THE CLASSICS, REFRESHED: EHUD ASHERIE, RANDY REINHART, SCOTT ROBINSON, JOEL FORBES, HAL SMITH (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 17, 2017)

Sometimes, in what’s loosely known as traditional or Mainstream jazz, the band launches into “an old chestnut,” “a good old good one,” and listeners no longer hear the original song, but layers and accretions of conventions, of echoes of past recordings and performances.  Although satisfying, the whole performance may have a slight dustiness to it.

This wasn’t the case when Ehud Asherie, piano; Hal Smith, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and metal clarinet; Randy Reinhart, cornet, performed their set at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, last September 17.  I’ve already posted their magical LADY BE GOOD here — exceedingly satisfying.

They did their magic on three other jazz classics, none of them newer than 1929, but making the music seem fresh and new.  They weren’t museum curators, carefully approaching the venerated antique with awe and cotton swabs; rather, they seem like little boys in the summertime, skinny-dipping in the music, immersing themselves in it, delighting in it.  Life, lived, rather than archaeology.

There are, of course, humorous and loving nods to the past: Ehud’s Tatum; the tempo chosen for WILD MAN BLUES which makes me think of Henry “Red” Allen on THE SOUND OF JAZZ; the Hawkins riff which shapes the last choruses of TEA FOR TWO.  But the music itself seems so lively that I thank each and every one of them.

Look out for the WILD MAN!

Have some TEA?

Inhale that floral bouquet, if you will:

May your happiness increase!

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“THE SAVORY COLLECTION 1935-1940” (Mosaic Records MD6-266, 6 discs)

Along with many of the faithful, I have been waiting and hoping since 2010 that this set would become a reality. When it arrived, I turned immediately to the fifth disc — one of a pair containing thirty-nine live performances by the Count Basie band from May 1938 to February 1940, and I was open-mouthed and astonished three minutes into the first performance (one of four particularly extravagant frolics from the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing) — music that I thought I would never have the good fortune to hear.

Mosaic Records box sets usually have a similar effect on me, but this one is — as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says — “beyond the beyonds.”  And, as a point of information, the box set contains substantially more music than was released through iTunes downloads.

You can learn more and hear something Savory here.

This set is more than a dream come true: it feels like a whole freight train of them.  In a postscript below, I’ve copied Loren Schoenberg’s list of the enlightened and generous people who this set possible.  Full disclosures: one, I was asked to write a few hundred words for this set, and thus one of my dreams came true, and two, I bought mine — with my allowance.

A Savory Disc

I will write primarily about the Basie cornucopia, but it is true for the set.

Many listeners forget the distinction between music created and captured in a recording studio and the sounds played “live.”  Many of the performances in the Mosaic box explode with happy ebullience.  Some of that is the freedom to play without being stopped at three minutes and twenty seconds (I hear John Hammond’s voice saying “Too long, Basie!” at the end of a take that could not be issued at the time) — in fact, the freedom to play without any recording supervisor (Hammond, Oberstein, Stephens, Hanighen) or their disapproving presence (Jack Kapp’s wooden Indian) in the room: the freedom to make a mistake and convert it into something remarkable by proceeding on.  Often, the recording studio is all we have or will ever have, but its stated and unstated restrictions can make for a chilly environment.

Some of the joy comes from playing from dancers — the radio airshots from the Randall’s Island festival are particularly frolicsome.  And we can’t discount the freedom to have a drink or something to inhale.

On the Basie sides, so much is both new and reassuring.  Lester Young, Dicky Wells, and Jo Jones sound like schoolboys who’ve been told the school has burned down.  Herschel Evans, so passionate, is in wonderful form (here and elsewhere in the set).  I can’t leave out Bennie Morton and Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, a particularly eloquent Jimmy Rushing, and Helen Humes’ most tender singing the lyrics to BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL.

I hear the arrangements anew — often, the Basie band is perceived as a springboard for soloists, and there’s much justification for that — but these airshots make it possible to hear the sections as if for the first time.  (Also, it’s evident how the arrangements become more complex.)  And the rhythm section!  Before hearing these recordings, I didn’t take in that Jo Jones was still playing temple blocks in mid-1938, and it’s a common assumption that Freddie Green and Walter Page were going along in a serious 4/4, four quarter notes to the bar, but their work is full of wonderful variations, accented notes and syncopations.  Even when a soloist closely follows the version created in the recording studio (some audience members wanted to “hear it the way it was on the record”) everything sounds joyous and free.

And since Bill Savory had professional equipment and the discs were splendidly restored by Doug Pomeroy, overall the recording quality is superb — far from the airshots we know recorded by a fan in the living room holding a microphone to the radio speaker to funnel sounds onto his Recordio disc.  The sound is not only clear — one hears details and the gentle enthusiasm of the audience — but large.  I can’t explain what “hearing the sound of the room” actually means, but there is a spaciousness that is delightful.

The new repertoire — not just Basie — is also a treat, as if we had been offered an audio equivalent to Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK . . . Basie performing RUSSIAN LULLABY (with Jimmy singing), ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, ROSETTA, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, and BUGLE CALL RAG.

To the other gems, some of which have already been well publicized:  Coleman Hawkins’ six-minute rhapsody on BODY AND SOUL; Fats Waller at the Yacht Club — so revealing of what he was like as pianist, singer, personality, and entertainer — with dance medleys of songs by J.Fred Coots (a close friend) and Sammy Fain; windows into his world that the Victor sides never provide.  Five minutes of young Ella; the Martin Block Jam session with the painfully lovely STARDUST featuring an ailing Herschel Evans; another Block session featuring Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Zutty Singleton, Charlie and Jack Teagarden, and Fats; Mildred Bailey singing TRUCKIN’ with the verse; Leo Watson taking on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the John Kirby Sextet and JEEPERS CREEPERS with Johnny Mercer; pearly Bobby Hackett, more from Joe and Marty Marsala, who didn’t get to record enough; Stuff Smith; Ben Webster, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Albert Ammons, Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, Ernie and Emilio Caceres, Roy Eldridge, Stew Pletcher, Ram Ramirez, Red Norvo, Teddy Bunn, Kenneth Hollon, Vernon Brown, Milt Hinton; Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Cozy Cole, Buster Bailey, Joe Thomas, George Wettling, Ed Hall, Carmen Mastren (with several long solos!), Jonah Jones, new music from the here-and-gone Teddy Wilson big band, the wondrous Benny Carter ensemble, and Glenn Miller; a set of four solo piano improvisations by Joe Sullivan, one of them ten minutes long — a true picture of the artist as a barrelhouse Joyce, wandering brilliantly.  And I am sure I’ve left someone out.

These six CDs are the Arabian Nights of swing, documents of a time and place where magic came out of your radio all the time.

I think it is obvious that I am urging listeners to purchase this set while they can.  But I must modulate to another key — that is, to quietly comment on the culture of entitlement, which, sadly, also infects people who love this music.  When some of the Savory material was issued on iTunes, some complained, “I don’t do downloads.” Now that it is all — plus more music — available on CD, I’ve heard some whinge, and yes, that is the right word, that they don’t want to buy this box set for various reasons.  Some think, incorrectly, that the six discs of the box have only what was released on iTunes, which is incorrect.  Check the Mosaic discography.

I’ve even heard people being petulant, “Why doesn’t this set include X or Y?” not understanding that the artists’ estates were paid for the music — think of that! a legitimate reissue! — and that some estates wanted extravagant reimbursement.

Consider what this set offers — rarities never even dreamed of — and do some simple math, how much each prized track costs the purchaser.  And, on another level, what you would pay to keep Mosaic Records afloat.  I know that, say, ten years ago, if you’d told me I could have thirty-nine new Basie performances for slightly more than a hundred dollars, I would have leaped at the opportunity, and I am no plutocrat.  Of course, one is free to ruminate and grumble . . . but this is a limited edition of 5000 sets.  Expect to see Savory boxes on eBay for $500 in a few months.  You’ve been warned.

And, by the way, visit here.

Loren’s thank-you note!

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s The Savory Collection Mosaic CD set has been issued after many years of planning. Many people were a part of the team who made it possible. Let’s start with Sonny McGown, who led me to the late Gene Savory, Bill’s son. Jonathan S. Scheuer, long-time board member of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, purchased the collection and donated it to the museum. Frank Rich helped spread the word, as did Ken Burns, and within a few months, the Savory story graced the front page of the NYTimes. Fellow board member and attorney Daryl Libow stepped right in to handle all the myriad legal challenges. Doug Pomeroy rescued all that was salvageable from the discs. Dr. Susan Schmidt-Horning had interviewed and written about Bill and gave us lots of help from the academic/acoustic realms. Garrett Shelton was invaluable at iTunes for the initial releases, as was Ken Druker and the production team he assembled to make all of that happen. Samantha Samuels created first-class promo videos for us, and then Scott Wenzel, to whom the jazz world owes a huge debt for his unflagging production of the Mosaic catalogue (along with the rest of the Mosaic team, read: Michael Cuscuna and Fred Pustay) hopped back aboard to bring this collection to fruition; he had been there at the git-go, joining me and Kevin Cerovich in Malta, Ill., to catalogue and drive the discs to NYC.

The album is graced by essays of some of the finest writers out here, starting with Dan Morgenstern and Ricky Riccardi, Tom Piazza, David Fletcher, Michael Steinman, Vincent Pelote, Anthony Barnett, James Carter, Ethan Iverson, and Kenny Washington.

And none of the music would have been issuable without the cooperation of the artist’s estates, and the dedication of the board and staff of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem.  So it’s been a long haul, well worth the wait; here’s hoping Bill Savory would be pleased.

May your happiness increase!

TRIUMPHANT! (Part One) THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the SCOTT JOPLIN INTERNATIONAL RAGTIME FESTIVAL in SEDALIA, MISSOURI (May 31-June 2, 2018): BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN, STEVE PIKAL

For me, one great thrill is being there for the birth of a band, fierce and subtle.  The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet is just such a memorable band, co-led by Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums, with Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet and vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and vocal.

I didn’t get to see them at the Durango Ragtime Festival in 2017, but I delighted in Judy Muldawer’s YouTube videos.  I followed them to Nashville that summer, and did the same for the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival just a few days ago. I’m still vibrating with happiness — not a new disorder I have to tell my neurologist about.

The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Nashville, Summer 2017: From left, Marc Caparone, Steve Pikal, Danny Coots, Evan Arntzen, Brian Holland. Photograph by Amy Holland.

So, here is the band’s first set of that festival: outdoors, before noon, making remarkable music.  You don’t need to know more.

MAPLE LEAF RAG:

YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM (frankly, a highlight of my year: see if you agree):

KANSAS CITY STOMPS:

DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN:

I intentionally left out a few details when I wrote above, “You don’t need to know more.”

You just might.  One is that the band’s debut CD, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, a tribute to Fats Waller and his musical associations, has been pleasing listeners for some time now.  You can get your copy here.  And to experience this band in person — you can see the joyous energy they generate — come to the Evergreen Jazz Festival — which will happen in Colorado on July 27-28-29.  I’ll be there, and there’s room for you as well.

In the interim, share this music with friends, with strangers you feel kindly to, relatives, concert and festival promoters . . . you can extend this list at your leisure.  Brighten the corner, guided by these five most excellent sages.

May your happiness increase!  

GENTLY, THERE: TWO RHYTHM BALLADS BY MAX KEENLYSIDE (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, May 31-June 2, 2018)

I don’t know what you were doing in 1991, but the young man pictured above — Canadian pianist / composer Max Keenlyside — was busy being born, which makes his remarkable talent even more remarkable.  I had the good fortune and immense pleasure of meeting and hearing Max for the first time at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, just a few days ago, and you’ll hear why I am impressed.  Here you can learn more about Max.

What struck me immediately about Max was his gracious balance of technique and taste.  He can play with incredible dexterity and skill — as fast as you could want, never faltering — but he has something much rarer, which is the understanding that quiet music, sweet sounds usually reach far deeper into our souls than do pyrotechnics.  So I bring Max to you as a subtle wooer, a creator of inviting worlds of sound — specifically, his performances of two “rhythm ballads.” That’s an archaic term, and I don’t know who coined it, but it comes from the Thirties, where musicians played a tender song and made sure to send the emotions to the listeners, but kept a danceable pulse going all the time.

A few words about the music.  IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, is one of my favorite songs, and I wrote about it here.  I invite you to read that post — skip my prose if you’re in a hurry — but listen to Cliff Edwards and Dick McDonough, performing not only the chorus but the verse. But for now, Max, gently proceeding through the song, with a few nods to T. Waller, honoring the melody with delight and amusement:

I’LL FOLLOW YOU, by Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert, might be known to piano scholars and Commodore Records devotees through the 1939 recording by Willie “the Lion” Smith, but I first fell in love with the song through Bing Crosby’s version when it was a new pop hit.

Here’s Max. What could be nicer than the affectionate words about his mother?

The artist Aubrey Beardsley is supposed to have told the young W.B. Yeats, “Beauty is so very difficult,” and we must imagine all the possible tones of voice those words could have been said in — but young Max already knows a great deal about making beauty alive and accessible to anyone with ears and emotions.

May your happiness increase!

“HIS GIRLFRIEND’S UNDER-SLIP”

Exhibit A:

The eBay seller reports:

Louis Armstrong performed in Ludington, Michigan on July 24, 1962. My husband and then girlfriend went to the concert. Satchmo signed my husband’s hanky and his girlfriend’s under-slip. The hanky has never been washed and is a bit yellowed as you can see. Newspaper article is included as proof.

Here is the link: ten  bids so far.

What I want to know is what became of the “then girlfriend” and the young man whose handkerchief it was.  And is the seller now his widow?  A short story, barely submerged, exists.

Where’s the under-slip?  I have the mental picture of Louis autographing that.

And for the Corrections Officials: no, it’s not one of Louis’ handkerchiefs.  But it is as close as we have gotten so far.  The signature looks authentic, and the green pen adds seriousness to the enterprise.

May your happiness increase!

THEY KEEP ROLLING ON: ANDREW OLIVER and DAVID HORNIBLOW PLAY MORTON

The Complete Morton Project “never fails to satisfy,” as they used to say: they are (or “it is”) Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, reeds.  You can read more here.

We begin with LOW GRAVY, the tail end of an expression common in the early part of the last century.  Hard to explain, but if you vanquished an opponent (another person or band) you might have “cut him down to a low gravy,” which in its own oblique way is self-explanatory.  Nothing remained of the challenger except a few spoonfuls at the bottom of the saucepan, I presume.  But the composition is more than that:

STATE AND MADISON was the busiest intersection in Chicago.  Courtesy of WTTW, see representations of that street scene from 1936 to 1918 here.

And the soundtrack:

The irresistible JAZZ JUBILEE — never recorded by Morton — sweeps us along:

Finally (for this week’s offering) HARMONY BLUES, which has brief echoes of other Morton pieces but is a seductive theme on its own.

I thought, hearing it for the first time, that it would also be captivating scored for a small string ensemble:

May your happiness increase!

A MAGIC TEMPO: EHUD ASHERIE, HAL SMITH, JOEL FORBES, SCOTT ROBINSON, RANDY REINHART (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 17, 2017)

One of the most durable songs in the jazz and pop repertoire, from its introduction in 1924, OH, LADY BE GOOD has always been performed at a rather brisk tempo.  Here’s an early dance band version:

and many jazz musicians took their cue from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Inc. version. But Basie and others knew that too fast is never good, that the sprinters can wear themselves out.  So I take special pleasure in this groovy performance from the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (alas, now a memory) by Ehud Asherie, piano; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Hal Smith, drums; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Joel Forbes, string bass.

Whether the Lady behaved herself in response to this entreaty, I cannot say.  But making the request at this tempo was a real pleasure.

May your happiness increase!