Category Archives: The Heroes Among Us

JOPLIN, MARSHALL, SKJELBRED, UNLIMITED at SAN DIEGO (November 25, 2016) AND A DON’T-MISS GIG FOR RAY, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, and RILEY BAKER (JULY 5, 2022)!

NEWS FLASH!

Or as they say on public radio, THIS JUST IN: Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs (Marc Caparone, trumpet; Clint Baker, guitar; Riley Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums) will be playing a delightful post-pandemic gig on Tuesday, July 5, at Bird and Beckett Books (653 Chenery Street), starting at 7:30.

You might hear MICE ISLAND LOVE:

Even though Kim Cusack and Katie Cavera have gigs elsewhere that night, you could also request OH, PETER — because everyone thinks the song and its subject are so nice:

Bird and Beckett is one of my favorite places, temporarily out of reach since I am in New York: a lovely book-and-record store (oh memory! oh memory!) run in the most perceptive hospitable way. You take my seat, please.

And now to the Happy Coincidence portion of our program, although as Poppa Freud is supposed to have said, “There are no accidents.”

I was planning to post the music and commentary below — a precious interlude by Ray at the piano — when news of Bird and Beckett came in. So watch and listen, and get enlightened, and then, if you can get to Chenery Street, hence, begone!

That’s Scott Joplin, Arthur Marshall, and Ray Skjelbred — a thoroughly gratifying melodic corporation if there ever was one — coming together on SWIPSEY CAKEWALK, from 1900, with Joplin composing the trio section, Marshall the main strain, and Skjelbred taking his time to offer us something winning and memorable at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.

Ray understands that the right tempo — casual and leisurely in this case — brings out the beauty of melody and harmony:

I think of this performance as warmly respectful and also groovy: a wonderful combination.

Ray gets to the heart of the song that perhaps we didn’t know was there, but he always does.

May your happiness increase!

“ELECTRIC SPANISH”: JAMEY CUMMINS

Some may think it’s an archaic perspective, but I gravitate to music that doesn’t want to attack me. Honey rather than broken glass, to recall Eddie Condon. I don’t mean Easy Listening goo or ambient murmurings, but a sonic embrace that welcomes the listener.

Guitarist Jamey Cummins has made us a present of music that does just that: his new CD, ELECTRIC SPANISH.

I first met Jamey at the Redwood Coast Music Festival and was truly impressed by his easy swing, his natural ability to spin out long melodic lines in the great tradition, so I wanted to hear this disc. And I wasn’t disappointed. Hear for yourself:

I’d asked Jamey to explain the title: not being a guitar aficionado, I didn’t want to show off my ignorance, and he explained, I played a couple of different guitars on this album but they were all hollowbody electrics! The name “Electric Spanish” is a reference to what Gibson called the first electric guitars they made including the Gibson ES-150 played by Charlie Christian. 

The inspiration for this album comes from a place of love for the pioneers of electric jazz guitar! Charlie Christian’s name has become synonymous with the pickup Gibson used in its first models, including the ES-150 he was known to play. My affinity for the almost horn-like, cutting tone of an amplified archtop led me to listen to many of those influenced by Christian, including Oscar Moore, Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery, and many others!  The goal here was to write a batch of fun swingin’ and groovin’ tunes that had catchy melodies. I wanted to make sure to leave plenty of room for embellishments and allow them to also be sturdy vehicles for improvisation.  I believe we captured a good spirit with our two studio sessions recorded in early 2022 at Eastside Studios in downtown Austin. It features me on guitar (of course) Jim Foster (of many Austin bands) on piano, James Gwyn (formerly with Junior Brown) on drums, and Man about Town Phil Spencer on bass! 

Ordinarily (another facet of my archaic outlook) when I get a CD and it’s all original compositions by the leader, I am slightly wary: many improvisers aren’t equally good at creating songs, but Jamey is a wonderful exception. His tunes, if I may call them that, are spirited, and I found myself humming them after the disc had ended: a sign of durable creativity. And he manages — as the Ancestors did — to get an awful lot of music into a short time-span:

and just one more:

Even I, glued to my chair for long periods, can imagine dancing to those strains.

Here‘s all you need to know, and (ideally) the place to purchase this winning recording at a bargain price. The music that will zip to you through cyberspace will improve your days and nights. Thank you, Jamey, Jim, James (do I see a trend here?) and Phil.

May your happiness increase!

THE NEW YORK JAZZ REPERTORY COMPANY EVOKES BASIE and DUKE at NICE (July 1978 and July 1977)

Even as jazz as an art form prides itself on “moving forward,” it’s always been affectionately retrospective, cherishing the deep past and the recent past in performance and recordings. Think of Louis bringing his mentor’s DIPPER MOUTH BLUES to the Henderson band, even though Joe Oliver was probably continuing to play it; Bix and Tram recording the ODJB’s OSTRICH WALK; Bird playing Lester’s solo on SHOE SHINE BOY. (I am indebted to Matthew Rivera for reminding me of this idea through his radio broadcast on WKCR.)

One of the most rewarding institutions to come out of jazz’s desire to both honor the past as itself and to make it new was the New York Jazz Repertory Company. Not only did the NYJRC perform at the Newport in New York jazz festival, it brought its “shows” worldwide, most often under the leadership of the brilliant Dick Hyman. I saw Louis and Bix tributes in the early Seventies, and they were electrifying; even better, the NYJRC idea was a staple of the Nice Jazz Festival, and some of the concert performances were broadcast on French television. (I’ve posted a ninety-minute tribute to Benny Goodman recently here.

Trotting through YouTube last night — the cyber-equivalent of my getting on my bicycle when I was thirteen and riding to the public library — I found two half-hour NYJRC delights, posted by others in 2015, that I hadn’t seen before. I predict that you will enjoy them also. The first is a Basie tribute, from July 12, 1978; the second, Duke, July 17, 1977.

Those expecting note-for-note recreations of recordings will be, I think, pleasantly surprised by the openness of the arrangements and the leeway given the “contemporary” soloists to play their personalities. Everything is reasonably idiomatic but there are delightful shocks here and there.

The “Basie band” here is Sweets Edison, Cat Anderson, Jimmie Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Benny Powell, Dicky Wells, John Gordon, trombone; Paul Bascomb, Paul Moen, Bob Wilber, Pepper Adams, Earle Warren, reeds; Dick Hyman, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Chubby Jackson, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. I count at least six venerated Basie alumni.

JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE (Paul Bascomb, Harry Edison, Benny Powell, Bob Wilber, Dick Hyman) / ONE O’CLOCK JUMP (Hyman, Paul Moen, Dicky Wells, Bascomb, Joe Newman, Hyman) / ROCK-A-BYE BASIE (Wilber, Moen, Sweets, Hyman and Chubby Jackson) / HARVARD BLUES (Bascomb, Newman, vocal) / BROADWAY (Wilber, Sweets, Hyman, Wilber, Bascomb, Pepper Adams, Powell, John Gordon, Earle Warren, Cat Anderson, Moen):

and “the Ellington band,” made up of many of the same champions, Hyman, Rosengarden, Wilber, Pepper Adams, Maxwell — with Jon Faddis, Pee Wee Erwin, Joe Newman, trumpets; Eddie Daniels, Zoot Sims, Billy Mitchell, reeds; George Duvivier, string bass, John Mosca, Billy Campbell, Earl McIntyre, trombone:

EAST ST. LOUIS-TOODLE OO (Wilber, Pepper, Daniels, Erwin) / DOUBLE CHECK STOMP (Maxwell, Wilber, Billy Campbell) / JUNGLE NIGHTS IN HARLEM (possibly John Mosca, Maxwell, Daniels) / DOCTOR E.K.E. (composition by Raymond Fol, piano; Mosca, Mitchell, Faddis, Sam Woodyard, drums) / HARLEM AIR-SHAFT (McIntyre, Faddis, Daniels, Joe Newman) / BLUE GOOSE (Wilber, Maxwell, Zoot, Mosca, Wilber) / JUMPIN’ PUNKINS (Duvivier, Pepper, Rosengarden, Hyman, Rosengarden) / CHELSEA BRIDGE (Hyman, Zoot, Hyman, McIntyre):

Honoring the originals and their creators but giving plenty of space to honor the present — a lovely balance. And if you’d rather hear the Basie Deccas and Ellington Victors, they will still be there, undamaged and pristine.

May your happiness increase!

ON THE BANKS OF THE WABASH, FAR AWAY: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DENNIS LICHTMAN, JOSH DUNN, JARED ENGEL (Cafe Bohemia, December 12, 2019)

Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City

For about six months — September 2019 to March 2020 — much longer than one brief shining moment, we had Cafe Bohemia, downstairs at 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City. And on Thursday nights, if I recall correctly, the Cafe Bohemia All-Stars, led by Jon-Erik Kellso (“You know them, you love them.”) took the stage.

Here’s a particularly sinuous and searching WABASH BLUES, performed by Jon-Erik, Puje trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Josh Dunn, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass.

The photograph shows the Wabash River in Indiana.

This memorable performance doesn’t make me want to book a flight to the Wabash River, but it certainly makes me wish that we could have those Bohemia nights back.

May your happiness increase!

MARTY GROSZ AND HIS CHICAGOANS, SWEET AND HOT: JAMES DAPOGNY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BARRETT, DAN LEVINSON, SCOTT ROBINSON, JON BURR, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 19, 2014)

Martin Oliver Grosz by Lynn Redmile

Here’s a location in space and time where the past and present embrace, each retaining all their distinguishing features. That is, Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal, and erudition, leading an ensemble at the 2014 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party in the song first introduced by Ethel Waters, SUGAR, that was then taken up by the Austin High Gang for their 1927 record date as “McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans.”

The noble creators are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Levinson, tenor saxophone; Scott Robinson, taragoto; James Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

It’s clearly impromptu (but all the great performances were in some part) from Marty’s heartfelt rubato solo chorus to the split-chorus solos with special reverence for James Dapogny’s piano in glittering solo and supportive ensemble. It’s confectionary. And memorable.

Incidentally, if, after enjoying Marty and his pals, you need more sugar in your bowl, try Ethel’s version, Louis’, and the Lee Wiley – Muggsy Spanier – Jess Stacy one. And of course the McKenzie-Condon version, which is playing in my mental jukebox as I type. Then follow your own impulses to heated sweetness.

May your happiness increase!

“THE BEAN GUY” SINGS: INTRODUCING STEVE SANDO

Steve Sando isn’t “harmonically innovative.” He doesn’t show off his four-octave range, put lyrics to Eric Dolphy lines, or affect Sinatra-mannerisms. What he does is, I think, more difficult and more commendable: he shows his love for songs by offering them, one by one, with affection and understanding . . . putting the spotlight on the song rather than on himself. Hear for yourself:

Steve says, “My intention was always to present some songs that I loved in a manner that isn’t pop and it isn’t jazz but it’s influenced by both. I wasn’t expecting to love singing quite as much but the act of having an idea, trying, failing, and then succeeding is the best.”

Hence, his debut CD, INRODUCING STEVE SANDO, which is out on Bandcamp (digital and tangible versions). What appeals to me most is his approach — as I said before, without ego, but with a kind of relaxed candor. “These are songs that have stories: let me share a story with you,” each performance seems to say. And his low-key, consciously undramatic way is so appealing in these days of singers who feel compelled to wow us with special effects.

Steve is marvelously accompanied — in the true sense of that word — by veteran pianist / arranger Mike Greensill, string bassist Ruth Davies, drummer Mark Lee. You’ll know Mike for his own lovely playing (at times on this CD, reminiscent of Ellis Larkins) but for his partnership, musical and marital, with Wesla Whitfield.

One of the other pleasures of this disc, one I’ve returned to, is the repertoire. No MY FUNNY VALENTINE, or COME FLY WITH ME, or other well-chewed standards. Rather, Steve and Mike have chosen songs that stand on their own, that deliver small constant emotional gifts and surprises: WITH THE WIND AND THE RAIN IN YOUR HAIR / YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY / SAIL AWAY / WHERE ARE YOU? / I WISH I DIDN’T LOVE YOU SO / ONE NEVER KNOWS, DOES ONE? / MY SHINING HOUR / THE THRILL IS GONE / SILENZIOSO SLOW / I’M OLD FASHIONED / THAT’S FOR ME / HONG KONG BLUES / I’LL BE AROUND / SO FAR.

That closing song was new to me, and I’ve now added it to my mental jukebox:

About my title. Some readers may know “Steve Sando” for accomplishments beyond music: he is founder, inventor, and guiding genius of RANCHO GORDO, the place to go for heirloom beans — beans so good that they rebuke the ones in cans and in plastic bags in the supermarket. (My title was his whimsical idea.) I first met Steve more than a decade ago in his Napa, California culinary guise, and then learned of his deep love for music — passionate ballads, Jack Teagarden, Louise Massey, and more — so I am delighted that his immersion in this art has resulted in something so rewarding for us.

He’ll be around, I predict.

May your happiness increase!

THE WORLD BENNY CREATED: “The New York Jazz Repertory Company” featuring BOB WILBER, DICK HYMAN, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, GEORGE DUVIVIER, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN, JIMMY MAXWELL, EDDIE BERT, ARNIE LAWRENCE, BUDD JOHNSON, PEE WEE ERWIN, MIKE ZWERIN, NORRIS TURNEY, HAYWOOD HENRY, ERNIE ROYAL, DICK SUDHALTER, BRITT WOODMAN, PUG HORTON, GEORGE WEIN (La Grande Parade du Jazz, July 1979)

The imaginative types among us sometimes launch the idea of the music we know with a central figure removed from the landscape — a much-diminished alternative universe. What, we say, would our world have been like had young Louis Armstrong chosen to go into waste management? Imagine the musical-cultural landscape without Sinatra, Bing, Billie? Quickly, the mind at play comes to a stop, because such absences are so unimaginable that they serve to remind us of the power of these individuals long after they have left the neighborhood.

I’d like to add a name to that list — Benjamin David Goodman, born in Chicago. These days it seems that Benny, once the King of Swing, is either taken for granted so deeply that he is forgotten, or he is reviled for bad behavior. To the former, I can only point to our cultural memory loss: if it’s older than breakfast, we’ve forgotten its name, so hungry for new sensations we appear to be.

And to the latter, I see it as rooted in an unattractive personal envy. We can’t play the clarinet like Benny; we don’t appear on concert stages, radio, and television. (I exempt professional musicians, often underpaid and anonymous, from this: they have earned the right to tell stories.) This reminds some of us that all the bad things our classmates said of us in fourth grade still are valid. So some of us energetically delight in the Great Person’s failings, as if retelling the story of how he didn’t tip the waiter makes up for our inability to equal his artistic achievements, and the life of diligent effort that made them possible. Benny could behave unthinkingly, but we’ve all done that. If we understood our own need to tear down those larger than ourselves, perhaps we would refrain from doing it. Bluntly, feasting on the story of Benny putting on a sweater says much more about our collective insecurities than about his obliviousness. But enough of that: we have beautiful music to savor here.

I don’t know if the New York Jazz Repertory Company, such a wonderful enterprise in the 1970s and onwards, was George Wein’s idea or perhaps Dick Hyman’s — but it was a marvel. If someone proposed a concert tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, well, you could bring Joe Venuti, Spiegle Willcox, Paul Mertz, and Chauncey Morehouse to the stage alongside Zoot Sims, Vince Giordano, Warren Vache, Bucky Pizzarelli — the best musicians readily available having a splendid time amidst the Ancestors, the Survivors. Concerts for Louis, Duke, and Basie were just as enthralling. The NYJRC experience was a kind of jazz Camelot, and its moments were shining, perhaps brief, and surely memorable.

The Nice Jazz Festival had enough expert musicians — expert in experience and in feeling — to put together NYJRC evenings, and here is a July 1979 one devoted to not only Benny but to the worlds he created.

For me, imagining a world without “BG” is again unthinkable. He wasn’t the only person who made hot music — creative jazz improvisation — such an accessible phenomenon for the widest audience, an audience perhaps unaware that they were dancing to great art, but he did it. And he wasn’t the only person to have Black and White musicians on the public stage, but his contributions to racial equality are too large to be ignored. And he himself made great music and inspired others to do so.

Enough polemic. But Benny remains a King, and efforts to dethrone him are and should be futile.

Both Dick Hyman and Bob Wilber had worked with Benny, and their love, admiration, and understanding shine through this concert presentation devoted to his big band and small groups of the Swing Era. The band is full of Goodman alumnae (we must remind ourselves also that Benny was active on his own in 1979) including Pee Wee Erwin, an integral part of Benny’s 1935 orchestra. Hyman not only plays brilliantly but supports the whole enterprise; Wilber embodies Benny in his own lucent fashion, and Pug Horton sweetly summons up a whole raft of Benny’s singers. Too, the individual players get to have their say in their own fashion — something that was a lovely part of the worlds Benny made and made possible.

Here’s ninety minutes of music, delightful on its own and as an evocation of a masterful musician and his impact on us, whether we acknowledge it or not.

The New York Jazz Repertory Company: Bob Wilber, clarinet; Dick Hyman, piano; Arnie Lawrence, Haywood Henry, Norris Turney, Budd Johnson, reeds; Eddie Bert, Britt Woodman, Mike Zwerin, trombone; Jimmie Maxwell, Ernie Royal, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, trumpet; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Pug Horton, vocal.

Warming up / George Wein announces / LET’S DANCE (Hyman, Wilber, Lawrence, Hyman) / KING PORTER STOMP (Maxwell, Wilber, Maxwell, Zwerin, Budd, Hyman, Bucky, Duvivier) / STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY (Hyman, Wilber, Bert, Budd, Bert, Bucky, Wilber) / BODY AND SOUL (Wilber, Hyman, Rosengarden) / CHINA BOY (trio) / SEVEN COME ELEVEN (add Bucky, Duvivier) / add Pug Horton, vocal / GOODNIGHT, MY LOVE / SILHOUETTED IN THE MOONLIGHT / SOMEBODY ELSE IS TAKING MY PLACE / Pug out / RACHEL’S DREAM / big band returns / STEALIN’ APPLES arr. Henderson (Hyman, Wilber, Erwin, Turney, Woodman, WIlber // Intermission: Wilber introduces the orchestra while Bucky plays GOODBYE // SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES (Budd, Wilber [alto], Hyman, Henry, Bert, Lawrence, Wilber, trumpet section trades / PAGANINI CAPRICE No. 24 arr. Skip Martin (Hyman, Wilber, Budd) / A SMOOTH ONE (Wilber, Maxwell, Budd, Bucky, Hyman, Duvivier, Rosengarden) / AS LONG AS I LIVE / AIR MAIL SPECIAL / (add Pug, big band reed section returns) WE’LL MEET AGAIN / WHEN THE SUN COMES OUT / WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO (Hyman) / (Pug out, full band) SING SING SING (Wilber, Rosengarden, Budd, Wilber, Maxwell) / GOOD-BYE //

As the waitperson says when she puts your fish tacos in front of you, “Enjoy.”

May your happiness increase!

HOT SERMONS: STILL MORE FROM THE NEW YORK CLASSIC SEVEN: MIKE DAVIS, ANDY SCHUMM, COLIN HANCOCK, SAM CHESS, VINCE GIORDANO, RICKY ALEXANDER, JAY RATTMAN (St. John’s Lutheran Church, New York City, May 18, 2022)

Photograph by Rob Rothberg

This band rocked the church. Seismically, I mean. Christopher Street will never be the same.

I’ve shared several segments from this concert, and here’s the last dynamic offering. From the back, the New York Classic Seven are Colin Hancock, drums; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Vince Giordano, banjo; Andy Schumm, piano; Ricky Alexander, clarinet, alto saxophone; Sam Chess, trombone; Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal.

(For new visitors to this site: if you click on the post’s title, the still photographs below — if they are what you see — will open to reveal video-performances.)

For Bix, of course. THERE’S A CRADLE IN CAROLINE:

Hot needs sweet in the perfectly balanced cosmos, so here’s Romantic Mike Davis, pleading GUILTY. We pardon him:

And the gloriously futuristic BONEYARD SHUFFLE:

Here’s Andy Schumm’s Gershwin-inspired composition, LET’S DO THINGS:

A beautiful mini-Whiteman consideration of MY BLUE HEAVEN:

Don’t be afraid of the title. Colin and Mike aren’t truly ANGRY:

And the extravagantly “primitive” JUNGLE CRAWL by Tiny Parham:

What would a program of Twenties jazz and pop be without a song saying how much better everything is in the American South? Here’s a stellar example, THAT’S THE GOOD OLD SUNNY SOUTH:

This was the second — wonderful — US appearance by this band. If you want to hear them again, tell festival organizers and club-owners, tell your wealthy friends. They’re raring to go and play, as you can see and hear. And we need this kind of musical uplift.

Thanks again to Janet Sora Chung and St. John’s Lutheran Church (Christopher Street, New York City) for making this aesthetic gift-box possible, and for permitting me to video-record and share it.

And thanks to Red, Bix, Miff, Fud, Pee Wee, JD and TD, McDonough, Eddie, Challis, Artie, Vic, Adrian, and three dozen other luminaries for their inspiration.

May your happiness increase!

“I HAPPEN TO LIKE BENNY GOODMAN”: DAN MORGENSTERN (August 30, 2019)

“Benny Goodman stories” are legendary, and since tales of odd or mean behavior are good copy, they are durable. There’s the man who couldn’t remember his daughters’ names, the villain of the Ray, the man who put on a sweater when the sidemen were cold . . . if you care to, you can add to the list.

But for every truth there is a counter-truth, so here are two brief interview segments I did with the Eminence Dan Morgenstern in 2019, resetting the balance in ways that will surprise anyone committed to the idea of the wicked King of Swing.

and more:

I think the emphasis on a cruel miserly inexplicable Benny has also led to a meager assessment of his gifts. Consider these examples. If you played them for someone who knew nothing of the legends and gossip, I think they would be astonished by the music made by the Unknown Clarinetist — and the music he made possible.

and a few years later, in two versions:

I could expound at length on the reasons Benny has been attacked as a person (and he had his failings: no bandleader is always a hero to the people he employs) but that’s another blogpost, one I will leave aside for the moment. For one thing, he became prosperous, which is at odds with the myth of the jazz creator as suffering doomed outsider. Ultimately, though, mocking someone as emotionally lacking or imbalanced is an easy way to undermine the validity of their art. Benny should be regarded for his work — on the level of, let us say, Benny Carter and Bobby Hackett — rather than for his foibles. Who among us doesn’t have them?

Fairness, not vindictiveness. The time is ripe for a balanced view.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING WEATHER FORECASTS: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, DAN BLOCK, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, December 14, 2021)

Spreading joy.

Every Tuesday night in June, the wonderful trio of Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass, has an early-evening gig (5:30 to 7 PM, more or less) at the comfortable Birdland Theater, one flight down, at 315 West 44th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in midtown Manhattan.

The OAO and I were there for the first Tuesday and it was delightful and delightfully varied. I couldn’t bring back any video-evidence for you, but here are two previously unseen delights from the Dan Block Quartet’s gig at Swing 46, with Dan on tenor saxophone.

I can’t account for the meteorological theme, but since everyone talks about the weather, I hope that will hold true for these beautiful musicians and their art.

Here’s a rarity, WITH THE WIND AND THE RAIN IN YOUR HAIR, by Clara Edwards and Jack Lawrence — its first recordings from 1940. (Both Edwards and Lawrence are fascinating figures: she was a singer, pianist, composer of art songs as well as popular ones, and he is perhaps best known for the Ink Spots’ IF I DIDN’T CARE — but their biographies are intriguing.)

From the rare to the perhaps over-familiar . . . ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, like ALL OF ME, has been performed so many times that I often sigh when a band or singer calls it, but not with this band and this singer. It’s credited to Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, although the gossip says that the melody was first composed by one Thomas Waller. Whether that’s true or not, I am reminded of Jonathan Schwartz’s anecdote about his father, Arthur Schwartz, saying to his son when they were walking in the shade, “Let’s cross over to Dorothy’s side of the street.”

Here, we can do the same thing (looking all four ways) and find ourselves in creative happiness. Catch Gabrielle’s exultant second chorus and the wondrous playing by Dan, Pat, and Michael (the last slyly reminding us of the pitter-pat, as he should):

Don’t miss Gabrielle and her friends, no matter what your phone tells you about the weather. They improve the darkest day.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE THE RENO CLUB MEETS FILM NOIR: “BEALE STREET BLUES,” by The EarRegulars: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, DUKE HEITGER, HARVEY TIBBS, DAN BLOCK, NEAL MINER (The Ear Inn, June 7, 2009)

I missed out on the Reno Club, and Fifty-Second Street transformed downwards years before my birth, but there are serious compensations. I did and do have The Ear Inn (and so do you) where The EarRegulars have been playing every Sunday night from 8-11 PM since the summer of 2007. 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

This is one of the earliest videos I shot there . . . at a time when YouTube allowed posters to take dark-hued video and change it into black-and-white. So we have my version of film noir, bowing to Ida Lupino, to the Reno Club, to wartime Greenwich Village jazz, to building intensity through backgrounds and riffs. All priceless.

Fault-finders are encouraged to floss with a cactus needle, then take Nipper out for a constitutional.

The song? Handy’s BEALE STREET BLUES. The performers? Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass. Heroes all. They know what to do — no one needs a GPS — and they do it beautifully, individually and collectively. And they know how to sustain and build a mood, gently but dramatically, for twelve minutes.

And, yes, such things are still possible. But you do have to get out of your chair and find them where they are happening . . . real players, too substantial for any lit screen. Bless them when you see and hear them, too.

May your happiness increase!

RIGHT ON THE SPOT WHEN THE MUSIC IS HOT, or BEALE STREET’S PAVED WITH GOLD: MARTY GROSZ, JAMES DAPOGNY, DUKE HEITGER, BOB HAVENS, BOB REITMEIER, VINCE GIORDANO, ARNIE KINSELLA (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 19, 2009)

I could write a long introduction about the music and scene that follows, but I will say only that it was thrilling in the moment and it is even more thrilling now. This was a Saturday afternoon session at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, during the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend created by Joe Boughton for his own pleasure and ours.

It seems a blessing to have been there and even more of one to have been allowed to video-record the music, especially since in June 2022, some of the participants have moved to other neighborhoods and others seem to have chosen more relaxing ways of passing the time. I will only say that a few nights ago I was speaking to a person I’d not met before — she and her husband live in Ann Arbor — of how much I miss Jim Dapogny and I had to turn away to control myself.

The heroes are Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; James Dapogny, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Vince Giordano, tuba, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums, and the song is the venerable BEALE STREET BLUES, with Marty’s three vocal choruses deeply rooted in Jack Teagarden, which is a lovely thing.

Chris Smith calls this “a joyous and soulful happy blues.” I hope you delight in it as I do:

Yes, these moments of collective ecstasy — and I don’t exaggerate — happen now. I’ve been there and witnessed them. But this assemblage of dear intent artists is not coming our way again, so these minutes are precious. And I would think so even if someone else had held the camera. Bless these fellows all.

May your happiness increase!

The CHAMBER JAZZ CONSORT: TALENT DESERVING WIDER RECOGNITION!

Danyel Nicholas, clarinet, eyeglasses, cufflinks, wall hanging, inscrutable expression, table, chair. Location and occasion unknown.

It’s my pleasure to present a group to you, its members expert and passionate although not all that well-known, its instrumentation clarinet / soprano saxophone, viola, and double bass.

Some of you might say, “That’s seriously unorthodox,” and perhaps you’d be right since groups with this instrumentation aren’t the usual. But the question of “orthodox” instrumentation has long been shaped by players’ desires to reproduce a certain desirable sound — whether Bob Crosby’s Bobcats or Charlie Parker’s quintets. And, of course, the marketplace — music as recognizable reproducible product — was a driving force, so that the Benny Goodman trio gave rise to other clarinet-piano-drums groups.

But left to their own devices, musicians looked for other sympathetic souls who could play. Alto, clarinet, guitar, string bass? Sure. Cornet, bass saxophone, piano, guitar? Let’s go.

Hear for yourself.

Goodness, don’t they swing? — with such dancing rhythms, shifting tonalities, and an overall translucency. And the CONSORT is such a sweet triumph — its precursor is the Basie rhythm section — of complete unity and complete individuality all at once.

I’ll have another. How about something slightly more unexpected?

Why stop now?

What we loosely call “cyberspace” is like the grab bag at the children’s party: sometimes you get a neatly wrapped package of worn socks; sometimes you find a jewel.

I first met Danyel Nicholas (clarinet, soprano saxophone, and imagination) when he left a wonderfully articulated comment on a video of the EarRegulars. I wanted to find out who this thinking person was, and instigated a conversation, which led me to the videos of the CHAMBER JAZZ CONSORT, also featuring Micha Daniels, viola, and Roland Effgen, double bass. The video performances were a sweet ardent breeze to my sensibilities, and I asked Danyel to tell me where all this light-hearted expert fervent joy had come from:

Chamber Jazz Consort was formed after I came back from New York (where I studied with Mark Lopeman and, to a lesser extent, with the late Phil Schaap–history is a very important part of music as my favourite composers and even players tend to be all historic) wrote some arrangements and tried to re-vitalise my old swing band I had left behind and that John Defferary had kind of inherited but was no longer interested in. Those cats however couldn’t handle the amount of writing and detailed notation. Then came the pandemic and we decided to shrink to the minimum size. I had grown up “bilingual” in musical terms and always drifted towards substantial compositions (Jelly Roll, Ellington, Benny Carter) in Jazz. I am not so much interested in Third Stream as Jazz clearly already is a third stream, but I think form and instrumentation are not definitive yet, as many jazz musicians simply don’t have the time to study Lully or Schubert. I like counterpoint and try to write obbligato accompaniment that is not an organic version of band in a box. That’s why I am particularly fond of the EarRegulars and always relished the occasions when Scott Robinson played Trumbauer on a Sarrusophone.

I pursued Danyel a little more, saying that my readers — and I — wanted to know, “Where on earth did this fellow come from?” and got this witty reply:

What were I & where? That’s a tough one!——
In the 80s I studied composition and played piano, in the 90s lute and viol (in Frankfurt/Germany at Clara Schuman’s conservatory…) but played mostly modern jazz (clarinet & alto) as nobody here was seriously playing earlier jazz, or any early music for that matter, especially in my generation. I had however loved Ellington, Jelly, Henderson, or the Missourians ever since friends of my parents, when I was “knee-high to a duck,” gave me stacks of strange records they thought I might like. I did!

In the late 90s I published a book on “exotic” instruments for a museum and taught the clarinet. I also started to collect historic clarinets like the kind Bigard or Simeon used.

In the “oughties” I worked with New Orleans-style people (like Trevor Richards, John Defferary to name only those you might have heard of) and worked endlessly on mouthpieces. In the teens I tried to run a Kansas City-style swing band playing mostly for lindy hoppers, then, in New York, I met Mark Lopeman (playing lead alto with the Nighthawks that evening), took lessons with him for about 2 years (about 3 hours a week!) and realised that writing jazz was the right thing for me to do. Mark is the greatest transcriber I have ever met. And one of the finest reeds! Back in Europe I played with all sorts of musicians who would tell me they’d rather improvise because they didn’t care how the inner voices moved or how the instrumentation sounded. So I felt like Jelly Roll! Hooray!


During the pandemic (hardly any gigs for two years!) I rehearsed the Chamber Jazz Consort and practiced French music of the Louis XIV era.
I also try to keep the “Red Hot Hottentots” alive, an ancient German hot jazz ensemble (with Colin Dawson).


Next I might embark with Capt. Gulliver…

I don’t want Danyel, Micha, and Roland to embark anywhere except for a series of gigs, a concert tour, CD and DVD recording sessions, festival appearances. In the ideal world, they would be the “other” group on a concert bill with a chamber group playing Brahms and Dvorak.

Practical matters. Danyel’s YouTube channel can be found here. As I write this, he has a mingy eleven subscribers, including me. We can do better. And he has posted more than a dozen thrilling videos . . . with a broad imaginative reach. Here’s one I love:

I love this brave friendly wise quirky band, and want them to be better known. Tell your friends!

May your happiness increase!

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT, AMAZING GIFTS from HOT LIPS PAGE and FRIENDS in MISSOURI (January 9, 1954)

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condon’s Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet, James P. Johnson on piano, and Eddie Condon on guitar. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Hot Lips Page is one of my absolute heroes — for fiery emotive playing and more — and to find “new” music by him is a dream. In this case, an audible dream for sure. Although this session has been available on YouTube for three years, which I find inconceivable, I only stumbled across it yesterday, thanks to trumpet man and scholar Yves Francois.

Here is what the blessed YouTube poster, a nephew or niece we bow low to, says.


These 5 tunes (including 2 takes of Struttin’ With Some Barbecue) were recorded on 1-19-54 in my uncle Robert C. Oswald’s basement studio on Mosley Lane in Creve Coeur, Missouri (the house is long gone). This session may have been the last one of Hot Lips Page, who died on 11-5-54; I have been unable to find evidence of any recordings by him after the 1-19-54 date. The musicians were Hot Lips Page, trumpet and vocal; Al Guichard, clarinet; Druie Bess, trombone; Val Thompson, piano; Singleton Palmer, tuba; Lige [Lije] Shaw, drums; Jerry Potter, drums on Struttin’*

*Bob’s notes indicate Jerry Potter on drums for Cornet Chop Suey, a tune not on the tapes or otherwise mentioned in his notes of the session. I suspect that he confused Chop Suey with Barbecue, understandable given that both tunes were early Armstrong recordings that were certainly well known to him. It Had To Be You was very likely played informally as a jam tune, as the recorder was started a few measures late, solos are 64 bars long, and there is constant banter in the background.

Lips — in the last year of his life, with cardiac problems looming and dental problems in attendance — plays like the man Marc Caparone calls ATLAS. Such power, such accuracy, such playful enthusiasm leaping out of the bell of his horn. And his gutty, grainy singing voice on DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE makes that song far less of a cliche. And his blues singing!

It Had To Be You was very likely played informally as a jam tune, as the recorder was started a few measures late, solos are 64 bars long, and there is constant banter in the background.

and the oddly named [Google didn’t help: was PALADIUM USA a club or concert venue?] slow blues, again with peerless singing:

and a swinging melodic feature for Palmer:

and a longer rehearsal of STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE — catch the start of Lips’ second chorus and the way he leads the band out, majestically:

and a “final” version, with an equally heroic rideout:

I’ve included about ½ minute of band discussion preceding the this second version of Struttin’. Toward the end of this segment one hears Bob in the control room reminding the band, “Any time.” His desire to move things along may reflect his use of 1200’ reels of recording tape, each reel good for only 15 minutes of full track recording at 15 inches per second.

Thrilling. And the band has history: Singleton Palmer lived until 1983, played many brass instruments (starting on cornet) and was Basie’s string bassist 1948-49; Guichard was his clarinet player in 1950; Druie Bess played with Jesse Stone in 1927 and with Earl Hines twenty years later; Lije Shaw played drums with Palmer. I can find nothing about Thompson; Jerry Potter might be the same person who played with Tiny Grimes and Red Allen.

What delightful surprises. Atlas doesn’t shrug here, not even for a thirty-second note.

Blessings to Hot Lips Page of Corsicana, Texas, my friends Yves Francois and Marc Caparone, and to Robert C. Oswald and the generous YouTube poster. VERY BLOWINGLY to you all.

May your happiness increase!

“COULDN’T GET ANY MORE LOVELY”: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY at BIRDLAND (Tuesdays in June 2022)

Words heard after last night’s performance in the Birdland Theater, May 31, 2022 — a performance by Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass from 5:30 to close to 7 PM.

Gabrielle told us that each of the Tuesdays to come will have a new menu of songs, so what follows is just a list of musical blessings, but since I kept notes, you get to read them The trio started with a very affirmative ‘DEED I DO, then I WISHED ON THE MOON (tender, then swinging), a defiantly rocking A SLEEPIN’ BEE, usually taken at a slow tempo, THAT OLD DEVIL CALLED LOVE, WONDER WHY, an exultantly funky I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO. Then, a swinging I NEVER KNEW (played so often as an instrumental but its sweet archaic lyrics completely convincing) and what was a highlight of the session, LET’S BEGIN, where I thought of Gabrielle both as most expert wooer and the host of a game show where delights waited behind the second door. GET OUT OF TOWN closed with her grinning, saying, “and STAY out!” which was hilarious, then she segued into I’LL BE AROUND, after the final notes dying away, saying, “I don’t always do ‘doormat songs,’ but that one is special.” As the set neared its close, it got even better, with TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, (an audience request that took on wings) a passionate BORN TO BE BLUE, and closing with a romping FOR YOU, FOR ME, FOREVERMORE.

I’d heard this trio (with Dan Block and Danny Tobias added) about two months ago at a party and thought, “They are touching my heart more each time I hear them,” but the Birdland session was the embodiment of heartfelt chamber jazz.

Gabrielle is in superb voice, with operatic strengths but also whispers, side-of-the-mouth secrets, and the occasional growl — all dramatically used to reveal a song’s center. Pat not only sustained the harmonies and the drive but reminded us all that a splendid bass solo is something too precious to talk through, and Michael swung, commented, brought sweetness, comedy, and warmth as needed, as prescribed. At times Pat and Michael reminded me of Ray Brown and Jimmie Rowles, even Hinton and Basie or Jimmy Jones. And the trio is clearly a telepathic band: Gabrielle called a tune, pointed out the key if it needed to be pointed out, and they were off, sharing one perfectly shaped performance after another.

Another lovely aspect: the Birdland Theater is clean and quiet; the piano is well-tuned; the sound system is transparent and unobtrusive. And the substantial audience was near-reverent, as they so often are not. A wonderful place for a pre-theater or escaping-rush-hour gig, and when we emerged, the sky was still bright. And the music rang in our ears.

I was too absorbed to take phone photographs and the management frowns on interlopers with video cameras, so you’ll just have to get there yourself. They’ll be one flight down at 315 West 44th Street, just west of Eighth Avenue in midtown Manhattan every Tuesday in June. Why deprive yourselves? Or, as the Sages say, “Support gigs, they blossom; stay home, they wither.”

May your happiness increase!

GOT MY BAG, GOT MY RESERVATION: LOOKING FORWARD TO THE 2022 REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (September 29 – October 2, 2022)

Jazz festivals are like people you meet on a first date: some make you look for the exit within five minutes; some you warm to in spite of their odd ways; some you fall for wholeheartedly. The Redwoood Coast Music Festival is my best example of the festival-as-heartthrob.

I’ve only been there once — the green hills and endless vistas that 2019 now seems to be — but I can’t wait to go back. And I spent 2004-20 chasing festival delights in New York, Cleveland, California, England, and Germany, so I have some experience from which to speak.

But why should my enthusiasm matter to you? For all you know, I am being paid wheelbarrows of currency to write this. (I promise you it ain’t so.) Let’s look at some evidence. Caveat: not everyone seen and heard in my 2019 videos is coming to the 2022 festival, but they will serve as a slice of heavenly experience.

Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND plays IDA:

The Carl Sonny Leyland – Little Charlie Baty Houserockers turn our faces a bright CHERRY RED:

The Jonathan Doyle Swingtet ensures everyone has a CASTLE ROCK:

An interlude for prose.

The poster shows that this is no ordinary jazz festival, relying on a small group of bands and singers within a particular idiom. No, the RCMF offers an aural tasting menu astonishing in its breadth and authenticity.

And hilariously that causes problems — ever since Sir Isaac Newton pointed out that no one can be two places at once, the RCMF makes me want to smack Sir Isaac and say in a loud whine, “Why CAN’T I see / record three groups at three separate venues at once? It’s not fair.” Even I, someone who doesn’t feel the same way about zydeco as I do about swinging jazz, had moral crises at every turn because the variety of delicious choices set out for me eight times a day was overwhelming. (At some festivals, I had time to sit outside and leisurely eat gelato with friends: no such respites at the RCMF. A knapsack full of KIND bars and water bottles just won’t be enough: I need a whole medical staff in attendance.)

What else needs to be said? The prices are more than reasonable, even in these perilous times, for the value-calculation of music per dollar. If you don’t go home sated, you haven’t been trying hard enough. And the couple who seem to be everywhere, helping people out, Mark and Val Jansen, are from another planet where gently amused kindness is the universal language.

Some more music, perhaps?

Walter Donaldson’s LITTLE WHITE LIES by the Jonathan Doyle – Jacob Zimmerman Sextet:

A Charlie Christian tribute featuring Little Charlie Baty and Jamey Cummins on guitar for SEVEN COME ELEVEN:

Asking the musical question, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH THE MILL? — Elana James, Dave Stuckey, Hal Smith, and assorted gifted rascals:

Charlie Halloran and the Tropicales play TABU. Hand me that glass:

KRAZY KAPERS, irresistibly, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:

BLUE LESTER, from Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL:

So . . . even though the world, as delineated in the headlines, is so uncertain, consider ungluing yourself from your chair at the end of September. Carpe the damn diem, as we say.

http://www.rcmfest.org/ is the festival’s website; here they are on Facebook. Make it so that something wonderful is, as Irving Berlin wrote, WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD for you, for all of us:

May your happiness increase!

DAVE TOUGH’S SOUND-TEXTURES and RHYTHM-SHIFTS: PEANUTS HUCKO, LOU STEIN, MUNDELL LOWE, JACK LESBERG (June 6, 1947)

Dave Tough and cymbal

These are truly entertaining jazz records — and woe to the commenter who calls them simply Goodman-imitations — created by Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Lou Stein, piano; Mundell Lowe, guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; Dave Tough, drums. Admire at your leisure their splendid swing, their subtle mixture of relaxation and leaning-forward, their ensemble unity and solo brilliance.

But what I’d ask you to do today is to listen to the sounds Dave Tough gets out of his drum kit, his unexpected shifts of rhythm, the intricate and often shifting songs he creates — from one object striking or moving across another! Pure magic, never duplicated.

Thanks to Hot Jazz 78rpms — a rewarding YouTube channel created by the man some of us know as the gracious Tohru Seya — for making these discs available to us.

PEANUT BUTTER:

“STOLEN PEANUTS” (really STEALIN’ APPLES):

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

I MUST HAVE THAT MAN:

Bless Dave Tough, who gave so much to us in his short life that we still marvel at his ingenuities today.

May your happiness increase!

THE CHURCH WAS ROCKING: MORE FROM THE NEW YORK CLASSIC SEVEN: MIKE DAVIS, ANDY SCHUMM, COLIN HANCOCK, SAM CHESS, VINCE GIORDANO, RICKY ALEXANDER, JAY RATTMAN (St. John’s Lutheran Church, New York City, May 18, 2022)

Applause, applause! Photograph by Robert Rothberg.

Fortunately, the wooden benches were sturdy and solidly attached.

Here is the second (glorious) US appearance of the (glorious) hot orchestra, the New York Classic Seven, on May 18, 2022, at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Christopher Street (thanks to Janet Sora Chung). They are Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal, co-leader; Colin Hancock, drums, vocal, co-leader; Ricky Alexander, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Sam Chess, trombone; Andy Schumm, piano; Vince Giordano, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone.

Hot enough for you?

The Gershwins’ DO DO DO (vocal, Mike Davis):

Sweetly durable: MY MELANCHOLY BABY:

A rousing ALABAMMY BOUND — another of the memorable songs about going South (Andy Schumm, arrangement):

THE WHISPER SONG (getting pastoral, with Mike Davis, vocal and vocal effects; Colin Hancock, whistling):

BUDDY’S HABITS (fashioned after the Red Nichols version):

Appropriately joyous, Mr. Morton’s MILENBERG JOYS:

In honor of the Sunshine Boys, Joe and Dan Mooney, here are Mike Davis and Ricky Alexander negotiating their way through WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, which Sam Chess bowing low to Tommy Dorsey:

And finally, for this post — Cave canem — a growly low MEAN DOG BLUES, courtesy of Red Nichols and friends:

“What fun!” as Liadain O’Donovan says. More goodness on the way.

May your happiness increase!

ELEGANT SAVAGERY: ANDY SCHUMM at THE PIANO, “SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT” (St. John’s Lutheran Church, New York City, May 18, 2022)

We need good news, so here’s something that will gladden the hearts of listeners who like barrelhouse originality: Andy Schumm, so wonderful on all his instruments, will be releasing his first solo piano CD (on Rivermont Records) later this year.

Here is Andy’s riotous piano feature — I call his style Elegant Savagery — at the second (glorious) US appearance of the (glorious) hot orchestra, the New York Classic Seven, on May 18, 2022, at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Christopher Street, New York City (thanks to Janet Sora Chung).

Andy is a spectacular pianist, and what I mean by “Elegant Savagery” has something to do with the confidence and energy with which he approaches the keyboard. His power, his range, his fearlessness. (Some pianists are timid, as if they were anxious: press the keys down too firmly, someone will notice and they will lose the gig.) He is a swashbuckler, a Douglas Fairbanks of the Steinway or perhaps Yamaha. But he does not pound. His aim is beautiful. He knows where he is going, so notes and runs are clear, ringing, not smudged or vague. And he’s improvising: there’s music on the piano in the photograph, but he’s on his own path in the video.

The heat he generates is awe-inspiring; he is orchestral in the best way. And he does the neat trick the greatest artists do: he has heard and absorbed everyone, from Joplin to Confrey to Melrose, Schutt, Seger Ellis, Cassino Simpson, and Alex Hill and beyond, Morton and the stride gang — ferociously precise barrelhouse like a Mack truck on a steep downhill incline (although his tempo is admirably steady) — but he sounds like himself.

Can you tell that I admire his approach and what he creates? Listen.

I can’t wait until the CD (with notes by Andy, in both senses) appears, but in the meantime I will admire his playing whenever I can. (You know, of course, that he is a splendid cornet, clarinet, saxophone, and drum wizard as well . . . )

Thank you for being, Maestro, and for so generously sharing your selves with us.

May your happiness increase!

A GLORIOUS WILDNESS: “LESTER’S BLUES” IS BACK WITH A SECOND ALBUM, “RADIO RHYTHM,” AND YOU WILL BE GLAD.

LESTER’S BLUES is a septet (often with guests) based in Gent, Belgium, and they swing like mad.

In instrumentation, they resemble the Reno Club band and they have much of the same free-wheeling joyous spirit. Basie always started with the saxophone section, so I will also: Tom Callens, tenor, alto, vocal; David Lukacs, clarinet, tenor; Hans Bossuyt, trumpet; Luk Vermeir, piano; Victor Da Costa, guitar; Sam Gersmans, string bass; Frederik Van den Berghe, drums; guests Dree Peremans, trombone; Monique ‘Mo’ Harcum, vocal.

I found their first album so delightful that I did everything but hug the disc. I distrust hyperbole, but called it “a triumph” here. Visit that post, by the way, and you can savor some delightful video evidence. Just be sure that the Depression glass is not too close to the edge of the shelf, because your castle will be rocking.

One of the pleasures of this band is that their repertoire is intelligently spacious. “Basie tributes” often fall back on familiar lines on I GOT RHYTHM, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, the blues, and a few ballads . . . but JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE has been picked clean, and many forget that the Basie band was also playing IF I DIDN’T CARE, THE YOU AND ME THAT USED TO BE, and originals like TAXI WAR DANCE, inspirations that LESTER’S BLUES follows. They remember that Lester loved the music he heard on the radio.

Enough with the words, as they say. Some music!

Thinking about the blues idiom and Bessie — in a performance that, to me, imagines a Basie-Bessie performance at Carnegie Hall in 1938 (think FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING). Totally evocative without raising its voice:

and the expertly frolicsome GEORGIA JUBILEE, credited to Arthur Schutt and a young man from Chicago named Benny:

Several things leap out at me: not only the immense subtlety of the soloists, but the wonderful mix of exactitude and freedom in the ensembles. And the sound! Delicious and warm, never clinical.

In addition to these two performances, the new disc, RADIO RHYTHM, offers LITTLE WHITE LIES, WHEN THE SUN SETS DOWN SOUTH, MOTEN’S SWING, ROLL ‘EM, CLIMAX RAG, I LEFT MY BABY, THAT’S ALL, and the title tune for a total of ten performances both leisurely and compact. The band is comfortably “modern,” in its grooving, but no one needs six choruses to get rolling. Readers with memories will notice associations with Jelly Roll and Mary Lou, Smack, Bechet, and Mister Five by Five in addition to Basie and Lester in a variety of periods.

And what this recording and this band remind me, with gentleness and integrity, is that classic jazz is an unbroken continuum over the last century-plus, with our heroes in contemporary times offering love to the past, while the past says, “Go on and be yourselves! We did it, and that’s why you admire us so.”

I offer as testimony to the greatness of this orchestra and of this session my chunk of enthusiastic prose — but don’t quail, it’s only a little more than six hundred words. Or you can skip to the end and purchase the music.

There are two ways to approach the Past. One is to handle it tenderly as fragile relic, ready to dissolve into dust. Thus, bands play CHANT OF THE WEED from manuscript paper, aiming to sound like a 1933 Don Redman 78 rpm record. Expertly done, it sends shivers down the spine. But for others it is like a parlor trick, an impressionist pretending to be someone else. The other approach acknowledges that our heroes were innovative, horrified at the idea of being “a repeater pencil.” LESTER’S BLUES knows the originals by heart and has taken them to heart, but they are a band with spice. They have a glorious wildness at their center of their deep love of classic jazz. They are respectful of the original arrangements – they do not destroy the cathedral to put up a shopping mall — but within the arrangements they go their own idiosyncratic joyous ways. They create devoted homages to the recorded past, but those prayers to Bluebird Records and the Famous Door are springboards for creativity, not ankle bracelets to keep living artists restricted to older conventions. And what I hear is exultant, even when melancholy and slow.

The musicians have a common love of swing. Sadly, many contemporary players and singers keep “the pocket” or “the groove” at arm’s length, as if swing is Grandpa’s pocket watch and fob in the era of the iPhone. How sad. On the rock of this rhythm section this band could build a new swinging city on a hill. And the soloists! Bless them for their strong personalities, rooted yet playful, and celebrate them for how well they meld into vivid unity. And bless the light-hearted and sublimely effective arrangements, at once roadmaps and wind in the trees.

Each performance has its own singularity. I won’t praise the soloists, nor will I anatomize each performance or tell the history of each song – that’s your delightful homework – but these ten performances fill the room with light and joy. And more: each track is at once music and beyond music: one is a Turner landscape, another a Jacob Lawrence, a Calder, a Kandinsky.

None of this is by accident. Tom Callens told me, “We have a total of ten tracks which were chosen out of a bigger pool of songs. We chose these for their freshness, special arrangements, strong melodies, less popularly known (except ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out’ of course), or just because we have an emotional attachment to them. That’s why it’s not a concept or tribute album. It’s just us trying to play really well, having a new repertoire, a cohesive and rhythmic sound, and enjoying the ride. We recorded at the same place as earlier and this time did it using one stereo ribbon mic (in blumlein configuration), positioning ourselves around it and adjusting our positions to mix the individual volume levels. The L-R signal was fed through a state of the art dual tube microphone preamp and sent straight to two-track tape. Tracks were recorded in one go (one-takes) so there’s no editing involved.”

Just like the old days, but brand-new. Passion and exactitude; personal freedom within defined frameworks, power and airy lightness (like Jimmy Rushing on the dance floor). And it all fuses in the nicest communal way. LESTER’S BLUES feels like “a band,” spiritually: a happy group united for a communal purpose. I imagine them getting together for a celebratory meal after the session, laughing and enjoying what they have created. I am sure that Pres, Basie, Jo, Benny, Bessie, Jelly Roll, Mister Five by Five, and Charlie (Christian and Parker) are grinning their faces off. You will be, too.

Yes, music for dancers, but also music for people who pat their foot and grin while seated in front of their computer and speakers. Music for people who understand joy, recognize it, and avidly choose it.

You can find both their albums (or downloads) here.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT’S HOT IS HOLY: THE NEW YORK CLASSIC SEVEN GOES TO CHURCH (Part One): MIKE DAVIS, COLIN HANCOCK, RICKY ALEXANDER, SAM CHESS, ANDY SCHUMM, VINCE GIORDANO, JAY RATTMAN (St. John’s Lutheran Church, New York City, May 18, 2022)

Jazz doesn’t often end up in church (or similar religious institutions) which is a pity, because its creativity shouts hosannas to the universe, and in secular terms, it praises the great glory of being alive in this cosmos. A great solo or ensemble or beautifully-turned phrase is not “like” a prayer; it is a prayer. And the most rewarding improvisations are authentic and thus to be revered. So it was so rich an experience when a great jazz orchestra romped, shouted, whispered, and exulted in a lovely New York City church (built in 1821) last night.

Here’s one side of the septet:

and the other:

and a much better shot by my friend since 1972, the esteemed Rob Rothberg:

It was the second (glorious) US appearance of the (glorious) hot orchestra, the New York Classic Seven, on May 18, 2022, at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Christopher Street (thanks to Janet Sora Chung). They are Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal, co-leader; Colin Hancock, drums, vocal, co-leader; Ricky Alexander, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Sam Chess, trombone; Andy Schumm, piano; Vince Giordano, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone.

And they rocked the room. Here are their first half-dozen selections.

FIDGETY FEET:

I NEED LOVIN’ (vocal by Mike):

CORNFED (for Red and Miff):

ARE YOU SORRY? (you know the answer is NO):

Fats’ MY FATE IS IN YOUR HANDS (vocal by Mike):

and HONOLULU BLUES:

There will be three more blogposts delineating the joys of this evening. Fervent thanks go to Janet Sora Chung and to the gentlemen of the ensemble.

I know this group would like opportunities to play for the widest variety of audiences, and their book is huge (and, as you can hear, varied). Promoters, producers, club-owners, concert organizers out there?

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

EVENINGS IN THE THEATRE, ALL ABOUT LOVE: NANCY HARROW, JAZZ, CHEKHOV, TURGENEV

I first encountered Nancy Harrow as a wondrous singer, an individualist deeply immersed in the blues: someone with feeling and spirit but entirely lacking in affectation. (That her early fans included Buck Clayton, John Lewis, and Roland Hanna did not escape me.)

When I had the opportunity to hear Nancy in person, those impressions were only reinforced. But by that time, I had learned that she was also songwriter, lyricist, dramatist — someone for whom the word “theatrical” would be the highest praise.

Just before the pandemic, I had the opportunity to see ABOUT LOVE, a musical play with songs, inspired by Turgenev’s story, songs by Nancy, script and direction by Will Pomerantz, and I was bewitched, as I wrote here. I remember very clearly the subtlety of the acting, the way that music, dance, and words blended; the way that the plot seemed new because of the electricity onstage. Even the pandemic has not blurred my memories of that evening.

A scene from ABOUT LOVE.

Now, ABOUT LOVE is back — joined in repertory by a new adaptation of Chekhov’s THREE SISTERS, again with music by Nancy and direction by Will. Here is one of Nancy’s songs that you will hear:

And here are more facts:

Chekhov + Turgenev is two Russian classics presented in repertory, and underscored in jazz: About Love, a musical play with songs, inspired by Ivan Turgenev’s novella, “First Love”; and Three Sisters, a new adaptation of the play by Anton Chekhov. is now playing a limited engagement, in repertory, through June 5 at The Sheen Center (18 Bleecker Street at the corner of Elizabeth Street, NYC) in The Frank Shiner Theater. The official opening for both production is Thursday, May 19. Tickets are available online at SheenCenter.org, by phone at 212-925-2812, or in-person at The Sheen Center box office Monday to Friday noon to 5PM and one hour before performances. Tickets are $39 – $69. Premium seating is available. Rush tickets will be available at the box office an hour before any performance for $20.

A scene from THE THREE SISTERS.

The company of Chekhov + Turgenev features John AhlinSilvia BondEssence BrownNathan HintonMiles G. JacksonNehal Joshi, Amanda NicholsTom PattersonElizabeth RamosTommy SchriderJean TaflerPilar Witherspoon and more to be announced.

Chekhov + Turgenev features a live jazz quartet nightly: music director Misha Josephs on guitar, Frederika Krier on violin, Jared Engel on bass, and Steve Picataggio on drums.

Here‘s the link for tickets.

I hope to be there, and I urge you to join me: delights await.

May your happiness increase!