Tag Archives: Al Sears

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.