Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

“BADVERTISING”

You know, a true friend is one who will tell you your fly is unzipped or that you have something in your teeth. One stellar example is Eric Devine, or CineDevine, as he’s known on YouTube. Although Eric started later than I did, he is a much more skilled videographer than I’ll ever be. See his expert videos of Jeff Barnhart, the Fat Babies, Tuba Skinny, Bria Skonberg, Johnny Varro, Heather Thorn, and many others on his YouTube channel.

Eric told me that YouTube was endlessly attaching advertisements to the videos we create. I know that nothing, and that includes paper napkins and hot sauce at Chipotle, is free, but I had forgotten about YouTube as a money-making arm of Google. Why? Because I had voluntarily participated in a process like extortion or the “protection rackets” of years gone by. I pay a monthly sum to YouTube to keep my viewing ad-free, like paying the exterminator to come regularly to keep the termites away. But I checked with my research bureau in Oregon (JJKS, Ltd.) and the answer came: the joint was crawling with ads.

I could give you examples, but why publicize these firms? Below is a photograph of the label of a great record. Take your own trip to YouTube to see what products are being sold, and report back. Did anyone ask Smack or Louis?

Eric and I agree: you’d think Google had enough money already, but I tried, with small success, to look on the bright side: who would have thought that we’d have the privilege of going to a festival, being welcomed, and being able to spread joy up to the maximum and help artists and enterprises as well. And he ruefully agreed.

We’re not totally naive: Google, YouTube, Facebook, and the rest require revenue to survive. But it feels sneaky, like the stories of the subliminal ads that were supposedly inserted in films at the drive-in theatre: a sixteenth of a second of a photograph of an icy bottle of Coca-Cola, with the words WOULDN’T AN ICE-COLD COKE TASTE GREAT RIGHT NOW? And everyone was thirsty and didn’t know why.

This post is just to say that if you click on a video of mine or Eric’s — which we did for free and the musicians allowed us to use for free — and see ads for pet shampoo, vitamin supplements, body-part alteration, fast food, gutter cleanouts, life insurance, or any of a thousand annoyances . . . we weren’t asked for our permission; we don’t profit from it, and we’re sorry that commerce gets in the way.

Since I’ve started JAZZ LIVES in 2008, people have said I was foolish for not “monetizing” it, and I tell them that art is pure and money, although necessary, should be kept in a separate drawer, except when it comes to paying artists lavishly.

“Badvertising” is my own coinage, but you’re welcome to it.

And if anyone accuses me of hypocrisy because I too run ads on JAZZ LIVES — for The Syncopated Times and Vintage Jazz Mart — I offered to do this; I believe in these publications, I’d like to support them, and I am not receiving a monthly check for the ad space.

Even in this dramatically capitalist world, art should not have to float in a bath of tepid commerce. Beware of hucksters, grifters, con men, card sharps, and pickpockets, I say.

May your happiness increase!

OUR LUCKY STARS: LEIGH BARKER BAND, “MELBOURNE” and “PARIS”

ROSIE’S CHAIR NEAR THE WINDOW, by Megan Grant

Brace yourself, dear people. I have some more lovely music to share with you: expert, swinging, full of feeling.

Dee-lightful. And . . .

The wonderfully inventive Leigh Barker has created two discs — available here — joyous documents of his journey, with friends, from Melbourne to Paris. You might know Leigh from his all-too-brief visits to the US as part of the Hot Jazz Alliance and with Josh Duffee’s Goldkette-Orchestra trip to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, but he is known and admired worldwide for his elegant, gutty string bass playing and imaginative bands.

More about that shortly, but here’s some music — complete versions of the two video-montage presentations above: YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR and LONELY ONE IN THIS TOWN.

That effervescent music says “Take me along: we’re going to go unfamiliar places full of familiar joys and comforts.”

Details, you say?

For MELBOURNE, the inspired perpetrators:

Leigh Barker – Double Bass
Heather Stewart – Violin and voice
Donald Stewart – Trombone
Ben Harrison – Trumpet / Cornet
Jason Downes – Clarinet and Alto Saxophone
John Scurry – Guitar and Banjo
Matt Boden – Piano
Sam Young – Drums
SPECIAL GUEST: Brennan Hamilton-Smith on clarinet track 4 and 9

performing: LONELY ONE IN THIS TOWN / WOLVERINE BLUES / GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON / SAY IT ISN’T SO / THE PEARLS / THE STEVEDORE STOMP / PLAY THE BLUES AND GO / WHAT’S THE USE OF LIVING WITHOUT LOVE? / CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN.

for PARIS, les amis:

Leigh Barker – Contrebasse
Heather Stewart – Chant et Violon
Bastien Brison – Piano
David Grebil – Batterie
Romain Vuillemin – Guitare et Banjo
Bastien Weeger – Clarinette et Saxophone Alto
Noe Codjia – Trompette
Gilles Repond-Quint – Trombone

performing YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR / HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM / VARIATIONS ON A NORK / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / THE SONG IS ENDED / INDIAN SUMMER.

and some words from Leigh:

IT”S HIGHLY recommended to listen to this album with the tracks in order! It segues like a real set in a club.

These two albums come at the end of a very long period of gestation, starting in May 2018 in Melbourne Australia, and finishing at the very end of 2020, which as every single person on the planet earth knows has been marked by a historic pandemic. I was already procrastinating about releasing the ‘Melbourne’ session, and had been putting very little effort in to booking shows under my own name in Europe (Thanks to Gordon Webster, Duved Dunayevsky, Tatiana Eva Marie and everyone else for keeping me on the road…) However, a 4 week tour of Australia was booked for November and December 2020 (hah!) and I knew this was the moment to release a new album and CD, to take on the road with the ‘Australian Band’. As I sit here writing these notes on Sunday December 27th 2020, it is still more or less impossible to enter Australia from Europe, even if all the events and venues were able to put on our shows as envisaged (which they’re not!…)

The Paris session was miraculously put together in November 2019 between touring dates, we got together all in one room together for 2 days, around one single microphone – the french-made Melodium 42B. This was not for any particular reasons of purity or authenticity, just because Simon Oriot convinced me to give it a shot, and ‘that way there is no mixing to do’ as he put it…

The Melbourne session on the other hand was edited and mixed all over the planet. I remember selecting takes, editing, making several attempts at mixing and gradually pulling together the shape of the album in places such as Saint Cyr-la-Rosiere and Champagne-sur-Seine in France, Hildesheim in Germany, the suburbs of Paris, on tour in Stockholm, Budapest, London and Cambridge – and during two separate visits to Australia in 2019 and 2020, in a supermarket parking lot in Moruya, NSW or in the car on the Clyde Mountain between Mossy Point (…if you know, you know…) and the capital Canberra where Hi Hat Studios is located. I also remember making several attempts with several engineers, sometimes remotely, sometimes in person, with an infected cancerous leg wound, on holiday, in airports…. and of course in the end drawn out over several months in total isolation due to a global pandemic….

This year has asked too many questions of musicians, from the very practical to the most existential. In the end we are all driven by the compulsion to CREATE, something, anything, and it’s almost always better when you can share it with other people….

TWILIGHT CAMPSITE, by Megan Grant

Maybe after all that, more words from me will be superfluous. But you’ll notice the “traditional” repertoire — which will reassure some (perhaps alienate others?) but it is not treated with finicky reverence. Oh, Leigh and Heather and the band do the damnedest encapsulation of Louis and the 1935 Luis Russell band on LUCKY STAR — but their approach is not that of severely protective rare-book curators, insisting that anything short of monastic worship is sacrilege. There’s a good deal of stretching within the revered outlines, a good deal of affectionate disrespect that turns out to be the highest adoration, because they remember that the innovators we prize so highly were themselves in favor of innovation. And these musicians practice what they preach, so their music is honest always, raw when it feels like it, dainty otherwise, and breathing all the time.

These recordings are magnificent. And unruly. And alive.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

“WHEN SHADOWS FALL”: BENT PERSSON, MICHEL BASTIDE, and the HOT ANTIC JAZZ BAND (Akersunds, 2010)

In the darkest days of the pandemic, I found myself muttering under my breath, “I want to go home.”  It was of course unattainable: my parents had been gone for decades and my childhood home long occupied by others.  I have lived in this apartment for sixteen years, so wanting to “go home” was physically attainable and emotionally wavering.  I am home.  I was home.  But not really.  Home feels like a peaceful state of mind, somewhere you are safe and welcomed, perhaps even where someone makes a salad and asks if you would like some.  In the midst of fear, grief, and uncertainty, “Home” still means to me a time and space where I don’t have to read the headlines in the morning and find out how many have died, been killed, are abused, are suffering.

So even before the pandemic, when the other person in the car asked me, “What’s your favorite song?” I said, “One?” and the first that came to mind was Louis’ THAT’S MY HOME.  (Second place was IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, which is revealing also.) 

But HOME. 

And in musical terms, HOME is one of those songs so ennobled by performances, live and recorded.  The last time I saw Bobby Hackett, at a January 1976 concert tribute to Louis, it was that song he picked as his feature.  I can hear and feel embraced by the performances of Jack Teagarden, Joe Thomas, Coleman Hawkins on a 1944 Keynote Records date.

HOME cover

But for me it all comes back to Louis.  I first heard him sing and play HOME on a glorious, touching Verve session, backed by Russell Garcia, LOUIS UNDER THE STARS, and then the 1931 OKeh version.  Louis makes me want to stand up and put my hand over my heart, an impulse I must stifle because people at adjacent tables might ask if I need the Heimlich maneuver, but this Louis-inflected reading of the song, by Bent Persson and the Hot Antic Jazz Band, led by Michel Bastide, has me in tears every time.  Good tears, rich ones:

We owe deep thanks to musician and videographer Andreas Kågedal for preserving this beauty and sharing it. I apologize to him for not naming him at the start.

Wherever you are, may it be comfortable and haimisch — you don’t need a translation.  

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

EDDY DAVIS: IN MEMORY STILL GREEN (Scott Robinson, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Debbie Kennedy, Fernando Kfouri, The Cajun: March 29, 2006)

Scott Robinson wrote this elegy for Eddy Davis on April 8, 2020, and I couldn’t improve on it.


I’ve just lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in music. Eddy Davis was a highly significant and influential presence in my life. He was a fiercely individualistic performer… a veteran of the old Chicago days when music was hot, joyful, exuberant and unselfconscious. A character and a curmudgeon, who could hold court for hours after the gig. And a loving mentor who helped younger musicians like myself learn and grow in this music.
I had only played with Eddy a handful of times when he called me in late 1998 to say that he was forming a new band to fill a weekly Wednesday spot at the Cajun on 8th Avenue. He wanted me to play lead on C melody saxophone, in a little group with two reeds, and no drums. This by itself gives a clue to what an original thinker he was.

I already knew that Eddy was a proficient and highly individualistic stylist on the banjo, who sounded like no one else. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that this man was also a walking repository of many hundreds if not thousands of tunes of every description, ranging far beyond the standard repertoire… with a fascinating background story at the ready for nearly every one. I quickly learned that he was also a prolific and idiosyncratic composer himself, with a wonderfully philosophical work ethic: write original music every day, keep what works, and throw the rest away without a backward glance.

Eddy was also what used to be called a “character”: affable, opinionated, hilarious, and irascible all in one, and above all highly passionate about music. What I learned over the ensuing 7 ½ years in Eddy’s little band, I cannot begin to describe. I came to refer to those regular Wed. sessions as my “doctor’s appointment” — for they fixed whatever ailed me, and provided the perfect antidote to the ills of the world, and of the music scene. Over the years we were graced with the presence of some very distinguished musicians who came by and sat in with us, including Harry Allen, Joe Muranyi, Bob Barnard, Howard Johnson, and Barry Harris.

Eddy was generous with his strong opinions, with his knowledge and experience, and with his encouragement. But he was a generous soul in other ways as well. When he heard that I was building a studio (my “Laboratory”), he had me come by the apartment and started giving me things out of his closets. A Roland 24-track recorder… three vintage microphones… instruments… things that I treasure, and use every single day of my life. When my father turned 75, Eddy came out to the Lab in New Jersey and played for him, and wouldn’t take a dime for it.
When I got the call last night that Eddy had passed — another victim of this horrible virus that is ruining so many lives, and our musical life as well — I hung up the phone and just cried. Later I went out to my Laboratory, and kissed every single thing there that he had given to me. How cruel to lose such an irreplaceable person… killed by an enemy, as my brother commented, that is neither visible nor sentient.

One night at the Cajun stands out in my memory, and seems particularly relevant today. It was the night after the last disaster that changed New York forever: the World Trade Center attack. There was a pall over the city, the air was full of dust, and there was a frightful, lingering smell. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “This is crazy.” But somehow we all made our way to the nearly empty club. We were in a state of shock; nobody knew what to say. I wondered if we would even be able to play. We took the stage, looked at each other, and counted off a tune. The instant the first note sounded, I was overcome with emotion and my face was full of tears.

Suddenly I understood exactly why we were there, why it was so important that we play this music. We played our hearts out that night — for ourselves, for our city, and for a single table of bewildered tourists, stranded in town by these incomprehensible events. They were so grateful for the music, so comforted by it.

The simple comfort of live music has been taken from us now. We must bear this loss, and those that will surely follow, alone… shut away in our homes. I know that when the awful burden of this terrible time has finally been lifted, when we can share music, life, and love again, it will feel like that night at the Cajun. My eyes will fill, my heart will sing, and the joy that Eddy Davis gave me will be with me every time I lift the horn to my face, for as long as I live.

It should be clear that the passionate honesty Scott offers us when he plays also comes through his words.

Here is an audio document of one of those Wednesday nights, March 29, 2006, recorded at The Cajun. Eddy Davis, banjo, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano, vocal; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Debbie Kennedy, string bass; Fernando Kfouri, trombone (on TAILGATE RAMBLE). I wish I had been less intimidated (underneath his Midwestern affability, I sensed there was a core of steel in Eddy and I initially kept my distance, although I did develop a friendly relationship and did create videos) and brought my video camera, but I’ve left everything that was recorded that night in — including Conal going in search of his car, which had been towed, between-songs chatter, and more, for those not fortunate to be there fifteen years ago or other times.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

“SATCHMOCRACY: A TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG” by the Jérôme Etcheberry – Popstet (2020)

This new CD is completely heartening music. Here’s the cover . . .

but before you have one more word launched in your direction, hear some sounds. Excerpts only, but how tasty!

WEST END BLUES:

BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

and that should give you some of the bracing flavors of this new disc that passionately combines “tribute” and “going for yourself” in a way completely true to Louis’ spirit. Should your only question be “How can I get a copy?” the answer is very simple. Visit their website here with not only hope but 19.99 euro, do the PayPal dance, and the disc can be yours. Or here, if you prefer Facebookery.

The songs are TIGHT LIKE THIS, HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, WEATHER BIRD RAG, HOTTER THAN THAT, I DOUBLE DARE YOU, MEMORIES OF YOU, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, CORNET CHOP SUEY, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, WEST END BLUES, YES! I’M IN THE BARREL, NEW ORLEANS STOMP, and the noble members of The Ensemble are Jérome Etcheberry leader, trumpet, arrangements; Malo Mazurié, trumpet; César Poirier, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Benjamin Dousteyssier, alto and baritone saxophone; Ludovic Allainmat, piano; Félix Hunot, guitar; Sébastien Girardot, string bass; David Grebil, drums.

Some months back, Jerome, whose previous work I’ve found thrilling, asked me if I would write something for his new enterprise. It took me very little time to fall in love with this music, that seems adoring and irreverent (in the best ways) at once.

When I began to listen to this CD I hadn’t had breakfast, so after a track or two I thought, “This is filet of Louis wrapped in a spicy pastry crust, both rare and well-done.” What does my culinary metaphor ending in a cliché mean? As far back as the late Twenties, recordings show that musicians were so awe-struck by Louis – who came from a much more advanced solar system – that they imitated, or attempted to imitate, his singing and playing. Rex Stewart bought shoes like Louis’. And it went beyond individual attempts. Hear BEAU KOO JACK (1929) by the Earl Hines band – his solos scored for the trumpet section. Fast forward to Carnegie Hall, November 8, 1974: a tribute to Louis by the New York Jazz Repertory Company, with Mel Davis, Pee Wee Erwin, and Joe Newman (the sacred texts transcribed scored by Dick Hyman, of course) playing Louis in unison on CAKE WALKING BABIES, POTATO HEAD BLUES, WILLIE THE WEEPER, and WEATHER BIRD. I was there; it was electrifying. Not just as a “Wow, they can do that, and do it well!” in the way you’d applaud Olympic gymnasts, but the multiple voices gave heft and depth to music I’d known by heart for years.

I felt the same exultant chills down my spine listening to this disc. First, Jerome’s playing is glowing, passionate, and exact, both his solos and “section work.” He sounds like Louis in four dimensions, thick and broad and monumental. I also cherish the absence of caricature: no vocals, no “Oh, yeah!” which shows a deep understanding of the man: Louis joked and mugged onstage but was dead serious when he picked up the horn.

And so is Jerome. I can’t overpraise the rest of the band, either. Some bandleaders insist that modern musicians read parts – perhaps a transcribed Jimmy Strong solo – and that’s fine. But it is thrilling to hear these inventive players speak their own swinging truths so joyously, and when “Louis” comes back – in the person of Jerome – there’s no abrupt shift from one world to another. Each performance is a fully-formed entrée (to return to food) with its own savory touches, imaginative, playful, and memorable – so the disc never feels like more of the same. And there’s no conscious archaism either – the result is timeless Mainstream, swinging and vivid. I know Louis would like it. And since I think the dead do not go away, I’ll bet my 78s that Louis likes this now.

I love this disc not only musically, but as a delightful vision of what it might be like to live in a Satchmocracy: where our local deity is a bringer of joy who also takes Swiss Kriss and buys the neighborhood kids ice-cream, where each of us is encouraged to follow in Louis’ path, admiring him but being ourselves in every gesture and embrace. A blissful republic indeed.

Thank you, exalted denizens of that world who make such radiant sounds.

. . . . and for those of you who might say, “I don’t need this new CD — I know all these records by heart already,” this would be an error, because SATCHMOCRACY is a vivid, brightly-colored creation, a joy on its own terms. I would hug it if I could.

May your happiness increase!

IN RESPONSE TO YOUR MOST RECENT EMAIL . . . .

Because of this blog’s thirteen-year existence, I get a number of email solicitations a week from people I don’t know (or know only slightly) who would like me to listen to their new CD, fall in love with it, and publicize it.  I do not write this to mock them: it is difficult to be an independent artist in any century, and this shifting landscape has not made it easier.  Artists pay thousands of dollars to create and promote their own work, and the publicity that actual record companies, record stores, and mass-market journalism once provided has gone away.  So I sympathize.

HAMP

What follows might be what my mother called “talking to the wall,” but perhaps someone will take this unsolicited advice and use it to be better marketers of their work.  After all, “art” and “product” have become superimposed.  When your CD “drops,” you want to “move” “units.”  And that’s historically valid and respectable.  In 1932, the Moten band hoped their Victor records would sell.  Nothing shameful there.

But many artists — peculiarly, members of the most technologically-astute generation in human history — go about this blindly.  I presume they Google “music blog,” and send out several hundred form-letters, in hope.  It makes me envision someone opening a bag of grass seed on the roof, dumping it over the side, saying gleefully, “NOW I’ll have my very own meadow!”  The birds enjoy the all-you-can-peck snacks, but very little grows.

A series of suggestions.

Be emotionally astute rather than eagerly self-absorbed.  Understandably, you love your work.  The new CD is your wondrous creation.  It took time, money, thought, emotion, so many steps . . . !  But your reader, your “target,” has never heard it.  How can you make them intrigued enough to want to?  How can you make them not instantly click on the wastepaper-basket icon?

Assume you are writing to an adult rather than a teenager, and take deep breaths.  Prose has conventions that aren’t texting, and the more polished — I don’t mean Photoshopped — your email is, the better it will be received.  The cliche, “You have only one chance to make a first impression,” is true.

If writing is not your strongest talent, get someone in your family or circle of friends who can write to look at what you send out before you send it out.  Maybe you believe no one cares that you scatter apostrophes and commas as if you were salting your eggs, but many people do.  If you are writing in a language not your own, have someone look at it for sure: Google Translate is not trustworthy.

Be plain and friendly and clear.  Possibly your reader is already weary of press-release hyperbole: speak as one person to another, although “Hey” is still for horses and “Yo” is for people you are addressing very informally.  And perhaps especially in pandemic-times, expressing hopes that a stranger is “doing well in these _________ days” often sounds stale.

Find out the name of the person you want to reach and use it, deferentially, but use it.  Should it be “Mr. Steinman” or “Michael”?  Have we ever met?  Do we have friends in common?  How would you say hello to me if we were introduced in person?  You can always come down from the formal; the other ascent is tricky.

Know who you’re sending it to.  Crucial.  Know your market.  That means: be willing to do five minutes of research on each prospective blog or site or person.  If you are sending out your version of the Jones-Collins Astoria Hot Eight to someone whose preferred music is alt-Christian-metal, it’s likely you are not going to get a hearing.  And the reverse.

A few hours ago, I got a very cordial email from a young man who — articulate and friendly — wanted me to listen to and publicize his new song.  It was very sweet pop music of the kind (and, yes, I know I am out of touch) I would expect to hear on the restaurant or mall sound system.  I wrote back to him and, our of curiosity, asked if he knew the music I promoted on the blog.  He said he didn’t, that he’d gotten my name from a new music distribution list or some such; he very graciously apologized for wasting my time.  I wrote back and said he hadn’t, and I wished him well. He did me no harm; in fact, he provided me with a relevant anecdote for this post.  But he did waste his energy.

Research is not only finding out that there might be a connection, but using the hope of that connection as a way of getting in the door.  Showing your reader that you know what (s)he likes sends two messages: “I know your work and have taken the time to admire it,” and “We might be a good fit for these reasons.”  I know that too much of this might veer into false adoration, but if I get an email that says, “Here’s my new CD, and you’ll love it,” or one that says, “Dear Mr. Steinman, I’ve been reading JAZZ LIVES for years, and I see that you admire melodic guitarists like X and Y.  They are my heroes, too, and I wonder if you would be willing to listen to a track from my new CD . . . . ” you know which one will get my attention.  Being candid, you don’t have to have been a life-long subscriber, but a little saucer of attentive fakery based on research will win friends.

After you’ve suggested — gently — why you believe your music would be appealing to them and their audience, make it easy for them to hear it, to read the liner notes, to see the covers.  We readers have other things pulling at our sleeve, just as you do.  Be aware that a review or an interview is not the same thing as a one-sentence blurb, and if someone like myself commits to writing about your disc, there is an expenditure of energy on my part as there is and was on yours.

If you’ve carefully done your research, and your music is aimed at the right person’s ears, perhaps you’ll get an enthusiastic email back.  Or a polite refusal.  Don’t be a pest, but do persevere.  I don’t mind being reminded of something pleasing that I might have neglected the first time around.

Be gracious.  This applies to both sides of the conversation.  The reviewer who writes back, “Your band sucks,” deserves to be ostracized.  If the listener hates the music or finds it boring, silence is the best response.  And the reviewer should not take the opportunity to lecture the artists on their shortcomings.  That you disliked the solo tenor saxophone solo on the subject of Chernobyl, others might not.

And to the artist . . . if you are tempted to write smart sharp rejoinders to a refusal, go make some tea or take a walk.  Graciousness is remembered forever, and rudeness even longer.  Remember that the world of musicians and publicists and bloggers is a small and gossipy one.  “Do you know _______?” is the start of many lethal conversations that no one knows about but that go on all the time.  If I seem to over-emphasize graciousness, it’s because it is in short supply, and some people who pride themselves on truth-telling do so with a hatchet.  For my part, I will always remember the two bandleaders who were — as the Irish say — narky to me, along the lines of, “Well, my wonderful band doesn’t need your little blog at all.”

I can’t guarantee that these suggestions will insure that you will ship boxes of CDs or digital units, but they won’t hurt.  If you’ve been told, “If you send out a thousand emails, you have a better chance of being heard than if you send out ten,” that logic is debatable.  Think of the restaurant menu-flyers you’ve gotten: how many of them have encouraged you to buy an actual meal?

If those ten emails are to the right people, you will get pleasing results.  You have a better chance of your words being read, your music being listened to.  And that’s what ALL of us want: I want to hear a CD by someone I didn’t know existed, twenty minutes ago, and I want to be enthralled.  You want me to be enthralled.  Deal?

Pass this one around.  I spent decades teaching, and I guess the didactic impulse hasn’t left me, but I want to help people on both sides of the exchange to be happier, and I want the art I love to continue, unbruised and flourishing.

For those who like such things, here’s a test.  I received this email today.  I’ve omitted identifying details.  See if you can “read” the many reasons the sender has it all wrong:

Dear Editor,

Hey It’s XXXXXXX, Pop- Rock artist and entertainer. I released my latest song “———–” yesterday and think it would be a great fit for your audience.  “———–” available on all platforms now is a form of art depicting [details and the opening lines of the song omitted.] The video is well over 5k streams in its first day, and would appreciate the feature/review.

It continues on, but I hope you get the idea.  The artist and entertainer might be a wonderful person, but (s)he hasn’t a clue about how to operate in the larger world.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

http://www.vjm.biz

VJM Banner 2020

ART UNDER ATTACK: RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL JAM SESSION featuring GENE KRUPA, ROY ELDRIDGE, BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, BENNY CARTER, RED NORVO, BUD FREEMAN, TEDDY WILSON, JIM HALL, LARRY RIDLEY (July 3, 1972)

There is a good deal of history within and around the live performance you are about to hear. However, the sound is not ideal — which I will explain — so sonically-delicate listeners may want to come back tomorrow.

It might be difficult for younger readers to imagine the excitement that I and my jazz friends greeted the Newport Jazz Festival in New York in 1972. It was the Arabian Nights — a cornucopia of concerts where we could see and hear musicians who, for the most part, had been sounds coming out of a cloth-covered speaker grille or posed on the cover of a long-playing record. My friends and I, specifically Stu Zimny, bought tickets to the concerts we could afford — we were college students — and I brought my cassette recorder with the more exotic Shure microphone attached. I don’t remember the ticket prices at Radio City Music Hall, but for people of our class, it was general seating which required climbing flights of stairs. I looked it up today and the hall seats just over 6000.

I think we might have scored seats in the front of the highest mezzanine. Our neighbors were two exuberant women from Texas, younger than I am now, understandably ready for a good time. They’d brought Scotch, offered us some, which we declined, and they politely declined our offer of Cadbury chocolate. I kept silent because I had a cassette recorder in my lap; the Texas contingent gave out with appropriate exultations. The audience in general was excited and excitable, although they paid attention to the solos. (One of the women, commenting on the applause, can be heard to say, “You like something, you tell ’em about it,” and who would disagree?)

The players were a constellation of heroes: Gene Krupa, drums; Larry Ridley, string bass; Teddy WIlson, piano; Jim Hall, guitar; Red Norvo, vibraphone; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Roy Eldridge, trumpet.

The first set offered four long songs, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID were the closing pair, with Gene, whose health was not good, playing only those two, taking over for the younger Bobby Rosengarden. (Gene would die fifteen months later.) There is some distortion; my microphone was not ready for 6000 people; the engineers seemed only partially aware of how acoustic instruments might sound in such a huge hall. The ensembles are not always clear, and the applause can drown out part of a solo, although this excitable audience is tame when compared to some recorded at JATP concerts. Even in substandard sound, the music comes through, the individual voices of the soloists, and their pleasure at being on this stage together. Our pleasure you will have to imagine, but it was substantial then, perhaps more so now.

Consider for yourself, with or without Scotch or chocolate:

The Festival concerts were reviewed regularly in the New York Times. Here are the opening paragraphs of Don Heckman’s review, “MIDNIGHT JAM SESSION AT MUSIC HALL,” in the New York Times, July 5, 1972:


The jam session, that most venerable of institutions, is still at the very heart of the jazz experience. Rare though it may be in these days of musical eclecticism, it continues to be a kind of proving ground for musicians, in which they can test and measure themselves against their contemporaries.

The Newport Jazz Festival had the first of two scheduled Midnight Jam Sessions at Radio City Music Hall Monday at midnight. The first group of the session, a mainstream‐oriented ensemble, included Bud Freeman, Gene Krupa, Bobby Rosengarden, Jim Hall, Larry Ridley, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson and Bobby Hackett. They bounced happily through a passel of swing standards, with Carter, Eldridge and Freeman sounding particularly energetic.

Then the old gladiator of the swing drums, Gene Krupa, was announced and the proceedings went rapidly down hill. Krupa dashed buoyantly on stage and proceeded to hammer away in a style that would have been more appropriate for a Blaze Starr strip show than for the backing of some of the finest jazz players in the world. Yet his reputation and his flair for showmanship sustained him, and every tasteless clang of the cymbal was met with shouts of approval from the overflow audience.

I know Mr. Heckman (born 1932) is widely-published, has a musical background, and is well-respected. Several of my readers may know him; others may find nothing extraordinary in his prose. After all, “Aren’t we all entitled to our opinions, Michael?” But I am amazed at what he heard — balanced against what readers in 2021 can hear even on my murky tape — and by his positioning himself above the artists and above the audience. His three sentences read as contempt for Krupa — a hammering gladiator who would have been more appropriate playing for a stripper — and for an audience too foolish to know, as did Mr. Heckman, that they should have sat silent in disapproval.

That kind of self-aggrandizing disapproval makes good copy, but it is to me a repellent attitude towards the art one is supposed to depict and evaluate. I know that if I had been able to ask Gene his reaction, he might have sighed and said, “Chappie, these fellows do it to sell papers. I don’t take them seriously,” and he told Harriet Choice that the wild applause was because the young audience perceived him as an icon of marijuana culture — which I think says more about his deep modesty than anything else.

At this late date, I am offended by Heckman’s paragraph, for the sake of this holy art. Sneering is not art criticism.

It was and is a blessing to be in the same room with these players.

May your happiness increase!

“THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL”: YAALA BALLIN SINGS IRVING BERLIN (CHRIS FLORY, MICHAEL KANAN, ARI ROLAND: SteepleChase)

As they say, “I’m a fan.”  Not only of the wonderful, completely-herself singer Yaala Ballin, but of guitarist Chris Flory, pianist Michael Kanan, string bassist Ari Roland . . . and that Israel Baline fellow, Americanized to Irving Berlin, gleaming on a splendid new CD.

Here’s a quick video-audio tour:

and — to support the title of this post:

I can’t get enough — Yaala truly improvises! — here she is with Michael, last Valentine’s Day, telling the Ballin – Baline story in a few words:

That should convince anyone that this is music to purchase, to treasure, to share.  But a few words.

Berlin himself is — like some stocks — disgracefully undervalued.

His music has been perceived for so long as well-behaved.  No sudden shocks of the sort you find in Hart’s or Porter’s lyrics; he doesn’t always aim for the arching melodies of Kern.  Berlin’s curse is that, like Bing Crosby, he manages so deftly to appear simple.  “I could write a song as good as that.”  But you didn’t, we must point out.  Berlin can be sassy and witty: “Be careful, it’s my heart.  It’s not my watch you’re holding, it’s my heart.”  And how many of us know his arch but tender FOOLS FALL IN LOVE?  But his great strength is in his apparent plainness: the melodies that sound as if you could pick them out on the piano with one finger, the lyrics that sound like casual speech.  Of course his songs have “become part of the cultural landscape,” but that is why they get taken for granted.  Hear the singer stride into BLUE SKIES or CHEEK TO CHEEK and we may be forgiven for thinking, to quote Sammy Cahn, “It seems to me I’ve heard that song before.”  It’s easy to regard Berlin the same way one might look at the two slices of toast that accompany our eggs at the diner.  Familiar, not essential.  But his music is lit from within by a depth of feeling that makes his songs expressions of dear truths.  Think of HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, that most passionate declaration of love couched entirely in questions, decades before JEOPARDY.

And — if we stop to listen to his songs with fresh attention, they sparkle with gentle daring.

Gentle daring also characterizes Yaala Ballin’s singing.  When I listen to her, I always wish I had a very astute companion next to me to whom I could say, “Did you hear what she just did with that tone, that pause, that phrase?” She is incapable of delivering the simplest line in a formulaic way.  Her gliding phrasing, so musical, is a kind of lively quirky speech.  A minute hesitation here, a startling rush there: she’s not locked in by the 1-2-3-4 although she keeps lovely time and swings from the start.  Her slides from one note to another summon up instrumental masters Vic Dickenson and Ben Webster.  She is a magnificently subversive actress, because we never feel that she is acting.  As you hear in the examples above, she is a quiet risk-taker.  You don’t come to one of Yaala’s songs on this CD and think, “Wow, she painted everything bright orange and nailed a chair to the ceiling for effect,” rather it’s as if a sly artist has moved one vase and two bowls in the room and everything is wonderfully improved.  Hear her second chorus of HOW MANY TIMES?  Or THIS YEAR’S KISSES, always thought of as Property of Billie Holiday — Yaala and Michael Kanan, in their first rubato duet chorus, say kindly to the Lady, “We bow low to you, but we have our own ways of getting that feeling” — rueful feeling with swing but not needing capital letters.

It would be cruel to not share it with you:

Describing Yaala’s co-equals (it would be demeaning to call them “accompanists”) — Michael Kanan, Chris Flory, Ari Roland — I find myself in the nicest critical quandary.  Are they a subtle muscular twenty-first century Nat Cole trio?  No, I think, they are the 1940 Basie band in portable form.  The tracks that began with brief instrumental introductions brought happiness from the first notes.  And their approach mixes respect and innovation.  Singers have occasionally taken Berlin very slowly: here, REMEMBER, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? SAY IT ISN’T SO, and BE CAREFUL, IT’S MY HEART are taken at walking tempos, stripping away decades of melodrama to reveal the strong structures beneath.  Several of the songs have unexpected rhythmic underpinnings, adding freshness: for the first time ever, I was able to put Astaire aside while hearing CHANGE PARTNERS.

And the CD sounds the way these four people sound in person, so I had the dreamy sensation of having Yaala, Michael, Chris, and Ari in my living room.  Thanks to Chris Sulit and Nils Winther for making this happen.

The CD is deliciously varied: the compact performances feel just right, completely satisfying in their old-fashioned refusal to sprawl.  Little arranging touches — Yaala in duet with each of the players, split choruses and other variations — make this a splendid tasting menu.  I kept returning to some of the songs, as if it was too difficult to let go of the sensations they had evoked until I’d heard them three or four times.  I hope for a yard-length CD series of YAALA BALLIN SINGS THE __________ SONGBOOK.  (I vote for Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, but that’s just me.)

When I had finished my first hearing of the CD, I felt as if I had been given great gifts.  And then I played it again.  Deprive yourself of such pleasures at your own peril.  The disc and its digital contents are available in the usual places and the usual ways.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

VJM Banner 2020

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part Two): Words BY MIKE KAROUB, HOWARD KADISON, JAMES CHIRILLO, KEVIN DORN, DAN BLOCK. Music by KENNY DAVERN, JOHNNY WINDHURST, CUTTY CUTSHALL, DAVE FRISHBERG, JACK SIX, CLIFF LEEMAN (1961)

 

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HOWARD KADISON:  Sunday nights, I’d sometimes go with Davern to Ratner’s Dairy Restaurant on Second
Avenue. The waiters were noted for their abrasiveness and truculence. Kenny would
bait them: “How are the blintzes?” “They’re always good.” “I didn’t ask about always, I
asked about NOW!” And so it would go, ending in a generous tip.

DAN BLOCK:  Kenny had a mind like an encyclopedia. His knowledge not only of jazz, but archival classical recordings was amazing. My last memory was hanging out with him in New Orleans after he played in a bookstore with Bob Wilber. He held court with three or four of us for about an hour and a half. It was unforgettable.

KEVIN DORN: Something he said to me, sitting at the bar of the Cornerstone: “It’s one thing to come up with your own sound in a style that’s brand new. But to come up with your own sound in a style that’s older, that was there already, is a different and difficult challenge.” I always thought that was a deep observation and something he certainly achieved.

JAMES CHIRILLO: Every note he played had a sound as big as a house, no matter the register, and every note had an intensity that said: “This is how it’s supposed to go.” I still miss him.

MIKE KAROUB: I was playing bass in Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band and we played opposite Davern at a show at the University of Chicago, some time between 1990-92. He might have been there with Butch Thompson or his own group. (Butch had Franz Jackson also.)

I checked into the Blackstone Hotel. Never having met Davern, I saw him outside. I walked up to him in my trench coat – Kenny looking tough in a leather coat — and said, “Uncle Ken, I need a Lucky Strike.” (Or I may have said, “Kenny, give me a Lucky Strike,” but you get the idea.) He said, “OK, man,” and handed me one. He instinctively knew I wasn’t a real hood. We chatted for a second, then later, probably at the intermission. Strangely, I don’t recall if there was a closing number with massed bands, “all hands on deck,” so I have no recollection of playing with him!

I know that when we were teenagers, I told my dear friend Jon-Erik Kellso, “If I ever meet Davern, I’m going to wear a trench coat like the Detroit mafia and demand a Lucky Strike.” I think he was bemused by our. 25 year old impetuous behavior.

Ten years later, at the Atlanta Jazz Party, after my set with Banu Gibson, I went to catch Kenny’s set and sat in front. He waved, and after the show he came down to me. I said, “Uncle Ken, I brought us some Luckies.” He had exhausted his supply (he was very dedicated) so I was in like Flynn.

“Michael, my nephew, I am so glad you could make it.” He sat down, ordered us coffee, and told stories about being on the road with Jack Teagarden.

I have no idea how he knew who I was unless Jon-Erik tipped him off (although I barely saw Jon, who was a floating “all star”) or saw the program or remembered me from Chicago. I believe he smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes (unfiltered Camels his second choice). In any case, he acted like it was the biggest deal that I came to his show. And I was really some long lost relative. I was kept too busy for the rest of the festival to see Uncle Ken. Again or ever again, as it turned out. Ordinarily, I’m not that forward but. something told me this was a once in lifetime deal and to seize the day.

MICHAEL STEINMAN: I saw him a few times when I was still in college and shy (complicated by my attempts to record every note on some variety of tape). One Sunday, I’d seen him in the late afternoon at a Your Father’s Mustache Balaban and Cats session, and then my friend and I went down to the Half Note to hear Ruby Braff. Kenny walked in, I saw him, and exuberantly said, “Kenny!” and seeing his amused expression — part “Who the hell are you?” and part suppressed hilarity, I remembered my place in the cosmos and said, “Mister Davern . . . ” and he looked at me and said, in mock-hauteur, “Oh, pardonnez-moi,” gave me a satiric look and walked away.  When I saw him for the last time, in Denver, October 2006, I thought it prudent to leave that incident in the past.

And now for some delightful rare music.

The tape that follows (audio only) isn’t from my collection, but the dropouts vanish after three minutes.  Recorded by Dave Frishberg, It’s the only evidence I know of Kenny Davern’s Washington Squares, a band he loved, performing at Nick’s in 1961.  The repertoire is ancient; the inventiveness and energy are startling.  It’s Kenny, clarinet; Johnny Windhurst, cornet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Dave, piano; Jack Six, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.  I read in Edward N. Meyer’s biography of Kenny, JUST FOUR BARS, that Buzzy Drootin was the chosen drummer (imagine a world where your sub on the job is Cliff?), that Buzzy recommended Frishberg, and that Frishberg brought along Jack Six.  Unusual and uplifting partners for such a band, but everyone is in exceptional form.

Did I say we miss Kenny Davern?  We certainly do.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part One): Words BY DANNY TOBIAS. Music by KENNY DAVERN’S SWINGIN’ KINGS: DICK WELLSTOOD, TOMMY SAUNDERS, BILL ALLRED, COUNTRY THOMAS, BUTCH HALL, VAN PERRY, EDDIE PHYFE (Manassas, December 2, 1979)

Over the past few months, I’ve been attempting to assemble a portrait, words and music, of Kenny Davern.  He’s been the subject of an extensive biography, JUST FOUR BARS, by Edward Meyer, but I wanted to talk to musicians who had known and played with him while everyone, including me, is still around.  This first part is a wonderful reminiscence of Kenny by his friend and ours, trumpeter Danny Tobias, who looks and sees, hears and remembers.  At the end there’s music that will be new to you.  And Part Two is on the way.

DANNY TOBIAS:

He had a reputation of being crabby, and he was all that, but he liked me, and he liked the way I played — most of the time — if he didn’t like it, he let me know . . . there was no bullshit.  If I did something dumb, he would say it right there.  If I screwed up an ending, he would say, “Why did you do that?” and I would explain, and he would say, “Don’t do that.”  So I learned a lot from him.  He didn’t pull any punches, but he genuinely liked the way I played.  Once he told me I was a natural blues player, and that meant the world to me.  I had a feel for it.  When he said something nice, it meant a lot to me.

He introduced me to the music of Pee Wee Russell.  He knew who was on every record.  He’d say, “Did you ever hear those Red Allen records or the Mound City Blue Blowers from —– ?” and I’d say no, and he’d come in the next week with a cassette.  Then, after the gig,  we’d go out to the car, and he would smoke his Camels, and we would listen to a whole side of a tape!  He was also very much into Beethoven, into classical music, in particular the conductor Furtwangler.  He’d say, “Check this out,” and I’d get in his car and he’d play a whole movement from one of the symphonies.  And then I started collecting recordings, mostly so I could talk to him about it.  And if I heard anything, I could call him and say, “Do you know this record?” and “What do you think of this?”  When he died, that was what I missed most — being able to call and ask him about this record or that record.

I’m still picking up recordings of Kenny I never heard before.  Dick Sudhalter put together a concert of Kenny and Dick Wellstood at the Vineyard Theatre.  It was terrific.  I still get thrilled by these recordings. 

I got to play with him, for about ten years, at a hotel in Princeton called Scanticon, If he wasn’t on the road, he could have that gig if he wanted it.  He was there a lot — maybe half the Saturday nights.  Here’s what I don’t regret.  Some people say, ‘I wish I’d appreciated the time I spent with _____,” but I appreciated every night I spent with Kenny.  I was in seventh heaven playing next to him.

The things I take away from him that I try to incorporate . . . He could build a solo.  If he was playing three or four choruses, there was a growth.  It was going somewhere.  Everything would build.  The tune would build.  If you were in an ensemble with him, it was going forward.  When I play now, he’s not here, but I try to keep that thought: build, build, build. 

The other thing about him, and it’s a treasure — these aren’t my words, but somebody said he could play the melody of a song with real conviction.  It would be unmistakably him.  No hesitation.  If he played a wrong note, it wouldn’t matter.  He played with total conviction.  And that’s kind of rare.  I can hear other people getting distracted — it didn’t happen to him much, because he played with that sureness. 

And he had more dynamic range than any clarinet player I’ve ever heard.  He could play in the lower register, and I’d hear Jimmie Noone — he did that so well — in the middle register I could hear Fazola in his sound, and a thing he could do that I don’t hear anyone else do, he could soar.  In an outchorus, he could play a gliss, it was the biggest sound you’d ever heard.  And not just loud, but a big wide sound.  Not a shrill high sound.  It’s a thing I haven’t heard anyone else do.  Irving Fazola had that same kind of fat sound.  Who knows where that comes from?  It’s a richness, I guess.  Not loud, but big,  Round.

He taught me how to play in ensembles.  He said, “In an ensemble, don’t  just leave space, but musically — ask a question and wait for the answer.”  Play something that will elicit a response.  And there’s nothing in the world more fun than that.  You have a real dialogue going on.  He’s the first person who explained that to me.  People are afraid to talk to each other on the bandstand, we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings, but he’s the first person who said, “Do that,” and it made playing in ensembles so much more fun.  I can get responses from other players by setting something up.  Being the lead horn player, you have to set that up.  It doesn’t just happen.

He had such varied interests.  He would read all kinds of books.  I don’t know where he got the time.  I don’t think he slept.  Not just music.  He would read novels.  A lot of it was over my head.  He was all self-taught.  He could speak really good German.  He could communicate really well in several languages.  I always wanted to be like him, to get a touring schedule and go here and there, because it seemed very exotic to me, in my thirties, and I’m sure it wasn’t as exotic as I pictured it.  He complained about everything, but I think he loved it.

On a gig, Kenny would talk to the audience . . . he would just tell stories — how he just got back from Scotland and how everything was awful, the conditions were awful, how he had to spend a night in a hotel and couldn’t use the bar.  He would go on diatribes — funny, acerbic.  I remember one time he was playing at Trenton State, where I went to college.  I went to hear him, and he was playing in the student center, talking about the architecture and how bad it was.  The audience was laughing but the administrators were a little uncomfortable.  He would talk as if he were in a conversation rather than just announcing songs . . . as if he was letting you in on the inside dirt.

He really loved the final group he had, with Greg Cohen, and Tony Di Nicola, and James Chirillo.  He’d been to all the jazz parties and festivals, and so on, but he got to the point where that was he wanted to do.  If you hired him, he wanted to be there with his band.  He was happier being the only horn.  And he loved guitar — you know, after Wellstood . . . I mean he loved playing with Art Hodes and with John Bunch, but in that group he liked guitar.  In that group, it was freer for him.  The piano can pin you in to certain harmony rules; it can be too busy.  With the guitar, he got real freedom: he could play whatever he wanted.  If he wasn’t with a great piano player, he would cut them out when it was his turn to play. He didn’t like extraneous stuff.  I felt bad for them sometimes, but Kenny could just play with the bass and the drums.  And sound great, of course.

He had a reputation for making fun of things, but he was so good to me.  He went out of his way to introduce me to records he thought I should listen to, he put me on bands where I was in over my head a little bit, and he got me playing with great guys.  He couldn’t have been nicer to me.

The music: Davern, clarinet; Dick Wellstood, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Eddie Phyfe, drums; Tommy Saunders, cornet; Bill Allred, trombone; Mason Country Thomas, tenor saxophone. I WANT TO BE HAPPY / WABASH BLUES / SWING THAT MUSIC. Thumbscrews, no extra charge.

We miss Kenny Davern.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Forty-One) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring The EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

There’s always some reason to celebrate.

Jazz fans of a certain vintage know the photographs of Fifty-Second Street jam sessions — in this case, Sunday afternoons at Jimmy Ryan’s in the early Forties, with every luminary within ten miles joining in on the closing BUGLE CALL RAG.  Or this pastoral little gathering, no doubt improvising on Debussy:

I see Hot Lips Page, Kenny Hollon, possibly Jack Bland, Pete Brown, and Marty Marsala, and I imagine Zutty Singleton or George Wettling.  Oh, yes, “Very Blowingly.”

By 1948 or so, the line of clubs on “Swing Street” — Fifty-Second between Sixth and Seventh — was gone, and now, even though there’s a street sign denoting past glories, no trace remains.  But Sunday nights at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, when the EarRegulars held court — as we hope they will again — were a divine evocation of that time and place.

Perhaps the most memorable and happy of New Year’s celebrations was January 2, 2011, with All The Cats Joining In.  I don’t exaggerate: Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; John Allred, Emily Asher, Todd Londagin, trombone; Pete Martinez, Dan Block, clarinet; Lisa Parrott, alto saxophone; Matt Munisteri, Howard Alden, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Chuck Redd, wire brushes on paper tablecloth. Ecstasy at The Ear!

As we go backwards into time, and forwards also, here is the last glorious improvisation of that night, a nearly-sixteen minute TIGER RAG:

and the tail of that TIGER:

I look forward to a return of such ecstasies.  Join me at 326 Spring Street — in reality and in joyous memory — and let’s share a big portion of hope.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR HOPEFUL SERENADES IN THE FACE OF IMPENDING DARKNESS: McQUAID’S MELODIANS JUST BEFORE LOCKDOWN: MICHAEL McQUAID, ENRICO TOMASSO, DAVID HORNIBLOW, ANDREW OLIVER, THOMAS “SPATS” LANGHAM, LOUIS THOMAS, NICHOLAS D. BALL (“The Spice of Life,” March 16, 2020)

These four shining performances, and the context in which they were created, made me think of Samuel Beckett, “After all, when you are in the last bloody ditch, there is nothing left but to sing.”  Beckett was talking about the Irish, beset by enemies, but his words so well depict these musicians playing as if everyone’s life depended on it in the face of death.

Michael McQuaid with the Vitality Five, February 2019, photo by Michel Piedallu.

The pandemic doesn’t need any explication.  Michael McQuaid’s Melodians do, an all-star group . . . and I do not use that term lightly . . . playing Chicago jazz — three performances that nod to 1927-28 recordings with Muggsy Spanier, Frank Teschemacher, Gene Krupa, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, and Bud Freeman, and one (I MUST BE DREAMING) as homage to the Wolverines.   The participants: Michael McQuaid, clarinet and arrangements; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; David Horniblow, tenor sax; Andrew Oliver, piano; Thomas ‘Spats’ Langham, banjo; Louis Thomas, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.

Please note that these performances, so nicely captured for us by Stephen Paget, follow the outline of the recordings (in three cases) but the soloists go for themselves, most gloriously.  The original players were innovative; these heroic descendants are also.

SUGAR (echoing McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans):

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE (shades of the Chicago Rhythm Kings):

BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME (thinking of everyone!):

I MUST BE DREAMING (new to me, a homage to the Wolverines, but recorded by the All Star Orchestra, Seger Ellis, Joe Venuti, and Bob Haring):

Bless these expert generous players, who give so much.  They can be part of the collective soundtrack while we dream of a more spacious future.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL HEROISM: LOUIS ARMSTRONG, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS” (1942)

“It isn’t how you succeed; it’s how you recover when you don’t.” (Source unknown.)

YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS was written by Gene de Paul (music) and Don Raye (lyrics) for an Abbott and Costello film.  Most listeners know it from versions by Coltrane, Miles, Billie, Chet, and a few big bands — Benny, Harry, Earl — that recorded it when the song was new in 1941.

But how many know Louis Armstrong’s heart-stopping, human, and touching version from 1942?  It will come as a surprise to most — except if you heard it on the radio — an April 1 broadcast from Casa Manana in Culver City, California or on the CD on Gosta Hagglof’s Ambassador label.  (I wish Louis had recorded the song again, fifteen years later, with Russell Garcia — I can hear it in my mind’s ear.)

This is one of Louis’ great big bands — and I presume the dark arrangement is by Joe Garland, who loved the lower register (you can hear his bass saxophone in recordings from this period): Louis, Frank Galbreath, Shelton Hemphill, Bernard Flood; George Washington, James Whitney, Henderson Chambers; Rupert Cole, Carl Frye; Prince Robinson; Joe Garland; Luis Russell; Lawrence Lucie; John Simmons; Sidney Catlett.

Louis doesn’t start the performance off, which gives the dancers some time to enjoy what I will call Swing Menace, sounds that don’t feel reassuring or optimistic, backed by Sidney’s tom-toms.  The first thirty seconds or so tell us that what’s coming isn’t a comedy, but something much more threatening: if we’re with Abbott and Costello, hilarity is going become doom.  Over the trombone section, the muted trumpets sound alarms.  Danger!  Danger!

The clarinet soloist (Cole? Prince?) who takes the bridge allows some light to shine in, but that heavy brass still warns us that the way is dark.  (Please listen, now or later, to Sidney Catlett, master illuminator and spiritual support, shaping and supporting the soloists and the orchestra.)

Almost two minutes have passed (and how beautiful the band sounds) before the modulation into the key for Louis’ heartfelt vocal.  This is serious stuff, the chronicle of the heart learning but only after being wounded.  He’s so deeply into the song, even though the lyrics pass by at a dancers’ tempo: hear what he does with “kissing,” something he enjoyed in real life.  For the bridge, he’s nearly at the top of his vocal range — earnest and endearing.  “What I’m telling you is the truth,” he sings.  What follows is majestic and of, so human — with Sidney saying, “I know, Brother!” every beat.  I won’t explain it except to say that Louis begins his solo an octave higher than a more prudent player would . . . .

Hear and marvel.  “That’s the one!”

And, true professional, he returns to sing the remainder of the chorus before the band takes it out.  To attempt the impossible and then recover with grace . . .

Late in life, when William Faulkner was asked by an undergraduate how he would rank himself among the novelists of his generation, he said that artists should be measured not by what they accomplished, but what they tried to do.  I already place Louis above other mortals: these five minutes are more proof.

Here‘s Ricky Riccardi’s wonderful little essay on this performance — so worth reading (Ricky feels Louis deeply and always has facts to stand on).  Like Ricky, I want to applaud when this recording is over.  Then I play it again.  Try it.

May your happiness increase!

SIXTY-SIX YEARS AGO, DEEPLY TRADITIONAL AND ALSO COMPLETELY AVANT-GARDE (and you’ve never heard it before)

I’ve enjoyed hearing and meeting the great drummer and drum scholar Nicholas D. Ball, thanks to the Whitley Bay jazz parties that I attended 2009-2016.  Nick not only understands vintage drum artistry in academic ways but embodies them: he swings the hell out of a very — by modern standards — constricted authentic set, while combining complete seriousness and wicked glee.  You can see him in action (just one example of many) here and also delve into his absorbing site, “Drums in the Twenties,” here.

But this post isn’t about Nick.  He’s a gateway to the real subject.

He asked me if I’d like to hear solo drum recordings by someone I think of as an unknown master, Bob Matthews.  Would I?  Indeed I would.  And you can also.

I listened, was entranced, and asked Nick to tell all:

I was first contacted by Bob in 2018, he having stumbled across my Drums In The Twenties website. He explained who he was and recounted some of his memories of personal encounters with our mutual drumming heroes when he was a young man, during the 1940s and 50s in New York and New Orleans. We began a semi-regular correspondence, during which I got to know all about his jazz career, learning at the feet of Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson and Baby Dodds, his recordings with Raymond Burke and Johnny St. Cyr and his travels across America. Also I learned about his current life, then aged 90 and more or less alone, in retirement in a remote rural town in North Carolina. Despite the great distances between us in both age and geography, over the months we became regular pen pals, to the extent that Bob entrusted to me (by international mail), the one extant copy of the EP he recorded for the great historian Bill Russell’s ever-hungry tape recorder, in New Orleans in October 1955: DRUM SOLOS.

Bob was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1928. Throughout his childhood he was bewitched by music, beginning on drums at the age of nine and also studying mallet percussion and piano to a high level.

As a jazz-mad high-school student, Bob became an avid record collector and attended concerts whenever his heroes visited Atlanta on tour, managing to slip backstage to meet many of the top drummers of the era including Dave Tough and Jo Jones. Aged 18, he travelled to New York, where he befriended and played with several resident jazz greats including Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson and Baby Dodds; he then moved to New Orleans where he became a fixture on the traditional jazz scene for over a decade. He then served three years playing with three different US Army bands during the early 1950s, and in 1957 relocated to San Francisco, working in a trio with pianist Don Ewell and clarinettist Ellis Horne, both of whom became close friends.

On the solo session in 1955 that yielded DRUM SOLOS, Bob’s playing, whilst clearly inspired by Dodds (as whose protégé he was proudly known) and firmly within the New Orleans drum tradition, has a distinct character and quality of its own.

He recalled:

‘When we started the session I just couldn’t get it together. We then took a break & had a meal at a nearby cafeteria I always ate at. After we returned it started to fall into place. I don’t know how, but it did. I recorded a variety of things: Morton’s New Orleans Joys, Scott’s Climax Rag, 2 Improvisations (full set and soft mallets on tom toms), and 3 others. I don’t remember how I thought of using complex rags & melodies to inspire me to try & follow. I could have done even better, but I never had the chance again. I had to choose the repertoire from memory at that moment. No time to plan or practice for.’

Whilst Matthews did perform on sessions with several notable bands during the 1940s and 50s, his DRUM SOLOS record was never commercially released, and has never before been made available to the public – until today, 66 years later. When Bob suggested he mail me some of his most treasured possessions, including the one copy of DRUM SOLOS (which had been dubbed onto a 10” vinyl disc some time in the 1950s) I was wary of the responsibility, but excited that perhaps I might be able to at last make this hitherto-unheard artifact from jazz drumming history available to the public after 66 years. With Bob’s blessing and co-operation, I’m really proud and delighted to at last be able to present the record for release via VEAC Vaults; as a set of downloadable audio files accompanied by a 7-page PDF document tracing Bob’s story and illuminated with his memoirs and photographs.

The solo drum recordings are unbelievably interesting: hear a sample here.

They aren’t what Whitney Balliett called “fountains of noise.” They feel like measured yet passionate melodic explorations.  Bob looks into the sonic treasure-chest and pulls out gems (in a nice steady 4/4) to show us.

Some of you, deep in the tradition, will say, “Ah, these are just like the Baby Dodds drum improvisations,” and you will have created the nicest pocket to place the music into.  That will be an inducement to go to Bandcamp — the link right above this paragraph — and buy a copy.  Others, more quick to judge, will say, “I already know what this sounds like,” and, without listening, ready yourself for another diversion.   But I suggest that you listen first.

Preconceptions shape reality.  Tell someone, “This is the funniest joke in the world,” and almost whatever follows falls flat.  Or, “This soup is so spicy, you’ll need gallons of water,” and we brace ourselves.  Thus it is with naming music: if we allow ourselves, we create a concept and are unable to hear beyond it.

If a jazz broadcaster presented this release, “We have a new set of experimental, innovative Sonatas for Solo Percussion by T. Vasile, the young Romanian percussion star (she just turned 30) that combine ‘free’ playing with traditional New Orleans convention, down to the antique sound quality of the recordings,” some of us would turn up the volume to hear the marvels.

And — as couples say in “discussions,” one other thing.  As you’ll read in the notes, Bill Russell recorded this on his tape machine, and some time later, Bob Matthews paid a local engineer to make a disc copy.  A disc copy.  One.  So I feel in the presence of a weird greatness, facing a singular object (think of the Jerry Newman acetates, for the easiest instance) rather as I did when reading TRISTRAM SHANDY and Laurence Sterne tells the reader he is drawing on a manuscript that only he possesses the sole copy.  In this case, it’s not a whimsy, but it’s true.  Even if this it’s-the-only-one-in-the-universe fact does not win you over, I hope the music does.

The link to listen and purchase is, again, https://veacvaults.bandcamp.com/album/drum-solos.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

 

BLISSFUL PLAYS: “EARLY RISERS,” JOHN SCURRY’S REVERSE SWING (Lionshare Records, 2 CDs)

FRAME, John Scurry, 2016.

I’m rarely at a loss for words.  (Whether that’s a virtue or an annoyance, I leave to you.)  So when some new music hits me so deliciously hard that I think, “I don’t know how to write about this,” that phenomenon is fascinating.  I assure you it’s not pandemic-isolation brain: it’s being in the presence of something texturally and emotionally rich that doesn’t neatly compartmentalize itself.

To be precise, I am referring to EARLY RISERS, a brand-new 2 CD release by John Scurry’s Reverse Swing (Lionshare Records).  John is — in no order and all at once — guitarist / painter / composer / optimistic seeker.  The discs feature a variety of John’s compositions, and for once when I read those words on a new release, it inspires happy anticipation, not anxiety.

As I told a friend after hearing the first disc, “If I heard this coming from another room, I would say ‘What IS that?’ in happy astonishment and go to the speaker to get closer, to drink it in, to find out more.

Let me encourage you to follow me towards that sound source . . . https://lionsharecords.com/album/early-risers — if you scroll down — you can hear EARLY RISERS, CLANDESTINE, CHEERS ANTIOCH, EGYPTIAN VIOLET.  And you can read the liner notes.  Please do.  Take your time, and report back.

Isn’t that the damnedest beautiful thing?

Jazz listeners who like experience in little Lego units can say I HEAR THIS and A TOUCH OF THAT.  Some already have their little pads out, noting, “That phrase sounds just like —— on his Atlantic release in 1954.”  Knock yourself out, pals.

But I can only describe John’s music metaphorically.  A bed with brightly-colored coverlets, already warm, with the promise of birdsong in the next morning outside the window.  Music that when you have to drive to the station, it’s escaped into the neighbor’s garden after climbing the roof.  And other times it cozies itself into your lap, purring.  Or it’s like the first forkful of a new ethnic rice dish, whose flavors you can’t quite identify, until you say, “Is that cinnamon?  Is that preserved lemon peel?  Wow!”  It’s like a few kind sentences coming from a person you have never known to be easily kind.

Or look again at John’s painting above.  Simple objects carefully and carelessly arranged, balanced and precarious, quietly vibrating with feeling.  (Morandi reminds me of Scurry.)  His musics, and the plural is intentional, come from the same human(e) source.

I’ve run out of metaphors, but your ears will show you the way.

I hope EARLY RISERS warms and cheers you as it does me.  Or if it doesn’t today, come back and peer at it again.  It’s impossible to anatomize, but that is its charm: it’s alive.  And it plans to stay that way.

In case you lost your way in my at-a-loss-for-words that turned into words, I nudge you again to https://lionsharecords.com/album/early-risers

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S DE-LOVELY”: UNHEARD ELLA FITZGERALD (BEN WEBSTER, CLYDE HART, BOBBY BENNETT, JOHN KIRBY, COZY COLE, EDGAR SAMPSON and others, 1.15.37)

Some jazz enthusiasts hold these half-truths to be completely evident:

a) No one buys CDs anymore, and if someone does (contradicting the first assumption) he probably has a crank phone on the wall of his basement room, next to the black-and-white television set found on the street;

b) No one pays for music anymore, since everything is accessible online.

Brace yourself.  What follows is a recommendation that you — gasp — buy a CD to hear divine music not available any other way.

“Let yourself go!”

The CD contains 36 musical performances by a medium-sized big band, broadcast in early 1937.  The band was led by violinist superhero Stuff Smith, and combined parts of his own Onyx Club Boys with members of the Cab Calloway and Chick Webb orchestras: Ben Webster, Jonah Jones, Sandy Williams, Garvin Bushell, Walter Thomas, Clyde Hart, Bobby Bennett, John Kirby (perhaps Milt Hinton), Cozy Cole.

AND a pearly young Miss Ella Fitzgerald.

Here’s a sample: Ella before the Cole Porter Songbook, in a composition she didn’t record in her early prime — with solos by Ben:

Such a de-lovely rarity, found — along with 36 other previously unheard performances from 1937 on the CD depicted in the image — issued on AB Fable CD 024. The music and the documentation will also explain why Ella refers to “Lucidin” in the lyrics. Source material courtesy of Jonah Jones, Edgar Sampson, and Anthony Barnett: read about — and purchase — this dazzling offering http://abar.net/index.htm.

And if  you would like nearly six more minutes of swing ecstasy to be convinced that AB Fable is worth investigating, I invite you to listen and read more here.

P.S.  Why am I writing a blogpost about a CD released in 2010?  Simple: not enough people know about it, and it is one of my favorites on my wall of CDs.  And whenever I have conversations with people and I reveal that I am deeply involved in jazz, before they start to look wildly around the room for someone else — anyone! — to talk to, they say, “I really like Ella Fitzgerald,” before they run off.  I wish one-tenth of the people who “really like Ella” would buy this CD!

May your happiness increase!

SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE GIRLS’ SCHOOL (December 1, 1951)

Concord Academy, Concord, Mass., established 1922 for grades 9-12, enrollment less than 500 students.  Surely I don’t understand upper-class girls’ boarding schools, but it seems the last place one would find a hot jazz concert — or was it a dance? — in late 1951.  Then again, jazz was still the popular music.  Doing research on the Boston hot jazz scene of this period, I came upon this passage from a 1950 story in the Harvard Crimson about the genesis of the school’s hot band, the Crimson Stompers.  Savor this as a relic of a vanished time, please:

They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby).

That, I think, is the emotional connection between Concord Academy and jazz.

One of the musicians, cornetist Johnny Windhurst, then 25, had substantial fame.  Windhurst had been the second horn in Sidney Bechet’s quintet that broadcast from the Savoy Cafe in 1945; he had returned to the Savoy in 1949 with Edmond Hall’s band that had Vic Dickenson in the front line.  In New York, he had performed with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, James P. Johnson, and other notables, at Town Hall and the Stuyvesant Casino; in 1952, he would be playing regularly at Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street.  Windhurst turned down opportunities to travel, would not learn to read music, and stayed close to home until his death in 1981.  He is a glorious player, his solos arching towards the skies.

Trombonist Eddie Hubble was an early associate of Bob Wilber, a superb extension of Jack Teagarden, and by this time he had performed with Red McKenzie, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Chace, George Wein, Doc Evans, Joe Sullivan.  He, too, was heard on Boston radio broadcasts.

“Ollie” Taylor [Oliver S. Taylor, Harvard, ’53] may not have continued on with music, and his recorded career is limited to two performances linked to drummer Walt Gifford.  But he was playing alongside professionals as early as 1948.  His father was a Harvard history professor, and the Harvard hot band, the Crimson Stompers, formed and rehearsed at the Taylor house.

I know even less about the fine supportive pianist Pete Hewitt: he recorded three sides with a band led by Gifford that also had Hubble.  Where did he go after Harvard?  Walt Gifford, Harvard ’52, managed the Crimson Stompers, and he had a professional career which I can follow into the Sixties, he did not get the notice his work deserved.  (Then again, I say to myself, “Who does?”)

That Boston-and-beyond scene was flourishing: Ed Hall, Frank Chace, and Frank Newton played and recorded with iterations of the Crimson Stompers; the young woman who would become Barbara Lea — born Leacock — was both their star singer and Windhurst’s girlfriend.

I also am reasonably sure that the music was recorded by Joe Boughton, who was an early and pious Windhurst devotee [archivist? stalker?], a wonderful thing, seventy years later — although I have a half-memory of some musician writing something like, “Wherever we’d be playing, he’d show up with the damned tape recorder and it would be running.”  To my right, as I write this, I have a photograph of Windhurst on my wall, inscribed to Boughton, with surprise at a “sober Saturday”! Thank goodness we have slightly more than a half hour of the music: all “Dixieland” classics, and beautifully played: strong soaring solos, wonderful rhythm (you don’t miss a string bass), nice riffs and backgrounds.  As young as they were, they were splendidly professional.  And not to slight Ollie Taylor, it is Windhurst and Hubble who continue to astonish (they were both continuing to do so when I saw them, separately, in 1971 and 1972.)

I also don’t know anything about a school like Concord Academy and its cultural anthropology.  Was this a dance?  Did the girls get to invite their beaux?  Or was it a social event where the band played for listening?  I don’t sense a large room crowded with eager teens; in fact, it’s hard to sense an audience at all.  I wish I knew, but here’s the music.  And what music!

In Windhurst I often hear Hackett, but Bobby with almost insolent ease, fluidity and power — although it’s clear that he’s absorbed Louis and the Condon trumpet crew.  When he moves around on the cornet, there’s never any strain, as he accomplishes versions of super-Bix.  And that sound! — full and shining.  Next to him, Hubble echoes Teagarden but also the slippery power and audacity of Lou McGarity and Brad Gowans.  Taylor’s approach is slightly less assured — more Parenti than Hucko — but his earnest lyricism is sweetly appealing, and occasionally (hear the end of his chorus on ONE HOUR, where he asks himself, “What would Pee Wee do?”) he comes up with memorable phrases, although occasionally he’s not completely familiar with the song.  Hewitt is wonderfully orchestral and spare at once, summoning Stacy and streamlined stride (SAINTS is the best example); he isn’t fancy in the ensembles, but you feel him providing solidly moving chordal support.  And Gifford plays splendidly for the band, sometimes pushing the hi-hat in the best Jo Jones fashion, otherwise relying on snare and bass drum, always thinking of what the band needs at the moment in the nicest Wettling manner.  It’s a very cooperative band — players who had worked together and readily created supporting figures.  And although the repertoire is familiar as “Dixieland,” the rhythmic emphasis here is on swing: they’re playing the tunes rather than copying the hallowed recordings.  Hear how Hubble and Windhurst leap into their solos on SAINTS.

Can you tell I admire this band?

The songs are WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / JADA / JAZZ ME BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / SAINTS / SUGAR (faded out):

The recording — I feel certain it’s tape or a 33 rpm acetate — has been edited to eliminate both applause and pauses between songs, and the microphone is inside the band so that we hear the musicians’ comments to each other.  Was it broadcast on the local radio station?  And the recordist turns up the right knob while Hewitt solos so that his sound isn’t lost: this isn’t an accidental “capture.”

On Facebook, I hear many young bands showing their skills — sometimes simply their enthusiasm.  I wish many of them would study this tape: it’s a model of how to play this repertoire with great expertise and passion while making it look easy, aiming for polished small-band swing rather than trying to replicate some more ancient evidence.

Enjoy the glowing sounds as well as the little mysteries that accompany them: the people who could have explained it all are gone. Think of a time when such a band could exist and play a date at a local school.  Days gone by for sure.  (I wonder whether Concord Academy has its own archives: one can dream.  I will send this post to them.)

P.S.  I invite the word-averse to skip what follows.  Between 2006 and 2020, I carried video recording equipment to gigs; with large interruptions, I had brought audio equipment from 1971 to 2006 and sometimes beyond.  Through the immense kindness of jazz benefactors John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bill Gallagher, Bob Hilbert, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Tom Hustad, Hal Smith, Ricky Riccardi, Sonny McGown, and others, I’ve amassed hours — years, it seems — of rare recordings, primarily on audiocassette.  Thanks to a grant from the Charles Sammut Foundation and Laura Wyman’s encouragement, I figured out how to convert those cassettes into moderately-competent YouTube videos, and I’ve been doing this for the last month.  Why?  Some of this activity is an antidote to pandemic boredom-and-loneliness, but there is also my thought that when my executors come to clean out my apartment, and they are a very hip bunch, no one has room for three or four hundred cassettes.  It pained me that if I didn’t do something about it, my tapes (for example) of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Joe Thomas, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Bennie Morton . . . would never be heard.  That was intolerable to me.  So I hope you greet these audio rarities with the pleasure that I take in sharing them.

May your happiness increase!

JOSH DUNN: MELODY MAN’S DREAM

Photograph by Jessica Keener Photography.

In the past fifteen years of being an involved observer in New York City, I’ve met many musicians.  Sometimes the circles I travel in are both small and reassuring.  But every so often I’ll come to a gig and there will be someone setting up whose face is unfamiliar, and I will introduce myself, then sit back and be ready to take in the new sounds.  More often than not, the experience is a delightful surprise, so much so that I might go up to the person after the set and say, my enthusiasm barely restrained, “You sound wonderful.  Where on earth did you come from?”

That was my experience with young guitarist Josh Dunn, whom I hope many of you have met in person as well as through videos — mine and his own.  And when he said, “Tasmania,” I had to ask him again. “What?” “Tasmania.” And it finally sunk in — that he had traveled over ten thousand miles (sixteen thousand kilometers) to arrive here, bearing sweet inventive melodies and irresistible swing.

I first met and heard Josh at Cafe Bohemia on November 21, 2019 — where he was quite comfortable in the fastest musical company New York City has to offer: Tal Ronen, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn.  Hear how he fits right in and elevates the proceedings on LADY BE GOOD:

and a few months later, I had another opportunity to admire Josh’s steady rhythmic pulse, his intuitive grasp of the right harmonies (those chiming chords), and the way his single-string lines never seem glib but always offer refreshing ways to get from expected point A to point B.  Here, again — on the last night I visited New York City — he fit right in with the best of them: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Sean Cronin, string bass:

And he understands the guitar’s honored and venerable role as a small orchestra, where a masterful player has to keep melody, harmony, and rhythm going on what George Van Eps called “lap piano.”  Here’s a wonderful solo by Josh on a Duke Ellington- Barney Bigard composition, A LULL AT DAWN:

I’m inspired by how much music Josh makes ring in the air.  But this video of THE GLORY OF LOVE stops abruptly — so be warned — it’s almost painful.  I think, “I want to hear more!”:

Because I was impressed by Josh as a player — the evidence is here and on YouTube — and as a person (he’s soft-spoken, witty in an offhand way, and quite modest . . . he’s thrilled to be on the stand with these heroes) I suggested we do an email interview so that more people could get to know him.  The results:

I come from an incredibly supportive, but non-musical family background. My family are mostly in medical/health-related fields, and as middle child I felt compelled to get as far away from that as possible, hence traditional jazz guitar. I told my folks I wanted to pick up guitar when I was about 7, I can’t recall if there was any reasoning behind this except that guitars looked cool. I still think they look cool.

For its size, Tasmania is an incredibly vibrant place for the creative arts, including music. I am really grateful that I had opportunities to grow up there, and play with and learn from such terrific musicians. My first guitar teacher in Tasmania, Steve Gadd, introduced me to a lot of the music styles I still listen to, practice, and perform now. However, Tassie is such a small community, and it’s hard to find opportunities to make a living playing music when you live on tiny island at the bottom of the world, especially in a somewhat niche style like traditional jazz.

I grew up listening to jazz and the more I learnt about the music and its history, the more I started to gravitate towards New York. I didn’t initially see myself living here (it’s about as far removed from rural Tasmania in lifestyle and environment as you can find) but in 2013 I received a grant to travel and study in the US for three months, and halfway through I arrived in New York and immediately changed my plans so I could spend the rest of the trip exploring the city. As someone who has learnt this music from afar, it was so exciting to experience jazz as a living music and culture, and it made me want to come and learn more. So from there I applied for the Fulbright and that provided the impetus to move to the US and play music.

An interlude from reading: Josh plays SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES:

So a big part of my informal jazz education before coming to New York was watching the Jazz Lives videos on YouTube, particularly the Sunday nights at the Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri and Company. It was how I learnt a lot of the repertoire, and discovered how this music was actually being played by contemporary musicians today.

Matt’s one of my musical heroes, so when I knew I’d be visiting NYC, I contacted him out of the blue and asked for a lesson. We emailed a little but somehow never quite managed to confirm a time, and I only had a few days left in NYC. So I took the drastic action of working out what approximate neighborhood he lived in from an allusion to a particular local venue in an online interview, and then just spent the afternoon wandering around that part of Brooklyn with a guitar, hoping for the best. Somehow it worked, I ran into him on the street, and we had our lesson, and it was only recently that we talked about how creepy it was to be approached on the block where he lived by a stranger from the other side of the world wanting a guitar lesson. It’s probably commonplace for Matt now, but I get the feeling that in 2013 it was a novel experience him.

You asked me for unusual NYC gig stories — I was hired for a mystery gig a few years back by a singer I didn’t know, I was just given an address, a dress code and a time, and it ended up being a private party hosted by a well known Hollywood actor. Which, as someone who’s only experience with that world was watching rented films while growing up in rural Tasmania, was a bit of culture shock for me.

I have no lofty ambitions of fame or fortune in music (but I admire those that do). The thing I have spent most of my life doing is playing guitar, usually by myself in my bedroom, but also with some of my favorite people in front of an audience. Since moving to the US I’ve somehow been able to turn that into something I get paid to do most nights of the week. So I want to keep learning and honing my craft as a musician, and also to continue making good music with good people. More recently I’ve started keeping a list of notes on my phone whenever I have the thought of “I wish someone had told me that a few years ago,” so maybe down the track I’ll be more involved in teaching in some form, but my main goal is to be in New York playing music.

More recently I’ve been enjoying the challenge of making solo jazz guitar an interesting thing to listen to for people who aren’t solo jazz guitarists. I could see myself pursuing this avenue too.

If you asked me for a compact embodiment of Beauty, as it happens now, I might very well reach for this:

Or if you asked me to define Collective Joy.  You don’t see Josh until three minutes’ in, but you certainly hear what he adds is the real thing, and then:

I’ll leave with this.  At one of the Cafe Bohemia gigs, I talked with a musician who’d dropped by to admire the band, and I said, “How about that Josh Dunn?” His reaction was immediate and emphatic, “We’re not letting him leave New York any time soon!”  My thoughts exactly.

Thank you, Josh, for improving the air.

May your happiness increase!

“TWO TALKIN’ HORNS”: THIMO NIESTEROK, DAN BARRETT, HARRY KANTERS, STEFAN REY

Thimo, Dan Barrett, Harry Kanters, Stefan Rey, Breda 2019. Photo by Barbara Kanters.

Before you look warily at the title and say to yourself, “WHO is Thimo NiesterokI never heard of him,” as jazz fans often do when facing the unfamiliar, remember that music speaks louder than words, as Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson:

Isn’t that nice — like celestial tap-dancing by four masters?  And just to show you there’s no studio trickery, here they are live:

and this:

Convinced?  Thimo can display a quiet lyricism even at brisk tempos, but he also has wonderful energy and facility.  Go back to the SHEIK and watch Dan Barrett — who’s played cornet for decades — look on like admiring, astonished, awe-struck Uncle Dan as Thimo negotiates the curves, never spilling a drop.

It’s clear that the young man [born in 1996, for goodness’ sake!] knows how to swing, and that he isn’t dependent on the other members of the ensemble to make him do so.  Although they do.  Of course you know Dan Barrett, you should know Harry Kanters, and even though Stefan Rey is new to me, he has a big tone, plays the right notes, bows beautifully, and swings in 2 or 4.

I know some readers will start the quest for who Thimo “Sounds Like,” to quote Barbara Lea.  Perhaps it’s irresistible, especially given our collective nostalgia and yearning to hear more notes our Departed Heroes.  But I wonder: if we say that X sounds just like Warm Jaws Sirloin, we no longer hear X because we are so busy listening for echoes of Warm.  In some way, X has become Jonah in the Whale of the Past.  Not useful to us, and wi-fi in the belly is poor.

I’m writing this, as you might have guessed, to tell you about Thimo’s second CD, TWO TALKIN’ HORNS, with Dan, Harry, and Stefan [beautifully recorded, by the way].  The songs are an engaging bunch: EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY / FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / I’M GONNA CHARLESTON BACK TO CHARLESTON / BREDA (by Thimo) / PLAY GYPSIES, DANCE GYPSIES / TWO TALKIN’ HORNS (Thimo) / COCKTAILS FOR TWO [Dan, vocal] / YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / I’LL BE SEEING YOU / LULU’S BACK IN TOWN / HEART AND SOUL //

Every effort is made here — effortlessly — to keep things light and bright and sparkling, and varied.  The horns switch off lead and improvised passages; there’s jammed polyphony, riffs, and backgrounds; sounds varied through mutes; the quartet subdivided into solos and duos; split choruses; if a song has a worthwhile verse, you’ll hear it.  I thought of the quartet of a small orchestra, every architectural potential gently explored in the best Braff manner.  Incidentally, the title track harks back to the Rex Stewart – Dickie Wells CHATTER JAZZ, but loquacity of that sort is exhibited only there.

And Thimo’s nicely compact liner notes show that he is articulate even when the horn is in its case:

The intimate sound of small bands without drums (nothing against drummers!) has haunted me for a long time.  This instrumentation leaves space for a different kind of playing, for a special way of feeling time and creating melodies.  When Dan and I met in 2018 and he suggested recording together I was thrilled — as you can imagine!  This is a collection of songs made by Dan and me.  I tried to pick songs that really touch me — both when listening and playing.  But for Dan it seemed to be even more fun to think about the repertoire.  He came up with songs that he had been wanting to play for years, almost forgotten, and it was such a pleasure to see him go through his mental library of hundreds of songs and pick some of the sweetest melodies I’ve heard!  Together with the incredibly swinging Harry Kanters (p) and Stefan Rey (b) this album full of joy, swing, and humor will hopefully lighten a cloudy day or complete the mood of a cozy evening with a good drink!  Whatever it might be — enjoy!

I did.  You will.  You can hear more and purchase copies here.

May your happiness increase!

www.vjm.biz

DANIEL HUCK’S JOYOUS MAGIC

If met off the bandstand, Monsieur Huck, peering over his glasses, round-faced in a rose-colored untucked shirt, might resemble the friendly man on line in front of you at the bank.  You wouldn’t know that he is a bubbling irrepressible expert joyous force of nature.  But he is, as they used to say, an absolute wow.  Observe.

I watch this, and I am laughing and weeping.  Magic has entered the room: Daniel Huck has shone his magic healing light and suddenly everything feels better: even the dust on the windowsill is happy.  How he gives himself utterly and completely to joy I don’t know, but I am honored to live in his world.  And the rest of the band so beautifully embodies the most delicate balance between serious melody, serious swing, and pure fun.

I want this in pill form.

Better, I want to drop my ordinary life and go study with Monsieur Huck, who has learned the secrets and is obviously never Too Busy to share them with us.

And.  Even more expansive magic.  TWO choruses on SUSIE (OF THE ISLANDS), unbelievably joyous:

Blessings on Daniel Huck, on the other members of the band — so sweetly wise: Shona Taylor, cornet, vocal; Guy Champene, clarinet, alto saxophone; Marc Bresdin, clarinet, alto, tenor saxophone; Philippe Anhorn, piano, vocal; Jean-Pierre Dubois, banjo, tenor guitar; Eric Perron, tuba; Daniel Huck, scat vocal, alto saxophone.  And let us not forget Vidéo : Jeff Guyot at the Hermes Jazz Festival de Frejus, in France, June 10, 2018 — because without M. Guyot, we wouldn’t have this marvel.  (I have to speak up for my sometimes-neglected roving archivists.)  There are three more videos from the same set: I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS, WHYLIE AVNUE BLUES, and THE OWLS’ HOOT.  Look for them on YouTube.

If any of my readers knows Daniel Huck personally or even by email, I would take it as the greatest kindness if they would send him this blogpost as a small token of the deepest marveling admiration and gratitude.  I’m completely serious.  Thank you.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S RAINING SWING! (1942)

The news is that I’ve fallen in love with a six-minute collection of vibrations, and my neighbors have not called in the authorities.

 

Yes, there’s surface noise. And two or three speed fluctuations at the start. Be calm. There’s also some of the finest swing imaginable.  If you think, “But I don’t like jazz violin,” or “UMBRELLA MAN is such a dumb tune,” just listen.

In 1942 violin wizard Stuff Smith led a band of Fats Waller alumni — not after Waller’s death, as has been suggested. The band was Herman Autrey, trumpet; Ted McCord, tenor saxophone; Sammy Benskin, piano; Al Casey, guitar; Al Hall, string bass; Slick Jones, drums. This performance is part of a late-August broadcast from the Old Vienna Restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio, taken off the air by William E. Loeffler. The source of all this joy is an available CD — fancy that! — on violin scholar Anthony Barnett’s AB FABLE label (ABCD 015).

Barnett has released incredibly rare recordings: Ella Fitzgerald in 1937 with a Smith-led big band combining players from his own band, from Chick Webb’s band and Cab Calloway’s.

AND a private jam session with Ray Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, and Sonny Greer, on which Ben plays clarinet (!).

AND wonderful recordings by Eddie South, Ray Perry, Ginger Smock, and more.

Visit http://abar.net/index.htm to see the CD releases and books. Barnett’s research is deep and impeccable, and the recordings he unearths are incredibly rewarding: this is just an uplifting sample.

I can hear some of you grumbling, “I listen on _______ for free.  CDs are for dinosaurs.”  In the forests, T-Rex is swinging like mad, and those berries are like vintage wine.

This public service announcement is brought to you by an enthralled purchaser.  Now I’m going to play UMBRELLA MAN for perhaps the thirtieth time.  It scrapes the clouds.

May your happiness increase!

WITH OPEN EARS, CONTINUED: “THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE?”

A few days ago, I conducted what I thought of as an experiment in listening: you can read the original post here.  I published a jazz drum solo I had recorded in 1973, without identifying the player, saying only that it was a professional musician.  I supplied the date to narrow the field . . . thus, it couldn’t be any number of famous contenders.  Because I respect the vast experience my readers bring to this blog, I asked that they do more than supply a name.  I had no prizes to offer, but promised to reveal all.  Here, once again, is the solo:

On this page, and on Facebook, people responded.  I am of course honored that professional musicians read JAZZ LIVES and wrote in.  One or two listeners heard a particular drummer and “answered the question”; others sent in gratifying explanations of what they’d heard.  I’ve edited out the names and offered them in approximate order.

I hear a drummer with excellent time and a swinging feel. This solo is tasteful, thoughtfully composed, and shows an understanding of all the greats associated with the Condon style, the top players of the swing era, and some of the early modern jazz masters. I like that this drummer chose not to make this a technique show, despite apparently having plenty of chops. I’m not sure who it is, but I would bet that it’s somebody with whom I’m familiar. I like! A lot! Oh, and I meant to say I love the use of dynamics, varied phrase lengths, and the tones this drummer gets out of the kit. Great touch.

The timing of the cymbal crashes and the tones of the drums sound like George Wettling (to my ears).  (But it can’t be, as George passed away five years before the recording was made)!

I haven’t the faintest idea who it is, but I appreciate that he/she keeps the listener clued in as to where the beat is and makes real music, not just flashy noise, with taste and drive.

Tasteful drumming. Swings, without being noisy. Have heard Lionel Hampton do things like this.

I’m guessing it’s a trick question that you might have given us a hint to with your use of the word “she”. So I’ll guess Karen Carpenter.

I hear a New Orleans undercurrent.

Swing drummer, listened to Krupa.

I was listening to see if I could pick up a particular melody within the solo, but could not. The swing style is obvious, and the chops are good, but it’s more bashy/trashy than a Rich or Bellson. Cozy Cole comes to mind, but the count off to bring the band back in is too high in tone of voice. The style and vocal “growling” underneath the solo have shades of Lionel Hampton (who always reminded me of a bleating Billy Goat behind his brilliant solos on the Carnegie Hall and other live Goodman stuff). He also makes the crowd laugh at several points, as Hampton might with all his showbiz tricks. So I guess I’m going with Hampton!

Of course you know who I thought of immediately!! Nephew Hal Smith! He’s the best drummer I know.

I like a guessing game, but this IS a stumper. I agree with [  ] – the drums and cymbals sound like the equipment Wettling used and there are a few moments where it does sound like. It’s not Hampton as he didn’t solo that way and that’s not his voice at the end. Oddly enough the voice sounds like Buddy Rich to me, but it’s sure not Buddy. That said – I’m guessing Mel Torme.

It could be Lynn Wallis…but it isn’t.  Sorry..can’t do any better than that. 
(to which someone responded: . . . “way off in every regard.”)

The bass drum is well dampened. Prefers use of snare than his/her toms. Influences are many!

I heard some Wettling influences. Good chops. I would have liked to have heard it in context of what was being played by the band, as it obviously is not a stand alone solo.

I wonder if we should think outside of the box? Definitely some Wettling in there, some Rich as well.

Yes, context is everything. What was the song? I couldn’t determine a count of bars…

Wise enough to pass the challenge on to more qualified ears and brains, preferably those who themselves are drummers and can discriminate between early executers like Baby Dodds, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and the suchlike, whereas I already know that I cannot. The knowledgeable might ask how bad things can become with the nowadays early jazz listeners´ capabilities and the answer will be that we don´t know that yet since there is still a future. Thanks for the listening opportunity though.

Loved it – that’s all I’ll say.

 In this player, I hear what I hear in Pete Siers: the melody.

Buzzy Drootin?

Yep. It IS Buzzy. Do not have the time now to listen to it properly but will do so later….and yes – of course I love it.

Sounds like someone who is very musical, who must’ve had experience playing snare drum literature. Love it!

Nice drum solo, beautiful touch on the drums and very nice sound on the instrument. I hear a nice technique but he doesn’t use it to much, lot of dynamics in his playing, the drummer keep swinging all the time, I love the way of his playing ! It could be Cozy Cole or Buzzy Drootin…

I hear a master who is taking us on a journey, who is telling us a story in his very own, inimitable way….the second we assume to know where he is leading us, which turn he is going to take, he throws us a friendly curve ball, surprising us pleasantly, reminding us that there are many ways to get to the finish line.

I knew the minute I listened to it Buzzy Drootin.

No crash and bash, very conversational, nice use of space without losing the groove. Love the snare work. I hear music!


“The envelope, please.”

(Sounds of tearing paper, of breath blowing paper apart.)

“For his performance of February 11, 1973, at the Long Beach, New York, Public Library, in an ensemble led by Eddie Barefield, featuring Doc Cheatham, Ray Diehl, and Al Williams, recorded by Rob Rothberg and Michael Steinman, the winner is . . . BUZZY DROOTIN for his work on THAT’S A PLENTY!”

(Applause ranging from politely puzzled to rapturous.)


Why did I set up this experiment?  I assure you my purposes were benevolent.  I’ve always thought that the DOWN BEAT Blindfold Tests had a hint of malice hidden within, that readers could watch someone they respected be unable to distinguish what to us — who had the answer key — between very clearly different sounds.  “Did you see the new issue?  That [insert abusive slang epithet] thought that Hilton Jefferson was Steve Lacy! ! ! !”

Not here.  Everyone’s a winner; some were reminded of a musician you’d always liked and respected; others have been introduced to someone clearly remarkable, someone to investigate more deeply.  If a reader came away thinking, “I’d never heard of him (or heard him), but he can play!” then all my keystrokes would be completely worthwhile.  And Buzzy is a singular entity: someone with a long recording career who’s not all that well known or remembered in 2021, a musician who’s not predictable, who is completely himself.

But I did have an ideological purpose.

Buzzy, and musicians like him, have been placed into small plastic cubicles with labels according to whom they played with, not what they played.  So he is associated with Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davison, with MUSKRAT RAMBLE and RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, with Twenties jazz, rather than his friends Max Roach and Charlie Parker.  (Ever hear a Bird composition titled BUZZY . . . ?)

I knew that if I wrote, “Here’s a previously unheard Buzzy Drootin solo,” some listeners’ ears and minds would close tightly immediately.  “Old-time, pre-Bird, not innovative.  Straw hats, striped vests.  This stuff is no longer played by pros.  Are there any more of those chips?”

Moving to analogy for a moment, I confess to some surprise at the reminder of how many of us think comparatively.  Faced with a new dish, how many of us say, “I taste roasted garlic, Meyer lemon, herbes de Provence, lots of butter, etc.,” or do we say, “That’s just like what Jacques Pepin does with his recipe for ____!”  I know it is hard to listen in isolation, and perhaps that is a great skill.  It’s natural to hear a trumpet player and start checking off Miles-echoes or Roy-resemblances, but that, too, takes away from our focus on what is right in front of us.  If, when we hear a new singer, we start doing chemical analysis, “Hmmm.  12% Ella, 10% Helen Merrill, 40% Sassy, 28% Betty Carter, 10% undefined,” do we hear the actual person’s voice for itself?

Here is the great drummer Kevin Dorn, a superb teacher, speaking of / playing the worlds of Buzzy:

And here is the ebullient Mister Drootin in performance, in color, in Sweden.

Ultimately, my pleasure in sharing this music and encouraging this inquiry is also a little rueful.  In my youth, such splendid musicians could play a free gig at a suburban public library.  They were also gracious; they did not fuss about the two young men who brought a reel-to-reel tape recorder and captured their performance without paying union scale or royalties.

I hope Buzzy is pleased to be cherished as he is here.

May your happiness increase!