Monthly Archives: November 2013

THIS ONE’S FOR PATTI: SWEET MUSIC FROM THE 2012 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY

If you know anything about the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (formerly known as the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival) you can’t help being fond of and admiring Patti Durham.  She continues to be a loving presence, a truly dear friend to many people.  So “this one’s for Patti”: one of her favorite songs, performed at the 2012 Party.

GUILTY is one of those pretty, emotive early-Thirties ballads associated with Al Bowlly.  Here, it’s performed by the emotionally compelling (and always swinging) Spats Langham, vocal and guitar; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Emma Fisk, violin; Norman Field, reeds; Martin Litton, piano;  Manu Hagmann, string bass; Richard Pite, drums.  And as the performance goes along, I always imagine a meeting of Bowlly with a mid-Thirties Teddy Wilson band . . . an alternate universe in the Brunswick studios, where sweet meets swing:

Thank you, dear Patti, for inspiring us in so many ways.

May your happiness increase!

SWING IS HERE: HARRY ALLEN, DAN BLOCK, HOWARD ALDEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, JOHN VON OHLEN at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (September 19, 2013)

These six musicians — friends and colleagues, brothers in swing  — formed a heartening community for us at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend. Harry Allen and Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums, brought us singing melodies, intertwining lines, a gracefully flowing rhythm section, a sweet inventiveness, music that never grows stale.  No sompetition here, just harmony.

A beautifully floating exploration of Ray Noble’s THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS (the unsolicited interjection, “Nice baby,” at the start, comes from the lips of Marty Grosz, walking by, who somehow connected me — intent on my camera — with Milt Gross.  Who can tell?):

Irving Berlin’s stirring declaration of love, THE BEST THING FOR YOU (WOULD BE ME):

I WANT A LITTLE  GIRL, with sweet references to Lester, Eddie Durham, and the Kansas City Six:

And, to close, a compact but still romping FOUR BROTHERS:

And a postscript.

One of the fans arose noisily, declaring, “I didn’t come here to listen to that bebop!” and left in a huff. What can one say?  I, too, admire AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL — but there are worlds and worlds of creativity and gratification to be experienced — as displayed by Messrs. Von Ohlen, Tate, Sportiello, Alden, Block, and Allen.

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL STUFF, ONE FLIGHT UP: CARL SONNY LEYLAND,KIM CUSACK, BEAU SAMPLE, ALEX HALL: “STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS”

When it comes to food, we might not know how to create something authentic in the kitchen, but we certainly know what the real thing tastes like, whether it’s a tomato from the garden, genuine ethnic cuisine, or good home cooking.  It doesn’t have to be fancy: a slice of good bread is true nourishment.

Deciding what’s “authentic,” “the real stuff,” “the truth,” in jazz or any other art form can be exhausting, sure to create debate among the faithful.

But most of us would agree that we admire musicians who not only know their instruments superbly, but can make music that is both deep and intuitive — playing from the heart, evoking joy, sorrow, creating melodies while keeping the rhythm moving.  We want to remember the music once the applause has died down, once the disc has faded into silence.

Pianist / singer / composer Carl Sonny Leyland and reed master Kim Cusack are authentic through and through.  Their music comes from deep experience and deep feeling: it conveys the wonderful balance of exuberance or grief and the craft to express it fully and convey it whole to us.  Thanks to Bryan Wright’s Rivermont Records, we can experience their casual assurance first-hand in a new quartet recording, STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS, where they are given the best support from bassist Beau Sample and drummer Alex Hall — names familiar to anyone who’s delighted in the Fat Babies.

Carl-Kim CD FinalSome compact discs charm us initially but pall after a few songs.  Not this one. It’s a series of delights — the songs take us to different places without administering violent shocks, and the sound is reassuringly natural.  The songs are AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING / BLUE PRELUDE* / CHEROKEE / CORRINE CORRINA* / IF I HAD YOU / THE BLUE ROOM / UPSTAIRS BOOGIE / WE THREE* / THE LOVE NEST / TANGERINE / RAMBLIN’ MIND BLUES / WHISPERING / TELL IT TO THE JUDGE.

Starting from the back, the rhythm playing couldn’t be better: the right notes, the best harmonies, a light yet powerful beat.  Beau and Alex don’t use or need attention-getting tricks: they play for the band in the most reassuring, uplifting ways.  

I have heard Kim on clarinet (in person) for the past few years, and admire his playing greatly: a sweet-tart evocation of people like Darnell Howard — with no affectations, no showing-off, just heart, intelligence, wit, and power. But I hadn’t ever heard Kim play alto saxophone before, and on this often-abused instrument he is a little-celebrated master: you’ll have to hear him to know what I mean.

And Mister Leyland.  I’ve had the privilege of learning from him at every performance, taking lessons in creativity, intensity, relaxation, and joy.  But I fear that some casual listeners have already decided the little boxes he fits in to: “boogie-woogie pianist” and “blues singer.”  Yes, but no.  Carl Sonny Leyland is a great improvising jazz artist and a wonderfully moving singer: hear his WE THREE and BLUE PRELUDE to understand that he is delivering the best messages straight to our hearts.

The band — as a quartet — knows how to do the cakewalk, how to rock that thing, how to swing their upstairs room so that the house is swaying, how to feel a ballad, how to have a good time.  STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS is a small flat package of infinitely expandable pleasure — with two extra added attractions. One, perhaps only record collectors will appreciate — but the format of the back cover is a hilariously exact homage to a Columbia Records design circa 1954. You’ll know it when you see it.  And the liner notes, written by Mister Leyland, are just like him: wry, perceptive, funny, never pretentious.

I have a wall of compact discs and more music than I can possibly ever listen to again, but I’ve been playing STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS regularly and frequently.     

Here is the Rivermont Records’ page where you can hear samples of seven of the songs . . . and where you can buy the CD.  I predict you will want to do just that.  (And no one at Rivermont would be upset if you browsed around their other offerings, featuring a wide variety of good sounds — archival and modern.)

May your happiness increase!

MISTER KRIS AND MISTER TEA

The story of Jack Teagarden’s appearance in New York in 1927 has the feeling of legend.  At a speakeasy, the young man from Texas astonishes everyone with a solo rendition of DIANE, then the blues.  Teagarden didn’t live long enough for anyone’s taste, but in the years that followed he continued to astonish and please musicians and audiences with his remarkable combination of relaxed ease and wondrous technical mastery.

Fast forward: I first encountered the brilliant young Norwegian trombonist Kristoffer Kompen at the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival in 2011.  (I’d heard him first on the UNION RHYTHM KINGS compact disc — learn more here and here on this blog.  Type in “Kompen” in the search box on JAZZ LIVES, you can see and hear him play.)

Initially, Kris came on roaring like J.C. Higginbotham in the latter’s most fiery 1929-40 form.  I saw musicians staring at him in delighted wonder while he played, and I imagined them thinking, “Who is he?  Where did he come from?  And how does he play so well at his age?”

Yes, it is a critical cliche to call a young player “astonishingly mature,” but in Kris’s case the phrase is accurate.  He will be thirty in 2014 (I pause to let those numbers sink in).  He plays with a young man’s energy and delight . . . but with the intelligence, feeling, restraint, and taste of a much older player.

When he performed a tribute to Teagarden at last year’s Whitley Bay, it was again astonishing.  Without repeating Big T’s solos note-for-note, he had absorbed the glossy tone, the seemingly endless flow of ideas, the flying inventiveness, the deep sonorities, the wellsprings of feeling that were the heart of Teagarden’s style, on an uptempo LOVER or a slow blues.

I am delighted to report to you that Kris’ second CD has appeared on the Herman label (the creation of our friend Trygve Hernaes), recorded in April 2013 in Oslo — it’s called A TRIBUTE TO JACK TEAGARDEN, and it truly lives up to its name.  Jack didn’t sound like anyone else when he appeared, and Kris has accomplished the great art of playing himself while honoring the Master.

It’s not imitation but homage, and it’s beautiful throughout.

On the disc, he’s aided by a sweetly intuitive rhythm section, and the vocals are taken by the guitarist Borre Frydenlund, who manages to summon up Jack’s depths without copying him precisely.  The songs are all first-rate choices: BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES / LOVER / A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY / DIANE / NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN / LOVE ME / OLD FOLKS / I SWUNG THE ELECTION / MIS’RY AND THE BLUES / SWINGIN’ ON THE TEAGARDEN GATE / STARS FELL ON ALABAMA.

Here is STARS FELL ON ALABAMA from the CD:

And a live version of MIS’RY AND THE BLUES:

A live version of LOVER, which begins with The Master:

You can find out more about Kris, his many selves (as a composer, too)

here, and you can order the CD here.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC IN THE AIR: STEVE WRIGHT, RAY SKJELBRED, CANDACE BROWN, DAVE BROWN (October 3, 2013)

Thirty years ago, if you had told me that a quartet — Steve Wright (cornet, reeds), Ray Skjelbred (piano), Candace Brown (banjo, guitar), Dave Brown (string bass) had performed in a restaurant in Washington (a place beyond my reach at the moment), my thoughts would have run something like this, “Oh, I wish I had been there.  I wish I had heard them play.  Maybe someday they will make a record together and I can purchase it?”

The technology that we take for granted in this century, which can be so irritating at its worst, has made my wistful questions irrelevant.

Here are video-recordings of this delightful hot band on the job on October 3, 2013: the First Thursday Jazz Band at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington.  The associations reach far and wide: a jealous lover bent on vengeance, a Southern railroad line; Sigmund Romberg, Red McKenzie, Pee Wee Russell, boogie-woogie, Bing Crosby, Bix Beiderbecke, Irving Berlin, Earl Hines, King Oliver, and many other mythical figures — who come to life in the sounds of this quartet.

HELLO, LOLA:

LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

A very sweet WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD:

Asking the perennial question, HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY?:

A thoughtful BLUES IN THIRDS:

Ray plays Mary Lou Williams’ OVERHAND:

A romping YELLOW DOG BLUES:

The generous Mister Wright has also posted other videos on YouTube — see them here and on his Facebook page.

May your happiness increase!

A MUSICAL LOVE LETTER: “JUST IMAGINE,” REBECCA KILGORE, ANDY SCHUMM, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, JOHN VON OHLEN at CHAUTAUQUA (September 22, 2013)

Because we are saturated with music in so many forms, we might take it lightly, perhaps for granted.  “Oh, that band did that song well.”

But how many understand what’s involved in these performances?

Like any other art, music stirs feelings.  It makes us feel at home in a community of people who understand beauty; it makes us feel joyous or melancholy; it sends its messages to our ears, brain, and heart.

The singers and musicians give us the gift of their art — an instant message of love.

But “making us feel” is not so simple.  It’s not a matter of simply announcing what emotion you want your audience to feel, and then expecting them to supply it from their own experience.  “Being at one with the song” is easier proclaimed than accomplished.

Great art is also a matter of technical skill (ask anyone who’s attempted to sing in public, to keep time, to stay on pitch), and matters more subtle: taste, restraint, knowing what not to do, what will be appropriate to the mood of the song, understanding the world in which the song exists and doing those very subtle things to send the message — intact — to us.

When everything is in alignment, something miraculous happens. We might not be able to describe it or why it moves us so, but we know we have witnessed something far beyond the ordinary “good performance” of a “nice song” that we “liked.”

I offer this recent video-recording of a live performance as evidence, a reminder of what is possible.  For me, it is also telling that the artists here couldn’t retire for the day, having created a small wistful masterpiece: they had to go on to the next song of the set.

This remarkable performance took place on September 22, 2013, the closing day of the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua party.  The chosen text was a tender 1929 ballad by DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson — JUST IMAGINE — its premise being that the singer cannot have the person she loves in reality, so that she creates the fantasy of his being there:  a delicate poetic notion, that the dreamed-for ideal is far better than despair at one’s inability to make one’s dreams take tangible form.

The song has Beiderbeckian associations, through a post-Bix Victor recording by the Jean Goldkette Orchestra.  But enough history.

The masterful musicians onstage are Rebecca Kilgore (song), Andy Schumm (cornet), Dan Barrett (trombone), Rossano Sportiello (pian0), Frank Tate (string bass), John Von Ohlen (drums):

I am so grateful to Rebecca, Andy, Dan, Rossano, Frank, and John for their beautiful delicacy — quiet music with intense feeling that lands in our hearts and stays there.  And I am delighted to be able to send this small musical miracle to you.  In notes, words, and pulses, these six artists send love.

May your happiness increase!

CATLETT, COTTON, ELLINGTON, BIGARD . . . ALSO FEATURING JACK OAKIE.

I’ve been eBaying — looking at the surprises offered for sale.

First, a piece of sheet music tied in to a 1946 record date for the Manor label — with Pete Johnson, Sidney Catlett, Jimmy Shirley, and Gene Ramey.  I had never heard of the Duchess Music Publishers, perhaps an attempt to connect with a hoped-for hit record.  The arranger’s name caught my eye:

ARRANGED BY SID CATLETT

Notice that someone energetically claimed ownership of this sheet.

Then, some paper ephemera connected to the downtown Cotton Club.  I know the name is demeaning, and the club wouldn’t admit patrons of color, but with such music and those prices, one could ignore those facts:

COTTON CLUB front

Don’t forget to give the card to the headwaiter (decades before email):

COTTON CLUB rear

The Perfect Evening, no argument:

COTTON CLUB 2

And Bill Robinson:

COTTON CLUB 4

Did you know Jack Oakie was so talented? This is a publicity still for the 1934 film MURDER AT THE VANITIES, with two very recognizable musicians:

DUKE 1934 front

Ah, show business!

May your happiness increase!

“SWEETIE DEAR”: MIKE LIPSKIN AT THE PIANO (August 15, 2013)

Authenticity is immediately recognizable, no matter where one finds it.

Hearing Mike Lipskin at the piano, it’s immediately evident that he didn’t learn his stride from a DVD or a book of transcriptions.  No, he lived and breathed it as a young man — studying with Willie “the Lion” Smith, learning from Cliff Jackson, Willie Gant, and by playing alongside such modern masters as Dick Hyman (their friendship goes back 45 years and continues to this day).  Experience and improvisation rather than copying gestures and figures.

Although Mike is seriously influenced by the great players who were the Lion’s contemporaries — James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Don Lambert — and later generations, his style is much more than pastiche: he has his own sound, a steady yet flexible pace, delicious voicings, a nimble tread at the keyboard.

In addition, Mike is a humorist at play: in any performance, there will be playful surprises — modulations up a step or down, key changes for a few bars, and more.  Anything to keep the terrain from becoming too level and too predictable.

The Beloved and I had the great good fortune to hear a mini-recital by Mike, happily at his own piano in his Nicasio home (with the very loving audience including his wife, the swinging Dinah Lee).  Here’s one of the highlights: Mike’s solo rendition of SWEETIE DEAR, composed by Joe Jordan, most well-known for the quick one-step recording from 1932 by Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier, and Hank Duncan (as the New Orleans Feetwarmers) — riffing seriously all the way through:

Mike’s version is calmer, although subtly propulsive.  In the great piano tradition, his sweet improvisation begins in affectionate rubato mode (love can’t be rushed), moves into a strolling tempo, and then to a jaunt before settling down for a conclusion.

On the West Coast, Mike can be found at Bix Restaurant and Pier 23 in San Francisco, and there will be another Stride Summit in Filoli in 2014.  You can keep up with him on his Facebook page or website.

He brings joy, and young players should be coming to study him.  He has much to share with us — not only about music but about joy.

And if you missed the Stride Summits of August 2013, or the resulting videos, you have only to click here to admire Mike amidst his friends Dick Hyman, Stephanie Trick, Clint Baker, and Paul Mehling.  Swing, you cats!

May your happiness increase!

STOMPING AT WHITLEY BAY (November 2013)

First, the theme song of the overtired jet-lagged jazz blogger:

Having offered that, I proceed to the reason for the joyous exhaustion: my visit (with video camera and notebook) to the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party. To tell all the tale would tax my five wits, but the music — small concerts in the main ballroom, plus rehearsals and jam sessions in the Victory Pub — was engrossing.  As I write this, more than three hundred videos are up-or-downloading.  And many of them will be shared with what I know is a fervent audience.

Speaking of that audience, I met a number of most grateful and devoted JAZZ LIVES readers in person, always a very heartwarming experience.  I said to more than one person, “It means so much to me to know that real people are out there, that I am spending hours in front of the computer so that _____ can see and enjoy this performance.”  Thank you all, those people I’ve met and those yet to be encountered.

I’ve been attending the banquets of music put on at the Village Newcastle in England since 2009 — first, the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, now the Classic Jazz Party — and they have always delighted and enlightened. They continue to reflect the spirit of their departed founder, Mike Durham, who felt that if the music was not presented in its historical context, then that history would be lost.  So these weekends have always offered us something more elaborate than six people on the stand having a good time playing the blues or a ballad medley: mini-concerts that are often highly educational although never tedious.

On paper, it might look as if one had wandered into a living jazz museum — the Hot Tate, for instance.  But since “museum” has immediate associations of antiquity, with the treasures safely packed away, visible but out of reach, I think the Classic Jazz Party is more properly compared to a wondrously shape-changing repertory company.  One hour, Matthias Seuffert is Johnny Dodds; another, he has reappeared as Coleman Hawkins, then Lester Young, which is the jazz equivalent of seeing Olivier one night as Iago, then next as Stanley Kowalski, a third as Everyman.

This year, there was a lively hour of Jelly Roll Morton, a swinging evocation of the early Basie band, two sessions of Ellington (Twenties, then late Thirties), a lovely reincarnation of the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks — where else would such a thing happen? — an hour with the 1929-31 Luis Russell band.  There were also more informal tributes to Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, Coleman Hawkins, Stuff Smith and Eddie South, Bix Beiderbecke, Eddie Condon and the Chicagoans, Harry Reser, Ray Noble and Al Bowlly, Jabbo Smith, Fats Waller and his Rhythm, Bessie Smith, Johnny Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers, Tiny Parham, the California Ramblers, Clarence Williams Jazz Kings, King Oliver in New York, British dance bands, the Jimmie Noone Apex Club Orchestra, and more . . . torch songs and cheerful songs from the Great Depression, solo piano recitals, two outings for Jeff and Anne Barnhart’s Ivory and Gold, and more.  The program lists thirty-eight separate sessions, including the nocturnal happenings in the Victory Pub, which (I am told) continued well past 2:30 AM.

The players and singers were:

Bent Persson, Duke Heitger, Andy Schumm, Ben Cummings, Andy Woon, Torstein Kubban, Kristoffer Kompen, Alistair Allan, Graham Hughes, Aurélie Tropez, Stéphane Gillot, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Claus Jacobi, Matthias Seuffert, Lars Frank, Frans Sjostrom, Keith Nichols, Jeff Barnhart, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Martin Seck, Spats Langham, Henry Lemaire, Jacob Ullberger, Roly Veitch, Richard Pite, Henry Lemaire, Malcolm Sked, Phil Rutherford, Jean-Philippe Palma, Josh Duffee, Julien Richard, Nick Ward, Emma Fisk, Daryl Sherman, Cecile McLorin Salvant.

I won’t single out individual performers — that would take more energy than I have at the moment — but the music ranged from excellent to enthralling.

Thanks to all the musicians, to Mike Durham, to Patti Durham, to Julio and Jonathan, and to pals Bob and Bobbie, Ron and Ellen, Peter and his saxophone, to Michel Bastide, to Emrah and Pascal,to Norman Field,  to Mary B. and John Carstairs Hallam . . . and more.

And — not incidentally — here are the last notes I heard on Sunday-night-into-Monday-morning before I went to bed.  The jam session at the Victory Pub continued, but here’s KING PORTER STOMP — featuring Morten Gunnar Larssen at the portable keyboard; Andy Schumm on C-melody saxophone; Torstein Kubban on cornet; Kristoffer Kompen on trombone; Jacob Ullberger on banjo; Nick Ward on drums; Claus Jacobi on Frans Sjostrom’s beloved bass saxophone:

Stomp, indeed.  More to come.

And “more to come” is a serious thing.  Amid general rejoicing, it was announced that the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party will be held, beginning Friday, November 7, 2014.  As Harry Barris wrote, IT MUST BE TRUE.

May your happiness increase!

A FREE CONCERT FOR BILLY STRAYHORN (November 21, 2013)

Good news from the energetic and devoted Michael Hashim:

On Thursday, November 21st, The Billy Strayhorn Orchestra, under the direction of Michael Hashim, will present a free concert at the Miller Theater, 2960 Broadway at 116th Street, at 7:30 PM.

Simply RSVP to: ym189@columbia.edu and give your name and the number of tickets you need.

BILLY STRAYHORN

The fifteen piece orchestra will play some rare material by Mr. Strayhorn, including the New York premiere of a major work — and fully restored versions of classics like “Raincheck” and “Chelsea Bridge” as well as some surprises.

This band is so truly All-Star that I must list the full line-up below. If that isn’t enough, we will also have a presentation by the renowned author David Hajdu, Strayhorn’s biographer.

And remember: we DO NOT want your money. We really, sincerely, want YOU!! All of you!! Thanks and see you there.

THE BAND: Rhythm section – Kenny Washington, drums; Mike LeDonne, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass;

Saxophones- Michael Hashim, Ed Pazant, Scott Robinson, Tad Shull, Lauren Sevian;

Trumpets- Shawn Edmonds, Freddie Hendrix, Jordan Sandke, Marty Bound;

Trombones- Art Baron, Clarence Banks, David Gibson.

I can’t attend this, but I urge you to do so — it’s one of those heartfelt delights that New York offers to those who are able to savor them.  I don’t have any video of this Orchestra, but here are Michael Hashim and pianist Spike Wilner performing two Strayhorn compositions: one obscure, the second famous.

LAMENT FOR AN ORCHID:

LOTUS BLOSSOM:

May your happiness increase!