Monthly Archives: February 2016

“BOBBY HACKETT: HIS LIFE IN MUSIC” (by George Hulme and Bert Whyatt)

BOBBY HACKETT 2 auto

I’ve written at length about my affection and admiration for cornetist Bobby Hackett, someone who illuminated my musical life on recordings and in person and continues to do so.  If Hackett is someone you haven’t heard deeply, I offer this as evidence of his quiet soaring majesty — a 1961 recording of LOVE LETTERS with Glenn Osser’s Orchestra — hidden in it are Dave McKenna and Jake Hanna:

The first thing I hear is Hackett’s sound — warm, glowing, controlled but entirely natural-sounding.  One doesn’t think of vibrating breath going through metal — just as one doesn’t anatomize birdsong.  No, that sound on its own seems both unearthly and completely friendly, evocative.  And one does not have to be a cornet player to imagine how difficult it is to “make melody come that alive,” as Hackett said of his greatest inspiration Louis.  LOVE LETTERS is itself simple-sounding yet treacherous, a test of a player’s delicacy and ingenuity: how to make all those repeated notes sound as if each one of them had a pulsing life? But Hackett did, and does.

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

The other side of Hackett’s recording and performing life moved at a faster pace — call it “Dixieland” or other names — often with the best Mainstream musicians, including Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Bob Wilber, Pee Wee Russell, the aforementioned Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg, Cliff Leeman.  Here’s a 1962 sample, DARK EYES — from a “theme” album, Condon and friends capitalizing on the success of MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW:

And the first recording where Hackett was in evidence that I can recall — the 1947 TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Dick Cary, Bob Haggart, Peanuts Hucko, Sidney Catlett, and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — where Hackett takes over for Louis, presumably making his way to the vocal microphone, at :35, and then follows Hucko with his own beautiful solo:

And if you haven’t heard any of the 1937-onwards Dick Robertson sides made for Decca (for the jukebox market, with an identical piano introduction and similar formats) you need to begin your enlightenment here — 24 bars of pearly Hackett in the middle:

This posting isn’t meant to offer all of the Hackett recordings available on YouTube that move me: it would turn impossibly long. Readers can find or discover their own favorites.  My purpose is to let you know about a superb book on Bobby and his music.

Although Hackett’s life (1915-1976) was not dramatic in the ways the chronicles of other musicians have been, he has deserved a book for decades.  He appeared memorably in profiles by Whitney Balliett and Max Jones, but the first legitimate full-scale study of his musical life has just appeared, and it is a delight. The book, BOBBY HACKETT: HIS LIFE IN MUSIC, by George Hulme and the late Bert Whyatt, is a model of what such books should be, and the only reason it has taken me this length of time to write about it is that every time I open it, I am so suffused with Hackett-love that the book goes down so that I can listen.

Full disclosure: I traded tapes and information with Bert and George, and there is a little Hackett-reminiscence of mine, “Thanks, Bobby Hackett,” at the start of the book.  (That is how he signed my record label when I timidly requested his autograph.)  So I won’t pretend to objectivity here.

The book looks unobtrusive from the front:

HACKETT book cover

but the cover design is this famous late-Forties photograph:

HACKETT photo for book cover

Its contents are anything but dull.  and the 630-plus pages of this book (in a readable typeface, for which we give thanks) are detailed yet unfussy and thoroughly informative.  It contains twenty rare photographs and an equal number of record label scans.  The book is divided in three parts: after the acknowledgments, there is a fifty-page section of reminiscences — which begins with Hackett in his own words, then continues on to include brief essays by Vic Lewis, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett (via Will Friedwald), Warren Vache, Sr., George Hulme, as well as on-the-spot pieces about appearances of Hackett and bands from 1943 on.  Hackett was an early recording / stereo equipment enthusiast, and Hulme has written an intriguing essay on that facet of his life.

From there, a truly informative musical biography, organized chronologically, which offers reviews of performances, details of sessions, gigs, and recordings. I find such assemblages of detail fascinating (especially because Hulme and Whyatt offer reasoned research rather than conjecture or repetitions of debatable facts).  One small instance: “Eddie Condon offered a concert at Symphony Hall, Boston, MA, on March 21 [1947], with Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, Peanuts Hucko, James P. Johnson and Dave Tough.”  Those are words to dream about, and I can hear that band, faintly, as I write this.

Other delights pop up throughout the 135 pages.  The remainder of the book — some four hundred pages — is a beautifully clear, well-organized discography, ending with pages of “discographical mysteries,” a bibliography, and two detailed indices.  It is a worthy tribute to a musician whose work never disappoints.

Here is a link to purchase the book — which, because it’s paperbound, is surprisingly affordable.  I recommend it with the greatest enthusiasm.  And now, I’m going back to listen to more of Bobby:

May your happiness increase!

“SECOND REUNION”: THE UNION RHYTHM KINGS ON DISC and LIVE

The Union Rhythm Kings at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party

The Union Rhythm Kings at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party

The debut CD of this wonderful hot band, A HOT REUNION, on Herman Records, came out in 2009.  So the second one is long overdue, and I am happy to report that it is here, and as delightful as its predecessor.  (I am grateful to Trygve Hernaes, the band’s enthusiastic guide and supporter, for enabling me to hear them on disc before I’d met them all in person.)

The band, the Union Rhythm Kings, is a wonderful hot hybrid of Norwegian and Swedish musicians — Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Bent Persson, trumpet; Lars Frank, reeds; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano, Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Jacob Ullberger, banjo / guitar.  For the geographers keeping score, Kris, Lars, and Morten are from Norway; Bent, Frans, and Jacob from Sweden. The band even has its own Wikipedia page.

What sets the URK apart (and above) many other “traditional” jazz bands is the excellence of their solo and ensemble work, expert and impassioned, and free from cliche.  They are inspired by the original recordings and arrangements, but they bring their own energy to the repertoire.  They’ve broken free of the Jazz Museum.

On this disc, much of that repertoire is comfortable Morton, Ellington, Armstrong, Luis Russell, and Beiderbecke — but the URK takes pleasure in Jack Purvis and obscure Morton. Thus, CLARINET MARMALADE, CROCODILE CRADLE, DAVENPORT BLUES, SARATOGA SHOUT, HUMPTY DUMPTY, WHEN YOU’RE FEELING BLUE, I DIDN’T KNOW, I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, MILENBERG JOYS, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYIN’, BABY, SANTA CLAUS BLUES, BLUES OF THE VAGABOND, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, DUSKY STEVEDORE.

I’ve listened to them with great pleasure at their recent annual appearances at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, and I have some performance video from November 5-8 to share with you — which will embody the band’s virtues better than paragraphs of enthusiastic prose.  The great young drummer Nick Ball helps out on all these performances.

Here are four from their Sunday-evening concert:

DAVENPORT BLUES:

BLUES OF THE VAGABOND:

HUMPTY DUMPTY:

CLARINET MARMALADE:

and four from the Thursday-night pub session:

In honor of the Luis Russell band, SARATOGA SHOUT:

For solitaries everywhere, I AIN’T GOT NOBODY:

and these last two (with Bix in mind), with Thomas Winteler sitting in for Lars:

SORRY:

JAZZ ME BLUES:

The URK discs (beautifully recorded), can be obtained from Sonor Records AS,
Postboks 4275, NO 7436 Trondheim, Norway.  Information at email: sonoras@online.no.  Price: NOK 200 or USD 25, packing and postage included. Payment via Paypal, to the email address above.

May your happiness increase!

A LEE WILEY PORTRAIT

Thank you, eBay.

Thank you, Culver Service.

Lee Wiley back

Lee is rounder-faced than perhaps we are used to seeing her, posing with her cigarette held over the piano keys, “going through new songs” for the photographer, I assume.  She was born on October 8, 1908, so she would be at most in her very early twenties when this photograph was taken, already a known recording artist and radio star.  Was the setting a photographer’s studio or was it, perhaps, Victor Young’s apartment — with a large portrait, lit from above?

Lee Wiley front

On the piano, visible, is the sheet music for NO MORE LOVE — which Joe Venuti recorded on November 3, 1933, suggesting that this portrait is of that vintage. It was a Harry Warren – Al Dubin song from the Eddie Cantor film, ROMAN SCANDALS, where it was performed by Ruth Etting.

Lee did not record NO MORE LOVE, but Etting did — so those who can hear Lee’s voice can imagine her version of this song:

To the right of Miss Wiley’s pencil and manuscript paper is the sheet music for the 1932 LOVE ME TONIGHT, with Mister Crosby on the cover.

The photograph is five inches by seven inches — far too small to contain all that we know, imagine, and love about Miss Wiley.

P.S.  At close to 7 PM on February 28, a truly eager Wileyphile outbid everyone on eBay and won the photograph . . . $229.59.  That’s what I call keen!

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER HIGHLIGHT OF 2015: THE DAWN LAMBETH TRIO (The Second Set, Concluded) at SAN DIEGO, NOVEMBER 28, 2015: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE

DAWN headshot

“Too good to ignore,” said Eddie Condon.  He didn’t live long enough to savor this trio — Dawn Lambeth, vocals; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet — but I feel his approving glance.  They appeared last November at the San Diego Jazz Fest (thanks to Hal Smith and Paul Daspit for such a marvel) and the music was glorious. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Here’s Part One; here’s Part Two; here’s Part Three.

And the closing five songs from the second set.

That tender request, relevant to all (not simply those in love), PLEASE BE KIND:

Walter Donaldson’s 1927 hit, MY BLUE HEAVEN:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, which I associate with Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and Mildred Bailey:

CHLO-E (scored for cornet and piano) in  honor of Henry “Red” Allen:

And another Allen – J.C. Higginbotham classic (also performed much more respectably by Al Bowlly) ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:

I don’t know whether this trio will be at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, but I have strong hopes.  Also for the NPR, PBS coverage; the continental tour; the merchandise; the DVD and CD . . .

May your happiness increase!

AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (Part One): TAL RONEN’S HOLY MOLY at SMALLS (Dec. 24, 2015)

Tal Ronen by Lynn Redmile

Tal Ronen by Lynn Redmile

This is the first of two parts of a wonderful musical event that took place on Christmas Eve 2015 — the inspiration of string bassist / composer / arranger Tal Ronen, who explains it all:

Holy Moly had its start about three-four years ago, when Spike Wilner had me bring my band to play at smalls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, me being non-observing and so on.  I don’t have a lot of opportunities to bring a band, since I keep pretty busy playing in other people’s bands, and bandleading is a huge headache.  But I welcomed the challenge, and brought a group of great straight-ahead guys to play.  It became sort of a tradition, and I brought my band on those two nights the next year, and the following one.

However, last Christmas I had a different idea.  My mind has been brewing with a musical concept for a while. Plainly put, the concept can be described as “impressionist sketches on romantic themes.”  I have a special passion for the work of great American composers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Hoagy Carmichael, who mix a romantic classical approach with the genuine feeling of American folk forms, the blues, roots music, etc. I also have a special passion for the interpreters of what can be called the impressionist age in jazz, namely greats like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Oscar Pettiford, and my personal mentor, Frank Wess.  I was looking for a way to have both my passions, undiluted. This led me to this great crew – Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, reeds; Steve Little, drums; Tamar Korn, vocals.

I decided to call it Holy Moly as an irreverent wink to the holiness of the holiday that was our birth. It also has a certain old-timey ring to it which denotes our direction, and lastly, well, when you’re done hearing these guys, that would be your response.

Irving Berlin

I will point out that much of the evening’s repertoire came from Irving Berlin, which is always a treat.  On a personal note, I haven’t spent Christmas in New York in years, and when I was at the other side of the continent, I always thought wistfully of the good sounds Tal and Company were creating at Smalls.  I’m thrilled I was able to be there in 2015.  And if you wonder why it took me so long to download this, it was a combination of technical factors and legal ones.  All settled now.  Enjoy.

WHITE CHRISTMAS:

HAPPY FEET:

SUNSHINE:

ALWAYS:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Now I know where I’ll be spending Christmas Eve 2016.  But you might want to know that there was a substantial line outside Smalls for this event in 2015, so make plans to get there extra early.

May your happiness increase!

LIVING, BREATHING HISTORY: DUKE HEITGER, TOM FISCHER, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PAUL KELLER, CHUCK REDD: ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY, April 18, 2015

rwe_big_portrait

Some wish to honor the past by attempting to reproduce it exactly.  An honorable effort, but I much prefer those bold tightrope walkers who know that the only way to honor the glories of, say, 1929, is to make them alive in this century by adding personal innovative sparks to the outlines of the revered masterpieces.  (I know that this is a controversial position, but I also have enough evidence that the great masters didn’t approve of imitation; they preferred homage through individuality.  Ask Lester; ask Bix.  And I’ve done scholarly work for decades, but I also reverberate to Emerson’s tart words that Shakespeare was not made by the study of Shakespeare.)

So I present to you a too-short set by a vibrant jazz band onstage at the Atlanta Jazz Party (April 18, 2015) led by the eloquent Duke Heitger, trumpet, with Tom Fischer, clarinet / tenor; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums.

What they had to tell us was plenty — and it had no connections to the Wax Museum of Hot, although one could see and hear easily that the Ancestors were being honored: Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, and their worthy colleagues. No academia, no didacticism, no laser pointer or Power Point.  Just wonderful hot music.

I NEVER KNEW:

IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN:

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:

BLACK BOTTOM STOMP (which begins with the time-honored invocation, “Meet you at the end”):

Five noblemen of jazz, honoring the past by being fully alive in Now.

May your happiness increase!

THIS TAKES THE CAKE: TORSTEIN KUBBAN, THOMAS WINTELER, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, JACOB WINTELER, FRANS SJOSTROM (Victory Pub, November 5, 2015)

cake

This isn’t a recipe post, but who could resist this?  (Erin, who dislikes cake, can skip right to the music.)

CAKE GennettWhat follows is absolutely glorious — evoking Louis and Sidney ninety years later, in the Victory Pub, a place I am sure neither of them ever visited.  This after-hours session took place on November 5, 2015, as part of the revelry of the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.

CAKE Okeh

The people lighting up the darkness are Torstein Kubban, cornet; Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; David Boeddinghaus, keyboard; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone.

CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME:

I know that the original recordings — and the tradition that follows — are somewhat pugnacious, with Bechet and Armstrong each trying to show dominance . . . but this 2015 version evokes the Hot Peaceable Kingdom, with the two lions treating the lambs to Newcastle brown ale after the set.  Mixing metaphors wildly, I know, but these wonderful virtuosic players seem more brotherly than combative, united in the great desire to bring light into the darkness.

Two other performances of equal splendor from this evening can be found here  and here.

See you at this year’s Party. Even more details to be savored here.

There’ll be cake.

May your happiness increase!

CONCENTRATIN’ ON FATS (Part Two): REBECCA KILGORE, HAL SMITH, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, ANDY SCHUMM at the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, September 11, 2015

Here’s more from a delightful set at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing Part One, for those who arrived late to this happy event.

FATS WALLER'S HAPPY FEELING

Something plaintive:

A question of identity — romance, not theft:

A wonderful musical experience (and there are more songs to come)!

May your happiness increase!

HOW ABOUT THIS? PABLO, EVAN, and ROB at CASA MEZCAL (February 7, 2016)

how about you cover

I originally wanted to title this post THE THREE EXPATS — Pablo Campos (piano) was visiting from France; Evan Arntzen (reeds / vocal) hails from Vancouver, and Rob Adkins came south from Boston . . . but the JAZZ LIVES legal staff warned me against possible misrepresentation.

So all I will say is that these three gentlemen made delightful music on Sunday, February 7  (while Ehud Asherie was having a coffee at the other end of the room and relaxing) — on two classics that (ironically) don’t get played or sung as much as they might by jazz people.  I associate GONE WITH THE WIND with Ben Webster, either with Art Tatum or Jimmy Rowles; HOW ABOUT YOU? with Judy Garland and Becky Kilgore.  Here are some new and delightful 2016 versions.

GONE WITH THE WIND (which predates the motion picture):

HOW ABOUT YOU?:

Two more performances from this afternoon — with Ehud back on the bench — will appear soon.  For now, please learn more about the very gifted Pablo Campos here.

May your happiness increase!

AS CINEMA, IT HAS ITS LIMITS: AS A TIME MACHINE, IT’S FLAWLESS: “HARLEM IS HEAVEN” (1932)

The great connoisseur of popular culture, especially women singers, Alan Eichler, just shared with us his VHS copy of the 1932 film HARLEM IS HEAVEN.  It’s a great gift, as it may be the first “all-colored” feature sound film, with starring roles for Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Putney Dandridge, James Baskett, and with incidental music provided by Eubie Blake and his Orchestra, also with an appearance by Noble Sissle.

HARLEM HEAVEN poster

Now, I have reservations about the film itself.  Henri Wessell as “Chummy” and Anise Boyer as “Jean” are both beautiful young people, although their naturalistic acting is, to my taste, none too subtle.  And the plot (the film was written and directed by Irwin R. Franklyn) is thin to the point of transparency.

But what other film shows us so much of Bill Robinson as an actor, singer, and dancer — the stair dance sequence has been shown often but without credit, but the rest was new to me.  The dancers are presented to us as the world-famous Cotton Club entertainters, which is a look behind the scenes that we would otherwise not have had.

And this is serious business: is there any other film in the history of cinema that has Putney Dandridge as a deadly moral avenger who is never arrested or tried? I rest my case.

Even though I could not view the whole film in one sitting, I was captivated from the start by the little touches of 1932 Harlem reality: the marquee reading MILLS BROS. and the glimpse of the exterior of Connie’s Inn. Then, later on, there is a whole history of early-Thirties theatre and music and dance.  For fans of pre-Code splendor, “Jean” takes off her dress, revealing beautiful silk lingerie, while “Chummy” looks elsewhere, and later on there is a brief catfight between “Jean” and “Greta Rae.”  Worth viewing?  That’s up to you.

Here’s the film.

On its own terms, it is indeed Heavenly.  Thank you, Alan.  And here — reaching back even more — is Bill, in Technicolor (!) in the 1930 DIXIANA:

May your happiness increase.

ELOQUENT, THEN RIOTOUS: MENNO DAAMS, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, KEITH NICHOLS, MARTIN WHEATLEY, HENRY LEMAIRE, RICHARD PITE at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 7, 2015)

Menno Daams

Menno Daams

Here are two glorious performances from the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, held in the Village Hotel Newcastle (Whitley Bay) — on November 7 of that year.  The creators are Menno Daams, trumpet; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet / tenor saxophone; Keith Nichols, piano; Martin Wheatley, guitar / banjo; Henry Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums.

Matthias Seuffert

Matthias Seuffert

First, the Benny Carter classic — so evocative of Louis — ONCE UPON A TIME:

Then, an incendiary romp through Tyers’ PANAMA:

panama

Want more?  Be sure to join us at the 2016 Party (November 4-6) with an opening concert / jam session featuring the Union Rhythm Kings, and enjoy an overflowing weekend of music and pleasures. Details http://www.whitleybayjazzfest.org/ as always.

May your happiness increase!

THE JIMMY GRANT ENSEMBLE: “LYNN’S BLUES”

JIMMY GRANT photo

I met guitarist Jimmy Grant on one of my California sojourns, and was impressed immediately by the way he comfortably moved in and out of the predictable.  He is a superb Django-style player, someone who understands the master’s inherent lyricism, creating resonant melodies full of memorable phrases that don’t overwhelm the listener with notes.  (Many contemporary Django-emulators have innocently thought that the way to both be and outdo their inspiration was to play everything twice as quickly, to aim for powerful density, never realizing that Django’s masters — among them Louis — let their phrases breathe.  Jimmy knows this well.)  But Jimmy has also listened deeply to other kinds of improvised syncopated dance music that didn’t have to come out of a gypsy caravan.

JIMMY GRANT ENSEMBLE YT

Thus his new CD, LYNN’S BLUES, doesn’t sound like the QHCF in improved sound, able to play longer than an Ultraphone 78 side. Yes, there’s ROSE ROOM, TEARS, and J’ATTENDRAI (none of which I object to) but also several of Jimmy’s surprising, twisty originals, greatly pleasing on their own.  The members of the Ensemble are Javi Jiménez on guitar, Hanna Mignano on violin, and Jamie Mather on bass, with guest appearances by Bay Area luminaries Evan Price, violin, and Sam Rocha, string bass.

JIMMY GRANT ENSEMBLE CD pic

The music of the Ensemble is rewarding precisely because it is slippery, but in a very friendly way.  It is never museum-piece Hot Club recreation, but it is also not abruptly and self-consciously “postmodern.”  The venerable songs are outfitted with small pleasing touches — introductions and codas, playful shifts of instrumentation, and their firm tangible melodic strengths sing out proudly. Jimmy’s originals are indeed original — rather than being thin melodic constructs — but they embrace at the same time they enliven.

Here’s an audio-visual sample of one of Jimmy’s originals, BUNICAL, which is also the opening song on the CD:

And a version of Jimmy’s DRUNK, performed out-of-doors:

The Ensemble’s Facebook page is here, and Jimmy’s website is here.

Jimmy and friends create light-hearted music that is seriously worth investigating.

May your happiness increase!

CONCENTRATIN’ ON FATS (Part One): REBECCA KILGORE, HAL SMITH, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, ANDY SCHUMM at the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, September 11, 2015

FATS WALLER'S HAPPY FEELING

Rebecca Kilgore makes us glad to be alive whenever she sings, even if the song is melancholy.  I’ve been admiring her work for a long time, and it is a great comfort to know that her glowing presence is no more distance than her latest CD.  But while you are waiting for that CD to arrive, may I offer you a treat that I think is beyond compare?

Perhaps twenty years ago, the superb jazz drummer Hal Smith (read more about Hal here) had a delightful little band in California that he called the RHYTHMAKERS, homage to the hottest band to ever record — ask Philip Larkin.  That band made a handful of superb CDs, discs I return to regularly, and one was a collection of lesser-known Fats Waller songs, CONCENTRATIN’ ON FATS.  The singer on those discs was one Becky Kilgore, floating and swinging magnificiently.

When Hal and Becky found that they were going to be among the stars of the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party — now called the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — Hal suggested that they do a set of those Waller songs, and Rebecca, who loves good songs and rare ones as well as the Songbook classics, agreed.

Hence, a wonderful little band, with Rebecca, Hal, Nicki Parrott, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Andy Schumm, clarinet.  (Yes, clarinet. Wonderfully, too.  As I was listening, I heard familiar sounds and tones — not Pee Wee or Tesch, exactly — but then “the penny dropped,” as they say in the UK.  Andy is inspired by Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, and the result is as if Mezz had studied hard and practiced for hours — a very inspiring result.)

And here’s the first gem, HOW JAZZ WAS BORN, from 1928, and one of the hit songs of KEEP SHUFFLIN’:

I could listen to this band all day.  (Frankly, I’d like to see the concert tour, the NPR and PBS series, to say nothing of the associated merchandise.)

And be assured that they performed more songs in this set.

If you are still unsure of the origins of jazz, I know that Professors KilgoreSmithParrottSchummSportiello will be happy to explain in words and music at the 2016 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party and their other gigs.

May your happiness increase!

JAN EVENSMO, OUR HERO, KEEPS ON LISTENING

In the middle seventies, which seems a long time ago, I was friends with a dear man and jazz collector, Bill Coverdale, who had moved to Naples, Florida.  We never met and I don’t even know if we spoke on the phone.  In those ancient days, we exchanged typewritten letters, cassette and reel-to-reel tapes.  (We’d met through the mail because of his interest in the trumpeter Joe Thomas, someone I also admired greatly, and I had seen and recorded Joe at that time.)

I miss Bill, because he was funny, kind, and generous — and in those pre-YouTube days, people like Bill were the way one heard new music.  Bill also loaned me a few precious booklets by the Norwegian jazz scholar Jan Evensmo, who I believed called his work “solographies.”  (I found out later that Jan had been doing this — officially and for love — for a long time, with his earliest writings on jazz dating back to the mid-sixties.)

Jan Evensmo, doing what makes him -- and us -- happy, which is listening deeply.

Jan Evensmo, doing what makes him — and us — happy, which is listening deeply.

What’s a “solography”?  Well, it’s not a series of recorded jazz solos reproduced as notes on the staff.  Jan begins each of his surveys with a brief biography, and it is a listing of the subject’s recorded work, but it’s not a discography, full of labels and numbers.  What it feels most like is a beautiful guided tour — on the page — of one recording session or airshot or concert recording after another, chronologically, with notations of how long the solo is, with Jan’s commentary on whether it’s sparkling or flat, and so on.  His judgments are strong and I have found myself disagreeing now and again, but his ears are sharp and he is without bias.  So his work is always enlightening.  And it always offers surprises.  So that, in reading his study of Bobby Hackett’s early period, I came across sessions recorded by Bill Savory that I didn’t know existed, and in his work on Teddy Wilson, I now know there are more alternate takes of the 1933 Chocolate Dandies session than I had ever encountered.  This is catnip — or something stronger — to those of us who vibrate to such things.

Here’s an example.  I knew this record — Maxine Sullivan’s version of SAY IT WITH A KISS, where she is accompanied by Hackett and Bud Freeman, not her usual crew, but until Jan mentioned it I had forgotten just how tender it is, and how lovely four and two bars by Bobby are:

Now, I am not trying to help Jan sell little booklets.  The news is better than that. Jan vaulted ever so neatly into this modern age of disseminating important information — for free — online, and  he has a beautiful, lavishly generous site, http://www.jazzarcheology.com/bobby-hackett/ (I’ve pointed readers to the Hackett pages).  Jan offers PDFs of his solographies for free.

And here is the latest installment of his newsletter, which is free (I know I said that) with no advertising, fascinating, scholarly without being didactic.  I think you will find someone and something to spend time on.

Dear jazz friends!

Happy New Year of 2016 to all of you! Jazz Archeology is digging up treasures as ever before, and you and I will definitely be terminated before all worthy vintage jazz musicians have found their place here, but we just have to keep going…

Thank you for additional feedback on future projects! Many good suggestions, and several (but not all, at least not by me, but by yourself?) will appear in due time!

This time focus is on the following five artists:
The Tenor Saxophone of Dexter Gordon
The Trumpet & Cornet of Bobby Hackett
The Baritone Saxophone of Knut Hyrum (Norway)
The Piano of Shotaro Moriazu (Japan)
The Piano of Teddy Wilson (1932-34)
There is updating of the following artists:
The Guitar of Oscar Aleman (lots of additions, including a solid and valuable CD-discography by Andres “Tito” Liber from Argentina!)
The Tenor Saxophone of Allen Eager (p. 14- )
The Tenor Saxophone of Gene Ammons (p. 20, 25)
The Tenor Saxophone of Don Byas Pt 2 (p. 5, 6, 9, 11)
The Alto Saxophone of Joe Eldridge (p. 5)
The Trumpet of Roy Eldridge (p. 29)
The Clarinet of Edmond Hall (p. 13, 15)
The Tenor Saxophone of Coleman Hawkins Pt 3 (p. 27, 29)
The Tenor Saxophone of James Moody (p. 17, 21)
The Tenor Saxophone of Sonny Stitt (p. 15, 17, 23)
The Piano of Richard Twardzik (several)
The Tenor Saxophone of Dick Wilson (p. 9)
I am most grateful for the latest feedback from James Accardi, Nils Gunnar Anderby, Anthony Barnett, Bill Bithell, Alan Booth, Steve Bromley, Tom Buhmann, Christian Dangleterre, Bjørn Englund, Yvan Fournier, Kenneth Gross, Daniel Gugolz, Marcel Gärtner, Bram Janse, Andres “Tito” Liber, Per Lund, Louis Mazetier, Joe Orange, Leif Bo Petersen, Jean-Francois Pitet, Bob Porter, Lewis Porter, K.-B. Rau, Willy Renström, Norman Saks, Mario Schneeberger, Werner Schrøcker, Klaus Schulz, David Tenner, Daniel Vernhettes.

Jan Evensmo
jan.evensmo@gmail.com

See what I mean?  Be prepared to spend some delighted time with Jan’s wonderful offerings.

May your happiness increase!

“IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE”: TORSTEIN KUBBAN, JACOB ULLBERGER, FRANS SJOSTROM at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 5, 2015)

in-the-shade-of-the-old-apple-tree-sheet-music-of-1910-song-by-harry-BRH6CH

You don’t need a large group of people to create something beautiful.  And you don’t need the most comfortable settings — even a large sign advertising GOURMET BURGERS and COMFORT SALADS is no distraction for heartfelt artists who know and embody lovely truths.

And so it was once again shown — gorgeously — on the first night of the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz  Party (November 5) after the rehearsals had concluded and a small group of the devout gathered in the Victory Pub for fun and hot jazz.

Here, three masters of hot combined to produce music at the highest level: Torstein Kubban, cornet; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone.  Their text for this mellow sermon is the old song IN THE SHADE OF  THE OLD APPLE TREE — a song so well-known that I recall two parody versions (one ethnic-vaudeville, one lewd) and I am sure there are more . . . as well as Ellington’s and the sacred collaboration of Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers.

But rather than studying the past, I invite you to delight in the glories of the present — a performance where one can admire the individual voices and then marvel at what they combine to create:

Who knew that lovely fruit could grow in darkness?  These three artists did and do.  And more marvels like this will take place at the 2016 Party in November.

Thanks to the Library of Congress “National Jukebox,” here is Billy Murray’s 1905 parody version of the song, depicting death and violence in the orchard.  “Don’t try this at home!” rings especially true.

Apple Tree parody label 1905

May your happiness increase! 

RAINBOWS OF SOUND: MARC CAPARONE / RAY SKJELBRED at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 28, 2014)

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

To some, “expressing your gratitudes” is a cliche associated with a certain worldview, a reflex of a privileged class.  But there’s usually plenty to be grateful for.

I think of the words of a character, Chicken Number Two, a dying petty thief in John Cheever’s moving novel of life in prison, FALCONER: ” . . . it’s like a party, even in stir [prison] — even franks and rice taste good when you’re hungry, even an iron bar feels good to touch, it feels good to sleep” (199).

This passage is reverberating in my head because recently I encouraged a friend to read the novel and because Marc Caparone and Ray Skjelbred played THANKS A MILLION at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 28, 2014.

THANKS A MILLION

I knew the song first through Louis Armstrong’s Decca recording, even though it was first made popular by Dick Powell in — as they used to say — “the movie of the same name”:

THANKS A MILLION 2

and Jon-Erik Kellso has kept the song alive in this century as well. But hearing Marc and Ray reminds me, as I hope it reminds you, of all the people who make beauty possible: not only Caparone and Skjelbred, but also Armstrong and Jack Kapp (who insisted that his artists record as wide a variety of music as possible) but also Bob Mielke, Dawn Lambeth, Hal Smith, and Paul Daspit.

Such people make rainbows, and double rainbows, of joy and feeling.  I thank them all.  And I have people in my life who don’t play instruments, who evoke such feelings, too.  I am sure my readers do also.

May your happiness increase!

YOU’LL BE INTRODUCED TO GLORY!

Fats Waller and Alex Hill wrote one of the most irresistibly encouraging songs I know, a sweet spiritual paean to optimism, KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL.  I thought it would be fitting to let you hear as many versions of it as I could find.

SONG IN YOUR SOUL cover

Ellington, with a friendly vocal by Chick Bullock (1931):

Fletcher Henderson, arrangement by Benny Carter (1930):

Red Nichols with Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman:

Mamie Smith:

Lou Gold and His Orchestra:

SONG IN YOUR SOUL inside

Now, for some of my favorite intersections — living hot musicians playing beautiful swing classics:

Marty Grosz and his Optimists:

Jeff Barnhart and friends at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party:

Michael Hashim with Claudio Roditi:

Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band with Viktoria Vizin:

Howard Alden and Warren Vache:

Rebecca Kilgore with Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers, featuring Marc Caparone, Bobby Gordon, Chris Dawson:

Another version from Jeff Barnhart and a British band with Nick Ward:

And an earlier version from Marty Grosz and his Philosophers:

SONG IN YOUR SOUL Brunswick Bill Robinson

There is a wonderful 1931 recording of Bill Robinson, singing and tapping.  Here is Bojangles as a marionette, invented and manipulated in the most extraordinary way by Bob Baker.  Initially it might seem perverse, but I came to marvel at it.  If you see this as demeaning, Robinson’s wife liked this and encouraged Baker to keep it in his show:

I was excited to see that so many versions are accessible to us, and perhaps I got carried away.  But I love this song, its message that music can make everything right, and I love the ways that the music itself blossoms in so many contexts.

May your happiness increase!

TWO SOULFUL ECCENTRICS: JEFF BARNHART and SPATS LANGHAM, “WE WISH WE WERE TWINS” (LAKE RECORDS LACD 342)

In 2015, Jeff Barnhart and Thomas “Spats” Langham created a new duo CD.  If you know these musicians, there will be no need to do more than click here.  (The ideal way to get copies of the CD will be at a gig, but you already know this.)

JEFF SPATS two

First off, a word of explanation about my title.  Should anyone think I am satirizing either of these artists by calling them “eccentric,” know that I am using the word in its scientific sense to mean unpredictable, original, singular — they are on their own orbits, which is one of the great pleasures of this recording, because Planet Barnhart and Planet Langham create something larger than themselves while remaining true delightful individuals.  Hot synergy, if you like.

Even though this CD presents only two musicians, it gives extraordinary value. Jeff plus Spats equals a whole repertory company: a swing / stride / blues / ragtime pianist; a wonderful rhythm guitarist who also solos in his own way; an imitable banjo wizard; two singers who can emulate Fats Waller or Al Bowlly, who can croon or harmonize or scat, create hilarious jive, double-entendre or suitable for the kiddies; two comedians; two clowns . . . have I left any of the marvelous facets of these two fellows out?  No doubt when you listen to the CD you will hear and think of more.  The sonic and aesthetic density of this CD — every three-minute performance is so nobly complete and emotionally satisfying in itself, a miniature dramatic performance — makes me long for a 78 rpm issue, say a special LAKE Records eleven-record set in its own heavy cardboard album with (of course) cover by Jim Flora.  That way, we’d have to get up and go to the record player at the end of every performance and either savor it in silence or put the needle back to the beginning.

What variety!  Both Jeff and Spats are wise connoisseurs of songs that haven’t been overdone, but the disc is not overly focused on the obscure — there’s also Waller, Berlin, Coots, McHugh, Whiting — although if you’d asked me before the CD came out, “What songs would you love to have this duo doing?” I would have named a few that are here, but the results are a wonderful banquet of delights.  The disc seems intelligently apportioned between the romantic and the hot, with side-dishes of unclassifiable gratifying music, and there’s even a Barhart original that fits right in.  It’s all fulfilling.  I won’t delineate the particular pleasures and surprises — that’s rather like sending someone into a film that you’ve enjoyed to the utmost and saying, “Keep a close eye on what she does with her pearls in the Florida scene,” and the watcher is so focused on what’s-to-come, waiting for it, that the larger creation is somehow made lopsided.

Just to delineate the variety: EVERYWHERE YOU GO / TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE / ALL ALONE / SMOOTH SAILING / SLEEPY HEAD / BLUE EVENING / I COULDN’T GET TO IT / SHAKE IT DOWN / WHAT DO I CARE (What Somebody Said)? / THE BALTIMORE / KING CHANTICLEER / ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE / ISN’T LOVE THE STRANGEST THING? / IT’S YOU / LET’S PRETEND THAT THERE’S A MOON / EVERY EVENING / WITH MY LOVE / SAY IT WITH YOUR FEET – HAPPY FEET / WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? / I WISH I WERE TWINS.

Astute listeners will chart the associations — Henry “Red” Allen, Fats, Billie, Doris Day, Ikey Robinson, Bix and Tram, Ellington, Marty Grosz, Russ Columbo, Noone — and more.  But my guess is that the next time you hear, say, I WISH THAT I WERE TWINS, you will think of Jeff and Spats first.

I haven’t had the good fortune to capture Spats and Jeff as a duo, although I have seen and recorded them both — Spats at Whitley Bay for a number of years, Jeff likewise and also in duet with wife Anne (as IVORY&GOLD) . . . but here are two performances of songs you will hear on the CD.

Groucho Marx said that all theatre could be divided into two categories, sad or high-kicking, so it is on that principle that I present the music.

BLUE EVENING (recorded by me at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) by Spats, Robert Fowler, tenor saxophone; Martin Litton, piano; Malcolm Sked, brass bass:

WHEN DID  YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? by Jeff, Brian Nalepka, and Jim Lawlor — recorded in October 2015 by my friend CineDevine at Jeff and Joel’s House Party (a twice-yearly explosion of good music you should investigate):

Those two performances will give you strength to wait out the days and nights until the CD arrives, I hope.  Hail Barnhart!  Hail Langham!  Hail Paul Adams of LAKE Records!

May your happiness increase!

LIGHT UP!

I come from the past century — where smoking was accepted in restaurants and jazz clubs.  And I remember coming home from the latter with my clothing redolent of tobacco . . . so I don’t miss it.

But I would gladly take my clothes to the laundry room immediately for a chance to be in either of these places: the first, a vanished New York City; the second, a more recent San Francisco.

ADRIAN ROLLINI matchbookI have to look the next time I am in the area — to see which bank or pharmacy has replaced Jack Dempsey’s.

TURK MURPHY matchbook

The most pleasing part of that second matchbook is that I know people who have played at McGoon’s.

And here’s the theme song of such smoky pleasures . . . more or less:

This is the record label — I think Buster’s only recorded vocal:

LIGHT UP“Let’s all get mellow,” as the song says.

May your happiness increase!

KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER, TRANSFORMED

When that phrase is spoken, some of my generation will — if they allow themselves the vertiginous trip back in time — immediately think of this fellow.

DAVY CROCKETT

That’s Fess Parker, 1924-2010, who became famous in the Disney television series devoted to frontiersman Davy Crockett.  If I allow my memory to follow its own path (and I was very young in 1955-56) I think of the childish eagerness for a fringed jacket and imitation-coonskin cap or at least a fake raccoon-tail to have attached to one’s bicycle.

And then there’s the soundtrack.  Most of us only remember “Born on a mountain top in Tennessee / Killed him a b’ar when he was only three,” but here is the whole chronicle:

Sixty years after the fact, I feel terribly sorry for the b’ar.  And happy that Davy helped his Native American pals: I hope that this is true, not Disney-fried.

Why, however, am I thinking of Davy Crockett?  Do I need reminding that this blog is called JAZZ LIVES and that digressions from that theme will be tolerated but not overmuch?

For this post, readers can thank Robert Greenwood.  Robert, who lives in the UK, is a jazz fan slightly younger than myself.  On Facebook he diligently and reverently posts musical surprises, celebrating the birthdays of our heroes through YouTube videos of their music.  I’ve learned a great deal from his postings, and have enjoyed them greatly.

Recently, Robert posted this 1961 recording of DAVY CROCKETT’S BLUES –featuring Emmanuel Sayles, banjo and vocal; Punch Miller, trumpet, Emmanuel Paul, clarinet — to celebrate Sayles’ birthday (he was born in 1907) :

Were I an eager young graduate student deep in popular culture, I would already be formulating my well-meant yet deadly conference presentation on appropriations and reshapings of mainstream Caucasian popular culture by African-American innovators . . . but the thought makes me laugh too hard to continue typing.  I simply delight in the way these three New Orleans musicians both pay homage to and recapture Disney — making Davy swing.  Not a small accomplishment.  Thanks, as well, to Andy Wolfenden for creating the video.

I just hope no one goes out in search of b’ars, though.

May your happiness increase!

MY HONEY, THAT THING, A SWEETIE, NEVER THE SAME, A JUMP: RAY SKJELBRED, JONATHAN DOYLE, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 29, 2014)

Ray Skjelbred

Ray Skjelbred

I keep coming back to the videos I’ve shot at several yearly incarnations of the San Diego Jazz Fest — and finding treasures and marvels I’d overlooked.  (I also keep coming back to the actual Fest, but that should startle no one.)

Jonathan Doyle

Jonathan Doyle

Here are some highlights from a long quartet set performed by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jonathan Doyle, the swing star from Austin, Texas; Beau Sample, string bass and leader of the Fat Babies; Hal Smith, who’s played with and swung everyone who deserves it.

Beau Sample

Beau Sample

My titles are an expression of whimsical shorthand, but there’s nothing left out in these performances.  First, a swing trio (Chicago pays San Diego a visit) then quartet improvisations that are delightful inducements to the dance, even if you are sitting in a chair.

Hal Smith

Hal Smith

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (scored for trio):

A song I associate with Bessie Smith, I’M WILD ABOUT THAT THING (decide for yourself what THAT THING is, but no need to write in, because no prizes will be awarded for the best answer).  I’m wild about this performance, I feel compelled to say:

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME (in a medium tempo sitting nicely between Noone and Condon):

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (evoking Venuti and Lang, Billie and Lester, or both):

Finally, THE 313 JUMP, whose title has a new pop culture / numerological significance — just Ducky:

See you at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest — Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23-27.  Of course.

A postscript.  The jazz-scholar part of my being says that I could have written a thousand words on Influences and Echoes, with a long list of names, including Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Earl Hines, Frank Melrose, Rod Cless, Frank Teschemacher, Lester Young, Eddie Miller, Wellman Braud, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Milt Hinton . . . but I will let you do the research for yourself — in whatever way offers the most satisfying results.  I’d rather revel in the actual sounds made by Smith, Sample, Doyle, and Skjelbred on a late November day in 2014.

May your happiness increase!

NANCY ERICKSON’S SWEET SHARP MAGIC

Nancy Erickson

At the end of 2015, a friend suggested I listen to the singer Nancy Erickson, who had collaborated on and sung NEW YEAR’S EVE, appropriate to the season.  I did listen — several times — and was entranced, as you can read here.  Not only was it a well-constructed song, it was rare in celebrating devoted long-term emotional fidelity rather than the brief infatuation, the searing heartbreak.

And Nancy Erickson’s voice and vocal style made their own lasting impression:

Her voice is dark and rich but her approach breathes its own naturalness, so I never find myself listening purely to her “vocal instrument,” but rather the ways in which it conveys the emotional and musical message — now somber, now light-hearted, her diction always clear but never an elocution lesson, her pitch accurate without being mechanical.  She subtly improvises on melody, lyrics, and rhythmic patterns, but her embellishments light the way rather than dynamiting the original’s intent.

To me, she beautifully balances drama and subtlety, intensity and delicacy.  And this may seem an odd thing to write, but in this era of heightened artifice, Nancy comes across as a human being with great sensitivity, rather than someone attempting to act the part of a.h.b.w.g.s.

I closed my December post by writing that I eagerly looked forward to her new CD.  It came; I’ve listened to it multiple times; it’s wholly gratifying.  The cover alone will tell you that Nancy Erickson follows her own splendidly surprising impulses.  The “photography and compositing” is by Steve Korn, but I sense Nancy’s inspired whimsy here as well:

Nancy Erickson cover

I know: somewhere you might hear the muffled tinkle of a convention falling off the kitchen counter and smashing on the floor.  Isn’t an attractive woman singer supposed to be draped alluringly — on a divan, in a doorway, hair blowing out of a convertible — so that the Fifties male audience can purchase the cover without giving much thought to the art?  For me, I’ll take what looks like a giant goldfish suspended in mid-air, with Nancy patting it nicely (“Gooooood fish!”) any time as an alternative.  Inside the CD there’s another variation on the cover, offering surprise rather than pastoral complacencies.

But the witty cover would mean nothing if the music was dull, predictable, inept. Not to worry.  And if  you would like to jump ahead, here you can both listen and purchase.

Nancy’s songlist tells a good deal about her range and intelligent approach to the often-constricting “Great American Songbook”:  NEW YEAR’S EVE (which Nancy says is inspired by the story of her mother and father — another delightful change from the twenty-first century formula); WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK ONE DAY; IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE; PERDIDO; PRELUDE TO A KISS; SUMMER DAY (Nancy’s original); I JUST DROPPED BY TO SAY HELLO (a duet with Clipper Anderson); THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC; THE WHIPPOORWILL SONG (Nancy’s original); LA VIE EN ROSE.  Purcell, Ellington, Piaf — now there’s a heady mix.

Take the title song for an example.  WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK ONE DAY is quite venerable — 1884 — and thus both popular as a kind of Victorian love-anthem and the subject of parody in the best Chuck Jones manner.  Nancy offers her own angle on it — beginning with a percussive vocal vamp echoed by the rhythm section, then moving into a loose reading of the original lyrics (with “a pair of roguish eyes”).  But before we know it, we are in Nancy’s own sweetly hip romantic lyrics of the singer’s delight in a handsome fellow who has crossed her path at the fountain in the park.  Then an expert trombone solo over the crisply swinging rhythm section gives way to Nancy’s bridge (where she alternates her own lyrics and an imagined orchestral riff) — and the track returns to the original percussive pattern, stopping abruptly but well.  IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE marries Purcell to rocking boppish accompaniment (and a tenor saxophone solo that looks to the present but also back to Buddy Tate), and when Nancy tells us “Sing on!” we know the urging comes from her heart, to herself as well as to us.

PERDIDO and PRELUDE TO A KISS have been done and perhaps overdone — but Nancy’s version of the first is firmly and endearingly Fifties: is it a cha-cha? I don’t know, but the slightly goofy lyrics and the retro-rhythms work perfectly. PRELUDE starts on a high note — both emotionally and technically — and Nancy offers a reading that is classically lovely yet deeply felt.  SUMMER DAY seems like the best poetic folk opus — in a world where taste ruled, it would become a hit, both evocative and elusive.  The vocal duet on I JUST DROPPED BY TO SAY HELLO — for bassist / singer Clipper Anderson and Nancy — is not imitative, but it affectionately honors the great male / female pairings of popular song without “attempting to be” Louis and Ella, Ray and Betty, Billy and Sarah — the two singers splendidly convey the emotions of this tender, hopeful, rueful song.  What it says about me I don’t know, but I kept returning to this track.

THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC has often been buried under emotional hyperbole, but Nancy takes it lightly, at a conversational pace, savoring melody and lyrics but never in capital letters.  Her brief scat interlude in MAGIC seems entirely organic (and it’s expert) rather than an obligatory inclusion.  THE WHIPPOORWILL SONG seems to borrow some of its mournful nature from SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY, but that’s a worthy homage to a sad ancestor.  And the closing LA VIE EN ROSE is a touching, entirely affecting duet with bass — arco on the verse, pizzicato for the chorus.

Nancy’s musical colleagues are loving and wise players: they surround her with the best sounds.  I commend them: Darin Clendenin, piano; Clipper Anderson, string bass / vocal (7); Ken French, drums; Jay Thomas, flute, flugelhorn (4 and 6); David Marriott, trombone (2); Alexey Nikolaev, tenor (3 and 9); Jeff Busch, percussion (4 and 9); Jacqueline Tabor, vocals (9).

The CD avoids monotony by making sure adjacent tracks have enough spice, so that a performance with a trombone solo gives way to one with a tenor chorus, to one with flute.  Tempos, moods, and approaches change — but not so much that one feels a shock from track to track.

With this CD, I think Nancy Erickson deserves our very close attention as a fully-formed artist, one of our best contemporary singers — full of feeling, wit, affection, reverence for tradition and a thoroughly winning originality.

You can subscribe to Nancy’s YouTube channel here, but you will learn more about her here.  And even here.

May your happiness increase!