Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

IRRESISTIBLE DANCE MUSIC: “EARLY BLUE EVENING,” ANDY FARBER and his ORCHESTRA (ArtistShare 0186)

I shy away from hperbole, but the new CD by Andy Farber and his Orchestra is a triumph.

Watch, listen, and marvel:

I was informed just a few days ago of a package — the new CD by Andy Farber and his Orchestra, EARLY BLUE EVENING — and I started to play it and was so very delighted. It feels so comfortable and so convincing. It was a working band (for the musical AFTER MIDNIGHT) and it has that lovely cohesion that ensembles with regular work acquire — a sort of assurance, that “We know the way home,” so prevalent in the Swing Era and beyond. Listeners will hear evocations of the blessed past, of Basie and Ellington, but this CD is light-years away from a ghost band or “a cover band.” They are creating, not recreating, with heart and wit and strength. The CD features nine originals — memorable ones — two standards, and the wonderful appearance of Catherine Russell. Here’s the collective personnel, with a reed section adept in flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, and other wonderful things.

Andy Farber: leader, alto, tenor, baritone saxophones; arranger, composer
REEDS: Mark Gross, Godwin Louis, Dan Block, Lance Bryant, Carl Maraghi
TRUMPETS: Brian Pareschi, Bruce Harris, Shawn Edmonds, James Zoller
TROMBONES: Art Baron, Wayne Goodman, Dion Tucker
RHYTHM: James Chirillo, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.

You’ll notice it’s a large ensemble but it’s never ponderous. I kept thinking of how splendid it was to hear an orchestra with the power of a Broadway pit ensemble and the sleek witty grace of a small group. (My mind collects bits of data, as crows collect shiny objects, and I kept thinking of rotund Jimmy Rushing, who was a great nimble dancer.) I know some of the musicians through decades of admiring their work in person, others through their recordings, and they are superb — bridging the noble past and the delighted present with such grace.

Other factors that don’t always get mentioned are these: Andy’s compositions are vividly alive, and they don’t sound alike . . . they have scope and humor, so there’s none of the repetitive claustrophobia that some CDs have, where one wakes from a half-dream, saying, “Is it track 19 already?” And that scope extends as well to the recorded sound: you’ll notice in the video, no baffles and headphone — so the sound is what you would hear if you were seated in front of the band — only better.

I know the philosophical-practical question comes up, “Given all the music I have already and what I can access, why in the name of Emile Berliner should I buy another CD? And why this one?”

The answer comes in two parts. If you like jazz that swings without being self-conscious about it, a wonderful large group leavened with tasty soloists and neat section work, a phenomenal rhythm section, you’ll like this. To be simpler: perhaps the test of any purchase should I be, “Will this make me happier than if I hadn’t bought it?” It would be presumptuous to say YES to this singular audience, with its own likes and detestations . . . but YES.

This band rocks. Go back to FEET AND FRAMES if you need a booster shot of genuineness. I said it is irresistible dance music: my dancing days never happened, but I am gyrating in my chair as I write this.

And the second part of the answer is just as plain . . . jazz fans who truly “love the music” know that art is not free, and that we are in the delightful position — not a burden — of being able to support what gives us pleasure. And last I saw, musicians like paying their rent and having semi-regular meals also.

You can purchase a CD with all the side dishes — or a download at the ArtistShare website here.Then you won’t have to ask yourself HOW AM I TO KNOW? Because you will KNOW.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD OLD NEW YORK, PART TWO: KENNY DAVERN, DILL JONES, MIKE BURGEVIN // JACK FINE, SAM MARGOLIS at BREW’S (156 East 34th Street, July 10 and July 4, 1974)

There was sufficient enthusiasm among the attentive faithful for more from BREW’S (I posted a set of Kenny Davern, soprano saxophone; Dill Jones, piano; Mike Burgevin, drums, yesterday) so I offer some more, without too many words to explain the deep effects of this music.

First, a set taken from the July 4, 1974 tribute to Louis Armstrong (a night where Ruby Braff, Sam Margolis, Vic Dickenson, Herb Hall, Nancy Nelson, and others performed) with Jack Fine, trumpet; Sam Margolis, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Jimmy Andrews, piano; Mike Burgevin, drums.

Even when it wasn’t a Louis tribute, it was clear where Jack’s allegiance lay — forceful and expressive — and next to him, Sam Margolis floats in his own wonderful Bud Freeman – Lester Young way. That little Louis-Condon (hence the ballad medley) evocation is followed by two trio performances from July 10:

and five more performances by the trio:

Yes, there will be more.

May your happiness increase!

“A CLASSICALLY BIG-TONED TENOR PLAYER”: THE MANY KINGDOMS OF PERCY FRANCE, thanks to DANIEL GOULD

If you already know Percy France, don’t spend another moment reading what I’ve written. Go immediately to www.percyfrance.info — where you can hear him play, read about him (tributes by people who loved him), and learn more.

But if he’s only a name to you . . .

Perhaps because it is often mistaken for simple entertainment, jazz is oddly distinguished from other art forms by a powerful Star System. There is too much of “the greatest of all time,” which negates the broader accomplishments of many beautiful artists. But those who listen deeply know that alongside — not behind — Louis, there are Ray Nance and Bill Coleman; alongside Art Tatum there are Ellis Larkins and Jimmie Rowles, and so on, creative men and women ignored in the speeding-train chronicles of Important Artists.

With that in mind, and the joy of discovering someone “new,” here is tenor saxophonist Percy France. He may be little-known or even unknown to many. I did hear him on the radio (broadcasts by WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s station, from the West End Cafe in New York, presided over by Phil Schaap), but I never saw him in person.

But before you assume that Percy’s semi-obscurity is the result of a diluted talent, let me point out that this summer when Sonny Rollins was asked about him, his response was as enthusiastic as it could be. The excerpt that caught my eye is simple: I never could beat him. We were good friends, and I think of him as my brother.

Let that sink in.

And since you might be saying, “All right . . . praised by Sonny. What did he sound like?” here are three samples, thanks to Daniel Gould, about whom I will have more to say.

Here’s Percy, fluid, melodic, cheerfully making the over-familiar come alive:

and a different kind of groove, quietly lyrical:

France plays Fats, light-hearted and witty:

I admire honest deep research unashamedly, since often what’s passed off as information is made of cardboard. So I present to you Daniel Gould’s wonderful Percy France site — solid and ever-growing — his energetic tribute to a musician who should be cherished as more than a name in a discography: www.percyfrance.info will take you there.

Daniel has done and continues to do the great hard work of the reverent researcher: he proceeds without ideological distortion, for his sole purpose is to ensure that Percy and his music (as if one could separate the two) are not going to be forgotten. And, also quietly and without fanfare, he wants us to honor Percy as an individualist, someone “with his own voice,” not simply another “tough tenor” following well-worn paths.

To the site. What will you find there? First a biography (audio as well as print) documenting his too-brief life (1928-1992) his musical development, his associations with Sonny Rollins, Bill Doggett, Jimmy Smith, Freddie Roach, Sir Charles Thompson. Charlie Parker and Count Basie make cameo appearances as well. Then, even more beautiful, remembrances by Doggett, Bill Easley, Allen Lowe, Mike LeDonne, Sascha Feinstein, Michael Hashim, Sammy Price, Randy Sandke, Chris Flory, Scott Hamilton and others — all testifying to Percy’s qualities as musician and gentleman.

Then the treasure-box opens, revealing hours of unknown enlightenment and pleasure: a session by session listing, complete with newspaper clippings, photographs, record labels — first, Percy’s King and Blue Note record dates of 1949-1962.

The sessions continue — 1977-81, live dates featuring Percy alongside Doc Cheatham, Sammy Price, Chris Flory, Loren Schoenberg, Randy Sandke, Allen Lowe, Dick Katz, and others . . . and here Daniel has provided selections from these wonderful and wonderfully rare performances.

Finally, and most expansively, the period 1982-1990, is documented through the Leonard Gaskin Papers held at the Smithsonian — and it contains seventy-five percent of Percy’s recorded work . . . with Gaskin, Cliff Smalls, Oliver Jackson, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Lance Hayward, Bill Pemberton, Major Holley, Bob Neloms, Bill Berry, Wild Bill Davis, Big John Patton, Doug Lawrence, and others. And there’s MUSIC . . . my goodness, how much music there is. I abandoned my chores for the better part of the day to listen, and I still have more to hear.

A few more words about Daniel Gould and his site. He is a clear fluent writer; his site is a pleasure to visit, and the treasures overflow. And he has a purpose: that Percy France, one of the lovely creators now no longer on the planet, shall be remembered with the attention and affection he deserves. I delight in Percy and in Daniel’s efforts.

May your happiness increase!

HOT SOUNDS IN ILLINOIS (1939-1950): GEORGE BARNES, BOYCE BROWN, JIMMY McPARTLAND, BUD FREEMAN, ROSY McHARGUE, TUT SOPER, JOHNNY WINDHURST, MIFF MOLE, DARNELL HOWARD, DON EWELL, JOE RUSHTON, SQUIRREL ASHCRAFT, JACK GOSS, BUD WILSON

What follows is what I would call a Hot Jazz Mixtape — forty minutes of unissued performances, their provenance a matter of informed guesswork — that serves as an aural tour of Red Hot Chicago, 1939-50, combining club and living room music.

I was “trading tapes” with fellow collectors from the mid-1970s, and that usually consisted of in-person handoffs, “You recorded X last week? I’d love a copy of that!” “Sure, if you will copy your 78 acetate of A and B for me.” There was a good deal of finger-to-the-lips secrecy; some tapes had DO NOT COPY written on them in red or orange crayon — prohibitions we promptly violated, because it was important that a friend hear the new treasure. I would like to think that I and my fellow scoundrels did some good in making music heard, and we were busily buying records and compact discs, so we absolved ourselves of the crime, “Your cassettes are cutting into my sales!” The accusing ghost of Frank Newton never appeared in my bedroom to upbraid me, which I am thankful for.

The music that follows was sent to me by that rare person, a woman jazz collector, whose name I will keep unwritten; her tapes were annotated in pretty cursive, often with strips of paper — coarse-grained and narrow — of the kind most often seen as cash register tape or court reporters’ paper. This tape was labeled PRIVATE CHICAGO, and I have copied down all the information she supplied below.

Here’s the skeletal listing, with commentary to follow.

LADY BE GOOD / TIN ROOF BLUES Miff Mole, trombone; Darnell Howard, clarinet; Don Ewell, piano; unidentified drummer. Jazz Ltd., 1949

BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC Johnny Windhurst, trumpet; Jack Gardner, piano; others 1950

SUNDAY Bill Priestley, cornet; Bud WIlson, trombone; Squirrel Ashcraft, piano, others

BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND Jimmy McPartland, cornet; Joe Rushton, bass saxophone; Squirrel Ashcraft, Bill Priestley, guitar

YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME McPartland, Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Rosy McHargue, clarinet; Joe Rushton 1939

TUT STOMPS THE BLUES Boyce Brown, alto; Tut Soper, piano; Jack Goss, guitar 1945

LADY BE GOOD McPartland, Boyce, Rosy McHargue 1939 (incomplete)

SWEET LORRAINE George Barnes, electric guitar 1940

But a few explications. The Miff-Darnell-Ewell band was a regular working unit; the drummer might be Booker T. Washington or someone remembered by Marty Grosz as “Pork Chops.” The performances that follow are most likely recordings made at the Evanston, Illinois house of Squirrel Ashcraft, and some of them may have been issued on the MORE INFORMAL SESSIONS record label — Hank O’Neal’s project — but I gather that there were certain songs the musicians liked to jam on, so that there might be multiple versions of BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND, Jimmy McPartland’s tribute to the land of his people; Bud Freeman would play ADVANTAGE where and whenever. TUT STOMPS THE BLUES might come from a gig recording from a Chicago hotel. There are wonderful glimpses of my heroes Windhurst, Gardner, Soper, and the magnificently elusive Boyce Brown. But for me, the treasure is the concluding SWEET LORRAINE, featuring a nineteen-year old George Barnes, already dazzling.

For more from and about the young George Barnes — masterful even in his teens — visit here — and enjoy this:

To learn more about George, hear more, and purchase some of his invigorating music, visit https://georgebarneslegacy.com/.

I hope you enjoyed the aural travelogue of Hot, Chicago-style. And if you follow your ears to any of the players above, so much the better.

May your happiness increase!

THREE MINUTES WITH MR. LANGHAM, MR. BOWLLY, and FRIENDS: ENRICO TOMASSO, NORMAN FIELD, JENS LINDGREN, EMMA FISK, MARTIN LITTON, MANU HAGMANN, RICHARD PITE (Whitley Bay, October 27, 2012)

Thomas “Spats” Langham by George Coupe

We live in an age of plenitude — for the fortunate entitled ones. I’m not even speaking of commodities we can buy online. I speak of the art we love. There’s more music on YouTube than one could absorb in ten lifetimes; it comes at us through download and streaming and twenty-five track compact discs. So I think we understandably might be both jaded and dazed by the proliferation.

I almost titled this post CHEW SLOWLY, because a story from the past kept nudging itself to the surface. Years ago, a friend of my then-family was a meticulous cook. She had worked many hours one day to perfect some dishes, and proudly served it to her husband and children, who inhaled the results in minutes. “I could have served them hot dogs and they would have been just as happy.”

It made me think of the many audiences I’ve been a part of, where one marvel after another is created for us — magic! the result of how many hundred-thousand hours of practice and experience, and we are just waiting for the next tune, the next hors d’oeuvre to be served.

This is especially true of audiences at jazz parties and festivals, who might hear eight hours of live improvisation in a day — fifty or sixty performances at least? — then shout MORE! MORE! at the end of the evening. What, I wonder, do they and we actually hear?

I think of the jazz fan of 1938 who bought one record a week and had that six minutes of art to study . . . unlike us.

Today, with the Swing Era love song GOT A DATE WITH AN ANGEL in my head, I wandered past this performance: I was in the audience; I had my video camera — double blessings, I think now. The performance is only three minutes, and perhaps to the very elegantly gifted artists on the stand it was only tune six out of eight in the Bowlly set: I can’t know. Those artists, not incidentally, are Thomas “Spats” Langham, guitar and vocal; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Norman Field, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Martin Litton, piano; Manu Hagmann, string bass; Richard Pite, drums.

But what they create, with no fuss, is just magnificent: a light-hearted blending of New York and London, as if Al Bowlly had been wooed by John Hammond into making records with Teddy Wilson and his colleagues — a true marriage of sweet and hot, with Martin Littton’s chimes, Spats’ sweet evocation and closing guitar arpeggio all included at no extra charge. V. fetching.

I wonder why the audience wasn’t on its feet, cheering. But we can make up for that now, at home:

The alternate title for this post is SLOW DOWN FOR BEAUTY. It won’t always be around, nor will we. So let us appreciate it, deeply and in a leisurely way, while we are able to.

May your happiness increase!

O RARE FATS WALLER! –“CAUGHT”: MARTY GROSZ, JAMES DAPOGNY, DUKE HEITGER, BOB HAVENS, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, VINCE GIORDANO, ARNIE KINSELLA (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 14, 2007)

Do consider. What could be better than an unpublished Fats Waller composition arranged twice for all-star hot jazz band — the arrangers being Marty Grosz and James Dapogny — with the arrangements (different moods, tempi, and keys) played in sequence? I know my question is rhetorical, but you will have the evidence to delight in: a jewel of an extended performance from 2007.

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, 2014, by Michael Steinman.

CAUGHT is an almost-unknown Fats Waller composition (first recorded by James Dapogny) presented in two versions, one after the other, at the 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua, first Marty Grosz’s ominous music-for-strippers, then Dapogny’s romp. One can imagine the many possible circumstances that might have led to this title . . . perhaps unpaid alimony, or other mischief?

Marty, 2009, by Michael Steinman.

The alchemists here are James Dapogny, piano; Marty Grosz, banjo and explanations; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, alto saxophone, clarinet; Scott Robinson, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Vince Giordano, tuba, string bass, bass saxophone; Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Note to meticulous consumers of sounds: this track begins with immense extraneous noise, and Arnie’s accents explode in the listeners’ ears. The perils of criminality: I had a digital recorder in my jacket pocket, so if and when I moved, the sound of clothing is intrusive. I apologize for imperfections, but I am proud of my wickedness; otherwise you wouldn’t have this to complain about:

I have been captivated by this performance for years — the simple line, so developed and lifted to the skies by the performers, the arrangements: the generous music given unstintingly to us. You might say I’ve been CAUGHT.

May your happiness increase!

HOW DOES IT SOUND TO YOU?

I was always suspicious of the DOWN BEAT Blindfold Tests — which now may be ancient history — where a famous musician was played records with no knowledge given about the performers or the circumstances, and their reactions were then printed, along with the star-ratings DOWN BEAT thrived on. Depending on their temperaments, some musicians were highly negative or consistently enthusiastic, severe or gracious. But often it became a test of memory and perception: could X recognize who was playing or not? And did they know a great variety of music deeply? So to me they were a quiz show operating in a minefield, sometimes revealing, sometimes disappointing.

But the premise is valid for those who proclaim their knowledge of and love of this music. Not all of us are close listeners, historians, collectors of sounds, connoisseurs. But I think many people have lost the ability to listen — by that, I mean to absorb a panoply of sounds and gestures, to understand them as manifestations of a particular time and place, and to weigh in on them with uncluttered objectivity. (I am not preening myself here because I would probably mis-identify many famous recordings on any Blindfold Test.) But I think many listeners come to music with judgments about it even before they have heard a note, and those judgments come out of perceptions entirely divorced from sound.

I’ve written in other contexts about listeners who listen with their eyes: admiring the attractive woman artist’s body, dress, and makeup as much as they hear her sounds. (These are the listeners who write on YouTube how they would like to take A away for an evening, or how cute B is when she sways while playing.) But there are other dances of perception: assessments based on the musician’s age, race, or ethnicity. Preconceptions and expectations, which we don’t verbalize to ourselves or aloud. And to be fair, some of the visual information offered us has everything to do with marketing, nothing to do with merit. For better or worse, performers are viewed as product to be sold to an audience — the audience who will go to the club, concert, or will buy the music. And I don’t yet know the artist who wants their cover picture on the CD to be a candid shot of them painting the bathroom ceiling.

But the interferences to objectivity are wider and deeper than getting an endorphin kick from the artist’s portrait. For instance, some listeners will turn away from a musical offering if the names are unfamiliar, foreign, thus unknown. “I don’t know that band, and I am a jazz expert for decades, so how good could they be?” And many of us are suspicious of the unknown — the child who won’t eat something because it looks funny — and thus we don’t want to take a chance on sullying our ears.

By the way, I am assuming that all my readers know the Ellington quotation about good and bad music, and the Condon one about how it enters our ears . . . so we can take them as a foundation.

I am most intrigued by the listeners who guide their listening experience by what I am calling Names. Many say, “I’m going to hear BingBong play — I always love them, and I have all their CDs as well as their new t-shirt, and I saw them in person on our last trip to Levittown, New York.” That sort of loyalty is lovely, and no one would mock a band’s strong fan base. But supposing the fan buys BingBong’s new disc and it sounds awful. The co-leaders hate each other; the rhythm section is annoyed at the horns; everyone is tired or overstimulated, etc. How many listeners will say, “I always love BingBong but their last CD was a letdown,” or “They sounded lousy on their closing set?” And let us say BingBong is expert in a particular style — name your passion — if a listener heard another band, unidentified, who played similar music, could the listener a) tell the difference, or b) make valid judgments about which band was more pleasing — without seeing the video, knowing the names, and so on?

I also write this because of the fan-club nature of so much jazz appreciation. Certain musicians have starry-eyed idolators (you could call them Facebook groups if you like) while other, equally or perhaps more gifted musicians get trickles of attention. Empirical evidence? I can post a video on YouTube of an exceptional performance by someone who stays close to home, doesn’t have a powerful internet presence, and it will receive 16 visits in the first day; post an equally compelling video by someone’s “Favorite,” and it will receive a thousand times the attention, and I do not exaggerate. But I wonder if the fans were blindfolded and listening closely without any evidence, they would make the same judgment. Or is it “We always go to the Olive Garden because they have the best Italian food and because we always go to the Olive Garden . . . “?

I would like to think I have trained myself to actually listen: I revered Ruby Braff and saw him in person a good deal, but I thought — after some time — that I could tell when he was happily inspired or grouchily going through the motions. I never saw Ben Webster or Billie Holiday, again, artists I revere, but I could say of a performance, “This is superb,” or “This is tired,” and mean no disrespect to the individuals or their art. But, before I set myself up as a moral-aesthetic authority, I know that if you tell me, “Here’s the new recording by four of your heroes,” I am predisposed to like it — although I am a very severe critic when I am disappointed. While I was writing this blog, I was (finally) playing a CD by a band whose guest star was someone I absolutely delight in, and I was saying to myself, “That’s good, but I have no compulsion to hear it again,” even though the guest star was in evidence.

The large questions — too large for any one post — are, to me: How well do we listen? What do we hear? On what do we base our assessments? Can we actually brush away all the extra-musical accretions and hear what’s there?

P.S. Readers will note my mild tone in the rumination above. So I state clearly that this post is not to attack, but to consider.

May your happiness increase!

“I LIKE IT, I LIKE IT”: A NEW CD BY JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM: KIM CUSACK, STEVE PIKAL, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH (2020)

If the names above are familiar to you — John Royen, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Joshua Gouzy or Steve PIkal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums — then my copying Louis’ delighted exhortation will make perfect sense. To go a little deeper, here is a new CD, titled GREEN SWAMP, a Darnell Howard original. It contains seventeen performances and was beautifully recorded by New Orleans’ own Tim Stambaugh.

But perhaps four minutes of music would be a joy-spreading interlude at this point — a Don Ewell original, SOUTH SIDE STRUT, with Steve on string bass. (Don, as you might know, was John’s mentor: no one better.)

I have a familiar pride in this issue, because I wrote the notes:

In a society in love with newness, to call something “old-fashioned” may seem an insult.  Doesn’t everyone want the latest thing?  But to me that expression is another name for timeless beauty and virtue, creations that will last.  This CD is terribly “old-fashioned” and I am damned glad of it.

This music is melodic, swinging, affectionate.  It romps.  It grins.  The sounds embrace the listener; what comes out of the speaker sounds good, and that is no small thing (in Condon-terms, it is honey rather than broken glass to the ear).  Without gimmicks or jokes, the band says, “Come along with us.  We promise you a good time.”  Most of the tunes (“tunes” is another old-fashioned word, one I’d hate to lose) are medium-tempo, a little faster or slower: good for spur-of-the-moment-shoeless dancing in the kitchen.      

Captain John Royen doesn’t have that honorific only because he pilots a boat; his playing is wonderfully decisive: you know where you are at all times, and the trip is both elegant and exciting, as he steers by the lights of Ewell and Morton.  The Captain is also that reassuring evolutionary accomplishment: a two-handed orchestral pianist.  He doesn’t pound or race: you can set your clock by him.  His colleagues Pikal and Gouzy are just as reliable: they offer a limber rhythmic platform, flexible and stimulating.  Hal Smith is a master of swing and sonic variety: every note both propels and rings as he plays “for the comfort of the band.”  Finally, there’s the unequalled Kim Cusack, whose tone is lemonade in July, who creates memorable variations with lightness and fervor.  The repertoire is honorable melodies that are both venerable and fresh.  By the way, this is a band, not simply four soloists in the same room: listeners with even mildly functioning imaginations will sense these musicians smiling approval through every track.

I used to write long liner notes, supplying biography (Google made that redundant) and song origins (ditto), explaining musical nuances.  My new goal is to write notes that can be read in less than three minutes and twenty seconds, the time it took to play a 78 rpm record.  If more explanation is necessary, one of us has failed.  Not the band, I assure you.  Now, get to listening!  Joy awaits.

The other performances on the disc are I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / SQUEEZE ME / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / HONEY HUSH / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / SWEET SUBSTITUTE / HERE COMES THE BAND / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / PRETTY BABY / LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / MONDAY DATE / BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU / SAVE IT, PRETTY MAMA / BUSH STREET SCRAMBLE / DELMAR DRAG / GREEN SWAMP.

You can purchase the CD from either Hal or John at their websites — www.neworleansjazzpiano.com or www.halsmithmusic.com — for $20 postpaid. It’s quite wonderful. You heard it here first.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET SOUNDS FROM SWING 46 (Part Two): DAN BLOCK, GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (July 13, 2021)

The very place: Swing 46, 349 West 46th Street, New York City, where good music is fresh, hot, and sweet.
Dan, Pat, and Gabrielle: photo by Jon De Lucia.
Michael Kanan, photo by Jon De Lucia.
Gabrielle, photo by Jon De Lucia.

On July 13, which was an ordinary Tuesday, late afternoon, Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass, created wonderful music for all to savor. And savor we did. In my first posting from that evening, they mingled Lester Young, George and Ira, Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler . . . gorgeously here. But I said there was more to come, and I wouldn’t want to deceive anyone.

Here are three more: two Ellingtons, one Lerner and Loewe.

ALL TOO SOON (with Ben Webster at the bar, feeling it):

DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME:

ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE:

Yes, more to come (a cosmological quartet, to pique your curiosities).

And a few words about Swing 46 — it was a pleasure to be there in a congenial atmosphere — a large food-and-drink menu and a very welcoming staff. Next Tuesday, Dan will be back with the delightful Hilary Gardner (swinging, surprising, and introspective) and other luminaries to be announced, from 5:30 to 8:30. And at 9, the irreplaceable Michael Hashim leads noble friends — who have included Chris Flory and Kevin Dorn — in an impromptu session. That’s 349 West 46th Street, the north side, between Eighth and Ninth Avenue. Leave your bedroom: put down the phone: Netflix will be here when you come back: what’s in the freezer is safe. Hear some restorative live music among like-minded friends.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET SOUNDS FROM SWING 46 (Part One): DAN BLOCK, GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (July 13, 2021)

Four of my musical heroes made wonderful sounds the other night at Swing 46 (that’s 349 West 46th Street, New York City): Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

Dan Block, Pat O’Leary, Gabrielle Stravelli. Photo by Jon De Lucia.
Gabrielle Stravelli. Photograph by Jon De Lucia.

Four heroes, five wonderful performances. It was a Tuesday night; the gig went from 5:30 to 8:30 — hardly the day and time one would expect aesthetic firework displays, but they certainly happened.

Michael Kanan. Photograph by Jon De Lucia.

TICKLE-TOE — an instrumental tribute to and embodiment of Lester Young, so happily. Savor the first ballad chorus!:

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME — could anything be more tender?:

Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler give us friendly rules for living and romance, AS LONG AS I LIVE:

Even though it was becoming dark, here’s a frolicsome DAY IN, DAY OUT:

A sweetly pensive Kurt Weill medley scored for the trio — LOST IN THE STARS / HERE I’LL STAY:

And a few words about Swing 46 — it was a pleasure to be there in a congenial atmosphere — a large food-and-drink menu and a very welcoming staff. Next Tuesday, Dan will be back with the delightful Hilary Gardner (swinging, surprising, and introspective) and other luminaries to be announced, from 5:30 to 8:30. And at 9, the irreplaceable Michael Hashim leads noble friends — who have included Chris Flory and Kevin Dorn — in an impromptu session. That’s 349 West 46th Street, the north side, between Eighth and Ninth Avenue. Leave your bedroom: put down the phone: Netflix will be here when you come back: what’s in the freezer is safe. Hear some restorative live music among like-minded friends.

May your happiness increase!

BRIAN KELLOCK’S “MARTY PARTY,” EDINBURGH JAZZ and BLUES FESTIVAL, JULY 21, 2021: LIVE AND ONLINE.

I confess that a few days ago the Scottish pianist Brian Kellock was not known to me. Yet in under an hour of listening, I’ve become a fan, an advocate, an enthusiast. Some evidence for this burst of feeling: here’s Brian playing Richard Rodgers’ WAIT ‘TIL YOU SEE HER on his 2019 solo CD, BIDIN’ MY TIME:

What I hear first is a kind of clarity: Brian is a sensitive player but someone who’s definite, deeply into The Song and committed to letting its glories be heard. But he is not simply a curator of melody, someone handing the linen-wrapped relic to us to adore. He has imagination and scope; he takes chances. He has a beautiful touch, with technique and power in reserve. And did I say that he swings? Consider this:

Obviously someone to admire, who’s listened but doesn’t copy, who goes his own delightful ways. He’s deep into the only worthwhile activity: absorbing all the influences and stirring them together to come up with himself.

But wait! There’s more . . . let me tell you some things you haven’t heard yet.

Scottish jazz star Brian Kellock has put together a brand-new line-up to celebrate the music and spirit of one of the living legends of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival: the American rhythm guitarist, vocalist, and raconteur Marty Grosz, who recently turned 91.

Brian Kellock (piano), Ross Milligan (guitar) & Roy Percy (bass) are all fans who relished every opportunity to catch Marty when he visited the Edinburgh Jazz Festival in the 1990s and 2000s.

Indeed, 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of Marty’s very first visit to Edinburgh. And who did he play with during that first visit? A young Brian Kellock.

The joy of a Marty Grosz gig is that it is fun. Jazz shouldn’t – in his view – be po-faced or serious. It should be entertaining – just as it was when he was growing up and his favourite musicians included Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, all of whom knew how to put on a show.

His selection of tunes has always been highly distinctive and original: whereas other musicians pull the same old numbers out of the bag wherever they play, Marty – also known as a member of 1970s supergroup Soprano Summit – built an international solo career on the tunes that jazz had forgotten. And then he put his own imaginative twist on them. If he had a small group, he would dream up a memorable arrangement, often on the spot, and if he was playing solo, there would be so much colour in his playing that you’d forget you were only listening to one guy.

At the Marty Party, Brian will – as Marty often has – play 20 minutes as a soloist before Ross and Roy join him onstage. This will be an affectionate and fun homage to a longstanding Edinburgh Jazz Festival favourite; a musician who, although he no longer travels to Scotland, continues to delight aficionados (and the rest of their households) with his generous back catalogue of recordings, by a range of bands with such witty names as the Orphan Newsboys, the Paswonky Serenaders, Marty Grosz and His Swinging Fools, and Marty Grosz and His Hot Puppies.

Brian Kellock says: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be playing music associated with Marty Grosz at my first ‘live’ gig since before the pandemic. Marty’s records have boosted my spirits many times over the last 18 months, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the joy of playing jazz in front of an audience again. I’m delighted to be introducing a new line-up, with Roy and Ross, and hoping that this core combo will be joined by a horn player or two for future Marty-inspired gigs.”

Brian Kellock’s Marty Party, Assembly Roxy, Wednesday July 21 at 2pm – live and online. Tickets from edinburghjazzfestival.com

As a former college professor of mine used to say, most endearingly, “I commend this to you.”

May your happiness increase!

NOT FLUENT IN YIDDISH, BUT HER “FIRECRACKER BABY,” JUST THE SAME (July 4, 2021)

Photograph courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

People often choose dramatic tales over duller evidence. The notion that Louis spoke fluent Yiddish has been proven untrue by THE Louis scholar, Ricky Riccardi, here. I will add my own comic eighth note to suggest that I am sure Louis knew “schmuck” and “putz” and a dozen other Yiddish words from his Jewish colleagues, and if not from them, from working with Mister Glaser, whose vocabulary, I am sure, was multi-lingual colorful.

But enough of that.

I grew up believing what Louis told us. Let that sink in for four bars. What he told us was that he was born on July 4, 1900. If the year has been shown to be 365 days off, by intent or accident, that doesn’t bother me. I am sure that none of us — as a matter of personal experience — knows the year of their birth; we know what was told to us.

Louis’ beloved mother didn’t have the opportunity to go to community college, and I don’t know the level of her adult literacy, nor do I care. But she did refer to her son as “her firecracker baby,” which to me is indisputable evidence of her associating Fourth of July celebrations with the tumult in her lower regions. If you hold to the August 4 date that is recorded in the baptismal record over Mayann’s story, you are once again asserting male myopia and obstinacy. When women get to write the tale . . .

So, happy birthday, Louis! We celebrate you! And, for a moment, imagine the more-barren cultural landscape that we would have if he had never existed.

Here’s some music for the Fourth:

May your happiness increase!

PERFECTLY SEASONED: FRANK ROBERSCHEUTEN, SHAUNETTE HILDABRAND, and FRIENDS CELEBRATE VIVALDI, THE MARCH OF THE CALENDAR, and THE GENTLE POWER OF SWEET SOUNDS

For those who, as the expression goes, “know what good is,” my title should be enough. The Frank Roberscheuten Hiptett has created a new two-CD set called FOUR SEASONS, and it’s a delight. I was tempted to call this post A BOX OF BEAUTY, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a small seasonal wordplay.

It’s taken me a long time to write this review, not because of I couldn’t find things to admire. Rather, I found too many, and the set has a chameleon-like quality: every time I thought I had its essential nature pinned down, ready to be put in to words, the next track came up and I had to rethink everything. Yes, you could compare it to the varied, ever-changing sensations we experience as we go through the year, or a delicious table spread with tasty dishes as far as the eye can see or the arm can reach. Or, perhaps, you should hear something first before being pummeled with metaphor. I’ve picked two compositions that share a summer theme.

Much of the delicious variety of this offering is because of the deep imaginations of reedman Frank Roberscheuten and singer-songwriter Shaunette Hildabrand: their delight in not doing the same thing, not repeating themselves, bubbles through the two dozen performances that make up the set. On alto, Frank can evoke the austere passion of a Desmond, then turn around and make me think of late Benny Carter with hints of Pete Brown; on clarinet, he suggests a warm De Franco; on tenor, a child of Cohn and Getz with notes of Freeman . . . but I never point to the speaker and say, “Did you hear that phrase going by? That’s [insert famous name]?” because Frank is his own man with his own sounds. Shaunette is such a warm-hearted singer that even if she were to sing the most acidic satiric lyrics they would sound like a hug, and when she sings of emotional openness her voice redoubles the caress of the lyrics. Her voice in itself is welcoming: I thought of Teddi King. And her lyrics are neat without being self-consciously clever, a good fit for the melodies they enliven. Pianist Olaf Polziehn makes me think of Hank Jones or Ellis Larkins . . . is their higher praise? And the other musicians — guests as well as regular members of the Hiptett — never hit a note that blares or is hard-edged. It’s possibly dangerously old-fashioned to write this, but the set is pretty music . . . not wallpaper, not Easy Listening, but music that gently invites the listener in and does not operate on the platform that Modern Art has to be chokingly hard to swallow to be valid. It doesn’t hurt a bit that the pivot for each season is an improvisation on a Vivaldi theme, with others by Rodgers, Ralph Burns, Waller, Carmichael, as well as the originals — strong melodic lines — by Frank, lyrics by Shaunette.

There’s an overriding lyricism, whether the sentiment is light-hearted or sorrowful, emotive but always with melodic and harmonic inventiveness and rhythmic motion:

Here’s what Frank has written about the set (taken from his site https://frankroberscheuten.com:

About one year ago the world we live in changed dramatically. Our social and in some cases professional lives, have been reduced to almost nothing. A stable factor in this turbulent year, however, was nature. The days passed like every year, season after season. These changes of nature inspired Vivaldi in the early 18th century to compose his famous “Quattro Stagioni”. The four seasons are, indeed, very inspiring with all the different colours, sounds and wonderful perfumes. They motivated me to produce this recording with my Hiptett, featuring different musical guests. This album consists of four parts, each starting with a transcription of the original Vivaldi composition, supplemented with jazz standards and my own original compositions. Vocalist Shaunette Hildabrand created lyrics for each season. Her input and that of Olaf Polziehn, Jos Machtel and Oliver “Bridge” Mewes are impeccable. Bert Boeren, Hein de Jong and the vocal quartet add interesting textures to the CD. As always, Geurt Engelsman did a fabulous job with the recording. Just contact me if you would like to order this double album. frank.roberscheuten@planet.nl, or phone. Enjoy the Four Seasons with the Frank Roberscheuten Hiptett.

It’s a beautiful creative effort and a purchase with definite curative powers. When the world is harsh, it will remind the listener that it need not be so; when the world is gorgeous, it will be the best soundtrack.

May your happiness increase!

WORDS FOR THE FATHER OF US ALL

Father’s Day, where I live, is a matter of taking Pater to the Diner in the morning, after the giving of gifts. That’s perfectly nice, even though the Old Man has to pick up the bill for the pancakes and orange juice.

But we all are indebted to parents who didn’t share their DNA with us in some direct fashion. I mean no disrespect to my biological father when I write that I’ve envisioned Louis Armstrong as one of my fathers for a long time now. That brings us to the latest Mosaic Records box set, which is at once a great gift and terribly intimidating for anyone, even someone like myself, to write about. Here are the details, complete with sound clips, of this seven-CD set.

Before I presume to write about the importance of this set and of this period in Louis’ art, I will let the music speak.

and Dave and Iola Brubeck’s SUMMER SONG:

I know there are people deaf to Louis’ majesty, the grandeur of his trumpet, the intimacy of his voice, his direct appeal to our emotions. I won’t dignify their deafness by battling it: this post is for those who can, in fact, hear and be moved.

The Mosaic set delineates, in its typically loving, careful way, perhaps the last great period of Louis’ career, where the paradox of his life was most evident: an artist much loved, playing and singing to audiences world-wide, but also being criticized by those who wanted him to be someone else. Thank goodness Louis was wise enough to follow his inner light — enacting the truth that music that pleased people was inherently good and worthy.

Louis made friends by shining that honest heartfelt light, and the Mosaic set, very clearly, documents two of those friendships. (I’m not even referring to the musicians he worked with who loved him.)

The first was with the jazz fan-writer-archivist-record producer George Avakian, who began his devoted work in the service of Louis as a college student in 1939-40 helping to produce jazz records and digging out unissued masterpieces for reissue. When Avakian began to produce long-playing records for Columbia, he eventually made possible Louis’ albums focused on the music of W.C. Handy and Fats Waller, thematic creations that were both jolly effusions and masterful architecture — not just a series of lovely bricks but soaring cathedrals. George also loved to use his editing tools — in his case, scissors and splicing tape — to produce what he felt would be the Platonic ideal, the performance that should have happened — so the Mosaic set presents a mountain of previously unheard material. He was incredibly long-lived, making it to 98 in 2017, and his imprint is on this music, for which we are grateful.

The second friend is the much younger Ricky Riccardi, happily still with us (because he was born in 1980) — Louis’ most loving documentarian, author of two books on his hero with a third on the way. Born nine years too late to be Louis’ actual Boswell, he has made up for it by annotating Louis’ life in prose and by being the energetic force behind a small tower of CD reissues. His notes are funny, warm, loose, and always solidly based on evidence. Mosaic, as always, has generously packaged this music with Ricky’s — what would I call it except a small book? — their glorious sound restoration, photographs, and exact data.

For me, it is both an affirmation of Louis’ glory — not that, for me, he needs any reinforcement — and a winding trip back through my childhood. I had the W.C. Handy, Waller, and Brubeck sets; I had the Columbia 45 of CABARET and the Victor reissues. So to put any disc in the player is to hear once again the music that shaped my taste . . . but since Mosaic has also provided music that otherwise would be unheard, it is two kinds of time-travel in one.

This is a shorter-than-usual review and exhortation to purchase than you might expect. But that someone would not want to hear and rehear SUGAR, I WANT A LITTLE GIRL, LONG LONG JOURNEY from the Victor sessions, new takes from the Columbia discs, Louis singing and playing NOMAD once again: it seems unthinkable. It’s as if someone said to me, “I never look at the sky. That bores me.”

Here is the discography for the set.

That’s my small Father’s Day effusion in honor of the man so rightly and so frequently called POPS.

May your happiness increase!

A DREAM OF COUNTRY LIFE: JAY RATTMAN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN (The EarRegulars at The Ear Out, June 6, 2021)

Jay Rattman, Tal Ronen.
Jon-Erik Kellso.
Matt Munisteri.

Another episode in the continuing story of rebirth, resurrection, and joy — through music, played by a community, played for one.

This is such a pretty song by Billy Hill (who wrote THE LAST ROUND-UP) and it’s been sung and played by Bing, Louis, Jim Goodwin, Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, and others who dream. Here, it’s brought to wistful swinging life by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, alto saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass, outside the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York City, on June 6, 2021.

Go hear some live music. It will reassure you that we are alive, always a good thing.

And if you missed it the first time, here‘s a wild (and wildly gratifying) WILLIE THE WEEPER from this session.

May your happiness increase!

HOT SOUNDS AT TWILIGHT: COLIN HANCOCK, MIKE DAVIS, VINCE GIORDANO, TROY ANDERSON, JULIAN JOHNSON, DAN LEVINSON, ALBANIE FALLETTA, ARNT ARNTZEN at the MORRIS MUSEUM (June 10, 2021, Morristown, New Jersey)

Early in the evening: from left, Albanie, Arnt, Dan, Vince, Troy, Colin, Julian, Mike.

It was a wonderful evening, and this post is simply to say so — a review of the Broadway opening the next morning — and to share the joys. The event, to give it its official title, was SOUNDS OF THE JAZZ AGE with COLIN HANCOCK’S RED HOT EIGHT, and it was held on the back deck of the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, overseen by the very kind and efficient Brett Messenger.

The purveyors of joy were Colin, trumpet, tenor saxophone, and imagination; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, tuba, and vocal; Dan Levinson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Troy Anderson, tenor and soprano saxophone; Mike Davis, cornet, trombone, mouthpiece, vocal; Julian Johnson, drums; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal; Arnt Arntzen, banjo, guitar, vocal. The scope of the program was narrow in time — perhaps 1920-1928 — but transcontinentally and stylistically broad. Arranged passages sat neatly next to explosive hot improvisations; dance-band melodies, “hot dance” rhythms, and small-band ecstasies nestled comfortably against the setting sun as they did in real life Jazz Age dance halls, speakeasies, malt shoppes, and recording studios.

They started off with FIDGETY FEET, with no lesson in sight, except to demonstrate, “We are here to play lively living music,” and they succeeded. Next, Art Hickman’s pretty 1920 standard ROSE ROOM, its origin in San Francisco, which has had a long life, both in its own clothing and as IN A MELLOTONE — displaying a lovely passage scored for two saxophones, in this case Dan and Troy. Someone wandering by might have thought, “This is tea-dance music,” but it had a hot pulse with rocking solos, and the genre-sliding was more than entertaining. From Hickman, Colin moved to the great star of Twenties music — call it and him what you will — Paul Whiteman — for an idiomatic and swinging WHISPERING with a patented crooning chorus by Mike Davis. I know this sentence is unsubtle, but Colin and his Eight made no artificial distinctions between “sweet” music as played by white bands and “hot” music played by their black counterparts, acknowledging without lecturing us that there was no dividing line between the two.

Colin then nodded to the great Twenties phenomenon of recordings of the blues and bent that definition to include a jolly YOU’VE GOTTA SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT, which is, after all, good advice, if Mama wants all that attention. Bennie Moten’s frolicsome EIGHTEENTH STREET STRUT and LOUISIANA, subtle homage to both Whiteman and Beiderbecke, followed — the band hitting on all cylinders, the audience enthusiastic, the sky darkening (as it should) and the stage lighting properly illuminating the players.

I can’t have been the only one in the audience who was hungry (it had been a long ride to Morristown) so I was happy to hear two songs about food, however indirectly: the Keppard-flavored HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN and Louis’ Hot Five I WANT A BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, with hilarious vocals by Albanie and Arnt. Vince sang THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE in a truly hot version (Dan evoked Frank Teschemacher) that summoned up the Austin High Gang. In honor of Red Nichols and the whole tradition of Sam Lanin, there was FIVE FOOT TWO, EYES OF BLUE.

A “Jazz Age” concert typically would end with a lengthy rousing closer — this one took a slightly different turn, with fairly brief (although searing) renditions of MILENBERG JOYS and CLARINET MARMALADE not only played but recorded on the spot on a vintage phonograph — and the records played back on the spot. It was a wonderful demonstration of the new technology, great hot music (we applauded the live rendition, we applauded the record) and wonderful theatre.

I won’t praise every musician — you will hear for yourself — but the patriarchs of Twenties jazz were cheered and inspired by the youngbloods on the stand. And Colin (whose solos were intense and incendiary) found ways to show the depth and breadth of this music, avoiding the overused repertoire (no DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, for one) and sketching in a vast panorama of joyous sounds that moved all around the country and also — without slighting him — said politely, “Louis Armstrong brought his own way to play, but not everyone went in his direction all the time.”

Here’s MILENBERG JOYS, which shows off the band and Colin’s easy scholarship — history made alive and in delighted motion. I’ve edited the video so you at home don’t have to sit through the necessary non-musical portions. What a show!

The Morris Museum had held concerts on the Back Deck through the pandemic, cheers to them, so the singles and couples last night in their lawn chairs had a good deal of space. It was easy for me to imagine the heroic shades of the past — Louis and Jimmy Joy, Art Hickman and Jack Pettis, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, Sam Lanin and Ben Selvin, Ikey Robinson and Kaiser Marshall, George Johnson and Vic Berton, Adrian Rollini and Freddie Keppard, Eva Taylor and Clarence Williams, all the cats from the ODJB and the NORK, Bix and Tram, Bennie Moten and May Alix and a hundred others, comfortable in lawn chairs, grinning their faces off at the living energized evocation of the music they made about a hundred years ago.

“The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.”

Were you there to share the joys? I hope so. Bless Colin, Vince, Dan, Troy, Mike, Julian, Albanie, Arnt — the heroes among us — and the enthusiastic audience.

And yes, there will be more videos. But . . . if you want more concerts, you have to leave your house.

May your happiness increase!

AN INSPIRED DREAM IN SUNDAY’S SUNSHINE: THE EarRegulars at THE EAR OUT: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JAY RATTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN (June 6, 2021)

Late in the day, The EarRegulars with guests: Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Jay Rattman, Tal Ronen, Josh Dunn, Albanie Falletta, June 6, 2021, outside the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

JAZZ LIVES’ readers are an erudite lot, so they know the story of WILLIE THE WEEPER, a craftsperson with a substance abuse problem, to use 2021 terminology. In the song’s original lyrics, of which there are many variants, Willie was a low-down chimney sweeper with a “hop” (opium) habit, which afforded him the most extravagant dreams. An engaging song even without the lyrics, it made its way into Chicago jazz and thus the larger musical world through recordings by Louis Armstrong and others in the later Twenties. And should you investigate the lyrics, you would find that WILLIE is a surrogate parent to MINNIE THE MOOCHER, a creation that Cab Calloway enjoyed for decades.

Jon-Erik, intent.
Jay and Tal, savoring the depths.

The people you see in the photographs above are heroes of mine: they give their hearts to this music, which doesn’t always pay them back generously in currency. They “play their personalities,” as Roswell Rudd told me. They know how to sit up straight and color within the lines when necessary, but they also have huge wandering imaginations that delight and surprise. One of the most delightful of this delightful crew is the quiet subversive Jay Rattman, who brought his clarinet and alto saxophone to yesterday’s heartfelt fiesta. Jay looks prudent, serene: you would have no hesitation about co-signing a small loan for him, or letting him order dinner for the group. Not only would he “help the old lady across the street,” he would even first establish that she wanted to go.

Matt, characteristically in motion.

So what happened on WILLIE THE WEEPER — the fourth song of this warm breezy Sunday afternoon — was a wondrous surprise. Jay was surrounded by a mutual admiration society: Tal Ronen, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. I don’t know whether Jay was having a good time with the idea of weeping, or of opium dreams, or if he was simply basking in the joy of being outside among friends playing music . . . but his choruses are the most extravagant — and memorable — dreams. He didn’t implode the song, but he certainly tested its durable elasticity. See and hear for yourself:

To quote Jon-Erik, “Fun one, to be sure.” If you haven’t spent a Sunday afternoon in the company of these wonderful creators, I encourage you to do so. When the sun is shining, 1-3:30, in front of 326 Spring Street. And as hot as it was yesterday, the river provided cooling breezes. As did the music — thrilling, mournful, uplifting.

May your happiness increase!

PRES: PAIN INTO JOY

“Lester Young 1st tenor.”

Memorial Day, an American “holiday,” celebrates those who have died in war. But some live on, wounded, even when the wounds are not visible. Some who suffer return home without medals. I am thinking of Lester Young, captured by the American military machine. To say that he was treated without understanding or kindness is to understate the facts and their repercussions.

I offer an excerpt from the saxophonist Leroy “Sam” Parkins’ memory of Pres, posted here in 2009:

September 1945 I found myself back in the infantry at Fort McClellan, Alabama. The army had lost some of my training records and they needed me to fire the Bazooka and the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle – 30 cal. and a real bear to shoot), and they were in no hurry. I was going to have to re-graduate from basic training. Most of the rest of this rag-tag company were hardened combat veterans who had been fucked over by the army losing their records. It’s after VJ day.

The sergeants in charge were totally sympathetic; roll-call in the morning, traditionally out on the company street, included a lot of hung-over guys in bed, shouting from the sack, “I’m here sergeant.” Days on end with nothing to do so I found the band, started doing parades, the officers club ($5.00),the non-coms club ($4.00), and the USO. Played baritone with the big band. The drummer was a veteran of the entire European campaign, had been running into a fire fight with his best buddy beside him and watched the guy’s head being completely blown of by a mortar shell. He simply didn’t give a shit, and kept a bottle of Gordon’s gin under the bed for breakfast to keep the boogies away.

The army was totally, and I mean totally, segregated. The colored soldiers had their own gate, and there was a 100 yard lawn – a DMZ – between the two posts. No one allowed to pass in either direction. But their band had Count Basie’s drummer, Jo Jones, other Basieites, Lester Young (Basie’s star saxophonist) had just been drafted, was in basic training and played with the band when he could. Our drummer was the only one of us with the balls to walk across the lawn to rehearsals and dances and to get to know the black musicians.

He came back one night with a really lousy story. Lester Young (street name ‘Pres’) was in the guard house. He had pleaded to be excused from basic and be allowed in the band; the band leader petitioned the authorities, to no avail (and I wonder if a white musician would have made out better. I knew some who did, and after all, the war was over…).

In Geoff Dyer’s book, “But Beautiful” (great book if you can stand unvarnished tragedies), the author, using the Freedom of Information Act, got the transcript of the trial; there’s a lot of detail, all brutal, that I wasn’t privy to, but this here narrative is missing from all biographical accounts. No way any latter day historian could know it.

It’s night firing on the fifty caliber machine-gun range. Outside of the noise, it’s a pretty sight. Maybe twenty machine-guns lined up about eight feet apart, shooting down a slight incline at cardboard cutouts of enemy soldiers; every tenth bullet (tracer bullets) lights up as it’s fired so you see slightly arched lines of electric magic flowing from each gun barrel.

The sergeant, off to the side and slightly down-range, notices one line of magic markers disappear. He goes to investigate, and finds Lester Young lying on his back smoking a joint. Sergeant is aghast. “On your feet soldier!” Pres’ reply is to hand the sergeant the joint and – “Hey sarge — aren’t the stars pretty up in the sky?”

In his left hand pocket of his fatigue jacket were five more joints; sergeant calls the MPs and the founder of a style that was to sweep the country (think Stan Getz and “The Girl From Ipanema”) is led off to jail.

There was no rush to bring him to trial. He started acting up in his cell, noisy, woke guys at night, he wanted his horn. So the guard got it for him. End of the world. He played 24 hours a day, made everyone crazy, so they took it away from him. And he really lost it. I have no details, but the guards were white – and so forth.

Disobeying a direct order, possession of narcotics, 400 days in an army detention center.

There are other stories of how a sensitive person was fed into the gears and cogs of a machine that — of necessity — cared nothing for individuality or sensitivity, and the familiar end of this narrative is that “the Army destroyed Pres, and you can hear it in his playing.”

But maybe not.

Here is Lester’s own composition, “D. B. BLUES,” named for “detention barracks,” a blues-with-a-bridge, recorded in December 1945, with his dear friend Vic Dickenson, trombone; Dodo Marmarosa, piano; Red Callendar, string bass; Henry Tucker, drums:

from December 1953, the NEW D. B. BLUES, with Jesse Drakes, trumpet; Gildo Mahones, piano; Gene Ramey, string bass; Connie Kay, drums:

and finally (for this survey — Lester played this “composition” many times more) — a sweetly light-hearted version from December 1956, with Bill Potts, piano; Norman Williams, string bass; Jim Lucht, drums:

I wouldn’t presume to know what went through Lester’s mind when he was playing. I think we can be sure that he named this composition for the place he was imprisoned. But you’ll notice it is music — not a scream of rage or hatred for his oppressors.

This might be the great gift he and others give us: to not only state but embody how pain can be transmuted into beauty and joy. That joy sustains not only us, but in some way it sustained its creator. We should stand in awe of the power of the soul to transcend the harshness of the world.

May your happiness increase!

IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN: THE “MARTY PARTY” IS POSTPONED TO JUNE 23, 2021

I am sorry to report that the concert by Marty Grosz and Friends (presented by Barry Wahrhaftig for the Hot Club of Philadelphia) scheduled for this evening at the Awbury Arboretum in Philadelphia has been postponed because of the threat of thunderstorms. But it will happen on Wednesday, June 23rd and I believe there are a few seats left.

Disappointing news. But we wouldn’t want the sounds of the band “drowned out” by rain on the roof. And here is a consolation, I hope — Marty and the Collector’s Item Cats performing IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN (IN CHERRY BLOSSOM LANE) which is meteorologically appropriate. The Cats — recorded by our hero Doug Pomeroy in 1993 — are Peter Ecklund, Scott Robinson, and Greg Cohen:

I am sorry that YouTube doesn’t offer Marty playing INTO EACH LIFE SOME RAIN MUST FALL, but you get the idea. See you on the 23rd!

May your happiness increase!

“VENGEANCE IS MINE,” SAYS LOUIS.

Louis Armstrong told Larry L. King in 1967, “I got a simple rule about everybody. . . If you don’t treat me right—shame on you!”

Louis, 1944.

He wasn’t a malicious man and it comes through in every second of his music, but it’s clear that Louis had no patience for those who weren’t fair or generous to him. It occurred to me, seeing a video performance of SO LONG, DEARIE from a 1964 Ed Sullivan Show, just how he gravitated to songs whose essential message was “You weren’t nice. I put up with it longer than I should, but now it’s over, I’m leaving, and my last act — as my feet move to the exit — will be to elaborate on your bad behavior for everyone to hear.”

In fairness, Louis wrote only one of these songs — his famous SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY — and there is a long tradition in popular music for songs that waggle an accusing finger at someone (AFTER YOU’VE GONE, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON are two that come immediately to mind, and, yes, Louis recorded both of them) but this was an emotional thread in his performing career.

JAZZ LIVES does not endorse vengeance as a way of life, but it does celebrate people’s coming to realize when they are not treated well and acting on it.

The 1942 Soundie version of (I’LL BE GLAD WHEN YOU’RE DEAD) YOU RASCAL YOU, with glorious Sidney Catlett, the remarkable Velma Middleton, and appropriate political commentary:

The grave, mournful NOW DO YOU CALL THAT A BUDDY? from the previous year:

a spinoff from the 1931 YOU RASCAL YOU, (YOU SO-AND-SO) YOU’LL WISH YOU’D NEVER BEEN BORN:


A terribly swinging series of threats and warnings, AS LONG AS YOU LIVE (YOU’LL BE DEAD IF YOU DIE):

The song that Louis said came to him in a dream, SOMEDAY (YOU’LL BE SORRY), in its first recording:

THROW IT OUT [OF] YOUR MIND, from a 1965 Connie Francis film, WHERE THE BOYS MEET THE GIRLS:

and the performance that began my train of thought, the 1964 SO LONG, DEARIE — where Louis packs so much music and comedy into slightly over two minutes, on the Ed Sullivan Show:

One could write a good deal about these performances as evidence that Louis felt betrayed at least one of his wives; male insecurity about the threat of more appealing lovers; a cultural tradition rooted in “the dozens,” where the insults may be good-natured or deadly; Louis and songwriters looking for new material that would be hits.

Or one could simply be moved, cheered, and amused by these variations on the theme of public rebuke for betrayal, deceit, and harm.

And one could quote Louis — to Richard Meryman in 1966: “. . . a baby or a little dog always knows the one who ain’t slapping him on the rear all the time.”

Thank you, Mister Strong. Again and again. Even when he appears to be wishing someone dead, we are having the time of our lives, as he was.

May your happiness increase!

LET JOY BE UNCONFINED: The EarRegulars return to The Ear Inn / The Ear Out: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, PAT O’LEARY (May 2, 2021)

I said to a friend while we were seated outside The Ear Inn, “During the pandemic, if you’d told me that I would be sitting outdoors in the sunshine, watching and listening to the EarRegulars, I would have said it was cruel to tease.”

But now it’s happened, and it’s glorious. On May 2, the band was Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary. Two weeks later (rain got in the way) it was Jon-Erik, John Allred, Neal Miner, and Joe Cohn.

AND on May 23 — which is today! — from 1-3:30, the band will be Jon-Erik, Scott, Pat, and Chris Flory. So if you (in the tri-state area, of course) are sitting home amidst coffee mugs and the remnants of the Times, you could be feeling the spirit at 326 Spring Street. I don’t mean to nag. Just a suggestion.

In case you woke up and said, “Honey, what day is today?” the EarRegulars answer the question:

and this venerable song, so associated with Billie Holiday, is addressed to those who can see live music but choose to live their aesthetic lives through the computer, wherever they are:

Will there be more? Oh goodness, yes. Joy will be spread like cream cheese on a genuine New York bagel.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S SO GOOD: ALICE SPENCER with HAL SMITH’S OVERLAND SWING EXPRESS (CLINT BAKER, LOREN SCHOENBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, NICK ROSSI, BILL REINHART, SAM ROCHA, HAL SMITH)

The pandemic brought us many things that we had not requested, and I will forbear listing them here. But it also brought marvelous musical surprises — our jazz heroes are resilient, and many adapted to the challenge of sewing individual creations into a swinging tapestry. You’ve seen the delightful results: musicians in different “rooms,” which might be thousands of miles away, everyone with headphones or earbuds, making delightful swing harmonies although not able to shake hands or hug. Miraculous and there’s nothing else to call it. Many of my friends have made the technological hurdles seem no more than cracks in the sidewalk, but a new and rewarding group effort has been the merging of the superb singer Alice Spencer with Hal Smith’s Overland Swing Express.

A few words about Ms. Spencer of Austin, Texas. Just as the world is full of restaurants, some producing full stomachs and happy satiety, others producing uneasiness, there are many who call themselves “singers.” Alas, only a small percentage know what it means — that it is more than being personable, chipper, good to look at, well-dressed. Singing is the most personal of the arts, with no keyboard or valves to get in the way, the singer has a message to send us, a story to tell, with only her voice, her dramatic sense, her facial expressions: no tenor saxophone to use as a big shiny prop.

Alice Spencer brings to her songs a remarkable emotional maturity that is beyond her years: put plainly, she sings like a Grownup rather than a Cute Teen.

Her voice has shadings, dark and light; she bends phrases stylishly; she lets us know that she knows what the words mean: she’s not copying famous recordings nor is she singing by rote. And her performances are both emotionally dense and light-hearted: hear her little exhalation of breath at the end of T’AIN’T GOOD — as close to a wordless “Gee, that was fun!” as anyone could create, or the way she wends her way through WHAT SHALL I DO IN THE MORNING? — which, in other hands, could have been maudlin, but when you hear her final sixteen bars and note the sign-off of a gently raised eyebrow, you know that Alice has been having a good time “being sad” and then holding it, gently, at arm’s length. Don’t miss out on the cluster of rapid-fire notes in the middle of T’AIN’T GOOD, either, navigated with accuracy and hilarious style: she might well be the Peggy Fleming of Swing Singing.

I first heard Alice on Brooks Prumo’s THIS YEAR’S KISSES, and wrote this:

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated for decades with Billie Holiday into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

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It would be unkind and unfair, though, to ignore the Gents of the Ensemble: Clint Baker, trumpet; Loren Schoenberg, tenor saxophone; Kris Torkarski, piano; Bill Reinhart, guitar on MORNING and tech-alchemies; Nick Rossi, guitar on GOOD; Sam Rocha, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader, arranger.

Because the two tunes are associated with Fats Waller (whose birthday was yesterday) there is a jaunty bounce, a reassuring rocking motion. Clint gets hot, as is his delightful habit; Kris summons up not only Fats but that Wilson fellow c. 1938; Loren evokes 1941 Pres in the Victor studios; Bill knows his way around lovely chords; Nick provides just the right mix of enthusiasm and accuracy; Sam keeps everyone honest; Hal rocks the church.

Here’s T’AIN’T GOOD:

and the larger question, WHAT WILL I DO IN THE MORNING?:

If you have any acquaintance with the great swing traditions of the Thirties and Forties — those sessions made for the jukebox by Billie, Mildred, Midge, Teddy Grace, Fats, Lee, Maxine, Connee, Red, Wingy, Louis Prima, Bob Howard, Putney, Slim Green, and a dozen others — you will understand why I say a) I could no more watch these videos a single time and move on to something else than I could leave my sandwich half-eaten, and b) that I have received ethereal texts from John Hammond, Jack Kapp, Eli Oberstein, and Bernie Hanighen, fighting for the right to sign this band and Ms. Alice up to a long-term contract (of course for very little money, but that’s show business, as the elephants will tell you). On the more earthly level, I ask, “Where is the bright festival promoter who wants to sign the Overland Swing Express up for a weekend of gigs?” But since I know that some of them read JAZZ LIVES, I have hope.

I heard (to quote Don Redman) that Alice Spencer will be making a new digital album sometime soon. Stay tuned.

May your happiness increase!