Monthly Archives: March 2014

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!