“I love music that shows passion, daring and surprise.” — Ray Skjelbred
I know there is a mythlogy in jazz of the one night or session when the all-stars are on the stand, never to play together again. But what is more beautiful than a working band? Such assemblages are, at their best, small families, with everyone knowing everyone else’s talents and idiosyncracies. And on a non-musical level, a working band is a sign of economic health: there are enough regular gigs for the musicians to stick together. For me, certain working bands stand out as instantly memorable: the George Barnes-Ruby Braff Quartet; Soprano Summit; the EarRegulars in their various permutations; Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs.
The last-named band is an engaging mixture, at turns ferocious and sweet, of hot Chicago jazz, deep blues, and a rocking momentum that suggests both a Count Basie small group and the closing choruses of an Eddie Condon IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE.
Through the generosity and foresight of the Dutch jazz scholar and enthusiast Frank Selman, I can now share with you a remarkable interlude created by Ray and his Cubs: that’s Ray, piano and moral leadership; Clint Baker, string bass, tuba, and vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar and vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal. They performed at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest, and the songs captured are AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL; GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON (vocal by Katie); SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE.
Ray told me, “By the way, Clint knew we were going to play Special Delivery that set and he plays bowed bass on that number. But he was playing a borrowed bass with no bow, so he also borrowed a tuba to simulate bowed bass”:
That band! — the epitome of swinging delicacy and force.
The only mystery is why they don’t get invited to jazz festivals these days.
Promoters and producers, lend me your ears!
With gratitude to Ray, Kim, Clint, Katie, Mike, and of course Frank.
I could write at length about the time when jazz and popular music embraced worldwide, but rather than lament that era’s diminution, I will say only that it was a privilege to witness these four performances: masterful artists at play.
The first two songs were performed by Freddy Cole, piano and vocal; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass, and the latter two Had Freddy and Randy joined by Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Paul Keller, string bass; Eddie Metz, drums.
Melody plus swinging improvisation plus sentiment plus joy.
Whitney Balliett (1926 – 2007) the jazz critic for The New Yorker, remains one of my heroes. In music, he shaped my tastes; in writing, he was a lovely idiosyncratic risk-embracing role model. And when I met him in person, he was completely gracious. We corresponded in the old-fashioned way; I sent tapes of our mutual hero Sidney Catlett and he wrote on New Yorker stationery with a fountain pen — casual friendly notes, greeting me as an equal.
That’s his whimsical self-portrait above, for sale here.
When I began to write for publication about jazz, I copied his poetic style, where metaphor was the second language — so much that I had to work to find a voice of my own. But his style, his insights, and his presence remain with me today.
But first, a photograph of one of the Sunday afternoon jam sessions at Jimmy Ryan’s on Fifty-Second Street, taken by Charles Peterson on November 23, 1941. I can’t identify everyone, but from the left, I see George Wettling, Eddie Condon (half-hidden), Sandy Williams, Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Franz Jackson. The trumpeter standing in the striped suit might be Sidney De Paris. Below and to the right is Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan at the piano, an uncharacteristically exuberant Vic Dickenson, and a positively gleeful Al Hall.
What we would give to have been there. Sadly, PBS did not exist, and the March of Time did not take its cameras there to capture the ecstatic BUGLE CALL RAG that closed the afternoon performance. But a series of small marvelous circumstances, with Whitney Balliett the guiding force, bring us closer.
In preparation for a move, I have been tidying my apartment, digging through years of happy and heedless accumulation, focusing most recently on four tall bookcases. I saved the jazz books for last, and a few days ago was anatomizing a shelf of books when I noticed four loose pages sandwiched between two larger books. One was a letter from Whitney himself, friendly, gossipy, loose. And he sent three pages of what we used to call “photostats,” which made me catch my breath. The evidence, first.
I have omitted a non-jazz postscript, which took off the bottom half of Whitney’s signature:
and a week later:
and the careful young man’s tidy enumeration of those two magical visits to Valhalla:
Before moving onward, I suggest you let your mind, heart, and spiritual ears linger on those pages. Imagine!
And, in the magical way things sometimes happen, my tidying turned up an issue of the Atlantic Monthly, from January 1998, which I’d saved because of Whitney’s memoir about playing drums, “Sitting In.” This paragraph is completely and delightfully relevant.
My erratic noncareer as a drummer began in 1942, when I was going on sixteen. I was a freshman at Phillips Exeter Academy, and had been working blindly toward jazz by way of the jazz-flavored dance bands of Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw and Harry James. During my first Christmas vacation I was taken to one of Milt Gabler’s Sunday-afternoon jam sessions at Jimmy Ryan’s, on West Fifty-second Street, in New York. They weren’t really jam sessions except for the closing number, a fast “Bugle Call Rag,” in which all the musicians from the two alternating bands Gabler had hired got up on the tiny bandstand and let go. There might be three or four trumpets, several reeds, a couple of trombones, and a four-man rhythm section; the number, with its many breaks, would become a “cutting” contest, in which the trumpets in particular tried to outshout one another. It was the first head-on live jazz I had heard, and it was shocking and exhilarating. The famous old New Orleans drummer Zutty Singleton was hypnotic. He moved his head to the rhythm in peculiar ducking motions, shot his hands at his cymbals as if he were shooting his cuffs, hit stunning rim shots, and made fearsome, inscrutable faces, his eyelids flickering like heat lightning.
It would be arrogance to suggest that Whitney’s spirit, somewhere, is helping me tidy my apartment — I would not lay that burden on anyone — but I send thanks to him for his (I hope) amused presence.
And here’s some music — not from Ryan’s, but from the Eddie Condon Blue Network broadcasts — to summon up that beautiful world of 1942:
and another helping:
Ah, that vanished world where one could go to hear Pete Brown, Vic Dickenson, Bill Coleman, Hot Lips Page, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Eddie Condon, Elmer James, and Sidney Catlett play the BUGLE CALL RAG. At least we know it happened.
Slow down. Where’s the fire? Do you have to be somewhere all of a sudden? Take a load off. Make yourself to home. There’s more coffee if you’d like it, and cookies, too.
All of the above translates to LINGER AWHILE, a song created in 1923 and still played and recorded a century later.
The performance below is a splendidly energized interlude for two friendly clarinets and a swinging rhythm team: Allan Vaché (left) and Tom Fischer (right), supported by Danny Coots, drums; Paul Keller, string bass; Johnny Varro, piano. All of this happened at the much-missed Atlanta Jazz Party, but happily everyone on stage is still working their magic. Don’t miss the sly references to DON’T BE THAT WAY, HIGH SOCIETY, DIGA DIGA DOO:
I hope you’ll linger over this performance: it will repay your attentiveness. And there’s more to share from this session.
Yes, it’s true. Two new CDs from pianist Ray Skjelbred — one solo, one solo and trio, with Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Matt Weiner, string bass. The trio recording pictured above is available here in digital and physical form.
Both trio and solo recordings are available in digital form from Ray himself (19526 40th Place NE, Lake Forest Park, WA 98155) — each one for 17.00 USD.
The disc pictured above has fifteen selections. The trio selections are marked *.
BLUE AIR BLUES* / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / SOLITUDE* / MEMORIES OF YOU / DINAH* / JACK DAILY BLUES* / RUSSIAN LULLABY* / KMH DRAG / THAT RHYTHM MAN / BLUES FOR ART HODES / BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL* / FAREWELL BLUES* / COQUETTE* / PIANO MAN / SMILING SKIES //
At Bandcamp you can listen to BLUE AIR BLUES (based on a phrase created by Sidney Bechet in 1941 for a Victor record date with Vic Dickenson) and KMH DRAG (in honor of the fabled Max Kaminsky-Freddie Moore-Art Hodes Blue Note record date).
I created a YouTube video of the trio’s SOLITUDE because it left me awestruck:
Ray’s solo piano recital (shown below) is available only from him, directly, and it’s lovely.
I couldn’t bear people not hearing some music from it, so here are two videos, both of them with deep roots in Earl Hines and his world.
HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY? — which Hines sang on record, also in 1929. Ray’s version is jaunty, but if you know the lyrics, a shirt-sleeved melancholy peeps through:
And the hilarious explosion that is Alex Hill’s BEAU KOO JACK:
The solo performances are ROSETTA / BLACK AND BLUE / MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY / SWEET ELLA MAY / ANAGRAM BLUES / HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY? / I COVER THE WATERFRONT / BEAU KOO JACK / 313 RAG / SAVOYAGERS STOMP / PINKY ROSE / STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU //
I’ve been entranced with Ray and his colleagues since 1988 or so, when John L. Fell sent me a tape containing BERKELEY RHYTHM, and I have been privileged to meet, hear, and video-record him in person for a several years (my “California period,” 2011-2016, more or less) — something I do not take lightly.
Ray and his music are anything but monochromatic. There are touchstones for those who pay attention: Earl Hines, Jess Stacy, Frank Melrose, the Chicago Cubs, Washington Phillips, Alex Hill, Louis Armstrong, Chicago hot music, the dolceola, Count Basie, Sir Charles Thompson, Donald Duck, Joe Sullivan, Bing Crosby, Emerson, Art Hodes, the Marx Brothers, Western Swing, Jim Goodwin, all beings with their own essential personalities, and art that remains its identity no matter how vigorous the transformation.
His playing is at once emotionally deep and instantly accessible, but it wriggles away from those who would compartmentalize it. All I can say is that it is a series of remarkable balances: joy and melancholy, stomp and contemplation, facility and plainness. He is himself, and that is thrilling.
On the trio recording he is joined, shoulder-to-shoulder, by two people who have their own selves firmly intact, although wildness emerges for those who listen closely. It would be possible to build a Swing Era big band purely on the rewarding cardiac thrum of Matt Weiner’s string bass, where he creates engaging melodies while supplying that mobile foundation. Jacob Zimmerman is an explorer at heart, reminding me of Boyce Brown and Paul Desmond andJimmy Giuffre, early Bird and Pete Brown in turn, while peeking out from behind his latest four-bar surprise.
The repertoire chosen on both discs has deep roots in what academia would call a pre-World War Two jazz canon: Clarence Williams and Carroll Dickerson, Johnny Green and Harry Warren, Blue Note Records, Hershel Evans, Benny Meroff, and more. But this is not a trip to the museum, for both CDs, at points, are lifted up by a kind of playful disobedience. “We can play this song the way everyone expects us to play it, but here and there we need to be elastic, to improvise, not only in notes and rests, but spiritually.” All this music exemplifies play at its best, an art that is both puppy-friendly and as serious as one’s life-work,
The real thing, full of delightful shadings.
I am a serious Bandcamp enthusiast, and have applauded many of their releases. And it might be the only way one can acquire the trio CD in digital form. But I applaud even more the direct offering of support (read “love”) to the artist(s). So although I don’t want Ray to be so busy answering the mail and cashing checks that he doesn’t have time to play, I’d love to find out that his mailbox is full of lettuce. Consider yourself pointed in that direction.
Perhaps because I am both nearsighted and fallible, “I MAY BE WRONG (But I think You’re Wonderful)” is a favorite song of mine — written by Henry Sullivan (music) and Harry Riskin (lyrics) no matter what the cover states. The lyrics only make sense if one realizes that the singer is seriously myopic. Here’s the verse:
A delightful November 929 recording (the song was a duet in the original presentation) thanks to the splendidly musical Peter Mintun:
and here is my favorite instrumental version, with decades of playing this track on the “Swingville All-Stars” session on the Prestige-Swingville label. (Coleman Hawkins, Joe Newman, J.C. Higginbotham, Jimmy Hamilton, and Claude Hopkins were on another session, which is why Hawk is credited here.)
The band is a gathering of gentle idiosyncratic deities, each singing his own song: Joe Thomas, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Al Sears, Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Cliff Jackson, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Joe Benjamin, string bass; J.C. Heard. drums. New York, May 19, 1961:
I think these performances are wonderful, and in this I don’t think I’m wrong.
My gratitude to Peter Mintun and to Michael Burgevin, who introduced me to Joe Thomas.
You could fall over yourself trying to name the little box this music “should” fit into: contemporary trad? homage to the New Orleans Revival? even the dreaded D-word.
I call it sincere hot music with a pulsing heart.
I’ve been following drummer-leader Hal Smith for some years now, and I am not alone in thinking that his name on a new issue is a guarantee of solid rhythm, capacious imagination, an attention to the past that links it solidly to the glory of living musicians doing what they do best. A student of jazz percussion could find a lifetime of lessons in the playing of Professor Smith; someone wanting to play in or lead a band — an ensemble with depth, light and shade — could study at the Smith Institute with equally rewarding results.
For MESSIN’ AROUND, Hal has gathered kindred spirits. And although these are “remote” recordings (created in summer 2022), they are anything but emotionally remote. The fine musicians are T.J. Muller, cornet, vocals; Dave Bock, trombone; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Andrew Oliver, piano; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Michael Gamble, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader — from all over the jazz map. The lovely clear recording, mixing, and editing is by Bill Reinhart.
To this recording, the musicians bring undeniable energy and personality. Although they know the hallowed musicians and recordings at the root of this music, they aren’t merely copying the discs. You hear the shade of the past but it’s vividly and audibly alive. They aren’t “primitives” but they bring a rough eloquence to each track. Dick Wellstood called it “grease and funk,” and it animates this CD.
I’m especially taken with the repertoire. There’s nothing wrong with AS LONG AS I LIVE, ST. LOUIS BLUES, or MUSKRAT RAMBLE, but they push to the head of the line in some bands: let the memorable but less-played songs light up the room!
The New Orleans Night Owls get comfortable with these tunes: MAGNOLIA’S WEDDING DAY / 2:19 BLUES / TING-A-LING / I’M A LITTLE BLACKBIRD / BOLSA CHICA STRUT / WAIT TILL YOU SEE MY BABY DO THE CHARLESTON / ONLY YOU (AND YOU ALONE) / MESSIN’ AROUND / SWEET LOTUS BLOSSOM / STOCKYARD STRUT //
It’s frisky, unhackneyed music to dance to or to grin to. Explore more here. And as the microgroove-record liner ads used to say, “If you’ve enjoyed this record, you’ll like the first CD by the Owls, EARLY HOURS.
I expect to see Hal and friends at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California (the first weekend in March) but until then, I’ve got my rocking new discs to play.
Tishomingo, Mississippi, is a tiny town: between 1910 and 2020, the census recorded a population of 423 at its height in 1940. But in 1917, Spencer Williams wrote TISHOMINGO BLUES. My guess is that Williams knew the city only by hearsay, and was entranced by the sound of its name (he was living in New York City). But it’s a delightfully moody jazz classic with evocative lyrics.
It’s also a very durable song: musicians love it and it sticks in the memory. Here is a splendid dark yet hopeful rendition from the Thursday-night-pre-pandemic-band-of-heroes who graced Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, on January 30, 2020: Albanie Falletta, vocal and resonator guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Jen Hodge, string bass:
I hope that it’s not too cold and inhospitable where you are. If it is, play this music again. You’ll feel warmed.
Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, Cait Jones, November 2022.
Please take a few minutes to savor this interlude:
I find this performance, in its apparent simplicity — two vocal choruses with an introduction and coda — very impressive in its understated ways. There’s the way that Cait and Michael respond to each other, her conversational phrasing, his intuitive tapestry of shifting harmonies, their reverence for Rodgers’ melody, for Hart’s words.
As the song itself describes an experience both new and deeply, mysteriously familiar, so does this performance. We’ve heard WHERE OR WHEN many times, but Cait and Michael make it new, surprising: the questions the song asks are real, unanswered, perhaps unanswerable.
And they are real questions, both ethereal and plain, as Cait asks them in the lighthearted manner she might wonder aloud, “Where did I put my pinking shears?” “When were we supposed to go to dinner?”
Michael is serious at the keyboard, as is his wont: creating subtle orchestrations right at the moment requires concentration. But Cait seems at points almost ready to “bust out laughing,” as they say. I feel that her mirth is pure pleasure: what it must feel like to have such a voice, easily navigating a wonderful song, with the one, the only Michael Kanan playing piano.
Who knows where or when? Cait and Michael do. Their music is the roadmap and the timepiece for our hearts.
The composition is Maurice Ravel’s PAVANE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS, transformed into popular song under the title THE LAMP IS LOW, performed by Bob Barnard, cornet; Julian Lee, electric piano here.
(A note to pedants: I may be wrong about both identifications: Bob may be playing trumpet; Julian, synthesizer. I will correct them if so.)
Years ago, perhaps 1969, John S. Wilson, the New York Times‘ jazz critic had a weekly radio program, and he told this story. Steve Smith, who created the Hot Record Society series of recordings, felt that only Louis Armstrong had the majesty to properly interpret Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto, and he took this novel idea to the major record companies, who turned him down without a thought.
Now, in our lifetimes, we can hear Bob Barnard honor and embellish classical themes.
Bob Barnard was a true hero to everyone who heard him. In his playing, there was an unassuming casualness — he went against Louis’ advice to Erskine Hawkins, “Make it look hard!” — as he scaled mountains with the greatest of ease, his tone always golden, his harmonic sense always dazzling. A solo of his was like a series of small jewels, amazing to hear as they happened, even more so when considered at leisure. He never fell back on cliche, his own or anyone else’s, and he trusted the melody so deeply that he stood back from it and reverently allowed it to gleam. In this, he was a true successor to Louis, Bobby, Bix, Buck — with his own wondrous swing and dash.
I encountered him a half-dozen times on his visits to New York, Denver, and Chautauqua, alongside Kenny Davern, Bobby Gordon, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, Scott Robinson, and others, and in person he was just as rewarding: witty, friendly, and warm. I was first “a fan,” then someone with a video camera, but Bob never viewed me from a height or at a distance.
As a player, he was utterly courageous — play thirty-two bars of his work for any brass player if you think I overstate — with a certain gentle audacity when it came to his colleagues on the stand. I am thrilled that the CD includes BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS, because it is one of my favorite Barnard moments. He appeared a few times at Jazz at Chautauqua over a decade or so of my being there. The creator of that jazz weekend, Joe Boughton, deplored what he saw as musicians’ lazy reliance on over-familiar repertoire, and encouraged people to bring and perform lesser-known gems. Bob was on stage once with a band of true professionals, and called BOULEVARD as the next tune, told everyone the key, set a tempo, turned to the pianist for a four-bar introduction, and led the way. It was not an easy tune nor a familiar one, but Bob led the way, clearly establishing the melody and harmonies for the players who might have only remembered it dimly. By the end of his second chorus the musicians were playing it as if it had been SWEET GEORGIA BROWN: he was that compelling and assured a leader as well as everything else.
Now, if someone can find a recording of Bob performing (perhaps singing also?) A BROWN SLOUCH HAT, my life will be even more complete. (He performed it at Chautauqua also.)
I had known nothing of Julian Lee, but here you can find out about this amazing man, who died in 2020 at 97. Bob had always wanted to record with him, and his inventive intuitive playing, in solo and accompaniment, says it all.
The CD that is the subject of this post, DUETS, captured Bob and Julian in 1989 in Sydney, Australia, and is now issued for the first time on Bandcamp by Bob’s son Tony, himself a stellar guitarist. The fourteen tracks are divided equally between “classical” and “popular,” although as Bob’s Louis-inflected improvisations on the Ravel theme show, those boundaries are completely artificial and tissue-thin.
They are PAVANE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS / GYMNOPEDIES / THE GIRL WITH THE FLAXEN HAIR / Adagio from CONCERTO DE ARANJUEZ / PATHETIQUE Sonata / PAVANE FOR A SLEEPING WOOD NYMPH / MY MAN / NUAGES / BORSALINO / BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS / THE WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND / GIGI / AUTUMN LEAVES.
I think this is thrilling music, and I am so glad that it was recorded for all of us.
Joy, continued. I’ve posted the first half of this concert here and here and here. But wait! There’s more!
I described them as a dynamic duo without superhero costumes — in concert, presented on October 30, 2022, by the Pennsylvania Jazz Society (at Brith Sholom Synagogue in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania). Rossano Sportiello, piano; Danny Tobias, trumpet, flugelhorn, Eb alto horn. Thanks to the PJS [its gracious volunteers!] for having the foresight to present these two friend-heroes; thanks to Pete Reichlin for tuning the piano and many other generosities; thanks to the good people who filled the hall.
The song Claude Hopkins took as his theme — co-composed by Alex Hill, an anthem of love-submission:
Check your watches, check your hearts:
The falling leaves converse in French:
James P. Johnson’s melody of devotion put into action:
“Did I make a mistake?”:
Delicious, profound, playful, sweet. And if that weren’t enough, a little jam session, scored for three, ensued. I’ll share those joys in a post to come.
A recent meander through eBay turned up two stunning autographed photographs — photographs taken by the much-missed Duncan Schiedt. I am short on wall space, so I contented myself with watching the bidding race (Lips beat Red, which would have pleased Lips). The Lips photograph sold for over $150; Red brought much less. It’s not the way I would choose to celebrate Red’s birthday, today.
However, they are beautiful photographs from the late 1940s or very early 1950s, when Duncan was a regular at Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza on the weekends.
and the signature, which says it all:
Among the great unsolved mysteries of my adulthood: when did Lips begin signing his name this way?
Henry Red, standing in front of the recognizable venetian blinds of Central Plaza:
and a closer look:
If Duncan Schiedt had never held a camera, he would still have a very warm spot in my heart as a sterling person and an accomplished old-fashioned melodic pianist. He moved on in 2014 — with the most splendid easy grace, which I describe here. I urge you to read his farewell letter: it moves me still.
But we can move from grief to more exultant matters.
Red, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Eddie Condon, Jack Bland, Al Morgan, Gene Krupa, 1932:
and more of the same, with Red, Pee Wee, Happy Caldwell, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Froeba, Condon, Bland, Pops Foster, Zutty Singleton:
and Lips, Pee Wee, Lou McGarity, Sullivan, George Wettling, 1952:
Lips, Peanuts Hucko, Cutty Cutshall, Ralph Sutton, Charlie Treager, Eddie Phyfe, 1950:
Red and Lips are two of my most serious heroes. Delve into their music: joy will greet you. And Duncan: a superb person and wonderful artist.
THIS JUST IN. The regularly scheduled evening gigs (8-11 PM) and afternoon delights (4-6 PM) will be recorded on both days. It will all be open to the public.
On January 15th, the band will be Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, John Allred, Pat O’Leary and guests Chris Flory and Scott Robinson.
On January 29th, Kellso, Munisteri, Allred, Neal Miner, and guests Jay Rattman, Scott Robinson, and Evan Christopher.
And I am sure there will be many other good surprises.
Great news from JAZZ LIVES’ hero Jon-Erik Kellso:
We’re going to make a “Live at the Ear” CD for Arbors Records on Sundays, January 15th and 29th, and I really hope you can attend!
We’re going to record the regularly scheduled evening gigs, and also mid/late afternoon sessions there on those days, open to the public, and we hope to pack as many of our friends in there to create the best listening atmosphere.
John Allred, trombone; Scott Robinson, reeds and brass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass, will be on the 15th.
John Allred, Matt Munisteri, and Neal Miner, string bass, will be on the 29th.
And we expect a few of our other favorites as special guests.
Here’s why this is exciting news.
BEALE STREET BLUES (2018):
DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? (2016):
IN A MELLOTONE (2013):
SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (2011):
COTTON TAIL (2010):
The Ear Inn, the oldest still-active bar in New York City, is at 326 Spring Street. The EarRegulars, a small mobile shape-changing group of players les by Jon-Erik Kellso, has been in attendance every Sunday night — time off for holidays and pandemics — since July 2007. I was there on the second Sunday (Jon-Erik, Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass) and have been a happy visitor ever since, bringing a video camera along in 2009.
The group — often trumpet, a horn player, guitar, string bass — has usually begun the evening session as a quartet, but has expanded to thirteen players on one memorable occasion.
TIGER RAG (in two parts, 2011):
and the tip of the tiger’s tail as it curled around the building:
The Sunday sessions at the Ear have provided some of the most intimate thoughtful music I’ve ever heard, and some of the most exuberant jamming. So I have been hoping for a formal recording since the start, and Arbors Records has the experience and expertise (thank you, Rachel Domber) to make the result a wonder.
But musicians thrive on an appreciative audience. So I hope you can attend these sessions. Details above! Mark your calendars.
If the hot jazz classic THAT DA DA STRAIN is known at all these days, it might be for the versions recorded by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Muggsy Spanier and his Ragtime Band, or Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans. But this 1922 tune has not been forgotten, not by a long shot. The delightful evidence will appear below, I promise.
First, some history.
Wild Bill Davison called this tune “baby talk” when explaining its title to an audience, and another musician linked it to the Dadaist movement in art. Each to their own.
I had forgotten that the song — lyrics by Mamie Medina, music by J. Edgar Dowell — had lyrics. (I haven’t found out anything about either of them.)
And here they are sung, wonderfully and energetically, by Ethel Waters. She’s joined by Joe Smith’s Jazz Masters: Joe Smith, cornet; George Brashear, trombone; possibly Clarence Robinson, clarinet; Fletcher Henderson, piano:
How could you resist a song whose first words of the chorus are DA DA, DA DA (repeated)? I am avoiding the knotty question of whether the hyphen belongs in the title or not: see below.
And for those who want to play it on the piano while the gang sings along, here is the treasure, the Thing In Itself, thanks to the Detroit Public Libraries.
and now, the recent past, as delineated in my title. Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Jen Hodge, string bass. Performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on January 9, 2020.
“Isn’t that wonderful?” I want to ask rhetorically, but on second thought, want to make it a statement: “Damn, that’s wonderful!” — the splendid mixture of down-home porch music, New Orleans flavors, and heat.
(I know this post isn’t about me, or ME, but performances like this are why I carry a heavy knapsack with cameras, batteries, tripod, and notebook. My body complains but my soul leaps.)
These four sterling musicians are doing the thing in various places: keep track of them for pleasure, pure and delicious. And Cafe Bohemia will host Matt Rivera and the Hot Club of New York starting Monday, January 9, 2023 (7-10 PM). Read all about it here.
A dell is a small, secluded valley, often with trees. Then there’s the children’s song, recorded almost two hundred years ago in Germany:
Then, there’s the piece of music that ran through my thoughts this morning:
Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra, August 1, 1938: Johnny Hodges, alto and soprano saxophone; Cootie Williams, trumpet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Duke Ellington, piano; Billy Taylor, Sr., string bass; Sonny Greer, drums.
“You play your personality,” Roswell Rudd told me.
Jazz musicians of this caliber didn’t need sophisticated melodies or chord changes to make memorable — perhaps whimsical — music. And I wonder. Did someone [possibly Helen Oakley Dance] in the studio say, “You fellows can swing anything. Even nursery rhymes,” before everyone began to improvise variations on the theme?
Of course, there’s always the idea that the Rabbit would have been at home in the Dell, but I digress.
It’s all because of this devoted young person, Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, who makes ideas become reality. And let us say immediately that the Hot Club of New York is a welcoming place — intent on sharing the music the way it was first heard, on actual 78 rpm records. You don’t have to be a jazz scholar or aficionado (there are always blues and calypso records as well) because there is no final examination. Admission is free; there will be food and drink “for purchase” (as the airlines say) and it will congenial, live, and swinging.
These sessions began in October 2019 and continued until March 2020, when some molecules interfered with our fun. I’m delighted to see them come back, not only for the music but for the community the music engenders. I hope you can join us: new friends and old ones gathered for shared joy.
At the end of 2022, I went to Matthew’s Brooklyn burrow to gather his thoughts and music on the lovely Hot Club phenomenon:
Matthew has the righteous passion but he always lets the records speak for themselves, and they do, gloriously.
And because the Law is always ready to make its presence known, I did this brief legal notice — for the record, as you might say:
See you there! It’s a brief walk from the Christopher Street stop on the #1.
Last night, my wife and I celebrated New Year’s Eve by attending a joyous concert of Baroque music — Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Rameau — given by the BERKSHIRE BACH SOCIETY at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. It was glorious: the soloists were enthusiastic and warm, the music danced through the very lovely hall. (And, as an aside, no one’s cellphone went off in 150 minutes of music.)
On the program was BWV 1043, Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, by our Johann. When it began, I leaned forward happily and thought “I know this!” And this morning, I can offer the evidence: two recordings for the Swing label by Eddie South and Stephane Grappelli, violins; Django Reinhardt, guitar.
(November 23, 1937) Interpretation swing sur le premier movement du concerto en re mineur du J.S. Bach.
(November 25, 1937) Improvisation swing du concert en re mineur du J. S. Bach.
And their delightful variations in swing.
Notice that this one begins with Eddie South quoting MAHOGANY HALL STOMP:
and the second side gives the introduction to Django:
Those recordings aren’t blasphemies: they honor the spirit of Bach — melodic invention, rhythmic energy, and good-humored swing.
Thanks to the unparalleled violin scholar Anthony Barnett for his wise assistance. See his astonishing work (books, CDs, archives) here. He has created imperishable scholarship on Stuff Smith, Eddie South, Henry Crowder, and Juice Wilson among others; his “ABFable” CDs offer music by a young Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Nance, Jimmie Blanton, Ben Webster, Al Casey, Ray Perry, Ginger Smock, Helen Ward, Rex Stewart, Jonah Jones, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Clyde Hart, Al Tinney — treasures.
Here, just because it is accurate, endearing, and hilarious, is violinist Rob Flax “unboxing” the Stuff Smith materials issued by Anthony:
So much Stuff indeed!
Since this is the first post of a new year, let me amplify my usual closing. May 2023 by a wonderful year for all who read this blog and those who don’t, musicians profiled here, their partners, families, and pets. Writing this blog (fifteen year this February) brings me joy: I wish you all the same and more, in whatever flavors and colors you love most, your heart’s desire and the best surprises.
The songs are CHICAGO (missing a few bars at the start) / TENNESSEE TWILIGHT / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN (vocal Kim Cusack).
This is interval-music on a certain public radio show where the loquacious host told tales of Lutherans. More you don’t need to know, although the host talks with Professor Dapogny between songs.
The CJB is James Dapogny, piano, leader, arrangements; Paul Klinger, trumpet; Bob Smith, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Mike Karoub (then a mere 23), string bass; Wayne Jones, drums.
Performed and broadcast in Chicago, November 8, 1986.
The moral: don’t throw out your old cassettes! (I taped this from the radio and saved it for just this occasion, nearly thirty years later.)
Thanks to Mike Karoub for data of all kinds. Mike told me that Butch Thompson got the CJB this gig — their debut on public radio — and that the band “was hyped up and some of that excitement comes through.”
Indeed it does!
And Kim Cusack celebrated a birthday a few days ago: hooray for durability and more!
I decided, for a change, to write a post celebrating the glories that Prof. Jim created so beautifully, instead of saying once again how much I and many others miss him. Let us grin and wiggle in our chairs as tribute: he would appreciate this.
Rambling through eBay, visiting one of my favorite spots, the intersection of “jazz” and “Entertainment Memorabilia,” I found this. To some, it will be simply an antique jazz concert program, nearly eighty years old, or an example of paper ephemera for sale. For me, it is Ali Baba’s cave, Pandora’s box with no horrors, an auditory Fort Knox. And, no, it wasn’t recorded. But bless Specs Powell for his imagination and ambition, the energy to plan and put on this concert at New York City’s Town Hall.
I will now step aside to let the marvels blossom before your eyes. The Best in Modern Jazz for sure.
The front cover:
The first page, inside:
The program itself:
The back cover was blank, for “Autographs,” which the owner — the person who placed the precious keepsake in a notebook or binder — did not get.
A few obvious comments. Yes, that Bill Cullen, born in 1920, who was at the time a CBS staff announcer — which is how he and Specs Powell crossed paths — but most people will know him better as the host of THE PRICE IS RIGHT.
And the program speaks to the happy ecumenicism of the times in jazz. I would wager that Buster Bailey and Charlie Parker talked about reeds backstage with Don Byas. Bill Coleman and Frankie Newton, I would guess, knew each other well from Cafe Society and Asch Records. And please notice that the representatives of “modern jazz conceptions” aren’t Bird and Al Haig, but Buster Bailey and Al Hall.
It was a Sunday, so this might well have been an afternoon concert. You can look up what the weather was in New York City, should you care to. I will, instead, delight in imagining the hanging-out that went on backstage and behind Town Hall. Alas, when I was in that hall circa 1972, the echoes had died down. But I did hear and speak to Teddy Wilson and Al Hall, so I consider myself immensely fortunate.
And just to give Specs his proper place . . . here he is, talking with great articulateness, to a younger percussionist and inventor, in 2002. And at around 15 minutes, he talks about the Town Hall concerts, which weren’t economically successful, although Specs pointed out that he preceded Norman Granz and Jazz at the Philharmonic.
A final postscript: the program sold for $25, and the item is headlined as “early CHARLIE PARKER,” amusing to me because young Charlie was not the star of the concert alongside the more heralded players.
History enlarges and deflates reputations. Jazz Studies classes revere Bird; have they heard of Specs? I vote for expansive curricula.
And if you’ve never heard Specs, you’ve been deprived of pleasure:
A little aural digging online will lead you to more Specs, and I hope, curiosity about the names on the program whose sounds might be unfamiliar.
If you travel in certain circles, you’ll hear a good deal of serious talk about :authenticity,” “ownership,” and “cultural appropriation.” These scuffles bore me and make me happy that I have escaped academia.
But here are ninety precious of film and music by someone I can’t get enough of — Jack Teagarden — from a film I’d never heard of, unearthed by archivist-sleuth extraordinaire Franz Hoffmann. The 1944 film, possibly less regarded than Citizen Kane, has three names: TWILIGHT ON THE PRAIRIE, SONG OF THE PRAIRIE, and PRAIRIE BUCKAROOS. I doubt that the screenwriters aimed too high, but Jack’s blues — lyric he first recorded in 1928 or 9, are classic. As is his trombone mastery:
Born in Vernon, Texas, he certainly had a right to those lyrics.
I never saw him in person, yet I miss him terribly. You understand why.
No one talks during these bass solos, I assure you!
Milt Hinton, Arvell Shaw, Slam Stewart, Bob Haggart, string bass; Hank Jones, piano; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. YESTERDAYS (Arvell Shaw) / BODY AND SOUL (Slam Stewart) / BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA (Bob Haggart) / HOW HIGH THE MOON (ensemble) // “Four Basses,” Bern Jazz Festival 1983.
A precious document: four masters, having a deep friendly swinging good time.
I wish they had had a longer showcase, with more jamming, but it’s pointless to carp about what should have been . . .especially because this exists to be shared and treasured.
Bless these gentlemen, and bless the organizer of the Bern Jazz Festival who thought of this and the Swiss television people who had it televised. The words, “We don’t know how lucky we are,” float through my head, and I hope through yours.
And this one is for Bonnie Prince Andrew of Malta.
Rossano Sportiello is the Maestro, no questions about it. Classically trained with a deep jazz feeling and impeccable technique, he astonishes us. Here’s his solo version of Nicolo Paganini’s Caprice # 24, which rocks all the way through . . .from the Milan conservatory to Harlem stride to super-Tatum without a quiver.
Rossano performed this as one of his solo features in a duet concert with brass wizard Danny Tobias put on by the Pennsylvania Jazz Society (October 30, 2022).
I suggest that you play and watch this several times, so that you can assure yourself it actually happened, the creation of Maestro Sportiello.