Category Archives: The Real Thing

CHUCK WILSON, ADMIRED, LOVED, MISSED

I’ve come to think that one goal is to live one’s life whole-heartedly, generously, singularly, so that when one dies — moving to another neighborhood in the cosmos — one is missed.  Or, there is a hole shaped like you in the world that people notice.  “I wish Susie were here to have a piece of this pie.  I wish I could give Liz just one more hug.” and so on.

The alto saxophonist and sometime clarinetist Chuck Wilson, who died on October 16, accomplished that goal and more.

A CD worth searching for — a beauty in so many ways.

I saw and heard Chuck intermittently from 2004 to 2016, in Jazz at Chautauqua with the Alden-Barrett Quartet, and in various New York groups, including Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the EarRegulars, with Corin Stiggall and Carol Morgan, but I can’t say I knew him well.  So I will leave the anecdotes to others, and the outline of his biography also.  I did observe him at close range as an unusual man and player: part shy boy, part boisterous side-of-the-mouth wisecracker and social critic.  His playing was just so splendid, although I think he rarely wanted to step forward and lead — any sax section or any band that had Chuck in it immediately sounded so much better.  His sound was lovely.  And he understood both his horn and the music.

Chuck was initially very wary of my video camera (and perhaps also of the civilian who operated it) but eventually he 1) figured that I wasn’t out to embarrass him but to praise him, or 2) I wouldn’t go away so there was no use telling me to do so.  So I have a few — too few! — performance videos of him which I will share again with you — so that you who knew Chuck can have the bittersweet joy of having him in action, and that those who never heard him can regret the omission.

Here he is with Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — for that August 2016 afternoon, Chuck, Terry, Jim Fryer, Jay Leonhart, Jay Lepley, playing DIGA DIGA DOO in what I think of as a Fifty-Second Street manner:

And here, at The Ear Inn on May 30, 2010 with Danny Tobias, James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, for a easy groovy EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I wish there had been more opportunities to capture Chuck live: many things got in the way, but you can savor another large handful of performances from these gigs here and here.

I also hope that Chuck knew how much he was admired and loved.  And is.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

“TWO BINGS, PLEASE!”

Given the collective memory loss, I am sure that few people under fifty automatically know who Bing Crosby is, which is a pity.  Their loss.  I fell in love with the sound of his voice when I was a child (I even came to appreciate the distorted renditions of WHITE CHRISTMAS played through loudspeakers throughout December) and my reverence for his work has only grown with time.  Add to that his delight in working with jazz players, his insouciant yet hilariously erudite film persona, and you have an Icon.  By the way, the second volume of Gary Giddins’ Bing tome is supposed to be published before the end of 2019: something to read while the days grow short.

Incidentally, the question of “Is X a jazz singer?” is not terribly interesting to me.  “Does it sound good? Does it move the listener?  Is it artfully done?” are the questions that do.

Here’s what he sounded like three days before his death: lovely, apparently casual, full of feeling:

and some forty years later, a recording that the fine singer Dawn Lambeth told me about, very loose, with the guitarist Perry Botkin the only accompaniment — a splendid song, taken in a light-hearted,  jovial way:

You may prefer other singers, but he remains inimitable.

May your happiness increase!

JULY 21, 1975: NICE, NICER, NICEST

 

“La grande parade du jazz” is what the people in charge of the Nice Jazz Festival called it in the last half of the 1970s.  And that it was for sure.  Here, through the good offices of the scholar Franz Hoffmann, is a nearly ten-minute SWEET GEORGIA BROWN with sixteen of the great players (Bob Wilber and Marty Grosz, still happily with us) participating.

Twelve horns in the front line might mean chaos, but there is expert, funny traffic direction here by experienced musicians who knew (this was the last performance of a set) that allowing everyone to play three choruses could extend the performance well past plausibility.  And SWEET GEORGIA BROWN is so familiar that no one could mess up the chords on the bridge.  And although the director / cinematographer on some of these Nice videos made them hard to watch by cutting from one angle to another every few seconds, here the editing is much more sedate and pleasing.

The performance is full of sweet little touches — the affectionate respect these musicians had for each other and the idiom.  After an ensmble where — even amidst all the possibility for clamor — Bobby Hackett is audibly leading, with mutters from Vic Dickenson, which then turns into a very characteristic propulsive Art Hodes solo, all his traits and signatures beautifully intact.  Watch Barney Bigard’s face as Maxim Saury plays a patented Bigard motive, how amused and pleased he is with the younger man’s tribute, and how he (Barney, that is) pays close attention afterwards.  (For what it’s worth, Herb Hall and Barney sound so sweetly demure after Saury.)  After some inaudible asides, Alain Bouchet (brave man!) trades phrases with a very impressive Hackett, then, before any kind of disorder can take over, Vic takes control over the trombone section, with Willcox and Hubble having fun playing at being Vic.  A conversation between Dick Sudhalter and Pee Wee Erwin reveals two concise lyricists; Bob Wilber, so durable and so profound, soars through his choruses (notice Wingy trying to break in after the first).  Wingy takes his turn in opposition to a beautifully-charged Hackett, with supporting riffs coming in for the second chorus (Hackett quotes WITH PLENTY OF MONEY AND YOU, so gorgeously) before the whole ensemble charges for the exit, Moustache commenting underneath, his four-bar break hinting at a deep study of Cliff Leeman:

Wingy Manone, Bobby Hackett, Alain Bouchet, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, cornet / trumpet; Vic Dickenson, Eddie Hubble, Spiegel Willcox, trombone; Barney Bigard, Herb Hall, Maxim Saury, clarinet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Art Hodes, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Placide Adams, string bass; Moustache Galepides, drums.

Almost ten minutes of bliss, with no collisions and no train wrecks.  And if you care to, on the third or fourth viewing, watch the musicians themselves closely — the ones who aren’t playing, as they smile and silently urge their friends, colleagues, and heroes on.  Their love is tangible as well as audible.

It’s a cliche to write that “Giants walked the earth,” but this summer performance proves the truism true.  And one of the most dear of the giants — never in stature — the blessed Bobby Hackett — wouldn’t live another full  year.  Oh, what we lost.

For more from Franz Hoffmann, and he has marvels, visit his YouTube channel.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW THEY SWING! (Part Two): DANNY TOBIAS, WARREN VACHÉ, PHILIP ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (September 22, 2018: 1867 Sanctuary, Ewing, New Jersey)

What a wonderful afternoon of music this was, among friends, in a splendid place.  Here is my post of the first four performances.

What brass friendship looks like.  Warren’s on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and the scene of the musical joy:

The proceedings, photographed from above by Lynn Redmile

Here’s the second helping, with two band-within-a-band delights as well.

I NEVER KNEW:

an Ellington blues for the supple rhythm section:

Don Redman’s NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU, with memories of Louis and Ruby:

and a real delicacy by Pat Mercuri (who explains it all) and Joe Plowman:

How wonderful, I think.

May your happiness increase!

COLIN HANCOCK THROWS A PARTY, OR SEVERAL, FOR US

You might know the inspiring exhortation, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  The quite remarkable Colin Hancock has put his own inventive spin on that, and I imagine “Be the music you want to hear!” is his motto.  I’ve written about Colin and his Original Cornell Syncopators as they appeared at the San Diego Jazz Fest last year (dig in here) and they will be appearing in San Diego again this November: make plans here!

And I had the pleasure of seeing the larger unit in New York very recently: hot evidence here.

Colin Hancock by 2E Photography

 

But this post is not about the wonderful young people who make up Colin’s bands.  All respect to them, no.  This post is about Colin, the one, the only.  The dazzling multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer and Imaginer, the young man who gets inside the music rather than copying its most obvious features.

Over the summer, Colin made some records.  That might not raise an intrigued eyebrow until you learn that he plays all the instruments on these records (and sings on one), that they are brilliantly loving evocations of time, place, and style, with no artificial ingredients.  They aren’t tricks or stunts: they are MUSIC.

There is, of course, a tradition of one-man-band records: Sidney Bechet for Victor, Humphrey Lyttelton’s ONE MAN WENT TO BLOW, and more — but Colin’s are deeper and more thoughtfully lovely than simply ways to show off multiple expertises.  What he’s done is make beautiful little alternative universes: imagine if __________ band had played ___________: what would it sound like?  Some bands have no single historical antecedents: they exist only in his wide imagination.  And the results are amazing on their own terms: play one, without identifying it, for a hot jazz fan, and see what she says; play one for a deeply scholarly hot jazz fan and hear the encomia, because the music is just right, imaginative as well as idiomatically wise.

Here’s an example, evoking Johnny Dunn’s Jazz Hounds:

a splendid visit to Red Hot Chicago:

and a tender creation honoring Bix, Tram, Lang, and their circle, casting admiring side-glances at Benny and Jimmy McP:

finally (for this post) a frolic, Mister Hancock on the vocal chorus:

You can hear more of Colin’s startling magic on his YouTube channel here.  And there’s a brand-new interview of this wondrous trickster here.

Fats Waller would have called Colin “a solid sender” or perhaps “a killer-diller from Manila!” but I think, perhaps more sedately, of Colin as someone who likes to imagine aural parties and then generously invites all to join him.  What gifts!

May your happiness increase!

MONOGAMY, IT’S WONDERFUL: DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOEL FORBES, RICKY MALICHI (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 16, 2017)

As Seger Ellis sang in 1929, “To be in love . . . it’s simply marvelous,” and I think most would concur.  Although there is a long tradition of songs describing heartbreak and sorrow, there are also the songs that praise monogamous devotion.

 

 

Here’s one, performed with an affectionate bounce (it was originally a waltz) by Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Joel Forbes, dtring bass; Ricky Malichi, drums, at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, sadly the last of those wondrous gatherings.

And if you want to jocularly remark that the only boy and the only girl in the world a) hints at post-apocalyptic romance, or b) they would fall in love out of a lack of other amusements, I hope you’ll keep it to yourself and enjoy this swinging performance more than once.

May your happiness increase!

BEYOND METAPHOR, GLORIOUS ART: “WE TWO” (DMITRY BAEVSKY and JEB PATTON)

The New Yorker‘s Whitney Balliett conveyed so much detail and feeling through poetic metaphor.  I’ve always been inspired by his approach, which seems still so much more fresh and open than the usual writing about music.

When this new CD, a duet by alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky and pianist Jeb Patton, called “WE TWO,” arrived, it delighted me, and I tried to write about it in Balliett fashion without success.  Were Jeb and Dmitry puppies chasing each other around the room?  Race-car drivers?  Olympic athletes?  Birds singing in the mist?  Nothing seemed appropriate, so I stopped.

I’m also suspicious of the venerable tradition of comparing living musicians to Ancestors, so I have tried to resist calling name after name, from Dave McKenna and Zoot Sims to Nat Cole and Lester Young to Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins — you get the idea.  Listeners with memories may amuse themselves by “Wow, he sounds like ________ here,” but many musicians would be delighted to find themselves compared to Patton and Baevsky.

Consider this:

To me, that is both reassuringly “old-fashioned” and dazzlingly in the here-and-now.  I played the CD for a friend, who said, musingly, when it was over, “I didn’t know they still made records like this.”  We agreed that it was intimate and tender (EASY TO LOVE and DON’T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYING) and dazzlingly acrobatic (THE SERPENT’S TOOTH) — each track completely satisfying in itself, their arrangement a wonderful work of art.

Through the sometimes dubious marvel of technology, here are two wonders:

and this:

Improvised duet playing requires a surgeon’s skill and a child’s exuberance; I hear Jake Hanna growling, “Pay attention or you’re dead!”  There’s no place to hide; passion and care must go hand in hand.  On this disc, through several playings and replayings, I hear a wondrous marriage of intelligence and feeling: the skill that makes anything Dmitry and Jeb able to be create rewarding realizations in sound, the precision that makes for exactness at any tempo the place from which they start, and the deep emotional range that makes this duo masters of any song they attempt, whether a dreamy ballad or a high-speed slalom.  And they enhance the original melodies rather than discard them.  Spiritually connected, they shine as individuals and we get to hear their wonderful synergy, where 1 + 1 = much more than 3.

You can order an autographed copy of the CD here; if you prefer the digital download, visit here.  And — if the glaciers and polar bears don’t come down the street, you could catch the duo on tour, ending up at Mezzrow on December 7 and 8.  You could buy CDs there, but who could hold out that long?

May your happiness increase!