Monthly Archives: October 2012

THE DUKE IS ON THE MOON! (ABC Television, June 15, 1969)

Sweetly astonishing: Duke Ellington in the ABC Television studios, on the occasion of the first man on the moon — not only playing his own composition, MOON MAIDEN, but singing it as well.

My expert friends tell me that this was pre-recorded for the telecast, with Al Chernet, guitar; Paul Kondziela, bass;  Rufus Jones, drums.

I think this wonderful piece of ancient video footage is very touching:

May your happiness increase.

OPINIONS, PERCEPTIONS, BELIEFS, and “THE LAST JAZZ RECORD”

True stories from the world of jazz, 2012.

One.  I am at a place where jazz was about to be played, and a very good-natured man perhaps twenty years younger than myself, turns to me in conversation and asks, “Do they [the band] play only covers or do they play original material?”

He says it in such a sweetly inquisitive way — clearly a real question coming from someone (I assume) deeply versed in the conventions of popular music, that I explain that the split between COVERS (i.e., your band imitates Billy Joel performing X or Bob Dylan performing Y) and ORIGINAL MATERIAL (you write the music and lyrics yourself: the subject being your last breakup, the state of the world, or your childhood) does not exist in the same fashion in jazz.

I think he understands, and I do my best to be gently enthusiastic, neither didactic or condescending.  And when he leaves the room, about an hour later, he has had a very good time.  The music has won him over; he is now convinced that those categories — any categories, in fact — are not as fulfilling as the sound and energy he has been part of.

Two.  I am at a place where jazz is being played, and a woman perhaps twenty years older than myself turns to her companion after four songs have been announced by the leader and performed by the band — one of the songs was SWEET SUE, so you know we are not deep in musical esoterica.

In a middle-register wail of puzzlement and frustration, she says, “I don’t know ONE SONG!”  (I think in this context that “know” stands for “recognize.”)  Her companion, soothingly, in the voice one uses to a fretful child, says, “That’s because they’re all jazz tunes.”

Three.  David Weiner sends along this Facebook link to a blogpost and documentary about the peerless 78 RPM record collector Joe Bussard, who has some fifteen thousand of the shiny flat artifacts.

Commendable, no?

But Bussard says plainly that the last jazz record was made in 1932 (by Clarence Williams, by the way), and that anything else was a mere sham.  See for yourself here.

I am not going to mock these three people, although I am at a great distance from their perceptions.

But I hold out much more hope for the young man of One, who didn’t know but was willing to learn and enjoyed the music.

And the older woman of Two, perplexed by it all, stayed for the whole performance.

Mr. Bussard, to most people, is an authority on the music, on recordings.  His collection, lovingly obtained, catalogued, and preserved, is a treasure-house of sacred sounds.  But I wonder if his mind is much more closed to possibility than the first two people I have described — whose misconceptions were innocent and could be expanded through gentle discussion.

At least One and Two were seen out in the real world, listening to actual musicians, rather than seated at their shelves, admiring row upon row of neatly vertical Brunswicks and Vocalions.

The moral?  Must there be one?  I don’t think so.

May your happiness increase.

SCOTT ROBINSON / DOC SAVAGE / “THE SECRET IN THE SKY” / VISIONARY MUSIC

In a world that sometimes seems populated by amiable sleepwalkers, Scott Robinson is vividly alive, his imagination a million-color Crayola box.  His music is fully illuminated; it pulsates with energies.

I’ve delighted in his playing — in person and on record — for more than a decade now.  He has a warm sensibility but is not at all afraid to go out to the edge and make friends with the New, the Sounds Never Heard Before.  What he writes and plays is assertive, surprising — but not angry, not pummeling the listener.

His new project is just extraordinary, and even an Old School Fellow like me finds it compelling.

BRONZE NEMESIS is a suite of original compositions devoted to and depicting the immense presence of Doc Savage, hero of pulp novels of the Thirties.  (Ruby Braff was a devoted fan, too.)  In case all of this is making the more traditionally-minded readers a little nervous, I would point out the players: Randy Sandke, Ted Rosenthal, Pat O’Leary, Dennis Mackrel, and (on one track only) the much-missed Dennis Irwin.  The titles of the twelve compositions may suggest to some that Dorothy Gale and Toto are certainly no longer in Kansas — MAN OF BRONZE / THE SECRET IN THE SKY / HE COULD STOP THE WORLD / FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE / MAD EYES / THE METAL MASTER / THE GOLDEN MAN / LAND OF ALWAYS-NIGHT / THE LIVING FIRE / THE MAN WHO SHOOK THE EARTH / WEIRD VALLEY / THE MENTAL WIZARD.  The music, ah, the music — I hear echoes of beautifully energized weird film soundtrack scoring on the highest level, a touch of Ellington here, a dash of Gil Evans, a sprinkle of Mingus — but these references are paltry, because Scott’s musical world is his own, where wondrously surprising Latin melodies share space with the theremin and the wind machine . . . the overall effect songful as well as avant-garde, always spacious and searching.  I initially felt, “Wow, this is strange . . . isn’t it wonderful?”  The CD shows off compositions and inventions from the musicians and the composer that are unusual but not cold; the suite is filled with a warm energy that takes the listener places he didn’t expect to go . . . without scaring him to death.

Scott’s whimsical legal notice (printed in a tiny rectangle — much the same way we are told to keep these plastic bags away from children) reads:

CAUTION: Contains perilous and daring musical adventures.  Do not attempt.

I’m very glad Scott Robinson exists and has the courage to attempt these adventures . . . so that we can come along on the journey.

Here’s a recent email from Scott: if his words (and the video) don’t woo, entice, and entrance, then something’s wrong.

Hello, fans of adventurous music!

Today, Oct. 12, is the birthday of Lester Dent, creator of the 1930s pulp adventure hero Doc Savage.  Therefore this is the day that Doc-Tone Records officially unleashes BRONZE NEMESIS, the new CD of original music inspired by the amazing worlds of Doc Savage, upon the world.  Performed by the Scott Robinson Doctette, these 12 compositions evoke the mystery and drama of twelve of the original Doc Savage stories, such as The Secret in the Sky, The Man Who Shook the Earth, and Mad Eyes.  Heard in this music are such amazing sounds as a 1954 Moog theremin, slide sax, wind machine, and the mammoth contrabass saxophone.  The CD is packaged in a lavish fold-out wallet with extensive notes, startling photographs and original artwork by Dan Fillipone, all protected by a resealable polybag.  It is endorsed by original Doc Savage paperback cover artist James Bama, whose striking portrait of Doc graces the front cover.

To celebrate the release, and Lester Dent’s birthday, whoever orders the CD TODAY, OCT. 12, from our website, will also receive a small gift. Please visit: www.sciensonic.net/doc-tone

This coming weekend, Oct. 19 and 20, Scott Robinson will be appearing at the 2012 Doc Con near Phoenix, AZ, to speak about the project and even play a little music. Whoever buys the CD there will also receive a gift. http://www.pulpcomingattractions.com/DocCon2012-Newsletter8.pdf

Then, on Wed. Oct. 24, the Doctette will appear live at the Jazz Standard, one of the major jazz venues in New York City.  We are mounting a full-out performance, with all the amazing instruments on hand.  Not to be missed! Shows at 7:30 & 9:30 PM. The Jazz Standard, 116 E 27 St., NYC, www.jazzstandard.com

For a sneak peek at the music, see our new video of The Secret in the Sky at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlINGKAoce0

Some notable critical comments:

“This is definitely one of the best recordings of the year regardless of category… must listening.” -Mark S. Tucker, Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange

“An abstractly hard-swinging funhouse-ride… with roots firmly planted in outer and inner space.” -Mark Keresman, Jazz Inside

“Without exaggeration… one of the best jazz concerts I have ever attended.” -Loren Schoenberg, Jazz UK

“An out-of-the-box triumph of imagination and musicality… inspired.” -Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen

“Thoroughly unique music from one of jazz’ most questingly eclectic and wide-ranging talents.” -George Kanzler, New York City Jazz Record

“Loved your music… great jazz. I was most flattered to have a musician of Scott Robinson’s stature compose wonderful jazz for my Doc Savage covers.” -James Bama, original cover artist for Doc Savage paperback editions.

Doc Savage is copyright and TM Conde Nast.  All rights reserved.  Reprinted with permission.

Sadly, I won’t be able to be at the October 24 performance — which pains me — because I will be at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.  So . . . mark it down, make plans, get yourself there.  I have been fascinated and moved by the CD and am sure that the effects of the music / presentation in person will be even more deliciously powerful.

And there’s a resealable polybag too!  All our needs satisfied.

May your happiness increase. 

REBECCA KILGORE, HER QUARTET, HER CELESTIAL SELVES

When I sat down to spread the good news, I was reminded of an unpublished e.e. cummings poem about the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet (known to those who know as the RK4):

the rk4

is back for more

don’t

blink

don’t

snore

get out

the door

Cummings was right.

The RK4 (the group formerly known, under an old regime, as B E D) is going to be playing for lucky motivated Californians in November 2012.  The group is our Becky (vocals, guitar); Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet, vocal, mischief); Eddie Erickson (guitar, vocal, banjo, more mischief); Joel Forbes (string bass, dark raptures).

They are one of those rare jazz groups that understands their audience: so they move from a heartbreaking ballad to vaudeville fun, from virtuosity to sweet swing.  The audiences don’t fidget; they’re busy being entranced and the evening rushes by.  The RK4 doesn’t get as many opportunities to appear together as they should — by rights, they should have their very own Sunday-evening television show, with guests — so this is not at all an ordinary occasion.  It’s rather like one of those celestial happenings . . . . if you miss the Perseid meteor shower, there won’t be one in three days.  So do go if you can!

Details:

Sunday, November 4, 2012:  The Norris Center for the Performing Arts, Palos Verdes, California: “Cabajazz” with the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet — Rebecca, Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, Joel Forbes.  The Center is located at 27525 Crossfield Drive, Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274, and it appears that the RK4 will be doing two shows — an 11:30 AM one with brunch; a 5 PM one with “Supper”.  More information here.  Or call (310) 544-0403.

But wait!  There’s more!

Becky’s home town is Portland, Oregon, where she gigs regularly.  On Friday, October 19, it will be Western Swing Night at the Bijou Cafe, 132 SW 3rd Avenue in Portland (503.222.3187).  Becky will sing with James Mason, fiddle; Doc Stein, steel guitar and dobro, Pete Lampe, string bass.  “Dancers very welcome!”

On Saturday, October 20 (do you see a pattern here?  I hope I do.), Becky will be appearing from 8-11 PM at Ivories Jazz Lounge and Restaurant, 1435 NW Flanders (also Portland: 503,241,6514)  with the wonderful David Evans on reeds, Randy Porter, piano; Tom Wakeling, string bass.  And Becky will play her rhythm guitar on both gigs — a real asset.

But wait!  There’s more!

Perhaps there are some JAZZ LIVES readers who have only a dim notion of just how remarkable our Ms. Kilgore actually is.  I don’t know how this could happen, but I am assuming the possibility.  So just to really make sure that no one is in the dark, here is a performance by Becky, Dan Barrett, Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums, from the September 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua.  Appropriately for my vision of Rebecca Kilgore as a rare phenomenon, someone who is wholly herself — and we are glad — the song is I SAW STARS:

For more information, you can always catch Rebecca here or  here.  “Celestial” is putting it mildly.  Don’t blink, don’t snore . . .

May your happiness increase.

THE BEST THING FOR US: HARRY ALLEN and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 21, 2012)

Serenity and stomp, two minds and hearts in beautiful harmony but also creating a third entity that wasn’t there before.  I marvel at these great playful artists (who also happen to be supremely sweet human beings, which must contribute to the sweetness of their music).  “Playful” means more than that simple word can convey: listen to the way Harry’s twisting lines and Rossano’s pearly notes and chords carry on a joyous conversational scamper, no matter what the tempo, how they glide from one key to another, how they deeply listen to each other and to the music itself.

I present to you Maestro Harry Allen on the tenor saxophone and Maestro Rossano Sportiello on the piano, recorded September 21, 2012, at Jazz at Chautauqua, where good things happen.

From Irving Berlin — by way of Ethel Merman, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Dave McKenna, and many others, this sly wooing — THE BEST THING FOR YOU (WOULD BE ME):

A deeply serene BLUE MOON turns the corner into a gamboling YOU’RE MY EVERYTHING.  At thirteen minutes, this isn’t a demonstration of endurance; rather, I sense that Harry and Rossano are having so much fun that they can’t bear to stop playing:

EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME.  I don’t think it’s true — or I hope not — but notice how Harry and Rossano put the slightest restorative bounce in this potentially maudlin song:

And they close with a high-energy exercise in jocularity, leaping over the moon in that sweet / naughty chestnut from GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, Marilyn Monroe’s A LITTLE GIRL FROM LITTLE ROCK:

Jazz Angels, both of them.  And as an aside: when I am video-recording and I have space to do it, I keep careful notes in an old-fashioned grade-school notebook (I bought it at the dollar store) with YES and NO and checks and X’s and various comments to myself.  If you had looked over my shoulder at Chautauqua, about three minutes into the first song I had written just this

perfect

and I stand by my critical assessment!

May your happiness increase.

UNDERCOVER SWING SESSION: THE GRAND STREET STOMPERS (TRIO) at THE CUPPING ROOM CAFE (Oct. 3, 2012): GORDON AU, MOLLY RYAN, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, DAN LEVINSON

I don’t mean that my title should be taken entirely seriously, but the music that Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers made at the Cupping Room Cafe (359 West Boardway) on the first Wednesday in September and October gives me pause.  I really feel like a restaurant critic who has discovered a new place where the food is tasty, fresh, inexpensive, surprising — and then has a moral dilemma.  Does (s)he share this knowledge with the world, knowing that it will then be impossible to get a table?  Or should I keep this information quiet?  The CRC is a lovely place to hear music, reasonably quiet, with a very attentive staff and a good menu . . . so perhaps you can tell a few people, but only those who are truly worthy.  You’ll have to decide.

This was the Grand Street Stompers Trio — Gordon, cornet, compositions, arrangements; Nick Russo, guitar, banjo; Rob Adkins, string bass (hear his intonation! so splendid!); Molly Ryan, vocals; Dan Levinson, guest star / reedman.

For now, here are some wondrous highlights of the October 3 evening

MY LITTLE BIMBO is a song I’ve only heard a few bands do — John Gill sings it memorably.  Gordon’s lovely, loping reinvention is MY LITTLE BIMBO GOES CALYPSO:

PAVONIS is connected to the beautiful bird, the peacock — one of Gordon’s haunting compositions:

Molly joined in for a typically lilting GOODNIGHT, MY LOVE:

She then backtracked through the musical romance with LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

And she then offered Berlin’s very wistful series of love-questions, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?:

Gordon’s BROOKLYNBERG RAG is one of his new / old tunes — consistently surprising, twisting and free from cliche:

And here’s his ONCE, DEAR (which I assume is a swinging love ballad rather than a warning to a potentially erring Dear?):

For Fats!  BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU:

Years ago, a test pressing of a Dick McDonough group playing BROADWAY ROSE surfaced, with some hopeful listeners opining that the trumpet soloist was Bix Beiderbecke.  That theory deflated quickly (in favor of Mickey Bloom or Bob Mayhew) , but the song is a real treat — a side-glance at NOBODY’S SWEETHEART and GLAD RAG DOLL, perhaps:

For Fred and Ginger: LET YOURSELF GO, with help from husband Dan:

And a rocking instrumental version of YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

And by the way, a new GSS CD is on the way . . . called CHRISTMAS STOMP.  Even I’m awaiting it anxiously!

May your happiness increase.

PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR: THE 2012 SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST

It’s terribly exciting.  Leave the family behind (there’s a Thanksgiving buffet on Thursday or you can eat leftovers when you get back).

Spend the Jazz Thanksgiving of your life in San Diego.

The festival schedule is still somewhat tentative, but the version I saw just made my head spin.  Paul Daspit, who runs things, believes in Too Much Of A Good Thing (to quote from Mae West and Coleman Hawkins).

On Friday, for instance, I counted sixty-nine or seventy separate sets — featuring Grand Dominion, the Reynolds Brothers, Yerba Buena Stompers, Sue Palmer, Cornet Chop Suey, Tim Laughlin / Connie Jones, Uptown Lowdown, Dave Bennett, Carl Sonny Leyland, Chris Dawson, Dave Bennett, Ray Templin, Stephanie Trick / Lorraine Feather, Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, Titanic Jazz Band, Red Skunk, a brass band, a banjo band, a parasol parade . . .

I know that this year I will have to bring energy bars and water just to survive, because even for someone like me, who needs regular meals, eating will have to wait.  I just wish Sir Isaac Newton had discovered some way for me to be in three places at the same time, although that would have meant three tripods, three cameras, and a separate suitcase for batteries and chargers!

If you live near San Diego or can get there, you can also barter your time and energy for jazz, which is never a bad bargain.  Volunteers for the San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival work four-hour shifts as door monitors or in a variety of desk jobs, receiving a one-day badge for each day worked and may volunteer for one up to all five days.  Badges are good for the entire day on the day worked, so come early, stay late, and enjoy the music.  Assignments are made on a first-come, first-served basis; however, preference is given to AFCDJS members.  All venues are on the grounds of the Town & Country Resort & Convention Center.  Click here (and don’t wait!) for more information.

May your happiness increase.  

MUSIC THAT SPEAKS TO OUR HEARTS?

I was having a cyber-discussion with a dear friend to whom I am much indebted about a certain improvising instrumentalist whose technique and spirit my friend much admires.  I am afraid I startled him with my provincialism when I wrote that I too admired X’s technique, but I feel overwhelmed by X’s playing — torrents of notes come at me whenever X solos.

I thought once again of Sonny Stitt and Lester Young on the JATP bus, Still walking up and down the aisle with his horn, playing extravagantly, superbly, without faltering, chorus after ornamented chorus, faster than the speed of light, and Lester saying, “That’s very nice, Lady Stitt.  But can you sing me a song?”

In Philip Roth’s memorably acidic howl of a novel, PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, the narrator makes fun of his ancient father and mother.  He takes his parents to a very expensive and elaborate French restaurant; his father turns to the waiter and says, “I want a piece of fish.  And make sure it’s hot.”  I have satirized that in my mind for years, but I understand the beauty of simplicity more and more.  Music that sings, with lots of breathing room.  Basie playing the blues at a medium tempo.

Is it possible that what I am espousing here is not a jaded listener’s revolt against music that is too complicated for his dusty provincialism, but a desire for sounds that evoke our deepest feelings?  That the curlicues in Mildred Bailey’s upper register remind me of birdsong?  That the swish of Jo Jones’ hi-hat is like the regular ebb and flow of the waves?  That the sweet reassuring pulse of Milt Hinton’s bass reminds me on the deepest level of the first sound I must have experienced, even before birth, my mother’s regular heartbeat?  (I could replace these hallowed names with a hundred living players, too, and invite you to do so.)

It could be that I have progressed even more from being the Youngest Kid in the Room to being an Old Codger . . . but I think that what touches our hearts in music, although it is different for each player, singer, and listener, is worth cherishing with all our energies.

THE REAL THING . . . . YOURS FOR THE BIDDING

No satire here — here’s an eBay item that is indeed priceless, although the seller has fixed a numerical value to it.  And the person honored by it, Mel Powell, deserved an award every year of his life.  Click MEL POWELL to see what I think is so exciting.

May your happiness increase.

WHERE BLISS BLOSSOMS: THE EARREGULARS and FRIENDS at THE EAR INN (September 16, 2012): JON-ERIK KELLSO, HARRY ALLEN, NEAL MINER, CHRIS FLORY, DOUG FINKE, DAN BLOCK, DANNY TOBIAS, ALEX HOFFMAN, ELI PREMINGER, PETE ANDERSON, WILL ANDERSON

The Ear Inn, as I have been pointing out for a number of years, is the place to be on a Sunday night in New York City.  When you come to 326 Spring Street in Soho, sometime between 8 and 11, you will hear wondrous music, subtle and exuberant.

A few Sundays ago, on September 16, 2012, the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar.  That group in itself deserves a WOW!

Doug Finke joined the original quartet for ROSETTA.  And it was never too close for comfort:

(A word about Doug, who isn’t as well known as he should be in East Coast circles.  I knew his work from three CDs by the Independence Hall Jazz Band — spectacular sessions featuring Jon-Erik, Duke Heitger, Paul Asaro, Dan Barrett, Orange Kellin, Vince Giordano, Scott Anthony, Chris Tyle — and I met Doug in person last March at Dixieland Monterey (the Jazz Bash by the Bay) where he appeared with Bob Schulz, Ray Skjelbred, Kim Cusack, and Hal Smith . . . a man is known by the company he keeps!  But with Doug it is more than being able to travel in fast musical company: notice the easy way he has his own luxuriant style, having absorbed all kinds of jazz to sound entirely and happily like himself.)

The Fantastic Five did their own variations on Romberg’s lament, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

After a brief break for nourishment, the Original Four took the stand (a figure of speech at The Ear Inn) for a leisurely, I might even say “lingering” version of LINGER AWHILE.  Savor the beautiful solos and the way each solo leads into the next — this is a band of individualists who know all there is to know about Swing Synergy.  This performance is a living lesson in craft, courage, and heart.

I think it takes a lifetime to learn how to play music like this; aren’t we lucky that these players and their friends share their masteries with us?

I would have been very happy to listen to what you’ve heard far into Monday morning . . . but my friends who play instruments wanted to add their voices to this swing splendor.  Jon-Erik invited Dan Tobias (cornet) and Dan Block (tenor saxophone) to join the party for IF DREAMS COME TRUE, and they did.  The dreams, I mean:

Jon-Erik is a witty observer of the lives around him — so in honor of the Jewish New Year (where families dip apple slices in honey at Rosh Hashonah dinner for a sweet new year to come), he called for the Woody Herman line, APPLE HONEY — with amused reverence for customs and how they can be honored in swing.  The soloists are Harry; Will Anderson (alto); Dan Tobias; Pete Anderson (tenor); Jon-Erik; Alex Hoffman (tenor); Dan Block (tenor); Chris Flory (guitar, remembering Tiny Grimes at the start);   Neal Miner (string bass) — backed by hilariously appropriate riffs:

Jon-Erik temporarily retired from the field and turned matters over to Eli Preminger, the hot trumpet man from Israel . . . and Doug Finke returned for I FOUND A NEW BABY, with Dan Block and Harry Allen in conversation, Will and Pete Anderson showing brotherly love, Dan Tobias and Eli having a swing chat before Alex and Chris speak up.  Then it’s every tub on its own bottom (with Neal being epigrammatic on the bridge):

And if that wasn’t enough, some blues to close out the night — the YELLOW DOG BLUES, thirteen minutes and fifteen seconds of hot bliss:

“My goodness!” to quote Dan Barrett.

I don’t know of another place on the planet where such collective exultation takes place on a weekly basis . . . . thank you, gentlemen, for making this joy possible (and for allowing me to spread the healing vibrations to people who live far away).

P.S.  I must also say that what and how a band plays is in some small measure determined by their audience.  It is entirely possible, and sometimes necessary, for musicians to ignore the loud or distracting people in front of them . . . in fact, if musicians got distracted from their life-purpose by the couple at the table near the window, they wouldn’t last very long in this business.  But I digress.  At the Ear Inn that night, there were many musicians and deep listeners in the audience, and I am sure this made the atmosphere even more special: Gary Foster, Frank Basile, Ben Flood [players!] and Lynn Redmile, Shelley Finke, Nan Irwin, Claiborne Ray, Marcia Salter [listeners!].

P.P.S.  After five years of fairly steady attendance at The Ear, I feel that it is a beautifully special place in my world.  It’s where I go to wash away the dust of everyday life, to get my aesthetic vitamins, to get my batteries charged.

This may be too personal for some of my readers, but I write openly that 326 Spring Street on Sundays from 8-11 is my synagogue, my church, my mosque, my sacred space, my place of worship.  I go there to get uplifted, to witness and participate once again in individual and collective Joy.  I go there to learn so much about beauty and generosity.

I wish that everyone who vibrates as I do could go there and be inspired.

And I do not overstate a word here.

May your happiness increase.

“COMING FROM MY HEART”: JENNIFER JANE LEITHAM’S “I STAND CORRECTED”

Jennifer Jane Leitham is a remarkable musician and a singular person.  I met her for the first time a year ago at the Sacramento Music Festival, and liked her on the spot: she is forthright and sweet-natured.

But I wasn’t only meeting someone who could truly play that cumbersome instrument: I was meeting a woman who had triumphantly made it through a very long and arduous journey.

She’s a brave person, and the documentary about her, I STAND CORRECTED, is something you should see.  Here’s the trailer:

This process of being human, of becoming the person you were meant to be, is not always easy, although those who keep on keepin’ on may find deep rewards.

I STAND CORRECTED has been showing all across the country . . . look for it wherever courageous motion pictures are shown!

And if the trailer moves you, click here to vote for the trailer (it’s number 139, down the page) so that this film can be seen by a wider audience.

May your happiness increase.

DON’T JUST SIT THERE . . . SWING SOMETHING! (Hanna Richardson, Phil Flanigan, Randy Reinhart, Stefan Vasnier, Jared Mulcahy: DO SOMETHING)

I’ve been waiting for this CD for a long time . . . and it satisfies!  Not only does it have a sweetly spiky Modernist cover; inside the paper sleeve is some of the best swinging music you’ll hear.  No hyperbole; no jokes.

“What could cause Michael to make such extravagant claims?” one might ask.  Well, some history.  In the beginning of this century, I was reviewing CDs for The Mississippi Rag, a periodical I miss almost as much as I miss its editor, the sainted and funny and sharp Leslie Johnson.  A new CD came to me featuring a singer I’d never heard of, Hanna Richardson, and a bassist I knew, Phil Flanigan.  I put it on and was immediately happy: they swung without pretense, they improvised sweetly; they made fine melodies sound better, turning them this way and that to the light.  Warmth without sentimentality was their goal, and they accomplished it on every track — often leavened with sly wit.

Eventually I got to meet Hanna and Phil, to see them in the recording studio and to delight in their live performance.  Then, through the Jazz Grapevine, news leaked out from a secret spot in upstate New York.  Hanna and Phil had picked up electrified tenor guitars (four strings, no waiting) and had added them to the Richardson-Flanigan entourage.  And videos started to appear on YouTube of a group they called — with tongue-in-cheek (but not so seriously that Hanna’s sterling enunciation was hampered) TENOR MADNESS.

Your Honor, Exhibit A, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Hanna, Phil, Tom Bronzetti):

EXHIBIT B, WHAT HAVE YOU GOT THAT GETS ME? (Hanna, Phil, Stefan Vasnier):

I rest my case.  Ain’t they something?

And now, Hanna, Phil (alternating between string bass and tenor guitar), Randy Reinhart (cornet), Stefan Vasnier (piano), Jared Mulcahy (string bass) have made what they used to call AN ALBUM . . . with the provocative title DO SOMETHING.  The songs are THREE LITTLE WORDS (with the sweet verse) / FOOLIN’ MYSELF (where Hanna goes her own wistful way, not copying Billie) / WHAT HAVE YOU GOT THAT GETS ME? / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID (where housework is the way to Romance) / THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU / ME MINUS YOU (with great wit — remembering Miss Connee Boswell!) / ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE (for the shade of Tiny Grimes) / TALK TO ME BABY (a twentieth-century realistic love ditty) / DO SOMETHING (a call to arms!) / I DOUBLE DARE YOU / SHOW YOUR LINEN, MISS RICHARDSON (where Johnny Mercer has never sounded so good).

Not only does our Miss Richardson sound better than ever, but the band, the band . . . is a marvel — rhythm that you could use to walk to Florida, and Randy’s glowing cornet, suggesting Sweets Edison here and Bobby Hackett there.

It is possible that my readers need this CD.  Birthdays, Christmas, Hanukah, Thanksgiving, no occasion at all.  It’s a beauty.  Learn more (as we say) here.

May your happiness increase.

DOWNTOWN STANDARD TIME: THE EARREGULARS at THE EAR INN: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BARRETT, JOE COHN, JOEL FORBES (Sept. 30, 2012)

Once again, a triumph of subtlety, precision, wit, grace from the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on September 30, 2012.  The E.R. were very special that Sunday night but they always are: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett (on a brief visit from California), trombone, vocal; Joe Cohn, guitar; Joel Forbes, string bass.

What particularly delights me is the blending of individual voices and styles into a wholly supportive community: the most uplifting kind of social enterprise that encourages rather than stifles the four selves on the bandstand.  Some will point out that the “tunes” are “old chestnuts,” dating from the early part of the previous century.  In the hands of Forbes, Cohn, Barrett, and Kellso, how lively they are, how full of light and shade and surprises!

WHO’S SORRY NOW? was, as always at The Ear Inn, a rhetorical question:

Dan Barrett bursts into song on James P. Johnson’s ONE HOUR and acts out the innocently naughty vaudeville created by Vic Dickenson — its implication being that one hour wouldn’t be enough to enjoy all the imaginable delights:

When it’s played like this, Walter Donaldson’s LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is so engaging that its title stops being an ultimatum — and this version has affectionate nods to Jack Teagarden and Lester Young, as well as a vertiginously brilliant final bridge from Dan:

“Say, you live in New York City or nearby and you’ve never been to The Ear Inn on a Sunday when The EarRegulars are playing?  What a remarkable version of self-denial that is!”

May your happiness increase.

STEPHANIE and PAOLO: FOUR HANDS, LIGHT SPIRITS, BEAUTIFUL MUSIC

It’s always gratifying to find people who Play Well Together, who know how to support as well as take the lead — like great graceful dancers.  Two eminent examples are stride / swing pianists Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, who have created a new CD called TWO FOR ONE, which always sounds like a good bargain.

Many piano duets — especially of stride players — can unintentionally turn assertive, with one musician attempting to outdo his / her partner, Faster, Louder, More, More, More.  The audience stands and cheers for Swing Armageddon, and it is of course technically dazzling . . . but occasionally more belligerent (in a playful way) than musical.

None of that for Stephanie and Paolo, who revel in a gorgeous lightness of being on a beautiful assortment of songs, tempos, and approaches: I NEVER KNEW / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / ‘DEED I DO / TEMPTATION RAG / ST. LOUIS BLUES / BINK’S WALTZ / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / BEGIN THE BEGUINE / CHARLESTON / TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE / RUNNIN’ WILD / WE’LL MEET AGAIN.

It’s a wonderful recital, full of delicate subtleties of light and shade.  You can learn more about their duets here.

I can’t play you the CD (you’ll have to take care of that on your own) but here are two videos of this amiable pair in concert, gracious yet never timid, precise but never stiff.

The first video was recorded by Tom Warner in January 2012 in Leawood, Kansas, and the second at a house concert in Palos Verdes, California, in December 2011:

For more details on their very gratifying CD duo recital, be sure to visit Stephanie’s site.  And while you’re discovering more about this young woman’s music, sign up for her email newsletter, with videos and more information to follow.

May your happiness increase.

SWINGMATISM AT THE EAR INN: HARRY ALLEN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHRIS FLORY, NEAL MINER (Sept. 16, 2012)

More wonders from the Downtown Hot Spot of Rhythm, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) where memorable jazz gets created without fanfare or fuss on Sunday nights from 8-11 PM by a roving band of alchemists calling themselves The EarRegulars.

On September 16, the Regulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar.  Here are two examples of sweetly pungent mastery:

JUST IN TIME, a romp with echoes of Sinatra and Dean Martin:

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, originally recorded as a rhythm ballad — one of those songs that is taken faster and faster, but here returned to Charlie Christian / Ruby Braff tempo, so sweetly and persuasively:

May your happiness increase.

“THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL”: DAN BARRETT, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOE COHN, JOEL FORBES at THE EAR INN (Sunday, September 30, 2012)

Wonderful!

This beautiful Irving Berlin love-ballad was first sung by Ethel Merman (and her male partner, Ray Middleton) in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1946) — and it has been treated lovingly by all manner of singers and instrumentalists — Sinatra and Ruby Braff, Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane, Doris Day, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Scott . . .


But this song got a lovely, sweetly swinging performance last Sunday, September 30, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) because of those Masters of Wonder, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Joe Cohn, guitar; Joel Forbes, string bass.

I think that “wonderful” used to mean worthy of our amazed admiration, full of wondrous things.  It seems an appropriate description for the music at The Ear Inn every Sunday night from 8 – 11 PM.

May your happiness increase.

THE SHAPE OF A CAREER: RED McKENZIE, 1924-1947

Photograph thanks to Scott Black: a trio of solid senders, Frank Trumbauer, Red McKenzie, and their former boss Paul Whiteman

William “Red” McKenzie, born in 1899, had a career whose highs and lows might have made a good — and sad — film biography.  Let us begin with a phenomenal hit record, the 1924 ARKANSAS BLUES — a smash for the novelty group, The Mound City Blue Blowers (McKenzie on comb and newspaper, Jack Bland on banjo, Dick Slevin on kazoo):

A word about his musical abilities, unique to him.  McKenzie’s singing isn’t to everyone’s taste; he is earnest, declaratory, even tipping over into barroom sentimentality.  But he could put over a hot number with style, and his straight-from-the shoulder delivery is both charming and a product of the late Twenties.  As an instrumentalist — on the comb and newspaper, a homegrown kazoo with panache — he had no equal, and the remarkable thing about the records on which he appears is how strongly he stands his ground with Coleman Hawkins and Bunny Berigan, powerful figures in their own right.  Both singing and playing, McKenzie reminds me greatly of Wild Bill Davison, someone who had “drama,” as Ruby Braff said.

In the late Twenties McKenzie was not only a musician but an activist for the music, bringing hot jazz players — Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Jimmie Noone, the Spirits of Rhythm — to the attention of record companies and creating early record dates where Caucasians and African-Americans to record.  Without McKenzie, Coleman Hawkins would have waited a number of years to be allowed into the recording studio to perform with mixed groups.

Here is McKenzie in 1929 — out in the open in the short film OPRY HOUSE as a delightfully unrestrained singer, with Bland, banjo; Josh Billings, whiskbrooms and suitcase:

His popularity grew — as s singer and someone whose face might sell sheet music of a new song:

McKenzie was the featured vocalist with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra — an orchestra, we should remember, that had launched the careers of Bing Crosby and Mildred Bailey — with a pretty 1932 tune, THREE ON A MATCH (featured in the Warner Brothers film of the same name, starring Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis):

He continued to be someone whose presence could help sell new songs — this 1936 number, that most of us know through Billie Holiday’s recording:

and this 1936 song, more famous in Bing Crosby’s recording:

At forty, McKenzie went into a temporary retirement — moving back to his hometown, St. Louis, to work at a brewery for four years.  Apparently he was one of the great heavy drinkers of his time, and only the support of his great friend Eddie Condon kept him in the limelight in the Forties, where he appeared now and again at a Condon concert or a Blue Network broadcast.  The latter, I think, accounts for McKenzie’s 1944 appearance on a V-Disc and a session for Commodore Records — where Milt Gabler also thought the world of him.  Gabler produced record sessions simultaneously for Decca Records and the World Transcription System: here’s a 1944 version of DINAH with McKenzie, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, and Pee Wee Russell:

Here’s McKenzie as captured by William P. Gottlieb in an October 1946 photograph:

But little was heard from McKenzie for the last years of his life, except for one 1947 record date — shown in a newsprint advertisement for four sides on the National label.  His obscurity is nodded at — another “comeback story” in the sad word REINTRODUCING:

By February 1948 McKenzie was dead — cirrhosis the official cause.  I find IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER and HEARTACHES sad reminders of what had happened.  I would hate to think that his life could be summarized as an equal devotion to hot music and hard liquor, the latter winning out over the former.

Had he been in better health, he could have been one of those apparently ancient but still vivacious stars who appeared on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW and the HOLLYWOOD PALACE alongside Crosby, Sophie Tucker, Durante, and Ted Lewis . . . but it was not to be.

May your happiness increase. 

“FOUR BOYS AND A DREAM”: MARTY GROSZ, DAN BLOCK, ANDY SCHUMM, KERRY LEWIS at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 20, 2012)

“Four Boys and A Dream” was Marty Grosz’s mocking / affectionate title for this splendid little group that delighted us at Jazz at Chautauqua on the first night of music, Thursday, September 20, 2012.

The Boys are Marty (guitar, vocal, ancient vaudeville, head(y) arrangements, and satire); Andy Schumm (cornet); Dan Block (clarinet); Kerry Lewis (string bass).  The Dream?  A kind of timeless swing that would have made Bix Beiderbecke, Fats Waller, Eddie Condon, Count Basie, and Louis Armstrong feel right at home — and it made us smile as well.

The four tunes would have fit in nicely in a Chicago club circa 1939 but they sound pretty good even now, with or without a cream pitcher of Mrs. Circe’s gin.

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE:

TIN ROOF BLUES (at a less-morose-than-usual tempo):

THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

JAZZ LIVES’ readers will know well Messrs. Grosz, Block, and Schumm.  But I would ask you to pay special attention to the beautifully focused and swinging bass playing of Mr. Kerry Lewis — whom I first heard perhaps two years ago with Banu Gibson.  He’s just right, and I heard him be the emotional / harmonic / rhythmic compass for a variety of groups that weekend, never playing a loud note, a wrong note, or an unsubtle one.  Hail!

And as far as the band . . . What a Dream!

P.S.  If you wonder what those blinding flashes are early in this program, silently turning the screen white in the manner of ON THE BEACH, some amateur still photographers in the audience were using flash cameras.  Alas.

May your happiness increase.