But we’re in 2021, in the land of blessed live performance, not simply staring rapt at the blue Decca label, and the expression on Albanie Falletta’s face says it all:
A daring little band — the EarRegulars — performing on June 6, 2021, at The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. The core group for this Louis Armstrong classic (written by Terry Shand and Jimmy Eaton) is Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet and alto saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. Eminent guests: Josh Dunn, guitar; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar. Please note the groovy tempo — not too fast — for this playful inducement to public and private displays of affection.
Another musical marvel, I think. Have you been? These Sunday-afternoon sessions will not happen when the frost is on the pumpkin. So get your musical blessings while you may.
And a Wednesday night at that same place — March 29, 2006 — from the cassette recorder I placed on my table, to capture the extraordinary little band led by the unpredictable Eddy Davis, banjo, vocal, and imagination; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone and a bamboo cane that was also a flute — provoking hilarity and awe; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Debbie Kennedy (whose birthday was yesterday), string bass.
Eddy could play the “standard” traditional-jazz repertoire, but his imagination was expansive, so the tunes for this fifty-minute visit to the past are far from the usual: COME RAIN OR COME SHINE (which Eddy sings and then provides a chordal roadmap for the rest of the band — before a patron wants to take a photograph of the band) / WHAT WILL I TELL MY HEART? (a song presumably new to the band, at a rocking tempo which builds a splendid momentum: I assure you I was not clapping along) / PLAY, FIDDLE, PLAY (bringing the balalaika to Eighth Avenue, then Eddy’s vocal interrupted by “miscellaneous instruments”) / WHERE BEAUTY LIES (Eddy’s original composition, which no one had seen before) / I’LL NEVER HAVE TO DREAM AGAIN (“the Conal Fowkes Show” which leads into Eddy becoming Billy Eckstine for a few bars, before Conal shows off his sweet way with a ballad, even at a trotting tempo) — songs associated with Frank, Bing, Slam, Fats Domino, Isham Jones, Connie Boswell, and more. What a mix of tenderness and assertive swing, lyricism and surprises:
Beautiful, idiosyncratic music, casting its own spells. We were so fortunate to hear and see it. And if you weren’t at a front table between 2005-6, I hope the sounds create their own magic.
It is raining in my world, so that is reason to work more on closet-archaeology (“What was I saving this for?”) and other probing questions, which led coincidentally to emotional-musical introspection. Thanks to Nick Rossi, who holds the lantern for so many of us, I wandered to this brief lovely rousing performance (November 23, 1937):
Three choruses and an extension, a masterpiece of individual improvisations and collective Swing architecture. Imperishable. If you need subtitles: the Benny Goodman Trio, which was Benny, clarinet; Teddy Wilson, piano; Gene Krupa, drums — performed live on the Camel Caravan radio program, recorded for us by the Blessed William Savory and shared with us by the equally Blessed George Avakian. (I understand there are many hours of unheard BG in the Savory discs, but don’t know the state of the negotiations that would make them audible.)
And one more. Anyone for pineapple and plumeria, still fresh, from June 29, 1937?
I heard these recordings when I was still in the first years of high school — the gift of a friend who had played clarinet in his childhood, who later, as a math teacher, helped me pass the Regents — and they stuck with me. Doug Brown, thank you across the decades.
Then and now, I delight in Benny’s enthusiasm, his special kind of melodic embellishment; Teddy’s marvelous pulse and harmonic surprises; Gene’s energetic delight. (If you think that Gene is “heavy” on these recordings, listen to the way Benny and Teddy are inspired by him, then ask yourself, “Is this what I am hearing or am I merely repeating what someone else has said?”)
And one other thing. These were brand-new popular tunes in 1937 (you can look up their histories at your leisure) so it wasn’t a ponderous matter of “the classics from the Great American Songbook,” but three masters having fun with new music. What a blessing such music was made, and captured.
Sharp-eyed readers will notice that October 12 has not come yet, so before someone writes in to explain my error, I am announcing an event that will take place in slightly more than two weeks from this evening. And it concerns this man, seen in the photograph above, the wondrous tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna. Here’s what he sounds like:
Now, imagine that sound backed by a different (but equally splendid) jazz rhythm section, and a string ensemble of three cellos, one violin, one English horn doubling oboe, one flute, arrangements by Larry and by Jack Saint Clair, the latter of whom will also be conducting.
Yes, you don’t need to imagine, but you do need to attend the event in real time as it is taking place at World Cafe Live, 8:30 to 10:30 PM, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. The WCL is located at 3025 Walnut St. Philadelphia, PA 19104 — not far from the 30th Street station. (I’ve been there: it was a very welcoming place.)
The price is $35.00 per ticket, and it is general admission: you can buy tickets and read about Covid-19 protocols here. Yes, you will have to show proof of vaccination; yes, you will be expected to wear your mask except when eating or drinking.
Yes, I am attending. Yes, I will bring my video camera, but even I — who prides himself on the possibilities of video-recording — will say that a video is not the same as being there in person. And, no (the first no!) the event is not being streamed, nor is it a seven-night engagement, and the WCL is not the size of Carnegie Hall, so, to quote the oracle Patrick O’Leary, “You snooze, you lose.”
And: before the virus changed the landscape, there were always a thousand reasons to stay home, and we know them well. Given the virus, there are more reasons. But: to me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Perhaps it is to you also. And, in case you want to know the source of the aphorism, “You have to get out of your chair sometime,” c’est moi. I hope to see you there — for beauty’s sake.
Rossano Sportiello’s latest CD, THAT’S IT! (Arbors Records) came out this year, and it’s a delight. That should be enough psychic catnip for anyone who admires Rossano, as I devoutly do, but perhaps some readers aren’t quite so well-informed. He describes it this way: “This brand new album contains a collection of Rossano Sportiello’s Solo Piano thoughts. It incorporates elements of bebop, stride piano, classical and swing into a mixture that blends completely together into something new. About 70 minutes of music, 17 tracks, with 12 standards and 5 originals. That’s it!” (This comes from Rossano’s website, a treasure chest of sounds, words, and thoughts: visithere for more pleasures.)
But perhaps this will do the trick where words cannot:
In some ways, those sounds — whether raucous or delicate — transcend explanation, but I will attempt some. I’ve been awe-struck by Rossano for fifteen years and more (and, not incidentally, he is one of the most gracious people I know) because he is a virtuoso who never lets virtuosity intrude on the music. He can cover the keyboard but he knows the value of a single note — he understands Tatum, Fats, Basie, and Monk . . . but he is himself. Another way to say it: Rossano, and others like him, stand in front of a century of improvised music; he and they have internalized it but know the artist’s responsibility is to (respectfully) smash the past into little pieces to create their own personal right-now mosaic.
He creates just such a mosaic on THAT’S IT! There are classics by Kern, Whiting, Gershwin, Rodgers, and Waller, as well as more ephemeral pop tunes of their day (GUILTY; I DIDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT) rendered beautifully — Rossano loves ballads and rhythm ballads, as you’ll hear. There are moments that suggest Ellis Larkins and Teddy Wilson, Dave McKenna’s locomotive-roaring-at-us ferocities, as well as an overall harmonic and rhythmic playfulness that, as always, shows us the depths of Rossano’s romantic, thoughtful spirit. I can’t predict where his motorcar is going to take me, but the view is always beautiful.
And there are five of his own compositions, which often suggest the great masters of the Thirties who could take a melodic phrase, turn it this way and that, and make it into a song we didn’t forget.
I can’t resist:
Tell me there’s something that Maestro Rossano can’t do at the keyboard. (An appropriate pause.) Pencils down, please.
You can purchase the disc or download the music at the usual cyber-oases, or, for something special, acquire a signed copy from the Maestro at his website.
For those of you muttering in the background, “I can’t buy one more CD, but I surely like that Rossano fellow’s music,” know that Rossano has created streaming sessions from his apartment (with guests and the occasional invisible cat) called “Live at the Flat in Greenwich Village,” and tomorrow’s episode — that’s Tuesday, September 28, at 6 PM, New York time — will feature instrumentalists Scott Robinson and Danny Tobias, who also have appeared with Rossano on Danny’s new CD, SILVER LININGS. And the previous fifty episodes (!) can be found on YouTube and Facebook, with appropriate links for those who put their money where their love is.
But I hope you’ll investigate and support all of Rossano’s enterprises. He brings joy to those who can hear.
Last Tuesday night, at the Dan Block / Gabrielle Stravelli / Paul Bollenback / Pat O’Leary gig at Swing 46, it began to drizzle during the quartet’s last song. I wasn’t worried about me, but about my camera and microphone, both of which survived. But it made me think, once again, of my anxiously protective mother, so concerned that her boy not get wet (showers and pools were OK) — so much so that in adulthood I compressed her warnings into “You’ll get wet, you’ll get sick, you’ll die.” Decades later, I got soaked in a rainstorm and, laughing, looked up at the sky and said, “See, Mom? I’m OK!”
Years ago, I remember Tamar Korn singing APRIL SHOWERS on gigs — its own kind of hopeful optimism — and when she appeared with her Metaphysicians of Delight (my band name) at The Ear Out on August 15, 2021, she pulled another meteorological rabbit out of her invisible hat with IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER, which is also a sweet lesson in mutability. That’s Tamar on vocal and spiritual guidance; Rob Edwards on trombone; Greg Ruby on resonator guitar; Jared Engel on string bass; guests Colin Hancock on hot cornet, Andrew Stephens on second trumpet (a swashbuckling California import, who learned a great deal from our hero Eddie Erickson).
Tamar was asked to form a group to fill in for the EarRegulars since leader Jon-Erik Kellso had to be out of town: quite an honor!
The song is one I associate with Annette Hanshaw, and, in this century, also with the splendid Barbara Rosene. It says: you’ll get soaked, and you’ll be OK, and even better. And the pleasure of seeing and hearing Tamar with a little big band.
The title refers to a swing panacea, written by Jimmy Mundy for the Earl Hines band of 1934, named for a libation that mixed rye whiskey with rock candy (sometimes with lemon and herbs) which, I am told, is making a comeback. Whitney Balliett recounted a conversation between Barney Josephson and Helen Humes in the Seventies about the potion, Helen’s drink of choice.
Here’s another version of soothing syrup with a kick, as performed by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums:
Bring back the Cubs, I say. The world needs their energies.
I think the great artists have magical transformative abilities. These four can’t make the noisy sidewalk still or silent, but to me it feels as if they are in my — and their — living room. They are having a good time and they make sure we are also. From left, Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar and vocal; Tal Ronen, string bass; Josh Dunn, acoustic guitar; Matt Munisteri, electric guitar. Tal and Matt were part of the EarRegulars that day for the Sunday session in front of The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City): Albanie and Josh were stellar visitors. he fellow in the blue shirt who’s part of the picture, early and late, is Jon-Erik Kellso, bringing the tip bucket around while he’s not playing his Puje trumpet.
Beautiful moments, captured al fresco:
And if you feel compelled to write in to growl about the people passing by, seemingly oblivious while talking, or perhaps the lack of microphones, please lie down until the impulse passes. Celebrate the magic rather than complaining about this imperfect world: magic happens all of a sudden, unpredictably, and vanishes . . . we must cherish it.
Because I followed Ruby Braff around circa 1971-82, I had many opportunities to see him in a variety of contexts. But I saw him in duet with Dick Hyman only twice, I think, and neither time was Dick playing the gorgeous pipe organ he has at his command here. Thank goodness for the BBC, which took the opportunity of recording Ruby and Dick in concert at a spot which had an actual Wurlitzer pipe organ.
I’d heard this forty-minute session on a cassette from a British collector, but only this year — through the kindness of a scholar-friend did I get to see the performance and have an opportunity to share it with you. The details:
Dick Hyman, Wurlitzer pipe organ; Ruby Braff, cornet, introduced by Russell Davies. SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH / THEM THERE EYES / LOUISIANA / HIGH SOCIETY / WHEN I FALL IN LOVE / JITTERBUG WALTZ (Braff out) / BASIN STREET BLUES. Recorded for broadcast on the BBC at the Thursford Fairground Museum, Norfolk, UK. A few audio and video defects come with the package: the occasional pink hue, the slight static. I’m not complaining. Annotations thanks to Thomas P. Hustad’s definitive bio-discography of Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY (Scarecrow Press, 2012).
Music that impresses the angels and moves the heavens. And speaking of blessedness, let us honor the durably lovely Dick Hyman, still making celestial sounds.
I’ve written elsewhere about the intense pleasures of the informal Thursday-night sessions at Jazz at Chautauqua. “Informal,” however, took on new meaning when the Emperor of Chautauqua, Joe Boughton, was involved and well: even in relaxed settings, he deplored the aimlessness sometimes prevalent at “jam sessions,” which would lead to his strongest aversion — musicians playing over-familiar repertoire. In my mind’s ear, I can hear Joe’s voice, although not on this, my sub rosa audio tape of one of several sets, and can envision him, a glass of Dewar’s in his hand, listening and observing with deep appreciation. As well he might . . .
Joe’s sterling idea was to have a quartet: trumpet, cornet, piano, drums — the sort of thing one might have heard at an after-hours session, but of course the intent was friendly rather than competitive, since Duke Heitger (trumpet) and Randy Reinhart (cornet) are allied in mutual admiration. Pete Siers rocked the room, as he always does, on the drums. And later Frank Tate set up his string bass and joined in. Yes, there are the usual extraneous noises (a few seconds of surrealistic “clapping along,” chatter, and some tubercular coughing) but if you were in the room you might have heard some of them.
I’m posting this now not only because it is both a wonderful memory and a wonderful experience, but in honor of the one musician who’s not around to enjoy the applause, the splendid pianist John Sheridan, who left us this year. He shines; he sparkles; he gets in no one’s way; he holds up the building by being his own multi-colored swing orchestra.
The songs are JAZZ ME BLUES / I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING / I FOUND A NEW BABY / A BRIEF ETUDE / JUST YOU, JUST ME:
Remembering that I was there is a great pleasure; being able to share this music with you is even greater.
My thoughtful friend Richard Salvucci introduced me to the Fifties recordings of pianist / arranger Elliot Lawrence and his big band, and I am entranced by them.
My delight surprised me: I ordinarily lean towards small groups with vivid solo improvisations. Years ago, I would have scoffed at this music as “Easy Listening,” “bland pop,” “businessman’s bounce,” played by a “society orchestra.” But this innocent-looking Decca session of songs associated with college life and college dances, merits more than a reflex dismissal. The collective personnel for these 1950-51 sessions is (more or less): Joe Techner, John Dee, Gerry LaFuru, trumpets; Rob Swope, Earl Swope, Ollie Wilson, trombone; Bill Danzien, French horn; Mike Goldberg, Buddy Savitt, Al Steele, Merle Bredwell, reeds; Elliot Lawrence, piano; Mert Oliver, string bass; Howie Mann, drums; Rosalind Patton, vocal.
Possibly JAZZ LIVES’ readers know of Elliot Lawrence because of his more famous Fantasy sessions devoted to Gerry Mulligan arrangements, or his work on many different transcriptions, but his very appealing music stands on its own. I present some for your pleasure.
Those who live for the next solo might be disappointed, for this is an orchestra more than a showcase for soloists: the shifting textures and voicings are so attractive. This is a well-rehearsed, highly professional group playing compact, deft arrangements — in time, in tune, with fine intonation. The band is subtle: it doesn’t get loud or strain for effect. Rosalind Patton was never famous, but her charming voice is eloquent in its restraint. She does everything right. (Alas, she was a chain smoker who died at 63 in 1985.) Even the choral arrangements on a few tunes — not my favorite thing — do no harm.
Listen for yourself, and listen to this half-hour for its splendid understated musicianship:
Here’s another example:
And something perhaps out of the ordinary, a 1948 “cowboy song,” that I wanted to hear again:
I am aware that some of my readers may have left the room, in search of more brightly-colored sensations. But there is something larger than my new fondness for the Elliot Lawrence Orchestra here.
“Jazz fans” and “jazz critics,” for the most part, privilege rhythmically-charged improvisation. “That‘s jazz,” they say. If a recording doesn’t have those qualities, it’s “sweet” or “popular,” and thus it is less worthy. But eager listeners have not always been ideologically-driven fans or critics. I would wager that dancers enjoying Henderson or Goldkette at Roseland, Oliver at the Lincoln or Royal Gardens, the parade of bands at Harlem ballrooms, enjoyed the music . . . if Goldkette played VALENCIA in 6/8 or Henderson played a waltz, those who could dance, danced to it. And records of well-played music caught the ear, and sold.
But divisiveness crept in — in the guise of “authenticity.” “Sweet” was for the older generation, the parents and grandparents who didn’t understand, were ancient, they couldn’t hear “the new music.” And for the self-defined jazz cognoscenti who truly “knew,” the real thing was of course “hot.” It was Louis on I MISS MY SWISS, Bubber on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?, or Bix on SWEET SUE.
It was a commonplace that you could find one of those discs with the hot chorus worn grey through repeated playing and the rest of the record shiny, nearly pristine. But the received wisdom was that people who preferred the “sweet” orchestra as well as the “hot” chorus lacked discrimination. Probably they didn’t even know the difference between Jack Purvis and young Bunny Berigan. Unthinkable!
Thanks to Richard Vacca and his BOSTON JAZZ CHRONICLES, I just saw a wonderful handbill advertising Frank Newton’s band at the KEN club in Boston, 1943: here. What struck me was the guarantee of authenticity to entice an audience: “They [the band] never blew a schmaltzy note in their lives.”
And from this sometimes snobbish hierarchy of what was worthy and what was not, a fascinating and perhaps perverse value system solidified. It was sometimes organized along racial lines: Andy Kirk’s band playing a Mary Lou Williams arrangement was “real”; if a White band played the same chart well, it was an aberration. Or it was “commercial.” The divisiveness could be read along Marxist lines as well: White musicians were imitators; White bandleaders were capitalist oppressors; Black musicians were original; Black bandleaders suffered because of White popularizers. Bessie Smith was genuine; Mildred Bailey a good pop singer. Real musicians suffered and died young; if you lived a long life without trauma, how authentic were you?
The musicians themselves were not reading these books and articles, and they were hanging out with their friends at the Union or the Copper Rail. Maybe they were jealous of X for getting that good gig, but in general they knew that music, well-played, was beautiful, and that it took as much skill to read a complicated chart as it did to stand up and create a hot chorus.
These arbitrary distinctions affected an audience that had never read Panassie or Hammond, as public taste changed over years and decades. Some “new art” aims to shock the bourgeoisie. If your mother likes your new record, there must be something wrong with it. It can’t be “cutting-edge” or “innovative.” People might whisper that you spent New Year’s Eve watching Guy Lombardo with your family. How very uncool.
But when did “pretty” music lose its value? Was it at the height of the Swing Era, where a “killer-diller” was seen as superior to a pretty ballad? Did the rise of a more abstract jazz in later decades set up a value system where if you could hum it or dance to it, it wasn’t worth study and emulation? Was “pretty” for squares too limited to understand Miles? Should we blame Wynonie Harris, or Elvis? Or the hauteur of modern art in general — I think of Eliot and THE WASTE LAND or late Joyce — consciously closing the door on the “average” reader, proposing a much smaller, more arrogantly erudite audience?
All I know is that when Richard Salvucci sent me music by Elliott Lawrence, my first reaction was, “That’s so pretty!” And “pretty” was not in any way condescending.
Here’s another illustration of the same principle, in the singing of Nat King Cole. He was an astonishing and influential pianist, but I know some people who say “He should have stuck to the piano!” in the tones one uses for traitors.
Consider this — one of the most beautiful expressions of expert art and deep feeling I know of:
His voice; his acting; his idiosyncratic rubato phrasing — those hesitations and accelerations — beyond words. For once, I am not obsessing about the people who “disliked” the YouTube video. Let them find their own pleasures, far from me.
But I am sure some readers of JAZZ LIVES will say, “That’s very nice, but it’s just pretty,” denying its sublime mastery. Imagine a modern trumpeter playing what Nat sings, if it were possible: would we not be awestruck? But he was “such a success,” “a great popular singer,” appealing to the unsophisticated masses, so perhaps some undervalue that performance.
And here’s a final illustration, dear to me for years. There’s no hot solo; the orchestral background is reverent, not raucous, but it is one of the most convincing pieces of art I know:
Here’s my mission statement. There should be some place in art for work that does not leap out of the closet and scare the viewer, some place for beauty that seems so very simple. Here one can quote Thelonious Monk or Aubrey Beardsley: I would rather that readers listen again to Elliot Lawrence and Nat Cole and Louis, and re-examine their own internalized value systems, give them a good shake to see if there’s any validity there or just a set of unexamined, now limited, beliefs.
I won’t enter into the squabble over whether the music I’ve presented is or isn’t jazz. I don’t care about those air-tight compartments with their neat labels. But these performances are frankly beautiful, and I will brook no disagreement.
It could be that “pretty music,” even “schmaltz,” varieties of “decorative art,” that touch hearts, that pleases a large amount of people, has more merit than we ever afford it.
We all may have reasons for thinking the spring of 2021 particularly memorable — I know I do.
But I will also think of it as the season of The Ear Out, a frankly miraculous series of Sunday-afternoon soirees (or revival meetings?) with the EarRegulars preaching the mellow sermon whose text, “Isn’t it glorious to be alive and breathing?”
Do I overstate? I think not. Here’s some secular-sacred evidence from Sunday, May 16, 2021, laid down by Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Joe Cohn, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass — the venerable chapter being SOME OF THESE DAYS:
That feels good. Bless this foursome, and thank them, too — and all the other memorable EarRegulars.
Roswell Rudd said, “You play your personality,” and in the case of Danny Tobias, that is happily true. Watch him off the stand: he’s witty, insightful, but down-to-earth, someone choosing to spread love and have a good time. And when he picks up the horn (cornet, trumpet, Eb alto horn) that same hopeful sunniness comes through. He can play a dark sad ballad with tender depths, but essentially he is devoted to making music that reminds us that joy is everywhere if you know how to look for it.
Danny’s a great lyrical soloist but he really understands what community is all about — making connections among his musical families. So his performances are never just a string of solos: he creates bands of brothers and sisters whenever he sits (or stands) to play. His jazz is friendly, and it’s honest: in the great tradition, he honors the song rather than abstracting the harmonies — he loves melodies and he’s a master at embellishing them. When I first heard him, in 2005 at The Cajun, I told him that he reminded me of Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, and he understood the compliment.
But enough words. How about some 1939 Basie and Lester, made fresh and new for us — with a little spiritual exhortation in the middle:
Now, that’s lovely. And it comes from Danny’s brand-new CD with his and my heroes, named above. My admiration for Danny and friends is such that when I heard about this project, I asked — no, I insisted — to write the notes:
What makes the music we love so – whatever name it’s going by today – so essential, so endearing? It feels real. It’s a caress or a guffaw, or both at once; a big hug or a tender whisper; a naughty joke or a prayer. The music that touches our hearts respects melody but is not afraid of messing around with it; it always has a rhythmic pulse; it’s a giant conversation where everyone’s voice is heard. And it’s honest: you can tell as soon as you hear eight bars whether the players are living the song or they are play-acting. If you haven’t guessed, SILVER LININGS is a precious example of all these things.
I’ve been following all of these musicians (except for the wonderful addition to the family Joe Plowman) for fifteen years now, and they share a common integrity. They are in the moment, and the results are always lyrical and surprising. When Danny told me he planned to make a new CD, I was delighted; when he told me who would be in the studio with him, I held my breath; when I listened to this disc for the first time, I was in the wonderful state between joyous tears and silly grinning. You’ll feel it too. There’s immense drama here, and passion – whether a murmur or a shout; there is the most respectful bow to the past (hear the opening of EASY DOES IT, which could have been the disc’s title); there’s joyous comedy (find the YEAH, MAN! and win a prize – wait, you’ve already won it). But the sounds are as fresh as bird calls or a surprise phone call from someone you love. Most CDs are too much of a good thing; this is a wonderful meal where every course is its own delight, unified by deep flavors and respect for the materials, but nothing becomes monotonous – we savor course after course, because each one is so rewarding And when it’s over, we want to enjoy it again.
I could point out the wonderful sound and surge of Kevin Dorn’s Chinese cymbal and rim-chock punctuations; the steady I’ll-never-fail-you pulse of Joe Plowman; Rossano Sportiello’s delicate first-snowflake-of-the-winter touch and his seismic stride; Scott Robinson’s gorgeous rainbows of sounds, exuberant or crooning, and the man whose name is on the front, Danny Tobias, who feels melody in his soul and can’t go a measure without swinging. But why should I take away your gasps of surprise and pleasure? This might not be the only dream band on the planet, but it sure as anything it is one of mine, tangible evidence of dreams come true.
They tell us “Every cloud has a silver lining”? Get lost, clouds! Thanks to Danny, Joe, Scott, Kevin, and Rossano, we have music that reminds us of how good it is to be alive.
The songs are Bud Freeman’s THAT D MINOR THING; Larry McKenna’s YOU’RE IT; EASY DOES IT; Danny’s GREAT SCOTT; DEEP IN A DREAM; LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING; I NEVER KNEW; Danny’s gender-neutral MY GUY SAUL; YOU MUST BELIEVE IN SPRING; OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT!; I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE; PALESTEENA; Danny’s BIG ORANGE STAIN; WHY DID I CHOOSE YOU?
On the subject of choosing. You could download this music from a variety of sources, but you and I know that downloading from some of those sources leaves the musicians with nothing but regrets for their irreplaceable art. Danny and his wife Lynn (a remarkable photographer: see above) adopted the adorable Clyde Beauregard Redmile-Tobias some months ago:
I know my readers are generous (the holidays are coming!) so I urge them to buy their copies direct from Danny, who will sign / inscribe them. Your choice means that Clyde will have better food and live longer.
Here’s what I wrote about this superb quartet when I visited them on August 31:
Between 5:30 and 8:30 last night, beauty filled the air in front of Swing 46 (Forty-Sixth Street, west of Eighth Avenue, New York City) thanks to Gabrielle Stravelli (above), vocals; Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet, Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
I don’t haveany video evidence for you, but with good reason: that’s a busy street, and occasionally the music was –– shall we say — intruded upon by clamor. But the music won out, of course, and it wasn’t a matter of volume, but of emotional intensity. I’ve admired Gabrielle for more than a decade now: her beautiful resonant voice, lovely at top and bottom, her wonderful vocal control. But more so, her candid expressive phrasing, matching the emotions of each song in subtle convincing ways. She’s always fully present in the musical story, eloquent and open. With witty lyrics, she sounds as if she’s just about to burst into giggles; on dark material, she can sound downright vengeful. In three sets last night, she offered a deep bouquet of ballads — and not only songs usually done slowly: FLY ME TO THE MOON; I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?, I’LL WALK ALONE; YOU’VE CHANGED; I’LL BE AROUND. A few vengence-is-mine songs — GOODY GOODY and THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY — added spice, and her readings of the first title and the second song’s “Good riddance, good-bye,” suggested once again that she is a splendid friend and perhaps a fierce enemy. Many of the other standards — NIGHT AND DAY, JUST IN TIME, AS LONG AS I LIVE — are well-established landmarks in the repertoire, but Gabrielle made them shine. She embraces the song; her singing reaches out to us, fervently and gently.
Her delight in singing to us was matched by that of her colleagues. Dan Block is quietly memorable in any context, and his sound alone was delightful. But he and Gabrielle had flying conversations where their intuitive telepathy was a marvel. Other times, he played Lester to her Billie, “filling in the windows,” offering just the right counterpoint and loving commentary. He was matched by Michael Kanan, master of quiet touching subversions in the manner of our hero Jimmie Rowles; both he and the superb bassist Pat O’Leary not only kept the time and the harmonies beautifully in place but created their own songs throughout.
I visited Swing 46 again last night, and the four artists just outdid themselves. And although 46th Street is not ideal for video-recording, I have two to offer you. But first, some updates.
Dan brought his most magical bass clarinet to add to tenor saxophone and clarinet: he’s always astounded me on that possibly balky instrument since our first intersections in 2004. In the hustle and bustle of the street — in Gabrielle’s closing lines of AS LONG AS I LIVE, a song about how the singer wants to take good care of herself, an ambulance, lights and sirens blazing and blaring, went by — Michael and Pat created one quirky inquiring beautiful phrase after the other, supporting, encouraging, exploring, even trading musical witticisms. And Gabrielle touched our hearts in singular ways on song after song.
And this band has a splendidly expansive repertoire: two “all right” tunes — I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT and IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME, a seriously playful LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME and a brooding WARM VALLEY — to which Gabrielle has created very touching, simple but not cliched, lyrics; an EXACTLY LIKE YOU where it seemed as if the whole band was ready to break into laughter at something, an enthusiastic SOON, a LADY BE GOOD where Gabrielle and Dan did Lester’s 1936 solo line (!) — a few more classic love songs, FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE than became LET’S FALL IN LOVE (with the verse), ISN’T THIS A LOVELY DAY which perhaps subliminally led into NIGHT AND DAY. The other side of love had to be explored, and was, in LITTLE WHITE LIES and ILL WIND. There was Gabrielle’s jaunty tread through YOU’RE GETTING TO BE A HABIT WITH ME, love via meteorology with A FOGGY DAY and a few more. One I cannot forget is Gabrielle’s reading of BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH — heartbreaking yet controlled.
I heard whispers that this group is considering a CD with some deep slow songs. I hope these rumors are true.
And there’s video. Imperfect but there. But it requires a little prelude.
I had checked the weather report obsessively, hoping for enough rain to bring the band and audience inside but not enough to make the sometimes-leaky building a disaster. No such luck. So when I arrived early and was greeted by the kind, resourceful Michelle Collier (a fine singer herself) I had resigned myself to no video. But, I thought, I could set up the camera, put it on the table with the lens cap on, and have an auditory souvenir. If my video and audio capers documented in this blog haven’t made it clear, I delight in having evidence of joyous creativity — to make it last forever.
I’d resigned myself to creating the modern equivalent of radio (and the black-screen audios sound quite nice) but for the third song, when Dan put the bass clarinet together, I thought, “I HAVE to capture this,” and held the heavy camera-and-microphone in my hands for nearly six minutes (hence the mildly trembling unsteadiness . . . no time to unpack my tripod and no space for it anyway) and I am delighted I did, because this LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is the most inspired conversation among a quartet:
I couldn’t hold the camera steady after that, but I found a place for it on the table, and I’m glad I did — for WARM VALLEY, with Gabrielle’s lyrics. Most lyrics added after the fact to Ellington songs seem out of place; hers do not:
I try to avoid hyperbole, but those are two masterpieces. I believe this quartet will appear at Swing 46 for the remaining two Tuesdays in September and the last two weeks in October. If you vibrate to the arts of this music, tender, solemn, hilarious, raucously swinging, you owe it to yourself to get to 349 West 46th Street, between Eight and Ninth Avenue (on the north side) on Tuesdays from 5:30 to 8:30. Gabrielle, Mchael, Dan, and Pat bestow blessings in every song.
I’ve admired Tamar Korn since I first encountered her at The Ear Inn and as the central spiritual engine of the Cangelosi Cards in 2009. She was a phenomenon then (I did ask her if she really came from our galaxy) and she’s kept on glowing. How to describe her? Passionate comedienne-poet might do for the moment.
Tamar and her Metaphysicians of Delight give us a multi-dimensional lesson in the art of slowing down, of taking it easy. That’s Tamar on vocal and spiritual guidance; Rob Edwards on trombone; Greg Ruby on resonator guitar; Jared Engel on string bass; guest Colin Hancock on hot cornet. Tamar was asked to form a group to fill in for the EarRegulars since leader Jon-Erik Kellso had to be out of town: quite an honor! And thanks to Israel Baline, too.
I feel so much better already. Don’t you? There’s more to come, so stay tuned . . .
I don’t have any influence with the Authorities, but I am worn down by the recent deaths of jazz heroes: John Sheridan, Phil Schaap, and now George Wein. When someone dies at 95, my first reaction is, “That was a beautiful long life,” and it was a long life filled with his energetic desire to give music to as many people as possible. Think of any musician active between 1954 and now, and they played or sang at a Newport Jazz Festival, whether the festival took place in Newport, New York, or was a traveling version overseas. And when I think of how music from those festivals was broadcast by the Voice of America, George’s eager spreading-the-gospel was cosmic. Think of every musician you revere — Billie, Miles, Trane, Louis, Hawk, Ben, Monk, Donald Lambert, Basie, Duke . . . . from Eli’s Chosen Seven, Vince Giordano, David Ostwald to Cecil Taylor — and there’s some documentation of them at Newport. And these concerts and recordings would not have happened without George’s fervent desire to make sure that his heroes got heard by the largest audiences possible.
I’ve chosen the portrait of George and Louis below for a reason: I think George’s ripples-in-a-pond effect on the music was congruent, if not equal, to Louis’. Imagine a world without the Newport Festivals . . .
But George was more than the fellow who offered Ellington or Roland Kirk a concert set and whose name was on the check. Early and late, he saw himself as a musician, and his great delight was to sit at the piano among congenial friends — the many incarnations of the “Newport All-Stars,” which included great swing-modern players from Pee Wee Russell to Warren Vache. Whitney Balliett, I believe, noted that his piano style was a mix of Jess Stacy and Lennie Tristano: he loved to swing and he loved to surprise. And he was an affecting homegrown singer, although he didn’t take many opportunities to do so.
His idea of jazz was ecumenical: here he is with George Brunis and Roy Haynes — a delightfully expansive band:
Please note that the live broadcast — introduced by Nat Hentoff, no less — came from a Boston club George ran, Storyville, along with “Mahogany Hall,” where Lee Konitz might have a week and be followed by Sidney Bechet, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz.
Here’s another sample of George at the piano, from the Nice Jazz Festival:
As I said, I found George to be an engaging low-key singer, with Ruby Braff and the wonderful Sam Margolis:
I never made it to Newport, but I did attend a number of the Newport in New York festivals, and they were memorable beyond belief. The last great Eddie Condon concert, with Lee Wiley, Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Joe Thomas, J. C. Higginbotham; the first jam session at Radio City Music Hall, with Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Vic Dickenson, and Gene Krupa; piano concerts that included Jimmie Rowles, Jess Stacy, Ellis Larkins, Art Hodes, Bill Evans; the Benny Cater “Swing Masters” big band . . . and others will have memories of Ellington and Mingus.
Without George, we would not have had what I consider one of the highlights of my life — perhaps twelve minutes by Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones. I wouldn’t have seen and heard Lee Wiley sing MANHATTAN. And because Ruby Braff was one of my earliest heroes, I couldn’t help but notice that Ruby had many many more recordings and concerts because of George, and George’s loyalty to the usually prickly Ruby.
There will be dozens of tributes to George, and all of them will focus on different facets of his open-handedness. From the late Forties in Boston (where he was friend and champion of Ed Hall, Frank Newton, Doc Cheatham, and two dozen others) to his last years, George approached this music generously, bringing us treasures of every sort. We would be so much poorer had he never existed.
I keep thinking, “Someday there’ll be no more Old Folks,” and since Jack Teagarden sang and played at Newport, I will close with Jack’s version:
Gather round, children. There was once a time when I could come out of the #1 subway at Christopher Street, cross the street and walk south to this joyous haven of sounds and people — between September 2019 and March 12, 2020. These days my city wanderings rely on the #2 and the #Q to Brooklyn, but the feelings I have for and about Cafe Bohemia are intense.
Pre-pandemic joys: they seem like effusions of joy from another world. But how they uplift! Yes, the WEARY BLUES is neither of those things, especially when delightfully exploded from within by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Ricky Alexander, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Sean Cronin, string bass. May these times come again!
For me, once wasn’t enough, so I hope you can make time to watch it again. It doesn’t grow old.
These performances are legendary and rare — sterling duets by Bobby Hackett, cornet or trumpet, and Jack Gardner, piano, rollicking telepathic improvisation. The date is approximate, but they were recorded in Chicago by John Steiner. Late in 1944, Bobby had joined the Casa Loma Orchestra, so this would have been like playing exalted hooky, especially with the barrelhouse joys provided by Jack — fun and frolic reminiscent of WEATHER BIRD.
My cassette copies came from the late Bob Hilbert and Roy Bower, and I am indebted to Sonny McGown for his educated commentary on these pearls.
The song is I AIN’T GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL, and there are three versions, presented here in possibly arbitrary order — they may be reversed in terms of actual performances. And they might need speed-correction, but my technical expertise stops at that door.
Take X: two duet choruses, two piano choruses (suspensions in second), chorus of trading phrases, duet chorus. Time: 4:12
Take Y: (rehearsal?) one duet chorus, two piano choruses, Gardner starts a third and then they go to duet, two duet choruses. Time: 3:48
Take Z: (second rehearsal?) one duet chorus, one piano chorus, two duet choruses with Hackett overblowing Time 3:00.
And here, thanks to Sonny McGown, is another acetate version of take X:
This sweet offering is for Charles Iselin, Rob Rothberg, Marc Caparone, John Ochs, and everyone else who holds Bobby Hackett in the highest esteem. . . . and those enlightened types who value Jack Gardner as well. I suggest repeated reverent listenings to this music, both raucous and ethereal.
Given the sorrow created by the deaths of John Sheridan and Phil Schaap, I felt the need for a different kind of post.
Todd Bryant Weeks, author of the fine biography of Hot Lips Page, LUCK’S IN MY CORNER, sent me the unidentified photograph below. He told me that the sender was a high school friend. “The face looked familiar and I thought he was quizzing me… But in fact it is from an old family scrapbook, and the owner of the scrapbook has passed away recently.” Todd added, “There is little or nothing to go on. The photograph was likely taken between 1950 and 1965 and may well have been taken in Massachusetts, possibly on the campus of Amherst College. The owner of the scrapbook is now deceased and his memory of the photograph was not clear enough to remember the time nor the location.”
Todd thought — and I hope — that some JAZZ LIVES readers might recognize this genial fellow. But beware: not everyone is or was famous.
See below! for a lovely answer to the question, provided by the wise Youngblood Colin Hancock, who knows.
And this just in, from eBay:
I can find nothing on either band.
The two pieces of tantalizing ephemera just remind me of a line from HAMLET: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your Jazz History books.”
Or, more seriously, there are always people playing and singing — documented only by a snapshot or perhaps as “Harlem’s Snappiest Night Club Entertainers,” than the books can contain. And that, whether at this distance or just two weeks ago, seems a wonderful thing, that the energetic music we cherish is overflowing its banks all the time, even if Ralph Peer of Victor wasn’t there to offer those bands a contract or no one can recall the banjoist’s name.
Here’s what Colin says about the happy man with the banjo:
The last addition to the Blue Ribbon Syncopators was banjoist Robert ‘Gil’ Roberts. Born on April 5, 1896 in Amherst, MA, he was a descendant of a prominent Black Massachusetts family that had fought in the Civil War as members of the legendary 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and Connecticut 29th Colored Infantry. Roberts took up the banjo at a young age, and eventually found his way to Buffalo’s North side where he met George West and joined the Blue Ribbons. He performed with them on all of their recordings for both Okeh and Columbia. He left the band in 1928, eventually travelling to Europe with “Eubie Blake’s Blackbirds” in the early 1930s. He later went on to perform with Josephine Baker and Louis Armstrong, before settling in Boston, then his hometown of Amherst, MA. He lived there working around Amherst College as a handyman, but also serving as a guardian to the limited number of African-American students at the school. He also was an honorary member of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band, performing with them for many years. He lived to be 106, passing away peacefully on October 6, 2002.
Roberts was more than a man with a banjo. Take the time to read this, please:
Phil Schaap, who moved on to another bandstand yesterday, was an unusually complex figure: he was his own novel, someone who deserves a Moliere or Henry James. Readers might know him as a tireless worker in the jazz vineyard: radio broadcaster, professor, writer, producer, enthusiast, and much more. Indeed, I can’t envision a Phil-moment that isn’t connected with the music: I cannot imagine him eating a sandwich, for instance, although I am sure he did. What I write today cannot do him justice, and I know that.
He loved the music, he loved the people even tangentially connected to it, but I think he loved facts the most. I have a magpie-mind, with fragments of information falling out of my ears, but Phil was several hundred encyclopedias packed into a tall talkative indefatigable human being. Baseball statistics, law cases, matrix numbers, reed sections, addresses, record label colors, telephone numbers, anecdotes, imitations of Jo Jones in full cry . . .
I knew Phil the way most people did — first, in 1970, as a disembodied voice coming out of a speaker, offering us music and words from Columbia University’s radio station, WKCR-FM, then, much later, as an eminent larger-than-life participant in the Hot Club of New York’s Monday-night Zoom sessions. But I also encountered him as the master of ceremonies at gigs — at the West End Cafe and elsewhere — and once or twice in 1972, between sets at Your Father’s Mustache, we actually had brief, somewhat tart conversations. Mostly I knew Phil as a series of observations, paragraphs, a sprawling narrative in human form.
He lived to spread the gospel of jazz. Making sure that as many people as possible knew the difference between the sounds of an alto and tenor saxophone was the highest goal. Finding “the best possible sound source,” too. Having us understand “the swing-song tradition,” the “Golden Era bebop five,” giving people “shout-outs” . . . he loved to do this and I think he needed to do this. Having a deep grasp of social-cultural-racial history was a true goal: reminding his audience that Teddy Wilson came before Jackie Robinson was vital to him.
Yes, he could talk beyond some people’s endurance, but he gave so much. Who else was interviewing Bernard Addison and Bennie Morton? Who else played Charlie Parker every weekday morning at 8:20 AM, ran day-and-week long festivals devoted to Louis, Mingus, Frank Newton, Coleman Hawkins?
There is a Phil-Schaap-sized hole in the cosmos, and not only the jazz cosmos. But the good news is that, in some way, evidence of his devotion and devotions will never go away. His interviews are being archived as I write this and will be available for us. And, like any great — albeit eccentric — teacher, he created students who have grown to be teachers. I think of the whole generation of WKCR radio hosts who have become our teachers because of Phil’s half-century and more, and an even younger generation: shout-outs (!) to Matt “Fat Cat” Rivera and Charles Iselin, among them.
One of my greatest heroes is the writer and editor William Maxwell, with whom I was privileged to work and to admire. In his last years, he devoted himself to playing the piano, his beloved Bach — but it wasn’t easy going. On his deathbed, facing the unknown calmly, he was with a young friend, who said, lightly, “In the next life, Bill, all those fugues will be so easy for you.” And Maxwell said, “In the next life I will not be making music. I will be music.”
Goodbye, Phil, and thank you for the decades of enthusiastic fervor. In the next life, perhaps you are a twenty-chorus Pres solo on SWEET SUE. You deserve no less.
Masters of the soprano saxophone Kenny Davern (straight soprano) and Bob Wilber (curved soprano) plus Claude Luter, clarinet, who played alongside Sidney Bechet on dozens of recordings and live performances, pay homage to the Master, with Marty Grosz, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums, at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France, on July 20, 1975.
SOME OF THESE DAYS / Wilber talks / THE FISH VENDOR / Wilber introduces Claude Luter / PETITE FLEUR (Wilber and Davern out) / ST. LOUIS BLUES (Wilber and Davern return) / DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND (Luter) /CHINA BOY (Wilber and Davern return):
Passion, control, romanticism, swing. You can hear it all.
I’m so glad and relieved that no one has written in to ask, “How come you post so much of The EarRegulars?” because then I might have to question their aesthetic. These summer revival meetings at The Ear Out have proven, performance after performance, that this band — in all its permutations — has no peer in The Groove, in swinging inventiveness. Here’s another example, Walter Donaldson’s binary ultimatum, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, a festival of daring sounds and inspired conversations:
I love them, and I hope they never have to leave us. Class dismissed.