Daily Archives: April 1, 2018

JAMES BIRKETT AND EMMA FISK PLAY VENUTI AND LANG, WITH GREAT AFFECTION AND EXPERTISE

The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”

If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.

As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out.  Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing.  Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.

Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster.  (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.)  And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.

Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases.  She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace.  In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else.  He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental.  So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints.  The music breathes comfortably and well.

Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.

A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:

May your happiness increase!

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THE HORACE GERLACH FAN CLUB, or ANYTHING CAN SWING: THE ORIGINAL DOWNHOME JAZZ BAND (Toledo, Ohio, February 25, 2017)

On Benny Goodman’s “Camel Caravan” radio show — circa 1938 — there was a feature called ANYTHING CAN SWING, and what follows is a fine illustration.

Louis Armstrong followers like myself know the sacred and mysterious name of Horace Gerlach — co-composer with Louis of three masterpieces: SWING THAT MUSIC, I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM, and IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN.  I’ve featured them on this blog as performed by Louis, Marty Grosz, Banu Gibson, and others.

But I’ve never had occasion to spotlight the fourth Gerlach opus, which probably made him the most money, DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL.  In some traditional weddings, it is the song the bride and her father have their ceremonial dance to.  (I don’t know how this makes the groom feel, but leave that to you to ponder.)

Thanks to my friend and friend of JAZZ LIVES Laura Wyman — CEO of Wyman Video — we have this hot performance of DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL by the Original Downhome Jazz Band (February 25, 2017, Ye Olde Durty Bird, Toledo, Ohio) captured on video for everyone to enjoy, whether or not there is a daughter in the house.

The ODJB is Dave Kosmyna, leader, cornet, vocal; Chris Smith, trombone; Ray Heitger, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Pete Siers, drums, and do they beat it out:

Laura has also shared many fine hot videos on her YouTube channel.  Wyman Video (expert, discreet, and informed) can come and video your event: fee schedule available on request. Weddings, recitals, hot bands, basement jam sessions: you name it.

For now, I will muse upon the invisibility of Horace Gerlach: composer, arranger, friend of Louis.  Anyone have a portrait of the man to share?

May your happiness increase!