Tag Archives: Adrian Cunningham

“TELL ME YOUR TROUBLES: SONGS BY JOE BUSHKIN,” BOB MERRILL and FRIENDS

It’s always a generous idea, karmically, to honor the Ancestors.  If you’re trumpeter, singer, and composer Bob Merrill it’s not only easy but gratifying, because the Ancestor in question is his late father-in-law Joe Bushkin, pianist, trumpeter, singer, and composer.

The formulaic way to pay tribute to Joe would have been to assemble a band and have them play transcriptions of his famous recordings — from Berigan, Condon, Spanier, to his own performances.  But that approach might have run into obstacles early.  Joe was a singular pianist, whether he was musing his way through RELAXIN’ AT THE TOURO or dazzling us on HALLELUJAH!  And fifteen minutes with YouTube shows Joe at his best as player and singer.

But Joe’s talents as a writer of songs have been overshadowed by his brilliance at the keyboard.  He was fortunate in that Sinatra and Lee Wiley recorded OH, LOOK AT ME NOW; Bing sang HOT TIME IN THE TOWN OF BERLIN; Louis gave Joe and his new bride the wedding present of recording LOVELY WEATHER WE’RE HAVING.

Bob Merrill’s new CD, “TELL ME YOUR TROUBLES,” devoted to Joe’s songs — and it’s the first volume of several planned — is rather like Joe himself: melodic, light-hearted even when the lyrical thread is slightly somber.  It’s a wonderfully varied offering, and rather than describe it first, I offer samples here (scroll down to the lower half of the page).

Not a simple presentation of songs with the same approach and instrumentation, the CD could have been called THE MANY FACES OF JOE BUSHKIN’S MUSIC, with each track a little dramatic presentation in itself.  Some of the tracks so wittily and cleverly develop the theme that they sound like display numbers for a yet-to-be produced Broadway show. Consider HOT TIME IN THE TOWN OF BERLIN, which begins as if it were an unissued 78, with Bing’s wife Kathryn singing over a hot band, then morphs into the twenty-first century embodiment of the Andrews Sisters — Kathryn, Bob, Shannon Day, and Lisa Gary, over a modern arrangement for hip vocals over a shouting band.  Nicki Parrott convincingly masquerades as a diner waitress for several minutes on BOOGIE WOOGIE BLUE PLATE.

MAN HERE PLAYS FINE PIANO has not one, but three pianists soloing and trading phrases: Rossano Sportiello, Laurence Hobgood, and John Colianni. Other pleasures here are the wildly virtuosic trombone of Wycliffe Gordon, who turns in a fine vocal — seriously evoking Hot Lips Page — on GOIN’ BACK TO STORYVILLE. Eric Comstock is responsible for a number of smooth, winning vocals: I especially admire his reading of WISE TO MYSELF, a song well worth performing in this century, and Bob himself sings splendidly (with a touch of New York wryness) as well.  In case you don’t know his trumpet playing, it’s expert and swinging: he’s never at a loss for notes, and his brass battle with Wycliffe, who could overwhelm lesser players, is truly a draw.  Bob has the best musical friends, as you will have noticed, in Nicki Parrott, Howard Alden, Bucky Pizzarelli, Harry Allen, Steve Johns, and Adrian Cunningham.  Yes, the CD is a loving evocation of Joe’s many talents, but son-in-law Bob is operating at the same level of swinging joy.

If this sounds like an exuberant, vivid musical package — full to the rim and never monotonous — you have a good idea of what TELL ME YOUR TROUBLES offers.  And the music is framed by two wonderful anecdotes about Joe, told by his remarkable friends.  At the close of the CD, Red Buttons delivers a sweet, naughty elegy which ends with a story about Joe, Bing, and some sleeping potions delivered in an unusual way.  And the CD starts with Frank Sinatra, Joe’s long-time friend, telling a story about Joe and illicit stimulants.  That tale is worth the price of admission in itself.  And, for once, the CD itself comes in a splendid package with notes, stories, and photographs — much better than any download.  You can buy this generous offering here.

May your happiness increase!

STILL SPARKLING: JOE BUSHKIN AT 100

joe-bushkin-on-piano

I suspect that everyone who reads JAZZ LIVES has heard the magical sounds of Joe Bushkin‘s piano, songs, voice, and trumpet.  My birthday celebration for him is a bit early — he was born on November 7, 1916, but I didn’t want to miss the occasion.  (There will also be birthday cake in this post — at least a photograph of one.)

He moved on in late 2004, but as the evidence proves, it was merely a transformation, not an exit.

I marvel not only at the spare, poignant introduction but Bushkin’s sensitive support and countermelodies throughout.

“Oh, he was a Dixieland player?” Then there’s this:

and this, Joe’s great melody:

A list of the people who called Joe a friend and colleague would include Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon, Lee Wiley, Joe Marsala, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett,Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Bunny Berigan, Fats Waller, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Zoot Sims, Bill Harris, Buddy Rich, Hot Lips Page, Sidney Catlett, Judy Garland, Jimmy Rushing, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Spargo, Red McKenzie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Tough, Brad Gowans, Benny Goodman, Joe Rushton, Roy Eldridge, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Ruth Brown, June Christy, Barney Kessel, Pearl Bailey, Gene Krupa, Stuff Smith, Chuck Wayne, Jake Hanna . . .

Here’s a sweet swinging tribute to Irving Berlin in 1951 that segues into Joe’s own homage to Miss Bankhead, PORTRAIT OF TALLULAH:

He’s on Billie’s SUMMERTIME and Bunny’s first I CAN’T GET STARTED; he’s glistening in the big bands of Bunny, Tommy, and Benny.  He records with Frank Newton in 1936 and plays with Kenny Davern, Phil Flanigan, Howard Alden, and Jake Hanna here, sixty-one years later:

But I’m not speaking about Joe simply because of longevity and versatility.  He had an individual voice — full of energy and wit — and he made everyone else sound better.

A short, perhaps dark interlude.  Watching and listening to these performances, a reader might ask, “Why don’t we hear more about this wonderful pianist who is so alive?”  It’s a splendid question.  In the Thirties, when Joe achieved his first fame, it was as a sideman on Fifty-Second Street and as a big band pianist.

Parallel to Joe, for instance, is Jess Stacy — another irreplaceable talent who is not well celebrated today.  The erudite Swing fans knew Bushkin, and record producers — think of John Hammond and Milt Gabler — wanted him on as many record dates as he could make.  He was a professional who knew how the music should sound and offered it without melodrama.  But I suspect his professionalism made him less dramatic to the people who chronicle jazz.  He kept active; his life wasn’t tragic or brief; from all I can tell, he didn’t suffer in public.  So he never became mythic or a martyr.  Too, the jazz critics then and now tend to celebrate a few stars at a time — so Joe, brilliant and versatile, was standing behind Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum, then and now.  He was also entertaining — someone who could act, who could do a television skit with Bing and Fred, someone who could fill a club by making music, even for people who wouldn’t have bought a Commodore 78.  Popularity is suspect to some people who write about art.

But if you do as I did, some months back, and play a Bushkin record for a jazz musician who hasn’t heard him before, you might get the following reactions or their cousins: “WHO is that?  He can cover the keyboard.  And he swings.  His time is beautiful, and you wouldn’t mistake him for anyone else.”

One of the memorable moments of my twentieth century is the ten-minute YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY /  MOTEN SWING that Joe, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Wayne Wright, and Jo Jones improvised — about four feet in front of me — at the last Eddie Condon’s in 1976.  “Memorable” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Consider this: Joe and his marvelous quartet (Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton or Sid Weiss, and Jo Jones) that held down a long-running gig at the Embers in 1951-2:

Something pretty and ruminative — Joe’s version of BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:

And for me, and I suspect everyone else, the piece de resistance:

For the future: Joe’s son-in-law, the trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill — whom we have to thank for the wire recording (!) of SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY —  has organized what will be a stellar concert to celebrate his father-in-law’s centennial.  Mark your calendars: May 4, 2017.  Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights in Jazz” at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Ted Rosenthal, John Colianni, Eric Comstock, Spike Wilner, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Steve Johns, drums; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Bob Merrill, trumpet; Warren Vache, cornet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; and of course a surprise guest.

Here’s the promised photograph of a birthday cake.  Perculate on THIS:

louis-birthday-cake

Thank you, Joseephus.  We haven’t forgotten you.

May your happiness increase!

SVETLANA and the DELANCEY FIVE MAKE “SOCIAL MUSIC”

I wrote about the singer Svetlana Shmulyian and her band, the Delancey Five, more than two years ago here, and I am happy to report their first full-scale CD, NIGHT AT THE SPEAKEASY, is more than pleasing.

svetlana pro mo

I found it an engaging session, balancing more contemporary originals and lively versions of venerable jazz and pop classics. Here’s a neat audio-visual sample:

In his notes to the CD, Will Friedwald points out that both Svetlana and Jonathan Batiste prefer the term “social music” to “Hot Jazz” or Swing,” and this CD lives up to that definition: friendly, engaging, warm improvisations in many moods, music that welcomes listeners in.  As you can hear in the video, Svetlana strives to be engaged with her audience, whether she is describing her own motivations, singing standards, or writing new tunes.  And her band operates in the same happy spirit: Wycliffe Gordon, trombone / vocals; Adrian Cunningham, reeds / vocals; Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Vinny Raniolo, guitar; George Delancey, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums. The very appealing arrangements — tight without being constricting — are by Wycliffe, Rob, and Adrian, and they often suggest a much larger band that happens to be streamlined and focused.

Svetlana and Wycliffe give their own flavoring to two songs I always associate with Louis and Ella (from two decades): YOU WON’T BE SATISFIED and UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE; two Twenties classics, SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY and TEA FOR TWO, and two Ellington favorites, DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME and JUST A SETTIN’ AND A ROCKIN’, are refurbished and shined-up.  Svetlana and the band give a warm quirky embrace to GOD ONLY KNOWS from the Beach Boys, and BECAUSE from the Beatles.  There are also originals — ALL I WANT, TEMPTATIONS, DANCE IN BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS (Rob Garcia’s neat composition which should easily become an anthem for the crowds who come to see the band whether it’s south or north of Fourteenth Street), and Svetlana’s lovely acknowledgment of her Russian heritage, trumpeter Eddie Rosner’s YOU ARE LIKE A SONG, sung in her native tongue.  Whatever the language and whatever the material, she swings in admirable ways.  As does that band!

Here’s Svetlana’s own Facebook page, and here is the band’s page.

Let’s suppose you are properly taken with the band and their new CD.  What would be the surest way to afford yourself a double pleasure: seeing the band and purchasing the CD?  May I propose you visit here — to find out all you’d need to know about the band’s CD release party / performance on January 15 at 8 PM, at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, 237 W 42nd St, New York, New York 10036.  Get ready to swing and be moved.

May your happiness increase!

WE CELEBRATE MISTER MORGENSTERN!

Dan Morgenstern turns 85 on Friday, October 24.  But we celebrate him every day.  I know I have learned so much from reading his quiet, straightforward prose (I can recite passages from his Louis liner notes, his Hot Lips Page ones, and a hundred more), his magazine articles and Mosaic notes, his voice coming through the radio (“Jazz From the Archives” on WBGO-FM), and in person. He’s been generous to me and thousands of other researchers in his time at Rutgers, and his generosity didn’t stop when he retired.

He is a model of perception, and his range is never limited.  If it’s good, you’ll find him in the audience.  Yes, he is a link to the past (ask about naby hallowed musicians from 1947 onwards and he saw them and sometimes spoke with them) but he is also very much living in the present, someone who is excited about the gig he went to last night — not an elder who thinks all the glories are gone.

You will have two special opportunities to celebrate Dan, and to celebrate with Dan, this week.

On Wednesday, David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band (that Birdland perennial) will be celebrating Dan with one of their special late-afternoon / early evening gigs. The musicians David has lined up for this celebration include Bjorn Ingelstam, Adrian Cunningham, Marion Felder, and Vince Giordano — but I’m sure that other notables will be in the house and on the stand to celebrate Dan.

Morgenstern Birdland

On Thursday, Will Friedwald is hosting one of his inimitable CLIP JOINT presentations of video performances that Dan has picked out himself as well as a few surprises . . .

Morgenstern clip

To reserve your seat, RSVP to Levis4402@yahoo.com — it’s $10 to join in.

I know both of these events will sell out, so make your reservations early so you aren’t left on the sidewalk.  And if you can’t make either one, a simple, “Mister Morgenstern, happy birthday and thanks so much!” will do when you encounter Dan at a gig.

May your happiness increase!

NAOMI AND HER HANDSOME DEVILS

I first met Naomi Uyama in a downtown New York music club five years ago. Soon, we adjourned to the sidewalk.

It’s less melodramatic or noir than it appears.  The club was Banjo Jim’s — ‘way down yonder on Avenue C — where a variety of jazz-folk-dance groups appeared in 2009. The most famous was the Cangelosi Cards, in their original manifestation, featuring among others Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Marcus Milius, Cassidy Holden, Gordon Webster, Kevin Dorn. Tamar, who has always admired the Boswell Sisters, got together with singers Naomi and Mimi Terris to perform some Boswell numbers as “The Three Diamonds.” On one cold night, the three singers joined forces on the sidewalk to serenade myself, Jim and Grace Balantic, and unaware passers-by with a Boswell hot chorus of EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY. Tamar has recorded on her own, as has Mimi, but I and others have been waiting for Naomi to record, to share her sweet swing with the world. And the disc is delightful.

NAOMI

The first thing one notices about the disc is its authentic swing feel courtesy of players who have a deep affection for a late-Basie rhythmic surge and melodic ingenuity: Jake Sanders, guitar; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Jared Engel, string bass; Jeremy Noller, drums, and a two-person frontline of Adrian Cunningham, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Matt Musselman, trombone.  The band is neither over-rehearsed or overly casual; they provoke regular movements of the listener’s head, torso, and limbs.  (I can attest to this.)  They aren’t busily copying the sound of classic recordings; they are swinging out in fine style. I heard echoes of Illinois Jacquet and Al Grey, of a Buddy Tate band uptown or a Forties Jay McShann small group, of Tiny Grimes and Sir Charles Thompson — those players who swung as reliably as breathing. The band never gets in Naomi’s way, and they make happy music for dancers, riffing as if to the manner born.

But this might seem to ignore Naomi, which would be unthinkable. She came to jazz through lindy hop, which means her rhythm has a cheerful bounce to it, even on slower numbers. But she knows well that making music is more than beating a solid 4/4 so that the dancers know where one is. Naomi is an effective melodist, not tied to the paper but eminently respectful of the melodies we know. Her improvisations tend to be subtle, but when she breaks loose (trading scat phrases with the horns on MARIE) she never puts a foot wrong. (MARIE, incidentally, is the fastest track on the disc — 223 beats per minute — and it never seems rushed. I approve that Naomi and her Handsome Devils understand the beautiful shadings possible within medium-tempo rocking music.)

Naomi’s voice is a pleasure in itself — no rough edges, with a wide palette of timbres, but perfectly focused and with an effective phrase-ending vibrato. She doesn’t sound like someone who has spent her life memorizing Ella, Billie, or a dozen others; she sounds, rather, like someone who has fallen in love with the repertoire and decided to sing it, as if she were a bird bursting into song. In swingtime, of course. On Lil Johnson’s seductive encouragement, TAKE IT EASY, GREASY, she does her own version of a Mae West meow, but she doesn’t go in for effects and tricks. Her phrases fall in the right places, and she sounds natural — not always the case among musicians offering milkless milk and silkless silk in the name of Swing.

And I had a small epiphany while listening to this CD. A front-line of trombone and reed (mostly tenor) is hardly unusual, and it became even less so from the middle Forties onwards, but it makes complete aesthetic sense here, because the spare instrumentation (two horns, powerful yet light rhythm section) gives Naomi the room she needs to be the graceful and memorable trumpet player of this little band. Think, perhaps, of Buck Clayton: sweet, inventive, bluesy, creating wonderful phrases on the simplest material, and the place Naomi has made for herself in the band seems clear and inevitable.

The songs also suggest a wider knowledge of the Swing repertoire than is usual: Basie is represented not with a Joe Williams blues, but with the 1938 GLORIANNA, and the Dorsey MARIE is an evocation rather than a small-band copy. There are blues — I KNOW HOW TO DO IT and the aforementioned TAKE IT EASY, GREASY — as well as classic pop standards that feel fresh: I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, ONE HOUR, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME, AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY, GOODY GOODY, IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY, WHAM, and THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.

The disc offers nothing but good music, never ironic or post-modern, neither copying nor satirizing, just beautifully crafted melodic Swing.  Welcome, Naomi — with your Handsome Devils alongside. On with the dance!

Now, some bits of information. You can find Naomi on Facebook here; the band has its own page here. To buy the disc (or a download), visit here, where you also can hear samples of the songs. To hear complete songs, visit here. Naomi and a version of her Devils can be found on YouTube, and here is her channel. Enough data for anyone: listen to the music and you’ll be convinced.

May your happiness increase!

SIGN UP FOR PROFESSOR CUNNINGHAM’S SWING SEMINAR

I first encountered the nimble, gracious Adrian Cunningham a few years ago. The young reedman had quickly won the Jon-Erik Kellso Seal of Approval and was playing beautifully.  Then I heard him at other gigs, weaving cleverly through an ensemble on clarinet, playing a ballad soulfully on saxophone, accompanying a singer in the most adept, sensitive way, singing exuberantly himself.

Adrian’s created a little band, called PROFESSOR CUNNINGHAM AND HIS OLD SCHOOL — without any enforced rigor of academia — and they will be celebrating the launch of the band’s premiere CD with a gig at The Cutting Room this Tuesday, September 24, 2013. Here is the event page on the ubiquitous Facebook.

For those who want a more explicit syllabus with assignments and a reading list, open your notebooks, please.  The gig will be at The Cutting Room (44 East 32nd Street) in New York City, from 10 PM to 12:30 AM, and Adrian will have a few surprise guests to sit in and play a song or two.  If you book your admission through the club’s website, it’s a paltry $10, or $15 at the door. The band will include Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; John Merrill, guitar; Rob Garcia on drums, a Mystery Trombonist, Oscar Perez on piano, and Adrian.

And here’s what one version of the OLD SCHOOL sounded like earlier this year at Radegast — creating swinging business with Vinny Raniolo, guitar; Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; George Rush, string bass, and Rob Garcia, drums:

I think this evening will be a truly educational experience.  And Adrian has assured me that anyone smiling, rocking, or dancing at the gig has already passed the final.  Extra credit to CD purchasers!

May your happiness increase!

WOW! BRIA SWINGS IT at THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG HOUSE (July 4, 2013)

“Yeah, man!” is the only apt response to this performance — captured live at the Louis Armstrong House in celebration of the day Louis believed was his birthday.  Here the effervescent Miss Bria Skonberg swings out (thinking of Valaida Snow, perhaps) with Dalton Ridenhour, keyboard; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Darin Douglas, drums; Jared Engel, string bass:

The sound of muted trumpet and clarinet over a rocking rhythm section is so warmly a reminder of Swing Sessions — think of Joe Marsala’s bands.

Recorded and preserved by Jim Balantic — another errand boy for Rhythm!

May your happiness increase!