Category Archives: Bliss!

TRY THESE ON YOUR PIANO, or THE LION LIKES MILT and FATS PLAYS PRANKS

I find jazz paper ephemera so very tempting.  Even though my piano skills were never more than sub-amateur at their height, that candid awareness hasn’t stopped me from coveting sheet music or purchasing a folio now and then.

I saw this on eBay and couldn’t hold back my hand (the price was low and the folio was new to me).  So I am the new owner:

and here (found online but not purchased) is a different edition:

I believe the edition I bought dates from 1934.  Why one folio is ten cents more than the other is a mystery too deep for me.  And speaking of “too deep for me,” here is the first page of ALLIGATOR CRAWL.  Maybe in my retirement I could crawl through those notes?

The Ebay seller also had two remarkable pieces of sheet music — prices too high for an eager dilettante like myself — compositions by Willie “the Lion” Smith inscribed to fellow pianist Milt Raskin in 1937.

FUSSIN’:

SNEAK AWAY:

And if you wonder how we know they belonged to Milt Raskin, the purple-ink rubber stamp on each sheet tells us so.

Music, Maestro, please!

Fats’ liberal improvisation (1935) on ALLIGATOR CRAWL:

FUSSIN’ — played by Ralph Sutton:

Our friend and hero Rossano Sportiello also played FUSSIN’ just two weeks ago at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, so perhaps I might be able to share that with you someday.

And here, introduced by The Lion and Eddie Condon, at a Town Hall concert, is SNEAK AWAY:

It’s possible that having sheet music connected to Fats and The Lion is as close as I will get to playing stride piano, so thank goodness for recordings.

May your happiness increase!

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“IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN”: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ANDY BROWN, JOEL FORBES, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 14, 2017)

In his seriously masterful AMERICAN POPULAR SONG, Alec Wilder was unkind to “IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN,” calling it “nostalgic,” but adding that “its melody simply isn’t that good.”  Songs have feelings, too, and I disagree.  I’ve never been jilted at the altar (or a week before) but I always find the song touching and it works well as a ballad or in medium tempo.  In my mind’s ear I hear Joe Thomas playing and singing it, getting particularly impassioned in the last eight bars.  I wish he’d recorded a long vocal version.  And that Louis had done so also.

First, the song as a new pop hit, performed by the marvelously emotive Connie Boswell (sweet and then swung gently):

Coleman Hawkins with Fletcher Henderson, 1933:

and with Sir Charles Thompson, 1945:

and from this century — September 14, 2017 — at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, a version nicely balancing melancholy and swing, by Rossano Sportiello, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Dan Block, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet.  Keynote / Vanguard style, with split choruses, easy rocking lyricism, climbing to the stars:

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON MICHAEL HASHIM, PART TWO (July 19, 2017)

Because he is justifiably one of the most busy musicians I know, it was hard to find a time when saxophone master and master raconteur Michael Hashim and I could sit down and talk at leisure.  And because Michael is so busy gigging, it was hard to find a photograph of him without a horn attached to him, but I did.  (I love the dashing color palette here.)

Michael and I had a long afternoon’s conversation last July, the first two segments of which I posted here.

Now, throwing caution to the winds — or another apt cliche — I offer the four remaining segments of our talk.  And, as you’ll hear, Michael is one of those rare creatures who can speak beautifully, extemporaneously, without hesitation: lovely long sentences, full of information, feeling, and wit, come tumbling out.  A master of improvised prose as well as one of improvised music.

Three.  In which Michael speaks so well and affectionately of Jimmy Rowles — the pianist, the man, and the artist — with side-glances at Robert Mitchum, Henry Mancini, and The Fifth Dimension, Tommy Flanagan, Phyllis Diller, Benny Carter, Michael’s own recording with Rowles, Ray Brown, and some comments on race:

Four.  In which Michael tells anecdotes of encounters with heroes in New York, saxophonist Pony Poindexter, trombonist Benny Morton, as well as jazz clubs Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, with memories of Red Balaban, Jo Jones, Bobby Pratt, Tony Bennett, Joe Muranyi, Artie Baker, Roy Eldridge, Scott Hamilton, Lou Donaldson, Freddie Freeloader, and others:

Five.  In which Michael remembers not only individual musicians but the feeling and understanding of their art that they embodied, including Cab Calloway, the Widespread Depression Orchestra, Eddie Barefield, Sammy Price, Jerry Potter, Earle Warren, Phil Schaap,Toots Mondello, Percy France, Doc Cheatham, Scott Robinson, Roy Eldridge, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Lester Bowie, Haywood Henry:

Six. In which Michael lovingly speaks of the importance of the drums and remembers memorable percussionists and the players surrounding them, including Buddy Rich, Philly Joe Jones, Eddie Locke, Ray Mosca, Oliver Jackson, with a special pause for the master Jo Jones, for Sonny Greer, Johnny Blowers, Brooks Kerr, Russell Procope, Harold Ashby, Aaron Bell, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Irvis, Bubber Miley, Elmer Snowden, Freddie Moore, Eddy Davis, Kenny Washington, Billy Higgins, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, George Butler, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Joe Henderson:

What an afternoon it was, and what a person Michael Hashim is.

May your happiness increase!

HALF A LOAF IS STILL DELICIOUS: NOTES FROM JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY (October 13-15, 2017)

One of the lines attributed to Mae West is “Too much of a good thing . . . can be wonderful.”  I agree with this, but I wonder what Miss West would say about the following report I am turning in, incomplete but enthusiastic, from “Jeff and Joel’s House Party,” with Jeff being pianist / singer / raconteur Barnhart and Joel being banjoist / singer / master of ceremonies Schiavone.  The party took place this preceding weekend at the Elks in Branford, Connecticut.  (I can check my GPS for the exact address on South Montowese Street if you need to know.)

Aside from Jeff and Joel, the participants were Banu Gibson, vocal and stories; Vince Giordano, tuba, bass sax, string bass, vocal; Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor; Noel Kaletsky, clarinet and soprano; Kevin Dorn, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Fred Vigorito, trumpet; Mike Davis, cornet and vocal; Jim Fryer, trombone, vocal, and trumpet; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Tom Boates, trombone and vocal; Tom Palinko, drums.  (There were also many lovely people who didn’t sing or play instruments who made the Party even better than simply having musicians perform in a room.)

If you missed this one, the next JJHP is October 12-14, 2018.  Mark it down.

Some details about the Party, for those unfamiliar.  This one was the eighth, spread over seven years.  (It was the third I’ve attended.)  And there are four sessions: Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon. Food and drink are also available — ample varied food and a well-stocked bar, included.  (I thought it a lovely sign on Saturday afternoon that the bartender had nothing to do: people were preferring to listen rather than drink.)

Incidentally, if you are wondering, “Was any of this recorded?” the answer is YES — by my very amiable and technologically-wise friend Eric Devine (getting moral support from the splendid hiker Sherral Devine) — so that there will be some videos of performances the musicians approve.  This, of course, left me free to roam around, purple notebook in hand, like a free person, so I enjoyed the out-of-doors now and again and for once was not in a monogamous relationship with my tripod.

Traditionally, Friday night at the Party has been a concert of sorts — two sets by one band or group.   Last year it was Paris Washboard, and I hear they will be back in 2018.  At this Party, Friday night was given over to Banu Gibson, the one, the only, and a nice small band of Jeff on piano, Vince on everything he’d brought plus vocals, Dan Levinson on reeds, and Tom Palinko on drums.

Banu is not only a wonderful singer and story-teller (more about that later) but an engaging informal scholar, whose introductions are conversational but always erudite.  She’s done her homework and more, and whatever she says comes out of her deep love of the songs, their creators, and their singers.

She’s also devilishly quick-witted, so that even if her ad-libs are familiar bits of material, they never seem defrosted and microwaved.  I arrived on Friday in the middle of a brisk run-through, and in between songs Banu turned to us, half-affectionate, half-naughty schoolmarm, to say, “Now don’t you make any mistakes, you folks who are here early.”  In her third tune, DOIN’ THE UPTOWN LOWDOWN, after Jeff Barnhart had rippled through something delightful, she turned to him and said fervently, “God! How I’ve missed you!”

But her program was far more than comedy.  She gave us dear vibrant performances of songs with verses: Berlin’s PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, Fats’ I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, Hoagy’s MOON COUNTRY and a quicker-than-plausible THE MONKEY SONG, AIN’T GOT A DIME TO MY NAME from one of the Road pictures, the melancholy YOU LET ME DOWN from her most recent CD (which is a wonder), and a rollicking JUST IN TIME.  For variety’s sake, Vince sang and played IDA and IF I HAD YOU — reminding us of his many talents.  Dan summoned up middle-period BG on clarinet and perhaps Eddie Miller on tenor; Tom Palinko kept to brushes and swung quietly.  In the second set, Banu showed off even more of her versatility, moving easily from LULU’S BACK IN TOWN to the Gershwins’ I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT to the ancient WHERE DID ROBINSON CRUSOE GO (WITH FRIDAY ON SATURDAY NIGHT) which had several choruses of vaudeville joy.  For DO SOMETHING, Banu became Helen Kane, for SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON, she led quite a successful sing-along.  Vince charmed us again with I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU and DINAH — so nice to see him in this setting — and then Banu told at length the sad story of Johnny Mercer, Judy Garland, and Ginger Mercer, leading into a touching rendition of I REMEMBER YOU.  She ended her concert with three more tart offerings: the revenge ballad I WANNA BE AROUND, Porter’s MAKE IT ANOTHER OLD-FASHIONED, PLEASE, and THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.  Everyone looked elated and fulfilled, and we promised to regroup Saturday morning.

Saturday began with what Jeff called THE NEW YORK INVASION — a band made up of musicians based in Manhattan, approximately — Mike Davis, Jim Fryer, Dan Levinson, Dalton Ridenhour, Vince Giordano, and Kevin Dorn — who summoned up Condon’s 1956 with THAT’S A PLENTY and a Teagardenish A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY with a sweet Fryer vocal.

Because the Party is not run on “jazz party” principles — no forty-minute showcases for one group at a time — the next group, dubbed THE SUBURBAN RESPONSE by Jeff, was completely different: Fred Vigorito, Noel Kaletsky, Tom Boates, Jeff himself, Frank Tate, Tom Palinko, Joel Schiavone — and it had a distinctly “New Orleans” cast with a very fast BOGALUSA STRUT and the nice homage to Bix in I’LL BE A FRIEND WITH PLEASURE (although it was more “Condon” out of BIXIELAND than the 1930 Victor notion).

Banu returned with Mike, Dan, Kevin, Vince, and Jeff for her ebullient I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM (which should be her official theme song), YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW with the rarely-heard verse, and FEELIN’ HIGH AND HAPPY.  In the interests of full disclosure, she told us that it was too early to make jokes about that title.

My notes are slightly congested from this point, since I began to actually have conversations with people while standing outside and hearing the music.  I recall Dalton’s beautiful solo verse to I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING, and later Saturday he performed a gorgeous LOVE WILL FIND A WAY — with Jeff watching him intently — and a shake-the-building reading of James P.’s JINGLES.

Dan Levinson assembled his Original Dixieland Jazz Band centennial edition, Mike, Jim, Kevin, Jeff, and himself, and they made the Victors come alive — LIVERY STABLE BLUES and PALESTEENA.

Joel had a feature on a slow-drag LAST NIGHT ON THE BACK PORCH, which moved some of the audience to get misty over shared Your Father’s Mustache experiences.

Banu and Dalton did some touching duets, but their sweet quality is mostly obliterated in my recollection by Banu’s story of being a young performer working with a Your Father’s Mustache bill — and on that bill was a man whose act was called HAM AND EGGS because it featured a piglet and a chicken.  The piece de resistance, Banu told us, was his feature on TIGER RAG, where he made the piglet squeal in place of the tiger roaring.  If you need more details, you should ask Banu herself: her version was politely graphic, but I wasn’t the only man wincing.

A band devoted to “West Coast style,” which means to this crowd Lu Watters rather than Gerry Mulligan, assembled: Fred, Jeff, Jim Fryer on second trumpet, superbly, Vince, Noel, Tom Boates, Kevin, Joel, for Maceo Pinkard’s STORYVILLE BLUES and a lengthy romp on CANAL STREET BLUES, featuring two-trumpet fisticuffs, as requested by Jeff.  Later, a two-trombone conversation on ROSETTA, Noel and Dan on I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY, and a very sweet I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE for two trumpets, with young Mike getting in some lyrical Butterfieldiana.

Banu offered both story and song of BLUE SKIES, Hoagy’s MEMPHIS IN JUNE, and the Gershwins’ NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT; Joel followed with an extended BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME.

Levinson’s ODJB reassembled for Berlin’s I LOST MY HEART IN DIXIELAND and a truly splendid ALICE BLUE GOWN that began as a sedate 3/4 and ended up with a Chicagoan fervor that reminded me so much of the jam sessions at Squirrel Ashcraft’s house in the Thirties.  In between, something even more wonderful.  Dan told the audience about “rag-a-jazz,” and then said that this group was so well versed in the style that he sometimes asked for requests from the audience for jazz material out and away from that era.  Someone called out LIMEHOUSE BLUES, and Dan vetoed that as too familiar, since it was written in 1922, but a more daring listener suggested TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, and they played it splendidly: one could hear its lines and contours powerfully, but its heart was in 1920.  It was a remarkable performance, and in its way, it captured the flexible, imaginative heart of this party.  A few other songs followed, but I was still hearing that TRAIN in my mind.

Various circumstances, all unexpected, made me miss the second half of the Party, which I regret.  But if this doesn’t seem like hugely pleasing musical plenitude, I don’t know what more I can say.  I will share videos when Eric creates and shares them . . . . but they aren’t the real thing.

As I wrote above, the next JJHP is October 12-14, 2018.  Why miss out on the fun?

May your happiness increase!

WHY BE Regular WHEN YOU CAN BE EarRegular? (JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAVID SAGER, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA at THE EAR INN, August 13, 2017)

Some decades ago, when there were “public” and “private” subjects, people did not speak boldly of bodily functions.  But money was there to be made from people’s distress, so we had IRREGULARITY as a euphemism:

If your child was irregular:


The same problem for the grown-ups:

You understand.  As did Louis.  I’m a big fan of peristalsis.

But being EarRegular is a higher state of being, one we should all aspire to, and it has nothing to do with what has to be performed in private.  In fact, true EarRegularity is performed in public, generously, by the wonderful people who make music at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) every Sunday night from 8-11 PM.

Here are three beautiful examples from the evening of August 13, 2017 — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; David Sager (visiting from D.C.), trombone; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass.  (If you hear howling from somewhere in these videos, don’t be afeared: that’s only our friend Barry Foley getting ready for Halloween, several months early.)

Handy’s BEALE STREET BLUES — with gorgeous mutations from Jon and the sound you don’t always hear trombonists utilize, harking back to Jimmy Harrison and Benny Morton, from David.  And I can’t ignore the candid eloquence of Messrs. Gill and Nalepka, reminding us of what acoustic playing sounds like:

Another good old good one, AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

And finally, a rousing SAN:

I’m afraid you cannot go to your friendly pharmacist and say, “What do you have to make me EarRegular?” because she may not know of the goal you aspire to.  But you can go to The Ear Inn on Sunday nights and get fixed right up — no co-pay, no need to show your insurance card.  Just put some good paper in the tip pumpkin (“Phillup deBucket”) and you’ll feel better.  Fast.

May your happiness increase!

HOT JAZZ IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (Part One): THE NEW WONDERS (MIKE DAVIS, JOE McDONOUGH, RICKY ALEXANDER, JARED ENGEL, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY): AUGUST 20, 2017

Some people make great art happen without ever picking up an instrument, and Brice Moss is one of them.  I first met him at a concert of Mike Davis’ band, The New Wonders, in downtown Manhattan, about eighteen months ago.

Brice is very friendly and articulate, tall and beautifully dressed, but what’s more important is that he is a card-carrying Enthusiast for Twenties hot jazz.  And although he loves the recordings and lives to go see and hear the best hot bands, he does more than that.  Evidence below.

A Brice Moss lawn party, a few years back, with Vince Giordano, Andy Stein, Evan Arntzen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harvey Tibbs, and Ken Salvo.

Brice gives yearly lawn parties where his favorite bands play.  I asked him to say something about his generosity-in-action, and he wrote, “I work in social service, in the not-for profit sector, so even with saving up, I can only do these every year or so.  I can think of no more joy-inducing way to spend my meager dough than by hiring the world class musicians we are lucky to have in our vicinity.  As does everyone else, I love the Nighthawks, whom my parents saw weekly since the seventies.

I am smitten by Mike Davis and his guys too.  Mike always sings the lyrics, often including introductory verses I had never heard before.  They do wonderful vocal harmonies.  They are intimate, understated, true to the period and despite differences of instrumentation, very true to the original recordings of the tunes. Pure delight!  This is the fourth time I’ve been lucky enough to be able to bring a band up.  Last year was Mike and The New Wonders as well. The summer before that was a subset of the Nighthawks.  I have also, a couple of years back, had a New Year’s Eve party where I was fortunate to have Vince, Peter Mintun, Mark Lopeman, Bill Crow, and Andy Stein.”

So this summer, when Brice invited me to come up to his lawn party (at a location alternatively identified as Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown Heights, or Ossining — depending on the whims of your GPS) I was eager, especially when he said the band would not object if I brought my camera.  I thus had the odd and splendid experience of being able to hear and see hot jazz out-of-doors in the most gorgeous pastoral setting.  I also got to meet Brice’s quite delightful family: his mother Anne; son Odysseus; his daughter Aubrey; his sister Liana.  In addition, I got to chat again with Ana Quintana, and petted the New Wonders’ mascot, Chester.

And there was glorious music by Mike Davis, cornet and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums; Jared Engel, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass sax and miscellaneous instrument; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Joe McDonough, trombone.  (Mike also sings splendidly — earnestly but loosely — on many tracks, and there’s also band vocals and band banter.)

The band takes its name from a particular line of instruments manufactured by the Conn people in the Twenties, and Mike plays a Conn New Wonder cornet.  The New Wonders stay pretty seriously in the Twenties, offering pop songs of the day, jazz classics — both transcribed and improvised on — and homages to Bix and Tram, Paul Whiteman, Cliff Edwards, the California Ramblers, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, and more.

A great deal of beautifully-played hot jazz was offered to us that August afternoon.  Here are the first seven tunes, one for each day of the week.

I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS (fortunately, this song title did not come true at Brice’s party):

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW (with the verse and a second chorus and a third — how much music the New Wonders can, like their ancestors, pack into three minutes):

MY GAL SAL (thinking of the pride of Ogden, Utah):

CHICAGO:

ONE LITTLE KISS (their homage to Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys, nobly done):

TAKE YOUR TOMORROW (thinking of Bix and Tram):

POOR PAPA:

There are two more lavishly Edenic segments to come.  Not blasphemous, just paradisical.

May your happiness increase!

ORIGINALS BY ONE: JOEL FORRESTER, MICHAEL IRWIN, MICHI FUJI, DAVE HOFSTRA, MATT GARRITY at CLEOPATRA’S NEEDLE (August 3, 2017)

“I’m Joel, and these are my tunes,” is the way pianist-composer-bandleader Joel Forrester might announce himself at the start of an evening.

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

He isn’t pugnacious in the way some musicians are, who assertively say that they are going to play their compositions all night long.  No, Joel says it quietly, mixing a wry offhandedness with just a touch of pride.  “Here are my children, and I like them myself, but you needn’t.  However, no substitutions are allowed, no ordering off the aesthetic menu.”  His quiet statement tells us that the pianist and the composer really occupy the same space, seamlessly mingled.

I was at one of Joel’s gigs where a woman — pleasantly but forcefully — told Joel that she wanted to hear him play TAKE THE “A” TRAIN.  Joel politely said no, and the woman, undeterred, pressed: didn’t he know it?  Joel played the first few bars of the famous introduction to show that his was a choice, not an inadequacy, and then politely explained to the listener that one of the reasons he had this particular gig was that he wouldn’t be obligated to play “A” TRAIN.  I don’t think the woman understood the distinction, but she stopped interrogating the pianist-composer.

Here are several of Joel’s “tunes” — more than that to my ears — as he performed them on August 3, 2017, at Cleopatra’s Needle, which occupies its own original space around Broadway and 95th Street.  The Players are Michi Fuji, violin; Michael Irwin, trumpet; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Matt Garrity, drums.  In form and in performance, Joel’s creations don’t contain cliches, nor do they inspire them.

Incidentally, a serious Joel-alert: he will be at Cleo’s on Thursday, October 19, 7-11, with bassist Hofstra and drummer Garrity, with Irwin coming by and even tenor saxophonist Vito Dieterle.  I will be sans camera for once, I think, so you will have to make the scene on your own.

But back to the August revelry and reverie, with three selections: KIRSTEN’S NEW MAMBO, YOUR MOVE, and a melding of FLIP FLOP and a very slow NO QUESTION.  This is music you could pensively, happily get lost in. I’ve retained Joel’s banter with the audience because it is part of the presentation, verbal preludes to the music.

A mambo (when was the last time you heard one) for the mysteriously inspiring Kirsten.  Explication du texte from Joel:

K’S NEW MAMBO, written for the Chicago wedding of my son’s best friend, caused Henny Youngman to exclaim, “Forrester, you got a hit on yer hands!” forgetting that he’d said that about an earlier tune of mine.

and a tune featuring Michi Fuji, YOUR MOVE.  Of this performance, Joel says, “Michi Fuji really hears it!”

A set-closing combination, FLIP FLOP, featuring Dave Hofstra, and Joel’s “break tune,” performed with new slowness, NO QUESTION.

FLIP FLOP arose out of a high school desire to pen a tune like OLEO or BILLIE’S BOUNCE: i.e., one that bites its own tail.  NO QUESTION has long been my break tune. It was dedicated to David Sutter of the band Fish ‘n’ Roses (and Creed Taylor’s biographer). Denis Charles used to tell people, “It’s a riff on Monk’s ‘Rhythm-changes.” As indeed it is:

Not the usual, and I am among others who celebrate that.  And I hope to see the Faithful at Cleopatra’s Needle on the 19th.

May your happiness increase!