I’ve always felt Don Redman’s plaintive love song deeply — posed as a question, explaining devotion to someone who needs an explanation, which makes it more poignant (“Don’t you understand why I do these things for you, my dear?”) — GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU?
Hot Lips Page, Jimmy Rushing, Billie Holiday, and Nat Cole sang it . . . but even if you know only the title, you get the feeling. And the EarRegulars specialize in feeling.
Here they are, laying it on us, outside the Ear Inn, on May 2, 2021:
Delightfully, this is not meant to be a single remarkable occasion, like the appearance of Halley’s Comet in the night sky. No, the EarRegulars have plans — pray for no rain! — for Sunday, May 9, 2021, with Kellso, Munisteri, O’Leary, and John Allred, trombone. What’s that? “It’s Mother’s Day, Michael!” “Doesn’t Mom deserve the best?“
Did you miss the joys of May 2 that I’ve posted so far? Get comfortable and let yourself be pleasedhere. And if you understand the significance of this event and the promise of Sundays to come, you will notice more people grinning as you get closer to Spring Street.
Yes, the stories you’ve heard are true. “It happened. I felt it happen.” Last Sunday, from 1-3:30, the EarRegulars (Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone, tenor saxophone, Eb tuba; Pat O’Leary, string bass) brought color to the cheeks of a moribund city — resuscitation or resurrection, you choose — and it was wonderful. Skeptical? See and hear more here.
And they will be doing it again on Sunday, May 9, same time, same place, only with John Allred in for Scott.
Here’s a wondrous journey to the Exotic East — HINDUSTAN, with key changes from C to Eb on every chorus. Romping is what I call it:
This Sunday, from 1 to 3:30, at 326 Spring Street. No dress code, but expect to help the Ear by purchasing something to eat. Bring cash for the musicians, please. Good tipping is good karma. And decorous behavior: no capers in the street with your beer sloshing. But otherwise . . . bring open hearts and ears.
I’m not being facetious at all. Last Sunday, May 2, a kind of spiritual rebirth took place outside 326 Spring Street from 1 to 3:30, when that blessed little band of swing creators, the EarRegulars, played two uplifting sets to a happy audience. They were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, C-melody and tenor saxophone, Eb tuba; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
They will return on Sunday, May 9. Details below.
Here are a few of the savory performances I captured — in a small puddle (at least metaphorically) of bliss.
Because family relations between children and parents can be fraught, how about I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY?:
On a similar thread of contrition, DON’T BLAME ME:
After the music has ended, you and the family can do the right thing and take Mom to Chinatown for really good food — no fruit cup or green salad with walnuts and dried cranberries, but all sorts of delicacies. Hester Street, Mott Street, and more. Here’s the music to inspire you all:
Probably everyone sentient in the audience knew and loved Eddy Davis, and I know the band certainly did. So Scott launched them in to one of Eddy’s surprise-false-second endings, a kind of Hallelujah! Appropriate to spiritual gatherings:
So, Sunday, May 9. Mother’s Day. Celebrate it with these four mothers of inventiveness: Jon-Erik Kellso, John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary.
Choose wisely. Tell Mom a remarkable treat awaits. You won’t be telling a lie.
However (and this is serious) please tell her that outdoor gatherings have their own set of rules: patrons need to be aware of the laws as far as spilling over beyond the Ear property, and standing around drinking outside, not bringing their own chairs and beverages, etc., or blocking the sidewalk or street. If Mom stands in the middle of the street with her open IPA or blocks traffic, these gatherings will not continue. But she’s reasonable, I know.
Mark it down. Marty Grosz and friends will be playing an outdoor gig on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, at a lovely arboretum. Tickets are $25; the venue is small (around 70 seats) and seats are going quickly. Socially distanced and all those necessary details as well. The friends are Danny Tobias, trumpet, Eb alto horn and other brasses; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, tuba, string bass; Jack Saint Clair, tenor saxophone and clarinet. This will be Marty’s first gig since the famous ninetieth-birthday parties of March 2020. All this thanks to Barry Wahrhaftig, guitarist, musical sparkplug, and leader of the Hot Club of Philadelphia.
I don’t want to be more tactless than usual, but a Marty Grosz gig is a living reason to Carpe the __________ Diem.
Here‘s where you can get details and order tickets.
And here’s a characteristic Marty-and-friends performance from his ninetieth birthday party at the World Cafe, March 4, 2020. He picks up “the riverboat violin” for the venerable WABASH BLUES — alongside Vince Giordano, tuba; Jack Saint Clair, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; Randy Reinhart, trombone; Jim Lawlor, drums; Danny Tobias, trumpet. The impatient among you should be warned that Marty, as he is wont to do, tells a tale before the music starts at 7:50. Myself, I think Marty-narratives are valuable (have you read his autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE: MY LIFE IN JAZZ, published by Golden Valley Press?) and the music that follows is of course also.
Today the image is different, surprising, but I think appropriate:
That’s Janus, the Roman god of doorways and thresholds — the icon with two faces, one contemplating the past, one looking into the future.
Why has JAZZ LIVES descended into mythology? This post looks both ways as well. For nearly a year, I’ve been reminding viewers / listeners of the heroically uplifting music made at The Ear Inn by the EarRegulars — to keep our sprits up in the darkness of inertia and isolation. Today, May 2, 2021, perhaps while some of you are reading this, I hope to be at 326 Spring Street — live and in person, surrounded by other mortals — enjoying the playing of the EarRegulars for the first of a series of Sunday-afternoon outdoor concerts (1-3:30 PM). They will be Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Scott Robinson, and Pat O’Leary.)
So that is the three-dimensional non-virtual future, soon to be the present, yet I couldn’t leave you in silence and darkness: although this post is short (I have to run), it still celebrates what has been created.
From January 23, 2011, the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Tad Shull, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass:
May 2, 2021, will bring its own joys and surprises. I am certain of this.
Postscript: IT HAPPENED. And it was wonderful. Those four heroes swung, soared, played, traded phrases in the most delightful way, and those who know the EarRegulars and the Ear Inn had tears in their eyes. Of relief, of joy, of a return to blissful possibilities. The Fellas (as Nan Irwin calls them) played two sets of long leisurely performances, eleven of them. Who knows? You might be able to see some of what happened. And perhaps . . . .
You never know what you find when you look. And I hope it’s not a stray piece of carrot on the floor or checks that you should have cashed more than 180 days ago and are now invalid. Sometimes the results of the most aimless search are uplifting.
I went prowling through the archives of videos I’ve shot and not shared (many for reasons that have nothing to do with musical performance) and found this incendiary bit of music. It comes from the first set at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, held at the Village Hotel in Newcastle, UK. (It’s now Mike Durham’s International Classic Jazz Party and the pleasing news is that it is scheduled for November 5-7, 2021: see the site for details.)
The premise of the set was a tribute to the much-missed Mike, trumpeter, singer, and man with plans — a really admirable man with more than one vision — who had not only thought of this jazz party but had made it work, year after year. You can hear from Spats Langham’s address to the audience how much Mike was missed and is admired.
Another reason to share this with you is because Keith Nichols, at the piano, is no longer with us, and although he is not miked as well as he might have been, his ebullient presence is all there. Here’s the band: Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; Alistair Allan, trombone; Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Keith, piano and vocal; Spats, banjo; Phil Rutherford, sousaphone; Richard Pite, drums, storming through a brief but heated tribute to Louis and Bechet as well as Mike, CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME:
2016 was the last year I was able to attend the Party, which happily and resiliently continued on until the pandemic. I hope, and I know I am not alone, that it goes on heatedly in November, with everyone safe and well.
And — just to keep you all comfortably warm, here are two other numbers I did post from that set of hot music:
Our text for today is either SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI or THE SONG IS ENDED (BUT THE MELODY LINGERS ON) — why not both at once?
Live music of the highest order — thanks to trumpeter, bandleader, jazz scholar Yves Francois of Chicago — from January 19, 1948, Phil’s Restaurant and Grill in Waterbury, Connecticut . . . that had a house jazz band and a radio wire.
The splendors of the past!
The house band was Tom O’Brien’s Ragtime Band, and on this broadcast their guest was Hot Lips Page, who talked and played SUNDAY, BLUES, and ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET. O’Brien’s musicians were Chick Chachetti, trombone; Bill Lucard, clarinet; Eddie Boyd, piano; Nick Montello, banjo; Tommy O’Brien, drums:
Sic transit gloria mundi.
Phil’s Restaurant became Phil’s Steak and Lobster, then a used car lot, then . . . .?
And, as Lips tells us, a porkchop is a gold brick now. But his sound and warmth live on.
If you missed yesterday’s explosion of joy from Mr. Page, don’t be the last one on your block to have your mood enhanced without pharmaceuticals here. The password is BLOWINGLY.
At JAZZ LIVES, we don’t much care what cola — if any — that you drink. But we do care about our affection and worship of Oran Thaddeus Page, of Corsicana, Texas, who lit up so many rooms and stages in his short life.
And we care about generous friends, such as trumpeter / bandleader / kind imaginative fellow Yves Francois — who dug down into his collection to share a treasure with us, something I’d not heard before. . . . a 1948 recording from a television program — Lips backed by a band fully in synch with him, although they are unidentified (I believe the pianist is Ralph Sutton), performing a novelty he’d recorded with Artie Shaw some seven years earlier. I like that TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF, BABY, is a fantasy of Lips and the sympathetic young lady running off to a kind of Big Rock Candy Mountain world. I also like that a prerequisite is that she be barefoot, although I hope the terrain is welcoming. Pay close attention to Lips’ heroic momentum as he moves into his second chorus: “Atlas,” as Marc Caparone calls him. Here’s the neatly-done label (bless you, unknown archivist!) and below is the music.
Lips shows us the way to Paradise:
“Blowingly”? Lips sometimes signed autographs with his own coinage — a witty variation on “Sincerely,” just right.
Your love belongs to me. Or, I hope, to the music.
Even if Valentino is no longer with us, this 1920 song has a sweet energized durability — as shown here at the Grande Parade du Jazz, by four wonderfully distinctive clarinetists. I’ve retained Kenny Davern’s exasperated address to the audience because it’s as good as a four-bar break. Here are Barney Bigard, Kenny Davern, Bob Wilber, and Eddie Daniels (the idiosyncratic explorer), supported by Dick Hyman, piano; Jack Sewing, string bass; J.C. Heard, drums:
Please feel free to supply the appropriate lyrics: teach the children.
Listen up, as someone used to say. And I’m not reminding you to watch the Oscars. On Sunday, May 2, Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be performing outside the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York City, from 1-3:30.
That will soon be NOW. Until that moment, here’s some beauty from THEN — January 16, 2011, created by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Mark Lopeman, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass.
‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:
BALLIN’ THE JACK:
with Chris Flory sitting in for Matt, Miner, HAPPY FEET:
The pot is a-bubble, slowly. Maybe there will be EarRegularity in our collective futures: what a dream come true!
Many compact discs are like visits to a new restaurant with a tasting menu. The listener has course after course brought to them, and with luck, every dish is not only delightful in itself but part of a larger experience. And one makes a mental note to go back and bring friends. Sometimes, of course, one beckons to the waitperson and says, “Please, can we skip ahead? I’m not happy with this. If you’d just bring me the flourless chocolate cake and the check, that would be great.” And the CD goes into that purgatory between give-to-a-friend-or-the-thrift-store-or keep-for-the-moment-but-not-forever.
The new CD, COUNTERMELODY (Dot Time Records), by Evan Arntzen and esteemed friends, isn’t a meal: it’s a brightly-colored, many-sided journey. Details here and here if the names above have already convinced you.
Before you read a word more, two samples which will reveal much and reward more:
SOLITARITY, by Evan:
and MUSKRAT RAMBLE, sung by Catherine Russell:
Although the terms “old” and “new” are dangerously weighted and too binary, COUNTERMELODY is a shining showcase for “old” music (nearly a hundred years old) played as “new,” and “new” music that passionately embraces “old” traditions. SOLITARITY is delightfully weird — that’s a compliment — but it also sounds so much like a New Orleans funeral, mournful and exultant at once. And to borrow from Billy Wilder, each of the musicians here has a face, a vivid, glowing singularity — a set of big voices, and I don’t simply mean Catherine Russell’s combination of trumpet and cello and full orchestra. Speaking of singers, Evan’s vocal rendition of GEORGIA CABIN is perfectly dreamy. I don’t want him to put down his horns, but he could do a lovely vocal album.
But back to the journey I was describing. The CD begins with a half-dozen “traditional” songs — MUSKRAT RAMBLE, 18th STREET STRUT, CAMP MEETING BLUES, GEORGIA CABIN, PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES, and WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO. Connoisseurs will check off the homages to Ory, Moten, Oliver, Bechet, Louis, and Dodds. But these are not formulaic choices. They come from a deep immersion in the repertoire and a desire to do the music homage in its full glory, not in the eleven tunes that everyone plays. The performances are totally energized but also respectful of the original outlines of the songs and of performance practice. The ensembles are strong (having two trumpets who can kitten-tussle in mid-air is a great thing) and the solos fierce or fiercely tender.
Then, SMILES, usually played and sung with a certain amount of sentimentality, whether it’s by Charles La Vere or Chick Bullock: the musical equivalent of a 1925 Valentine’s postcard, cherubs and hearts crowding in. But not here:
That’s two minutes and thirty-four seconds of exuberance. My initial reaction was “WHAT?!” But I was properly smiling as Evan and Charlie chased each other around the backyard, twin five-year olds who have eaten too much Halloween candy. Honoring the innovators implies a certain amount of possibly-disrespectful but loving innovation: the result is immensely restorative. While my nerve endings were still tingling, I had the rare pleasure of hearing Catherine Russell sing IF YOU WERE MINE as no one, including Billie, ever sang it, complete with the verse, which I’d never heard. A properly churchy DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE follows, then originals by Halloran, Kellso, Benny Green, and Evan . . . and the disc concludes with two brief cylinder recordings of AFTER YOU’VE GONE and MUSKRAT RAMBLE, created by the band and the master of hot archaisms, Colin Hancock.
After that, I wanted a glass of ice water, and, after a pause, to play COUNTERMELODY again, and tell my friends, as I am doing here.
So don’t be the last one on your block to walk around humming and grinning because of COUNTERMELODY. You can receive it in its lovely package (fine notes by producer Scout Opatut) or digitally, here or here.
Postscript: someone said of me, with an edge, “Michael only writes good reviews,” to which I responded, when I heard, “I only review good music.” COUNTERMELODY is over the moon and beyond the beyonds in that way.
Edward Meyer has written the definitive biography of Dick Wellstood, GIANT STRIDES: THELEGACY OF DICK WELLSTOOD (1999), and an even more extensive book on Kenny, JUST FOUR BARS: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF KENNY DAVERN (2010), both published by Scarecrow Press.
When it came to his friends, Kenny Davern was a generous man who loved to share the things that gave him pleasure. One Sunday afternoon, I had driven down to Manasquan to talk with Kenny about the Wellstood book. Elsa was away and he wasn’t working that evening, so he wasn’t pressed for time. After we finished talking about Dick, we went out for pizza, after which we went back to his house.
He was in a talkative mood that night and we schmoozed about a number of things and people – not many of whom were connected with jazz. Several hours passed. I had to get up and go to work the next day and was facing a 60+ mile drive back to my apartment in Manhattan in Sunday night traffic. But, just when I was ready to leave. the conversation turned to Wilhelm Furtwängler, the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Kenny passionately believed that Furtwangler had never gotten the recognition due him and that he was far better at getting the best out of the musicians in his orchestra than Arturo Toscanini. who led the NBC Symphony. I had no views on the subject – mainly because I knew little about classical music and even less about the skills of either man – but that only spurred Kenny into his role as teacher.
He left the room and came back with two recordings of the same piece – one by Furtwangler and the other by Toscanini. “Listen to this,” he said, and played about five minutes of the Furtwangler recording. “Do you hear how Furtwangler brings out the individual sound of each horn? Now listen to this.” And he played about five minutes of the Toscanini recording. “Do you hear the difference?” Fool that I was, I said that I couldn’t really tell.
That was clearly the wrong answer because we went through the exercise again. By this time, it was about 10:00 p.m., and although I was no better informed at the end of the second round of recordings than I had been before, when Kenny asked if I could tell the difference, I nodded my head vigorously. And, before the demonstration could progress any further, I stood up and said that it was time for me to go home. And I left.
I saw him about a week later and as soon as he had a free moment he came over and gave me a short handwritten list on which he had jotted down the titles and numbers of a few Furtwangler CDs. He thought that I might like them.
Years later, I learned that my experience was not unique. If one of his friends liked something that Kenny had, Kenny would make, or buy, a copy of for him, or lend it to him, or tell him where and how to get one for himself. This didn’t jibe with Kenny’s public image: but then, very little did.
The musical portion of this remembrance was created at the Grande Parade du Jazz, June 10, 1978, in a program called “JAZZ CLASSIQUE,” featuring Wallace Davenport, trumpet; Freddy Lonzo, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Olivia Cook, piano; Frank Fields, string bass; Freddie Kohlman, drums — with Kenny joining them for the last two songs, BLUES and CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN.
I asked Orange if I could post this video and he graciously wrote, The memories came flooding back. I played a lot with Wallace’s bands in those years and we were on the George Wein festival circuit frequently. We got to play with all sorts of guest stars and Kenny was one of those. This was our first time meeting. I don’t think he knew of me, but I was very well aware of him and very impressed by his playing. I was nobody and apprehensive, to say the least, to play with the clarinet star. Kenny sounded fantastic.
He always did. Kenny performed and recorded for more than fifty years. It doesn’t seem enough. We miss him.
Before darkness fell, there was light. And although the stage lighting was sometimes an unusual deep red, one of the places where it shone brightly was the basement of 15 Barrow Street in New York City, Cafe Bohemia.
Here’s a glowing example: radiance created with unaffected skill by Tal Ronen, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. Heroes of mine.
But first . . . their choice of material is not the usual, but A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN — one of those popular songs given new life by improvisers. On YouTube, you can find Ted Lewis’ 1932 let-no-heartstring-be-untugged version, the 1940 Johnny Long hit (where the band sings vaguely-hip glee club lyrics) and there’s also a Soundie. But many deep listeners will know it from recordings by Edmond Hall and Coleman Hawkins, then Red Allen and George Lewis and on and on. The harmonies are not the usual, with many traps for the unwary.
The lyrics, not heard here, are a Depression-era fiction (1932) where the speaker rhapsodizes about his decrepit home in the poorest section of town, but inside there’s a “queen / with a silvery crown,” whom I take to be Ma. Another version of “We’re incredibly poor but we’re happy,” which I suspect kept Americans from rioting. Cultural historians are invited to do their best.
I thought “shanty” came from Gaelic, but it’s French Canadian. The shanty on the cover of the sheet music is really rather attractive, with electric wires visible. Even though there’s erosion, it would be listed high on Zillow.
Here’s the luminous performance by these four, shining their particular light:
I am very sentimental about performances like these: without fuss or fanfare, musicians taking little stages in New York City to illuminate the darkness and uplift us. We didn’t know (or at least I didn’t) that it was all going to stop in March. But I see glimmerings and rumblings of new life. For one thing, directly related to the joys above, Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30. I expect that our friend Phillip (“the Bucket”) will also be in attendance.
To keep your spirits high, here is a recording that I think few know — a soaring, Louis-inspired version of SHANTY, from 1938, by Willie Lewis and his Entertainers, recorded in Holland, featuring Herman Chittison, piano; Frank “Big Boy” Goudie, clarinet; Bill Coleman, vocal and trumpet — giving that tumble-down shack wings:
Those New York days and nights will come again and are starting to happen . . . .
Leopold Stokowski said, “There is no exhausted repertoire. There are only exhausted musicians.”
It applies to the session you are about to indulge in, from the Manassas Jazz Festival, featuring Billy Butterfield and Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Larry Eanet, piano; Spencer Clark, bass saxophone; Butch Hall, guitar; Paul Langosch, string bass; Barrett Deems, drums. The songs are familiar: INDIANA / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / JADA / an excerpt from I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SALT PEANUTS jocularly leading into I FOUND A NEW BABY: twenty-six minutes of expert joy-making. None of the players would have said, “For goodness’ sake, I’ve played INDIANA too many times. Could we take out charts for an obscure Cole Porter tune, instead?” No, they enjoyed the freedom of familiar repertoire, which was in itself comforting and giving them freedom to take chances . . . while pleasing an audience that was both comforted and excited by the familiar. So everyone was happy, and I hope that happiness of forty years ago is vividly transferred to you all in 2021:
Of the brilliant incendiaries above, Billy Pee Wee, Larry, Spencer, Butch, and Barrett have moved to other neighborhoods. I am happy to report that bassist Paul Langosch (who’s also played with Tony Bennett) is very much alive and well, and giving a presentation on April 28: details here.
The fellow I do want to commemorate is trumpeter / archivist / all-around gentleman Joe Shepherd, who left us this month. I don’t know details, except that Joe was over ninety, and more generous than I could imagine. I encountered him some years ago because of the one-song magical videos he had offered on his YouTube channel, “Sflair,” videos that featured Vic Dickenson, Don Ewell, and others. I wrote to him and he made me parcel after parcel of DVD transfers, most of which you have seen on JAZZ LIVES. And until very recently, he was practicing the horn at home. A true hero, and not just because of the parcels: when I asked him what I could do in return, his answer was always that he was so happy people were enjoying the music. A resonant gentle kindness I won’t forget, nor will anyone who knew him.
Speaking of “something to look forward to,” did you know that Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside The Ear Inn on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30? Of course you knew.
It’s premature to play this, but I don’t care. And any excuse to feature Bobby Hackett, Ernie Caceres, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, and Sidney Catlett has to be seized:
And here are some “old times” that are forever new, from January 16, 2011. provided generously by Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Mark Lopeman, Neal Miner, and friends Pete Martinez, Chris Flory, Tamar Korn, and Jerron Paxton.
Chris sits in for Matt on that most durable of philosophical statements, I WANT TO BE HAPPY:
Tamar sings of love — surrender and power — in BODY AND SOUL:
Jerron Paxton tells us what will happen SOME OF THESE DAYS:
Tamar sings a faster-than-usual WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:
Brace yourself, dear people. I have some more lovely music to share with you: expert, swinging, full of feeling.
The wonderfully inventive Leigh Barker has created two discs — available here — joyous documents of his journey, with friends, from Melbourne to Paris. You might know Leigh from his all-too-brief visits to the US as part of the Hot Jazz Alliance and with Josh Duffee’s Goldkette-Orchestra trip to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, but he is known and admired worldwide for his elegant, gutty string bass playing and imaginative bands.
That effervescent music says “Take me along: we’re going to go unfamiliar places full of familiar joys and comforts.”
Details, you say?
For MELBOURNE, the inspired perpetrators:
Leigh Barker – Double Bass Heather Stewart – Violin and voice Donald Stewart – Trombone Ben Harrison – Trumpet / Cornet Jason Downes – Clarinet and Alto Saxophone John Scurry – Guitar and Banjo Matt Boden – Piano Sam Young – Drums SPECIAL GUEST: Brennan Hamilton-Smith on clarinet track 4 and 9
performing: LONELY ONE IN THIS TOWN / WOLVERINE BLUES / GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON / SAY IT ISN’T SO / THE PEARLS / THE STEVEDORE STOMP / PLAY THE BLUES AND GO / WHAT’S THE USE OF LIVING WITHOUT LOVE? / CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN.
for PARIS, les amis:
Leigh Barker – Contrebasse Heather Stewart – Chant et Violon Bastien Brison – Piano David Grebil – Batterie Romain Vuillemin – Guitare et Banjo Bastien Weeger – Clarinette et Saxophone Alto Noe Codjia – Trompette Gilles Repond-Quint – Trombone
performing YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR / HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM / VARIATIONS ON A NORK / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / THE SONG IS ENDED / INDIAN SUMMER.
and some words from Leigh:
IT”S HIGHLY recommended to listen to this album with the tracks in order! It segues like a real set in a club.
These two albums come at the end of a very long period of gestation, starting in May 2018 in Melbourne Australia, and finishing at the very end of 2020, which as every single person on the planet earth knows has been marked by a historic pandemic. I was already procrastinating about releasing the ‘Melbourne’ session, and had been putting very little effort in to booking shows under my own name in Europe (Thanks to Gordon Webster, Duved Dunayevsky, Tatiana Eva Marie and everyone else for keeping me on the road…) However, a 4 week tour of Australia was booked for November and December 2020 (hah!) and I knew this was the moment to release a new album and CD, to take on the road with the ‘Australian Band’. As I sit here writing these notes on Sunday December 27th 2020, it is still more or less impossible to enter Australia from Europe, even if all the events and venues were able to put on our shows as envisaged (which they’re not!…)
The Paris session was miraculously put together in November 2019 between touring dates, we got together all in one room together for 2 days, around one single microphone – the french-made Melodium 42B. This was not for any particular reasons of purity or authenticity, just because Simon Oriot convinced me to give it a shot, and ‘that way there is no mixing to do’ as he put it…
The Melbourne session on the other hand was edited and mixed all over the planet. I remember selecting takes, editing, making several attempts at mixing and gradually pulling together the shape of the album in places such as Saint Cyr-la-Rosiere and Champagne-sur-Seine in France, Hildesheim in Germany, the suburbs of Paris, on tour in Stockholm, Budapest, London and Cambridge – and during two separate visits to Australia in 2019 and 2020, in a supermarket parking lot in Moruya, NSW or in the car on the Clyde Mountain between Mossy Point (…if you know, you know…) and the capital Canberra where Hi Hat Studios is located. I also remember making several attempts with several engineers, sometimes remotely, sometimes in person, with an infected cancerous leg wound, on holiday, in airports…. and of course in the end drawn out over several months in total isolation due to a global pandemic….
This year has asked too many questions of musicians, from the very practical to the most existential. In the end we are all driven by the compulsion to CREATE, something, anything, and it’s almost always better when you can share it with other people….
Maybe after all that, more words from me will be superfluous. But you’ll notice the “traditional” repertoire — which will reassure some (perhaps alienate others?) but it is not treated with finicky reverence. Oh, Leigh and Heather and the band do the damnedest encapsulation of Louis and the 1935 Luis Russell band on LUCKY STAR — but their approach is not that of severely protective rare-book curators, insisting that anything short of monastic worship is sacrilege. There’s a good deal of stretching within the revered outlines, a good deal of affectionate disrespect that turns out to be the highest adoration, because they remember that the innovators we prize so highly were themselves in favor of innovation. And these musicians practice what they preach, so their music is honest always, raw when it feels like it, dainty otherwise, and breathing all the time.
These recordings are magnificent. And unruly. And alive.
Too good to ignore: Steve Pikal, string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone, clarinet; Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet. THREE LITTLE WORDS, key-changing from C to Ab:
That swinging love song from 1930 is much loved by jazz musicians — perhaps beginning with the Ellington version. It’s also the setup for a famous Turk Murphy joke, and Pee Wee Russell used to call it THREE LITTLE BIRDS. Here it’s a playground for this swinging band to enjoy themselves and bring joy to us.
I believe I was in the second row for this, the first concert of the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival in New York (its fourth in this city and its twenty-second, for those keeping track) and I had my cassette recorder and better-quality microphone, the wire concealed in my blazer sleeve. Not everything I recorded was priceless and not all of it has survived, but the rescued music has its own happy power. The concert was a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, featuring Marian McPartland, Johnny Mince, Warren Vache, John Glasel, and Bix’s replacement in the Wolverines, Jimmy McPartland, as well as veterans of the Jean Goldkette orchestra Spiegle Willcox, Bill Rank, and Chauncey Morehouse.
But the explosive high point of the evening for me was a right-here-right-now version of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four, featuring Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar, and the surviving member of that ad hoc group, the durable Vince Giordano, bass saxophone. Here’s how they sounded on CHINA BOY and no doubt an unscheduled encore, C JAM BLUES, with Venuti doing his unique “four-string Joe” party piece. Dan Morgenstern tells me that he isn’t doing the introduction, so the cheerful announcer is mysterious to me, although it might well be Dick Sudhalter. The photograph below comes from the Chiaroscuro Records compilation, JOE AND ZOOT AND MORE, also glorious:
The Sacramento Music Festival, which we miss, was like a sandwich with the cole slaw coming out of the bread on all sides — tasty but messy, a danger to one’s outfit. Bands of all kinds jostled for audibility both in the open air and in unsuitable venues; the whole weekend had the air of a genial traveling carnival slightly awry.
But wonderful music happened in spite of the distractions. Here are two performances, hidden in the JAZZ LIVES archives for moments just such as this, by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, mining deep Chicago gold. They are Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal, Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar. Special effects provided by the winds of fate. (The Cubs should have played BREEZE, but that’s my comic sense, which can be disregarded without harm or wound.)
BULL FROG BLUES:
and that tale of The Ruined Maid, with her new hat and her dubious associations, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW. And NOW as pronounced by Mr. Cusack is a marvel: young actors at the Old Vic study it but is remains elusive:
These performances are nearly seven years “old” but, as Ray says, “We play in the present tense.”
Then the opening salvo from an extraordinary jam session, with Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; John Allred, Emily Asher, Todd Londagin, trombone; Pete Martinez, Dan Block, clarinet; Lisa Parrott, alto sax; Matt Munisteri, Howard Alden, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Chuck Redd, wire brushes. And can you find all the hilarious quotes from holiday / Christmas songs?
We live in hope. These heroes will play for us again, and we will cheer them on and thank them for their gifts.
Scott Robinson wrote this elegy for Eddy Davis on April 8, 2020, and I couldn’t improve on it.
I’ve just lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in music. Eddy Davis was a highly significant and influential presence in my life. He was a fiercely individualistic performer… a veteran of the old Chicago days when music was hot, joyful, exuberant and unselfconscious. A character and a curmudgeon, who could hold court for hours after the gig. And a loving mentor who helped younger musicians like myself learn and grow in this music. I had only played with Eddy a handful of times when he called me in late 1998 to say that he was forming a new band to fill a weekly Wednesday spot at the Cajun on 8th Avenue. He wanted me to play lead on C melody saxophone, in a little group with two reeds, and no drums. This by itself gives a clue to what an original thinker he was.
I already knew that Eddy was a proficient and highly individualistic stylist on the banjo, who sounded like no one else. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that this man was also a walking repository of many hundreds if not thousands of tunes of every description, ranging far beyond the standard repertoire… with a fascinating background story at the ready for nearly every one. I quickly learned that he was also a prolific and idiosyncratic composer himself, with a wonderfully philosophical work ethic: write original music every day, keep what works, and throw the rest away without a backward glance.
Eddy was also what used to be called a “character”: affable, opinionated, hilarious, and irascible all in one, and above all highly passionate about music. What I learned over the ensuing 7 ½ years in Eddy’s little band, I cannot begin to describe. I came to refer to those regular Wed. sessions as my “doctor’s appointment” — for they fixed whatever ailed me, and provided the perfect antidote to the ills of the world, and of the music scene. Over the years we were graced with the presence of some very distinguished musicians who came by and sat in with us, including Harry Allen, Joe Muranyi, Bob Barnard, Howard Johnson, and Barry Harris.
Eddy was generous with his strong opinions, with his knowledge and experience, and with his encouragement. But he was a generous soul in other ways as well. When he heard that I was building a studio (my “Laboratory”), he had me come by the apartment and started giving me things out of his closets. A Roland 24-track recorder… three vintage microphones… instruments… things that I treasure, and use every single day of my life. When my father turned 75, Eddy came out to the Lab in New Jersey and played for him, and wouldn’t take a dime for it. When I got the call last night that Eddy had passed — another victim of this horrible virus that is ruining so many lives, and our musical life as well — I hung up the phone and just cried. Later I went out to my Laboratory, and kissed every single thing there that he had given to me. How cruel to lose such an irreplaceable person… killed by an enemy, as my brother commented, that is neither visible nor sentient.
One night at the Cajun stands out in my memory, and seems particularly relevant today. It was the night after the last disaster that changed New York forever: the World Trade Center attack. There was a pall over the city, the air was full of dust, and there was a frightful, lingering smell. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “This is crazy.” But somehow we all made our way to the nearly empty club. We were in a state of shock; nobody knew what to say. I wondered if we would even be able to play. We took the stage, looked at each other, and counted off a tune. The instant the first note sounded, I was overcome with emotion and my face was full of tears.
Suddenly I understood exactly why we were there, why it was so important that we play this music. We played our hearts out that night — for ourselves, for our city, and for a single table of bewildered tourists, stranded in town by these incomprehensible events. They were so grateful for the music, so comforted by it.
The simple comfort of live music has been taken from us now. We must bear this loss, and those that will surely follow, alone… shut away in our homes. I know that when the awful burden of this terrible time has finally been lifted, when we can share music, life, and love again, it will feel like that night at the Cajun. My eyes will fill, my heart will sing, and the joy that Eddy Davis gave me will be with me every time I lift the horn to my face, for as long as I live.
It should be clear that the passionate honesty Scott offers us when he plays also comes through his words.
Here is an audio document of one of those Wednesday nights, March 29, 2006, recorded at The Cajun. Eddy Davis, banjo, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano, vocal; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Debbie Kennedy, string bass; Fernando Kfouri, trombone (on TAILGATE RAMBLE). I wish I had been less intimidated (underneath his Midwestern affability, I sensed there was a core of steel in Eddy and I initially kept my distance, although I did develop a friendly relationship and did create videos) and brought my video camera, but I’ve left everything that was recorded that night in — including Conal going in search of his car, which had been towed, between-songs chatter, and more, for those not fortunate to be there fifteen years ago or other times.
This new CD is completely heartening music. Here’s the cover . . .
but before you have one more word launched in your direction, hear some sounds. Excerpts only, but how tasty!
WEST END BLUES:
BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:
The songs are TIGHT LIKE THIS, HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, WEATHER BIRD RAG, HOTTER THAN THAT, I DOUBLE DARE YOU, MEMORIES OF YOU, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, CORNET CHOP SUEY, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, WEST END BLUES, YES! I’M IN THE BARREL, NEW ORLEANS STOMP, and the noble members of The Ensemble are Jérome Etcheberry leader, trumpet, arrangements; Malo Mazurié, trumpet; César Poirier, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Benjamin Dousteyssier, alto and baritone saxophone; Ludovic Allainmat, piano; Félix Hunot, guitar; Sébastien Girardot, string bass; David Grebil, drums.
Some months back, Jerome, whose previous work I’ve found thrilling, asked me if I would write something for his new enterprise. It took me very little time to fall in love with this music, that seems adoring and irreverent (in the best ways) at once.
When I began to listen to this CD I hadn’t had breakfast, so after a track or two I thought, “This is filet of Louis wrapped in a spicy pastry crust, both rare and well-done.” What does my culinary metaphor ending in a cliché mean? As far back as the late Twenties, recordings show that musicians were so awe-struck by Louis – who came from a much more advanced solar system – that they imitated, or attempted to imitate, his singing and playing. Rex Stewart bought shoes like Louis’. And it went beyond individual attempts. Hear BEAU KOO JACK (1929) by the Earl Hines band – his solos scored for the trumpet section. Fast forward to Carnegie Hall, November 8, 1974: a tribute to Louis by the New York Jazz Repertory Company, with Mel Davis, Pee Wee Erwin, and Joe Newman (the sacred texts transcribed scored by Dick Hyman, of course) playing Louis in unison on CAKE WALKING BABIES, POTATO HEAD BLUES, WILLIE THE WEEPER, and WEATHER BIRD. I was there; it was electrifying. Not just as a “Wow, they can do that, and do it well!” in the way you’d applaud Olympic gymnasts, but the multiple voices gave heft and depth to music I’d known by heart for years.
I felt the same exultant chills down my spine listening to this disc. First, Jerome’s playing is glowing, passionate, and exact, both his solos and “section work.” He sounds like Louis in four dimensions, thick and broad and monumental. I also cherish the absence of caricature: no vocals, no “Oh, yeah!” which shows a deep understanding of the man: Louis joked and mugged onstage but was dead serious when he picked up the horn.
And so is Jerome. I can’t overpraise the rest of the band, either. Some bandleaders insist that modern musicians read parts – perhaps a transcribed Jimmy Strong solo – and that’s fine. But it is thrilling to hear these inventive players speak their own swinging truths so joyously, and when “Louis” comes back – in the person of Jerome – there’s no abrupt shift from one world to another. Each performance is a fully-formed entrée (to return to food) with its own savory touches, imaginative, playful, and memorable – so the disc never feels like more of the same. And there’s no conscious archaism either – the result is timeless Mainstream, swinging and vivid. I know Louis would like it. And since I think the dead do not go away, I’ll bet my 78s that Louis likes this now.
I love this disc not only musically, but as a delightful vision of what it might be like to live in a Satchmocracy: where our local deity is a bringer of joy who also takes Swiss Kriss and buys the neighborhood kids ice-cream, where each of us is encouraged to follow in Louis’ path, admiring him but being ourselves in every gesture and embrace. A blissful republic indeed.
Thank you, exalted denizens of that world who make such radiant sounds.
. . . . and for those of you who might say, “I don’t need this new CD — I know all these records by heart already,” this would be an error, because SATCHMOCRACY is a vivid, brightly-colored creation, a joy on its own terms. I would hug it if I could.