Daily Archives: January 7, 2013

SKVORECKY and ROBINSON — BASS SAXOPHONE(S) in CONCERT

Skvorecky

That’s the much-missed Czech novelist Josef Skvorecky, who died in 2012, and the happily-with-us multi-instrumentalist and deep thinker Scott Robinson.  I don’t know how I first found my way to Skvorecky’s work, but perhaps thirty years ago I picked up THE BASS SAXOPHONE, a novella — recommended on the back by Graham Greene (!) and was entranced in the first few pages.  Skvorecky was wry without being broad (although he indulged a taste for slapstick in several of his books), whimsical without being silly, political without being overly didactic.

Skvorecky Bass Saxophone

And he wrote beautifully about jazz — how it felt to play it (he had been an amateur tenor saxophonist in his teens), what the music did for listeners and dancers . . . in the Forties world where having a Chick Webb record was both a radical act and a life-affirming one.

I found out that he was teaching at a Canadian university, and (acting on impulse) I sent him an admiring letter and a cassette tape which had Joe Rushton (the bass saxophone master) on one side and and Art Tatum on the other.  He sent back a very gracious handwritten note of thanks which I still have — it’s tucked into my copy of THE ENGINEER OF HUMAN SOULS.

I just found out about a wonderful concert that I know JAZZ LIVES readers in the New York area would find very rewarding.  I will still be in California, so you’re on your own here.  It’s taking place this coming Wednesday. January 9, 2013,  at 7 PM, at Bohemian National Hall on the east side of Manhattan.

From Scott Robinson himself:

This special event, a “jazz and literary tribute to Josef Skvorecky,” is co-sponsored by the Czech Center and the Dvorak American Heritage Association.  Readings from the great writer’s work, including excerpts from his famous novel The Bass Saxophone, will be interspersed with the music.  I will play bass saxophone exclusively, along with my dear friend pianist Emil Viklicky – who knew Skvorecky personally – plus Martin Wind on bass and Klaus Suonsaari on drums.  All the details are here.

It’s not an overstatement to say that this is a rare opportunity to enjoy the best intersection of literature and music — with great improvisers in each realm.  I urge you to be there!  Admission (at the door) is $20; students, senior citizens, Czech Center Club Members $10.

May your happiness increase.

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FOUR OR FIVE TIMES: THE BONNEL-HAGMANN BIG FOUR (RENE HAGMANN, JEAN-FRANCOIS BONNEL, MANU HAGMANN, ROLY VEITCH) at WHITLEY BAY 2012

BECHET SPANIER

I think many people who love jazz would agree that the 1940 sessions that brought together Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud are a summation of what hot improvised music could be — easy yet intense, full of ensemble variations and surprises but leaving great open stretches for dramatic solos, four individualists jostling for space but working sweetly together as a cohesive community of sound and feeling.  The HRS records have been emulated with some success in this century (one memorable effort paired Jon-Erik Kellso and Bob Wilber one morning at Jazz at Chautauqua) — but one delicious evocation and tribute happened just a few months ago at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.  The participants were Rene Hagmann, blowing mightily on cornet; Jean-Francois Bonnel on soprano saxophone and clarinet; Manu Hagmann on string bass; Roly Veitch on guitar.  Here are five truly inspiring performances — with some of the original details intact, but not repertory copies (at times, Rene leans much more towards Cootie Williams than Muggsy, to great effect) — stylish, fervent, and hot.

SWEET SUE:

LAZY RIVER:

FOUR OR FIVE TIMES:

SWEET LORRAINE:

CHINA BOY:

Heartwarming hot jazz!  (And there was a Bonnel-Hagmann Big Four performance of THAT’S A-PLENTY, which is being held in a safe place.  Details to come.)

May your happiness increase.

HOT ETYMOLOGY at WHITLEY BAY: The WINTELER-PERSSON-NICHOLS-WARD WASHBOARD WIZARDS (Oct. 26, 2012)

The song is called FORTY AND TIGHT — at the time, this expression was the highest expression of slang praise . . . an in-group encomium for absolute perfection.  What did it refer to?  Even today, a cohesive band refers to itself as “tight,” but what scale had forty at the very top?  One can privately construe all sorts of potentially lewd meanings — but JAZZ LIVES requires the services of some hot etymologist with solid Chicagoan credentials.

While we’re waiting, here are the Whitley Bay Washboard Wizards — Thomas Winteler, clarinet; Bent Persson, cornet; Keith Nichols, piano; Nick Ward, washboard.  They evoke the Johnny Dodds Washboard Stompers (recording for Victor) and Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards.

“Forty and tight,” indeed.  (Incidentally, the neatly coiffed woman sitting to the right told me that she was Tommy Rockwell’s great-niece, but this hasn’t been verified yet.)

May your happiness increase.