Category Archives: Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

THE HILL COUNTRY DANCE ORCHESTRA: “WORDS”

The chorus begins, “Words that seem so tender / Words of sweet surrender,” so you can invent the rest of this 1924 song — by Al Dubin, Al Tucker, and Otis Spencer — on your own.  I have to improvise as well, because the complete sheet music has eluded me so far.

Most of us, if we know the song at all, know the Fletcher Henderson acoustic Vocalion recording where youthful Louis Armstrong explodes into his chorus, backed by an equally stirring Kaiser Marshall, or perhaps later evocations.

Here is a very remarkable “modern” (i.e., 2019) recording of the song that only a few listeners have made friends with — by the Hill Country Dance Orchestra, a band you won’t find in Brian Rust’s books.  Listen and marvel:

Hot enough for you?  “Authentic” enough for you?  Yes, on both counts.

What’s most remarkable is that the Hill Country Dance Orchestra — its personnel two cornets, trombone, two alto saxophones, baritone saxophone, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, violin, banjo, piano, tuba, drums — is both a discographer’s dream and nightmare, because of this young brilliance, Colin Hancock from Texas (and now studying in New York City):

My more attentive readers might be saying, “But I don’t understand.  Which instrument does Colin play on this recording?”  And then I would respond, with the appropriate emphasis.  “ALL  OF  THEM.”  The magic of modern technology; the exuberance and accuracy of a great artist.

I’ll wait while you return to listen to this marvel once again.

And here is Colin’s newest band, his Signature Seven, rollicking through I’M GONNA STOMP MISTER HENRY LEE and DOWN HOME RAG:

Colin’s noble roisterers (he’s playing cornet) are Jeffery Miller, trombone; Daniel Dickinson, alto saxophone, clarinet; Troy Anderson, tenor saxophone; Juan Vidaurre, banjo; Isaiah Thompson, piano; Julian Johnson, drums.

Great music.  Tell your friends.  Wake the children.  No one will want to say, “I wasn’t paying attention when Colin Hancock and friends were making glorious sounds.”

And you can get a direct line to the new / old sounds by subscribing to Colin’s YouTube channel SemperPhonographCo here.  (Why wait?)

May your happiness increase!

“HOW HAPPY WE WILL BE” and “THE LITTLE STARS CLIMB”: TWO CLASSIC SONGS by RICKY ALEXANDER, DAN BLOCK, ADAM MOEZINIA, DANIEL DUKE, CHRIS GELB (Cafe Bohemia, Nov. 22, 2019)

Beauty doesn’t send out event-postings to let us know where it’s going to be next, but it’s been showing up with great regularity here, Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, in Greenwich Village, New York City.

Ricky Alexander and friends brought some Beauty only recently.

Ricky Alexander with Adam Moezinia at Cafe Bohemia, by Michael Steinman

Ricky, tenor saxophone and vocals; Adam Moezinia, guitar; Daniel Duke, string bass; Chris Gelb, drums, had a gig there on Friday, November 22, 2019, to celebrate the release of Ricky’s CD, STRIKE UP THE BAND.

Here are two performances from that evening; first, a bouncy TEA FOR TWO:

At the close, the quartet was joined by one of my great heroes, Dan Block (and Ricky’s hero also) joined the group for a tender searching STARDUST that continues to resonate in my heart:

Any attempt to explicate or categorize that STARDUST would be an impiety.

I’m going to keep following Ricky Alexander — he’s on a CD release tour, with a gig in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night, at Twins Jazz, 8 PM, details here, and I certainly will be at Cafe Bohemia regularly.  (First table on the left, nearest the stage, and if the music isn’t playing — whether live or courtesy of    HotClub NY — that’s Matt Rivera and his magic discs — you’ll see me checking my camera or chatting with the very friendly staff.)  Thanks to Mike Zieleniewski and to Christine Santelli for the wonderful endeavors and the welcoming atmosphere.  Another NYC jazz club advertises itself as “New York’s friendliest,” but for me Cafe Bohemia takes the prize.

Until our paths cross, if they were meant to, let the Beauty sink in.  It might be all we have.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, MEMORY! OH, MEMORY!”: The MANHATTAN RAGTIME ORCHESTRA at THE CAJUN, PART ONE: JOHN GILL, MATTHEW SZEMELA, JON-ERIK KELLSO, CONAL FOWKES, BRAD SHIGETA, PETE MARTINEZ, JESSE GELBER, ROB GARCIA (July 13, 2006)

The power of memory:

That girl, and the story of that girl, are both imperishable.  Not only does Mr. Bernstein recall her, but everyone who has ever seen CITIZEN KANE recalls him recalling her.  Or so I hope.

Music, so powerful and so multi-layered, is more slippery in the memory, giving us a mixture of sensations and emotions.  Of course people remember Louis playing 250 high C’s, but how many people can recall with clarity a performance full of lights and shadings that happened once, on the spot, and then was over?

Fortunately we have recording equipment of all kinds, and to think of what would have happened to jazz without it is impossible.  But here’s a New York story with gratifications attached, not simply narratives of what happened.

Exhibit A, “The Big Easy”:

Exhibit B, courtesy of eBay:

Exhibit C, self-explanatory:

In 2005, when I was once again free to explore, I discovered The Cajun, a traditional-jazz club in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood.  It closed in late summer 2006, and it was obliterated to become luxury housing, alas.

The owners were Herb Maslin and Arlene Lichterman (Arlene is still with us) and at our first encounter I offered to help publicize the club, even though I had not yet imagined having a jazz blog.  I was writing for The Mississippi Rag and other jazz periodicals, and offered help with press releases.  She was eager to have what festival promoters call Asses in Seats, so I could come anytime and make notes on performances and the general ambiance.  I was free to modestly of generic food.  (I worked my way through the menu, an explorer looking for edible land.)

I have said elsewhere that I’d seen people of my vintage shooting videos of their grandchildren and the ducks on the pond, and it dawned on me that I could buy one to document the music I and others loved.  Exhibit B was, after Flip, my first real video camera.  It recorded on 30-minute mini-DVDs, difficult to transfer, but it worked in the odd lighting and the built-in microphone was acceptable, especially when I sat close to the band.  At the time, I did not know what I might do with the discs — YouTube was only allowing postings of no more than ten minutes and my editing skills were not even rudimentary — but the thought of capturing what would otherwise be evanescent was entrancing.

Thirteen years later, I uncovered a number of videos from 2006: a small stack of mini-DVDs in plastic cases still sits in a bookcase as I write this.  Some videos, when I shared them with the participants (I ask permission first, the videographer’s “informed consent”) created hot-jazz-PTSD, and will remain unseen.  But the four sets of the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra pleased my hero John Gill, and the trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, who encouraged me to  post them so that this splendid band would not be just a memory or a record.  I canvassed the musicians, some of whom are friends, and those who responded agreed that these performances should be enjoyed now.

John continues to believe in the music: he told an interviewer long ago, “It’s music of the people. It’s open and honest and straightforward and comes to you with open arms,” and he continues to live that truth in New Orleans.

Here is the first hour of music (a set-and-a-half of four) from the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, playing their own warm, spirited “radical pop music”: John is on banjo and vocals, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matthew Szemela, violin; Brad Shigeta, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet (subbing for leader Orange Kellin); Jesse Gelber, piano; Conal Fowkes, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.

No tricks, no funny hats, no gimmicks: just real music.  A woman fanning herself: it was July.

Part One, including PORTO RICO / NEW ORLEANS JOYS / TEE NAH NAH (Gill vocal) with Arlene Lichterman cameos / BUDDY’S HABITS / HOME IN PASADENA (Gill) / HIAWATHA (Lizard On A Rail) / DEAR HEART – I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES //

Part Two, including a Buddy Bolden Medley: DON’T GO WAY, NOBODY – MAKIN’ RUNS / CONGO LOVE CALL / BOUNCING AROUND / SONG OF THE ISLANDS (closing theme) / CREOLE BELLES (Gill) / A BUNCH OF BLUES //

To me, much more gratifying that a fleeting glimpse of a girl and her parasol.  And there is another forty-five minutes of music to come.

May your happiness increase!

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC” (Part Two): YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Yes, these two magicians: Yaala Ballin, singing; Michael Kanan, playing.

About four weeks ago, they did their subtle transformations here:

They made music blossom.  The sign is perfectly apt.

Never let it be said that JAZZ LIVES omits any relevant detail:

And here‘s the first part, the songs being I COULD WRITE A BOOK; SO IN LOVE; EASY TO LOVE; THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT; BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED; HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?

And if that weren’t enough, here is the second part.

S’WONDERFUL:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

I LOVE PARIS:

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

MANHATTAN:

I’LL BE AROUND:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

It was delightful to be there, which my videos may not convey wholly.  But if you missed it, and I am sure some New York readers did, be glad: Michael and Yaala will be doing another box-of-surprises program at Mezzrow on December 11 of this year.  Details here.

Yaala told us, during the concert, that she, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are recording a CD devoted to her near-namesake, Israel Baline, whom we know as Irving Berlin.  That will be a treat — but do come out for the music as it is performed in real time, in front of people who appreciate it.

May your happiness increase!

DELIGHT IN DECEIT, or A FEW MINUTES MORE WITH REBECCA KILGORE, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, DAN BARRETT, JON BURR, RICKY MALACHI (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2012)

Did someone tell a fib?

Who knew such a sad subject could be so pleasingly swung?

Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, Ricky Malachi at Jazz at Chautauqua 2012.

Walter Donaldson’s LITTLE WHITE LIES has a brief verse detailing a romance-dream smashed because of untruths . . . which would lead us to expect a soggy morose song to follow (check out the Dick Haymes / Gordon Jenkins version on YouTube, for confirmation) but Ms. Kilgore doesn’t go in for masochism in song, so her version (with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malachi, drums) makes light of heartbreak:

Particular pleasures are Becky’s first sixteen bars — a cappella — and the joyous looseness of her second chorus.  And the swinging support from this group!

Here are two more delights from this session.  More to come from Chautauqua.

And a reminder: No matter how encouraging the moonlight, aim for candor.

May your happiness increase!

START WITH OPTIMISM, AND IF THAT DOESN’T WORK, AIM FOR RESILIENCE: REBECCA KILGORE, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, DAN BARRETT, JON BURR, RICKY MALACHI at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 21, 2012)

There are maladies everywhere, but there are also cures.  You could see your doctor and get a prescription designed to take care of angst, malaise, and ennui; it would be a little plastic vial with a long name that would surely upset your stomach.  Or you could simply click on the two videos below, never before seen, and wait for the results . . . with no side-effects.  Music hath charms, indeed.

Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, Ricky Malachi at Jazz at Chautauqua 2012.

These two performances took place at the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend in September 2012, and they bring joy.  Specifically, Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, and Ricky Malachi — vocals and guitar, piano, trombone, string bass, and drums — do that rare and wonderful thing.

Here’s a burst of optimism in swing, the 1939 pop hit above, which has been so completely overshadowed by WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD and IT’S A BIG WIDE WONDERFUL WORLD that I am immediately grateful to Becky and friends for singing and playing it:

And resilience added to optimism, in a song associated with the unlikely spectacle of Fred Astaire having trouble mastering a dance step.

This Kern-Fields beauty occasionally gets mixed up with the Berlin LET YOURSELF GO, perhaps the same principle, but one is about recovery (even a triumph over gravity) — the other, release:

These performances are from seven years ago, but Becky and friends are currently performing their magic in various ways and places.  You can find out her schedule here, and there is her seriously beautiful new CD with Echoes of Swing (Bernd Lhotzky, Colin T. Dawson, Chris Hopkins, and Oliver Mewes) called WINTER DAYS AT SCHLOSS ELMAU, about which I’ll have more to say soon.  Rossano’s globe-crossings are documented here; Jon Burr’s many adventures here and Dan Barrett’s here.

Not a pill in sight, and I feel better now.

May your happiness increase!

THE FAT BABIES: “UPTOWN” (Delmark Records): ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, JONATHAN DOYLE, DAVE BOCK, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, BEAU SAMPLE, ALEX HALL

To my ears, modern bands don’t find it easy to reproduce the music of Twenties and early Thirties medium-sized ensembles beyond playing the notes, although I commend their attempts.  The most pleasing exceptions have been Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, still doing the thing regularly in New York and elsewhere; I’ve also delighted in some ad hoc ensembles put together at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Festival.  (Listeners have other favorites, I know: I am not compiling a list here.)

But most recently, the Chicago-based FAT BABIES are are a consistent pleasure.

Here’s UPTOWN, performed at the July 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival:

UPTOWN is also the name of the Babies’ latest CD, their fourth for Delmark, beautifully thought-out, played, and recorded.

Visit here to buy the disc and hear samples, or vice versa.

The band on this disc is the 2016-18 version, with Andy Schumm, cornet, alto saxophone, clarinet; Dave Bock, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet, tenor, soprano; John Otto, clarinet, tenor; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, tenor banjo, tenor guitar; Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums, percussion.  They deeply understand the music without being stuffy.

Of the thirteen selections, UPTOWN and THAT GAL OF MINE are originals by Andy Schumm; SWEET IS THE NIGHT by Jonathan Doyle.  The arrangements and transcriptions are by Schumm, Doyle, and Paul Asaro, who also sings on five tracks with proper period flourishes.  The rest of the repertoire — venerable songs — EDNA, HARMONY BLUES, THE BATHING BEAUTY BLUES, RUFF SCUFFLIN’, OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY, THUMPIN’ AND BUMPIN’, THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, TRAVELIN’ THAT ROCKY ROAD, THE SOPHOMORE, HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE — have noble associations with King Oliver, Bennie Moten, Andy Kirk, Eubie Blake, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Bing Crosby, the Dorsey Brothers, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Clarence Williams, Claude Hopkins, and others.  But you’ll notice that the song selection, although deep and genuine, is not The Same Old Thing (you know: the same two Ellingtons, one Bix, DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, MOTEN SWING, and so on): even scholars of the period might not be used to hearing some of these compositions.

What makes this band so delightful?  The answers come thick and fast.  They are a working band, so their section work is beautifully polished but never stiff.  The solos caress or explode, depending on what the song requires.  There’s also a refreshing variety in tempo and mood: the Babies do not need to play racetrack tempos all the time, and they know that hot is best served with with nicely seasoned side dishes of sweet.  This is music for dancers as well as listeners.  I’ve seen other ensembles do creditable work with charts they are seeing for the first or second time, but nothing can replace the comfortable familiarity that comes with playing a song twenty times in a month.

“Authenticity” is always a slippery subject, but the Babies manifest it in every note and phrase: they’ve lived with this music long enough and intensely enough to have the rhythmic feel of this period as part of their individual and collective nervous systems, so there is no self-conscious “going backwards,” but the band feels as if they’ve immersed themselves in the conventions of the style — which go beyond slapped bass and choked cymbal.  It doesn’t feel as if they are acting, pretending to be ancient: their joy in being comes through.  And the solos are stylistically gratifying without being museum-pieces.  It’s been said before, but if the Babies were to be dropped in Harlem in 1931, they would cause a sensation and be welcomed at the Rhythm Club, the dance halls, and after-hours clubs.

It’s joyous music, joyously played.  And my only reservation about this Delmark CD (which, again, I point out, is beautifully recorded) is that it’s not a three-disc set.  Maybe next time.

May your happiness increase!