Category Archives: Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

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

kerry-lewis-3-web

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

VISIONS OF NEW ORLEANS, MADE REAL (Part One): KRIS TOKARSKI, TIM LAUGHLIN, and HAL SMITH at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 31, 2016)

At the 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival, I didn’t see the double rainbows that were so magnificent at the 2014 celebration — but they were musically evident whenever the Kris Tokarski Trio took the stage.

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

The extent of my devotion to this group was evident to anyone who saw me following them around, a happy man, breathing hard because of the altitude and the excitement in equal measure, with video camera and tripod.  They played eight sets; I caught seven.

The Trio is Kris Tokarski, piano; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Hal Smith, drums. It’s a trio that balances deep seriousness and lighter-than-air play.  Its music is tangible but translucent: you hear the whole but admire the individual voices twining together.  Think of Casals, Thibaud, Cortot.  Simeon, James P., and Pops Foster.  Benny, Teddy, and Dave Tough.  Singing lyricism, floating swing.

And they did the thing I prize most, which is to honor the tradition by being themselves.  Heaven knows each of these players knows the clearly-delineated tradition — on records, in performance with other musicians, studying the Masters in person — but they know (to quote Emerson) that imitation is suicide and (to quote Lester) you must go for yourself.

I was telling a friend about a favorite Roddy Doyle novel, THE VAN, about two Irish friends who open a mobile fish-and-chips business, and their proud slogan is “Today’s chips today,” which is what I think of when I hear these performances: nothing warmed up under heat lamps, nothing stale.  Music that’s truly alive in now.

Here is the first half of this Trios’s closing set of the Festival (I am working backwards), recorded in a church with wonderful acoustics.  Kris chose to make this set a New Orleanian one, with gracious hot results.

JAZZ ME BLUES (for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, then Bix, then the Bobcats and Condon and and and:

SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (no doubt a Morton tune, and I come from the school that places a comma in the middle; it makes better dramatic sense):

THAT DA DA STRAIN, from Mamie Smith onwards to us in 2016:

BOGALUSA STRUT, a nod to the Sam Morgan ensemble:

What wonderful music.  You can bet there will be more.

May your happiness increase!

LOUIS’ VICTORIAN ERA

No, not the steely Queen or Julia Cameron’s photographs.  This man.

LOUIS and ALPHA and dog

Some people celebrated yesterday (August 4) as Louis Armstrong’s “real” birthday.  I disagree, but choose to stay away from such disputes.  To me, every day we can think about or hear or see Louis is a collective cosmic birthday.

People who are drawn to Louis — magnetically, but his spiritual warmth — often gravitate to particular periods: the Hot Fives and Sevens, the later period — whether you define that as JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES, WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR, or WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.  Thanks to Gosta Hagglof, Ricky Riccardi, Dan Morgenstern, and Mosaic Records, we’ve had the opportunity to rediscover the Decca classics of the Thirties and the All-Star gems.

But there’s a particularly rewarding period of Louis’ recordings that has been almost overlooked — the Victors of 1932-33.  Those who live to find fault have found plenty with the backing band — although they are at worst uneven, with beautiful solo episodes from Keg Johnson, Teddy Wilson, Budd Johnson, and the earliest recorded evidence of Louis and Sidney Catlett working together in deep harmony.  If one drops one’s prejudices, the material is also excellent — songs by Fats Waller, Tony Jackson, and the immortal Harry Woods.

And Louis is in spectacular form, playing the melody with all his heart, singing earnestly (and often with delightful floating levity), and improvising so very memorably.  Listen to what he does on the middle-eight / bridges / channels, as if he had decided earthly boundaries didn’t matter, and he could just lie back in the upper atmosphere no matter how fast the band was playing.  Some contemporary brass players — I think of Rex Stewart — took it as a stylistic point of honor to play more notes per bar as the tempo increased; Louis lazed over the pounding rhythms, as if he were a giant cat awaking from a splendid nap.

Spousal commitment of the highest order:

Friends don’t pass you by:

Revenge, served hot yet sweet:

May your happiness increase!

THE ARTS OF MELODY: CONNIE JONES, TIM LAUGHLIN, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 29, 2014)

TIM CONNIE large

There is an art to playing melody so that it soars, so that the performer, the notes, and what we sense of the composer’s mood and intentions are all one, as if the performer was subtly lifting the melody upwards so that we could admire it as we had never been able to before.

There’s the equally subtle art of melodic embellishment: improvising around and through that melody to make it shine more brightly without obscuring it.

Bobby Hackett, who not only knew these arts but embodied them, said after hearing Louis Armstrong, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come so alive?”

And Goethe wrote of “thou holy art,” though he never made it to a jazz festival.

Here is a gloriously eloquent example of melody-making by a group of masters: Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, performing at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 29, 2014.  The text they chose is Hoagy Carmichael’s plaintive NEW ORLEANS:

What marvels.  It takes lifetimes to learn how to do this, and then a quiet determination to be able to do it in public, courageously and with love.

And — as a postscript — if you’ve never heard the FAREWELL BLUES to which Tim refers (it preceded this performance) it would be cruel to deny you this rocking, melodic pleasure:

May your happiness increase!

HE’S A HERO OF MINE

Who’s that?  Why, the pianist, arranger, and occasional singer Mark Shane.

SHANE

I’d heard Mark on records and bootleg concert tapes going back to the late Eighties, but didn’t get to meet him until 2004.  And I was astonished.  He’s quiet; he doesn’t rely on volume or pyrotechnics, but he swings beautifully.  (He is A Stride Monster, but it’s not his only claim to our hearts.)  His playing is thoughtful, delicate, without being stiff or effete.  Right now, you are most likely to hear Mark as pianist and musical director for that force of nature, Catherine Russell.

But I thought a few minutes of Shane-beauty would help us keep perspective in these troubled times.

Here he is at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party, lovingly making his way through BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL, a hymn of praise and grief for Herschel Evans:

And, a year later, Mark’s stylish romp on MOONGLOW — always melodic, ticking away like a swing clock, with beautiful voicings and subtly varied embellishments:

Please notice how much the musicians onstage (Messrs. Chirillo, Weatherly, and Dorn) are appreciating it as well.  That says a great deal.

Here’s Mark with Tal Ronen and Dan Block — thinking about Fats and his Rhythm — playing YACHT CLUB SWING:

and another salute to gorgeous melody, Mark and Terry Blaine performing SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON in 2015:

“Don’t be shy,” says Terry.  And I’m not shy about my absolute admiration for Mister Shane.  Here is his website, where you can hear and learn more from this master.

May your happiness increase!

THE SPECIAL FOR TODAY (AND FOREVERMORE)

What’s for dinner?

fish-supper-1738204

or, in another guise:

FISH FOR SUPPER 78

Notice the composer credits: drummer Jack Parker and trumpeter Joe Guy, who has gained deep posthumous fame for being married to Billie Holiday for a brief period.

But we’re here to have some music.  Music about food.  What could be better?

The YouTube algorithm has linked this performance to Ben Webster and Sonny Rollins, but such things are mere trifles.  Some listeners may move to dismiss this as a mere novelty, looking forward to rhythm and blues performances of thin material.  But if we can resist the urge to categorize and condescend, it’s audible that this little band swings more — vocally at the start — than many more famous ensembles do in their highest gear.

The song was first recorded in 1941 by Al Cooper’s Savoy Sultans — a recording I’ve  not heard.  This performance (one take only) is led by Hot Lips Page, whose delighted spirit is audible throughout: Lips, trumpet and vocal; Earl Bostic, Butch Hammond, alto saxophone; Don Byas, tenor saxophone; Clyde Hart, piano; Al Lucas, string bass; Jack Parker, drums:  September 29, 1944.

Now for eight bars of name-dropping.  Circa 1974, several friends and I were invited to visit Ruby Braff at his Riverdale apartment.  When I’m invited to a new place, I often look at the bookshelves and record collection.  Ruby had several dozen of the then new Chiaroscuro recording — live at the New School — of the quartet he and George Barnes led.  Leaning at an angle to the lowest bookshelf was an unsleeved copy of FISH FOR SUPPER on the 78 pictured above.

I am sure that Ruby admired the sound of that little band, the frolicsome energy of Lips Page.  Or perhaps he warmed to the poetry: “We ain’t got no menu / But our fish will send you,” worthy of Robert Frost at his best.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN THREE TIMES FOUR EQUALS PERFECT: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BLOCK, JAMES DAPOGNY, NICKI PARROTT in CLEVELAND (September 12, 2015)

KELLSO

The delicious music that follows is thanks to Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, reeds; James Dapogny, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass.

BLOCK

It was recorded on September 12, 2015, at the Allegheny Jazz Party — now the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  (Prudent jazz types among us will want to know that this year’s party is happening from Sept. 15-18, 2016.)

marty_grosz_and_his_hot_puppies

I have a special fondness for small jazz groups that don’t follow anyone’s idea of “standard instrumentation,” which is often trumpet / trombone / clarinet / piano / string bass / drums — or other familiar permutations.   This is one of the happiest examples of quiet unorthodoxy.  I didn’t miss a trombone or a set of drums.

PARROTT

The warm videos that follow are thanks to Laura Wyman of Wyman Video. Together — sound and picture, invention and accuracy — they seem just perfect to me, and I hope to you, with some of the sweet joy and majesty I’d associate with a Ruby Braff group.

LAURA WYMAN w camera

“Something’s happening every minute,” a friend said while observing this band in action, and that was both correct and an understatement.

Here are the three leisurely performances, full of individual glory and ensemble cooperation — swing synergy at its best.  Instant classics, I think.

RUSSIAN LULLABY:

ON THE ALAMO:

WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

I attended this delightful jazz weekend (I’ve been a regular since September 2004) and those of you who have seen me from the back will notice that I am sitting center — or left of center, which suits me better.  The back of my head gleams; the little rectangle of my camera’s viewfinder gleams even more.

Why, then, aren’t you watching my videos?  Did an accident happen to my camera?  Did it fall into the salad (as it once did) or did I drop it?

No, Laura’s videos are much better than mine — especially in the sound, which is what counts — so I present them with friendly pride and pleasure.  (All of this has been verified through independent studies done at major universities.)

And I suggest to you that if you are in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area — or even if you aren’t — and you need first-rate videography, make a straight line to Wyman Video for truly superb work.  She doesn’t limit herself to jazz concerts, but has done remarkable documenting dance recitals, family gatherings, and other happy occasions.  I don’t think she does funerals, and she leaves divorce-case surveillance to others . . . but anything else you can think of she can accomplish.

And if it’s music you’r after, music that will remind you of life’s high-toned joys, I’ll see you at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party where such marvels blossom as easily as inhaling and exhaling.

May your happiness increase!