Monthly Archives: November 2014

PILGRIMAGES TO BEAUTY

I urge anyone who loves the music to experience it live.  For some, that isn’t possible because of cost or one’s health.  But even though I am proud of my video recordings, they are not the same thing as being on the spot while beauty is created.  And jazz festivals, parties, clubs, concerts can only go on if there are people in attendance.

My readers know all this.  But the trick is to make the great leap from an intellectual awareness (“I should go hear some live jazz . . . someday.”) to action. All of us who have said, “I’ll go to hear Hot Lips Ferguson some other Sunday . . . those gigs will go on forever!” know the sadder reality.)

End of sermon.

I cannot attend this year’s Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans, but my absence means there’s another seat for you.  It begins Friday evening, November 14, and ends Sunday afternoon, the 16th.  In  between I count nineteen one-hour sets of music, in addition to a presentation about the Historic New Orleans Collection, four steam calliope concerts by Debbie Fagnano.  Much of the music will be performed on the two decks of the steamboat Natchez, gliding up and down the Mississippi River.  The artists include Duke Heitger, Don Vappie, Evan Christopher, the Yerba Buena Stompers, Dukes of Dixieland, Tim Laughlin, David Boeddinghaus, Hal Smith, Banu Gibson, Solid Harmony, Jon-Erik Kellso, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Clint Baker, Tom Bartlett, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Leon Oakley, Steve Pistorius, and another dozen.

I was able to attend in 2013, and had a wonderful time.  Some evidence!

SWEET LOVIN’ MAN by Duke and the Steamboat Stompers:

Steve Pistorius considers the deep relationship between music, memory, and love in A DOLLAR FOR A DIME:

Banu Gibson, as always, shows us her heart, and it’s full of RHYTHM:

and the Yerba Buena Stompers play a later King Oliver piece, EDNA:

INSERT FOUR-BAR MODULATION HERE.

I returned last night from the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, exhausted and uplifted.  The exhaustion will wear off (it always does) after a day or two of treating myself like an invalid, nut the joy is permanent.  It comes from seeing people make friends through music.  The music began with rehearsals at 9 AM on Thursday and ended sometime late Monday morning (I heard the jam session at the pub as I was going up the stairs around 1 AM).  The texts for those mellow sermons were based on the teachings of Johnny Dodds, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra, Jabbo Smith, Jean Goldkette, Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Chu Berry, Paul Whiteman, Cootie Williams, Adrian Rollini, Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Johnny Dunn, Luis Russell, Bing Crosby, Helen Morgan, Jimmie Lunceford, Benny Carter, Don Byas, Willie Lewis, Sidney Bechet, Al Bowlly, Cliff Edwards, Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, Chick Webb, Jelly Roll Morton . . . you get the idea.

And the performers!  Rico Tomasso, Duke Heitger, Menno Daams, Andy Schumm, Bent Persson, Claus Jacobi, Thomas Winteler, Matthias Seuffert, David Boeddinghaus, Graham Hughes, Alistair Allan, Martin Litton, Janice Day, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Keith Nichols, Richard Pite, Malcolm Sked, Phil Rutherford, Spats Langham, Emma Fisk, Frans Sjostrom, Josh Duffee, Nick Ball, Mauro Porro, Henri Lemaire, Kristoffer Kompen, Lars Frank, Martin Wheatley, Jean-Francois Bonnel. . . and sitters-in at the Pub, including Torstein Kubban.  (If I’ve omitted anyone’s name, it is because yesterday was nearly twenty hours of travel, which does terrible things to cognition.)

And the friends!  Everyone who was there will have a mental list, but I think we all start with Patti Durham — then I think of Bob Cox, Bobbi Cox, Derek Coller, Veronica Perrin, Chris Perrin, the young woman clarinetist, so intent, Jonathan David Holmes, Julio Schwarz Andrade, Andrew Wittenborn — and many more.

If you are wondering, the answer is Yes, I did bring my video cameras.  Plural. Safety first.

And I shot video of all the sets, one jam session / concert in the Victory Pub, and many of the rehearsals — several hundred performances.  It takes some time to upload and download, so I have nothing from this last weekend to share with you at the moment.  But I will.

While you are thinking, “How could I start putting money away for the 2015 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY?” (for that will indeed happen), I invite you to revel in this, recorded at a rehearsal at the 2012 Party:

All over the quite comfortable Village Hotel in Newcastle (with a very solicitous staff) are signs and photographs advertising the pleasures to be found there, all sharing a lower case “v.” at the start, both to show an intensity of feeling (“very!”) as well as remind you of the hotel chain’s identifying logo.  In the mechanism that takes you from one floor to another (I called it an elevator and was reminded that it was a “lift,” because I was in the  United Kingdom now) was a photograph of three pillows reading “v. snuggly” “v. cheeky” and “v.lazy.”

All I will say here, as a bow to the Party and to the Village Hotel and to my heroes and friends, is that I am “v.joyous.”

May your happiness increase!

“CERTAINLY!”: THE UNACCOUNTED FOUR (Nov. 2, 2014)

Let me state it plainly: the Unaccounted Four is simply one of the best small bands ever.

Here is what I wrote about their debut CD, PLAYGROUND. And here’s a performance of a famous Charlie Shavers song, captured on November 2, 2014:

The official title of that song is UNDECIDED (whether you believe the story of the telegram is up to you) but this is a very sure, very certain performance indeed. I delight in these four creative gents.

And a few hours from now, I (feeling very fortunate!) will be on a plane to the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, where I will get to see and speak to and hear one of my heroes, Menno Daams.

May your happiness increase!

SECRET STROLLERS: CORIN STIGGALL, CAROL MORGAN, CHUCK WILSON (Milano’s, Nov. 4, 2014)

Some jazz gigs are publicized energetically: you read about them on Facebook; you get emails and reminders; a paper brochure arrives in your mailbox. Other rewarding musical experiences go almost unnoticed — as if spies had gathered, swinging and playing melodies in whispers.

One such gig features bassist Corin Stiggall’s little band, STIGGALL & ASSOCIATES, that features Corin, the wonderful trumpeter Carol Morgan, and the always surprising Chuck Wilson on alto.  Guests have come by, too. They have been gathering at a little New York City bar, Milano’s (51 East Houston Street, about ninety seconds’ walk from the F train Broadway-Lafayette stop) on Tuesdays from 1 to 3 PM, and Thursdays from 2-4.

Weekday gigs at that hour are rare.  Even though the New York Times has told us that brunch is for the wrong people, jazz brunch gigs proliferate, often featuring wonderful singers.  But a weekday afternoon instrumental improvising gig?  How marvelous, how unusual.

And the music lived up to both those adjectives.

Corin is one of the city’s fine (and under-utilized) string bassists, who can keep time but does so much more — creating inventive castles of sound without ever treating his instrument like a guitar that has had espresso poured into its F-hole. A three-chorus solo from him is both logical and full of surprises, and he holds an audience’s interest (no rise in chatter) because of his melodic eloquence.

Carol is a wonder — melding all kinds of late-swing and contemporary influences while sounding exactly like herself.  She constructed phrases that made perfect sense (and were sometimes subtle musical jests) that started and ended in surprising places; her tone was golden without being sweet, her dynamics were admirable, and she continued to startle but in the best reassuring ways.

I’ve known Chuck the longest, and he is a sustaining pleasure, his tone his own — lemony but never acrid, his phrases following natural rhythms rather than strict four-bar divisions. He knows and admires the great alto Forerunner (that Avian deity) but doesn’t copy him; he is fleet but never glib.

What does a trio of string bass, trumpet, and alto saxophone sound like?

I didn’t miss the makings of a traditional quintet: piano and drums. Corin provided all the melody and harmonic basis needed, so the trio sounded like a small orchestra rather than a band with some of its members missing in action. Chuck and Carol hummed behind one another and behind Corin; they chatted happily, swapping melody and harmony; their solos never seemed a moment too long.

“Strolling,” as I understand it, was a term invented in the Forties (did Roy Eldridge have something to do with it?) where a horn soloist would work with a smaller portion of the three-or-four piece rhythm section.  Most often, the pianist would take a rest, often the drummer as well.  I heard it most often in the Seventies when I followed Ruby Braff, who — given a quartet of himself with traditional rhythm — would play duets in turn with piano, bass (most often) and drums, to vary the presentation, to get away from the familiar.

Without offending the many superb pianists and drummers I know, I will say that it was joyous today to hear horn / string bass duets and trios for an afternoon — music with translucent clarity, deliciously unadorned.  I could list the small groups I thought of, but why be historical? — this trio was a 2014 treat for the ears, with melodic improvisation the basis for their and our pleasure.

Although the musicians here know the creative improvised music offered in 1959 by Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry (they could have performed LONELY WOMAN splendidly) they stuck to more recognizable themes on which to improvise.  The first set began with a pair of show tunes, I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE and THE BEST THING FOR YOU (WOULD BE ME), then moved south for the theme from BLACK ORPHEUS, took a saunter into Tadd Dameron’s line on ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE from a Fats Navarro date, JAHBERO, and concluded with ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  (During SUNNY SIDE, a woman at the bar burst into song — but Milano is a hip bar and she was on key, in tune, and knew the words.  Brava, Madame, wherever you are!)

The second set started with Bud Powell’s SHE (a tune, I was told, that Barry Harris favors), moved into I’LL REMEMBER APRIL — then the esteemed bassist Murray Wall sat in, admiring the sound of Corin’s bass — for IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, and the set concluded with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN that began with a Latin-rhythm chorus of the Navarro-Don Lanphere line on those chords, called STOP.

STOP was the last thing anyone wanted from this band, and I hope they don’t. Ever.

At this point, some of you may be looking eagerly for videos.  Circumstances got in the way — but I and the group are eager to present some music to you in the future.  For the moment, all I can do is urge you to break out of your weekday routine and go to Milano’s, a long narrow room that reminds me happily of jazz bars some decades back — happy, attentive customers and a pleasant staff.  A variety of beverages await; the atmosphere is happily informal; there is a plastic take-out container (it might have held a quart of wonton soup or coleslaw once) that acts as a tip jar.

I will return to Milano’s and hope you can be there also.  Stroll on by.

May your happiness increase!

STILL MORE “HOORAY FOR CAPTAIN SKJELBRED!” (July 10, 2014)

Ray Skjelbred’s birthday was yesterday, celebrated [although inadequately]         here.  I think there should have been dancing in the streets, children strewing flowers, people handing out RS pinback buttons at commuter rail stations, and more.

But it also made me ask, “Why should a birthday celebration quietly steal away after twenty-four hours?  We’re still rejoicing that Ray has landed among us and persists in his generous dispensing of joy.”

So even though I think the birthday dinner may have been eaten, the socks unwrapped and worn, the book begun, and the like, I would like to celebrate Captain Skjelbred with three more video performances — these captured at Rossmoor in Walnut Creek, California (thanks to Robert Burch and the Dixieland Jazz Club there) with Ray and his Cubs: Katie Cavera, guitar; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

THREE LITTLE WORDS (nice ones for sure):

BASIN STREET BLUES (at the Louis 1928 tempo):

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW (with vocal chorus by the Swing Swain of the Airwaves, Kim Cusack.  A word about that vocal.  Kim is a superb singer perhaps because he doesn’t take singing all that seriously, which lends his vocals a casual stylish authority.  Connoisseurs of Cusack vocalizing — and I know many — are especially fond of his singing this tune, which he ends on “Naaaaooooow!” an extended dipthong that resembles the annoyed wail of a large menacing Siamese cat.  Try it at home!):

Dear Captain Skjelbred.  Happy birthday again.  Happy birthday still.  And thanks so much to you and your Cubs.

May your happiness increase!

HOORAY FOR CAPTAIN SKJELBRED!

Today, November 2, is the birthday of one of our heroes — pianist / composer / singer / poet / imaginer / scholar Ray Skjelbred.  He is an original, even when he is letting the great traditions flow through him; he is both inscrutable and generously open; he continues to improve life in this century.

No formulaic cupcakes with candles for Captain Skjelbred!

I offer instead a small musical mosaic of his own subversive creations — the first three when no one was supposed to be paying attention (someone might call it “making friends with the piano”) that I captured on May 25, 2014, at the Sacramento Music Festival.

Since I envision Captain Skjelbred as a quiet spy in the enemy country of mediocrity and repeater pencils, the fact that I caught him unaware might just be fair play.  He does the same for and to us: in the fourth video, MY GALVESTON GAL (performed with his Cubs — Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Kim Cusack, clarinet) there is an odd and whimsical phrase Ray creates at 1:50 that makes me say, “What? What?” every time I hear it.

And he does it again, playing the piano, playing music, playing with our expectations — and always gratifying them in ways we didn’t know existed.

Thank you, Captain Skjelbred.  We are grateful you are here.

Music for Groucho — Kalmar and Ruby, 1930:

A little Monkishness, or is it Monkiania?:

Some blues, sun-warmed, locally grown, organic:

And a pop tune from 1933, MY GALVESTON GAL, featured by Henry Allen, Coleman Hawkins, and Benny Morton — much-beloved silliness, with a particularly Skjelbredian interlude at 1:50:

And no one calls him schnorrer. (Julius can explain, or you could look it up.)

P.S.  Should anyone wonder, “Michael, now you’re posting clips that last less than a minute?  Have you run out of things to post?”  The answer is, in a hushed tone, “You have no idea of what remains to be seen.” The idea of a mosaic of orts and fragments appeals to me, and I hope also to the Captain.  Found poetry!

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANCE TIMES THREE (Part One): TAL RONEN, MARK SHANE, DAN BLOCK at CASA MEZCAL (Oct. 26, 2014)

Three eloquent yet casual musicians — Tal, string bass; Mark, piano; Dan, clarinet and tenor — at work and play in the pleasing surroundings of 88 Orchard Street, on the lower East Side of New York City, captured by my camera last Sunday, October 26, 2014.

A sure cure for the gloomies, for world-weariness.

Here are four beauties from the first set.  There will be more, I promise you.

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:

DON’T BE THAT WAY:

PRISONER OF LOVE:

SECOND BALCONY JUMP:

This is living synergy, a translucent acoustic orchestra. Such music blesses us.

May your happiness increase!

VIPERS and MOCKINGBIRDS, LYRICISM and SWING: EMMA FISK and FRIENDS RECALL EDDIE SOUTH and STUFF SMITH at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 3, 2013)

The very expressive swinging violinist Emma Fisk was given a difficult assignment — to summon up the ghosts of Stuff Smith (violently, dramatically hot) and Eddie South (elegance personified) in thirty minutes at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.  I’d give her and her colleagues very high marks at this nearly-impossible task.

The colleagues are Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocal (hear him romp on the verse to LADY BE GOOD — a feat that astonishes the band — as well as on a block-chord solo on SKIP IT), the ceaselessly rocking Richard Pite, drums; the energized Henri Lemaire, string bass; the versatile Spats Langham (called upon to be Django for seven choruses of uplifting accompaniment on EDDIE’S BLUES), and two guest stars to take us close to the Onyx Club Boys of fabled memory, Ben Cummings, trumpet (hidden behind someone’s coif, but he comes through clear as a bell); Jean-Francois Bonnel, clarinet.

Here they are — recorded on November 3, 2013, nimbly being themselves while honoring departed masters.

IF YOU’RE A VIPER (thank you, Jeff!):

MAMA MOCKINGBIRD (for Hoagy and Eddie):

LADY BE GOOD:

EDDIE’S BLUES:

SKIP IT:

Well played, Emma, Jeff, Spats, Henri, Richard, Ben, and Jean-Francois!

And I know that Emma has a feature set at this year’s Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party called FIDDLESTICKS in honor of Signor Venuti, which I know will be fun.

May your happiness increase!

BENT PERSSON HONORS LUIS RUSSELL at WHITLEY BAY (Nov. 3, 2013)

Some of the hottest music of the late Twenties was created by Luis Russell and his Orchestra.  That band could “romp,” to use Pops Foster’s perfectly accurate verb, in ways that blended New Orleans polyphony and the awareness of how musicians in a big band could play effectively as sections.  Russell wrote wonderful arrangements and the band showed off a galaxy of soloists — Red Allen, Charlie Holmes, Albert Nicholas, J. C. Higginbotham, Teddy Hill, Greely Walton, Will Johnson, Pops Foster, Paul Barbarin (later editions of the band, captured on record, also included Dicky Wells, Rex Stewart, and a sweetly vocalizing Vic Dickenson).  The band also backed Louis Armstrong on memorable records — and it became the nucleus of Louis’ Decca band as well.

If someone asked me to define “swing,” it would be easy to do by playing the Russell PANAMA or JERSEY LIGHTNING — perpetual motion machines that amaze and delight.

Trumpeter / arranger / scholar Bent Persson has long loved the Russell band, not only for its soloists but for its ensemble beauty — and last year at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party he offered a full plate of joy, taking us in time and space to the Saratoga Club in 1929-1930.  He was aided in this journey by Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocal; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums; Jacob Ullberger, banjo and guitar; Andy Schumm, trumpet; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Jean-Francois Bonnel, Lars Frank, Stephane Gillot, reeds.

SARATOGA SHOUT:

DOCTOR BLUES:

NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS (with its classic vocal: is it an invitation or a command?):

LOUISIANA SWING:

ON REVIVAL DAY (purification of the Spirit thanks to Reverends Jeff and Kris):

POOR LI’L ME, with an extraordinary vocal by Jeff:

SARATOGA DRAG:

HONEY, THAT REMINDS ME (which was Vic Dickenson’s first recorded vocal):

Oh, what a band! — both in the original and in the energetic evocation here.

All of this wonderfully uplifting jazz was performed (in 2013) at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party where many of these musicians will be performing in the 2014 version in a few days.

May your happiness increase!