Category Archives: Ideal Places

MARTY GROSZ’S “BIXIANA”: “I’M LOOKING OVER A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER” (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2011)

Days gone by, but not days beyond recall — afternoons and evenings in September 2011 at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York — for the late Joe Boughton’s annual jazz weekend.  Because I am feeling more than a little melancholy at the news of the end of the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, I thought I’d share some music from the glory days — to ease the feelings.

Here is one stomping example of the goodness that I was privileged to witness from 2004 to 2017.  It comes from a Marty Grosz set devoted to songs associated with Bix Beiderbecke, performed in styles he wouldn’t necessarily have known.  (Marty’s opening interlude reminds me pleasantly of Alex Hill’s MADAM DYNAMITE, recorded two years after Bix’s death.)

The band includes Marty, guitar and inventive arrangements; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Block and Scott Robinson, reeds; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jim Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums, performing a song I know from the Goldkette Victor — a song of romantic optimism that is perhaps now best known in the banjo-and-let’s-all-sing genre, but it gets up and moves around nicely, not only because of the hot solos, but because of the truly varied and rich arrangement:

“We’ll always have Chautauqua.  And Cleveland,” says some famous film actor.

May your happiness increase!

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THANK YOU, NANCY AND KATHY!

You might not think it from the picture, but two of these women have done the music we love an irreplaceable service, and not just once.

From the left, they are Kathleen Hancock, Abbey Griffith, and Nancy Hancock Griffith: grandmother, granddaughter, and mother.

What have they got to do with JAZZ LIVES, and with jazz?  Joe Boughton, hallowed and irascible, began a series of weekend jazz parties in the Eighties, which I encountered late in their existence, in 2004, as “Jazz at Chautauqua.” I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about these yearly ecstasies of music, friendship, coffee, Scotch, and music.  When Joe’s health began to fail, Nancy gently offered her assistance, both musical and practical — and she was quickly expert and invaluable in all things, from settling disputes about seating or who wouldn’t play with whom, and Chautuqua went on — even improved — after Joe died in 2010.

When the Allegheny Jazz Society moved itself to new quarters in Cleveland, Nancy and her mother, Kathy, took over the running of the Party.  Beautifully, without complaining about the year’s worth of labor such a weekend required.

I won’t go into the economics and logistics of running such a weekend, but even from my semi-outsider’s perspective, the work required had been massive.  And then there’s the financial balancing act.  Thus I was saddened but not entirely startled to read this letter from Nancy and Kathy on the 14th:

Cleveland Classic Jazz Party
All Good Things…

As they say,

— Go out on a high note.

So, after four years trying to make a go of the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, we find we must take this advice. The 2017 Jazz Party was the best one yet, but unfortunately we find we cannot continue. We gave it our best shot.

This was a very hard decision for us, as we both dearly love this genre of music. We had hoped that we would be able to garner much more support in Cleveland for the Jazz Party, but we were never able to get to the break- even point — even with your generous donations. The costs involved in putting together the first-class productions we all appreciate are too high for us to absorb.

We are still trying to think of a way to continue to support traditional jazz in a small way, but for now, we find we need to disband the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party. We will always remember the wonderful friends we made, and the good times (and some of the challenges) we had along the way.

Many thanks to all of your for your support over the years. We hope to see you often at other jazz events and venues.

Warmest regards,

Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock

I could write many things here, but what needs to be said can best be said in music — in a performance from the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, THANKS A MILLION, dedicated to Jon-Erik Kellso, by Duke Heitger, Rossano Sportiello, Scott Robinson, Nicki Parrott, and Ricky Malichi:

Nancy and Kathy gave time, energy, patience, good humor, and money — for years — to make these enterprises flourish.  Without them, my life would have been less gratifying.  Bless them! I send deep gratitude, and I know I am not alone.

May your happiness increase!

GIBSON, STRAIGHT UP: BANU CHARMS US ONCE AGAIN (Jeff and Joel’s House Party, October 13-15, 2017)

Banu Gibson is someone I admire greatly — not only for her expressive, swinging singing, but for her quick-witted stage presence and her deep affectionate knowledge of the songs and their composers.  So it was a great pleasure to see and hear her at the October 2017 party co-led by Jeff Barnhart and Joel Schiavone.  She was accompanied by Jeff, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, bass saxophone, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums; Dan Levinson, reeds; Jim Fryer, trombone; Mike Davis, trumpet.

Thanks to Eric Devine, kind-hearted and efficient man of many cameras, we now have some video of Banu in performance to share.  (Eric’s YouTube channel is CineDevine and his videos from many festivals and performances are just superb.)

Here, Banu confesses that there are some things she might not know — hard to believe, but necessary for the sake of the song:

and here, a song for your board-certified ophthalmologist (with Dalton Ridenhour at the piano):

Banu is based in New Orleans, so it was a real treat to have her in the tri-state area for even this short visit.

May your happiness increase!

“GEORGE WETTLING, ARTIST,” by HANK O’NEAL (October 27, 2017)

Although Hank O’Neal (writer, archivist, photographer, record and concert producer) and I agreed that out of a thousand people in New York City, few if any would recognize the name George Wettling, this is how the few would most likely know him:

or this 1940 side:

But how many know George as an artist?  Here’s a sketch he mailed himself:

Signed, sealed, delivered:

and what we used to call a “mash note” to his wife:

On October 27, I visited Hank at his studio and he gave me a personal and wonderful tour of George’s art world, a world that Hank has plans to document in a book.  And Hank sat patiently for my camera, which is no small graciousness.

First, how Hank came to be an unplanned rescuer and archivist of Wettling’s art, including photographs, sketches, and more:

George the photographer and his relationship with painter Stuart Davis:

and, finally, the sad but perhaps not surprising end:

I look forward to Hank’s book, and hope that others do too.

May your happiness increase!

DANCING IN SOUND: KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMES EVANS, HAL SMITH (Bombay Club, Sept. 22, 2016)

Hal Smith, James Evans, Kris Tokarski, at the Bombay Club, New Orleans.

Here are three more beautiful interludes from slightly more than a year ago, in “that quaint old Southern city,” actually at the Bombay Club on Conti Street in New Orleans — an evening with Kris Tokarski, piano; James Evans, clarinet, vocal; Hal Smith, drums.

Earl Hines’ MONDAY DATE (which I am presenting in its streamlined title, having given up on the question of whether it is A, OUR, or MY):

Another visit to 1928 Chicago (just savor Hal’s beautiful rocking drumming!) with THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE at a leisurely grooving tempo:

I almost never make requests, but I did ask James if he would play LOUISE — because I love the song (I think of Bing and Lester and Pee Wee) and I know it is the first name of the beautiful Missus Evans:

Even if you read this post on Saturday evening, November 11, and you are in New Orleans, you are not too late to hear some good sounds from Hal and Kris.  The facts: Hal will be leading his Kid Ory tribute band — the On The Levee Band — at the very same Bombay Club (830 Conti Street) from 8:30-11:30.  The band has Hal, drums / leader; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Clint Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar.  If you can, you should.

May your happiness increase!  

MORE HOT JAZZ IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (Part Three): THE NEW WONDERS (MIKE DAVIS, JOE McDONOUGH, RICKY ALEXANDER, JARED ENGEL, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY): AUGUST 20, 2017

The days are getting shorter, darker, and cooler.  There’s little that I can do to combat this, but I offer this third part of a glorious August afternoon as a palliative for the descent into winter.

Thanks to the energetic Brice Moss, I was able to attend and record a lovely outdoor session featuring The New Wonders — Mike Davis, cornet, vocal, arrangements; Jay Lepley, drums; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone and miscellaneous instrument; Joe McDonough, trombone, Ricky Alexander, reeds; Jared Engel, plectrum banjo.  There’s group singing here and there, which is its own idiomatic delight.  This is the third of three posts: here is part one, and here is part two — both segments full of wondrous hot music.

And now . . . . a Hot one in Hot slow-motion, no less steamy — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

Did someone say “The Chicago Loopers”?  Here’s CLORINDA, with vocal quartet:

A serious question for sure, ARE YOU SORRY?

Another paean to the South from songwriters who may have gone no deeper than Battery Park, THAT’S THE GOOD OLD SUNNY SOUTH:

We’d like it to be a valid economic policy — THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:

DEEP BLUE SEA BLUES, with a surprising double for Jay Rattman:

Who needs an umbrella?  I’M WALKING BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS:

and an emotional choice, I’D RATHER CRY OVER YOU:

Deep thanks, as before, to Brice, family, friends, and to these splendid musicians, for making an Edenic idea come to life.

And I don’t have the delicious artifact yet, but The New Wonders did and have finished their debut CD.  I am willing to wager that it will live up to the band name.  Details as I know them.

May your happiness increase!

“THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL”: THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET HONORS FATS WALLER

In July, I spent five splendid days in Nashville as a delighted observer to a recording session that produced this rewarding tribute to Fats Waller, with Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet / vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone / vocal; Steve Pikal, string bass.

and the CD cover itself.  Don’t let the slogan frighten you: for the moment at least, joy is still legal and unregulated.  Should you want a copy immediately, without reading another word, visit here and the door to gladness will swing open easily.

This isn’t a formulaic tribute, with players imitating the Victor sessions and tossing off already-venerable Fats-wisecracks.  No, something much better.  It’s music.  Click here and you can hear a sample track — the Quintet’s version of Fats’ 1943 composition, MOPPIN’ AND BOPPIN’.

I had the privilege of writing the liner notes (I may have insisted on doing so: my memory betrays me here):

Fats Waller’s substantial physical envelope left the scene for another gig seventy-five years ago, but his joyous soul is still with us. This CD doesn’t attempt to replicate the former, but celebrates the latter in all its radiances.

Musicians have attempted to capture the totality of this great man. The road most often taken is presenting a lurid outsized caricature to fool us into thinking we have his essence in our possession. Imagine Fats as a parade float three stories high, grotesque head, tilted derby, restless eyebrows, a cavernous mouth full of vaudeville asides we expect to hear. While the head waggles in the breeze, a loop of his greatest eight-bar piano modules plays endlessly through massive speakers.

With the best intentions in the world (and sometimes with the best musicians in invisible shackles) many tributes go this way. One hears a band, its members pretending to be Herman, Gene, and Al, energetically playing the best-known Waller compositions or songs he’s identified with, copying as closely as possible his 1934-43 Victor records. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so severe, because Fats was such a powerfully appealing personality whose records sold so well that such “tributes” were happening while he was around to hear them. Records by Pat Flowers, Johnny Guarnieri, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, and others might at first make listeners think they have wandered into Plato’s cave of small-band jive. But the real Fats leans outside, smoking, untouched by such parasitic adulation. (Incidentally, my censure is not limited to Fats-by-the-yard productions, for many people who tell you how they revere the innovators have misread them similarly, reducing Louis to a sweaty handkerchief, Billie to a discontented meow.)

This disc is different. Ignore the familiar picture of Fats on the cover, ready to deliver a wisecrack he’d delivered too many times already, the Groucho Marx of jazz. Think, instead, of the Thomas Waller who swung without letup, created beautiful melodies, and sang with affectionate sincerity. (If you don’t think of him as a tender singer of ballads, search out his Bluebird recording of I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN.) With that in mind, I urge you to begin your listening with one of the least-known songs on this disc, LET’S PRETEND THAT THERE’S A MOON. At an easy fox-trot tempo, it begins with Brian’s solo chorus, clearly stating the melody while luxuriating in its possibilities, a ninety-second statement that would have been taken up the first half of a 10” 78 rpm disc. Then “here comes the band!” as Willie “the Lion” Smith would say, Marc Caparone quietly suggesting that the blues are at the heart of everything or at least the first sixteen bars, before Evan plays the bridge in the best limpid way, before the band returns. Evan then comes in to sing – and what a singer he is! – with Brian gently creating some Nashville ripples, behind him, Marc, Steve, and Danny gently rocking the imaginary canoe before Evan and Brian, true romantics, remind us all what the song is about: hopeful love, love that climbs to an exultant sweet high note. I was in the studio for this performance and there was a hush when it ended. I take notes at a session, and mine read: “Brian solo / ens / voc EA . . . . . perfect.”

Fats’ music transcends romance, however, to celebrate the pure joy of life. His compositions on this disc focus on the rewards of fidelity and good behavior, as well as creating a Frolic that might be either a Drag of a Fuss. Courtesy of Alex Hill and Claude Hopkins, pianist-composers who breathed the same uptown air, we praise BABY BROWN and a statement of complete devotion, by which I mean this band leaves the “MOST” out of I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU. James P. Johnson, Fats’ teacher and our hero, says that sixty minutes is enough room to create happiness; we believe in miracles but, just the same, have our fingers crossed, celebrate a love that is so pleasing we expect the authorities any minute; we ask the musical question “Whose tea do you sweeten?” Of course, our romantic Zeppelins sometimes crash and burn, so there’s LONESOME ME, one of Fats’ sweet sorrowful triumphs. And splendid oddities – MOPPIN’ AND BOPPIN’, which comes from Fats’ star turns in the film STORMY WEATHER; LIVER LIP JONES, a close cousin of the characters we know from Ellington’s A SLIP OF THE LIP and Morton’s BIG LIP BLUES. Who knew that loquaciousness was such a problem uptown?

Intentionally, I haven’t said anything about the band except by implication. Very little needs saying except that they work together as brothers – each a wonderful soloist and an absolute marvel as a team player, ready to be lyrical or hot, bluesy, rampaging, or sentimental. At close range, and this counts a great deal for me, not one of them is a blabbermouth rascal.

This CD, so beautifully recorded and wisely programmed, is the debut on disc of the Holland-Coots Quintet. I hope for dozens more discs and lots of gigs in my lifetime and yours. Their expression of musical creativity, lyrical, warm, sometimes hilarious (I play and replay the introduction to WHOSE HONEY ARE YOU), celebrates the joyous merrymaker, but it is more an outpouring of devotion for Fats and what he did so open-heartedly.

Our universe often feels dark these days. The light he shines so brightly is always welcome. The time and place are opportune.

Again, you can proceed bravely into commerce and purchase copies here.

May your happiness increase!