Daily Archives: August 24, 2015

ON A FAST PLANE TO CHINA: COMPANY B JAZZ BAND

JAZZ LIVES has made it possible for me to have friends all over — certainly more friends than I would have envisioned in middle school.  One of the most able is the swinging string bassist Jen Hodge, whose work I’ve admired on a number of CDs  with Bria Skonberg, Glenn Crytzer, Evan Arntzen, and other assorted Arntzens.  She’s also a charter member of the Company B Jazz Band, whose name makes more sense when you remember the Andrews Sisters’ recording about the boogie-woogie bugle boy of . . .

Company B photo

A sample of what Company B does with spirit:

For those who’d rather watch and listen than read, here’s the reason for this post:

Company B Jazz Band, of which Jen is an integral part, has been together since 2006, performing in 3-part close harmony style à la the Boswell and Andrews Sisters (though Company B also has transcriptions in their repertoire from other harmony groups of the era, such as The Keller Sisters & Lynch, the Mills Brothers, etc, as well as many of their original arrangements).

For more information about the band, please visit their site.

At the Boswell Sisters Revue concert in New Orleans last Fall, organized by Kyla Titus and featuring 3-part harmony groups from around the world, they were the only Canadian group at that prestigious event.  Now Company B is once again the only Canadian band invited to play at a prestigious festival, but this invitation is both more impressive and slightly more difficult to accomplish.

Company B Jazz Band has been invited to perform at the Nanjing International Jazz and World Music Festival in China this October. Their hot music will be heard all across the province Jiangsu, in a dozen different venues and municipalities.  It’s onerous enough to move six band members (plus wardrobe, instruments, equipment) within the United States and Canada . . . but the trip from here to China poses its own problems.

You can guess what might be next in this post.  Readers of JAZZ LIVES might know that I have some reluctance to use this blog as a platform for fundraising, but I do it when the request feels right.  Introducing Chinese listeners to the music of the Sisters Boswell and Andrews . . . as well as the others — this seems like a fine idea.  International relations, you know.  And I don’t write a post such as this without making a contribution on my own.

Here is the INDIEGOGO page — where you can read about the rewards for contributing, and find out more about the band.

Start with Boswell harmony, and who knows what kind of global harmony might result?

May your happiness increase!

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SHE’S BACK, ALTHOUGH SHE’S NEVER BEEN AWAY

Marty Elkins hat

Marty Elkins is one of my favorite singers.  If you know her work, you’ll understand why.  If she’s new to you, prepare to be entranced:

For one thing, she swings without calling attention to it.  Nothing in her style is written in capital letters; she doesn’t dramatize.  But the feeling she brings to each song comes through immediately.  Her voice is pleasing in itself and she glides along next to the song, not trying to obliterate it so that we can admire her and her alone.  And that voice is not an artifice — a mask she assumes to sing — it comes from her deepest self, whether she is being cheerful or permitting that little cry to come out.  I think her approach to the songs on this CD is a beautifully mature one: not the shallow cheer of someone who’s not lived . . . nor the bleakness of the world-weary.  I hear in Marty’s voice a kind of realistic optimism, a faith in the universe that also knows melancholy is possible.  Gaze at the sky in blissful wonder but look out for that cab while crossing the street.

I know that such art is not easily mastered . . . ask any singer whether it’s simply a matter of memorizing the notes and the words and standing up in front of the microphone — but Marty quietly has something to tell us, and we feel what she feels.  Direct subtle transmission!

And she improvises.  Her third chorus on any performance is not simply a repetition of the second.  She doesn’t obliterate the composer or the lyricist; rather she makes friends with the song and — as if she were a great designer — considers the approach that would show it off most truly.

I shelve my CDs alphabetically — so to the left of ELKINS there is ELDRIDGE, to the right ELLINGTON.  Fast company, but neither Roy nor Duke has protested; in fact, were they booking gigs at the moment, Marty would be getting calls.  But my ELKINS holdings have been — although choice — small in scope.  Two CDs, to be precise: FUSE BLUES (Nagel-Heyer 062) finds her with Herb Pomeroy, Houston Person, Tardo Hammer, Greg Staff, Dennis Irwin, Mark Taylor.  (The provocative title is Marty’s own blues which has a great deal to do with the ministrations offered by her electrician.)  IN ANOTHER LIFE (Nagel-Heyer 114), a duo-recital for Marty and Dave McKenna, is just gorgeous. Here‘s what I wrote about IN ANOTHER LIFE when it was released — not just about the CD, but about Marty’s beautiful singing.

So it’s delightful news that Marty has released her third CD, WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER (Nagel-Heyer 119), and it is a treat.

marty-elkins-walkin-by-the-river-2015

Marty isn’t a Diva or someone who demands to be a Star.  When I’ve seen her in performance — sitting in or on her own gig — she is on equal, friendly terms with the instrumentalists, never demanding the spotlight.  But quietly, subversively, her voice finds a place in our hearts: it is the closest thing to having someone you’re fond of whisper something pleasing in your ear.  And it’s not just me, or my ear.  Marty has things to tell us about love, about pleasure, about sadness.  Many of the songs on this CD are familiar — but they take on new depth and feeling when she sings them.  And Marty has a real feeling for the blues, so her offerings seem authentic rather than learned . . . with bluesy turns of phrase that are warm surprises in standard 32-bar songs.

Marty has consistently good musical taste.  Her band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Howard Alden, guitar; Steve Ash, piano; Joel Diamond, Hammond C3, Lee Hudson, string bass; Taro Okamoto, drums.  This small group is priceless in itself — intense yet relaxed, with a light-hearted Basie feel on some numbers, a gritty soulful drive on others.  But — with all respect to these musicians — I am always happy on a track when the band plays and Ms. Elkins returns for another chorus.  She’s their equal in keeping our attention.

Her songs: IF I COULD BE WITH YOU /  RUNNIN’ WILD / IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? / GARBAGE CAN  BLUES / WHEN MY SUGAR WALKS DOWN THE STREET / DON’T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYIN’ / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / DOWN TO STEAMBOAT TENNESSEE / COMES LOVE / ILL WIND / I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME / BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA / WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER.  Song historians will note some nods to Lee Wiley, Una Mae Carlisle, and of course Billie.  But this is living music, not a repertory project, thank goodness.

Marty, thank you!  Now — let’s have a regular gig for this remarkable singer?

I just found out that the CD  will officially be out in September, which is nearly here.  You can check out Marty’s website, or find Marty at her regular Thursday-night gig Cenzino Restaurant in Oakland, New Jersey, where she performs with Bob Wylde, guitar, and Mike Richmond, string bass.

May your happiness increase!