Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

REBECCA KILGORE and ECHOES OF SWING: “WINTER DAYS at SCHLOSS ELMAU”

Before writing this post, I was thinking about Rebecca (or Becky or Roo — she has many names, as appropriate to a multi-faceted personality) someone I have been listening to with awe and pleasure since 1994, perhaps beginning with I SAW STARS (Arbors).  As for Echoes of Swing, I got to hear them in person in Germany (in 2007, thanks to Manfred Selchow) and could tell them how I admired them.  It’s one of my dreams to have musicians and groups of musicians I revere play together, and the new CD is just such a dream. . . . one that you and I can hear and re-hear.

The disc also affords us a chance to adjust our perspectives, to shake off some preconceptions.  Some listeners have perched Rebecca on a sunny windowsill in the country of Light, Bright, and Sparkling. Yes, she may prefer PICK YOURSELF UP to GLOOMY SUNDAY, but for me a little darkness will suffice.  Hear her on this disc as she sails through I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM and her reputation as an antidote to darkness is intact.  But only shallow listeners will mistake optimism for shallowness: she has depths of feeling.

Echoes of Swing plus Two: Chris Hopkins, Bernd Lhotzky, Rolf Marx, Oliver Mewes, Henning Gailing, Colin T. Dawson. Photo by Katrin Horn.

Echoes of Swing has also been slightly mis-characterized, praised for their large orchestral sound (the core unit is four players, count them, four — even though on this CD they add a string bass and guitar as well as Rebecca) — as if they were somehow marvelous simply for this magic trick, and critics have heard them as successors to the John Kirby Sextet, which is both plausible and confining.  But on this CD, the players — whom I should name now: Bernd Lhotzky, piano and musical director; Colin T. Dawson, trumpet and flugelhorn; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Oliver Mewes, drums, with Henning Gailing, string bass, and (on four tracks) Rolf Marx, guitar — create such rich varied sounds inside and outside of the arrangements by Bernd and Chris that I felt as if I’d wandered into a universe scored by, let us say, Gil Evans, spacious and resonant.

Other artists have created records and CDs devoted to Winter.  And many of those jolly efforts are avalanches of fake snow from the arts-and-crafts store.  Christmas music looms, no matter how many chairs might be wedged against the studio door, or there’s LET IT SNOW, the now-troublesome BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE, or WINTER WEATHER.  Sweet, certainly, but not always true to the reality of the season, for Winter is a time for introspection as the world becomes colder and darker.  This disc, I assure you, is not a descent into Seasonal Affective Disorder, and there are a few familiar cheery songs on it, but it is not the usual forgettable fluff.

Here’s a wonderful example, the text being the 1931 WINTER WONDERLAND, where the focused purity of Rebecca’s voice balances against a complex, shifting orchestral background:

Bernd’s quirkily cheerful setting of the most famous Robert Frost poem:

Rebecca’s own witty and sweet song:

You’ll have to explore the other surprises for yourself — songs I’d never heard by Frishberg, Berlin, and Jobim, and a few poems set to music by Bernd — performances that are remarkable on the first hearing and grow more so.

The disc is dense — which is not to say difficult or off-putting — but it has levels and levels of musical and emotional pleasure.  Some discs make wonderful background music — the soundtrack for rearranging one’s spice rack — but this one has the delicious resonance of one short story after another.  It’s available in all the old familiar places.  Details here. WINTER DAYS is ambitious, heartfelt, completely rewarding.  You won’t regret it, no matter what the temperature.

May your happiness increase!

CARPE DIEM! MONTEREY JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY 2020 (March 5-8, 2020)

I’m stunned, but in a delightful way: the band schedule for the Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay — although it could change — is available here.   I have all I can do to not print it out and start playing jazz-chess with my highlighter (once I find it).  But you’ll see the reason for my opening emotions: there’s so much good music here, some of it in conflict with other explosions of good music . . .

Now, the schedule is too large to be appropriately reprinted here in the space that WordPress allows, and that is in itself significant.  So a few facts.  There’s hot jazz, blues, gospel, trad, zydeco, hokum, singers, banjo players, gypsy jazz, washboards, saloon songs, stride piano, boogie-woogie, and did I mention just plain hot music for dancers and for listeners?

There’s a special Thursday night session.  Friday and Saturday the music runs for more than twelve hours in eight simultaneous venues (all under the same roof); on Sunday the last set begins at 3 PM.

When I called, yesterday, the Portola Hotel still had a few rooms left at the special Jazz Bash rate; Monterey is a lovely town with interesting shops and good things to eat.  Easy.  Now, a few possibly-impolite lines.  If you are coming to the Bash, I salute you, I embrace you (if we’ve signed the appropriate paperwork).  If you’re not coming because you live too far away or because it costs too much or because of health issues, I do not upbraid you, but sorrow with you and hope you will watch the videos I create from the performances this March.

But if could come but you don’t make the effort and say wistfully, “Gee, I’d like to get there.  Maybe in a year or two,” I just hope this and other festivals are ready for you when you are ready to attend.  Festivals, although they look huge and solid, are fragile affairs, and they don’t survive when there are too many empty chairs in the room.  It’s easy, after the fact, to say that “they” did a bad job, whoever “they” are, but you and your attendance are the fuel necessary for the festival car to make it up the hill year after year.  I have spoken.

May your happiness increase!

MONTEREY DELIGHTS! (Jazz Bash By the Bay, 40th Anniversary Edition, March 5-8, 2020)

It’s never too early to get prepared for joy, especially the varieties that the Jazz Bash by the Bay delivers so generously.  (An All-Events badge is available at a discount before December 31, so if thrift makes your eyes gleam, check here.) Now.

I’ve been attending this March festival every year since 2011 (I missed 2018) and have fond memories.  I could write a good deal about the pleasures of this grouping of musicians and fans, and the pleasures of being able to walk around a truly charming town center . . . or the pleasure of being a guest at the Portola Hotel and Spa, with the music just a trot away, but I will simply direct you to the Bash’s website, where you can find out such useful information as the dates (March 6-8), the band schedule (not available yet), ticket prices, and the bands themselves.

For me, the bands and guest stars are the reason to come to a particular festival, so I will list them here (as of January 2020) so you can see the delights to be had.  First, the Musician of the Year is my hero Marc Caparone, so even though I doubt there will be a parasol-laden coronation, I want to be there to see the rites and praises.  Then, guest stars Bob Draga, Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Dawn Lambeth, Eddie Erickson, Gary Ryan, Jeff Barnhart, Jerry Krahn, and Katie Cavera.  The bands: Blue Street Jazz Band, Bye Bye Blues Boys Band, Carl Sonny Leyland Trio, Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, Cornet Chop Suey, Crescent Katz, Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Fast Mama Excitement, Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Ivory&Gold, Le Jazz Hot, Midiri Brothers, Sierra Seven, Tom Rigney and Flambeau, We Three (Thursday only), Yve Evans and Company, and the Zydeco Flames.

Looking at the 2019 schedule, the Bash offered four simultaneous sessions for full twelve-hour days on Friday and Saturday, and a half day on Sunday . . . one hundred and fifty sessions, including full bands, singers, solo and duo pianos, youth bands, sets for amateur jammers, and more.  Even someone like myself, who doesn’t fell compelled to see and hear everything, finds it a delightfully exhausting experience.  There’s a separate Thursday-night dance and an appearance by We Three, and I quote: “Kick off Jazz Bash by the Bay on Thursday, March 5, 2020, with a big band dance party featuring Clicktrax Jazz Orchestra. Attendees will enjoy danceable swing and traditional jazz at the Portola Hotel and Spa from 7:30 to 11 pm. Admission is $25.00. Also, in a Special One-Night-Only appearance, the hit trio We3 featuring Bob Draga, Jeff Barnhart, and Danny Coots will be playing from 7 to 8:30 pm. Admission is $30.00. Add the dance for $20 more. All tickets can be purchased by phone, mail, online or at the door.”

Did you notice that there is an Early Bird All-Events Badge at a discount if you order before December 31, 2019?  Yes, I repeat myself: details here.

For me, a post advertising a particular festival is not effective unless some musical evidence can be included.  I broke one of my rules — that is, there are musicians in the 2011-19 videos below who do not appear at this year’s Bash, and I apologize to them if anyone’s feelings are bruised.  But I started to go through the 200+ videos I’d posted of various Monterey Bashes, and some of them were do fine that I couldn’t leave them out.  You’ll get a panoramic sense of the wide variety of good, lively, inventive music that happens here.  And each video has a detailed description of who’s playing and singing, and when it happened.

an old song, swung, 2019:

for Django:

Becky and the blues:

the late Westy Westenhofer:

Ivory&Gold (Jeff and Anne Barnhart):

Paolo Alderighi, Phil Flanigan, Jeff Hamilton:

Katie Cavera and the Au Brothers:

Bob Schulz and the Frisco Jazz Band:

Allan Vache, John Sheridan, John Cocuzzi, Paul Keller, Ed Metz:

High Sierra:

Hot Strings at Monterey 2011:

a jam session with Bryan Shaw, Jeff Barnhart, Dan Barrett, Marc Caparone, John Reynolds, Katie Cavera, Ralf Reynolds:

Carl Sonny Leyland, Marty Eggers, Jeff Hamilton, performing Sonny’s composition that insures that no rodents visit the Portola during the Bash:

It might seem a long way away, but it isn’t.  And it’s a truly enjoyable event.

May your happiness increase!

GUILTY, AS CHARGED

This morning, Connor Cole, a young Facebook friend, someone with good taste, casually asked me to list the recordings that had impressed me in the past year.  I’ve stopped composing “ten best” lists because I know that I will hurt the feelings of someone I’ve left off.  (I once applied for a job where there were openings for five people, and was told afterwards that I was number six, a memory which still, perhaps absurdly, stings.)  But Connor’s request pleased me, so I began thinking of the recordings of 2019.

Perhaps it was that I wasn’t fully awake, but I came up with almost nothing, which troubled me.  So I began searching through blogposts and came up with these reassuring entities (new issues only) in approximate chronological order, with apologies to those I’ve omitted, those discs which I will write about in 2020:

IN THIS MOMENT, Michael Kanan, Greg Ruggiero, Neal Miner

NEW ORLEANS PEARLS  Benny Amon

UNSTUCK IN TIME  Candy Jacket Jazz Band

NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU  Danny Tobias, Mark Shane

RAGTIME — NEW ORLEANS STYLE, Volume 2  Kris Tokarski, Hal Smith

PICK IT AND PLAY IT  Jonathan Stout

BUSY TIL’ ELEVEN  Chicago Cellar Boys

TENORMORE  Scott Robinson

UPTOWN  The Fat Babies

COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT  Andrew Oliver, David Horniblow

A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, Alex Levin

DREAM CITY  David Lukacs

THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE  Charles Ruggiero, Hilary Gardner

LESTER’S BLUES  Tom Callens

WINTER DAYS  Rebecca Kilgore, Echoes of Swing

The majority of those discs are musician-produced, funded, and released — which is yet another blogpost about “record companies” and their understandable attrition.  Economics, technology, and a changing audience.

But that list made me go back in time, decades of trading money for musical joy.

In late childhood, I would have walked or bicycled the mile to Times Square Stores and bought Louis’ Decca JAZZ CLASSICS for $2.79 plus tax.  A few years later, Monk cutouts on Riverside at Pergament or Mays. E.J. Korvette. Lester Young and Art Tatum Verves at Sam Goody’s.  A British enterprise, Tony’s, for exotic foreign discs.  In New York City, new Chiaroscuro issues at Dayton’s, Queen-Discs at Happy Tunes.

In the CD era, I would have stopped off after work at Borders or the nearby Tower Records for new releases on Arbors, Concord, Pablo, and import labels.  Again in the city, J&R near City Hall for Kenneth, French CBS, and more.  But record stores gave way to purchasing by mail, and eventually online.  Mosaic Records was born, as was Amazon, eventually eBay.

So today the times I actually visit “a record store,” it is to browse, to feel nostalgic, to walk away with a disc that I had once coveted — often with a deceased collector’s address sticker on the back — but I am much more likely to click on BUY IT NOW in front of this computer, or, even better, to give the artist twenty dollars for a copy of her new CD.

What happened?  I offer one simple explanation.  A musician I respect, who’s been recordings since 1991, can be relied upon to write me, politely but urgently and at length, how I and people like me have ruined (or “cut into”) his CD sales by using video cameras and broadcasting the product for free to large audiences.

So it’s my fault.  I killed Decca, Columbia, and Victor — Verve, Prestige, and Riverside, too.  Glad to have that question answered, that matter settled.  Now I’m off to do more damage elsewhere.

May your happiness increase!

TOTALLY GROOVY: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, LITTLE CHARLIE BATY, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, DAWN LAMBETH (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 12, 2019)

The band at the Morris Graves Museum: Clint Baker, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Little Charlie Baty, guitar; and (unseen but certainly felt) Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocals; Dawn Lambeth, vocals, May 12, 2019, Redwood Coast Music Festival, Eureka, California.

For once, I’ll happily let someone else create the words: the eloquent guitarist Little Charlie Baty (who goes by Charles Baty on Facebook) whose delight shines through first in prose, then in the music:

Back in May 2019, I had the opportunity to play with Carl Sonny Leyland, Marc Caparone, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Dawn Lambeth and a host of others (not to mention Rick Estrin and the Nightcats!) as part of the Redwood Coast Music Festival. I played with different groups of people on different stages, which also implied different tunes and different set lists. For instance there was jazzy Sonny Leyland – and bluesy Sonny Leyland. A Tribute to Charlie Christian. A reunion with the Nightcats partially due to fog at the Eureka Airport and the inability of Kid Andersen to land in time to do the performance (he got as close as 30 feet off the ground!). Anyway, it was a beautiful week of music and collaboration – on stage and off. I had many pleasant conversations with Harry Duncan, Danny Caron, and others in the hospitality area.

I was only scheduled to play on 4 shows but the opportunity to play on a fifth set came up and I jumped at it. I would be playing a jazzy set with Carl Sonny Leyland. We had rehearsed for this set – I just didn’t think that I would have the stamina to do it. So this was my last set on the festival and Sonny called out perhaps the most difficult tune that we would perform – a nicely arranged version of How Deep is the Ocean. We performed in an old building – a library, a bank, or a museum? The grand piano filled every nook and cranny in the packed house. Marc Caparone’s trumpet washed over the melancholic ballad like a warm snifter of cognac, the solid bass of Clint Baker providing the framework and the light and airy drums of Jeff Hamilton felt like a slow fan turning on a languid afternoon. Such a moment should be caught on tape – and it was. By our good friend Michael. So Sugar Ray Norcia, Michael Mudcat Ward and Duke Robillard – this is the kind of environment that you have to look forward this year at the Redwood Coast Festival. Not just a festival but an opportunity for musical collaboration. Sugar – we ought to play that tune about Josephine, Please Don’t Lean on the Bell!

Sonny Leyland is the deepest piano player that I’ve ever come across. The first tune that we played was in Db – that tells you something right there. He can play jazz, swing, and blues with equal ease and abandon and he knows what he wants and can articulate it. We played many hours of music over that festival – and every second sounded great.

It was an honor to be there, and an honor to be able to capture these moments — supercharged and subtle — what Kansas City must have sounded like, but not  historical, charging towards us now.

YOUNG J.C. BOOGIE, in honor of Master James Caparone:

That masterpiece, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?  (I apologize for stage-managing at the start, something I rarely do.):

After Berlin’s deep passion, the rocking KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN (doesn’t every set need a train tune?):

An even more ferocious LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

At this point, a phalanx of fire marshals approached the band and warned of increased temperatures within the building, and said that if they didn’t perform something a little less violent, the set would have to end.  To the rescue!  Dawn Lambeth with BLUE MOON:

Here’s Dawn with a tender entreaty, swung like mad, MY MELANCHOLY BABY:

When Sonny began SONG OF THE WANDERER, no one went anywhere:

and to close, the declaration of emotional independence, LOW DOWN DOG:

This Frolick was created extemporaneously by the Doctors of Groove (my admiring name for them) on May 12, 2019, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival.  Bless them and also Mark and Valerie Jansen, patron saints of Redwood Coast sounds.

AND the next Redwood Coast Music Festival will be their 30th, and will take place May 7-10, 2020. I am ready to book plane tickets now.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

xxx

MAKING NEW MEMORIES: MARC CAPARONE, BRIAN HOLLAND, STEVE PIKAL, DANNY COOTS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 29, 2019)

Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters — a Louis Armstrong trumpet — a few years ago.

I don’t know if people look to pianist Jess Stacy as a model for spiritual enlightenment, but perhaps they should.  Yes, he’s rightly known for his solo on SING SING SING at the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert, and for subtle but memorable playing for decades, but he had a revelation in mid-life that has been one of my cherished stories since I first read it.  I am paraphrasing because the book it comes from is in New York and I am in San Diego, but I have it close to my heart.

He had been successful as a Goodman sideman but had made the mistake of marrying Lee Wiley — they were spectacularly unsuited for each other, a story you can explore elsewhere on the blog — they had divorced, unpleasantly.  And as Jess tells it, he was sitting on the bed in a hotel room, ruminating, despairing, feeling that there was little point in going on.  He could, he thought, follow the lead of his friend Bix Beiderbecke, and “crawl into a bottle and die,” which had its own appeal, its own seductive melodramatic pull.  But Stacy, although in misery, was curious about life and what it might offer.  Musing more, he eventually came to a decision, and spoke to himself, briskly not not sternly, “All right, Stacy.  Time to make new memories!” and he got off the bed and lived a fulfilling life.

I hear in that story something that we all have faced whether we are sitting on a hotel bed or not: stuck in our own lives, do we hug the past like a cherished stuffed bunny or do we “move on,” and see what happens?  It’s not easy.  Despair has a powerful attraction, and memories can feel like a suit of clothing that weighs tons — stifling ye familiar.  And let us say what no one wants to say, that the future is always mildly terrifying as well as alluring.

All of this has been running through my own mind (I am not in danger of ending it all through alcohol, never fear) and I have told the story to a few friends in the past week.  The wonderful trumpeter Marc Caparone provided a musical illustration of it just a few days ago at the San Diego Jazz Fest — with Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums — in his performance of MEMORIES OF YOU, a very dear song by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf.  We don’t hear Razaf’s lyrics, but those who know the song well will have them as a subliminal second theme.

And here’s Marc’s very personal exploration of these themes: a model of passion and control, Louis-like but not Louis-imitative, music that I found very moving, as did others at the San Diego Jazz Fest . . .beauty at once somber and uplifting:

I think of Bobby Hackett, saying of Louis, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come that alive?”

Thank you, Marc, Brian, Steve, and Danny — as well as Eubie and Andy, and of course Mister Stacy.

Let us hold the past for what’s dear in it, what it has to teach us, but let us not sit on the edge of the bed, musing, forever.  Make new memories.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S HOT DOWN THERE!” (Part One): SWINGING JAZZ FROM CAFE BOHEMIA: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JARED ENGEL, ARNT ARNTZEN (October 24, 2019)

Wonderful music has been happening and continues to happen downstairs at the Barrow Street Alehouse on 15 Barrow Street, the hallowed ground of Cafe Bohemia.  Here’s the first part of the splendid music created on October 24 by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Jared Engel, string bass; Arnt Arntzen, guitar, banjo, vocal.

You’ll find so much to admire here: brilliant wise polyphony, hot and sweet soloing, respect for melodies and the courage to improvise.  Beauty is there for those who can listen without preconceptions.  And they swung from the first note of I DOUBLE DARE YOU:

Then, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, with or without comma:

Something memorable from the pen of William H. Tyers:

Evan offers the verse all by himself, gorgeously:

When I grow too old to take the subway, I’ll have these sounds to remember:

Cafe Bohemia is also offering a variety of musical pleasures, including sets by trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and a rare session by the two sons of legendary jazz bassist Jymie Merritt — keep up to date with their schedule here on Facebook.  Their website is still in gestation but will be thoroughly informative soon.

I will have much more from this band, and Jon-Erik will be back at Cafe Bohemia on November 14 and several more Thursdays in December.  And — if that wasn’t enough — Matt Rivera will be creating his own clouds of joy by spinning 78s before and after: see here for the full story.  The Hot Club is fully in operation Monday nights (by itself, which is wonderful) and alternating with the live music on Thursdays.

Thanks evermore to Mike Zielenewski and to Christine Santelli, aesthetic benefactors who are making all this joy possible. M.C. Escher would be happy to know that glorious sounds scrape the clouds even from the basement of 15 Barrow Street.  S0 find your gloves and that nice scarf Auntie made for you — the one you never wear — and come join us.

May your happiness increase!