Monthly Archives: March 2013

A LITTLE JAM AT SAN DIEGO (Nov. 25, 2012): JOHN REYNOLDS, CHRIS DAWSON, NATE KETNER, KATIE CAVERA, MOLLY REEVES, BRAD ROTH, RALF REYNOLDS

Two tunes from the end of a Reynolds Brothers set at the 2012 San Diego Jazz Fest that show brother John in typically fine voice (vocal / tricone resonator guitar) along with the splendid Chris Dawson (piano); Nate Ketner (alto saxophone); Katie Cavera (string bass); Molly Reeves (guitar); Brad Roth (banjo); Ralf Reynolds (washboard).

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM:

I hope that you have time for some swing misbehavin’ this fine day!

May your happiness increase.

RECORDING CALIFORNIA, PART TWO (March 28-29, 2013)

To “record” means to remember, to make sure something is not forgotten; Hamlet writes new revelations down in his tablets; I do the same in JAZZ LIVES.  But “records” mean more than just ethereal memories; they mean the very objects that contain and preserve these memories — in this case, musical ones. So here are a few words and a half-dozen pictures to celebrate music and remembering.

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I revisited Mill Valley Music and had a sweet wandering hilarious conversation with the owner, Gary, who used to work at Village Music.  We spoke of the horrors of water damage, of earbuds, of shifting tastes in music.  In between, I crawled around the store and found one treasure.

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The topography.

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Another view, with treasure.

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That recording comes from 1957 or 8 — Wettling along with Herman Autrey, Vic Dickenson, Herb Hall, Gene Schroeder, and Leonard Gaskin, which would have been some version of the house band at Eddie Condon’s.  I haven’t heard this one in years (it’s in stereo, too) but suspect that the anonymous / uncounted member of the “Windy City Seven” — the name under which Condon and friends made the first sides for Commodore — is Mister Condon himself, under contract to Columbia.  We shall see if I hear his distinctive strumming in the ensembles.

Today, the Beloved and I took another day trip to Sebastopol and environs.  Highlights: nurseries, fine lunch at a strip-mall Nepalese / Himalayan restaurant, and visits to a number of antique shops.  At the second one (it may have had no name, just a sign saying FURNITURE and DEPRESSION GLASS) I spotted a pile of 78s in the corner.

The most popular 78s are still red-label Columbias or early Victors.  This was different.  I could have bought twice as much, but reason, space, and a desire to leave something for another jazz-fixated collector held me back.  But (drum roll) the first disc:

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The other side, TIGER RAG, suggests great things are in store.

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The original 12″ 78s in their paper sleeve — heard but never seen before in their primal state.

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The reissue of A NIGHT AT THE BILTMORE — no picture, but I’ll close my eyes.

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A two-disc album — a Bob Zurke Memorial with note by Barry Ulanov — four piano solos taken from a 1943 broadcast and a private session: BODY AND SOUL / WORKIN’ MY WAY / HOW AM I TO KNOW? / WHO ARE YOU?

Someone had good taste, and I feel very fortunate to be in the right places at the right time.  Oh.  How much did all this cost?  Two days, thirteen dollars.  Keep looking for treasures: they exist!

May your happiness increase.

EXTREMELY HEALTHY FATS! (THANKS TO JEFF BARNHART and FRIENDS)

No, not these.

avocado

Or this.

olive-oil

They are certainly good for you.  But I mean this.

fats jeff

It’s a recent CD on the Lake Records label, under the leadership of the irresistibly talented pianist / singer / arranger Jeff Barnhart, with the assistance of four wonderful players, who summon up all the many sides and angles of Thomas “Fats” Waller with love rather than caricature.

By “caricature” I mean that Fats Waller was — by definition — a powerful personality, but someone who could be reduced to a series of outlandish gestures by musicians who didn’t understand him very well: rapid-fire showy stride piano, high-power clowning and singing, all the “let’s have a party in three minutes” we hear on many of his recordings.  Those “tributes,” and I’ve heard them, begin with the derby cocked over one eve, the same four or five songs, and they end at high volume.  To quote Chubby Jackson on a satirical record circa 1945, “Wasn’t that swell?”

But the essence of Fats Waller is more subtle and more varied than any clownish portrait in broad strokes, and Jeff Barnhart — an improviser / entertainer who gets beneath the obvious surfaces — has long understood that Waller was equal parts stride virtuoso and soulful musician — singer, pianist, composer. . . someone with a heart as large as his famous girth.  This isn’t to say that REFLECTIONS OF FATS doesn’t swing — but that it shows a deep awareness of Fats Waller’s depths.  Jeff hasn’t devoted himself entirely to the esoteric: the disc offers AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, YOUR FEET’S TOO BIG, BLUE  TURNING GREY OVER YOU, THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’, and TWELFTH STREET RAG — but it also gives us the lesser-known compositions: a meaty RUMP STEAK SERENADE, KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL, HOLD MY HAND, MOPPIN’ AND BOPPIN’, MY FATE IS IN YOUR HANDS.  Three great delights of this disc are YOU MUST BE LOSING YOUR MIND (by Fats and Ed Kirkeby), AT TWILIGHT, and DO YOU HAVE TO GO? (both composed by Fats and his wife Anita).  AT TWILIGHT alone is sweetly memorable.

Jeff Barnhart is a splendid stride pianist, swing pianist, and bandleader — his ensemble playing, his support of soloists, is both uplifting and delicious.  And his singing is both original and Waller-imbued: he has some of the Master’s insinuating nasal croon that makes a Barnhart vocal both compelling theatre and a great deal of fun.  He doesn’t need the derby, in short.  On this CD he has assembled a neat band (shades of Fats’ Bluebird / Victor “Rhythm” but even more compact) of UK swing stars: John Hallam, reeds; Jamie Brownfield, trumpet; Bruce Rollo, string bass; Nick Ward, drums.  The latter two are a better rhythm team than you’d hear on some Thirties recordings — having seen them in tandem and individually at Whitley Bay, I know they are solid senders.  Nick Ward is sometimes pigeonholed as a “vintage drummer,” someone restricted by law and decency to his temple blocks, but he can swing out in the best style: Slick Jones would be proud.  John Hallam can boot things along in the appropriately vehement manner, but I was most impressed by his tender, quiet playing (I thought of Harold Ashby) on the slower numbers.  And Jamie Brownfield was only nineteen when this CD was made.  He is a great player now, and I hope to hear more from him.  And — as an aside — no one copies Autrey or Sedric here.

It’s a wonderful CD, full of surprises — with lovely annotations by Ray Smith and delightful recorded sound.  You can obtain a copy here  — I gather it is also available on iTunes, if this little band can fit in your earbuds.  Consult with your audiologist first.

Now, I don’t have something that directly pertains to REFLECTIONS OF FATS to share with you . . . . but I can offer this.  Jeff and his wife Anne (a splendid flautist and singer) who bill themselves as IVORY AND GOLD, have recently posted some performance videos on Jeff’s brand-new YouTube  channel. With their playful seriousness and serious playfulness, they make music that Mr. Waller would have liked.

Here’s their version — too short! — of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

May your happiness increase.

THE REMARKABLE YAALA BALLIN: “LIVE SESSION”

Yaala Ballin knows how to share.  And that’s special in itself.  We first met her at a Marianne Solivan gig at Iridium, where the elegant Ms. Ballin was placed next to us.  She had ordered a dessert — which turned out to be a slice of red velvet cake — and although we had only known each other for a matter of minutes, she offered us half.  Old-fashioned style.

YAALA BALLIN

And then we heard her sing!  Frankly, her musical art is more gratifying than any dessert I could imagine.  Her new CD, LIVE SESSION, was recorded at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room, in October 2012 — audio and video by Neal Miner.  On it, Yalla sings alongside Michael, piano; Ari Roland, string bass; Keith Balla, drums.

Here are the details and audio excerpts of each performance.  For those impatient with clicking, the songs are NOBODY ELSE BUT ME / AUTUMN IN NEW YORK / YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / HOW LITTLE WE KNOW / FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE / I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE / ALWAYS.

Yaala Ballin stands out because of her artistic integrity — that gives great delight.  Her artistry is very plain: she does not “dramatize”; she does not obliterate the song with her own ornamentations; she does not coo or woo.  She does not impersonate any one of The Great Dead.

Rather, she has a beautiful voice, unerring rhythmic command, and courage: her rubato embellishments are both brave and sure-footed. Her singing is confident, assured, as if a great actress strode on stage, sure of herself and her lines, deeply informed about the music she wants to make and the effect she hopes it will have on us.  Nothing is studied; there are no faux-spontaneous gestures; her singing seems utterly natural and at the same time powerful, focused.  Although Yalla is not yet forty, her singing is mature; we listen to her and relax, secure in her mastery of music and lyrics.  She plays with the song while honoring it, as do her superb accompanists.

What she so generously shares with us is remarkable.

Here is her website, and her Facebook page.

But you don’t need to take any of this on faith.  Neal Miner has posted videos of LIVE SESSION on the Gut String Records YouTube channel.  You can see that my praise of Yaala Ballin is based on her deep musical knowledge, enthusiasm, and empathy.

Here are two of the seven performances:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK (with the rare and moving verse):

and the witty and touching NOBODY ELSE BUT ME:

Convinced?  I thought you would be.  Yaala has a number of New York City gigs, but the one I have circled on my calendar is this: she and Michael Kanan will be performing in duet at Smalls (183 West 10th Street) on May 12, 2013, at 7:30. I’ll be there!

May your happiness increase.

“IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD”: TIM LAUGHLIN – CONNIE JONES ALL STARS at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 24, 2012)

Let me be candid.  This band impressed and moved me so much in person, and the videos continue to make me very happy — “tonation and phrasing” carried to the very apex of swinging beauty.

They are Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet and vocal; Mike Pittsley, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums — all recorded at the San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival (this session on November 24, 2013).  This music emphasized the truth of this post’s title, I am positive.

I CRIED FOR YOU:

IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD:

TOGETHER:

WABASH BLUES:

IT’S BEEN SO LONG:

IF I HAD YOU:

LENA, THE QUEEN OF PALESTEENA:

SPAIN:

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?:

And, for the near future — the 34th Festival (now called The San Diego Jazz Festival) will take place from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, with music by Bob Schulz, Ray Skjelbred, Glenn Crytzer, the Yerba Buena Stompers, the Reynolds Brothers, High Sierra, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Jason Wanner, Bob Draga, Carl Sonny Leyland, Grand Dominion, Chloe Feoranzo, and much more.  For information, visit here.

May your happiness increase.

A SUPERB RECORD STORE (MILL VALLEY MUSIC, Mill Valley, California)

One, two, three.  These treasures required a good deal of crawling around on the floor, but returning to childlike postures is part of the pleasure of record-buying.   This surprising Eden of discs is located at 320 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, Marin County, just north of San Francisco.

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Bessie with Joe Smith, Charlie Green, Buster Bailey.

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from the 1936 Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Album.

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circa 1974, autographed by The Man Himself.

I plan a return trip!

May your happiness increase.

BOBBY GORDON, JAZZ POET

Clarinetist / singer Bobby Gordon is one of the great poets of jazz.  I won’t say he’s “unsung” because the people who know love his delicate traceries.  And Bobby certainly knows how to sing!

I could write a paragraph on his sweet quirky lyricism, his way of finding the delicious surprising notes that go right to our hearts — but eight bars of Bobby will do it better than any description.

Here he is at the 1997 Mid-America Jazz Festival — thanks to Don Wolff for the video! — with Marty Grosz and Greg Cohen, on a tender IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Something sweet from the same session (with Peter Ecklund, cornet; Greg, string bass) prefaced by one of Philosopher / Social Anthropologist / Professor Grosz’s analyses, so true:

Thank you, Bobby, Marty, Peter, Greg, and Don.  This music brings the sun in the room.

May your happiness increase.

HONEY IN THE EAR: SCOTT ROBINSON, DION TUCKER, MATT MUNISTERI, NEAL MINER: The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, March 10, 2013

Two aesthetic quotations come to mind.  The first, from Hot Lips Page.

I presume that someone asked him why he played _______ instead of _______, and he said, “The material is immaterial,” which suggests that one can be just as creative improvising on the simple as the complex, the familiar as well as the innovative.

The second is from another jazz philosopher, Eddie Condon, who said, “The only question about music is this: does it come in the ear like broken glass or like honey?”

Both Lips and Eddie approve, I am sure, of the music played every Sunday (8-11 PM) by the roving adventurers known as The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York).

And here are a half-dozen samples, organic, locally sourced, and especially free-ranging, from the night of March 10, 2013, when the heroic participants were Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Dion Tucker, trombone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and jazzophone.

If you flinch  because “all the tunes are old,” just remember what Lips said.  And enjoy the honeyed bliss of the sweet and hot music.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME?:

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY:

LOUISIANA:

You can find connections to Bix, Basie and Lester, to Jack Teagarden.  But The EarRegulars are always having a fine time in fresh fields and pastures new.  These players create such casual playful brilliance that they are, singly and collectively, a joy to experience.  In case Dion Tucker is new to you, let this be a proper introduction to another young melodic hero.  And, yes, that is a jazzophone Scott is playing.  Matt Munisteri and Neal Miner lift and anchor us as always, with splendid grace.  Marvel, children!  Tell your friends.

May your happiness increase.

DON’T FORGET AND DON’T BE LATE: JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY IS COMING (April 20-21, 2013)

Yes, the lyrics above are from OUR MONDAY DATE — and the party I am reminding you about here takes place on a Saturday and Sunday.  But the sentiments are still valid.  There are only a handful of tickets still available for Jeff (Barnhart) and Joel (Schiavone)’s House Party — April 20 / 21, 2013, in Guilford, Connecticut.

Let the jury see the evidence, please.  Here’s Exhibit A, thanks to some fine musicians and Eric Devine, roving cinematographer:

And Exhibit B:

My people have an expression — haimisch — which means something like “so comfortable that you instantly make yourself at home.”  That’s the J&J HP in one word.  Don’t forget and don’t be late!  For details, click here.

And a postscript.  When writing a reminder such as this, I am always somewhat at a loss about how to urge people to do something.  I was never a copywriter, so to say that the April 2013 Party is NEW and IMPROVED is silly; it didn’t need fixing.  Wielding jazz guilt (in my most somber voice): “If you don’t support jazz enterprises like this one, they won’t continue,” is tempting but no one wants to feel that (s)he is responsible for keeping hot jazz afloat.  So all I will say is simply this, “I went there and had a wonderful time.  Give yourself the present of this experience.  If not now, when?”

And, yes, an alternate title for this post could have been RASHI IN DIXIELAND, but I opted for something slightly less obscure.

I hope to see you in Guilford!  It isn’t exactly Fifty-Second Street, the fabled Three Deuces, the Reno Club, or Mahogany Hall, but the music emanating from that beautiful farmhouse is just as life-enhancing.

May your happiness increase.

THE POET, GRIPPED BY PURE LOVE, EARNESTLY STATES THAT HE WOULD RATHER HAVE THE COMPANY OF THE BELOVED THAN ANY OTHER PERSON, EVEN ONE OF GREATER WEALTH AND FAME, AND THESE WORDS ARE ACCOMPANIED BY A PLEASING AIR

What follows is the Official JAZZ LIVES Love Song.  It captures my feelings exactly and deeply, and the music that accompanies it is perfectly delightful.

The song is I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU — composed by Harry Akst, Lew Brown, and Elsa Maxwell for a night club “revue” for the Casino de Paree.  (I have read that the New York club Studio 54 occupied the same space, decades later.)

My guess about the composition of this song is that Akst created the melody, Brown the lyrics, and that they called on Ms. Maxwell for the details of Society that would make it authentic.  (I can invent the dialogue for their meeting, and I am sure you can also.)  I’ve not seen the film nor a copy of the sheet music, but the song was recorded in Chicago by Charles LaVere and his Chicagoans, and we have the performance I love through a series of nearly miraculous kindnesses.

The jazz connoisseur Helen Oakley Dance arranged for this racially mixed band — not yet accepted as the norm — to record for the nearly-dead OKeh label, and the records were not issued at the time.  (Thanks to hal Smith for this detail.)

Some thirty years later, Columbia Records was cleaning house and someone decided to dispose of a number of unlabeled one-sided vinyl test pressings. Helene Chmura, blessed be her name, asked collector Dan Mahony if he wanted them before they were thrown away; he agreed, and among them were the seven sides from the LaVere sessions of March 11 and April 5, 1935 — this performance comes from the latter.  I read that these were “test-only” performances, which means that they were the Thirties equivalent of audition “demo” recordings. Given the circumstances, we are so lucky — beyond lucky — to have them. (Mahony passed them on to the fine UK collector and gentleman Bert Whyatt; the discs now are held by Charles LaVere’s son Stephen.)

Before I write more, you should hear the music.  The video below was created by the exceedingly talented Chris Tyle (cornet, clarinet, drums, vocal, jazz scholar, bandleader, archivist, writer . . . . ) as a special commission for JAZZ LIVES. Alec Wilder would have called the song “notey,” and deplored the repeated notes; I am amused by the way the lines spin out to accommodate the lengthy lyrics . . . but it goes right to my heart.

The musicians are Charles LaVere, vocal (and possibly trumpet); Johnny Mendell and Marty Marsala, trumpets; Joe Marsala, clarinet / alto; Joe Masek, tenor; Boyce Brown, alto; Preston Jackson, trombone; Jess Stacy, piano; Joe Young, guitar; Israel Crosby, bass; Zutty Singleton, drums.  That’s some band.

I find the lyrics particularly charming.  Of course the notion that “I like you a lot” is a familiar refrain in love songs.  “I like pie, I like cake, I like you best of all,” another.  “It all depends on you” and “I wanna go where you go — then I’ll be happy,” other variations.  But this song, where the singer says “I prefer your company to that of famous members of the upper class who would offer me unique experiences so far beyond the ordinary,” is offering a special kind of love-bouquet.  And it is witty and sweet that the singer doesn’t say, “Mrs. Astor wanted to sleep with me but I told her NO because I like you better.”  No, the lyrics advance a series of whimsical rhetorical possibilities — which must have been especially striking in the Depression: IF Mrs. Vanderbilt invited me to dine . . . and I think we are expected to know that this is a dream rather than a real invitation, and that the singer and the Beloved do operate in the world of the shared hot dog at Coney Island.

But love often is charmingly hyperbolic, and the singer insists, “My preference for you, my fidelity to you, is not a simple matter of preferring you more than your real peers.  I’d rather be with you than with anyone else, no matter how rare and glittering the experience anyone else could offer.”  That, to me, makes it a deep and authentic — even while whimsical — offer of love.

And the music!  It might be too much for some when I say I love every note of this performance, but it’s true — from the repeated vamp capped with a Zutty accent (sounds like his pal Sidney) into Boyce’s melody statement, so sweet yet never sentimental, with that rhythm section, Stacy bubbling, beneath.  Marty Marsala takes the bridge in an impassioned way, with the saxophones playing a written figure to emphasize his statement; a break from Boyce leads into an even more beautiful exposition of the melody.  (If anyone doubts that Boyce was a remarkable player, soulful and precise, let the skeptic listen to that chorus a few times.  It stands alongside the best alto playing I know.)

This — eighty seconds — is a fully satisfying musical offering.  But there’s more. After an interlude concluded by Zutty and a two-note phrase from Preston Jackson, Charles LaVere begins to sing.  (Is it Marsala or  Mandell echoing and improvising around and under him?)  His diction is refined; he is offering us the story in the clearest way.  But the vibrato-laden way in which he ends phrases is both intense and heartfelt; his reading of “be” in the song’s title is so touching. We know he cares!  On a second or third listening, we can honor Jess Stacy, stealing the show yet again.  Tenorist Joe Masek brings out his best early-Thirties Hawkins, and one of the musicians (or a studio onlooker) lets out a fervent yell of approval at 2:37.  I agree with the anonymous emoter.  And the final eight bars are a full-band ensemble, both tender and rocking, driven on by embellishments from Preston Jackson and Zutty’s cymbal.

It’s the combination — witty lyrics without a hint of satire, delivered with the utmost feeling over a hot jazz background — that does it for me.

(In this century, James Dapogny urged Marty Grosz to record the song — which he did, splendidly, on an Arbors CD called MARTY GROSZ AND HIS HOT COMBINATION.)

I send this to performance and video to the lovers in my reading audience, and I encourage you to send it to your Beloved.  If you don’t have a Beloved at the moment and would like one, play this over and over until the music and the lyrics are brilliantly resonant in your head, then hum and sing it under your breath as you go through your day.  It will, I am sure, attract love to you.

May your happiness increase.

MIND IF I TAG ALONG? (SOME BOLD WORDS ABOUT THE BREDA JAZZ FESTIVAL)

My super jazz friend Heidi (from the Netherlands) recently sent me this very flattering email about the upcoming Breda Jazz Festival:

I just found out about the line-up for this year’s Breda Jazz Festival. What can I say, the organisers from that festvial do read your blog for sure! So who’s coming? The Swingberries and Hoppin’ Mad with lovely musicians like Aurélie Tropez, Jerome Etcheberry, Katie Cavera, Evan Arntzen, Simon Stribling, Clint Baker and more.

Now, I am not writing this post to flatter myself as an influential shaper of worldwide jazz events.  I hope the Breda people have been able to learn of many gifted musicians through JAZZ LIVES, but the names above hardly needed my assistance!  What follows is unsubtle in the extreme, but extremism in the pursuit of hot jazz is not always a vice, according to someone.

Would someone invite me to Breda in future?

I’d love to be there, and my mother’s family was Dutch.  Does that count?  Anyway, the forty-two minute video of highlights from the 2012 Festival shows that they might not need another person with a video camera: they are doing a superb job without me, unthinkable as that might seem.  (The above written with metaphorical tongue firmly in theoretical cheek, a hard pose to sustain for long.)  But in addition to Heidi’s brief sketch of the artists who are going to play, I see a Dan Barrett Jay and Kai tribute . . . what an imagined delight.  And more.

See for yourself here.  And of course the Festival has a Facebook page:

May your happiness increase.

“EVERYONE KNOWS HIS CREATIVE PERIOD WAS BEHIND HIM BY _______.”

Louis Armstrong reached his artistic peak somewhere before 1929, when his recording of commercial songs — I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE as opposed to POTATO HEAD BLUES — was ruinous.  Right?

As we say in my country, “Oh, please!”

You play what you are!  And Louis in 1954 and 1960 still embodied the deepest human truths of joy and sorrow.

These two videos are now available widely thanks to the tireless collector, historian, and archivist Franz Hoffmann.

The first, from May 9, 1954, is part of a wonderfully odd CBS-TV program,
“YOU ARE THERE: “THE EMERGENCE OF JAZZ,” which purports to recreate the closing of Storyville as if it were a news story happening at the moment.  In 1954, I wasn’t sufficiently sentient to have been watching this episode, but I gather that this neat gimmick allowed various actors to recreate events in history — with light brushes with accuracy and the help of Walter Cronkite to make it seem “real.”  Here, Louis was asked to become King Oliver, fronting his own All-Stars . . . all African-Americans, with the exception of drummer Barrett Deems, who had his face blacked to fit it.  The other band members are Barney Bigard, Trummy Young, Billy Kyle, Arvell Shaw.  In other segments, Louis Mitchell was played by Cozy Cole and Jelly Roll Morton by Billy Taylor. No doubt.  Here, much of the fun is that the Oliver band is “challenged” by an offstage White band — the Original Dixieland Jazz Band — impersonated by Bobby Hackett, Bill Stegmeyer, Lou Stein, Cliff Leeman, and Lou Mc Garity.  To see and hear Louis play BACK O’TOWN BLUES and read his lines is enough of a pleasure; to hear Louis and Bobby improvise on the SAINTS is a joy.

Six years later, with no faux-news report, just a substantial production for a BELL TELEPHONE HOUR (January 1, 1960), we see Louis in magnificent form (although this segment is taxing).  After SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET and LAZY RIVER — with the plastic mute Jack Teagarden made for him — there is one of the most touching episodes of Louis on film, beginning at 3:30.  If you ever meet anyone who doubts Louis’ sincerity, his acting ability, his skill in conveying emotion, please play them this video and let them hear and see the ways he approaches SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD, intensely moving.  Then the mood switches to an early-television meeting of Louis with an unidentified vocal quartet for MUSKRAT RAMBLE.  In all, eight minutes plus of wonderful music.

Louis sustains us as he sustained himself.

Thanks to Franz Hoffmann and of course to Ricky Riccardi, who has done so much to remind us that Louis never, ever stopped creating.

May your happiness increase.

ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK? (For Adults Only)

CASTLE

I don’t know why this fragment just came to the surface, but here it is.  An older man, writing his memoirs (very possibly Leonard Garment, who began as a hopeful jazz tenor saxophonist and ended up as Richard Nixon’s legal counsel) recalled the friendly mentoring he received from Ellington tenor saxophonist Al Sears in the early Fifties.

ROCK

Our man (let us call him Leonard until corrected) asked Sears about the latter’s big hit — a funky blues called CASTLE ROCK.

“Mr. Sears, what does the title of that song mean?”

“Well, a rock is an orgasm.  And a Castle Rock is a huge orgasm.”

Long pause for imagined responses from our young questioner.  Certainly that was a definitive answer.

Years after reading this story, I now wonder if the slang Sears explained had had a long life as an in-group utterance for a hip community.

How far back did that meaning of rock go?

I know that many song titles in the Thirties had subtly naughty connotations.  JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE did not entirely refer to aerobic exercise.  SWINGIN’ AT THE DAISY CHAIN referred to erotic activities undertaken at a famous New York house of such pleasures.  Fats Waller’s VALENTINE STOMP was dedicated to Hazel Valentine, a woman who ran such an establishment.  I know that ANYBODY HERE WANT TO TRY MY CABBAGE is not exactly about a tasty bowl of cole slaw.

With this knowledge, I wonder.  And I return to rock.

Should I now hear Mildred Bailey’s record of ROCK IT FOR ME with fresh ears?  (I am leaving ROCKIN’ CHAIR aside as sacrosanct.)  Ellington’s ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM?

I invite informed polite commentary from any swing linguists in my readership.

May your happiness increase.

CANTOR’S CELLULOID CAVALCADE IS COMING! (March 23, 2013 in San Francisco)

Mark Cantor, jazz film scholar, is one of those rare beings animated by knowledge and generosity in equal portions.  I’ve never met him in person, but I’ve been delighted by what he knows about jazz and popular musicians of the last century in their often uncredited film appearances . . . and by his willingness to share, not only data but the films themselves.  Evidence of the latter can be found right here on his YouTube channel.

On Saturday, March 23, 2013, at 8 PM, Mark will be offering another one of his famous jazz film programs — this one so rich with material it has a double title: STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY / SWING, SWING, SWING.  Mark’s films will concentrate on the great bands and singers who either performed at Harlem’s famed Savoy Ballroom or who should have: Louis, Ella, Chick, the Savoy Sultans, Erskine Hawkins, Basie, Duke, BG, Bob Chester, and some rarities that can’t be seen elsewhere.  The place is the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco’s Kanbar Hall, 3200 California St., San Francisco, CA 94118 (415-292-1233).  For ticket information, click here or here.

The Beloved and I will be there, smiling at the screen and at Mark.  Come join us!

Just in case you’ve never heard of Mark, and wonder whether his collection is worth a trip from your apartment, I present here two of his (annotated) short films that I love.  Neither will be on the March 23 bill, which is all the more reason to share them here.

SONG SHOPPING (with Ethel Merman, Johnny Green, the bouncing ball and the usual absurdist / violent Max Fleischer cartoon antics — 1936:

THE CAPITOLIANS (directed by Walt Roesner, 1928) — a must-see for anyone who likes spectacle or hot jazz / dance music or both:

And here’s a happy review of Mark’s 2012 show.

May your happiness increase.

LET’S ROCK IT!: CARL SONNY LEYLAND’S SAN DIEGO RHYTHM KINGS: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, CLINT BAKER, CHLOE FEORANZO, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON: San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Festival, Nov. 24, 2012)

As soon as this impromptu band started to play, a famous picture came to mind:

Ammons

The spelling at the 33rd San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Festival was better but the music was just as inspiring as the blue-label Deccas that pianist Albert Ammons made with (if I recall correctly) trumpeter Guy Kelly and reedman Dalbert Bright in Chicago in 1936.

The San Diego version (assembled on November 24, 2012) was composed of Carl, piano / vocals; Clint Baker, trumpet; Chloe Feoranzo, reeds; Marty Eggers, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  And they rocked!

EARLY IN THE MORNING:

‘S’WONDERFUL:

STACKOLEE:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

IT HAD TO BE YOU:

CABBAGE GREENS:

KEY TO THE HIGHWAY:

ROSETTA:

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE:

THREE LITTLE WORDS (with the famous and apt riff from Lester Young’s 1943 Commodore date):

May your happiness increase.

MICHAEL KANAN and NEAL MINER: “A CASUAL JAM SESSION / THREE TUNES”

Get ready for twenty minutes of deep passion, as two masters of swinging melodic improvisation play in serene surroundings, exploring THREE TUNES (as the title says): Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass and cinematography.

The THREE TUNES are Artie Shaw’s MOON RAY; Hoagy Carmichael’s THE NEARNESS OF YOU (with its pretty, rarely-heard verse); TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT (with a short Technicolor interlude where the two masters make sure the chords are right — and, later, for those with sharp ears and senses of humor, a very brief nod to Bill Haley and the Comets).

Casual listeners can enjoy the beautifully mobile music; more serious students of the music will find much to admire . . . delicate, generous interplay; the beautiful tone both Michael and Neal get out of their instruments; their intuitive balance between melodic exposition and more adventurous improvisations.

May your happiness increase.

DAWN AND CHRIS GIVE THE CAB DRIVER DIRECTIONS IN SWING STYLE

One of my favorite singers, Dawn Lambeth.

One of my favorite pianists, Chris Dawson.

A swinging early-Thirties Ellington song, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM.  I have to point out that the lyrics by newspaper writer Nick Kenny are less than fresh . . . but one can listen around the hackneyed phrases to admire Dawn’s sweet, light-hearted approach to the song, the textures and timbres of her voice, and the swinging, faithful, and elegant piano of Mister Dawson.

I wish this duo — or the larger version, Dawn Lambeth and Friends — were coming to my city, soon.  And yours, too.

May your happiness increase.

WE LOST A CHAMPION: MIKE DURHAM

Mike Durham died this morning, peaceably, his family at his bedside.  He had been diagnosed with incurable brain cancer six or seven weeks ago.

Some of you might not know Mike Durham — from Newcastle, England.  He played trumpet, cornet, and kazoo; he sang; he told stories and jokes; he ran a large-scale jazz party (the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival or the Classic Jazz Party) for over two decades.

But all that is not as important as the feeling Mike inspired in people.  When I heard of his death this morning, the words that leaped into my head were Eddie Condon’s — when Eddie was asked to comment on the death of Edmond Hall. And those words are my title.  Mike would be happy to be mentioned in the same paragraph with Eddie and Edmond, for they made his kind of music.  And the reverse was also true.

Mike had so many aspects or facets that it is hard to know where to start — should I begin with the trumpeter, jazz scholar, festival creator, charming man?

He had a deep sense of humor, so perhaps I will begin this post with an example of Mike in action (in front of my video camera, no less) — essaying a Ted Lewis favorite.  Mike would have been amused by the juxtaposition of that title and this occasion, I assure you:

You see there a sly singer, a terse but effective trumpeter (when I first began to hear Mike, I knew he was no exhibitionist, but a subtle creator of epigrams, some sweet, some naughty).  But I first came to know him as the indefatigable organizer of the annual Whitley Bay extravaganzas.  He was gracious and kind, but efficient — and often just a touch exasperated — because he was someone for whom the difference between EXACTLY RIGHT and ALMOST THERE was clear.  So I regret that I rarely had the time to see him when he was not in motion.  I knew, however, that he was a man with depths.

In the four years I knew him (those weekends plus emails) when we could stop talking about the music that was swirling all around us, Mike would speak about something that always surprised me: his experiences in America while working for Proctor and Gamble (or, if I misremember, the large ad agency that handled P&G); his experiences with race relations in the American Midwest; his memories of his father; his serious love of American poetry — ranging from Emily Dickinson to the moderns, all of which he could recite at will.  Right now the Mike I miss is not simply the trumpet player or singer, but the serious man whose utterances, never pompous, seemed deeply felt and deeply observed — I always went away from a conversation with Mike with his gently vehement words ringing in my head.  (By “gently vehement” I mean that he was soft-spoken but emphatic, and his conversation gave one the sense that he had a clear sense of where he was going when he began . . . he didn’t ramble, meander, or repeat himself.)  We had discussed plans to have dinner sometime and actually speak of things . . . but it never came to pass, so the half-dozen hallway conversations were all I ever got to savor.

But I knew him through the music.  Mike loved and understood the hot jazz that shone and blossomed between the wars, and he and his friends took great pleasure in exploring those pathways on their own.  He loved it when a band “got hot” and made the patrons and the room rock.  And you could feel and see his pleasure whether he was leading the band or standing off to one side, tuxedo-clad, ready to introduce the next song.

His pleasure in the music was more serious, his belief in the purity of Hot was deeper than most people’s, and it resulted in his more than two decades’ of nearly religious devotion to its ideals.  Mike didn’t think that simply playing his cornet (he was a great collector of brass instruments) with the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings or playing his records for friends was enough — the music deserved better.  So his Whitley Bay parties were the most vivid, lively, and entertaining jazz “museums” I have ever encountered.  With a cast of international jazz characters — male and female, European, Asian, and South American as well as the usual types — he strove to make the music come alive in front of our eyes and ears.  He didn’t mind an ad hoc group of fellows and gals romping through LESTER LEAPS IN, but that was for the after-hours jam session in the Victory Pub.  Mike’s idea of honoring jazz was serious, and it required much work: to have bands playing the music of particularly notable ensembles and soloists — playing it well, playing it accurately with fervor.  I will offer a video example at the end of this blogpost so that you may understand what Mike did — working all year with his beloved wife Patti — so that we should know what the past REALLY must have sounded like.  And the Rhythmakers, Bix and his Gang, the 1937 Goodman band, Louis and Lillie Delk Christian, and more.  In 2012, he was recovering from an operation and was unable to play the trumpet, but he was a marvel of intense focus and energy — jazz listeners will understand so well that it is not only the musicians on the stand that make the music happen, but the festival organizer who has planned everything twelve months in advance.

A good deal of Mike’s catch-his-breath conversation was based on jokes . . . most of which were new to me, and he never got offended when I held up my hand and said, “Let me save your energy.  Is the punchline ‘And she won’t either?'”  He would move on to one that was even better.

Here I turn to my friend Bob (Sir Robert) Cox, who tells a story: “I knew Mike for 5 years, he always had ready wit and a story or joke to tell.

He was a great fan of Humphrey Lyttelton and his ‘Antidote to panel games’ I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue‘.  Four years ago Mike did a tribute to Humph to include his music and wit.  Unfortunately, Mike left all his notes at home but managed to deliver a side splitting 50 minutes using quotes from a book of Humph’s I just happened to have with me and hastily scribbled notes I handed him from my memory about Samantha, Humph’s scorer on the programme.

Samantha has to go now as she’s off to meet her Italian gentleman friend who’s taking her out for an ice cream.  She says she likes nothing better than to spend the evening licking the nuts off a large Neapolitan.

I will miss Mike as a friend and generous jazz patron.”

Patti Durham very kindly emailed me the news of Mike’s death; it was one of the first things I read this morning.  Later today, at work, I encountered a colleague who told me of the death of her beloved partner — they had been together for four decades — and we both had a hard time not breaking down in the corridor.  With a lump in my throat, I said to her, “The dead know when we weep over them,” something I deeply believe to be true.

But Mike was so impish that I think the tears I shed over him should be in the form of hot jazz.  He was so open-handed in the music he gave us, the music he made possible, that I will close with this video — a small group led by Michel Bastide performing WA WA WA.  “Why is that appropriate for memorial?” some of you might ask.  Oliver, you might know, was a genius at making human sounds with his cornet and a variety of mutes; one of his specialties was imitating a baby crying (he and Bill Johnson had worked up an act that satirized how Caucasian and African-American babies cried).  So my tears, our tears for Mike, will be expressed in JAZZ LIVES through a song whose title reminds me of weeping:

Yes, the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party will go on — as a living, energized memorial to Mike, run by several of the musicians and his young acolytes Julio and Jonathan.  I am certain of this, and have booked a hotel room for that weekend.

I know, however, that I will be shocked a dozen or more times during the long jazz weekend because I will be looking for Mike — well-groomed, tall and slender, running his hand through his white hair in polite exasperation at something . . . the fact that I can’t sit him down and say, “Tell me more!” will make me sad whenever I think of him.

We lost a champion.  We really did.

I send love and sorrow to Patti, Cassie, Chris, and the extended family.  And now I can write no more.

Mike and Patti Durham

Mike and Patti Durham

 

P.S.  For details of Mike’s funeral (March 21, 2013) please click here.    

May your happiness increase.

BIRTH OF A BAND! (EMILY ASHER, SHANNON BARNETT, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS at RADEGAST, March 5, 2013)

Special delivery!

When Emily Asher announced a last-minute gig at Radegast, that cheerful Bierhalle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, last Tuesday, I was eager to go.  Three-quarters of the group was familiar to me — people / players I admire: Emily herself on trombone and vocal; Rob Adkins on string bass; Nick Russo on guitar and banjo.  What added to the allure was the fourth member: trombonist Shannon Barnett, someone I didn’t think I knew.  So . . . two trombones plus rocking rhythm.  How could I be blue?

When I arrived at Radegast — and was directed to the back room, which is quiet and cozy — I met Shannon once again.  Once again because we had encountered each other at the Home of Happy Ears (326 Spring Street) one Sunday night.  After the band set up and played two numbers, I stepped forward and said to the front line, “Forgive me for getting in the way, but this isn’t just a session.  This is A BAND!”  They were obviously feeling the congenial vibrations too.  The two trombonist heroines (from the States and from Australia) had never played together before; the music they made reinforces the idea of a swinging common language.

Both Emily and Shannon not only play but sing, so you will hear some charming, assured vocalizing.  And I know they will have a wide repertoire — larger than these familiar tunes.  There was talk of Jay and Kai compositions / arrangements.  I’m looking forward to their next gig.

The only thing this band lacks is a NAME — I made some suggestions, which were met with kind amused attentiveness — but I am sure that the four inventive players will think of one that is both apt and witty.  For now, just enjoy!  Nick Russo swung things along as he always does, although his cap was more wintry than usual; Rob Adkins was playing his new string bass — with beautiful sound, fitting for such a thoughtful, swinging player.

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY:

WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

MOOD INDIGO:

DINAH:

SWEET SUE:

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

Both Emily and Shannon have websites — you can check them out on the JAZZ LIVES blogroll.  And I know you’ll want to be on hand when this band — a precocious one for sure — turns one, two . . .

May your happiness increase.

THE ASTONISHING WORLDS OF TEDDY WILSON

For some, my title may sound hyperbolic — a sideways glance at a Fifties science-fiction anthology.  But it represents accurately the way I feel about Wilson’s best playing.

In a jazz landscape that occasionally seems dominated by the Coarse (showy playing and singing for effect), Wilson’s solo recordings seem the lyrical embodiment of delicacy.  By that I don’t mean effete playing, a series of tiny gestures, the aural equivalent of someone hunched over the harpsichord keyboard, making almost no sound.

Wilson was clearly a definite player: his rhythms move; his single-note lines gleam; he swings from start to finish at any tempo.  But he doesn’t come out in clown costume and wave his arms wildly for our attention.  His lovely multi-layered playing is there for us, should we choose to give it our ears and hearts and minds.

Teddy Wilson was a man of astonishing gifts, although he offered them in the middle register; he was soft-spoken in person and in his playing.  A YouTube benefactor named sepiapanorama has quietly been very generous — creating two videos that offer eighteen pearly Wilson solos from his great period.  Here are the first ten “issued” performances:

and eight alternate takes:

For those readers who think, “Where did this music come from?” here is an answer.

In the Twenties and beyond, music publishers saw that there was a market for music books that would help you play more like Red Nichols, Jimmy Dorsey, Eddie Miller, Art Tatum, Louis, and so on.  You can find them on eBay.  (I wish you good luck — both in the quest to find these books and then to absorb their knowledge.)  Wilson had published one such collection in 1937 — a series of transcribed solos — but he then had the bright entrepreneurial idea of creating the “Teddy Wilson School for Pianists”: a business located in midtown Manhattan — probably simply an office where someone received checks and sent out packages.

What seems to have happened was that Wilson went into the Brunswick studios — the company for whom he was already recording — or stayed there after a Billie Holiday date was over — and recorded several solo improvisation on classic pop songs.  They were not issued by the company for general purchase, but given a special yellow label.  These 78s are now exceedingly rare.

One could become a student at the School (details unknown) and receive a record of, say MY BLUE HEAVEN and one other song — along with printed commentary on what to listen for in the performance.  I once thought that complete transcriptions of the solos were offered, but have been told that I was misinformed.  The School didn’t last long, but those chroniclers who champion the efforts of musicians, twenty years later, to form their own record labels and publishing companies, to take charge of their own economic destinies, should look to Teddy Wilson as an early prescient pioneer in this.

In the Seventies, I found a copy of a bootleg 10″ lp on the Jolly Roger label which contained Teddy Wilson performances I had never heard of before — WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE stands out in my memory — and I bought it.  I then learned that the eight sides were from the School.  Later, Jerry Valburn issued a Merrit Record Society of all eighteen sides, and even later they came out on three European CDs (Classics and Neatwork).

Some friends have suggested that Wilson “simplified” his style for the prospective students.  I don’t know — these seem like incredibly complex recordings, and I think they would be difficult to imitate.  For myself (a very amateurish pianist) I listen to and marvel at the apparent simplicities of Wilson’s melody statements — say, the first eight bars of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS — and think that these performances are marvels: intricate, delicate, beautifully crafted.

These sides make me very happy and I hope they do the same for you.  And each one is the result of a long period of study, so try to listen to them one at a a time — otherwise they might become glittering Swing background music.

May your happiness increase.

“SAN” (Oriental Fox Trot) EXPLAINED

I asked in a post some months back whether anyone knew the lyrics or the story to SAN, that 1920 hit by Lindsay McPhail and Walter Michels.

Most of us, I think, know the song from Paul Whiteman’s 1927 recording featuring Bix Beiderbecke and Jimmy Dorsey, among others, or the Jimmie Noone recording . . . or versions by groups into this century.

John Cooper, pop culture sleuth, came up with the answers — to be found in the lyrics:

First Verse

King San of Senegal

Sat on the shore

At Bulamay,

Singing a sad refrain.

To his dear queen who’d gone away,

This was his lay.

Second Verse

One day the queen came home

Saw San in sadness on the shore,

Told him she’d no more roam.

Only her San would she adore,

Then came this lore.

Chorus

Oh, sweet heart Lona, my darling Lona,

Why have you gone away?

You said you loved me,

But if you loved me,

Why did you act this way?

If I had ever been untrue to you,

What you have done would be the thing to do;

But my heart aches, dear,

And it will break, dear,

If you don’t come back home again to San!

Chorus 2

Oh, sweet heart Lona, my darling Lona,

Have you come back to stay?

You said you loved me,

I knew you loved me,

I knew you’d come some day.

If I had ever been untrue to you,

What you have done would be the thing to do;

But now you’re mine, dear,

For all the time, dear,

And you’re forgiven by your loving San!

Now we know.  And even though “San” and “Lona” sound to me like a post-retirement couple — the kind who would run a small ice-cream stand or candy store at the beach — they are presumably Senegalese (West African) which, I guess, explains the camels on the cover.

And a postscript from a banjo-playing friend, Bob Sann: “There is a river in southeastern Poland called the San.  Perhaps Walter Michels, who wrote the music, had relatives there?  I did.”

May your happiness increase.

GOIN’ TO KANSAS CITY WITH THE IAJRC (Sept. 5-7, 2013)

I’ve been a member of the IAJRC for many years — that’s the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors — and it continues to make many good things possible.  In its quarterly journal, I have read fascinating stories, found out about CDs that would become life-enriching experiences, learned a great deal, and met wonderful people.  (Two Bills, as a matter of fact: Coverdale and Gallagher.)  So I think it’s a marvelous association, in the nicest senses of that overused word.  And their focus isn’t purely on ancient shellac, but on keeping jazz thriving.

Every year, the IAJRC creates a “convention”: but this isn’t simply an excuse to hear other people talk at length.  No, there one can meet friends with similar musical interests; hear rare music on disc; see film presentations; listen to live exciting jazz.  And this year it’s being held in Kansas City, Missouri — where visitors can enjoy the Marr Sound Archives, the American Jazz Museum, half-price on the breakfast buffet, a free drink in the lobby lounge every day (such blandishments are not small things).  Here’s the link to the detailed two-page flyer for the convention.  Go ahead, take a look.  I dare you.  And when you come back, your ears full of swinging four-four, you can then (if the neighbors don’t mind), attempt to sound like Big Joe Turner, “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeelllll, I’ve been to Kansas City . . . ”

May your happiness increase.