Monthly Archives: February 2018


Over the past fourteen years, I’ve been privileged to have many conversations, serious and hilarious, with the most admirable musician Jon-Erik Kellso.  He picks his words carefully, often as whimsical commentaries on some passing absurdity.  Jon doesn’t need twenty choruses to speak his piece, but what he says is solid.

Thus it was a pleasure and a surprise to find this video interview done by the gracious Monk Rowe for the Fillius Jazz Archive at Hamilton College September 1997 (at that time I’d heard and admired Jon on recordings but hadn’t yet encountered him in person) at Jazz at Chautauqua . . . those familiar with the Hotel Athenaeum will recognize the wallpaper.

Monk leads Jon-Erik through his fortunate blossomings as a musician, improviser, and trumpeter: along the way there are quiet irreplaceable insights about the trumpet’s role in the improvising ensemble, a loving tribute to Milt Hinton, and much more.

I’m not sure what Jon-Erik, in 2018, thinks of his young self, but this boyish fellow acquits himself with easy grace:

For many more of these wonderful interviews, some done by eminent musicians as well as the amiable Mr. Rowe, visit here.  And for a splendidly tonic infusion of the Kellso magic — cage-free and organic — check this out.

May your happiness increase!


SIMPLY ELOQUENT: DAN BARRETT and JOEL FORBES (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 16, 2017)

As a way for musicians to express themselves, the duet can be compelling, also greatly revealing: no place to hide.  But with Dan Barrett, trombone, and Joel Forbes, string bass, there’s no reason for concealment.

Here they are, in duet on LULLABY OF THE LEAVES, performed at the much-missed Cleveland Classic Jazz Party on September 16, 2017:

and here is the composer, Bernice Petkere (1901-2000), whose other memorable song is CLOSE YOUR EYES:

May your happiness increase!


Meet Jinjoo Yoo, jazz pianist:

Although she studied sociology and economics as a university student in South Korea, she came to New York City a few years ago and began devoting herself to the study of jazz piano, composition, and arranging.  You can find out more about her path — from Seoul to swing here.

Her 2017 performance / arrangement of HONEYSUCKLE ROSE will tell you more than her brief biography.  That’s Luca Rosenfeld, string bass, and Doron Tirosh, drums:

Here’s another side of her — lyrical, questing, pensive.  The song is Bud Powell’s DUSK IN SANDI, which Jinjoo came to make her own with some friendly assistance from Coach Barry Harris:

Jinjoo has recorded a trio EP, I’M CURIOUS (Gut String Records) which will be out at the end of February.  I’ll have more to say about it then, but it finds her playing her compositions — quirky and lively — with wonderful support from Neal Miner, string bass, and Jimmy Wormworth, drums.

Neal, Jimmy, Jinjoo

Until then, her website offers a good deal of music.  Although young, she has a true talent, as you will find out.  And here is her Facebook page for even more current information.

May your happiness increase!


At times, I find the world of 2018 terribly destabilizing and cold.  I live in the middle of an insular community, so the percentage of people who will respond to “Good morning,” a smile, and eye contact, is small.

I understand the reasons: I am not of the tribe (and there are many tribes from which one might be excluded); I am not known; I am male; I might very well say something inappropriate after that salutation.  “Don’t talk to strangers!” is still strong.

But I think in this world, full of sharp edges, we might do worse than smile at people we don’t know.

The essential soundtrack is a song that used to be familiar and easy: Chris Tyle says that he used to play it as the first tune on a gig: that shows characteristic good taste.  It is, on the surface, a love song — your love shows through in the way you smile at me — but it is also a song about the possibility of a love that is less specific, more embracing.  That might save us.

There are many versions of SMILES on YouTube — pretty and respectful performances from 1918, with the verse, to more recent ones by swing / New Orleans bands.  But the latter are too speedy for me, as if the bands are trying to show how well and hot they play by increasing the tempo.  As a smile might grow gradually and naturally, this song — to me — needs to be played at a singable tempo, to let the feeling emerge as it would in a real encounter.

I am happy that I can share the version that has stayed with me for thirty-plus years, one of John Hammond’s best but unheralded ideas, of merging “pop” vocalists Eddy Howard and Chick Bullock with superb small bands.

Once it was fashionable to sneer at Chick as dull and overly earnest.  Yes, he can sound like Uncle Charles deciding to sing, but he is much more subtle than that, and his homemade quality is eminently appealing on material like this.  Without doing too much, he sounds as if he believes the lyrics and he believes in the song, and his gentle affectionate conviction is warming.

Here, on December 6, 1940, he was accompanied by Bill Coleman, trumpet; Benny Morton, trombone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Eddie Gibbs, guitar; Billy Taylor, Sr., string bass; Yank Porter, drums.  With the exception of Freeman, so inspired here, this was one version of the band Wilson led at Cafe Society Downtown.  I’ve always listened to this record several times, once for Chick, once for the band, and more. How much music they fit into this 78 through split choruses and obbligati!

I hope this music inspires some readers to smile in general, and to try this radically humane act in the larger world.  The worst thing that can happen is that one might be greeted with an emotionless stare or suspicion, but I’ve found that there are kindred souls in the universe who will — even shyly — make eye contact.  Such connections might be all we have, and they are worth cherishing.

May your happiness increase!


If you don’t get to St. Louis often, these two people may be unfamiliar to you.  But they make excellent music.

You say you’d like to hear some?  Consider this — a short film by Bill Streeter:

and this, which pairs Ethan with Valerie Kirschhoff:

A friend told me about Ethan and Valerie, and I’ve been listening to their CDs with great pleasure.  I know that comparisons are not only odious, but they cause one to lose friends, but Ethan and Valerie, together or singly, have got it.  By “it” I mean a certain easy authority and authenticity: when they perform their special music — the low-down St. Louis blues, rags, and pop of the time — I don’t feel as if they are children playing at being adults, nor do I feel that I am listening to copies of 78s.  (However, if they’d been born a century ago, you would, I am sure, know them from their recordings on Paramount, Bluebird, and Decca.  They’re that much in the groove.)

Ethan and Valerie have a certain brash tenderness that is very much appealing, and although I hear echoes of certain performers (famous and obscure) I hear the personalities of these two — in this century — coming right at me.  This is rare and delicious, and even when they perform songs that are by today’s standards “ancient,” they seem full of emotion and fun.

And they are not shallow: by that I mean that certain young “stride” pianists have taught themselves AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and four other tunes; certain young singers know GOD BLESS THE CHILD and FINE AND MELLOW . . . and then it’s time for a break.  One of the pleasures of the three CDs I have on hand: THE ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS, MISS JUBILEE: “THROW ME IN THE ALLEY,” and Ethan’s solo piano offering, THE LOW-DOWN PIANO, is the scholarly breadth of their chosen repertoire.  It’s not simply a non-stop parade of twelve-bar blues (incidentally, the closing video of this blog shows Valerie, with ukulele and friends, including Marty Eggers, making a meal of MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT, which belongs to Mound City hero Red McKenzie, although Marty Grosz has brought it back in recent times).

In his solo recital, Ethan plays compositions by Romeo Nelson, Little Brother Montgomery, Jabo Williams, Montana Taylor, and others in addition to the expected heroes; I was familiar with two of the sixteen compositions on the GRINDERS CD, and MISS JUBILEE dips happily into Thirties ephemera, including THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS and JERRY THE JUNKER.  (In fact, on that CD — with friends — the overall effect is somewhere between Clarence Williams and the Lil Hardin Armstrong small groups, with a dash of the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and completely refreshing — a kind of hot elegant rawness, a wild oxymoron that will make sense with the first listening.)

I am not writing as much as I might, because I’d rather listeners go to the videos and sound samples to enjoy for themselves.  Ethan and Valerie have put up many videos on YouTube, and they have an expansive online presence, as one must these days.

Here is Ethan’s website. And here is the site for MISS JUBILEE — the aptly-named group Valerie and Ethan co-lead.  And the Facebook page for the ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS — who also live up to their proud title, never faltering or hesitating.

You can listen to excerpts from and buy MISS JUBILEE’s CDs here and the same is true for Ethan’s solo piano CD  here.

They are very welcome: they make the best noises, and they spread joy in all directions.

May your happiness increase!


OPEN PANDORA’S BOX, by Sofia Wellman

The eBay treasure chest is overflowing with delights, and occasionally the treasures are startling.  I’ve come to expect autographed records and photographs and concert programs, as well as little scraps of paper cut from someone’s autograph book.  There’s been a recent flurry of checks — bearing the signature of an otherwise obscure musician on the back as the necessary endorsement.  And more, some of it dross.

I am always slightly ambivalent about the rarities coming to light.  On one hand, what a joy to see relics and artifacts that one never knew existed.  On the other, I feel melancholy that these offerings are (plausibly) because collectors age and die, need money, and their heirs are understandably eager to convert the fan’s collection into something more useful at the mall.  But it’s all just objects, and they go from one hand to another: better this than the recycling bin.

To get to the point: I found on eBay this morning a trove of one-of-a-kind color slides of jazz musicians in performance, captured between 1949 and 1955 in Cleveland and Chicago, possibly elsewhere.  Each is offered for $50 or the best offer, and here is the link.  An explanation is here: the slides were from the collection of photographer Nat Singerman.  (As a caveat: I have no idea of the process by which these items came to be offered for sale, so if the provenance is murky, I plead ignorance.)

The musicians Nat photographed are (in no order of merit): Miff Mole, Buddy Rich, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Patti Page, Art Hodes, Jonah Jones, Louis Jordan, Jim Robinson, J.C. Higginbotham, Eddie Heywood, Darnell Howard, Lee Collins, Louis Prima, Flip Phillips, Oscar Pettiford, Freddie Moore, Red Norvo, Tal Farlow, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Hunt, Juanita Hall.  They were caught in action at clubs, the State Theatre in Cleveland, a rib restaurant, and elsewhere.  (Flip, Rich, and others may have been on a JATP tour.)  It’s a powerful reminder of just how much live music there was in this country.  Here are a few samples, but go see for yourselves before they are all purchased.  As some anonymous pitchman once said, “When they’re gone, they’re gone!”  I am not involved in this beyond this blogpost: I spent the February budget for such things on photographs of Vic Dickenson and Sidney Catlett.

J.C. Higginbotham and “Chuck” at the Pinwheel Cafe, 1949, as Nat’s careful label shows:

Darnell Howard, with Lee Collins in the background, presumably at the BeeHive in 1949:

and a shot of the full front line, with Miff Mole (the rhythm section may have had Don Ewell on piano):

Flip Phillips, at Cleveland’s State Theatre in 1949:

Jonah Jones, posing outside the Cab Calloway band bus, parked at the Circle Theatre in Cleveland, October 1951:

Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Chicago, July 1951:

Oscar Pettiford, Loop Lounge, Cleveland, September 1955.  Thanks to Loren Schoenberg, we have a winner — that’s Ben Webster to the right:

The rest you’ll have to find for yourselves.  But what a cache of marvels, and the treasure chest seems bottomless.  And the imagined soundtracks reverberate gloriously.

May your happiness increase!



To get us in the proper mood, here are Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman investigating Benny Carter’s ONCE UPON A TIME, a performance that has its light-hearted moments and a very touching ending:

and why stop with one performance only?  SWEET SAVANNAH SUE is one of my favorite recordings of the thousands Ruby created:

Dan’s first musing on Ruby mentions some mutual friends — Ruby’s bio-discographer Tom Hustad, Sam Margolis, Jack Bradley, Loren Schoenberg — but keeps on returning to the well-seasoned enigma that was Ruby himself:

Here is a musical interlude whose relevance will become clear to the conscientious:

More tales of Ruby, Dick Gibson, Ruby in hospice, friends and former friends:

Finally, Ruby and Dick Sudhalter, Ruby as record reviewer, and sidelights on Kenny Dorham and Miles Davis, who will be the subject of the next videos:

I find Dan’s reminiscences invaluable.  He was there.  But more than that, his sharp, friendly observations make a scene come alive.  And he’s taught me an invaluable lesson about interviewing . . . to stay out of the interviewee’s way.  I’ve learned that Dan’s zigzag paths are much more interesting than any list of questions I might have prepared.  Take it from me.

May your happiness increase!