Monthly Archives: March 2014

ONE, TWO, THREE: JOE POLICASTRO, MAX JOHNSON, DAY ONE TRIO

The triangular shape works beautifully in nature, in mathematics, and in creative improvisation: three examples of jazz trio playing for your consideration — offered as they sit near my computer, without any ranking, implied or expressed.

I have a long familiarity with the music from the Bernstein-Sondheim WEST SIDE STORY. I grew up in an era where adults with phonographs (“record players”) had original cast albums — MY FAIR LADY, CAROUSEL, OKLAHOMA — and the songs were part of our common vocabulary.  But my sister (to whom I am thankful for so much) was a WEST SIDE STORY devotee, attending many performances and making friends with cast members (I recall seeing part of a performance from the back of the house when I was small enough to be lifted up without causing anyone injury) . . . so I knew the music as part of my household soundtrack.

When there were original cast recordings, there were also “jazz versions” of familiar scores, and I think many improvisations on the lingering melodies of WEST SIDE STORY have been recorded in the last half-century and more. This might have daunted any set of twenty-first century improvisers, but string bassist Joe Policastro and his Chicago friends    know that this music has much to offer in itself and as fertile material for jazz improvisation.

west_side_story

Their 2013 recording of the WEST SIDE STORY SUITE balances gracefully between the familiar songs and the music’s possibilities for jazz improvisation. But there are depths here; as Policastro writes, “[the] songs have failed to enter into standard, everyday mainstream performance. There is definitely a reason for this. Behind the unforgettable lyrics and catchy melodies are some of the most unusual and tricky harmonies, phrase lengths, and song forms ever written for the theatre. I think it’s a testament to how good the material is that one hardly notices the constantly shifting keys or the abundance of 3, 5, 7, or 9 bar phrase lengths. Good luck finding a friendly 32-bar AABA song form amongst this bunch!”  Policasttro’s arrangements of the material can veer between the rhapsodic and respectful to the angular and open-ended.  The trio of Joe, string bass; Dan Effland, guitar; Adam Sorensen, drums, honor the original textures and intentions while offering many surprising shifts of perspective within each performance; they show just how much pleasing variety they can find in the material and in their varied approaches to it (from a charged urban conception to the arco statement of the melody on MARIA).  The songs are PROLOGUE / SOMETHING’S COMING / MARIA / JET SONG / AMERICA / ONE HAND, ONE HEART / COOL / TONIGHT / GEE, OFFICER KRUPKE / I FEEL PRETTY / SOMEWHERE.  The disc is available here, and you can hear a sample here:

Another string bassist (and composer) Max Johnson has issued a disc of his Invisible Trio — himself, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, and Zev Ravitz, drums — playing his compositions THE PRETZEL / BIZZA / HELD FOR QUESTIONING / DON WRINKLES / THE INVISIBLE TRIO / MOVING VEHICLE / A PAIR OF GLASSES / THE GOLEM.

MAX JOHNSON Cover

You can hear samples of the music or download the whole CD here.  I confess that here I have no past familiarity with the material to guide me, nor liner notes to borrow from . . . so I will simply say that the CD feels like a conversation between three energized speakers, the collective mood shifting as one or the other moves to the fore and the subjects for discussion change and slide, the mood moving from querulous confrontation to tranquility to sorrow.  I don’t know Max’s compositional methods, so I will let the music speak for itself, to recall Charlie Parker.

Balancing freedom and lyricism, the DAY ONE TRIO — Dos Allen, tenor saxophone; Adam Everett, drums; Yoshiki Yamada, string bass, with a guest appearance on one track by tenorist Ben Flood,  experiments in a rewarding way.  The music on this CD is an intriguing mixture of on-the-spot improvisation and variations on those improvisations, considered as compositions.  As the notes state, “We recorded our improvisations and later listened to what we had played. There were an enormous number of really beautiful moments, as well as entire songs that felt great start to finish. We chose our favorites of those improvisations, mostly taken from our first night playing together, and wrote out the basic framework for each. We have re-recorded some of these favorites in the studio for you to enjoy. The interludes throughout the CD are the actual recordings of us playing together for the first time, and are a reminder of how this music came to be.”

DAY ONE TRIO

Thus, the CD feels like touring the museum, looking at the paintings, with a facsimile of the artist’s sketchbook in hand — as tje trio moves from quiet explorations over ticking drums and bass lines to full-fledged yet open-ended melodic collaborations.  The effect is airy but intense, most rewarding when the trio becomes a quartet, with Allen and Flood quietly trotting alongside one another, lead and commentary on FRIENDS.  The offerings are NO TURN SIGNAL / INTERLUDE 1 / ONWARD WITH A LIGHT HEART / INTERLUDE 2 / FLOATING IN TIME / THE IMPORTANCE OF BREATHING / INTERLUDE 3 / GET SOME / INTERLUDE 4 / AFTER DARK / FRIENDS / GOODNIGHT.  You may listen and download the music here.

Each of these trio adventures offers its own pleasure.  I invite you to sample them.

May your happiness increase!

IDEAL PLACES: MINIMUM, THREE DOLLARS A PERSON

I think I had three dollars when this card was in vogue, although I was seriously underage . . .

CONDON'S circa 1958

but I can hear this band now — either in my imagination or in the Columbia sessions circa 1958.  They sound wonderful either way.  And Cliff Jackson!

Note to Bob Wilber: Does this seem familiar?

May your happiness increase!

“BLUE NOTES THAT FRAME THE PASSION”: RAY SKJELBRED’S TRIBAL WISDOM

Pianist / composer / scholar / poet Ray Skjelbred is one of the rare ones.

I don’t say this only because of his deeply rewarding piano playing — soloist, accompanist, bandleader — but because of the understanding that it rests upon.  Ray understands that he is one of long line of creators — members of the tribe of improvising storytellers, some of them no longer on the planet but their energies still vividly alive.

He doesn’t strive to copy or to “recreate”; rather, he honors and embodies in ways that words can only hint at.  Call it an enlightened reverence that takes its form in blues-based melodic inventions, and you’ll be close to understanding the essence of what Ray does, feels, and is.

Here are some of his own introspections: “I get ideas by trying to hear the world differently, sometimes even misunderstanding sound on purpose. . . . I like to see things differently, to shape a song, to make it mine. I like to make tempo changes, especially fast to slow, I like to make the notes as round and warm as possible and part of that comes from shading a composition with blue notes that frame the passion. I like to fill in harmonies when the melody feels a little bony to me. . . . I think music is an adventure, a chance to shape sound with your bare hands.”

I’ve admired his playing for some years now — before I knew him as a soloist, I heard him through ensembles on recordings led by other musicians, rather in the way one would hear Hines, Horace Henderson, Joe Sullivan, Frank Melrose, Jess Stacy, Zinky Cohn, Tut Soper, Cassino Simpson, Alex Hill, or a dozen others subversively and happily animating the largest group.

There are several ways to experience this magic — Ray making himself a portal through which the elders can speak, while adding his own personal experiences.  One, of course, is to witness his transformations in person.  To do this, you’d have to know where he is going to be playing — check out the bottom of the page here for his appearances in the near future.

Another way t0 have a portable Skjelbred festival is through his compact discs, recent and otherwise, listed here. I call two new issues to your attention.  One, RAGTIME PIANO, is — beneath its rather plain title — a continued exploration of subversive possibilities, witty and warm.

I remember the first time I began to listen to it — with small surprises popping through the surface like small flowers, catching me off guard, subtler than Monk creating his own version of stride piano but with some of the same effect.  Each track is a small hot sonata, with the surprises resurfacing to make the whole disc a suite of unusual yet comfortable syncopated dance music.

The sixteen solo piano performances offer classics, stretched and reconsidered: SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / SOMETHING DOING / WHOOPEE STOMP / LOUISIANA RAG / MOURNFUL SERENADE / DANCE OF THE WITCH HAZELS / PINEAPPLE RAG / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING, as well as Ray’s originals — inspired by everyone from Emily Dickinson to Julia Child: SMILING RAG / LEAN AND GRIEFY RAG / DON’T CROWD THE MUSHROOMS / COCHINEAL RAG / LITTLE ELMER’S RAG / THE PICOT RAG / REFLECTIONS RAG / BALLS AND STRIKES FOREVER.

Another deep lesson in how to get the most music possible — and then some — from the piano can be found in Ray’s PIANO PORTRAITS, which demonstrates his range of endearing associations, from the Hot Five and early blues singers to Carl Kress and Eddie Lang, from Jimmie Noone and early Ellington to Bix, Hines, and Charlie Shavers. It’s a filling and fulfilling musical banquet: SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD / FEELING MY WAY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / WEATHER BIRD RAG / SQUEEZE ME / I NEED YOU BY MY SIDE / DINAH / READY FOR THE RIVER / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / CLARK AND RANDOLPH / CANNED MEAT RAG / BLUES FROM “CREOLE RHAPSODY” / BLUES FOR MILLIE LAMMOREUX / FATHER SWING / WHEN I DREAM OF YOU / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / MY HEART / MUGGLES / UNDECIDED.  Ray’s prose is as forthright and evocative as his playing, so this CD is worth reading as well as hearing for his recollections of Johnny Wittwer, Joe Sullivan, Burt Bales, Art Hodes, and Earl Hines.

Another way to experience Ray, his mastery of “those pretty notes and jangly octaves,” can be through these video performances.  He has been more than gracious to me, allowing me to capture him in a variety of settings.  I offer one here, BULL FROG BLUES, recorded on November 29, 2013, at the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival — with his Cubs, that savory band: Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Mike Daugherty, drums:

Wherever Ray goes, whatever the context in which he makes music, it’s always rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

MARK CANTOR’S CELLULOID IMPROVISATIONS (JAZZ ON FILM)

celluloidimprovisations

The renowned (diligent but never stuffy) scholar of jazz on film, Mark Cantor, is also a generous fellow, and he has launched a new website.

There, you can see and hear Fats Waller, Joe Marsala and Adele Girard, Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, the Washboard Serenaders, Andy Secrest, Benny Carter, Connee Boswell, Red Nichols, Lionel Hampton, Harry James, Dave Brubeck, Punch Miller, Lady Will Carr, Ethel Merman and Johnny Green, the Max Fleischer team of surrealists, Leo Watson, Teddy Bunn, Ray Eberle, Sidney Bechet, Thelma White, Buck and Bubbles, Maude Mills, Gerry Mullingan, the MJQ, Jack Teagarden, Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson, Bill Robinson, Louis Jordan, Joe Williams, as well as groups and musicians we might never have heard about — the daring Sandra among them — and a few mysteries: unidentified players just waiting for you to recognize them. (If you are interested in footage of “the girls in the band,” you will find some here as well.)

Some of these films and excerpts are familiar, but many are rare: offered here for your viewing in the best available prints with good sound and clear images.

May your happiness increase! 

SWING SYNERGY: MIKE LIPSKIN, LEON OAKLEY, PAUL MEHLING at RANCHO NICASIO (March 24, 2014)

Some groups sound larger than their numbers.  Whether the reason is experience, community, or intuition, they blossom on the stand, emerging as an entity more gratifying and complete than their individual personalities, instruments, and sounds.

Here’s a trio of piano, cornet, and guitar.  Close your eyes and you could think you are listening to a six or seven-piece band.  Open your eyes, and you wouldn’t miss a clarinet, trombone, string bass, or drums.

Such magical synergy doesn’t happen as a matter of course — but it did last Sunday, March 24, 2014, when Mike Lipskin (piano), Leon Oakley (cornet), and Paul Mehling (guitar) delighted us.

Here are eight performances from that evening — cheerful music imbued with the sweet spirit of Fats Waller and his Rhythm. Mike, Leon, and Paul don’t copy people or records, but their buoyant joy in playing evoked the swing Masters.

James P. Johnson’s OLD FASHIONED LOVE:

BABY BROWN, for and by Alex Hill:

UNDECIDED, for Charlie Shavers:

SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND, that 1935 anthem:

James P.’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES, a solo for Mike:

Hoagy Carmichael’s OLD MAN HARLEM:

A romp on AVALON:

YESTERDAY (the Lennon-McCartney soundtrack of the late Sixties, but watch out for the later choruses):

Messrs. Lipskin, Oakley, and Mehling play a variety of gigs with a variety of ensembles, from solo piano to gypsy jazz to a stomping two-trumpet band . . . catch them while you can!  (They are, singly and collectively, the real thing.)

May your happiness increase!

FACTS ABOUT FACTS ABOUT THE MUSIC

Imagine an engrossing book “about” jazz that has very little to say about the music. None of the usual content or digressions: anecdotal stories of musicians; portraits of club owners, record producers, concert impresarios. No one’s mother plays the organ; no one has a loving mentor or a horrible first gig.

But the book, MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE MUSIC, by Bruce D. Epperson (University of Chicago Press, 2013) is an intriguing study of something most people involved in the music in more than a casual way find invaluable: discographies.

EPPERSON DISCOGRAPHY

A discography, for those new to this, is an essay — or book-length — or a dozen volumes — or an online source — that documents the recorded history of this music. As a bibliography (at the end of your fifth-grade report on The Eye) lists the works consulted, a discography seeks to present all the information known on these recordings.  It can be limited to one artist, a span of time, a style or genre, or it can attempt to be encyclopedic, comprehensive.  Before jazz existed, of course, there were catalogues of compositions — think of the BWV numbers or Kochel numbers for Bach or Mozart.  But it was only when listeners and collectors began seriously to both amass and study recorded evidence — artifacts of performance — that the idea and the actual realization of discography came into being.

Epperson comes to this book (the result of five years’ study — and it shows in the best way) from a singular perspective. He is neither a musician nor a collector; rather, he is a bibliophile fascinated by the books and the people who envisioned and created them. (For some “jazz readers,” this is a perspective that takes some getting used to. It is as if one was handed “a study of Shakeapeare” that was really a history of the most renowned and influential editors of the texts of the plays. If one feels at a distance reading about everyone from the first innovators up to Tom Lord, Epperson’s lively prose will stand up to the accompaniment of one’s favorite recordings — all the master and alternate takes in chronological order, of course.)

A good deal of the book is a serious but not dry historical survey of the form — discographical research and publication, as we know it, began in England in the late Twenties and continues as I write this. At first, it was an outgrowth of the urge common among collectors to know all so that all could be possessed. If one fell in love with the sound of Bix Beiderbecke or Eddie Lang, for instance, one wanted to know exactly what recordings they had appeared on (and which were tempting imitations) so that one could, in this world or an ideal one, possess all their music or at least know that it existed. I think of an orinthologist’s “life-list,” where birds spotted get checked off, and I have seen many discographies that are also tidy or untidy lists of what a particular collector has. (I’ve done it myself, and I recall reading my copies of Rust, Jepsen, Lord, and specialized discographies with a mixture of awe and yearning: “Another take of X MARKS MY SPOT exists?  And it was issued on Bolivian OKeh?  And I don’t have it?  How can I hear it?”)

Why were discographies desirable or necessary?  When jazz performances were issued on single discs, often without the individual players listed on the label, one couldn’t be sure who the Kentucky Grasshoppers or Lil’s Hot Shots were. One could trust one’s ears, but that method has often led to what I would call Collector’s Enthusiasm, where every muted trumpet solo had to be by King Oliver; a vague aural shadow of saxophone on a 1934 Clarence Williams record — could that be Lester Young?  So, at first, they were lists created by collectors, then made public as more widespread enthusiasm about famous and obscure recordings developed.  Then, discographies could serve an ideological purpose: all the recordings in these pages have notable “jazz interest” (translation: they reflect my aesthetic values); they could be divided along racial lines to reflect theorizing about the development of an art form.  From more balanced perspectives, they could reflect much about the ways in which art was made public, and tell a great deal about individual artists or groups.

Epperson’s book deals adeptly with the ideas behind the varieties of discographies, and he does so by specific reference — tracing the changes in the form through specific publications and the writers / researchers responsible for them. This might, to the uninitiated, seem like a scriptural list of begats beginning with R.D. Darrell, but the creators themselves seem to have been at best energetic, at worst acrimonious. There are many small contentions documented in this book: questions of accuracy, of plagiarism, of theory and practice. Epperson’s story begins in England, takes in France and New Orleans, digresses most pleasingly into the phenomenon of “field recordings” and the changes brought in discography and record collecting by the long-playing record, and comes up as close to the present as possible. I was amused and pleased to see jazz scholars I know and admire depicted in these pages: Jan Evensmo, Manfred Selchow, Robert Rusch.

Epperson concludes with some deep philosophical questions (with commentary by Michael Fitzgerald, who knows the field deeply): in this new world, where it appears that everything one wants to hear can be heard in digital format, stripped of its evidence, what effect on discography as a scholarly endeavor or a music-lover’s act of reverence? And for the twenty-first century listener who can have all the issued and some unissued recordings of The Bohemian Stompers in one neat multi-disc set, are comprehensive discographies necessary or are they an antique manifestation of the urge to have all the rarities in one place?

Incidentally, the title isn’t Epperson’s point of view — it comes from a 1947 article by Ernest Borneman, “The Jazz Cult.”  The book has useful illustrations of pages taken from the respective discographies, generous footnotes and bibliography.

I think this book will have a lasting place in the libraries of many jazz enthusiasts and collectors, and I can see it treated with equal pleasure and respect in graduate programs in library science. But that makes it sound too serious. Epperson is a lively, witty writer, and although he tends to fairness to all sides so thoroughly as to occasionally seem diffident, his sharp observations are a real pleasure.

I said at the start that the book was different from most jazz tomes in that it wasn’t deeply based on anecdotage, but one story has stuck in my mind.  The renowned British discographer Brian Rust, Epperson tells us, was already collecting jazz records by the time he was 13 — in 1935 — “it was cheap, and it was approved by the family nurse, who assured them that ‘it’s not possible for germs to survive on smooth surfaces.'”

If anyone comes to you and asks what you are doing, for the love of goodness, with those records or compact discs, feel free to offer that answer.  Jazz records are, if nothing else, sanitary, and thus laudably safer than other objects by which we might amuse ourselves.

May your happiness increase!

THE BEAUTY OF IT HOT: AFTER HOURS IN THE VICTORY PUB, with JEFF BARNHART, BENT PERSSON, ANDY SCHUMM, TORSTEIN KUBBAN, KRISTOFFER KOMPEN, GRAHAM HUGHES, NORMAN FIELD, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, FRANS SJOSTROM, LARS FRANK, JACOB ULLBERGER, JOSH DUFFEE — AT THE 2013 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 1, 2013)

Collectively and joyously, Jeff Barnhart, keyboard / vocals; Bent Persson, Torstein Kubban, Andy Schumm, cornet; Graham Hughes, trombone; Kristoffer Kompen, valve-trombone; Lars Frank, tenor sax; Norman Field, clarinet; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Josh Duffee, drums.

Recorded on November 1, 2013, in the Victory Pub at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party in Newcastle, England.

THEM THERE EYES:

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

LULU’S BACK IN TOWN:

A fellow named Andy Schumm came by . . . and so did Josh Duffee:

MARGIE:

COME ON AND STOMP, STOMP, STOMP:

Because it is difficult to manage a camera, a tripod, a sheet of paper, and a pen, under these circumstances, I could be slightly inexact about who was playing what, when. (No doubt my precise readers will let me know my lapses.) It could have become November 2, 2013, while I was videoing. And if you think, “I can’t see the musicians,” I agree with you.

What matters is the liveliness of the music. These are the moments we remember all our lives — when improvisers, united by common love, memory, and knowledge, give us everything they have spent their lives experiencing — for the pure joy of it.

By the way, there’s more from this and another November 2013 jam session.  But the best way to experience such marvels is by being there. Consider this seriously if you can.

May your happiness increase!

WEDNESDAY’S JUST AS GOOD: KEVIN DORN, MARK SHANE, BRIAN NALEPKA (March 5, 2014)

Three great players who are also deep thinkers and good friends!

Some people couldn’t attend this concert because of the snow; others, like myself, found the commute from California daunting.

But, thanks to Chip Phillips and Toms River Schools TV, the first half of this wonderful trio jazz concert at Ocean County College is here for the viewing.  The participants?  Three kindred spirits who say they’d never played a concert as a trio before: Kevin Dorn, drums; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Mark Shane, piano. It’s all presented by the New Jersey Jazz Society and the Midweek Jazz Facebook page is here.

Our friend Ricky Riccardi as what the British call a “compere” — the George Wein / Norman Granz of the future — who introduces the band and then wisely lets them do what they do so well:

To quote Alex Hill, “Wasn’t that nice?” And a second half to come.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ IN BLOOM: RANDY REINHART, BOB HAVENS, DAN BLOCK, HARRY ALLEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, KERRY LEWIS, JOHN VON OHLEN at “JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA” (Sept. 20, 2013)

If you wonder about the title, you have only to gaze at the splendid autumnal chrysanthemums onstage . . . but the music would be blooming even if no flowers were in evidence.

Here is an early set from the jazz weekend formerly known as “Jazz at Chautauqua,” now reborn as the Allegheny Jazz Party.  The creative heroes on the stand for this short but intense gift are Randy Reinhart, cornet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums.

Please notice how much music they offer in three extended performances — echoing the Swing Era but firmly rooted in timeless Mainstream jazz of this century, with nods to Edgar Sampson, Duke Ellington, and Cole Porter.

BLUE LOU:

JUST SQUEEZE ME:

YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

See you at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party! It will happen from Thursday, September 18, to Sunday, September 21, 2014, at the InterConental Cleveland Hotel (9801 Carnegie Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44106).  The hotel gets good reviews and is much easier to get to than the august lodgings of yore.

The creative participants will be Marty Grosz, Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Wesla Whitfield, John Von Ohlen, Ricky Malichi, Pete Siers, Frank Tate, Jon Burr, Harry Allen, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, Dan Levinson, Rossano Sportiello, Keith Ingham, James Dapogny, Mike Greensill, Howard Alden, Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, Duke Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Andy Schumm, Randy Reinhart.  The proceedings will be supervised by the gently efficient Nancy Griffith, who has made sure of everyone’s happiness in years past at these parties.

There will be informal music on Thursday night, a solo piano session Friday afternoon, a seven-hour session with everyone joining in on Friday night, two more sessions on Saturday (more than eleven hours of music) and a Sunday afternoon finale (four hours).  No one will go away thinking, “There wasn’t enough to hear.”

Details can be found here or — more colorfully — here. I made hotel reservations today — there’s a special discount for the AJP.  But I learned that rooms are going quickly, and that’s no stage joke.

May your happiness increase!

A VALENTINE STOMP, or THE NINE-TWENTY SPECIAL (Part Two): CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS SWING BAND with NICOLE FRYDMAN (Feb. 13, 2014)

Here is the second part of a delightful musical evening (and here, for anyone who missed it, is the first).

Love was in the air at the Nine-Twenty Special — at the Russian Center on Sutter Street in San Francisco the night before Valentine’s Day 2014 when Clint Baker and his New Orleans Swing Band (with the wryly independent singer Nicole Frydman) played a swing dance in honor of Cupid.  I don’t know actually how many couples went home smitten; how many new alliances were forged across the crowded room.  (No one came up to the balcony where I was shooting videos to announce their new happiness.)

I do mean love of melody, of melodic improvisations, of great songs, or bouncing buoyancy.  From my second-story perch, I was able to capture the whole band and that sweet rumble you hear is the sound of the dancers moving, their shoes making graceful arcs, their whispered conversations and giggles.

The band was our man Clint, trumpet, clarinet, vocal; Robert Young, saxophone, vocal . . . and a lovely rhythm section of Jeff Hamilton, piano, gloriously; Tom Wilson, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; J Hansen, drums; the aforementioned Nicole Frydman, vocal.

Here are the highlights of the second set.  Love it?  Love it!

MY BLUE HEAVEN:

DIGA DIGA DOO / KRAZY KAPERS:

A meteorological pair by Nicole. First, STORMY WEATHER:

Then everything clears, with BLUE SKIES:

THE GIRLS GO CRAZY:

BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES:

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

WEARY BLUES:

SAN FRANCISCO BAY BLUES:

“Had a good time every time I went out.”  True indeed, if Clint Baker has a hand in the music. If you missed this Valentine Stomp, Clint will be leading a band for the Wednesday Night Hop in Mountain View, California, on April 2 — from 9:30 to midnight. Hop on!

May your happiness increase!

ESCAPING THE BOX

William Carlos Williams: “Forcing twentieth-century America into a sonnet—gosh, how I hate sonnets—is like putting a crab into a square box. You’ve got to cut his legs off to make him fit. When you get through, you don’t have a crab any more.”

Robert Frost: “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”

Younger, I would have sided with Frost: too much freedom leads to chaos. But I celebrate Williams’ position (even though his metaphor makes me wince) more as I age, feel, and listen.  Tidiness is a wonderful thing in the kitchen cabinets, but it might lead to the slow death of creative improvising.

In that spirit, I present the latest works of saxophonist / composer / historian / scholar / seeker Allen Lowe, a four-CD set of original compositions with one exception, a spoken-word piece by the novelist Rick Moody.

field recordings cover bc

JAZZ LIVES readers will be familiar with many of the names on that cover; others will provide engaging and sometimes quizzical surprises in listening and emotion.

Lowe’s works don’t seek to present snapshots of particular eras; they don’t offer “styles or schools.” Rather, his imaginations are intense, deep, yet unfettered. FIELD RECORDINGS, Lowe says in his liner notes, grew out of an argument he had with Wnton Marsalis — during Lowe’s attempt to interview Marsalis.  Disagreeing about “minstrelsy,” Marsalis characterized Lowe — in Lowe’s words — as “merely another in a long line of deluded white academics.”

Lowe spent the next six years immersing himself in “early entertainments of every racial persuasion,” which led him to compositions — song forms — that reflected what he had heard and experienced.  He also plays and improvises on many of these performances heard in this CD set.  More details here.

Lowe writes, “There is a tradition in certain kinds of writing in which the writer takes past works and puts them to his own use for very specific philosophical and artistic reasons. Brecht called this copien, as in the use of older texts as a means to something new and different, as a method from which to challenge prior ideas and forms. This project was done in exactly this spirit, as a way of altering certain received ideas of popular and jazz song. It is also a challenge to certain formal and intellectual assumptions.”

I haven’t heard more than one quarter of the set, but found the music so inspiring that I wanted to spread the word about it.   The performances weren’t always easy to listen to — Lowe, as composer and player, doesn’t shy away from improvisation’s rough edges, but he doesn’t run into harshness for its own sake.

What I appreciate most about the music — I was listening both with and without the benefit of Lowe’s commentaries — was its depth of feeling and innate ability to surprise.  The surprises weren’t ones I could predict (I know that sounds like an illogical paradox, but listening to many of the great musicians, I feel I know “where (s)he might be going” in the next chorus).

Rather, I felt the ground shifting under me in the best sense of the metaphor. Over and over, I felt beautifully startled, gently lifted out of my expectations and planted somewhere else, experiencing the sounds from a different perspective.  Each voyage was a fascinating series of what Emerson calls “zig-zag tacks.”  I heard echoes of New Orleans polyphony and street parade, dark unrequited blues, ensemble questing that echoed Mingus and freer improvsations, with searching, winding melodic lines, unpredictable harmonies that felt good as soon as they found my ears.

Language has a hard time describing music in the best of circumstances, and words are particularly inadequate here. One must be a creative listener to feel Lowe’s many musics, but they are well worth the investigation.  He is honest, inquiring, and sly — as is his work on these four CDs.  But beware!  This set is not ear-cushioning, to be listened to in conjunction with household chores, nor is it meant to be heard as one hears some discs: seventy-five minutes of supple protection from the world.  I predict that the listener wise and brave enough to purchase the FIELD RECORDINGS will approach the music as one does a new book of poems: a poem or two at a time, rather than as an artistic devouring of it all.

As a measure of the breadth and often witty depths of Lowe’s imagination, I would list some of the names he calls in his notes and compositions: Bunk Johnson, Tony Jackson, Roswell Rudd, Ernest Hogan, Mantan Moreland, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Lennie Tristano, James Reese Europe, Wilbur Sweatman, Thelonious Monk, Zora Neale Hurston, Jelly Roll Morton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Varese, Dave Schildkraut, Bud Powell, W.E.B. DuBois, Frank Melrose, Paul Whiteman, Bill Challis, Harry Barris, George Bacquet, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James P. Johnson, Albert Ayler, Ran Blake, Henry Mancini, Sun Ra, Mezz Mezzrow, Pete Daily, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Bill Triglia, George Gershwin, Frank Teschemacher, Jess Stacy, Bix Beiderbecke, Arizona Dranes, Bert Williams, George Wheeler, Barbara Payne, Clyde Bernhardt, Ma Rainey, Anthony Braxton, Joe Jordan, Jaki Byard, Fess Manetta, Lester Young, Duke Ellington . . . and more.

The curious — and I hope there are many — will listen to samples here and then plunge in — this set costs less than two CDs and is wonderfully lively. You can also learn more at Allen’s website and blog (called EVERYTHING ELSE IS POST MODERNISM) — where Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon and Norman Mailer, compelled to share a subway seat, eye each other with suspicion.

I admire Allen Lowe’s courage, range, and audacities. The music is often, on first hearing, “weird,” but that’s a compliment. A little weirdness is like good seasoning: so much missed in the music we are sold, so richly enhancing in the right proportions.

And to return to the austere Robert Frost.  My letter to him, unsent and unread, is as follows:Dear Mr. Frost. If you removed the net, you might not have tennis, but you certainly would have an engaging dance.”

May your happiness increase!

BEN WEBSTER – JOHNNY HODGES SEXTET 1960 PLUS

A caveat to begin with.  This is a video of a “bootleg” recording. And I know that no one’s estate is getting paid for this.  I apologize to everyone who might be offended by such illicitness.  But the music is beyond your wildest dreams of lyrical swing.  And since both of the horn soloists were sometimes surrounded by musicians who didn’t understand their essential selves as well, this session is priceless. (Even Norman Granz, who loved and encouraged both Ben and Hodges, sometimes paired them with musicians who didn’t give them perfect rhythmic support . . . in my opinion.)

Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster officially played together for the first time in the 1935 Ellington band, and their mutual love and admiration went on for nearly four decades after that.  In 1960, they recorded a dozen tracks at a remarkable session — two horns, four rhythm — that wasn’t issued until much later.  It benefits greatly from a swinging rhythm section of Lou Levy, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Wilfred Middlebrooks, string bass; Gus Johnson, drums.  (I believe that this was the quartet supporting Ella Fitzgerald in concert at the time.) The remaining four tracks feature a different band: Hodges, Ben, Ray Nance, cornet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Emil Richards, vibes; Russ Freeman, piano; Joe Mondragon, string bass; Mel Lewis, drums; Jimmy Hamilton, arrangements: Los Angeles, January 31, 1961.

The material was first issued on a now out-of-print Mosaic box set, and surfaced on this European CD . . . and this YouTube video.  The songs are BEN’S WEB / SIDE DOOR (DON’T KID YOURSELF) / BLUES’LL BLOW YOUR FUSE / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / DUAL HIGHWAY / BIG EARS / SHORTY GULL / IFIDA / BIG SMACK / I’D BE THERE / JUST ANOTHER DAY / LOLLAGAGIN NOW / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT / VAL’S LAMENT / TIPSY JOE / WAITING ON THE CHAMPAGNE.

Posted by Thelasttavern — we send thanks for the rarely heard music. And I’d like everyone who thinks they know what swing is to pay close attention to the two rhythm sections, especially to the floating work of the under-celebrated Gus Johnson.

(A linguistic aside: the title IFIDA was mysterious to me for a long time until I realized that it was pronounced as several words, as in “If I’d – a” done this or that . . . )

May your happiness increase!

FLIGHTS OF FANCY: ALBERT BALL’S FLYING ACES

When I hear young jazz musicians playing, I always hope that they will record — so that their music can be heard beyond the small circle of people who will attend their live performances.

In London, there’s a small group (ever expanding) of lively young musicians — in this case, devoted to the hybrid of ragtime, popular song, and improvisations that were in the air in the first decades of the last century.

ALBERT BALL'S FLYING ACES

Their debut CD, ALBERT BALL’S FLYING ACES, asks the audience to imagine what might have happened if Ball, an actual pilot and musician who died in the Great War, had survived and formed a band when he came home. The music — played by young people with iPhones — echoes that lost generation who perished in World War One, and reflects lovingly on James Reese Europe, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and pretty melodies — both the ones of their time and ones newly composed to reflect that spirit.  The music is at once nostalgic, reflective, and energetic.

FLYING ACES

The musicians may not be familiar names to you — yet — but their work is impressive: Nicholas D. Ball, drums, percussion, vocal; Simon Marsh, reeds; Eleanor Smith, trombone, violin; Matt Redman, banjo, vocal; Richard “Dickie” Evans, sousaphone; Jonathan Butterfield, piano — with guest appearances by Patricia Hammond, vocal; Geoffrey Bartholomew, trumpet.

The songs are ON SILVERY WINGS OF SONG (2012) / THE AEROPLANE RAG (1912) / WHEN HAPPINESS REIGNS (c. 1920) / WAIT ‘TILL YOU GET THEM UP IN THE AIR, BOYS (1919) / PATCHES — A RAG-TIME DUET (c. 1916) / POOR BUTTERFLY (1916) / AFGHANISTAN — A ROMANCE OF ASIA (1919) / COMMON STROLL (2012) / THE FLYING CORPS RAG (2012) / WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY LOVING SOMEBODY ELSE? (1916) / SERENADE LYRIQUE — PICTURESQUE WALTZ (1899) / YOU’RE HERE AND I’M HERE (1914) / KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING (1914) / ROSES OF PICARDY (1916).  You’ll note some new titles — composed by Members of the Ensemble, heartwarming favorites of the Great War, and compositions by Kern, Novello, Elgar, and von Tilzer.

It’s much easier to ascend with the help of this band than it is to find a biplane in proper working order, so I commend them to you.

And with fully modern means of communication! Here is their official site (a charming witty period piece).  Mister Ball has also been granted a Facebook page for his band, and he has his own YouTube channel as well. As the crowning touch, the band’s CD can be obtained here.  The Great War began a hundred years ago, but these Aces are still flying high.

May your happiness increase! 

MOUNTAIN AIRS: THE 2014 EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 25-27, 2014)

EVERGREEN

I’m very excited to be going to the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival — that’s Evergreen, Colorado, near the end of July. The last time I visited that state was also for rewarding jazz — I have fond memories of Sunnie Sutton’s Rocky Mountain Jazz Party — so my mind automatically associates Colorado with good music and new friends.   

The Festival is arranged so that each band plays eight sets over three days in five venues (I can’t do the math; perhaps some of you can) ranging from intimate to large, with room for energetic swing dancing. 

I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing some artists whose music I admire greatly:

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND (with Jon-Erik Kellso, Kim Cusack, Russ Whitman, Chris Smith, Rod McDonald, Pete Siers)

“IVORY & GOLD”: JEFF AND ANNE BARNHART

BIG MAMA SUE (I know her as Sue Kroninger, and she’ll be joined by Eddie Erickson, Chris Calabrese, and Clint Baker)

PETER ECKLUND TRIO

and some bands new to me that come highly recommended:

AFTER MIDNIGHT (reminiscent of the Goodman Sextet)

QUEEN CITY JAZZ BAND with Wende Harston

BOGALUSA STRUTTERS

JONI JANAK and CENTERPIECE JAZZ

HOT TOMATOES DANCE ORCHESTRA

YOUR FATHER’S MUSTACHE BAND

Filmmaker Franklin Clay made a very expert video of the 2012 Festival that you can see here. Although the 2014 lineup is different, the video shows what the Festival feels like better than ten thousand words would.

And here’s Jenney Coberly’s film of the 2011 festival: 

Elsewhere on the Festival site, there is appealing news for those people trying to hold on to their dollars until the eagle grins: discounts apply to tickets ordered before May 31, so the race is indeed to the swift.  (You need not be swift to attend the Festival: I see there is a shuttle between venues.)

I will say more about this as the calendar pages fall off the wall, but I wanted to tell JAZZ LIVES readers about good times sure to come.

May your happiness increase!

“PRESIDENT OF BEAUTY”: A FILM ABOUT LESTER YOUNG

Here is the link to what promises to be a beautiful film — Henry Ferrini’s documentary about Lester Young, PRESIDENT OF BEAUTY.

If anyone ever deserved a gentle celebration of his life — while the people who saw him are still on the planet — it would be Lester, and I look forward to this film.

May your happiness increase!

“DINNER MUSIC” FROM MAL SHARPE and THE BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at FIOR D’ITALIA (March

Mos people know Mal Sharpe (with one of his current bands, the Big Money in Jazz) as someone who inspires audiences with exuberant music. But he and his musicians can create very subtle music as well, Jelly Roll Morton’s “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm.” It’s music to dine by. Of course, with Mal in charge, it will be colorful, lively, witty — quiet but never dull.

Mal’s smaller version of his classic band floats along without piano or drums, and with Mal’s playing and singing; Jim Gammon, cornet; Dwayne Ramsey, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Bill DeKuiper, guitar; Paul Smith, string bass and wordless vocal. . . .evoking New Orleans grit and the Kansas City Six.

This band plays every Wednesday night from 6 to 9 at the well-known Italian restaurant, Fior d’Italia (2237 Mason Street) in North Beach, San Francisco, and we came by for a meal and a serenade on March 19, 2014. Here are some of the musical highlights. You’ll have to invent the culinary ones for yourself: here are the menus.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE (the band’s theme and Mal’s offhanded sermon on carpe diem and tempus fugit, too):

MEAN TO ME (a rhetorical statement only):

SHINE (that splendid, misinterpreted song):

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (appropriate to a restaurant with various grilled meats, no?):

JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE (soulfully sung by Dwayne):

And for an effervescent dessert, on the last number of the second set, San Francisco’s irrepressible jazz singer Kellye Gray was compelled to join the band with a rare whistling solo on DINAH:

Fior d’Italia is a North Beach classic, known for a varied menu, a comfortable ambiance, a sweet-natured staff . . . and the best dinner music you can think of on Wednesday evenings.

May your happiness increase!

WITH THIS BOOK (AND A FUNCTIONING PEN) THE BAY AREA JAZZ FAN IS ALL READY FOR MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES

Photographer / jazz fan Jessica Levant has been enjoying her twin pleasures for years now — as she says, “idly” taking pictures of her jazz and blues heroes and heroines in the Bay Area (that’s the area in and around San Francisco, California).  She’s now collected those photographs — no posing, all taken in performance — into a charming book, SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA JAZZ & BLUSICIANS.

jabcover

The book is sweet testimony to the wide variety of musical styles and performers working in this area — women and men, youths and veterans, singers and instrumentalists, leaders and side-people. By offering these photographs in pure alphabetical order, Jessica has wisely avoided the question of categorizing or of valuing these musicians. I am pleased to see portraits and biographies of people I know and have heard: Clint Baker, Danny Brown, Waldo Carter, Mike Greensill, Jeff Hamilton, Paul Mehling, Si Perkoff, Rob Reich, Dave Ricketts, Mal Sharpe, John Wiitala . . . as well as people I know by reputation . . . and the larger group of people I look forward to hearing and meeting.  Jessica’s color portraits are informal and lively; no stiff poses against a studio backdrop here, and her biographies combine material provided by the artist and her own perceptions.

It’s an entertaining book, and I predict it could start a social trend. Jazz and blues fans like (we’re all fans at heart) to go home with an autograph from our favorite musician, and I can see Bay Area fans competing with one another to collect ALL the autographs in this book.  Better hurry: I’ve spotted Jessica at jazz clubs, busily photographing — I hear rumors of a second volume to come.

You can learn more about Jessica and her book here. And when you see a quietly enthusiastic woman with a camera (tactfully not getting in anyone’s way) I encourage you to approach her and ask, “Are you Jessica Levant?  May I have your autograph?”  I’m fairly sure she will oblige, graciously.

Thanks to Barb Hauser for making the connection, as she always does!

May your happiness increase!

“YOU HEAR THE RHYTHM ROMPING?”

The question I pose in my title becomes rhetorical as soon as Rebecca Kilgore, Paolo Alderighi, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Phil Flanigan, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, begin to play Gene Krupa’s DRUM BOOGIE at the 2014 Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay —

During this set, a musician I know casually sat down behind me, tapped me on the shoulder while Jeff was elevating the proceedings even higher, and said with a grin, “Big Sid’s in the house.”  Jeff Hamilton doesn’t imitate anyone, but he has Catlett’s beautiful sense of sound and space.  And that’s not to ignore Becky, Dan, Paolo, and Phil — who make the rhythm romp as a matter of course.  As for me, I’m still floating.

May your happiness increase!

SWING STREET COMES TO NICASIO (Part Two): THE IVORY CLUB BOYS: PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA, and MIKE LIPSKIN (March 2, 2014)

A second helping of The Ivory Club Boys, a hot band that satisfies. (Here is the first helping, for those who’d rather listen than read.)

On Sunday, March 2, 2014, while the rest of America was watching the Oscars, the Beloved and I were having a wonderful time with the Ivory Club Boys (presented by the Hot Club of San Francisco) paying tribute to violinist Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, at Rancho Nicasio in Nicasio, California.

The Ivories were (for this occasion) Paul Mehling, guitar and vocal; Evan Price, violin; Clint Baker, trumpet, euphonium, clarinet, and vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass, and guest star Mike Lipskin, piano.

And before we proceed: the Ivories aren’t a repertory band devoted to reproducing Stuff and Jonah’s hot sounds right off the record — so the scholars may find a certain liberty in their improvisations.  (Whisper this: the Ivories even perform songs Stuff never recorded.)  But they don’t want to make history; they just want to swing. Four-four, if you don’t mind. Charlie Christian and Teddy Bunn are at the bar, too.

Here are more rocking numbers from their second set:

ROSETTA (vocal Sam Rocha):

Stuff’s own IT’S WONDERFUL:

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

I COVER THE WATERFRONT:

‘S’WONDERFUL:

MOONGLOW:

SOLID OLD MAN:

MOTEN SWING:

This band was so rewarding.  I’m looking forward to their next gig, their CD, their DVD, the world tour, the t-shirts, keychains, their own Facebook page. Until the Ivory Club Boys come to your town, enjoy this set.

May your happiness increase!

SEISMIC SWING FOR WASHBOARD SAM: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON, and PATRICK SKIFFINGTON at MONTEREY (March 8,, 2014)

The life story of “Washboard Sam,” born Robert Brown (singer / songwriter / washboardist) is melancholy and seems all too familiar: early fame, influential recordings, a short life — 1910-1966 — and burial in an unmarked grave.

WASHBOARD-SAM-1931

But his music lives on.  Here is a brief but successful musical tribute performed at the 2014 Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay. At the head of this compact swinging band is the inimitable Carl Sonny Leyland, piano / vocal, with Marty Eggers, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

For this trio of selections, Carl invited the young washboardist Patrick Skiffington to join in, to give the music its proper shaking and rattling quality.

The washboard often has been looked down on in jazz but when it’s played well, it can drive a band (think of the hot records by the Washboard Rhythm Kings circa 1931-33).

Young Mister Skeffington knows his craft: as an ensemble player, he listens; he varies his dynamic range, and he’s a true addition to the band, his sounds and rhythms steady and varied. He’s been on the scene a bit, but JAZZ LIVES takes pleasure in welcoming him officially.

I wonder if I might see a quartet set by this band at a California festival?  An idea whose time might well have come.  For the moment, enjoy these three performances.

I apologize to those viewers who wanted to see Patrick in all his glory. It didn’t happen during this set — he is mostly hidden — but hearing is believing.  Next time, perhaps I will choose a better vantage point.

And thanks as always to Carl, Marty, and Jeff, who always create solid vibrations of the finest kind.

MY BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT:

SHE BELONGS TO THE DEVIL:

THE LEVEE CAMP BLUES:

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ WORTH READING: “STRICTLY A MUSICIAN: DICK CARY” by DEREK COLLER

STRICTLY A MUSICIAN

Usually a reviewer waits until (s)he has finished the book before writing. I’ve only read one-sixth (one hundred pages) of Derek Coller’s biography of multi-instrumentalist / composer / arranger Dick Cary, but I didn’t want to wait to tell you how good it is

I think it is one of the most important books about how it feels and what it means to play jazz in public.

Cary (1916-1994) is one of those figures in jazz — invaluable but shadowy — whose identity is defined by associations with famous names.  A long time ago, I knew him the pianist in Louis Armstrong’s first All-Stars. Listening to TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS over and over, I heard him as a masterful accompanist, deferentially but beautifully showing the way, never intruding, quietly swinging in delicate fashion.  Later I delighted in his brilliant, nimble trumpet work — soaring in ways reminiscent of Bobby Hackett.  But it was as the great swinging exponent of the Eb alto horn (the “peck” horn) that he made the greatest impression on me: hear him on Eddie Condon’s JAM SESSION COAST TO COAST or JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S. More recently, I admired his arrangements and compositions performed and recorded with his “Tuesday Night Friends” on Arbors issues.

But even when I noticed his always welcome presence, I never attempted to piece together the evidence to ask, “Who was this Dick Cary?”

I am so glad that Derek Coller — a very well-respected researcher and a fine straightforward writer — has done so. Derek has a well-earned reputation for intelligence, empathy, and candor, so the book is honest and thorough, without being ungenerous.

So many respected volumes (in and out of jazz) are well-crafted syntheses of what others have written. STRICTLY A MUSICIAN is entrancing because of its tireless use of first-hand “new” materials. The book has been written with the help and complete cooperation of pianist Jim Turner, who inherited the Dick Cary Estate and maintains the Cary website.  Cary was interviewed by a number of people, including the late Floyd Levin; friends saved his correspondence and recalled his stories.  But the spine of this book is Cary’s diaries, which he kept (with a few gaps) from 1931 to 1994 — 56 diaries in all.

Diaries.

I feel so grateful for this possibly vanished phenomenon.  Had Cary lived in our times, and communicated by email and social media, his introspective recollections would be gone.  His diaries are essential to our understanding of his life, his work, and his sensibilities.  Keeping a diary is by definition a private act but Cary kept his (unlike Philip Larkin) because he wanted to share — posthumously, I assume — what he had seen, done, and felt.

Anyone’s diary might be intriguing as a candid record of daily experiences and perceptions, but the diaries of musicians — creative individuals making a living in the public sphere by being asked to “perform” in public, to interact with the audience at close range — are bound to be fascinating.

Being human asks us to balance one’s public and private selves.  It isn’t always a battle, I hope, but musicians are on display.  They smile at the bandleader; they shake hands with fans; they might speak more candidly to their colleagues on the stand, but in general we meet their public selves when we ask for an autograph or thank them for a great set. A musician who is candid without tact on the microphone may enjoy the sensation for the moment, but might lose an opportunity for a job, so the Public Self is firmly in place for most of them until they speak among themselves or with others they trust.

Cary’s diaries — and this rewarding book — give a reader a deep feeling for what a working musician sees and experiences, and Coller uses this material wisely, sparingly, yet to great effect.  The book is not a day-to-day record of aches and pains, physical and emotional (although Cary does complain). The diaries contain details that make a typical jazz fan excited: who was on the gig last night, who played what, who was “helpless” from alcohol before the evening was over.   We learn what a night’s work paid in 1944. We find out who is a pleasure to work with, who is a total bore or sharp-tongued mocker.

Through these excerpts from Cary’s diary, we are taken behind the scenes.  Those of us who do not play professionally will find it as close as we will ever come to being part of the band.  No, bands, for their are many. Reading this book, I often felt as if I were sitting with Cary at a small table, and he had decided I was a trusted friend, someone to whom he could share his inner life.

This is invaluable, and it goes beyond the anecdotal.  Coller admires Cary but does not pretend that The Jazz Hero was saintly, so we get a clear sense of Cary as someone who speaks his mind, and not only to his diary. But Coller (unlike many other modern biographers) is not interested in revealing that The Jazz Hero was A Bad Person. When Cary is irritating or foolish — in retrospect — we learn of it, and the book moves on.

A pause for some glorious sounds.  Here’s a sample of what Cary sounded and looked like in performance (with the Climax Jazz Band — he’s the bearded fellow playing an alto horn to the right):

Back to the book.  In the first hundred pages, I encountered head-spinning details of jam sessions, of arranging for Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman.  What it was like to walk home after a gig with Eddie Condon.  How Jack Teagarden came and tuned the piano first on every gig he was on.  That Rod Cless asked Cary (in Pee Wee Russell’s hearing) what he, Rod, could do to be more like Frank Teschemacher. What it felt like to hear Tatum in the forties.  How Dick Hyman — age 21 — appeared to Cary. Cary’s hearing and meeting Charlie Parker. A dinner with Charlie Creath and Zutty Singleton (gumbo!). What being typecast as a “Dixieland” musician did to Cary. An early sighting of Barney Kessel.  The Eddie Condon Floor Shows and the 1944-5 concerts. Working for Billy Butterfield and Jean Goldkette, and Cary’s six-month tour with the first Louis Armstrong All Stars. Cary, in 1941, playing BODY AND SOUL and THE SHIEK OF ARABY with Coleman Hawkins and Sidney Catlett at a Boston gig. Portraits of Brad Gowans, Wild Bill Davison, George Brunis, Danny Alvin, and Nick Rongetti.

Cary was articulate — one of those straightforward writers who captured one aspect (perhaps a transient one) of someone’s personality in a few sharp strokes.  And he was also just as ready to put his own playing and conduct under the microscope.

STRICTLY A MUSICIAN (a phrase that Barney Bigard used to praise Cary instead of Earl Hines) is an enthralling book — one that I have been rationing my reading . . . so that I won’t finish it too quickly. If you love this music, it is invaluable.  Rare photographs, a comprehensive discography, indices, and more. And Coller — who by choice remains almost invisible — is a fine careful graceful writer, shining the light on Cary and his colleagues all the time.

The book is available here, but I also encourage you to contact Jim Turner here and visit the Dick Cary Music site, which has treasures to share. Jim tells me that Dick’s “Tuesday Night Friends,” his rehearsal band, is still going strong after twenty years — because of the devotion of the musicians to Dick’s music.

May your happiness increase!

JUST RIGHT: TIM LAUGHLIN: “THE TRIO COLLECTION, VOLUME ONE”

We all know those delicious moments in live performance when the band hits A Groove and we feel the tension dissipate. We know we can trust these musicians to wrap us in their music and carry us away with them. We feel a warmth embracing us.

Our cherished recordings can also produce this wonderful comfort. Play Benny Goodman’s SUGAR, or Vic Dickenson’s WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE (or a few hundred others) and I become relaxed, elated, so happy.

It isn’t Easy Listening. I listen intently, but I know that no astringent surprises or sudden drops in aesthetic cabin pressure are coming.

A new CD by Tim Laughlin, clarinet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Hal Smith, drums, provides the same exhilaration and solace from the very first note.  It is called THE TRIO COLLECTION, VOLUME ONE.

Seeing these names, you may be — as I was — immediately convinced, with no need to read on.  Should you be in New Orleans, the CD is available at one of my favorite places in that city, the Louisiana Music Factory, or you can order an autographed copy from Tim at his website. And here you can hear excerpts from four songs.

TIM LAUGHLIN Trio 1

These three players are experienced and empathic, and Tim had the fine idea of recording the session in his home: inviting two expert friends, having his 1922 piano tuned . . . and playing songs that bring pleasure.  No recording studio with microphones, baffles, barriers; no club with chatter and clatter.  Just serenely beautiful jazz for us.

Here are the songs: Jabbo Smith’s sweet MUST BE RIGHT, CAN’T BE WRONG; Tim’s own ESPLANADE; a whole host of durable classics with associations ranging from Jack Teagarden to Mr. Goodman to George Lewis and Frank Sinatra: AS LONG AS I LIVE / YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME / NEW ORLEANS (with the verse) / OH DADDY BLUES / IT’S A LOVELY DAY TODAY / OLD RUGGED CROSS / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / THE ONE I LOVE BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE (a song Tim says, deadpan, that he likes to play when hired for a wedding gig) / I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES / NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT / IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN / SATURDAY NIGHT IS THE LONELIEST NIGHT OF THE WEEK.

The recording is that it acknowledges the tradition — not only the records — but what the three players have played, heard, and lived. It is not a “repertory” effort, where three gifted individualists in this century tamp down their personalities and work hard to reproduce the sounds of a Benny Goodman Trio airshot from 1938 for us in modern sound.  Messrs. Laughlin, Boeddinghaus, and Smith play their own life-experiences. They know the preceding century of jazz deeply, but they joyously choose to follow their own impulses.  (Those who know artistic history are not compelled to repeat it.)

So the “scholarly” types will — like beagles sniffing for crumbs after Thanksgiving dinner — hear echoes of Goodman, Fazola, Davern, Wilson, Hines, Morton, Wettling, Catlett, Jones — but our hearts respond to Tim, David, and Hal, three mature players having a fine time.

I could write more about Tim’s tone (glorious), his singing melodic lines and use of space (younger musicians, take note), of Hal’s sound on his snare drum, hi-hat, and bass drum (luxuriant and hilariously apt), of David’s generosity to the trio (providing the richest orchestral carpet of two-handed delicacy and strength but not getting in anyone’s way) . . . as well as the perfect recorded sound, but I would rather go and play the CD again.  I predict that you will, too.  I hope there will be a second and a third volume and more of this trio . . . .

And — to repeat the details again for those lost in bliss: In New Orleans, the CD is now available at one of my favorite places in that city, the Louisiana Music Factory, or you can order an autographed copy from Tim at his website. And here you can hear excerpts from four songs. Other corners of Tim’s site are neatly packed with rewarding information: sound samples from other CDs, his gig schedule, and more.

To quote Jelly Roll Morton, “That’s like it ought to be.”

May your happiness increase!