Monthly Archives: October 2020

“SPRING AHEAD, FALL BACK” the JAZZ LIVES WAY

Today, Saturday, October 31, is Halloween — but no “spooky” posts, because the holiday is eviscerated for valid health reasons.  And at my age, the only costume I don is my own, and I don’t buy candy bars for myself.

But Sunday, November 1, is the official end of Daylight Saving Time in most of the United States, “giving us” an extra hour of sleep or some other activity.  (Sundays are reserved for the EarRegulars, which is why this post comes early.)

I encourage all of you to enjoy the faux-gift of sixty minutes in some gratifying ways.  But here are my suggestions about how you could happily stretch out in the extra time: versions of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT, the unaging classic by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer, which speaks to our desire to spend time in pleasurable ways.

Here’s a pretty, loose version from the September 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua, performed by Marty Grosz, guitar, vocals, and commentary; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, tuba, bass sax; Arnie Kinsella, drums:

Two years later, Andy Schumm’s evocation of the Mound City Blue Blowers, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, paying tribute to one “Red” McKenzie, hot ambassador of the comb / newspaper — here, with Andy, comb;  Jens Lindgren, trombone, off-screen because of a patron’s coif; Norman Field, Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Spats Langham, banjo, vocal; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Malcolm Sked, brass bass; Josh Duffee, drums:

and, from the 2018 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, here’s the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, for that set, Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Marty Eggers, string bass (subbing for Steve Pikal, who was on secret assignment):

1944, for V-Disc, with Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocal; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Lou McGarity, trombone; Ernie Caceres, clarinet; Nick Caiazza, tenor saxophone; Bill Clifton, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Felix Giobbe, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums — one of those perfectly memorable recordings I first heard decades ago, with its own sweet imperfections: some uncertainty about the chords for the verse, and the usually nimble Caiazza painting himself into a corner — but it’s lovely:

Of course, we have to hear the composer, in 1944, with Eddie Dougherty, drums:

Marion Harris, 1930:

Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud, 1940:

Helen Humes and Buck Clayton with Count Basie, 1939:

Ade Monsbourgh and his Late Hour Boys, 1956, with Bob Barnard, trumpet;  Ade Monsbourgh, reeds, vocal; Graham Coyle, piano; Jack Varney, banjo, guitar; Ron Williamson, tuba; Roger Bell, washboard:

George Thomas with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, 1930:

and at the very summit, Louis in 1930:

Now, you’re on your own: use the time for pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

WHO’S THE BOSS?

Some readers of JAZZ LIVES may scan this post, see that it is not brimming over with new performance videos of their favorite band, and turn to something more interesting on their phones.  I do understand: words and ideas don’t go down as smoothly as videos.  But humor me on this, if you will.

I was alive and reasonably capable in the world (I had a job, I’d earned some degrees) before I encountered a computer, and at first it was merely a hip typewriter.  Some years later, email, YouTube, social media, and so on, changed my world as they did yours.  I still marvel at the ways human behavior and decorum have been warped by the ubiquity of the internet.  This is most apparent to me in one of my chosen playgrounds, YouTube.

For a long time, the anonymity of an alias has made it possible for some people who might have gastric reflux disorder or other internal sournesses to be “critics” with high-powered scopes.  I take this personally, which is my problem, but when I post a video, it’s never by someone I think inept or amateurish.  Florence Foster Jenkins, Mrs. Miller, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards are not artists I cherish for my listening.

So when someone writes, “This sucks,” I delete the comment and lock the gate so they can’t do it again.  In the same way that if you invited me for lunch at your house, I wouldn’t say, “This food tastes like shit,” I expect people to keep their harsh estimates to themselves.  This lack of restraint encourages my reciprocation.  Someone writes of a 2008 performance, “Tempo too fast,” I may respond, “You’re so right.  I’ll go back to 2008 right now and ask them to slow it down for you.”  Childish, perhaps.  But I won’t have people I admire shat on.

I’ve given up on the possibly logical rebuttal to “The drummer is lousy,” which is, “Sir, can you tap your index finger on the desk for the length of this performance and keep good time?”  Or “Her screechy voice gets on my nerves,” which is, “When is your next concert tour?” but I think the platform from which one issues a critical judgment ought to be built on some informed experience.

Certain scornful comments have immense validity, but we must (as they say) “consider the source.”  Yank Lawson told the story of the first time he played with Sidney Bechet, wanting to impress the Master, he sailed into JAZZ ME BLUES at a dazzling tempo, and when it was through, looking to Bechet for praise, Sidney said only, “Young man, you played that song too fucking fast.” To me, those words are hard, but they are also the syllables that the Sage delivers when you’ve climbed up to the cave in the Himalayas.

But Bechet’s assessment is galaxies away from such inspired nit-picking as “She should have introduced the drummer and bassist by name instead of referring to them as ‘my friends,'” to which I nearly wrote, “Have you considered volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to put all that energy to better use?”  (I did write back and say that the two musicians had been introduced lavishly through the concert, but why I spent energy on this is mysterious even to me.)

I learned early from my mentor Sammut of Malta that what was particularly offensive about such “criticism” was its false courage — as if one could pin an anonymous note on another middle-schooler’s coat, saying what one would never have the courage to say in person.  Sammut wisely suggested to me that the rule of criticism might well be, “Would you walk up to the musician and say this to her face?”  Let that sink in.  Imagine, if you will, someone walking up to Louis at the intermission and saying, “You know, you’re supposed to be a great jazzman.  Why do you play the same solos?” but that was printed over and over.

But there’s a new wrinkle in this anonymous sociopathy which I’d like to ask you to look for, because it’s a thrilling arrogance.  I realized recently that the commenters no longer looked upon themselves as Wise Critics (DOWN BEAT staff, giving this two stars and that five) but . . . . Employers.

Slowly, the criticisms have edged from “I don’t like this,” to “This isn’t good,” to a more haughty disapproval, as if the waitperson had brought our salad too warm or our entree too cool.  The subtext is, “You have not delivered to me the product I wanted, so I will be unsparing in pointing out the limitations of what you have done.”  It’s also worth noting that no one pays to see free videos.

Artists are not members of a service industry.

So “The band isn’t as good as the band I think is really good,” is no longer a statement of personal displeasure but a more powerful expression of official censure, as if the listener could say, “You guys play that tempo again, and OUT with you!”  I wonder where this will go, this impulse not simply to disapprove but almost to punish.  I want to be present with my camera when a fan walks up to one of my admired musicians, stands in front of her, claps his hands to get her attention, and says, “I think that song should be played slower, and I prefer Bb to C.”  You may think I exaggerate, but the notion that the audience is the boss of the musicians is gaining ground, if the comments are any indication.  What’s next?

I entered the land of performance, whether live or in another medium, with the basic assumptions that the musicians had worked long and hard (“ten thousand hours”) to make music at something nearing a professional level.  In performance, I observe someone mis-finger a note, play a wrong chord, slow the tempo down, and I notice such things.  But I also know that I am not at the level of even making such a single mistake in a performance; I’ve been listening all my adult life, but a performance by me would have more errors than gratifications.  So I approach even imperfect performances with a modicum of admiration.  I might not like the way X band plays; it does not appeal to me; I like Y so much better . . . but I wouldn’t mock X in public from behind the paper shield of anonymity.

I can stop the video or the CD, I can leave the club or the concert hall in mid-performance, but I haven’t the right to yell at the people onstage.  And I don’t assume that the musicians exist, or play, to please me.

I went back through my collection of other people’s comments and couldn’t find really dramatic examples of this tendency, and then I realized I had deleted them.  It’s the only way I can protect the artists I admire from sneers of people who think they have the right to be mean-spirited.  Keep an eye out as you travel the byways of YouTube and other organs of public expression: you will find that what I describe here is not an over-sensitive fantasy of my own invention.

Great art outlives its critics.  The writer who called Trumbauer’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES “disappointing,” Mike Levin, who mocked Lester Young’s “cardboard tone,” are no more, but we can still listen to Tram and Pres and exult.

To paraphrase Jim in Huckleberry Finn, we don’t own the musicians.  They own themselves.  And we should bless them rather than carp at them.

May your happiness increase!

 

THE LOVER’S QUESTION: “TOMORROW NIGHT”: JIMMY MAZZY, SARAH SPENCER, BILL SINCLAIR, ART HOVEY (August 28, 2016)

I know he’ll be embarrassed when he reads this, because for Jimmy Mazzy, any praise is overdoing it, but he’s one of my heroes: a man whose passion comes through whatever he does: telling a joke, discussing current politics, playing the banjo, or singing.  Or both.  So it’s an honor to share an otherwise unseen performance by Jimmy of Lonnie Johnson’s TOMORROW NIGHT.

There’s a story here, of course.  My friend Sarah Spencer (UK-born, New Orleans-inspired tenor saxophonist, clarinetist, singer, lifter of spirits) went back home to care for her aging parents in the beginning of 2017.  But before she left, she had a few remarkable gigs in Connecticut, where she was then living.  One was at Sarah’s (yes) a lovely restaurant that also featured jazz.  Our Sarah brought along some of her oldest and best musical friends: Bill Sinclair, piano; Art Hovey, string bass and tuba; the aforementioned Mr. Mazzy.  At the rehearsal / soundcheck, Jimmy — entirely at ease with no audience to change the atmosphere — created a moving version of TOMORROW NIGHT that shook everyone in the room.

When the gig actually started (and you can see video from it at the end of this post) Jimmy did TOMORROW NIGHT again, and it was lovely.  But it stayed in the JAZZ LIVES vault — the walk-in one — until recently, when I thought, “Do we want to let the slightest bit of Mazzy-alchemy go to waste?” and I shared it with Sarah, who agreed that it was, in Eddie Condon’s words, “too good to ignore.” See for yourself:

You can enjoy the rest of that gig (beginning with the alternate version of TOMORROW NIGHT) here and here and here.

Here’s Jimmy in 2019, at his induction into the American Banjo Museum, with his emotionally seismic rendition of the Ink Spots’ MY PRAYER:

and to change the mood back — so that we can proceed with our days and nights without being disabled by weeping — Professor Mazzy discourses on the Egyptian influence (from the August 2016 gig).  The anguished reaction, even before he has concluded his peroration, is from Carrie Mazzy, his wife:

May your happiness increase!


IRRESISTIBLY SWINGING: THE BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA: “THIS YEAR’S KISSES”

The new CD by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, THIS YEAR’S KISSES, is wonderfully groovy, rather like the thing you can’t stay away from, Bert Lahr’s single Lay’s potato chip.  (You can look that up on YouTube.  I’ll wait.)  By the way, I loved the BPO’s first CD, PASS THE BOUNCE (2017): read about it here.

Here‘s the Bandcamp link for KISSES, where you can see the personnel, the song titles, hear a sample, download, or purchase this CD.

The description reads: The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was made for dancing. Featuring brand new arrangements of long-lost big band tunes, original compositions, and crowd favorites, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra aims to embody a big band dance orchestra of the Swing era. Filled with world-class musicians, the band will evoke thoughts of Count Basie, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and Billie Holiday.

The noble members of the BPO are Alice Spencer, vocals*; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, alto saxophone; David Jellema, cornet; Oliver Steck, cornet; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kris Tokarski,  piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar.

And the delicious repertoire is  CASTLE ROCK / SOMEBODY LOVES ME* / ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT / PEEK-A-BOO / THIS YEAR’S KISSES* / JO-JO / DON’T BE THAT WAY / ARMFUL O’ SWEETNESS* / OUT OF NOWHERE / THE THEME / WHAT’S YOUR NAME?* / BLUE LESTER / BROADWAY / I’M THRU WITH LOVE* / JEEP’S BLUES.

Those who know will see splendid associations: Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Count Basie, Karl George, Billie Holiday, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Alex Hill, Fats Waller, Henry “Red” Allen, Dexter Gordon, Nat Cole.

Happily, the CD is very forgiving of the dance-challenged: it allows me to sit in my chair, listen, and beam.  And to give you an idea of the intense attraction I had for this CD on my first hearing I thought, “I want this CD!” and then calmed down enough to think, “You already have it.”

Listening to it again and again, I envisioned the eleven members of this orchestra as a kind of M.C. Escher drawing, people swimming blissfully in two divergent streams at once.  One could be labeled NOW, which means that the musicians here sound like themselves — and their voices are so individualistic — but they are also having a high old time splashing around in THEN, so that many of the performances have a tender connection to past recorded performances.  But there is no conscious attempt (use your Steve Martin voice) to say, “Hey! Let’s Get OLD!” — no archival stiffness.  And the familiar material, say SOMEBODY, BROADWAY, NOWHERE, is delightfully enlivened by the band’s passionate immersion in not only the notes but the emotions.

The rhythm section is fine-tuned, flexible and resourceful, four individuals playing as one; the solos are memorable; the ensemble work is both loose and graciously cohesive.  This is a band, and even if there isn’t the official BPO band bus for the one-nighters, you can hear their pleasure in working together, easy and intense.

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated with Billie Holiday for decades into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

This CD is a great gift.  It’s music for dancers, music for those of us who know the originals, music for people who need joy in their lives.  THIS YEAR’S KISSES is like sunshine breaking through: a consistent delight, much appreciated.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to it again.

May your happiness increase!

WINGSTON PLAYS THE HITS, JULY 26, 1954

Wingy Manone isn’t well-remembered today, but he was a singular personality.  There were more powerful trumpet players, more polished singers, more original comedians, but the combination of his talents added up to an energetic joy-maker.

For those who have never heard him, he sits somewhere between Louis and Fats as a swinging jester.  His great heyday was the Swing Era, when he took little bands into the studio for OKeh, Brunswick, Bluebird, and smaller labels, and created jam-session recordings often based on frankly ephemeral popular songs.  From this distance, some of his gaiety seems a little amateurish, reminiscent of the relative who asks to sing a slightly off-color parody with the wedding band, but Wingy always hired the best musicians so that his records always have gratifying interludes.  I always looked forward to what he would do with sentimental or formulaic hits, so when this four-song “extended play” disc appeared on eBay, I bought it to share with you.

Recorded in New York, July 26, 1954, it presents Wingy with Lou McGarity, trombone; Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Charlie Queener, piano; Milt Hinton, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.  One traditional jazz standard, one Wingy original, one current film hit, and (of course) one remake of his hit, ISLE OF CAPRI.  (I wonder if this was a George Avakian experiment.)  I doubt that these performances got a great deal of radio airplay, and Columbia didn’t record more music to make a full-length 10″ or 12″ record, but the music is jovial, swinging, and rare.

Wingy’s pronunciation of “coins” and his spoken interlude are both priceless.

PAWNSHOP DOOR is a fast blues — with the drama of Wingy’s band being so hot they lose the job — and ST. JAMES INFIRMARY is one of the better versions of that overdone song. 

On all four tracks, there’s spectacular playing from Leeman and McGarity, as well as some classic Fifties echo in the recording studio, adding up to ten minutes of jivey fun.

May your happiness increase!

THE WINNING TEAM: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON and MARC CAPARONE (November 27, 2015)

Were you to call me a “hoarder,” I would be insulted, but I have been hoarding lovely treasures — previously unseen performance videos — since March 12, 2020, which was the last jazz gig I attended.  One of the treasures I dug up recently is a set played and sung by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs at 2015 the San Diego Jazz Fest: Ray, piano and vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums, Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar, with a guest appearance by Marc Caparone, cornet, on the closing song.

I’d held off on these because my place in the room didn’t allow me to see Ray at the keyboard — a pleasure I always want — and the lighting person, believing that jazz is best played in semi-darkness, had made everyone purple.  Whether it was allegiance to the Lake Isle of Innisfree or a secret love of Barney the dinosaur, I didn’t ask, but it was visually unnerving.

The music, however, was and is delightful.

I missed the first bars of James P. Johnson’s AIN’T ‘CHA GOT MUSIC? — but such lapses are, I hope, forgivable:

Many vintage jazz fans know YOU’RE SOME PRETTY DOLL in George Brunies’ UGLY CHILE — but this version has no mockery in it:

Ray loves the optimistic song LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY (from the 1935 KING OF BURLESQUE, and so do we.  Bring back the New Deal!

Marc Caparone, cornet, always welcome, joins in for I FOUND A NEW BABY, what George Avakian would call “the final blow-off”:

I know I’m out of my depth when I resort to sports metaphors, but these Cubs always win the game.  Bless them, and I hope to see a Reunion.

May your happiness increase!

 

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

You know the routine by now, or I hope so.  It’s Sunday, and time to make our cyber-metaphysical-hopeful-time-and-space spanning journey to the Place of Bliss, The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York City, for the uplifting music of The EarRegulars.  If all of this is strange or unfamiliar to you, you have a good deal of Remedial Ear-ring to do.

This might help:

And this:

Today’s menu special is the sounds from the early part of the evening of May 30, 2010 (the latter portion appears here) by Danny Tobias, cornet; Chuck Wilson, alto; James Chirillo, guitar; Murray Wall, bass, first strolling their way through SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY:

LINGER AWHILE, plus guests Pat O’Leary, cello and bass; Dan Block, clarinet; Tony Steele, bass:

CREOLE LOVE CALL:

EXACTLY LIKE YOU, scored for Quartet: Messrs. Tobias, Wilson, Chirillo, Wall:

There’s more to come: I offer these video-performances as injections of hope for the present and future, manifestations of creativity and community that will return.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY 91st BIRTHDAY, DAN MORGENSTERN!

Today, October 24, 2020, Dan Morgenstern celebrates his ninety-first birthday, and we celebrate him.  He’s been an eager participant on the jazz scene since his mother took him to see Fats Waller and the Quintette of the Hot Club of France in 1939; he’s hung out with Louis, Billie, Duke, Lester, Bird, Miles, Stan, Rowles, and a hundred others; if there was a jazz event in New York, Boston, or Chicago in the last seventy years, chances are he was there and wrote about it.  I could continue, but I’d rather let him speak for himself.

Since spring 2017, I’ve had the immense privilege of bringing my camera to Dan’s Upper West Side apartment and capturing his singular memories: you can find memorable ones on the blog.  But for today, I offer two interview segments that have not been seen.

Dan talks about Ella:

Ella in 1936 with Teddy Wilson, Frank Newton, Bennie Morton, Jerry Blake, Teddy McRae, Leemie Stanfield, John Trueheart, and Cozy Cole:

and about Lena, Maxine, and Eva Taylor (I apologize for the ragged ending of the segment, but YouTube refused to let me be any neater):

Lena in 1941 with Teddy Wilson, Bennie Morton, Emmett Berry, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Williams, J.C. Heard:

Maxine in 1938 with Bobby Hackett, Bud Freeman, Chester Hazlett, and others:

Eva Taylor, 1926, with Clarence Williams and Charlie Irvis, others unidentified:

and fifty years later (!) with the Peruna Jazz Band:

We are so fortunate to have our Jazz Eminence, Mister Morgenstern, with us!

May your happiness increase!

“WHAT ARE THIS BLISS?”

The music you will hear below is is my new favorite experience.  Because of it, I want to go back to 1932 and (respectfully) hug Marion Harris (so stylish, above) or at least invite her to dine, although my implausible devotion keeps on being interrupted by laughter.  Please put down what you are doing and join me for three minutes and thirteen seconds:

I don’t know if I love this performance more because of its deadpan wackiness — which is to say, Ms. Harris’ complete sweet sincerity, making the verbal jokes more perilously hilarious — or is it because I taught college English for more than forty years to young men and women who blithely could say “Him and me”?  Or is it the combination of those two elements?  I also feel that Ms. Harris’ seriousness is truly adult: this is not baby-talk in a child’s voice (think of Dot Dare and Helen Kane and others of the time).  I believe her completely, down to her sigh after the word “kiss,” even though, were she a student, I would have commended the sincerity of her ideas while walking her through the doors of the Writing Center for an extended stay.

Another wonderful aspect of this recording is its thoughtful, delicate tempo: other recordings I’ve heard, thanks to YouTube, take this song as a fairly quick one-step, emphasizing its comedy.  The one film version, where ingenue Pat Paterson sings it in a 1934 Spencer Tracy Film, BOTTOMS UP, also presents it as a comic turn.  Ms. Harris’s slower tempo permits the song to exist simultaneously as a love ballad where the singer is discovering these new emotions and as a verbal tour-de-force.

What I do know about this recording is, as we say, not much.  Ms. Harris recorded the then-current pop song (music by J. Russel Robinson, lyrics by Mercer Cook) in May 1932 in England.  No reference work on my shelves says anything about this dear recording — it’s not “jazz” enough for the chroniclers — so I know nothing about Ms. Harris’ accompanists, except my ears tell me that the unidentified guitarist has learned his Eddie Lang deeply and well.

But this just in!  Informed evidence from the masterful guitarist Martin Wheatley:

As to the guitarist, I would say the most likely candidate is Len Fillis. Albert Harris and Ivor Mairants would have been contenders had the record been made a few years later. Even so Fillis would be favourite. In addition, the pianist sounds to me rather like Sid Bright, Fillis’ regular partner-in-crime. And in addition to that I found that Fillis recorded with Marton Harris in London on 2nd June that same year – Spring Is Here Again. It all points in one direction ! 

And, not incidentally, I think these lyrics would be fiendishly difficult to memorize and to perform without a piece of paper to glance at: the reasonably-literate singer would want to supply grammatically correct alternatives: think of Jo Stafford singing off-key and out-of-time as “Darlene Edwards.”

I would give a great deal to have been present at the collaboration of Robinson and Cook.  Did either of them suggest, “Am I In Love? I Am,” and then find out how little relevant rhymes with “am,” and propose this comic alternative?

As for I, I is smitten.

So I will listen again.  And if someone thinks, “Michael made this all up,” here’s empirical proof.  Another sheet music cover has Ethel Shutta prominently featured, and more than a half-dozen other recordings by American and British bands and vocalists are on YouTube.  But none so nice:

And that often overlooked but invaluable resource, the Internet Archive, presents 29 recordings by Ms. Harris — her complete electrical recordings from 1925-1934, with a less filtered copy of IS I IN LOVE? — here.  Treasures.

May your happiness increase!

A PRECIOUS BREW: BOB HAVENS, DAN LEVINSON, KEITH INGHAM (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2014)

I know it’s almost November, but the calendar is very forgiving when it comes to autumnal beauty, that is, until I have to take the snow shovel out of the closet.

Here, Kurt Weill’s gorgeous SEPTEMBER SONG is treated with love by this unusual trio: Dan Levinson, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; Keith Ingham, piano — who performed at the 2014 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend in Chautauqua, New York:

Speaking of calendars, Bob Havens is 84 here: he’s a marvel.

Extra credit question: is SEPTEMBER SONG (lyrics by Maxwell Anderson) more memento mori or carpe diem?  Show your work.  Here’s the original version, sung by Walter Huston:

May your happiness increase!

JON-ERIK KELLSO: “SWEET FRUITS SALTY ROOTS”: EVAN CHRISTOPHER, DON VAPPIE, PETER HARRIS (Jazzology Records)

One of the great pleasures of living close to New York City is the ability to hear Jon-Erik Kellso.  I’ve been following him around since our first meeting in autumn 2004, and he’s nearly used to me by now.  Given his many gigs before the pandemic — with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, as leader of The EarRegulars at the Ear Inn, stints at Sweet Rhythm, Birdland, Bourbon Street, and two dozen other places in the city — you would think I would have gotten my fill, but no.   He is subtle, imaginative, and consistent.  He “comes to play.”

Even given the deflation of the recording industry, Jon-Erik has continued to appear, but of late he hasn’t always had the opportunities to record as a leader.  A new CD on the Jazzology label (JCD-408) is a stellar example of his ease and passion.  Recorded in New Orleans, it’s a quartet with Jon-Erik, Evan Christopher, clarinet; Don Vappie, guitar; Peter Harris, string bass: no gimmicks, no jokes, just deep music.

People with ears and feelings can purchase a CD or download the music here.

May I offer you a taste?  Why, you’re welcome:

This music, so refreshing to the spirit, has many antecedents.  As jazz performance became more a product for audience consumption, certain conventions emerged and solidified.  (Small bands, I mean: big bands are another matter entirely.)  One was a balance between horn players and rhythm sections, which we hear on recordings from the late Twenties onwards: two or three horns, three or four rhythm players at least.  Over there, it’s trumpet / trombone / saxophone / clarinet / piano / guitar or banjo / string bass or tuba / drums . . . add thirty years, and it’s trumpet or trombone / saxophone / piano / bass / drums.  Recognizable formats, recognizable styles.  But, whether out of necessity or caprice, players tried out different combinations of instruments to see what would happen, and the results were always intriguing.  Or, perhaps these arrangements were pragmatic: the club didn’t have a piano or the drummer got a better gig that night.  Or it was a summer gig on someone’s porch, perhaps a band playing tunes in between innings at the ballpark.

I think of two most rewarding ensembles: the quartet that George Barnes and Ruby Braff had for a few years, and of course Jon-Erik’s EarRegulars, the latter of which I continue to document here with gratitude.  Of course, there were earlier improvisations on this theme, the most notable of them being the Bechet-Spanier Big Four in 1940.

This CD resembles the Big Four outwardly: trumpet, clarinet, acoustic guitar and string bass.  But there is one marvelous difference.  The HRS session had at times the flavor of a cutting contest, perhaps arm-wrestling — exhilarating but also combative.  (Muggsy’s style has been called “punchy” so many times that it requires an act of will to find other adjectives.)  But music made by people who like and respect each other has a singular flavor: call it swinging camaraderie.  As Mike Karoub pointed out recently, it is the difference between the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions and Jazz at the Philharmonic, meaning no disrespect to the latter (and noting that Buck played in JATP memorably).  SWEET FRUITS, even when the tempos are quick, is a delightful conversation where no one pounds the table.

Mind you, the music swings like mad — this isn’t jazz to nap by — but it is friendly, the kind of music that shows the listener it’s possible for people to play nicely, to blend their singularities into something lovely without obliterating their identities.  Definitely music for 2020.  And beyond.

I trust readers have gathered that I approve of this CD.  And I think its virtues — the surprising-but-reassuring playing by all four gentlemen, the way the rhythm rocks, the wonderfully varied repertoire (Louis, Fats, Duke, Billie, Bechet, Hodges, Morton, Berlin, and more) and the beautiful recorded sound, a special gift for people like me who often hear Jon-Erik in places where rapt silence is not the norm.  Jon-Erik is a fine writer, and his compact pointed annotations are another pleasure.

Here’s how Jon-Erik closed, after thanking the people who “made this possible”:

Lastly, thanks to YOU!  Especially if you paid to hear this!  In an age where music is too often devalued and pirates abound, your support of music is a deliberate choice for which we are grateful.

When you purchase this CD, you, too, will be very grateful.  And the link is here.

May your happiness increase!

 

THE WEATHERBIRDS FLY BY AGAIN

Seasonal Hot migrations: the Weatherbird Jazz Band has just paid us another welcome visit.  (I’ve posted perhaps two dozen of their performances, which are both gratifying and easy to find.)

Here are six more beautiful performances, mostly celebrating the 1925-28 sides that Louis Armstrong and friends created in Chicago, with celebratory glances at Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams, and the NORK.

The Weatherbirds, for these sessions, 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.  You’ll notice that I refrain from explaining and explicating: this music needs no subtitles, just listeners open to joy.

MY MONDAY DATE:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

TIN ROOF BLUES:

BLACK BOTTOM STOMP (today is Mr. Morton’s birthday):

SWEET EMMALINA:

and I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:

May your happiness increase!

WITH RUE MY HEART IS LADEN: REBECCA KILGORE SINGS FUD LIVINGSTON at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (with DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS, September 18, 2011)

This fellow is little known except to connoisseurs of late-Twenties jazz.  He was a wonderful reedman, imaginative arranger, composer of modernistic melodies, but perhaps more people know Fud Livingston because of one mournful song:

Here’s our Becky — Rebecca Kilgore to those who haven’t yet taken her to their hearts — with Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums, performing this lament at the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend:

Performances like this — consistently for several decades — are why, when someone says, “Have you heard the new singer _____?  She’s great!” I often say, “Before you launch someone at me, do you know Rebecca Kilgore’s work?”  Becky’s individual mix of delicacy and intensity here is so touching — her quiet emotional fervor, her beautiful natural-sounding phrasing and diction.  She’s it. Dan Block matches her in feeling: his vocalized sound is close to tears.  And that rhythm section: the very soul of soulful understated support.  Watching this, I feel so fortunate that I was there to witness this music and how glad I am to be able to share it with you.

A relevant postscript from our Jazz Eminence, Dan Morgenstern, who, in the late Fifties, was “in between,” and working at Colony Records in midtown New York City, the hours 7 pm to 4 AM:

A sad note: Fud Livingston, not quite sober, with a guy he wanted to show how many recordings there were of his “I’m through with Love” which I looked up for him in that big Phonolog. He was gassed that I knew who he was, or had been. Wanted to do an interview but didn’t connect…he was in twilight zone.   (This would have been before March 25, 1957, when Livingston, fifty, died.  I hope he made a good deal of money from the song’s appearance in SOME LIKE IT HOT, sung with breathless ardor by Marilyn Monroe.)

I can promise you more treasures created at Jazz at Chautauqua, although this one is singular in its art and feeling.

May your happiness increase!

 

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

This is my antidote to the gnawing signs that winter, yes, winter, is coming — even though it’s over sixty degrees outside, the radiator is swinging out Blakey-fashion in my apartment and online sites are offering me forty-pound Thanksgiving turkeys for the crowd that exists in their imagination.

I plan to enjoy some time with the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn.  You come too.

Last week, I presented a lovely long set by Jon-Erik, Scott, Matt, and Neal (these names should be familiar to you by now) with guest Julian Lage.  If you missed this excursion, feel free to join in here.

Here are the closing selections from a long late-spring (May 30, 2010) session at 326 Spring Street, featuring in various combinations Danny Tobias, cornet; Chuck Wilson, alto sax; James Chirillo, guitar; Murray Wall, bass — and guests Dan Block, clarinet; Pat O’Leary, cello and bass; Tony Steele, bass. . . .although not everyone is present on every number.  I didn’t need to be reminded how much we all miss Chuck, who moved to another neighborhood two years ago.  Goddamnit.

(The selections performed earlier that night will appear next week in Part Twenty.  Have faith.)

BEALE STREET BLUES:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (the conclusion, very brief, good to the last drop):

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (the conclusion):

And a final romp on CHINA BOY by the original Quartet:

Until we meet again, ideally in person but perhaps here only for a time, may your Ears be full of good sounds.

May your happiness increase!

THE FOREST HILL OWLS: A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE

In the darkness, there are gratifying rays of light.  You can define that sentence in your own ways, but I have the pleasure of introducing you to a new band, the Forest Hill Owls.

I assume that the avian part of the name is homage both to the swinging New Orleans band who decided that would be a good animal to model themselves on, and the owls’ reputation for wisdom, inscrutability, and nocturnal energies.  (I could be completely wrong, and one of the Owls I know will write in to correct me: it could simply be that there are owls in Forest Hill.)

Chris Lowe, trombonist and leader, tells me that Forest Hill is a part of London where several members of the band live.  Nothing elusive about that.  They are, from the back, Nicholas D. Ball on drums, David Horniblow on bass saxophone, Martin Wheatley on guitar and banjo, Michael McQuaid on alto saxophone and clarinet, and Tom Dennis on trumpet.  I feel very fraternal about this band, since I have met, chatted with, and admired in person Messrs. Nick, Martin, and Michael; I know and admire David from recordings.  Chris and Tom are new to me, but I salute them also.

Here’s what they look like:

and here’s what they sound like.  Prepare yourself for exuberance that clearly knows the way.

First, ALICE BLUE GOWN:

and POOR PAPA, one of those Twenties sagas of marriage imbalance, at least in financial terms, sung by Chris:

Subscribe to their YouTube channel here: I did, not wanting to miss a note.

The virtues of the band are immediately and joyously evident: their merging of respect for past traditions (as manifested by Miff Mole and his Molers and the Goofus Five in these two videos) but their delight in going for themselves.  They are not afraid to swing; their solo voices are so distinctive, as is the synergy of the band.

I look forward to more video-performances and I hope, when life returns to some semblance of what we know and love, live gigs, audiences, prosperity.  Until then, I’ll keep watching these two videos: better than coffee for reminding the nervous system about the joys of being fully awake — which is what the Forest Hill Owls truly are.

May your happiness increase!

EUREKA! A LITTLE MORE MUSIC FROM LITTLE CHARLIE BATY, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARC CAPARONE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON (Redwood Coast Music Festival, Friday, May 10, 2019)

The words “2020 has been a year of losses” are a painful understatement.  One such human loss was the sudden death of the joyously energetic guitarist Little Charlie Baty, whom I met for the first and only time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, in early May 2019.

Here is one set of facts, as presented by the Sacramento Bee on March 15, 2020:

CHARLES ERIC BATY 1953-2020

Charles passed away suddenly on March 6, 2020 at age 66. He developed pneumonia and died of a heart attack while hospitalized in Vacaville. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he moved to California in 1961. He was preceded in death by his wife Sylvia, sister Paige, and mother Patricia. Charles, a well-known Blues guitarist, taught himself to play the harmonica and guitar at the age of twelve. After graduating from U. C. Berkeley with a degree in mathematics in 1975, he worked for many years at U. C. Davis while performing music at night. In 1976 Charles and Rick Estrin formed the group Little Charlie & the Nightcats. The group signed with Alligator Records in 1987. Charles retired from the group in 2008 but continued to perform in numerous venues. Services will be held Monday, March 16, 11 am at Klumpp’s Funeral Home, 2691 Riverside Blvd. Sacramento CA 95818, followed by interment at St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Those facts are useful — coordinates for us to locate ourselves in relation to Little Charlie’s sudden absence — but they are just facts.

Charlie (I find it hard to think of his gently imposing presence as “Little” in any way) was a precise, powerful player, but his appeal to me and to others was emotional.  He created melodies that, even when phrased with delicacy, felt strong; his rhythms caught us; we swayed to his pulse and his lines.

So here is the story behind the performance and the performance videos I present now.  I had an extraordinarily gratifying time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, listening to bands that might otherwise have been fantasies I’d dreamed of — now in the flesh, playing and singing.  Most of the music I heard was in small venues (the Morris Graves Library) and a few larger halls.  I walked to the cavernous Eureka Municipal Auditorium (thanks to Derral Alexander Campbell for supplying the name and also agreeing that it was “a sound man’s nightmare”) — a huge hall with a balcony running around its upper level — but a band led by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, and featuring Little Charlie; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, was scheduled to appear there.

I got to the hall early, and found an energetic band, not to my liking, more rock than jazz or blues, pummeling a rapt audience who had filled the front half of the hall.  It was loud.  When they had mercifully (to me, at least) finished, I looked for a seat in the front from which to video, but the happy listeners had no intention of leaving, and I climbed up to the balcony to catch my friend-heroes in action.  I set up my camera (small) and my microphone (sensitive but also small) and settled in to video-record the performance.

The sound people at this festival were generally superb — and what follows may reflect my predilection for small halls and almost-or-completely unamplified sound — but whoever was running the board for this set wanted a good deal of volume to fill the hall.  I have never been to a rock concert, but this sounded like rock-concert volume.  The music was splendid, but I felt like a pineapple chunk in a blender, and after a few selections I left.  As I walked to the next venue, I could hear the music from far away.  I write this long prelude to explain the unusual sonic ambiance.  I thought these videos were unusable, and when I sent them to a few of the musicians and heard no comment, I felt as if they agreed.

But this year — the desert of music as well as so much else — I thought, “Let me listen again.  These are precious documents: Charlie isn’t going to play anymore,” so I offer them to you — loud, funky, good and greasy.  (“Greasy,” for the timidly scrupulous, is praise.)

47th STREET JIVE, a series of life-instructions and exhortations:

CHERRY RED, a color Big Joe Turner found in life, not in a Crayola box:

FISHERMAN’S BLUES, for my pescatorian readers:

INDIANA BOOGIE: “the moonlight on the water” never sounded like this:

As I wrote yesterday here in a post featuring Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang performing CLEMENTINE (From New Orleans) at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, it’s been postponed to September 30 – October 3, 2021, and I am looking forward to being there.  I’ll tell you more as those months approach, but I have already purchased a 2021 wall calendar and marked off those boxes.  It’s never too early to anticipate joys.

May your happiness increase!

“CLEMENTINE (From New Orleans)”: DAVE STUCKEY AND THE HOT HOUSE GANG at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (Marc Caparone, Nate Ketner, Carl Sonny Leyland, Wally Hersom, Josh Collazo: May 12, 2019)

“She plays a mean castanet.” What better compliment could one receive?

Delicious hot music from the recent past.  Come closer, please.

Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang perform this venerable song, one many of you know because of Bix and Goldkette  — verse and chorus, and lyrics — for our delight at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 12, 2019. The gifted co-conspirators alongside Dave are Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Josh Collazo, drums; Wally Hersom, string bass; Nate Ketner, clarinet; Marc Caparone, cornet.

There was no Redwood Coast Music Festival in May 2020 because of certain cosmic problems you might have been aware of. However, brothers and sisters, one is planned for September 30 – October 3, 2021. We live in hope, as my mother used to say.

Because the microphone setup doesn’t always favor rapid-fire lyrics, especially from someone so animated as Dave, I reprint the words (by Henry Creamer: music by none other than Harry Warren) so you can sing along:

VERSE: Say, look up the street, / Look up the street right now! / Hey, look at her feet, / Isn’t she neat, and how! / Oh, ain’t she a darlin’, / Oh, isn’t she sweet, / That baby you’re wild to meet! / Here comes Miss Clementine, / That baby from New Orleans, / She’s only seventeen, / But what a queen, oh my! /

CHORUS:  She has those flashing eyes, / The kind that can hypnotize, / And when she rolls ’em, pal, / Just kiss your gal goodbye! / And oh, oh, oh, when she starts dancing, / She plays a mean castanet, / You won’t forget, I mean, / Down in that Creole town / Are wonderful gals around, / But none like Clementine from New Orleans! / Now, you talk about Tabasco mamas, / Lulu Belles and other charmers, / She’s the baby that made the farmers / Raise a lot of cane! / She vamped a guy named Old Bill Bailey, / In the dark she kissed him gaily, / Then he threw down his ukulele / And he prayed for rain! / Look out for Clementine, / That baby from New Orleans. / She’s only seventeen, / But what a queen, oh my! / She has two yearning lips, / But her kisses are burning pips. / They make the fellows shout, / Lay right down and die die die! / Her dancing movements / Have improvements, / She shakes a mean tambourine / Out where the grass is green. / I’ve seen asbestos dames / Who set the whole town in flames, / But none like Clementine from New Orleans!

AND “She shakes a mean tambourine”!

So, make a space on your 2021 calendar for the RCMF.  Bring your partner and the family.  But perhaps leave the castanets and tambourine at home.

And, to pass the time, Dave Stuckey has been doing a series of virtual Facebook broadcasts of songs — he sings, he plays.  Relaxing, refreshing, and my spiritual gas tank gets filled:

May your happiness increase!

HAVE YOU HAD YOUR SWING TODAY?

So you took your pills this morning with your coffee and you don’t feel any different?  You walked past the bed and it said, “Come back to me until March 2021,” and you heard its call?  A good friend texted you I HAVE GREAT NEWS! and you didn’t read the message?  Do you feel like an elderly carrot at the back of the crisper?  If you were a quart of milk, would you be lumpy and sour?

Before you call your doctor to see if she can see you today, ask yourself: “Could my Swing levels be low?  Have I been neglecting a flowing 4 / 4?  Have I been reading the news far too much too early in the day?”

If so, I have the cure for you.  No co-pay, no long list of side effects, no waiting room with tape across the chairs.  Just sit still and prepare to receive the healing infusions through ears and eyes.  Several repeated immersions will be helpful.  When you find yourself moving rhythmically in your chair, the treatment will be working.

I saw this video last night on YouTube (my faithful companion) and watched it four times in a row before posting it on Facebook.  But I think it’s my moral duty as an upstanding American to share it as widely as possible.  Here’s what I wrote:

When it’s good, you know it. And what I am going to share with you is light-years better than good. It’s what Marty Grosz would call “the real breadstick”: BLUE LOU, created by HAL SMITH’S OVERLAND SWING EXPRESS. That’s Hal, drums / leader; Clint Baker, trumpet; Loren Schoenberg, tenor saxophone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Nick Rossi, guitar; Bill Reinhart, string bass. I watched it four times in succession before writing this. Now I have to stop: Jack Kapp and John Hammond are squabbling in the next room over whether the band will sign with Decca or ARC. But judge for yourself:

Are you beginning to feel better?  I know I am.

May your happiness increase!

PLAY NICE: MILT JACKSON, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, SLAM STEWART, DUFFY JACKSON (Grande Parade du Jazz, July 13, 1979)

Some jazz groups “have history”: that is, the intuitive understanding that comes from playing often, even if not night after night, together.  (In the dating world, it’s called “chemistry.”) Other collaborations — by whatever circumstance — emerge when people who don’t ordinarily work together are asked to play for the public.  I don’t know whether the producer of the Grande Parade du Jazz, colloquially called the “Nice Jazz Festival,” decided it would be interesting to mix it up, or whether Milt Jackson said, “Here are the people I’d like to play with.”  I suspect the former.

But, for almost an hour, we have a set of music from Milt, vibraphone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Slam Stewart, string bass; Duffy Jackson, drums.  I would guess that Milt and Jimmie might have encountered each other as far back as the mid-Forties in California; Bucky and Slam worked as a duo and in many rhythm sections at this time; Duffy, the youngest of the group, had experience as Basie’s drummer.  Being a Rowles-devotee, my overpowering first reaction was, “Goodness!  Nearly on  hour of Jimmie in a different context, on video!”

Preparing this post, I looked in Tom Lord’s discography for any evidence that this quintet — or a near-relation — had recorded, and found none.  But Milt, Jimmie, and Ray Brown (and perhaps others) had performed a year earlier in Sao Paulo as part of the Montreux Jazz Festival tour, and here’s photographic evidence.  I certainly would like to hear this:

Milt, someone with great awareness, treats the repertoire as he would if presiding over a jam session, and calls songs that no one could get lost in — THE MAN I LOVE / STARDUST / BLUES / DISORDER AT THE BORDER / SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY / BAGS’ GROOVE //.  I don’t know, if when the set was over, the players said to each other, “Well, we got through that.  Did you see all those television cameras?  Damn, people are going to be watching this?  I need to lie down,” or if the general reaction was, “What a triumph!”

2020 criticism of 1979 joys will be discouraged.  I think this is a priceless hour, and am thrilled it exists.  I hope you feel the same way.  And I am able to share this with you through the generous kindness of A Good Friend.

May your happiness increase!

THE BAND THE ANGELS HIRED FOR THEIR PROM (January 15, 1967, Carnegie Hall)

Some may read those words as blasphemy, but the music is its own divine truth.

One of John Hammond’s best ideas, and he had many, was the two FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING concerts in 1938 and 1939: marvelous events with irreplaceable music from Benny Goodman, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Hot Lips Page, Ida Cox, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Count Basie, and more.  The music was recorded, and even with some technical flaws, it remains monumental.  Because of Hammond’s connection with Vanguard Records, it was issued there — first a two-record set, and more recently, on CDs.  (Like most CD sets, it’s “out of print,” but you can find copies.)

But this post is concerned with “newer” music . . . created in 1967.

In 1967, someone had the good idea of booking Carnegie Hall for a thirtieth anniversary concert, and selections from the concert were recorded and (five years later) issued on a two-record set featuring Basie, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, John Handy, George Benson, and Marion Williams.  I wrote on the back of my copy that I bought it at Record World, a local chain, for $5.29, on April 23, 1972.  (I no longer annotate purchases this way: life got more complicated.)  The segment I love the most has a distinct Basie flavor.

In conversation with a new erudite jazz friend, Randy Smith, I found that we both had hoped for this music to be issued on CD, but obviously the glory days of jazz reissues are gone for whatever corporate entity controls this music, and even the European issuers have not touched it.  So — since yesterday was oddly and happily quiet in my apartment building, the families and dogs elsewhere for the moment, I made a DIY transfer of the music.  There’s a certain echo-y quality, but pretend that you have been taken by magic back to Carnegie Hall on January 15, 1967, and let me — and us — have our fun.

Goddard Lieberson introduces the “Cafe Society Band,” with some rueful amusement that the crowd response to that fabled place is small (the generation that had heard Frank Newton and Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, and Basie there had probably stayed at home) and he stumbles over Milt Hinton’s name, but he brings on the celestial orchestra: Count Basie, piano; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums, for SWINGIN’ THE BLUES.  I won’t explicate the delights here, but these nine minutes have been special music since 1972, and when I return to this performance I hear gratifying surprises, the hallmark of the greatest art.

The solos and ensemble interplay between Buck, Ed, and Buddy are priceless, showing that the players so brilliant in 1937 were still brilliant thirty years later, without a hint of repeating their routines.  (How DO they age so well?)  For me, though, this is a post-graduate seminar in rhythm-section playing, with each of the three “in the back” bringing so much sonic and textural variety, playing little aural games of hide-and-seek.  Basie, especially, shows once again that he was not only the master of silence, which is not a paradox, but of how to push a soloist with the right note or propulsive chord.  I think only Sidney Catlett approached his mastery in this — when to bide his time, when to create one accent that would have the effect of a “Yeah!”:

“They called him a shouter.”  Big Joe Turner, who had appeared at Hammond’s original concerts, comes onstage.  In his later years, he often appeared to be very little concerned with what verses he sang in what order (although he may have had a plan that I am not able to discern) and the result was a kind of swing autopilot, where I and others just listened to the majestic roar and holler of his voice.  But here, on a blues called (perhaps after the fact) I’M GOING AWAY TO WEAR YOU OFF MY MIND, his dramatic gift, his sadness, is lovely and powerful.  Hear how he sings his initial “Thank you,” and note the wonderful support Ray Bryant gives him, Buck’s solo, and Jo Jones’ exhortations:

Then, ROLL’EM, PETE — which Joe and Pete Johnson first recorded in 1938.  Pete Johnson had been ill, but he was at this concert.  I’ll let Dan Morgenstern, who was also there, describe the scene that you will hear, as he did in DOWN BEAT (included in Don DeMicheal’s fine liner notes):

Then, for the concert’s most moving moment, Lieberson escorted Pete Johnson on stage and introduced him as one of the participants in the original Spirituals to Swing and the greatest boogie-woogie pianist. Johnson had suffered a series of paralytic strokes and had not played piano for many years. His old buddy, Turner, took him by the hand, and for a moment the two middle-aged men looked touchingly like little boys.

Turner dedicated ROLL ‘EM PETE to his old friend, as Lieberson and Johnson were about to leave the stage. Instead, they stopped, and the pianist seated himself next to Bryant at the piano and began to play the treble part of his old showpiece, Bryant handling the bass. Johnson was a bit shaky but game, gaining in confidence as the number built in intensity:

It wasn’t 1938 any longer, but it was a damned fine evocation, with Buddy Tate at his vocal best, Edmond Hall matching him in exuberance (Hall died later that year), Buck and Jo building castles of swing as only they could:

In 2020, no one who sang or played on that stage in 1967 is around to uplift us.  (I take pleasure in knowing that Dan Morgenstern will read this post.)

But their sounds, their passion, their grace remains.

May your happiness increase!

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

Won’t you come along with me?

Here is last week’s DOWNTOWN UPROAR, with its cast of glorious characters.  Or its “glorious cast of characters,” both being true.

JAZZ LIVES takes another Sunday-night trip to May 23, 2010, for a session with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, bass; Scott Robinson, tenor sax and cornet, and guest Julian Lage, guitar. 

Please don’t make any remarks about my sister (someone completely lovable to whom I owe so much) but here’s OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT?

It’s getting dark earlier: join me ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET:

IF DREAMS COME TRUE we know some of the shapes they will take:

and the DREAMS are so spacious they needed a second part:

The moody WABASH BLUES, plunged to perfection:

and its conclusion:

Here’s the first part of Lil Hardin’s STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

and its tasty conclusion (even though BARBECUE was an attractive person, not a meal):

How generous these musicians are — their gifts continue to reverberate.  Until the day we can meet in person, keep swinging wherever you are.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS IRA GITLER (March 22, 2019)

Yesterday I had a brief pleasant phone conversation with Dan Morgenstern, who to me is a Jazz Eminence, and it sent me back to my YouTube hoard of unseen video interviews.  I have been saving them, even before the pandemic, like a squirrel worried about the winter (Dan and I talked about squirrels) but I apologize for keeping this one hidden for so long.  It’s Dan’s affectionate melancholy remembrance of his “oldest American friend,” the jazz lover and writer Ira Gitler, who died at 90 on February 23, 2019.

Dan speaks of their first meeting in “the salad days” for jazz writers and the “Jewish Jazz Junkies” (Ira, Dan, David Himmelstein, Don Schlitten).

Dan recalls Ira’s entrance into jazz by way of Count Basie records, his development into a champion of bebop, then of Coltrane, and his early work for Prestige Records, his prose, his alto saxophone playing, sharply assessed by Joe Thomas, Ira’s well-meant rebuke of a young Miles Davis, and his hockey career. Ira was married to the painter Mary Jo Schwalbach, who survives him.  The interview stops abruptly in the middle of Dan’s anecdote about WBAI (thanks to ambulances going by) but you can figure it out:

Dan’s comments (some of them light-hearted) about Ira’s memorial service, Jon Faddis, and Lew Soloff:

and a brief coda:

More interviews to come: Dan recalls and considers Tommy Flanagan, Benny Goodman, Tiny Grimes, Jack Purvis . . .

May your happiness increase!