Category Archives: Hotter Than That

“BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST”: EDDY DAVIS, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CONAL FOWKES (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City

Eddy Davis — banjo, vocals, compositions — is a glorious eccentric I’ve been admiring for fifteen years in New York.  And he has a long history in Chicago, playing with the greats of previous generations, including Albert Wynn, Bob Shoffner, and Franz Jackson, among others.  Here are four selections from a beautiful evening with the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Conal Fowkes, string bass / vocal — at the end of last year.

Eddy’s had some health difficulties recently, so I wanted to use the blog as a spiritual telephone wire to send him the best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery, so he can come back to startle and delight us soon.  And just generally, may we all be safe from harm.  Thanks to Eddy’s friends Conal Fowkes and Debbie Kennedy.

TWO DEUCES / “BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST”:

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, with Miss Lil’s major seventh:

CANAL STREET BLUES, some New Orleans jazz that didn’t come from a book:

VIPER MAD (“Good tea’s my weakness!”):

May your happiness increase!

"DOGGIN’ AROUND": JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JOE COHN, MURRAY WALL (Cafe Bohemia, January 30, 2020)

I doubt that the title of this original composition by Herschel Evans, recorded by the 1938 Basie band, has much to do with this puppy, named W.W. King, or any actual canine.

Many of the titles given to originals in that period were subtle in-jokes about sex, but somehow I don’t associate that with Herschel.  I had occasion to speak a few words to Buck Clayton and Buddy Tate, to spend a long subway ride with Bennie Morton, and to be spoken at by Jo Jones . . . and I regret I never asked them, although they might have been guarded or led me down the garden path because I was clearly a civilian outsider.  But we have the music.  And — unlike other bandleaders — Bill Basie did not take credit for music composed by his sidemen, which I am sure endeared him to them even more.

Moving from the linguistic or the canine to the music, listeners will hear Jon-Erik Kellso delineate the harmonic structure of the tune as “UNDECIDED with a HONEYSUCKLE bridge.” What could be simpler?

Thus . . . music to drive away gloom, created by Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, cornet; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Joe Cohn, guitar; Murray Wall, string bass, Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City.

I look forward to the day we can meet at Cafe Bohemia and hear such music.

May your happiness increase!

FRIENDS AT PLAY: STEVE PISTORIUS, “LIVING ROOM SESSIONS, VOLUME ONE: NEW ORLEANS TREASURES”

If you detect the aroma of a pie baking in your neighbor’s house, it’s not necessary to analyze its appeal at length.

My enthusiasm for the disc below and the music it contains is strong: I received the disc in the mail yesterday; I am playing it now while writing this post.  And if you like subtle hot jazz that lives at the heart of the music — direct and unaffected — you will want a copy or a download.

That in itself is a cheering sight, and the details are even better.

The musicians: Steve Pistorius, piano / Joe Goldberg, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal / James Evans, clarinet, bass clarinet, C-melody saxophone, vocal / Benny Amon, drums, washboard, bock-a-de-bock cymbals / Tyler Thomson, string bass / Maxwell Poulos, tenor banjo, mandolin.

The songs: Sittin’ on the Curb-stone Blues / Candy Lips (I’m Stuck on You)
Where Did You Stay Last Night? / Maori (A Samoan Song) / Tears / I’m Alone Without You / Piggly Wiggly / Love is the Sweetest Thing / Okey Doke / If You Knew (How I Love You) / Every Evening / Too Tight / Quem me Comprende / Cushion Foot Stomp.

The time, the place, the technology: December 5 and 6, 2019; Steve’s living room; recorded by Ryan Baer on vintage equipment: his reel-to-reel recorder and RCA ribbon microphone.

How to hear it / how to purchase it:

Steve Pistorius – Living Room Sessions, Vol. 1

you can hear thirty-second sound samples of five performances and then purchase the disc.  (Notice I do not write, “If you are so moved,” because I am sure most listeners will be.)  Here — in the name of instant gratification — you can purchase a digital download of the music.

A few words from me, if needed.  I’ve been a convert to Steve’s music — solo piano and the brilliantly heartfelt musical ensembles he creates and leads — for some years now.  I warm to their warm, unbuttoned music — loose without being messy, expert without being over-analyzed.  The New Orleans repertoire on this disc isn’t overplayed tourist slosh; these are caressingly melodic pieces that could woo a listener if played straight, and the twining improvisations are memorable from the first hearing on.  Whether the mood is yearning and dreamy or plunging forward, each track is a delightful aural experience on its own terms.

And the band is made up of people who know the joy of ensemble playing, so the result is a vibrant tapestry of musicians playing “for the comfort of the band” as well as creating brilliant solos.  They know the routines and the conventions yet aren’t chained by them.  The songs are “old” but the music feels bright and new, never dusty — no scholarly recreations of old records.

The recording studio, even in the best circumstances, is an unnatural place, even if there is joking, there are sandwiches and good coffee.  Musicians know that what they do here will be scrutinized for — perhaps not “forever,” but for a long time, and that tends to make the room temperature drop.  That so much of our memorable music has been captured in such artificial circumstances speaks to the wisdom and intensity of the musicians.  But this disc benefits immensely from the collective relaxation of Steve’s living room — a friendly gathering rather than a doctoral examination.  You can hear it.  And the “vintage” technology, while never blurring the sound, is also comfortable.  The result is rather like being invited to hear music next door — a rent party where everyone is sweetly attentive and the music soars. The disc goes by far too quickly, which is why I am cheered by the hope of more volumes to come.

I could write more, but why?  This is a lovely, rewarding disc, and I thank everyone involved with it.  You will, too.  But now I want pie for breakfast, damn it.  Oh, well: I’ll just play the LIVING ROOM SESSIONS again.

May your happiness increase!

STREET FOOD, AN EXOTIC HONEYMOON, EXUBERANT DANCE, 1936

If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others.  It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.

But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers.  But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read.  In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion.  And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.

These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me.  It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936.  These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.

Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord.  Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured.  And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe?  I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.

Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d).  Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added.  Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).

Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection.  (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)

I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records.  I’ll have some listening comments at the end.

and the 78 version:

Flip it over, as they used to say:

This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:

If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches.  However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):

and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):

Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler.  That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly.  They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians.  I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers.  (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did.  I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music.  The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923.  I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto.  I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend?  (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is.  An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be.  In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit?  Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale.  It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir.  Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times.  Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious.  What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans.  Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
May your happiness increase!

KEVIN DORN and the SOCIAL DISTANCING JAZZ COLLECTIVE: "WOLVERINE BLUES" (March 19, 2020)

Years gone by: 2008.

I’ve known Kevin Dorn for nearly fifteen years now, and he beautifully balances the improvising musician and the improvising thinker.  Both his playing and his imagination have a rich orchestral beauty and solid originality; he also knows when to be richly silent, a rare gift.  Before the semi-quarantine (however you want to call it) changed our daily lives, I saw and heard Kevin at a session at Cafe Bohemia, where with his snare and wire brushes, he made us all levitate, without the need for oxygen masks to drop down from the ceiling.

and more recently . . . .

Yesterday, Kevin sent me an email with the subject line “Wolverine Blues,” and the text simply “Social Distancing version!”: which I can now share with you.  It’s a marvelous virtuoso excursion — Kevin dancing in and out of Condonia while being utterly himself:

Kevin modestly annotated this video as, “No one to play with, so it’s just the drum part.”  And that made me think of Larry Hart’s lyrics for THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL, “Not a sign of people. / Who needs people?” which speaks to Kevin’s beautiful orchestral conception, his sounds, his variety, his ebullient motion.  But another part of my brain says, “I can hear Wild Bill, Cutty, Ed, Gene, Eddie, Bob, very easily.”  You’ll have to see where your perceptions emerge.

What mastery.

Kevin, maybe you’ll consider IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE into OLE MISS if we’re cooped up for months?  That is, if you’re taking requests.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN IN DOUBT, PLAY THAT THING! (March 8, 2020)

From here

to here

is a wonderful wiggly line, elevated by individualism and joy, expertise and passion.

I present here a glorious burst of enthusiasm — in honor of Joe Oliver and Little Louis — created by Clint Baker, trumpet; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Riley Baker, trombone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. Jess King also sang, but not on this performance. And late in the video, we have an unscheduled cameo appearance by RaeAnn Berry, the queen of Bay Area videographers. Don’t miss it.

I was privileged to witness and record this on March 8, 2020, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California.

A postscript, and those who are tired of words on a lit screen have my encouragement to skip it and watch the video again.  The other night, I had an extended telephone conversation with a person who might have become a new friend, who chose to tell me that my emphasis on happiness was inexplicable, because it meant I was ignoring the full range of emotions.  I wish I’d thought to play that person this DIPPER MOUTH BLUES: maybe it would have made tangible some of the things I believe in.  (If art doesn’t evoke feeling, it may be splendid intellectually, but to me it seems incomplete.)  And should you wonder, the conversation is not continuing.  There!  Ruminate on that, if you like.

For now, go and PLAY THAT THING! — whatever shape it might take.  You understand that you don’t need a cornet to be joyous.

May your happiness increase!

BOB HAVENS SHOWS US HOW: JAMES DAPOGNY, VINCE GIORDANO, ARNIE KINSELLA (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2009)

I take my title from what Bobby Hackett told Max Jones about his friend Jack Teagarden, “The Good Lord said to Jack, ‘Now you go down there and show them how to do it.”  (I am paraphrasing, because the book, TALKING JAZZ, is hiding from me.)

My subject is one of Jack’s noble colleagues, the trombonist Bob Havens, born May 3, 1930, in Quincy, Illinois — thus seventy-nine in the performance I will share with you, which he created at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend — with Arnie Kinsella, drums; Vince Giordano, string bass; James Dapogny, piano.  The song Havens chose for his feature is the venerable IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, which has its jazz immortality due to the 1927 Red Nichols recording featuring Adrian Rollini and Pee Wee Russell along with Red and Miff Mole.  Bob’s performance is three choruses, a continuing amazement.

Bob Havens, 2016

What strikes me immediately is the serious ease with which Bob approaches the melody, not rushing, not being in a hurry to get to the “hot” part, but playing it, slightly embellished, in his first chorus.

His tone.  His huge sound — a sound on which you could build your church.  His generous but intelligently applied phrase-ending vibrato.  His complete command of the trombone in all registers.  And, for me, that first chorus is a complete meal in itself, so beautifully offered.  But to look at the video and know, as I do, that there are two more choruses that will follow leaves me nearly open-mouthed.

Please, on your second and third viewing, and there should be occasions to revisit this splendor, savor the solid drumming of Arnie Kinsella, who knew how to play simply but with great soul; the delicious supportive work of Vince Giordano, who knows not only the right notes but where they should fall and how; James Dapogny’s intuitive embrace of both the soloist and the music in every phrase.

Bob’s turning-the-corner into his second chorus is exultant: now this is serious business, his shouting announcement seems to say.  I’ve laid out the melody, now let me show you what I can do with it.  Only a trombonist could explicate the dazzling variety of technical acrobatics — all beautifully in service of the song — Bob creates in that chorus, ending with a bluesy flourish.  And the third chorus is a magnificent extension of what has come before, with technique and taste strolling hand in hand.  (Again, no one in this quartet of masters rushes.)  Admire the structure, variations on variations, as simplicity gives way to complexity but the simplicity — IDA is a love song! — remains beneath.  Bob’s virtuosity is amazing, super-Teagarden thirty stories up, but his pyrotechnics never obscure emotions, and his sound never thins or becomes hard.

I invite you to admire someone who astonishes, who gives us great gifts.

What glorious music. in some ways, beyond my words.

This post is in honor of my Auntie, Ida Melrose Shoufler, the young trombone whiz and friend Joe McDonough, and Nancy Hancock Griffith, who made so much beauty possible.

May your happiness increase!