By the time I began to attend live jazz happenings in New York City, 1970, the block of Fifty-Second Street once known as “Swing Street” had lost its marvelous coloration: banks and stores now stood where for, about a decade, there had been a line of jazz clubs where one could hear the most magnificent music, with musicians playing not only their own gigs but visiting others’. Ben, Bird, Billie, Big Sid, Bechet, Big T — among a hundred others. All that remained was a few dozen photographs and some record dates that tried to simulate the energies that bubbled up every night.
But in 2007, when Jon-Erik Kellso started a Sunday-night residency at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, often with guitarist Matt Munisteri — the group was not yet called The EarRegulars — those sessions were the closest thing to Swing Street glories that I had ever seen, as the original quartet would delightfully grow with friends coming to add their voices to the swinging choir.
Since May of this year, Jon-Erik has been holding sessions outside The Ear Inn, and they provide the same emotional and aesthetic uplift. The music says in every note: We are not dead. We can still create joy. And we are happy to offer our wise feeling joy to you.
This happened again — most gloriously — on the afternoon of July 25 . . . a fairly quiet time in Soho, with many people having found some way to get out of the city. But those who remained in front of 326 Spring Street will, I propose, never forget what they saw and heard.
And the musicians were similarly transported: watching the performance that follows, please note the facial expressions of the musicians: Jen Hodge’s smile, James Chirillo’s approval, so evident, even behind the double mask. I’ve posted an exuberant sample from that day — the closing performance, THEM THERE EYES, featuring Tamar Korn — and here’s another wonder, James P. Johnson’s IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT:
They make it look and sound so easy, which is one of the marks of great art — what Castiglione called “sprezzatura,” or an inspired nonchalance. An extraordinarily lovely interlude by the EarRegulars plus guests, performed for all and sundry (did the passers-by feel the love as they trotted by?). The creators — bless them in long meter — are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; with Rafael Castillo-Halvorssen, trumpet; Shaye Cohn, cornet, Josh Dunn, guitar; Jen Hodge, sitting in for Neal Caine, string bass. Wondrous lyricism, a great feast of sounds for our ears and hearts.
I feel so much gratitude to them and their peers: I hope you feel it also.
May your happiness increase!