Monthly Archives: October 2019

THEY’RE EASY TO DANCE TO! (Part Two): HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND” at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Evergreen, Colorado, July 26, 2019)

The evidence is seriously against the nostalgic proposition that jazz was ever “America’s popular music” — even at the height of what we like to call the Swing Era.  But up until some time, and you can determine when that was, jazz was wonderful and respected dance music.  We know that hot bands — among them Henderson, Oliver, Goldkette — played tangos and waltzes as part of an evening’s entertainment.  But we also know that, in this century, it is possible to play lively hot music that gets dancers on the floor and keeps them there.

I don’t think many jazz fans associate Kid Ory with dance music, but their error and their loss — for he was much more versatile than his Twenties recordings (which are marvels) suggest.  When he returned to playing in the mid-Forties, up until the end of his life, he created bands with musicians who hadn’t taken up permanent residence in 1928, and the Kid wanted to see people dance to his bands.  Hal Smith has taken up the challenge of creating hot danceable jazz with his On the Levee Jazz Band — a beautiful ensemble featuring Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Clint Baker (in this case), trombone; Ben Polcer, trumpet.  I caught them in a wonderful dance set at the Evergreen Jazz Festival last July, and the first part is here — swinging renditions of LADY BE  GOOD, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, I GOT RHYTHM, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE . . . songs you would think had all the life drained out of them through decades of performance, but feel new again.

Here’s the remainder of that set, featuring songs we associate with the Swing Era.  Ory fanciers will recognize many of them as coming from the two recordings Henry “Red” Allen made with the Kid, in addition to a European tour.  Inspiring stuff for sure.

Yes, that’s the Erskine Hawkins hit TUXEDO JUNCTION:

Ory’s own SAVOY BLUES, briskly:

Chu Berry’s CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:

Yes, the Glenn Miller (or Wingy Manone) IN THE MOOD to close:

This lovely rocking band has a CD, and will be appearing at the San Diego Jazz Fest coming this Thanksgiving — also as one of two bands appearing at the Saturday-night dance.  I predict exuberant swaying to the sounds.

May your happiness increase!

A TRIUMPH: “LESTER’S BLUES – RED LABEL: HOMMAGE TO LESTER YOUNG AND THE BASIE-ITES” (2018)

A Preface:

I came to this band through their Facebook page and was thrilled by their sound.  When I noticed the great reed played David Lukacs (whose CD DREAM CITY I have praised here) was one of the two tenor saxophonists (he also plays clarinet) I asked him to put me in touch with saxophonist / leader Tom Callens.  A few days ago, a neat package arrived; I extracted both the CD and vinyl issue, slid the former into the player, played it three times in a row, and was uplifted each time. It has also become the soundtrack to this post, appropriately.

Several Relevant Illustrations:

This is the band’s website, where you will see their video of the recording of DICKIE’S DREAM.  I encourage you to click on it, or visit the video here:

Here’s TICKLE-TOE, a legal stimulant:

and a seductive live version of THE GOON DRAG. It’s also on the record, but the live version shows that their magic comes from inspiration:

Emulation, not Repetition (I):

LESTER’S BLUES is the wonderful embodiment of ideas (to be explicated below) for which Tom Callens may take credit.  The repertoire springs from Lester’s recordings of about a decade, with nods to Count Basie, Billie Holiday, but also Lester’s Aladdin period, his Keynote sessions, and the aforementioned GOON DRAG, originally a Sammy Price recording for Decca. The titles will make this even clearer: KING PORTER STOMP / ONE O’CLOCK JUMP / EASY LIVING / LESTER’S BE-BOP BOOGIE / SIX CATS AND A PRINCE / MY MAN / THE GOON DRAG / SHOE SHINE BOY / AD LIB BLUES / TICKLE-TOE / SUN SHOWERS / DICKIE’S DREAM.

The Repeater Pencil (II):

There’s evocation and freedom, soulfully balanced, throughout.  Lester said he didn’t want to be a “repeater pencil” (my musings on that here and here — the second post has the pleasure of my hero Dan Morgenstern correcting me).

Lester urged musicians to “be original,” to “sing your own song,” so I think he would be pleased by LESTER’S BLUES because it evokes him but does not copy.  The band is not Supersax, nor is it Lester’s Greatest Hits, nor is it The Chronological Lester.  What a relief.  But there’s no thin “innovation,” no playing MY MAN with a Second Line drum beat, nor is it “what would happen if Lester had played GIANT STEPS or THAT’S A PLENTY?”  Another relief.

The Musicians, Being Original (III):

Thus Delphine Gardin understands Billie but sounds pleasingly like herself (a self who knows the records but also knows the futility of mimicking them); ONE O’CLOCK JUMP is based on the small group Basie had ten years after Lester left; drummer Frederik Van den Berghe does not restrict himself to Jo Jones’ hi-hat; David Lukacs and Tom Callens know Lester’s solos but — except in the case of SHOE SHINE BOY — use them as suggestions rather than strictures.  And there are warm traces of Herschel Evans and later reed players here as well.  Singing EVENIN’, Tom Callens bows to Jimmy Rushing but is himself; pianist Luk Vermeir gracefully cuts a path around just-like-the-Count cliches.  Trumpeter Hans Bossuyt has an estimable wildness that breaks out of the Buck Clayton mold; Sam Gerstmans has a beautiful lower-register sound that Walter Page would praise, but he’s heard other players; guitarists Victor Da Costa and Bart Vervaeck swing their own glorious ways.

A First Inducement to Purchase (IV):

Thus, even if you know every performance on this disc by heart; if you can hum Lester’s solos on both takes of Billie’s WHEN YOU’RE SMILING, you will find this recording a series of small warming surprises that, listened to several times, become inevitable and memorable.  And the band is a band — there are beautifully “right” ensemble passages, jammed or written — thus the recording is more than a series of great solos over a rhythm section.  Tom is responsible for all the arrangements, which are varied and delightful.

Technical Data (V):

It’s no small thing that its recorded sound is lovely, the result of old-fashioned technology that still rewards us.  Callens’ liner note — more about that in a minute — is memorable in its rejection of all the digitalia that makes some sessions sound so cold: “Recorded live in one-takes (no edits), in one room with the band centered around two main microphones, mixed straight to analog 1/4″ tape on a two-track MCI 1H-110 machine.  No external effects other than compression were used during tracking.  The tapes were edited the old-school way — cutting and splicing — to prepare for mastering.”  More technical details await interested readers on the LP sleeve.

What it Means, and it Means a Great Deal (VI):

I rarely quote from liner notes except when I’ve written them (!) but Tom’s notes are so quietly fervent and wise that I share them without editing.  They give insights not primarily into the music of the band but the souls of its musicians and the soulful impulse behind its birth.  I don’t exaggerate.

You could say that the members of Lester’s Blues are from the MTV generation: born in a wealthy, predominantly white Western country in the eighties: raised on FM radio hits, as well as underground music like grunge, hip hop, drum’n’bass, triphop, witnessing the change from analog technology like wired phones, television, radio, cassettes, and vinyl to the digital age of computers, compact discs, mp3s, wireless technology, and the internet.  As we grew up, we saw the general ‘dehumanization’ of our world, as the disappearance of religion gave way to even great reliance on machines, the rise of tools for quantification and efficiency made out societies market-and-performance-driven, and the unrelenting blare of media left us in constant chaos and fragmentation.

As a result, the people around us are seeking authenticity, both externally and mentally, subconsciously feeling that they have lost something.  People are looking for connection.  You see it everywhere in specialist, handcrafted bicycles, clothes and beer; in yoga and meditation practices; in the return of past pop culture styles of dance, fashion, music, graphics and videos; in homegrown vegetables, local produce and slow food; in the desire for an original identity through particular choices of dress, tattoos, hobbies, language . . .

Most of our generation-X musicians went to the jazz conservatory and primarily learned the language of bebop and the idioms / styles that followed.  To be sure, that syllabus didn’t include any lessons on ‘connection’. . . After this education, we were thrown into the real world to start honing our craft, possibly playing different genres of music, by choice or financial necessity.  Such was, and still is, my path.  Over the year, I became aware that I was missing something deeper.  It led me to music that could connect to the soul: something healing or even spiritual.  I listened to classical and world music, often religious music, or particular singer-songwriters, gospel, and blues.

In the middle of all of this, I discovered the music of Lester ‘Prez’ Young.  I have kept on listening to him and his peers over the years.  It eventually dawned on me just how deeply his expression could reach me, on many levels, and so much emotion.  I am convinced that this music is one of the strongest, timeless projections in human nature, universally understood, and I get confirmation of that whenever I meet another Lester fan.  It touches me in more ways than I can describe.  It is music in which you feel that every musician is equally important, where everyone’s contributions melt into a single voice.  It has its unpredictabilities and imperfections.  It can be strange and weird, happy, vibrant, fast, slow . . . just like real life or nature.  It is, of course, technically impressive, yet at the same time it reaches an equally (if not more) impressive emotional level, sending shivers up your spine, making it a rare example of both technical prowess and emotional intelligence.

After a moment of deep introspection somewhere in 2016, it came to me that playing this music with people I love and respect professionally was something that I had to do, like a calling.  To study and share that music and its language-fabric, bringing it to life on stage and creating a moment where everybody would come together, right there in the present.  To look for surprises, to try and  have a coherent musical dialogue devoid of excess, to be open to our humanness, with all its quirks, inventiveness, and humor.  In sum: to search for another way of living the music than what we have become used or programmed to do.

This way of seeing things makes every step – the concert, rehearsal, recording – a life-learning experience.  We have already gained so much from being close to the music of Young, Basie, and their peers. Even if Lester Young may hesitate to see us playing his music and emulating his style – he used to say, ‘You got to be original, man!’ – I think we are paying in our own small way a tribute to his always-searching, life-respecting, irreverent yet humble, freedom-seeking being.  That’s what I see in this music, and hope you can see it, too.

After Such Knowledge, What Action? (VII):

Here (on Bandcamp) you can buy a “vinyl” 12″ long-playing record with a lovely Savoy label, or a CD, or download the music digitally.  Another digital version can be purchased through Amazon here and through Apple Music here.

(Other sites offer the music, but JAZZ LIVES doesn’t endorse other streaming music platforms that take advantage of musicians; if you want to exploit creators, you’ll have to find your own paths.)

This is extraordinary uplifting music, and it swings like mad.  Who deserves a copy more than you, Faithful Reader?

May your happiness increase!

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Last Saturday, I was on my way along West 11th Street in Greenwich Village to the church above for a musical event that turned out to be more memorable than I could have imagined.  Ambling along, I had my video equipment; the musicians are friends of mine as well as heroes, and I was imagining the blogpost that might come of it.  Then I saw this banner from another church and the top two phrases struck me as completely apropos to the event to come — and they are, in the ideal world, the same thing:

Back to St. John’s for the event poster, which depicts Yaala Ballin:

“The Great American Songbook, Requested” presented Yaala Ballin, vocal, and Michael Kanan, piano, in a duo-recital drawing on Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and Alec Wilder.

The songs were treated lovingly, but as old friends — which is to say that both Yaala and Michael have a reverence for their melodies and harmonies as printed on the contemporaneous sheet music, and a depth of knowledge about the best performances, but that they felt free to improvise, to express their own personalities without obscuring the music.

“Requested” was a sly and endearingly playful idea.  When we entered the church, we were given a list of songs, more than forty, organized by composer, and asked to write down two on a small slip of paper — a favorite first, another second — that we wanted to hear.  It gave the afternoon the slight flavor of a children’s party (or the office grab bag, without the terrors that can inspire).  The thirteen selections Yaala and Michael performed were drawn at random from a basket that Yaala — for that brief time, the Red Riding Hood of the West Village — had brought with her.  Of course, they knew the songs on the list, but it was a small adventure, the very opposite of a tightly-planned program.  And it worked sweetly, as you will see and hear.

I COULD WRITE A BOOK (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Pal Joey):

SO IN LOVE (Cole Porter, Kiss Me Kate):

EASY TO LOVE (Porter, Born to Dance):

THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT (Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Swing Time):

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED (Rodgers and Hart, Pal Joey):

HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (Irving Berlin):

I don’t think this playful, light-hearted but emotional musical partnership displayed this afternoon, could have been better.  I could go on about Michael’s deeply musical approach to the piano, and the chances Yaala takes and how they pay off, but the evidence is all here.  And seven more performances will be shared soon.

Yaala and Michael will be performing another version of this concert at Mezzrow on December 11.  And (as if that would not be enough), Yaala, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are going in to the studio to record a CD of Israel Baline’s music (he wrote the preceding song and a few others).

May your happiness increase!

“I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU”: MARTY GROSZ AND HIS HOT ROMANTICS (ANDY SCHUMM, SCOTT ROBINSON, KERRY LEWIS, PETE SIERS: Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 2, 2012)

Marty at a 2008 recording session for Arbors Records.

Marty Grosz doesn’t necessarily believe in the lyrics of the love songs he chooses (although he can croon most tenderly) but he does return to this one, a swing perennial for bands and singers, and I for one am glad. 

This song is apparently c0-written by the mysterious Rob Williams, Alex Hill and Claude Hopkins (my money’s on Mr. Hill, whose memorable tunes often had lyrics that told of unfulfilled romantic yearning).  It states one wild promise of devotion after another — things imagined only by Edgar Rice Burroughs — but all in the conditional — “I would do,” and some versions have become even more cautious: I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU.  Is this an “if-then” construction, or is it “I’ll do this if YOU do that?”  It sounds like uptown seventeenth-century poetry, and perhaps I would feel more confident if its title were I WILL DO.  But let us clear our minds and enjoy the frolicsome sounds rather than lingering too long on how we would respond if these tokens of affection were offered to us.

Our mellow sermon for today comes from the delightful enterprise known as Jazz at Chautauqua when I first made my way to it in September 2004 — a weekend cornucopia of music where I met many heroes, made new friends, and was eventually accepted as someone doing good things for the music.  And what music!

The Atehaeum Hotel, where the joys happened.

More than many jazz parties, Chautauqua put people onstage who didn’t have the opportunity to perform together, and the results were often magical.  As in this case: a little band led by Marty, with Scott Robinson playing, among other instruments, his alto clarinet; Andy Schumm on cornet; Kerry Lewis on string bass and Pete Siers on drums making up a delicately unstoppable rhythm team.  Pay particular attention to Mr. Siers — someone who should be acclaimed worldwide as a flawlessly swinging versatile percussionist, a maker of great sounds.

They certainly rock, don’t they?  More to come from the JAZZ LIVES vaults, I assure you.  For the moment, find someone to profess love to, with or without Marty to provide the soundtrack.

May your happiness increase!

ALBANIE PAYS US A VISIT: ALBANIE FALLETTA, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, PAT O’LEARY (The Ear Inn, October 13, 2019)

The shrine of more than 500 Sunday evenings, 326 Spring Street, New York City:

Our NOLA visitor, Albanie Falletta:

Albanie, 2017, by Eric Morales.

and two still photographs to verify that it actually happened on October 13:

Here’s another view, with your videographer at left, next to an voluble woman from the British Isles who had enthusiastic stories to tell.  Thanks to Neal Siegal, my Associate Producer for the set, who graciously offered a seat at his table.

Photograph by Doug Pew.

Before this, I had only heard Albanie on a recent CD, where her emotional force (and I don’t mean volume) impressed me greatly.  She was and is even more delightful in person, even though my camera was not close to her.

Her single-string playing has some of the ease and substance of early Django and the best acoustic players of the Thirties, and on her one vocal, her multi-hued voice is poignant without being melodramatic.  Surrounded by players she admires, she wasn’t intimidated, but created concise, memorable statements as well as adding a great deal to the ensemble.  On the basis of this short acquaintance, she’s someone to admire.

Albanie, 2018, photograph by David Conklin.

Here’s the musical evidence.  I was wrestling with camera and tripod (and gravity — things fell and had to be retrieved) in a small space, so it took a little time for me to get everything together and to progress to complete performances.  But I think the results are quietly spectacular — and that praise includes my heroes Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar, Pat O’Leary, string bass.  (In an early draft of this post, I’d typed that Pat was playing “strong bass,” which is true, as you will hear.)

MY GAL SAL:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME:

If you have patience for only one performance, make it this one, a supercharged WILLIE THE WEEPER, dangerously heating up the whole block:

I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS, with a wonderful Albanie vocal:

GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU, Magic of Mutation thanks to Jon-Erik:

HOW COME YOU DO ME?:

For the finicky: The Ear Inn is dark, and people talk.  But The EarRegulars provide irreplaceable experiences.  And my sole words to Albanie are, “Come back soon!”

May your happiness increase!

AND BY POPULAR DEMAND: A LONG ROMP FROM CAFE BOHEMIA BY EVAN ARNTZEN, ANDREW MILLAR, FELIX LEMERLE, ALEX CLAFFY (October 17, 2019)

The people spoke, “Can you post more from that October 17 session at Cafe Bohemia?”  And I said, “Yes, I can.”

The sounds come from here (on the map, it’s 15 Barrow Street, New York City):

Good sounds, created by Evan Arntzen, tenor, Felix Lemerle, guitar, Andrew Millar, drums; Alex Claffy, string bass:

There are more beautiful notes to come from sessions at Cafe Bohemia, including one last night with Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan and Arnt Arntzen, Jared Engel, and a surprise visit from Mara Kaye.  And more after that!

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING, ONE FLIGHT DOWN: EVAN ARNTZEN, ANDREW MILLAR, FELIX LEMERLE, ALEX CLAFFY (Cafe Bohemia, October 17, 2019)

To me, this is living, breathing music.  Listen and see if you don’t agree.  And here’s one of the places it flourishes — Cafe Bohemia at 15 Barrow Street, New York City.

On October 17, Evan Arntzen (tenor sax, clarinet, vocal), Felix Lemerle (guitar), Alex Claffy (string bass), and Andrew Millar (drums) played two sets of lively, varied, heartfelt music.  And here’s a sample, Charlie Parker’s MOOSE THE MOOCHE:

Cafe Bohemia is hallowed ground — more about that here and here — BUT it is not a museum of archaic sounds.  Nothing’s dusty at Cafe Bohemia, and that includes the tabletops and floor — the music is alive, and that counts a great deal.

And it’s happening tonight: get tickets for a splendid evening of vivid sounds with Jon-Erik Kellso, Jared Engel, Evan and Arnt Arntzen here (the early show) and here (the late show).  Before and after the music, as well, the Fat Cat (that’s Matt Rivera) will be spinning his rare and delightful records, and you will hear vibrant music.

Because you love this art, come visit it in its native habitat.

Postscript: if any more skeptical readers ask, “Michael is pushing this new club with enthusiasm.  I wonder how much they are paying him?” The answer, dear Skeptic, is that I am not asking to be paid nor am I being paid: I want people to share the joy of fine music in a friendly new place with deep roots.  And as we know, sitting home soon means there is nowhere else to go but home.

May your happiness increase!