Category Archives: Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!


IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

A little poem: She / and they / just blew me away.

I’m speaking of Ida Blue’s recent appearance at Joe’s Pub, which was a phenomenon rather like the Aurora Borealis as redesigned by Robert Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and a dozen others.  With Ida at the helm: she is not simply someone who is producing microwave renditions of old records.

And then there was the band: Kevin Dorn, driving it all with subtlety and ferocity mixed, drums; John Gill, National steel resonator guitar, played as only he can; three reed virtuosi: Dan Block, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor sax; Jay Rattman, bass sax.  Dan Block said of this band, after the fact, “We were like three 747’s!” — no collisions, but much delightful polyphony and energy.  Here’s what I wrote about the evening when it happened.

And here are the first six songs Ida and the band performed that rocking evening, in case you missed the earlier posting.

Now, for those who have been patiently or eagerly waiting (or both), more. Seven more, making lucky thirteen.

Pigmeat Terry’s BLACK SHEEP BLUES:



Victoria Spivey’s IT’S EVIL HEARTED ME:


Sister Wynona Carr’s touching I’M A PILGRIM TRAVELER (for me, one of the evening’s most memorable performances — very tender and candid.  We are all pilgrim travelers):

Robert Johnson’s 32-20 BLUES:

Now, let’s assume you’ve enjoyed this dazzling show — albeit through my video camera — for free.  How could you repay and support these musicians?  One way would be to actually attend some live music in your neighborhood, which doesn’t have to be New York.  You could also keep track of Ida Blue and friends here or here or show your love here.  I know I provide music free for those miles away from it . . . but a group of people sitting in front of their computers and doing nothing else in the way of active support will mean that this art form has a harder time.  End of sermon.

May your happiness increase!


Manhattnites think theirs is the jazz borough: Harlem, Fifty-Second Street, the Village.  Sorry, but no.  It’s Queens, home to Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Bix Beiderbecke, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Clarence Williams, Count Basie, Milt Hinton, Bobby  Hackett, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Heath, Roy Eldridge, Clark Terry, Benny Goodman, John Coltrane, Lester Young, Ben Webster . . .


And the jazz glories of this borough aren’t only historical (read: dusty).  Dennis Lichtman proved that vividly in his concert — with his Queensboro Six — at the Louis Armstrong House Museum (34-56 107th St, Corona, Queens, by the way) on August 29, 2015.  The band was Dennic, clarinet, compositions, arrangements; Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Nathan Peck, string bass; Dalton Ridenhour, keyboard; Rob Garcia, drums; Terry Wilson, vocal, with guest stars Ed Polcer, cornet; Tamar Korn, vocal.  And there were luminaries not on the bandstand: Michael Cogswell and Ricky Riccardi, Brynn White, Cynthia Sayer, Jerome Raim, among others.

Here‘s the first half of the concert for those who missed my posting.  And now the second.  Dennis explains it all, so watch, listen, and savor.




I CRIED FOR YOU (vocal Terry Wilson):

BLACK AND BLUE (vocal Terry):



WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO (add Terry WIlson, Ed Polcer, Tamar Korn):

May your happiness increase!


BEN in color

Imagine a sound that conveys love to the listener without a single syllable. Then, look at this man, who — by his physical aspect — might seem an unlikely prophet of such deep feeling.


He is Ben Webster, Ellingtonian, swing star, ballad player supreme.  You can find out about him in many ways, and I don’t intend to write his biography here, or even an appreciation.  But I will share a small story.

Last night I was on a plane from New Orleans to New York, where I had enjoyed a glorious weekend of friends, music, and food, because of Duke Heitger’s STEAMBOAT STOMP.  (Long may it stomp.)  Seated next to me was a cheerful woman perhaps in her forties, travelling with her husband and son in the row behind us; I asked if she wanted one of them to switch with me, but she didn’t.)

Planes are claustrophic and air travel is tedious, so in the past decade when I’ve been flying more often than ever before, I’ve drifted into conversations with the stranger sitting next to me.  I usually don’t start the conversation, but once it begins it is often surprisingly deep and open.  My theory about this is that in the dark confines of the plane, somehow untethered to the earth and all that’s familiar, we feel safe to tell others our secrets.  The plane becomes a flying confessional, with no penance and no expectation that the conversation will continue once we land.  The woman and I spoke of colleges, of education, of jobs, of modern life — all familiar territory — and then she said her son played the saxophone, currently the alto, but might be switching to tenor.

“OK,” I said, “I have a name for you.  [She took out her iPhone and went to the page for notes.]  BEN WEBSTER.  Ben Webster With Strings.  Imagine a huge warm sound.  In fact, imagine being in the warm embrace of a huge stuffed bear. That’s what those records sound like.”

[For the jazz-fetishists out there, I do know that Ben’s nickname was FROG and that BEAR was the satiric monicker for Jimmie Blanton, who might have weighed a hundred pounds, but somehow I thought explaining Ben’s sound as the loving embrace of an amphibian might not be so effective.]

This morning, as I awoke from a dream of dear friends and a bowl of shrimp with grits — the food the down-home angels eat — I thought, “I would bet that some people who read JAZZ LIVES have never heard Ben Webster with strings. Inconceivable!  Impossible!”  So this post is to send Websterian love all around. The original recording (as you will see) was called MUSIC FOR LOVING, and never was a title more apt:

May your happiness increase! 



alarm clock

For all those people lamenting the end of the long weekend, who will be complaining when the alarm goes off and they have to resume their lives as adults, here is a more cheerful ditty — circa 1933, words and music by Herman Hupfeld, performed here by Marty Grosz and the Hot Winds in 2009 (Dan Block, Scott Robinson, Vince Giordano, Rob Garcia) for Arbors Records:

I confess that my favorite recording of this optimistic ditty is the one featuring Red McKenzie with Adrian Rollini’s Orchestra . . . and that I pestered Marty to record his own version, since he and I share an obsession with Mr. McKenzie. But the Rollini version is not on YouTube, although it is on a beautiful Jazz Oracle double-CD set devoted to Adrian.

Here is the source — an excerpt from a 1933 film, MOONLIGHT AND PRETZELS (two of my favorite things) with a good deal of Busby-Berkley-esque waving of attractive bodies and body parts [choreography by William Miller], then a positively stimulating rendition of “Are You Makin’ Any Money?” by Lillian Miles.  That second question is directly relevant to the going-to-work scenario I’ve chosen to describe:

For more about MOONLIGHT AND PRETZELS, visit this entrancing site devoted to pre-Code films, also the source for the film poster:


I hope that all of you who want jobs have them, that you are treated nicely, that the work suits you — that even after you shut off that obscene noise in the darkness, you are OK with going to a place where they give you some money for doing some thing.

May your happiness increase!


For about seventy-five minutes last night, Ida Blue showed great passionate artistry once again.  The occasion was her evening of blues — riotous, carnal, spiritual, hushed — performed at Joe’s Pub:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub cover

and here’s Ben Guthrie’s photograph of the Blues Debut as it was actually happening:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub Ben Guthrie

Usually, when I attend a music event that I plan to write about, I make notes. You may have seen me writing: song titles, distinctive things that happened during a particular performance, my own critical shorthand of checks and question marks, of YES, NO, and WOW.

My notes from last night are a delighted mess, because I was having such a wildly good time that the idea of leaning forward attentively to catch when Ida identified the song title and the famous blues performer it was associated with soon became an idea whose time had not come.  Early on in the evening, I gave up the idea of being the careful archivist.  Instead I chose to write down phrases that struck my fancy — from the lyrics and from Ida’s interchanges with her audience.

I can tell you this: the exuberant young woman — The Lady in Red — who took the stage and told us all that she was sweating (out of emotional enthusiasm, for it wasn’t necessarily warm in Joe’s Pub) won us over time after time.  As did her band: a glorious quintet, the likes of which I’d never seen together: Kevin Dorn, drums; John Gill, National guitar; Dan Block, bass clarinet / baritone saxophone; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / tenor saxophone.  That band rocked.  And it wasn’t a matter of volume or bar-walking. Rather, each of the musicians showed the finest subtlety — as soloist, and even more as an essential part of an ensemble, organically shape-shifting as the mood struck them.  So the saxophones hummed behind Ida or a guitar solo, or they took solos, or there were gloriously happy dialogues between two and three, phrases traded — in the best New Orleans / Memphis / New York City traditions, traditions being created on the spot in Joe’s Pub.

For her part, Ida was having a wonderful time and shared her joys with us.  No matter what she was singing — songs associated with Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, Victoria Spivey — her delight came through even when the lyrics were grim.  (That’s what I think of as the Basie paradox: “Look! I’m having such a good time playing these sad, dark blues!  I can’t believe how good this misery makes me feel!”)

Ida’s voice was entirely at her command, and her improvisatory courage utterly commanded the audience.  She sang lyrics with the force of a cornet; growled and moaned, even offering a cantorial cadenza.  Sometimes she sounded on the edge of tears; sometimes she boldly told us something naughty with a great wink. Some lines, although the words weren’t necessarily funny in themselves, became small comedies; other times, she resorted to her own stutter-phrasing, repeating a word or a syllable five or six times for emphasis (as if Kevin was hitting the snare with pistol-shot force).

And, as always, she was in motion.  Hands held high above her head; dancing as wildly as she could on the small stage; ruffling her hair violently; grinning, laughing, having herself a fine time.  She looked out into the audience, saying with great pleasure, “I KNOW you!  I KNOW you too!” She wished her friend Sunny (of Sunny’s Bar in Brooklyn) a happy eighty-first birthday, and asked us all to raise our glasses.  We could refuse her nothing, and we followed suit.  She kicked off each song at a particularly groovy tempo, and although the repertoire was primarily twelve-bar blues, one song did not feel like its predecessor.

Although the mood was often lovelorn, Ida performed a few blues hymns — I’M A PILGRIM TRAVELER (which has “I’ll make it if He holds my hand” as a particularly moving affirmation).  And when she sang “It keeps me singing in my soul,” I felt as if she’d made 425 Lafayette Street into a pop-up revival meeting.

To give you a flavor of the evening, here are a few phrases from assorted lyrics:

I got those itty-bitty legs!

When you see me comin’, pull down your window blind.

Some cold rainy day.

Lord  have mercy on me.

I took his last nickel.


My man’s done evil, and I’ve done evil too.

Buy me a shotgun.

I’m going to shoot my pistol.

Where did you stay last night?

I could make a case that all human experience could be encapsulated in those words — and others — that Ida delivered with such fervent honesty last night.

After the show, when photographer Ben Guthrie and I were standing outside the Public Theater, I said to Ben — fully aware that it was both the truth and a terrible cliche, “When PBS comes around, if we’re still here, we’ll be able to say, ‘We saw her when . . . ‘”

Some ecstatic evening, it was.

May your happiness increase!


When I heard that Joel Press, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass, were going to be playing a late-evening session at one of the two jazz shrines of West Tenth Street, Mezzrow, I got down there early to soak it all in — poems in music from three great lyrical poets.

Here are some highlights, and I do not use that word lightly.

Joel, Michael, and Neal tell us, without words, that melody matters, that the old songs are memorable, and that one can sing beautifully through one’s instrument in a community of friends.







Another assortment of beauties to come in the near future.  The hymn BRIGHTEN THE CORNER WHERE YOU ARE speaks to our responsibility to do good, to be loving — at a moment’s notice — no matter how secular the surroundings.  Mezzrow, seen through the constricting lens of my camera, might be dark, but the music is touchingly bright.

May your happiness increase!


Marty Elkins hat

Marty Elkins is one of my favorite singers.  If you know her work, you’ll understand why.  If she’s new to you, prepare to be entranced:

For one thing, she swings without calling attention to it.  Nothing in her style is written in capital letters; she doesn’t dramatize.  But the feeling she brings to each song comes through immediately.  Her voice is pleasing in itself and she glides along next to the song, not trying to obliterate it so that we can admire her and her alone.  And that voice is not an artifice — a mask she assumes to sing — it comes from her deepest self, whether she is being cheerful or permitting that little cry to come out.  I think her approach to the songs on this CD is a beautifully mature one: not the shallow cheer of someone who’s not lived . . . nor the bleakness of the world-weary.  I hear in Marty’s voice a kind of realistic optimism, a faith in the universe that also knows melancholy is possible.  Gaze at the sky in blissful wonder but look out for that cab while crossing the street.

I know that such art is not easily mastered . . . ask any singer whether it’s simply a matter of memorizing the notes and the words and standing up in front of the microphone — but Marty quietly has something to tell us, and we feel what she feels.  Direct subtle transmission!

And she improvises.  Her third chorus on any performance is not simply a repetition of the second.  She doesn’t obliterate the composer or the lyricist; rather she makes friends with the song and — as if she were a great designer — considers the approach that would show it off most truly.

I shelve my CDs alphabetically — so to the left of ELKINS there is ELDRIDGE, to the right ELLINGTON.  Fast company, but neither Roy nor Duke has protested; in fact, were they booking gigs at the moment, Marty would be getting calls.  But my ELKINS holdings have been — although choice — small in scope.  Two CDs, to be precise: FUSE BLUES (Nagel-Heyer 062) finds her with Herb Pomeroy, Houston Person, Tardo Hammer, Greg Staff, Dennis Irwin, Mark Taylor.  (The provocative title is Marty’s own blues which has a great deal to do with the ministrations offered by her electrician.)  IN ANOTHER LIFE (Nagel-Heyer 114), a duo-recital for Marty and Dave McKenna, is just gorgeous. Here‘s what I wrote about IN ANOTHER LIFE when it was released — not just about the CD, but about Marty’s beautiful singing.

So it’s delightful news that Marty has released her third CD, WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER (Nagel-Heyer 119), and it is a treat.


Marty isn’t a Diva or someone who demands to be a Star.  When I’ve seen her in performance — sitting in or on her own gig — she is on equal, friendly terms with the instrumentalists, never demanding the spotlight.  But quietly, subversively, her voice finds a place in our hearts: it is the closest thing to having someone you’re fond of whisper something pleasing in your ear.  And it’s not just me, or my ear.  Marty has things to tell us about love, about pleasure, about sadness.  Many of the songs on this CD are familiar — but they take on new depth and feeling when she sings them.  And Marty has a real feeling for the blues, so her offerings seem authentic rather than learned . . . with bluesy turns of phrase that are warm surprises in standard 32-bar songs.

Marty has consistently good musical taste.  Her band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Howard Alden, guitar; Steve Ash, piano; Joel Diamond, Hammond C3, Lee Hudson, string bass; Taro Okamoto, drums.  This small group is priceless in itself — intense yet relaxed, with a light-hearted Basie feel on some numbers, a gritty soulful drive on others.  But — with all respect to these musicians — I am always happy on a track when the band plays and Ms. Elkins returns for another chorus.  She’s their equal in keeping our attention.

Her songs: IF I COULD BE WITH YOU /  RUNNIN’ WILD / IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? / GARBAGE CAN  BLUES / WHEN MY SUGAR WALKS DOWN THE STREET / DON’T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYIN’ / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / DOWN TO STEAMBOAT TENNESSEE / COMES LOVE / ILL WIND / I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME / BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA / WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER.  Song historians will note some nods to Lee Wiley, Una Mae Carlisle, and of course Billie.  But this is living music, not a repertory project, thank goodness.

Marty, thank you!  Now — let’s have a regular gig for this remarkable singer?

I just found out that the CD  will officially be out in September, which is nearly here.  You can check out Marty’s website, or find Marty at her regular Thursday-night gig Cenzino Restaurant in Oakland, New Jersey, where she performs with Bob Wylde, guitar, and Mike Richmond, string bass.

May your happiness increase!