Category Archives: Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

CLASSICS MADE NEW: DAWN LAMBETH, KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, MARC CAPARONE, NOBU OZAKI, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 26, 2017)

Dawn Lambeth, Kris Tokarski, Larry Scala, Nobu Ozaki, Hal Smith, Jonathan Doyle, Marc Caparone at the San Diego Jazz Fest

What Phil Schaap calls “the swing-song tradition” — a nimble swinging singer accompanied by an equally swinging group — is epitomized for most people by the 1933-42 recordings Billie Holiday made with Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, and other luminaries.  However, it was going on before Billie entered the studio (Connie Boswell, Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey) and it continues to this day (Rebecca Kilgore, Daryl Sherman, Barbara Rosene, Petra van Nuis, and others).  Dawn Lambeth shines in this setting, and the three performances captured here at the San Diego Jazz Fest both reflect the great tradition and show what joy and art these musicians bring to it.  (I was reminded often, as well, of the late-life recordings Maxine Sullivan made in Sweden, which are very dear to me.)

I know that the tradition wasn’t exclusively female — think of Henry “Red” Allen among others — but I am holding back from making a list of all the swingers.  You’ll understand.

If you more evidence of Dawn’s magic — and the band’s — before proceeding, I invite you to visit here and here.  She sounds wonderful, and there’s fine riffin’ that evening.

Here are three beauties from that same set.  First, Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF (which is really quite a lament — but not when swung this way):

Then, the tender ONE HOUR — someone is sure to write in and say that it is really called IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT.  Yes, Sir (there are no Female Corrections Officers in jazz-blog-land!) — by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer:

And finally, Mr. Berlin’s I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET, with thanks to Fred Astaire, as always:

To quote Chubby Jackson, but without a touch of irony, “Wasn’t that swell?”  I certainly think so.

May your happiness increase!

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DAN MORGENSTERN CELEBRATES CECIL SCOTT, DICK KATZ, AND NANCY HARROW (Sept. 29, 2017)

I won’t go on at length about my good fortune — having Dan Morgenstern patiently sit and tell wonderful stories to my camera so that you can all delight in his warmth, his first-hand experience, and his beautifully articulated love for the music and the musicians . . . but here are two interview segments from my most recent visit, September 29, 2017.

The first, a belated celebration of reedman and splendid figure CECIL SCOTT:

Here’s Cecil in a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film, MURDER IN HARLEM:

and one of my favorite recordings ever, Red Allen’s ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON (with Cecil and J.C. Higginbotham):

Here are Dan’s affectionate memories of someone who was much loved and is not, I fear, well-known today, pianist / composer DICK KATZ and the very much with-us NANCY HARROW:

On a personal note or two: I am more involved in this video than I usually am, and I hope our conversation bothers no one.  On the subject of conversation . . . as soon as I’d shut the camera off, I said to Dan, awe-struck, “YOU KNOW Nancy Harrow?” and through the kindness of Daryl Sherman and Dan, Nancy and I have met and exchanged compliments and gratitudes — a great blessing.

But back to DICK KATZ.  Here is Dick playing THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU:

and THREE LITTLE WORDS:

and with Nancy Harrow on a very touching rendition of IF YOU WERE MINE (I need no excuse to recommend Nancy to you):

Dan Morgenstern says, “Dick was a dear man.”  Dan Morgenstern is a dear man.

May your happiness increase!

AN ABSOLUTE WOW: BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA: “PASS THE BOUNCE”

Probably no one is asking forlornly, “Are the Big Bands going to come back?” because we once thought we knew the gloomy answer.  But hearing this disc, I feel bursts of swinging optimism cascading around me.  Brooks Prumo Orchestra has done the best magic: evoking past glories without imitating them.  If you heard this disc from another room, you might think, happily, that a new cache of Bill Savory’s discs has descended from Heaven (something that will, in fact, be true soon) — but these musicians are alive and ready to swing out on their own terms, in their own remarkable voices.

And speaking of voices, this is my first real introduction to Alice Spencer, who has one of the greatest voices I have heard in this century — supple, witty, multi-colored — and she knows what to do with it.

Artwork by Laura Glaess. 

The songs: BOLERO AT THE SAVOY / DICKIE’S DREAM / BENNY’S BUGLE / NOTHING TO DO BUT HANG WITH YOU / LOSERS WEEPERS / DINAH / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID / SWING, BROTHER, SWING / SIMPLE SWEET EMBRACE / SIX CATS AND A PRINCE / PASS THE BOUNCE / ESQUIRE BOUNCE / JUMP JACK JUMP / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / THE LAST JUMP (A JUMP TO END ALL JUMPS – SILVER SHADOWS) / STARDUST.

And, lest you feel overwhelmed by words, you can go here and hear the CD.

Now, “a mission statement” from Brooks:

“The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was created for swing dancing.”

For me, big band music from the Swing Era is my favorite music for swing dancing. I wanted to put out an album only of tunes that were either original compositions, original arrangements, or remakes of tracks where the original version did not have a good recording. Please take a look at the inside liner notes for info about each track. Hopefully this release is a positive contribution to the world of swing music and swing dancing!  In addition to the tracks themselves, I also wanted to hit a wide range of tempos for dancing. This album has songs at approximately the following tempos: 235, 230, 225, 210, 190, 180, 175, 160, 155, 145, 140, 135, and 125 beats per minute.  Every single song on this recording holds a special place in my heart. I truly hope you enjoy it and thank you for your support!

The Musicians: Alice Spencer, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Dan Walton, piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar; Marcus Graf, Adrian Ruiz, trumpet; David Jellema, cornet, clarinet; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Greg Wilson; alto sax; Dan Torosian, alto sax, baritone sax; Jonathan Doyle, tenor sax, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, tenor sax, soprano sax.

About the music: some of the names above will be familiar to you if you’ve heard The Thrift Set Orchestra, the Sahara Swingtet, or Jonathan Doyle’s groups.  And certain names in that personnel have well-deserved star status.  Worth repeating: musicians have praised Alice Spencer to me, but she comes through this CD like a gorgeous swing breeze, with a big wink, as if Joan Blondell had taken swing lessons and graduated at the head of her class.

The rhythm section of the BPO is just peerless.  And let us say “Hal Smith!” all together, reverently.

The sections hit together wonderfully, and the solos — often by Jellema, Doyle, Gonzales, Walton, Ruiz — although everyone gets a taste — are idiomatic yet free.  I know there are charts on this session, but the band and Alice swing out from their hearts.

The only side-effects from this music might be silly grinning and bouncing around one’s domicile, and these side-effects will persist after the disc is no longer spinning.  Don’t tell your doctor: tell everyone!

The repertoire draws on Basie, Goodman, Krupa, Shaw, with a few original arrangements and original tunes thrown into the mix — performances that evoke Commodore and Keynote sessions, Lester Young, Tommy Dorsey, Billie Holiday, Andy Kirk.  But the BPO is not a machine devoted to “playing old records live”: they sound wonderfully like a 1940-44 Basie small group with a few extra friends along for the joyride.

PASS THE BOUNCE contains highly seductive music.  Even though my ballroom dance instructor and my neurologist suggested — a decade apart — that I was not going to impress anyone on the dance floor, this CD makes me feel as if I can dance.  Even better, that I should be.  It’s that lovely and encouraging.

Make your holiday season rock . . . or any season.  This CD is seriously joyous.  Grab a few copies here — or if you prefer to download and stream (having it your way) that door is wide open as well.  And the BPOrchestra’s Facebook page is here.

It is more reassuring than I can say that such music is getting played and recorded: maybe the end of civilization as we know it can be postponed for a bit?

May your happiness increase!

“MY GAL SAL”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, HAL SMITH, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, MARC CAPARONE at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 26, 2017)

Imagine a small band, perfectly balanced, without excess in any way, that honors the Basie rhythm section, the Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian, Fifty-Second Street, steadiness, great lyricism, allying Teddy Wilson and Al Capone for a few minutes.  What if you didn’t have to imagine this marvel?  Yes, they existed for more than five sets — outside the recording studio — and you can enjoy them here.

The generous benefactors of small-band swing are Kris Tokarski, piano; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone; Hal Smith, drums; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Marc Caparone, trumpet.  All of this took place on Sunday, November 26, 2017, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

The song they chose was the venerable MY GAL SAL, from 1905, music and lyrics by Paul Dresser, whose older brother Theodore Dreiser — the original family name — is more famous, although Theodore could never restrict himself to thirty-two bars.  Paul’s story is fascinating and sad: read about it here.

Hal Smith reminded us that SAL was Al Capone’s favorite song.

It’s one of those harmonically simple compositions that can be played at a number of tempos, but Kris wisely starts it off at an easy bounce.

A digression.  I am a relentless armchair critic.  Even though my own musicianship is at best faded, I sit in front of the speaker or the musicians or the video and say (thank goodness, silently) “That tempo is too fast.  He missed a chord in the bridge.  She could have taken a third chorus!” and so on.  But in this performance I wouldn’t change a note, a tone, an inflection, from intro to riffs to the ending.  It’s “in the pocket” deeply and splendidly, a Keynote session realized in front of our eyes in 2017.

During this set, someone’s phone in the audience rang and rang, and Marc Caparone, dangerously witty, said to us, “Teddy Wilson’s calling. He wants his rhythm section back.”

I will post more videos by this band, because I followed Kris, Jonathan, Larry, Hal, and Nobu for five hour-long sets at San Diego.  And if you haven’t seen the other performance I’ve posted — an absolute masterpiece — check it out here.

What a blessing to see and hear these musicians, and a greater blessing to be able to share their work with you.

P.S.  (Pro tip for aspiring videographers: we in the trade ask the musicians for their permission to shoot video before the music starts, and we clear it with the musicians before posting.  That’s what makes us different from the amateur with the iPhone at the back of the room.)

May your happiness increase!

SENSATION! THE ORIGINAL CORNELL SYNCOPATORS with KATIE CAVERA at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26, 2017)

The Original Cornell Syncopators, relaxing at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.

They’re college students — 20 and 21 — they’re very intelligent and enthusiastic — and they play a kind of hot jazz that’s rarely heard these days.  And they play it with love. They’re the Original Cornell Syncopators, led by multi-instrumentalist Colin Hancock.  This is their five-piece incarnation, with Colin on cornet and vocal, Hannah Krall on clarinet and saxophones, Rishi Verma on trombone, Amit Mizrahi on piano, and Noah Li on drums.  For this Sunday afternoon set at the San Diego Jazz Fest, they were also graced by Katie Cavera, banjo and vocal, who has graduated from her own college and now teaches by exuberant example.

The Syncopators have a special place in my heart because they are exploring different areas of hot improvised jazz that are usually neglected.  I revere Louis, but this band is curious about kinds of hot jazz that are not heavily Louis-influenced; they often concentrate on bands from the Middle West: all of this is enlightening and their playing has that delightful youthful zest, the way the music must have sounded when it was brand-new, say, in 1924.

SENSATION RAG:

CHRISTINE:

WHO CAN YOUR REGULAR BE, BLUES:

FIDGETY FEET:

THE CO-ED:

ANGRY:

Here ‘s a very recent profile of leader Colin Hancock, an intriguing artist and a good fellow in the bargain.  And here is the band’s Facebook page.  The band has just released its debut CD — the cover below — which offers not only the quintet but the twelve-piece dance band and several other combos in between.  I’ve heard a few tracks and it’s marvelous.  So far, I think it is available on Spotify and iTunes, and a physical disc is in the works.  Details here.

I admire these young musicians tremendously, and think you will also.

May your happiness increase!

DANCING IN SOUND: KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMES EVANS, HAL SMITH (Bombay Club, Sept. 22, 2016)

Hal Smith, James Evans, Kris Tokarski, at the Bombay Club, New Orleans.

Here are three more beautiful interludes from slightly more than a year ago, in “that quaint old Southern city,” actually at the Bombay Club on Conti Street in New Orleans — an evening with Kris Tokarski, piano; James Evans, clarinet, vocal; Hal Smith, drums.

Earl Hines’ MONDAY DATE (which I am presenting in its streamlined title, having given up on the question of whether it is A, OUR, or MY):

Another visit to 1928 Chicago (just savor Hal’s beautiful rocking drumming!) with THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE at a leisurely grooving tempo:

I almost never make requests, but I did ask James if he would play LOUISE — because I love the song (I think of Bing and Lester and Pee Wee) and I know it is the first name of the beautiful Missus Evans:

Even if you read this post on Saturday evening, November 11, and you are in New Orleans, you are not too late to hear some good sounds from Hal and Kris.  The facts: Hal will be leading his Kid Ory tribute band — the On The Levee Band — at the very same Bombay Club (830 Conti Street) from 8:30-11:30.  The band has Hal, drums / leader; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Clint Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar.  If you can, you should.

May your happiness increase!  

NANCY HARROW, ENCHANTER

A mature artist requires a mature audience, which is my way of saying that some artists I now revere I was not ready for when I first encountered them.  One such person is Nancy Harrow.  If you already love and admire Nancy and her art, you may pass GO and visit here.  Without delay, I might add.  (Details below.)

I first heard this singer-composer-enchanter on radio in the early Seventies (Ed Beach played tracks from her first album, WILD WOMEN DON’T HAVE THE BLUES) and she surfaced intermittently in my consciousness: her Finesse recording with John Lewis, and more recently, her early sessions for Atlantic, YOU NEVER KNOW.  Something had happened: my ears and heart were ready to appreciate her magic.

Here is Nancy, speaking for nineteen seconds, ostensibly introducing her musicians at a 1995-6 gig, which was recorded — we are grateful for such marvels.  In the first few seconds, she states what I feel might be an artistic credo, a statement of purpose: lovely, wise, and unvarnished.  Listen.

I have half a dozen dear friends, wonderfully rewarding singers, people I go to hear whenever I can.  They know I love them.  I heard Louis, Lee Wiley, Maxine Sullivan, and Jimmy Rushing sing in person.  And I have spent the past half-century and more listening rapt to recordings of everyone from Leo Watson to Cleo Brown.

But there’s something about Nancy Harrow that transfixes me, her very personal combination of beauty, candor, and courage.  Her voice has the delicately intensity of a perfectly focused light beam, with a small purr or rasp on the ends of phrases.  She can be tough — hear her YOU’RE NOT WHAT YOU SAID YOU ARE (sung by a cricket, disappointed and reproachful, to a dung beetle who has tried to pass himself off as more glamorous) or sweetly tender (the song EFFIE that follows), but she shapes herself to fit the song, rather than insisting that the song shape itself to her.

I think of candor when I hear her, which is to say that she is never faking anything, not a note.  Certain very accomplished musicians, for instance, say to us without words, “Now I’m becoming Ben Webster!” and we approve, because even an attempt to sound like Webster is a warming phenomenon, but we know it is an impersonation.

Finally, I bow to her courage: the courage to gently move a note or a phrase to express a personality, to make an utterance more true to the song than the notes on the music page would indicate.

If you’d like to know more about Nancy before plunging in to her music, here is her delightfully candid autobiographical sketch.  (The link also takes you to her website, which is a trove.)

But the music.  Hear, for instance, what she does with a song worn paper-thin by familiarity and repetition:

In a playful yet poignant duet with the late Dick Katz, Nancy makes us hear the song as we never have — her touching variations, her emotive phrasing that gets us away from the expected up-and-down of notes and rhythms.  Have we ever heard PENNIES before?  We’ve believed that we have, but it sounds new and real here.

Nancy has also written song cycles based on Willa Cather’s A LOST LADY, Hawthorne’s THE MARBLE FAUN, the stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “children’s books” THE ADVENTURES OF MAYA THE BEE, THE CAT WHO WENT TO HEAVEN.  Here is one of the songs composed for LOST LADY, which she recorded on her most recent CD, THE SONG IS ALL, in 2016:

That song — with its tough, hilarious lyrics (which make me think of Frishberg but with even greater impact) should convince anyone of Nancy’s continued power and assurance, backed by (among others) Alphonso Horne, Robert Edwards, and Owen Broder.

Here is what I take as another credo, (I believe the song was written in collaboration with John Lewis) from the 2016 CD:

Here’s the pairing I promised above, which Nancy introduces herself:

and the songs, backed by Sir Roland Hanna and Paul West:

Maybe it’s my particular place in the cosmos, but EFFIE makes my eyes wet.  Nancy Harrow can do that to you.  “Telling what I know, and spreading rhythm around.”

Yes.

I write this post to announce something beyond rare: this Sunday, November 12, 2017, at 3:00 PM, Nancy will sing songs from her LOST LADY album, based on the Cather novel.  She’ll be accompanied by Alphonso Horne, trumpet; Dave Linard, keyboards and harmonica; John Snow, string bass.  The recital will happen at the New York Society Library, 53 East 79th Street, New York, New York.  Tickets are $25 each.  It’s a small room, seating 70 people, and on Tuesday morning that half of the seats were already sold. Registration is required before the concert, and the $25 is then payable at the door or over the phone at 212.298.6900, extension 230 (leave a message with Ms. Katie Fricas, Events / Circulation Assistant).  Here is a link to the event page on the Library’s website, which includes instructions for registering online, another option.  It sounds complicated, but I did it, and it is worth doing.

A postscript for JAZZ LIVES’ cognoscenti: I won’t be bringing video equipment, so Nancy Harrow’s enchantments must be experienced first-hand.

May your happiness increase!