Category Archives: Irreplaceable

BEAUTY, SO RARE: HIDDEN TREASURES FROM JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, BOB HAVENS, JOHN SHERIDAN, KERRY LEWIS, PETE SIERS (September 23, 2012)

When it’s good, you know it.  When it’s sublime, you feel it.  Here are four previously unseen treasures from the sprawling JAZZ LIVES vault of video sweetness, recorded at the Hotel Athenaeum in Chautauqua, New York, on September 23, 2012, during the delightful gathering of cosmic energies once called “Jazz at Chautauqua,” the creation of Joe Boughton and then Nancy Hancock Griffith.

We take so much for granted, and on paper, this set might just have seemed another pleasing interlude in a long weekend of delights — a Sunday-brunch set focused on the music of Louis Armstrong.  With other players, even such an inspiring theme could have turned into genial formula.  But not with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Scott Robinson, metal clarinet, tenor saxophone, and taragoto; John Sheridan, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

How they soar.  How tenderly they caress the music.  You’ll experience it for yourselves.

First, a WEARY BLUES that gently piles delight upon delight, a  great piece of Hot Architecture reaching toward the sky:

and, with some priceless commentary from Scott Robinson — erudite comedy gently coming to earth as a loving tribute to Joe Muranyi, who loved to play BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

“Right on it,” as they say, with Mr. Robinson on the tenor, for ONCE IN A WHILE, where the rhythm section shines:

If the closing ninety seconds of that performance doesn’t make you jubilant, then perhaps you should consider seeing a specialist.

What could be better to close off such a glorious episode than an expression of gratitude, in this case, THANKS A MILLION, beginning with a Kellso-Sheridan duet on the verse:

I find that performance incredibly tender: gratitude not only from the musicians to the audience, but to Louis and the worlds he created for us.

Perhaps it’s true that “you can’t go home again,” but if I could book a flight to Buffalo in the certainty that I would see this band again, I’d be packed and ready.  Maybe it’s because I can’t get back to this morning in September 2012 in some temporal way that I feel so deeply the precious vibrations these ministers of swinging grace offer us.  Bless them.  It was a privilege to be there, an honor to be allowed to capture this for posterity.

Watch this with full attention; savor it; share it; exult in it.  Let us never take beauty for granted.

May your happiness increase!

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SWAT THE DIRT: DAVID HORNIBLOW / ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON (and an e-78 as well!)

As the Silvercup bread sign used to say, radiant in the night sky, BAKED WHILE YOU SLEEP.  Or SWUNG WHILE YOU REST.  Whatever: those men are here again, David Horniblow, clarinet and bass clarinet; Andrew Oliver, piano — for their and our weekly benevolence of Jelly Roll Morton.

That Tinge again . . . sensuous and undulating (a composition Jelly only recorded for Allan Lomax at the Library of Congress sessions):

Here’s DIRTY, DIRTY, DIRTY — a 1940 composition that sounds as if it is going to be very simple and has its own twists and turns.  (I wonder how often it was played on the jukeboxes?)  And the combination of low-register bass clarinet and luminous piano is quite intoxicating:

Subscribe to their YouTube channel here — or enjoy all six offerings with fine commentary on Andrew’s blog here.  Fine music, intelligent compact explications, and inspiring generosity from these two stellar players.

Wait.  You haven’t had enough IRRESISTIBLE JAZZ for the moment?  Look at what The Vitality Five is up to, and you’ll recognize some splendid hot players here as well (David, Andrew, Michael McQuaid, Nicholas Ball, Martin Wheatley):

May your happiness increase!

A SUNNY BLUES IN F: THE FINALE TO “FOREVER WEIRD” (The Kitchen, December 9, 2017) featuring THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET, THE JAZZ PASSENGERS, and THE KAMIKAZE GROUND CREW

For the story behind this riotous explosion of joys, please visit part one and part two of JAZZ LIVES’ exclusive multi-media coverage, where I posted all of The Microscopic Septet’s set.  Very little could follow Dave Sewelson’s passionate singing of I GOT A RIGHT TO CRY, but saxophonist-visionary Phillip Johnston did not want us to go out into the snowy night feeling lachrymose.

He’d asked members of the other two bands, the Jazz Passengers and the Kamikaze Ground Crew, to hang around for the finale if they felt like it (and no one wanted to miss anything the Microscopic Septet was playing) so at the end, he assembled a giant “JATP-style” jam session on a blues in F he’d written, DON’T MIND IF I DO, for the three bands.

It was clear that if everyone took even twenty-four bars apiece, we would be at the Kitchen well past closing time, so the musicians quickly arranged to play solos in tandem, trade choruses or parts of choruses — a heartwarming reminder that improvisation is more than simply playing one’s instrument, and a delightful reminder of the great players of the Thirties and Forties who could create a whole short story in eight bars.

Here’s the result, first a few minutes of jovial rustling-around, which I think is priceless, then ten minutes of rocking cheerful collective improvisation:

and a lovely postscript, an appreciative review by “TG” in THE NEW YORK JAZZ RECORD:

What a gift to everyone at The Kitchen, which (with the permission of the three bands) I am now able to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S SAD BUT TRUE: UNA MAE CARLISLE (1915-56)

If Una Mae Carlisle is known at all today, it is as a jazz footnote and “friend-of”: protege (perhaps mistress) of Fats Waller; singer on the lone and lovely record date that Lester Young’s band did in 1941; composer of WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER, someone recording with Danny Polo, John Kirby, Big Nick Nicholas, Buster Bailey, Ray Nance, Budd Johnson, Walter Thomas.  Sadly, her life was very short, made even shorter by illness.  I propose that she deserves admiration for her own art, not just for her associations with greater stars.

Una Mae had all the qualities that would have made her a success, and she did get some of the attention she deserved.  She had a big embracing voice; she could croon and swing; she was a splendid pianist — more than a Waller clone.

Here are two samples of her genial, casual art, in 1940 and 1941.  First, the song she composed (its title suggested by John Steinbeck).  The wonderful small group is Benny Carter, trumpet; Everett Barksdale, guitar; Slam Stewart, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums.  Una Mae plays piano. Were Ed Berger here with us, he could tell us how Benny came to be in that studio — perhaps a rehearsal for his own Bluebird big-band date a few days later:

Here is one side from the famous session with Lester Young, Shad Collins, Clyde Hart, John Collins, Nick Fenton, Harold “Doc” West in 1941:

I come from that generation of listeners who discovered the sides with Lester through a lp compendium called SWING! — on Victor, with notes by Dan Morgenstern.  I think I was not alone in listening around Una Mae, regarded at best as someone interfering with our ability to hear Lester, purring behind her.  But if we could have shaken ourselves out of our Prez-worship for three minutes, we would have found much pleasure in Una Mae’s singing for its own sake, not in comparison to Billie.  As I do now.

This small reconsideration of Carlisle’s talents springs from a nocturnal prowl through eBay, then on to YouTube, then Google, then here — a familiar path, although the stops are not always in that order.

First, an autographed postcard, 1940-2, when she was recording for Bluebird:

I then visited  YouTube to find — to my delight — two brief but very entertaining film clips (from the 1948 BOARDING HOUSE BLUES) where her magnetism comes through:

I savor her ebullience — while trying to ignore the thinness of the song (which, in fairness, might be more sophisticated than GOT A PENNY, BENNY, which Nat Cole was singing a few years earlier) — and her expert piano work, with its small homages to Fats and Tatum.

I write the next sentence with mixed emotions: it cannot have hurt her fame in this period that she was slender and light-skinned.  Had she lived, she might have achieved some of the acclaim given other singer-entertainers, although I wonder if her easy accessibility would have hampered her with the jazz purists of the Fifties, while making her a pop star of sorts.  Certainly her last recordings (1950) show her being targeted for a large popular audience, which is to say the songs are awful and beyond.

The other song from BOARDING HOUSE BLUES is equally thin, built on RHYTHM changes — but it is not the THROW IT OUT YOUR MIND that Louis and the All-Stars performed in WHEN THE BOYS MEET THE GIRLS (1965):

Looking for more information on Una Mae, I found that others had — admiringly and sadly — done deep research here and elsewhere.  Because the internet encourages such digressions, I now know more about mastoiditis than I would have otherwise.  It shortened her life.  The disease is now rare.

I present all this as a collage in tribute to someone who should not be forgotten.  And I think of Una Mae as one of the talented people who died just short of great fame.  I can imagine her, as I can imagine Hot Lips Page, on the television variety shows of my childhood, appearing in the nightclubs I was too young to go to.

Although the lyrics are those of a formulaic love song, the mood is apt for her epitaph.  May she live on in our hearts:

May your happiness increase!

IN THE KINGDOM OF JELLY (Opus Five): DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER

Those generous authentic swinging gents — David Horniblow, reeds; Andrew Oliver, piano — are back to give us some more Morton, in what they have (generously and reliably) created, the Complete Morton Project, a weekly series of gifts — Mister Morton’s compositions played imaginatively, with emotion.  And here is this week’s delightful offering: BIG FAT HAM and DEEP CREEK.

The eponymous HAM — named in honor or in satire?  Perhaps a dream of dinner:

and, with David on alto, the yearning blues DEEP CREEK:

You can keep up with David and Andrew here (their YouTube channel) or here (Andrew’s blog — which has his performance schedule as well).  Or, I’ve chronicled their four earlier offerings on JAZZ LIVES here.  Andrew and David also have lives away from the video camera: you can find out with a minimum of effort where they will be playing, in duet or as members of a goodly number of bands.

I hope there are many people applauding their expertise and generosities.  How fresh and lively Morton’s music sounds — not a hint of the dusty archives — reminding me once again how dashing it must have been in its time, and, now, when played by Oliver-Horniblow, how much dazzle it has.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC WITH FRIENDS (Part Two): MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (The Drawing Room, January 8, 2018)

Michael Kanan

This is the first part of a sextet of delicious performances by Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass, recorded on January 8, 2018, at the Drawing Room in Brooklyn.

Neal Miner

In that first segment of this impromptu session, these three lyrical friends performed  YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, TAKE THE “A” TRAIN (which is how one gets to Jay Street-MetroTech, among other possibilities), and I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO.  Now, for the patient faithful, this intuitive, subtle trio plays Neal Miner’s BLUES OKURA, IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES.

Greg Ruggiero

Neal’s BLUES OKURA.  Make sure your seat belt is low and tight across your hips:

And an exceedingly tender IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, honoring Arlen’s intent — and I hear Harburg’s lyrics all the way through:

then the classic LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

Wonderful reassuring music to be sure.  Thank you so much, gentlemen, for this casual affecting interlude.

May your happiness increase!

DISMISSED, DERIDED, DELICIOUS: THE VARSITY SEVEN: 1939 and 1940

If you consider an artist’s works in chronological sequence (bibliography as well as discography) certain landmarks blot out their neighbors.  In the case of Coleman Hawkins, there’s BODY AND SOUL, then the Hampton Victor date, then his big band — leading up to the small-group sessions of 1943-44 for Signature, Keynote, Savoy, and more.

The Varsity Seven sides — full of delights — recorded in December 1939 and January 1940 — haven’t received the admiration they deserve.  Hawkins’ admiring biographer, the diligent John Chilton, calls them “a pastiche of Dixieland.”  I disagree.

The Varsity label (please note the transparent pseudonyms for Hawkins and Carter) was run by Eli Oberstein, and it never seems to have been entirely out in the open.  I don’t know that Oberstein was the equal of Herman Lubinsky of Savoy, but Eli seems to have been ingenious in his dealings.  I believe the masters of these and other sessions were bought by Savoy, and thus the trail to licit reissues is complex.  Were they Victor sessions, they would have been available straightforwardly for decades now, including “official” CD issue.

Another side-note is that the session — one or both? — was co-produced by Leonard Feather and Warren Scholl, which may account for a Feather composition being there.  I knew two sides from this date because my Long Island friend Tom Piazza played them for me, forty-plus years ago: SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT and A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY.  I don’t know where each of the musicians was working in 1939-40, whether Fifty-Second Street or Cafe Society or uptown, but they come together to create great jazz.  Cheerful Jeanne Burns (known for work with Adrian Rollini and Wingy Manone) is a liability, but we’ve all heard less polished singers.  Here’s the information for the first session.

Benny Carter, trumpet, alto saxophone; Danny Polo, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Joe Sullivan, piano; Ulysses Livingston, guitar, vocal; Artie Bernstein, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Jeanne Burns, vocal.  New York, December 14, 1939.

IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (Burns, vocal).  The first two choruses — bless Sullivan and Wettling, who are bringing Jimmy Ryan’s to a record date or doing the Commodore? — are flawless.  Ms. Burns has pitch trouble, but I concentrate on Sullivan behind her.  Polo and Livingston (the latter sounding much like a sweet Teddy Bunn) aren’t derailed by the young lady, and then Hawkins charges in, “I’m back from Europe, and let me remind you who is still King!”  My idea of perfection is of course subjective, but the instrumental portions of this recording stand up with any other of this period:

EASY RIDER (Burns, Livingston, vocal).  Hawkins starts off rhapsodically, and is then relieved by Polo, whose sound in itself is an aural landscape, no matter how simple his phrases.  (In this, he reminds me of poets Joe Marsala, Raymond Burke, and Edmond Hall.)  Ms. Burns Is much more at ease at this tempo and in this range, and her unusual mixture of Mae West and Mildred Bailey is her most successful vocal.  Livingston’s vaudeville couplets are harmlessly archaic counterpoint, leading in to an ensemble where Carter and Polo take up most of the space, leaving Hawkins little to do.  One must admire the lovely drumming of Wettling — and how beautifully Artie Shapiro’s bass comes through — before the consciously “old-timey” ending:

SCRATCH MY BACK is the one Leonard Feather composition, and a charming one, revisited by Dan Barrett a few years ago.  I can’t figure out the changes beneath the melody — an experienced friend / musician says the first strain is similar to YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME.  I love the opening ensemble, and Shapiro’s deep notes behind Polo, then Sullivan’s rollicking solo chorus, where Wettling is having a wonderful time — and the passage where Sullivan abstracts the melody for great dramatic effect.  Then — what’s this? — a glorious alto solo by “Billy Carton” (heir to the cardboard box fortune) punctuated by a Livingston blues-pastoral.  Everyone steps aside for Hawkins, and a recap of the theme with Livingston adding sweet arpeggiated chords.  No complaints here:

SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA (Burns, vocal).  Aside from the ending, I don’t think of this as “Dixieland”: rather a series of splendid improvisations from Carter, Sullivan, and two choruses from Hawkins — over a gently propulsive and balanced rhythm section.  I find Burns’ version of Mildred Bailey’s upper-register-vibrato jarring, but I was listening to Polo, murmuring sweet limpid asides, and the rhythm section while she sang:

Fast forward to January 15, 1940: the same personnel except Big Joe Turner replaces Burns, an improvement.

And in his honor, they began with HOW LONG, HOW LONG BLUES.  In the opening ensemble, Hawkins is nearly submerged (could this have been what irritated Chilton?) which leads into a lovely chorus by Polo — with plain-spoken rhythm section work.  Then, Big Joe, in glowing voice, supported by a very powerful Sullivan, with lovely ensemble encouragements.  It almost seems as if Hawkins has been waiting his chance, and he takes it eloquently, before Big Joe and the band return.  At 2:23, apparently Turner has momentarily forgotten the lyric couplet or has gotten distracted.  A fine improvised ensemble closes off the record, with a Wettling accent.  This side seems slightly under-rehearsed, but the looseness adds to its charm:

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT has always been a favorite, and this vocal version is a prize.  If there’s a sound more engaging than this rhythm section following Sullivan, I have yet to hear it.  Big Joe sounds positively exuberant (in touch with the lyrics); Polo and Livingston keep the forward motion going , and everyone is even more gleeful for Joe’s second chorus (“rub it all over the wall”) before particularly hot choruses by Carter and Hawkins follow, leading to jamming (with Wettling happily prominent) to end the record.  If this is “Dixieland,” I want many more sides:

A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY was not a song much utilized for jam session recordings, but to have it here is a pleasure.  I wonder if Oberstein said, “No more blues, fellows!  Let’s have a hot one!” as Big Joe left the studio.  Or it just seemed like a melodic yet under-played Berlin song, taken a little quicker than I imagine it was done in the Ziegfeld Follies.  A very simple — even cliched — vamp led by Livingston starts things off before Polo takes the lead — which surprisingly turns into an ensemble passage, then a wonderfully quirky Sullivan solo AND Hawkins leaping into his chorus with the zeal of a great athlete (powerful playing from Shapiro, Livingston, and Wettling) — then a magnificent Carter solo and a romping ensemble close.  This is one of the most successful sides of the eight:

And, finally, POM POM, a Carter original which might be a phrase from one of his solos scored for small band, with a particularly light scoring: I would have thought the opening 16 was scored for alto, clarinet, and tenor, but for the speed with which Carter plays trumpet on the bridge.  Polo’s chorus is so tenderly levitating that if you, hearing his work on this session, don’t want to hear more, then I have failed.  Hawkins is energized in his two-chorus solo, reminding me of the trio records he made in 1937, especially in his powerful second chorus — but Carter is as elegant a mountain-climber as I can imagine (with a distinct similarity to Joe Thomas or Bill Coleman of this period); another piece of swing lace-weaving from Livingston, and the record gracefully winds down — simultaneously hot and gentle.  Is that a recording engineer’s “fade” or simply everyone getting softer?  I don’t know, but it’s very sweet:

These aren’t flawless records. Some of them might have benefited from a second take.  But they are uplifting examples of the stars willing to come in and play two dates for what I imagine was scale.  All in a day’s work — and how glorious the results are.

May your happiness increase!