Category Archives: That Was Fun!

“THE JOYS OF DIXIELAND” (PART ONE): ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 15, 2017)

Let the truth come out: the glorious pianist Rossano Sportiello loves Dixieland. Yes, that naughty word so scorned by many jazz listeners.

Not, as he will point out, the homogenized variety, but the music he grew up listening to: Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, and their noble colleagues.

In 2017, for one of his sets at the much-missed Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, he chose to play the familiar repertoire . . . but with energy and love.  He called on Hal Smith, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Duke Heitger, trumpet, to accomplish this.  And even though these songs (or almost all of them) have been played to shreds by less-splendid musicians, they shine here.  Admire the relaxed tempos and fine dynamics: the hallmarks of players who remember what the songs are supposed to sound like, that MUSKRAT and BARBECUE have fine melodies that must be treated with care and admiration.

They began with the song Louis loved so well, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

Again, thinking of Louis, a sweet-and-slow AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Hot Five territory once more, but not too fast, for MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

There’s a second half, to come soon — classic performances, created on the spot.

Thanks not only to these delightful creators, but to Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock for making all this possible.  The Cleveland Classic Jazz Party is now only a sweet memory, but it was a glorious outpouring while it lasted.

May your happiness increase!

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“A WORKING BAND”: WELCOME THE RIVERSIDE JAZZ COLLECTIVE!

Some New Orleanians will glower at me for writing these words, but all the music marketed as “New Orleans jazz” is not equally satisfying or expert.  The proof is on the city’s streets or on YouTube.  All that’s apparently steaming is not Hot, to coin a new cliché.

But this post is to welcome a new band — the Riverside Jazz Collective — and their debut CD, which is a delight. It’s the brainchild of pianist / arranger Kris Tokarski (whom I admire greatly) and his congenial friends: Benny Amon, drums; Alex Belhaj, guitar, vocal; Tyler Thomson or Andy Reid, string bass; Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal, or Alex Owen, cornet and vocal; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, vocal.

If you don’t know those names, you need a refresher course in Old Time Modern.

And the repertoire is lively and — even when venerable — fresh and joyous:
STOMP OFF, LET’S GO / IT BELONGS TO YOU/ JUST GONE / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN / WABASH BLUES / READY FOR THE RIVER / RIVERSIDE BLUES / DON’T LEAVE ME IN THE ICE AND SNOW / SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES  TO ME / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU / SEE SEE RIDER / MELANCHOLY BLUES / SOCIETY BLUES / WHENEVER YOU’RE LONESOME.

That’s a wholly “traditional” repertoire, with nods to Louis Armstrong, Erskine Tate, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Jimmie Noone, Tony Jackson, and more — but happily it isn’t DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?  Nothing’s routine or stale here.

Here is the band’s Facebook page — where you can learn about their next gigs.

I’d asked Kris if he needed a liner-note writer, by which I meant myself, and I was delighted when he said yes.  Here’s what I wrote, in a very short time, because the music hit me hard in the nicest ways:

In the old days, when one could see the liner notes on the back of the “record,” or the “lp,” those paragraphs served a commercial purpose: to make the undecided purchaser head to the cash register at a trot, clutching the record. Today, the purchaser might read the notes after buying the CD (or perhaps not at all): so I write to share my enthusiasm. And there’s a lot to be enthusiastic about the Riverside Jazz Collective.

Musicians I know speak of “playing tunes,” as in “Oh, we played some tunes,” which suggests that on those occasions there is little written music but much collective joy that comes out of well-earned knowledge of the music. The RJC knows the original records and they may have “roadmaps” as in “Second chorus is stop-time for cornet and piano only,” but they aren’t trying to create imitations of the classics in the best sound. And they have the comfortable ease and friendliness – to us, to each other – of A Working Band, something delicious and rare.

The RJC is interested in “old” songs that are melodically and emotionally durable – from joyous stomps to love songs to one Chicago lament that says, “You know what? I’m going to kill myself,” even if the lyrics are too witty for that to be a real threat. Their repertoire is often “New Orleans jazz,” however you might define it, as it surfaced in other cities, notably Chicago. And one can point to a good number of Ancestors here, from Tony Jackson to Louis Armstrong to Oliver, Morton, Keppard, Bunk, and Ory.

This band also enacts a neat balance between collective improvisation and solos, but they bring a little twenty-first century energy, elegance, and intelligence to their hot reverence. Enthusiasm is the driving force here, not cautious antiquarianism. This band has also heard jazz created after 1927, and that awareness gives these performances a happy elasticity, an optimistic bounce. Hear HERE COMES THE TAMALE MAN for a brilliant example of sonic joy-spreading. I could explain more, but it would cost extra.

It feels good, and it feels real. You know there are mountains of what I’d call “tofu music” being marketed as genuine, but your ears, your feet, and your heart tell you when the jazz has been manufactured in a lab by chemists. I greet the Riverside Jazz Collective at the start of what I hope is their brilliant career. My words are written in a time of ice and snow, but the music warms and embraces. And now IT BELONGS TO YOU.

Visit here — and these compact versions of spiritual uplift can belong to you, either as download or disc; you can hear samples of the music as well.

Welcome to the Riverside Jazz Collective.  They spread joy: I hope they find prosperity and appreciative audiences.

May your happiness increase!

“FUTURISTIC RHYTHMS: IMAGINING THE LATER BIX BEIDERBECKE,” by ANDY SCHUMM AND HIS SINK-O-PATORS”

Even to the casual viewer, this CD, just out on Rivermont Records, is immediately enticing.  For one thing, and it cannot be undervalued, it has The Name on its cover — the dear boy from Iowa.  Catnip to many.  Then, Joe Busam’s lovely funny cover, perfectly evoking Jim Flora’s work — as well as presenting a band led by the splendid Andy Schumm.  It also (in that band name) has an inside joke for the cognoscenti, who turn hot and cold on request.  Some will delight in the concept, jazz time-travel, brought to us by the erudite Julio Schwarz Andrade, imagining what Bix would have played in a variety of contexts had he lived longer.  The conceit does nothing for me (I think the dead have the right to be left alone, not dressed up for Halloween) but I love the music, thrilling in its ease and subtlety.

Hearing Andy Schumm, cornet; Ewan Bleach, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Andrew Oliver, piano; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Tom Wheatley, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums — now, that’s a rare pleasure.  You can see the song titles below, and the Musical Offering is neatly divided between a scattering of familiar tunes and some deeply lyrical ones that have become obscure.  (I hadn’t heard THINGS and OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY before, and WHY CAN’T YOU BEHAVE is memorable to me only because of a wondrous recording by Spike Mackintosh.)  The first ten songs were meant to be the official recording session, with the last two — hot “warm-up” performances added as a delightful bonus: we’re lucky the recording equipment was switched on.

Back to the music.  There are lovely little touches.  MOTEN SWING uses the riffs from the 1932 Victor recording, and the lyrical numbers still retain the slight bounce one would have heard in Thirties “rhythm ballads.”  Indeed, the whole session has the delightful motion of, perhaps, a Marty Grosz session from the end of the previous century.  This, of course, is helped along considerably by the wonderful Martin Wheatley — hear him on RAIN and elsewhere.  The CD also reminded me most happily of sessions by Marty and by Ruby Braff because of the cheering variety of approaches within each performance.  I offer the rubato Oliver-Schumm verse to  THE NEARNESS OF YOU as a heartening example, followed by a poignant Bleach tenor solo.  There’s none of the usual tedium that results from a surfeit of ensemble-solos-ensemble.  (I think of certain live sessions in the Seventies I attended where after the requisite single ensemble chorus, the clarinet always took the first solo.  Routine of this sort has a chilling effect.)

The members of the rhythm section, Messrs. Oliver, Wheatley, and Ball, add their own special bounce to the music.  I know Andrew Oliver these days as a Mortonist and have known Nick Ball as a scholar of pre-Swing drumming, but they aren’t antique in any way.  And the two Wheatleys, father and son, are a wonderful team: the right notes in the right places.  As fine as Andy and Ewan are, one could listen to any track on this disc solely to revel in, and learn from, this rhythm team.  As an example, OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY.

Ewan Bleach is new to me and delightful: his work on either horn is floating and supple, and I never felt he was reaching for a particular phrase that someone had recorded eighty years ago.  His solos have their own lithe charm and his ensemble playing is the great work of an intuitive conversationalist who knows when to add a few notes and when to be still.  I looked in Tom Lord’s discography and found that I’d already admired his work with the Basin Street Brawlers.  I hope the reaction to this CD is such that Mr. Bleach gets a chance to record a horn-with-rhythm session of his own.

And Andy Schumm.  Yes.  I just heard him in person in my Wisconsin jaunt, and he hasn’t ceased to amaze and please, whether leaping in to his solo, playing a wistful coda, or lyrically purling his way through one of the rhythm ballads I’ve mentioned above.  To my ears — here comes another heresy — he isn’t Bix, nor is he the reincarnation of Bix.  He is Andy Schumm, and that’s a wonderful thing, with its own joyous surprises.

Buy it here.  I did.  You won’t regret it.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S SO GOOD: THE RHYTHM ACES (ROY RUBINSTEIN, KIM CUSACK, ANDY SCHUMM, JIM BARRETT, JOHN WIDDICOMBE) March 26, 2018: PART THREE

What follows is, of course, organic, locally sourced, cage-free, and pasture-raised.  Hot jazz that’s naturally sweet . . . no additives.  This is the third part of a two-hour performance by the Rhythm Aces, led by trombonist Roy Rubinstein, and featuring Kim Cusack on clarinet, alto, and vocal; Andy Schumm on cornet and clarinet; Jim Barrett, banjo; John Widdicombe, string bass — as they won the crowd at the Breakwater in Monona, Wisconsin, on March 26, 2018.  Here is what I recorded for parts one and two.

ARKANSAS BLUES (with Andy doing some very touching Hackett curves and wiggles):

DIPPERMOUTH BLUES, for Louis and Papa Joe:

POSTMAN’S LAMENT (which I associate with Johnny Wiggs and Dr. Souchon, as well as my own contemporary reaction to carrying a heavily loaded knapsack):

and what was seasonal music then, a little tardy now, Berlin’s EASTER PARADE:

More to come — and some surprises — from my Wisconsin sojourn.

May your happiness increase!

GENEROSITIES from MISTER McGOWN: “DAVEY TOUGH” on YOUTUBE

I’ve been collecting jazz records as long as I’ve been fascinated by the music.  When I began, so much of the music I craved was not easily available, so I turned to other collectors for assistance, trading items back and forth with those who were generous.  I have benefited so much from the kindness of collectors, some of whom who have moved on and others who are reading this post.  And I cherish most those who are open-handed.  I think of John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bob Hilbert, Bill Gallagher among the departed: the living people know who they are and know how I value them.

One of the open-handed folks I celebrate is collector, discographer, and scholar Sonny McGown.  An amiable erudite fellow, he doesn’t feel compelled to show off his knowledge or point out that his records are better than yours.

On this 2015 podcast, Sonny, in conversation with “spun counterguy,” tells of becoming a jazz-loving record collector here.  It’s an entertaining interlude with good stories (among other subjects, DON’T BE THAT WAY and POP-CORN MAN) and musical excerpts.

Sonny is fully versed in 78s and 45s, and he understands the power technology has to make generosity easy, to share precious music.  The word “broadcast” is apt here: one collector sending another a cassette, mp3, or burned CD is casting very small bits of bread on the waters.

About four months ago, he created his own YouTube channel, “Davey Tough”  — and although it doesn’t yet have a large audience by YouTube standards, I am counting on this blogpost to remedy that.  Sonny has been quietly offering rare music, well-annotated, one surprise after another.  How about Goodman, Jack Teagarden, the aforementioned Dave Tough, Peanuts Hucko, Ray McKinley, Yank Lawson, Helen Ward, Dick Wellstood, Kenny Davern, Soprano Summit, Joe Marsala, Lou McGarity, Bobby Gordon, Charlie Byrd, Tommy Gwaltney, Clancy Hayes, Ralph Sutton, Wild Bill Davison, and other luminaries.  And surprises!  Some are from truly rare non-commercial records, others from even rarer tapes of live performances in clubs and at jazz parties.

I’ll start with the one performance that I already knew, because it is so much fun: clarinetists Ernie Caceres, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, playing the blues at a 1944 Eddie Condon concert — backed by Gene Schroeder, Bob Haggart, and Gene Krupa (with Bobby Hackett audible at the end):

Notice, please, unlike so much on YouTube, this is factually correct, in good sound, with an appropriate photograph.

Here’s a real rarity: Dave Tough as a most uplifting member of Joe Marsala’s very swinging mid-1941 band, more compact than the norm, certainly with Joe’s wife, Adele Girard on harp, and plausibly brother Marty on trumpet:

And another performance by the Marsala band with Adele and Dave prominent:

Backwards into the past, in this case 1933, not the familiar version of AIN’T ‘CHA GLAD, although we know the arrangement by heart:

and, finally, backwards into the more recent past, for Pee Wee Russell and Charlie Byrd at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., from December 1957:

These are but a few of Sonny’s treasures.  I resist the temptation to rhapsodize both about the sound of Dick McDonough and about Pee Wee, free to explore without restrictions, but you will find even more delights.  I encourage readers to dive in and to applaud these good works by spreading the word.

And thank you, Mister McGown.

May your happiness increase!

MS. YOO TO YOU! “I AM CURIOUS”: JINJOO YOO, NEAL MINER, JIMMY WORMWORTH (Gut String Records)

We know “curious” as being eager to learn or know something, but the less well-known definition is unusual, rare, unexpected.

Photograph by Jennie Karpadai

The inventive jazz pianist and composer Jinjoo Yoo is both of these things, qualities sweetly embodied in her debut CD, I AM CURIOUS, a trio session with Neal Miner and Jimmy Wormworth on Gut String Records.  And if you think you’ve heard and seen her before, you are correct: I wrote admiringly of her at the end of February 2018 here.

The disc offers six of Jinjoo’s originals, and although I ordinarily view “originals” with some trepidation, I welcomed hers and wish that a full-scale CD is coming soon.

Her music is unhackneyed, melodic, welcoming.  She spins out long graceful lines that aren’t four-bar modules copied from other pianists.  She has her own voice, or I should say, “voices.”  The performances often begin with a simple melodic motif set over a clear, swinging rhythmic foundation . . . and they transparently show off her curiosity.

I can hear her asking of the music, “Notes, chords, where will you take me?” And the results are gently playful, as if she were turning over brightly-colored bits of melody and harmony in the sunlight to see what reflections they cast on the while wall.  She can be tender, ruminative, but she can also create vivid joyous dances: songs that call out for lyrics.

Her playing is spare but I never felt it to be sparse, the sonic equivalent of a large room with one canvas chair against the wall.  No, her single notes seem just right — percussive commentary when needed, lyrical otherwise, and her harmonies are lovely, neither formulaic nor jarring.  Her voicings are subtle but right: the listener isn’t overpowered by force or volume, but welcomed in.  And she works wonderfully with the stellar members of this trio.  It’s music that will deeply reward those steeped in the modern piano tradition, but music one could play for someone outside the circle who would find it refreshing.  It’s clear that she has steeped herself in the jazz tradition — reaching far and wide to include bebop, Jimmy Rowles, Ellington, Monk, and American popular song at its best — but she is herself.  And she has an essential sense of humor: even her most pensive moments have an airy quality.

The titles are: BLULLABY, DIZZY BLOSSOM, I’M CURIOUS, AND I CALL IT HOME, TO BARRY WITH LOVE, BLULLABY (alternate take).

Jinjoo writes, “I owe my inspiration to the blue morning light sneaking in through my window (Track 1, 6), A bird singing, and flower petals floating in the air during springtime (Track 2), Fantasies created by desire and curiosity (Track 3), Teymur Hajiyev’s film about the reality of life in the slums of Azerbaijan <Shanghai, Baku> (Track 4), My hero, my teacher, the one and only Barry Harris (Track 5).”

I predict a bright future for this sensitive, intuitive artist — both as pianist and composer.  You can learn more about I’M CURIOUS and other Gut String Records releases here.  I encourage you to do so: these CDs don’t always get the press barrage their contents deserve, but they are rewarding in music and sound.

Here’s Neal’s video of BLULLABY, from the recording session:

and TO BARRY, WITH LOVE:

Welcome, Ms. Yoo!  Consider yourself invited to stay.  And thank you.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

MAKING MELODY COME ALIVE: LARRY McKENNA, AARON SEEBER, DAVID WONG (March 18, 2018)

Listening to Louis Armstrong play, Bobby Hackett reportedly said to an observer, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come so alive?”  Hackett knew, because he made such transformations happen for forty years of picking up the cornet.  I am sure that both Bobby and Louis would deeply admire the mastery of tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna, a legendary figure I got to meet a few weeks ago at a downtown New York restaurant.

Larry had made the trip (by Bolt bus!) from his Philadelphia home, and he was quietly dazzling — along with the sensitive playing of David Wong, string bass, and Aaron Seeber, drums.

Such beauty might sound easy, but it isn’t easy to create.  So we salute Mr. McKenna, graceful, quiet, modest, yet building castles of feeling and sound right in front of us.

May your happiness increase!