Monthly Archives: May 2019

“MAY I SWING YOU A SONG?” DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, WALLY HERSOM, JOSH COLLAZO, DAWN LAMBETH (May 10, 2019)

Dave Stuckey knows how — how to put together a hot congenial swinging band, how to sing in a convincing heartfelt Thirties style that engages an audience, how to find rare material . . . how to put on a show that doesn’t require his dad’s barn (although he will work in barns for the right offer).  He is comic without being jokey, and his friendly approach to the band and to us is heartfelt, not a series of ad-libs.  He’s having fun, and we feel it also.

He showed off all these talents with the Hot House Gang at this year’s Redwood Coast Music Festival — the Gang being Josh Collazo, drums; Wally Hersom, string bass; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Nate Ketner, reeds; Marc Caparone, cornet; Dawn Lambeth, vocal.  Here are seven tunes — count ’em, seven! — from the Gang’s first set.

Here’s melodious Dawn to sing a rare tune I associate with Henry “Red” Allen, which is always an asset, I’LL SING YOU A THOUSAND LOVE SONGS:

In the wrong hands, EXACTLY LIKE YOU can sound overfamiliar and thus dull, but not in these hands — those of Dawn and the Gang, helped immensely by Father Leyland’s righteous groove:

I confess that I’ve heard many versions of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO that made me mutter to myself, “Not much,” but this performance gets at the heart of the ebullience of the Billie Holiday records of the Thirties, thanks to glorious playing by the band as well as Dawn’s choice to sing the song rather than the record.  Those riffs, those riffs!

Hoagy Carmichael’s love song to New Orleans, of the same name, wistfully sung by Dave and eloquently by Marc:

Father Leyland’s rocking bouquet for IDA, which is so much music packed into three minutes:

The new dance they’re doing uptown, TRUCKIN’:

and, to close the set, the joyous affirmation of collective swing, a song that brings together Ivie Anderson and the Marx Brothers as well as the Hot House Gang.  Who would complain?

If  you learn that Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang are coming to your city, toss the dogs some dry food, break into the birthday fund, give up those plans to make the kitchen floor shine, and go.  Joy like this is rare and not to be disregarded.

Thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen of the Redwood Coast Music Festival for their generous embrace of soulful music.  Be there May 7-10, 2020 . . . !

May your happiness increase!

 

“A TRULY LOVING PERSON”: DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS LOUIS ARMSTRONG (May 24, 2019)

I’ve had many beautiful experiences in my life, but being able to hear Dan Morgenstern talk about Louis Armstrong — the man, seen at close range — is one of those I treasure now and will always treasure.  We spent an early afternoon a few days ago, sharing sweet thoughts of our greatest hero.  I invite you to join us for tender memories and some surprises.  I have intentionally presented the video segments here without annotation so that viewers can be delighted and surprised as I was and am.

These segments are emotionally important to me, so I saw no reason to wait until July 4, July 6, or even August 1 to share them with you.

And just a small matter of chronology: Dan will be ninety on October 24, 2019.  Let us start planning the parades, shall we?

a relevant musical interlude:

Part Two:

some life-changing music:

Part Three:

Dave and Iola Brubeck’s SUMMER SONG:

Part Four (and before one of the JAZZ LIVES Corrections Officers rushes to the rescue, I am sure that the funeral Dan refers to as the ideal was Ellington’s):

Part Five:

The blessed EV’NTIDE:

A very brief postscript, which I whimsically began by telling Dan I was going to throw him a curveball, which he nimbly hit out of the park:

SUN SHOWERS:

Dan and I owe much to the great friend of jazz and chronicler, Harriet Choice, who encouraged us to do this interview.

And a piece of mail, anything but ordinary:

 

Early in the conversation, Dan said that Louis “made everyone feel special.”  He does the same thing, and it comes right through the videos.  That we can share the same planet with Mister Morgenstern is a great gift.

May your happiness increase!

CHOOSING TO SWING: NIRAV SANGHANI AND THE PACIFIC SIX

I don’t have grandchildren*, but I can imagine myself gathering the younguns around and telling them, “Younguns, Grandpa knew Nirav Sanghani when he was only a swing dancer, before he began to lead a band!” They would be properly awestruck.  As I am by Nirav’s debut CD, its pretty cover displayed above.

Some facts: the CD is immensely danceable music, the tracks at righteous groovy tempos, with a mix of classic standards and riff-based originals.  Nirav is one of the young musicians mentored by Clint Baker, so you know that he has taken all the right impromptu classes and scored high on the real-life exams (in front of audiences).  And he understands rhythm guitar (rather than attempting to become a Famous-Solo-Guitarist-Clone) and playing for the band.  The band is a compact sextet of wise individualists, and they rock in solo and ensemble.  Beautiful sound . . . . and a digital download costs $8.  I am sure that Elders like myself could also buy a physical disc from Nirav at any of the swing events he and the Pacific Six adorn.

The band: Justin Au, trumpet; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Rob Reich, piano; Nirav Sanghani, guitar; Jen Hodge, string bass; Riley Baker, drums; Clint Baker, trombone (on BAKER BOUNCE only).

The songs: BAKER BOUNCE / DOODLE RHYTHM / MARIANAS / BLUE (And Broken-Hearted) / IRRATIONAL BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / LULLABY OF THE WAVES / WHISPERING.  arch 26, 2019

Recorded August 19, 2018 at Community Music Center, San Francisco, CA.

From the first notes, the band floats on a well-connected four-piece rhythm section: Reich, Sanghani, Hodge, and Baker have listened hard to the great small groups of the Forties and the wartime Basie influence is so happily evident (although none of the cliches are).  I noticed happily that more than a few of the tracks began with a rhythm-section introduction, reminiscent of the great small groups and also clearly setting the tempo for dancers.  (Incidentally, that rhythm section has its own delicious quirky approach: hear the opening chorus of WHISPERING to get at it: hilarious and completely effective.)  IRRATIONAL BLUES is beautifully evocative of the 1938 Kansas City Six, with a guitar introduction by Sanghani.

And the horn soloists (Zimmerman switching from clarinet to saxophone on some tracks; a terse, lyrical Au — with the impassioned Clint Baker, jazz parent, adding huge trombone sounds on the first track) are wonderfully idiomatic but never imitative.  Eddie Condon would surely admire their interplay on BLUE and on SOMEDAY SWEETHEART.  The jazz fans in the audience might think of 1946, of Savoy Records, of swing-to-bop; the dancers will be too busy dancing to consider such erudite matters.

Nirav’s originals are made of familiar materials but each has its own little surprises, and the arranging touches are well-shaped but never overfussy.  I know that if I heard this on the radio or on a DJ’s playlist, I might not immediately call each of the players by name but I certainly would insist on knowing about the band and buying a few copies of the disc.

I propose that people who enjoy this CD pass along copies of it to dance organizers who might be out of touch with the best Bay Area jive so that we can spread the swinging word(s).

My only complaint about this disc is that it isn’t a two-disc set.

Here is the band’s Facebook page, and here, perhaps even more important, is the Bandcamp page where you can hear the sounds and download the music.

If you have a swing dance event coming up, this would be one of the many fine bands to hire.  If, like me, you don’t, you surely will want to have the music in your home, your ears, your car . . . the possibilities are endless, and gratifying.

*Because I don’t have grandchildren, I am expecting like-minded younger JAZZ LIVES readers to visit us in assisted living, bearing new CDs, organic fruit and vegetables.  I think that’s not too much to ask.

May your happiness increase!

THE KING’S SWINGLISH (Part One): CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON at MONTEREY (March 3, 2019)

Those new to jazz performance may find improvisation a wondrous mystery.  “How do they know how to do that without music?” they ask.  It’s a fair question: how do you play soccer without the rulebook in your hand?  Is there some magic volume, known only to the favored few, that those versed in the secret craft have memorized?

The marvel that is improvisation results from practice, study, scholarly labor, trial and error — difficult to explain simply, but an analogy comes to hand.

With a few exceptions, we are born with the power of speech: we can form words and sentences and make ourselves understood,  That, for the jazz musician, would be mastery of her instrument, skill, technical proficiency, the ability to execute ideas in pleasing logical sequence.  Never as easy as it looks.

But there’s more, much more.  How does anyone have something to express, “things to say”?  That mastery, subtler and deeper, comes through communal exercise and learning from those who know the great wisdoms.  In everyday life, you know the basic vocabulary, but what do you say to someone who is mourning a death?  No thesaurus can teach us the right thing to say, the most appropriate thing to utter, but we can learn by saying the wrong thing and then doing better, or by being in the company of people who express themselves beautifully and learning from them.

Since music is a kind of speech, what jazz artists have is a common knowledge and common language — I’ve invented a whimsical term for it above — a series of conventions that have been internalized.  Not only does the experienced musician know the melody of YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, but he knows the verse, the lyrics, the standard key, which tempos lend themselves to which approach; he might know the Whiteman and Bud Freeman recordings.  He might know several sets of harmonies; he might know the common errors he and others make.

With a solid foundation of such experiential knowledge, a musician gains the courage to sing an individual song, listen to, and add to the other songs being created on the bandstand.  The craft is a matter of tens of thousands of hours of practice among friends, colleagues, mentors . . .  listening intently to live performance and to recorded ones.

The results are unmistakable: an ease, an assurance, the kind of skill that lets warm personal improvisations happen, not only in solo, but also in ensemble.

The four musicians who took to the stage without fanfare on March 3, 2019, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, are masters of this conversational and inspiring art.  Three of them — pianist / singer / composer Carl Sonny Leyland, string bassist Marty Eggers, and drummer Jeff Hamilton — have worked together as a trio for years, and they are as close as family.  Or closer.

Jacob Zimmerman, of the Pacific Northwest, who plays clarinet and alto sax, writes and arranges, was new to the group.  But these four players fell into delicious harmony easily, and what music was made!  I’ve left in (more than usual) the little conversations that were prelude to each number, because they illustrate “the King’s Swinglish” well, to my eyes and ears.

They began with a lovely old tune, not played as much as it should be — the WABASH BLUES.  Groovy!

Then, a sentimental song that I think no one else does (I hear Bing’s version in my ears), IF I HAD MY WAY.  I love the performance, and I also urge people to watch Jacob intently learning the song from Sonny’s clear exposition.  And how they swing!

And, for the last Musical Offering (four more will appear in a second post), BOOGIE WOOGIE.  You’ll hear Sonny announce it as SOMETHING KIND OF BOOGIE-WOOGIE-ISH, but that title was too long for YouTube:

You’ve heard articulate people praised with the words, “She always knows the right thing to say.”  These four musicians always know the right thing to play.

May your happiness increase!

UP IN THE CLOUDS (Part Two): THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, GORDON AU, CHARLIE HALLORAN, JAMEY CUMMINS, ALEX BELHAJ, SAM ROCHA, JOSH COLLAZO (May 12, 2019)

Jonathan Doyle, 2015

I think I first took notice of Jonathan Doyle — clarinetist, tenor saxophonist, later bass saxophonist, composer, arranger — when he was a member of the Thrift Set Orchestra some six years ago, then working with Hal Smith, leading his own groups, in combos with Ray Skjelbred, part of the Fat Babies, with Hal’s Swing Central, and more than I am no doubt leaving out.  By the time I met him in person, possibly at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest, I was already dazzled.

What Jonathan has and shares with us is a special emotional-spiritual energy, as if he’s connected to electric current, no matter how lazy the tempo might be.  I’ve never seen him coast or fall back on formula: he is fully present and fully engaged.  I offered these two splendid performances by his Swingtet at the Redwood Coast Music Festival (with Jacob Zimmerman, Charlie Halloran, Kris Tokarski, Jamey Cummins, Steve Pikal, Hal Smith) here and they deserved all the enthusiastic prose I could write and all the accolades from audience members.  A day later at the RCMF, Jonathan assembled a slightly different Swingtet: Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Sam Rocha, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Jamey Cummins, Alex Belhaj, guitars.

I love this music dearly.

First, Jonathan’s original A SYBARITE’S DREAM, featuring Gordon, musing and soaring, in the fashion of an Ellington mood-piece but purely Doyle:

Then, an utterly captivating romp on Benny Carter’s KRAZY KAPERS, inspired by the 1933 Chocolate Dandies recording — a line on DIGA DIGA DOO.  Watch Gordon’s face as Jonathan solos: it tells you all you need to know.  And if you’d been sitting near me, you would have seen my even more dramatic look of astonished delight as Jonathan announced the song . . . as if I’d been given a lovely present.  I haven’t changed my mind at all since then:

Such remarkable passion, allied to an irresistible swing.  Bless Jonathan and his musicians, and Mark and Valerie Jansen for creating such a splendid space for beauties.  (The 2020 Redwood Coast Music Festival will be next May 7-10, and it will be a doozy, a honey, or a blast: you pick.  I think it will be all three.)

May your happiness increase!

“YOU’LL GET THE EASY TERMS YOU WANT”: A QUARTER-HOUR WITH LOUIS, 1950

Sometimes the treasure box opens to reveal riches both unimagined and breathtaking.

For the full story behind this 1956 photograph, read here.

Everything in this blogpost is thanks to the kind, diligent archivist Maristella Feustle, the unchallenged expert on broadcaster and innovator Willis Conover.  She’s uncovered rare and previously unknown music and words: “The University of North Texas Music Library is now digitizing the 16-inch radio transcription discs in its Willis Conover Collection. These are in addition to the reel-to-reel tape recordings we digitized under a Grammy Foundation grant in 2015-2016. There are more of these in the pipeline, but the initial set alone has been a highly satisfactory set of unique and unreleased material.”

“Highly satisfactory” indeed.  What follows is a fifteen-minute recording, circa 1950, of Louis Armstrong taking over Willis Conover’s radio microphone before going off to perform with his band at a club called the Blue Mirror, which seems to have been in Washington, D.C..

I know there is a proliferation of Louis to be heard, but this quarter-hour is remarkable and beyond . . . as he reads advertising copy for Philco Balanced Beam television sets and has fun talking about custom reupholstery.  We hear once again, what a fine impovising actor he was.

And!

Louis sings three songs, I MAY BE WRONG, I SURRENDER, DEAR, and BODY AND SOUL to the recorded accompaniment of Billy May (beautiful in itself).  Something to cherish: he never recorded I MAY BE WRONG and improvises some of his own words for the bridge, then scats the second time.  His verbal improvisations are just as much fun.  I won’t explicate more: listen for yourselves.  Here’s the link.

I don’t have a wide-screen television set, but Louis is making me rethink my decision.  Blessings on him, as always, on Willis, and on Maristella.

Postscript: to learn more about the inspiring and influential Willis Conover from someone who knew and admired him, here is my interview of Dan Morgenstern in June 2018.

May your happiness increase!

IN SWING WE TRUST: CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND: “UNSTUCK IN TIME”

Yes, another wonderful new CD.  But remember: I told you to save your spare change, to make coffee at home instead of going to Starbucks, that there would be great pleasures in store.  But enough of that.  The four-minute video that follows might make prose superfluous: watch and listen to the end:

Josh Collazo is a magnificent jazz drummer: I had a great deal of gleeful first-hand evidence at the Redwood Coast Music Festival a short time ago to reinforce what I already knew.  He listens, he makes thrilling sounds, he leans forward into the beat so that any band he’s part of levitates.  But better than that, he has a huge imagination based in swing and melody, in danceable new music.  This is an elaborate prelude to say that his new CD, UNSTUCK IN TIME, by the organization he calls the CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND, is an unerring delight.

This was no surprise: here is my delighted reaction to the CJJB’s first disc.

But let us return to whimsical-completely serious video:

Facts?  Eleven original swing compositions by Josh, Dan Weinstein, Albert Alva, and Seth Ford-Young alone or in combination; a lovely small band of Josh, drums, vocal; Seth Ford-Young, string bass; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Chris Dawson, piano; Dan Weinstein, trombone, vocal; Corey Gemme, cornet; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone; Nate Ketner, alto saxophone, clarinet; arrangements (and they’re important, since UNSTUCK IN TIME is not a jam session) by Albert, Dan, and Josh.

And a few words about this disc’s glorious antecedents.  For me, one of the unheralded peaks of jazz happened while the official “Swing Era” was no longer at its apex: the period between 1942-7, more or less, that coincided with the more dramatic recording ban.  Because of that ban, small record companies had their pick of jazz artists — think Keynote, Blue Note, Comet, Savoy, Regis, Jamboree, HRS, Jazz Record, Musicraft, Black and White, Apollo, Sittin’ In, and a dozen others.  The music as passed down to us on recordings, loosely defined, moves from Art Hodes to early bebop, but the middle ground is what attracts me: small groups with a few horns, ample space for solos, but intelligent arrangements.  Why do I write of this?

Simply, because UNSTUCK IN TIME by the Candy Jacket Jazz Band seems to my ears a glorious extension of the best Keynote sessions.  I will even write that were someone able to narrow the sound and add some surface noise, many of the tracks on this CD could pass as previously-unheard and intensely refreshing Forties gems that had been overlooked.  It’s just that warmly idiomatic, sweetly rhythmic, and full of improvisational delight.

And the title is more than a verbal two-bar tag.  Josh and the band value time highly in the sense of knowing where “one” is, in keeping the rhythm going in the nicest ways (did I point out how splendid this CD is as dance music?) but they are not tied down by clock and calendar: this disc is not a poker-faced science experiment in the Jazz Lab, bringing 1944 forward by cloning it, but rather a blend of present and past swinging into the future, free to groove without concerns of “repertory” or “authenticity.”  I think of Golden-Era science fiction, full of alternate universes: “What kind of tune would Johnny Hodges like?”  And that spirit — to honor a Hodges-universe — lifts the music in performance after performance, honoring the innovators by refusing to imitate them except in exuberant playful ways.

I’ll stop here, so that you can get to pleasure as quickly and directly as possible.  You can hear the music here.  You can buy a digital download or CD here.  You can hear the CJJB’s first CD here.

I’m so grateful this light-hearted free-wheeling yet level-headed band exists.  Their inventive music is the very heart of what I hold dear.

May your happiness increase!