Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

HAVIN’ HERSELF A TIME: MISS IDA TRIUMPHS (Joe’s Pub, May 15, 2015)

Photographs by Kate Dulub

Photographs by Kate Dulub

Late last Friday night, I and an illustrious audience (including Terry Waldo, Mike Davis, and Mike Zirpolo) enjoyed a stirring evening of music at Joe’s Pub. Miss Ida Blue and a stunning band of New York jazzmen paid tribute to Billie Holiday in her centennial year.

Miss Ida has impressed me in her appearances with the Yerba Buena Stompers, as a delightfully personal interpreter of Twenties blues, but at Joe’s Pub she absolutely surpassed herself.  It wasn’t because she suddenly succeeded at imitating Billie or “channeling” her — but because the spirit of Thirties Billie animated her, making her even more joyously herself.  The sixteen songs she and the band delivered came from 1933 (YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW) to 1944 (I COVER THE WATERFRONT).  Without offering a history lesson, she and the band happily evoked a singer, an era, and a world of heedless yet expert music.

MISS IDA TWO

A word about the superb band.  Like Miss Ida, they evoked rather than copied. Pianist Conal Fowkes had created arrangements that kept the contours of the original recordings without tying the musicians to the manuscript paper.  And he swung out in his own delicate yet ardent version of Teddy Wilson’s glowing style. Conal’s rhythm section mates are wonderful swingers as well, and they meshed gloriously: John Gill, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Their pleasure was evident even when I couldn’t see their faces.  Their rhythmic rocking was a treat; they never faltered.  And the tempos were in themselves delightful and instructive: always slightly faster or slower than the original inspirations, which gave me a sense of looking at a newly cleaned masterpiece, or someone lovely who always wears black, turning up in mint green.  The most pleasing small shocks.

MISS IDA THREE

The horn soloists were uniformly eloquent: reed heroes Jay Rattman and Dan Block occasionally made me recall Buster Bailey and Lester Young, but they sounded so much like themselves that it was deeply authentic music; Block, especially, took on a  heavier tone and more definite attack than the floating Lester of that period, although his obbligatos behind Ida were touching clouds of sound.  Jon-Erik Kellso loves Buck Clayton, so occasionally he offered a ringing statement in the best Basie manner, but we wouldn’t know Jon without his plunger mute, so often there was a good deal of Cootie’s ferocity audible there. As always, his melody statements and ride-outs were lyrical, memorable.  The band sounded well-rehearsed but happily loose.

MISS IDA FOUR

Miss Ida, most appealingly, knows where she has come from, and has a sweet earnest reverence for her ancestors.  Not just Billie, but Miss Ida Cox [hence her chosen stage name] and it was very pleasing to hear her and the band do their soundcheck for us with a tough blues in honor of B.B. King, the monarch who just made the transition.  And she was so happy to be at Joe’s Pub, honored to sing for Billie and for us.  Early in the evening, she turned and waved happily at the rhythm section as if she just couldn’t believe her good fortune to be on the stand with her heroes.  Ours, too.  She told us how her hair had caught on fire at a gig (Kevin Dorn, the 007 of swingtime, rescued her); I wonder if she knows the story of Billie, the curling iron, and the gardenia — told to us by Sylvia Syms, whose recollection I trust completely.  A sign from the heavens of some destiny.

MISS IDA FIVE

Listening closely to Miss Ida (as well as the gorgeous band) I began to hear aspects of her style I’d not heard before.  For one thing — and I mean this as praise — she is a substantial stage personality.  One way this is expressed is in her nearly constant yet genuine motion, as if her energy is too strong for her to stand still.  It’s not just hair-tossing, but a continual series of dance moves that also look like yoga poses and warm-up stretches, even a jubilant marching-in-place.  Often she held her arms over her head, her hands open.  I think it was always exuberant emotion, but it was also her own expression of an ancient and honorable theatrical style . . . so that even the people in the most distant balcony of the Apollo Theatre could see you and join in with the person onstage.  And her voice matched her larger-than-life physical presence.  On a Twenties record label, she might have been billed as COMEDIENNE WITH ORCHESTRA, and that odd designation rang true.  The comedy bubbled up here and there in speech: she hails from Brooklyn, so that her sailboat in the moonlight was idling along in Sheepshead Bay.  But it also emerged delightfully in her voice: I heard echoes of Fanny Brice, of comic Eastern European melodies . . . it never sounded as if she was taking Billie or the music lightly, but as if she was having such a good time that she couldn’t help playing.  And the audience loved it.  It was SHOW in the best tradition — not caricature, but something Louis would have admired immensely.

For me, the two highlights of the evening were songs devoid of comedy but rich in feeling: the rarely-heard CARELESSLY and the more familiar I COVER THE WATERFRONT.  (A sweet sad I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME featuring Dan Block and Conal Fowkes was not far behind.)

Without a hint of self-conscious “acting,” Miss Ida let those melancholy narratives of heartbreak unfold eloquently for us.  Although I had known her almost exclusively as a blues singer, I saw her, in a blinding flash, as a deep ballad singer, someone who could break our hearts while singing of her own distress.

I could write more about the beauties of this evening, of I’M GOING TO LOCK MY HEART, of MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU, and the other performances by Miss Ida and her band that impressed me so, but I will instead simply hope that she gets many more opportunities to create this wonderful evening in other places, for other audiences.

Early on in this performance, she turned to us, and grinning, said, “This is so so so exciting!”  It was and it is.

May your happiness increase! 

SPREADING JOY IN MICHIGAN (May 8, 2015)

Any universe is a beautiful place that has such brightly-shining people in it, including the unseen woman behind the camera.

Here are the details . . . the song, the dancers, the musicians, the occasion.

ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM (Walter Jurmann, Gus Kahn, Bronisław Kaper; arranged by James Dapogny).

Dancers:  Erin Morris, Brittany Armstrong-Morton, Rachel Bomphray, Sarah Campbell, Hayden Nickel, Nathan Bugh, Patrick Johnston, Chris Glasow, Ryan Morton, Bryant Stuckey.  (For more information about Erin Morris and her Ragdolls, visit here, and then, feeling the spirit, here.  JAZZ LIVES will soon be able to offer information for those wishing to form local chapters of the Erin Morris and her Ragdolls International Fan Club.

Musicians: , Mike Karoub (cello), James Dapogny (piano), Rod McDonald (guitar), and Joe Fee (bass). College Theater, Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor, Michigan. May 8, 2015. Filmed by Laura Beth Wyman.

Bless each of them . . . so generously blessing us with joy.  Tell your friends.

May your happiness increase!

IAN “SPIKE” MACKINTOSH by JIM GODBOLT

(This profile first appeared in JAZZ AT RONNIE SCOTT’S (May-June 1996) and was reprinted in JUST JAZZ (October 2004).  The editor of that excellent British traditional jazz magazine, Mike Murtagh, has made it available to me for this blog, knowing of my nearly obsessive interest in Spike.  More information about JUST JAZZ below.)

I don’t know many timber merchants, white, middle-class, educated at a public school, devout believers in private enterprise and private education, with the unshakeable belief that Tories had the divine right to rule, who were officers in the Tank Corps, who played jazz trumpet as near to Louis Armstrong as any white man of any nationality ever achieved.  In fact, I know of only one — Ian “Spike” Mackintosh, who died on January 18, 1996, aged 77.

He was a much loved man, although frequently, his arrival at sessions with trumpet in hand was cause for alarm.  It was no secret that he was very partial to a taste and after over-imbibing his playing was uncomfortably erratic.  At his best he could uplift a session; at his worst, he could reduce it to a shambles.

Short, dapper, with a military moustache and a Hooray Henry accent — a gentleman jazzman, you might say — he was the most unlikely carrier of the Armstrong torch.

Two other Spikes

Spike Mackintosh was born in London, on the 9 February 1918.  He attended the City of London School where he developed an interest in jazz and took up trumpet to emulate hero Louis Armstrong.  He admired the big black bands of the time — Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, Chick Webb and Don Redman, and was particularly fond of the recordings by Spike Hughes and his Negro Orchestra.  He adopted the nickname ‘Spike’ as a mark of respect for the Anglo-Irishman who had travelled to New York in 1933 to make those historic recordings with a personnel that included Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter.

Typically, he volunteered for the Army at the outbreak of war, was soon commissioned in the Royal Tank Corps and saw action in France.  Following Dunkirk, he was one of the few survivors of a troopship sunk by enemy action. He was picked up clutching his trumpet.  He was again in action at El Alemein. Commanding one of the tanks assembled to launch an attack that proved one of the most decisive of the war, Lt. Mackintosh received his order to advance, but at that moment was listening to West End Blues by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five from a Forces station, and it was not until Louis had finished his majestic coda that Spike Gave his order.  Hitler — and Field Marshal Montgomery — could wait.  First things first with Spike.  His tank was knocked out by enemy fire, and German soldiers, believing him to be dead, stripped him of every possession, except his trumpet.

Later, in Naples, Spike was one of a team of judges for a dance band competition. One of the bands included Gunner Spike Milligan on trumpet.  Milligan, quite bitterly, recalled the contest in his ‘Where Have All The Bullets Gone?’ one of his very funny war memoirs.  He wrote, ‘The compère was Captain Philip Ridgeway.  He was as informed on dance bands as Mrs. Thatcher is on groin-clutching in the Outer Hebrides.  The other judges were Lt. Eddie Carroll and Lt. ‘Spike’ Mackintosh.  Can you believe it?  We didn’t win.  WE DIDN’T WIN! I wasn’t even mentioned!  Why were the 56 Area Welfare Services persecuting me like this? At the contest I heard shouts of “Give him the prize.”  No-one listened, even though I shouted it very loud.  Never mind, there would be other wars.’

On demobilisation, Spike Mackintosh returned to the family timber business and sat-in on jam sessions, at the height of the Traditionalists v Modernists war.  He had no liking for Be-bop, nor banjo-dominated revivalism.  He found his musical, and drinking company with the mainstreamers, most of them renegade traditionalists.  One of these was clarinetist / cartoonist Wally ‘Trog’ Fawkes, leading his Trogdolytes.  They recorded some twenty excellent sides for the Decca label on which Mackintosh proved just how much he had absorbed the essence as well as the phraseology of Armstrong.  On some of these sessions the Trogdolytes were joined by ‘modernists’ Eddie Taylor (drums), ex-Johnny Dankworth Seven, and Lennie Bush (bass), a founder-member of the seminal Club Eleven where British Be-bop started.

Spike was equally authoritative at a private party session in the company of veteran US saxophonist Bud Freeman, the set captured on portable equipment. He was not the least bit in awe of his distinguished session mate.

Wild Bill Davison

But he was not a consistent performer.  On one occasion he moved, uninvited, to sit-in with a band led by the brilliant Welsh pianist, Dill Jones.  Jones, himself no stranger to the juice, perceived Spike’s condition and turned him away. Undeterred, Spike made his contribution from a seat in the audience.  He had his insensitive side.  He was at a party given in honour of the white US trumpeter, Wild Bill Davison, and the tactful Mackintosh said to Davison, “Ah, Wild Bill, my fourth favourite trumpeter.”  “Oh, yes,” growled Davison, “and who are the other three?” Mackintosh replied, “Louis Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Red Allen and Roy Eldridge.  No — you’re my fifth favourite!”

Spike ran a weekly record session at the one-bar Drum and Monkey, Blenheim Terrace, St. John’s Wood, NW London, his fellow enthusiasts including Jack Hutton, ex-editor of the ‘Melody Maker,’ clarinetist Ian Christie, trombonist Mike Pointon, and pianist Stan Greig, dubbing themselves The Codgers. The rest of the clientele, whether they liked it or not, had their ‘quiet drink’ shattered by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Mills’ Blue Rhythm Band and the like, at a mind-blowing volume.  They were also regaled with Spike vocally duplicating Armstrong’s singing and playing.  The irrepressible enthusiast!  The landlord approved.  His takings shot up at those sessions.

When Spike turned up at Ronnie [Scott]’s, the eponymous Mr. Scott was treated to Spike singing (or, rather playing) Louis phrases.  In face, Ronnie used to do an imitation of Spike imitating Louis.  Not many people know that.

Spike continued playing trumpet almost up until his death, along with Wally Fawkes at the King Alfred, Marylebone Lane, West London.  His thirst remained undiminished, and his ‘lip’ often faltered, but on his good nights the stirring resonances of Armstrong licks sang throughout the pub and beyond.

One of the familiar spectacles of these sessions was pianist Greig, with a tense expression on his craggy features, his hands anxiously poised over the keys waiting to plunge them down for the resolving chord(s) to bring a Mackintosh coda spectacular to a triumphant finish, and when it finally happened there was a great sigh of relief from musicians and audience.  Not that all of these finishes came off.  Spike’s cliff-hangers were fraught occasions.

He was indeed a combination of the opposites; the reiterative soak and erratic trumpeter when too deep in his cups; the amusing companion and fine player when he’d paced himself; the High Tory who was one of the chaps.

Shouldn’t that child be in bed?

There are hundreds of stories about Spike, some of them undoubtedly apocryphal.  One of them about him, totally legless, being apprehended by a policeman and solemnly telling the officer, in that public school posh voice of his, that any unsteadiness was due to a war injury, but my favourite tale concerned him at a party given by Wally Fawkes.  Spike, well loaded, fell against a bamboo room divider, bringing down the ornaments with a tremendous clatter.  The noise awakened Joanna Fawkes, then about five, and, in tears, she stood at the top of the stairs leading to the drawing room.  Spike, wiping bits of Italian pottery and trailus acanthus from his person, looked up, and said, “Wally, it’s none of my business, but shouldn’t that child be in bed?”

I can vouch for that tale.  I was there.

He is survived by his wife Diana, and three sons, Nick, Robert and Cameron, the latter a famous theatrical impresario.

=======================================================

Spike’s glorious sound:

and

Of course, if any UK collector or Bud Freeman fancier can unearth a copy of that private party tape, I know I would be interested in hearing it.  Spike must have been captured live somewhere, sometime, but so far no holy relics have emerged.

About JUST JAZZ: it’s a well-written, candid magazine devoted to traditional jazz in all its forms.  The editor is Mike Murtagh, and the offices are at 29 Burrage Place, Woolwich, London SE18 7BG.  I haven’t found an official website, but you can contact Mike at justjazzmagazine@btinternet.com. to inquire about subscription rates.

May your happiness increase!

THE SWEETNESS OF FRIENDSHIP: NEW ORLEANS / NEW YORK CITY (April 2015)

Friends keep us afloat in this world.

Pianist / composer Kris Tokarski is a dear friend I’ve not yet met in person; the same is true for videographer / free spirit Kelley Rand.  Together with the fine tenor saxophonist Rex Gregory they conspired to give me a delicious gift.

Recently, Kris and I were in conversation online about his upcoming gig (April 23, 2015) at the Bombay Club in New Orleans in duet with Rex . . . and the subject of the 1956 quartet session, PRES AND TEDDY [that’s Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, and Jo Jones] came up.  I told Kris my story about seeing Teddy in person at a shopping center in 1971 and asking him to autograph my record, which he did, speaking only two words, “Thank you.”

Half-facetiously, I said to Kris that he and Rex should play LOUISE, one of the great lyrical songs from that session — one rarely performed by jazzmen, Bix and Tram being a notable exception.  I thought that would be the extent of my cyber-meddling, until Kelley dropped this gem at my feet.  Don’t miss the spoken dedication:

How lyrical, how joyous.  And connoisseurs of improvisation will note that Kris and Rex know the places where one could insert an easy cliché, a glib quotation; they nimbly dance around such temptations to create something light and heartfelt.

I’m both honored and delighted — by the lovely music and the generous intent behind it all.  And if you subscribe to Kelley Rand‘s YouTube channel, there are more videos of Kris and friends . . . . and I know other surprises are on the way.

The other instance of what I call Love in Swingtime — after the Ellington performance — came during a Sunday afternoon appearance on April 5, 2015, at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City by Tamar Korn, that celestial butterfly of song; Ehud Asherie, piano; Rob Adkins, string bass.

I had told Tamar, whom I count as a dear friend and cosmic marvel, of some rough times I had been having, and she was compassionate and sympathetic. When she began her set, I expected nothing more to come of her affectionate concern, but when she launched into that wonderful bit of optimistic philosophy, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, she delivered a great gift at :27.

I was and am immensely touched, and the memory of this moment has made me more buoyant ever since.  Yes, the people at Mezcal are talking, but the music — that bright spiritual beacon — cuts through:

“Say my glory was I had such friends.”  W.B. Yeats, “The Municipal Gallery Revisited.”

May your happiness increase!

BLAINE. SHANE. FREE. FRIDAY. (May 8, 2015)

BLAINE-SHANE pic

For the initiated, no more explanation will be needed.  For everyone else: a free concert by the sweet swinging singer Terry Blaine and the irresistibly swinging pianist Mark Shane this Friday, beginning at 7:30 PM on May 8, 2015, at the Croton Free Library, 171 Cleveland Dr, Croton-on-Hudson, New York 10520.

Here is the Facebook event page, for those wise enthusiastic people who want to click on GOING.

And if you trust your ears more than words, how about this?

or this:

I’ll be there.  You should be, too, if you’re nearby.  Or even if not.

May your happiness increase!

MARTY NAPOLEON (1921-2015)

Pianist, singer, composer Marty Napoleon “made the transition” from this earthly world to another one on Monday night, April 27.  His dear friend Geri Goldman Reichgut told me that on his last night on the planet he ate some dessert and listened to music: the signs of what my Irish friends call “a beautiful death.”

I can’t find it in my heart to be too mournful about Marty’s moving out of this earthly realm.  It seems to me that the New Orleanians have the right idea: cry a little at the birth, because that spirit taking corporeal form might have some bumps in this life, and rejoice at the death, because the spirit is free — to ramble the cosmos in the company of other spirits.

I was in conversation with the wonderful pianist Mike Lipskin last night — we sat on a bench in Greenwich Village and lamented that fewer people are playing particular kinds of the music we both love . . . and we both envisioned a future where it might not even be performed.  But I said fervently, “The MUSIC will always be here,” and I believe that.

It is true in Marty’s case as well.  And as a tribute to the man and his spirit, I offer some tangible immortal evidence here and here.

And a closing story.  One of my heroes is the writer William Maxwell, also no longer around in his earthly shape.  Late in his life, he began taking piano lessons and working his way through some simple classical pieces.  I think this gave him great pleasure but was also frustrating — in the way making music is even more difficult for those who have spent their lives appreciating the superb performances of others.  In his final year, a dear friend said to him, “Bill, in the life to come you will be able to play the piano with ease, won’t you?”  And he replied, “In the next life I will not be making music.  I will be music.”

And he is.  As is Marty.

May your happiness increase.

THE MUSIC SPEAKS FOR ITSELF: THE WEST TEXAS JAZZ PARTY (May 14-17, 2015)

I could write a long piece on the history of the West Texas Jazz Party — in Odessa, Texas — which in 2016 will celebrate its fiftieth year.  This, for those keeping count, makes it the longest-running jazz party in existence.  I could list the names of the luminaries who played, say, in 1980 — Red Norvo, John Best, Lou Stein, Carl Fontana, Kenny Davern, George Masso, Herb Ellis, Buddy Tate, Flip Phillips, Dave McKenna, Milt Hinton, Gus Johnson, PeeWee Erwin, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Rosengarden, John Bunch, Buddy Tate, and the still-vibrant Ed Polcer, Bucky Pizzarelli, Michael Moore, Bob Wilber.

The West Texas Jazz Society site can be found here — quite informative.

But I think it is more important to offer the evidence: the music made at this party, which is superb Mainstream jazz.  Here are several videos from the 2013 WTJP — they will unfold in sequence if you allow them to — featuring Ken Peplowski, Ehud Asherie, Ed Metz, Joel Forbes, Chuck Redd, Randy Sandke, and John Allred:

And the musicians themselves speak sweetly about the pleasure of attending the party and playing there (Ken, Chuck Redd, Dan Barrett, Bucky):

The superb videos — both music and interview — are the work of David Leonnig, who’s also helped inform me about the Party.

This year’s party will take place May 14-17, at the MCM Eleganté Hotel
in Odessa, Texas and the musicians are:

Piano: Johnny Varro, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello
Bass: Joel Forbes. Frank Tate, Nicki Parrott (vocals)
Drums: Chuck Redd (vibes), Tony Tedesco, Butch Miles
Trumpet: Ed Polcer, Warren Vache, Randy Sandke
Trombone: Dan Barrett, John Allred
Reeds: Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson, Allan Vache
Guitar: Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Laub (vocals)
Vocals: Rebecca Kilgore

The West Texas Jazz Party is sponsored in part by:

• The Texas Commission for the Arts
• Odessa Council for the Arts and Humanities
• The Rea Charitable Trust

Patron Tickets: $200: Reserved Seating for all performances and Saturday Brunch.

General Admission: Each performance $50 • Brunch $50

For Hotel Reservations, call 432-368-5885 and ask tor the Jazz Rate of $129.00. For Jazz Party or Brunch Reservations, call 432-552-8962. The WTJP now is accepting credit cards or make a check payable to: West Texas Jazz Society • P.O. Box 10832 • Midland, Texas 79702.

It looks as if a good time will be had by all. For the forty-ninth consecutive year!

May your happiness increase!