I’ve been fortunate enough to know, hear, and admire the Swing Explorer — saxophonist Joel Press — for a decade now. It happened, as many good things do, utterly by surprise, but through the quiet guidance of a good friend. The good friend is Robert D. Rusch, the creator of CADENCE, that rare thing, a candid jazz magazine. In 2006, I was reviewing CDs for CADENCE, and one called HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? arrived in the mail — with this cover portrait (by Herb Snitzer) of a man I’d not known:
I was moved and delighted by Joel’s easy yet searching approach to melody and swing: new and yet affectionately connected to the great traditions. To explore Joel’s many worlds, one place to start would be here.
A decade later, more or less, we found ourselves in friendly proximity: Joel on the bandstand at Smalls, me with a video camera as close as I could get without posing a fire hazard. The other members of this compact inventive ensemble are Michael Kanan, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums.
Here’s a still photograph of that world, taken for us by Chihiro Tainaka, with the back of my head accurately and mercilessly rendered for posterity. Two seats to my left is the warm and thoughtful Maya Press, beaming love at her father.
But you can’t play a picture, any more than you can eat the recipe. So — with Joel’s approval — I present five performances from that night at Smalls, with some more to follow. His soft tone, love of melody, and caressing swing are still gloriously intact, and his colleagues on the bandstand are the most subtly intuitive conversationalists one could want.
GONE WITH THE WIND:
SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE:
YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:
I wanted to call this blogpost PRESS ONE FOR SWING. Now you know why. More to come.
May your happiness increase!