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!

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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!