Monthly Archives: October 2013

SWEET MAGIC: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN at THE DRAWING ROOM (October 6, 2013)

Singer Abigail Riccards and pianist Michael Kanan are a special pair. Their gently fresh approach to great songs is revelatory: they proceed wisely and tenderly.  I find myself thinking, “Have I ever truly heard that song before?  I know STARDUST, but have I ever heard it so completely realized?”  They enhance rather than distort; they embody Ezra Pound’s artistic manifesto for Modernism — MAKE IT NEW — without dishonoring the original intent of the music or words.

What Abigail and Michael create springs from gracious courage: the sweet bravery of souls leaping into the unknown and enacting beauty for us.  Magic without tricks.  Although Abigail sounds as if she is just offering the words and notes, as casual as a note left on the refrigerator door, she is a cunning subtle actress, whose speaking delivery carries great feeling and meaning in every phrase.  Michael Kanan lights our path in every way: the most gracious of men, at the keyboard and otherwise.

I was fortunate enough to witness their tender shape-changing on October 6 at Michael’s new studio, The Drawing Room, 56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn.  Here is the first set.  One marvel unfolds after another.

As an aside — ordinarily I edit out some of the conversation between songs.  In this case, since Abigail is devilishly witty — a splendid improvising comedienne, too — I have left everything as my camera recorded it.

I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

WHERE OR WHEN:

THE MORE I SEE YOU:

STARDUST:

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN:

BLUE SKIES:

WHAT’LL I DO?

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

LUCKY TO BE ME:

We are the lucky ones, because we live where such beauty flourishes.

May your happiness increase!

PERFECTLY WILD: MENNO DAAMS and EHUD ASHERIE at The Knickerbocker, New York (October 8, 2013)

I’ve always thought that wonderful things are happening while I am sleeping, missing out on them. Possibly a neurotic idea, but occasionally the evidence confirms it.

Last night, Tuesday, October 8, 2013, pianist Ehud Asherie had another week of his regular solo piano gig at The Knickerbocker on 33 University Place, New York City.  That in itself would be an excellent thing: Ehud is a masterful improviser whose imagination roams around the entirety of jazz.  He has a classical touch and a deeply wry sense of humor.  And he never ever forgets how to swing!

But Ehud had a friend — someone dear to me, the Dutch trumpeter Menno Daams.  (To be accurate, he brought his cornet.)  And his lovely wife — that’s no cliche — Ineke Rienks, captured the duo’s performance of WILD MAN BLUES.

You would think with that title that wild unbridled passion would be governing their art, but to create wildness, or the impression of it, a great deal of expert mastery, of fierce restraint is needed.  Dionysiac wildness would know little of bar lines, chord changes, or sympathetic accompaniment. Menno and Ehud are so skilled at evoking the tradition as a way of singing their own individualistic songs.  Although the room in this shot looks empty, it was filled with the admiring spirits of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Henry Red Allen, Rex Stewart, Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Bud Powell . . . and more.  And first among equals?  Ehud Asherie.  Menno Daams.

As a postscript.  People who know me have noted my recent but powerfully-growing love of California (specifically Marin and the Bay Area) and the people, jazz friends and others.  But often during the preceding week  (Menno’s trip to New York, hanging out with Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, Becky Kilgore, Ed Metz, Jim Czak, John Post, and Bill Moss; hearing Warren Vache, Shannon Barnett, Harvey Tibbs, and others sit in with the Munisteri-Kellso EarRegulars at The Ear Inn; hearing Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan in Brooklyn) . . . I think that New York is putting up a really good fight.  “You like Marin?  You enjoy the farmers’ market?  You’ve made friends with all sorts of people, from Sam Rocha to Beck Ringle?  You’ve heard wonderful music?  Fine, Michael!  Let New York show you what WE can do . . . .!”  Tune in tomorrow, boys and girls.  Who knows what will happen next?

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ COMES UP TOMS RIVER (Wednesdays at 8)

To survive and prosper, jazz needs musicians — wise and heartfelt — and audiences who have the same qualities.  But it also needs venues and promoters who will make it possible for musicians to improvise where people can hear them. We’ve had Norman Granz; George Wein is still with us.  But a new face has entered the scene, with characteristic enthusiasm.  Ricky Riccardi, whom we know and love as Louis Armstrong scholar and archivist, writer and blogger, pianist and enthusiast — has begun producing a series of concerts in Toms River, New Jersey, that begins this Wednesday at 8 with a concert by Mona’s Hot Four: Dennis Lichtman, Jared Engel, Gordon Webster, Nick Russo — AND — Tamar Korn.  Future concerts will present Dan Levinson, Mike Davis, Kevin Dorn, Molly Ryan, and others.  For information, click here.  For video evidence of just how wonderful Mona’s Hot Four (this time with guests) is, try here.

Toms River, New Jersey, isn’t noted reverently in the jazz histories as the Cradle or even the Bassinet of Jazz.  But things will change!

May your happiness increase!

FIVE, PERHAPS SIX

At the very end of August 2013, I wrote the blogpost below, urging and reminding people to come to the Classic Jazz Party in Whitley Bay, England. The organizers must have been to a furniture store — I thought the seats were all gone by now — but I am told there are five, perhaps six places left.  If you are reading this somewhere far away from Newcastle, UK, your sole responsibility and pleasure is to skip to the end and watch ECCENTRIC.  But if it is at all possible for you to attend the 2013 party, I think you will be sad if you don’t. Enough said.

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 GOOD ANSWER! (JON BURR, HOWARD ALDEN, MENNO DAAMS) Hotel Edison, October 4, 2013)

I fell into conversation with a musician at a gig last week — we were both early and he did me the great courtesy of taking me seriously as I set up my video camera.  “Why do you listen to this music?” he asked.

I gave him my usual and true answer: it was possible for me to hear and listen to Louis Armstrong from my childhood on.  He looked sternly at me and said, “That‘s not an answer.”

I was shocked and thought: how dare you, Sir, suggest that my earliest experiences of the music were in some ways not sufficient rationale for my joy in it now?

But I gathered myself and said, after a pause, “This music makes me feel even more how fortunate we are to be alive.”  He paused, too, then said, almost with reverence, “That’s an answer.”

Here is a physical embodiment of that answer: a performance that makes me feel so joyous, music that balances all the unseemly race to false happiness we find in the world, music that says, “It will be all right.  Beauty is possible.  Here we are to spread joy.”

Bassist, composer, and bandleader Jon Burr has a weekly gig — something I hadn’t known of — in the lounge of the Hotel Edison on Fridays, approximately 4 to 6 PM.  The Edison is between Broadway and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, between 46th and 47th Street.  I was accustomed to enter the hotel from the south side, 211 West 46th, but the music is most easily accessed from the north.

For this Friday, Jon was in tandem (and that cliche is true) with guitarist Howard Alden, and the ever-resourceful trumpeter Menno Daams — in New York City with his wife Ineke on a visit from the Netherlands — combined to become the essential Count Basie band (no piano, no tuxedos needed) for SHINY STOCKINGS.  They are my heroes and they need no armor.

If you don’t feel better after this performance, email me at swingyoucats@gmail.com and we’ll talk.

Thank you so much, Jon, Howard, and Menno.  You brought a new kind of love to us!

May your happiness increase!

SWEET THOUGHTS OF HOME: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, MARTY GROSZ, FRANK TATE, JOHN VON OHLEN at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (September 22, 2013)

Lester Young said that sweetness was at the core of his music.  He would have loved the performance below: a sweet floating generous world shared with us in two minutes and twenty seconds.

The facts: this performance was the penultimate one in the long deliriously happy weekend that was Jazz at Chautauqua 2013.  The marvelous players: Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums.  The song is from WONDERFUL TOWN — music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.  And the two-part harmony is a loving tribute to the original idea of the song, sung by two homesick sisters.  But enough facts!

I find that incredibly touching and heartfelt and expert and witty and deep. And when people say, “Michael, are you going to Jazz at Chautauqua again this year?” they will now understand better why I get this determined happy look on my face and say, “I wouldn’t — I couldn’t — miss it for the world.”

One more paragraph.  I have been listening to jazz records since childhood, and to jazz in person since 1967.  A long glorious span of time, you will agree. Records and cassettes and compact discs have the advantage of being tangible.  You can always replay them until you wear them out.  But live performance is more evanescent.

The best music — the most lasting music — will stay alive in my head as long as I am conscious.

This performance of OHIO is so dear, so memorable to me.  I shall never forget it.

Blessings on everyone here.  And to all my viewers.  May you always have a wonderful town, a wonderful home to go to.

May your happiness increase! 

BUNNY BERIGAN IN HIS ELEMENT: “SWINGIN’ AND JUMPIN’ 1937-39”

Any documentation of an artist’s work may be distant from the day-to-day reality of the work.  In the case of the noble trumpeter Bunny Berigan, many of his admirers understandably focus on those record sessions where he is most out in the open — aside from the Victor I CAN’T GET STARTED, the small-group recordings with Holiday, Norvo, Bailey, the Boswell Sisters, Bud Freeman, Fats Waller, and so on.  Some, rather like those who listen to Whiteman for Bix, delve into hot dance / swing band sides for Bunny’s solos: I know the delightful shock of hearing a Fred Rich side and finding a Berigan explosion when the side is nearly over.

But the Berigan chronology — on display in Michael Zirpolo’s superb book, MR. TRUMPET — as well as the discography shows that Bunny spent much of his life as a player and (too infrequently) a singer with large ensembles: studio groups, Whiteman, Hal Kemp, Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, before forming his own big band for the last six years of his very short life.

Ignoring Berigan’s big band records would be unthinkable, even for someone not choosing to hear everything.  Goodman’s KING PORTER STOMP and SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY, the Dorsey MARIE and SONG OF INDIA; Berigan’s own Victors.  Of course, like other bandleaders of the time, he was required to record a fairly substantial assortment of thin material.  Almost always, Berigan bravely transcends what the song-pluggers insisted he record.

Even the bands that came through well on records sounded better in live performance.  There is something chilly about a recording studio, especially when there are more than a dozen people trying to play arrangements flawlessly, that occasionally holds back the explorer’s courage. So if one wants to hear what a band was capable of, one must rely on recordings of radio broadcasts (and the much rarer on-location recordings from a dance date, such as the Ellington band at Fargo, North Dakota — itself a miracle).  Radio was consoling in its apparent evanescence; if you made a mistake, it was there and gone.  Who knew, fluffling a note nationwide, that someone with a disc cutter in Minneapolis was recording it for posterity?

Up to this point, there has been a small but solid collection of Berigan “live” material on vinyl — a good deal of it issued by Jerry Valburn and Bozy White in their prime.  I cannot offer my experience as comprehensive, but I recall listening to many of those recordings and enjoying their rocking intensity, but often waiting until Bunny took the solo.  But there were worlds of music I and others were unaware of.

BUNNY HEP

A new CD release on the Hep label, “BUNNY BERIGAN: SWINGIN’ AND JUMPIN'” is a delight all through.  It collects seventy-one minutes of material from 1937-39, nicely varied between well-played pop tunes and jazz classics. An extensive booklet with notes by the Berigan expert Michael Zirpolo (and some unusual photographs) completes the panorama.  Eleven of the nineteen selections have never been issued before, and there is a snippet of Bunny speaking.  The sound (under the wise guidance of Doug Pomeroy) is splendid.

Listening to this music is an especially revealing experience.  Stories of Berigan’s alcoholism are so much a part of his mythic chronicle that many listeners — from a distance — tend to think of him as helplessly drunk much of the time, falling into the orchestra pit, a musician made barely competent by his dependence on alcohol.

No one can deny that Berigan shortened his life by his illness . . . but the man we hear on these sides is not only a glorious soloist but a spectacular leader of the trumpet section and a wonderful bandleader.  The band itself is a real pleasure, with memorable playing from George Auld (in his energetic pre-Ben Webster phase — often sounding like a wild version of Charlie Barnet), George Wettling, Johnny Blowers, and Buddy Rich, Ray Conniff and others.

One could play excerpts from these recordings — skipping Berigan’s solos — and an astute listener to the music of the late Thirties would be impressed by the fine section work and good overall sound of the band.  The “girl singers” are also charming: no one has to apologize for Gail Reese, for one.

Did I say that Berigan’s trumpet playing is consistently spectacular?  If it needs to be said, let that be sufficient.  A number of times in these recordings, he takes such dazzling chances — and succeeds — that I found myself replaying performances in amazement.  Only Louis and Roy, I think, were possessed of such masterful daring.

And we are spared RINKA TINKA MAN in favor of much better material: MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, THEY ALL LAUGHED, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, BIG JOHN SPECIAL, LOUISIANA, TREES, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, SHANGHAI  SHUFFLE, HOW’D YOU LIKE TO LOVE ME?, and some hot originals.

This disc doesn’t simply add more than an hour of music to most people’s Berigan collection: it corrects and sharpens the picture many have of him. Even if you care little for mythic portraiture, you will find much to like here. It is available here.  To learn more about the wonderful story of how this music came to be in our hands and, even better, to hear an excerpt from ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, click here.

May your happiness increase! 

MIKE, SPIKE, and MURRAY GO EXPLORING (Smalls, September 10, 2013)

No, it’s not a buddy movie or a children’s book.  It’s Michael Hashim (saxophones); Spike Wilner (piano); Murray Wall (string bass) in recital at Smalls on West Tenth Street in New York City on September 10, 2013.  And the explorations are in the mail gentle, melodic searches — although Michael has such a broad expressive range (from Fifties rhythm and blues to sweet Hodges laments) that any group he is part of is bound to have many identities.  Spike is such a splendid shape-shifter himself at the keys: entirely unafraid but totally in love with melodic improvisation; with Murray at the bass, we can all breathe easy — in lovely flexible four-four time, heartbeat-based.

Here are a dozen beauties from that evening.

Perhaps thinking of Ben and Tatum? GONE WITH THE WIND:

Definitely thinking of Ben: it’s his minor blues, POUTIN’:

In honor of Cole Porter, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Louis — not always in that order, I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA:

Definitely in honor of Louis!  SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

An unusual and unusually rich Ellington trilogy, beginning with I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU:

Going back to 1927 for BLACK AND TAN FANTASY:

And the rarely played COP-OUT:

Back to Bing and Hawkins for the lovely 1934 WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE:

Jobim’s USELESS LANDSCAPE:

Fats’ (and Maurice Waller’s) JITTERBUG WALTZ:

“Bond.  James Bond.”  The soundtrack to a late-Sixties childhood, GOLDFINGER:

Running diagonally in Manhattan and always swinging, BROADWAY:

What spaciousness!  Three melodists on the loose, roaming the galaxy and bringing back treasures of their own making.

May your happiness increase!

MAKE MINE MUNISTERI (Cornelia Street Cafe, October 3, 2013)

Very few artists are awarded the recognition they deserve.  It isn’t a matter of dying penniless and tubercular in a garret, or freezing to death on the street.  No, it’s usually more subtle: publicity, gigs, opportunities to create the art somewhere where people are listening.

I think one of the most worthy creators of music I know is guitarist / singer / arranger / composer / visionary Matt Munisteri.  I have been following him with admiration and sometimes awe for the last seven years, and he always offers beautiful surprises.  Sometimes it is a piece of obscure material (his range is both broad and deep); sometimes it’s familiar music brought back from the grave of familiarity.  His guitar (and banjo) playing makes wise musicians nod their heads in delight; his singing is a wry but heartfelt joy.  He reminds us just how much music there still is — in a time and place where we are used to hearing simply a dull thrumming coming from the next fellow’s earbuds.

I write all this to urge people in New York and environs to come to a rare and special gig — Matt’s first New York City show of 2013.  It’s happening thus Thursday, October 3, at the Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia Street, Manhattan, New York, from 8:30 to 10:30.

Matt will be appearing there with Danton Boller and Matt Ray — good fellows, loyal, faithful, and true.  And I know that this trio will make memorable music.  You can make reservations (the CSC is not a huge place, so expect it will sell out) only by phone: 212-989-9319.  Here you can find out more information.

May your happiness increase!