Category Archives: Swing You Cats!

FROM THURSDAY ON (November 23-26, 2017)

My cares are over . . .

I’ll be at the San Diego Jazz Fest, listening to friends and heroes — a list too long to enumerate here.  Besides I’d leave someone out and create a lifelong wound.

What this means is that JAZZ LIVES might be dormant for the next few days.  But since I think I’ve posted nearly four thousand of them since beginning in February 2008, you could — you just might — find something else to look at and listen to.  There is a SEARCH bar, I recall.

I hope that someone will come up to me at the Town and Country (thank you, again, Paul Daspit!) and say, “Michael!  I knew you were going to be here.  I read it on your blog!”

Years ago, people would have said to me — anxiously — “Aren’t you afraid of telling burglars you are going to be away?”  Not really.  Here’s a few words to burglars: Be careful not to trip on the purple wire.  The toilet’s slow, so you might have to flush twice.  When you play my HRS 78s, please hold them by the edges.  Be sure to make a nice sandwich with what’s in the refrigerator.  I’d rather it fed you than went to waste.  If you feel like dusting, that would be appreciated as well.  Please take the garbage with you when you leave.  And the autographed Sidney Catlett photograph stays.

I’m thankful for so many things, but the San Diego Jazz Fest is a substantial one.  I hope to come back with videos, but more important than that, the memory of hugs given and received.

Back soon.

May your happiness increase!

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LOUIS GOES WEST: 1946 and 1950

I believe that most people reading these words understand the sustained power of Louis Armstrong through the decades.  (If you think he went into “a deep decline” or “became commercial,” please go away and come back next week.)

But I think that many are in danger of taking Louis for granted, in the same way we might take air or sunlight as expected.  Yet there is always something new and uplifting to experience.  My text today is the glory of Louis in his and the last century’s late forties, as displayed on two very different but equally desirable CDs.  “Mid-century modern,” we could call it, with no side glances at  architecture aside from Louis’ own creations.

Two new CDs provide heartening reminders.  Both are equally delightful: suitable as gifts to others or to oneself, with no greater occasion needed than “Wow, I got through that week!”

The first, on the Dot Time label, presents music few have ever heard, taken from Louis’ own archives, the “Standard School Broadcast” of January 30, 1950, recorded in San Francisco, featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, and a clarinetist, string bassist, and drummer whose names are not known or are — in the case of the clarinetist — a guess.  (If anyone known more about “Lyle Johnson,” please write in.)  Clancy Hayes is the master of ceremonies — he doesn’t sing — and the premise is that he is helping Jack Cahill, “Matt the Mapmaker,” construct a musical map of America: in this case, New Orleans jazz.

There is a good deal of music issued that presents Louis alongside Jack and Earl.  But this CD is better than what we already know.  For one thing, there is a very small studio audience, and the recorded sound is superb: when Hayes picks up his acoustic guitar to add rhythm, it’s nicely audible.  And everyone sounds relaxed, playful, inventive, even with familiar repertoire.  I know that some listeners might pass this CD by because, “I already have two versions of Louis playing LAZY RIVER and I don’t need another.”  That would be an error, I suggest. Not a note on this disc sounds routine or stale.

About that repertoire: DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?  [plus two rehearsal takes] / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / BASIN STREET BLUES / STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / BOOGIE WOOGIE ON THE ST. LOUIS BLUES / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / PANAMA / LAZY RIVER / BACK O’TOWN BLUES [issued performance plus Louis playing along with the 1950 tape two years later].  Those wise enough to purchase this CD and play it — attentively — all the way through will have a wondrous aural surprise on the final track, where Louis duets with himself.  When the performance is over, he’s still practicing, and there is a solo exposition of the first sixteen bars of the current pop tune, I COULDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT, that is positively awe-inspiring.  Louis, completely alone and at his peak, one of many.

DotTime Records is releasing the Louis Armstrong Legacy Series — four CDs, of which this is the first, and the second, “Night Clubs,” has just come out.  For more information, visit their website.  These issues have funny, friendly, edifying notes by Ricky Riccardi, the Louis-man of great renown.

The other Louis issue is possibly more familiar to collectors but is musically thrilling.  Here’s Bert Stern’s famous photograph to get you in the mood, or perhaps the groove.

That photograph comes from the film NEW ORLEANS, which starred Louis and Billie Holiday, Kid Ory, Barney Bigard, and others too rarely seen on film.

I remember sitting in front of the television in the den of my parents’ house in early adolescence, having waited all week for this movie to be shown, perhaps on MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE on a weekday afternoon.  The consensus was that the film was disappointing.  As a showcase for my heroes, even more so.  Watching it, waiting for my idols to break through the terrible script, was depressing.  I had grown up on false representations of the jazz-past (“The Roaring Twenties,” starring Dorothy Provine, for example) but NEW ORLEANS was spectacularly bad, especially when Louis and Billie would appear, read a few lines, do their feature numbers, and disappear.

Some years later, an album — music recorded for the film but for the most part not used — was issued on the Giants of Jazz label.  I see in the discography that the Giants of Jazz issue was “reissued” on several bootleg CDs, and it now appears, with even more music, on the Upbeat label — which issue I recommend to you.   The music was recorded in Hollywood in late 1946, and the participants, in addition to Louis, Billie, Bigard, and Kid Ory, are Charlie Beal, Red Callender, Zutty Singleton, Minor Hall, Meade Lux Lewis, Arthur Schutt, Mutt Carey, Lucky Thompson, Louis’ 1946 big band (that recorded for Victor) and more.

As poor as the film was, the music on this CD is just as wonderful.  Anything even tangentially associated with “my old home town” made Louis happy, and that happiness and relaxation comes through the music.  I expect that because he and Billie were pre-recording music for the film, they had not been compelled to face what their roles in the film would be . . . Billie playing a maid, a grievous insult.

The CD enables us to spend seventy minutes embraced by the music itself, with Louis in the company of old friends and mentors Ory and Mutt Carey, playing “good old good ones” — the cadenza to WEST END BLUES, FLEE AS A BIRD, SAINTS, TIGER RAG, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, DIPPERMOUTH BLUES, KING PORTER STOMP, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, heard in multiple versions.  For one example, there is DIPPERMOUTH, played as a medium-slow-drag with Mutt Carey in the lead, as if taking Joe Oliver’s place, then a version at the expected romping tempo with the young “modernist” Lucky Thompson audible in the ensemble before Barney Bigard takes the Johnny Dodds solo.  Fascinating, and I looked in astonishment to see that the second version was only one minute and thirty-four seconds, because it felt so complete.

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, BALLIN’ THE JACK, KING PORTER STOMP, and MAHOGANY HALL STOMP also feature this splendidly hybrid band of Louis, Mutt, Lucky, Ory, Bigard, Beal, Callender, and Zutty: realizations of what was possible in 1946. One could do a fascinating study of ensemble playing as created by Ory and Lucky, side by side.  They solo in sequence on KING PORTER STOMP as well.  Incidentally, if you are familiar with the jazz “journalism” of this period, as practiced by Feather, Ulanov, Blesh, and others, you might believe that the “beboppers” loathed and feared “the old men,” and the detestation was mutual. Nothing of the sort.  What is audible is pure pleasure: hear Louis on the two versions of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, leisurely and intense.  Attentive listeners will also delight in the very fine string bass work of Callender — someone who deserves more celebration than he has received.

I have said little of Billie Holiday’s recorded performances on this CD: DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS (twice), FAREWELL TO STORYVILLE, THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’ — these tracks have often been issued in various forms, and she sounds wonderful.

I thought of printing the complete discography of what music had been issued, but it was a confusing labyrinth, so I will simply list the titles on the Upbeat release and hope that purchasers will be guided by their ears:  FLEE AS A BIRD – SAINTS / WEST END BLUES / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / BRAHMS’ LULLABY / TIGER RAG / BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES (2) / BASIN STREET BLUES / RAYMOND STREET BLUES / MILENBERG JOYS / WHERE THE BLUES WERE BORN IN NEW ORLEANS / FAREWELL TO STORYVILLE / BEALE STREET STOMP / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES (2) / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / BALLIN’ THE JACK / KING PORTER STOMP / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (2) / THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’ / ENDIE / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS? / HONKY TONK TRAIN / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS? / WHERE THE BLUES WERE BORN IN NEW ORLEANS / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP / ENDIE / THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’.

The Upbeat issue is generous: the last five titles are from issued Victor 78s of the same songs, giving us an opportunity to compare.  Here is the Upbeat site where this disc can be ordered.

Incidentally, to see the wonderful photographs Phil Stern took of Louis and other luminaries, visit here.

And for those who have never seen the film NEW ORLEANS or don’t believe me, here is the whole thing uploaded to YouTube.  But don’t get your hopes up: once the first three minutes of WEST END BLUES is over, we have left the reality of the “Orpheum Cabaret” for the melodrama of a routine script:

At times the subtitles are the most diverting thing.  But we have the music, in full flower, on the Upbeat CD.

May your happiness increase!

“RAGSTRETCH” IS GOOD FOR YOU

Sometimes you know how good a band is in the first two choruses.  That happened to me with RAGSTRETCH, whose debut CD I am reviewing belatedly. True, I knew two members of the band through hearing them several times in New York City: trombonist / singer Shannon Barnett and trumpeter / singer Bjorn Ingelstam, so I was already eager to hear the CD.  But I was unprepared for just how hot and expert this Australian – Scandinavian jazz hybrid is.

By the way, you can skip my encomia and go directly here, which is the band’s website.  Here you can sample the sounds and buy the CD.

The other 4/6 of this sextet: Chris Tanner, clarinet / vocals; Craig Fermanis, guitar; Sam Anning, string bass; Rajiv Jayaweera, drums.

The repertoire is familiar but the treatment is energized: DANS LA RUE D’ANTIBES / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / MY MONDAY DATE / JAZZ ME BLUES / FOOLIN’ MYSELF / WHY DON’T YOU GO DOWN TO NEW ORLEANS / ROCKIN’ CHAIR / PANAMA / SWEET LORRAINE / I’LL BE YOUR BABY TONIGHT.

“Energized” in this case doesn’t mean loud or fast, although Ragstretch is capable of playing romping tempos without rushing or dragging: it means that they are expert at conveying enthusiasm — musically, without jokes.  It also means that they have, individually and as a group, heard a wide variety of jazz and pop, and they bring their awareness to the repertoire.  It doesn’t mean that the solo work in JAZZ ME BLUES (for one example) sounds like Blue Note sixties hard bop, but it also means that this band knows that the music continued even after the death of Bunk Johnson.  There’s a joyous playfulness and charging rhythm that many other better-known bands could learn from.

Here’s a sample:

and

Sam Anning’s cover sketch — “Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Trousers” — sums up so much about this band: cheerfully in love with the music but just slightly subversive.  And completely satisfying.

I have no license to practice medicine, but I prescribe RAGSTRETCH and their CD as a proven mood-enhancer . . . without side effects.  It made me feel better. What more could anyone say?

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE: “THE LATE SET”

This new CD doesn’t have a false note in it, just tremendously satisfying music.

I don’t recall the first time I heard Hilary Gardner sing, with or without Ehud Asherie’s accompaniment, but I was smitten — in a nice legal Platonic way — by the blending of her tender, expressive voice and his elegant, sometimes raucous piano.  Singular individualists, they combine in wonderful synergy, and this CD expertly reproduces what it’s like to hear marvelous improvisations in a small club full of attentive, sympathetic listeners, leaning forward to catch every nuance.  The sound is spectacularly fine — by which I mean natural, and you don’t have to leave your house to “be there.”  (Although seeing them at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street has been one of my great pleasures for a few years.)

Both Hilary and Ehud are splendid connoisseurs of the best songs, and this recital shows off their sensitivity to fine melodies and telling lyrics: SHADOW WALTZ by Al Dubin and Harry Warren; SWEET AND SLOW by the same two masters in a completely different mood; the very sad Rodgers and Hart A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL; the ancient but still lively AFTER YOU’VE GONE with the never-heard second chorus; I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote; Irving Berlin’s immensely touching I USED TO BE COLOR BLIND; the wicked EVERYTHING I’VE GOT, again by Hart and Rodgers; the sweet command to MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, by Adolph Green, Betty Comden, and Jule Styne; the wistful SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo.

Song-scholars will find connections to Fred Astaire, Diane Keaton, Arthur Godfrey, Sophie Tucker, Lee Wiley, Fats Waller, Busby Berkeley, and two dozen others, but this is not a CD of homages to the Ancestors nor to their recordings.  Although the majority of the songs are enshrined in “the Great American Songbook,” this CD isn’t an exercise in reverential mummification.  No, the magic that Hilary and Ehud bring to these possibly venerable pages is to sing and play the songs for real — asking the questions, “What meaning might be found here?  What feelings can we share with you?”  And, ultimately, “Why are these songs so affecting in themselves?”

I’ve celebrated Ehud a great deal on this blog: his ability to create a Frolick all by himself, evoking both Bud Powell and Francois Rilhac, his touch precise but warm, his marvelous ability to think of anything and then to play it, his eye for the perfect swinging epigram a master archer’s.

Hilary was a wonderfully complete singer when I first heard her.  She has outdone herself here.  I find myself reaching for adjectives: is her voice “warm,” “creamy,” “light,” “rich”?  Then I give up, because it sounds as if I am a blindfolded contestant on a cooking show assessing a pound cake.

In plain English: she swings, she understands the lyrics, she improvises splendidly but without theatricality, and when she descends into a song, even if it’s one she’s sung a hundred times before, she comes to the surface, immensely naturally, showing us something we’ve never thought of before.  She’s witty but not clever; emotive but not melodramatic, tender but not maudlin.  Her approach is warm, delicate, unhurried.

When Hilary and Ehud did a brief tour of the Pacific Northwest not long ago, they visited KNKX, did an interview about the CD, and performed three songs in the studio — SWEET AND SLOW, I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, and AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  Here‘s the link to watch the videos and hear the interview.

You can find THE LATE SET at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and the Anzic Records site.  I urge you to find and purchase a physical disc, because one of the great pleasures — hidden inside — is Hilary’s own pitch-perfect evocation of “the late set” in what I presume is a New York City jazz club.

This is extraordinary music.  How delightful that it exists in this century.

May your happiness increase!

MARTY GROSZ’S “BIXIANA”: “I’M LOOKING OVER A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER” (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2011)

Days gone by, but not days beyond recall — afternoons and evenings in September 2011 at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York — for the late Joe Boughton’s annual jazz weekend.  Because I am feeling more than a little melancholy at the news of the end of the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, I thought I’d share some music from the glory days — to ease the feelings.

Here is one stomping example of the goodness that I was privileged to witness from 2004 to 2017.  It comes from a Marty Grosz set devoted to songs associated with Bix Beiderbecke, performed in styles he wouldn’t necessarily have known.  (Marty’s opening interlude reminds me pleasantly of Alex Hill’s MADAM DYNAMITE, recorded two years after Bix’s death.)

The band includes Marty, guitar and inventive arrangements; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Block and Scott Robinson, reeds; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jim Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums, performing a song I know from the Goldkette Victor — a song of romantic optimism that is perhaps now best known in the banjo-and-let’s-all-sing genre, but it gets up and moves around nicely, not only because of the hot solos, but because of the truly varied and rich arrangement:

“We’ll always have Chautauqua.  And Cleveland,” says some famous film actor.

May your happiness increase!

THANK YOU, NANCY AND KATHY!

You might not think it from the picture, but two of these women have done the music we love an irreplaceable service, and not just once.

From the left, they are Kathleen Hancock, Abbey Griffith, and Nancy Hancock Griffith: grandmother, granddaughter, and mother.

What have they got to do with JAZZ LIVES, and with jazz?  Joe Boughton, hallowed and irascible, began a series of weekend jazz parties in the Eighties, which I encountered late in their existence, in 2004, as “Jazz at Chautauqua.” I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about these yearly ecstasies of music, friendship, coffee, Scotch, and music.  When Joe’s health began to fail, Nancy gently offered her assistance, both musical and practical — and she was quickly expert and invaluable in all things, from settling disputes about seating or who wouldn’t play with whom, and Chautuqua went on — even improved — after Joe died in 2010.

When the Allegheny Jazz Society moved itself to new quarters in Cleveland, Nancy and her mother, Kathy, took over the running of the Party.  Beautifully, without complaining about the year’s worth of labor such a weekend required.

I won’t go into the economics and logistics of running such a weekend, but even from my semi-outsider’s perspective, the work required had been massive.  And then there’s the financial balancing act.  Thus I was saddened but not entirely startled to read this letter from Nancy and Kathy on the 14th:

Cleveland Classic Jazz Party
All Good Things…

As they say,

— Go out on a high note.

So, after four years trying to make a go of the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, we find we must take this advice. The 2017 Jazz Party was the best one yet, but unfortunately we find we cannot continue. We gave it our best shot.

This was a very hard decision for us, as we both dearly love this genre of music. We had hoped that we would be able to garner much more support in Cleveland for the Jazz Party, but we were never able to get to the break- even point — even with your generous donations. The costs involved in putting together the first-class productions we all appreciate are too high for us to absorb.

We are still trying to think of a way to continue to support traditional jazz in a small way, but for now, we find we need to disband the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party. We will always remember the wonderful friends we made, and the good times (and some of the challenges) we had along the way.

Many thanks to all of your for your support over the years. We hope to see you often at other jazz events and venues.

Warmest regards,

Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock

I could write many things here, but what needs to be said can best be said in music — in a performance from the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, THANKS A MILLION, dedicated to Jon-Erik Kellso, by Duke Heitger, Rossano Sportiello, Scott Robinson, Nicki Parrott, and Ricky Malichi:

Nancy and Kathy gave time, energy, patience, good humor, and money — for years — to make these enterprises flourish.  Without them, my life would have been less gratifying.  Bless them! I send deep gratitude, and I know I am not alone.

May your happiness increase!

GIBSON, STRAIGHT UP: BANU CHARMS US ONCE AGAIN (Jeff and Joel’s House Party, October 13-15, 2017)

Banu Gibson is someone I admire greatly — not only for her expressive, swinging singing, but for her quick-witted stage presence and her deep affectionate knowledge of the songs and their composers.  So it was a great pleasure to see and hear her at the October 2017 party co-led by Jeff Barnhart and Joel Schiavone.  She was accompanied by Jeff, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, bass saxophone, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums; Dan Levinson, reeds; Jim Fryer, trombone; Mike Davis, trumpet.

Thanks to Eric Devine, kind-hearted and efficient man of many cameras, we now have some video of Banu in performance to share.  (Eric’s YouTube channel is CineDevine and his videos from many festivals and performances are just superb.)

Here, Banu confesses that there are some things she might not know — hard to believe, but necessary for the sake of the song:

and here, a song for your board-certified ophthalmologist (with Dalton Ridenhour at the piano):

Banu is based in New Orleans, so it was a real treat to have her in the tri-state area for even this short visit.

May your happiness increase!