Category Archives: SURPRISE!

IN A SPIN, TWICE: CLUB BOHEMIA OFFICIALLY OPENS! (October 17, 2019) and FAT CAT MATTHEW RIVERA’S HOT CLUB!

You might be walking along Barrow Street, on the Bleecker Street side of Seventh Avenue South (all this conjecture is taking place in Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, the United States); you could look up and see this sign.

You might just think, “Oh, another place to have an ale and perhaps a burger,” and you’d be correct, but in the most limited way.

Surprises await the curious, because down the stairs is the sacred ground where the jazz club Cafe Bohemia existed in the Fifties, where Miles, Lester, Ben, Coltrane, Cannonball, Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Pettiford played and live sessions were recorded.

Here’s the room as it is now.  Notice the vertical sign?

This isn’t one of those Sic Transit Gloria Mundi posts lamenting the lost jazz shrines (and certainly there is reason enough to write such things) BECAUSE . . .

On Thursday, October 17, yes, this week, the new Cafe Bohemia will open officially.  This is important news to me and I hope to you.  So let me make it even more emphatic.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, THE NEW CAFE BOHEMIA OPENS. 

That is as emphatic as WordPress permits.  I was there on September 26, for the club’s trial run (more about that below) and I was delighted to find very friendly staff, good food and drink, pleasing sight lines and a receptive crowd, so it was a nostalgic return to a place I’d never been.

But back to current events.  On this coming Thursday, there will be two shows, an early show at 6:45 and a late one at 9:30.  These shows will be, as they say in retail, “value-packed”!  Each show will feature wonderfully entertaining and enlightening record-spinning of an exalted kind by Fat Cat Matthew Rivera, bringing his Hot Club to the Village on a regular basis, AND live jazz from the Evan Arntzen Quartet including guitarist Felix Lemerle, string bassist Alex Claffy, and drummer Andrew Millar.  Although the Bohemia hasn’t yet posted its regular schedule, their concept is both ambitious and comforting: seven nights of live jazz and blues music of the best kind.

Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney

Buy tickets here for the early show, here for the late one.  It’s a small room, so be prepared.  (I am, and I’ll be there.)  And here is the Eventbrite link for those “who don’t do Facebook.”

If you follow JAZZ LIVES, or for that matter, if you follow lyrical swinging jazz, I don’t have to introduce Evan Arntzen to you.  And if, by some chance, his name is oddly new to you, come down anyway: you will be uplifted.  I guarantee it.

But who is Matthew Rivera?

I first met Matt Rivera (to give him his full handle, “Fat Cat Matthew Rivera,” which he can explain to you if you like) as a disembodied voice coming through my speakers as he was broadcasting on WKCR-FM a particularly precious musical reality — the full spectrum of jazz from before 1917 up to the middle Fifties, as captured on 78 RPM disks.

It isn’t a dusty trek into antiquity: Matt plays Miles and Bird, Gene Ammons and Fats Navarro next to “older styles.”  Here’s Matt in a characteristically devout pose, at Cafe Bohemia:

and the recording (you’ll hear it on this post) that is the Hot Club’s theme song:

About two weeks ago, I visited the Fat Cat in his Cafe Bohemia lair and we chatted for JAZZ LIVES.  YouTube decided to edit my long video in the middle of a record Matt was spinning, but I created a video of the whole disk later.  Here’s the nicely detailed friendly first part:

and the second part:

and some samples of the real thing.  First, the complete WHO?

DEXTERITY, with Bird, Miles, and Max:

and finally, a Kansas City gem featuring tenor player Dick Wilson and Mary Lou Williams and guitarist Floyd Smith:

Cafe Bohemia isn’t just a record-spinning listening party site, although the Fat Cat will have a regular Hot Club on Monday nights.  Oh, no.  When I attended the club’s trial run on September 26, there was live jazz — a goodly helping — of the best, with Mara Kaye singing (acoustically) blues and Billie with the joyous accompaniment of that night’s Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass.  Here’s their opening number, ST. LOUIS BLUES:

The first word Mara utters on that video is “Wow,” and I echo those sentiments.  Immense thanks are due owner Mike Zieleniewski and the splendid Christine Santelli as well as the musicians and staff.

See you downstairs at Cafe Bohemia on Thursday night: come over and say hello as we welcome this birth and rebirth to New York City.

May your happiness increase!

“IN THAT FREE-AND-EASY MANNER”: MENNO DAAMS’ INTERNATIONAL SERENADERS BRING ALEX HILL TO LIFE (Whitley Bay, November 4, 2016)

Early on November 4, 2016, an august group of informally-attired gentlemen assembled within the Village Hotel in Newcastle, England, at what is now called Mike Durham’s Whitley bay Classic Jazz Party to rehearse their set of songs and arrangements by the most-talented and most short-lived Alex Hill.  Their aims: to have a jubilee and also do some needed functionizin’.

The truly all-star band was led by trumpeter / scholar / arranger Menno Daams,  and was comprised of David Boeddinghaus, piano; Spats Langham, guitar and vocal; Henry Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums;  Rico Tomasso, Duke Heitger, trumpets; Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Robert Fowler, Lars Frank, reeds; Jim Fryer, Alistair Allan, trombones.

This was a rehearsal: thus, not everything had already been polished through focused playing and replaying, but the absence of an audience occasionally lets musicians cut loose and experiment.  I’ve intentionally left in the pre-and-post comments to give listeners the experience of being there.

And although they knew I was there, they happily managed to ignore me, which was fine then and turned into a great boon for all of us.  I had a wonderful view of the chairs, but one must sit far enough back in the room to capture everyone in the band. My focus wasn’t perfect, but at least you can blame the camera rather than its operator.  The sound is clear, and the absence of an audience, bringing pint mugs back and forth and chatting, is a great boon, although sharp-eared video observers will hear some commentary which usually stops when the band begins.

About the band name: I don’t think Menno and Co. had an official collective sobriquet in the program, and many of the original Hill sessions were issued as “his Hollywood Sepians,” and no amount of linguistic immolation on my part could convert that to a group title both appropriate and inoffensive.  I will leave the possible variations on that theme to you, and comments offering such names will, alas, never see the light of cyber-day.

On to the blessed music.  LET’S HAVE A JUBILEE:

SONG OF THE PLOW:

AIN’T IT NICE?:

DISSONANCE (Mezz Mezzrow took credit, but it is a Hill composition and arrangement):

DELTA BOUND (with wonderful singing by Mr. Langham, typically):

FUNCTIONIZIN’, a close cousin of SQUEEZE ME:

KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL, wise advice:

One of the unannounced pleasures of this Party, held this November in the same space [the “v.snuggly” Village Hotel] is that well-behaved listeners are welcome to sit in on rehearsals — a rare pleasure.  Blessings on Alex, Menno, and the wonderful musicians for their splendid work in keeping the good sounds alive.

And just so you know my enthusiasm is global, not local, this comment, relayed through my good friend Sir Robert Cox: “Tom [that’s Spats] said how brilliant Menno’s arrangements were and how much, to their astonishment, rehearsal had taken only 45 minutes. He said that, never in the history of the party, had a rehearsal lasted less than an hour.”

May your happiness increase!

HOW THE MASTERS DO IT: BOB HAVENS // MARTY GROSZ (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 16, 2011)

I am moderately accident-prone: I can trip over an uneven sidewalk; have the last bit of salad dressing adhere to my shirt; while driving, I may unsuccessfully avoid a pothole with an $800 repair bill as the result.  I laugh about it.

So I admire those who see the looming catastrophe, however its size and shape, and step around it without spilling their tea.  They aren’t Bojangles, Fred, or Gene — just people who sense the landmine and gracefully avoid it.  Jazz musicians are especially good at fixing errors before they turn into train wrecks.

Two of these Masters — you could call them spiritual acrobats or merely veterans of the trade — are trombonist Bob Havens and guitarist / singer / arranger Marty Grosz.  Both of these heroes are born in 1930, so when this brief interlude took place on September 16, 2011, they were 81.  Decades of experience!  The occasion was the yearly Jazz at Chautauqua, the beloved child of Joe Boughton, that was held at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York (ninety minutes from Buffalo).  It was a memorable jazz weekend, with about thirty musicians playing and singing from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon.

One of the particular delights of Chautauqua grew out of Joe’s love for beautiful semi-forgotten songs.  Thus the weekend began and ended with a ballad medley.  Four musicians were chosen as a skilled rhythm section, and from one side of the stage, everyone else walked on, indicated briefly to the rhythm section what song they had chosen and in what key, played or sang a chorus at a slow tempo, and walked offstage from the other side.  Emotionally powerful, visually charming, full of surprises and sweet sensations.

For the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua’s closing medley, the rhythm section was Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Arnie Kinsella, drums.  The complete medley ran perhaps twenty minutes: I’ve excerpted a segment I find particularly touching.

You’ll see at the start of this excerpt Bob Havens step onstage and explain by words and gestures that he plans to play — in seconds — LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND, the nostalgic creation of Charles and Nick Kenny and Danny Coots’ great-uncle, J. Fred.  It’s a favorite song of mine, first recorded in 1931 by (among others) Ruth Etting, then made into a huge success by Pat Boone.  I won’t comment on what the trajectory from Ruth to Pat suggests to me, especially because it was one of Vic Dickenson’s favorites also (his medium-bounce version can be found on YouTube).  In its homespun way, it’s a seventeenth-century poem: human love always loses the battle with nature and time, and tears are inevitable.

The opening phrase is familiar, the harmony simple, but unless my ears deceive me, there is a slight uncertainty in the rhythm section about the harmonies that follow, so Havens, used to this sort of thing for decades, “spells out” the harmony by emphasizing arpeggiated chords as he goes along — and the performance not only reaches its goal but our hearts as well.

Then Marty, who always goes his own way, thank goodness, asks everyone to be silent while he essays EMALINE.  That in itself would be brave — the lyrics to the chorus are pure Waltons-Americana, but they might be fairly well known.  No, our hero Martin Oliver Grosz begins with the verse and gets about one-third of the way before realizing his memory of the lyrics is incomplete: hear his inimitable rescue!  And the chorus is just lovely.  Incidentally, Frank Tate is someone I deeply admire: watch and listen to this clip again, and look at his facial expressions as Marty walks the thorny path he has chosen for himself.

For those who need to know (I had to look them up) the pretty although seriously hackneyed lyrics to the verse are: Ev’ning breezes hum a lullaby / There’s a million candles in the sky / I’ve put on my Sunday suit of blue / Emaline, just for  you / Here I’m standing at your garden gate / While the village clock is striking eight / Hurry up! Hurry down! / Honey, don’t be late!  (I especially like the “up” and “down,” but I’m a sentimentalist.)

The musicians on this stage (and their friends) are my role models.  What does a brief error matter if you either head it off or make a joke out of it: in both cases, they not only avoid trouble but cover it up so stylishly that the result is even better than plain old competence.  All hail!

There will be more previously unknown treasures from the Jazz at Chautauqua weekends — and then its successor, the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — in months to come.  “Too good to ignore,” said Eddie Condon, who spoke truth.

May your happiness increase!

MODERN ROMANCES IN JAZZ, WITH A LEMON SLICE: “CHARLES RUGGIERO AND HILARY GARDNER PLAY THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE”

I will begin at an oblique angle.  One of my heroes is trumpeter Spike Mackintosh, fiercely devoted to the music he embodied.  Spike believed that the only jazz to be listened to was recorded between 1928-34.  I admire that devotion, but confining oneself to a narrow — even though pearly — segment of art would be stifling.  So I commend a new CD (Smalls Live SLoo61) of songs I’d never heard before by a duo entirely new to me.

Hilary Gardner by Shervin Lainez

Singer Hilary Gardner adores Rodgers and Hart but also knows theirs is not the only love music we might vibrate to.  When she asked if I’d like to hear this CD, she cautioned that I might not like it.  True, I don’t “like” it: I embrace it.

And before I ask you to read one more word, here is a song from the CD:

Although I still grow weepy when I hear Charles La Vere’s 1935 I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU, this I find entrancing.  The song is a collection of half-sentences that coalesce into an emotional mosaic, a synergy larger than the apparent fragments.  And the other seven songs on this disc are small novellas in jazz.

When I first heard the CD, the image that kept recurring was “Warm heart and sharp elbows,” and I think it’s true.  Or a cake recipe where the expected sweetness is cut by a cup of lemon juice.  I may be older than the perceived audience for The Bird & The Bee, and I am usually very suspicious of new additions to the words-and-music I treasure, but I feel that this music not only sounds pleasantly surprising, but the lyrics express the modern world with snap, tenderness, and glee.  It could be the successor to all the songs I have taken to my heart from the Twenties onwards — intelligent additions and modifications to the world of love as seen by Porter and Hart and Gershwin, Wilder, Robison, and many others.

What strikes me now and did when I first listened to the CD is not the apparent “audacity” of the project — “My goodness, Mabel, jazz people recording non-jazz material!  Heavens!”  It’s neither incongruous nor is it a gambit to make money from bridging two disparate audiences (think: BASIE’S BEATLE BAG) but the delight is how seamless the result is, as if I and others had really been waiting for four wonderful creative improvisers to record this music.  And, by the way, the back of the sleeve has a gracious appreciative note from Inara George, one half of the musical duo, about this CD.

It is not only the original songs I admire, their mixtures of affection and wryness, their romance and realism, but the performances.  They are great songs not only to improvise on but to hear unadorned, even without lyrics.  I have admired Neal Miner for a long time, but the trio he forms with Charles Ruggiero, drums, and Jeremy Manasia, piano, is just superb: they mesh but remain distinctly individuals.  And Hilary comes through with great subtlety, gentleness, and wit: as if here she’d found the real nourishment to express herself afresh.  I should also add that the recording is lovely: the way we usually hear artists in a club, through amplifiers, microphones, and the club’s sound system is coarse by comparison.

The CD gleams in every way and will continue to do so.   And it’s available in all the usual places and ways.  (Hilariously, Amazon notes it is “Explicit” because the second song uses the F-word.  Oh, save me from such filth!  How very naughty.  But I digress.)  Buy it, I suggest.

May your happiness increase!

“ARE YOU READY? THEN JUMP STEADY!”

This seems not only an invitation to the dance but to a way of life.

Since staring at the label can only take us so far, here are the sounds:

That 1940 recording proves that Louis’ maligned Decca band had by this time was a first-rate swing band, as well as a swinging dance band.  Hear how Sidney Catlett understood Louis as few ever did, and Big Sid knew how to express his personality without insisting on being the whole show, a lesson many people can still learn.  If personnel listings are accurate, this band was, in addition to Louis, Bernard Flood, Shelton Hemphill, Henry “Red” Allen, Wilbur DeParis, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, Rupert Cole, Charlie Holmes, Joe Garland, Bingie Madison, Luis Russell, Lee Blair, Pops Foster, and Sidney Catlett — a powerful gliding group full of friends from the Luis Russell band of 1929-30.

That would be a post in itself — Louis and Jack Palmer writing a jovial novelty tune that also is a wonderful swing record, showing us why Harlem audiences so enjoyed the band as well as its leader.

Palmer, also, is crucial here: he, Cab Calloway, and Frank Froeba had created THE JUMPIN’ JIVE (whose refrain is “Hep hep hep”) in 1939 — first recorded by a Lionel Hampton small group, and it was a substantial hit.  Whether Palmer found Louis or the reverse, HEP CATS’ BALL (which was not a hit) seems a Louis-enhanced version of the same idea: you can have a wonderful time in Harlem if you know the way uptown.  Almost eighty years later, I wonder how many people spoke this way, and for how long, but it doesn’t perplex me.

But there’s more here than a fine Louis Armstrong performance that gets little to no attention.  How about two?  How about some comparative listening?

This great surprise came into my field of vision just a day ago — thanks to Javier Soria Laso, who found it and sent it to Ricky Riccardi on Facebook, which is where I encountered it:

Louis Armstrong at WABC

As the site-writer points out, Louis and the band recorded this on March 14, 1940, for Decca, and played it on the air three days later.  Mills Music (still run by Irving Mills?) used a service that recorded performances of Mills-owned compositions off the air . . . for their archives or for purposes I don’t, at this remove, understand.  But the result is a treasure.  The conventional wisdom is that live performances are longer than 78 rpm recordings, but the airshot is almost twenty seconds shorter.  The tempo is faster, and it is less restrained — hear Louis’ ad lib comments, including “I mean it!”, there is a splendid break by J.C. Higginbotham, still at the peak of his shouting powers, and we can hear the little variations within the arrangement, with a great deal of delicious Catlett embellishment, encouragement, and joy.

Airshots of Louis before World War Two are not plentiful, or at least that used to be the case before selections from the Fleischmann’s Yeast programs were issued on CD, and the late Gosta Hagglof’s collection of Cotton Club airshots on the Ambassador label — a disc I am proud to have written the notes for.  But who knew that HEP CATS’ BALL would emerge and be so rewarding?

Incidentally, Ricky Riccardi’s second volume on Louis, covering this period, called I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM, will be published in 2020.  I’ve read an early version and it is characteristic Riccardi: warm, enthusiastic, and full of new information.

While I was shuttling back from one recording to another, I did as we all do — a little online research, and found some relevant trivia.  1697 Broadway, as Google Images tells me, is now home to the Ed Sullivan Theater, Angelo’s Pizza, and various unidentified offices.  Here’s what it looked like in mid-1936, when HELP YOURSELF ran at the Popular Price Theatre of the Federal Theatre Project.  I regret I can’t take you inside the building at that time to show you what Ace Recording looked like in 1940; you will have to imagine:

NEW YORK – JULY 1: Exterior of the Manhattan Theatre at 1697 Broadway at West 53rd Street, New York, NY. It later becomes The Ed Sullivan Theater. Image dated July 1, 1936. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

It’s a foxy hop.  Meet me there!  (“There” is problematic.  The original Cotton Club had been in Harlem, but it was segregated — providing Black entertainment for Whites only.  By the time Louis was broadcasting for CBS “from the Cotton Club,” it had moved downtown to Broadway and 48th Street and was no longer segregated, but it closed in 1940.  So go the glories of hepdom.)

May your happiness increase!

MY FRIEND FLIP, at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Part One): RANDY REINHART, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN SHERIDAN, VINCE GIORDANO, JOHN VON OHLEN (September 2008)

Warning for the timid and the finicky: the video that follows is unusually flawed and visually limited.  But the sound is fine and the performance precious.

Some of you may recognize this now-obsolete piece of technology.  In 2008, before I bought my first video camera, I tried out a Flip pocket video.  It recorded sixty minutes; it had no controls aside from an on / off button and a rudimentary zoom function; it fit in a pocket.

I had shot some video with it, but remember only two instances: once at The Ear Inn, where a musician who shall be nameless expressed his displeasure by coming close to me and hissing, “Audio’s all right, but that video don’t do nothin’ for me, Pops,” to which I apologized, put it away, and later deleted the video.  Pops hasn’t forgotten, you will notice, and in his dotage, he avoids that musician, even without a camera.

The other instance was in Mexico, where I recorded some vibrant street musicians, but I foolishly packed Flip (as I thought of him, like a cartoon character) in my checked luggage and he went on to a new life in someone else’s pocket.  And I graduated to “real” video cameras, as you have probably seen.

The story of My Friend Flip would have remained a crumb in the breadbox of memory except that two days ago I started a rigorous — no, violent — apartment-tidying, in search of some things I knew I had but couldn’t find.  You know the feeling.  I found a once-blank CD with the puzzling notation, “Chau 2008    Flip.”  At first I thought, “Did I see Flip Phillips at Jazz at Chautauqua?” but knew I hadn’t.  I put the disc in the computer’s DVD tray, waited, and eventually discovered three video performances I had completely forgotten — but which made me joyous, as you will understand.

The late Joe Boughton, who ran Jazz at Chautauqua, was severe in the way I imagine a Roman emperor must have been.  Oh, it was covered by friendliness . . . until you violated one of his strictures.  Musicians can tell you the verbal assaults that resulted when someone played a song that was, to Joe, too common.  SATIN DOLL or SWEET GEORGIA BROWN was punishable by exile: I WISH I WERE TWINS or HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH would make Joe happy and guarantee you’d be invited back.

Joe also recorded everything for his own pleasure (and those recordings, I am told, survive in a university collection) but he didn’t want anyone else recording anything.

Fast forward to 2011, when I’d had this blog for a few years and had Joe in my readership.  I boldly brought my video camera with me and — expecting the worst — asked Joe if it was OK if I videoed a few tunes, for publicity, if I got the musicians’ permission.  His response was positive but also imperial, “Who cares about their permission?  I don’t mind!: and I went ahead.

Before then, a shy criminal, I recorded as much audio as possible on a digital recorder I kept in my pocket (which means that some discs begin with the sound of me walking from my room to the ballroom) and in 2007 I took my point-and-shoot camera, stood at one side of the stage, and recorded two performances, which I have posted here.  Joe didn’t notice, and the palace guards liked me, so I was able to return the next year.

On three separate occasions in 2008, I walked to one side of the stage (perhaps I pretended I was visiting the men’s room), turned on Flip, and recorded some wonderful music for posterity, for me, for you.  Before you move on, I warn you that the video is as if seen through a dirty car windshield.  I was shooting into a brightly lit window, so much is overexposed.  The focus is variable, and there is a Thanksgiving Day Parade of slow-moving patrons who amble on their way, often standing in front of the man with a little white box to his eye.  “Could it have been a camera that young fellow was holding, Marge?  I don’t know, but don’t rush me, John!

But the music comes right through.  Some drum accents have the explosive power of small-arms fire, Flip was a simple camera.  However, everyone shines: Randy Reinhart, cornet; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Sheridan, piano; Vinc Giordano, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums, playing STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

Two more surprises will come along in time.  Until then, bless Randy, Jon-Erik, John, Vince, and John.  Joe, I apologize, but as Barney tells us, “Sharing is caring.”  And thank you, Friend Flip . . . wherever you are now.

May your happiness increase!