Monthly Archives: March 2018

HOT MUSIC IN MONONA, WISCONSIN: THE RHYTHM ACES (ROY RUBINSTEIN, KIM CUSACK, ANDY SCHUMM, JIM BARRETT, JOHN WIDDICOMBE, March 26, 2018): PART ONE

I made a forty-eight hour trip to Wisconsin earlier this week, in the name of hot music.  “Michael, don’t you have enough jazz in New York to keep you occupied over the Easter / Passover break?”  “Yes, but in New York we don’t have Kim Cusack,” I can reply.

So in that brief period I sat Kim in front of my camera and he talked — most engagingly — and we went to Monona, Wisconsin, to enjoy the Rhythm Aces, a small band led by trombonist Roy Rubinstein — which featured Kim on clarinet, alto saxophone, and vocal, Andy Schumm on cornet and clarinet, Jim Barrett on banjo, and John Widdicombe on string bass.  They play at the Breakwater on the fourth Monday of every month from 6 to 8.  And HOW they play.

You’ll hear that I do not exaggerate.

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND:

A strain from TEDDY BEARS’ PICNIC:

RENT PARTY BLUES:

LINGER AWHILE:

And there’s more to come.  The fourth Monday of this April is the 23rd.  If I didn’t have an early-morning class on Tuesday . . .

It’s very reassuring to know that the Heartland is so Hot.

May your happiness increase!

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EMBRACED WARMLY BY MUSIC: DANNY TOBIAS, GEORGE RABBAI, PHIL ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (Part Two): March 24, 2018

If you haven’t savored the lovely music these five players made in their first four performances, please click here.  The occasion was an afternoon concert at the lovely and welcoming 1867 Sanctuary Arts and Culture Center in Ewing, New Jersey, and the artists were Danny Tobias and George Rabbai on trumpets, fluegelhorns, cornet, and a basketful of mutes, with Phil Orr, piano; Pat Mercuri, guitar; Joe Plowman, string bass.

As Joe Venuti used to say, “This must be the place!”

And this was the banner for the occasion:

Here are four more memorable offerings.

What George called “the human condition,” I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

Pat Mercuri’s touching evocation of Eddie Lang, APRIL KISSES:

STARDUST, played as if brand-new:

And the closing number of the first set, Danny’s HOW’S IT GO?:

There’s a whole delightful second set that I will share with you, soon.

May your happiness increase!

EMBRACED WARMLY BY MUSIC: DANNY TOBIAS, GEORGE RABBAI, PHIL ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (Part One): March 24, 2018

It’s lovely to see and hear indebtedness, art, and gratitude all combined into a glowing musical gift.  I’m not at all being hyperbolic, as you will understand.

But before I get wrapped up in the music, let me point out that this all happened yesterday, Saturday, March 24, at a place you should know about — the 1867 Sanctuary Arts and Culture Center at Ewing, New Jersey.


And what was “this”?

Now you know.  But in all fairness to the graphic designer and the copywriter here, that advertisement might have made people who didn’t know Danny, George, Pat, Phil, or Joe leap to incorrect conclusions.  “Pops to Bop” might have suggested a-history-of-jazz-trumpet, or an afternoon vacillating between WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD and DIZZY ATMOSPHERE.  But these musicians meet on common ground; they love one another, and the music was so warmly played and presented that there was not even a thirty-second note of the formulaic here.  It wasn’t a battle of genres: quite the contrary, if you squinted in just the right way through the stained glass windows, you could see Buck, Louis, Sweets, Basie, and Dizzy grinning like mad.

And although the brass instruments displayed and played here are often quite assertive, there was none of that signifying stuff, no “I can play higher, I can play louder,” so the sound was resonant, glowing, and in its own way serene, even at faster tempos.  

Introducing the second song, HALF NELSON, Danny talks about how George was and is his inspiration, and even if he hadn’t explained that, we could hear it in the air.

Let me share the first four performances with you.

Danny’s original (in the spirit of the season to come) PASS OVER:

Following that thread, I’M CONFESSIN’:

HALF NELSON, credited (I think) to Miles, but who can tell?

And to close off this segment, George’s lovely reading of BODY AND SOUL:

It was a nearly six-hour round trip by car from my place to Ewing: I’d do it every weekend ti hear this band.  Aren’t they wonderful?  Savor this quartet of beauties: there are ten more to come.

May your happiness increase!

SALE! REDUCED! DJANGO! A LIMITED TIME ONLY!

Reduced from $12,000.  Now only $10,800.

And the descriptive paragraph:

Rare photograph signed by one of Europe’s first great jazz musicians, considered by many to be the finest guitarist the world has ever known.
Rare Photograph signed: “D. Reinhardt”. B/w, 5×6. Captioned at lower margin: “Club Rythmique de Belgique.” Jean Baptise “Django” Reinhardt (1910-1953), who was born in Belgium, grew up in a gypsy camp near Paris. Originally a violinist, he is best remembered for his jazz and swing performances on the acoustic guitar (because of youthful burn injuries that cost him two fingers, Reinhardt had to develop an original fingering system). In the 1930s, he performed with Stephane Grappelli in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Although he couldn’t read music, Reinhardt created many influential jazz compositions. The pioneer of the concept of the lead guitarist in a musical group, Reinhardt is best remembered for such songs as “My Sweet”, “Minor Swing”, “Tears”, “Belleville” “Djangology” and “Nauges”. In addition to touring throughout Europe, Reinhardt was acclaimed in the U.S., opening for Duke Ellington and playing at Carnegie Hall. Reinhardt, who influenced a number of styles of music, is consistently named as an influence by many modern guitarists and musicians, including Chet Atkins, Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, George Benson and Willie Nelson. Reinhardt is rare in any form. This is a fine example. Slightly soiled at blank margins. Minor surface scratches, some visible on forehead of image. Overall, fine condition.

And the link for those with disposable income.

And the reason — to many of us — for the adulation:

May your happiness increase!

THAT’S LIKE IT OUGHT TO BE: DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON, CONTINUED

In this case, a song title is a perfect embodiment of a musical endeavor — the Complete Morton Project of David Horniblow (reeds) and Andrew Oliver (piano) — brilliant players and imaginers both.  They’ve been astonishingly posting two new performances of Mister Jelly Lord’s music for much of 2018, and I have been happily reposting them here.  Read more on Andrew Oliver’s blog.

From doctorjazz.co.uk, with this explication: Mark Miller sends the following pictorial advert for a previously unknown engagement featuring “Jelly Roll” Morton and His World Famous Victor Recording Orchestra at Madison Lake, New York from The Brookfield Courier, dated Wednesday, 26th June 1935, page 4, columns 6—7.

Here’s THAT’S LIKE IT OUGHT TO BE:

On that performance, David plays Barney Bigard’s solo precisely — no easy task.  He’s written, “The clarinet player on the original recording is the great Barney Bigard, and his style was so compellingly odd that I’m playing it note-for-note, and on a vintage Albert System Selmer clarinet which is very similar to the instrument he would have played it on. Excessively nerdy I guess.”  To which I must respond, “‘Nerdy,’ my Aunt Fanny.  ‘Extraordinary’ is more like it.”  And Andrew’s playing is explosively fine.

GAMBLING JACK, frolicsome and certainly rare:

Incidentally, deep Mortonians will know this already, but the music you are admiring was often not scored or recorded by piano and clarinet — so these performances are much more ambitious than transcriptions of recorded performances.  More from Andrew’s blog about the next two songs here.

LOAD OF COAL (which had the then-young drummer William “Cozy” Cole on the original recording, so I have always thought its title a pun):

As shown by the Gennett label, STRATFORD HUNCH was at first a piano solo, but it lives many lives:

STRATFORD HUNCH became — slightly streamlined — CHICAGO BREAKDOWN, and was recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1927 in a band arrangement that, among other things, omits Morton’s introduction — but features brilliant playing by Louis and Earl Hines.

Since David and Andrew pay Louis’ record homage, I include it here as well.  And if anyone thinks Swing didn’t start until 1936, please offer the closing chorus of this recording as refutation:

Back to Mister Jelly for a moment, to comment with admiration that Andrew and David have created twenty-two videos to date, and they intend to keep going until they reach one hundred.  What splendid diligence, I say.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE SACRED NAME OF LOUIS: THE NORWEGIAN JAZZ KINGS “Live at Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri, Oslo, February 17, 2018”

I think of the deliriously pleasurable precedent established by Bent Persson and friends some forty years ago — that of understanding Louis Armstrong and colleagues so deeply and expertly that they could move in and out of his music, embellishing a characteristic phrase here or there, reminding us gently of a particularly memorable invention, but ultimately, going for themselves.  Bent and colleagues are still playing beautifully, but here are some slightly younger players from Norway, having the most wonderful time with Louis’ music.  These three performances were recorded at Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri, Oslo, on February 17, 2018, and they are made available to us through reed virtuoso Lars Frank’s YouTube channel.

They are the Norwegian Jazz Kings, and I am not going to argue with a single letter of that band-title.  On trumpet and cornet, Torstein Kubban; on clarinet and saxophone, Lars Frank; playing the bass saxophone and sousaphone, Christian Frank; piano, Morten Gunnar Larsen; banjo and guitar, Børre Frydenlund.  I have a particularly warm feeling for Torstein, Lars, and Morten, because I met and spoke with them several times at the jazz party formerly known as the Whitley Bay Jazz Party.  Christian and Børre I know from recordings, and admire them deeply as well.  (Incidentally, the gentleman sitting right in front of the sousaphone is friend-of-jazz, patron-of-the-arts, and record producer Trygve Hernaes, whom I also know from visits to Newcastle.)

These three videos honor the exalted period of Louis’ life when he was working with Earl Hines, Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds, and Zutty Singleton.  Certainly regal even if not Norwegian.

I don’t know the order in which these pieces were performed, but let’s begin this blogpost with the lyrical and majestic TWO DEUCES, by Miss Lil:

Here’s a riotous but precise frolic on COME ON AND STOMP STOMP STOMP.  I had to play it several times because I couldn’t believe it.  I’m amazed that the fire marshals were not called in.  (I adore the translated title on the Dodds record.  Don’t you?):

And for me what is the piece de reistance, POTATO HEAD BLUES.  In case of historical quibbling, just remember Louis’ words, “Cat had a head shaped like a potato”:

As befits any person or organization in this century, the Norwegian Jazz Kings have a Facebook page.  Those in the know will immediately go there and do the fashionable act of “liking” it.  And since the wonders of cyberspace are limitless, here you can read the menu of the Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri, an Oslo landmark since the 1700s.  It made me hungry and wistful at the same time.

What a band, balancing elegance and focused power.  I wish them well and look forward to more marvels.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS CHARLIE PARKER (December 15, 2017)

I think what follows is just amazing, and it’s not inflated pride at having been the one who brought the camera and clipped the microphone to Dan’s shirt.  The first-hand sources in any field are few and precious.  Of course, there are many borrowers and interpreters, capable people who weren’t on the scene but are ready to theorize.  “Nay nay,” to quote Louis.

Jazz, so long viewed as “entertainment,” did not get the serious coverage it deserved for its first decades.  Thus we could search in vain for an interview with Bubber Miley or A.G. Godley.  And few people wrote their memoirs of involvement with Jimmie Blanton or Don Murray or Larry Binyon . . . but we have Dan, who was there and has a good memory.  And he has a novelist’s gift for arranging those memories in pleasing and revealing shapes.

When the subject is Charlie Parker, so many recollections of Bird veer between adulation for the musician and a superior attitude towards a man often portrayed as suffering from borderline personality disorder.  Thus Dan’s gentle affectionate inquiring attitude is honest and delightful.  His memories of Bird go back to the Three Deuces, the Royal Roost, Cafe Society, Bob Reisner’s Open Door, with strings at Birdland with Dizzy’s unsolicited clowning, his “last stand” at Birdland where Bud Powell could not accomplish what was needed, and a “miraculous” one on one encounter late in Bird’s life, balanced by a kind of exploitative incident in which Dan’s friend Nat Lorber was the victim, as well as a sad story of Bird’s late attitude towards life, and a portrait of the Baroness Nica.

Since Dan’s first-hand involvement with Bird was in the latter’s last years, I offer a very early Bird as a counterbalance — the recordings Parker made in Kansas City c. 1943 with the legendary guitarist Efferge Ware and drummer “Little Phil” Phillips, the latter celebrated by Bob Brookmeyer in his memories of K.C.  Thanks to Nick Rossi for reminding me of this.

Thank you, Dan.  And thank you.  Once is insufficient.

May your happiness increase!