Tag Archives: A.J. Piron

“OH, MEMORY! OH, MEMORY!”: The MANHATTAN RAGTIME ORCHESTRA at THE CAJUN, PART ONE: JOHN GILL, MATTHEW SZEMELA, JON-ERIK KELLSO, CONAL FOWKES, BRAD SHIGETA, PETE MARTINEZ, JESSE GELBER, ROB GARCIA (July 13, 2006)

The power of memory:

That girl, and the story of that girl, are both imperishable.  Not only does Mr. Bernstein recall her, but everyone who has ever seen CITIZEN KANE recalls him recalling her.  Or so I hope.

Music, so powerful and so multi-layered, is more slippery in the memory, giving us a mixture of sensations and emotions.  Of course people remember Louis playing 250 high C’s, but how many people can recall with clarity a performance full of lights and shadings that happened once, on the spot, and then was over?

Fortunately we have recording equipment of all kinds, and to think of what would have happened to jazz without it is impossible.  But here’s a New York story with gratifications attached, not simply narratives of what happened.

Exhibit A, “The Big Easy”:

Exhibit B, courtesy of eBay:

Exhibit C, self-explanatory:

In 2005, when I was once again free to explore, I discovered The Cajun, a traditional-jazz club in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood.  It closed in late summer 2006, and it was obliterated to become luxury housing, alas.

The owners were Herb Maslin and Arlene Lichterman (Arlene is still with us) and at our first encounter I offered to help publicize the club, even though I had not yet imagined having a jazz blog.  I was writing for The Mississippi Rag and other jazz periodicals, and offered help with press releases.  She was eager to have what festival promoters call Asses in Seats, so I could come anytime and make notes on performances and the general ambiance.  I was free to modestly of generic food.  (I worked my way through the menu, an explorer looking for edible land.)

I have said elsewhere that I’d seen people of my vintage shooting videos of their grandchildren and the ducks on the pond, and it dawned on me that I could buy one to document the music I and others loved.  Exhibit B was, after Flip, my first real video camera.  It recorded on 30-minute mini-DVDs, difficult to transfer, but it worked in the odd lighting and the built-in microphone was acceptable, especially when I sat close to the band.  At the time, I did not know what I might do with the discs — YouTube was only allowing postings of no more than ten minutes and my editing skills were not even rudimentary — but the thought of capturing what would otherwise be evanescent was entrancing.

Thirteen years later, I uncovered a number of videos from 2006: a small stack of mini-DVDs in plastic cases still sits in a bookcase as I write this.  Some videos, when I shared them with the participants (I ask permission first, the videographer’s “informed consent”) created hot-jazz-PTSD, and will remain unseen.  But the four sets of the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra pleased my hero John Gill, and the trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, who encouraged me to  post them so that this splendid band would not be just a memory or a record.  I canvassed the musicians, some of whom are friends, and those who responded agreed that these performances should be enjoyed now.

John continues to believe in the music: he told an interviewer long ago, “It’s music of the people. It’s open and honest and straightforward and comes to you with open arms,” and he continues to live that truth in New Orleans.

Here is the first hour of music (a set-and-a-half of four) from the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, playing their own warm, spirited “radical pop music”: John is on banjo and vocals, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matthew Szemela, violin; Brad Shigeta, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet (subbing for leader Orange Kellin); Jesse Gelber, piano; Conal Fowkes, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.

No tricks, no funny hats, no gimmicks: just real music.  A woman fanning herself: it was July.

Part One, including PORTO RICO / NEW ORLEANS JOYS / TEE NAH NAH (Gill vocal) with Arlene Lichterman cameos / BUDDY’S HABITS / HOME IN PASADENA (Gill) / HIAWATHA (Lizard On A Rail) / DEAR HEART – I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES //

Part Two, including a Buddy Bolden Medley: DON’T GO WAY, NOBODY – MAKIN’ RUNS / CONGO LOVE CALL / BOUNCING AROUND / SONG OF THE ISLANDS (closing theme) / CREOLE BELLES (Gill) / A BUNCH OF BLUES //

To me, much more gratifying that a fleeting glimpse of a girl and her parasol.  And there is another forty-five minutes of music to come.

May your happiness increase!

ROLLIN’ DOWN THE RIVER, STOMPING JOYOUSLY: STEVE PISTORIUS, ORANGE KELLIN, JAMES EVANS, TOM SAUNDERS (September 19, 2015)

pistorius

Steve Pistorius is an irreplaceable pianist, singer, bandleader, and visionary, and I love his Quartet — with a front line of Orange Kellin, clarinet; James Evans, vocal, reeds, and someone adept keeping time and swinging out the root notes — on this most recent occasion, Tom Saunders on bass sax.  The Quartet doesn’t strive to imitate anyone in particular, but what comes out is deep and swinging.

You could call it New Orleans jazz and not be wrong, but I think of it as four kindred souls having a sweetly intense conversation about the song at hand, where their intelligence and feeling raise up every note from what could be formulaic or prosaic. Here is what I wrote about their first disc, NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE.  To read what I wrote about their second, UNDER A CREOLE MOON, you’ll have to buy the disc — which I’ll predict you would want to anyway.

UNDER THE CREOLE MOON

Now, this isn’t an advertisement for those two compact discs (although the subliminal energy is in my words, I hope) but a gift of music — a session on the Steamboat NATCHEZ recorded [by me, for you] during the 2015 Steamboat Stomp.

A cinematographic caveat follows.  I was shooting into bright sunlight through large glass windows, so there was a good deal of unsolicited glare.  Changing the videos to black and white helped cut down on the lurid aspect, but the four players are individually and collectively sheathed in what looks like swing ectoplasm.  Fitting, of course.  The sound, however, is fine and finer.

King Oliver’s I AIN’T GONNA TELL NOBODY:

James rhapsodizes so wonderfully on YOU BELONG TO MY HEART:

Doc Cooke’s BLAME IT ON THE BLUES:

An Oliver rarity, I CAN’T STOP LOVING YOU:

Mister Morton’s FROG-I-MORE RAG:

Bechet’s WASTE NO TEARS:

A. J. Piron’s THE BRIGHT STAR BLUES:

And a later Bechet, DANS LA RUE D’ANTIBES:

Hot, intent, relaxed, soothing, compelling.  The best in their line.  And somewhere in these videos Steve says ruefully that this band has lost its regular gig.  I find that astonishing — in New Orleans, so proud of its music? — that I hope it has been remedied by now.  Club-owners and party-givers, take note.

And I will keep you informed about the 2016 Steamboat Stomp — something I hope to attend.

May your happiness increase!

SARAH SPENCER STOMPS IT DOWN (June 7, 2015)

SARAH SPENCER

I feel so fortunate to have met the delightfully authentic Sarah Spencer about 72 hours ago.

Although Sarah didn’t bring her tenor saxophone to Tamar Korn’s Sunday afternoon soiree at Casa Mezcal, she did sit in and sing a 1928 Ma Rainey blues, HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YOU.  Her singing initially hits with the force of a phenomenon that should be reported on the Weather Channel, but those who listen closely will hear an entreaty, a tenderness beneath the seriously forthright power.  She’s accompanied by Andy Stein, baritone saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano (the latter bringing some Ellington and Hines down to New Orleans):

If you weren’t at Casa Mezcal, you have another chance right away to immerse yourself in Sarah’s swinging world — a Saturday-night gig on June 20 from 8 to midnight.  It’s at the Windmill Tavern at 400 Hollister Street, Stratford, Connecticut.  The phone number for reservations is 203-378-6886.  No cover, no minimum.

Sarah explains, “The band is Sarah Spencer’s Transatlantic Band and we play New Orleans Music – from Piron to Professor Longhair (and always hot and dirty!)  People can check out my website here.  The personnel for the gig is Sarah Spencer, tenor sax and vocal; Fred Vigorito, cornet; Bill Sinclair, piano; Art Hovey, tuba and string bass; Molly Sayles, drums.  It looks like there is a load of room to dance so people should come with their dancing shoes and be prepared to shake it in good New Orleans fashion (or any other way they see fit)!”

You know what to do.  And obviously so does Sarah.

P.S.  I told Sarah that her photograph was terrifying, and she grinned and said, “That’s my best butt-kicking, hard-blowing, get outta ma way cos I’m comin’ through photo — my cutting contest face.  But I’m a big squishy inside.”  She is both of those people, and I hope you get a chance to find out for yourself.

May your happiness increase!