Category Archives: Ideal Places

GAME OF TONES: TWO BEAUTIES FROM JAY RATTMAN, SCOTT ROBINSON, CHRIS FLORY, PAT O’LEARY at THE EAR INN (May 20, 2019)

For nearly twelve years, The Ear Inn has been my Sunday-night shrine (that’s 326 Spring Street in New York City, via the 1 or the C) because of the EarRegulars’ sublime residency.

Two Sundays ago, Jon-Erik Kellso was in New Orleans, making records (I use the archaic term) with Evan Christopher, but the band that Scott Robinson — on tenor saxophone, contrabass taragota, and trumpet — assembled for the night of May 20, 2019, was stellar: Jay Rattman on clarinet and alto saxophone; Chris Flory on guitar; Pat O’Leary on string bass.  It was less crowded than usual at The Ear, because (I am told) it was the last episode of GAME OF THRONES.  Hence my title.

Beauty paid a visit to 326 Spring Street when this quartet of masters created melodies than floated in the darkness.

And the usual caveats: yes, there are people chatting over their drinks, the image is quite dark at points, and my camera wobbles occasionally because The Ear is not the place to bring a tripod . . . but even the most finicky viewer should be able, through closed eyes, be transported by the Tones: subtle rejoicing scored for four instruments on two rhythm ballads — sweet and slow music with a definite pulse.

Art?  Yes, today:

If you don’t think that performance lives up to Berlin’s title, we must politely but vehemently disagree.  And this 1945 classic by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon is up in the same clouds:

Jay, Scott, Chris, and Pat made loveliness tangible.  As they always do.

May your happiness increase!

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“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!

 

“A TRULY LOVING PERSON”: DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS LOUIS ARMSTRONG (May 24, 2019)

I’ve had many beautiful experiences in my life, but being able to hear Dan Morgenstern talk about Louis Armstrong — the man, seen at close range — is one of those I treasure now and will always treasure.  We spent an early afternoon a few days ago, sharing sweet thoughts of our greatest hero.  I invite you to join us for tender memories and some surprises.  I have intentionally presented the video segments here without annotation so that viewers can be delighted and surprised as I was and am.

These segments are emotionally important to me, so I saw no reason to wait until July 4, July 6, or even August 1 to share them with you.

And just a small matter of chronology: Dan will be ninety on October 24, 2019.  Let us start planning the parades, shall we?

a relevant musical interlude:

Part Two:

some life-changing music:

Part Three:

Dave and Iola Brubeck’s SUMMER SONG:

Part Four (and before one of the JAZZ LIVES Corrections Officers rushes to the rescue, I am sure that the funeral Dan refers to as the ideal was Ellington’s):

Part Five:

The blessed EV’NTIDE:

A very brief postscript, which I whimsically began by telling Dan I was going to throw him a curveball, which he nimbly hit out of the park:

SUN SHOWERS:

Dan and I owe much to the great friend of jazz and chronicler, Harriet Choice, who encouraged us to do this interview.

And a piece of mail, anything but ordinary:

 

Early in the conversation, Dan said that Louis “made everyone feel special.”  He does the same thing, and it comes right through the videos.  That we can share the same planet with Mister Morgenstern is a great gift.

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!

THE SECOND PART: “AT 91, TED BROWN CONTINUES TO BREATHE MUSIC: TARDO HAMMER, PAUL GILL, RAY MACCHIAROLA, JEFF BROWN (75 Club, March 23, 2019)”

Ted at the 75 Club: photograph by Seth Kaplan.

You can find the first part of this rare and delicious performance here — eight songs created by the esteemed tenor saxophonist Ted Brown, with Tardo Hammer, piano; Ray Macchiarola, guitar; Paul Gill, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums — at the 75 Club (75 Murray Street, New York), on March 23.  Here’s the rest of the evening’s music, six selections.

But before you immerse yourself in the floating inquiring sounds created that night, just a word — perhaps tactless but necessary.  Ted is having some financial trouble and would welcome your assistance.  Click here to see what it’s all about.  “Every nickel helps a lot,” reminds the Shoe Shine Boy.

Now to music.  Ted’s repertoire his broad, his approach melodic, lyrical, quietly surprising.  But you knew that.  Or you will learn it now.

A classic Forties pop, famous even before Bird took to it, SLOW BOAT TO CHINA:

For Lester and Basie, BROADWAY:

and more Lester and Basie, LESTER LEAPS IN:

The gorgeous Irving Berlin ballad, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?:

Perhaps in honor of Ginger Rogers, her hair a crown of shampoo turned white, THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT:

and Ted’s own JAZZ OF TWO CITIES, with no apologies to Dickens:

I bow to Mr. Brown, who creates such lasting beauties.

May your happiness increase!

AT 91, TED BROWN CONTINUES TO BREATHE MUSIC: TARDO HAMMER, PAUL GILL, RAY MACCHIAROLA, JEFF BROWN (75 Club, March 23, 2019)

One of the many pleasures of my jazz endeavor is that I have been able to shake hands with the Masters: Joe Wilder, Jim Dapogny, Bob Wilber, Marty Grosz, among others: people who have given us beauty and musical wisdom for decades.

Starting in January 2011, I have had the honor of hearing, meeting, and recording the lyrical and intense tenor saxophonist Ted Brown.  Here he is with Ethan Iverson, Putter Smith, and Hyland Harris, performing THESE FOOLISH THINGS in December 2012, when Ted was a mere 85, at the much-missed Drawing Room.

March 23, 2019: photograph by Seth Kaplan.

On March 23 of this year, I was able to be awestruck by Ted — at 91 — playing among friends at the 75 Club: Jeff Brown, drums, Paul Gill, string bass, Ray Macchiarola, guitar; Tardo Hammer, piano.  What music he and they make!  I could write about Ted’s connections to Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh, and Lester Young, but I’d prefer — as does Ted — to let the music sing, muse, and soar for itself.  Here is a substantial helping of searching beauty with a swinging pulse . . . and more to come.

Bird’s blues, RELAXIN’ AT CAMARILLO,

I think Sigmund Romberg would approve of this LOVER, COME BACK TO ME.  Or if he didn’t, I certainly do:

Lennie Tristano’s musing line on OUT OF NOWHERE, 317 EAST 32nd STREET:

An energized THE SONG IS YOU:

A pensive STAR DUST, which Ted starts all by himself, gorgeously:

Sweet and tart, TANGERINE:

Ted’s own SMOG EYES, celebrating his first time in Los Angeles:

Asking the eternal question, with or without comma, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?:

Remarkable news: Ted is offering lessons via Skype.  Even those who don’t play tenor could all take a lesson from him.  You can find him here on Facebook.

This is also seriously relevant here.

And thanks to George Aprile and Gabriele Donati of the 75 Club, which is becoming one of my new homes: even R1 dropped in for cake and music, so you know it’s a place to visit.

May your happiness increase!