Monthly Archives: January 2018

‘NITA DOES THE TWIST: ANDREW OLIVER and DAVID HORNIBLOW (Op. Four)

While you were sleeping, or doing the dinner dishes, supervising the kids’ homework, or taking Charlie for his walk, pianist Andrew Oliver and clarinetist David  Horniblow were creating beauty and open-heartedly giving it to us.

Here is what you need to know about the Complete Morton Project, a weekly series of gifts — Mister Morton’s compositions played imaginatively with emotion by Messrs. Horniblow and Oliver.

Here is my most recent posting on this delightful subject.  I will let you discover more for yourselves.

MAMA’NITA, a sinuous Creole dance:

TURTLE TWIST, another hip-swinging exercise in bluesiness:

I have a hard time adequately putting into words my admiration for these two players.  Their music is immaculate but soulfully warm, and they are doing it for the greater glory of the music, not asking for money or purchases or attendance at a gig.  They are showing love for the music and sharing it with us — quite beautifully remarkable in this self-absorbed century.

And that’s Charlie.  He’s not my dog (nor am I his human) but he is adorable and very well-trained: he sits silent while the Wilbur Sweatman record plays and only barks once at the conclusion, Doglish for “Please play that again!”  A model for us all.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS JOHN HAMMOND, HELEN HUMES, BOOKER ERVIN (September 29, 2017)

One of the consistently thrilling aspects of sitting across from Dan Morgenstern is the immediate knowledge that here is a man who is both here now and was there then, his  perceptions gentle but also sharp-edged.

A word about “immediacy.”  I have written at length about John Hammond, read his memoir, read the biography of him, seen him on television, heard him interviewed, and from that collection of facts, stories, impressions I’ve made my own complex portrait of a man who was both immensely generous and intuitive, the man to whom we owe so much good music, from Garland Wilson to the last Buck Clayton Jam Sessions.  I also grapple with the man who could turn cruel when not obeyed, the man who grew tired of formerly-admired artists and worked against them.  So my mental portrait is complex, ambiguous, and shifting.

But as valuable as I think my study of Hammond might be, it shrinks when I can sit in a room with a man who’s heard Hammond say, “Come on with me, get in my car.  We’re going up to Harlem.  There’s someone I want you to hear.”

What you will also hear in this single segment (and I hope it has been evident all along) is Dan’s embracing affection for all kinds of what we treasure as jazz and blues.  In this conversation of September 29, 2017, Dan spoke with warmth, humor, and insight of  Hammond and the people who surrounded him: Barney Josephson at The Cookery, Helen Humes, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Hank O’Neal, Buddy Tate, Lester Young, Mildred Bailey, Booker Ervin, and Victoria Spivey.  Too many people to fit in Dan’s living room, but he brings them to life:

I found Dan’s portrait of Booker Ervin — Texas tenor and Mingus-associate — particularly touching.

We met again just a few weeks ago in December 2017, and spoke of some famous “bebop and beyond” sages, including Bird, Tadd Dameron, and Dan’s rather famous neighbor and friend Miles Dewey Davis.  More to come, and we bless Mr. Morgenstern for being himself so deeply.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC WITH FRIENDS (Part One): MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (The Drawing Room, January 8, 2018)

Michael Kanan prizes friendship very highly, and not in some abstract way.  He is a true Embracer, and his deep love of community lasts longer than a simple hug.  He showed us this once again a few Mondays ago at a little gathering at his Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room.

Michael Kanan

Michael’s colleagues in melodic exploration were his friends and ours, Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass: each of them a thoughtful swinging intuitive orchestra in himself.

Greg Ruggiero

It was a jam session evening, so even though this trio played six songs (you’ll have the first three here) it wasn’t a mini-recital, more a gathering of friends who don’t get to play together often. They hadn’t played together in months, and after Michael had seen the videos, he called them “music in its raw natural state,” but it was an acknowledgment rather than a criticism.  I think of them as cherries picked from the tree, their stems still attached, as opposed to cherry pie filling from a can.

Neal Miner

Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

Strayhorn’s TAKE THE A TRAIN:

Ellington’s I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:

When you’re invited to a party at Michael’s, you go home laden with gifts.

May your happiness increase!

EXQUISITE FUN: “RECORDING WITH JOHN S. REYNOLDS and CASEY MacGILL,” JANUARY 2018

Improvising, that act we celebrate in jazz, is larger than simply constructing new melodies on familiar harmonies, or making-it-up-as-they-go-along.  Sometimes the willingness to capture it live is precious and creates splendid memorable — if unplanned — results.

Casey MacGill and John Reynolds, perhaps a few revolutions ago.

A little personal history.  One of the reasons I came out to California in 2011 was to hear and see for myself the Reynolds Brothers.  Thanks to the videos created by RaeAnn Berry, I’d seen the band on my computer screen but wanted more immediacy — which I found in session after session for the next few years.  I was awed by John S. Reynolds — guitarist, singer, whistler — and remain so.  He combines deep romance, satire, and irresistible swing.  I had few opportunities to savor his unpredictable magic once returning to New York in 2015.  On January 24, when I saw a Facebook video (captured perfectly by the Blessed Jessica McKinney) of John and the nimble multi-talented Casey MacGill — whose work I’ve known and admired — (ukulele, cornet, vocal) I was thrilled and elated.  Here’s the first of their performances, a rollicking SENTIMENTAL GENTLEMAN FROM GEORGIA:

Perhaps in tribute to the late Rose Marie, TAKE A PICTURE OF THE MOON:

And another delicious slice of 1931-2, WITHOUT THAT GAL!

As you can imagine, I was ecstatic about this music, and asked — not altogether whimsically — when the DVD was coming out, how could I buy the CD, when was the world tour, and could these videos be synthesized in pill form so that I could carry them in a tin and take as needed.

Here’s an excerpt from Casey’s sweet response:

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your kind words and support. We really appreciate it.  Our get together with John was originally intended to be a part of a CD created to market to people in the ukulele community. The recording was to consist of myself playing one or two tracks with different musicians. Some of them come from the ukulele community, and are ukulele players themselves, and other musicians are long term collaborators like John.

My partner Jessica has a zoom recording machine which we are using to make these recordings. We are getting together with people as we travel to collect songs. This obviously is a modest effort geared to a specific audience.

We met John at his home in Glendale, California, and repaired to his tiny art studio in the back of the garage. John and I had only been playing a few minutes when Jessica felt compelled to film us as she also made an audio recording. We never dreamt that there would be such a huge reaction to the videos.  When you and others responded by asking about a CD, it has made us think of recording more with John. And that is where we are currently.

John and I do go back to 1975, actually. We met at a holiday party in the home of Robert Armstrong, one of the original Cheap Suit Serenaders. Another guest at the party was Ward Kimball, famous artist at Walt Disney Studios and founder of the Firehouse Five.  We worked together constantly for about 3 1/2 years between 1980 and 1984, to great acclaim in Los Angeles as 2/3 of the trio Mood Indigo. There was always great chemistry and I am still happy to play straight man to John’s magic.

Jessica and I will have to figure out when and how to make this recording with John a project unto itself. We want to do this as soon as possible and we will keep you posted.

So there’s something else life-enhancing to look forward to.  It’s just idle musing, but I wonder how people who savor this fine music could help get a CD made.

Blessings on Casey, John, and Jessica.  Thanks for lifting our spirits in swing.

May your happiness increase!

EXPERIENCING BIG BAND JAZZ, by JEFF SULTANOF (Rowman and Littlefield)

Richard M. Sudhalter told Jeff Sultanof that he should write books.  Five pages into Sultanof’s multi-faceted examination of big band jazz, I felt the same way.

EXPERIENCING BIG BAND JAZZ is a brand-new and admirable book by a composer, arranger, historian, archivist of all kinds of American music, vernacular and formally composed.  I’ve never met Jeff, but I have had several years to admire his expertise: I’ve read his postings to an online jazz research group with pleasure.  Sultanof isn’t interested in self-absorbed preening or  proving ideological points for ideology’s sake; he’s interested in tangible evidence and following its implications.  And when he doesn’t know, he says so, which is honest and rare.  This diligence and rigor is at the heart of the book.

Incidentally, a low bow to whomever conceived the cover — a loose Ellington assemblage that, unlike the expected choice, fellows in dinner jackets or tuxedos behind floor music stands, did not say NOSTALGIA and thus distance prospective readers.  And the old-timers in the imagined bookstore (people of my ilk and generation) warm to pictures of Ray Nance, Sonny Greer, Rex Stewart.

Now, if this book had been proposed in the Sixties, no publisher would have taken it — no reflection on the author — because big band jazz was a charmingly ubiquitous part of everyone’s culture and needed little explication.  Fifty years ago, I could see in person Ellington, Basie, Goodman, Herman, Calloway, Barnet, James, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, Benny Carter’s Swing Masters, Hampton, Jacquet, Rich, Nat Pierce-Frank Capp, Lombardo, Lester Lanin, Peter Duchin, Dorsey and Miller ghost bands, and three dozen others.  Every television  variety program had a big band, from Doc Severinsen to Mort Lindsey to Ray Bloch and Sammy Spear.  A Sinatra or Peggy Lee concert . . . you’re beginning to sense the connection.  FM radio played modern big bands; college radio stations allowed scholars who were and are friends to have “Swing Years” programs.

Parallel to this late flowering in music, there were books on the phenomenon.  Affectionate dictionaries of big bands by Albert McCarthy and George Simon, “Remember When” volumes of nostalgic reminiscences by listeners and musicians alike, with the subtext “This is the music that helped your parents and grandparents get born, and wasn’t it wonderful?”and analytical books by Chilton, Walter C. Allen, Schuller, and others.

Perhaps we didn’t need Sultanof’s book then.  We surely do now.

If you don’t believe me, ask anyone under forty who Glenn Miller was, or Bennie Moten.  I have a sour fantasy of standing on a street in Manhattan with a sign saying, “WHO WAS BENNIE MOTEN?  ANSWER CORRECTLY AND WIN A PRIZE.”  How many people would look up from their iPhones?  (Incidentally, HBO turned down my pilot for an alternate-universe series where Berigan and Blanton live on.)  Go to a Jazz Studies program and ask the students sitting in plastic chairs whether they prefer the Henderson band pre-Louis, post-Louis, or in Chicago 1936?  Or “Name me three big-band drummers who aren’t Buddy Rich.  Three alto saxophonists playing before Charlie Parker.”

In the void that exists when a large piece of communal culture has been made disposable, Sultanof is not only a historian but a rescuer.  And he doesn’t gush but this is not a dry academic book: his writing is not only clear and factual but quietly affectionate.  Somehow knowing that he probably did not lose his virginity to the strains of IN THE MOOD makes his work even more meaningful.

EXPERIENCING BIG BAND JAZZ is presented for an audience that is unaware of the traditions, and that is in the main correct, because so few know when the four-person rhythm section became three; why the big band jazz scene changed in the Forties, and so on.  But it’s not a book in primer type, and it’s not sentimental: we don’t learn about Louis and his trout sandwich, or the deaths of David Goodman, Sonny Berman, or Dave Tough.  There are no maps of famous ballrooms and dance halls, no stories of Buddy Rich ranting, no stories of life on the band bus.  Sultanof’s focus is plainly on the music.  And he’s done a heroic job of making a huge musical landscape visible.

But the book is so plain-looking (I don’t mean the nice cover) that it might take readers time to stop underestimating it.

Here’s a very brief overview.  The center of the book — more than a hundred and fifty pages — is a chronological survey of selected recordings from MEMPHIS BLUES (1919, Handy) to THE PRESIDENTIAL SUITE: EIGHT VARIATIONS ON FREEDOM (2014, Ted Nash). Each entry offers a cogent thumbnail sketch of the bandleader / orchestra / performance — with some quirky facts inserted, like crushed red pepper.  And there is no hidden ideological leaning: the US gets the main portion, but the Europeans come in nicely; 4/4 is the meter of choice but not always.

Here’s a sample of names from the middle of the book (pages 61-72) — admittedly, my turf: Glenn Miller – Bill Finegan; Jay McShann – Charlie Parker; Harlan Leonard – Tadd Dameron; Cab Calloway – Dizzy Gillespie; Benny Carter; Miller – Eddie Durham – “Chummy” MacGregor; Artie Shaw – Sam Donahue; Charlie Barnet – Billy Moore; Billy Eckstine – Budd Johnson; Stan Kenton – Buddy Baker.  Those who know will recognize that not only is Sultanof speaking of the leader, the composer, the soloists, but also the arranger . . . and a particular version’s connections (echoes and liftings as well) to other recordings and performances.  Devotees might say, “Why did he pick that version, that song?  Why do the Canapes have only two performances?” but that’s what connoisseurs do, muttering in the background.

Back to the experience of reading this section.  First, one is not compelled to follow in chronological order.  I would hope that even a novice would know a few names and start with the recognized heroes.

With a pleasing awareness of the century we live in, Sultanof has picked performances currently available on YouTube — rather than saying “Decca 374,” which for all but a handful, is inaccessible and thus frustrating data.  I can’t overemphasize the sly brilliance of this scheme.  First, no young student has to buy one of those things the old folks dote on, compact discs.  (He’s promised to update links as they become defunct on YouTube.)  It is possible to imagine a whole group of reader-listeners accessing this book on their phones — one of the few instances I would be happy to see someone with earbuds, rocking and smiling.

Also, I am sure he understands the wandering ways of YouTube and its endless supply of rabbit-holes. Remember the last time you went on YouTube to find some artist or performance and found the right-hand column of thumbnails beckoning?  Looking for one particular Charlie Parker performance?  Pack a lunch, because you’ll find it hard to get away in ten or even ninety minutes.  The cry, “Honey, I’ll do that thing you wanted me to do right after I watch just one more thing!” is so common, not limited to big band jazz-obsessions.

He’s also created a Facebook group for the book, where he promises to “supply additional tracks to supplement the book, answer questions, and promote discussion about the materials covered. There is a teacher guide for the book as well, and support information for interested parties who would use the book as a text for a class.”  That is using current media with great intelligence.

On a personal note: I come from a different century, which doesn’t upset me, because there were many more opportunities for friendly community than most have now.  When I was in my late teens, I had a small circle of friends who loved the same music, and we would go to each other’s houses (sometimes the visit would turn into dinner cooked by the friend’s mother) and listen closely to the newest or oldest record that was giving intense pleasure, commenting chorally and individually to what we heard.  “Can you play that again?  Listen to what Page does in that phrase.  Listen to how Ben charges in on his solo.  Listen to what Hackett does at the end of the chorus,” and so on.  We were already worshipers, and we helped each other know and notice more.

Having Sultanoff’s concise, friendly summaries is like going through the potentially cold museum of only-slightly-understood art with a very wise but never obtrusive guide at your arm, murmuring about what one might see if one looked closely.  The listening experience is instantly made richer.

It’s a valuable book for many different audiences; it’s very well done, and it fills a void that many may not have recognized existed.  Thank you, Jeff Sultanof!

Here is the publisher’s official link to purchase the book (hardcover or e-book) but please note the sale / discount prices above.  I don’t know when this offer expires, so get to it in a nice swinging 4 /4.

I want to hear Jazz Studies students humming Benny Carter reed-section variations or becoming Don Redman’s trombone section on the street as soon as the book is bought and adopted widely . . . and the weather improves.

May your happiness increase!

A MEETING OF KINDRED SOULS: KRIS TOKARSKI, HAL SMITH, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 24, 2017)

Kris Tokarski, piano; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet / tenor sax, with guest Katie Cavera, guitar and vocals. San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 2017

In the words of Sammy Cahn, “I fall in love too easily,” but not when the Love Object is a great artist or a collection of them.  There my devotion rarely plays me false.  This band, led by the quiet virtuoso Kris Tokarski, gave extraordinary pleasure at the November 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.  I followed them happily and recorded (I think) five hour-long sets of the six they played.  Glowing music: heartfelt but beautifully expertly executed.  Somewhere Milt Gabler, Alfred Lion, and John Hammond are happily in the groove with all of us.  Here are the six posts I have already offered of the band’s great joyous surge — with guests Katie Cavera, Marc Caparone, and Dawn Lambeth: one and two and three and four and five and six.  (I did all that annoying hypertexting because I love my readers and I don’t want you stumbling around in the dark reaches of cyberspace.  Enjoy yourselves!)

Here are four brilliant performances from the band’s very first set at San Diego.  The first is a Jonathan Doyle original from 2016, called BATS ON A BRIDGE, dedicated to an Austin, Texas nature phenomenon, described here.  Jonathan has, to me, no peer at creating winding, clever witty lines based on the harmonies of “jazz standards,” and sometimes his lines are so irresistible on their own that I’ve found it hard to dig beneath to find the familiar harmonies. I’ll help you out here: the title of the song is exactly what Bithiah, otherwise known as Pharoah’s daughter, exclaimed when she saw the infant Moses in the bulrushes:

Next, a rarity at “trad” festivals, a purring reading of a ballad: in this case, YOU GO TO MY HEAD, which I believe Jonathan knew but had never performed in public.  Isn’t he marvelous?

Another Doyle original, from 2017, LONG DISTANCE MAN, whose source we get from the wise and observant Larry Kart — a story of the clarinetist Frank Chace’s meeting with Lester Young: [Chace] also told a very “Frank” story about his encounter with Lester Young in 1957 in Pres’s hotel room in (I think) Indianapolis, where Frank was playing at a club and Pres was in town with a non-JATP package tour. The drummer in the band Frank was part of, Buddy Smith, suggested that they pay Pres a visit after the gig, and when they got there, Frank (“I’m shy,” he said), hung back while the other guys gathered around Pres. Having noticed this bit of behavior, Pres beckoned Frank to come closer, addressing him softly as “long-distance man.” Probably a meeting of kindred souls.

The “kindred souls” create one of the finest blues performances I’ve heard in this century, beginning with Jonathan’s barks — part schnauzer, part Henry “Red” Allen, part walrus.  The only complaint I have here is that I wish the band had jettisoned the set list and just kept playing this, just kept on exploring the infinite spaces between the three chords, the tonalities, the steady swing:

As a set closer, the down-home classic, BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

You’ll notice I’ve avoided the game of Sounding Like (all praise to the late Barbara Lea for putting it so pungently): I hear murmurs from the admiring ghosts of Sidney Catlett, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Frank Chace, Omer Simeon, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Miller, Bud Freeman, Ike Quebec and others I haven’t named.  But they are quietly present.  The real and the truly brilliant voices I hear come from Tokarski, Doyle, Scala, Ozaki, and Smith.  And what glorious music they make. There will be more to come.

Festival promoters and concert bookers looking for noise and flash, circus acts and Vegas Dixieland, pass this band by with my blessings.  People who want to give genuine jazz and swing a venue [think of the San Diego Jazz Fest!], consider these heroes.

May your happiness increase! 

MORE, MORE MORTON (Opus 2 and 3): MESSRS. ANDREW OLIVER and DAVID HORNIBLOW

This new endeavor — performing and recording all of Jelly Roll Morton’s compositions at the rate of two a week, scored and sometimes reimagined for clarinet or other reeds (David Horniblow) and piano (Andrew Oliver) is generous, expert, and ultimately joyous.  I’ve fallen slightly behind, so this post offers weeks two and three.  Here is the first part, garlanded with deep praise from Moi.

A few words.  In this technological age, artists are under pressure to give their work away for free — I’m part of this skewed exchange — and the results are sometimes uneven.  But the Complete Morton Project, although it has no dusty air about it, no scent of the museum, is beautifully considered and executed, and the results are not only graciously offered but superbly inventive.  I find that when I listen to a Morton orchestral recording, I hear the band, which is not a bad thing: here, the clarity of presentation makes me hear David and Andrew, of course, but the music is almost visible as it purls by.

GOOD OLD NEW YORK, with David on bass clarinet:

The deeply mournful WHY?:

The mysteriously titled FICKLE FAY CREEP:

and Morton’s evocation of Bert Williams, which makes me think of his poker-playing routine:

Here’s the link to the CMP on andrewoliver.net — elegant commentary also, not didactic — and on their YouTube channel.  To get a regular weekly delivery of this expert pleasure right to your door, you don’t have to have money deducted from your paycheck or sign an agreement.  Simply watch, feel delight, and tell your like-minded friends: that, I think, will be all the reward Andrew and David yearn for.  Thank you, Benefactors!

May your happiness increase!

HEALING SOUNDS FROM DR. PROFIT (1940)

This blog isn’t terribly autobiographical by plan, but a little context is needed.  I’ve not been feeling well this past week — a combination platter of flu and other mysterious ailments — and it put me in a delicate state.  Loud noises, bright lights, sharp sensations all make me want to go back to my twilight bedroom and stay there for a long time.

I stumbled on to this recording, the subject of a post I did in 2014, which has biographical and medical data: Clarence Profit died at 32, so he’s perhaps not the best icon for someone sick in bed, but I think his music has its own quiet healing powers.  Music of lightness and clarity but with depths of feeling and texture below its elegant surfaces.  Open spaces and polished dark wood all at once.  BODY AND SOUL is its own little world, moving from a somber start to a playful interlude — quiet dance music — before it winds down. Tender musings: no cliches, no exhibitionism — although the subtle byplay between melody and quiet layered harmonies is exquisite.

and the reverse of this precious disc, purchased from Amoeba Music in San Francisco, with the most touching transformation from an almost-“classical” reading of Rodgers to a tenderly swinging consideration of those same notes:

I think if I take these two sides into my ears and heart every four hours, as well as keeping hydrated, I will get better.  Who knows what it will do for you?  Beauty is always curative.

Incidentally, there are other YouTube postings of this music that might (sonically) please more.  Feel free to roam: I have a fondness for this one because — said without shame — it’s mine, but you don’t have to.

May your happiness increase!

CHARLIE JUDKINS: NEW OLD MUSIC, ONE FLIGHT DOWN (December 17, 2017)

That’s one view of Charlie Judkins, ragtime / stride / traditional jazz pianist (taken in 2015); here’s a more orthodox one:

At the end of last year, I ventured down the long staircase to the underground home of improvised music, surrealism, and (it cannot be ignored) noise from “screeching fratboys,” to quote a friend.  You know it, you love it: it’s Fat Cat at 75 Christopher Street.  Terry Wldo was holding one of his Sunday piano parties, with his special guest being Mike Lipskin.  I’ve posted Mike’s two beautiful performances here.

During the afternoon, Terry and Mike played, and also a number of Terry’s friends and students.  The one who impressed me most was a young man with dark hair who played beautifully — and, even more pleasing to the ear, ragtime pieces new to me.  That’s our man Charlie, seriously talented and seriously young.

“Mule Blues” by Milo Rega (pseud. for Fred Hager and Justin Ring) 1921:

“Le Bananier” by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, 1846:

“The Delmar Blues” by Charley Thompson, written but unpublished, c. 1910:

Charlie Judkins (b. 1991) is a practitioner of Ragtime, Traditional Jazz and Blues piano, as well as a lifelong Brooklyn native. He began playing piano in 1997 at age six. In 2007, he was introduced to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and immediately began studying traditional ragtime and blues piano. Shortly thereafter he came under the informal tutelage of several highly-regarded pianists including Terry Waldo, Mike Lipskin, Ehud Asherie and the late George Mesterhauze. He is currently studying classical piano technique and theory under Jeff Goldstein.

His piano playing has been in demand at various public and private events in the New York City area since debuting as a professional bar-room pianist in the Summer of 2010. He also works as a silent film accompanist at various theaters in the New York area, and also provides scores for silent animation archivist Tom Stathes’s series of DVD/Blu-Ray releases.

Charlie will be performing on Wednesday, January 31, at Dixon Place: “I’ll be accompanying my friend Lara Allen performing obscure ragtime/comedy songs from the early 1900s/late 1890s that were featured by pioneer female recording artists such as May Irwin, Marie Dressler and Clarice Vance.”  Details here: Dixon Place is at 161A Chrystie Street, and the show begins at 9.

I’m very pleased to know that Charlie Judkins exists.

May your happiness increase!

“FOREVER WEIRD”: THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET and FRIENDS at THE KITCHEN, PART TWO (Dec. 9, 2017)

Here’s Part Two of that glorious evening at The Kitchen in New York’s Greenwich Village with the Microscopic Septet and friends.  Part One, for those who want to review their notes (and the Septet’s) is here.  But here’s the personnel for those who, like me, need to know the names of our heroes: Joel Forrester, piano, composer, co-leader; Phillip Johnston, alto and soprano saxophone, composer, co-leader; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal on CRY; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone, Don Davis, alto saxophone.  Incidentally, for some listeners who like their jazz only one or two ways, the Micros may sound “avant-garde.” I urge them to listen: this band loves the blues and has its own ferocious swing.  They seem to me to be taking traditional forms and approaching them with loving zealous individualities.

The Microscopic Septet, if they are new to you, is a long-lived improvising ensemble — devoted to “serious fun,” as my friend John Scurry terms it.

Phillip Johnston’s LET’S COOLERATE ONE:

From The Middle Period, LOBSTER IN THE LIMELIGHT:

If you need directions, just TAKE THE Z TRAIN:

Finally, I GOT A RIGHT TO CRY (vocal Dave Sewelson) — originally performed by Joe Liggins but sounding eerily and happily like a Joel Forrester composition:

The Grand Finale, deserving of initial capitals, where the Micros, the Jazz Passengers, and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, jammed on DON’T MIND IF I DO, will appear in the last post of this series.  Look for it wherever better blogposts and videos are given away for free.

Extra!  This post is in celebration of Micros co-leader Phillip Johnston, who yesterday won the 2017 Johnny Dennis Music Award:

The 2017 winner of the Johnny Dennis Music Award, which acknowledges great achievement in Australian music composition, is composer/performer Phillip Johnston.

Outgoing Australian Guild of Screen Composers’ President, Guy Gross, said “The AGSC Board were delighted with the choice of Phillip Johnston as the 2017 recipient of this major award which carries a cash prize of $20,000.”

“This award gives the recipient the creative and financial freedom to work on a project of their choice. The project chosen by Phillip Johnston will expand the knowledge and understanding of the history of the Australian film industry, both in Australia and internationally, as well as create new and innovative fusions of film and music.”

The JD Awards were established in perpetuity through the will of Dennis John Mole, whose stage name was Johnny Dennis.

Phillip Johnston’s winning proposal was to conduct research at the National Film and Sound Archive with the purpose of creating new original scores for historical Australian silent films that would help to make the films accessible to modern audiences.

On receiving the Award Phillip Johnston stated “Receiving the Johnny Dennis Award will support my new original scores for silent film project, which involves both research into the rich history of Australian silent film and the creation of new musical scores to be performed live with the films.”

“After 25 years of composing and performing new scores for American, European and Japanese silent films worldwide, I’m very excited about turning my attention to a new exciting project combining two of my major interests: new relationships between music and film, and Australia’s great contribution to world film history.”

May your happiness increase!

SWEET AND HOT: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, EDDIE ERICKSON, JOEL FORBES, and TIM LAUGHLIN (September 3, 2011)

“You’ll find that happiness lies / right under your eyes,” say the lyrics for BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.  I don’t have a backyard any more, but I stumbled across this performance — that made me happy in 2011 and continues to do so now — by accident.  In the decade or so that I’ve had this blog, I’ve spent a good deal of energy with a video camera, recording live performances.  Around six thousand of them are visible on YouTube now, and I get notified when viewers comment.  Ungenerous comments from armchair critics make me fume, and if they insult “my” artists, I delete the comments.  But someone saw this, felt about it as I do, and so it is Time To Share Some Joy.

This performance came from the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, held in Los Angeles over Labor Day weekend.  I was fortunate to attend it in its last year, and it offered joyous music and very lovely people, not all of them musicians.  (“Hello, Laurie Whitlock!  Love from New York!”)

But the music was often stunningly pleasurable.

I think that I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS vied with GOODNIGHT, SWEETHEART to be the song played at the end of the evening.  But Henderson recorded it as a hot dance number in 1925 (Louis on the verse) and it was picked up in the Swing Era by bands large and small — my favorite the Teddy Wilson Brunswick side.

But this 2011 live version is so dear: sweetly lyrical and rocking, balancing tenderness and Fifty-Second Street riffing.  And it adds to my delight that the musicians in this video are very much alive and making music.  Bless them.  I single out Rebecca Kilgore as my ideal of lyrical heartfelt witty swing.  Now and forever.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS JAMES BALDWIN (September 29, 2017)

I first had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Dan Morgenstern at his Upper West Side apartment in March 2017, and every few months we’ve done it again.  In an interview where he’d spoken of Robert Clairmont, he casually said, “Oh, that’s where I met Jimmy Baldwin,” and I felt like someone who finds a treasure chest in the middle of the living room, and made a note to ask Dan about Baldwin at a future meeting.  Here’s what Dan recalled. . . seventy years later.

Characteristically, because Dan’s world is not narrow, we hear about Dan’s father, the novelist Soma Morgenstern, “The March of Time,” Gordon Clark(e) [I’ve been unable to find out more about this man and mentor, thus the ambivalent spelling], Alonzo Levister, Baldwin’s famous story “Sonny’s Blues,” Louis Armstrong, Ralph Ellison, the Newport Jazz Festival, and even “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“Remarkable” is an understatement.  We owe our friend and hero Dan more than this page could say.

And some appropriate music from the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:

May your happiness increase!

JOHN SCURRY’S SINGULAR VIGNETTES: REVERSE SWING: “POST-MATINEE”

You might not have heard of the splendid musician John Scurry, but that can be remedied right away.  Here’s a whimsical, swinging sample — elating even if you are allergic to cats:

John and I have a long yet intermittent musical friendship.  I know I heard him on a variety of Australian jazz recordings with, among others, Allan Browne and Bob Barnard, but we did not meet in person until July 2010 at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, where he performed as part of Michael McQuaid’s Late Hour Boys, captured here with John on banjo, playing that often abused instrument with grace.  In time, I began to hear John as a guitarist but even more importantly as a composer.  And I heard tales of his small ingenious band, REVERSE SWING, which I described here.  I’d not heard the band, but John’s explanation of the title (enclosed in the post above) made me an enthusiast, taking it on faith.

As a serious but relevant digression, John is also a lyrical painter and photographer, imbuing “common” objects with resonance that makes me think of the painter Giorgio Morandi.  The cover is his, and when you purchase the disc, the photographs inside are his also.

In 2011, John — along with Andy Schumm, Jason Downes, Josh Duffee, Leigh Barker, and Michael McQuaid, was part of the Hot Jazz Alliance: they gave concerts and toured in 2014 and 2015.  I saw them at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in the latter year and followed John and a larger ensemble led by Josh to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania — Chauncey Morehouse’s home town — for a concert of Morehouse / Goldkette music.  In the lobby of John’s hotel, we had a long conversation, and I believe he said a REVERSE SWING disc was in process and I (perhaps not subtly) offered my services as a pro bono liner-note writer.  (I’d done the same for the HJA disc.)

And so it came to pass . . . that I heard REVERSE SWING, and was captivated by it.  The seventeen compositions on the disc are all John’s, varied in mood and approach: the CD feels like a leisurely sweep through a hall of evocative paintings.  Or a slim volume of short stories.  It’s not a “trad” band nor a post-bop ensemble — the performances swing — but a group that draws on a tradition of improvising over strong, sometimes quirky melodies and surprising harmonies.

The basic personnel is Eugene Ball, trumpet; Michael McQuaid, clarinet, alto saxophone; Matt Boden, piano; Howard Cairns, string bass, concertina; John Scurry, guitar — with additional cameos by Shelley Scown, vocal; Danny Fischer, drums; James Macaulay, trombone; Phil Noy, alto saxophone.

I know that the combination, for some more staid listeners, of original compositions and a band of less well-known musicians might be slightly intimidating, but we all have sufficient shelf space devoted to Our Favorite and Sometimes Predictable Bands . . . REVERSE SWING well deserves your attention.

Here are my notes:

In A VISION, Yeats wrote that the spirits visited him “to give him metaphors for poetry.” For inspiration, all I can claim is Facebook, where, a few hours before this disc arrived I had seen a famous Mississippi restaurant, The Dinner Bell, with a round table, seating twenty, two dozen entrees on its rotating center. As I listened to REVERSE SWING, I thought of diners moving from one serving dish to another, each one different in content, texture, seasoning, all harmonizing memorably.

A didactic annotator could fill pages saying what this track Sounds Like and what band / musician he Is Reminded Of, but I will leave such fetishes to those who cannot find pleasure without them. Scurry’s music, although irresistibly swinging, is MUSIC first, jazz second: melodic, surprising but inevitable (to steal from Whitney Balliett) with its bright eyes on us, sometimes teary, sometimes winking, even tenderly sleepy. I imagine a dance programme ranging from uptown funk to pastoralia, or soundtrack music for a never-seen Dennis Potter project.

Of John’s light-hearted but distincitve compositional art I can write only that I kept smiling and saying to myself, “Look what he’s doing THERE!” Each song is complete and shapely: a painting or photograph in itself, which is apt. I am also thrilled to hear so much of his guitar playing out in the open, concise yet emotive in solo, prancing in ensemble. Of the other players I write, as would Louis, that they are Topmen On Their Instruments, masters of Tonation and Phrasing. I’d never heard Shelley Scown sing before, but I bow low before her sweet elegance.

Alec Wilder would have admired this; Ellington, too. I want a second and third volume.

Now, something from the Uncollected Scurry-Steinman Correspondence.  I’d asked John — so that I could understand the musical scenes better — where the compositions came from, and he wrote me this.  Its length is my doing, not his immodesty, because I frankly badgered him to tell me everything, because I find the artist’s motivations fascinating — and how often do we have the artist ready to tell all through a series of emails?

“This CD is a selection of tunes of mine written over some years and conceived specifically for this recording. I can liken it to having an exhibition of paintings wherein there is no articulated concept or theme at play, rather a gathering of works that hopefully cohabit together and make sense musically. Most of the pieces were kept relatively short so as to state them as tunes in their various guises and feels and not as extensive flights of improvisation. Part of the joy in producing this body of works was in having the privilege of playing with my fellow musician friends developing and coaxing these melodies into life as new presences. Some have been recorded previously such as “Yes’” and “By practised Skill”. These two, put to music from two poems by Dashiell Hammett written in 1927 (from memory) with the words and poetic form fitting well in 32 bar and 24 bar formats common to the period. With the song “How Calm the Sea is Tonight,” when I put it together melodically and with the words, my original thought was to use Shelley Scown to sing it. I had imagined her singing for several years before actually meeting her. She made a wonderful recording called “Angel” with Paul Grabowsky and the late Allan Browne and Gary Costello respectively. Her voice had a lilting purity that I thought would embody the song. The song I developed verbatim from the last paragraph of a brief magazine story told by a woman reflecting on her life in a whaling town in southern New South Wales. Hence its folk ballad sense. The melody was originally created as a sound backdrop for a short animation. I finally met Shelley last year at a memorial concert for my old comrade Allan Browne where we were both performing and the circle was completed. Shelley’s other vocal,”Your Face”, I fess up to the words. In the spirit of all those who have gone before, another song about longing and the tactility of memory.

“Virology” was conceived for the band “Virus” that I played with regularly for many years. Strangely we never played this tune. Some of the tunes have personal connections such as “A Walk Around Tom” which is for my oldest brother who sadly has severe short term memory recall. A big jazz aficionado in his day with what he referred to as progressive jazz and, like my immediate next brother, a huge influence. “Post Matinee” for me has cinematic overtones. Sometimes meaning in a non literal way evolves out of the process of connecting time signatures and chord structures. My first paid employment, albeit brief, was as a ten year old theatre attendant selling screen news magazines at our local theatre. The theatre is long defunct but maintains its physical presence as an apartment block in Windsor, Melbourne. Going to the Saturday matinee every week was like church. A few years back I made a small painting of the then ex Windsor Theatre and called it “Post Matinee”.

Two more with poetry connections. “ Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines” is by Pablo Neruda. The first seven words of the opening stanza are enough to create the feel and melodic context for the resultant song. “Last Trams” is titled after the poem by Australian poet Kenneth Slessor. Originally, from memory, I think I was playing around with the changes to “Baby Won”t You Please Come Home”.

Some fauna related pieces. “Otis the Cat” is not the guy you are sharing a cell with; he is my dear friend of eighteen years, our cat Otis. Unbridled sentimentality to the fore. “A Blackbird Skipped Quivering Between Things” Yes, I know. Behind every title is a story. Oddly enough titles emanate from the spirit of the work. We are visited daily by a blackbird family in search of morsels of cat food. They stop and start skipping across grass and verandah and at a pinch have the odd quiver. I came across a lovely quote by a French art critic who was lauding the paintings of Berthe Morisot, Manet’s sister, and he stated with reference to the light in her paintings that there was “a quivering between things”. Hence my theft which seemed apt at the time. A little waltz with an inadvertent homage to American folk traditions, as our music from my first memories is a great melting pot of American popular song plus a smattering of British music hall and folk song, not to forget the centrality of hymns. “Sad Songs” is a tune without words which it almost demands. It started off as “Sad songs and bad songs,” a would be letter to a recently deceased musical friend, reassuring him as to his boy’s welfare, but somehow it turned into a sort of optimistic cowboy song. They can assert themselves with a life of their own, these songs.

The last piece I shall comment on is “Thomas and Green,” named for the street corner where I grew up. My first encounter with live music was not “Honey Hush” or “Buttons and Bows” that blared regularly on the radio, but the mellifluous sounds of tenor horns and cornets from the Salvation Band that would appear of a Sunday evening on that corner. Howard Cairns grew up in a Salvo family, his dad being a Major in it. Howard inherited his father’s concertina so we conceived honouring that connection in the chorale “Thomas and Green” as a coda to the album.”

Here the wise and curious listener can hear more, purchase a disc or a download.  I recommend all these actions.  REVERSE SWING is quietly, subversively remarkable.

May your happiness increase!

HE STRIDES RIGHT IN: MIKE LIPSKIN at FAT CAT (December 17, 2017)

These performances make me think of Emerson’s words: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

The music I refer to is that of the great improviser Mike Lipskin — spiritual heir of Willie “the Lion” Smith — and two songs he reimagined on Sunday, December 17, 2017, at that downtown and below-ground secret shrine for improvised music, Fat Cat.  I applaud Fat Cat for its eccentricities: it is truly A Scene, but one of the ubiquitous elements there is the roar of the young crowd, playing ping-pong, billiards, and other games.  Exuberant youth isn’t silent, except perhaps when sleeping or texting, so Mike had unsolicited and unmusical accompaniment, which he brilliantly triumphed over.  And please note that Mike isn’t just someone lining up one Waller module after the next: his playing is harmonically sophisticated, swinging along in its frisky gentle ways no matter what the tempo.  He’s a class act at the keyboard.

Here’s Mike’s delightful musings on SWEET AND LOVELY, aptly named:

And here’s Vincent Youmans’ spiritual exhortation, much loved by Fats and other Harlem cosmic magicians:

Thank you, Mike.  Come back soon and play some more!

May your happiness increase!

BOB MERRILL CELEBRATES THE TRUMPET KINGS in FLORIDA (January 19 / 20, 2018)

Even though the snow is beginning to melt, the thought of going to Florida for some warm music is very attractive: Bob Merrill’s shows at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, to be exact.

The amiable and expert Bob — trumpet, vocals, original compositions — has put together a concert presentation, engaging, hot, and sweet, to warm up our winter.  Here’s a sample from his 2011 presentation (with John Colianni, Jon Burr, and Vinny Raniolo):

For those who can’t hop a plane to Florida to see and hear Bob, he’s generously offered us another piece of Trumpet King memorabilia: the wonderful Herb Snitzer photograph of brass royalty (Louis was of course on the bus somewhere):

and since even I couldn’t identify everyone correctly without some notes, here’s the crib sheet:

and Herb autographed this wonderful photograph for Bob:

Another idea for those who can’t get themselves to the shows.  Check out Bob’s CDs here and here.  He’s got the right ideas.

May your happiness increase!

THEIR JELLY IS SWEET AND HOT: ANDREW OLIVER and DAVID HORNIBLOW HONOR MISTER MORTON

For me, this morning started off splendidly with a blast of expert passionate hot music from pianist Andrew Oliver and clarinetist David Horniblow:

Please notice their immense romping ardor, and that although they are respectfully hewing to Morton’s composition, they aren’t reproducing the record note for note.

And the imagined flip side of the video 78, ORIGINAL JELLY ROLL BLUES:

Andrew and David have set themselves the substantial and joyous task of playing all of Morton’s compositions — about one hundred — in this duo format.  And “playing” means several things that we take for granted in 2018.  Their performances will be on video, and they will be offered to the eager public for free, both on their dedicated YouTube channel and on Andrew’s blog.  I find this both refreshingly “contemporary” and “antique” at the same time, as if I could go down to the best record store in my town every Tuesday and buy the new Oliver-Hornblow 78 of two more Morton compositions, being very careful not to slip on the ice and break my precious purchase.

Andrew’s blog is here.  The YouTube channel is called Complete Morton Project.  Charming and accurate.

I emphasize that their generous Musical Offering is done for free.  That’s the way musicians function or perhaps have to function in this century.  How could we make Messrs. Oliver and Horniblow feel welcomed in what is, after all, a world of commodities that have to be paid for?  (Artists, like us, have a fondness for meals and electricity and clean laundry . . . .)  At this point the forbidding God of Should emerges and with a voice louder than thunder says, “You SHOULD subscribe to the YouTube channel.  You SHOULD go to gigs that Andrew and David are playing (especially if you live in the United Kingdom).  You SHOULD check out their fine band, The Dime Notes, and buy their debut CD or vinyl record.  Details here.

For me (now that the God has spoken and I can hear myself think once again) I wish that there could be a Morton-Oliver-Horniblow PayPal subscription.  I would gladly send these fellows ten dollars a week for their musical generosity. But until that time, I will merely exhort you to make sure that you watch these bursts of joy and get your hot-jazz friends to do likewise.

May your happiness increase!

“FOREVER WEIRD”: THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET and FRIENDS at THE KITCHEN, PART ONE (Dec. 9, 2017)

For me, 2017 has been a year of wonderful music, meeting and hearing Nancy Harrow, interviewing Dan Morgenstern, and more.  The “more” includes hearing and recording The Microscopic Septet twice.

I know I am late to the festivities, since the Micros have been changing the world one song at a time for more than thirty years, but I am certainly enjoying them.

The facts, or what they resemble: the Micros are co-led by pianist / composer Joel Forrester and saxophonist / composer Phillip Johnston.  The five other nobles in the crew are Richard Dworkin, drums; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone and vocal; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Don Davis, alto saxophone. They make uplifting, always surprising music.

The first time I had the pleasure was on June 6, at the Astor Room in Astoria, New York, and the results are here and heregloriously.

Six months later, I very happily found myself in a reserved seat in the front row of The Kitchen at 512 West 19th Street in the West Village of New York City, waiting for the music to begin.  Phillip had gathered the Micros and two other bands from the same time and place — the Jazz Passengers and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, for what he called FOREVER WEIRD.

At times, the music was weird, but in the most friendly ways.  To attempt to “interpret” it would be an impudence both to the musicians and this audience. I will indulge myself in only one metaphor: imagine a train rhythmically moving through a constantly shifting multi-colored landscape, changing, morphing, returning.  Just as we’ve gotten comfortable with the purple stalactites outside the window, they are replaced with three (not four) upholstered kitchen chairs. And we are happy.

Not knowing the two other bands, I did not video-record them (although we might get to see the finale, when everyone gathered onstage and played DON’T MIND IF I DO — in a future post) but I devotedly captured the Micros. The premise of their hour-long set was a quick retrospective through their collective history — too rich to compress into eight performances, but what a satisfying jaunt.  Here are the first four:

Phillip’s A STRANGE THOUGHT ENTERED MY HEAD:

LIEUTENANT CASSOWARY, by Joel:

Joel’s SECOND AVENUE:

A “seasonal favorite” for the “generic holiday season,” recomposed by Joel:

The second half will come soon.  I know this offering is but a fraction — one-half of the closing third, but it’s a very rewarding sixth.

Thanks to Phillip Johnston, Don Davis, Dave Sewelson, Michael Hashim, Richard Dworkin, Joel Forrester, Dave Hofstra, and to the kind people at The Kitchen, who couldn’t have been more welcoming.

May your happiness increase!

“FORGED IN RHYTHM”: KEENAN McKENZIE with LAURA WINDLEY, GORDON AU, LUCIAN COBB, CHRIS DAWSON, JONATHAN STOUT, SETH FORD-YOUNG, JOSH COLLAZO (AUGUST 2017)

To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, “To one who feels the groove, no explanation is necessary. To one who doesn’t feel it, no explanation is possible.”

This new CD is just wonderful.  Listen to a sample here while you read.  And  that link is the easiest way to purchase a download or a disc.

The irresistibly catchy songs are TRANSCONTINENTAL* / MY WELL-READ BABY* / PARTS AND LABOR / LIGHTS OUT / IF I WROTE A SONG FOR YOU / CINCINNATI / DOWN THE HATCH / CALLOUS AND KIND* / BUFFALO CONVENTION / FORGED IN RHYTHM* / WHEN I’M HERE ALONE* / POCKET ACES / CITY IN THE DEEP / EASTBOUND / THE DWINDLING LIGHT BY THE SEA*.

I don’t write “irresistibly catchy” often, but I mean it here.  The lyrics are clever without being forced, sometimes deeply tender.  “Don’t send me names / Of potential flames,” is one tiny example of the Mercer-Hart world he visits. I emphasize that Mister McKenzie not only wrote music and lyrics, but arranged these originals AND performs beautifully on a variety of reeds.  He is indeed someone to watch, and admire.  He’s also a generous wise leader who gives his colleagues ample space, thus the CD is truly varied, each performance its own pleasing world.

The “tunes” themselves stick in the mind.  Some are contrafacts — new melodies built over sturdy lovable harmonic sequences (SUGAR BLUES, ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, INDIAN SUMMER, and BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA if my ears do not deceive me).  These hybrids work delightfully: it’s as if you’ve met beloved friends who have decided to cross-dress for the evening or for life: you recognize the dear person and the garb simultaneously, admiring both the substance and the wrappings.

The delicious band, sounding so much larger than a septet, is Keenan McKenzie, reeds; Gordon Au, trumpet; Lucian Cobb, trombone; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Chris Dawson, piano; Seth Ford-Young, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Laura Windley, vocals*.  You might not recognize all the names here, but you are in for compact explosions of joy when the music starts.

The soloists are playing superbly — and that includes players Gordon and Chris, whom I’ve been stalking for what seems like a decade now (my math is wrong but my emotions are correct) as well as the newer members of the Blessed Swing Flock.  Although they don’t work together regularly as a unit, they speak the same language effortlessly and listen contentedly to each other: Soloist Three starts his solo with a variation on the phrase that Soloist Two has just played.  That’s the way the Elders did it, a tradition beautifully carried forward here.

The rhythm section has perfected the Forties magic of seeming to lean forward into the beat while keeping the time steady.  Harry Lim and Milt Gabler smile at these sounds.  This band knows all that anyone needs to know about ensemble playing — they offer so much more than one brilliant solo after another.  Yes, Virginia, there are riffs, send-offs, and all those touches of delightful architecture that made the recordings we hold dear so memorable.  Without a vibraphone, this group takes some spiritual inspiration from the Lionel Hampton Victors, and you know (or should) just how fine they are.  “Are,” not “were.”

And there is the invaluable Laura Windley, who’s never sounded more like herself: if Joan Blondell took up singing, she’d sound like Laura.  And Joan would be thrilled at the transformation.

The lovely sound is thanks to Miles Senzaki (engineer at Grandma’s Dojo in Los Angeles, California; Jason Richmond, who mixed the music; Steve Turnidge, who mastered the disc).  The nifty artwork and typography — evoking both David Stone Martin and Al Hirschfeld — is by artist-clarinetist Ryan Calloway.

The disc is also available through CDBaby and shortly on Amazon and iTunes: check here for updates on such matters.  And here you can find out more about Keenan’s many selves, all of them musical.

I end on a personal note.  I first began to enjoy this disc at the end of the semester for me (I teach English at a community college) — days that are difficult for me.  I had graded enough student essays to feel despondent; I had sat at the computer for so long so that my neck hurt and my eyes ached.  But this disc had come in the mail, and I’d heard TRANSCONTINENTAL and MY WELL-READ BABY already, so, feeling depleted and sulky, I slipped it into the player.  Optimism replaced gloom, and I played the whole disc several times in a row, because it made me tremendously happy.  It can do the same spiritual alchemy for you, if you only allow it in.

May your happiness increase!

BRAD GOWANS, COLE McELROY, GUS EDWARDS, and THE FAT BABIES OFFER A RESPONSE TO WINTER 2018

My car, a year or two ago, in a typical snow-scene never imagined by Currier and Ives.

This posting is motivated by annoying winter weather — nothing unusual for January, but snow is much more delightful for children who get to play in it than adults who have to shovel it away.  But you know this, and my plaint is hardly original.  However, the musical palliative might be pleasant, even if it didn’t snow where you are reading these words.

[Brad] Gowans’ Rhapsody Makers — or Gowan’s on the label: Brad Gowans, cornet, clarinet; George Drewes, trombone; unknown alto and tenor saxophone; Frank Cornwell, violin, vocal; Tony Franchini, piano; Ed Rosie, banjo; Paul Weston, tuba; Fred Moynahan, drums; Frank Cornwell and two others, vocal trio. New York, October 26, 1926.

a hot side for sure:

and the flip side of the Gennett disc:

and since the impulse to go to Hawaii right away is hard to quell (the local weather forecast says the high temperature today will be thirteen degrees — Farenheit) here are two other versions of I’LL FLY TO HAWAII.  The first has a pleasing melody statement by bass clarinet, and reassuring trio singing:

and another venture into the land of aloha warmth with an intriguing trombone line over violins . . . and a vocal trio:

Bringing the impulse happily into this century, here is the rollicking version (2013) by The Fat Babies, from their second CD for Delmark Records (hot music by Paul Asaro, Alex Hall, Beau Sample, Jake Sanders, Dave Bock, John Otto, Andy Schumm):

If the plane fare is too much to consider, you can always escape through music.  This post is in honor of Sammut of Cambridge, always an inspiring philosophical presence, someone who has shaped my thinking in memorable ways.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS GENE AMMONS, DEXTER GORDON, ERROLL GARNER, DON BYAS, AND CHICAGO DAYS (September 29, 2017)

On this wintry day — the blizzard outside my New York window looked like bits of ripped-up tissues falling from the skies — what could be more warming than thirty-five minutes with Dan Morgenstern telling tales of his Chicago days, including the story of Gene Ammons’ release from jail?  And Dan reminds us that jazz “is a communal music,” and tells tales of King Kolax and jazz on television as well:

and here’s the second part where Dan talks about jazz on television — the wonderful show “JUST JAZZ,” produced by Robert Kaiser and featuring Erroll Garner, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson:

Thank you, Dan, for warming not only this day but any other day you’re on the scene.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BEAUTY DROPS BY: JEREMY KAHN AND ANDY BROWN IN CONCERT (November 24, 2017)

Even in the most dire times — when the latest news suggests that Armaggedon is closer than next month’s credit card bill, to be followed by a few days of polar vortex — beauty is always possible and sometimes it pays a call.  You have only to be receptive to it and ready to sit still for three-quarters of an hour: and you arise from the experience nourished, joyous, rebalanced.

The creators of this latest gift of beauty are pianist Jeremy Kahn and guitarist Andy Brown — both Chicagoans, and Andy should be familiar to readers of this blog.  They performed a brief yet utterly fulfilling recital in November of last year — at the serene space provided by PianoForte in Chicago.  On paper, it was devoted to the inspired teamwork created by Bill Evans and Jim Hall, but don’t let that trick you into thinking they were imitating UNDERCURRENT, for example.

Both Jeremy and Andy are supreme melodists who pay homage to the composers and the moods created by the original songs, but they also are having fun conversing and playing.  Nothing here is childish — ask any pianist or guitarist how many decades of hard work it takes to play this way for even four beats — but they both are humorous, and sly quotes pass back and forth, including a nod to the WEST END BLUES cadenza that I will let you find for yourselves.  Or, if you’re impatient for high-level joyous musical tennis, go directly to I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN with its impish repartee or the closing MY FUNNY VALENTINE that I can only describe as slightly at an angle and happy to be there.  This is marvelous music, and it gently swings; it’s never too-much-of-the-same-thing.  I’m so grateful it happened and was recorded.

The compositions are DARN THAT DREAM / YOU GO TO MY HEAD / I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU / STAIRWAY TO THE STARS / I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN / MY FUNNY VALENTINE:

What a gift to us all.  I am, like everyone else in this century, trained by bright lights and rapidly-changing stimuli to be more impatient, but I sat for the entirety of this set, entranced: it passed like a light-hearted dream.

May your happiness increase!

THE MYSTERIES OF JANUARY 17, 1936, or WHO WAS CHEECH?

If it please Your Honor, Exhibit A:

And Exhibit B:

Those are two unassuming-looking sides of a Decca “sunburst” label 78 disc.  Fine music with small mysteries attached, and no one around to tell the tale(s).  This 78 is not easy to find these days but it seems to have been a popular issue: I have had two copies, the first a (now-vanished) sunburst, the second (near me as I write) a later Decca reissue.  It was also issued on UK Decca.

This group, not a working band, recorded only these two sides in the New York Decca studios on January 17, 1936.  The personnel was Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Joe Marsala, clarinet; Frank Signorelli, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Stan King, drums.  Erwin and Mastren would work with Tommy Dorsey in early 1937, but at the time Erwin was in New York with the young Benny Goodman band before it went to Chicago; the rest of this group might have been together on Fifty-Second Street with Manone or Louis Prima, or freelancing in other record or radio studios.

Marsala and Mastren had been in the Decca studios for another small-group date, apparently organized by Wingy Manone, in whose recording groups they were working consistently for Bluebird — “the Delta Four,” with Roy Eldridge and Sid Weiss making up a quartet, also completing only two sides, FAREWELL BLUES and SWINGIN’ ON THAT FAMOUS DOOR, on December 20, 1935.  Signorelli and Mastren had done a date at Decca with Bunny Berigan as “Bob Terry’s Orchestra” on the 15th; Signorelli, King, and possibly Mastren were in the Decca studios on the 20th with Red McKenzie.

What or who brought these musicians together is one of the mysteries.  It could  have been that one of the six got a call from someone at Decca, perhaps Bob Stephens, saying, “We need a small band tomorrow in the studios at 11.  No more than six, and for scale,” and whoever picked up the phone or got the message at Hurley’s (the bar-gathering place before Jim and Andy’s) talked to other musicians down the bar or made some phone calls.

One more small gush of data: the Six Blue Chips were a late-morning or afternoon assemblage: blues singer Georgia White (piano, vocal, with unknown bass) recorded three sides earlier in the day, and Mike Riley (of THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND fame or infamy) recorded four sides later. American Decca, still quite a new company, was busy recording music and selling discs at lower prices than, say, Victor, as shown by three disparate sessions in one day.

Note the absence of composer credits, something unusual on Decca recordings of current pop tunes, but seen often on their recordings of “hilbilly” music, where the company could pretend that there were no people owed royalties.  It suggests even more that this was a hurry-up session, or perhaps someone’s idea to add to the Delta Four (whose labels do have composer credits).

Incidentally, the reason that all this prose is speculative is because no one connected with the session seemed to remember it or wrote about it.  If King, Shapiro, and Signorelli were ever interviewed, I haven’t encountered it.  I met Carmen Mastren once — on either Lloyd Rauch’s or Dave Weiner’s radio show — and at the time did not know of this recording.  He was very kind . . . and I don’t know where the V-Disc he autographed for me went.

The most likely candidate for an informed recollection would have been Pee Wee Erwin, who told his life story to Warren Vache, Sr., over four hundred pages, in what would be published as THIS HORN FOR HIRE.  But although Vache mentions this disc in an appendix, it seems as if that discography was assembled after Erwin’s death. Pee Wee mentions meeting Bob Stephens in the very early Thirties (when Stephens was a trumpet player) but nothing of substance is offered about the date or the other musicians.  One of the sad surprises of that biography is that Pee Wee had a substantial alcohol problem, which might have erased his memory of casual record dates.

None of this would matter if the music wasn’t delightful. Here it is:

STEEL ROOF, of course, steals from TIN ROOF BLUES, but it took me decades to realize this.  The side begins with a familiar — to some of us painfully familiar — piano introduction, with which Frank Froeba began all of the Dick Robertson sides, much loved because of the opportunity they offer to hear a young Bobby Hackett.  I’m always struck by the ease with which everyone plays this medium-slow blues, and how readily identifiable their sounds are, including King’s idiosyncratic but telling accents.  Erwin runs parallel to Bunny, but with his own sound; how lovely to hear Mastren out in the open, and Marsala always charms — even though this is “a slow blues,” he is charmingly optimistic.  The solos and closing ensemble have deep roots in the past: Oliver, Noone, Lang or Lonnie Johnson, but it’s clearly 1936, not a decade earlier.  And what a pleasant surprise to find that same piano passage used to wind down the performance — with the punchline being a King bass drum accent.  Unpretentious and completely effective.

Then, the reverse, with its elusive title: was Cheech someone who cheated or were they describing the process of cheating him (or her)?

There really isn’t much to CHEECH — it sounds like two or three familiar cadences taped together to make a chorus, but the overall effect is jolly, with the wonderful emphasis that the great improvisers placed on individual sound.  The record seems over before it’s through, but I hear Marsala’s luminescence and Mastren taking a trip into the land of what I first associated with McDonough, but Nick Rossi, who can play, suggests it is much more like Lang.  (I know the game of “sounds like” is silly, but I wonder how much Carmen had absorbed of Teddy Bunn and Lonnie Johnson as well?)

How these sides came to be remains mysterious, but they are little slices of Swing Street life, captured forever.  These discs, incidentally, come to us through the generosity of “Cliff,” whom I’ve been unable to identify further, but who has a wonderful YouTube channel, cdbpdx — full of now-rare 78 discs.

May your happiness increase!