Swing and improvised comedy have been the high points of my Sundays for the past two months, for I’ve been spending my afternoons (from 3-6) at the No Name Bar (757 Bridgeway) in Sausalito, California. Mind you, I’m not a bar habitue — one drink is enough, two drinks is plenty. And I’d rather have my calories in food.
But Mal Sharpe and his band, Big Money in Jazz, have been at the No Name Bar for years . . . and I can see why. Even when the instrumentation is frankly improbable, relaxed swing fills the air — along with made-up-right-now comic vignettes, of which Mal is a master.
Last Sunday, the band featured three guitarists (“no waiting!”) — Denny Guyer, with the admirable summer hat; Bill De Kuiper, to his right, and Ken Emerson on lap steel guitar. The eloquent Sam Rocha made it all right with his string bass; Roy Blumenfeld swung out on his drum kit; trumpeter Jim Gammon and Mal (trombone and vocals) were the front line. Here are five highlights from that happy Sunday afternoon.
JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE is what I think of as a New Orleans carpe diem, but in Mal’s hands it seems a jocular way to begin his band’s weekly tenure at the No Name Bar, “Don’t be upset that we’re here and don’t object too loudly — we’ll be out of here in a few hours”:
Mal began the afternoon — it was warm — by telling the audience that what they were witnessing was NBC’s rebroadcast of the Christmas show (a nice absurdity on many levels) which then inspired Jim Gammon to lead the band into a funky, lopsided SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN — as if Santa had been listening to Hot Lips Page rhythm and blues in his sleigh:
A vaguely Hawaiian-inflected BREEZE was a tropical delight, although the reasons behind this pineapple-flavored rendition are more than a bit puzzling to the anthropologists at the No Name. Mahalo, you cats:
DALLAS BLUES is in part my responsibility. I had been talking with the very entertaining Jim Gammon in the set break and had casually told him that Clint Baker (who has played with Mal’s bands) began his gig with a romping version of that song, one of my favorites. When the next set began, I heard Jim suggest this song, “for Michael,” and I am delighted to have been the partial instigator of this song selection. But I had no idea that one of Mal’s socio-political blues was in the offing: it will catch you by surprise, as will his surrealistic solo:
And, finally, LAUGHIN’ IN RHYTHM — courtesy of Slim and Slam or Sidney Bechet and Vic Dickenson. It’s frankly goofy — I GOT RHYTHM with the giggles — but it sat just right:
Forget your troubles. C’mon, get happy — some Sunday at 757 Bridgeway, Sausalito, from 3-6 PM.
May your happiness increase.