Happy 92nd birthday, Eminent Dan Morgenstern, friend of Louis, George Wein, Hot Lips Page, two hundred others, and deep friend of the music. I’ve been privileged to bring my camera to Dan’s Upper West Side apartment and stand back while the magic — insights, memories, stories, and affection — unfolds. Here are a few of his conversations about his and our heroes, with more to come.
Lester Willis Young:
Lester, George Holmes Tate, and Eugene Ramey:
I will share a few others tomorrow — names you will recognize — and also some interviews you haven’t tuned in on yet.
Thanks to Chris Tyle, master of so many instruments and generous archivist, we have some new treasures — old music played with style, grace, and energy — thanks to an unknown videographer. They are “live unedited,” but the videographer (perhaps shooting from a balcony?) did a wonderful job. There are so many individual definitions of “the real thing,” but these videos capture what I think of as irreplaceable genuine stomping music. Chris’ YouTube channel, “Godfrey Daniels”, has more marvels and more are promised.
Steve Pistorius and his Mahogany Hall Stompers: Steve Pistorius, leader, piano, vocals; Scott Black, Chris Tyle, cornets, vocal; Jacques Gauthe, clarinet/soprano sax; Hal Smith, drums. (In the mystery that is WordPress, I can’t give Monsieur Gauthe his name’s proper accent: I apologize.) CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME / HEEBIE JEEBIES / MOULIN A CAFE:
Jacques Gauthe and his Creole Rice Jazz Band: Jacques Gauthe, leader, clarinet, soprano sax; Chris Tyle, Scott Black, cornets; Tom Ebert, trombone; John Royen, piano; Amy Sharp, banjo; Tom Saunders, sousaphone; Hal Smith, drums. Special guest on some numbers: Claude Luter, soprano sax. YERBA BUENA STRUT / DOIN’ THE HAMBONE / JAZZIN’ BABIES BLUES / EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY / KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (incomplete):
Hal Smith’s Frisco Syncopators: Hal Smith, leader, drums; Chris Tyle, cornet; Jacques Gauthe, clarinet, soprano sax; David Sager, trombone; Amy Sharp, banjo; Steve Pistorius, piano, vocal; James Singleton, string bass. DALLAS BLUES / CLARINET MARMALADE / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? (incomplete):
continued, with HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO (concluded) / WEARY BLUES / introducing the band / PRETTY BABY / SOUTH / SAN (incomplete) //
What treasures! And let no one ever say that “the old songs” don’t have life in them. They just need expert jazz physicians — see above — to do loving resuscitations.
Art is all about passion: think of the great soprano arias, whether Puccini or Bechet; think of Louis or Bird — the heart on fire, so full of feelings to be shared with us. But there’s the counterbalance: passion without control might be noise. Anyone who’s tried to play or sing — seriously — knows how much exactitude is required to create the notes, the phrases, the pauses, that create that drama that didn’t exist five minutes before.
Gabrielle Stravelli and the instrumentalists surrounding her on the early-evening performances at Swing 46 not only know these truths but embody them: call it passion and control, abandonment and discipline: here are three soulful examples by Gabrielle, Dan Block, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Paul Bollenback, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
I WALK A LITTLE FASTER (Cy Coleman – Carolyn Leigh):
BORN TO BE BLUE (Mel Torme – Robert Wells):
BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH (Oscar Levant – Edward Heyman):
The closing notes of BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH say it all.
Gabrielle and her friends (most often the irreplaceable pianist Michael Kanan) have gigs all over town (hooray!) and you can find out more here or here. Even in the ruckus that is West 46th Street, sirens and chatter at no charge, their art aims straight at us. And sticks.
Sunday afternoon, slightly autumnal but bright. The EarRegulars began as Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Bill Allred, trombone; Pat O’Leary, string bass. But we knew that other trombones were spotted — loyal friends and EarRegulars themselves, John Allred and Harvey Tibbs.
Jon-Erik, Bill, Matt, and Pat started things off with MARGIE, EXACTLY LIKE YOU, and WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING (the last for friends of Jon-Erik’s in the crowd, folks from the Allen Park, Michigan hood, with connections to the marching band). Then, Jon-Erik invited John Allred to join in — a family affair:
This quintet romped through ALWAYS, YES SIR, THAT’S MY BABY, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, a magnificently expansive PANAMA (twelve minutes long) and went back to its original quartet for a closing STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE. In the photograph above, Jon-Erik might be taking a breath, but you see his pleasure on his face.
An intermission followed: conversation, food and drink, old friends and new ones.
A quartet version of I MAY BE WRONG included an apocalyptic ambulance siren: the siren was medically necessary but aesthetically wrong, and the band took it in stride. After that, an unscripted SPRING STREET BLUES.
Then, one of the great features of these gatherings, which date back to 2007, where the original quartet welcomed a proliferation of friends and guests — rather like putting the extra leaf in the dining room table to have many people to dinner, even if no one was expecting them.
Jon-Erik invited Adam Moezinia, guitar; John Allred; Harvey Tibbs, Joan Codina, and Steve Bleifuss, making a five-person trombone choir — for an easy ROSETTA (in F). The more, the merrier: Gordon Au, trumpet, joined the delightful ensemble for this happy marvel, PERDIDO (what else?) with the appropriate riffs. Photographic evidence:
Audio-visual evidence. Please note the characteristic blend of ease and intensity, the fact that everyone knows the way there and back, and the hilariously wonderful final bridge, neither immoral nor atonal, but consciously “out there,” for dramatic effect:
At the conclusion, I wasn’t standing because my tripod is in the way, but I certainly felt like cheering. What happened was more than an accidental profusion of players: it is a community of expert friends who know the common language and joyously share their craft with us.”
Bless them, every last one of them, and that includes the two who didn’t get to join in on PERDIDO — trumpeter Andrew Stephens and guitarist Lou Salcedo — who joined in for a final UNDECIDED, a joy-fest beyond our expectations. With every note, they bless us.
I’m pleased to share with JAZZ LIVES’ readers (and watchers) a complete set from a few years ago — from only my second trip to Germany. Both times I ventured out of my nest because of the kind urgings of Manfred Selchow, concert producer extraordinaire. Even if you’ve never been to one of Manny’s concerts, perhaps you’ve heard the results as issued on a long series of irreplaceable all-star Nagel-Heyer CDs. He created a weekend of rewarding jazz concerts in “the Town Hall,” which carries with it a wonderful resonance of Louis and Eddie Condon and many others in performance.
And here is a very recent photograph of Manfred and his wife Renate with the wonderful drummer Bernard Flegar:
This little band features Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, piano; Engelbert Wrobel, clarinet and saxophones; Nicki Parrott, string bass and vocal; Bernard Flegar, drums. And the program is so delightfully varied: no one could say these songs are new, but the energy this band brings to them, the cohesive joy, is very special. I’m grateful to the musicians for their for their generous music (and permission to share this set) and to Eric Devine for technical wizardry.
Before we move to the music, a few words. I’m always pleased when jazz fans go beyond their love for “the locals” which can, at worst, become provincialism, to discover worthies who don’t live ten miles away. Nicki, Stephanie and Paolo, and Engelbert (known as “Angel” to his friends and for good reason) all have their enthusiastic constituencies: some of this due to excellent recordings, often on the Arbors Records label, some due to what I would guess are exhausting touring schedules.
But Bernard, who has visited the US but not toured there, might be less well known, and this is a deficiency to be immediately remedied.
He is what the heroes of our jazz past would call someone who kicks the band along — but he is not a noisemaker. Ask Dan Barrett, Allan Vache, Menno Daams, Chris Hopkins, and others and they will tell you how sympathetically he listens, in the grand tradition, how he seamlessly merges what he has studied of the great percussive history into his own sound and approach, and how gloriously he swings.
You’ll hear for yourself, but if you ever begin to lament that the great drummers are gone or aging, explore Bernard’s work as documented on CD and video — and he is now an essential part of a new band, Armstrong’s Ambassadors, also featuring Angel (Matthias Seuffert is in the 2020 video), Colin Dawson, and Sebastien Giradot. (The band name should tell you all you need to know about their affectionate reverence for a certain Mister Strong.)
But let’s go back to 2016 for some elegant hot diversions.
A very Basie-ish BLUE SKIES, featuring Nicki, Paolo, Angel, and Bernard:
Stephanie joins in the fun for HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:
A band-within-a-band — Paolo, Nicki, and Angel — for OVER THE RAINBOW:
THE MEN I LOVE, announces Nicki — with happy glances at Paolo, Bernard, and Angel:
and finally, a swing declaration of intent, with everyone playing AMEN — I WANT TO BE HAPPY:
And to move us forward to the present and future, here’s an almost nine-minute sampler of how splendidly the new band, Armstrong’s Ambassadors, pays swinging homage:
Wonderful music from Nicki, Stephanie, Paolo, Angel, and Bernard — all of them still flourishing and expressing themselves so well — and from this new band. Hope springs, doesn’t it?
When NOLA funk comes to NYC Soho, it’s a wonderful connection of forces.
If you think I’m being melodramatic in my title, wait for the group vocal on THE BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT, from Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and post-Guinness glass mute; Jay Rattman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. It’s a sad tale of a plumbing problem that could lead to life-threatening dehydration:
I believe that on or before October 31, the EarRegulars, seen above as Out, will go In — reverting to their more familiar Sunday-night performances inside The Ear Inn. Know that these uplifting jazz picnics will become nocturnal soirees as the temperature drops and the days shorten.
And take good care of your bucket. Check it regularly for leaks.
I have a real affection for the recordings and performances of the New York Jazz Repertory Company: a floating all-star ensemble I saw in person in 1974 and 1975, honoring Louis and Bix, among others.
At their best, they were expert, passionate, and evocative — the supporting players were the best studio players / jazz improvisers who could sight-read with elan and then solo eloquently. And they always had the best ancestral guest stars: in the concerts I saw, Ruby Braff, Ray Nance, Vic Dickenson, Taft Jordan, Chauncey Morehouse, Paul Mertz, and Joe Venuti. I can’t leave out the superb guidance and playing of Dick Hyman, whose idiosyncratic brilliance is always a transforming force.
Later in the Seventies, someone, probably George Wein, understood that the NYJRC was a compact, portable way of not only reproducing great performances but in taking jazz history, effectively presented, on the road, to France, the USSR, and elsewhere. Thus they made appearances at festivals and did extensive tours — bringing POTATO HEAD BLUES with Louis’ solo scored for three trumpets, frankly electrifying, as I can testify.
Here they are at the Nice Jazz Festival, making Bix come alive by (with some exceptions) not playing his recorded solos, gloriously. And the rhythm section swings more than on the 1928 OKehs, which would have pleased Bix, who didn’t want to be tied to what he’d played in 1923. Occasionally the “big band” tends to be a fraction of a second behind where one would like it, and Spiegle Willcox uncharacteristically gets lost in a solo . . . but the music shines, especially since this is the joyous evocation of Bix rather than the too-often heard elegies for his short life. My small delight is that someone — Pee Wee Erwin — quotes SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON in the last sixteen bars of AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL. And Dick Sudhalter and Bob Wilber positively gleam throughout.
The collective personnel: Dick Hyman, piano, leader; Dick Sudhalter, cornet, flugelhorn; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Bob Wilber, clarinet, reeds; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Pee Wee Erwin, Ernie Royal, Jimmie Maxwell, trumpet; Budd Johnson, Arnie Lawrence, Norris Turney, Haywood Henry, reeds; Britt Woodman, Eddie Bert, and one other, trombone.
RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / DAVENPORT BLUES (Sudhalter, flugelhorn – Hyman) / IN THE DARK (Bucky, Hyman, Duvivier) / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS (Sudhalter, Turney) / IN A MIST (Hyman) / CLEMENTINE (Sudhalter, unid. tbn, Bucky, Hyman / JAZZ ME BLUES (Sudhalter, Spiegle, Wilber, Hyman — playing Bix’s solo) / SWEET SUE (Spiegle, Bucky, Wilber, Sudhalter playing the 1928 solo) / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL //
This televised presentation was designed to show what the NYJRC could “do”: a varied selection of music across decades and styles. I will post another segment, by “The Unobstructed Orchestra,” soon.
Forty-five minutes of the past made completely alive.
May your happiness increase!
Postscript, which could be called ON THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM. A few minutes after I’d posted this, someone I don’t know wrote to comment on YouTube: I offer an edited version: “The great weakness of this re-creation is Z, I am sure he plays all the notes, but somehow it does not work at 100%. L was still a good mainstream player and the rythm section is very adequate, P consistently good.”
I find this irksome, perhaps out of proportion to the size of the offense, and, of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But to make it public, in print, is upsetting to me — as if the commenter had been invited to my house for dinner and, upon being served, told me that my place settings were somehow not up to his standards. I do not like everything I hear, but I think “criticism” of this sort contributes nothing to the discussion, except, perhaps, a buffing of the ego of the commentator, who Knows What’s Good.
I am aware that this is hugely anachronistic, out of place in 2021, but I bridle when my heroes are insulted . . .
Californian Mark Cantor is the finest jazz-film scholar around, a careful devoted researcher for decades. He loves the marriage of music and film and is fierce in his pursuit of the correct answers, when they can be found. And, not incidentally, a gracious witty down-to-earth fellow, eager to share knowledge.
Mark has a book in the works, and I asked him to write something about it for us:
Today it is not unusual to hear people say, “My nose is running, I need a kleenex.” Or, “I need to xerox the document.” Of course, “Kleenex” and “Xerox” are corporate product names that have taken on a generic meaning. The same is true of “soundie” – note the lower case spelling – which is used to refer to any short musical clip, regardless of origin. In reality, the term “Soundie” – not beginning with a capital letter – refers quite specifically to a three-minute film short distributed by the Soundies Distributing Corporation of America (a subsidiary of the Mills Novelty Company) for use on a Mills’ audiovisual projection devise, the Panoram. Between January 1941 and March 1947 more than 1,880 Soundies, films emanating from many sources, were released to those who owned or leased a Panoram machine.
The actual musical content of the Soundies output was democratic to the extreme, meant to appeal to all segments of American society. Today many of us value most the jazz and big band performances, but there were Irish ballads, Hawaiian tunes, country-western music (and Western Swing), novelty performances and “korn,” dance of all styles, vaudeville routines, and just plain “popular music” among the releases.
The history of these films, and a listing of releases, was released by two good friends, Ted Okuda and Scott MacGillivray, some years ago. They are still the foundations of all Soundies research. But I am proud to announce that a follow up work, one tentatively titled The Soundies: A History and Catalogue of Jukebox Shorts of the 1940s, will be published next year. A more than a million words, it will cover the development and collapse of the industry, and will also include an extensive listing for each Soundie. For the first time, a researcher or fan will be able to discover such information as recording and sideline dates, recording and on-screen personnels, arrangers, soloists, vocalists and a lot more.
To promote the book, but also the films for those who might not need this book in their library, I have set up a Facebook page called “The World of Soundies.” You are all cordially invited to click on the page and join the musical adventure. I generally post one Soundie each week, along with an full background and description of the film in question. Here‘s the link.
It would not be a JAZZ LIVES post without music — and in this case, two Soundies . . .
and a less familiar one, but with Dorothy Dandridge:
Having read Mark’s research for years, I can wholly recommend this book — and it’s not just going to be for collectors of arcane film: there’s musical treasure and otherwise-unknown social and cultural history. Mark has found out what the third altoist had for breakfast, but the fascinating details never interfere with the greater stories. And there are photographs! (Easier than trying to find films and a home Panoram, I am sure.)
The invisible wall between musicians and non-musicians (“civilians” or, worse, “fans”) is often difficult to hurdle. Oh, there are the polite conversations between sets, and sometimes even a chat over a plate of food or a beverage, but the things we want to know of our heroes — “How do you DO what you do? What is the source of your magic?” — usually must be intuited and are rarely spoken of. April DeShields, a long-time devotee and close observer of the music we love, has made it possible for us to eavesdrop on relaxed, revealing conversations . . . beginning with two of my particular heroes, Hal Smith and Dan Barrett. And — delightfully — April is neither Mister Rogers nor Gunther Schuller: she’s admiring but never fawning, erudite but never austere.
I found April’s YouTube channel “ECHOES OF SWING” and watched her casually expert interviews. Before we move on, here’s a sample — the first part of her conversation with Hal, with musical examples of the very best kind as well as informal, informative chat about Hal’s ROADRUNNERS, and about what can be done with a small group where the only horn is the clarinet, and his own beginnings:
and the second part, where Hal speaks about influential drummers Ben Pollack, Wayne Jones, Nick Fatool, Fred Higuera, and two lessons with Jake Hanna; teaching aspiring jazz players at Banu Gibson’s NOLA trad jazz camp; the superb MY LITTLE GIRL by Hal’s Jazzologists; Hal’s own musical development and forming a personal identity . . . with portraits of Sidney Catlett, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie:
and the third part — with Hal’s affectionate memories of his supportive parents . . . up to current gigs in the time of Covid-19; the rigors and pleasures of remote recording, and of course, a few cat tales:
After I’d seen and enjoyed the first part of the Hal Smith interviews, I contacted April to ask her about herself, and after some reluctance, she opened the curtain:
When I was 6 my folks took me to the Sacramento Jazz Festival, and, during Abe Most’s set, he called up Tom Saunders (cornet player from Detroit, not the bass player – his nephew –who lives in NOLA now), of whom played Black Coffee and made the musical lightbulb go off on in my brain. He caught that from the stage, and being that my folks immediately decided it was late and we should get to bed, we walked out and Saunders followed us. He chatted up my folks, found out they wanted to go to bed, looked at me and said, “You don’t want to go, do you?” – to which I promptly replied “Nope.” He grabbed my hand, told my Dad that when I was tired he would take me back to our room, asked my Dad for a spare key so we wouldn’t wake them up, and off he took me- to the bar where I met Wild Bill Davison.
My father never did something like that, but I am so grateful he did, because every year at Sac and at subsequent festivals in other areas, Saunders was protector, teacher, and best friend. He and Chuck Hedges would load me up with lists of records to listen to as “homework” for the next year, and by the time I was 8 years old, I was correcting a guy who had a Saturday morning jazz show on a local public radiostation. He invited me to the station, and from then on Saturday mornings would be very early drives with Dad to the radio station and I kept that up until I was nearly 30 and health kept me from doing it anymore.
My old boss at KRML moved to Palm Desert and is on the Board of the American Jazz Institute – he finally convinced me instead of asking me every month to record shows for him if I started to do my own series with no deadlines, he would re-broadcast material he wanted, and here we are. So it turned out to be a long story…. so many people came to me after Saunders died, thinking he was my father or grandfather, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to festivals for a long time without being in a puddle of tears. Many years later I’m finally ready to do what he would have wanted me to do – he would’ve been very mad at me for quitting in the first place!
So much of what I learned from those guys, and eventually the weekly calls with Saunders abouteverything, is so much a part of who I am in every way I just can’t imagine who I would be without them!
April has also posted some rare historical material: Tom Saunders’ Wild Bill documentary; a Saunders-Wild Bill set done in celebration of Bill’s eightieth birthday; an interview with Chuck Hedges . . . and just now, a two-part interview with Dan Barrett, beginning with his early jazz-conversion experiences and the history of early New Orleans jazz musicians migrating to California; Dan’s interactions with Andrew Blakeney and Joe Darensbourg — a side-portrait of Tom Saunders by April and her “heaven-opening epiphany”; memories of trombonist George Masso, and wonderful music from Dan and George’s CD:
Part Two begins with Mary Lou Williams’ LONELY MOMENTS from BED (Dan, Becky Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, and Joel Forbes); Dan and other trombone-playing arrangers; his long friendship with Howard Alden and how it led to a move to New York — through Jake Hanna, Red Norvo, and Dick Sudhalter — to gigs with Woody Allen and film work, the children’s project BEING A BEAR:
The third and final part of that interview is on the way . . . but I can’t wait to see April’s next gift to us.
Marc Caparone is a hero of mine, someone who balances passion and control in the nicest individualistic ways. Here he is, heading the most quietly illustrious chamber group at his own birthday party: John “Butch” Smith, alto saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And the song — HOME, so identified with Louis, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Thomas — never fails to move me.
Home, you know, is a state of mind more than an address.
I have particular associations with this performance, having heard the Louis versions and the Jack Teagarden Keynote recording perhaps fifty years ago, and knowing the musicians here for more than a decade. Even if the song and the players are new to you, I hope the passion and joy reaches you:
Just beautiful. Here’s hoping you have your metaphysical HOME, or find one soon.
Puccini, Jolson, Rose, Goodman, and innumerable jazz groups — one of the reliable get-off-the-stand numbers, here performed by the EarRegulars at the Ear Out (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday, May 23, 2021. They are, from left, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Pat O’Leary, string bass; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone and trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar (who played this song with Benny, himself).
And about this performance? All I can say is Yes.
Here’s hoping you find your love in Avalon, or someplace even closer, and you bring that person to the Ear Out on a Sunday afternoon before winter comes, as we know it will.
When you know, you know. I was at Swing 46 last night to see and hear and applaud Dan Block, alto and tenor saxophones; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass. It threatened to rain all through the gig and the usual street theatre of that block was at its best (come visit and see for yourselves).
In the middle of the second set, Gabrielle called the Ellington LOVE YOU MADLY and they performed it with great enthusiastic beauty . . . at the end of the performance, Gabrielle said exultantly, as if she were Ida Lupino directing a film, “CUT! And PRINT!” looking at me, which I took as the sign of a small miracle, that an artist, completing a performance, is happy with it. I got permission from the other three, so you can enjoy this marvel, hot and fresh:
This wonderful quartet performs every Tuesday from 5:30 to 8:30. I’ve been there every week and have always come away full of joy. They’re loved . . . madly.
The jazz I grew up listening could be pure harmonic improvisation — Coleman Hawkins was a powerful example — but many of the musicians I idolized then and still do: Louis, Jack, Teddy, Ed Hall, Buck, Bobby, and two hundred others, had such love for the melody, which they had grown up with, that they ornamented and embellished it. They put earrings or a scarf on it, a bold bow tie or a cloak, but you always knew it was there. Hearing one of these embellishers play a solo, you could hum the melody alongside (or underneath) and the two lines would gently trot down the same road — not hand-in-hand, but in the same direction and arriving at the same good place.
Some performances dazzle and amaze me; others warm and embrace me. Here’s a gently leisurely example of the latter kind.
It’s a group trotting happily through ROSE ROOM at the Grande Parade du Jazz: Barney Bigard, clarinet, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Dick Sudhalter, cornet; Art Hodes, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Placide Adams, string bass; Panama Francis, drums.
Some small ruminations, first. ROSE ROOM — in its original 1920 form, a love song — was one of Bigard’s features for years, but it’s pleasing to hear he doesn’t revert to his set solo. Listening to his late work is always a joy for me because age had slowed him down just a touch, so his phrases were more varied, and you listened for his tone. (YouTube commenters, vinegary in their recliners, have been mean-spirited about Barney; I wonder how many of them run at the same speed they did thirty-seven years ago.)
Vic Dickenson fit in anywhere as long as the tempo wasn’t punishingly fast, or the band too loud. He didn’t like backgrounds, one of which appears in his second chorus, but he is playing something so delightful that even Bigard and Sudhalter don’t unsettle him. Somewhere I read that Barney and Buster Bailey were two of Vic’s favorite clarinetists; I wish I could remember the third, but it was a mild surprise. Unlike Barney, Vic retained much of his phrase-making fluidity to the end of his life, but his tones, and I emphasize the plural, were marvels in themselves.
Dick Sudhalter was the new boy in the group, but he plays with wonderful style and variety — not reverting to the Bix-phrases some demanded of him, but being comfortable in a kind of easy Mainstream. I’ve highlighted his photograph because — aside from Placide Adams — I think he in this group is most in danger of being forgotten, and he plays so nobly here.
The rhythm section has the diversity (or oddity?) one finds at festivals, where producers delight in assembling people who don’t play together “to see what happens”: Placide Adams, from New Orleans, might have seemed out of his element in this late-Swing context, but he had played and recorded often with Paul Barbarin, so he knew about time; Panama Francis, unlike many of the famous drummers at Nice, also knew time: his steadiness is so comforting. Marty Grosz — a wonderfully fluid rhythmic cushion, filling in all the spaces the other three might have left. Art Hodes, the patriarch, could be unsettlingly spare and percussive, but he is happy in this context in ways that suggest Basie more than anyone else, perhaps resting comfortably on Marty’s eloquent swing support. He takes his time. They all do. There is a tiny train-wreck at the start — confusion that is more on the scale of a model train set — but it repairs itself quickly, and they are off: masters of melody, in solo and ensemble. I, too, find the fidgety multi-camera approach very distracting, but it is part of the particular package — perhaps an emblem of that time and style.
I find it a very sweet performance.
And it says certain things to me about the comfort of a common language, the wisdom and joy that comes from decades of experience in a congenial community. Masters of Melody, so endearing, so durable, who know that ROSE ROOM is more than a set of chord changes:
I wish this band had recorded hours of music, and I think of the times I saw some of its members (bless Marty Grosz for hanging out with us still!) — those sounds are translucent gold in my memory and ears.
Do you dread the start of the workweek? Or does Monday remind you of homework undone, bills unpaid, responsibilities that weigh? Take heart: JAZZ LIVES is here to help.
(Cue rousing music): the EarRegulars to the rescue! And they’re locally sourced and cage-free. Investigating all the corners of Earl Hines’ 1928 classic, they are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet (in a Bechet mood for a few seconds, sparking joy); Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. All of this took place at the Ear Out — 326 Spring Street — on June 6, 2021:
And just think, with Monday done and done, the rest of the week will soar (or totter) by. Wishing you safe passage — with the help of these joyous sounds.
I have it on good authority that the Sunday-afternoon revival-meetings will continue through October, with guests Don Mopsick, Evan Christopher, Dennis Lichtman, Bill and John Allred . . . don’t miss out!
Merging poetic speculations and ancient pop music, history and the present moment. Late summer evanescence and music captured as long as cyberspace lives.
Tamar Korn and her Metaphysicians of Delight, once again, performing at The Ear Out (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) on a warm Sunday afternoon, August 15, 2021: Rob Edwards, trombone; Jared Engel, string bass; Greg Ruby, resonator guitar. The meditation in the middle is by Michael Ventura.
Changes are always being made — and sometimes we are able to make them ourselves. I hope, as autumn begins to unfurl itself completely, that (if you were able) you have visited The Ear Out on a bright Sunday afternoon. Everything is mutable, and if you put off encounters with pleasure, there is no assurance that pleasure will be waiting patiently for you. Your phone is always ready, your computer likewise: human beings have their own orbits and you and I might not be their sun. I have spoken.
A friend whose taste I trust asked, “Have you heard the singer Elise Roth? I think you’d be impressed.” I report: I am not only impressed, but triply so.
Many people underestimate how difficult it is to sing effectively, and how arduous it is to be a “jazz singer.” Much more is involved than glamour, hair styling, lovely clothes, and a repertoire of ten songs ranging from WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO to MY FUNNY VALENTINE, all learned from famous (read: “over-familiar”) recordings. A genuine singer needs more than the stage presence required to stand up, open one’s mouth and glide along in an approximate relationship to one’s accompaniment.
But rather than rant about the depths of what is offered to us as the real thing, I present to you someone impressive and delightfully versatile. Elise Roth has at least three artistic selves, each one a wow. She’s also known as Elise M. Roth — two names, appropriate for someone so vividly diversified without a hint of multiple-personality disorder.
The first thing you’ll hear — no matter which of the selves you encounter — is the beauty of Elise’s voice, whether she’s deep in romance, sprightly in a swing tune, or enjoying herself more than the laws allow in mockery. Her classical training is evident, but it isn’t a hindrance: she never sounds like Lily Pons trying to swing. She has elegant diction, a fine sense of melody and the melodic line, and a serious rhythmic awareness. Her musicianship comes through no matter what the context.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present not one but three Ms. Roths: ROMANTIC, SWINGER, and COMEDIAN.
(However, she has but one YouTube channel. I don’t make the rules.)
The ROMANTIC (with superb accompaniment by Eric Baldwin):
She’s impassioned but in complete control, and the looseness of her second vocal interlude is charming and convincing. It’s a polished performance, but it has the relaxation of an assured musician, secure enough in the song to be able to move around within it. And her sound!
How about an even more difficult test — EASY LIVING, so associated with Billie and Lester that it’s a trap for most singers, one Elise avoids by singing the song in her own way, on its own terms:
Superb accompaniment here by Eric Baldwin, Alex Olsen, George Darrah, and Sahil Warsi as well.
But Elise is also a well-established big band singer, performing with Dan Gabel and the Abeltones, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, and her own Harvard Squares. And, as any experienced singer will tell you, working with a large ensemble requires even more intuition and art than being your own boss in front of the microphone. These live videos don’t always present her voice with the same resonant closeness, but they give an idea of how well she sings in real life.
and here she is in New York City in front of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, for HUMMIN’ TO MYSELF, displaying a fine rhythmic ease and her own wit (“rehearsin’ all afternoon”):
and most recently, with her own Harvard Squares for I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE:
Then, the COMEDIAN. Or should I say the CLEVER SATIRIST? Elise’s ever-expanding magnum opus in her own splendidly quirky field is what she calls THE GARBLED AMERICAN SONGBOOK, VOLUME ONE. And I quote, “In 2018, I started running the lyrics to jazz standards from the Great American Songbook through Google Translate, via several different languages and then back into English. I don’t know what possessed me to do this. This is the result.”
as well as This (Jacob Hiser, piano):
and, finally, This:
Enjoy her equilibrium as she rode the ungainly lyrics over the familiar melodies — the result somewhere between Leo Watson and Ulysses . . . in swing, of course.
I hope you are as impressed as I am, and want to hear more / see more of Elise Roth, with or without the M. How to accomplish this? She is currently in London, and here you can find her gig calendar. But for those of us not near Covent Garden, the news is still reassuring: on her Bandcamp page, you can find links to her first effort, CHECKING OUT! (where GOOM-BYE comes from), THE GARBLED AMERICAN SONGBOOK, VOLUME ONE, and her latest, ELISE ROTH’S 2nd SWING EP: A SOCIALLY DISTANCED COLLABORATION.
I’ve enjoyed all three, and I look forward to what the talented Ms. Roth will surprise us with next.
Oh, my title. When I wrote to Elise to introduce myself and express my pleasure, I launched my then-working title to see if she would approve. Her reaction? “Three hats, sounds great! Funnily enough I have worked at a hat shop, though wearing three at a time was frowned upon 🙂”
So her wit is real. And, as you can see and hear, her art is also.
But we’re in 2021, in the land of blessed live performance, not simply staring rapt at the blue Decca label, and the expression on Albanie Falletta’s face says it all:
A daring little band — the EarRegulars — performing on June 6, 2021, at The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. The core group for this Louis Armstrong classic (written by Terry Shand and Jimmy Eaton) is Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet and alto saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. Eminent guests: Josh Dunn, guitar; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar. Please note the groovy tempo — not too fast — for this playful inducement to public and private displays of affection.
Another musical marvel, I think. Have you been? These Sunday-afternoon sessions will not happen when the frost is on the pumpkin. So get your musical blessings while you may.
And a Wednesday night at that same place — March 29, 2006 — from the cassette recorder I placed on my table, to capture the extraordinary little band led by the unpredictable Eddy Davis, banjo, vocal, and imagination; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone and a bamboo cane that was also a flute — provoking hilarity and awe; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Debbie Kennedy (whose birthday was yesterday), string bass.
Eddy could play the “standard” traditional-jazz repertoire, but his imagination was expansive, so the tunes for this fifty-minute visit to the past are far from the usual: COME RAIN OR COME SHINE (which Eddy sings and then provides a chordal roadmap for the rest of the band — before a patron wants to take a photograph of the band) / WHAT WILL I TELL MY HEART? (a song presumably new to the band, at a rocking tempo which builds a splendid momentum: I assure you I was not clapping along) / PLAY, FIDDLE, PLAY (bringing the balalaika to Eighth Avenue, then Eddy’s vocal interrupted by “miscellaneous instruments”) / WHERE BEAUTY LIES (Eddy’s original composition, which no one had seen before) / I’LL NEVER HAVE TO DREAM AGAIN (“the Conal Fowkes Show” which leads into Eddy becoming Billy Eckstine for a few bars, before Conal shows off his sweet way with a ballad, even at a trotting tempo) — songs associated with Frank, Bing, Slam, Fats Domino, Isham Jones, Connie Boswell, and more. What a mix of tenderness and assertive swing, lyricism and surprises:
Beautiful, idiosyncratic music, casting its own spells. We were so fortunate to hear and see it. And if you weren’t at a front table between 2005-6, I hope the sounds create their own magic.
Sharp-eyed readers will notice that October 12 has not come yet, so before someone writes in to explain my error, I am announcing an event that will take place in slightly more than two weeks from this evening. And it concerns this man, seen in the photograph above, the wondrous tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna. Here’s what he sounds like:
Now, imagine that sound backed by a different (but equally splendid) jazz rhythm section, and a string ensemble of three cellos, one violin, one English horn doubling oboe, one flute, arrangements by Larry and by Jack Saint Clair, the latter of whom will also be conducting.
Yes, you don’t need to imagine, but you do need to attend the event in real time as it is taking place at World Cafe Live, 8:30 to 10:30 PM, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. The WCL is located at 3025 Walnut St. Philadelphia, PA 19104 — not far from the 30th Street station. (I’ve been there: it was a very welcoming place.)
The price is $35.00 per ticket, and it is general admission: you can buy tickets and read about Covid-19 protocols here. Yes, you will have to show proof of vaccination; yes, you will be expected to wear your mask except when eating or drinking.
Yes, I am attending. Yes, I will bring my video camera, but even I — who prides himself on the possibilities of video-recording — will say that a video is not the same as being there in person. And, no (the first no!) the event is not being streamed, nor is it a seven-night engagement, and the WCL is not the size of Carnegie Hall, so, to quote the oracle Patrick O’Leary, “You snooze, you lose.”
And: before the virus changed the landscape, there were always a thousand reasons to stay home, and we know them well. Given the virus, there are more reasons. But: to me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Perhaps it is to you also. And, in case you want to know the source of the aphorism, “You have to get out of your chair sometime,” c’est moi. I hope to see you there — for beauty’s sake.
Rossano Sportiello’s latest CD, THAT’S IT! (Arbors Records) came out this year, and it’s a delight. That should be enough psychic catnip for anyone who admires Rossano, as I devoutly do, but perhaps some readers aren’t quite so well-informed. He describes it this way: “This brand new album contains a collection of Rossano Sportiello’s Solo Piano thoughts. It incorporates elements of bebop, stride piano, classical and swing into a mixture that blends completely together into something new. About 70 minutes of music, 17 tracks, with 12 standards and 5 originals. That’s it!” (This comes from Rossano’s website, a treasure chest of sounds, words, and thoughts: visithere for more pleasures.)
But perhaps this will do the trick where words cannot:
In some ways, those sounds — whether raucous or delicate — transcend explanation, but I will attempt some. I’ve been awe-struck by Rossano for fifteen years and more (and, not incidentally, he is one of the most gracious people I know) because he is a virtuoso who never lets virtuosity intrude on the music. He can cover the keyboard but he knows the value of a single note — he understands Tatum, Fats, Basie, and Monk . . . but he is himself. Another way to say it: Rossano, and others like him, stand in front of a century of improvised music; he and they have internalized it but know the artist’s responsibility is to (respectfully) smash the past into little pieces to create their own personal right-now mosaic.
He creates just such a mosaic on THAT’S IT! There are classics by Kern, Whiting, Gershwin, Rodgers, and Waller, as well as more ephemeral pop tunes of their day (GUILTY; I DIDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT) rendered beautifully — Rossano loves ballads and rhythm ballads, as you’ll hear. There are moments that suggest Ellis Larkins and Teddy Wilson, Dave McKenna’s locomotive-roaring-at-us ferocities, as well as an overall harmonic and rhythmic playfulness that, as always, shows us the depths of Rossano’s romantic, thoughtful spirit. I can’t predict where his motorcar is going to take me, but the view is always beautiful.
And there are five of his own compositions, which often suggest the great masters of the Thirties who could take a melodic phrase, turn it this way and that, and make it into a song we didn’t forget.
I can’t resist:
Tell me there’s something that Maestro Rossano can’t do at the keyboard. (An appropriate pause.) Pencils down, please.
You can purchase the disc or download the music at the usual cyber-oases, or, for something special, acquire a signed copy from the Maestro at his website.
For those of you muttering in the background, “I can’t buy one more CD, but I surely like that Rossano fellow’s music,” know that Rossano has created streaming sessions from his apartment (with guests and the occasional invisible cat) called “Live at the Flat in Greenwich Village,” and tomorrow’s episode — that’s Tuesday, September 28, at 6 PM, New York time — will feature instrumentalists Scott Robinson and Danny Tobias, who also have appeared with Rossano on Danny’s new CD, SILVER LININGS. And the previous fifty episodes (!) can be found on YouTube and Facebook, with appropriate links for those who put their money where their love is.
But I hope you’ll investigate and support all of Rossano’s enterprises. He brings joy to those who can hear.
Last Tuesday night, at the Dan Block / Gabrielle Stravelli / Paul Bollenback / Pat O’Leary gig at Swing 46, it began to drizzle during the quartet’s last song. I wasn’t worried about me, but about my camera and microphone, both of which survived. But it made me think, once again, of my anxiously protective mother, so concerned that her boy not get wet (showers and pools were OK) — so much so that in adulthood I compressed her warnings into “You’ll get wet, you’ll get sick, you’ll die.” Decades later, I got soaked in a rainstorm and, laughing, looked up at the sky and said, “See, Mom? I’m OK!”
Years ago, I remember Tamar Korn singing APRIL SHOWERS on gigs — its own kind of hopeful optimism — and when she appeared with her Metaphysicians of Delight (my band name) at The Ear Out on August 15, 2021, she pulled another meteorological rabbit out of her invisible hat with IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER, which is also a sweet lesson in mutability. That’s Tamar on vocal and spiritual guidance; Rob Edwards on trombone; Greg Ruby on resonator guitar; Jared Engel on string bass; guests Colin Hancock on hot cornet, Andrew Stephens on second trumpet (a swashbuckling California import, who learned a great deal from our hero Eddie Erickson).
Tamar was asked to form a group to fill in for the EarRegulars since leader Jon-Erik Kellso had to be out of town: quite an honor!
The song is one I associate with Annette Hanshaw, and, in this century, also with the splendid Barbara Rosene. It says: you’ll get soaked, and you’ll be OK, and even better. And the pleasure of seeing and hearing Tamar with a little big band.
The title refers to a swing panacea, written by Jimmy Mundy for the Earl Hines band of 1934, named for a libation that mixed rye whiskey with rock candy (sometimes with lemon and herbs) which, I am told, is making a comeback. Whitney Balliett recounted a conversation between Barney Josephson and Helen Humes in the Seventies about the potion, Helen’s drink of choice.
Here’s another version of soothing syrup with a kick, as performed by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums:
Bring back the Cubs, I say. The world needs their energies.