Monthly Archives: October 2015

BEHIND THE SCENES: BENT PERSSON, THOMAS WINTELER, GRAHAM HUGHES, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, MALCOLM SKED, HENRI LEMAIRE, NICK BALL (Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, Nov. 8, 2014)

“How do they do it?” is the question, uttered or thought, that we all ask when we hear our admired jazz musicians sing or play as part of an ensemble.  “How do they know where to go?  Even when they have music in front of them, how are there no collisions?”

WB 2014 photo for rehearsal

The answers are deep and not easy to put into words.  Professionalism is part of it, a common language, experience with hours of practice (solo and with others), the great gift to improvise.  It’s deeply intuitive, and the only analogy for non-musicians might be, “How do we know what to say — if, in fact, we do — when among people we don’t know?  How do we know how to be part of a conversation, how to follow the general threads of thought and feeling?”

One of the great pleasures of what is now called the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party (colloquially known to its friends as “Whitley Bay”) is that, because the music can be complicated, and the musicians don’t all play with one another regularly, there are hours of open rehearsals.  People like myself can sit in the Village Hotel ballroom and watch and listen for hours.  I do it with my camera, because once in a great while a band catches fire are plays gloriously, as if the musicians were in a back room in a Chicago nightspot.

Late last year, after the 2014 Party was over, I’d sent one of the rehearsal videos to trumpeter Bent Persson — it was a Bechet tribute with Thomas Winteler on clarinet and soprano saxophone, Graham Hughes, trombone; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Henri Lemaire, guitar and banjo; Malcolm Sked, brass and string bass; Nick Ball, drums — and asked him if he thought it could be shared with the public.  The song was ACHIN’ HEARTED BLUES, which contains a labyrinth of instrumental breaks.  This year, Bent said I could go ahead and post it.

It is, of course, a rehearsal.  So there are long pauses.  Questions are asked. Some of this will be curious to non-musicians.  But it is a wonderful opportunity, I think, to see how — without words, magically — a performance comes together. And the rocking complete version of ACHIN’ HEARTED BLUES is, for me, magical:

Words would not be terribly useful to explain what happens here — part knowledge, part empathy, part wizardry.  But I see and hear something new each time I revisit the video.

In case you need more encouragement to get yourself to this year’s Party — which starts November 5 and ends November 8 or perhaps in the early hours of the 9th — here is a list of the musicians who will be there.  Astounding, in short. I’ve left my comfortable New York nest every year since 2009 to be there, and the rewards are huge.

May your happiness increase!

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TWO BY THREE FOR BIX (July 25, 2015): ROB ADKINS, MIKE DAVIS, CRAIG VENTRESCO

I’ve been parceling out the musical delicacies from this Saturday-afternoon jazz festival (advertised as a brunch, but we know better) because they’re so good.  It was July 25, 2015, and the beautiful creators were Rob Adkins, string bass; Mike Davis, cornet and occasionally trombone; Craig Ventresco, guitar.  The site was Fraunces Tavern on Pearl Street in New York.

the-bix-beiderbecke-story

And the approving shade is one Bix Beiderbecke.

BALTIMORE:

BLUE RIVER:

Thank you so much, Rob, Mike, and Craig, for this  gorgeous hot lyricism. Beauty triumphs over chatter any day.

May your happiness increase!

“AT THE BALL, THAT’S ALL!”: THE ARMISTICE BALL (Nov. 14, 2015)

at the ball, that's all

thus —Armistice Ball

The Armistice Ball is a wonderful new / old tradition, and I’m planning on being there this year. May I invite you to join me at the eighth annual Ball? This is their website with much information.  It takes place on a Saturday, in Morristown, New Jersey, from 8-11 PM.

As you can see by the photograph above, it is a truly vintage affair — music, attire, dance steps.  No hip-hop; no blue jeans; no shorts.  (A relief!) The Ball is focused on the world that once was, the world of 1910-20 — specifically time-travel to 1918, when the Great War ended.  There won’t be any influenza epidemic at the Ball, fortunately.

But there will be music, sweet and hot, provided and created by Dan Levinson, Mike Davis, Matt Musselman, John Landry, Jesse Gelber, Mike Kuehn, Joanna Sternberg, Sue Fischer — celebrating the music and dance of the World War One era.

Here is the Ball’s Facebook page (where lovely antiquity and current cyberspace meet and shake hands).

I’ve never been to the Ball, but I’ve always wanted to go . . . and so I encourage you to give yourself the pleasure of attending. And here is some music that will encourage you — and if you live too far from New Jersey, at least you can raise the volume (to a decorous level) and one-step around the kitchen with your Beau or your Belle.

Here are atmospheric videos from 2013 and 2014:

and

and

But don’t wait too long.  You’ll be humming this song instead of more joyous ones.

After the Ball

May your happiness increase!

HE BROUGHT HIS FRIENDS: STEVE PISTORIUS, TOM FISCHER, BEN POLCER at the STEAMBOAT STOMP (September 19, 2015)

Steve Pistorius and Friends, photograph by Dominique G. Ramos

Steve Pistorius and Friends, photograph by Dominique G. Ramos

Less is indeed more sometimes at jazz parties as well as other places.  Here’s proof of a most delicious sort, down below the main deck of the Steamboat Natchez during the 2015 Steamboat Stomp — a cozy little chamber jazz session scored for three Maestri, Steve Pistorius on piano and moral leadership; Tom Fischer on clarinet; Ben Polcer on trumpet and vocal on BABY BROWN.

And there are certain delights you might not notice on first viewing.  In the audience were Banu Gibson and David Boeddinghaus among other luminaries. Although my videos don’t always have compelling visual effects (I prefer to aim my camera at the band and leave it there) please note the floating scenery viewed out the window behind Tom, and how the light changes as the time passes.  Most beautiful.

And then there’s the music, with nods to Handy, Waller, Morton, Twenties pop songs — a session with timeless joy and wit.

YELLOW DOG BLUES:

BABY BROWN:

TIGER RAG:

COQUETTE:

WEARY BLUES:

To quote Johnny Mathis sixty years ago, “Wonderful, wonderful.”  Thank you, O Three Wise Men.

May your happiness increase!

POETIC SWING: HOD O’BRIEN and RAY DRUMMOND at MEZZROW, PART ONE (July 17, 2015)

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Everybody told me that the unassuming, gentle Hod O’Brien was “a great bebop pianist,” and my reaction may say more about my narrowness, but I assumed that his playing with had a certain rhythmic angularity and be built on extended harmonies.  Well, some of that stereotype is correct: he is anything but predictable rhythmically and his harmonies are deep — but the secret needs to be a secret no more: he is a great lyrical player, someone deeply entranced by melodic improvisation.  His lines sing, and his playing is entrancing on many levels.  He was joined by the equally lyrical, eloquent string bassist Ray Drummond for an evening of duets at Mezzrow — July 17, 2015 — and here is the first set, full of surprises and consolations, music that uplifts and embraces.

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING:

DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME:

THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE:

ALL TOO SOON:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD (featuring Ray):

YARDBIRD SUITE:

Quite wonderful.  And the atmosphere at Mezzrow was somewhere between a family picnic and a class reunion, with Hod nearly mobbed before each set by people who wanted to tell him with great love how they had first seen him in Montreal in 1977.  Send love out; get love back.

I promise that there will be a second set for all to savor soon.  Hail, O’Brien and Drummond — great poets of swinging improvisation.  Here is  Hod’s website. And he’s just published a very delightful memoir, HAVE PIANO. . . WILL SWING! — Stories From A Jazz Life, which I am currently enjoying.  More about that soon.

May your happiness increase!

PAPERS WITH DEPTH: LOUIS, “SINGLES WELCOME,” JIMMY RYAN’S, BARBARIN in BOSTON

Yes, I’ve been nosing around on eBay again . . .

First, Louis c. 1952: possibly Russ Phillips, Milt Hinton, Cozy Cole, Louis, Barney Bigard, in front of some startled-looking patrons (did the flashbulb make them jump?):

LOUIS 1952 candid

then, a handbill from 1970, when Vic Dickenson had left the Bobby Hackett Quintet to join the World’s Greatest Jazz Band.  “Singles welcome”:

WGJB Hacket flyer

and a Jimmy Ryan’s flyer from 1963:

RYAN'S 1963 front

and if you needed it explained to you by Virgil Thomson, here you are:

RYAN'S 1963 inside

Perhaps you’d like some New Orleans music in Boston, May 12, 1952:

BARBARIN at SAVOY 1952

It’s pleasing when collectors clean out their troves and put them up for sale. Otherwise, how would we live vicariously?

May your happiness increase!

BOB MERRILL’S CHEERFUL MISSION

Bob Merrill CUTU

If anyone can improve the cosmic disposition, trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill has a good shot at it.  He has the right attitude for sure.  On his new CD, he’s got the happy assistance of pianists John Medeski, Matthew Fries, and John Van Eps; guitarist Drew Zingg, string bassist / vocalist Nicki Parrott, drummer George Schuller, percussionist Vicente Lebron, reedman / flautist Russ Gershon, and special guests: tenorist Harry Allen, the legendary trombonist Roswell Rudd, and singer Gabrielle Agachiko.

I’ll let Bob sing, play, and comment here —

The CD itself is a fascinating hybrid — part post-bop Blue Note jazz with its rough edges smoothed off, part cheerful high-level vintage pop that would have sold millions in its own time and will no doubt attract new listeners in 2015.  The range is deliciously broad, the results convincing — from Paul Simon’s FEELIN’ GROOVY (a sweet witty duet for Bob and Nicki) to James Taylor and Randy Newman . . . and the only jazz version of Pharell Williams’ HAPPY that I expect to have on my shelves.

Bob explains this repertoire convincingly: “Most of the songs on this album entered my consciousness during adolescence. Some made me laugh and others made me cry.  All filled me with joy, and perhaps not coincidentally, they all achieved a great measure of popularity as bona fide hits on their respective charts.  Interpreting them in a personal way from a jazz perspective had been a labor of love.”

There are some delicious surprises here — triumphs of imagination.  I won’t spoil all the surprises, but my current favorite is a sharp-edged version of Randy Newman’s POLITICAL SCIENCE (LET’S DROP THE BIG ONE) that features Roswell Rudd, mock antique honky-tonk piano flourishes from Medeski, as Bob croons the dire lyrics over a twenty-first century “Dixieland” frolic.  It made me think, “What if Tom Lehrer had had the chance to record with George Wein’s Storyville band, say, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, and Pee Wee Russell?” Now, there’s an auditory miracle we can only imagine — thank you, Bob!

Bob is no popularizer, no jokester offering a buffet table of vintage pops played jazzily: even at its most light-hearted, this is a project based on heartfelt conviction: “We hope our music will offer cheer to you and any other beings in the universe capable of entering these sounds into their auditory senses.”

Even if the reach of this CD is narrower, and it cheers up only terrestrial listeners, it’s still a worthy enterprise.  Reach for this CD in the morning instead of your smartphone, perhaps.

Here (that’s Bob’s website) you can hear sound samples, check out Bob’s other CDs, and — cosmically — purchase this one.

You can follow Bob and learn more about his music here and here.