Yes, the stories you’ve heard are true. “It happened. I felt it happen.” Last Sunday, from 1-3:30, the EarRegulars (Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone, tenor saxophone, Eb tuba; Pat O’Leary, string bass) brought color to the cheeks of a moribund city — resuscitation or resurrection, you choose — and it was wonderful. Skeptical? See and hear more here.
And they will be doing it again on Sunday, May 9, same time, same place, only with John Allred in for Scott.
Here’s a wondrous journey to the Exotic East — HINDUSTAN, with key changes from C to Eb on every chorus. Romping is what I call it:
This Sunday, from 1 to 3:30, at 326 Spring Street. No dress code, but expect to help the Ear by purchasing something to eat. Bring cash for the musicians, please. Good tipping is good karma. And decorous behavior: no capers in the street with your beer sloshing. But otherwise . . . bring open hearts and ears.
I’m not being facetious at all. Last Sunday, May 2, a kind of spiritual rebirth took place outside 326 Spring Street from 1 to 3:30, when that blessed little band of swing creators, the EarRegulars, played two uplifting sets to a happy audience. They were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, C-melody and tenor saxophone, Eb tuba; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
They will return on Sunday, May 9. Details below.
Here are a few of the savory performances I captured — in a small puddle (at least metaphorically) of bliss.
Because family relations between children and parents can be fraught, how about I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY?:
On a similar thread of contrition, DON’T BLAME ME:
After the music has ended, you and the family can do the right thing and take Mom to Chinatown for really good food — no fruit cup or green salad with walnuts and dried cranberries, but all sorts of delicacies. Hester Street, Mott Street, and more. Here’s the music to inspire you all:
Probably everyone sentient in the audience knew and loved Eddy Davis, and I know the band certainly did. So Scott launched them in to one of Eddy’s surprise-false-second endings, a kind of Hallelujah! Appropriate to spiritual gatherings:
So, Sunday, May 9. Mother’s Day. Celebrate it with these four mothers of inventiveness: Jon-Erik Kellso, John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary.
Choose wisely. Tell Mom a remarkable treat awaits. You won’t be telling a lie.
However (and this is serious) please tell her that outdoor gatherings have their own set of rules: patrons need to be aware of the laws as far as spilling over beyond the Ear property, and standing around drinking outside, not bringing their own chairs and beverages, etc., or blocking the sidewalk or street. If Mom stands in the middle of the street with her open IPA or blocks traffic, these gatherings will not continue. But she’s reasonable, I know.
For those of you who live in my aesthetic neighborhood, the sentence “Rebecca Kilgore has a new CD out,” will require no explanation. Cheering, high-fiving, messaging friends, but no explanation.
This is the magic doorway through which you can snag this fine music.
The CD was recorded in 2020, with Becky’s long-time friends and musical partners Randy Porter, piano; Tom Wakeling, string bass; Dick Titterington, cornet (on SOMEBODY and STAR only). Here are two samples, for anyone who needs to be reminded of Ms. Kilgore’s ethereal yet solid magic. SOMEBODY JUST LIKE YOU, music by Meredith D’Ambrosio, words by Dan Davis:
and the melancholy BECAUSE WE’RE KIDS, music by Fredrick Hollander, music by “Dr. Seuss”:
Characteristically — our Rebecca lives for song-treasures — much of the repertoire is a series of small surprises, delicate but powerful. Only a handful will be familiar: DEAR BIX, THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE, THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL, AZURE, and DAY IN, DAY OUT. The rest are “strangers” that become musical dear friends right off: RUN, LITTLE RAINDROP, RUN / TALKING TO MYSELF ABOUT YOU / OLD SOFT SHOE / I WANNA GET MARRIED / LIKE THE BRIGHTEST STAR / THAT SUNDAY, THAT SUMMER //
Messrs. Porter, Wakeling, and Titterington are sensitive musicians who listen and react — with empathy and intuition. The air is friendly rather than competitive, and their accompaniment is generous, pointing up the beauties of the song and of Rebecca’s interpretation, changing from chorus to chorus but always sustaining the mood. And their solos are wise and sweet: each track feels both spontaneous and composed. This trio’s been working together for ten years, and their working-band intimacy is rare and wonderful. (Beautiful recording by Randy Porter, as well, who knows how to do it.)
I’ve left Ms. Kilgore to last, because no one can follow her. (Except her cat.) She doesn’t shout or howl or stamp to convince you that she is, in fact, a Jazz Singer. No tricks, no gimmicks, no straining. And hers is a mature artistry. The listener never feels that she is in a hurry to get to the next rhyme to land on it with a thump; when there are emotional highs or lows in the lyrics, she doesn’t announce them in capital letters. Her voice remains warm, clear, and unaffected (with casual yet clear diction that other singers could well study). Her swing is easy and unforced, like the companion who walks next to you with a pace unhurried yet never draggy. Most of all , she knows what the song means: there’s never anything mechanical, nor is there High Drama.
Rebecca’s been at The Singing Game for a few years now, and she has a substantial and varied discography. But where other artists begin to repeat themselves: “I had a hit with ________________, so let me find a song that has some of the same mood as ____________,” Rebecca is living anew as she sings. She doesn’t want to repeat herself, for to do so would be to bore herself as well as us. So where, early in her career, she specialized in Light and Bright and Sparkling, she continues to reach out both in repertoire and interpretation so that her performances have the ring of deep authenticity. And I don’t know anyone else singing now who so convincingly can be thoughtful and playful at the same time.
Some singers work very hard to convince you of their Sincerity and to sell each phrase as Memorable. Rebecca doesn’t have to. When she sings, it’s as if a dear friend is sharing a deeply felt story without artifice. Her voice has a speaking lightness: we lean forward to catch the nuances and are happy we did. Like Rebecca, Randy and Tom are lightness and shade, swing and feeling.
I confess I can be guilty of the parochialism that burdens many jazz fans. Some listen with their eyes (you know what I mean) and some listen for the Name: “I never heard of __________,” translates tacitly to dismissal, based on an unspoken egotism: “I am wise in the ways of The Jazz, and if I haven’t heard of ____________, (s)he cannot be up to my standards.”
But when a friend whose taste is unquestionably good (in this case, the erudite and friendly Fernando Ortiz de Urbina) says, “You might like this,” I put my impatience and snobbery aside and listen.
And in the case of the young trumpeter Joan Mar Sauqué, I’m seriously convinced. You can quote me: “Everybody from Barcelona can really do that thing!”
But don’t depend on me. Hear some brilliant evidence:
and some Jerome Kern:
You can decide for yourself who Joan “Sounds Like,” and I have my own short list of eminent names, but what he sounds like to be is delightful: lyrical but fluent, fast on his feet with every note ringing chime-like. Airborne but serious. He’s heard many people but — hooray! — he sounds like himself. Joan is comfortable simply playing the melody — that great art — or embellishing it, making it shine even more. His improvisations are harmonically wise but he never aims strings of notes at the listener as if he were firing bullets. He makes music that “comes in the ear like honey,” but it’s never sticky or trite. And his colleagues, guitarist Josep Traver and bassist Giuseppe Campisi, are empathic swinging partners, making music both translucent and memorable.
If you must — does the mental algorithm demand such things now? — I’m reminded of Warren Vaché, Tony Fruscella, Ruby Braff, Shorty Baker . . . but my hope is that someday soon I will hear an unannounced track on the radio and think, “Wow, that’s Joan Mar Sauqué! I’ve never heard that before: I hope it’s another new CD.”
The songs are BITTY DITTY / MY DREAM / RAY’S IDEA / I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU / IN THE LAND OF OO-BLA-DEE, I COVER THE WATERFRONT / KITCHENETTE ACROSS THE HALL / BILL / SHABOZZ / STRICTLY ROMANTIC / STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY — a pleasing mix of venerable but sometimes less-played standards and rare tunes from early bebop. Completely melodic, easy and graceful.
And here are Fernando’s lyrical, pointed liner notes for this CD:
From Algeciras to Istanbul, the Mediterranean coasts are a trove of landscapes, people, good food and good wine. They brim with beauty and history. And winds, winds so old and pervasive that they have names, depending on their direction. In and around tiny Garrigoles, not far from the Spanish-French border, they call the nasty, cold air coming down from the mountains, Tramuntana.
Maybe it was the Tramuntana what took trumpeter Joan Mar Sauqué (b. 1996) from Garrigoles on to the wider world. These days, that means Barcelona, one of the main jazz hubs in southern Europe, where his sojourn in Joan Chamorroʼs Sant Andreu Jazz Band was a stepping stone. This turned out to be a valuable stage in terms of pure learning and the particular camaraderie that big band playing has given generations of musicians, as well as the chance to play with visiting stars, and a particular aesthetic outlook.
That outlook rides on the quiet waves made by the writing of Tadd Dameron, Gigi Gryce and the early Quincy Jones, the sound of Art Farmer and Kenny Dorham, the short-lived whirlpool that was Oscar Pettiford… what might be mapped through tired old beacons as “East-Coast Black Cool jazz”. Whatever we call it, this is where Joan Mar feels at home, firm ground from where he can soar.
In jazz circles, adopting an aesthetic framework from the past, will raise the alarm of purist revivalism or inane imitation, but this is not the case. Despite several precedents for this kind of trio, from Chet Bakerʼs in Europe, Nicholas Paytonʼs on Fingerpainting (Verve, 1997), or even saxophonist Lucky Thompsonʼs with Oscar Pettiford (ABC-Paramount, 1956) Sauquéʼs main motive is not a model from without, but a decision from within: heʼs seeking clarity in sound, an easy, uncluttered way for the listener to appreciate the music.
With that vision in mind, aided by guitarist Josep Traver (b. 1968) and bassist Giuseppe Campisi (b. 1991), braving the pandemic together, with no headphones, Sauqué has produced a classic-style album—12 tracks clocking at 40ʼ—of tunes mostly from the 1940s. Beyond his instrumental skills, Sauqué happens to be quite the scholar regarding the music he loves, which explains the rather unusual selection of repertoire, where melodies rule.
These songs speak for themselves, but a few pointers may be needed. With the melody prevailing over soloistsʼ egos, the trio takes one minute sharp to dispatch Thad Jonesʼs Bitty Ditty, a brief appetizer, preceding one of the cornerstones of the session: as far as we can tell, this is only the second recording of My Dream, after the Harlan Leonard orchestraʼs in 1940, where its composer, Tadd Dameron, served as principal arranger. Hearing the result, one wonders why no one else had thought of this. And this is no happenstance: Sauqué scores another goal when he unearths another Dameron gem, Kitchenette Across the Hall from 1948, which its author never got around to record commercially. In-depth knowledge of the past is not the cause of Real-Book fatigue, but its remedy.
A “rhythm changes” with a different bridge, originally recorded by Dizzy Gillespie and his band in 1946, Rayʼs Idea turns the spotlight on Campisiʼs bass, fittingly, given that “Ray” was Brown, a king of the instrument. Traver, a versatile and forceful accompanist, has a chance to shine under the spotlight too. Both sidemen take the floor again on another Dizzy big band staple, In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee, where
Sauqué manages to sound fresh and innocent with the cup mute. That sound returns in the lyrical highlight of the record, Gigi Gryceʼs Strictly Romantic, one of those tunes which had the composer and his young compatriots in the Lionel Hampton band literally sneaking out through windows in order to put them on record.
Of the more common titles, two stand out as the opposite ends of Sauquéʼs range: Stompinʼ at the Savoy is a showcase for his ability with the pixie+plunger combo—echoes from Ellingtonian jungles—, while on Gone with the Wind he follows the routes opened by the second generation of boppers like Art Farmer, no screaming or screeching, with a warm tone and some double-time flying.
As an art form where excellence is a long game, jazz may not the most suitable endeavour for this day and age. Unless, of course, it is what you feel you have to do. This is the case for Sauqué, a man with a clear idea of what needs to be done.
And for those who can’t get enough, hereis Marc Myers’ March piece on Joan, complete with interview. But the music is what matters, so you can purchase the music as a digital download or a CD here.
Wonderful unfussy music, classic but not archaic. And now that you’ve “heard of” these players, be sure to show off your new wisdom to your friends!
Bing Crosby was born on this date in 1903. In December 1976, he took his family, Rosemary Clooney, and a jazz quartet to the Uris Theatre for a short run of what was called BING ON BROADWAY. I’d been a devout fan for more than a decade by then, and when my dear friend Mike Burgevin suggested that he, his wife Patti, and I go, we went. We couldn’t afford the better seats, so Bing was this tiny figure below us, but we’d seen him up close in films and television, so it wasn’t a problem. And the amplification system was both kind and accurate. This wasn’t the Bing of 1931, but it certainly was Bing. From the first note.
The show was long, with a good deal of variety-television built in. What we’d read about, and were waiting for, was THE MEDLEY: where Bing and friends Joe Bushkin, piano and occasional trumpet; Milt Hinton, string bass; Herb Ellis, guitar; Jake Hanna, drums, would meander through his hits. I don’t know the exact date of this performance, but the result is both casual and polished. And terribly moving in all kinds of ways. We didn’t know that Bing would leave our neighborhood for another less than a year later, so this vision of a perfectly poised yet completely loose artist is even more precious.
Did I mention that I’d brought my cassette recorder?
I SURRENDER, DEAR / SWINGING ON A STAR / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / DEAR HEARTS AND GENTLE PEOPLE / TRUE LOVE (and Kathryn Crosby?) / DON’T FENCE ME IN / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN with verse, Ellis acc.; Bushkin, tpt., on chorus / BLUE HAWAII / SWEET LEILANI / TOO-RA-LOO-RA / JUST ONE MORE CHANCE / THEM THERE EYES / MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU / YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE / I’LL BE SEEING YOU / BASIN STREET BLUES / AC-CEN-TCHU-ATE THE POSITIVE / PLEASE / BABY FACE / SOUTH OF THE BORDER / GALWAY BAY / DINAH / SAN FERNANDO VALLEY / I FOUND A MILLION-DOLLAR BABY / SAN ANTONIO ROSE / I’M AN OLD COWHAND / IN A LITTLE SPANISH TOWN / WAIT TILL THE SUN SHINES, NELLIE (with Kathryn?) / IT’S EASY TO REMEMBER / IT’S BEEN A LONG, LONG TIME / BLUE SKIES / WHITE CHRISTMAS (with verse) / OL’ MAN RIVER :
Notice that under the 1970s photograph of Bing in the show’s PLAYBILL — with pipe and hat — there’s an advertisement for the Algonquin Hotel, “Great Last Act.” That it certainly was. Happy birthday, Bing. We’ll never forget you.
Today the image is different, surprising, but I think appropriate:
That’s Janus, the Roman god of doorways and thresholds — the icon with two faces, one contemplating the past, one looking into the future.
Why has JAZZ LIVES descended into mythology? This post looks both ways as well. For nearly a year, I’ve been reminding viewers / listeners of the heroically uplifting music made at The Ear Inn by the EarRegulars — to keep our sprits up in the darkness of inertia and isolation. Today, May 2, 2021, perhaps while some of you are reading this, I hope to be at 326 Spring Street — live and in person, surrounded by other mortals — enjoying the playing of the EarRegulars for the first of a series of Sunday-afternoon outdoor concerts (1-3:30 PM). They will be Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Scott Robinson, and Pat O’Leary.)
So that is the three-dimensional non-virtual future, soon to be the present, yet I couldn’t leave you in silence and darkness: although this post is short (I have to run), it still celebrates what has been created.
From January 23, 2011, the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Tad Shull, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass:
May 2, 2021, will bring its own joys and surprises. I am certain of this.
Postscript: IT HAPPENED. And it was wonderful. Those four heroes swung, soared, played, traded phrases in the most delightful way, and those who know the EarRegulars and the Ear Inn had tears in their eyes. Of relief, of joy, of a return to blissful possibilities. The Fellas (as Nan Irwin calls them) played two sets of long leisurely performances, eleven of them. Who knows? You might be able to see some of what happened. And perhaps . . . .
You never know what you find when you look. And I hope it’s not a stray piece of carrot on the floor or checks that you should have cashed more than 180 days ago and are now invalid. Sometimes the results of the most aimless search are uplifting.
I went prowling through the archives of videos I’ve shot and not shared (many for reasons that have nothing to do with musical performance) and found this incendiary bit of music. It comes from the first set at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, held at the Village Hotel in Newcastle, UK. (It’s now Mike Durham’s International Classic Jazz Party and the pleasing news is that it is scheduled for November 5-7, 2021: see the site for details.)
The premise of the set was a tribute to the much-missed Mike, trumpeter, singer, and man with plans — a really admirable man with more than one vision — who had not only thought of this jazz party but had made it work, year after year. You can hear from Spats Langham’s address to the audience how much Mike was missed and is admired.
Another reason to share this with you is because Keith Nichols, at the piano, is no longer with us, and although he is not miked as well as he might have been, his ebullient presence is all there. Here’s the band: Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; Alistair Allan, trombone; Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Keith, piano and vocal; Spats, banjo; Phil Rutherford, sousaphone; Richard Pite, drums, storming through a brief but heated tribute to Louis and Bechet as well as Mike, CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME:
2016 was the last year I was able to attend the Party, which happily and resiliently continued on until the pandemic. I hope, and I know I am not alone, that it goes on heatedly in November, with everyone safe and well.
And — just to keep you all comfortably warm, here are two other numbers I did post from that set of hot music:
Our text for today is either SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI or THE SONG IS ENDED (BUT THE MELODY LINGERS ON) — why not both at once?
Live music of the highest order — thanks to trumpeter, bandleader, jazz scholar Yves Francois of Chicago — from January 19, 1948, Phil’s Restaurant and Grill in Waterbury, Connecticut . . . that had a house jazz band and a radio wire.
The splendors of the past!
The house band was Tom O’Brien’s Ragtime Band, and on this broadcast their guest was Hot Lips Page, who talked and played SUNDAY, BLUES, and ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET. O’Brien’s musicians were Chick Chachetti, trombone; Bill Lucard, clarinet; Eddie Boyd, piano; Nick Montello, banjo; Tommy O’Brien, drums:
Sic transit gloria mundi.
Phil’s Restaurant became Phil’s Steak and Lobster, then a used car lot, then . . . .?
And, as Lips tells us, a porkchop is a gold brick now. But his sound and warmth live on.
If you missed yesterday’s explosion of joy from Mr. Page, don’t be the last one on your block to have your mood enhanced without pharmaceuticals here. The password is BLOWINGLY.
At JAZZ LIVES, we don’t much care what cola — if any — that you drink. But we do care about our affection and worship of Oran Thaddeus Page, of Corsicana, Texas, who lit up so many rooms and stages in his short life.
And we care about generous friends, such as trumpeter / bandleader / kind imaginative fellow Yves Francois — who dug down into his collection to share a treasure with us, something I’d not heard before. . . . a 1948 recording from a television program — Lips backed by a band fully in synch with him, although they are unidentified (I believe the pianist is Ralph Sutton), performing a novelty he’d recorded with Artie Shaw some seven years earlier. I like that TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF, BABY, is a fantasy of Lips and the sympathetic young lady running off to a kind of Big Rock Candy Mountain world. I also like that a prerequisite is that she be barefoot, although I hope the terrain is welcoming. Pay close attention to Lips’ heroic momentum as he moves into his second chorus: “Atlas,” as Marc Caparone calls him. Here’s the neatly-done label (bless you, unknown archivist!) and below is the music.
Lips shows us the way to Paradise:
“Blowingly”? Lips sometimes signed autographs with his own coinage — a witty variation on “Sincerely,” just right.
Many compact discs are like visits to a new restaurant with a tasting menu. The listener has course after course brought to them, and with luck, every dish is not only delightful in itself but part of a larger experience. And one makes a mental note to go back and bring friends. Sometimes, of course, one beckons to the waitperson and says, “Please, can we skip ahead? I’m not happy with this. If you’d just bring me the flourless chocolate cake and the check, that would be great.” And the CD goes into that purgatory between give-to-a-friend-or-the-thrift-store-or keep-for-the-moment-but-not-forever.
The new CD, COUNTERMELODY (Dot Time Records), by Evan Arntzen and esteemed friends, isn’t a meal: it’s a brightly-colored, many-sided journey. Details here and here if the names above have already convinced you.
Before you read a word more, two samples which will reveal much and reward more:
SOLITARITY, by Evan:
and MUSKRAT RAMBLE, sung by Catherine Russell:
Although the terms “old” and “new” are dangerously weighted and too binary, COUNTERMELODY is a shining showcase for “old” music (nearly a hundred years old) played as “new,” and “new” music that passionately embraces “old” traditions. SOLITARITY is delightfully weird — that’s a compliment — but it also sounds so much like a New Orleans funeral, mournful and exultant at once. And to borrow from Billy Wilder, each of the musicians here has a face, a vivid, glowing singularity — a set of big voices, and I don’t simply mean Catherine Russell’s combination of trumpet and cello and full orchestra. Speaking of singers, Evan’s vocal rendition of GEORGIA CABIN is perfectly dreamy. I don’t want him to put down his horns, but he could do a lovely vocal album.
But back to the journey I was describing. The CD begins with a half-dozen “traditional” songs — MUSKRAT RAMBLE, 18th STREET STRUT, CAMP MEETING BLUES, GEORGIA CABIN, PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES, and WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO. Connoisseurs will check off the homages to Ory, Moten, Oliver, Bechet, Louis, and Dodds. But these are not formulaic choices. They come from a deep immersion in the repertoire and a desire to do the music homage in its full glory, not in the eleven tunes that everyone plays. The performances are totally energized but also respectful of the original outlines of the songs and of performance practice. The ensembles are strong (having two trumpets who can kitten-tussle in mid-air is a great thing) and the solos fierce or fiercely tender.
Then, SMILES, usually played and sung with a certain amount of sentimentality, whether it’s by Charles La Vere or Chick Bullock: the musical equivalent of a 1925 Valentine’s postcard, cherubs and hearts crowding in. But not here:
That’s two minutes and thirty-four seconds of exuberance. My initial reaction was “WHAT?!” But I was properly smiling as Evan and Charlie chased each other around the backyard, twin five-year olds who have eaten too much Halloween candy. Honoring the innovators implies a certain amount of possibly-disrespectful but loving innovation: the result is immensely restorative. While my nerve endings were still tingling, I had the rare pleasure of hearing Catherine Russell sing IF YOU WERE MINE as no one, including Billie, ever sang it, complete with the verse, which I’d never heard. A properly churchy DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE follows, then originals by Halloran, Kellso, Benny Green, and Evan . . . and the disc concludes with two brief cylinder recordings of AFTER YOU’VE GONE and MUSKRAT RAMBLE, created by the band and the master of hot archaisms, Colin Hancock.
After that, I wanted a glass of ice water, and, after a pause, to play COUNTERMELODY again, and tell my friends, as I am doing here.
So don’t be the last one on your block to walk around humming and grinning because of COUNTERMELODY. You can receive it in its lovely package (fine notes by producer Scout Opatut) or digitally, here or here.
Postscript: someone said of me, with an edge, “Michael only writes good reviews,” to which I responded, when I heard, “I only review good music.” COUNTERMELODY is over the moon and beyond the beyonds in that way.
Why, Tony Baldwin, of course. Clever of you to have discerned it.
I knew Tony Baldwin first as a superb pianist — in the Nineties, with Tom Baker’s Swing Street Orchestra, and on a Stomp Off CD, OZARK BLUES, which also featured Ian Date, Bob Henderson, and Len Barnard (and he’s recorded again in this century) — then as a lucid writer-annotator on some of the now-rare Masters of Jazz CDs . . . but he is always creating something new.
Here’s his email that arrived today:
Bonjour Michael, This may be of no particular interest to folks who’ve heard every Bix, Bubber, Benny and Blind Blake in existence. However, it might be wacky enough to amuse you. I live in what used to be the general store of a village in Languedoc wine country, except there’s no more Brie or baguette on the shelves — at least, none for sale. All wall space is taken up with…78rpm records, much to the chagrin of local shoppers. And the discs aren’t for sale either. However — and here’s the really bizarre part — since Covid began a year ago, I’ve been helping out some buddies of mine on KMUN, a community station in coastal Oregon, by spinning two hours of fairly eclectic 78s (though 75% jazz) from the shack once a week via the web. Heck, the time difference is only 9 hours, so why not? It airs Thursdays at 11pm-1am PST (i.e. 2am-4am in NYC), at https://radio.securenetsystems.net/v5/index.cfm?stationCallSign=KMUN. If you don’t happen to be an insomniac, recent shows are archived at https://coastradio.org/archives/ . Then you scroll down to my name. Ok, I’m surrounded by vineyards, but on air I’m usually fairly sober. Best wishes, Tony Baldwin P.S. The shoppers are safe, as the general store had already relocated to a new place 200 yards down the road.
Who could resist? And just to add a four-bar tag, here’s Tony’s biography as it’s offered to us at the KMUN site:
British musician, collector and sound engineer Tony Baldwin is based in provincial France, where for more than a decade he’s been playing jazz gigs and restoring vintage shellac recordings. At age 9, Tony stumbled across an old family phonograph, together with a stack of 78rpm records that he and his brothers found were great for target practice in the yard. Eventually, he tried playing one of them and was fascinated by the weird stuff that he heard, as it was nothing like the Stones or the Beatles. He’s been fascinated ever since.
Edward Meyer has written the definitive biography of Dick Wellstood, GIANT STRIDES: THELEGACY OF DICK WELLSTOOD (1999), and an even more extensive book on Kenny, JUST FOUR BARS: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF KENNY DAVERN (2010), both published by Scarecrow Press.
When it came to his friends, Kenny Davern was a generous man who loved to share the things that gave him pleasure. One Sunday afternoon, I had driven down to Manasquan to talk with Kenny about the Wellstood book. Elsa was away and he wasn’t working that evening, so he wasn’t pressed for time. After we finished talking about Dick, we went out for pizza, after which we went back to his house.
He was in a talkative mood that night and we schmoozed about a number of things and people – not many of whom were connected with jazz. Several hours passed. I had to get up and go to work the next day and was facing a 60+ mile drive back to my apartment in Manhattan in Sunday night traffic. But, just when I was ready to leave. the conversation turned to Wilhelm Furtwängler, the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Kenny passionately believed that Furtwangler had never gotten the recognition due him and that he was far better at getting the best out of the musicians in his orchestra than Arturo Toscanini. who led the NBC Symphony. I had no views on the subject – mainly because I knew little about classical music and even less about the skills of either man – but that only spurred Kenny into his role as teacher.
He left the room and came back with two recordings of the same piece – one by Furtwangler and the other by Toscanini. “Listen to this,” he said, and played about five minutes of the Furtwangler recording. “Do you hear how Furtwangler brings out the individual sound of each horn? Now listen to this.” And he played about five minutes of the Toscanini recording. “Do you hear the difference?” Fool that I was, I said that I couldn’t really tell.
That was clearly the wrong answer because we went through the exercise again. By this time, it was about 10:00 p.m., and although I was no better informed at the end of the second round of recordings than I had been before, when Kenny asked if I could tell the difference, I nodded my head vigorously. And, before the demonstration could progress any further, I stood up and said that it was time for me to go home. And I left.
I saw him about a week later and as soon as he had a free moment he came over and gave me a short handwritten list on which he had jotted down the titles and numbers of a few Furtwangler CDs. He thought that I might like them.
Years later, I learned that my experience was not unique. If one of his friends liked something that Kenny had, Kenny would make, or buy, a copy of for him, or lend it to him, or tell him where and how to get one for himself. This didn’t jibe with Kenny’s public image: but then, very little did.
The musical portion of this remembrance was created at the Grande Parade du Jazz, June 10, 1978, in a program called “JAZZ CLASSIQUE,” featuring Wallace Davenport, trumpet; Freddy Lonzo, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Olivia Cook, piano; Frank Fields, string bass; Freddie Kohlman, drums — with Kenny joining them for the last two songs, BLUES and CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN.
I asked Orange if I could post this video and he graciously wrote, The memories came flooding back. I played a lot with Wallace’s bands in those years and we were on the George Wein festival circuit frequently. We got to play with all sorts of guest stars and Kenny was one of those. This was our first time meeting. I don’t think he knew of me, but I was very well aware of him and very impressed by his playing. I was nobody and apprehensive, to say the least, to play with the clarinet star. Kenny sounded fantastic.
He always did. Kenny performed and recorded for more than fifty years. It doesn’t seem enough. We miss him.
Brace yourself, dear people. I have some more lovely music to share with you: expert, swinging, full of feeling.
The wonderfully inventive Leigh Barker has created two discs — available here — joyous documents of his journey, with friends, from Melbourne to Paris. You might know Leigh from his all-too-brief visits to the US as part of the Hot Jazz Alliance and with Josh Duffee’s Goldkette-Orchestra trip to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, but he is known and admired worldwide for his elegant, gutty string bass playing and imaginative bands.
That effervescent music says “Take me along: we’re going to go unfamiliar places full of familiar joys and comforts.”
Details, you say?
For MELBOURNE, the inspired perpetrators:
Leigh Barker – Double Bass Heather Stewart – Violin and voice Donald Stewart – Trombone Ben Harrison – Trumpet / Cornet Jason Downes – Clarinet and Alto Saxophone John Scurry – Guitar and Banjo Matt Boden – Piano Sam Young – Drums SPECIAL GUEST: Brennan Hamilton-Smith on clarinet track 4 and 9
performing: LONELY ONE IN THIS TOWN / WOLVERINE BLUES / GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON / SAY IT ISN’T SO / THE PEARLS / THE STEVEDORE STOMP / PLAY THE BLUES AND GO / WHAT’S THE USE OF LIVING WITHOUT LOVE? / CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN.
for PARIS, les amis:
Leigh Barker – Contrebasse Heather Stewart – Chant et Violon Bastien Brison – Piano David Grebil – Batterie Romain Vuillemin – Guitare et Banjo Bastien Weeger – Clarinette et Saxophone Alto Noe Codjia – Trompette Gilles Repond-Quint – Trombone
performing YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR / HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM / VARIATIONS ON A NORK / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / THE SONG IS ENDED / INDIAN SUMMER.
and some words from Leigh:
IT”S HIGHLY recommended to listen to this album with the tracks in order! It segues like a real set in a club.
These two albums come at the end of a very long period of gestation, starting in May 2018 in Melbourne Australia, and finishing at the very end of 2020, which as every single person on the planet earth knows has been marked by a historic pandemic. I was already procrastinating about releasing the ‘Melbourne’ session, and had been putting very little effort in to booking shows under my own name in Europe (Thanks to Gordon Webster, Duved Dunayevsky, Tatiana Eva Marie and everyone else for keeping me on the road…) However, a 4 week tour of Australia was booked for November and December 2020 (hah!) and I knew this was the moment to release a new album and CD, to take on the road with the ‘Australian Band’. As I sit here writing these notes on Sunday December 27th 2020, it is still more or less impossible to enter Australia from Europe, even if all the events and venues were able to put on our shows as envisaged (which they’re not!…)
The Paris session was miraculously put together in November 2019 between touring dates, we got together all in one room together for 2 days, around one single microphone – the french-made Melodium 42B. This was not for any particular reasons of purity or authenticity, just because Simon Oriot convinced me to give it a shot, and ‘that way there is no mixing to do’ as he put it…
The Melbourne session on the other hand was edited and mixed all over the planet. I remember selecting takes, editing, making several attempts at mixing and gradually pulling together the shape of the album in places such as Saint Cyr-la-Rosiere and Champagne-sur-Seine in France, Hildesheim in Germany, the suburbs of Paris, on tour in Stockholm, Budapest, London and Cambridge – and during two separate visits to Australia in 2019 and 2020, in a supermarket parking lot in Moruya, NSW or in the car on the Clyde Mountain between Mossy Point (…if you know, you know…) and the capital Canberra where Hi Hat Studios is located. I also remember making several attempts with several engineers, sometimes remotely, sometimes in person, with an infected cancerous leg wound, on holiday, in airports…. and of course in the end drawn out over several months in total isolation due to a global pandemic….
This year has asked too many questions of musicians, from the very practical to the most existential. In the end we are all driven by the compulsion to CREATE, something, anything, and it’s almost always better when you can share it with other people….
Maybe after all that, more words from me will be superfluous. But you’ll notice the “traditional” repertoire — which will reassure some (perhaps alienate others?) but it is not treated with finicky reverence. Oh, Leigh and Heather and the band do the damnedest encapsulation of Louis and the 1935 Luis Russell band on LUCKY STAR — but their approach is not that of severely protective rare-book curators, insisting that anything short of monastic worship is sacrilege. There’s a good deal of stretching within the revered outlines, a good deal of affectionate disrespect that turns out to be the highest adoration, because they remember that the innovators we prize so highly were themselves in favor of innovation. And these musicians practice what they preach, so their music is honest always, raw when it feels like it, dainty otherwise, and breathing all the time.
These recordings are magnificent. And unruly. And alive.
The quotation is attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, who might not have expected it to emerge in this context, but it fits perfectly. And since “T.R.” lived until 919, he could have heard the ODJB, being an adventurous soul.
The text for the sermon is the lovely DEEP PURPLE, by Peter Du Rose and Mitchell Parish.
On the evening of July 22, 1975, an eminent chamber jazz group took the stand at the Grande Parade du Jazz, introduced by Dick Sudhalter: Michael Moore, string bass; Joe Venuti, violin; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; George Barnes, guitar.
I didn’t write “electric guitar,” the instrument Barnes played magnificently. No, something undefined and mysterious had happened to his amplifier, I am assuming, just before the set, and his volume was very low, making those electrifying single-string lines full of percussive notes impossible or at best unrealistic.
But what do you do if you’re George Barnes, a professional for forty years? You follow Teddy Roosevelt’s motto, or, in less formal terms, you “keep on keepin’ on,” and you play. As he did, quietly but splendidly, laying down chordal patterns, keeping the rhythm on track — both Venuti and Moore were strong-willed players who wanted the pulse to go their way, and Joe was ready to play over everyone, everywhere. (I wish George had plugged into Joe’s amplifier and disconnected the cable to that raspy violin, but not all my dreams come true.)
But the group held together — all credit to George’s steadiness and Benny Carter’s elegant reserve — “the King” was not to be pushed around.
In the darkest days of the pandemic, I found myself muttering under my breath, “I want to go home.” It was of course unattainable: my parents had been gone for decades and my childhood home long occupied by others. I have lived in this apartment for sixteen years, so wanting to “go home” was physically attainable and emotionally wavering. I am home. I was home. But not really. Home feels like a peaceful state of mind, somewhere you are safe and welcomed, perhaps even where someone makes a salad and asks if you would like some. In the midst of fear, grief, and uncertainty, “Home” still means to me a time and space where I don’t have to read the headlines in the morning and find out how many have died, been killed, are abused, are suffering.
So even before the pandemic, when the other person in the car asked me, “What’s your favorite song?” I said, “One?” and the first that came to mind was Louis’ THAT’S MY HOME. (Second place was IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, which is revealing also.)
And in musical terms, HOME is one of those songs so ennobled by performances, live and recorded. The last time I saw Bobby Hackett, at a January 1976 concert tribute to Louis, it was that song he picked as his feature. I can hear and feel embraced by the performances of Jack Teagarden, Joe Thomas, Coleman Hawkins on a 1944 Keynote Records date.
But for me it all comes back to Louis. I first heard him sing and play HOME on a glorious, touching Verve session, backed by Russell Garcia, LOUIS UNDER THE STARS, and then the 1931 OKeh version. Louis makes me want to stand up and put my hand over my heart, an impulse I must stifle because people at adjacent tables might ask if I need the Heimlich maneuver, but this Louis-inflected reading of the song, by Bent Persson and the Hot Antic Jazz Band, led by Michel Bastide, has me in tears every time. Good tears, rich ones:
We owe deep thanks to musician and videographer Andreas Kågedal for preserving this beauty and sharing it. I apologize to him for not naming him at the start.
Wherever you are, may it be comfortable and haimisch — you don’t need a translation.
Scott Robinson wrote this elegy for Eddy Davis on April 8, 2020, and I couldn’t improve on it.
I’ve just lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in music. Eddy Davis was a highly significant and influential presence in my life. He was a fiercely individualistic performer… a veteran of the old Chicago days when music was hot, joyful, exuberant and unselfconscious. A character and a curmudgeon, who could hold court for hours after the gig. And a loving mentor who helped younger musicians like myself learn and grow in this music. I had only played with Eddy a handful of times when he called me in late 1998 to say that he was forming a new band to fill a weekly Wednesday spot at the Cajun on 8th Avenue. He wanted me to play lead on C melody saxophone, in a little group with two reeds, and no drums. This by itself gives a clue to what an original thinker he was.
I already knew that Eddy was a proficient and highly individualistic stylist on the banjo, who sounded like no one else. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that this man was also a walking repository of many hundreds if not thousands of tunes of every description, ranging far beyond the standard repertoire… with a fascinating background story at the ready for nearly every one. I quickly learned that he was also a prolific and idiosyncratic composer himself, with a wonderfully philosophical work ethic: write original music every day, keep what works, and throw the rest away without a backward glance.
Eddy was also what used to be called a “character”: affable, opinionated, hilarious, and irascible all in one, and above all highly passionate about music. What I learned over the ensuing 7 ½ years in Eddy’s little band, I cannot begin to describe. I came to refer to those regular Wed. sessions as my “doctor’s appointment” — for they fixed whatever ailed me, and provided the perfect antidote to the ills of the world, and of the music scene. Over the years we were graced with the presence of some very distinguished musicians who came by and sat in with us, including Harry Allen, Joe Muranyi, Bob Barnard, Howard Johnson, and Barry Harris.
Eddy was generous with his strong opinions, with his knowledge and experience, and with his encouragement. But he was a generous soul in other ways as well. When he heard that I was building a studio (my “Laboratory”), he had me come by the apartment and started giving me things out of his closets. A Roland 24-track recorder… three vintage microphones… instruments… things that I treasure, and use every single day of my life. When my father turned 75, Eddy came out to the Lab in New Jersey and played for him, and wouldn’t take a dime for it. When I got the call last night that Eddy had passed — another victim of this horrible virus that is ruining so many lives, and our musical life as well — I hung up the phone and just cried. Later I went out to my Laboratory, and kissed every single thing there that he had given to me. How cruel to lose such an irreplaceable person… killed by an enemy, as my brother commented, that is neither visible nor sentient.
One night at the Cajun stands out in my memory, and seems particularly relevant today. It was the night after the last disaster that changed New York forever: the World Trade Center attack. There was a pall over the city, the air was full of dust, and there was a frightful, lingering smell. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “This is crazy.” But somehow we all made our way to the nearly empty club. We were in a state of shock; nobody knew what to say. I wondered if we would even be able to play. We took the stage, looked at each other, and counted off a tune. The instant the first note sounded, I was overcome with emotion and my face was full of tears.
Suddenly I understood exactly why we were there, why it was so important that we play this music. We played our hearts out that night — for ourselves, for our city, and for a single table of bewildered tourists, stranded in town by these incomprehensible events. They were so grateful for the music, so comforted by it.
The simple comfort of live music has been taken from us now. We must bear this loss, and those that will surely follow, alone… shut away in our homes. I know that when the awful burden of this terrible time has finally been lifted, when we can share music, life, and love again, it will feel like that night at the Cajun. My eyes will fill, my heart will sing, and the joy that Eddy Davis gave me will be with me every time I lift the horn to my face, for as long as I live.
It should be clear that the passionate honesty Scott offers us when he plays also comes through his words.
Here is an audio document of one of those Wednesday nights, March 29, 2006, recorded at The Cajun. Eddy Davis, banjo, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano, vocal; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Debbie Kennedy, string bass; Fernando Kfouri, trombone (on TAILGATE RAMBLE). I wish I had been less intimidated (underneath his Midwestern affability, I sensed there was a core of steel in Eddy and I initially kept my distance, although I did develop a friendly relationship and did create videos) and brought my video camera, but I’ve left everything that was recorded that night in — including Conal going in search of his car, which had been towed, between-songs chatter, and more, for those not fortunate to be there fifteen years ago or other times.
This new CD is completely heartening music. Here’s the cover . . .
but before you have one more word launched in your direction, hear some sounds. Excerpts only, but how tasty!
WEST END BLUES:
BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:
The songs are TIGHT LIKE THIS, HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, WEATHER BIRD RAG, HOTTER THAN THAT, I DOUBLE DARE YOU, MEMORIES OF YOU, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, CORNET CHOP SUEY, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, WEST END BLUES, YES! I’M IN THE BARREL, NEW ORLEANS STOMP, and the noble members of The Ensemble are Jérome Etcheberry leader, trumpet, arrangements; Malo Mazurié, trumpet; César Poirier, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Benjamin Dousteyssier, alto and baritone saxophone; Ludovic Allainmat, piano; Félix Hunot, guitar; Sébastien Girardot, string bass; David Grebil, drums.
Some months back, Jerome, whose previous work I’ve found thrilling, asked me if I would write something for his new enterprise. It took me very little time to fall in love with this music, that seems adoring and irreverent (in the best ways) at once.
When I began to listen to this CD I hadn’t had breakfast, so after a track or two I thought, “This is filet of Louis wrapped in a spicy pastry crust, both rare and well-done.” What does my culinary metaphor ending in a cliché mean? As far back as the late Twenties, recordings show that musicians were so awe-struck by Louis – who came from a much more advanced solar system – that they imitated, or attempted to imitate, his singing and playing. Rex Stewart bought shoes like Louis’. And it went beyond individual attempts. Hear BEAU KOO JACK (1929) by the Earl Hines band – his solos scored for the trumpet section. Fast forward to Carnegie Hall, November 8, 1974: a tribute to Louis by the New York Jazz Repertory Company, with Mel Davis, Pee Wee Erwin, and Joe Newman (the sacred texts transcribed scored by Dick Hyman, of course) playing Louis in unison on CAKE WALKING BABIES, POTATO HEAD BLUES, WILLIE THE WEEPER, and WEATHER BIRD. I was there; it was electrifying. Not just as a “Wow, they can do that, and do it well!” in the way you’d applaud Olympic gymnasts, but the multiple voices gave heft and depth to music I’d known by heart for years.
I felt the same exultant chills down my spine listening to this disc. First, Jerome’s playing is glowing, passionate, and exact, both his solos and “section work.” He sounds like Louis in four dimensions, thick and broad and monumental. I also cherish the absence of caricature: no vocals, no “Oh, yeah!” which shows a deep understanding of the man: Louis joked and mugged onstage but was dead serious when he picked up the horn.
And so is Jerome. I can’t overpraise the rest of the band, either. Some bandleaders insist that modern musicians read parts – perhaps a transcribed Jimmy Strong solo – and that’s fine. But it is thrilling to hear these inventive players speak their own swinging truths so joyously, and when “Louis” comes back – in the person of Jerome – there’s no abrupt shift from one world to another. Each performance is a fully-formed entrée (to return to food) with its own savory touches, imaginative, playful, and memorable – so the disc never feels like more of the same. And there’s no conscious archaism either – the result is timeless Mainstream, swinging and vivid. I know Louis would like it. And since I think the dead do not go away, I’ll bet my 78s that Louis likes this now.
I love this disc not only musically, but as a delightful vision of what it might be like to live in a Satchmocracy: where our local deity is a bringer of joy who also takes Swiss Kriss and buys the neighborhood kids ice-cream, where each of us is encouraged to follow in Louis’ path, admiring him but being ourselves in every gesture and embrace. A blissful republic indeed.
Thank you, exalted denizens of that world who make such radiant sounds.
. . . . and for those of you who might say, “I don’t need this new CD — I know all these records by heart already,” this would be an error, because SATCHMOCRACY is a vivid, brightly-colored creation, a joy on its own terms. I would hug it if I could.
I think of a performance like this as brightly colored but full of shadings, a compendium of Fifty-Second Street camaraderie brought into our century. Or, more simply, five minutes of expert joy. Notice I write expert: it’s only in the movies where Jack Webb picks up a cornet and is — voila! — proficient. For these jovial fellows and their colleagues, swing is a life’s work.
They are, from left, Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal (whose birthday is today), string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet. (Dear Jacob: my apologies for not swinging the camera around sufficiently to always capture you.)
And the song here is the Al Dubin – Harry Warren delight, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN.
This performance has its own extra added emotional kick. Not only is it musically wonderful, but it is a souvenir of the last time I saw this band in action, the last festival I attended. We live in hope for a swinging future, you know.
I offer the keys to an Easter Sunday compact outdoor jazz festival in New York City — like water for people who have been parched by deprivation far too long — and Easter celebrations of the hallowed past. Yes, JAZZ LIVES is your full-service Easter jazz blog. Did you doubt it?
The good news for Sunday, April 4, 2021, for those people within easy reach of Manhattan, is that what Jay Rattman modestly calls “the little gig at the church” is going to happen. Hark! It’s 2-3 on Sunday in front of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 81 Christopher Street. (Take the #1 subway if you are so inclined.) Danny Tobias on trumpet, Jay on soprano saxophone assuming it’s a little too chilly for clarinet, Josh Holcomb on trombone, James Chirillo on banjo, and Brian Nalepka on tuba. I won’t be there with a video camera . . . other commitments . . . . so you have to make the scene yourself. And that, as E.B. White’s Charlotte says, is SOME BAND.
Here’s music to get in the mood, no matter what your Sunday plans are.
The live performances below combine all sorts of pleasures: Irving Berlin, Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Lou McGarity, Jess Stacy, Pee Wee Russell, Gene Krupa, George Wettling, Sidney Catlett, and more. Eddie liked the song — he loved American pop music of the highest order — as you can hear, he didn’t save it for the one spring Sunday.
I have another EASTER PARADE that didn’t get shared with the troops, but that will appear as part of a Condon concert that only a handful of people have ever heard. Watch this space.
Back to the issued music: if it needs to be pointed out, these performances stand alongside the more-heralded jazz recordings of the time, the small-group sides of the middle Forties, for delight, ingenuity, swing, and feeling. Let no one characterize Eddie and his friends’ music as “Dixieland”; let no one stereotype it as too-fast renditions of traditional warhorses. There’s elegance and lyricism here, exploration of the subtle variations possible within medium and medium-fast tempos. I think those truths need to be said repeatedly, to re-establish a proper hierarchy of great jazz performances.
Bobby Hackett, Muggsy Spanier (cnt) Max Kaminsky (tp) Miff Mole (tb) Pee Wee Russell, Edmond Hall (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Sid Weiss (b) Gene Krupa (d). Town Hall, New York, Sept. 23, 1944:
Max Kaminsky (tp) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (cl,bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Bob Casey (b) Joe Grauso (d). November 11, 1944:
Billy Butterfield (tp) Lou McGarity (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar,cl) Gene Schroeder (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Sid Weiss (b) Sidney Catlett (d). March 31, 1945:
Max Kaminsky (tp) Miff Mole (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Jack Lesberg (b) George Wettling (d). Audition for a Chesterfield cigarette-sponsored radio program, Spring 1945:
People who celebrate Easter as the most serious Christian ritual may do it in their own way; perhaps some families will still get together for closeness and food; some will just take the occasion to get dressed up or to watch others, so spiffy in their spring finery. Wise types who understand the importance of pleasure will get themselves down to 81 Christopher Street between 2 and 3 on Sunday. Heretics like myself may entertain themselves by thinking that chocolate bunnies will be half-price on Monday.
I’m sure your insurance plan has Doctors WIllie “the Lion” Smith, Frank Newton, Buster Bailey, Pete Brown, Jimmy McLin, John Kirby, and O’Neil Spencer as participating providers. Their theraputic model was based in a text written on July 14, 1937, by Doctors Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin. Here’s the mission statement of this medical group. (First the label; the music is below this photograph.)
Sammy Cahn doesn’t mention this song in his autobiography, but I wonder if it was his whimsical response to some self-help book popular at the time, perhaps Napoleon Hill’s THINK AND GROW RICH, surely one of the most enticing book titles ever. But Cahn’s lyrics are good homespun advice; Chaplin’s melody is simple and thus memorable, and the singing of O’Neil Spencer, and the solos — this is, for me, an irreplaceable recording. See if it doesn’t stick with you, also:
A little four-chorus masterpiece, full of individualistic voices and great ensemble unity. It’s not as well-known, but it’s surely the equal of the more-heralded Billie Holiday and Fats Waller recordings of the time. And it contains truths. “Take personal inventory” is advice that never ages. Sing it, play it, live by it.
As they say, “I’m a fan.” Not only of the wonderful, completely-herself singer Yaala Ballin, but of guitarist Chris Flory, pianist Michael Kanan, string bassist Ari Roland . . . and that Israel Baline fellow, Americanized to Irving Berlin, gleaming on a splendid new CD.
Here’s a quick video-audio tour:
and — to support the title of this post:
I can’t get enough — Yaala truly improvises! — here she is with Michael, last Valentine’s Day, telling the Ballin – Baline story in a few words:
That should convince anyone that this is music to purchase, to treasure, to share. But a few words.
Berlin himself is — like some stocks — disgracefully undervalued.
His music has been perceived for so long as well-behaved. No sudden shocks of the sort you find in Hart’s or Porter’s lyrics; he doesn’t always aim for the arching melodies of Kern. Berlin’s curse is that, like Bing Crosby, he manages so deftly to appear simple. “I could write a song as good as that.” But you didn’t, we must point out. Berlin can be sassy and witty: “Be careful, it’s my heart. It’s not my watch you’re holding, it’s my heart.” And how many of us know his arch but tender FOOLS FALL IN LOVE? But his great strength is in his apparent plainness: the melodies that sound as if you could pick them out on the piano with one finger, the lyrics that sound like casual speech. Of course his songs have “become part of the cultural landscape,” but that is why they get taken for granted. Hear the singer stride into BLUE SKIES or CHEEK TO CHEEK and we may be forgiven for thinking, to quote Sammy Cahn, “It seems to me I’ve heard that song before.” It’s easy to regard Berlin the same way one might look at the two slices of toast that accompany our eggs at the diner. Familiar, not essential. But his music is lit from within by a depth of feeling that makes his songs expressions of dear truths. Think of HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, that most passionate declaration of love couched entirely in questions, decades before JEOPARDY.
And — if we stop to listen to his songs with fresh attention, they sparkle with gentle daring.
Gentle daring also characterizes Yaala Ballin’s singing. When I listen to her, I always wish I had a very astute companion next to me to whom I could say, “Did you hear what she just did with that tone, that pause, that phrase?” She is incapable of delivering the simplest line in a formulaic way. Her gliding phrasing, so musical, is a kind of lively quirky speech. A minute hesitation here, a startling rush there: she’s not locked in by the 1-2-3-4 although she keeps lovely time and swings from the start. Her slides from one note to another summon up instrumental masters Vic Dickenson and Ben Webster. She is a magnificently subversive actress, because we never feel that she is acting. As you hear in the examples above, she is a quiet risk-taker. You don’t come to one of Yaala’s songs on this CD and think, “Wow, she painted everything bright orange and nailed a chair to the ceiling for effect,” rather it’s as if a sly artist has moved one vase and two bowls in the room and everything is wonderfully improved. Hear her second chorus of HOW MANY TIMES? Or THIS YEAR’S KISSES, always thought of as Property of Billie Holiday — Yaala and Michael Kanan, in their first rubato duet chorus, say kindly to the Lady, “We bow low to you, but we have our own ways of getting that feeling” — rueful feeling with swing but not needing capital letters.
It would be cruel to not share it with you:
Describing Yaala’s co-equals (it would be demeaning to call them “accompanists”) — Michael Kanan, Chris Flory, Ari Roland — I find myself in the nicest critical quandary. Are they a subtle muscular twenty-first century Nat Cole trio? No, I think, they are the 1940 Basie band in portable form. The tracks that began with brief instrumental introductions brought happiness from the first notes. And their approach mixes respect and innovation. Singers have occasionally taken Berlin very slowly: here, REMEMBER, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? SAY IT ISN’T SO, and BE CAREFUL, IT’S MY HEART are taken at walking tempos, stripping away decades of melodrama to reveal the strong structures beneath. Several of the songs have unexpected rhythmic underpinnings, adding freshness: for the first time ever, I was able to put Astaire aside while hearing CHANGE PARTNERS.
And the CD sounds the way these four people sound in person, so I had the dreamy sensation of having Yaala, Michael, Chris, and Ari in my living room. Thanks to Chris Sulit and Nils Winther for making this happen.
The CD is deliciously varied: the compact performances feel just right, completely satisfying in their old-fashioned refusal to sprawl. Little arranging touches — Yaala in duet with each of the players, split choruses and other variations — make this a splendid tasting menu. I kept returning to some of the songs, as if it was too difficult to let go of the sensations they had evoked until I’d heard them three or four times. I hope for a yard-length CD series of YAALA BALLIN SINGS THE __________ SONGBOOK. (I vote for Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, but that’s just me.)
When I had finished my first hearing of the CD, I felt as if I had been given great gifts. And then I played it again. Deprive yourself of such pleasures at your own peril. The disc and its digital contents are available in the usual places and the usual ways.