Tag Archives: Alex Hoffman

PUREBREDS AT THE EAR INN (2016 and 2012)

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Thanks to photographer / chronicler Lynn Redmile, we have this shining example of what happens at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, on Sunday nights, because of the EarRegulars — and what happened on January 18, 2016.  The text for this mellow sermon is Handy’s YELLOW DOG BLUES.  Lynn explains, “Each Sunday, at the historic Ear Inn on Spring Street, NYC, the EarRegulars play some of the coolest hot jazz, with a rotating lineup of musicians in their quartet, often joined by others in a jam session. This session featured founder Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), co-founder Matt Munisteri (guitar), Evan Arntzen (reeds) and Neal Miner (bass) and joined by Danny Tobias (trumpet), Mike Davis (cornet), Balázs Szalóky (trumpet) and Paul Brandenberg (cornet).”

That’s enough to make anyone howl.

When one DOG isn’t enough . . . let us return to those halcyon days of yore, specifically September 16, 2012, when I had a video camera ready for the closing song of a Sunday evening, when the original quartet was Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass. As the evening progressed, the Friends came in: Pete and Will Anderson, Dan Block, Alex Hoffman, saxophone; Eli Preminger, Danny Tobias, trumpet; Doug Finke, trombone.

Remarkable — but just another example of the ordinary magic that happens on Sunday nights at The Ear.

And perhaps not by coincidence, the Westminster Dog Show is coming to New York City on February 15 and 16, 2016.  Will this mean there will be more sitting-in at The Ear Inn, or sitting down, or sitting and staying? We’ll see.  I’ll ask my authority on such matters, Brynn White.

“Barry!  Treats for everyone!”

May your happiness increase!

CHICAGO RHYTHMS! ANDY SCHUMM, MARTY GROSZ, BOB HAVENS, ALEX HOFFMAN, JOHN SHERIDAN, KERRY LEWIS, PETE SIERS at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (September 22, 2012)

I post this delicious session — held in the vaults until now — both as a nostalgic glance backwards at the joys of Jazz at Chautauqua and as a “coming attraction” for what is to come this September.

Here’s Andy Schumm, cornet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Bob Havens, trombone; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; John Sheridan, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

From the early Ben Pollack book, WAITIN’ FOR KATY:

SWEET SUE, “featuring our fantastic vocalist”:

JUST IMAGINE:

An easy-rocking JAZZ ME BLUES:

The closer!  CHICAGO RHYTHM:

This one’s for the Beloved, for Stompy Jones and Maxine, for Ray, for Geri, for Aunt Ida, for Nancie, for Laura Beth . . . all the folks I cherish.

See you in September!

May your happiness increase.

BIG JAZZ: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ALEX HOFFMAN, KERRY LEWIS at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (September 22, 2012)

I follow Jon-Erik Kellso, who is superbly consistent . . . someone who reaches into his musical bag of treats and invariably comes out with something new — in his depth of feeling, his variety of pure (and impure) sounds, his intensity, his swaying ascents and descents.  And when Jon-Erik has intuitive friends around him (as he does many Sundays at The Ear Inn and here) — jazz masters Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass — great things happen.  Sweet melodies, hot rhythms.

The proof is right here (recorded Saturday, September 22, 2012, at Jazz at Chautauqua) — where Fifty-Second Street meets Lake Chautauqua, where 1946 and 2013 wander amiably down the same paths.

Because Jon-Erik loves Roy Eldridge (the act of a wise musician), he began the set with the rarely-heard LITTLE JAZZ:

Time for a Basie groove?  Always a good idea.  Plunge ahead! TOPSY:

Alex displayed his own particular soft, compelling brilliance on THREE LITTLE WORDS:

In honor of the season and also because he doesn’t often get to play it, Jon called for SEPTEMBER SONG, where his sound is so eloquent (and the exchanges with Kerry are a treat):

And a little TEA FOR TWO, inspired by one of Coleman Hawkins’ many riff inventions on its chords:

If you’re not moving around in your chair, something might be wrong with your computer.  I have wonderful repair people . . . everything that’s technologically-flawed can be fixed.  But this music needs no alterations.  Thank you, Jon, Alex, Kerry, Rossano!

May your happiness increase.

JON-ERIK KELLSO HONORS HENRY “RED” ALLEN (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, September 22, 2012)

Henry “Red” Allen deserves to be celebrated — a monumentally surprising individualist with deep New Orleans roots but as modern as you could want.  He demonstrated his quirky powers for four decades on record and in performance: in one phrase, harking back to street parades and the great trumpet tradition including his friend and sometime employer Louis Armstrong, then creating dancing angular phrases that came from nowhere, broke in through the side window, tap-danced in the air, and left in a flash.

If the history of jazz had not been compressed by star-makers and taxonomists (Louis to Roy to Dizzy to Miles, no local stops) more people would have noticed that Red’s phrasing and note choices are as deliciously odd as Lester’s or Monk’s — earlier.  With some splendid musicians, you can anticipate what they might play and what directions their solos might take: not Henry Red.  And as a singer. he blends the romance of an African-American Crosby and the wildness of Leo Watson, the good grease of Lips Page — always recognizable as himself.

In the Thirties, Red worked with the Fletcher Henderson band, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, and eventually with Louis’ large band — which grew out of the 1929-30 Luis Russell Orchestra, perhaps the happiest band in jazz.  He recorded with a variety of blues singers, with Billie Holiday and James P. Johnson — but the records that many of us treasure are a series made for jukeboxes between 1933 and 1937.

Their premise was simple: get a small band of expert swing musicians (none of them famous enough to command salaries above scale), pass out current pop tunes, make sure the melody and lyrics were clear and distinct in an opening chorus, and let the fellows swing out.

Red’s cohorts on these recordings were (among others) trombonists Bennie Morton, Dicky Wells, and J.C. Higginbotham; reedmen Coleman Hawkins, Cecil Scott, Chu Berry, Hilton Jefferson, Russell Procope, Tab Smith, Buster Bailey, rhythm players Don Kirkpatrick, Horace Henderson, John Kirby, Bernard Addison, Lawrence Lucie, Walter Johnson, and others.  Many years ago these records were available in complete chronological order on vinyl and CD, but those issues are hard to find.  They rank with the best Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey recordings.

But this is not simply a celebration of the hallowed dead.  Rather, like so many musical occasions that delight me, the music presented below merges the past and the present at once.  And if ever a musician could straddle 1933 and 2012 without ripping his suit trousers, it would be our man Jon-Erik Kellso.  He is wise enough to play himself rather than copying Red, but he loves the small band recordings Red and Coleman Hawkins created.  He and a congenial small band — Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; John Sheridan, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums — swung out in tribute to Red, Hawk, and the good music you could hear on a jukebox or at home in 1933-4 . . . at Jazz at Chautauqua 2012.

I’M RHYTHM CRAZY NOW comes from the (Horace) Henderson book, and it lives up to its title in an understated way:

THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG was a voluptuous hit for Bing Crosby at his most romantic — and it became a great showcase for Coleman Hawkins (yet another example of Crosby’s magnificent influence across “schools” and “styles”):

YOU’RE GONNA LOSE YOUR GAL, for better or worse, is purely instrumental here, so we miss out on the profound lines, “acting like a two-time lover / sneaking kisses under cover / you’ll wake up and you’ll discover”:

Fats Waller’s rhetorical urging us to joy, AIN’T CHA GLAD?:

From the very first session Red and Hawk attempted — with tuba and banjo at the orders of the recording executives — SISTER KATE:

I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED, a hot tune, might not have been recorded by Red — but Fats and Louis created memorable recordings of it (in Fats’ case, a film appearance) so it’s welcome here:

May your happiness increase.

BOB HAVENS, SUPERHERO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2012)

Trombonist Bob Havens looks nothing like a Marvel Comics star.  In fact, his quiet Midwestern appearance and demeanor make Clark Kent look rather raunchy by comparison.  But Bob shows us, every time he puts together his trombone, that a man may be in his eighties and have his superpowers remain undiminished, and that red and blue costuming is not essential.

Here he is with Randy Reinhart, cornet; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums — recorded at Jazz at Chautauqua on Friday, September 21, 2012.

Just because it’s amusing and surprising, Randy began the set with the classic end-of-the-night I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

A tribute to Bix and Tram in SINGIN’ THE BLUES:

Then Mr. Havens leaps into action on ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE:

And they end the set with IN A MELLOTONE:

You don’t have to take it from me that Bob Havens is simply remarkable — the Douglas Fairbanks Sr. of the sliphorn.  Just look at the expressions on the faces of his colleagues.  I want to know what Bob eats (or doesn’t eat) for breakfast.  Surely we could all try it, too.

May your happiness increase.

WHERE BLISS BLOSSOMS: THE EARREGULARS and FRIENDS at THE EAR INN (September 16, 2012): JON-ERIK KELLSO, HARRY ALLEN, NEAL MINER, CHRIS FLORY, DOUG FINKE, DAN BLOCK, DANNY TOBIAS, ALEX HOFFMAN, ELI PREMINGER, PETE ANDERSON, WILL ANDERSON

The Ear Inn, as I have been pointing out for a number of years, is the place to be on a Sunday night in New York City.  When you come to 326 Spring Street in Soho, sometime between 8 and 11, you will hear wondrous music, subtle and exuberant.

A few Sundays ago, on September 16, 2012, the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar.  That group in itself deserves a WOW!

Doug Finke joined the original quartet for ROSETTA.  And it was never too close for comfort:

(A word about Doug, who isn’t as well known as he should be in East Coast circles.  I knew his work from three CDs by the Independence Hall Jazz Band — spectacular sessions featuring Jon-Erik, Duke Heitger, Paul Asaro, Dan Barrett, Orange Kellin, Vince Giordano, Scott Anthony, Chris Tyle — and I met Doug in person last March at Dixieland Monterey (the Jazz Bash by the Bay) where he appeared with Bob Schulz, Ray Skjelbred, Kim Cusack, and Hal Smith . . . a man is known by the company he keeps!  But with Doug it is more than being able to travel in fast musical company: notice the easy way he has his own luxuriant style, having absorbed all kinds of jazz to sound entirely and happily like himself.)

The Fantastic Five did their own variations on Romberg’s lament, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

After a brief break for nourishment, the Original Four took the stand (a figure of speech at The Ear Inn) for a leisurely, I might even say “lingering” version of LINGER AWHILE.  Savor the beautiful solos and the way each solo leads into the next — this is a band of individualists who know all there is to know about Swing Synergy.  This performance is a living lesson in craft, courage, and heart.

I think it takes a lifetime to learn how to play music like this; aren’t we lucky that these players and their friends share their masteries with us?

I would have been very happy to listen to what you’ve heard far into Monday morning . . . but my friends who play instruments wanted to add their voices to this swing splendor.  Jon-Erik invited Dan Tobias (cornet) and Dan Block (tenor saxophone) to join the party for IF DREAMS COME TRUE, and they did.  The dreams, I mean:

Jon-Erik is a witty observer of the lives around him — so in honor of the Jewish New Year (where families dip apple slices in honey at Rosh Hashonah dinner for a sweet new year to come), he called for the Woody Herman line, APPLE HONEY — with amused reverence for customs and how they can be honored in swing.  The soloists are Harry; Will Anderson (alto); Dan Tobias; Pete Anderson (tenor); Jon-Erik; Alex Hoffman (tenor); Dan Block (tenor); Chris Flory (guitar, remembering Tiny Grimes at the start);   Neal Miner (string bass) — backed by hilariously appropriate riffs:

Jon-Erik temporarily retired from the field and turned matters over to Eli Preminger, the hot trumpet man from Israel . . . and Doug Finke returned for I FOUND A NEW BABY, with Dan Block and Harry Allen in conversation, Will and Pete Anderson showing brotherly love, Dan Tobias and Eli having a swing chat before Alex and Chris speak up.  Then it’s every tub on its own bottom (with Neal being epigrammatic on the bridge):

And if that wasn’t enough, some blues to close out the night — the YELLOW DOG BLUES, thirteen minutes and fifteen seconds of hot bliss:

“My goodness!” to quote Dan Barrett.

I don’t know of another place on the planet where such collective exultation takes place on a weekly basis . . . . thank you, gentlemen, for making this joy possible (and for allowing me to spread the healing vibrations to people who live far away).

P.S.  I must also say that what and how a band plays is in some small measure determined by their audience.  It is entirely possible, and sometimes necessary, for musicians to ignore the loud or distracting people in front of them . . . in fact, if musicians got distracted from their life-purpose by the couple at the table near the window, they wouldn’t last very long in this business.  But I digress.  At the Ear Inn that night, there were many musicians and deep listeners in the audience, and I am sure this made the atmosphere even more special: Gary Foster, Frank Basile, Ben Flood [players!] and Lynn Redmile, Shelley Finke, Nan Irwin, Claiborne Ray, Marcia Salter [listeners!].

P.P.S.  After five years of fairly steady attendance at The Ear, I feel that it is a beautifully special place in my world.  It’s where I go to wash away the dust of everyday life, to get my aesthetic vitamins, to get my batteries charged.

This may be too personal for some of my readers, but I write openly that 326 Spring Street on Sundays from 8-11 is my synagogue, my church, my mosque, my sacred space, my place of worship.  I go there to get uplifted, to witness and participate once again in individual and collective Joy.  I go there to learn so much about beauty and generosity.

I wish that everyone who vibrates as I do could go there and be inspired.

And I do not overstate a word here.

May your happiness increase.

WARM LYRICISM: NEAL MINER, ALEX HOFFMAN, PHIL STEWART at SMALLS (Sept. 7, 2012)

Neal Miner always makes memorable music and travels in fine company, whether he’s alongside Michael Kanan, jamming with the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, or leading a group at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York) as he did last Friday, September 7, 2012.

The music Neal, saxophonist Alex Hoffman, and drummer Phil Stewart made that night had a warm lyricism and an easy swing at its heart — subtle but powerfully affecting melodic improvisations.  I call it eloquent, casually unaffected chamber jazz, inspired musical conversations — an art not learned in schools but through deep study and experience.

Variations on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?

Variations on IDAHO:

DREAMS OF YOU:

DEAR OLD STOCKHOLM:

BLUES FOR C SHARPE (with the great pianist Ehud Asherie joining in, to my left — felt and heard although not seen):

NIGHT OWLS (based on LULLABY OF THE LEAVES):

MELANCHOLY BABY:

FROM THE HIGH LINE (based on INDIAN SUMMER):

THESE FOOLISH THINGS / BLUES FOR C SHARPE:

May your happiness increase.

WARM-HEARTED EXPLORATION: DAVID SILLS / MICHAEL KANAN: “SWEET AND LOVELY”

From David Sills’ “The Sweetest Melody” CD on Gut String Records.  Sills and pianist Michael Kanan create beauty — searching and generous music that lives up to the song’s title.

The video was recorded in December 2011 at the Drawing Room, Brooklyn, New York.  To listen to and view more music from David Sills’ The Sweetest Melody session, and other Gut String Records releases, visit here.

The man behind the camera, string bassist / composer Neal Miner, is also someone you should know.  And in a few days — on Friday, September 7, from 7:30 to 10 PM at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City), Neal will be leading a small group featuring saxophonist Alex Hoffman and drummer Phil Stewart — music for the mind and heart.  Click  here  for the schedule at Smalls.

May your happiness increase.

JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2012 IS ALMOST HERE!

Four little reminders.

1.  Jazz at Chautauqua begins on Thursday evening, September 20, 2012, and concludes on Sunday afternoon, September 23.  (The Traditional Jazz Workshop precedes it — details below.)

2.  I have been attending Jazz at Chautauqua every year since 2004, and it is one of the high points of my year.  It’s not simply the music, which is superb and varied.  It’s the lovely Hotel Athenaeum overlooking Lake Chautauqua, the beautiful surroundings (think old-fashioned houses with awnings and hydrangeas), and seeing old friends — meeting new ones, too.

3.  I think these are magical names (in alphabetical order, for a change): Howard Alden, Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Dan Block, Jon Burr, Faux Frenchmen, Mike Greensill, Marty Grosz, Bob Havens, Duke Heitger, Alex Hoffman, Keith Ingham, Jon-Erik Kellso, Rebecca Kilgore, Kerry Lewis, Ricky Malichi, Bill Ransom, Randy Reinhart, Bob Reitmeier, Scott Robinson, Andy Schumm, John Sheridan, Pete Siers, Rossano Sportiello, Lynn Stein, Frank Tate.  

4.  In case all of this seems financially overwhelming (and I understand that feeling, really) Jazz at Chautauqua has now arranged something they call single-event pricing . . . which means that you can buy a ticket to attend one or more of four lengthy sessions (Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon) for $120 each.  Details can be found here.  And it is not too late to sign up for the Traditional Jazz Workshop: imagine taking a master class with personalized instruction from Dan Barrett, Becky Kilgore, Duke Heitger, Scott Robinson, and the others — the stuff that dreams are made of.

I consider it a stroke of great good fortune to be attending Jazz at Chautauqua again this year, and I would like everyone I know who loves this music to share the pleasure . . . although they’d then have to build a much larger hotel ballroom.

May your happiness increase.

JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (AND MORE) IS COMING: SEPTEMBER 2012

When I was a child, Autumn came a few weeks after the mingled delights and worries of Back to School.  Later, Autumn meant no more barbecues for another year and the start of leaf-raking, gutter-cleaning and other suburban joys.  But since September 2004, I have a different set of associations — all exceedingly pleasant.

To be accurate, Autumn (or Fall) 2012 begins — in the Northern Hemisphere — on September 22, at 10:49 Eastern Daylight Time.  I looked it up.

The Beloved and I will be celebrating the change of seasons as we have done for the past years at Jazz at Chautauqua, the fifteenth such exaltation.

Chautauqua takes place at the glorious Athenaeum Hotel (built in 1881 and architecturally fascinating) from Thursday, September 20, to Sunday, September 23.  On Thursday, there’s a delightful series of  informal jam sets; Friday afternoon features piano and guitar solos and duets in the parlor, and on Friday evening a cornucopia of wonderful sounds begins and doesn’t stop until Sunday afternoon.  I’ve been filming live performances there for a few years, so you have only to head over to my YouTube channel, “swingyoucats,” and search for “Chautauqua” to have strong evidence of what fun awaits.

Here’s that great Romantic, John Sheridan, playing MY FOOLISH HEART:

This year, the personnel is quite wonderful (although that is frankly no surprise):

Cornet / trumpet: Duke Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, Andy Schumm; reeds: Harry Allen, Dan Block, Bob Reitmeier, Scott Robinson, Alex Hoffman;  trombone: Dan Barrett, Bob Havens;  guitar/banjo: Howard Alden, Marty Grosz;  piano: Mike Greensill, Keith Ingham, John Sheridan, Rossano Sportiello; bass: Jon Burr, Kerry Lewis, Frank Tate; drums: Ricky Malichi, Pete Siers, John Von Ohlen;  vocals: Marty Grosz, Rebecca Kilgore, Wesla Whitfield.  Bands: Alden-Barrett Quintet; Faux Frenchmen (Don Aren, bass; George Cunningham, guitar; Brian Lovely, guitar; Joe Lukasik, clarinet; Paul Patterson, violin);  Photographic exhibit by Duncan P. Schiedt.

Here’s Duke Heitger and friends taking us into the jungle for a hot TIGER RAG:

All these men and women have been personally approved of by JAZZ LIVES and they have received this blogsite’s Seal of Approval.

Jazz at Chautauqua is one of those weekend parties where life is comfortable: guests staying at the hotel have only to come down a flight of stairs (or take the antique elevator) to find their wishes gratified: jazz, copious amounts of food and drink, smiling staff, a basket of apples on the front desk, beautiful views of Lake Chautauqua).  For details of pricing, reservations, and the like, all will be revealed here.

But wait!  There’s more!

For those of you who want to learn from the Masters — a most amiable crew of people whom we admire — before Jazz at Chautauqua begins, there will be the first-ever, turbo-charged, fully synchronous Traditional Jazz Workshop.  You will be able to study with Professors Kilgore, Lewis, Sportiello, Malichi, Heitger, Barrett, Robinson, Alden.  Dan Barrett is the Music Director and I am told that it is all Pass / Fail but no one ever Fails.  The details are on the same page; the Workshop runs from September 16 to the 20th, and students can stay at the hotel.  If my embouchure can be made to improve by early September, I may ask my colleagues to cover my classes, pack my valve oil and my cornet and become a student again.  I know there’s so much to learn!

I can hear some of you saying, “Michael, aren’t you rushing our summers away?  It isn’t even Bastille Day and here you are talking us into September.”  True, true.  But summer’s lease hath too short a date.  And — if not now, when?

I look forward to seeing some of my JAZZ LIVES friends there.  Heaven knows the bandstand will be full of them.

May your happiness increase.

THE PAST GIVES THE FUTURE A PRESENT: EHUD ASHERIE, JON-ERIK KELLSO, ALEX HOFFMAN at SMALLS (May 10, 2012)

The casually affecting improvisations that Ehud Asherie (piano), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), and Alex Hoffman created at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York) a few weeks ago don’t need much explication.

But to me they prove, once again, that improvisations on familiar chord sequences over a swinging 4 / 4 aren’t outmoded.  This music looks backwards as far as recorded jazz can — Ehud’s stride playing is deeply aware of ragtime and Fats Waller . . . but it also exemplifies the spiky brilliance of Bud Powell and Monk — while sounding just like Mr. Asherie.  Jon-Erik’s winding phrases shine with his admiration of Louis, Roy, and Ruby, but no one would mistake him for a player stuck in the grooves of recordings.  And Alex’s sweetly easeful tenor evokes Lester Young — but Alex knows the present and future.

The wonderful legerdemain of this performance is that it summons up an imagined 1938 Basie jam session brought whole into May 2012.  Delineations between Now and Then blur as these three masters savor the joys of serious play.

They began the second set with I NEVER KNEW — to me an empty statement, for these players certainly do know, no matter how much they protest otherwise:

Eloquent, romantic, pretty — James P. Johnson’s IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT (to give it its full title):

Explicitly for Basie — Eddie Durham’s TOPSY (with superhero Kellso and his Magic Mute):

Equal time for Ellington, Webster, and Beatrix Potter — COTTON TAIL:

And — to close the session — a funky, slow-motion blues that pays homage to Bird and to “rhythm and blues,” NOW’S THE TIME:

An inspired trio!

May your happiness increase.

PRINCES OF WAILS: The EarRegulars and Friends at The Ear Inn (March 25, 2012)

I considered two other titles for this posting.  One, from pop culture, was, “I’ll have what they’re having!”  The other, from Byron, was “Let joy be unconfined.”  You’ll soon see why.

For nearly five years, the collective ensemble — an expandable quartet — known as The EarRegulars has been holding forth at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday nights from 8-11 PM, with astounding results.  If you’ve never been there or seen these videos, you might raise an eyebrow at “astounding.”  Watch!  Then, if you think the adjective hyperbolic, you can write to Customer Service for a refund.

On March 25, 2012, The EarRegulars began as Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, taragota and tenor saxophone; Greg Cohen, string bass.  Four of the finest; friends and intuitive colleagues.

Here’s their direct tribute to Louis Armstrong and the rocking New Orleans tradition (also perhaps a warning against the dangers of opium smoking, if you know the lyrics), WILLIE THE WEEPER:

Then, a direct tribute to Irving Berlin and Ruby Braff in RUSSIAN LULLABY (also an indirect memory of Louis, who — as a youth — warmed to the “Russian lullabies” that Mrs. Karnofsky sang to her baby):

The quartet slowly started to expand — in the most joyous fashion — with the addition of trombonist Art Baron and drummer Chuck Redd, the latter keeping time with wire brushes on the paper tablecloth, for PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE:

And the climax, reminiscent of the Fifty-Second Street jam sessions that most of us have experienced only in photographs — a nearly seventeen-minute exploration of the Ellington blues, THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE*.  Jon-Erik, Matt, Scott, Art, and Chuck were joined by Gordon Au, trumpet; Alex Hoffmann and Dan Block, saxes; Vinny Raniolo, acoustic guitar — for a wondrously sustained workout:

Oh, play those things!

The EarRegulars and Friends cast their bread upon the waters, and it comes back as buttered toast (to quote Sonny Greer).

 May your happiness increase.

*Note.  This blues was originally known under another name.  Oddly enough, the members of the Ellington band were all devoted to healthy diet long before it became fashionable.  Thus, when this blues emerged as a collective idea, they put a title to it: “All The Boys in the Band Eat Healthy,” and I am sure they did.

BRIGHT SHADOWS: SPIKE AND MIKE at SMALLS (April 19, 2012)

“Spike and Mike” isn’t a new buddy film, a cable sitcom about two pets on the run, or a box of candy.  It’s the colloquial title that pianist Spike Wilner and saxophonist Michael Hashim accept as their own . . . also the title of a song Mike wrote to play in duet with Spike.  I learned all of this from the front row of Smalls, that congenial jazz club at 183 West Tenth Street, on April 19, 2012.

I’ve heard and admired both players for seven or eight years now: Spike in solo, duo, and with his own PLANET JAZZ; Mike in bands as superficially different as Kevin Dorn’s The Big 72 (once known as the Traditional Jazz Collective) and the Microscopic Septet.  To my ears, they are splendidly united in their playful idiosyncracies; each is a master of his instrument who closes his eyes and steps off into the unknown, trusting himself and listening to his colleague.  And they are friends, which comes through.  When I was at Smalls the week before this duet and asked Spike if I could come and record his duets with Mike, his instant response was, “Oh, I love that guy!”  And if you watch the videos closely, you’ll see Hashim grinning back at Wilner every time the saxophone is out of his mouth.  As a duo, they listen intently — making for the most gratifying play, where Earl Bostic and Nat Cole go off to interstellar space.

The program (mostly chosen by Mike) steered away from twice-baked chestnuts, leaning seriously — and beautifully — on Billy Strayhorn.  You’ll hear and see his explanatory introductions, so eloquent as to make my explanations superfluous.  But I have to point out that this program began with not one, but two romance-influenced questions.

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW?):

SPIKE AND MIKE (an improvisation on the changes of TOPSY):

FLAMINGO:

Kurt Weill’s THIS IS NEW (which I had known only from the Lee Wiley recording on RCA Victor):

A Strayhorn duo — first, the very rare LAMENT FOR AN ORCHID (Absinthe) :

and the slightly more familiar JOHNNY COME LATELY:

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? (sadly, almost as relevant in 2012 as 1932):

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:

MOON MIST:

THE LATE, LATE SHOW (courtesy of Dakota Staton):

Jobim’s very soulful DINDI:

As Mike says, “It’s a waltz.  It’s our biggest hit!”  What else but LOTUS BLOSSOM:

Romping on RHYTHM changes: STEEPLECHASE:

May your happiness increase.

BLISS! (The EarRegulars and Friends at The Ear Inn, March 18, 2012)

If you think my title is hyperbolic, I urge you to go immediately to the video performances below, recorded live at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on March 18, 2012.  The players were “The EarRegulars,” a small group originally founded by guitarist Matt Munisteri and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso.  Last Sunday, Matt was off making audible fireworks in Austin, Texas, so the personnel was Jon-Erik (on a surprisingly svelte Puje trumpet); Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Neal Miner, bass.  And their friends: Alex Hoffman, tenor; Dan Block, alto saxophone.

Swing aristocrats, casually launching their sweet ideas into the unknown.  Stretching out, spreading joy, lighting up our souls.

Cole Porter’s WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? — at “Ben Webster tempo”:

A romping COQUETTE:

I was exhausted on Monday morning but thrilled that I had stayed for this set.  If there are any logicians and semanticists in the JAZZ LIVES readership, perhaps they can chew on this apparent paradox:

1) I don’t think anyone could improve on this music.

2) The EarRegulars — in their various guises — do this whenever they play.

Blessings on all the EarRegulars and their noble friends — an uplifting community where every tub is on its own bottom — a model for us all.

May your happiness increase.

“NOW THE PALE MOON’S SHINING ON THE FIELDS BELOW . . .” (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, Feb. 26, 2012)

In the forty years that WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH was his theme song, Louis Armstrong must have sung it more than 365 times a year.  I will leave the mathematics to you.  But he never tired of it, and it was his way of saying, “Here I am, ready to bring you love!” to an audience — in Hinsdale, Illinois; Hempstead, New York; Yokohama, Japan . . . around the world.  So the song has the deep feeling for me that hymns do for other people, or perhaps the National Anthem.  I don’t stand up and put my hand over my heart, but that is the way I feel when a band plays this song.

The EarRegulars did a beautiful job of evoking Louis in a place he probably never visited — The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City — last Sunday night, February 26, 2012.  They were Matt Munisteri, guitar; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Greg Cohen, string bass; Danny Tobias, cornet.

Incidentally, while The EarRegulars were playing, millions of people were watching “the winners” be announced at the Academy Awards; others were watching an all-star basketball game.  I think the real winners were playing and listening at The Ear Inn, with no need for any ripping open of envelopes or running up and down a basketball court.

Good evening, everybody!

OUR IDEAL: THE EARREGULARS at THE EAR INN (January 29, 2012)

Very simple, no flourishes, nothing fancy: just four of the best musicians you’ll ever hear honoring the melodies, improvising at lightning speed, making a wonderfully cohesive little band right there in the corner at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) last Sunday night from 8-11 PM.  By the summer of 2012 the EarRegulars will have pulled off such secular miracles for five years, which stands as an amazing record for creative consistency.

Last Sunday’s Peerless Quartet was Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass.  Here are five varied and luminous performances from that evening:

The Claude Hopkins-Alex Hill declaration of gracious acquiescence, I WOULD DO [MOST] ANYTHING FOR YOU, which also became the Hopkins theme song.  I always wonder whether it reflects the leader’s mood if the MOST is included or left out.  Scholarly research, anyone?

Then a leisurely exposition of the 1922 Youmans SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY, at a tempo that recalls Lester Young and his gorgeous Keynote session:

So many “traditional” and “Dixieland” bands have claimed THE SHEIK OF ARABY for their own that one is in danger of forgetting what an effective swing tune it is.  Here, Matt and Jon-Erik launch into the appropriately Middle-Eastern verse in a manner that recalls the eternally memorable Hot Lips Page session for V-Disc:

A lovely tune, not often played by jazz improvisers, is the Irving Berlin CHANGE PARTNERS — of course associated with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers:

And a sweet, musing version of Walter Donaldson’s MY IDEAL, recalling both Coleman Hawkins and Billie Holiday:

I was thrilled to be there . . . and I had very good company — new young friends, Travis and Jillian, who were digging the music in the most heartfelt way.  Shazam, you cats!

The EarRegulars will be taking Sunday, February 5, 2012, off, because of the Super Bowl — but they will be back on the 12th with Matt, Jon-Erik, Mark Lopeman, and Nicki Parrott — prepare to swing!

JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, TAL RONEN, STEVE LITTLE at FAT CAT (July 5, 2011)

FAT CAT (located at 75 Christopher Street in New York City, just off Seventh Avenue South) is, at first glance, an odd place to hear rewarding jazz.

You climb down a steep staircase, meet up with someone who asks for proof of age and three dollars, stamps your hand with a blue-ink drawing of a grinning feline, and you turn a corner . . . into what resembles a Fifties rec room at a huge scale.  Past a bar (with an intriguing selection of beers on tap — I had Old Speckled Hen, a UK favorite — and wines) into a large basement filled with chess tables, billiard tables, ping pong tables, foosball tables, shuffleboard, and more.  In fact, one of Fat Cat’s two sites asserts proudly that it is “NYC’s best-equipped gaming center” and  “best pool hall.”

It’s far from dreary and ominous — perhaps a youthful Minnesota Fats and Eddie Felson might be doing battle here — on my most recent trip to Fat Cat, two young couples were playing pool with more enthusiasm than skill.  There is a good deal of late-adolescent shouting when someone makes a great shot or a disastrous move, but it’s all cheerful.  (One night, behind me was a chili-cookoff, or so it seemed, with aluminum tins of chili for a birthday party, a cake, and a long version of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU.)  And I understand that it is jammed at 1:30 AM.

Here’s the “gaming site” for the skeptical:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/gaming.html

What the youngbloods at their Scrabble boards might not know is that Fat Cat is a secret jazz hangout as well.  How do the names Frank Wess, Ned Goold, Terry Waldo, Grant Stewart, Ehud Asherie, Corin Stiggall, Alex Hoffman — and more —  sound to you?

The other Fat Cat website has all the musical information you need:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/

On Tuesday, July 5, a quartet gathered (there are soft couches — the sort of furniture it is difficult to leap up from) in a smaller quadrant not far from the bar.  The corner was dark in portions, gleefully lit in primary colors near the back.  A large sign announcing FEATRING _______________ and HIS ORCHESTRA (approximately, with the leader’s name never filled in) hangs over the proceedings.

But even given the shouts of joy or disdain from the players (not at all critical comments on the music), the quartet accomplished great things and brought wonderful lilting sounds to Fat Cat.

The players?

On tenor and soprano saxophone, the whimsical monument, the Swing Explorer, Joel Press . . . . making his own way, often sideways, in the great singing saxophone tradition bounded on one end by Eddie Miller and on the other by Steve Lacy.  Although Joel says it’s impossible for him, given his origins, I hear a deep Southwestern moan and lope in his playing.  He bounces when he plays, and you would hear the bounce with your eyes closed.  His sound is tender yet burry: I thought of a favorite rough blanket, cozy but assertive, as he glides from one idea to the next.  Lester Young peeks in approvingly over Joel’s shoulder, although Joel is much more than a purveyor of Prez-isms.

Pianist Michael Kanan never does the expected, yet when his notes and pauses have settled in, they seem exactly right — with the epigrammatic power and amusement of a Nat Cole, a Jimmy Rowles — although he, too, covers the entire spectrum from Willie the Lion Smith to Ray Bryant and Red Garland.  Michael makes wonderful sound-clusters come out of the piano: rippling trills and tremolos, single-note stabs, chords that seem lopsided but fit just right.  He and Joel float on a wave of loving respect, and several songs feature a sweetly chatty interlude, where ideas are tossed back and forth in polite yet eager conversation.

I hadn’t met Tal Ronen before, although I’d admired his work on a variety of CDs.  And I was delighted by the big warm sound he got — even when tuning his bass.  His pulse was absolutely right, although never obtrusive, and his solo lines were worthy of being transcribed.  Although some players bridle at being compared with the Great Dead, Tal made me think — many times during the evening — of both George Duvivier and Paul Chambers.

Steve Little and Joel go back a long way — and this session was a reunion of sorts after a thirty-year hiatus.  Steve’s gently prodding drums make a band sound better, and his movement around his set (from brushes on the snare to a variety of cymbal strokes) leave us enlivened rather than somnolent.  Hear how deeply he pays attention to what’s going on within the band — but never letting his commentaries obscure the other players.

Some highlights:

Charlie Parker’s DEWEY SQUARE, a New York landmark as well as a musical statement:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — in the best Kansas City tradition — turned the corner into MOTEN SWING before it finshed.  Here’s the first Kanan – Press chat, too:

Joel named his variation on the chords of OUT OF NOWHERE “LAST EXIT” in honor of Warne Marsh, who died onstage while playing his own improvisation on the same changes:

LOVER MAN, for Billie Holiday and Ram Ramirez:

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, taken at an easy romantic trot, was a real pleasure:

INDIANA was the occasion for another Press – Kanan conversation:

Joel turned to his soprano sax for Thelonious Monk’s improvisation on LADY BE GOOD chord changes, which Monk called HACKENSACK:

And Joel closed the two sets with an easy Bb blues — the line, written by Sonny Rollins (but reaching back many generations before him) was called RELAXIN’, and it was an apt title:

Beauty and fervor and whimsy in the darkness.

THEY’RE STILL EAR! (April 10, 2010)

My title is an unconscionable pun on Sondheim’s famous affirmation from FOLLIES.

It’s my way of writing how glad I am that the Sunday night sessions (from 8 to 11 PM, more or less) at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) are happily afloat.  This summer The EarRegulars will celebrate their fourth anniversary!

I had missed a number of Ear sessions, so I was delighted to return on April 10, 2011 to find that nothing had been changed in my absence.  Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, on trumpet and guitar, respectively, still offered benign swinging guidance (catch Jon-Erik’s plunger work on HAPPY FEET and Matt’s ringing, chiming solos and fierce rhythm!).  The other members were the eloquent bassist Neal Miner and the always surprising Alex Hoffman on tenor sax.  Here are three delightful performances from that night.

The first of these is a novelty song with goofy lyrics (about women who wicky-wacky-woo) which used to be a jazz / jam session favorite . . . less so in this century, but NAGASAKI is still a delight:

Then, an EarRegular favorite — bringing together the late Paul Whiteman band and the early-Thirties Henderson orchestra — HAPPY FEET:

These Sunday night music-parties are one of the best things about New York City: long may they continue!

FLOATING: A MASTER CLASS (The Ear Inn, Nov. 8, 2010)

NPR wasn’t there.  PBS was off covering something else.  Too bad for them.

But last Sunday night, The EarRegulars offered a master class at The Ear Inn.  Anyone could attend. 

Their subject?  Duke Ellington called it “bouncing buoyancy,” his definition for the irresistible levitation that swinging jazz could produce.  I call it floating — the deep mastery of rhythm, line, and invention that one hears in Louis, Lester, Benny Carter, Jack Teagarden, Jo Jones, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, and on and on. 

The audience at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street in Soho, New York City) may not have known what they were hearing, but I am sure it was absorbed osmotically into their very cells.   

And who are these masters, teaching by example?  The co-founders of The EarRegulars, Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, on trumpet and guitar, joined by bassist Neal Miner and someone I’d only heard about, tenor saxophonist Alex Hoffman, a young man who’s already playing splendidly.  (Look him up at http://www.alexhoffman.com.) 

Later in the evening a whole reed section dropped by, one by one: Andy Faber, tenor; Dan Block, alto; Pete Martinez, clarinet.

Here are a few highlights.  Check yourself to find that you’re still touching the chair seat:

I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU, that pretty rhythm ballad — most of us know it as “I TOOK A TRIP ON A TRAIN,” and so on:

MY WALKING STICK is a wonderful minor-rock with the best pedigree — an Irving Berlin song recorded once by Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers, then, forty years later, by Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins.  This version is the twenty-first century’s delightful continuation, with Professor Kellso walking with his plunger mute:

Another pretty song that rarely gets played is UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE — the ballad Frank Chace loved.  I know it from versions by Louis, Hawkins, and Connee Boswell, not a meek triumvirate:

Caffeine always helps focus and energize, as does this version of TEA FOR TWO, with Andy Farber joining in.  I don’t quite understand the initial standing-up-and-sitting-down, but perhaps it was The EarRegulars Remember Jimmie Lunceford:

How about some blues?  Better yet, how about a greasy Gene Ammons blues?  Here’s RED TOP, Dan Block leaping in (top right).  Matt Munisteri’s dark excavations made me think of Tiny Grimes, but Matt goes beyond the Master here:

And here’s the rocking conclusion:

Finally, those singers and players who take on HOW AM I TO KNOW often do it at the Billie Holiday Commodore tempo, stretching out the long notes.  But it works even better as a medium-tempo romper: Pete Martinez, seated on a barstool to my left, adds his particular tart flavorings:

And the final tasty minute and twenty-six seconds:

Seminars held every Sunday, 8 – 11 PM . . . no course prerequisites!