Category Archives: SURPRISE!

MR. RUSSELL FELT BETTER ALREADY: EDDIE CONDON, WILD BILL DAVISON, CUTTY CUTSHALL, EDMOND HALL, GENE SCHROEDER, BOB CASEY, BUZZY DROOTIN, RALPH SUTTON, ERNIE CACERES, AL HALL, JOE BUSHKIN, RAY McKINLEY (Town Hall, New York, February 21, 1951)

Pee Wee Russell hadn’t taken good care of himself, and his body had rebelled in 1951. Thank goodness for the medical acumen of the times that enabled him to live almost twenty years more. But I also think that knowing that he was so loved — Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong visiting him in the hospital — and events such as this concert must have helped. Music and love were so intertwined that it would be silly to ask where one starts and the other one ends, because neither one of them ends.

Pee Wee, distorted, by Weegee, c. 1955.

It’s odd to write that good things came out of the Cold War. But the belief that one of the best ways to exhibit the happiness possible under capitalism was to share hot music as an emblem of freedom may seem naive now, but it had sweet results. The Voice of America, an active propaganda medium, beamed live American jazz “behind the Iron Curtain,” hoping for conversion experiences.

In 2021, those of us old enough to remember Khruschev’s shoe and the Bay of Pigs, hiding under our desks, terrified of a thermonuclear device, can listen to some rich “Americondon” music. And for those who have no idea what those historical references might mean are encouraged to learn a little history and listen to the joys.

Here’s the menu:

JAZZ CLUB USA (Voice of America): from Town Hall, New York City, February 21, 1951: Tribute to Pee Wee Russell.

FIDGETY FEET / I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey, Buzzy Drootin / UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE Ernie Caceres, Schroeder, Al Hall, Buzzy / I CAN’T GET STARTED – HALLELUJAH! Joe Bushkin, Ray McKinley / IN A MIST Ralph Sutton / BASIN STREET BLUES as FIDGETY FEET:

And Pee Wee got better. Isn’t that lovely?

May your happiness increase!

GROOVING WITH FREDDY COLE, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, RANDY NAPOLEON, PAUL KELLER, EDDIE METZ (Atlanta Jazz Party, April 25, 2014)

I am delighted to be able to share these two deeply swinging performances (talk about “being in the pocket”!) by Freddy Cole, piano and vocal; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Paul Keller, string bass; Eddie Metz, drums — performed and recorded at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party.

Freddy Cole, 2018. Photograph by Jason Getz.

The Groove here is quite remarkable — as is the ensemble teamwork. Please notice the immaculate empathy among these musicians, with Paul and Ed acting as one but with discrete personalities, Freddy an orchestra in himself, and the wonderful rocking created by Bucky and Randy. Two other things I would call to your attention: the way Maestro Bucky, the senior member of the ad hoc aggregation, takes it upon himself — and why not? — to direct traffic, and does so with decades of experience. Also, the smile on Randy’s face: if we could harness that glowing energy, we could abandon fossil fuel.

What swing feels like, if you believe in it:

and “the highway that’s the best”:

May your happiness increase!

“TOO GOOD TO IGNORE”: THE EarRegulars REVIVE MANHATTAN: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, PAT O’LEARY (Outside THE EAR INN, May 2, 2021)

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.

Energized whimsy by Maria Traversa.

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.

May your happiness increase!

SKIP THE MASS-PRODUCED MOTHER’S DAY DINNER AND BRING MOM HERE FOR BOTTOMLESS SERVINGS OF JOY (The EarRegulars Return — Outside — to The Ear Inn!)

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.

Inventive art by Maria Traversa.

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.

May your happiness increase!

“THE REBECCA KILGORE TRIO, Vol. 1”: REBECCA KILGORE, RANDY PORTER, TOM WAKELING, and DICK TITTERINGTON (Heavywood Records)

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.

The cover says “Vol. One”: I hope for many more!

May your happiness increase!

COMING SOON, A SECOND MARTY PARTY! (MARTY GROSZ, DANNY TOBIAS, VINCE GIORDANO, JACK SAINT CLAIR: Awlbury Arboretum, Germantown, Philadelphia, May 26, 2021)

Marty in full swing. Photograph by Lynn Redmile.

Mark it down. Marty Grosz and friends will be playing an outdoor gig on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, at a lovely arboretum. Tickets are $25; the venue is small (around 70 seats) and seats are going quickly. Socially distanced and all those necessary details as well. The friends are Danny Tobias, trumpet, Eb alto horn and other brasses; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, tuba, string bass; Jack Saint Clair, tenor saxophone and clarinet. This will be Marty’s first gig since the famous ninetieth-birthday parties of March 2020. All this thanks to Barry Wahrhaftig, guitarist, musical sparkplug, and leader of the Hot Club of Philadelphia.

I don’t want to be more tactless than usual, but a Marty Grosz gig is a living reason to Carpe the __________ Diem.

Here‘s where you can get details and order tickets.

And here’s a characteristic Marty-and-friends performance from his ninetieth birthday party at the World Cafe, March 4, 2020. He picks up “the riverboat violin” for the venerable WABASH BLUES — alongside Vince Giordano, tuba; Jack Saint Clair, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; Randy Reinhart, trombone; Jim Lawlor, drums; Danny Tobias, trumpet. The impatient among you should be warned that Marty, as he is wont to do, tells a tale before the music starts at 7:50. Myself, I think Marty-narratives are valuable (have you read his autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE: MY LIFE IN JAZZ, published by Golden Valley Press?) and the music that follows is of course also.

See you there.

May your happiness increase!

JOAN MAR SAUQUÉ’S BRIGHT SOUNDS: “GONE WITH THE WIND”

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, here is 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!

May your happiness increase!

A HALF-HOUR WITH BING (JOE BUSHKIN, MILT HINTON, HERB ELLIS, and JAKE HANNA: Uris Theatre, December 7-19, 1976)

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.

Care to join in on the chorus?

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Forty-Seven) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring The EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

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 . . . .

May your happiness increase!

CENTRAL HEATING: KEITH NICHOLS, SPATS LANGHAM, RICO TOMASSO, THOMAS WINTELER, ALISTAIR ALLAN, PHIL RUTHERFORD, RICHARD PITE (Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, November 4, 2016)

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:

and . . .

May your happiness increase!

A PORK CHOP IS A GOLD BRICK NOW, or THE BROADCAST IS ENDED, BUT HOT LIPS PAGE LINGERS ON (with Tommy O’Brien’s Ragtime Band, January 19, 1948)

One.

“Very Blowingly.” I think Jimmy Ryan’s, a Sunday afternoon jam session, with Jack Bland, guitar; Kenny Hollon, tenor saxophone; Pete Brown, alto saxophone; Marty Marsala, cornet.

Two.

Three.

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.

May your happiness increase!

BLOWINGLY, 1948

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.

May your happiness increase!

GET READY FOR THE BIG PARADE: “COUNTERMELODY”: EVAN ARNTZEN with CHARLIE HALLORAN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MIKE DAVIS, ARNT ARNTZEN, DALTON RIDENHOUR, TAL RONEN, MARK McLEAN, CATHERINE RUSSELL (October 2-3, 2020)

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.

May your happiness increase!

“SHELLAC IN THE VINEYARDS,” or A NOTE FROM TONY BALDWIN, April 22, 2021

What’s the connection between this:

and this?

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.

Something else to bring pleasure, I think.

May your happiness increase!

LEE KONITZ, LOCKJAW DAVIS, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, RED MITCHELL, SHELLY MANNE (Nice 7.9.78) — a second take.

Note: the first version of this post was completely in chaos: the audio was Konitz and colleagues but the video was the World’s Greatest Jazz Band — enough to make anyone race for Dramamine. I was informed by several attentive readers, withdrew everything for repairs, and hope it is now brought into unity. Apologies! Barney Bigard’s hand gesture at the start of the video (the last seconds of his set) conveys my feelings about technical difficulties, especially when they leap right past SNAFU to become totally FUBAR.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lee-konitz-for-selmer.jpeg

“Strange bandfellows?” you say. I think some festival producers operate on the principle of the one Unexpected Element creating a great Chemical Reaction, that if you line up seven musicians who often play together, you might get routines. But add someone unusual and you might get the energy that jam sessions are supposed to produce from artists charged by new approaches. Or, perhaps cynically, it could be that novelty draws audiences: “I never heard X play with Y: I’ve got to hear this!”

Here are Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, tenor saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Red Mitchell, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums, placed together at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 9, 1978.

I’m not ranking these remarkable musicians, but this is a group of players who hadn’t always been associated in the past: yes to Konitz and Rowles, Rowles and Mitchell; Bucky and Shelly played with everyone. But Lockjaw comes from another Venn diagram.

I can imagine Lee, who was strong-willed, thinking, “What am I supposed to do with this group?” and I wonder if that’s why he asked Shelly to improvise a solo interlude, why he chose to begin the set with a duet with Bucky — rather than attempting to get everyone together to play familiar tunes (as they eventually do). At times it feels like carpooling, where Thelma wants to eat her sardine sandwich at 8 AM to the discomfort of everyone else in the minivan. But sets are finite, and professionals make the best of it.

And if any of the above sounds ungracious, I know what a privilege it was to be on the same planet as these artists (I saw Bucky, Lee, and Jimmie at close range) and how, forty-plus years later, they seem surrounded by radiance.


The songs are INVITATION Lee – Bucky / WAVE / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU Bucky, solo / IMPROVISATION Shelly, solo / COOL BLUES, which has been shared in whole and part on YouTube, but this, I believe, is the first airing of the complete set.

All of them, each of them, completely irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

FESTIVALS MAKE STRANGE BANDFELLOWS: LEE KONITZ, EDDIE “LOCKJAW” DAVIS, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, RED MITCHELL, SHELLY MANNE (Nice, July 9, 1978)

Note: the first version of this post was completely in chaos: the audio was Konitz and colleagues but the video was the World’s Greatest Jazz Band — enough to make anyone race for Dramamine. I was informed by several attentive readers, withdrew everything for repairs, and hope it is now brought into unity. Apologies! Barney Bigard’s hand gesture at the start of the video (the last seconds of his set) conveys my feelings about technical difficulties.

“Strange bandfellows?” you say. I think some festival producers operate on the principle of the one Unexpected Element creating a great Chemical Reaction, that if you line up seven musicians who often play together, you might get routines. But add someone unusual and you might get the energy that jam sessions are supposed to produce from artists charged by new approaches. Or, perhaps cynically, it could be that novelty draws audiences: “I never heard X play with Y: I’ve got to hear this!”

Here are Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, tenor saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Red Mitchell, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums, placed together at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 9, 1978.

I’m not ranking these remarkable musicians, but this is a group of players who hadn’t always been associated in the past: yes to Konitz and Rowles, Rowles and Mitchell; Bucky and Shelly played with everyone. But Lockjaw comes from another Venn diagram.

I can imagine Lee, who was strong-willed, thinking, “What am I supposed to do with this group?” and I wonder if that’s why he asked Shelly to improvise a solo interlude, why he chose to begin the set with a duet with Bucky — rather than attempting to get everyone together to play familiar tunes (as they eventually do). At times it feels like carpooling, where Thelma wants to eat her sardine sandwich at 8 AM to the discomfort of everyone else in the minivan. But sets are finite, and professionals make the best of it.

And if any of the above sounds ungracious, I know what a privilege it was to be on the same planet as these artists (I saw Bucky, Lee, and Jimmie at close range) and how, forty-plus years later, they seem surrounded by radiance.


The songs are INVITATION Lee – Bucky / WAVE / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU Bucky, solo / IMPROVISATION Shelly, solo / COOL BLUES, which has been shared in whole and part on YouTube, but this, I believe, is the first airing of the complete set.

All of them, each of them, completely irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

OUR LUCKY STARS: LEIGH BARKER BAND, “MELBOURNE” and “PARIS”

ROSIE’S CHAIR NEAR THE WINDOW, by Megan Grant

Brace yourself, dear people. I have some more lovely music to share with you: expert, swinging, full of feeling.

Dee-lightful. And . . .

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.

More about that shortly, but here’s some music — complete versions of the two video-montage presentations above: YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR and LONELY ONE IN THIS TOWN.

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….

TWILIGHT CAMPSITE, by Megan Grant

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.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

“EIGHT LITTLE LETTERS”: The HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET (DANNY COOTS, BRIAN HOLLAND, STEVE PIKAL, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE) at the JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY (March 2, 2019)

Fifty-Second Street, California edition.

Too good to ignore: Steve Pikal, string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone, clarinet; Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet. THREE LITTLE WORDS, key-changing from C to Ab:

That swinging love song from 1930 is much loved by jazz musicians — perhaps beginning with the Ellington version. It’s also the setup for a famous Turk Murphy joke, and Pee Wee Russell used to call it THREE LITTLE BIRDS. Here it’s a playground for this swinging band to enjoy themselves and bring joy to us.

May your happiness increase!

HOT NOTES TO YOU: JOE VENUTI’S BLUE FOUR at CARNEGIE HALL (Friday, June 27, 1975)

I believe I was in the second row for this, the first concert of the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival in New York (its fourth in this city and its twenty-second, for those keeping track) and I had my cassette recorder and better-quality microphone, the wire concealed in my blazer sleeve.  Not everything I recorded was priceless and not all of it has survived, but the rescued music has its own happy power.  The concert was a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, featuring Marian McPartland, Johnny Mince, Warren Vache, John Glasel, and Bix’s replacement in the Wolverines, Jimmy McPartland, as well as veterans of the Jean Goldkette orchestra Spiegle Willcox, Bill Rank, and Chauncey Morehouse.

But the explosive high point of the evening for me was a right-here-right-now version of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four, featuring Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar, and the surviving member of that ad  hoc group, the durable Vince Giordano, bass saxophone.  Here’s how they sounded on CHINA BOY and no doubt an unscheduled encore, C JAM BLUES, with Venuti doing his unique “four-string Joe” party piece.  Dan Morgenstern tells me that he isn’t doing the introduction, so the cheerful announcer is mysterious to me, although it might well be Dick Sudhalter.  The photograph below comes from the Chiaroscuro Records compilation, JOE AND ZOOT AND MORE, also glorious:

The captured butterfly, still alive today.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

VJM Banner 2020

STIFF BREEZES, AN AMPHIBIAN LAMENT, and A LAPSED DARLING: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS — KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON (Sacramento Music Festival, May 25, 2014)

The Sacramento Music Festival, which we miss, was like a sandwich with the cole slaw coming out of the bread on all sides — tasty but messy, a danger to one’s outfit. Bands of all kinds jostled for audibility both in the open air and in unsuitable venues; the whole weekend had the air of a genial traveling carnival slightly awry.

But wonderful music happened in spite of the distractions. Here are two performances, hidden in the JAZZ LIVES archives for moments just such as this, by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, mining deep Chicago gold. They are Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal, Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar. Special effects provided by the winds of fate. (The Cubs should have played BREEZE, but that’s my comic sense, which can be disregarded without harm or wound.)

BULL FROG BLUES:

and that tale of The Ruined Maid, with her new hat and her dubious associations, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW. And NOW as pronounced by Mr. Cusack is a marvel: young actors at the Old Vic study it but is remains elusive:

These performances are nearly seven years “old” but, as Ray says, “We play in the present tense.”

May your happiness increase!

EDDY DAVIS: IN MEMORY STILL GREEN (Scott Robinson, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Debbie Kennedy, Fernando Kfouri, The Cajun: March 29, 2006)

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.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

“SATCHMOCRACY: A TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG” by the Jérôme Etcheberry – Popstet (2020)

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:

and that should give you some of the bracing flavors of this new disc that passionately combines “tribute” and “going for yourself” in a way completely true to Louis’ spirit. Should your only question be “How can I get a copy?” the answer is very simple. Visit their website here with not only hope but 19.99 euro, do the PayPal dance, and the disc can be yours. Or here, if you prefer Facebookery.

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.

May your happiness increase!