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!