Category Archives: Hotter Than That

“SWIGGLE” TURNS SIXTEEN! WITH A BAND.

My little friend “Swiggle” Murchison had her Sweet Sixteen party this summer, and it was a blast.  I should explain that the Murchisons are dear friends of mine — musical and otherwise — and that everyone in their family has pet names.  Dad is “Hoppy,” Mom is “Luscious,” and “Swiggle” got her name as an especially wiggly infant who more than once nearly flew off the changing table.  Now she dances to jazz.

For her Sweet Sixteen, they hired a band — four of the finest — Danny Tobias, trumpet; Jay Rattman, reeds; Chris Flory, guitar; Joe Plowman, string bass.  But that’s not all.  Hoppy is a Broadway stage designer and Luscious is a realtor who stages houses for her clients, so they transformed (for one afternoon only) a large room in their house into a simulated jazz club. And the music was lovely. They allowed me to share a few selections.

What a delight to know Swiggle, Hoppy, Luscious, Danny, Jay, Chris, and Joe. And to have a jubilant audience to share joys with.  That’s you.

ALL BY MYSELF:

HOW’S IT GO? (Danny’s composition on the harmonies of SHINE):

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU:

Sadly, the cake is all gone, so there’s no point in asking me for the Murchisons’ address.  But the lovely memories remain.

May your happiness increase! 

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MAKING THE MONTH SO MUCH BETTER: JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY (October 13-14-15, 2017, Guilford, Connecticut)

For me, October’s always been a long period to get through, a landscape of four weeks.  When I was a child, it was a slow trudge to Halloween (a holiday I no longer find thrilling); as a homeowner, it was four weekends of leaf raking.  If your birthday is in October, you might feel differently, and I apologize.

But October is now distinguished for me because of Jeff and Joel’s House Party, much better than Halloween — no need for costumes and no incentive to stuff down candy.  It’s already a long-running institution, having been born in February 2012.  This year it will take place on October 13-14-15, technically in Guilford, Connecticut, although the three sessions of music will be at the Branford Elks Club, 158 South Montowese Street, Branford, Connecticut. There will be a session on Friday night from 7:30 to 9:30; two Saturday sessions: 11 to 4, then 5 to 10 (with a buffet and cash bar), and a Sunday session from 11 to 4 (again with a buffet).  The Friday session is priced separately ($50); there are single-session tickets ($80) or a three-session admission for Saturday and Sunday ($225).  More details and a registration form here.

And they do indeed SWING THAT MUSIC:

And the news from Dan Levinson:

Friday, October 13 through Sunday, October 15 I’ll be at Jeff & Joel’s [8th annual] House Party at the Branford Elks Lodge in Branford, CT, along with an all-star lineup of musicians. The Friday night session, which begins at 7:30 pm, will feature the phenomenal vocalist Banu Gibson from New Orleans, along with Jeff Barnhart (piano), Vince Giordano (bass/tuba/bass sax), Tom Palinko (drums), and yours truly. There are two sessions on Saturday – 11:00 am to 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm – and one session on Sunday, from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. The Saturday and Sunday sessions will feature a cornucopia of musicians, assembled in various combinations: Fred Vigorito (trumpet), Mike Davis (cornet), Tom Boates (trombone), Jim Fryer (trombone), Noel Kaletsky (reeds), Dan Levinson (reeds) [a familiar name, perhaps], Jeff Barnhart (piano), Dalton Ridenhour (piano), Joel Schiavone (banjo), Banu Gibson (banjo), Vince Giordano (bass/tuba/bass sax), Frank Tate (bass), Tom Palinko (drums), and Kevin Dorn (drums). A full buffet-style meal is included with each session. Seating is limited, to preserve the intimate “house party” atmosphere, so don’t wait to buy tickets! Tickets/info: www.jeffandjoelshouseparty.com.

My friend Eric Devine has faithfully video-recorded the Parties for some time now, and if you visit here, you can immerse yourself in his fine video coverage — some 59 videos of this Party alone.

I’m going to be there, although as a Free Spirit, walking around and enjoying the sounds, so I hope you’ll join me.  For those who need to see it in the papers, here are three pages to pore over.  I hear that only a few seats are still available, so please make haste so you won’t be disappointed.

Page Two:

 

Now you know it all.

May your happiness increase!

A SUMMER NIGHT, EIGHT YEARS AGO (June 7, 2009)

Good times, fine sounds.  the calendar says they’re gone; we know they aren’t.

The Ear Inn has been host to gatherings of joyous insight on Sunday nights since July 2007, and I think I was there for the second gathering of The EarRegulars — who may not have been named just yet (Jon-Erik Kellso, Howard Alden, Frank Tate): I was converted rapidly, although going to work with an early teaching schedule has made me at times a lax postulant.

Here’s a delightful interlude from the summer of 2009: SOME OF THESE DAYS, played so buoyantly by Matt Munisteri, guitar; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass.  And the final minutes of this — with Duke evoking another New Orleans boy who made good — give me chills of the best sort:

You don’t need to climb the Himalayas for spiritual uplift: visit the Ear Inn on Sunday nights; your pilgrimage requires only the C or the 1 train or perhaps an automobile . . . see you there sometime soon!  In the interim, watch, hear, and marvel.

May your happiness increase

“LET ME OFF MIDTOWN”: RICO TOMASSO VISITS BIRDLAND: THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG ETERNITY BAND (David Ostwald, Bjorn Ingelstam, Adrian Cunningham, Jim Fryer, Vince Giordano, Paul Wells: August 9, 2017)

When the noble Enrico Tomasso visited New York (with wife Debbie and daughter Analucia) on August 9, 2017, his activities had a distinct theme running through them, which shouldn’t be hard to recognize.  First, Rico visited the house that Louis and Lucille Armstrong had called home for decades.  That was in the morning.  In the afternoon, the Tomassos visited the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College, got to have a good time with Ricky Riccardi, play Louis’ trumpet, look at scrapbooks and hear tapes from Louis’ library — much of which I captured on video here.  Ricky, who is an estimable tour guide in addition to everything else, got us to the subway by car (through the window, I saw my favorite new business sign — the S & M PHARMACY — and I leave the commentaries to you).  On the E train, Rico told stories of Henry “Red” Allen and other heroes.

Where were we going?  To “New York’s friendliest jazz club,” which would be Birdland — for their Wednesday afternoon-into-evening jazz serenade by the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band, led by David Ostwald.  I present two thrilling performances by Rico and the LAEB (is the theme becoming clear now?), whose members were David, tuba; Paul Wells, drums; Vince Giordano, banjo; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet and alto; Jim Fryer, trombone and euphonium; Bjorn Ingelstam, trumpet.  Attentive viewers will notice a nicely-coiffed immovable object in the middle of the frame: she and her partner were there to stay and I did what I would like to believe was the best I could.

BACK O’TOWN BLUES:

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

As the little boy says to Alan Ladd, “Come back, Rico!  Come back!”

May your happiness increase!

NOTES FROM MEL, NOTES BY MEL

Kati Powell, August 2013, Menlo Park, California.

I’m honored to know Kathleen Powell — who goes by Kati — whom I met through the kindness of Hank O’Neal.  Kati is a wonderful person on her own: generous in spirit as well as in fact, and her connections to the music are deep. Her mother was Martha Scott, the renowned actress who was the first Emily in Wilder’s OUR TOWN.  Her father began life as Melvin Epstein, but we know him better as Mel Powell, pianist, composer, arranger, and explorer.

In 2013, I had the great privilege of meeting and talking with Kati at her West Coast home (she now lives in New York) about Mel, and our interview can be found here.  And there’s priceless evidence of Kati’s generosity here.  Words and music.

When Kati and I met recently in New York, she had another present for me, and by extension, for you as well.  Yes, the music on the 78 that follows is familiar, or should be, but this disc belonged to Mel, and it is, for that reason, even more special.  I like to imagine the young pianist bending over the speaker in the Thirties, drinking in the sounds, absorbing the magic, making these impulses part of his genetic makeup.

Caveat: YouTube says that this video may be blocked in certain countries because of copyright restrictions.  The music is the 1928 duet of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, WEATHER BIRD:

and the beautiful reverse, the 1930 duet of Louis and Buck Washington, DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND:

and some notes by Mel — two sides [one a sparkly original, the other DON’T BLAME ME) recorded in Belgium, c. 1945:

and a little of his elegantly deep voice:

We’ll never have all we need of Mel Powell, though.

May your happiness increase!

GIVE US A SHOUT: DAN BARRETT’S “BLUE SWING” at ASCONA (July 2, 2000)

My dear friend Michael Burgevin was the first person I knew who used the expression “Give me a shout,” when he meant “Call me when you can,” or “Be in touch,” and it’s almost archaic these days.  But I know MB would enjoy what I am about to post.

It’s only a few minutes long, but it is both Prime and Choice — and the result of the kind energetic generosity of our friend Enrico Borsetti, who took his video camera to the JazzAscona, Switzerland, and captured a set by Dan Barrett’s Blue Swing — a noble band that had, alongside Dan, Jon-Erik Kellso, Brian Ogilvie, John “Butch” Smith, Ray Sherman, Eddie Erickson, Joel Forbes, and Jeff Hamilton.

Here’s a wonderful blues with flourishes, composed by Luis Russell and Charlie Holmes for the splendid band (featuring also Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Paul Barbarin, and Pops Foster) the former led from 1926-34, named for the Saratoga Club, where they romped:

I’ll let Jon-Erik have the last word: “Can’t believe this was 17 years ago already. Fond memories of playing with Dan Barrett’s Blue Swing at the JazzAscona fest in Switzerland. “Saratoga Shout” by Luis Russell. I miss our friend Brian Ogilvie, the tenor player here, very much, he left us much too young. I also miss this band, one of the finest I’ve been a part of.”

And Enrico, our Benefactor, promises to share the rest of the set with us. Grazie, amico!

As we know, sometimes The Past comes out of the darkness and raps us sharply across the bridge of the nose.  In this case, it’s given us a very warm hug.

May your happiness increase!

“MAGIC FINGERS”: JIM TURNER’S TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY GUARNIERI (Solo Art SACD 172)

Here’s a sample of the technically inspiring, elegant music that pianist-composer Johnny Guarnieri created for half a century:

and one of his many other sides — the quietly irrepressible swinger:

and then there’s the audaciously gifted stride pianist:

and his variations on and venerable pop tune:

Guarnieri could marvelously become Fats, Tatum, Teddy Wilson, James P., Basie — all at once or in lovely little interludes — but after a few bars on any recording, you knew it was Johnny, which (to me) is the summit that improvisers strive for, influences melded into a recognizable self.

He started at the top, as they say, in 1939 as a member of the Benny Goodman band and the sextet with Charlie Christian, then as the harpsichord player with Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five as well as with the band, then numberless sessions with Ziggy Elman, Cootie Williams, Slam Stewart, Sammy Weiss, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Cozy Cole, Jerry Jerome (in the early Forties, Guarnieri seemed to be the house pianist for Keynote, Savoy, and other small labels) Yank Lawson, Ben Webster, Benny Morton, Coleman Hawkins, Rex Stewart.  He’s the pianist on the V-Disc sessions that brought together Louis, Lips Page, Bobby Hackett, Billy Butterfield, Jack Teagarden, Lou McGarity,Nick Caiazza, Ernie Caceres, Herb Ellis, Al Hall, Cozy Cole, Specs Powell; more sideman work with Don Byas, Joe Thomas, Buck Clayton, Hank D’Amico, Ike Quebec, Flip Phillips, J. C. Heard, Sidney Catlett . . . . and this recital of famous associations is only up until the end of the Second World War.

Guarnieri wasn’t famous, necessarily, in the way that Teddy Wilson was, but he had the respect of the best players, singers, and record producers in the music business.  And the long list of names — did I leave out Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, June Christy, or Dick Haymes? — means that if you have a favorite jazz or swing record from this period, chances are that Johnny was the pianist on it. In the Fifties and beyond, he went for himself as a soloist or led a piano trio or quartet, for the next thirty years, although he participated in the great revival of interest in the masters of the Swing Era, and could be found alongside Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Doc Cheatham, Buddy Tate, Slam Stewart, and others.

Perhaps because of his swing and his dazzle (stride faster than the speed of light, improvising in 5/4 and other eccentric meters) Guarnieri has been admired but never approached.  That is, until Jim Turner‘s new CD, in tribute to Johnny, Jim’s mentor and friend, aptly called MAGIC FINGERS.

Jim Turner

Jim hasn’t had the benefit of Guarnieri’s visibility and name recognition, but I knew of him for years as a convincing, graceful stride and swing pianist.  And anyone who begins his recording career in duet with Knocky Parker and has played concerts with Dick Hyman has to be taken seriously.

Here’s some evidence: POET AND PEASANT OVERTURE, performed in June 1986.  The video is murky, but the music is wonderful: we could have taken Jim uptown and he would have impressed the titans.  Better, he impresses now:

and here’s Jim beautiful version of James P. Johnson’s CAPRICE RAG:

What makes his playing remarkable is not its speed, but his gorgeous marriage of accuracy and warmth, his rollicking swing.  As fast as this performance is, it never feels mechanical (beautiful dynamics!) and it never outraces its jubilant rocking motion.

One more, because I can’t resist.  You might need to increase the volume, but it will be worth it:

But to the subject at hand, MAGIC FINGERS.

A tribute to Johnny Guarnieri by another pianist might get bogged down in layers of emulation, where the second artist, let us say, might decide that Johnny’s choruses on I NEVER KNEW or EXERCISE IN SWING were so fulfilling that the only thing one could do, as if they were a Chopin etude, would be to reproduce them beautifully.  But a CD of copies would not, I think, serve Johnny’s spirit and legacy all that well, especially since Johnny was always being his singular self even while some listeners might say, “That’s a Fats phrase! That’s some Basie!” — as if they were walking the beach with a metal detector looking for identifiable treasures.  (Incidentally, the perhaps apocryphal story is that when Johnny would launch into these pitch-perfect impersonations as a sideman with Benny Goodman, the King would tell him vehemently, “STOP THAT!” and Johnny would, although perhaps not as quickly as Benny wanted.)

The brilliance of MAGIC FINGERS lies, of course, in Jim Turner’s deep understanding of Johnny’s musical selves, and in Jim’s choice to create a disc devoted to his mentor’s ingenious, restorative compositions.  Each of the originals (well-annotated by Jim in his notes) has its own life, with great variety in tempo, key, rhythms, and approach.  A number of the pieces were written with a specific individual in mind — thus a tribute that collects many tributes! — and the ear never gets tired.

At no point in my multiple playings of this disc did I feel the urge to shout at the speakers, “STOP THAT!”  Quite the opposite: from the opening notes of GLISS ME AGAIN, I settled down in comfort for a series of endearing adventures — seventeen selections, all but three by Guarnieri.  Beautifully played and beautifully recorded — the real sound of a well-maintained piano in a large room.

I admire how Turner has not only managed to reproduce the wonderful features of his inspiration’s playing — the great glide of his swing, the impish romping, the energetic and varied stride — but has made them entirely personal and rewarding.  I’ve chosen to avoid a track-by-track explication (discover these pleasures for yourselves!) except to say that the closing track, THE DAZZLER, is a duet for Turner and the singularly eloquent clarinetist Ron Hockett.

I can’t offer the usual tech-inducements of seventeen sound samples or the like, but I assure you that this disc, as they used to say, satisfies.

A closing thought.  I recently had a conversation in cyberspace with a respected musician who plays “traditional jazz,” who lamented that this music was “a language” that modern audiences would not hear and, if they did, might not understand.  Maybe his dark assessment is right, but I would use MAGIC FINGERS as a test case: anyone who purchases this disc might feel encouraged to play one of the more leisurely pieces and then a romp for someone who didn’t know this music but was open to other genres.  I’d hope that the listener would say, “That’s really pretty,” of the slower piece and “That pianist really can play!” of the more acrobatic one.  I have faith in the music and in this CD — and, if it isn’t clear by now, in Jim Turner and in Johnny Guarnieri and the gifts that each offers so generously.

May your happiness increase!