Monthly Archives: December 2016

MUSIC FOR TONIGHT: RUBY BRAFF / DON REDMAN

happy-new-year

On December 31, I have nothing against Guy Lombardo’s rendition of AULD LANG SYNE, part of the soundtrack of my childhood and adolescence.  And Louis adored the sound of that band, so who am I to scoff?

But I secretly prefer this version of the Scottish song we use to bid farewell to one moment in chronological time and (perhaps with trepidation) welcome the next.

The people who ran Bethlehem Records decided — wisely — to have a New Year’s Eve party (December 31, 1954 – January 1, 1955) and make it a paying gig, recording the musicians as well, who were Ruby Braff, trumpet; Ed Hubble, trombone; Sam Margolis, tenor saxophone; Dick Katz, piano; Gene Ramey, string bass; Izzy Sklar, drums.  (I note with some pride that I saw, heard, and even spoke with everyone in that band except for Mr. Sklar during my time as an eager young jazz acolyte in New York in the Seventies.)

Hence:

Here’s quite an unusual version from Don Redman and his Orchestra, recorded on December 6, 1938.  The band was Carl Warwick, Reunald Jones, Mario Bauza, Quentin Jackson, Gene Simon, Don Redman, Eddie Barefield, Edward Inge, Pete Clarke, Joe Garland, Nicholas Rodriguez, Bob Lessey, Bob Ysaguirre, Bill Beason.  The numerical “lyrics,” if you could call them that, might serve as a test for intoxication — I can see the audience counting up and back with the band, although this seems to be a more difficult test than perhaps mumbling through the Scottish lyrics.  Or was it a sideways nod to the numerical antics of Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys on I’SE A MUGGIN’?  I can’t say:

What it says about me I don’t know, but in this video from Tim Gracyk, there is a comely young woman with her ice-cream cone who appears at 1:22.  Where is she now?  She is so unaffectedly pretty.  Oh, well.

May 2017 be kind to you; may you not lose hope. Get home safely.

And, as always —

May your happiness increase!

“A PUPPY-DOG AT PLAY”: EVAN ARNTZEN with TERRY WALDO, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY at FAT CAT (December 18, 2016)

Everyone knows Evan Arntzen as one of the quietly dazzling instrumental virtuosi of our time, but we might not recognize him as a sweetly compelling storyteller.  Here he brings a Twenties pastoral to that least pastoral of spaces, Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street) making that cavernous student union – rec room into a bosky dell, 1924 style, thanks also to Mister Berlin:

May your happiness increase!

A LITTLE LATE, BUT NOT IRREVOCABLY SO: “CHRISTMAS TREATS”: JEN HODGE ALL STARS

jen-hodge

Luckily for me, the splendid string bassist / singer / creative catalyst Jen Hodge is of a forgiving disposition, or else I would be nervous about reviewing her splendid EP, CHRISTMAS TREATS, on December 29.  But my semester ended a week ago, and it took intensive therapy to get the student essays and grading out of my system.

christmas-treats

So here I am, a week and more too late.  BUT the good news is that the music — if you were to play it for someone who didn’t know it was Official Holiday Music — is simply gratifying hot melodic jazz, with surprising twists.

Here’s a sample — music that will be especially appropriate when the January credit card statement, all teeth and eyes, emerges:

CHRISTMAS TREATS features four tracks — including SANTA CLAUS BLUES, they are a Bechet-inspired IL EST NE, LE DIVIN ENFANT; JOLLY OLD SAINT NICHOLAS; GOD REST YE, MERRY GENTLEMEN.  And they rock — the overall effect is hot lyricism with beautiful melodic statements and just the right blend of rocking collective improvisation.

Jen is very proud of the lineup — each track features musicians from Western Canada’s hot jazz scene, their ages from 18 to 89, including Jen herself, Brad Shigeta, Lloyd Arntzen, Sky Lambourne, Arnt Arntzen, Nick James, Aaron Levinson, Dave Taylor, Ben Henriques, Bonnie Northgraves, Kayden Gordon, Joseph Abbott, Don Ogilvie, Josh Roberts, Kelby MacNayr. Some of these names were completely new to me, but the music is convincing throughout.

Nothing on this diminutive but affecting disc is formulaic: neat arranging touches uplift without being overly clever: duets and duels between two of the same instruments; interludes for horns without rhythm within a performance — and a consistently swinging result.  You didn’t hear anything this good at the mall, and this music will still be very tasty when all the ornaments are packed away.

Visit here to get a digital copy, or travel to Jen’s hot homeland for a physical copy at any of her shows.  And here’s Jen on Facebook.

May your happiness increase!

A COZY LITTLE CORNER FOR JAZZ: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE (Luca’s Jazz Corner: December 22, 2016)

We have a whole repertoire of negative associations with the idea of the corner. One paints oneself into a corner; one has to go stand in it when one has misbehaved; one is cornered, and so on.

But jazz, like prosperity and love, can be just around the corner.  Especially when the Corner is an actual place on New York’s East Side, run by the enthusiastic Luca Marcato: hence Luca’s Jazz Corner, 1712 First Avenue, between 88th and 89th Street, inside Cavatappo, a welcoming wine bar:

luca-jazz-corner

I made my first journey to Luca’s last Thursday night, December 22, 2016, to hear and record the Jon-Erik Kellso Quartet: Mister Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass.

A few words before the video gift to you.  Luca’s is a cozy rectangular room, with most of the space properly given over to tables (where delicious — and that’s no stage joke — delicious food and drink are served) so the area near the piano is rather compact.  I’d arrived early, no surprise, and asked the very gracious Elena for “a table near the music,” and chose one as close to the open space as I could get.  (Later, I was treated very kindly by Daniele.)

The musicians, when they came in and set up, properly aimed themselves at the audience rather than at me, so the video perspective is rather like being in the trombone section of a big band.  However, it works well for sound and it is not the usual angle at all.  I was so happy with what I was hearing that if I had only been able to get the quartet’s shoes in my viewfinder I would have taken that as a generosity.

Without further ado — the quartet plays RUNNIN’ WILD, deliciously:

More details: call (212) 987-9260 for reservations or visit their website here to see the menu or find out who’s playing there when and make plans.

May your happiness increase!

THE NALEPKA FAMILY MUSICALE: BRIAN NALEPKA, NORA NALEPKA, TERRY WALDO, JOHN GILL, JAY LEPLEY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN (FAT CAT, December 18, 2016)

Talent runs in the family, they say.  And in this case, they’re right.  Brian Nalepka, string bassist, tubaist, accordionist, singer, and sage jester, is someone I admire: when he’s on the scene, I know the beat will be there too, and it will be swinging.  His wife, Mary Shaughnessy, doesn’t sing; nor, as far as I know, does daughter Ella.  But Nora Nalepka does, and she’s very good at it.  This isn’t a post about swing nepotism, but one about music.

On the most recent appearance of Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) — Sunday, December 18, 2016 — I was there to document and enjoy not one, but two Nalepka musical offerings.

how_keep_em_on_farm1

Here’s Brian — “asking the musical question” HOW YA GONNA KEEP ‘EM DOWN ON THE FARM?, a Walter Donaldson melody and one of the witty and relevant hits of 1919, after the Great War had ended. His colleagues are Terry Waldo, piano; John Gill, banjo; Jay Lepley, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet (for the occasion); Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds.  If you haven’t noticed it this far, Brian is not only a great rhythm player and soloist, but he is that most rare thing, a swinging entertainer.

Nora — more modern, a child of the late twentieth century — picked a more “contemporary” song . . . from 1934: the Nacio Herb Brown – Arthur Freed ALL I DO IS DREAM OF  YOU, which many of us know from its delightful part in the 1952 film SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.

all-i-do-is-dream-of-you

and, for a reason, here is the first page of that folio:

all-i-do-page-two

Although this sweet song is a love ballad, most bands and singers take it at a brisk tempo, which flattens its yearning appeal.  Note “Slowly (with expression),” which is the way Nora sings it.

She knows how to convey feeling; she improvises gently; she swings.  Not surprising, perhaps, but immensely pleasing.

This is my second Nora-sighting (I wish it would happen bi-annually at the very least); here is my first, eleven months ago, her sweet rendition of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME.

And — a secret pleasure — the phrase that Terry improvises on in his solo is Jess Stacy’s introduction to the issued take of DIANE (Commodore, 1938) featuring Jack Teagarden.  Years of obsessive listening pay off.

Dear Ms. Nalepka, if you plan to make a CD — call it, perhaps, NORA NALEPKA SINGS ANCIENT SONGS OF LOVE — let me know and I’ll contribute to the crowdfunding.  And Father Brian, keep on doin’ what you’re doin’!

May your happiness increase!

IMMENSELY RESTORATIVE, 1934

hot-water-and-lemon

This may be better than other restoratives, such as a brisk walk before breakfast.

The details?  Dick Powell and the Mills Brothers.  A song by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, from the 1934 film TWENTY MILLION SWEETHEARTS.  And I read that Powell insisted on this being recorded and filmed “live” rather than have the five of them — notice, no studio orchestra (which would have been entirely unnecessary) — lip-syncing, as was the custom.

This performance, just over two minutes, is totally entrancing: clearly rehearsed, because there are a million places where collisions would be possible, it becomes a sweet vocal ballet with very uplifting visual touches.  Historically-minded listeners may hear parallels between this and what Bing had done even before he and the Brothers made a record in 1932 (and a film appearance in THE BIG BROADCAST) and I hear a good deal of what the Spirits of Rhythm were so memorably creating.

But right now, I plan to watch and listen to this clip several more times.  I encourage you to take as needed as well.  Thanks to Steven Potteiger of Facebook for pointing me to Ron Evry’s video — without them, I would have been unrestored.

May your happiness increase!

HOD O’BRIEN’S MELODIES

HOD JP

Hod O’Brien, who left this earthy realm this year, was both taciturn and soft-spoken: I would lean forward to catch a few words. But at the piano keyboard, he was quietly eloquent, offering his own lyrical caress to every song.

Here are a few more performances by Hod and bassist Daryl Johns that I recorded at Mezzrow on March 19, 2016.

BLUE BOSSA:

ALONG CAME BETTY:

RAY’S IDEA:

I HEAR A RHAPSODY:

Thank you, Hod, for letting us eavesdrop on your rhapsodies.  We miss you.

May your happiness increase!

JOHN GILL SINGS A SAD SONG FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Our hero John Gill says, “Everyone has a little Elvis in them somewhere,” and he proved this once again at Terry Waldo’s Sunday gig (December 18) down in the darkness of Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street, New York City.  There’s a direct line from Presley to Gill to us, and this song is my idea of a healthy corrective to all the manufactured holiday cheer.

John Gill by Marce Enright / New England Traditional Jazz Plus

John Gill by Marce Enright / New England Traditional Jazz Plus

John’s colleagues, helping him find his way on his dark indigo quest, are Terry Waldo, piano; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet.

May your happiness increase!

TED BROWN AT 89: SIMPLY BEAUTIFUL

Through the kindness of pianist Michael Kanan, I’ve been introduced to the music of people I might not otherwise have met.  One of them is the soft-spoken and gently lyrical tenor saxophonist Ted Brown.

ted-party

And because of the inventive and much younger saxophonist Brad Linde, there have been celebrations of Ted’s birth: I’ve been at number 85, 88, and the most recent one, Ted’s 89th, on December 3, 2016.  The celebrants pictured above are Brad and Ted, Aaron Quinn, guitar; Frank Canino, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums. Other musicians in the house were Stephanie Greig, Nick Lyons, Jon De Lucia, Caroline Davis, and Elijah Shiffer — as well as some whom I haven’t met yet.

There was cake (also courtesy of Brad).

ted-cake

But more importantly, there was music.  Cake is eaten; music lasts.  And the approving shade of Lester Young was in the room.

LESTER LEAPS IN:

POUND CAKE:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / FEATHER BED:

YARDBIRD SUITE:

Bless Ted Brown and his friends for making such beauty so generously available.

May your happiness increase!

CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN: STILL MORE FROM THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 30, 2016)

fatbabiespress2

Yes!  Even more from one of the most gratifying jazz bands — and working bands — on the planet.  THE FAT BABIES can offer electrifying transcriptions of recordings both familiar and obscure, but they can wonderfully “go for themselves” in convincing solos and hot ensemble playing.  In the videos below, you’ll hear idiomatic and swinging evocations of Benny Carter, Joe Robichaux, Jelly Roll Morton, Andy Kirk, Jabbo Smith, and Bing Crosby (is that Nat W. Finston and the Paramount Orchestra I hear in the hills?) — beautifully done with no museum archaisms or modern “innovations.”  Just good fun — created by Beau Sample, string bass and leader; Alex Hall, drums; Jake Sanders, guitar and banjo; Paul Asaro, piano and an ANIMULE vocal; Jonathan Doyle, John Otto, saxophones; Dave Bock, trombone; Andy Schumm, cornet.

I’ve posted a goodly number of Fat Babies videos from the Evergreen Jazz Festival hereherehere, and here — so no one can go to the larder and find it bare of salutary Fat.  But my videos (I’m proud of them) are nothing compared to the experience of hearing and seeing this band live, so the message should be clear.

KRAZY KAPERS:

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

THE SOPHOMORE:

THE ANIMULE DANCE:

PLEASE:

WEIRD BLUES:

KING KONG STOMP:

Check their website to see their schedule, learn about their new CD, and more. I see they will be back at the Evergreen Jazz Festival at the end of July 2017.

May your happiness increase!

“SERENADE FOR CLARINETS AND STRINGS,” by JAMES EVANS

If you’re hoping for Hot Nirvana — say, a ten-minute version of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (which I do not sneer at) — please come back in a day or so, when I shall attempt to gratify your wish.  (Or visit one of the other three thousand plus posts I’ve done since 2008.  Something to your liking will emerge.)

winter-solstice

For the moment, I present unclassifiable beauty: an original composition by the singular creator James Evans (most recently viewed and heard here with Kris Tokarski and Hal Smith).  But James’ imagination is as spacious, his worldview unconstrained by labels and classifications.  So I present with great happiness his composition, SERENADE FOR CLARINETS AND STRINGS — performed by James on clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Rhody on violin.

Music like this gives me hope for intelligent life on earth.  And since today, December 21, is the winter solstice, may this music gently and kindly help guide us out of darkness.

Thank you, James and Matt.

May your happiness increase!

RAY SKJELBRED AND THE BLUES (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 25, 2016)

skjelbred-at-piano

There might be other, very attractive galaxies and universes, but as far as I can tell, none of them has Ray Skjelbred . . . which is a very good argument for ours. It’s a true critical cliche to say of an artist that (s)he is “a poet,” but in Ray’s case this is true in several interlocking ways.  He is not simply someone who tosses off a poem now and again: he is a poet.  Here are two of his poems (three books of his poetry are available here.)

Sycamore

One day all the leaves blow away.
I have been worrying
about the wrong things.

*********************************************************************
Magic Show

You see him sawing a woman in half
and you know it’s real,
but how did he get her to keep smiling,
when he wheeled her head to one side of the stage
and her legs to the other?
That’s the trick, really,
and it’s a very old one.

Well, she needed a job,
people said she was pretty,
and she was willing to travel, somewhat.

Most of all she learned to stay silent,
never say how much it hurt.

******************************************************************

What makes those poems so quietly resonant?  Oh, their casual language that conveys deep feeling in sly ways; the way they ask us to look at what we think we already know as if we’d never seen it before; the way they go straight to our emotions without ever tugging at our clothing.  There is no self-conscious poeticizing about them, but they hit solidly without raising their volume.

I feel the same tendencies working through Ray’s piano playing. We know he is at the keyboard, but his reverence is for the song, its exoskeleton and internal turmoils, the possibility it offers for waywardness inside its established form. He is genuinely playing, with courage and ardor.
joe-sullivan-gin-mill-blues-honey

Here is his recent solo performance of Joe Sullivan’s GIN MILL BLUES from the November 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  He knows it by heart but he’s also so thoroughly internalized both Joe and the song itself that he’s free to revere it but also — a Huck Finn of Chicago Hot — free to leave his socks and shoes on the bank and wade in it, joyously and cautiously at once — having a good time and sharing his pleasures so generously with us:

O rare Ray Skjelbred — who looks and sees and embodies.

May your happiness increase!

THAT DANCING FEELING: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO PLAY FIELDS and MCHUGH at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 25, 2016)

I could have called this post WHY I WENT TO SAN DIEGO, but the music — not my travel itinerary — is the real subject.  For me, “San Diego” is not the city, but the Jazz Fest there, which unrolled happily during Thanksgiving weekend of this year, a true cornucopia of delights.

doin-the-new-lowdown

One such delight was a trio performance by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, reeds — and this little gem, their cheerfully swinging exploration of the Fields and McHugh delight made famous by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, DOIN’ THE NEW LOW-DOWN:

“That dancing feeling / Has my feet in a trance,” state the lyrics by Dorothy Fields.  How true, when this trio is around — a sweet compact lesson in ensemble intelligence, generosity, and swing.  Happily, there’s more from this session to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

A NIGHT AT THE BOMBAY CLUB (Part One): KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMES EVANS, HAL SMITH (September 22, 2016)

bombay-club

It was my first time at The Bombay Club in New Orleans, and I know it won’t be my last.  The music was splendid — as you will see and hear — created by Kris Tokarski, piano; James Evans, reeds and vocal; Hal Smith, drums.

LOUISIANA:

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET:

DON’T BLAME ME:

BUT NOT FOR ME:

I would point out that Kris, James, and Hal aren’t involved in some densely researched multi-layered repertory project.  They are stylistic rovers, happily wandering around in the glorious present of swing, creating beautiful sounds and deeply listening to each other.  Individualists who have given their hearts to the collective endeavor.

There’s more from this glorious session.  I guarantee it.

May your happiness increase!

“VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST”

vincegirodano_poster

About seventy-five minutes into this gratifying portrait of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, trombonist and keen observer Jim Fryer describes its subject as “an intense man . . . a driven man . . . consumed” by the ideals he’s devoted the last forty years to.  And his goal?  As Vince says in the film, it is “to get the great music out there for the people.”

From his early introduction to the music — the hot jazz 78s on his grandmother’s Victrola — to the present moment, where he is the inspired creator of a ten-piece Jazz Age big band possibly without equal, Vince’s ideal has been complex. Reproduce live the sound, accuracy, and vitality of the music he heard on the records, and add to that repertoire by playing, vividly and authentically, music that never got recorded. His quest has been to have a working band, the contemporary equivalent of the great working bands, sweet and hot, of the Twenties and Thirties, visiting the Forties on occasion. Add to this the constant schlepping (you could look it up) of the equipment for that band; finding a new home after Sofia’s could no longer stay open; finding gigs; keeping this organization running against the odds.  The film wholly captures how difficult Vince’s consuming obsession is to accomplish, and to keep afloat day after day.

Many readers of JAZZ LIVES are fervent Giordanians or perhaps Vinceites, and we crossed paths for years in the darkness of Sofia’s, at the Christmas teas.  I have a long history with this band, going back to a Nighthawks gig in the preceding century, in the eastern part of Long Island, New York, where the night sky darkened, the thunder rumbled louder than Arnie Kinsella’s drum set, lightning flashed, but the band kept playing until the last possible minute before the deluge.  So I’ve experienced Vince’s dedication firsthand.

Here’s the film’s trailer — a delightful encapsulation that doesn’t give away all the surprises:

The narrative follows Vince and the band over two years and more, from Sofia’s to Wolf Trap for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with Garrison Keillor, to Aeolian Hall with Maurice Peress for a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s presentation RHAPSODY IN BLUE — the opening clarinet solo brilliantly played by Dan Block — to the Nighthawks’ search for a new home, which they found at Iguana.  The film brings us up in to the present with the New York Hot Jazz Festival and a band led by Nighthawk Dan Levinson (his “Gotham Sophisticats”) as well as a new generation of musicians inspired by Vince, who has shown that it is possible to play hot music at the highest level with accuracy and spirit.

So much credit for this beautifully-realized film, must, of course, go to its intensely-charged subject, the Nighthawks, and their music. But filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards are expert visionaries.

Even given this vibrant multi-sensory material, formulaic filmmakers could have created something dull.  They might have been satisfied to simply document performance: aim cameras at the Nighthawks and record what they play, as videographers like myself have done, which would have been accurate but limiting as cinema. Or, given the many people willing to talk about Vince and the Nighthawks, Edwards and Davidson could have given us a pageant of New York’s most erudite talking heads, some of whom would have been happy to lecture us.

Instead, by beautifully combining both elements and adding some surprises, they have created a wholly engaging, fast-moving portrait of Vince, the Nighthawks, and their world.  THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST never seems to stand still, and the cameras take us places that even the most devoted fans have never gone.  We get to peek in at Terry Gross’s interview of Vince, to travel downtown for a Nighthawk-flavored session of the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn and a recording session for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

One of the film’s most pleasing aspects is candid, often witty commentary from people who know — the musicians themselves. Edwards and Davidson have fine instincts for the telling anecdote, the revealing insight.  We see and hear Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mike Ponella, Mark Lopeman, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Cynthia Sayer, Jim Fryer, and others, people who have worked with Vince for twenty-five years and more, and their stories are as essential to the film as is the music.

Edwards and Davidson quietly capture telling details, visual and otherwise: the box of doughnuts brought on the bus; the rivets on Vince’s aluminum double bass; Jon-Erik Kellso’s hand gestures — contrapuntal choreography — during SHAKE THAT THING; the voices of the Nighthawks joking about being fired as they head into a band meeting.  The film is admiring without being obsequious, so we also see a short, revealing episode of Vince losing his temper. But the details ever seem excessive.  In this era of fidgety multi-camera over-editing, the film’s charged rhythm — appropriately, a peppy dance tempo — is energetic but never overdone, never cleverly calling attention to itself.

There’s vivid photographic evidence of the spectacle at Sofia’s and the Iguana: the tuxedo-clad Nighthawks not only playing hot but enacting it; the dancers jubilantly embodying what they hear in ecstatic motion.  A documentary about Vince would be empty without the music.  I noted SUGAR FOOT STOMP, THE MOON AND YOU, PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE featuring Catherine Russell, WHITE HEAT, SWEET MAN, Kellso burning up the cosmos on SINGING PRETTY SONGS, THE STAMPEDE, ONE MORE TIME, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON, even BESAME MUCHO at a rainy Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  And the sound recording is just splendid.

One of the secret pleasures of this film, for the true believers, is in spotting friends and colleagues: Matt Musselman, Will Friedwald, Tina Micic, Jim Balantic, John Landry, Molly Ryan, Sam Huang, Chuck Wilson, and a dozen others.  (I know I’ve missed someone, so I apologize in advance.)

In every way, this film is delightful, a deep yet light-hearted portrait of a man and an evocation of a time and place, a casual yet compelling documentary that invites us in.  First Run Features is presenting its New York theatrical premiere at Cinema Village on January 13, 2017, and I believe that Vince and the filmmakers will be present at a number of showings.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE RIVER THAT IS TIME: DAN BLOCK’S TRANSFORMATIONALISTS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 17, 2016)

I think of Dan Block as the main character in a Ray Bradbury story.  Friendly but mysterious, he comes to a small town in the Midwest and puts up a banner advertising his TRANSFORMATIONALISTS: “Time Is But The Stream We Go Fishing In / Come With Us!”  A middle-school trombonist hesitantly approaches the Magical Transormationalist, falls under the spell of the music, and when the band leaves town, she goes with them, entranced, on to glories yet undiscovered.

finshing-thoreau

When Dan has led his “Harlem in the Thirties Updated” group at Fat Cat and other venues, I’ve not counted the audience members to see if anyone went missing.  But we were certainly entranced and remain so.

A version of Dan’s magic troupe performed a brief set at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party in September 2016: Dan, alto saxophone / arrangements; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.  The repertoire came from famous bands (Andy Kirk, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter) and was written by Mary Lou Williams, Carter, and others — but it sounded fresh, rather than being a distillation of famous records.

The opener, associated with Chick Webb, HARLEM CONGO:

Mary Lou Williams’ composition (I believe Puddin’ Head was trumpeter Edgar Battle):

another Mary Lou creation:

Something for and from Benny Carter:

And, finally, an early version of climate change from the 1934 Henderson band:

Inventive and wholly satisfying.  Another version of the Block Transformationalists will be playing at Smalls on West Tenth Street on February 3, 2017, with the group that performed this music at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. Mark your perpetual calendars, please.

May your happiness increase!

HAIL, ENRICO!

No disrespect to the other musicians, but my focus is on the name at top left: ENRICO TOMASSO: majestic, determined, hilarious, tender, indefatigable, joyous.

2016-rico

And here’s The Man Himself, in two performances from the November 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, one hot, the other sweet and hot.

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

From November 4, 2016, a tribute to Mike Durham, the much-missed founder of what is now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, the venerable EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, performed by Rico with Keith Nichols, piano / vocal; Spats Langham, banjo / vocal; Phil Rutherford, sousaphone; Richard Pite, drums; Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Alistair Allan, trombone. And here is Rico’s SWEET GEORGIA BROWN from the same set.

And a day later, Enrico honoring Louis, singing and playing IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT:

Here, Rico is accompanied by Keith Nichols, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Claus Jacobi, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Emma Fisk, Martin Wheatley, Phil Rutherford, Nick Ball.  And for those hoboes who missed the train, here is Rico’s SHINE from the same set.

Mr. Tomasso is our hero.

This post would not have been possible without Eric Devine’s generous technical expertise.  (Eric is “Cine Devine” on Facebook and a world-class videographer.)

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ ON SUNDAY, and LIPS SIGNS IN

I think that on Sunday, October 27, 1968, I might have been helping my father rake leaves in the backyard, or perhaps doing my homework for the next day.  (I was in eleventh grade.)

jazz-on-sunday-cover

I can say with regret that I wasn’t at the jazz event above.  And I certainly didn’t have a video camera yet.  The forces in the cosmos didn’t work together on my behalf that Sunday — but it’s very pleasing to know that these musicians had a gig.  And that we can see the evidence now.

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Before WCBS-AM radio in New York became an all-news station, Jack Sterling had a famous morning show, which is why he would have been a good host for this concert.  Here’s more about Jack:

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From the same eBay prowl, I offer another holy relic.  True, that Oran Thaddeus Page felt that his nickname needed an apostrophe makes the English professor in me wince, but Hot Lips Page could do whatever he wanted.

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And here’s why (with the noble assistance of Earle Warren, Lucky Thompson, Hank Jones, Slam Stewart, and Sidney Catlett):

May your happiness increase!

SWING IN SAN DIEGO: KRIS TOKARSKI, CHLOE FEORANZO, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, JOSH DUFFEE (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 26, 2016)

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Kris and Chloe. Photo-montage by Alex Matthews.

This fine and nimble group led by pianist Kris Tokarski did a good deal to bring swing to the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  In addition to Kris, there was Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, tenor sax, vocal; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Josh Duffee, drums (filling in for Hal Smith, now recuperating well from being the victim of a serious car accident).

Here they are, lighting our way, with a Charlie Shavers original and a Twenties ballad.  Commentary beyond that would be superfluous: this music not only speaks for itself, it is gently, persuasively uplifting.

UNDECIDED:

IF I HAD YOU:

May your happiness increase!

IT’S SAVORY! (THE SWING TREASURE CHEST OPENS FOR US.)

JAZZ LIVES, like its creator, is a little eccentric (I write those words with pride): I don’t always rush to cover what everyone else is covering.  But in the past few days, I’ve met several people, one a brilliant young musician, unaware of the riches made available by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, the Bill Savory Collection in two volumes with more to come . . . so I write these lines as a Swing Public Service.

A Savory Disc

A Savory Disc

Here’s Loren Schoenberg, the guiding genius of all things Savory, on NPR, just a few days ago on November 6, 2016.

Let me backtrack a bit.  Some years back, the “Savory collection” was mythic and tantalizing.  Jazz fans had heard of Bill Savory, an audio engineer and Benny Goodman devotee, who had recorded hours of live material off the air in the late Thirties.  The evidence existed tangibly in a collection of BG airshots issued by Columbia Records to follow up on the incredible success of the 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert.  Some years back, the indefatigable Loren unearthed the collection.  I knew, step by painstaking step, of the heroic work that the peerless sound engineer and disc restorer Doug Pomeroy was doing in his Brooklyn studio.

Collectors were anxious to hear the Savory treasures: some made the trek uptown to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem to do auditory research. Excerpts were shared in news stories.  But we wondered about the legalities (dealing with the estates of the musicians) and the eventual price to us. Recently, we learned that at least part of the Savory material was to be issued digitally through iTunes.

Like many listeners of a certain age, I grew up with music being available tangibly.  I went to Sam Goody or King Karol and bought discs.  Others I borrowed and taped.  So the notion of, say, a Coleman Hawkins performance that I could hear only through my computer was mildly eerie.  But some of the downloaded music can be burned to homegrown CD — with a reasonably easy learning curve — and once downloaded, they won’t go away even if your computer suddenly starts to emit purple smoke.  If all of this is off-putting, one can buy a $25 iTunes gift card at the local supermarket or chain store; one can enlist someone under 30 to do the dance; one can hear treasures, most in gorgeous sound, never heard before.  And the price is more than reasonable: each of the two volumes costs less than a CD.

On the subject of money: as always, enterprises like this stand or fall on our willingness to join in.  I’m  not saying that anyone should starve the children, but this music is terribly inexpensive.  In speaking to some collectors, I found it wryly hilarious that more than one person said, “Oh, I only bought ____ tracks,” when I, being an elder, stifled my response that this was self-defeating.

In 1976, if you had said to me, “Michael, would you like to hear a jam session with Herschel Evans, Lionel Hampton, Dave Matthews, Charlie Shavers, Milt Hinton, Cozy Cole, and Howard Smith?  Give me six dollars,” I would have been removing bills from my wallet even though I was earning a pittance in academia.

I also note that some jazz fans have commented on Facebook that they are enthusiastic in theory but waiting to purchase the volume that will contain their favorite band.  If you don’t find something to admire here and now, I wonder about you.

Doug Pomeroy’s remastering of these precious discs is marvelous.  The immediacy of the sound is both intense and immense, especially for those of us used to “airshots” recorded by some amateur Angel of Hot with the microphone up to the speaker of the radio console . . . then playing the disc a hundred times. Savory had an actual recording studio and could record the radio signal directly. On a few tracks, there is some gentle static, I believe caused by a lightning storm, but it’s atmospheric rather than distracting.

Here’s a detailed essay on Savory and his collection.

Having learned how to navigate iTunes, I have been listening to the first volume for the last few days.  The second volume, sixty-two minutes of incredible live material in vibrant sound of the Count Basie Orchestra 1938-40 featuring Lester Young (also Herschel Evans, Buck Clayton, Jimmy Rushing) has proven too intense for me: I started to play the whole set and then found myself overcome, as if I’d tried to eat a whole chocolate cake in a sitting.  I can see that I will spread out this disc over a week or more of intermittent listening, and then more weeks to come.

A very literate San Francisco guitarist, Nick Rossi (you should know him!) has written, at my request, a short appreciation of a Herschel Evans solo from the first volume — to be published here shortly.

The first volume starts off with a triumph — a monumental performance, tossed off casually by Coleman Hawkins.  BODY AND SOUL, nearly six minutes (twice the length of the legendary Bluebird 78), followed by BASIN STREET BLUES, not something I’d associate with Hawkins, but it’s spectacular — also a leisurely performance.  Two Ella Fitzgerald performances remind us of how girlish she sounded at the start: irreplaceable and tenderly exuberant.  Next, a series of Fats Waller effusions live from the Yacht Club on Fifty-Second Street (now probably obliterated to make space for a chain pharmacy) where Fats is wonderfully ebullient, although the standouts for me are I HAVEN’T CHANGED A THING and YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY — the latter a new song at the time.  There’s a spirited reading of HEAT WAVE by Carl Kress and Dick McDonough (amazing as a team) and one of CHINA BOY by the Emilio Caceres Trio featuring Emilio on violin and brother Ernie on reeds.  And that jam session.

Jam sessions, when considered coolly decades later, tend to be lopsided affairs: someone rushes or drags, the tempo is too fast.  But this jam session offers us the poignant evidence of one of our great lost heroes, Herschel Evans, not long before his death.  He isn’t at full power, but he sounds entirely like himself — and the choruses here expand his recorded discography by a substantial amount.

The second volume offers what I noted above, but it bears repeating in boldface — sixty-two minutes of Lester Young and the Count Basie band in glorious sound — with more unfettered leisurely improvisation (how happy the band sounds to be playing for dancers and to have escaped the constraints of the recording studio).  I’ve only heard three tracks: a jam session on ROSETTA, a very fast I AIN’T GOT NOBODY with a Jimmy Rushing vocal, and one other.

Words fail me, and that is not my usual reaction.  I don’t think the rhythm section ever sounded so good, Freddie Green’s guitar so luminous.  My friends tell me that Lester is astonishing throughout (this I would not argue) but that there are also clarinet solos.  And in a complete loss of self-control, I found the superb full chorus for Vic Dickenson on I NEVER KNEW. Let joy be unconfined.

Here is the most expansive description of both sets, with sound samples.

I’ll stop now, because readers have already gotten the point or have stopped reading.  But please do visit the Savory Collection sites.  And I suggest that the perfect holiday gift for yourself is acquiring both volumes.  I don’t endorse a major corporation here, and I have been Apple-averse for as long as I can remember, but when the reward is Lester, Jimmy Rushing, Buck, Sweets, Jo Jones, Herschel, Hamp, Ella, Fats, Hawk, Vernon Brown, Milt, etc., I can conquer my innate distrust.  And so can you.

May your happiness increase!

“JOHN PAUL GEORGE AND DJANGO”: THE HOT CLUB OF SAN FRANCISCO

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I think I am older than Paul Mehling, but we both came up in a time when the Beatles were not only the sensational mop-tops who had made all the girls scream at concert performances but when their songs were the ubiquitous popular soundtrack.  I can remember buying each new album as it came out and listening avidly.  Of course, both Paul and I felt drawn to a different kind of music, as he writes in the brief notes to this new CD:

The idea that Django Reinhardt would have played the Beatles’ tunes has haunted me ever since I took up the guitar.  Like so many of my generation who were galvanized by their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, I became part of the ‘culture of guitar’ and never looked back.  But unlike my guitar brethren who stayed on for sex, drugs, and/or rock ‘n’ roll, I was devastated by the breakup of the Beatles and I quit listening to rock entirely, foolishly believing that the best was now over.  Luckily, I was already deeply inspired by traditional jazz — Goodman, Bechet, Dorsey, Shaw, & others of the swing era, especially Django.  This record was inevitable in that regard.

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For those impatient with words, here you can hear sound samples, learn more about the Hot Club of San Francisco, and purchase the music.

The HCSF is a venerable band — much of its personnel staying the same for a long time — and it has the ease and intensity of a working band.  The players are Paul Mehling, Evan Price, SAm Rocha, Iabelle Fontaine, Jordan Samuels, with guests Jeff Hamilton, Nate Ketner, Jeff Magidson, Michel Saga.

The repertoire neatly balances the familiar (going all the way back to 1964) and the less well-known: ALL MY LOVIN’ / BECAUSE / MICHELLE / I WILL / HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE / YOU WON’T SEE ME / THE FOOL ON THE HILL / IF I NEEDE SOMEONE / JULIA / YOU CAN’T DO THAT / FOR NO ONE / DON’T BOTHER ME / HEY JUDE – DUKE & DUKIE / THINGS WE SAID TODAY / YELLOW SUBMARINE.  Because Mehling is a gleeful subversive, there is a French group vocal, visits from musical saw, banjo, melodica, and barrel organ. It isn’t the Beatles on hallucinogens visiting an abandoned gypsy caravan, but it has immense wit, verve, and variety.  As impatient as I can be, I listened to this CD without a break many times.

In the Sixties and beyond, there were many recordings of Beatles “covers”: the Hollyridge Strings Play Lennon and McCartney; Nelson Eddy Sings the Beatles; Wilbur Sweatman Plays the Hits of Today (seriously, both Basie and Ellington attempted this, and Louis sang — most convincingly — GIVE PEACE A CHANCE).  In general, these recordings were often an attempt to bridge the generations and to give record buyers senior and junior something to purchase. But the end result was often watery.

Not so the HCSF CD.  Each song is quietly linked to the ones before and after — so the end result is a charming Beatles suite, a too-brief immersion.  But it’s also a brightly colored journey, with each track exhibiting its own glowing personality: brilliant and sometimes surprising arranging makes this delightfully possible.  And if you are worried about such things, the session swings mightily and is wonderful dance music. To describe this CD track-by-track would be to spoil the fun, but I can see why devoted fans of the HCSF had been after Paul to make a CD like this.

May your happiness increase!

“HOW SHE COOLS THEM DOWN”: ONE FOR MIKE by KEITH NICHOLS, SPATS LANGHAM, ENRICO TOMASSO, ALISTAIR ALLAN, THOMAS WINTELER, RICHARD PITE, PHIL RUTHERFORD: MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 4, 2016)

Sometimes the old songs still have surprising life in them, no matter how many decades of playing and singing they have gathered on themselves.  This performance is in honor of Mike Durham, the much-missed founder of what is now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party: it’s the venerable SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, performed by Keith Nichols, piano / vocal; Spats Langham, banjo / vocal; Phil Rutherford, sousaphone; Richard Pite, drums; Thomas Winteler, soprano Saxophone; Alistair Allan, trombone; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet.

Mike Durham (left) and Rene Hagmann, pensive, at Whitley Bay, probably 2010. Photo by Michael Steinman

Mike Durham (left) and Rene Hagmann, pensive, at Whitley Bay, probably 2010. Photo by Michael Steinman

Jazz and fun are intertwined here — from the conversational scat duet by Keith and Spats to the hot ensemble playing and the tidy soaring solos.  Nothing but lively creative music, which has always been a hallmark of the Classic Jazz Party:

The 2017 Party will take place in the last weekend of October at the Village Hotel Newcastle.  You really should check it out here.  It’s never too early to plan for such things.

May your happiness increase!