Monthly Archives: December 2012

“MAKIN’ FRIENDS”: THE JAZZ LIVES 2012 YEAR-END REPORT

At the end of a calendar year, many people take stock of where they’ve been and where they will be going.  I hope my readers will forgive me if I offer a brief JAZZ LIVES version.

Since the spring of 2004, I have been having the time of my life.  Not only have I been able to hear more live music than ever before; I have been able to travel to hear it; I have been able to document it in words and pictures and videos.  A year ago, at the start of 2012, I decided — with the heedless enthusiasm and joy of someone one-third my age, “I am going to follow every impulse I can.  My life is finite.  The lives of the people I revere are also finite.  Not only do I want to extend myself to the utmost; I feel I must do it.”

And I set out on this path, or these paths.  If you were to look at my kitchen calendar or my datebook or the notebooks I write when / where / who played / what did it sound like, you would see that I have been busy.  Jazz parties in Connecticut, Chautauqua, San Diego, Monterey, Sacramento, Atlanta, Whitley Bay.  Club gigs in New York and California.  And I might have left some things out.

I flew so often and slept so little that by the last third of 2012, I was at the bottom edge of my energy, and I felt it.  The Blessed Milton J. Hinton used to have a joking expression: FUMP, which was his synonym for the excrement of whales . . . nothing could be lower than that, because it rested on the ocean floor.  I felt like fump, I assure you.  But I am coming back to my ordinarily resilient self, so do not worry.  (The combination of being with the Beloved, sleep, acupuncture by Marcia Salter, antibiotics, and homeopathy is wondrous.)

JAZZ LIVES is not a profit-making proposition.  Had I a financial advisor, (s)he would say, “You cannot continue to do this.  You will have no money,” and 2012 would prove him / her right.  But that, too, is not entirely important.

What is important — to me — is that I have gained new friends.  Some of them I have been able to meet.  And if I called 2012 THE YEAR OF THE HUGS, I think it would be accurate.  I have been hugged in cyber-space, on the telephone, by mail.  And in person.  And although (as they say at the Academy Awards) I accept this award for myself, it is really because I realized that my role in life is to attempt to spread joy through music.

I am so indebted to the real creators — the musicians — who so generously and good-humoredly allow and encourage me to help their notes and phrases be heard by audiences who will never be able to see and hear them live.  JAZZ LIVES both spreads and receives love, and I am proud of this.

So 2012 has been a year where I have been able to accomplish things I never thought possible.  I send love and thanks to everyone who has ever clicked on a page, even if it was searching “dressed as a girl by my mother,” which still comes up in Search Engine Terms.

And I hope no one will mind if I close this love letter to all the musicians in the house, all the viewers and all the readers — with the lesson from Mezz Mezzrow’s autobiography.  The lesson took place in 1929, but it never grows old.

I used to sit huddled up on my [subway] seat, shrinking into a corner, my head shoved down between my knees and my arms wrapped tight around it, to keep from screaming.

One day, just as the train pulled into 110th Street, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, and when I worked up enough courage to raise my head, there was a nice-looking old colored man with a thick crop of snow-white hair, looking down at me with the kindest, most sympathetic expression I ever saw. “Son,” he said to me real soft, “if you can’t make money, make friends,” and with that he stepped out on the platform and drifted away. He saved my life that day.

Make friends.  Spread joy.  Swing out.

May your happiness increase.

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RAGGIN’ THE SCALES at WHITLEY BAY 2012: KEITH NICHOLS, EMMA FISK, MARTIN WHEATLEY, NORMAN FIELD, FRANS SJOSTROM (Oct. 26, 2012)

The 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party opened — not with a bang but with a rag.  This set, led by the elegantly risque Keith Nichols (piano, vocals, commentary) featured Emma Fisk (violin), Norman Field (reeds), Martin Wheatley (banjo/ guitar), and Frans Sjostrom (bass saxophone) in a program that roved about in the first thirty years of the last century.

The Classic Jazz Party is like no other — a living, energized jazz museum with plenty of room for blowing and smiles all around.  Here’s the first cheerful offering of a long rollicking musical weekend.

Eubie Blake’s CHEVY CHASE:

Bimbo

MY LITTLE BIMBO DOWN ON THE BAMBOO ISLE (when being a Bimbo meant something pleasant — circa 1920.  Lyrics by Grant Clarke, music by Walter Donaldson):

Then Keith and colleagues moved into territory so wonderfully explored by Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Harold Arlen, Jimmy Dorsey, Adrian Rollini, and others, beginning with RAGGIN’ THE SCALE:

PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY:

PRETTY TRIX:

DINAH:

THE WILD DOG:

A short commercial interlude: the 2012 Party was sold out — dramatically early. The 2013 Party (Friday November 1 – Sunday November 3, with a pre-party concert on October 31) has already begun to fill up.  Click here for details.  It promises to be thoroughly gratifying.

May your happiness increase.

THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND (December 2012 Edition)

If you’re going to hear jazz that was recorded before 1990, you might need to be friendly with those archaic objects — phonograph records.  It isn’t essential.  Modern friends (M. Figg and others) get their daily ration of Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra through the invisible magic of digital download.  (How Sidney deParis, Ben Whitted, and Jabbo Smith feel about being mashed into an mp3 is something for the metaphysicians to explore).

But when the Beloved and I go a-thrifting, as we do regularly, she is a fine and generous spotter of records.  Often they are the most popular examples of the genre: supermarket classical, Andy Williams, easy listening, disco 12″.  But the person who passes by these stacks and heaps in a spirit of snobbery misses out on great things.  Of course, one needs reasonably flexible knees, a willingness to get mildly grubby, and perseverance . . . but sometimes the quest ends with something hotter than Mantovani.

Six dollars and tax — in two stores in Novato, California, on December 24 — was a small price to pay for these six discs.

Hank Jones Porgy

SWINGIN’ INTERPRETATIONS OF PORGY AND BESS (Capitol stereo): Hank Jones, Kenny Burrell, Milt Hinton, “Alvin” Jones, with arrangements by Al Cohn.

SORTA-DIXIE (Capitol): Billy May (glowering under a straw boater) with soloists are Dick Cathcart, Moe Schneider, Eddie Miller, Matty Matlock.  The big band is also full of luminaries: Uan Rasey, Conrad Gozzo, Manny Klein, John Best, Skeets Herfurt, Murray McEachern.

SWEET GEORGIA BROWN (Tops): Billy Tipton Trio.  Wow, as we say.

TEDDY WILSON AND HIS TRIO PLAY GYPSY IN JAZZ (Columbia): liner notes by Jule Styne.

MUNDELL LOWE AND HIS ALL STARS: PORGY AND BESS (Camden stereo): Art Farmer, George Duvivier, Osie Johnson, Ed Shaughnessy, Tony Scott . . . and Ben Webster.

THE DIXIELAND BALL: THE L ANCERS with GEORGE CATES’ ALL STARS (Coral).  This one is a mystery.  I know that the Lancers recorded with Charlie Barnet and Les Brown; Cates arranged for some jazz-flavored sessions.  There is no personnel listed, which means that the music might be tepid, the All Stars undistinguished.  But I dream of an unacknowledged Abe Lincoln in there.  I couldn’t pass this one up — not only for its mysterious potential, but for the liner notes by Jane Bundy, which begin:

Born in sin and raised in controversy, Dixieland was the musical problem child of World War One–the rock and roll of its day.

Jane, you had me with “Born in sin.”  But enough of that.  So if you see a brightly-dressed man on his knees, reverently going through a stack of records in Northern California or elsewhere, you might be looking at me.

May your happiness increase.

GENEROSITIES OF SOUND: CELEBRATING TED BROWN (Part One: December 2, 2012)

I admire the tenor saxophonist Ted Brown immensely — for his quiet lyricism, his floating melodic improvisations that seem to come directly from his heart through the bell of his horn.

And Ted — soft-spoken, reticent, not a man to call attention to himself — reversed the usual practice in December 2012 when it came to celebrating his eighty-fifth birthday.  Instead of sitting at a table surrounded by people who love and admire him, opening gifts and receiving congratulations, Ted gave us presents — as you will see and hear below.

This is the first of a three-part series celebrating Ted: the first two parts will present a divinely inspired evening at Michael Kanan’s Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room (December 2); the third part will document an evening at Somethin’ Jazz (December 13) where Ted was joined by the energetically lyrical trumpeter Bob Arthurs.

Here’s the first part: music performed at The Drawing Room with tenor saxophonist Brad Linde and Michael Kanan as guiding spirits alongside Ted.  For once, I will leave all commentary aside: Ted’s music really speaks deeply for itself, a mixture of lightness and deep feeling — conscious spiritual homage to Lester Young.

BROADWAY features Ted, Brad Linde, Michael Kanan, Murray Wall (string bass), Taro Okamoto (drums):

SMOG EYES adds alto saxophonist Sarah Hughes for a famous original line of Ted’s:

MY MELANCHOLY BABY was an amusing choice, given the broad smiles in the room:

317 EAST 32nd STREET belongs to Lennie Tristano — his line on OUT OF NOWHERE chord changes:

A second set paired Ted with the wonderful cornetist Kirk Knuffke, Chris Lightcap (dtring bass);, Matt Wilson (drums).  It was my first in-person introduction to Kirk and Matt, and I am still amazed, three weeks later.

They began with BLIMEY (on the chords of LIMEHOUSE BLUES):

Then, three more famous Brown original lines — FEATHER BED:

DIG IT:

JAZZ OF TWO CITIES:

Michael and Brad joined in for SLIPPIN’ AND SLIDIN’ (on the chords of I FOUND A NEW BABY):’

What astonishing music!  Happy birthday, Mr. Brown — with more music and more birthdays to come.

POUND CAKE Kirk Knuffke

And for those who are inspired by these videos to want TWO OF A KIND Brad Lindesomething musical they can carry around, Ted has released two new compact discs: one, TWO OF A KIND Bleebop 1202, pairs him with Brad; POUND CAKE, Steeplechase 31749, puts him alongside Kirk and Matt.  I will have more to say about these discs in 2013, but you don’t need my permission to venture boldly into ownership.  Delicious airs!

And for some of my more “traditionally-minded” readers who might be inclined to back away from this “modern” jazz . . . . listen deeply and you will hear Lester and Jo Jones — their swing, their lightness — brought into this century by warm gentle improvising men and women.

Thanks to the spirits — Lester, Jo, Lennie, Bird — and to the people in the room: Hyland and Ben, Stephanie and Lena . . . as well as to the heroes making the music.

May your happiness increase.

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME: JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY: October 2012, April 2013, and BEYOND

The word that comes to mind about Jeff and Joel’s House Party is a Yiddish one that has entered the common language in some places — haimisch — meaning “like home,” “comfortable,” “easy to love.”  All of these things apply to the rollicking weekend that Jeff Barnhart and Joel Schiavone have created in Joel and Donna’s beautiful farmhouse in Guilford, Connecticut.  I was a happy member of the group last October, and I will be there again for April 20-21, 2013.  (They are already veterans at this, having hosted a successful February 2012 party)

Continuing the secular-Hebraic theme, “Why is this jazz gathering different from all jazz gatherings,” the youngest son asks.

Even the most convivial jazz parties or festivals remind the listeners that they are not at home.  Most sets are played in large rooms; sometimes there is a raised stage.  Yes, the barriers between musicians and fans are less obvious than at, say, Carnegie Hall, but the illusion of welcome-to-my-house is impossible to sustain.

Not so at Jeff and Joel’s House Party, which is what it purports to be.  I think it might be exhausting for the musicians, but everyone hangs out in the same place — playing, listening, chatting, laughing, telling stories, snacking . . . for three sessions — a Saturday afternoon fiesta, one at night, and a Sunday afternoon cookout.

The other remarkable difference is that the musicians don’t play “sets,” which is standard practice elsewhere . . . half-hour or forty-five minute gatherings for anywhere from a duo to twelve or more players and singers.  At this House Party (again, possibly exhausting for the musicians but never ever dull for anyone) there is a constant changing of the guard, as musicians come and go for each new  performance.  Variety is the key, and no one yawns.

And without leaving anyone under-praised, I have to say that Jeff and Joel strike a remarkable balance.  Jeff — the most serious clown, the deepest philosophical trickster it has been my pleasure to know — is a splendid singer, pianist, bandleader, archivist of lost songs, sixty-second cousin of Thomas Waller you could imagine.  In fact, you can’t imagine Jeff.  He surpasses anything you could think up.  And Joel is making the world safe for sweet / hot banjo playing and group singing.  Don’t scoff: SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON softly sung by a roomful of sympathetic adults is worth decades of therapy or cholesterol-lowering drugs.  (The results of a study done using IF YOU KNEW SUSIE are inconclusive.  I will keep you informed.)

The April 2013 party will have many new faces — in the most gentle sense of that phrase, since many of them are heroic figures and friends to those of us in the tri-state area.  Consider this list (aside from Jeff and Joel): Lew Green, Gordon Au; cornet / trumpet; Craig Grant, Paul Midiri, trombone; Noel Kaletsky, Joe Midiri, reeds; Ian Frenkel, piano; Bob Price, banjo; John Gill, banjo / vocal / drums; Brian Nalepka, Frank Tate, string bass; Kevin Dorn, Tom Palinko, drums.

With that group, you just know that things will swing — and there will be interesting side-discussions about James Bond, James Whale, and other pressing philosophical matters.

The October party was an unusual one for me.  Usually, these days, I arrive with a camera, a tripod, batteries, a marble-covered notebook, and go away with an elevated sense of well-being, a stiff neck, drained batteries, and a hundred or more videos.  Not this time, and for the best reasons.  J&J HP already has its own videographer, Eric Devine (his YouTube channel is CineDevine), a very nice fellow and a splendid video professional.  Two cameras, no waiting; a good recording system.  And the fellow knows how to edit.  I must apprentice myself to Mr. Devine someday.  But I was free to roam around, to listen, to stand outside (the weather was lovely), to talk to people . . . knowing that Eric was on the job.  His videos are super-special, and he’s posted a goodly assortment.

Here are a nifty seven videos from that October weekend . . . to make some of you recall the pleasure of that time; to make others think, “Why did I miss that?”; to make others say, “Have to get there in April.”

Musical evidence, Maestro! The noble players who amused, elated, and delighted us for three sessions in October 2012 were pianist / singer / philosopher Jeff Barnhart, pianist Ross Petot; reed wizards John Clark, Noel Kaletsky; Renaissance man Vince Giordano; trombonist / singer / euphonist Jim Fryer, trombonist Craig Grant; trumpeter / tubaist Paul Monat, trumpeter Fred Vigorito, banjoist / singer Bob Barta, string bassist Genevieve Rose, banjoist / singer Joel Schiavone, drummers Sal Ranniello, C.H. “Pam” Pameijer.

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, as they used to do it in old Chicago — with the law firm of Clark and Kaletsky:

DARKNESS ON THE DELTA, featuring Bob Barta:

A serious exploration into romantic cosmology, Thirties-style — WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN?:

A heroic STEVEDORE STOMP, romping:

YOUNG AND HEALTHY: a collaboration between Jeff, a somewhat bemused Joel, and yours truly (“our blog guy”) — not yet the Lorenz Hart of the blogosphere:

Jim Fryer shows off his remarkable talents on THE GYPSY:

JAZZ ME BLUES, properly Bix-and-Rollini-ish:

You can read what I wrote about the pleasures of that party here.

Here you can find out more information about the April 20-21, 2013 shindig.  You can email here or call Maureen at (203) 208-1481.  For those whose day isn’t complete without a soupcon of social networking, the Party has its very own Facebook page.  I know I “like” it.  Seriously.

And there might even be a few seats left.  But “a few” is no stage joke.

May your happiness increase.

THE BRAVE JOURNEYS OF JENNIFER LEITHAM: “I STAND CORRECTED”

Jennifer Jane Leitham by Garth Woods

Jennifer Jane Leitham by Garth Woods

I first encountered the virtuoso jazz string bassist Jennifer Jane Leitham at the Sacramento Music Festival a few years ago — and was impressed by her eloquent improvisations.  Not only did she have technique, but she was a powerfully focused musician. Although I had never encountered the jazz string bassist John Leitham in person, I had heard him on recordings with Mel Torme, George Shearing, and other jazz notables. I STAND CORRECTED is a marvelous film documentary that traces the transition from John to Jennifer.  It is a deeply felt collaboration between Jennifer and filmmaker Andrea Meyerson. You don’t have to be a jazz fan to admire the film or its subject. It chronicles  the life-long journeys of Jennifer Leitham, who courageously exists in two simultaneous realms.  One story — more familiar — is how a young person born in Pennsylvania (not New Orleans, New York, or Kansas City) becomes a jazz musician in a time and place not all that hospitable to jazz.  Or perhaps not to larger kinds of improvisation. But I STAND CORRECTED is about much more than “becoming a musician”: early inspirations, good teachers, learning one’s craft, breaking in, getting a nationwide reputation, working alongside famous players and singers — with heartbreaks that keep the story genuine, not an unbroken climb to the top. I STAND CORRECTED is about a young woman born into a boy’s body who, early on, knew she was in the wrong place, in a society that would not admit such things might be possible.  It is a record of how John became Jennifer while not letting her essence be destroyed in the process.  For  John Leitham was a wondrous musician before Jennifer emerged in the public eye, and one of the sweetest aspects of this saga is Jennifer’s awareness and acceptance of both selves: this isn’t a film about an enraged, wounded adult trying to obliterate her younger self, but an adult who wants to emerge as the person she knows herself to be. I STAND CORRECTED offers that human story and more in a most moving film. For one thing, Jennifer is an exceedingly likable guide, honest but not pompous nor didactic or narcissistic.  I STAND CORRECTED is not a sermon telling us that we should all be tolerant.  There are no scientific or academic talking heads, no instant revelations. The film is a casual but strongly felt journal of one woman’s struggle to be the person she was meant to be.  Jennifer is both candid and light-hearted without ever undercutting the seriousness of her quest.  The film touches on emotional crises (a divorce, family members unable to accept Jennifer when they knew only John) and medical catastrophes, without becoming bleak. Of course, it helps that an audience has seen Jennifer onstage, ebullient and serious at the same time, playing at the highest level of her art, testing herself while having the time of her life.  And the film is generously leavened with musical performances where Jennifer shows off her prodigious talents as improviser, composer, singer. But the real story is more than a music video. Along the way, John-in-the-process-of-becoming-Jennifer is forced to be a spy in enemy country.  But she finds allies, friends, and supporters.  Some of them are genuinely unaffected noble people: Doc Severinsen is someone you would always want in your corner — gentle yet unwavering, both parent and friend to someone who strongly needs both.  “I hired a bass player, not a man or a woman,” he tells her.  Bless him.  Ed Shaughnessy is not far behind.  (Jennifer’s younger brother is a prize, too.) I was reminded that Doc and Ed were born n an era of drinking fountains labeled COLORED and WHITE outside train stations in many states.  But they and other jazz musicians learned quickly that it didn’t matter what you looked like on the outside.  It didn’t matter who your life-partner was.  Black, white, gay, straight?  Could you play?  What was your heart like?  How well did you love? Meeting these gracious, generous people is one of the film’s pleasures.  But they are only reflecting back something shining out of the film’s heroine.  Jennifer Leitham is gently making her way, as we all must.  Her courage is admirable, for she made the transition at the height of her career, when “coming out as a woman” could have ended her life as a performing musician. I STAND CORRECTED introduces us to a person for whom making music was a way to save herself, to define herself . . . and her music is a great loving gift to all of us.  The salvation young John found while playing the electric bass left-handed (a conscious choice, perhaps an early sly way of saying “I am different”) radiates through this film — a gift Jennifer gives to us.  And as she trusts herself, we trust her. We are all trying to become the person we feel we are meant to be, and some get close to that goal.  Jennifer Leitham’s quest didn’t end when she came out of the hospital after surgery.  It continues every time she performs or tells her story — a story that will give some other young person courage to be him or herself. I STAND CORRECTED is beautifully yet unobtrusively presented: the film shifts back and forth from the early life of John Leitham to the music of Jennifer Leitham to her voyage of self-discovery, the situations she must face and the oppositions that result — as well as the emotional rewards. At the end of I STAND CORRECTED, we feel privileged to have met a happy, realized, creative human being: a woman with four birthdays. And as we are slowly — too slowly — leaving behind the world where skin color or sexual preference determines identity and worth, I STAND CORRECTED will be understood as a small milestone on the way to a world where the idea of MAN or WOMAN is put aside as irrelevant in favor of PERSON, of BEING. It is a rewarding film both musically and spiritually.  Make every effort to see it.  Its heroine’s courage and perseverance are inspiring.  In a world where many people make judgments based on someone’s external presence, we need to be reminded that the truths lie within. Here is the film’s website — where you can see trailers and find out where it is being shown. May your happiness increase.

JUST THREE-QUARTERS OF AN HOUR OF LOVE WITH MONA’S HOT FOUR AND GUESTS (“THE ‘TUESDAYS AT MONA’S’ ALL-STAR JAM BAND”) at the ROCKLAND MUSIC HALL (Dec. 11, 2012)

Although my spiritual persuasions lead me in other directions, here is the Official JAZZ LIVES 20 13 Christmas Gift: forty-five minutes in jazz heaven.

That Elysium was found at the Rockland Music Hall (Allen Street, the East Village, New York City) on Dec. 11, 2012 — when Mona’s Hot Four (plus many stellar friends) took to the small stage to celebrate their CD / DVD release.  You can read about the CD / DVD here: in the words of Stuff Smith and Mitchell Parish, it’s wonderful.

Mona’s Hot Four appears every Tuesday night at Mona’s on Avenue B and Thirteenth Street; they begin their ecstatic festivities close to midnight and continue until 4 AM or so.  So this early-evening set was a treat for nine-to-fivers like myself (and my pals Ricky Riccardi and Ben Flood, who felt as I do about the music).  And through the kindness of MH4, I was allowed to record the proceedings and share them with you.

The core unit is Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Jared Engel, string bass; Nick Russo, guitar / banjo.

And they began with the Sidney Bechet song, CHANT IN THE NIGHT:

Then Dennis invited Gordon Au, trumpet; Emily Asher, trombone; Jerron Paxton, vocal / banjo to join in for CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Miss Tamar Korn came along for a vocal duet with Jerron on SUGAR BLUES:

David McKay became the sole vocalist for a Nat Cole-inflected WHEN I GROWN TOO OLD TO DREAM:

And the scene shifted: Dennis, Gordon, and Nick remained, but Molly Ryan, Vocal; Rob Adkins, string bass; Chris St. Hilaire, snare drum; Mike Davis, cornet replaced their august friends for WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:

And to close — a vocal trio of Tamar, Molly, Margi Gianquinto sang DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME with help from Bob Curtis, clarinet:

If that isn’t three-quarters of an hour of love, I don’t know.

After you’ve watched these free-to-all videos a dozen times and told your pals, I urge you (if you can) to get down to Mona’s for a late-night swing session.  If  you can’t do that, the urge is transmuted . . . pick up several copies of the CD / DVD, which is just as sweet and far more riotous.  Art can’t live on love alone, can it?

May your happiness increase.