Monthly Archives: October 2013

ON MY WAY / TO WHITLEY BAY / WHERE GOOD TIMES ARE PLENTIFUL

Feel free to join in with my new song — doggerel created to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s JAMAICA FAREWELL: “I’m on me way / to Whitley Bay / won’t be back / till late Monday / I’m all excit’ / Won’t miss my flight / I know I’ll have a time / at Whitley Bay.”

Obviously, I have no reputation as a composer of calypso.

The omens and portents are much more favorable today than they were in 2012.  That trip that began with this weary traveler leaving his passport at home and making a costly racing roundtrip to retrieve it. The glorious jazz weekend ended with Superstorm Sandy and its global effects.   Of course, in both cases, I was helped immensely by generous strangers (at British Airways) and swing friends.

But Whitley Bay — now the Classic Jazz Party, formerly the International Jazz Festival — has been a special place since my first visit in 2009. There I met and admired Bent Persson, Aurelie Tropez, Nick Ward, Jacob Ullberger, Matthias Seuffert, Emma Fisk, Frans Sjostrom, Norman Field, and two dozen others. There I basked in the wit and generosity of the late Mike Durham, who still remains a vivid presence. I will be looking around corners for him all weekend long.  And this year the visiting Americans aren’t so bad, either: Andy Schumm, Josh Duffee, Duke Heitger, Jeff Barnhart, Daryl Sherman.

This year’s party offers exciting thematic presentations: the music of Coon-Sanders, early Ellington, Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, Basie 1937, Johnny Dodds, Eddie South and Stuff Smith, rare Bix, rare Fats, California Ramblers, and more.  My camera batteries are charged and I feel the same way.

I wish I could sweep you all along with me, but the airlines are fussy about bringing unscheduled guests.  So I hope JAZZ LIVES readers have patience: I will video-record as much as possible, and subject to musicians’ approval, you will see much of it in the months to come.

I expect to be busy listening, recording, talking and hanging out — living life away from the computer — so if this blog seems quiet for this long weekend, don’t feel abandoned. I am simply gathering new material for your pleasure.

I don’t anticipate think that any of my readers has sufficient frequent flyer miles to jump on a plane right this minute, but “day tickets” are still available, £50 a day.  Details here.  But you’d have to be fairly close to Newcastle to make this possible.  (On a whim, I checked Expedia for round-trip from New York and the least expensive flight was $1500.)

By the time some of you read this, I will already be on a Delta flight to Newcastle by way of Amsterdam . . . a jazz pilgrim on one of the great pilgrimages, bearing notebook and camera, CDs and snacks, clothing, pills, and an umbrella — instead of a scallop shell.

See you back at the ranch on Tuesday, November 5!

Here’s a little music from the 2012 Party, a video of mine that has not been made public before, to lift up your spirits and embody what the weekend is all about.  Rene Hagmann, cornet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, clarinet; Roly Veitch, guitar; Manu Hagmann, string bass, performing THAT’S A-PLENTY in hono(u)r of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four. My feelings exactly.

May your happiness increase!

CLIFF LEEMAN’S SOUND LIVES ON

Drummer Cliff Leeman had a completely personal and identifiable sound, a seriously exuberant approach to the music.  You can’t miss him, and it’s not because of volume.

He’s audible from the late Thirties on in the bands of Artie Shaw and Charlie Barnet, then most notably in Eddie Condon’s bands, later with the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Bob Crosby reunions, Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson, Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood, and Soprano Summit.  Cliff died in 1986, but his slashing attack and nearly violent exuberance are in my ears as I write this . . . including his trademark, the tiny splash cymbal he used as an auditory exclamation point.  He spoke briefly about his approach in this interview for MODERN DRUMMER magazine.

In case Cliff is someone new to you, here he is on a 1975 television program with Joe Venuti, Marian McPartland, and Major Holley, elevating CHINA BOY:

In spring 2008, Kevin Dorn and I paid a call on Irene (Renee) Leeman, his widow, then living comfortably in New Jersey.  I have very fond memories of that afternoon, hearing stories and laughing.  Until recently, I thought that those memories were all I had.  But a recent stint of domestic archaeology uncovered the small notebook in which I had written down what Mrs. Leeman told us.  Here are some of her comments and asides, shared with you with affection and reverence (and with her permission).

But first: Cliff on film in 1952 with Eddie Condon . . . the epitome of this driving music.  Also heard and seen, Edmond Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey:

Some words from Mrs. Leeman to go with all those good sounds:

I first met Clifford at Nick’s.  I didn’t go there by myself, but because of a friend who had a crush on Pee Wee Erwin.

Roger Kellaway always asked for Clifford.

He wore Capezios on the job.

He had a colorful vocabulary and didn’t repeat himself.  He thought Bing Crosby was the best, but Clifford was always very definite in his opinions.

He came from a Danish-Scandinavian family where the men didn’t hug one another.

Clifford once asked Joe Venuti, “How do you want me to play behind you?” and Venuti said, “Play as if I’m five brass.”

He worked on THE HIT PARADE with Raymond Scott, who timed everything with a stopwatch, “The hardest job I ever had.”

Clifford was the drummer on Bill Haley and the Comets’ Decca recording of ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, and when the session ended, he said, “I think I just killed my career.”

Sidney Catlett was Clifford’s idol.  Jo Jones, Ben Webster, Charlie Shavers and Clifford loved each other.  They all hung out at Hurley’s Bar, Jim and Andy’s, and Charlie’s Tavern.

Clifford played piano — not jazz, but ROCK OF AGES and MOTHER MACHREE, as well as xylophone.  And he could read music.  He was always surprised that other musicians couldn’t, and would come home after a gig and say, “Do you know _____?  He can’t read!”

Clifford was left-handed but he played with a drum kit set up for right-handed drummers.

He thought the drummer was supposed to keep the time and drive the band and pull everything together.  Clifford listened. He was fascinated with rock drummers he saw on television, and would tell me how bad they were.

“Cliff is the best timekeeper,” Billy Butterfield said.  Billy was so cute.

He loved his cymbals.

He was hard on himself, and on other people, but he loved working with Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart.  They had a good time.  They respected each other. They thought that music should be fun. Yank and Bob used to rehearse the band in Lou Stein’s basement in Bayside, New York.

Kenny Davern!  Kenny was a challenge to the world and a thinker. He was an angry young man who became an angry old man.  He and Clifford were a comedy team wherever they went.

Clifford didn’t embrace the world, and he could be abrasive if people bothered him.

Clifford played with Bob Crosby and Louis Armstrong on one of those Timex television jazz shows.  He was so proud of working with Louis you couldn’t stand it.

I have always liked musicians as a group, and never had a 9 to 5 life. Because of Clifford, I got to meet Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Gene Krupa.  In those days, rhythm sections stuck together, so I knew a lot of bass players and their wives: Milt Hinton, Major Holley, George Duvivier, Jack Lesberg.  I was lucky to have known such things and such people.  How fortunate I was!

We are all fortunate to have lived in Clifford Leeman’s century, and his music lives on.  And I thank Mrs. Leeman for her enthusiastic loving candor.

May your happiness increase!

MISTER WALLER WANTS A DOLLAR (1936)

I think that the credit report issued for one Thomas Waller would be shocking. And it might include his time spent in jail for nonpayment of alimony.

But who among us wouldn’t “advance” Fats a few dollars, even knowing that it wouldn’t make its way back to us?  Money well-spent, I feel.

FATS NEEDS SOME MONEY, 1936

From eBay, of course.

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING THE TWO GUITAR QUARTET: HOWARD ALDEN and ANDY BROWN CELEBRATE IN CHICAGO (November 1-2, The Green Mill)

I wish I could be there, because this quartet (Andy Brown, Howard Alden, guitars, Joe Policastro, string bass; Bob Rummage, drums) makes splendid music.

TWO GUITARS

If you can’t make it to these gigs (and even if you can) you will want a copy of their splendid new CD, HEAVY ARTILLERY, on Delmark Records. Here is what I wrote about it.

May your happiness increase!

“THE CAUSE OF HAPPINESS” IN PAPERBACK

Are you looking to begin your holiday shopping early?  Of course, you can shower your friends and family with gift cards, but I propose a more satisfying gifts for the people on your list who might need a portable reminder of how deep happiness goes and how it can be attained.  They don’t need to love jazz; they need to be open to love.

My suggestion?  Ricky Riccardi’s enduring book WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS. Click here for the essential details.

It is a great human story of an artist, joyous and courageous, bringing light to hundreds of thousands of people.  You don’t need to be a jazz fan to admire the story and the book.

Here’s what I wrote in 2011, when the book first came out.  It still seems true to me today.

Ricky Riccardi’s new book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS (Pantheon), will be published in a week, and it has already gotten a glowing review in the Washington Post, with NPR and The New York Times coverage to come.  (You can read the reviews and Ricky’s interview in JAZZ TIMES by clicking here):

Full disclosure: my name crops up in the acknowledgments, and I admired Ricky’s work long before this book came out.  But I would think this book was magical even if I’d never met its author.

On its surface, this biography depicts the last quarter-century of Louis Armstrong’s life — his years of global popularity as a beloved figure, the years of HELLO, DOLLY! and WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.

But the real story in this book is the gap between public perception and essential reality.  “To be great is to be misunderstood,” Emerson wrote, and it rings true here.  Artists cannot defend themselves against those who choose to interpret their work.  There is often a huge gap between what artists create, how the “experts” and “critics” perceive it, and how the art is represented to the world.

There have been many books about Louis — the best of them have been Terry Teachout’s POPS, and LOUIS by Max Jones and John Chilton.  (I am passing over the other biographies, marred by their distance from the subject or by personal rancors.)

But Ricky’s book deeply and effectively faces the complex question of what it is to be a working artist in the modern world.  An artist working in the public world — not a painter or a poet in a studio, but a “performer” on television, on records, onstage.

Louis lived to make music, and to “lay it on the public.”  A musician needs a community, both on and off stage.  Louis was no recluse; he didn’t scorn his audiences.  He spent his days and nights, consciously and subconsciously, living for what would come out of his horn, how he would sing.

This was his quest, his joy, and his “hustle,” what he did for a living.  He didn’t demand to be taken seriously as An Artist, but he did know that he was creating masterpieces; he was proud of his art and the pleasure it brought and continues to bring.

Thus, when he began to be sneered at (and that’s not too strong a word) as an Uncle Tom, an “entertainer,” someone who had sold out, had lost his creativity, had turned his back on “the truth,” even “a good-natured buffoon,” these cruel misinterpretations turned Emerson’s words into knives.

Another artist might have turned his back on his critics and spent his last quarter-century in wounded seclusion.  Louis worked harder; he toured the world; he became “Ambassador Satch,” he created astonishing beauties.  The audiences understood this in deep spiritual ways, even if they had never read Gunther Schuller.

But it took this book — the new material in it and Ricky’s affectionate, dogged diligence — to bring Louis, complete and complicated, to life once again.  And here I want to move slightly to the book itself — and its author.

Ricky Riccardi is, first off, a fine writer.  Not fussy, not academic, but someone whose vigorous, human speaking voice resonates through these pages.  So the book is a pleasure to read: I rationed the pages I allowed myself each night so that it wouldn’t end too soon, as I knew it had to.  He has so steeped himself in the life of the man he is celebrating (and it is a celebratory book!) that his easy assurance illuminates every page.  But the reader never feels intimidated by an impending avalanche of facts and dates and itineraries.

This book places the living Louis Armstrong in front of us, seen anew — the man who had a very intricate relationship with his manager, Joe Glaser, but was in charge of that relationship, not its victim.  There is an astonishing long letter from Louis to Glaser on the subject of marijuana — a revelation not only in the tale it tells, but in Louis’s angry eloquence.

Ricky has delved more deeply into Louis’s private tapes than any biographer before him, thus the book is full of new insights rather than being a synthetic assemblage of what other people have written.  I was surprised and delighted (dee-lighted, really) on every page.  And while this biography is no uncritical fan letter, its affection comes through from start to finish — a fitting celebration of Louis, who created and felt “the love and warmth of a million people.”

As a working jazz musician, Ricky also understands much more about the music than many writers who have been on the scene longer.  Even though you don’t need to be a musicologist to read this book, and there is not one intimidating transcribed solo (just lovely photographs), the book never feels distant from Louis’s art.

Louis Armstrong lived “in the cause of happiness.”  Although he knew his art was unique, he wore his achievements lightly, “I’m not lookin’ to be on no high pedestal.  [The people who hear me] get their soul lifted because they got the same soul I have the moment I hit a note.”

More than any other biography of Louis Armstrong, Ricky’s book vibrates with those truths.  Even if you are someone who appreciates Louis Armstrong only casually, you will find in this book a deep, rewarding, honest portrait of a man, an artist, his century.

It’s an extraordinary biography and a wonderful book.  And it brings the same joy that Louis did.

P.S.  Ricky also maintains a wonderful Louis Armstrong blog, with music and video. Here is his most recent posting — full of delights from Louis in Scandinavia, 1933.

May your happiness increase!

A MUSICAL OFFERING: JON BURR, HOWARD ALDEN, MENNO DAAMS at the EDISON HOTEL (Oct. 4, 2013)

Any Friday, between 4 and 6 PM, you can find a treasure in midtown Manhattan for those who love music.  The Edison Hotel, at 228 West 47th Street, New York 10036, offers a gratifying experience to guests and passers-by alike: wine and snacks with music by string bassist Jon Burr and guitarist Howard Alden.  (Occasionally other musicians will substitute for the world-travelling guitarist; others will visit and sit in . . . as you shall see.)

I was there on Friday, October 4, 2013, and was delighted to capture these marvelous performances for JAZZ LIVES.  Jon and Howard are a lyrical, softly swinging pair by themselves — but things got even better when Menno Daams brought his cornet (and the lyrical heart to make sweet sounds) all the way from the Netherlands.

Beauty was in the air!

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

I’LL REMEMBER APRIL:

I was waiting to see if they would continue the calendar-theme with JUNE IN JANUARY, but they went in another direction, cosmologically, with STELLA BY STARLIGHT:

Menno joined in for a sweet rendition of Ray Noble’s THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS:

And he remained for Berlin’s THE BEST THING FOR YOU (WOULD BE ME):

After a brief break, Howard and Jon embarked on FROM THIS MOMENT ON:

Menno gave voice to what we all felt about the music, IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME (with spices from Brazil):

Then the three of them courageously tried out a soft mournful ballad, Fud Livingston’s I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE:

I’ve already posted the closing song of the session, SHINY STOCKINGS, but it’s so fine no one will mind a repeat performance.

The Edison Hotel‘s Facebook page has more information on the bounty, musical and otherwise, it offers.

May your happiness increase!

WONDERFUL, MARVELOUS, SINFULLY GOOD: MARTY GROSZ, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, DAN BARRETT, DUKE HEITGER, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, PETE SIERS at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2012

“Who’s wonderful?  Who’s marvelous?”

Easily answered: Marty Grosz, guitar and arrangements; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, Dan Block, reeds; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. Recorded on September 22, 2012, at Jazz at Chautauqua.

In addition to the sprightly songs, please notice Marty’s swinging arrangements: his assortments of horns, the idiomatic riffs and backgrounds, the way his performances are anything but ensemble – solos – ensemble in formulaic ways.  (Chuck Folds wrote somewhere that Vic Dickenson loved to play MISS ANNABELLE LEE: a pity Vic never got to record his huge repertoire for generations to come.  I hear it as a slow drag . . . )

MISS ANNABELLE LEE:

MY SIN:

(Some impatient viewer is sure to comment on YouTube that the music doesn’t begin until two minutes and two seconds have elapsed.  I write these words as a public service.)

And some audio-visual aids for those, who, like me, find these songs captivating — impossible to forget once heard.

Visual (Cupid takes aim at a flapper; the final S of the title falls to the ground):

MISS ANNABELLE LEE

And again (in what I believe is a later copy of the sheet music):

MY SINFor those who want to hear contemporaneous performances — by one of the most winsome singers ever — here is Miss Annette Hanshaw.

MISS ANNABELLE LEE:

MY SIN:

(Incidentally, the latter song might be the precursor to the 1931 GUILTY — one of several songs that compare romantic infatuation to a moral or criminal offense.  Draw your own conclusions.)

May your happiness increase!

WHO IS SHE? (2013 Edition) — featuring JAMES P. JOHNSON

Another eBay sighting: five 5 x 7″ photographs that come from the collection of Robert Altshuler.  This one is the most interesting: an onstage shot of James P. Johnson at the piano, possibly before the performance begins, discussing some detail with a female singer.  A man in a light suit is moving behind the singer.  Is the singer Chippie Hill?  I would guess that the photograph comes from the middle Forties.  I originally thought that the man in the light suit could be guiding genius Eddie Condon, but sharp-eyed Uwe Zanisch noted that the man is holding a trumpet.  Thus: somewhat small-boned Caucasian trumpet player.  Max Kaminsky?  (Thank you, Uwe!)

Any thoughts?

JAMES P. JOHNSON and SINGER

May your happiness increase!

ENRICO TOMASSO’S “AL DENTE”: TASTY!

Rico CD front better

It has been my great good fortune to meet and hear trumpeter / singer Enrico Tomasso several times at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.  Because of his deep understanding of jazz from the beginnings to the present, Rico has often been asked to “be” someone else: Louis, George Mitchell, or Roy Eldridge, for a variety of jazz repertory projects.  A versatile player, he has no trouble summoning up the great demigods, but in the process, his own personality — subtle yet powerful — shines through.  He’s delightfully versatile — like a compelling stage actor who can be Lear one week, Stanley Kowalski the next, without strain.  (He’s also a marvelous singer.)

Now, at last, he’s made a small-group CD under his own name — just Rico and rhythm — and it’s delicious.  (In keeping with the beautiful productions of Woodville Records, the sound is first-rate; excellent notes by Alyn Shipton, and fine photographs by bassist Andrew Clyndert.)

Rico CD back

Although many of the songs on this disc have strong associations with great trumpet players (Louis, Roy, Bobby Hackett, Clark Terry) what we hear is a mature artist — playfully taking chances — creating his own paths through familiar material.

Many compact discs topple under the weight of sameness, offering ten or twenty performances in a row that sound so similar, but Rico has always held variety as an artistic principle, so he manages to change the sound and mood from track to track — with the help of three very sympathetic players, John Pearce, piano; Andrew Cleyndert, string bass; Bobby Worth, drums.

Here’s a taste of Rico in person, being himself:

You can feel his exuberant personality from the first note, and that personality comes through on the CD, whether he’s being tender (THE GOOD LIFE), gently swinging (GONE AND CRAZY), or witty (BROTHERHOOD OF MAN).  His tone, glossy, whispery, or gritty, is always a pleasure.

And even if you own the “originals” of LITTLE JAZZ, THE GOOD LIFE, JUBILEE, or others, this CD will be a delightful introduction or re-introduction to a great musician.

If Rico had the publicity he deserves, jazz listeners worldwide would be speaking of him in the same breath with Ruby Braff and Warren Vaché.  His music — deeply emotional yet always swinging — is consistently superb.  AL DENTE (which I take to mean “perfectly cooked” rather than “chewy”) is a beautiful representation of his art.

May your happiness increase!

RARE, UNIQUE, NICE (featuring LOUIS, LUCKY, BUNNY, BILLIE, HAWKINS, CLAUDE, ISRAEL, FLETCHER)

Delights from the eBay treasure chest . . . costly but surely unique.

This  is a concert program from the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival (notice that Louis and the All-Stars are billed as the Hot Five).  That would be enough in itself, but notice the autographs: Louis himself, Big Sid Catlett, Lucky Thompson, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Barney Bigard, Arvell Shaw, Velma Middleton, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bob Wilber, Baby Dodds, Sammy Price, Sandy Williams, and more.

And here’s a picture (the eBay site has other close-ups):NICE FESTIVAL 1948 program 1But wait!  There’s more!

How about a copy of HOT  DISCOGRAPHY— signed by Billie Holiday, Bunny Berigan, Claude Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, Buster Bennett, Israel Crosby . . . ?  No, I didn’t believe it, either.

But here is some evidence.  Even though the photographs are (perhaps intentionally?) blurry, the overall effect is dazzling:

Billie, once:

eBay BILLIE ONE

Billie, twice:

eBay BILLIE TWO

Claude Jones:

eBay CLAUDE JONES

Coleman Hawkins:

eBay HAWK

Buster Bennett:

ebay BUSTER BENNETT

Bunny Berigan:

eBay BUNNY

Fletcher Henderson:

eBay FLETCHER

Israel Crosby:

eBay ISRAEL

The Nice concert program obviously has a specific location in time and space.  The seller hasn’t said anything about this copy of HOT DISCOGRAPHY, but given the signatures, I suspect that its owner was at one time a Chicagoan . . . and you can guess when the signers took out their pens, at least by their death dates.

To me what is important here is that the owners of these artifacts not only loved the music but idolized the players and singers — so much so that having the seconds of personal contact needed to approach Lucky Thompson or Israel Crosby and ask for an autograph was worth the effort.  We benefit immensely from this kind of devotion.

Neither item is inexpensive, but the value here is immense.

May your happiness increase!

OUR HERO, BUNNY BERIGAN: TALKING WITH MICHAEL P. ZIRPOLO (October 20, 2013)

Michael P. Zirpolo, Mike to his friends, hails from Ohio — and has devoted himself to the admiring study of trumpeter / singer / bandleader Bunny Berigan.  About a week ago, we met for the first time in person, fittingly at The Ear Inn, where Mike and clan got to hear The EarRegulars for that Sunday, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Joe Cohn, and Pat O’Leary, do what they do so well.  Before the evening’s frolic, Mike and I had a short video conversation about the man we admire so, the gloriously memorable Mr. Berigan:

To learn more about Bunny and especially Mike’s book, MR. TRUMPET, visit    here — and you can also find out more about a new compact disc on the Hep label, SWINGIN’ AND JUMPIN’, of live 1937-39 Berigan performances that he has made possible.  And here are my posts on the book and the disc.

May your happiness increase!

ENERGETICALLY YOURS: THE RON ODRICH QUARTET with DAN BLOCK (JAMES CHIRILLO, GARY MAZZAROPPI, CENZ: October 1, 2013)

Music is a way of creating energy, and what follows is especially lively.

One of the reassuring New York City musical happenings is the first-Tuesday gig (6-8 PM) of reedman Ron Odrich at San Martin, 143 East 49th Street.  Ron’s usual group is James Chirillo, guitar; Gary Mazzaroppi, string bass; “Cenz,” drums, and a guest star, in this case reedman Dan Block.

I knew Ron as a splendidly nimble clarinetist but hadn’t heard him play tenor saxophone; he is a delightful player.  Dan and he had a delightful time, and the unaccompanied two-horn duets heard on BLUES IN THE CLOSET and AUTUMN LEAVES were especially pleasing.

Incidentally, the spirit of the music was intense yet deeply friendly.  Watch Ron and Dan, respectively, grin at each other.  It was more a series of endearing conversations than a JATP session, collaboration rather than aggression.  And the audience loved it.

Here’s some of the music the Quartet-plus-Dan created that night.

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

RECADO:

BLUES IN THE CLOSET:

THE MORE I SEE YOU:

A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP:

AUTUMN LEAVES:

ONLY TRUST YOUR HEART:

THIS CAN’T BE LOVE:

MAKIN’ WHOOPEE:

Watching this scene in real life and again in the videos, I thought of some jazzman’s oral history, perhaps Art Hodes.  He describes a club in the Twenties where the music was so pervasive in its rhythm that everything vibrated sympathetically: the bartender shook his cocktail shaker to a syncopated 4 / 4, the waiters put the plates down on the right beat, and so on.

I’ve never been to San Martin when there was no music, but I like to think that the eager, attentive waiters rushing to and fro with plates of pasta and the pepper mill were swinging along to Ron’s beat.  The joint, as we say, was jumping.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE BALL, THAT’S ALL (THE ARMISTICE BALL 2013: November 2, Madison, New Jersey)

On November 2, 2013, you have another chance to travel back to a time and place not easily reached: America around a century ago.  It’s the Armstice Ball, a yearly affair held in New Jersey, with authentic Twenties music and dancing (even a lesson in the afternoon).  The band will be led by Dan Levinson, with jazz scholar Sue Fischer on drums; Jay Rattman on reeds; David Sager on trombone; Matt Tolentino on tuba (he’s the leader of the Dallas band “Singapore Slingers”; Mike Kuehn, banjo.  The Ball goes from 8 – 11 PM at the historic Madison Community House, 25 Cook Avenue, Madison, New Jersey.  Tickets are $30 in advance, $15 with a student ID, and $35 at the door ($20 for students).  (So it pays not to wait till the last minute!)

For details — everything you’d need to know about lodging, food, and fashions, click here.

I asked Sue about the repertoire and she told me that it will include some Morton — FROGGIE MOORE, KING JOE, some hot Chicago tunes related to Noone, Dodds, Hines: FORTY AND TIGHT, MY MONDAY DATE, OH SISTER AIN’T THAT HOT, I NEVER KNEW WHAT A GAL COULD DO, as well as waltzes I’M DRIFTING BACK TO DREAMLAND, and tangos CHALITA, ADIOS MUCHACHOS, and POR UNA CABEZA.  Among other surprises.  

Here’s a video from the 2011 Armistice Ball: different musicians, but you get the picture.  A classy affair, with one-steps for all!  (None of those artificially ripped jeans the youth of America now prefer, either.)  That’s David Boeddinghaus, piano; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Will Reardon Anderson, clarinet; Mike Kuehn, banjo; Johnny Peppers, bass sax; Sue Fischer, drums. And it looks like John Landry is ready to make sure there will be none of that indecent close-dancing here.  (I would be there, but I am going to be enjoying the Classic Jazz Party at Whitley Bay . . . too much distance from Newcastle to Madison, even for me.)

May your happiness increase!

BENDING TIME DELIGHTFULLY: THE ANACHRONIC JAZZ BAND “BACK IN TOWN”

Some listeners believe jazz can be seen as a series of grassy plots, each sealed off and protected an electrical fence.  Thus, the Bad doesn’t infect the Good, the Impure is quarantined from the Truth.

“Old school” bands play GRANDPA’S SPELLS; “swing bands” play DICKIE’S DREAM; “modern” bands play “‘ROUND MIDNIGHT.”

This artifice was created and encouraged by writers, who believed that art could be conceptualized as a straight line, a flow chart, moving towards Progress or Decline.  Pres begat Bird who begat Trane . . .

Most musicians I know smile wearily when confronted with these stifling divisions.  They know that the distance between King Oliver and Bird doesn’t even exist.  In the Forties and Fifties, players trooped into recording studios to make music under these pretenses: HOT MEETS COOL, SWING MEETS DIXIE, and DIXIELAND GOES MODERN (real titles for actual recording dates).  But they knew that the names were simply journalistic devices to package music for consumers and to sell products: the music itself was not altered or harmed by the names.

Thirty and more years ago, I saw two discs in a used record store, by a French band I had never heard of, the ANACHRONIC JAZZ BAND.

From “anachronism,” I knew something interesting was happening, and even though my five years of French had eroded, I could figure out that this band was doing something deliciously unusual: playing “bop” and “modern” material in older styles — taking a Charlie Parker line and playing it in the style of a 1926 Jelly Roll Morton recording.

I bought the records in the spirit of “What could possibly go wrong?” — and they were immensely rewarding.

See for yourself in this 1977 performance of ANTHROPOLOGY:

First, you can’t miss the high good spirits here and the immense expertise: the Anachronics are deeply swinging and wonderfully precise but never stiff.

Second, the whole notion is hilariously wonderful, but not in the often mean-spirited way that comedy / parody / satire often operate (think of Chubby Jackson’s DIXIELAND STOMP, where “modern” musicians play “Dixieland” as a messy amateurish creation).  And it is deeply inquisitive — asking questions of jazz and its “styles” — rather than presenting a production of KING LEAR where everyone wears jeans and speaks in rap cadences.

The Anachronics aren’t satirizing Dizzy and Bird, Morton and Henderson.  Rather, their music is intensely witty play: “What would happen if we brought this composition into this world?  How could we honor both of them and have a rousing good time while doing it?”

The AJB began in 1976 and rolled along to great acclaim until 1980.  Although they apparently were based in the past, they were thrillingly original: no one was doing what they did!  But this post isn’t a nostalgic look back at something rich and rare that is now gone.

I am delighted to write that there is a new AJB CD, just out, and it is a rich banquet of sounds, feeling, and ideas.  Recorded in January 2013, it is called BACK IN TOWN — true enough!

The repertoire comes — initially — from Parker, Rollins, Shearing, Monk, Paul Desmond, Mingus, Chick Corea, Clyde Hart, Miles, Quincy Jones — with a few clever originals by AJB members.  The dazzling musicians on this disc are Philippe Baudoin, piano; Marc Richard, clarinet / alto; Patrick Artero, trumpet; Pierre Guicquéro, trombone; André Villéger, clarinet / alto / tenor; Jean-François Bonnel, clarinet / C-melody; Daniel Huck, vocal, alto; François Fournet, banjo; Gérard Gervois, tuba; Sylvain Glévarec, drums; Göran Eriksson, recorder.  (Arrangements by Baudoin, Richard, Artero.)

The soloing and ensemble work couldn’t be better, and each track is simultaneously a series of small delightful explosions and a revelation.  More than “listening to a record,” I felt as if I were perusing a collection of short stories . . . art that reveals itself more and more, a matter of shadings and gleams, on each hearing.

It has become an invaluable disc for me, and I hope it is the first of many to come.  See and hear for yourself: the Anachronic Jazz Band is truly back in town, and we are very grateful.

Here’s a sample of their recent work, captured by Jeff Guyot in July 2013: COOKIN’ THE FROG:

Here’s the band’s Facebook page.  And their website.

May your happiness increase!

REAL and BEAUTIFUL: WESLA WHITFIELD, MIKE GREENSILL, DUKE HEITGER, KERRY LEWIS, JOHN VON OHLEN at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2013

Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill are deeply authentic.  Her voice, his piano, are full of wise passionate energy.  They don’t glide over the surface of the songs they choose; rather, they embody the lyrics and honor the depths of the melody and harmonies.

Like many of you, I had been fortunate to hear their recordings, but I don’t think I truly appreciated their work fully until this year’s Jazz at Chautauqua. Here are two masterful performances from Thursday, September 19, 2013, where they are given subtle, knowing support from Kerry Lewis, string bass, and John Von Ohlen, drums.  On UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG, Duke Heitger sings with great feeling through his trumpet, as he always does.

Mike is a masterful accompanist, suggesting, supporting, commenting but never intruding, but I was particularly captivated by the emotional range of Wesla’s singing, from elegantly thoughtful to intensely raw.  What art is here in their dramatic musings on The Great Subject.

“If that isn’t love, it will have to do”:

“Love is funny, or it’s sad”:

May your happiness increase! 

HOT THANKSGIVING: SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 27 – December 1, 2013)

“Thanksgiving” is a manufactured holiday.  In this century, you can have roast turkey whenever you like, and any dish with marshmallows should be eyed skeptically.

But being thankful among friends and fine jazz intensifies the pleasure.  It’s gratitude in swing.  One particularly nifty place to have this experience is at the San Diego Jazz Fest (once known as the San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Festival — accurate but unwieldy) which is taking place this year between November 27 and December 1.

Many of my heroes and friends will be there!

Clint Baker, working hard at play, in the moment.

Clint Baker, working hard at play, in the moment.

How about Ray Skjelbred, Katie Cavera, John Gill, Marty Eggers, the Reynolds Brothers, Grand Dominion, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Kevin Dorn, Jeff Hamilton, Leon Oakley, Chris Tyle, Tom Bartlett, Orange Kellin, Conal Fowkes, Bob Schulz, Carl Sonny Leyland, High Sierra, Glenn Crytzer, Bob Draga, and many others.  Because I know I’ve left out many favorites, be sure to visit here and check out the schedule.

San Diego presents so many choices that it will require some advance planning — seven venues, big and small, offering music almost simultaneously.  (One must choose: “Do I stay in one spot and take what’s offered me or do I prance from place to place in search of Elysian sounds?”  It’s not an easy choice.)

The festival offers a wide variety of swinging sounds — from ragtime and banjo sing-alongs (think George M. Cohan and SHINE ON HARVEST MOON) to “hot jazz,” “Dixieland,” “boogie woogie,” “blues,” “gypsy jazz,” “swing dance,” and other, less classifiable experiences.  And there are many special sets: clarinet extravaganzas, piano duets (Paolo and Stephanie, a special treat), and a Battle of the Bands between Glenn Crytzer’s Savoy Seven and Stompy Jones (the latter featuring John Cocuzzi as well).  Second Line parades, dance classes, tributes to Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin, and Bob Scobey.

It won’t sway anyone who isn’t already interested, but the Beloved and I will be there.

Five-day badges are only $105: details here.  And the rooms at the Town and Country Convention Center are surely comfortable.  I’ve even learned, after three years of practice, how to get back to my room after the last set.  Good jazz sharpens one’s navigational skills!

Here’s a song that might be the festival’s theme song — in a wonderfully sweet performance from the 2012 Fest:

So I suggest, meaning no offense to your sweet-natured relatives, that you tell them you will be available for dinner and anecdotage any weekend of the year except this one.  Walk, drive, fly, hitch to San Diego for Thanksgiving! (And late November there is positively balmy . . . wool sweaters not needed.)

And as a postscript: if you were to search JAZZ LIVES by entering the words “San Diego” in the appropriate box, you would find more hot jazz videos than you could watch in a day and a night . . . evidence of the riches that have been offered and will go on, thanks to the musicians, to Paul Daspit, and to the enthusiastic volunteers and staff (including the enthusiastic Jim McNaughton).  San Diego Joys!

May your happiness increase!

“WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?” (JON-ERIK KELLSO, WARREN VACHÉ, MENNO DAAMS, MATT MUNISTERI, JOHN ALLRED, HARVEY TIBBS, PAT O’LEARY at THE EAR INN, October 6, 2013)

Just the facts.

Sunday night, October 6, 2013.  Apprximately 9:15 PM.

The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

The EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass, with guests Warren Vaché, Menno Daams, cornet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone.

Text for the occasion:  THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU by Frank Loesser and Burton Lane, 1939.*

Cinema verite by Ineke Rienks.

We love it!

*Here’s the original soundtrack from the film SOME LIKE IT HOT, featuring Bob Hope, Shirley Ross, and Gene Krupa:

May your happiness increase!

TWO SONGS FOR THE BELOVED, SUNG BY MESSRS. WALLER and CROSBY

If I needed proof that the world is miraculous, I would only have to think of the Beloved.  Mr. Waller explains:

Following her has increased my happiness beyond measure.  Mr. Crosby gives voice to my sentiments:

I hope all of you have a Beloved in your lives, a remarkable person with a deeply generous spirit.

And it was her idea that I start JAZZ LIVES.  So I might suggest that she has earned your gratitude as well as mine!

May your happiness increase!

AT THE VERY PEAK: MUSIC FROM THE STRIDE SUMMITS (DICK HYMAN, MIKE LIPSKIN, STEPHANIE TRICK, CLINT BAKER, PAUL MEHLING: Lesher Arts Center, August 24, 2013)

Stride piano, beautifully performed, is amazing.  For one, there is the simple athleticism required.  Try keeping your left hand moving (on a table) at a typical Waller tempo for three minutes without letting the tempo drop or accelerate. And movement in itself isn’t enough; the keyboard is more than a snare-drum head.
But it’s not simply a matter of pounding out single notes and chords (widely-spaced) in the left hand.  The best stride players understand that the form has within it the potential to become mechanical, so they create rhythmic tension between bass and treble; they vary dynamics; they add shade and light through chord voicings.
It’s rather like writing a sonnet: that iambic pentameter, those fourteen lines, that set rhyme scheme can be a prison or its apparent limitations can inspire the most dazzling creativity.
And stride duets are even more intense, more precarious: when they come off splendidly, it is beyond remarkable art and precision.
We are fortunate that even after the great stride triumvirate — Waller, James P., and the Lion — left us, there were many successors (think of Wellstood, Ewell, Sutton in the recent past) and there is a wonderfully creative gang of striders, here and globally, who continue to delight.
The form stretches across the generations.  In the Stride Summits held in Walnut Creek and San Francisco at the end of August 2013, concerts invented and sustained by Mike Lipskin, we had Stephanie Trick and Dick Hyman, separated by six decades . . . with Mike, Clint Baker, and Paul Mehling, nestled happily in the chronological middle.
Mike Lipskin — known to most as someone who learned from the Lion, from Eubie Blake, and many other elders, a fine pianist, singer, composer, and wit  — is also a diligent musical thinker, so his concerts don’t degenerate into Fast and Loud.  These three concerts were beautifully planned and the music was varied throughout.
The Beloved and I saw all three concerts (August 24-25) and enjoyed every note.  I was able to bring my camera to the Lesher Arts Center and although I recorded them from one side of the stage, then the other, “waiting in the wings” has never been such a pleasure.
Here is a handful of keys (and, yes, that is the first song) from these happy stride nights that didn’t take place uptown in Harlem some time in 1936 — but in our century.
Fats’s early showpiece, HANDFUL OF KEYS, by Dick and Mike:
Eubie Blake’s TROUBLESOME IVORIES, by Stephanie, who tames the keyboard with grace:
Rocking the house in a different way with BOOGIE WOOGIE STOMP by Stephanie and friends (who couldn’t stop themselves from joining in):
Serene and mystical — the early Gershwin theme, LULLABY, by Dick:
Pastoral ruminations in 3 / 4, with Fats’ JITTERBUG WALTZ, by Dick:
A tribute to James P. Johnson, the worthy patriarch, with OLD-FASHIONED LOVE / KEEP OFF THE GRASS, by Stephanie and Mike:
Pete Johnson’s DEATH RAY BOOGIE (inspired by early science fiction, films, or comic books, I wonder?), by Stephanie:
And something truly “ancient,” Cole Porter’s IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME, by Mike and Dick:
It was all right — and more — with three audiences, I assure you.
Did you miss these concerts?  You might have, since they were sold out very quickly.
But there’s good news.  “Mark it down,” as Billie said on MISS BROWN TO YOU.
There will be another Stride Summit at the positively gorgeous Filoli on August 10, 2014.  It is not too early to plan for this ecstatic happening.
P.S.  Dinah Lee also sang beautifully at the three concerts.  Sadly, the technical limitations of my camera prevented her from being shown off as she should be.  But there will be videos of Dinah to come!
May your happiness increase!

OUT OF THE CRADLE, ENDLESSLY ROCKING: MATT MUNISTERI at CORNELIA STREET CAFE (MATT RAY, DANTON BOLLER, Oct. 3, 2013)

More evidence of what everyone should know: that guitarist / singer / composer / arranger Matt Munisteri is blazingly yet subtly inventive in many kinds of music, transforming everything he touches into something sharp and new yet always full of the deepest human spirit.
Here he is with bassist Danton Boller and pianist Matt Ray at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City on October 3, 2013.
Much of the music performed that night was composed by Willard Robison — someone who, like Matt, turns a satiric eye on our rush to delude ourselves while offering us comfort in his melodies and hope that happiness and enlightenment are possible.
But the show wasn’t an archivist’s self-indulgence immersion in “the old stuff,” reproduced exactly from aged discs and crumbling pages.
Matt is far too imaginative for that, so each of the Robison songs was like a jewel in a new setting: I knew the melodies, but thought, “Wow!  I have really never heard that song before.”
The same was true for Nick Lucas’ PICKIN’ THE GUITAR, reminding us how brilliantly Matt plays that much-abused instrument.  The Sammy Cahn-Saul Chaplin GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOURSELF (which we usually associate with Willie “the Lion” Smith and O’Neil Spencer) receives a sharp modernist edge thanks to the new lyrics from Rachelle Garniez and Matt.
Matt was beautifully and wittily accompanied by pianist Matt and bassist Danton.  They swung and provided just-right commentaries and eloquent solos: this wasn’t three musicians together for the night behind their music stands, but a true band, a conversation among equals, rocking us towards deeper insights.
(WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME) IN THE MORNING:
COUNTRY BOY BLUES:
GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOURSELF:
PICKIN’ THE GUITAR:
STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS:
I HEARD A MOCKING BIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA:
REVOLVING JONES:
DEEP ELM:
‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO:
Walt Whitman would have approved: Matt’s spirit is expansive, fluid, encompassing us all.
May your happiness increase!

MICHAEL BANK and his SEPTET POINT THE WAY TO SWING (September 17, 2013)

I’ve admired the music and musical intelligence of pianist / composer / arranger Michael Bank for nearly ten years now — in live performance and on recordings. So I was very happy to see that he had a new CD, THE DAO OF SWING — aptly named — which you can read about here.

Compact discs are lovely, but live performances are thrilling in their own right.  I was delighted to learn, some weeks ago, that Michael would be bringing a septet to the Lower East Side of New York City.  The generous sponsor of the brief concert was Play-Diem, a nonprofit organization that promotes art of various kinds in New York parks and bandshells.  Thank you, Play-Diem!  Michael was joined by Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Noah Bless, trombone; Jay Rattman, alto; Andrew Hadro, baritone; Matt Smith, guitar; Trifon Dimitrov, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Their music was and is inspiring.  I hear wonderful echoes — at an idiosyncratic tilt, not copies — of Ellington and Hodges, Jaki Byard and what I would call Modernist Swing, where the rhythm is seriously rocking while unusual things take place above and around it.  You can hear and see for yourself — as the band rocks against the sky with the invisible East River below.

A memorably swinging mood piece, Michael’s ALTAIR:

Talk about swinging!  Here’s ROCKVILLE, a Johnny Hodges blues:

Michael’s evocative and evocatively-titled FALL AND RISE:

Jaki Byard’s accurately-named ONE NOTE:

May your happiness increase!

GET MELLOW, YOU DOGS: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, JOHN ALLRED, MURRAY WALL, WARREN VACHÉ, MENNO DAAMS, SHANNON BARNETT, HARVEY TIBBS at THE EAR INN (October 6, 2013)

I was too exhilarated on the evening of October 6, 2013, to put my feelings into words.  The music played at The Ear Inn — the second set of one of the EarRegulars’ Sunday-night revival meetings in swing — was extraordinary.

The EarRegulars on their own are a splendid group — led by trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and featuring guitarist Matt Munisteri — with an extensive coterie of gifted friends who send us creative gifts Sunday after Sunday.  This Sunday the quartet began with John Allred, trombone, and Pat O’Leary, string bass.

The guests were a brassy bunch (with the exception of string bassist Murray Wall): Warren Vaché (imported from New Jersey) and Menno Daams (from the Netherlands), cornets; Shannon Barnett (from Australia) and Harvey Tibbs (from uptown), trombones.

The second set was a glorious yet expert conversation — friendly musical dialogues at the highest level.  Yes, the solo playing was brilliant, but the easy mastery of the common language (riffs, backgrounds) was just as thrilling.

The first selection here was suggested by an elegant woman from Edinburgh whose name eluded me (I hope she reads this blog so I may identify her properly).  Her jazz credentials are perfect, for she asked for Herschel Evans’ line for the Basie band of 1937-9, DOGGIN’ AROUND.  A sextet of brilliant players assembled: from the left, Warren, Menno, Jon-Erik, John (in the front line); Murray and Matt in the rear:

And as if four horns weren’t enough, how about a few trombones for IN A MELLOTONE?  Warren left for New Jersey after dramatically taking some bills out of his pocket, stuffing them into Phillup DeBucket and announcing loudly, “Tip the band, you cheap _____!” and vanishing into the night.

Menno, Jon-Erik, Shannon, John, Harvey, Murray, and Matt rocked not only The Ear Inn but probably the entire five-borough area.

Mellowly!

Before this set at The Ear Inn, I had been at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room (56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn) to experience the beauty of Abigail Riccards singing and Michael at the piano.  The very moving evidence is here.

An amazing evening.

May your happiness increase!