Category Archives: Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

WHAT WOULD JELLY DO? “RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH

Kris Tokarski has been one of my favorite solo and ensemble pianists for some years now.  It can’t be “many” years, because Kris is perhaps half my age, but my admiration is not limited by the length of our acquaintance.  He listens, he creates melodies, he swings, he sounds like himself, and he has a deep appreciation for the past without being chained by narrow historical definitions.

He’s recorded in a variety of settings, but here I draw your attention to two CDs of ragtime pieces done with delicacy and individuality: the first, issued in 2016 on Solo Art, paired him with drummer-scholar Hal Smith and string bassist Cassidy Holden, pleased me and others immensely: read more about it here.  KINKLETS from that disc:

The second disc by Kris and  Hal, now joined by bassist Joshua Gouzy, issued on Big Al Records, is called RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO, and it’s a real pleasure. Hear a sample for yourself here (scroll down the page through the evidence of how well Kris plays with others and on his own).

The premise is a collection of rags that Jelly Roll Morton planned to record — or would have known and played.  And it’s not a fanciful vision, as Hal Smith’s  solid annotations show — in 1939, Morton discussed with Roy Carew his plans to play Joplin and others in his own style, because, as he told Carew, “he didn’t know of anyone more qualified to do it than himself,” and he envisioned recording thirty or forty rags.  (Oh, had he lived for another decade!)

He didn’t live to accomplish this, but we have Tokarski, Gouzy, and Smith to make the fantasy real.

I am especially fond of projects that take a gently imaginative look at the past. Let those who feel drawn to such labors reproduce recordings: the results can be dazzling.  It takes decades of skill to play BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and sound even remotely like the Hot Five.  But even more entrancing to me is the notion of “What might have happened . . . .?” going back to my early immersion in Golden Era science fiction.  An example that stays in my mind is a series of Stomp Off recordings devoted to the Johnny Dodds repertoire, with the brilliant Matthias Seuffert taking on the mantle.  But the most memorable track on those discs was Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, a pop tune from 1929 that Dodds might well have heard or even played — rendered convincingly and joyously in his idiom.  (It really does something to me.)

That same playful vision applies to this disc.  It merges, ever so gently, Jelly Roll Morton and an unhackneyed ragtime repertoire, mixing piano solos and piano trio.  That in itself is a delightful combination, and I replayed this disc several times in a row when I first acquired a copy.

Kris plays beautifully, with a precise yet flexible approach to the instrument and the materials.  He doesn’t undercut, satirize, or “modernize”; his approach is simultaneously loving and easy. It’s evident that he has heard and absorbed the lessons of James P. Johnson and Teddy Wilson — their particular balance of propulsion and relaxation — as well as being able to read the notes on the page. He doesn’t pretend to be Morton in the way that lesser musicians have done (with Bix, Louis, Monk, and others) — cramming in every possible Mortonism over and over.  What he does is imagine a Mortonian approach, but he allows himself freedom to move idiomatically, with grace and beauty, within it.  And he doesn’t, in the name of “authenticity,” make rags sound stiff because they were written before Joe Oliver and Little Louis took Chicago.  He’s steady, but he’s steadily gliding.  His approach to the rags is neither stuffy reverence nor near-hysterical display.

He’s in good company with Josh and Hal.  Many string bassists working in this idiom confuse percussiveness with strength, and they hit the fretboard violently: making the bass a victim of misplaced enthusiasm.  Not Joshua, who has power and melodic wisdom nicely combined: you can listen to his lines in the trio with the delight you’d take in a great horn soloist.  Every note sings, and he’s clearly there with the pulse.

As for the drummer?  To slightly alter a famous Teagarden line, “If Hal don’t get it, well, forget it right now,” which is to say that Hal’s playing on this disc is a beautifully subtle, completely “living” model of how to play ensemble drums: gracious yet encouraging, supportive.  He doesn’t just play the beat: he creates a responsive tapestry of luxuriant sounds.

The CD is beautifully recorded by Tim Stambaugh of Word of Mouth Studios, and the repertoire is a treat — rags I’d never heard (THE WATERMELON TRUST by Harry C. Thompson, and ROLLER SKATERS RAG by Samuel Gompers) as well as compositions by Joplin, Lamb, Scott, Turpin, Matthews, and May Aufderheide.  Nothing overfamiliar but all melodic and mobile.

Here’s another sample.  Kris, Joshua, and Hal are the rhythm section of Hal’s Kid Ory “On the Levee” band, and here they play May Aufderheide’s DUSTY RAG at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2018:

Hear what I mean?  They play with conviction but their seriousness is light-hearted.  Volume Two is a disc that won’t grow tired or stale.  Thank you, Kris, Josh, and Hal!  And Jelly, of course.

May your happiness increase!

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“HAVE YOU GOT ANY MORTGAGES YOU’D LIKE ME TO PAY, BABY?”: DAWN LAMBETH, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, SAM ROCHA at MONTEREY (March 1, 2019)

The wonderful singer Dawn Lambeth, Paolo Alderighi, piano, and Sam Rocha, string bass, had never worked together before, but they make beautiful gliding music as group.  Their March 1 trio set at the Jazz Bash by the Bay might be one of my favorite musical interludes of this year.  I posted a performance from this set here.

Here is another delightful creation by Richard Whiting and Johnny Mercer from the 1937 film VARIETY SHOW, where it was sung by Dick Powell.  I love this song for its bouncy melody and Mercer’s lyrics, a witty mixture of modern and medieval times (mortgages and dragons) . . . and his refusal to lazily choose easy rhymes — a lesser writer would have rhymed “paid” and “slayed,” but easy and dull was never Mercer’s style.

And this performance!  Sam’s solid fluid propulsion, Paolo’s modernist swing, and Dawn . . . . whose easy grace is a constant pleasure, and the way she sings “Baby . . . .” is like biting into a ripe berry.  Savor this!

Wow.  And a few more to come.

May your happiness increase!

A LETTER FROM RUBY TO JACK, APRIL [3?], 1987

A small surprise from eBay, where surprises flourish: here‘s the link.  The seller’s price is $175 and $12 shipping, The latter substantially more than the original postage.

Ruby Braff, at home on Cape Cod, c. 1995. Photograph by George Borgman.

It’s a letter from Ruby Braff, who left us in 2003, to Jack Bradley, his friend and sometime manager, and of course close friend of Louis Armstrong.

Louis and Jack.

The letter isn’t dated, but the envelope is postmarked April 4, 1987:

Dear Jack (Fuckey),

I’m looking forward & backward to our gig. As we draw closer I’ll get the name of everything—oh, by the way, you’ve got plenty time now to get cash for me that nite, if possible.

You know I’m down in Zinno’s every nite, all our cats are so happy I’m there that it’s like 1941. Everybody’s in to see me. Buck Clayton, Morey, everybody. Packed!!!

Bad news—I’m depressed we lost Buddy Rich tonite. I played anyway. What a drag!

Every nite is Cafe Society for me! Unbelievable. Wild!!

Anyway ding ding you 2.

Later

love

Ruby.

Written in pencil on Braff’s letterhead. Folding creases, some light smudging, overall fine with original envelope. 8.5 x 11 inches (21.5 x 28 cm).

and . . .

and . . . .

A few annotations.  Buddy Rich died on April 2, 1987.  “Ding ding!” was Vic Dickenson’s all-purpose salutation, celebration, toast.  Buck Clayton should need no annotation.  “Morey” cannot be drummer Morey Feld, who died in 1971.

As to “Fuckey,” one interprets as one wishes.

Here, because I can —  life is not all about objects for sale — is what remains of the Braff-Steinman correspondence, two 1971 letters from Ruby to me.  Although Ruby was subject to unpredictable outbursts of rage (I witnessed one) his letters are gentle, touching, kind, and I did nothing special to evoke this kindness.

And an appropriate song — Ruby in duet with Dick Hyman in that same 1987:

We were lucky — and beyond — to have Ruby with us for fifty years.  And his music has no expiration date.

Should you want to know more — more than you ever thought you could know — about Ruby and his times, this book is a delightful and wise mountain of information and stories, Thomas Hustad’s BORN TO PLAY.

May your happiness increase!

GROOVIN’: THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at MONTEREY: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, STEVE PIKAL (March 1, 2019)

Milt Gabler and Harry Lim would have loved this band.  But to move from the conditional to the present, we love them now.  Here are two rocking performances (and two on-the-spot comic interludes) by the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, created for your swing pleasure at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 1, 2019, in Monterey, California.  The gentlemen of the ensemble are Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet and alto saxophone; Steve Pikal, string bass.

Steve and Danny, waiting for the unusually capable soundman to do what needs to be done.  Carnitas, cliantro, and black beans, please:

Then to more serious bidniss: MOPPIN’ AND BOPPIN’ — from the 1943 film STORMY WEATHER — performed by the Quintet in the style of a Hot Lips Page small group:

Brian considers the situation and tells us how he feels, commentary from Danny:

And another massive Forties groove, the love-child of Stephen Foster and Albert Ammons:

What followed (I’ve already posted this one on its own, but for those who might have missed it, here is the lovely Fats ballad, now in context):

I promise to have more music by this band in different locations — joys to come.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS SONNY STITT, WILLIE COOK, and LEE KONITZ (July 6, 2018)

More affectionate sharply focused tales from my favorite Jazz Eminence, Mister Morgenstern — recorded at his Upper West Side apartment last summer.

Here’s the first part of Dan’s recollections of Sonny Stitt, which include an ashtray and a bottle of vodka, not at the same time or place:

More about Sonny and the wonderful trumpeter / arranger Willie Cook:

In these interviews, I’ve concentrated primarily on the figures who have moved on to other neighborhoods, but Dan and I both wanted to shine a light on the remarkable Lee Konitz:

More to come, including Dan’s recollections of a trio of wondrous pianists, Martial Solal, Eddie Costa, and Willie “the Lion” Smith.  And Dan and I had another very rewarding session three days ago . . . with more to come this spring.

May your happiness increase!

MORE DELIGHTS FROM THE 75 CLUB: GABRIELE DONATI, MICHAEL KANAN, DORON TIROSH (March 14, 2019)

Back by popular demand (the first beautiful performance by Gabriele Donati, string bass; Michael Kanan, piano; Doron Tirosh, drums — at the 75 Club,  located at 75 Murray Street — here).  Three masters of the music at a most convivial place.

 

 

 

Bobby Troup’s blues in C, which I knew from a Frankie Laine record, BABY, BABY, ALL THE TIME:

a little Monk, LET’S COOL ONE:

and the beautiful Rodgers and Hart classic, HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES?:

I hope you’ve met Messrs. Donati, Kanan, and Tirosh, as well as making the acquaintance of the lovely 75 Club.

May your happiness increase!

“LOVE WILL FIND A WAY”: A NOBLE + WYLIE SHOWCASE (Part One): THE NEW WONDERS at the RUTGERS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: MIKE DAVIS, JOSH HOLCOMB, RICKY ALEXANDER, DALTON RIDENHOUR, PETER CHO, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY (January 7, 2019)

Here are some wonderful highlights from my first concert of 2019, a showcase for several bands under the brightly colored banner of Noble + Wylie, a musician-run enterprise that fills a real need, representing splendid traditional jazz performers, offering the best services to the artists and their audiences.  The co-founders are musicians Emily Asher and Katie Lee, who know the business from many angles.  You can read more about this promising company at the link above, but a few sentences from Emily give a taste of their forthright approach: “I see Noble + Wylie as an agency which elevates and celebrates excellence. By focusing on honesty and quality over chaos and hype, I look forward to fostering long-term positive relationships with diverse music venues, festivals, schools, and private clients in order to provide distinctive and creative music to audiences world-wide.”

(If you search for Noble & Wylie — connected by an ampersand — you’ll find only UK shoes, no music at all.  Caveat emptor.)

At the January 9 showcase, we had the opportunity to hear three groups represented by Noble + Wylie: The Ladybugs, the New Wonders, and Emily Asher’s Garden Party — and I brought back some tasty video evidence.  Here is the first set by the New Wonders, the remarkable band making the hot and sweet music of the Twenties alive again.  For this occasion, they are Mike Davis, cornet; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Peter Cho, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass sax; Jay Lepley, with incidental singing by members of the band.  My videos came from an odd angle, but I hope all can be forgiven.

The New Wonders, photograph by Renée Toplansky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike’s introductions are delightful history lessons in themselves, so you need no more from me.

RHYTHM KING, for Bix:

I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED, for the Chicago Loopers:

OSTRICH WALK, for Bix and Tram:

CLORINDA, for the Loopers:

This one’s a particular favorite of mine, Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle’s sweet ballad, LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, in the style of Bix and his Gang:

Finally, a romping CLARINET MARMALADE — hot and spreadable:

Once again, you can learn more about Noble + Wylie here.  (The name that Asher and Lee have chosen for their enterprise is a fascinating story in itself.)  And their Facebook page is  here.

May your happiness increase!