Monthly Archives: February 2020

MUSIC TO OUR HEARTS: HETTY KATE’S “UNDER PARIS SKIES”

 

It’s been suggested to me that I might write too much, so here is my compact review of singer Hetty Kate‘s new CD, UNDER PARIS SKIES: “When I finished listening to the closing track, I wanted to hear it all over again.  I cam completely charmed.”  And you can buy it here   — $10 digital, $18 tangible.

Might I need to explain more?  This is Hetty’s ninth CD, and I first encountered her — on disc and in person — in 2014, and was charmed.  I wrote about her here and here.  The venue she performed at was terrifically noisy, so my videos were unusable, but Hetty was delightful — not, to quote Mildred Bailey, a bringdown.

UNDER  PARIS SKIES is mostly — but not completely — a CD of “French songs.” I put the phrase in quotation marks because for some singers it will might have been a selling gambit.  “What shall we do, now that I’ve done my Disney album and my holiday album?  I know, ‘French songs’!  That’ll sell like [insert appropriate French delicacy here]!”  But in a world of lovely (Photoshopped or otherwise) and beautifully styled young maids who present themselves as chanteuses, and create discs where the best thing is the cover, she is happily free from artifice.

Each song is its own particular pleasure.  There are a dozen, harking back to the records of my earlier life, reassuring.  But before I say another word about the music, I would ask Hetty to tell us about the genesis of this disc.

In January 2017, I moved by myself from Melbourne, Australia, to Paris, France. I can’t tell you one particular reason why, but I can tell you I was ready, and it felt right. Moving to Paris was, and is, one of the most rewarding, and challenging, things I’ve ever done.

I love to sing standards, and I chose these beautiful songs to represent the myriad emotions I felt before, during and after my arrival. I flew away from the people and the things I love to try something new, and as I tumbled into France, brave, joyful, hopeful and unprepared, I broke my heart and fell in love again a million times. Sometimes great distance allows us to see clearly, and sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder.

I must add that many of these songs are for friends who were kind to me, friends who have inspired me, and friends I miss when I’m in either France or Australia. So, it’s fitting to think of this album as a love song, to two cities, to new and old friends, and to being brave.

This album took a somewhat meandering path along the boulevards of Paris before it reached its final destination. Now that it’s here I hope you enjoy it.

That says a great deal about Hetty — not only her peregrinations, but her attitude, gracious, open-hearted, and warm.  That attitude comes through the songs, but the CD is not simply a swoony paean to the city of the most formulaic sort.  Rather, Hetty, without melodrama, has a splendid intelligence about the way to set each song off to its best.  You might think of her as an intuitive jeweler who knows how to present even the smallest stone so that it gleams memorably.

In this, she is aided immeasurably by guitarist James Sherlock and string bassist Ben Hanlon — neither of whom I’d heard of before, but in this three-quarters-of-an-hour CD I came to think of them as modern masters, subtle, gently incisive  soloists and accompanists.  UNDER PARIS SKIES becomes in the first minutes a gratifying conversation among equals who never compete for our attention.  As an aside, the recording quality is a joy, and I understand that James and Ben have made their own duo CD.  Meaning Hetty no disrespect, I would like to hear that as well.

Hetty herself has a very mobile voice and vocal texture: she can be passionate but she avoids aiming for Piaf, or, for that matter, the conscious little-girlishness of Dearie.  Her sound is sweet but she can be tart, and her phrase-ending vibrato seems emotive but never melodramatic.  Her voice has a slight reediness, which is very endearing.  At times, she has a speaking directness, but she is always singing.  Her phrasing intelligently follows the contours of the lyrics, but it’s never a rigid up-and-down.  Her diction is superb (and her vowels are deliciously cultured) even on the most elaborately treacherous set of lyrics, and she makes each song completely believable . . . but with layers that emerge as we listen and listen again.

The disc begins, and woos us, with AZURE-TE, which some singers have so dampened with unshed tears that the result is soggy.  But Hetty, James, and Ben realize that it is a song about songs about Paris — every cliche Velcro-ed in place — so there is an amused lightness about the performance.  I was reminded slightly of Jean Sablon, warning us about the wolf, but more subtly, the way Basie would play a very slow blues, reminding us that playing sad music didn’t mean he had to be sad himself.  ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE rocks from the first note, the three voices enjoying themselves thoroughly, and the longest track on the CD ends in a flash.

I said that each song was a small drama shaped by Hetty, and ONCE UPON A SUMMERTIME has a great deal of emotional energy, as Hetty, rubato, begins in duet with Hanlon’s arco bass for the first chorus — shifting into waltz time for the second chorus, then to rubato for Hanlon (who is a string quartet on his own): quite amazing.  Should you think I exaggerate, listen:

A hilariously energized GET OUT OF TOWN follows — where Hetty’s second chorus is resonantly wittily convincing (I remember thinking, “She must be a powerfully charged opponent in a romantic argument, winning points while smiling broadly”): Sherlock’s playing is a lesson in spare orchestration.  Guitar fanciers in the audience may fuss over who he Sounds Like; for me, I hope he and Ben are accepting the best students and transforming lives.

IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, a song flattened by over-performance, is uplifted here, because of Hetty’s sweet deep understanding of the lyrics, her understated yet vibrating sincerity.  How gentle yet compelling her voice is; how unerringly warm and — to make the cliche apt — how “pitch-perfect”!

We have to come down from such a peak, and DARLING, JE VOUS AIME BEAUCOUP is just the thing, where Hetty can gleam at us, savoring the unspoken comedy of the English speaker who wants better French to charm the Love Object.  It is a sly soft-shoe dance of a performance, even though you won’t hear a foot being moved, unless they are your own.  UNDER PARIS SKIES is, to me, sweetly trite, but Hetty, Ben, and James move through it at a brisk rocking 3/4.  Since it’s the chosen title of the CD, I have to take it with generosity, and Hetty’s light approach rescues the song, as does the dancing playing of Ben and James, and the ending made me smile.  “Stranger beware,” but we aren’t afraid.

LA BELLE VIE, is, I recognized immediately, THE GOOD LIFE, rendered in bright capital letters by Tony Bennett a year after Sasha Distel’s original version: Hetty’s French falls lightly on the ear, which is no surprise:

Hetty wrote above that a few of the songs on the disc were favorites of friends, and since AFTER YOU’VE GONE has no French connection, I must assume it has a place for that reason.  I dreaded hearing this song, because it has been obliterated through a century of performance, but Hetty makes it come alive from the verse to her final improvisations, and Hanlon’s gorgeous accompaniment: arco and pizzicato, one of the tracks overdubbed but I couldn’t tell which, give this elderly tune a complete makeover in the name of Play and Playfulness.  TOUT DOUCEMENT returns us to French, reminiscent of Dearie without coyness.

DOWN WITH LOVE comes across like a fusillade of pistol shots as every word explodes at the listener — not volume but precise enunciation, mixing hilarity and exasperation.  “Take it away” is the most delightful rapid-fire triplet: all of Hetty’s shots are in the center of the target, and the performance is a lemony chaser to the amorous sentiments in other songs.

A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE is both a favorite song — another one perilously over-familiar.  But here, with Hanlon trotting alongside, after Hetty’s frankly impassioned reading of the verse, we are in the middle of the most seductive “rhythm ballad,” passions in swingtime:

For the first time in my listening history, I actually believe that the streets were “paved with stars.”  The enchantment Hetty, James, and Ben create is flawless.

You can purchase this CD here.  And I urge you to for purely selfish reasons: if this disc sells well, she will create more.  Gifts to those who can hear.

May your happiness increase!

“HE HAD TIME AND HE HAD TONE”: HANK O’NEAL CELEBRATES MAX KAMINSKY (August 17, 2019)

If cornetist Max Kaminsky (1908-1994) is known at all today, he might be categorized as “one of the Condon mob,” or, “a Dixieland musician.”  The first title would be true: Max worked with Eddie frequently from 1933 on, but the second — leaving the politics of “Dixieland” aside, please — would be unfair to a musician who played beautifully no matter what the context.

Here’s an early sample of how well Max played alongside musicians whose reputations have been enlarged by time, unlike his:

Here he is with friends Bud Freeman and Dave Tough as the hot lead in Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven (Edythe Wright, vocal):

and a great rarity, thanks to our friend Sonny McGown — Max in Australia, 1943:

From 1954, a tune both pretty and ancient, with Ray Diehl, Hank D’Amico, Dick Cary, possibly Eddie Condon, Jack Lesberg, Cliff Leeman:

Hank O’Neal, writer, photographer, record producer, talks about Max, and then recalls the record, WHEN SUMMER IS GONE, he made to showcase Max’s lyrical side, with a side-glance at Johnny DeVries and the singer Mary Eiland:

You know you can hear the entire Chiaroscuro Records catalogue for free here, don’t you?

Back to Max, and a 1959 treat from a rare session with (collectively) Dick Cary, Cutty Cutshall, Bob Wilber, Phil Olivella, Dave McKenna, Barry Galbraith, Tommy Potter, and Osie Johnson, to close off the remembrance of someone splendid:

Let us not forget the worthy, alive in memory or alive in person.

May your happiness increase!

FIVE BY FIVE (Part One): JOE PLOWMAN and his PHILADELPHIANS at the 1867 SANCTUARY: JOE PLOWMAN, DANNY TOBIAS, JOE McDONOUGH, SILAS IRVINE, DAVE SANDERS (February 8, 2020)

Pay no attention to ENGER D OP OFF — they were last week’s band.

Here’s another in the series of intimate, swinging jazz concerts that take place at the 1867 Sanctuary on Scotch Road in Ewing, New Jersey: others have featured Phil Orr, Joe Holt, Danny Tobias, Warren Vache, Larry McKenna.

The most recent one was a showcase for string bass virtuoso Joe Plowman (friend of Larry McKenna and Marty Grosz, so that should tell you something about his authentic credentials — with Danny Tobias on various brass instruments, Joe McDonough, trombone; Silas Irvine, piano; Dave Sanders, guitar.  As you’ll hear immediately, these five friends specialize in lyrical melodic swing — going back to Irving Berlin classics — without a hint of the museum or the archives.  Their pleasure in making song was apparent all afternoon, and we shared it.  And just as a comment on the leader: notice how quiet the crowd is when he solos, maybe because he creates long arching melodic lines with a beautiful sound and wonderful intonation.

At times, I was reminded of a group I saw for half an hour at the old Michael’s Pub — the front line was Bobby Hackett and Urbie Green, and what delightful sounds they made. (The digressive story of that evening I offer below as a postscript.*)

Here are five highlights from the brilliant afternoon’s play.

Everyone’s “got rhythm” so why not Ellington’s COTTON TAIL?:

The Gershwins’ WHO CARES? — with a touch of Tobias-humor to start:

Porter’s JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, featuring expressive Mr. McDonough:

Berlin’s THE SONG IS ENDED, which announcement was premature, since there was another half-concert to follow:

You see why the trip to Ewing, New Jersey, to 100 Scotch Road, is essential to my well-being and that of the larger audience.

*Now for my self-indulgent story, which took place before either Joe was born.  I’ve never told it before and it is true.

Bobby Hackett was and is one of my greatest heroes, and when he appeared in New York City between 1971 and 1976, I tried to go see him.  However, I was a shy college student, working a part-time job that paid $1.85 / hour, so some gigs were beyond me.

Michael’s Pub was a restaurant-bar-with music on the East Side of Manhattan, in the Fifties, that offered excellent jazz in hostile surroundings.  (To be fair, I did not appear as a well-heeled customer to even the most inexperienced waiter.)  They had a bar where one could sit and have a single drink without being chased for perhaps thirty minutes, but the view of the music room was very limited.  When I learned of a Hackett-Urbie Green quintet gig, I gathered up the shreds of my courage, put on my sportsjacket and my Rooster tie, and went.

I think I made a reservation for two: that was my cunning at work.  I was guided to a table, a menu was thrust in my face, and I said, “I’m waiting for my date.  A vodka-tonic, please,” and the waiter went away, returning in seconds with my drink.  The music began and it was of course celestial.  I nursed my drink, ate the rolls in the bread basket one by one, and fended off the waiter, who was more insistent than any date I’d had up to that point.  Finally, somewhere in the first set, when the waiter had become nearly rude, I looked at my watch, and said grimly so that he could hear, “Damn.  She’s not coming.  I’ll take the check, please,” paid and left.

I can now say that I heard Bobby and Urbie, but the sad part is that I can’t remember a note because it was completely blotted out by the sense of being unwanted.  But, in a pinch, vodka-tonic, buttered rolls, and a divine soundtrack are nutritious enough.  And memory is soul food.

May your happiness increase!  

HONORING PRES and LADY DAY: SCOTT ROBINSON, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOE COHN, MURRAY WALL at CAFE BOHEMIA (January 30, 2020)

The great innovators began as imitators and emulators, but their glory is they went beyond attempts to reproduce their models: think of Louis and Joe Oliver, think of Bird and Chu Berry, of Ben and Hawk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was present for a glorious example of honoring the innovators on January 30, 2020, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, when Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, cornet, and more; Murray Wall, string bass; Joe Cohn, guitar, crated merriment, art, and enlightenment.  I’ve posted their extravagant ROYAL GARDEN BLUES here.  It’s worth the nine minutes and ten seconds of your time.

A few songs later, Jon-Erik suggested that Scott take the lead for a performance, which he did, most splendidly, with FOOLIN’ MYSELF.  Yes, it’s a  homage to a heard Lester and a remembered Billie, but it also takes in a fragment of Rex Stewart’s BOY MEETS HORN, and creates on the spot a riff reminiscent of Fats’ HANDFUL OF KEYS as reimagined by Ruby Braff:

Thus it isn’t the little box of Homage or Tribute but a large world, elastic, expansive, gratifying.  The way to honor the trail-blazers is to blaze trails.

Postscript: this is being posted on Tuesday, February 18.  On Thursday, the 20th, Scott will be leading a quartet at that very same Cafe Bohemia, with sets at 8 and 10.  Break the piggy bank and come down the stairs!

May your happiness increase!

THE GLORIES OF WALTER DONALDSON: JONATHAN DOYLE – JACOB ZIMMERMAN SEXTET at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: KRIS TOKARSKI, KATIE CAVERA, CHARLIE HALLORAN, HAL SMITH, BRANDON AU (May 12, 2019)

Few people would recognize the portrait on its own.

But Walter Donaldson (1893-1947) wrote songs that everyone knows (or perhaps, in our collective amnesia, once knew): MY BLUE HEAVEN; LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME; AT SUNDOWN; YES SIR, THAT’S MY BABY; HOW YA GONNA KEEP THEM DOWN ON THE FARM?; MAKIN’ WHOOPEE; CAROLINA IN THE MORNING; LITTLE WHITE LIES; MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME; WHAT CAN I SAY AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY; YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, and many more — six hundred songs and counting.  Ironically, the man who created so much of the American vernacular in song is little-chronicled, and if Wikipedia is to be believed, he is buried in an unmarked grave in Brooklyn.  So much for Gloria Mundi.

On May 12, 2019,  Jonathan Doyle (here playing bass saxophone) and Jacob Zimmerman (clarinet and alto saxophone) created a  wonderful exploration of Donaldson’s less-known and often completely unknown compositions for the Redwood Coast Music Festival.  Joining them were Kris Tokarski (piano); Katie Cavera (guitar); Charlie Halloran (trombone); Hal Smith (drums).  Charlie had to rush off to another set, so Brandon Au takes his place for the final number, JUST THE SAME.  There are some small interferences in these videos: lighting that keeps changing, dancers mysteriously magnetized by my camera, yet oblivious to it (a neat trick) but the music comes through bigger-than-life.

Ordinarily, I parcel out long sets in two segments, but I was having such fun reviewing these performances that I thought it would be cruel to make you all wait for Part Two.  So here are ten, count them, Donaldson beauties — and please listen closely to the sweetness and propulsion this ad hoc ensemble gets, as well as the distinctive tonalities of each of the players — subtle alchemists all.  At points, I thought of a Twenties tea-dance ensemble, sweetly wooing the listeners and dancers; at other times, a stellar hot group circa 1929, recording for OKeh.  The unusual instrumentation is a delight, and the combination of Donaldson’s unerring ear for melodies and what these soloists do with “new” “old” material is, for me, a rare joy.  In an ideal world, this group, playing rare music, would be “Live from Lincoln Center” or at least issuing a two-CD set.  We can hope.

LITTLE WHITE LIES, still a classic mixing swing and romantic betrayal:

DID I REMEMBER? — possibly best-remembered for Billie’s 1936 recording:

SWEET JENNIE LEE! which, for me, summons up a Hit of the Week paper disc and a Frank Chace home jam session:

MAYBE IT’S THE MOON — so pretty and surprisingly unrecorded:

YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO TELL ME (I KNEW IT ALL THE TIME) — in my mind’s ear, I hear Jackson T. singing this:

SOMEBODY LIKE YOU, again, surprisingly unacknowledged:

CLOUDS, recorded by the Quintette of the Hot Club of France:

TIRED OF ME, a very touching waltz:

REACHING FOR SOMEONE (AND NOT FINDING ANYONE THERE), which enjoyed some fame because of Bix, Tram, and Bing:

JUST THE SAME, which I went away humming:

Thoroughly satisfying and intriguing as well.

I dream of the musical surprises that will happen at the 2020 Redwood Coast Music Festival (May 7-10, 2020).  With over a hundred sets of music spread out over four days and on eight stages, I feel comfortable saying there will be delightful surprises.  Their Facebook page is here, too.

May your happiness increase!

A MUSICAL LANDSCAPE: MARCH 13, 1951

LANDSCAPE WITH BUSHES, Ivana Falconi Allen, 2020.  In a private collection.

The little world we know as jazz has moved so quickly in its hundred-plus years that sometimes it seems precariously balanced between the beloved Living and the heroic Dead.  I can go out in New York City to hear people I admire tremendously blow breath through horns and out of mouths, to make music right in front of me.  But at times jazz seems like a well-tended graveyard, with death announcements hitting me between the eyes every morning, adding to the great graveyard where Buster, Bessie, Billie, Bean, Brownie, Blanton, Ben, Bix, Big Sid, and Bunny are buried.

Where the music I am about to present — thanks to our great friend “Davey Tough” — fits in this formulation is a large charming paradox.  I do not think any of the players on this transcription disc, recorded before my birth, are alive in 2020.  But their music is resoundingly alive, and their ability to make a shining personal statement in sixteen bars, a time span of under thirty seconds, is marvelous.  Their names are announced, and you can read more on the label.

What’s the moral?

Emulate our great heroes, by doing something so well that when our bodies have said, “All right, that’s enough!” our selves live on.

And like “Davey Tough,” share your joys generously.

And a postscript: if you don’t know the artwork of the endearingly imaginative Ivana Falconi Allen, you are missing work as sharply realized and as delightful as any jazz solo you cherish.  Here is her website, full of sweet shocks.

May your happiness increase!

JUST ADD ADULTHOOD AND STIR: BARBARA ROSENE and JON DAVIS at MEZZROW (December 8, 2019)

Anyone can buy tubes of paint and a canvas at the art supplies store; anyone can buy a blank journal at the bookstore.  But there’s so much work, contemplation and self-contemplation that must take place before one can become even a fledgling painter or writer.  Some divinely talented children create marvels while their driver’s licenses are still new, but I admire those artists whose life-maturity shines through their work.

To me, this is especially true in jazz singing.  Anyone can learn the lyrics, learn the melody (from the paper or from hallowed recordings) but what then?  Does the singer really understand the meanings of the words and the meanings under the meanings?  The finest singers make me feel what it’s like to be dancing cheek to cheek, to be old-fashioned, to make emotional commitments — not only to the imaginary love-object, but to the song, to the songwriters, to the audience.

Barbara Rosene is just one of those artists I admire: she is Growed Up, and it’s  not a matter of numbers on her passport: when she sings, I know that she knows what she’s singing about, whether it’s fidelity to an ideal, devotion to beauty, or the hope of fulfillment.  Barbara and Jon Davis put on a true master’s class in creating art one evening some months ago at Mezzrow. Here is the example I posted last December: how very touching (even for someone like me, who recoils at every fragment of musical holiday cheer)!

And more.  Admire, at your leisure, the deep beauties of Barbara’s voice — but better still are the messages she sends us, complex, easy, and aimed straight at our hearts.  And Jon (whom I hadn’t known earlier) is the best partner, enhancing the mood, serving the song rather than saying “Here I am! Look at me!” at every turn — although his solos show off his adult virtuosity as well.

You will find it nearly impossible to locate DREAMSVILLE by using Waze, but Barbara and Jon know where it’s located:

and another adult song, thanks to Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer:

And here Barbara dramatizes hope and the fragility of hope:

Love comes to the rescue, delightfully:

and a wistful yet triumphant Rodgers and Hart opus:

I think it’s lovely to experience Barbara, going her own sweet way.  And I trust you know she is also an artist on canvas, her paintings as distinctive as her song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty is still very much possible: so reassuring.

May your happiness increase!