Category Archives: Awful Sad

“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!

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE

Mal Sharpe and the “Big Money in Jazz” band

Mal Sharpe moved to another neighborhood on March 10, 2020.  He refuses to go away, so it is both an obligation and a privilege to honor him here.  His official obituary depicts him as a comedian:  

Mal Sharpe, ‘The Man on the Street’ radio gag man, dies at 83

That’s one way to see Mal, but between 2011 and 2014,  I knew him well as the leader of a band of idiosyncratic individualists, playing traditional jazz and standards, and as a friend.  I brought my camera and videoed him and his band, “Big Money in Jazz,” at the No Name in Sausalito, at the Savoy Tivoli and Fior d’Italia in San Francisco, at an outdoor concert in North Beach, and once in Armando’s in Martinez.  You can find my videos on YouTube, of course. 

Even though I celebrate Mal as musician and friend, this demands to be included, with all respect to Larry Scala, who told Mal the joke and was never credited:

You know.”

I checked my email files and found that I first met him through my friend Jeff Hamilton in 2011: I’d written to Mal for permission to video his gig at Armando’s, and he was very gracious, telling me that he had seen my blog many times.  Later, I came to his regular gigs, chatted with him, and took pleasure in the band.  He was physically large — tall and broad-shouldered, even though he slumped down in his chair while playing — well dressed in an intentionally casual way.

In those years I was commuting-for-romance from New York, and although I loved being in California, I missed the banquet of music at home.  I was sustained by Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All-Stars and the occasional swing dance gig, but initially found driving to and parking in San Francisco terrifying.  Going to Sausalito was easier — I clearly recall parking my car on Bridgeway and walking past a vertical bank of nasturtiums, which I ate liberally, much to the horror of my companion: I compromised by eating only those above dog-height.  I digress, of course.

The No Name Bar in Sausalito was quite awful, and since I had not been a bar-goer in my youth, I recoiled from its most remarkable features: the broken toilet in the men’s room, the bill of fare that was microwaved popcorn in paper bags, local beer, ordinary spirits, an odd clientele, Nancy, behind the bar, gracious in a rough-hewn way, the band assembled on a narrow stand parallel to the bar.  I remember coming outside after the gig and feeling that the world was strange because it was so clean and bright.  

I never knew in advance who was going to be on the stand with Mal — sometimes superb players, sometimes those who had once been superb, and some others — but the music was always interesting, if only because it was precarious: would X know the chords to the bridge? would Y accelerate his usual glacial pace to get to the end of the chorus when everyone else did?  And there was always Mal, who had his routines, but delivered them with that combination of “I know this by heart” and “I just made this up” that I found charming.  Hearing and watching him do something as mundane as gently hector the crowd to put tips in the jar was worth the drive. 

Mal also had regular improvisations.  One of them was that he would go to a local thrift store (was it in Berkeley or in Oakland?) and buy nearly-useless trinkets — little plastic toys or medical items of no value but much strangeness — and set up mock-contests whose winners would receive some bizarre prize.  I don’t think I am making this up, but once it was the empty case in which one could carry an enema bag.  The takers were few. 

Here is Mal’s New-England based improvisation with which he closed the afternoon’s music:

He played trombone and sang.  As a singer he could be marvelously affecting, and one of the delights of the band was that it was not a stereotypical Bourbon Street band.  If they played the SAINTS, I don’t recall.  And — in the fashion of the great postwar ensembles of Boston (where Mal had grown up (he’d been to George Wein’s Mahogany Hall) and New York, where I had, the band explored standards.  You were much more likely to hear PENNIES FROM HEAVEN than BOURBON STREET PARADE, although they did perform ICE CREAM and Mal liked women singers who favored Billie and Ella, so the band had a less-raucous air to it.  Here’s an example I found moving at the time and still do:

That’s classic Mal — singing with sly tenderness, but also with new lyrics he probably made up on the drive from Berkeley to the gig.

Mal and I bonded because he saw that I was going to use the blog and camera to celebrate him — not embarrass him — and he once said to me, after a post, “Michael, you made us sound so good!” which pleased me.  He knew he was an amateur trombonist, and he said as much, but he stayed within his limitations and thus did no harm. 

We also drifted into a sideways friendship over delicatessen sandwiches at Saul’s, and talked of our mutual hero Vic Dickenson.  I gave him copies of recordings I’d made of Vic, and sometimes our phone conversation would start with his commenting about what Vic had done on the second chorus of SONNY BOY on the CDs I’d made for him.  When I visited him at home once or twice, he invited me into his den, which had photographs of his and my heroes on the wall, a barber’s chair that he sat in to practice, and other oddments. 

I emailed him often, mostly propelled by my finding a new picture or video that I knew he would like, and his brief responses had a telling comical snap.  Face to face, Mal and I spoke of recordings we were listening to; I brought him jazz gossip from New York and he talked about chance meetings with great people and odd ones, taking perhaps more delight in the latter than the other. 

As noted in the newspaper obituary, he was a great on-the-spot improviser of nearly-surreal sketch comedies, and once that I recall I felt (years after the fact) that I had become a character in a Sharpe sketch.  We both knew someone on the New York scene — a fan, amateur musician, and schnorrer (Mal loved Yiddish) who was always on the lookout for some apparently-altruistic scheme that would benefit no one but himself.  He came into the conversation and Mal and I took turns enthusiastically narrating his small-time thieveries.  The next time we met I brought him up with vengeful glee and told of his latest feats while Mal sat silent, listening.  When I ran out of energy, Mal looked at me after a long pause and said that he had decided to speak of this person no more, that it was not what he should be doing, and so on.  At the time, I felt as if Mal had let me walk blindfolded into a hole he had just dug, and said, “Hey, you could have stopped me at the start of blackening this person’s character,” and I don’t recall what he said.  Years later I understood that he had let me go on for the pleasure of the punchline, and I appreciated it as much as I could.

I am not sure if I discerned it or Mal himself told me, but he was a classic paradox — a shy man who sought the limelight as long as he could control it.  I think he needed to be onstage, to make people laugh and applaud, but (with the tuna or turkey sandwich he had Nancy get for him) he needed even more to drive home in silence, then be at home with no one bothering him.  Later on he told me that it wasn’t just shyness, it was anxiety, and I felt very sorrowful, but it also helped me understand him better: as if someone afraid of drowning forced himself to take swimming lessons, even though they scared him terribly and he never got any better.  

When I came back to New York in January 2015, I was happy to be home but I missed Mal greatly, and I would pick up the phone and call him.  I think the last time we spoke was in 2017, and I sensed that he had retreated from the world more than a little.  He stopped responding to emails as well.  But that is too sad a note to end my recollections on.  

How could you not love a man whose email signature (edited by me) was . . . .

MAL SHARPE
Host of KCSM’s Back on Basin Street 91.1
Man On The Street Productions & Big Money in Jazz
Home phone xxx xxx xxxx cell xxx xxx xxxx
Teenage Home phone in Newton, Ma. Bi-4-9509 (If my mother answers, hang up)

DON’T LOOK AT THE TROMBONES, IT ONLY ENCOURAGES THEM—RICHARD STRAUSS

and then there’s this song and performance.  Larry told me today, as we spoke of Mal, that it was Mal’s opening song for gigs:

I think Mal would be embarrassed by having more than fifteen hundred words written about him, but when he could be by himself in his barber chair, he would be secretly pleased.  Perhaps he would have emailed me to say he never ate turkey.

My condolences to Sandra and Jennifer Sharpe.  And my gratitude to Mal for letting me be one of the band in my own way

.

May your happiness increase!

LITTLE CHARLIE BATY, BLAZING

Clint Baker, Marc Caparone, Jeff Hamilton, Dawn Lambeth, Little Charlie Baty at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 2019

The profoundly swinging guitarist and admirable man Little Charlie Baty has died of a coronary at 67.  I promised myself I would not make this site a necrophile’s amusement park, but I make exceptions for people I knew, people who made strong impressions, and Charlie was one.  I was only in contact with him last May, but his loss is fierce to me.

Saturday night, Marc Caparone joined the conversation at the Jazz Bash by the Bay to tell us that Charlie was gone.  I was physically stunned.  It was sadly appropriate that we should get the news from Marc, because he was the first person to ever mention Charlie’s name — this guitarist who played just like Charlie Christian, who really swung, who was genuine.  I filed that praise away, as one does, hoping that I would hear Charlie in the flesh — which happened at the Redwood Coast Music Festival.

I have evidence, which I treasured when it was happening, treasured through watching and re-watching, and treasure more now — video recordings from May 11 and 12, 2019.  I am reproducing the links in full, not my usual practice, in hopes that readers will stop what they are doing and dig in.

First, a groovy set with boogie, blues, and a lovely HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN:

https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2019/06/22/did-your-recent-blood-test-show-decreased-groove-levels-jazz-lives-is-here-to-help-redwood-coast-music-festival-may-12-2019/

https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2019/12/16/totally-groovy-carl-sonny-leyland-little-charlie-baty-marc-caparone-clint-baker-jeff-hamilton-dawn-lambeth-redwood-coast-music-festival-may-12-2019/

Then, Baty Plays Christian — rocking not only the room but the neighborhood:

https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2019/07/30/for-charlie-by-charlie-part-one-little-charlie-baty-jamey-cummins-jacob-zimmerman-marc-caparone-dan-walton-sam-rocha-jeff-hamilton-dawn-lambeth-redwood-coast-music-festival-may-11-2019/

https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2019/08/01/for-charlie-by-charlie-part-two-little-charlie-baty-jamey-cummins-jacob-zimmerman-marc-caparone-dan-walton-sam-rocha-jeff-hamilton-dawn-lambeth-redwood-coast-music-festival-may-11-2019/

A few thoughts.  Marc told me of Charlie playing I GOT RHYTHM for twenty-five choruses and making the crowd stand up and cheer.  I can believe it: Charlie would have been very happy at the Reno Club in Kansas City c. 1936.

Charlie could thrill a crowd, but virtuosity for its own sake wasn’t what he came for — flaming the fretboard, as a guitarist friend once called it.  He lived the music and he lived to share the feelings of songs with us.  So his playing was strongly melodic, even through the runs and blue notes, the sharp dynamics, the small dramas-in-swing, the shifting harmonies and variations on variations.  A Baty solo was like a short story: it proceeded logically from start to finish; you could analyze its architecture after the fact, although at the time you were swept along by invention and momentum.

He rocked, to put it simply.  And he knew it, so part of the pleasure was watching a master’s sweet assurance in his craft.

When I first saw him in person, my five-boroughs skepticism kicked in.  This was “Little Charlie“?  This broad-shouldered man, like me, might wear a suit from the Portly section (a good deal of real estate in front, around the belt buckle) which he carried without embarrassment: Here I am, and I don’t have a problem with myself.  If you do, find another damn place. 

His assurance wasn’t arrogance, but it was an easy, perhaps hard-won, self-knowledge, and I saw him as an experienced ship’s captain, later a tribal chieftain, as he told a few stories to us after the set.

When I introduced myself to him, he was gracious in an unfussy way and he made me feel comfortable.  Later, when I shared the ecstatic videos with him, he was splendidly grateful and gracious — in private and in public.  I saw him in person for perhaps three hours and exchanged a dozen sentences with him in person, and perhaps another handful of emails and Facebook call-and-responses.

So why do I feel so bereft, why is there a large space in the universe where Little Charlie Baty was, and now is not?

To me, both in his playing and in the way he carried himself — powerful yet sometimes understated — he radiated an authenticity, a disdain for posing, that will remain admirable to me.  One way to walk through the world; one way to make the air full of melody.

Goodbye, Charlie.  Swing out.  And thanks for your brief, blazing visit to my world.

May your happiness increase!

SO SWEET, SO MELANCHOLY: JINJOO YOO, KI-HONG JANG, JAMALE DAVIS: CLARENCE PROFIT’S “DON’T LEAVE ME” (February 8, 2020)

This beautiful rueful performance — created by Jinjoo Yoo, piano; Ki-Hong Jang, guitar; Jamale Davis, string bass, and video-recorded by Jackson Notier — from their February 8 evening at Gin Fizz — is doubly obscure but shouldn’t be.  “Obscure” because the melancholy composition, “Don’t Leave Me” is little-known, as is its composer, the pianist Clarence Profit, who died at 32.  (And, as a personal aside, I met Ms. Yoo because of her interest in Mr. Profit, which is a very gratifying thing indeed.)

Clarence Profit and his music are emotionally powerful to me — read here — so when I saw that this YouTube video had only 21 views, I thought to encourage JAZZ LIVES’ readers to partake of this beautiful interlude:

I found myself playing that video several times in a row, and hope you do also.  But let us assume you are one of those rare beings who actually understands the pleasure of hearing music live, not on the computer or through the phone: this supple trio will be playing their debut gig at The Birdland Theater on Sunday, March 15, 2020, from 9:45 to 11:15 PM: 315 West 44th Street, New York City.  It would be lovely if they had an audience, and even better an audience that applauded at the mention of Clarence Profit’s name.  Do I dream?

May your happiness increase!

A FEW WORDS ABOUT ART METRANO, THEN THREE CHORUSES OF BEAUTY: JAMES DAPOGNY at the PIANO (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 16, 2016)

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

Jim Dapogny’s absence in my world is a tangible thing, as solid as any object I might stumble over or into on my path through my hours.  But his presence is even more solid: his voice, his gestures, his puckish surprising off-handed self.  And the sounds he created at the piano, a simple phrase articulated so memorably that the notes sound like a joke for us.  I bless recording equipment: imagine if Jim had been Buddy Petit, someone recalled but never heard.

At fast tempos, Jim’s playing was raucous, exact, and astonishing: here comes the band!  I knew it would take a lifetime of concentrated practice to come close to a bad imitation of what he could do, so my reaction was always, “Did you hear what he just did there?”  On a slow blues or a rhythm ballad, he created the momentary illusion: I would think, “I could do that if I really worked at it,” which of course was a delusion, but Jim was, in his own way, strolling along in the way Bing sang.  As Fats told Joe Bushkin, “It’s so easy when you know how.”

Jim knew how.

Here he is, very relaxed, at the piano at one of the short solo interludes that were a delight at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party: the piano situated informally in a large open area, a small attentive quiet audience.  I knew I was in the presence of something and someone magical: I hope everyone felt as I did.  And do.

This video begins with the tail of Jim’s previous performance of musings on FINE AND DANDY, rather like a glimpse of a cat going in to another room.  (I hope to be able to share those musings someday.)  And what follows is playing that sounds like relaxed speech or song, but is anything but easy.  It’s a 1938 rhythm ballad, IF I WERE YOU, which Billie and others sang, and I think of it as a Brill Building song coming from a familiar phrase, as so many did.

The first sixteen bars might seem only a straight exposition of the melody, stated clearly in bright colors.  But listen to the sound, Jim’s definite but never abrupt attack, his touch, and then, as he begins to explore the bridge, even more shadings emerge. His distinctive harmonic flavorings, the elasticity of his time (the way his left hand is steadily keeping the danceable tempo while the rhythmic placements of his single notes and chords is not locked in to four-beats to the bar), the very slight grace-note dissonances that are here and gone.  There’s enough in that “straight” first chorus to keep me happy for years.

The second chorus is freer, more expansive, although the melodic thread isn’t lost in the suspensions, the hesitations between chords, the sweet emphases.  In the manner of the greatest players (think Morton, Louis, Sullivan, Hodges) Jim plays a phrase, considers it, plays a variation on that phrase, and then another, before moving on to the next idea — we see the structures being sketched in the air before the artist’s hand moves on.  In real life, as I wrote above, I would be thinking, “WHAT was that?”  Thank goodness for video: I can return, and you can too, to examine a particular aural jewel.  The bridge of the second chorus, for example — four-dimensional tap dancing.

The third chorus seems more abstract, with dancing single-note lines, but Jim tenderly returns to melodic cadences as if embracing an old friend once again.  Catch the rocking-rowboat phrase with which he ends the bridge, and the gentle tag with which the whole performance closes.

A quiet marvel, and he performed like this for more than fifty years.  How fortunate we are that we shared the planet with Professor Dapogny:

I imagine a reverent pause here.  You will have to create one for yourselves, or perhaps play this video over again.

A conversation with Jim was always animated by reminiscences of some fairly obscure comedian’s bit, a theatrical world rather than “a joke” — re-enacted at the table, over the lamb vindaloo, so here are two brief videos devoted to the remarkable Art Metrano, whom Jim delights in at the start of his performance:

Moving Art closer to current times — he is still with us, at 83:

This posting is for Jim, the complex marvel whom some of us got to know and others simply can hear, and for those of us who miss him deeply.  You know who you are.

May your happiness increase!