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!