Category Archives: Awful Sad

DAVE TOUGH’S SOUND-TEXTURES and RHYTHM-SHIFTS: PEANUTS HUCKO, LOU STEIN, MUNDELL LOWE, JACK LESBERG (June 6, 1947)

Dave Tough and cymbal

These are truly entertaining jazz records — and woe to the commenter who calls them simply Goodman-imitations — created by Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Lou Stein, piano; Mundell Lowe, guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; Dave Tough, drums. Admire at your leisure their splendid swing, their subtle mixture of relaxation and leaning-forward, their ensemble unity and solo brilliance.

But what I’d ask you to do today is to listen to the sounds Dave Tough gets out of his drum kit, his unexpected shifts of rhythm, the intricate and often shifting songs he creates — from one object striking or moving across another! Pure magic, never duplicated.

Thanks to Hot Jazz 78rpms — a rewarding YouTube channel created by the man some of us know as the gracious Tohru Seya — for making these discs available to us.

PEANUT BUTTER:

“STOLEN PEANUTS” (really STEALIN’ APPLES):

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

I MUST HAVE THAT MAN:

Bless Dave Tough, who gave so much to us in his short life that we still marvel at his ingenuities today.

May your happiness increase!

THE IMMORTAL BOB BARNARD (1933-2022), PART FIVE: BOB AT THE EUREKA JAZZ FESTIVAL, BALLARAT, with THE AUSTRALIANS: NEVILLE STRIBLING, ADE MONSBOURGH, GRAHAM COYLE, CONRAD JOYCE, PETER CLEAVER, ALLAN BROWNE (1986)

These video performances (thanks to Simon Stribling, a brilliant trumpeter and alto saxophonist) have been on YouTube for perhaps fifteen years, but even I didn’t know of all of them, so I urge you to watch, enjoy, and marvel.

The band alongside Bob, cornet, is Neville Stribling, alto saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Ade Monsbourgh, tenor saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Graham Coyle, piano; Conrad Joyce, string bass; Peter Cleaver, guitar / banjo; Allan Browne, drums, washboard. Jazz royalty. And the repertoire has a distinct Louis flavor with one bow to the Rhythmakers and another to Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter: what could be wrong with that?

Astonishing lyrical hot playing, offered to us with the greatest casualness: the work of masters.

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:

IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT (vocal, Neville):

OH, PETER (YOU’RE SO NICE)!:

MY BUDDY (for Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter):

I’M A DING DONG DADDY (FROM DUMAS):

I rarely make such claims, but if you can listen to this music without being uplifted, I would think we have little in common.

I am, for the moment, concluding my little series of loving homages to Bob Barnard. But he and his sound are never far from my ears and heart. And I — a retired academic — offer JAZZ LIVES’ readers the most pleasing homework: go and find more of his music, to start and end your days in joy.

Thanks also to John Scurry for his consistent support and his help with this post.

May your happiness increase!

THE IMMORTAL BOB BARNARD (1933-2022), PART FOUR: BOB, CAPTURED IN FLIGHT (Jazz at Chautauqua and with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks)

Thinking of mid-period blue-label Decca Louis for I’M SHOOTING HIGH, with John Sheridan, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2007, surreptitious audio only):

On a visit to New York in 2010, Bob sat in with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks (personnel given in the description) for a few songs:

SOMEBODY LOVES ME:

More Louis, appropriately, with SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

and that hymn to staying at home, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD:

Bob brought joy then and continues to do so now.

May your happiness increase!

THE IMMORTAL BOB BARNARD (1933-2022), PART THREE, CREATING JOY WITH FRIENDS: The ALL STARS SWINGBAND LIVE in DELFT. JOEP PEETERS, JOHN SMITH, FRANK ROBERSCHEUTEN, ROBERT VEEN, MIKE GOETZ, JOHN RIJNEN, ONNO De BRUIN, SARA KOOLEN. (“Jazzclub The Five, August 21, 1997: Grand Café ‘Verderop.'”)

I could go on praising, celebrating, and mourning Bob Barnard for quite some time, especially as wondrous new evidence comes up on YouTube, such as this informal delicious eruption by an international band of heroes. Thanks to Willem van Geest for capturing and sharing it; thanks to Bob, Joep Peeters, vibraphone; John Smith, soprano saxophone; Frank Roberscheuten, tenor saxophone; Robert Veen, clarinet; Mike Goetz, piano; John Rijnen, string bass; Onno de Bruin, drums; Sara Koolen, vocal. Good old-new-fashioned Swing-Mainstream, expert loving capers from all.

NAGASAKI / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE (Sara) / I FOUND A NEW BABY / Closing:

The music lives on, as do those who create it and share it from their generous souls.

May your happiness increase!

THE IMMORTAL BOB BARNARD (1933-2022), PART TWO: CHEER IN THE MIDST OF SORROW

In yesterday’s post celebrating the extraordinary person and musician Bob Barnard, I referred to his delightful penchant for songs no one else was playing or improvising on. I suggested it was a love of melodies, but I think also it was a way of avoiding routine, sweetly challenging himself and the others on the stand, so the musical special for this evening wouldn’t be ROYAL GARDEN BLUES or SATIN DOLL, although he played them with ingenuity and fervor.

I wish I had had my recording equipment at Jazz at Chautauqua when Bob played A BROWN SLOUCH HAT, the patriotic Australian song from 1942 that I suspect few, if any in the audience had heard or heard of. But I was properly equipped in 2007 (although secretly) when he called this tune, from PINOCCHIO, by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, sung by Cliff Edwards as “Jiminy Cricket”:

So to celebrate Bob properly, as a bright beacon of joy, I offer this audio-only performance from the 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend. The other soloists are Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums. Performed on Friday, September 14, 2007 and recorded surreptitiously, of course:

And always let your conscience be your guide.

THE IMMORTAL BOB BARNARD (1933-2022)

Wikipedia, where almost-cooked facts are arranged for our pleasure, tells me today that Bob Barnard, “an Australian trumpet and cornet player,” born November 24, 1933, died yesterday, May 7, 2022. I heard the news yesterday from the very fine friend of the music John Trudinger. My first reaction was double: I felt as if I’d been pierced right through my chest, but at the same time I heard a great golden sound, that of Bob’s glowing horn. And I thought of what Bobby Hackett had said of Louis Armstrong’s “death,” that Louis was alive as long as we could hear him.

I was fortunate to see and hear and even chat with Bob on his visits to New York and to Jazz at Chautauqua, which is why I start with his rare character. He had his own center, a sweet equanimity. He was ready to find the world both welcoming and amusing, and although I never heard him tell a joke (or be mean at someone’s expense), he always looked as if he was ready to start laughing — of course, not when the horn was at his lips, when he was completely serious. I think of him with a gentle amiability, head slightly cocked at the latest absurdity but ready to make everything right through music.

Along with that ease in the world, and perhaps its foundation, was a lovely mature courage. When he led groups at Chautauqua and elsewhere — musicians who didn’t usually play together or who (let me whisper this) always know more obscure repertoire, he was beautifully unflappable. He called tunes that he knew everyone would enjoy, but when he announced BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS or GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE I could see the faintest looks of “What the hell is this? How does the bridge go?” among the very experienced musicians on the stand. Bob called a medium tempo and started playing the melody . . . wordlessly teaching by example, “THIS is how it goes. Follow me and I won’t let you get lost.” And no one did.

I hope that my readers know what an unforgiving instrument the trumpet (or cornet) is, how demanding . . . and if they don’t know, they pick one up sometime and attempt a clear tone, held notes, the barest semblance of agility.

Bob, Pat O’Leary, Scott Robinson, Matt Munisteri at The Ear Inn, 2010.

Bob is — not was — an absolutely spectacular brass virtuoso. But one with deep-seated taste and grace. He came out of Louis and Bix, but with a keen sense of their songful lyricism: the only one who approached his mastery in this is Connie Jones. He was also fearlessly agile all over the range of the horn. I think of Bob’s limber, audaciously sweet playing as skywriting or acrobatics on the highest diving board.

Here’s a sample from Bob’s visit to The Ear Inn, September 26, 2010, with Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass:

and also in sweetly Louis-inspired mode, performances with John Sheridan, piano; Arnie Kinsella, drums, at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 16, 2010.

I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA (from High Society):

LYIN’ TO MYSELF (from the glorious Deccas):

and, finally, THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET. Originally I thought that bringing this performance forward to mark Bob’s moving on would seem a failure of taste, but I think he would laugh at the juxtaposition, never one to take himself too seriously:

And a beautiful interlude from Bob’s last recording session, JUST MY LUCK, with guitarist Ian Date in March 2016:

Bob made his first recordings in 1949, and readers who know him will have their own favorites. But you can hear his style, his joy, his lyrical exuberance in these performances. And if you knew him, even glancingly, as I did, you hear the friendly singular man, in love with melodies, in every note.

He lives on and will live on in those sounds.

May your happiness increase!

THE CRITICS THAT BLOOM IN THE SPRING, TRA-LA (an ungentle rumination)

I feel motivated to write these words because of a sudden influx — rather like a termite swarm — of unsolicited negative criticism directed at performances I post on YouTube. Yes, I might seem “thin-skinned,” “grouchy,” “over-sensitive,” but I gotta right to sing these blues also. There will also be many instances of the first-person pronoun in what follows. Caveat lector.

I — yes, me — make arrangements to go to a certain club or venue, which involves travel and carrying video equipment. I’ve already asked permission of the musicians and the clubowner, wherever possible. I get there early, test the camera, and spend the time recording the music. When I get home, I process the videos, edit them, annotate them, and carefully present them, again, after sending them to the musicians for their approval.

A video hits YouTube, and perhaps two minutes later some anonymous John Simon has clicked the “dislike” icon. “The _______ player has a bad sound.” Or, “I like _______’s version better.” Sometimes the poster simply puts up his own version of the song as if to say, “See? This is how you do it.” Or, more personally, “It’s a pity that there was an echo in the room,” or “I wish the cameraman had been able to do close-ups and move around. We can’t see ___________ well.”

Yes, I think that unexplained anonymous public dislike is rude and needless.

Of course it’s too easy in cyberspace. And I want to say to these people, “How well do you sing MORE THAN YOU KNOW”? “How well do you play all the strains of PANAMA”? Or, “Would you have done a better job with a video camera under those circumstances? Do you understand the difference between television’s multi-camera possibilities and what is possible by one human being with one camera?”

I want to say other things, but when those impulses descend, I make another cup of tea and put some laundry away. I stopped reviewing CDs for a famous jazz publication because I realized that my visceral reaction to someone’s creation was just that — a visceral reaction — and it didn’t necessarily have validity beyond the personal. I’m not fond of mushrooms to excess in a dish, but that shouldn’t stop people from harvesting and enjoying them.

Everyone, of course, has an opinion, to which they are all entitled. Everyone has their own taste. And not everything is equally worthy of praise. But I wonder about the basis of some expressions of distaste. If the only rendition of PANAMA you like is by Wild Bill on Commodore in 1943, I can understand your enthusiasm. But does your enthusiasm give you the right to implicitly or explicitly insult artists by suggesting their work is inferior to your ideal? I would have the audience remember that the artists I record and present are offering their art for free, as am I. So sometimes the negative reaction seems ungracious, as if you’d come to my house for lunch, I’d taken trouble over the meal, and you told me you disliked the silverware.

I understand that cyberspace has made possible and encouraged the free expression of anonymous opinion. And that is usually preferable to censorship. But I cannot figure out why the quickest response is negative. Is it that the world of 2022 is so full of free-floating hostility that people have to let it out, rather like other expressions best confined to the lavatory? Or is it a deep-seated and unacknowledged jealousy: “Why should X be singing on YouTube when I can’t?” “What about ME?” I hope not, but those possibilities do come up.

Yes, there is a precedent for accurate negative “reviewing.” When a gentle unmalicious saxophonist says to me, “I can’t listen to Y: he’s never in tune,” I have to take that seriously. And if I were to write a Google review of a new car whose engine burst into flames, I might be saving someone’s life. On a less extreme note, if I write a sharp Yelp review of a restaurant where the chicken is cold and red in the middle, I might be saving someone from a painful evening. But . . . if a YouTube disliker turns thumbs-down on someone’s work, is he saving us from injury, pain, vomiting? Is he performing a public service? Or is he merely saying, “Look at me. I know what good music is and this ain’t it.”

I watch many videos of performers, and some of them do not please me. But I do not reach for the mechanical icon of castigation. Why should I?

That’s all for the moment. But there are real people on your lit screen, singing and playing and making videos for you. Don’t be so quick to shit on them. It’s not nice. It’s not necessary. You’re not serving a purpose.

I usually close a post with May your happiness increase, and I still wish that for any and every one reading. But I say that the contrary is true: Don’t decrease others’ happiness. Please.

FAME FADES, IGNORANCE LASTS

There are millions of things I don’t know and don’t recognize. But this example of ignorance did seem worth noting. Please consider the photograph below, on sale at eBay:

and a magnified version of the autograph in the lower right corner:

Drummer Bobby Donaldson (a fine player whose fame hasn’t lasted) and pianist Hank Jones (much better-known) are identifiable in the photograph. It took me a minute to recognize Patti Page, who was indeed famous in her day, but her face was indeed recognizable. There’s a fourth figure in the photograph, his expression mildly quizzical, a cigarette in one hand, a clarinet over the other arm. More about him shortly.

The eBay seller, not known to me, lives in New Hampshire (so the assumption of ignorance of North American popular culture would be unwarranted). And (s)he advertised the photograph in this way: “1940’s signed photo jazz Bobby Donaldson Hank Jones drummer to clarinetist.” and then continued,

“10 x 8 inches, glossy, 2 tiny creases to corner. o/w very good. Legendary jazz drummer Bobby Donaldson posing with jazz great Hank Jones, receiving some recognition from? some steve allen looking guy and a woman. Original pen inscription by Donaldson to a fellow musician: “To Joe a fine clarinetist and musician Bobby Donaldson”. guaranteed. Not signed by Jones.

From this I deduce that the seller is somewhat aware of venerable popular culture to be able to identify — or guess at — Steve Allen, even in this haphazard way. I am trying to find it amusing that Allen, who starred in a film biography of the clarinet player, should have been more tenacious in the seller’s memory than the clarinet player himself.

You in JAZZ LIVES readership know who the clarinet player is. And some will know that this photograph documents Patti Page’s 1957-58 television show, THE BIG RECORD, from which this shot seems to be taken. Some others, possessing a discography of the “some steve allen looking guy” (mine is temporarily inaccessible) can no doubt quote the date and the music played. I will simply continue to shake my head sadly at the evanescence of fame, the shallowness of the popular memory, and more. The clarinet player died in 1986; Steve Allen in 2000. Make of that what you will.

The photograph, by the way, has a minimum bid of $49.99. It is also remarkable to me because I’ve never seen a Donaldson signature before, and he was a superb drummer, recording with Louis Armstrong, Hot Lips Page, Buster Bailey, Zoot Sims, Benny Carter, Mel Powell, Ruby Braff, Buck Clayton, Sarah Vaughan, Clifford Brown, Ray Bryant, Kenny Burrell, Frank Wess, Johnny Hodges, Buddy Tate, and many others. Like Osie Johnson, he was a first-call New York studio drummer who could be mistaken for Jo Jones, and that is no small compliment. He also recorded regularly with the clarinet player in 1954-55 and a few times more a decade later.

Is the moral SIC TEMPORA GLORIA MUNDI or O TEMPORA! O MORES! or some other Latin tag? Don’t know; can’t say. And should anyone mistake my own sense of whimsy for puzzlement, there’s no need to write in to tell me who the clarinet player is. I’m somewhat familiar with his work. But thanks anyway.

And here’s Bobby Donaldson (in a Latin mood) on Jimmy Rushing’s 1952 WHERE WERE YOU? — a performance I immediately fell in love with:

May your happiness increase!

“FEELS LIKE ANOTHER UNIVERSE”: EDDY DAVIS, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CONAL FOWKES (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

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

Where we were, when we were. Years gone by. “Feels like another universe,” says Evan. Glorious music in another time: December 26, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City. Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Eddy Davis, now gone, banjo, vocal, electricity; Conal Fowkes, string bass.

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

The tune? CANDY, a Forties ballad, swung as hard as a band can swing. And watch the band fall into line and become a magical Basie small group right on the stage (with Jon-Erik’s nod to THAT’S MY HOME — don’t miss it).

That universe is slowly coming back, although Eddy took his leave of us not long after this session — in April 2020. But he lives on in his joys so generously spread. And the other luminaries: Conal, Jon-Erik, and Evan — continue to illuminate our world. So sweetly.

May your happiness increase!

SIDNEY CATLETT RULES (June 28, 1949)

This post — and the musical surprise it contains — are inspired by my friend Nick Rossi’s celebration of Sidney Catlett’s birthday on Facebook. Nick posted the cosmically glorious STEAMIN’ AND BEAMIN’ by an Edmond Hall group on Blue Note — including Bennie Morton and Harry Carney, so you know it’s remarkable.

There are two or three sessions that Sidney graced, late in his recording career, that have eluded me: one is by “Gloria Mac,” which I suspect might be a mis-typing of “Gloria Mae”:

Gloria Mac (vcl) acc by Dick Vance (tp) Sandy Williams (tb) Hilton Jefferson (as) George “Big Nick” Nicholas (ts) Bill McRae (p) Thomas Barney (b) Sidney Catlett (d)
New York, May 5, 1949
G657 The one in your memory Abbey 75
G658 What is this thing called love ? –

I dream of hearing Sandy Williams backed by Sidney . . .

I thought the other session would be equally elusive, but I found two of the four sides on the Internet Archive, the treasure chest of unimagined joys:

Kirby Walker Orchestra : Dick Vance (tp) Benny Morton (tb) Hilton Jefferson (as) Sam “The Man” Taylor (ts) Kirby Walker (p,vcl) Al Hall (b) Sidney Catlett (d)
New York, June 28, 1949

CO40919 Oh I’m evil Col 30178
CO40920 High brow blues 30170
CO40921 Juke box time 30178
CO40922 Shut up 30170

Before I proceed to the music — that delightful reward — I will note that Kirby Walker doesn’t impress me greatly as lyricist or singer, but he is middle-competent. Both sides are well-arranged, with a written duet for Taylor and Jefferson: I would guess that the charts are by Dick Vance, and they are reminiscent of Hot Lips Page and Wynonie Harris’ contemporaneous efforts: good-time music, no demands made on it to be innovative. And while you’re listening closely, pay attention to the beautiful sound and reliable drive of Al Hall — someone I had the good fortune to see in person circa 1974-5 (Bennie Morton as well).

But the reason to shine a light on these brief interludes is the magisterial presence of Sidney, whose powerful accents, rimshots, and direction are strong but never obtrusive. HE is leading the band, propelling, orchestrating, and shaping the performances. Masterfully.

Here is OH I’M EVIL. (You can find another version of Kirby Walker performing this song on the air, for the 1947 THIS IS JAZZ series, on YouTube.)

And here is JUKE BOX TIME (when did the juke box get the name “piccolo”?) with Sidney in especially wonderful form in the second half of the record — kicking Taylor into action and then driving the band exuberantly.

He was such a phenomenon: a percussion orchestra who could be so very gentle when the music required it. Gone in 1951, his loss a tragedy that still reverberates. The only compensation for his abrupt death, his short life, is that he was very well-represented in recordings from 1928 (Al Wynn) to 1950 (Muggsy Spanier): everyone wanted the Catlett magic in their band, from Bechet to Byas to Bird. They knew full well what having Sidney behind the drums meant.

May your happiness increase!

PART TWO: WE STILL MISS JOHN SHERIDAN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2012)

Every time he faced the piano, John Sheridan generously shared his affection for the melody, his consistent clarity and coherence. His creations passed what I think of as the test of great art: making it look so simple when it is anything but. And his swinging rhythmic energies never failed us. Here are two more (previously unseen) performances from the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend.

Terry Shand’s LOVE LIES (a delightful nod to Louis in the middle):

Irving Berlin, over rolling rhythms:

and — something I wanted more people to experience — because beneath the surface gruffness, John was a deep romantic, Frank Loesser’s I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE:

These three performances are only a small part of why we miss John Sheridan. Fortunately for us, he recorded prolifically on Arbors Records and was caught often on YouTube . . . but those reminders are now poignant as well as memorable.

May your happiness increase!

WHO KILLED HISTORY?

I first wanted to call this post THE DEATH OF HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS, but that title, although accurate, seemed too ponderous to be chewed and swallowed. So the BBC-mystery title shall stand. And the blank tombstone.

Maybe it’s collective amnesia, but can people forget what they never acknowledged to begin with?

What do I mean?

I have a large collection of photographs, and I found an extra one of a famous musician, an 8 x 10″ glossy with him in playing position, which I brought with me to a gig led by a then young artist who shone on the same instrument, someone of great promise. I gave him the photo, he looked at it, then at me, and said, “Who is that?” I confess that my first stifled reaction was annoyance, but I didn’t succumb; I didn’t rip it out of his hands. I identified the famous subject, and said, “Would you like it?” and he gratefully said he would.

That’s an extreme case. Is it innocence, shallow awareness, or something more?

But I’ve gotten into conversations with musicians I admire deeply, and bringing up some perhaps obscure name of a player on their instrument, the reaction is often a faraway look, with some embarrassment, and “Ohhhhhh. _______________. I’ve heard of them before, but never had the time to really investigate. Are they good?” And I think to myself, “You are a wonderful artist, but you haven’t put in the time studying the art as it exists and existed beyond your own mouthpiece, or fingers . . . ” It’s not limited to archaeology, for I’ve met North American musicians who live on one coast who are ignorant of great contemporaries on the other.

Now, these may be the rare exceptions, because I have met enough deep musicians who can discourse at length about the Ancestors: Mildred Bailey, Gene Krupa, Ben Pollack, Mouse Randolph, Pete Brown, Tiny Parham, Bernard Addison, and three dozen more. But when I meet this sort of sweet obliviousness, this easy acceptance of ignorance, it makes me cringe and then wonder. Where I come from. a lack of curiosity is a moral problem.

(I won’t linger on those who believe anything before Coltrane isn’t worth listening to, or those who “can’t hear” anything recorded before KIND OF BLUE because it’s so “primitive” and the sound is so poor. Their loss. Their substantial loss.)

You can say, “Well, these young cats are busy honing their craft, making a living, hustling from gig to gig. They don’t have the leisure time you do, Michael, to study the oeuvre of Frank Chace,” and you’d be right. But there is an odd technological twist to this situation: when I was a boy, I didn’t have to walk miles through the snow, barefoot, but much of the recorded history of jazz was not easily accessible to me. But I listened to as much as I could — from records I bought, from the local library’s collection, from FM radio. I learned as much as I could from books and liner notes. There was no Facebook; I didn’t start to have a jazz community of people who leaned as I did until I was almost out of high school.

Given YouTube and Spotify, and other digital resources, if a young pianist wants to hear nearly everything Teddy Wilson, let us, say, ever recorded, she has only to make sure her iPhone is charged and her airbuds in peak condition. I purl though YouTube some days and am open-mouthed at the rarities now easily available. The cornucopia is overflowing for those who are curious, eager to learn more about the art by which they define themselves.

I am reluctant to call this willful self-absorption, but some centuries ago, you couldn’t begin to call yourself A Poet if you hadn’t memorized, imitated, improvised on, analyzed the great works of the past. Serious study was your ticket of admission to the guild of craftspeople. If you wanted to be play cello in a string quartet, you had to have a deep immersion — practice and theory — in Haydn, Mozart, and the Elders. I never taught Creative Writing, but I have friends who do, and when students introduce themselves, “I’m five hundred pages into my novel,” and the question is asked, “What are you reading?” and the answer is either a blank stare or perhaps one contemporary author. Austen, Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner — new phone, who dis? Imagine an aspiring modernist painter who has never seen Kandinsky. Then imagine a young tenor saxophonist to whom the names Harold Ashby and Tubby Hayes are just names.

I wonder how an alto saxophonist can say, “Hey, I practice eight hours a day from the REAL BOOK, and I’m working on my own conception,” but never have heard Hodges, Carter, Pete Brown, Hilton Jefferson, to name four Ancestors. Yes, most modern jazz players know their Trane and Miles, but beyond that . . . ? (We can of course blame Jazz Studies programs in universities that begin in 1945, but they are too easy a target.)

I mentioned Frank Chace before, and when I asked him about his youthful immersion in the music, I said, “In 1954, did you also listen to Lee Konitz?” and his answer was an immediate, “We listened to everything. We thought that was a musician’s job.”

In recent years, I might meet a young pianist deeply immersed in Bud Powell, which is of course admirable. But when I ask, “Hey, have you heard Nat Cole, Billy Kyle, Kenny Kersey, Clyde Hart?” and the answer is “Who?” I have to say, “They are where Bud came from, pianists he heard.” “Oh.”

The musicians I’ve depicted (or you may think, slandered) above are myopic but they can be helped: no twelve-step program is needed. You’re a young trombonist and you’ve never heard of Bill Harris? Here’s five minutes of convincing . . . and curiosity takes over. Conversion isn’t the desired end, but education is.

But when I consider how this myopia has undermined the listening audience, I get even more depressed. I won’t even bother to invent fanciful names for imaginary bands (although I toyed with The Too-Tight Polo Shirt Collective and The Birkenstock Buskers for a moment) but I will just call them all SFB, for Someone’s Favorite Band.

So a fan I encounter after a festival set which includes some too-hasty Jelly Roll Morton compositions, complete with long drum solos, comes to me ecstatic, saying, “Wasn’t that wonderful?!” and I politely but sourly say, “They really made a mess of SHREVEPORT STOMP,” and I get what is casually called “the fish-eye,” but I continue. “Do you know that song? Have you ever heard the original version? Do you know the Morton trios, James Dapogny’s recordings, or the Bob Wilber versions?” and the fan is already starting to back up, appalled by pedantry. I imagine myself shouting down the corridor, “Omer Simeon! Barney Bigard! Tommy Benford!” as the traumatized fan runs off and calls for Security.

Or, even more prevalent, the fan wearing the SFB shirt and giving the secret SFB handshake applauds a rendition of some obscure jazz classic made rustic, the melody flattened, some important chord changes missed, and the verdict is, “They are the greatest band I’ve ever heard!” which may be true, simply because the ecstatic listener has heard no one else. Who’s Clarence Williams? Who’s Floyd Casey?

You may call my perspective a snobbish one, but it is as if (for readers who eat cheese), “Manchego? Brie? What’s that? Nothing’s better than Cheez Whiz in a can.” Go to it, I think. But I am declining any dinner invitations from you, no matter how nice you are.

And perhaps the fans feel that SFB is “keeping the music alive,” and if you count the millions of YouTube visits to videos by Someone’s Favorite Band, perhaps they are. But if the fans of SFB will only follow them, because they are The Truth, other worthy and more worthy bands go under for lack of gigs. The fan base becomes intensely narrow . . . and you cannot build a tall building on an upended plastic cup.

Years ago I might have despaired because I couldn’t hear the Ellington Fargo 1940 dance date. Now I can hear it whenever I want, and I despair because other people haven’t taken the time to hear it. Devoted fans. Eminent musicians.

Those who ignore history may not be condemned to repeat it. But if people don’t descend deeply into the art form they say they love, they are cutting off its air and are missing out on breathtaking creations. It’s all spread out on the cyber-table. But one has to start one’s own investigation, and see a reason to do so.

May your happiness increase!

A GREAT TEACHER MOVES ON: BARRY HARRIS (1929-2021)

The pianist / composer / educator / shepherd Barry Harris, who just left this temporal plane a few days shy of his ninety-second birthday, understood many things deeply. But one of the finest was his unspoken acceptance of his role as teacher and guide — not to one classroom of students, but to thousands. He knew — without words, but by embodying it — that a great teacher’s goal is to show their students how to be themselves teachers, in their own particular fashion, continuing to teach others as they learn themselves.

Photograph by Melanie Futorian.

I didn’t have the good fortune to know Barry, to visit one of his classes, to commune with him: I think I came along late in his time, where he might have told me he had better things to do than to sit and talk about himself. But I know those who drank from the Harris springs and came away transformed and inspired, and when his name came up in conversation, their faces gleamed with love and wonder and appreciation.

There is no better tribute I can offer than Heleen Schuttevaer’s loving short film, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF BARRY HARRIS, which premiered in December 2020:

Ordinarily, I would say of such a person, “Barry Harris has become music,” but that would be an impudence: he always was and will continue to be. We are so fortunate to have lived in his world.

May your happiness increase!

“RHYTHM WAS HIS BUSINESS”: REMEMBERING KEN SALVO

Ken Salvo, the stalwart banjoist and guitarist of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks and many other groups — in Chicago, New York, and Florida — left us this year. I didn’t get to speak with him, but his joy in playing and his steady rhythmic pulse were evident whenever I saw the Nighthawks. And musicians I’ve spoken about Ken to recall his kindnesses off the bandstand: he went out of his way to help them, to rescue them whenever he could.

He was well-liked and well-admired, so I’ve asked people who knew him to recall him for you. I’ve always thought that the measure of a life well-lived is the way people miss someone when they’re gone: Ken lived beautifully.

Clarinetist JOE LICARI:

I was shocked to hear of Ken’s passing as well as that of his wife Sandy just two weeks prior. Over many years I have played hundreds of gigs together. He was a great musician and entertainer and would always greet you with a smile. He was a sweet kind man and gentleman. I feel blessed to have known him on the bandstand and on recordings. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Trumpeter MICHAEL PONELLA:

A few years back there was the intense wind and snow storm late in October.  The Nighthawks were performing a Halloween party near Hartford, Connecticut for that evening.  Ken met me at my house in New York and drove from there.    On the way we encountered stop and go traffic, high winds, blinding snow, accident slowdowns, and crazy drivers that Ken was yelling to in the car.  We made it to the gig amazingly, but a few minutes late.   The party was a success, but Ken was exhausted from all the travel, and excitement.  Luckily that night a local hotel was provided, and Ken had me drive his car the rest of the way while he rested.  Even after a hard/tiring time traveling Ken would still perform his 100% on stage. One more:  Every time the Nighthawks would perform at Town Hall in NYC, Ken would always rise to the occasion.  He enjoyed playing there as well.  I will probably remember him most from those concerts, smiling, and playing faster than he ever played before.

Photograph by Lynn Redmile

Banjoist / vocalist CYNTHIA SAYER:

Ken knew how much I admired his plectrum Epiphone guitar because we had a running joke from me teasing him about it for years. And I knew how much he loved it too, so when he called me from Florida to offer to actually sell it to me, I was alarmed – though I was aware of health issues going on, I also knew he could keep playing, so why did he think he wouldn’t use it anymore? He talked about his local gigs and essentially said that he has faced that he’s now finished with the guitar, and it was time to pass it on to me. And well aware of the difficulties for all musicians during the pandemic, he also offered me generous terms. I accepted his offer with both deep appreciation and a heavy heart.

He knew I’d be coming to Florida soon (last June, during that small time window when we thought things were starting to return to normal, finally visiting our elderly moms there for the first time since pre-pandemic – Ken and Sandy lived close by) so he wanted to take advantage of the visit for me to possibly get the guitar. So while in Florida, we visited, jammed some (I posted a video or two of our jamming on Facebook), and I ended up taking the guitar back with me to NYC. I’m sooooo very grateful that I happened to have this last visit with him!!

I don’t remember when or where we first met, but I figure we’d known each other for most of my adulthood. A nice person and a fine player.

Bassist / tubaist / vocalist BRIAN NALEPKA:

Ken Salvo was a good friend and musical buddy for many years. He was not flashy and didn’t play “busy” solos. He kept good solid time and had that rare talent of making any band he was in better. He laid a solid rhythmic foundation that would let the front line do their work, and fit like a glove with the rest of the rhythm section. I know he is missed by everyone he played with.

Photograph by Aidan Grant

Trombonist / euphonist / vocalist JIM FRYER:

As to Ken Salvo, so many stories start coming into my mind that it’s hard to know where to start and how to organize them. He was a proud father and a devoted husband. He took pride in his “day gig” and I’m sure he was good at it. He was a terrific leader on a gig and a valuable sideman. Playing in the Nighthawks was a stretch for him, reading was not his forte, but he made it work, and his banjo and basic musicianship skills were so good that Vince had him in the band for many years. He also had a kind of old fashioned ethos that younger musicians don’t have today, simply due to changing circumstances. He was a saloon player from the golden olden days, who strove to make everyone in the room happy, in rooms that were full of regular working class folks, not young self-identified hipsters.

Photograph by Bela Szaloky

Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, bandleader VINCE GIORDANO:

I had moved to Brooklyn in 1979, Ken got my number, and we got a gig. He was the leader, he was on banjo, and I had my tuba and string bass . . . and it worked out great, we had a fun time. He played solid banjo, sang nicely, took swinging solos. He was a great banjoist. I like working with banjo, and he was very musical on it at all times. He was very professional, so we worked a bunch over the years. He would call me over the years.

Little by little, I found out more about Ken. I knew he was from the Chicago area and his family were big traditional jazz lovers. When the Dukes of Dixieland would came into Chicago to play, they would come to his house, because Ken was a great Italian cook. There was a great friendship there, and Ken’s dad had all their records, so he became friends with the Assuntos, and that was another inspiration for him to be in traditional jazz music.

How did Ken join the Nighthawks? Different people had come in and out of the band over the years; people move away or decide they want to play vintage jazz, so I gave him a call, “Would you like to try it?” “I love the band, but you might not be happy with my reading,” but he read the charts down perfectly. And he would take the charts home and work on the Eddie Lang pieces. We had a lot of fun on BOARDWALK EMPIRE and playing private parties and working with Garrison Keillor. When we did Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap we would all drive down to Kenny’s house in New Jersey and the bus company — this giant touring bus that would take us and the equipment to Wolf Trap — would pick us up. Kenny and his wife Sandy would have big vats of Dunkin Donuts coffee and donuts for the trip.

Ken was really conscientious sideman — anything he could do to help he did. And he said nice things about working with the band. When we did the RHAPSODY IN BLUE concert with Maurice Peress, he did the solo on LINGER AWHILE and he brought down the house. He was scared about doing it, but I said, “Come on, Kenny, you’re a virtuoso,” and he really did it — even snuck in a RHAPSODY IN BLUE lick. The audience laughed and it broke up Maurice. He would do tasteful things on the banjo, and he was great.

One day, he showed up and told the band that he and Sandy were moving to Florida — a long commute! too long for Monday nights — so he was leaving. We kept in touch for a few years, phone calls and emails. I saw him about a month before he passed — his son got remarried in Maryland and he hired a small contingent of the Nighthawks. I brought a banjo and he played a few numbers and brought the house down. His wife had health problems and passed a few weeks after the party. Between being ill and without his wife, they were married about fifty years . . . that was it.

So we all were sad, and the dance community he would hang with when we played, they all put up nice tributes and pictures. He was a warm friendly guy with a great laugh who liked to talk with people. We all miss him.

Photograph by Jenna Perlette

Trumpeter, cornetist, composer RANDY SANDKE:

This has been a cruel season for jazz fans. First we lost Phil Schaap, and then George Wein, two giants who did so much to spread the joyous and profound message of the music to all corners of the globe. But someone else passed who, though unnoticed by the jazz media, had a long and vital career as a musician. I’m speaking of Ken Salvo, a banjo and guitar player, who led his own groups but was most identified for his decade-long stint with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks.

Ken was a solid rhythm player, but also an exciting soloist who could hold his own in any musical situation. He was heard regularly on Monday and Tuesday nights at Vince’s home base in NYC, Club Cachet and later Iguana. With the Nighthawks, Ken appeared on several film soundtracks, as well as the band’s Grammy award-winning album of selections from the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire.

Ken began his career as a teen-ager, when his father would drive him to Rush St. in Chicago to work at the Red Garter. Ken developed his vast knowledge of tunes and prodigious technique there, working until all hours of the night. This period of the mid-to-late ‘60s was a golden age for banjo and guitar players in Chicago, since Eddy Davis, Marty Grosz, and Ken were all in town at the same time.

Ken moved to New Jersey in the late ‘70s and, in order to support a growing family, became a home inspector. He took to that job so well he became president of the trade organization. He also worked for a time at Allied Van Lines, and was responsible for moving Branford Marsalis and the new Tonight Show Band (including ex-Nighthawk trombonist Matt Finders) from the New York area to L.A. All during this time, Ken continued to play, book jobs, and make himself known in the NY freelance music scene.

In 2017, Ken moved with his wife of nearly fifty years, Sandy, to Venice, Florida. He had managed his finances well and looked forward to many years of playing golf and performing gigs in the area. Before I moved to Venice a couple of years later, Ken called me to offer me a steady job at a club in Cape Coral. He’d drive me down to the gig, about an hour each way, and we’d trade stories about growing up in Chicago, and so much else. We became very close, and he was a total joy on and off the bandstand. He helped smooth the way for me in Florida, and I will be eternally grateful.

All was working out well for him until last fall. He found out that his wife had inoperable brain cancer and her outlook was not good. They tried various treatments with all the attendant hopes and setbacks. In the midst of dealing with Sandy, Ken discovered he had lung cancer, probably from years of smoking in his younger years, plus working in smoky clubs before cigarettes were banned. Somehow he contracted Covid as well.

The end came fast. Sandy died when Ken was in the hospital and he was crushed. They’d known each other since their teenage years and I think Ken couldn’t conceive of living without her. When offered a ventilator he turned it down and passed away a few days later.

I truly loved Ken and grieve his passing. I’m sure that all who knew him, or heard him play, feel the same way. He was everybody’s friend and he will be sorely missed. R.I.P., my dear friend.

Photograph by Marcia Salter

Pianist / composer PETER YARIN:

We played for years in the rhythm section of Vince’s Nighthawks together – the Sofia’s and Iguana days. This was countless hours spent sitting inches away, aligning our chords and quarter notes, doing what we all try to do, maintaining our individual parts while fusing with the music and the band. Ken’s playing was exciting, joyful, full of energy, buoyant. He approached the bandstand with determination, grit, and a smile. Always clear was his commitment to and his faith in the music and the way it was to be played.

Solicitous of others’ welfare in tough times, he would respond with warmth and compassion. We joked together a lot. I will miss him. May his spirit resonate on.

P.S. from Michael: thanks to the musicians above who took the time to write lovely memoirs of a good friend and bandstand companion. I will be pleased to post other remembrances of Ken in the comments or perhaps in a future post.

May your happiness increase!

MAGNIFICENCE: TOM BAKER PLAYS “WEST END BLUES” with MICHAEL SUPNICK, EVAN CHRISTOPHER, CHRIS HOPKINS, MARTIN WHEATLEY, TREVOR RICHARDS (Ascona, July 4, 2000)

There isn’t much that needs to be said about this performance of WEST END BLUES except to say that it is gorgeous — impassioned and exact — and that we miss Tom Baker, who did so many things superbly. Tom’s on cornet; Michael Supnick, trombone; Evan Christopher, clarinet; Chris Hopkins, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Trevor Richards, drums, and this resounding piece of music was preserved by us through the sainted efforts of my friend and hero Enrico Borsetti:

Tom left the scene in 2001. Born in 1952. What a loss. But thank goodness for the heroes in this video who are, as we say, keepin’ on.

May your happiness increase!

A LONG LINE OF GENEROSITIES TO US: GEORGE WEIN (1925-2021)

I don’t have any influence with the Authorities, but I am worn down by the recent deaths of jazz heroes: John Sheridan, Phil Schaap, and now George Wein. When someone dies at 95, my first reaction is, “That was a beautiful long life,” and it was a long life filled with his energetic desire to give music to as many people as possible. Think of any musician active between 1954 and now, and they played or sang at a Newport Jazz Festival, whether the festival took place in Newport, New York, or was a traveling version overseas. And when I think of how music from those festivals was broadcast by the Voice of America, George’s eager spreading-the-gospel was cosmic. Think of every musician you revere — Billie, Miles, Trane, Louis, Hawk, Ben, Monk, Donald Lambert, Basie, Duke . . . . from Eli’s Chosen Seven, Vince Giordano, David Ostwald to Cecil Taylor — and there’s some documentation of them at Newport. And these concerts and recordings would not have happened without George’s fervent desire to make sure that his heroes got heard by the largest audiences possible.

I’ve chosen the portrait of George and Louis below for a reason: I think George’s ripples-in-a-pond effect on the music was congruent, if not equal, to Louis’. Imagine a world without the Newport Festivals . . .

But George was more than the fellow who offered Ellington or Roland Kirk a concert set and whose name was on the check. Early and late, he saw himself as a musician, and his great delight was to sit at the piano among congenial friends — the many incarnations of the “Newport All-Stars,” which included great swing-modern players from Pee Wee Russell to Warren Vache. Whitney Balliett, I believe, noted that his piano style was a mix of Jess Stacy and Lennie Tristano: he loved to swing and he loved to surprise. And he was an affecting homegrown singer, although he didn’t take many opportunities to do so.

His idea of jazz was ecumenical: here he is with George Brunis and Roy Haynes — a delightfully expansive band:

Please note that the live broadcast — introduced by Nat Hentoff, no less — came from a Boston club George ran, Storyville, along with “Mahogany Hall,” where Lee Konitz might have a week and be followed by Sidney Bechet, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz.

Here’s another sample of George at the piano, from the Nice Jazz Festival:

As I said, I found George to be an engaging low-key singer, with Ruby Braff and the wonderful Sam Margolis:

I never made it to Newport, but I did attend a number of the Newport in New York festivals, and they were memorable beyond belief. The last great Eddie Condon concert, with Lee Wiley, Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Joe Thomas, J. C. Higginbotham; the first jam session at Radio City Music Hall, with Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Vic Dickenson, and Gene Krupa; piano concerts that included Jimmie Rowles, Jess Stacy, Ellis Larkins, Art Hodes, Bill Evans; the Benny Cater “Swing Masters” big band . . . and others will have memories of Ellington and Mingus.

Without George, we would not have had what I consider one of the highlights of my life — perhaps twelve minutes by Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones. I wouldn’t have seen and heard Lee Wiley sing MANHATTAN. And because Ruby Braff was one of my earliest heroes, I couldn’t help but notice that Ruby had many many more recordings and concerts because of George, and George’s loyalty to the usually prickly Ruby.

There will be dozens of tributes to George, and all of them will focus on different facets of his open-handedness. From the late Forties in Boston (where he was friend and champion of Ed Hall, Frank Newton, Doc Cheatham, and two dozen others) to his last years, George approached this music generously, bringing us treasures of every sort. We would be so much poorer had he never existed.

I keep thinking, “Someday there’ll be no more Old Folks,” and since Jack Teagarden sang and played at Newport, I will close with Jack’s version:

George, we miss you already.

PHIL SCHAAP (1951-2021) AND HIS WORLDS

Phil Schaap, who moved on to another bandstand yesterday, was an unusually complex figure: he was his own novel, someone who deserves a Moliere or Henry James. Readers might know him as a tireless worker in the jazz vineyard: radio broadcaster, professor, writer, producer, enthusiast, and much more. Indeed, I can’t envision a Phil-moment that isn’t connected with the music: I cannot imagine him eating a sandwich, for instance, although I am sure he did. What I write today cannot do him justice, and I know that.

He loved the music, he loved the people even tangentially connected to it, but I think he loved facts the most. I have a magpie-mind, with fragments of information falling out of my ears, but Phil was several hundred encyclopedias packed into a tall talkative indefatigable human being. Baseball statistics, law cases, matrix numbers, reed sections, addresses, record label colors, telephone numbers, anecdotes, imitations of Jo Jones in full cry . . .

I knew Phil the way most people did — first, in 1970, as a disembodied voice coming out of a speaker, offering us music and words from Columbia University’s radio station, WKCR-FM, then, much later, as an eminent larger-than-life participant in the Hot Club of New York’s Monday-night Zoom sessions. But I also encountered him as the master of ceremonies at gigs — at the West End Cafe and elsewhere — and once or twice in 1972, between sets at Your Father’s Mustache, we actually had brief, somewhat tart conversations. Mostly I knew Phil as a series of observations, paragraphs, a sprawling narrative in human form.

He lived to spread the gospel of jazz. Making sure that as many people as possible knew the difference between the sounds of an alto and tenor saxophone was the highest goal. Finding “the best possible sound source,” too. Having us understand “the swing-song tradition,” the “Golden Era bebop five,” giving people “shout-outs” . . . he loved to do this and I think he needed to do this. Having a deep grasp of social-cultural-racial history was a true goal: reminding his audience that Teddy Wilson came before Jackie Robinson was vital to him.

Yes, he could talk beyond some people’s endurance, but he gave so much. Who else was interviewing Bernard Addison and Bennie Morton? Who else played Charlie Parker every weekday morning at 8:20 AM, ran day-and-week long festivals devoted to Louis, Mingus, Frank Newton, Coleman Hawkins?

There is a Phil-Schaap-sized hole in the cosmos, and not only the jazz cosmos. But the good news is that, in some way, evidence of his devotion and devotions will never go away. His interviews are being archived as I write this and will be available for us. And, like any great — albeit eccentric — teacher, he created students who have grown to be teachers. I think of the whole generation of WKCR radio hosts who have become our teachers because of Phil’s half-century and more, and an even younger generation: shout-outs (!) to Matt “Fat Cat” Rivera and Charles Iselin, among them.

One of my greatest heroes is the writer and editor William Maxwell, with whom I was privileged to work and to admire. In his last years, he devoted himself to playing the piano, his beloved Bach — but it wasn’t easy going. On his deathbed, facing the unknown calmly, he was with a young friend, who said, lightly, “In the next life, Bill, all those fugues will be so easy for you.” And Maxwell said, “In the next life I will not be making music. I will be music.”

Goodbye, Phil, and thank you for the decades of enthusiastic fervor. In the next life, perhaps you are a twenty-chorus Pres solo on SWEET SUE. You deserve no less.

SONG FOR A RECOVERING CITY: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, PAT O’LEARY at The Ear Out, May 2, 2021

When the EarRegulars — my heroes below — played this pretty tune from the movie NEW ORLEANS, there was no Hurricane Ida. But given Ida’s power and fury, it seems so appropriate to offer it now as a hope for healing and reconstruction. (I was fortunate in my New York suburban apartment, but many were not.)

Those heroes, if you don’t already know them by now, are Pat O’Leary, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, here on C-melody saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.

Music might not be able to rebuild destroyed landmarks or cur down trees that fell . . . but it heals in its own way:

And in response to the question, “Michael, when are you going to get tired of posting videos from the EarRegulars?” the most polite answer is, “When the moon turns green.” Or you can think of your own appropriate variations signifying “Never.”

They are so reassuring in the midst of this very lopsided world. Bless them: they bless us.

May your happiness increase!

OUR THOUGHTS ARE OF NEW ORLEANS

This morning, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, and is proving to be a very terrifying storm — on the sixteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I know some of my friends have found safe havens elsewhere, but I send these sounds out to everyone feeling the wrath of Ida.

Ironically, the apt sounds — melancholy but with a groove — were created almost a month ago, on July 25, 2021, at the Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass. The song? Hoagy Carmichael’s NEW ORLEANS, which I associate with Jimmy Rushing and Louis Armstrong, among others. Here it is, without words but with feeling:

I present it here as a prayer for durability and resilience of that “quaint old Southern city” and its people.

IN THE BLUE OF EVENING: JOHN SHERIDAN, OVERHEARD (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2013)

My readers will know that pianist, arranger, composer John Sheridan died on August 24, 2021, due to cancer. I celebrated him the day after, here. But John’s beautiful sounds continue to ring in my mind, so it is only right I should share something only a few people heard — although many were in attendance.

Preface: here is the studio recording of IN THE BLUE OF EVENING, young Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey:

and, because it’s such a pretty song, here’s Sinatra’s 1960 “I Remember Tommy” version:

Even though I had had the Sinatra-Dorsey 78 in my childhood, I hadn’t thought about the song for decades. But during the pandemic, I began returning to the surreptitious audio-recordings I had made at the 2006 and 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua weekends, some of which I have shared with you. Many featured John (Joe Boughton loved pianists, and in those early years he had Sheridan, Jim Dapogny, Rossano Sportiello, Larry Eanet, and Keith Ingham, among others).

I had a digital recorder concealed in my blazer pocket, but knew that if I put it on the table to start it, my companions would ask about it, and that might become a problem, since I had not asked Joe for permission to record. In retrospect, I could have — because I was writing about the festival — but timidity won out. So I would go out in the hall or even up a flight of stairs, start the recorder, and come down to the ballroom. I had transferred the digital segments to CDs and then to YouTube, and was able to edit out the sounds of my walking down the hall and concentrate on the music.

But one segment, unidentified, came up in my progress, and I listened to it. Nothing but fifteen minutes of between-set talk, loud audience conversations around me. But I did not leap to delete it, and it is a blessing I didn’t, because while the audience was talking (released from the burden of Being Quiet while their heroes were making music, John Sheridan was experimenting with IN THE BLUE OF EVENING. He did not play it at Chautauqua and no studio recording of it exists.

I came back to it when I learned that John was ill. And it haunted me: faraway, lovely, the “tinkling piano in the next apartment,” although John was stronger than that cliche even when he was delicately outlining a ballad; perhaps “music when soft voices die,” although the voices were not soft: no one said, “Shhhh! Do you hear that!”

So I present it to you. Those whose ears are easily affronted, will want to pass it by. There is a pause in the middle, perhaps someone asking John a question, and then he returns. But give it your full attention — it lasts slightly over two minutes — and you will hear something precious: John Sheridan, in his element, free to explore because no one in particular was paying close attention. But we can, now:

There are many better-sounding videos on YouTube, more than a few of them mine, and John left a substantial discography. But I cherish these moments in the midst of noise as John’s elegy: in the noise of this century and I hope those to follow, his beauty will ring through and not be forgotten.

A FEW WORDS FOR JOHN SHERIDAN

We’re all so fragile, although we don’t like to talk about it.

The magnificent, understated pianist, arranger, and composer John Sheridan has left us. I don’t have more details except that he had been ill with cancer for some time. I knew him, off and on, for more than fifteen years, and this comes to mind: a performance from 2013 at Jazz at Chautauqua:

John’s playing was so steady, so trustworthy, that he didn’t get his due, except from close listeners and the musicians he worked with. Oh, he could make the best brilliant romping noise at the keyboard — his stride was infallible, and you can find his performances of Bob Zurke’s EYE OPENER should you be tempted to pass him by as insufficiently flashy. But his tradition was the steady swing of Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy more than pyrotechnics, and he had a deep romantic heart — his ballads were so very touching, and he got to the heart of the song.

We’re all complicated as well as fragile, but I both loved John and approached him with caution. He was definite about everything — no meandering, no ambiguity. He wasn’t loud, but he spoke in boldface. It was fortunate for me that he understood that I understood — certain things, anyway. I didn’t follow football; our politics were so separate that we wisely steered clear of any reference to the non-musical world. But I, too, loved Benny and Jess, and I would listen to John without offering dissent. I see him now in my mind’s eye — perhaps we were at the San Diego Jazz Fest? — late at night, at a cafe table, John drinking black coffee and being wooed into having a piece of cake because I was. There was a time we had fairly regular long phone conversations, where John could talk about how things were at home and I would offer consolations, and then the conversation would shift abruptly to the wonders of some Goodman airshot, John’s current pleasure, and I would listen, because he heard deeply and always was insightful.

When I wrote “caution,” above, I had reason. Through the kindness of Mat and Rachel Domber, I wrote a number of liner notes for the glorious CDs created by Arbors Records. I’d written one for a Sheridan Dream Band session, and had been privileged to attend the sessions at Nola Studios in New York — pretty heady pleasures. John liked those, and wanted me to write notes for the next one. I think I was over-enthusiastic and mentioned too many dead heroes as touchstones . . . X’s trumpet coda is reminiscent of Berigan, and so on, something I avoid these days. I don’t know how I found out, but John disliked my notes. I emailed him and said, “Let me know what you don’t like, and I’ll fix it.” Silence. I was paid for my time — Mat and Rachel were and are gracious — but John refused to speak to me, and this went on until the next time I saw him, or perhaps I got a chilly greeting at the next festival. Finally, I got him aside and said to him, “I’m very fond of you, and you got pissed off at me. Do we have to keep on doing this?” and he relaxed and we settled it, as if we’d been in feuding pals in a Warner Brothers film c. 1940. Of course he never explained to me how I had sinned . . . but we moved on.

I had emailed him a few months ago asking his permission to post some videos of his performance, and he called me to say yes, sounding older but still cheerfully declarative. And now he’s left a Sheridan-sized hole in the cosmos.

It’s on days like this I wonder if I should have stuck to collecting stamps (a hobby I had for about a week as a child) because I wouldn’t feel so grieved. But then again, I would have missed the uplifting happiness of hearing John play.

Swing on, Brother Sheridan, in your new neighborhood. You will be missed, and for a long time. You increased our happiness considerably, and your sounds will continue to work their magic.

SADNESS WILL BE GLADNESS, or THE JOYS OF SURRENDER: The EarRegulars Plus at The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street — JON-ERIK KELLSO, SHAYE COHN, JOHN ALLRED, JAMES CHIRILLO, NEAL CAINE (July 25, 2021)

Our culture celebrates victory, but sometimes giving in is the only way: this song dramatizes the surrender to love.

I SURRENDER, DEAR has an ache in its heart. (If you don’t know the classic versions by Bing and Louis, you owe it to yourself to visit them.) But sadness, whole-heartedly dramatized, is joy.

Thank the EarRegulars for this sustained burst of emotions, coming from The Ear Out (that’s located on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 3:30 in front of The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City). On July 25, 2021, they were Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass, with NOLA guest Shaye Cohn, cornet, joining them, adding to the collective lyricism.

If you can, and you haven’t participated in these Sunday-afternoon musicales, you are seriously missing out. And you wouldn’t want to tell the grandchildren that you were too busy with the Times puzzle, would you?

May your happiness increase!