Monthly Archives: July 2016

A BLUE-EYED PAIR and A WEE HEAD

Small painful ironies emerge even in the midst of listening to and thinking about beautiful music. Ivie Anderson and the Duke Ellington Orchestra recorded the Edgar Leslie-Joe Burke song AT A DIXIE ROADSIDE DINER in July 1940 and played it on a broadcast:

The elaborate video production is the work of Tim Gracyk. But what concerns me is that these African-American musicians were singing and playing a love song in praise of a specific locale “in the heart of Caroline,” a favorite of New York City / Hollywood songwriters — where a blue-eyed pair fall in love.  However, when the Ellington band toured the American South, the roadside diners wouldn’t allow them inside or sell them food. Did it hurt to sing and play this song?

On that same emotional path . . . Lorenz Hart was a gay man at a time when his love had to be concealed.  (And he thought himself physically unattractive.)  But he spent his career turning out one song after another in praise of heterosexual bliss, or at least bliss that a heterosexual listening public could identify as their kind of attachment.  “With your wee head upon me knee,” in BLUE ROOM, is the first example that comes to mind, and there are many more.  It’s very clearly a he-and-she marriage with a trousseau, the prospect of children, and more, in this sweet performance from 1926 by the Revelers.

Did that wound him with each new song? We can’t know, but merely considering these hurts is in itself painful.

May your happiness increase!

MORE SEAGOONERY, BY POPULAR REQUEST (MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, November 8, 2015)

IF I GIVE UP THE SAXOPHONE

Several audience members and a musician-friend wrote in after yesterday’s post featuring Keith Nichols and the Seagoon Serenaders, asking if I would post more.  Happy to oblige!

Here you can find out more about Keith’s inspiration, THE  GOON SHOW, a radio series from 1951-60.

The Serenaders are Keith, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Spats Langham, guitar; Nick Ball, drums; Malcolm Sked, bass; Lars Frank, Thomas Winteler, Michael McQuaid, reeds (Michael doubling cornet). Dance music of the highest order.

The first song of the set is the old Chicago standard, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, with an explanation of the group’s inspiration by Keith as well as a vocal:

IF I GIVE UP THE SAXOPHONE (WILL YOU COME BACK TO ME?) was a hit for Eddie Cantor in the 1929 film WHOOPEE — written by Irving Kahal, Sammy Fain, and Willie Raskin.  I suspect that the song is an outgrowth of the instrument’s popularity early in the decade and the large number of amateur players:

I don’t know how much Goonery there will be at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party (November 3-6) but there will be some.  Musicians are often great comic improvisers, and they honor the guiding spirit of the party: Mike was both witty, sometimes dangerously so, and he had a stockpile of jokes that was astonishing.

See you there.

May your happiness increase!

“THE MOOCHE”: THE SEAGOON SERENADERS at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 8, 2015)

MOOCHE

What happens when vestiges of THE GOON SHOW meet early jazz, under the benignly unsettling leadership of Keith Nichols?  I present a brilliant example below.  Keith’s presentation, mixing satire and Hot, was called THE SEAGOON SERENADERS, and it came alive at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party on November 8, 2015:

Once when we get past the hilarity, the Serenaders launch into a very delightful performance of Ellington’s THE MOOCHE (named, I am told, for a contemporary dance), complete with clarinet trio and hot cornet chorus.  That’s Keith, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Spats Langham, guitar; Nick Ball, drums; Malcolm Sked, bass; Lars Frank, Thomas Winteler, Michael McQuaid, reeds (Michael doubling cornet on this performance).  Dance music of the highest order.

A nice mixture of hot jazz, occasionally leavened with comedy, can be found this November 3-6.  Details here.

May your happiness increase!

“HOW HIGH THE YELLOW MOON”: SPATS LANGHAM AND HIS HOT COMBINATION (November 6, 2015)

yellow moon

It’s always a pleasure to observe Thomas “Spats” Langham — singer, vaudevillian, string virtuoso — and he always surprises in the nicest ways.  One of his specialties is bringing “new” (as in unheard or rarely-heard) song treasures to us.  In this case — at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, the song was SLEEPY HEAD, written by Banjo Ikey Robinson.  As far as I can tell, the only official recordings of this song have been by Spats and Jeff Barnhart, individually and as a duo.  (There are several other songs with that title, the one I know being a tender Thirties lullaby that Bobby Hackett used as his closing theme on his 1949 broadcasts from Nick’s in Greenwich Village.)

In this performance, Spats is joined by Robert Fowler, reeds; Martin Litton, piano; Malcolm Sked, brass bass.

What I find delightful here is not simply the song itself, or the vocal, or the instrumental interludes, but the blend — that seems so right — between the sad lyrics and the swinging tempo, something that musicians in the late  Twenties and Thirties brought to a high art: the lyrics are frankly sad, but the dancers wanted to swing.  As they would here.

Thank you, Spats, Robert, Martin, and Malcolm, for making beauty out of sadness.

More of this — the “beauty” part more than the “sadness” — will be offered generously at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party — one of the most rewarding weekends I could imagine.  And I won’t have to imagine it.  See you there, I hope.

May your happiness increase!

THE SPECIAL FOR TODAY (AND FOREVERMORE)

What’s for dinner?

fish-supper-1738204

or, in another guise:

FISH FOR SUPPER 78

Notice the composer credits: drummer Jack Parker and trumpeter Joe Guy, who has gained deep posthumous fame for being married to Billie Holiday for a brief period.

But we’re here to have some music.  Music about food.  What could be better?

The YouTube algorithm has linked this performance to Ben Webster and Sonny Rollins, but such things are mere trifles.  Some listeners may move to dismiss this as a mere novelty, looking forward to rhythm and blues performances of thin material.  But if we can resist the urge to categorize and condescend, it’s audible that this little band swings more — vocally at the start — than many more famous ensembles do in their highest gear.

The song was first recorded in 1941 by Al Cooper’s Savoy Sultans — a recording I’ve  not heard.  This performance (one take only) is led by Hot Lips Page, whose delighted spirit is audible throughout: Lips, trumpet and vocal; Earl Bostic, Butch Hammond, alto saxophone; Don Byas, tenor saxophone; Clyde Hart, piano; Al Lucas, string bass; Jack Parker, drums:  September 29, 1944.

Now for eight bars of name-dropping.  Circa 1974, several friends and I were invited to visit Ruby Braff at his Riverdale apartment.  When I’m invited to a new place, I often look at the bookshelves and record collection.  Ruby had several dozen of the then new Chiaroscuro recording — live at the New School — of the quartet he and George Barnes led.  Leaning at an angle to the lowest bookshelf was an unsleeved copy of FISH FOR SUPPER on the 78 pictured above.

I am sure that Ruby admired the sound of that little band, the frolicsome energy of Lips Page.  Or perhaps he warmed to the poetry: “We ain’t got no menu / But our fish will send you,” worthy of Robert Frost at his best.

May your happiness increase!

LYRICAL SWING: HOD O’BRIEN and DARYL JOHNS at MEZZROW (March 19, 2016)

HOD JP

At this Mezzrow gig in New York City, a few months ago, the wonderful pianist Hod O’Brien had laryngitis.  But his winding melodies, his ingenious harmonies, and easy swing had their own powerful voices.  He was accompanied — in the simplest meaning of that overused word, which to me suggests a companion at one’s side — by a string bassist I’d never met before, the very youthful Daryl Johns, who will impress you as he did me.

Here are five explorations of that art form, lyrical swing improvisation.

SAVE YOUR LOVE FOR ME (Hod pointed out that this was originally done by Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley, but he felt the tune in a more Basie fashion):

EV’RYTHING I LOVE:

TADD’S DELIGHT (for Mister Dameron):

and two classics —

I CAN’T GET STARTED:

TANGERINE:

Much more to come from this session.  And when I saw Hod in June, he had his voice back.

May your happiness increase!

PLENTY RHYTHM! ERIN MORRIS, JAMES DAPOGNY, CHRISTOPHER SMITH, ALEX BELHAJ, ROD McDONALD, BONNIE SMITH, CHRIS TABACZYNSKI, LAURA WYMAN: YPSILANTI, MICHIGAN (June 2016)

No, I didn’t hear any shouts in the night, “The British are coming!” (Or, for that matter, “The British are going!”)

paul-revere-statue

But if Paul Revere had been well and truly hip, he might have shouted, “Hot jazz in Ypsilanti!  Thursday nights!  Cultivate!” and that would have gotten me out of bed for sure.

Here are three truly entrancing performances recorded on June 16 and 23, 2016, by Laura Wyman of Wyman Video — yes, she deserves her own place in the personnel roster).  The leader of this morphing band of creators is Erin Morris, tuba.  Yes, I know you know Erin as a unique dancer and choreographer, but she is also a wonderful low-brass player, able to entrance us when she’s just sitting still.

I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING with Erin; James Dapogny, keyboard (“He makes that new piano sound exactly like old,” to paraphrase Johnny Mercer); Rod McDonald, guitar; Chris Tabaczynski, C-melody saxophone. Where?  Cultivate Coffee & Tap House, Ypsilanti, Michigan:

That’s the very definition of Mellow to me, what I think of as the music the great artists make for themselves when the lights aren’t shining in their faces.  Not morose nor a let’s-show-the-people-this-is-jazz romp, but pretty and moving.  And Erin plays the tuba with gentleness; at times in the ensemble it sounds like a sweet bass saxophone heard from far away.  And Chris Tabaczynski is my new Youngblood Hero.  Dapogny and McDonald have been Heroes of mine for years.

Now, let’s add a little Americana to the mix, as Bonnie Smith sings CARELESS LOVE in an unaffected, heartfelt way, with her father, Christopher, on trombone; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Erin and Jim:

Finally, what my dear friend Mike Burgevin used to call a “Bingie” — one of those songs that we hear through a sacred veil of Crosby — WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, performed by Christopher, Alex, Jim, and Erin:

All I can say about this scene is that it does my heart good to know that a small group of secular saints is bringing lyricism into the world.  Cultivate Joy.  And for my part, I’ve got my plane ticket to Ann Arbor.

May your happiness increase!