Last July I was lucky enough to share with you the second portion of this duo-recital, performed by Jimmie Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna at two grand pianos at the Grande Parade du Jazz. I’ve recently obtained the whole recital, and although there is a break in MY FUNNY VALENTINE, it’s all here: the meeting of two magnificent individualists in the night air. Those who care to can dine out on perceived imperfections, but since we have so little video of Rowles and Hanna in their mature prime, I think such grousing is not a worthy subject. And if you have no idea who’s who, Rowles is dressed in green.
THESE FOOLISH THINGS / I LOVE YOU / INDIANA / MY FUNNY VALENTINE (partial):
MY FUNNY VALENTINE (concluded) / ORNITHOLOGY:
What a blessing that these meetings of giants took place, were recorded, and whether they were televised or not, the complete evidence remains. Technology of the last century gives us big rewarding hugs in these moments.
I first wanted to call this post THE DEATH OF HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS, but that title, although accurate, seemed too ponderous to be chewed and swallowed. So the BBC-mystery title shall stand. And the blank tombstone.
Maybe it’s collective amnesia, but can people forget what they never acknowledged to begin with?
What do I mean?
I have a large collection of photographs, and I found an extra one of a famous musician, an 8 x 10″ glossy with him in playing position, which I brought with me to a gig led by a then young artist who shone on the same instrument, someone of great promise. I gave him the photo, he looked at it, then at me, and said, “Who is that?” I confess that my first stifled reaction was annoyance, but I didn’t succumb; I didn’t rip it out of his hands. I identified the famous subject, and said, “Would you like it?” and he gratefully said he would.
That’s an extreme case. Is it innocence, shallow awareness, or something more?
But I’ve gotten into conversations with musicians I admire deeply, and bringing up some perhaps obscure name of a player on their instrument, the reaction is often a faraway look, with some embarrassment, and “Ohhhhhh. _______________. I’ve heard of them before, but never had the time to really investigate. Are they good?” And I think to myself, “You are a wonderful artist, but you haven’t put in the time studying the art as it exists and existed beyond your own mouthpiece, or fingers . . . ” It’s not limited to archaeology, for I’ve met North American musicians who live on one coast who are ignorant of great contemporaries on the other.
Now, these may be the rare exceptions, because I have met enough deep musicians who can discourse at length about the Ancestors: Mildred Bailey, Gene Krupa, Ben Pollack, Mouse Randolph, Pete Brown, Tiny Parham, Bernard Addison, and three dozen more. But when I meet this sort of sweet obliviousness, this easy acceptance of ignorance, it makes me cringe and then wonder. Where I come from. a lack of curiosity is a moral problem.
(I won’t linger on those who believe anything before Coltrane isn’t worth listening to, or those who “can’t hear” anything recorded before KIND OF BLUE because it’s so “primitive” and the sound is so poor. Their loss. Their substantial loss.)
You can say, “Well, these young cats are busy honing their craft, making a living, hustling from gig to gig. They don’t have the leisure time you do, Michael, to study the oeuvre of Frank Chace,” and you’d be right. But there is an odd technological twist to this situation: when I was a boy, I didn’t have to walk miles through the snow, barefoot, but much of the recorded history of jazz was not easily accessible to me. But I listened to as much as I could — from records I bought, from the local library’s collection, from FM radio. I learned as much as I could from books and liner notes. There was no Facebook; I didn’t start to have a jazz community of people who leaned as I did until I was almost out of high school.
Given YouTube and Spotify, and other digital resources, if a young pianist wants to hear nearly everything Teddy Wilson, let us, say, ever recorded, she has only to make sure her iPhone is charged and her airbuds in peak condition. I purl though YouTube some days and am open-mouthed at the rarities now easily available. The cornucopia is overflowing for those who are curious, eager to learn more about the art by which they define themselves.
I am reluctant to call this willful self-absorption, but some centuries ago, you couldn’t begin to call yourself A Poet if you hadn’t memorized, imitated, improvised on, analyzed the great works of the past. Serious study was your ticket of admission to the guild of craftspeople. If you wanted to be play cello in a string quartet, you had to have a deep immersion — practice and theory — in Haydn, Mozart, and the Elders. I never taught Creative Writing, but I have friends who do, and when students introduce themselves, “I’m five hundred pages into my novel,” and the question is asked, “What are you reading?” and the answer is either a blank stare or perhaps one contemporary author. Austen, Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner — new phone, who dis? Imagine an aspiring modernist painter who has never seen Kandinsky. Then imagine a young tenor saxophonist to whom the names Harold Ashby and Tubby Hayes are just names.
I wonder how an alto saxophonist can say, “Hey, I practice eight hours a day from the REAL BOOK, and I’m working on my own conception,” but never have heard Hodges, Carter, Pete Brown, Hilton Jefferson, to name four Ancestors. Yes, most modern jazz players know their Trane and Miles, but beyond that . . . ? (We can of course blame Jazz Studies programs in universities that begin in 1945, but they are too easy a target.)
I mentioned Frank Chace before, and when I asked him about his youthful immersion in the music, I said, “In 1954, did you also listen to Lee Konitz?” and his answer was an immediate, “We listened to everything. We thought that was a musician’s job.”
In recent years, I might meet a young pianist deeply immersed in Bud Powell, which is of course admirable. But when I ask, “Hey, have you heard Nat Cole, Billy Kyle, Kenny Kersey, Clyde Hart?” and the answer is “Who?” I have to say, “They are where Bud came from, pianists he heard.” “Oh.”
The musicians I’ve depicted (or you may think, slandered) above are myopic but they can be helped: no twelve-step program is needed. You’re a young trombonist and you’ve never heard of Bill Harris? Here’s five minutes of convincing . . . and curiosity takes over. Conversion isn’t the desired end, but education is.
But when I consider how this myopia has undermined the listening audience, I get even more depressed. I won’t even bother to invent fanciful names for imaginary bands (although I toyed with The Too-Tight Polo Shirt Collective and The Birkenstock Buskers for a moment) but I will just call them all SFB, for Someone’s Favorite Band.
So a fan I encounter after a festival set which includes some too-hasty Jelly Roll Morton compositions, complete with long drum solos, comes to me ecstatic, saying, “Wasn’t that wonderful?!” and I politely but sourly say, “They really made a mess of SHREVEPORT STOMP,” and I get what is casually called “the fish-eye,” but I continue. “Do you know that song? Have you ever heard the original version? Do you know the Morton trios, James Dapogny’s recordings, or the Bob Wilber versions?” and the fan is already starting to back up, appalled by pedantry. I imagine myself shouting down the corridor, “Omer Simeon! Barney Bigard! Tommy Benford!” as the traumatized fan runs off and calls for Security.
Or, even more prevalent, the fan wearing the SFB shirt and giving the secret SFB handshake applauds a rendition of some obscure jazz classic made rustic, the melody flattened, some important chord changes missed, and the verdict is, “They are the greatest band I’ve ever heard!” which may be true, simply because the ecstatic listener has heard no one else. Who’s Clarence Williams? Who’s Floyd Casey?
You may call my perspective a snobbish one, but it is as if (for readers who eat cheese), “Manchego? Brie? What’s that? Nothing’s better than Cheez Whiz in a can.” Go to it, I think. But I am declining any dinner invitations from you, no matter how nice you are.
And perhaps the fans feel that SFB is “keeping the music alive,” and if you count the millions of YouTube visits to videos by Someone’s Favorite Band, perhaps they are. But if the fans of SFB will only follow them, because they are The Truth, other worthy and more worthy bands go under for lack of gigs. The fan base becomes intensely narrow . . . and you cannot build a tall building on an upended plastic cup.
Years ago I might have despaired because I couldn’t hear the Ellington Fargo 1940 dance date. Now I can hear it whenever I want, and I despair because other people haven’t taken the time to hear it. Devoted fans. Eminent musicians.
Those who ignore history may not be condemned to repeat it. But if people don’t descend deeply into the art form they say they love, they are cutting off its air and are missing out on breathtaking creations. It’s all spread out on the cyber-table. But one has to start one’s own investigation, and see a reason to do so.
Let joy be unconfined. It certainly had free room at this July 10, 2014 concert put on by the Dixieland Jazz Club at Rossmoor in Walnut Creek, California. The source of the joy? Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
I always want to celebrate Ray, someone who keeps finding new paths to embody deep truths about life and art and the spirit, but today I post this jubilant video to say WOW in the name of two celebrations — you might know about them or not. Clint Baker has come back from a serious cardiac incident and is recovering well. If it wouldn’t hurt or embarrass him, a line of people would be at his door wanting to embrace him and to thank him for hanging around. And the quietly brilliant Kim Cusack, admired and loved for a million reasons, is celebrating a birthday. It would be indecent to ask him what the relevant number is, and an irrelevancy: he’s here on the planet and we rejoice in that fact.
And we rejoice in this music.
The news might be dark and the skies cloudy, but anytime we can hear the Cubs — ideally, in person, but also on lit screens and through speakers — it is a glorious day. We know them, we love them.
A note from the CEO: I’m writing this thirty minutes into December 27, the end of an extended period of Judeo-Christian holidaying, and a Monday return to work. I send this swing out to you who might be feeling a thud as a return to the mundane happens . . .
John Lewis is known to many as the musical center of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and we might think of four handsome, austerely solemn men in tuxedos . . . improvising sedately on near-classical themes. But John himself was a delightfully swinging pianist — hear his work with Lester Young and this irresistible, warm improvisation on I GOT RHYTHM, which he called DELAUNAY’S DILEMMA for Charles Delaunay.
This performance comes from a May 8, 1959 trio session where John is buoyed by George Duvivier, string bass, and Connie Kay, drums. I hear Kansas City and Count Basie in John’s bell-like swinging minimalism:
Appropriate to the season, here are three more holiday-wintry favorites, performed by Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, voice and drama; Rob Adkins, string bass; Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar and banjo; Gordon Au, trumpet, leader, composer, arranger; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Shane Del Robles, drums. Tamar, Molly, and the Grand Street Stompers had their HOLIDAY STOMP at the new venue, Chelsea Table and Stage, on 26th Street in Manhattan, New York City, December 3, 2021. These performances were recorded by Chelsea Table and Stage and are presented here with thanks.
Here’s a song that has wistful resonance, not just for December 25:
Who’s that man kissing Mommy? Why, it’s Kris Kringle as Shorty George:
and the other side of Mr. Claus . . . that scary phenomenon, in honor of Louis Armstrong, the truest giver of gifts:
This performance is both rare and familiar, famous and infamous, and you’ll hear why. It comes from a jam session organized by Joe Marsala from the St. Regis Hotel in New York City which was broadcast to the BBC — unheard at home. The eager announcer, jazz fan Alistair Cooke, is so eager to explain the new phenomenon of swing to the uninitiated that he explains — to some, insufferably — through most of the track.
But if you have the kind of first-rate mind F. Scott Fitzgerald spoke of, and you can listen around the well-intentioned Mr. Cooke, you will hear some astonishing music from Bobby Hackett, cornet; Marty Marsala, trumpet; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Dave Tough, drums. Source material from a Jazz Unlimited CD, GREAT SWING JAM SESSIONS.
I used to expend energy complaining about our Alistair, but as I’ve aged I hear him out of the corner of my consciousness while I prize the splash and drive of Dave Tough’s cymbal work and tom-toms, the ferocious joy of the soloists and ensemble. No Alistair, no jam session, even though his timing is off: he is like a little boy with short legs chasing the parade. Rather than complain, KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE. It’s a bubble, you know:
Hot in November for sure. And as Mr. Cooke wisely says, “This is no concert for people who don’t like swing.” Imagine this blazing out of your radio. And if you are so inclined to comment on Mr. Cooke’s loquacity, remember that he is an anthropologist introducing people to a new culture, and thank him: no Cooke, no music.
Going slowly can be a true art, enabling musicians who understand to get behind the song and let light shine through, also. The four people in these two performances are masters of those subtle arts: Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Dan Block, reeds; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass. They don’t double the tempo; Gabrielle doesn’t reduce the beautiful lyrics to scat-rubble. What emerges, bar by bar, is magic.
First, the Hoagy Carmichael – Johnny Mercer SKYLARK, translucent, tender, intense:
Mercer again, this time with Victor Schertzinger, for I REMEMBER YOU, with the brief but touching verse:
Here’s a vibrant paradox: the musicians who understand themselves deeply know that singularity is the great goal. Be aware of where you’ve come from, revere your heroes and know the tradition, but be yourself. At the same time, play well with others: understand that the community of jazz improvisation is sacred, and work for “the comfort of the band,” to quote Baby Dodds.
In this Town Hall concert, from April 12, 1952, that delicate paradox is on display in every performance. Here’s the roadmap.
This Saturday concert, produced by Bob Maltz, was billed as a farewell party for Wild Bill Davison, who was leaving New York to tour. It was recorded by the Voice of America for broadcast overseas, which may be the source of this copy. The introduction is by Al “Jazzbo” Collins, with Marian McPartland playing softly underneath his paragraphs:
BLUE SKIES / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU”RE IN LOVE WITH ME / HINDUSTAN Wild Bill Davison, Ed Hall, Jimmy Archey, Frank Signorelli, Pops Foster, George Wettling /
THE LADY IS A TRAMP / SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (Bushkin) – DON’T BLAME ME (Milt) – DINAH (Buck) – HALLELUJAH! – BLUES (Jo) Joe Bushkin, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones /
CLARINET MARMALADE / DAVENPORT BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES Jimmy McPartland, Vic Dickenson, Gene Sedric, Marian McPartland, Max Wayne, Tony Spargo /
ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE / STREET OF DREAMS / MANHATTAN / [Roy Haynes mentioned] ‘DEED I DO / I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON YOU Lee Wiley, Joe Bushkin, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones /
Collins jokes and talks to fill time . . .
FIDGETY FEET / SISTER KATE (Vic, vocal) / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN / Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Gene Sedric, Marian McPartland, Max Wayne, George Wettling //
THAT’S A PLENTY (explosively) / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SAINTS Davison, Archey, Hall, Signorelli, Foster, Wettling //
Listening to these musicians, at the peak of their expressive powers, I thought of Ruby Braff (in Boston when this concert took place) and the subject of the party, Wild Bill Davison. Ruby was often cutting about his colleagues, except for half-a-dozen who he held sacred. Thus, in my hearing, Wild Bill was “that moron.” But later in life — perhaps in the wonderful conversations he had with Steve Voce, Ruby unwound enough to praise Bill: he “had drama.”
But my point is not to praise Bill in isolation. Every musician at this concert has their own drama — Lee Wiley wooing, Vic Dickenson telling stories, Wild Bill taking a hot-jazz-flamethrower to the curtains to see if they would catch fire. The concert reminds me of a televised production of KING LEAR where every role was filled — gorgeously — by a star actor (Laurence Olivier, John Hurt, Michael Gambon, Leo McKern, Diana Rigg) — and they meshed wonderfully, their reverence for the play and for each other evident.
It also reminds me that there was a time, nearly seventy years ago, where both Milt Hinton and Pops Foster were available for a gig, as were Marian McPartland and Tony Spargo. A proliferation of riches! And even if you think, “God. Another version of FIDGETY FEET, for goodness’ sake?” listen — you’ll be startled out of your preconceptions and hustled into joy.
Since I’ve been collecting recordings of jazz music in every conceivable form for over fifty years, I don’t always know what I have — which makes for a certain disorganization. (Some people I know have spreadsheets, indices, notebooks of their holdings: not me.) But it also makes for delirious surprises, one of which I will share with you.
The eminent (and generous-spirited) jazz writer and historian Derek Coller was at the 1975 Nice Jazz Festival, an experience I envy. But he also brought along a portable cassette recorder, and sent me copies for me of the tapes he achieved. Wonderful gifts. The sound isn’t recording-studio, and there is talk from enthusiastic fans, but the results are priceless.
Here is the last set of July 23, 1975: Dick Sudhalter, cornet; George Barnes, electric guitar; Joe Venuti, violin; Marty Grosz, guitar; Michael Moore, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums, paying tribute to the dear boy from Davenport, Iowa. Everyone is in wonderful form — even though Joe is characteristically a little overbearing — but the hero of this set is George Barnes, leaping in at wonderfully odd angles, honoring a musician and an inspiration.
JAZZ ME BLUES / SUNDAY [a few measures missing, possibly the tape being turned over] / BLUE RIVER (Sudhalter-Grosz) / SWEET SUE (Sudhalter out) / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / SAN //
Somewhere, Bix is grinning, because these noble creatures had the right idea: follow their impulses, and who knows what’s coming next? — rather than bowing down to the past. I hope you agree.
Today, Facebook tells me, is Jared Engel’s birthday. As Milt Hinton used to say, “I have shoes older than you,” meaning that Jared is an inspiring Youngblood who has decades to go, bringing joy through music. He did just that about six weeks ago (I’ve already posted music from this concert, but here’s more).
It was a wonderful concert by Jared, string bass, composer, arranger; Vanisha-Arleen Gould, vocal; Gordon Au. trumpet; Sam Chess, trombone; Jonathan Beshay, reeds; Josh Dunn, guitar; Andrew Millar, drums — held in the Flamboyan Theatre of the Soto Cultural Center, Essex Street, New York City, on October 30, 2021, under the aegis of the City Artist Corps Program, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
Here are four more selections, showing Jared’s and the band’s wide-ranging approach to sharing music, creating pleasure, creating thought.
Featuring Sam Chess, RED WING (or THE UNION MAID):
A gorgeous version of WARM VALLEY, a showcase for Jared:
LIMEHOUSE BLUES, showing off Jonathan Beshay:
and finally, a song that could be the concert’s theme, HYMN TO FREEDOM:
Happy birthday, Mr. Jared, Sir. We salute you and your friends (there’s more from this concert to come) and we are happy to share the planet with you.
When people ask, “Michael, are you ever planning to move out of New York?” and I say, “No,” this is one of my answers. This happens elsewhere, I know, but it doesn’t happen like this. This love-in-swing-out took place at the close of a Sunday afternoon session by the EarRegulars at The Ear Out, their summer home, on October 17, 2021. Here’s a still photograph of the action . . . and it doesn’t even include all the glorious people playing on the final song, which was Charlie Shavers’ UNDECIDED. I assure you that indecision was not the order of the day! There’s also a brief detour into Herschel Evans’ line on the same chords, DOGGIN’ AROUND: the EarRegulars are a pet-friendly band, you know.
The basic EarRegulars quartet that Sunday was Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Bill Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass. But by the end of this afternoon session, the quartet had become an eleven-piece brass fantasy: five trombones, three trumpets, two guitars, one string bass in splendid swinging harmony.
I’ll list them in solo order: Munisteri (intro); John Allred, trombone; Andrew Stephens, trumpet; Bill Allred, trombone; Gordon Au, trumpet; Joan Codina, trombone; Steve Bleifuss, trombone; Lou Salcedo, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Pat O’Leary; then a chorus of DOGGIN’ AROUND, based on the same chord changes; Matt Munisteri to finish it all off neatly.
My feelings, then and now, are astonishment, delight, and gratitude. You understand.
I won’t dignify the Grinch by posting his portrait here: there’s enough negativity in the world and you can find his grim visage by yourself. I prefer happier scenes, such as the ones that occurred when Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers brought their “Holiday Stomp” to the new Chelsea Table and Stage (26th Street, off Seventh Avenue, in New York City).
Late in the evening, Gordon — courageous among equally courageous colleagues — called for a song that Tamar and the band had only done once before, at the sound check, a song with yards of vaudeville-patter or pre-rap lyrics, YOU’RE A MEAN ONE, MISTER GRINCH. Our heroic pal Tamar bravely essayed it with all the hilarious and endearing theatricality she possesses, which is (as they say) plenty. It took a few seconds for the performance to right itself, but it’s not the successes, instead, the recoveries that count so deeply.
I was there with my camera, and shot a video of this performance — this priceless performance (which Tamar has given me permission to share with you) from the table where I and the OAO were sitting. Thus, you get a diner’s -eye view, with heads in the way. But it has a certain “you are there” quality. And we were.
Tamar sings, “Wish me luck!” at the start, but it’s clear that neither she nor the Grand Street Stompers need it. If you would like to learn more about them, you can of course follow them on Facebook or visit their websitehere. They have created three CDs and two digital sessions (the latter available at Bandcamp).
There will be more to come from this night at the Chelsea Table and Stage: I thank them all, four times.
Someone told me that the Grinch was last seen on Seventh Avenue, stuffing himself into an Uber, fleeing as fast as he can, destination unknown.
Look at those faces: three happy creative people, making music, spreading joy for a crowd enjoying their eggs and mimosas to an inspired soundtrack. That’s Giovanni’s Brooklyn Eats on a Sunday brunch-afternoon, and the three swing Muses are Arnt Arntzen, banjo, voice, and occasional comedy; Danny Tobias, trumpet; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, voice. They’re that wondrous thing, a working band. Arnt calls them ARNIE AND HIS RHYTHM, but I think they need a more exalted name, like SPLENDID MEMBERS OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE PROMULGATION OF JOY, although that’s too long to fit on a gig announcement. DELEGATES OF PLEASURE is also in the running. But I digress.
Here’s some joy.
When I walked into Giovanni’s last Sunday, this trio was concluding their first song, a hot number. I said hello, was taken to a seat, and began to set up my camera while hearing Arnt say to Danny and Vince, “Do you know THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU”? — that very heartfelt Ray Noble ballad that “bands” don’t always play. I was very excited and managed to begin filming about one-quarter through this very tender offering:
Romance of a different sort (“I have bought / the home and ring / and everything!”) as Vince sings and plays MARGIE:
Something very sweet — SUGAR by Arnie — “She’s vaccinated!”:
MUSKRAT RAMBLE, so often smudged, here with all its different strains treated with hot reverence:
And finally (for this set) my national anthem, WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, rendered with love, not caricature:
What a glorious group: harmony not only of notes, but of spirit.
But wait! There’s more!
Arnt has just announced a Thursday-night residency for this trio and other versions of it, at Barbes in Brooklyn: on December 30, 10 PM to midnight, he and brother Evan will play together; on January 6, the trio above, from 7 to 9:30; on January 13, the multi-talented Colin Hancock and Tal Ronen will join Arnt; and more to come. I’m looking forward to this and hope some JAZZ LIVES readers will join me. Without being too didactic, venues with music but without audiences soon drop the music: as you know.
I first met the piano master / historian / record producer / raconteur Mike Lipskin in California in 2012, but he had been a hero of mine since I bought this record in 1971. Mike has studied the stride Ancestors but knows how to go his own ways within the tradition: he’s the very antithesis of the static copyist, and he follows his own — often surprising — impulses.
A few days ago I was nosing around my cassette archives (yes, savor the antiquity of that phrase) and to my delight, this appeared — a gift from my friend, the late John L. Fell, who recorded the first forty-five minutes of a 1987 conversation-recital by Mike, speaking to the amiably well-informed Phil Elwood. It’s a rewarding interlude in many ways. And here’s the bill of fare: NUMB FUMBLIN’ / I WISH I WERE IN LOVE AGAIN / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY / MULE WALK / SWEET SAVANNAH SUE / NOTHING MISSING NOW (ML original, vocal) / AM I BLUE (ML) //
And since Mike is happy and well and striding and making jokes, he will be playing Mezzrow in New York City (163 West Tenth Street) on Tuesday, December 28th, from 10:30 to 11:30, with Ricky Alexander. . . a delightful hour in store for us.
The pianist / composer / educator / shepherd Barry Harris, who just left this temporal plane a few days shy of his ninety-second birthday, understood many things deeply. But one of the finest was his unspoken acceptance of his role as teacher and guide — not to one classroom of students, but to thousands. He knew — without words, but by embodying it — that a great teacher’s goal is to show their students how to be themselves teachers, in their own particular fashion, continuing to teach others as they learn themselves.
I didn’t have the good fortune to know Barry, to visit one of his classes, to commune with him: I think I came along late in his time, where he might have told me he had better things to do than to sit and talk about himself. But I know those who drank from the Harris springs and came away transformed and inspired, and when his name came up in conversation, their faces gleamed with love and wonder and appreciation.
There is no better tribute I can offer than Heleen Schuttevaer’s loving short film, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF BARRY HARRIS, which premiered in December 2020:
Ordinarily, I would say of such a person, “Barry Harris has become music,” but that would be an impudence: he always was and will continue to be. We are so fortunate to have lived in his world.
This neat little band has been attracting fans and friends on early Tuesday evenings at Swing 46 (349 West 46th Street, New York City) for more than a few months . . . and it deserves to have its names up in lights. Leader Dan Block (tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet) gives equal time to the wonderful Gabrielle Stravelli (vocals), Michael Kanan (piano), and Pat O’Leary (string bass). Here they are — about two months ago — tenderly moseying through the Waller-Razaf AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — which is truly a love song about fidelity and joyous discovery — at a tempo that makes it emotionally meaningful, rather than a race to the outchorus:
What lovely playful sounds! And in their three sets on a Tuesday night, this splendid quartet creates marvel after marvel. You mean to say you could have visited them at West 46th Street and haven’t . . . ?
Yes, Vic Dickenson. You know, the “Dixieland” trombonist known for his “wry humor.”
A small sweet surprise: Vic Dickenson, trombone; Earl Hines, piano; Harley White, string bass; Eddie Graham, drums — playing an Ellington ballad, perhaps THE Ellington ballad. So many writers made so much of Vic’s “dirty” style, his growls, that they forgot his deep heart, his deep feelings for pretty songs . . . his love of melody, of pure sounds. And although no one was wise enough to ask Vic to make a recording of Ellington and Strayhorn, he called IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD as his feature night after night when I saw him.
The first thing an attentive listener might notice is Vic’s slowing-down the tempo: he’s not about to be rushed into baroque Hines flourishes. A stately yet passionate exposition of the melody, growing more fervent in his second chorus. Then a coda-cadenza, rhapsodic and bluesy all at once. A masterpiece from the Grande Parade du Jazz at Nice, France, performed on July 20, 1975.
Hank O’Neal told me that one of his dream projects was to record Vic with strings. Such a pity that didn’t happen. Listen to I GOT IT BAD again and realize that, as a ballad player, Vic is at the level of Ben and Pres, Hodges and his dear friend Bobby Hackett. Thank goodness we have these four minutes of Vic, quietly reminding us of what he did and could do: wordlessly touch our hearts without making a fuss of doing so.
Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft was a pianist and jazz fancier and eyewitness in the Twenties: you can read his first-hand recollections of Jack Pettis, Bix, Bud Freeman, the Wolverines, and more, in a 1961 interview he did for the Tulane University archives. And if you search this blog, you’ll find a series of video interviews I did with Squirrel’s friend and life-student, Hank O’Neal. But from the early Thirties on, he and his wife Jane opened their Evanston, Illinois home to their jazz-musician friends, who brought their horns and voices. (In the 1940 census, it’s listed as 1144 Asbury Avenue, for those who wish to make pilgrimages.)
Early on, the sessions got recorded on disc; later, their friend John Steiner used his tape machine. The collective fun is evident from the first note — their expertise, too, as no one misses a key change. And the easy friendship of artists who aren’t competitive but communal is also immediately apparent. True, it isn’t a polished recording session; there’s the hiss of much-copied tape; many of the performances are incomplete. But the pleasure of artists playing for themselves and a small convivial audience is precious. Red isn’t always perceived as such a lyrical player, but hear him — and his friends — blossom in easy, romantic fashion throughout.
The players are Nichols, cornet; Joe Rushton, bass sax (clarinet on SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH); Jack Gardner, piano; George Kenyon, mellophone; Jack Howe, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Bill Priestley, guitar; Phil Atwood, string bass. EASTER PARADE / INDIANA / OH, BABY! / THE GIRL FRIEND / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (excerpt) / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / LOUISIANA / BALLIN’ THE JACK / SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / SUGAR / TEA FOR TWO (one and two) / AFTER YOU’VE GONE (incomplete) //. The original tape is thanks to John L. Fell, whose source may have been Joe Boughton. Other sessions at Squirrel’s were issued on a series of ten-inch lps; this one wasn’t. I don’t know if Nichols was still under contract to Capitol Records or he thought this recording too loose for the general public. But it sounds so delightful:
And, no, the vault of joyous treasures isn’t about to be emptied any time soon. Here’s to collectors like my dear departed friend John L. Fell, who showed me that music is meant to be shared with those who love it just as much. . . .that the other side, the more important side of “collecting,” was “giving.”
On the subject of giving, the reigning Nichols authority, Stephen Hester (who, with his father, has done beautiful deep research on all things Red) sent me this photograph a few minutes ago — Red and Joe Rushton at the session (note Red’s cloth mute!). Thank you, Stephen!
A wonderful concert by Jared Engel, string bass, composer, arranger; Vanisha-Arleen Gould, vocal; Gordon Au. trumpet; Sam Chess, trombone; Jonathan Beshay, reeds; Josh Dunn, guitar; Andrew Millar, drums — held in the Flamboyan Theatre of the Soto Cultural Center, Essex Street, New York City, on October 30, 2021, under the aegis of the City Artist Corps Program, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
Here’s the first part of three. Let joy be unconfined!
For Hoagy, for Louis, in the name of jubilation, JUBILEE:
Then, a lunar pairing featuring the wonderful singer Vanisha-Arleen Gould, NO MOON AT ALL:
and THAT OLD DEVIL MOON:
Inventive music, played with skill and spice in a lively space for an appreciative audience: if you know of a better universe . . .