Monthly Archives: June 2020

ALMOST LIKE BEING IN PHILADELPHIA, or ANOTHER ETUDE FROM THE MARTY PARTY: MARTY GROSZ, JOE PLOWMAN, BRENNEN ERNST, RANDY REINHART, JACK SAINT CLAIR, JIM LAWLOR, DANNY TOBIAS, VINCE GIORDANO, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON (World Cafe Live, March 4, 2020)

When someone you admire celebrates his ninetieth birthday (and the publication of his autobiography — published by Golden Valley Press) at a public gathering with music, it would be foolish to miss the festivities.  That’s why I took the train to Philadelphia in March to help celebrate (and document) Marty Grosz and his friends rather than spend my remaining years kicking myself that I didn’t.  Here are three posts, each with a performance from the Marty Party.  WABASH BLUES, JAZZ ME BLUES, and  IT DON’T MEAN A THING, for the curious.

But wait!  There’s more!  Marty essays the famous Alex Hill-Claude Hopkins song of complete romantic cooperation. The creators of mirth and hot music are Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; Joe Plowman, string bass; Randy Reinhart, trombone; Brennen Ernst, piano; Jack Saint Clair, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, clarinet; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and bass taragoto, Jim Lawlor, drums. Incidentally, the song has two titles: either I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU or the more-tempered I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU.  Your call.  My truncated title is because YouTube has a 100-character limit.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Four) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

It’s Sunday again — and that means it’s time to go to The Ear Inn.  This will explain it all.

I know, perhaps better than you’d think, the difference between a live performance and a video, but I’d ask you to not scoff at the latter, because it is our century’s version of a phonograph record . . . and since I would guess that few people alive in 2020 heard Charlie Christian, we’ve contented ourselves with his “recorded legacy.”

Here’s my humble contribution to keeping The Ear Inn and The EarRegulars fresh and lively in our ears and hearts.

Thanks to the magic of technology, we can go there (or back or sideways) to hear music from November 8, 2009, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, unaffected Ministers of Magic.

Victor Herbert’s INDIAN SUMMER:

With nods to Whiteman and Horace Henderson, HAPPY FEET:

and Louis’s swinging anthem of reproach, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

Blessings on the place, its inhabitants musical and non-musical.  Let us gather there soon in peace and safety, our hearts purged of fear.

May your happiness increase!

WAKING UP WITH LIZA, or THREE MEN ON A TOBOGGAN: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, LAKSHMI RAMIREZ, JEFF HAMILTON (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 6, 2020)

The medium, or the message?

The message, or the medium?

Whichever way you choose to perceive it, I invite you on a wild beautiful expert ride through sounds.  The creators are Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums: the scene is the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 6, 2020.  And you’ll understand the first photograph as soon as the video begins.  Hold on tight!

I am so glad Sonny and friends and I occupy the same planet.  But my feeling is that had we all been born, say, forty years earlier, we could have gone uptown so that he could astonish the other pianists . . . and John Hammond would have signed him to a recording contract.

Feeling totally alive: what a lovely spectacle to witness!  And more to come.

May your happiness increase!

“A POST-GRADUATE SEMINAR IN NEW ORLEANS CLARINET,” featuring RYAN CALLOWAY with CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND: RYAN CALLOWAY, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, BILL REINHART, JESS KING, HAL SMITH (Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California, March 7, 2020)

“Don’t be afraid,” Clint says to some audience members, timidly straggling in to this session at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, and I would echo his words.  I know that “seminar,” to some, will mean a dry academic exercise . . . heaven forbid, a lecture. But that isn’t the case here.  Clint guides us through the subject, so I don’t have to write much, but this set is a joyous exploration into music that we take for granted, and players unjustly neglected in the rush to celebrate the newest and the most photogenic.  Take your seat: the fun’s about to begin.

This dapper young man spent eight years studying Albert-system clarinet under the tutelage of Professor Baker, and you’ll hear the delicious results.  (More musical than my doctoral orals.)  Clint plays trumpet here; Riley Baker, trombone; Hal Smith, drums; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Bill Reinhart, Jess King, banjo.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE, for Willie Humphrey:

PERDIDO STREET BLUES, for Johnny Dodds:

ORIENTAL MAN, for Dodds and Jimmy Blythe:

JUST TELEPHONE ME, for Tom Sharpsteen and the New Orleans revival players:

WOLVERINE BLUES, for Jelly Roll Morton and his clarinetists:

ST. LOUIS BLUES, for Larry Shields and the ODJB:

BURGUNDY STREET BLUES, for George Lewis:

HIGH SOCIETY, for Alphonse Picou and all the giants who play(ed) it:

I didn’t deceive you.  That was fun, and you’ve gotten some post-graduate music and education also.  Hail Ryan Calloway and his bandmates, and Professor Baker!

May your happiness increase!

TRANSLUCENT SERENADES: “DUETS FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C”– MICHAEL McQUAID and CURTIS VOLP (Bandcamp, 2020)

Artwork by Nicholas D. Ball

I’ve known the multi-instrumentalist and jazz scholar Michael McQuaid for ten years now (we first met at the Whitley Bay Jazz Party, on a bus from the airport, if I remember); I just became Facebook friends with guitarist Curtis Volp.  This post is to let you know about their brand-new CD — can I call it a CD if it only, for the moment, exists intangibly? — available here.  There you can hear the first track for free, no obligations implied or expressed.

Some words, not mine, but right on target:

Established hot jazz authority Michael McQuaid and youthful guitar virtuoso Curtis Volp team up for a dynamic yet intimate series of duets, for no reason at all – other than musical enjoyment, of course.

The album features a surprising array of tunes from the 1920s and 30s, ranging from familiar favourites like ‘The Man I Love’ and ‘Melancholy’ to unjustly neglected gems such as ‘Forget-Me-Not’ and ‘If I Can’t Have You’.

Though inspired by the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Johnny Dodds, Frank Trumbauer, Annette Hanshaw, Eddie Lang and Teddy Bunn, the duo achieves a fresh new sound through their warm and witty musical dialogue.

Some facts, now that you’ve figured out the personnel.  The songs are THERE AIN’T NO LAND LIKE DIXIELAND TO ME / WITHOUT THAT GAL! / FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C / MELANCHOLY / THE MAN I LOVE / LOTS O’MAMA / MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES / BLUE RIVER / FORGET-ME-NOT / LOOKING AT THE WORLD (Thru’ Rose-Colored Glasses) / IF I CAN’T HAVE YOU / WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD / BECHET’S STEADY RIDER /

And another sample:

Some random observations, because it seems important to me to make the JAZZ LIVES readership aware of this music right now.  I’m on my third playing, because when the “disc” ended the first time, I was shocked.  “Is it over?  Is that all?” which you can take as a positive endorsement.

The music is nicely varied — in tempo, in mood, in emotions and emotional associations.  Several of the more morose songs (you’ll know them when you hear them) are taken a little more brightly than is conventional, but the approach works.  Both Michael and Curtis are free, imaginative players, but they clearly love the melodies, so no track is a blowing exercise on the chord changes.  The person who has been deep in the music for a half-century (wait, that’s me!) can find subtleties to admire, but this is also unashamedly “pretty” music that wouldn’t scare the new kitten back into the closet.

The repertoire is of a certain era, and the playing is spiritually and chronologically appropriate — there are no quotes from 1958 Rollins or Wes here — but it isn’t a museum tour, with a guard glowering at us to keep our distance and not touch the precious OKeh icons.  Their approach is loving but not timid, reverent but not imitative (except in their FOR NO REASON AT ALL, which has its own little individualistic nuances).  Occasionally I felt as if I’d wandered into an alternate universe of “What if?” as in “What if Tram and Lang had had a whole side to themselves to play BLUE RIVER?” Although Curtis reminds me beautifully of Salvatore Massaro, he isn’t a clone; Michael knows so many reed players so deeply that there’s no danger of him getting buckled into one cosplay suit and never being able to free himself.

I admire this session all the more because I know how risky duet improvisations are when the two musicians are in the same space, can make mutual eye contact to signal changes in the itinerary, and can prance simultaneously together.  Somehow, I think watching the monitor and listening through earbuds doesn’t make it easier, and I rejoice at the warmth of their duet.

Incidentally, there are no jokes, no gimmicks, no earnest or comic vocals, but the musicians are having fun — this is a very lively jovial session, and Curtis even shouts “Yeah!” on BECHET’S STEADY RIDER.  Appropriately.

This is beautiful fulfilling warm music, a real accomplishment.  I think you’ll love it.  I certainly do.

May your happiness increase!

“THE RICH PAGEANT OF HUMANITY,” or A FEW TUNES FROM THE JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY (Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Steve Pikal, Marc Caparone, Jacob Zimmerman, March 6, 2020)

Let me be plain: before the skies darkened to the shade they are now, I flew from New York to Monterey in March to immerse myself in the 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay, and I am deeply glad that I did.  Here are the first three performances I saw and captured — by one of my favorite bands, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, which is Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet.

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS — now, for most of us, a dream out of reach:

Rodgers and  Hart, 1927:

and the vengeance song that sounds like a love ballad to those unaware of the lyrics:

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put my mask and gloves on to go get my mail.  It’s the thought that someday soon I might see and hear my friends play jazz again that keeps me from eating the decorative molding.  Be well, dear readers.

May your happiness increase!

BENNY CARTER and FRIENDS // TEDDY WILSON — with KAI WINDING, VIC DICKENSON, RAY BRYANT, HANK JONES, SLAM STEWART, MILT HINTON, MEL LEWIS, J.C. HEARD (La Grande Parade du Jazz, July 7, 9, 10, 1977)

I can’t believe how many people who love jazz are asleep on Benny Carter.

The King, a few years before 1977.

The hierarchy of stardom in jazz gets narrower with time, so it feels as if there is only room at best for a dozen boldface Names from Louis to Ornette.  Can contemporary jazz audiences understand the absolute reverence that Benny Carter received from his peers during his lifetime and now?  How many students in jazz education programs know him as he should be known?  After 1945, Charlie Parker cast a giant shadow, but Carter, quietly indefatigable, pursued his half-dozen careers with immense grace.  Perhaps his life lacked drama: he wasn’t a tragic figure; he lived a long time and was happily married (his widow, Hilma, is with us at 99!); he was a professional who made it all look easy: alto, trumpet, clarinet, trombone, compositions, arranging, bandleading, film and television scores — a genuine Renaissance man.  Ben Webster said that Benny could bake a cake as light as a feather and whip any man: what better testimonial could anyone want?  But I wonder how many fans today could name more than one Benny Carter record?

Recently a Irish collector-friend, Mchael O’Donovan, has passed on to me a substantial assortment of videos, some broadcast on French television, of La Grande Parade du Jazz, in the second half of the Seventies.  I’ve shared a duet between Jimmie Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna here.  I think these videos are precious, even though the cinematography is unusual: multi-camera setups where no shot is longer than a few seconds, and the videos came to me arbitrarily cut into time-chunks, so one will end at twenty minutes, no matter what is happening . . . but these are small complaints when one considers the wonderful assortments of jazz stars, the good sound, the leisure to stretch out.  Occasionally someone in the band rushes, but we’re all human.

And now, for some Benny Carter — with a wondrous feature for Vic Dickenson (I saw Vic play this perhaps twenty times, but watching him at close range is something I never dared to think I would see on video), delightful Mel Lewis, and some late-period but refreshing Teddy Wilson.

7-9-77 THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE Carter, Kai Winding, Ray Bryant, Slam, J.C. Heard 7-7-77 IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD Vic, Hank Jones, Bill Pemberton, Oliver Jackson (identified by Bo Scherman, who was there!) 7-10-77 THREE LITTLE WORDS Benny, Bryant, Milt Hinton, Mel Lewis and the first few notes of the next song.

7-10-77 WAVE Carter, Ray Bryant, Milt, Mel Lewis
7-7-77 SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER – I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING – AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – HONEYSUCKLE ROSE // SOPHISTICATED LADY – SATIN DOLL (partial) Teddy solo.

Doc Cheatham told James Dapogny that his secret to a long life was to listen to Louis Armstrong every morning, sound medical advice.  Matt Rivera begins his Monday-night Zoom sessions of the Hot Club of New York (7-10 PM, the link can be found here) with a Carter record.   Maybe that’s a perfect healing regimen: breakfast with Louis, dinner with the King.  In between, you’re on your own.  You can do this.

May your happiness increase!

“AT BREAK OF DAWN, THERE IS NO SUNRISE,” or THE JOY OF SORROW: ALBANIE FALLETTA, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN, KEVIN DORN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, New York City, March 12, 2020)

Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, another night at Cafe Bohemia, creating beauty.

Great art doesn’t need a museum with guards or a concert hall: sometimes it happens right in front of us, and this was one of those moments: my last trip into New York City to be transported by live music before the world we all knew began to distort in front of us, a visit to Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village for the last of the Thursday-night-jazz-prayer-meetings. March 12, 2020.

I’ve posted music and written about that ominous and uplifting evening here and here — and I can still see in my mind’s eye the stairway down into the nearly-empty subway station, the feel of a produce-section plastic bag wrapped around my hand (I hadn’t found gloves for sale yet) so that I would touch as few surfaces as possible.  A new world, and not an easy one.  But I digress.

The music.  The magical transmogrifiers I capture with my camera are — I use the present tense on purpose — Albanie Falletta, voice and resonator guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums; Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  The sad text that they make joyous — the great paradox of art — is Einar A. Swan’s 1931 WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE.

That paradox fascinates me.  If you look at the individual facial expressions as the alchemists below make their wise feeling ways through this venerable lament, they are not morose.  Rather, they are the concentrated faces of people intent on making the result of their work (lifetimes of practice and contemplation) come out right.  Were they to “break up their lines to weep,” to quote Yeats, the song would fail as each one retreated into their private universe of grief.  And there is always enough to grieve about.  But I think of Basie and Jimmy Rushing singing and playing the saddest song with a glint of mischief under their labors, embodying and celebrating the powers of art.

Here I’d like to quote from the unpublished journals of Sammut of Malta:

Nothing is ever strictly functional in music because all music is ornamental.

Music is not necessary for our well-being even if we come to need it on an emotional level. The fact is that if organized sound were never a thing, we’d still be here. But that’s what make something as simple as a triad so amazing. There’s really no practical reason for it to exist. But we wouldn’t want to be here without it. So that’s why I’d suggest there’s never any such thing as JUST A II-V-I progression.

We are such complicated humans and simplistic beasts all at once who can never see past our own noses. So when I hear a bass line—any bass line— I like to remind myself of its ultimate meaninglessness outside of my ears, but it makes it more special for that reason.

Or, as Hot Lips Page once told Steve Lipkins on the band bus, “Look, an Eb don’t mean shit unless you bring something to the fucking note.”

What Albanie, Kevin, Sean, Josh, Evan, and Jon-Erik bring to that Eb and all the other notes in this performance is precious — wafting past us in time, evaporating, but memorable.  Bless them for moving us so.

And I will restate some thoughts that are even more pertinent in June:

This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also.  I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator.  The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining  you.  How can you help them and express gratitude?  Simple.  Buy their CDs from their websites.  Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar.  Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say.  Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.  Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, or a really cool leopard-print mask.

What you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.  Musicians remind us that there’s more to live for than lunch, and we must prize them for their pointing this out in every Eb.

May your happiness increase!

GORDON AU PAYS TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG and his ALL-STARS at LINDY FOCUS

It’s distressingly easy to make a paper-thin tribute to Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars: start with the “Greatest Hits,” add a Louis-caricature, stir in high notes, fast tempos and a dash of audience-clapping, and stand back.  Or one could decide to be “innovative” and “harmonically adventurous,” but I will not even consider those possibilities, because the room is starting to spin.

But Gordon Au is a studious and deep musician and individual, so that when I heard he was planning a tribute to the music that Louis and his world-famous band created over nearly twenty-five years, I was eager to hear it.  And the results are subtle and gratifying.  You can find out more here while you listen.  I’ve picked two songs from this recording that are — sadly or wryly — currently appropriate:

and a song I wish were not so relevant, the somber BLACK AND BLUE:

That should send listeners who get it right to the link to download and purchase.  But perhaps some of you need more information.

Gordon writes, “I grew up listening to Louis Armstrong. Last year I had the chance to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: bring the music of Louis & the All-Stars to swing dancers. I heard a few hip DJs play Louis for lindy hoppers over the years, but I always wished there were more, and I knew that I myself would love dancing to the All-Stars. I wanted to give dancers the chance to hear the music of the All-Stars with a live band, and to dance to it and fall in love with it.

Last December, that wish came true. At Lindy Focus XVIII, I presented a tribute to Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars with a dream team of 10 musicians, and finally got to share that music I love with hundreds of people dancing their hearts out, late at night in a packed ballroom, surrounded by smiling faces, at the largest lindy hop event in the nation. And now I’m happy to share it with all of you.”
1. Squeeze Me (79 BPM)
2. All That Meat and No Potatoes (110 BPM)
3. Twelfth St. Rag (128 BPM)
4. I’ll Walk Alone (88 BPM)
5. Back o’Town Blues (74 BPM)
6. Blueberry Hill (96 BPM)
7. Faithful Hussar (133 BPM)
8. Someday You’ll be Sorry (105 BPM)
9. Unless (87 BPM)
10. My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It (141 BPM)
11. Beale St. Blues (105 BPM)
12. Lovely Weather We’re Having (88 BPM)
13. C’est Si Bon (143 BPM)
14. Yellow Dog Blues (88 BPM)
15. Black and Blue (99 BPM)
16. Don’t Fence Me In (106 BPM)
17. Saint Louis Blues (118 BPM)
18. Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now (130 BPM)

All tracks adapted/arranged by Gordon Au (Gordonburi Music – ASCAP)

Laura Windley—vocals (1,2,4,6,9,10,16-8)
Jim Ziegler—vocals (1,2,5,8,10,12,14), trumpet (8,14)
Gordon Au—trumpet/leader
Keenan McKenzie—soprano sax (2,3,6,8,10,12-15,17), clarinet (4,5,8,9,16,18)
Jacob Zimmerman—clarinet (1-4,6-15,17)
Lucian Cobb—trombone
Jonathan Stout—guitar
Chris Dawson—piano
Jen Hodge—bass
Josh Collazo—drums

And if the combination of music and words were not enough, I would add my own of the latter.  I don’t remember if I asked Gordon if he needed some prose or I insisted on writing something (I did see Louis live on April 23, 1967 — that would be my opening credential) and he graciously agreed.  So here’s mine:

I tried to walk like him, talk like him, eat like him, sleep like him. I even bought a pair of big policeman’s shoes like he used to wear and stood outside his apartment waiting for him to come out so I could look at him.

The magnificent cornetist Rex Stewart remembered the monumental effect Louis Armstrong had when Louis came to New York in 1924. More to the point, he recalled without embarrassment his awestruck attempts to gain some of Louis’ splendor by magic. (How lucky for him and for us that Rex had his own splendor for four decades.)

I write this to remind readers of Louis’ life-changing power, and to point out that musicians began trying to emulate him nearly one hundred years ago – when Louis himself was not yet 25. Somewhere I read of a group of players, stripped-down to their underwear, shivering in an unheated basement, hoping to catch cold so that their singing voices would be closer to his. Everyone wanted some of his celestial power: Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Connee Boswell, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin, and many others. As I write, musicians are posting their versions of Louis’ WEST END BLUES’ cadenza on Facebook.

Trying to capture his essence, his admirers have taken many diverse paths. The most shallow efforts have been grotesque: a distended grin, waving a handkerchief as if drowning, and growling a few chosen phrases, ending inevitably with an extended “Oh yeah!” (If you knew nothing of Louis, you might think, “Someone get that man to a hospital now!”) Such approaches resemble a jazz version of demonic possession, and we have it on good authority (clarinetist Joe Muranyi) that Louis hated such imitations.  Some trumpet players misunderstood Louis’ mastery simply as his ability to play an octave higher than anyone else had, but they mistook range for music.  Only those who understood Louis’ art perceived that it was essentially a singer’s craft, melodic to its core, offering songs that any listener, skilled in jazz or not, could appreciate immediately. It was emotive more than exhibitionistic.

This is especially true in the period of Louis’ greatest popular appeal – his triumphant quarter-century of worldwide fame, recognition, and affection. Those who don’t understand his final sustained triumph suggest that his All-Stars period was marked by a desire for larger audiences, “popularity” at the expense of innovative art, and the limitations of an aging man’s playing and singing. To this I and others would say “Nonsense,” a polite euphemism selected for these notes, and point out that the splendidly virtuosic playing of Louis’ earlier years was – although dazzling – not as astonishing as, say, his 1956 WHEN YOU’RE SMILING or THAT’S FOR ME. Ask any trumpeter whether it is easier to copy Louis’ solo on NEW ORLEANS STOMP – the most brilliant amusement-park ride – or to play LA VIE EN ROSE as Louis did. (Those who are struck by this CD might investigate the original recordings and be amazed, and they might follow their amazement to the best book on the subject, Ricky Riccardi’s WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS.)

Gordon Au understands the sweet ardor at the heart of Louis’ last quarter-century, and he also understands that sincere admiration of an innovator’s art requires loving innovation as well as expert imitation. I’ve been admiring Gordon’s playing for over a decade now, and it has always had subtle Armstrongian qualities while remaining perfectly personal: a clarion sound, hitting those notes squarely, a love of melody, but also an essential whimsy: Gordon’s phrasing is not predictable, nor are his particular choices. His solos have their own arching structure and they always deliver pleasant shocks. He moves with quiet daring and great wit between declarations and subversions.

Elsewhere in these notes, Gordon has eloquently written of his own journey to the music of Louis’ All-Stars, so I will leave that to him, and I will not debate those who felt Louis had abandoned his “pure jazz” for “showmanship” by choosing CABARET over POTATO HEAD BLUES. The All-Stars repertoire, in performance and on record, was delightfully varied, from funky New Orleans blues to pop songs new and venerable, as well as Louis’ own compositions and attempts at pop hits — perhaps a broader palette than at any other time in his career (even though we have heard tales of the Creole Jazz Band and Fletcher Henderson playing waltzes and tangos). I have always loved Gordon’s spacious imagination, and it is evident here not only in his playing and arranging, the musicians he has working with him – wonders every one! – but the songs chosen. A dull tribute could have been Greatest Hits (I might not be writing for this project had it included WHAT A WONDERFUL . . . . and DOLLY!) or it might reproduce an All-Stars concert, inexplicable to those who aren’t Louis-scholars. But Gordon understands that UNLESS and BLACK AND BLUE are both music and must be cherished – and performed – with amiable reverence.

The result of Gordon and the band’s deep understanding makes for truly gratifying music, even for those who had never heard the originals. I know the originals, and my experience of listening has been a constant happiness, the warm thought, “Listen to what they are doing there!” And since this band was conceived for swing dancers, the music is always groovy, rocking, and stimulating, no matter what the tempo. The slightly enlarged instrumentation and Gordon’s imaginative arrangements make for a more varied experience than the All-Stars I heard in person in 1967 (I know that is a heretical statement). At their finest, Louis’ group was a collection of inspired soloists, but they could also sound skeletal: three horns, three rhythm, and a “girl singer” – but we were so dazzled by Louis that we did not care how much open space there was in the performances. Gordon’s vision is far more orchestral, and the band pleases on its own terms from first to last, with delightfully jaunty singing by Laura Windley and Jim Ziegler, who do us the compliment of sounding just like themselves, sailing along.

I also know that Louis would be delighted not only with the music here but would have been thrilled to be invited to perform with this band. He left for another gig far too early, and I regret that this collaboration never happened, but I can hear it in my mind’s ear.

“I’m so excited, y’all!” Laura bursts out at the end of DON’T FENCE ME IN. I am also. You can hear the effect the band had on the dancers. And it will offer the same magic to you as well.

Ultimately, here’s my verdict on this lovely musical effort:

So good!  Find it here.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Three) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

I hope I will be forgiven repeating this moody strain: early in 2020, I would be getting ready to get ready (I arrive too early) to be at this Shrine.  If you don’t know it, please read and listen; if you do, the same suggestions apply.

Here you can find parts one and two of this Sunday-night series celebrating good times at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York, thanks to the EarRegulars.

And more from the night of September 6, 2009 — the video is appallingly dark and fuzzy [I did buy a more light-sensitive camera, so have patience], but the sounds made by Danny Tobias, cornet; Michael Hashim, alto saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass, are bright.

A serious criminal offense — SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

She came back and will only answer to MY GAL SAL:

But now she’s NAUGHTY:

We add the splendid violinist Valerie Levy to the band for EMBRACEABLE YOU.  Remember when that title didn’t bring up stifled tears and muffled snarls of frustration?

That 1930 celebration of new romance, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

And finally, for this post, POOR BUTTERFLY:

We live in hope that this joyous coming-together can and will happen again.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ MIGHT NEED PROTECTION FROM THOSE WHO ANALYZE IT AND THOSE WHO SQUEEZE IT TOO TIGHTLY

A visual display of the presumed growth of jazz.

I’ve been reading liberally in the jazz-fan groups on Facebook, which (as I’ve suggested in an earlier post) might be my first error.  But several reactions to the music I and others love caught my eye and I could not walk away from them. I characterize these reflex actions as ENTHUSIASTIC “ANALYSIS”.

A recent example: a fan posted a YouTube video of a band performing and recording in New Orleans, c. 1928, with this commentary:  Surely this is how a true vintage New Orleans band sounds.  Later, a second fan responded: As I understand it, with bands started soloing like that they started calling at Chicago Jazz [.]  Fortunately, I no longer teach English for a living and thus would not comment “PROOFREAD!” on the second fellow’s analysis, but the first fan wanted to straighten the second one out: This band never left N.O. Chicago Jazz really started with the white groups that played in Chicago in the 30’s line Muggsy Spanier.

At this point the room started to spin in a most unpleasing way.  Rejecting my usual prudence, I wrote: So musicians who played jazz in Chicago in the Twenties weren’t playing “Chicago jazz”? Music is larger than labels. The musicians themselves never called what they were playing these names: these names are inventions of fans and critics, and they are artificial. And to label “schools” of music by race is really not a good idea and never was.  My prose was not greeted with shouts of “Yeah you rite!”  No one offered to buy me a drink.

But I think the first few assertions are so restrictive that they deserve a few perhaps didactic sentences.  I do not set myself up as an Oracle, mind you, but I find narrowness of perspective troubling.

If I were to expand on the original assertions above, they might be:

Authentic New Orleans jazz was an ensemble music performed in that city by Black musicians.  Solos were not part of it.  When the music opened up to solos, it conveniently changed its name from “New Orleans jazz” to “Chicago jazz.”  Then, the final metamorphosis happened when White people who lived in Chicago — including Mr. Spanier — started playing “Chicago jazz.”

I find several problems here, as my comment indicates.  First, as someone before me wisely said, it is unlikely that any group of jazz musicians went into a recording studio, and before the downbeat, heard the leader say, “Well, fellows, now we are going to play a piece of music that will define ‘New Orleans jazz’ for all time.”  I presume it is more likely that they said, “Let’s try that new tune, and don’t mess up the breaks in the first chorus, all right?”

Musicians play, and played MUSIC.  Fans and journalists and “critics” invented names for the ways they thought the music sounded, and from that impulse came divisiveness, theorizing, and other expenditures of energy that may have diverted people from actually listening to the music.

Second, we must acknowledge stylistic cross-pollination.  “White Chicago jazz” comes directly from “Black New Orleans jazz,” and Mr. Spanier would tell you that his inspirations were King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.  He openly acknowledged his reverent debt to them, by the way, so this is not about Muggsy the Cultural Pillager.

Third, jazz lends itself to wonderful examples of creative people who went their own way.  An electric guitar on a 1941 Sidney Bechet record?  Louis Armstrong recording popular songs and comic numbers in 1926?  And, going back to the asphyxiating categories of New Orleans and Chicago jazz . . . Jelly Roll Morton, a self-defined Creole who, according to his sister Frances, was Jewish, would have been classified as “colored,”  He came to Chicago and recorded his Red Hot Peppers with a preponderance of New Orleans musicians — Chicago jazz or New Orleans jazz?  They had solos AND they had written passages.  They are larger than any category, except if you want to have a large box labeled EXTRAORDINARY MUSIC?

I offer a musical example, and I wish people could listen to it blindfolded.

If you had to characterize or anatomize this, say, for a prize on a quiz show, what would you call it?  The gracious gentleman who posted it describes it thusly: Early NO revival recorded in NY in 1946 and played in the true original No style some lovely mortonesque piano by Don Ewell with Bunk on trumpet and Alphonse Steele drums [.]

Again, it’s slippery.  IN THE GLOAMING is an Irish song from 1877: perhaps someone wants to call this “folk-jazz”?  Bunk Johnson, Black, from New Orleans: if you give the horn player primacy, this is “New Orleans jazz.”  But it was recorded in New York.  The annotator wants it both ways — it’s “Early NO revival” “in the true original No style.”  But there are solos: the trio does not play ensemble throughout.  The pianist, White Don Ewell from Baltimore, plays “lovely mortonesque piano,” but does that make the record less “authentic” because of the White Maryland infusion?  I confess that I could not find out where Alphonse Steele was born — my books ignore him — but I am guessing he was Black, and he recorded in New York with Henry “Red” Allen and Billie Holiday.  So was he a New York Swing Era jazz musician?

From whence comes this intense urge to classify, to label, to dissect?

Digression: I won’t even touch the vitriolic discussions of “authenticity” and which “style” of playing — insert beloved and vilified band names here — people prefer.  Very few people seem willing or perhaps able to distinguish between “I like this band.  They sound good to me.” and “This is the best band that ever was and anyone who doesn’t like them is an ignorant moron” (Facebook encourages the highest kind of discourse, such as — a direct quote, “Lol u are insane.”)

Could all the jazz fans who have this urge to stuff the music in airless labeled boxes learn this 1906 Bert Williams song and let it guide them?

Ultimately, I think this slicing-and-dicing, weighing and measuring, does the music no good.  I think of Lennie and the mouse in OF MICE AND MEN.

But of course I am wrong: I accept that.  I will sleep better knowing it.

May your happiness increase!

A MAGICAL SESSION IN JAM: JUNE 27, 1945

 

 

 

In case you can’t read the label, these four sides — two 78 discs — were created by the Don Byas All Stars: Byas, tenor saxophone; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Eddie Safranski, string bass; Denzil Best, drums, in New York City on June 27, 1945, almost seventy-five years ago.

This session has been part of my consciousness for a long time, perhaps going back before 1980.  Don Byas doesn’t get his name written large in those jazz-history-trees I have seen recently, and in the taxonomy of jazz Stars of the tenor saxophone, he’s rarely noticed in the rush to oversimplify: it’s Hawk and Lester and Ben — leaving out Don, Chu Berry, Dick Wilson, Bud Freeman, Gene Sedric, Video Musso, Prince Robinson, George Auld, Herschel Evans, Eddie Miller, Buddy Tate, Robert Carroll, and many others.  But Byas continues to amaze: his lovely expressive ballad playing, his indefatigable work at fast tempos, and his intense swing in general.  He knew his harmonies, and his arpeggios never put a foot wrong.  You might know his early work on a 1938 record date for Victor under the nominal leadership of Timme Rosenkrantz, or his classic opening solo on the 1941 HARVARD BLUES with Basie, but he made perhaps a hundred consistently realized small band sides for small independent labels between 1944-46 before leaving for Europe, where he spent the rest of his life, coming back to New York a few times before his death.

On these four sides, he’s in the company of giants who also rarely get their proper recognition.  Eddie Safranski, then a young bassist in Hal McIntyre’s big band, was at the start of a long career — his last recordings are in 1975 — and he played and recorded with everyone from Stan Kenton to Teresa Brewer.  Denzil DaCosta Best began at the top — his playing career ended in 1962 and he died a few years later, sadly, but he also recorded with everyone from Ben Webster to George Shearing to Erroll Garner to Sheila Jordan.

Johnny Guarnieri is one of the finest pianists and musicians, but he also seems neglected.  An ebullient virtuoso, he was a regular life-enhancer on small-group dates going back to the Benny Goodman Sextet: he could do so many things beautifully that he might not be well-known for his delightful swing.

I left the graceful and astonishingly consistent Buck Clayton for last: his autobiography tells of his long career better than I could (BUCK CLAYTON’S JAZZ WORLD) but I can’t think of an uninspired performance in his forty-plus years of recordings.  I have some late-career trumpet videos I will post, and even when his embouchure was not completely certain and his range was seriously limited, he made lovely melodies out of the fewest notes and he always swung.

As to the recordings themselves: you must discover their marvels on your own, but each is both wonderfully impromptu and a careful orchestral composition on its own, their texts being familiar pop songs from 1930-1, with DEEP PURPLE being the newest theme (a piano solo in 1934, a hit with lyrics in 1939).  I can imagine them discussing tunes, tempos, and approach briefly before making a take.  They knew how many choruses would fit on a side; someone took the lead and someone improvised a countermelody; someone took the bridge; they decided on how to begin and how to end — but the records document a peak of this music, the great meeting of experience, professionalism, and passion.

Walter Donaldson’s ode to candor:

and the lovely violet ballad, so rarely played or sung these days:

The eyes are the windows of the soul, aren’t they?

and a more hopeful ballad, about a sudden magical romantic appearance:

Now, a different perspective on these lovely creations.  I never knew anything about the Jamboree Records issues except that they must have sold well — there’s one label in red and silver, another in red and gold — and used copies continue to be offered for sale.  The label had a short run: three four-song sessions with Byas as leader (one where he is the only horn, this one with Clayton, and a third with Joe Thomas), a Dave Tough-led session (with Thomas and Ted Nash), a Horace Henderson-led date featuring Clayton, Eddie Bert, and two reeds (recorded for Harry Lim’s Keynote label and sold to Jamboree), a trio session recorded in Detroit in 1947 featuring pianist Willie Anderson and one vocal by Kenny Hagood, and finally a 1949 date led by pianist Skip Hall, featuring Clayton, Buddy Tate, Walter Page, with six issued and two unissued sides.

Jazz fans deep into the wonderful music of this period know that small labels with terrible pressings were frequent, owing to the number of brilliant improvisers at large (without recording contracts with major labels) and the end of the first Petrillo record strike or ban . . . think of Regis, Manor, Session, Guild, National, Apollo, Signature, Comet, Hub, and a dozen others.

I’ve been aided in my fragmentary research into Jamboree by Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, founder of The Hot Club of New York, so thanks to him.  The head of Jamboree Records was one Morty Kline, who ran Melody Record Supply and Record Associates on 314 West 52nd Street, although another address has it on Tenth Avenue.

Where Melody Record Supply once stood.

That address allows one of my favorite hypotheses (“favorite” because I find it plausible but lack any specific evidence that it happened).  Did jazz musicians walk into Melody Record Supply, talk to Morty, and walk out with a handshake agreement to cut four sides next Thursday — bring a quintet at 9 AM for scale, or words to that effect?  Had Morty known Byas’s recordings from his Basie days, or from those on Savoy in 1944, or had he been in the audience for the Town Hall concert produced by Timme Rosenkrantz?  Or did Morty walk east after he closed the shop to have a drink on Swing Street and offer some of the musicians on the stand a record date at the bar?  I don’t know if Morty took a hand in the music’s direction (as did people like Harry Lim and Milt Gabler) or if he was simply the businessman-producer.  I suspect that it was an excellent business move for Melody Record Supply to have its own issues to sell: “product,” as we now say. I can’t ask Morty: he died in Boca Raton, Florida, in 1997.  But I can thank him for the commerce that allowed these beautiful minutes of imperishable music to exist and live on.

May your happiness increase!

THE BLUES CAN ROCK, TOO: CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND at the JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY (Monterey, California, March 6. 2020): CLINT BAKER, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, HAL SMITH, KATIE CAVERA, RILEY BAKER, RYAN CALLOWAY, BILL REINHART, JESS KING

This band was a real treat at the March 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay — their enthusiasm, their willingness to get dirty, their skill, their passions, and in a repertoire that went comfortably from Ellington to a Buck Clayton Jam Session to Johnny Dodds.  I’m speaking of Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, which in that weekend’s incarnation, was Clint, trumpet; Riley Baker, trombone; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano [for this set]; Jess King, guitar, banjo, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  And today I want to share only one performance — because it knocked me out, as they used to say and still do — the groovy Ellington blues, with Rex Stewart certainly a co-composer, SOLID OLD MAN.  (I worry about the punctuation of that title, but you should hear the music first.)

SOLID OLD MAN is perhaps most famous as a tune that Rex, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor brought to Europe for their recording session with Django Reinhardt — a recording session that is completely ingrained in my heart for perhaps fifty years.  Note the more accurate composer credits!

But two postscripts.  I taught college English for a long time (a LONG time!) and I know that punctuation makes a difference.  I can see the recording supervisor at Brunswick or Master Records, after the session, saying to Ellington, “Duke, what do you call that one?” and Ellington answering in the common parlance of the time, “Solid, old man!” in the sense of “Great work!” or “I totally agree with you, my friend!” or “You and I are brothers.”  But it always has had an implicit comma, a pause, as it were.  And certainly an explicit exclamation point.  So, to me, its title is lacking and perhaps misleading: when I see SOLID OLD MAN, I think of someone over six feet, weighing over three hundred pounds, who has been collecting Social Security for years.  Perhaps a security guard at the mall.

The second postscript is not a matter of proofreading.  Last night I was on Facebook (my first error) and reading a controversy in a jazz group about who was good and who was bad (my second) that got quite acrimonious.  Facebook encourages bad-mannered excesses; I was uncharacteristically silent.  But I noted one member of the group (an amateur string player) made a snide remark about “California Dixieland,” and when a professional musician of long-standing asked him to define what he was mocking, the speaker — perhaps having more opinions than knowledge — fell silent.  Unnamed adjudicator of taste, I don’t know if you read this blog.  But if you do, I suggest you listen to SOLID OLD MAN ten or twenty times to get your perceptions straight before you opine again.  And those of us who know what’s good can simply enjoy the performance many times for its own singular beauties.

May your happiness increase!

“BUSY DOING NOTHING”: JACOB ZIMMERMAN TRIO (COLE SCHUSTER, MATT WEINER) — a NEW RELEASE on BANDCAMP

First, how about some music? — multi-layered and subtle, full of joy and surprises.  The creators are Jacob Zimmerman, reeds and arrangements; Cole Schuster, electric guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass:

Now, before we move on, a relevant and pleasing cat portrait:

You’ll have to ask Jacob and Elena about the curious feline: I stick to music.

The occasion here is the release of the Jacob Zimmerman Trio’s new record (or CD or download), called BUSY DOING NOTHING.  Don’t let the self-deprecating title fool you: it’s quietly warm music that remains in your feelings and thoughts.

I believe that when Jacob told me about his new project, I said, with all the delicate guile at my fingertips, “I want to write something for that,” and he graciously agreed.  Here is the Bandcamp link.  (My version of this link says “You own this,” because I do, but I hope that acts as an inducement to follow in my path after you’ve listened to LITTLE WHITE LIES.)

And here’s what I wrote about the music.

Some jazz listeners rhapsodize over the seismic power of a large ensemble. But such efforts make me say to no one in particular, before I stop the disc, “Please. Take the pianist, drummer, and all but one horn away. There’s a great Thai place two blocks south. Have lunch on me.” Many of the most beautiful sounds I know have been made by the smallest groups, austerely lovely, energetically romping, each a triumph of intuition and empathy: Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, Skeeter Best; Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Zutty Singleton; Duke and Blanton; Vic Dickenson and Ralph Sutton. And when the instrumentation is “unorthodox,” all the better.

It’s in this spirit that I greet and embrace BUSY DOING NOTHING, a sly title for these trio performances. They have a translucent sparseness yet they are also rich in melody and improvisation. Each chorus seems a complete composition in itself: BILL, for one gorgeous example. These three musicians create lovely textural variations as well as melodic embellishment and sweet harmonic delving, and the results feel honest, fresh but never self-consciously “adventurous.”

CHRISTMAS IN JAIL has a deep-blue moan to it – even though I would suspect that Jacob, Cole, and Matt have done nothing more criminal than parking tickets. Jacob told me that this session was inspired by the Braff-Barnes Quartet and the Jimmy Giuffre Trio – and this track has a close kinship with THE TRAIN AND THE RIVER, which is great praise. For uncomplicated irresistible swing, there’s MY GAL SAL – “good and groovy,” to quote Trummy Young. ALL OF YOU has, in its quiet pensive splendor, echoes of Brahms, if Brahms had been wiser. I WON’T DANCE is charming, expert, and hilarious: “Look what they did there!” is how I felt on first listening. THE BOY NEXT DOOR gave me chills – moving from unaffected tenderness to sophistication and back again.

BLUE ROSE holds a special place in my affections: when I last saw Jacob, an occasion that, pre-pandemic, seems a lifetime ago, at the March 2020 “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” he and Riley Baker joined me for a meal and conversation, then Jacob brought his tiny audio setup to my hotel room so that we could hear a track from this session. It was this, his gift to our hero Ray Skjelbred, an improvisation on a passage from the 1933 Horace Henderson record of HAPPY FEET. When I could form words, I said only, “Would you play that again?” It thrills me to know that I, and you, can play BLUE ROSE forever. There is an arching imagination behind this – composition and the trio’s playing – that makes me very glad. It feels like a three-dimensional aural ballet, airy and solid at once.
LAZYBONES is the soundtrack for a Swing Cowpoke short subject that hasn’t been filmed yet, with Matt, Cole, and Jacob rounding up the out-of-tune rustlers and getting them to play their parts correctly before riding off to educate the next bunch of amateurs. IDA of course harks back – how beautiful Matt’s arco sounds! – to Nichols, Rollini, and Livingston, but Jacob’s entrance reminds me of Lester, ten years later, and the whole performance is a sweet world that we are encouraged to make ourselves at home in. SOMEBODY LIKE YOU is one of Jacob’s discoveries of otherwise-forgotten Walter Donaldson music. It has an unaffected 1927 lope to it, dance music for another time and place, shined up by this trio so that we can delight in it right now. I love Cole’s chiming arpeggios and Matt’s serious two-four dance underneath Jacob’s bright-toned melodies. My only complaint about this track (and others as well) is that they are so sweetly terse that I said, on first hearing, “Wait. Is that over?” THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES suggests some lovely Sixties music heard at a distance – another dance, both saying, “Come join us.”

I wonder how listeners in 2021 and beyond will take this music in. It is so rewarding, track by track, that I hope they will not gobble it down in one sitting. I wistfully envision these thirteen performances as being issued as a set of Victor Red Seal or Keynote 12” discs in a cardboard “album” that one would have to reverently play, one after the other, placing each disc on the turntable and lowering the tone arm. The thirteenth side would be shiny and ungrooved, a reminder for us to go back to LITTLE WHITE LIES, in amazed delight at what Jacob, Cole, and Matt create for us. This session is immense fun, but approaching it with joyful astonishment would be right.

When you’ve heard the music, and I hope you will, you will understand that I did not overstate here.  And if you can find it in your heart and wallet to purchase this music on Juneteenth — June 19, 2020, Bandcamp has done something both moral and special.  I quote from their site:

The recent killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the ongoing state-sanctioned violence against black people in the US and around the world are horrific tragedies. We stand with those rightfully demanding justice, equality, and change, and people of color everywhere who live with racism every single day, including many of our fellow employees and artists and fans in the Bandcamp community.

So this this coming Juneteenth (June 19, from midnight to midnight PDT) and every Juneteenth hereafter, for any purchase you make on Bandcamp, we will be donating 100% of our share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a national organization that has a long history of effectively enacting racial justice and change through litigation, advocacy, and public education. We’re also allocating an additional $30,000 per year to partner with organizations that fight for racial justice and create opportunities for people of color.

The current moment is part of a long-standing, widespread, and entrenched system of structural oppression of people of color, and real progress requires a sustained and sincere commitment to political, social, and economic racial justice and change. We’ll continue to promote diversity and opportunity through our mission to support artists, the products we build to empower them, who we promote through the Bandcamp Daily, our relationships with local artists and organizations through our Oakland space, how we operate as a team, and who and how we hire.

Beyond that, we encourage everyone in the Bandcamp community to look for ways to support racial equality in your own local community, and as a company we’ll continue to look for more opportunities to support racial justice, equality and change.

Blessings on Jacob, Cole, and Matt, and thanks to Bandcamp for not only making this music accessible to us but also giving an extra moral push towards a kinder future for all.

May your happiness increase!

“SAY THAT EVERYTHING IS STILL OKAY”: REBECCA KILGORE, HARRY ALLEN, BOB HAVENS, FRANK TATE, JOHN SHERIDAN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2012)

I have little to complain about in tangible things, but today’s mood is such that this meme (courtesy of dear friend Amy King) provoked rueful laughter and recognition:

Those of you who don’t know what a “meme” is can dial one of the grandkids.  “Kinky,” you’re on your own.

Today I thought that cheerful hot music would be out of place, so here is a beautifully rueful creation.

The superficial portrait of Irving Berlin is that he wrote cheerful music, with exceptions like WHAT’LL I DO? and REMEMBER.  But he is also powerfully poignant about romance that has deflated or perished, as in SAY IT ISN’T SO — its title characteristically taken from a popular conversational phrase.  But when Becky Kilgore and her lightly swinging friends approach it, the sadness is balanced against the gentle motion of the beat, everyone’s personal phrasing.  Her friends are Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; John Sheridan, piano; Frank Tate, string bass.

This performance magically unfolded in front of us (and my camera) on Thursday night, September 20, 2012, at the informal session that began Jazz at Chautauqua at the Hotel Athenaeum.  Fabled times, lovely music.

May your happiness increase!

PIANO PLAYHOUSE: JIMMIE ROWLES and SIR ROLAND HANNA in DUET (La Grande Parade du Jazz, July 1978, Nice, France)

Video performance footage of either of these two jazz piano giants is rare, and this might be the only evidence of them together in concert, recorded in early July 1978 at what we informally call the Nice Jazz Festival but what is also known as “La Grande Parade du Jazz.”  Here are Jimmie Rowles — the spelling he preferred — and Sir Roland Hanna, performing I LOVE YOU (the first part is missing) / INDIANA / MY FUNNY VALENTINE / ORNITHOLOGY.  I didn’t have a video camera in 1978, so please do not write in to complain about “my” fidgety editing, and know that recording two pianos on film is very difficult. But this is a treasure:

May your happiness increase!

THE RETURN OF THE WEATHERBIRD JAZZ BAND

I don’t know anything about migratory patterns between suburban New York and Sweden, but when the Weatherbird Jazz Band flies by, our spirits lift.  Sightings earlier this year were here and here and here.

So here they are with more hot music: intense, focused, playful, exact, and delicate.  You can invent your own words of praise as you listen. And the marvelous players and occasional singers are Bent Persson, trumpet or cornet; Kaj Sifvert, trombone; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet or soprano saxophone; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano; Goran Lind, string bass; Goran Eriksson, banjo or alto saxophone; Sigge Dellert, drums.

The Weatherbirds are eager to please, even when technology arbitrarily subdivides the impulse in two:

and more, because it would be cruel to leave us there (and Goran’s rolling-and-tumbling alto solo is worth hearing twice):

a gorgeously somber 1928 BASIN STREET BLUES with the appropriate vocals:

Mister Morton’s THE CHANT with some (perhaps) early-Thirties touches:

a too-brief trip to CHINATOWN by the band-within-a-band:

SOME OF THESE DAYS, with the verse in the middle — it’s only right:

HIGH SOCIETY, based on a Hot Chorus, a thrilling duet for trumpet and piano:

and, to close this offering, a delightful CHICAGO BREAKDOWN:

I guarantee they’ll be back.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Two) — WE NEED TO HAVE SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

For the moment, it’s not possible to go down to the The Ear Inn and indulge in our Sunday-night joys — musical and otherwise — so I will do my part in bringing the experience to you.  My first offering of performance videos and loving personal history can be found here:

Here is another video from the earliest documentation of communal joy at 326 Spring Street (June 7, 2009) that I did, featuring Duke Heitger, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass — Jon-Erik Kellso may have been collecting tips for the band — summoning Louis on SOME OF THESE DAYS, most evocatively in Duke’s final chorus:

and from two weeks later (the 21st), SUNDAY, featuring Jon-Erik, Harvey, Dan, Matt, and Jon Burr, string bass:

and from September 6, IF DREAMS COME TRUE, created by Danny Tobias, cornet; Michael Hashim, alto; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass:

and a lovely Ellington medley by the same heroes:

and as this week’s sign-off, Irving Berlin’s isolation aria (although in a cheery Keynote Records mode) ALL BY MYSELF:

I have many more video performances to share with you, so I invite you to make JAZZ LIVES your regular Sunday-night companion (any other time will do, also).

May your happiness increase!

“THE UNFINISHED WORK”: LOUIS ARMSTRONG, 1958

Louis Armstrong, 1969. Photograph by Jack Bradley. Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

Pause, listen, consider, and share.  Words and feelings for these times.  We know the words but perhaps hearing them again, thanks to Louis, will make them more real, as they need to be now.

Thanks to Ricky Riccardi and to Judy Smith for inspiration.

May your happiness increase!

LESSONS IN LEVITATION: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JOSH ROBERTS, MATT WEINER, JEFF HAMILTON (June 30, 2019)

An inspiration for this inspiring little band.

Thanks to the ever=devoted SFRaeAnn, we have a five-minute treatise on the most inspired floating, created in front of an audience at America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington, on June 30, 2019.  The players here are Ray Skjelbred, making that old keyboard sound exactly like new; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Josh Roberts, guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And their particular text is LADY BE GOOD, by George and Ira Gershwin, first performed in 1924 and immediately taken up by jazz musicians, dance bands, and singers of all kinds — from Ben Bernie and the California Ramblers to the present day.

Perhaps because tempos in performance naturally increase, and because it is such a familiar set of chord changes (from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Incorporated recording on) it’s usually played at a brisk tempo.  This performance is a sly glide, a paper airplane dreamily navigating the air currents before coming to a gentle landing.  And — taking the Basie inspiration to new heights — this performance so lovingly balances appreciative silence with sound.

It doesn’t need my annotations: it reveals itself to anyone willing to pay attention.  Watch the faces of the musicians; hear their delighted affirmations.  As James Chirillo says, music was made:

Blessings on them all, past and present, visible and ectoplasmic.  The Cubs lift us up but never drop us down.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE WE WERE IN MAY 2019 AND HOPE TO BE AGAIN IN MAY 2021: BOUNCING WITH THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET (Part Two) at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, JOSH COLLAZO, SAM ROCHA, JAMEY CUMMINS, ALEX BELHAJ, GORDON AU, CHARLIE HALLORAN (May 12, 2019)

I know it’s the most unwieldy title in the history of JAZZ LIVES’ unwieldy titles, but so be it.  At least readers know what they’re getting, or getting into.  Here I can offer you gorgeous music from the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet: Jonathan, tenor, composer; Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Sam Rocha, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Jamey Cummins, Alex Belhaj, guitars. Recorded on May 12, 2019, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, the second part of a very rewarding set, and here is the first.

Let us begin with Cole Porter’s whimsical-salacious depiction of a very practical amorous relationship, MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY, which has a good deal of moral ambiguity to it, but who thinks about such things when sunk deeply into this groovy evocation?

More groove, more funk — Al Sears’ CASTLE ROCK:

The venerable CRAZY RHYTHM, at a surprisingly tender tempo, featuring the eloquent Charlie Halloran:

Jonathan’s own JUMP IN, JUMP OUT — which, like his other originals, shows a fully-developed compositional sense.  Even when his originals are built on familiar harmonic patterns, his introductions, riffs, textures, and voicings show his expansive imagination:

Fine riffin’ this afternoon — with Illinois Jacquet’s BOTTOMS UP:

and finally, the dark-hued YOU NEVER KNEW ME AT ALL, based on a noble Thirties ballad:

Jonathan and friends were just one highlight of the immensely stirring Redwood Coast Music Festival that made my May 2019 completely memorable.  Eleven months from now, there will be the 2021 version . . . and I’ll be there.  It’s not too soon to start anticipating these joys and more.  May 6-9, 2021.  “Mark it down.”

May your happiness increase!

SHARP IT, FLAT IT! (1933-1999)

The JAZZ LIVES quarantine-collection of venerable lively recordings, ever-expanding.

Every Monday night, Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera has been gathering the Hot Club of New York for a Zoom session from 7-10 PM, playing wonderful 78 rpm jazz records with great flair and great sound.  You can become a member here. And there’s more information here.

Last Monday night, one of the sides was Clarence Williams’ MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — whose composer credits read Clarence Williams, (Banjo) Ikey Robinson, and Alex Hill.  My money is on Mister Hill.  Matthew, who knows things, has suggested wisely that Mister Robinson would have been responsible for the jivey lyrics.  I wish I could trace the story I once read that Clarence, late in life, told someone that none of the compositions under his name had been his.  Amazing if so.

But this post is about MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — a song of great melodic simplicity, with two-note phrases that have burned themselves into my brain, and lyrics that are unforgettable because they are so much a part of their time that they have a majestic silliness.  And we could all use a Serenade.  Please join me in Incid. Singing.

Here’s the first version, with Eva Taylor singing first (her voice is catnip) and Cecil Scott, clarinet; Herman Chittison AND Willie “The Lion” Smith, piano; Ikey Robinson, banjo, tenor-guitar; Clarence Williams, jug; Willie Williams, washboard; Clarence Todd, vocal.  New York, August 7, 1933:

That recording has so many delights: the almost staid way it begins with Eva’s demure yet emotive delivery, and the underrated Cecil Scott, Chittison’s very “modern” piano — remember, this is 1933 . . . then the short pause while the band has to get it together for the key change into Clarence Todd’s much more exuberant Calloway-inflected vocal AND the rollicking duo-piano background.  It may be a Silly Symphony, but it is a symphony nonetheless.

Here’s the second Williams version, brighter, with the leader’s potato-ey vocal:  Ed Allen, cornet; Cecil Scott, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Roy Smeck, guitar, steel guitar; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba; Floyd Casey, washboard. New York, January 17, 1934:

Notable for me is the emphasis on steady rocking ensemble playing — and the sound of Clarence’s closing inquiry: he means it.

But wait! there’s more! — a frolicsome big band version from the little-known Tiny Bradshaw band: Lincoln Mills, Shad Collins, Max Maddox, trumpet; George Matthews, Eugene Green, trombone; Russell Procope, Bobby Holmes, alto saxophone; Edgar Courance, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Clarence Johnson, piano; Bob Lessey, guitar; Ernest Williamson, string bass; Harold Bolden, drums; Tiny Bradshaw, vocal.  New York, September 19. 1934:

The Williams recording looks backwards to chugging leisurely ways (it feels rural in its approach) where the Bradshaw band is aerodynamic, speeding down the Swing highway — beautiful solos (Maddox, Procope, Courance, Matthews?) and an uncredited effective arrangement.  That band’s eight Decca sides (autumn ’34) deserve more attention.

Here’s a more recent version, at a lovely tempo, with the verse, the group led by Ted des Plantes with some of my friends : Leon Oakley, cornet; Larry Wright, clarinet, saxophones, ocarina; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Ted des Plantes, piano; John Gill, banjo; Ray Cadd, tuba, jug; Hal Smith, washboard. Berkeley, California, August 15-17, 1997:

The most contemporary version — reminiscent of a Teddy Wilson session! — by Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers: Marc Caparone, cornet; Alan Adams, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Chris Dawson, piano; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. San Diego, California, November 29 & 30, 1999.

See if you can go through the next few days without humming a phrase from this song.  I dare you.

I love the arc of this chronology — even though I couldn’t produce versions by Mike Durham and Bent Persson — that starts with a rare record from 1933 and ends up with performances by some of my most respected friends.

I’ll Serenade.  Won’t you?

May your happiness increase!