Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

DONALD LAMBERT ON FILM, 1932-1960

It’s so delightful to know that scholars of this music — brilliant young ones! — are carrying on the great work of honoring our collective ancestors. You have already heard about Matthew Rivera, Charles Iselin, Andrew Sammut, and Colin Hancock, among others. To this list I again add the name of Sterling J. Mosher III, pianist, researcher, archivist and more, who has now brought us filmed performances of stride pianist extraordinaire Donald Lambert, early and late. Here is his compact, friendly annotation:

As of November 2021, this is the full filmography of Donald Lambert. Dreams are that a full video of the 1960 Stride All Stars Program at the Newport Jazz Festival will be made public. As well as any possible amateur films of Don, perhaps by a visiting customer at Wallace’s or distant family.

00:03 The first film we see is from March of 1932, from the film “Ten Minutes To Die” (Oscar Micheaux.) Donald Lambert only is featured in one song with the band.

02:01 May of 1932, “Veiled Aristocrats” (Oscar Micheaux.) Donald walks in from stage right with the “piano tuner,” he is initially standing behind the piano while the tuner plays and a woman sings. Donald takes over for the tuner and performs for 2 songs. The final song is “Dragging My Heart Around.” Mabel Garrett sings and tap dances. Donald and all other persons on screen exchange goodbyes and exit stage left and right. We get a clear sound of Donald’s voice, sounding young at the age of 28. (Special Thanks to ARK THEATRE for uploading the cleanest film of both of these rare early pieces of Afro-American Cinema history.)

08:49 01 July, 1960. Newport Jazz Festival (Newport, R.I.) Stride All Stars Program. Donald appears in 3 clips here. The original speed, pitch, and quality is retained in these clips as they originally appeared. Some folks have taken the crystal clear audio from the recorded concert and placed it over the video at correct speed. Some of these videos are available at UNIGONFILMS on youtube. A television announcer narrates through all 3 clips. In order of the concert, Donald plays Anitra’s Dance, later plays Liza, then plays “Charleston” for two takes with Eubie Blake playing the upper register and The Danny Barker Trio. Willie The Lion Smith is seated off camera. Rudi Blesh is heard speaking several times, announcing to the concert attendees.

GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN.

Just astonishing. Thank you, Sterling, for your labors of love. Bless you, Donald Lambert, Oscar Micheaux, and Rudi Blesh.

May your happiness increase!

“RHYTHM WAS HIS BUSINESS”: REMEMBERING KEN SALVO

Ken Salvo, the stalwart banjoist and guitarist of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks and many other groups — in Chicago, New York, and Florida — left us this year. I didn’t get to speak with him, but his joy in playing and his steady rhythmic pulse were evident whenever I saw the Nighthawks. And musicians I’ve spoken about Ken to recall his kindnesses off the bandstand: he went out of his way to help them, to rescue them whenever he could.

He was well-liked and well-admired, so I’ve asked people who knew him to recall him for you. I’ve always thought that the measure of a life well-lived is the way people miss someone when they’re gone: Ken lived beautifully.

Clarinetist JOE LICARI:

I was shocked to hear of Ken’s passing as well as that of his wife Sandy just two weeks prior. Over many years I have played hundreds of gigs together. He was a great musician and entertainer and would always greet you with a smile. He was a sweet kind man and gentleman. I feel blessed to have known him on the bandstand and on recordings. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Trumpeter MICHAEL PONELLA:

A few years back there was the intense wind and snow storm late in October.  The Nighthawks were performing a Halloween party near Hartford, Connecticut for that evening.  Ken met me at my house in New York and drove from there.    On the way we encountered stop and go traffic, high winds, blinding snow, accident slowdowns, and crazy drivers that Ken was yelling to in the car.  We made it to the gig amazingly, but a few minutes late.   The party was a success, but Ken was exhausted from all the travel, and excitement.  Luckily that night a local hotel was provided, and Ken had me drive his car the rest of the way while he rested.  Even after a hard/tiring time traveling Ken would still perform his 100% on stage. One more:  Every time the Nighthawks would perform at Town Hall in NYC, Ken would always rise to the occasion.  He enjoyed playing there as well.  I will probably remember him most from those concerts, smiling, and playing faster than he ever played before.

Photograph by Lynn Redmile

Banjoist / vocalist CYNTHIA SAYER:

Ken knew how much I admired his plectrum Epiphone guitar because we had a running joke from me teasing him about it for years. And I knew how much he loved it too, so when he called me from Florida to offer to actually sell it to me, I was alarmed – though I was aware of health issues going on, I also knew he could keep playing, so why did he think he wouldn’t use it anymore? He talked about his local gigs and essentially said that he has faced that he’s now finished with the guitar, and it was time to pass it on to me. And well aware of the difficulties for all musicians during the pandemic, he also offered me generous terms. I accepted his offer with both deep appreciation and a heavy heart.

He knew I’d be coming to Florida soon (last June, during that small time window when we thought things were starting to return to normal, finally visiting our elderly moms there for the first time since pre-pandemic – Ken and Sandy lived close by) so he wanted to take advantage of the visit for me to possibly get the guitar. So while in Florida, we visited, jammed some (I posted a video or two of our jamming on Facebook), and I ended up taking the guitar back with me to NYC. I’m sooooo very grateful that I happened to have this last visit with him!!

I don’t remember when or where we first met, but I figure we’d known each other for most of my adulthood. A nice person and a fine player.

Bassist / tubaist / vocalist BRIAN NALEPKA:

Ken Salvo was a good friend and musical buddy for many years. He was not flashy and didn’t play “busy” solos. He kept good solid time and had that rare talent of making any band he was in better. He laid a solid rhythmic foundation that would let the front line do their work, and fit like a glove with the rest of the rhythm section. I know he is missed by everyone he played with.

Photograph by Aidan Grant

Trombonist / euphonist / vocalist JIM FRYER:

As to Ken Salvo, so many stories start coming into my mind that it’s hard to know where to start and how to organize them. He was a proud father and a devoted husband. He took pride in his “day gig” and I’m sure he was good at it. He was a terrific leader on a gig and a valuable sideman. Playing in the Nighthawks was a stretch for him, reading was not his forte, but he made it work, and his banjo and basic musicianship skills were so good that Vince had him in the band for many years. He also had a kind of old fashioned ethos that younger musicians don’t have today, simply due to changing circumstances. He was a saloon player from the golden olden days, who strove to make everyone in the room happy, in rooms that were full of regular working class folks, not young self-identified hipsters.

Photograph by Bela Szaloky

Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, bandleader VINCE GIORDANO:

I had moved to Brooklyn in 1979, Ken got my number, and we got a gig. He was the leader, he was on banjo, and I had my tuba and string bass . . . and it worked out great, we had a fun time. He played solid banjo, sang nicely, took swinging solos. He was a great banjoist. I like working with banjo, and he was very musical on it at all times. He was very professional, so we worked a bunch over the years. He would call me over the years.

Little by little, I found out more about Ken. I knew he was from the Chicago area and his family were big traditional jazz lovers. When the Dukes of Dixieland would came into Chicago to play, they would come to his house, because Ken was a great Italian cook. There was a great friendship there, and Ken’s dad had all their records, so he became friends with the Assuntos, and that was another inspiration for him to be in traditional jazz music.

How did Ken join the Nighthawks? Different people had come in and out of the band over the years; people move away or decide they want to play vintage jazz, so I gave him a call, “Would you like to try it?” “I love the band, but you might not be happy with my reading,” but he read the charts down perfectly. And he would take the charts home and work on the Eddie Lang pieces. We had a lot of fun on BOARDWALK EMPIRE and playing private parties and working with Garrison Keillor. When we did Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap we would all drive down to Kenny’s house in New Jersey and the bus company — this giant touring bus that would take us and the equipment to Wolf Trap — would pick us up. Kenny and his wife Sandy would have big vats of Dunkin Donuts coffee and donuts for the trip.

Ken was really conscientious sideman — anything he could do to help he did. And he said nice things about working with the band. When we did the RHAPSODY IN BLUE concert with Maurice Peress, he did the solo on LINGER AWHILE and he brought down the house. He was scared about doing it, but I said, “Come on, Kenny, you’re a virtuoso,” and he really did it — even snuck in a RHAPSODY IN BLUE lick. The audience laughed and it broke up Maurice. He would do tasteful things on the banjo, and he was great.

One day, he showed up and told the band that he and Sandy were moving to Florida — a long commute! too long for Monday nights — so he was leaving. We kept in touch for a few years, phone calls and emails. I saw him about a month before he passed — his son got remarried in Maryland and he hired a small contingent of the Nighthawks. I brought a banjo and he played a few numbers and brought the house down. His wife had health problems and passed a few weeks after the party. Between being ill and without his wife, they were married about fifty years . . . that was it.

So we all were sad, and the dance community he would hang with when we played, they all put up nice tributes and pictures. He was a warm friendly guy with a great laugh who liked to talk with people. We all miss him.

Photograph by Jenna Perlette

Trumpeter, cornetist, composer RANDY SANDKE:

This has been a cruel season for jazz fans. First we lost Phil Schaap, and then George Wein, two giants who did so much to spread the joyous and profound message of the music to all corners of the globe. But someone else passed who, though unnoticed by the jazz media, had a long and vital career as a musician. I’m speaking of Ken Salvo, a banjo and guitar player, who led his own groups but was most identified for his decade-long stint with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks.

Ken was a solid rhythm player, but also an exciting soloist who could hold his own in any musical situation. He was heard regularly on Monday and Tuesday nights at Vince’s home base in NYC, Club Cachet and later Iguana. With the Nighthawks, Ken appeared on several film soundtracks, as well as the band’s Grammy award-winning album of selections from the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire.

Ken began his career as a teen-ager, when his father would drive him to Rush St. in Chicago to work at the Red Garter. Ken developed his vast knowledge of tunes and prodigious technique there, working until all hours of the night. This period of the mid-to-late ‘60s was a golden age for banjo and guitar players in Chicago, since Eddy Davis, Marty Grosz, and Ken were all in town at the same time.

Ken moved to New Jersey in the late ‘70s and, in order to support a growing family, became a home inspector. He took to that job so well he became president of the trade organization. He also worked for a time at Allied Van Lines, and was responsible for moving Branford Marsalis and the new Tonight Show Band (including ex-Nighthawk trombonist Matt Finders) from the New York area to L.A. All during this time, Ken continued to play, book jobs, and make himself known in the NY freelance music scene.

In 2017, Ken moved with his wife of nearly fifty years, Sandy, to Venice, Florida. He had managed his finances well and looked forward to many years of playing golf and performing gigs in the area. Before I moved to Venice a couple of years later, Ken called me to offer me a steady job at a club in Cape Coral. He’d drive me down to the gig, about an hour each way, and we’d trade stories about growing up in Chicago, and so much else. We became very close, and he was a total joy on and off the bandstand. He helped smooth the way for me in Florida, and I will be eternally grateful.

All was working out well for him until last fall. He found out that his wife had inoperable brain cancer and her outlook was not good. They tried various treatments with all the attendant hopes and setbacks. In the midst of dealing with Sandy, Ken discovered he had lung cancer, probably from years of smoking in his younger years, plus working in smoky clubs before cigarettes were banned. Somehow he contracted Covid as well.

The end came fast. Sandy died when Ken was in the hospital and he was crushed. They’d known each other since their teenage years and I think Ken couldn’t conceive of living without her. When offered a ventilator he turned it down and passed away a few days later.

I truly loved Ken and grieve his passing. I’m sure that all who knew him, or heard him play, feel the same way. He was everybody’s friend and he will be sorely missed. R.I.P., my dear friend.

Photograph by Marcia Salter

Pianist / composer PETER YARIN:

We played for years in the rhythm section of Vince’s Nighthawks together – the Sofia’s and Iguana days. This was countless hours spent sitting inches away, aligning our chords and quarter notes, doing what we all try to do, maintaining our individual parts while fusing with the music and the band. Ken’s playing was exciting, joyful, full of energy, buoyant. He approached the bandstand with determination, grit, and a smile. Always clear was his commitment to and his faith in the music and the way it was to be played.

Solicitous of others’ welfare in tough times, he would respond with warmth and compassion. We joked together a lot. I will miss him. May his spirit resonate on.

P.S. from Michael: thanks to the musicians above who took the time to write lovely memoirs of a good friend and bandstand companion. I will be pleased to post other remembrances of Ken in the comments or perhaps in a future post.

May your happiness increase!

“YIPPIE-YI-O-KI-YAY!”

Let’s set the mood first. I’ll explain in three minutes.

A beautiful song, no? But this post isn’t about a 1940 recording: better, it’s about music that will be made in this month, this year.

Photograph by Shervin Laniez

Hilary Gardner is one of the finest singers I know. This isn’t hyperbole, but the result of my listening and observing her for the past decade.

A few years ago, I admired (in print), “her multi-colored voice, her unerring time, her fine but subtle dramatic sense, her wit, her swinging ability to let the song pour through her rather than insisting that the song sit behind her.”

Hilary has a plan, which we can witness and participate in on Tuesday, November 23, at the 55 Bar at 55 Christopher Street, 6:30 to 8:30. She’s inviting us to join her, “on the trail”:

Throughout lockdown, I felt completely disconnected from music-making. Shut up in my apartment in the silenced city, I–like many others, I’m sure–dreamed of wide open spaces and the freedom to roam. I started researching “trail songs,” like “Twilight on the Trail,” “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” and others, drawn to their lyrics about purple hills, silver stars, pale dawns, lonesome moons, and other evocative imagery. What heaven, to saddle up a reliable horse and wander, unworried and unhurried, under a vast, open sky…and how absurdly out of reach such an fantasy was (is, really)!

As I learned more and more of these songs, I was struck by how many of them were composed by European immigrants, versed in classical music, who went on to score films in Hollywood. Jazz and Great American Songbook composers got in on the act, too, with the likes of Benny Carter, Frank Loesser, Victor Young, and others writing songs right alongside Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

Because I grew up singing classical, jazz, and country music concurrently (my first paid gigs were in country music, singing Patsy Cline tunes in dive bars in my teens), I felt deeply and immediately at home in this new repertoire, which contains elements of all three genres. And I have a longstanding fascination with the mythology of the American West, particularly the musical tradition of the “hip cowboy,” i.e. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and countless others recording swinging versions of western music.

In hindsight, I think that these songs also call to me because they ease the pain of the contentious, relentlessly politicized, complicated times we are living in right now. On the trail–at least, as far as this music is concerned–the answers to life’s big questions are simple and immediate, found in the beauty of the natural world, contemplative solitude, and the arms of a loved one.

This musical program isn’t spangles and boots, not nostalgia for the saloon’s swinging doors, nor is it ironic retro-pop. Rather, I think it comes from Hilary’s understanding that there used to be a landscape where the most prominent feature wasn’t Denny’s or the Home Depot, where one could see the horizon and the starry sky. Where there was room to breathe and no iPhone to monopolize one’s attentions. And her love of the songs that celebrate this spaciousness — both on the map and of the heart.

Hilary will be joined on the trail by Justin Poindexter, guitar; Noah Garabedian, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums. The cover charge is a mere $10 and you’ll have to show proof of vaccination, pardner. But those things are easy.

I could joke about boots and saddles, but I will say only, “Don’t miss this show.”

May your happiness increase!

“THE COMPLETE LIPSKIN RECORDINGS OF DONALD LAMBERT,” ALMOST AN HOUR OF CONCENTRATED DELIGHT, AND MORE . . .

To me — and I am not alone — Donald Lambert is one of the most fascinating and elusive figures in jazz.

Poe would have called him someone hidden in plain sight.

A stride pianist of legendary inventiveness, he recorded little that was issued commercially in his lifetime, yet if you were living in or close to New Jersey, the Lamb (“the Jersey Rocket,” “the Lamb of God”) was playing regularly in Wallace’s Tavern for a number of years. I am very fortunate in that I have been able to add to the knowledge of Lambert — if you search his name on JAZZ LIVES you will find videos of him at the Newport Jazz Festival, an issue of a specialist newspaper devoted to his life and music, and endearing first-hand recollections of him by “his drummer,” my friend Howard Kadison. (I am not putting those posts in the foreground here, because I don’t want to take attention away from the marvels that follow.)

But, as they say, wonders never cease. In the last twenty-four hours, I have met the scholar of this music Sterling J. Mosher III, who goes by “Sugar Bear Mosher” on YouTube — subscribe to his channel for more delights. Facebook can be a lurid annoyance, but I found myself in a discussion of materials pertaining to Lambert — a discussion involving, among others, Robert Pinsker, Mark Borowsky, Sterling, and the ever-surprising Mike Lipskin, pianist and on-the-scene witness and participant. And in the world of music “criticism” and music “collectors,” how lovely to see adults working generously towards the common end. In harmony, you might say.

If you think this trail of words is leading up to something, you’re correct.

How about nearly an hour of Lambert, solo, playing what he liked to play, music whose existence had been known but that hadn’t been easily audible? Here ‘t’is, as Fats occasionally said.

I don’t yet know the exact date(s) of these recordings, nor the medium with which they were preserved (standard recording tape of the time, circa 1960-61, or wire recordings — they do not have the audio artifacts of disc recordings), nor the circumstances under which Mike created them. But those bits of essential information will surface. Right now we have the MUSIC, and it is so refreshing, vigorous, and personally idiosyncratic that it is a treasure, a little world unto itself. The piano is no one’s Bosendorfer, but its sound is not abusive. And we hear Lambert storming through uptempo fireworks displays, ruminating on rhythm ballads and popular songs, striding the classics, playing two songs at once, and more. He’s having fun — there are many well-executed musical in-jokes — and he always swings.

It is as if a door to the past, one that we hoped for but didn’t dare to imagine, swung open, inviting us in, and urging us to make ourselves welcome by the piano for just under an hour.

Here is Sterling’s introduction and a list of the songs Lambert played:

Special Thanks To my good friend, “Uncle” Mike Lipskin for making these recordings of Donald Lambert. Also special thanks to an equally good friend, Robert Pinsker for his aid in making this happen. A few of them are choppy near the beginning or end (Marked as partial in time stamps), and a couple have some damaged portions with no sound. All in all, these are a treasure and have only been heard until this moment likely by a handful of ears. Mike, we appreciate you so much for doing this back in the day and allowing us to release it publicly for ease of access. (Pardon the misspelling of Oscar MICHEAUX)

00:00 Tenderly (Partial) 01:14 I Know That You Know (Partial) 02:34 Sweet Lorraine (Partial) 04:02 Hallelujah (Damaged) 06:11 Harlem Strut (Partial, sounds like a hint at On Green Dolphin Street for the start!) 07:53 Carolina Shout (Partial) 10:26 Tea for Two 13:31 The Bells of St. Mary’s (Partial) 15:42 “Meditation” intermezzo from the opera “Thaïs” by Massanet 16:52 Elegie (Partial, amazing to hear another recording of this! Sounds as hot as the 1941 recording) 19:28 Twelfth Street Rag 21:36 Blue Lou 23:46 St. James Infirmary 25:07 Honeysuckle Rose 27:17 Keep Your Temper (Hold Your Temper) 29:32 Love Me Or Leave Me 31:58 Tea For Two (Partial, damaged) 33:04 Limehouse Blues (Really HOT!!!) 34:27 Jitterbug Waltz (EASILY competes with Fats’s recordings! Truly beautiful.) 37:26 Hallelujah (Partial) 40:21 Moonglow 42:26 Overnight (This is now the third known recording by The Lamb. Louis Mazetier and Federico Insoli are star performers of this early 1930s song, influenced by The Jersey Rocket himself. Listen to the last few chorus lines, especially at 44:58! Absolutely incredible how he plays with that rolling style) 45:47 Liza 48:48 Love Nest 51:50 Golden Wedding (A true Lambert knock out!)

And while you and I were sleeping, Sterling added this gem, a 1960 performance of CHINA BOY — Lambert among hot players, their names perhaps lost to history:

and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the same or similar group of energetic homegrown players:

As if that were not enough, here is another trove of Lambert — the complete 1949 Circle recordings, unissued at the time, thanks to Mark Borowsky:

00:00 Golden Earrings 03:12 Overnight 06:18 Blue Waltz 09:23 Harlem Strut 12:08 Tea For Two 15:10 Russian Lullaby 18:25 Lullaby In Rhythm 21:24 Liza

This is the second time this week I have been absolutely speechless.

Sterling assures me that much more previously unheard Lambert is waiting in the wings for us . . . . astonishing. Blessings on the Lamb and his friends who keep his sound alive. Lambert’s gravestone is here to remind us that our temporal lives are finite, but what we create lives on — in his case, so splendidly.

May your happiness increase!

PART TWO: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR MAN DAN MORGENSTERN, 92!

“JUST LIKE THAT,” one of the best stories I know:

Billie, Part One:

Billie, Part Two:

and Bird:

We are and have been blessed by his august and down-home friendly wise presence.

May your happiness increase!

“SOUNDIE”? WHAT’S A SOUNDIE?

Californian Mark Cantor is the finest jazz-film scholar around, a careful devoted researcher for decades. He loves the marriage of music and film and is fierce in his pursuit of the correct answers, when they can be found. And, not incidentally, a gracious witty down-to-earth fellow, eager to share knowledge.

A home Panoram machine (courtesy Mark Cantor)

Mark has a book in the works, and I asked him to write something about it for us:

Today it is not unusual to hear people say, “My nose is running, I need a kleenex.” Or, “I need to xerox the document.” Of course, “Kleenex” and “Xerox” are corporate product names that have taken on a generic meaning. The same is true of “soundie” – note the lower case spelling – which is used to refer to any short musical clip, regardless of origin. In reality, the term “Soundie” – not beginning with a capital letter – refers quite specifically to a three-minute film short distributed by the Soundies Distributing Corporation of America (a subsidiary of the Mills Novelty Company) for use on a Mills’ audiovisual projection devise, the Panoram. Between January 1941 and March 1947 more than 1,880 Soundies, films emanating from many sources, were released to those who owned or leased a Panoram machine.

The actual musical content of the Soundies output was democratic to the extreme, meant to appeal to all segments of American society. Today many of us value most the jazz and big band performances, but there were Irish ballads, Hawaiian tunes, country-western music (and Western Swing), novelty performances and “korn,” dance of all styles, vaudeville routines, and just plain “popular music” among the releases.

The history of these films, and a listing of releases, was released by two good friends, Ted Okuda and Scott MacGillivray, some years ago. They are still the foundations of all Soundies research. But I am proud to announce that a follow up work, one tentatively titled The Soundies: A History and Catalogue of Jukebox Shorts of the 1940s, will be published next year. A more than a million words, it will cover the development and collapse of the industry, and will also include an extensive listing for each Soundie. For the first time, a researcher or fan will be able to discover such information as recording and sideline dates, recording and on-screen personnels, arrangers, soloists, vocalists and a lot more.

To promote the book, but also the films for those who might not need this book in their library, I have set up a Facebook page called “The World of Soundies.” You are all cordially invited to click on the page and join the musical adventure. I generally post one Soundie each week, along with an full background and description of the film in question. Here‘s the link.

Any further questions? I am always around and available at markcantor@aol.com.

It would not be a JAZZ LIVES post without music — and in this case, two Soundies . . .

and a less familiar one, but with Dorothy Dandridge:

Having read Mark’s research for years, I can wholly recommend this book — and it’s not just going to be for collectors of arcane film: there’s musical treasure and otherwise-unknown social and cultural history. Mark has found out what the third altoist had for breakfast, but the fascinating details never interfere with the greater stories. And there are photographs! (Easier than trying to find films and a home Panoram, I am sure.)

May your happiness increase!

“ECHOES OF SWING”: APRIL DeSHIELDS IS DOING WHAT WE’D LIKE TO DO, ONLY BETTER

The invisible wall between musicians and non-musicians (“civilians” or, worse, “fans”) is often difficult to hurdle. Oh, there are the polite conversations between sets, and sometimes even a chat over a plate of food or a beverage, but the things we want to know of our heroes — “How do you DO what you do? What is the source of your magic?” — usually must be intuited and are rarely spoken of. April DeShields, a long-time devotee and close observer of the music we love, has made it possible for us to eavesdrop on relaxed, revealing conversations . . . beginning with two of my particular heroes, Hal Smith and Dan Barrett. And — delightfully — April is neither Mister Rogers nor Gunther Schuller: she’s admiring but never fawning, erudite but never austere.

I found April’s YouTube channel “ECHOES OF SWING” and watched her casually expert interviews. Before we move on, here’s a sample — the first part of her conversation with Hal, with musical examples of the very best kind as well as informal, informative chat about Hal’s ROADRUNNERS, and about what can be done with a small group where the only horn is the clarinet, and his own beginnings:

and the second part, where Hal speaks about influential drummers Ben Pollack, Wayne Jones, Nick Fatool, Fred Higuera, and two lessons with Jake Hanna; teaching aspiring jazz players at Banu Gibson’s NOLA trad jazz camp; the superb MY LITTLE GIRL by Hal’s Jazzologists; Hal’s own musical development and forming a personal identity . . . with portraits of Sidney Catlett, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie:

and the third part — with Hal’s affectionate memories of his supportive parents . . . up to current gigs in the time of Covid-19; the rigors and pleasures of remote recording, and of course, a few cat tales:

After I’d seen and enjoyed the first part of the Hal Smith interviews, I contacted April to ask her about herself, and after some reluctance, she opened the curtain:

When I was 6 my folks took me to the Sacramento Jazz Festival, and, during Abe Most’s set, he called up Tom Saunders (cornet player from Detroit, not the bass player – his nephew – who lives in NOLA now), of whom played Black Coffee and made the musical lightbulb go off on in my brain. He caught that from the stage, and being that my folks immediately decided it was late and we should get to bed, we walked out and Saunders followed us. He chatted up my folks, found out they wanted to go to bed, looked at me and said, “You don’t want to go, do you?” – to which I promptly replied “Nope.” He grabbed my hand, told my Dad that when I was tired he would take me back to our room, asked my Dad for a spare key so we wouldn’t wake them up, and off he took me- to the bar where I met Wild Bill Davison.

My father never did something like that, but I am so grateful he did, because every year at Sac and at subsequent festivals in other areas, Saunders was protector, teacher, and best friend. He and Chuck Hedges would load me up with lists of records to listen to as “homework” for the next year, and by the time I was 8 years old, I was correcting a guy who had a Saturday morning jazz show on a local public radio station. He invited me to the station, and from then on Saturday mornings would be very early drives with Dad to the radio station and I kept that up until I was nearly 30 and health kept me from doing it anymore.

My old boss at KRML moved to Palm Desert and is on the Board of the American Jazz Institute – he finally convinced me instead of asking me every month to record shows for him if I started to do my own series with no deadlines, he would re-broadcast material he wanted, and here we are. So it turned out to be a long story…. so many people came to me after Saunders died, thinking he was my father or grandfather, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to festivals for a long time without being in a puddle of tears. Many years later I’m finally ready to do what he would have wanted me to do – he would’ve been very mad at me for quitting in the first place!

So much of what I learned from those guys, and eventually the weekly calls with Saunders about everything, is so much a part of who I am in every way I just can’t imagine who I would be without them!

April has also posted some rare historical material: Tom Saunders’ Wild Bill documentary; a Saunders-Wild Bill set done in celebration of Bill’s eightieth birthday; an interview with Chuck Hedges . . . and just now, a two-part interview with Dan Barrett, beginning with his early jazz-conversion experiences and the history of early New Orleans jazz musicians migrating to California; Dan’s interactions with Andrew Blakeney and Joe Darensbourg — a side-portrait of Tom Saunders by April and her “heaven-opening epiphany”; memories of trombonist George Masso, and wonderful music from Dan and George’s CD:

Part Two begins with Mary Lou Williams’ LONELY MOMENTS from BED (Dan, Becky Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, and Joel Forbes); Dan and other trombone-playing arrangers; his long friendship with Howard Alden and how it led to a move to New York — through Jake Hanna, Red Norvo, and Dick Sudhalter — to gigs with Woody Allen and film work, the children’s project BEING A BEAR:

The third and final part of that interview is on the way . . . but I can’t wait to see April’s next gift to us.

May your happiness increase!

“YOU HAVE TO GET OUT OF YOUR CHAIR SOMETIME”: LARRY McKENNA with STRINGS (World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, October 12, 2021)

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that October 12 has not come yet, so before someone writes in to explain my error, I am announcing an event that will take place in slightly more than two weeks from this evening. And it concerns this man, seen in the photograph above, the wondrous tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna. Here’s what he sounds like:

Now, imagine that sound backed by a different (but equally splendid) jazz rhythm section, and a string ensemble of three cellos, one violin, one English horn doubling oboe, one flute, arrangements by Larry and by Jack Saint Clair, the latter of whom will also be conducting.

Yes, you don’t need to imagine, but you do need to attend the event in real time as it is taking place at World Cafe Live, 8:30 to 10:30 PM, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. The WCL is located at 3025 Walnut St. Philadelphia, PA 19104 — not far from the 30th Street station. (I’ve been there: it was a very welcoming place.)

The price is $35.00 per ticket, and it is general admission: you can buy tickets and read about Covid-19 protocols here. Yes, you will have to show proof of vaccination; yes, you will be expected to wear your mask except when eating or drinking.

Yes, I am attending. Yes, I will bring my video camera, but even I — who prides himself on the possibilities of video-recording — will say that a video is not the same as being there in person. And, no (the first no!) the event is not being streamed, nor is it a seven-night engagement, and the WCL is not the size of Carnegie Hall, so, to quote the oracle Patrick O’Leary, “You snooze, you lose.”

And: before the virus changed the landscape, there were always a thousand reasons to stay home, and we know them well. Given the virus, there are more reasons. But: to me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Perhaps it is to you also. And, in case you want to know the source of the aphorism, “You have to get out of your chair sometime,” c’est moi. I hope to see you there — for beauty’s sake.

May your happiness increase!

NOT A CLOUD IN SIGHT: “SILVER LININGS,” by DANNY TOBIAS, with SCOTT ROBINSON, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOE PLOWMAN, and KEVIN DORN (Ride Symbol Records)

Roswell Rudd said, “You play your personality,” and in the case of Danny Tobias, that is happily true. Watch him off the stand: he’s witty, insightful, but down-to-earth, someone choosing to spread love and have a good time. And when he picks up the horn (cornet, trumpet, Eb alto horn) that same hopeful sunniness comes through. He can play a dark sad ballad with tender depths, but essentially he is devoted to making music that reminds us that joy is everywhere if you know how to look for it.

Photograph by Lynn Redmile.

Danny’s a great lyrical soloist but he really understands what community is all about — making connections among his musical families. So his performances are never just a string of solos: he creates bands of brothers and sisters whenever he sits (or stands) to play. His jazz is friendly, and it’s honest: in the great tradition, he honors the song rather than abstracting the harmonies — he loves melodies and he’s a master at embellishing them. When I first heard him, in 2005 at The Cajun, I told him that he reminded me of Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, and he understood the compliment.

But enough words. How about some 1939 Basie and Lester, made fresh and new for us — with a little spiritual exhortation in the middle:

Now, that’s lovely. And it comes from Danny’s brand-new CD with his and my heroes, named above. My admiration for Danny and friends is such that when I heard about this project, I asked — no, I insisted — to write the notes:

What makes the music we love so – whatever name it’s going by today – so essential, so endearing?  It feels real.  It’s a caress or a guffaw, or both at once; a big hug or a tender whisper; a naughty joke or a prayer.  The music that touches our hearts respects melody but is not afraid of messing around with it; it always has a rhythmic pulse; it’s a giant conversation where everyone’s voice is heard.  And it’s honest: you can tell as soon as you hear eight bars whether the players are living the song or they are play-acting.  If you haven’t guessed, SILVER LININGS is a precious example of all these things. 

I’ve been following all of these musicians (except for the wonderful addition to the family Joe Plowman) for fifteen years now, and they share a common integrity. They are in the moment, and the results are always lyrical and surprising.  When Danny told me he planned to make a new CD, I was delighted; when he told me who would be in the studio with him, I held my breath; when I listened to this disc for the first time, I was in the wonderful state between joyous tears and silly grinning.  You’ll feel it too.  There’s immense drama here, and passion – whether a murmur or a shout; there is the most respectful bow to the past (hear the opening of EASY DOES IT, which could have been the disc’s title); there’s joyous comedy (find the YEAH, MAN! and win a prize – wait, you’ve already won it).  But the sounds are as fresh as bird calls or a surprise phone call from someone you love.  Most CDs are too much of a good thing; this is a wonderful meal where every course is its own delight, unified by deep flavors and respect for the materials, but nothing becomes monotonous – we savor course after course, because each one is so rewarding  And when it’s over, we want to enjoy it again.

I could point out the wonderful sound and surge of Kevin Dorn’s Chinese cymbal and rim-chock punctuations; the steady I’ll-never-fail-you pulse of Joe Plowman; Rossano Sportiello’s delicate first-snowflake-of-the-winter touch and his seismic stride; Scott Robinson’s gorgeous rainbows of sounds, exuberant or crooning, and the man whose name is on the front, Danny Tobias, who feels melody in his soul and can’t go a measure without swinging.  But why should I take away your gasps of surprise and pleasure?  This might not be the only dream band on the planet, but it sure as anything it is one of mine, tangible evidence of dreams come true.    

They tell us “Every cloud has a silver lining”?  Get lost, clouds!  Thanks to Danny, Joe, Scott, Kevin, and Rossano, we have music that reminds us of how good it is to be alive.

The songs are Bud Freeman’s THAT D MINOR THING; Larry McKenna’s YOU’RE IT; EASY DOES IT; Danny’s GREAT SCOTT; DEEP IN A DREAM; LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING; I NEVER KNEW; Danny’s gender-neutral MY GUY SAUL; YOU MUST BELIEVE IN SPRING; OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT!; I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE; PALESTEENA; Danny’s BIG ORANGE STAIN; WHY DID I CHOOSE YOU?

On the subject of choosing. You could download this music from a variety of sources, but you and I know that downloading from some of those sources leaves the musicians with nothing but regrets for their irreplaceable art. Danny and his wife Lynn (a remarkable photographer: see above) adopted the adorable Clyde Beauregard Redmile-Tobias some months ago:

I know my readers are generous (the holidays are coming!) so I urge them to buy their copies direct from Danny, who will sign / inscribe them. Your choice means that Clyde will have better food and live longer.

Do it for Clyde! Here‘s the link.

May your happiness increase!

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!