Monthly Archives: June 2022

“MUSIC THAT YOU DREAM ABOUT”: BENNY GOODMAN, BUDDY RICH, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, JACK SIX (Merv Griffin Show, October 15, 1979)

About a year ago, I posted this video, one of those moments when commercial broadcast media and high art created something memorable together. It doesn’t need explication; for me, reverence is the most appropriate reaction.

Now, through the kindness of my friend Alessandro, I can share with you the complete audio of that encounter. The slight buzz suggests that it was recorded directly from someone’s television set, but the music is beyond compare. Grandpa could still play (!) and Rich, often accused of bluster behind the drum set, is a marvel of creative listening. For me, the delight comes from Rowles, that sly subversive one-man orchestra, with sets and costumes, going his own unexpected ways.

It was a “talk show,” so, first, a little chat:

Then, to the real business at hand, LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

A too-brief consideration of AS LONG AS I LIVE:

and that rare thing, an I GOT RHYTHM played for itself alone:

We must thank Merv Griffin for making room for this wondrous interlude, so precious then and now.

May your happiness increase!

JOPLIN, MARSHALL, SKJELBRED, UNLIMITED at SAN DIEGO (November 25, 2016) AND A DON’T-MISS GIG FOR RAY, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, and RILEY BAKER (JULY 5, 2022)!

NEWS FLASH!

Or as they say on public radio, THIS JUST IN: Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs (Marc Caparone, trumpet; Clint Baker, guitar; Riley Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums) will be playing a delightful post-pandemic gig on Tuesday, July 5, at Bird and Beckett Books (653 Chenery Street), starting at 7:30.

You might hear MICE ISLAND LOVE:

Even though Kim Cusack and Katie Cavera have gigs elsewhere that night, you could also request OH, PETER — because everyone thinks the song and its subject are so nice:

Bird and Beckett is one of my favorite places, temporarily out of reach since I am in New York: a lovely book-and-record store (oh memory! oh memory!) run in the most perceptive hospitable way. You take my seat, please.

And now to the Happy Coincidence portion of our program, although as Poppa Freud is supposed to have said, “There are no accidents.”

I was planning to post the music and commentary below — a precious interlude by Ray at the piano — when news of Bird and Beckett came in. So watch and listen, and get enlightened, and then, if you can get to Chenery Street, hence, begone!

That’s Scott Joplin, Arthur Marshall, and Ray Skjelbred — a thoroughly gratifying melodic corporation if there ever was one — coming together on SWIPSEY CAKEWALK, from 1900, with Joplin composing the trio section, Marshall the main strain, and Skjelbred taking his time to offer us something winning and memorable at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.

Ray understands that the right tempo — casual and leisurely in this case — brings out the beauty of melody and harmony:

I think of this performance as warmly respectful and also groovy: a wonderful combination.

Ray gets to the heart of the song that perhaps we didn’t know was there, but he always does.

May your happiness increase!

“ELECTRIC SPANISH”: JAMEY CUMMINS

Some may think it’s an archaic perspective, but I gravitate to music that doesn’t want to attack me. Honey rather than broken glass, to recall Eddie Condon. I don’t mean Easy Listening goo or ambient murmurings, but a sonic embrace that welcomes the listener.

Guitarist Jamey Cummins has made us a present of music that does just that: his new CD, ELECTRIC SPANISH.

I first met Jamey at the Redwood Coast Music Festival and was truly impressed by his easy swing, his natural ability to spin out long melodic lines in the great tradition, so I wanted to hear this disc. And I wasn’t disappointed. Hear for yourself:

I’d asked Jamey to explain the title: not being a guitar aficionado, I didn’t want to show off my ignorance, and he explained, I played a couple of different guitars on this album but they were all hollowbody electrics! The name “Electric Spanish” is a reference to what Gibson called the first electric guitars they made including the Gibson ES-150 played by Charlie Christian. 

The inspiration for this album comes from a place of love for the pioneers of electric jazz guitar! Charlie Christian’s name has become synonymous with the pickup Gibson used in its first models, including the ES-150 he was known to play. My affinity for the almost horn-like, cutting tone of an amplified archtop led me to listen to many of those influenced by Christian, including Oscar Moore, Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery, and many others!  The goal here was to write a batch of fun swingin’ and groovin’ tunes that had catchy melodies. I wanted to make sure to leave plenty of room for embellishments and allow them to also be sturdy vehicles for improvisation.  I believe we captured a good spirit with our two studio sessions recorded in early 2022 at Eastside Studios in downtown Austin. It features me on guitar (of course) Jim Foster (of many Austin bands) on piano, James Gwyn (formerly with Junior Brown) on drums, and Man about Town Phil Spencer on bass! 

Ordinarily (another facet of my archaic outlook) when I get a CD and it’s all original compositions by the leader, I am slightly wary: many improvisers aren’t equally good at creating songs, but Jamey is a wonderful exception. His tunes, if I may call them that, are spirited, and I found myself humming them after the disc had ended: a sign of durable creativity. And he manages — as the Ancestors did — to get an awful lot of music into a short time-span:

and just one more:

Even I, glued to my chair for long periods, can imagine dancing to those strains.

Here‘s all you need to know, and (ideally) the place to purchase this winning recording at a bargain price. The music that will zip to you through cyberspace will improve your days and nights. Thank you, Jamey, Jim, James (do I see a trend here?) and Phil.

May your happiness increase!

THE NEW YORK JAZZ REPERTORY COMPANY EVOKES BASIE and DUKE at NICE (July 1978 and July 1977)

Even as jazz as an art form prides itself on “moving forward,” it’s always been affectionately retrospective, cherishing the deep past and the recent past in performance and recordings. Think of Louis bringing his mentor’s DIPPER MOUTH BLUES to the Henderson band, even though Joe Oliver was probably continuing to play it; Bix and Tram recording the ODJB’s OSTRICH WALK; Bird playing Lester’s solo on SHOE SHINE BOY. (I am indebted to Matthew Rivera for reminding me of this idea through his radio broadcast on WKCR.)

One of the most rewarding institutions to come out of jazz’s desire to both honor the past as itself and to make it new was the New York Jazz Repertory Company. Not only did the NYJRC perform at the Newport in New York jazz festival, it brought its “shows” worldwide, most often under the leadership of the brilliant Dick Hyman. I saw Louis and Bix tributes in the early Seventies, and they were electrifying; even better, the NYJRC idea was a staple of the Nice Jazz Festival, and some of the concert performances were broadcast on French television. (I’ve posted a ninety-minute tribute to Benny Goodman recently here.

Trotting through YouTube last night — the cyber-equivalent of my getting on my bicycle when I was thirteen and riding to the public library — I found two half-hour NYJRC delights, posted by others in 2015, that I hadn’t seen before. I predict that you will enjoy them also. The first is a Basie tribute, from July 12, 1978; the second, Duke, July 17, 1977.

Those expecting note-for-note recreations of recordings will be, I think, pleasantly surprised by the openness of the arrangements and the leeway given the “contemporary” soloists to play their personalities. Everything is reasonably idiomatic but there are delightful shocks here and there.

The “Basie band” here is Sweets Edison, Cat Anderson, Jimmie Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Benny Powell, Dicky Wells, John Gordon, trombone; Paul Bascomb, Paul Moen, Bob Wilber, Pepper Adams, Earle Warren, reeds; Dick Hyman, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Chubby Jackson, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. I count at least six venerated Basie alumni.

JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE (Paul Bascomb, Harry Edison, Benny Powell, Bob Wilber, Dick Hyman) / ONE O’CLOCK JUMP (Hyman, Paul Moen, Dicky Wells, Bascomb, Joe Newman, Hyman) / ROCK-A-BYE BASIE (Wilber, Moen, Sweets, Hyman and Chubby Jackson) / HARVARD BLUES (Bascomb, Newman, vocal) / BROADWAY (Wilber, Sweets, Hyman, Wilber, Bascomb, Pepper Adams, Powell, John Gordon, Earle Warren, Cat Anderson, Moen):

and “the Ellington band,” made up of many of the same champions, Hyman, Rosengarden, Wilber, Pepper Adams, Maxwell — with Jon Faddis, Pee Wee Erwin, Joe Newman, trumpets; Eddie Daniels, Zoot Sims, Billy Mitchell, reeds; George Duvivier, string bass, John Mosca, Billy Campbell, Earl McIntyre, trombone:

EAST ST. LOUIS-TOODLE OO (Wilber, Pepper, Daniels, Erwin) / DOUBLE CHECK STOMP (Maxwell, Wilber, Billy Campbell) / JUNGLE NIGHTS IN HARLEM (possibly John Mosca, Maxwell, Daniels) / DOCTOR E.K.E. (composition by Raymond Fol, piano; Mosca, Mitchell, Faddis, Sam Woodyard, drums) / HARLEM AIR-SHAFT (McIntyre, Faddis, Daniels, Joe Newman) / BLUE GOOSE (Wilber, Maxwell, Zoot, Mosca, Wilber) / JUMPIN’ PUNKINS (Duvivier, Pepper, Rosengarden, Hyman, Rosengarden) / CHELSEA BRIDGE (Hyman, Zoot, Hyman, McIntyre):

Honoring the originals and their creators but giving plenty of space to honor the present — a lovely balance. And if you’d rather hear the Basie Deccas and Ellington Victors, they will still be there, undamaged and pristine.

May your happiness increase!

ON THE BANKS OF THE WABASH, FAR AWAY: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DENNIS LICHTMAN, JOSH DUNN, JARED ENGEL (Cafe Bohemia, December 12, 2019)

Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City

For about six months — September 2019 to March 2020 — much longer than one brief shining moment, we had Cafe Bohemia, downstairs at 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City. And on Thursday nights, if I recall correctly, the Cafe Bohemia All-Stars, led by Jon-Erik Kellso (“You know them, you love them.”) took the stage.

Here’s a particularly sinuous and searching WABASH BLUES, performed by Jon-Erik, Puje trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Josh Dunn, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass.

The photograph shows the Wabash River in Indiana.

This memorable performance doesn’t make me want to book a flight to the Wabash River, but it certainly makes me wish that we could have those Bohemia nights back.

May your happiness increase!

GIANTS PLAY NICE: BENNY CARTER, GEORGE BARNES, RUBY BRAFF, MICHAEL MOORE, VINNIE CORRAO, RAY MOSCA (La Grande Parade du Jazz, July 25, 1975)

An hour of sustained multi-faceted brilliance.

Festival producers often throw together dissimilar artists to see what happens, but sometimes the unusual gatherings of masters produce art completely unexpected and delightful. Here at the 1975 Nice Jazz Festival we have Benny Carter, alto saxophone — whose place in jazz is beyond discussion — joining a version of the magical quartet George Barnes, electric guitar, and Ruby Braff, cornet, had for too short a time, with the quartet’s usual rhythm section of Moore, string bass, and Corrao, rhythm guitar, augmented by drummer Ray Mosca.

A constellation of giants, lyrical ones for sure.

This hour-long set was broadcast on French radio, and we are surely grateful. And if I may privilege one artist over another, I urge listeners to pay most careful attention of the astonishing guitarist George Barnes, casually tossing magic everywhere. If you share my enthusiasm for him, be sure to visit the GEORGE BARNES LEGACY COLLECTION. You’ll be enthralled.

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / JUST YOU, JUST ME / MEAN TO ME / TAKE THE “A” TRAIN / I CAN’T GET STARTED (Carter feature) / SUGAR (Carter out) / LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

But wait! There’s more!

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

JUST YOU, JUST ME, MEAN TO ME, and TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:

I CAN’T GET STARTED and LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

Documentation of such creativity — a blessing!

May your happiness increase!

MARTY GROSZ AND HIS CHICAGOANS, SWEET AND HOT: JAMES DAPOGNY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BARRETT, DAN LEVINSON, SCOTT ROBINSON, JON BURR, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 19, 2014)

Martin Oliver Grosz by Lynn Redmile

Here’s a location in space and time where the past and present embrace, each retaining all their distinguishing features. That is, Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal, and erudition, leading an ensemble at the 2014 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party in the song first introduced by Ethel Waters, SUGAR, that was then taken up by the Austin High Gang for their 1927 record date as “McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans.”

The noble creators are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Levinson, tenor saxophone; Scott Robinson, taragoto; James Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

It’s clearly impromptu (but all the great performances were in some part) from Marty’s heartfelt rubato solo chorus to the split-chorus solos with special reverence for James Dapogny’s piano in glittering solo and supportive ensemble. It’s confectionary. And memorable.

Incidentally, if, after enjoying Marty and his pals, you need more sugar in your bowl, try Ethel’s version, Louis’, and the Lee Wiley – Muggsy Spanier – Jess Stacy one. And of course the McKenzie-Condon version, which is playing in my mental jukebox as I type. Then follow your own impulses to heated sweetness.

May your happiness increase!

“THE BEAN GUY” SINGS: INTRODUCING STEVE SANDO

Steve Sando isn’t “harmonically innovative.” He doesn’t show off his four-octave range, put lyrics to Eric Dolphy lines, or affect Sinatra-mannerisms. What he does is, I think, more difficult and more commendable: he shows his love for songs by offering them, one by one, with affection and understanding . . . putting the spotlight on the song rather than on himself. Hear for yourself:

Steve says, “My intention was always to present some songs that I loved in a manner that isn’t pop and it isn’t jazz but it’s influenced by both. I wasn’t expecting to love singing quite as much but the act of having an idea, trying, failing, and then succeeding is the best.”

Hence, his debut CD, INRODUCING STEVE SANDO, which is out on Bandcamp (digital and tangible versions). What appeals to me most is his approach — as I said before, without ego, but with a kind of relaxed candor. “These are songs that have stories: let me share a story with you,” each performance seems to say. And his low-key, consciously undramatic way is so appealing in these days of singers who feel compelled to wow us with special effects.

Steve is marvelously accompanied — in the true sense of that word — by veteran pianist / arranger Mike Greensill, string bassist Ruth Davies, drummer Mark Lee. You’ll know Mike for his own lovely playing (at times on this CD, reminiscent of Ellis Larkins) but for his partnership, musical and marital, with Wesla Whitfield.

One of the other pleasures of this disc, one I’ve returned to, is the repertoire. No MY FUNNY VALENTINE, or COME FLY WITH ME, or other well-chewed standards. Rather, Steve and Mike have chosen songs that stand on their own, that deliver small constant emotional gifts and surprises: WITH THE WIND AND THE RAIN IN YOUR HAIR / YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY / SAIL AWAY / WHERE ARE YOU? / I WISH I DIDN’T LOVE YOU SO / ONE NEVER KNOWS, DOES ONE? / MY SHINING HOUR / THE THRILL IS GONE / SILENZIOSO SLOW / I’M OLD FASHIONED / THAT’S FOR ME / HONG KONG BLUES / I’LL BE AROUND / SO FAR.

That closing song was new to me, and I’ve now added it to my mental jukebox:

About my title. Some readers may know “Steve Sando” for accomplishments beyond music: he is founder, inventor, and guiding genius of RANCHO GORDO, the place to go for heirloom beans — beans so good that they rebuke the ones in cans and in plastic bags in the supermarket. (My title was his whimsical idea.) I first met Steve more than a decade ago in his Napa, California culinary guise, and then learned of his deep love for music — passionate ballads, Jack Teagarden, Louise Massey, and more — so I am delighted that his immersion in this art has resulted in something so rewarding for us.

He’ll be around, I predict.

May your happiness increase!

THE WORLD BENNY CREATED: “The New York Jazz Repertory Company” featuring BOB WILBER, DICK HYMAN, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, GEORGE DUVIVIER, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN, JIMMY MAXWELL, EDDIE BERT, ARNIE LAWRENCE, BUDD JOHNSON, PEE WEE ERWIN, MIKE ZWERIN, NORRIS TURNEY, HAYWOOD HENRY, ERNIE ROYAL, DICK SUDHALTER, BRITT WOODMAN, PUG HORTON, GEORGE WEIN (La Grande Parade du Jazz, July 1979)

The imaginative types among us sometimes launch the idea of the music we know with a central figure removed from the landscape — a much-diminished alternative universe. What, we say, would our world have been like had young Louis Armstrong chosen to go into waste management? Imagine the musical-cultural landscape without Sinatra, Bing, Billie? Quickly, the mind at play comes to a stop, because such absences are so unimaginable that they serve to remind us of the power of these individuals long after they have left the neighborhood.

I’d like to add a name to that list — Benjamin David Goodman, born in Chicago. These days it seems that Benny, once the King of Swing, is either taken for granted so deeply that he is forgotten, or he is reviled for bad behavior. To the former, I can only point to our cultural memory loss: if it’s older than breakfast, we’ve forgotten its name, so hungry for new sensations we appear to be.

And to the latter, I see it as rooted in an unattractive personal envy. We can’t play the clarinet like Benny; we don’t appear on concert stages, radio, and television. (I exempt professional musicians, often underpaid and anonymous, from this: they have earned the right to tell stories.) This reminds some of us that all the bad things our classmates said of us in fourth grade still are valid. So some of us energetically delight in the Great Person’s failings, as if retelling the story of how he didn’t tip the waiter makes up for our inability to equal his artistic achievements, and the life of diligent effort that made them possible. Benny could behave unthinkingly, but we’ve all done that. If we understood our own need to tear down those larger than ourselves, perhaps we would refrain from doing it. Bluntly, feasting on the story of Benny putting on a sweater says much more about our collective insecurities than about his obliviousness. But enough of that: we have beautiful music to savor here.

I don’t know if the New York Jazz Repertory Company, such a wonderful enterprise in the 1970s and onwards, was George Wein’s idea or perhaps Dick Hyman’s — but it was a marvel. If someone proposed a concert tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, well, you could bring Joe Venuti, Spiegle Willcox, Paul Mertz, and Chauncey Morehouse to the stage alongside Zoot Sims, Vince Giordano, Warren Vache, Bucky Pizzarelli — the best musicians readily available having a splendid time amidst the Ancestors, the Survivors. Concerts for Louis, Duke, and Basie were just as enthralling. The NYJRC experience was a kind of jazz Camelot, and its moments were shining, perhaps brief, and surely memorable.

The Nice Jazz Festival had enough expert musicians — expert in experience and in feeling — to put together NYJRC evenings, and here is a July 1979 one devoted to not only Benny but to the worlds he created.

For me, imagining a world without “BG” is again unthinkable. He wasn’t the only person who made hot music — creative jazz improvisation — such an accessible phenomenon for the widest audience, an audience perhaps unaware that they were dancing to great art, but he did it. And he wasn’t the only person to have Black and White musicians on the public stage, but his contributions to racial equality are too large to be ignored. And he himself made great music and inspired others to do so.

Enough polemic. But Benny remains a King, and efforts to dethrone him are and should be futile.

Both Dick Hyman and Bob Wilber had worked with Benny, and their love, admiration, and understanding shine through this concert presentation devoted to his big band and small groups of the Swing Era. The band is full of Goodman alumnae (we must remind ourselves also that Benny was active on his own in 1979) including Pee Wee Erwin, an integral part of Benny’s 1935 orchestra. Hyman not only plays brilliantly but supports the whole enterprise; Wilber embodies Benny in his own lucent fashion, and Pug Horton sweetly summons up a whole raft of Benny’s singers. Too, the individual players get to have their say in their own fashion — something that was a lovely part of the worlds Benny made and made possible.

Here’s ninety minutes of music, delightful on its own and as an evocation of a masterful musician and his impact on us, whether we acknowledge it or not.

The New York Jazz Repertory Company: Bob Wilber, clarinet; Dick Hyman, piano; Arnie Lawrence, Haywood Henry, Norris Turney, Budd Johnson, reeds; Eddie Bert, Britt Woodman, Mike Zwerin, trombone; Jimmie Maxwell, Ernie Royal, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, trumpet; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Pug Horton, vocal.

Warming up / George Wein announces / LET’S DANCE (Hyman, Wilber, Lawrence, Hyman) / KING PORTER STOMP (Maxwell, Wilber, Maxwell, Zwerin, Budd, Hyman, Bucky, Duvivier) / STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY (Hyman, Wilber, Bert, Budd, Bert, Bucky, Wilber) / BODY AND SOUL (Wilber, Hyman, Rosengarden) / CHINA BOY (trio) / SEVEN COME ELEVEN (add Bucky, Duvivier) / add Pug Horton, vocal / GOODNIGHT, MY LOVE / SILHOUETTED IN THE MOONLIGHT / SOMEBODY ELSE IS TAKING MY PLACE / Pug out / RACHEL’S DREAM / big band returns / STEALIN’ APPLES arr. Henderson (Hyman, Wilber, Erwin, Turney, Woodman, WIlber // Intermission: Wilber introduces the orchestra while Bucky plays GOODBYE // SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES (Budd, Wilber [alto], Hyman, Henry, Bert, Lawrence, Wilber, trumpet section trades / PAGANINI CAPRICE No. 24 arr. Skip Martin (Hyman, Wilber, Budd) / A SMOOTH ONE (Wilber, Maxwell, Budd, Bucky, Hyman, Duvivier, Rosengarden) / AS LONG AS I LIVE / AIR MAIL SPECIAL / (add Pug, big band reed section returns) WE’LL MEET AGAIN / WHEN THE SUN COMES OUT / WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO (Hyman) / (Pug out, full band) SING SING SING (Wilber, Rosengarden, Budd, Wilber, Maxwell) / GOOD-BYE //

As the waitperson says when she puts your fish tacos in front of you, “Enjoy.”

May your happiness increase!

THE DUKE VISITS BUFFALO (November 27, 1943)

Here’s a quarter-hour of Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra. I post it here not only because it’s probably a rarity to most listeners, but because it also showed why Duke entertained so many audiences so well for so long: a perceptive variety of music and approaches, from screaming trumpet to sweet dance music with female and male vocalists, from rockin’ in rhythm for the jitterbugs to topical comedy appropriate to the war effort. Something for everyone and then some.

DUKE ELLINGTON (Coca-Cola Spotlight Parade of Bands #372, Buffalo, New York): BLUE SKIES / I WONDER WHY (Betty Roche) / ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM / DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME (Hibbler) / A SLIP OF THE LIP (Nance) // This is not the complete broadcast, but only one track — SLIP — has been issued commercially.

Tom Lord’s discography lists this as an NBC Blue Network broadcast, Trico Products Factory, Buffalo, N.Y., November 27, 1943. Rex Stewart, cornet; Wallace Jones, Harold “Shorty” Baker, trumpet; Ray Nance, trumpet, violin, vocal; Joe Nanton, Lawrence Brown, trombone; Juan Tizol, valve-trombone; Jimmy Hamilton, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Johnny Hodges, alto saxophone; Otto Hardwick, alto saxophone, clarinet; Skippy Williams, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Harry Carney baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Duke Ellington, piano; Fred Guy, guitar; Junior Raglin, string bass; Sonny Greer, drums; Betty Roche, Al Hibbler, vocal.

And for some historical trivia: Trico made windshield wipers and closed in 2002 after 85 years of operation. Ellington’s music, happily, continues to operate on us.

This post is for my fellow Ellingtonian Nick Rossi.

May your happiness increase!

HOT SERMONS: STILL MORE FROM THE NEW YORK CLASSIC SEVEN: MIKE DAVIS, ANDY SCHUMM, COLIN HANCOCK, SAM CHESS, VINCE GIORDANO, RICKY ALEXANDER, JAY RATTMAN (St. John’s Lutheran Church, New York City, May 18, 2022)

Photograph by Rob Rothberg

This band rocked the church. Seismically, I mean. Christopher Street will never be the same.

I’ve shared several segments from this concert, and here’s the last dynamic offering. From the back, the New York Classic Seven are Colin Hancock, drums; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Vince Giordano, banjo; Andy Schumm, piano; Ricky Alexander, clarinet, alto saxophone; Sam Chess, trombone; Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal.

(For new visitors to this site: if you click on the post’s title, the still photographs below — if they are what you see — will open to reveal video-performances.)

For Bix, of course. THERE’S A CRADLE IN CAROLINE:

Hot needs sweet in the perfectly balanced cosmos, so here’s Romantic Mike Davis, pleading GUILTY. We pardon him:

And the gloriously futuristic BONEYARD SHUFFLE:

Here’s Andy Schumm’s Gershwin-inspired composition, LET’S DO THINGS:

A beautiful mini-Whiteman consideration of MY BLUE HEAVEN:

Don’t be afraid of the title. Colin and Mike aren’t truly ANGRY:

And the extravagantly “primitive” JUNGLE CRAWL by Tiny Parham:

What would a program of Twenties jazz and pop be without a song saying how much better everything is in the American South? Here’s a stellar example, THAT’S THE GOOD OLD SUNNY SOUTH:

This was the second — wonderful — US appearance by this band. If you want to hear them again, tell festival organizers and club-owners, tell your wealthy friends. They’re raring to go and play, as you can see and hear. And we need this kind of musical uplift.

Thanks again to Janet Sora Chung and St. John’s Lutheran Church (Christopher Street, New York City) for making this aesthetic gift-box possible, and for permitting me to video-record and share it.

And thanks to Red, Bix, Miff, Fud, Pee Wee, JD and TD, McDonough, Eddie, Challis, Artie, Vic, Adrian, and three dozen other luminaries for their inspiration.

May your happiness increase!

“NO.”

When you’re not smiling.

I’ve spent years saying YES to things that I would rather not have done, out of the misguided notion that I had to, to be liked, accepted, or praised. Often the appeal was wrapped in flattery, and I accepted the task without considering what a careless acceptance would mean.

Only in later years have I worked on the art of saying NO.

This came out of working with women even more downtrodden than I’d ever been, women who had been compelled to think it would be wrong to refuse a burden.

They were trained to stifle the NO they wanted to say. Or “I just can’t.” “I would prefer not to.” “Isn’t there someone else you can exploit?” “Do it yourself,” or a thousand other self-preserving statements, “Are you fucking kidding me?” being the most candid one.

As I age, I see more clearly the limits of my energy and my desire to preserve myself, but I don’t want to be offensive, or perhaps I don’t want to be perceived as that.

So when my inner voice is saying, in response to some request, “I’d rather die,” I am practicing saying, “I’ve got too much on my plate right now to do it.” Among close friends, I can mutter, “I’d rather stick myself in the face with a plastic fork,” often accompanied by an upward-stabbing gesture of the right hand and arm. But that’s only in my inner circle, and accompanied by hilarity on all sides.

In the recent past (and I know I am not alone in this) I framed the backing-off as an apology, “I’m really sorry; I’d like to help you, but (a trailing-off pause)” — but it dawned on me that my requester heard only “I’d like to help you” and pressed on.

So no more apologies. A head-shake, a smile, and “I really can’t,” will have to suffice.

What has this got to do with jazz? Wait.

Victoria Spivey wrote this song, NO, PAPA, NO! — which she recorded in 1928, as did Duke Ellington, and Louis. Her version is rather formulaic (although not outdated) — stern statements to a male lover about what he cannot do to her. As my 78 collection expanded over the pandemic, I obtained this disc, with its much more stark title:

Considering this sacred artifact recently provoked thoughts about the self-preserving power of refusal.

But first, the music: a rather light-hearted twelve-bar blues with key changes lifting it out of the predictable, Earl Hines shining through — Louis, looking backwards to Joe Oliver and forward to the way he would approach the blues until his death:

Now, I imagine myself pressed into a corner by someone insistent, someone who won’t honor my feelings as expressed in more intense refusals. At last I have my secret weapon, in reserve as a last resort.

“Michael, I’m begging you. Only you can do this for me. And I’ll always be grateful.”

“Well, let me check with Louis.”

“Louis?”

“Yes, Louis always helps me make decisions as important as this. I’ll be back in a few.”

Then I can gather my strength, look closely at the OKeh label, perhaps play the record itself, which won’t take long, and say, “Sorry to make you wait. Louis says NO, and I never disagree with him. Take good care,” and leave.

See if it works for you, and report back.

May your happiness increase!

“I HAPPEN TO LIKE BENNY GOODMAN”: DAN MORGENSTERN (August 30, 2019)

“Benny Goodman stories” are legendary, and since tales of odd or mean behavior are good copy, they are durable. There’s the man who couldn’t remember his daughters’ names, the villain of the Ray, the man who put on a sweater when the sidemen were cold . . . if you care to, you can add to the list.

But for every truth there is a counter-truth, so here are two brief interview segments I did with the Eminence Dan Morgenstern in 2019, resetting the balance in ways that will surprise anyone committed to the idea of the wicked King of Swing.

and more:

I think the emphasis on a cruel miserly inexplicable Benny has also led to a meager assessment of his gifts. Consider these examples. If you played them for someone who knew nothing of the legends and gossip, I think they would be astonished by the music made by the Unknown Clarinetist — and the music he made possible.

and a few years later, in two versions:

I could expound at length on the reasons Benny has been attacked as a person (and he had his failings: no bandleader is always a hero to the people he employs) but that’s another blogpost, one I will leave aside for the moment. For one thing, he became prosperous, which is at odds with the myth of the jazz creator as suffering doomed outsider. Ultimately, though, mocking someone as emotionally lacking or imbalanced is an easy way to undermine the validity of their art. Benny should be regarded for his work — on the level of, let us say, Benny Carter and Bobby Hackett — rather than for his foibles. Who among us doesn’t have them?

Fairness, not vindictiveness. The time is ripe for a balanced view.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING WEATHER FORECASTS: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, DAN BLOCK, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, December 14, 2021)

Spreading joy.

Every Tuesday night in June, the wonderful trio of Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass, has an early-evening gig (5:30 to 7 PM, more or less) at the comfortable Birdland Theater, one flight down, at 315 West 44th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in midtown Manhattan.

The OAO and I were there for the first Tuesday and it was delightful and delightfully varied. I couldn’t bring back any video-evidence for you, but here are two previously unseen delights from the Dan Block Quartet’s gig at Swing 46, with Dan on tenor saxophone.

I can’t account for the meteorological theme, but since everyone talks about the weather, I hope that will hold true for these beautiful musicians and their art.

Here’s a rarity, WITH THE WIND AND THE RAIN IN YOUR HAIR, by Clara Edwards and Jack Lawrence — its first recordings from 1940. (Both Edwards and Lawrence are fascinating figures: she was a singer, pianist, composer of art songs as well as popular ones, and he is perhaps best known for the Ink Spots’ IF I DIDN’T CARE — but their biographies are intriguing.)

From the rare to the perhaps over-familiar . . . ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, like ALL OF ME, has been performed so many times that I often sigh when a band or singer calls it, but not with this band and this singer. It’s credited to Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, although the gossip says that the melody was first composed by one Thomas Waller. Whether that’s true or not, I am reminded of Jonathan Schwartz’s anecdote about his father, Arthur Schwartz, saying to his son when they were walking in the shade, “Let’s cross over to Dorothy’s side of the street.”

Here, we can do the same thing (looking all four ways) and find ourselves in creative happiness. Catch Gabrielle’s exultant second chorus and the wondrous playing by Dan, Pat, and Michael (the last slyly reminding us of the pitter-pat, as he should):

Don’t miss Gabrielle and her friends, no matter what your phone tells you about the weather. They improve the darkest day.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE THE RENO CLUB MEETS FILM NOIR: “BEALE STREET BLUES,” by The EarRegulars: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, DUKE HEITGER, HARVEY TIBBS, DAN BLOCK, NEAL MINER (The Ear Inn, June 7, 2009)

I missed out on the Reno Club, and Fifty-Second Street transformed downwards years before my birth, but there are serious compensations. I did and do have The Ear Inn (and so do you) where The EarRegulars have been playing every Sunday night from 8-11 PM since the summer of 2007. 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

This is one of the earliest videos I shot there . . . at a time when YouTube allowed posters to take dark-hued video and change it into black-and-white. So we have my version of film noir, bowing to Ida Lupino, to the Reno Club, to wartime Greenwich Village jazz, to building intensity through backgrounds and riffs. All priceless.

Fault-finders are encouraged to floss with a cactus needle, then take Nipper out for a constitutional.

The song? Handy’s BEALE STREET BLUES. The performers? Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass. Heroes all. They know what to do — no one needs a GPS — and they do it beautifully, individually and collectively. And they know how to sustain and build a mood, gently but dramatically, for twelve minutes.

And, yes, such things are still possible. But you do have to get out of your chair and find them where they are happening . . . real players, too substantial for any lit screen. Bless them when you see and hear them, too.

May your happiness increase!

RIGHT ON THE SPOT WHEN THE MUSIC IS HOT, or BEALE STREET’S PAVED WITH GOLD: MARTY GROSZ, JAMES DAPOGNY, DUKE HEITGER, BOB HAVENS, BOB REITMEIER, VINCE GIORDANO, ARNIE KINSELLA (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 19, 2009)

I could write a long introduction about the music and scene that follows, but I will say only that it was thrilling in the moment and it is even more thrilling now. This was a Saturday afternoon session at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, during the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend created by Joe Boughton for his own pleasure and ours.

It seems a blessing to have been there and even more of one to have been allowed to video-record the music, especially since in June 2022, some of the participants have moved to other neighborhoods and others seem to have chosen more relaxing ways of passing the time. I will only say that a few nights ago I was speaking to a person I’d not met before — she and her husband live in Ann Arbor — of how much I miss Jim Dapogny and I had to turn away to control myself.

The heroes are Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; James Dapogny, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Vince Giordano, tuba, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums, and the song is the venerable BEALE STREET BLUES, with Marty’s three vocal choruses deeply rooted in Jack Teagarden, which is a lovely thing.

Chris Smith calls this “a joyous and soulful happy blues.” I hope you delight in it as I do:

Yes, these moments of collective ecstasy — and I don’t exaggerate — happen now. I’ve been there and witnessed them. But this assemblage of dear intent artists is not coming our way again, so these minutes are precious. And I would think so even if someone else had held the camera. Bless these fellows all.

May your happiness increase!

The CHAMBER JAZZ CONSORT: TALENT DESERVING WIDER RECOGNITION!

Danyel Nicholas, clarinet, eyeglasses, cufflinks, wall hanging, inscrutable expression, table, chair. Location and occasion unknown.

It’s my pleasure to present a group to you, its members expert and passionate although not all that well-known, its instrumentation clarinet / soprano saxophone, viola, and double bass.

Some of you might say, “That’s seriously unorthodox,” and perhaps you’d be right since groups with this instrumentation aren’t the usual. But the question of “orthodox” instrumentation has long been shaped by players’ desires to reproduce a certain desirable sound — whether Bob Crosby’s Bobcats or Charlie Parker’s quintets. And, of course, the marketplace — music as recognizable reproducible product — was a driving force, so that the Benny Goodman trio gave rise to other clarinet-piano-drums groups.

But left to their own devices, musicians looked for other sympathetic souls who could play. Alto, clarinet, guitar, string bass? Sure. Cornet, bass saxophone, piano, guitar? Let’s go.

Hear for yourself.

Goodness, don’t they swing? — with such dancing rhythms, shifting tonalities, and an overall translucency. And the CONSORT is such a sweet triumph — its precursor is the Basie rhythm section — of complete unity and complete individuality all at once.

I’ll have another. How about something slightly more unexpected?

Why stop now?

What we loosely call “cyberspace” is like the grab bag at the children’s party: sometimes you get a neatly wrapped package of worn socks; sometimes you find a jewel.

I first met Danyel Nicholas (clarinet, soprano saxophone, and imagination) when he left a wonderfully articulated comment on a video of the EarRegulars. I wanted to find out who this thinking person was, and instigated a conversation, which led me to the videos of the CHAMBER JAZZ CONSORT, also featuring Micha Daniels, viola, and Roland Effgen, double bass. The video performances were a sweet ardent breeze to my sensibilities, and I asked Danyel to tell me where all this light-hearted expert fervent joy had come from:

Chamber Jazz Consort was formed after I came back from New York (where I studied with Mark Lopeman and, to a lesser extent, with the late Phil Schaap–history is a very important part of music as my favourite composers and even players tend to be all historic) wrote some arrangements and tried to re-vitalise my old swing band I had left behind and that John Defferary had kind of inherited but was no longer interested in. Those cats however couldn’t handle the amount of writing and detailed notation. Then came the pandemic and we decided to shrink to the minimum size. I had grown up “bilingual” in musical terms and always drifted towards substantial compositions (Jelly Roll, Ellington, Benny Carter) in Jazz. I am not so much interested in Third Stream as Jazz clearly already is a third stream, but I think form and instrumentation are not definitive yet, as many jazz musicians simply don’t have the time to study Lully or Schubert. I like counterpoint and try to write obbligato accompaniment that is not an organic version of band in a box. That’s why I am particularly fond of the EarRegulars and always relished the occasions when Scott Robinson played Trumbauer on a Sarrusophone.

I pursued Danyel a little more, saying that my readers — and I — wanted to know, “Where on earth did this fellow come from?” and got this witty reply:

What were I & where? That’s a tough one!——
In the 80s I studied composition and played piano, in the 90s lute and viol (in Frankfurt/Germany at Clara Schuman’s conservatory…) but played mostly modern jazz (clarinet & alto) as nobody here was seriously playing earlier jazz, or any early music for that matter, especially in my generation. I had however loved Ellington, Jelly, Henderson, or the Missourians ever since friends of my parents, when I was “knee-high to a duck,” gave me stacks of strange records they thought I might like. I did!

In the late 90s I published a book on “exotic” instruments for a museum and taught the clarinet. I also started to collect historic clarinets like the kind Bigard or Simeon used.

In the “oughties” I worked with New Orleans-style people (like Trevor Richards, John Defferary to name only those you might have heard of) and worked endlessly on mouthpieces. In the teens I tried to run a Kansas City-style swing band playing mostly for lindy hoppers, then, in New York, I met Mark Lopeman (playing lead alto with the Nighthawks that evening), took lessons with him for about 2 years (about 3 hours a week!) and realised that writing jazz was the right thing for me to do. Mark is the greatest transcriber I have ever met. And one of the finest reeds! Back in Europe I played with all sorts of musicians who would tell me they’d rather improvise because they didn’t care how the inner voices moved or how the instrumentation sounded. So I felt like Jelly Roll! Hooray!


During the pandemic (hardly any gigs for two years!) I rehearsed the Chamber Jazz Consort and practiced French music of the Louis XIV era.
I also try to keep the “Red Hot Hottentots” alive, an ancient German hot jazz ensemble (with Colin Dawson).


Next I might embark with Capt. Gulliver…

I don’t want Danyel, Micha, and Roland to embark anywhere except for a series of gigs, a concert tour, CD and DVD recording sessions, festival appearances. In the ideal world, they would be the “other” group on a concert bill with a chamber group playing Brahms and Dvorak.

Practical matters. Danyel’s YouTube channel can be found here. As I write this, he has a mingy eleven subscribers, including me. We can do better. And he has posted more than a dozen thrilling videos . . . with a broad imaginative reach. Here’s one I love:

I love this brave friendly wise quirky band, and want them to be better known. Tell your friends!

May your happiness increase!

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT, AMAZING GIFTS from HOT LIPS PAGE and FRIENDS in MISSOURI (January 9, 1954)

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condon’s Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet, James P. Johnson on piano, and Eddie Condon on guitar. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Hot Lips Page is one of my absolute heroes — for fiery emotive playing and more — and to find “new” music by him is a dream. In this case, an audible dream for sure. Although this session has been available on YouTube for three years, which I find inconceivable, I only stumbled across it yesterday, thanks to trumpet man and scholar Yves Francois.

Here is what the blessed YouTube poster, a nephew or niece we bow low to, says.


These 5 tunes (including 2 takes of Struttin’ With Some Barbecue) were recorded on 1-19-54 in my uncle Robert C. Oswald’s basement studio on Mosley Lane in Creve Coeur, Missouri (the house is long gone). This session may have been the last one of Hot Lips Page, who died on 11-5-54; I have been unable to find evidence of any recordings by him after the 1-19-54 date. The musicians were Hot Lips Page, trumpet and vocal; Al Guichard, clarinet; Druie Bess, trombone; Val Thompson, piano; Singleton Palmer, tuba; Lige [Lije] Shaw, drums; Jerry Potter, drums on Struttin’*

*Bob’s notes indicate Jerry Potter on drums for Cornet Chop Suey, a tune not on the tapes or otherwise mentioned in his notes of the session. I suspect that he confused Chop Suey with Barbecue, understandable given that both tunes were early Armstrong recordings that were certainly well known to him. It Had To Be You was very likely played informally as a jam tune, as the recorder was started a few measures late, solos are 64 bars long, and there is constant banter in the background.

Lips — in the last year of his life, with cardiac problems looming and dental problems in attendance — plays like the man Marc Caparone calls ATLAS. Such power, such accuracy, such playful enthusiasm leaping out of the bell of his horn. And his gutty, grainy singing voice on DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE makes that song far less of a cliche. And his blues singing!

It Had To Be You was very likely played informally as a jam tune, as the recorder was started a few measures late, solos are 64 bars long, and there is constant banter in the background.

and the oddly named [Google didn’t help: was PALADIUM USA a club or concert venue?] slow blues, again with peerless singing:

and a swinging melodic feature for Palmer:

and a longer rehearsal of STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE — catch the start of Lips’ second chorus and the way he leads the band out, majestically:

and a “final” version, with an equally heroic rideout:

I’ve included about ½ minute of band discussion preceding the this second version of Struttin’. Toward the end of this segment one hears Bob in the control room reminding the band, “Any time.” His desire to move things along may reflect his use of 1200’ reels of recording tape, each reel good for only 15 minutes of full track recording at 15 inches per second.

Thrilling. And the band has history: Singleton Palmer lived until 1983, played many brass instruments (starting on cornet) and was Basie’s string bassist 1948-49; Guichard was his clarinet player in 1950; Druie Bess played with Jesse Stone in 1927 and with Earl Hines twenty years later; Lije Shaw played drums with Palmer. I can find nothing about Thompson; Jerry Potter might be the same person who played with Tiny Grimes and Red Allen.

What delightful surprises. Atlas doesn’t shrug here, not even for a thirty-second note.

Blessings to Hot Lips Page of Corsicana, Texas, my friends Yves Francois and Marc Caparone, and to Robert C. Oswald and the generous YouTube poster. VERY BLOWINGLY to you all.

May your happiness increase!

“COULDN’T GET ANY MORE LOVELY”: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY at BIRDLAND (Tuesdays in June 2022)

Words heard after last night’s performance in the Birdland Theater, May 31, 2022 — a performance by Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass from 5:30 to close to 7 PM.

Gabrielle told us that each of the Tuesdays to come will have a new menu of songs, so what follows is just a list of musical blessings, but since I kept notes, you get to read them The trio started with a very affirmative ‘DEED I DO, then I WISHED ON THE MOON (tender, then swinging), a defiantly rocking A SLEEPIN’ BEE, usually taken at a slow tempo, THAT OLD DEVIL CALLED LOVE, WONDER WHY, an exultantly funky I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO. Then, a swinging I NEVER KNEW (played so often as an instrumental but its sweet archaic lyrics completely convincing) and what was a highlight of the session, LET’S BEGIN, where I thought of Gabrielle both as most expert wooer and the host of a game show where delights waited behind the second door. GET OUT OF TOWN closed with her grinning, saying, “and STAY out!” which was hilarious, then she segued into I’LL BE AROUND, after the final notes dying away, saying, “I don’t always do ‘doormat songs,’ but that one is special.” As the set neared its close, it got even better, with TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, (an audience request that took on wings) a passionate BORN TO BE BLUE, and closing with a romping FOR YOU, FOR ME, FOREVERMORE.

I’d heard this trio (with Dan Block and Danny Tobias added) about two months ago at a party and thought, “They are touching my heart more each time I hear them,” but the Birdland session was the embodiment of heartfelt chamber jazz.

Gabrielle is in superb voice, with operatic strengths but also whispers, side-of-the-mouth secrets, and the occasional growl — all dramatically used to reveal a song’s center. Pat not only sustained the harmonies and the drive but reminded us all that a splendid bass solo is something too precious to talk through, and Michael swung, commented, brought sweetness, comedy, and warmth as needed, as prescribed. At times Pat and Michael reminded me of Ray Brown and Jimmie Rowles, even Hinton and Basie or Jimmy Jones. And the trio is clearly a telepathic band: Gabrielle called a tune, pointed out the key if it needed to be pointed out, and they were off, sharing one perfectly shaped performance after another.

Another lovely aspect: the Birdland Theater is clean and quiet; the piano is well-tuned; the sound system is transparent and unobtrusive. And the substantial audience was near-reverent, as they so often are not. A wonderful place for a pre-theater or escaping-rush-hour gig, and when we emerged, the sky was still bright. And the music rang in our ears.

I was too absorbed to take phone photographs and the management frowns on interlopers with video cameras, so you’ll just have to get there yourself. They’ll be one flight down at 315 West 44th Street, just west of Eighth Avenue in midtown Manhattan every Tuesday in June. Why deprive yourselves? Or, as the Sages say, “Support gigs, they blossom; stay home, they wither.”

May your happiness increase!