Monthly Archives: January 2020

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!