Category Archives: “Thanks A Million”

“JUST A BLUE-EYED BLONDE”!

As my friend Nick Rossi would say, I fell down the rabbit-hole — comfortable, not claustrophic.  And I’m grateful to Dustin Wittmann for pointing out where the entrance was located, by posting this anonymous-but-delightful dance band side on Facebook.

Forty years ago, I wouldn’t have paid much attention to this recording, disdaining the tune as nothing much — not Hart, Rodgers, Porter, Kern — and I would have been waiting for the hot solo and been disappointed that the side wasn’t full of episodes by known players.

Now, I think, “What lovely music!  How well-played! How charming this is!”  And the tune, with its descending chromatic hook, might not be the high point of twentieth-century composition, but it certainly lingers in the ear:

It must have been a staple of the 1931 dance-band repertoire, I assume in a stock arrangement.  And I am posting variant versions of it so that you can muse over how a variety of bands brought their own flavors to it — voicings, tempo, vocal, ensemble work, rhythmic approach, and solos.

Incidentally, it’s hard to clear my mind of the 1931 Tin Pan Alley scenario: Kahn and Fio Rito, in shirtsleeves but with ties and suspenders, perhaps with cigars.  “Awright.  BLONDE.  What the hell can we do with that?  POND?  FROND?  No, none of those tropical songs.  Hey!  FOND!” And they were off.

I think comparative study like this is so enlightening, but it’s also fun.  If there’s a blue-eyed blonde nearby, listening seriously but joyously, so much the better, but it’s the spirit that counts, not the genetics.

Debroy Somers and Dan Donovan, a very bright approach, a clarinet trio, and assertive cymbal work.  If you couldn’t move your body to this, something was wrong:

The Phillips version has a slightly more prominent banjo part and a wonderful alto saxophone explosion.  One of the things close listeners will also note is how the various sections sound on each recording, and the recording balance itself:

This American version has a slightly looser rhythmic feel, perhaps because the drummer is relying less on his cymbals.  The tempo seems a touch slower: a fox-trot more than a one-step?  I don’t know.  It just sounds good:

and back to the UK for no reason at all except the delight in hearing another approach as well as Sam Browne’s tidy, affectionate vocal.  The Blue Lyres were perhaps twelve musicians, but this recording shows off soloists throughout in obbligato as well as improvised passages, as if the leader or arranger had chosen to treat it as rich material for individual players as well as keeping the skeleton of the stock arrangement intact.  To me, this recording suggests most clearly how a free-spirited swing / hot dance orchestra might handle this material in 2018.  Any takers?:

and, finally, this delight (a Gene Gifford arrangement?) with a new introduction and a stylishly individualistic vocal by Pee Wee Hunt before an unusual transition into the final chorus, where Clarence Hutchenrider takes the bridge.  A recording beautifully anchored by tuba, and note the sweetly decelerating ending:

There are several subtexts here, but only one for the moment that deserves a few sentences.  It’s about what I’d call JAZZ POLITICS, or “What’s worthy?”  Tom Lord, whose work I rely on, lists only the final side in his massive jazz discography.  Does that mean the others aren’t jazz?  Does that mean they aren’t worth our attention?  They sound like beautiful elastic hot music to me.  But then again, I could be someone who’s grown out of his earliest rigid adolescent definitions of what’s rewarding to the ears and heart.  In this, as always, I owe much to the not-didactic guidance of my mentor, Sammut of Malta.

May your happiness increase!

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THE ART OF THE DUET: MARC CAPARONE / CONAL FOWKES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 24, 2018)

Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.

Back by popular demand!  The video I posted two days ago of Marc Caparone, cornet, and Conal Fowkes, piano, playing PRISONER OF LOVE, garnered a good deal of enthusiastic response.  You can see it here.  And here are two more from that same day at the San Diego Jazz Fest — most heroically, musicians improvising at (I think) 11 AM.  Very hot, very noble.

The Gershwin classic, now rarely played by improvisers, STRIKE UP THE BAND:

and the 1936 pop tune irrevocably associated with Billie and Bunny, NO REGRETS:

What playful heroes these two are, and how they create surprising joys.

May your happiness increase!

“PRISONER OF LOVE”: MARC CAPARONE and CONAL FOWKES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24, 2018)

I was very moved by the duet Marc Caparone, cornet, and Conal Fowkes, piano, created on November 24, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest — a passionate improvisation on Russ Columbo’s PRISONER OF LOVE.  And I wanted to share it with you.

But first I have to say, with a grin, that the internet teaches you things you didn’t expect: the title PRISONER OF LOVE brings up a variety of tattoos, a book by Jean Genet, recordings by Perry Como, Coleman Hawkins, James Brown, Billy Eckstine, and Tiny Tim . . . when all I wanted was this, first the Columbo version so you could hear the lyrics.

The magnificent 1956 Lester Young – Teddy Wilson – Gene Ramey – Jo Jones recording you can and find for yourself.

Incidentally, Columbo is listed as sole composer on the HMV issue above, but Leo Robin is also credited with the rather masochistic lyrics, and I’ve seen the name of Clarence Gaskill added as well:

How lovely he sounds!  (I wonder which version Lester was inspired by.) But here are Conal and Marc, creating another passionate expression of what Louis called “Tonation and Phrasing”:

Their version is absolutely beautiful: a small triumph of passion and control, of empathy and expertise.

May your happiness increase!

A LOVELY INTERLUDE: JON DE LUCIA, RAY GALLON, GARY WANG, DORON TIROSH IN RECITAL (City College, New York, November 8, 2018)

One must know what’s important, and take time for pleasure.  Honoring this principle, I cancelled my morning classes on Thursday, November 8, 2018, so that I could attend and record what I knew would give great pleasure: an hour-long recital by Jon De Lucia, alto saxophone, clarinet, compositions; Ray Gallon, piano, compositions; Gary Wang, string bass; Doron Tirosh, drums.  It was only an hour, but it felt like a day’s worth of bright sunshine streaming into our ears and hearts.  And the radiance persists in the videos, which I can offer below:

SUNFLOWER, by trumpeter Don Ferrara, based on YESTERDAYS:

Jon’s CONFLAGRATION, which I presume is an affectionate cousin to a famous Bird-line with a similar name:

VALSE VIVIAN, for Jon’s goddaughter, based on BROADWAY:

Ray’s HARM’S WAY, constructing a new building on the foundation of SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE:

A detour into the land of beloved Billie-music, CRAZY HE CALLS ME:

Ray’s KITTY PAWS, an improvisation on THE SONG IS ENDED:

And finally, Zoot Sims’ line on DEEP PURPLE, called, whimsically, NOT SO DEEP:

An hour filled with depth and lightness.  I look forward to the next recital and hope to be there!

And a postscript: whenever I share music by first-rank artists whose names might not be known to everyone, commenters write in to say, “X sounds just like [Famous Name]; Y like [Other Famous Name].”  As Bert Williams sang, LET IT ALONE.  Messrs De Lucia, Tirosh, Gallon, and Wang sound just like themselves, and I am very glad of it.  The clapping you hear close to the microphone is mine: I felt even more enthusiastic than it sounds.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW THEY SWING! (Part Three): DANNY TOBIAS, WARREN VACHÉ, PHILIP ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (September 22, 2018: 1867 Sanctuary, Ewing, New Jersey)

The proceedings, photographed from above by Lynn Redmile

I apologize to all concerned: because of being overwhelmed and a filing system that I keep in my overwhelmed head, this third part of a glorious afternoon got away from me for a bit.  But all is not lost!  And here is the music created in the first and second sections.

I don’t know who took the picture of Warren (left) and Danny (right) but it is quite nice:

However, it leaves out the rest of the heroes: Philip Orr, piano; Pat Mercuri, guitar; Joe Plowman, string bass.  Here are the four remaining performances — quiet mastery by artists who really know and feel what heartfelt improvisation is:

A Tobias original (based on a song about soporific nature) dedicated to the much-missed Tony Di Nicola:

Harold Arlen, always welcome, as is Danny’s playing the Eb alto horn:

A gorgeous TOO LATE NOW:

And the real national anthem:

What beautiful warm inspired music these heroes make.

May your happiness increase!

I HAVE A NEW DESTINATION FOR FEBRUARY 7-10, 2019. CARE TO JOIN ME?

Here’s the first clue: 

and the second:

Although February is brief on the calendar, it can be a long month for those of us, in New York and elsewhere, waiting for a thaw.  I have a cure I’ll be trying out in 2019 — the Fresno Sounds of Mardi Gras — which takes place from February 7-10 in the DoubleTree by Hilton in Fresno, California.  Rumors that I have fallen in with some strange linguistic cult (Pismo, CA, in October 2018, and now another place ending in a vowel) just aren’t true, and the people spreading such gossip should stop.  No, the reasons I’ll be there are musical (and the opportunity to meet some California hot-jazz pals).  Here’s a sample, in a video by Bill Schneider from 2018:

Bob told me that the band he’s bringing in 2019 has got the same personnel: himself, Doug Finke, Kim Cusack, Ray Skjelbred, Scott Anthony, Jim Maihack, and Ray Templin.

and there’s Grand Dominion, featuring Clint Baker, Gerry Green, Jeff Hamilton, and other spreaders of the gospel (video by Franklin Clay):

and Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang.  Since they are new to Fresno, I can’t draw on the Mardi Gras video trove but bring forward this delightfully raucous one, shot at the Saturday-night swing dance in 2016 at the San Diego Jazz Fest, featuring Dan Barrett, Nate Ketner, Corey Gemme, and other rascals:

Dave tells me that the Fresno Hot House Gang will have Marc Caparone, who’s also appearing with High Sierra on one of that venerable band’s last gigs, Nate Ketner, Sam Rocha, and David Aus on piano.

Here is the Facebook page for the 2019 blast.  And here is the complete band listing (I believe) for 2019 . . . click http://www.fresnodixie.com/badges-online for details about badges, pins, sponsorships, and other nifty artifacts.

I’ll be leaving my snow shovel behind for a weekend in early February, and I won’t miss it.  Even if there’s no snow where you are, the hot music is better than any pharmaceutical I know.  See you there.

May your happiness increase!

PISMO JOYS (Part Four): “WOMEN OF THE BLUES”: CREOLE SYNCOPATORS featuring VALERIE JOHNSON (October 27, 2018, Jazz Jubilee by the Sea)

The Creole Syncopators is a well-established sturdy hot band, full of grit and drive.  They have their boots  laced all the way up, if you know that idiom.  Legend has it that tourists photographing flowers in the woods have come charging out of the forest, cameras dangling around their necks, after the first twelve-bar choruses have been played.  The flowers, sad to say, had to stay where they were.

But I’d never heard them before the 2018 Pismo Jazz Jubilee by the Sea, which is my loss.  Marc Caparone, cornetist, singer, and dear friend, said, “Want to hear the band I played with when I was fifteen?” and I certainly did.  Here are some highlights of the band’s “Women of the Blues,” led by reedman Jeff Beaumont, and featuring vocals by Valerie Johnson, who digs deep.  I knew Marc’s father, the wonderful trombonist Dave Caparone, Katie Cavera on string bass, and Carl Sonny Leyland on piano.  Shirley Beaumont, Jeff’s wife, is playing washboard; the plectrum banjoist is Todd Temanson; Al Ingram is on tenor banjo.

SEE SEE RIDER, graphic, funny, and heartfelt:

Valerie explains it all with the Ida Cox composition, WILD WOMEN DON’T HAVE THE BLUES, and the band hits a groove:

WAS I DRUNK? — a song whose pedigree I investigated: written by Chick Endor and Charlie Farrell, popularized in the Ziegfeld Follies by Dorothy Dell and later recorded by Georgia White.  Valerie suggests that the night’s activities were worth the hangover and the stern lecture:

an authentic duet for piano and vocal, TROUBLE IN MIND:

PAPA DIP, in honor of Little Louis, written by Lil Hardin:

and a closing JELLY BEAN BLUES:

What follows might be unsubtle, but with several of the most venerable bands deciding to retire, I hope that festival promoters listen closely to the Creole Syncopators.  They’ve done their homework; they put on a good show without being in the least inauthentic.  And — if it’s not obvious — I delighted in them.  I hope to see them at California festivals in 2019 and beyond.

May your happiness increase!