Monthly Archives: May 2013

BRILLIANT PLAYERS RETURN! MARIANNE SOLIVAN and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (April 21, 2013): THE SECOND SET

Genius at work. Brilliance at play. Two artists so confident and playful that they inspire each other to take risks, risks that come off. Watching the singer Marianne Solivan and the pianist Michael Kanan in duet is rather like watching great athletes, actors, or dancers — so sure of their immersion in the art that courage and wit come naturally to them.

Here’s the second set of a completely inspiring duo-performance at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) that I recorded on Sunday, April 21, 2013.  (You can see the first set here.)

BILLY STRAYHORN MEDLEY:

Their hit!  I GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

TOO MUCH IN LOVE TO CARE:

THE LAST TIME FOR LOVE:

THOSE HUMDRUM BLUES:

THE LIES OF HANDSOME MEN:

May your happiness increase!

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SPORTIELLO HONORS SHEARING. WE SMILE.

George Shearing autograph

First, some free verse:

We smile when he plays the piano,

The Maestro who comes from Milano,

He thinks it endearing 

To honor George Shearing,

Go hear him as soon as you can.  Oh!

— Author unknown, 2013

Rossano Sportiello, one of the most brilliant pianists (and one of the most genial of men) has put together a tribute to one of his idols, the late George Shearing.  “The Smiling Piano” will take place at the Cafe Carlyle, 35 East 76th Street, New York City — for a two-week run, June 11-15 and 18-24, 2013.  The trio features Frank Tate (bass, 11th-15th), Joel Forbes (bass, 18th-22nd) and Dennis Mackrel (drums), and the music begins at 8:45pm. For reservations: Tel. 212-744-1600.

If you’ve never been fortunate enough to hear the young Maestro play, let me remedy this immediately.  Here he is, recorded in 2012 at a concert at Dominican University in San Rafael, California, playing O SOLE MIO / A TIME FOR LOVE / CHOPIN IN JAZZ:

That would convince anyone.

Here’s what Rossano has to say about Maestro Shearing:

A Smiling Piano is what I think of as soon as I listen to any George Shearing recordings, when I hear the most beautiful piano playing that makes everybody smile.  His music is in tune with the way I felt since I became a professional performer at only 16. I felt I wanted to play music that could always be enjoyable and make people feel good.

When the possibility of performing at the Café Carlyle became real, I was asked to find a theme for the show, which would run for two weeks. Without any hesitation I came up with this idea.  A tribute to George Shearing means a tribute to jazz piano in general. Early in his career his style was first inspired by Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, and Art Tatum. But Shearing soon became one the masters of that revolutionary music, be-bop. When he moved to New York City in 1946, Hank Jones and Errol Garner became his mentors and good friends and he absorbed their styles as well. Later he formed the George Shearing Quintet and the “Shearing Sound” became one of the inspirational elements for generations of musicians, and it still is.

A Shearing tribute is also naturally a tribute to “The Great American Song Book,” because he was one of its greatest interpreters and one of the most remarkable improvisers of all time — as well as a very prolific composer. Once he chose a song, he could improvise endless variations in any style: he could play a popular song and make it sound like Bach or Rachmaninoff or many others. He might start playing the second movement of the Ravel Piano Concerto and use it as an introduction to a ballad or the reverse! In the sixties he used to tour the USA playing classical concertos with local symphony orchestras in the first set of the show and bringing on his jazz quintet for the second half.

So stride piano, swing, be-bop, the Great American Song Book and classical music are the leading ingredients that will shape my tribute to George Shearing, pianist, composer, interpreter, and improviser.

I’ll be appearing with Dennis Mackrel on drums, Frank Tate on bass (the first week), and Joel Forbes on bass (the second week).  In 1983, Count Basie personally selected Dennis Mackrel to join his band, known for having the finest rhythm section in jazz. Dennis has been a sideman of choice for scores of jazz greats. George Shearing himself said, “If I ever have a record date coming up that calls for a drummer and Dennis is not available, I’ll postpone the session. He’s that good.” Dennis is currently one of the greatest jazz drummers and arrangers as well as the Musical Director of The Count Basie Orchestra.  Since the late 60’s, Frank Tate has been the sought-after accompanist for legendary musicians. Marian McPartland, Benny Goodman, Hank Jones, Dave McKenna, Wild Bill Davison, Teddy Wilson, Joe Venuti, Milt Jackson, Zoot Sims, and dozens of other jazz greats all have turned to Frank for his brilliant bass lines. Frank worked at the Cafè Carlyle every night with Bobby Short for the last 9 years of Bobby’s career until 2004.  Joel Forbes, currently a member of the Harry Allen Quartet and the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, is one of New York best bass players, well known for is incredibly rich acoustic sound.

JAZZ LIVES suggests, quietly but fervently, “Go!”

May your happiness increase!

ROBBY AND RICKY’S EVENING OUT

All I know is that Robby and Ricky went to Eddie Condon’s in 1953*.  They heard the band — Eddie, Cutty Cutshall, Rex Stewart, Gene Schroeder, Herb Hall, Leonard Gaskin, George Wettling.  Someone took a color photograph of the band.  They asked Mr. Condon for his autograph, and he kindly obliged.  Now it belongs to eBay — and to the unnamed bidder who bought it for $42.00 plus $6.55 shipping.  But here it is for your admiration!

1953 CONDON'S WHEE

WHEE!

And here’s a soundtrack from the same period — Billy Butterfield, Rex, Peanuts Hucko, Herb Hall, Bud Freeman, Cutty Cutshall, and others performing AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL and THAT’S A PLENTY — with the leader’s delicious guitar quite audible in stereo.

*The picture is dated 1953.  But I am troubled — mildly — by the memory that the musicians pictured were playing Condon’s in 1958.  Could someone have misremembered?

May your happiness increase!

“SHAKE THAT THING” MEANS THE SAME THING IN ANY LANGUAGE: HOPPIN’ MAD at the 2013 BREDA JAZZ FESTIVAL

The wonderful band HOPPIN’ MAD made it to the 2013 Breda Jazz Festival, and happily for us, someone recorded the opening of the party and their rousing three-trumpet rendition of SHAKE THAT THING, a command to be obeyed!  That’s Lauri Lyster on drums; Katie Cavera on string bass; Josh Roberts on banjo; Evan Arntzen on clarinet; Clint Baker on trumpet and vocal; Dan Barrett on the Gillespiephone; Simon Stribling on trumpet:

If you’re not shaking THAT THING after watching this video, what’s wrong?

To delve more deeply into the world of HOPPIN’ MAD (neither unstable nor furious, just swinging), visit here for biographies, audio, video.  (Their debut CD is on the way — a treat for the ears.)

May your happiness increase.

SCOTT ROBINSON and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2012: FROM THEIR HEARTS TO OURS

We live at a rapid pace.  But I hope you can take two minutes for heartfelt beauty, created by Scott Robinson (taragoto) and Rossano Sportiello (piano) at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2012: WHAT WILL I TELL MY HEART:

Here are the lyrics:

I’ll try to explain to friends, dear
The reason we two are apart
I know what to tell our friends, dear
But what will I tell my heart

It’s easy to say to strangers
That we played a game from the start
It’s easy to lie to strangers
But what will I tell my heart

When I smile to hide all the tears inside
What an ache it will bring
Then I’ll wander home to a telephone
That forgot how to ring.

I could say you’ll soon be back, dear
To fool the whole town may be smart
I’ll tell them you’ll soon be back, dear
But what will I tell my heart.

And here is the story behind the song, as told by lyricist Jack Lawrence.

WHAT WILL I TELL MY HEART

I continue to marvel at something we don’t always pay attention to — the way great creators use metal, wood, strings, breath, and fingers to make inanimate objects — musical instruments — sing with the sweet lightness and gravity of human souls.  Thank you, Scott and Rossano!

This post is for Barb Hauser, who loves this melody.

May your happiness increase!

MATTERS OF THE HEART: RAMONA (and her Grand Piano) ON FILM 1933-35

The world knew her as Ramona and her Grand Piano when she appeared and recorded with Paul Whiteman and small groups of his sidemen.  She had an intriguingly deep voice and a precise although loose piano style.  Her 1932-35 recordings are treasures (I think the ones under her own name were all contained on one TOM CD) but she isn’t as well as known as she should be.

But here she is on film, announced as THE PRINCESS OF JAZZ, singing STRAIGHT FROM THE SHOULDER (RIGHT FROM THE HEART), lifting her eyes to heaven in the most winsome manner; Con Conrad’s carpe diem, WHY NOT? (“Not to love is no existence”) after having been introduced by Robert Benchley;  in the third clip, from Dick Powell’s 1935 THANKS A MILLION, we see the entire Whiteman Orchestra, with Roy Bargy at the second piano and the King’s Men, leading to her performance of BELLE OF NEW ORLEANS.

Here she is with the Whiteman Orchestra in 1934, singing both choruses of I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN:

and the 1932 LET’S PUT OUT THE LIGHTS AND GO TO SLEEP:

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR (apparently from a 1934 broadcast):

The cautionary tale, ANNIE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (hear her lilt at the start of the second chorus):

The 1935 EV’RY NOW AND THEN (with Jack and Charlie Teagarden, Benny Bonacio, Dick McDonough):

And IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN, from the same year:

Distinctive, worldly, and sweet, no?

For an extraordinary biographical essay on Ramona — written by musician and scholar Peter Mintun — click here — one of the best pieces of enjoyable musicology ever.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE IN BLOOM AT BIRDLAND: DAN BLOCK / JAMES CHIRILLO (May 8, 2013)

May 8, 2013, was a special day in jazz lore — although the mainstream jazz media didn’t pay it any attention: the fourteenth anniversary of David Ostwald’s Wednesday early-evening gig at Birdland with the band once called the Gully Low Jazz Band, then the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band, now (appropriately) the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band.  The participants included Jon-Erik Kellso, Tom Artin, Dan Block, David Ostwald, James Chirillo, Marion Felder — and guest stars Anat Cohen and Bria Skonberg.  The joint was jumping, but here’s a sweet bit of musical romance: Dan and James duetting, becoming a tiny but fulfilling orchestra on TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE:

Who knew midtown New York City could suddenly become so bucolic?  The pipes of Pan and a verifiable Roman lute . . .

This one’s for the Beloved, who was at my side, for Lynn and Danny, for Mar and Ricky, Noya and Eric, and all the other loving couples out there.  And if you’re currently single, be not afeard: take a chance on love!

May your happiness increase!