Category Archives: Bliss!

“PLAY IT, TEDDY” (April and August 1939)

One of the great pleasures of jazz recording and performance is the sound of Teddy Wilson, born 110 years ago today: a complete orchestra, every measure of jewel-box of shining details. The records he made with Billie Holiday have to be among the most famous in the last century, with his sides with Benny Goodman, Mildred Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong, Jo Jones creating a galaxy of pleasures.

But here are some sides from 1939 that few have heard.

They require a bit of speculative research for context. It’s hard in 2022 to imagine how violently the world, and, yes, the entertainment world, was racially segregated. Benny Goodman had broken “the color line” by hiring black musicians who would appear on the same bandstand, but the integration of those artists into radio orchestras and recording groups (as in “studio work”) happened very slowly.

One of the people fighting to break this barrier was John Hammond. I have a good deal of ambivalence about him: he created self-glorifying narratives, he played favorites, he had numerous agendas — but the results of his crusading cannot be denied.

At the start of 1939, Wilson had had almost five years in the spotlight from his work with Goodman; he made many small-group recordings under his own name for Brunswick; he even had a business venture, the “Teddy Wilson School for Pianists.” This was a transitional period: he appeared on a few broadcasts as a member of Benny’s band while his own orchestra was taking shape and broadcasting from the Savoy Ballroom.

Hammond tried, often without success, to stage-manage musicians’ careers (Ellington, Holiday, Frank Newton, and Rex Stewart are the most dramatic examples) and often those musicians grew exasperated and broke off the relationship. But I think he and Teddy respected each other, and Teddy was grateful.

One of John’s ideas was to slowly, subversively mix white popular artists with black jazzmen and women on record. So in 1939-41, Wilson was part of a band or the leader of his own unit for record dates with Redd Evans, Eddy Howard, and Chick Bullock. All of those sessions are rewarding and more: the mix of sweet crooning and hot solos and accompaniment is, to me, irresistible.

Of the three, Redd Evans is perhaps the most obscure, and his fame is now as a lyricist for NO MOON AT ALL, THERE! I’VE SAID IT AGAIN, THE FRIM FRAM SAUCE, ROSIE THE RIVETER, LET ME OFF UPTOWN, and DON’T GO TO STRANGERS. But in 1938 he made six sides for Victor or Bluebird as “Lewis Evans and his Bama Boys,” which I have never seen nor heard. (Anyone?) Here the connections become pure speculation. Did Hammond hear those records, or was Evans performing in a club or on the radio? Or did Evans reach out to Wilson or Hammond? A side note: an internet source says that Evans was a saxophonist and that he played the ocarina.

This just in, as they say on news programs. Luigi Lucaccini pointed me to the one “Bama Boys” record — on Bluebird — that not only delights but answers the question. It’s PLEASE BE KIND:

That’s perfectly charming — I want to hear all of them! And I can completely understand Hammond or someone else wanting Evans, a delightful singer and ocarina soloist, to record again with jazz accompaniment. The facts about this session are: Russ Case, trumpet; John Potoker, piano; Art Ryerson, guitar; Syd Debin, string bass; Bobby Jones, drums. February 11, 1938, New York City. Again, this is a worthy entry in the pop-song-swung tradition, and it shows that fine music was played by people who weren’t stars, although Potoker, Case, and Ryerson are certainly known.

So these would be called “crossover” recordings, mixing jazz and Western swing. And here is the discographical data, thanks to Tom Lord (I’m puzzled by the note that Evans sings on the first session but the vocals are done by “Hot Sweet Potato,” since Evans played the ocarina. But this doesn’t stop me from enjoying the music.)

Redd Evans (vcl) acc by tp, ts, g, Buster Bailey (cl) Teddy Wilson (p) unknown (b) J.C. Heard (d).  New York, April 17, 1939.
W24381 They cut down the old pine tree Voc 4836
W24382 Red wing –
W24383-B Carry me back to the lone prairie 4920
W24384-A Red River Valley –

Here are files (courtesy of the Internet Archive) of the first four songs.

https://archive.org/details/78_they-cut-down-the-old-pine-tree_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-raskin-eli_gbia0465068a

https://archive.org/details/78_red-wing_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-mills_gbia0465068b/RED+WING+-+REDD+EVANS+and+his+BILLY+BOYS.flac

https://archive.org/details/78_carry-me-back-to-the-lone-prairie_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-robison_gbia0446460b

https://archive.org/details/78_red-river-valley_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans_gbia0446460a/RED+RIVER+VALLEY+-+REDD+EVANS+and+his+BILLY+BOYS.flac

The trumpeter sounds both fine and familiar: Emmett Berry, possibly?

Those four sides enjoyed some popularity — if you count appearances on eBay as a valid indicator. I have one of the two discs (OLD PINE TREE and RED WING) and made rudimentary transfers of the worn 78 for YouTube, for those who like to see the disc spin.

RED RIVER VALLEY and RED WING were classic Americana; the other two were more contemporary creations, with the light-hearted morbidity of OLD PINE TREE, which always catches me unaware.

The other two sides were both fascinating and elusive: the digital transfers are a gift from collector Peter J. Doyle, although I have never seen the disc. But brace yourself for BAGGAGE COACH, which is an ancient barroom ballad (Eugene O’Neill used it in A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN) much more morbid than OLD PINE TREE. This rocking version owes something to Jerry Colonna and the Tommy Dorsey “glee club.” It’s a favorite record of mine. And MILENBERG JOYS simply rocks: when wasn’t that the case?

Redd Evans And His Billy Boys : Willis Kelly (tp) Floyd Brady (tb) Reggie Merrill (as) Clark Galehouse (ts) Teddy Wilson (p) Al Casey (g) Al Hall (b) Cozy Cole (d) Redd Evans, “Hot Sweet Potato” (vcl).  New York, August 11, 1939.
25189-1 Milenberg joys (re vcl) Voc 5173
25190-1 In the baggage coach ahead (re vcl) –
25191-1,2 Am I blue ? (re,hsp vcl) (unissued)
25192-1,2 When it’s springtime in the Rockies (hsp vcl) –

and a less unusual composition:

Are these six sides imperishable jazz classics? Perhaps not. But Teddy’s work is stunning — a magical combination of ease and intensity. As always.

Thank you, Mister Wilson, for all you gave us and continue to give us.

May your happiness increase!

CAIT JONES BEAMS AT US

Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Cait Jones, vocal. Fine and Rare, November 21, 2022.

I’m late to the party, because Cait Jones has been singing and leading small swinging bands in New York City and around the world for more than a half-dozen years; she has YouTube videos and several CDs as “Cait and the Critters.”

But what I heard in person last Monday night convinced me thoroughly that she has and is a rare talent.

In the course of a set-and-a-half, Cait sang a baker’s dozen classic songs: YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / JUST IN TIME / WHERE OR WHEN / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / FOOLIN’ MYSELF / ZING! WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART / I HADN’T ANYONE TILL YOU / BLUES IN THE NIGHT / THEM THERE EYES // NICE AND EASY / YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME / ALL TOO SOON / WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW //

(I noted with pleasure the absence of GOD BLESS THE CHILD, MY FUNNY VALENTINE, and WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO — marvelous songs done threadbare through repetition. And because this post is about Cait, I am not writing at length about the superb intuitive playing of Michael and Neal, two heroes of the art. But you know.)

Because Cait has a background in swing dancing and music for those agile people, each song had a pulse, which enabled her, Michael, and Neal to explore the endless variations in Medium Tempo. No “racetrack tempos” (to quote Jimmie Rowles) and no sentimental dirges. In another singer’s hands, a dozen vintage affection-themed songs might have sounded too similar. But Cait had a clear idea of what I will call the landscape of each song, or perhaps its interior decor. So the mood of each song was unique unto itself. I never thought to myself, “Well, we just heard that,” because each pearl was remarkable on its own terms.

Her approach is at once plain and filigreed.

Plain in that she respects the composers’ intentions without melodramatic ego-displays. The result is a friendly convincing understatement, where the song itself is the star. She has a lovely voice, splendid clear diction, admirable microphone technique (somewhat of a lost art) dead-on pitch, and subtle swing. Her first choruses honored the melody; her second choruses wandered in the meadow of possibilities, changing a pitch here and there in a manner that would have pleased Richard Rodgers or Ann Ronell.

The filigree entered in her small but moving variations on the melodic line, and — even better — her delightful way of handling the lyrics as if they were emotive speech, compressing a phrase into a few beats and elongating another over the rhythm — as if the words had just occurred to her as needing to be shared, said, sung. I felt that she had moved into each song, made herself comfortable, and delicately rearranged its moving parts so that we could hear it anew. To me that is an art both considerable and subtle, never in capital letters but affecting nonetheless.

As you can tell, I was impressed. And I don’t impress easily these days. A publicist recently sent me a CD by a well-advertised young singer, and I put it in the player with the best expectations. Midway through the first chorus, I thought, “This young woman is doing a superb job of impersonating Sarah Vaughan — a great feat — but I can listen to Sarah unadorned whenever I like.” Cait Jones sounds like herself, although it’s clear she’s heard the masters. But delightfully, I think her inspirations are also the great instrumentalists, more Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges than cloning singers.

Cait has two new CDs coming out. On one, she composes lyrics to the music of Mathieu Najean; on the other, she is accompanied by Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, and Greg Ruggiero . . . none better. I will keep you informed about both issues, which I am looking forward to.

Thank you, Cait!

May your happiness increase!


THEY’RE BACK!

This is AN EVENT.

I’ve been a fan of Vince and the Nighthawks for twenty years or more, and they are unique at what they do. And now, a weekly gig again!

Almost all of the shows are sold out, but tickets are still available for December 13 and January 3. The Birdland Theater is a compact space, so I suggest you get tickets without delay. Visit BirdlandJazz.com . . . .

You’ll notice that I don’t offer video evidence, although I often brought my camera to the Nighthawks’ gigs. They are too large, too splendid for a camera of my sort — and Birdland does not allow video-ing, so they have to be caught live, hot, in person. If you know them, you know, and if you don’t know, come and be uplifted.

See you there, I hope.

May your happiness increase!

INDIGO HUES: DAVE STUCKEY and THE HOT HOUSE GANG at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, KATIE CAVERA, JOSH COLLAZO (September 29, 2022)

Dave Stuckey is a beacon of swing and fun, presenting both while compromising neither. He lives the double truth, that jazz can be hilarious without being childish, and that entertainment can be high-level art, simultaneously satisfying. Before the band comes in, he’s set a danceable groove, and even people like myself, who leave their seats only when the set is over, feel it. Although Google Maps will tell you something else, Dave and the Hot House Gang are firmly situated at the intersection of Cindy Walker Drive and Fats Waller Terrace, which is to say the mid-Thirties meadow where sad songs were swung so hard that we couldn’t remember how sad they actually were. And he feels the music: no postmodern irony for this fellow.

Here’s a little Blue Suite, performed at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on September 29, 2022, with the best cast of characters: Dave, guitar, vocal, and inspirations; Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, tenor saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, keyboard; Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.

First, Fats’ BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU, which (as its lyrics would suggest) is usually slow, verging on the melodramatic (or in the case of Fifties’ Louis, the operatic). But Fats and his Rhythm made a 12″ 78 of this tune for Victor in 1937, completely instrumental and at a faster tempo. Dave sings it but also nudges it along into late-Thirties swing dance tempo:

then, almost without a break, into BLUE DRAG, which many know from early Django:

But no one in the audience felt blue. That’s what Dave does. What a spirit, and what a band!

There’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, MISTER JELLY!” (Part Three): THE MORTONIA SEVEN LAYS IT DOWN at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: HAL SMITH, DAVE KOSMYNA, DAVE BENNETT, TJ MULLER, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOHN GILL, SAM ROCHA (October 1, 2022)

Here are the final three performances from the rocking set performed by Hal Smith’s MORTONIA SEVEN at the Redwood Coast Music Festival — jazz of such a high order that I am sorry I caught only nine songs by this band.

Mister Morton looks over Mister Smith’s shoulder.

At the Redwood Coast Music Festival, they performed MILENBERG JOYS, SMOKE-HOUSE BLUES, BALLIN’ THE JACK, BLUE BLOOD BLUES, STEAMBOAT STOMP, MAMIE’S BLUES, visible and audible here and three others:

FROGGIE MOORE RAG (or FROG-I-MORE if you prefer):

NEW ORLEANS BLUES:

and for a rousing climax, PANAMA:

I look forward to hearing this band at festivals in the year to come.

May your happiness increase!

THEIR “MOST ENJOYABLE GIG”: JAMES DAPOGNY, MIKE KAROUB, ROD McDONALD, SHANNON WADE, DAWN GIBLIN (with thanks to Wyman Video): “CULTIVATE,” Ann Arbor, Michigan, August 25, 2016.

James Dapogny’s absence is painful to me, and I know I am not alone. The eight videos of him and the band he called PLENTY RHYTHM — thank you, Ferdinand — are joyous and poignant. I asked Laura Wyman, videographer and dear friend, to offer commentary, which she does beautifully.

James Dapogny

Laura writes:

Those Thursday nights were relaxed, fun, magical, and giddy while they lasted. It’s hard to believe a hundred people would cram into an old garage to talk, dance, drink, play, and listen to live music. Before Erin Morris moved, before Jim died, before Covid. But this life IS coming back – with most of the same players, carrying much of that music, adding new tunes, in re-opened and new venues.

Plenty Rhythm was started by Erin (on tuba, but you probably know her better as a dancer) and Jim Dapogny, about May 2016. Erin got them the weekly gig at Cultivate Coffeehouse (in Ypsilanti: Ann Arbor’s grittier, less-pretentious cousin, a few miles to the east). They dragged in Erin’s (or was it Jim’s?) upright piano, and Jim brought his music. He’d run a similar group several years earlier, and added more music to the books: 1920s-1940s standards, Dapogny originals, almost everything written in his distinctive handwriting.

The most important part: Jim said Cultivate was his most enjoyable gig – this as a “retired” professor who still had at least 2 gigs every week, and often 4 or 5. (Karoub said it was his MEG also) No setlists, no complicated choreography. Just calling tunes, setting the tempo by starting in, and playing with talented and inventive players, making things happen – and often getting fiery and/or pretty results. Regardless of money or listeners. (Though we see Jim, at times, looking out into the room with a “do you people realize what’s going on up here?!” )

(On that note, I like watching JD and MK work out stuff mid-tune, or Jim pointing to Rod or Shannon: “You’re up!”)

The group was always 4 people. After Erin moved to St Louis, Jim led the group, usually with Mike Karoub on cello, sometimes Chris Smith on trombone, or Chris Tabaczynski on sax/clar. In addition to the official 4, people always sat in – Dawn Giblin on vocals, and Chris T on reeds. It became a laboratory, where the band could try new (or new-old) tunes, in front of a noisy oblivious forgiving audience. All the players loved learning and playing together. There were always dancers in that tiny crowded space.

Cultivate paid the band $100 (a whopping $25 each!) and they divided the tip-jar. CTabs remembers Jim slipping him $5 for sitting in.

I guess that band is extinct now, though Chris S. still uses Jim’s black folders, and continues to add to the library.

I went every Thursday for a few years, but because it was so noisy, filmed only a handful of times. Jim suggested I put an Elizabethan collar around the video camera’s microphone.

I’d help Jim and Rod set up, then get a couple orders of toast (turkey/pear/honey, or PBJ), dark coffee, Chicago popcorn, beer and stout. The music ran from 7-10pm. The building was a former truck repair garage, converted into a community gathering place. The band played inside in cold weather, and outside in their beautiful flower & vegetable garden in warm and hot weather.

Plenty Rhythm stopped playing there in 2017. Cultivate didn’t survive the pandemic and is currently closed indefinitely.

Laura pointed out that the room was noisy. True. On one visit to Cultivate, in August 2016, I also shot video but the results were unusable. So these are a blessing. If you find the chatter intrusive, I understand, but I will bet that the crowd listening to Basie at the Savoy (insert your favorite band and time-travel site) was not hushed, even when Pres was soloing. Savor the music: this band will not come again.

For those making notes: the band performed twenty-five songs in three sets that night, and these are presented in performance order.

SWEET LORRAINE:

TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME:

OH, BABY!:

IF I HAD YOU, vocal by Dawn Giblin:

MY BLUE HEAVEN:

SWEET GEORGIA BROWN:


I think you can understand why both Jim and Mike Karoub said that this was their most enjoyable gig. These sounds are precious. Bless Prof, Mike, Shannon, Rod, and Dawn — and a special bow and hug to Laura, videographer, archivist, and friend-of-the-music, without whom this gig would only be something talked about in “Wow, you should have been there!” reverent tones.

May your happiness increase!

CHINESE TAKEAWAY, HOT AND FRESH (JON-ERIK KELLSO, GRAHAM HUGHES, MICHAEL McQUAID, LARS FRANK, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, FELIX HUNOT, HARRY EVANS, RICHARD PITE at the Mike Durham Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, November 3, 2022)

Whose honey are you? In 2009, Billie supervised the breakfast condiments.

Forward to the 2022 Mike Durham Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.

CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN might have stayed as an obscure pop tune, its lyrics more than slightly suspect, if Louis Armstrong — who loved Asian cuisine — had not recorded it. You can find his versions and those of Red Nichols, Fletcher Henderson, and the Cambridge University Quinquaginta Ramblers online without wrinkling your clothing through exertion.

But as an appetizer to the delightful cuisine that follows, I offer a recording that not enough people have heard, Reginald Foresythe’s HOMAGE TO ARMSTRONG:

You can also chase down versions by Art Tatum, Jack Teagarden, the Georgia Washboard Stompers, Hot Lips Page with Eddie Condon, Lionel Hampton, Roy Eldridge, Slim and Slam, Sidney Bechet, Teddy Wilson, Punch Miller, Kid Ory, Louis Prima, George Lewis.

But here’s a wonderful version from just a few days ago, captured at a night-time jam session at this year’s Mike Durham Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party by Emrah Erken, he of the roving iPhone (his YouTube channel, a basket of marvels, is “Atticus Jazz”). The participants are Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone; Michael McQuaid, clarinet; Lars Frank, tenor saxophone; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Felix Hunot, banjo; Harry Evans, string bass; Richard Pite, drums.

This music doesn’t come tepid in a little cardboard box. Thank you, all!

May your happiness increase!

SO LOVELY, SO BRIEF: WATCH IT TWICE

Melody means so much; a rounded tone is thrilling; a gentle swing is sublime.

Here’s Josh Dunn, solo, playing I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE.

Jazz / pop fans with a certain aesthetic grounding will find it hard to remain silent while Josh plays, but I don’t think he will object if we throw in a “Listen here, honey child,” now and again.

I can’t let beauty like this go by without celebrating it, and I hope you are equally moved. Thank you, Josh!

May your happiness increase!

AT THE SUMMIT, or the CORK OPERA HOUSE: BOB WILBER, KENNY DAVERN, MICK PYNE, DAVE CLIFF, DAVE GREEN, BOBBY WORTH (October 1993)

Here’s a lively hour-long presentation (with interview segments) of the remarkable SUMMIT REUNION (which followed SOPRANO SUMMIT) at the Cork Opera House, during the 1993 Guinness Jazz Festival, presented by RTE. For this concert, the personnel was Kenny Davern, clarinet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, soprano saxophones; Mick Pyne, piano; Dave Cliff, guitar; Dave Green, string bass; Bobby Worth, drums.

And the selections performed were ROSETTA / interview / BLACK AND BLUE / interview / Oscar Pettiford line (?) [Cliff, Green, Worth] / PALESTEENA / station break / IF DREAMS COME TRUE / interview / TREASURE (Davern out) / interview / SUMMERTIME (Davern, Green, Worth) / ST. LOUIS BLUES //

I saw Davern and Wilber in person several times, and the heat they generated was extraordinary — as well as the subtleties when the building wasn’t in flames. And the British rhythm section is superb in the best Mainstream ways.

The Europeans certainly knew (and know) something valuable about the presentation and preservation of art.

May your happiness increase!

SOMETHING TO SWING ABOUT: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and DANNY TOBIAS, PART ONE (Pennsylvania Jazz Society, October 30, 2022.)

Although I can calculate the tip without problems, math did not come easily to me in school, and at this late date, I couldn’t easily concoct an equation. But one occurs to me on a regular basis: let X equal travel and inconvenience, balanced against Y, the amount of pleasure I will get from hearing live jazz face-to-face. It is a very rare instance where I can say to myself, returning home, “That was not worth the trip.”

The equation came into play last Sunday. 2 1/2 hours in the car to get to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; 4 1/2 hours (Sunday-night traffic from New Jersey) returning, balanced against 2 hours of music, friendly community, emotional-aesthetic pleasures. What I and others heard and saw from Danny Tobias, trumpet, flugelhorn, and Eb alto horn; Rossano Sportiello, piano, was beyond delightful. The time in the car didn’t matter.

I know both hero-friends since we met, in different places, in 2005, and admire them greatly. But I’d never heard them in duet, and a fraternal playfulness and joy was immediately evident: two minds and hearts going down the same path, creating, laughing, striving. A harmony of individual energies.

Here are the first four performances from that duo-concert.

When in doubt, play LADY BE GOOD:

Johnny Mandel’s lovely EMILY:

a performance of I GOT IT BAD where Danny becomes an Ellington trumpet section:

and IF DREAMS COME TRUE, which could have been re-titled WHEN:

Look up SYNERGY online: the link will lead you to this concert. More music to come in future posts, I promise you.

May your happiness increase!

“LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S BLACK AND BLUES”

My wife gave this documentary the best capsule review last night: “It made you fall in love with the guy.”

Perhaps nothing more needs to be said.

But I earnestly want to send JAZZ LIVES readers to theatres (ideally) to watch this film. In 104 minutes, it offers a compact, fast-moving portrait of a man at once complicated and plain. It offers a generous sampling of music — most of it filmed performance. But it is far more than a filmed concert. It demonstrates the joy Louis so open-handedly created while revealing the rage and sadness inseparable from it.

We see him grin, we see him hit high notes, we see him sing soulfully, but this is not the cardboard caricature, not the man-child some have attacked. There is JEEPERS CREEPERS and YOU RASCAL YOU, but there is also SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD. Time after time, he comes forth as the Grave Wise Elder, pained and serious, the man who kept silent, choosing rather the cause of happiness.

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

The street isn’t always sunny. vividly, we see corrosive racism throughout his career, from his childhood to the 1931 Suburban Gardens; we hear Orval Faubus and hear from the reporters who caught Louis’ response to Little Rock. There is the Caucasian fan (one out of how many thousand) who tells Louis that he admires him but “doesn’t like Negroes.” We hear Louis say that his flag is a Black one, but we also hear him talk about the great honor of playing THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER.

And the information is stunningly first-hand: his written words and his voice — taken from the hours of private, uncensored, often scalding conversations he recorded on tape, for he was a man who knew that he would have a place “in the history books.” Sometimes his voice is world-weary, sometimes enraged, but there is no polite expurgation. The man comes through whole, a colossus of awareness and emotion.

Unlike the often hypnotic but sometimes gelatinous cinematography of Ken Burns’ JAZZ, this film is so packed with information — auditory, visual, emotional — that the screen is always busy. I have studied and idolized Louis my whole life and I was consistently surprised and elated by what was so generously offered. And the narration by rapper Nas is so emotionally right that it adds a great deal, subliminally reminding us that Louis was not always a senior citizen.

The range of the documentary is astounding. The cameo appearances by Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie are splendidly on target but we have seen those heroes before. I hoped Bobby Hackett would put in an appearance, and was thrilled that Count Basie did also.

But to hear the voices of Arche Shepp, Miles Davis, and Amiri Braka alongside Danny Barker, Barney Bigard, George James is a series of delightful shocks, showing just how many artists understood and respected Louis.

Thanks to the preeminent Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi, the film never loses its way in detail or inaccuracy. Jimi Hendrix makes a brief but telling appearance; senior eminence and friend-of-Louis Dan Morgenstern brings in James Baldwin and has some pointed comments as well. Lucille Armstrong and Lil Hardin tell hilarious loving tales. Swiss Kriss is here, the little Selmer trumpet, and so is “Mary Warner.”

I thought I might be one of the worst people to write a review of this documentary, because Louis has been a hero, an old friend, a beacon, a father-once-removed since childhood. So I braced myself for oversimplifications and inaccuracies. Given the title, I worried that the film would show Louis as undermined by racism (jazz chroniclers love tragic stories) without letting his essence blaze through. I thought it might tell the same dusty stories in order, making him mythical and distant.

I need not have worried. It is an honest thoughtful respectful work. No life so charged could be captured in under two hours, and some have written that they wanted more of X or of Y. But Louis is there for the discovery for those who want to go deeper.

I was in tears at the start, the middle, and the finish, with interludes for catching my breath and wiping my eyes.

If you know everything about Louis, this is a film not to be missed; if you know little or nothing, the same assertion holds true. If you are intrigued by film-making, by popular culture, it is also a revealing delight. It is the story of a jazz creator, a beloved entertainer, a Black man in a systematically hostile world, an American so relevant, and so much more. Louis stands tall and energized as an exceptional human being who sent love out like a clarion trumpet call to all who could hear.

May your happiness increase!

“I JUST BELIEVE IN MUSIC”: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO RAY SKJELBRED (with KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 28, 2015)

Yesterday, “on or about” (as the lawyers say) November 2, was Ray Skjelbred’s birthday. But oddly enough, he has the celebration in reverse, for he keeps giving us presents — of swing, whimsy, empathy, and life-affirming joy.

Here’s a sample, with the Cubs, Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar — captured in flight at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 28, 2015.

“I just believe in music,” Ray says. And his faith repays us a thousand-fold.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, HOW THE GHOST OF YOU CLINGS”: DAWN LAMBETH (with DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, JONATHAN DOYLE, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, KATIE CAVERA, JOSH COLLAZO: Redwood Coast Music Festival, September 29, 2022)

Dawn Lambeth has been one of my favorite singers for more than fifteen years now. I’d never heard of her (such is the East Coast / West Coast divide in Jazz America) until I was asked to review her CD, MIDNIGHT BLUE, for the much-missed Mississippi Rag, and I was astonished. Her lovely voice, her warm phrasing, her love of the melody, her understanding of the lyrics — all splendidly touching. She swings; she embodies the great traditions but sounds like herself, understated and passionate at the same time.

And I could marvel at her work in a variety of contexts at the most recent Redwood Coast Music Festival. Here she is with Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang: Dave, guitar, vocals, and fun; Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.

Many people feel that singing isn’t, after all, so difficult. You learn a song by listening to recordings, perhaps you ask friends who play what key you are singing in, you hope to remember the lyrics and to not hang on to the mike stand too ostentatiously, the pianist plays four bars, you open your mouth — and look, ma, I’m singing! Nice clothing, good hair — also essential.

But this art is so much more complex, and it rests on the dual mastery of the song (how to get from one note to another with grace and personality, and then, how to courageously improvise and land well) and the lyrics (what do those words actually mean? what’s “the story” here? where should I take a breath?) and the deeper understanding of the emotions a song is meant to stir. I could be very wrong here, but an eighteen-year old might not sing THANKS FOR THE MEMORY with the deep rueful sensitivity that the song requires, in the same way that same youthful striver might not deeply understand the feelings of a literary character.

And there’s an even more difficult art — drama without acting — or how to make a group of people in a large hall, through your voice and gesture sent through a microphone, feel the nuances that composer, lyricist, and singer must convey.

I write this perhaps discouraging prelude to simply say that Dawn Lambeth not only knows how to do these rare things, but she embodies the art of communicating information and feeling while the notes roll on. We know, in the song I am about to present here, the joy of past experience and the ruefulness that the experiences are past.

THESE FOOLISH THINGS, by Jack Strachey and Eric Maschwitz (and perhaps Harry Link), has been sung often since its emergence in 1935, and inexperienced singers can make the melody a series of predictable steps, the lyrics a shopping list of sentimental fragments of memory. It has been sung so often that in the wrong hands, its sharp edges have been blurred. But Dawn reaches into the song, without overacting, and offers us the novella of love unattained but recalled that it really is. Hear her poignant variations on “You conquered me!” and know what this rare art truly is.

So moving. Thank you so much, Dawn and friends, for these tender, candid moments.

May your happiness increase!

UPLIFTING MUSIC, ALL AROUND: HARRY ALLEN and GABRIELE DONATI (Swiss Consulate, October 19, 2022)

The wonderful artist — whose work combines fantasy, comedy, and beauty — Ivana Falconi — has a show of her work at the Swiss Consulate in Manhattan (open by appointment until February 23, 2003). She regularly displays new creations on Facebook: see more here and here.

Ivana’s husband is the splendid tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, and he and the marvelous string bassist Gabriele Donati gave us a little night music. I recorded this on my iPhone because I couldn’t bear to let it go away into the air. “Splendid!” to quote our mutual friend and hero, pianist Rossano Sportiello.

I have had the immense good fortune to know Harry (thanks to Jazz at Chautauqua), Gabriele (thanks to the 75 Club, as well as his charming family), and Ivana (through becoming an art-delighter) for years now, and they repaid me and the OAO and everyone else in the room with beauty.

and . . . .

and the delightful sight-and-soundtrack:

Beautiful music is in the air; it surrounds us. Of course, it helps to be in the right place at the right time, surrounded by brilliant generous friends. Often you have to leave the house, but no surprise there.

May your happiness increase!

A SUNDAY KIND OF PLEASURE: DANNY TOBIAS and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO (October 30, 2022: Pennsylvania Jazz Society, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania)

Maestro Tobias:

Photograph by Lynn Redmile

and Maestro Sportiello:

Attentive readers will note that it is not yet Sunday, so this post is to inform or remind you that a wonderful duo-concert is about to happen, featuring Danny Tobias, trumpet and perhaps Eb alto horn, with Rossano Sportiello, piano. It’s given by the Pennsylvania Jazz Society at Congregation Brith Sholom, 1190 West Macada Road, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I believe the times are 2 to 4:30. I don’t know the admission price, but my previous experience with the PJS has shown they are reasonable people; should any JAZZ LIVES readers show up and find themselves short of a few dollars, I will be happy to offer the official Blog-Subsidy.

In announcing and promoting concerts, I’ve always tried to offer musical evidence — the equivalent of the tasting table at Trader Joe’s — but here I am slightly at a loss. One of the most exciting aspects of this concert is that, although I know Rossano and Danny have played together, they have not yet recorded in duet. So I cannot say to you, “This is what it will sound like on Sunday!” However, Danny’s newest CD, SILVER LININGS, features himself and Rossano along with Scott Robinson, reeds and brass; Joe Plowman, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums — so I present two delightful musical interludes as somewhat larger versions of the blisses to come our way on Sunday.

I know there will be Pretty:

and I know there will be Swing:

As Elizabethan-era bloggers used to write c. 1604, “Get thee hence.” “Thee” means you; “hence” means 1190 West Macada Road, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

May your happiness increase!

SEVENTY MINUTES WITH GERRY MULLIGAN, HARRY “SWEETS” EDISON, VIC DICKENSON, MARIAN McPARTLAND, DAVE SAMUELS, PERCY HEATH, ALAN DAWSON (Nice Jazz Festival, July 15, 1976)

People who draw “jazz history trees” love to create categories that are often divisive, at best restrictive. For those so inclined, whether critics, journalists, or “fans,” the art form is defined as discrete sections, painted lines in an aesthetic shopping-center parking lot.

The musicians laugh about such dopiness, and not only talk to their friends but play alongside them. Happily.

Here’s a passionate interlude that refutes such categorization, from the Nice Jazz Festival of July 15, 1976. The set was called “Jeru and some friends,” “Jeru” being the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, who made himself at home with musicians “from different schools” where and whenever he could, including Count Basie, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, and Joe Sullivan — and I am sure that is only a fraction of the friendly gatherings he participated in.

I love the fact that the common language is “the three B’s,” or in jazz terms, “Basie,” “the blues,” and “ballads.”

Nice Jazz Festival (audio only); “”Grande Parade du Jazz,” July 15, 1976.

Gerry Mulligan, baritone saxophone; Harry “Sweets” Edison, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Marian McPartland, piano; Dave Samuels, vibraphone; Percy Heath, string bass; Alan Dawson, drums. I FOUND A NEW BABY / NIGHT LIGHTS / WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (Marian, solo) / I’LL BE AROUND (Mullgan-Marian) / YESTERDAYS (Sweets) / TEA FOR TWO / SHINY STOCKINGS.

Miraculous to me, but common friendly practice to these wise feeling players:

“Ain’t that something?” to quote Bill Robinson.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, MISTER JELLY!” (Part Two): THE MORTONIA SEVEN LAYS IT DOWN at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: HAL SMITH, DAVE KOSMYNA, DAVE BENNETT, TJ MULLER, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOHN GILL, SAM ROCHA (October 1, 2022)

Mister Morton and Mister Smith

For the first part of this wonderful set, frankly irresistible — MILENBERG JOYS, SMOKE-HOUSE BLUES, BALLIN’ THE JACK — visit here. And here are the next three.

BLUE BLOOD BLUES:

STEAMBOAT STOMP:

MAMIE’S BLUES (vocal by John Gill):

A wonderful band devoted to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and the music he and his bands played — electrifying, exact, and loose all at once. Led by Hal Smith on drums, the Mortonia Seven is Dave Kosmyna, cornet and vocal; TJ Muller, trombone; Dave Bennett, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; John Gill, banjo and vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass and helicon.

Some words. Jelly Roll Morton was not happy to have his music popularized by others during his lifetime (think of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, and others selling millions of copies of KING PORTER STOMP and WOLVERINE BLUES) but in some way there was a Morton “revival” going on for the last decade of his life. And with good reason: the compositions themselves are substantial, full of surprises that haven’t aged, and the recorded performances are fascinating marriages of hot improvisation and established structures.

But because Morton was such a powerful personality — man, composer, arranger, giver of dicta that should be obeyed — tributes to him have often not been easy or their results satisfying. Sometimes ensembles have been reverent and obedient: we must play it exactly the way the Red Hot Peppers did on the record, and those results are dazzling in their own way but I am not sure Omer Simeon would have liked people treating his solo as holy writ, to be repeated forever, with musicians subsuming their own identities in those manuscripts and recordings. (And Morton’s recordings have their own vivid force, not easy to replicate.) The other extreme, with a bunch of good people “jamming” on WOLVERINE BLUES and SWEET SUBSTITUTE, can be thrilling, but the results are at a distance from the exactitude Morton brought to his gigs and the recording studio.

The Mortonia Seven takes some and leaves some from both worlds: you can easily hear the outlines and structures of the original compositions and recordings, executed with style and grace, but the musicians’ personalities come through whole. And the result is lively, not studied — hot and sweet, raucous and melancholy, as the music demands.

There are more performances from this set that I will share with you. For now, I’m going to watch these again, mop my brow, and grin. Join me!

May your happiness increase!

“SEEKING HOME”: ANDY MacDONALD and FRIENDS

Before you read a word, listen and be charmed: ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK RAG.

To my ears, that’s a delightful mixture of two appealing jazz genres, loosely defined: “gypsy jazz” harking back to Django Reinhardt and colleagues, and “modern New Orleans,” best defined by one’s ears. Andy MacDonald is an inventive Montreal guitarist-singer-composer who’s always created melodic, light-hearted swing. And he has three new issues on Bandcamp — SEEKING HOME, One, Two, and Three.

Details here.

Andy has surrounded himself with players who float as he does: Aurélien Tomasi, bass saxophone and reeds; Bertrand Margelidon, trumpet; Joseph Abbott, clarinet and alto saxophone; Olivier Hébert, string bass and trombone; Jeff Moseley, guitar; ​​Drew Jurecka, violin; Kalya Ramu, vocal.

The three issues contain fifteen songs — and I mean “songs” in the best memorably singable sense — with a few standards, APRIL SHOWERS, and I GUESS I’LL GET THE PAPERS AND GO HOME. The overall effect is, once again, charming — looking backwards to Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and Adrian Rollini as well as the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, all of them magically transported to a balcony in the French Quarter — but it isn’t recreation of past recordings or fixed genres. The music meanders as happily as do Andy and his (now-famous) “pandemic puppy,” named Duke Ellington (no, not just “Duke,” if you please.

Here’s another sample:

If I heard that coming out of a speaker somewhere, I would want to follow those sounds! I hope you feel the same way.

And a sweet whimsy based on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE and the notion of “Don’t buy sugar,” but with Montreal pride mixed in, MAPLE SYRUP:

And here are a few more snippets:

Melodic, unforced, and witty:

It is, as they say, music to my ears.

May your happiness increase!

LEO FORDE and FRIENDS: “DOUBLE WHISKY”

In the summer of 2021, Leo Forde, a young guitarist from Glasgow, living and playing in New Orleans since 2014, sent me a delightful new CD, which I praised here:

He’s done it again, with a new effort called DOUBLE WHISKY:

One no longer calls music “entertaining,” but this new CD is just that.

OH, LADY BE GOOD is an engaging sample, with legendary pianist David Boeddinghaus joining Leo, solo guitar; Ben Powell, violin; John Rodlii, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass for nearly four minutes of time-travel . . . what if the Quintette of the Hot Club of France had met Teddy Wilson in 1937?

Leo and friends understand something about the genre termed “Gypsy jazz” that is not common practice. Yes, it is a music now often characterized by technical virtuosity. But even more, it is an embrace of melody and melodies. It’s ultimately not about how to execute Django Reinhardt’s gestures at top speed and even more ornately, but it is a passionate embodiment of the classic tradition created by Louis Armstrong and his colleagues. Even though there’s no vocalizing on this disc, Leo and friends sing out every note, fashion every phrase so it goes right to our deepest feelings.

Oh, they can bounce in the most sophisticated postwar ways — hear the title track DOUBLE WHISKY — but their joyous messages, their swing affirmations are never firing notes at the listener, who (even admiring) has to take a rest at the end of each track.

I say THANKS A MILLION — and the aural embodiment of gratitude is right here.

Details. Oh, details. The music is available here. The songs are MY BLUE HEAVEN / OH, LADY BE GOOD! / JUST A GIGOLO / DOUBLE WHISKY / THANKS A MILLION / IMPROVISATION ON TSCHAIKOVSKY’S ‘Pathetique’ / WHEN DAY IS DONE / LOUISE / I SURRENDER, DEAR / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? The recorded sound is warm and accurate, which means a good deal.

I can only explain the effect of this session, if it hasn’t come across to you by now, by saying it is like encountering a dear friend after a long absence. Heartfelt, playful, gentle sounds, a small treasure in this noisy world.

May your happiness increase!

DISCRETION, PLEASE (January 1927)

Here’s a musical enactment about what academics call “discourse,” and what the rest of us call, at best, “gossip,” from January 1927. The singers are Joe Sims (sometimes Simms) and Clarence Williams; the impressive cornetist is the mysterious “Big Charlie Thomas”; the frolicsome young pianist is one Tom Waller:

Never has a lecture on good behavior swung so much — so take heed.

May your happiness increase!

GETTING FRESH: BENNY GOODMAN, TEDDY WILSON, LIONEL HAMPTON, DAVE TOUGH (April 25, 1938)

Although I have spent the better part of my life wholly immersed in this music, I envy those who are coming to it for the first time. Because they don’t “know everything” behind and around what they hear, they are able to hear the music’s energies and shadings in ways that those of us whose minds are portable libraries can’t. The more you know, ironically, the heavier your psychic knapsack becomes, even though some of those accretions are relevant and precious.

I imagine someone coming to the four-minute performance with no knowledge of the players, their personal histories, the cultural context in which this performance happened, and simply thinking, “That sounds wonderful!” They know nothing of “Benny Goodman”; they hear a clarinet, piano, vibraphone, and drums at once being expert beyond belief and playing like children, full of joy. Personal quirks and tragedies aren’t in that knapsack, merely exuberant bright thrilling sounds — the music of great artists having a great time, on the spot.

So I urge the most erudite of my readers to attempt an experiment. Put aside all the gossip you’ve heard about the players, forget your memories of perhaps seeing them live or buying your first recordings by them. Forget what you know or what you think you know, and drop down, trusting and blindfolded, into the rich irreplaceable sounds:

To quote Frank Chace about another clarinetist, “Doesn’t that just scrape the clouds?”

I could write a thousand words on what seems marvelous to me here, but I’d hope that readers take the pleasure of hearing this performance again. And before turning to their other tasks, I invite them to subscribe to the YouTube channel created and maintained by my friend who calls himself, not by accident, “Davey Tough” — a treasure-house of marvels, presented with care, intelligence, and love.

May your happiness increase!

A SATURDAY NIGHT, ABOUT FIFTY YEARS AGO: JIMMIE ROWLES, BILL EVANS, ELLIS LARKINS (Carnegie Hall, July 7, 1973)

I don’t know where you were on that Saturday night at 8:30 PM. Perhaps you didn’t exist. But I was in Carnegie Hall, close to the stage, for a Newport Jazz Festival in New York concert called SO-LO PIANO.

Even then, I couldn’t bear the evanescence of the beautiful sounds I heard in person, so I had been an illicit tape-recordist, if that is the term, for two years. My methods were coarse and direct. I had an airline bag over one shoulder, my father’s gift, inside it a portable cassette recorder, a decent Shure microphone, perhaps extra batteries.

In those innocent times, I was never stopped going in to a concert hall or club, and there were no metal detectors. When I got to my seat, I positioned the bag in my lap, connected the microphone, slid it and the wire down my jacket sleeve so that the ball of the microphone was concealed in my hand. When the lights went down, I pressed RECORD, sat very still, did not speak and did not applaud. Several friends may remember my odd behavior, all in service to the art.

When I got home with my aural treasure, I transferred it to reel-to-reel tape to edit it, however crudely, and it was the way I could make the mortal, the transient, immortal — something that would never go away and could be visited any time.

What follows is precious to me — a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. And since I have yet to find a more formal source, it seems irreplaceable.

BUT, and it is a huge pause, if the listener comes to it expecting clean digital sound, they should, to quote Chaucer, turn over the leaf and choose another page. The cassette recorder had a limited range; there is a good deal of “air” in the aural ambiance, and the undercurrent of some 3600 people inhaling, exhaling, gently shifting in their seats. The good news is that the piano seems well-tuned, and the only amplification is of master of ceremonies’ Billy Taylor’s microphone. (Carnegie Hall’s sound crew had done violence to pianos in the 1972 concert series; they had learned well by July 1973.)

So, please: if your first response is, “Michael, why didn’t you learn how to improve the sound?” or “Send me that tape and I will fix it for you,” read Hawthorne’s THE BIRTHMARK or get up from your chair and watch the cardinals at the feeder. Or simply imagine you are hearing precious music from another room, and be grateful that it exists. End of sermon.

I offer you thirty-five minutes of joy and wisdom and splendor, captured illicitly and with love. You will notice the audience applauds when they “recognize the tune.” But there were adults in attendance, thus reverent silence during performances. I don’t hear program-rattling or coughing. Blessings on my fellow July 1973 concert-goers. AND the heroes onstage.

Jimmie Rowles: THE MAN I LOVE – BEAUTIFUL LOVE – JITTERBUG WALTZ / EMALINE / LIZA – MY BUDDY //

Bill Evans: I LOVES YOU, PORGY / HULLO BOLINAS / BUT BEAUTIFUL //

Ellis Larkins: HOW’D’JA LIKE TO LOVE ME? / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL / BY MYSELF //

Is it too self-absorbed of me to be happy I was there on that July evening and am still working for this music, in awe? Perhaps. But I hope you are happy that this tape was created and that it can be shared.

May your happiness increase!