Tag Archives: Al Sears

IRRESISTIBLY SWINGING: THE BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA: “THIS YEAR’S KISSES”

The new CD by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, THIS YEAR’S KISSES, is wonderfully groovy, rather like the thing you can’t stay away from, Bert Lahr’s single Lay’s potato chip.  (You can look that up on YouTube.  I’ll wait.)  By the way, I loved the BPO’s first CD, PASS THE BOUNCE (2017): read about it here.

Here‘s the Bandcamp link for KISSES, where you can see the personnel, the song titles, hear a sample, download, or purchase this CD.

The description reads: The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was made for dancing. Featuring brand new arrangements of long-lost big band tunes, original compositions, and crowd favorites, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra aims to embody a big band dance orchestra of the Swing era. Filled with world-class musicians, the band will evoke thoughts of Count Basie, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and Billie Holiday.

The noble members of the BPO are Alice Spencer, vocals*; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, alto saxophone; David Jellema, cornet; Oliver Steck, cornet; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kris Tokarski,  piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar.

And the delicious repertoire is  CASTLE ROCK / SOMEBODY LOVES ME* / ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT / PEEK-A-BOO / THIS YEAR’S KISSES* / JO-JO / DON’T BE THAT WAY / ARMFUL O’ SWEETNESS* / OUT OF NOWHERE / THE THEME / WHAT’S YOUR NAME?* / BLUE LESTER / BROADWAY / I’M THRU WITH LOVE* / JEEP’S BLUES.

Those who know will see splendid associations: Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Count Basie, Karl George, Billie Holiday, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Alex Hill, Fats Waller, Henry “Red” Allen, Dexter Gordon, Nat Cole.

Happily, the CD is very forgiving of the dance-challenged: it allows me to sit in my chair, listen, and beam.  And to give you an idea of the intense attraction I had for this CD on my first hearing I thought, “I want this CD!” and then calmed down enough to think, “You already have it.”

Listening to it again and again, I envisioned the eleven members of this orchestra as a kind of M.C. Escher drawing, people swimming blissfully in two divergent streams at once.  One could be labeled NOW, which means that the musicians here sound like themselves — and their voices are so individualistic — but they are also having a high old time splashing around in THEN, so that many of the performances have a tender connection to past recorded performances.  But there is no conscious attempt (use your Steve Martin voice) to say, “Hey! Let’s Get OLD!” — no archival stiffness.  And the familiar material, say SOMEBODY, BROADWAY, NOWHERE, is delightfully enlivened by the band’s passionate immersion in not only the notes but the emotions.

The rhythm section is fine-tuned, flexible and resourceful, four individuals playing as one; the solos are memorable; the ensemble work is both loose and graciously cohesive.  This is a band, and even if there isn’t the official BPO band bus for the one-nighters, you can hear their pleasure in working together, easy and intense.

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated with Billie Holiday for decades into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

This CD is a great gift.  It’s music for dancers, music for those of us who know the originals, music for people who need joy in their lives.  THIS YEAR’S KISSES is like sunshine breaking through: a consistent delight, much appreciated.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to it again.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE WE WERE IN MAY 2019 AND HOPE TO BE AGAIN IN MAY 2021: BOUNCING WITH THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET (Part Two) at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, JOSH COLLAZO, SAM ROCHA, JAMEY CUMMINS, ALEX BELHAJ, GORDON AU, CHARLIE HALLORAN (May 12, 2019)

I know it’s the most unwieldy title in the history of JAZZ LIVES’ unwieldy titles, but so be it.  At least readers know what they’re getting, or getting into.  Here I can offer you gorgeous music from the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet: Jonathan, tenor, composer; Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Sam Rocha, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Jamey Cummins, Alex Belhaj, guitars. Recorded on May 12, 2019, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, the second part of a very rewarding set, and here is the first.

Let us begin with Cole Porter’s whimsical-salacious depiction of a very practical amorous relationship, MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY, which has a good deal of moral ambiguity to it, but who thinks about such things when sunk deeply into this groovy evocation?

More groove, more funk — Al Sears’ CASTLE ROCK:

The venerable CRAZY RHYTHM, at a surprisingly tender tempo, featuring the eloquent Charlie Halloran:

Jonathan’s own JUMP IN, JUMP OUT — which, like his other originals, shows a fully-developed compositional sense.  Even when his originals are built on familiar harmonic patterns, his introductions, riffs, textures, and voicings show his expansive imagination:

Fine riffin’ this afternoon — with Illinois Jacquet’s BOTTOMS UP:

and finally, the dark-hued YOU NEVER KNEW ME AT ALL, based on a noble Thirties ballad:

Jonathan and friends were just one highlight of the immensely stirring Redwood Coast Music Festival that made my May 2019 completely memorable.  Eleven months from now, there will be the 2021 version . . . and I’ll be there.  It’s not too soon to start anticipating these joys and more.  May 6-9, 2021.  “Mark it down.”

May your happiness increase!

BOUNCE, ROCK, and GROOVE: THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET (2015)

Who's that young man in the grip of Music? Jonathan Doyle, for certain.

Who’s that young man in the grip of Music? Jonathan Doyle, for certain.

I first encountered Jonathan Doyle (tenor saxophone, clarinet, compositions, arrangements) through my friend, master percussionist Hal Smith — more about that later — which is a stellar recommendation.  I then encountered Jon as the lead horn in a San Diego Jazz Fest session with Ray Skjelbred (another gold star) and most recently with the Fat Babies at the Evergreen Jazz Festival.  Somewhere in this delightful process of admiration, I heard and loved Jonathan’s CD, THE FED HOP, and we actually had a short friendly conversation at Evergreen.  His official biography can be found here.

Jonathan is not one of those highly-schooled fellows who “understands” swing from a safe distance.  Watch him on video for even eight bars, and you see that he is utterly immersed in it, his horn and his body in the grip of the most beautiful energies.  He also surrounds himself with like-minded souls who obviously live for this kind of lyrical groovy experience.  AND his compositions are quite wonderful: often subversively built on almost-familiar chord changes with titles that almost give the joke away.  For instance, I think I’VE NEVER BEEN TO NEW YORK is a slow rock over the harmonies of ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, the results being satisfying and a well-executed in-joke.  This band harks back to the Keynote sessions, to Basie small groups (with Basie himself smiling at the sounds but not at the keyboard), Benny Carter lines, and more . . . but they’re not in town to copy, but to evoke.  And they do it splendidly.

The swing heroes for this particular session, captured slightly more than a year ago at the Sahara Lounge in Austin, Texas, are Jonathan, tenor sax; David Jellema, cornet; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Brooks Prumo, rhythm guitar; Joshua Hoag, string bass; Jason Baczynski, drums.  The very expert videos are by Gary Feist of yellowdogvideo.com.

From left: Mark Gonzales, David Jellema, Joshua Hoag, Jonathan Doyle

From left: Mark Gonzales, David Jellema, Joshua Hoag, Jonathan Doyle

ESQUIRE BOUNCE:

Al Sears’ hit, CASTLE ROCK (a title that stands for something good, magnified):

Jon’s original, I’VE NEVER BEEN TO NEW YORK:

Another original, STRANGE MACHINATIONS:

Some very good omens.  First, a close cousin of the band shown above has recorded a new CD, TOO HOT FOR SOCKS, which I will be writing about — enthusiastically, having heard some of it through digital magic.  You can hear it and Jon’s other recordings at his website and here.  He’s also on Facebook  here.  And — just to pile tantalizing bits of data one upon another –here is his YouTube channel, full of delights.  (So the young man may play like it’s 1946 but he certainly knows how to navigate this century with grace.)

Hal Smith (mentioned admiringly above) has a new band, SWING CENTRAL, which features Jon as the sole horn, exploring the best floating small-band swing with a focus on Lester Young, Charlie Christian, and Pee Wee Russell.  The other participants have been pianist Dan Walton, guitarist Jamey Cummins, and either Joshua Hoag or Steve Pikal on string bass.  They’ve played at the Capital City Jazz Fest in Madison, Wisconsin in April, and they just had a gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.  Rumor has it that a few festival appearances are being discussed, as is a CD recording session.  And — no rumor — I will have some videos from Austin to share with you in the near future.  A band to look out for!

Keep grooving with Jonathan Doyle and friends, wherever you find them.

May your happiness increase!

ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK? (For Adults Only)

CASTLE

I don’t know why this fragment just came to the surface, but here it is.  An older man, writing his memoirs (very possibly Leonard Garment, who began as a hopeful jazz tenor saxophonist and ended up as Richard Nixon’s legal counsel) recalled the friendly mentoring he received from Ellington tenor saxophonist Al Sears in the early Fifties.

ROCK

Our man (let us call him Leonard until corrected) asked Sears about the latter’s big hit — a funky blues called CASTLE ROCK.

“Mr. Sears, what does the title of that song mean?”

“Well, a rock is an orgasm.  And a Castle Rock is a huge orgasm.”

Long pause for imagined responses from our young questioner.  Certainly that was a definitive answer.

Years after reading this story, I now wonder if the slang Sears explained had had a long life as an in-group utterance for a hip community.

How far back did that meaning of rock go?

I know that many song titles in the Thirties had subtly naughty connotations.  JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE did not entirely refer to aerobic exercise.  SWINGIN’ AT THE DAISY CHAIN referred to erotic activities undertaken at a famous New York house of such pleasures.  Fats Waller’s VALENTINE STOMP was dedicated to Hazel Valentine, a woman who ran such an establishment.  I know that ANYBODY HERE WANT TO TRY MY CABBAGE is not exactly about a tasty bowl of cole slaw.

With this knowledge, I wonder.  And I return to rock.

Should I now hear Mildred Bailey’s record of ROCK IT FOR ME with fresh ears?  (I am leaving ROCKIN’ CHAIR aside as sacrosanct.)  Ellington’s ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM?

I invite informed polite commentary from any swing linguists in my readership.

May your happiness increase.

EMMETT BERRY’S BUESCHER TRUMPET, 1952

This Buescher trumpet, the advertisement tells us, is the model Emmett Berry plays with Johnny Hodges.  For tremendous power and range, which Mr. Berry would have had on any horn.

Emmett Berry came from the tradition of individualistic players — with an intense near-ferocity no matter what the context . . . with Fletcher or Horace Henderson, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Cozy Cole, Edmond Hall, Bennie Morton, Buck Clayton, Dickie Wells, Buddy Tate, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Walter Thomas, Ben Webster, Budd Johnson, Oscar Pettiford, Harry Carney, Johnny Guarneri, Illinois Jacquet, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Vic Dickenson, John Kirby, Gerald Wilson, Betty Roche, Helen Humes, Johnny Thompson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Al Sears,Al Hibbler, Lem Davis, Dodo Marmarosa, Slim Gaillard, John Simmons, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett, Sammy Price, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Eddie Bert, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Lawrence Brown, Sidney Bechet, Ruby Braff, Art Farmer, Claude Hopkins, Pee Wee Russell, Bob Brookmeyer, Andy Gibson, Paul Gonsalves, Cannonball Adderley, Shorty Baker, Chu Berry, Earl Hines, Joe Williams.  On Keynote he was the third trumpet player with Joe Thomas and Roy Eldridge.  He was in the trumpet section for a Miles Davis and Gil Evans session.

Between 1937 and 1967, he seems to have been active on gigs and in the recording studio, even if some of that work had him playing second trumpet to Buck Clayton or as part of the brass section behind a singer.  But this record of activity says to me that various people (Harry Lim, John Hammond, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Buddy Tate) valued him as a powerful, reliable, creative player — someone who could swing, improvise, blend with a section, sight-read music the first time he saw it.

Buck Clayton’s story of Berry whacking Jimmy Witherspoon in the head with his trumpet when Spoon had been particularly out of line suggests that Berry was not someone to be trifled with, and his phrasing does suggest an expert boxer and dangerous counterpuncher.

But no one seems to have interviewed him during his playing career, and I have it in my memory (true?) that he suffered some sort of late-life mental collapse and retired from music.  (What does anyone know of him in the years from 1967 to 1993?)

His sound– so vehement — remains in my ears.  On the early Clef sessions with Hodges, on THE SOUND OF JAZZ, backing Rushing on Vanguard — unmistakable.

Here’s “a little good blues” with Earle Warren, Sir Charles Thompson, Gene Ramey, and Oliver Jackson, from 1961:

Berry doesn’t take enough space, and his vehemence is hinted at rather than fully released, but his sound and physical presence are fully evident.

He’s someone I miss.

May your happiness increase.