Monthly Archives: May 2014

THE GOOD NEWS FROM THE SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 2014)

It was oppressively hot last weekend at the Sacramento Music Festival, but the music itself made it all more than worthwhile.  Here’s one extended sample, nearly twelve minutes of beauty created by Vince Bartels and the All-Stars in honor of Eddie Condon, a medium-slow Bb blues that segues into OLE MISS.  The players are Vince, drums; Dave Stone, string bass; Johnny Varro, piano; Allan Vache, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Dan Barrett, trumpet:

And this wonderful sustained invention took place on May 23, 2014.

Vince and his colleagues here (the late Eddie Higgins, when he was originally part of this band — making their debut CD — called them the MIGRANT JAZZ WORKERS) are honoring, both in spirit and example, Eddie Condon.

What Eddie made happen on a regular basis is quite beautiful and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves: in my jazz pantheon, he is alongside the greatest figures.  He masterfully shaped any group of idiosyncratic eccentrics into a band, gave them an aesthetic (I would say “moral”) focus, and then let them find their own ways to the truth, individually and collectively.  There are and were and will always be marvelous improvisers, but there was only one Eddie, and it was very lovely to see his music being honored and illuminated in this way.  I just wish the Blue Network still existed, but I hope that (in my own way) that JAZZ LIVES spreads the word from Calcutta to Ketchikan. For all you G.I.’s and hot fans!

I will have more video dispatches from the SMF — featuring Vince, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, High Sierra, Bob Schulz, Eddie Erickson, and others — as the spring and summer unfold.

May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE MUSIC (Part One): LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO (with MISS MEREDITH AXELROD)

Just beautiful.  Leon, cornet; Craig, guitar; guest star Meredith, vocals — at Cafe Divine (a fine restaurant at 1600 Stockton Street in San Francisco). Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco play there on the third Sunday of every month, and this session — in two parts — took place on May 18, 2014.

A caveat to start.  Leon and Craig play without amplification, and Cafe Divine is a restaurant, not a concert hall, so you will hear the conversation of the diners. I don’t think that the Savoy Ballroom was reverently still, or the dinners at which Bach and Mozart swung out with their latest compositions.

Their intoxicating music soars.  I told Craig after the first set that he and Leon had performed time-and-space-warping magic: they had made 2014 North Beach into 1928 Chicago, and he agreed: that was their intention!

Here is the first of two tasting menus offered for your delectation.

The Hot Five’s ONCE IN A WHILE:

A very moving MEMORIES OF YOU:

Robert Johnson’s HOT TAMALES (THEY’RE RED HOT) which at first I mistook for HOW’M I DOIN’? — being more familiar with Redman than Johnson:

A song I didn’t know, from Amanda Randoph’s repertoire, here sung by Meredith, HONEY, DON’T YOU TURN YOUR BACK ON ME:

A highlight: MABEL’S DREAM:

Meredith offers I’M A LITTLE BLACKBIRD from the Clarence Williams book:

And we close with a spicy MESSIN’ AROUND:

Other bands are playing these songs, and beautifully, too, but no one else is making music quite like this in 2014, I propose. I’ve marked my calendar for the Oakley-Ventresco magical appearances at Cafe Divine, a place that lives up to its name.

May your happiness increase!

May your happiness increase!

“WHO’S SORRY NOW?” “NOT ME.” PAOLO ALDERIGHI, PHIL FLANIGAN, JEFF HAMILTON at MONTEREY (March 8, 2014)

May I humbly suggest that you put everything down (yes, leave the pretense of multi-tasking alone) and enjoy yourself for six minutes’ plus.

I present three modern swing masters exploring WHO’S SORRY NOW? at the 2014 Jazz Bash by the Bay: Paolo Alderighi, piano; Phil Flanigan, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

You’ll find your own delights in this performance: there’s the heartbeat sound of Phil’s bass, his time so “right” and his solo voice so sweetly deep; Jeff’s variety of sounds, his dancing wire-brush playing on the cymbals and drumheads; his witty conversation with Paolo — who here reminds me a little of his hero Erroll Garner, but much more of a pianist who’s rarely celebrated, Sir Charles Thompson (still active in his early nineties!) — with a beautiful blend of light-hearted swing and subtle harmonic explorations, offering us the sacred past and his own 2014 variations on theme, sound, voicing, melodic embellishment, dynamics.

I’d offer this performance to any rhythm-section players as a model of communal gracefulness: in it, the soloists speak for themselves but build lovely creations that are far more than three players proceeding down familiar roads together.  Thanks to Rebecca Kilgore for getting these three fellows together, and for creating an atmosphere where such things happen naturally.

This performance is a lesson in beautiful PLAY.

May your happiness increase!

WRITE ON THE HEAD!

I received a fascinating letter some days ago from John Cox, a musician from Melbourne, Australia, who has played with Len and Bob Barnard and many other traditional / New Orleans / swing bands.

John told me that he has a signed banjo head from the Twenties with members of the King Oliver band, that he would like to sell and have go to a good home. Several New Orleans authorities including Greg Lambousy have said they thought it was genuine.  John says he has a Gretsch tenor banjo which the head came from. He’s looking to sell both for a starting bid of $1800 (he has had offers from interested people and institutions) and you can email him at johnpaulacox@optusnet.com.au.

BANJO HEAD

From what I can see, the Louis signature is genuine. And it appears that the original owner of this holy relic offered it to musicians in 1923, 1926, and 1928 for their signatures.  I see Freddie Keppard, Sippie Wallace, Baby Dodds, Johnny Dodds, Honore Dutrey, Manuel Perez, Bud Scott, and one other (top left) that I don’t quite recognize. (News flash!  Kris Bauwens, who knows a great deal about these things, has suggested that it is Bunk Johnson.  Indeed!)

I asked John about the provenance of this object, to learn more about it, and to sense its authenticity, and he told me that he bought the head from a man named Sampson, living in Queensland.  Sampson told John that the banjo had belonged to his father.  When Sampson’s father was about 15, Sampson’s grandfather would take him to the United States from England by ship to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River to Chicago.  They would stay in a hotel and get contraband to take back to England. In the hotels were jazz bands, and he befriended Bud Scott, who looked after him and gave him the banjo, which he had musicians sign over the years.  The banjo would have been fairly cheap at the time.  The boy was nicknamed “Mississippi Sam,” which was shortened to “Sippi Sam.” John believes the story to be true as Sampson’s father had died but Sampson said he could always remember the banjo at the family home.  Sampson had come out to Australia as a child and was about sixty when John met him.

I don’t ordinarily turn JAZZ LIVES into a hot market, but this object is so enthralling on its own that I felt drawn to do so. Please do get in touch with John if your budget can tolerate the purchase of such a beautiful artifact.

May your happiness increase!

SVETLANA SWINGS WITH WYCLIFFE (June 7, 2014)

The singer Svetlana Shmulyian is a very engaging improviser in the great tradition of lilting melodies over a swinging background. Happily, she has a new New York City show coming up on June 7. Here’s what I wrote about her first CD release, and — so you can see and hear for yourself — I offer a few videos from 2012 and from 2013.

Her band is called Svetlana and the Delancey Five in honor of its Lower East Side residency, but this gig is at B. B. King’s (with more information on Facebook here) as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival.  Svetlana likes to sing with the best musicians and this gig will feature the remarkable Wycliffe Gordon doing what he does so well.  She tells me that the Lucille Room also has a great hardwood dance floor, so you can sit and listen or dance the hours away. Shows are at 7 and 9:30 PM.  (Doors open one hour before for each show.)

SVETLANA June 7
I would be there if I could.  The other musicians will include Adrian Cunningham (reeds), Charlie Caranicas (trumpet), Dalton Ridenhour (piano), and Rob Garcia (drums): melodic swingers for sure.
May your happiness increase!

FRIENDLY HOT LYRICISM: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PAUL KELLER, DANNY COOTS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 26, 2014)

Duke Heitger — playing or singing — makes special music, lyrical and hot. I’ve had the great privilege to see him in action for ten years now, and he never coasts in on autopilot.  His lip may be worn down after a full day of playing; he may be asked to sing in a key that’s not the right one . . . but he always reaches deep down and creates beautiful music. He did it many times at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, but a special treat was this set, one he led, on Saturday, April 26, 2014.

It didn’t hurt at all that he had wonderful lyrical players alongside him: Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet / tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, bass; Danny Coots, drums.

They performed four numbers, each one a beauty of its own singular kind:

The classic ode to sweet summer, JUNE NIGHT:

A surprise! Lester Young’s TICKLE-TOE (one of the highlights of the weekend for me):

A dark sweet exploration of WHEN DAY IS DONE (where Dan Barrett showed at the start that he, too, could play trombone the Bob Havens way):

And a romping New Orleans take on HIGH SOCIETY:

I look forward to encountering Duke again in Cleveland at the September Allegheny Jazz Party and two months later, in Newcastle, England, for the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, later that month in New Orleans, for the Steamboat Stomp . . . and in April, the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party.  He is an inspiring fellow indeed, and he has great musical pals, as you can see here.

May your happiness increase!

LARGER THAN ANY TEXTBOOK

I opened a jazz-history textbook the other day, and was struck once again by the packaging of the music as a chronologically-unfolding procession. Each “style” is afforded a chapter. World musics lead to ragtime, to Bolden, to Louis, Henderson, Ellington, Lester, Bird, Miles, Coltrane, Ornette, and “the future of jazz.”

Implicit in this survey, since “progress is our most important product” in this contemporary landscape, is the idea that the music began in simplicity (acceptable because they didn’t know any better) and added on new densities of harmony, rhythm (all to be applauded).

I find the idea that New is an improvement on Old distasteful, but I will leave that for now.  (By the same token, I do not automatically think Old = True, and New = Corrupt.)

What fascinated me so much in this textbook was the presentation of The Great Innovators.  The “Stars,” if you will. I am proud of what others might call unrestrained admiration for Louis Armstrong — a love perhaps bordering on idolatry. I feel the same way about Jack Teagarden, Lester Young, Billie Holiday and a hundred others. But this book made clear that when the New Innovator came to town, everyone tried to play or sing like him / her, so immense was their powerful artistic identity.

The Innovators, to be sure, affected musicians with seismic force. Rex Stewart wrote of hearing Louis with Henderson that he, Rex, tried to not only play like Louis but affect all things Louis-like.

But we see in Rex’s case, that imitation very quickly becomes a subtler thing, and that Rex absorbed from Louis certain shadings and approaches that fit into his own conception of what he was meant to do and be.

There is, of course, the other example: the Innovator comes to town, the critics go wild, the fans bow down — but some musicians say, “That is not for me at all,” and keep developing their own sounds in a sweetly defiant individuality. Pee Wee Russell is very much aware of Benny Goodman; Miff Mole knows about Jack Teagarden; Pete Brown lives in the same city as Charlie Parker . . . but Russell, Mole, and Brown go their own ways.

All this is meant only to suggest that the creative improvised music we love is too large, too organic, too fluid to be compressed into a forward-moving history textbook.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR STRING ENSEMBLE, 1938

Bobby Sherwood (1914-81) isn’t well-known as a jazz guitarist today, but in the early Thirties he was so deeply respected that he was Bing Crosby’s accompanist on 1934 recordings (MOONBURN and SOMEDAY SWEETHEART); he recorded with the Boswell Sisters, Cleo Brown, and Joe Venuti.  (In 1940 he was guitarist and one of the arrangers for Artie Shaw.)

To me, this means he was viewed as a player equal to the late Eddie Lang, and his beautiful sonority and chordal subtleties — and swing — don’t disappoint.

A few years earlier, violinist Harry Bluestone (1907-92) was recording with hot dance studio bands, Connee Boswell, the Boswell Sisters, Lee Wiley, the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Bill Challis, Casper Reardon, and again Artie Shaw . . . .

While Sherwood eventually led his own band (playing a variety of instruments, composing, and singing), Bluestone became the first-chair violinist and concertmaster for many many recordings with everyone from Peggy Lee to Quincy Jones.

But this Decca 78, recorded in November 1938, shows them quietly and wittily evoking Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti — to great effect — while sounding like themselves.

First, the punning KIDDIN’ ON THE STRINGS:

Then, a sweet AM I BLUE?:

The moral?  Great music is made by people you might not have heard of except as side-people on more famous people’s record date.

May your happiness increase!

CHARLES, JIMMIE, MIKE, SKIPPY, PETE, COOTIE, DAVE, 1941

Some Swing fan had very good taste in his / her autograph quest, getting our heroes to sign their names on the same piece of paper:

CHARLIE CHRISTIAN SIGNATURES w DAVE TOUGH

That assemblage comes from the Benny Goodman Orchestra in early 1941 (February – March): Charlie Christian, electric guitar; Jimmie Maxwell, trumpet; Mike Bryan, guitar; Skippy Martin, alto saxophone / arranger; Pete Mondello, tenor saxophone; Cootie Williams, trumpet; Dave Tough, drums.

I first saw this browning piece of notebook paper as part of the Larry Rafferty Collection: someone no doubt has bought it by now but there’s no reason JAZZ LIVES can’t share the image with the Faithful.

And some of my favorite music of all time (I think I first bought the record of this in 1972): an excerpt from a Goodman Sextet without Benny, warming up in the studio: Charlie, Cootie, Dave, Johnny Guarneri, George Auld — working on what would be called A SMOOTH ONE:

I don’t hear the string bass of Artie Bernstein, but do I hear the voice of John Hammond early on?  “Mop!” is our man Cootie Williams. This is music — like a deep pool — that one could descend in to for a long time.  Bliss that it was recorded at all, and even better that the whole rehearsal / informal session did survive, was issued in several formats (Meritt Record Society and Masters of Jazz, vinyl and CD).

A year after he signed this paper, Charlie Christian (1916-1942) was dead.

May your happiness increase!

“A SINGABLE HAPPY FEELING”: CLINT BAKER’S CAFE BORRONE ALL STARS (May 16, 2014)

The Friday-night Hot Spot of Rhythm isn’t Boston’s Savoy Cafe on Mass. Avenue, nor is it the Savoy Ballroom uptown: it’s Cafe Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, California, on Friday nights from 7:30 to 10 PM, when Clint Baker and the Cafe Borrone All Stars arrange themselves on plain wooden chairs and swing out.

On May 16, 2014, the All Stars were Clint, trombone and vocal; Robert Young, soprano and alto sax and vocal; Leon Oakley, cornet; Nirav Sanghani, guitar; Bill Reinhart, banjo and National guitar; Tom Wilson, string bass; Steve Apple, drums.

Jazz detectives will hear evocations of Dicky Wells, the Rhythmakers, Fred Astaire, Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, Ruby Braff, Wild Bill Davison, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Red Allen, Rex Stewart, the Apex Club Orchestra, and much more. But this music is — blessedly — taking place in 2014, created on the spot by musicians who revere the old records enough to refrain from copying them. The result is simply uplifting.

BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

I’M NOT ROUGH:

JELLY ROLL:

RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET:

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME:

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

SISTER KATE:

MONTMARTRE:

MARGIE:

SEE SEE RIDER:

SWEET SUE:

CRAZY RHYTHM:

I assure you that my videos can’t capture all the joy of hearing this band at close range, live, creating as they go. I waited a long time before making the southerly trek to Cafe Borrone. Don’t let this happen to you. . .

Thanks to Jeffrey Frey and his very pleasant people for making Cafe Borrone a nice place to visit, to hear music, to eat and drink and socialize.

May your happiness increase!

ALMOST THERE: THE SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 23-26, 2014)

Next Friday morning, I will be in my New Old Car, heading to Sacramento, California, to spend the Memorial Day weekend amidst music-making friends . . .

Here is the Festival’s site, and the complete list of artists is available here.

I’ll simply note a few JAZZ LIVES’ favorites (in an ecumenical alphabetical order): the Au Brothers, Gordon Au, Bob Schulz Frisco Jazz Band, Clint Baker, Dan Barrett, Dave Bennett and the Memphis Boys, Eddie Erickson, the Freebadge Serenaders, Grand Dominion, High Sierra, Katie Cavera, Kim Cusack, Meschiya Lake and the Lil Big Horns, Marc Caparone, Midiri Brothers, Mike Daugherty, Pat Yankee, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, Red Skunk Gipzee Swing, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Hal Smith, Stephanie Trick, Allan Vache, Johnny Varro, Vaud and the Villains, Vince Bartels All-Stars . . . and more.

And for every band / performer listed above, there are four I haven’t named — all having a wonderful time in simultaneous sessions. I hope to meet readers new and already-known at Sacramento.

May your happiness increase!

BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND: MORE OF LE JAZZ HOT at MONTEREY (March 7, 2014)

A number of people wrote very enthusiastic responses to my posting part of a set by Dawn Lambeth and Le Jazz Hot (March 7, 2014) at Jazz Bash by the Bay. They wanted more, and I can’t blame them. More of Dawn’s beautiful singing from another set is on the way, but here are the remaining performances by Le Jazz Hot from that session.

For the latecomers, the posts I speak of can be seen here and here.

The band is Paul Mehling, guitar; Evan Price, violin; Isabelle Fontaine, rhythm guitar / vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass.

To the music.

PLACE DE BROUCKERE:

MELODIE AU CREPUSCULE:

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

BUONA SERA, SIGNORINA:

I won’t attempt to explain the intricate relations between the Hot Club of San Francisco, Le Jazz Hot, and the Ivory Club Boys, except to say that the latter incarnation is gigging at Armando’s in Martinez on May 31.  Details here.

May your happiness increase!

“THINK ABOUT THAT LEAD”

Louis Armstrong said it clearly: “. . . there’s people all over the world, they like to hear that lead.  Ain’t no sense playing a hundred notes if one will do, Joe Oliver always used to say, ‘Think about that lead.'”

What many people cherish in the music they call jazz is improvisation.  I understand this: much of the pleasure in hearing a jazz musician at work or at play is observing the new beautiful structures (s)he builds on familiar melody, chords, and rhythms. Consider Lester Young playing I GOT RHYTHM.  As I write now, someone is creating something lovely and surprising on familiar themes. Experienced listeners can discern the original structure as they admire the variations on the theme.

But melody still has so much to say to us, to give us, and while melodic embellishment with a swinging harmonic and rhythmic underpinning may not be the only way to present creative improvised music, it can still be deeply satisfying.

Two examples, from mid-1946: Bunk Johnson, trumpet; Don Ewell, piano; Alphonse Steele, improvising on melodies that were “pretty” and well-established even then.  KATHLEEN was written in 1875; DOLL in 1911:

and

I don’t espouse this as the only rewarding way to play, but it still sounds very good to me.

May your happiness increase! 

DAWN LAMBETH SINGS, LE JAZZ HOT PLAYS at MONTEREY (March 7, 2014)

A winning combination for sure: the wonderful singer Dawn Lambeth paying a swing visit to Le Jazz Hot — Paul Mehling, guitar; Evan Price, violin; Isabelle Fontaine, rhythm guitar; Sam Rocha, string bass — at the Jazz Bash by the Bay on March 7, 2014:

I COVER THE WATERFRONT:

THE MAN I LOVE:

MY MELANCHOLY BABY:

WHEN DAY IS DONE:

You can find out more about Dawn here or on Facebook.  She has appeared at many major music festivals, recorded two CDs, and has a wonderful DVD out as well.  Dawn will be more prominently featured in the 2015 Bash.  As for the delightful Le Jazz Hot (and its various incarnations: the Hot Club of San Francisco or the Ivory Club Boys), follow them     here or at their Faccebook page.

But the music will tell you all you need to know about a wonderful singer and a fine band — the musical embodiment of “a starlit sky above,” even though we were indoors.

May your happiness increase! 

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS LIKE (September 16, 1952)

Untitled-2Bobby Hackett admired Louis Armstrong — the man and his music — throughout his life, and Louis felt the same way about the younger man.  Louis and Bobby were friends, enjoyed each other’s company, and played alongside each other for nearly three decades.  Charles Peterson took photographs of them at the Walt Whitman School in 1942 (see that frankly astonishing offering here) and we have video footage of them at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1970.

The photograph above comes from drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook, lent to me by the very generous Duncan Schiedt.  The photographer was Bob Parent, but the photograph is otherwise not annotated.  But the “Childs” menu or drink list that Louis is resting his hand on tells me that this was taken during a Hackett gig at Childs Paramount; Louis’ informal attire suggests that he was visiting rather than playing, and that this happy meeting took place in warm weather.

My research team of Riccardi, Caparone, DeCarlis, and Rothberg, LLC, has noted that Hackett is playing a Besson trumpet with a Bach mouthpiece; The New Yorker has listed Hackett as playing at Childs in September 1952, and Louis was playing with Gordon Jenkins at the Paramount Theatre (immediately above the restaurant) in September, before he left for Europe.  Even better, the Hackett gig began on September 16, 1952, and it has been documented that Louis dropped in to visit and hear.  And smile.

I could show you a picture photograph of the restaurant — at 1501 Broadway (at 43rd Street) beneath the Paramount Theatre, or a 1947 menu that lists as its highest-priced supper item a plate of fried oysters, potatoes, and cole slaw — seventy-five cents. I could point out that Louis’ watch seems to say it is just past 11:30.

But the picture says more about what happiness is than any of that historical detritus, and Louis and Bobby are secure in their brotherly love and respect forever.

Here’s another lovely kind of evidence, music I have known since childhood:

and another version, from 1970:

(More evidence of Louis and Bobby’s deep love can be found here — coming soon!)

Incidentally, Louis was quoted as saying, “I’m the coffee, and Bobby’s the cream,” which I suppose one could take as a racial joke about their outer coverings — but I see it as something deeper, the way two elements combine in a sweet synergy to create something that neither of them would have been, separate.

May your happiness increase!

SWING STUFF: THE IVORY CLUB BOYS ARE COMING! (May 31, 2014)

The Ivory Club Boys, a small hot band loosely based on Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys of hallowed memory, will be playing a rare date at Armando’s in Martinez, California, on Satirday, May 31, 2014.  Admission will be $15; the gig will last two hours; the doors open at 7:30.  More information about Armando’s (a small cheerful room where I’ve heard Mal Sharpe and friends in the recent past) can be found here. Getting there isn’t difficult; I’ve accomplished this several times when California was entirely new to me: here is a map.

The Ivory Club Boys are a spinoff of the Hot Club of San Francisco and Le Jazz Hot — which only means they swing and guitarist Paul Mehling is at the helm, along with Evan Price (electric violin), Marc Caparone (cornet), Isabelle Fontaine (guitar and vocal), Sam Rocha (string bass). They aren’t a repertory band — or what this generation would call a “cover band” — which means they might perform songs outside the Smithian recorded canon, but that makes for an evening full of surprises.  And Paul’s announcement on Facebook mentions that we can expect surprise guests.

Let’s assume the Ivory Club Boys are a new entity to you, or that Martinez is off your radar, or even that you are a stubborn sort (Missouri-born or not) with folded arms, muttering “Show me.” Here’s some evidence: I’ve recorded the Ivory Club Boys twice: once at Rancho Nicasio, with Mehling, Price, Rocha, Clint Baker, and guest Mike Lipskin:

and more recently at Le Colonial SF with Mehling, Price, Baker, Rocha, and Fontaine:

Now do you see why I might encourage you to make the pilgrimage? I thought so.

May your happiness increase!

“CALIFORNIA BLUES” and OTHER PLEASURES: THE HIGH SIERRA JAZZ BAND at MONTEREY (March 8, 2014)

The High Sierra Jazz Band is the only musical aggregation able — or willing — to evoke Joe Oliver, Jimmie Rodgers, Paul Whiteman, and Peter Lorre in the space of a single set, as they do here. That versatility counts for a good deal with me. They also regularly honor Louis, Bix, Bechet, and Jelly Roll.

If you’d like an embodiment of true jazz loyalty, you have only to attend a High Sierra set where you can hear fans gently debating with each other about whose love for the band is stronger, deeper, and more durable.  “Well, when I first saw them in 1978,” begins one, and the person in the next seat says, “We’ve known Pieter long before that,” at which point I pretend to be adjusting the lighting on my camera in case the debate escalates.  But you get the idea.  

Here’s a set recorded on March 9, 2014, at JazzAge Monterey’s Jazz Bash by the Bay — the noble perpetrators being Pieter Meijers, leader, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Howard Miyata, trombone, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Stan Huddleston, banjo; Earl McKee, sousaphone, vocal; Bruce Huddleston, piano; Charlie Castro, drums. 

In honor of the Creole Jazz Band and its many descendents, MABEL’S DREAM:

For M. Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES:

CALIFORNIA BLUES, a soulful melding of two Jimmie Rodgers’ blue yodels (numbers 4 and 9) with Marc and Earl honoring not only the Singing Brakeman but his colleague Louis:

More for Louis, a three-trumpet version of POTATO HEAD BLUES, with the famous solo transcribed for Dick Hyman’s New York Jazz Repertory Concert, where the trumpets were originally Pee Wee Erwin, Joe Newman, and Jimmy Maxwell:

Tell the children to be good.  Here comes THE YAMA YAMA MAN (with the verse):

Back to M. Morton for the KANSAS CITY STOMPS:

And a Bixian duo, withLOUISIANA:

And a concluding FROM MONDAY ON:

Hot and expert.

May your happiness increase!

 

QUIETLY ACCOMPLISHED: CHRIS BARBER’S “JAZZ ME BLUES”

The biographies of jazz musicians often follow a predictable path, from Mother at the organ or Dad’s 78s, precocious talent, hours of rigorous training, encounters with older professionals, early gigs, and then success.  If the musician is stable and fortunate, the narrative quiets down to a series of gigs and concerts; if the subject is tragic, the pages darken: alcohol, drugs, abusive relationships, auto accident, major illness, premature death.

The jazz eminences who have written autobiographies (excepting Billie Holiday and Anita O’Day, although I am sure some readers will add to that list) have been the more fortunate ones, and their books depict elders looking back on friendships and triumphs.  Often the narrator is justly proud, and his / her singular personality is a strong consistent presence.

Trombonist and bandleader Chris Barber, born in 1930, continues to have a wonderful career — one that began with “traditional jazz” and stretched the definition to include different music incorporated into his own.  He’s played and recorded for more than sixty years with British jazz legends Ben Cohen, Ottilie Patterson, Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk, Pat Halcox, Lonnie Donegan, Monty Sunshine, Bruce Turner, Ian Wheeler, Beryl Bryden; with American stars Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Louis Jordan, Ed Hall, Ray Nance, Albert Nicholas, Joe Darensbourg, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Cecil Scott, Don Frye, Floyd Casey, Ed Allen, Sidney deParis, Hank Duncan, Wild Bill Davis, Russell Procope, Dr. John, Big Bill Broonzy, John Lewis and George Lewis, Clarence Williams, Aretha Franklin, Count Basie, Sam Theard, Jack Teagarden, Ornette Coleman, Scott LaFaro, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band . . .so the reader who opens a Barber autobiography hopes for good stories.

But this long list of names isn’t all there is to JAZZ ME BLUES (written with the very capable help of Alyn Shipton . . . Barber says in his acknowledgments that they first talked about this book in 1982) — published this year by Equinox in their Popular Music History series.

Barber follows the usual chronological path from his early encounter with jazz to becoming an international eminence. However, it took me about thirty-five pages (the book is 172 long) to settle in to JAZZ ME BLUES because of his distinctive personality.

He isn’t forceful or self-absorbed, telling us of the wonderful thing he did next. Barber comes across as a quietly modest man who has no need for us to admire him. Chronicling his life, he is so placidly matter-of-fact that it might take readers by surprise. But once we do, the absence of self-congratulation is refreshing, as if we were introduced to a very talented person who had been brought up to think self-praise was vulgar.

An interval for music.  First, STEAMBOAT BILL and HIGH SOCIETY from the Fifties:

GOIN’ HOME BLUES from 2013:

Aside from its subject’s remarkably modest approach to his own life, JAZZ ME BLUES has two great pleasures.  One is Barber’s unwillingness to stay neatly in the style that had brought him success. Beginning in the Sixties, his band takes on different shadings while not abandoning the music he loves: he brings in electric guitarist John Slaughter, altoist Joe Harriott, organist Brian Auger; he works and records with blues and gospel legends; he plays extended compositions. Again, since Barber speaks about these events with polite restraint, one must estimate the emotional effect of being booed by British traditionalist fans who wanted “their” music to stay the same. Barber is not making changes to woo a larger audience or to stay in the public eye, but because he is genuinely interested in adding other flavorings to a familiar dish. He is a determined seeker, and he grows more intriguing in his quests.

The other pleasure I alluded to at the start, delightful first-hand anecdotes. Readers deprived of their own contact with their heroes always want to know what the great men and women were like, and JAZZ ME BLUES — although never mean-spirited in its quick sketches — is a banquet here. Not only do we hear about Sonny Boy Williamson and Zutty Singleton (the latter saying he is most happy in a band without a piano because pianists all “lose time”) but about Van Morrison, George Harrison (who likes the 1930 BARNACLE BILL THE SAILOR) and colleagues Lennon and McCartney; we read of Howlin’ Wolf saying grace quietly and sweetly before a meal. Trumpeter Ed Allen tells Barber that he always used to learn the songs for Clarence Williams record dates in the taxi on the way to the studio.

And Barber has been in the right place at the right time. When he comes to America, he sits in at Condon’s. After an uneventful beginning, “. . . suddenly the rhythm section started to swing. I looked round and Eddie had picked up his guitar and joined in. From then on, with him there, every tempo was just right, and everything swung. His presence was subtle, but it made the world of difference. I knew what a fine player he could be, as, when the band had appeared at the Royal Festival Hall in 1957. I’d gone along to their late night concert. The thing that sticks in my memory from that night was Eddie taking a half-chorus solo on a tune in the ballad medley. It was just perfect, and with the tuning of his four-string tenor guitar it had a very distinctive sound. It reminded me of Carmen Mastren, who was a true virtuoso.”

JAZZ ME BLUES is an engaging portrait of a continuing life in jazz (with rare photographs, a selective discography, and an index). It is available in North America exclusively through ISD ($34.95 hardcover): ISD, 70 Enterprise Drive, Suite 2, Bristol, CT 00610: orders@isdistribution.com.

May your happiness increase!

WFMT, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: JUNE 24, 1962, 2 AM

Thanks to Albert Haim, we can now hear a precious conversation: Studs Terkel talking to Louis Armstrong after his nightclub appearance has ended — some thirty-three minutes of conversation originally broadcast on WFMT, a tape held by the Chicago History Museum.

The interview was new to me, and I hear Louis returning to familiar subjects but also fielding questions in his own way (and asking for his lip salve).

For those who appreciate absurdist commentary, a line-by-line phonetic “transcription” of what is being said appears on the Pop Up Archive page . . . it is hilariously incorrect, and I hope it is computer-generated rather than the result of someone’s actual listening.

We can listen to Louis and Studs, old friends, talking in the early morning here.

May your happiness increase! 

BAND ON THE STREET: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ PLAY IN NORTH BEACH (May 10, 2014)

Saturday, May 10, our friend Mal Sharpe took his band, Big Money in Jazz, to play in celebration of the grand re-opening of the North Beach Public Library at Columbus and Lombard in San Francisco. Not only was the library worth celebrating, but the renovation included a new rectangular asphalt playground with plantings around it, the Joe DiMaggio Playground.

The music was celebratory as well, with Mal on trombone and vocals; Leon Oakley, cornet; Jeff Sanford, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Bill De Kuiper, guitar; Paul Smith, string bass.

Mal loves North Beach, “You could be in Greece,” he said, gesturing at the long vista of bright sky and mountains off in the distance.  Here are three performances from that afternoon, with cinema verite of picture-taking spectators looking to see where the music was coming from.

During SONG OF THE WANDERER, both a sight-seeing bus and a cable car pass by, behind the band.  Jazz has that effect on the universe: everything coalesces all of a sudden.

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, perfectly apt:

MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:

SONG OF THE WANDERER (an excerpted version, for the outchorus had to compete with local clamor):

Mal and friends have a variety of regular gigs in the city: once a month at the Savoy Tivoli, weekly at Fior d’Italia, Original Joes, and at Tupelo.  Email him at malsharpe@gmail.com, and ask to be added to his weekly email announcements — whimsical, just like their creator.

May your happiness increase!

MS. KILGORE’S ROAD TRIP: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, STEPHANIE TRICK, PAOLO ALDERIGHI at MONTEREY, March 9, 2014

They are impossible to pack but two pianos are obviously essential for a proper rendering of ROUTE 66, performed by Becky Kilgore, vocal and instrumental surprise; Dan Barrett, Paolo Alderighi, Stephanie Trick, piano:

Recorded on March 9, 2014, at JazzAge Monterey’s Jazz Bash by the Bay, a cornucopia of musical pleasures.

Becky, Dan, and Paolo have a new CD, called JUST IMAGINE; Becky, Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Kevin Kanner have created one called I LIKE MEN; Stephanie and Paolo have a new duo disc, coming soon, called SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY.  Westward ho to all.

May your happiness increase!

HOT MECCA IN MENLO PARK: CLINT BAKER and the CAFE BORRONE ALL STARS (May 2, 2014)

They did it again — that is, Clint Baker and his New Orleans Jazz Band turned a Menlo Park, California restaurant into a New Orleans dance hall with fervent heartfelt jazz. For this occasion (May 2, 2014), the NOJB was Clint, trumpet and vocal; Bill Carter, clarinet; Jim Klippert, trombone, vocal; Riley Baker, drums; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Jason Vandeford, guitar; Tom Wilson, string bass.

I so admire the band’s tempos, their dynamics, their sweet hot energies.  They are, as Clint said, “a delightfully analog experience.”

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

BLACK SNAKE BLUES:

GYPSY LOVE SONG:

TRUE (a/k/a THOUGH YOU DON’T LOVE ME, a/k/a YOU DON’T LOVE ME):

MOBILE STOMP (based on THE WALTZ YOU SAVED FOR ME):

BILL BAILEY:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

Bill Carter preaches his own hot sermon on the spiritual WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS:

STREETS OF THE CITY (a/k/a RED RIVER VALLEY):

CARELESS LOVE:

PANAMA:

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

Clint and groups of friends will be at Cafe Borrone (1010 Camino Real, Menlo Park, California) on May 30, June 6, 13, 20 — with more Friday night soirees to come.  They play two hour-long sets, beginning at 7:30 and ending at 10.  The food is very good and the staff is gracious. Call 650.327.0830 for details.  And say hello to me, to Rae Ann, John Plut, Donna Courtenay, Pat Patterson, Roz, Ramona, and some energized dancers when you’re there, too.

Incidentally, I come to this Hot Mecca late (although not too late!) because Clint and friends have been playing at Cafe Borrone for a mere twenty-four years. If you want more, Rae Ann Berry has been video-recording them for a good long time (see her YT collection) and I’ve posted two other evenings at Cafe Borrone on this site . . . but best of all is to see them Hot.

May your happiness increase!