Monthly Archives: May 2018

“KEEP YOUR PHILHARMONIC”: EVAN ARNTZEN and STEVE PIKAL (July 27, 2017)

With the right musicians, a whole crowd isn’t necessary.  No four brass, four reeds, four rhythm; no oboes and tympani.  As Ira Gershwin wrote, “Keep your Philharmonic,” in his lyrics to SLAP THAT BASS.

Appropriately, I present a rewarding improvised vignette for clarinet and string bass, recorded on July 27, 2017, in Derek Garten’s Prime Recording Studio in Nashville, Tennessee, at the end of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet’s debut recording, which became THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, chronicled here.  The Quintet, by the way, is Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet.

At the end of the session, the Quintet — showing superhuman energy and patience — played two songs for my video camera so I could show them off on the blog.  One, RUSSIAN RAG, I have cleverly hidden within this blogpost as a reward to close readers.

The other, an improvised duet by Messrs. Pikal and Arntzen, later titled PHAT SWOLLER, has never been seen.  I was saving it for my retirement and then thought it would be ungenerous to wait all that time — so here ‘t’is.  Joyous, shapely, rambunctious, expert.  I’m sure my readers can find their own encomia, but I will say only that Steve Pikal has a beautiful harmonic sense and a true swing engine (a new CD of his with Brian and Danny is, I am told, on the way); a New York musician said to me, listening to Evan Arntzen, “That boy can play anything . . . beautifully!” and I of course agreed:

Relevance beyond a piece of wonderful creative improvisation?  Of course.  The Holland-Coots ensemble will be appearing at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, which I’ve described here.

My interest in the Festival involves leaving my accustomed position in front of the computer: I’ll be there, starting Wednesday night.  But I have to gently admonish the faithful that I no longer video everything, so if you want to hear your favorite virtuoso capering through an obscure Joseph Lamb piece, I suggest you call the airlines now.  (That’s a good idea even if you’ve never heard of Lamb.)

May your happiness increase!

SOUNDS LIKE MUSIC! CLINT BAKER’S GOLDEN GATE SWING BAND (plus Dancers): MAY 26, 2018: CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, BILL REINHART, KATIE CAVERA, RILEY BAKER, PAUL COSENTINO, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER

I perceive this world as a place where authenticity must battle with fakery all the time — sushi is sometimes shoved aside for plastic food.  So when a dining companion asks me how I like my dinner, I might say, “Tastes like food!” which few understand as sincere appreciation of genuineness.  That expression works equally well for me in what I hear in improvised performance.

This morning, I checked YouTube and found videos — thanks to RaeAnn Hopkins Berry — of Clint Baker’s Golden Gate Swing Band at the Bootleggers’ Jamboree Weekend (I put the apostrophe there whether they like it or not) on May 26th.  The band is Clint, trombone; Marc Caparone, trumpet; Paul Cosentino, reeds; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Bill Reinhart, guitar [whose name I misspelled in my first, pre-coffee, version]; Katie Cavera, string bass; Riley Baker, drums.

I started with JIVE AT FIVE, and was content.  Knowing that such music is possible — inspired by Basie but not copying the Decca 78 — is consoling:

and ROSETTA, at one of many good tempos:

Leaving Jabbo Smith out would be neither wise nor gracious, so here is Clint’s ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY:

and the song Pee Wee Russell would title THREE LITTLE BIRDS (with a Commodore ancestry):

RaeAnn shot twenty-four videos of this fine band (including vocals by Dawn Lambeth and Jessica King) — which I will leave to your investigation (also so that you can subscribe to her YouTube channel) — but those should make you feel delight in the presence of the Real.

May your happiness increase!

GIFTS FROM CHARLES: KIM CUSACK and ANDY SCHUMM at the HONKY TONK BBQ

You never know where generosities are going to come from; they can be dear surprises.  On my trip to Wisconsin in March, I was disappointed that I couldn’t get to Chicago to hear Kim Cusack, clarinet / vocal; Andy Schumm, piano, at the Honky Tonk BBQ.

But I received an email — with attachments — the other day:

Dear Michael,

It’s been a long time since we were graduate students, and we haven’t been in touch.  I didn’t talk about it then — we were too worried about doctoral orals — but I was developing into a jazz fan, and I found you through your blog.  I was passing through Chicago at the end of March on my way to visit family in California, and thought I would bring the video camera I use for the grandkids.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so here are a few videos of Kim Cusack and Andy Schumm.  If you can use them on the blog, I’d be delighted.  

Keep well,

Charles

The fog of decades lifted — I’d last seen Charles Schultz (who got annoyed if someone called him “Snoopy”) in 1981.  But what a lovely gift!  Not just for me, but for all of us.  And he does first-rate work.

and

and

and, finally, with vocal refrain:

Charles and I have tentative plans to meet in New York in August.  What a pleasure that will be, and neither of us will video the other.

May your happiness increase!

WESTWARD HOT! EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 27-29) and a BARN DANCE PARTY with the CARL SONNY LEYLAND TRIO (July 26)

I am a failure as a well-trained tourist, because I shun guidebook attractions such as churches and museums in favor of second-hand stores, outdoor markets, and restaurants.  But I am not yet at the stage where I want to stay at home all the time.  What makes me happy is going to a place (ideally, a beautiful one) where good friends play and sing the music that makes me even more glad to be alive.  And I know I am not alone in this desire.

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Such opportunities for musical joy and fulfillment still exist, and one of them is the double boon of the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado, and the barn dance concert that Dorothy Bradford Vernon and friends put on in Longmont, in the same state — they coincide most happily.

For those who want to go directly to the source(s), here you can learn all about the barn dance — featuring the Carl Sonny Leyland Trio — and here is the official site for the Evergreen Jazz Festival, a long weekend of beautiful music.

The EJF rotates its out-of-state attractions, so although I have twenty posts (with video evidence!) from my trips there in 2014 and 2016, I don’t feel it’s right to use videos from bands that won’t be there in 2018 to promote the current festival.  However, by typing EVERGREEN into this blog’s search engine, you can enjoy the evidence for many hours.  More about the 2018 band lineup below.

But since Carl’s Trio is more or less intact with the splendid Jeff Hamilton on drums (I believe Marty Eggers is playing string bass instead of our friend Clint Baker) I have no qualms about sharing this 2016 post with you.  My videos cannot convey the great warm welcome that Dorothy and friends extend to anyone walking through the barn doors.  The music and the dancers were truly memorable.

The Evergreen Jazz Festival offers ten bands, which means that the main problem most guests will have can be expressed by “I can’t decide between seeing X, Y , or Z,” rather than by “There’s nothing to do.”

Here is the schedule: eleven hours on Friday, twelve hours on Saturday, seven hours on Sunday.  You can sleep on Monday, or on the plane.  

A few words about the bands (you can read full descriptions on the EJF site).  Since I am an out-of-towner, I have no problem putting my fellow o-o-t women and men first — a kind of upside-down local pride.

Carl Sonny Leyland will be rocking the house once again (even the elk were doing splendid rhythmic gyrations in the parking lot).

The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet — a band I succumbed to instantly last year in Nashville, where they recorded their debut CD, a tribute to Fats Waller that brought happiness and swing.  They are Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet and vocal; Evan Arntzen, reeds and vocal; Steve Pikal, string bass.

World-travelers Ivory&Gold — that’s Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocals; Anne Barnhart, flute and vocals — who offer musical world tours that always surprise.

The frolicsome Rock Island Roustabouts — co-led by Hal Smith, drums, and Jeff Barnhart, with Dave Kosmyna, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Bob Leary, banjo/guitar; Ryan Gould, string bass.  The names alone will tell you that hot music is assured.

Multi-instrumentalist Dennis Lichtman’s Brain Cloud (yes, the name is strange — from a Bob Wills song — but the music is intoxicating) featuring Dennis on clarinet, fiddle, mandolin, and more, also with the phenomenal vocalist Tamar Korn and our man in swing Kevin Dorn, drums.

Pianists Brian Holland, Carl Sonny Leyland, and Jeff Barnhart will perform three trio sets on two pianos in the wonderful Evergreen church: beware of flying black and white ivories!

There will be a jam session set by the “EJF All-Stars”: Marc Caparone, cornet; Eric Staffeldt, trombone; Roger Campbell, clarinet; Rory Thomas, banjo; Jeff Barnhart, piano; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Two sets by the Sweet and Hot Quartet: Jeff Barnhart, Bob Leary, Anne Barnhart, and Steve Pikal (Friday) and Hal Smith (Sunday).

If that were not enough . . . Denver’s own After Midnight, which fashions itself after the Goodman Sextet with vibraphone; Felonius Smith Trio, which pays tribute to venerable guitar blues; the Gypsy Swing Revue, which lives up to its billing;  Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles, a young energized swing band; the Queen City Jazz Band, celebrating its 65th anniversary and featuring Wende Harston on vocals; youth bands from the University of Colorado, the Denver Claim Jumpers, and the Denver Jazz Club Youth All-Stars.

The EJF features lovely small venues . . . so you need to consider purchasing tickets sooner rather than later.  I’ll be there, but I only take up one seat.  Hope you can make it also!  It’s been a great deal of fun and with this schedule, I know it’s going to continue.

And just in case you say, “What!  No music?” here is RUSSIAN RAG by the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, recorded informally in Nashville in July 2017:

May your happiness increase!

DORON TIROSH: COMPOSER, IMPROVISER, NEW YORKER: “I WOULDN’T BE ANY OTHER PLACE”

I first met the quietly soulful drummer Doron Tirosh in August 2016 at a gig with guitarist Felix Lemerle and string bassist Murray Wall at a now-closed Greenwich Village restaurant.  I admired him immediately as an inventive, thoughtful musician and congenial person.  I will say more about my first impressions of Doron at the end of this post.

Earlier this year, Doron was ready to release his debut CD, SIMPLY BECAUSE IT’S WINTER (Gut String Records) — featuring pianist Michael Kanan, string bassist Neal Miner, and Doron.  I looked forward to this disc because those three musicians form an ideal trio, but even more because three of the six compositions were Doron’s originals — the title track, WHY WOULD YOU TREAT ME THAT WAY?, and FOR W.B.  The three classics show a deep immersion in the best American songs: IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS, I GOT PLENTY OF NUTTIN’, and THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC.

Here are the links to purchase, download, or listen to the music: AmazonCDBabyitunes, and Spotify.

Doron asked if I would write something for the CD, and this came very easily:

Many listeners eye even the gentlest-spirited drummer with suspicion, and we have reason. Drummers HIT things while the band is playing. But Doron is no musical bully-boy. His melodic lyricism is the equal of heroes Michael and Neal. If you want a gorgeous example of lyrical democracy in action, savor WRITTEN IN THE STARS.

Doron has a light touch — metaphorically as well as sonically. He varies the sounds he gets from his kit with a deep intuitive intelligence, and he swings irresistibly: hear his solo introductions to PLENTY and W.B. Like my percussive deities Jo Jones and Sidney Catlett, Doron dances in our heads. His playing is crisp but never mechanical, delicate but never timid. And his originals come from the same place: they are blossoming interludes, not just chord changes tied up with twine. In 2018, beauty is not always easy to find, but Doron, Michael, and Neal show us what it is, can be, and will continue to be.

The subtleties of Doron’s playing and his gentle approach to the life of a New York jazz musician fascinated me, so we did an informal interview by email, and I find his answers candidly intriguing.   (My questions are in italics.)

Where did Doron Tirosh, musician, come from?

I was born and raised in Israel. I have loved music since I can remember- I used to carry vinyl records to kindergarten (and drop them because they were bigger than I was) – their presence made me feel good. My brother hipped me to music – he played guitar, piano, sang, and had very musical ears, and still does today. He could have been a great musician if he had chosen to do that for a living. My father is very musical as well.

I started studying classical piano at the age of 6, but I didn’t take it seriously. Only when I started playing the drums at 14 I began practicing devoutly, when in high school I joined the jazz department and that was it – I knew I wanted do nothing else but playing music for a living. I met a lot of great musicians during my high school years.

The role of the drums in the jazz ensemble is constantly changing. What do you see as your role when you play?

First and foremost, I want to make the other musicians I play with FEEL good. I try to keep a steady time and groove, but I do not think my role is to “keep” anything, meaning, to play with a stiff beat in order to keep the tempo. I want to bounce and swing together. I am learning how to do that (which is a life-long process) from playing with people who have a good beat. They could be bass players or other kinds of instrumentalists. Let me say that grooving together is the most wonderful feeling in the world. It’s addictive, and that feeling I get when I play with those musicians is the reason I am still staying in New-York.

Nowadays, due to the obvious change the world has been through, although the role of the drums is endless, I still find that playing in 4/4 time with good groove and phrasing is becoming a unique art. Then I ask myself how it could be that not so long ago, playing in 4/4 time with a great feel and musical taste was only entry level for any instrumentalist, a drummer included. Now, I respect any good music no matter of genre. I am aware of how important it is to be a well-rounded musician and open to anything, but I must say it is becoming hard for me to enjoy a lot of the music labeled “jazz” I come across. The jazz musicians I love the most are not stars, although some of them do tour around the world constantly. My heroes are down to earth people who want to play and keep passing on the tradition and knowledge they got.

I try to play what feels good to me, what I hear, and not pay attention to the passing fancies in the so called jazz music. I believe that if I want to be worthy of the title ”jazz drummer” I have a lot of responsibility, so I personally can’t play Balkan music and be a DJ on the side while at the same time I have a gig and I have to play a Thelonious Monk or a Charlie Parker composition. Playing such music demands my full dedication. That is just how I feel; there are a few that can pull that off though.

What does it feel like to lead a group from the drums?

Basically it’s the same, but I would say the main difference is that I have to be very clear about the material and arrangements that are played. The person who helped me realize that small but crucial point was Michael Kanan. Besides being a true friend and always helping me in everything and anything, he let me know from the beginning of the project that I have to be clear in conveying what I want to him and Neal.

As a shy person, I hate to be in the front and I hate telling people what to do. Sometimes I think I should have played piano and not drums because of that reason – but too late now, I guess. Anyway, when Michael asked me “What are we going to play?”, I gave him my typical Doron answer, “Whatever you want – songs that you like to play.” That made me seem hesitant and unclear so I learned I have to actually lead the session. I was still trying to be considerate by choosing material that I believed would fit best, and I must say I am content with the result. It was a wonderful learning experience for me recording with those two giants.

Few drummers are also composers of lyrical melodies: where does your inspiration come from?

Studying classical composition in Tel-Aviv University had a huge impact on me as a musician. I concentrated 4 years, which is far from enough, on playing piano, studying counterpoint, harmony, reading and transposing music, ear-training, and composing music for classical performers. The individual composition lessons helped me the most because I got a chance to investigate a real composer’s world. I was bad at conducting and some other subjects, however. You see, every field is a world of its own, one can devote his or her whole life to it – music has no end to it.  My teachers influenced me a great deal; they are incredible musicians.

The other influence is unfortunately heartbreaks. Most of my tunes or compositions were a way for me to use the energy of those experiences into creating a melody, hopefully a beautiful one.

You told me, “I feel like a New Yorker!” What does that feel like? Have you adopted us or have we adopted you?

Well, both. Although I have no family here, I made some really great friends who I consider as family. When I am ill or when I am desperate, I know I have friends to look after me. I would do the same for them – we take care of each other.
The music and the musicians make me feel at home. There is a strong feeling of a jazz community. I feel as the music that I love the most is in its natural surroundings here, and it is a feeling I will never experience in my home town.

Living the life of a jazz musician seems possible here, more than anywhere else in the world. Where else can I go and hear jazz music every evening until the next morning played by my favorite musicians on the planet? Or even play with them? There is a feeling that anything can happen, that suddenly I could find myself sitting-in with the best musicians in the world, so I always should be on top of my game. I find that I practice more here, play more sessions and more gigs, and in general try to be at my best.

I am not saying living in New York is not hard. The loneliness and the emotional downs here can be frightening, but the music makes living here worthwhile for me, at least for now. I miss my family though, and the food.

Any good stories about being a working New York musician?

The thing in New-York is that anyone can show up at any given show at any given moment. It could be the worst gig with the worst musicians in the world in a dull bar with 2 people in it and then suddenly in walks a great musician and everything becomes exciting instantly. It happened to me numerous times when great musicians sat-in spontaneously, as well as me sitting-in as the band’s drummer for the gig within a few minutes notice. Only last week I came to hear Michael Kanan and Pat O’Leary at the 75 Club, and ended up playing the whole show with them. It was a special night, I will never forget it- playing trio with those gentlemen, not to mention when Gabrielle Stravelli came up to sing… I wouldn’t be any other place.

——————————————————————————————

Here’s what I wrote about Doron when I posted videos from that August 2016 gig, and I believe it even more so now: I had known nothing of Doron except for the few words of praise from [guitarist] Felix [Lemerle]. And I confess that youthful drummers new to me arouse anxiety. I become Worried Elder: “Young man, are you planning to strike that ride cymbal with those wooden sticks? Why, and how, and how often?” But Doron and I bonded over dehydration and exhaustion, and I knew he came in peace. When he began to play, my spirits rose even higher, because he is a melodic drummer in the great tradition of the Masters, of Dodds, Singleton, and Catlett. Before each number, Felix would tell Doron the name of the song, and I could see from their expressions that they knew the melody and the lyrics as well.

Seeing Doron on the street, you would be unaware of the creative talent he has in his young self.  But hear his compositions, see him lead a band from behind the drums, and you will know in four bars that you are in the presence of someone special: a melodic, creative gift to New York from Israel.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL RARE SOUNDS: JAKE SANDERS, “ESTRELLAS DE RADIO”

I first encountered Jake Sanders almost a decade ago at Banjo Jim’s, when he was the leader of the Cangelosi Cards, the group that had Tamar Korn as its vocal improvising genius.  Later I followed him to other Cards gigs and an especially wonderful rainy evening in a dance studio where he swung like mad, Charlie Christian style, on electric guitar.  When he moved to Chicago, I saw and heard him with the Fat Babies in person, on record, and on video, and now he is blazing his own paths.  (Most recently for me, in a trio with Dennis Lichtman and Jared Engel which appeared at The Django in New York City — lovely eloquent music.)

His new CD is what we used to call a doozy, precisely because it follows no narrow formula.  Here’s a sample of the music Jake loves and plays with great feeling — captured at the February 2018 CD release party in Mexico City:

And here you can buy an actual disc or download the music (each for the low price of $10 USD) or hear four of the thirteen tracks, in case you need convincing.

and here is the prose (not by me) that accompanies the music:

Estrellas de Radio features the sounds of acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, violin, piano, and upright bass. The songs and styles range across a broad spectrum of traditions, drawing from or expanding upon the roots of American jazz. The album features beautiful waltzes, rags, blues, and band arrangements of four guitar solos originally published in the 30’s which have never been previously recorded. Three of these rare and unique compositions are credited to guitar legend Nick Lucas.

Recorded over a two year period by Alex Hall at Reliable Records in Chicago, the album features a host of musicians from New York, Chicago and Detroit; these include: Jared Engel, Dalton Ridenhour, Dennis Lichtman, Aaron Jonah Lewis, Beau Sample, Paul Asaro, and Patrick Donley.

Three tracks feature the exceptional sounds of Fraulini Guitars hand-crafted by the esteemed luthier Todd Cambio. (Jake Sanders plays an Annunziata on Serate Primaverili, Speranze Perdute, and Flappers Trot; Patrick Donley plays an Angie on Speranze Perdute).

While the early Italian pioneers of the jazz guitar Nick Lucas and Eddie Lang made their mark on 20th century music, an earlier generation of Italian string virtuoso were also recording in America. Masters such as Giovanni Gioviale and Giovanni Vicari brought old world sounds to the new world. L’Ultimo and Serate Primaverili are adaptations of Giovale’s brilliant compositions originally conceived for mandolin. Speranze Perdute was inspired by a recording by Giovanni Vicari, as was the mazurka Mia Carina, which he recorded with The Continental Trio.

While Nick Lucas is famous amongst jazz aficionados both as a vocalist and for his early recorded guitar solos (Picking the Guitar and Teasing the Frets), he is also credited with composing numerous guitar solos which were never recorded, but appeared in folios and early flat-picking method books. Bootlegger’s Blues, Flappers Trot, and Gold Diggers are all examples of Lucas guitar solos which exist as sheet music, but have not been recorded until now.

The exquisite waltz, Margaret, that appears as a piece in The Nick Lucas Guitar Method Vol. 1, however, was composed by J. Nicomede. Sanders’ unique conception and arrangements of these songs are drawn from his nearly 20 years of playing roots music. (Flappers Trot, guitar and piano) (Bootlegger’s Blues, Gold Diggers, Margaret, guitar, violin, piano, bass).

Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Wang Wang Blues are classically-styled guitar and mandolin duets arranged in studio. Charleston Rag, known as a piano solo, is heard here uniquely arranged for piano, guitar, and upright bass. The Memphis Shakedown, made famous by the Memphis Jug band, is a common tune for old-time and jug bands performing today. However on Estrellas de Radio the tune becomes something altogether different, achieving new sounds in old music. The Sunset Blues is the album’s one original composition. Like any blues it borrows from the past, however its spare style, unusual form, and crafted melody give it a sound all its own.

ABOUT JAKE SANDERS:

Jake Sanders is a guitarist, bandleader, and arranger, whose musical career began in New York City at the end of the last century. After years as a street performer, playing jazz and American traditional music, Sanders formed the popular roots band, The Cangelosi Cards. They performed nightly in the back rooms and bars of the East Village, but soon traveled well beyond Manhattan, playing shows from Shanghai to Stockholm. After years with the Cards, Jake joined The Fat Babies, an acclaimed hot jazz band which continues to perform weekly at Chicago’s world famous Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. His last album with the group, Solid Gassuh (Delmark Records), made DownBeat Magazine’s “Best of 2017” list – a rare feat for a traditional jazz band in modern times.

A long time musical collaborator with vocalist and world-renowned Lindy hop champion, Naomi Uyama, Jake both plays guitar and arranges for her swing outfit, Naomi & Her Handsome Devils. Sanders has recorded with the great stride and ragtime piano player Paul Asaro, and has been featured on record and stage with the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet.

Jake Sanders has performed at The Chicago Jazz Festival, The Detroit Jazz Festival and The Brooklyn Folk Festival as well as countless clubs, dance halls and theaters throughout North America. Jake’s guitar playing has brought him across Europe and Asia and he is a regular performer in-residence at Cracovia 32, home of the emerging swing scene in Mexico City. As a solo performer or with the Handsome Devils, The Dotted Halves trio or with the quintet, The Lovestruck Balladeers, Jake Sanders is a consummate traveling musician who can be heard far and wide.

A few words from me, on behalf of JAZZ LIVES.  I trust Jake’s taste completely, so even though some of the compositions on this disc are not Hot Music in the established sense, I fell in love with the sounds here at first playing.  The only reason this post is written at the end of May rather than a few months earlier is because I wanted actual discs to play in the car.  I’ve amazed a number of unsuspecting passengers with ESTRELLAS DE RADIO, and one even said, “Michael, I didn’t know you liked beautiful music like this!”  I do, and you will.

May your happiness increase!

GORGEOUS, THEN ACROBATIC: DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON

You won’t believe the goodness in store from the Complete Morton Project — that’s Andrew Oliver, piano, and David Horniblow, reeds.  Reliable and inspired, they have been providing weekly transfusions of what Ruby Braff called “aesthetic vitamins.”

Here’s the latest Offering, and it’s deeply satisfying.  The sensitive yet mobile BLUE BLOOD BLUES, a performance that seems simultaneously “on-the-spot” and the result of decades of study-into-play, and vice versa.  Those sounds!

and this — which requires not only another instrument but a new wardrobe — the astonishing FINGERBUSTER, aptly named:

Words fail me — but David and Andrew do not, not in the slightest.  Visit the Complete Morton Project for more joyous edification, even at slow tempos.  (I know it is futile to rail about such things, but when I see that fewer than a hundred people have subscribed to the CMP — a pittance in the cyber-world — while other “music” phenomena have nearly ten thousand subscribers, I wonder . . . . )

May your happiness increase!

TENDERLY SWINGING: GUILLEM ARNEDO, MICHAEL KANAN, CELESTE ALIAS, JAUME LLOMBART, JORGE ROSSY, DEE JAY FOSTER: “LET’S SING O. HAMMERSTEIN II”

Eighty years ago, jazz fans — that small ferocious bunch — were often parochial in the extreme: “How good could X could be if we’ve never heard of them before?” “How good could they be if they were born someplace that wasn’t New Orleans, New York, Chicago?”

But that attitude vanished, I hope, long before the internet made swinging international relations not only plausible but a fact of life.  (I admit that parochialism exists in 2018 in subtler forms: “How good could she be?  She doesn’t have any YouTube videos or a Facebook page!” but let us close our eyes and wait for that spasm to pass.)

I had not heard of drummer / bandleader Guillem Arnedo before 2017 — but since he came with the recommendation of pianist-hero Michael Kanan, I knew he would be more than OK.  Michael has splendid taste.

And when I heard the CD, LET’S SING OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II, I was delighted.  But first, let me offer some of the delicate, sweetly energized music that Guillem and friends create.  And credit the musicians: Guillem, drums; Celeste Alias, vocals; Michael Kanan, piano; Jaume Llombart, guitar; Jorge Rossy, vibes / marimba; Dee Jay Foster, string bass.

PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE:

OUT OF MY DREAMS:

I think that is wonderful music: light-hearted and deeply felt all at once.  The songs are HAPPY TALK / THE SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP / MAKE BELIEVE / SOME ENCHANTED EVENING / WE KISS IN A SHADOW / MARCH OF THE SIAMESE CHILDREN / GETTING TO KNOW YOU / MY LORD AND MASTER / PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE / OUT OF MY DREAMS / BALI HAI / BILL / CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ DAT MAN / THIS NEARLY WAS MINE.

And here’s what I wrote.

The great theatre and film composers weren’t always happy when improvisers “took liberties” with their songs. Rodgers and Hart made their resentment known in “I Like to Recognize the Tune.” Jerome Kern’s estate sued Musicraft Records to stop them from issuing Dizzy (with strings) playing Kern. (Eventually, they relented.)

But the tradition of jazz musicians improvising on Broadway and film songs is almost a century old. Variations on new pop hits or familiar themes sold records and the results were sometimes more memorable than what was on the sheet music. Think of Paul Whiteman’s WHY DO I LOVE YOU? and Bix’s OL’ MAN RIVER; thirty years later, Vic Dickenson’s OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, Emmett Berry’s PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE, all the way to the summit: of Louis’s YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE.

Here, leader / drummer / arranger Guillem Arnedo selected melodies he admires and everyone treats them tenderly. That approach might seem too traditional to some. But what sets this CD apart from a Fifties “A JAZZ VERSION OF [insert famous Broadway show or musical film title]” is a gentle pervasive originality, audible as a series of small sweet surprises.

Guillem told me, “I found out that a lot of tunes that I love have Hammerstein’s lyrics. So instead of doing a tribute to Hammerstein and Rodgers or Hammerstein and Kern (his two big associations) I found it more interesting to focus on Oscar and all the marvelous plays he co-wrote. Besides, my band focuses its attention a lot not only on melodies but also to lyrics, poetry. That’s something I learned from Michael Kanan, that to understand and get deep into a song you must know the lyrics. The arrangements and decisions about which tune is instrumental or to be sung were mine. Nevertheless, you can find the Kanan blend in some little arrangements he did spontaneously.”

Listeners will find pleasure wherever they turn, but I’d recommend PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE for a start – the quiet duet of Celeste and Michael quietly exploring the verse, then Michael’s irresistible transition into the chorus, with everyone rocking immediately (embodying Jake Hanna’s “Start swinging from the beginning!”)

The band sounds gorgeous (and is beautifully recorded) throughout. Celeste is capable of shy tenderness or determined energy, each shading with its own shimmer. Michael continues to honor Jimmie Rowles with intuitions that touch our hearts. Each stroke that Guillem creates – stick, cymbal, or brush – seems just the right impressionistic touch. D.J.’s bass playing – resonant, woody, trustworthy – is precisely our cup of tea. Jorge is lyrical, eloquent, yet terse, even when playing what sounds like the world’s largest marimba. Jaume creates delicate hymns or propulsive lines: hear his meditation for the SIAMESE CHILDREN.

On this disc we find the most familiar songs shining brightly, sounding as if they were composed yesterday. Listeners may begin to sing along, whether or not they planned to, because the melodic momentum is irresistible. Guillem and friends have created a wondrous aural landscape: delightfully varied, completely uplifting. I am sure that Oscar, Dick, and Jerry approve.

Rereading these notes while the disc is playing, I feel guilty of understatement, of atypical restraint.  The music on this CD is just splendid — all the instrumentalists in solo and ensemble, and Celeste’s touching yet tangy singing.  I hope this post makes up for my praise being more quiet than it should have been.  To buy the CD, please visit here.  I believe that downloads are also available from the usual suspects.

May your happiness increase!

YES, IT’S STILL POSSIBLE! (Part One): KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, HAL SMITH at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24, 2017)

Sometimes, as a devout jazz enthusiast, I feel caught between two ideologies — rather like a kernel of corn watching the two stone wheels approach. One group of fans insists that all the great music has already been made: that there’s really no point in leaving the house, because Lester and Louis and Hawkins are dead, so these fans bury their heads in their speakers and do takeout.  Another group embraces the new jazz flavors of the month, and insists that Hank McGillicuddy and his Stompers are as good as Basie at the Famous Door, and by the way, Zelda Red-Dress “brings Billie back.”  She doesn’t, but if you think so, that’s nice.

I offer a third possibility: that there are musicians who don’t have contracts with Jack Kapp or Eli Oberstein; they don’t pack the Palomar or the Savoy — but they are alive today, you can speak to them, they inhale and exhale — and they do that thing splendidly.  They are worth leaving the house for.

One shining example of this phenomenon — why I call this blog JAZZ LIVES rather than JAZZ NEEDS DUSTING — is the small group led by pianist Kris Tokarski that swung like mad at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Along with Kris, they are Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  No too-small brightly-colored matching polo shirts; no funny hats; no group vocals.  Just wonderful music, sweet when it’s called for, hot enough to make us sweat.

Here are four examples.  Jazz thrives.

LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, evoking Crosby and Condon:

and what Kenny Davern used to call “face to face”:

and an explosive LITTLE GIRL:

and a lovely pensive MEMORIES OF YOU:

May your happiness increase!

TWO ORIGINALS PLAY THREE ORIGINALS: JOEL FORRESTER and DAVID HOFSTRA at JULES (May 13, 2018)

Another Sunday afternoon with pianist-composer Joel Forrester at Jules, 66 St. Marks Place in New York City.

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

This afternoon, Joel brought along a dear friend and deep colleague, string bassist David Hofstra, who has been a mainstay of the Microscopic Septet for years.  Joel and David have been playing alongside each other since the Seventies, and their first recording is from 1980.

My readers have already heard or read me being seriously enthusiastic about Joel’s original compositions and his improvisations: they honor many traditions but fit neatly into no shoebox-sized category.  But since I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed Joel and David together as a duo, may I call your attention to the latter’s beautiful choice of notes, his steady unforced time, his gentle lyricism? David is no antiquarian (I’m older than he is, if the online data is right) but he harks back to a time when the string bass was both treated with respect and known as the harmonic and often moral foundation of the music in which it worked.  Just beautiful — and the two players here are in splendid intuitive harmony.

PHILLIP’S BLUES (which I presume is in honor of Microscopic Septet’s co-leader, saxophonist / composer Phillip Johnston):

Gentle meditations on the finite, NOTHING LASTS FOREVER:

A compact Frolick, LOOK TO YOU:

Joel will be at JULES all summer — solo, duo, trio.  He and Mary are off to France for a year in September, so savor this music while he — and friends — are here.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part One): MARCH 27, 2018

Paul Asaro, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet

I admire the reedman and occasional vocalist Kim Cusack immensely and had done so through recordings for a long time before we met in person.  When we exchanged courtesies and compliments at a California festival — perhaps the San Diego Jazz Fest in 2011? — I was thrilled by his music as it was created on the spot, and I liked the man holding the clarinet a great deal.

A hero-worshiper, I found occasions to stand at the edge of a small circle when Kim was telling a story.  And what he had to tell us was plenty.  He never tells jokes but he’s hilarious with a polished deadpan delivery and the eye for detail of a great writer.

I had said to another hero, Marc Caparone, “I wish I could get Kim to sit for a video interview,” and Marc — ever the pragmatist — said, “Ask him!” I did, and the result was a visit to Kim and the endearing Ailene Cusack (she’s camera-shy but has her own stories) in their Wisconsin nest.

The results are a dozen vignettes: illuminating, sharply observed, and genuine.  Kim’s stories are about the lively, sometimes eccentric people he knows and has known.  I am honored to have had the opportunity, and I hope you enjoy the videos.  I know I did and do.

I’ve prefaced each video with a very brief sketch of what it contains.

Early days, going back to fifth grade, and early influences, including Spike Jones, moving up to high school and a paying gig, with side-glances at rock ‘n’ roll and the Salty Dogs:

From Career Day at Kim’s high school to early adulthood, and a seven-year stint teaching, with Eddy Davis, Darnell Howard, Mike Walbridge, James Dapogny, the Chicago Stompers, the Salty Dogs, Frank Chace, Marty Grosz, Lew Green, Wayne Jones, and the saga of Paul’s Roast Round:

From the Chicago Stompers and union conflicts to Art Hodes and Ted Butterman and Wayne Jones to Kim’s secret career as a piano player . . . and the elusive piano recording, and a mention of Davey Jones of Empirical Records:

Kim’s portraits of distinctive personalities Ted Butterman, Bob Sundstrom, Little Brother Montgomery, Booker T. Washington, Rail Wilson, Peter Nygaard, Phyllis Diller and her husband “Fang,” the Salty Dogs, Eddy Davis, George Brunis, Stepin Fetchit and OL’ MAN RIVER in Ab. Work with Gene Mayl and “Jack the Bear” on trumpet. And Barrett Deems!  (More Deems stories to come.)

More portraits, including Gene Mayl, Monte Mountjoy, Gus Johnson, the legendary George Brunis, Nappy Trottier, who “could really play,” Wild Bill Davison, Johnson McRee. And a playing trip to Alaska for three weeks with Donny McDonald and later Ernie Carson:

Scary airplane trips with the Gene Mayl band over Alaska, and a glance at the splendid pianist John Ulrich, a happy tourist:

I have six more vignettes to share, with memories of Norm Murphy, Frank Chace, Barrett Deems, Bob Skiver, Little Brother Montgomery, and more.  My gratitude to Kim and Ailene Cusack, for making this pilgrimage not only possible but sweet, rewarding fun.

May your happiness increase!

HOT, SWEET, HOTTER: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and FRIENDS at CLEVELAND (Sept. 15, 2017), PART TWO: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH

I posted the first part of a frankly incendiary set from the now-lamented Cleveland Classic Jazz Party here, and it seems just the right time to offer the three performances from the second half.

ROSSANO.

Rossano and his majestice friends — Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Frank Tate, string bass; Hal Smith, drums — really know how to do it, to play the venerable repertoire with loving care so that it doesn’t seem stale or by-the-numbers, with heartfelt solos, intelligent ensemble work, and lovely tempos.

Here’s Kid Ory’s SAVOY BLUES:

Eddie Condon always mixed in beautiful ballads with the hot numbers, so Rossano features Dan Barrett in GHOST OF A CHANCE:

Since time was running out, the final number was compact — AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  But Rossano brilliantly said, “Four choruses, ensemble,” and offered us this memorable evocation of easy teamwork in the land of Hot:

Unforgettable.  And another reason to be grateful — to the musicians, to the traditions they embody, and to Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock.  We who were there know why.

May your happiness increase!

A BOWLFUL OF JELLY: DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON, and a new e-78 too!

Not ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas, but a visit to the land of Mortonia, reliably, gorgeously: the place where sweet, hot, plenty rhythm is the national anthem and the cosmic heartbeat. I mean the Complete Morton Project, with Andrew Oliver, piano, and David Horniblow, various reeds of assorted sizes and timbres.

BIG LIP BLUES, a sermon on the virtues of respectful taciturnity, here melancholy and mobile both in its instrumental form:

SHAKE IT, which seems a simple bounce but has its own remarkable surprises:

Early Jelly — his NEW ORLEANS BLUES, with that majestic bass saxophone:

For the senior citizen who has or does everything, a positively joyous GRANDPA’S SPELLS:

The Registrar has informed me that some of you have not subscribed. Remember the final exam is coming up!

An extra bonus for the faithful nomads in the Land of Hot: the Vitality Five’s latest e-78, a treat not to be missed:

The Vitality Five, if you’ve not met them, is David and Andrew, plus loyal souls and true Michael McQuaid, Nicholas D. Ball, and Martin Wheatley: the best in their line.

May your happiness increase!

CINEMA FORRESTER: JOEL FORRESTER at JULES (May 6, 2018)

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Pianist, composer, writer Joel Forrester invents scores for silent films and has done so for decades.  But we don’t associate him with the megaphone and director’s chair, nor does he have credits as a producer or director.  Yet I’ve come to think of some of Joel’s more evocative compositions and performances as the scores for films that have not made it to the screen.  Soundtracks to our own imaginings.

Here are three such cinema-without-cinema creations, invented and re-invented on Sunday, May 6, at the delightful French bistro / jazz club JULES (65 Saint Marks Place, an easy walk from several subways).  Joel is playing at Jules every Sunday this summer from 4-6:30, sometimes solo, sometimes with guests / friends: a day ago, he had a trio of himself, David Hofstra, string bass; Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone.  JULES is lovely, by the way — good food, interesting wines, and a truly friendly staff.  And the latter means more to people like me than I can say.

From May 6.  Close your eyes and imagine the film — this one is easy, because it is Joel’s idea of music to be played while the credits roll:

This Middle Eastern sound-portrait is named for Joel and Mary’s son, the illustrious Max.  I met him — not in the desert — and he deserves this song:

Finally, one of Forrester’s many selves, among them the swing pianist, the eccentric / novelty / stride pianist, the Powell-and-Monk through a bright prism, and the 1933 Chicago blues pianist, half in the dark, a half-finished beer on top of the piano which is of course a little assertive in the upper octaves:

Did you like Cinema Forrester?  More to come.  And come visit Joel at Jules.

May your happiness increase!

ART IS NOT THE BOX IT COMES IN

 

Have you heard this recently, this ecstatic sustained outpouring of wise joys?

You can read the names off the record label before the music starts, so I don’t have to name the divine figures.

I nearly drowned in an online discussion this morning — what is the difference between “New Orleans jazz” and “Dixieland”?  That dangerous question quickly branched off into definitions of “Chicago jazz” and “true traditional jazz,” with small mutterings about “two-beat” and “four-beat.”

Gentlemen (for they were all male), these names were not invented by musicians.  From what I’ve seen in practice, the Ancestors did not go on the job or into the record studio and say, “Well, fellows, now we are about to create three minutes — or ten minutes — of Authentic _____________ (insert divisive name here).”

They might have said, “Here’s a song we love.  Here’s a good old good one,” but usually they referred to what they were doing as “playing music,” or — when things got too divisive — as “our music.”

(At this point, someone will expect me to repeat what Eddie Condon or Duke Ellington said about music.  I won’t.  My audience already knows those quotations by heart.)

I backed away from the online discussion because my GP is trying to get my blood pressure down, and such conversations are not good for me.  But I think of it this way: if your birthday present comes in a box wrapped with newspaper, and the present pleases you, do you need to obsess on the newspaper?

The nomenclature was invented by clubowners, record companies, journalists — to sell a product.  Music might be made into a product, but it is essentially a heartfelt personal creation, and arguing about the names for it ultimately has little to do with the art.  And such arguments fragment what is already a small audience.

So . . . call it what you will, if you must.  But realize that names are not the reality of what we cherish when we hear or play it.  And perhaps you might want to listen to that sainted recording once again.

P.S.  For once, I am going to exert imperial privilege — my blog is like my house, and if guests behave badly, I point them to the door.  So negative comments will not see the light.  And now, I am going into Manhattan — below Fourteenth Street — to savor some music.

May your happiness increase!

FOR BIX, FOR RUBY, FOR EVERMORE (Part Two): The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES CHIRILLO, GREG COHEN, and FRIENDS (March 11, 2018)

Here is my first post about the glorious fun at The Ear Inn on March 11, 2018, featuring SUGAR and SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, as played by Messrs. Cohen, Chirillo, Robinson, and Kellso.

And I present two more performances from the same happy evening, with the affectionate spotlight on Mister Braff.

Walter Donalsdon’s IT’S BEEN SO LONG:

and my favorite anthem of hope, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS — Dan Block, clarinet, and Will Reardon Anderson, alto (left and right) sitting in:

The moral of the story?  As the Sages say, “Get thee to The Ear Inn on Sunday nights.”

May your happiness increase!

NOT ONLY BUT ALSO: ROBERTA PIKET, “WEST COAST TRIO”

When I taught freshman composition, some of my best students had grown up speaking a language not English.  They were often far more perceptive than the local talent whose radius of exploration was fifty miles. But the “ESL” crew occasionally had trouble with English idioms that native speakers take for granted.  One, memorably, was “not only but also,” and perhaps its apparent negation becoming affirmation was too much to digest at first.

While I was listening to pianist-composer Roberta Piket’s new CD, WEST COAST TRIO, the expression came back as a perfect way to describe her work, a great compliment.

If you don’t know Roberta’s work, you will want to scamper ahead to the video to hear it; she is also, not surprisingly, quietly eloquent about how she perceives what she does, and where she’s come from: here is a recent interview.

But to the music: in a landscape of artists who equate modernism with abstraction, Roberta always remembers that the heart of music is song, so her work, even when she is exploring, is always melodic and soulful, free from cliche, welcoming us in.  And whatever meter or tempo she chooses, her music has the pulse of a heartbeat.  To some, swinging improvisation is no longer relevant.  From the first measures of MENTOR, the first song on the disc, I was bobbing my head: for me, very good evidence of enjoyment.  The result can be innovative or technically sophisticated, but it’s mobile and warm, never chilly.

Here is the behind-the-scenes look at the session, extremely valuable because not only does it provide a tasting menu of the music, but also we see and hear Roberta speaking about it:

and here you can listen to longer samples of the music, download it, or purchase the actual disc — the last of which I recommend because Thirteenth Note Records’ products are superb, and Bob Bernotas’ liner notes equally so.

One of the other things to love about this CD is it shows off Roberta’s wide range of musical affections: standards by Legrand, Rodgers, and Donaldson (MY BUDDY is aimed right at our hearts), compositions by Shearing, Corea, Hicks, and two originals by Roberta.  Beautiful recorded sound and beautiful playing by Joe La Barbera, drums; Darek Olszkiewicz, string bass, with telling cameo appearances by Larry Koonse, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.  There’s great variety: some performances seem dreamy, musing; others are superb dance music.

When I’d played the disc the first time, I wanted to hear it again.  You will, too.

May your happiness increase!

THE MASTER’S ART: TED BROWN AT NINETY (December 2, 2017): AARON QUINN, KRIS MONSON, DERIC DICKENS

This post isn’t just a celebration of durability, steadfast endurance, and longevity.  Those are all virtues we love, but in the case of tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, who turned ninety in early December 2017, what we cheer is his wondrous commitment to creating beauty: not at top speed, not in a shout, but as if he were whispering tender secrets into our ears.

Ted’s birthday party took place at that shrine for music, the Drawing Room (aimed straight at the grail by Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig) on December 2, 2017.  In this video — a touching exploration of THESE FOOLISH THINGS — Ted is lovingly accompanied by Aaron Quinn, guitar; Kris Monson, string bass; Deric Dickens, drums.  Also in the course of the evening Jeff Brown took over the drum throne and the gracious organizer of the party — someone we’re all indebted to, tenor saxophonist Brad Linde — played alongside Ted as well.  But this one, delicate, curious, and touching, is all Ted’s.  You could say that he navigates by the stars of Lester and Lennie, but his internal compass has long ago been his own.

And, afterwards, there was cake.  Of course!

Blessings on Ted Brown, a sweet inspiration.  And gratitude that lasts longer than twenty-four hours.

May your happiness increase!

A GENEROUS TRIO: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, CONAL FOWKES (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 25, 2017)

Dawn Lambeth

These three wonderful musicians offer a groovy synergy: more than three selves in inspired combinations.  I refer to the singer Dawn Lambeth, brassman Marc Caparone, pianist Conal Fowkes — who performed as the Dawn Lambeth Trio at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.

Conal Fowkes

Here are two delicious performances.

Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters related to one Louis.

The first features Dawn singing RIDE, TENDERFOOT, RIDE (Richard Whiting and Johnny Mercer) — she has secret Western leanings, as anyone who’s heard her sing DON’T FENCE ME IN knows. This one’s fun, lyrical, and swinging, with no saddle sores:

Dawn makes no secret of her delight in hearing the Fellows play duets, so Marc and Conal explore the Ink Spots’ I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE — with passion and ease:

I recorded a good deal by this trio, and also a duet recital by Dawn and Conal.  You’ll hear and see more: to me this is the very peak of casual hot / sweet improvisation.

May your happiness increase!

FOR BIX, FOR RUBY, FOR EVERMORE (Part One): The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES CHIRILLO, GREG COHEN (March 11, 2018)

I haven’t made it to the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) as often as I’d like: the Monday-morning alarm summoning me to work has become more cruel.  But the Sunday-night sessions that have been going on for over a decade — all hail the EarRegulars! — are a reason to stay in New York forever.

On March 11, the EarRegulars — Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, James Chirillo, and visiting hero Greg Cohen — played some songs loosely connected to Bix Beiderbecke and Ruby Braff, cornetists of a certain lyrical tendency who had March birthdays.  Here are two highlights, with more to come:

Maceo Pinkard’s SUGAR:

and the musical celebration of broken romance, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Just gorgeous, I think.

May your happiness increase!

WARM SOUNDS IN MOTION: JON DE LUCIA OCTET in RECITAL: JON DE LUCIA, ANDREW HADRO, DAN BLOCK, RICKY ALEXANDER, JAY RATTMAN, STEFAN VASNIER, AIDAN O’DONNELL, STEVE LITTLE (City College, May 3, 2018)

I abandoned my adult responsibilities last Thursday to hear the Jon De Lucia Octet at City College, and I am so glad: this performance was an oasis.

Jon’s group, in existence for slightly more than two years, is a flexible, swinging chamber group devoted to the music-for-saxophones of Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre, Ted Brown, Bill Smith, Alec Wilder, the Dave Brubeck Octet, and Jon’s own arrangements and compositions.  I’ve been following Jon and the Octet around New York since their inception, and have always felt rewarded.  Here is a sample from March 2017.

Perhaps it no longer applies, but it used to be fashionable to characterize such music as “cerebral,” to some, a euphemism for chilly aural architecture, jazz drained of untidy emotions, art from the neck up.  Not true for the Octet, which is a warm, mobile band, always with a generous offering of improvised solos.  You’ll hear and see for yourself.

If you have an established prejudice against what is perceived by some as “cool,” please take a visit to PRESERVATION, DREAMILEE, DISC JOCKEY JUMP . . . . and then re-assess.

At this too-brief concert, the players were Jon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Stefan Vasnier, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Jay Rattman, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, alto saxophone and clarinet; Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Andrew Hadro, baritone saxophone.

Gerry Mulligan’s DISC JOCKEY JUMP, originally composed by young Mr. Mulligan for the Gene Krupa ensemble, then arranged for saxophones a decade later by Bill Holman:

Jerome Kern’s PICK YOURSELF UP (I think of Fred Astaire pretending to be clumsy) arranged by Jon:

The Gershwins’ TREAT ME ROUGH, from GIRL CRAZY, arranged by Dick Hyman for a Trigger Alpert record date:

PRESERVATION, by Ted Brown, a sinuous improvisation on Lester Young’s TICKLE-TOE, arranged by Jon:

The gorgeous PRELUDE, by Dave Van Kriedt, originally for the Dave Brubeck Octet:

DREAMILEE, Lee Konitz’s solo / variations on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, arranged by Jon:

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST, a Baroque jazz fantasy by Jon, which I associate with his new  Bach Shapes book:

Cole Porter’s very pretty LOOKING AT YOU (I think of Lee Wiley’s 1940 recording with Bushkin and Berigan) arranged by Jon.  Dance music for very hip couples:

and a memory of a vanished New York City subway-system entrance machinery, TURNSTILE, again composed by Mulligan and arranged by Holman:

Jon’s Octet — with the splendid Ted Brown — will be releasing their debut recording, a live performance from their first recital — on Neal Miner’s noble Gut String Records — this summer.  Expect to hear more about it here.

May your happiness increase!

“SWINGING NEW ORLEANS JAZZ: FOR DANCING — OR JUST LISTENING!”: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND”

Kid Ory hasn’t really opened his California jazz club, nor has he come back in the flesh.  But his music has, joyously and intelligently.

This cheerful development in the twenty-first century is the handiwork of drummer, scholar, and bandleader Hal Smith, who’s been playing gigs with his ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND, which focuses on lively renditions of the music Ory played in the middle and later stages of his career.

And they’ve just released their debut CD.

I wrote happily about this band  (with performance videos) in December 2017, and you can see and hear more here.

Although Ory was born in the nineteenth century, he did not cling to a historical vision of the music.  His later recordings swung, and showed he and his musicians embraced performance styles more modern than 1926.  The ON THE LEVEE band is well aware of that gentle but persistent 4 / 4 rocking motion of jazz in the Thirties . . . and even beyond.

The virtues of the band require a brief digression.  I was once at a festival, sitting close enough to eavesdrop as the leader of a small ad hoc group called for a spectacular closing number.  It would be long, loud, with extended high-volume solos, and would conclude with a long drum and long horn solos.  The one horn player looked pained, and said to the leader, “Oh, I don’t want to do that,” to which the leader replied, “Do you want them standing and cheering at the end of the set?  Follow me!”  The horn player grudgingly complied; the chandeliers swung; the audience shrieked.  I thought I’d contracted tinnitus, but it went away. So, in this century, bands have often tried to grab an audience’s attention by manufactured excitement.  Songs are played faster and louder and with less subtlety, because the audience associates excitement with Hot.

Ory and his colleagues, including Joe Oliver, understood that jazz was essentially a dance music, to keep audiences in motion — or at least not blow them out of their seats.  Hal Smith and this new band understand that principle, so although the music is never Easy Listening (“The 101 Strings Play the Cassino Simpson Songbook”) it is easy on the ears and it promotes healing constant motion of the nicest kind.

The CD features Hal, drums and leader; Clint Baker, trombone; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass, performing ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP / WANG WANG BLUES / BEALE STREET BLUES / WOLVERINE BLUES / MAPLE LEAF RAG / MILENBERG JOYS / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING / SAVOY BLUES / WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / DOWN HOME RAG / YELLOW DOG BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / PANAMA.

I know that song list looks resolutely “traditional,” and listeners might expect a repertory concert rather than swinging dance music.  But here’s evidence of just how light-on-its-feet this band is.

ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP:

MAPLE LEAF RAG (what a nice tempo!):

DOWN HOME RAG:

BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES:

WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING:

In addition to the lyrical soloing by Polcer and Goldberg, there’s also the supple but rough-edged (I think of corduroy) sound and attack of Clint Baker, who evokes Ory at every turn.  And for me what makes this band glide rather than lumber is the deliciously mobile rhythm section — no banjo, no tuba, no two-beat — of Hal, striding Kris Tokarski, powerful yet floating Belhaj and Gouzy.  I don’t want to upset those who live for “authenticity,” but everyone in this band has heard 1938 Count Basie as well as Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra.  And the result would have made the Kid smile.

You can, as they say, “follow them on Facebook” here — and visit the band’s very entertaining website here.  The CD is available from Hal, at gigs, at the Louisiana Music Factory, and I think soon it will be on sale in other forms and from other places.

May your happiness increase!