Category Archives: The Heroes Among Us

HOT NOTES TO YOU: JOE VENUTI’S BLUE FOUR at CARNEGIE HALL (Friday, June 27, 1975)

I believe I was in the second row for this, the first concert of the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival in New York (its fourth in this city and its twenty-second, for those keeping track) and I had my cassette recorder and better-quality microphone, the wire concealed in my blazer sleeve.  Not everything I recorded was priceless and not all of it has survived, but the rescued music has its own happy power.  The concert was a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, featuring Marian McPartland, Johnny Mince, Warren Vache, John Glasel, and Bix’s replacement in the Wolverines, Jimmy McPartland, as well as veterans of the Jean Goldkette orchestra Spiegle Willcox, Bill Rank, and Chauncey Morehouse.

But the explosive high point of the evening for me was a right-here-right-now version of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four, featuring Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar, and the surviving member of that ad  hoc group, the durable Vince Giordano, bass saxophone.  Here’s how they sounded on CHINA BOY and no doubt an unscheduled encore, C JAM BLUES, with Venuti doing his unique “four-string Joe” party piece.  Dan Morgenstern tells me that he isn’t doing the introduction, so the cheerful announcer is mysterious to me, although it might well be Dick Sudhalter.  The photograph below comes from the Chiaroscuro Records compilation, JOE AND ZOOT AND MORE, also glorious:

The captured butterfly, still alive today.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

VJM Banner 2020

STIFF BREEZES, AN AMPHIBIAN LAMENT, and A LAPSED DARLING: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS — KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON (Sacramento Music Festival, May 25, 2014)

The Sacramento Music Festival, which we miss, was like a sandwich with the cole slaw coming out of the bread on all sides — tasty but messy, a danger to one’s outfit. Bands of all kinds jostled for audibility both in the open air and in unsuitable venues; the whole weekend had the air of a genial traveling carnival slightly awry.

But wonderful music happened in spite of the distractions. Here are two performances, hidden in the JAZZ LIVES archives for moments just such as this, by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, mining deep Chicago gold. They are Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal, Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar. Special effects provided by the winds of fate. (The Cubs should have played BREEZE, but that’s my comic sense, which can be disregarded without harm or wound.)

BULL FROG BLUES:

and that tale of The Ruined Maid, with her new hat and her dubious associations, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW. And NOW as pronounced by Mr. Cusack is a marvel: young actors at the Old Vic study it but is remains elusive:

These performances are nearly seven years “old” but, as Ray says, “We play in the present tense.”

May your happiness increase!

“DO WHAT YOU CAN, WITH WHAT YOU HAVE, WHERE YOU ARE,” or GEORGE BARNES TEACHES PERSEVERANCE (BENNY CARTER, JOE VENUTI, MICHAEL MOORE, Nice, July 22, 1975).

The quotation is attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, who might not have expected it to emerge in this context, but it fits perfectly. And since “T.R.” lived until 919, he could have heard the ODJB, being an adventurous soul.

The text for the sermon is the lovely DEEP PURPLE, by Peter Du Rose and Mitchell Parish.

On the evening of July 22, 1975, an eminent chamber jazz group took the stand at the Grande Parade du Jazz, introduced by Dick Sudhalter: Michael Moore, string bass; Joe Venuti, violin; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; George Barnes, guitar.

I didn’t write “electric guitar,” the instrument Barnes played magnificently. No, something undefined and mysterious had happened to his amplifier, I am assuming, just before the set, and his volume was very low, making those electrifying single-string lines full of percussive notes impossible or at best unrealistic.

But what do you do if you’re George Barnes, a professional for forty years? You follow Teddy Roosevelt’s motto, or, in less formal terms, you “keep on keepin’ on,” and you play. As he did, quietly but splendidly, laying down chordal patterns, keeping the rhythm on track — both Venuti and Moore were strong-willed players who wanted the pulse to go their way, and Joe was ready to play over everyone, everywhere. (I wish George had plugged into Joe’s amplifier and disconnected the cable to that raspy violin, but not all my dreams come true.)

But the group held together — all credit to George’s steadiness and Benny Carter’s elegant reserve — “the King” was not to be pushed around.

Here’s to steadfast souls who “stay the course.”

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Forty-Four) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring The EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

and . . . .
but we can’t exactly have that journey in real time and space just yet, so . . . .
join me: bring your Ears to the Ear Inn for the glorious music made on the night of January 2, 2011 (such a cornucopia of lovely sounds that this is the third posting from that Sunday). The first set ended with a desire for change . . . embodied by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Nicki Parrott, string bass, and guest Chuck Redd, playing wire brushes on the table nearby:

Then the opening salvo from an extraordinary jam session, with Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; John Allred, Emily Asher, Todd Londagin, trombone; Pete Martinez, Dan Block, clarinet; Lisa Parrott, alto sax; Matt Munisteri, Howard Alden, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Chuck Redd, wire brushes. And can you find all the hilarious quotes from holiday / Christmas songs?

We live in hope. These heroes will play for us again, and we will cheer them on and thank them for their gifts.

May your happiness increase!

“WHEN SHADOWS FALL”: BENT PERSSON, MICHEL BASTIDE, and the HOT ANTIC JAZZ BAND (Akersunds, 2010)

In the darkest days of the pandemic, I found myself muttering under my breath, “I want to go home.”  It was of course unattainable: my parents had been gone for decades and my childhood home long occupied by others.  I have lived in this apartment for sixteen years, so wanting to “go home” was physically attainable and emotionally wavering.  I am home.  I was home.  But not really.  Home feels like a peaceful state of mind, somewhere you are safe and welcomed, perhaps even where someone makes a salad and asks if you would like some.  In the midst of fear, grief, and uncertainty, “Home” still means to me a time and space where I don’t have to read the headlines in the morning and find out how many have died, been killed, are abused, are suffering.

So even before the pandemic, when the other person in the car asked me, “What’s your favorite song?” I said, “One?” and the first that came to mind was Louis’ THAT’S MY HOME.  (Second place was IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, which is revealing also.) 

But HOME. 

And in musical terms, HOME is one of those songs so ennobled by performances, live and recorded.  The last time I saw Bobby Hackett, at a January 1976 concert tribute to Louis, it was that song he picked as his feature.  I can hear and feel embraced by the performances of Jack Teagarden, Joe Thomas, Coleman Hawkins on a 1944 Keynote Records date.

HOME cover

But for me it all comes back to Louis.  I first heard him sing and play HOME on a glorious, touching Verve session, backed by Russell Garcia, LOUIS UNDER THE STARS, and then the 1931 OKeh version.  Louis makes me want to stand up and put my hand over my heart, an impulse I must stifle because people at adjacent tables might ask if I need the Heimlich maneuver, but this Louis-inflected reading of the song, by Bent Persson and the Hot Antic Jazz Band, led by Michel Bastide, has me in tears every time.  Good tears, rich ones:

We owe deep thanks to musician and videographer Andreas Kågedal for preserving this beauty and sharing it. I apologize to him for not naming him at the start.

Wherever you are, may it be comfortable and haimisch — you don’t need a translation.  

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

EDDY DAVIS: IN MEMORY STILL GREEN (Scott Robinson, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Debbie Kennedy, Fernando Kfouri, The Cajun: March 29, 2006)

Scott Robinson wrote this elegy for Eddy Davis on April 8, 2020, and I couldn’t improve on it.


I’ve just lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in music. Eddy Davis was a highly significant and influential presence in my life. He was a fiercely individualistic performer… a veteran of the old Chicago days when music was hot, joyful, exuberant and unselfconscious. A character and a curmudgeon, who could hold court for hours after the gig. And a loving mentor who helped younger musicians like myself learn and grow in this music.
I had only played with Eddy a handful of times when he called me in late 1998 to say that he was forming a new band to fill a weekly Wednesday spot at the Cajun on 8th Avenue. He wanted me to play lead on C melody saxophone, in a little group with two reeds, and no drums. This by itself gives a clue to what an original thinker he was.

I already knew that Eddy was a proficient and highly individualistic stylist on the banjo, who sounded like no one else. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that this man was also a walking repository of many hundreds if not thousands of tunes of every description, ranging far beyond the standard repertoire… with a fascinating background story at the ready for nearly every one. I quickly learned that he was also a prolific and idiosyncratic composer himself, with a wonderfully philosophical work ethic: write original music every day, keep what works, and throw the rest away without a backward glance.

Eddy was also what used to be called a “character”: affable, opinionated, hilarious, and irascible all in one, and above all highly passionate about music. What I learned over the ensuing 7 ½ years in Eddy’s little band, I cannot begin to describe. I came to refer to those regular Wed. sessions as my “doctor’s appointment” — for they fixed whatever ailed me, and provided the perfect antidote to the ills of the world, and of the music scene. Over the years we were graced with the presence of some very distinguished musicians who came by and sat in with us, including Harry Allen, Joe Muranyi, Bob Barnard, Howard Johnson, and Barry Harris.

Eddy was generous with his strong opinions, with his knowledge and experience, and with his encouragement. But he was a generous soul in other ways as well. When he heard that I was building a studio (my “Laboratory”), he had me come by the apartment and started giving me things out of his closets. A Roland 24-track recorder… three vintage microphones… instruments… things that I treasure, and use every single day of my life. When my father turned 75, Eddy came out to the Lab in New Jersey and played for him, and wouldn’t take a dime for it.
When I got the call last night that Eddy had passed — another victim of this horrible virus that is ruining so many lives, and our musical life as well — I hung up the phone and just cried. Later I went out to my Laboratory, and kissed every single thing there that he had given to me. How cruel to lose such an irreplaceable person… killed by an enemy, as my brother commented, that is neither visible nor sentient.

One night at the Cajun stands out in my memory, and seems particularly relevant today. It was the night after the last disaster that changed New York forever: the World Trade Center attack. There was a pall over the city, the air was full of dust, and there was a frightful, lingering smell. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “This is crazy.” But somehow we all made our way to the nearly empty club. We were in a state of shock; nobody knew what to say. I wondered if we would even be able to play. We took the stage, looked at each other, and counted off a tune. The instant the first note sounded, I was overcome with emotion and my face was full of tears.

Suddenly I understood exactly why we were there, why it was so important that we play this music. We played our hearts out that night — for ourselves, for our city, and for a single table of bewildered tourists, stranded in town by these incomprehensible events. They were so grateful for the music, so comforted by it.

The simple comfort of live music has been taken from us now. We must bear this loss, and those that will surely follow, alone… shut away in our homes. I know that when the awful burden of this terrible time has finally been lifted, when we can share music, life, and love again, it will feel like that night at the Cajun. My eyes will fill, my heart will sing, and the joy that Eddy Davis gave me will be with me every time I lift the horn to my face, for as long as I live.

It should be clear that the passionate honesty Scott offers us when he plays also comes through his words.

Here is an audio document of one of those Wednesday nights, March 29, 2006, recorded at The Cajun. Eddy Davis, banjo, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano, vocal; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Debbie Kennedy, string bass; Fernando Kfouri, trombone (on TAILGATE RAMBLE). I wish I had been less intimidated (underneath his Midwestern affability, I sensed there was a core of steel in Eddy and I initially kept my distance, although I did develop a friendly relationship and did create videos) and brought my video camera, but I’ve left everything that was recorded that night in — including Conal going in search of his car, which had been towed, between-songs chatter, and more, for those not fortunate to be there fifteen years ago or other times.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

“SATCHMOCRACY: A TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG” by the Jérôme Etcheberry – Popstet (2020)

This new CD is completely heartening music. Here’s the cover . . .

but before you have one more word launched in your direction, hear some sounds. Excerpts only, but how tasty!

WEST END BLUES:

BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

and that should give you some of the bracing flavors of this new disc that passionately combines “tribute” and “going for yourself” in a way completely true to Louis’ spirit. Should your only question be “How can I get a copy?” the answer is very simple. Visit their website here with not only hope but 19.99 euro, do the PayPal dance, and the disc can be yours. Or here, if you prefer Facebookery.

The songs are TIGHT LIKE THIS, HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, WEATHER BIRD RAG, HOTTER THAN THAT, I DOUBLE DARE YOU, MEMORIES OF YOU, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, CORNET CHOP SUEY, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, WEST END BLUES, YES! I’M IN THE BARREL, NEW ORLEANS STOMP, and the noble members of The Ensemble are Jérome Etcheberry leader, trumpet, arrangements; Malo Mazurié, trumpet; César Poirier, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Benjamin Dousteyssier, alto and baritone saxophone; Ludovic Allainmat, piano; Félix Hunot, guitar; Sébastien Girardot, string bass; David Grebil, drums.

Some months back, Jerome, whose previous work I’ve found thrilling, asked me if I would write something for his new enterprise. It took me very little time to fall in love with this music, that seems adoring and irreverent (in the best ways) at once.

When I began to listen to this CD I hadn’t had breakfast, so after a track or two I thought, “This is filet of Louis wrapped in a spicy pastry crust, both rare and well-done.” What does my culinary metaphor ending in a cliché mean? As far back as the late Twenties, recordings show that musicians were so awe-struck by Louis – who came from a much more advanced solar system – that they imitated, or attempted to imitate, his singing and playing. Rex Stewart bought shoes like Louis’. And it went beyond individual attempts. Hear BEAU KOO JACK (1929) by the Earl Hines band – his solos scored for the trumpet section. Fast forward to Carnegie Hall, November 8, 1974: a tribute to Louis by the New York Jazz Repertory Company, with Mel Davis, Pee Wee Erwin, and Joe Newman (the sacred texts transcribed scored by Dick Hyman, of course) playing Louis in unison on CAKE WALKING BABIES, POTATO HEAD BLUES, WILLIE THE WEEPER, and WEATHER BIRD. I was there; it was electrifying. Not just as a “Wow, they can do that, and do it well!” in the way you’d applaud Olympic gymnasts, but the multiple voices gave heft and depth to music I’d known by heart for years.

I felt the same exultant chills down my spine listening to this disc. First, Jerome’s playing is glowing, passionate, and exact, both his solos and “section work.” He sounds like Louis in four dimensions, thick and broad and monumental. I also cherish the absence of caricature: no vocals, no “Oh, yeah!” which shows a deep understanding of the man: Louis joked and mugged onstage but was dead serious when he picked up the horn.

And so is Jerome. I can’t overpraise the rest of the band, either. Some bandleaders insist that modern musicians read parts – perhaps a transcribed Jimmy Strong solo – and that’s fine. But it is thrilling to hear these inventive players speak their own swinging truths so joyously, and when “Louis” comes back – in the person of Jerome – there’s no abrupt shift from one world to another. Each performance is a fully-formed entrée (to return to food) with its own savory touches, imaginative, playful, and memorable – so the disc never feels like more of the same. And there’s no conscious archaism either – the result is timeless Mainstream, swinging and vivid. I know Louis would like it. And since I think the dead do not go away, I’ll bet my 78s that Louis likes this now.

I love this disc not only musically, but as a delightful vision of what it might be like to live in a Satchmocracy: where our local deity is a bringer of joy who also takes Swiss Kriss and buys the neighborhood kids ice-cream, where each of us is encouraged to follow in Louis’ path, admiring him but being ourselves in every gesture and embrace. A blissful republic indeed.

Thank you, exalted denizens of that world who make such radiant sounds.

. . . . and for those of you who might say, “I don’t need this new CD — I know all these records by heart already,” this would be an error, because SATCHMOCRACY is a vivid, brightly-colored creation, a joy on its own terms. I would hug it if I could.

May your happiness increase!

THEIR COMPASS POINTS SOUTH: HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET (BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, STEVE PIKAL, JOHN OTTO) at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL, July 28, 2019.

Not that I need a reason! But I am posting this today for two: the HCJF version of LULU’S BACK IN TOWN made many people happy, if the statistics are valid proof — here — and today is Brian Holland’s birthday. So we celebrate him and the band!

It intrigues me that so many of the songs that are classics of hot jazz sing the praises of the American South, although many of the African-American musicians went at least partway North as soon as they could, and for good reason. Louis Armstrong really loved his home town, so there was no irony in his singing and playing WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH for forty years; other musicians, however, felt the disconnect keenly — that Fats Waller could record MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH but while he was touring that region the hotels and restaurants frequented by the dominant race were closed to him. Alas.

All this is prelude to the Bennie Moten – Thamon Hayes instrumental hit, simply called SOUTH — recorded in 1924 and 1928, and kept in the Victor catalogue into the Fifties. I found out that lyrics — quite pedestrian ones — were added by “Ray Charles,” but if my source is correct and they were written in 1936, that RC is not the famous one. And the lyrics aren’t worth the space here.

My window faces north-west, but I can always make it face the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. And no, I don’t need more catsup. But thank you. The only thing that troubles me is that I cannot remember the name of this eatery: was it THE FIRE PIT? Oh, well, the music lasts longer than beer does.

May your happiness increase!

ART UNDER ATTACK: RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL JAM SESSION featuring GENE KRUPA, ROY ELDRIDGE, BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, BENNY CARTER, RED NORVO, BUD FREEMAN, TEDDY WILSON, JIM HALL, LARRY RIDLEY (July 3, 1972)

There is a good deal of history within and around the live performance you are about to hear. However, the sound is not ideal — which I will explain — so sonically-delicate listeners may want to come back tomorrow.

It might be difficult for younger readers to imagine the excitement that I and my jazz friends greeted the Newport Jazz Festival in New York in 1972. It was the Arabian Nights — a cornucopia of concerts where we could see and hear musicians who, for the most part, had been sounds coming out of a cloth-covered speaker grille or posed on the cover of a long-playing record. My friends and I, specifically Stu Zimny, bought tickets to the concerts we could afford — we were college students — and I brought my cassette recorder with the more exotic Shure microphone attached. I don’t remember the ticket prices at Radio City Music Hall, but for people of our class, it was general seating which required climbing flights of stairs. I looked it up today and the hall seats just over 6000.

I think we might have scored seats in the front of the highest mezzanine. Our neighbors were two exuberant women from Texas, younger than I am now, understandably ready for a good time. They’d brought Scotch, offered us some, which we declined, and they politely declined our offer of Cadbury chocolate. I kept silent because I had a cassette recorder in my lap; the Texas contingent gave out with appropriate exultations. The audience in general was excited and excitable, although they paid attention to the solos. (One of the women, commenting on the applause, can be heard to say, “You like something, you tell ’em about it,” and who would disagree?)

The players were a constellation of heroes: Gene Krupa, drums; Larry Ridley, string bass; Teddy WIlson, piano; Jim Hall, guitar; Red Norvo, vibraphone; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Roy Eldridge, trumpet.

The first set offered four long songs, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID were the closing pair, with Gene, whose health was not good, playing only those two, taking over for the younger Bobby Rosengarden. (Gene would die fifteen months later.) There is some distortion; my microphone was not ready for 6000 people; the engineers seemed only partially aware of how acoustic instruments might sound in such a huge hall. The ensembles are not always clear, and the applause can drown out part of a solo, although this excitable audience is tame when compared to some recorded at JATP concerts. Even in substandard sound, the music comes through, the individual voices of the soloists, and their pleasure at being on this stage together. Our pleasure you will have to imagine, but it was substantial then, perhaps more so now.

Consider for yourself, with or without Scotch or chocolate:

The Festival concerts were reviewed regularly in the New York Times. Here are the opening paragraphs of Don Heckman’s review, “MIDNIGHT JAM SESSION AT MUSIC HALL,” in the New York Times, July 5, 1972:


The jam session, that most venerable of institutions, is still at the very heart of the jazz experience. Rare though it may be in these days of musical eclecticism, it continues to be a kind of proving ground for musicians, in which they can test and measure themselves against their contemporaries.

The Newport Jazz Festival had the first of two scheduled Midnight Jam Sessions at Radio City Music Hall Monday at midnight. The first group of the session, a mainstream‐oriented ensemble, included Bud Freeman, Gene Krupa, Bobby Rosengarden, Jim Hall, Larry Ridley, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson and Bobby Hackett. They bounced happily through a passel of swing standards, with Carter, Eldridge and Freeman sounding particularly energetic.

Then the old gladiator of the swing drums, Gene Krupa, was announced and the proceedings went rapidly down hill. Krupa dashed buoyantly on stage and proceeded to hammer away in a style that would have been more appropriate for a Blaze Starr strip show than for the backing of some of the finest jazz players in the world. Yet his reputation and his flair for showmanship sustained him, and every tasteless clang of the cymbal was met with shouts of approval from the overflow audience.

I know Mr. Heckman (born 1932) is widely-published, has a musical background, and is well-respected. Several of my readers may know him; others may find nothing extraordinary in his prose. After all, “Aren’t we all entitled to our opinions, Michael?” But I am amazed at what he heard — balanced against what readers in 2021 can hear even on my murky tape — and by his positioning himself above the artists and above the audience. His three sentences read as contempt for Krupa — a hammering gladiator who would have been more appropriate playing for a stripper — and for an audience too foolish to know, as did Mr. Heckman, that they should have sat silent in disapproval.

That kind of self-aggrandizing disapproval makes good copy, but it is to me a repellent attitude towards the art one is supposed to depict and evaluate. I know that if I had been able to ask Gene his reaction, he might have sighed and said, “Chappie, these fellows do it to sell papers. I don’t take them seriously,” and he told Harriet Choice that the wild applause was because the young audience perceived him as an icon of marijuana culture — which I think says more about his deep modesty than anything else.

At this late date, I am offended by Heckman’s paragraph, for the sake of this holy art. Sneering is not art criticism.

It was and is a blessing to be in the same room with these players.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Forty-Three) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring The EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

I don’t know what the headlines for Sunday, January 2, 2011, were — I would guess the usual mix of celebration and catastrophe. But if you were to measure global achievements and happiness by what happened at The Ear Inn that night, it stands as a milestone in Western Civilization. If you think I exaggerate, I suggest you sit back, watch and listen to the collective joys created by the EarRegulars and their best friends. Collectively, they are Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Tobias, Bria Skonberg (trumpets); John Allred, Emily Asher, Todd Londagin (trombones); Pete Martinez, Dan Block (clarinets); Lisa Parrott (alto sax); Matt Munisteri, Howard Alden (guitars); Nicki Parrott (bass); Chuck Redd (wire brushes). Ecstasy at The Ear! Here, in honor of Bix Beiderbecke and the Chicagoans:

Nothing foolish here, especially the rueful sentiments of this 1936 ballad:

First, it belonged to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band — it’s still stirring us more than a hundred years later:

There’s still more from this glorious nighttime explosion of hot music and community — we hope a harbinger of things to come. Their joyous welcome to 2011 still rings true a decade later.

And just in case someone might think I am ignoring Easter Sunday, may I respectfully submit this aural bouquet:

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

SHE’S BACK, BRINGING SWING WITH HER: HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at MONTEREY (BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, MARC CAPARONE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, March 7, 2020)

I think of a performance like this as brightly colored but full of shadings, a compendium of Fifty-Second Street camaraderie brought into our century. Or, more simply, five minutes of expert joy. Notice I write expert: it’s only in the movies where Jack Webb picks up a cornet and is — voila! — proficient. For these jovial fellows and their colleagues, swing is a life’s work.

They are, from left, Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal (whose birthday is today), string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet. (Dear Jacob: my apologies for not swinging the camera around sufficiently to always capture you.)

And the song here is the Al Dubin – Harry Warren delight, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN.

This performance has its own extra added emotional kick. Not only is it musically wonderful, but it is a souvenir of the last time I saw this band in action, the last festival I attended. We live in hope for a swinging future, you know.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

EASTER SERENADES, NOW (April 4, 2021) and THEN (1944-45)

I offer the keys to an Easter Sunday compact outdoor jazz festival in New York City — like water for people who have been parched by deprivation far too long — and Easter celebrations of the hallowed past. Yes, JAZZ LIVES is your full-service Easter jazz blog. Did you doubt it?

The good news for Sunday, April 4, 2021, for those people within easy reach of Manhattan, is that what Jay Rattman modestly calls “the little gig at the church” is going to happen. Hark! It’s 2-3 on Sunday in front of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 81 Christopher Street. (Take the #1 subway if you are so inclined.) Danny Tobias on trumpet, Jay on soprano saxophone assuming it’s a little too chilly for clarinet, Josh Holcomb on trombone, James Chirillo on banjo, and Brian Nalepka on tuba. I won’t be there with a video camera . . . other commitments . . . . so you have to make the scene yourself. And that, as E.B. White’s Charlotte says, is SOME BAND.

Here’s music to get in the mood, no matter what your Sunday plans are.

Eddie, Phyllis, and their daughters Liza and Maggie in Washington Square, New York

The live performances below combine all sorts of pleasures: Irving Berlin, Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Lou McGarity, Jess Stacy, Pee Wee Russell, Gene Krupa, George Wettling, Sidney Catlett, and more. Eddie liked the song — he loved American pop music of the highest order — as you can hear, he didn’t save it for the one spring Sunday.

I have another EASTER PARADE that didn’t get shared with the troops, but that will appear as part of a Condon concert that only a handful of people have ever heard. Watch this space.

Back to the issued music: if it needs to be pointed out, these performances stand alongside the more-heralded jazz recordings of the time, the small-group sides of the middle Forties, for delight, ingenuity, swing, and feeling. Let no one characterize Eddie and his friends’ music as “Dixieland”; let no one stereotype it as too-fast renditions of traditional warhorses. There’s elegance and lyricism here, exploration of the subtle variations possible within medium and medium-fast tempos. I think those truths need to be said repeatedly, to re-establish a proper hierarchy of great jazz performances.

Bobby Hackett, Muggsy Spanier (cnt) Max Kaminsky (tp) Miff Mole (tb) Pee Wee Russell, Edmond Hall (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Sid Weiss (b) Gene Krupa (d). Town Hall, New York, Sept. 23, 1944:

Max Kaminsky (tp) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (cl,bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Bob Casey (b) Joe Grauso (d). November 11, 1944:

Billy Butterfield (tp) Lou McGarity (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar,cl) Gene Schroeder (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Sid Weiss (b) Sidney Catlett (d). March 31, 1945:

Max Kaminsky (tp) Miff Mole (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Jack Lesberg (b) George Wettling (d). Audition for a Chesterfield cigarette-sponsored radio program, Spring 1945:

People who celebrate Easter as the most serious Christian ritual may do it in their own way; perhaps some families will still get together for closeness and food; some will just take the occasion to get dressed up or to watch others, so spiffy in their spring finery. Wise types who understand the importance of pleasure will get themselves down to 81 Christopher Street between 2 and 3 on Sunday. Heretics like myself may entertain themselves by thinking that chocolate bunnies will be half-price on Monday.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

DRIVER’S LICENSE: MARA KAYE, TIM McNALLEY, ALBANIE FALLETTA, JON-ERIK KELLSO, BRIAN NALEPKA (Cafe Bohemia, February 6, 2020)

BOHEMIA

Here are a few more minutes of the blues with a very clear subtext — transportation can be fun even if you scrape the curb! — performed at Cafe Bohemia what seems like centuries ago but is really only fourteen months, if my math holds.  The elated perpetrators are Mara Kaye, vocal; Tim McNalley, guitar; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Brian Nalepka, string bass.  The Department of Motor Vehicles informs me that all five of them passed their driving tests easily, the first time.  Experts.

1941 Ford V8 Super Deluxe 5 Passenger Coupe

Yes, this beautiful automobile, a 1941 Ford V-8, is particularly relevant to what follows.

Just be sure to use all your mirrors and go slowly when maneuvering into tight spaces.  More to come, as we say.

May your happiness increase!

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“THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL”: YAALA BALLIN SINGS IRVING BERLIN (CHRIS FLORY, MICHAEL KANAN, ARI ROLAND: SteepleChase)

As they say, “I’m a fan.”  Not only of the wonderful, completely-herself singer Yaala Ballin, but of guitarist Chris Flory, pianist Michael Kanan, string bassist Ari Roland . . . and that Israel Baline fellow, Americanized to Irving Berlin, gleaming on a splendid new CD.

Here’s a quick video-audio tour:

and — to support the title of this post:

I can’t get enough — Yaala truly improvises! — here she is with Michael, last Valentine’s Day, telling the Ballin – Baline story in a few words:

That should convince anyone that this is music to purchase, to treasure, to share.  But a few words.

Berlin himself is — like some stocks — disgracefully undervalued.

His music has been perceived for so long as well-behaved.  No sudden shocks of the sort you find in Hart’s or Porter’s lyrics; he doesn’t always aim for the arching melodies of Kern.  Berlin’s curse is that, like Bing Crosby, he manages so deftly to appear simple.  “I could write a song as good as that.”  But you didn’t, we must point out.  Berlin can be sassy and witty: “Be careful, it’s my heart.  It’s not my watch you’re holding, it’s my heart.”  And how many of us know his arch but tender FOOLS FALL IN LOVE?  But his great strength is in his apparent plainness: the melodies that sound as if you could pick them out on the piano with one finger, the lyrics that sound like casual speech.  Of course his songs have “become part of the cultural landscape,” but that is why they get taken for granted.  Hear the singer stride into BLUE SKIES or CHEEK TO CHEEK and we may be forgiven for thinking, to quote Sammy Cahn, “It seems to me I’ve heard that song before.”  It’s easy to regard Berlin the same way one might look at the two slices of toast that accompany our eggs at the diner.  Familiar, not essential.  But his music is lit from within by a depth of feeling that makes his songs expressions of dear truths.  Think of HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, that most passionate declaration of love couched entirely in questions, decades before JEOPARDY.

And — if we stop to listen to his songs with fresh attention, they sparkle with gentle daring.

Gentle daring also characterizes Yaala Ballin’s singing.  When I listen to her, I always wish I had a very astute companion next to me to whom I could say, “Did you hear what she just did with that tone, that pause, that phrase?” She is incapable of delivering the simplest line in a formulaic way.  Her gliding phrasing, so musical, is a kind of lively quirky speech.  A minute hesitation here, a startling rush there: she’s not locked in by the 1-2-3-4 although she keeps lovely time and swings from the start.  Her slides from one note to another summon up instrumental masters Vic Dickenson and Ben Webster.  She is a magnificently subversive actress, because we never feel that she is acting.  As you hear in the examples above, she is a quiet risk-taker.  You don’t come to one of Yaala’s songs on this CD and think, “Wow, she painted everything bright orange and nailed a chair to the ceiling for effect,” rather it’s as if a sly artist has moved one vase and two bowls in the room and everything is wonderfully improved.  Hear her second chorus of HOW MANY TIMES?  Or THIS YEAR’S KISSES, always thought of as Property of Billie Holiday — Yaala and Michael Kanan, in their first rubato duet chorus, say kindly to the Lady, “We bow low to you, but we have our own ways of getting that feeling” — rueful feeling with swing but not needing capital letters.

It would be cruel to not share it with you:

Describing Yaala’s co-equals (it would be demeaning to call them “accompanists”) — Michael Kanan, Chris Flory, Ari Roland — I find myself in the nicest critical quandary.  Are they a subtle muscular twenty-first century Nat Cole trio?  No, I think, they are the 1940 Basie band in portable form.  The tracks that began with brief instrumental introductions brought happiness from the first notes.  And their approach mixes respect and innovation.  Singers have occasionally taken Berlin very slowly: here, REMEMBER, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? SAY IT ISN’T SO, and BE CAREFUL, IT’S MY HEART are taken at walking tempos, stripping away decades of melodrama to reveal the strong structures beneath.  Several of the songs have unexpected rhythmic underpinnings, adding freshness: for the first time ever, I was able to put Astaire aside while hearing CHANGE PARTNERS.

And the CD sounds the way these four people sound in person, so I had the dreamy sensation of having Yaala, Michael, Chris, and Ari in my living room.  Thanks to Chris Sulit and Nils Winther for making this happen.

The CD is deliciously varied: the compact performances feel just right, completely satisfying in their old-fashioned refusal to sprawl.  Little arranging touches — Yaala in duet with each of the players, split choruses and other variations — make this a splendid tasting menu.  I kept returning to some of the songs, as if it was too difficult to let go of the sensations they had evoked until I’d heard them three or four times.  I hope for a yard-length CD series of YAALA BALLIN SINGS THE __________ SONGBOOK.  (I vote for Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, but that’s just me.)

When I had finished my first hearing of the CD, I felt as if I had been given great gifts.  And then I played it again.  Deprive yourself of such pleasures at your own peril.  The disc and its digital contents are available in the usual places and the usual ways.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

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SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Forty-Two) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring The EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Ear-Inn_rsz-1024x768Music first, credits below.  Ecstasy at the Ear!

Never did the threat of loneliness swing so hard:

The stuff that dreams are made on:

These musicians could spoil us for anyone else, don’t you think? This performance was part of an extraordinary jam session at The Ear Inn, on January 2, 2011, with Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Bria Skonberg (trumpets); John Allred, Emily Asher, Todd Londagin (trombones); Pete Martinez, Dan Block (clarinets); Lisa Parrott (alto sax); Matt Munisteri, Howard Alden (guitars); Nicki Parrott (bass); Chuck Redd (wire brushes). And in case you missed the glorious finale that I posted last week, make sure you’re seated securely and have a firm grip on that TIGER:

and the delightful concluding seconds.  The TIGER, last seen, was running north to Houston Street to get a snack of a lamb gyro, triple lamb, hold the pita, no red onions, at a Greek restaurant:

There’s more to come.  True in the larger sense, we hope and believe.

May your happiness increase!

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“WHAT DID YOU BRING US?”: MICHEL BASTIDE’S PRICELESS MEMORY-GIFT: July 1974

I know Michel Bastide as the slender, bespectacled hot cornetist of the Hot Antic Jazz Band, a very earnest, gracious man and musician.  Here he is leading a small incendiary group at the 2010 Whitley Bay Jazz Party, “Doc’s Night Owls.”  The “Doc,” incidentally, is because M. Bastide’s day gig is as an ophthalmologist.  But before this week, I didn’t know that he was also an early member of my guild of jazz archivists, and my admiration for him has soared.  I stumbled across his priceless half-hour memory tour on YouTube, was immediately thrilled, and I suggest you will feel as I do.  

Monsieur and Madame Bastide went to the 1974 Grande Parade du Jazz.  It was one year before any of the proceedings were broadcast on television, so although some recordings were made, the active life of the festival was not documented.  Perhaps Doctor Bastide has a deep spiritual respect for the powers of the eye, of visual acuity and visual memory, or he simply could not bear going home without some tangible souvenirs that could be revisited and cherished once again.  He brought a color 8mm film camera, which was the technology of the times, and his wife carried a small cassette recorder that got surprisingly clear audio fidelity.

Perhaps because of the inertia and tedium that are the gift to us of Covid-19, eleven months ago M. Bastide began the difficult, careful, and no doubt time-consuming work of attempting to synchronize music and image.  The results are spectacular and touching: he is quite a cinematographer, catching glimpses of the musicians hard at work and having a wonderful time.

I’ll offer some a guided tour of this impromptu magic carpet / time machine, beginning at the Nice airport on July 14, 1974: glimpses of Claude Hopkins, Paul Barnes, Vic Dickenson, Beryl Bryden, Lucille Armstrong;

An ad hoc sidewalk session for Lucille with Michel Bastide, Moustache, Benny Waters, Tommy Sancton;

Dejan’s Brass Band in the opening parade, July 15;

Cozy Cole, Vic Dickenson (talking!) and Arvell Shaw;

Lucille Armstrong unveils a bust of Louis with Princess Grace of Monaco in attendance (how gorgeous she is!);

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, with Wallace Davenport, Wild Bill Davison, Bill Coleman, Jimmy McPartland, Barney Bigard, Budd Johnson, Vic Dickenson, George Wein, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole;

Eubie Blake talks and plays;

Moustache All-Stars with George Wein;

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, with Kid Thomas Valentine, Emmanuel Paul, Louis Nelson, Alonzo Stewart, Joseph Butler, Paul Barnes, Charlie Hamilton;

World’s Greatest Jazz Band, with Yank Lawson, Bob Haggart, Bennie Morton (in shirtsleeeves!), Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Venuti, Marian McPartland;

a glimpse of Claude  Hopkins, Buddy Tate, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis;

the Barney Bigard – Earl Hines quartet;

Buddy Tate signing an autograph;

Milt Buckner, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Tiny Grimes, Jo Jones;

Cozy Cole, to the side, smoking a substantial joint, watching Jo;

George Barnes, Ruby Braff, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore;

Kid Thomas Valentine and Alonzo Stewart signing autographs; Tiny Grimes walking to the next set; Claude Hopkins; Arvell Shaw waving so sweetly at the camera;

Earl Hines solo;

World’s Greatest Jazz Band with Lawson, Haggart, Wilber, Morton, Ralph Sutton, Bud Freeman, Gus Johnson;

Benny Waters;

Vic Dickenson joining the WGJB for DOODLE DOO DOO;

Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing TIGER RAG with Barney Bigard off to the side, joining in.

Wonderful glimpses: to me, who looks happy in the band; who takes an extra chorus and surprises the next soloist; adjusting of tuning slides; spraying oil on one’s trombone.  Grace Kelly’s beauty; Arvell Shaw’s sweet grin.  Just magic, and the camera is almost always focused on something or someone gratifying:

Monsieur and Madame Bastide have given us a rare gift: a chance to be happy engaged participants in a scene that few of us could enjoy at the time.  I was amazed by it and still am, although slightly dismayed that his YouTube channel had one solitary subscriber — me.  I hope you’ll show him some love and support.  Who knows what other little reels of film might be in the Bastide treasure-chest for us to marvel at?

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

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“CREOLE LOVE CALL”: BARNEY BIGARD, KENNY DAVERN, BOB WILBER, EDDIE DANIELS, DICK HYMAN, JACK SEWING, J.C. HEARD, and a brief DAVERN INTERLUDE (Nice, July 15, 1977)

Writing about Kenny Davern and sharing people’s memories of him have left me wanting to share more, so I thought I might share this wonderful on-the-spot piece of musical architecture with you. The participants are Barney Bigard, Kenny, Bob Wilber, and the rather idiosyncratic Eddie Daniels, clarinet; Dick Hyman, Jack Sewing, string bass, and J.C. Heard, drums. It was performed at the Grande Parade du Jazz — known to its friends as the Nice Jazz Festival — on July 15, 1977.

CREOLE LOVE CALL is thematically as plain as you could want, but the simplicity becomes a beautiful freeing place from which to soar, to sing individual songs, to moan dark feelings and reach for the stars in the space of a chorus. This performance, for me, is intense and intensely melodic: a triumph of understanding, leaving Mr. Daniels aside for the moment.

The video also catches Kenny amusing himself and attempting to amuse the crowd — for once, without success. I know that the audience might not have had a preponderance of English-proficient people, but their absolute silence after Kenny’s patented jape is a little unnerving (surely they’d heard those names before?) and his annoyance is palpable . . . but I am glad this exchange is captured for posterity, for it summons up the whole of the much-missed Mr. Davern. But, the music. The music!

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part Two): Words BY MIKE KAROUB, HOWARD KADISON, JAMES CHIRILLO, KEVIN DORN, DAN BLOCK. Music by KENNY DAVERN, JOHNNY WINDHURST, CUTTY CUTSHALL, DAVE FRISHBERG, JACK SIX, CLIFF LEEMAN (1961)

 

kennydavern-1_v1000

HOWARD KADISON:  Sunday nights, I’d sometimes go with Davern to Ratner’s Dairy Restaurant on Second
Avenue. The waiters were noted for their abrasiveness and truculence. Kenny would
bait them: “How are the blintzes?” “They’re always good.” “I didn’t ask about always, I
asked about NOW!” And so it would go, ending in a generous tip.

DAN BLOCK:  Kenny had a mind like an encyclopedia. His knowledge not only of jazz, but archival classical recordings was amazing. My last memory was hanging out with him in New Orleans after he played in a bookstore with Bob Wilber. He held court with three or four of us for about an hour and a half. It was unforgettable.

KEVIN DORN: Something he said to me, sitting at the bar of the Cornerstone: “It’s one thing to come up with your own sound in a style that’s brand new. But to come up with your own sound in a style that’s older, that was there already, is a different and difficult challenge.” I always thought that was a deep observation and something he certainly achieved.

JAMES CHIRILLO: Every note he played had a sound as big as a house, no matter the register, and every note had an intensity that said: “This is how it’s supposed to go.” I still miss him.

MIKE KAROUB: I was playing bass in Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band and we played opposite Davern at a show at the University of Chicago, some time between 1990-92. He might have been there with Butch Thompson or his own group. (Butch had Franz Jackson also.)

I checked into the Blackstone Hotel. Never having met Davern, I saw him outside. I walked up to him in my trench coat – Kenny looking tough in a leather coat — and said, “Uncle Ken, I need a Lucky Strike.” (Or I may have said, “Kenny, give me a Lucky Strike,” but you get the idea.) He said, “OK, man,” and handed me one. He instinctively knew I wasn’t a real hood. We chatted for a second, then later, probably at the intermission. Strangely, I don’t recall if there was a closing number with massed bands, “all hands on deck,” so I have no recollection of playing with him!

I know that when we were teenagers, I told my dear friend Jon-Erik Kellso, “If I ever meet Davern, I’m going to wear a trench coat like the Detroit mafia and demand a Lucky Strike.” I think he was bemused by our. 25 year old impetuous behavior.

Ten years later, at the Atlanta Jazz Party, after my set with Banu Gibson, I went to catch Kenny’s set and sat in front. He waved, and after the show he came down to me. I said, “Uncle Ken, I brought us some Luckies.” He had exhausted his supply (he was very dedicated) so I was in like Flynn.

“Michael, my nephew, I am so glad you could make it.” He sat down, ordered us coffee, and told stories about being on the road with Jack Teagarden.

I have no idea how he knew who I was unless Jon-Erik tipped him off (although I barely saw Jon, who was a floating “all star”) or saw the program or remembered me from Chicago. I believe he smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes (unfiltered Camels his second choice). In any case, he acted like it was the biggest deal that I came to his show. And I was really some long lost relative. I was kept too busy for the rest of the festival to see Uncle Ken. Again or ever again, as it turned out. Ordinarily, I’m not that forward but. something told me this was a once in lifetime deal and to seize the day.

MICHAEL STEINMAN: I saw him a few times when I was still in college and shy (complicated by my attempts to record every note on some variety of tape). One Sunday, I’d seen him in the late afternoon at a Your Father’s Mustache Balaban and Cats session, and then my friend and I went down to the Half Note to hear Ruby Braff. Kenny walked in, I saw him, and exuberantly said, “Kenny!” and seeing his amused expression — part “Who the hell are you?” and part suppressed hilarity, I remembered my place in the cosmos and said, “Mister Davern . . . ” and he looked at me and said, in mock-hauteur, “Oh, pardonnez-moi,” gave me a satiric look and walked away.  When I saw him for the last time, in Denver, October 2006, I thought it prudent to leave that incident in the past.

And now for some delightful rare music.

The tape that follows (audio only) isn’t from my collection, but the dropouts vanish after three minutes.  Recorded by Dave Frishberg, It’s the only evidence I know of Kenny Davern’s Washington Squares, a band he loved, performing at Nick’s in 1961.  The repertoire is ancient; the inventiveness and energy are startling.  It’s Kenny, clarinet; Johnny Windhurst, cornet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Dave, piano; Jack Six, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.  I read in Edward N. Meyer’s biography of Kenny, JUST FOUR BARS, that Buzzy Drootin was the chosen drummer (imagine a world where your sub on the job is Cliff?), that Buzzy recommended Frishberg, and that Frishberg brought along Jack Six.  Unusual and uplifting partners for such a band, but everyone is in exceptional form.

Did I say we miss Kenny Davern?  We certainly do.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part One): Words BY DANNY TOBIAS. Music by KENNY DAVERN’S SWINGIN’ KINGS: DICK WELLSTOOD, TOMMY SAUNDERS, BILL ALLRED, COUNTRY THOMAS, BUTCH HALL, VAN PERRY, EDDIE PHYFE (Manassas, December 2, 1979)

Over the past few months, I’ve been attempting to assemble a portrait, words and music, of Kenny Davern.  He’s been the subject of an extensive biography, JUST FOUR BARS, by Edward Meyer, but I wanted to talk to musicians who had known and played with him while everyone, including me, is still around.  This first part is a wonderful reminiscence of Kenny by his friend and ours, trumpeter Danny Tobias, who looks and sees, hears and remembers.  At the end there’s music that will be new to you.  And Part Two is on the way.

DANNY TOBIAS:

He had a reputation of being crabby, and he was all that, but he liked me, and he liked the way I played — most of the time — if he didn’t like it, he let me know . . . there was no bullshit.  If I did something dumb, he would say it right there.  If I screwed up an ending, he would say, “Why did you do that?” and I would explain, and he would say, “Don’t do that.”  So I learned a lot from him.  He didn’t pull any punches, but he genuinely liked the way I played.  Once he told me I was a natural blues player, and that meant the world to me.  I had a feel for it.  When he said something nice, it meant a lot to me.

He introduced me to the music of Pee Wee Russell.  He knew who was on every record.  He’d say, “Did you ever hear those Red Allen records or the Mound City Blue Blowers from —– ?” and I’d say no, and he’d come in the next week with a cassette.  Then, after the gig,  we’d go out to the car, and he would smoke his Camels, and we would listen to a whole side of a tape!  He was also very much into Beethoven, into classical music, in particular the conductor Furtwangler.  He’d say, “Check this out,” and I’d get in his car and he’d play a whole movement from one of the symphonies.  And then I started collecting recordings, mostly so I could talk to him about it.  And if I heard anything, I could call him and say, “Do you know this record?” and “What do you think of this?”  When he died, that was what I missed most — being able to call and ask him about this record or that record.

I’m still picking up recordings of Kenny I never heard before.  Dick Sudhalter put together a concert of Kenny and Dick Wellstood at the Vineyard Theatre.  It was terrific.  I still get thrilled by these recordings. 

I got to play with him, for about ten years, at a hotel in Princeton called Scanticon, If he wasn’t on the road, he could have that gig if he wanted it.  He was there a lot — maybe half the Saturday nights.  Here’s what I don’t regret.  Some people say, ‘I wish I’d appreciated the time I spent with _____,” but I appreciated every night I spent with Kenny.  I was in seventh heaven playing next to him.

The things I take away from him that I try to incorporate . . . He could build a solo.  If he was playing three or four choruses, there was a growth.  It was going somewhere.  Everything would build.  The tune would build.  If you were in an ensemble with him, it was going forward.  When I play now, he’s not here, but I try to keep that thought: build, build, build. 

The other thing about him, and it’s a treasure — these aren’t my words, but somebody said he could play the melody of a song with real conviction.  It would be unmistakably him.  No hesitation.  If he played a wrong note, it wouldn’t matter.  He played with total conviction.  And that’s kind of rare.  I can hear other people getting distracted — it didn’t happen to him much, because he played with that sureness. 

And he had more dynamic range than any clarinet player I’ve ever heard.  He could play in the lower register, and I’d hear Jimmie Noone — he did that so well — in the middle register I could hear Fazola in his sound, and a thing he could do that I don’t hear anyone else do, he could soar.  In an outchorus, he could play a gliss, it was the biggest sound you’d ever heard.  And not just loud, but a big wide sound.  Not a shrill high sound.  It’s a thing I haven’t heard anyone else do.  Irving Fazola had that same kind of fat sound.  Who knows where that comes from?  It’s a richness, I guess.  Not loud, but big,  Round.

He taught me how to play in ensembles.  He said, “In an ensemble, don’t  just leave space, but musically — ask a question and wait for the answer.”  Play something that will elicit a response.  And there’s nothing in the world more fun than that.  You have a real dialogue going on.  He’s the first person who explained that to me.  People are afraid to talk to each other on the bandstand, we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings, but he’s the first person who said, “Do that,” and it made playing in ensembles so much more fun.  I can get responses from other players by setting something up.  Being the lead horn player, you have to set that up.  It doesn’t just happen.

He had such varied interests.  He would read all kinds of books.  I don’t know where he got the time.  I don’t think he slept.  Not just music.  He would read novels.  A lot of it was over my head.  He was all self-taught.  He could speak really good German.  He could communicate really well in several languages.  I always wanted to be like him, to get a touring schedule and go here and there, because it seemed very exotic to me, in my thirties, and I’m sure it wasn’t as exotic as I pictured it.  He complained about everything, but I think he loved it.

On a gig, Kenny would talk to the audience . . . he would just tell stories — how he just got back from Scotland and how everything was awful, the conditions were awful, how he had to spend a night in a hotel and couldn’t use the bar.  He would go on diatribes — funny, acerbic.  I remember one time he was playing at Trenton State, where I went to college.  I went to hear him, and he was playing in the student center, talking about the architecture and how bad it was.  The audience was laughing but the administrators were a little uncomfortable.  He would talk as if he were in a conversation rather than just announcing songs . . . as if he was letting you in on the inside dirt.

He really loved the final group he had, with Greg Cohen, and Tony Di Nicola, and James Chirillo.  He’d been to all the jazz parties and festivals, and so on, but he got to the point where that was he wanted to do.  If you hired him, he wanted to be there with his band.  He was happier being the only horn.  And he loved guitar — you know, after Wellstood . . . I mean he loved playing with Art Hodes and with John Bunch, but in that group he liked guitar.  In that group, it was freer for him.  The piano can pin you in to certain harmony rules; it can be too busy.  With the guitar, he got real freedom: he could play whatever he wanted.  If he wasn’t with a great piano player, he would cut them out when it was his turn to play. He didn’t like extraneous stuff.  I felt bad for them sometimes, but Kenny could just play with the bass and the drums.  And sound great, of course.

He had a reputation for making fun of things, but he was so good to me.  He went out of his way to introduce me to records he thought I should listen to, he put me on bands where I was in over my head a little bit, and he got me playing with great guys.  He couldn’t have been nicer to me.

The music: Davern, clarinet; Dick Wellstood, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Eddie Phyfe, drums; Tommy Saunders, cornet; Bill Allred, trombone; Mason Country Thomas, tenor saxophone. I WANT TO BE HAPPY / WABASH BLUES / SWING THAT MUSIC. Thumbscrews, no extra charge.

We miss Kenny Davern.

May your happiness increase!

THE GROOVE, SO NICE: ERSKINE HAWKINS, JAY McSHANN, CLAUDE “FIDDLER” WILLIAMS, VIC DICKENSON, BUDDY TATE, JIM GALLOWAY, GENE RAMEY, GUS JOHNSON (July 12, 1979)

Here’s a classic jazz festival / jazz party set (or at least the second part of one): it could have been a completely disconnected group of stars doing their feature numbers, but they are unified by The Groove.

And it helps immensely that Jay McShann, piano; Gene Ramey, string bass; Gus Johnson, drums, were having a little reunion of the original McShann rhythm section.  The band is in a Kansas City mood, even though none of them hails from that city: Erskine Hawkins, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Jim Galloway, soprano saxophone; Claude “Fiddler” Williams, violin.  (Alabama, Ohio, three from Texas, Scotland, two from Oklahoma, should you wonder.)

This video begins with Hawkins’ hit — recorded almost forty years before to the day, TUXEDO JUNCTION, then the song Vic featured with the Eddie Heywood band and also the band Ed Hall led in Boston, PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE, and a slow raunchy BLUES featuring Buddy and McShann.

Erskine didn’t record after 1971, but he had a rewarding steady gig, well-remembered by our friend Hank O’Neal in this lovely portrait of the man and the musician who got people on the floor to dance, wherever he was:

Perhaps this will send people back to hear Erskine’s Bluebird and Victor recordings — entertaining documents of a danceable swinging band.  This post, by the way, is for my friends Nick Rossi and Michael Gamble, among others, who know The Groove when it enters the room.

May your happiness increase!

 

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Forty-One) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring The EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

There’s always some reason to celebrate.

Jazz fans of a certain vintage know the photographs of Fifty-Second Street jam sessions — in this case, Sunday afternoons at Jimmy Ryan’s in the early Forties, with every luminary within ten miles joining in on the closing BUGLE CALL RAG.  Or this pastoral little gathering, no doubt improvising on Debussy:

I see Hot Lips Page, Kenny Hollon, possibly Jack Bland, Pete Brown, and Marty Marsala, and I imagine Zutty Singleton or George Wettling.  Oh, yes, “Very Blowingly.”

By 1948 or so, the line of clubs on “Swing Street” — Fifty-Second between Sixth and Seventh — was gone, and now, even though there’s a street sign denoting past glories, no trace remains.  But Sunday nights at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, when the EarRegulars held court — as we hope they will again — were a divine evocation of that time and place.

Perhaps the most memorable and happy of New Year’s celebrations was January 2, 2011, with All The Cats Joining In.  I don’t exaggerate: Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; John Allred, Emily Asher, Todd Londagin, trombone; Pete Martinez, Dan Block, clarinet; Lisa Parrott, alto saxophone; Matt Munisteri, Howard Alden, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Chuck Redd, wire brushes on paper tablecloth. Ecstasy at The Ear!

As we go backwards into time, and forwards also, here is the last glorious improvisation of that night, a nearly-sixteen minute TIGER RAG:

and the tail of that TIGER:

I look forward to a return of such ecstasies.  Join me at 326 Spring Street — in reality and in joyous memory — and let’s share a big portion of hope.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR HOPEFUL SERENADES IN THE FACE OF IMPENDING DARKNESS: McQUAID’S MELODIANS JUST BEFORE LOCKDOWN: MICHAEL McQUAID, ENRICO TOMASSO, DAVID HORNIBLOW, ANDREW OLIVER, THOMAS “SPATS” LANGHAM, LOUIS THOMAS, NICHOLAS D. BALL (“The Spice of Life,” March 16, 2020)

These four shining performances, and the context in which they were created, made me think of Samuel Beckett, “After all, when you are in the last bloody ditch, there is nothing left but to sing.”  Beckett was talking about the Irish, beset by enemies, but his words so well depict these musicians playing as if everyone’s life depended on it in the face of death.

Michael McQuaid with the Vitality Five, February 2019, photo by Michel Piedallu.

The pandemic doesn’t need any explication.  Michael McQuaid’s Melodians do, an all-star group . . . and I do not use that term lightly . . . playing Chicago jazz — three performances that nod to 1927-28 recordings with Muggsy Spanier, Frank Teschemacher, Gene Krupa, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, and Bud Freeman, and one (I MUST BE DREAMING) as homage to the Wolverines.   The participants: Michael McQuaid, clarinet and arrangements; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; David Horniblow, tenor sax; Andrew Oliver, piano; Thomas ‘Spats’ Langham, banjo; Louis Thomas, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.

Please note that these performances, so nicely captured for us by Stephen Paget, follow the outline of the recordings (in three cases) but the soloists go for themselves, most gloriously.  The original players were innovative; these heroic descendants are also.

SUGAR (echoing McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans):

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE (shades of the Chicago Rhythm Kings):

BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME (thinking of everyone!):

I MUST BE DREAMING (new to me, a homage to the Wolverines, but recorded by the All Star Orchestra, Seger Ellis, Joe Venuti, and Bob Haring):

Bless these expert generous players, who give so much.  They can be part of the collective soundtrack while we dream of a more spacious future.

May your happiness increase!