Monthly Archives: September 2014

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Part Two)

James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band is one of my favorite groups — whether they are expertly navigating through their leader’s compact, evocative arrangements or going for themselves. The noble fellows on the stand at the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival were Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, tenor, baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross (a Denver native), string bass; Pete Siers, drums.
The CJB was one of the absolute high points of Evergreen (which I documented here) and I offer five more tasty main dishes:
DON’T BE THAT WAY was one of Edgar Sampson’s great compositions, most often known through Benny Goodman’s rather brisk performances (it worked even better at  slow glide, as Lester Young proved) but one of the most memorable recordings of this song was done by a Teddy Wilson small group in 1938 — featuring those Commodoreans Bobby Hackett and Pee Wee Russell.  The CJB pays tribute to both the song and the performance here (although I point out that the CJB is not copying the solos from the record).  Tell the children not to be afraid: Mr. Kellso growls but he doesn’t bite:
 
IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? is a deep question, whether or not Louis Jordan was asking it.  Here Professor Dapogny and the Chicago Jazz Chorus make the same inquiry with renewed curiosity:
She just got here yesterday, and already she made an impression (I hear Ethel Waters pointing out these facts) — that’s SWEET GEORGIA BROWN:
I know that pianist / composer Alex Hill, who died far too young, is one of Dapogny’s heroes — mine too — someone responsible for memorable melodies and arrangements as well as fine piano.  DELTA BOUND is (for those who know the lyrics) one of those “I can’t wait to get home down South” songs both created and thrust upon African-Americans in the Twenties and Thirties, but its simple melody is deeply haunting — especially in this evocative performance, as arranged by Dapogny:
Valve trombonist Juan Tizol’s CARAVAN has been made in to material for percussion explosions for some time (perhaps beginning with Jo Jones in the Fifties) but here it is a beautifully-realized bit of faux-exotica (camels not required) harking back to the late-Thirties Ellington small groups:
Splendid playing and arrangements. And more to come.
May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR A DETERMINED MAN (October 6, 2014)

ERIC

You could say many things about Eric Offner.  You could note his birthplace (Austria, 1928) or the date of his death (June 3, 2014). You could sum up his distinguished career in trademark law, or refer to his autobiography. But what might be most important about Eric is that he was transformed by the experience of jazz, and, as a result, founded the Sidney Bechet Society which produced 17 seasons of live hot jazz concerts. (The true-to-life photograph of Eric was taken by our friend, photographer Geri Goldman Reichgut.)

We know that people can contribute greatly to the health and vitality of an art form without being artists themselves, and Eric was one of those people. His distinguishing characteristic, to me, was a determined focus on an ideal: the kind of music his hero Sidney Bechet both played and embodied: hot, intense, impassioned, reaching back to a New Orleans past but simultaneously alive in the present.

The Sidney Bechet Society is honoring its president and founder with a concert this coming Monday (at the late-twilight hour of 7:15) at Symphony Space, which is at 95th Street and Broadway in New York City.  It features the clarinetist Evan Christopher, trumpeter Byron Stripling, pianist Bobby Floyd, string bassist Kelly Friesen, and drummer Marion Felder.  I know they will fill the room with music that both celebrates and mourns a man wholly devoted to the sounds that have so often healed us.

Here is the link where you can purchase tickets.

SBS 10 6 14

Like the music he believed in, Eric was determined — devoted to an ideal.  And that ideal will show its durability, its joy and ferocity this Monday night.

May your happiness increase! 

IN FULL STRIDE: DICK HYMAN and MIKE LIPSKIN at PIEDMONT PIANO (August 9, 2014)

Here are two masters of swing and stride piano with impeccable credentials — Dick Hyman and Mike Lipskin.  Together they’ve learned from and played with everyone from Teddy Wilson to Willie “the Lion” Smith to Willie Gant, Cliff Jackson . . . not forgetting Charlie Parker, Ruby Braff, Joe Wilder, and many others.  They played beautifully on wonderful instruments supplied by Piedmont Piano in Oakland, California, on August 9, 2014.  And the buoyant tune is LINGER AWHILE — which we did:

“Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,” said Mister Morton.

And for the scholars in the audience, LINGER AWHILE — a favorite of pianists and  bands even today — was written in 1923 by Vincent Rose and Harry Owens:

LINGER AWHILEMay your happiness increase!

DAN BLOCK AND FRIENDS at THE ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 18, 2014): DAN BLOCK, HARRY ALLEN, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, PETE SIERS

What follows is a glowing sample of what the masters of any art do, communally and individually: assembling without fanfare for a common purpose, speaking their piece in turn, collaborating to create something beautiful that never existed before.

The inspiring Dan Block (reed master, here playing tenor saxophone) got together with friends and peers at the informal Thursday night session at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party and showed us — without being didactic — how it is done.

The friends are Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. The text for their sweet explorations was FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE — by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, but presented without Hart’s rather dark lyrics, and moved into a lilting swing rhythm for us:

I think music-making at this level is an absolute gift, given freely and generously by the finest artists. Happily, they were performing for an attentive, hushed audience who were, in every sense of the phrase, “getting it.”  Gifts like these come back to the givers.  See the contented smiles on the faces of the musicians as they bask in the warmth of their own creations.  Not immodestly, but joyously, congratulating each other on creating such an uplifting community.

This beauty — in varied hues — sprang to life often during the Allegheny Jazz Party.  I am certain such beauty will flourish again in September 2015.

But that’s a long way away, so let me point you to something closer (if you live in New York or environs).  I will be away, so you have to see and hear for yourself.

The Dan Block Quintet will offer a program he calls “Mary Lou Williams and Benny Carter Meet Hard Bop” at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (that’s Broadway and 60th Street) on Wednesday, October 8th.  Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM.  The Quintet is Dan, saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.  One may reserve by phone (212-258-9595) or in person after 6P.M. daily at the club.  It’s a $30 cover, $20 for students.

Block, Allen, Barrett, Sportiello, Burr, Siers — all masters.  Follow them and be uplifted.

May your happiness increase!

WE HAD A BALL: THE 2014 ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY

The first thing you need to know is that the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party will take place on September 10-13, 2015, at the Inter-Continental Hotel (near the Cleveland Clinic) in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Michael, that’s a year from now.  Why are you telling us this?”

I had such a good time at the AJP just concluded that I want everyone to get ready for next year: wonderful music in profusion, comfortable surroundings, a quiet and attentive audience paying serious attention to the good sounds, good food, comfortable rooms in a hotel full of very friendly staff.  Ease and friendliness prevailed, thanks to Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock, who could run a medium-sized country with gentleness and efficiency.

You’ll notice I put MUSIC at the top of that list.  Here’s a sample — the second performance from the informal session on Thursday night, created by Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens (amazing at 84 or any age), trombone; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Howard Alden, guitar; Rossano Sportiello, piano:

You can keep up with the AJP here or at website.

The experience at the AJP was special for reasons beyond the splendid music: a rare comfort was in the air and the guests were so easy with one another.  If you have a 2015 calendar, I encourage you to mark the dates on it now.  You won’t be sorry.

More videos to come.

May your happiness increase!   

MICHAEL KANAN and NEAL MINER at MEZZROW (Part One): SEPTEMBER 16, 2014

Wonderful music is being made at the new jazz club at 163 West Tenth Street in New York City, Mezzrow,  and I was there to witness some of the beauty on September 16, 2014.  The creators were pianist Michael Kanan and bassist / composer Neal Miner, and the result was glorious sounds in an inviting place. Here is the first half of their sweetly inspiring recital. The videos are dark but the music gleams.

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

I will share the second half with JAZZ LIVES soon, but I’d like this one to sink in. Michael and Neal know that there is deep emotional life in “these old songs,” which have not grown old and will not as long as they are handled with intelligent tenderness.  As they are here.

May your happiness increase!

EDDIE CONDON’S WORLD OF JAZZ: September 4, 1940

This is the first of a series devoted to the wonders created by Eddie Condon and his friends.  Unfortunately, I cannot offer rare musical examples.  That you will have to do for yourselves, and it is reassuring that so much of what Mr. Condon and his colleagues created was documented on disc so that we can now hear it.

What I have to offer you are snippets of print documentation — new to me at the time I discovered them, and I hope to you. Perhaps a decade ago, at work in the microfilm archives of my college’s library, I was searching the New York Times archives for something literary.  On a whim, I typed in “Eddie Condon” and found perhaps thirty or forty mentions of him in that newspaper.  I remember putting dimes into the printer and copying each page.  The file folder with the copies turned up not long ago — reason to begin a series for JAZZ LIVES.

Eddie’s wife, Phyllis (born Smith) was an invaluable part of the D’Arcy advertising agency (she handled the Coca-Cola account, which should tell you something about her stature at the firm). Eddie was ambitious about getting the music heard — by people who might not come down to a night club where the clientele was drinking liquor and smoking — so Phyllis made connections.  A New York Times advertisement from September 4, 1940, is one of my favorite Imagined Delights.

John Wanamaker

Fashion Show

Today at 3 P.M.!

Cum Laude Clinic

(A line drawing of a guitarist, string bassist, trumpeter, clarinetist, trombonist)

Do you know what Bennington girls bowl in? what Smith seniors snooze in? what the Princeton stags think of black? of red? Do you know of what stuff Daisy chains are made–and what about knees?  and prom-bees?  Get the lowdown insight straight from the shoulders of our cum laude clinic–five brainy beauties from Sarah Lawrence, VAssar, Michigan State, Swarthmore, Mt. Holyoke.  See big men from Virginia, Williams, Cornell, M.I.T., Stevens turkey-trot down the runway in tweeds and tails. Learn how pink-snuggle-bunnies can help you get an A-double-plus in Pol. Sci.; learn what clothes distract half-backs, shot-putters.

*    *   *

Hear swing as swung by Bobby Hackett’s All Star Band from Nick’s-in-the-Village — hear jive experts Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Artie Shapiro, Joe Sullivan, George Wettling. Come early and hear the music, today at 3!  Fourth Floor, Fashion Store.

We could deconstruct this advertisement for all the obsolete assumptions about young women and young men, about college life, about materialism in the United States, but I’d rather think about the band.

If I had been twenty in September 1940, I’d be ninety-four now.  Had I a Presto disc cutter or a 16 mm sound camera . . . that way sadness lies.  Better to bask in the whimsy of one of the best bands ever playing hot those gorgeously and expensively-dressed young men and women.

And, yes, there was once a time when hot music was popular music.

May your happiness increase!

DUKE HEITGER’S STEAMBOAT STOMP (November 14-16, 2014)

I had a wonderful time at the inaugural Steamboat Stomp last fall — the pure pleasure of hearing hot New Orleans jazz on a steamboat cruising up and down the Mississippi River.  Mark Twain, Fate Marable, David Jones, and young Mister Armstrong all combined.

I cannot go to this year’s effusion of good times and good music (three festivals in one month is too much for me while I am attempting to hold a full-time job), so there will be an empty seat.  So I urge you to go in my place, and bring your jazz-loving friends.

Musical evidence here and here  — and there is more from the 2013 Stomp if you search JAZZ LIVES.

And here is what Duke Heitger, the generous beacon of hot jazz, has to tell us:

The second annual Steamboat Stomp is about 2 months out (November 14-16). This is a wonderful time of year to be in New Orleans, and we have added some marquee names to the already stellar roster including Evan Christopher, Jon-Erik Kellso and Hal Smith. This will surely be a weekend of great music and great fun. Weekend packages and a variety of exciting sponsorship opportunities are still available. As you know, the support and participation of folks like you are key to the success of events like Steamboat Stomp. Please visit www.steamboatstompneworleans.com for more information. If you have any questions with regards to hotels, reservations, etc… I will be happy to assist you personally at dukeheit@bellsouth.net. This promises to be a very special event. I hope to see you there!

What Duke’s letter does not say is . . . the Yerba Buena Stompers, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Topsy Chapman, Solid Harmony, the Dukes of Dixieland . . . joy-spreaders all.  Don’t let this weekend event steam right by you.

May your happiness increase!

MEREDITH AXELROD, CRAIG VENTRESCO, LEON OAKLEY, ROBERT YOUNG, ARI MUNKRES (The JAZZ LIVES House Concert Series, August 24, 2014)

Two very creative souls are singer / guitarist Meredith Axelrod and guitarist Craig Ventresco — wonderful elliptical individualists who energetically and sweetly reinvent the larger musics (the plural is intentional) of nearly-forgotten times.  I’ve known and admired them for nearly a decade now, but was often slightly frustrated because they send out extraordinary music that has to battle with conversation.  I know this is a fact of playing and singing in this century, but I was involved in a little house party that featured Meredith and Craig.  And there were friends making music, too: Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, saxophone; Ari Munkres, string bass.  I asked this group if they would perform a few tunes just for you — the JAZZ LIVES audience.  They did, and here are three delicious unbuttoned but precise offerings:

NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES:

EGYPTIAN ELLA:

I’M GOING TO MEET MY SWEETIE NOW:

I wish there were some way to hear Meredith and Craig with a small cast of strolling players on a regular basis, and several ideas come to mind.

If this music appeals to you, contact Meredith at her whimsical email address, meredithanthraxelrod@gmail.com and she will respond promptly.  They love the idea of coming to your home and making merry.

Or you can check her website to see videos of the two of them in performance, to learn their current schedule, to have deep metaphysical queries answered — perhaps with more queries, but that’s metaphysics. Here is Meredith’s website, a very educational experience.

If you live near North Beach in San Francisco, in Berkeley, or Oakland, you have a good chance to see these two — and friends — on a regular basis.  But I hear the New Yorkers whimpering, “What about US?”

Good news.  Meredith and Craig will be making a brief but intense New York tour in less than two weeks, and on Saturday, September 27, they will be appearing at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn — along with Dennis Lichtman, Matt Munisteri, and Tamar Korn — for a 9 – 11:30 PM show.  Buy tickets here. Jalopy is at 315 Columbia Street, and their many-splendored website is here.

East or West, Meredith and Craig and their exalted friends make refreshing music.

May your happiness increase!

FUN FOR ALL AGES: DANNY COOTS PLUS TEN at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 26, 2014)

Large groupings of musicians on the stand of a jazz  party look impressive but they don’t always come off as well as they might.

But this one was even better than the best I could have imagined — genial, melodic, and always inspired: led by Danny Coots, drums; with Paul Keller, string bass; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibes; Dan Block, tenor sax; Allan Vache, clarinet; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Ed Polcer, cornet; Bria Skonberg, trumpet. All this delightful music was created at the 15th Atlanta Jazz Party, late in the evening of April 26, 2014.

The set began with a romping version of PANAMA, but my camera betrayed me. (Note to self: never change batteries in midstream.) So you will have to imagine it. But what followed was even better, WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

After the comedy by Allan Vache, Dan Barrett, and Danny himself, we move into a deeply satisfying series of “conversations,” starting with the two trombones.  If you want to go back into recorded history, this device reminds me of Red Nichols sessions where Jack Teagarden played a “hot” chorus while Glenn Miller played the melody sweetly — a delicious simultaneous mixing of tastes.  (I also recall, since Ed Polcer was on this session, nights at the last Eddie Condon’s where Ed and Ruby Braff would switch off — melody and improvisation — for a few choruses, always very inspiring.)  The device also solves the unstated problem — if each of the soloists takes the traditional two choruses, performances stretch out to amazing lengths.  This DREAM is about five minutes of music, but it feels filled to the very brim with melody and swing that floats through the conversations of Ed and Bria, of Dan and Allan (over the rhythm section’s rocking two-beat) — followed by sweet epistles by Randy, Rossano, Paul, and then the tidy but never constricted ensemble — a model of letting everyone have his / her say in a flexible, compact fashion.

I think everyone on the stand was elated by what they had created, and I know the audience was joyful.  Danny then (after more comedy) called for MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME (another “ancient” pop tune that is rarely played — and if it is, not at this walking tempo) that reminds me of the best swing sessions I’ve ever heard, playful improvisation never flagging:

What could top that?  Well, nothing — but adding Rebecca Kilgore to the band to sing some Anita O’Day – Gene Krupa blues, DRUM BOOGIE / BOOGIE BLUES, which is closely related to SENT FOR YOU YESTERDAY, but we’ll let people who care about provenance argue over that.  Me, I simply love to hear Ms. Kilgore sing — and over this sweetly-Basie group, it is a treat:

Couldn’t be better. And I think it’s relevant to mention that another version of all this good feeling and good sounds will be taking place in April 2015.  I’ll be at the Atlanta Jazz Party (April 17-19) as will many of the brilliant players you see here — with some surprises.  Make plans!

May your happiness increase!

A FEW GLOWING SECONDS OF GLORY

When I returned to my apartment in New York, I thought, “I need music in here. Music will help remind me who I am, what I am supposed to be doing, where my path might lead.”  Initially I reached for some favorite performances for consolation, then moved over to the crates of homemade audiocassettes — evidence of more than twenty-five years of tape-trading with like-minded souls.

One tape had the notation PRIVATE CHICAGO, and looking at it, I knew that it was the gift of Leonora Taylor, who preferred to be called “Gypsy,” and who had an unusual collection of music.  When I asked drummer / scholar Hal Smith about her, he reminded me that she loved the UK clarinetist Archie Semple. Although I don’t recall having much if any Archie to offer her, we traded twenty or thirty cassettes.

PRIVATE CHICAGO had some delightful material recorded (presumably) at the Evanston, Illinois house of Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft — amateur pianist, sometime composer, friend / benefactor to jazz musicians. Squirrel was both a dear friend of Pee Wee Russell, Joe Rushton, Eddie Condon, Boyce Brown, Johnny Mercer, George Barnes, Lee Wiley, Jimmy McPartland, Bud Freeman, and many others — one facet of a very intriguing life.  He deserves a biography.

But back to the music.

I played through the side of the cassette, rewound it, and played it again.  And I kept returning to a short improvisation: BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC, played by Johnny Windhurst (cornet or trumpet) and Jack Gardner (piano) with possibly other players in the background — I hear a murmuring clarinet offering harmony notes — recorded, Gypsy’s typed notes say, circa 1950.

Neither Windhurst nor Gardner is as well known as they should be. Windhurst (1926-1981) was recognized young as a brilliant player, and got to play with the best — Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster in Boston when he wasn’t voting age, then Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Kenny Kersey, John Field, Jimmy Crawford a few years later, moving on to be one of Eddie Condon’s regulars, briefly recording with Jack Teagarden and on his own date with Buell Neidlinger, on a Walt Gifford session, with Barbara Lea (he was both colleague and boyfriend) then moving upstate to Poughkeepsie, New York, where he died too young (once being mugged and beaten) of a heart attack.

I saw him in person once, at Your Father’s Mustache in New York in 1972 — with Herb Hall and Herb Gardner (the latter someone who is very much with us) and Red Balaban.  Windhurst was capable of the most beautiful melodic flights of fancy — a cross between heavenly music of the highest order and Bobby Hackett — but he couldn’t read music, disdained the idea of doing so, and thus turned down higher-paying and possibly higher-visibility gigs from bandleaders.  I read somewhere that Woody Herman wanted to hire him, offered him good pay, promised to teach him to read, but Windhurst — a free spirit — would have none of it.

There is one video extant of Windhurst — I wrote about it, and him, in 2009 (and received wonderful comments from people who had played alongside him) here.

I did not know much about pianist Gardner, except that what I’ve heard suggests a delicate barrelhouse approach, and I seem to recall he was a large man called by some “Jumbo Jack.” But an exquisite biographical sketch of Jack by the diligent writer and researcher Derek Coller can be found here.  (Our Jack Gardner is not the man who led an orchestra in Dallas in 1924-5.)  Jack first recorded with Wingy Manone and Jimmy McPartland, then got more visibility with Harry James (you can hear him on SLEEPY TIME GAL and he is also on Sinatra’s first recording with James) 1939-40, then he crops up with Muggsy Spanier, Red Nichols, Bud Freeman, and after being captured on sessions at Squirrel’s from 1950-52, we hear no more from him.

I know THE BATTLE  HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC as a very assertive religious song in which the enemies of the Lord receive divine punishment:  “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored / He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,” and so on, even though later verses of the song — known to how many? — suggest that there is a balm of kindness.

More importantly than the theological, I and others know it as a hot number — think of “Red Nichols” as played by Danny Kaye and “Louis Armstrong” as played by himself in THE FIVE PENNIES, sending the sermon. Everyone from Art Hodes to George Lewis to Gerry Mulligan has recorded it, but I suggest that no version you will ever hear matches the sweet delicacy of this brief celestial interlude by Windhurst and Gardner.

Windhurst doesn’t venture far from the melody — the recording catches less than a whole chorus, and aside from a bluesy transformation near the end, it is melodic embellishment rather than harmonic improvisation.  But he treats the melodic line with lightness, fervor, and love; every note is caressed; his tone is so beautiful as to make “golden” into an affront.  Gardner plays a simplified version of barrelhouse support but never gets in Windhurst’s way. The whole duet is tender, yearning — the music of the spheres in under a minute.

Glory, glory, hallelujah.

May your happiness increase!

“SO MUCH DEPENDS UPON YOU.”

I wouldn’t have considered Cleveland, Ohio, a destination spot for fine hot and sweet improvised music.  But I am ready to do so now.  In fact, I will be on a plane this coming Thursday, September 18, 2014, to be part of the first Allegheny Jazz Party  (here, too, on Facebook).

(Thursday evening until Sunday afternoon, to be precise, in a modern hotel.)

I hope that JAZZ LIVES readers and like-minded friends will be joining me there. Not, mind you, because I get paid for writing about the AJP.  I do not.  Nor do I get a bounty for each attendee I bring in.

No, I write a post like this in the same spirit that I would eagerly tell you about a fine restaurant I had just discovered that you, too, could enjoy.  There is jazz enough for everyone, and no one has to keep it to him or herself.

I also have the motive — is it selfish or altruistic or both? — of wanting these enterprises to continue.  The finest musicians in the cosmos can sing and play to a half-empty room once, but not more than that.

So I urge YOU to come along.  Yes, YOU.

And to make the point in a more cheerful, less didactic way, here are four of my idols — Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Harry Allen — romping through a Walter Donaldson song whose title you will guess quickly:

And it is appropriate to point out that this music was created at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua, so I think the spirit and joy will certainly follow us westward to Cleveland.  See YOU there.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET AND SALTY: EDDIE ERICKSON’S AMERICANA at the 2014 SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY

This version of SIDE BY SIDE, performed by Mr. Erickson at the  February 2014 San Diego Jazz Party, has some surprises.

Eddie’s co-conspirators (some of them who may not know the script) are Johnny Varro, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Antti Sarpila, clarinet.  But the spotlight is justifiably on Mr. Erickson, great guitarist, seductive vocalist, splendid improvisatory-theatre director and comedian, creating a sweet collective experience that turns comic at the end:

I read what I could about the closing verse and one source says that of course the author is Anonymous, but this set of lyrics is said to have originated during the Second World War.  Seems right to me: the sort of thing that soldiers could sing to amuse themselves, that children could learn and horrify their parents, and that we could all remember — a sort of guilty pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

AN EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT FROM ORAN THADDEUS PAGE

On eBay!

OLD MAN BEN

As an English professor, I shiver at the misplaced apostrophe.  But were he in my class, I would have given Mister Page an A.  Why?  Listen to this:

and this:

and this:

I rest my case.  I would have liked to be someone he called “Chum.”

Thanks to friend and eBay spotter extraordinaire David J. Weiner for this treasure.

May your happiness increase!

THE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LOWER STOCKTON STREET: PROFESSORS GROSZ, OAKLEY, and VENTRESCO (August 17, 2014: Part Two)

This music gives me such pleasure that I am reposting both halves of the performance, and my original prelude:
A long time ago, when I was a college student listening to string trios, quartets, and quintets, I was told that the great groups were Thibaud-Cortot-Casals, the Budapest Quartet and Friends, the Guarneri Quartet (whom I saw several times in concert). But while I was learning my Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak, and others, I was getting deeper into small-group jazz.  And it occurred to me often that the inspired interplay I heard in the “Trout” or the “American” was no different from a record of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett boogieing their way through a blues, or the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet, the Goodman Trio, Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the Basie rhythm section.  And in person I saw Soprano Summit, Al and Zoot, Bobby and Vic, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, the EarRegulars, and many others.
All this is long prelude to say that inspiring chamber music takes many forms. In jazz, it is always incredibly uplifting to see a very small group of musicians do two or three things at once — create communal variations out of their shared knowledge and conventions AND go their own brave ways. Courage, joy, playfulness, and beauty.
Here is some very recent evidence that stirring chamber-jazz sessions are happening all around us, with some of the finest players.  This one brought together East and West — East being Professor Grosz (Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) and West being Professors Oakley and Ventresco from the San Francisco Bay Area.  No music stands, just swing and on-the-spot frolicking. Acoustic splendor, with two very different approaches to the guitar — in solo and accompaniment — and with Leon’s very heartfelt cornet shining a light for us all to follow. (Highlights from the 2014 Marty Grosz West Coast Tour, for the historians in the audience.)
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
SHOE SHINE BOY:
I’M CONFESSIN’:
JOE LOUIS STOMP:
CRAIG’s LOWDOWN BLUES:
And here are three more performances from the second half.  The sky had grown darker outside and thus the interior lighting needed help.  The visual image is less sharp but the music remains exquisite.
S’WONDERFUL:
A very mellow KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW:
FROM MONDAY ON, a sweet conversation all the way through, with Mister Grosz bursting in to song:
May your happiness increase!

A THANKSGIVING CORNUCOPIA OF JAZZ: SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26-30, 2014)

You can always have turkey if that’s your pleasure, and I hope you will have many occasions to get together with your family, but the San Diego Jazz Fest — the generous creation of America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society comes once a year.  This November will be the thirty-fifth such explosion of music, and it is not to be missed. The SDJF website can be found here, and the amount of good music offered during this long weekend is more than amazing.

Some of the wonderful musicians and bands who will be there are —

Connie Jones-Tim Laughlin New Orleans All Stars, Jim Buchmann, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Marc Caparone, Carl Sonny Leylnd, Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor, High Sierra Jazz Band, Josh Duffee’s Graystone Monarchs, the Fat Babies, Yerba Buena Stompers, Dave Bennett, Cornet Chop Suey, Katie Cavera, Titanic Jazz Band, Grand Dominion, Ellis Island Boys, Duke Heitger,Leon Oakley,Kevin Dorn, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Euphoria Brass Band, Andy Schumm, Chris Dawson, Jonathan Doyle, John Royen, High Society Jazz Band, Sweethearts of Swing, Night Blooming Jazzmen, Clint Baker, Hal Smith, Tom Bartlett, Chris Dawson, Mission Bay High School Preservationists, Sue Palmer and Motel Swing, the Memphis Speed Kings, Red Skunk Gipzee Swing, Corey’s Rolling Figs, Jazz Souffle, South Street Market Jazz Band Reunion, Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band,  Dixie Express Jazz Band, Dick Williams’ Jazzsea Jam, Hal and Georgia Myers’ Dance Classes, Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, Chloe Feoranzo, Uptown Rhythm Makers, San Fernando Valley Banjo Band, San Diego Banjo Band, Paragon Quartet, South Bay Jazz Ramblers.

If you can’t find some favorites, some people or groups you love to hear in that list, I would worry for your sake. Anhedonia is a terrible burden.

Paul Daspit, who runs the giant rollicking enterprise, clearly loves the music, and he is a good sort who wants to make sure everyone — musicians, guests, volunteers — is happy and fulfilled.  Full to the brim of fine hot music.

You can buy tickets online here and I urge you to do so soon.

The San Diego Jazz Fest is something to be thankful for.  Truly.

May your happiness increase!

AMONG FRIENDS: MUSIC and WORDS for JOE WILDER (Sept. 8, 2014)

Joe Among Friends

Last night I spent a very touching and uplifting three hours in the company of people — many of whom I didn’t know and vice versa — united in one thing: we all loved the magnificent trumpeter and dear man Joe Wilder.

I don’t know the source of the saying, “The only thing wrong with funerals is that the one person you want to see is not present,” and that was certainly true in the filled-to-capacity St. Peter’s Church, but you could feel Joe’s gracious, easy spirit in every word and every note played.  The service was organized by Joe’s daughter Elin, Joe’s great friend and biographer Ed Berger, and the music was directed by Warren Vache.  Praise to all of them.

I couldn’t bring my video camera, so my notes will have to suffice.

I came to St. Peter’s early (I have been trained to this behavior by anxious parents, but often it pays off) and could see Russell Malone playing ballads for his own pleasure, including a soulful, precise DEEP IN A DREAM, then greeting Gene Bertoncini, who took up his own guitar.

Then the music changed to purest Wilder — MAD ABOUT THE BOY, CHEROKEE, and more.

It was clear that this was a roomful of dear friends.  Much hugging, much laughter, everyone being made welcome.  Although many people wore black or dark clothing, the mood was anything but maudlin.

Warren Vache quietly and sweetly introduced the first band: Harry Allen, Bill Allred, John Allred, Bill Crow, Steve Johns, Michael Weiss — and they launched into IT’S YOU OR NO ONE and then a medium-tempo CHEROKEE, full of energy and smiles passed around from player to player and to us.

We then saw a series of clips of an interview done with Joe (the source I copied down was http://www.robertwagnerfilms.com) — where he spoke of his experiences, both hilarious (sitting next to Dizzy in Les Hite’s band) and more meaningful (his perceptions of race).  What struck me was the simple conviction with which he said — and clearly believed — “I couldn’t have had a better life.”

Joe’s trumpet colleague from the Symphony of the New World, Wilmer Wise, told a few tales of the man he called “my big brother.”

Jimmy Owens stood in front of us and spoke lovingly of Joe, then took his fluegelhorn and played a very touching THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (has Harry Warren’s song ever sounded so true?) ending with subterranean low notes, and an excerpt from NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN.

Hank Nowak, another trumpet colleague (who met Joe at the Manhattan School of Music in the Fifties) spoke endearingly and then played a beautiful selection from Bach’s second cello suite — as if he were sending messages of love to us, with exquisite tone and phrasing.

Ed Berger told stories of Joe — whom he knew as well as anyone — and ended with some of Joe’s beloved and dangerously elaborate puns.

More music, all sharply etched and full of feeling: Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub duetted all-too briefly on TANGERINE; Dick Hyman and Loren Schoenberg played STARDUST, and were then joined by Steve LaSpina and Kenny Washington for PERDIDO.

Jim Czak told his own story, then read a letter from Artie Baker (swooping down gracefully at the end to give the letter to Joe’s daughter Elin);.

Jimmy Heath (who spoke of Joe as “Joe Milder”), Barry Harris, Rufus Reid, Gene Bertoncini, and Leroy Williams took wonderful lyrical paths through I REMEMBER YOU and BODY AND SOUL.

Jim Merod, who knew Joe for decades, was eloquent and dramatic in his — let us be candid and call it a lovely sermon — about his dear friend.

Wynton Marsalis spoke softly but with feeling about Joe, and then played a solo trumpet feature on JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE that (no cliche here) had the church in a joyous rhythmic uproar.

Russell Malone and Houston Person played ANNIE LAURIE with great sensitivity, just honoring the melody, and Russell created a delicate IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING; Rufus Reid and Kenny Washington joined them for IN A MELLOTONE. Ken Kimery of the Smithsonian Jazz Orchestra spoke of Joe’s mastery and generosities. Warren Vache brought his horn in a wonderful duet with Bill Charlap on what he called “Joe’s song,” COME ON HOME, and then with Steve LaSpina and Leroy Williams, offered a quick MY ROMANCE.

Bill Kirchner took the stage with Bill Charlap to present a searching SHE WAS TOO GOOD TO ME.

It was nearing nine-thirty, and I knew my demanding clock radio (it shakes me awake at five-forty-five most mornings) had to be obeyed, so I stood up to go, as Warren was encouraging any musician in the house who hadn’t yet played to “jam for Joe” on SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  Among the musicians he announced were Bria Skonberg and Claudio Roditi, and cheerful music enwrapped me as I walked out into the night air.

I am sorry I couldn’t have stayed until everyone went home, but I felt Joe’s presence all around me — in Warren’s words, a man so large that each of us could take a little of Joe with us always.

A pause for music. Something cheerful and playful — from 2010:

Now a pause for thought, whether or not you were able to attend the memorial service.

How can we honor Joe Wilder now that his earthly form is no longer with us?

We could purchase and read and be inspired by Ed Berger’s wonderful book about Joe, which I’ve chronicled here — SOFTLY, WITH FEELING: JOE WILDER AND THE BREAKING OF BARRIERS IN AMERICAN MUSIC (Temple University Press).

We could buy one of Joe’s lovely Evening Star CDs and fill our ears and houses with his uplifting music.

Or, we could act in Wilderian fashion — as a kind of subtle, unassuming spiritual practice.

Here are a few suggestions, drawn from my own observations of Joe in action.

Give more than you get.  Make strangers into friends. Never pretend to majesties that aren’t yours.  Fill the world with beauty — whether it’s your own personal sound or a (properly room-temperature) cheesecake.  Act lovingly in all things.  Never be too rushed to speak to people.  Make sure you’ve made people laugh whenever you can. Express gratitude in abundance.

You should create your own list.

But “Be like Joe Wilder in your own way” isn’t a bad place to start.

 May your happiness increase!

FLAMING YOUTH: LES RED HOT REEDWARMERS at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 2, 2013)

I mean it.  In a forest of young people playing and attempting to honor this classic music, Les Red Hot Reedwarmers are both ecstatic and expert — musical racing-car drivers who are also capable of deep lyricism.  I caught them in action at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party on November 2, 2013.

They are Aurelie Tropez and Stephane Gillot, clarinets / saxophones (married and parents for those who like to know such things); Henri Lemaire, banjo / guitar; Martin Seck, piano; Jean-Phillippe Palma, bass; Julien Richard, drums and percussion.

Alex Hill’s moody, unforgettable DELTA BOUND (one of those songs that, once remembered, sticks in one’s mind):

VARIETY STOMP, where they simulate the fervor of the 1927 Henderson band:

RED HOT STARTERS, a new composition by Stephane:

CANDY LIPS (like VARIETY STOMP, a frolic):

LOVE, YOUR MAGIC SPELL IS EVERYWHERE, in honor of Mike Durham and Jimmie Noone:

LRHR began as a very inspired reinvention of Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, but they have blossomed imaginatively since their start.  Please note how ingenious and multi-layered each performance is — a small concerto for six instruments, with variations in timbre and sound achieved not only by impressive instrument-swapping but also through orchestral textures.  Not only are they marvelous technicians, but they have a thoroughly original approach to their music, which makes their performances lively and varied.  They’ve also recorded wonderful compact discs for Stomp Off Records: KING JOE (2005); APEX BLUES (2007);  RED  HOT STARTERS (2013).

May your happiness increase!

BALLADS BY HARRY ALLEN, DAN BLOCK, BOB HAVENS, DUKE HEITGER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, RANDY REINHART, ANDY SCHUMM, REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, MARTY GROSZ, FRANK TATE, JOHN VON OHLEN (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 22, 2013)

Norman Granz took credit for inventing what came to be called “the ballad medley” for his concert performances.  Rather than have everyone stand onstage and take solo choruses on what might be a fourteen-minute BODY AND SOUL, Granz proposed — for variety’s sake — that each of the musicians would emerge from the wings, hastily tell the rhythm section what (s)he had chosen, both song and key, and play or sing a chorus of it, then exit.

For the audience, it is a parade of small memorable delights. First, it reminds us what great players and singers can create within the space of one chorus of a song — note that, at their most leisurely, these performances are two minutes apiece. They offer us subtle embellishments on enduring melodies.  And the tempos!  Once upon a time, there was a precious little thing called the RHYTHM BALLAD, which meant that even if the lyrics said, “I am throwing myself out of the window because you don’t love me,” the rhythm ticked quietly underneath in medium tempo.  The ballad medley requires a perfectly attentive and wise rhythm section, especially a pianist who can respond in a second to something muttered, “WHEN DAY IS DONE, three flats,” modulate in to the proper key and be ready.

The late Joe Boughton, who delighted in jazz ballads, made sure that his jazz parties always included such interludes.

On September 22, 2013, at the closing set of Jazz at Chautauqua, a series of small miraculous evocations came and went in front of our eyes.  I am honored to have been there and privileged to capture much of the ballad medley for you.

The participants are Rossano Sportiello, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar / vocal; Frank Tate, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, Andy Schumm, Randy Reinhart, Duke Heitger, trumpets; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombones; Andy Stein, violin; Harry Allen, Dan Block, reeds; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal.

EASY LIVING (Harry Allen), DAY DREAM (Dan Block), CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN (Bob Havens), I KNOW WHY (Duke Heitger):

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (Jon-Erik Kellso):

MY FUNNY VALENTINE (Randy Reinhart); PLEASE (Andy Schumm); LAURA (Andy Stein); IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN (Marty Grosz); SOPHISTICATED LADY (Rossano Sportiello):

And a wonderful closing serenade, OHIO by Rebecca Kilgore and Dan Barrett:

OHIO offers a perfect transition.  Jazz at Chautauqua has changed its name and moved west — to Cleveland, Ohio — but I know its essential musical nature will not diminish or change.  It’s now the Allegheny Jazz Party, beginning on Thursday, September 18, and concluding (with a ballad medley) on Sunday, September 21.  I hope your life-path and travel plans allow you to be there!

May your happiness increase!

KATIE AND FRIENDS PLAY FATS AND FRIENDS! (KATIE CAVERA, CHRIS CALABRESE, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA): Hot Jazz Jubilee, August 30, 2014)

FATS 1939 Howard Theatre Shep Allen Scurlock Studio

Fats Waller created joy.

In the 1939 photograph, he is with his manager Shep Allen at the Howard Theatre: credit to Scurlock Studios and thanks to Chuck Slate.

Although Fats has been elsewhere for almost sixty-five years, he continues to inspire. One example is this sweetly energetic session recorded by the ubiquitous, diligent Rae Ann Berry (all hail!  all hail!) at the second annual Hot Jazz Jubilee in Rancho Cordova, California.

This energized band — titled JUST KATIE AND FRIENDS — was, for this wonderful gathering, our Miss Cavera, guitar, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Clint Baker, trombone, clarinet, vocal; Chris Calabrese, piano; Sam Rocha, string bass, vocal.

Their repertoire for this set was primarily Fats — songs composed / featured by him — as well as by fellow pianists Claude Hopkins and Earl Hines. A ringer, WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, is by Irving Berlin — but both Fats and the Paul Whiteman band recorded it.

Notice that JK&F doesn’t aim to reproduce the Waller-Autrey-Sedric-Casey ambiance; there is a welcome absence of “Wallerisms,” either in rapid tempos or shouts by the ensemble. Chris Calabrese, bless him, can hold his own in any stride session, so the relaxed approach is everyone’s choice.

What you will experience is a congenial group of swinging pals, and you might hear echoes of Henry “Red” Allen, Mouse Randolph, J.C. Higginbotham, Al Morgan, Carmen Mastren, James P. Johnson, Albert Nicholas, Count Basie, the Rhythmakers — an aesthetic roundtrip between 1936 and 2014 — but the individual resonances and loving nods coalesce into a joyous whole.

THAT RHYTHM MAN:

HOW CAN YOU FACE ME? (with Katie’s rather plaintive inquiry):

FAIR AND SQUARE (in memory of Lueder Ohlwein and the Sunset Music Company as well as Fats, with an egalitarian vocal by Marc):

UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG:

LONESOME ME (a feature for the extremely talented Mr. Calabrese):

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD (with hopeful vocalizing by Clint):

ROSETTA (sung by our Sam, with echoes of THE SOUND OF JAZZ):

BABY BROWN (by Alex Hill, who is reputedly the true composer of the next tune as well):

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, an earnest assertion from Clint:

Fats gave us everything he had, and we are still smiling at what (Just) Katie and Friends have made from his inspirations.

We don’t have to wait for The Real Thing To Come Along. Surely it’s here.

Ms. Berry is essential to our edification, for here  is her regularly-updated list of San Francisco / Bay Area hot jazz attractions; here  is her YouTube channel, where she has nearly a thousand subscribers (she’s been posting videos since March 2008).

And she’s had a direct influence on my life, because I saw all there was to see of hot California jazz through her efforts, and you know the rest.  She’s also on Facebook, displaying the same energies as her improvising heroes.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC TO LOVE BY: DAN BARRETT, JOHN ALLRED, JASON WANNER, EDDIE ERICKSON, RICHARD SIMON, BUTCH MILES (2014 San Diego Jazz Party)

We’re not always aware of all the beauty surrounding us, so I post this video as a spiritual-public service: an old love song played with the utmost tender mastery in a swinging 4 / 4. (“Basie tempo,” the scientists tell us, is a proven aphrodisiac. Ask anyone.)

It’s IF I HAD YOU, performed with great style by trombonists Dan Barrett and John Allred, with Jason Wanner, piano; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Richard Simon, string bass; Butch Miles, drums:

This was recorded on February 22, 2014 at the very happy jazz weekend known as the San Diego Jazz Party, where sweet swing is the main dish on the very welcoming menu.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERS OF MELODY: MUNDELL LOWE, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, DAVE STONE, ED METZ at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 23, 2014)

My visit to the San Diego Jazz Party (February 21-23 of this year) was a real pleasure: good music proliferated in comfortable surroundings among very nice people.

But a special delight was seeing guitarist Mundell Lowe in action: melodic, gentle, compelling without raising his volume or playing one superfluous note.

And his graceful playing belies his birthdate: April 21, 1922, which means he was two months shy of 92 when these videos were done.  Ponder that.  Music keeps him young. And listening to Mundell will surely have the same salutary effect on us.

After these performances, Party founder Dave Cooper presented Mundell with the SDJP Jazz Legend award; it seemed to all of us that Mundell had generously awarded all of us the gift of unforgettable yet unpretentious music.

In this he had some masterful assistance and comradeship: Bucky Pizzarelli, Dave Stone, and Ed Metz — superb embodiments of swinging melodic improvisation.

WHAT AM I HERE FOR?:

A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE:

PUT YOUR DREAMS AWAY:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME:

LESTER LEAPS IN:

Please notice: the love of melody, of sweet sound, of floating medium tempo, of taking-your-time ballad playing.  These players know how to tell unforgettable stories in one solo chorus.  Masterful and memorable.

The 2015 Party will take place at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar in Del Mar, California, on the weekend of February 20-22, 2015.  Details here.

May your happiness increase!