Category Archives: Hotter Than That

DID YOUR RECENT BLOOD TEST SHOW DECREASED GROOVE LEVELS? JAZZ LIVES IS HERE TO HELP (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 12, 2019)

When I feel poorly, the conventional choice is this (with all respect to my internist, not pictured here):

I prefer this medical group, photographed at their 1936 convention:

A similar gathering of holistic groove-healers, inspired by Ammons and Basie, assembled on May 12, 2019, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: doctors Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Little Charlie Baty, guitar; Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Young J.C.” is James Caparone, himself.

With thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen, patron saints of Redwood Coast sounds, where musicians not only know how to spell RHYTHM but make it jump.

May your happiness increase!

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“MUSKRAT RAMBLE”: A NOBLE + WYLIE SHOWCASE (Part Two): EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY at the RUTGERS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: EMILY ASHER, MIKE DAVIS, JAY RATTMAN, DALTON RIDENHOUR, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS, JAY LEPLEY (January 7, 2019)

Emily Asher’s Garden Party, photograph by Renée Toplansky.

Here are more wonderful highlights from my first concert of 2019 (my first post, featuring the New Wonders, can be found here), a showcase for several bands under the brightly colored banner of Noble + Wylie, a musician-run enterprise that fills a real need, representing splendid traditional jazz performers, offering the best services to the artists and their audiences.  The co-founders are musicians Emily Asher and Katie Lee, who know the business from many angles.  You can read more about this promising company at the link above, but a few sentences from Emily give a taste of their forthright approach: “I see Noble + Wylie as an agency which elevates and celebrates excellence. By focusing on honesty and quality over chaos and hype, I look forward to fostering long-term positive relationships with diverse music venues, festivals, schools, and private clients in order to provide distinctive and creative music to audiences world-wide.”

(If you search for Noble & Wylie — connected by an ampersand — you’ll find only UK shoes, no music at all.  Caveat emptor.)

At the January 7 showcase, we (that’s R1 and me) had the opportunity to hear three groups represented by Noble + Wylie: The Ladybugs, the New Wonders, and Emily Asher’s Garden Party — and I brought back some tasty video evidence.  Here is the first set by the Garden Party, a versatile band playing hot and sweet, mixing jazz classics and memorable new compositions. For this occasion, they are Emily Asher, trombone, vocal, compositions; Mike Davis, cornet; Jay Rattman, reeds; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; James Chirillo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums, with incidental singing by members of the band.  My videos came from an odd angle, but I hope all can be forgiven.  This friendly, warm band knows tempos: hear their easy rock!

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP, with a Second Line sashay and a glee club, too:

Hoagy Carmichael’s MEMPHIS IN JUNE, arranged by Rob Adkins, with Jay Rattman bringing Johnny Hodges into church:

Emily’s own AN OPEN INVITATION TO A RAINSTORM, in honor of Beth Campbell:

Her Carmichael-inflected PACIFIC LULLABY, which deserves your close attention until James Chirillo’s closing chime:

And the wry MY LIFE WOULD BE EASY:

I recorded more music from this concert, and it will appear in the near future. Thanks to these unpretentious gifted musicians, and of course to Noble + Wylie.

May your happiness increase!

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT: CAFE BORRONE, MENLO PARK: CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, BILL REINHART, TOM WILSON, CRYSTAL HOLLOWAY (June 7, 2019)

Cafe Borrone from the outside.

In my brief and sometimes intermittent California sojourn (2011-14) in Marin County, one of my pleasures was in going to Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park to hear and video Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars.  It was like a regular transfusion of joy and hope, even though the drive was over two hours from where I was living.  I knew not only that I would hear vital music but that I would meet friends — musicians, fellow listeners and dancers, waitstaff, a combination that means the world to me.  The Cafe was another home.  I was welcome there, and I was able to meet people I admire: Clint Baker, Leon Oakley, Bill Reinhart, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, Tom Wilson, J Hansen, Robert Young, Jason Vandeford, and some whose names I am forgetting, alas.

Today I present a few videos taken on June 7, 2019, by Rae Ann Berry, not because of nostalgia, but because I am captivated by the band’s easy swing.  Borroneans will note that this is a slightly streamlined band, but that’s fine: what you hear is honest unaffected music, no frills, no gimmicks, no group vocals, no tight-and-bright polo shirts.  The generous-spirited creators are Riley Baker, trombone; his father Clint, trombone, trumpet, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Tom Wilson, string bass; Crystal Holloway, washboard.  The whole band is in some mystically satisfying way engaged in heartfelt relaxed conversation, a great thing to behold.  I’ve left several tracks for you to find on Rae Ann’s YouTube channel, the California traditional jazz rabbit-hole to end all such diversions.

About the band here.  Yes, I could quip, “Two Bakers!  No Waiting!” but I need to be more serious than that.  Clint has long been one of my heroes, not only for what he plays, but for his religious devotion to the Music.  He understands its Holiness, as I do, but he can then pick up any of several instruments and make that Holiness manifest for all of us.  He is always striving towards the great goals, with Hot Lips Page as one of our shared patron saints.  I met Riley, his son, at Borrone, when Riley was starting to be the superb musician he is now — first on drums, then tuba.  And Riley has blossomed into a wondrous young man and player: I am especially taken with his nicely greasy trombone playing, which you will hear here.  And the emotional telepathy between father and son is both gratifying on a musical level and touching on a human(e) one.  A third horn in the front line would be an intrusion.  Such lovely on-the-spot counterpoint; such delightful lead-and-second voice playing, which isn’t an easy thing to do.  You might think that a trombone-clarinet front line would be automatically New Orleans old-school, but Clint and Riley understand the sweet play of swinging voices: people whose love comes right out to the back of the room without the need to get louder.

Riley will be playing the role of Edward Ory in Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band at San Diego this Thanksgiving, and I look forward to that: I’ve already videoed him with Dave Stuckey’s Hot House Gang: check those appearances out for yourself.

Jeff Hamilton is such a joy — not only one of the handful of drummers who lifts any band, but also an enlivening pianist who swings without getting in the way, constructs generous accompaniments and memorable melodies.  He has other musical talents that aren’t on display here, but he never lets me down.  Bill Reinhart knows what he’s doing, and that is no idle phrase.  He understands what a rhythm section should do and, more crucially, what it shouldn’t.  And his solos on banjo or guitar make lovely sense.  Tom Wilson’s rich tone, great choice of notes, and innate swing are always cheering.  And Crystal Holloway (new to me) tames that treacherous laundry implement and adds a great deal of sweet subtle rhythm.  Taking nothing away from Clint and Riley, one could listen to any one of these performances a second or third time exclusively for the four rhythm players and go away happier and edified.

I NEVER KNEW, with nods to Benny Carter and Jimmie Noone:

AS LONG AS I LIVE, not too fast:

BLUES FOR DR. JOHN, who recently moved to another neighborhood.  And — just between us — themeless medium-tempo blues are such a pleasure and so rarely essayed:

I always had trouble with math in school, but FOUR OR FIVE TIMES is just what I like:

TRUE, very wistful and sweet:

THE SWEETHEART OF SIGMA CHI, a song I last heard performed by (no fooling) Ben Webster with strings [a 1961 record called THE WARM MOODS].  Sounded good, too:

Asking the musical question WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

IT HAD TO BE YOU.  Yes, it did:

Bless these folks, this place, and bless Rae Ann for being there with her camera and her friend Roz (glimpsed in little bits to the right).

May your happiness increase!

SPLENDID PLAY: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and LEWIS R TAYLOR (May 31, 2019)

I first encountered the marvelous pianist Rossano Sportiello almost fifteen years ago thanks to Dan Barrett: I was an acolyte immediately.  Maestro Sportiello’s delightful lively personality and music came from the same gracious intelligence, emotion, and mastery.

I haven’t seen the Maestro in a few years, but here is evidence that he sustains his splendid art while making it look easy.

We are indebted to Malcolm Frazer for making it possible for Rossano and the marvelous trumpeter Lewis R. Taylor to perform several unrehearsed duets at his home . . . and sharing them with us.  (The link is to Malcolm’s YouTube channel, where he presents one earthly delight after another.)  I had not heard of Lewis before these videos, but he dazzles me with a kind of unpretentious brilliance, perfectly suited to duet playing, which is, after all, the art of in-the-moment listening and responding while the music unrolls without stopping.  (I think of Jake Hanna saying, “Pay attention or you’re dead!” as the only apt commentary on this demanding art.)

Here they are: wondrous play at the highest level: I think of improvisation that is both conversational and intensely demanding, like juggling plates on the wing of a biplane — and for two, not simply solo.

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

MELANCHOLY BABY (with the less-played verse):

What beautiful gifts these two and Malcolm have given us: imperishable lyricism and swing.  If I have to drop names, I can: Fats, Johnny Guarnieri, Dick Hyman, Dave McKenna,Harry Edison, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff . . . but the names I’d like you to go away with are Rossano Sportiello and Lewis Taylor.  Please.

May your happiness increase!

“MAY I SWING YOU A SONG?” DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, WALLY HERSOM, JOSH COLLAZO, DAWN LAMBETH (May 10, 2019)

Dave Stuckey knows how — how to put together a hot congenial swinging band, how to sing in a convincing heartfelt Thirties style that engages an audience, how to find rare material . . . how to put on a show that doesn’t require his dad’s barn (although he will work in barns for the right offer).  He is comic without being jokey, and his friendly approach to the band and to us is heartfelt, not a series of ad-libs.  He’s having fun, and we feel it also.

He showed off all these talents with the Hot House Gang at this year’s Redwood Coast Music Festival — the Gang being Josh Collazo, drums; Wally Hersom, string bass; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Nate Ketner, reeds; Marc Caparone, cornet; Dawn Lambeth, vocal.  Here are seven tunes — count ’em, seven! — from the Gang’s first set.

Here’s melodious Dawn to sing a rare tune I associate with Henry “Red” Allen, which is always an asset, I’LL SING YOU A THOUSAND LOVE SONGS:

In the wrong hands, EXACTLY LIKE YOU can sound overfamiliar and thus dull, but not in these hands — those of Dawn and the Gang, helped immensely by Father Leyland’s righteous groove:

I confess that I’ve heard many versions of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO that made me mutter to myself, “Not much,” but this performance gets at the heart of the ebullience of the Billie Holiday records of the Thirties, thanks to glorious playing by the band as well as Dawn’s choice to sing the song rather than the record.  Those riffs, those riffs!

Hoagy Carmichael’s love song to New Orleans, of the same name, wistfully sung by Dave and eloquently by Marc:

Father Leyland’s rocking bouquet for IDA, which is so much music packed into three minutes:

The new dance they’re doing uptown, TRUCKIN’:

and, to close the set, the joyous affirmation of collective swing, a song that brings together Ivie Anderson and the Marx Brothers as well as the Hot House Gang.  Who would complain?

If  you learn that Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang are coming to your city, toss the dogs some dry food, break into the birthday fund, give up those plans to make the kitchen floor shine, and go.  Joy like this is rare and not to be disregarded.

Thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen of the Redwood Coast Music Festival for their generous embrace of soulful music.  Be there May 7-10, 2020 . . . !

May your happiness increase!

 

THE KING’S SWINGLISH (Part One): CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON at MONTEREY (March 3, 2019)

Those new to jazz performance may find improvisation a wondrous mystery.  “How do they know how to do that without music?” they ask.  It’s a fair question: how do you play soccer without the rulebook in your hand?  Is there some magic volume, known only to the favored few, that those versed in the secret craft have memorized?

The marvel that is improvisation results from practice, study, scholarly labor, trial and error — difficult to explain simply, but an analogy comes to hand.

With a few exceptions, we are born with the power of speech: we can form words and sentences and make ourselves understood,  That, for the jazz musician, would be mastery of her instrument, skill, technical proficiency, the ability to execute ideas in pleasing logical sequence.  Never as easy as it looks.

But there’s more, much more.  How does anyone have something to express, “things to say”?  That mastery, subtler and deeper, comes through communal exercise and learning from those who know the great wisdoms.  In everyday life, you know the basic vocabulary, but what do you say to someone who is mourning a death?  No thesaurus can teach us the right thing to say, the most appropriate thing to utter, but we can learn by saying the wrong thing and then doing better, or by being in the company of people who express themselves beautifully and learning from them.

Since music is a kind of speech, what jazz artists have is a common knowledge and common language — I’ve invented a whimsical term for it above — a series of conventions that have been internalized.  Not only does the experienced musician know the melody of YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, but he knows the verse, the lyrics, the standard key, which tempos lend themselves to which approach; he might know the Whiteman and Bud Freeman recordings.  He might know several sets of harmonies; he might know the common errors he and others make.

With a solid foundation of such experiential knowledge, a musician gains the courage to sing an individual song, listen to, and add to the other songs being created on the bandstand.  The craft is a matter of tens of thousands of hours of practice among friends, colleagues, mentors . . .  listening intently to live performance and to recorded ones.

The results are unmistakable: an ease, an assurance, the kind of skill that lets warm personal improvisations happen, not only in solo, but also in ensemble.

The four musicians who took to the stage without fanfare on March 3, 2019, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, are masters of this conversational and inspiring art.  Three of them — pianist / singer / composer Carl Sonny Leyland, string bassist Marty Eggers, and drummer Jeff Hamilton — have worked together as a trio for years, and they are as close as family.  Or closer.

Jacob Zimmerman, of the Pacific Northwest, who plays clarinet and alto sax, writes and arranges, was new to the group.  But these four players fell into delicious harmony easily, and what music was made!  I’ve left in (more than usual) the little conversations that were prelude to each number, because they illustrate “the King’s Swinglish” well, to my eyes and ears.

They began with a lovely old tune, not played as much as it should be — the WABASH BLUES.  Groovy!

Then, a sentimental song that I think no one else does (I hear Bing’s version in my ears), IF I HAD MY WAY.  I love the performance, and I also urge people to watch Jacob intently learning the song from Sonny’s clear exposition.  And how they swing!

And, for the last Musical Offering (four more will appear in a second post), BOOGIE WOOGIE.  You’ll hear Sonny announce it as SOMETHING KIND OF BOOGIE-WOOGIE-ISH, but that title was too long for YouTube:

You’ve heard articulate people praised with the words, “She always knows the right thing to say.”  These four musicians always know the right thing to play.

May your happiness increase!

UP IN THE CLOUDS (Part Two): THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, GORDON AU, CHARLIE HALLORAN, JAMEY CUMMINS, ALEX BELHAJ, SAM ROCHA, JOSH COLLAZO (May 12, 2019)

Jonathan Doyle, 2015

I think I first took notice of Jonathan Doyle — clarinetist, tenor saxophonist, later bass saxophonist, composer, arranger — when he was a member of the Thrift Set Orchestra some six years ago, then working with Hal Smith, leading his own groups, in combos with Ray Skjelbred, part of the Fat Babies, with Hal’s Swing Central, and more than I am no doubt leaving out.  By the time I met him in person, possibly at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest, I was already dazzled.

What Jonathan has and shares with us is a special emotional-spiritual energy, as if he’s connected to electric current, no matter how lazy the tempo might be.  I’ve never seen him coast or fall back on formula: he is fully present and fully engaged.  I offered these two splendid performances by his Swingtet at the Redwood Coast Music Festival (with Jacob Zimmerman, Charlie Halloran, Kris Tokarski, Jamey Cummins, Steve Pikal, Hal Smith) here and they deserved all the enthusiastic prose I could write and all the accolades from audience members.  A day later at the RCMF, Jonathan assembled a slightly different Swingtet: Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Sam Rocha, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Jamey Cummins, Alex Belhaj, guitars.

I love this music dearly.

First, Jonathan’s original A SYBARITE’S DREAM, featuring Gordon, musing and soaring, in the fashion of an Ellington mood-piece but purely Doyle:

Then, an utterly captivating romp on Benny Carter’s KRAZY KAPERS, inspired by the 1933 Chocolate Dandies recording — a line on DIGA DIGA DOO.  Watch Gordon’s face as Jonathan solos: it tells you all you need to know.  And if you’d been sitting near me, you would have seen my even more dramatic look of astonished delight as Jonathan announced the song . . . as if I’d been given a lovely present.  I haven’t changed my mind at all since then:

Such remarkable passion, allied to an irresistible swing.  Bless Jonathan and his musicians, and Mark and Valerie Jansen for creating such a splendid space for beauties.  (The 2020 Redwood Coast Music Festival will be next May 7-10, and it will be a doozy, a honey, or a blast: you pick.  I think it will be all three.)

May your happiness increase!