IN SPRING, ON SPRING, THEY SWING: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, JOE COHN, NEAL MINER (The Ear Out, May 16, 2021)

We all may have reasons for thinking the spring of 2021 particularly memorable — I know I do.

Home of delightful vibrations!

But I will also think of it as the season of The Ear Out, a frankly miraculous series of Sunday-afternoon soirees (or revival meetings?) with the EarRegulars preaching the mellow sermon whose text, “Isn’t it glorious to be alive and breathing?”

Do I overstate? I think not. Here’s some secular-sacred evidence from Sunday, May 16, 2021, laid down by Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Joe Cohn, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass — the venerable chapter being SOME OF THESE DAYS:

That feels good. Bless this foursome, and thank them, too — and all the other memorable EarRegulars.

May your happiness increase!

NOT A CLOUD IN SIGHT: “SILVER LININGS,” by DANNY TOBIAS, with SCOTT ROBINSON, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOE PLOWMAN, and KEVIN DORN (Ride Symbol Records)

Roswell Rudd said, “You play your personality,” and in the case of Danny Tobias, that is happily true. Watch him off the stand: he’s witty, insightful, but down-to-earth, someone choosing to spread love and have a good time. And when he picks up the horn (cornet, trumpet, Eb alto horn) that same hopeful sunniness comes through. He can play a dark sad ballad with tender depths, but essentially he is devoted to making music that reminds us that joy is everywhere if you know how to look for it.

Photograph by Lynn Redmile.

Danny’s a great lyrical soloist but he really understands what community is all about — making connections among his musical families. So his performances are never just a string of solos: he creates bands of brothers and sisters whenever he sits (or stands) to play. His jazz is friendly, and it’s honest: in the great tradition, he honors the song rather than abstracting the harmonies — he loves melodies and he’s a master at embellishing them. When I first heard him, in 2005 at The Cajun, I told him that he reminded me of Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, and he understood the compliment.

But enough words. How about some 1939 Basie and Lester, made fresh and new for us — with a little spiritual exhortation in the middle:

Now, that’s lovely. And it comes from Danny’s brand-new CD with his and my heroes, named above. My admiration for Danny and friends is such that when I heard about this project, I asked — no, I insisted — to write the notes:

What makes the music we love so – whatever name it’s going by today – so essential, so endearing?  It feels real.  It’s a caress or a guffaw, or both at once; a big hug or a tender whisper; a naughty joke or a prayer.  The music that touches our hearts respects melody but is not afraid of messing around with it; it always has a rhythmic pulse; it’s a giant conversation where everyone’s voice is heard.  And it’s honest: you can tell as soon as you hear eight bars whether the players are living the song or they are play-acting.  If you haven’t guessed, SILVER LININGS is a precious example of all these things. 

I’ve been following all of these musicians (except for the wonderful addition to the family Joe Plowman) for fifteen years now, and they share a common integrity. They are in the moment, and the results are always lyrical and surprising.  When Danny told me he planned to make a new CD, I was delighted; when he told me who would be in the studio with him, I held my breath; when I listened to this disc for the first time, I was in the wonderful state between joyous tears and silly grinning.  You’ll feel it too.  There’s immense drama here, and passion – whether a murmur or a shout; there is the most respectful bow to the past (hear the opening of EASY DOES IT, which could have been the disc’s title); there’s joyous comedy (find the YEAH, MAN! and win a prize – wait, you’ve already won it).  But the sounds are as fresh as bird calls or a surprise phone call from someone you love.  Most CDs are too much of a good thing; this is a wonderful meal where every course is its own delight, unified by deep flavors and respect for the materials, but nothing becomes monotonous – we savor course after course, because each one is so rewarding  And when it’s over, we want to enjoy it again.

I could point out the wonderful sound and surge of Kevin Dorn’s Chinese cymbal and rim-chock punctuations; the steady I’ll-never-fail-you pulse of Joe Plowman; Rossano Sportiello’s delicate first-snowflake-of-the-winter touch and his seismic stride; Scott Robinson’s gorgeous rainbows of sounds, exuberant or crooning, and the man whose name is on the front, Danny Tobias, who feels melody in his soul and can’t go a measure without swinging.  But why should I take away your gasps of surprise and pleasure?  This might not be the only dream band on the planet, but it sure as anything it is one of mine, tangible evidence of dreams come true.    

They tell us “Every cloud has a silver lining”?  Get lost, clouds!  Thanks to Danny, Joe, Scott, Kevin, and Rossano, we have music that reminds us of how good it is to be alive.

The songs are Bud Freeman’s THAT D MINOR THING; Larry McKenna’s YOU’RE IT; EASY DOES IT; Danny’s GREAT SCOTT; DEEP IN A DREAM; LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING; I NEVER KNEW; Danny’s gender-neutral MY GUY SAUL; YOU MUST BELIEVE IN SPRING; OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT!; I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE; PALESTEENA; Danny’s BIG ORANGE STAIN; WHY DID I CHOOSE YOU?

On the subject of choosing. You could download this music from a variety of sources, but you and I know that downloading from some of those sources leaves the musicians with nothing but regrets for their irreplaceable art. Danny and his wife Lynn (a remarkable photographer: see above) adopted the adorable Clyde Beauregard Redmile-Tobias some months ago:

I know my readers are generous (the holidays are coming!) so I urge them to buy their copies direct from Danny, who will sign / inscribe them. Your choice means that Clyde will have better food and live longer.

Do it for Clyde! Here‘s the link.

May your happiness increase!

EVEN MORE MAGIC IN MIDTOWN: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, September 14, 2021)

Here’s what I wrote about this superb quartet when I visited them on August 31:


Between 5:30 and 8:30 last night, beauty filled the air in front of Swing 46 (Forty-Sixth Street, west of Eighth Avenue, New York City) thanks to Gabrielle Stravelli (above), vocals; Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet, Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

I don’t have any video evidence for you, but with good reason: that’s a busy street, and occasionally the music was– shall we say — intruded upon by clamor. But the music won out, of course, and it wasn’t a matter of volume, but of emotional intensity. I’ve admired Gabrielle for more than a decade now: her beautiful resonant voice, lovely at top and bottom, her wonderful vocal control. But more so, her candid expressive phrasing, matching the emotions of each song in subtle convincing ways. She’s always fully present in the musical story, eloquent and open. With witty lyrics, she sounds as if she’s just about to burst into giggles; on dark material, she can sound downright vengeful. In three sets last night, she offered a deep bouquet of ballads — and not only songs usually done slowly: FLY ME TO THE MOON; I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?, I’LL WALK ALONE; YOU’VE CHANGED; I’LL BE AROUND. A few vengence-is-mine songs — GOODY GOODY and THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY — added spice, and her readings of the first title and the second song’s “Good riddance, good-bye,” suggested once again that she is a splendid friend and perhaps a fierce enemy. Many of the other standards — NIGHT AND DAY, JUST IN TIME, AS LONG AS I LIVE — are well-established landmarks in the repertoire, but Gabrielle made them shine. She embraces the song; her singing reaches out to us, fervently and gently.

Her delight in singing to us was matched by that of her colleagues. Dan Block is quietly memorable in any context, and his sound alone was delightful. But he and Gabrielle had flying conversations where their intuitive telepathy was a marvel. Other times, he played Lester to her Billie, “filling in the windows,” offering just the right counterpoint and loving commentary. He was matched by Michael Kanan, master of quiet touching subversions in the manner of our hero Jimmie Rowles; both he and the superb bassist Pat O’Leary not only kept the time and the harmonies beautifully in place but created their own songs throughout.

I visited Swing 46 again last night, and the four artists just outdid themselves. And although 46th Street is not ideal for video-recording, I have two to offer you. But first, some updates.

Dan brought his most magical bass clarinet to add to tenor saxophone and clarinet: he’s always astounded me on that possibly balky instrument since our first intersections in 2004. In the hustle and bustle of the street — in Gabrielle’s closing lines of AS LONG AS I LIVE, a song about how the singer wants to take good care of herself, an ambulance, lights and sirens blazing and blaring, went by — Michael and Pat created one quirky inquiring beautiful phrase after the other, supporting, encouraging, exploring, even trading musical witticisms. And Gabrielle touched our hearts in singular ways on song after song.

And this band has a splendidly expansive repertoire: two “all right” tunes — I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT and IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME, a seriously playful LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME and a brooding WARM VALLEY — to which Gabrielle has created very touching, simple but not cliched, lyrics; an EXACTLY LIKE YOU where it seemed as if the whole band was ready to break into laughter at something, an enthusiastic SOON, a LADY BE GOOD where Gabrielle and Dan did Lester’s 1936 solo line (!) — a few more classic love songs, FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE than became LET’S FALL IN LOVE (with the verse), ISN’T THIS A LOVELY DAY which perhaps subliminally led into NIGHT AND DAY. The other side of love had to be explored, and was, in LITTLE WHITE LIES and ILL WIND. There was Gabrielle’s jaunty tread through YOU’RE GETTING TO BE A HABIT WITH ME, love via meteorology with A FOGGY DAY and a few more. One I cannot forget is Gabrielle’s reading of BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH — heartbreaking yet controlled.

I heard whispers that this group is considering a CD with some deep slow songs. I hope these rumors are true.

And there’s video. Imperfect but there. But it requires a little prelude.

I had checked the weather report obsessively, hoping for enough rain to bring the band and audience inside but not enough to make the sometimes-leaky building a disaster. No such luck. So when I arrived early and was greeted by the kind, resourceful Michelle Collier (a fine singer herself) I had resigned myself to no video. But, I thought, I could set up the camera, put it on the table with the lens cap on, and have an auditory souvenir. If my video and audio capers documented in this blog haven’t made it clear, I delight in having evidence of joyous creativity — to make it last forever.

I’d resigned myself to creating the modern equivalent of radio (and the black-screen audios sound quite nice) but for the third song, when Dan put the bass clarinet together, I thought, “I HAVE to capture this,” and held the heavy camera-and-microphone in my hands for nearly six minutes (hence the mildly trembling unsteadiness . . . no time to unpack my tripod and no space for it anyway) and I am delighted I did, because this LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is the most inspired conversation among a quartet:

I couldn’t hold the camera steady after that, but I found a place for it on the table, and I’m glad I did — for WARM VALLEY, with Gabrielle’s lyrics. Most lyrics added after the fact to Ellington songs seem out of place; hers do not:

I try to avoid hyperbole, but those are two masterpieces. I believe this quartet will appear at Swing 46 for the remaining two Tuesdays in September and the last two weeks in October. If you vibrate to the arts of this music, tender, solemn, hilarious, raucously swinging, you owe it to yourself to get to 349 West 46th Street, between Eight and Ninth Avenue (on the north side) on Tuesdays from 5:30 to 8:30. Gabrielle, Mchael, Dan, and Pat bestow blessings in every song.

May your happiness increase!

TAMAR KORN and her METAPHYSICIANS of DELIGHT: ROB EDWARDS, GREG RUBY, JARED ENGEL, COLIN HANCOCK at The Ear Out (August 15, 2021)

I’ve admired Tamar Korn since I first encountered her at The Ear Inn and as the central spiritual engine of the Cangelosi Cards in 2009. She was a phenomenon then (I did ask her if she really came from our galaxy) and she’s kept on glowing. How to describe her? Passionate comedienne-poet might do for the moment.

Photograph by Michael Steinman, 2017

Tamar and her Metaphysicians of Delight give us a multi-dimensional lesson in the art of slowing down, of taking it easy. That’s Tamar on vocal and spiritual guidance; Rob Edwards on trombone; Greg Ruby on resonator guitar; Jared Engel on string bass; guest Colin Hancock on hot cornet. Tamar was asked to form a group to fill in for the EarRegulars since leader Jon-Erik Kellso had to be out of town: quite an honor! And thanks to Israel Baline, too.

I feel so much better already. Don’t you? There’s more to come, so stay tuned . . .

May your happiness increase!

A LONG LINE OF GENEROSITIES TO US: GEORGE WEIN (1925-2021)

I don’t have any influence with the Authorities, but I am worn down by the recent deaths of jazz heroes: John Sheridan, Phil Schaap, and now George Wein. When someone dies at 95, my first reaction is, “That was a beautiful long life,” and it was a long life filled with his energetic desire to give music to as many people as possible. Think of any musician active between 1954 and now, and they played or sang at a Newport Jazz Festival, whether the festival took place in Newport, New York, or was a traveling version overseas. And when I think of how music from those festivals was broadcast by the Voice of America, George’s eager spreading-the-gospel was cosmic. Think of every musician you revere — Billie, Miles, Trane, Louis, Hawk, Ben, Monk, Donald Lambert, Basie, Duke . . . . from Eli’s Chosen Seven, Vince Giordano, David Ostwald to Cecil Taylor — and there’s some documentation of them at Newport. And these concerts and recordings would not have happened without George’s fervent desire to make sure that his heroes got heard by the largest audiences possible.

I’ve chosen the portrait of George and Louis below for a reason: I think George’s ripples-in-a-pond effect on the music was congruent, if not equal, to Louis’. Imagine a world without the Newport Festivals . . .

But George was more than the fellow who offered Ellington or Roland Kirk a concert set and whose name was on the check. Early and late, he saw himself as a musician, and his great delight was to sit at the piano among congenial friends — the many incarnations of the “Newport All-Stars,” which included great swing-modern players from Pee Wee Russell to Warren Vache. Whitney Balliett, I believe, noted that his piano style was a mix of Jess Stacy and Lennie Tristano: he loved to swing and he loved to surprise. And he was an affecting homegrown singer, although he didn’t take many opportunities to do so.

His idea of jazz was ecumenical: here he is with George Brunis and Roy Haynes — a delightfully expansive band:

Please note that the live broadcast — introduced by Nat Hentoff, no less — came from a Boston club George ran, Storyville, along with “Mahogany Hall,” where Lee Konitz might have a week and be followed by Sidney Bechet, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz.

Here’s another sample of George at the piano, from the Nice Jazz Festival:

As I said, I found George to be an engaging low-key singer, with Ruby Braff and the wonderful Sam Margolis:

I never made it to Newport, but I did attend a number of the Newport in New York festivals, and they were memorable beyond belief. The last great Eddie Condon concert, with Lee Wiley, Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Joe Thomas, J. C. Higginbotham; the first jam session at Radio City Music Hall, with Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Vic Dickenson, and Gene Krupa; piano concerts that included Jimmie Rowles, Jess Stacy, Ellis Larkins, Art Hodes, Bill Evans; the Benny Cater “Swing Masters” big band . . . and others will have memories of Ellington and Mingus.

Without George, we would not have had what I consider one of the highlights of my life — perhaps twelve minutes by Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones. I wouldn’t have seen and heard Lee Wiley sing MANHATTAN. And because Ruby Braff was one of my earliest heroes, I couldn’t help but notice that Ruby had many many more recordings and concerts because of George, and George’s loyalty to the usually prickly Ruby.

There will be dozens of tributes to George, and all of them will focus on different facets of his open-handedness. From the late Forties in Boston (where he was friend and champion of Ed Hall, Frank Newton, Doc Cheatham, and two dozen others) to his last years, George approached this music generously, bringing us treasures of every sort. We would be so much poorer had he never existed.

I keep thinking, “Someday there’ll be no more Old Folks,” and since Jack Teagarden sang and played at Newport, I will close with Jack’s version:

George, we miss you already.

AN ONRUSH OF JOY, or “SO FUN!”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, RICKY ALEXANDER, ALBANIE FALLETTA, SEAN CRONIN at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City (January 9, 2020)

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

Gather round, children. There was once a time when I could come out of the #1 subway at Christopher Street, cross the street and walk south to this joyous haven of sounds and people — between September 2019 and March 12, 2020. These days my city wanderings rely on the #2 and the #Q to Brooklyn, but the feelings I have for and about Cafe Bohemia are intense.

Pre-pandemic joys: they seem like effusions of joy from another world. But how they uplift! Yes, the WEARY BLUES is neither of those things, especially when delightfully exploded from within by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Ricky Alexander, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Sean Cronin, string bass. May these times come again!

For me, once wasn’t enough, so I hope you can make time to watch it again. It doesn’t grow old.

May your happiness increase!

NEVER BEFORE, NEVER AGAIN: BOBBY HACKETT and JACK GARDNER (February 15, 1945)

These performances are legendary and rare — sterling duets by Bobby Hackett, cornet or trumpet, and Jack Gardner, piano, rollicking telepathic improvisation. The date is approximate, but they were recorded in Chicago by John Steiner. Late in 1944, Bobby had joined the Casa Loma Orchestra, so this would have been like playing exalted hooky, especially with the barrelhouse joys provided by Jack — fun and frolic reminiscent of WEATHER BIRD.

My cassette copies came from the late Bob Hilbert and Roy Bower, and I am indebted to Sonny McGown for his educated commentary on these pearls.

The song is I AIN’T GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL, and there are three versions, presented here in possibly arbitrary order — they may be reversed in terms of actual performances. And they might need speed-correction, but my technical expertise stops at that door.

Take X: two duet choruses, two piano choruses (suspensions in second), chorus of trading phrases, duet chorus. Time: 4:12

Take Y: (rehearsal?) one duet chorus, two piano choruses, Gardner starts a third and then they go to duet, two duet choruses. Time: 3:48

Take Z: (second rehearsal?) one duet chorus, one piano chorus, two duet choruses with Hackett overblowing Time 3:00.

And here, thanks to Sonny McGown, is another acetate version of take X:

This sweet offering is for Charles Iselin, Rob Rothberg, Marc Caparone, John Ochs, and everyone else who holds Bobby Hackett in the highest esteem. . . . and those enlightened types who value Jack Gardner as well. I suggest repeated reverent listenings to this music, both raucous and ethereal.

May your happiness increase!

“PHOTO OF UNKNOWN MAN WITH BANJO” and “CREATORS OF JAZZ AND DIXIE LAND MUSIC”

Given the sorrow created by the deaths of John Sheridan and Phil Schaap, I felt the need for a different kind of post.

Todd Bryant Weeks, author of the fine biography of Hot Lips Page, LUCK’S IN MY CORNER, sent me the unidentified photograph below. He told me that the sender was a high school friend. “The face looked familiar and I thought he was quizzing me… But in fact it is from an old family scrapbook, and the owner of the scrapbook has passed away recently.” Todd added, “There is little or nothing to go on. The photograph was likely taken between 1950 and 1965 and may well have been taken in Massachusetts, possibly on the campus of Amherst College. The owner of the scrapbook is now deceased and his memory of the photograph was not clear enough to remember the time nor the location.”

Todd thought — and I hope — that some JAZZ LIVES readers might recognize this genial fellow. But beware: not everyone is or was famous.

See below! for a lovely answer to the question, provided by the wise Youngblood Colin Hancock, who knows.

And this just in, from eBay:

I can find nothing on either band.

The two pieces of tantalizing ephemera just remind me of a line from HAMLET: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your Jazz History books.”

Or, more seriously, there are always people playing and singing — documented only by a snapshot or perhaps as “Harlem’s Snappiest Night Club Entertainers,” than the books can contain. And that, whether at this distance or just two weeks ago, seems a wonderful thing, that the energetic music we cherish is overflowing its banks all the time, even if Ralph Peer of Victor wasn’t there to offer those bands a contract or no one can recall the banjoist’s name.

Here’s what Colin says about the happy man with the banjo:

The last addition to the Blue Ribbon Syncopators was banjoist Robert ‘Gil’ Roberts. Born on April 5, 1896 in Amherst, MA, he was a descendant of a prominent Black Massachusetts family that had fought in the Civil War as members of the legendary 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and Connecticut 29th Colored Infantry. Roberts took up the banjo at a young age, and eventually found his way to Buffalo’s North side where he met George West and joined the Blue Ribbons. He performed with them on all of their recordings for both Okeh and Columbia. He left the band in 1928, eventually travelling to Europe with “Eubie Blake’s Blackbirds” in the early 1930s. He later went on to perform with Josephine Baker and Louis Armstrong, before settling in Boston, then his hometown of Amherst, MA. He lived there working around Amherst College as a handyman, but also serving as a guardian to the limited number of African-American students at the school. He also was an honorary member of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band, performing with them for many years. He lived to be 106, passing away peacefully on October 6, 2002.

Roberts was more than a man with a banjo. Take the time to read this, please:

https://www.amherst.edu/amherst-story/magazine/issues/2012spring/insights/node/398112?fbclid=IwAR1sAFMUkc1X0iesq3nFAkD4VsqMCZrT78-nL1p3k-WsBoUeThJnCYy-X-4

May your happiness increase!

PHIL SCHAAP (1951-2021) AND HIS WORLDS

Phil Schaap, who moved on to another bandstand yesterday, was an unusually complex figure: he was his own novel, someone who deserves a Moliere or Henry James. Readers might know him as a tireless worker in the jazz vineyard: radio broadcaster, professor, writer, producer, enthusiast, and much more. Indeed, I can’t envision a Phil-moment that isn’t connected with the music: I cannot imagine him eating a sandwich, for instance, although I am sure he did. What I write today cannot do him justice, and I know that.

He loved the music, he loved the people even tangentially connected to it, but I think he loved facts the most. I have a magpie-mind, with fragments of information falling out of my ears, but Phil was several hundred encyclopedias packed into a tall talkative indefatigable human being. Baseball statistics, law cases, matrix numbers, reed sections, addresses, record label colors, telephone numbers, anecdotes, imitations of Jo Jones in full cry . . .

I knew Phil the way most people did — first, in 1970, as a disembodied voice coming out of a speaker, offering us music and words from Columbia University’s radio station, WKCR-FM, then, much later, as an eminent larger-than-life participant in the Hot Club of New York’s Monday-night Zoom sessions. But I also encountered him as the master of ceremonies at gigs — at the West End Cafe and elsewhere — and once or twice in 1972, between sets at Your Father’s Mustache, we actually had brief, somewhat tart conversations. Mostly I knew Phil as a series of observations, paragraphs, a sprawling narrative in human form.

He lived to spread the gospel of jazz. Making sure that as many people as possible knew the difference between the sounds of an alto and tenor saxophone was the highest goal. Finding “the best possible sound source,” too. Having us understand “the swing-song tradition,” the “Golden Era bebop five,” giving people “shout-outs” . . . he loved to do this and I think he needed to do this. Having a deep grasp of social-cultural-racial history was a true goal: reminding his audience that Teddy Wilson came before Jackie Robinson was vital to him.

Yes, he could talk beyond some people’s endurance, but he gave so much. Who else was interviewing Bernard Addison and Bennie Morton? Who else played Charlie Parker every weekday morning at 8:20 AM, ran day-and-week long festivals devoted to Louis, Mingus, Frank Newton, Coleman Hawkins?

There is a Phil-Schaap-sized hole in the cosmos, and not only the jazz cosmos. But the good news is that, in some way, evidence of his devotion and devotions will never go away. His interviews are being archived as I write this and will be available for us. And, like any great — albeit eccentric — teacher, he created students who have grown to be teachers. I think of the whole generation of WKCR radio hosts who have become our teachers because of Phil’s half-century and more, and an even younger generation: shout-outs (!) to Matt “Fat Cat” Rivera and Charles Iselin, among them.

One of my greatest heroes is the writer and editor William Maxwell, with whom I was privileged to work and to admire. In his last years, he devoted himself to playing the piano, his beloved Bach — but it wasn’t easy going. On his deathbed, facing the unknown calmly, he was with a young friend, who said, lightly, “In the next life, Bill, all those fugues will be so easy for you.” And Maxwell said, “In the next life I will not be making music. I will be music.”

Goodbye, Phil, and thank you for the decades of enthusiastic fervor. In the next life, perhaps you are a twenty-chorus Pres solo on SWEET SUE. You deserve no less.

FOR SIDNEY: BOB WILBER, KENNY DAVERN, MARTY GROSZ, GEORGE DUVIVIER, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN, and CLAUDE LUTER HONOR SIDNEY BECHET (Grande Parade du Jazz, July 20, 1975)

Monsieur Bechet.

Masters of the soprano saxophone Kenny Davern (straight soprano) and Bob Wilber (curved soprano) plus Claude Luter, clarinet, who played alongside Sidney Bechet on dozens of recordings and live performances, pay homage to the Master, with Marty Grosz, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums, at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France, on July 20, 1975.

SOME OF THESE DAYS / Wilber talks / THE FISH VENDOR / Wilber introduces Claude Luter / PETITE FLEUR (Wilber and Davern out) / ST. LOUIS BLUES (Wilber and Davern return) / DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND (Luter) /CHINA BOY (Wilber and Davern return):

Passion, control, romanticism, swing. You can hear it all.

May your happiness increase!

SOUND ADVICE: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, CHRIS FLORY, PAT O’LEARY at The Ear Out (May 23, 2021)

I’m so glad and relieved that no one has written in to ask, “How come you post so much of The EarRegulars?” because then I might have to question their aesthetic. These summer revival meetings at The Ear Out have proven, performance after performance, that this band — in all its permutations — has no peer in The Groove, in swinging inventiveness. Here’s another example, Walter Donaldson’s binary ultimatum, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, a festival of daring sounds and inspired conversations:

I love them, and I hope they never have to leave us. Class dismissed.

May your happiness increase!

“THE POCKET”AND OTHER DEEP TRUTHS: MORE FROM DANNY TOBIAS and the SAFE SEXTET: RANDY REINHART, MARK SHANE, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN, JIM LAWLOR (Pennsylvania Jazz Society, June 13, 2021)

They’re back! Direct from the Hellerstown Fire Department, thanks to the Pennsylvania Jazz Society: Danny Tobias, trumpet, Eb horn; Randy Reinhart, trombone, euphonium; Mark Shane, piano; Pat Mercuri, guitar; Joe Plowman, string bass; Jim Lawlor, drums.

It was a lovely, friendly, swinging afternoon — and even if you have no idea how to get to Hellerstown, you can enjoy more of the inspired music. Thanks to Mike Kuehn, Pete Reichlin, and Joan Bauer for making us all feel so welcome.

Photograph by Lynn Redmile.

Perhaps the most weighty interpersonal question, HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

Danny and Mark honor Fats in this statement of faith, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES:

Time for the Horace Gerlach tribute, SWING THAT MUSIC:

Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF:

“They called her frivolous Sal,” immortalized in this classic, MY GAL SAL:

Something else from Indiana, WABASH BLUES, for Danny and Mark in duet:

Gather round, children, while Professor Shane explains THE POCKET . . . and then everyone plays COQUETTE:

May your happiness increase!

SONG FOR A RECOVERING CITY: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, PAT O’LEARY at The Ear Out, May 2, 2021

When the EarRegulars — my heroes below — played this pretty tune from the movie NEW ORLEANS, there was no Hurricane Ida. But given Ida’s power and fury, it seems so appropriate to offer it now as a hope for healing and reconstruction. (I was fortunate in my New York suburban apartment, but many were not.)

Those heroes, if you don’t already know them by now, are Pat O’Leary, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, here on C-melody saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.

Music might not be able to rebuild destroyed landmarks or cur down trees that fell . . . but it heals in its own way:

And in response to the question, “Michael, when are you going to get tired of posting videos from the EarRegulars?” the most polite answer is, “When the moon turns green.” Or you can think of your own appropriate variations signifying “Never.”

They are so reassuring in the midst of this very lopsided world. Bless them: they bless us.

May your happiness increase!

SHE’S BEING NAUGHTY . . . AGAIN: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, CHRIS FLORY, PAT O’LEARY at The Ear Out (May 23, 2021)

There are certain songs I have a limited tolerance for, and BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME is one. I revere the Jimmie Noone and Eddie Condon versions, but too many times when this song is performed by a “traditional” band someone steps forth to speak-sing it, chorus and patter. Perhaps I have NAUGHTY SWEETIE PTSD.

But not in this case. For one thing, no one in this edition of The EarRegulars burst into song. They are Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, bass.

No, the ambiance here is entirely lacking in striped-vest-and-plastic-boater-counterfeited-glee. In fact, even though none of these musicians was born in either Kansas City, there is a distinct Pres-Reno Club flavor to this, and I am sure Milt Gabler and Harry Lim approve:

Nothing particularly naughty about this — innovative, rocking, and delightful, though. Characteristically EarRegular.

May your happiness increase!

MAGIC IN MIDTOWN: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, August 31, 2021)

Between 5:30 and 8:30 last night, beauty filled the air in front of Swing 46 (Forty-Sixth Street, west of Eighth Avenue, New York City) thanks to Gabrielle Stravelli (above), vocals; Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet, Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

I don’t have any video evidence for you, but with good reason: that’s a busy street, and occasionally the music was — shall we say — intruded upon by clamor. But the music won out, of course, and it wasn’t a matter of volume, but of emotional intensity. I’ve admired Gabrielle for more than a decade now: her beautiful resonant voice, lovely at top and bottom, her wonderful vocal control. But more so, her candid expressive phrasing, matching the emotions of each song in subtle convincing ways. She’s always fully present in the musical story, eloquent and open. With witty lyrics, she sounds as if she’s just about to burst into giggles; on dark material, she can sound downright vengeful. In three sets last night, she offered a deep bouquet of ballads — and not only songs usually done slowly: FLY ME TO THE MOON; I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?, I’LL WALK ALONE; YOU’VE CHANGED; I’LL BE AROUND. A few vengence-is-mine songs — GOODY GOODY and THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY — added spice, and her readings of the first title and the second song’s “Good riddance, good-bye,” suggested once again that she is a splendid friend and perhaps a fierce enemy. Many of the other standards — NIGHT AND DAY, JUST IN TIME, AS LONG AS I LIVE — are well-established landmarks in the repertoire, but Gabrielle made them shine. She embraces the song; her singing reaches out to us, fervently and gently.

Her delight in singing to us was matched by that of her colleagues. Dan Block is quietly memorable in any context, and his sound alone was delightful. But he and Gabrielle had flying conversations where their intuitive telepathy was a marvel. Other times, he played Lester to her Billie, “filling in the windows,” offering just the right counterpoint and loving commentary. He was matched by Michael Kanan, master of quiet touching subversions in the manner of our hero Jimmie Rowles; both he and the superb bassist Pat O’Leary not only kept the time and the harmonies beautifully in place but created their own songs throughout.

This quartet has been appearing with some regularity on Tuesdays at Swing 46 from 5:30 to 8:30. You can come by, have a drink or a full meal, and pretend — even in the intermittent clamor of midtown — that you are on vacation somewhere unnamed with the finest musicians entertaining you. To quote Alec Wilder, you certainly ought to try it.

May your happiness increase!

FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE 2021 WEST TEXAS JAZZ PARTY (thanks to PBS): WARREN VACHE, RANDY SANDKE, DAN BARRETT, JOHN ALLRED, RUSS PHILLIPS, PETER ANDERSON, WILL ANDERSON, HARRY ALLEN, NATE NAJAR, DANIELA SOLEDADE, REBECCA KILGORE, NICKI PARROTT, JOHNNY VARRO, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, BRIAN PIPER, FRANK TATE, RICHARD SIMON, FRANK TATE, CHUCK REDD, EDDIE METZ, RICKY MALICHI

I learned about this video of the Friday-night concert of the 2021 West Texas Jazz Party from my friend, the great drummer Ricky Malichi — and I settled back into fifty-eight minutes of pleasure . . . not the least of it being that the video was professionally shot and edited (beautifully) and I could be a delighted spectator for once. To explicate the twenty names above, although few of them need identification . . . Warren Vache, cornet; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Dan Barrett, John Allred, Russ Phillips, trombone; Harry Allen, Peter Anderson, Will Anderson, reeds; Nate Najar, guitar; Daniele Soledad, vocal; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Nicki Parrott, vocal and string bass; Frank Tate, Richard Simon, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, Johnny Varro, Brian Piper, piano; Chuck Redd, drums and vibes; Ricky Malichi, Eddie Metz, drums.

These selections from Friday night at the Ector Theatre are so beautifully polished, testifying to the immense professionalism of the musicians at the Party: without any commercial interruptions, it’s a wonderful advertisement for the 2022 and future WTJP!

You’ll see it’s not just a casual blowing session — there are some clever charts (who did them?) but the swinging cohesion is both typical and admirable.

Here’s the menu:

LIMEHOUSE BLUES: Sandke, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Redd

IN A MELLOTONE: Barrett, Allred, Phillips, Piper, Simon, Malichi

A LITTLE GIRL FROM LITTLE ROCK and LIKE THE BRIGHTEST STAR: Kilgore, Parrott, Allen, Sportiello, Metz, Redd

THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME and IT’S YOU OR NO ONE: Vache, Allred, Peter Anderson, Piper, Simon, Malichi

DOUBLE RAINBOW: Najar, Soledade

JUST FRIENDS and AFTERGLOW: Sandke, Barrett, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Metz

A delightful offering, and so well-produced. And thanks again to Ricky Malichi, who swings even when away from his kit.

May your happiness increase!

“TELL ME AGAIN. WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?”

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs — that’s Ray, piano and inspiration; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton — answer the musical question at the now-vanished Sacramento Jazz Jubilee (d. 2017), with the notes on the music staff written by Johnny Green as their guide, but also the many performances of this tune, including Bing Crosby, Coleman Hawkins, and Django Reinhardt.

I try to collect rather than hoard — the first is a vocation; the second a disorder — but I’ve been hoarding videos of Ray and his Cubs . . . the way I’d store food for the winter, until I have the good fortune to see them again. Soon, I hope. They mean so much more than canned tuna.

May your happiness increase!

OUR THOUGHTS ARE OF NEW ORLEANS

This morning, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, and is proving to be a very terrifying storm — on the sixteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I know some of my friends have found safe havens elsewhere, but I send these sounds out to everyone feeling the wrath of Ida.

Ironically, the apt sounds — melancholy but with a groove — were created almost a month ago, on July 25, 2021, at the Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass. The song? Hoagy Carmichael’s NEW ORLEANS, which I associate with Jimmy Rushing and Louis Armstrong, among others. Here it is, without words but with feeling:

I present it here as a prayer for durability and resilience of that “quaint old Southern city” and its people.

STROLLING ON SPRING STREET: The EarRegulars PLAY LOUIS FOR US — JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, JAMES CHIRILLO, NEAL CAINE (The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, July 25, 2021)

There’s an immense Groove to whatever the EarRegulars play: think Louis and Basie having a good time together.

Yes, those two deities are posing for a photographer, but I imagine them grinning at the music made by the EarRegulars one Sunday afternoon, July 25, 2021 (although any EarRegulars gathering would produce the same response).

That Sunday, the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass — lovingly playing Louis’ 1947 composition, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, which I think of as the sweetest song of reproach and revenge possible:

The EarRegulars have been appearing all summer at The Ear Out, details specified above, from 1-3:30 on Sundays. Have you been?

May your happiness increase!

IRRESISTIBLE DANCE MUSIC: “EARLY BLUE EVENING,” ANDY FARBER and his ORCHESTRA (ArtistShare 0186)

I shy away from hperbole, but the new CD by Andy Farber and his Orchestra is a triumph.

Watch, listen, and marvel:

I was informed just a few days ago of a package — the new CD by Andy Farber and his Orchestra, EARLY BLUE EVENING — and I started to play it and was so very delighted. It feels so comfortable and so convincing. It was a working band (for the musical AFTER MIDNIGHT) and it has that lovely cohesion that ensembles with regular work acquire — a sort of assurance, that “We know the way home,” so prevalent in the Swing Era and beyond. Listeners will hear evocations of the blessed past, of Basie and Ellington, but this CD is light-years away from a ghost band or “a cover band.” They are creating, not recreating, with heart and wit and strength. The CD features nine originals — memorable ones — two standards, and the wonderful appearance of Catherine Russell. Here’s the collective personnel, with a reed section adept in flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, and other wonderful things.

Andy Farber: leader, alto, tenor, baritone saxophones; arranger, composer
REEDS: Mark Gross, Godwin Louis, Dan Block, Lance Bryant, Carl Maraghi
TRUMPETS: Brian Pareschi, Bruce Harris, Shawn Edmonds, James Zoller
TROMBONES: Art Baron, Wayne Goodman, Dion Tucker
RHYTHM: James Chirillo, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.

You’ll notice it’s a large ensemble but it’s never ponderous. I kept thinking of how splendid it was to hear an orchestra with the power of a Broadway pit ensemble and the sleek witty grace of a small group. (My mind collects bits of data, as crows collect shiny objects, and I kept thinking of rotund Jimmy Rushing, who was a great nimble dancer.) I know some of the musicians through decades of admiring their work in person, others through their recordings, and they are superb — bridging the noble past and the delighted present with such grace.

Other factors that don’t always get mentioned are these: Andy’s compositions are vividly alive, and they don’t sound alike . . . they have scope and humor, so there’s none of the repetitive claustrophobia that some CDs have, where one wakes from a half-dream, saying, “Is it track 19 already?” And that scope extends as well to the recorded sound: you’ll notice in the video, no baffles and headphone — so the sound is what you would hear if you were seated in front of the band — only better.

I know the philosophical-practical question comes up, “Given all the music I have already and what I can access, why in the name of Emile Berliner should I buy another CD? And why this one?”

The answer comes in two parts. If you like jazz that swings without being self-conscious about it, a wonderful large group leavened with tasty soloists and neat section work, a phenomenal rhythm section, you’ll like this. To be simpler: perhaps the test of any purchase should I be, “Will this make me happier than if I hadn’t bought it?” It would be presumptuous to say YES to this singular audience, with its own likes and detestations . . . but YES.

This band rocks. Go back to FEET AND FRAMES if you need a booster shot of genuineness. I said it is irresistible dance music: my dancing days never happened, but I am gyrating in my chair as I write this.

And the second part of the answer is just as plain . . . jazz fans who truly “love the music” know that art is not free, and that we are in the delightful position — not a burden — of being able to support what gives us pleasure. And last I saw, musicians like paying their rent and having semi-regular meals also.

You can purchase a CD with all the side dishes — or a download at the ArtistShare website here.Then you won’t have to ask yourself HOW AM I TO KNOW? Because you will KNOW.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE BLUE OF EVENING: JOHN SHERIDAN, OVERHEARD (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2013)

My readers will know that pianist, arranger, composer John Sheridan died on August 24, 2021, due to cancer. I celebrated him the day after, here. But John’s beautiful sounds continue to ring in my mind, so it is only right I should share something only a few people heard — although many were in attendance.

Preface: here is the studio recording of IN THE BLUE OF EVENING, young Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey:

and, because it’s such a pretty song, here’s Sinatra’s 1960 “I Remember Tommy” version:

Even though I had had the Sinatra-Dorsey 78 in my childhood, I hadn’t thought about the song for decades. But during the pandemic, I began returning to the surreptitious audio-recordings I had made at the 2006 and 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua weekends, some of which I have shared with you. Many featured John (Joe Boughton loved pianists, and in those early years he had Sheridan, Jim Dapogny, Rossano Sportiello, Larry Eanet, and Keith Ingham, among others).

I had a digital recorder concealed in my blazer pocket, but knew that if I put it on the table to start it, my companions would ask about it, and that might become a problem, since I had not asked Joe for permission to record. In retrospect, I could have — because I was writing about the festival — but timidity won out. So I would go out in the hall or even up a flight of stairs, start the recorder, and come down to the ballroom. I had transferred the digital segments to CDs and then to YouTube, and was able to edit out the sounds of my walking down the hall and concentrate on the music.

But one segment, unidentified, came up in my progress, and I listened to it. Nothing but fifteen minutes of between-set talk, loud audience conversations around me. But I did not leap to delete it, and it is a blessing I didn’t, because while the audience was talking (released from the burden of Being Quiet while their heroes were making music, John Sheridan was experimenting with IN THE BLUE OF EVENING. He did not play it at Chautauqua and no studio recording of it exists.

I came back to it when I learned that John was ill. And it haunted me: faraway, lovely, the “tinkling piano in the next apartment,” although John was stronger than that cliche even when he was delicately outlining a ballad; perhaps “music when soft voices die,” although the voices were not soft: no one said, “Shhhh! Do you hear that!”

So I present it to you. Those whose ears are easily affronted, will want to pass it by. There is a pause in the middle, perhaps someone asking John a question, and then he returns. But give it your full attention — it lasts slightly over two minutes — and you will hear something precious: John Sheridan, in his element, free to explore because no one in particular was paying close attention. But we can, now:

There are many better-sounding videos on YouTube, more than a few of them mine, and John left a substantial discography. But I cherish these moments in the midst of noise as John’s elegy: in the noise of this century and I hope those to follow, his beauty will ring through and not be forgotten.

A FEW WORDS FOR JOHN SHERIDAN

We’re all so fragile, although we don’t like to talk about it.

The magnificent, understated pianist, arranger, and composer John Sheridan has left us. I don’t have more details except that he had been ill with cancer for some time. I knew him, off and on, for more than fifteen years, and this comes to mind: a performance from 2013 at Jazz at Chautauqua:

John’s playing was so steady, so trustworthy, that he didn’t get his due, except from close listeners and the musicians he worked with. Oh, he could make the best brilliant romping noise at the keyboard — his stride was infallible, and you can find his performances of Bob Zurke’s EYE OPENER should you be tempted to pass him by as insufficiently flashy. But his tradition was the steady swing of Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy more than pyrotechnics, and he had a deep romantic heart — his ballads were so very touching, and he got to the heart of the song.

We’re all complicated as well as fragile, but I both loved John and approached him with caution. He was definite about everything — no meandering, no ambiguity. He wasn’t loud, but he spoke in boldface. It was fortunate for me that he understood that I understood — certain things, anyway. I didn’t follow football; our politics were so separate that we wisely steered clear of any reference to the non-musical world. But I, too, loved Benny and Jess, and I would listen to John without offering dissent. I see him now in my mind’s eye — perhaps we were at the San Diego Jazz Fest? — late at night, at a cafe table, John drinking black coffee and being wooed into having a piece of cake because I was. There was a time we had fairly regular long phone conversations, where John could talk about how things were at home and I would offer consolations, and then the conversation would shift abruptly to the wonders of some Goodman airshot, John’s current pleasure, and I would listen, because he heard deeply and always was insightful.

When I wrote “caution,” above, I had reason. Through the kindness of Mat and Rachel Domber, I wrote a number of liner notes for the glorious CDs created by Arbors Records. I’d written one for a Sheridan Dream Band session, and had been privileged to attend the sessions at Nola Studios in New York — pretty heady pleasures. John liked those, and wanted me to write notes for the next one. I think I was over-enthusiastic and mentioned too many dead heroes as touchstones . . . X’s trumpet coda is reminiscent of Berigan, and so on, something I avoid these days. I don’t know how I found out, but John disliked my notes. I emailed him and said, “Let me know what you don’t like, and I’ll fix it.” Silence. I was paid for my time — Mat and Rachel were and are gracious — but John refused to speak to me, and this went on until the next time I saw him, or perhaps I got a chilly greeting at the next festival. Finally, I got him aside and said to him, “I’m very fond of you, and you got pissed off at me. Do we have to keep on doing this?” and he relaxed and we settled it, as if we’d been in feuding pals in a Warner Brothers film c. 1940. Of course he never explained to me how I had sinned . . . but we moved on.

I had emailed him a few months ago asking his permission to post some videos of his performance, and he called me to say yes, sounding older but still cheerfully declarative. And now he’s left a Sheridan-sized hole in the cosmos.

It’s on days like this I wonder if I should have stuck to collecting stamps (a hobby I had for about a week as a child) because I wouldn’t feel so grieved. But then again, I would have missed the uplifting happiness of hearing John play.

Swing on, Brother Sheridan, in your new neighborhood. You will be missed, and for a long time. You increased our happiness considerably, and your sounds will continue to work their magic.