Tag Archives: Alisa Clancy

“ALOHA.”

rich-conaty-portrait

RICH CONATY 1954-2016

In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.

Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.

Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.

Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.

Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence.  Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently.  As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.

We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).

Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.

I should say that his taste was admirable.  He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten.  He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.

And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row.  THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way.  (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program.  He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)

On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car.  I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights.  When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV.  So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets.  But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.

rich-conaty-at-wfuv

I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.

I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

May your happiness increase!

SOULFUL SURVIVOR: BARBARA DANE SINGS AT KCSM’S “JAZZ ON THE HILL” (JUNE 8, 2014)

Barbara Dane turned 87 in May, but her heart, her voice, and her energy are still very powerful.  She brought her many selves to San Mateo last Sunday for a set during Bay Area jazz radio station KCSM‘s JAZZ ON THE HILL.

Here are some of the highlights of that performance, where Barbara is supported by Clint Baker, trombone and guitar; Marc Caparone, cornet; Richard Hadlock, soprano saxophone; Tammy Hall, piano; India Cooke, violin (apologies to India for not including her in most visual shots; Dean Reilly, string bass; Bill Maginnis, drums.

If you are unfamiliar with Barbara — someone who looks deep into the darkness and comes out with beautiful music —here is a good place to begin.

But her music speaks much louder than any words.

Barbara’s own THANK YOU, KCSM!:

A new version of Ma Rainey’s YONDER COMES THE BLUES:

Memphis Minnie’s I’M SELLIN’ MY PORK CHOPS:

SUMMERTIME (featuring Richard Hadlock paying tribute to Sidney Bechet, his teacher):

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION BLUES:

WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THERE AIN’T NO JAZZ?:

As long as Barbara Dane and her friends are on the planet, the question posed by that last song is nothing we have to worry about.

Thanks to Alisa Clancy and all the heartfelt people at jazz radio KCSM for making this free event a glorious gift to the community — not only the people in their seats, but listeners all over the world. You can hear their music broadcast live right now by clicking on the link above. We are grateful they are here.

May your happiness increase! 

EXACTLY LIKE THIS! (“KATIE AND THE LOST BOYS,” December 6, 2011)

Initially, I thought the band name was misleading — even though I understood the reference to PETER PAN.  Clint Baker (heard here on clarinet and trumpet) and Jason Vanderford (banjo) seem like the least-lost-fellows in the cosmos . . . they never miss a beat!  But I accept the title on behalf of Katie Cavera, who certainly provokes lovely thoughts whether she’s playing, singing, or just sitting down in front of her breakfast . . .and she surely can fly (no need for the feathers)!

We owe thanks to the musicians and to Alisa Clancy — whose December 6, 2011, end-of-the-year party at her “Jazz on the Hill” class at San Mateo Community College we’re now enjoying.  And of course we owe thanks to Rae Ann Berry, who took her camera, tripod, and enthusiasm to capture this music for us.

Exactly like this, exactly like them, EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

When some people might ask, “Should I reveal / exactly how I feel?” we might be tempted to say, “Gee, I’ve got to run.  Will you look at that time?” — but this group can reveal its feelings all they like . . . play it till 2051:

Katie sings I WISH I COULD SHIMMY LIKE MY SISTER KATE — beautifully, as always.  Some of you may be troubled by the postmodern aspect of this — isn’t Katie Cavera our Sister Kate?  How can she sing about herself in the third person?  Don’t let these metafictional trifles ruin your pleasure:

And here’s Clint to tell us all about Al Capone, Johnny Dodds, and a hat — tales worth spinning — as prelude to a lovely rendition of SARATOGA SWING:

Another one of Miss Cavera’s signature numbers, that paean to erotic activity — time’s a-wasting!  We’re burning moonlight here!  Ah, DO SOMETHING:

And a version of JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE (in two tempos) that’s full of feeling and personal significance, as Clint explains:

We’ll close with another vision of Paradise — did J.M. Barrie know this one? — called AVALON:

Exactly!

“THE BOY IN THE BOAT”

Another mystery solved, or perhaps another text explicated. 

In May 2010, I posted videos (courtesy of Rae Ann Berry) of a party thrown by Alisa Clancy that featured wonderful duets by Jeff Hamilton on piano and Clint Baker on trumpet. 

In case you missed them, here they are: https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/alisas-party-jeff-hamilton-and-clint-baker-may-18-2010/

One of their most saucy outings was SQUEEZE ME, which made me think of its origins in a cheerfully bawdy song called THE BOY IN THE BOAT.  The title had little to do with nautical adventures, and I have included the Winslow Homer image above only as a jape. 

I had only a partial recollection of the lyrics and asked my readers for assistance.  Surprisingly, no explicators or archivists emerged to assist me. 

But when I recently found the YouTube channel of “blindleroygarnett” enlightenment came along as a bonus — a late Paramount (circa 1931) of one George Hannah singing about that boy with accompaniment by Meade Lux Lewis. 

Listen, my children, and you shall hear. 

Now you know!

ALISA’S PARTY: JEFF HAMILTON and CLINT BAKER (May 18, 2010)

Veteran radio broadcaster and jazz lover Alisa Clancy teaches a jazz course called JAZZ FROM THE HILL at San Mateo Community College that ends with a music party — as a reward for the students, perhaps, so they now know how much they know!  Alisa is the Operations Director at KCSM (91.1 FM) and host of “A Morning Cup Of Jazz,” four hours of well-chosen jazz every weekday morning to soothe the nerves of people caught in traffic. 

This year (as in the past) the tireless Rae Ann Berry brought her camera.  I was far away when the party was in full swing, but now we can see and hear the delightful duets between Jeff Hamilton and Clint Baker.  (There are still more on YouTube — visit “SFRaeAnn” to lose yourself in a day’s worth of hot jazz.)

Most people know Jeff Hamilton as a wonderfully swinging drummer (there are two J.H.’s who play the drums: this one’s my favorite) but he’s also a splendid pianist.  He has two CDs out under his own name where he’s featured, beautifully, on that instrument — combining classical training with a great down-home rock.  He can rhapsodize or dig into the deep blues of people like Tut Soper and Cassino Simpson. 

And my audience (and Rae Ann’s) knows Clint as a polymorphous jazz multi-tasker, which is to say he plays many instruments very very well.  Here he emphasizes his cornet playing (with a splendidly evocative assortment of mutes), sits in on the drums, and plays an unusual and rare clarinet as well.  (It’s an Albert system one with an upturned bell — I believe it once belonged to West Coast legend Tom Sharpsteen.)  Clint does it all with great expertise and the kind of nonchalance that makes it seem easy.  Which it isn’t.  I thought of Jim Goodwin; I thought of Sidney Catlett; of the great New Orleans clarinet tradition. 

Here’s a medium-tempo MEMORIES OF YOU (with the rarely-heard verse) as Clint plays quietly effective, simple drums alongside him (on the simplest drum set one could imagine):

The well-worn SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, played as if it hadn’t gotten its paint rubbed off over the years:

ISLE OF CAPRI, complete with verse and a tango interlude.  Why should Wingy Manone have had all the fun?  I’d call the rideout chorus here “hot Chicago jazz,” even though the session took place in San Mateo, California:

A soulful reading of MY IDEAL:

ROSETTA, energetically:

And (to close things off on the right note) a rendition of SQUEEZE ME which made me think of its origins as THE BOY IN THE BOAT, a naughty anatomical ditty.

What I recall of the lyrics is something like this: “Oh, the boy, the boy in the boat.  He don’t wear no hat or no coat.  He don’t have no house.  He don’t have no shoes.  He don’t care nothing ’bout those weary blues.”  Full text and subtext gratefully accepted, even though this is a family blog. 

Jeff’s idiosyncratic mixture of Hines, Sullivan, and Hamilton is truly wonderful:

Thanks, Alisa, for throwing this little bash — how very gracious of you!

CLINT BAKER + CRAIG VENTRESCO = IDEAL JAZZ TRIO

See for yourself in these two December 2008 performances recorded by Rae Ann Berry, where Clint triples on trumpet, guitar, and vocal, and Craig doubles on banjo and guitar. 

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS comes from Clint and Alisa Clancy’s jazz class / end of the year party:

IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) was captured at the less quiet Cafe Divine, but it a marvel nonetheless:

Craig doesn’t terribly much like to be called a “jazz” player, and he has little enthusiasm for modern guitarists who rely on Django reinhardt licks, but these two performances remind me — so delightfully — of the sides Django made in 1939 with the Ellingtonians Rex Stewart, BArney Bigard, and Billy Taylor.  Sweet, intense, heartfelt yet casual music. 

Incidentally, both Clint and Craig have their own websites (on my blogroll) where you can not only see video clips but find out where they are playing next.