Monthly Archives: November 2018


I must write at the start that I had thought of titling this post YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP, but decided to direct readers in a slightly different direction.

The relations between artists performing in public and their audience are often strange, especially at live jazz events.  The ideal audience (to me) sits rapt and attentive, but this austere ideal is not shared by everyone.  Often, the members of the audience renew old acquaintance throughout a performance — listening, if at all, marginally — and then shout WOOHOO! at the end.  Or they applaud in the middle of performances, which is, I assume, to be encouraged as a show of gratitude, but hearing people applaud when two instrumentalists are “trading fours” — after each solo utterance — goes beyond praise.

Someone once suggested the rather bleak theory that audience members couldn’t stand suppressing their egos for long, so they had to respond because they, too, wanted to be heard.  If anyone’s now tempted to write in and characterize me as a killjoy, I will only say that to me music is holy and even the hottest band’s outchoruses should be appreciated in ways that allow everyone to hear the music.

All of this is preface to a performance, captured on video, by the Chicago Cellar Boys at the San Diego Jazz Fest just a few days ago.  The Cellar Boys (their name a homage to sessions featuring Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Wingy Mannone, and Bud Freeman; later, Marty Grosz (a/k/a “Mart ‘Beef’ Gross”), Frank Chace, Dick Wellstood, and Pops Foster.  These Cellar Boys are a band-within-the-band of the Fat Babies, comprised of Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Dave Bock, tuba; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo.  Here is the penultimate song they performed at their last set, on November 25, 2018.

PLEASE watch and listen attentively to the very end:

I don’t know how to account for that audience member’s ejaculation. Was it simply reflex?  “Oh my goodness, the music is going to end!  We can’t have that happen!” Or was it the punchline to the joke — a bit of comedy?  I don’t know.  But I am so glad I let my camera run.

And, as a postscript, I found the CCB entrancing, so I recorded many performances at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  They satisfy.

May your happiness increase!


Colin Hancock (right) beatin’ it out with the Chicago Cellar Boys, November 24,.

It was wonderful. And completely exhausting.  And wonderful.  I speak, of course, of the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest, which (for me) just concluded.  You who know me will know that I judge a jazz festival or party or weekend extravaganza by two things: one, the amount of uplifting music I am able to hear, witness, and video-record; two, the number of friends old and new who will stand still for a hug or will approach me without fear of what might happen.

The Fest met both of those criteria splendidly.  I will reverse the order and say that I am not about to tabulate the number of people I embraced or was embraced by, but there were many such encounters — some with people I see every year, some with people I haven’t seen for a long time (“Remind me of your name.  I know you are very dear, but your name has gone away.) — and some were new friends who are now old friends, if you follow this serpentine line of reasoning.  Chief among them might be Bess Wade, Jim and Rebecca Thompson, Carol and Mary (the Ambassadors of Fun), John and Pamela Ochs, Allene Harding, Howard and Susie Miyata, Carol Andersen, Frank Selman, Tom Brannan, Sandra and Russ, solitary-by-choice dancer Lois, and others.

Music.  I delighted in the On the Levee Band (Hal Smith’s swinging Kid Ory evocation with Ben Polcer, Charlie Halloran, Joe Goldberg, Kris Tokarski, Alex Belhaj, Joshua Gouzy, and Hal), the Chicago Cellar Boys (Andy Schumm, John Otto, Johnny Donatowicz, Dave Bock, Paul Asaro), my long-time pals the Yerba Buena Stompers (Leon Oakley, John Gill, Duke Heitger, Tom Bartlett, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Kevin Dorn, Clint Baker), Carl Sonny Leyland, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, the Original Cornell Syncopators, directed by Colin Hancock; Jeff Hamilton; Katie Cavera, Marty Eggers, Bob Pelland, Michael Gamble’s Rhythm Serenaders with Jonathan Stout, Josh Collazzo, Laura Windley, Virginia Tichenor, Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, Brian John Casserly, and more.

If the camera and its owner-wrangler worked in harmony, I will have over 150 videos.  Some of them will remain buried because the musicians on them did not like what was captured, but I think there will be sizable handfuls for you to savor.

I will go to the 2019 version and I encourage you to do likewise.  Eleven months’ plus should give anyone motivated enough time to plan.  Meanwhile, thanks to the kind people whose light guided my path: Paul Daspit, Bill and Ed Adams, Gretchen Haugen, and volunteers whose names I never learned but who were solicitous and helpful.

As I wrote above, I feel exhausted.  I am coughing (an occupational hazard, I think, of plane travel) and do not expect to be perky for my Tuesday morning class.  But, believe me, the San Diego Jazz Fest has once again increased my happiness.

May your happiness increase!


Rebecca Kilgore is coming to New York in April 2019 to sing, uplift, and to teach.  In case you need to be reminded of her magic and the music she engenders in her fellow musicians, here’s a sunny example — with Jeff Hamilton, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bryan Shaw, trumpet.  This swing miracle took place some years back (March 5, 2011) at Dixieland Monterey:

Communication is essential, even when you’re writing the letter to yourself in lieu of one you’re hoping to get.  And everyone on that stand knows how to send a heartfelt message Express Mail right to our hearts.

The dear Ms. Kilgore is coming east for the best reasons.  Hark!

Here is the link to the Facebook page, and you can see the website listed in the advertisement above.  April seems a long time away, but enterprises such as this fill up early, so don’t wait for the crocuses to burst through the ground.  Rather than sending yourself a letter, make yourself a gift of enrolling.

May your happiness increase!

STATE OF THE ART: DALTON RIDENHOUR and EVAN ARNTZEN (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, Sedalia, Missouri: June 2, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

Duet playing in any genre is difficult — making two into one while keeping the individuals’ individualities afloat.  Improvised duet playing, as you can imagine, might be the most wonderful soaring dance of all but it is fraught with the possibility of disaster.  Can we agree on a tempo?  Is one of us rushing or dragging?  Do we agree on the changes?  Do we play the tag at the end of every chorus?  Do we change key for the final chorus?  Or, as Vic Dickenson said, “How do you want to distribute the bounces?”

Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney

But I am sure that some of my most enthralling moments have been as an open-mouthed spectator at some duets: Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines or Buck Washington, Al Cohn and Jimmie Rowles; Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins; Ruby and Dick Hyman; Vic and Ralph Sutton; Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson; Zoot Sims and Bucky Pizzarelli, Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow, Marc Caparone and Ray Skjelbred . . . . and and and.  Now I add to that list the two fellows photographed above . . . on the basis of two songs in concert.

Here are two lovely examples of how improvised duet playing — by two people, expert and intuitive — can touch our hearts while we marvel at the risks taken and the immense rewards.  Pianist Dalton Ridenhour was playing a solo set at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, and gave us a surprise by inviting his colleague and neighbor, clarinetist Evan Arntzen, to the stage for a dozen memorable minutes.

The tender and evocative THAT OLD FEELING:

The song I call CHANGES MADE (and then someone insists that THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE is the properly pious title . . . . what-ever):

I dream of a venue and an occasion where Dalton and Evan could play as long as they wanted . . .

May your happiness increase!


That’s no idle claim.  Here’s the cover of the band’s new CD, which features Floyd, piano and arrangements; Emily Gamble, vocal; Lauryn Gould, saxophone, arrangements; Ryan Gould, string bass; David Jellema, clarinet, cornet; Brooks Prumo, guitar; Hal Smith, drums.

And here’s a lively audio sample:

and another, with organic Lester-and-Buck flavoring:

I know that there are many excellent small and mid-sized “swing dance” units in operation these days, and if you’ve been reading JAZZ LIVES, you’ve heard my praise of them from New York to Vancouver and Texas.  We live in an age of good music (so those who lament the death of jazz are just wrong) but Floyd’s group has that most wonderful quality, a completely recognizable sound: individuals in solo and in ensemble.  I don’t have to clamber up on my soapbox and say that “When I was a boy you could tell who someone was in four quarter notes: Frank Newton didn’t sound like Charlie Shavers,” and so on.  But you know it’s true.

Again, if you’ve been paying attention, you know these musicians — or the two videos have offered convincing evidence of why you should.  But rather than write a handful of enthusiastic character sketches, for once I want to say something about the band, which has all the glide and grit of a working unit.  Smooth, but hardly decaffeinated.  What I hear in these performances is a kind of easy rhythmic intensity — think of a Forties small unit that has understood that shuffle rhythm, never heavy or obvious, gets the dancers on the floor.  (Although RIFF BLUES and the powerful MESS AROUND are solid exceptions: house-rocking music.)

The arrangements, as well, often feature Floyd’s groovy piano, but he isn’t always all alone. Rather, in the fashion of Basie and McShann, the piano often works against horn backgrounds (although the first choruses of HONEYSUCKLE give a nice simulation of Basie-time without any of the patented cliches, and DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS starts off with a honeyed sixteen bars of piano-and-rhythm before some pretty horn solos.  For the rest, you’re on your own, with notepad and pen if you please).

This CD is a homage to the music of another age, but it’s not imitative, although I now know the new lyrics to BLUE SKIES come from Slim Gaillard and the Royal Rhythm Boys; ‘WAY DOWN YONDER bows low to the Kansas City Six.

I will break with what I wrote earlier to say that Ms. Gamble is a wow: begin with her EXACTLY LIKE YOU and AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  “Tonation and phrasing” in abundance!

The preponderance of “standard repertoire” on the disc, incidentally, should not drive any listener away.  Yes, you’ve heard TEA FOR TWO countless times, but this band makes even the most ancient song seem fresh and vivid, and, yes, that is a little cap-tip to Tatum.  I know also that the phrase “little arranging touches” is so overused that I should banish it, but in this case it’s true: the balance of ensemble and solos is so very pleasing, novel without being ostentatiously “innovative.”

How can you bring this joy into your own life?  Ideally, if you’re at one of Floyd’s gigs, bring money and buy a cluster of CDs.  The holidays are coming, and so much holiday merchandise is designed to be obsolete the next morning.  This CD won’t be.  Or visit here and spread some joy.  But don’t give all the copies away: you’ll be sorry.

All I can say — for those who get the joke — is that if this band had existed in 1947, Jack Kapp or Herman Lubinsky would have signed them to disastrously corrupt contracts and they would be absolutely legendary.  How lovely it is that they are alive and well in our own century.

May your happiness increase!


For most of us, home is a tangible place: the room you are in now, the place where you spent your childhood, or the woods across the street, a friend’s basement, the house you now have the mortgage on.

Cape Cod house, Levittown, New York, 1947

But the real definition is broader: home is the place where people you love and who love you gather, the place you feel warmed and protected and seen, where you hug and are hugged.  And home can be portable: the hotel room with the little Christmas tree.

The definitions shift depending on one’s needs at the moment, but one of my homes is, perhaps oddly, a place I visit for a long weekend once a year, the San Diego Jazz Fest, which I’ve described most recently here.

At this gathering, I know I will hear and witness the music that speaks most directly to my heart.  Here are two examples of that music — recorded at the 2017 Fest — featuring Marc Caparone, cornet; Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano.  It would be an impudence to describe it.  You must experience it for yourself.

HOME (When Shadows Fall) by Marc and Conal:


This music — and the people connected to it — make me feel embraced by the world, a rare and memorable feeling, one I savor and invite you to savor as well.

And since I’ve buried the lede, the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest starts this Wednesday, November 21, and goes to Sunday, November 25.  You can find out all you need to know in the link above.  And there’s a turkey dinner, should you find yourself terrified that you won’t have had your holiday fiesta.  But the feast is in the music.

May your happiness increase!


Even more fun from the 2018 Pismo Jazz Jubilee by the Sea — two delightful performances from a Condonian ad hoc ensemble (never before and never again) assembled by George Smith, jazz musician, enthusiast, benefactor, and former director of the festival, someone who’s still deeply involved and makes good music happen.

Here are the two closing performances from “George’s All-Stars,” an old-fashioned group of hot individualists skilled at blending their individual sounds and styles into a band, Condon style.  From the back (for a change) it’s Danny Coots, drums; Katie Cavera, string bass; Larry Scala, guitar; Jason Wanner, piano; Bob Draga, clarinet; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet and tenor; Brandon Au, trombone; Bob Schulz, cornet, vocal.

First, the venerable yet heated I FOUND A NEW BABY:

and the Alex Hill-Claude Hopkins I WOULD DO [MOST] ANYTHING FOR YOU:

Wasn’t that nice?  Thanks so much, Mr. Smith.

May your happiness increase!