Monthly Archives: September 2017

“GET RHYTHM IN YOUR FEET”: MICHAEL GAMBLE’S RHYTHM SERENADERS

Photograph of some of Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders by Sandlin Gaither. Musicians on the record but (very sadly) not pictured: Laura Windley, Lucian Cobb, Dave Wilken, Jason DeCristofaro.

Even for those who are as fortunate and entitled as I am, this world can seem like a tough place.  In the past two weeks, I’ve had conversations with men and women about various remedies: prescriptions for anti-depressants, brisk walks in the sunshine and yoga, finding the truth in Jesus, living a Buddhist or a Judaic life, Louis Armstrong, hugging, coffee, and more.

All of this is true, and not invented for the purposes of a nifty opening paragraph. If something works for you, I would be a mean-spirited fool to mock it.  I find the most evident manifestations of beauty, of joy, of love, in music.

I write to call your attention to a wondrous new CD by Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders, titled GET RHYTHM IN YOUR FEET.  I know that title may seem to some a plain encouragement to dancers — feel the groove, get up on the floor (but watch your floorcraft!) and Swing.  But for me it means so much more.

First of all, any band that uses a song by the Blessed Alexander Hill to announce themselves is already deep in righteousness.  Hill gave himself to the music wholly and is thus a minor deity in my world, and the song says (better than I will do it here) that your ills can be cured by embracing rhythmic music.

The new CD not only says this truth; it embodies it.  Had you been able to peek in my window a few hours ago while I was playing it again to write this blogpost, you would have seen me grinning and clapping my hands to the music.  It’s that joyous and that right.  For those who want to skip to the punchline, you can purchase the disc — in a number of ways — here.  Of course, the ideal way would be to be present at a Rhythm Serenaders’ gig (even, if like me, you flunked ballroom dancing) and buy copies from the band / the leader.  Here is the band’s schedule, so you can see if they are coming to a nicely polished wooden floor near you.

As a relevant digression, here is what I wrote about the Serenaders’ first CD.

“Why is Michael so excited about yet another ____________ CD?” some of you might be muttering to yourselves.  This one sounds deeply genuine, a very honest evocation of, say, 1935-45. The band knows the original 78s but isn’t copying them in every aspect.  The (flexible) tempos seem right, never stiff or too far forward into the beat.  The band isn’t in a hurry to get to the end of the number. The arrangements cheer and inspire; they aren’t little prisons.  The music breathes, is alive, is human — created by real musicians who live in the twenty-first century but who venerate the music of the great Ancestors with every cell of their bodies.  The band can play as hot as you’d want, but they have a tender side (MEMORIES OF YOU) which I cherish as well.  The band has a wonderful rhythm section, delicious ensemble playing, fine soloists, and one of my favorite singers, Laura Windley, whose voice is like the pleasure I take from my first bite into a splendid local apple: just the right mix of crisp, tart, sweet.

And ths CD passes the JAZZ LIVES test: when I come to the last song, I start it up again.

Now for some details: the musicians are Michael Gamble, string bass, arrangements, leader; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Keenan McKenzie, reeds; James Posedel, piano; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Russ Wilson, drums; Noah Hocker, trumpet; Josh Collazo, drums; Gordon Au, trumpet; Jason DeCristofaro, vibraphone; Laura Windley, vocal; Lucian Cobb, trombone; David Wilken, trombone.  (Not everyone plays on every track, but you’ll have to buy the CD to figure out who’s on the stand at any given time.)

The songs: GET RHYTHM IN YOUR FEET / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / ON THE ALAMO / IT’S TOO HOT FOR WORDS / NAPPIN’ JOHN / GOT A PEBBLE IN MY SHOE / WHOA, BABE! / OH, LADY BE GOOD! / RIGAMAROLE / HOW COULD YOU? / DOWN HOME JUMP / DON’T MEDDLE IN MY MOOD / BREAKFAST FEUD / MISS BROWN TO YOU / DON’T BE THAT WAY / MEMORIES OF YOU.  (Scholars will note the homage to Teddy, Billie, Benny, Ella, Chick, and Charlie . . . but also to Willie Bryant, Lionel, Cootie, Basie.  Gamble knows his Swing.)

And here’s what Michael Gamble has to say about the CD — modest and perceptive:

For the second record, I wanted to showcase a hotter, older repertoire than the first, and to particularly hone in on songs that would’ve been known to dancers of the mid-to-late thirties: An imaginary “must-have” collection of greatest hits for lovers of the Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa, Slow Drag, Shag; all the Peabody and One Step dancers, Savoy Ballroom regulars as well as followers of the Tin Pan Alley hit factories. Stomp tunes such as “Rigamarole” (by bandleader, early jazz disc jockey, and so-called “Mayor of Harlem” Willie Bryant) – a blazing tempo hop-across-the-coals for Jitterbugs of all stripes. Riff-fests like “Down Home Jump” and “Whoa, Babe!” (recorded by pioneering jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton) that served no higher purpose than to pull people onto the dance floor as if hypnotized by that infectious sound.

The other thing I tried to do was to serve up a sweet sample of some of the most beautiful songwriting from that time period, using as a jumping-off point the repertoire Benny Goodman seemed to hold onto over the years as his “cool down” pieces and small group features for himself. Tunes like “On the Alamo” and “Memories of You” are elegant demonstrations of the nostalgic sound that become popular as the Great Depression was winding down. The sentimental-but-smart elocution Laura Windley brings to the band pays respect to vocal performances by Kay Starr, Helen Ward, and of course Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, each of whose work is lovingly represented here.

Nothing more needs to be said, except this exhortation: Buy this CD.  Whatever your mood, it will improve it.

May your happiness increase!

HAMILTON!

This isn’t a blogpost about Alexander Hamilton, or about Lin-Manuel Miranda, or even about the Jeff Hamilton who plays drums with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.

It’s about “our” Jeff Hamilton, shown above — seriously “above,” some  years ago. He is one of the great subversives, often in all caps.  Evidence:

But his music is serious, even when Jeff is giggling.  Here he is on the drums, with Marc Caparone, cornet; Butch “John” Smith, alto; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Mike Fay, string bass in Paso Robles, California, in August 2013:

I first met Jeff as a pianist, a delightfully melodic, swinging one, through recordings.  Then I encountered the drummer, the rough-hewn lyrical trombonist, the secret vocalist . . . each of his selves completely rewarding. During my California sojourns, I saw Jeff play with Clint Baker, Ray Skjelbred, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Rebecca Kilgore, and others — always lifting the band.  And I will see and hear him again at this November’s San Diego Jazz Fest, which is a pleasure.

Photograph by Angela Bennett.

Most recently, Jeff Hamilton Jazz, a trio of Jeff, piano / vocal; Clint Baker, trumpet and more; Robert Young, saxophones, played a gig at Eric Whittington’s San Francisco   Bird and Beckett Books.  (Eric has extraordinarily good taste: note the Josef Skvorecky books on the table.)
The indefatigable videographer and fan Rae Ann Hopkins Berry —  known to her YouTube flock as  SFRaeAnn — was right in front on the evening of September 23, and she captured much of the music performed that night.

Here are several performances that give me special joy.  One is Jeff’s quiet vocal and eloquent piano on CABIN IN THE PINES (a song that triangulates perfectly, with vocal recordings by Bing, Mildred, and Louis) while Clint does his Louis on trumpet:

Here’s my favorite song of romantic self-abnegation, I SURRENDER, DEAR (with Jeff Hamilton Jazz at full strength):

Once the imaginary lovebirds settled who was surrendering to whom, and why, they could head to Capri to enjoy themselves, thanks to the ghost of Wingy Manone:

And, suitably enlightened, the couple could settle into Buddhist enlightenment, embracing uncertainty:

On December 2, the Baker / Hamilton Trio will again visit Bird & Beckett Books. Perhaps this time Jeff can be prevailed on to do his Fuzzy Knight tribute.  One can only hope.

Until then, I urge you to visit his website and learn the truth, that he is the REAL Hamilton.  Accept no imitations.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS, CONTINUED (July 8, 2017)

Our good fortune continues.  “Tell us a story, Dan?” we ask, and he kindly obliges.  And his stories have the virtue of being candid, genuine, and they are never to show himself off.  A rare fellow, that Mister Morgenstern is.

Here are a few more segments from my July 2017 interlude with Dan. In the first, he recalls the great clarinetist, improviser, and man Frank Chace, with glances at Bob Wright, Wayne Jones, Harriet Choice, Bill Priestley, Pee Wee Russell, Mary Russell, Nick’s, Louis Prima, Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes, Frank Teschemacher, Eddie Condon, and Zutty Singleton:

Here, Dan speaks of Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, Whitney Balliett, Charles Edward Smith — with stories about George Wein, Stan Getz, Art Tatum, Sidney Bechet:

and a little more, about “jazz critics,” including Larry Kart, Stanley Dance, Helen Oakley Dance, and a little loving comment about Bunny Berigan:

If the creeks don’t rise, Dan and I will meet again this month.  And this time I hope we will get to talk of Cecil Scott and other luminaries, memorable in their own ways.

May your happiness increase!

THE JOHN OCHS CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF SEATTLE: RAY SKJELBRED, JIM GOODWIN, HAM CARSON (April 8, 1988)

Jim Goodwin, photo courtesy of Dave Radlauer

There are musicians, and there are people who make the music possible: record producers, archivists, concert promoters, club owners, managers, and more. Think of George Wein, Norman Granz, Milt Gabler, Jerry Newman, (even) Joe Glaser, George Avakian, Bill Savory, the Ertegun brothers, and three dozen more.  To this list must be added the name (and living presence) of John Ochs, who has generously produced records and CDs on his Rhythm Master label. I have long admired those recordings, but hadn’t known of John as a video-archivist prince until meeting him (and wife Pamela) at the November 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, when he told me of the marvels I can share with you below.

A youthful Ray Skjelbred, again courtesy of Dave Radlauer.

John is also the authority of Northwest Pacific boxing promoter Jack Hurley, and has just published a three-volume bio-history.  Details here.  (I have no interest in boxing but was caught by these irresistible stories.)

But this post is about some treasured music — by heroes — that I hadn’t known existed.  It’s my pleasure to let John himself introduce it:

The video was recorded at the RhythmMaster recording session in my basement on April 8, 1988.  I borrowed a neighbor’s video camera with auto-focus (as you will see, only sometimes, and even then it was not very good).  The session featured primarily Ray Skjelbred on piano and Jim Goodwin on cornet.  I asked reed man Hamilton Carson to come around for second half of the session to add another voice. Unfortunately, the footage from the session’s first half (the entire portion of the session featuring Jim and Ray as a duo. Damn!) was stolen in a house break-in along with the VCR with which I had been reviewing it.

What remains is the last part of the session just as Ham had come aboard. Unfortunately, after a few tunes, our “cameraman,” had to leave early, and the special lighting was dimmed and the camera put on auto-pilot for the rest of the session.  The quality of the video is not up to your normal standard, but despite the major focus problems, I think it is worth sharing.

Goodwin’s cornet work here might seem a little ragged to some people.  Certainly he is blowing a very breathy horn.  There are several reasons for this.  For one thing, this session took place at a lull in Jim’s musical life when he had moved back to Portland to live with his mother.  What little music he played was mostly for himself on the upright piano in the living room rather than on the cornet.  So also, Jim being the Jim Goodwin we know and love so well, was never one to place a premium on the condition or quality of his horn.  If it had a few leaky valves or hadn’t been cleaned in a while, that was just a challenge to be navigated around rather than fixed.  Most importantly though, as a follower of such musicians as Wild Bill Davison (maybe his earliest as well and most enduring influence), Rex Stewart, Red Allen, and Herman Autrey, etc., Jim naturally gravitated to an expressive, earthy-toned method of horn playing.

These aspects of his style are in full display here, but, more importantly, the footage provides a visual closeup of the creative warmth and vitality Goodwin brought to his music and to the musicians in the band.  When Ham Carson blows an especially beautiful solo, Jim is right there listening and encouraging him. And when the solo ends, Jim can hardly wait to take his turn, not to upstage Ham, but to continue the mood and complement the good work he has done.  So too, when Skjelbred acknowledges Goodwin’s descending run with a tip of his own musical hat, Jim is quick to return the compliment with a smile even as he gets on with the business of making music.  It was this infectious use of his creativity, and his desire to make the band sound better, which made him such a joy to work with and to listen to.  Jim simply brought out the best in those around him. I hope that these video clips might help round out the picture of Jim Goodwin, the musician, and afford those who never saw him play an opportunity to visualize what was happening on the bandstand or studio when they listen to his other sound recordings.

This video also may serve to introduce many of your viewers to the music of clarinetist Ham Carson.  It may be hard to believe, but I am quite sure that neither Goodwin nor Skjelbred, who at the time lived in Berkeley, California, had met Ham prior to the the session. Ham moved to Seattle from Los Angeles about 10 years earlier and had been a fixture in Seattle’s jazz circles ever since. I was familiar with Ham’s affinity for Chicago-style (i. e., Pee Wee, Tesch) playing and thought the styles of the three musicians would be compatible.  Boy, for once, was I ever right!  Ham fit right in!  His playing here is impressive throughout — prodigious even.  As for Ray’s playing on the session, no comment is required.

My dear friend Candace Brown shared two pieces of journalism which are more than relevant.  Sadly, they are obituaries, but written with care and warmth: Ham Carson and Jim Goodwin.  If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know of my reverence for pianist Ray Skjelbred, who is very much with us as I write these words.  

But enough words.  To the music, which speaks louder.  Than.

PART ONE: Recorded by John Ochs, April 8, 1988. Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jim Goodwin, cornet; Ham Carson, clarinet: EMALINE; GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU; COPENHAGEN; RUNNIN’ WILD.

PART TWO: RUNNIN’ WILD (concluded); SQUEEZE ME (piano solo); I AIN’T GOT NOBODY; NOBODY’S SWEETHEART.

PART THREE:  NEW BALK BLUES; POOR BUTTERFLY (Carson-Skjelbred duet); DIGA DIGA DOO; SAY IT SIMPLE; TRYING TO STOP MY CRYING.

A few things need to be said.  First, ninety minutes of this!  Second, many “rarities” are more rare than gratifying: I hope you all will take the time to savor this hot chamber music recital.

To me, there are four heroes in these three videos: Skjelbred, Carson, Goodwin, and Ochs.  Their generosities uplift us, and we are grateful.

May your happiness increase!

“RADICAL SWING TRIO”: TAD SHULL, ROB SCHNEIDERMAN, PAUL GILL at MEZZROW (September 3, 2017): THE SECOND SET

On September 3, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Mezzrow, that shrine for fascinating rhythms and floating melodies, to hear two sets by tenor saxophonist Tad Shull, pianist Rob Schneiderman, and string bassist Paul Gill.  Ted called the group his “Radical Swing Trio,” which to him means a return to the roots: strong melodies, logical emotive improvisations, lovely ballads.  And, as I said the first time, don’t be put off by “Radical”: this trio would have been forward-looking but comfortable in the fabled New York jazz past, although they are far from being archaeologists.  Listen, and be delighted.

Here ‘s their first set.

Tad began the second set with Dizzy Gillespie’s onomatopoetic OO-BOP-SH’BAM from 1946:

Harold Arlen’s lovely ballad, OUT OF THIS WORLD, with Latinate roots:

Tadd Dameron’s GNID — one of those whimsical titles invented in the recording studio (I would guess) for an endearing melody:

The gorgeous ballad by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, only sixteen bars, which in some way belongs to the youthful Sinatra — I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY:

Wayne Shorter’s BLACK NILE:

And the justly famous blues line (think of Miles, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons), WALKIN’:

Very rewarding music — in the tradition but original and lively.

May your happiness increase!

“SWIGGLE” TURNS SIXTEEN! WITH A BAND.

My little friend “Swiggle” Murchison had her Sweet Sixteen party this summer, and it was a blast.  I should explain that the Murchisons are dear friends of mine — musical and otherwise — and that everyone in their family has pet names.  Dad is “Hoppy,” Mom is “Luscious,” and “Swiggle” got her name as an especially wiggly infant who more than once nearly flew off the changing table.  Now she dances to jazz.

For her Sweet Sixteen, they hired a band — four of the finest — Danny Tobias, trumpet; Jay Rattman, reeds; Chris Flory, guitar; Joe Plowman, string bass.  But that’s not all.  Hoppy is a Broadway stage designer and Luscious is a realtor who stages houses for her clients, so they transformed (for one afternoon only) a large room in their house into a simulated jazz club. And the music was lovely. They allowed me to share a few selections.

What a delight to know Swiggle, Hoppy, Luscious, Danny, Jay, Chris, and Joe. And to have a jubilant audience to share joys with.  That’s you.

ALL BY MYSELF:

HOW’S IT GO? (Danny’s composition on the harmonies of SHINE):

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU:

Sadly, the cake is all gone, so there’s no point in asking me for the Murchisons’ address.  But the lovely memories remain.

May your happiness increase! 

BOTH “FINE” AND “DANDY”: PETRA VAN NUIS, JOHN DI MARTINO, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (September 17, 2017)

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

One of the many pleasures of the recent Cleveland Classic Jazz Party was the opportunity to hear the wonderful singer Petra van Nuis, someone who has been pleasing Chicago audiences for the past decade and more.  She can sing is the simplest way to put it.  Although she has a fine sense of humor — catch her introductions to songs in this set — it bubbles out of her rather than being a rehearsed routine.  She has her own sound and phrasing — conversational, occasionally surprising, but it always honors the lyrics and comes out of her deep respect for words as well as melodies.  She improvises but does not obliterate the composers’ intent, and I came away from this quietly glowing set feeling that I had heard the songs in emotionally satisfying ways.  This delicious interlude is the result of Petra’s sensibility: her nice mix of delicate yet intense feeling and buoyant swing.  I could delineate the pleasures of each chorus she sings, but I’d rather leave those sweet surprises to you as you watch and listen.

Petra’s instrumental colleagues have the same spirit: a sweet focused attentiveness that delights in small details without losing sight of the songs themselves.  Nicki and Hal are long-time friends, people I admire for many reasons: their generous spirits, their melodic inventiveness.  John Di Martino was new to me, and he’s a wonder: his beautiful touch, his wise harmonies, and his willingness to put himself in the service of the music: he is secure enough in his self to do just those things that make his colleagues shine so brightly.  It’s only after you get accustomed to his selfless creativity that you realize just how wonderful his playing is.

If it seems as if I admire this group and the music they make, that impression would be correct.  Here, “without further ado,” is a glorious Sunday-afternoon interlude.  And, as Hal said to me afterwards, “You could see a lot of smiles and laughs, and none of them were forced!”  I’m still grinning.

DAY IN, DAY OUT:

On MY OLD FLAME, hear how Petra delicately yet meaningfully offers the first two phrases — the mark of very great exposition of lyrics and melody:

MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY has lent itself (in lesser hands) to caricature, but not here:

Let us honor Irving Berlin once again.  How beautiful I GOT LOST IN HIS ARMS is — its apparently plain melody allied to simple words, the whole being so moving when Petra explores it:

Both FINE AND DANDY here!  And blessings on the rhythm team for a fine 1944 Johnny Guarnieri groove to start:

I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:

After this set, we all felt just as fortunate.  And grateful.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING THE MONTH SO MUCH BETTER: JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY (October 13-14-15, 2017, Guilford, Connecticut)

For me, October’s always been a long period to get through, a landscape of four weeks.  When I was a child, it was a slow trudge to Halloween (a holiday I no longer find thrilling); as a homeowner, it was four weekends of leaf raking.  If your birthday is in October, you might feel differently, and I apologize.

But October is now distinguished for me because of Jeff and Joel’s House Party, much better than Halloween — no need for costumes and no incentive to stuff down candy.  It’s already a long-running institution, having been born in February 2012.  This year it will take place on October 13-14-15, technically in Guilford, Connecticut, although the three sessions of music will be at the Branford Elks Club, 158 South Montowese Street, Branford, Connecticut. There will be a session on Friday night from 7:30 to 9:30; two Saturday sessions: 11 to 4, then 5 to 10 (with a buffet and cash bar), and a Sunday session from 11 to 4 (again with a buffet).  The Friday session is priced separately ($50); there are single-session tickets ($80) or a three-session admission for Saturday and Sunday ($225).  More details and a registration form here.

And they do indeed SWING THAT MUSIC:

And the news from Dan Levinson:

Friday, October 13 through Sunday, October 15 I’ll be at Jeff & Joel’s [8th annual] House Party at the Branford Elks Lodge in Branford, CT, along with an all-star lineup of musicians. The Friday night session, which begins at 7:30 pm, will feature the phenomenal vocalist Banu Gibson from New Orleans, along with Jeff Barnhart (piano), Vince Giordano (bass/tuba/bass sax), Tom Palinko (drums), and yours truly. There are two sessions on Saturday – 11:00 am to 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm – and one session on Sunday, from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. The Saturday and Sunday sessions will feature a cornucopia of musicians, assembled in various combinations: Fred Vigorito (trumpet), Mike Davis (cornet), Tom Boates (trombone), Jim Fryer (trombone), Noel Kaletsky (reeds), Dan Levinson (reeds) [a familiar name, perhaps], Jeff Barnhart (piano), Dalton Ridenhour (piano), Joel Schiavone (banjo), Banu Gibson (banjo), Vince Giordano (bass/tuba/bass sax), Frank Tate (bass), Tom Palinko (drums), and Kevin Dorn (drums). A full buffet-style meal is included with each session. Seating is limited, to preserve the intimate “house party” atmosphere, so don’t wait to buy tickets! Tickets/info: www.jeffandjoelshouseparty.com.

My friend Eric Devine has faithfully video-recorded the Parties for some time now, and if you visit here, you can immerse yourself in his fine video coverage — some 59 videos of this Party alone.

I’m going to be there, although as a Free Spirit, walking around and enjoying the sounds, so I hope you’ll join me.  For those who need to see it in the papers, here are three pages to pore over.  I hear that only a few seats are still available, so please make haste so you won’t be disappointed.

Page Two:

 

Now you know it all.

May your happiness increase!

A SUMMER NIGHT, EIGHT YEARS AGO (June 7, 2009)

Good times, fine sounds.  the calendar says they’re gone; we know they aren’t.

The Ear Inn has been host to gatherings of joyous insight on Sunday nights since July 2007, and I think I was there for the second gathering of The EarRegulars — who may not have been named just yet (Jon-Erik Kellso, Howard Alden, Frank Tate): I was converted rapidly, although going to work with an early teaching schedule has made me at times a lax postulant.

Here’s a delightful interlude from the summer of 2009: SOME OF THESE DAYS, played so buoyantly by Matt Munisteri, guitar; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass.  And the final minutes of this — with Duke evoking another New Orleans boy who made good — give me chills of the best sort:

You don’t need to climb the Himalayas for spiritual uplift: visit the Ear Inn on Sunday nights; your pilgrimage requires only the C or the 1 train or perhaps an automobile . . . see you there sometime soon!  In the interim, watch, hear, and marvel.

May your happiness increase

“OF THINGS PAST”: JIMMY KNEPPER, DICK KATZ, GEORGE MRAZ, MEL LEWIS (1986)

This doesn’t require much commentary: it is a gorgeously tender themeless improvisation on THESE FOOLISH THINGS by Jimmy Knepper, trombone; Dick Katz, piano; George Mraz, string bass; Mel Lewis, drums.

Knepper began his recording career with big bands, so playing ballads was part of the training, since one played for dancers.  And if you’ve never heard of him, I invite you to be uplifted by calm, searching music that is at once melancholy and uplifting.

I hope you are as moved by this as I am.

May your happiness increase!

“LET ME OFF MIDTOWN”: RICO TOMASSO VISITS BIRDLAND: THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG ETERNITY BAND (David Ostwald, Bjorn Ingelstam, Adrian Cunningham, Jim Fryer, Vince Giordano, Paul Wells: August 9, 2017)

When the noble Enrico Tomasso visited New York (with wife Debbie and daughter Analucia) on August 9, 2017, his activities had a distinct theme running through them, which shouldn’t be hard to recognize.  First, Rico visited the house that Louis and Lucille Armstrong had called home for decades.  That was in the morning.  In the afternoon, the Tomassos visited the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College, got to have a good time with Ricky Riccardi, play Louis’ trumpet, look at scrapbooks and hear tapes from Louis’ library — much of which I captured on video here.  Ricky, who is an estimable tour guide in addition to everything else, got us to the subway by car (through the window, I saw my favorite new business sign — the S & M PHARMACY — and I leave the commentaries to you).  On the E train, Rico told stories of Henry “Red” Allen and other heroes.

Where were we going?  To “New York’s friendliest jazz club,” which would be Birdland — for their Wednesday afternoon-into-evening jazz serenade by the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band, led by David Ostwald.  I present two thrilling performances by Rico and the LAEB (is the theme becoming clear now?), whose members were David, tuba; Paul Wells, drums; Vince Giordano, banjo; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet and alto; Jim Fryer, trombone and euphonium; Bjorn Ingelstam, trumpet.  Attentive viewers will notice a nicely-coiffed immovable object in the middle of the frame: she and her partner were there to stay and I did what I would like to believe was the best I could.

BACK O’TOWN BLUES:

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

As the little boy says to Alan Ladd, “Come back, Rico!  Come back!”

May your happiness increase!

“RADICAL SWING TRIO”: TAD SHULL, ROB SCHNEIDERMAN, PAUL GILL at MEZZROW (September 3, 2017): THE FIRST SET

Jazz from a Sunday night on West Tenth Street, but hardly as ordinary as those words would suggest, for the site was not just the Street, but Mezzrow, that wonderful jazz club now beginning its fourth year of sustaining the musical community:

The participants I enjoyed on September 3 were the “Radical Swing Trio”: Tad Shull, tenor saxophone; Rob Schneiderman, piano; Paul Gill, string bass.  Here’s their first set.

If the word RADICAL scares you off, it’s merely (I think) a way of saying that this trio, although aware and respectful of the past, players and composers and idioms, is not tied to it: they create rather than replicate.  And swing is not tied to any year: it flourished in 1960 as well as in 1940.  Hear for yourself how beautifully Tad, Rob, and Paul make it blossom in 2017.

Tadd Dameron’s TADD’S DELIGHT:

Jackie McLean’s OMEGA:

THE NEARNESS OF YOU.  “In D.”:

Eddie Harris’ FREEDOM JAZZ DANCE:

Monk’s WELL, YOU NEEDN’T:

and as a closer, Hank Mobley’s SOUL STATION:

Another set was just as exhilarating, with seriously focused, lyrical performances of music associated with Dizzy Gillespie, Dameron, Miles, Wayne Shorter, and a pair of lovely ballads.  It, too, will appear here.

May your happiness increase!

MARA KAYE SINGS LADY DAY with JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAVID SAGER, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, SCOTT RICKETTS, EYAL VILNER at THE EAR INN (August 13, 2017)

Mara Kaye is one of New York’s great gifts to the world. Two years ago, she did a concert performance at Joe’s Pub, an evening of songs associated with Billie Holiday.  Here is some of what I wrote, that still rings true.

She is a substantial stage personality.  One way this is expressed is in her nearly constant yet genuine motion, as if her energy is too strong for her to stand still.  It’s not just hair-tossing, but a continual series of dance moves that also look like yoga poses and warm-up stretches, even a jubilant marching-in-place. Often she held her arms over her head, her hands open.  I think it was always exuberant emotion, but it was also her own expression of an ancient and honorable theatrical style . . . so that even the people in the most distant balcony of the Apollo Theatre could see you and join in with the person onstage. And her voice matched her larger-than-life physical presence.  On a Twenties record label, she might have been billed as COMEDIENNE WITH ORCHESTRA, and that odd designation rang true. The comedy bubbled up here and there in speech: she hails from Brooklyn, so that her sailboat in the moonlight was idling along in Sheepshead Bay. But it also emerged delightfully in her voice: I heard echoes of Fanny Brice, of comic Eastern European melodies . . . it never sounded as if she was taking Billie or the music lightly, but as if she was having such a good time that she couldn’t help playing. . . . SHOW in the best tradition — not caricature, but something Louis would have admired immensely.

I’m always glad to see Mara, and when she showed up at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho) on Sunday, August 13, I had hopes she would be invited to sit in with the EarRegulars.  Leader and brass deity Jon-Erik Kellso has the same feelings about this young woman, so he invited her to join the band . . . and these two performances are the result. The EarRegulars, that night, were Jon-Erik; David Sager, trombone (making a guest appearance from his home in a southern town), John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass, with sitters-in Scott Ricketts, cornet and Eyal Vilner, to my left, alto saxophone.  The ghosts of Buck Clayton, Lester Young, and Benny Morton were there, and they approved.

Two gorgeous performances: FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

and I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE (during the instrumental portion you’ll see Mara, ever the good jazz citizen, walking around with the tip jar — the tip pumpkin — to help the band:

Music like this, peerless and delicate, improves our world, for these musicians give us love and more.

May your happiness increase!

NOTES FROM MEL, NOTES BY MEL

Kati Powell, August 2013, Menlo Park, California.

I’m honored to know Kathleen Powell — who goes by Kati — whom I met through the kindness of Hank O’Neal.  Kati is a wonderful person on her own: generous in spirit as well as in fact, and her connections to the music are deep. Her mother was Martha Scott, the renowned actress who was the first Emily in Wilder’s OUR TOWN.  Her father began life as Melvin Epstein, but we know him better as Mel Powell, pianist, composer, arranger, and explorer.

In 2013, I had the great privilege of meeting and talking with Kati at her West Coast home (she now lives in New York) about Mel, and our interview can be found here.  And there’s priceless evidence of Kati’s generosity here.  Words and music.

When Kati and I met recently in New York, she had another present for me, and by extension, for you as well.  Yes, the music on the 78 that follows is familiar, or should be, but this disc belonged to Mel, and it is, for that reason, even more special.  I like to imagine the young pianist bending over the speaker in the Thirties, drinking in the sounds, absorbing the magic, making these impulses part of his genetic makeup.

Caveat: YouTube says that this video may be blocked in certain countries because of copyright restrictions.  The music is the 1928 duet of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, WEATHER BIRD:

and the beautiful reverse, the 1930 duet of Louis and Buck Washington, DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND:

and some notes by Mel — two sides [one a sparkly original, the other DON’T BLAME ME) recorded in Belgium, c. 1945:

and a little of his elegantly deep voice:

We’ll never have all we need of Mel Powell, though.

May your happiness increase!

“WOULDN’T HAVE A CHANGE OF HEART”: JAMES DAPOGNY, DAWN GIBLIN, MIKE KAROUB, ROD McDONALD, GWEN MacPHEE, LAURA WYMAN at the ZAL GAZ GROTTO (August 20, 2017)

Dawn Giblin. Photograph by Jeff Dunn.

The song IF I WERE YOU, by Buddy Bernier and Robert Emmerich, might have vanished entirely if not for memorable recordings.  I feel it comes from that postage-stamp of inspiration where songwriters seized on a commonplace conversational phrase for a title and made a song out of it.  I’ve not been able to find out much about it, nor has sheet music surfaced online.  But it has a wonderful auditory lineage: it was recorded in quick succession — between April 29 and July 1, 1938 — by Nan Wynn with Teddy Wilson (featuring Johnny Hodges and Bobby Hackett), Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, and by Hot Lips Page’s band, although he left the vocal to one Dolores Payne.

In our time, it’s also been recorded by Dawn Lambeth and Rebecca Kilgore. Beautifully.

Now we can add warm-voiced Dawn Giblin to that list, as of August 20 of this year, where she and eminent friends performed the song at the Zal Gaz Grotto in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Dawn is accompanied by Mike Karoub, cello; James Dapogny, piano; Rod McDonald, guitar; Gwen MacPhee, string bass.  And, fortunately for us, this and another performance was filmed by Laura Wyman for Wyman Video.

Before you plunge ahead to this latest delight, perhaps you’d like to hear other performances by Dawn Giblin: a gorgeous IF I HAD YOU from last January (no relation to the 1938 song), and a session from May, featuring GIVE ME THE SIMPLE LIFE, ALL MY LIFE, and LOVER, COME BACK TO ME.

And now, the pleasures of August:

Here’s a swing instrumental, with neatly gliding dancers Robin and Lois, Grotto regulars who obviously love to dance and love music by Dapogny and friends:

The new Person in the band (to me, at least) is the admirable string bassist Gwen MacPhee, of whom Dawn says, “I met Gwen at Wayne State University.  She was in my ear training class and took me under her wing.  She was the first friend I made there.”  And now she’s a friend of ours.

I’m happy in New York, but I wish Ann Arbor were closer.  However, it’s delightful to have Wyman Video on the scene for all of us.  Laura, modestly, says she doesn’t deserve to be in the credit line with the musicians, but as a fellow videographer, I politely disagree.  We may not bake the cookies, but we make it possible for you to have a taste.

May your happiness increase!

WITH TENDERNESS: THEN, NOW, SOON (JOEL FORRESTER, VITO DIETERLE, MATT GARRITY, DAVE HOFSTRA)

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Some more music from my hero Joel Forrester, captured live at Cleopatra’s Needle on August 3, 2017, which is the THEN of the title.  Joel brought with him Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Matt Garrity, drums (and other noble participants, their identities to be revealed in future JAZZ LIVES’ posts).

Two selections struck me most strongly as wordless evocations of tenderness, overlaid with grief.  The first, YOUR LITTLE DOG, Joel’s elegy for a beloved pet, is incomplete: I arrived late to this Musical Offering and the quartet was taking its leisurely melancholy route through this composition, one of Joel’s that is most dear to me. Here is the closing minute.  I wish I’d arrived earlier, but this minute-plus remains emotionally powerful:

Later in the evening, Joel and the quartet offered a slow ballad, ABOUT FRANCOISE, which has much of the same mood:

I’ve lingered over these two performances because they present a sound, a mood, a tempo that I don’t always encounter, in a world where some musicians feel pressured to be brighter, quicker, more attention-getting.  Joel and friends know that music that mourns can also elate and uplift, and I hope you feel those emotions here.

That was THEN, as they say.  The NOW is, of course, the minutes you are spending absorbing the sounds.

SOON is not yet here as I write this, but it will come  . . .  you know the rest.

Joel, Vito, and Dave have a new trio gig in Riverdale, New York, this coming Sunday, which is September 10, from 3 to 7 PM, at MON AMOUR, a coffee-and-wine cafe at 234 West 238th Street, two doors to the east of Broadway.  Take the #1 train to 238 (its penultimate station stop) and you are THERE. No cover or music charge. 

And Joel has promised me a full version of YOUR LITTLE DOG for my camera and my audience.  You could spend Sunday afternoon searching for your autumn-winter wardrobe, but that can wait a few days.

Something relevant and perhaps not coincidental: I am reading with great pleasure OPEN CITY, the 2011 debut novel by Teju Cole — the book a gift from tenor saxophonist Sam Taylor, and after beginning this blog, I had to leave my computer but could take the book with me.  The narrator says, early on, of a younger friend in his neighborhood, “My friend was especially passionate about jazz. Most of the names and styles that he so delighted in meant little to me (there are apparently number of great jazz musicians from the sixties and seventies with the last name Jones).  But I could sense, even from my ignorant distance, the sophistication of his ear.  He often said that he would sit down at a piano someday and show me how jazz worked, and that when I finally understood blue notes and swung notes, the heavens would part and my life would be transformed.  I more than half believed him . . . ” (24-25).

Cole’s words echo Forrester’s “tunes.”

May your happiness increase!

GIVE US A SHOUT: DAN BARRETT’S “BLUE SWING” at ASCONA (July 2, 2000)

My dear friend Michael Burgevin was the first person I knew who used the expression “Give me a shout,” when he meant “Call me when you can,” or “Be in touch,” and it’s almost archaic these days.  But I know MB would enjoy what I am about to post.

It’s only a few minutes long, but it is both Prime and Choice — and the result of the kind energetic generosity of our friend Enrico Borsetti, who took his video camera to the JazzAscona, Switzerland, and captured a set by Dan Barrett’s Blue Swing — a noble band that had, alongside Dan, Jon-Erik Kellso, Brian Ogilvie, John “Butch” Smith, Ray Sherman, Eddie Erickson, Joel Forbes, and Jeff Hamilton.

Here’s a wonderful blues with flourishes, composed by Luis Russell and Charlie Holmes for the splendid band (featuring also Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Paul Barbarin, and Pops Foster) the former led from 1926-34, named for the Saratoga Club, where they romped:

I’ll let Jon-Erik have the last word: “Can’t believe this was 17 years ago already. Fond memories of playing with Dan Barrett’s Blue Swing at the JazzAscona fest in Switzerland. “Saratoga Shout” by Luis Russell. I miss our friend Brian Ogilvie, the tenor player here, very much, he left us much too young. I also miss this band, one of the finest I’ve been a part of.”

And Enrico, our Benefactor, promises to share the rest of the set with us. Grazie, amico!

As we know, sometimes The Past comes out of the darkness and raps us sharply across the bridge of the nose.  In this case, it’s given us a very warm hug.

May your happiness increase!

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: THE RED ONION JAZZ BAND, SUMMER EDITION, at THE CAJUN (June 24, 2006) PART ONE: DICK DREIWITZ, JOHN BUCHER, LEROY “SAM” PARKINS, HANK ROSS, ALAN CARY, BARBARA DREIWITZ, RONNIE WASHAM

Dali, THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY

How long ago is eleven years?  From one perspective, it’s a huge distance: we can’t go back to the seconds that just elapsed no matter how we try.  But through technology, we travel backwards and make ourselves comfortable there: consider photographs and recordings. In the New York City of the recent past, wonderful things happened as a matter of course, and perhaps we took them for granted. The Cajun, a New Orleans restaurant and jazz club on Eighth Avenue between 17th and 18th Street in Manhattan, offered music seven nights a week and on Sunday afternoons. Supervised by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin, it was more down-home than posh, but the regulars (and tourists who wandered in) got more than their chicken or pasta.


What they got was wonderful congenial jazz.  Here is almost seventy-five minutes of it, still delicious.  The musicians are Ronnie Washam, vocal; Alan Cary, banjo; Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba; Hank Ross, piano; Sam Parkins, Albert clarinet; Dick Dreiwitz, trombone and MC; John Bucher, cornet.

I asked Dick Dreiwitz if he would write a few words about what you are going to see — an informal record of that rainy, warm Saturday night.

SUMMERTIME

A Band of Substitutes

Summers for the traditional, classic jazz bands (some called their style Dixieland), those bands fortunate enough to have steady work (even if it was only one night a week), summers came and delivered even more problems than the usual problems during the rest of the year. Vacations, tours, and travel caused individual, regular band members to be absent, so qualified substitutes had to be found and hired.  Such was the case with the Red Onion Jazz Band’s (ROJB) regular Saturday night gig at the Cajun Restaurant in New York City on 8th Avenue at 16th Street one night during the summer of 2006.

Leader and drummer Bob Thompson had gone to his vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard and clarinetist Joe Licari was lured away for a more lucrative single engagement that no player in his right mind would turn down.  The other regular band members away that night were: Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Larry Weiss, piano; Rich Lieberson, banjo/guitar, and Bob Sacchi, tuba.  As I remember, the only regulars were Veronica Washam, our singer, and myself on trombone. Truly, it was what John Gill would have called “An Emergency Band.”

Curiously, as luck would have it, two substitutes on the night of the taping were John Bucher, cornet, and Hank Ross, piano, both regular members of the ROJB from the late 1950’s through the 1970’s when the band and its musical style were at a zenith of its popularity.  This activity included travel to play at jazz festivals, intervals of steady work in the New York metropolitan area at such places as Child’s Paramount in Times Square and Park 100, and a solo, sold out concert at Town Hall. Alan Cary, banjo, and Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba, both long time friends and substitutes with the band, filled out the personnel except for clarinetist Sam Parkins, on this occasion playing his new Albert System instrument in public for the first time.

Since that summer, over eleven years ago, the Cajun Restaurant has closed its doors, Bob Thompson, Hank Ross, and Sam Parkins have passed on and the Red Onion Jazz Band is little more than a memory, a few old LP records, a couple of CD’s, and some photos.

And these videos, which I shot with my less-sophisticated camera that night, and have resurrected from the stack of mini-DVDs in a bookcase.  The sound is clear and the sight lines, although restricted, are fine.  I apologize to the sweet singer Ronnie Washam, “The Chelsea Nightingale,” for rendering her invisible, but my memory is that she blanched at the idea of having a video camera aimed at her.

What you’ll notice immediately about this band of “substitutes” is its easy medium-tempo embrace of the music’s inherent lyricism, a swinging sweetness that is not always the case in bands wedded to this repertoire, who often aim for higher volume and quicker tempos. This version of the ROJB feels like people very fond of one another, taking a walk in late summer, aware that they can reach their happy destination without rushing.

Here’s the first segment, with AVALON (vocal RW) / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / SEE SEE RIDER [C.C. RIDER]:

and more — THE LOVE NEST (vocal RW) / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / ‘DEED I DO (RW) / JAZZ ME BLUES / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (RW):

and a third helping — THE JAPANESE SANDMAN / Introducing the band / MY BUDDY (vocal RW) / BYE BYE BLUES (RW) / HAPPY BIRTHDAY (RW) / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE (RW):

I’ll say it again: this is a lyrical, gliding band, full of individualists devoted to the communal glories of this music.  I miss The Cajun and am honored to present these vivid musical recollections both to people who were there and those not able to make that scene.  And there are more sounds from this band to come.

May your happiness increase!

PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN LIVE AT THE JAZZ SHOWCASE (July 31, 2017)

Make yourself comfortable.

Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, Eric Schneider

What follows is rare and worth celebration.  On the face of it, it might seem unremarkable: a young singer leading a jazz septet through seven songs, several of them venerable but sounding fresh.  However, this performance by Petra van Nuis — leading “Petra’s Recession Seven” at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase on July 31, 2017 — is delightful simply because it is traditional without being dusty, original without being abrasive, simultaneously expert and free-floating.

The smiles on everyone’s face tell you that they know Music is being made.  Petra and her Seven exude the joyous confidence of people who know how to get inside the music in genuine ways.

The Seven is (are?) Andy Brown, guitar; Bob Ojeda, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Eric Schneider, reeds; Dan DeLorenzo, string bass; Bob Rummage, drums.  Before you venture into the delightful forty-eight minutes and twenty-four seconds of this video (accuracy is always desirable), the songs Petra and her band have chosen say a great deal about a deep immersion in music that has feeling, intelligence, and buoyancy — songs that deserve to be heard but are neither esoteric nor “chestnuts” too long in the fire.

Since women are still paid a serious percentage less than men, I applaud Petra’s taking on the Tiny Grimes – Charlie Parker opus, ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE, for her own, making it both straightforward and witty.  I don’t know if there’s a causal link to Morton’s SWEET SUBSTITUTE, which portrays the ideally devoted male partner: deciphering is up to you.  A jubilant EVERYBODY LOVES ME BABY is an even more solid affirmation, with Petra and the band essaying this Twenties romp with no condescension, no faux-Prohibition gestures.  IF YOU WERE MINE is just so tender (what a fine song it is!) but Petra’s approach is her own, deeply sinking into the lyrics without a hint of “homage” to Lady Day.  From Lady Day to O’Day — more pleasure in the trip UPTOWN.  SUGAR used to be a true standard, performed by everyone from Louis to Lee Wiley, but it’s now slightly neglected, a situation that I hope will soon be remedied. And an absolute highlight for me, Harry White’s EVENIN’ — again, a song that rewards us in many ways.  (And what a set closer!)

I haven’t said much about Petra’s singing: its virtues are evident from the first phrase: an irresistible swing, clear diction that isn’t obtrusively “correct,” a willingness to descend into the song rather than to make the song a showpiece for her, phrasing that sounds conversational but is full of small sweet improvisatory surprises, and a joyous confidence.  Like Petra, the Recession Seven never falters but it never sounds over-rehearsed and reheated.  The gratifying results come from devotion and earnest study, with musicians so expert that they thrive on risks and are happily loose.

Petra and Andy also have a new duet CD, LYRICAL LESSONS, which is an intimate, warm delight.

And you can click here to hear samples from it.

I will see Petra and Andy at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — September 14-18 — another reason to be there!  But if you can’t, you can hear and see them in all their unashamed glory on disc, on video, and in person.

May your happiness increase!

GLIMPSES OF MISS WILEY and COLLEAGUES (1934-1953)

A small pleasure. seen on eBay.

Here’s what it sounds like:

The facts are: Lee Wiley, vocal; Sterling Bose, Tommy Dorsey, Sid Stoneburn, others; Ernie White, Larry Gomar,  Justin Ring or Victor Young, directing. New York, August 13, 1934 38298-B.

And nearly twenty years later:

Lee’s voice had changed, predictably, as had the band, but I like the new, tougher approach just as much.

We enter the magical world of sheet music covers.  This song is familiar, with the distinct connection to Victor Young — with whom Lee enjoyed a long relationship.  I reprint the cover for comparison:

Although I can’t offer a recording of Lee singing LOVE ME, how about two versions by Jack Teagarden — the first with ornamentation by Sterling Bose, Jimmy Dorsey, Perry Botkin — again directed by Victor Young?  I knew you wouldn’t object:

This is, again, twenty years later, swinging as well as romantic — from the sextet that Jack led after he’d left Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars.  This 1953 band was a family affair, with brother Charlie on trumpet, sister Norma on piano:

Back to Lee.

This piece of sheet music is new to me, and I haven’t found any recordings of the song to offer you:

This song is known to me because Red Allen recorded it at the time, but no recording of Lee singing it exists.  Still, it’s pleasant to hear her voice in one’s mental recording studio:

and, in case you’ve never seen it, here is the justly famous film — silent but with a soundtrack added later, both thanks to Josh Rushton — of Lee and then-husband Jess Stacy, out and about.

May your happiness increase!

“MAGIC FINGERS”: JIM TURNER’S TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY GUARNIERI (Solo Art SACD 172)

Here’s a sample of the technically inspiring, elegant music that pianist-composer Johnny Guarnieri created for half a century:

and one of his many other sides — the quietly irrepressible swinger:

and then there’s the audaciously gifted stride pianist:

and his variations on and venerable pop tune:

Guarnieri could marvelously become Fats, Tatum, Teddy Wilson, James P., Basie — all at once or in lovely little interludes — but after a few bars on any recording, you knew it was Johnny, which (to me) is the summit that improvisers strive for, influences melded into a recognizable self.

He started at the top, as they say, in 1939 as a member of the Benny Goodman band and the sextet with Charlie Christian, then as the harpsichord player with Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five as well as with the band, then numberless sessions with Ziggy Elman, Cootie Williams, Slam Stewart, Sammy Weiss, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Cozy Cole, Jerry Jerome (in the early Forties, Guarnieri seemed to be the house pianist for Keynote, Savoy, and other small labels) Yank Lawson, Ben Webster, Benny Morton, Coleman Hawkins, Rex Stewart.  He’s the pianist on the V-Disc sessions that brought together Louis, Lips Page, Bobby Hackett, Billy Butterfield, Jack Teagarden, Lou McGarity,Nick Caiazza, Ernie Caceres, Herb Ellis, Al Hall, Cozy Cole, Specs Powell; more sideman work with Don Byas, Joe Thomas, Buck Clayton, Hank D’Amico, Ike Quebec, Flip Phillips, J. C. Heard, Sidney Catlett . . . . and this recital of famous associations is only up until the end of the Second World War.

Guarnieri wasn’t famous, necessarily, in the way that Teddy Wilson was, but he had the respect of the best players, singers, and record producers in the music business.  And the long list of names — did I leave out Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, June Christy, or Dick Haymes? — means that if you have a favorite jazz or swing record from this period, chances are that Johnny was the pianist on it. In the Fifties and beyond, he went for himself as a soloist or led a piano trio or quartet, for the next thirty years, although he participated in the great revival of interest in the masters of the Swing Era, and could be found alongside Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Doc Cheatham, Buddy Tate, Slam Stewart, and others.

Perhaps because of his swing and his dazzle (stride faster than the speed of light, improvising in 5/4 and other eccentric meters) Guarnieri has been admired but never approached.  That is, until Jim Turner‘s new CD, in tribute to Johnny, Jim’s mentor and friend, aptly called MAGIC FINGERS.

Jim Turner

Jim hasn’t had the benefit of Guarnieri’s visibility and name recognition, but I knew of him for years as a convincing, graceful stride and swing pianist.  And anyone who begins his recording career in duet with Knocky Parker and has played concerts with Dick Hyman has to be taken seriously.

Here’s some evidence: POET AND PEASANT OVERTURE, performed in June 1986.  The video is murky, but the music is wonderful: we could have taken Jim uptown and he would have impressed the titans.  Better, he impresses now:

and here’s Jim beautiful version of James P. Johnson’s CAPRICE RAG:

What makes his playing remarkable is not its speed, but his gorgeous marriage of accuracy and warmth, his rollicking swing.  As fast as this performance is, it never feels mechanical (beautiful dynamics!) and it never outraces its jubilant rocking motion.

One more, because I can’t resist.  You might need to increase the volume, but it will be worth it:

But to the subject at hand, MAGIC FINGERS.

A tribute to Johnny Guarnieri by another pianist might get bogged down in layers of emulation, where the second artist, let us say, might decide that Johnny’s choruses on I NEVER KNEW or EXERCISE IN SWING were so fulfilling that the only thing one could do, as if they were a Chopin etude, would be to reproduce them beautifully.  But a CD of copies would not, I think, serve Johnny’s spirit and legacy all that well, especially since Johnny was always being his singular self even while some listeners might say, “That’s a Fats phrase! That’s some Basie!” — as if they were walking the beach with a metal detector looking for identifiable treasures.  (Incidentally, the perhaps apocryphal story is that when Johnny would launch into these pitch-perfect impersonations as a sideman with Benny Goodman, the King would tell him vehemently, “STOP THAT!” and Johnny would, although perhaps not as quickly as Benny wanted.)

The brilliance of MAGIC FINGERS lies, of course, in Jim Turner’s deep understanding of Johnny’s musical selves, and in Jim’s choice to create a disc devoted to his mentor’s ingenious, restorative compositions.  Each of the originals (well-annotated by Jim in his notes) has its own life, with great variety in tempo, key, rhythms, and approach.  A number of the pieces were written with a specific individual in mind — thus a tribute that collects many tributes! — and the ear never gets tired.

At no point in my multiple playings of this disc did I feel the urge to shout at the speakers, “STOP THAT!”  Quite the opposite: from the opening notes of GLISS ME AGAIN, I settled down in comfort for a series of endearing adventures — seventeen selections, all but three by Guarnieri.  Beautifully played and beautifully recorded — the real sound of a well-maintained piano in a large room.

I admire how Turner has not only managed to reproduce the wonderful features of his inspiration’s playing — the great glide of his swing, the impish romping, the energetic and varied stride — but has made them entirely personal and rewarding.  I’ve chosen to avoid a track-by-track explication (discover these pleasures for yourselves!) except to say that the closing track, THE DAZZLER, is a duet for Turner and the singularly eloquent clarinetist Ron Hockett.

I can’t offer the usual tech-inducements of seventeen sound samples or the like, but I assure you that this disc, as they used to say, satisfies.

A closing thought.  I recently had a conversation in cyberspace with a respected musician who plays “traditional jazz,” who lamented that this music was “a language” that modern audiences would not hear and, if they did, might not understand.  Maybe his dark assessment is right, but I would use MAGIC FINGERS as a test case: anyone who purchases this disc might feel encouraged to play one of the more leisurely pieces and then a romp for someone who didn’t know this music but was open to other genres.  I’d hope that the listener would say, “That’s really pretty,” of the slower piece and “That pianist really can play!” of the more acrobatic one.  I have faith in the music and in this CD — and, if it isn’t clear by now, in Jim Turner and in Johnny Guarnieri and the gifts that each offers so generously.

May your happiness increase!

“SO THEY TELL ME”: JON-ERIK KELLSO and EHUD ASHERIE at ROTH’S STEAKHOUSE (June 24, 2008)

A decade ago, I became an intermittent denizen of the Upper West Side of Manhattan for the best reasons.  Although that period of my life has ended, for all things change and shift, I remember those days and nights with fondness.

One of the pleasures for an even more brief period was hearing music at Roth’s Steakhouse on Columbus Avenue in the Nineties.  It closed sometime after 2010, so I can now say that the food was indifferent.  But the music was sublime.  Here is a tender musical souvenir of days gone by — but not days beyond recall.  It is a leisurely yet rhythmic exploration of Irving Berlin’s ballad from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, a sentiment few would deny, THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL — performed by two musical romantics who also like their romance to move along at the right tempo, Jon-Erik Kellso and Ehud Asherie, brass and piano, respectively.

In his very admiring chapter on Mr. Berlin in AMERICAN POPULAR SONG, Alec Wilder says nothing about THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL, but I will fill in for him for one sentence.  Originally, the music for ANNIE GET YOUR GUN was to be composed by Jerome Kern, who died suddenly before he could create the score; I hear faint tracings of Kern in Berlin’s arching melody line, especially evident if one plays or sings the song as a very slow ballad.

Here, Jon-Erik and Ehud create their own world in praise of love not yet realized or never forgotten:

I’ve left the end of the video intact — with the waitperson pushing the specials on hopeful diners — to add to the Rothian ambiance.  Another place where one could dine on extraordinary music, gone, but the sounds remain.

May your happiness increase!