Monthly Archives: May 2016

THE GOLDEN AGE IS HERE AND NOW (PART TWO): JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, GREG COHEN at THE EAR INN (May 15, 2016)

EAR INN sign

I was at The Ear Inn last Sunday night, delighting in the sounds so generously offered by The EarRegulars.  So it seems the most natural thing to share with you the second half of my post on the beauty laid before us on May 15, 2016, and its implications for people devoted to that beautiful phenomenon, jazz as created by living musicians in front of an appreciative audience.

In that post, you’ll hear two glorious performances by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, octavin, bass taragoto; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

Here are two more extended musical journeys — with a small travelogue by Scott Robinson about his unusual instruments in the middle.

Mister Morton’s WOLVERINE BLUES, beautifully presented. Pay close attention to the closing minutes, where the gentlemen of the ensemble add some wonderfully surrealistic ornamentation to the familiar themes.  At the close, you’ll hear an excited voice adding an unexpurgated affirmation: that’s the young reed wizard Evan Arntzen, seated to my right at the bar:

That deserves more than one viewing / hearing.  And I agree with Evan.

Scott Robinson is always asked about his magical musical implements, and this time I captured his words and gestures on video:

And, finally, the wistful question, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? — served hot:

I think that what the EarRegulars (and many other noble strivers) create is life-enhancing.  But without getting too didactic, such beauty deserves and needs our tender care, which takes the shape of active participation and personal support. You know how to do that.

May your happiness increase!

PETRA VAN NUIS, ANDY BROWN, and JOE POLICASTRO MAKE MUSIC

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

It’s true.

Music first, words second.

More.

And, this year, part of Petra’s Blossom Dearie tribute (with bassist Joe Policastro), MAY I COME IN?:

These performances were created at the Whiskey Lounge in Evanston, Illinois, in 2014 and this year.

Petra has a wonderfully intimate style, paying serious atttention to the words as well as the melody floating alongside.  For those accustomed to high drama, to singers who show off years of voice lessons, she may at first sound quietly conversational.  But that’s a wonderful secret: listening to her, we are encouraged to lean forward, to focus on the secrets she has to share. To me, she embodies Whitman’s words in SONG OF MYSELF: “I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.”  In these performances, Petra is given loving comradeship (too rich to be “accompaniment”) by guitarist Andy Brown, by string bassist Joe POlicastro — quietly eloquent tellers of truths who don’t say a word.

Judy Roberts, who knows the mystical art of jazz singing, says of Petra: As a jazz singer, Petra’s unique and expressive phrasing gives her an instantly identifiable sound, and sets her happily apart from the crowd. Within one bar, you know it’s her, and you want to hear more! Much of Petra’s “own voice” comes from her intrinsically pure vision of how to sing lyrics – how to “speak” them, while choosing the perfect notes and length of phrase to convey meaning and musicality. Her improvisational excursions on the melody are born of a true jazz stylist, one with sophisticated taste and a genuine respect for the material. Petra lets us in on a candid and intimate view of her emotions, while always maintaining a sense of vivacious hopefulness. Sensuous, winsome and adorably hip, Petra’s delectable delivery of songs brings us the tantalizing flavors of Astrud Gilberto and Blossom Dearie in a young and appealing new voice.

Here’s Petra’s webpage, and her YouTube channel with more performance videos, including more from her tribute to Blossom.

May your happiness increase!

“KALEIDOSTRIDE”: PHILIPPE SOUPLET AT THE PIANO

Pianist Philippe Souplet makes lovable music.  Here is what I wrote about the young man — born in 1967! — in 2010, complete with videos, and this is my review, that same year, of his first CD, PIANO STORIES.  Although he and I have never met in person, as they say in the boroughs, “We go WAY back.”

SOUPLET

It took about eight bars of Philippe’s new solo piano CD, KALEIDOSTRIDE, to charm me.  In fact, it had that rare and delightful apparent contradiction of effects: I felt both excited and relaxed.  I prescribe it for all disorders, emotional, nervous, or physical — and especially for those proud readers who say, “Disorders? Not me!”

Now you can stop reading and begin listening: here are extracts from the CD, to soothe the agitated, to elate the low, to educate the wise, to bring joy:

The excerpts are not identified visually, but if you visit the description beneath this video on YouTube, you will find all the necessary details.

What I find particularly delightful is Philippe’s deep understanding of what this kind of orchestral piano is and isn’t.  Yes, it is inherently athletic (try moving your left hand at a Waller tempo for four minutes, never mind about the keyboard or where it might land) but it need not be forceful or loud.  As flashy as virtuosic stride playing might be, its heart is not speed or density.  What Philippe understands and demonstrates is the winning combination of lightness, subtlety, and lyricism: sweet melodies superimposed over a magic carpet, never faltering, of intriguing harmonies and irrepressible rhythms.  Yes, he knows his Waller, his Tatum, his James P. — but he’s also listened hard to Wilson and more “modern” players: I hear Hank Jones as well as Donald Lambert, and that’s high praise.

Of the fourteen performances on this disc, three are “standards”: Strayhorn’s LOTUS BLOSSOM, James P. Johnson’s YOU CAN’T LOSE A BROKEN HEART, and Ellington’s COTTON TAIL.  The remainder — with humorous titles — are Philippe’s own, and rather than being improvisations on familiar chord structures, they are charming evocations of the sound and style of pianists he admires.  Not imitations, mind you — one Waller cliche after another, for instance — but evocations.  I heard some of this music for the first time without access to the notes, and I could say, “Wow, that Tatum-idea is beautifully executed,” or “That young man has been listening hard to Oscar Peterson.” The pianists evoked are monumental: Waller, the Lion, James P., Tatum, Ellington, but also Francois Rilhac, Herman Chittison, and Aaron Bridgers.  It’s a delightful recital, and beautifully recorded as well.

The CD is Philippe’s own project and you can order it by contacting him at psouplet@wanadoo.fr.  Each disc is 18 Euros plus shipping, which 3 Euros in France, 5 in EEC, 7 outside EEC — priority mail).  PayPal is “the easiest way.”

I hope many people are as impressed by M. Souplet: he deserves your attention.

May your happiness increase!

CAVEAT EMPTOR, IN THE MATTER OF LOUIS AND HIS GREEN PEN

To the right of me, next to this keyboard, I have an index card that Louis Armstrong signed for me in April 1967.  And I’ve seen many examples of his angular handwriting, the idiosyncratic crabbed loops and slurred letters that a person who signs his name millions of times does.

I love eBay and visit it often — sometimes to purchase an out-of-print CD or book, sometimes to browse.  Readers of this blog know that I have returned from my time at the monitor with surprises that I share.

Today, however, I offer an unsolicited yet short lesson in authenticity.  I am not a certified specialist in autographs, but I know Louis’ signature as I know his voice.  And I am startled to find forgeries being offered at high prices.  I’ve given up contacting the sellers, because although they may be innocent (or is it ignorant) they assert that the consigner said the signature was genuine. (Incidentally, I’ve discussed with others a forged Coltrane “manuscript,” and other debatable autographs.  I know that there are “fan” signatures — the star’s secretary signs a photograph and sends it off, but the inauthentic Louis signatures are more egregious to me.)

Here, for instance, is a 1949 letter that is clearly Louis: not only the handwriting, but the individualistic prose style, the punctuation, and the sentiments:

LOUIS LETTER ABOUT BING 1949

And, by the way, the writer’s love for Poppa Bing is also genuine.

Here’s an autograph that also strikes me as the real thing:

LOUIS (DEC'D) TRUMPETER autograph

I love that the seller identifies Louis as “(DEC’D) TRUMPETER.

LOUIS to Chris Clufetos real

Above is a genuinely warm inscription to Chris Clufetos, known better as Chris Clifton, whom Louis befriended.

Here’s an inscription in Wild Bill Davison’s copy of HORN OF PLENTY, the Robert Goffin book about Louis.  Again, visibly genuine:

LOUIS to WBD

Are you beginning to get the idea?  Now, does this signature below resemble the others?

LOUIS serious fake sig

This one’s a harder test, but I have faith in my readers:

LOUIS Pennies fake sig

Now, here’s the real thing.  Forget that some eBay sellers know that the average buyer is trusting and perhaps naive; forget that some people on both sides of the deal are not well-informed.

Good luck!  Anyone can use a green pen, but there is only one Louis.  Keep hustlin’ and bustlin’ for the real thing. Make your dream come true.

May your happiness increase!

THE GOLDEN AGE IS HERE AND NOW (PART ONE): JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, GREG COHEN at THE EAR INN (May 15, 2016)

EAR INN signMany people devoted to certain art forms are afflicted with incurable nostalgia. “What wouldn’t I give to hear Henrietta McGillicuddy play the blues on her Eb alto horn?  They say she could play a whole year without repeating herself!” And it doesn’t limit itself to jazz.  “Oh, yeah?  Pergolesi could kick your guy’s ass! And on a bad day Stuart Davis was better than anything now hanging in MOMA.”

I could go on, and possibly I already have.

But I remember a refrigerator magnet I saw in the very early Eighties, that had these words on it:

TIME TO BE HAPPY

Sage advice.  I understand the deep longing to hear one more note of Bix, of Bird, of Billie — to time-travel back to hear Louis in 1929 or Blanton with Jeter-Pillars.  But while some are busily dreaming of such things (I think of Miniver Cheevy with his collection of Black Swan acetates), the present is both glowing and going.  As in going away.

So I am always urging the people who love this art form to enjoy what is happening in the present moment rather than licking the dust off the statues. A hundred years from today, should we survive as a species, I suspect that cultural historians will be writing about the Golden Age of the early twenty-first century. And if they aren’t, they will be ignoring some irreplaceably precious evidence.

Here are two glorious examples (with two more to come) of the superb art that is happening now.  The artists are Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and unusual reeds; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Greg Cohen, string bass — recorded just this month at the Soho Savoy, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) at one of the regular Sunday-night epiphanies from about eight to about eleven PM.

WHEN I  GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

 

A “peppy” LOUISIANA:

Yes, we could all sit at home and play our records.  But beauty, completely satisfying, is happening all around us.

May your happiness increase!

THE LATEST PRANCE, WORDS AND MUSIC

Thanks to Dick Karner of TradJazz Productions for providing inspiration and source material for this blogpost. (You could look into the label’s inspiring hot backlist for some good sounds, too.)

Before we get to Dick’s beneficience, I must ask a difficult question.  Do you know how to do the SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE?  Or, like me, are you simply someone who loves the 1917 song?  Hark to the lyrics and perhaps you can learn.

SHIM 1

The verse:

SHIM 2

The chorus:

SHIM 3

Like the very best teaching, it leaves ample space for personal improvisation. You’re on your own.  But you look perplexed.  Before you start to “bounce ’round like a big rubber ball” in silence, I have something that will help.  For the impatient listeners, the music takes about nineteen seconds to start:

Frank Chace, clarinet; Don Ewell, piano, Beale Riddle, drums.  Ewell’s apartment, either Chicago or Baltimore, c. 1952.

Isn’t that brave lovely music?  Please don’t write in to say that Ewell sounds just like Jelly or that Frank imitates Pee Wee: I don’t have the psychic army that will protect you from their avenging spirits.  Emulation, homage, but not imitation: these are courageous swinging melodists getting under the skin of the music to have their own glorious say.

Now you can truly do the SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE.

May your happiness increase!

WARM CONVERSATIONS IN MUSIC: JON DE LUCIA / PUTTER SMITH / TATSUYA SAKURAI at OLIVIER BISTRO (May 9, 2016)

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

I’ve only met the altoist / clarinetist / flautist / composer Jon De Lucia this year, but I have been delighted and astonished by his subtle warm talent.  The first opportunity I had to experience his floating improvisations was his April 15 graduate recital at City College, which you too can experience here (where Jon is joined by Greg Ruggiero, Aidan O’Donnell, Steve Little, and Ray Gallon).

I wanted to hear more, so I asked Jon if I could come video him at a regular Brooklyn gig at Olivier Bistro (469 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, very close to the F train for people who know and respect such things) and he said I could — thus, this quartet of videos from his performances on May 9. On three of them, Jon’s partner in soulful dialogue is the most revered Putter Smith, string bass; on MOHAWK, that blues we know from the late Dizzy and Bird session, they are joined by the youthful guitarist Tatsuya Sakurai, to great effect.  (Ordinarily Jon’s duet partner is the wonderfully lyrical Greg Ruggiero — a duo I hope to capture soon.)

Thinking of Billie, YOU’VE CHANGED:

The question no one asked that night, WHO CARES?:

The aforementioned Bird / Dizzy blues, with Tatsuya along for the fun of the explorations:

And a statement of fidelity, “forsaking all others” in 4 / 4, IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

What lovely intimate music.

And a non-musical postscript: the food at Olivier Bistro was wonderful, the service likewise (look for kind Annette!): I look forward to returning to enjoy more.

May your happiness increase!

SLEEP, FROM FRED WARING ON (HOWARD ALDEN, DAN BARRETT, HARRY ALLEN, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI at CLEVELAND: September 11, 2015)

sleeping-woman

Shhhh, don’t wake the Beauty.

Waring’s Pennsylvanians in 1928, in 3 /4 time:

a 1937 version by Tommy Dorsey, with Bud Freeman and Dave Tough in an arrangement that “borrows” from STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY and CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS

Benny Carter and his Orchestra in 1940, with guest star Coleman Hawkins, as well as Eddie Heywood, Keg Purnell, and Joe Thomas:

I saw Carter and the Swing Masters perform this arrangement at a Newport in New York concert at Carnegie Hall, with Joe Thomas (slightly overwhelmed by the rapid pace), Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones — the latter turning the brief drum solo into a longer exhibition.  Memorably.

Sidney Catlett, Ben Webster, Marlowe Morris, John Simmons in 1944.  A monument to Swing:

and the present — September 11, 2015, at the Allegheny Jazz Party (d/b/a the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party) by Howard Alden, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Frank Tate, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums:

May your happiness increase!

THE SKIES WILL CLEAR UP: BARBARA ROSENE / EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW

Barbara Rosene EhudBarbara Rosene is a great, subtly emotive singer.  Her warm voice caresses the melody and lyrics, and her deep feeling takes us inside each song, making each composition its own small drama or comedy.  New Yorkers like myself have known this for more than a decade; if you’ve heard Barbara with the Harry James Orchestra, you know it as well.

Barbara and the splendid pianist Ehud Asherie performed two sets at Mezzrow (West Tenth Street, New York City) a week ago, on May 17, 2016.  Early in the evening, Barbara and Ehud offered one of my favorite songs, LAUGHING AT LIFE.  As she points out, most people know the song from Billie Holiday’s rollicking version — with elating assistance from Lester Young and Roy Eldridge — but it goes back to 1930, with recordings by Ruth Etting and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.  (My guess is that John Hammond, who loved the older songs, suggested it to Billie, although the Goodman band was playing it on broadcasts a few years earlier.)

Laughing_at_Life_FilmPoster

A sidelight: I had not known about this 1933 pre-Code film, which might not even have the song included, but who can pass up a poster like this?

To get back to our subject: I was instantly moved by Barbara’s rendition of the song — which could be sweetly maudlin in less subtle hands or sped up to “swing it.”  The tempo is perfect, and her delivery is sweetly, endearingly convincingly.  The rich textures of her voice are marvelous in themselves.

I don’t think anyone will be guffawing or chortling in empathy once the video has left its mark, but I know that Barbara and Ehud add to our collective happiness, as they always do.  (Ehud’s medium tempos are a wonderful education in themselves.)

And Barbara always has my permission to sit down.

Here’s the relevant evidence.  And there will be more music from this delightful evening at Mezzrow.  (A word about that club: it is comfortable in every possible way, and the music is lovingly the center of attention, as it should be.)

May your happiness increase!

NOTES FROM CONNIE (April 8, 2016)

small purple flowerAbout a month ago, I wrote this tribute to the most beloved Connie Jones, who announced his retirement at a performance at the French Quarter Jazz Fest, two weeks after the performances below on April 8.  Through the good offices of my friend, the superb drummer Hal Smith, I found these two precious videos, shot by Mark Jones — documenting that concert.  Connie Jones and the French Quarter Festival All Stars are Connie, vocal and cornet; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Otis Bazoon, tenor saxophone; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Ed Wise, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

Here’s A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY:

and TISHOMINGO BLUES:

Bless Connie Jones and his devoted friends.

May your happiness increase!

“DANCING” WITH THE STARS — a/k/a ECHOES OF SWING: COLIN T. DAWSON, CHRIS HOPKINS, BERND LHOTZKY, OLIVER MEWES

 

ECHOES OF SWING

The wonderful quartet ECHOES OF SWING is often compared to the John Kirby Sextet, and with some justification.  They both create intricate lines; they turn corners adeptly at top speed; they like surprises; they often play with classical themes.  But I need to write a heresy here.  Stand back.

I think ECHOES OF SWING has well and truly outstripped its ancestor: they are satisfying in ways the Kirby group couldn’t have imagined.  There!  I’ve said it.

This quartet can be energized up to 11, but they are also capable of great yearning, quiet serenities.  And they like the groove (not even the slowest track drags) but don’t get stuck in it — each track has small jubilant surprises in it, and the CD never feels like an hour of the same thing, a salad that’s really a huge bowl of Swiss chard.

The four heroes at work are Colin T. Dawson, trumpet / vocal; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums.  Chris, Colin, and Bernd have also contributed originals and arrangements.

And they have a new CD — called DANCING, appropriately.

Rarely do I quote from other people’s liner notes . . . but these tell the tale —

‘…a waltz through the history of jazz, an anthology which takes a wry look at the theme of dance in jazz, occasionally heading off at a tangent, and making some very surprising connections. It begins at the very beginning with Johann Sebastian Bach. A Gavotte from the English suite No. 6, a baroque dance, is transformed into a melodic platform for an effervescent drum feature. A journey through James P. Johnson’s ‘Charleston’ (‘straightened out’ into a modern jazz waltz), Scott Joplin’s ‘Ragtime Dance’, Cole Porter’s ‘Dream Dancing’, or Sidney Bechet’s ‘Premier Bal’ to Pixinguinha’s Brasilian Choro ‘Diplomata’, Bernd Lhotzky’s Cuban Bolero ‘Salir a la Luz’ or the exotic Ellington-like timbre of ‘Ballet Of The Dunes’ from Chris Hopkins. This is dance in jazz, but not as we know it. For a start, a third of the tracks are original compositions, and all of the remaining tunes have been not so much arranged, but more like given a complete and thorough overhaul. The older selections now possess a new ‘hipness’ and have been brought stylistically right up to the present day. This album presents the winning combination of flawless musicianship, a comprehensive knowledge of music history, good taste and judgement, and a sly sense of humour. Each of the tracks of “Dancing” communicates simultaneously and directly with the brain, the emotions and down to your feet. There is quite simply a very wide range of delights for the listener to enjoy.’

A few words more.  When I listen to EOS, I am always amazed by two things at once: the band’s nifty and expansive ensemble work, polished but not stiff.  It’s clear they rehearse, but rehearsal has not stifled their essential joyful spirits. And then there are the soloists.  If you don’t follow the band, the names of the four musicians may be slightly new to you, but they are sterling: Oliver is one of the finest drummers playing today — not an antiquarian, but a swinger who is so aware of the rollicking obligation to keep the other players afloat and make beautiful sounds.  Bernd is a lyrical hot expert orchestral player, but even when he plays one note, it has a splendid epigrammatic shape.  Colin is not only a fine hot trumpeter, lyrical or edgy as needed, but also a very warm persuasive singer, who moves us in his first eight bars.  And when Chris plays, I sense Benny Carter, Pete Brown, and Rudy Williams grinning: his sweet-tart tone, his blazing attack, his innate rhythmic energies are all memorable.

As a postscript, I have to apologize to the four gentlemen of EOS for taking so long to bring this disc to my readers’ attention.  I loved it instantly; I have played it two dozen times . . . but I was intimidated by its glowing vibrant variety. “What can I say about this except BUY IT NOW?”  But now’s the time.  It’s glorious. Here is the EOS CD page, and the Echoes Of Swing Facebook page. You can find the disc through iTunes and in all the old familiar places.

A working jazz band, these days, is a true marvel.  Echoes of Swing is a marvel well beyond that.

May your happiness increase!

IMPRESSIONISMS BY TURNER AND STRAYHORN: HOWARD ALDEN, HARRY ALLEN, DAN BARRETT, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI (Cleveland, Sept. 11, 2015)

Here’s one kind of inspiration: the J.M.W. Turner painting of Old Battersea Bridge, which Billy Strayhorn saw on an early trip to Europe — presumably in 1939 when the Ellington band went overseas:

Battersea Church and Bridge, with Chelsea Beyond 1797 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Battersea Church and Bridge, with Chelsea Beyond 1797 J.M.W. Turner 1775-1851

Strayhorn wrote CHELSEA BRIDGE with this painting (or one by Whistler) in his consciousness.  That composition became a splendid evocation in sound for the Ellington orchestra, featuring Ben Webster.  Seventy-five years later, I and others in the audience were privileged to see and hear Howard Alden, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Frank Tate, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums, create their own sensitive evocation of all the inspirations that had come before them, sweetly and memorably adding their own:

Strayhorn when young:

STRAYHORN young

And two delicious additions.  First, Billy at the piano:

Second, in the video of CHELSEA BRIDGE from Cleveland, Dan mentions that the preceding song was their performance of Ray Noble’s THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS.  It would be a shame to deprive listeners of this.

I’ll see you at the 2016 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party this September.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW GRAND! (GORDON AU, MATT MUSSELMAN, MATT KOZA, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS: May 5, 2016)

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Photograph by Jessica Keener

On May 5, 2016, Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers played a free concert / swing dance session at the dining concourse of Grand Central Station in New York City. The Stompers are Gordon, trumpet, vocal, arrangements / compositions; Matt Musselman, trombone; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

But first, a relevant tale (impatient readers have already skipped to the videos, which is their privilege).  One of my literary heroes is the multi-faceted Irish writer “Frank O’Connor” — born Michael O’Donovan in Cork — who made a pilgrimage to James Joyce in Paris in the early Twenties.  In Joyce’s apartment, O’Connor noticed a beautiful antique print of Cork City in a frame whose material he could not recognize.  “What’s that?” he said to Joyce, pointing at the picture.  “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I know that,” said O’Connor.  “What’s the frame?” “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I had the greatest difficulty finding a French frame maker who would construct this.”

That story always amused me — although O’Connor also cited it as an example of Joyce’s peculiar associative mania — but it reverberated loudly in me when I had this rarest of opportunities to see and hear the Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station.  “Where are we?” “Grand.”  “Who’s playing?” “Grand,” and off into the darkness, although swinging mightily.

Grand Central dining

The Grand Street Stompers are a witty, light-hearted, versatile band.  The solos illuminate the room; the ensemble passages are charmed and charming; Gordon’s originals have the lilting energy of songs that you’re sure you’ve heard already.  At times, the GSS sounds like an ideal Louis Armstrong band — straddling 1925 and 1965 — in its sweet ebullience.  Gordon’s imagination is large and occasionally whimsical, so the band plays Fifties pop, Twenties hot tunes, Disney classics, Broadway melodies, and originals — all of them fresh yet instantly classic.

Here’s the first half of the doubly Grand Event:

Not just a twelve-bar blues, Louis’ MAHOGANY HALL STOMP has its own routines, which the GSS negotiates stylishly:

Gordon’s own hummable SUNSET SERENADE:

BELLA NOTTE, from LADY AND  THE TRAMP, music by Sonny Burke, lyrics by Peggy Lee — the image that comes to mind is two romantic canines delicately sharing a plate of spaghetti and meatballs:

Another Au hot tune, RIDGEWOOD STOMP:

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE, a song that everyone associates with Dinah Washington in the Fifties, but it is from 1934, originally in Spanish, by Maria Grever:

With Bechet in mind, Gordon’s SARATOGA SERENADE:

Frankie Valli’s CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU:

BE OUR GUEST, from BEAUTY AND  THE BEAST:

The Stompers are a busy band — you can see and hear why — and they appear everywhere, but in New York, in May 2016, this appearance at a swing dance session in Bryant Park might truly be special.  Don’t miss a chance to hear them; as I write this, they will be lighting up the room at Radegast this very night.

And there’s a second eight performances from the Grand night of May 5, 2016, to come.

May your happiness increase!

“LAZY ‘SIPPI STEAMER GOING HOME”: LEON OAKLEY, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS, BILL RINEHART (May 15, 2016)

LEON

I’d heard and admired Leon Oakley on records for a long time before I first met him in five years ago.  We became friends instantly because of our shared love for lyrical hot music and our reverence for Louis.

But in all the performances of Leon’s that I’ve been privileged to witness, I’d never seen him sing.  Although I’m sure he’s done it before in public, this is a first for me — and it’s so lovely.

A little background.  The group Leon is leading was originally called the Black Diamond Blue Five, founded by the late George Knoblauch — devoted to a particular sound and approach, that being Clarence Williams small groups of the middle Twenties.  “Hot and ready,” would be one way to describe it.  This version, called “Friends of the Blue 5,” a title combining “Friends of Jazz” and “Blue 5,” took the stage at the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California in El Sobrante, California, on May 15. 2016.  The recording was done by the indefatigable Rae Ann Berry, who’s captured so many hours of pleasure for us all.  The other members of the band are the always-amazing Clint Baker, clarinet, trombone, vocal; his son Riley Baker, tuba; Marty Eggers, piano; Bill Rinehart, banjo.  The song is a late-Thirties Louis composition about the joys of steamboat travel — going no place in a hurry — down the Mississippi River:

One way to “honor” Louis would involve a handkerchief, grins and grimaces — a caricature that barely evoked the surface.  (Joe Muranyi said more than once that Louis hated such acting.)  I delight in the approach that Leon takes: gently earnest heartfelt singing and playing, completely loving, completely authentic.

I look forward to the 2016 Steamboat Stomp — where Leon, Clint, I, and other heroes will be on the Natchez, up and down that river.  Perhaps Brother Leon can be talked into a few vocal choruses?

And this post is for Jean Knoblauch, a dear friend even when at a distance.

May your happiness increase!

“MY HEART IS RIDING ON YOUR WINGS”: NICKI PARROTT, MENNO DAAMS, PAOLO ALDERIGHI (Westoverledingen, Germany, April 9, 2016)

JAZZ IM RATHAUS April 2016 Photograph by Elke Grunwald

JAZZ IM RATHAUS April 2016 Photograph by Elke Grunwald

People who don’t make music professionally have, I think, only a small awareness of how much work — beyond “the ten thousand hours of practice” it takes to make a beautiful melody come alive.  Beauty is rarely, if ever, casually tossed off by someone who has no experience in the hard work of creativity.  In the performance that follows, deep but gentle subtleties of light and dark caress our sensibilities.  Memorably.

This trio interlude was created by three masters of loveliness: Nicki Parrott, vocal and string bass; Menno Daams, cornet; Paolo Alderighi, piano.  Of course their text is the gorgeous creation of Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, SKYLARK.  And standing behind them in the shadows is Bix Beiderbecke, for Hoagy originally called this song BIX LICKS.

This marvel took place at a concert in Germany on April 9, 2016 — the gift to us of the very gracious and indefatigable Manfred Selchow, who has been doing this for thirty years.  Details of Mannie’s most recent offering here.

And the music itself.

I encourage listeners and viewers to visit this performance several times: for Nicki’s beautiful singing, her stalwart but never obtrusive bass playing, for Menno’s nighttime traceries, and for Paolo’s loving support.  He is the fellow one might not notice on the first viewing, but it takes a lifetime of listening and study and practice to be so generous, so right, in such quietly heartfelt orchestral playing.

May your happiness increase!

BOB AND RUTH BYLER + CAMERA = HOURS OF GOOD MUSIC

Bob and Ruth Byler

Bob and Ruth Byler

I first became aware of Bob Byler — writer, photographer, videographer — when we both wrote for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG, but with the demise of that wonderful journalistic effusion (we still miss Leslie Johnson, I assure you) I had not kept track of him.  But he hasn’t gone away, and he is now providing jazz viewers with hours of pleasure.

“Spill, Brother Michael!” shouts a hoarse voice from the back of the room.

As you can see in the photograph above, Bob has always loved capturing the music — and, in this case, in still photographs.  But in 1984, he bought a video camera.  In fact, he bought several in varying media: eight-millimeter tape, VHS, and even mini-DVDs, and he took them to jazz concerts wherever he could. Now, when he shares the videos, edits them, revisits them, he says, “I’m so visual-oriented, it’s like being at a jazz festival again without the crowd.  It’s a lot of fun.”  Bob told me that he shot over two thousand hours of video and now has uploaded about four hundred hours to YouTube.

Here is his flickr.com site, full of memorable closeups of players and singers. AND the site begins with a neatly organized list of videos . . .

Bob and his late wife Ruth had gone to jazz festivals all over the world — and a few cruises — and he had taken a video camera with him long before I ever had the notion.  AND he has put some four hundred hours of jazz video on YouTube on the aptly named Bob and Ruth Byler Archival Jazz Videos channel. His filming perspective was sometimes far back from the stage (appropriate for large groups) so a video that’s thirty years old might take a moment to get used to. But Bob has provided us with one time capsule after another.  And unlike the ladies and gents of 2016, who record one-minute videos on their smartphones, Bob captured whole sets, entire concerts.  Most of his videos are nearly two hours long, and there are more than seventy of them now up — for our dining and dancing pleasure.  Many of the players are recognizable, but I haven’t yet sat down and gone through forty or a hundred hours of video, so that is part of the fun — recognizing old friends and heroes.  Because (and I say this sadly) many of the musicians on Bob’s videos have made the transition, which makes this video archive, generously offered, so precious.

Here is Bob’s own introduction to the collection, which tells more than I could:

Here are the “West Coast Stars,” performing at the Elkhart Jazz Party, July 1990:

an Art Hodes quartet, also from Elkhart, from 1988:

What might have been one of Zoot Sims’ last performances, in Toledo, in 1985:

a compilation of performances featuring Spiegle Willcox (with five different bands) from 1991-1997, a tribute  Bob is particularly proud of:

from the 1988 Elkhart, a video combining a Count Basie tribute (I recognize Bucky Pizzarelli, Milt Hinton, Joe Ascione, and Doc Cheatham!) and a set by the West End Jazz Band:

a Des Moines performance by Jim Beebe’s Chicago Jazz Band featuring Judi K, Connie Jones, and Spiegle:

and a particular favorite, two sets also from Elkhart, July 1988, a Condon memorial tribute featuring (collectively) Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Dave McKenna, Marty Grosz, Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones, John Bany, Wayne Jones, in two sets:

Here are some other musicians you’ll see and hear: Bent Persson, Bob Barnard, Bob Havens, the Mighty Aphrodite group, the Cakewalkin’ Jazz Band, the Mills Brothers, Pete Fountain, Dick Hyman, Peter Appleyard, Don Goldie, Tomas Ornberg, Jim Cullum, Jim Galloway, Chuck Hedges, Dave McKenna, Max Collie, the Salty Dogs, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, Butch Thompson, Hal Smith, the Climax Jazz Band, Ernie Carson, Dan Barrett, Banu Gibson, Tommy Saunders, Jean Kittrell, Danny Barker, Duke Heitger, John Gill, Chris Tyle, Bob Wilber, Gene Mayl, Ed Polcer, Jacques Gauthe, Brooks Tegler, Rex Allen, Bill Dunham and the Grove Street Stompers, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the Harlem Jazz Camels, and so much more, more than I can type.

Many musicians look out into the audience and see people (like myself) with video cameras and sigh: their work is being recorded without reimbursement or without their ability to control what becomes public forever.  I understand this and it has made me a more polite videographer.  However, when such treasures like this collection surface, I am glad that people as devoted as Bob and Ruth Byler were there.  These videos — and more to come — testify to the music and to the love and generosity of two of its ardent supporters.

May your happiness increase!

A FROLIC AT FRAUNCES (Part One): ROB ADKINS, CHRIS FLORY, DAN BLOCK, EVAN ARNTZEN (May 7, 2016)

A good band is not hard to find in New York City.  One of the places I rely on is Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street for their Saturday jazz brunch (1-4) usually led by Emily Asher with her delightful small band that is the Garden Party Quartet.  Emily was on the road on May 7, 2016, but the joy continued unabated.

Fraunces Tavern

String bassist and band-wizard Rob Adkins assembled a wonderfully melodic quartet: himself, Chris Flory, guitar; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and alto.  Oh, did they fill the room with good sounds!

Of course, fault-finding viewers will note that people are talking, eating, drinking, and moving, that the room is busy, but busy-ness keeps the Tavern able to pay for live music.  Without being too acrid, I say quietly that people who choose only to sit in front of their computers when there is live music to be had make it hard for musicians to survive.  To quote Arthur Miller, “Attention must be paid.”

On to happier matters.  This little ad-hoc band is not only composed of four wonderful soloists, but these players know the sacred value of ensemble playing — so lines intertwine, there’s counterpoint, riffs, backgrounds: all the collective joy one could ever hear.

I present these performances in the order they happened, as is my habit. I think they are each small complete masterpieces, to be savored rather than gobbled.  I hope you agree.  There’s more to come.

LINGER AWHILE:

THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:

SOUTH:

Please find a way to support the music if you want it to continue.  That means going to a place where it is played, purchasing food and drink there, putting money in the tip jar, buying a CD from a musician . . . active rather than passive.  Very little is actually free in this world, the title of the third song notwithstanding.  And as a final irony, the people in this scene who are sitting at the bar, talking and drinking whiskey, are doing more by their presence to support the music they are ignoring than the most devoted “jazz fan” who lives solely off the Hot Internet.

May your happiness increase!

ENRAPTURE(D): KEN PEPLOWSKI, EHUD ASHERIE, MARTIN WIND, MATT WILSON

The works of art that move me the most combine and embody intelligence, warmth, playfulness, and love.  Ken Peplowski’s new CD, ENRAPTURE (Capri Records 74141), is a shining example of what I mean.

ENRAPTURE cover

Recorded slightly more than a year ago, this vivid and satisfying session is a portrait of a wonderful band — recorded as if at a gig but in splendid sound.  The band is a balanced, energetic, communal organism: four individuals who listen to and support each other — Ken on clarinet and tenor; Ehud Asherie, piano; Martin Wind, string bass; Matt Wilson, drums.

And the principles behind this CD are so simple, yet often neglected in this era of “projects” and “themes”.  I will let the writer of the elegant liner notes, Mr. Peplowski, explain: “[This CD is] my latest effort – a year or so of sifting through material, a year or so of playing with these great musicians, and very little time in the studio – we really wanted to approximate what we do in the clubs – this is us, in as close to a live setting as one could ask for in a recording environment – every song pretty much in one take – we weren’t going for a speed-recording record, we just like to capture the spontaneity and interplay of four people who enjoy making music together.”

If circumstances permitted there to be more working bands who could record sessions like this . . . but I digress.

Here’s a sonic sample — the title song of the session, composed by Herbie Nichols:

Even the casual listener will notice that this is a delightfully egalitarian melodic quartet: each player contributing an individual energy to the music, rather than a Star and a Rhythm Section.  Each of these players is obviously a Star but the prevailing atmosphere is a friendly communality — humility and eagerness mixed as a loving offering to the Music.

And what Music!  Although some “traditionalists” like to claim Peplowski as their own — after all, he’s recorded with tuba on the session — and then renounce him as a Dangerous Modernist, the truth is that he has a wide and delicious musical intelligence, one that embraces all kinds of music as long as it has a lively center.  So on this CD there are songs by Harry Warren, Bernard Hermann, Barry Manilow, Noel Coward, Ellington, Fats Waller, Lennon, Leslie Bricusse, and Peter Erskine.  There are touching ballads and ruminative introspections; there are quick, spiky ventures into apparently unknown territory; there is rollicking swing (as opposed to tributes to its fabled King — none of that here, please).

There is nothing self-conscious about the breadth of repertoire: it is a mark of an integrity that brushes away “styles and schools” in favor of deeply-felt but never pretentious creativity.  And although Peplowski can play his horns with incredible speed, vehemence, and precision, his is a mature sensibility that does not seek to impress listeners with flash.  Rather there is immense tenderness in his ballad playing, great intelligence and feeling throughout.  I stand in awe of Ehud’s solo and ensemble playing, and have listened to several tracks on this disc just to hear what chords he plays behind everyone else (wow, as we say); Martin’s bass playing is always tuneful, warm, and propulsive (catch him on WILLOW TREE); Matt is a splendidly melodic percussionist in the great tradition, one that extends past the expectations of jazz performance.  Together they are delicious.

If you want tangible reassurance that deep yet light-hearted beauty is being created and preserved in the name of Jazz (or Creative Improvised Music) as recently as last year, this is a CD to get — and savor and replay.  I’ve taken this long to write this review because I didn’t want to take the disc out of the car player.

It’s available at all the usual places, but I urge listeners to do the ancient act of purchasing the actual CD because Ken’s liner notes are wise and to the point, rather like their writer.

May your happiness increase!

FOR THREE, BY THREE: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, CHUCK REDD (ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY, April 17, 2015)

One of the finest piano trios ever played amazing music at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party — Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums.

ROSSANO

This lengthy performance — three moods, three interludes, three tributes — honors Erroll Garner, George Shearing, and Count Basie, with MISTY, SHE, and SHOE SHINE BOY — creating a world of melodic improvisation, moving from sweet slow rumination to Kansas City romp, Harlem stride — with beautiful string bass and drum work along the way.

Magnificent music: the sort of creative effusion that happens when one of these musicians is on the stand, and even more when the three of them get together.

May your happiness increase!

8:45 PM, MORE OR LESS

What time is it?

8 45

One recipe for happiness (there are many) follows below.  Take a wonderful song by Harry Warren and Al Dubin — I know it first from the Jolson Decca — ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE.  Then, take one of my favorite singers, Banu Gibson, and match her with the swinging David Boeddinghaus at the piano in a 1990 duo-session:

Please listen closely — from the clock-chimes at the start to the delicious mixture of Banu’s warm but controlled voice (her lovely intonation and pitch and swing) and David’s rollicking piano.  The only thing wrong with this recording is that it is the length of a 78.  So I have to play it several times in a row.

ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE

I know there are many other recorded versions of this song — not only Jolson, but Dean Martin, Mavis Rivers, Susannah McCorkle, Bobby Darin, Chick Bullock, Wingy Manone, Ozzie Nelson, Combo De Luxe, Spats Langham / Keith Nichols, Sarah Spencer, John Sheridan, and others.

But the one that wins the prize for Decline of the West, 1962-style, is this classic by one Debby Woods, who flattens out the melody, rides right over the chord changes, and in general (although she may have been an adorable person) does unintended violence to what I think is a great song:

and the flip side of this 45 — what archaic terms those are now! — is a Woodsian rendering of this Thirties classic, JUST ONE MORE CHANCE, which I refuse to post here — even though it is more faithful to the original — out of respect to Bing and Hawk.

But now you know.  When someone wants to argue with you over the thorny question, “WHEN does life begin?” you can answer “At eight forty-five,” smile and slip away unnoticed.

May your happiness increase!

NOBLY DONE! (THE SECOND NOBILIS NIGHT, FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2016)

Nobilis logo

What does that lovely calligraphic logo have to do with jazz or JAZZ LIVES?

Easy.  Let’s start with someone I admire, the fine musician Emily AsherIf you’ve been paying attention to the scene for the last ten years, you’ve heard and seen Emily — an inventive trombonist, a winning singer, a delightful composer, arranger, and leader of fine appealing ensembles — on her own, with her Garden Party, her Endangered Species Trio, with Wycliffe Gordon, with Shannon  Barnett, as a charter member of Mighty Aphrodite, around New York and the Pacific Northwest . . . wherever good music can be found.  I’ve featured her on this blog (visit the handy search bar when you have an hour or so).

But Emily is more than a fine, consistently inspiring musician.  Early in her career, she was leading groups — sometimes an unrewarding experience — and from that, she learned a great deal . . . practical knowledge about how to survive in that thing called “the music business,” where dealing with clubowners, getting gigs, maintaining good relations with other musicians, being paid fairly — all the things that audiences don’t see when the band takes the stage.  Emily has a big heart as well as a big range, so rather than jealously keep her wisdom to herself, she founded the Nobilis Music Group with the idea of helping other musicians and groups avoid pitfalls and — dare we say it — happily make a living.

She was not content to print up business cards, rent office space, and sit at a desk behind a sign reading Sole Proprietor. That’s not her style.  (Emily runs marathons.)

Last month, on April 2, Nobilis held its first evening — six bands showed what they could do (and more) to an intent and amazed audience. Here is the YouTube playlist of the musicians who performed that night.  Although some might call Emily’s usual music a cross between Old Time Modern and New Lyrical (she writes and sings songs that are reminiscent of her idol Hoagy Carmichael) the range of music under the Nobilis banner is astonishing, from 1926 Hot to twenty-first century Modern to surrealistic rock-opera.  All of it genuine, original, lively.

Nobilis May 13 banner

The second Nobilis evening (as depicted above) will feature Marshall Gilkes, Eric Doob, and Matt Clohesy; Michele Zayla; Nadje Noorhuis and James Shipp. All of this will happen on Friday, May 13, from 7-11 PM.  (Twenty dollars for four hours of music is a deep bargain, as jazz listeners know.)  This energized creativity will take place at Club Bonafide, 212 E 52nd Street, Third Floor, New York, New York 10022.  And you can learn more here.

Here is the Facebook event page, and here is the link to purchase tickets (inexpensive ones for a night of music) online.

I urge you to drop by (Club Bonafide is very inviting — cozy, too — not for the usual platitudes.  “For the good of the music.”  “To keep live jazz alive.”  “To support a worthy venture.”  Those are all true, but I know, from the first Nobilis evening, that you won’t yawn, scowl, feel bored, or feel the need to check your phone.  Rare experiences in this time and place.  The press release describes the three bands as “sonically luscious.”  If that isn’t an inducement to show up, look at yourself closely in the mirror next time you pass by and ask, “Who is that person?”

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR MOM, OR ABOUT HER (May 8, 2016)

I don’t mean to be irreverent on this Mother’s Day, or certainly not irrelevant, but here’s a wonderful musical tribute to the women without whom we wouldn’t exist.

Mammy O'Mine

The song is an ancient one (recorded by the ODJB and others — a hit in 1919-1920.  And I suspect that twenty years later, either Milt Gabler or Eddie Condon or both remembered it as a favorite of their childhood or just a good song to jam on, so we have this recording from 1942, with Eddie Condon And His Band: Max Kaminsky, cornet; Brad Gowans, valve trombone or valide; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Joe Sullivan, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Al Morgan, bass; George Wettling, drums.

Maternal affection, Chicago-style.  For all the Mothers in the house.  (My mother’s been gone since 2000, and she would have disliked this music, but as she used to say, “It’s the thought that counts.”  So she is being thought of, even in my own left-handed way.)

May your happiness increase!