Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

COME TO PHILLY FOR JOY: MARTY GROSZ, DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, BRIAN NALEPKA (Sept. 25, 2016)

I’m going to be in New Orleans on the night of September 25, otherwise I’d be here.  And with me absent, there will be one, perhaps two empty seats.  Do you need any more inducement?

"Tell us a story, Mister Grosz!" Photo by Lynn Redmile

“Tell us a story, Mister Grosz!” Photo by Lynn Redmile

Oh, yes.  It will be a concert — hugely informal, of course — by Marty Grosz, guitar / vocals / badinage / vaudeville; Danny Tobias, cornet; Dan Block, reeds, Brian Nalepka, string bass.  “Four of the best,” as they used to say in English boarding schools.  The host will be Philadelphia guitarist Barry Waharhaftig, leader of the Hot Club of Philadelphia.

Here’s three of the four heroes, with a typical Grosz free-association interlude, from 2013.  It was terribly dark at the Mermaid Inn, but we could still hear Marty, Danny, Dan, and Ed Wise, string bass:

I would point out, most gently, that Marty is now 86.  (And I don’t mean “86” in the bartending sense, but his chronological age.)  So the race is to those who do not delay.

Marty and his friends will be appearing on Sunday, September 25, from 8-10:30 PM.  The jollities will take place at the Venetian Club Ballroom, 8030 Germantown Avenue, in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, under the swinging aegis of Barry Waharhaftig and the Hot Club of Philadelphis.  Tickets are $20, with 5% going to the Weavers Way Food Co-op “Food Moxie” Program.

For tickets, visit http://MartyGrosz-Quartet.BPT.me.  For further information, contact Barry Wahrhaftig at 215-380-2588 or HotClubPhilly@gmail.com.

May your happiness increase!

A LETTER FROM PHILIP AND PUALANI

pualani-and-philip-carroll

Atlanta Jazz Party

“We hoped we could create something that would be indefinitely sustainable.”

The Atlanta Jazz Party was founded in 1990 by Phil and Lee Carroll and family.

For 27 years they produced some of the most memorable events of our lives. They engaged some of the world’s finest jazz musicians to play in Atlanta.  Phil scheduled different combinations of musicians, invited jazz lovers from across the country, and his parties took hold.  Philip Carroll and Pualani kept it swinging for 8 more years.

WE, say thank you to all of our Guarantors, Patrons, Sponsors, Volunteers, and Attendees of AJP.  For those feeling inspired, Atlanta Jazz Party is asking fans to post their favorite memory on Facebook.

“With great regret, Atlanta Jazz Party 2017 has been cancelled. Details regarding refunds will be available shortly.”  The company is focusing on issuing/mailing refunds to Atlanta Jazz Party ticket holders.  “Thank you for your patience and understanding.”

It’s a very hard decision to make; it’s been 27 years of great memories.

If you are a ticket holder for the Atlanta Jazz Party 2017 event and would like to plan/ exchange your tickets to attend the Atlanta Motoring Festival and Concours d’Elegance from May 19, 20, 2017, please call the AJP hotline 770-645-6844.

“We hoped we could create something that would be indefinitely sustainable,” said Philip Carroll. If interested in hosting & sponsoring the AJP and the world-class musicians please email pualani_chapman@att.net

Finally, it’s time to share the new venture Atlanta Motoring Festival and Concours d’Elegance, a three day weekend event benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  In 2015 we scheduled a “Soft Event” on May 17th at the Chukkar Farm Polo Club, Alpharetta, Georgia.  This year the festival included a series of exciting activities for the classic car enthusiast, including a police escorted tour, a welcome reception and dinner, a gala with live music on Saturday evening presented by the Atlanta Jazz Preservation Society and two days of classic automobiles on display.  The Atlanta Athletic Club has extended a multiyear agreement in partnership with Johns Creek. Atlanta Motoring Festival and Concours d’Elegance will have many events over a three day weekend, with the main event held at Heisman Field, the serene green space across from the Atlanta Athletic Club on Saturday, May 20, 2017.  It is the beginning of what will become a regular event on the national circuit!  We invite local crafters/vendors and worldwide auto-related merchants. Atlanta Jazz Preservation presents live jazz which will be staged to accompany and complement this all-too rare viewing of these fine classic cars.

All the best,

Philip & Pualani Carroll

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

I learned this news about two weeks ago, but the thought of spreading the sad news just made me terribly gloomy . . . so I offer it now, belatedly.  I made it to the AJP four times only — 2007, 2012, 2014, and 2015 — but I saw the hard work that the whole family did, and I exulted in the great music.  Given this news, though, it seems right to post something slow, low, and tender, in honor of a great party and a grand musical tradition.  “Tres palabras” here, equals “Goodbye!  Thanks!  Love!”

May your happiness increase!

ECUMENICAL PLEASURES: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (August 14, 2016) PART ONE: TERRY WALDO, CHUCK WILSON, JIM FRYER, JAY LEONHART, JAY LEPLEY

In my adolescence, I read every jazz book on the shelves of the very well-stocked suburban public library.  I didn’t understand everything I read (when one reads Andre Hodeir’s harsh analysis of, say, Dickie Wells’ later style without having the musical examples at hand, it is an oddly unbalanced experience) but I absorbed as much as I could, from Rudi Blesh to Barry Ulanov and beyond.

I remember clearly that some of the history-of-jazz books (each with its own ideological slant) used diagrams, in approved textbook fashion, for readers who needed an easy visual guide.  Often, the diagram was a flow chart —

Blank-flow-chart

Sometimes the charts were location-based: New Orleans branched out into Chicago, New York City, Kansas City (as if the authors were tracing the path of an epidemic).  More often, they depicted “schools” and “styles”: Ragtime, New Orleans, Dixieland, Chicago jazz, Early Big Bands, Stride Piano, The Swing Era, Fifty-Second Street, Bebop, Modern . . .

Sectarian art criticism, if you will.  You had different dishes for New Orleans and Modern; you didn’t eat Dixieland on Fridays.  And you had to wait two hours before going in the water. It also supported mythic constructs: the earliest jazz styles were the Truth and everything else was degenerate art, or the notion that every new development was an improvement on its primitive ancestor.

The critics and journalists loved these fantasies; the musicians paid little attention.  Although you wouldn’t find Wingy Manone playing ANTHROPOLOGY, such artificial boundaries didn’t bother George Barnes, Joe Wilder, or Milt Hinton (the latter eminence having recorded with Tiny Parham, Eddie South, Clifford Brown, and Branford Marsalis).

Happily, the musicians are able to assemble — in the most friendly ways — wherever there is a paying gig.  No one has to wear a t-shirt embossed with his or her allegiance and stylistic categorization.  Such a gathering took place on Sunday, August 14, 2016, in the basement of 75 Christopher Street, New York City — known in the guidebooks as FAT CAT, although there are many variants on that title.

fatcat-2__large

The leader and organizer of this ecumenical frolic was Terry Waldo, pianist, ragtime scholar, vocalist, and composer.  For this session, his Gotham City Band was Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Jim Fryer (the Secret Marvel), trombone and vocal; Jay Leonhart, string bass and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums.

And here are four examples of the good feeling these musicians generated so easily.

DIGA DIGA DOO:

MEMORIES OF YOU (starting with Terry’s elaborate homage to its composer, Eubie Blake):

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (with a funny, theatrical vocal by Terry):

OLD FASHIONED LOVE (sung by the romantic Jim Fryer):

Once again, this post is dedicated to the inquiring scholar from Bahia, who sat to my left and brightened the room.

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

LESTER YOUNG’S JOY (“Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie and Lester Young Studio Sessions, Mosaic Records: Mosaic MD-8 263)

Although some of us understandably recoil from chronicles of suffering, pain and oppression make for more compelling narrative than happiness does. Think of Emma (Bovary) and Anna (Karenina), their anguish and torment so much more gripping than the story of the main character in Willa Cather’s “Neighbour Rosicky.”  Montherlant, the French writer Larkin loved to quote, said that happiness “writes white,” that it has nothing to tell us.  Give us some despair, and we turn the pages.  It is true in jazz historiography as it is in fiction. Consider the ferociously detailed examination of the painful lives of Bix Beiderbecke and Charlie Parker.  Musicians like Hank Jones, Buck Clayton, Buster Bailey or Bennie Morton, artists who showed up early and sober to the session, are not examined in the same way.

Suffering, self-destruction, misery — those subjects engross us.

And Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959) whose birthday approaches, will be celebrated on WKCR-FM this weekend, is a splendid example of how the difficulties of one’s life become the subject of sad scrupulous examination.

The “Lester Young story” that is so often told is that of his victimization and grief.  And there is sufficient evidence to show him as a man oppressed — from childhood to his final plane ride — by people who didn’t understand him or didn’t want to.  Readers who know the tale can point accusing fingers at a stock company of betrayers and villains: Willis Young, Leora Henderson, John Hammond, the United States Army, a horde of Caucasians (some faceless, some identifiable) and more.

Although he is simply changing a reed, the photograph below is most expressive of that Lester.  Intent, but not at ease.  Skeptical of the world, wondering what will happen next, his expression verging on anxious.

Lester-Young-standing-changing-reed

But there is the music, lest we forget.  It speaks louder than words, Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson.

A different Lester — ebullient, inventive, full of joyous surprises — is the subject of one of the most grand musical productions I have ever seen, an eight CD set on Mosaic Recordsits cover depicted below.  Every note on this set is a direct rejection of the story of Lester the victim and every note tells us that Lester the creator was even more important, his impact deeper and more permanent.

LESTER BASIE Mosaic

Where did this mournful myth come from, and why?

Few African-American musicians received perceptive and sympathetic media coverage in the Thirties, perhaps because jazz was viewed as entertainment and writers often adopted the most painful “hip” jargon.  (I leave aside Ansermet on Sidney Bechet and early analysis of Ellington as notable exceptions.)  So the writings on Lester, some of which were his own speech, come late in his life and are cautious, full of bitterness and melancholy.  He was by nature sensitive and shy, and which of us would feel comfortable speaking to a stranger in front of a microphone?  Yes, the Lester of the irreplaceable Chris Albertson and Francois Postif interviews is quite a bit more unbuttoned, but much of what comes through is despair, exhaustion, suspicion, hurt.  (I make an exception for Bobby Scott’s gentle loving portrait, but that was posthumous, perhaps Scott’s effort to say, “This was the Lester I knew.”)

Even the film footage we have of Lester (leaving aside those jubilant, silent seconds from Randalls Island) supports this image of the suffering Pres, a bottle sticking out of the pocket of his long black coat, elusive, turning away from the world because of what it had done to him.  The mystical icon of JAMMIN’ THE BLUES is to me a mournful figure, even though Lester participates in the riotous closing blues.  The Lester of THE SOUND OF JAZZ evokes tears in his music and in his stance.  And on the 1958 Art Ford show, the song Lester calls for his feature is MEAN TO ME, a fact not cancelled out by JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID.  The 1950 Norman Granz film, IMPROVISATION, is a notable exception: in BLUES FOR GREASY Lester quietly smiles while Harry Edison struts.  But the visual evidence we have is in more sad than happy.

Adding all this together, the mythic figure we have come to accept is that of Pres on the cross of racism, a man watching others less innovative getting more “pennies” and more prominent gigs.  Then, there’s the conception of him “in decline,” running parallel to Billie Holiday, “still my Lady Day.”  Although some have effectively argued for a more balanced view — why should a musician want to play in 1956 the way he played twenty years earlier, assuming even that it was possible?  Some critics still muse on the change in his sound around 1942, constructing the facile story of a man bowed down by adversity.  And we are drawn to the gravity-bound arc of a great artist, blooming beyond belief in his twenties, alcoholic and self-destructive, dying before reaching fifty.

But the brand-new eight-disc Mosaic set, taken for its own virtues, is a wonderful rebuke to such myth-making.  If you have heard nothing of it or from it, please visit here.

I am writing this review having heard less than one-fourth of this set, and that is intentional.  We do not stuff down fine cuisine in the same way one might mindlessly work their way through a bag of chips; we do not put the Beethoven string quartets on while washing the kitchen floor, and we do not play these Lester Young tracks as background music, or in the car.  To do so would be at best disrespectful.

I think that by now everyone has heard about the virtues of Mosaic’s delicate and thoughtful work.  Fine notes by Pres-scholar Loren Schoenberg, rare and new photographs, and transfers of familiar material that make it shine in ways I could not have imagined.  The music bursts through the speakers and I heard details I’d never heard, not even through forty years of close listening.

The news, of course, is that there are four astonishing discoveries on this set: alternate takes of LADY BE GOOD, EVENIN’, and BOOGIE WOOGIE from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Inc., session, and a previously unknown alternate take of HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the 1937 Basie band.

Now, what follows may mark me as a suburban plutocrat, but if you’d come to me at any time in the past dozen years and said, “Pssst!  Michael!  Want beautiful transfers of three alternate takes from Jones-Smith, Inc., and I’ll throw in an unissued Basie Decca — for a hundred and fifty dollars?” I would have gone to the ATM as fast as I could.

When I first heard the issued take of SHOE SHINE BOY in 1969 — I taped it from an Ed Beach radio show and treasured it — the music went right to my heart in a way that only Louis did.  It still does, a living embodiment of joy.

And the joy is still profound.  I know this not only because of the feelings that course through me while listening to the Mosaic set, but because of an entirely unplanned experiment earlier this week.  I had lunch with a young musician whom I admire and like, and after the food was eaen we went back to my place — as is our habit — so that I could “play him some Dixieland!” as he likes to say.

But this time I asked, “Do you like Lester Young?” Had he said “No,” I would have invented an appointment with my podiatrist that I had to get to right away, but he answered properly and with enthusiasm.  He had never heard SHOE SHINE BOY, so I put the first Mosaic disc on.  He is someone whose emotions bubble through him, and although he is taller and broader than I am, he capered around my living room, completely ecstatic.  Lester’s magic is potent and undiminished: I could see the music hitting him as hard and sweetly as it had done to me in 1969.

And as I have been listening to this set while writing these words, I am continually astonished — by recordings I heard forty years ago, by recordings I first heard a week ago — not only by how alive they sound, but by the complete picture of Lester’s first decade of recordings, so influential.  Jones-Smith, Inc. Una Mae Carlisle.  Dickie Wells.  The Kansas City Six and Seven, and Lester’s 1943 Keynote quartet.  The Aladdins.  TI-PI-TIN.  I FOUND A NEW BABY with Teddy Wilson, twice. The Philo trio with Nat Cole.  A few Helen Humes sides. The only studio recordings beyond Mosaic’s reach are the Savoy sessions.

The joy is not only Lester.  There’s Count Basie, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Jo Jones, Johnny Guarnieri, Doc West, Sidney Catlett, Vic Dickenson, Slam Stewart, Shad Collins, Sweets Edison, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Nat Cole, Red Callendar, Buddy Rich, Buster Bailey, Bill Coleman, Dickie Wells, Joe Bushkin, Benny Goodman, Herschel Evans, Bennie Morton, Earle Warren, Jack Washington, Helen Humes . . . and more.

I’ve read a good deal of discussion of this set, of price, of value — as always! — on Facebook, and I won’t reiterate it here.  I will only say that this box is superb listening, provocative and rewarding music.  And as a wise person used to say, “Amortize!” — that is, instead of buying ten lesser CDs, buy this.  And think of the expense as ten manageable chunklets: that’s what credit cards allow us to do. You will be listening to this music for the rest of your life.

Some, reared on Spotify and Pandora — and the idea that everything should be free — will burn copies of the set from jazz Enablers, will wait for the material to be “borrowed” by European labels.  I think this is at best polite theft, and the sole way that we have of keeping enterprises like Mosaic afloat — and there’s nothing like Mosaic, if you haven’t noticed — is to support it.

For those who have their calculators out, the set is eight CDs.  There are 173 tracks.  The cost is $136.00 plus shipping.  There are only 5000 sets being produced.  They won’t be around in five years, or perhaps in one.  (I paid for my set, if you wonder about such things.)

Thank you, Pres, for being so joyous and for sharing your joy with us.  We mourn your griefs, but we celebrate your delight in sounds.  And thank you, Mosaic, for bringing us the joy in such profusion.

May your happiness increase!

THE VERY ELOQUENT MR. LEWIS (KERRY LEWIS, MARTY GROSZ, DAN BLOCK, ANDY SCHUMM: September 20, 2012)

kerry-lewis-3-web

Call it the string bass, the bass viol, the double bass, the doghouse: it’s essential to jazz ensembles.  Milt Hinton reminded us that “bass” meant “base,” or “foundation,” and which of us would say the Judge was incorrect?  Experienced listeners know that no matter how glossy the front line is, how expert the drummer, if the bassist doesn’t feel right, the band might as well go home.  And sometimes should.  But the man or woman behind the beautifully polished near-human figure doesn’t always get the attention so richly deserved, and, yes, people talk through bass solos.  What a pity.

New York is full of splendid string bassists, but the fellow I’d like to salute here makes his living, often, in New Orleans.  I’ve seen him in Chautauqua, New York, and San Diego, and hope for more such intersections.

His name is Kerry Lewis — and the first paragraph of his website biography, which you can read by clicking on the link,  is worth the trip.

I could describe Kerry’s strong yet subtle, deeply intuitive playing, but it is more fun for you to discover his mastery for yourselves.  To this end, here is a video from Jazz at Chautauqua, when it was situated there — this performance took place at one of the fabled Thursday-night sessions, September 20, 2012.

The quartet here is full of engagingly distracting musicians.  It would be easy to concentrate wholly on Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal, vaudeville; Dan Block, clarinet; Andy Schumm, cornet.  But I would ask the attentive people in the JAZZ LIVES audience (and they are there, bless them!) to study Mr. Lewis — in ensemble, in solo . . . playful, absolutely right without being rigid, holding the whole ensemble on his shoulders.  Although he might deny it, I think of him as the Swing Atlas, hoisting everyone up a little higher, although not demanding attention in any narcissistic way.

So now you know.  And when the talk turns to admired musicians, “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition,” you can say with the half-smile of the wisely initiated, “Yes, ________ is fine.  But have you heard Kerry Lewis play the string bass?”  Amaze your friends; delight your neighbors; be a hero(ine) to the children and not only yours.  And it pleases me to say that Kerry will be playing at the 2016 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, which begins on September 15.  Soon!

May your happiness increase!

TOKARSKI’S NIGHTINGALE (AND OTHER RARE SPECIES)

Although I’ve only met the young pianist / composer Kris Tokarski a few brief times in person, I admire him as a remarkable musician with great wit, warmth, flexibility, and swing.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

About sixteen months ago, Kris made his first CD as a leader, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM — a delightful musical collation with Kris among his friends and peers James Evans, Evan Christopher, and Benji Bohannon.  Here’s what I wrote about Kris (with music samples) in April 2014.

Although Kris’ musical and emotional range is substantial, he is a great subtle player of older music with the right feeling — without being hemmed in by written manuscript, older recordings, or restrictive stylistic conventions.  Here is a recent video-recording Kris did especially for JAZZ LIVES — at home and informally — of Joseph Lamb’s RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE:

Notice his lovely touch, his gentle approach.  Would you like to hear more? That is easily accomplished.

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly's house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly’s house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

In March of this year, Kris, Hal Smith, drums, and Cassidy Holden, string bass, went into the GHB Studios in New Orleans to create a CD that would consider classic rags from a Mortonian perspective, with performances modeled on Jelly’s own evocations as well as songs known to be familiar during his career but not recorded.  The compositions are Pastime Rag #3 / Heliotrope Bouquet / Kinklets / Peacherine Rag / Elite Syncopations / Ragtime Nightingale / Grace And Beauty / Please Say You Will / Sunflower Slow Drag / Swipesy / Magnetic Rag / The Easy Winners / Cataract Rag / St. Louis Rag.  If you understand the concept, the CD is a magnificent invention; if you’ve never heard the Morton Library of Congress recordings, the CD will please just as deeply.

I was delighted to be asked to write the liner notes.  Here’s what I said:

SOFT, SWEET, PLENTY RHYTHM

In 1972, I had several opportunities to marvel at Eubie Blake, then nearing ninety.  He would play MEMORIES OF YOU, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER, or CHARLESTON RAG, but he always concluded with a virtuosic display and a triumphant shout, “That’s RAGTIME!” It certainly was, but the music was more than notes on the page; it was shaped by the personality and experiences of its creator. Jazz improvisation is never pure (thank goodness): it’s all subliminal osmosis and hybridization.  Eubie’s ragtime was broad-minded: it cuddled up with stride, eight-to-the-bar, orchestral flourishes owing as much to Rachmaninoff as Joplin. 

I’ve heard many musicians approach the ragtime repertoire according to their spirit animal.  Some storm through a rag as if preparing for a martial arts tournament.  Others play it with reverent rigidity, the way a child in an antique shop sits tensely on the chair to which he’s been affixed.  This CD presents one, two, and three musicians embodying a radical idea: “Let’s play the music with joy and attention to detail, and whatever happens, it will be good.”     

On this CD, Jelly Roll Morton’s proud, playful New Orleans spirit is strong, although Kris Tokarski wisely avoids the Morton caricature: lesser pianists turn Morton into a large papier-mache figure at the keyboard. 

Kris’s playing is, as always, warm and delicate but you know there is stomping power beneath the surface. I admire his beautiful touch, the logic of his phrases, but he’s never so precise as to be chilly.  Kris animates the rags, reminding us that ragtime is swinging syncopated dance music: pastoral but not effete.

Masterful playing by Cassidy Holden and Hal Smith makes this a genuine trio, democratic and empathic.  Hear the low woody propulsive sound Cassidy gets (the right notes, the right changes, a wonderful pulse) as well as his cellolike clarity.  Hal’s playing appears uncomplicated, but it takes decades of devoted playing to know what to leave out, what sounds to make, how and when to make them.  I thought occasionally of Minor Hall and Tommy Benford, but most often of Hal.

These performances aren’t “recreations” of some imagined past, but neither are they free-form improvisations on the harmonies.  I hear echoes of the jungle (ANIMULE BALL) in CATARACT RAG, the Spanish tinge in MAGNETIC RAG.  But each song sounds like a movement in a dance suite – with echoes of marches, quadrilles, and street parades. PLEASE SAY YOU WILL moves so deliciously from waltz to a gently swinging rhythm ballad with a few closing moments of stomp (as Morton did on MY GAL SAL).  ST. LOUIS RAG – in the words of Jake Hanna – starts swinging from the beginning.  GRACE AND BEAUTY shows off this trio’s many virtues: they don’t get louder or faster, but you know the train is moving on the right track and it will arrive on time. 

SUNFLOWER SLOW DRAG is a history of the first decades of jazz, as it progresses from a tender, almost shy start to a romp.

We owe this session to Hal Smith, not only a master percussionist but a jazz scholar and detective.  He had long been fascinated by Morton’s transformations of famous ragtime pieces, and wondered how other rags would sound if played in Jelly’s style.  He knew that Kris would be perfect for the project, making the performances vibrant, not dusty.  Hal put together a list of rags that might have been played in New Orleans between 1900 and 1917 – and after swapping music and recordings, this wonderful group was ready – not for the river, but for the studio.  Thank you, Kris, Hal, Cassidy, for opening the magic toybox and offering us so much joy.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Or perhaps I have.

To purchase the CD, visit here. Or if you encounter Kris at a gig, I am sure he will be happy to arrange a mutually satisfying transaction.

And I am looking for several chances to enjoy Kris and friends in the coming months.  His trio — with Hal Smith and Tim Laughlin (yes, you did read that correctly!) — is a highlight of the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado at the end of July; the “Hot Classicism” trio of Kris, Hal, and Andy Schumm will also appear at the 2016 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans.

May your happiness increase!

WAY OUT WESTOVERLEDINGEN / PAPENBURG JOYS (APRIL 8-10, 2016)

I don’t always speak to my college students about Literature; more often, I find myself standing at the intersection of Literature and Life.  So that when a student says to me that (s)he is exhausted because of working too many hours to pay for “things,” I encourage that student to consider, before springing to buy a glittery object, exactly how many hours of work it will cost.  I don’t know if my parental exhortation has any effect, but it is part of a cost / benefit calculation that has sometimes led me to put back something I was about to buy.

Cost and benefit is relevant here, because the person writing these words is still seriously exhausted by the previous weekend’s travel to the Rathaus, in Papenburg, in the larger territory of Westoverledingen, where the Generous Man of Jazz Manfred Selchow lives and has been staging concerts and tours for thirty years.  I know I spent more hours in transit than I did listening to music, but the ten-plus hours of the latter were and are precious.  A few notes follow. But first, a photograph (by my new friend Elke Grunwald):

Rathaus photo by Elke Grunwald

From the left, that’s Engelbert Wrobel, tenor saxophone; Helge Lorenz, guitar; Matthias Seuffert, tenor saxophone; Nicki Parrott, string bass / vocal; Menno Daams, cornet; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Moritz Gastreich, drums.  Others on the program were Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Niels Unbehagen, piano; Bert Boeren, trombone; Bernard Flegar, drums; Nico Gastreich, string bass.  And in the audience there’s a balding fellow with a turquoise shirt and a video camera, as close to the music as he can get without ascending the stage.

Friday night featured a two-set concert by Engelbert, Stephanie, Paolo, and Nicki — a group coyly termed SWINGIN’ LADIES PLUS 2.  The music was lively (TEMPTATION RAG), funky (BLUEBERRY HILL), riotously exuberant (THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE), multi-colored (THANKS FOR THE MEMORY), classic (SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, SHINE, LIZA, ST. LOUIS BLUES) tender (THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU) and Brazilian (Nicki sang BRAZIL and played a samba medley).  I heard delicious echoes of Goodman, James P. Johnson, Garner and Don Lambert, but the quartet was itself as well as evocative, full of sweet surprises in ensemble and solo.

FROM JOPLIN TO JOBIM

If you weren’t in the audience, you can still hear this group — their wonderful CD, FROM JOPLIN TO JOBIM, is available on iTunes and elsewhere.

And that was Friday.

Saturday, post-breakfast, was devoted to a necessary exploration of Sleep.  But at night, there was JAM SESSION NIGHT — four hours and more of sheer pleasure.  It began with a set devoted to Eddie Condon’s music and world, which was started off in just the proper spirit by Nico, reading aloud from WE CALLED IT MUSIC — in German — the passage where Eddie has to go to the induction center to determine if he is fit for service.  (The punchline, in English, is something like, “Get this man a drink!”)  After the laughter died down, Menno, Rico, Bert, Matthias, Niels, Nico and Moritz offered songs directly related to Eddie’s recordings and performances: LOUISIANA, WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE, DIANE, OH, BABY!, THEM THERE EYES, a ballad medley, and MEET ME TONIGHT IN DREAMLAND.  The music also honored Milt Gabler and George Avakian, appropriately.  And it honored Eddie, with beautiful hot lyricism from everyone.

A short pause, and then Paolo introduced his clever AROUND BROADWAY — jazz classics that were originally show tunes in one way or another — with Engelbert, Stephanie, Nicki, and Bernard.  Berlin, Youmans, Gershwin, with intelligent but never pedantic commentary by Paolo.  And we heard HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, BLUE SKIES, OVER THE RAINBOW, ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, THE MAN I LOVE, and I WANT TO BE HAPPY.  (The audience and the musicians were already happy.  I saw this.)

One of the highlights of the weekend followed, a Hoagy Carmichael set featuring Menno, Matthias, Engelbert, Paolo, Nicki, and Moritz.  The classics were beautifully played and sung: SKYLARK, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, NEW ORLEANS, STARDUST, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, LAZY RIVER — with two delicious surprises: SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, which Carmichael’s Collegians had recorded, although not a Carmichael composition, and THANKSGIVING, which was his work.  My marginal notations (what Stephanie called my “grades”!) were very enthusiastic.

Finally — who or what could follow that? — a set led by Rico in tribute to his mentor, idol, and ideal Louis.  A brief AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ led off, then a seriously intent CHINATOWN, a more relaxed MY WALKING STICK, WILLIE THE WEEPER, a Rico-Niels duet on SWEET LORRAINE (unplanned and elegant), two versions of I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA, YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, and a two-tiered finale, merging STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE and WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.

A seemingly insatiable audience called for more, and got it — eleven players assembled for a Benny Carter-flavored I NEVER KNEW and a promise, WE’LL MEET AGAIN.

Delighted, thrilled, elated, exhausted, I went to bed as soon as I could.

After a perfect German breakfast buffet (I dream of these lavish assortments of food, I confess) it was time for Sunday’s JAZZ FRUSCHOPPEN (I now know that the second word means “morning / lunchtime drink,” another linguistic morsel for the word-hoard).  Bert, Rico, Engelbert, Niels, Stephanie, Helge, Nico, and Moritz took on the pleasure of honoring Basie in under an hour, with MOTEN SWING, SPLANKY, a plunger-muted feature a la Al Grey for Bert on MAKIN’ WHOOPEE, SHINY STOCKINGS, ALL OF ME (for the rhythm section) and a searing JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE.

Nicki led Menno, Matthias, Stephanie, Paolo, and Bernard through a tenderly swinging evocation (not imitation) of Billie, Teddy, and Lester, with ME, MYSELF AND I, LOVER MAN, PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE, SAY IT ISN’T SO, THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT, STORMY WEATHER, and WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO — drawing on the best songs that Billie ever recorded, instead of A SUNBONNET BLUE.

And — a proper climax — a JATP set with a five-horn front line backed by Paolo, Helge, Nicki, and Moritz, which presented long versions of TEA FOR TWO, STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, I SURRENDER DEAR, IDAHO, a BLUES FOR MANNIE, THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME, LADY BE GOOD with Lester’s 1936 solo for two tenors, and an encore of PERDIDO, with swing rather than honking.

It was wonderful.

Yes, I video-ed the weekend, so those who weren’t there should not grieve.  It will, however, take some time for the videos to emerge: courtesy to the musicians requires that they be given a chance to see what they like or loathe.

A Manfred Selchow weekend is a jazz feast, and he’s been doing this and more for three decades.  We are all so grateful.

May your happiness increase!