Monthly Archives: February 2017

“FROGGIE MOORE” and SO MUCH MORE: HOT CLASSICISM ON THE RIVER (KRIS TOKARSKI, ANDY SCHUMM, HAL SMITH) SEPT. 23, 2016

hot-classicism

What’s hot, has six legs, and floats?  Easy.  HOT CLASSICISM, the trio of Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet and clarinet; Hal Smith, drums, when they’re on board the steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi River — in this case, Saturday, September 23, 2016, as part of last year’s Steamboat Stomp.  But you knew the answer already.  (And in the name of accuracy, they float even when on dry land — musically, that is.)

Here’s the first half of a hot, historical but expansively creative set that this trio performed for us on the boat: with admiring glances at Jelly Roll Morton, Tiny Parham, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Doc Cooke, Freddie Keppard, Albert Wynn, Sidney Catlett, Punch Miller, and dozens of New Orleans and Chicago hot players whose names you would also know.

This Morton tune is called FROG-I-MORE or FROGGIE MOORE RAG (I think those are all the variants) and Mister Morton said it was named for a vaudeville contortionist.  No doubt:

SUNDAY, a tune that all the musicians in the world love to play, takes me back to Jean Goldkette in 1927, even though the Keller Sisters and Lynch didn’t make it to the boat:

Are your tamales hot?  They should be.  Freddie Keppard’s were:

A beautiful slow groove:

I could be wrong, but I think PARKWAY STOMP is a romp on the changes of DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL — something that was being done long before ANTHROPOLOGY and ORINTHOLOGY.  The Albert Wynn recording with Punch Miller is also an early Sidney Catlett recording, something the Honorable Hal Smith knows well:

Who remembers Tiny Parham?  Jen Hodge does, and I do, and Milt Hinton did.  So does HOT CLASSICISM:

What a wonderful hot band!  There’s another serving to come, but until then, you might investigate this delight.  And HOT CLASSICISM has gigs to come: follow Kris, Hal, Andy on Facebook.  You will be rewarded for diligence.

May your happiness increase!

“BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY: BIG BAND JAZZ ARRANGING IN THE SWING ERA,” by JOHN WRIGGLE (University of Illinois Press)

john-wriggle-cover

One way to answer the questions “Who was Chappie Willet, why haven’t I heard of him, and why does he deserve a book?” can be found here:

That was recorded in 1937 and is notable — to some — for solos by a young Dizzy Gillespie and others as members of Teddy Hill’s NBC Orchestra.  But if there were no solos to concentrate on, keen listeners would notice the depth and complexity of Willet’s composition and arrangement, full of surprises.

An extended BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY, performed by Gene Krupa:

We are trained by the “star system” in jazz to listen for soloists, to disregard the orchestral textures of a performance for the brief passages where Our Person improvises.  More erudite listeners will recognize the “charts” created by Mary Lou Williams, Bill Challis, Eddie Durham, Don Redman, Eddie Sauter, Gil Evans, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Ellington and/or Strayhorn — distinctive expressions of the writer, as recognizable as an individual soloist. John Wriggle’s superb book — a rewarding study of one brilliant arranger, his music, the world in which he operated, and the implications of Wriggle’s research — does a good deal to begin resetting the balance.

Francis “Chappie” Willet (1907-76) was a great arrangers and composer: we have heard his work for Hill, Krupa, Goodman, Armstrong, Lunceford, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, and Norvo.  Yet he is almost unknown and the wonderful settings he created are taken for granted.  Consider his arrangement of STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE for Louis Armstrong, heard here in a 1938 performance.  But here I ask the reader / listener to consider only the first fifteen seconds of this performance.  I know it’s nearly impossible to consider anything but Louis, but try:

In two pages (123-24), Wriggle provides a transcription of what is happening in that opening, and then analyzes it.  The reader need not be a musicologist to follow and enjoy this book because Wriggle writes so clearly.

The experience of reading this book — well-organized and exquisitely documented but with beautiful control (some writers, unlike Wriggle, think every dust mote is equally important and thus overwhelm a reader) — is concentric.

Were it simply a biography of Willet, it would be a thin, perhaps limited study. But Wriggle is fascinated by context — “the economic, political, and professional landscape of popular music arrangers working during the Swing Era,” so we learn about the intersection of race and visibility; how arrangers learned their trade and the various rates of pay; Willet’s “Broadway Music Clinic,” music for nightclubs, Broadway shows and theatrical revues; the various clubs and venues themselves. Wriggle examines — I oversimplify here — how Swing Era arranging worked, with close analysis of excerpts from various scores and recordings, and how each arranger had a particularly recognizable identity.  He looks closely at the fluid relationships between jazz and the Western classical canon.

The book’s scope is refreshingly broad; at one point, Wriggle analyzes Willet’s elaborately dramatic score for the Lunceford version of YESTERDAYS; a few pages later, we learning all there is to know about a new dance, THE HICKY RICKY — novelty numbers, ballads, and jazz exotica are all considered with particular enthusiasm and research.

Rare photographs add a great deal to the experience, and the collaboration of Wriggle and the University of Illinois Press is a happy one: the book is carefully presented and well-edited.  I found no misprints or errors, rare in this century. The paper edition (a manageable 320 pages) is $30.

Reading this book over the past few months, whether I proceeded chronologically or opened it at random, I was always enlightened, ever bored: a great tribute to Wriggle from an impatient and often irritable reader.  His background explains a good deal: he is a trombonist, composer, arranger, and scholar, who has transcribed period jazz repertoire for Jazz at Lincoln Center and Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, and served as music editor for Oscar-winning Hollywood film scores.

As a writer and scholar, he is thoughtful without being pedantic or theoretical, without a confining ideological bias.  To get a sense of his and the book’s virtues, I offer excerpts from his interview (from the publisher’s blog) about this work.

As an aspiring composer-arranger, I first took notice of Willet’s music in the mid-1990s, when I was co-hosting a pre-stereo themed jazz program on college radio station WKCR. I heard the 1937 Mills Blue Rhythm Band session he arranged, including a version of “Blue Rhythm Fantasy.” The combination of musical adventurousness and balanced logic in those arrangements is beautiful, and I was an immediate fan. In 1999, I composed and presented a series of “Variations on Blue Rhythm Fantasy” for a new music ensemble I was leading. But as I tried to find more about Willet through standard jazz history sources, it was always a dead end. When I applied to the Rutgers Jazz History and Research program in 2003, I decided I would see if I could make a thesis project of it. A telephone book cold call led me to a musician named Chico Hicks, who had performed with Willet during 1933-34, and the pieces finally began to fall into place.

The more I was able to discover in newspapers and archives, the more I realized what a fascinating figure Willet was. His career reflects so many aspects of the music industry during that period that it made perfect sense to build a book around him. He was really tied into the Swing Era stage entertainment scene, which is something that jazz historians have attempted to ignore for decades as too “commercial.” Willet was also involved in music publishing, home recording, talent booking, and a music school—all the stuff that professional musicians still to do today in order to eke out a living.

Similar to music performers working in recording studios during the 1920s and ‘30s, swing big band arrangers were able to cross lines of racial segregation simply because no one could see them. As long as they weren’t appearing in mixed company on the public stage, it didn’t bother the establishment so much for white bandleaders to hire black arrangers, or vice versa. Whether or not these shrouded work opportunities actually helped to break down inequality is an interesting question—and one that was debated in the African American press at the time. On the one hand, arrangers could be considered pioneers of integration; on the other hand, these less-publicized instances of black writers working for white bands could also be interpreted as another form of exploitation. Some black bandleaders even worried that black arrangers were providing unfair advantage to their white competitors, as concerns regarding music and jazz authenticity were often tied to race. The popular success that white bandleaders enjoyed while playing the music of black arrangers like Jimmy Mundy, Sy Oliver, or Chappie Willet certainly highlighted issues of racism and segregation that America was struggling with leading up to the civil rights era. Willet himself was embraced as a “race man” in the African American press: a role model for economic success in an entertainment industry that was just beginning to consider strategies for integration.

This book attempts to provide a window into the broader world of professional arranging in jazz and popular music: What were these musicians trying to do with their music? How were they trained? Where did they work? How much were they paid? And looking in more detail, I also hope to highlight the artistry involved. Audiences of arranged music are being provided more sonic information than just the song lyrics or featured solos. And a good arranger can transmit a lot of information very effectively.

BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY is a wonderfully enlightening experience.  It is readable but dense with information — an old-fashioned book not especially suited for reading on one’s phone — a splendidly-documented exploration of an artist and his musical world that will both answer and raise many questions.  I hope John Wriggle will write many more books equally wise and appealing.

May your happiness increase!

DAN BLOCK AND HIS MÖBIUS TRAVELERS at SMALLS, PART ONE (February 3, 2017): DAN BLOCK, GODWIN LOUIS, ADAM BIRNBAUM, JENNIFER VINCENT, ALVESTER GARNETT

mobius_strip

Photograph by David Benbennick, c/o Wikipedia

The image above is of a Möbius strip: it has only one side and you keep traveling around it without beginning or end.  You could look it up, as Ring Lardner wrote. It is artifact, concept, and metaphor all in one.

How does this relate to music?  First, a sample: BUGS PARADE, composition and arrangement by Billy Moore, recorded by the 1940 Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra:

It’s 2017.  How would a group of living musicians deal with this work of art?  One approach would be to attempt to reproduce it exactly: transcribe the recording, rehearse it with a select group of musicians — the same number and instrumentation — so that one could hear it live.  Hard work with often beautiful results.  Another approach — at the other end of the spectrum — would be to shatter the original through mockery, to draw an unflattering caricature of the original.

Dan Block, one of the most consistently inspired creators I know, respects the music of the Swing Era and knows it deeply, but has chosen his own path through these two polarities.  It’s hard to explain verbally, but it works in the same way the Möbius strip does: one reveres the original but opens it up innovatively (the artists we respect now were in some way all radical innovators) before returning home to the Palace of Swing.  Dan and his comrades: Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums, did this ten times at an ecstatic musical evening at Smalls on February 3.  Here are three glorious examples — which also stretch the boundaries of the 78 rpm disc above.

HARLEM CONGO, associated with Chick Webb:

Benny Carter’s lovely NIGHTFALL:

And, yes, the aforementioned BUGS PARADE:

You will notice I haven’t said anything about the players or the performances. This band is explosively energized and deeply lyrical, often at the same time.

A postscript: I hope no one feels compelled in the name of red-label Columbias and sunburst Deccas to write in, “I like the originals better.”  Consider that Dan’s reinventions are meant to honor the original lively and lyrical spirits of these Thirties recordings: otherwise why spend the time creating his own tributes? They are not desecrations in any way.

A more cheerful postscript, Dr. Eugenia Chang’s Möbius bagel and lox:

May your happiness increase!

IF THERE’S A GLEAM IN HER EYE, SHE’S LISTENING TO THIS BAND: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE at LUCA’S JAZZ CORNER (Dec. 22, 2016)

The song, THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU, music by Burton Lane (a bubbling rhythmic line) and witty incisive lyrics by Frank Loesser, first emerged in 1939 and was a big-band hit immediately for Krupa, Miller, and Goodman.  Then, in 1944, it emerged again as a Condon favorite.  I give full credit to Eddie for making it popular, with everyone from Jimmy Rowles to Annie Ross to Mel Torme to Susannah McCorkle recording it — with special notice for Marty Grosz and Rebecca Kilgore in my decades.

ladys-in-love-larger

It’s a great premise — that these are all the litmus tests one can use to determine if, in fact, the lady is infatuated — a nice change from the usual “I wish she loved me again” plaint.  Here are Rebecca and Dave Frishberg — verse and two choruses, beautifully:

But the punchy repeated phrases lend themselves to vigorous instrumental strutting, as evident in this version, created at Luca’s Jazz Corner on December 22, 2016, by Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Rossano Sportiello, and Frank Tate. Building inspectors stopped in near the end of the performance because of calls that the whole block was swaying dangerously in 4/4:

Lovely music happens regularly at Luca’s Jazz Corner (1712 First Avenue in Manhattan): a Kellso quartet will be back on March 23 . . . a clear day for hot jazz indeed.  Incidentally, if you haven’t been following the intensive JAZZ LIVES coverage of this band, this evening, here you can enjoy dazzling renditions of JUBILEE, RUNNIN’ WILD, and FINE AND DANDY.  All three song titles appropriately describe the music, too.

May your happiness increase!

I DON’T QUITE KNOW WHAT IT IS, BUT IT SOUNDS LOVELY: JON DE LUCIA, “AS THE RIVER SINGS”

As someone used to listening to jazz — first a narrow slice, then broadening and deepening — like most listeners, I am familiar with what I am familiar with.  I appreciate known melodies, improvised on in a variety of ways, as well as beautiful sounds, and I am not too embarrassed by my occasional inability or unwillingness to appreciate what others call jazz.  Sometimes, though, I hear something different, created by musicians I respect, and I am emotionally drawn to it.  I take it seriously and try to figure out “what it is,” and sometimes fail.  But in this case, my ears and my emotions tell me that the music is beautiful and worthy, even though I don’t quite know what to call it.  (Categorization can get ugly, as if I was trying to wear the jeans I wore ten years ago.)

I met the saxophonist / clarinetist Jon De Lucia in 2016, and have followed him to several gigs — in an intimate restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn; a few sessions at Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s beautiful Drawing Room; most recently to Sir D’s Lounge, also in Brooklyn.  Jon asked me if I’d like to hear the music on his new CD release, AS THE RIVER SINGS, recorded in 2014.  I listened to some of it online and said yes.  On this disc of twelve compositions by Jon, he plays alto saxophone, clarinet, Sruti Box, alto clarinet, flute; he’s joined by Greg Ruggiero, electric guitar; Chris Tordini, string bass; Tommy Crane, drums.

as-the-river-sings-cover

Before you read on, you can listen to a few selections here.  Wisely, I think, Jon has not provided a programmatic narrative of what the music is “about,” so we are free to hear.  Each track seems part of a larger suite of dance melodies, or dancing ones.  I hear Irish keening and island rhythms; the dancing underpinnings also reminded me of Anglo-American pop/dance music of the second half of the last century.  Without being a self-conscious rhythmic travelogue, the suite moves gracefully from rhythmic idiom to rhythmic idiom, encouraging the listener to feel, to muse, to sway.  Floating melodies, chiming sounds, music that one can listen to in many ways and be moved by it.

The quartet is delightfully egalitarian, so melodies and patterns are passed around and the variety is always entertaining.  Jon is a virtuoso who knows the wonders of restraint.  His tone is rewarding in itself — I think of the coinage that Darl Bundren, in a William Faulkner novel, uses to describe the ideal temperature for the water he is about to drink, “warmish-cool,” to describe Jon’s playing and his approach to his instruments and our ears.  His melodies and improvisations gently have something to tell us, but they are subtle, never banging loudly on our door.  And they sink in to our consciousness in quietly memorable ways.

I write this not only to point JAZZ LIVES’ readers towards some rewarding music on disc, but to announce the CD release show at Cornelia St. Cafe on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.  Jon and Greg Ruggiero, Sean Smith, and Billy Mintz — all heroes! will play two sets, at 8 and 9:30.  The Facebook event page is here.  And the salient details are that there is a $10 cover; reservations are recommended; Cornelia St. Underground, 29 Cornelia St., near West 4th St in Manhattan.

May your happiness increase!

THE OPPOSITE OF DESTRUCTIVENESS IS KINDNESS, OR, TAKE A LOOK AT T WERK’S WORKS

I’m reposting this February 2017 post for a reason.  I’ve never met the string bassist and energetic recordist T Werk Thomson in person, but I’ve admired his work (or werk) from when I first heard it.  Simply, about a year ago, he created in his New Orleans home a recording studio.  Not with ProTools and his MacBook, but with a Presto disc cutter, a supply of “new” 78 recording blanks, and he set out to capture good music in the best old-time ways.  And that music — detailed below — was just splendid.  As well, I applauded the splendid eccentricity of his capturing it as hot jazz, cage-free, organic, and locally sourced.  (Another product of T Werk’s studio is Charlie Halloran’s superb CE BIGUINE.)

At the end of 2017, I and others learned that someone had maliciously vandalized T Werk’s studio and destroyed his disc cutter and all that it needed to make more records.  I won’t go into the dark details — this is a jazz blog, not an episode of a television cop show — but that act seemed spectacularly mean-spirited.  Jo Anna Mae Amlin set up a GoFundMe page here and some people have been contributing.  I encourage you to do so.  As Louis sings in SHOE SHINE BOY, “every nickel helps a lot,” and one can match altruism with desire. If T Werk gets his studio running again, there will be more records for us to enjoy. So even if kindness in the abstract seems more than you can do, kindness with a reward is worth the effort.  If everyone who’s heard T Werk swing out paid in the price of a large Starbucks drink, or a beer, or (for the antiquarians among us) a CD, he would be able to reconstruct his studio quickly.  (And I should point out that Presto disc cutters and acetate blanks are not items one can pick up at the corner store.)

So: help out someone who’s already done a great deal for the music and for us.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled effusions.

The CD below is delightfully weird but the results are entirely gratifying. Perhaps that sentence should properly read “and the results”: you decide.

Exhibit A.  The process:

Twerk Thomson with Kris Tokarski and Ben Polcer, and two turntables. Photograph by John A. Dixon.

Twerk Thomson with Kris Tokarski and Ben Polcer, and two turntables. Photograph by John A. Dixon.

Exhibit A.1.a: A Presto disc cutter from eBay:

presto-cutter

Exhibit A.1.b: Blank discs, also from eBay:

presto-discs

Exhibit B. The result:

twerk-cd-cover

Exhibit B.1.a.:

bunk-popular

Exhibit C. The results, continued here.

Exhibiit D.  The explanation.  The story has different parts, which combine. Twerk Thomson is a young yet respected New Orleans string bassist, with a real understanding of the art form, often heard with the Shotgun Jazz Band.  And he, like other musicians and scholars, is fascinated by the intersection of “archaic” sound and the technology of its time. It’s one thing to get musicians into a modern studio — which, at its most “modern,” is a very restrictive environment, where musicians can barely see each other and hear each other through headphones . . . and then try to improvise music that will seem natural to the disc’s purchaser.  But what happens when you record twenty-first century improvisers with the technology of the previous century, the century that gave birth to the innovators they (and we) so admire?  The music I am celebrating in this post, created last year, is a tribute to Bill Russell’s American Music creations. And the new CD sounds wonderful.

But something needs to be said about the Presto home record cutter and discs. Before the computer and the iPhone . . . music used to be packaged tangibly on a variety of discs, and enterprising people could record their own music at home — whether it was Aunt Ella singing and playing hymns or the Paso Robles Wanderers working out the trio of MABEL’S DREAM.  I have found these discs at yard sales, and they’ve never offered something life-changing, such as a broadcast from the Reno Club, but they are tantalizing.  The whole idea is roughly parallel to another piece of archaic technology, the Polaroid camera, but I assure you the discs hold up better.

Twerk told me, “I got my first cutter about a year and a half ago, which ended up being completely useless.  So I ended up buying two more.  They come up on eBay every so often. Finding ones that were affordable was the big challenge.
Blanks come up on eBay as well but they are very hit and miss when It comes to quality. I actually ended up finding a bunch of original presto blanks on there once that were actually still usable. They came in the original packaging which was really cool.  But for higher quality blanks we use a company called Apollo, from California.”

The official version is “The performances herein were recorded live with one microphone into a Presto K8 lathe, cut directly to acetate discs at 78 rpm, and edited only for volume. All Sessions Produced by Twerk Thomson and Recorded by John Dixon, Live at Twerk-O-Phonic Studios, New Orleans, LA.”

The songs: OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / MY GAL SAL / PRETTY BABY / SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART / SWEET BYE AND BYE (Twerk Thomson, string bass; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Kris Tokarski, piano) / JADA / SHINE  / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU / NOON BLUES / MARIE / YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE / MELANCHOLY BLUES  (Twerk, John Rodli, guitar, vocal on JADA; Kris; Ben; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone) / IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / POOR BUTTERFLY (Twerk, Russell Welch, guitar; Alex Owen, trumpet; Bruce Brackmon, clarinet; Marty Peters, tenor saxophone) / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? / HOME (Twerk, tenor guitar; Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal).

Exhibit E: Twerk Thomson on Facebook.

If you’re familiar with any of the heroes recorded on this disc (and you can hear / download / purchase the music on the Soundcloud link above) you will know what to expect: music that is both romping and elegantly controlled, harking back to the Bunk Johnson – Don Ewell – Alphonso Steele trios and slightly larger ensembles.  The “vintage sound” — powerfully focused if somewhat narrower (at first) than we are used to — is so atmospheric.  The discs have occasional surface noise, whooshes and clicks, but the noise is part of the overall effect rather than something added on synthetically.  Everyone plays beautifully and with heart, so the result is not merely the documentation of a gimmick, but a melding of technology and reverent impulse.

I first heard a few of the individual sessions on Twerk’s Facebook page, and thought, “Wow, I hope he puts these into a form that people who want to get away from their computers can purchase and have.”  And he did.  So I can now time-travel to some indeterminate place whenever I want, even while driving to work.  And Twerk has also established Twerk-O-Phonic Studios as a place (a sanctuary for music!) where you can visit and record your own music onto an actual disc — a single artifact, not a mass-produced product — to have, to hear, to admire.  I don’t want this to become such a phenomenon that he no longer has time to play the propulsive string bass he does so well, but a little prosperity would be nice.

I commend this disc to you.  The music on it both embraces and transcends the technology.  And, to me, the complete idea — the musicians, the home environment, the discs — is heartwarming.

May your happiness increase!

TWO NEGATIVE STATEMENTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, MAKE A POSITIVE ONE (November 27, 2016)

ill-never-say-never-again-again

Two negative statements can make a positive one.  Oh, how very positive.  The song here is the nearly-impossible to sing I’LL NEVER SAY “NEVER AGAIN” AGAIN, by the one and only Harry Woods, and for most of us immortalized by Henry “Red” Allen or Connee Boswell when the song was new.  (Benny Goodman featured it in the Sixties, and in our time there’s a delectable version by Rebecca Kilgore.)

The narrative premise of the song (no doubt arising from the wordplay of the title) is that a couple has had some disagreement — what people used to call “a spat” or “a fight,” and the singer is now repentant, swearing endless high fidelity, which is always a nice concept.

But what we have here isn’t a matter for couples counseling or an exploration into the archives of recorded sound. Rather, it is a sweetly frolicsome duet — I think of Earl and Louis in the wings, grinning — between two of the masters, Ray Skjelbred at the piano and Marc Caparone on cornet — at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2016:

This performance is dedicated to all those wise enough to kiss and make up.

May your happiness increase!

THE UNFAILING LIGHT OF LOUIS

Photograph by Jack Bradley, 1969

Photograph by Jack Bradley, 1969

Thanks to scholar and co-producer Ricky Riccardi, another wonderful set of Louis Armstrong recordings has emerged, complete: the Mercury recordings Louis and the All-Stars made between 1964 and 1966, with the pop hit MAME and the lesser hit SO LONG, DEARIE as the most famous among them.

louis-mame-cover

Ricky has done his usual wonderfully exhaustive job of annotating these digital releases.  Here (from his Louis blog) are the notes as they can be read online. And here is the link to read his notes as a PDF.

The music is available only as a digital download through Apple / iTunes: the complete package is $24.99, each song available at $1.29.  Details here.   And, as I wrote in my post on the the new issue of Louis’ complete Decca singles, if you hate “downloads” for their insubstantiality, I understand.  I too like music in physical packages (my apartment is furnished in Early Music) but we listen to live music and go home without being furious that we can’t take the players with us; in olden days, we listened to the radio, etc.  So if you reject this music because you “hate Apple,” to quote Billie, you’re just foolin’ yourself.

Now, if you are someone who deeply feels Louis, you probably already know about these issues and might already be listening, rapt.  If you are someone new to Louis or one of the people who believes the “beginning of his long decline” happened ninety years ago, I urge you to read on.  First, some facts.

The fifty-three performances are, first, the original contents of the “vinyl” issue: MAME / THE CIRCLE OF YOUR ARMS / SO LONG DEARIE / TIN ROOF BLUES / I LIKE THIS KIND OF PARTY / WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN / CHEESE CAKE / TYREE’S BLUES / PRETTY LITTLE MISSY / FAITH / SHORT BUT SWEET / BYE ‘N BYE / then followed by alternate takes, rehearsal takes, monaural takes of BYE ‘N BYE / FAITH / DEARIE (7) / MISSY (5) / FAITH (8) / SHORT BUT SWEET (6) / CIRCLE (6) / PARTY (5) / THE THREE OF US (3).  The performances are almost all three minutes long — not harking back to OKeh 78s but to the currency of the times, the 45 rpm single that would be played on AM radio.  The other musicians include Buster Bailey, who had worked with Louis in 1924-5; Eddie Shu; Tyree Glenn; Big Chief Russell Moore; Billy Kyle, Marty Napoleon, Everett Barksdale, and more.

Louis, like other innovators, had a long history of taking “popular” material and creating immortal improvisations, so jazz fans dismayed at seeing unfamiliar titles should not be.  Not all of the songs are deathless — a few are paper-thin — but it almost seems as if the worse the material, the more room Louis has to work magic on it.  For me, the finest performances are of songs I doubt others could have done much with: SHORT BUT SWEET, THE CIRCLE OF YOUR ARMS, FAITH, I LIKE THIS KIND OF PARTY, THE THREE OF US (never before issued), SO LONG DEARIE, and others to lesser effect.

Here is the issued take of SHORT BUT SWEET:

A quietly warm melodic statement (helped by Tyree Glenn’s vibes and, for once, a rhythm guitar) leads into an equally warm vocal — on a song that resembles eight other classics — calling it “derivative” would be excessive praise.  Although the lyrics consistently disappoint, as if the writers had made a bet how many cliches they could jam into thirty-two bars, Louis is even warmer, with freer phrasing, on the vocal bridge to the end of the chorus.  And then that trumpet bridge!  “Tonation and phrasing,” passion, vibrato, and courage.  It might not leap out at a listener the way the beginning of WEST END BLUES does, but I know I couldn’t get those eight bars out of my head after just one hearing.

If you do not warm to that, may I suggest an immersion?  If it doesn’t get to you after three more playings, we may have little to say to one another.  But you might want to read to the end to discover the depths of my apparently foolish devotion.  And you might keep in your head what Bobby Hackett said to Nat Hentoff (I am paraphrasing here): “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come alive like that?”

I have a serious sentimental attachment to this music, because when this record came out, I was nearly fourteen.  This was my Louis Armstrong.  This was the heartfelt, occasionally comic entertainer I saw regularly on television — performing two songs with the All-Stars, conversing briefly and jocularly with the host, and then the show would move on to the acrobats, the writer plugging a new book, the actress doing the same for her new film.  I thrilled to these moments: Louis emerging from behind the curtain to sing and play MAME, DEARIE, later CABARET and WONDERFUL WORLD.  I lived in suburbia, a mile’s walk from several stores with record departments, and I recall going to Times Square Stores [known to some of us by our adolescent translation of its initials into Tough Shit, Sonny] or Mays or Pergaments, thumbing through the Louis records I knew by heart, and buying this new one in an excited flurry.  (My mother would have looked patient but puzzled; my father would have said, “Don’t you have enough records?” but not argued the point.) I would have disappeared into my bedroom and played it over and over.  I no longer have my mid-Sixties copy, but this recent release has brought all that experience back.

And what was there on this Mercury record?  Joy is the simple answer, with a substantial emotional range: the mocking dismissal of DEARIE, the celebration of the imaginary hedonist Auntie Mame on the title song, the blues — familiar and impromptu — the cheerful satire of FAITH, and the love songs that were CIRCLE and SHORT BUT SWEET, the alcohol-free gathering of PARTY, and more.  Each song was its own brief dramatic playlet, with a good deal of Louis’ singing and short but very affecting trumpet interludes.

He was no longer the star of the Vendome Theatre show; he was no longer playing 250 high C’s at the end of CHINATOWN.  But those age-related limitations were, to me, a great good thing.  These trumpet interludes are incredibly subtle and moving because his wisdom. Young, he could dramatically create expansive masterpieces, sometimes on record, sometimes legendary and unrecorded.  And those creations are awe-inspiring displays of virtuosity.

But we hear that this older man, with fifty years’ musical experience behind him, knows so much more about what to play and what not to — so an eight-bar passage on any song is intense, full of emotion.  Every note counts, because it has to.  And if you think this is special pleading on behalf of the elderly, ask any improvising musician to listen deeply to one of these solos.

I am not yet a senior citizen.  But I think a good deal about aging and what the proper responses might be to the calendar, the passage of days measured in the speed I climb stairs or the ease with which I carry groceries.  For decades, I’ve looked to Louis as a spiritual model.  I don’t take Swiss Kriss; I don’t tell prospective life-partners “The horn comes first”; I’m not a Mets fan.  But I think the aging Louis — as icon, as artist — has so much to tell us, no matter how old we are now.

The question we must ask ourselves is large: “Since our time on the planet is finite, what should we do with it, even if we have a long time before the final years approach?”  I think his answer, audible on the Mercury sides, is plain: “Do what you and you alone do well.  Do it will your heart.  And strive to do it better and with greater purity of intent for as long as you can.  That action is you, and it will stop only when you do.”

Whether you subscribe to this philosophical notion or not, this music is seriously uplifting.  Thank you, Louis.

May your happiness increase!

“SEPTEMBER SONG”: DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE, KERRY LEWIS, HAL SMITH (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 15, 2016)

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I think that the creation of beauty is a noble act, a way to brighten the darkness, to refresh the weary: like offering water to the thirsty or helping someone terribly lost find the way home.

These four artists — Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Hal Smith, drums — made beauty not only possible but tangible and accessible on Thursday night, September 15, 2016, at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, with their performance of SEPTEMBER SONG.  Absorb it deeply and return to mundane life with your load lightened:

 

Details of the 2017 Party are here.  It’s an extremely rewarding event — a weekend of uplifting music among friends.

May your happiness increase!

“NIGHT AND DAY”: DAWN LAMBETH / CONAL FOWKES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 27, 2016)

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A favorite singer, a favorite pianist: you can tell who’s who.

CONAL FOWKES

Thanks to the San Diego Jazz Fest, we get to delight in Dawn and Conal jauntily performing this Cole Porter classic, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard in live jazz performance in decades of watching and listening. Heartfelt unaffected singing, no tricks; ebullient playing.  Conal and Dawn work together splendidly.

Conal played and sang the part of Cole Porter in Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS: if this is typecasting, I’m all for it.

P.S. Dawn and Conal have plans for a duo CD. I’ll share details with all of you when it is completed, but, as they used to say when there were stores, “Look for it wherever better books and records are sold.”

May your happiness increase!

 

AND SEVEN TO GROOVE ON: JON DE LUCIA OCTET PLAYS GIUFFRE, MULLIGAN, BRUBECK at SIR D’S LOUNGE (Part Two), FEBRUARY 6, 2017.

jon-de-lucia-2-6-17-flyerThis is the second half of a wonderful evening of intricate swinging melodic music played expertly by people I admire.  Here‘s the first half.

And now (drumroll from Steve Little on a borrowed drumset) . . . .

Here’s PREZ-ERVATION, a tribute wrapped in another tribute: Ted Brown’s variations on TICKLE-TOE, arranged for this band by Jon himself:

Some pretty Gershwin, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, arranged by Jimmy Giuffre, a performance I would share with anyone disdainful of “modern jazz” or “cool jazz”:

Gerry Mulligan’s FOUR AND ONE MORE:

The Brubeck Octet’s LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

Bill Smith’s IPCA, variations on INDIANA:

The Encore Edition of THE SONG IS YOU, a happy reprise:

Mulligan’s SEXTET, an exhilarating romp to close off the evening:

What lovely music: propelled, sentimental, intricate yet lyrical.  Bless these players.

May your happiness increase!

“MISTER GLOOM WON’T BE ABOUT”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE at LUCA’S JAZZ CORNER (Dec. 22, 2016)

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Feeling lower than a snake’s belly?  Or perhaps is “fump” the objective correlative for now?  (Milt Hinton would be happy to explain.) Is the inside of your skull terribly dark these days?

This might help.  The elixir of life mixes the inspiring shades of Louis Armstrong and Hoagy Carmichael with the real-life inspirations offered us by Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate and someone holding a video camera — on December 22, 2016, at Luca’s Jazz Corner (1712 First Avenue, New York City).  There are no artistic or audible flaws in this video, but there are a few seconds where the focus blurs.  I wasn’t trying out new special effects, but the bright light from above confused the camera’s little brain.  However, blessedly, the sound is unaltered.  Hear for yourself:

Here is more evidence of the cosmic happiness that took place that night: RUNNIN’ WILD and FINE AND DANDY.  Incidentally, a young musician (I believe he plays trumpet) named Wynton Marsalis came in for the second set.  I am sure that he inspired the band, but I am even more sure that this delicious quartet inspired him as well.  As they did me.

Jon-Erik will be bringing a quartet back to Luca’s on March 23, 2017.  I plan and hope to be there.  You should come too.  (Other heroes — Gabrielle Stravelli, Michael Kanan, Pat O’Leary, and Ken Peplowski — have gigs coming up.)

May your happiness increase!

“I’D LOVE YOU STRONG”: ENRICO TOMASSO PLAYS LOUIS (Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, November 5, 2016)

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Today is the day after Valentine’s Day, but we know that romance does not stop when February 14 ends.  Call it what you will, the light of love or the light of Louis or both, but they shine through Enrico Tomasso.  Here, Rico plays and sings his own version of Louis’ 1930 classic at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party (on November 5, 2016) accompanied by Keith Nichols, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Claus Jacobi, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Emma Fisk, Martin Wheatley, Phil Rutherford, Nick Ball.

I suppose it took and takes a particularly sensitized listener to understand the depths of Louis’ romantic passion, playing or singing.  Even Mezz Mezzrow, Louis’ great champion, said in his autobiography that the jukebox owners in Harlem had their machines full of Louis’ records, but that they had to have a few others because not everyone heard Louis so deeply.  But Rico does, and conveys that enthusiastic passionate energy, both singing and playing.  The only thing missing here is Vic Dickenson’s visual joke — holding up TWO fingers while singing about “one hour tonight.”  Sixty minutes is just too brief an interval to love someone effectively.

As is often the case, many thanks to Eric Devine for invaluable technical expertise — Eric is “CineDevine,” an expert videographer and a good fellow.

May your happiness increase!

FEBRUARY 14: A LOVE SONG BY JIMMY ROWLES and RED MITCHELL

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A few minutes of love in jazz or vice versa: a sweet ancient Harry Barris / Gordon Clifford / Gus Arnheim song, IT MUST BE TRUE, here performed by Jimmy Rowles and Red Mitchell, piano / voice, and string bass, respectively: July 1978 in Paris.

Rowles was the most subtly surprising pianist and devilishly intuitive accompanist, but he is not celebrated enough as a singer: what he and Red Mitchell get up to here would warm the most chilly heart.  (The song was first popularized by a young fellow named Crosby, but this version makes its own tender impression.)

May your happiness increase!

EIGHT OF A MIND: JON DE LUCIA OCTET PLAYS GIUFFRE, MULLIGAN, BRUBECK at SIR D’S LOUNGE (Part One), FEBRUARY 6, 2017.

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It happened; I was there; it was superb.

Jon De Lucia, saxophonist, composer, arranger, archivist, brought together five saxophonists (including himself) and rhythm to play arrangements by Bill Holman, Gerry Mulligan, members of the early Dave Brubeck Octet, Jimmy Giuffre, and others. The reed players — from left — are Jay Rattman, John Ludlow, Jon, Marc Schwartz, Andrew Hadro; the rhythm is Ray Gallon, Fender Rhodes, Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums (playing on a borrowed set). All this took place on February 6, 2017, at Sir D’s Lounge in Brooklyn, New York — on the surface of it, an odd place for a jazz recital, but a comfortable room with very gracious staff.

Here is the first half of the evening, a generous helping of delicious sounds.

I know that some listeners still stereotype this music as “cool” or “cerebral,” but these performances definitely swing and the temperature is warm.  Remember that the inspiration for so much of this music came from Lester Young: how chill could it be?  And Jon’s leadership is very comfortable — see how happy the players are — and that pleasure conveys itself right away to the audience, with no hint of the classroom or the museum.  I told someone at the end of the evening that I felt I’d been at a birthday party.

To begin, DISC JOCKEY JUMP (or DJ JUMP), composed by Gerry Mulligan for the Gene Krupa Orchestra, arranged in this version by Bill Holman:

The beautifully gauzy PALO ALTO, composed by Lee Konitz and arranged by Jimmy Giuffre:

VENUS DI MILO, which is most familiar from the Birth of the Cool sessions, although in a different arrangement:

The classic THE SONG IS YOU:

The Gershwins’ LOVE WALKED IN, via Dave Brubeck:

The eternal question, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

Gerry Mulligan’s REVELATION, which concluded the first half:

May your happiness increase!

SATURDAY NIGHT FUN: DAWN LAMBETH, DAVE STUCKEY’S HOT HOUSE GANG, and DANCERS at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 26, 2016)

DAWN headshot

Dawn Lambeth sings; this band rocks. That’s all you need to know. Dave Stuckey, leader, guitar; Dan Barrett, Corey Gemme, brass (swapping cornet and trombone at will); Nate Ketner, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Gareth Price, drums. Recorded at the Saturday-night dance party at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 26, 2016.

DAVE STUCKEY photos

Well, maybe a little explanation would do no harm.  Dave’s band is a wonderful combination of Fats Waller and his Rhythm (with sly twists) and any number of fabled Fifty-Second Street small groups.  But not only do they swing, but Dave writes and sings hilariously inventive originals. I’d known of Dave and the Hot House Gang because of their first CD, which I applauded here.

When I met him at San Diego, I immediately perceived him to be genuine, not someone wearing a mask for audiences.  Although he and his band had only one set on Saturday night, and it was to be a battle of the bands for dancers (not conducive to my video questing) I showed up anyway, and was rewarded with this riotous performance (audibly and visually) of SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE . . . and then this collection of Dave’s originals and jazz classics.

I met Dawn in the last century, first through the medium of her CDs, and then in person, on both coasts. I was impressed right away by her swing, the gentle timbres of her voice, the subtle way she glides in and out of notes and phrases, her approach always natural.  But usually I heard her in quiet, intimate settings (duos and trios) so when she stood in front of a larger band — such as Clint Baker’s — it was a pleasant shock.  And friends have told me that she is a superb big-band singer, utterly at home in front of four brass, three reeds, and a rhythm section.  I have yet to see this for myself, but look forward to it.  I got a taste of what it might be like when Dawn sang so beautifully with the Hot House Gang.

And these three videos — through no conscious design of mine — resemble Reginald Marsh paintings in motion, no small benefit.

The Forties hit for Ella Mae Morse — cowboy plus Harlem hip — COW COW BOOGIE:

Two for Billie, inspired by but not imitating her.  WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:

And a pensive THESE FOOLISH THINGS, at a tempo to suit the dancers:

Hail, Dawn!  Hail, Dave!  Hail, dancers!  Thank you, San Diego Jazz Fest, for making this magic happen.

May your happiness increase!

BY POPULAR DEMAND, MORE HEALING WARMTH: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 25/26, 2016)

Like balm to the afflicted areas, with no side effects.  Apply as needed. And here‘s the first part of the prescription for all ailments, delivered promptly by those expert board-certified practitioners of joy, John Gill, Leon Oakley, Duke Heitger, Orange Kellin, Tom Bartlett, Conal Fowkes, Clint Baker, Kevin Dorn — drawing on the phamacopeia created by Oliver, Armstrong, Morton, Dodds, ory, Murphy, Watters, and other esteemed scientists of Stomp.

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WILLIE THE WEEPER (Parental advisory: this song depicts the use of illegal substances, although this is a wholly instrumental version):

TACK ANNIE (and thanks to Professor Gill, a major mystery has been solved):

WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO (performed by Johnny Dodds, composed by Sam Coslow, Larry Spier, and Sammy Fain — anachronistic for the late Twenties but a good song to improvise on):

NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE (thanks to the Halfway House Dance Orchestra, 1925, and later versions):

And two sides of King Oliver, late and early.  First, a request for RHYTHM CLUB STOMP (the YBS attracts hip audiences):

And early — SOUTHERN STOMPS:

I’ve learned from official sources that we will indeed see and hear the Yerba Buena Stompers at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest (that’s November 22 – 26), a pleasing bit of news for sure.

May your happiness increase!

HARMONY AND HIJINKS: DUCHESS, “LAUGHING AT LIFE”

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DUCHESS: Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, Melissa Stylianou

The superb vocal harmony group DUCHESS has released their second CD, LAUGHING AT LIFE, and it’s a wonder.

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Here’s a sample of their originality, energy, and fun: EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, at the Jazz Standard, accompanied by Michael Cabe, piano; Matt Aronoff, string bass; Jared Schonig, drums.

 

For those of you who, like me, didn’t catch every rapid-fire turn of the new “original” lyrics, here they are in slow-motion print:

How did the Bozzie’s do their rapid-fire scatting
When they yes-siggle-dirred when they double dogged their Latin
There were so many words just a flyin’ and a rat-n-tatting how?

Vet, Martha, Connie gave us all the Heebie Jeebies
Said Duchess ought to try it but you know it isn’t easy
So we gotta tip our hat to the Bozzie’s oh, they really dazzle, wow!

Harmony and hijinks are the currency we deal in
Though we love the Bozzie’s honey, no we ain’t a-stealin’
Got a style that’s all our own and we know it’s so appealing here and now!

There’s only one problem with that gloriously expert and exuberant video.  A casual viewer might assume, “Oh, that’s a Boswell Sisters cover band,” in the odd parlance of this century, drop this versatile trio into a convenient classification, and be completely wrong. Someone else might misread the group because of their “vintage” twentieth-century repertoire.

But DUCHESS is not a tour of the local museum of past greatness, and no one pretends to be anyone else.

The glory of this group is their quirky sweet transforming energy, which enables them to do so many things so beautifully and with such deep emotions. LAUGHING AT LIFE is a wonderful showcase for their swinging versatilities.

The CD’s delights begin early, with a modern-Basie version of SWING, BROTHER, SWING — where one can delight in the three piquant voices and their distinctive blend (as well as a solo by postmodern intergalactic rhythm ‘n’ blues tenorist Jeff Lederer).

Then they move into familiar (and possibly dangerous) territory . . . the 1930 SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, a song that I would guess no one has ever called “dangerous.”  But as a song, it has become over-familiar and thus open to formulaic run-throughs in the same way as PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.  But halfway through this track, after a pleasing rhythm-section interlude, something magical happens.  Whitney Balliett called a similar instrumental passage “slow-motion leapfrog,” and on this track, the three voices slide over one another, each singer starting a phrase in a different place, creating a kind of three-dimensional cathedral of sounds.

There’s the rubato voices-plus-Michael Cabe’s sensitive piano reading of the verse of LAUGHING AT LIFE.  Then, Amy Cervini’s quite definite reading of GIVE HIM THE OO LA LA, with a fine solo from guitarist Jesse Lewis, a wooing WHERE WOULD YOU BE WITHOUT ME? featuring Melissa Stylianou, and a down-home frolic by Hilary Gardner on HALLELUJAH, I LOVE HIM SO!

The tender ache of EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE is followed by the hilarity of STRIP POLKA (thank you, Mister Mercer!).  And the bonus track, DAWN, a song known to only a few, is immensely touching — its author is someone we honor for other reasons.

Buy the CD and find out all.  I didn’t linger over every track for its delights: you can find the little bowers of bliss for yourself.

DUCHESS fans already know this, but it bears repeating: each of the three singers is a very distinctive soloist, but their blending is impeccable: their intonation and diction are splendid.  The clever and witty arrangements are complex, but only truly attentive listeners will understand just how beautifully layered they are — a key change here, an almost unnoticed shift from a lead voice with support to a unison ensemble, and more.  Incidentally, there are guest appearances by clarinetist Anat Cohen and trombonist / vocalist Wycliffe Gordon to add to the mix.

Learn all the secrets here, and follow Duchess on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook if you while away the hours in such revelries.  But most important, here you can purchase / download the CD through Bandcamp. Amazon, or iTunes.  You’ll find it extremely rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

 

HEALING WARMTH: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, PART ONE (November 25/26, 2016)

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There is a small-scale blizzard outside my window, with ten inches of snow predicted, so the need for something warming — hot stomping music — is intense, and medically necessary. Therefore I present some videos of one of my favorite bands, the Yerba Buena Stompers, as they rocked the room at the San Diego Jazz Fest, last November 25 and 26th.

The YBS is a working band, with a fairly consistent personnel for the last fifteen years, and their music shows it — the friendly comfort of an ensemble where everyone knows everyone else.  I’ve seen and videoed them at a variety of festivals — most often, I think, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, which (coincidentally) is a place of friendly comfort and hot music.  (I look forward to their return appearances!)

They are: John Gill, banjo / vocal; Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone / vocal; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums.  Although — on paper — they honor the music of Lu Watters and, by extension, Turk Murphy, their roots are deeper, going back to the hot Chicagoans, Freddie Keppard, Louis, Kid Ory, Joe Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, venerable pop tunes, and more.  They honor the revered recordings, but their solos — hot and spicy — are their own.  And they make the world a warmer place.

Honoring Doc Cooke and Keppard, HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

For Kid Ory and Louis, SAVOY BLUES:

Ostensibly for Scott Joplin, but I think of Paul Mares as well, MAPLE LEAF RAG:

Turk Murphy’s theme song, BAY CITY:

A new dance from the early Twenties, SHIM-ME -SHA -WABBLE:

The snow is abating somewhat.  Thank you, Stompers!  (And there will be more video from their time at the San Diego Jazz Fest.)

May your happiness increase!

REBECCA KILGORE’S WISTFUL HEART (Mezzrow, January 18, 2017)

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Great artists make the familiar magically alive. Many of us have seen the film THE WIZARD OF OZ, perhaps as children, so the score is well-known. But at the beginning of 2017, January 18, to be precise, Rebecca Kilgore (accompanied by the imaginative Ehud Asherie) imbued the Harold Arlen – Yip Harburg song IF I ONLY HAD A HEART with yearning depths of feeling I’d never experienced before.

Rebecca said that she was inspired by the performance of the late Susannah McCorkle, but this is no copy of Susannah: it is a wistful journey all its own.  And it shows, in case anyone needed reminding, that Ms. Kilgore’s heart is large and generous.  I think she is singing better than ever; judge for yourselves.

(A word about that intrusive microphone stand: I knew it was there but didn’t feel right whispering between songs, “Could you move that stand out of the way?”  My error.  Close your eyes and listen.)

The Kilgore magic — heartfelt in many moods — is also evident on her most recent CD for Arbors Records, a duet with the splendid pianist Bernd Lhotzky, THIS AND THAT.  Here ‘s the link to purchase a copy or several.  I’ve been listening to Rebecca for years, and I think that this CD captures her voice and spirit perhaps better than any other release.  And that is saying a great deal.

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I was honored to write a few words for this release.

You know those moments in conversation when communication truly works, so that simple words carry deeper meaning – when speaker and hearer get one another? This communion can happen when musicians who live their art deeply create a heartfelt kinship. This CD captures fifteen such lovely interludes created by a most empathic pair.

While we trot along in the nature preserve of song, Rebecca and Bernd point out rare flowers and wild asparagus we would otherwise have missed. Consider the song most familiar to you on this disc. Marvel at how fresh they make it. The opening phrases of SWEET AND LOVELY are a splendid example. Study Bernd’s solo interlude before the chorus of THE BEST THING FOR YOU, and Rebecca’s transformations of the repeated words in DO DO DO into something lively and elastic. Thanks to technology, you are free to play I’M SHOOTING HIGH twelve times in a row. It’s restorative, better than the reproachful Fitbit around your wrist. I remain entranced by the way these two turn the tick-tock-tick of the verse into the free and soaring chorus.

Listening and re-listening, I ask myself, “How do they know how to do that most exquisite wiggle right there?” One answer is that Bernd and Rebecca have spent their lives hard at work but also joyously at play in the music they love. So each song becomes a fully realized lyrical playlet, a three-minute world of feeling and swing. Some of the songs bubble with optimism and hope, an antidote to the day’s news. Others, somber and mournful, remind us that art transforms sorrow into something more. We feel the beauty of the lament, the sound of yearning.

I haven’t tried to explicate this music, since words can’t ever explain the sensations of the first bite of ripe fruit. But I am delighted and awed by what Rebecca and Bernd offer here. Who could want a sweeter surprise? Better yet, fifteen sweet surprises.

Rebecca knows the way into our hearts.  We welcome her in.

May your happiness increase!

“IRISH BLACK BOTTOM”: TERRY WALDO, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY (Fat Cat, January 29, 2017)

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No, this isn’t an early celebration of Saint Patrick, nor is it a lesson in North American vernacular dance.  A week ago today, I had the delightful good fortune of being in the basement known as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street) to hear Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums.  And one of the lively excursions into hot archaeology that they offered was Percy Venable’s novelty number, IRISH BLACK BOTTOM, premiered by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in Chicago in 1926.  For the full history of this song and that performance, read on in Ricky Riccardi’s quite magnificent Louis blog.

And now, from 1926 to 2017, with a performance calculated to warm you more efficiently than heated seats in a new car:

The genial joyousness of that performance could win anyone over, even without the history.  But I also post this musical episode to reiterate a point.  Many “jazz critics” see the chronological advance of the music as one improvement succeeding another: Roy Eldridge was more “sophisticated” than Louis, Charlie Parker more than Roy, Miles and Trane and Ornette even more so. “Sophisticated” is a weighted word, especially when the appearance of complexity is taken as the highest good.  But for those who look at “Dixieland” as simple, I’d suggest that even a tune as lightweight as IRISH BLACK BOTTOM has its own sophistication, its own complicated routine, and it is not something one could pick up at one hearing, the Real Book notwithstanding.  Court adjourned.

May your happiness increase!

“PASS THE BOUNCE”: BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA at the HOT RHYTHM HOLIDAY (Jan. 28, 2017)

The charts for the BPO at Hot Rhythm Holiday.

The charts for the BPO at Hot Rhythm Holiday.

Nothing beats music, which is its own kind of prayer, for both instant and lasting spiritual relief.  No extra calories, liver damage, or worries about The Law. One of the newest groups of roving spiritual practitioners is the Brooks Prumo Orchestra led by young Mister Prumo of Austin, Texas, dancer, rhythm guitarist, and man-with-more-than-one-plan.  And we can now see and hear the results of his energetic devotion: a swing band that is serious about the music but has a large light heart.  (Thanks to Kevin Hill for the fine videos.)

Here are the band members, many of them familiar as players in the Thrift Set Orchestra, the Sahara Swingtet, Swing Central, and groups led by Jonathan Doyle and Hal Smith.  (Speaking about Hal, this gig was, I believe, his second or third after being sidelined for a time because of an auto accident.  WELCOME BACK!  WE MISSED YOU!  The sound of Hal’s drumming — his percussive insight as well as the silvery float of his hi-hat — always makes me feel good, and I know I am not alone.)

Back to the BPO: Cale Montgomery, Marcus Graf, David Jellema, trumpet; Mark Gonzales, Leo Gauna, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, Lyon Graulty, tenor saxophone / clarinet; Zack Varner, alto saxophone / clarinet; Greg Wilson, alto / baritone saxophone; Dan Walton, piano; Ryan Gould, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Brooks Prumo, guitar; Albanie Falletta, vocal.  All these very pleasing videos are on YouTube (where else?) and you can subscribe to the Orchestra’s channel .  I did.

ESQUIRE BOUNCE, arranged by Jonathan Doyle:

BENNY’S BUGLE, a mixture of Lee and Lester Young 1941-2, SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, Charlie Christian, Cootie Williams, and Benny Goodman. (arrangement by David M. Jellema, his first for this band):

BOLERO AT THE SAVOY (echoes of Krupa and Basie), vocal by Albanie Falletta:

AVENUE C (by Buck Clayton for the 1942-3 Basie band):

PASS THE BOUNCE (arranged by Lauryn Gould), vocal by Albanie Falletta:

JON’S DREAM a/k/a DICKIE’S DREAM, arranged, properly, by Jonathan Doyle:

LAST JUMP, arranged by Zach Varner:

I know that it won’t be the LAST JUMP for this swinging band for some time: wishing them many gigs, appreciative audiences, public notice, and pleasures — like the ones they give us.

May your happiness increase!