Category Archives: Generosities

THEY DO THE THING, AND SPLENDIDLY: ETHAN LEINWAND / VALERIE KIRCHHOFF

If you don’t get to St. Louis often, these two people may be unfamiliar to you.  But they make excellent music.

You say you’d like to hear some?  Consider this — a short film by Bill Streeter:

and this, which pairs Ethan with Valerie Kirschhoff:

A friend told me about Ethan and Valerie, and I’ve been listening to their CDs with great pleasure.  I know that comparisons are not only odious, but they cause one to lose friends, but Ethan and Valerie, together or singly, have got it.  By “it” I mean a certain easy authority and authenticity: when they perform their special music — the low-down St. Louis blues, rags, and pop of the time — I don’t feel as if they are children playing at being adults, nor do I feel that I am listening to copies of 78s.  (However, if they’d been born a century ago, you would, I am sure, know them from their recordings on Paramount, Bluebird, and Decca.  They’re that much in the groove.)

Ethan and Valerie have a certain brash tenderness that is very much appealing, and although I hear echoes of certain performers (famous and obscure) I hear the personalities of these two — in this century — coming right at me.  This is rare and delicious, and even when they perform songs that are by today’s standards “ancient,” they seem full of emotion and fun.

And they are not shallow: by that I mean that certain young “stride” pianists have taught themselves AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and four other tunes; certain young singers know GOD BLESS THE CHILD and FINE AND MELLOW . . . and then it’s time for a break.  One of the pleasures of the three CDs I have on hand: THE ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS, MISS JUBILEE: “THROW ME IN THE ALLEY,” and Ethan’s solo piano offering, THE LOW-DOWN PIANO, is the scholarly breadth of their chosen repertoire.  It’s not simply a non-stop parade of twelve-bar blues (incidentally, the closing video of this blog shows Valerie, with ukulele and friends, including Marty Eggers, making a meal of MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT, which belongs to Mound City hero Red McKenzie, although Marty Grosz has brought it back in recent times).

In his solo recital, Ethan plays compositions by Romeo Nelson, Little Brother Montgomery, Jabo Williams, Montana Taylor, and others in addition to the expected heroes; I was familiar with two of the sixteen compositions on the GRINDERS CD, and MISS JUBILEE dips happily into Thirties ephemera, including THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS and JERRY THE JUNKER.  (In fact, on that CD — with friends — the overall effect is somewhere between Clarence Williams and the Lil Hardin Armstrong small groups, with a dash of the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and completely refreshing — a kind of hot elegant rawness, a wild oxymoron that will make sense with the first listening.)

I am not writing as much as I might, because I’d rather listeners go to the videos and sound samples to enjoy for themselves.  Ethan and Valerie have put up many videos on YouTube, and they have an expansive online presence, as one must these days.

Here is Ethan’s website. And here is the site for MISS JUBILEE — the aptly-named group Valerie and Ethan co-lead.  And the Facebook page for the ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS — who also live up to their proud title, never faltering or hesitating.

You can listen to excerpts from and buy MISS JUBILEE’s CDs here and the same is true for Ethan’s solo piano CD  here.

They are very welcome: they make the best noises, and they spread joy in all directions.

May your happiness increase!

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NAT HAD GOOD TASTE AND A CAMERA, 1949-55

OPEN PANDORA’S BOX, by Sofia Wellman

The eBay treasure chest is overflowing with delights, and occasionally the treasures are startling.  I’ve come to expect autographed records and photographs and concert programs, as well as little scraps of paper cut from someone’s autograph book.  There’s been a recent flurry of checks — bearing the signature of an otherwise obscure musician on the back as the necessary endorsement.  And more, some of it dross.

I am always slightly ambivalent about the rarities coming to light.  On one hand, what a joy to see relics and artifacts that one never knew existed.  On the other, I feel melancholy that these offerings are (plausibly) because collectors age and die, need money, and their heirs are understandably eager to convert the fan’s collection into something more useful at the mall.  But it’s all just objects, and they go from one hand to another: better this than the recycling bin.

To get to the point: I found on eBay this morning a trove of one-of-a-kind color slides of jazz musicians in performance, captured between 1949 and 1955 in Cleveland and Chicago, possibly elsewhere.  Each is offered for $50 or the best offer, and here is the link.  An explanation is here: the slides were from the collection of photographer Nat Singerman.  (As a caveat: I have no idea of the process by which these items came to be offered for sale, so if the provenance is murky, I plead ignorance.)

The musicians Nat photographed are (in no order of merit): Miff Mole, Buddy Rich, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Patti Page, Art Hodes, Jonah Jones, Louis Jordan, Jim Robinson, J.C. Higginbotham, Eddie Heywood, Darnell Howard, Lee Collins, Louis Prima, Flip Phillips, Oscar Pettiford, Freddie Moore, Red Norvo, Tal Farlow, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Hunt, Juanita Hall.  They were caught in action at clubs, the State Theatre in Cleveland, a rib restaurant, and elsewhere.  (Flip, Rich, and others may have been on a JATP tour.)  It’s a powerful reminder of just how much live music there was in this country.  Here are a few samples, but go see for yourselves before they are all purchased.  As some anonymous pitchman once said, “When they’re gone, they’re gone!”  I am not involved in this beyond this blogpost: I spent the February budget for such things on photographs of Vic Dickenson and Sidney Catlett.

J.C. Higginbotham and “Chuck” at the Pinwheel Cafe, 1949, as Nat’s careful label shows:

Darnell Howard, with Lee Collins in the background, presumably at the BeeHive in 1949:

and a shot of the full front line, with Miff Mole (the rhythm section may have had Don Ewell on piano):

Flip Phillips, at Cleveland’s State Theatre in 1949:

Jonah Jones, posing outside the Cab Calloway band bus, parked at the Circle Theatre in Cleveland, October 1951:

Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Chicago, July 1951:

Oscar Pettiford, Loop Lounge, Cleveland, September 1955.  Thanks to Loren Schoenberg, we have a winner — that’s Ben Webster to the right:

The rest you’ll have to find for yourselves.  But what a cache of marvels, and the treasure chest seems bottomless.  And the imagined soundtracks reverberate gloriously.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS RUBY BRAFF (December 15, 2017)

 

To get us in the proper mood, here are Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman investigating Benny Carter’s ONCE UPON A TIME, a performance that has its light-hearted moments and a very touching ending:

and why stop with one performance only?  SWEET SAVANNAH SUE is one of my favorite recordings of the thousands Ruby created:

Dan’s first musing on Ruby mentions some mutual friends — Ruby’s bio-discographer Tom Hustad, Sam Margolis, Jack Bradley, Loren Schoenberg — but keeps on returning to the well-seasoned enigma that was Ruby himself:

Here is a musical interlude whose relevance will become clear to the conscientious:

More tales of Ruby, Dick Gibson, Ruby in hospice, friends and former friends:

Finally, Ruby and Dick Sudhalter, Ruby as record reviewer, and sidelights on Kenny Dorham and Miles Davis, who will be the subject of the next videos:

I find Dan’s reminiscences invaluable.  He was there.  But more than that, his sharp, friendly observations make a scene come alive.  And he’s taught me an invaluable lesson about interviewing . . . to stay out of the interviewee’s way.  I’ve learned that Dan’s zigzag paths are much more interesting than any list of questions I might have prepared.  Take it from me.

May your happiness increase!

A MORTONIAN PARADISE, PLUS (ANDREW OLIVER / DAVID HORNIBLOW): A BLOG, TWO VIDEOS, and an e-78, TOO.

When I go to my computer in the morning — a twenty-first century act as natural to us as making a fire in the stove for breakfast must have been years ago — and I see that the Complete Morton Project (a/k/a Andrew Oliver at the piano and David Horniblow at the clarinet, bass clarinet, or alto saxophone) has been at it again while I have been sleeping or attempting to grade student essays, my first feeling is pride — pride that I am living in a world where such beauty is being regularly given to us for free.  Of course, my second thought is, “Oh, no!  I’m falling behind!”  But David and Andrew have been very forgiving, and I have received no lowered grades for tardiness.  And they offer their creations open-handedly and open-heartedly.

Here is the aptly named PEP:

and the NEW ORLEANS BUMP, which should induce dancing everywhere.

I especially like David’s growly evocation of Cecil Scott and other “dirty” clarinetists — the world as it was before Benny smoothed everything out:

There’s more information and music here on Andrew’s blog — which also shows off the considerable talents of the Vitality Five and the Dime Notes — and you can subscribe to these weekly YouTube bouquets of sound here.  And (while I was tidying up the kitchen) the Vitality Five issued their February 2018 e-78: details here.

How will I keep up?  I don’t know.  But it’s a delightful struggle for sure.

May your happiness increase!

BIRD, BECKETT, and THE BEAT: JEFF HAMILTON, CLINT BAKER, ROBERT YOUNG (February 16, 2018)

That’s Jeff Hamilton, piano; Clint Baker, cornet; Robert Young, bass saxophone, brought to us by rara avis Eric Whittington of Bird & Beckett Books at
653 Chenery Street, San Francisco, California: (415) 586-3733, and captured on video by the indefatigable RaeAnn Berry of that same city.

Photograph by Angela Bennett

I needed to share CRAZY RHYTHM with you for Jeff’s splendidly playful introduction and what happens next:

Clint switches to clarinet for IF I HAD YOU:

and sings on a frolicsome I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

What musical evening would be complete without Alex Hill’s DELTA BOUND?

Bird and Beckett offers a variety of music, readings — a wise comfortable place.  And books.  Of course.

At this writing, RaeAnn has posted fifteen videos, found here.  Her YouTube channel introduced me to the wonders of California hot almost a decade ago, so I value her continued work.

And to Clint, Jeff, Robert, and Eric: thanks for keeping the heat on.  We need it.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTY, SO RARE: HIDDEN TREASURES FROM JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, BOB HAVENS, JOHN SHERIDAN, KERRY LEWIS, PETE SIERS (September 23, 2012)

When it’s good, you know it.  When it’s sublime, you feel it.  Here are four previously unseen treasures from the sprawling JAZZ LIVES vault of video sweetness, recorded at the Hotel Athenaeum in Chautauqua, New York, on September 23, 2012, during the delightful gathering of cosmic energies once called “Jazz at Chautauqua,” the creation of Joe Boughton and then Nancy Hancock Griffith.

We take so much for granted, and on paper, this set might just have seemed another pleasing interlude in a long weekend of delights — a Sunday-brunch set focused on the music of Louis Armstrong.  With other players, even such an inspiring theme could have turned into genial formula.  But not with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Scott Robinson, metal clarinet, tenor saxophone, and taragoto; John Sheridan, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

How they soar.  How tenderly they caress the music.  You’ll experience it for yourselves.

First, a WEARY BLUES that gently piles delight upon delight, a  great piece of Hot Architecture reaching toward the sky:

and, with some priceless commentary from Scott Robinson — erudite comedy gently coming to earth as a loving tribute to Joe Muranyi, who loved to play BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

“Right on it,” as they say, with Mr. Robinson on the tenor, for ONCE IN A WHILE, where the rhythm section shines:

If the closing ninety seconds of that performance doesn’t make you jubilant, then perhaps you should consider seeing a specialist.

What could be better to close off such a glorious episode than an expression of gratitude, in this case, THANKS A MILLION, beginning with a Kellso-Sheridan duet on the verse:

I find that performance incredibly tender: gratitude not only from the musicians to the audience, but to Louis and the worlds he created for us.

Perhaps it’s true that “you can’t go home again,” but if I could book a flight to Buffalo in the certainty that I would see this band again, I’d be packed and ready.  Maybe it’s because I can’t get back to this morning in September 2012 in some temporal way that I feel so deeply the precious vibrations these ministers of swinging grace offer us.  Bless them.  It was a privilege to be there, an honor to be allowed to capture this for posterity.

Watch this with full attention; savor it; share it; exult in it.  Let us never take beauty for granted.

May your happiness increase!

SWAT THE DIRT: DAVID HORNIBLOW / ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON (and an e-78 as well!)

As the Silvercup bread sign used to say, radiant in the night sky, BAKED WHILE YOU SLEEP.  Or SWUNG WHILE YOU REST.  Whatever: those men are here again, David Horniblow, clarinet and bass clarinet; Andrew Oliver, piano — for their and our weekly benevolence of Jelly Roll Morton.

That Tinge again . . . sensuous and undulating (a composition Jelly only recorded for Allan Lomax at the Library of Congress sessions):

Here’s DIRTY, DIRTY, DIRTY — a 1940 composition that sounds as if it is going to be very simple and has its own twists and turns.  (I wonder how often it was played on the jukeboxes?)  And the combination of low-register bass clarinet and luminous piano is quite intoxicating:

Subscribe to their YouTube channel here — or enjoy all six offerings with fine commentary on Andrew’s blog here.  Fine music, intelligent compact explications, and inspiring generosity from these two stellar players.

Wait.  You haven’t had enough IRRESISTIBLE JAZZ for the moment?  Look at what The Vitality Five is up to, and you’ll recognize some splendid hot players here as well (David, Andrew, Michael McQuaid, Nicholas Ball, Martin Wheatley):

May your happiness increase!