hear Buck, golden, easeful, and lithe . . . the only trumpet player I know who approaches his sly mobility is Bill Coleman of the same period.  Like Louis, he constructs his solos logically, one phrase building on its predecessors and looking forward to the next, each one acting as a small melodic building block in a larger arching structure — melodic embellishment with a larger purpose:

Any improvising musician would say that Buck’s solo choruses are not the work of an immature musician and not easy to do; his graceful ensemble playing is the work of a master.  But it sounds so easy, as if he were singing through his horn.  And that tone!

Here he is in a 1954 session that few know of — a Mel Powell-led jam session at Carnegie Hall, with Ruby Braff, Jay Brower (trumpet), Vernon Brown, Urbie Green (trombone), Tony Scott (clarinet), Lem Davis (alto sax), Buddy Tate, Eddie Shu (tenor sax), Romeo Penque (baritone sax), Mel Powell (piano), Steve Jordan (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass), Jo Jones, Gene Krupa (drums):

Buck appears near the end –just before Gene and Jo trade phrases.  And, yes, you read that correctly.  A marvel!

Here’s Buck with Ben Webster, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, George Duvivier, and Jo Jones in C JAM BLUES (1959):

And after his playing days had ended, as leader / composer / arranger of his own Swing Band, captured in France (1991) on RAMPAGE IN G MINOR:

The other swingers on that stage are Gerry Dodgion, alto; James Chirillo, guitar; Joe Temperley, baritone sax; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Matt Finders, trombone; Doug Lawrence and Arthur “Babe” Clarke, tenor saxophones; Phillipe Combell, drums.; Dick Katz, piano; Dennis Irwin, bass; Bobby Pring, trombone; John Eckert, Greg Gisbert; trumpet.

Someone who hasn’t forgotten Buck Clayton is the UK bassist / writer / radio host Alyn Shipton, who has performed often with Buck’s compositions and arrangements as the Buck Clayton Legacy Band.  Here they are in this century performing Buck’s tribute to his friend and fellow brassman Humph, SIR HUMPHREY:

That band is full of people who understand Buck and his music (some of them heroes of mine): Menno Daams, Ian Smith, Adrian Fry, Alan Barnes, Matthias Seuffert, Martin Litton, Martin Wheatley, Alyn Shipton and Norman Emberson.

I would encourage anyone reading this post to go to his or her shelves and take down a recording by Buck and revel in its glories.  Milt Hinton used to have a memo pad with this heading (because of his nickname “The Judge”):”You are hereby sentenced to thirty days of listening to good music.”  If you were to explore and re-explore Buck Clayton’s jazz world, you would have more than a month of pleasure.

He never provoked controversy; I doubt he will ever have his own online forum with vigorous acrimonious discussion of the minutiae of his life . . . but he created beauty whenever he raised his trumpet, composed a melody, or led a band.

May your happiness increase.

BICOASTAL BLISS: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, STEPHANIE TRICK, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH — TWICE! (July 28 and 29, 2012)

Bicoastal musical pleasure is coming to two locations in Northern California this summer.  New Yorkers Rossano Sportiello (piano) and Nicki Parrott (string bass, vocals) will happily play with Stephanie Trick (piano) and Hal Smith (drums) in two concerts on consecutive days.  And for those of us who no longer stay up into the early morning hours easily, both concert performances begin before 6 PM.

First, on Saturday, July 28, there’s “An Evening of Swing,” a concert beginning at 5 PM at Dominican College in San Rafael — that’s in Angelico Hall, and the street address is 50 Acacia Avenue.  Tickets are $30 apiece, and can be purchased here.  Or you can call 1-800-838-3006, extension 1.  Although July 28 seems a long way away, don’t wait — Angelico Hall is not huge and the event is expected to sell out.  All proceeds from this concert will go to the Dominican College’s piano fund . . . they’ve bought a nine-foot Bosendoerfer, which is always a great event.  I can hear it now!  (Look for us and say hello!)

The Sunday, July 29, “An Afternoon of Swing” sits in the middle of Filoli’s six-concert series.  The bad news is that this concert has been sold out for weeks.  The good news is that tickets are available for others in the series.  The Beloved and I will be there for Rossano and Co. and hope to return for Jane Monheit — featuring our friends Michael Kanan and Neal Miner.  Here’s the schedule: June 24 – Pat Martino Trio (tickets still available) / July 8 – Arturo Sandoval  (sold out)  July 29 – “An Afternoon of Swing,” Rossano Sportiello with Nicki Parrott, Hal Smith, and Stephanie Trick / August 12 – Jane Monheit / August 26 – Cyrus Chestnut Quartet / September 23 – Catherine Russell.  To purchase tickets for any other Jazz at Filoli concerts, click here.  And for more information or to purchase tickets by phone, call Monday through Friday, 9:00am – 4:00pm at 650–364–8300, ext. 508.  Filoli is famous worldwide as a magnificent house with an extensive formal garden: click history     to see astonishing photos.

If you were among the prudent people who bought tickets in advance for the July 29 event at Filoli, the Beloved and I will be there . . . she exploring the gardens in advance of the concert, me staking out seats in front of the music.

But tickets are still available for the July 28 concert at 5 PM at Dominican College in San Rafael. Don’t miss your chance to hear four delightful improvisers who play well with others show how it’s done . . . at the highest level.

May your happiness increase.

CELEBRATE LOUIS, the EARREGULARS, GEORGE, and YOU! (June 2012)

There are always reasons to celebrate, but the news is more brightly-hued these days.

The Partners in Preservation grant contest advisory committee awarded the Louis Armstrong House Museum $150,000 — funds that will be used to preserve Louis’s Garden. Your votes showed the committee how much people from all around the world love Louis and Lucille’s home and treasure their time there.

This funding initiative will help keep Louis’s legacy alive in Corona, Queens — and when the weather is hot, so is the music at the LAHM.  Click Satchmo to learn more about the summer programs in the Garden!

This Sunday, June 17, the EarRegulars — that New York institution founded by Matt Munisteri and Jon-Erik Kellso — will be celebrating their fifth anniversary of glorious Sunday-night improvising at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City): the charter quartet will be Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass . . . prepare for high spirits, guests, and fine jazz!

Another celebration is taking place this week, and it’s remarkable.  George Avakian is celebrating his ninety-third birthday.  And he is doing it among friends: at Birdland this coming Wednesday, June 20, from 5:30 to 7:15, hot music provided by the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band led by David Ostwald.  Birdland is located at 315 West 44th Street, New York City, and the phone number is (212) 580 3080.

When we attended one of George’s birthday celebrations with the LACB, the line formed early and it was long . . . so make plans early!

The musicians scheduled to be there include David, tuba; Marion Felder, drums; James Chirillo, banjo; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Randy Reinhart, cornet . . . and I am sure there will many musicians who want to pay tribute to George as only they can.  Don’t miss this party!

May your happiness increase.

A TRIP TO AVALON with TAMAR KORN and GAUCHO

Suitcases not required.  And you won’t have to show your driver’s license to the pleasant TSA man or woman . . . simply let these superb musicians take you to an ideal place (care of Puccini, Al Jolson, and Benny Goodman).

The travel agent-magicians in charge here are Gaucho, the wondrous swing / gypsy ensemble that has been certified one hundred percent cliche-free by the FDA.  Seen here are guitarists Dave Ricketts and Michael Groh; accordionist Rob Reich; reedman Ralph Carney; cornetist Leon Oakley; string bassist Ari Munkres; percussionist Pete Devine; vocalist Tamar Korn.  This video (beautifully done, thanks to Porto Franco Records) was recorded in 2010 as part of Gaucho’s album PEARL, featuring Tamar. The band is now raising money for their fifth CD, which will feature another great young vocalist – Georgia English, who has studied music with Gaucho’s bandleader since she was 8 years old, and is now a student at Berklee School of Music.  The CD is on its way: I believe it will be out in the first part of July.

See you in Avalon . . .

May your happiness increase.

WINNER OF THE MISC. INSTRUMENTS CATEGORY, 2012: MR. ANDY SCHUMM!

First Andy mesmerized us with his cornet playing, then his pianisms (rollicking or pensive), then his tenor saxophone and clarinet.  Now . . . the pocket comb and a strip of paper — the kazoo’s elegant cousin — in tribute to Red McKenzie.

Marty Grosz told me that Andy uses real newspaper.  That boy’s got the right spirit, even if the WORLD-TELEGRAM and the JOURNAL AMERICAN (the papers of choice for Mr. McKenzie) are no more.

Here Andy leads an all-star band at the 2012 BixFest — thanks to Phil Pospychala.  Thanks to Tom Warner for the video, complete with do it yourself closeups for the folks at home.  Here’s an evocation of the 1933 “Mound City Blue Blowers” recording — unissued at the time — of GIRLS LIKE YOU WERE MEANT FOR BOYS LIKE ME, which featured Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, and Coleman Hawkins.

The other notables making such sweet music are John Otto, reeds; Frank Gualtieri, trombone; Jason Goldsmith, reeds; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Leah Bezin, banjo; Dave Bock, tuba; Josh Duffee, drums.

I hope that at the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua, Andy and Marty get to do a small-group set together: it will be dynamite!  And I predict a run on the dollar stores once this video reaches its widest audience — for jazz combs, of course.

May your happiness increase.

A TREASURE: JAMES P. JOHNSON, 1921

From the estate of the late Mike Montgomery — offered for sale on eBay by “bixokeh.”  A treasure!

May your happiness increase.

SWING, YOU CATS: A VISIT TO CAMP JITTERBUG 2012

Here are two videos created by the fine musician / videographer Candace Brown — taken on the spot at Camp Jitterbug in Seattle on May 27, 2012.  The first is just under a minute, but what a delightful world it evokes: happy dancers swinging out to live hot jazz provided by Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five (Jonathan, guitars, vocal; Meschiya Lake, vocal; Steve Mostovoy, trumpet; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone; Dave Brown, string bass; Paul Lines, drums; Casey MacGill, piano, vocals.)

And something for the those of us who need a minor-key romp to pick up our spirits — DIGA DIGA DOO played by the band, with a vocal by Casey — watch the band and the dancers!  And the band gets extra points for the KRAZY KAPERS riff:

I don’t think I could get admitted to Camp Jitterbug — my dancing needs remediation — but it looks like the place to be!

May your happiness increase.

TEARS, SMILES, INSIGHTS, SWING: THE MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR JOE MURANYI (May 29, 2012)

People are known not only for what they accomplish while alive, but the quality of the memories and love they evoke in death.  Clarinetist / reedman / singer / composer / writer / raconteur Joseph P. Muranyi — Joe or Papa Joe to everyone  — was a sterling person even without making a note of music.  The tributes he received at his May 29, 2012 memorial service at St. Peter’s Church in New York City prove that as strongly as any phrase he played alongside Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Marty Grosz, Dick Sudhalter, Dick Wellstood, or many other musicians here and abroad. Aside from one brief musical passage (most of an ensemble version of OLE MISS) that I missed due to the camera’s whimsical battery, here is the entire service: words, video, audio, and live music.    We honor Joe Muranyi! And for the sake of accuracy.  Later in the program — one of its high points, to me — Scott Robinson played an unaccompanied tarogato solo (on one of Joe’s instruments) of a Hungarian folk song, “Krasznahorka büszke vára” which translates as “The Proud Castle of Krasznahorka.” In the next segments, you will hear and see the live and recorded presence of Joe himself, alongside Louis Armstrong, Tyree Glenn, Marty Napoleon, Buddy Catlett, and Danny Barcelona.  You’ll hear tales of Roy Eldridge and Charlie Shavers, listen to words and music from Tamas Itzes, Mike Burgevin, Scott Robinson, Chuck Folds, Brian Nalepka, Jackie Williams, Simon Wettenhall, Jordan Sandke, Herb Fryer, Tom Artin, Jim Fryer, Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Ricky Riccardi, Dan Morgenstern, Michael Cogswell, Fred Newman, Bob Goldstein, James Chirillo, Jack Bradley, and others. Here is what I witnessed.  But two hours is too small a room for Joe Muranyi, so this is simply one kind of tribute.  We will remember him always. May your happiness increase.

BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY and DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES

THIS JUST IN (Sept. 8, 2012): BORN TO PLAY is available at a special discount price.  I feel honored — this is the first official JAZZ LIVES promotional code!

JAZZ LIVES SPECIAL PRICE: Available directly from the publisher with 25% discount ($71.25 + $5.00 shipping): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810882645 and enter special Jazz Lives promotion code in shopping cart: 7M12BTPRB

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time, and it’s even better than I anticipated.  It is the latest volume in the Scarecrow Press “Studies in Jazz” series, nearly 750 pages of information about the late cornetist.

Its author, Thomas P. Hustad, knew Ruby, spoke with him, and had Ruby’s full cooperation and enthusiastic advocacy.  Although the book isn’t a biography, nearly every page offers a deeper understanding of Ruby, musician and personality, and the contexts within which he operated.

Ruby would have been a challenging subject for a typical biography.  For one thing, although jazz musicians seem to lead unusual lives (nocturnal rather than diurnal hours, for one thing) they take their work with the utmost seriousness, and their daily responsibilities are not much different from ours.  A diary of what Ruby, for instance, accomplished when the horn was not up to his lips, might not be particularly revealing.  And Ruby’s strong, often volatile personality might have led a book astray into the darker realms of pathobiography: a chronological unfolding of the many times Ruby said exactly what was on his mind with devastating results would grow wearying quickly, and would leave even the most sympathetic reader with a sour impression.

No, Ruby wanted to be remembered for his music, and Tom honored that request.  So there is no psychoanalysis here, in an attempt to explore why Ruby could be so mercurial — generous and sweet-natured to some, vocal in defense of his friends, furious at injustice, fiercely angry without much apparent provocation otherwise.  True, the reader who peruses this book for tales of inexplicably bad behavior will find some, but BORN TO PLAY offers so much more.

Its purpose is to celebrate and document Ruby’s playing and recording over more than half a century.  What a body of recordings he left us!  From the earliest Boston broadcasts in 1949 to his final August 2002 appearance in Scotland with Scott Hamilton (happily available on an Arbors Records 2-CD set), Ruby played alongside the greatest names in jazz history.

Without looking at the book, I think of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, Nat Pierce, Dave McKenna, Freddie Green, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Dick Hafer, Scott Hamilton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dick Hyman, Teddi King, Lee Wiley, Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, Oscar Pettiford, George Wein, George Barnes, Michael Moore, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Howard Alden, Frank Tate, Jack Lesberg, John Bunch, Sir Charles Thompson, Trummy Young, Bob Wilber, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Dan Barrett, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Lawrence Brown, Ernie Caceres, Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Rushing, Urbie Green.

BORN TO PLAY is more than a straightforward discographical listing of Ruby’s issued recordings (although even there I found surprises: Ruby’s sessions with the Weavers, a final unissued Vanguard session, work with Larry Adler, Lenny Solomon, and others).  From his earliest appearances, listeners noticed that Mr. Braff was something special.  Jazz critics made much of him as an “anachronism,” someone whose style came out of Louis Armstrong rather than Miles Davis, but such assessments missed the point.

Ruby was one of the great romantics and improvising dramatists: he could take the most familiar melody and find new lyricism in it, singing it out as if he had become Fred Astaire or Judy Garland or Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS rather than “a saloon entertainer with a bit of tin in his hand.”  Ruby’s playing touches some hidden impulses in us — our need to express emotions without holding back — but his wasn’t the “barbaric yawp,” but quiet intensity with many surprises on the way.

His admirers (among whom I count myself) paid tribute to their hero by recording his performances whenever possible — the chronicle of private recordings begins in 1949 and continues to the end.  Those private recordings are  more than tantalizing: Ruby’s encounters with Louis, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Buddy Rich, Danny Moss, Sidney Catlett, Benny Carter . . .as well as his day-to-day gigs with musicians both famous and little-known across the globe.

One of the surprises in this book is that Ruby worked so often: before he became known for his singular approach to melodic improvisation, he was a diligently gigging musician.  (In print, Ruby sometimes complained about his inability to find congenial work: these listings suggest that aside from some early stretches where it was difficult to get gigs, he was well-employed.)

BORN TO PLAY also contains rare and unseen photographs, and the text is interspersed with entertaining stories: Nat Pierce and the sardine cans, Benny Goodman and the staircase, and more.

What this book reminds us of is the masterful work of an artist performing at the highest level in many contexts for an amazing length of time . . . all the more remarkable when you recall that Ruby suffered from emphysema as early as 1980.  Without turning his saga into a formulaic one of the heroic artist suffering through disabling illnesses, Hustad subtly suggests that we should admire Ruby much more for his devotion to his art than stand back in horrified wonder at his temper tantrums.  And Tom is right.

Ruby emerges as a man in love with his art, someone so devoted to it that the title of the book becomes more and more apt as a reader continues.  I have only read it intermittently, but find it both entrancing and distracting.  Much of this is due to Tom Hustad: a tireless researcher (still finding new information after the book’s publication), a fine clear writer, and someone Ruby trusted . . . so the book floats along on a subtle friendship between subject and chronicler.  And Tom was there at a number of sessions, providing valuable first-hand narratives that enlighten and delight — especially telling are his stories of relationships between Ruby and his champions: John Hammond, George Wein, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett, Mat and Rachel Domber, and others.

And the little details that make a book even better are all in place: a loving introduction by one of Ruby’s long-time friends, Dan Morgenstern; a cover picture showing Ruby and Louis (the photographer another great friend of the music, Duncan Schiedt) . . . and orange was Ruby’s favorite color — one he associated with the aural experience of hearing Louis for the first time, his sound blazing out of the radio speaker.  The layout is easy on the eye, all in nicely readable type.

In the interests of full disclosure (as the lawyers and politicians say) I should point out that I admire Ruby’s playing immensely, met him in 1971, spoke with him a number of times, saw him at close range, and contributed information about some private sessions that I recorded to this book.

BORN TO PLAY is a fascinating document, invaluable not only for those who regarded Ruby as one of the marvels of jazz — it is also a chronicle of one man’s fierce determination to create beauty in a world that sometimes seemed oblivious to it.  Many large-scale works of scholarship are thorough but cold, and the reader feels the chill.  Others have adulation intrude on the purpose of the work.  Tom Hustad’s book is an ideal mixture of scholarship, diligence, and warm affection: its qualities in an admirable balance.  I think the only way this book could have been improved would have been for Ruby to continue on past 2002 and the book to follow him.

Click here to purchase a copy.

And here’s something to beguile you as you click — the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 (Ruby, George Barnes, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore) sauntering through LIZA:

May your happiness increase.