Monthly Archives: August 2021

FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE 2021 WEST TEXAS JAZZ PARTY (thanks to PBS): WARREN VACHE, RANDY SANDKE, DAN BARRETT, JOHN ALLRED, RUSS PHILLIPS, PETER ANDERSON, WILL ANDERSON, HARRY ALLEN, NATE NAJAR, DANIELA SOLEDADE, REBECCA KILGORE, NICKI PARROTT, JOHNNY VARRO, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, BRIAN PIPER, FRANK TATE, RICHARD SIMON, FRANK TATE, CHUCK REDD, EDDIE METZ, RICKY MALICHI

I learned about this video of the Friday-night concert of the 2021 West Texas Jazz Party from my friend, the great drummer Ricky Malichi — and I settled back into fifty-eight minutes of pleasure . . . not the least of it being that the video was professionally shot and edited (beautifully) and I could be a delighted spectator for once. To explicate the twenty names above, although few of them need identification . . . Warren Vache, cornet; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Dan Barrett, John Allred, Russ Phillips, trombone; Harry Allen, Peter Anderson, Will Anderson, reeds; Nate Najar, guitar; Daniele Soledad, vocal; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Nicki Parrott, vocal and string bass; Frank Tate, Richard Simon, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, Johnny Varro, Brian Piper, piano; Chuck Redd, drums and vibes; Ricky Malichi, Eddie Metz, drums.

These selections from Friday night at the Ector Theatre are so beautifully polished, testifying to the immense professionalism of the musicians at the Party: without any commercial interruptions, it’s a wonderful advertisement for the 2022 and future WTJP!

You’ll see it’s not just a casual blowing session — there are some clever charts (who did them?) but the swinging cohesion is both typical and admirable.

Here’s the menu:

LIMEHOUSE BLUES: Sandke, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Redd

IN A MELLOTONE: Barrett, Allred, Phillips, Piper, Simon, Malichi

A LITTLE GIRL FROM LITTLE ROCK and LIKE THE BRIGHTEST STAR: Kilgore, Parrott, Allen, Sportiello, Metz, Redd

THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME and IT’S YOU OR NO ONE: Vache, Allred, Peter Anderson, Piper, Simon, Malichi

DOUBLE RAINBOW: Najar, Soledade

JUST FRIENDS and AFTERGLOW: Sandke, Barrett, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Metz

A delightful offering, and so well-produced. And thanks again to Ricky Malichi, who swings even when away from his kit.

May your happiness increase!

“TELL ME AGAIN. WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?”

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs — that’s Ray, piano and inspiration; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton — answer the musical question at the now-vanished Sacramento Jazz Jubilee (d. 2017), with the notes on the music staff written by Johnny Green as their guide, but also the many performances of this tune, including Bing Crosby, Coleman Hawkins, and Django Reinhardt.

I try to collect rather than hoard — the first is a vocation; the second a disorder — but I’ve been hoarding videos of Ray and his Cubs . . . the way I’d store food for the winter, until I have the good fortune to see them again. Soon, I hope. They mean so much more than canned tuna.

May your happiness increase!

OUR THOUGHTS ARE OF NEW ORLEANS

This morning, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, and is proving to be a very terrifying storm — on the sixteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I know some of my friends have found safe havens elsewhere, but I send these sounds out to everyone feeling the wrath of Ida.

Ironically, the apt sounds — melancholy but with a groove — were created almost a month ago, on July 25, 2021, at the Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass. The song? Hoagy Carmichael’s NEW ORLEANS, which I associate with Jimmy Rushing and Louis Armstrong, among others. Here it is, without words but with feeling:

I present it here as a prayer for durability and resilience of that “quaint old Southern city” and its people.

STROLLING ON SPRING STREET: The EarRegulars PLAY LOUIS FOR US — JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, JAMES CHIRILLO, NEAL CAINE (The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, July 25, 2021)

There’s an immense Groove to whatever the EarRegulars play: think Louis and Basie having a good time together.

Yes, those two deities are posing for a photographer, but I imagine them grinning at the music made by the EarRegulars one Sunday afternoon, July 25, 2021 (although any EarRegulars gathering would produce the same response).

That Sunday, the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass — lovingly playing Louis’ 1947 composition, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, which I think of as the sweetest song of reproach and revenge possible:

The EarRegulars have been appearing all summer at The Ear Out, details specified above, from 1-3:30 on Sundays. Have you been?

May your happiness increase!

IRRESISTIBLE DANCE MUSIC: “EARLY BLUE EVENING,” ANDY FARBER and his ORCHESTRA (ArtistShare 0186)

I shy away from hperbole, but the new CD by Andy Farber and his Orchestra is a triumph.

Watch, listen, and marvel:

I was informed just a few days ago of a package — the new CD by Andy Farber and his Orchestra, EARLY BLUE EVENING — and I started to play it and was so very delighted. It feels so comfortable and so convincing. It was a working band (for the musical AFTER MIDNIGHT) and it has that lovely cohesion that ensembles with regular work acquire — a sort of assurance, that “We know the way home,” so prevalent in the Swing Era and beyond. Listeners will hear evocations of the blessed past, of Basie and Ellington, but this CD is light-years away from a ghost band or “a cover band.” They are creating, not recreating, with heart and wit and strength. The CD features nine originals — memorable ones — two standards, and the wonderful appearance of Catherine Russell. Here’s the collective personnel, with a reed section adept in flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, and other wonderful things.

Andy Farber: leader, alto, tenor, baritone saxophones; arranger, composer
REEDS: Mark Gross, Godwin Louis, Dan Block, Lance Bryant, Carl Maraghi
TRUMPETS: Brian Pareschi, Bruce Harris, Shawn Edmonds, James Zoller
TROMBONES: Art Baron, Wayne Goodman, Dion Tucker
RHYTHM: James Chirillo, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.

You’ll notice it’s a large ensemble but it’s never ponderous. I kept thinking of how splendid it was to hear an orchestra with the power of a Broadway pit ensemble and the sleek witty grace of a small group. (My mind collects bits of data, as crows collect shiny objects, and I kept thinking of rotund Jimmy Rushing, who was a great nimble dancer.) I know some of the musicians through decades of admiring their work in person, others through their recordings, and they are superb — bridging the noble past and the delighted present with such grace.

Other factors that don’t always get mentioned are these: Andy’s compositions are vividly alive, and they don’t sound alike . . . they have scope and humor, so there’s none of the repetitive claustrophobia that some CDs have, where one wakes from a half-dream, saying, “Is it track 19 already?” And that scope extends as well to the recorded sound: you’ll notice in the video, no baffles and headphone — so the sound is what you would hear if you were seated in front of the band — only better.

I know the philosophical-practical question comes up, “Given all the music I have already and what I can access, why in the name of Emile Berliner should I buy another CD? And why this one?”

The answer comes in two parts. If you like jazz that swings without being self-conscious about it, a wonderful large group leavened with tasty soloists and neat section work, a phenomenal rhythm section, you’ll like this. To be simpler: perhaps the test of any purchase should I be, “Will this make me happier than if I hadn’t bought it?” It would be presumptuous to say YES to this singular audience, with its own likes and detestations . . . but YES.

This band rocks. Go back to FEET AND FRAMES if you need a booster shot of genuineness. I said it is irresistible dance music: my dancing days never happened, but I am gyrating in my chair as I write this.

And the second part of the answer is just as plain . . . jazz fans who truly “love the music” know that art is not free, and that we are in the delightful position — not a burden — of being able to support what gives us pleasure. And last I saw, musicians like paying their rent and having semi-regular meals also.

You can purchase a CD with all the side dishes — or a download at the ArtistShare website here.Then you won’t have to ask yourself HOW AM I TO KNOW? Because you will KNOW.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE BLUE OF EVENING: JOHN SHERIDAN, OVERHEARD (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2013)

My readers will know that pianist, arranger, composer John Sheridan died on August 24, 2021, due to cancer. I celebrated him the day after, here. But John’s beautiful sounds continue to ring in my mind, so it is only right I should share something only a few people heard — although many were in attendance.

Preface: here is the studio recording of IN THE BLUE OF EVENING, young Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey:

and, because it’s such a pretty song, here’s Sinatra’s 1960 “I Remember Tommy” version:

Even though I had had the Sinatra-Dorsey 78 in my childhood, I hadn’t thought about the song for decades. But during the pandemic, I began returning to the surreptitious audio-recordings I had made at the 2006 and 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua weekends, some of which I have shared with you. Many featured John (Joe Boughton loved pianists, and in those early years he had Sheridan, Jim Dapogny, Rossano Sportiello, Larry Eanet, and Keith Ingham, among others).

I had a digital recorder concealed in my blazer pocket, but knew that if I put it on the table to start it, my companions would ask about it, and that might become a problem, since I had not asked Joe for permission to record. In retrospect, I could have — because I was writing about the festival — but timidity won out. So I would go out in the hall or even up a flight of stairs, start the recorder, and come down to the ballroom. I had transferred the digital segments to CDs and then to YouTube, and was able to edit out the sounds of my walking down the hall and concentrate on the music.

But one segment, unidentified, came up in my progress, and I listened to it. Nothing but fifteen minutes of between-set talk, loud audience conversations around me. But I did not leap to delete it, and it is a blessing I didn’t, because while the audience was talking (released from the burden of Being Quiet while their heroes were making music, John Sheridan was experimenting with IN THE BLUE OF EVENING. He did not play it at Chautauqua and no studio recording of it exists.

I came back to it when I learned that John was ill. And it haunted me: faraway, lovely, the “tinkling piano in the next apartment,” although John was stronger than that cliche even when he was delicately outlining a ballad; perhaps “music when soft voices die,” although the voices were not soft: no one said, “Shhhh! Do you hear that!”

So I present it to you. Those whose ears are easily affronted, will want to pass it by. There is a pause in the middle, perhaps someone asking John a question, and then he returns. But give it your full attention — it lasts slightly over two minutes — and you will hear something precious: John Sheridan, in his element, free to explore because no one in particular was paying close attention. But we can, now:

There are many better-sounding videos on YouTube, more than a few of them mine, and John left a substantial discography. But I cherish these moments in the midst of noise as John’s elegy: in the noise of this century and I hope those to follow, his beauty will ring through and not be forgotten.

A FEW WORDS FOR JOHN SHERIDAN

We’re all so fragile, although we don’t like to talk about it.

The magnificent, understated pianist, arranger, and composer John Sheridan has left us. I don’t have more details except that he had been ill with cancer for some time. I knew him, off and on, for more than fifteen years, and this comes to mind: a performance from 2013 at Jazz at Chautauqua:

John’s playing was so steady, so trustworthy, that he didn’t get his due, except from close listeners and the musicians he worked with. Oh, he could make the best brilliant romping noise at the keyboard — his stride was infallible, and you can find his performances of Bob Zurke’s EYE OPENER should you be tempted to pass him by as insufficiently flashy. But his tradition was the steady swing of Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy more than pyrotechnics, and he had a deep romantic heart — his ballads were so very touching, and he got to the heart of the song.

We’re all complicated as well as fragile, but I both loved John and approached him with caution. He was definite about everything — no meandering, no ambiguity. He wasn’t loud, but he spoke in boldface. It was fortunate for me that he understood that I understood — certain things, anyway. I didn’t follow football; our politics were so separate that we wisely steered clear of any reference to the non-musical world. But I, too, loved Benny and Jess, and I would listen to John without offering dissent. I see him now in my mind’s eye — perhaps we were at the San Diego Jazz Fest? — late at night, at a cafe table, John drinking black coffee and being wooed into having a piece of cake because I was. There was a time we had fairly regular long phone conversations, where John could talk about how things were at home and I would offer consolations, and then the conversation would shift abruptly to the wonders of some Goodman airshot, John’s current pleasure, and I would listen, because he heard deeply and always was insightful.

When I wrote “caution,” above, I had reason. Through the kindness of Mat and Rachel Domber, I wrote a number of liner notes for the glorious CDs created by Arbors Records. I’d written one for a Sheridan Dream Band session, and had been privileged to attend the sessions at Nola Studios in New York — pretty heady pleasures. John liked those, and wanted me to write notes for the next one. I think I was over-enthusiastic and mentioned too many dead heroes as touchstones . . . X’s trumpet coda is reminiscent of Berigan, and so on, something I avoid these days. I don’t know how I found out, but John disliked my notes. I emailed him and said, “Let me know what you don’t like, and I’ll fix it.” Silence. I was paid for my time — Mat and Rachel were and are gracious — but John refused to speak to me, and this went on until the next time I saw him, or perhaps I got a chilly greeting at the next festival. Finally, I got him aside and said to him, “I’m very fond of you, and you got pissed off at me. Do we have to keep on doing this?” and he relaxed and we settled it, as if we’d been in feuding pals in a Warner Brothers film c. 1940. Of course he never explained to me how I had sinned . . . but we moved on.

I had emailed him a few months ago asking his permission to post some videos of his performance, and he called me to say yes, sounding older but still cheerfully declarative. And now he’s left a Sheridan-sized hole in the cosmos.

It’s on days like this I wonder if I should have stuck to collecting stamps (a hobby I had for about a week as a child) because I wouldn’t feel so grieved. But then again, I would have missed the uplifting happiness of hearing John play.

Swing on, Brother Sheridan, in your new neighborhood. You will be missed, and for a long time. You increased our happiness considerably, and your sounds will continue to work their magic.

NOT ONLY FOR VALENTINE’S DAY (Part Two): YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, February 14, 2020

Let us hope that our days and nights always have room for beauty.

I’ve posted performances from a delightful concert by Yaala Ballin, vocal; Michael Kanan, piano — at St. John’s in the Village, a welcoming Episcopal church on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village, New York. Valentine’s Day 2020 was a perfect reason for the charming event that Yaala and Michael have perfected, where audience members were given a list of classic songs and asked to pick two they especially wanted to hear . . . then, in true quiz show fashion, Yaala reached into the basket of paper slips, drew one out, showed the name to Michael, and that was the next number. Joyous and alive, and an intoxicating combination of emotional energy and a sweet embracing calm.

Yaala and Michael love and respect the melodies and the emotions that animate the songs, and they are also playful explorers: with the secure magic carpet of Michael’s accompaniment, Yaala can stretch the line, deliver some words in speech, offer suspenseful pauses: in effect, build new houses on familiar ground.  Michael continues to be heartfelt, swinging, and sly — within the space of an eight-bar bridge — his solos translucent marvels where melody and variations float as if skywritten.

I first met and heard Michael (because of the encouragement of the great saxophonist Joel Press) in 2010, and I believe Michael told me about Yaala in 2013 . . . so I have been an admirer for a long time. A long rewarding time.

A favorite of mine, UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE:

I WISHED ON THE MOON, homage to Billie but also to the song as it existed before she got to it:

Porter meets Kern, EASY TO LOVE / WHY DO I LOVE YOU?:

BEWITCHED:

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS:

Beguiled again, for sure. There’s more from this wonderful concert . . . and I hope we will see this magic pair again when the collective skies are blue blankets.

In the interim, you would enjoy Yaala’s newest CD, devoted to her non-relative, Israel Balline — with Ari Roland, Chris Flory, and Michael . . . I think it’s wonderful and said so here

May your happiness increase!

THE PAST IS WITHIN REACH: EDDY DAVIS’ “WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” — SCOTT ROBINSON, ORANGE KELLIN, CONAL FOWKES, DEBBIE KENNEDY at The Cajun (March 22, 2006)

THE CAJUN, by Barbara Rosene. Private collection, New York.

From left, the artist herself, coming out of the subway; street person with dog; (inside window) Sean, bartender; Herb Maslin, CEO, Charlie Levenson, jazz enthusiast; Eddy Davis; Scott Robinson; Jay, occasional Cajun host; Debbie Kennedy; Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Mr. Spoons; Orange Kellin. The Green Vespa is unclaimed. No doubt Arlene Lichterman was indoors, taking care of things. Be sure to linger over the windows above and their lively inhabitants. Thanks to Ms. Rosene for the identifications.
Eddy Davis, courtesy of ScienSonic Laboratories.

Ah, a Wednesday night fifteen years ago is so far away but also right at hand, depending on which lens you use. The distant past that isn’t really that distant when we can hear it.

Here is a recording of a Wednesday night gig by Eddy Davis’ WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM (or his NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND, I don’t know what name he was using that night): Eddy, banjo, vocals, leader; Debbie Kennedy, string bass; Conal Fowkes, piano; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone.

The recording medium was my cassette recorder placed on the table; the sound feels narrow at first but give it ninety seconds for your ears to adjust. They will.

The songs are STUMBLING / THAT OLD FEELING / STARDUST / IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD / AS LONG AS I LIVE / GOOD -BYE / AUTUMN LEAVES / MARGIE / SWEETHEART OF ALL MY DREAMS (Conal) / SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (Conal) //

Eddy Davis was the ringmaster of his own circus, both benevolent and imperious, and he allowed us to come in under the huge brightly-colored for regular visits. His imagination was hugely expansive, and in this performance you will hear how reverently his musical colleagues had chosen to follow him.

Within the first five or six minutes of this performance, you will hear the magical intuitive synchronicity that this working band had — they are having the time of their lives while expertly navigating the curves at any tempo. The solos are casually eloquent; the interplay is at the very highest level. And there are the hallmarks of an Eddy Davis performance: the idiosyncratic stream-of-consciousness chat to and with the audience, the surprising cadenza-false endings, Eddy’s vocals that initially might sound as if he was ordering breakfast at the diner but that soon reveal passion. I also cherish the unorthodox instrumentation. Somewhere that night, a quick walk away, a jazz group of trumpet, alto, piano, bass, drums was having their own good time, but the sounds these musicians got were special: their own sonic aquarium, with the most remarkable bounce at any tempo. And they could get up a ferocious momentum that makes me think of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four or the 1938 Basie band: hear the outchorus of SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL.

The Cajun was a scene in itself even when the music wasn’t playing — a vanished world where art and commerce looked warily at each other and settled in for the evening — and I miss it deeply.

So here’s an unedited visit to that world, an ordinary night in 2006 where the music was anything but ordinary:

What a privilege to have been there; I hope you feel it too, even if you were elsewhere that night.

Postscript: if you’re charmed by Barbara Rosene’s art (and she has a wide range) you can see more of it here.

May your happiness increase!

ROMPING WITH The EarRegulars: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, JAMES CHIRILLO, NEAL CAINE (The Ear Out, July 25, 2021)

Just plain magic.

Yesterday I shared a gliding performance of a Shelton Brooks classic, DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL, by Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass:

It was met with delightful enthusiasm: around 1800 views on YouTube in 24 hours. I don’t know how to explain this explosion of good taste, but it cheers me immensely. So, while we in the Northeast US wait to see what Hurricane Henri has in store for us, I’ve been playing the video of another Shelton Brooks hit loudly — to compete with the rain. The song is SOME OF THESE DAYS, which Sophie Tucker wisely made her theme song, and jazz musicians from the ODJB to Lee Konitz played it with pleasure — not to mention irreplaceable recordings by Louis, Bing, and Ethel Waters. Must be those minor chords!

This version positively romps: not just the solos, but the engaging interplay — how these masters listen to each other and conduct witty conversations in swing. Watch out for the humor in Jon-Erik’s solo (which starts low in the best 1929 Louis manner), John’s slippery epigrams, a magnificently surrealistic chord from James . . . and since the bass player is often taken as a supporting player, I urge you to replay this video to pay attention to Neal — walking the chords, improvising subversive melody lines while keeping the time right there, and his eloquent solo. Rare and uplifting sounds on Spring Street:

Thank you, Mister Brooks.

There’s more, but I didn’t want to overload anyone with spiritual exaltation. Except when there are hurricanes, The EarRegulars have been holding joy-meetings every Sunday afternoon outside the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, from 1-3:30. I hear tell that when the days get shorter and cooler, they will return to playing indoors on Sunday evenings, but I have no exact date for this transformation. Until then, get yourself there if you can.

May your happiness increase!

GLIDING WITH The EarRegulars — JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, JAMES CHIRILLO, NEAL CAINE (The Ear Out, July 25, 2021).

Doing that easy glide! Yes, it’s the EarRegulars, spreading joy once again — in front of The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York — on one of their Sunday afternoon spiritual- refreshment gatherings.

They are Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass. And this was the very first song of their July 25, 2021 performance.

Incidentally, the song was written in 1915 and published in 1917 by Shelton Brooks, the African-American (born in Ontario) composer who we also know for SOME OF THESE DAYS.

I have a sentimental attachment to this song: it was one of those my father taught me to sing when I was about 4, even though I doubt I knew what most of the words meant. Thanks, Dad, for a life where music is always restorative.

May your happiness increase!

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS (Part Two): MARTY GROSZ and his PEP-STEPPERS at Jazz at Chautauqua: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, PETE SIERS (September 22, 2012).

Marty Grosz, by Lynn Redmile.

Some nine years after this performance, I think of my immense good fortune at being “there,” and being able to document these moments. In those nine years, I thought now and again, “I’m going to save these for my retirement,” and now I can say, “Hey, I’m retired! Let the joys commence.”

These two performances — perhaps from a SONGS OF 1928 set? — are accomplished, joyous, and hilarious — created by musicians who can Play while they are Playing and nothing gets lost, nothing is un-swung.  For instance: the bass clarinet and taragoto figures created on the spot by Scott Robinson and Dan Block behind Dan Barrett’s DIGA solo — Louis and Duke applaud, but so does Mack Sennett.  The jubilant expert Joy-Spreaders are Marty Grosz, guitar and arrangements; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, taragoto; Dan Block, clarinet, bass clarinet.

Ask yourself, “Who’s wonderful?  Who’s marvelous?” and the answer is of course MISS ANNABELLE LEE:

and another hit (I hear Irving Mills’ vocalizing) DIGA DIGA DOO:

I feel better than I did ten minutes ago. You, too, I hope. Marty and everyone else in these performances are still with us: talk about good fortune, doubled and tripled.

May your happiness increase!

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS (Part One): THE RETURN OF JESS STACY, Newport in New York, Carnegie Hall, Sunday, June 30, 1974.

No, not Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, but my idea of a short intermittent series of self-contained musical performances shorter than, say, twenty minutes.

When I think of the marvels of my jazz immersion — being the recipient of a Jo Jones monologue; Kenny Davern showing me that my microphone placement was all wrong; speaking to and hearing Bobby Hackett and Teddy Wilson — I come around to Jess Stacy, a true hero. I didn’t get to exchange a word with him or get his autograph, but I was in the same room with Jess Stacy when he played solo piano. Never mind that the “room” was hardly intimate — Carnegie Hall has more than 3500 seats. I was there, with my little semi-concealed cassette recorder.

The sound is boomy and mushy (complainers will be cut out of my will) but those tremolos and ringing single-notes are still clear as day, and the shift from his semi-rubato introductions into tempo is like sunrise in Hawaii. He was a little slower, but he was himself.

This was another “SO-LO PIANO” concert at Newport in New York, and Jess played HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON, LOVER MAN, and I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU. The familiar voice at the start is of course Marian McPartland:

Bless Jess, I say.

May your happiness increase!

THE KIDS ARE DOING IT: “SIMPLY THIS QUINTET”

People of my generation — who watched cartoons on a black-and-white television set and wrote their college essays on a typewriter — often tend to be scornful of the youth they might call “those kids.” I’ve been guilty of the satire myself, having taught college freshmen and sophomores as my career. “Those ______ kids. They can’t do anything if it’s not on their phones. What are they creating besides text messages?” and so on.

But my decades of immersion in jazz, deeper and longer than my career, have shown me that sometimes the stereotype is false, because some of the great pleasure I continue to have is in listening to people much younger than myself, people who can sing and play but also could help me fix my iPhone. You’ve seen them on this site, I trust.

A friend from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (the alma mater of one of my heroes, the writer William Maxwell) asked me if I’d heard of SIMPLY THIS QUINTET. I hadn’t, but this video shows why she was impressed. They are serious, intent, and playful all at once; they not only understand the tradition but they are being it:

Here’s what they have to say about themselves:

Coming together at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Fall of 2018, Simply This Quintet was formed with the goal of reinterpreting the classic two tenor saxophone jazz ensembles of the 1950’s and 60’s in a modern jazz idiom through composition and performance of their original music. Since its inception, Simply This has been heard across central Illinois and is continuing to grow their following. Their first EP, Simply This, was released in August 2020. With the help of funding from the Presser Graduate Award received by bandleader Matthew Storie, Stepping Up was created.

“Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic we had not rehearsed or performed together since August 2020. Because of the unique nature of the group consisting of graduate students, we weren’t able to focus on this project until the spring academic semester ended.  We had a total of eleven days to figure out which eight songs would be on this album. In deciding on those eight songs, we rehearsed brand new music as well as considered music from our library of over 25 original compositions.  We rehearsed about 3 hours a day, every day, for those eleven days along with playing two gigs in town to get comfortable performing with each other as we explored this music. Our drummer Frank Kurtz affectionately calls these eleven days together “Jazz Camp”. The level of comfort within the ensemble grew by the hour, and we returned each day with new ideas to make this music ours. I believe Stepping Up  exemplifies the quintet’s dedication to the history of jazz as well as the future of jazz, as each member continues to develop their voice within the voice of the ensemble.” -Matthew Storie.

STEPPING UP will be available through Bandcamp, and here‘s the band’s Facebook page.

They’re worth your attention — and they defy the stereotypes.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD OLD NEW YORK, PART TWO: KENNY DAVERN, DILL JONES, MIKE BURGEVIN // JACK FINE, SAM MARGOLIS at BREW’S (156 East 34th Street, July 10 and July 4, 1974)

There was sufficient enthusiasm among the attentive faithful for more from BREW’S (I posted a set of Kenny Davern, soprano saxophone; Dill Jones, piano; Mike Burgevin, drums, yesterday) so I offer some more, without too many words to explain the deep effects of this music.

First, a set taken from the July 4, 1974 tribute to Louis Armstrong (a night where Ruby Braff, Sam Margolis, Vic Dickenson, Herb Hall, Nancy Nelson, and others performed) with Jack Fine, trumpet; Sam Margolis, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Jimmy Andrews, piano; Mike Burgevin, drums.

Even when it wasn’t a Louis tribute, it was clear where Jack’s allegiance lay — forceful and expressive — and next to him, Sam Margolis floats in his own wonderful Bud Freeman – Lester Young way. That little Louis-Condon (hence the ballad medley) evocation is followed by two trio performances from July 10:

and five more performances by the trio:

Yes, there will be more.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD OLD NEW YORK: KENNY DAVERN, DILL JONES, MIKE BURGEVIN at BREW’S (156 East 34th Street, July 10, 1974)

Living in suburbia now hasn’t all that much to recommend it, but in 1974, I could park my car at the commuter train station and in less than an hour be walking eagerly to a little hamburger-and-beer restaurant on the East Side, Brew’s (named for owner Richie Brew) that also, for a time, featured the best small jazz groups I’d ever heard. Here’s a compact sample of what was then so easy to find — a set by Kenny Davern, soprano saxophone; Dill Jones, piano; Mike Burgevin, drums: GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? / PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE / SWEET LORRAINE / ALL BY MYSELF.

Over my shoulder, I had a plastic airline bag (thanks to my father) with a cassette recorder and a better microphone, perhaps extra batteries and a yellow legal pad, which is why you can hear this evidence. It’s also thanks to the immense kindness of Mike Burgevin, who explained to friendly Dill Jones and intimidating Mister Davern that I was a friend, that I was allowed to preserve their creations.

Holy relics thanks to Patty Doyle, who was married to Mike.

I recorded a whole evening — perhaps four sets? — of this trio, which I would share with JAZZ LIVES’ audience if there is sufficient enthusiasm.

I don’t want to go back to my 1974 self, but I wish I could get on the train and spend a night at Brew’s: it was my Reno Club, where my heroes dropped in and played. That I have the sounds of an “ordinary” Wednesday night there now seems miraculous. I hope you feel some of that as well.

May your happiness increase!

TALES AND JOURNEYS: DMITRY BAEVSKY, “SOUNDTRACK”

Dmitry Baevsky is more than an expert swinging saxophonist and composer. He’s also a compelling musical storyteller, completely adept in all the languages of jazz. His new CD, SOUNDTRACK, is pleasing on several levels.

For years now, I’ve thought the terms, “Modern,” “Classic,” “Traditional” were spectacularly useless when describing the music I and others cherish: they were words to suggest primacy, superiority; words beloved of journalists and promoters. So I won’t diminish this restorative new CD by tagging one of those obsolete labels to it. I will simply say that it pleases the ear on multiple playings, and each time I hear it I come away with a feeling that Dmitry, Jeb, David, and Pete have important yet light-hearted things to tell me and other listeners. That’s precious.

Here’s a series of small tastes, full of brightly-colored energy:

On one level, this is musical autobiography — Dmitry is no newcomer and this is his ninth CD — that takes us along with him, from Saint Petersburg to New York to Paris. But fear not: this is not a series of musical snapshots, their meanings only fully evident to the photographer. Dmitry has chosen works by Rollins, John Lewis, Ornette, Ahmad Jamal, Vernon Duke, Dexter Gordon, Horace Silver, and the composers of KISMET. So it isn’t inscrutable postmodernism: “This composition of mine is what I play when I think about my first club date in Greenwich Village,” and each of the songs has a particular flavor, and each is given a tender yet rhythmically alert treatment. The liner notes by Dmitry, which are fascinating on their own, detail the connections between the peregrinations of a traveler and the growth of an artist.

Here’s something pretty, lyrical, and swinging — STRANGER IN PARADISE:

And AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

Lest you think this is simply a CD of standards taken at moderate tempo, here’s Dmitry’s own OVER AND OUT:

If you want to play the game of WHO DOES HE SOUND LIKE, I leave such capers to you. All I know is that Dmitry has clearly studied both the music in back of him and those melodies yet to be created: he embodies a tradition with its nose to the window, looking to see what’s next. A nimble player with beautiful articulation, he is deeply in love with sound, song, and rhythm. Thus he can be sweetly lyrical on a ballad or ride the rhythm expertly, both following it and propelling it. And each performance has its own quiet drama: Dmitry, encouraged by his brilliantly cohesive bandmates: Jeb Patton, piano; David Wong, string bass; Pete Van Nostrand, drums.

When I first received this CD, I put it in the player without reading the liner notes, and I was entranced by the variety of colors and suggestions. Later, I read the notes and understood it as (in some ways) program music, but I kept going back to the sounds themselves. I think you will, too. You might know the story of Sonny Stitt, on the Jazz at the Philharmonic bus, going up and down the center aisle, playing everything he knew — and that was a great deal — until Lester Young said to him, “That’s very nice, Lady Stitt. But can you sing us a song?”

Lester would have smiled at the songs Dmitry and friends create.

May your happiness increase!

“A CLASSICALLY BIG-TONED TENOR PLAYER”: THE MANY KINGDOMS OF PERCY FRANCE, thanks to DANIEL GOULD

If you already know Percy France, don’t spend another moment reading what I’ve written. Go immediately to www.percyfrance.info — where you can hear him play, read about him (tributes by people who loved him), and learn more.

But if he’s only a name to you . . .

Perhaps because it is often mistaken for simple entertainment, jazz is oddly distinguished from other art forms by a powerful Star System. There is too much of “the greatest of all time,” which negates the broader accomplishments of many beautiful artists. But those who listen deeply know that alongside — not behind — Louis, there are Ray Nance and Bill Coleman; alongside Art Tatum there are Ellis Larkins and Jimmie Rowles, and so on, creative men and women ignored in the speeding-train chronicles of Important Artists.

With that in mind, and the joy of discovering someone “new,” here is tenor saxophonist Percy France. He may be little-known or even unknown to many. I did hear him on the radio (broadcasts by WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s station, from the West End Cafe in New York, presided over by Phil Schaap), but I never saw him in person.

But before you assume that Percy’s semi-obscurity is the result of a diluted talent, let me point out that this summer when Sonny Rollins was asked about him, his response was as enthusiastic as it could be. The excerpt that caught my eye is simple: I never could beat him. We were good friends, and I think of him as my brother.

Let that sink in.

And since you might be saying, “All right . . . praised by Sonny. What did he sound like?” here are three samples, thanks to Daniel Gould, about whom I will have more to say.

Here’s Percy, fluid, melodic, cheerfully making the over-familiar come alive:

and a different kind of groove, quietly lyrical:

France plays Fats, light-hearted and witty:

I admire honest deep research unashamedly, since often what’s passed off as information is made of cardboard. So I present to you Daniel Gould’s wonderful Percy France site — solid and ever-growing — his energetic tribute to a musician who should be cherished as more than a name in a discography: www.percyfrance.info will take you there.

Daniel has done and continues to do the great hard work of the reverent researcher: he proceeds without ideological distortion, for his sole purpose is to ensure that Percy and his music (as if one could separate the two) are not going to be forgotten. And, also quietly and without fanfare, he wants us to honor Percy as an individualist, someone “with his own voice,” not simply another “tough tenor” following well-worn paths.

To the site. What will you find there? First a biography (audio as well as print) documenting his too-brief life (1928-1992) his musical development, his associations with Sonny Rollins, Bill Doggett, Jimmy Smith, Freddie Roach, Sir Charles Thompson. Charlie Parker and Count Basie make cameo appearances as well. Then, even more beautiful, remembrances by Doggett, Bill Easley, Allen Lowe, Mike LeDonne, Sascha Feinstein, Michael Hashim, Sammy Price, Randy Sandke, Chris Flory, Scott Hamilton and others — all testifying to Percy’s qualities as musician and gentleman.

Then the treasure-box opens, revealing hours of unknown enlightenment and pleasure: a session by session listing, complete with newspaper clippings, photographs, record labels — first, Percy’s King and Blue Note record dates of 1949-1962.

The sessions continue — 1977-81, live dates featuring Percy alongside Doc Cheatham, Sammy Price, Chris Flory, Loren Schoenberg, Randy Sandke, Allen Lowe, Dick Katz, and others . . . and here Daniel has provided selections from these wonderful and wonderfully rare performances.

Finally, and most expansively, the period 1982-1990, is documented through the Leonard Gaskin Papers held at the Smithsonian — and it contains seventy-five percent of Percy’s recorded work . . . with Gaskin, Cliff Smalls, Oliver Jackson, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Lance Hayward, Bill Pemberton, Major Holley, Bob Neloms, Bill Berry, Wild Bill Davis, Big John Patton, Doug Lawrence, and others. And there’s MUSIC . . . my goodness, how much music there is. I abandoned my chores for the better part of the day to listen, and I still have more to hear.

A few more words about Daniel Gould and his site. He is a clear fluent writer; his site is a pleasure to visit, and the treasures overflow. And he has a purpose: that Percy France, one of the lovely creators now no longer on the planet, shall be remembered with the attention and affection he deserves. I delight in Percy and in Daniel’s efforts.

May your happiness increase!

MORE HOT SOUNDS FROM The CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at The 2019 JUVAE MINI-FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (March 30, 2019)

For relief from my attempts to tidy my apartment (think Sisyphus with myopia and a short attention span) I turn to the more cheerful task of tidying my YouTube archives.

I have preserved somewhere around eight thousand videos, recorded from 2007 to this summer, and some of them are labeled in ways that make them elusive. But you and I benefit from my disorder, since wonders emerge and can be shared.

March 2019 seems like decades ago, but it wasn’t — in calendar time. Because of kind invitations from the Juvae Jazz Society, I found myself in Decatur, Illinois, for a one-day jazz festival that also featured Petra van Nuis and her Recession Seven and local hero Bob Havens. I video-recorded several sets by the Chicago Cellar Boys, and I think four posts on JAZZ LIVES resulted. But here are some you ain’t tuned in to yet. The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, saxophones, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Dave Bock, tuba; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo and guitar.

GULF COAST BLUES:

I FOUND A NEW BABY:

WILD MAN BLUES:

BEER GARDEN BLUES comes from 1933, and celebrates the end of Prohibition: Clarence Williams gave it new lyrics and it became SWING, BROTHER, SWING a few years later:

I understand the CCB played splendidly at the most recent Bix Festival — may they once again delight us at many venues. Until then, I have posted nearly sixty performances by this flexible, inventive hot group, so there’s much more to delight you.

May your happiness increase!

“BLUES IN THE CLOSET”: MUNDELL LOWE, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, DAVE STONE, CHUCK REDD, HARRY ALLEN: SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 21, 2014)

You won’t find my videos when you open your medicine chest in the bathroom, but this music heals.

Thank you, Oscar Pettiford, for your wonderful blues line. And thank you, Mundell Lowe, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitars; Dave Stone, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone, for creating such joy out of it at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Party.

Yesterday, I posted STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY by the same group, and then delved into my YouTube archives to find this delightful interlude — rendered poignant because Bucky, Mundell, and Dave are no longer with us, but also a celebration of Youngbloods Chuck and Harry, who are, so very much so.

Melodic swing is the best medicine: watch this, tap your foot, and feel the tensions of the day abate. I guarantee it, or your money back. And yes, JAZZ LIVES accepts your health insurance. Just show your card at the front desk.

May your happiness increase!

“STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY”: BUCKY PIZZARELLI, MUNDELL LOWE, DAVE STONE, HARRY ALLEN, CHUCK REDD: SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 21, 2014)

First, I want to thank the very gracious Chuck Redd and Harry Allen, the surviving members of this ad hoc group, who (seven years later) have given me permission to share this performance with you. Alas, Bucky left us in 2020, Mundell in 2017, and Dave in June of this year.

It’s not a perfect video-capture: it takes the eager fans some time to stop chatting and realize that human beings are creating music in front of them, and the sound is a little distant, because the festival organizers had me standing at the back of the room . . . but the music is memorable, and it’s another slice of immortality for these creators.

I’ve posted other music from this party featuring Bucky, Mundell, Dave, Harry, Chuck, and wondrous colleagues — so I encourage you to add to your list of pleasures.

May your happiness increase!

SADNESS WILL BE GLADNESS, or THE JOYS OF SURRENDER: The EarRegulars Plus at The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street — JON-ERIK KELLSO, SHAYE COHN, JOHN ALLRED, JAMES CHIRILLO, NEAL CAINE (July 25, 2021)

Our culture celebrates victory, but sometimes giving in is the only way: this song dramatizes the surrender to love.

I SURRENDER, DEAR has an ache in its heart. (If you don’t know the classic versions by Bing and Louis, you owe it to yourself to visit them.) But sadness, whole-heartedly dramatized, is joy.

Thank the EarRegulars for this sustained burst of emotions, coming from The Ear Out (that’s located on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 3:30 in front of The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City). On July 25, 2021, they were Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass, with NOLA guest Shaye Cohn, cornet, joining them, adding to the collective lyricism.

If you can, and you haven’t participated in these Sunday-afternoon musicales, you are seriously missing out. And you wouldn’t want to tell the grandchildren that you were too busy with the Times puzzle, would you?

May your happiness increase!