Category Archives: It’s All True

VIVIDLY ALIVE: THE BRAIN CLOUD, “LIVE AT BARBES”

I adore the surprises that happen at jam sessions or when musicians are asked to play alongside each other in new combinations, but Heaven smiles on that rare entity, a WORKING BAND.  The Brain Cloud, led by Dennis Lichtman (clarinet, violin, mandolin, and more) is such a remarkable entity — and they’ve just released their third CD, “Live at Barbes.”

Photo by Seth Cashman

Here’s a sample: music does speak louder than words!

Dennis Lichtman and all the members of the Brain Cloud have created the world’s most swinging, melodic “safe space”: which is to say, a place where all kinds of lyrical music are welcome to flourish — not historical or archaeological, but alive now.

Once upon a time, we know, there was just MUSIC — a beautifully undulating landscape as far as we could see.  Then, people looking to sell product — journalists, publicists, record company executives, even some musicians — came and divided the landscape up into little fiefdoms whose occupants glared at one another.  The Brain Cloud suggests that a return to the prelapsarian world is possible: imagine a record store where The Carter Family and Benny Carter are friends, where Lester Willis Young and Bob Willis share a drink, a cigarette, and a story.  Or a place where double-entendre blues sit in the same pew as hymns, where “Dixieland,” “roots music,” “Americana,” all those dazzling names for what is essentially the same thing, coexist beautifully, because they are all only music that has stories to tell and in the telling, enlightens the listener.

Photo by Tom Farley

To the music: as you can hear and see above, the opening track on this CD, JEALOUS HEARTED ME, is no academic exercise: a Carter Family song, it reminds me of rocking Fifties rhythm and blues, with an outchorus that would equal any Eddie Condon IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE.  The expert Merrymakers here are Dennis Lichtman, clarinet, mandolin, fiddle; Tamar Korn, vocal improvisations; Skip Krevens, guitar, vocals; Raphael McGregor, lap steel guitar; Andrew Hall, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Each track is wonderfully itself — the CD isn’t a monochromatic blur — but each is a joyous lesson in the merging of “styles.”  So aside from the “roots” classics — venerable as well as new (from Jimmie Rodgers and Patsy Cline) — there’s Alex Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME (hooray!) and the 1939 Broadway song COMES LOVE and the Twenties LONESOME AND SORRY and IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW.

Since the Brain Cloud has had a long residency at Barbes (on Monday nights) there is a delightful mix of exuberance and comfort.  Everyone’s made themselves to home, as we might say.  And — in case you worry about such things — the recorded sound is excellent.  Those who have been to Barbes already have multiple copies of this disc; if you’ve never made it into Brooklyn for such frolics, you’ll want your own copy.  And on a personal note: listening to the Brain Cloud has helped me to drop my own narrow suspicions of music that I didn’t think was “jazz,” always a good thing; I’ve been following them since 2009, and this disc is a wonderful encapsulation of what the band does so well.

Here you can find out more about the Brain Cloud, hear more music, buy this disc, or a download, or even as a limited-edition cassette.  And more.  Don’t just sit there!  Move that cursor!

May your happiness increase!

MORE FROM “HOT CLASSICISM” — KRIS TOKARSKI, ANDY SCHUMM, HAL SMITH — at SNUG HARBOR, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

The trio of Kris Tokarski, piano; Hal Smith, drums; Andy Schumm, cornet and clarinet, called HOT CLASSICISM, is one of the most consistently satisfying jazz groups I know.

Here are a few more delights from their chamber recital in New Orleans last September.

A modern version of the Jelly Roll Morton – King Oliver duet on KING PORTER STOMP, scored for cornet and piano:

“Chicago style,” dirty but not unclean — fully realized on this rendition of MECCA FLAT BLUES:

PARKWAY STOMP (which, if my ears are right, is a very close cousin to Shelton Brooks’ DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL, and the 1928 recording originally featured Al Wynn, Punch Miller, and a very young Sidney Catlett).  In Big Sid’s honor, Hal “whips them cymbals” with precision and energy:

and, finally, for this interlude, an evocation of “the dear boy” from Iowa:

There will be more from this glorious compact inspired band to come.

May your happiness increase!

DREAM AND REVELATION: MORE FROM THE JON DE LUCIA OCTET at THE TEA LOUNGE (May 29, 2017)

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

More fun and expertly played music — wonderful in ensemble and solo — from the Jon De Lucia Octet, performing on May 29, 2017, at the Tea Lounge on Union Street in Brooklyn, New York. For this performance, they were Jon, alto, clarinet, flute; John Ludlow, alto; Jay Rattman, tenor, bass clarinet; Marc Schwartz, tenor, clarinet; Brad Mulholland, baritone, clarinet; Reuben Allen, keyboard; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, borrowed drums.  On SELDOM THE SUN, a piece by Alec Wilder for his Octet, special guest Alison Mari on oboe/English horn joined in.

Here is THE SONG IS YOU from the same performance.

And more.

PICK YOURSELF UP (always good advice):

Jon’s composition and arrangement, PRELUDE TO PART FIRST:

Jimmy Giuffre’s arrangement of the Van Heusen beauty, DARN THAT DREAM, for saxophones only:

Alec Wilder’s SELDOM THE SUN:

REVELATION (incomplete through the failure of the incautious videographer, who is contrite even now):

Jon’s thoughtful, emotionally deep, and deeply swinging music pleases me more than I can say here . . . but you know it, he knows it, and I do, too.

May your happiness increase!

MY SEARCH FOR PAT KIRBY

My search for the singer Pat Kirby — an extraordinary artist — began last Monday, June 12, with a trip to the thrift store closest to my college, as I described here.  I’d amassed nearly thirty dollars of records, and the long-playing one by a singer I’d never heard of before caught my eye because of the cover photo, the Decca label (Decca in that period tended to be more rewarding than some lesser labels), the repertoire, and the identification that the orchestra was directed by Ralph Burns.

That the disc was also $1.49 minus the Monday 25% discount was also encouraging, and I thought there might be excellent musicians accompanying Miss Kirby.  I should point out that I had never heard a note of her singing, nor had I been of an age to see her perform on television.

And, having just come from teaching a class of mostly uninspired students, it is likely that the cover picture of Miss Kirby, sweet pedagogue, caught my eye.  I would have bet that her students were paying attention.  It might be silly to have an instant crush on a portrait of someone c. 1956, but I make no more apologies for myself than that.

Good songs, as well.

Before Monday evening, I had played the album four times, had spent a good deal of time searching for Miss Kirby, and had emailed several friends who are professional singers to say, “You have to listen to her.”  Rebecca Kilgore listened and approved: I knew I was on the right track.

At this point I invite readers to do just that. I confess that I had put the needle down on the first track hoping for a pleasing, competent singer but really searching for surprises from unannounced jazz stars.  They may well be there, but Miss Kirby took my attention wholly.

I hear a controlled passion, a lovely dramatic sense.  She understands the words, offers them with diction that is both natural and impressive.  Some passages of lyrics that I had never fully understood are clear for the first time.  Her rhythmic sense is splendid . . . and although she has a splendid vocal instrument, her voice is never the main subject.  It’s the song.  She’s not imitating anyone (although she reminds me ever so delicately of Teddi King) and her approach seems so unaffected but, as any singer would tell you, she is no amateur.  I hear a tender tremulous vibrato, full of emotion but Miss Kirby is in complete control, never over-dramatic.  Yet she can be almost saucy on DOWN WITH LOVE, which rises to a near-shout; however, her LOVER MAN is a young woman’s sweet series of wishes.  Her IN LOVE IN VAIN — backed only by a guitarist who might be Barry Galbraith and a string bassist — is beyond memorable.

I don’t know whether she or Burns or perhaps Milt Gabler chose the songs, but Miss Kirby shows tremendous courage in singing LOVER MAN with the potent shade of Billie hovering.  She manages to make me hear her on I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY, making that song her own, not Mr. Sinatra’s.

I will put my adoration down for several paragraphs and offer a story, by John Fink, from the September 15, 1956 Chicago Tribune “TV Week” — full of attractive photographs of a dark-haired, pretty young woman, sipping soda through a straw, singing in front of an overhead microphone, demurely wearing a narrow-striped top. The story’s headline, in lower-case turquoise, is “once too shy to stand up and sing!”  I know the enthusiastic prose that one finds in weekly television guides, but at least Mr. Fink had offered a few facts.

Philadelphia has always been home base for Pat Kirby.  The songstress of the Tonight program, seen week days at 11 p. m. on Channel 5, started life there as Patricia Querubin, and did her first vocalizing with a high school band.  Too shy to stand up and sing, she sat at her piano at the rear of the stage.

Two years ago, after a shot at local radio, Pat was tapped for an Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts appearance.  She won, then retired to Philadelphia to consider a Hollywood offer.  But Hollywood, she decided, was too far from home.

By that time Steve Allen had signed her up for guest appearances on Tonight, and she was staying in a Manhattan convent, returning to Philly on week-ends to be with her parents and three brothers.  She was signed as a regular on the program, and had begun to make records.  She knew she had really arrived when they asked her to make an album called “Pat Kirby Sings.”

The singer with the jet black hair and flashing black eyes stands 5 feet, 6 1/2 inches tall and weighs a tidy 125 pounds.  Her father, a merchant mariner, is of Spanish descent; her mother comes of Irish stock.

Pat chooses her songs for the feeling in the lyrics and leans towards “standards” by Gershwin and Arlen and Rodgers and Hart.  “If the words don’t mean anything,” she says, “why bother pronouncing them.  You might just as well sing vowels.”

But her long range goal was to get married.  She was all of 20, and she had made up her mind.  Pat accomplished that last June.  The lucky fellow?  A boy back home in Philadelphia, of course.

For the moment, we can ignore all the stereotypes and sexism of 1956.

Here are the (uncredited) notes on the back of the Decca album:

Decca’s newest recording artist, Pat Kirby, is one of the most talented as well as the most attractive newcomers in show business. She appears several times a week over NBC Television, and hardboiled critics as well as enthusiastic watchers of Steve Allen’s “Tonight” show are already predicting that she will soon be one of the nation’s top-flight stars.

Born twenty-one years ago in Philadelphia, where she was raised, Pat Kirby comes from Irish and Spanish forbears — her real last name is Querubin.  She was educated at St. Francis Xavier Grammar School and John W. Hallahan Catholic High School, and it was at the latter institution that Pat began to display her musical versatility.  In the school band she played the tympani, drums, piano, organ, and celeste — there seemed to be no instrument she could not master. There was only one thing that did not seem to interest her, and that was singing.  A vocal career was the last thing on her mind; her ambition was to play the drums in an all-girl orchestra.  It was only after she graduated that she took up singing because she thought the ability to sing might help her in show business.

Pat’s professional career began when she was offered occasional piano and singing jobs with small bands in and around Philadelphia.  She forsook the piano — reluctantly — when Buddy Williams engaged her as vocalist for his orchestra.  It was not long before she was featured with the band in such coveted showcases as the Bellevue-Stratford and Benjamin Franklin Hotels in Philadelphia, the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, and many other top spots.  A little more than a year ago, Pat began doing a “single.”  In November 1954, she gained national recognition by winning the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Program,  She also appeared for twenty weeks on “Get Happy,” a show emanating from Philadelphia’s WCAU-TV, in which Pat was given a chance to act and ad-lib as well as sing.

This album furnishes proof that Pat Kirby has arrived.  The songs she sings are among America’s favorites, and she renders them all with a delicate and sure touch.  The songs themselves have a central theme.  Whether the numbers are Ballads, Rhythm Tunes, or Torch Songs, all of them answer the question posed in the title, “What Us This Thing Called Love?”  The arrangements for the numbers are unusually lush in scoring, and their enriched instrumentations furnish a worthy background for Pat Kirby’s voice. 

In writing this post, I have spent a good deal of energy chasing invisible cyber-rabbits.  I found out that after Miss Kirby had made this recording, she “abruptly retired,” although I saw mentions of her singing on the Merv Griffin Show c. 1960-62.  Did she retire as soon as she became pregnant?  Did she choose, a good Catholic, to forsake the bright lights for happy domesticity?  Did she miss performing? (Did Someone hasten her flight by behaving inappropriately to her? She was, as we say, both very attractive and very young.)  Decca, incidentally, seems to have had her record some pop singles, including the paper-thin TAMMY (circa 1957), and this Frank Loesser rarity, which might have had merit. And then, nothing.

I found out that Buddy Williams played drums and apparently had played them for Miller and one of the Dorseys.  Of course, no recordings from the period are listed in Tom Lord’s online discography, and there is no entry for Miss Kirby.  Or Miss Querubin.

There is a single by “Pat Kirby” of the theme from the motion picture SAYONARA, but it does not sound like the same singer.  There is no YouTube video of her, although there is televised evidence in the Paley Center (more about that shortly).  Facebook bristles with authorities, some quite incorrect and vehement about it, but no one responded to my request for information — from a group devoted to the dark corners of popular culture.  And I have little success with family-ancestry sites: her parents may have been Robert and Helen Querubin; her married name might have been Burgoyne.  Given that she was born in 1935 or so, I doubt that she will write to me to say, “Young man, you have gotten the facts of my life all wrong.”

However, I have a frustratingly lively lead that might lead nowhere: a Google search for Pat Kirby led me to the Paley Museum, which has two kinescopes of the Steve Allen show: on one she sings THE BOY NEXT DOOR, the other I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU.  And . . . on Trip Advisor, of all places, Liz M. from Philadelphia visited the Paley Museum and wrote this comment:

I visited here to see a video of my mom on the Steve Allen show from 60 years ago. She was young singer Pat Kirby who sang regularly with Andy Williams. They had 2 episodes.  It is so wild to see your mother in action years before you were born. My friend had never been there before and can’t wait to go back for special events.

I find that very touching, and Trip Advisor has a space to “ask Liz M. a question,” which I did.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Pat Kirby, who obviously wanted privacy after her brief intense turn in the spotlight, might have planned it all this way.  A short bolt of fame, of public visibility, might have been all she could tolerate or all she wanted.  William Faulkner said of fame that his ideal would have been to have written his books without his name on the title page — to do the work and remain anonymous.  Pat Kirby leaves us under an hour of musical evidence of the finest kind imaginable, and then she made her exit.  Thank goodness we have the records, because who would believe this tale otherwise?

I’d love to know more, if only to honor one of the finest — and least heralded — singers I’ve ever heard.

P.S.  (“This just in!”) Music scholar Bob Moke told me on Facebook that Pat is the speaking voice in the middle of this famous record.  The singing voice at the start is Lois Winters — all confirmed by one of the Lads.  Any snippet of Miss Kirby is greatly appreciated:

May your happiness increase!

BETTY LOU TELLS HER STORIES (1937)

Betty Lou has something to explain to us, and it doesn’t need Google Translate:

That rare record (quite hot and swinging) comes to us through the generosity of collector / scholar Steve Abrams, who has been showering the faithful with treasures of all kinds on his YouTube channel, SMARBA100. Everything from hot classics (Luis Russell, Joe Robechaux) to Twenties dance bands and “American roots music” — all gratifying and surprising.  Thank you, Steve!

I couldn’t find any photographs of the band or of Betty Lou, but thank goodness we have the music: that survives.  And as for Betty Lou: “DO try this at home.”

May your happiness increase!

THE THIRD SET: MIND-DANCES AND HEART-TALES: JOEL FORRESTER AT THE PIANO (Cafe Loup, May 27, 2017)

I now have another regular Saturday-afternoon gig to go to, which for me is no small thing.  Every Saturday afternoon from noon to after 3:30 (the music begins at 12:30) I’ve been at Cafe Loup, 105 West Thirteenth Street, near Sixth Avenue, to get a good seat for the solo piano recital of Joel Forrester, one of the most consistently imaginative — often playfully so — artists I have ever heard and witnessed in person.  What I offer here is the last set (only four performances) of Joel’s offering of May 27, 2017.  And here are videos and commentary about the first two sets.  And for those of you who are unfamiliar with Joel’s work, this should remedy that deficiency easily.

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Joel’s compositions, his approach to standard material — all of his music is as far from formulaic as one could imagine.  He knows the tradition, and it’s not simply “the jazz tradition,” “the bebop tradition,” or “the jazz piano tradition,” and the breadth of his knowledge and his affection for all kinds of melodic music, subtle and powerful, bubbles through every performance.  So here are four more:

His original, SERENADE, in honor of a now-defunct club of the same name:

Another original, I WONDER, that begins as if the ghost of Tatum had beguined into the room for a few minutes, then transforms into a swirling dance:

A respectfully quirky reading of Monk’s WELL, YOU NEEDN’T:

and finally, the Beatles’ YESTERDAY, the soundtrack of my early teens:

Gigs do not last forever, as we all know.  If you’re in the vicinity of Cafe Loup on a Saturday afternoon and you don’t get a chance to witness what Joel is doing, you’re missing the Acme Fast Freight, to quote Mildred Bailey.  That’s an unsubtle admonition or is it a solicitation? — but true nevertheless.

May your happiness increase!

“THE SONG IS YOU”: JON DE LUCIA’S OCTET at the TEA LOUNGE (May 29, 2017)

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Jon De Lucia’s little orchestras delight me, so I follow them whenever I can.  No matter how many players are gathered, there’s always shifting timbres, beautiful ensemble textures, a range of energies from serene to soaring. Here’s one gorgeous romp from his Octet’s most recent appearance: Jimmy Giuffre’s arrangement of THE SONG IS YOU. Properly speaking, I think the title should be corrected to THE SONG IS US, but the composer had never heard this octet in action.

Incidentally, should any more “traditionally-minded” readers be tempted to turn away from this dangerous venture into mid-century Modernism, I urge you to courageously listen: there’s an irresistible momentum, and even a passage of collective improvisation (let’s call it a little jam session) sure to delight even the most seriously loyal archaeologist.

For this occasion, the Octet was Jon De Lucia, alto, clarinet, flute; John Ludlow, alto; Jay Rattman, tenor, bass clarinet; Marc Schwartz, tenor, clarinet; Brad Mulholland, baritone, clarinet; Reuben Allen, keyboard; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, borrowed drums.  Later in the evening, this Octet played two pieces from the Alec Wilder Octet with special guest Alison Mari on oboe/English horn.

The occasion was also to celebrate the release of Jon’s book, Bach Shapes (Bach Shapes), certainly worth a look, even for those of us whose saxophone careers are not yet fully in motion.

And speaking of “in motion”:

I promise to share more music from this delightful evening.  The Octet does my heart good, and I hope yours as well.

May your happiness increase!