Category Archives: Awful Sad

“AT BREAK OF DAWN, THERE IS NO SUNRISE,” or THE JOY OF SORROW: ALBANIE FALLETTA, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN, KEVIN DORN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, New York City, March 12, 2020)

Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, another night at Cafe Bohemia, creating beauty.

Great art doesn’t need a museum with guards or a concert hall: sometimes it happens right in front of us, and this was one of those moments: my last trip into New York City to be transported by live music before the world we all knew began to distort in front of us, a visit to Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village for the last of the Thursday-night-jazz-prayer-meetings. March 12, 2020.

I’ve posted music and written about that ominous and uplifting evening here and here — and I can still see in my mind’s eye the stairway down into the nearly-empty subway station, the feel of a produce-section plastic bag wrapped around my hand (I hadn’t found gloves for sale yet) so that I would touch as few surfaces as possible.  A new world, and not an easy one.  But I digress.

The music.  The magical transmogrifiers I capture with my camera are — I use the present tense on purpose — Albanie Falletta, voice and resonator guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums; Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  The sad text that they make joyous — the great paradox of art — is Einar A. Swan’s 1931 WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE.

That paradox fascinates me.  If you look at the individual facial expressions as the alchemists below make their wise feeling ways through this venerable lament, they are not morose.  Rather, they are the concentrated faces of people intent on making the result of their work (lifetimes of practice and contemplation) come out right.  Were they to “break up their lines to weep,” to quote Yeats, the song would fail as each one retreated into their private universe of grief.  And there is always enough to grieve about.  But I think of Basie and Jimmy Rushing singing and playing the saddest song with a glint of mischief under their labors, embodying and celebrating the powers of art.

Here I’d like to quote from the unpublished journals of Sammut of Malta:

Nothing is ever strictly functional in music because all music is ornamental.

Music is not necessary for our well-being even if we come to need it on an emotional level. The fact is that if organized sound were never a thing, we’d still be here. But that’s what make something as simple as a triad so amazing. There’s really no practical reason for it to exist. But we wouldn’t want to be here without it. So that’s why I’d suggest there’s never any such thing as JUST A II-V-I progression.

We are such complicated humans and simplistic beasts all at once who can never see past our own noses. So when I hear a bass line—any bass line— I like to remind myself of its ultimate meaninglessness outside of my ears, but it makes it more special for that reason.

Or, as Hot Lips Page once told Steve Lipkins on the band bus, “Look, an Eb don’t mean shit unless you bring something to the fucking note.”

What Albanie, Kevin, Sean, Josh, Evan, and Jon-Erik bring to that Eb and all the other notes in this performance is precious — wafting past us in time, evaporating, but memorable.  Bless them for moving us so.

And I will restate some thoughts that are even more pertinent in June:

This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also.  I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator.  The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining  you.  How can you help them and express gratitude?  Simple.  Buy their CDs from their websites.  Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar.  Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say.  Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.  Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, or a really cool leopard-print mask.

What you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.  Musicians remind us that there’s more to live for than lunch, and we must prize them for their pointing this out in every Eb.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ MIGHT NEED PROTECTION FROM THOSE WHO ANALYZE IT AND THOSE WHO SQUEEZE IT TOO TIGHTLY

A visual display of the presumed growth of jazz.

I’ve been reading liberally in the jazz-fan groups on Facebook, which (as I’ve suggested in an earlier post) might be my first error.  But several reactions to the music I and others love caught my eye and I could not walk away from them. I characterize these reflex actions as ENTHUSIASTIC “ANALYSIS”.

A recent example: a fan posted a YouTube video of a band performing and recording in New Orleans, c. 1928, with this commentary:  Surely this is how a true vintage New Orleans band sounds.  Later, a second fan responded: As I understand it, with bands started soloing like that they started calling at Chicago Jazz [.]  Fortunately, I no longer teach English for a living and thus would not comment “PROOFREAD!” on the second fellow’s analysis, but the first fan wanted to straighten the second one out: This band never left N.O. Chicago Jazz really started with the white groups that played in Chicago in the 30’s line Muggsy Spanier.

At this point the room started to spin in a most unpleasing way.  Rejecting my usual prudence, I wrote: So musicians who played jazz in Chicago in the Twenties weren’t playing “Chicago jazz”? Music is larger than labels. The musicians themselves never called what they were playing these names: these names are inventions of fans and critics, and they are artificial. And to label “schools” of music by race is really not a good idea and never was.  My prose was not greeted with shouts of “Yeah you rite!”  No one offered to buy me a drink.

But I think the first few assertions are so restrictive that they deserve a few perhaps didactic sentences.  I do not set myself up as an Oracle, mind you, but I find narrowness of perspective troubling.

If I were to expand on the original assertions above, they might be:

Authentic New Orleans jazz was an ensemble music performed in that city by Black musicians.  Solos were not part of it.  When the music opened up to solos, it conveniently changed its name from “New Orleans jazz” to “Chicago jazz.”  Then, the final metamorphosis happened when White people who lived in Chicago — including Mr. Spanier — started playing “Chicago jazz.”

I find several problems here, as my comment indicates.  First, as someone before me wisely said, it is unlikely that any group of jazz musicians went into a recording studio, and before the downbeat, heard the leader say, “Well, fellows, now we are going to play a piece of music that will define ‘New Orleans jazz’ for all time.”  I presume it is more likely that they said, “Let’s try that new tune, and don’t mess up the breaks in the first chorus, all right?”

Musicians play, and played MUSIC.  Fans and journalists and “critics” invented names for the ways they thought the music sounded, and from that impulse came divisiveness, theorizing, and other expenditures of energy that may have diverted people from actually listening to the music.

Second, we must acknowledge stylistic cross-pollination.  “White Chicago jazz” comes directly from “Black New Orleans jazz,” and Mr. Spanier would tell you that his inspirations were King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.  He openly acknowledged his reverent debt to them, by the way, so this is not about Muggsy the Cultural Pillager.

Third, jazz lends itself to wonderful examples of creative people who went their own way.  An electric guitar on a 1941 Sidney Bechet record?  Louis Armstrong recording popular songs and comic numbers in 1926?  And, going back to the asphyxiating categories of New Orleans and Chicago jazz . . . Jelly Roll Morton, a self-defined Creole who, according to his sister Frances, was Jewish, would have been classified as “colored,”  He came to Chicago and recorded his Red Hot Peppers with a preponderance of New Orleans musicians — Chicago jazz or New Orleans jazz?  They had solos AND they had written passages.  They are larger than any category, except if you want to have a large box labeled EXTRAORDINARY MUSIC?

I offer a musical example, and I wish people could listen to it blindfolded.

If you had to characterize or anatomize this, say, for a prize on a quiz show, what would you call it?  The gracious gentleman who posted it describes it thusly: Early NO revival recorded in NY in 1946 and played in the true original No style some lovely mortonesque piano by Don Ewell with Bunk on trumpet and Alphonse Steele drums [.]

Again, it’s slippery.  IN THE GLOAMING is an Irish song from 1877: perhaps someone wants to call this “folk-jazz”?  Bunk Johnson, Black, from New Orleans: if you give the horn player primacy, this is “New Orleans jazz.”  But it was recorded in New York.  The annotator wants it both ways — it’s “Early NO revival” “in the true original No style.”  But there are solos: the trio does not play ensemble throughout.  The pianist, White Don Ewell from Baltimore, plays “lovely mortonesque piano,” but does that make the record less “authentic” because of the White Maryland infusion?  I confess that I could not find out where Alphonse Steele was born — my books ignore him — but I am guessing he was Black, and he recorded in New York with Henry “Red” Allen and Billie Holiday.  So was he a New York Swing Era jazz musician?

From whence comes this intense urge to classify, to label, to dissect?

Digression: I won’t even touch the vitriolic discussions of “authenticity” and which “style” of playing — insert beloved and vilified band names here — people prefer.  Very few people seem willing or perhaps able to distinguish between “I like this band.  They sound good to me.” and “This is the best band that ever was and anyone who doesn’t like them is an ignorant moron” (Facebook encourages the highest kind of discourse, such as — a direct quote, “Lol u are insane.”)

Could all the jazz fans who have this urge to stuff the music in airless labeled boxes learn this 1906 Bert Williams song and let it guide them?

Ultimately, I think this slicing-and-dicing, weighing and measuring, does the music no good.  I think of Lennie and the mouse in OF MICE AND MEN.

But of course I am wrong: I accept that.  I will sleep better knowing it.

May your happiness increase!

“SAY THAT EVERYTHING IS STILL OKAY”: REBECCA KILGORE, HARRY ALLEN, BOB HAVENS, FRANK TATE, JOHN SHERIDAN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2012)

I have little to complain about in tangible things, but today’s mood is such that this meme (courtesy of dear friend Amy King) provoked rueful laughter and recognition:

Those of you who don’t know what a “meme” is can dial one of the grandkids.  “Kinky,” you’re on your own.

Today I thought that cheerful hot music would be out of place, so here is a beautifully rueful creation.

The superficial portrait of Irving Berlin is that he wrote cheerful music, with exceptions like WHAT’LL I DO? and REMEMBER.  But he is also powerfully poignant about romance that has deflated or perished, as in SAY IT ISN’T SO — its title characteristically taken from a popular conversational phrase.  But when Becky Kilgore and her lightly swinging friends approach it, the sadness is balanced against the gentle motion of the beat, everyone’s personal phrasing.  Her friends are Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; John Sheridan, piano; Frank Tate, string bass.

This performance magically unfolded in front of us (and my camera) on Thursday night, September 20, 2012, at the informal session that began Jazz at Chautauqua at the Hotel Athenaeum.  Fabled times, lovely music.

May your happiness increase!

“THE UNFINISHED WORK”: LOUIS ARMSTRONG, 1958

Louis Armstrong, 1969. Photograph by Jack Bradley. Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

Pause, listen, consider, and share.  Words and feelings for these times.  We know the words but perhaps hearing them again, thanks to Louis, will make them more real, as they need to be now.

Thanks to Ricky Riccardi and to Judy Smith for inspiration.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE END OF THE ROAD, A WARM EMBRACE: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, DAN WALTON, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

This post is full of emotion for me, and I hope for some of you: not just the music but the reality under the music, the world in which we now read and hear and attempt to proceed.

I offer you two lovely performances of songs by Irving Berlin and by George and Ira Gershwin, by Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass — created for us at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, on May 11, 2019.

The beginning of this story is the last live jazz I saw — at Cafe Bohemia in New York City, celebrated elsewhere on this blog — on March 12, 2020.  And even then people were [wisely, politely, perhaps tactfully] recoiling from one another, because who knew that your dear friend didn’t carry a double helping of death?

A few nights earlier, people were giving each other elbow bumps in lieu of closer contact, and when I, without thinking, shook the hand of a new acquaintance, we both looked at each other in embarrassment and shock, and we both muttered apologies, as if we’d taken an unseemly liberty.  I know all this is prudent and exceedingly necessary — more so than choosing to wash the apple one buys at the farmers’ market before devouring it.  But it adds to the despair.

It’s now almost June, and we greet each other as if we were grenades — and with reason.  I know I am not alone in feeling the deadly deprivation of human contact (I have been hugging people — those I know and who would not back away — for perhaps a decade now, because it seems a natural loving expression) and the emotional aridity that distance imposes.  Grinning and waving is an incomplete substitute.  Hugging oneself just ain’t the same thing.  You know this.

Because there is no live music for me to drink in and to video-record, I have been delving into my YouTube archives, which go back to 2006, in search of satisfying performances that the artists will allow to be shared.  It is easier, of course, for me to pretend I am at the Ear Inn by watching a video than to pretend that I am hugging and being hugged, but it, too, is only a small palliative.

My searching, thankfully, has borne fruit, and I have found a goodly number from the Redwood Coast Music Festival, which — on my 2019 visit — seemed the perfection of the art form.  It did not happen in 2020, but those of us who feel such things deeply pray that it will in May 2021.

In the set called featuring Dawn Lambeth and her Quartet, Dawn and the wonderful people I’ve mentioned above performed two songs that are poignant in themselves, but in connection almost unbearably so for what they hold out to us as possibilities unreachable at the moment.

The first is Berlin’s WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, which tells that that there will be “Peace and contentment at the end of the road”; given this tender reading, it’s hard to interpret this song as anything but hopeful, even though the road is longer and darker than perhaps even Berlin imagined:

Three songs later in the set, Marc chose as his feature EMBRACEABLE YOU — thinking, as one would, of Bobby Hackett:

The combination of the two songs is somber and lovely all at once.

I dare not waste energy on discussing what “the new normal” will look like: rather, my wish is that all of us live to see and experience it.  But I do dream that  the end of the road we are now on will have a plenitude of embraces given and received.  We will never again, I hope, take such things for granted.

Thanks to the musicians here and to the people who make the Redwood Coast Music Festival possible and glorious, and of course heartfelt thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen.  Let this post stand as an IOU for future grateful embraces.

May your happiness increase!

NOT WEARY, JUST GROOVY: EDDY DAVIS, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CONAL FOWKES at CAFE BOHEMIA (Dec. 26, 2019)

Another treat from Boxing Day 2019, at 15 Barrow Street, New York.

by these Creators: Eddy Davis, banjo; Conal Fowkes, string bass; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

and, from a slightly different vantage, the Quartet for that night —

This beautiful joyous-sad evening seems so many years ago. Eddy Davis moved to another neighborhood, much to our sadness; Cafe Bohemia has become quiet for the uncertain future. But Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone, and Conal Fowkes, string bass, are afloat and we hope to embrace them when the world seems less threatening. Until that happens, savor their groovy version of Artie Matthews’ WEARY BLUES, and use it wisely, so that it will keep weariness away from you.

And wait for the real ending!

In case you missed the postings devoted to that night, here is some more music.  And here and here.

May your happiness increase!

TWO GENTLEMEN OF THE LYRICAL BRASS FRATERNITY: JOHN BUCHER, PETER ECKLUND

I’ve been putting off this post because it makes me sad to write about these fine musicians I won’t encounter face to face again: I didn’t know either of them well, but felt that we had connected in various ways.  But it would be worse than my sadness to let their beauty be forgotten in the relentless howl of the news.  And although I cannot assume that John and Peter were close friends, their characteristic graciousness suggests to me that they would have known and admired each other.  So I trust they won’t mind the propinquity of this blogpost.

John Bucher, some years ago, photograph courtesy of The Syncopated Times

John Bucher moved on — to “go home,” in his own words, on April 5: he was 89 and had a long-time cardiac condition.  Peter Ecklund, who had dealt with Parkinson’s disease for a long time, moved to his own destination in another neighborhood on April 8: he was 74.

Peter Ecklund, photograph by Lynn Redmile

I didn’t know either of them well enough to have extended conversations, but I believe they both — in the past two decades — recognized me as being on their side, whether I was writing for The Mississippi Rag or another periodical, or, eventually, carrying a camera and a notebook for JAZZ LIVES.  Peter was gracious to me but terse in all communications — in person or in email — but I was aware that his health was a burden to him and perhaps, although I could publicize a gig, I might also capture his playing in ways that did not show him in the best light.  (In both Peter’s and John’s case, I did get permission to make any video public, and would have honored their wish to delete a performance.)  John would give me a substantial grin when I greeted him; circumstances never allowed us to sit down and talk, but he made me very welcome.

My awareness of Peter goes back before I met him in person, to recordings he made in 1987 for the Stomp Off label — one under Marty Grosz’s name (“The Keepers of the Flame”) and one session that Peter led (“Melody Makers”) — brilliant recordings that I played and replayed.  I may have found them at the Corner Bookstore in East Setauket, run by Nancy Mullen: Nancy and Frank were serious jazz fans who had celebrated their engagement at the bar at Lou Terassi’s in 1951 or 2, with Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton adjacent to them.  That, I point out, is the way to do it, although you’d have to find other comrades today.

In 1990, Nancy and Frank invited me to join them for a concert given by the Long Island Traditional Jazz Society in North Babylon, if I have the name right — Marty Grosz, Peter, Dan Barrett, Joe Muranyi, perhaps Greg Cohen and Arnie Kinsella — memorable to me now, thirty years later, for Muranyi singing LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE and interpolating, “Can it be NORTH BABYLON at last?”  I bought all the Stomp Off records and, later, the Arbors Records and Jazzology CDs on which Peter appeared, often as a key player in Marty Grosz’s Orphan Newsboys.  Peter had incredible leaping facility — romping through Jabbo Smith’s JAZZ BATTLE at top speed — but he was also a lyrical swinger who could create a memorable short story in a four-bar break.  When I heard him in person, he reminded me of Doc Cheatham — the light-footed dancing in air quality, a man with many delicate ideas to offer us in a chorus.

I met John in person for the first time in 2005, I think, at the Cajun — and admired him instantly.  Like Peter, I had heard him first, but in John’s case, not known his identity: John played on the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s SLEEPER, which was a hit at the movie theatre where I worked as a doorman (“Good evening,” tearing the paper ticket, then returning it with “Thank you.”)  so his firm swinging lead on CANAL STREET BLUES impressed me over and over.  I wish I’d known that he was playing so I could have told him this story when we met, nearly a quarter-century later.  But he knew how much I enjoyed his playing — whether at the Cajun, in a trio with Marty and John Beal at Charley O’s in midtown, or sitting in with the EarRegulars at the Ear Inn.  John was a thoughtful “singing” player who never hurried or missed a step, but he was never stiff.  A favorite quote, inserted neatly, was COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN, which always made me laugh with pleasure.  He stayed in the middle register, but occasionally would end phrases with a growl or find a mute he liked to vary his sound.

Roswell Rudd once told me, “You play your personality,” and both of these gentlemen did just that.  Peter’s playing could be heated and impetuous, rounding the corner of a hot chorus, but he was poised and epigrammatic in person.  John, who made his living as some variety of stockbroker (he told his colleague and my friend Dick Dreiwitz that it was a career where he could go to work at 10 and stop at 3) was beautifully dressed; he sat up straight when playing.

After all those words, here is some lovely music.  I video-recorded John at the Cajun in 2006 (a whole evening) and when he visited The Ear Inn in 2010.  All the details are in the blogposts.

John at the Cajun, June 24, 2006: one and two, and at The Ear Inn, March 21, 2010: one and two.  Peter, sitting in at Radegast, whistling and ukulele, December 13, 2011: here.

It distresses me to realize that I and my camera came along too late in Peter’s playing career to have rewarding video-footage of his beautiful hot cornet playing, so I will include these performances, knowing that John would not feel slighted in the least.

and something for Bing (with a distinct Davison flavor):

I write this at the start of May 2020, having mourned a number of completely irreplaceable musicians — and people — whom I knew as well as heard.  I feel unequal to the task of mourning John and Peter adequately.  I also hope they sensed — when we did encounter each other — how much joy it brought me to see them on the bandstand, a pleasure that sustained itself through the evening and does so, years later, in memory and in video.

Blessings on you, inventive gentlemen of brass.  You can’t be replaced.  And I invite those readers who knew and admired John and Peter to chime in.

May your happiness increase!

MOANS, GROWLS, AND OTHER SATISFYING PRIMAL NOISES: MARA KAYE, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ARNT ARNTZEN, JARED ENGEL (Cafe Bohemia, October 24, 2019)

The place where it all happened, and we are hopeful these joys will come again.  Thanks to Mike Zielenewski, Christine Santelli, and Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, blues and jazz had a cozy nest here.

These days, I find myself moaning and growling more than usual, and I think I am not unique.  So here is moral musical empathic support.

The blues — Victoria Spivey’s DETROIT MOAN — in living color, rendered with great conviction by Mara Kaye; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and mutabilities; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Arnt Arntzen, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass — at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, on October 24, 2019.

I hope you don’t find Mara’s line “I can’t eat beans no more,” that culinary lamentation, too personally relevant.

And if you are not Facebook-averse or -phobic, visit Mara’s site: she and guitarist Tim “Snack” McNalley have been holding at-home-West-Coast-Saturday-recitals that I know you will enjoy.  A sample, here.

May your happiness increase!

MISS HUNTER’S LESSONS

I had originally planned to post two versions of NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT — written six years before the stock market crash of 1929 — by Bessie Smith and Eddie Condon, when I came across this version by Alberta Hunter, in her November 1981 performance at the Smithsonian.  Miss Hunter (it feels disrespectful to write about her in any other way) was in her eighties, and was accompanied by Gerald Cook, piano; Al Hall, string bass.  

In this song, Miss Hunter teaches a vital lesson about independence, self-worth, and self-trust.  She is not only a magnificent singer but a wondrous sage, her brief episode suffused with its own majesty, a violence held back and controlled and thus, to me, even more powerful.  The emotions I feel, coming through this song, are her disappointment, regret, even fury — but Miss Hunter tells us to use her experiences to protect ourselves and to transcend the wounds.  I celebrate her wisdom: pain can be made into art and in that way, pain is more than itself.  

May your happiness increase!

SONGS FOR LEE / SONGS FROM LEE (October 21 / 22, 2017)

It’s never too late to celebrate Beauty.

And with that thought — and the passing-away of Lee Konitz this month at 92 — I present this poignant performance from a CD (which just arrived in the mail) called OLD SONGS NEW by Lee’s 2017 Nonet — arranged by Ohad Talmor.  You can hear more music from this CD, purchase a download or an actual disc here. I encourage you to do the latter two. 

The members of the Nonet are Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Ohad Talmor, tenor saxophone (5), arranger, conductor; Caroline Davis, flute and alto flute; Christof Knoche, clarinet; Denis Lee, bass clarinet; Judith Insell, viola; Mariel Roberts, cello; Dimos Goudaroulis, cello; Christopher Tordini, bass; George Schuller, drums.  And Talmor’s music is such a wildly delicious repast that I found myself listening — for the third time today — to it, alone, as best I could.

Here is Gordon Jenkins’ heartbreaking GOOD-BYE:

It is right to say Farewell to the Lee Konitz who carried a saxophone case, spoke, sang, and played.  That temporal envelope is gone.  But much remains: the songs, the passions, the intelligence, the sound.  So this is, to me, the fitting countermelody and countertruth, by Harry Warren:

I could write this post in honor of so many people, both dear to me and others, nameless but dear to others, who have moved to another neighborhood where they seem inaccessible.  But I will leave such griefs to you, and, instead, offer this music to console, to solace, to uplift — to attempt to keep us buoyant in darkness. 

May your happiness increase!

LIKE CURES LIKE, IN B FLAT

Doctor Leyland, Doctor Ramirez. By appointment only.

I’m not a practitioner of homeopathy, although I have used some of its remedies with success.  But I do know that a basic principle is “like cures like”: you suffer from too much heat, you take in a remedy that increases the heat.  Bear with me.

Doctor Hamilton. “May I see your insurance card?”

In gloomy times like this, my first impulse is to share the most effervescent music I can find, and I suppose that might work for some listeners.  But today I am taking a homeopathic approach: offer you some gloomy groovy sounds — and please do wait for the musical punchline!

Doctor Zimmerman. Take as needed.

These four eminent medical professionals got together for a consult on Saturday, March 7, under the auspices of the Jazz Bash by the Bay, in Monterey, California: Carl Sonny Leyland, piano, vocal, and moral enlightenment; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass and mood-enhancement; Jeff Hamilton, drums and philosophical commentary; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and spiritual journeys.  Under Doctor Leyland’s guidance, they performed a Dark Sonata in Bb, otherwise known as the Empty Room Blues, recorded by Memphis Slim in late 1940:

I don’t know why this makes me feel better.  It would make me uncomfortable to think it was Schadenfreude — “Hey, someone’s got it worse and that’s wonderful!” — but perhaps it is the immense joy of hearing these artists bring such light-hearted expertise to a dark text.  And the punchline makes me laugh.

I hope you feel better, too.  Don’t hesitate to call the office if symptoms recur.May your happiness increase!

LEE KONITZ AT CLOSE RANGE: TED BROWN, BRAD LINDE, JUDY NIEMACK, MICHAEL KANAN, MURRAY WALL, JEFF BROWN (The Drawing Room, Brooklyn, December 6, 2015)

Others who knew him well have written with great eloquence about Lee Konitz, who moved into spirit a few days ago, having shared his gifts with us for 92 years. So I will simply share a video-recording of the one performance I was privileged to attend and record, and the story around it.  I am sharing this performance at the request of several of the participating musicians, to honor Lee Konitz as he was in life, moving from WHAT IS  THIS THING CALLED LOVE? into SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (a title given the line by string bassist Arnold Fishkind).

The performance took place on December 6, 2015, at a session celebrating Ted Brown, held at the Drawing Room, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s strudio in Brooklyn: the late Lee Konitz is far right, Brad Linde, tenor, in the center, Ted Brown, tenor, to the left, Judy Niemack, vocal; Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums.

Before I tell my tale, I am grateful to Brad Linde for writing about that night:

Birthday party performances with and for Ted Brown were perennial favorites for me to host at the Drawing Room in Brooklyn. Over the years, there has been a cast of characters from the Tristano School family and adjacent musicians that frequently play with Ted and myself.

This particular night I drove up from DC, returning Aaron Quinn, Miho Hazama, and Jon Irabagon to the city after a gig at the Kennedy Center. I picked up Ted’s cake and made it to the venue with less than the usual time to spare. Two big surprises awaited me. The first was that my tenor has suffered damage in transit and was leaking in the middle of the horn – a devastating discovery. The second was the improbable appearance of Lee Konitz in Brooklyn!

For years, I had dreamed of situating myself in a performance alongside Ted and Lee. And here the dream came true at the worst possible time for my Conn 10M. We started off with “All The Things You Are” and after my stuttering improvisation on a out-of-balance horn, Lee said to me “Nobody’s perfect,” and smiled.

Lena Bloch arrived and graciously loaned me her horn while she diligently worked to repair mine. The night became a family affair with Judy, Lena, Aaron, Murray, Joe Solomon, Jeff, Michael, Ted, and Lee playing familiar standards with unfamiliar results. Lee, at the time known for scatting as much or more than playing, was on fire, playing long choruses and revisiting the sinewy lines.

A big, fun night with heroes and friends. The sounds of surprise.

My perspective on the evening is possibly more humanly embarrassing than Brad’s leaking tenor saxophone.  I met Michael Kanan in 2010 through Joel Press, and Michael impressed me immediately as musician and person, so when I could I came to his gigs and often brought my video camera, about which he was both gracious and scrupulous.  I think it was through Michael that I met Ted Brown and Brad Linde, both of whom extended the same welcome to me.  Thus I attended a number of sessions at The Drawing Room, the upstairs studio on Willoughby Street, Brooklyn, that Michael and Stephanie Greig maintained.

When I heard of this December 2015 session in celebration of Ted, I immediately bought a ticket and came with my camera, as I had done before.  The studio was a long narrow room, and I took up the best position I could, a chair to the far right in the first row, set up my tripod, and waited for the music to begin.  As you can see on the video, the chairs in the front row were not far from the front line.  When Brad and Ted arrived, bringing Lee with them, the room was not wide enough to accommodate all the horn-players in one straight line, so Lee ended up sitting right in front of me.  Reluctantly and with hesitation, I might add. I chose the large photograph for this blogpost because his expression carries some of the same unspoken emotions.

Lee did not speak to me, but he was clearly discomfited to find someone he did not know seated almost at his elbow with an (admittedly small) camera aimed at him and the rest of the front line.  I did not hear precisely what he said to Brad, but motioning to me, his face turned away, I could see his face in a grimace of inquiry.  Other musicians have said of me, speaking to someone in the band whom they knew, “What [not who!] is that?” and I believe Lee asked Brad something similar, and I think Brad replied, “That’s Michael.  He’s OK.  I asked him to come here,” which mollified Lee so that he didn’t turn to me and tell me to leave, but whenever he did notice me, his facial expression was shocked and stern.  But he was a professional, with decades of blocking out nuisances, and the evening proceeded. I spent the evening in anxiety, waiting for him to decide he had had enough of my proximity, but perhaps he lost himself in the joy of playing and singing among friends.  You can see the results for yourself.  

All I can hope for myself is that Lee’s spirit forgives me interloper who was much too close and, without asking  permission or begging his pardon, gobbled up a piece of his art and has given it to the public.  And all I can hope for us is that we crate what we are meant to with such prolific energy, and that we, too, leave such a large hole in the universe when we move into spirit.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTY AND THE BLUES: JOE WILDER, HARRY ALLEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 17, 2009)

I offer you the second part of a glorious informal session from Thursday night, September 17, 2009 at Jazz at Chautauqua — a quartet of lyrical melodists: Joe Wilder, trumpet and flugelhorn; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass.  Here is the first part of the evening’s festivities: DON’T BLAME ME, ‘DEED I DO, and JUST SQUEEZE ME.

Mr.Wilder, himself: characteristically cheerful and beautifully dressed:

Messrs. Allen, Burr, and Wilder.  You’ll hear Fratello Sportiello soon:

Here is music to delight the angels, Joe’s EMBRACEABLE YOU:

and the Basie-flavored protestation of good humor, I AIN’T MAD AT YOU:

How fortunate I was to be there, and (without self-congratulation, I hope) how fortunate that I had a camera.  Bless these four brilliant modest luminaries.  In my thoughts, I embrace them all.

May your happiness increase!

EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020), Part Five — “WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” AT THE CAJUN with SCOTT ROBINSON, MICHAEL HASHIM, DMITRI KOLESNIKOV, BOB RINGWALD

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

For the moment, this is my final bowing-low in a series in honor of Eddy Davis (even though I have more music and words from December 26, 2019, to share).  I’ve devoted nearly a week of posts to him because of the intense emotional collision of grief and joy he brings forth in me and those who knew him and enjoyed his work.  His play, I should say.  I’ve been going backwards chronologically, and although I saw and enjoyed Eddy and “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” at The Cajun possibly very early in 2005, this 2006 session was the first time I brought a video camera there.

THE CAJUN, by Barbara Rosene –a Wednesday night.

Ordinarily, the band would have been Eddy; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Greg Cohen or Debbie Kennedy, string bass, with guests.  For this night — July 5, 2006 — it was Eddy, Scott, Conal, Dmitri Kolesnikov, string bass, Michael Hashim on alto and soprano saxophones, with a guest appearance by Bob Ringwald, piano and vocal.

The camera I was then using recorded to mini-DVD discs, a particularly stubborn medium, so these videos stayed on the shelf until 2017, when I found that I could transfer and share them.  I asked Eddy if that was something he would like (he did) and then asked if he would write something about the gig:

WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM

I, Eddy Davis, have in my lifetime had the pleasure of having many wonderful Jazz Bands filled with wonderful musicians. It all started back in “The Windy City” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I was a Composition student at the Chicago Conservatory and working as a band leader for the Syndicate on Chicago’s infamous Rush Street. Boy, those were the days. During this time many great, interesting musicians came through the band.

Fellows like “Kansas” Fields, who had just returned from a ten year stint in Paris and Charles “Truck” Parham who started in the music business as a truck driver for the Fletcher Henderson Band. He was hauling the band instruments from job to job. When I asked Truck how he got his nickname he told me this story. He said: “One night the bass player got drunk and couldn’t play, so Fletcher said “Hey, Truck, get up on the band stand and act like you are playing the bass.” He said he liked it so much that he bought a bass and learned to play it. When he came to my band he had just gotten off the Pearl Bailey/Louie Bellson trio. When he left my band he joined the CBS staff orchestra. I was lucky enough to have the likes of Frank Powers or Bobby Gordon on Clarinet.  I had the wonderful Norman Murphy on trumpet who had been in the Brass section of Gene Krupa’s Big Band. I also had the hilarious Jack “The Bear” Brown on trumpet. My band played opposite the original “Dukes of Dixieland” for a solid year at the club “Bourbon Street” in the middle. There were the Asuntos — Frank, on Trumpet — Freddie on Trombone and PaPa Jack on Trombone and Banjo. Gene Schroeder was on piano (where I learned so much) and the fantastic Barrett Deems on Drums.

At the Sari-S Showboat I was in the band of the great Trombonist Grorg Brunis, the Marsala Brothers, Joe and Marty, along with “Hey Hey” Humphries on drums, were also on the band. Another great band I played on was listed as Junie Cobb’s “Colonels of Corn.” The main reason this band was so great was that they were the very originals of JASS MUSIC. Junie was a multi-instrumentalist who on this band was playing Piano (he also recorded on Banjo). Al Wynn who had been the musical director for the great blues singer “Ma Rainey” was on Trombone and the wonderful Darnell Howard, who made terrific recordings with “Jelly Roll Morton,” was on Clarinet. We were playing at the Sabre Room and I was 17 (maybe 16) years old. I was a member of the last Jabbo Smith “Rhythm Aces” in New York City in the 1970’s.

Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that the band “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” which I had for four or five years at the “Cajun Restaurant” on 16th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan was the thrill of my life. With the GREAT Scott Robinson and Orange Kellin on Reeds and Debbie Kennedy on Bass and MY BROTHER from a another mother — Conal Fowkes — was on Piano (he knows what I’m going to do before I do it and fits me like a glove). These were perhaps the most satisfying Musical Evenings I’ve ever known.

Scott Robinson is easily the best (for me) musical mind and player I’ve ever been in the presents of. I couldn’t come up with enough words to express my JOY with this band for those several years we performed every Wednesday night at the Cajun Restaurant in the great town of Manhattan.

We had two great subs on the night of this video. Dmitri Kolesnikov was on bass and on saxophone, the truly wonderful “The Hat” Michael Hashim.

Mr. Steinman, I would like to thank you so very much for supplying these videos and if you or anyone else has any other footage of any combination of this band, it would please me to no end to know of it.

The Banjoist Eddy “The Manhattan Minstrel” Davis

SWING THAT MUSIC:

WHO WALKS IN WHEN I WALK OUT? / HAPPY BIRTHDAY / I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE / OLD BONES / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / TROUBLE IN MIND, all with vocals by Bob Ringwald:

BLACK BEAUTY / SWEET MAMA (vocal Eddy) / THE CASTLE RENOVATED:

THE CASTLE, concluded (with apologies to Dmitri):

DAPHNE / MY FRIEND (vocal / composition by Conal) / TOO MANY IRONS IN THE FIRE (Conal):

This band was — without exaggeration — a doctoral seminar in ensemble playing and collective momentum.  It was an honor to be there, and a greater honor to be able to share these videos with you.  And this was a complete evening at the Cajun, just under two hours of live performance.  It is as close as any of us will get to that deeply-remembered and now-departed experience.

Debbie Kennedy, the wonderful bassist, Eddy’s dear friend (I think she’d also call herself a student at the University of Davis) has written lovingly about Eddy, and I present her words here:

Eddy was one of the most amazing musicians I ever met in my entire life. SUCH a character with a fierce love of music. One of the best bandleaders I’ve ever played with. I just hope that his passing was painless and that his transition was smooth.

Apart from all the incredible happiness/joy that I experienced from playing with Eddy every Wednesday night at the “Cajun” restaurant from 2000 to 2006 in an extremely special band, I lucked out in 2008 and won a Greencard in the “Greencard Lottery.” Part of that process was that the immigration authorities needed a “Letter of Employment” showing that I would be earning a certain amount of money every year (even though I’d already been living in NYC for 10 years and earned enough to support myself comfortably, I guess they wanted to see that I would be self sufficient and not claim welfare).

Eddy very kindly wrote that Letter of Employment for me, stating that I was working with Woody Allen’s band (which was the truth – I had subbed frequently with the band starting October 2004, but I still wasn’t yet playing on a weekly basis when he wrote it). I strongly feel that his letter (especially with the name “Woody Allen”) clinched the decision for my Greencard to be granted.
Thank you Eddy!!

Then, eventually, he was kind enough to have me on the gig with Woody every week, starting a few years ago. It was actually Greg Cohen’s gig, but Greg moved to Berlin at a certain point around 2011 / 2012, so I did end up playing the gig on a weekly basis at that time, when Greg moved to Berlin.

This was an absolutely invaluable experience and was the gig that kept me alive when so many other freelance gigs had dwindled in recent years.

I feel incredibly indebted to Eddy and I feel blessed to have had such regular playing with him for so many years: Giving me the steady gig at the Cajun in 2000, and when that finished in August 2006, I still played with him pretty regularly, culminating in playing every week with him in the Woody band right up until last month.

March 9th was our last gig.

Like some others who knew Eddy well, I thought he was invincible and thought he was going to pull through this – he’d pulled through so many other illnesses before: terrible car accident, shingles, hellish Sciatica, High Cholesterol, high blood pressure, Diabetes…you name it, he’d had it (and he loved to tell you all about it, ha, ha! 😉).

Nothing will equal the pure joy that I felt on such a deep level when we were in the middle of playing a tune, him horsing around, having a great ol’ time.

Rest In Peace, my beautiful friend ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Eddy loved what I will call “false endings,” where the band appeared to have concluded the song and the performance — and the audience would applaud — but, no, they weren’t through as he would (grinning hugely) launch into a bravura ending that left us cheering.

I think of those “false endings” as a metaphor for Eddy and his art. He appears to have gone, but he hasn’t.  As long as we can hear him, see him in videos (and he left us hundreds of solo performances from his apartment), and remember him, he ain’t gone.

Incidentally, I have been posting Barbara Rosene’s painting of The Cajun because it pleases me so — Debbie Kennedy is in it as well as Eddy, Scott Robinson, and Simon Wettenhall — but Barbara has done many other paintings of jazz clubs, landscapes, and abstracts — that are not yet in private collections.  And you know me: I only promote artists (visual as well as musical) whose work I love: find out more here.

May your happiness increase!


EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020), Part Four — “WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” AT THE EAR INN with SCOTT ROBINSON, ORANGE KELLIN, CONAL FOWKES, DAN BLOCK, PETE ANDERSON

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

I’ve asked musicians who worked with Eddy and thus knew him better to write their loving recollections.  But I will indulge myself here for a few sentences.  Eddy always acted glad to see me, and he was happy to have his performances captured on film, but I am not sure he knew what to make of me (a reaction he was not alone in) so we never had a long conversation until the last time I saw him — where he enthusiastically spoke with great energy about the musicians he had played with when he was sixteen or seventeen.  I was amazed and delighted and pursued him with the idea of doing a video interview, but — for all sorts of reasons I can only guess at — he was silent about the idea, which I regret greatly.  At least he wrote some of it down on a letter to me which I will share in Part Five — but, ever the well-brought up Midwesterner, he addressed me as “Mr. Steinman,” curiously formal.

He was remarkable to me because of his indefatigable energy.  He electrified any group that had the good fortune to have him at the center.  He was genuinely a joyous sparkplug. The other people on the stand felt it, as did we.  He bounced; he rocked; he was having a lovely time and wanted to make sure we did also.  Eddy was a complete showman, but it felt completely honest.  And his unpredictability was charming in startling ways.  I never knew what he was going to do, and that was such a pleasure — anticipating the next brightly wrapped package and then savoring its contents.

His command of harmony was lovely; he knew where he was going and genially took everyone along with him.  His solid rhythm was never mechanical, and in some ways his banjo artistry redeemed every caustic thing said about that stringed instrument; he was flexible and elastic and I imagine I hear the whole history of jazz and popular music in his playing.  And that history — made current and shiny — came through in his incredibly broad repertoire: Doc Cooke and early Ellington, Django and Jerry Herman, his own lyrics to jazz classics.

He gave of himself with such deep generosity.  And although each of us is unique, few of us can embody that idea so joyously.

May your happiness increase!

EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020), Part Three — AT THE EAR INN with ORANGE KELLIN, SCOTT ROBINSON, CONAL FOWKES, JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BLOCK

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

Eddy Davis was a stubborn fellow — he did what he wanted to, but more important, he would not budge from what he had in mind.  (I speak from experience.)  So Eddy refuses to go away, which is a wonderful thing.

Here is the third part of my delighted-yet-grieving evocation of him: a session from The Ear Inn on June 3, 2012.  The Ear was darker than usual (hence the yellow graininess of the image so that you and I could see as well as hear) but the brilliant music is nearly blinding.  The details, and the music, below, as I offered them in September 2012.  The first part of my series can be found here; the second part here.  I have one more session to offer, from even more years ago.  But love and joy and loss are not bound by clocks.

Eight years ago, I first visited the Cajun Restaurant in the West Village (that’s Greenwich Village, New York) on Eighth Avenue.  It had been around for a long time, but it was known as the only place that still featured “traditional jazz,” however one defined the term, seven nights and two afternoons a week.*

A regular attraction was the Wednesday night band — a compact unit led by banjoist / singer / composer Eddy Davis, and dubbed by him late in its run WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM.  Most often, the instrumentation was Conal Fowkes, string bass; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet, and Eddy — four players with a strong lyrical streak who could also make a bandstand seem wildly hot in the tradition of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four or Soprano Summit on an uptempo outchorus.

THE CAJUN, by Barbara Rosene — a Wednesday night.

Since the regular Wednesday night gig ended, this band has gotten together for musical reunions — although not as often as its fans and partisans would like.  Thus, I was thrilled to learn that Eddy, Conal, Orange, and Scott would be “the EarRegulars” on Sunday, June 3, 2012, at The Ear Inn.  And I present some of the frankly magical results herein.

Eddy would not be insulted, I think, if I called his approach “quirky,” and his whimsical view of the musical spectrum colors and uplifts the band.  Another leader might have stuck to the predictable dozen “New Orleans” or “trad” standards, but not Eddy.  His musical range, affections, and knowledge are broad — he approaches old songs in new ways and digs up “new” ones that get in the groove deeply.  He knows how to set rocking tempos and his colleagues look both happy and inspired.  In addition, Eddy writes lyrics — homespun rather than sleek — for some classic jazz tunes, and he sings them from the heart.  All of these virtues were on display at The Ear Inn — friendly, jostling, witty solos and ensembles, and performances that took their time to scrape the clouds.

The melody for BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST might be elusive for some, but it has deep roots — Lil Hardin Armstrong’s TWO DEUCES, which Eddy has turned into a love song and the band has turned into a down-home West Village classic:

TWO-A-DAY is one of Eddy’s favorite obscure songs — a Jerry Herman number praising a kind of vaudeville bill (and time and place) from the ill-starred musical MACK AND MABEL, charting the lives and times of Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand.  When Eddy sings lyrics about the “atomic age,” Scott emphasizes the point through his distinctive space-age attire:

POTATO HEAD BLUES, with jaunty lyrics and wondrous playing.  All for you, Louis:

I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE needs no introduction — recalling the Ink Spots and their sweet lovemaking on Decca Records:

Jon-Erik Kellso, Hot Man Supreme, came into The Ear Inn after another gig — hence the formal wear — sat down, and joined the band for a calypso-infused THE BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT.  Maybe this bucket was full of Red Stripe beer?:

At the start of THANKS A MILLION, you’ll notice an empty chair next to Orange — soon to be filled by the illustrious Dan Block on bass clarinet, with Scott switching over to one of his taragotas, or taragoti — which he’d first taken out for POTATO HEAD BLUES:

STRUTTIN’ WIH SOME BARBECUE, complete with verse:

And the session closed with Eubie Blake’s lovely affirmation, LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, taken at a strolling medium tempo:

P.S.  This session happened in the beginning of June and has only emerged three months later — no reflection on the splendid heartfelt music, but because of some small technical difficulties . . . now happily repaired.

*At the end of July 2006, The Cajun closed after a twenty-eight year run — to make way for a faceless high-rise apartment building.  When I find myself on Eighth Avenue and Sixteenth Street, I try not to search the spot where it once was.  It was a flawed paradise, but we miss it.

Early on in this post, you can see Barbara Rosene’s painting of The Cajun.  Barbara, as you know, is also a very personal singer — heartfelt and tender.  It was in this incarnation that I first met her, and she knew Eddy before I did.  Here are her feelings about him:

Eddy Davis.

He welcomed me on the stage of The Cajun with Conal Fowkes, Debbie Kennedy, Scott Robinson, Simon Wettenhall and a myriad of other players and singers. I never wanted to be anywhere else on Wednesday nights. I would often sing “My Foolish Heart” which was a favorite of my Mom’s and I later realized was a favorite of Eddy’s. He was always so pleased when someone knew something other than the “regular” tunes. He would play “Artificial Flowers,” a Bobby Darin hit, or a Jerry Herman tune. There were no rules. Just good songs.

A few of us worked on a play that he had written for a while and we would do read-throughs at his apartment. One particular time I was late, having just gone through an emotional goodbye with someone we all knew, and he gave me a fatherly hug and an expression of understanding that made me know how much he cared for me. It floored me. This depth of feeling and understanding certainly came out in his music, but not always one on one, so it was very meaningful to me. About this same time he arranged for me to sit in at the Carlyle with Woody Allen for a couple of different nights. He would just gesture for me to come up and sing a chorus without any fanfare. I remember doing “One Sweet Letter From You.” He knew how much this meant to me. If he could give someone an opportunity, he did so with joy and without thought of compensation.

I also loved that he was from Indiana. We were small town midwesterners in Manhattan. He reminded me of the people I had grown up with. We talked the same language. My parents would have liked him. I will miss him terribly. He taught me so much.

May your happiness increase.

EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020), Part Two — AT THE EAR INN with JON-ERIK KELLSO, JENS “JESSE” LINDGREN, and JAY RATTMAN

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

Let us begin with beautiful perceptive words from Jon-Erik Kellso:

Eddy Davis passed away. I’m trying to wrap my head around this fact.

In a week of many heartbreaking losses to the music community, this one hits closest to home for me. I’ve been playing with Eddy since I moved to New York thirty years ago, including a weekly steady for several of those years.

Eddy enriched so many people’s lives; he loved to perform, and loved connecting with the audience and with musicians. The unabashed, unbridled joy he bubbled over with when making music was infectious (pardon my choice of word, I just can’t think of a better way to describe it).

I learned many songs from Eddy, often on the fly, on the bandstand. He loved playing and singing songs in a stream of consciousness flow, as he knew an incredible amount of songs, in ALL styles. He loved encouraging musicians to jump in and pick them up by ear, often calling out the chord names *while* singing and playing the off-the-beaten-path song. Talk about multi-tasking!

He once told me that he tried to compose music *every* day. He wrote a lot of terrific music, jazz, show tunes, Brazilian style, all kinds. He wrote lyrics to older instrumental songs by Ellington, Armstrong, and others.

He was a wonderful player, singer, bandleader, and storyteller. He led a very full and fascinating life, which included leading the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band (featuring Woody Allen on clarinet) for decades.

Like many of my musical heroes and mentors, he did not suffer fools gladly. He was very opinionated, but also very generous, encouraging, kind and fun-loving.  He simply could not contain his passion for traditional jazz and the Great American Songbook, and that came out in his tremendous rhythmic drive, and in his ability to spur on any band he was in to greater heights than they knew they could achieve.

Miss you already, Edgy (one of many nicknames he had, including “the Manhattan Minstrel,” and “Greenmeat”)!
Thanks a million! 🍻🪕🎤🎺🎼🎶🎵🔥💯

– Lead Boy (his nickname for me, as he loved the way I play the lead in a traditional jazz ensemble, I’m proud to say)

For those of you who didn’t know of Eddy’s moving to another neighborhood, I invite you to read about it here (a post which contains previously unseen videos and a heartfelt essay by Scott Robinson).

And I can present one of my musical meetings with Eddy — they didn’t happen often enough, but they were always memorable.  This one took place at the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) where the Blessed EarRegulars played every Sunday night since summer 2007 — and where they will reassemble again, soon, I hope.

For this session, the four heroes are Eddy, banjo, vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Jens “Jesse” Lindgren, trombone, vocal. My notes tell me that this happened on December 27, 2015.  But it’s right now. Here are two beauties from that night.

W.C. Handy’s adaptation of a folk melody or a hymn, HESITATING BLUES, with an earnest vocal by Eddy and a vocalized solo by Jon through his glass mute:

And here’s Jesse’s version of the lovely song PLEASE (Leo Robin – Ralph Rainger) forever associated with Bing Crosby:

May your happiness increase!

“DOING THINGS RIGHT”: EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020)

Eddy Davis — that bright light, never very far from his banjo, always ready to propel the band, to play the proper chords, to uplift everyone with song — one that he wrote or a venerable classic — moved on after his illness yesterday afternoon.  My title for this post is because I think it will never be possible for me to think of him as was.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

Although I witnessed him in all his splendor over fifteen years, I didn’t get to know him in the way I might have others whom I saw and spoke to more regularly.  So in Eddy’s case, the music — eloquent, subtle, brightly-colored —  will speak for him here.  The last time I saw him was December 26, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village, where he was one-fourth of that night’s swinging quartet: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds and vocal; Conal Fowkes, string bass and vocal.  I’ve presented a hot performance from that evening here.

And now, with more complicated emotions, I offer the first three performances of that night.  They start off easily — I think of the way musicians feel the pulse of the room, get used to their instruments (even if it’s only been a day since they were last playing), take the  measure of their friends on the stand.  But don’t underestimate this music: I think of spicy cuisine that initially tastes tame but then after a few spoonfuls, you realize just how hot it is.

BOGALUSA STRUT:

and some basic math — doin’ things right:

and a dream of the place where they make you welcome all the time:

I will devote the next few days to honoring the sly, expert, exuberant Eddy — through performances I captured and through the recollections of others who were at closer range . . . who were playing rather than behind a camera.  He remains is.

And someone I respect deeply, Scott Robinson, has written this tender essay about Eddy, which I offer to you here:

I’ve just lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in music. Eddy Davis was a highly significant and influential presence in my life. He was a fiercely individualistic performer… a veteran of the old Chicago days when music was hot, joyful, exuberant and unselfconscious. A character and a curmudgeon, who could hold court for hours after the gig. And a loving mentor who helped younger musicians like myself learn and grow in this music.

I had only played with Eddy a handful of times when he called me in late 1998 to say that he was forming a new band to fill a weekly Wednesday spot at the Cajun on 8th Avenue. He wanted me to play lead on C melody saxophone, in a little group with two reeds, and no drums. This by itself gives a clue to what an original thinker he was.

I already knew that Eddy was a proficient and highly individualistic stylist on the banjo, who sounded like no one else. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that this man was also a walking repository of many hundreds if not thousands of tunes of every description, ranging far beyond the standard repertoire… with a fascinating background story at the ready for nearly every one. I quickly learned that he was also a prolific and idiosyncratic composer himself, with a wonderfully philosophical work ethic: write original music every day, keep what works, and throw the rest away without a backward glance.

Eddy was also what used to be called a “character”: affable, opinionated, hilarious, and irascible all in one, and above all highly passionate about music. What I learned over the ensuing 7 ½ years in Eddy’s little band, I cannot begin to describe. I came to refer to those regular Wed. sessions as my “doctor’s appointment” — for they fixed whatever ailed me, and provided the perfect antidote to the ills of the world, and of the music scene. Over the years we were graced with the presence of some very distinguished musicians who came by and sat in with us, including Harry Allen, Joe Muranyi, Bob Barnard, Howard Johnson, and Barry Harris.

Eddy was generous with his strong opinions, with his knowledge and experience, and with his encouragement. But he was a generous soul in other ways as well. When he heard that I was building a studio (my “Laboratory”), he had me come by the apartment and started giving me things out of his closets. A Roland 24-track recorder… three vintage microphones… instruments… things that I treasure, and use every single day of my life. When my father turned 75, Eddy came out to New Jersey and played for him, and wouldn’t take a dime for it.

When I got the call today that Eddy had passed — another victim of this horrible virus that is ruining so many lives, and our musical life as well — I hung up the phone and just cried. Later I went out to my Laboratory, and kissed every single thing there that he had given to me. How cruel to lose such an irreplaceable person… killed by an enemy, as my brother commented, that is neither visible nor sentient.

THE CAJUN, by Barbara Rosene –a Wednesday night.

One night at the Cajun stands out in my memory, and seems particularly relevant today. It was the night after the last disaster that changed New York forever: the World Trade Center attack. There was a pall over the city, the air was full of dust, and there was a frightful, lingering smell. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “This is crazy.” But somehow we all made our way to the nearly empty club. We were in a state of shock; nobody knew what to say. I wondered if we would even be able to play. We took the stage, looked at each other, and counted off a tune. The instant the first note sounded, I was overcome with emotion and my face was full of tears. Suddenly I understood exactly why we were there, why it was so important that we play this music. We played our hearts out that night — for ourselves, for our city, and for a single table of bewildered tourists, stranded in town by these incomprehensible events. They were so grateful for the music, so comforted by it.

The simple comfort of live music has been taken from us now. We must bear this loss, and those that will surely follow, alone… shut away in our homes. I know that when the awful burden of this terrible time has finally been lifted, when we can share music, life, and love again, it will feel like that night at the Cajun. My eyes will fill, my heart will sing, and the joy that Eddy Davis gave me will be with me every time I lift the horn to my face, for as long as I live.

Scott Robinson

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

May your happiness increase!

BUCKY (January 9, 1926 – April 1, 2020)

Bucky Pizzarelli gave so generously of his sound, his melodic intelligence, his wit, his swing.  We could be forgiven for thinking we would always have him.  Here are two versions of TRES PALABRAS from the Atlanta Jazz Party, memorable in their quiet simple intensity.

2012, solo:

2014, accompanying and supporting Rebecca Kilgore, the two of them sending messages of love and loss to an absolutely hushed room:

I’ve  headed this sad post with a photograph of Bucky laughing, because that is how I remember him on the few occasions where we got to speak.  He was joyous and he shared his joys with us.

TRES PALABRAS, translated, “Bless Bucky Pizzarelli.”

I am omitting my customary closing: there isn’t much happiness to increase.  Perhaps tomorrow?

“BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST”: EDDY DAVIS, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CONAL FOWKES (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

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

Eddy Davis — banjo, vocals, compositions — is a glorious eccentric I’ve been admiring for fifteen years in New York.  And he has a long history in Chicago, playing with the greats of previous generations, including Albert Wynn, Bob Shoffner, and Franz Jackson, among others.  Here are four selections from a beautiful evening with the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Conal Fowkes, string bass / vocal — at the end of last year.

Eddy’s had some health difficulties recently, so I wanted to use the blog as a spiritual telephone wire to send him the best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery, so he can come back to startle and delight us soon.  And just generally, may we all be safe from harm.  Thanks to Eddy’s friends Conal Fowkes and Debbie Kennedy.

TWO DEUCES / “BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST”:

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, with Miss Lil’s major seventh:

CANAL STREET BLUES, some New Orleans jazz that didn’t come from a book:

VIPER MAD (“Good tea’s my weakness!”):

May your happiness increase!

AN ANSWER TO ANXIETY, or RADIANCE IN THE GLOOM (Part One): JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN at CAFE BOHEMIA (March 12, 2020)

My parents, generous in all things, also gave lavishly of their own anxieties — “Be careful!” “That’s a very bad idea,” and more.  So on the evening of March 12, when I went into the half-deserted city that I’ve been visiting for decades, I heard the dull thrum of fear all around me.  The half-empty streets, commuter train, and subway all testified to prudence, caution, fear of the unknown.

But the music I and others (including Matt Rivera, one of the Disciples of Swing) heard that night — and that you will hear now — was a powerful countertruth.  “Yes, there is a new toxicity out there — an acronym with a number — that is ready to catch you unaware.  But while the music is playing, you are protected.  The creativity of these musicians is life-affirming, and vibrating to their sounds means that you are powerfully alive.”  I felt that from the first notes of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME to the end of the second set.

Of course there is room for scientifically-based dissent, but those who need to write in, “You’re going to DIE!” might give voice to such feelings elsewhere.

The creators — the Doctors of Swing in whom I put my faith that night — were, at the start, Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  Their music says “We will go on.”

Here are three beauties, defying the darkness.  The first is I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, played at a lovely tempo thanks to Jon-Erik, who remembered my wish to have it sound like a love song, not a sprint:

Then, WILLIE THE WEEPER, a story about joyous self-medication as needed:

And a mellow MEMPHIS BLUES (where the people smile on  you all the while):

There will be more, and I don’t simply mean that I will post music from this night.  I envision a future, not too long from now, when live music will be experienced face-to-face.  And — lest I forget — this post is in honor of the very-much-alive Jim Wellen, whom I met this morning.

I’ve created this post for free.  The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining  you.  How can you help them and express gratitude?  Simple.  Buy their CDs from their websites.  Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar.  Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say.  Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.

May your happiness increase!

SORROW, INTELLIGENCE, HOPE (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 7-10, 2020)

Yesterday, Mark Jansen, speaking for the Board of the Redwood Coast Music Festival, announced that the 2020 cornucopia would not happen, that the collective joys would have to be postponed until next year.

Festival Update – 03/20/20

Friends,

This is, unfortunately, the update we have hoped we would not have to make.   The last thing we wanted to have to do is postpone Redwood Coast Music Festival and simply writing these words breaks our hearts after the full year of planning and expectations.

Our deepest thoughts go out to all of you—our friends, our community, the hardworking artists that will struggle with cancellations, the production and operations crews whom count on the work, our volunteers, vendors and sponsors who’ve been so supportive, and also our RCMF team which has been working on this event, non-stop for a year. We are all equally disappointed BUT we all also realize that safety should be everyone’s most important concern at this time.

When we booked this lineup 10 months ago, we were so excited about the incredible music that would be in Eureka in May 2020.  A fantastic lineup of talented musicians, new venues, full dance floors and the joy this spreads through the entire community.  Friends and connections that we would meet, reconnect with as we celebrated live music and the best Eureka has to offer.   These disappointments are fresh in our minds but we’re going to refocus our energies on safety first and then begin building something positive for the future.  Our work for 2021 begins now … we have GREAT news.

Redwood Coast Music Festival returns May 6 – 9, 2021 

We want to let our community of artists know that we will be here for them during these challenging times. Many of these dedicated musicians live gig to gig, on the road, pouring their souls into the shows that all of us reap the rewards of. It’s going to be extra difficult for them, so while we may be upset about this inconvenience, we’re working to bring as many back in 2021 as possible.  Juggling schedules is always a difficult thing but we’re working to make it happen.

Important details:

To our valued ticket holders and sponsors.  We realize how trying these times are for each or us and all of our situations are unique.  

1. We would ask that those that are able – please consider rolling over tickets and sponsorships to 2021.  This will help us meet our obligations for shutting down and allow us to make the necessary commitments to our musicians and venues for 2021.  We are working to develop the process by which our 2020 Ticket holders will be able to use them for next year.  Hold on to your tickets and we will let you know soon.

2. If you prefer a refund during this time we understand completely. We will NOT leave you hanging.  Please email us at accounting@redwoodjazz.org with the words “Ticket Refund Request” in the subject line.  Please understand that, due to governmental safety restrictions, our office is closed until at least April 9 but as soon as we are allowed we will respond and work with you.

Of course, we will keep everyone informed of all changes that are made in our planning.

Thank you for your continued support through these uncertain times. Please Be Safe, Be Well and take care of your loved ones.

Redwood Coast Music Festival Board of Directors

I am sad that I and my friends will not be feasting on the embarrassment of riches that the RCMF promises and promised.  The Steinman-Sammut-Wyman Video Musketeers will not assemble to fight for swing and against ennui, but I hope we will be there in 2021.  But, having written that, I admire the prudence of the Board.  Prudence isn’t the sister who’s always first choice for the prom — she’s checking the weather forecast, driving 35 in the right lane, and (these days) her perfume is Purell.  But she’s wonderful for the long run, and reassuringly lovely in a crisis.

And I send love, gratitude, and hope to everyone connected to the RCMF — right now, not waiting until May 2021.

What would a post about the RCMF be without music?  The sad news is leavened with hope, so I don’t send this post out with an imagined black border.  Hence, BLUES and something KRAZY.

and the countertruth, looking forward to Kapering in May 2021:

May your happiness increase!