Category Archives: Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

ALWAYS HOT AND SWEET: ARNT ARNTZEN, DANNY TOBIAS, VINCE GIORDANO at GIOVANNI’S BROOKLYN EATS (October 24, 2021)

From left: Danny Tobias, trumpet; Vince Giordano, string bass, bass saxophone, vocal; Arnt Arntzen, banjo, vocal. Giovanni’s Brooklyn Eats, 1657 8th Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. Sunday, October 24, 2021. Juniperus communis, at center, said only, “I want to plant myself close to the music.”

Last Sunday was my second visit to Giovanni’s — reachable from the F train — and I had a wonderful time. I know the three luminaries above, and so I was encouraged to set up my camera and I was able, through decades of experience, to eat and film at the same time without my camera descending into the soup or pasta. (By the way, the food is excellent, and I am fussy.)

The band played three sets from noon to 3, with jazz classics, Berlin, Carmichael, Waller, Shelton Brooks, and more: a hugely entertaining trio. Passers-by danced on the sidewalk; people applauded, and money was placed in the tip jar, which all combined to suggest that Western civilization is not moving into the abyss in fourth gear.

I have only one performance to share with you at the moment, but there will be more.

It was the first tune of the afternoon, and I was slightly unready, so the camera sniffs around before it finds the best spot, but I am so charmed by this rendition of Irving Berlin’s ALWAYS that I wouldn’t want a second take.

Arnt is a very discerning banjoist — no flash and smash for him — a “one-man rhythm gang,” and a sweet candid elegant singer. If you don’t know the excellence of Vince Giordano, on display in so many ways for a number of years, I have to ask (in the words of Cole Porter) “Where have you been?” with the emphasis on the second word. He drives any band with his gleaming aluminum string bass; he is Rollini-eloquent on the bass saxophone, and a fine swinging singer. (Incidentally, the Nighthawks have been performing for several Monday and Tuesday nights at Bond 45, so you now have a place to go to for Vince’s full orchestra, which has been greatly missed.) Danny is a brassman other trumpet players praise for his direct melodic lyricism: quite a band!

ALWAYS. And here, children, comes the lesson. Establishments like Giovanni’s employ live musicians because they know (and hope) that music played by human beings will attract people to come and dine and spend money, thus allowing the restaurant to continue, to pay its bills, its staff, its vendors. Business, and nothing shameful about it. (I commend them: it would be so much easier to NOT employ human beings who make music.) In doing so, however, they send joy into the air. Even the people at the next table who seemed to pay no attention to the music knew in some visceral way that their eggs Benedict tasted better because of the genuine soundtrack. And they give the musicians we love funding and employment.

I trust you can see where this is heading. I write to the people who live near someplace where live music is played, who can spend money for their morning coffee, their croissant, or the like.

I think, perhaps immodestly, that in creating and posting these videos I am doing a service to the music and the musicians. (I also put money in the tip jar and I buy food and drink at any establishment I frequent.) Your watching the video is spiritually lovely; you receive the good spiritual vibrations the musicians create and transmit.

But merely watching the videos at home and never actively supporting the establishments that feature live music does little for the economic realities of the situation described above.

I do not call for moral self-flagellation if you can’t get out of the house or you can’t afford to pay for a jazz brunch: some dear friends fall into this category. But I see so few self-defined “jazz fans” actively supporting the music by their presence on a regular basis.

YouTube and Spotify do nothing for the artists. And, for better or worse, buying a CD or paying for a digital download of your departed hero does nothing for living artists who are trying to stay solvent. When some “fans” ask mournfully, “How come there’s no live jazz at X’s anymore?” the answer will be found by looking in the medicine-chest mirror. I understand “I hope to get to New York City sometime soon,” as a reality, but it doesn’t help any musician pay her rent. As Greely Walton always used to say, “You can’t drive the car if you don’t fill the tank.”

I know, I get carried away, but ask any musician if this is true. You may go now.

May your happiness increase!

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

Dan Morgenstern’s birthday celebration is too large to be contained in one twenty-four hour period, so this is the third day of posting interviews he did in front of my camera. I present this small tasting menu to remind people of Dan’s even-handed expansiveness: other jazz writers range across styles and decades, but few do it with the comfort and empathy he shows. And his first-hand experiences with his and our heroes are priceless.

How about Coleman Hawkins and Jack Purvis?

and Pops Foster?

and Sidney Catlett?

and Miles Davis, too:

Miles as friend and neighbor:

and it always comes back to Louis:

My informants in the Jazz Under-and-Overworld tell me that this Wednesday, at 5 PM (doors open at 4) David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band will be paying loving tribute to Dan, who will be there (we hope!) at Birdland, in New York City. Birdland does not allow impromptu videography, so I hope you can join us. Or if you are far away, Dan is on Facebook and I am sure he could endure some more congratulations and greetings.

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!

MAGNIFICENCE: TOM BAKER PLAYS “WEST END BLUES” with MICHAEL SUPNICK, EVAN CHRISTOPHER, CHRIS HOPKINS, MARTIN WHEATLEY, TREVOR RICHARDS (Ascona, July 4, 2000)

There isn’t much that needs to be said about this performance of WEST END BLUES except to say that it is gorgeous — impassioned and exact — and that we miss Tom Baker, who did so many things superbly. Tom’s on cornet; Michael Supnick, trombone; Evan Christopher, clarinet; Chris Hopkins, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Trevor Richards, drums, and this resounding piece of music was preserved by us through the sainted efforts of my friend and hero Enrico Borsetti:

Tom left the scene in 2001. Born in 1952. What a loss. But thank goodness for the heroes in this video who are, as we say, keepin’ on.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR MAN DAN MORGENSTERN, 92!

Happy 92nd birthday, Eminent Dan Morgenstern, friend of Louis, George Wein, Hot Lips Page, two hundred others, and deep friend of the music. I’ve been privileged to bring my camera to Dan’s Upper West Side apartment and stand back while the magic — insights, memories, stories, and affection — unfolds. Here are a few of his conversations about his and our heroes, with more to come.

Lester Willis Young:

Lester, George Holmes Tate, and Eugene Ramey:

Stanley Getz:

Bernard Rich:

I will share a few others tomorrow — names you will recognize — and also some interviews you haven’t tuned in on yet.

May your happiness increase!

TREASURES FROM THE FRENCH QUARTER FEST, NEW ORLEANS: CHRIS TYLE, STEVE PISTORIUS, HAL SMITH, JACQUES GAUTHE, SCOTT BLACK, JOHN ROYEN, TOM EBERT, TOM SAUNDERS, AMY SHARP, JAMES SINGLETON, CLAUDE LUTER (April 7 and 9, 1989)

Thanks to Chris Tyle, master of so many instruments and generous archivist, we have some new treasures — old music played with style, grace, and energy — thanks to an unknown videographer. They are “live unedited,” but the videographer (perhaps shooting from a balcony?) did a wonderful job. There are so many individual definitions of “the real thing,” but these videos capture what I think of as irreplaceable genuine stomping music. Chris’ YouTube channel, “Godfrey Daniels”, has more marvels and more are promised.

Steve Pistorius and his Mahogany Hall Stompers: Steve Pistorius, leader, piano, vocals; Scott Black, Chris Tyle, cornets, vocal; Jacques Gauthe, clarinet/soprano sax; Hal Smith, drums. (In the mystery that is WordPress, I can’t give Monsieur Gauthe his name’s proper accent: I apologize.) CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME / HEEBIE JEEBIES / MOULIN A CAFE:

Jacques Gauthe and his Creole Rice Jazz Band: Jacques Gauthe, leader, clarinet, soprano sax; Chris Tyle, Scott Black, cornets; Tom Ebert, trombone; John Royen, piano; Amy Sharp, banjo; Tom Saunders, sousaphone; Hal Smith, drums. Special guest on some numbers: Claude Luter, soprano sax. YERBA BUENA STRUT / DOIN’ THE HAMBONE / JAZZIN’ BABIES BLUES / EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY / KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (incomplete):

Hal Smith’s Frisco Syncopators: Hal Smith, leader, drums; Chris Tyle, cornet; Jacques Gauthe, clarinet, soprano sax; David Sager, trombone; Amy Sharp, banjo; Steve Pistorius, piano, vocal; James Singleton, string bass. DALLAS BLUES / CLARINET MARMALADE / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? (incomplete):

continued, with HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO (concluded) / WEARY BLUES / introducing the band / PRETTY BABY / SOUTH / SAN (incomplete) //

What treasures! And let no one ever say that “the old songs” don’t have life in them. They just need expert jazz physicians — see above — to do loving resuscitations.

May your happiness increase!

A CONTROLLED BLAZE: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, PAUL BOLLENBACK, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, September 21, 2021)

Art is all about passion: think of the great soprano arias, whether Puccini or Bechet; think of Louis or Bird — the heart on fire, so full of feelings to be shared with us. But there’s the counterbalance: passion without control might be noise. Anyone who’s tried to play or sing — seriously — knows how much exactitude is required to create the notes, the phrases, the pauses, that create that drama that didn’t exist five minutes before.

Gabrielle Stravelli and the instrumentalists surrounding her on the early-evening performances at Swing 46 not only know these truths but embody them: call it passion and control, abandonment and discipline: here are three soulful examples by Gabrielle, Dan Block, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Paul Bollenback, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

I WALK A LITTLE FASTER (Cy Coleman – Carolyn Leigh):

BORN TO BE BLUE (Mel Torme – Robert Wells):

BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH (Oscar Levant – Edward Heyman):

The closing notes of BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH say it all.

Gabrielle and her friends (most often the irreplaceable pianist Michael Kanan) have gigs all over town (hooray!) and you can find out more here or here. Even in the ruckus that is West 46th Street, sirens and chatter at no charge, their art aims straight at us. And sticks.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN AND OFTEN DOES: The EarRegulars All-Star Ad Hoc Big Band and Brass Conference (The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City): JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, BILL ALLRED, PAT O’LEARY, GORDON AU, JOHN ALLRED, HARVEY TIBBS, STEVE BLEIFUSS, JOAN CODINA, ADAM MOEZINIA (Sunday, October 17, 2021)

Sunday afternoon, slightly autumnal but bright. The EarRegulars began as Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Bill Allred, trombone; Pat O’Leary, string bass. But we knew that other trombones were spotted — loyal friends and EarRegulars themselves, John Allred and Harvey Tibbs.

Jon-Erik, Bill, Matt, and Pat started things off with MARGIE, EXACTLY LIKE YOU, and WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING (the last for friends of Jon-Erik’s in the crowd, folks from the Allen Park, Michigan hood, with connections to the marching band). Then, Jon-Erik invited John Allred to join in — a family affair:

This quintet romped through ALWAYS, YES SIR, THAT’S MY BABY, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, a magnificently expansive PANAMA (twelve minutes long) and went back to its original quartet for a closing STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE. In the photograph above, Jon-Erik might be taking a breath, but you see his pleasure on his face.

An intermission followed: conversation, food and drink, old friends and new ones.

A quartet version of I MAY BE WRONG included an apocalyptic ambulance siren: the siren was medically necessary but aesthetically wrong, and the band took it in stride. After that, an unscripted SPRING STREET BLUES.

Then, one of the great features of these gatherings, which date back to 2007, where the original quartet welcomed a proliferation of friends and guests — rather like putting the extra leaf in the dining room table to have many people to dinner, even if no one was expecting them.

Jon-Erik invited Adam Moezinia, guitar; John Allred; Harvey Tibbs, Joan Codina, and Steve Bleifuss, making a five-person trombone choir — for an easy ROSETTA (in F). The more, the merrier: Gordon Au, trumpet, joined the delightful ensemble for this happy marvel, PERDIDO (what else?) with the appropriate riffs. Photographic evidence:

Audio-visual evidence. Please note the characteristic blend of ease and intensity, the fact that everyone knows the way there and back, and the hilariously wonderful final bridge, neither immoral nor atonal, but consciously “out there,” for dramatic effect:

At the conclusion, I wasn’t standing because my tripod is in the way, but I certainly felt like cheering. What happened was more than an accidental profusion of players: it is a community of expert friends who know the common language and joyously share their craft with us.”

Bless them, every last one of them, and that includes the two who didn’t get to join in on PERDIDO — trumpeter Andrew Stephens and guitarist Lou Salcedo — who joined in for a final UNDECIDED, a joy-fest beyond our expectations. With every note, they bless us.

May your happiness increase!

THEY WANT US TO BE HAPPY, TOO: STEPHANIE TRICK, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, NICKI PARROTT, ENGELBERT WROBEL, BERNARD FLEGAR (Jazz im Rathaus, Westoverledingen, Germany (April 9, 2016)

I’m pleased to share with JAZZ LIVES’ readers (and watchers) a complete set from a few years ago — from only my second trip to Germany. Both times I ventured out of my nest because of the kind urgings of Manfred Selchow, concert producer extraordinaire. Even if you’ve never been to one of Manny’s concerts, perhaps you’ve heard the results as issued on a long series of irreplaceable all-star Nagel-Heyer CDs. He created a weekend of rewarding jazz concerts in “the Town Hall,” which carries with it a wonderful resonance of Louis and Eddie Condon and many others in performance.

And here is a very recent photograph of Manfred and his wife Renate with the wonderful drummer Bernard Flegar:

This little band features Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, piano; Engelbert Wrobel, clarinet and saxophones; Nicki Parrott, string bass and vocal; Bernard Flegar, drums. And the program is so delightfully varied: no one could say these songs are new, but the energy this band brings to them, the cohesive joy, is very special. I’m grateful to the musicians for their for their generous music (and permission to share this set) and to Eric Devine for technical wizardry.

Before we move to the music, a few words. I’m always pleased when jazz fans go beyond their love for “the locals” which can, at worst, become provincialism, to discover worthies who don’t live ten miles away. Nicki, Stephanie and Paolo, and Engelbert (known as “Angel” to his friends and for good reason) all have their enthusiastic constituencies: some of this due to excellent recordings, often on the Arbors Records label, some due to what I would guess are exhausting touring schedules.

But Bernard, who has visited the US but not toured there, might be less well known, and this is a deficiency to be immediately remedied.

He is what the heroes of our jazz past would call someone who kicks the band along — but he is not a noisemaker. Ask Dan Barrett, Allan Vache, Menno Daams, Chris Hopkins, and others and they will tell you how sympathetically he listens, in the grand tradition, how he seamlessly merges what he has studied of the great percussive history into his own sound and approach, and how gloriously he swings.

You’ll hear for yourself, but if you ever begin to lament that the great drummers are gone or aging, explore Bernard’s work as documented on CD and video — and he is now an essential part of a new band, Armstrong’s Ambassadors, also featuring Angel (Matthias Seuffert is in the 2020 video), Colin Dawson, and Sebastien Giradot. (The band name should tell you all you need to know about their affectionate reverence for a certain Mister Strong.)

But let’s go back to 2016 for some elegant hot diversions.

A very Basie-ish BLUE SKIES, featuring Nicki, Paolo, Angel, and Bernard:

Stephanie joins in the fun for HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

A band-within-a-band — Paolo, Nicki, and Angel — for OVER THE RAINBOW:

THE MEN I LOVE, announces Nicki — with happy glances at Paolo, Bernard, and Angel:

and finally, a swing declaration of intent, with everyone playing AMEN — I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

And to move us forward to the present and future, here’s an almost nine-minute sampler of how splendidly the new band, Armstrong’s Ambassadors, pays swinging homage:

Wonderful music from Nicki, Stephanie, Paolo, Angel, and Bernard — all of them still flourishing and expressing themselves so well — and from this new band. Hope springs, doesn’t it?

May your happiness increase!

“WE’VE SPRUNG A LEAK. GET HELP!”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, JAY RATTMAN, TAL RONEN (The Ear Out, June 6, 2021)

When NOLA funk comes to NYC Soho, it’s a wonderful connection of forces.

and

and

If you think I’m being melodramatic in my title, wait for the group vocal on THE BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT, from Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and post-Guinness glass mute; Jay Rattman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. It’s a sad tale of a plumbing problem that could lead to life-threatening dehydration:

I believe that on or before October 31, the EarRegulars, seen above as Out, will go In — reverting to their more familiar Sunday-night performances inside The Ear Inn. Know that these uplifting jazz picnics will become nocturnal soirees as the temperature drops and the days shorten.

And take good care of your bucket. Check it regularly for leaks.

May your happiness increase!

BIX, 1979: THE NEW YORK JAZZ REPERTORY COMPANY at the Grande Parade du Jazz: DICK HYMAN, DICK SUDHALTER, BOB WILBER, SPIEGLE WILLCOX, NORRIS TURNEY, HEYWOOD HENRY, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, GEORGE DUVIVIER, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN (July 10, 1979)

I have a real affection for the recordings and performances of the New York Jazz Repertory Company: a floating all-star ensemble I saw in person in 1974 and 1975, honoring Louis and Bix, among others.

At their best, they were expert, passionate, and evocative — the supporting players were the best studio players / jazz improvisers who could sight-read with elan and then solo eloquently. And they always had the best ancestral guest stars: in the concerts I saw, Ruby Braff, Ray Nance, Vic Dickenson, Taft Jordan, Chauncey Morehouse, Paul Mertz, and Joe Venuti. I can’t leave out the superb guidance and playing of Dick Hyman, whose idiosyncratic brilliance is always a transforming force.

Later in the Seventies, someone, probably George Wein, understood that the NYJRC was a compact, portable way of not only reproducing great performances but in taking jazz history, effectively presented, on the road, to France, the USSR, and elsewhere. Thus they made appearances at festivals and did extensive tours — bringing POTATO HEAD BLUES with Louis’ solo scored for three trumpets, frankly electrifying, as I can testify.

Here they are at the Nice Jazz Festival, making Bix come alive by (with some exceptions) not playing his recorded solos, gloriously. And the rhythm section swings more than on the 1928 OKehs, which would have pleased Bix, who didn’t want to be tied to what he’d played in 1923. Occasionally the “big band” tends to be a fraction of a second behind where one would like it, and Spiegle Willcox uncharacteristically gets lost in a solo . . . but the music shines, especially since this is the joyous evocation of Bix rather than the too-often heard elegies for his short life. My small delight is that someone — Pee Wee Erwin — quotes SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON in the last sixteen bars of AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL. And Dick Sudhalter and Bob Wilber positively gleam throughout.

The collective personnel: Dick Hyman, piano, leader; Dick Sudhalter, cornet, flugelhorn; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Bob Wilber, clarinet, reeds; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Pee Wee Erwin, Ernie Royal, Jimmie Maxwell, trumpet; Budd Johnson, Arnie Lawrence, Norris Turney, Haywood Henry, reeds; Britt Woodman, Eddie Bert, and one other, trombone.

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / DAVENPORT BLUES (Sudhalter, flugelhorn – Hyman) / IN THE DARK (Bucky, Hyman, Duvivier) / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS (Sudhalter, Turney) / IN A MIST (Hyman) / CLEMENTINE (Sudhalter, unid. tbn, Bucky, Hyman / JAZZ ME BLUES (Sudhalter, Spiegle, Wilber, Hyman — playing Bix’s solo) / SWEET SUE (Spiegle, Bucky, Wilber, Sudhalter playing the 1928 solo) / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL //

This televised presentation was designed to show what the NYJRC could “do”: a varied selection of music across decades and styles. I will post another segment, by “The Unobstructed Orchestra,” soon.

Forty-five minutes of the past made completely alive.

May your happiness increase!

Postscript, which could be called ON THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM. A few minutes after I’d posted this, someone I don’t know wrote to comment on YouTube: I offer an edited version: “The great weakness of this re-creation is Z, I am sure he plays all the notes, but somehow it does not work at 100%. L was still a good mainstream player and the rythm section is very adequate, P consistently good.”

I find this irksome, perhaps out of proportion to the size of the offense, and, of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But to make it public, in print, is upsetting to me — as if the commenter had been invited to my house for dinner and, upon being served, told me that my place settings were somehow not up to his standards. I do not like everything I hear, but I think “criticism” of this sort contributes nothing to the discussion, except, perhaps, a buffing of the ego of the commentator, who Knows What’s Good.

I am aware that this is hugely anachronistic, out of place in 2021, but I bridle when my heroes are insulted . . .

“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!

“MY THOUGHTS ARE EVER WENDING HOME”: MARC CAPARONE, JOHN SMITH, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JEFF HAMILTON (August 13, 2013)

Marc Caparone is a hero of mine, someone who balances passion and control in the nicest individualistic ways. Here he is, heading the most quietly illustrious chamber group at his own birthday party: John “Butch” Smith, alto saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And the song — HOME, so identified with Louis, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Thomas — never fails to move me.

Home, you know, is a state of mind more than an address.

I have particular associations with this performance, having heard the Louis versions and the Jack Teagarden Keynote recording perhaps fifty years ago, and knowing the musicians here for more than a decade. Even if the song and the players are new to you, I hope the passion and joy reaches you:

Just beautiful. Here’s hoping you have your metaphysical HOME, or find one soon.

May your happiness increase!

“WE LOVE THEM. MADLY.” GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, October 5, 2021)

When you know, you know. I was at Swing 46 last night to see and hear and applaud Dan Block, alto and tenor saxophones; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass. It threatened to rain all through the gig and the usual street theatre of that block was at its best (come visit and see for yourselves).

In the middle of the second set, Gabrielle called the Ellington LOVE YOU MADLY and they performed it with great enthusiastic beauty . . . at the end of the performance, Gabrielle said exultantly, as if she were Ida Lupino directing a film, “CUT! And PRINT!” looking at me, which I took as the sign of a small miracle, that an artist, completing a performance, is happy with it. I got permission from the other three, so you can enjoy this marvel, hot and fresh:

This wonderful quartet performs every Tuesday from 5:30 to 8:30. I’ve been there every week and have always come away full of joy. They’re loved . . . madly.

May your happiness increase!

“IN SUNNY ROSELAND,” or THE ARTS OF MELODIC EMBELLISHMENT: BARNEY BIGARD, VIC DICKENSON, DICK SUDHALTER, ART HODES, MARTY GROSZ, PLACIDE ADAMS, PANAMA FRANCIS (Nice Jazz Festival, July 22, 1977)

The jazz I grew up listening could be pure harmonic improvisation — Coleman Hawkins was a powerful example — but many of the musicians I idolized then and still do: Louis, Jack, Teddy, Ed Hall, Buck, Bobby, and two hundred others, had such love for the melody, which they had grown up with, that they ornamented and embellished it. They put earrings or a scarf on it, a bold bow tie or a cloak, but you always knew it was there. Hearing one of these embellishers play a solo, you could hum the melody alongside (or underneath) and the two lines would gently trot down the same road — not hand-in-hand, but in the same direction and arriving at the same good place.

Some performances dazzle and amaze me; others warm and embrace me. Here’s a gently leisurely example of the latter kind.

It’s a group trotting happily through ROSE ROOM at the Grande Parade du Jazz: Barney Bigard, clarinet, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Dick Sudhalter, cornet; Art Hodes, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Placide Adams, string bass; Panama Francis, drums.

Some small ruminations, first. ROSE ROOM — in its original 1920 form, a love song — was one of Bigard’s features for years, but it’s pleasing to hear he doesn’t revert to his set solo. Listening to his late work is always a joy for me because age had slowed him down just a touch, so his phrases were more varied, and you listened for his tone. (YouTube commenters, vinegary in their recliners, have been mean-spirited about Barney; I wonder how many of them run at the same speed they did thirty-seven years ago.)

Vic Dickenson fit in anywhere as long as the tempo wasn’t punishingly fast, or the band too loud. He didn’t like backgrounds, one of which appears in his second chorus, but he is playing something so delightful that even Bigard and Sudhalter don’t unsettle him. Somewhere I read that Barney and Buster Bailey were two of Vic’s favorite clarinetists; I wish I could remember the third, but it was a mild surprise. Unlike Barney, Vic retained much of his phrase-making fluidity to the end of his life, but his tones, and I emphasize the plural, were marvels in themselves.

Dick Sudhalter was the new boy in the group, but he plays with wonderful style and variety — not reverting to the Bix-phrases some demanded of him, but being comfortable in a kind of easy Mainstream. I’ve highlighted his photograph because — aside from Placide Adams — I think he in this group is most in danger of being forgotten, and he plays so nobly here.

The rhythm section has the diversity (or oddity?) one finds at festivals, where producers delight in assembling people who don’t play together “to see what happens”: Placide Adams, from New Orleans, might have seemed out of his element in this late-Swing context, but he had played and recorded often with Paul Barbarin, so he knew about time; Panama Francis, unlike many of the famous drummers at Nice, also knew time: his steadiness is so comforting. Marty Grosz — a wonderfully fluid rhythmic cushion, filling in all the spaces the other three might have left. Art Hodes, the patriarch, could be unsettlingly spare and percussive, but he is happy in this context in ways that suggest Basie more than anyone else, perhaps resting comfortably on Marty’s eloquent swing support. He takes his time. They all do. There is a tiny train-wreck at the start — confusion that is more on the scale of a model train set — but it repairs itself quickly, and they are off: masters of melody, in solo and ensemble. I, too, find the fidgety multi-camera approach very distracting, but it is part of the particular package — perhaps an emblem of that time and style.

I find it a very sweet performance.

And it says certain things to me about the comfort of a common language, the wisdom and joy that comes from decades of experience in a congenial community. Masters of Melody, so endearing, so durable, who know that ROSE ROOM is more than a set of chord changes:

I wish this band had recorded hours of music, and I think of the times I saw some of its members (bless Marty Grosz for hanging out with us still!) — those sounds are translucent gold in my memory and ears.

May your happiness increase!

“CAN’T YOU TAKE A DARE?”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JAY RATTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN, ALBANIE FALLETTA, JOSH DUNN at The Ear Out (June 6, 2021)

The source. As expected:

But we’re in 2021, in the land of blessed live performance, not simply staring rapt at the blue Decca label, and the expression on Albanie Falletta’s face says it all:

A daring little band — the EarRegulars — performing on June 6, 2021, at The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. The core group for this Louis Armstrong classic (written by Terry Shand and Jimmy Eaton) is Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet and alto saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. Eminent guests: Josh Dunn, guitar; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar. Please note the groovy tempo — not too fast — for this playful inducement to public and private displays of affection.

Another musical marvel, I think. Have you been? These Sunday-afternoon sessions will not happen when the frost is on the pumpkin. So get your musical blessings while you may.

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!

THE MAESTRO FROM MILAN

One of my heroes.

Rossano Sportiello’s latest CD, THAT’S IT! (Arbors Records) came out this year, and it’s a delight. That should be enough psychic catnip for anyone who admires Rossano, as I devoutly do, but perhaps some readers aren’t quite so well-informed. He describes it this way: “This brand new album contains a collection of Rossano Sportiello’s Solo Piano thoughts. It incorporates elements of bebop, stride piano, classical and swing into a mixture that blends completely together into something new. About 70 minutes of music, 17 tracks, with 12 standards and 5 originals. That’s it!” (This comes from Rossano’s website, a treasure chest of sounds, words, and thoughts: visit here for more pleasures.)

But perhaps this will do the trick where words cannot:

or this:

In some ways, those sounds — whether raucous or delicate — transcend explanation, but I will attempt some. I’ve been awe-struck by Rossano for fifteen years and more (and, not incidentally, he is one of the most gracious people I know) because he is a virtuoso who never lets virtuosity intrude on the music. He can cover the keyboard but he knows the value of a single note — he understands Tatum, Fats, Basie, and Monk . . . but he is himself. Another way to say it: Rossano, and others like him, stand in front of a century of improvised music; he and they have internalized it but know the artist’s responsibility is to (respectfully) smash the past into little pieces to create their own personal right-now mosaic.

He creates just such a mosaic on THAT’S IT! There are classics by Kern, Whiting, Gershwin, Rodgers, and Waller, as well as more ephemeral pop tunes of their day (GUILTY; I DIDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT) rendered beautifully — Rossano loves ballads and rhythm ballads, as you’ll hear. There are moments that suggest Ellis Larkins and Teddy Wilson, Dave McKenna’s locomotive-roaring-at-us ferocities, as well as an overall harmonic and rhythmic playfulness that, as always, shows us the depths of Rossano’s romantic, thoughtful spirit. I can’t predict where his motorcar is going to take me, but the view is always beautiful.

And there are five of his own compositions, which often suggest the great masters of the Thirties who could take a melodic phrase, turn it this way and that, and make it into a song we didn’t forget.

I can’t resist:

Tell me there’s something that Maestro Rossano can’t do at the keyboard. (An appropriate pause.) Pencils down, please.

You can purchase the disc or download the music at the usual cyber-oases, or, for something special, acquire a signed copy from the Maestro at his website.

For those of you muttering in the background, “I can’t buy one more CD, but I surely like that Rossano fellow’s music,” know that Rossano has created streaming sessions from his apartment (with guests and the occasional invisible cat) called “Live at the Flat in Greenwich Village,” and tomorrow’s episode — that’s Tuesday, September 28, at 6 PM, New York time — will feature instrumentalists Scott Robinson and Danny Tobias, who also have appeared with Rossano on Danny’s new CD, SILVER LININGS. And the previous fifty episodes (!) can be found on YouTube and Facebook, with appropriate links for those who put their money where their love is.

But I hope you’ll investigate and support all of Rossano’s enterprises. He brings joy to those who can hear.

May your happiness increase!

THE MOST OPTIMISTIC WEATHER FORECAST: TAMAR KORN and her METAPHYSICIANS OF DELIGHT at THE EAR OUT: ROB EDWARDS, GREG RUBY, JARED ENGEL, COLIN HANCOCK, ANDREW STEPHENS (August 15, 2021)

Last Tuesday night, at the Dan Block / Gabrielle Stravelli / Paul Bollenback / Pat O’Leary gig at Swing 46, it began to drizzle during the quartet’s last song. I wasn’t worried about me, but about my camera and microphone, both of which survived. But it made me think, once again, of my anxiously protective mother, so concerned that her boy not get wet (showers and pools were OK) — so much so that in adulthood I compressed her warnings into “You’ll get wet, you’ll get sick, you’ll die.” Decades later, I got soaked in a rainstorm and, laughing, looked up at the sky and said, “See, Mom? I’m OK!”

Photograph by Michael Steinman

Years ago, I remember Tamar Korn singing APRIL SHOWERS on gigs — its own kind of hopeful optimism — and when she appeared with her Metaphysicians of Delight (my band name) at The Ear Out on August 15, 2021, she pulled another meteorological rabbit out of her invisible hat with IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER, which is also a sweet lesson in mutability. That’s Tamar on vocal and spiritual guidance; Rob Edwards on trombone; Greg Ruby on resonator guitar; Jared Engel on string bass; guests Colin Hancock on hot cornet, Andrew Stephens on second trumpet (a swashbuckling California import, who learned a great deal from our hero Eddie Erickson).

Tamar was asked to form a group to fill in for the EarRegulars since leader Jon-Erik Kellso had to be out of town: quite an honor!

The song is one I associate with Annette Hanshaw, and, in this century, also with the splendid Barbara Rosene. It says: you’ll get soaked, and you’ll be OK, and even better. And the pleasure of seeing and hearing Tamar with a little big band.

May your happiness increase!

A STRING SESSION ON SPRING: ALBANIE FALLETTA, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN, JOSH DUNN at The Ear Out (June 6, 2021)

I think the great artists have magical transformative abilities. These four can’t make the noisy sidewalk still or silent, but to me it feels as if they are in my — and their — living room. They are having a good time and they make sure we are also. From left, Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar and vocal; Tal Ronen, string bass; Josh Dunn, acoustic guitar; Matt Munisteri, electric guitar. Tal and Matt were part of the EarRegulars that day for the Sunday session in front of The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City): Albanie and Josh were stellar visitors. he fellow in the blue shirt who’s part of the picture, early and late, is Jon-Erik Kellso, bringing the tip bucket around while he’s not playing his Puje trumpet.

Beautiful moments, captured al fresco:

And if you feel compelled to write in to growl about the people passing by, seemingly oblivious while talking, or perhaps the lack of microphones, please lie down until the impulse passes. Celebrate the magic rather than complaining about this imperfect world: magic happens all of a sudden, unpredictably, and vanishes . . . we must cherish it.

May your happiness increase!

IT WAS QUITE HOT THAT NIGHT: DUKE HEITGER, RANDY REINHART, JOHN SHERIDAN, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 14, 2007)

I’ve written elsewhere about the intense pleasures of the informal Thursday-night sessions at Jazz at Chautauqua. “Informal,” however, took on new meaning when the Emperor of Chautauqua, Joe Boughton, was involved and well: even in relaxed settings, he deplored the aimlessness sometimes prevalent at “jam sessions,” which would lead to his strongest aversion — musicians playing over-familiar repertoire. In my mind’s ear, I can hear Joe’s voice, although not on this, my sub rosa audio tape of one of several sets, and can envision him, a glass of Dewar’s in his hand, listening and observing with deep appreciation. As well he might . . .

Joe’s sterling idea was to have a quartet: trumpet, cornet, piano, drums — the sort of thing one might have heard at an after-hours session, but of course the intent was friendly rather than competitive, since Duke Heitger (trumpet) and Randy Reinhart (cornet) are allied in mutual admiration. Pete Siers rocked the room, as he always does, on the drums. And later Frank Tate set up his string bass and joined in. Yes, there are the usual extraneous noises (a few seconds of surrealistic “clapping along,” chatter, and some tubercular coughing) but if you were in the room you might have heard some of them.

I’m posting this now not only because it is both a wonderful memory and a wonderful experience, but in honor of the one musician who’s not around to enjoy the applause, the splendid pianist John Sheridan, who left us this year. He shines; he sparkles; he gets in no one’s way; he holds up the building by being his own multi-colored swing orchestra.

The songs are JAZZ ME BLUES / I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING / I FOUND A NEW BABY / A BRIEF ETUDE / JUST YOU, JUST ME:

Remembering that I was there is a great pleasure; being able to share this music with you is even greater.

May your happiness increase!

IN SPRING, ON SPRING, THEY SWING: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, JOE COHN, NEAL MINER (The Ear Out, May 16, 2021)

We all may have reasons for thinking the spring of 2021 particularly memorable — I know I do.

Home of delightful vibrations!

But I will also think of it as the season of The Ear Out, a frankly miraculous series of Sunday-afternoon soirees (or revival meetings?) with the EarRegulars preaching the mellow sermon whose text, “Isn’t it glorious to be alive and breathing?”

Do I overstate? I think not. Here’s some secular-sacred evidence from Sunday, May 16, 2021, laid down by Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Joe Cohn, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass — the venerable chapter being SOME OF THESE DAYS:

That feels good. Bless this foursome, and thank them, too — and all the other memorable EarRegulars.

May your happiness increase!