Tag Archives: Al Bowlly

WHERE A MELLOW MOON IS ALWAYS SHINING

Billy Hill, 1933

Billy Hill knew how to write songs that were easy to hum (although not always easy to sing) and that stuck lovingly in our ears, memories, and hearts: THE GLORY OF LOVE, THE LAST ROUNDUP, WAGON WHEELS, EMPTY SADDLES, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY?, and THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN. And he breaks stereotypes.  He was born in Boston and died there at 41, and although he spent the most productive decade of his life in New York, another of the Tin Pan Alley demigods, he seems to have deeply understood Americana in much the same way Willard Robison did.  His songs touch us.

I’ve been thinking about cabins these days.  The soundtrack is his 1933 melody:

The lyrics are somewhat sad, but Hill and his peers knew, I think, that songs with a center of heartbreak — that would be repaired when the lovers reunited — were more likely to find audiences than songs saying “My baby and me, we’re so happy,” perhaps because of demographics: more people were yearning than satisfied.  Or that’s my theory for the moment.  However, he did write THE GLORY OF LOVE, so he was emotionally even-handed.

Here’s a version I fell in love with immediately this morning, by the San Francisco-based singer / guitarist Sylvia Herold.  I am sorry I didn’t encounter her in “my California period,” because she can really get inside this song and others:

She has a most endearing little cry in her voice, and she swings.  I knew I loved this performance because I am now playing it for the sixth time.

Here are my heroes Marc Caparone and Ray Skjelbred, from the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest, introduced by the splendid singer Dawn Lambeth:

Now we move to the most Honoured Ancestors.  Please note that they are not presented in some value-hierarchy: they all move me deeply in their own ways.

Mildred Bailey with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:

Al Bowlly (I prefer this less elaborate version):

Mister Strong:

Mister Crosby:

I ask myself, “Why are you in tears?” But I know why.

The soul’s home can be an urban apartment, or right across from the BP gas station, but with the right vibrations it can become a dear rustic haven.

May your happiness increase!

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ARTHUR and ADRIAN

I’ve just finished reading the charming autobiography of saxophonist Arthur Rollini (1912- 93), THIRTY YEARS WITH THE BIG BANDS, and it gave me the opportunity to learn about his first recordings — music graciously provided by the estimable AtticusJazz on YouTube.  Here are his first two recorded sides (April 12, 1929, in London) — the first a head arrangement of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, the second the full Fred Elizalde orchestra performing SINGAPORE SORROWS in an arrangement by Fud Livingston.  Arthur was seventeen (as was the brilliant trumpeter Norman Payne, heard briefly on the second side); his legendary brother Adrian was then not yet twenty-six.

Of the first side, Arthur writes, “Bobby Davis took the first half of a chorus and I picked him up for the second half.  Adrian played brilliantly.”  Recalling SINGAPORE SORROWS, he praises Norman Payne, “This little solo in Bix’s tradition still stands up today.”  Especially in SWEETHEART, I hear the influence of the contemporaneous Nichols recordings, and beautiful playing throughout.

The small band is Fred Elizalde, arranger / leader; Chelsea Quealey, trumpet; Bobby Davis, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone; Max Farley, tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini, bass saxophone; Billy Mason, piano;  Tiny Stock, brass bass; string bass; Ronnie Gubertini, drums; Al Bowlly, guitar.

The large band is Fred Elizalde; Chelsea Quealey, Norman Payne, Nobby Knight, trumpet; Frank Coughlan, trombone; Bobby Davis, Max Farley, Phil Cardew, Fud Livingston, Arthur Rollini, Adrian Rollini, reeds; George Hurley, Ben Frankel, Len Lees, violin; Billy Mason, Jack Hull, banjo; Al Bowlly, Tiny Stock, Ronnie Gubertini.

Before I was deep into this book, I already valued it because it explained the early death of Adrian. Arthur tells us just how seriously Adrian was accident-prone: “He inadvertently smashed cars, stepped into holes and, although he was not a clumsy person, frequently tripped.  It was so bad that insurance companies refused him coverage.  Eventually, even his death was the result of an accident. It happened in Florida when he fell down a flight of stairs into a pit of coral rock” (17).

Then, as I read on in this low-keyed, modest book, I encountered compelling anecdotes of Benny Goodman’s oblivious cruelty, Richard Himber’s aberrational behavior (intentionally aimed flatulence as his idea of comedy?!), brief portraits of Bunny Berigan, Dave Tough, Hank D’Amico . . . Paul Whiteman uttering Turk Murphy’s “three little words” to a society matron who had pushed him too far, the eccentric Raymond Scott, and more.

As the Swing Era ends, Arthur and others find comfortable jobs in network radio for a decade or more, but the book slowly records the end of an era in popular music.  He doesn’t moan or rant, but “thirty years with the big  bands” as a sideman have left him without a place to go.  Oh, there are gigs in Long Island clubs, but he doesn’t have the name recognition of, say, Buddy Tate, or the chameleon-like abilities of Al Klink. He and his wife try non-musical businesses, and they have a hard time, with all underscored by her eventually fatal illness.  So I felt much sorrow in the final pages of the book, and I was undecided if I would keep my copy or pass it on.

Then I saw this picture (which I have poorly reproduced with my phone) and said, “I’m keeping this!”: the 1938 Benny Goodman softball team with Dave Tough in the front row with a mitt (what kind would it be?) that seems too big for him.  The other players, in the back row, are Bud Freeman, Chris Griffin, Harry Goodman, Arthur, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Vernon Brown, Noni Bernardi; in the front, Benny Heller, Pee Wee Monte, Dave, Red Ballard.  (And for the Lesterphiles in the audience, Arthur tells of the inside-the-park home run the Pres hit in one game.)  You can find a much better copy of this photograph here.

And here, courtesy of THE POP OF YESTERCENTURY, a superb blog — temporarily on vacation,

the Rollini brothers send their best — from 1937, but the sounds are eternal.

With thanks to A.J. Sammut, as always.

May your happiness increase!

GUILTY, WITH AN EXPLANATION (September 2016)

judges-gavel

I confess that I’ve let some days go by without blogging.  Unthinkable, I know, but I (gently) throw myself on the mercy of the JAZZ LIVES court of readers.

Permit me to explain.  From Thursday, September 15, to Sunday, the 18th, I was entranced by and at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Consider these — randomly chosen — delights.  Jim Dapogny playing IF I WERE YOU (twice) and some of his winsome original compositions.  Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate, and Hal Smith swinging like no one’s business.  Rebecca Kilgore singing KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL in the Andy Schumm-Hal Smith tribute to Alex Hill. Andy, on piano, with Paul Patterson and Marty Grosz — once on banjo! — in a hot chamber trio (a highlight being LOUISE).  Wesla Whitfield in wonderfully strong voice.  Dan Block and Scott Robinson romping through HOTTER THAN ‘ELL.  A Basie-styled small band led by Jon Burr, offering (among other pleasures) IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING.  A string bass trio — Burr, Tate, and Kerry Lewis — showing that no other instruments need apply.  Harry Allen and Jon-Erik Kellso playing ballads, and Dan Barrett, too.  Tributes to Nat Cole, Harry Warren, Isham Jones, and Bill Evans.  Many videos, too — although they take some time to emerge in public.

I came home late Sunday night and on Monday and Tuesday returned to normal (employed) life as Professor Steinman: John Updike, Tillie Olsen, William Faulkner.

Tomorrow, which is Wednesday, September 21, I get on a plane to New Orleans for Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp.  Obviously I can’t report on delights experienced, but I can say I am looking forward to hearing, talking with, and cheering for the Yerba Buena Stompers, Miss Ida Blue, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Hal Smith, Kris Tokarski, Andy Schumm, Alex Belhaj, David Boeddinghaus, Ed Wise, Charlie Halloran, James Evans, Steve Pistorius, Orange Kellin, Tom Saunders, Debbie Fagnano, and many others.

So there you have it.  I could sit at home blogging, or I could be on the road, collecting gems, some of which I will be able to share.

My counsel in all this has been the most eminent solicitor, Thomas Langham, who will now offer his closing argument to the jury:

May your happiness increase!

SARAH SPENCER’S TRANSATLANTIC BAND! (2015)

SARAH SPENCER

I first met Sarah Spencer (tenor and soprano saxophones and vocal) slightly more than a year ago and was immediately impressed by her deep immersion in the music — more specifically, New Orleans jazz (think of Cap’n John Handy) with digressions into Red Allen and J. C. Higginbotham, Al Bowlly, and others far and wide.  I wouldn’t get into a discussion of what “authentic” jazz is — too many potholes and roller skates left on the stairs — but Sarah played and sang in ways that seemed to come right from the heart, and she did her idols honor by evoking them while being herself.

Sarah had recorded several CDs but not much recently, so her new one — a selection of music recorded on location (Rochester, New York, October 18 / 19, 2015) is very much welcome.

SARAH CDand the other side:

SARAH CD 2I think the details are readable, but a few words about the music are apropos.

First off, it’s her TRANSATLANTIC BAND.  Sarah was born in the UK, and trombonist / vocalist Mike Owen made the trip especially for the session.  The other members of the ensemble live and work on the East Coast, from Connecticut to Massachusetts, and their names should be familiar to traditional jazz devotees in that “Northeast corridor.”

The band is a refreshing hybrid.  I think that someone deep into the recorded legacy will recognize some respectful nods to legendary performances, but this is not an hour-and-change of “playing old records live.”  It’s audible immediately that this is a band that values both individual expression and ensemble improvisation, and several performances absolutely get up and romp as they gain momentum.  (It’s the kind of band where cornet and trombone both have metal derby mutes set up in front of them, if you get the reference.)

You can hear an enthusiastically involved audience, but no one claps along, whether on the beat or near it.

Sarah is distinctive — her rolling, bubbling tenor and soprano work goes in and out of the band (she thinks of herself often as a member of the rhythm section as well as a front-line soloist) and for all the people who come up to her after a set and say, “You really should listen to ______ or _______,” people she admires, she follows the more obscure but also satisfying path of Manny Paul.  Her singing is truly gutty and rich, fervent and occasionally raw (when the material demands it) and she never stands at a distance from the song, but jumps right in.

Here are two samples from the sessions, with a slide show of the players.

One begins the CD (a bit of whimsy, perhaps?): GET OUT OF HERE AND GO HOME:

and here’s LOVE SONGS OF THE NILE (video first, sheet music cover below:

LOVE SONGS OF THE NILE cover

Other delightful vocal highlights on the disc come from Messrs. Mazzy and Owen, both deep into their own particular grooves.

The selections on the disc are wisely and sweetly arranged so that variety — not in some irritating way — is the principle.  Tempos, keys, and approaches vary from song to song, and there are several performances that are slower than medium tempo (always pleasing) with a stomping samba, sidelong glances at NOLA street parade conventions, and some deep blues.  The recording has some of the endearing imperfections that come with a live session (and I emphasize endearing) — all the things that I would rather have than the sometimes chilly perfection of a studio recording.

I’ve listened to the CD twice since its arrival yesterday, and I don’t see it as being shelved any time soon.  It’s honest, juicy music.  To get a copy for yourself, your friends, your extended family, email Sarah herself at sarahtsax@aol.com and let her know your thoughts.  The financial details are $20 for each disc (including postage and packing within the US); £15 (as above) in the UK.  Other countries will have their own special economic deals, and I am sure that Sarah would listen intently to a conversation about quantity pricing for double-digit orders.

May your happiness increase!

PARADISE FOR STRINGS: MARTIN WHEATLEY’S IMAGINATIVE WORLDS

Photograph by Andrew Wittenborn, 2015

Photograph by Andrew Wittenborn, 2015

I know Martin Wheatley as an astonishingly talented player of the guitar, banjo, electric guitar, ukulele.  I’ve heard him on a variety of recordings as a wonderful rhythm player and striking soloist, and had the good fortune to see him in person at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) from 2009 to 2015.

One facet of his talent is as a virtuosic ukulele player (and arranger for that instrument): a 2010 solo performance of THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER:

Here’s Martin on electric guitar from the November 2015 Party in a salute to Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, with Lars Frank, Martin Litton, Enrico Tomasso, Richard Pite, Henry Lemaire:

From that same weekend, here are Emma Fisk, Spats Langham, Henry Lemaire, and Martin doing their own evocation of the Quintette of the Hot Club of France on J’ATTENDRAI:

Here’s Martin on banjo in 2010 with the Chalumeau Serenaders — Matthias Seuffert, Norman Field, Nick Ward, Keith Nichols, Malcolm Sked — performing A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY:

And there’s more.  But the point of this blogpost is to let you know that Martin has made a truly imaginative CD under his own name, called LUCKY STAR — a musical sample below:

Martin says of LUCKY STAR, “Quite a mixture of things, lots of my own compositions and some standards.  Some solos –  plenty of overdub extravaganzas.  All me apart from Tom Wheatley (one of Martin’s sons) on bass.”

Solo efforts that have a good deal of overdubbing might suffer from sameness, because of the strength of the soloist’s personality, but not this CD: Martin is seriously and playfully imaginative.  And when you open the disc and read the instruments he plays, you know the disc is expansive, not constricted: guitar, tenor guitar, Hawaiian guitar, lap steel guitar, soprano / tenor / baritone ukulele; tenor / five-string / fretless banjo; moonlute, mandolin, octophone, percussion, keyboard, vocals.

The five standards are IF DREAMS COME TRUE, ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR, MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE, and MY SWEET.  I couldn’t tell absolutely which instruments Martin is playing on any track, but I can say that DREAMS sounds like a one-man Spirits of Rhythm, with a swinging bass interlude by Tom after Martin’s absolutely charming vocal (think Bowlly crossed with McKenzie, Decca sunburst edition); CHILLUN is Pizzarelli-style with more of the same swing crooning intermingled with virtuosic playing — but no notes are smudged or harmed, and there’s a cameo for Hawaiian guitar at a rocking tempo.  LUCKY STAR begins with harp-like ukulele chords and Martin picks up the never-heard verse, turning the corner into the sweet chorus in the most light-hearted sincere way, and MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE follows — a quiet instrumental masterpiece, a hymn to secular devotion. MY SWEET — beloved of Louis and Django — begins with serene chiming notes picking out the melody delicately and then builds into a rocking vocal / guitar production worthy of the QHCF — ending with waves rhythmically yet gently coming up the beach.

I’ve given these details because if I had heard one of those tracks I would want to know who the fine singer and the fine guitarists were, and I would buy the CD. They are that delightful.

But that survey would leave out the majority of the disc, Martin’s original compositions: STARGAZING / ON THE BANKS OF THE WINDRUSH, FAR AWAY / EPPING FOREST / GOLDEN HILL / THE OTTER / BRUNTCLIFFE / FOUND & LOST / COLONEL FAWCETT’S UKULELE / IN THE MERRY LAND OF UZ / X.  They aren’t easy to describe, much less categorize.  I hear lullabies, rhapsodies, inquiries, echoes of Hawaii, of Weill and Broadway shows, of Bach and modern classical, Forties film soundtracks, harp choirs, Scottish folk music, bluegrass, birdsong and forest sounds — all immaculately and warmly played.  Words fail me here, but the journey through this CD is rather like reading short stories or being shown a series of watercolors — nothing harsh, but everything evocative.

Martin told me, “Over the last seven or eight years I’ve returned to writing music and wanted it to have an outlet, which it wouldn’t get on gigs.  Although jazz is what I do, I have other musical interests and have played other sorts of music in the past. Without making any self-conscious attempts at ‘fusions’ I’ve tried to allow it all to come out – English folk tunes, Psychedelia, classical music – especially English 20th century, Hawaiian music, doubtless others. I don’t know how evident any of those is but they’re in there somewhere!

It probably is evident that most of it is romantic – Bruntcliffe, for example, I wrote as an organ piece to be played as entrance music for my wedding to Lindsay in 2011.  Most of it is less specific.  One piece with something of a programme is Colonel Fawcett’s Ukulele. Aside from punning on Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, it was inspired by reading about Colonel Percy Fawcett and his habit of playing his ukulele to the natives he encountered in the Amazon.  What he played and how they reacted is unrecorded.  It’s an amazing tale.  The obvious conclusion is that he was deluded in his belief in the Lost City of Z and its civilization from which we could learn; however, we know that with no more certainty than we know what he played on his ukulele.”

A technical note: “Overdubs were done usually to a guide track which is not heard on the final mix (pulling up the ladder after climbing up!).  This allows for a steady pulse and changes in tempo when required.  Wayne McIntyre, the sound engineer, did a terrific job.”

“If anyone would like a copy please contact me. £10 incl p&. Hope you like it!”

Find Martin on Facebook here.  If it’s not evident, I recommend this disc fervently.  It’s original yet melodic, lyrical, sweet and rocking.

May your happiness increase!

 

LUCKY STAR

ANOTHER HIGHLIGHT OF 2015: THE DAWN LAMBETH TRIO (The Second Set, Concluded) at SAN DIEGO, NOVEMBER 28, 2015: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE

DAWN headshot

“Too good to ignore,” said Eddie Condon.  He didn’t live long enough to savor this trio — Dawn Lambeth, vocals; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet — but I feel his approving glance.  They appeared last November at the San Diego Jazz Fest (thanks to Hal Smith and Paul Daspit for such a marvel) and the music was glorious. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Here’s Part One; here’s Part Two; here’s Part Three.

And the closing five songs from the second set.

That tender request, relevant to all (not simply those in love), PLEASE BE KIND:

Walter Donaldson’s 1927 hit, MY BLUE HEAVEN:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, which I associate with Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and Mildred Bailey:

CHLO-E (scored for cornet and piano) in  honor of Henry “Red” Allen:

And another Allen – J.C. Higginbotham classic (also performed much more respectably by Al Bowlly) ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:

I don’t know whether this trio will be at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, but I have strong hopes.  Also for the NPR, PBS coverage; the continental tour; the merchandise; the DVD and CD . . .

May your happiness increase!

TWO SOULFUL ECCENTRICS: JEFF BARNHART and SPATS LANGHAM, “WE WISH WE WERE TWINS” (LAKE RECORDS LACD 342)

In 2015, Jeff Barnhart and Thomas “Spats” Langham created a new duo CD.  If you know these musicians, there will be no need to do more than click here.  (The ideal way to get copies of the CD will be at a gig, but you already know this.)

JEFF SPATS two

First off, a word of explanation about my title.  Should anyone think I am satirizing either of these artists by calling them “eccentric,” know that I am using the word in its scientific sense to mean unpredictable, original, singular — they are on their own orbits, which is one of the great pleasures of this recording, because Planet Barnhart and Planet Langham create something larger than themselves while remaining true delightful individuals.  Hot synergy, if you like.

Even though this CD presents only two musicians, it gives extraordinary value. Jeff plus Spats equals a whole repertory company: a swing / stride / blues / ragtime pianist; a wonderful rhythm guitarist who also solos in his own way; an imitable banjo wizard; two singers who can emulate Fats Waller or Al Bowlly, who can croon or harmonize or scat, create hilarious jive, double-entendre or suitable for the kiddies; two comedians; two clowns . . . have I left any of the marvelous facets of these two fellows out?  No doubt when you listen to the CD you will hear and think of more.  The sonic and aesthetic density of this CD — every three-minute performance is so nobly complete and emotionally satisfying in itself, a miniature dramatic performance — makes me long for a 78 rpm issue, say a special LAKE Records eleven-record set in its own heavy cardboard album with (of course) cover by Jim Flora.  That way, we’d have to get up and go to the record player at the end of every performance and either savor it in silence or put the needle back to the beginning.

What variety!  Both Jeff and Spats are wise connoisseurs of songs that haven’t been overdone, but the disc is not overly focused on the obscure — there’s also Waller, Berlin, Coots, McHugh, Whiting — although if you’d asked me before the CD came out, “What songs would you love to have this duo doing?” I would have named a few that are here, but the results are a wonderful banquet of delights.  The disc seems intelligently apportioned between the romantic and the hot, with side-dishes of unclassifiable gratifying music, and there’s even a Barhart original that fits right in.  It’s all fulfilling.  I won’t delineate the particular pleasures and surprises — that’s rather like sending someone into a film that you’ve enjoyed to the utmost and saying, “Keep a close eye on what she does with her pearls in the Florida scene,” and the watcher is so focused on what’s-to-come, waiting for it, that the larger creation is somehow made lopsided.

Just to delineate the variety: EVERYWHERE YOU GO / TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE / ALL ALONE / SMOOTH SAILING / SLEEPY HEAD / BLUE EVENING / I COULDN’T GET TO IT / SHAKE IT DOWN / WHAT DO I CARE (What Somebody Said)? / THE BALTIMORE / KING CHANTICLEER / ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE / ISN’T LOVE THE STRANGEST THING? / IT’S YOU / LET’S PRETEND THAT THERE’S A MOON / EVERY EVENING / WITH MY LOVE / SAY IT WITH YOUR FEET – HAPPY FEET / WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? / I WISH I WERE TWINS.

Astute listeners will chart the associations — Henry “Red” Allen, Fats, Billie, Doris Day, Ikey Robinson, Bix and Tram, Ellington, Marty Grosz, Russ Columbo, Noone — and more.  But my guess is that the next time you hear, say, I WISH THAT I WERE TWINS, you will think of Jeff and Spats first.

I haven’t had the good fortune to capture Spats and Jeff as a duo, although I have seen and recorded them both — Spats at Whitley Bay for a number of years, Jeff likewise and also in duet with wife Anne (as IVORY&GOLD) . . . but here are two performances of songs you will hear on the CD.

Groucho Marx said that all theatre could be divided into two categories, sad or high-kicking, so it is on that principle that I present the music.

BLUE EVENING (recorded by me at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) by Spats, Robert Fowler, tenor saxophone; Martin Litton, piano; Malcolm Sked, brass bass:

WHEN DID  YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? by Jeff, Brian Nalepka, and Jim Lawlor — recorded in October 2015 by my friend CineDevine at Jeff and Joel’s House Party (a twice-yearly explosion of good music you should investigate):

Those two performances will give you strength to wait out the days and nights until the CD arrives, I hope.  Hail Barnhart!  Hail Langham!  Hail Paul Adams of LAKE Records!

May your happiness increase!