Category Archives: Irreplaceable

“JUST A BLUE-EYED BLONDE”!

As my friend Nick Rossi would say, I fell down the rabbit-hole — comfortable, not claustrophic.  And I’m grateful to Dustin Wittmann for pointing out where the entrance was located, by posting this anonymous-but-delightful dance band side on Facebook.

Forty years ago, I wouldn’t have paid much attention to this recording, disdaining the tune as nothing much — not Hart, Rodgers, Porter, Kern — and I would have been waiting for the hot solo and been disappointed that the side wasn’t full of episodes by known players.

Now, I think, “What lovely music!  How well-played! How charming this is!”  And the tune, with its descending chromatic hook, might not be the high point of twentieth-century composition, but it certainly lingers in the ear:

It must have been a staple of the 1931 dance-band repertoire, I assume in a stock arrangement.  And I am posting variant versions of it so that you can muse over how a variety of bands brought their own flavors to it — voicings, tempo, vocal, ensemble work, rhythmic approach, and solos.

Incidentally, it’s hard to clear my mind of the 1931 Tin Pan Alley scenario: Kahn and Fio Rito, in shirtsleeves but with ties and suspenders, perhaps with cigars.  “Awright.  BLONDE.  What the hell can we do with that?  POND?  FROND?  No, none of those tropical songs.  Hey!  FOND!” And they were off.

I think comparative study like this is so enlightening, but it’s also fun.  If there’s a blue-eyed blonde nearby, listening seriously but joyously, so much the better, but it’s the spirit that counts, not the genetics.

Debroy Somers and Dan Donovan, a very bright approach, a clarinet trio, and assertive cymbal work.  If you couldn’t move your body to this, something was wrong:

The Phillips version has a slightly more prominent banjo part and a wonderful alto saxophone explosion.  One of the things close listeners will also note is how the various sections sound on each recording, and the recording balance itself:

This American version has a slightly looser rhythmic feel, perhaps because the drummer is relying less on his cymbals.  The tempo seems a touch slower: a fox-trot more than a one-step?  I don’t know.  It just sounds good:

and back to the UK for no reason at all except the delight in hearing another approach as well as Sam Browne’s tidy, affectionate vocal.  The Blue Lyres were perhaps twelve musicians, but this recording shows off soloists throughout in obbligato as well as improvised passages, as if the leader or arranger had chosen to treat it as rich material for individual players as well as keeping the skeleton of the stock arrangement intact.  To me, this recording suggests most clearly how a free-spirited swing / hot dance orchestra might handle this material in 2018.  Any takers?:

and, finally, this delight (a Gene Gifford arrangement?) with a new introduction and a stylishly individualistic vocal by Pee Wee Hunt before an unusual transition into the final chorus, where Clarence Hutchenrider takes the bridge.  A recording beautifully anchored by tuba, and note the sweetly decelerating ending:

There are several subtexts here, but only one for the moment that deserves a few sentences.  It’s about what I’d call JAZZ POLITICS, or “What’s worthy?”  Tom Lord, whose work I rely on, lists only the final side in his massive jazz discography.  Does that mean the others aren’t jazz?  Does that mean they aren’t worth our attention?  They sound like beautiful elastic hot music to me.  But then again, I could be someone who’s grown out of his earliest rigid adolescent definitions of what’s rewarding to the ears and heart.  In this, as always, I owe much to the not-didactic guidance of my mentor, Sammut of Malta.

May your happiness increase!

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THE ART OF THE DUET: MARC CAPARONE / CONAL FOWKES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 24, 2018)

Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.

Back by popular demand!  The video I posted two days ago of Marc Caparone, cornet, and Conal Fowkes, piano, playing PRISONER OF LOVE, garnered a good deal of enthusiastic response.  You can see it here.  And here are two more from that same day at the San Diego Jazz Fest — most heroically, musicians improvising at (I think) 11 AM.  Very hot, very noble.

The Gershwin classic, now rarely played by improvisers, STRIKE UP THE BAND:

and the 1936 pop tune irrevocably associated with Billie and Bunny, NO REGRETS:

What playful heroes these two are, and how they create surprising joys.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW THEY SWING! (Part Three): DANNY TOBIAS, WARREN VACHÉ, PHILIP ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (September 22, 2018: 1867 Sanctuary, Ewing, New Jersey)

The proceedings, photographed from above by Lynn Redmile

I apologize to all concerned: because of being overwhelmed and a filing system that I keep in my overwhelmed head, this third part of a glorious afternoon got away from me for a bit.  But all is not lost!  And here is the music created in the first and second sections.

I don’t know who took the picture of Warren (left) and Danny (right) but it is quite nice:

However, it leaves out the rest of the heroes: Philip Orr, piano; Pat Mercuri, guitar; Joe Plowman, string bass.  Here are the four remaining performances — quiet mastery by artists who really know and feel what heartfelt improvisation is:

A Tobias original (based on a song about soporific nature) dedicated to the much-missed Tony Di Nicola:

Harold Arlen, always welcome, as is Danny’s playing the Eb alto horn:

A gorgeous TOO LATE NOW:

And the real national anthem:

What beautiful warm inspired music these heroes make.

May your happiness increase!

AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS (November 25, 2018): ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK

I must write at the start that I had thought of titling this post YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP, but decided to direct readers in a slightly different direction.

The relations between artists performing in public and their audience are often strange, especially at live jazz events.  The ideal audience (to me) sits rapt and attentive, but this austere ideal is not shared by everyone.  Often, the members of the audience renew old acquaintance throughout a performance — listening, if at all, marginally — and then shout WOOHOO! at the end.  Or they applaud in the middle of performances, which is, I assume, to be encouraged as a show of gratitude, but hearing people applaud when two instrumentalists are “trading fours” — after each solo utterance — goes beyond praise.

Someone once suggested the rather bleak theory that audience members couldn’t stand suppressing their egos for long, so they had to respond because they, too, wanted to be heard.  If anyone’s now tempted to write in and characterize me as a killjoy, I will only say that to me music is holy and even the hottest band’s outchoruses should be appreciated in ways that allow everyone to hear the music.

All of this is preface to a performance, captured on video, by the Chicago Cellar Boys at the San Diego Jazz Fest just a few days ago.  The Cellar Boys (their name a homage to sessions featuring Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Wingy Mannone, and Bud Freeman; later, Marty Grosz (a/k/a “Mart ‘Beef’ Gross”), Frank Chace, Dick Wellstood, and Pops Foster.  These Cellar Boys are a band-within-the-band of the Fat Babies, comprised of Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Dave Bock, tuba; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo.  Here is the penultimate song they performed at their last set, on November 25, 2018.

PLEASE watch and listen attentively to the very end:

I don’t know how to account for that audience member’s ejaculation. Was it simply reflex?  “Oh my goodness, the music is going to end!  We can’t have that happen!” Or was it the punchline to the joke — a bit of comedy?  I don’t know.  But I am so glad I let my camera run.

And, as a postscript, I found the CCB entrancing, so I recorded many performances at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  They satisfy.

May your happiness increase!

The 2018 SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: AN INTERIM REPORT

Colin Hancock (right) beatin’ it out with the Chicago Cellar Boys, November 24,.

It was wonderful. And completely exhausting.  And wonderful.  I speak, of course, of the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest, which (for me) just concluded.  You who know me will know that I judge a jazz festival or party or weekend extravaganza by two things: one, the amount of uplifting music I am able to hear, witness, and video-record; two, the number of friends old and new who will stand still for a hug or will approach me without fear of what might happen.

The Fest met both of those criteria splendidly.  I will reverse the order and say that I am not about to tabulate the number of people I embraced or was embraced by, but there were many such encounters — some with people I see every year, some with people I haven’t seen for a long time (“Remind me of your name.  I know you are very dear, but your name has gone away.) — and some were new friends who are now old friends, if you follow this serpentine line of reasoning.  Chief among them might be Bess Wade, Jim and Rebecca Thompson, Carol and Mary (the Ambassadors of Fun), John and Pamela Ochs, Allene Harding, Howard and Susie Miyata, Carol Andersen, Frank Selman, Tom Brannan, Sandra and Russ, solitary-by-choice dancer Lois, and others.

Music.  I delighted in the On the Levee Band (Hal Smith’s swinging Kid Ory evocation with Ben Polcer, Charlie Halloran, Joe Goldberg, Kris Tokarski, Alex Belhaj, Joshua Gouzy, and Hal), the Chicago Cellar Boys (Andy Schumm, John Otto, Johnny Donatowicz, Dave Bock, Paul Asaro), my long-time pals the Yerba Buena Stompers (Leon Oakley, John Gill, Duke Heitger, Tom Bartlett, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Kevin Dorn, Clint Baker), Carl Sonny Leyland, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, the Original Cornell Syncopators, directed by Colin Hancock; Jeff Hamilton; Katie Cavera, Marty Eggers, Bob Pelland, Michael Gamble’s Rhythm Serenaders with Jonathan Stout, Josh Collazzo, Laura Windley, Virginia Tichenor, Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, Brian John Casserly, and more.

If the camera and its owner-wrangler worked in harmony, I will have over 150 videos.  Some of them will remain buried because the musicians on them did not like what was captured, but I think there will be sizable handfuls for you to savor.

I will go to the 2019 version and I encourage you to do likewise.  Eleven months’ plus should give anyone motivated enough time to plan.  Meanwhile, thanks to the kind people whose light guided my path: Paul Daspit, Bill and Ed Adams, Gretchen Haugen, and volunteers whose names I never learned but who were solicitous and helpful.

As I wrote above, I feel exhausted.  I am coughing (an occupational hazard, I think, of plane travel) and do not expect to be perky for my Tuesday morning class.  But, believe me, the San Diego Jazz Fest has once again increased my happiness.

May your happiness increase!

BECKY MAILS IT! (BRYAN SHAW, DAN BARRETT, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JOEL FORBES, EDDIE ERICKSON, JEFF HAMILTON)

Rebecca Kilgore is coming to New York in April 2019 to sing, uplift, and to teach.  In case you need to be reminded of her magic and the music she engenders in her fellow musicians, here’s a sunny example — with Jeff Hamilton, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bryan Shaw, trumpet.  This swing miracle took place some years back (March 5, 2011) at Dixieland Monterey:

Communication is essential, even when you’re writing the letter to yourself in lieu of one you’re hoping to get.  And everyone on that stand knows how to send a heartfelt message Express Mail right to our hearts.

The dear Ms. Kilgore is coming east for the best reasons.  Hark!

Here is the link to the Facebook page, and you can see the website listed in the advertisement above.  April seems a long time away, but enterprises such as this fill up early, so don’t wait for the crocuses to burst through the ground.  Rather than sending yourself a letter, make yourself a gift of enrolling.

May your happiness increase!

“A SENSE OF HOME, A SENSE OF PLACE”: MARC CAPARONE, DAWN LAMBETH, CONAL FOWKES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 24, 2017)

For most of us, home is a tangible place: the room you are in now, the place where you spent your childhood, or the woods across the street, a friend’s basement, the house you now have the mortgage on.

Cape Cod house, Levittown, New York, 1947

But the real definition is broader: home is the place where people you love and who love you gather, the place you feel warmed and protected and seen, where you hug and are hugged.  And home can be portable: the hotel room with the little Christmas tree.

The definitions shift depending on one’s needs at the moment, but one of my homes is, perhaps oddly, a place I visit for a long weekend once a year, the San Diego Jazz Fest, which I’ve described most recently here.

At this gathering, I know I will hear and witness the music that speaks most directly to my heart.  Here are two examples of that music — recorded at the 2017 Fest — featuring Marc Caparone, cornet; Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano.  It would be an impudence to describe it.  You must experience it for yourself.

HOME (When Shadows Fall) by Marc and Conal:

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD by the trio:

This music — and the people connected to it — make me feel embraced by the world, a rare and memorable feeling, one I savor and invite you to savor as well.

And since I’ve buried the lede, the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest starts this Wednesday, November 21, and goes to Sunday, November 25.  You can find out all you need to know in the link above.  And there’s a turkey dinner, should you find yourself terrified that you won’t have had your holiday fiesta.  But the feast is in the music.

May your happiness increase!