Monthly Archives: August 2017

MORE FROM THE FAT BABIES in DAVENPORT, IOWA (August 3, 2017: Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Fest, Putnam Museum)

What follows seems — very reassuringly — like a tour through the landscape in which Bix Beiderbecke lived, and the ways in which he created it to his own dimensions.  It’s a leisurely concert given by The Fat Babies, who are Andy Schumm, cornet; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo / guitar; Beau Sample, string bass, leader; Alex Hall — taking place at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa, as part of the 2017 Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival.

The nice video is yet another gift from “CANDC,” or “Chris-and-Chris,” who’ve also given us this delight — ninety minutes, two sets of the Babies, from the next day’s performances.

The songs are FIDGETY FEET / SUSIE /  BLUE RIVER /RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / WHEN / OUR BUNGALOW OF DREAMS / OH, BABY! / SINGIN’ THE BLUES featuring a Whiteman coda / WOLVERINE BLUES (in the Wolverine Orchestra style, arranged by Andy Schumm) / I’LL BE A FRIEND “WITH PLEASURE” [vocal by Paul Asaro]/ FUTURISTIC RHYTHM / SLOW RIVER / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / MY PRETTY GIRL.

May your happiness increase!

“THE DIME NOTES” ADD UP TO HOT JAZZ PLEASURE

Before you ask the pressing question, please look under D: Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary defines “dime note” as a ten-dollar bill.

It’s also the name of a rocking, utterly satisfying new band.  Cab would approve.

As the Elders used to say, “Here’s what I’m talkin’ about!“:

THE DIME NOTES are Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, clarinet; Dave Kelbie, guitar; Tom Wheatley, string bass.  And you can get a good idea of where their hearts lie by their chosen repertoire; ORIGINAL JELLY ROLL BLUES, ALABAMY BOUND, AUNT HAGAR’S CHILDREN’S BLUES, BLACK STICK BLUES, THE PEARLS, T’AIN’T CLEAN, SI TU VOIS MA MERE, THE CAMEL WALK, THE CRAVE, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, OLE MISS, TURTLE TWIST, WHAT A DREAM.  The first thing one notices is the presence of Morton, then Bechet, a few “jazz classics” with associations to Fats, W. C. Handy, and then compositions nobody plays: what band is delving into the Boyd Senter repertoire these days?  There’s also an original composition by Andrew, OTIS STOMP, “inspired by a small Oregon town called Otis Junction,” as Evan Christopher’s lavish liner notes tell us.

But a tune list is just that: some lesser bands would take this one and create something admiring yet completely dessicated.  Heroic, admiring copies of venerable 78s in twenty-first century sound.  That line of work can be a great pleasure, in person and on record, but THE DIME NOTES have come to play, which they do splendidly, with heartfelt understanding of all the music that has come before them and what its open possibilities are right now.

And here’s the secret of this engaging little group (a quartet that will not make you lonesome for a cornet, trombone, or drums): THEY SWING.  Let that sink in. Some groups that have given their study and energy to the music of the Twenties and early Thirties seem to have made it a point of honor to keep the rhythmic styles of the great innovators as they were, as if the way the music propelled itself in 1937 would be an insult to a composition first performed fifteen years earlier.  I don’t mean that this band plays hot jazz with a side dish of Dizzy, Bird, and Al Haig — but they do know that Count Basie walked the earth and improved it seriously.  So THE DIME NOTES benefit not only from the magnificent playing of each of the four instrumentalists, but they understand how to work together as a supple, rocking small ensemble.  To me, they are the Guarnieri Quartet of Hot.

They can swagger and soar and make it seem as if the disc in the player — the player itself — is about to take off and rocket around the room.  But they can also be tender and quiet, deeply lyrical, sorrowing, when the song calls for it.  And the disc is certified gimmick-free: no jokes, no tricks played on the listener.

This band is frankly irresistible.

And I’ve read somewhere that The Dime Notes are the only band I know to have its (their?) own chocolate bar, on sale in Whole Foods in the UK.  Until that commodity crosses my path, my hand, or my lips, I will content myself with their sounds.  Here you can buy their CD, or their “vinyl,” and see a video of them in performance.  Better than chocolate.  Longer-lasting.

May your happiness increase!

THE KISS OF JOY: ENRICO TOMASSO VISITS THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG ARCHIVES (August 9, 2017)

At an age when most of us are playing with imaginary friends or real toys, the lovely musician Enrico Tomasso was playing BASIN STREET BLUES for Louis Armstrong and — in that famous photograph — receiving “The  Kiss Of Joy” from Louis.  So when Marc Caparone refers to Rico as “anointed,” he speaks the truth.

August 9, 2017, was a very special day for me, for Enrico and his family — his wife Debbie and daughter Analucia — thanks to Ricky Riccardi, the Ambassador of Louis and Louisness.  For it was on that day that Rico came to the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College, my idea of a holy place, to sit among the wonders.  I was there, with my camera, and recorded what happened, for all to see.  The opening videos of this segment are narrative: Rico, Ricky, and family, looking at Louis’ scrapbooks and photographs.  But Rico has marvelous stories to tell: this isn’t “history”: it’s very much alive.

First, Rico’s stories of New York and New Orleans, 1971, with glimpses of Dizzy Gillespie, George Wein, and Big Chief Russell Moore:

Then, going back a bit, stories of Louis in England both in 1933 and 1968.  You’ll want to hear what Rico’s mother told him, and that Louis called Rico, “my little trumpet player”:

Looking at one of Louis’ scrapbooks — and there’s a great punchline at 4:25:

And what I find very touching, the scrapbook that Lucille Armstrong kept of letters and notes of condolences sent to her after Louis’ death.  I asked Ricky to read out the note from Spike Mackintosh, which is touching beyond words:

A little mouthpiece-talk:

“Now here comes the beautiful part”: Enrico Tomasso playing Louis’ trumpets.  Much of the memories above have shown us the grown man reliving parts of his childhood, completely dear and alive — but now we move into the much more vivid present, even though Rico says that he has “holiday chops.”

Here are excerpts from DINAH, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, I COVER THE WATERFRONT, SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, POTATO HEAD BLUES, a story Bob Wilber told about the 1947 Town Hall Concert, a cadenza, and I USED TO LOVE YOU — which the young Rico learned and sent on a tape to Louis:

And a little extra taste:

When someone, as a loving gesture, says, “Have a blessed day,” I have a good sense of where that utterance is coming from.  I usually say, “You too!  I already am.”  But August 9, 2017, with Enrico, Ricky, Analucia, and Debbie, was an especially blessed day.  The kiss of joy that Louis gave Rico in 1968 — Rico has returned to us for decades.  And this was another glowing unrestrained example of love in the form of sound, from Louis, from Rico: a great gift that warms us like sunshine.

And there will be more music from Rico and friends to come.

Rico and Louis at Heathrow Airport, 1970.

May your happiness increase!

NINETY MINUTES at HIGH HEAT: THE FAT BABIES SWING OUT at the BIXFEST (Davenport, Iowa, August 4, 2017)

For no particular medical reason aside from age-based entropy, I’ve slowed down the mad pace of recent years.  At my most passionate peak of obsession and love, I flew or drove to seven or eight jazz festivals or parties in twelve months.  I haven’t given up, just slowed down.  One of the festivals I was sorry to miss was the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival held in Davenport, Iowa, at the start of this August.  I knew that — unlike the tree in the metaphysical forest — that the bands I love would play even if I were not there to video them — but still.

So I was very glad that “jazzmanjoe100” recorded the wonderful music that Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL  performed at that festival.  And I am delighted that “CANDC” did the same for several sets: the one most pleasing being by The Fat Babies.  “CANDC” isn’t an impossible-to-pronounce word; rather, it stands for “Chris-and-Chris,” (pronounced as a rapid triplet) a Swedish pair, immaculately dressed as if going out for a carriage ride c. 1917: he videos; she dances.  In general, they both light up the place.

As do The Fat Babies, the beloved brainchild (b. 2010) of string bassist Beau Sample; featuring Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, and other instruments; Dave Bock, trombone and tuba; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo and guitar; Alex Hall, drums.  For this set, alumnus and guest Jonathan Doyle joined in on clarinet and tenor.

For this set, they offered their usually varied program that leans towards the esoteric, which is always a nice change.  They began with a hot CHANGES MADE, and then summoned up 1926 Luis Russell (in Chicago, before the incandescent days of Red and Higgy) with SWEET MUMTAZ.

I must ask: is MUMTAZ another slang word for muggles, muta, or pot?  Google has not been terribly forthcoming.

Then, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME from old New Orleans, Jon Doyle’s evocative SWEET IS THE NIGHT, and a heady — c. 1925 Henerson — MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND.

Paul Asaro sings THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, which I associate with 1928 Bing; WILL YOU, WON’T YOU BE MY BABE? — splitting its associations between McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and 1934 Louis.  It’s followed by Tiny Parham’s ROCK BOTTOM, a reed feature on THE BATHING BEAUTY BLUES, a sweet LAZY WEATHER (do I correctly think of the underrated 1936 Don Redman band here?) and a closing romp with Clarence Williams 1933 HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE.

And another wonderful helping.

Paul starts things off with I DON’T CARE (obviously not the case!), and then they move to the Nichols-associated SALLY OF MY DREAMS.  Then Walter Donaldson’s SAY YES TODAY (memorable in the Roger Wolfe Kahn version), followed by the Tiny Parham CLARICE — a wonderful hot rhythm ballad with a tango interlude.  Then, Ellington’s BIRMINGHAM BREAKDOWN; Paul and Johnny Donatowicz summon up Bing and Eddie Lang on DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? — always a good question to ask.

Next, Willard Robison’s DEEP ELM, and Frank Bunch’s FUZZY WUZZY — talk about obscure yet delightful.  Then, FOR MY BABY, a 1927 hit, mixing hot dance and romance; Paul essays TEA FOR TWO all by himself, and beautifully, echoing Don Lambert’s habit of mixing tunes with THINKING OF YOU, APRIL SHOWERS, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, FRENESI, and a few whose title proved elusive, for a wonderfully low-key display of virtuosity — where he resists the temptation to triple the tempo.

Finally MONA, thanks to Harold Austin’s New Yorkers (a double obscurity to me), and Benny Carter’s KRAZY KAPERS, based on DIGA DIGA DOO — precious to me in its 1933 incarnation and in its 2017 one: the final chorus is my idea of jubliation.

Quite a good deal of beautifully played hot and sweet music indeed.  What makes this band notable, for me, is their mastery of the late Twenties – mid Thirties hot dance sound (with arrangements that summon up the original records and in some cases, build on their glories), soloists who are convincing on a jungle romp or a danceable ballad.  But the band as a whole sounds so good: their intonation, their voicings, so people used to listening for the hot sixteen bars also find themselves admiring the ensemble.  As I do, as you will.

May your happiness increase!

A SHRINE FOR JOY: DANNY TOBIAS, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES CHIRILLO, FRANK TATE: The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, August 6, 2017

You won’t find 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, on any ecclesiastical register of shrines, but that’s their omission, one I am working to correct.  On Sunday nights, from about 8-11 PM, joy reigns when the EarRegulars are in their sacred space.  I am not being impious: many nights at The Ear Inn have left me deeply reassured, even consoled, with the feeling that beauty is possible and within our reach if we can only pay attention to it.  For me, it’s about ninety minutes away; for those of you in close connection to computers and phones, it’s even easier to find.

On August 6, 2017, the EarRegulars were Danny Tobias, trumpet; Scott Robinson, taragoto, alto clarinet, baritone saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass.

Here are two swinging benedictions for us all.

Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF:

And a song often turned in to vaudeville patter but with a big swinging heart, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

and it was late in this evening when James Chirillo created this beautiful interlude, if you haven’t already delighted in it:

The moral of all of this, which you are free to accept or reject, is that if each of us felt free to spread joy as generously and without pretension as the EarRegulars do, we would be living in a paradise of our own making now.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN’S CHICAGO DAYS (July 8, 2017)

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know the esteem that we who love this music hold Dan Morgenstern in, and I continue to be pleased and honored that he permits me to ask him questions in front of my camera.  We had another little session on July 8, 2017, and I asked Dan to tell us all about his days in Chicago.  Here are three interview segments, full of good stories.

First, stories about DOWN BEAT, Don DeMicheal, Robert Kaiser, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Harriet Choice, John Coltrane, Joe Segal, Dexter Gordon, Art Hodes, Gene Lees, and others:

and more, about Art Hodes, Jimmy McPartland, Pee Wee Russell, Norman Murphy, Marty Grosz, George Grosz, Wayne Jones, AACM, Muhal Richard Abrams, Jim McNeely, Harriet Choice, John Steiner, Edith Wilson, the Brecker Brothers:

and, finally, tales of Rush Street, Tiny Davis, the blues, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Harlem:

The warmth of Dan’s being comes through in every word.  And who else on the planet has had first-hand encounters with (let us say) both Edith Wilson and the AACM?  I have several more segments from this afternoon to share with you, and Dan and I have a return encounter planned for more.

And because a posting about Dan has to have some relevant music, here is the JUST JAZZ program he produced with Robert Kaiser, featuring Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Lou Forestieri, Frankyln Skeete, and Don DeMicheal:

May your happiness increase!

RICO RINGS THE BELL! (Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, November 5, 2016)

Anointed by Louis in 1968, Enrico Tomasso is a glowing force of nature: he never lets us down.  I’ve been able to hear and admire him a few times in Newcastle, England — which is the source of the performance below — but Rico and his charming family (that’s Debbie, his wife, and Analucia, their daughter) also visited New York City for a few delightful days earlier this month.  Thanks to Ricky Riccardi, I was able to be on the scene.  Yes, I had my camera.  More about that soon.

At the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, Rico was one of the stars of a set of orchestral jazz devoted to what was happening in Los Angeles.  And Louis visited the West Coast in 1930, so we had the immense privilege of hearing and seeing Rico play and sing a few of Louis’ great specialties, SHINE, I’M A DING DONG DADDY, and ONE HOUR.  I’d posted the first and last songs already, but thought it wouldn’t bother anyone if they were all here, at once, in their passionate finery.  The band is Keith Nichols, piano; Andy Schumm, trumpet; Alistair Allan, trombone; Claus Jacobi, Richard Exall, Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Martin Wheatley, banjo and guitar; Phil Rutherford, bass; Nick Ball, drums.

SHINE:

I’M A DING DONG DADDY:

ONE HOUR:

And should you fall into the trap of reflexively assuming that any song called SHINE must be racist, please read this and learn the truth.

Thanks again to Eric Devine for invaluable technical expertise!

The Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party will take place October 27-29 this year.  I can’t be there and Rico has other commitments, but it will still be great fun.

May your happiness increase!

APPLY HEAT: “HOT CLASSICISM” (KRIS TOKARSKI, ANDY SCHUMM, HAL SMITH) IN NEW ORLEANS, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

I’ve posted a good deal by this very satisfying band: Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet and clarinet; Hal Smith, drums, hereherehere — and a few other posts.  You could search them out without too much fuss.

Their first CD!

Because to me this music is very lively, spicy, and energizing, here are a few more gratifying performances from their evening gig in New Orleans’ Snug Harbor (during the last Steamboat Stomp) on September 25, 2016.

Very mellow, very groovy, SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY:

Is there a causal link — that she was once FUNNY THAT WAY and now she’s NOBODY’S SWEETHEART?  Calling all psychotherapists and cultural critics:

Even though it’s a warm August, chiles are good for you, so HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

The title of this Irving Berlin classic causes great merriment in the balcony, A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY:

Albert Wynn’s 1928 ecstasy, PARKWAY STOMP:

FORTY AND TIGHT (“Use your imagination,” says Kris.):

And the rallying call for this magnificent trio, STOMP OFF, LET’S GO:

Restorative, curative, no prescription needed: “Apply Hot Classicism to the inflamed area and the afflicted soul. Repeat as desired.”

May your happiness increase!

A MASTER AT PLAY: JAMES CHIRILLO at THE EAR INN (August 6, 2017)

Drawing by Dan Christoffel

I have been enjoying the art of guitarist / composer / arranger James Chirillo (and I know I have company in this) for some years now on discs, all the way back to 1985, when he appeared as a member of the Loren Schoenberg jazz orchestra then led by Benny Goodman. I browsed his discography and was amazed but not surprised to find how many of my favorite discs he is on, for musicians knew a long time ago that he had a deep yet playful intelligence.

I don’t know when I first encountered him in person (finding him serious, witty, surprising, and kind) but I can say that he allowed me to point a video camera at him a good many years ago, beginning in 2009.  He is a very serious judge of his own work but has been generous and gracious about getting captured and shown off for free, possibly because he understands the depth of my admiration (and, again, I am not alone in this.)

James has always been a peerless soloist — offering delightful surprises mixed in with a fine respect for sound and for melodies — and a wonderful team player, someone who works seriously yet with a light heart to keep the band trotting in the right direction.  I’ve written elsewhere about James’ deadpan penchant for weird notes and tones and spaces, something I cherish, but there is nothing weird about what I can present here.

Often, The Ear Inn, my intermittent Sunday-night shrine, on 326 Spring Street, home of the blessed EarRegulars, has been crowded and noisy.  Although it plays hell with my goals of a) appreciating music in a near-reverent hush and b) recording it for this audience, I understand the throng as a good thing.  People who have read about The Ear in a guidebook that calls it one of the secret New York City places that tourists don’t know about (is that a whiff of irony burning in that skillet?) keep these Sunday soirees going — as they have been for ten years.  But two Sundays ago, The Ear was wonderfully serene, and the band of Danny Tobias, Scott Robinson, Frank Tate, and James (with an early-evening guest appearance by the lyrical violinist Valerie Levy) had a good time in the peaceful admiration and pleasure.

About two-thirds of the way through the evening, after a very pleasing EarRegulars performance of a song had concluded, James turned to the band and to us, and said (low-key, wry yet plainly) that since he hadn’t taken a solo on the previous tune, he was going to take one now, and play something he had worked on, Johnny Smith’s arrangement / recomposition / improvisation on GOLDEN EARRINGS, a composition by Victor Young — the title theme of a 1947 film starring Marlene Dietrich and Ray Milland (an autographed copy of the sheet music is here just because it seems a shame not to share it):

and the movie poster:

Here is James’ tender virtuoso interlude, and it is a marvel — you don’t have to be a guitarist to understand that:

James is also that rare entity, a functioning adult: some hours after I posted the blog, he wrote to me, “Would you be surprised if I told you I consider my performance around a 7.8 compared to Johnny Smith’s 10.0? I’m not trying to be unduly self-effacing, it’s just the fact of the matter.”  I admire someone for whom realistic self-assessment is second nature, no matter that we might disagree about the numbers.

Thank you, Master Chirillo, for offering us, without fanfare, a multicolored respite from this modern world.

May your happiness increase!

ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF GOOD SURPRISES: THE MICHAEL BANK SEPTET at SHRINE (August 1, 2017)

I first encountered the pianist-composer Michael Bank sometime in late 2004 or early 2005, at a Basque restaurant called BAR TABAC in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when he was pianist in a little band that had some of my — now lasting — friends in it: Kevin Dorn, Craig Ventresco, Jesse Gelber, among others.  When I heard Michael play — evoking Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, and his own original thinking — I was impressed, and when he introduced the band’s version of ALL OF ME by quoting Teddy from PRES AND TEDDY, I went over to him at the set break and said, having introduced myself, “Excuse me, what the hell was that intro figure you did on ALL OF ME?” and we established its provenance (I am afraid I showed off by telling him I’d gotten Teddy’s autograph on that album) and I knew he was someone to pay attention to.

But I knew only a fraction of the totality of Michael Bank, and my admiration grew when I heard him lead his Septet.  The official press release calls this band “a four-horn group in the mainstream jazz tradition,” but that is a serious understatement.  For this gig, the Septet is Tony Speranza, trumpet;  John Ludlow, alto saxophone; Matt Haviland, trombone; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone; Ben Rubens, string bass;  the esteemed Steve Little, once again playing a set of drums not his own, with one happy exception being a beautiful snare drum lent for this gig by our friend Kelly Friesen.

Michael is an intriguing composer of originals that sound, at first, familiar, but then take their own twists and turns: not into dissonance, but into surprising melodies and voicings.  I think of his compositions as beginning in the 1951-55 Johnny Hodges band book and then deciding to move around by visiting Jaki Byard (a model and mentor to Michael), and going their own ways.  What underpins all of this is Michael’s delighted commitment to a rocking swing motion rooted in Ellingtonian momentum.  The Septet’s modernism is curious and amiable; the dissonances or unusual voicings do not treat the audience unkindly.  One could dance to this band, and that impulse comes from the Septet’s roots as a backing band for The Silver Belles, a veteran tap dance troupe. But like Ellington, Michael sees the beauty in simple forms: he loves the blues and how they can be asked to soar; he doesn’t find the Past something to be rejected but he conceives of ancient inspirations in his own ways.

Having taken the wrong subway line (Michael suggested that this post should be called TAKE THE 2 TRAIN, which amused me but would require too much explanation) I went up hill and down dale to be at this one-hour gig at the Shrine Music Venue at 134th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, but I was seriously rewarded for my aerobics with music that balances lightness and density.

Here are four extended highlights of this all-too-brief gig:

FALL AND RISE:

THE AZTEC TWO-STEP, which is its own kind of choreography:

Jaki Byard’s ONE NOTE:

TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:

I know it is hard to keep a band together without regular gigs, but I certainly think that Michael’s Septet is eminently worthy of a comfortable venue, a nice piano.  If you swing it, they will come.  Or perhaps.

May your happiness increase!

“THE THRUSH AND THE SKINMAN” (January 18, 1944)

I will explain my odd title-quotation below.

Billie Holiday and Sidney Catlett in concert at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, January 18, 1944.

And here is the soundtrack: DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME, BILLIE’S BLUES, and I’LL GET BY, with Billie accompanied by Roy Eldridge, Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford, and Sidney Catlett:

And you all know that Louis Armstrong, Teddy Wilson, and Mildred Bailey appeared, with the Goodman Quintet being beamed in from the other coast.

When I bid on and won that photograph of Billie and Sidney on eBay, it came with a small rectangular strip of yellowed paper taped to its back, which read

THE THRUSH AND THE SKINMAN

“Two top jive artists are shown at the Esquire All-American jazz concert, held at the Metropolitan Opera House on January 18th. Billie Holliday does the vocalizing as drummer boy Sid Catlett pounds the skins.”

I am nostalgic about 1944 music, but I am glad that no one feels compelled to write that way anymore.  Incidentally, when I looked online to see where this picture might have appeared — searching for THRUSH and SKINMAN — I got a whole host of entries about candida, male and female yeast infections. Mmmmmmm.

My unanswered and unanswerable question about the photograph has to do with it being a posed, rather than candid shot.  Notice that neither of the two participants is in motion; there is no blur.  So.  Did the photographer say to the two of them presumably before or after the concert, “Billie, Miss Holiday.  Could you come over here?  We need a shot of you and Sidney — how do you people say it — giving each other . . . some skin?”  And for those who like metaphysics, which one put out a hand first for this hip charade?  I know the photograph is in some ways fake, but the emotions behind it are not.

P.S.  If you’re going to lift the photographic image for use on your own site, be my guest.  I wouldn’t disfigure it with a watermark . . . but real gents and ladies also write, “Photo courtesy of JAZZ LIVES.”  Thanks.

May your happiness increase!

WHO WAS MIKE DURSO AND WHERE DID HE GO?

I would guess that hot jazz, especially the Chicagoan variety, would have upset Hercule Poirot’s delicate stomach, but we could use his help on this matter.  This posting owes its existence to my new jazz-friend (although I’ve read his work for a long time), Larry Kart of Chicago.  I’ll let Larry start us off:

You may be way ahead of me here (at least I hope you are), but listening to the radio Saturday, I heard this 1927 track “The New Twister” by The Wolverines (Bix’s old band under the leadership of pianist Dick Voynow, with Jimmy McPartland taking Bix’s place). The music has IMO a proto-Chicagoans feel (the first McKenzie-Condon sides were shortly to be made). Drummer Vic Moore has a nice a “Chicago shuffle” feel going, 17-year-old reedman Maurice Bercov, says Dick Sudhalter in “Lost Chords,” had “heard Johnny Dodds and the rest on the South Side but worshipped Frank Teschmacher, emulating his tone, attack, off-center figures … he wound up recording two months before his idol [did] .”

But who the heck was trombonist Mike Durso, who takes the IMO impressively fluid solo here?

Thanks to “Atticus Jazz” for the lovely transfer of this rare 78, as always:

The personnel of this band is listed as Dick Voynow, piano; director; Jimmy McPartland, cornet; Mike Durso, trombone; Maurie Bercov, clarinet, alto saxophone; unknown guitar; Basil Dupre, sb / Vic Moore, d. Chicago, October 12, 1927.

Back to Larry:

By contrast, here is THE NEW TWISTER played by Miff Mole and the Molers (with Red Nichols, et al.) from the same year. Mole’s trombone work here is not without its charms, but in terms of swing and continuity, it’s day and night, no?

To complicate matters (or to add more evidence) here is the reverse side of that disc, SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

Larry continues:

The guitarist on the Wolverines track is Dick McPartland, Jimmy’s brother. Bercov’s contemporary, pianist Tut Soper, described him as an “extremely galling, sarcastic and difficult man.”

Looking for more on Durso, I came across this “moderne” 1928 piece by trumpeter Donald Lindley, “Sliding Around,” on which Durso may be a sideman. (There’s no trombone solo though.) Jazz it’s not, though it’s certainly aware of jazz — those oblique references to “Royal Garden Blues.” That’s Lindley , b. 1899, in the cap [the YouTube portrait]:

The beautiful video is by our friend Enrico Borsetti, another one of my benefactors, and the Lindley side eerily prefigures the Alec Wilder Octet.

Finally, here is LIMEHOUSE BLUES by “The Wolverine Orchestra” which might have Durso audible in solo and ensemble:

After Larry had asked me about Durso, and I had to confess that I’d barely registered his name or these recordings, and I had no information to offer (he’d stumped the band), I went back to the discography and was pleased to find that Durso had a history, 1923-28 and then 1939: recording for Gennett under the band name “Bailey’s Lucky Seven” which had in its collective personnel Jules Levy, Jr., Jimmy Lytell, Red Nichols, Frank Signorelli, Hymie Farberman; then Sam Lanin, with Vic Berton, Merle Johnson, Joe Tarto, John Cali, Tony Colucci, Ray Lodwig; sessions with the Arkansas / Arkansaw Travelers, a Nichols group where the trombonist may be Mole or Durso.  That takes him from 1923-25; he then records with Ray Miller, with Volly DeFaut.  All of this takes him to 1926, and all of it is (if correctly annotated) recorded in New York.  The Wolverines sides above are in 1927, in Chicago, as a re 1928 sides with the larger Wolverines unit, Donald Lindley, and Paul Ash (a “theatre orchestra,” Larry says).

Then, a gap of a decade, and Durso, in 1939, is part of the Vincent Lopez Orchestra, recording for Bluebird.  Then silence.

I realize that discographies are not infallible research documents, and that Durso might have made dozens of sides that a jazz discography would not notate, so I am sure this listing is incomplete and thus not entirely accurate.  But, to paraphrase Lesley Gore, I think, it’s my blog and I’ll surmise if I want to.  I am going to guess that Durso, probably born around 1900 or slightly earlier, was one of those musicians who could read a tune off a stock arrangement, blend with another trombone in a section, improvise a harmony part, knew his chords, and could — as you hear above — play a very forward-looking solo given the chance. Remember that THE NEW TWISTER came out in 1927.  Who were the trombonists of note?  Ory, Brunis, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Harrison, Charlie Green, Benny Morton, Mole, perhaps Charlie Butterfield.  Teagarden may or may not have impressed everyone yet.  (I am sure I have left out a few names.) Durso had technique but wasn’t in love with it, and his playing is lightly swinging and mobile; his solos make logical sense, with no cliches.

So between 1923 and 1928 or so he is what we might call “a studio man,” who obviously is known for his improvising ability, otherwise he would not have been in the studio with McPartland.  (Scott Black!  Did Dugald ever mention Mike Durso?)  More speculation follows.  I can safely assume that pre-Crash, Durso might have made a living as an improvising musician, but at some point the safer employment of sweeter big bands might have called to him.  Did he have a family to support?  Did he perhaps appreciate a regular paycheck playing in theatres and dancehalls as opposed to playing in speakeasies?  I can’t say, having even less that speculation to go on.  Did he die after 1939, or do some war work and decide that getting home after 5 PM with a lunch pail was easier than being a hot man?

The trail goes cold here.  Perhaps some readers can assist us here.  I know that you know, to quote Jimmie Noone.  And if no one can, at least we have the collective pleasure of having heard Mike Durso on THE NEW TWISTER. Thanks in the present tense to Larry Kart; thanks in advance to those of you who will flood the comments section with information.

May your happiness increase!

MARIANNE SOLIVAN’S EXUBERANCE (July 20, 2017)

MARIANNE SOLIVAN by Gulnara Khamatova

My current life is imperfect and (not “but”) I am deeply grateful for it.  One of the aspects of it that deeply warms me is living in a world where creative people are my friends. Even though we don’t see each other on a regular basis, one of the people I treasure is the extraordinary singer Marianne Solivan.  I was first introduced to her by the equally splendid Michael Kanan — this was in 2011 (!) and followed her around with a video camera a few years ago. We most recently encountered each other last September at an awards ceremony.  Hugging ensued.

Marianne has always had a powerful emotional connection with what she is singing: she doesn’t stand back and view the song with a cool postmodernist glance.  No, she’s IN it before she utters a syllable, and that’s entrancing.  It isn’t “acting”; rather it’s experiencing in the moment.  You can feel the music flow through her, as she embraces each note and syllable before passing it along to us.

But what I love most about Marianne’s performing is her willingness to take what someone else’s GPS says are wrong turns and make them inescapably right and rewarding.  Sometimes she even appears to be conversing with the song, “Song, what would you think if I emphasized this note, or held off on this phrase in an unexpected way?  How would you like that?”

She has a true playful spirit, she loves experimenting, and her internal compass never fails.  Drop her in strange surroundings, she makes friends; she sniffs out congenial places; she’s not afraid.  Ask her to sing in the wrong key, and she makes a banquet of it.

And so it is with the performance captured at Luca’s Jazz Corner — with Josh Richman, piano; Matthew Parrish, string bass — on July 20, 2017.

Watching and hearing this for the first of many times, I was laughing –Marianne is a great comedienne who hasn’t scripted a thing — while delighting in the music and the beauty she makes.  A courageous striving soul, a great spreader of joy.  I am honored to know her.  Seek her out here, on disc, and in person.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON MICHAEL HASHIM (PART ONE: July 19, 2017)

“Triptych,” photograph by Phillip Johnston, 2017

One of the first musicians I met when I returned to live jazz in New York (2004-2005) was the wonderful drummer Kevin Dorn, and through Kevin I met a number of musical individualists.  One who made a powerful impression on me was saxophone master — no hyperbole here — Michael Hashim , whom I have heard over the years, memorably, on alto, tenor, and soprano.  If you’ve been on the scene since the middle Seventies, you’ve run into Michael (sometimes “Mike”) playing with everyone from Jimmy Rowles, Benny Carter, Sammy Price, the Widespread Jazz Orchestra, and now with a variety of small groups and happily with the Microscopic Septet.

The saxophones of the Microscopic Septet: Phillip Johnston, Michael Hashim, Don Davis, Dave Sewelson, 2017

Michael is also singular because of his sharply focused memory for people and sounds and events (and, sometimes, absurdities) and his wide range of interests. I can talk with him about art, comix, photography, literature, and I will come away more deeply informed.  You will also see in these video interviews his dazzling articulateness: none of this is scripted, but he’s never at a loss for words: he’s not affected but his speech is polished and balanced.

Earlier this summer, as another tributary to the interviews I’ve been doing with Dan Morgenstern (and there are more), I casually asked Michael if he’d be interested in sitting for my camera.  He was, and so we spent a few hours on the afternoon of July 19, my admiring Michael’s insights and feeling terribly fortunate that I could record them for posterity.  And, as you can see, he enjoyed himself.

Incidentally, since I called on Michael (in the words of that venerable magazine feature by Pete Martin in The Saturday Evening Post sixty years ago) to tell us stories, to be a spiritual tour guide to worlds that many of us never encountered, I have chosen photographs of his very expressive face — without the ubiquitous saxophone attached.

Here are two of the five segments I recorded: lose yourself in Michael’s tales. They are memorable and irreplaceable, full of surprises.

First, a wonderful collection of faces and places, including — in one breath — Miles Davis and the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, memories of the great jazz film collector David Chertok, ending with words of wisdom from patriarch Jon Hendricks:

Second, recollections of Jimmy Rowles and his world:

And since Michael is music as well as words, here is a 2012 duet performance with pianist Spike Wilner of a beautiful Ellington song:

There’s more to come.  How reassuring it is to me to know that Michael Hashim exists and flourishes.

May your happiness increase!

PAT KIRBY SINGS! AGAIN! “THE BOY NEXT DOOR” (1954, Steve Allen, The Tonight Show)

For me, this beautiful story started in a thrift store in Westbury, New York. Details (and music) here.

More friends helped me find Pat Kirby herself — a person as gracious and gentle of spirit as her singing; I met David Fletcherwho’s really a new addition to my family, and then, springing up from the maze of Facebook, there appeared the wonderfully generous Anthony DiFlorio III — who opened his toybox to share this gem with me, and with you: Pat Kirby singing I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU, which resulted in my rapturous post here.

Last night, I saw the Facebook notification that someone had sent me a message, which is usually a pleasure, and it was Anthony with this astonishing manifestation, which I can now share with you.

If you think I am overdoing it (and who am I to argue with you?) simply understand this: it is one thing to hear a voice come out of a speaker from a piece of flat plastic.  And with many of our musical heroes, this is all we will ever have. Perhaps a photograph or two to muse over.  But then you are offered the opportunity — now opportunities — to see that person in action, especially meaningful when the person is a singer.

Once again, there is a good deal of Steve Allen prelude, but what follows makes the world seem brighter: Pat Kirby, posed in what is apparently the same theatrical simulation of a forest glade, singing THE BOY NEXT DOOR, by Ralph Blaine and Hugh Martin.  A few words first.  I was at first amazed to see and hear Pat adopt a “bigger” approach to this very tender melody, which makes sense: each song is its own script, and the quiet restraint of her performance of I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU — which is a kind of secular hymn — might have been too restrained for the yearning of this song.  Too, THE BOY NEXT DOOR was powerfully associated with Judy Garland, who’d performed it ten years earlier in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS.  In no way is Pat attempting to emulate Judy — she was her own artist! — but there is more open expression of passion in this performance.

xxxxx

 

xxxxx

THE BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE: JOE POLICASTRO TRIO, “SCREEN SOUNDS”

I’ve always been fascinated by the music filmmakers used, detached from the films themselves.  Get those actors, children, animals, props out of the way: remove the dialogue, let us hear the sounds.

The very imaginative and lyrical string bassist Joe Policastro has created a new CD, SCREEN SOUNDS, that is more than gratifying.  With Joe are guitarist Dave Miller and drummer Mikel Avery, and their music is as good as any film that holds viewers spellbound.

You can tell from the cover — serious and whimsical at the same time — that this is no trip back to the Fifties, LEROY HOLMES AND HIS ORCHESTRA (or the 101 Strings) PLAY MOVIE  THEMES, but neither is it MUSIC TO TORMENT YOUR HOUSEMATES WHO DISLIKE JAZZ.

This project is a happily inventive — and I would say audacious — creative enterprise.  It’s not nostalgia, although the themes from famous films and television shows are initially recognizable.  But the trio thoughtfully “re-imagines” the original music which is, in most cases, evocative.  Audacious?  For one thing, the original music was almost always scored for larger ensembles, so that reinventing it for this trio is both ingenious and loving (you’ll note that “irony,” or deconstruction is not their purpose).  “We put such a personal stamp on it [the original material] that these things belong to us” stands as a meaningful comment in the video above.

Here is the trio’s fascinating look-from-the-inside-out at the theme from YOJIMBO, as thoughtful and deep as a film on its own, mixing lyricism and strangeness (and that’s a compliment):

YOJIMBO’s dark brooding is, however, not the one musical theme of the CD. EVERYBODY’S TALKIN’ mixes melancholy and swing, sweetness and forward motion: the end result seriously danceable.  But it’s not pandering to an imagined audience in any way: even when the Trio is respectfully sounding out the melody, theirs is not cocktail music for the reception: you have to provide your own hors d’oeuvres.  (You’ll want to.)  The theme from THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS has its own dramatic arc, but it’s not like anything that came out of anyone’s television on a weekday afternoon.  COOL HAND LUKE is surprisingly light-hearted (it works its way into a shuffle) helping me imagine an alternative screenplay where the convicts form a band and get paroled to gig.

I’ll stop here (although I am writing this blog having listened to the CD several times with great pleasure) so that you can find out the lyrical pleasures of this imaginative travelogue for yourselves.  Popcorn optional.  You’re on your own.

Here you can preview and purchase the CD; here you can see and hear their version of the theme from THE KIDS IN THE HALL and find out where the Trio will be performing next.

May your happiness increase!

COMPLETE! (AND COMPLETELY DELIGHTFUL): HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL (August 2017, Bixfest, Davenport, Iowa)

I take a great deal of pleasure in being associated with this fine rewarding new band, one that mixes Chicago jazz, Kansas City small groups, heat and lyricism. It’s the beloved creation of drummer Hal Smith, and he’s assembled a fine crew to make memorable sounds: Steve PIkal, string bass; Dan Walton, piano / vocals; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet.  I’ve written about them here — including comments on their debut CD, WINDY CITY SWING, whose cover is pictured above.

I could not make it to the 2017 BixFest held in Davenport, Iowa, just a week ago, but I am delighted to report to you that all the music made by Swing Central was captured by jazzmanjoe100, who is known to his banker as Edward.  But we’ll call him Joe in this post.  I’m grateful to him, and you will be too, for his diligence.  Joe and I use different cameras and have different ways of presenting music to the eager audience on YouTube, compiling one-hour DVDs which might encompass the first set of one band and then a portion of another band’s performance.  I have tried to elaborate on what’s on his videos, and the hidden pleasure is that they will lead you to other videos of his featuring the Fat Babies and Dan Levinson’s Roof Garden Jass Band.  But here is ALL of Swing Central, which is a great gift to us.

From Thursday, August 3, 2017, after the Bix Youth Orchestra (at 32:00) CHANGES MADE:

Continuing that set: ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY / CHINA BOY / SWEET IS THE NIGHT / WHOLLY CATS / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL / BEAT ME, DADDY, EIGHT TO THE BAR (vocal Dan Walton) / LESTER LEAPS IN:

Friday, August 4, starting at 15:30, after the end of a Fat Babies set and some welcomes, HELLO, LOLA!, HI, FISHIES, BATS ON A BRIDGE, BLUE LESTER, ROLL ‘EM PETE, REPEATER PENCIL, PEE WEE’S BLUES, IT’S BEEN SO LONG, FROM MONDAY ON:

Later on Friday:  JELLY ROLL / FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / LONG DISTANCE MAN / LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / PIG FOOT PETE (voc Dan Walton) / SHIVERS / I SURRENDER, DEAR / HAL, YEAH!:

From Saturday, August 5, at 49:50 (following a set by Dan Levinson’s Roof Garden Jass Band), Hal and Swing Central play MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (with conversation) / BIG AL:

Continuing that set: Jon Doyle’s WINDY CITY SWING / Frank Melrose’s BLUESIANA / Jamey Cummins’ THE SHEIK OF AIR B N B / LOUISE / THREE LITTLE WORDS / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN / ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE :

And from that evening, after nine minutes of Josh Duffee’s Greystone Monarchs, Swing Central comes on [and do they ever!] with THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU / SUNDAY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / PIPE LINER’S BLUES (vocal Dan Walton) / LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / I NEVER KNEW / POOR BUTTERFLY / LITTLE GIRL:

and from a different point of view, thanks to TunefulTravel, POOR BUTTERFLY:

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:

What a band!  I look forward to finding SWING CENTRAL at other festivals, and I know that many of you will agree with me.

May your happiness increase!

PAT KIRBY SINGS! (Steve Allen, The Tonight Show, August 8, 1955)

This post is entirely due to the generosity of a like-minded collector, Anthony DiFlorio (of Philadelphia) who is a scholar of what now seems very distant — a time when great art came in to our living rooms through the television set. Earlier this week, Anthony uploaded a short clip from Steve Allen’s TONIGHT SHOW — predating Carson and his successors — from August 8, 1955.

I don’t find much ancient verbal comedy all that hilarious, but Allen deserves gratitude because he presented the best music he could to an audience that might not otherwise have experienced it.  In this, he is to be treasured as a pollinator spreading beauty and joy over the airwaves.

What makes Anthony’s present to us so precious is that we can now see and hear Pat Kirby tenderly and thoughtfully sing I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU (by “Paul Madeira” — ex-Goldkette pianist Paul Mertz — and Jimmy Dorsey) after Steve gets through reading a telegram from Bob Hope, the latter promoting his new motion picture, THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS.

If “Pat Kirby” is someone you don’t know, you will want to.  Here are the results of my research, posted on June 20 of this year.  I was guided by serendipity, or by the cosmos, to find her one long-playing record in a thrift store, and the rest is immense gratification.  The trail leads to the real Pat, who is happily very much with us.  I hope, later in this year, to meet her.  Yes, that!

What makes her so remarkable is what I perceive of as a total clarity of vision.

Some women singers of the time (and ours) took a seductive approach to their audience. They could sing, but it was secondary: what was important was a theatrical carnality, where they seemed to ask, “Wouldn’t you like to slide my dress off one shoulder?”  Others were more boisterous, at higher volume, with everything in motion, simulating some version of a Twenties speakeasy or a Vegas show.  Others proffered girlish charm as reason to pay attention, “Don’t you want to come to the beach with us?”

Although she is quite young and lovely in this performance, Pat Kirby explicitly chooses none of these paths, and to a viewer expecting flash, an invitation to the boudoir, or a beach volleyball game, initially she seems austere, reserved.

For the first two-thirds of the song, she gazes straight ahead, her only motion coming from her face and the slightest motions of her hand.  I don’t think anyone can be wholly without ego, but there is no trace of LOOK AT ME in her performance.  It is as if she has willed herself to disappear into the song.  She is rapt, thus so are we.

What Pat chose (and since the medium of video makes all things present, chooses) to offer us is tenderness, intelligence, warmth — focused on the lyrics, then the melody, then the song’s complete emotional message.  Her stillness is riveting because she has chosen to do nothing that would distract us from the song.  She is quiet, serene — but paradoxically commanding our attention in the least ostentatious way.  She believes the words: she IS glad that “there is you.”

Her precise diction isn’t artifice, but the expression of an artist who knows that every single syllable is crucial.  Her pure voice concentrates on the melody line, and her physical stillness — a stance I associate with art song — is matched by her willingness to let silence come between the notes and phrases.  I find her focused restraint memorable.

I am grateful to Anthony for making this affecting interlude available to all of us. And as for Pat Kirby, my writing “I’m glad there is you,” is an easy punchline, but it is no less true.

May your happiness increase!

THE WARM SOUNDS OF BILL NAPIER (1926-2003)

Clarinetist Bill Napier might be one of the finest musicians that few people outside of California have ever heard, or heard of.  Marc Caparone says, “I only played music with him twice, but he was a god, a very quiet man who didn’t get much publicity but was always superb.”  Leon Oakley remembers him as a “warm, creative player.”  Hal Smith told me that Bill cared about the music more than “traditional” ways of playing a chorus.

Almost all of the recordings Bill made, and the live performances captured outside of the studio have him in the middle of six or seven-piece units.  What I now can share with you here is intimate, touching music, with Bill the solo horn in a congenial trio.

The personnel of these live recordings is Napier, clarinet; Larry Scala, banjo; Robbie Schlosser, string bass.  They were recorded on August 8, 1994, outdoors at Stanford University, by Dr. Arthur Schawlow, who won the Nobel Prize (with others) for his work on the laser beam.  Dr. Schawlow not only liked jazz, but was an early adopter of high-tech: Larry says that he recorded these performances on a digital recorder, the first one he had ever seen.

Here are five delicious chamber performances, beginning with ALL MY LIFE.

ST. LOUIS BLUES:

I’M CONFESSIN’:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

IF I HAD YOU:

and a masterpiece:

Napier’s sound comes in the ear like honey.  He never plays a superfluous note; he honors the melody but in the most gentle supple way.  It is rather as if he were leaning forward, softly saying something heartfelt that was important to him and that he knew would uplift you.  Beauty and swing without affectation.

Before we move on to precious oral history, a few words about one of the other members of this trio.  After you have bathed in the liquid gold of Napier’s sound, listen once again to the very relaxed and gracious banjo playing of Larry Scala. Like Napier, he understands melodic lines (while keeping a flexible rhythm going and using harmonies that add but never distract).  Banjos in the wrong hands can scare some of us, but Larry is a real artist, and his sound is a pleasure to listen to.  (You can find examples of his superb guitar work elsewhere on this blog.) And this post exists because of his generosity, for he has provided the source material, and Larry’s gift to us is a great one.  Music to dance to; music to dream by.

I asked California jazz eminences for memories of Napier, and this is some of what people remembered.  Bill was obviously A Character, but everyone I asked was eager to praise him, and you’ve heard why.

From Hal Smith: I was going through tapes in the archive of the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation. One tape had several of the bands which performed at the Clancy Hayes benefit at Earthquake McGoon’s in May of 1970. Napier led a band for the occasion. I heard him get onstage, walk to the mic and say “Here we are!” Then, a couple of seconds later, “Where ARE we?”

By the way, Bill’s real name was James William Asbury.  I’m not sure how it got changed to “Bill Napier.”  When he would tell stories about his youth, or time in the Army, he always referred to himself as “little Jimmy Asbury.”

Bill told me about the clarinetists he admired, including Jimmie Noone and Jimmy Dorsey. He also liked Albert Nicholas and went to hear him at Club Hangover in San Francisco. He asked to sit in, but was turned down. As he described it, “I asked Albert Nicholas if he needed any help and he said he didn’t think so.”

Bill was the original clarinetist with Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band. He left the group following Jack Sohmer’s mean-spirited review of Schulz’s CD which was published in The Mississippi Rag. After that, whenever Schulz would ask if Bill was available to play a gig, Bill would say, “No. Jack Sohmer may be in the audience.”  Before he left the Schulz band, we played a concert at Filoli Mansion outside San Francisco. M.C. Bud Spangler asked each musician to explain why they play music for a living. There was a wide range of responses, but Bill’s was the best: “Well, I have to pay my taxes!”

From Clint Baker:  Bill Napier was a bit of a prodigy, as a teenager he was playing at the Dawn Club as part of a young band that was one of the substitute bands for the wartime Yerba Buena Jazz Band.  By the late 40’s he was working with Wingy Manone in San Francisco. He went on to have a couple of stints with the Turk Murphy band and also with Bob Scobey, a band for which he was better suited for sure. He later worked with all the better bands around here; he was not all that interested in playing music on the road and kept close to home for the most part after the Fifties.

I encountered him many times when I was coming up.  He was always the consummate sideman, and always played with great imagination; he had the most amazing tone, liquid would best describe his.  But he NEVER ran out of ideas, he was a wellspring of original musical thought. If he did fall back on a device such as quote, it was always the most obtuse thing one could come up with.

Bill was one of the only players I ever played with who perfectly combined the elements of swing clarinet and New Orleans style clarinet; he all at once sounded like Goodman or Shaw or Simeon or Bigard.  He was hip to all of it and could combine all of the musical DNA of those styles in to his own rich sound. I remember speaking with him about to old masters and he told Simeon was one of his main favorites.  BUT he was truly his own man with the richest of musical imaginations.  I was always honored to work with him, and wish I had had more chances, but the times I did, I cherish. You knew when you were on the bandstand with him you were in the presence of greatness.  Bill was a master.

From Paul Mehling: I worked with him for nearly thirty years in a trio of bass, guitar, and clarinet, and he is on two of our CDs.  He was very shy, quiet, and private. He loved his two (or more?) cats. He and his wife would take the two cats camping and one year when it was time to leave they couldn’t find one of their cats. They called and called but feared he’d been abducted or eaten so they drove home very sad. Next year, they went camping again, same spot/campground. Guess who showed up!  They were overjoyed.  He never really believed how much I loved his playing and all I aspired to at that time was to be GOOD ENOUGH TO SHINE HIS SHOES (musically). I used to try to get into his head during each song and try to give him the kind of rhythm that he’d be most comfortable with.

I was 18 when I first played a full gig with him, but I first met him at the Alameda County Fair when I was 16, long-haired, and didn’t know anything about music but had enough gumption to drag my acoustic guitar into the fairgrounds and find those guys- Lueder Ohlwein, banjo; maybe Ev Farey, trumpet; for sure Bob Mielke, trombone, was there and probably Bill Carrol on bass.  They said Do you know any songs?” I said “Sure, whaddabout Avalon and I Got Rhythm,” and probably one other song.  I played, they liked it, and a few years later Napier remembered me!

He and I bonded early on over comedy. He liked how often I quoted Groucho. We had a shared love for bad puns:
Napier: “Let’s play the suspenders song.”
Me: “ What song is that?”
Napier: “It all depends on you.”
Me: “What?”
Napier : “It hold de pants on you.”

Napier: “You like to golf?”
Me: “Uh, no. You?”
Napier: “No, I never wanted to make my balls soar.”

We’d come up with all manner of re-titling songs to keep us from feeling bad about playing background music and getting almost zero love from “audiences.”

When the Bob Scobey band did a two-year stint in Chicago, Benny Goodman used to show up just to dig on Napier’s playing (which sounded like Goodman/Bigard/Noone!

One thing for sure: the guy never did NOT swing. Never. Even a song he didn’t know. In fact, and more curious was that I could throw all kinds of (gypsy) chord substitutions at him (I didn’t know any better, I thought that’s what jazz musicians did: reharmonize everything) and he never, EVER said “No” or so much as cast an evil eye in my direction. I think the years he played with Bill Erickson at Pier 23 were his favorite years.  He didn’t speak much of Erickson, but I could just tell.

Oh, here’s the BEST story. I just remembered: we were at a swanky Sunday brunch on the Stanford Campus, near that big Stanford Mall with Bloomingdales and other stores.  We would often try to engage diners by chatting and asking if they had a request. Most people wanted to hear something from CATS (ugh). Or they wanted to hear In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.  So we went up to this table, and there’s a guy there, of a certain age. With an attractive woman half his age.  One of us said, “What would you like to hear?”
Man: “ I want to you to play “It Had To Be You” but not fast, about here- ….”(snaps his fingers indicating a medium slow tempo)
Me, aside to Napier: “Why don’t you ask MR. CONDUCTOR what KEY he’d like to SING it in?”
Napier, whispering to me: “I think MR. CONDUCTOR is MR. Getz.”
Boy, did I feel stupid: Stan Getz, doing a residency at Stanford, one of Napier’s heroes.

Obviously, a man well-loved and well-remembered.

I have foregone the usual biography of Bill, preferring to concentrate on the music for its own sake.  But here is a lovely detailed sketch of his life — unfortunately, it’s his obituary, and here is another week’s worth of rare music — Napier with bands — provided thanks to Dave Radlauer.  There are more trio performances, also.

Now, go back and listen to Napier play.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S CLASSIC! THE CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 14-17, 2017)

Scott Robinson at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party

Over the last dozen years, I have been to a variety of jazz parties and festivals, all of them deeply rewarding in singular ways.  But I have the longest ties to the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Once it was Jazz at Chautauqua, then the Allegheny Jazz Party . . . but even when the name changes and the CCJP finds a new hotel to nest in, its spirited heart remains the same — very reassuring.  I also have a long history of writing about it: the very first post I did (2008) on this blog was called GOIN’ TO CHAUTAUQUA, and I’ve been posting videos from it for perhaps seven years now also.  Here is the post I wrote about the Party in June of this year: it has glorious music from Hal Smith, Frank Tate, and Rossano Sportiello at its center, too.

For those who shrink from Facebook as from Hades, the CCJP’s site is here.

Details?  On cornet / trumpet, Duke Heitger, Randy Reinhart, Andy Schumm; on trombone, Dan Barrett; on reeds, Dan Block, Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson; on guitar / banjo, Howard Alden, Andy Brown; on piano, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, John Di Martino, Rossano Sportiello; on string bass, Joel Forbes, Nicki Parrott, Frank Tate; on drums, Ricky Malichi, Pete Siers, Hal Smith; on vocal, Petra van Nuis; gypsy swing quartet, the Faux Frenchmen; historian (giving a presentation on Ella’s centennial) Phil Atteberry.

On Thursday night, there’s an informal session (for donors and weekend patrons only) that begins at 7:30.  Friday begins with Phil Atteberry’s presentation on Ella (10:30-11:30) and then there are piano solos from 2-4 and an evening set from 5:30-11 and an hour’s set — anything goes — in the “Jazz Club.”  Saturday, music from 10-2 and again from 5:30-11 and 11-12.  Sunday, 9-1:30.  That is a banquet of music and good feeling, and because all the events are in the same hotel, there is no scuttling between one site and another.  Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock are kind and attentive to detail, so things work.  I booked the hotel some months back, and a plane trip more recently.

There’s nothing like being on the scene, digging the sounds, among like-minded and likeable people.  Now, some video evidence.

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As musicians used to say, “Don’t sleep on this one.”  As I say, “It’s only six weeks away, and the CCJP has been known to sell out — not in an aesthetic way, mind you.  See you there!

And — to get darker, but only for two bars.  Money and health and plans get in the way of people attending parties and festivals and gigs, and no one could take those facts lightly.  But I meet so many people who say, nicely, “Oh, I’d love to go there.  Maybe in a couple of years!” and when the couple of years have passed, the “there” is no longer there.  If you can, bestir yourself.  Events — as large as the CCHP or as compact as the guitar trio at the local restaurant on Friday — vanish without your support.  And doing is always better than wishing you had done.  What’s gone is gone.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S “SWING CENTRAL” GETS IT: BIX FEST (August 3, 2017)

Even though it’s been in existence only a short time, SWING CENTRAL, the beloved brain-and-heart child of drummer and inspiration man Hal Smith, is one of my favorite bands. Here is what I wrote about it on the occasion of its debut CD, whose nifty cover is pictured below. 

I was not able to make it to hear / see / video SWING CENTRAL at the BixFest, but fortunately “jazzmanjoe” caught a set, with nice sound.

The members of this compact swinging ensemble are Jonathan Doyle, clarinet; Dan Walton, piano / vocals; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums / leader.  In this set, they play WAY DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS; DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY; CHINA BOY; SWEET IS THE NIGHT; WHOLLY CATS; I WANT A LITTLE GIRL; BEAT ME, DADDY, EIGHT TO THE BAR; LESTER LEAPS IN.

A few words about the band and its delightful repertoire, or maybe more than a few.  From the top, borrowing Eddie Durham’s words about Ed Hall, “Hal Smith doesn’t know how to not swing,” which means to me that his beat is irrresistible. If you put on a CD (or “record”) in another room that started with eight bars of Hal’s hi-hat, I would a) know who it was before the passage was over; b) be smiling; c) put down whatever I was doing in the other room to come closer to the speaker to soak in the swing.  Hal also has a capacious imagination: he can most effectively put together a band devoted to Kid Ory, or the Watters-Scobey-Murphy world, but he really likes supercharged small groups that float and fly, and he’s got a long list of such groups with many wonderful recordings.  As he says on the video, he was moved to create SWING CENTRAL as a band that could play “Chicago style,” but was earnestly connected to the delicate heartfelt traceries of clarinetists Lester Young, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Chace, among others: which leads me to the bold statement that (aside from the one evocation of Charlie Christian on this set) NO OTHER BAND SOUNDS LIKE THIS.

Festival promoters, please take note.  SWING CENTRAL is the doctor-tested remedy for audiences shrinking because of dulling sameness.

A long pause for calm.

Pianist Dan Walton is a hidden gem.  Like the rest of this band, he never plays a formulaic or dull note or phrase.  He’s absorbed all the great styles and recordings, but — thank heavens — he isn’t on the planet to play them note-for-note unless requested.  His solo work is quiet but it rings in the mind; his ensemble playing is just the thing, and his boogie-woogie sounds real.  I’d like to hear a Dan Walton solo or duo CD, and hope that this idea can be realized soon.

Jamey Cummins.  In a landscape of guitarists who sound fraternally similar, young Mister J.C. stands out as a gifted inventor of long spinning lines, someone whose rhythm playing rocks.  He plays himself, and that’s a wonderful thing.

I got to meet the ebullient Steve Pikal on my recent Nashville trip, and he’s a wonderful creation: you can’t tell where he stops and where the music begins, or, put it this way, his unwavering good humor, expressed in a nearly perpetual smile, comes right through his string bass.  He loves Walter Page and Pops Foster and Milt Hinton and all the propulsive people in the great tradition, and you hear his love.

Jon Doyle is a great poet who might never have written a sonnet, but each chorus is a new effusion, whether tender or searing-hot.  He’s captured the whimsical souls of the musicians he admires, but what comes out of the end of that stick of grenadilla wood is entirely Doyle.  He’s not copying Lester, Pee Wee, or Frank; he is showing himself as someone who understands their beauties and has taken from them new ways to be himself.

You’ll notice that the tunes in this set (and when you buy the CD, the same applies) are often familiar — think of WAY DOWN YONDER and CHINA BOY (the latter more often mentioned than played) are in some hands “Dixieland classics,” but here they are springboards for elegant new improvisations.  But something remarkable: other bands can play Hot, and often at a higher volume, but SWING CENTRAL has its own special tenderness: not only Jon playing a ballad, but the subtle textures of the rhythm section, of Hal’s brushwork — of a band that knows that power isn’t volume, that the way to make an audience feel is not necessarily to whack it over the head in performance after performance. A quintet of swing poets, inspired by Milt Gabler and other lights in the darkness. May they prosper.

We’re so lucky that Hal had this idea, and that he and his friends made it happen.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS MUGGSY SPANIER, GEORGE BRUNIS AND THE ELEPHANT, EDDIE CONDON and FRIENDS (April 21, 2017)

Still more from our friend and hero Dan Morgenstern, recalling those days when the boundaries between “styles” weren’t quite so high or solidly built: the “Dixieland” scene in New York of the late Forties and the Fifties, with quick portraits of George Brunies (or Georg Brunis) but also Steve Lacy.

Brunis is legendary — from the New Orleans Rhythm Kings to Ted Lewis to Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtime Band and Eddie Condon, as well as his own groups, but he’s not often heard.  Here he is in concert in 1947 — his own blues, which gives a very good idea of his ebullient personality (along with Joe Sullivan, Pops Foster, and Baby Dodds):

Here’s Brunis’ “two Irishmen” version of IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, featuring Max Kaminsky:

YouTube offers videos of Brunis with Art Hodes in 1968 and with Bobby Hackett, Eddie Condon, and Pee Wee Russell thirty years earlier.  But enough prelude: here’s Dan:

The segment ends incompletely, which is my fault, but it means that when Dan and I meet again I will ask him about Cecil Scott, a hero of mine.  And of his.

May your happiness increase!