Monthly Archives: January 2014

DAWN LAMBETH SWINGS SWEETLY WITH CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND: January 26, 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, a real singer.  No tricks, no emoting.  Just someone with a lovely multi-hued voice, swinging with the band, delighting in the melody and the words, never getting in the way of the song.

She’s one of our favorites, Dawn Lambeth.

Here she is with the equally rewarding New Orleans Jazz Band of Clint Baker, at an afternoon session sponsored by the Central Coast Hot Jazz Society in Pismo Beach, January 26, 2014.  That’s Clint, trombone / euphonium; Marc Caparone, cornet; Mike Baird, clarinet / alto; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

Aligning ourselves with the calendar, SUNDAY:

AS LONG AS I LIVE:

I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES:

EMALINE:

I CRIED FOR YOU:

I wish many singers, young and older, new and presumably wise and experienced, would savor and study the singing of Ms. Lambeth — she isn’t didactic, but by her example we could learn a great deal about subtle, convincing music.

May your happiness increase!

HOT MUSIC ON THE RIVER: DUKE HEITGER’S STEAMBOAT STOMPERS (Oct. 11, 2013)

The real thing — lyrical New Orleans jazz recorded on the steamboat Natchez sailing up and back the Mississippi River.  In 2013, not 1926, too.  What could be nicer?

All of this was the idea (the dream, perhaps) of our friend and hero Duke Heitger, who launched the first STEAMBOAT STOMP in October 2013.

Here’s some hot music by Duke and his pals — the Steamboat Stompers: Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Fischer, tenor saxophone; Steve Pistorius, piano / vocal; John Gill, banjo; Tom Saunders, tuba; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

One for Papa Joe, SWEET LOVIN’ MAN:

Sweetly dancing, those beauties, CREOLE BELLES:

A riverboat favorite, SAILING DOWN THE CHESAPEAKE BAY:

Duke never speaks roughly to anyone, so this traditional end-of-night New Orleans tune has to be taken as a gentle embrace rather than a rough shove out the door — GET OUT OF HERE (AND GO ON HOME):

I’ll keep you posted on the plans for the 2014 Steamboat Stomp, I promise. For the moment, admire these players: they can swing and they can float.

May your happiness increase!

JOHN SHERIDAN’S AMERICANA: A SOLO RECITAL (September 20, 2013)

The steadfastly swinging pianist John Sheridan is seriously underrated because of two virtues, often misinterpreted.  John never makes what he is doing at the piano look hard; he never sweats or tells us — in words or body language — that he is Accomplishing Something Really Difficult.  No, Sheridan sits down at the piano, makes an offhanded remark or a quick joke, identifies the previous tune, gazes at the keyboard for two seconds, and then is off into another wholly realized creation.  Unless John is telling a shaggy-dog story or relating something that pleases him deeply, he also looks very serious most of the time.  That, I think, has made listeners forget that under that serious exterior there is a deep romantic soul, a very expansive heart — all of which comes through in his playing.

Sheridan’s musical scope is as broad as his mastery at the keyboard. If you listen casually, you will hear his bright clarity steady swing; listen deeper and hear subtle harmonies and his lovely but not over-elaborate improvisations, his beautiful touch.

Here is a very brief solo recital — captured at Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party) — a half-hour of pleasure, recorded on September 20, 2013.  Hear and admire how easily he moves from one composer to the next, one “genre” to another, always exhibiting a wonderful clarity, sounding just like John Sheridan . . . a very great gift to us.

Ellington’s BLACK BUTTERFLY (which I associate forever with Joe Thomas on a 1946 Keynote Records session):

COME BACK, SWEET PAPA (with fond thoughts of Louis’ Hot Five and,  later on, bands led by Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart):

THE LEGEND OF LONESOME LAKE (Eastwood Lane, for Bix):

IN A MIST (the young man from Davenport, himself):

THIS YEAR’S KISSES (Billie, Lester, and Irving Berlin):

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET (Mister Astaire but also Louis, twice):

Thank you, John, for inviting us to join you on these excursions.

May your happiness increase! 

DOIN’ THE HORTICULTURAL: EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO, JANUARY 16, 2014: PART ONE

A good time was had by all.

Emily Asher’s Garden Party — captured here nearing the end of their 2014 West Coast Tour (historians take note).  Here they are at a very rewarding house concert in San Francisco, hosted by Daniel Fabricant and Vic Wong, offering good-old-good ones, Hoagy Carmichael, music associated with Louis Armstrong, and a few locally-sourced originals.

The GP in these videos is Emily, trombone, vocals, arrangements / compositions; Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal; Tom Abbott, reeds; Nick Russo, banjo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums. (My videos are a little dark but the music blazes brightly.)

For Ella, the Mills Brothers, Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and the elusive Hy Zaret, DEDICATED TO YOU:

Emily’s original, dedicated to a clamorous stretch of road in her home town, EAST MERIDIAN:

TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, a sweet bit of Carmichael voiced for Asher and Davis, soft-shoe tempo provided by that nimble rhythm section:

Appropriate for a Garden Party, WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

Thinking again of Ella and Chick, the band shouts HALLELUJAH!:

A small Louis-Jack trilogy (catch Mr. Davis’ beautiful sound here) STARS FELL ON ALABAMA:

From ‘way out West, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

At a nice tempo, MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

Emily’s original, for her flowering niece, SWEET PEA:

Music in blossom, with more to come!

May your happiness increase!

THE SPANIER WORLDVIEW, 1945

A generous friend sent me this . . . the front cover from a Manhattan Records 78 album (which, when new, contained three 10″ discs) under Muggsy Spanier’s leadership, to be sold at Nick’s in Greenwich Village.  An authentic Spanier autograph!  “The good doctor” was Henry Sklow, a swinging dentist who watched over the pouring of drinks for the musicians at Jimmy Ryan’s jam sessions.

Muggsy writes “Barnum was right,” which I presume is a self-deprecating comment about the ubiquity of suckers.  I wonder if he was referring to the people who were buying this album — or was it a comment on all humanity?  No one who ever spoke of Muggsy referred to his cynicism (Maggie Condon remembers him fondly) so I suspect it was an offhanded example of artistic self-mockery:

MUGGSY 1944

Whatever the context, a genuine Muggsy!  (And he always was.)

May your happiness increase!

LESTER YOUNG AND THAT OTHER WORLD

This rectangular slip of paper — with only eleven letters signed by his own hand by one of the gods of creation — makes me feel a deep sadness. Lester Young, one of the most inspired individuals of the twentieth century, is so much larger than his signature on a withholding tax form.  It’s almost like imagining Prometheus in chains to think of Lester having to sign forms so that money could be taken from him, having to pay taxes.

I think this brightly creative person was also one of the most delicate creatures: consider his sadness, which isn’t always so evident in his late playing.  Even though he was tall, physically powerful, his spirit was airborne and thus shackled by the mundane demands of this world. I am not retelling the stories of what happened to him in the United States Army, but here is evidence of an unusual man being required to do the usual:

PREZ TAXES

The President, forced to be ordinary.  Are we surprised that he seems to have willed his life to be over so quickly?

Had we known Lester Young’s sorrow, could we have taken it on ourselves and lessened his pain?  Could his friends and the people who insisted that he sign forms have loved him more, have helped him to be free?

I do not know, and perhaps it is presumptuous even to speculate.  But for a moment I imagine a youthful, ever buoyant Lester Young, going his own way in a world exist where he did not have to rush, could wear soft shoes and make pretty sounds?  Poets and martyrs, Yeats said, more or less, do not live in the world of bankers.  Lester tried to make our world and his  brighter, less painful.

His sound lives on; his music still floats.

May your happiness increase!

ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, HARRY ALLEN, DAN BARRETT: TWO DUOS, A ROMP THROUGH HOAGY and A LOVELY BALLAD (Sept. 20, 2013)

The youthful Maestro Rossano Sportiello inspires his friends, musical and otherwise, to great things.  Witness these two performances (recorded on September 20, 2013) at the party formerly known as Jazz at Chautauqua — now it’s the Allegheny Jazz Festival.

On the first, he and the nimble Harry Allen delight in exploring Hoagy Carmichael’s I WALK WITH MUSIC in many ways:

And then Rossano and Dan Barrett tenderly explore a little-played Thirties ballad, WHAT WILL I TELL MY HEART?:

Exuberance, delicacy, mastery by all concerned.

May your happiness increase!

HEROIC FIGURES IN THE SHADOWS

A friend recently asked me about a valued musician, now gone, who never seemed to get the honors he deserved. “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to X?”  I recalled that X was always working in groups led by A Star, a powerful personality.  I have no idea if X wanted to lead a group and couldn’t, but he never said in public that he felt the opportunity had been denied him.

It made me think again about “being a leader” in jazz.  We celebrate the musicians whose names appear on the record labels and the marquees, in boldface in discographies.  Theirs are the sounds we know, and they do deserve our attention and our love. Think of a universe without Count Basie — the sky suddenly grows dark at the mere statement of such a void.

But the Stars rely on the often semi-anonymous players who keep the great ship’s rhythmic engines humming.  Consider Ed Lewis, Joe Muranyi, Fred Guy, Leo McConville, Bobby Tucker, Wendell Marshall, George Stafford, Tommy Thunen, Curley Russell, Dave Bowman — players who didn’t chafe to be center stage.  There is a special cozy corner of Paradise for those who didn’t have the urge to solo, but who created backgrounds and section sounds that delight us, that made the Stars sound so fine.

Although he was a famous leader and a notable Personality, I think of Eddie Condon in this respect, as someone who cared more about how the band sounded than whether he soloed. Dave Tough, Freddie Green, also.

Musicians will tell you that “being a leader” brings what we call “fame,” but this public place can be a nuisance.  Visibility brings recognition: no longer are you third alto in the reed section, one of the Wisconsin Skyrockets, you are THE Skyrocket, and people know your name and recognize you.

But that recognition also means that fans want to talk with you when you are on your way to the bathroom.  People who “just love your music” grab your upper arm.  Some have their own ideas about songs you should be playing, in what tempos, and who you should Sound Like.  Play the clarinet, and you are told about an admirer’s favorite Benny Goodman record.  Sing, and you hear all about Billie Holiday (“Tsk, tsk.  Those drugs.”) or perhaps Diana Krall.

If you are leading a group in a club, the club-owner heads directly for you when something goes wrong.  You have to get the gigs.  You have to handle the money.

You have to deal with the personalities in the band (A, late again; B, grimy again; C, in despair; D, texting when not playing; E, a model in all things but eager to point out the flaws of A, B, C, and D.)

You have to talk on the microphone.  You must encourage the crowd to put money in the tip basket or buy CDs.  You deal with requests, with people who drink too much and talk too loudly.

Often, when your musicians are upset, frustrated, or angry, they blame you, or they simply mutter. “Sixty bucks?  Is that all?”  “My shepherd’s pie is cold.”  I hate that song.  Do we have to play it?”

To paraphrase Judy Syfers, “My God, who would want to lead a band?”

So let’s cheer for the Invaluable Near-Anonymities, the wonderful professionals in the String section of Charlie Parker with Strings, the baritone wizard Charlie Bubeck, who anchored the Ozzie Nelson band — reed players talked of him reverently, but he never led a date; the fellows strumming behind Django and Stephane.  They may have looked deeply into “the music business” and said, “I’d rather drive a cab than lead a band.”

A brief, wholly improvised list:

Zilner Randolph, Les Robinson, Buzzy Drootin, Mary Osborne, Nick Fatool, Ed Cuffee, Bill Triglia, Danny Bank, Dick Vance, Max Farley, Frank Orchard, Bob Casey, Red Ballard, Mickey McMickle, Jimmy Maxwell, Cliff Leeman, George Berg, Al Klink, Lee Blair, Leon Comegys, John Simmons, Les Spann, Allan Reuss, Don Frye, Kansas Fields, Louis Metcalf.

And a thousand more.  And certainly their living counterparts.  (I’ve limited my list to the Departed because I thought that no one I know would like to see their name on a list of the Brilliant Shadowy Underrated.  You and I know the people who make jazz go . . . !)

These people don’t win polls.  They don’t have to stand still for autograph hunters.  But where would we be without them?

May your happiness increase! 

THE MOST RECENT EXPLOITS OF MRS. MOSE MIGHT SURPRISE YOU. THEY CAME AS A SHOCK TO ME.

If you’ve been following the jazz news of the Thirties, it will not come as a shock to learn that Old Man Mose is dead.  The saga of his demise is sad, mysterious, and not a little frightening:

For the extended, fascinating coverage of the variations created by Louis and friends on this theme, I direct you to Ricky Riccardi’s unequalled blogpost here.

Hearing this song, I always wonder at its genesis: my guess is that someone in Louis’ Chicago band — where Zilner Randolph was one of the trumpets and the “straw boss” — fell asleep on the bus or elsewhere and the spectacle struck everyone else as comic.  “Man, you were so asleep you looked just like Old Man Mose.  We didn’t know if you were dead.”  Great art comes from such humble beginnings, you know.  Cultural anthropologists may note that here is another example of African-Americans making fun of the stereotype — its source too deep for me to discover here — that they were afraid of occult creatures, of “hants,” of the dead: make of that what you will.

But I dugress.  From Ricky’s blog, I learned that several “sequels” to this song, hoping to cash in on its popularity, had been created.  (On YouTube, you can even hear a group of Beatles imitators try their hand at it in 1964.  By the time their rendition is over, I do not hold out much hope for Mr. Mose being resuscitated, but that is only one man’s opinion.)

However, it was only on a recent record-shopping afternoon at the Down Home Music Store in El Cerrito that I found this latest chapter, a Bluebird 78 (circa 1939, I surmise) by the Eddie DeLange Orchestra, vocal by diminutive Elisse Cooper, of MRS. MOSE HAS A MILLION BEAUS (Since Old Man Mose Is Dead) — a Fox Trot penned by McCarthy, Redmond, and David.  For the discographically-minded, it is the “B” side of Bluebird 10213; the “A” side is another novelty song, EAGLE EYE FINKLE, which chronicles the exploits of a roving gossip / scandal reporter for an imagined Russian newspaper.

I don’t know who is in the band, nor do I know who plays the chordal guitar solo in the middle* . . . but I thought JAZZ LIVES readers deserved full disclosure of posthumous marital news amongst imaginary characters in novelty songs.  See if you agree:

It leaves me speechless, too.  Especially the part about Old Man Mose’s life insurance policy.  I’m on the edge of my chair, waiting to hear what happens next.

*Wise friend David Weiner tells me that it was recorded in March 1939 and the guitarist is one Guy Smith — no one else in the band is a “famous” musician (my quotation marks, not David’s).  Nice ensemble sound, though.

May your happiness increase!

GOING SOUTH FOR HOT JAZZ: JANUARY 26, 2014

Good things in store.  On January 26, 2014, Clint Baker and his New Orleans Jazz Band will be playing a Sunday afternoon gig in the monthly series of  “Basin Street Regulars” concerts hosted by the Central Coast Hot Jazz Society.  It will be held at the Pismo Beach Veterans’ Memorial Building, 780 Bello Street, Pismo Beach.  Clint and his band will play two sets of seventy-five minutes apiece; there will also be jazz from the Cal Poly Jazz Band.  This Sunday session will begin at 11 AM and end at 4:30 PM.  For more information, click here.

“Who’s in Clint’s band?” I hear the cognoscenti murmuring. (Sometimes their rhetorical murmuring can get a trifle loud, but I don’t mind, having invented them for the purpose of sentences such as this one.)

The A-Team,” I respond.

Clint, trombone, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Mike Baird, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass, vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Dawn Lambeth, vocal.

That takes care of Sunday, as far as I’m concerned.  The Beloved and I have made our plans: groceries have been purchased; plants will be watered; computers, clothing, amenities, bric-a-brac, and more will be loaded into the New Old Car . . . to make the trip from Northern California to Less-Northern California, with occasional digressions for begonias, thrift stores, and other pleasures.  Neither of us is a road-trip fancier, but this band is worth the journey and more.

See you there, I hope.

P.S.  In the evening of January 26.  THE MUSIC WAS WONDERFUL.  You should know this.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING QUIETLY: NINETY SECONDS WITH DANIEL P. BARRETT at the BOSENDORFER (December 2, 2013)

In Olaf Stapledon’s science-fiction novel about a super-intelligent canine, SIRIUS, the narrator says that we would never believe the things that people do when only the dog is in the room.

When no one else is in the room, or at least no one intrusive, the best jazz musicians swing wonderfully — free of the pressure of the audience, the lights, the microphones. Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet, vocal, composer – arranger AND swing pianist) is a fine example. Here he is, just playing for his own delight and the pleasure of sitting at a well-tuned Bosendorfer.  Ninety seconds of I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU — a performance, that although Dan makes little of it, ambles and floats and reminds us of how the Basieties, vocally and instrumentally, loved this song in the glory days of 1937 and beyond:

Thank you, Dan, for making this corner of a dark room into a Hot Spot of Rhythm — in sixty-four bars, no more, and for letting me share this Interlude with the world.

May your happiness increase!

HOW FAR IS IT TO NÎMES?

I need Google Maps, or maybe Mapquest, to figure out the distance. Because on the evidence of this and an earlier video clip, that French city is the place to be for Hot!

Here’s what the descriptive summary says beneath the latest YouTube video by washboardist Jeff Guyot and noble pals:

AU PUB O’FLAHERTY’S A NÎMES LE 8 JANVIER 2014 AVEC

Michel BASTIDE(ct) DANIEL HUCK (sax & vocal)Jean-François BONNEL (sax tenor,tp,cl)Bernard ANTHERIEU (Cl)Philippe GUIGNIER (Bj) Patrice AVIET(B) Jeff GUYOT (Wb)

Vidéo: Armand YEPES

Which I translate (!) as Armand Yepes, my French brother, went to O’Flaherty’s Pub on January 8, 2014, and recorded a band with some allegiance to the Hot Antic Jazz Band and the Anachronic Jazz Band romping through AVALON: Michel Bastide, cornet; Daniel Huck, saxophone and ecstatic vocal; Jean-Francois Bonnel, my hero, on tenor saxophone; Bernard Antherieu, clarinet; Philippe Guignier, banjo; Partrice Aviet, string bass; Jeff Guyot, washboard.  Not only are the solos delightful, but the riffs (listen, for instance, behind Antherieu) and the general ebullience . . . priceless.  And my Facebook pals were having a serious debate the other day about their favorite male vocalist — may I ask that the name of DANIEL HUCK be inscribed in anyone’s list in capital letters?

How do you say WOW! in French?

May your happiness increase!

“COME ON, MISTER TATE, AND JAZZ ME!” (FRANK TATE, MARTY GROSZ, SCOTT ROBINSON, DUKE HEITGER: September 20, 2013)

I know that even the most attentive jazz audiences sometimes begin to chat during a string bass solo.  But you will notice in this video performance the delighted quiet in the room when our man Frank Tate leads this little quartet (nominally under the leadership of Marty Grosz) into JAZZ ME BLUES.

To be specific, that’s Frank, string bass; Marty, guitar; Scott Robinson, reeds; Duke Heitger, trumpet.  And this was recorded on September 20, 2013, at Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party):

I’d love to hear our Mr. Tate show just how well he can Jazz us on a wide variety of songs: his bass playing is so rich and melodic: so very rewarding!  (Who’ll underwrite a CD for the FRANK TATE BIG FOUR?  Do I hear any voices out there?)

May your happiness increase!

MORE ABOUT THAT WONDERFUL PARTY ON FILM (1935): THANKS TO MARK CANTOR

Just yesterday, I stumbled into a delight (thanks to Franz Hoffmann and Tom Saunders) — a YouTube video offering musical selections from a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film: music by Clarence Williams, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Hank Duncan, Cecil Scott, Jimmy McLin, and Eunice Wilson.  Here is that posting, with a link to the film.

That is a kind of delicious time-warp experience in itself.  Soon after, my friend, the most eminent / diligent jazz film scholar I know, Mark Cantor, asked me if I’d like to know more — and I not only said YES! but asked if he would mind if I shared his work with you.  Generously, he agreed.  And here it is.

CELLULOID IMPROVISATIONS by MARK CANTOR

Lem Hawkins’ Confession featuring Clarence Williams and his Jazz Band

I. Introduction: Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, Lem Hawkins’ Confession, and the Leo Frank Lynching

In Names & Numbers #61, within the general text of the Clarence Williams “Personnelography” (part 4), a pair of Oscar Micheaux feature films are cited as containing appearances by Clarence Williams. In point of fact, however, Williams is present in only one of these films, Lem Hawkins’ Confession (also known as Murder In Harlem). In light of the work that has been done with Williams’s recordings, personnels and solos, it makes sense to share what details are available regarding his sole film appearance. The second film noted in the article, Oscar Micheaux’s Swing, features the orchestra of Leon “Bossman” Gross, with Dolly Armina Jones added as a featured trumpet soloist. This film is a topic worthy of a detailed discussion in itself, although it should be noted here that Clarence Williams does not appears in the film: alto sax Leon Gross is the leader of the band, and the pianist is Arthur Briggs. To eliminate any further misunderstandings, it must be noted that the music track by Clarence Williams used in the SOUNDIE “Sweet Kisses,” which features dance performances by The Mitchell Brothers, Evelyn Keyes and other, with no band on screen, is not a unique recording for the producer, W.F.C. Productions, but rather one of Williams’s Lang-Worth broadcast transcriptions.

Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) is often cited as the greatest of early African-American filmmakers. While this is certainly open to discussion — the films of Spencer Williams are often more coherent, and those of William Alexander better made in terms of production values — one cannot argue with the talent and tenacity that Micheaux displayed in getting some forty-plus features produced and distributed between 1921 and 1949. Micheaux saw musical entertainment as an important factor in his films, both because audiences had come to expect cabaret scenes in black cast features, but also because musical performances could extend the length of a feature with relatively little additional cost, or risk of mistakes by less experienced actors and actresses. Lem Hawkins’ Confession contains an extended fifteen minute cabaret sequence in which a great deal of music and dance is seen and heard as the plot continues to develop. The music of Clarence Williams’ band aside, which is discussed in detail below, Lem Hawkins’ Confession is one of Micheaux’s most ambitious projects.

Based on his original novel, The Forged Note (1915), the story was first filmed by Micheaux in 1921 as The Gunsaulus Mystery. On-screen credits also note the story The Stanfield Murder Case as an addition source of the film’s plot. Both the novel, story and film were based, in turn, on the notorious Leo Frank case, in which a Jewish factory superintendent in Atlanta, Georgia, was convicted of the murder of 13 year old factory worker Mary Phagan. Leo Frank’s sentence was commuted to life in prison due to what the governor saw as a miscarriage of justice. In August 1915 Frank was kidnapped from prison and lynched by a mob of prominent Atlanta civic leaders. Later evidence suggests that the factory janitor, Jim Conley, actually committed the murder, although that has never been proved. What is known is that a mob, including a former governor of the state, two mayors (one of whom was still in office), three law enforcement officers and a number of other prominent citizens lynched Leo Frank on August 5, 1915. While this became the foundation of the story filmed in 1935 as Lem Hawkins’ Confession, Micheaux altered the story considerably, to the point of eliminating the lynching, in his screen adaptation.

As is sometimes the case with Micheaux films, the narrative is somewhat convoluted and often unclear, made even muddier by the constant use of flashbacks. It is important to note that the film is not a strict retelling of the Leo Frank case — the historical case is used as a very loose “frame” — and that Micheaux added a number of secondary plots; as noted above, Micheaux did not end the film with a lynching. A full and fairly accurate synopsis of the film can be found at the American Film Institute web site (http://www.afi.com). Here we are primarily concerned with the nightclub sequence in which all of the music is performed. The details of the musical content of the film follows a brief description of the film’s production.

II. The Production of the Film

According to on-screen credits, Lem Hawkins’ Confession (along with the three Micheaux features that preceded it) were produced for Oscar Micheaux Pictures by A. Burton Russell. However, this is a nom-de-production of sorts for Alice B. Russell, Micheaux’s second wife. The Russell family would probably not have been able to invest in a project such as this one, and we are still two years away from the time that Sack Enterprises would be become involved in the financing of Micheaux’s films. Where Micheaux got the funding for this film, probably in the neighborhood of $15,000, is unknown. Relatively little is known about the actual production of the film, although further information about the plot, casting of actors and so forth can be found in Patrick McGilligan’s Oscar Micheaux – The Great and Only (Harper Perennial, 2008). The only known advertisement in the press (New York Amsterdam News, May 11, 1935) notes that the “Premiere New York showing” of the feature would be held that week at the Apollo Theater. While it is somewhat unusual to find copyright registrations for black cast films, this feature was indeed registered for copyright with the Library of Congress, along with a handful of other film produced by Oscar Micheaux on August 23, 1935. This informationallows us to estimate a production date as between fall 1934 (so claimed by McGilligan) and spring 1935. Lem Hawkins’ Confession was released in the late summer or early fall of 1935. At some point in time the film was reissued as Murder In Harlem, with the new titled used for release in the South. Other sources suggest that the film was re-released yet again as Brand of Cain, although this has not been verified, and Brand of Cain may actually be an early pre-production title.

While a production location has not been established, Micheaux would have probably worked at a rental stage in Fort Lee, New Jersey, although other facilities were also available in Manhattan. My suspicion is that it would have taken no more than a week, or perhaps 10 days, to shoot the entire film. Micheaux produced, directed and wrote the feature. He also gathered a group of technicians who were quite likely inexperienced in film production, but nevertheless able to help Micheaux turn out a fascinating dramatic piece. With the exception of recording engineers Harry Belock and Charles Nason, none of the men involved in the production appear to have made a film before this feature, and none turns up in the credits of any subsequent film. While none of his cast members appeared regularly in major Hollywood productions, many of were cast fairly often in black cast films of the period. Among the more familiar names are Clarence Brooks, Alec Lovejoy, Laura Bowman, Bee Freeman, Eunice Wilson and “”Slick” Chester.

III. The Music: Clarence Williams and his Band

Although he is not credited on-screen, the band featured in the extended cabaret sequence is led by Clarence Williams. As musical director of the band, and presumably the entire floor show, Williams leads the combo, but does not play piano. Indeed, two well-known Harlem stride pianists sit side-by-side at the piano: to the front, almost certainly sits Hank Duncan, and to the rear, Willie “The Lion” Smith. (Smith’s trademark cigar can be seen in freeze frames of the duo.) Regrettably, there is no band feature per se, and neither Duncan nor Smith can be seen or clearly heard as soloists. The band includes two reeds, a musician who doubles on clarinet and tenor sax, and an alto sax. The first musician, seated to the left, is Cecil Scott. Not only has Howard Rye identified Scott aurally (Storyville Magazine no. 132, page 209), but Scott can be visually identified as well: compare the image of the musician here with Cecil Scott as he appears a decade later in four SOUNDIES produced for Filmcraft Productions. The alto sax who sits to Scott’s right is less easy to identify, but to my eyes it appears that this is Louis Jordan. While Jordan was a member of Chick Webb’s orchestra at this time, he had freelanced with Williams the previous year, and he recorded at least four titles with Williams in March 34; one of the numbers from this session, Williams’ “I Can’t Dance (I’ve Got Ants In My Pants) was repeated in this film. Mr. Rye is very astute in hearing a trumpet on soundtrack, especially because the musician can be seen only briefly on screen. While it seems logical that this might be Ed Allen, from what little can be seen of the musician on screen, it does not look like Allen to me. Howard also hears a string bass on soundtrack, but I can neither hear the bass, nor locate a bass player on screen. The band is rounded out by a guitarist, who I am certain is Jimmy McLin.

Two other performers appear with the band, an unidentified male tap dancer, and vocalist Eunice Wilson. Wilson was a popular singer and dancer who presumably appeared as a club and stage performer in the Chicago and New York City areas. Three notices in Franz Hoffman’s Jazz Advertised cite performances around the time of the film’s production. The Chicago Defender (November 12, 1932) notes that Wilson will appear at a Thanksgiving Party at the Regal Theater, along with Earl Hines and his Orchestra. In June 1934 it is reported that she will be one of many on stage in a National Auditions Benefit Show, also at the Regal Theater, this time backed by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra. ` In late 1934 Wilson appeared in a Warner Brothers / Vitaphone one reel short, All Colored Vaudeville Show, filmed in Brooklyn and released the following year. In this short subject Wilson appears with a small rhythm quintet billed as The Five Racketeers, personnel unknown. Her vocal feature is a song by Leonard Reed titled “I Don’t Know Why,” which is followed by a dance to “Tiger Rag.” Subsequent to the production of the Micheaux feature Ms. Wilson sailed to London (May 1936) as a member of the Lew Leslie Blackbirds troupe. More than a decade passes before we hear from Eunice Wilson again, this time in two final film appearances. No Time For Romance (Norwanda Pictures, 1948) stars Wilson, and also features a jazz combo led by Austin McCoy; it is the first black cast film to have been produced in color. Sun Tan Ranch was made the same year, with a similar cast, and is probably also a Norwanda Production.

Detailing the music in the cabaret sequence is difficult for a number of reasons. Save for the vocal and dance features, the music is played in the background, largely behind dialog, sometimes in complete performance, sometimes as a partial take. In addition, Micheaux’s rather rough editing, plus jump cuts resulting from damage to the master print over the years, makes it somewhat unclear where some numbers begin and end. Further uncertainty revolves around the actual recording of the soundtrack. While some black cast musical performances from the period are clearly filmed and recorded simultaneously, I suspect that the soundtrack for this film was prerecorded, with the musicians miming to the playback. While it seems that certain short segments, and even longer performances, might be repeated behind the dialog, I think that it is equally likely that the soundtrack numbers were recorded in a number of takes that could be “recycled” during the sequence.

IV. Film and Music Details

Lem Hawkins’ Confession An A. Burton Russell Production Micheaux Pictures Corporation Oscar Micheaux, producer, director and writer produced ca. late fall 1934 – spring 1935 Clarence Williams, musical director Clarence Williams and his Band: Clarence Williams, vocal and leader; unidentified trumpet; Cecil Scott, clarinet and tenor sax; possibly Louis Jordan, alto sax; probably Hank Duncan, piano; Willie “The Lion” Smith, piano; Jimmy McLin, guitar Much of the music is heard behind dialog, or in support of vocal or dance performance. Regrettably, there is no feature for the band in the cabaret sequence. (1) Ants In My Pants (Clarence Williams) – Clarence Williams and his Band (Clarence Williams and members of the band, vocal) (2) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (3) unidentified title, based on chord changes to “Ain’t Misbehavin’” with an altered release – unidentified male tap dancer, accompanied by Clarence Williams and his Band (4) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (5) unidentified title, partially based on the chord changes to “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (6) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (7) Harlem Rhythm Dance (Clarence Williams) – Eunice Wilson, vocal and dance, accompanied by Clarence Williams and his Band (8) unidentified title, or perhaps two titles linked closely together, the second of which is definitely a repeat of # 5 above (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band.

V. Evaluation, Conclusions and Post Script

The problems inherent in evaluating black cast films are many, and perhaps more so with this film than with most. Like other orphan films (that is, a film without copyright owners or custodians to care for the material) or other “poverty row productions,” Lem Hawkins’ Confession is plagued by poor picture and sound quality, poor edits and lost footage, and inadequate camera coverage where the music performance is concerned. However, considering Clarence Williams’s important to the music —- as a pianist, bandleader, composer and entrepreneur —- the fact that his band was captured film and is available to us is significant. As Howard Rye point out in Storyville Magazine, the music is wholly consistent with what Williams was recording during this period. Interestingly enough, Film Daily (2/20/40) noted an upcoming film series that was to feature Williams and his music. Sadly, nothing seems to have developed from the proposition that a series of two reel musical shorts was to be produced on the East Coast by Clover Swing Productions. Al Ford was slated to produce, and the series was to feature Eva Taylor, with music by Clarence Williams. The first release titled, which never saw the light of day, was to be Money Mad. After the release of Lem Hawkins’ Confession, save for the use of his compositions in various films, Clarence Williams disappears from our history of jazz on film. Once again, as with so many jazz film appearance, we are left wanting so much more, but thankful for what we do have!  

(My note: if every scholar in any field did work as careful and diligent as this, it would transform what we now call “research.”  Thanks to Mark Cantor!)

May your happiness increase!

COME CELEBRATE APRIL IN ATLANTA at THE ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 25-27, 2014)

During the weekend of April 25-27, 2014, the Atlanta Jazz Party will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary.  I’ve joined the Party twice and it was an extravagant banquet each time, supervised with generosity and common sense by Pualani and Philip Carroll.

Details! Here is  the Facebook site for the AJP.

The musicians at this year’s Party (as always) are a wonderful bunch, linked by a common urge to swing, to surprise us with new melodies, to play sweet, to get us all excited with the music: Ed Polcer, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, cornet / trumpet and an occasional vocal; Allan Vaché, Dan Block, reeds; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibes, piano, vocal; Freddy Cole, vocal, piano; Randy Napoleon, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Frank Tate, Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz Jr., Danny Coots, drums; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal.

The music is beautifully conceived, with something for everyone: pretty ballads, rocking New Orleans, hot Goodman-style small groups; timeless Mainstream. And no one will go away hungry for music: I counted thirty sets in four sessions (Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, Sunday) Guarantors and Patrons get to attend all four sessions plus the exclusive Saturday morning jazz brunch just for patrons, guarantors and musicians.

More details can be found at the AJP site. You can sign up for a single session or for all four.  The hotel (the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North*) is exceedingly comfortable; the ballroom is also, with good sight lines and nice sound.  There is a pleasing democracy at work here: everyone gets to lead a session, and the results are nicely situated between Old Favorites and New Surprises.

*The hotel is located at 7 Concourse Pkwy. NE, Sandy Springs, Georgia, 30328 — about thirty minutes from downtown Atlanta. Be sure to mention the Party for the best room rate! Click here to reserve rooms.

Here are two examples of uplifting jazz I recorded at the 2012 AJP.

STEALIN’ APPLES, performed by Allan Vache, John Cocuzzi, Rossano Sportiello, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Chuck Redd:

Bucky, solo, tenderly considering TRES PALABRAS:

If you need tres palabras from me, they could be “Mark your calendars,” or “Make your reservations,” or “Don’t miss this.”

May your happiness increase!

LIVE MUSIC IS EVERYTHING WHEN YOU HAVE A PARTY (1935)

murderinharlem1

I’ve always believed this, but now I have even more proof: visible and audible in excerpts from a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film, MURDER IN HARLEM (also called LEM HAWKINS’ CONFESSION) which has several scenes at a party, with extraordinary music provided by Clarence Williams and his Orchestra: Cecil Scott, clarinet / tenor saxophone; unknown tenor; Jimmy McLin, guitar; Willie “the Lion” Smith and Hank Duncan, piano; Eunice Wilson, vocal / dance; unknown tap dancer:

I believe that is Clarence himself singing I CAN’T DANCE (I GOT ANTS IN MY PANTS); the tap dancer works out to a themeless DOIN’ THE NEW LOW DOWN; the band returns to I CAN’T DANCE behind the odd “bogeyman” scene; Eunice Wilson shows off her talents to HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE.

Thanks to the eminent and diligent jazz scholar Franz Hoffmann for sharing this with us — it’s rather like discovering Leo Watson on film. (Thanks also to Tom Saunders for commenting on this on Facebook.)

Cecil’s sound is absolutely unmistakable — and the Lion AND Hank Duncan on film in their prime? Astonishing.

Who would have thought that a film with some connection to the 1913 Leo Frank case would have had such delightfully jubilant music?

May your happiness increase!

GENTLY SWINGING, THEN ROMPING: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and FRANK TATE: “WONDER WHY” / “STRIKE UP THE BAND” (September 22, 2013)

Beautiful music with two deep hearts and an irresistible bounce. Pianist Rossano Sportiello and string bassist Frank Tate, conversing with us and with each other at Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party) in September 2013.

From a medium-tempo meditation on WONDER WHY to a full-out swing call to arms on STRIKE UP THE BAND:

There are many ways to swing and tell melodic stories, and Messrs. Sportiello and Tate are Sages and Masters of this Art.

May your happiness increase!

DECLARATIONS OF LOVE: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, BOOTS MALESON, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (Dec. 20, 2013)

Some “contemporary creative improvised music,” sounds to me as if players are creating auditory versions of Kandinsky angularities.  Let us remember always how the tenor saxophone, when played by a Master, can croon and purr and woo and seduce: groovy love.

Two sweet examples below come from an evening at Smalls — December 20, 2013 — with a quartet led by tenor Master Joel Press, with piano Master Michael Kanan, string bass Master Boots Maleson, and percussion Master Fukushi Tainaka. The tempo for the first is yearning rapture (“Oh, how my life would be transformed if I could call you mine.”) and the second is the delighted excitation of things perhaps best imagined rather than verbalized (“Wow!”).

IF I HAD YOU:

YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

Declarations of love, not only to specific people who may or may not have been in the audience or on the planet, but to Ike Quebec, Eddie Miller, Lester Young, Art Tatum, Jimmy Rowles, and a host of others who well deserve our love and reverence.

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

IN A RIGHTEOUS GROOVE: “THE GIRLS IN THE BAND”

I did not get to see the film THE GIRLS IN THE BAND when it had a New York screening in April 2013, but thanks to the Beloved, we saw it last night on the other coast.  It is a superb film, with much to say to everyone: you don’t have to be a jazz scholar or a student of women’s history to be pleased by the music, enlightened and heartened by the courageous and insightful women portrayed in the film, and appalled by the world in which they struggled for equality and visibility.

The music known as jazz — however you choose to define it — has cherished its reputation as free-wheeling, radical in its approach to established texts.  It  has presented itself as music played by courageous innovators for people who were willing to go beyond what was immediately accessible, aimed at the widest audience.  Much of that remains true. So it is an unpleasant irony that some people associated with jazz — including the musicians themselves — have excluded and derided artists who didn’t fit their narrow criteria for acceptance. The wrong color? Ethnicity? Sexual preference? Gender? We have made some progress in believing that you need not be an African-American from New Orleans to be “authentic,” but jazz has long been the self-declared playground of men.

Women have been accepted on the bandstand for more than the last century — as singers whose job was to sound pretty and look prettier.

But women instrumentalists and improvisers have only recently begun to gain anything but a grudging acceptance from their male peers. Lovie Austin, Dolly Jones, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Mary Osborne, Marjorie Hyams, Melba Liston, and Vi Redd come to mind as twentieth-century pioneers, facing discrimination and rejection. “Can she play?” should have been the only question, but it often was never asked. And “all-women” bands, no matter how compelling their music, were often seen as freakish, the improvising equivalent of Dr. Johnson’s lady preacher. Sherrie Maricle and others might tell us that the situation is improving . . . but some barriers still remain.

THE GIRLS IN THE BAND, directed by Judy Chaikin and produced by Nancy Kissock, is a concise yet powerful documentary — eighty minutes of music, reportage, and vivid film memoir taken from over three hundred hours of material. It isn’t a history as such, tied to chronology, nor is it pure polemic. It is human and humane: we hear the stories of women who, early on, were intoxicated by the music and the desire to create it, then made their way into public performance — overcoming the obstacles put in their way by everyone who had a stake in keeping things the way they were: male musicians, critics, record producers, clubowners, concert promoters, and more.

Here’s the trailer, which can convey the film’s exuberance better than I can hope to:

and a second one, also worth watching:

I have to say that I am a very reluctant movie-goer. I get restless quickly; I am impatient with films that are too simple or too elusive; when a film is concerned with a subject I know well, the slightest error turns me chilly.  I thoroughly admired and enjoyed THE GIRLS IN THE BAND and encourage JAZZ LIVES readers to seek it out. The pioneering women, candid and self-aware yet unassuming, telling their stories, will stick with you long after the final credits have rolled.

The Beloved was appalled at the women’s history she had not known and entranced by the sound of Melba Liston’s trombone on a ballad. I made a commitment of my own: I bought a THE GIRLS IN THE BAND t-shirt and will add it to my fashion repertoire. Here is the film’s Facebook page.

And in the discussion that ensued, this point was made — I offer it in my own way. When we read in the popular press that a restaurant chain does not serve or employ people of a certain ethnicity or sexual orientation or religious belief, we are outraged and we do not eat there anymore.  “There are laws against such things,” we say proudly.

But when there is evidence of gender bigotry in jazz, many of us do not even see it, nor do we protest. I would not insist that a band in a club be comprised as if by census, but we should notice when the faculty at jazz studies programs is uniformly male. When a jazz camp has no women as instructors, is it because there are no competent women players? Where are the women in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra?  The list is longer than I could write here.

The late Carline Ray, a shining light of the film, reminds us that if we heard a man or a woman playing from behind a curtain, we could not correctly identify the player’s gender.  Where are the “blind auditions” now common practice in symphony orchestras?

One of the ways to learn more about this chapter of history — not just women’s history — is to see THE GIRLS IN THE BAND and to encourage others to do so.  And, just incidentally, you will have witnessed a real accomplishment in film-making.

May your happiness increase!

IT HAPPENS IN MONTEREY (March 7-9, 2014)

These two worthies found love at the Jazz Bash by the Bay:

I am not proposing that everyone who goes to this year’s festival (March 7-9) will come away with the Love of His / Her Life — maybe you are all already spoken for.

But the music will be wonderful. And I write this as someone who’s been there since 2010.

For me, the Jazz Bash by the Bay was a transformative experience.

I had not been to California since having been conceived there . . . . insert your own witticism here. And when I had the notion in March 2010 of going to see and hear the people I so admired in their video appearances, I expected to have a good time in a new jazz setting, perhaps make a few new friends.

It was a life-altering experience: I came back to New York and said to the Beloved, “I’ve never had such a good time in my life. Do you think we could spend the summer in California?”

Fast forward to 2014, where I am writing this from Novato, with serious plans to make the Golden State my retirement home.

So if the Jazz Bash by the Bay can make one couple find love; if it can make a native New Yorker say, “I’ll move to California,” I think its powers are . . . powerful.  But enough personal narratives.  What’s in store for you?

As always, a wide variety of well-played music.

You can visit the site to find out if Your Favorite Band is going to be there, but here are some kinds of music that will be played: blazing stride piano in solo and duo, boogie-woogie, sweet singing in so many forms, rocking small-band swing, New Orleans ensemble polyphony, trad, Dixieland, blues, zydeco, gypsy swing, classic songs from the Great American Songbook, Jazz Age hot dance music, ragtime piano, stomp, swing, music to dance to, San Francisco jazz, washboard rhythm, music to hold hands to.

And the stars?  Well . . . Ray Skjelbred, High Sierra, Carl Sonny Leyland, Bob Draga, Rebecca Kilgore Trio, Dan Barrett, Ivory and Gold, Ellis Island Boys, Marc Caparone, Le Jazz Hot, Jeff Hamilton, Dawn Lambeth, Virginia Tichenor, Marty Eggers, Yve Evans, Katie Cavera, Paul Mehling, Clint Baker, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Frederick Hodges, Jim Buchmann, Eddie Erickson, Jason Wanner, John Cocuzzi, Howard Miyata, Big Mama Sue, Ed Metz, the Au Brothers, Bob Schulz, Pieter Meijers, Brady McKay, Tom Rigney, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra . . . and more, and more.

Important links.

The BAND LINEUP.

The all-important too-Much-Of-A-Good-Thing-Is-Wonderful SCHEDULE, which calls for careful planning (“If I go to see X, then I have to miss part of Y, but it puts me in a good place to be right up front for Z.  Anyone have a Tylenol?”) — with four or five sessions going on at the same time.

And most important — with a Sidney Catlett drum roll or a Vic Berton tympani flourish — the GET TICKETS NOW page.

I try to hold down the didactic tendencies that four decades of standing in front of sleepy (good-natured) young men and women have solidified, but I hope readers will permit me this basic logic exercise.  Festivals where people buy tickets last forever.  Festivals where people don’t vanish.  And then there is a wailing and a gnashing of teeth — very hard on the neighbors and harder on the dental work.  I think of the California festivals that have moved into The Great Memory even in my short acquaintanceship with this state.

(Or, as William Carlos Williams — or was it Philip Larkin? — wrote: “Want it to stay?  Do not delay.”)

So I hope to see throngs of friends and even strangers at the Jazz Bash by the Bay.  Anything that makes live jazz in profusion go on is a good thing.

P.S.  Need more evidence?  Go to YouTube and type in “Dixieland Monterey,” or “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” or the name of your favorite artist.  I, Rae Ann Berry, and Tom Warner, among others, have created many videos — enough to while away the hours in the most energized ways.  Proof!

May your happiness increase!

HOT MUSIC TRAVELS WELL: ALVIN ALCORN IN AUSTRALIA WITH THE YARRA YARRA JAZZ BAND 1973

We take our personalities with us wherever we go. In the case of creative musicians, this is always a good thing, and a new double-disc set showcasing the fine New Orleans trumpeter Alvin Alcorn in concert with a nifty Australian jazz band is a very rewarding example of how well hot music keeps its essential self no matter how many miles from “the source” it is.  The set, from the Victorian Jazz Archive (VJAZZ 026), is subtitled “Rare Collectible Jazz From the Archive,” and that’s accurate.  By itself, the VJA is a fascinating place: read more here.

The VJA has been quietly yet steadily releasing a series of compact discs of previously unheard or at least quite rare material — featuring Tom Baker, Fred Parkes, Ade Monsbourgh, Frank Traynor, Graeme and Roger Bell and other luminaries, as well as several CDs for “The Progressives”. Details — and sound samples — here.

ZZ 610 Alvin Alcorn

The newest release in the series is a double-disc package spotlighting New Orleans trumpeter / singer Alvin Alcorn and the Yarra Yarra Jazz Band in concert in 1973.  The selections are a comfortable mix of “good old good ones,” with several very fine impromptu vocals from Alvin and one from Kay Younger: THE SECOND LINE / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL / TIPI-TIPI- TIN / EENY MEENY MINEY MO / SAY “SI SI” / BUGLE BOY MARCH / BOURBON STREET PARADE / THAT’S A-PLENTY / BEALE STREET BLUES / INDIANA / TIN ROOF BLUES / JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / I CAN’T GET STARTED / HINDUSTAN / SOME OF THESE DAYS / FIDGETY FEET / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / BILL BAILEY / ST. LOUIS BLUES / PANAMA / OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE – SAINTS.  Each disc is nearly seventy-seven minutes of music, and the sound is better than one hears on other concert recordings of this vintage.

The Yarra Yarras (a band formed in 1960) had fine credentials and connections with musicians as diverse as Don Ewell and Ken Colyer, and they bring a fine springy bounce to the sessions.  I did notice the rhythm section being slightly at sea on a few of the more unfamiliar songs, but this wasn’t enough to disturb my pleasure.

The real pleasure, for me, is in Alcorn.  I came to jazz from a “later” perspective, musically: Forties and Fifties Louis, Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buck Clayton . . . so I often find “authentic” New Orleans trumpet playing — that I am expected to admire if not revere — a bit rough around the edges.  But Alcorn was obviously someone with great subtleties, even when playing the most familiar repertoire. The band rocks and powers along around and below him, and he creates tidy filigree — sounding more like Jonah Jones or Doc Cheatham than Kid Thomas. Everyone seems happy, and Alvin’s vocals are delightful.  I encourage you to investigate this set and its colleagues at the VJA site.

May your happiness increase!

TWO HOURS WITH LOUIS (Berkeley Jazzschool, February 9, 2014)

LOUIS on PARADE

I hope someone reads my title and says, “Wait.  Only two hours with Louis? Is that all?”

Louis is with us all the time if we have our ears and hearts open.  I consider myself very fortunate to be able to spread the word by playing his music, showing a few film clips, talking about the man, his art, and what truths he embodied.

I am offering a two-hour workshop at the Berkeley Jazzschool — which I have called LOUIS ARMSTRONG SPEAKS TO US — on Sunday, February 9, 2014, from 2-4 PM.  Here’s how I have introduced it:

Miles Davis famously said, “You can’t play anything on a trumpet that Louis hasn’t already played.” To this day, Louis Armstrong stands as the model of melodic improvisation, of a respect for melody, an irresistible swing, a wise use of space. He can teach anyone who wishes to perform in public a joyous, heartfelt relationship to an audience, transforming the simplest melodic line, and constructing solos that are surprising yet logical. This workshop will offer music, videos and a lively discussion of Armstrong’s performances, early and late. Even for those fortunate enough to already love Louis, there will be some surprises! Michael Steinman runs a thriving jazz video blog, Jazz Lives, and has written reviews for Cadence, Jazz Journal and liner notes for several record labels. He is also a Professor of English at Nassau Community College, New York.

I would love to meet some of my people — my JAZZ LIVES peeps, as I call them — that afternoon.  Louis will be in the house, as will the Beloved, but there is room for you too.  And if you’re not SMILING by the end of the afternoon, then I will issue you an official JAZZ LIVES GIFT CERTIFICATE redeemable for JOY UNCONFINED:

Here are the details.  The Jazzschool is located at 2087 Addison Street in Berkeley, California 94704 | 510.845.5373.  A ticket to the workshop is $30 in advance, $45 on the day of the workshop.

Here’s some music.

I will be giving another workshop, on Sunday, April 6, from 11:30 to 1:30 — my chosen topic being PRE-BIRD: SWING FEELING THEN AND NOW.  Details here.

May your happiness increase!