Monthly Archives: August 2013

FOUR MORE BEAUTIES BY MEREDITH AXELROD and TAMAR KORN at CAFE ATLAS (August 10, 2013)

Here are four more magical explorations into the deep heart of song by two wonderful singers and improvisers — Meredith Axelrod and Tamar Korn, flying free at San Francisco’s Cafe Atlas on August 10, 2013.

Not only did they use their voices to sing the lyrics and chart the melodies in most harmonious ways; they became a small orchestra of trumpets without brass or mouthpieces, a violin of the soul — needing no strings, rosin, or bow, and tweeting ensemble of airborne birdcalls.

I thought of the words that appeared on the label of the Mills Brothers’ early Decca records:  No musical instruments or mechanical devices used on this recording other than one guitar.

Who needs more?

And fittingly, here’s a song the Mills Brothers recorded early on — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

The 1920 classic, MARGIE, with a verse that explains it all:

For Bing and Louis and all the dreamers, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

And Tamar lets us know it with JEALOUS HEARTED ME:

Thank you once more, Meredith and Tamar, for reminding us how light-hearted yet how deep beauty really is, and for encouraging us to be as free in our lives as you are in your song.

May your happiness increase!

STRIDE PARADISE FOUND: DICK HYMAN, MIKE LIPSKIN, STEPHANIE TRICK, DINAH LEE, CLINT BAKER, PAUL MEHLING, and SURPRISE GUEST PAOLO ALDERIGHI

Last Saturday and Sunday, the Beloved and I were privileged to see and hear three wonderful concerts — Stride Piano Summits — at the Lesher Arts Center in Walnut Creek, California, and the new SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco.  The eminent players and singers are as shown in my title.  If you were there, I think you are still smiling; if you weren’t, you will feel forlorn when reading about the performances you missed.

A very brief summary follows: Dick and Mike began with a duet on Fats’ HANDFUL OF KEYS; Stephanie frolicked through Eubie’s TROUBLESOME IVORIES; Stephanie and Mike paid tribute to James P. with OLD FASHIONED LOVE and KEEP OFF THE GRASS; Dick and Mike offered SNOWY MORNING BLUES and Porter’s IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME; Mike created delicious variations on LOVER; Dinah Lee sang her way right into our hearts with Fats’ THERE’S A MAN IN MY LIFE and the pretty (but rarely heard) ZING WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART.  Stephanie began to rock the house with Pete Johnson’s DEATH RAY BOOGIE but Dick, Clint, and Paul crept onstage to join in; Dick offered a solo piano interlude that (depending on the concert) covered AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – JITTERBUG WALTZ – STEALIN’ APPLES, or James P.’s ECCENTRICITY and Hyman’s own SCRABBLE.  Mike became both Fats and Andy Razaf for one of his own evocative, funny compositions, COULD IT BE YOU’RE FALLING IN LOVE?  Mike and Dick again joined forces for an evocation of the Louisiana Sugar Babes’ THOU SWELL; a seismic I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS by Dick and Stephanie followed; a wildly creative Hyman solo set — LULLABY (early Gershwin, from his first string quartet), I GOT PLENTY OF NUTTIN’, and HONEYCUKLE ROSE, had us cheering; Dinah returned for a beautifully focused HARLEM BUTTERFLY and SUGAR (with two verses, no less); Mike transformed the Beatles’ YESTERDAY into something worthy of Don Lambert; a trio jam on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN by Clint, Paul, and Dick was followed by a real delight, a duet on RUNNIN’ WILD by Stephanie Trick and a young man very close to her heart, Paolo Alderighi.  This gave way to a more expansive jam session — complete with bench-swapping and musical hijinks from everyone on I NEVER KNEW; the encore, I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER, brought Dinah back, tender and witty.

Are you breathless yet?  (And I might have missed a song or two.)

A few words.  The well-paced and remarkably-paced evenings are thanks to Maestro Lipskin, who has a very good idea of what is needed to keep an audience happy.  (Some stride events are all Allegretto — solo, duo, or all-hands-on-deck — and the pace is quickly wearying.) He’s also a wonderfully authentic player on his own: you could close your eyes and feel transported to Fats Waller’s house in St. Albans, Queens, for an afternoon: no rush, no fuss, nothing out of place.

Stephanie Trick has continued to blossom as an artist who not only can duplicate the leaps and entrechats needed for this style, but can invent her own caprices.  Her TROUBLESOME IVORIES was anything but, and she kept Eubie’s spirit alive while swinging out in her own terms.  Her pianistic partner, Paolo Alderighi, has been justly praised in this blog, and he didn’t disappoint in person: his amazing technique is matched by a swooping but right-on-target improvisatory sense, no matter what end of the keyboard he is at.

Dinah Lee was warm, funny, sweet, and salty — all in good time and with a large honeyed voice that honored the songs.  Clint Baker swung out on string bass, clarinet, and cornet (as he always does), and Paul Mehling’s rhythmic swing and single-string solos were a treat.

That leaves the Patriarch, Dick Hyman — who is somewhere in his eighth decade, playing astonishing music: inventive, startling, rangy, energized . . . the art of a great musical thinker, athlete, and instant composer who can imagine other musical worlds and gently transport us there.

Individually, these musicians held us rapt: in combinations, they created new synergies that left us open-mouthed or grinning widely.  I only hope that the Lesher Arts Center and SFJAZZ understood what marvels had taken place, and invite these magicians back in 2014 to amaze us again.

May your happiness increase! 

SIXTEEN WORDS TO GENTLY NUDGE THE HESITANT TOWARDS PLEASURE, THE 2013 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY

SIXTEEN SEATS REMAIN for the 2013 WBCJP.  

Hesitate and miss something special.  

There’s nothing like it. 

(My title is also sixteen words long; I hope the numerologically-minded will admire this.)

Some words in a slightly more expansive vein.  Last year’s party sold out and people were turned away, with “wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  Tickets can be ordered at whitleybay.

Quite simply, the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — the creation of the much-missed Mike Durham — continues to strive for musical authenticity while making sure everyone has a good time.  The players and singers do a wonderful job of hot time-travel, taking us to musical stages and situations we’ve only dreamed of.

The musicians invited for the 2013 party include:

Trumpets: Bent Persson (Sweden), Enrico Tomasso (UK), Andy Schumm (USA), Ben Cummings (UK), Andy Woon (UK)

Trombones: Kristoffer Kompen (Norway), Alistair Allan (UK), Graham Hughes (UK)

Reeds: Aurélie Tropez (France), Stéphane Gillot (France), Claus Jacobi (Germany) , Matthias Seuffert (Germany), Lars Frank (Norway), Mauro Porro (Italy)

Piano: Keith Nichols (UK), Jeff Barnhart (USA), Morten Gunnar Larssen (Norway), Martin Seck (Germany)

Banjo/Guitar: Spats Langham (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Martin Wheatley (UK), Jacob Ullberger (Sweden), Keith Stephen (UK)

String Bass: Richard Pite (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Malcolm Sked (UK)

Brass Bass: Phil Rutherford (UK), Jean-Philippe Palma (France)

Drums: Josh Duffee (USA), Richard Pite (UK), Julien Richard (France), Nick Ward (UK)

Bass Sax: Frans Sjöström (Sweden)

Violin: Mike Piggott (UK)

Vocals: Daryl Sherman (USA), Caroline Irwin (UK), Spats Langham (UK)

Obviously, a trip to Newcastle might be beyond the resources of many of my United States readers.  But if you can get there, you won’t regret it.  Here’s just one sample of what happened last year:

I think you’d have to be deeply ECCENTRIC to not feel those good vibrations!

May your happiness increase!

A FEW BEAUTIFUL SECONDS OF LESTER YOUNG ON CLARINET: THE FAMOUS DOOR, 1938

The sound of Lester Young’s clarinet is beautiful and elusive.  Whitney Balliett, I think, who always had the right word, called it “lemony,” and it lingers on the mind’s palate in just that way.  There isn’t enough of it on record: a few solos with Basie, on record and live; the Kansas City Six session . . . but now we have about nineteen seconds of beauty — thanks to Loren Schoenberg, Bill Savory, and Herschel Evans, whose BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL (a close relation to CAN’T WE TALK IT OVER) is the foundation for this wistful, too-brief piece of music.

Play it once, play it a dozen times: music when soft voices die lives long in the memory.  We celebrate Lester Young as we say a sad goodbye to him.  A tender man, a joyously elliptical soul, too tender for this rough world, he blazed and left.  “What made us think he would comb grey hair?” said Yeats of another man, dead too soon.

May your happiness increase.

VANESSA TAGLIABUE YORKE: “THE RACINE CONNECTION”

What it looked like at the 2012 Bix Fest, thanks to Tom Warner, Phil Pospychala, Andy Schumm, Dalton Ridenhour, Josh Duffee, and the engaging singer Vanessa Tagliabue Yorke:

This performance and ten others are now available on a Rivermont Records CD called “Vanessa Tagliabue Yorke: The Racine Connection,” and it’s a thorough pleasure.

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When most people go to a jam session, club, concert, or festival, if the music is superb, there’s often the regret mixed with the joy: “Wow, that was wonderful. Wish I could hear that again!” The new Rivermont Records CD makes it possible, and a delight.  For one thing, Vanessa isn’t simply a record-copyist (although she does a very effective Annette Hanshaw homage on IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW).  Rather, she comes to this music with a winning combination of heartfelt emotions and deep understanding.

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She has a rangy, eloquent voice — no squeaky-girl Betty Boopisms for her — and at times she evokes the raw yet controlled passion of Piaf.  And her musical range is equally spacious, as evident in the songs selected: BLUE RIVER / WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE / THOU SWELL / BACK WATER BLUES / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW / BLACK BOTTOM / LOVELESS LOVE / PETITE FLEUR / IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING / THEM THERE EYES / NEBBIA.  That three or four of those songs go beyond what one might expect at a Bix Festival — and that they are rendered with great feeling and depth — is tribute to Vanessa’s artistic honesty and breadth.

And when this earnest swinging singer is accompanied by great musicians Andy Schumm, Dalton Ridenhour, Yves Francois, John Otto, Dave Bock, Frank Gualtieri, Jason Goldsmith, Leah Bezin, MIke Waldbridge, and Josh Duffee, you know there is fine playing in solo, ensemble, and accompaniment to go along with Vanessa’s voice.  Ten of the twelve selections were recorded “live,” in performance, which is all to the good: I’ll choose that “live” sound, which makes a listener feel as if (s)he is right there, over the pure — and sometimes tense — acoustic environment of a studio any day.

You can find this CD — and many more refreshing ones, present and historical — here.  I predict that Vanessa is at the start of a long and rewarding series of performances and CDs.

May your happiness increase!

HOT JAZZ, FRESH AIR, GOOD TIMES: THE BLACK DIAMOND BLUE FIVE at the CLINE CELLARS WINE and DIXIELAND FESTIVAL, JULY 13, 2013: CLINT BAKER, LEON OAKLEY, ROBERT YOUNG, MARTY EGGERS, BILL REINHART

Hot jazz sounds very good if you are crouched in front of the speaker of your Victrola; hearing it through earbuds connected to your iPod; having it come through the car speakers.

But best of all is sitting in front of the musicians themselves, and although some prefer the hard chairs, uneven food and drink of a nocturnal jazz club or bar, there is a good deal to be said for hearing hot jazz in the outdoors on a beautiful day.

The 2013 Cline Wine and Dixieland Jazz Festival neatly filled all those requirements, as this compact set by the Black Diamond Blue Five proves.  The BDBF is or are Clint Baker, banjo, vocals; Robert Young, reeds, vocals; Leon Oakley, cornet; Marty Eggers, piano; Bill Reinhart, tuba.

You will notice who is on Leon’s binder of music: the very singular Clarence Williams, and his ebullient spirit illuminates the music of this set.

I don’t ordinarily post snippets of performances, but the Williams PAPA DE DA DA is a favorite of mine, and it would have pained me to leave it out (I was setting up my camera for the opening portion of this video):

BOTTOMLAND (which I assume is a reference to rich dark fertile soil, beloved of farmers, rather than an equally admirable posterior. Research?):

Our delight, doing things right, FOUR OR FIVE TIMES:

CUSHION FOOT STOMP:

NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES — which always makes me think of Bessie Smith’s extraordinary recording.  Slide, glide, prance, dance, take it easy!

CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME — for Louis, Sidney, Alberta, and all the heroic illuminators:

Hot music in the open air — couldn’t be nicer.

May your happiness increase!

DUSTING THE DISCS, or MILDEW BEGONE! (WITH A POSTSCRIPT)

Several times this summer, I have come back from thrift or antique stores with a small collection of vintage 78s.  The Beloved, who loves hot jazz and loves to see me happily in my element, encourages such pastimes.  But her nose is sensitive to mildew, mold, dust, and the aromas that accompany elderly objects (records, paper sleeves, albums, and sheet music) stored for decades in basements, attics, closets.

Do any readers have suggestions for de-funkifying such precious artifacts?

Because the rainy season here is not yet upon us, I have left the records and albums and sheet music outdoors at night and for part of the day (watching them carefully so that they do not bake and warp in hot sun) but I would welcome other advice. One thought is to discard the paper and purchase new 10″ heavy paper green sleeves for the discs.

For the moment, I thought some of my readership would appreciate the view of Roger Wolfe Kahn, Ray Miller, Philip Spitalny, Gene Austin, “Chester Leighton,” the Light Crust Doughboys, Buddy Rogers and his Famous Swing Band, Mildred Bailey, Fats Waller, and a few others*, lazing in the Novato sun, with the Beloved’s beautiful garden as a backdrop.

DISCS, GARDEN, LS 001

*You can’t see it, but there’s a real oddity, presumably from the late Forties, there — an RCA Victor promotional disc, with the singer Mindy Carson warbling the timeless ditty I WANT A TELEVISION CHRISTMAS.  Same song, both sides.  Could I resist such weirdness?

Several hours later.  I have disposed of all the aromatic paper sleeves and washed all the records in perhaps a rudimentary way. From top: clean, almost-entirely dry discs, rinse water, soapy water, clean, much-wetter discs, arrangement of succulents (courtesy of the Beloved);

stage 2 records 001

And for those collectors who are horrified that I would be doing this outdoors, and without a toothbrush, I understand.  But I watched the records carefully (it was cloudy) so they didn’t bake and warp, and my sole toothbrush is right now used for dental purposes. The result is several piles of clean — or less dirty — records, so with luck Hooley and Helen Rowland, Lee Wiley and Ray Miller, Helen Rowland and Dale Wimbrow, Bob Howard and Stirling Bose . . . will be happier and sound better.

May your happiness increase!

CLOSE COVER FOR SAFETY

I don’t encourage smoking, but this artifact — from one of the holy places on the pilgrimage — might encourage me to make an exception.

Forty-Seven West Third Street in New York City is now part of the great New York University empire (the number may no longer exist, and when last I looked for it, I could only place my hand upon a brick wall . . . not a sign of progress) but the majesty remains in archaeological treasures:

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The reverse side, with the Porkchop itself:

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And the wise brief message inside:

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Another way to get Hot.

This item was listed on eBay for 29.99 (free shipping) and no one bought it.  What that says is beyond my powers to write here, although many reasonable interpretations exist.

May your happiness increase!

KIND WORDS NEVER GO OUT OF STYLE

In the five years’ plus that I have been creating JAZZ LIVES and sharing videos on YouTube, I have winced at the ubiquity of unkind words, publicly expressed, online.

I don’t refer to heated political or ideological discourse, but “criticism” aimed at the performances of particular artists I celebrate. A few examples, taken from life: X’s improvisations “don’t work. Sorry!”  Y (a living player) “isn’t fit to shine the shoes of Z” (a senior improviser).  A “shouldn’t sing like that”; B “is rushing”; C “doesn’t know what he’s doing on the tune”; D “has a whiny voice”; E “is out of tune”; F “should lose some weight.”

Why insult artists who bravely stand up in public?

I do understand subjective reactions, how deeply valid they seem.  I am not shocked that a reader might (let us say) think that anyone who doesn’t play like Lester Young is wrong.  That is a prerogative, in just the same way I like my tea prepared a certain way. But do such “critical judgments” require that artists who are clearly working hard at presenting candid, feeling art (for I give them that as a basic premise) should be insulted because a viewer prefers something else? If you think Lester is peerless, does it follow that you have to insult Ben Webster? And since the language of this century has become so coarse, I wish someone would tell me what is gained by someone online writing “[Artist’s name] sucks.”

You might tell me that Ben Webster is past feeling hurt by what people say, and perhaps you are right.  But I have used the examples above rather than put in the names of the real people who have been shot at from ambush.

Writing abusively about a fellow person is different from giving a motel a bad review on Yelp because your room was poor.

I prefer other responses that do less harm.  To quote Chaucer, if you don’t like the story, you turn over the leaf; you choose another page. Or, if the internet is a huge city with a million restaurants, you walk to the next block if the taqueria here displeases you.  But some of my “correspondents” apparently need to smash the plate glass window of the place they are rejecting.  Their expression of “taste” isn’t complete as praise; it has to destroy everything else.

I am not suggesting a moratorium on negative judgments.  I do not propose that we say that your nephew, after his second violin lesson, sounds as good as Joe Venuti.  (I hope he does, but you will agree it is unlikely.)

But should the relative anonymity of the web, the aliases people use regularly, encourage unkindness?  The people you see on my videos, on other people’s videos, those you hear on CDs and downloads, are living persons with feelings. As a rule, online viewers are getting to watch P or Q sing or play for free.  Why, then, be ungracious or snide? Certainly there are other “better” performers to see, to hear — easily accessible.

I also know that such criticisms are often “witty,” and some prefer their “humor” that is sharp-edged.  In very small doses this might be entertaining, but it often sounds like mean schoolchildren, and it certainly stops being amusing when the blade sticks in your tender vitals.  To me, much of this “acerbic” wit is really anger, not well-disguised and not terribly attractive.  And I think it takes great courage, conviction, and generosity of spirit to sing or play in public, to allow oneself to be video-recorded; a small group of people, preferring anonymity, firing darts in public from their computers or phones, seem less courageous and generous.

Being “smart” from behind a pseudonym allows the Masked Critic to pretend to greater knowledge of an art form then musician being criticize.  But “pretend” is crucial here.  These varieties of unkind behavior are nothing more than weapons that the deeply insecure use to make themselves feel superior to people who are getting more attention.  Such acts that masquerade as “free speech” and “expressing an opinion,” if unkind, afford a short-term, mean-spirited pleasure, and the consequences of such unkindness might be much more lasting and wounding than the initial impulse.  Opinions are lovely.  Everyone has a plenitude of them.  Must they all be shared, if their intent, however disguised, is destructive?

I admit, I have watched videos online and thought, “My goodness, that band is awful!” but I had to ask myself, “Is the band really awful or are they simply not playing the way you like?”  And with that question in the air, I have held back from making a public statement of what is essentially a subjective, personal response.  What would it serve if I typed it in and then hit Publish?  Would the band, astonished and enlightened, start playing in a way that pleased me?  Should it?

Should we use our considerable energies and finite time to focus on imperfections, or should we celebrate what we see, in all its flawed human glory? Spread love, not hate.

In some New Orleans restaurants, the sign BE NICE OR LEAVE is prominently displayed.  Those words are too tough for me, but I offer another version: KINDNESS BEGETS KINDNESS.  If you are generous to others, they will return that embrace.  And we all need kindness.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING NEW MEMORIES: TAMAR KORN and MEREDITH AXELROD at CAFE ATLAS, AUGUST 10, 2013

One of my favorite stories, not just in jazz, comes from Jess Stacy’s oral history — a book I’ve commended on this blog.  He is lost and unhappy.  He is sitting on the edge of his bed, weighing his miseries yet vowing that he will not drink himself to death.  Eventually, Stacy tires of the introspection and hauls himself upright, telling himself, “Come on, Stacy!  Time to make some new memories!”  And he does.

The story bubbled back to me because of the performance I will share with you.  In it, two young women, one with a guitar, sing and offer deep feelings in a San Francisco eatery on August 10, 2013.

The women?

Eloquently deep-voiced Meredith Axelrod, who also plays guitar in a charming early-twentieth-century manner: she is a strolling troubadour who doesn’t need to roam boulevards.  And Tamar Korn, mistress of soulful explorations.

The song?  Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle’s MEMORIES OF YOU.

Thank you so, Meredith and Tamar, Eubie and Noble, for a new memory I will not forget. My “rosary of tears” while listening and watching comes from joy and admiration.  Music should always come to us with such sweet, grave power.

May your happiness increase!

MEL POWELL REMEMBERS: CHARLIE CHRISTIAN and the UNITED STATES ARMY; BENNY GOODMAN at REHEARSAL

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“Charlie Christian turns out to be–according to many of the historians–one of the generating forces of bebop, and certainly we knew that Charlie was very special and playing very beautifully.  He and I were quite good friends . . . . I took Charlie down to the draft board and — now, I should tell you now, because he’s been gone for so many years, Charlie had virtually every disease in the world. I think I now have them, but he had them at a very young age. And they were kind of ugly. You know, tuberculosis, and syphillis, and God knows what else. And so we went down to the draft board. He asked me to come along with him, down at the Armory someplace. We went down there and I remember the doctor saying, ‘Well, Mr. Christian, is there any reason why you should not be drafted?’ Well, Charlie thought for a minute and said, ‘Well, I wear eyeglasses. I’ve never forgotten that . . . soon enough they found out there was no reason to draft him, but I loved that, thinking about wearing eyeglasses!”

BENNY GOODMAN 1941

“[Benny Goodman’s band] was a tremendous ensemble. I think Benny was a very, very fine band leader who was inarticulate. Words were not the thing. It was ‘do it again,’ and then he would demonstrate what phrasing he wanted for this or that part of the piece. He knew exactly what he wanted. It was very clear in his mind. He did not make it clear except by doing it again and doing it himself.

I remember one day I was in Chicago, and I had something to do — probably a girl to meet or something — in the afternoon. This was 8:30 in the morning when we were rehearsing, and [when] I looked at the clock it was noon; we’d been at it for three-and-a-half hours, maybe two or three pieces.  And I said, ‘Benny, do you know when we’re going to wrap up this?’ Well, he was furious at me for the question. He said, ‘When something happens!’ Well, it’s a very good picture of him, you see. When something happens.”

Excerpts from Mel Powell’s oral histories (c. 1994): questions by Alex Cline. Reprinted by kind permission of Kati Powell.

And a little aural evidence: the 1941 CAPRICE XXIV PAGANINI, arranged by Skip Martin, with wonderful playing from Benny, Mel, Sidney Catlett, and George Berg:

Because I couldn’t resist, here’s the Goodman Sextet with Charlie, Count Basie, George Auld, Cootie Williams, Jo Jones . . . I FOUND A NEW BABY:

May your happiness increase!

YOUNGBLOODS AND ELDER STATESMEN JOIN IN TO SWING OUT

In jazz, the Infant Prodigies become the Youngbloods, Established Heroes, and Elder Statespersons in what seems like sixty-four bars. Tempus fugit rapidly in 4 / 4!

Here are two CDs by young fellows — with the gracious assistance of a Senior Sage — that I commend to you.  The first features American brothers Peter and Will Anderson; the second UK pals Jamie Brownfield and Liam Byrne.

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Most often, Will and Pete, superb players, have been found in situations I would call lovingly retrospective — recreating the music of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, sitting in the reed section of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks.  But they aren’t repeater pencils; their range is both broad and deep. Their latest CD, MUSIC OF THE SOPRANO MASTERS, (Gut String Records), shows how easily and comfortably they move in expansive musical worlds. There is a great deal of swinging brotherly love on this CD (no fraternal head-cutting), and each selection seems like its own small improvised orchestral cosmos.

Another delight of this disc is the way in which the Andersons have dug into the repertoire to offer us beauties not so often played, by reedmen not always known as composers — Lucky Thompson, Roland Kirk, and the ever-energetic Bob Wilber, who is represented here by his compositions and his vibrant playing. The rhythm section of Ehud Asherie, Mike Karn, and Phil Stewart couldn’t be nicer or more attentive, and the recorded sound is a treat. Sweetly sculpted liner notes by Robert Levin complete this package . . . a present ready for any occasion.

The songs are Home Comin’ (Lucky Thompson) / A Sack Full of Soul (Roland Kirk) / Vampin’ Miss Georgia (Bob Wilber) / Caressable (Thompson) / Jazzdagen Jump (Wilber) / Bechet’s Fantasy (Sidney Bechet) / My Delight (Kirk) / Warm Inside / Haunted Melody (Thompson/Kirk) / Lou’s Blues (Wilber). It’s available in the usual places, but the best way to get it (if you can’t come to the gig) is here.

Some months ago, a friend passed along a YouTube video of youthful trumpeter Jamie Brownfield and saxophonist Liam Byrne, and I was delighted. They, too, didn’t exactly copy the past, but they swung mightily in an idiom I would call post-Lestorian with dashes of Tony Fruscella, Harry Edison, George Auld.  With the addition of guitarist Andrew Hulme, Nick Blacka, string bass, Marek Dorcik, drums, and Tom Kincaid, a special guest pianist, they sound wonderful — as if the Kansas City Six had time-traveled forward to meet Barney Kessel and Jimmy Rowles in the ether.

Their new CD is appropriately called B. B. Q. for the Brownfield // Byrne Quintet, and although they don’t perform the Hot Five classic, there is a good deal of unaffected joyous strutting on this disc.

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Here is a selection of videos (posted on trumpeter Jamie Brownfield’s blog), and here is the band’s Facebook page. The repertoire on the CD might make it seem to some listeners that the band is looking in the rear-view mirror, but their performances are fresh, personal, and lively — on Wynton’s HAPPY FEET BLUES, Liam’s own IVEY-DIVEY, and a variety of classics, each with its own sweet deep associations: TICKLE-TOE, SINGIN’ THE BLUES, BOUNCE OF THE SUGAR PLUM FAIRY, NOSTALGIA / CASBAH, WEST END BLUES, JOAO, WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, 9:20 SPECIAL.

Jazz isn’t dead, dear readers; its hair isn’t even graying.

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING: RAY SKJELBRED in RECITAL at CLINE CELLARS, JULY 13, 2013

I’ve already posted some life-enhancing music from the 2013 Cline Cellars Wine and Dixieland Festival — music by the Black Diamond Blue Five (more to come) and the Ragtime Skedaddlers.  But this set of solo piano by Ray Skjelbred was something special.  For one thing, getting to hear unamplified “acoustic” piano out in the open air is a singular pleasure — that the Beloved and I could sit so close and that my camera was welcome was sheer bliss.

Skjelbred himself is — although he would shrug off such an appellation — a true Artist.  Not only is he a fine romping pianist, mixing delicacy with propulsion, he is a quiet scholar of the music. Who else would offer us such a delicious bill of rare music by Frank Melrose, Tut Soper, and others — as well as MEMORIES OF YOU and SQUEEZE ME, classics that don’t get old, and Ray’s own wry, often hilariously tilted originals.

Here’s the music.  See if I overstate!

Frank Melrose’s JEMIMA STOMP:

HOLDING THE SACK:

Ray’s National Pastime salute, THE BALLS AND STRIKES FOREVER:

Tut Soper’s IT’S A RAMBLE:

An evocation of Earl “Fatha” Hines, FATHER SWING:

Eubie’s MEMORIES OF YOU:

Ray’s own THE SAND BAG RAG:

A little SQUEEZE ME, for Fats, Joe, and Jess:

Chicago clarinetist Bud Jacobson’s LAUGHING AT YOU:

One of the nicest parts of the whole day at Cline — which was a splendid pleasure — was in walking from one site to another and hearing Ray’s piano ring out over the treetops.  Not loud, not bossy, but pastoral music as it might have been played for doves and larks who know what swing is all about.

This post is for Ida Melrose, Kenrick Lee, and Kate O’Donovan — who know Ray’s generous quirky virtues in their own ways.

May your happiness increase!

SPLENDID PLAY: “DICK HYMAN and KEN PEPLOWSKI . . . LIVE AT THE KITANO”

Ken and Dick.  Photograph by Fran Kaufman.

Ken and Dick. Photograph by Fran Kaufman.

I had a great deal of trouble writing this review of the new duo CD by pianist Dick Hyman and clarinetist / saxophonist Ken Peplowski because I didn’t want to take the disc out of the car player.  (So the punchline here is: BUY SEVERAL.)

Years ago, Dick recorded a solo album for Monmouth-Evergreen with the title GENIUS AT PLAY (and a cover image of an orange road-construction sign).  The people at Victoria Records, bless them, decided that GENIUSES AT PLAY wasn’t a good title, so the disc is called simply LIVE AT THE KITANO — a selection of titles created on the spot by Dick and Ken in 2012.

I know that in the swirling maelstrom that I might whimsically call “the jazz marketplace,” a disc such as this has a good deal of competition.  On the surface, it doesn’t “push the envelope”; it doesn’t “transcend old frontiers”; it isn’t “cutting edge.”

But those terms, so beloved of the most extreme publicists, are irrelevant here, because what Dick and Ken do is explore, improvise, and play, all beautifully. They are masters of “tonation and phrasing,” which is to say that they play melodic lines with warmth, intelligence, and humor — they know, for instance, how to pace out the notes of BLUE ROOM so that the upward leaps of the melody sound wistful rather than mechanical.  To make an instrument speak and sing is not easy, but they do it in ways that amaze other players.

And when they get together in duet, magic results: a playful conversation that both fits and expands the mood of the song without tricks or gimmicks.  I keep returning to the idea of PLAY — a word that means more than the logo on top of a button on a digital answering machine — for Hyman and Peplowski, because they are brave, carefree, and wise in their joyous romps or musical experiments.  No atonality, no showing-off-for-its-own-sake, but the sweet assurance of wise players who know what they can do in the service of Song.  And they are clearly inspired by one another: Hyman has always been a gentle sparkplug, someone who sweetly and gently encourages exploring, and Peplowski fears nothing.  Even critics who keep insisting that he sounds like Benny.

The repertoire is wide and imaginative, but always strongly based in melodies: BLUE ROOM, GONE WITH THE WIND, I MEAN YOU, YELLOW DOG BLUES, LUCKY TO BE ME, THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE, UGLY BEAUTY, MY SHIP, LOVER COME BACK TO ME – QUICKSILVER.

Ken plays tenor on WIND and LOVER — most beautifully, I might add. And although the session was recorded live in a room with people and glasses, the occasional rustles aren’t distracting — rather, they enhance.

The disc is issued by Victoria Records; it’s VC 4393, and it’s a masterpiece. Better yet, it’s deeply moving music and great fun. All at the same time.

In doing research for this blogpost, I also found a treasure previously unknown (by me): E PLURIBUS DUO, the predecessor Hyman-Peplowski CD primarily devoted to songs composed by jazz musicians: GODCHILD, ANOUMAN, THE RED DOOR, WALTZ FOR DEBBY, LITTLE DOGS, TWOSOME, VIGNATTE, OH LOOK AT ME NOW, THE CUP-BEARERS, SEGMENT, I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (two versions), DREAMS, TWO-PLAY FREE-PLAY.  It’s Victoria Records VC 4379.

For more information, visit Victoria Records, Dick Hyman, or Ken Peplowski.

May your happiness increase!

A RIDDLE: WHAT HAS MANY LEGS AND MANY FRIENDS, SWINGS AND STRIDES?

No, it’s not a playground set.  Or a new insect. Give up?

It’s the STRIDE PIANO SUMMIT, featuring pianists Dick Hyman, Mike Lipskin, Stephanie Trick, guitarist Paul Mehling, multi-instrumentalist Clint Baker, singer Dinah Lee . . . and more.

I know that there will be a good deal of Fats, James P., the Lion, boogie-woogie, some jazz classics and pop standards, a touch of Cole Porter, a whisper of Django, a sniff of Donald Lambert . . .

Three concerts have been scheduled for some time: lucky and wise people bought tickets to the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, California, for the 5 and 8 PM concerts on Saturday, August 24, so that these concerts are sold out.  (I hope only that this enthusiastic response means a return engagement for this group in 2014.  Is that hint sufficiently subtle?)

But all is not lost.  I believe that tickets are still available for the Sunday, August 25, show at the new SF Jazz Center: click here. If you are not close to this hall, I am sorry. But if you are, come join the party. I don’t think there will be any more asking of riddles, but some questions will be answered from the stage — using notes, not words — such as WHY DOES SWING MAKE US SO HAPPY?

May your happiness increase!

A MUSICAL TREASURE FROM DECEMBER 26, 1941, THANKS TO MEL POWELL AND HIS DAUGHTER KATI

Kati Powell, daughter of Mel Powell and Martha Scott, has already graced JAZZ LIVES with generosity of spirit and wit.  If you don’t know what I’m referring to, I propose that you might click here.

But Kati has other treasures for us.  It’s one thing to recount tales of Melvin Epstein, Louis Armstrong, Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, and other luminaries.

Hearing Mel Powell, solo, in his prime, presumably at home, is something — as the Irish might say — “beyond the beyonds.”

Kati very generously allowed me to video-record this astonishingly rare recording and to share it with my readers and viewers.

I suspect that Mel had received or had purchased a home recording unit for the holidays (this recording is dated December 26) and he was relaxing at the piano.  I don’t know if the voice we hear is his: I doubt it, but other music scholars have said they think it is him, speaking.

Mel was then a member of the Benny Goodman Orchestra, and thanks to David Weiner and David Jessup, I can tell you that the band was playing at the Hotel New Yorker during that period.  The Sextet had a recording date for Columbia on the 24th and there are airchecks from the 27th, but nothing from this date, so I am sure this is a home recording, not a recording of a radio broadcast.  It’s glorious, no matter what the details are!

One:

Two:

Thanks and blessings to Melvin Epstein and Kathleen Powell!

May your happiness increase!

WE ADORE ANNETTE

Miss Hanshaw, 1934:

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and .  . .

Lovely to look at, delightful to hear, somewhat nervous in front of a motion picture camera . . . but the music remains.

May your happiness increase!

THERE ISN’T ANYTHING FINER: MARC CAPARONE, JOHN SMITH, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MIKE FAY, JEFF HAMILTON (August 3, 2013)

The song DINAH poses and answers the question.  Using it as sacred text, here’s the proof that swing is here to stay — under the admiring gaze of Louis and Bill Basie — as enacted by Marc Caparone, cornet; John “Butch” Smith, alto saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Mike Fay, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  Recorded in Paso Robles, California, on August 3, 2013, and offered here by popular demand.

I should note that the performance begins with a few small moments of comedy — what NOT to do — before Maestro Hamilton sets the tempo with a little homage to Sidney.

I’d hop an ocean liner, myself, to hear music like this.  Talk about spreading joy!

May your happiness increase!

UNUSUAL, INSPIRING: JIM FRYER and THE USUAL SUSPECTS at MONTEREY 2013

Jim Fryer is a multitalented fellow: nimble, thoughtful trombonist, cornetist, euphonist (?), singer, composer, man of many thoughts and a wide repertoire of music.  He showed off some of these facets in an inspiring set at the 2013 Jazz Bash by the Bay, with fellow Suspects John Cocuzzi, piano; Ike Harris, string bass; Danny Coots, drums.

Benny Carter’s evergreen, I’M IN THE MOOD FOR SWING:

Something different!  Abdullah Ibrahim’s AFRICAN MARKETPLACE:

Jim’s own CRYSTAL AIR:

The pretty ballad, YOUNG AND FOOLISH:

I hope that other festivals and concerts take inspiration from this and give our own Mister Fryer more places to show what he does so well.

May your happiness increase!

WE ALL THANK THE INTENSELY GENEROUS TOHRU SEYA of FACEBOOK for PREVIOUSLY UNHEARD MUSIC BY MARTY GROSZ, FRANK CHACE, and JOHN DENGLER, 1951

If you’re not “on” Facebook, this man might change your mind.

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One of my Facebook friends is a very generous and astute Japanese collector of hot jazz, named Tohru Seya.  Although other collectors hold their treasures close and gloat over their possessions, allowing few to approach close to the Valued Objects, Tohru has the right attitude: generosity is love in action, not only love of the music, but love of other listeners.

While I and others are sleeping or doing ordinary errands, Tohru has come up with some records we have only read about.  He places the record tenderly on a very solid RCA transcription turntable, lowers the tone arm, and lets it play.  And did I mention he also creates a video of this generosity so that we can all see and hear the music?  Yes, he does.

Some months ago Tohru posted a set of three 78 discs recorded by a Princeton University jazz band — THE INTENSELY VIGOROUS JAZZ BAND — featuring cornetist John Dengler.  That was interesting in itself because one of the tunes was a slightly ribald effort called LET ME OVERHAUL YOUR CAR.  (The “BABY” was implied.)

Then, a short time later, Tohru posted pictures of a 10″ lp that had the INTENSELY VIGOROUS boys but with two ringers — Marty Grosz and clarinetist Frank Chace.  I know Marty and I knew Frank, and they are heroes to me, absolutely.  I confess that I asked Tohru how I could get to hear this music — eight songs recorded in 1951 by this band.  Just a day or so ago, these links appeared on Facebook.  We can ALL hear this magic music.

Here is the first side of the record.  Here is the second.

And here is the relevant information:

The Intensely Vigorous Jazz Band Vol.2.  10-inch LP (no number U.N.39) 300 copies pressed.  John Dengler (co); Marty Ill (tb); Frank Chace (cl); Hal Cabot (p); Marty Grosz (4-string-g); Stan Bergen (d); Squirrel Ashcraft (p-4). Princeton, NJ., May 1951.

1. At The Jazz Band Ball / 2. Basin Street Blues / 3. The Sheik Of Araby / 4. I’ve Found A New Baby / 5. The Charleston / 6. Buddy Bolden’s Blues (JD vo) / 7. When The Saints Go Marching In (JD, Band vo) / 8. Nobody’s Sweetheart Now.

I think this world would be a far better place if there were more people like Tohru Seya in it, and the principle of behavior I am espousing has really nothing to do with hot jazz records or Facebook, if you think about it for four bars.

Thank you, Tohru!  (His Facebook page is here.)

P.S.  If you are resolutely opposed to being on Facebook, I do understand.  And I think the links above will work only for people who are signed up for it . . . but I am sure you can find a friend or relative who will let you in the doorway for this purpose.

May your happiness increase!

CAREFUL, THAT’S VERY HOT! (Part One): BLACK DIAMOND BLUE FIVE at CLINE CELLARS (June 13, 2013): CLINT BAKER, LEON OAKLEY, ROBERT YOUNG, BILL REINHART, MARTY EGGERS

I’ll say it again:

The 2013 Cline Wine and Dixieland Festival was a glorious success: a lovely setting, jubilant music both hot and sweet, with sweet-natured people enjoying themselves everywhere. I will be offering videos from that delicious day — featuring Clint Baker, Leon Oakley, Bill Reinhart, Marty Eggers, Scott Anthony, Bob Schulz, Ray Skjelbred, Robert Young, the Ragtime Skedaddlers, and other noble souls.

I unpacked my camera and settled down for the first band — noting the increased heat in the room.  No surprise, when you consider who was on the stand: Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, saxophone / vocal; Marty Eggers, piano; Clint Baker, banjo / vocal; Bill Reinhart, tuba: the Black Diamond Blue Five.  The original BDBF began in 1992 as the inspiration of banjoist George Knoblauch (he left us in March 2012) as a hot two-horn quintet that played the music of Clarence Williams and other small Twenties bands.  (You’ll notice, in the videos below, that Clarence’s picture is on the binder that is the band’s book.) The 1992-2012 band featured the same personnel except that George played banjo and Clint played tuba.

Now, I can find something to admire in improvising ensembles of all sizes.  The twenty men gathered on stage at the end of an Eddie Condon Blue Network broadcast, a solo pianist or guitarist — equally promising. But I might be guilty of jazz frugality: I especially admire those small ensembles that give good value for their money: three players (Bent Persson – Frans Sjostrom – Jacob Ullberger) or four (Ruby Braff – George Barnes – Wayne Wright – Michael Moore) seem taut, slim, energized versions of the ideal.

So does the BDBF.  Evidence below!

Clint tells us, politely but emphatically, about his reluctance to share his JELLY ROLL with anyone.  Understandable, no?:

Robert’s singing of SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE makes me imagine an alternate universe where Carmen Lombardo, Lillie Delk Christian, and Louis get together to share stories of being excluded from romance.  And Leon’s cornet is right on the money — searing, in fact:

This version of MY GAL SAL reminds me of the Deccas by the Alabama Jug Band — 1934, and it is just as much fun:

WIPE IT OFF, even when the lyrics are somewhat obscure, not to say arcane, is always good advice:

What a wonderful hot band!  I will have more to share from the BDBF, I promise you.

May your happiness increase!

THE RAGTIME SKEDADDLERS: A FINE TIME AT CLINE WINE (July 2013)

The 2013 Cline Wine and Dixieland Festival was a glorious success: a lovely setting, jubilant music both hot and sweet, with sweet-natured people enjoying themselves everywhere.  I will be offering videos from that delicious day — featuring Clint Baker, Leon Oakley, Bill Reinhart, Marty Eggers, Scott Anthony, Bob Schulz, Ray Skjelbred, Robert Young, and other noble souls.

skedaddlers_without_mics

But right now I want to introduce you to THE RAGTIME SKEDADDLERS — a delightful string trio whose music and gentle approach captivated the Beloved and myself as we sat on a porch in a soft breeze.  Unlike other “traditional” groups who take their inspiration from various notions of New Orleans jazz or Chicago jazz, the Skedaddlers go back to a time when string ragtime, light-hearted yet propulsive, was America’s true popular music.  This trio doesn’t speed up or approach the music with either clownish levity or undue scholarly seriousness.  Rather, they are old-fashioned melodists, creating sweet lines that arch and tumble over one another in mid-air. It is as if Dvorak had been transplanted to a Southern or Middle Western backyard picnic or country dance in 1895 and had immersed himself in sweet harmonies and dance-like motions. The Skedaddlers are entrancing on their own, and a delightful change from the often heavy ensembles so prevalent in occasions of this sort.

Neither of the RS’s CDs says much about the band, so I asked for a bit of background on the Ragtime Skedaddlers. Dennis Pash (banjo-mandolin) is the leader of the group. (He’s the fellow in the center of the videos that follow.) Dennis has been playing string ragtime since the Seventies when he was one of the founders of the Etcetera String Band. For more information about the ESB, click here.  In addition to being a great interpreter of ragtime on the mandolin, Dennis has researched and collected materials on string ragtime. He has lectured extensively, co-hosted a series of radio shows on string ragtime, and published an article on the Joplin string arrangements in the Rag-Time Ephemeralist. Dennis formed the Ragtime Skedaddlers in 2009 to perform and record ragtime era music in arrangements for two mandolins and guitar. Dave Krinkel (guitar) and Nick Robinson (mandolin) mostly played old-time string band music before Dennis sparked their interest in ragtime. The Skedaddlers have become regular performers at ragtime festivals in California, and have also played to audiences more used to the sounds of old-time and bluegrass string bands. The Cline festival was their first appearance at a traditional jazz festival, and they held audiences — both the people on the porch and others walking around listening to the sweet strains — entranced.

Now, you’ve read enough.  Enjoy this rare and delicious pastoral music!  In the videos below, Nick is closest to the camera, playing a National Reso-Phonic mandolin; Dennis is in the center playing a banjo-mandolin, and Dave farthest from the camera playing guitar.

PEACHERINE RAG:

DENGOZO:

EASY MONEY:

ST. LOUIS RAG:

GOLDEN SPIDER:

The Skedaddlers have created two CDs, both of which have scholarly (but not dry) information about the songs and their composers.  Both CDs can be purchased here, and can also be found through CDBaby, Amazon, and iTunes.  The next few shows that the RS will be playing are Saturday, October 19: Wine Country Ragtime Festival, Sonoma, CA 95442, and Saturday-Sunday, November 23-24: West Coast Ragtime Festival, 1401 Arden Way, Sacramento, CA 85815.

MANDOP0902They make lovely music.

May your happiness increase!