Category Archives: Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

MORE INSTANT YET LASTING GRATIFICATION (Part Three): “ANIMULE DANCE” at the LOVELACE: EVAN ARNTZEN, SEAN CRONIN, ADAM BRISBIN (August 10, 2018)

This is the third and final segment of my splendid afternoon at The Lovelace (66 Pearl Street, New York City) with the “Animule Dance,” Evan Arntzen, reeds / vocal; Adam Brisbin, guitar / vocal; Sean Cronin, string bass / vocal.  The thought that it is — for the moment — the final segment makes me sad, but the realization that we can enjoy these performances again and again is cheering.

Let’s call a heart a heart. Explanation below.

For the story behind Romy’s heartfelt gift, please visit here — and you’ll also find the first two parts of the music made by this splendid trio that day.  As an aside, many musicians don’t like having their work compared to that of the Ancestors, but as I have been delighting in these videos again, I thought I heard an alternate universe where Lester Young, Milt Hinton, and Al Casey were jamming for their own pleasure.  Floating, you know.  Not imitating, but Being in 2018.

And here are the last of the savory treats from that rare Friday afternoon, so delicious.

INDIANA (with sweet hints of Don Byas and Slam Stewart):

SQUEEZE ME, which couldn’t be nicer:

A Spanish-singed I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS:

OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, which mixes Twenties soul, bluegrass tints, and a little Django and Billy Taylor as well, before Evan wins the Miscellaneous Instruments category by a nose.  Thanks to Scout Opatut for direction and continuity: her Oscars are on the way:

an easy yet impassioned RUSSIAN LULLABY:

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING served with a bowl of gumbo:

and the closing Frolick, LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

What a thrilling band!  I want lucrative gigs, public and private, club and festival, what the Youngbloods call merch — pinback buttons, hoodies, bath sponges, bumper stickers — CDs I can play in the car, the concert tour (I’ll be press agent and videographer), and worldwide huzzahs.  Nothing less.

May your happiness increase!

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“ALL ABOARD!”: THE ROCK ISLAND ROUSTABOUTS VISIT the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 27-29, 2018)

A hot band is good to find, and the Rock Island Roustabouts answer to that description.  I’ll leave it to Hal Smith to explain how this band, which debuted at a Davenport, Iowa tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, came to be named after a Chicago train line . . . because he knows about these things.  Me, I come for the music.

And music there was.  I’ve done the unusual thing of sending out a full plateful — nine videos at once, recorded in three sets at the Evergreen Jazz Festival (July 27, 28, 29) so that you can experience this band’s power and versatility.  The Roustabouts are co-led by Jeff Barnhart, piano, and Hal Smith, drums, with — in this incarnation — Dave Kosmyna, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Bob Leary, banjo / guitar; Ryan Gould, string bass, and on the last three performances here, a guest appearance by Lauryn Gould, soprano sax.

The music goes deep and although there are some favorites, the Roustabouts like songs that don’t ordinarily get played.  So there’s Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory, but also Frank Melrose, Jimmy Blythe, Johnny St. Cyr, and Tiny Parham.

Settle down in your seats.  Make sure you know where the fire extinguisher is, and check that it’s charged.

Kid Ory’s SAVOY BLUES:

THE GIRLS GO CRAZY when this band plays, but the enthusiasm isn’t gender-specific:

Frank Melrose’s MARKET STREET STOMP, scored for Messrs. Smith and Barnhart:

One composition titled MESSIN’ AROUND, this one by pianist Jimmy Blythe:

And Johnny St. Cyr’s song of the same name — to mess around was serious yet delightful business, as you can tell:

Louis’ MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, at the nice 1929 tempo:

An incomplete but wonderful version of Tiny Parham’s WASHBOARD WIGGLES (blame the sun-blinded and exhausted man behind the camera) which adds Lauryn Gould, who plays that irascible saxophone beautifully:

A song that I’d never heard performed live, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH IT HURTS, which coalesces into a lovely rocking performance.  I did some small research, expecting that its source was an obscure Wingy Manone record, but no — the later New Orleans bands, who picked up good tunes no matter their source, found this one, from 1948, by Floyd Tillman.  I am not digressing when I offer the Patsy Cline version first (Ray Charles recorded it also):

Now, hear how the Roustabouts make it their own:

and William H. Tyers’ proven mood-enhancer, PANAMA:

May your happiness increase!

NATE NAJAR’S BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS: “UNDER PARIS SKIES”

Love comes in through the ears as well as through any other channel: the voice you hear on your phone (if you are fortunate) or the purring, from any species, that makes you smile.  Louis, Lee Wiley, Bobby Hackett, Ben Webster, Bing, and many others create sounds that assure me that things are going to be all right.

Nate Najar by Jamie Inman

Guitarist Nate Najar has some of that very same magic.  His new CD isn’t “Easy Listening” (for those who remember that archaic category) but it certainly is easy to listen to, and to love.  It’s both beautiful music and a homage to a time when beautiful music was a common language.  The theme is French, and the title is UNDER PARIS SKIES.  It isn’t released yet, so you’ll have to wait until September 7, but you can line up here.  Nate says it will be available in all the old familiar places, including his site.

What distinguishes this CD from the thousands of guitar sessions, and even the thousands of sessions devoted to the music of France, is Nate’s sweet expertise. He loves translucent melodies; he has a light touch; he swings without cliche or strain, and the CD is also elegant dance music.  I’ve heard him swing all by himself — he has his own rhythmic engine — but he’s also aided immeasurably by Tommy Cecil, string bass; Matthew Home, drums; and playing vibraphone on two tracks, the splendid Chuck Redd.  They work together in true gracious harmony, with Nate making sure everyone gets a chance to sing out.  (Hear Tommy’s lead on APRES UN REVE and know how acoustic string bass should be played.)

The songs are nicely chosen, familiar and obscure.  I apologize for the lack of accents, but that may be why Miss Virby gave me a 75 in French III.  LA MORT DOUCE / I WILL WAIT FOR YOU / NUAGES / LA JAVANNAISE / SOUS LE CIEL DE PARIS (Under Paris Skies) / CE PETIT CHEMIN / APRES UN REVE / SA JEUNESSE / QUE RESTE-T-IL DE NOS AMOURS? (I Wish You Love) / CHANSON DU COEUR BRISE (Song of Songs) / LA MARSELLAISE.

Some of the repertoire has, in the past, fallen into sentimentality, but Nate likes to swing just as much as he likes to increase the humidity, so I WISH YOU LOVE starts off as a proper rhapsody and then moves into a modern-Basie-rock, energized and energizing.  There’s also a good deal of understated wit here: these musicians aren’t obsessive quoters (I could name names) but the rare references to other songs often made me laugh out loud.

Nate’s own playing is quietly spectacular: hear his solo exploration of SONG OF SONGS: majestic yet not melodramatic, easily mobile but never trivial.  And the sound he gets out of his unamplified guitar is a gorgeous song in itself, so much like a beautifully modulated human voice.

It would be easy to pass this CD by for one more “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” or “adventurous,” which often means lengthy less-melodic excursions, but I encourage you to seek it out.  We can never have too much light-hearted beauty, and Nate Najar lives right in the center of it, as this CD proves.

Nate doesn’t make it to New York that often, but he will be playing music from UNDER PARIS SKIES on October 14 at the Blue Note in New York City — a Sunday brunch, with details here.  It will be a very good way to feel comfortable in the world, no matter what Monday brings.

Thank you for the beauties, Monsieur Najar.

May your happiness increase!

MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE: “PIANO JAZZ – CHICAGO STYLE!” featuring RAY SKJELBRED

Like other jazz fans and collectors, I have had many dreams of music I would like to hear, and in my lifetime many of those dreams have come true: the alternate takes of the Jones-Smith, Inc. session; airshots of the Basie band at the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing; the Ellington Fargo concert; the Jerry Newman uptown recordings; more Louis and Big Sid, on and on.

Earl Hines and Ray Skjelbred

The pianist Ray Skjelbred — treasured courageous explorer of beauty — is part of this story of dreams taking lovely shape.  I heard him on recordings perhaps fifteen years ago, and I encountered him in videos perhaps eight years ago, first in those of Rae Ann Berry, then in my own attempts, having met him, to capture him with appropriate skill and reverence.

In whatever medium I found him, I was astonished by the spacious, emotionally dense worlds he invented at the keyboard.  I still am.  And although Ray allowed me to capture individual performances that he approved of, solo and in duet; Ray leading his own Cubs — I am proud of the results, but they are beautiful snapshots for the most part.  In my videos, the sound might be imperfect; the audience might be chatting or moving in and out; Ray would speak, memorably, but briefly.

I came to dream of a Skjelbred film, a recital-explanation that would help us capture his secrets and his deep essence, as much of his history and magic that he cared to reveal.  But it remained a dream until Ray’s friend John Ochs, with Ray, created a profound but never sententious portrait of Ray and the musical atmosphere he both swims in and has enriched for decades.  It exists, and it can be seen.

From the first pearly notes of Joe Sullivan’s GIN MILL BLUES to Ray’s reminiscences-with-music of Burt Bales, Johnny Wittwer, Earl Hines, Joe Sullivan, Art Hodes, Jess Stacy, stride piano, octaves, tenths, the blues, tremolos, a stomping LITTLE ROCK GETAWAY, anecdotes of Sullivan — among well-trained kindergarten children, or listening to Bob Zurke play GETAWAY, a  brilliantly meandering chorus of ROSETTA which reminds me of someone picking up glittering beach glass at the ocean’s edge, and a riotous BEAU KOO  JACK, and so much more — the film is a treasure.  It is both the chronicle of a questing artist and his interactions with Hines, Sullivan, Stacy, Hodes, and a series of casual lessons from a Master about other Masters.

I admire it tremendously.  Ray’s deadpan puckish humor animates all of his conversation with us, as when he describes a heart attack at the keyboard turning, for seconds, into stride piano . . .his description of a poor traditional band as “six people with shotguns.”  I encourage viewers to savor his after-midnight introduction to I FOUND A NEW BABY and the last minutes of MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY.

It isn’t a how-to film that entices the viewer with the kinds of promises historically made on matchbooks, “See, you can play _____ too if only you learn these sixteen gestures,” nor is it a chronological autobiography of gigs and encounters, but a warming combination of sounds, techniques, memories and music created right at the moment.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget Ray’s story of Jess Stacy’s summation of a visit from jazz acolytes, at first  unfamiliar to him, as “Those nice boys.”

The film is emotionally filling without being overwhelming: when I finished watching for the first (of several times) I felt as if I had spent a month with Ray, yet it felt like a seamless easy journey, over too soon.

Recorded in one sitting, at a fine piano, with subtle, telling editing, it is so far beyond my best videos that I am both thrilled it exists and slightly embarrassed by my own earnest amateur sallies.

I am not the only person to appreciate this film: it has been selected by the New York Jazz Film Festival and will receive an award for HISTORY / DOCUMENTARY at the end of August.

I am able to share the film with you — and frankly I would find it inexplicable if hundreds of people did not take advantage of the opportunity — but I do not know for how long this will be possible.  These things are mysterious, but Imight not be able to share this film indefinitely.

So I urge and beseech my viewers to be with Ray Skjelbred, man and artist of independent spirit, for one hour (and twenty-three minutes and fifty-eight seconds) tonight, or, if not tonight, then tomorrow night.

Early on in the film, Ray says, as if to himself, “All music is a narrative of some kind — it starts somewhere and it goes somewhere.”  He could have been describing this very fulfilling film as well.

May your happiness increase!

STEVE PIKAL, “SWINGIN’ THE BASS,” with DALTON RIDENHOUR at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (June 1, 2018)

Steve Pikal, characteristically morose. Photograph by Andrea Canter.

String bassist / perpetual motion machine Steve Pikal is a marvelous force of nature.  Ask any musician who has been privileged to play alongside him.  His time is splendid, his inventiveness astonishing, his energy a delight.  He has perfect pitch — you can’t lose him! — and he finds the right notes.  He takes his playing tremendously seriously, but his work is joyous, and his ego almost invisible.  When I suggested to him that I do a bass-instruction video about him, he laughed and said he was self-taught so he didn’t know what he would have to offer.

Music elevates him, and the only time I’ve ever seen him without a smile is when he’s been studying a new chart with intentness.  I quote, “Swingin’ the Bass with all you great cats as often as I can is my mission. Gotta love it!!

What follows, slightly less than three minutes, is one of those occasions where I thank my lucky stars that I have a video camera and microphone, it was ready to go, and I was carrying it.

All through the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, free musical programs were sprinkling the air with notes — some a few blocks away at Gazebo Park, but most under the red-and-white tent pitched a block away from the Hotel Bothwell.  I had gone back to the hotel to get my camera and fresh batteries to record an evening’s concert performance, and was on my way to the theatre . . . when delightful strains of Swing filled the air.  It was Steve, apparently joining pianist Dalton Ridenhour for a number.  It sounded so good: jazz pheronomes, that I began to record the second half of their improvisation on MY BLUE HEAVEN, which owed a good deal to Walter Page and perhaps Johnny Guarnieri — but most of all to Pikal and Ridenhour. It makes me happy every time I revisit it:

I hope that the Fates offer another chance — when I am early and ready — to see, hear, and record Steve and Dalton again.  There will be a plenitude of Pikal-powered joy on this site (the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet and the Rock Island Roustabouts) and there are several new CDs that feature him, most notably GROOVUS (with Brian Holland and Danny Coots).

What a wonder he is, and how fortunate we are to have him.

May your happiness increase!

“BIRDS DO IT”: TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS TAKE FLIGHT (Part Two): June 17, 2018

The stereotype of improvising musicians is that they come out at night; like bats, they avoid bright sunlight.  But this crew (Tamar Korn, Evan Arntzen, Dennis Lichtman, Adam Brisbin, Sean Cronin) seems so happy to be out in Nature, with no one calling to the bartender for another Stella.  The greenery and friendship is positively inspiring, and they offer us uplifting music.  You can savor the first part of this restorative afternoon here.  And here’s a second helping of brilliant joyous invention.  Thrilling to be there.

MILENBERG JOYS:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, vocal harmonies by Sean and Tamar:

LET’S DO IT (yes, let’s!):

I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS (with a Spanish tinge):

IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER:

ONE LITTLE KISS, verse and chorus by host Brice Moss (a song I associate with Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys):

Enjoying these videos again, I am reminded of 2009, when I brought Leroy “Sam” Parkins down to Banjo Jim’s to hear Tamar and the Cangelosi Cards, and he said, “You know, she gets me right in the gizzard.  She, Caruso, and Louis,” and that was no stage joke.  I think he would say the same thing of not only Tamar, but this band.  And somewhere, Sam is happily sitting in with them.

There’s more to come, two more posts’ worth.  Yes.

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING BILLY STRAYHORN: JOHN Di MARTINO, DAN BLOCK, ANDY BROWN, NICKI PARROTT, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 16, 2017)

Let us again praise Billy Strayhorn.  He hasn’t been tangibly on the planet since 1967, but does a day go past without a Strayhorn melody being offered up, reverently, somewhere — even if it is in the jukebox of the imagination?


Here are some of Swee’ Pea’s lovely melodies played in real life by a quintet of sensitive creators: John DiMartino, piano; Dan Block, reeds; Andy Brown, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Pete Siers, drums, at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party last September.

U.M.M.G. (for “Upper Manhattan Medical Group”):

RAIN CHECK (which starts late: we in the trade call this “videographer error,” or battery death and resurrection.  My apologies.):

CHELSEA BRIDGE, gorgeously:

and of course, that TRAIN, which still will take you to Harlem, even though the price has substantially increased since 1941, when it was (pre-token) five cents:

These musicians know the common language so deeply and beautifully: bless Nancy Hancock Griffith for her work with the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, now, alas, only a lovely memory.

May your happiness increase!