Category Archives: That Was Fun!

DON’T GO WEST, YOUNG WOMAN

The bespectacled fellow was only a name in a discography to me until today.

Thanks to Tim Gracyk and his YouTube channel, I now have one more new-old-favorite-record, HOLLYWOOD, by Art Gillham, “The Whispering Pianist.”

According to the Discography of American Recordings entry here, this performance was recorded on November 25, 1929, in New York City.  The composers of this thin but irresistible song (with a rising chromatic motif and unadventurous lyrics) are Arnold Johnson (music) — who may have been the bandleader known to some for his associations with Jack Purvis and Harold Arlen — and Charles Newman (lyrics).  Newman is better known for the lyrics of SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, I’LL NEVER HAVE TO DREAM AGAIN, WHAT’S THE USE, I WOULDN’T CHANGE YOU FOR THE WORLD, YOU’VE GOT ME CRYING AGAIN, I’M PAINTING THE TOWN RED, TAKE ANOTHER GUESS, WHY DON’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN? (a song I learned through the recording Melissa Collard and Eddie Erickson made of it) and the imperishable A HOT DOG, A BLANKET, AND YOU.  Apparently Newman took current conversational phrases and bent them into songs — songs more memorable for their performers.

Here’s the recording — moral message, free of charge:

The message first: another cautionary tale (think of GLAD RAG DOLL, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, and a dozen others) about young women who go to the big city, get their hearts broken, their virtue damaged beyond repair.  “Mothers, tie your daughters to the sink so that nothing bad can happen to them!”  (Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, five years earlier, is a variation on this theme.)

A month and a day before this recording, the stock market had crashed: was that one of many reasons for this song?  The record of copyright notes that HOLLYWOOD is dated November 9 — slightly over two weeks after the crash, which may be even more significant.

Gillham is a pleasant singer, even with wobbly vibrato.  Radio audiences and song publishers must have loved him, because every word came through. But I am particularly interested in the little band: muted trumpet or cornet, bright and agile clarinet, sweet violin, Gillham’s own piano, perhaps someone at a drum set, although aside from one resonant thump at 1:25, it’s hard to tell. (Was it multi-tasking Eddie King or Justin Ring?)  I believe that “novelty” came from the presence of horns, rather than a more “legitimate” polite accompaniment by piano or piano and violin.

But this record has not been annotated or noticed by the official jazz scholars.  A selection from Gillham’s recordings makes its way into the discographies I have (Rust and Lord) — because those sessions feature Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Rube Bloom, Louis Hooper, Murray Kellner, Andy Sanella.  The three or four sides concluding either discography [thus defined as jazz recordings] have him accompanied by Alex Hill on piano, and Gillham performs Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING  TIME WITH ME.  The lack of documentation of HOLLYWOOD — which sounds like a certifiable “jazz record” — says much more about the “star system” in jazz than it does about the lightly swinging instrumental music heard here.  The players do not sound like those stars most featured and idolized: not Mannie Klein or Jack Purvis or Nichols, not Jimmy Dorsey or Tesch, Joe Venuti, or Stan King.  But the music is memorable, inventive and rhythmic, and I would rather have this record, offered as an anonymous effort, than a dozen others with more famous names that might have satisfied less.  Once again we encounter rewarding art that no one has designated as such.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS FRIENDS AND HEROES (Part Five: March 3, 2017)

It is a great tribute to Dan Morgenstern that this series of video interviews is captivating.  (If you think I am being immodest in writing this, the light shines on Dan.)

Some of this comes from Dan’s warmth: these are not only the musicians he respects, but also people he likes and feels connected to. (I use the present tense intentionally, because no one in these segments is truly dead when remembered so clearly and fondly.)  Here you can find all the earlier segments, with affectionate and sharply-realized portraits of everyone from Lester Young to Jimmy Rowles, with interludes about race relations in Georgia and soul food in Harlem.

And these interviews offer the rare pleasure of first-hand narratives: rather than reading a book whose pages tell us about what a writer thinks a musician sounds like, we have Dan talking about drinking Ballantine’s with tenor saxophonist Brew Moore.  In the two segments that follow, we also have a Charlie Parker story — where, for once, Bird is not treated with appropriate reverence — and one of Lee Wiley behaving ungraciously.  Soon to be major motion pictures!

and . . . .

Two more interview segments from the March 3 session (we did thirteen in all) will be posted soon, and Dan and I have a date to meet again for more.  Thank you, Dan!

P.S.  In the segment above, I mis-remembered the name of the record producer who arranged for Lee Wiley’s final session: it is Bill Borden, not Dick Borden.

May your happiness increase!

THE MANY LIVES OF THE BLUES: RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO PIANO, AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Yesterday I posted two duets between pianist Ray Skjelbred and cornetist Marc Caparone, and encouraged my viewers to take a chance by watching and listening — even if they’d never heard either player — and some people did.  One of them wrote to me and asked if I could post some more of Ray.  Nothing simpler and nothing more gratifying, so here are a bundle of blues and blues-related solos from a set Ray did at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.  He introduces them, so you won’t need explanations from me:

Dr. Bunky Coleman’s BLUE GUAIAC BLUES [medical explication, not for the squeamish*]:

Jimmie Rodgers’ TUCK AWAY MY LONESOME BLUES:

Ray’s own SOUTH HALSTEAD STREET, for Jane Addams and Art Hodes:

THE ALLIGATOR POND WENT DRY (for and by Victoria Spivey):

SUNSET BOOGIE (for and by Joe Sullivan):

Ray Skjelbred is a poet — also when he gets up from the piano bench — of these shadings and tone-colors, of the rhythms of the train heading through the darkness.  We are fortunate to live on his planet.

May your happiness increase!

And the promised medical bulletin: [*guaiac is a resin found i our happiness increase!n certain trees, and it is used in medical testing to check for blood, otherwise invisible, in one’s stool.  If the guaiac turns blue, one has that problem described above.  Now you know.]

MICE IN THE AIR: RAY SKJELBRED and MARC CAPARONE at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Two by two, but no Ark in sight, none needed.

Not mice, but musicians: Ray Skjelbred and Marc Caparone, piano and cornet, respectively.

First, an impassioned performance of Dana Suesse’s MY SILENT LOVE by Ray Skjelbred, piano, and Marc Caparone, cornet — prefaced by a fragment of the original Skjelbredian lyrics to MICE ISLAND LOVE. And don’t be frightened by the initial thumping coming through the partition behind Marc and Ray: it’s only the Dixieland Storm Troopers, the hit of seven condiments. Manchego, anyone?

And the Skjelbred-Caparone blues tradition, their variations on the opening strain of Sidney Bechet’s BLUES IN THE AIR, renamed BLUE AIR BLUES. Incidentally, in ancient slang, “The air turned blue” meant someone had launched a torrent of vulgar language — not the case here:

These marvels of sustained feeling and swing took place at the San Diego Jazz Fest on Nov. 25, 2016.  But Ray and Marc make beautiful music — rhythm ballads, romping interludes, or deeply felt blues — no matter where they are.

And a comment on audience-awareness.  I know that many jazz fans are name-and-association driven.  Is it Turk?  Is it Pres?  Did he play with Duke?  Do I know her name?  Is it a song I like by a band I follow?  And if not, the busy fan passes right by in search of recognizable thrills, rather like someone wanting Carvel rather than ice cream or Coke rather than a generic brown carbonated beverage.  If you’ve never heard / heard of Ray and Marc before, put aside your desires for familiar recognizable Product and listen.  They are worth your time.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS: “THE TRIO COLLECTION, VOLUME TWO”: TIM LAUGHLIN, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, HAL SMITH

Simply stated, this is a second disc (recorded on February 7-8 of this year) by one of the world’s most satisfying jazz trios: Tim Laughlin, clarinet (and a few originals); David Boeddinghaus, piano; Hal Smith, drums.  Volume Two, logically, is the successor to Volume One, issued three years ago.  I loved the first one and said so here.

But a New York winter has been very hard on my adjective hoard, so I called upon two of the musicians to help me out — fellows who can write as well as play. (David, terribly articulate, was otherwise occupied.)

I went deeply into the Obvious and asked Tim about the arresting cover, and he said, “I ran out of pictures of steamboats and wrought iron. I have new frames for my glasses and decided to grow a pencil-thin to complete the caricature.” And we agreed that “iconic black and white” really stands out, which is what you want from multi-tasking easily distracted (my words, not Tim’s) music purchasers.

Then I thought I’d ask another member of the trio for his thoughts, and the logical choice was Hal Smith, jazz scholar and former journalism major (if we want to go back a piece):

“It amazes me that Tim continues to come up with outstanding original material — especially ‘Gert Town’ and ‘Roundabout,’ which refer to an area of New Orleans and a traffic circle, respectively.  Tim has a genuine NEW ORLEANS sound on clarinet; rich and woody in all registers. He also has a natural swing in his playing that is infectious (especially for his accompanists)!  David’s playing encompasses many of the best traditions of Classic Jazz and Swing piano — Morton, Waller, Hines, Sullivan, Wilson — but it always comes out sounding like Boeddinghaus. That’s the way piano was meant to be played!  Drumming with these guys is as easy and pleasurable as putting on slippers and settling into the recliner with a good book, an adult beverage and a black cat.”

“Easy and pleasurable” nicely characterizes the comfort this CD offers us.  It’s miles away from EASY LISTENING, but there’s no strain, no chasing after crowd-pleasing effects.  Melody, rhythm, subtle harmonies, all combine in performances that are both logical and warmly inviting.

More about the repertoire, and the sound.  The familiar songs are presented with their rarely-played verses, which are wonderful surprises in a few instances: THANKS A MILLION, ALL BY MYSELF, CABIN IN THE SKY (a small poignant masterpiece), LA VIE EN ROSE, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, UP A LAZY RIVER.  Then, some hot classics: WOLVERINE BLUES and PONCHARTRAIN BLUES for Mister Morton, MESSIN’ AROUND, and THERE’S YES, YES IN YOUR EYES — which has a surprise at its center, and an arrangement credit for Dan Barrett.  (Extra credit for those who know which Arbors Records session this one came from.)  Then Tim has contributed two of his own, ROUNDABOUT — where the reference is to rapid-fire playfulness in the band as well as the traffic circle — and GERT TOWN BLUES, named for a New Orleans neighborhood that is explained more fully here.

The sound of this disc deserves its own paragraph, at least.  Thanks to Ben Lario, recording engineer, and David Farrell, mastering, this is one of the most authentic-sounding CDs I’ve heard.  I  have to preface this by saying I’ve heard the three members of the trio in a variety of settings, with David’s piano and Hal’s drums the least victimized by amplification, but often I have been seated at a distance from those instruments in a large hall.  Even in small venues, the sound is compromised by people gently moving or rattling paper.  Tim’s clarinet, its sound so delicious, I’ve heard out-of-doors or again through amplification for the most part.  (And when I’ve video-recorded these players, the sound of my videos, even through a good microphone, is at some distance from the real thing.)  This CD sounds gorgeously authentic, as if I were seated in front of the trio in a moderate-sized living room.  Nothing harsh or shrill, nothing unnatural, and the balance between the three instruments is as fine as I would hear in life.

You can hear samples and buy the disc here or download the music here.

May your happiness increase!

AUTUMN SERENADE: CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 14-17, 2017)

I attended my first version of this party (it was then held in upstate New York and called JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA) in September 2004, and I wandered around in a dream-state, astonished by the music and the musicians, many of whom I’d heard for years but hadn’t been able to speak to in person.  And as a journalistic aside, the very first blogpost I wrote here — in early 2008 — was called GOIN’ TO CHAUTAUQUA — so this party and this blog have had a long cozy relationship.

A few years ago the party moved itself to Cleveland, Ohio, and reinvented itself — thanks to Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock — as the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY. Here is the event’s Facebook page.

In a world where jazz festivals get bigger and bigger and then sink without a trace, the CCJP is going strong.  From Thursday, September 14, to Sunday, September 17, 2017, music will be joyous and triumphant in comfortable surroundings among friends.  And the music is solid Mainstream, with no gimmicks — which you could expect, given the roster of performers.  The flyer I am looking at has, in small type, “Roster and Schedule subject to change,” but I think the players are fairly certain, barring attack by androids or arachnids.

On cornet / trumpet, Duke Heitger, Randy Reinhart, Andy Schumm; on trombone, Dan Barrett; on reeds, Dan Block, Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson; on guitar / banjo, Howard Alden, Andy Brown; on piano, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, John Di Martino, Rossano Sportiello; on string bass, Joel Forbes, Nicki Parrott, Frank Tate; on drums, Ricky Malichi, Pete Siers, Hal Smith; on vocal, Petra van Nuis; gyosy swing quartet, the Faux Frenchmen; historian (giving a presentation on Ella’s centennial) Phil Atteberry.

On Thursday night, there’s an informal session (for donors and weekend patrons only) that begins at 7:30.  Friday begins with Phil Atteberry’s presentation on Ella (10:30-11:30) and then there are piano solos from 2-4 and an evening set from 5:30-11 and an hour’s set — anything goes — in the “Jazz Club.”  Saturday, music from 10-2 and again from 5:30-11 and 11-12.  Sunday, 9-1:30.  My math won’t stand the strain, but that is a great deal of music.  And as someone who feels morally committed to seeing and often recording everything, I appreciate the breaks, which give me and others time to sit and talk in tranquility.

For details — the name of the hotel, prices for individual sessions or the whole weekend, student scholarships, meals, and more, check here.

Should you go?  I think you should, if you can:

If that swinging jazz (from left, Hal Smith, Frank Tate, Rossano Sportiello) doesn’t in some ways motivate you, I don’t know what to suggest.

May your happiness increase!

“I’M TELLING YOU TRUE”: DAWN LAMBETH / CONAL FOWKES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 27, 2016)

Two by two:  jazz standards personalized by a tender singer, a sympathetic pianist — Dawn Lambeth and Conal Fowkes at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.

James P. Johnson’s repentant, hopeful ONE HOUR (with the invaluable verse):

and the bittersweet THAT OLD FEELING:

May your happiness increase!