Category Archives: That Was Fun!

A MASTER AT PLAY: JAMES CHIRILLO at THE EAR INN (August 6, 2017)

Drawing by Dan Christoffel

I have been enjoying the art of guitarist / composer / arranger James Chirillo (and I know I have company in this) for some years now on discs, all the way back to 1985, when he appeared as a member of the Loren Schoenberg jazz orchestra then led by Benny Goodman. I browsed his discography and was amazed but not surprised to find how many of my favorite discs he is on, for musicians knew a long time ago that he had a deep yet playful intelligence.

I don’t know when I first encountered him in person (finding him serious, witty, surprising, and kind) but I can say that he allowed me to point a video camera at him a good many years ago, beginning in 2009.  He is a very serious judge of his own work but has been generous and gracious about getting captured and shown off for free, possibly because he understands the depth of my admiration (and, again, I am not alone in this.)

James has always been a peerless soloist — offering delightful surprises mixed in with a fine respect for sound and for melodies — and a wonderful team player, someone who works seriously yet with a light heart to keep the band trotting in the right direction.  I’ve written elsewhere about James’ deadpan penchant for weird notes and tones and spaces, something I cherish, but there is nothing weird about what I can present here.

Often, The Ear Inn, my intermittent Sunday-night shrine, on 326 Spring Street, home of the blessed EarRegulars, has been crowded and noisy.  Although it plays hell with my goals of a) appreciating music in a near-reverent hush and b) recording it for this audience, I understand the throng as a good thing.  People who have read about The Ear in a guidebook that calls it one of the secret New York City places that tourists don’t know about (is that a whiff of irony burning in that skillet?) keep these Sunday soirees going — as they have been for ten years.  But two Sundays ago, The Ear was wonderfully serene, and the band of Danny Tobias, Scott Robinson, Frank Tate, and James (with an early-evening guest appearance by the lyrical violinist Valerie Levy) had a good time in the peaceful admiration and pleasure.

About two-thirds of the way through the evening, after a very pleasing EarRegulars performance of a song had concluded, James turned to the band and to us, and said (low-key, wry yet plainly) that since he hadn’t taken a solo on the previous tune, he was going to take one now, and play something he had worked on, Johnny Smith’s arrangement / recomposition / improvisation on GOLDEN EARRINGS, a composition by Victor Young — the title theme of a 1947 film starring Marlene Dietrich and Ray Milland (an autographed copy of the sheet music is here just because it seems a shame not to share it):

and the movie poster:

Here is James’ tender virtuoso interlude, and it is a marvel — you don’t have to be a guitarist to understand that:

James is also that rare entity, a functioning adult: some hours after I posted the blog, he wrote to me, “Would you be surprised if I told you I consider my performance around a 7.8 compared to Johnny Smith’s 10.0? I’m not trying to be unduly self-effacing, it’s just the fact of the matter.”  I admire someone for whom realistic self-assessment is second nature, no matter that we might disagree about the numbers.

Thank you, Master Chirillo, for offering us, without fanfare, a multicolored respite from this modern world.

May your happiness increase!

ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF GOOD SURPRISES: THE MICHAEL BANK SEPTET at SHRINE (August 1, 2017)

I first encountered the pianist-composer Michael Bank sometime in late 2004 or early 2005, at a Basque restaurant called BAR TABAC in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when he was pianist in a little band that had some of my — now lasting — friends in it: Kevin Dorn, Craig Ventresco, Jesse Gelber, among others.  When I heard Michael play — evoking Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, and his own original thinking — I was impressed, and when he introduced the band’s version of ALL OF ME by quoting Teddy from PRES AND TEDDY, I went over to him at the set break and said, having introduced myself, “Excuse me, what the hell was that intro figure you did on ALL OF ME?” and we established its provenance (I am afraid I showed off by telling him I’d gotten Teddy’s autograph on that album) and I knew he was someone to pay attention to.

But I knew only a fraction of the totality of Michael Bank, and my admiration grew when I heard him lead his Septet.  The official press release calls this band “a four-horn group in the mainstream jazz tradition,” but that is a serious understatement.  For this gig, the Septet is Tony Speranza, trumpet;  John Ludlow, alto saxophone; Matt Haviland, trombone; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone; Ben Rubens, string bass;  the esteemed Steve Little, once again playing a set of drums not his own, with one happy exception being a beautiful snare drum lent for this gig by our friend Kelly Friesen.

Michael is an intriguing composer of originals that sound, at first, familiar, but then take their own twists and turns: not into dissonance, but into surprising melodies and voicings.  I think of his compositions as beginning in the 1951-55 Johnny Hodges band book and then deciding to move around by visiting Jaki Byard (a model and mentor to Michael), and going their own ways.  What underpins all of this is Michael’s delighted commitment to a rocking swing motion rooted in Ellingtonian momentum.  The Septet’s modernism is curious and amiable; the dissonances or unusual voicings do not treat the audience unkindly.  One could dance to this band, and that impulse comes from the Septet’s roots as a backing band for The Silver Belles, a veteran tap dance troupe. But like Ellington, Michael sees the beauty in simple forms: he loves the blues and how they can be asked to soar; he doesn’t find the Past something to be rejected but he conceives of ancient inspirations in his own ways.

Having taken the wrong subway line (Michael suggested that this post should be called TAKE THE 2 TRAIN, which amused me but would require too much explanation) I went up hill and down dale to be at this one-hour gig at the Shrine Music Venue at 134th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, but I was seriously rewarded for my aerobics with music that balances lightness and density.

Here are four extended highlights of this all-too-brief gig:

FALL AND RISE:

THE AZTEC TWO-STEP, which is its own kind of choreography:

Jaki Byard’s ONE NOTE:

TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:

I know it is hard to keep a band together without regular gigs, but I certainly think that Michael’s Septet is eminently worthy of a comfortable venue, a nice piano.  If you swing it, they will come.  Or perhaps.

May your happiness increase!

“THE THRUSH AND THE SKINMAN” (January 18, 1944)

I will explain my odd title-quotation below.

Billie Holiday and Sidney Catlett in concert at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, January 18, 1944.

And here is the soundtrack: DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME, BILLIE’S BLUES, and I’LL GET BY, with Billie accompanied by Roy Eldridge, Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford, and Sidney Catlett:

And you all know that Louis Armstrong, Teddy Wilson, and Mildred Bailey appeared, with the Goodman Quintet being beamed in from the other coast.

When I bid on and won that photograph of Billie and Sidney on eBay, it came with a small rectangular strip of yellowed paper taped to its back, which read

THE THRUSH AND THE SKINMAN

“Two top jive artists are shown at the Esquire All-American jazz concert, held at the Metropolitan Opera House on January 18th. Billie Holliday does the vocalizing as drummer boy Sid Catlett pounds the skins.”

I am nostalgic about 1944 music, but I am glad that no one feels compelled to write that way anymore.  Incidentally, when I looked online to see where this picture might have appeared — searching for THRUSH and SKINMAN — I got a whole host of entries about candida, male and female yeast infections. Mmmmmmm.

My unanswered and unanswerable question about the photograph has to do with it being a posed, rather than candid shot.  Notice that neither of the two participants is in motion; there is no blur.  So.  Did the photographer say to the two of them presumably before or after the concert, “Billie, Miss Holiday.  Could you come over here?  We need a shot of you and Sidney — how do you people say it — giving each other . . . some skin?”  And for those who like metaphysics, which one put out a hand first for this hip charade?  I know the photograph is in some ways fake, but the emotions behind it are not.

P.S.  If you’re going to lift the photographic image for use on your own site, be my guest.  I wouldn’t disfigure it with a watermark . . . but real gents and ladies also write, “Photo courtesy of JAZZ LIVES.”  Thanks.

May your happiness increase!

WHO WAS MIKE DURSO AND WHERE DID HE GO?

I would guess that hot jazz, especially the Chicagoan variety, would have upset Hercule Poirot’s delicate stomach, but we could use his help on this matter.  This posting owes its existence to my new jazz-friend (although I’ve read his work for a long time), Larry Kart of Chicago.  I’ll let Larry start us off:

You may be way ahead of me here (at least I hope you are), but listening to the radio Saturday, I heard this 1927 track “The New Twister” by The Wolverines (Bix’s old band under the leadership of pianist Dick Voynow, with Jimmy McPartland taking Bix’s place). The music has IMO a proto-Chicagoans feel (the first McKenzie-Condon sides were shortly to be made). Drummer Vic Moore has a nice a “Chicago shuffle” feel going, 17-year-old reedman Maurice Bercov, says Dick Sudhalter in “Lost Chords,” had “heard Johnny Dodds and the rest on the South Side but worshipped Frank Teschmacher, emulating his tone, attack, off-center figures … he wound up recording two months before his idol [did] .”

But who the heck was trombonist Mike Durso, who takes the IMO impressively fluid solo here?

Thanks to “Atticus Jazz” for the lovely transfer of this rare 78, as always:

The personnel of this band is listed as Dick Voynow, piano; director; Jimmy McPartland, cornet; Mike Durso, trombone; Maurie Bercov, clarinet, alto saxophone; unknown guitar; Basil Dupre, sb / Vic Moore, d. Chicago, October 12, 1927.

Back to Larry:

By contrast, here is THE NEW TWISTER played by Miff Mole and the Molers (with Red Nichols, et al.) from the same year. Mole’s trombone work here is not without its charms, but in terms of swing and continuity, it’s day and night, no?

To complicate matters (or to add more evidence) here is the reverse side of that disc, SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

Larry continues:

The guitarist on the Wolverines track is Dick McPartland, Jimmy’s brother. Bercov’s contemporary, pianist Tut Soper, described him as an “extremely galling, sarcastic and difficult man.”

Looking for more on Durso, I came across this “moderne” 1928 piece by trumpeter Donald Lindley, “Sliding Around,” on which Durso may be a sideman. (There’s no trombone solo though.) Jazz it’s not, though it’s certainly aware of jazz — those oblique references to “Royal Garden Blues.” That’s Lindley , b. 1899, in the cap [the YouTube portrait]:

The beautiful video is by our friend Enrico Borsetti, another one of my benefactors, and the Lindley side eerily prefigures the Alec Wilder Octet.

Finally, here is LIMEHOUSE BLUES by “The Wolverine Orchestra” which might have Durso audible in solo and ensemble:

After Larry had asked me about Durso, and I had to confess that I’d barely registered his name or these recordings, and I had no information to offer (he’d stumped the band), I went back to the discography and was pleased to find that Durso had a history, 1923-28 and then 1939: recording for Gennett under the band name “Bailey’s Lucky Seven” which had in its collective personnel Jules Levy, Jr., Jimmy Lytell, Red Nichols, Frank Signorelli, Hymie Farberman; then Sam Lanin, with Vic Berton, Merle Johnson, Joe Tarto, John Cali, Tony Colucci, Ray Lodwig; sessions with the Arkansas / Arkansaw Travelers, a Nichols group where the trombonist may be Mole or Durso.  That takes him from 1923-25; he then records with Ray Miller, with Volly DeFaut.  All of this takes him to 1926, and all of it is (if correctly annotated) recorded in New York.  The Wolverines sides above are in 1927, in Chicago, as a re 1928 sides with the larger Wolverines unit, Donald Lindley, and Paul Ash (a “theatre orchestra,” Larry says).

Then, a gap of a decade, and Durso, in 1939, is part of the Vincent Lopez Orchestra, recording for Bluebird.  Then silence.

I realize that discographies are not infallible research documents, and that Durso might have made dozens of sides that a jazz discography would not notate, so I am sure this listing is incomplete and thus not entirely accurate.  But, to paraphrase Lesley Gore, I think, it’s my blog and I’ll surmise if I want to.  I am going to guess that Durso, probably born around 1900 or slightly earlier, was one of those musicians who could read a tune off a stock arrangement, blend with another trombone in a section, improvise a harmony part, knew his chords, and could — as you hear above — play a very forward-looking solo given the chance. Remember that THE NEW TWISTER came out in 1927.  Who were the trombonists of note?  Ory, Brunis, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Harrison, Charlie Green, Benny Morton, Mole, perhaps Charlie Butterfield.  Teagarden may or may not have impressed everyone yet.  (I am sure I have left out a few names.) Durso had technique but wasn’t in love with it, and his playing is lightly swinging and mobile; his solos make logical sense, with no cliches.

So between 1923 and 1928 or so he is what we might call “a studio man,” who obviously is known for his improvising ability, otherwise he would not have been in the studio with McPartland.  (Scott Black!  Did Dugald ever mention Mike Durso?)  More speculation follows.  I can safely assume that pre-Crash, Durso might have made a living as an improvising musician, but at some point the safer employment of sweeter big bands might have called to him.  Did he have a family to support?  Did he perhaps appreciate a regular paycheck playing in theatres and dancehalls as opposed to playing in speakeasies?  I can’t say, having even less that speculation to go on.  Did he die after 1939, or do some war work and decide that getting home after 5 PM with a lunch pail was easier than being a hot man?

The trail goes cold here.  Perhaps some readers can assist us here.  I know that you know, to quote Jimmie Noone.  And if no one can, at least we have the collective pleasure of having heard Mike Durso on THE NEW TWISTER. Thanks in the present tense to Larry Kart; thanks in advance to those of you who will flood the comments section with information.

May your happiness increase!

MARIANNE SOLIVAN’S EXUBERANCE (July 20, 2017)

MARIANNE SOLIVAN by Gulnara Khamatova

My current life is imperfect and (not “but”) I am deeply grateful for it.  One of the aspects of it that deeply warms me is living in a world where creative people are my friends. Even though we don’t see each other on a regular basis, one of the people I treasure is the extraordinary singer Marianne Solivan.  I was first introduced to her by the equally splendid Michael Kanan — this was in 2011 (!) and followed her around with a video camera a few years ago. We most recently encountered each other last September at an awards ceremony.  Hugging ensued.

Marianne has always had a powerful emotional connection with what she is singing: she doesn’t stand back and view the song with a cool postmodernist glance.  No, she’s IN it before she utters a syllable, and that’s entrancing.  It isn’t “acting”; rather it’s experiencing in the moment.  You can feel the music flow through her, as she embraces each note and syllable before passing it along to us.

But what I love most about Marianne’s performing is her willingness to take what someone else’s GPS says are wrong turns and make them inescapably right and rewarding.  Sometimes she even appears to be conversing with the song, “Song, what would you think if I emphasized this note, or held off on this phrase in an unexpected way?  How would you like that?”

She has a true playful spirit, she loves experimenting, and her internal compass never fails.  Drop her in strange surroundings, she makes friends; she sniffs out congenial places; she’s not afraid.  Ask her to sing in the wrong key, and she makes a banquet of it.

And so it is with the performance captured at Luca’s Jazz Corner — with Josh Richman, piano; Matthew Parrish, string bass — on July 20, 2017.

Watching and hearing this for the first of many times, I was laughing –Marianne is a great comedienne who hasn’t scripted a thing — while delighting in the music and the beauty she makes.  A courageous striving soul, a great spreader of joy.  I am honored to know her.  Seek her out here, on disc, and in person.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON MICHAEL HASHIM (PART ONE: July 19, 2017)

“Triptych,” photograph by Phillip Johnston, 2017

One of the first musicians I met when I returned to live jazz in New York (2004-2005) was the wonderful drummer Kevin Dorn, and through Kevin I met a number of musical individualists.  One who made a powerful impression on me was saxophone master — no hyperbole here — Michael Hashim , whom I have heard over the years, memorably, on alto, tenor, and soprano.  If you’ve been on the scene since the middle Seventies, you’ve run into Michael (sometimes “Mike”) playing with everyone from Jimmy Rowles, Benny Carter, Sammy Price, the Widespread Jazz Orchestra, and now with a variety of small groups and happily with the Microscopic Septet.

The saxophones of the Microscopic Septet: Phillip Johnston, Michael Hashim, Don Davis, Dave Sewelson, 2017

Michael is also singular because of his sharply focused memory for people and sounds and events (and, sometimes, absurdities) and his wide range of interests. I can talk with him about art, comix, photography, literature, and I will come away more deeply informed.  You will also see in these video interviews his dazzling articulateness: none of this is scripted, but he’s never at a loss for words: he’s not affected but his speech is polished and balanced.

Earlier this summer, as another tributary to the interviews I’ve been doing with Dan Morgenstern (and there are more), I casually asked Michael if he’d be interested in sitting for my camera.  He was, and so we spent a few hours on the afternoon of July 19, my admiring Michael’s insights and feeling terribly fortunate that I could record them for posterity.  And, as you can see, he enjoyed himself.

Incidentally, since I called on Michael (in the words of that venerable magazine feature by Pete Martin in The Saturday Evening Post sixty years ago) to tell us stories, to be a spiritual tour guide to worlds that many of us never encountered, I have chosen photographs of his very expressive face — without the ubiquitous saxophone attached.

Here are two of the five segments I recorded: lose yourself in Michael’s tales. They are memorable and irreplaceable, full of surprises.

First, a wonderful collection of faces and places, including — in one breath — Miles Davis and the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, memories of the great jazz film collector David Chertok, ending with words of wisdom from patriarch Jon Hendricks:

Second, recollections of Jimmy Rowles and his world:

And since Michael is music as well as words, here is a 2012 duet performance with pianist Spike Wilner of a beautiful Ellington song:

There’s more to come.  How reassuring it is to me to know that Michael Hashim exists and flourishes.

May your happiness increase!

PAT KIRBY SINGS! AGAIN! “THE BOY NEXT DOOR” (1954, Steve Allen, The Tonight Show)

For me, this beautiful story started in a thrift store in Westbury, New York. Details (and music) here.

More friends helped me find Pat Kirby herself — a person as gracious and gentle of spirit as her singing; I met David Fletcherwho’s really a new addition to my family, and then, springing up from the maze of Facebook, there appeared the wonderfully generous Anthony DiFlorio III — who opened his toybox to share this gem with me, and with you: Pat Kirby singing I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU, which resulted in my rapturous post here.

Last night, I saw the Facebook notification that someone had sent me a message, which is usually a pleasure, and it was Anthony with this astonishing manifestation, which I can now share with you.

If you think I am overdoing it (and who am I to argue with you?) simply understand this: it is one thing to hear a voice come out of a speaker from a piece of flat plastic.  And with many of our musical heroes, this is all we will ever have. Perhaps a photograph or two to muse over.  But then you are offered the opportunity — now opportunities — to see that person in action, especially meaningful when the person is a singer.

Once again, there is a good deal of Steve Allen prelude, but what follows makes the world seem brighter: Pat Kirby, posed in what is apparently the same theatrical simulation of a forest glade, singing THE BOY NEXT DOOR, by Ralph Blaine and Hugh Martin.  A few words first.  I was at first amazed to see and hear Pat adopt a “bigger” approach to this very tender melody, which makes sense: each song is its own script, and the quiet restraint of her performance of I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU — which is a kind of secular hymn — might have been too restrained for the yearning of this song.  Too, THE BOY NEXT DOOR was powerfully associated with Judy Garland, who’d performed it ten years earlier in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS.  In no way is Pat attempting to emulate Judy — she was her own artist! — but there is more open expression of passion in this performance.

xxxxx

 

xxxxx