Monthly Archives: January 2020

HARROW, TURGENEV, POMERANTZ: “ABOUT LOVE”

Some people make themselves comfortable on the moving train, the better to admire the scenery outside their little window. Others are driving the train, decorating the cars, planting trees and painting clouds outside the same window for us to admire.  With her red sneakers securely laced, Nancy Harrow continues to be one of the most remarkable examples of the second kind of people. Her latest creation is ABOUT LOVE, inspired by Turgenev’s “First Love,” for which she’s written music and lyrics, with script and direction by Will Pomerantz.  

I first encountered Nancy as a voice coming through the radio speaker (thanks to Ed Beach, with Nat Hentoff and Buck Clayton standing invisibly in back of him) in 1970, and was intrigued.  Decades later, when Daryl Sherman and Dan Morgenstern spoke of her with pleased awe, I had the opportunity to hear her sing and to meet her — one of those magical instances where the voice turns out to have a person attached to it.  I learned quickly that Nancy was not only a much-admired singer, but lyricist, composer, and playwright as well.  Although I have seen her sit still, her biography makes it seem that I was fooled by an optical illusion.

A pause for music:

Nancy says this about the play: Turgenev’s story is so human— each character is so true to life that it lives today even though it takes place 150 years ago. That he captures the adolescent boy’s feelings completely is least surprising because it is his own youth he is describing, but he is equally perceptive about the heroine’s powers and her frailties and the father’s strengths and vulnerabilities. The whole story is masterful in its compression— in such a brief time it covers every aspect of life from youth to death and we recognize it in our own experiences and are moved. It is of its own time and place so accurately, yet it is universal and recognizable in 2020, a portrait of the essence of human relationships touching on a wide range of emotions— joy and sorrow, humor and humiliation, cruelty and empathy. Turgenev loved his characters.

I am honored to have Nancy not only as a friend but as an inspiration, and she has told me little enticing stories about the progress of this “play with music” since spring 2019.  But this year, when I asked her what translation of Turgenev she recommended for me to read — I have trouble not being a diligent student who worries about passing the final — she encouraged me to play hooky, “maybe you don’t want to spoil the surprises when you see it.”

I encourage you to join me for ABOUT LOVE.  It seems that the only way one could spoil the surprise is by staying home.

ABOUT LOVE plays a limited four-week engagement, February 25 through March 22 at The Sheen Center (18 Bleecker Street at the corner of Elizabeth Street, NYC) in the Black Box Theater. The official opening is Wednesday, March 4 at 7:30 PM. Shows are Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM, Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 and 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM. Preview tickets (through March 3) are $25. After opening, all evening performances are $39 – $59. Rush tickets will be available at the box office an hour before any performance for $25.

May your happiness increase!

DOMESTIC HARMONY: PIKET PLAYS MINTZ

Popular culture tells us that we fall in love with other people based on how they look when getting in or out of the shower. That may be built into our genes: how well will this future partner carry on the race? But I think that lasting love relationships are built on admiration and respect more than hip-to-waist ratio, and a new CD by pianist Roberta Piket, devoted to composer Billy Mintz, is heart-warming proof:  

I first encountered Billy on a recording, in his more familiar role: a jazz percussionist who is devoted to exploring not only rhythms but sounds and timbres.  When I first got to see and hear him, on a session, perhaps eight years ago, led by saxophonist-composer Lena Bloch, I was deeply moved by Billy’s drumming.  He has infinite curiosity and patience: I remember a solo he took on a session that was not the usual “fountain of noise” (an apt Whitney Balliett phrase) but a quiet extended exploration on a minimalist drum kit: as if he were sending thoughts to us by tapping and pausing. 

Perhaps at that same gig, someone sitting at the end of the table, listening and watching closely, was invited to sit in and turned out to be a pianist of great subtlety and depth: that was Roberta.  I was — there’s no other word but “fulfilled” — by their music, and they were very gracious to me, singly and together.  And I learned, to my delight, that they were a happily married couple: how fortunate, how apt.  I’ve encountered them in the years that followed, and have always been rewarded by their music and their gentle selves.

Art by Tom Fedro.

When I heard the music from the YouTube video above, I was delighted, and DOMESTIC HARMONY is a consistent pleasure.  The virtues Billy brings to his drum set are also evident in his compositions, and the pleasures of Roberta’s playing both enhance and are enhanced by them.  I keep coming back to this CD, because it exemplifies what music is and can be: pensive, lively, mournful, full of surprises.  And utterly cliche-free: sweetly melodic, a series of explorations where both composer and performer invite us in, welcome us to their worlds.  The compositions are GHOST SANCTUARY / BEAUTIFUL YOU / LOOKING DOWN AT THE STARS / SHMEAR / FLIGHT / DESTINY / YOUR TOUCH / BLINDS EYE / UGLY BEAUTIFUL / CANNONBALL.  Roberta plays on all of them, but on DESTINY (to which Billy wrote words as well as music) she sings — ardently and genuinely.

Roberta Piket – Domestic Harmony: Piket Plays Mintz

Click on the box above to hear sound samples, purchase, download DOMESTIC HARMONY: I urge you to take the time to contemplate its beauties.

I like paradoxes, so I can only say that this disc is seriously tender, tenderly serious.  And to know that it is a birthday gift from Roberta to Billy and thus to us is quite wonderful.  And (it makes a difference) the disc is beautifully recorded, and Roberta’s liner notes tell us a great deal without telling us what is their shared medicine cabinet.

It’s a truly rewarding effort: what love sounds like — the durable kind that lasts long after the shower is over.  

May your happiness increase!

MULTI-COLORED SOUNDS: EVAN ARNTZEN, BEN PATERSON, TAL RONEN, DARRIAN DOUGLAS, ALBANIE FALLETTA at CAFE BOHEMIA, January 23, 2020

Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney

Evan Arntzen, once the new fellow from out of town, continues to delight and amaze.  He and his gifted friends did it again last Thursday, January 23, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York.  Those friends are Darrian Douglas, drums; Tal Ronen, string bass; Ben Paterson, Fender Rhodes; Albanie Falletta, guest vocal.

Here are four lovely highlights from that evening.

Harold Arlen’s BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:

Spencer Williams’ I FOUND A NEW BABY, with a nod to Lester:

Wingy Manone’s STRANGE BLUES (but come closer and don’t be afraid):

Arlen’s I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, which Albanie does so well:

Suggestions for pleasure?  Come to Cafe Bohemia for more good sounds; follow these musicians for more of the same.

May your happiness increase!

“ASSES IN SEATS” AND THE JAZZ ECOSYSTEM

Here’s something comfortable, enticing, seductive.

It’s not my living room, I assure you: too neat, no CDs.

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Andrew Swann, drums.  “Sweet Rhythm,” October 26, 2008, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Shane, piano; Dan Block, tenor sax.  “Casa Mezcal,” October 26, 2014, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

(This is not a post about numerology or the significance of October 26 in jazz.)

Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  “Sweet and Hot Music Festival,”  September 5, 2011, TOGETHER:

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs: Ray, piano, composer; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass, Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Sacramento Music Festival,” May 25, 2014, BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES:

I will explain.

“Sweet Rhythm” was once “Sweet Basil,” a restaurant-with-jazz or the reverse, in New York City.  Now it is just a restaurant.  “Casa Mezcal,” across the street from the Tenement Museum, also offered jazz as well as food.  Now, only food.  The two California festivals depicted above are only memories now.  (I could have included the Cajun, Bourbon Street, Roth’s Steakhouse, Banjo Jim’s, the Garage, the Bombay Club, Jazz at Chautauqua, and perhaps a dozen other vacancies in the cosmos — in my time, which isn’t the whole history of the music.)  Jazz clubs become apartments, drugstores, dormitories, nail salons.  Or what was once a jazz bar now has karaoke night and game night.

That’s not difficult to take in.  Everything changes.  “Things are tough all over,” as my father said.

But I’ve included the chair and ottoman because so many jazz listeners prefer the comforts of home to live music, and thus, venues collapse and are not replaced.

The expression I’ve heard from festival producers is the blunt ASSES IN SEATS. It presumes that other body parts are attached to the asses, of course.  But it’s simple economics.  When a club owner looks out at the landscape of empty chairs and tables with napkins undisturbed, when there are more musicians on the stage than there are people in the audience, you can imagine the mental cogitations that result.  This has nothing to do with musical or artistic quality — I’ve heard terrible music played to filled rooms, and once in a New York club I was the audience (let that sink in) — not even me, myself, and I — for the first few songs by a peerless band.  And if you think that musicians are a substantial part of the club budget, it isn’t so: a world-famous jazz musician told me once of being paid sixty dollars for three hours’ work, and some of my favorite musicians go from fifty-and-seventy-five dollar gigs, or they play “for the door.”

And as an aside, if you go to a club and sit through two sets with your three-or-five dollar Coke or well drink or standard beer, you are subsidizing neither the club or the music.  Festival economics are different, but even the price of the ticket will not keep huge enterprises solvent.  I hear, “Oh, the audience for jazz is aging and dying,” and the numbers prove that true, but I think inertia is a stronger factor than mortality, with a side dish of complacency.  And people who study the swing-dance scene say that what I am writing about here is also true for younger fans / dancers.

So before you say to someone, “I’m really a devoted jazz fan,” or proudly wear the piano-keyboard suspenders, or get into arguments on Facebook over some cherished premise, ask yourself, “How active is my commitment to this music?  When was the last time I supported it with my wallet and my person?”

I do not write these words from the summit of moral perfection.  I could have gone to two gigs tonight but chose to stay home and write this blog.  And I do not go to every gig I could . . . energy and health preclude that.  And I am also guilty, if you will, in providing musical nourishment for viewers through technology, so that some people can live through YouTube.  I admit both of these things, but on the average I go to more jazz gigs than some other people; I eat and drink and tip at the jazz clubs; I publicize the music here and elsewhere.

But you.  Do you take the music for granted, like air and water?  Do you assume it will go on forever even if you never come out of your burrow and say hello to it, that other people will keep supporting it?  Do you say, “I must get there someday!” and not put wheels under that wish?  Mind you, there are exceptions.  Not everyone lives close enough to live music; not everyone is well-financed, energetic, or healthy.  But if you can go and you don’t, then to me you have lost the right to complain about clubs closing, your favorite band disbanding, your beloved festival becoming extinct. Jazz is a living organism, thus it needs nourishment that you, and only you, can provide.  Inhaling Spotify won’t keep it alive, nor will complaining about how your fellow citizens are too foolish to appreciate it.

If you say you love jazz, you have to get your ass out of your chair at regular intervals and put it in another chair, somewhere public, where living musicians are playing and singing.  Or you can stay home and watch it wither.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE SONGS ARE JUST AROUND THE CORNER — VALENTINE’S DAY 2020 with YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN

You can figure out from the banner above what I’m suggesting as a way to spend a Friday evening with someone you’re fond of.  To borrow from James Chirillo, music will be made: Yaala and Michael have a wonderful playful sensibility; they are a special musical pair. 

Their most recent engagement was at Mezzrow last December, and here is some delicious evidence.  I present the remainder of their Mezzrow performance for your delectation, amorous or simply aesthetic.

MORE THAN YOU KNOW:

YESTERDAYS:

After the JEOPARDY theme, an Alec Wilder classic:

I LOVE PARIS:

I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT:

The closing medley: AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, I COULD WRITE A BOOK, and FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE:

I hope your February 14th plans include this emotionally lively music by Yaala and Michael.

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANCE IN A SMALL SPACE: BILLY BUTTERFIELD, SPIEGLE WILLCOX, KENNY DAVERN, SPENCER CLARK, DICK WELLSTOOD, MARTY GROSZ, VAN PERRY, TONY DiNICOLA (MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL, December 1, 1978).

What was lost can return — some papers I thought were gone for good have resurfaced — but often the return needs the help of a kind friend, in this case my benefactor, trumpeter Joe Shepherd, who (like Barney the purple dinosaur) believes in sharing.

Sharing what?  How about forty-five minutes of admittedly muzzy video of Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Spencer Clark, bass sax; Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Tony DiNicola, drums, recorded at the Manassas Jazz Festival on December 1, 1978.

But first, a few lines, which you are encouraged to skip if you want to get right to the treasure-box.  My very dear generous friend John L. Fell sent me this on a VHS tape in the mid-to-late Eighties, and I watched it so often that now, returning to it, I could hum along with much of this performance.  It’s a sustained example of — for want of a better expression — the way the guys used to do it and sometimes still do.  Not copying records; not playing routinized trad; not a string of solos.  There’s beautiful variety here within each performance (and those who’d make a case that old tunes should stay dead might reconsider) and from performance to performance.  Fascinating expressions of individuality, of very personal sonorities and energies — and thrilling duets made up on the spot with just a nod or a few words.  There’s much more to admire in this session, but you will find your own joys.

YouTube, as before, has divided this video into three chunks — cutting arbitrarily.  The songs in the first part are I WANT TO BE HAPPY / SWEET SUE / I CRIED FOR YOU (partial) //

The songs are I CRIED FOR YOU (completed) / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / I CAN’T GET STARTED (Billy – partial) //

The songs are I CAN’T GET STARTED (concluded) / CHINA BOY //

I feel bathed in joy.

And another example of kindness: my friend and another benefactor, Tom Hustad (author of the astonishing book on Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY) sent along a slightly better — visual — copy that has none of the arbitrary divisions imposed by YouTube.  And here it is!  It will be my companion this morning: let it be yours as well.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN FRIENDS DROP IN: A LITTLE JAM SESSION at CAFE BOHEMIA: JON-ERIK KELLSO, BRIA SKONBERG, GEOFF POWER, RICKY ALEXANDER, ALBANIE FALLETTA, ARNT ARNTZEN, JEN HODGE (January 2, 2020)

If I learned that a few dear friends were going to drop by in fifteen minutes, I would rush around tidying, straightening out the bed, looking to see what you could serve them . . . a flurry of immediate anxiety (“Does the bathtub need to be cleaned and can I do it in the next two minutes?” “Where will people sit?”) mixed with the pleasurable anticipation of their appearance.  As an aside, JAZZ LIVES readers who wish to see the apartment — equal parts record store, video studio,  yard sale, and library will have to make an appointment.

Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Jen Hodge, string bass, Cafe Bohemia, Dec.26, 2019.

Since I “live” at Cafe Bohemia (15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York) only intermittently, and it’s already tidy, thus, not my problem, I could simply relax into a different kind of pleasurable anticipation.  It happened again when Jon-Erik Kellso began to invite people up on to the bandstand near the end of the evening of January 2, 2020 — another of the Thursday sessions that cheer me immensely. The result reminded me of some nights at the 54th Street Eddie Condon’s when guests would come by and perform.

Let me give you the Dramatis Personae for that night and then we can proceed to two of the marvels that took place.  The House Band: Jon-Erik, trumpet; Ricky Alexander, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar / vocal; Sean Cronin, string bass / vocal.  The Guests: Bria Skonberg, Geoff Power, trumpet; Arnt Arntzen, banjo; Jen Hodge, string bass.  Arrangements were quickly and graciously made: Sean handed to bass to Jen for these two numbers; Bria stayed on, Geoff went off for one and came back for the second.  

JAZZ ME BLUES, with Jon-Erik, Bria, Ricky, Albanie, Arnt, and Jen:

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, with Albanie singing and Geoff back on the stand:

Much better than apartment-tidying, I’d say.  And I’d wager that even the Lone YouTube Disliker, who hides in the bathroom with his laptop, might give his death-ray finger a rest.  More beautiful sounds will come from Cafe Bohemia, so come down the stairs.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

MUSIC FOR FEBRUARY FOURTEENTH! –YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN PERFORM LOVE SONGS FOR US

This post, Janus-like, looks forward and backward.

Forward?  I want to alert you to a Valentine’s Day love-offering that’s special, a way to be bathed in the sounds of love.  Yaala Ballin, voice, and Michael Kanan, piano, will present songs of love on February 14, 7-9 PM, at St. John’s in the Village (Eleventh Street) with tickets a very loving $10.

It’s a gently interactive event as well.  No, not a sing-along.  But when ticket-buyers enter, they will be handed a list of perhaps fifty songs, classic ones, given a slip of paper and asked to mark down the titles or numbers of two songs they would like to hear.  And these little papers, selected at random, will be the music performed that evening.  I’ve seen this in action (more about that below) and it’s fun.  Details — if you need more — are here, and you can buy tickets through Eventbrite or take your chances that this won’t be sold out (which would be unromantic for you and your Ideal, wouldn’t it?).

Backward?  Yaala and Michael have already performed “the Great American Songbook, Requested,” at St. John’s in the Village last October, and I captured their performances here.  In December, they took their little show — sweet and impish — to Mezzrow, and here  are some delights from that evening.  I have left in Yaala’s inspired introductions because they are so very charming.

Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan at Mezzrow, Dec.11, 2019, by Naama Gheber.

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

MANHATTAN:

BUT NOT FOR ME:

SO IN LOVE:

CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING (one of my requests that night):

BLUE SKIES:

I should point out that although both Yaala and Michael treat their material tenderly, they are improvisers, so I could not get tired of their explorations of these deep songs.  I will follow them “while breath lasts,” as a friend used to say.

Here are more auditory blossoms from Mezzrow.  Listen and be glad, and make plans for Valentine’s Day . . . in the name of love.  And if you don’t have a partner for that evening, buy a ticket as an act of self-love, an activity that many people scant themselves in.  And when I was at St. John’s for the October concert, I noticed some elegantly-dressed people by themselves . . . so who knows what could happen?  Be brave and join us.

May your happiness increase!

WE LOVE LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN

I know my title must seem excessive, but what if it’s true? The young singer Lucy Yeghiazaryan has got it, and I’ve experienced it both on recording and in live performance. And if you think I am oddly subjective, you could also ask Greg Ruggiero or Michael Kanan, people whose opinion about singers is certainly trustworthy.  Here’s a sample, from recent performances with Greg, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums:

and another standard:

Admire how much music she and her three esteemed colleagues pack into such short spaces (each of these performances could fit on one side of a 78 rpm recording, for the readers who understand that yardstick).  She does everything well and with panache: she’s on pitch, her diction is splendid, she swings (!), her scat is not a series of formulaic ba-ba-ba‘s, her second choruses are not identical to her first, she lands on pitch, and . . . perhaps most important, she sends a message of ebullient joy.  Not only is she having a good time, but she wants us to have one as well, and I don’t mean attempting to reach us by eccentric vocalizing or tricks, but by singing.  Louis would say she has “more ingredients,” but they are subtly part of her recipe.

Here’s a soulful I WISH I KNEW (with Greg; Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; Daniel Duke, string bass; Steve Williams, drums) where her voice has the quiet intensity of a great jazz soloist while she honors melody and lyrics:

Dramatic without dramatizing, as you hear.  Here’s something from Fats:

The first fourteen seconds of that performance are delicious and what follows is no letdown.  Lucy performs “old songs” with affection, not condescension; her phrasing is witty but gentle.  She knows what the lyrics mean — the emotional script beneath the words — and although she’s absorbed the Great Singers, she’s not selling us musical knock-offs from a folding table on the street.  (“Hey, gitcha Ella here!  I gotta new Sarah, and some Anita just came in.  No, all out of Billie.  Come back Thursday.”)

You don’t need many more words from me.  Her virtues are charming and consistently audible.  And the good thing — for New Yorkers and other fortunate denizens — is that she’s performing often in a variety of contexts. Follow her on Facebook here; on the Smalls website, read a brief biography — she comes from someplace more distant even than Red Hook — and see her in performance. 

But the best thing is to see her live (and buy the CD after).  At the end of 2019, my dear friend Matt Rivera got me in to meet and hear Lucy at a fund-raiser in New Jersey.  Her two brief sets were models of professional performance that wasn’t so rehearsed as to be stale.  She chose fitting tempos, interacted beautifully with the band, spoke to the audience with deft politeness, knew her material perfectly but improvised freely within it . . . in short, she was a delight.

So, even though I have retired from teaching, I can still assign homework, and yours is to go see Lucy, before the ticket prices become too high, and you can tell your provincial friends that you discovered her.  It can be our secret.

May your happiness increase!

TAKE ONE, TAKE TWO (Chicago, January 24, 1929)

I don’t remember in which antique store I found a shiny copy of the record above, except that my boredom (prowling through aisles of overpriced odd fragments of human history) stopped instantly.  It’s a famous recording, because more than twenty years ago, an unidentified trumpet solo that sounded rather Bixian was seized upon as being a true Bix improvisation.  I assure you that the dramatic discussions that went on — read here if you like — are not my subject.

Before I delve into why, here’s some data: the personnel as stated by Tom Lord: Ray Miller And His Orchestra : Muggsy Spanier (cnt) Max Connett, Lloyd Wallen (tp) Jules Fasthoff (tb) Jim Cannon (cl,as) Maurice Morse (as) Lyle Smith (ts) Paul Lyman (vln) Art Gronwall (p,arr) Leon Kaplan (bj,g) Jules Cassard (tu,b) Bill Paley (d) Bob Nolan, Mary Williams (vcl) Ray Miller (dir).

Why should I post the two takes of CRADLE OF LOVE?  For one thing, I have been putting my 78s in order and I saw the record, decided to play it, liked it, played it several times over.  And I continue to do so: it has become something I love.

The song itself — by the team that had a hit with RAMONA — is delightful in its limited scope.  You might know the story that Ray Henderson, Bud De Sylva, and Lew Brown — responsible for many hits — decided to write the worst song they could, with every tear-jerking cliche, and the result was SONNY BOY, which — with Al Jolson’s fervent performance (and his adding his name to the credits) was a million-seller.

I don’t know if the SONNY BOY story is true, but there’s something about CRADLE OF LOVE that hints at its composers asking themselves what they could do to assure themselves a hit.

First, pick a very optimistic premise: the young couple, so in love, in their tiny rural paradise which will be paid off in a year; they have chickens; their neighbors love them; they will have a baby soon.  Fecundity, domesticity, domestic bliss, prosperity — pleasing dreams, especially in January 1929 with no hint of the Crash to come. Home, young love, sex, and chickens!  And yes, the song is very close to MY BLUE HEAVEN, which made a great deal of money not too long before.

Second, invent a melody with an irresistible hook that sounds much like MAKIN’ WHOOPEE (a song with a clearly divergent view of domestic bliss, curdled) and put the two together.  The one touch of realism in this dream-world is that the neighbors “smile / most of the while” (my emphasis).  Why there are these noticeable lapses in grinning is never explained, especially since “all” would have worked just as well in the line.  Perhaps Wayne and Gilbert had some scruples.

CRADLE OF LOVE should have been memorable, but didn’t become so.  However, there’s so much that pleases me in these recordings (there are rumors of a third non-vocal version, made for the German market, but I don’t know anyone who has heard it).  The Miller band just sounds good, and they balance their instrumental work and the “hot” solos so beautifully.  (Yes, the question has been asked, “Why two trumpet / cornet improvisations on the same — white — dance band record?” to which I have no answer.)  It means a great deal to me that the statement of the verse is a wonderful early Muggsy Spanier episode, as well.  I don’t feel the need to mock Bob Nolan, either.  And Eddy Davis was telling me, a few weeks ago, about working with pianist Art Gronwall — to which I could only say, “Wow!”  The rhythm section has a nice bounce, and the trombone interlude reminds me cheerfully of Miff Mole.

So I invite you to listen, to put aside preconceptions, and simply enjoy.

Take One:

Take Two:

and, just because YouTube makes it possible for me to share it with you, here is the Paul Whiteman version recorded fourteen days earlier, an entirely different orchestral rendition, with a lovely Trumbauer bridge near the end:

Slightly more than ten months after the Miller recording, the stock market crash changed everyone’s lives.  I hope the young couple had paid off every stick and stone before then, and could make a living selling eggs.  How the toad plays into this I can’t imagine, but I hope (s)he and others prospered.  Otherwise it’s too dire to contemplate.

Note: readers who feel a pressing need to extend the Bix-or-not-Bix discussion will not find their comments printed here.  Enough idolatry, thanks.  I don’t think it’s Bix — but it’s my blog and I have some privileges therein.

May your happiness increase!

IN 1959, THEY SAT RIGHT DOWN AND WROTE HIM LETTERS

I don’t know what happens today if a young fan writes a letter to Lady Gaga, let us say, requesting a signed photograph or, better yet, asking a question.  That rhetorical question in itself may mark me as hopelessly antique, since fans can find out everything online as it happens.  But my guess is that the Lady doesn’t have time to send back handwritten personalized replies, and that is nothing against her.  Even in the Swing Era, musical personalities had their secretaries or staff sign photos for fans.  On my wall, for instance, is a lovely shot of Connee Boswell — her name signed in pen — but inscribed to the fan in a different hand, leading me to believe that Connee took a stack of a hundred photographs and signed her name on each one.

So what came up on eBay several days ago is remarkable.  I can’t do much detective work, because the seller seems innocent about the trove, and perhaps (s)he has no other connection.  Here’s the listing description:

This 1950’s collection of famous jazz musicians includes autograph letters, signed photographs and autographs. There is an autograph letter signed “Pops Foster” and a photograph signed “George Pops Foster.” There is an autograph note signed “Don Redman” and an 8 x 10 inch photo of Redman also signed. There is an autograph note signed “Meade “Lux” Lewis” There is an autograph note signed “Pete Johnson” and a letter by Pete Johnsons wife. There are two autograph letters signed “Alberta Hunter.” There is an autograph note signed “Buster Baily” and an autograph letter signed “Terry Spargo.” There is also a typed letter by Terry Spargo and a signed photograph. There are several autographs including “Moondog” “Israel Crosby” and a few others. All the letters, notes, photographs and autographs are in very good condition! NO RESERVE!

While you peruse and consider, here is a most appropriate musical soundtrack:

“Christopher,” whose last name may have been “Jameson,” seems to have been a young aspiring pianist and fan who wrote to his heroes, either asking a question and / or asking for an autographed photograph.  We don’t have any of his inquiries, but they must have been polite and admiring, because he received gracious unhurried answers.  And what strikes me is that in 1959 he wasn’t writing to Dizzy, Trane, or Mobley, but — for the most part — jazz pioneers.  A few of the pages in his collection look like in-person autographs, but much is unknown and will probably remain so.  But we have the most delightful evidence: paper ephemera of a kind not often seen.  Here, without further ado:

POPS FOSTER gives his address twice, clearly pleased by this correspondence:

DON REDMAN, smiling and fashionably dressed:

TONY SPARGO, handing off to Eddie “Daddy” Edwards:

More from TONY SPARGO:

PETE JOHNSON wasn’t up to much writing, but his wife was encouraging and Pete did send a nice autograph:

“Musically yours,” MEADE LUX LEWIS:

Are the signers (from Brunswick, Georgia) a vocal group I don’t recognize?  I do see MOONDOG:

I don’t recognize the signatures on the first page, but below I see VERNEL FOURNIER, AHMAD JAMAL, and ISRAEL CROSBY:

BUSTER BAILEY signs in kindly and also mentions his new recording, perhaps the only long-playing record under his own name:

an extraordinary and extraordinarily generous letter from ALBERTA HUNTER:

and an even more generous second chapter:

Christopher must have written extremely polite letters to have received such answers, but this selection of correspondence speaks to the generosity and good will of people who were actively performing, who took the time to take a young person seriously.

When the bidding closed, the collection sold for $660 a few minutes ago.  So you can no longer possess these holy artifacts, but you can lose yourself in rapt contemplation of the images and the kind people who not only created the art we revere, but wrote to Chris.

May your happiness increase!

WARM SWINGING MODERNISM: “RAISE FOUR” and FRANK BASILE: FÉLIX LEMERLE, DAN WEISSELBERG, MIKE CAMACHO (Cafe Bohemia, November 15, 2019)


More pleasures from Cafe Bohemia — to no one’s surprise.

RAISE FOUR is a compact, adventurous yet melodic jazz group co-led by guitarist Félix Lemerle and string bassist Dan Y von Weisselberg, with drummer Doron Tirosh and pianist Iftah Kary. For their November 15 appearance, Mike Camacho played drums and Frank Basile was added on baritone saxophone.  (And when you see my videos, do not be alarmed: no member of the band suffers from chlorophyll excess.)

When I’d asked Félix about the group’s name, he told me, “RAISE FOUR is a Thelonious Monk composition, and it has to do with the augmented fourth of a chord (a typical sound of bebop music, also known as its enharmonic equivalent, the flatted fifth). As our repertoire focuses on original music and the compositions of bebop and hard bop composers from the 40s and 50s, it seemed like an appropriate title.”

Dan Y von Weisselberg, photograph by John Herr.

To my ears, many groups exploring harmonically sophisticated music affect a self-conscious angularity, tacitly declaring, “Hey, we’re modern!” — which sometimes feels like trying to hug someone with sharp elbows.  RAISE FOUR is not an aural candy bar, but its innovations welcome us in, inviting us to follow melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic twists and turns.  Underneath it all is a sustaining lyricism: hear the long lines Felix and Dan create, for one thing.  Whatever jazz-category-name you might append to their improvisations is not important: the result is far from the formulaic “hard bop.” RAISE FOUR balances elegant cool modernism and warm emotion.

Here are some highlights from that evening:

Harold Arlen’s THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME:

Félix’s DAHLKA (its subject portrayed in characteristic splendor below):

and now that you are no longer dazzled by ears and tail, here’s the music.  What happened at 6:40 I no longer remember, but it was clearly my fault:

Thad Jones’ LADY LUCK:

Elmo Hope’s MOE’S BLUFF:

Félix’s PACHA CHERI, named (with a twist) for someone much admired:

Duke Pearson’s MINOR LEAGUE, with Will Anderson, alto saxophone, and Tamir Hochman, tenor saxophone, added:

RAISE FOUR is a pleasure: follow them here.  I will — and not just on Facebook.

May your happiness increase!

CARPE DIEM, YOU CATS: DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, 11.21.19)

Many jazz fans are seriously prone to excessive nostalgicizing (see E.A. Robinson’s “Minniver Cheevy”) and I wonder why this music that we love is such a stimulus.  How many classical-music devotees dream, “I wish I were having dinner with the Esterhazys tonight so I could hear Joe Haydn’s new piece”?  I am sure sports aficionados imagine themselves at the Polo Grounds or another fabled place for the moment when ____ hit his home run.

But in my experience, those who love jazz are always saying, wistfully, “I wish I could go back to hear the Goldkette band / Fifty-Second Street / Louis at the Vendome Theatre / the Fargo dance date / Bird and Diz at Billy Berg’s,” or a thousand other part-forlorn wishes.  To be fair, I too would like to have been in the studio when COMES JAZZ was recorded, or the 1932 Bennie Moten session in Camden.

But sometimes such yearning for the past obscures the very much accessible glories of the present.  (I see this in those fans so busy making love to their recordings that they never go to a club to hear live jazz, which is their loss.)  Yes, many of our heroes will play or sing no more.  But THE GOLDEN ERA IS NOW and it always has been NOW.  And NOW turns into THEN right before our eyes, so get with it!

Here’s proof: more music from a life-enhancing evening at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York — November 21, 2019 — with Danny Tobias, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.

I’ve already posted several beauties from this gig here and here.

And now . . . .

LINGER AWHILE:

BLUE ROOM (at a wonderful tempo, cool but lively):

MY HONEY’S LOVING ARMS (with the obligatory Irish-American reference):

MY MELANCHOLY BABY:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE, so very tender:

and finally, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

I want to hear this band again — such peerless soloists and ensemble players — could that happen?  I hope so.

May your happiness increase!

 

REALLY, THEY COME OUT SWINGING! — Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND at SAN DIEGO (Part One: Nov. 30, 2019): BEN POLCER, RILEY BAKER, JOE GOLDBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSH GOUZY, HAL SMITH and JOHN GILL

One of the pleasures of the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest was getting to hear and see Hal Smith’s gliding On the Levee Jazz Band.  Although they are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory and his California-based bands, they are a very subtle, swinging group whose music delights the dancers.  The personnel of this OTL incarnation is Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Riley Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Josh Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, leader, drums. Ordinarily Alex Belhaj is the OTL guitarist, but Alex was home sick in New Orleans, so for this set his place was taken, splendidly, by John Gill, who also sang one for us.

A technical note (as one says): the band played in the large hall which had space for dancers in front, and the dancers happily took advantage of it.  But that would have made conventional filming difficult, so I took myself, camera, and tripod onto the stage, found a chair, made myself to home, and video-ed from there.  Yes, I lost a little volume on Joe Goldberg’s wonderful clarinet playing, but Joe is a forgiving sort, and I got to feature him in the last set of the festival with John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm.  Ordinarily I don’t set up near the drums, but Hal is one of the handful of drummers I know who plays for the band, who understands dynamics.  So this was a delightful opportunity to capture exactly what he is doing, visually as well as audibly, and I hope you enjoy the results.

DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN:

SUGAR BLUES, in honor of Joe Oliver’s glucose addictions:

Feeling low?  Feeling sore?  Consult DOCTOR JAZZ, who makes house calls:

ALL THE ‘GIRLS’ GO CRAZY, a hymn of appreciation:

A feature for Joe Goldberg, Ellington’s CREOLE LOVE CALL, which can be traced back to Joe Oliver:

A swinging treatment by Kris, Josh, and Hal of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE, at a nice easy tempo which shows off all its beauties:

More Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES, so soulfully sung by John Gill:

The On the Levee Jazz Band, you’ll hear, is playing a venerable repertoire, but their first priority is danceable swing.  You can read more about their CD here and the two CDs that Kris, Hal, and Josh (or Cassidy Holden) have made of delicious New-Orleans-flavored ragtime here.  “Check it OUT,” as they used to say in New York City forty-plus years ago.

 

May your happiness increase!

THE PAST, PRESERVED: “TRIBUTE TO JIMMIE NOONE”: JOE MURANYI, MASON “COUNTRY” THOMAS, JAMES DAPOGNY, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, ROD McDONALD, HAL SMITH (Manassas Jazz Festival, Dulles, Virginia, Nov. 30, 1986)

One moral of this story, for me, is that the treasure-box exists, and wonderfully kind people are willing to allow us a peek inside.

A jazz fan / broadcaster / amateur singer and kazoo player, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, Jr. (1923-1990), — he was an accountant by day — held jazz festivals in Manassas and other Virginia cities, beginning in 1966 and running about twenty years.  They were enthusiastic and sometimes uneven affairs, because of “Fat Cat”‘s habit, or perhaps it was a financial decision, of having the finest stars make up bands with slightly less celestial players.  Some of the musicians who performed and recorded for McRee include Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, James Dapogny, Don Ewell, John Eaton, Maxine Sullivan, Bob Wilber, Pug Horton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Bob Greene, Johnny Wiggs, Zutty Singleton, Clancy Hayes, George Brunis, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Tommy Gwaltney, Joe Muranyi, Danny Barker, Edmond Souchon, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Gordon, Marty Grosz, Hal Smith, Kerry Price . . . .

McRee also had business sense, so the proceedings were recorded, issued first on records and then on cassette.  I never got to Manassas while the Festival was happening, but I did buy many of Fat Cat’s lps (with their red and yellow label) and years later, when I met Hank O’Neal, he told me stories of recording the proceedings on Squirrel Ashcraft’s tape machine here.

My dear friend Sonny McGown, who was there, filled in some more of the story of the music you are about to see and hear.  The 1986 festival was dedicated to Jimmie Noone and these performances come from a Sunday brunch set.  “It was a very talented group and they meshed well. Mason ‘Country’ Thomas was the best clarinetist in the DC area for years; he was a big fan of Caceres. . . . Fat Cat’s wife, Barbara, often operated the single VHS video camera which in later years had the audio patched in from the sound board. As you well know, the video quality in those days was somewhat lacking but it is better to have it that way than not at all. Several years later Barbara allowed Joe Shepherd to borrow and digitize many of the videos. In his last years Fat Cat only issued audio cassettes. They were easy to produce, carry and distribute. FCJ 238 contains all of the Muranyi – Dapogny set except for “River…”. However, the videos provide a more enhanced story.”

A few years back, I stumbled across a video that Joe had put up on YouTube — I think it was Vic Dickenson singing and playing ONE HOUR late in his life, very precious to me for many reasons — and I wrote to him.  Joe proved to be the most generous of men and he still is, sending me DVDs and CD copies of Fat Cat recordings I coveted.  I am delighted to report that, at 93, he is still playing, still a delightful person who wants nothing more for his kindnesses than that the music be shared with people who love it.

Because of Joe, I can present to you the music of Jimmie Noone, performed on November 30, 1986, by Joe Muranyi, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Mason “Country” Thomas, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Rod McDonald, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass [yes, Sidney Catlett’s teammate in the Armstrong Decca orchestra!]; Hal Smith, drums; Johnson McRee, master of ceremonies and vocalist.  The songs are IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (vocal, Joe); CRYING FOR THE CAROLINES (vocal, Fat Cat); MISS ANNABELLE LEE (Joe); SO SWEET; RIVER, STAY ‘WAY FROM MY DOOR; APEX BLUES; SWEET LORRAINE (Fat Cat).

Some caveats.  Those used to videocassette tapes know how quickly the visual quality diminishes on duplicates, and it is true here.  But the sound, directly from the mixing board, is bright and accurate.  YouTube, in its perplexing way, has divided this set into three oddly-measured portions, so that the first and second segments end in the middle of a song.  Perhaps I could repair this, but I’d rather be shooting and posting new videos than devoting my life to repairing imperfections.  (Also, these things give the busy YouTube dislikers and correcters something to do: I can’t take away their pleasures.)

One of the glories of this set is the way we can see and hear Jim Dapogny in peak form — not only as soloist, but as quirky wise ensemble pianist, sometimes keeping everything and everyone on track.  Joe has promised me more videos with Jim . . . what joy, I say.

Don’t you hear me talkin’ to you?  It IS tight like that:

Who’s wonderful?  Who’s marvelous?

I’ve just found joy:

I started this post with “a” moral.  The other moral comes out of my finding this DVD, which I had forgotten, in the course of tidying my apartment for the new decade.  What occurs to me now is that one should never be too eager to tidy their apartment / house / what have you, because if everything is properly organized and all the contents are known, then surprises like this can’t happen.  So there.  Bless all the people who played and play; bless those who made it possible to share this music with you.  Living and “dead,” they resonate so sweetly.

May your happiness increase!

REBECCA KILGORE and ECHOES OF SWING: “WINTER DAYS at SCHLOSS ELMAU”

Before writing this post, I was thinking about Rebecca (or Becky or Roo — she has many names, as appropriate to a multi-faceted personality) someone I have been listening to with awe and pleasure since 1994, perhaps beginning with I SAW STARS (Arbors).  As for Echoes of Swing, I got to hear them in person in Germany (in 2007, thanks to Manfred Selchow) and could tell them how I admired them.  It’s one of my dreams to have musicians and groups of musicians I revere play together, and the new CD is just such a dream. . . . one that you and I can hear and re-hear.

The disc also affords us a chance to adjust our perspectives, to shake off some preconceptions.  Some listeners have perched Rebecca on a sunny windowsill in the country of Light, Bright, and Sparkling. Yes, she may prefer PICK YOURSELF UP to GLOOMY SUNDAY, but for me a little darkness will suffice.  Hear her on this disc as she sails through I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM and her reputation as an antidote to darkness is intact.  But only shallow listeners will mistake optimism for shallowness: she has depths of feeling.

Echoes of Swing plus Two: Chris Hopkins, Bernd Lhotzky, Rolf Marx, Oliver Mewes, Henning Gailing, Colin T. Dawson. Photo by Katrin Horn.

Echoes of Swing has also been slightly mis-characterized, praised for their large orchestral sound (the core unit is four players, count them, four — even though on this CD they add a string bass and guitar as well as Rebecca) — as if they were somehow marvelous simply for this magic trick, and critics have heard them as successors to the John Kirby Sextet, which is both plausible and confining.  But on this CD, the players — whom I should name now: Bernd Lhotzky, piano and musical director; Colin T. Dawson, trumpet and flugelhorn; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Oliver Mewes, drums, with Henning Gailing, string bass, and (on four tracks) Rolf Marx, guitar — create such rich varied sounds inside and outside of the arrangements by Bernd and Chris that I felt as if I’d wandered into a universe scored by, let us say, Gil Evans, spacious and resonant.

Other artists have created records and CDs devoted to Winter.  And many of those jolly efforts are avalanches of fake snow from the arts-and-crafts store.  Christmas music looms, no matter how many chairs might be wedged against the studio door, or there’s LET IT SNOW, the now-troublesome BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE, or WINTER WEATHER.  Sweet, certainly, but not always true to the reality of the season, for Winter is a time for introspection as the world becomes colder and darker.  This disc, I assure you, is not a descent into Seasonal Affective Disorder, and there are a few familiar cheery songs on it, but it is not the usual forgettable fluff.

Here’s a wonderful example, the text being the 1931 WINTER WONDERLAND, where the focused purity of Rebecca’s voice balances against a complex, shifting orchestral background:

Bernd’s quirkily cheerful setting of the most famous Robert Frost poem:

Rebecca’s own witty and sweet song:

You’ll have to explore the other surprises for yourself — songs I’d never heard by Frishberg, Berlin, and Jobim, and a few poems set to music by Bernd — performances that are remarkable on the first hearing and grow more so.

The disc is dense — which is not to say difficult or off-putting — but it has levels and levels of musical and emotional pleasure.  Some discs make wonderful background music — the soundtrack for rearranging one’s spice rack — but this one has the delicious resonance of one short story after another.  It’s available in all the old familiar places.  Details here. WINTER DAYS is ambitious, heartfelt, completely rewarding.  You won’t regret it, no matter what the temperature.

May your happiness increase!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part Three): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: JOE GOLDBERG, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS (December 1, 2019)

I’ve described the pleasures of meeting and hearing Captain John Royen at the piano and at the microphone during the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest here and  here. I present the third part of Royen’s No Co-Pay Medicine for All Your Ills.  But come back when the videos are done . . . a few words will follow.

Something pretty, IF’N I HAD YOU:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, featuring Joe Goldberg:

CLARINET MARMALADE (with a good deal of audience commentary):

Jelly Roll’s SWEET SUBSTITUTE, complete with history, etymology, and vocal:

and finally, PANAMA:

If you go to the New Orleans clubs where John plays, what I write will already be obvious.  But for those — audience members and festival promoters — who are encountering John or finding him anew, just this.  He is often presented as a stride pianist, and he is a superb one, treating Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and others, with respect and joyous creativity.

But the sets I saw John in, solo and as a band pianist, showed me immediately that he was a complete musician, not just someone locked into a particular style, someone who could immediately take a group of musicians new to him and to each other, and make them into a swinging cohesive band, someone who could take the most familiar repertoire and make it sound fresh.

He is a superb ensemble player, and it would be a fascinating study to listen closely, as I have, to what John does within a band, behind the soloists: he creates consistently uplifting orchestral piano, always swinging, light but intense, with interesting harmonies and variations.  Nothing formulaic, and all very satisfying.

He’s also a delight on the microphone — witty and able to improvise masterfully, no matter what the situation is.  You can’t see it in this room (I don’t walk around or do panoramic views) but John and his band kept a plenitude of dancers very happy.  I will be delighted to see him at festivals in future.  Thank you, Captain!

May your happiness increase!

A SURPRISE FROM BREDA 2019

One of the blog-categories I created is “SURPRISE!” and the video below is an especially nice one.  I’ve admired the playing and fortitude and wit of Michael McQuaid and Nick Ward for a decade or so now, and although Andrew Oliver came along later (think of the Complete Morton Project) he is breathing the same exalted air.  The other gentlemen of the ensemble are new to me, more or less, but I embrace them as well.

Here, from a July afternoon at the Breda Jazz Festival, is a neat package of twenty-plus minutes of hot / sweet jazz:

The musicians are Michael McQuaid, clarinet, soprano saxophone, and trumpet;
Antoine Trommelen, soprano saxophone; Andrew Oliver, piano; Nick Ward, drums; Bart Wouters, string bass; Curtis Volp, banjo.

The songs are CHINA BOY, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, SHREVEPORT STOMP, AFTER YOUVE GONE, and the aura is somewhere between a homespun Summit Reunion and the Bechet-Spanier Big Four . . . neither of which bothers me in the least.  Thanks to Paul Dunleavy for being the efficient man on the spot with a functioning camera: as a member of his professional guild, I want to see him get credit.

Some surprises I don’t like: no popping paper bags in back of me, no jury-duty notices in the mail, my doctor saying, “I don’t like the looks of this at all,” but I’m ready for more surprises like this one, any time.

May your happiness increase!

CARPE DIEM! MONTEREY JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY 2020 (March 5-8, 2020)

I’m stunned, but in a delightful way: the band schedule for the Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay — although it could change — is available here.   I have all I can do to not print it out and start playing jazz-chess with my highlighter (once I find it).  But you’ll see the reason for my opening emotions: there’s so much good music here, some of it in conflict with other explosions of good music . . .

Now, the schedule is too large to be appropriately reprinted here in the space that WordPress allows, and that is in itself significant.  So a few facts.  There’s hot jazz, blues, gospel, trad, zydeco, hokum, singers, banjo players, gypsy jazz, washboards, saloon songs, stride piano, boogie-woogie, and did I mention just plain hot music for dancers and for listeners?

There’s a special Thursday night session.  Friday and Saturday the music runs for more than twelve hours in eight simultaneous venues (all under the same roof); on Sunday the last set begins at 3 PM.

When I called, yesterday, the Portola Hotel still had a few rooms left at the special Jazz Bash rate; Monterey is a lovely town with interesting shops and good things to eat.  Easy.  Now, a few possibly-impolite lines.  If you are coming to the Bash, I salute you, I embrace you (if we’ve signed the appropriate paperwork).  If you’re not coming because you live too far away or because it costs too much or because of health issues, I do not upbraid you, but sorrow with you and hope you will watch the videos I create from the performances this March.

But if could come but you don’t make the effort and say wistfully, “Gee, I’d like to get there.  Maybe in a year or two,” I just hope this and other festivals are ready for you when you are ready to attend.  Festivals, although they look huge and solid, are fragile affairs, and they don’t survive when there are too many empty chairs in the room.  It’s easy, after the fact, to say that “they” did a bad job, whoever “they” are, but you and your attendance are the fuel necessary for the festival car to make it up the hill year after year.  I have spoken.

May your happiness increase!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part Two): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: JOE GOLDBERG, JOHN OTTO, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS (December 1, 2019)

Photograph by Alex Matthews, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera.

John Royen is a masterful musician, and it was an honor to encounter him at the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Here‘s the first part of the story, with performances including Hal Smith, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, and Dan Levinson, as well as a dramatic medical tale.

But wait! There’s more.

At the very end of the festival, John assembled a delightful small band with Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Riley Baker, drums [you can’t see him, but you can certainly feel his reassuring pulse]; Marty Eggers, string bass — and, on JUST TELEPHONE ME, the delightful reedman John Otto joined in.  Here are the first performances from that set.  Not only does John play up a storm, but he is a wonderful bandleader — directing traffic and entertaining us without jokes.  If you follow JAZZ LIVES, you already admire Marty Eggers, but Riley’s drumming is better than wonderful, and it’s lovely to hear Joe out in the open like this (he’s one of the sparkplugs of Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band also).  How they all swing!

I always think I am weary of INDIANA, since so many bands play it too fast in a perfunctory manner, but John’s version is a refreshing antidote to formula:

Then, a highlight of the whole weekend — John Otto brought his alto saxophone and John Royen led the band into a song you never hear north of NOLA — (WHENEVER YOU’RE LONELY) JUST TELEPHONE ME, with a particularly charming vocal — charming because it’s completely heartfelt:

Alas, John Otto “had to go to work,” so he couldn’t stay — I would subsidize a CD of this band, by the way.

I have some of the same feelings about AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ that I do about INDIANA — many bands run through it too quickly (it is a love song, dear friends) and call it when they can’t agree on the next selection . . . but here John, Joe, Marty, and Riley restore its original character.  And don’t miss John’s surprising bridge:

People who don’t know better will assert that SHINE is a “racist” song — they and you should read the real story — SHINE, RECONSIDERED  — and this performance shines with happy energy:

Since it doesn’t do anyone good to unload the whole truckload of joys at once, I will only say here that five more performances from this set are just waiting for a decent interval.  Watch this space.  And bless these inspired players.

May your happiness increase!

“CAN I GET YOUR LOVIN’ NOW?”: ALBANIE FALLETTA, JON-ERIK KELLSO, SEAN CRONIN, RICKY ALEXANDER at CAFE BOHEMIA (January 2, 2020)

These artists:

and these too:

were here to begin 2020:


and they (and friends) transported everyone in the room.  It all happened at my new second home, Cafe Bohemia (15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) on Thursday night, January 2, 2020.  And the makers-of-magic are Albanie Falletta, vocal and resonator guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Sean Cronin, string bass; Ricky Alexander.  Their text: HESITATION BLUES.  And how moving!

There will be more videos from this session, but — for those who like to live their lives close-up to reality (that is, getting sensation from people rather than from a lit screen) — Albanie, Jon-Erik, Evan Arntzen, and Jen Hodge will be performing at Cafe Bohemia tomorrow evening at 8 and 10 PM . . . reason to put your shoes back on and leave the chair in front of the computer.  Seriously.  Life is larger than any of our phones.

May your happiness increase!

KEN’S POTATO, AN ENDEARING OBJECT

I have friends who aren’t involved in jazz, and one of the most dear is the writer and literary scholar Gretchen, whom I’ve known and admired for over a decade.  Gretchen’s short stories are slippery marvels; her scholarship is both substantial and deeply felt.  (She’s also private; hence the first-name-only.)  Gretchen speaks with the most tender affection of her father, Ken, who is no longer on this planet.

Recently Gretchen told me of the travails of moving her mother from the family residence — but said that she had managed to rescue Ken’s “potato.”  I don’t think I made any witticisms about tubers and their perishable nature; perhaps I just said, “Oh?” and she then explained that Ken had grown up on a farm in Pennsylvania and the “potato” was a musical instrument he had made of clay, painted red and gold, and it had the shape of the root it was named for, with holes in it to play musical notes.  I said, “Oh! An ocarina!” and we met in the middle of the nomenclature.  Here’s Ken’s “potato”: he was neither a professional musician nor an artist, but he clearly had a witty style.

I told Gretchen, that as the “ocarina,” this instrument had cropped up on several of my favorite recordings — from sessions supervised by John Hammond, marrying “hilbilly” music and “swing,” led by the singer / successful composer Redd Evans, featuring the jazz master pianist Teddy Wilson, and an ocarina solo by one of the musicians, identified on the label only as “Hot Sweet Potato.”  I wrote a long post about those sides here but it’s from the jazz side of the aisle, its emphasis on Teddy Wilson.  Since our focus today is on the potato, I will simply share the music.  First, the frolicsome-somber THEY CUT DOWN THE OLD PINE TREE:

The flip side of that 78, RED WING, is much more worn (someone loved it even more) and the first reed solo is by Buster Bailey, another hero, on clarinet, but the potato gets in a few notes at the end:

This post isn’t about the cultural history embodied in 1939 “crossover music,” nor is it about the ocarina per se — so I ask for some restraint in the commenting audience for the moment.

It is, however, about the way some adults are such good and loving parents that their adult children still remember them with the deepest affection.

Gretchen told me today that “Ken often picked it [the potato] up from where it stood on the hutch in the family room and played it for sheer enjoyment.”  I imagine I can hear those notes, and Ken is alive to me in them, as he is to Gretchen, in that space where music, love, and memory hold hands sweetly.

May your happiness increase!