MR. WILBER, THE SAGE

Days gone by: December 1946, Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Johnny Glasel, Charlie Trager, Eddie Phyfe. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

Robert Sage Wilber, born in 1928, who never played an ugly or graceless note in his life, has left us.  I first heard him on recordings more than fifty years ago, and saw him in person first in 1970 with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band.  He was a magnificently consistent player — his time, his intonation, his creativity, his vital force, his melodic lyricism — and one of the world’s most versatile.  He didn’t care to be “innovative” in the best modern way, but kept refining his art, the art of Louis and Bechet and Teddy Wilson, every time he played.

People who didn’t quite understand his masteries (the plural is intentional) thought of him as derivative, whatever that means, but even when he was playing SONG OF SONGS in the Bechet manner or WARM VALLEY for the Rabbit, he was recognizably himself: passionate and exact at the same time, a model of how to do it.  And if you appreciate the jazz lineage, a man who performed with Baby Dodds, Tommy Benford, Kaiser Marshall, Joe Thomas, Sidney Catlett, Billy Strayhorn, Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Cliff Leeman . . . so deeply connected to the past while remaining fiercely active, has moved to another neighborhood.  I send my condolences to his wife, the singer Pug Horton, and his family.

I was extremely fortunate to cross paths with Bob — not only as an admiring spectator of Soprano Summit, where he and Kenny Davern were equally matched — but as an admiring jazz journalist and videographer.  He was not worried about what I captured: he was confident in himself and he trusted that the music would carry him.  Here are some glimpses of the Sage in action, in music and in speech.

Rare photographs and music from 1947 here.

A session with David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band (2010) and Daryl Sherman here.

Two parts of an intimate session at Smalls in 2012 with Ehud Asherie and Pug Horton as well here and here.

And a particular prize: a two-part 2015 interview session (thanks to Pug!) here and here.

More than a decade ago, when I began this blog, I worked hard to keep away from the temptations of necrology — my joke is that I didn’t want it to be JAZZ DIES — but if I didn’t write and post something about Robert Sage Wilber, I’d never forgive myself.  We will keep on admiring and missing him as long as there is music.

May your happiness increase!  

Advertisements

YOUNGBLOODS FOR LOUIS: GUILLERMO PERATA, FERNANDO MONTARDIT, JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, NEAL MINER at THE EAR INN (August 4, 2019)

A piece of paper says that Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, instead of the July 4, 1900, he always claimed.  In this, I take the testimony of his mother, who called him her “firecracker baby,” as prime.  And I will argue this point until no more copies of WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD can be found.  Of course, he deserves every birthday celebration one can imagine, ideally 365 of them every year. 

But just yesterday, at the Ear Inn, on 326 Spring Street, there was a little celebration in the proper spirit.  Louis loved the South — which he would have defined as his native Louisiana — but he would have been very happy to greet two musicians from that region, more or less (Mexico City and Buenos Aires): cornetist Guillermo Perata and guitarist Fernando Montardit, who sat in with the EarRegulars — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, reeds and F-trumpet, and Neal Miner, string bass — on a properly celebratory SWING THAT MUSIC.  And they all do:

Louis smiles his approval.  I hope you do, also.

May your happiness increase!

“A BUSKING BAND”: TUBA SKINNY in FRANCE, THANKS TO CHRIS AND CHRIS (July 25 and 28, 2019)

Here’s CHRIS and CHRIS.

Many people who visit JAZZ LIVES have been fervent in their love for Tuba Skinny and their entreaties that I go and video them.  The latter hasn’t been possible (if some wealthy patron wants to sponsor such a junket, let me know) but through the goodness of “Chris and Chris,” who are always impeccably dressed and sweet-natured, I can offer readers a heaping bowlful of what they ask for.

And here’s annotation from Chris (the fellow to the right):

After a sweltering hot sunny day, Thursday July 25th, dark clouds started rolling in from the Bay of Biscay bringing gusty winds, fine rain and thunder to the later sets. This weather change did not stop the good times at Restaurant L’Etoile de Mer, a haven for connoisseurs of the finest sea food and great ambiance. Manager Emma Lahaye with her team had set a table fit for Kings and Queens, to welcome Tuba Skinny, the New Orleanians, who would electrify this cosy jazz club, adding extra spice with their hot music.
Sitting in a very tight side position, the 1st set was captured in one-go with a hand-held HandyCam, HDR-XR520, in FH quality mode.
Touring France July 2019, Tuba Skinny graced this pleasant sea-side resort of Anglet, just north of Biarritz for a one-night stop-over, before heading for Andernos-les-Bains. Happy to post this footage of the complete 1st set, unedited. Enjoy! Buying two sets of their CD recordings was just a small token of our appreciation, nothing compared to all the great work Tuba Skinny does shower us with. Shaye Cohn, leader, cornet; Craig Flory, clarinet; Barnabus Jones, trombone; Erika Lewis, drums, vocals; Max Bien Kahn, guitar; Jason Lawrence, banjo; Todd Burdick, sousaphone.

and the second set:

and more:

and, if that isn’t enough, here’s another triple helping from July 28, again nicely annotated by Chris:

A spokesman from The Andernos Jazz Festival 2019 stepped forward to give a short presentation of the band, describing to the audience what it is like in New Orleans, French Quarter, when Tuba Skinny plays in Royal Street, with people passing by, dancing, sometimes sitting in. A little tip is expected to land in the guitar case as a token of gratitude.
Just before noon this sunny hot Sunday, the band members gathered on Place du 14 Juillet, Andernos-les-Bains, France, July 28th, 2019, and an expectant audience congregated, eagerly awaiting. Tuba Skinny here returns to their roots, a busking band without amplifiers or microphones. Standing in a somewhat lateral position, videographing the full set in one-go was a pleasure. The music starts at 3:10.
Touring France July 2019, Tuba Skinny graced this little pleasant sea-side resort of Andernos-les-Bains on the famous Arcachon Bay west of Bordeaux with a three-day stop-over, before heading to Paris and their last performance.

and

and

At the YouTube channel called CANDCJ, you will find many more hours of jazz in live performance, in fine video quality, and Skinniness in profusion.  As the waitperson says when she sets down my entree, “Enjoy.”
May your happiness increase!

FLYING, GLIDING: THE JACOB ZIMMERMAN 3: JACOB ZIMMERMAN, COLE SCHUSTER, MATT WEINER (July 2019)

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!

MELLOW IN MENLO PARK: CLINT BAKER, JESSICA KING, BILL REINHART, ROBERT YOUNG, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON (July 19, 2019)

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!

FOR CHARLIE, BY CHARLIE (PART TWO): LITTLE CHARLIE BATY, JAMEY CUMMINS, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE, DAN WALTON, SAM ROCHA, JEFF HAMILTON, DAWN LAMBETH (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

From this distance, it feels as if Charlie Christian (July 29, 1916 – March 2, 1942) was an extra-terrestrial phenomenon, some entity that touched down so briefly on this planet, played a great deal of music — some of it, thank the Goddess, recorded — and then said he had to visit another neighborhood and we should study what he had given us.  Charlie feels more like a beam of light reflected through a spinning prism than an actual mortal, although we have stories of him at the back of the band bus, singing Lester Young solos.  And I suspect that what the doctors at the sanitarium on Staten Island, New York, wrote down as “tuberculosis” on his chart was an inter-galactic summons to another place that needed his particular blaze of joyous enlightenment.

He wasn’t the first to play jazz on the electric guitar (check out George Barnes, Eddie Durham, Floyd Smith, and others) but what he did was completely fresh then and remains so: the looping lines, the rhythmic attack both fierce and subtle, the harmonic suggestions, the incisive swing.  We celebrate him!

Charlie Christian as a member of Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, Waldorf-Astoria, New York City, September 1939. Thanks to Nick Rossi for the photograph.

This most recent celebration took place at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 11, 2019, and the brilliant players are Little Charlie Baty (right) and Jamey Cummins, guitars; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Sam Rocha, string bass; Dan Walton, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet; Dawn Lambeth, vocal.  Here are the first four performances: FLYING HOME, ROSE ROOM, BENNY’S BUGLE, and STAR DUST.

And the second half, beginning with SEVEN COME ELEVEN:

Dawn Lambeth stops by to sing I’M CONFESSIN’:

and the splendid 1931 I SURRENDER, DEAR:

Something Middle Eastern that isn’t hummus? Perhaps THE SHEIK OF ARABY:

And the closing swing delight, WHOLLY CATS, which I always think should have an exclamation point at its close:

Incidentally, it’s easy to be distracted by the gleaming sounds of the “two guitar heroes,” Little Charlie and Jamey, but I would direct or re-direct your attention to that glorious rhythm section of Dan Walton, Sam Rocha, and Jeff Hamilton; the sweet song of Dawn Lambeth; the wonderful improvisations of Jacob Zimmerman and Marc Caparone, whose idea this set was.

Make plans to visit the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 7-10, 2020 — thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen and their wonderful musical friends.

And for more about Charlie, from a different angle, here is Mel Powell’s recollections of the young man.  And a memory of Benny Goodman as well.

May your happiness increase! 

SOUP AND EARS FROM COLORADO (July 26, 2019)

A family-member-by-marriage, now removed, in childhood, used to refer to the trinkets from a trip as SOUP AND EARS.

It’s stuck in my mind as a charming locution, and the answer to the question, “Hey, what’d you bring us from the Evergreen Jazz Festival?”  Never fear, dear readers.  No photographs of double rainbows, and I saw no elk, but there was glorious music.

Here are the first three performances from the first set I saw, which should give you a good idea of the intense pleasures to be found there.  The group, a favorite, is the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, with Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet / vocal; Steve Pikal, string bass; John Otto (for this weekend) clarinet.

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

SHINE:

Incidentally, if you think that SHINE is a “racist” song, its authors were African-American and the song is an assertion of race pride in the face of prejudices.  Read this, please.

and ALL BY MYSELF:

Those of you who know that Danny’s father was a minister won’t be surprised that Danny takes the microphone between songs to share a moral moment, a little homily: worth your attention:

There’s much more good music to come.

May your happiness increase!