The Concord Jazz record label released its first issue in 1973 at a time when new jazz record labels were blossoming (I think of Norman Granz’s Pablo and Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro, among others). Concord had a particular sound and cross-generational approach: elders like Flip Phillips, Woody Herman, Nat Pierce, Harry Edison, Jimmie Rowles, Rosemary Clooney, Al Cohn, Buddy Tate, alongside newcomers Scott Hamilton and Warren Vache.
The “Concord Jazz All-Stars” also performed in concert, and we are fortunate that some of that material was preserved in video as well as audio form. Here’s the first quarter of an evening performance from July 17 at “Le Festival International du Jazz a Antibes Juan-Les-Pins 1979.”
Marshal Royal, alto saxophone; Snooky Young, trumpet; Ross Tompkins, piano; Michael Moore, string bass; Herb Ellis, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
MOTEN SWING / STARDUST (Marshal) / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL (Snooky) //
Add Scott Hamilton, tenor saxophone; Warren Vache, cornet. C JAM BLUES //
LOVE YOU MADLY Tompkins, Ray Brown, string bass; Jake Hanna, drums //
“Concord” means harmony, and that is true of this music. And there’s a Part Two to come.
Thanks to Scott Hamilton, yes, the Scott Hamilton, for his kind encouragement.
A sweet and hot experience from a world in transition, in parole, as it were. Music beyond compare amidst strollers, chatters, and puppies on leash. Marvelous that it happened, and thrilling that it happened in a time and place that I and the OAO could visit. And we brought back souvenirs for you.
Here’s a rocking Louis performance that continues to inspire: ONCE IN A WHILE, with memories of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, performed on June 6, 2021, at The Ear Out — 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York — by the EarRegulars, who were Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass, and guest Josh Dunn, guitar (Josh takes the first solo, and in the Louis spirit, note Jay’s WEST END BLUES at the end of his solo (2:31)).
ONCE IN A WHILE, indeed, magic filled the air. Thanks to technology (a completely obsolete Panasonic HD video camera and very solicitous RODE microphone on a reliable tripod) it can be revisited at leisure.
For the first performance of the evening and the full introduction, please seehere.
Our business today is musical, not verbal: more from the wonderful Sunday gig at The Jazz Forum.
Monk’s FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH:
WHEN YOU GET IN OVER YOUR HEAD:
This post is of course for the Micros themselves, creators of dense translucencies, stomping minuets, and for Mark and Ellen of the Jazz Forum, and loyal listeners Maurice and Amber. All hail! We hope for a Micros reunion in New York sooner than 2027.
And there are fifteen or so more video-performances to come from that night, so watch this space.
“Some folks say that swing won’t stay, that it’s dying out / I can prove it’s in the groove and they don’t know what they’re talking about”: loosely paraphrased lyrics from the 1940 song WHAM. But completely relevant here.
Listen to Guillermo Perata, cornet; Ramiro Penovi, electric guitar; Farnando Montardit, acoustic guitar; Diego Rodriguez, string bass, as they saunter through their arrangement of Irving Berlin’s ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND — a clever arrangement with lovely solos, so reminiscent of the wonderful quartet that George Barnes and Ruby Braff had for a short time in the Seventies:
And visit Guillermo Perata‘s YouTube channel for more lovely music. It’s in the groove. And since such things matter, I have had the privilege of meeting Guillermo and Fernando on a New York City trip: dear people as well as swinging players. Follow them (as they say) on Facebook, too.
“Mainstream,” not “trad,” “nor “Dixieland.” From the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party (September 19, 2014): two songs by Randy Reinhart, cornet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums. It’s visually dark but the music blazes through. Lyrical, not hackneyed; Loesser and Carmichael, not Oliver or the ODJB. Abandon those categories and enjoy:
The clarinetist / saxophonist / arranger Frank Teschemacher, a brilliant individualistic voice in Chicago jazz of the late Twenties, didn’t live to see his twenty-sixth birthday. Everyone who played alongside him spoke of him with awe. Even though the recorded evidence of his idiosyncratic personality amounts to less than ninety minutes, he shines and blazes through any ensemble.
In celebration of what would have been Tesch’s centenary, Marty Grosz put together a tribute at the September 2006 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend. It wasn’t a series of note-for-note copies of his recordings (this would have horrified the Austin High Gang) but a sincere hot effort to capture Tesch’s musical world — with great success. I was there with a moderately-concealed digital recorder, and couldn’t bear that this set would only be a memory, so what follows is my audio recording.
Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal, commentary; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; James Dapogny, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, tuba, bass saxophone; Pete Siers, drums. (The voice you’ll hear discoursing with Marty is that of the late Joe Boughton, creator of this and many other festivals.)
PRINCE OF WAILS (Dapogny transcription / arrangement) / BULL FROG BLUES (JD arr) / WAILING BLUES (JD arr) / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN (possibly Marty’s arrangement) / TRYING TO STOP MY CRYING (possibly Marty arrangement, his vocal, glee club) / SUGAR (possibly Marty arrangement, his vocal) / COPENHAGEN (with Marty’s Indiana etymology / story of Boyce Brown getting fired for talking about reincarnation). Thanks to Chris Smith for his assistance.
This post is in honor of Missy Kyzer, who was fascinated by Tesch and his world a long time ago. See her work here and here.
Jazz enthusiasts are as guilty of the Name-Brand-Enchantment as other product purchasers: the people at the supermarket who will only buy Heinz’ baked beans and not very different from the listeners who celebrate their particular Jazz Deity and would ignore splendid performances by people they haven’t yet heard. Think of Joshua Bell, unannounced, playing gorgeously in the Washington, D.C. subway, few people paying attention, and you get the idea.
Here is an ad hoc group of California jazz stars — although some of them never made a record under their own name — playing wonderfully. Tom Baker is a beloved figure, but I suspect many listeners might look at the heading of this post and think, as did Philip Larkin, “If I haven’t heard of them, how good could they be?” and turn away, which would be a pity, because the music is delicious.
This hot effusion — a live gig — comes from the collection of superb bassist and spiritual leader Mike Fay. The collective personnel is Bill Napier, clarinet; Larry Stein, soprano saxophone; Tom Baker, tenor saxophone; Tom Keats, rhythm guitar; unidentified, solo guitar; possibly Jim Cumming, string bass. Robin Hodes, trumpet, and Bob Mielke, trombone, are noted in the personnel but aren’t heard on the first tracks. The CD is labeled HOT REEDS 1983. Here are the first five performances, and they rock and saunter in the best ways.
OH, MISS HANNAH!:
CREOLE LOVE CALL:
SWINGIN’ THE BLUES (with a nod to TWISTED):
and THEM THERE EYES:
My guess is that most of the names in this band might be new to many listeners, especially to those less familiar to the California jazz scene of decades past. (How odd to write “decades past” of 1983: some readers will understand this feeling.)
You might never have heard of them, but I hope you are glad that you heard their music. And there are another five or perhaps six performances from this energetic and friendly date to come.
Halley’s Comet comes back every ninety years. By those standards, The Microscopic Septet is a frequent visitor to New York: 2017, then now. But five years is a long time by earthly standards, so the return of the Micros is a jubilant thing.
News flash: the Micros will be playing their other New York gig at Smalls, Christopher Street, Thursday, July 21. Be there if you can or become a member for free, or better, make a donation here and watch the live-stream.
I know it’s odd to start with still photographs, since the Micros are such a mobile group, but they are terribly photogenic, so I couldn’t resist. One more:
And now to more words. The Microscopic Septet wowed us in two sets at Tarrytown’s hidden jazz oasis, the Jazz Forum (a wonderful place!) on Sunday night, July 17, 2022. They are Joel Forrester, pianist, composer, arranger, co-leader; Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone, composer, arranger, co-leader; Richard Dworkin, drums; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone, vocal on I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO CRY; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Don Davis, alto saxophone.
And if you are new to the Micros — who have been visible and audible for thirty-and-more years — they are more expansive than my words could convey. They have energies in profusion, and they rock. Their rhythm never falters, and you’ll hear elements of the last hundred years of jazz mixed in a savory stew, always surprising: reed-section unisons and backgrounds, riffs and stop-times, passionate soloing that owes much to early rhythm and blues on one end, free jazz on the other. Strong melodic lines and lots of drama, leavened with humor, futuristic and earthy all at once.
Here’s the first performance of the first set, Joel’s MANHATTAN MOONRISE:
Oh yes, there will be more! But get yourself to Smalls on Thursday night, two sets.
“Live your life so that when you are gone you are missed for a long time,” someone once said, and the wonderful string bassist and enlivening human being Murray Wall, who left us a day ago, is a sterling example. I refuse to use the past tense: as long as we can hear Murray, he IS.
I didn’t play in a rhythm section with Murray, and I only knew him for slightly more than a dozen years. Others have better stories. We spoke occasionally when I showed up at a gig with a camera, and he was kind and friendly always. (Only once, when he performed his comic vocal variations on IT HAD TO BE YOU, did he ask me to keep the video private. And I honor this.)
But I got a sense of his looking-at-the-world stance: more than a little amused but keeping the punchline to himself for the most part. Even when his head wasn’t cocked slightly to one side or an eyebrow raised, it was easy to imagine their presence.
In another culture, he would have been the Sage-Storyteller-Jester-Advisor, and I feel that he was all those things, although he sent his axioms and giggles to us through gut strings on an acoustic bass rather than sermons or pronouncements.
His gentle slyness came through in every note: he didn’t take himself seriously, but he held melody and swing sacred. He loved the music — that’s not a cliche here — and love came from him to us.
HIs ensemble playing was “rock-solid” in the best way; he was someone you could lean on and never fear that the band would fall down. That giant woody sound, never too loud: a plush pillow with clearly defined edges. His tone. His note choices. His speaking way of constructing phrases. His solos were not ego-driven: no twanging notes to start off, to say LOOK AT ME, no scampering up and down the fretboard. Melodies new, rhythms strong, sometimes surprising harmonies, all sending joy.
and Murray’s chosen feature:
I wanted to close with a blues, because I feel grief writing this post. But this is what I came up with: Lester Young’s POUND CAKE, which is whimsical and slightly at a tilt: joy to cut through the sorrow even though the sorrow remains like a stain.
Thank you, Murray. You bless us. I forego my usual closing in his honor, even though Murray always increased our happiness.
What follows is the center, the heart, you might say, of the LARRY McKENNA WITH STRINGS project, one that is making progress towards completion. So when you hear the quiet interludes in this performance, you may imagine them filled with strings, English horn, harp, and more — arrangements by Larry and Jack Saint Clair.
But when I was sitting in the studio at Rowan University on May 22, 2022, marveling, I didn’t feel the need to imagine anything. Larry; Silas Irvine, piano; Joe Plowman, string bass; Dan Monaghan, drums, invited me to make myself comfortable in a dream in sound, and I am so grateful.
I am not an insistent person, but I insisted that I be allowed to share this interlude, this dream-vision in sound and textures, so that my readers could come along as well.
DREAMSVILLE, incidentally, is by Henry Mancini, and first appeared as part of the music for the television series PETER GUNN. But there’s nothing noir about the quartet’s interpretation:
The summer of 2021 was memorable in many ways for jazz lovers in New York City. A resurrection of sorts, if you will. And one of the most endearing manifestations of that coming-alive impulse was the space outside of The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York, on Sunday afternoons, where The EarRegulars made us all feel joyous and free, once again. (They are back to their regular Sunday-night revival meetings, from about 8 to about 11 PM: superb community and surprises galore.)
October 17, 2021, was one of those surprises, when Bill and John Allred, father and son trombonists, got together to add to The EarRegulars, who were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, heroic warrior [to be explained below] and string bass. What Bill and John do together is part practice, part telepathy, and wholly gratifying. And The EarRegulars are always living examples of thoughtful swing, in solo and ensemble.
Here’s Irving Berlin’s ALWAYS:
and the affirmation of romantic commitment:
and — under the heading IF YOU CAN MAKE IT HERE, YOU’LL MAKE IT ANYWHERE, the heroic battle of Pat O’Leary versus The Siren:
We had a wonderful time, out there in the fresh air and bright sunshine. Memorable hours among friends and the best sounds. And it still is happening Sunday nights, so come visit.
Attentive readers will already have seen (and heard) my recent post on the Redwood Coast Music Festival, which can be visited here. (There’s a substantial helping of music from the 2019 RCMF.)
Now, the musicians have agreed that the tentative schedule for the festival is fine with them, so I can share it with you here. Make sure you have a cool drink (or a hot one, depending on where you are), a way of taking notes, and perhaps your phone within reach in case you feel faint. The schedule has that effect on me, so I am not fantasizing at all.
Thursday and Friday:
And, a little music to help you take the next step, which involves tickets to the festival, lodging, and transportation. Those you have to do on your own, but they are do-able for certain.
ESQUIRE BOUNCE, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:
and DON’T BE THAT WAY, by a different version of the Swingtet:
I’m eager to go, and I hope you are as well. And the race IS indeed to the swift: when I called the Red Lion Hotel in Eureka, California, some rooms were already booked. Carpe the swing diem, dear readers.
I think of this as the Jazz at Chautauqua Thursday Night All-Star Jam Band, and after you hear and see them for nine minutes I predict you will understand why.
Thursday night sessions, before the jazz weekend began, were loose swinging affairs in the Athenaeum Hotel parlor, where we sat at the same level as the musicians (rather than below them in a large ballroom) and all kinds of good things happened, as they did on September 20, 2012.
Here are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums, romping on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, which begins in the most sweetly exalted 1936 Teddy Wilson style. Imperishable. I can’t watch it only once. And to list all the delights would take away your pleasure in finding them, so get ready to compile your own list of astonishments:
That kind of performance — expertise, wit, enthusiasm, joy — happens often when musicians of this caliber gather and the cosmic vibrations are right, but to me this is a perfectly memorable interlude, one I treasure.
Thanks to the musicians and to the late Joe Boughton, the emperor of rare songs, swing, and good feeling.
“More than just books”: Eric Whittington’s Bird & Beckett Books (652 Chenery Street, San Francisco, California) is a delightful sanctuary for art, for poetry, for music. And certainly jazz.
July 5, 2022 was an exciting and rare appearance by four of the finest under the banner of RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS: Ray Skjelbred, piano, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
They play and sing:
BLUE AIR BLUES (Ray’s selection of a strain from Sidney Bechet’s BLUES IN THEAIR) / Fats Waller’s THAT RHYTHM MAN / Hines’ ROSETTA, vocal by Ray / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, homage to Joe Sullivan and Bing / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU for Lionel and friends / NOBODY’SSWEETHEART for the Chicagoans / MEMORIES OF YOU for everyone who has memories of Eubie, Louis, Benny, and more / Ray commends the band / OH, BABY! also for the Chicagoans / an intermission / James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE / SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES for Barbara Dane / WHO’S SORRY NOW? for the Blue Note Jazzmen and others / WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD for Bing and Berlin and my friends too / I NEVER KNEW for Benny Carter, Pres, and Berkeley Rhythm / PEG O’MY HEART for Miff Mole / Bubber Miley’s IT DON’T MEAN A THING (IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING) and closing with James P.’s A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID //
Music that’s at once subversive and very direct, with bold statements and tender little explosions. If you can hear the lovely densities, you are tuned to the correct astral channel; if you can’t at first, listen again. And those who are uplifted, as I am, might consider sending a few cyber-lettuce leaves to the sites listed above. Pussycats need food and water; musicians and venues, also.
That’s right. DARK EYES, published in 1843, has lyrics by the Ukrainian poet Yevhen Hrebinka, music by the German composer Florian Hermann. And here it is, served hot.
All of this splendid improvisation on the theme took place before 10 AM on a Saturday morning at Jazz at Chautauqua (September 15, 2007), a fact worth noting, since many jazz musicians are nocturnal beings. We have Bob Barnard, cornet (open) / leader; Duke Heitger, trumpet (muted); Bob Havens, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums. Everyone sounds splendid but I award the Palm to Bob . . . who just soars, as was his habit:
Jazz at Chautauqua (then the Allegheny Jazz Party and the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party) came only once a year, but I attended faithfully for fourteen years and am still living in the afterglow. My decade plus-one (2006-17) of performance audios and videos is a precious archive to me, and it is (as always) a joy to share it with you. There are more treasures unseen and unheard, so watch this space.
The Microscopic Septet is one of the most imaginative jazz groups it’s ever been my privilege to encounter. The last time that happened five years ago, since co-leaders Joel Forrester and Phillip Johnston live far apart, but they are reuniting in New York for four sets, two nights, in July 2022.
The Septet is Joel Forrester, piano, compositions, arrangements; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Don Davis, alto saxophone; Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone, compositions, arrangements Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums. If I tried to describe what they did, it would be inaccurate because narrow: let’s just say they lovingly take the past and send it Priority Mail into the future, with surprises thrown in free of charge.
Here’s a taste of what they did (and I captured) in 2017.
WHEN YOU GET IN OVER YOUR HEAD (you’ll forget the noisy audience immediately):
Phillip’s LET’S COOLERATE ONE:
HANG IT ON A LINE:
And here’s Phillip’s commentary on the return / reunion:
Active for a dozen years, the Microscopic Septet were widely recognized as “New York’s Most Famous Unknown Band.” The group started with a basic reeds-and-rhythm texture (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone sax, piano, bass and drums) that was sonically similar to the sound of the Swing Era. However, they employed these textures to address a widely eclectic range of styles, from free-form music to R&B, rhumbas and ragtime.The result was a brilliant blend of fresh-sounding orchestration and inspired soloing. Beloved in New York, where they generally drew capacity crowds, “The Micros” were one of the most celebrated of the many cutting-edge units associated with experimental music’s best-known venue, the Knitting Factory, during the peak years of the “Downtown” music movement in the mid 1980s onward.Beginning in 2006, the Micros came back together again, sparked by a re-release of their 1980s LPs on a series of CDs on Cuneiform, eventually releasing a series of highly regarded CD, also on Cuneiform, featuring both new and earlier, unrecorded Micros music.Beginning with Lobster Leaps In and followed by Friday The 13th: The Micros Play Monk, Manhattan Moonrise and Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues, the Micros began playing once or twice a year in New York, despite the fact that the two band-leaders, Phillip Johnston lives in Sydney, Australia, and Joel Forrester in Lyons, France, until the pandemic made travel impossible. . . . until now. In July 2022, for the first time since the 2017 concert ‘Forever Weird’ at The Kitchen (with generational fellow travelers Jazz Passengers & Kamikaze Ground Crew), the Micros are gathering in New York to play two gigs, at Jazz Forum and Smalls Jazz Club.
“The Micros skip merrily through the century, finding an avant-garde side street branching off from a trad-jazz Main Street…. As always with the Micros, it’s gloriously, delightfully and inappropriately right. Welcome back.” – DOWN BEAT
And the gig details. Sunday, July 17, 2022, The Jazz Forum, Tarrytown, New York, two shows, 4 and 6 PM. Tickets:https://jazzforumarts.org/.
TEN YEARS, by the Dave Stuckey – Hal Smith Western Swing All-Stars:
JULIANNE, by Charlie [Halloran] and the Tropicales:
I am very excited by this news that the Redwood Coast Music Festival is returning. It gives my native optimism fertile soil to grow in. This festival is a friendly sustained explosion of some of the best musical talent I know.
Here are some of the glorious people who will be there, singing and playing. Dave Stuckey, Marc Caparone, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Hal Smith, Twerk Thomson, Kris Tokarski, Charlie Halloran, Jonathan Doyle, Joel Paterson, Dawn Lambeth, Brian Casserly, Dave Bennett, T.J. Muller, Katie Cavera, Jacob Zimmerman, Duke Robillard, Jessica King, Ryan Calloway, Riley Baker, Chris Wilkinson, James Mason, Jamey Cummins, Josh Collazo, Tom Rigney, Sam Rocha, Nate Ketner, Dave Kosymna, Alex Hall, Beau Sample, Dan Walton, John Gill, Jontavious Willis, Brian Holland, Danny Coots, and more. And more.
The festival runs from Thursday evening to Sunday evening (September 29 to October 2) and there are either five or six simultaneous sets. Simultaneous. I emphasize this because I got the most charming vertigo trying to plot a course through the tentative schedule, an exercise in Buddhist non-attachment or chess (which I never learned): “I want to see X at 5:30 but that means I can’t see Y then, but I can see Y the next day.”
I’ve only been to Redwood Coast once, in 2019, a transcendent experience and I don’t overstate: the only festival that made me think longingly of hiring a camera crew of at least two friends so that we could capture some portion of the good(ly) sounds. one of the nicest things about this festival is its broad love of energized passionate music: jazz, blues, swing, country, zydeco, soul, rhythm and blues, “Americana,” “roots” — you name it.
Did I mention that there’s room for dancing?
Are some of the names listed above unfamiliar to you? Go here to learn more about the artists and see videos of their work
You can buy tickets here. And maybe you’ll think this is the voice of entitlement, but an all-events pass — four days! — is $135, at least until August 1.
Here’s one more musical convincer from 2019:
Remember, every time it rains it rains PENNIES FROM HEAVEN — in this case, rare musical experiences. But you can’t catch them in your ears or outstretched hands by staying at home.
Three I’s: IMPORTANT, IRREPLACEABLE, and INEXPENSIVE.
But I’ll let Dan Levinson explain it all to us.
In 1992, legendary record producer George Avakian produced an album in homage to the pioneers of 1920s Chicago Jazz, known as The Austin High Gang, who had been among his most powerful influences when his love for jazz was developing. Those pioneers included Frank Teschemacher, Eddie Condon, Jimmy McPartland, Bud Freeman, Muggsy Spanier, Joe Sullivan, Gene Krupa, and others. Avakian’s 1992 recording featured two bands: one, directed by pianist Dick Hyman, which played Hyman’s note-for-note re-creations of the original recordings; and a second band, led by clarinetist Kenny Davern, which played its own interpretations of songs associated with the Chicago Jazz style, keeping the SPIRIT of the original artists close at hand. I was in the Teschemacher role in Hyman’s band, and had never been in a recording studio before.Avakian financed the whole project, but, sadly, was never able to find a label that was wiling to reimburse his cost and put the album out. The last time I went to visit George, in June of 2017, I asked him about the album again. Then 98 years old, he was clearly disappointed that it never came out, and he asked me to continue his search for a label and to “get it issued”. I exhausted my resources at the time, and wasn’t able to make it happen before George passed away several months later. Three years later, Bryan Wright, founder of Rivermont Records, rode in to save the day. And this month – thirty years after the original recording session took place – Avakian’s dream project is finally coming out on Bryan’s label as “One Step to Chicago: The Legacy of Frank Teschemacher and The Austin High Gang”. Bryan has – literally – spared no expense in assembling a beautiful package, which is actually a CD inside a booklet rather than a booklet inside a CD. I’ve written extensive liner notes detailing every aspect of the project, and there are also written contributions from author/record producer Hank O’Neal, guitarist Marty Grosz, and drummer Hal Smith, a specialist in Chicago Jazz style. I was able to track down the original photos from the recording session, and Bryan’s booklet includes a generous selection of them. I want to gratefully acknowledge the help of archivist Matt Snyder, cover artist Joe Busam (who designed the album cover based on Avakian’s 1940 78rpm album “Decca Presents an Album of Chicago Jazz”), the family of George Avakian, Hank O’Neal, Maggie Condon, and the New York Public Library, whose help in making this happen was invaluable.The album features a truly spectacular lineup of artists, including, in various combinations: Peter Ecklund, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dick Sudhalter, Dan Barrett, Ken Peplowski, Dick Hyman, Marty Grosz, Howard Alden, Bob Haggart, Milt Hinton, Vince Giordano, Arnie Kinsella, and Tony DeNicola.
The CD and digital download are available on the Rivermont Records website here. A vinyl version – a two-record set, in fact – will be available later this month.
And here is Rivermont founder (and superb pianist) Bryan Wright’s story of ONE STEP TO CHICAGO.
“Dick Hyman and his Frank Teschemacher Celebration Band” (Ecklund, Sudhalter, Kellso, Barrett, Levinson, Peplowski, Hyman, Grosz, Haggart, Giordano, Kinsella) play / recreate classic Chicago recordings from the Golden Era of free-wheeling jazz: ONE STEP TO HEAVEN / SUGAR / I’VE FOUND A NEW BABY / CHINA BOY / LIZA (Condon, not Gershwin) / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE: eighteen minutes in the most divine Hot Time Machine.
and “Kenny Davern and his Windy City Stompers” (Davern, Kellso, Barrett, Hyman, Alden, Hinton, DeNicola) going for themselves on THE DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / WABASH BLUES / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / THE JAZZ ME BLUES / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / INDIANA.
and — a bonus — a nearly nine-minute excursion on FAREWELL BLUES by the combined bands.
But I can hear someone saying, “Enough with the facts. How does it SOUND, Michael?” To which I respond without hesitation, “It sounds terrific. Finest kind. It delivers the goods — sonically, emotionally, and heatedly.”
I will give pride of place to the writers / scholars whose words and reminiscences fill the eighty-page booklet (complete with wonderful photographs) Dick Hyman, Hank O’Neal, Dan Levinson, Hal Smith, and Marty Grosz, explain and elucidate, as they do beautifully, the roles of George Avakian, Eddie Condon, Bix Beiderbecke, and two dozen other saints of Hot. That booklet is both perceptive and unabashed in its love for the people and the sounds, and it is more than worth the price of admission. Unlike much jazz writing about the hallowed past, it is also delightfully free of hyperbole and something I will politely call hooey.
The CD — aside from the booklet — has two wonderful selves. The first six performances are evocations of the original, classic, recordings, with musicians who know the originals by heart working from expert transcriptions by the Master, Dick Hyman. The business of “re-creation” is difficult, and I have gotten into trouble in the past when pointing out that in some cases it feels impossible. Great art comes hot from the toaster; it is innovative, imagined for the first time in those minutes in the recording studio. So re-creation requires both deep emotional understanding of the individuals involved, the aesthetic air they breathed, and expert sleight-of-hand to make a listener believe they are hearing the ghost of Tesch rather than someone dressed up as Tesch for Halloween.
But the re-creations on this disc are as satisfying as any I’ve heard, more than simply playing the dots on the page, but dramatically assuming the characters of the heroes we revere. They are passionate rather than stiff, and wonderfully translucent: when Ken Peplowski plays a Bud Freeman chorus, we hear both Bud and Ken trotting along in delightful parallel.
I confess that the second half of this disc makes my eyes bright and my tail wag: it isn’t “hell-for-leather” or “take no prisoners,” or whatever cliches you like to characterize the appearance of reckless abandon. What it presents is a group of sublime improvisers bringing all their knowledge and heart to the classics of the past, playing their personalities in the best ways. And each selection reminds us that however “hot” the Chicagoans prided themselves on being, lyricism was at the heart of their performances. I cherish INDIANA, performed at a rhythm-ballad tempo by Kenny Davern, Howard Alden, Milt Hinton, and Tony DiNicola, and the other band selections are full of surprises, pleasing and reassuring both. The closing FAREWELL BLUES has all the joy of a Condon Town Hall concert, and that is no small accomplishment.
And I can’t leave this without noting how lovely the recorded sound is — applause for David Baker, Malcolm Addey, and Peter Karl. I’ve heard more than two-thirds of these performers live, often at very close range, and this disc captures their sounds, their subtleties so marvelously.
This disc is a treasure-box of sounds and homages, with lively music from present company. I predict it will spread joy, and my only encouragement would be for people to for once shun the download, because they won’t get the book. It’s the Library of Alexandria transported to 35th and Calumet.
And here are some sound samples so no one need feel that they are purchasing on faith, although faith in these musicians and these producers would be wholly warranted.
I found this holy relic for sale on eBay. Do I have to say how much I would have given to be there? But alas, my parents had not even met. So there goes that dream. It is, of course, only a piece of paper. But Louis’ big band did broadcast between 1939-43, and some extraordinarily rare and fine music was preserved for us — and issued on a CD on the Ambassador label, Volume 10 of their Armstrong series, the gift of the late Gosta Hagglof to all lovers of hot music.
So in honor of Louis and in honor of his birthday (let’s not argue about the date this year, please) I have extracted two very lively and different performances. Alas, neither is from the Port Arthur dance, but they are by his remarkable big band — with him remarkably out in front, showing the way, as he continues to do.
This composition by Joe Garland got the dancers on the floor and kept them there. The band for this performance is Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Shelton Hemphill, Bernard Flood, Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Wilbur deParis, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Charlie Holmes, Rupert Cole, alto saxophone; Bingie Madison, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Joe Garland, bass sax, reeds, arranger; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. Cotton Club, New York City, March 22, 1940. Listen for Sidney Catlett catching every detail in the arrangement, Garland on bass saxophone, Red Allen on trumpet — further evidence that Red wasn’t “buried” in Louis’ band — and the sound of the respective sections, well-rehearsed, before Bingie Madison’s clarinet and Louis’ entrance, his sound so recognizable, then the duet with Sidney, electrifying:
and a lovely performance (missing the cadenza at the end) of a song written for Louis in 1936 by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, SHOE SHINE BOY. The band’s personnel had changed: Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Frank Galbreath, Shelton Hemphill, Bernard Flood, trumpet; George Washington, James Whitney, Henderson Chambers, trombone; Rupert Cole, Carl Frye, alto saxophone; Prince Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Joe Garland, reeds, arranger; Luis Russell, piano; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; John Simmons, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. Casa Manana, Culver City, California, April 1, 1942. Hear the tenderness in Louis’ voice (and the sweet inspired trumpet obbligato behind his singing), again with Catlett’s heroic support. The incomplete recording catches me by surprise, but I can imagine the notes that follow and hope you can also:
Bless Louis, and his orchestras, and the unknown recordists. The dancers, too. To me, every day is Louis’ birthday. I hope for you also.