Monthly Archives: March 2015

MY CREATIVE DOUBLE: “CURRENT RESIDENCE”

My name is not all that unusual, if Google is any indication. There’s me, then a Michael Steinman who’s a doctor, an authority on world government, an attorney, a provost, the deceased frontman for the band Inch, a realtor, an actor, a college dean, an author of a book on domestic abuse, a math teacher.  I gave up on the fourth page of the search because the apartment seemed crowded with ectoplasmic figures who were insisting that they were real and I wasn’t.

But I was greatly amused and pleased to encounter the Michael Steinman who is an appealing jazz trombonist and singer.  Born in Santa Clarita, California, this MS has lived and studied in Bloomington, Indiana, and now calls Six-Fours-les-Plage, France, home.  I was delighted — after the initial shock of seeing “my” name in print attached to another person — to meet this other (and talented) Michael here.

MS tbn w Alamel Giles

Michael, trombone, with Alamel Gilles

 

And the pleasure continues with Michael’s new CD, appropriately called CURRENT RESIDENCE.  It is an appealing blend: “traditional” repertoire with a charmingly quirky twist.  The songs would lead you to believe that the approach would be firmly grounded in early-jazz conventions: STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL / IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN / I DIDDLE / JACK, YOU’RE DEAD / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID / JUST A GIGOLO — but there are no straw hats, striped blazers, or sleeve garters here.  An unorthodox yet swinging instrumentation also helps the music be lively rather than formulaic.

What makes this CD special is a combination of a few things.  First, Michael is a splendid trombonist.  He doesn’t see the instrument as a way of spraying notes at a captive audience; he is a swinging melodist, a modern mainstreamer who doesn’t copy anyone.  He is also a really fine — and not ordinary — singer, someone who seems like a distant cousin of Mose Allison and one of the Everly Brothers (you can pick) without ever losing a jazz feel.  And the strolling players who accompany him (most often alto saxophone and a small quiet rhythm section) are on the same wavelength: thoughtful without being numb, enthusiastic without being raucous. Praise to his colleagues: Jonathan Soncasse, Willy Quiko, Lionel Pellister, Eric Merdiano, Gerard Murphy, Anne Carriere, Eric Fillou, Lorenzo Brignone, and Gabriel Charrier.

Here’s an auditory sample: 

Serious and ready for swing action

Serious and ready for swing action

I would have a listener begin at the end — a fitting tribute to quirkiness with its own reward — with a deeply tender reading of JUST A GIGOLO that begins with a smoothed down Monkish piano solo, then moves to trombone / piano, alto saxophone / piano, and finally vocal / piano — sweetly and sadly, more Crosby than Prima.  It’s one of those recorded musical performances that is shapely, quiet yet deep, and completely satisfying.

Here are more sound samples, and a way to make a purchase for the motivated among us.

michael-steinman-album-cover

The CD is also available through the usual sources — as a download on Amazon or iTunes, and at Michael’s website, herewhere the essay that accompanies the CD cover is both charming and candid.

This other MS has a future: his music is lively and full of feeling, and his CD sounds as if he knows the past but is not condemned to repeat it.  I recommend it highly, and would do so even if his name was not so melodious to my ears.

May your happiness increase!

A DEEP QUESTION, THE RIGHT ANSWER at THE EAR INN: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, ATTILA KORB, EVAN ARNTZEN (January 25, 2015)

Sunday, January 25, 2015, the generous and inventive EarRegulars laid out a big banquet of delicious sounds at The Ear Inn in Soho — 326 Spring Street, where they are every Sunday evening from about 8 to about 11 PM.  Here are two tastes — to me they are precious, creations that do not and will not diminish.

But The EarRegulars proved once again that life is the best fiction writer.  You’ll see what I mean.

Later in the evening one of the Majesties called an old favorite, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? (There have been several songs with this title — understandably — but this is from 1920, by Harry D. Kerr, John Cooper, and Earl Burnett. )

In its 1920 incarnation, it must have been a very sad ballad: the forgotten lover wondering just how deeply and why (s)he has been forgotten.  But The EarRegulars are not always given to maudlin expressions like that; they follow the great jazz tradition of turning pathos into swing.  As they did here:

What next?  Someone then suggested a great 1927 hot number by William H. Butler (not the ballad of a decade later) made famous by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.  The brilliant young clarinetist Evan Arntzen had dropped by and was all ready to join them, too.

The title?

ONCE IN A WHILE:

Imagine the dialogue between those two song titles at your leisure, please.

Don’t miss the entirely impromptu duet for taragoto (Robinson) and guitar (Munisteri) late in the performance, and the band’s collective decision to visit Dardanella in her tent.

It’s just one of the brilliant moments in art-becomes-life-while-life-is-being-artistic that happens every Sunday evening at The Ear Inn. . . . a pleasure that started in summer 2007.  Get some for yourself.

May your happiness increase!

YOUR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: JOHNNY MERCER, 1934

Please put your phones away and let’s begin.

I first heard this song in its original performance many years ago — it was issued on a Jack Teagarden compilation — and fell in love with it.  Later, I’ve heard the three other versions (Joe Haymes, Chris Ellis, and the happily-still-singing Daryl Sherman) but I keep coming back to Mister Mercer’s original, recorded on August 24, 1934, with Sterling (or Stirling) Bose, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone; Fulton McGrath, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Hank Wayland, string bass — and the session was directed by Victor Young.

I should mention that the music was composed by Bernard Hanighen — who’s not well-known today, but he is responsible for WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN, lyrics to Monk’s ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT, and he co-produced Billie Holiday’s 1936-39 records . . . and was her dear friend and advocate.

Daniel, do you have a notebook?  Would it be a good idea to open it up and write some things down?  As I’ve said, you can burn it in the backyard when this course ends.  But I digress.

The song is THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN, and blissfully this recording has everything: an unaccompanied Jack Teagarden cadenza to start and a Dick McDonough coda to close.  In between, we hear Mercer — someone I think of as one of the finest singers ever in his early phase, with a distinctive boyish twang to his lyric delivery and a real flair for playful improvising (measure his second chorus against his first):

Everything on this recording works for me — the cheerful rhythm section behind Mercer’s first chorus, and the tag, “So before I drown / The whole darn town / I think you better say ‘I do,'” which to me is the first marriage-proposal-with-the-threat-of-apocalypse-attached I know.  (So there, Andrew Marvell!)  Then the instrumental interludes: Bose sounds just a touch uncertain, and my guess is that he hadn’t seen the song before, since it was brand new, but he doesn’t lose the thread.  Teagarden’s minor bridge is easily tossed off, but what sounds!  And McDonough’s accompaniment is a wondrous etude in itself.  In the second chorus, I adore the larger freedom Mercer allows himself, the murmur of Teagarden’s horn under Johnny’s singing, the little break and stop-time additions.

I know.  I tend to get carried away.  But even when your professor is ecstatic in front of the room, if you take out your phone and begin to text, you will be asked to leave.

I assume that the song is meant for a male singer, but there are no explicit references.  So the vision of someone in the bathtub, sprucing up for an eight o’clock date with someone so adored that a marriage can be envisioned, is dear. And the conceit that the bather is so deeply in dreamland that the tub overflows and the very polite people underneath protest in the most genial way, “Dreamin’ ’bout your baby’s OK / but the house is floating away!” is beyond charming.  I know it is not an environmentally-correct song: wasting water is criminal, but I hope that in the name of dear love all things can be forgiven.

Any questions?

Your assignment for next class.  Learn this song.  Learn it so deeply that you can sing it, verse and chorus, with a smile on your face, with no lyrics in front of you. Sing it to the one you love; sing it to your children; hum it on the subway.  I want to hear THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN being whistled on the street; I want to hear Mr. Mercer’s voice coming out of earbuds on this campus and elsewhere, I want to hear four men or four women harmonizing on it as they walk down the street, arm in arm, grinning.

It’s not too much to ask.

I have some papers to give back.  Enjoy yourselves, and I’ll see you next class, when we’ll be reading Whitman.

May your happiness increase!

 

“I’LL ALWAYS KEEP THAT.”

If you are chatting with me for more than a few minutes, it is a sure thing that the name of Louis Armstrong will emerge from my lips.  Musician, man, inspiration. And I knew very well that the superb musician (he’s too large for simply “trumpeter”) Humphrey Lyttelton felt the same way.  Humph, bless him, was able to embody his love of Louis by playing in ways that honored Louis while keeping his individual self.

Doing research for a piece about Humph in the NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD, I was delighted to come across the official Humphrey Lyttelton website, maintained by his son Stephen — so full of information, pictures, memorabilia, and drawings, good prose, and deep feeling, that it will take several days for me to feel that I had explored it all.

Two photographs and one story I found superbly touching — tribute to Louis’ character and to Humph’s as well.  Here is the page.

One photograph shows an ecstatic happy Louis in front of drummer Barrett Deems and near a British trombonist (who is also laughing) while a pair of arms are tenderly placing a crown on Louis’ head — the crown is labeled KING LOUIS. The handwritten caption (in very recognizable script, because Humph was also artist and calligrapher) reads “‘Crowning’ of Louis Armstrong, Empress Hall, 1956.”  This photograph was taken onstage, and Louis is in white shirt, jacket, and bow tie.  In the second shot, presumably posed for a press photographer, Louis has changed to a neat checked shirt, no tie; he sits happily while Humph, in white formal garb, carefully places the crown once again so that the inscription can be seen.  The crown itself is beyond description.

And the brief story, told by Humph:

Another indicator of the strength of Louis Armstrong’s character was his unshakable loyalty towards those he regarded as his friends. I have personal and proud experience of the warmth with which he responds to any action which he regards as a favour to him. At the end of his 1956 season at the Empress Hall in London, when my band was privileged to share the bill, I spent a couple of days making a crown out of cardboard, Woolworth jewellery and ping-pong balls, and inscribed ‘King Louis’. At the end of the show, when I was called up on stage to take a bow in the finale, I made the announcement: ‘On behalf of all British musicians, I crown Louis Armstrong the undisputed King of Jazz,’ and plonked the crown on his head. A day or two later, I saw him backstage at Manchester. I asked him casually if he still had his crown. ‘Of course I have – I had it shipped back home today. I’ll always keep that – you gave it to me.’

Why do I find that so touching?  Even if it were not an anecdote about people I deeply admire — revere, in truth — the emotions and their expression are clear and intensely valuable.

We live in an age of milkless milk and silkless silk, and for me the metaphor has nothing to do with soy beverages and rayon, but everything to do with the many layers of hurry and self-absorption many people wrap themselves and their essential selves in.

The true self feels love and responds with gratitude, which is a deep expression of love.

Although Humph’s gesture had a small element of do-it-yourself comedy in it (I especially like the gilded ping-pong balls) the deep love that animates the creation of such a crown is true and not purchasable at any store.  The love is measurable in the impulse to make such a crown for Louis, and the act of making the impulse real, and the time taken to make the object a fitting tribute.

And Louis’ understanding of the love in the gesture is simple in words, but deep in feeling.  It is the antithesis of contemporary entitlement (“Of course, I am the King! So your gesture is only what I deserve. It’s about time.”) and of checking-the-price-tag-scorn (“Oh, that cardboard crown? I tossed it away.  It would be very hard to pack, and it’s only cardboard.”)

Recognize love.  Send it back in acts and gratitude.

Stories like this are the reason I wrote WHAT WOULD LOUIS DO? — but we don’t have to play trumpet to be loving, grateful, or loyal.  It requires only that we slow down, breathe deeply, be open to feeling, and respond in fitting ways.

P.S.  This post is about the power of generosity and gratitude, and I could have no better example than an email I received from my friend, the superb jazz writer Peter Vacher, less than thirty minutes after my post had appeared:

The trombonist in the Louis picture, taken at Empress Hall, London, a boxing arena now demolished, on the occasion of Louis’s first return to the UK since 1932, is bandleader Vic Lewis. Vic, a sometime trombonist and guitarist, was leading a modern big band which alternated with Humph’s band as the introductory act on the Louis programme. Also on the bill were singer Ella Logan, Annie Ross’s auntie, and African-American dancer Peg-Leg Bates. They all set up and did their stuff in the Hall’s boxing ring, which rotated meaning that at one moment one saw Deems’s backside and at the other Louis full-on frontally. A strange experience but a memorable one as I should know as I was there on one of the nights, in Army uniform, having hitched down from Yorkshire where I was doing my basic training. Sat at ringside, I even managed a brief congratulatory word with the great man who responded as I remember with the immortal phrase, ‘Yeah, Daddy, yeah.’
And this just in — from Harvey Bard, friend of Bob and Pug Wilber:

Yes it is Vic Lewis – see the attached article with photo. He did play trombone and together with Humph, Freddy Randall and Cy Laurie he was one of the band leaders in the reception party for Louis when he landed at London airport on 3rd May 1956, so it’s seems likely he was also present at the Empress Hall. The regular trombonist with the All Stars at that time was Trummy Young and he did play the Empress Hall concert (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcgoJkU6t7M) but maybe as Vic Lewis was around they let him sit in!

Incidentally I was on duty at The State Kilburn when Louis and the All Stars appeared there on their 1956 tour. I get as far as the corridor leading to Louis’ dressing room and glimpsed him sitting there over the shoulders of the crowd. I had hoped to get his autograph but no luck – there were too many people in the way.

May your happiness increase!

“IN SWEET CONTENT, DREAMING AWAY”: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, DUKE HEITGER, DAN BLOCK, ED METZ, PAUL KELLER, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at the 2014 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY

It might be impolite to ask someone “What did you dream last night?” unless you are on very intimate terms, but here’s a deeply swinging answer to that question.

It’s an ancient but durable pop classic done with great style by Rebecca Kilgore, Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, bass; Ed Metz, drums.

This glowing performance took place on April 25, 2014, at the place where such things flourish — the Atlanta Jazz Party — which this year takes place from April 17 to April 19, which, like love, is just around the corner:

It would be nice to see you there, and you will get your money’s worth and more of music that makes you feel very good. Sweet content, in fact.

May your happiness increase!

 

TWO MINUTES AND TWENTY-SEVEN SECONDS

My title doesn’t refer to someone’s hallowed solo or a famous 78 recording.  No, it’s music created this month, March 2015.

I have watched with pleasure and amusement the birth and development of a new band — no, a new instrumental ensemble with its own gravely whimsical music.  The object of my affection is the Endangered Species Trio, which brings together Emily Asher, trombone; Tom Abbott, bass saxophone; Rob Reich, accordion.

I could make a case for all species as being endangered these days, but the title refers more to the three instruments, which have been the subject of curiosity (at best), sliding down to active mockery, contempt, disdain, and incredulity. Except for the trombone, which has a certain acceptance — although there are many jokes about trombones and trombonists — the bass saxophone and the accordion are regarded, at best, as highly miscellaneous instruments, even though both of them are capable of great beauty.

Tom, Emily, and Rob just returned from a brief stay at an artists’ retreat in Banff, and they shared this delicious musical vignette, TOM AND LIZ, on YouTube.

Humor me.  Even if you have deep reservations about “original compositions” by jazz artists; even if the thought of the accordion brings up deep childhood traumas, experience this beautiful cockeyed swinging melodic many-textured interlude:

I expect to have a good day — pleasing experiences have already taken place and there are more to come — but for sheer compact pleasure, these two minutes and twenty-seven seconds will be hard to top.

Go ahead:  see if you can listen to it only once.  I dare you.

More about this wonderful group here.

May your happiness increase! 

LYRICALLY ALIVE: AI MURAKAMI QUARTET: “CONCEPTION”

For the moment, the usual media sources have tired of telling us that jazz is dead, but some anonymous blogger launches heavy satire that it is “the worst,” while another source reports that jazz is the least popular music on the planet.  I find it difficult to care about such blurts . . . because beautiful performances and many new discs prove those slighting words untrue.

aimurakami

Today’s delight is drummer Ai Murakami’s CONCEPTION (Gut String Records) where she leads Zaid Nasser, alto saxophone; Tardo Hammer, piano; Hassan Shakur, string bass, through eight lyrically swinging performances: ON A MISTY NIGHT / CONCEPTION / SWEET LORRAINE / OLD DEVIL MOON / WHEN JOHNNY COMES MARCHING HOME / SAUCER EYES / WE’LL BE TOGETHER AGAIN / RAY’S IDEA.

I had never encountered Ai, but when I had the opportunity to hear her music, I was very pleased.  (I must point out that my apartment, rather like the late Ed Beach’s, is primarily furnished in music — a wall of CDs, boxes of cassettes, and a collection of what is now called fashionably “vinyl,” so that I turn down offerings of most CDs, thinking that I will never live to hear one-fourth of what I now own. For me to eagerly ask for a CD is in itself an enthusiastic endorsement of the music it contains.)

First off, although this is a drummer-led quartet, Ai is a percussionist more interested in propelling the group than in soloing.  The two extended solos she takes, on SAUCER EYES and RAY’S IDEA, are each slightly more than a minute long, and are deliciously melodic displays of accents, rolls, and rimshots — compositionally deep, as one motif naturally builds into the next.  Throughout this session, she plays “for the comfort of the band, ” creating a flowing swing tapestry for the quartet.  She moves quietly around her set as the context changes, and her work is full of subtle colorations of sound that show how deeply and lovingly she listens to her colleagues.  Pianist Hammer is one of the great lyrical players of this era, his work simultaneously definite and airy; bassist Shakur is a melodic player who keeps beautiful time and has a deep resonant tone; altoist Nasser is a post-Parker songbird with a citrusy tone, moving easily from one great lyrical paean to the next.

This recording is “old-fashioned” in beautiful ways, which I write as a great compliment: it shows their respect for song offered in swinging ways.  Melodies are caressed rather than demolished, and the result is gratifying mainstream jazz played in this century.  It isn’t an attempt to reproduce great performances or familiar solos in better fidelity, but one could pass it off as a lovely unissued Prestige session and the collectors would be racing to buy copies.

I asked Ai for her thoughts, and they are candid and modest.

“First of all, I love each one of these players as a great musician.  They have their own unique sound and their phrasing is so musical.  I have worked with each member in different band situations and always enjoyed it.  But when we played together for the first time, it was very different. I felt full of joy while I was playing as the band was so swinging. After several gigs together, I felt even better! Then I started thinking that I should do a recording with this band. I wanted more people to hear our music and feel like I do.

The most significant tune for me on this recording is Conception, which is why I named my album after it! I always love this tune, but I don’t hear many musicians play it nowadays. So I wanted to try it on our recording.  I guess it is a tough tune, but I’m happy about the way we sound on the recording.  The drum trading was a bit complicated, but we nailed it! I really like the ending too.

On our recording, I selected tunes the way I do for the gig.  I wanted our recording to be like a good set, with various tempos, different feels, a mix of standards and bebop tunes… so that we enjoy our playing and hopefully our listeners do too.  I’m quite happy about the way it came out.

I also wanted to feature all the members on my recording. I asked Tardo and Hassan to pick their own featured tunes.  Tardo picked When Johnny Comes Marching Home and Hassan picked We’ll Be Together Again.  Tardo and Hassan played great in general, but I think they especially sounded wonderful on their tunes.”

Here you can find out more. And here are two complete performances from the disc itself:

SWEET LORRAINE:

WE’LL BE TOGETHER AGAIN:

CONCEPTION is both an idea and a giving birth — here it is deeply satisfying lyrical music, a living embodiment of sophisticated swinging improvisations . . . the kind of rich music the media tells is finished.  How wrong they are.

You can learn more about Ai and her bands here.

May your happiness increase! 

JOYOUS PAPER EPHEMERA, 1941

I’d never seen this before — a program for Duke Ellington’s JUMP FOR JOY as presented in 1941 at the Mayan Theatre.  Had it been a different world, we would have color sound footage of this production.  At least we have this program and the few recordings.

J4J one

and

J4J two

and

J4J three

and

J4J four

and finally

J4J five

A piece of history — cultural as well as musical.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD ADVICE FROM MR. SMITH

Seen on eBay:

STUFF SMITH and the Boys

Wise words, even if your name isn’t Bill. Life isn’t easy, but you can attempt to choose how much of it you have to take in at a gulp.

May your happiness increase!

A DIME A THROW: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE HONOR RODGERS AND HART at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

In my recollection, organized oppression is rarely the subject of American popular song.  Of course, it is a deep subject in folk song, but in popular music I can think of only OL’  MAN RIVER, BLACK AND BLUE, and BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?  (STRANGE FRUIT is in its own class.)

Most of the songs beloved in the canon are personal and smaller in scale, depicting the joy of new love, the sorrows of love disintegrating, the emptiness when it has gone.

A deeply moving exception is the 1930 TEN CENTS A DANCE, by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers (I am reversing the order intentionally) — to me, is a poem about the debilitating and demeaning labor of lower-class women who cannot escape their fate in any dreamy romantic way.  Much of its intensity comes from the first-person narrative, unlike the later SHOE SHINE BOY, where the victim of economic circumstances is both optimistic and viewed tenderly by someone else.

Ten Cents A Dance

Hart’s gritty painful lyrics equal any poem about working in the sweatshops (think of “The Song of the Shirt”) or any anthropological study of human trafficking. And although the drama is intentionally narrow, with one exhausted woman telling us her story of grueling labor, dashed hopes, and no exit, it presents an excruciating to experience, Hart’s casual diction notwithstanding.

Heaven no longer cared to protect the working girl.

Here are the lyrics, taken from www.lorenzhart.com:

 

VERSE

I work at the Palace Ballroom,
but, gee that Palace is cheap;
when I get back to my chilly hall room
I’m much too tired to sleep.
I’m one of those lady teachers,
a beautiful hostess, you know,
the kind the Palace features
for only a dime a throw.

REFRAIN

Ten cents a dance
that’s what they pay me,
gosh, how they weigh me down!
Ten cents a dance
pansies and rough guys
tough guys who tear my gown!
Seven to midnight I hear drums.
Loudly the saxophone blows.
Trumpets are tearing my eardrums.
Customers crush my toes.
Sometime I think
I’ve found my hero,
but it’s a queer romance.
All that you need is a ticket
Come on, big boy, ten cents a dance.

PATTER

Fighters and sailors and bowlegged tailors
can pay for their ticket and rent me!
Butchers and barbers and rats from the harbors
are sweethearts my good luck has send me.
Though I’ve a chorus of elderly beaux,
stockings are porous with holes at the toes.
I’m here till closing time.
Dance and be merry, it’s only a dime.

TAG

Sometime I think
I’ve found my hero,
but it’s a queer romance.
All that you need is a ticket
Come on, big boy, ten cents a dance.

That’s a fully articulated dramatic statement — a novella in three minutes, worthy of Stephen Crane. And Hart’s word choice is so telling — the “gee” and “gosh” suggest a certain sweet naivete that has not yet been crushed utterly. Was our imagined “lady teacher” a young woman who came from the Midwest to the big city in search of love?  Or fame?  The patter, as well — part of a theatrical presentation — contrasts the woes of the woman drained of energy with the mad rush of the city, the headlong press of men eager to get their dime’s worth of sensation from her.

(As an aside, I worry about those later cultural analysts who crow over “queer” as evidence of homosexual code-speak.  Perhaps it was, but the beautiful meshing of sounds in “hero” and “queer ro” would have delighted Hart as well as the half-hidden surprise, I would wager.)

I’m not the only person to be captivated by this song: it became the basis for a film in 1931, and Reginald Marsh painted his version of it in 1933 — although his imagining is much more lurid than the song, whose narrator sounds like someone who remembers what it was to be innocent and hopeful. Marsh’s hostesses suggest by their dress and posture that dancing is merely the surface of their real intent and profession:

Reginald Marsh 1933

The song itself has been memorably sung and recorded by Ruth Etting, later Doris Day, Ella, and many others.

But I think the performance I witnessed just a week ago at Mezzrow — by Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie — is the equal of any more famous rendition. Ehud suggests the bounce of a dance-band (with greater harmonic ingenuity and rhythmic variety than any 1930 outfit) and Hilary shows herself a great understated dramatic actress.  Hear her reading of the lines — so rich, so quiet, so varied and convincing.

I invite you to listen to this afresh.  To me this performance is a triumph of despair, quiet resignation, and deep lyricism. Great art can make pain beautiful but it never attempts to pretend the pain is not there.

For a more cheerful evocation of Rodgers and Hart by Hilary and Ehud, listen to this.

There will be more of Hilary and Ehud doing honor to Dick and Larry — something I delight in.

May your happiness increase!

ALTHOUGH IT IS HIS BIRTHDAY, ENRICO TOMASSO GIVES US A PRESENT (Nov. 8, 2014)

As a child, Enrico (“Rico”) Tomasso was full of music, a young member of the family band, someone whose epiphany through Louis Armstrong was a life-changing experience — a lightning-stroke of joy.

He had the immense good fortune to play his trumpet for Louis when the great man visited Britain.  Louis was enthralled by young Rico, and they remained dear friends.

When I first heard Rico at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, I was moved to happy tears, and when I caught up with him later, I beamed at him and said, “The spirit of Louis shines through you,” words that pleased him.

A day ago Rico celebrated a birthday, but he is the kind of fellow who doesn’t stand with his hand out for his gift.  Rather, he is a generous giver all the time  — so here is his tribute to Louis and my tribute to both of them.  It is a glorious evocation.  Look carefully behind and to the right of Rico, and you will see Duke Heitger, who knows his Louis deeply, smiling and nodding while Rico plays and sings.

The ensemble behind our man is Menno Daams, Duke Heitger, Kristoffer Kompen, Lars Frank, Claus Jacobi, Matthias Seuffert, Keith Nichols, Spats Langham, Emma Fisk, Malcolm Sked, Richard Pite, and other luminaries, including Josh Duffee as entering master of ceremonies.

Happy birthday, dear Rico.  Thank you for being born.  We’re always in the market for you.

And Mister Tomasso will again be gracing the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party in November 2015!

May your happiness increase!

TWO GALS FROM SOHO (Jan. 25, 2015)

What you’re about to see is true.  And I will testify to this under oath.  It happened at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday night, January 25, 2015, when The EarRegulars were nobly ensconced, as they should be.  (May they always be!)

That Sunday’s version of The EarRegulars was Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, bass saxophone; Attila Korb (our friend from Hungary) trombone.

Midway through the first set, the wise suggestion was made that Scott Robinson could play the lead on a selection of his choice.  I know that Scott is renowned for interstellar explorations of the most courageous kind, but he is also a deep loving melodist — and here is SLEEPY TIME GAL as proof:

(SLEEPY TIME GAL, if you are not familiar with it, would suggest a cozy woman, ready to curl up in bed — ideally with the singer cuddled alongside — ready for sweet dreams.  But the lyrics are different: the singer is a little concerned that his Gal never seems to want to come to bed at all before daybreak.  A very different scenario.)

This version, so sweet and tender, reminds me of an unissued Seger Ellis side from 1929 with accompaniment from Jack Purvis, apparently doubling trumpet and trombone — a rare masterpiece.  Even the faint annoying tinkling of someone’s smartphone a few barstools away in the beginning of this performance did not ruin the mood.

Later in the evening, musicians made the trip to the Shrine, and some of them had brought their instruments (physical and vocal).  The penultimate selection of that night was MY GAL SAL, and the guest artists were Charlie Caranicas, trumpet (seated on the barstool to my left, so you see only the bell of his horn, rising and falling like a heartbeat, but you know he’s there);  Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Will Reardon Anderson, alto sax.  And they romped:

(SAL, by the way, is much less complex than her SLEEPY TIME compatriot.  I can’t speak to SAL’s nocturnal rhythms, but she is a pal, dead on the level . . . someone who would pull your car out of a ditch if you asked her.)

The Ear Inn is a sacred place.  I hope you’ve been there and can continue to support this beauty.

May your happiness increase!

DON’T MISS THE BOAT! (September 18-20, 2015)

Good news!  Duke Heitger’s third Steamboat Stomp — a delightful effusion of music in New Orleans, often with the steamboat Natchez as a floating stage, is a certainty for September 2015.

Here’s Duke’s announcement:

It is my pleasure to announce that our 3rd annual Steamboat Stomp will take place in New Orleans from September 18-20, 2015.  For those of you unfamiliar with Steamboat Stomp, it is an intimate festival held in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, dedicated to the finest of classic jazz. The Steamboat Natchez, one of the last authentic steamboats still operating in the United States, will serve as the anchor for this three-day festival. Ticket sales are scheduled to begin March 18 at www.steamboatstompneworleans.com. I would, however, encourage you to secure your hotel room now. Please contact me at dukeheit@bellsouth.net for assistance if needed. Along with the announced artists, we continue to secure some of the top jazz musicians in the world.  As most of you know, these types of productions exist as a result of the generosity of jazz aficionados like yourselves. I hope you will consider attending and/or becoming a sponsor and play an active role in supporting this exciting event.  I have enclosed information about sponsorship levels and patron ticket packages for your consideration. Again, please let me know if you have any questions. And please pass along this message to anyone you think might be interested. I truly believe we are creating something special and hope you can join us. Thank you for your consideration.

The announced artists for the Stomp — and it’s six months in advance — include the Yerba Buena Stompers (Duke, Leon Oakley, Tom Bartlett, Orange Kellin, Conal Fowkes, Clint Baker, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Miss Ida Blue); Topsy Chapman and Solid Harmony, the Dukes of Dixieland, Duke’s own Seamboat Stompers, the Tim Laughlin Trio, Banu Gibson and New Orleans Hot Jazz . . . and more, including calliope concerts by Debbie Fagnano.  All of this on an authentic Mississippi paddle-wheel steamboat.  Whether you want to envision yourself as one of the musicians in Fate Marable’s band or a Mark Twain character, it’s the best place.

And here are three videos from the 2013 Stomp:

Appropriately, STEAMBOAT STOMP by the Yerba Buena Stompers:

Banu Gibson’s declaration in song of what was readily apparent, I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM:

And Steve Pistorius’ beautiful lament, I’D GIVE A DOLLAR FOR A DIME:

It takes dollars as well as dimes to keep enterprises like the Steamboat Stomp from vanishing.  So I hope you can join us.

May your happiness increase!

AND FAIR CANARSIE’S LAKE WE’LL VIEW: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE HONOR RODGERS AND HART at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

The combination of Hilary Gardner’s creamy voice — floating, multi-textured, full of feeling — and Ehud Asherie’s rollicking piano — sure-footed, playful, surprising — is intoxicating.  They go to my head: I feel elated and happy.

They did it again just a few days ago — on St. Patrick’s Day in Manhattan — when they presented a gorgeous concert of Rodgers and Hart at Mezzrow, that belowstairs oasis of fine music at 163 West Tenth Street.

A word about the video: viewers may at first think Ehud is getting visually slighted, which would be unjust.  But if you look in the mirror, you will see him fine profile — reversed? — moving in rhythm.  And his sound rings, which is the point.

There will be a few more videos from this evening.  And even better news — Hilary and Ehud are not finished exploring Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Hart.

Key change.

There have been so many recordings and performances of MANHATTAN that I have no intention of tracing its history.  But this one is both odd and special:

This clip — Allan Gould and Ruth Tester in the 1929 short devoted to Rodgers and Hart, MAKERS OF MELODY, is a fascinating window into what some might call early performance practice, and it reminds me that MANHATTAN was meant as a comic song for a UK couple marveling at this new landscape, where balmy breezes blow / to and fro.

The modern analogue, for me, is walking through Central Park and seeing visitors from other countries absolutely delighted and agog by the squirrels, snapping picture after picture of our furry friends to show to the folks back home, who will marvel.

Feel free to sing along, all through the day, no matter what borough you are in:

Summer journeys
To Niag’ra
And to other places
Aggravate all our cares.
We’ll save our fares.
I’ve a cozy little flat
In what is known as old Manhattan.
We’ll settle down
Right here in town.

We’ll have Manhattan,
The Bronx and Staten
Island too.
It’s lovely going through
The zoo.
It’s very fancy
On old Delancey
Street, you know.
The subway charms us so
When balmy breezes blow
To and fro.
And tell me what street
Compares with Mott Street
In July?
Sweet pushcarts gently gliding by.
The great big city’s a wondrous toy
Just made for a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll go to Greenwich,
Where modern men itch
To be free;
And Bowling Green you’ll see
With me.
We’ll bathe at Brighton
The fish you’ll frighten
When you’re in.
Your bathing suit so thin
Will make the shellfish grin
Fin to fin.
I’d like to take a
Sail on Jamaica
Bay with you.
And fair Canarsie’s lake
We’ll view.
The city’s bustle cannot destroy
The dreams of a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll go to Yonkers
Where true love conquers
In the wilds.
And starve together, dear,
In Childs’.
We’ll go to Coney
And eat baloney
On a roll.
In Central Park we’ll stroll,
Where our first kiss we stole,
Soul to soul.
Our future babies
We’ll take to “Abie’s
Irish Rose.”
I hope they’ll live to see
It close.
The city’s clamor can never spoil
The dreams of a boy and goil.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.

We’ll have Manhattan,
The Bronx and Staten
Island too.
We’ll try to cross
Fifth Avenue.
As black as onyx
We’ll find the Bronnix
Park Express.
Our Flatbush flat, I guess,
Will be a great success,
More or less.
A short vacation
On Inspiration Point
We’ll spend,
And in the station house we’ll end,
But Civic Virtue cannot destroy
The dreams of a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy!

(I love beyond all that’s reasonable one turn of the lyrics — that “fin to fin” anticipates “soul to soul,” rather than the more predictable reverse.)

If Manhattan was indeed an isle of joy on the 17th, I think credit belongs to Dick, Larry, Hilary, and Ehud — let the green-garbed roisterers take a back seat.

May your happiness increase!

JO JONES, SPECIAL

I’m always intrigued yet sometimes puzzled by the waves of interest in jazz figures that I can discern in the searchers who find this blog.  I’m thrilled to know that somewhere, people yearn to know more about the obscure, “al drootin,” or “bernard addison.”

But often the curiosity (as tabulated by search engine visits) has been both odd and sad.  It feels as if unknown people want badly to put large figures into tiny labeled boxes.

I note with discomfort the morbidly voyeuristic fascination with Billie Holiday unrelated to her music, as documented in many inquiries about her last husband, Louis McKay, about heroin (some searchers have gotten the threads tangled and search for “ella fitzgerald heroin death”), as well as “billy holiday nude” and “how much did billie holiday weigh,” which I find both inexplicable and painful.

More recently, I’ve noted a consistent fascination with Jo Jones.  That in itself would cheer me up, but it seems to grow out of one legend connecting Jo — disdainful, furious — with a youthful and unprepared Charlie Parker.  I wrote about that incident in 2011 here.  (Do people still take Clint Eastwood’s BIRD, where this incident is a repeated narrative thread, as an accurate historical record?)

I saw and heard Jo Jones often in person between 1971 and 1982, and although he was not a predictable individual, what I remember about him is more than the potential for violence, as I have written here.

Jazz enthusiasts and makers of myth apparently need to simplify; they take pleasure in flattening out complex individuals into single iconic gestures, as if making plastic action figures out of them. I imagine a series of dolls sold at giant toy store.  Buy them.  Trade them.  Collect the set!  Here’s Billie Holiday with a needle in her arm or knocked to the ground by her man.  A plastic Louis Armstrong grins and sweats.  In another box, Miles Davis scorns the audience.  Count Basie strikes a single note.  Duke Ellington, in an electric-blue suit, woos a woman.

And now, Jo Jones imperiously humiliating Charlie Parker — complete with tiny gold cymbal flying through the air as if to decapitate the boy who has presumed to enter the world of men.

The Jo Jones I experienced was part mannered exhibitionist, a complete commedia dell’arte troupe in himself, grinning, gesticulating, insisting on playing eleven-minute solo spectacles, demanding our sustained attention.

And then there was the unpredictable deity who commanded the ocean, summoning cosmic rhythms.  His outward appearance — someone you could see on the subway, the compact balding man wearing short trousers that revealed white socks — was only a guise put on so that he could pass among mortals.

Hear him with his peers Emmett Berry, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and that same Count, playing SHOE SHINE BOY:

The sounds Jo creates — I use the present tense intentionally — will outlast any concocted myths, searchers and search engines.

And if future cosmologists discover that the Basie rhythm section was and is really the music that animates the universe, it would explain the durability of this cosmos that some people have tried so hard to destroy.

May your happiness increase!

THE JOHNNY DODDS JUBILEE, PART ONE: WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 8, 2014)

This was a truly delightful set, balancing neatly between uproarious riot and precise tribute, where the participants paid tribute to New Orleans / Chicago clarinetist Johnny Dodds by evoking some of his less famous recordings.  Those expert participants were Claus Jacobi, reeds; Matthias Seuffert and Thomas Winteler, clarinet; Rico Tomasso, cornet; Martin Litton, piano; Spats Langham, Jacob Ullberger, Martin Wheatley, banjo; Malcolm Sked, bass; Nicholas Ball, washboard. (That’s the collective personnel: you’ll see / hear who is playing on each number.)

Here’s the first part, as captured at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party on November 8, 2014.

I note with pleasure how happy the musicians look — and that’s no stage joke. The most accurate emotional barometer on this little stage is the visage of one Nick Ball, percussionist supreme: he looks as if he’s going to explode with rhythmic joy.  You can imagine how happy I was from behind my camera.

IDLE HOUR SPECIAL (with an unexpected cameo by a t-shirted jazz fan at 4:00, who momentarily blocked the view but thankfully not the sound — I knew he was a “jazz fan” because it was written on his shirt, thus saving me the need to speculate):

ORIENTAL MAN:

39TH AND DEARBORN:

CARPET ALLEY BREAKDOWN:

More to come.  And you might want to investigate this year’s Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.  It’s a place where such things happen — beautifully — throughout a long weekend.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

 

BOOGIN! (with INFINITE VARIETY)

A little gift of music — three minutes of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett playing a boogie-woogie blues in July 1945:

To me, this is not simply piano, drums, and the blues.  It is a small glowing exercise in bringing infinite variety into what could otherwise be a closed form. Listen to the textures — the varied and ever-shifting sound of Sidney’s drums alongside the piano, the shifting rhythms he and Sammy set up and move through, the varied harmonies and melodies.  Of course, listened to casually from another room, “it’s just boogie-woogie.”  But that would be so limiting, so unjust to the rich textures heard here.

And Sammy and Sidney did not set out to make a classic; they had time at the end of a King Jazz record session and decided to play some blues: this is what they casually and splendidly created.

This post is for my departed friend Michael Burgevin, who loved this record. And for Carl Sonny Leyland, who is deeply in the music and creates it infallibly: he understands!

May your happiness increase!

GENTLY, THEY INQUIRE: ALLAN VACHE, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOHN COCUZZI, RANDY NAPOLEON, PAUL KELLER, DANNY COOTS at the 2014 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY

If you follow its lyrics, the 1929 song CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS? describes the sorrow and the disillusionment of a failed relationship.  But as a piece of instrumental music, it’s pretty and lilting rather than morose — as in the performance below, from the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party.

The delightful inquirers on the bandstand are Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Paul Keller, string bass; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Danny Coots, drums:

Here is more information about this year’s Atlanta Jazz Party — the twenty-sixth — which will be held in a very comfortable hotel this coming April 17 through 19th.  And more information about practical matters.  I know many gentle questions will be asked, and will receive swinging, lyrical answers.

May your happiness increase!

MILT GABLER APPROVES: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JIM BUCHMANN, KATIE CAVERA, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 4, 2014)

Few readers of JAZZ LIVES were actually enjoying the music on Fifty-Second Street, or at a Jimmy Ryan’s jam session, or were in the audience after-hours in Harlem, Chicago, or Kansas City.  What we have now are reminiscences, photographs, and the very rare live recording.  We have to rely on issued recordings for evocations of those times and places, and — infrequently — live performances in this century.  Every so often, I am sitting in front of a band whose musical energy is so wise, so deep, and so intense, that I say to myself, “That’s what it might have sounded like at the Lincoln Gardens,” or “uptown in 1941,” or “at the Reno Club.”

This performance — recorded on November 4, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest — made me think, “This is an unissued Commodore session . . . rejected because it ran too long.”  I don’t have higher praise than that, and since I think the dead know, I believe that Milt Gabler is feeling the good spirits too.

Milt Gabler

Milt Gabler

 

The musicians (or wizards of feeling?) are Ray Skjelbred, piano and inspiration; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jim Buchmann, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

The song chosen is really a layer-cake of three.  First, DIGA DIGA DOO (by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields) — a song made for romping, even though its people-of-color-are-so-hedonistic lyrics are now hard to sing.  It’s overlaid by KRAZY KAPERS, a riff created at the 1933 “Chocolate Dandies” session overseen by John Hammond (the awful band title aside, it was a hot mixed group), and then the song that Ray murmurs about — the one that went too long at Carnegie Hall — Louis Prima’s SING SING SING, with or without commas, which gives Ray a chance to evoke Jess Stacy, always welcome.

When I was busily setting up the video on YouTube — writing a title, description, and creating tags, one of the suggested tabs that the YT machinery came up with was

Wow

My feelings exactly.

It’s in moments like this — nearly seven minutes of moments — that I feel I’m doing the important work of my life (with no offense meant to the students I teach) . . . attempting to make the evanescent permanent, attempting to make the local heroes world-famous.  It makes the knapsack with cameras and tripod feel feathery, not burdensome.

Commodore label

And — quite relevant to this music — I just read that Mosaic Records has completed an eight-CD set of the complete Commodore and Decca recordings of Eddie Condon and Bud Freeman, which will be available in mid-April.  Need I say more?

May your happiness increase!

 

THOU HOLY ART

Food sustains us.  We can get excited by the first tomato of late summer or a slice of ripe peach. But imagine  a landscape where one could not escape it: the air scented everywhere with frying potatoes; fresh-baked bread; tomatoes, oregano, and garlic.  On every street corner, young people offering organic corn, salad greens, the best coffee and tea.  Free and magically non-caloric, no threat to the arteries or the blood sugar.

How soon would we run from the cornucopia, trying to reclaim the body’s peaceful state?

My dystopian parable is not subtle, nor are the ideas that follow new.  Substitute MUSIC for FOOD.

One hundred and more years ago, people sang or played instruments at home (parlor or porch) or in concerts and clubs.  Music was created rather than a product to be consumed.

Then, the phonograph in the late 1800s, the radio forty years later.  The transistor radio in the Fifties; the Walkman a few decades later, the iPod and smartphones.  Earbuds.  Muzak — piped-in anonymous music (in elevators, stores, restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals) is nearly ninety years old.

We love music.  But we might be in danger of choking on it. I don’t simply refer to the techno-pop that drives me out of an otherwise promising restaurant (I have been known to ask the waitperson to turn the music down and say, “The lower the music, the higher the tip”), but to the proliferation of sound.

I walk past students where I teach, waiting for a class to start or for one to end, the music audible from their earbuds.  If I am feeling kindly, paternalistic, or didactic, I may motion to the student (who reluctantly un-buds) to point to my hearing aids and say, “Loud music did this to me.  Do you want to walk around saying ‘Excuse me?’ to someone you love in ten years?”  At best, the response is a sheepish grin — an Old Stranger Telling Me What To Do — but rarely does the volume go down.

Because music is thrust on us without our consent, or it is purveyed for free, audiences rarely think to honor living performers with silence and attention. Trained by television in their living rooms, they chatter obliviously and glare at someone who asks them not to speak.

I am deeply connected to music.  It makes me feel glad to be alive; it makes me weep with joy.  But I don’t want to hear it — even the music I treasure — all the time, just as I would not want to be eating constantly.

What if we treated music as deep art, a holy phenomenon to be approached with love, awe, and reverence?  We wouldn’t put our earbuds in upon waking and fall asleep with them in at night.  We wouldn’t expect to eat in the thrum of an artificial let’s-have-a-party ruckus.

And we would take in what was offered to us with the deepest appreciation, rather than requiring that we be stuffed full of sounds at every waking moment.

Could this exalted state come to pass?  I dream of it, but I have my doubts.

May your happiness increase!

HOTTER THAN THE DEVIL’S KITCHEN: DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS and his BOYS at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY: ANDY SCHUMM, KRISTOFFER KOMPEN, MAURO PORRO, SPATS LANGHAM, MALCOLM SKED, JOSH DUFFEE, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT (November 8, 2014)

David Boeddinghaus is a superb pianist and arranger, but I’ve never had the pleasure of watching him time-travel back to the Twenties in ways exuberant and exact.  Here he is at the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, with Andy Schumm, cornet; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Mauro Porro, Matthias Seuffert [only on SHE’S CRYING FOR ME], reeds; Spats Langham, banjo; Malcolm Sked, brass bass; Josh Duffee, drums.

SHE’S CRYING FOR ME:

FIREWORKS (harking back to the Original Memphis Five, not Louis and Earl):

A JAZZ HOLIDAY:

FRESHMAN HOP (all hail Jack Pettis!):

WALKIN’ THE DOG (in honor of Carmichael’s Collegians):

What fine hot music they make.  And there’s more to come in November 2015 at

the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.

May your happiness increase!

MAIL COUPON TO-DAY (1948)

This is an intriguing mystery.  I had never heard of  Bobby Christian, and I wonder how he got his friends to let him post their pictures in this 1948 advertisement. Were they the school’s faculty?  Now, there’s a wondrous thought.  And the ad has the only picture I’ve ever seen of Kenny John, later with Louis:

BOBBY CHRISTIAN SCHOOL 2

But it makes me think, for a moment, of going back to school.  Or at least mailing that coupon to-day.

May your happiness increase!