Category Archives: Jazz Titans

THE PURSUIT OF SWEETNESS, OR, LIFE BEYOND “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON, a/k/a “THE HOT CORNER” (September 15, 2019)

Hot Lips Page is supposed to have said, on the subject of repertoire one could improvise on, “The material is immaterial.”  Or, as a segment on the Benny Goodman Camel Caravan was headlined, “Anything can swing!”  Many jazz fans cling to a favored selection of songs, performed loud and fast — you know the tunes that the audience is ready to applaud even before a note is played, the lure and comfort of the familiar.  Not so here.  This is music for people willing to pay close attention, and to feel what’s being created for them.

Ray Skjelbred goes his own way, deep in the heart of melody, and we are glad.  Here he is with Marty Eggers, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, documented for all of us and for posterity by RaeAnn Berry.  Ray’s renamed this trio “The Hot Corner,” a reference to third base in baseball, but the music lives up to the name in very subtle ways.  In fact, it’s quiet and thus even more compelling, reminding me of the passages on 1938-40 Basie records where only the rhythm section is playing, quiet and even more quiet: enthralling!

Ray loves Bing Crosby, and Bing inspired some of the best songs, including his theme, a melody almost forgotten now:

Here’s what my dear friend Mike Burgevin would call “another Bingie,” this one best listened to over a dish of fresh — not canned — pineapple:

We wander from Bing to King — Wayne King, “the Waltz King,” that is:

Notice, please, the sweet patience of musicians who don’t have to jump into double-time, who can stay contentedly in three-quarter time, and it all swings so affectingly.  And here, just because technology makes it so easy, for those listeners who might not know the originals (and can now marvel even more at what Ray, Jeff, and Marty make of them), here they are.

Bing, with added attractions Eddie Lang and Franklin Pangborn:

and in a Hawaiian mood:

That famous waltz (which Bob Wills and Tamar Korn have also made their own):

and the Wills version, because why should I deny us the pleasure?

May your happiness increase!

“PICK UP MY PIECES”: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI SINGS WILLIE NELSON

Gabrielle Stravelli by Tom Cocotos

I confess.  I am not a deep Willie Nelson fancier.  But I do think Gabrielle Stravelli is one of the great improvising-dramatic singers of my time, and I base that on delighted personal observation.

On this CD, she is expansive, resonant, enthusiastic, making each song a sharply realized dramatic vignette with her rich voice splendidly supported by a rollicking big band (splendidly whimsical arrangements by string bassist / cellist / composer Pat O’Leary).  These strong performances don’t rely on “acting,” just her soulful emotional scope, the kind of art I associate with Aretha Franklin, even though the two singers don’t sound alike.

As a special bonus, the EarRegulars (if you don’t know who they are, check the search bar) — Jon-Erik Kellso, John Allred, and Scott Robinson are vividly in evidence on THREE DAYS, as well as an evocative string quartet and Hammond B3.  Gabrielle can be poignantly intimate, as on BUTTERFLY (in duet with Scott’s alto flute).  A rollicking MAMMAS DON’T LET YOUR BABIES GROW UP TO BE COWBOYS (Gabrielle hilariously playing tag with John Allred) would make Sarah Vaughan grin.  In the middle of this CD, Gabrielle essays STARDUST — and tenderly explores that song as if ninety years of accretion had never happened, in tandem with Scott’s tenor saxophone. She then turns GOOD HEARTED WOMAN into a crooning poem; what I’ve characterized as Gabrielle’s urban meow comes to the surface during the KARMA MEDLEY — with a too-brief interlude where NOBODY SLIDES, MY FRIEND becomes a New Orleans Second Line, snare drum and Jon-Erik Kellso to the fore.

SOMEBODY PICK UP MY PIECES is conceived, magnificently, first as a duet for Gabrielle and Pat O’Leary’s string bass, then growing more expressive, even operatic, as it proceeds.  NIGHTLIFE rocks along with what I can only think of as a modern New York City jazz ensemble along for Gabrielle’s ride.  ANGEL FLYING TOO CLOSE TO THE GROUND — with a magic carpet of strings (real ones, not synthesizer simulacra) is a hymnlike lament imbued with great intensity.  ALWAYS ON MY MIND closes the grand tour — a guilt-laden duet with piano — memorably and sorrowfully.

Medleys make it possible to include seventeen songs in twelve performances with arresting thematic juxtapositions.  You can hear convincing sound samples here.  And here are some vibrant performance videos from Birdland — with our heroes in the band (John Allred, Jon-Erik Kellso, Pat O’Leary, John Allred, Scott Robinson, Jay Rattman) as well.  However, a small caveat: the videos allow you to see just how Gabrielle captivates an audience.  But the sound on the CD is much better, and you will hear nuances not captured by the Birdland sound system.

LADY LUCK / IF YOU’VE GOT THE MONEY:

THREE DAYS:

The very tender BUTTERFLY:

DON’T LET YOUR BABIES GROW UP TO BE COWBOYS, wise advice:

KARMA MEDLEY, with echoes of the French Quarter:

PICK UP MY PIECES / CRAZY:

and finally, NIGHTLIFE:

That applause is both real and well-deserved.  Gabrielle is both fierce and delicate, and the band follows her every impulse, most eloquently.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY OR ANNIVERSARY, BOYS! CHICAGOANS in CALIFORNIA, CONTINUED (The CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 25, 2018)

I read recently that the Chicago Cellar Boys were celebrating being a band for two years: I don’t know whether we should wish them HAPPY BIRTHDAY or HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, but my impulse is to celebrate them: their wonderful mixture of exactitude and abandon is so very inspiring, so hot, so sweet.  How do we celebrate here at JAZZ LIVES?  We share video that you haven’t seen before unless you were at the gig.  That’s what we do!

KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE, not only a good song but a fine life-maxim, performed in the style of the Apex Club Orchestra, with its verse as well:

ROSY CHEEKS, with an idiomatic vocal chorus by Paul Asaro:

Clarence Williams’ BOTTOMLAND, played at a yearning tempo:

A word about husbands who suffer; take it seriously or not, POOR PAPA:

Another song related to Jimmie Noone’s small band, which performed at the El Dorado Club — I read that EL RADO SCUFFLE was named because some of the lighting on the club’s sign was not working:

SO TIRED, which is obviously not the Cellar Boys’ theme song:

SWEET EMMALINE, recorded in 1928 by Clarence Williams.  Is there any truth to the rumor, half-remembered, which has Clarence saying, late in life, that he wrote none of the music for which he took credit?

A great band!

Incidentally, parents in the JAZZ LIVES audience are surely familiar with “the terrible twos,” where the toddler says NO to everything, dramatically.  The CCB say NO to many things: inauthentic music, badly played music, striped vests, stuffed pets on the gig, poor-quality snacks in the musicians’ room, too-tight polo shirts.  To wonderful music they say YES, as do we.

Two other bits of relevant information.  The Cellar Boys will be back at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest, and they will have copies of their debut CD, BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN, which is a Rivermont Records production.  Also for Rivermont, they’ve recorded a microgroove 78 rpm record (four songs) if it isn’t sold out by now.

And if you’ve never seen a copy of THE SYNCOPATED TIMES, you owe it to yourself to click on the bright-blue rectangle below, which is there for some good reasons.

May your happiness increase!

MY FRIEND FLIP, at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Part One): RANDY REINHART, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN SHERIDAN, VINCE GIORDANO, JOHN VON OHLEN (September 2008)

Warning for the timid and the finicky: the video that follows is unusually flawed and visually limited.  But the sound is fine and the performance precious.

Some of you may recognize this now-obsolete piece of technology.  In 2008, before I bought my first video camera, I tried out a Flip pocket video.  It recorded sixty minutes; it had no controls aside from an on / off button and a rudimentary zoom function; it fit in a pocket.

I had shot some video with it, but remember only two instances: once at The Ear Inn, where a musician who shall be nameless expressed his displeasure by coming close to me and hissing, “Audio’s all right, but that video don’t do nothin’ for me, Pops,” to which I apologized, put it away, and later deleted the video.  Pops hasn’t forgotten, you will notice, and in his dotage, he avoids that musician, even without a camera.

The other instance was in Mexico, where I recorded some vibrant street musicians, but I foolishly packed Flip (as I thought of him, like a cartoon character) in my checked luggage and he went on to a new life in someone else’s pocket.  And I graduated to “real” video cameras, as you have probably seen.

The story of My Friend Flip would have remained a crumb in the breadbox of memory except that two days ago I started a rigorous — no, violent — apartment-tidying, in search of some things I knew I had but couldn’t find.  You know the feeling.  I found a once-blank CD with the puzzling notation, “Chau 2008    Flip.”  At first I thought, “Did I see Flip Phillips at Jazz at Chautauqua?” but knew I hadn’t.  I put the disc in the computer’s DVD tray, waited, and eventually discovered three video performances I had completely forgotten — but which made me joyous, as you will understand.

The late Joe Boughton, who ran Jazz at Chautauqua, was severe in the way I imagine a Roman emperor must have been.  Oh, it was covered by friendliness . . . until you violated one of his strictures.  Musicians can tell you the verbal assaults that resulted when someone played a song that was, to Joe, too common.  SATIN DOLL or SWEET GEORGIA BROWN was punishable by exile: I WISH I WERE TWINS or HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH would make Joe happy and guarantee you’d be invited back.

Joe also recorded everything for his own pleasure (and those recordings, I am told, survive in a university collection) but he didn’t want anyone else recording anything.

Fast forward to 2011, when I’d had this blog for a few years and had Joe in my readership.  I boldly brought my video camera with me and — expecting the worst — asked Joe if it was OK if I videoed a few tunes, for publicity, if I got the musicians’ permission.  His response was positive but also imperial, “Who cares about their permission?  I don’t mind!: and I went ahead.

Before then, a shy criminal, I recorded as much audio as possible on a digital recorder I kept in my pocket (which means that some discs begin with the sound of me walking from my room to the ballroom) and in 2007 I took my point-and-shoot camera, stood at one side of the stage, and recorded two performances, which I have posted here.  Joe didn’t notice, and the palace guards liked me, so I was able to return the next year.

On three separate occasions in 2008, I walked to one side of the stage (perhaps I pretended I was visiting the men’s room), turned on Flip, and recorded some wonderful music for posterity, for me, for you.  Before you move on, I warn you that the video is as if seen through a dirty car windshield.  I was shooting into a brightly lit window, so much is overexposed.  The focus is variable, and there is a Thanksgiving Day Parade of slow-moving patrons who amble on their way, often standing in front of the man with a little white box to his eye.  “Could it have been a camera that young fellow was holding, Marge?  I don’t know, but don’t rush me, John!

But the music comes right through.  Some drum accents have the explosive power of small-arms fire, Flip was a simple camera.  However, everyone shines: Randy Reinhart, cornet; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Sheridan, piano; Vinc Giordano, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums, playing STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

Two more surprises will come along in time.  Until then, bless Randy, Jon-Erik, John, Vince, and John.  Joe, I apologize, but as Barney tells us, “Sharing is caring.”  And thank you, Friend Flip . . . wherever you are now.

May your happiness increase!

EXPERIMENTS IN MUSIC THERAPY, THANKS TO DOCTORS HILL AND WALLER, AND OTHER PRACTITIONERS OF THE HEALING ARTS

Here’s the recipe, or perhaps the prescription:

And the first musical exhortation, this by Mamie Smith (Note: I’ve consciously not written out the known personnel on each of these musical therapies, thinking it a distraction.  If you need to know who’s in the section, write in and I will look it up in Tom Lord’s discography.):

Step two:

and another contemporaneous version, by Lou Gold and his Orchestra:

and the next step:

and the Fletcher Henderson version, arranged by Benny Carter:

Another step:

and the Ellington version that thrills me — vocal by Chick Bullock (whom I like):

Another step:

and the Red Nichols version, where Jack Teagarden delivers the sermon:

and the frankly amazing recording of Bill Robinson.  Follow along!

That’s a hard act to follow, but here are three “modern” versions that have delicious energy of their own.  First, Jeff Barnhart:

and one version by Marty Grosz (there’s another, easily found, on YouTube) where he borrows liberally from Fats’ DON’T LET IT BOTHER YOU for the opening:

and this Teddy Wilson-styled small-group masterpiece by Rebecca Kilgore and Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers:

May your happiness increase!

“BIG T’S JAZZ”: RELICS OF JACK TEAGARDEN, 1928-64

This post is for my dear friend, the fine young trombonist Joe McDonough, who worships at the Teagarden shrine.  A few days ago, I began to collect orts, fragments, and holy relics (from the treasure house of eBay and elsewhere) for him, and for you.  Along with Louis, Sid Catlett, and Teddy Wilson, Jack was one of my earliest jazz heroes — and he remains one, memorably.  Wonderful pieces of paper follow below, but no tribute to Jack could be silent.  Although there are many versions of his hits in his discography, he made more superb recordings than many other players and singers.  Here’s one of his late masterpieces, a sad song that reveals Jack as a compelling actor in addition to everything else.  The trumpet is by Don Goldie:

and an early one, with support from Vic Berton and frolics from Joe Venuti:

and since we can, here’s another take (who knows at this point which is the master and the alternate?):

And the 1954 LOVER, with an astonishing cast: Jack, Ruby Braff, Sol Yaged, Lucky Thompson, Denzil Best, Milt Hinton, Kenny Kersey, Sidney Gross:

An early favorite of mine, the 1947 AUNt HAGAR’S BLUES, with beautiful work from Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, and Pee Wee Russell:

And now, some pieces of paper.  Remarkable ones!

Pages from an orchestral score for SUMMERTIME (title written in by Jack):

and

and

and

and

and

The seller of some of these treasures has a pleasing explanation, which I offer in full:

This is the score for Jack TEAGARDEN, when he performed in bands and orchestras, throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Jack TEAGARDEN was known as the jazz singer and jazz trombonist, who was an innovator at both. He was famous for playing trombone with the best – Paul WHITEMAN, the Dorseys, Louie Armstrong, etc., etc.

Teagarden’s wife, Addie was a great personal friend, throughout the 1980s. She shared some of Jack’s personal effects, including this historic and valuable score for “Summertime”, which Jack actually used in studio and on stage. This is a genuine original score. What a great piece of jazz and musical history.

Jack’s part on trombone is designated (in a small rectangle), on each of six, large, hand-written score sheets from Los Angeles and San Bernardino, California. The front of the sheets, when closed, has the words, Summer time, which have been doodled, by Jack.

I will be selling other TEAGARDEN and Louis Armstrong memorabilia, over the next year.

Weldon Leo “Jack” Teagarden (August 20, 1905 – January 15, 1964) was a jazz trombonist and singer. According to critic Scott Yannow of Allmusic, Teagarden was the preeminent American jazz trombone player before the bebop era of the 1940s and “one of the best jazz singers too”.[1] Teagarden’s early career was as a sideman with the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Paul Whiteman and lifelong friend Louis Armstrong before branching out as a bandleader in 1939 and specializing in New Orleans Jazz-style jazz until his death.

At my age (77), I am beginning to sell a lifelong, eclectic, collection of unique artwork. I enjoyed this great collection. Now, it’s time to share it with others.

Is it “Milly” or “Willy”?  Jack wished her or him the best of everything:

In 1936 and perhaps 1937, Jack was one-third of a small band aptly called THE THREE T’s.  Here’s a page from a fan’s autograph book (selling for 449.95 or thereabouts on eBay):

in 1940, Jack either played a Martin trombone or advertised one, or both:

Some years later, the Belgian label issued BOOGIE WOOGIE by Jack — which is from his 1944 transcription sessions:

And this is a Billboard ad for that same or similar band:

At the end of the Swing Era, when big bands were dissolving and throwing their leaders into deep debt, Jack got telegrams, at least one decidedly unfriendly:

and

and

Jack inscribed this photograph to the Chicago photographer Nat Silberman:

and the newspaper advertisement for Jack’s last gig, at the Dream Room in New Orleans — where Connie Jones was with him:

At the end of the trail, Jack’s headstone with its very moving inscription, although I wonder if those sweet moving words were his idea:

May your happiness increase!

“UNDER THE INFLUENCE”: DAN MORGENSTERN CELEBRATES ALTERED STATES OF BEING, LOUIS, LESTER, GIL, ZOOT, HAWK, BUSTER, VIC, DEXTER, and MORE (Sept. 5, 2019)

Another highly elevating conversation with Dan Morgenstern at his Upper West Side apartment — the most recent in a series of encounters that began in March 2017.

But first, several relevant musical interludes: VIPER MAD, with Sidney Bechet, sung by O’Neil Spencer:

YOU’SE A VIPER, Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, vocal by Jonah Jones:

Cab Calloway’s 1932 THE MAN FROM HARLEM:

and Louis’ WAS I TO BLAME (For Falling in Love With You):

Dan talks about the magical herb, with comments on the music of Louis Armstrong, Lester Young in the military, Zoot Sims, Gil Evans, and more:

Tales of Ralph Burns, Buster Bailey, Condon’s club, Vic Dickenson, and more:

The magical tale of Louis and Coleman Hawkins at Newport, Hawk, Benny Carter, Zutty and Marge Singleton, and more:

Under the influence with heroes, including Hot Lips Page, Roy Eldridge, seeing Sweets Edison gracefully handle things, and an early venture into LSD:

To close, I hope you’ll hum this playful exhortation from Buster Bailey in the days to come.  “Let’s all get mellow!”:

May your happiness increase!