Category Archives: Wow!

“AMERICA’S LEADING COLORED THEATRE 125th ST. near 8th Ave. — Tel. UNiversity 4-4490”

If you know jazz and popular music, and something about that part of New York City called Harlem, then you must know about the Apollo Theatre.  And here are some lovely relics from it.

Here is the eBay link for one of these holy artifacts from 1938, 1942, and 1946.  (You can find the other two with a click or two.)  Wondrous pieces of paper that delineate a world of music so delicious it’s hard to imagine now.  I’ve provided somewhat of an idiosyncratic soundtrack of artists who have appeared at the Apollo.

But here’s the evidence, first from 1938:






and 1946:

If you can read these pieces of paper without wishing, “Goodness, why wasn’t I born then?” you are operating on a different level of sentimentality and emotion. But for the rest of us, these are doors into wonderful universes.

May your happiness increase!



The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet in Sedalia, Missouri, in 2018.

The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet performed eight sets at the 2019 Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado, and I — a fervent convert — was in attendance for all of them.  They are Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; special guest for that weekend John Otto, clarinet; Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass.

At the end of one set, early in the Festival, I heard a woman’s enthusiastic voice from behind me, “This band can do EVERYTHING!” and before I could turn around sufficiently, she was gone.  Dear lady, wherever you are, I salute you on your insight.

First, AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, written and recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band — so perhaps one of those compositions we could call “Dixieland” without fear of rebuke:

and here in 2919:

Later that same day, something very pretty, and you don’t have to repair a thing, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE (by Danny’s great-uncle and great uncle, J. Fred Coots):

and a nice easy Forties JUST YOU, JUST ME:

Versatile indeed.

May your happiness increase!


Find your Capezios, please.  JAZZ LIVES will wait.

Hal Smith’s “On the Levee Jazz Band” is delightfully subversive in its own way.

Its members are formally dressed in the way that jazz musicians used to be (Coleman Hawkins would never have gone to a gig or a recording session in a tight blue polo shirt with a band name on the left pectoral).  They are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory (which, to some, might paint them as an old-fashioned New Orleans jazz repertory ensemble).  Thus, they can seem scholarly rather than rambunctious (Hal, aside from being one of the half-dozen best jazz drummers, is a scholar of the music who can tell you what the band name means, to take just one example).

BUT.  Let us not be fooled by surfaces.

OTL, as I occasionally call them, is one of the best small swing units now playing.  They don’t copy old records; their music is uplifting dance music, and swing dancers have a wonderful time with it.  The band rocks; they are informal but expert; their solos soar and their ensembles groove.

Their secret, which no one whispers aloud, is that they are closer to a Buck Clayton Jam Session than to a Bill Russell American Music shellac disc.  And in this they are true to the source: Ory kept up with the times; he loved to swing, and he loved to create music for dancing.  But you need not take my word for it.

I captured three of the band’s sets at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and this one is particularly dear to my heart because it is music for swing dancers.  In 1959, more or less, the Kid and trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen, old pals from New Orleans, made recordings and gave European concerts which drew on a swing repertoire somewhat looser than the stereotype.  Not “Dixieland” or “trad” in their essence, these records captured a particular musical ambiance where disparate personalities were free to roam.  The Verve records were particular pleasures of my adolescence, so to hear Hal and the OTL play those swinging songs was a joy, not only for me, but for the dancers.

I should point out here that the band at Evergeen was made up of Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; guest star Clint Baker, trombone, vocal; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader.  American Popular Songbook, too — two Gershwins, two Wallers!  (But — just between us — these are very familiar tunes which have been overdone in less subtle hands.  Hear how the OTL makes them soar, with what easy lilting motion.)

And here’s a nod to Bill Basie and the golden days, LADY BE GOOD:

The Fats classic, done at a nice tempo, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Yes, I GOT RHYTHM, played au naturel, at a sweet Thirties bounce:

and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, again, made new by a splendid tempo:

This music transcends categories.  And as such, it is transcendent.

May your happiness increase!


I am a dinosaur, and I wear my ancient tastes proudly. (The roots and berries are succulent this time of year, as well.) So if you were to ask me about contemporary big jazz orchestras, I might look embarrassed, because for me the height of that art form was perhaps Basie at the Famous Door, 1938, and Ellington, 1940. Perhaps I overstate, but you get the idea. (I make several exceptions, but won’t list them here because anyone I omit might feel slighted.)

This morning, I received an email, a very gracious one, from saxophonist-composer Shan Baker, and I thought, “How very gently she handles words and ideas; it’s a shame I will have to turn her down, or is it away?”

Here’s the email, first:

Dear Mr.Steinman,

I came across your great jazz blog several months ago. First of all, thank you for your great writing, posts and all that you do for jazz music!
I am a professional composer/musician that co-leads a very original 20-member NYC-based jazz orchestra called the Erica Seguine & Shan Baker Jazz Orchestra. We have been performing in NYC since 2011 and both write all of the music for it. Along with composing, Erica conducts the ensemble and I play saxophones in it.

Our ensemble was recently included in a NY Times article about the big band revival. In addition, Erica has won many awards as a composer, including the 2013 Charlie Parker/2014 Manny Albam Commission from BMI, ASCAP Foundation Herb Albert Young Jazz Composer Awards (including the 2014 Johnny Mandel Prize), and others. We are both past students of the great Jim McNeely.

It has been a long time coming, but we are finally getting ready to create our debut album and will be recording at Oktaven Studios in Mt. Vernon, NY. This album, of course, is necessary in order to take our ensemble and our careers as composers to the next level.

We have composer and bandleader Darcy James Argue on board as our producer. Grammy-winning recording engineer Brian Montgomery will also be joining us in the studio. He has worked with artists such as Esperanza Spalding, and the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra.

We have launched a GoFundMe to raise money to fund the album and are offering rewards to backers. We are offering everything from digital downloads, CDs, and music scores to executive producer credits and the opportunity to join us in the studio while we record. We estimate the costs on the low end will be around $25,000 dollars. While we have a lot of support from friends and fellow musicians, but we have been unable to reach enough people. So far we have only raised just under $3000.

I was wondering if you might be able to help us in any way.
If you happen to like our project, would you perhaps be able to spread the word?

Here is a link to our fundraiser, where you can watch a video and learn more about us:

Here is Erica’s youtube channel – you can watch some live performances of our orchestra there:

Our facebook page:

Our website:

Thank you so much for taking the time to read all of this!
Please let me know if you have any ideas or advice.

Thanks again for all you do for this music!


Shan Baker
Composer/Soprano & Alto Saxophonist

Gracefully done, don’t you think?  I was prepared to say, “I’m sorry, but no.”  But being devoted to fairness, I went to the YouTube video, which I reproduce below:

I started out skeptically, but that music is beautifully played and it has a strong emotional sweep to it.  By the time I got to the closing vocal (I believe the singer is Sonia Szajnberg), I thought, “I want to hear more of this music.  I can and should send this out to your world: even if people step back because no one is playing ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, this music deserves to be heard and supported.”  Then, I went to Erica’s “compositional video,” and again thought, “This is candid genuine music.”  Hear for yourself:

and this beauty (please be sure to read the eloquent description as well):

The idea of using JAZZ LIVES as a fundraising platform for artists makes me wary — in the past, if I’ve supported X, then Y and Z have been vaguely sullen because I didn’t / wouldn’t do the same in their case.  But I encourage you to help this jazz orchestra make its CD.  And if you can’t, at least spread the word.  This seems a truly worthy enterprise, and I wouldn’t have written this post if I felt otherwise.  Now, I must take a nap in the sun with my pack, so you’ll excuse me . . .

Be sure to wake me for the next ESSB Jazz Orchestra gig, though.

May your happiness increase!


Larry McKenna got to the gig early, as did I and many others who knew what gorgeous music we were about to hear, created right in front of us.  He and Sam Taylor, both on tenor saxophone; Steve Ash, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums, made castles of sound for us — two sets’ worth.  And for those who live by clocks and calendars, Larry turned 82 on July 21, 2019.  He’s not “spry”: he is in full flower right now.  Consider the blossoming evidence of the first set at Smalls here.

Before the gig. Photograph by Melissa Gilstrap.

(Incidentally, Larry and Danny Tobias have a little concert date on Sunday, September 21, at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey — details here.)

Now, for the second set at Smalls — beautiful playing by everyone!

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE (as they used to say, “from the movie of the same name):

The lovely THERE’S NO YOU (hear a delighted woman in the audience say, “Oh, yeah!” once the melody registers):

The durable swing standard ROSETTA, which gives Sam a very touching opportunity to tell about his early and sustained connection with Larry:

MORE THAN YOU KNOW, a feature for Sam:

And to close, another song associated with Earl Hines [and Louis Armstrong and Lester Young!] its title a sweet reminder of the bonds we forge, YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

The sounds of this evening were completely gratifying, but what got to me — and you can see it in the videos — were the smiles on the musicians’ faces (echoed on the faces of people near me), expressions of  gratitude, joy, and pride — what an honor it was to be there and, to hear the artistry, to feel the delight.  How rare, how wonderful.

May your happiness increase!


Some ensembles need many people to make a statement: Jacob Zimmerman, Cole Schuster, and Matt Weiner (reeds, guitar, string bass) create memorable vignettes in a small space: it’s a band that could travel comfortably in a subcompact car.  They have a new CD coming out, and Jacob has posted two selections recorded last month — what ease and grace, what quiet impact.

Jacob wrote of the first selection, LANTERN OF LOVE (a 1925 tune),
A few weeks back my trio that plays Tuesdays at IL Bistro got together to rehearse some of the fancier arrangements I’ve written. I first heard this song on a Roger Wolfe Kahn record. I love the elegance of this melody. I tried to channel the spirit of the Jean Goldkette orchestra and feature Matt Weiner playing his version of Steve Brown style slap and arco bass playing.

and here’s the more familiar THE SONG IS ENDED — a remarkable treatment of a lovely Berlin melody which makes me think of Ruby Braff at the start and then segues into what I think of as 1945 Jamboree Records swing, up on the aesthetic mountaintop in less than four minutes (I kept waiting for Joe Thomas to appear and take the bridge):

I don’t see a trip to Seattle soon (although anything is possible) but I believe I will see Jacob again as part of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet at the San Diego Jazz Fest and Swing Extravaganza in November, and I certainly look forward to that new CD!

May your happiness increase!


Refreshing evocations of Thirties New York City and of late-Twenties Chicago, with cooling iced tea to spare, at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California, captured for us by RaeAnn Berry on July 19, 2019.

Cafe Borrone from the outside.

The joyous creators are Clint Baker, clarinet and vocal; Robert Young, alto saxophone and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Riley Baker, string bass; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Jessica King, washboard and vocal.

IF I WERE YOU would have been a fairly obscure 1938 song by Buddy Bernier and Robert D. Emmerich had it not been recorded by Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson (with Nan Wynn) and Hot Lips Page — more recently, by Rebecca Kilgore and Dawn Lambeth.  Bernier is not especially famous as a composer, although he wrote THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, but he adapted melodies from other cultures — POINCIANA and OUR LOVE perhaps the most famous, so he is responsible for rewarding pop music.  Emmerich’s lyrics are sly, clever, another example of the Brill Building genius of making memorable songs from common phrases.

Jessica sings it with sweet understated conviction, supported in the best Fifty-Second Street tradition by Clint, Jeff, and Riley (without the dark haze of smoke and the taste of watered drinks that I am told were characteristics of Swing Street):

SWEET SUE, JUST YOU moves us back a decade and east to Chicago’s South Side, with Robert Young and Bill Reinhart added — Noone, Poston, and a vocal duet.  What could be sweeter?  Victor Young just texted me to say he approves:

California dreamin’ isn’t the property of the Beach Boys, I assure you.  If you can get to Cafe Borrone while Clint and friends are playing and singing, you will drive home with a smile.

May your happiness increase!