Daily Archives: July 18, 2013

DAWN LAMBETH: MOONBEAMS AT MONTEREY

Polka

POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS, by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, was Frank Sinatra’s first big hit record.

Although the lyrics take odd turns — initially one stumbles over the idea of a “pug-nosed dream” as the brand-new Love Object, it remains an endearing song.  Lester Young, Clifford Brown, Paul Desmond, Glenn Miller, and Wes Montgomery recorded it, among others.

The song seemed especially endearing this past March when Dawn Lambeth sang it during a Van Heusen tribute set at Dixieland Monterey / Jazz Bash by the Bay, accompanied by Yve Evans and friends.

One of my favorite singers, Dawn is a sophisticated artist who manages to make the dream-castles she creates seem real, withour straining.  Easy and casual; she summons up deep emotions without feeling the need to act them out.  A performance by Dawn lingers in the memory with sweet swing.  Her song winds its way into our hearts.

Incidentally, the song has a verse that no one sings — a very brief prelude to introduce the story of love found in a garden:

Would you care to hear the strangest story? / At least it may seem strange to you. / If you saw it in a moving picture / You would say it couldn’t be true.  

But Dawn makes it perfectly true.

May your happiness increase! 

SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND, 2013: MIKE LIPSKIN STRIDES!

I’d heard pianist Mike Lipskin in New York City in the Seventies, and treasured his recording with his mentor Willie “The Lion” Smith, CALIFORNIA HERE I COME — appropriately — but what the Beloved and I heard tonight at San Francisco’s Pier 23 was a delightful revelation.  Mike led a trio with Clint Baker, trumpet and clarinet, and Paul Mehling, leader of the Hot Club of San Francisco, guitar.  Their interplay was delicious — a gleeful tossing back and forth of phrases and musical ideas — but Mike has remained one of the contemporary giants of Harlem stride piano.

Stride playing is an athletic art (ask anyone from Stephanie Trick to Dick Hyman to Rossano Sportiello) and even the greatest players occasionally falter as they come out of middle age.  Mike Lipskin’s fastball still blazes.

It’s not simply that he plays rocketing tempos, but his time is steady (no matter what the groove) and his inventions dazzling without being exhibitionistic.  And his style is his own — not simply a collection of mannerisms learned from the Lion and the great players he heard and followed — Donald Lambert, Cliff Jackson, and others.  So although he may whimsically offer a Fats gesture or a Lion roar, he is always creating small surprises, key changes and small modulations in the manner of a far less rococo Tatum.  He doesn’t call attention to such things, and they could slide by listeners absorbed in the greater aural picture, but his playing is a series of small explosions that serve the song rather than detract from it.

Mike, Clint, and Paul offered music that was at once complex, endlessly rooted in the traditions and common language, but remained sweet and clear.  Special pleasures were several Ellington medleys, a rocking SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND, a somber I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA, a sweet MEMORIES OF YOU and IF I HAD YOU, and a few hallowed but little-played Thirties songs, ZING! WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART and I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU — all played in ways that were both witty and heartfelt. Clint and Paul distinguished themselves by deep melodic playing, taking risks, and swinging out in ensemble and solo.

Someone as devoted to his video camera as I am occasionally takes a rest: I’d decided it would be a refreshing way to spend an evening with the Beloved where I wasn’t staring at the viewfinder, so there is no video evidence to accompany this.  But anyone willing to spend an extra minute on YouTube can find videos of this trio captured by the assiduous RaeAnn Berry . . . and I might have some good things for JAZZ LIVES in future.  Mike will be playing solo at Bix Restaurant in San Francisco this coming Saturday and two Sundays a month (call ahead) and you can visit here to keep up with his schedule and recordings.

He’s absolutely genuine: a true explorer of those sacred arts.

May your happiness increase!