Monthly Archives: February 2017

“DO SOME STUFF”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE (Luca’s Jazz Corner, December 22, 2016)

fine-and-dandy

Two adjectives and a conjunction never sounded so good as they did at Luca’s Jazz Corner at 1712 First Avenue in New York City on the night of December 22, 2016.  A wonderful band lit up that cozy room on the Upper East Side: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass.  (And if you wonder why this video is shot from behind the band, that was the best spot to be in.  We video types learn to be adaptable or we go home sulkily without hearing any music.)

The song itself is delightful to play and improvise on, although in my childhood a few bars of it at a rapid tempo became a comic cliche.  The composers, Kay Swift (music) and “Paul James” (lyrics) are a remarkable pair — married collaborators, even though Kay had a decade-long affair with another songwriter named George Gershwin.  The song was the title number for a hit Broadway show — the first ever composed wholly by a woman.  “Paul James” was the pen name of James Paul Warburg, a high-level economist and banker whose main desire in life was to write a hit song.

I think that Ms. Swift and Mr. Warburg would find this version lives up to the song’s title and intent.

A quite irrelevant anecdote here.  For the first twenty-plus years of my college teaching career, I labored under the burden of English 101: Freshman Composition.  “Burden” because I think writing can be improved, but there has to be something there to begin with, which many of my very delightful students lacked.  Relief came in the person(s) of many students who were born elsewhere, labeled “ESL” (English As A Second Language) students.  Their idioms were occasionally wobbly, but their insights were much deeper than their American-born peers.  From them, I picked up an expression I use now, “In my country.” as in “In my country, we don’t tip the waitstaff in pennies.”

But one of the idioms they found especially hard to digest was “not only _____ but also _______.”  So, writing this post, I thought often of the renamed Swift-James song, NOT ONLY FINE BUT ALSO DANDY, but I can see why the shorter title remains.  And how true it is of this performance.

May your happiness increase! 

 

MISTER LIPSKIN PAYS A VISIT BELOWSTAIRS (Dec. 18, 2016): MIKE LIPSKIN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY (a/k/a TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT)

Pianist / vocalist / scholar / composer Terry Waldo leads his Gotham City Band several Sunday afternoons every month (from about 5:45 to 8) at Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York City.

fatcat-2__large

Fat Cat is an unusual jazz club, even considering that it is roughly parallel to two other basement shrines, Smalls and Mezzrow: Greenwich Village’s answer to the long-gone Swing Street.  A large sprawling room, it is filled with the furniture one would expect from a college student union: ping pong tables, pool tables, and the like.  One may play these games for $6 / hour and many young people do.  The bar also offers homemade pomegranate soda for $3, a remarkable boon.  Another distinctive feature of this establishment is the singular adhesiveness of their low couches: once I sit down, I drop below sea level, and know I will arise only at the end of the last set after embarrassing flailing.)

On this Sunday, Terry’s band was particularly noble: Jay Lepley, drums; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and soprano; Jim Fryer, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet instead of his usual horn.  Terry had been leading the group in his usual cheerful egalitarian fashion.  Then I saw a distinctly recognizable fellow — musician and friend — appear to my left.  It was the Sage of several states (California and Arizona), friend and protege of Willie the Lion Smith . . . Mister Michael Lipskin, known to himself and us as Mike.  He asked Terry if he could play a few . . . and he did, shifting the repertoire to two numbers rarely called in such ensembles (by Ray Noble and by Ellington) with splendid results.  And here they are:

THE VERY THOUGHT OF  YOU (at a very Thirties rhythm-ballad tempo, entirely charming):

I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT:

The latter title may be slightly ironic given the intense belowstairs darkness of Fat Cat, but the music shines brightly.

May your happiness increase!

TWELVE STRINGS, THREE IMPROVISERS: JON BURR, FRANK TATE, KERRY LEWIS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 2016)

Jon Burr. Photo by Koko Burr.

Jon Burr. Photo by Koko Burr.

I know the joke about keeping bass solos at bay by any means possible, but surely this ensemble — three very eloquent players joining together for two classics of the jazz repertoire — is remarkable in its delicacy, power, and swing.  I prefer what Milt Hinton told audiences, that the bass is the foundation, that it is basic to all music.  Milt would have loved this little gathering of like-minded creators, and he would have admired how quickly they make beautiful music with no fuss.  Yes, there’s another joke about how people talk during bass solos, but after thirty seconds and two righteous hisses of “Shush!” this music got the rapt attention it deserves.

Simple math: twelve strings, three basses, three eloquent players, four-four time, two compositions.  The results: lasting pleasure.  The musicians (left to right): Jon Burr, Frank Tate, Kerry Lewis.  The place: the Thursday-night informal session at the 2016 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 15, 2016.

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? (without the whimsical comma):

and Charlie Parker’s 1945 blues line, BILLIE’S BOUNCE, named for manager Shaw, not luminary Holiday:

This year’s Cleveland Classic Jazz Party will take place September 14-17, 2017, at the Wyndham Hotel in Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio.  Mark your calendars now, and visit here for more information.

May your happiness increase!