Category Archives: Bliss!

FROM THEIR HEARTS (Part One): JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHARLIE HALLORAN, BRIAN NALEPKA, JOHN GILL (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, July 8, 2018)

After the last tune had been played on Sunday, July 8, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City), Brian Nalepka — string bass, vocals, wit — caught my eye and smiled, “That was a GOOD night, Michael!” and he didn’t have to say anything more.  What the EarRegulars created that night, as they have done for eleven years of Sundays, was magical.  They demonstrated, for a few hours, how music is the best medicine for all kinds of woes.

The genuine heartfelt practitioners that night were Brian; John Gill, banjo, National guitar, vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, leader; New Orleans luminary Charlie Halloran, in New York for a few days, trombone, or as he likes to call it, “trampagne.”  When you play as beautifully as Charlie does, you have wide-open linguistic license.

A few more words about him: I’d heard his recordings and they bring great joy: I’m thinking of his QUALITY SIX and CE BIGUINE, both celebrated on this blog (as well as wonderful work with half-a-dozen other bands) — but the closest we’d ever come to a real conversation was that we waved to each other across a fence at one of the Steamboat Stomps. So I was delighted to hear him in person, doing the thing at close range, and to find out that he is as gracious a person as he is a fine musician.  And I don’t overstate.

The Fellows, that very night. Photograph by Neal Siegal.

Here are some highlights from early in the evening.  The band just glowed, and so did we.

A rocking BOGALUSA STRUT:

A tender but groovy SOMEDAY SWEETHEART — a version that seems to need no comma in the middle:

Asking the musical question, WHO’S SORRY NOW? — here, it’s not fashionable to invoke the name of Miff Mole, but Charlie brings him to life in this century, exuberant and precise.  And we’re so lucky to have this band sharing its love every Sunday:

And to close this segment, a down-home TISHOMINGO BLUES, wonderfully sung by John Gill:

I will have more joyous evidence — inspired and inspiring — to share with you after a brief interval.

May your happiness increase!

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PLAY HOT, BE SWEET: THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the SCOTT JOPLIN INTERNATIONAL RAGTIME FESTIVAL, June 1, 2018 (BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN, STEVE PIKAL)

The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Nashville, Summer 2017: From left, Marc Caparone, Steve Pikal, Danny Coots, Evan Arntzen, Brian Holland. Photograph by Amy Holland.

More from the delightful Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, a band which sprang full-grown to public acclaim in 2017.  They are Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal.  They soar; they woo.

Here they are outdoors in the very nice Gazebo Park during the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri.

Their band version of RUSSIAN RAG has some kinship with the Wilbur DeParis performance, but do you know that Fats Waller recorded it, solo, in 1935?

A late-period Waller love song, from the score of EARLY TO BED, 1943, here crooned by Evan:

A romp by the magnificently creative yet short-lived Alex Hill, BABY BROWN:

And a very endearing love ballad, recorded but not composed by Fats, LET’S PRETEND THERE’S A MOON:

The HCJQ has also made a CD — appropriately, the music of Fats Waller.  You can purchase it here and hear sound samples also.

This HCJQ will be playing the Evergreen Jazz Festival at the end of this month, and next spring they will be part of the Stomptime Musical Adventure Inauguaral Jazz Cruise, April 27 to May 4, 2019, “departing from Miami to the Eastern Caribbean (San Juan, Charlotte Amalie, Punta Cana, and Nassau) on the Celebrity Equinox for 7 nights of music and fun.”

May your happiness increase!

The CASEY MacGILL ORCHESTRA, “THE ROYCROFT SESSION”

You’re going to have to trust me on this — that Casey MacGill’s new five-song CD, pictured below, is excellent and beyond — because I can’t offer you sound samples or downloads.  You’ll have to (gasps from the audience) buy the CD.  It’s $15 and it’s splendidly worth it.  Details here.  The other necessary bit of candor is that it a an EP-CD . . . or whatever they call it nowadays, twenty minutes long.  Take it as the best compliment I can offer that when I first got a copy, I began to audition it in the Mobile Audition Studio (my 2014 Camry) and I played it three times through without stopping, and thought, “That’s more pleasure than many standard-length CDs.”

“A swing band, yes, but what makes this special is the combination of great arrangements, vocals, and its irresistible rhythmic pulse. Flavor, tonal colors, musical storytelling; two brilliant originals and three classics that are must-hear,” is the description on Casey’s website, and it’s an accurate one.  The band recorded on January 8, 2018 — in beautiful sound and no trickery.

Here are the players — and some of them you will not only recognize but greet as masters on their instruments.  Casey plays piano, ukulele, sings lead, and does the arrangements.  The reeds are Jacob Zimmerman, lead alto, clarinet, vocal; Saul Cline, tenor, clarinet; Hans Teuber, alto, clarinet; Jonathan Doyle, tenor, baritone, clarinet, bass sax.  The brass: Charlie Porter, lead trumpet; Dan Barrett, trumpet; Trevor Whitridge, trombone; David Loomis, trombone; Christian Pincock, trombone.  Rhythm: D’Vonne Lewis, drums; Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar.

And they rock.

About the music.  Casey understands and embodies several truths in his music — in theory and performance.  One is that if the music isn’t fun, why do it?  (This doesn’t mean jokes, but a certain lively ebullience.  Joy.)  Two is that there is no artificial division between “jazz” and “swing,” that the former ought to get the dancers on the floor, but that the latter has to be ornamented with high-level inspiring improvisations.  Three is that simplicity is commendable rather than a weakness, and that music can fall down under the weight of too much of anything, so that well-played riffs can be a great pleasure, even if we know them by heart.

The disc starts with SWING NATION (its refrain “People groovin’ together!” a philosophical foundation for everything Casey and friends do) with a duo vocal by Casey and Jacob Zimmerman — I thought I heard a little Trummy Young and Sy Oliver in there, and that’s a compliment.  It’s a short performance, but a memorable one: I was humming it in the days that passed after my first listenings.  I was rocking in my driver’s seat before the song was a minute old. Great solo segments by Doyle (on bass sax!), Barrett, Lewis, Loomis, Casey on piano, all deserved multiple hearings on their own.  The arrangement is full of little surprises, but none of them seem obtrusive, and the rhythm section is superb: Casey, switching from piano to ukulele, is a splendid anchor and guide. His piano playing is Basie-like but without any of the half-dozen (by now tedious) Basie “trademarks.”

I NEVER KNEW is often taken too fast, but not here, and the arrangement looks to the 1933 Benny Carter recording, with a sweet discussion between Zimmerman and Cline at the start, before Barrett does what he does so superbly, the second sixteen over to Casey at the piano.  Then — “What is that?” — a transcription of Lester’s 1943 solo for sax section, glossy and supple, again with a piano bridge by Casey leading into a muted brass rendering of the closing Carter chorus, Barrett backed by Lewis’ tom-toms for the bridge.  So far (and I left a phone message with my primary care physician) I have been unable to listen to this track only once.

LA DAME EN BLUES, another MacGill original, is what they used to call a “mood piece.”  Its groove reminds me a little of THE MOOCHE, with a much more harmonically sophisticated second half, that turns into a melancholy yet swinging clarinet solo.  Again, the ensemble writing is compelling without grabbing the listener’s collar.  Loomis summons up Joe Nanton, gruff but tender, before piano leads the band out.

The opening of NIGHT AND DAY — muted brass against and with reeds — makes me wish I had practiced more during those ballroom dancing lessons of 2007.  I delight in the band’s lovely sound: everyone knows how to play as part of a section, which is a great thing.  Casey’s vocal is hip but completely sincere: he doesn’t ooze, but he’s deeply in the pocket of Romance, with an easy conversational lilt to his phrasing.  A gorgeous solo chorus by Teuber (who makes me think of Pete Brown and Rudy Williams, sweet-tart) follows, before Casey returns to woo the unknown hearer and us.

Finally, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which has been done so often that it might labor under the burden of familiarity, starts off with a bang — a short vocal introduction before the band says, “HERE we are!” in the opening chorus.  Casey’s vocal, hip and hilarious, is so winning, before Teuber comes on, and that’s no idle 1946 cliche.  Barrett, for the second sixteen, visits NOLA, before the band starts to rock what I think of as “the Henderson riff” or perhaps it’s the Hopkins one — buy the CD and argue among yourselves.  Another riff is overlaid, which I love but cannot place, before Casey does a Johnny Guarneri for the bridge, and the band mixes unison scat — college cheerleaders? — while thinking of Christopher Columbus, before bringing on a Django-and Stephane riff.

Perfectly swinging music, ensemble, solos, vocal: it’s a delight.  I thought, when I’d finished writing this overview, “Hey, the only thing wrong with this disc is that it’s not a two-CD set!” but perhaps that’s best.  Maybe Casey has a firm hand on the tiller and is looking out for us all.  Given two hours of this band, I might be so overwhelmed by pleasure that I couldn’t write.

Buy yours here.  Bliss has rarely been so easy to come by.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE COMES IN THE EAR: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, NEAL MINER (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, Sunday, June 10, 2018)

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know how deeply I and others treasure the Sunday-evening gatherings of kindred enlightened souls that take place at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.  Here is some joy from June 10, with the personnel listed above: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and special mutations; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, reeds and brass cross-species permutations [translation: tenor saxophone, alto clarinet; miniature French horn]; Neal Miner, string bass.

The EarRegulars, June 10, 2018. Photograph by Neal Siegal.

Here are a few highlights, delights all.

Some Fats by way of Louis, BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU:

YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME (its beginning excised because of a collision between my camera and an eager patron):

Don Redman’s soulful plaint, GEE, BABY, AIN’T I  GOOD TO YOU?:

More Fats! I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING with Scott’s loping, tender solo reading of the verse:

See you at The Ear around 7 some sweet Sunday.  And save me a barstool.

May your happiness increase!

MORTONIC CAPERS: ANDREW OLIVER, DAVID HORNIBLOW, and SURPRISE GUESTS MICHAEL McQUAID and NICHOLAS D. BALL

Two kinds of surprise, one subtle and one cinematic-vaudevillian-theatrical from the Complete Morton Project.  More details here.

First, DIXIE KNOWS — a composition Morton never recorded — played beautifully by Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, clarinet:

Then, a party!  The Complete Morton Project invited two friends over, increasing the band by 200%: Michael McQuaid on reeds and Nicholas D. Ball on drums and hilarity — for HYENA STOMP:

Should you be tempted to dismiss HYENA STOMP as pure goofiness, listen to Morton’s Library of Congress solo rendition:

Anyone who thinks of Morton as a limited improviser who didn’t swing should be given a fifteen-minute immersion in that performance, which I marvel at.

But HYENA STOMP (in the 1927 Victor version) is elusive in one detail.  I tried to find out about Lew LeMar, who says, “That’s terrible, Jelly!” and then does the laughing — choose your own adjective.  I know there is a tradition of laughter being recorded as part of an act (consider the OKeh LAUGHING RECORD and later, LAUGHIN’ LOUIE) but I can find no information on the exuberant Mr. LeMar.  Even William Russell’s seven-hundred page Morton scrapbook has no entry for him in the index.

And thus I am free to imagine.  Did Jelly and Lew know each other from vaudeville?  Had they met at a theatre or bar, with Jelly saying, “I’ve got a record date in three days and I want you on it?”  Or was LeMar appearing on another Victor recording at the same time?  Was he the recording supervisor’s idea?  Was HYENA STOMP — very close to one strain of KING PORTER — created for LeMar?  What was union scale for vocal effects?  This unsolved mystery pleases me.  But it makes me smile, which is a good thing in itself.  Let us hope that we always have reasons to laugh.

May your happiness increase!

HOT JAZZ, HIGH ALTITUDES: KRIS TOKARSKI, TIM LAUGHLIN, ANDY SCHUMM, HAL SMITH at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 30, 2016)

Harold Ross, who edited THE NEW YORKER for twenty-five years, said, “Talent doesn’t care where it resides.”  And although Evergreen, Colorado is 7,220 feet above sea level, the music I’ve heard at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in 2014 and 2016 has never been short of breath.  Or, for that matter, passion, swing, or inspiration.  I’m going there again this July 2018.

As evidence, I present seven informal hot performances by Kris  Tokarski, piano; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Andy Schumm, cornet; Hal Smith, drums, from a 2016 Saturday-afternoon session in a local restaurant.

Looking ahead to the weekend, SUNDAY:

IDA, which we dedicate happily to Ida Melrose Shoufler, back to herself:

The quartet assembles for Hines’ MY MONDAY DATE:

IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT.  Did someone whisper “Muggsy Spanier”?

It’s shocking.  She’s NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

Tim’s featured on a lovely A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE:

And to close, Artie Matthews’ WEARY BLUES:

For more information about this month’s fiesta, click here.  The Festival is happening on July 27-29, with Dorothy Bradford Vernon’s barn dance featuring the Carl Sonny Leyland trio in Longmont, Colorado, on the 26th.

May your happiness increase!

EIGHT FOR THE FOURTH (July 4, 2018)

His limitless world.

Photograph courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

I thought I would — to celebrate Louis’ birthday (no arguing, now) — post my own very idiosyncratic survey of recordings I have loved for decades.

TOO BUSY, June 26, 1928 (Lille Delk Christian, Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines, Mancy Carr):

RED CAP, July 2, 1937 (Shelton Hemphill, Louis Bacon, Henry “Red” Allen, George Matthews, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, Pete Clarke, Charlie Holmes, Albert Nicholas, Bingie Madison, Luis Russell, Lee Blair, Pops Foster,  Paul Barbarin, Chappie Willett):

TRUE CONFESSION, January 13, 1938 (J.C. Higginbotham, Charlie Holmes, Bingie Madison, Luis Russell, Lee Blair, Pops Foster, Paul Barbarin):

IN THE GLOAMING, March 10, 1941 (George Washington, Prince Robinson, Luis Russell, Lawrence Lucie, Johnny Williams, Sidney Catlett):

I WANT A LITTLE GIRL, September 6, 1946 (Vic Dickenson, Barney Bigard, Charlie Beal, Allan Reuss, Red Callendar, Zutty Singleton):

JEANNINE, I DREAM OF LILAC TIME, November 28, 1951 (Gordon Jenkins, Charles Gifford, George Thow, Bruce Hudson, Eddie Miller, Dent Eckels, Charles LaVere, Allan Reuss, Phil Stephens, Nick Fatool):

HOME, August 14, 1957 (Russell Garcia):

CABARET, August 25, 1966 (Robert Mersey, Buster Bailey, Tyree Glenn, Marty Napoleon, Bobby Domenick, Buddy Catlett, Danny Barcelona):

When I try to imagine a universe without Louis, I cannot.  And I don’t want to.

May your happiness increase!