Category Archives: Irreplaceable

DAN MORGENSTERN CELEBRATES CECIL SCOTT, DICK KATZ, AND NANCY HARROW (Sept. 29, 2017)

I won’t go on at length about my good fortune — having Dan Morgenstern patiently sit and tell wonderful stories to my camera so that you can all delight in his warmth, his first-hand experience, and his beautifully articulated love for the music and the musicians . . . but here are two interview segments from my most recent visit, September 29, 2017.

The first, a belated celebration of reedman and splendid figure CECIL SCOTT:

Here’s Cecil in a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film, MURDER IN HARLEM:

and one of my favorite recordings ever, Red Allen’s ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON (with Cecil and J.C. Higginbotham):

Here are Dan’s affectionate memories of someone who was much loved and is not, I fear, well-known today, pianist / composer DICK KATZ and the very much with-us NANCY HARROW:

On a personal note or two: I am more involved in this video than I usually am, and I hope our conversation bothers no one.  On the subject of conversation . . . as soon as I’d shut the camera off, I said to Dan, awe-struck, “YOU KNOW Nancy Harrow?” and through the kindness of Daryl Sherman and Dan, Nancy and I have met and exchanged compliments and gratitudes — a great blessing.

But back to DICK KATZ.  Here is Dick playing THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU:

and THREE LITTLE WORDS:

and with Nancy Harrow on a very touching rendition of IF YOU WERE MINE (I need no excuse to recommend Nancy to you):

Dan Morgenstern says, “Dick was a dear man.”  Dan Morgenstern is a dear man.

May your happiness increase!

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“WE CALL IT MUSIC” (PART TWO): DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, EHUD ASHERIE, JOEL FORBES, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 14, 2017)

It’s only music.  Don’t be afraid of the unfamiliar.  Everything good was unfamiliar once, and that includes ripe apricots.

Here‘s Part One of the Musical Offering.  And here’s the text for what follows:

Randy Weston’s late-Fifties composition SAUCER EYES, is here exuberantly performed on September 14, 2017, by a comfortable assemblage of all-stars at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party: Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.  I hadn’t known the tune, but after hearing it, it is now permanently stuck in my head, in a good way.

I like it, I like it.

May your happiness increase!

“MY GAL SAL”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, HAL SMITH, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, MARC CAPARONE at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 26, 2017)

Imagine a small band, perfectly balanced, without excess in any way, that honors the Basie rhythm section, the Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian, Fifty-Second Street, steadiness, great lyricism, allying Teddy Wilson and Al Capone for a few minutes.  What if you didn’t have to imagine this marvel?  Yes, they existed for more than five sets — outside the recording studio — and you can enjoy them here.

The generous benefactors of small-band swing are Kris Tokarski, piano; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone; Hal Smith, drums; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Marc Caparone, trumpet.  All of this took place on Sunday, November 26, 2017, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

The song they chose was the venerable MY GAL SAL, from 1905, music and lyrics by Paul Dresser, whose older brother Theodore Dreiser — the original family name — is more famous, although Theodore could never restrict himself to thirty-two bars.  Paul’s story is fascinating and sad: read about it here.

Hal Smith reminded us that SAL was Al Capone’s favorite song.

It’s one of those harmonically simple compositions that can be played at a number of tempos, but Kris wisely starts it off at an easy bounce.

A digression.  I am a relentless armchair critic.  Even though my own musicianship is at best faded, I sit in front of the speaker or the musicians or the video and say (thank goodness, silently) “That tempo is too fast.  He missed a chord in the bridge.  She could have taken a third chorus!” and so on.  But in this performance I wouldn’t change a note, a tone, an inflection, from intro to riffs to the ending.  It’s “in the pocket” deeply and splendidly, a Keynote session realized in front of our eyes in 2017.

During this set, someone’s phone in the audience rang and rang, and Marc Caparone, dangerously witty, said to us, “Teddy Wilson’s calling. He wants his rhythm section back.”

I will post more videos by this band, because I followed Kris, Jonathan, Larry, Hal, and Nobu for five hour-long sets at San Diego.  And if you haven’t seen the other performance I’ve posted — an absolute masterpiece — check it out here.

What a blessing to see and hear these musicians, and a greater blessing to be able to share their work with you.

P.S.  (Pro tip for aspiring videographers: we in the trade ask the musicians for their permission to shoot video before the music starts, and we clear it with the musicians before posting.  That’s what makes us different from the amateur with the iPhone at the back of the room.)

May your happiness increase!

“MY DREAMS ARE ON PARADE”: DAWN LAMBETH, KRIS TOKARSKI, LARRY SCALA, MARC CAPARONE, HAL SMITH, NOBU OZAKI at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26, 2017)

“A tender plea” is what the fine writer Harriet Choice calls this Sammy Cahn / Saul Chaplin song.  PLEASE BE KIND speaks of the vulnerability of love — the way we say “Here is my heart” to the person whose love we gently ask for.  When the plea doesn’t work, we could feel as if we’d painted an archery target on our t-shirt.

But when neither person has arrows or bow, happiness is possible, blossoming out of mutual understanding.  Kindness becomes the common language, enacted more than spoken.

I’d heard many great versions of this song, by Mildred Bailey, Frank Sinatra, Carmen McRae — but this version, performed at the San Diego Jazz Fest just a few days ago (November 26, 2017) is slower, more tender, and infinitely more touching than any of the more famous ones.

Dawn Lambeth sings it from her heart, as if it mattered, which of course it does.

I’ve known Dawn’s music for nearly fifteen years, thanks to the blessed and much-missed Leslie Johnson, of The Mississippi Rag, who offered me a copy of her first CD, MIDNIGHT BLUE, to review.  And from the first notes of “If I Were You,” I knew I was listening to a splendid artist: someone who understood the words, who knew how to swing, whose voice was a gentle warm embrace of the song and the listener.  And although it might be rude to speak of an artist “improving,” the emotional riches Dawn offers us now are lasting gifts.

Pianist Kris Tokarski’s little band is just spectacular — Kris on piano, Larry Scala (who set the magnificent yearning tempo) guitar; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone — showing his heart utterly as well; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Marc Caparone, trumpet.

I know that comparisons are precarious, but this performance hits me gently where I live — as Louis and Lester do.  Allergies are not the reason my eyes are suddenly damp.

This performance quietly says to me that even in the darkest moments, when I might think all is harsh and hard, “No, kindness and beauty and subtlety have not been lost and will not ever be lost.”

I hope you watch and re-watch this performance, that you go away with words and melody in your mind and ears, and that you, too, make the choice to be kind. It always counts.

May your happiness increase!

LOUIS GOES WEST: 1946 and 1950

I believe that most people reading these words understand the sustained power of Louis Armstrong through the decades.  (If you think he went into “a deep decline” or “became commercial,” please go away and come back next week.)

But I think that many are in danger of taking Louis for granted, in the same way we might take air or sunlight as expected.  Yet there is always something new and uplifting to experience.  My text today is the glory of Louis in his and the last century’s late forties, as displayed on two very different but equally desirable CDs.  “Mid-century modern,” we could call it, with no side glances at  architecture aside from Louis’ own creations.

Two new CDs provide heartening reminders.  Both are equally delightful: suitable as gifts to others or to oneself, with no greater occasion needed than “Wow, I got through that week!”

The first, on the Dot Time label, presents music few have ever heard, taken from Louis’ own archives, the “Standard School Broadcast” of January 30, 1950, recorded in San Francisco, featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, and a clarinetist, string bassist, and drummer whose names are not known or are — in the case of the clarinetist — a guess.  (If anyone known more about “Lyle Johnson,” please write in.)  Clancy Hayes is the master of ceremonies — he doesn’t sing — and the premise is that he is helping Jack Cahill, “Matt the Mapmaker,” construct a musical map of America: in this case, New Orleans jazz.

There is a good deal of music issued that presents Louis alongside Jack and Earl.  But this CD is better than what we already know.  For one thing, there is a very small studio audience, and the recorded sound is superb: when Hayes picks up his acoustic guitar to add rhythm, it’s nicely audible.  And everyone sounds relaxed, playful, inventive, even with familiar repertoire.  I know that some listeners might pass this CD by because, “I already have two versions of Louis playing LAZY RIVER and I don’t need another.”  That would be an error, I suggest. Not a note on this disc sounds routine or stale.

About that repertoire: DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?  [plus two rehearsal takes] / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / BASIN STREET BLUES / STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / BOOGIE WOOGIE ON THE ST. LOUIS BLUES / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / PANAMA / LAZY RIVER / BACK O’TOWN BLUES [issued performance plus Louis playing along with the 1950 tape two years later].  Those wise enough to purchase this CD and play it — attentively — all the way through will have a wondrous aural surprise on the final track, where Louis duets with himself.  When the performance is over, he’s still practicing, and there is a solo exposition of the first sixteen bars of the current pop tune, I COULDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT, that is positively awe-inspiring.  Louis, completely alone and at his peak, one of many.

DotTime Records is releasing the Louis Armstrong Legacy Series — four CDs, of which this is the first, and the second, “Night Clubs,” has just come out.  For more information, visit their website.  These issues have funny, friendly, edifying notes by Ricky Riccardi, the Louis-man of great renown.

The other Louis issue is possibly more familiar to collectors but is musically thrilling.  Here’s Bert Stern’s famous photograph to get you in the mood, or perhaps the groove.

That photograph comes from the film NEW ORLEANS, which starred Louis and Billie Holiday, Kid Ory, Barney Bigard, and others too rarely seen on film.

I remember sitting in front of the television in the den of my parents’ house in early adolescence, having waited all week for this movie to be shown, perhaps on MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE on a weekday afternoon.  The consensus was that the film was disappointing.  As a showcase for my heroes, even more so.  Watching it, waiting for my idols to break through the terrible script, was depressing.  I had grown up on false representations of the jazz-past (“The Roaring Twenties,” starring Dorothy Provine, for example) but NEW ORLEANS was spectacularly bad, especially when Louis and Billie would appear, read a few lines, do their feature numbers, and disappear.

Some years later, an album — music recorded for the film but for the most part not used — was issued on the Giants of Jazz label.  I see in the discography that the Giants of Jazz issue was “reissued” on several bootleg CDs, and it now appears, with even more music, on the Upbeat label — which issue I recommend to you.   The music was recorded in Hollywood in late 1946, and the participants, in addition to Louis, Billie, Bigard, and Kid Ory, are Charlie Beal, Red Callender, Zutty Singleton, Minor Hall, Meade Lux Lewis, Arthur Schutt, Mutt Carey, Lucky Thompson, Louis’ 1946 big band (that recorded for Victor) and more.

As poor as the film was, the music on this CD is just as wonderful.  Anything even tangentially associated with “my old home town” made Louis happy, and that happiness and relaxation comes through the music.  I expect that because he and Billie were pre-recording music for the film, they had not been compelled to face what their roles in the film would be . . . Billie playing a maid, a grievous insult.

The CD enables us to spend seventy minutes embraced by the music itself, with Louis in the company of old friends and mentors Ory and Mutt Carey, playing “good old good ones” — the cadenza to WEST END BLUES, FLEE AS A BIRD, SAINTS, TIGER RAG, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, DIPPERMOUTH BLUES, KING PORTER STOMP, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, heard in multiple versions.  For one example, there is DIPPERMOUTH, played as a medium-slow-drag with Mutt Carey in the lead, as if taking Joe Oliver’s place, then a version at the expected romping tempo with the young “modernist” Lucky Thompson audible in the ensemble before Barney Bigard takes the Johnny Dodds solo.  Fascinating, and I looked in astonishment to see that the second version was only one minute and thirty-four seconds, because it felt so complete.

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, BALLIN’ THE JACK, KING PORTER STOMP, and MAHOGANY HALL STOMP also feature this splendidly hybrid band of Louis, Mutt, Lucky, Ory, Bigard, Beal, Callender, and Zutty: realizations of what was possible in 1946. One could do a fascinating study of ensemble playing as created by Ory and Lucky, side by side.  They solo in sequence on KING PORTER STOMP as well.  Incidentally, if you are familiar with the jazz “journalism” of this period, as practiced by Feather, Ulanov, Blesh, and others, you might believe that the “beboppers” loathed and feared “the old men,” and the detestation was mutual. Nothing of the sort.  What is audible is pure pleasure: hear Louis on the two versions of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, leisurely and intense.  Attentive listeners will also delight in the very fine string bass work of Callender — someone who deserves more celebration than he has received.

I have said little of Billie Holiday’s recorded performances on this CD: DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS (twice), FAREWELL TO STORYVILLE, THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’ — these tracks have often been issued in various forms, and she sounds wonderful.

I thought of printing the complete discography of what music had been issued, but it was a confusing labyrinth, so I will simply list the titles on the Upbeat release and hope that purchasers will be guided by their ears:  FLEE AS A BIRD – SAINTS / WEST END BLUES / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / BRAHMS’ LULLABY / TIGER RAG / BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES (2) / BASIN STREET BLUES / RAYMOND STREET BLUES / MILENBERG JOYS / WHERE THE BLUES WERE BORN IN NEW ORLEANS / FAREWELL TO STORYVILLE / BEALE STREET STOMP / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES (2) / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / BALLIN’ THE JACK / KING PORTER STOMP / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (2) / THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’ / ENDIE / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS? / HONKY TONK TRAIN / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS? / WHERE THE BLUES WERE BORN IN NEW ORLEANS / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP / ENDIE / THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’.

The Upbeat issue is generous: the last five titles are from issued Victor 78s of the same songs, giving us an opportunity to compare.  Here is the Upbeat site where this disc can be ordered.

Incidentally, to see the wonderful photographs Phil Stern took of Louis and other luminaries, visit here.

And for those who have never seen the film NEW ORLEANS or don’t believe me, here is the whole thing uploaded to YouTube.  But don’t get your hopes up: once the first three minutes of WEST END BLUES is over, we have left the reality of the “Orpheum Cabaret” for the melodrama of a routine script:

At times the subtitles are the most diverting thing.  But we have the music, in full flower, on the Upbeat CD.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE: “THE LATE SET”

This new CD doesn’t have a false note in it, just tremendously satisfying music.

I don’t recall the first time I heard Hilary Gardner sing, with or without Ehud Asherie’s accompaniment, but I was smitten — in a nice legal Platonic way — by the blending of her tender, expressive voice and his elegant, sometimes raucous piano.  Singular individualists, they combine in wonderful synergy, and this CD expertly reproduces what it’s like to hear marvelous improvisations in a small club full of attentive, sympathetic listeners, leaning forward to catch every nuance.  The sound is spectacularly fine — by which I mean natural, and you don’t have to leave your house to “be there.”  (Although seeing them at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street has been one of my great pleasures for a few years.)

Both Hilary and Ehud are splendid connoisseurs of the best songs, and this recital shows off their sensitivity to fine melodies and telling lyrics: SHADOW WALTZ by Al Dubin and Harry Warren; SWEET AND SLOW by the same two masters in a completely different mood; the very sad Rodgers and Hart A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL; the ancient but still lively AFTER YOU’VE GONE with the never-heard second chorus; I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote; Irving Berlin’s immensely touching I USED TO BE COLOR BLIND; the wicked EVERYTHING I’VE GOT, again by Hart and Rodgers; the sweet command to MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, by Adolph Green, Betty Comden, and Jule Styne; the wistful SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo.

Song-scholars will find connections to Fred Astaire, Diane Keaton, Arthur Godfrey, Sophie Tucker, Lee Wiley, Fats Waller, Busby Berkeley, and two dozen others, but this is not a CD of homages to the Ancestors nor to their recordings.  Although the majority of the songs are enshrined in “the Great American Songbook,” this CD isn’t an exercise in reverential mummification.  No, the magic that Hilary and Ehud bring to these possibly venerable pages is to sing and play the songs for real — asking the questions, “What meaning might be found here?  What feelings can we share with you?”  And, ultimately, “Why are these songs so affecting in themselves?”

I’ve celebrated Ehud a great deal on this blog: his ability to create a Frolick all by himself, evoking both Bud Powell and Francois Rilhac, his touch precise but warm, his marvelous ability to think of anything and then to play it, his eye for the perfect swinging epigram a master archer’s.

Hilary was a wonderfully complete singer when I first heard her.  She has outdone herself here.  I find myself reaching for adjectives: is her voice “warm,” “creamy,” “light,” “rich”?  Then I give up, because it sounds as if I am a blindfolded contestant on a cooking show assessing a pound cake.

In plain English: she swings, she understands the lyrics, she improvises splendidly but without theatricality, and when she descends into a song, even if it’s one she’s sung a hundred times before, she comes to the surface, immensely naturally, showing us something we’ve never thought of before.  She’s witty but not clever; emotive but not melodramatic, tender but not maudlin.  Her approach is warm, delicate, unhurried.

When Hilary and Ehud did a brief tour of the Pacific Northwest not long ago, they visited KNKX, did an interview about the CD, and performed three songs in the studio — SWEET AND SLOW, I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, and AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  Here‘s the link to watch the videos and hear the interview.

You can find THE LATE SET at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and the Anzic Records site.  I urge you to find and purchase a physical disc, because one of the great pleasures — hidden inside — is Hilary’s own pitch-perfect evocation of “the late set” in what I presume is a New York City jazz club.

This is extraordinary music.  How delightful that it exists in this century.

May your happiness increase!

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!