Tag Archives: Andy Brown

TOGETHER • LIVE: REBECCA KILGORE / ANDY BROWN

Sometimes I hear music so touching that it leaves me — rarely at a loss for words — nearly speechless.  The new duo CD by two of my heroes, Rebecca Kilgore and guitarist Andy Brown, did and does just that. It was recorded in performance fourteen months ago for Heavywood Records, and it is memorably intimate.

But before I get my verbalizing together, perhaps you should hear what I hear, at least two delicious offerings.

Listen to this (a song new to me, music by Victor Young, lyrics by Peggy Lee):

or this, music by David “Buck” Wheat, lyrics by Bill Loughborough:

Those performances should answer the question of why this disc is remarkable, but perhaps some words might be appropriate, like extra dressing on the already delicious salad.

I think, first, that “TOGETHER” and “LIVE” are beautifully candid descriptions of what you will hear.

Rebecca and Andy have a wonderful unity, even though their respective individualities shine through — it is as if they are wondrous listeners, the most sensitive and knowing musical conversationalists, who are both expert and eager to make something larger than their solitary selves spring into being.  What results is warm, personal, and full of small sweet surprises.

The fact that this lovely music came out of a live performance is both understandable and a triumph.  Jazz clubs are full of people who, even if they are not dropping cutlery (something I have been guilty of in capital letters) are busy shifting in their chairs, inhaling and exhaling — so many live recordings sound as if one is listening through a haze of low-level background noise, like looking at the beautiful landscape through eyeglasses that need a good cleaning.  Not here: the sound is warm but not clinical.  And both Rebecca and Andy are professionals who create memorable music under the least happy circumstances — the chilly isolation and pressure of the recording studio, and in Rebecca’s case, sometimes the “vocal booth,” which has all the physical ease of a coffin — they sound happy and free here, making spacious music.

There you have it.  Two rewarding artists, a delightfully unhackneyed repertoire, a lovely intimacy.  My only objection to this otherwise flawless CD is that I think the title needed an exclamation point.  But no one asked me.

You can read a little more about it in the liner note, but I urge you to go right into the deep end of the pool and (whisper it) make a purchase.  It will reward your ears and heart.  The music can be downloaded through Amazon, Apple, Spotify, and I think other sources.

P.S.  Rebecca now has her own YouTube channel — a new accomplishment — that you can visit here; Andy’s can be found here.

May your happiness increase!

“THE MYSTICAL MOIST NIGHT AIR”: PETRA van NUIS, ANDY BROWN, CHUCK WILSON, DAN BLOCK, KEITH INGHAM, ARNIE KINSELLA, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2009)

With the frightening turmoil on land occupying my thought, the night sky seems a peaceful refuge, and Whitman’s WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN’D ASTRONOMER comes to mind:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Whitman approved of song — hence the title of his greatest work: I don’t think he would have turned away from the melodies I present here, delicious treasures from a vanished — but sweetly remembered — time and place.  And the poem speaks of savoring experience deeply, which is what the musicians we love both accomplish and share with us.

Here are two lovely musical vignettes from Sunday morning at Jazz at Chautauqua.  The first, Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown, dear friends, musing through the Burke-Van Heusen MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU:

Then, Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Chuck Wilson, so deeply missed, alto saxophone; Keith Ingham, piano; Arnie Kinsella, drums; Vince Giordano, looking up at the meteor shower that gave birth to STARS FELL ON ALABAMA:

Tonight, immerse yourself in the night sky if you can.  Such vistas heal.

May your happiness increase!

THEM THERE BOYS: THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, DAVE BOCK, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ (November 24, 2018)

They’re back!  And below I’ll have news of their appearance at a one-day Midwest festival on March 30, 2019.

The Chicago Cellar Boys made beautiful music at the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest, and I caught as much of it as I could.  (Type in CELLAR on the search bar and see for yourself.)

Here is part of a set that I recorded on November 24.  The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor saxophone, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo; Dave Bock, tuba.  Dee-lightful.

INDIAN CRADLE SONG (in honor of the Dorsey Brothers and, faintly, Louis Armstrong).  Andy told me that he had hidden another song in the “chorale” section, but he’s too smart for me.  Maybe you’ll recognize it?:

BOSTON SKUFFLE (something for and by Jabbo Smith):

HOME, CRADLE OF HAPPINESS (a song popular in the early Twenties, recorded by a Sam Lanin group and by Ethel Waters):

FIDGETY FEET (a tribute to Bix and the Wolverines):

KING PORTER STOMP (the CCB’s homage to the 1924 Autograph duet session by King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton — also the band-within-the-band):

Aside from their inspiring playing and singing, hot and sweet, there are the marvelous arrangements that make this two-horn quintet sound like a large group, and the positively exciting repertoire.  I know the music of this period fairly well, but I always go away from even one CCB set saying to myself, “I’ve never heard that wonderful tune before.”

And here — because listeners need to get away from their computers now and again (it’s good for us!) — is the festival they will be illuminating at the end of this month, along with Petra’s Recession Seven (featuring Petra van Nuis, Andy Brown, Russ Phillips, and other luminaries):

May your happiness increase!

MARK IT DOWN! THE CENTRAL ILLINOIS JAZZ FESTIVAL (March 30, 2019: Decatur, Illinois)

Here’s something for the intellectual puzzle-solvers in the JAZZ LIVES audience.

One.

 

Two.

 

 

 

 

Three.

Kenny Davern, Yank Lawson, Connie Jones, Pee Wee Erwin, Doc Cheatham, Chuck Folds, George Masso, Don Goldie, Johnny Varro, Jon-Erik Kellso, Paul Keller, Ed Polcer, Eddie Higgins, Marty Grosz, Bill Allred, Bob Schulz, Bobby Rosengarden, Milt Hinton, Brian Torff, Johnny Frigo, Peter Ecklund, John Sheridan, Brian Holland, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, Ken Peplowski, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the Fat Babies, and more.

Figured it out?  The answers, although indirect, are below, and they relate to the Juvae Jazz Society and the Central Illinois Jazz Festival: the story of their inception is here.

I confess that Decatur, Illinois has really never loomed large in my vision of bucket-list places.  But I have been terribly myopic about this for the past quarter-century.  Consider the poster below, please:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Juvae Jazz Society is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and rather than expecting people to bring them silver plates and candelabra, they are throwing a one-day jazz party, which you might have understood from the poster above.  (The list of musicians is just some of the notables who have played and sung for them in the last quarter-century.)

Although I admire Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown immensely, I’ve never had a chance to hear Petra and the Recession Seven live.  The Chicago Cellar Boys are one of my favorite bands and would even be so if Dave Bock wore a more sedate bow tie.  Other surprises are possible as well.

Some groovy evidence for you:

and those Boys:

So I’m going to be there.  Care to join me?

May your happiness increase!

COUNTING OUR BLESSINGS: PETRA VAN NUIS and DENNIS LUXION, “BECAUSE WE’RE NIGHT PEOPLE”

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

Hearing the fine singer Petra van Nuis make music is always a pleasure: her delicate, incisive way inside the songs reveals new shadings and gleams.  For those of us who don’t get to Chicago, here’s good news — a new CD by Petra and the splendidly subtle pianist Dennis Luxion, BECAUSE WE’RE NIGHT PEOPLE.

I had the good fortune to write notes for the CD, which you can read below.  But first . . . as they say . . . here is a video of six songs from the session, so you have the evidence generously offered to you:

BECAUSE WE’RE NIGHT PEOPLE Petra van Nuis and Dennis Luxion
The first thing you’ll notice about this CD, even before you start the music, is that its title is a sideways assertion, responding to a question that we weren’t able to hear but must assume was asked. That’s so appropriate, because the music Petra and Dennis create subtly answers some questions but raises others. Their lovely interplay will stay with you long after the disc is over. They are two very different artists, but their individualities never clash.

I was surprised by the title, because I’ve seen Petra functioning nicely in daylight. Another reason to admire her. She says, “By nature and work requirements Dennis and I are bona fide night people — thus, this collection. We love the slower tempos. The dreamy, moody material inspires us. We chose these songs to portray the varied emotions that occur in that magical suspended time after midnight and before the early bird’s chirp asks why you’re still awake. The bird can’t know if you’re up because you want to be or because you can’t sleep. Night can be a lonely time of reflection, rumination, and worry. But seductive night breezes bring creative insights, romance, and freedom!”

And Dennis takes his own solo, “Some night people are attracted to the activity, social scene, and music of bars and nightclubs. But others are attracted to the relative quiet, solitude, and intimacy that can be found at night, a time of introspection. As a musician, I often find myself amid the first type of night people, whereas personally of the second type. Hopefully both are represented on this recording.”

Incidentally, these words should not lead you to think that this CD is musical Ambien, over the counter. Yes, the tempos are often dreamy, but this CD is full of quiet surprises that will keep your ears awake: consider the perky MOONLIGHT SAVING TIME. On every track, Petra dances over the rhythm, playing with the line, directing her own small-scale but intense dramas. Her singing is ever so sweetly based on speech patterns – her phrasing isn’t constrained by the beats on the printed page. Rather, the arcs of melody and emotion shape her idea of the lyric line.

And Dennis is gracious and musically wise: his accompaniment is the Master’s Art, his introductions and solos beautiful translucent fabric hangings (hear him on YOU AND THE NIGHT).

When I started the CD for the very first listening, I didn’t think of Sinatra’s gloomy “It’s quarter to three”; rather, the analogue was the sessions Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins made. Like them, Dennis and Petra are two singular souls allied by a deep purpose, to make us feel, to make us remember our nocturnal lives in their songs. Notice the references to “conversation” in the notes below: they generously support each other but don’t interrupt each other’s utterances. You can hear them grinning at particularly felicitous turns of phrase. Petra points out, “Dennis is a perfect duo partner because of his desire to listen and his ability to focus. Playing with him is akin to having a meaningful conversation where the other person not only hears you, but gets you. A sensitive instrumentalist who cares about lyrics, Dennis is a co-storyteller complimenting the mood of each song in his expressive, thoughtful way.” And he’s subversively hilarious: he begins NO MOON AT ALL with a wink at IN WALKED BUD.

Dennis isn’t about to be outdone in courtesy, “I love working with Petra. She always has a clear idea of what she wants to do with a song, but is flexible and adapts to what is happening around her so the music can be organic and breathe. She finds songs that are way off the beaten path but well worth hearing.”

Speaking of song choices, for those radicals who don’t start at the first track and follow obediently to the end, I’d urge you to begin with WHILE MY LOVER SLEEPS, a wonderful song that Petra first heard on a Chet Baker recording. In the early Eighties, Dennis spent several years in Europe performing with Chet Baker, although Chet had stopped doing the song by then. When I heard it for the first time, I wanted only to hear it again, right away.

Very few of the songs on this disc are predictable (read: “overdone”) choices, but they all become memorable quickly. Three are particularly remarkable, and Petra notes, “The song that folks have most likely never heard is ‘The Piano Player (A Thousand and One Saloons).’ The music was written by the exquisite singer/pianist Meredith Ambrosio after she was given the lyric by a fan, Bob Dowd. The song captures the desperate loneliness and monotony of playing nightly in venues where the situation can quickly devolve as the drinks flow and the air thickens with smoke (thankfully not since the smoking ban!). The lyric also mentions the ‘little glow’ that comes from fulfilling musical experiences and sympathetic listeners who make it all worthwhile. Another tune that may be unfamiliar is ‘Night People’ from the short lived Broadway musical about the Beat Generation, ‘The Nervous Set.’ I adore Dennis’ treatment: he gets a real Bill Evans feel on his solo. I think the lyrics inspire him, and he can certainly relate when he co-leads the weekly jam session at Chicago’s famed Green Mill every Friday night/Saturday morning, from 1-3:40 am! One final obscurity is Mancini’s ‘Shadows of Paris’ which plays during the opening credits of the Pink Panther flick ‘A Shot In The Dark.’ The waltz time, minor key, and mysterious lyrics drew me in.”

How did this CD come to be? Petra says, “Dennis asked if I’d be interested in recording together! He didn’t care which tunes I chose; his only stipulation was that it would be duo. Dennis adds, “Since Petra and I mostly perform as a duo, it seemed natural and logical to use that format and to work out our take on the repertoire gradually on the bandstand. Petra chose all the songs and, while a few of them were new to her, most of them were already part of her repertoire. I didn’t want to play them in the way she already knew them, but rather to put them through the filter of my own sensibilities. All the songs, therefore, underwent some amount of transformation in adapting them for this project, some more than others, and these versions developed little by little, organically.”

Repertoire and arrangements took shape on countless gigs, but concrete recording plans didn’t coalesce for over a year until, as Petra explains, “we were discussing an upcoming ‘night- themed’ performance at PianoForte, a conducive space with a fantastic piano, and Dennis suggested we record that concert live. I agreed, but as a safety net, I insisted we record two nights to guarantee more options for ‘takes.’ Wouldn’t you know it, every song ultimately chosen came from night two!”

You’ll notice that this is a “live” recording – although the sound is so beautiful that I was at first startled by the applause. (“Where did those people come from?” I thought.) Dennis adds, “In the recording studio, one is tempted to play it safe and strive for a controlled perfection that lacks the spontaneity of a live performance: a scripted dialogue, not an intimate conversation. I prefer the latter.”

Petra insisted on BLESSINGS as the closing song. What a gift this performance is. It sends the listener off – whether to bed or just into another phase of nocturnal experience – wrapped in gratitude. That’s how I feel, not only about that Berlin song, but about this whole disc, which captures the best efforts of two inventive explorers who do their best work after the sun goes down. 

I believe the CD will be available in September, which is only a few days away.  You can pre-order copies here — as well as Petra’s other recordings, several with the luminous guitarist Andy Brown . . . and see her gig schedule.  And more.

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING BILLY STRAYHORN: JOHN Di MARTINO, DAN BLOCK, ANDY BROWN, NICKI PARROTT, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 16, 2017)

Let us again praise Billy Strayhorn.  He hasn’t been tangibly on the planet since 1967, but does a day go past without a Strayhorn melody being offered up, reverently, somewhere — even if it is in the jukebox of the imagination?


Here are some of Swee’ Pea’s lovely melodies played in real life by a quintet of sensitive creators: John DiMartino, piano; Dan Block, reeds; Andy Brown, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Pete Siers, drums, at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party last September.

U.M.M.G. (for “Upper Manhattan Medical Group”):

RAIN CHECK (which starts late: we in the trade call this “videographer error,” or battery death and resurrection.  My apologies.):

CHELSEA BRIDGE, gorgeously:

and of course, that TRAIN, which still will take you to Harlem, even though the price has substantially increased since 1941, when it was (pre-token) five cents:

These musicians know the common language so deeply and beautifully: bless Nancy Hancock Griffith for her work with the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, now, alas, only a lovely memory.

May your happiness increase!

MELLOWLY: THE ANDY BROWN QUARTET at STUDIO5 (February 23, 2018): ANDY BROWN, JEREMY KAHN, JOE POLICASTRO, PHIL GRATTEAU

Guitarist Andy Brown makes lovely music on his own, and he has great taste in musicians.  Here he is with stellar friends, live at Studio5 in Evanston, Illinois, on February 23, 2018. The video — just posted on YouTube — contains six extended performances from that night.

The players are Andy; Jeremy Kahn, piano; Joe Policastro, string bass; Phil Gratteau, drums.  And the songs are CHEESECAKE; GROOVEYARD; ESTAMOS AI, IDLE MOMENTS; ZING! WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART; RECEIPT PLEASE.

I don’t think that this performance needs any explication from me: it’s beautifully balanced, sophisticated swinging jazz, melodic and playful.

And, to give credit where it is due, this concert was part of the Live at Studio5 Jazz Series: http://www.steverashidpresents.com.  Visit Andy’s website here.  And if you missed the November 2017 delicately profound duo-recital of Jeremy and Andy, I urge you to see it here.

May your happiness increase!

PLEASING TO THE EAR: KIM CUSACK and PAUL ASARO IN DUET (August 31, 2015)

It’s no doubt very archaic of me, but I like music to sound good: to paraphrase Eddie Condon, to come in the ear like honey rather than broken glass.  And this duet recital by Kim Cusack, clarinet, and Paul Asaro, piano and vocal, is just the thing.  I hadn’t known of it when it was new, so I hope it will be a pleasant surprise to others: recorded at the PianoForte studios in Chicago, introduced by Neil Tesser of the Chicago Jazz Institute.

Kim and Paul gently explore a dozen songs, with roots in Waller, Morton, James P. Johnson, Isham Jones, and Walter Donaldson, Maceo Pinkard.  It’s a set list that would have been perfectly apropos in 1940, but there’s nothing antiquarian about this hour-long session . . . just two colleagues and friends in tune with one another making music.

For those keeping score, that’s A MONDAY DATE; SUGAR; I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING; I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (vocal, Paul); OLD FASHIONED LOVE; RIFFS (Paul, solo); ON THE ALAMO; MISTER JELLY LORD (vocal, Paul); WOLVERINE BLUES; YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY; BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU; BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME.  All standards of “the repertoire,” but played and sung with subtlety, charm, and life.

Postscript: PianoForte Studios was also home to another wonderful duet recital, guitarist Andy Brown and pianist Jeremy Kahn in 2017, which you can enjoy here.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BEAUTY DROPS BY: JEREMY KAHN AND ANDY BROWN IN CONCERT (November 24, 2017)

Even in the most dire times — when the latest news suggests that Armaggedon is closer than next month’s credit card bill, to be followed by a few days of polar vortex — beauty is always possible and sometimes it pays a call.  You have only to be receptive to it and ready to sit still for three-quarters of an hour: and you arise from the experience nourished, joyous, rebalanced.

The creators of this latest gift of beauty are pianist Jeremy Kahn and guitarist Andy Brown — both Chicagoans, and Andy should be familiar to readers of this blog.  They performed a brief yet utterly fulfilling recital in November of last year — at the serene space provided by PianoForte in Chicago.  On paper, it was devoted to the inspired teamwork created by Bill Evans and Jim Hall, but don’t let that trick you into thinking they were imitating UNDERCURRENT, for example.

Both Jeremy and Andy are supreme melodists who pay homage to the composers and the moods created by the original songs, but they also are having fun conversing and playing.  Nothing here is childish — ask any pianist or guitarist how many decades of hard work it takes to play this way for even four beats — but they both are humorous, and sly quotes pass back and forth, including a nod to the WEST END BLUES cadenza that I will let you find for yourselves.  Or, if you’re impatient for high-level joyous musical tennis, go directly to I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN with its impish repartee or the closing MY FUNNY VALENTINE that I can only describe as slightly at an angle and happy to be there.  This is marvelous music, and it gently swings; it’s never too-much-of-the-same-thing.  I’m so grateful it happened and was recorded.

The compositions are DARN THAT DREAM / YOU GO TO MY HEAD / I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU / STAIRWAY TO THE STARS / I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN / MY FUNNY VALENTINE:

What a gift to us all.  I am, like everyone else in this century, trained by bright lights and rapidly-changing stimuli to be more impatient, but I sat for the entirety of this set, entranced: it passed like a light-hearted dream.

May your happiness increase!

“MUSIC, MAESTRI, PLEASE”: ANDY BROWN, HOWARD ALDEN, NICKI PARROTT, PETE SIERS at the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (September 15, 2017)

For me, those four names are all I’d need to hear to relax back into my chair, sure that wonderful music would result.  For the uninitiated, Andy Brown, Howard Alden, guitars; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.  And they played a wonderful set at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party on September 15, 2017.  And here’s the music.

First, thinking about Ruby Braff, Don Redman, and Louis, with NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU:

And Ruby’s great pal and model, Charles Ellsworth Russell, with PEE WEE’S BLUES (with gorgeous playing from Nicki and Pete):

In honor of Billie — and Carl Sigman (ask Daryl Sherman about this wonderful composer) CRAZY HE CALLS ME, a guitar duet:

And for Red Norvo and Tal Farlow, the tongue-twisting I BRUNG YOU FINJANS FOR YOUR ZARF (instead of VIOLETS and FURS) possibly also reflecting the influence of Fifties science fiction in its title:

What wonderful music.

May your happiness increase!

“LESSONS LYRICAL”: PETRA VAN NUIS and ANDY BROWN

This is a clangorous world where people have trouble getting their message across, so something gentle is more than welcome.  That quality of intelligent gentleness lifts the new CD, LESSONS LYRICAL, by singer Petra van Nuis and guitarist Andy Brown, above the ordinary.  By “gentle,” though, I don’t mean soporific — this is not aural Valium — but it comes in the ear like honey.

Don’t let LESSONS make you take a step back, however.  There’s not a hint of the classroom or the ashram here, just songs selected because their melodies and lyrics contain the gentlest of life-lessons to be absorbed, remembered, enjoyed.  The title refers to the lessons both Petra and Andy acknowledge with gratitude from their heroes and mentors, the musicians and elders who gave of their life experiences.  And you can hear that loving wisdom throughout this CD.

Before you read another word, visit Petra’s site to hear song samples from this new CD.  And you should also notice that you can purchase copies of it right below the listing of songs.  (The holidays — whatever they are — are coming.)

Petra and Andy are a wonderful musical team (they’re also married, and they don’t bicker, either in words or notes): they’ve worked together so well and so kindly that their unity is delightful.  Petra’s singing is perfectly aimed at the listener: her sweet voice, clear diction, and individualistic phrasing set her apart from many other singers.  She values the lyric message without pounding it into our ears, but it’s clear the words mean everything to her.  And she improvises in her quietly swinging way: compare her first and second choruses on WHO CARES? for a vivid but soft-spoken example.  She can be tender, rueful, wistful, but she can also romp: her summons to DOCTOR JAZZ is a pager that no medical professional could ignore.  For his part, Andy is a portable orchestra, a wonderful soloist — hear his opening soliloquy on YOU’RE BLASÉ and his solo choruses on this disc, and admire his splendid accompaniment.  The overall effect is spare but rich, making this a disc to be savored rather than gobbled down in a sitting.

While you are waiting for your copies of LESSONS LYRICAL to arrive, I can offer you an hour’s present: Petra and Andy in concert at the Jazz Showcase in October — nearly an hour of music full of quiet ardor:

In person, Andy and Petra are anything but professorial or somber.  They don’t lecture or pontificate.  But it’s clear they have the most dear and lasting lessons for anyone who can hear and feel.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN”: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ANDY BROWN, JOEL FORBES, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 14, 2017)

In his seriously masterful AMERICAN POPULAR SONG, Alec Wilder was unkind to “IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN,” calling it “nostalgic,” but adding that “its melody simply isn’t that good.”  Songs have feelings, too, and I disagree.  I’ve never been jilted at the altar (or a week before) but I always find the song touching and it works well as a ballad or in medium tempo.  In my mind’s ear I hear Joe Thomas playing and singing it, getting particularly impassioned in the last eight bars.  I wish he’d recorded a long vocal version.  And that Louis had done so also.

First, the song as a new pop hit, performed by the marvelously emotive Connie Boswell (sweet and then swung gently):

Coleman Hawkins with Fletcher Henderson, 1933:

and with Sir Charles Thompson, 1945:

and from this century — September 14, 2017 — at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, a version nicely balancing melancholy and swing, by Rossano Sportiello, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Dan Block, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet.  Keynote / Vanguard style, with split choruses, easy rocking lyricism, climbing to the stars:

May your happiness increase!

“HAVIN’ MYSELF A TIME”: PETRA VAN NUIS, ANDY SCHUMM, DAN BARRETT, ANDY BROWN, SCOTT ROBINSON, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 16, 2017)

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

My title comes from a wonderful, lesser-known song by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, from a minor Paramount Pictures comedy, TROPICAL HOLIDAY — with Ray Milland, Dorothy Lamour, Martha Raye (possibly playing a matador) and Bob Burns.

We know the song because it was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1938.

And it was performed anew by Petra van Nuis and Friends at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.

Petra had herself a time with some of the best players I know: Ricky Malichi, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, reeds; Noah Won, piano.

Petra, if you are new to her or her work, can also be seen having a wonderful swinging time at Cleveland here on Sunday morning with an entirely different cast of luminaries: John Di Martino, Nicki Parrott, and Hal Smith.

Rather like our swing ideal Rebecca Kilgore, Petra doesn’t choose to drown herself in melancholy on the bandstand: even when she sings EVENIN’, the brisk tempo reminds us that the grim lyrics are only half the story.  Her outlook is optimistic, as you will see and hear in these four wonderful performances.

She began with an upbeat song, almost a century old, SAVE YOUR SORROW:

After that encouraging beginning, Petra moved to “an old Billie Holiday song,” but you’ll notice she doesn’t attempt to be the Lady — no meow, no rasp:

Another song identified with Billie and Basie (built on DIGA DIGA DOO, I now know by hearsay), SWING, BROTHER, SWING — also a policy statement from the van Nuis camp:

And finally, a real pleasure.  Petra is tall and svelte, but here she extends an affectionate embrace to those who, like me, ruefully are neither.  It’s Fats’ SQUEEZE ME, with the shade of Mildred Bailey in the wings, grinning:

It is so dreadfully unpopular these days to suggest that jazz of any kind is “happy music”; to some it conjures up nightmarish visions of striped jackets and straw boaters.  But Petra and a first-class band create joy.

And here is her website, where you can see other videos, learn all about her and the Recession Seven, and find out where she’ll be appearing next.

May your happiness increase!

PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN LIVE AT THE JAZZ SHOWCASE (July 31, 2017)

Make yourself comfortable.

Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, Eric Schneider

What follows is rare and worth celebration.  On the face of it, it might seem unremarkable: a young singer leading a jazz septet through seven songs, several of them venerable but sounding fresh.  However, this performance by Petra van Nuis — leading “Petra’s Recession Seven” at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase on July 31, 2017 — is delightful simply because it is traditional without being dusty, original without being abrasive, simultaneously expert and free-floating.

The smiles on everyone’s face tell you that they know Music is being made.  Petra and her Seven exude the joyous confidence of people who know how to get inside the music in genuine ways.

The Seven is (are?) Andy Brown, guitar; Bob Ojeda, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Eric Schneider, reeds; Dan DeLorenzo, string bass; Bob Rummage, drums.  Before you venture into the delightful forty-eight minutes and twenty-four seconds of this video (accuracy is always desirable), the songs Petra and her band have chosen say a great deal about a deep immersion in music that has feeling, intelligence, and buoyancy — songs that deserve to be heard but are neither esoteric nor “chestnuts” too long in the fire.

Since women are still paid a serious percentage less than men, I applaud Petra’s taking on the Tiny Grimes – Charlie Parker opus, ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE, for her own, making it both straightforward and witty.  I don’t know if there’s a causal link to Morton’s SWEET SUBSTITUTE, which portrays the ideally devoted male partner: deciphering is up to you.  A jubilant EVERYBODY LOVES ME BABY is an even more solid affirmation, with Petra and the band essaying this Twenties romp with no condescension, no faux-Prohibition gestures.  IF YOU WERE MINE is just so tender (what a fine song it is!) but Petra’s approach is her own, deeply sinking into the lyrics without a hint of “homage” to Lady Day.  From Lady Day to O’Day — more pleasure in the trip UPTOWN.  SUGAR used to be a true standard, performed by everyone from Louis to Lee Wiley, but it’s now slightly neglected, a situation that I hope will soon be remedied. And an absolute highlight for me, Harry White’s EVENIN’ — again, a song that rewards us in many ways.  (And what a set closer!)

I haven’t said much about Petra’s singing: its virtues are evident from the first phrase: an irresistible swing, clear diction that isn’t obtrusively “correct,” a willingness to descend into the song rather than to make the song a showpiece for her, phrasing that sounds conversational but is full of small sweet improvisatory surprises, and a joyous confidence.  Like Petra, the Recession Seven never falters but it never sounds over-rehearsed and reheated.  The gratifying results come from devotion and earnest study, with musicians so expert that they thrive on risks and are happily loose.

Petra and Andy also have a new duet CD, LYRICAL LESSONS, which is an intimate, warm delight.

And you can click here to hear samples from it.

I will see Petra and Andy at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — September 14-18 — another reason to be there!  But if you can’t, you can hear and see them in all their unashamed glory on disc, on video, and in person.

May your happiness increase!

ANDY BROWN’S PASTORAL ORCHESTRA

If you haven’t heard Andy Brown play guitar, you’ve been deprived of deep subtle pleasures.  First off, Andy loves melody: he doesn’t see George Gershwin’s composition as a series of chord changes.  And he understands the song emotionally: no howling double-time arsonist passages on a love ballad.  His tone is beautiful; his rhythm is steady but flexible.  And he’s mastered the very difficult art of turning his guitar into the most delicate orchestra, playing what George Van Eps called “lap piano,” deftly offering the listener a melodic line that even the most jazz-phobic could follow, while offering melodic-harmonic figures that also keep the rhythm going.  In some ways, he is more reminiscent of Hank Jones than of any guitarist I know.  Listen and see that I do not overpraise him.

Here, Andy plays a solo guitar feature as a member of the Ben Paterson Trio  at the “Live at Studio5 Jazz Series” in Evanston, IL on April 9, 2017.  You can follow him here.  And he’s going to be one of the two guitarists at the September Allegheny Jazz Party: the other, a newcomer named Howard Alden.

May your happiness increase!

AUTUMN SERENADE: CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 14-17, 2017)

I attended my first version of this party (it was then held in upstate New York and called JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA) in September 2004, and I wandered around in a dream-state, astonished by the music and the musicians, many of whom I’d heard for years but hadn’t been able to speak to in person.  And as a journalistic aside, the very first blogpost I wrote here — in early 2008 — was called GOIN’ TO CHAUTAUQUA — so this party and this blog have had a long cozy relationship.

A few years ago the party moved itself to Cleveland, Ohio, and reinvented itself — thanks to Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock — as the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY. Here is the event’s Facebook page.

In a world where jazz festivals get bigger and bigger and then sink without a trace, the CCJP is going strong.  From Thursday, September 14, to Sunday, September 17, 2017, music will be joyous and triumphant in comfortable surroundings among friends.  And the music is solid Mainstream, with no gimmicks — which you could expect, given the roster of performers.  The flyer I am looking at has, in small type, “Roster and Schedule subject to change,” but I think the players are fairly certain, barring attack by androids or arachnids.

On cornet / trumpet, Duke Heitger, Randy Reinhart, Andy Schumm; on trombone, Dan Barrett; on reeds, Dan Block, Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson; on guitar / banjo, Howard Alden, Andy Brown; on piano, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, John Di Martino, Rossano Sportiello; on string bass, Joel Forbes, Nicki Parrott, Frank Tate; on drums, Ricky Malichi, Pete Siers, Hal Smith; on vocal, Petra van Nuis; gypsy swing quartet, the Faux Frenchmen; historian (giving a presentation on Ella’s centennial) Phil Atteberry.

On Thursday night, there’s an informal session (for donors and weekend patrons only) that begins at 7:30.  Friday begins with Phil Atteberry’s presentation on Ella (10:30-11:30) and then there are piano solos from 2-4 and an evening set from 5:30-11 and an hour’s set — anything goes — in the “Jazz Club.”  Saturday, music from 10-2 and again from 5:30-11 and 11-12.  Sunday, 9-1:30.  My math won’t stand the strain, but that is a great deal of music.  And as someone who feels morally committed to seeing and often recording everything, I appreciate the breaks, which give me and others time to sit and talk in tranquility.

For details — the name of the hotel, prices for individual sessions or the whole weekend, student scholarships, meals, and more, check here.

Should you go?  I think you should, if you can:

If that swinging jazz (from left, Hal Smith, Frank Tate, Rossano Sportiello) doesn’t in some ways motivate you, I don’t know what to suggest.

May your happiness increase!

“POPS!”: JOE POLICASTRO TRIO (DAVE MILLER, MIKEL AVERY, with guests ANDY BROWN, ANDY PRATT)

I am seriously out of touch with the pop culture of my generation.  Wake me at 4 AM, ask me for ten facts about Lester Young, and I can do it.  But Neil Young? Sorry.  There’s only so much space left on my internal hard drive, and if I choose to devote it to alternate takes of Sally Gooding with Teddy Wilson, go ahead and laugh.

When I received a copy of the fine Chicago bassist Joe Policastro’s new CD, below, I immediately thought that it would be related to Louis Armstrong.

JOE POLICASTRO 2016_pops cover

But once I started to listen, I was happy to have been wrong, since the music here is wonderful, an antidote to crabby narrowness.  Hear for yourself — the trio of Joe, the fine guitarist Dave Miller (whom I’ve admired — alongside Lena Bloch — in a variety of New York City surroundings), and the listening drummer Mikel Avery — working on the Sixties pop classic WIVES AND LOVERS here.  (I had that 45 single — by Jack Jones — in 1963 0r 4.)

Here’s Joe.  The music he creates is not as somber as this portrait:

JOE POLICASTRO

And Joe’s website.

I would like to see this CD in wide circulation, because the improvisations are so delightful.  Many of us have an unshakable fondness for certain songs — whether on their own terms, or because of sentimental associations — and we often want to hear jazz musicians improvise on just those songs.  I won’t enter into the needless argument whether Strayhorn is better than Porter or whether either of them is better than “those kids” Stevie Wonder and Prince.  Truly, once we brush away our associations, a strong melody is appealing, no matter who wrote it or when.  Think of Clark Terry and friends jamming on the FLINTSTONES theme.

So I dream of being in a car with a few Official Jazz Fans whose allegiances are clearly defined — let us say early Basie, 1960 Duke, Norvo-Farlow-Mingus, and so on, and playing this CD without identifying it.  And when the quibbling breaks out from the back, “Hey, Michael, that sounds good!  Who is it?  Let me have the CD sleeve so I can stop listening closely to the music and make judgments based on my reactions to people’s names, players and composers both!  I’ve got a little conceptual box right here!” I could politely say, “Please.  Just listen to the music and tell me what you think.  Life is only a Blindfold Test for people who want to be Blindfolded.”

I think they would come to the consensus that the music was superb, as I already have.  And then we could discuss players.  “That’s Joe Policastro!  What a fine bassist he is — I’ve seen and heard him with Andy Brown and Petra van Nuis.  He sings on his instrument.  And Dave Miller, full of surprise: I admired his work with Lena Bloch some time back.  That drummer Mikel is really swinging and paying attention.  And Andy twice — Brown and Pratt.  Where can I get this disc?”

Of course, some of the imaginary jazz fans in my car might recognize a few of the pop classics.  I know they would admire the gleeful, heartfelt transformations that Joe’s trio creates.

This disc would be an absolute hit with people who knew the pop originals but were ready to say how they didn’t like jazz, couldn’t listen to it, didn’t understand what “those people” were doing up there without any music stands.

For the record, the songs are WIVES AND LOVERS (Bachrach) / HARVEST MOON (Neil Young) / CREEPIN’ (Stevie Wonder) / WAVE OF MUTILATION (The Pixies) / MORE THAN A WOMAN (Bee Gees) / PRINCE MEDLEY: CONDITION OF THE HEART and DIAMONDS AND PEARLS / ME AND MRS. JONES (Billy Paul) / US AND THEM (Pink Floyd) / TAKE IT WITH ME (Tom Waits) / DRIVE (The Cars).

This session isn’t rock-pop played by jazz people in safe ways — for old folks who don’t want to be disturbed (i.e., wedding band music for those with delicate sensibilities).  There’s a good deal of inspired exploration, guitar sounds that made me think of TWIN PEAKS, energetic percussion.  No one would snooze through this disc: it’s not the twenty-first century version of THE HOLLYRIDGE STRINGS PLAY THE BEATLES.

POPS! is engaging inventive music.  And we’ll never have too much of that.

May your happiness increase!

PETRA VAN NUIS, ANDY BROWN, and JOE POLICASTRO MAKE MUSIC

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

It’s true.

Music first, words second.

More.

And, this year, part of Petra’s Blossom Dearie tribute (with bassist Joe Policastro), MAY I COME IN?:

These performances were created at the Whiskey Lounge in Evanston, Illinois, in 2014 and this year.

Petra has a wonderfully intimate style, paying serious atttention to the words as well as the melody floating alongside.  For those accustomed to high drama, to singers who show off years of voice lessons, she may at first sound quietly conversational.  But that’s a wonderful secret: listening to her, we are encouraged to lean forward, to focus on the secrets she has to share. To me, she embodies Whitman’s words in SONG OF MYSELF: “I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.”  In these performances, Petra is given loving comradeship (too rich to be “accompaniment”) by guitarist Andy Brown, by string bassist Joe POlicastro — quietly eloquent tellers of truths who don’t say a word.

Judy Roberts, who knows the mystical art of jazz singing, says of Petra: As a jazz singer, Petra’s unique and expressive phrasing gives her an instantly identifiable sound, and sets her happily apart from the crowd. Within one bar, you know it’s her, and you want to hear more! Much of Petra’s “own voice” comes from her intrinsically pure vision of how to sing lyrics – how to “speak” them, while choosing the perfect notes and length of phrase to convey meaning and musicality. Her improvisational excursions on the melody are born of a true jazz stylist, one with sophisticated taste and a genuine respect for the material. Petra lets us in on a candid and intimate view of her emotions, while always maintaining a sense of vivacious hopefulness. Sensuous, winsome and adorably hip, Petra’s delectable delivery of songs brings us the tantalizing flavors of Astrud Gilberto and Blossom Dearie in a young and appealing new voice.

Here’s Petra’s webpage, and her YouTube channel with more performance videos, including more from her tribute to Blossom.

May your happiness increase!

ANDY BROWN, SWING MASTER: “APPEL DIRECT”

Theoretically, I should not be able to write that the Chicago-based guitarist Andy Brown is in fact a Swing Master.  He is certainly too young and too healthy. He’s been on a skateboard.  He might even lack the maladjustments so common to Great Artists.  But these things have not limited his creative magic.

andy_brown2

There’s more delightful evidence at hand, a new Delmark CD, DIRECT CALL, which I would gladly dub SWING MASTERPIECE OF 2016.

andy brown direct call cover

For those who’d rather trust their ears than this blog, here are samples from the CD.  And here is the riotously rocking title track — Django’s APPEL DIRECT:

The three other masters here are Phil Gratteau, drums; Jeremy Kahn, piano; Joe Policastro, string bass.  Like Andy, they know what and where it is.

The session was recorded in Chicago last September — beautiful sound thanks to my non-relative Scott Steinman: THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ / PRISONER OF LOVE / EL CAJON / FUNK IN DEEP FREEZE / APPEL DIRECT / RELAXING / ONE MORNING IN MAY / CATCH ME / ELA E CARIOCA / FREAK OF THE WEEK.

In a crime novel whose name I forget, someone said, less politely, “Everybody can talk but not everyone has things to say.”  The art of swing improvisation is not something learned from the Real Book or from copying gestures to fool an audience. (Ending a performance of SHINY STOCKINGS with three Basie chords doesn’t make it Basie.)

Compelling, light-hearted, authentic swing and melodic improvisations are a matter of years of study — usually on the job.  The members of this quartet, although not Elders chronologically, are wise players whose art comes from playing, listening, thinking, feeling.

Some like their jazz to be startling, even abrupt.  It has to be “innovative” and “adventurous.”  I wouldn’t deny them such pleasures, but music that shouts BOO! in my ear is not for me.  I warm to jazz that delicately balances the familiar and the surprising, with comfort the result, as if I were a passenger with a driver I wholly trusted.  This comfort is felt immediately in the opening choruses of APPEL DIRECT.  “These players know how to sustain feeling and build on it; they won’t let me down or disappoint me.”

Although the CD is in no way a repertory project, I could settle into the joy of experiencing and anticipating right from the start: the same way I feel when (let us say) I heard Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones play an eight-bar introduction.  Basie and Charlie Christian.  Jimmie Rowles, Jim Hall, Leroy Vinnegar, Frank Butler. You can supply your own names.  Mastery and ease.

I urge you to check out the CD, and, even better, share the music with others . . . or do that most radical thing, hear this quartet in a Chicago club or elsewhere. I believe that you will feel uplifted, rewarded — by the sweetness of PRISONER OF LOVE, the rare energy of CATCH ME and the other swinging tunes.  It’s a beautifully integrated quartet, with each player generously giving of himself to the band.  And now I will play APPEL DIRECT again.

May your happiness increase!

MICHIGAN MUSICAL MERRIMENT: PETRA van NUIS, ANDY BROWN, JAMES DAPOGNY, PAUL KELLER, PETE SIERS (thanks to WYMAN VIDEO)

Petra Andy Dapogny

On October 17, 2015, my friend and fellow videographer Laura Beth Wyman took her nimble camera to the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to record a rewarding constellation of musicians.  (They all happen to be people I like as well as admire, which makes these videos a pleasure doubled and tripled).  Laura, if her name is new to you, is sole proprietor of Wyman Video.

The participants?  The delightful singer Petra van Nuis (enjoy her singular phrasing!); her husband, the eloquent guitarist Andy Brown; the wondrous James Dapogny, piano; the nifty string bassist Paul Keller; the irrepressible Pete Siers, drums.

I NEVER KNEW (Andy, Jim, Paul, Pete):

I GO FOR THAT (Petra, Andy, Jim, Paul, Pete) — remembering Mildred Bailey, but somehow I think the verse is new . . . courtesy of Petra:

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME (Petra, Andy, Jim, Paul, Pete):

COME IN OUT OF THE RAIN (Petra, Andy):

IF YOU WERE MINE (Petra, Jim):

SEPTEMBER SONG (Petra, Paul):

FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

How nice to have all my friends —  now, I hope, yours too! — making light-hearted yet deep music in the same place, with the invaluable work of Laura Wyman to preserve it all for us.  Bravo!  Encore!

May your happiness increase!

WARM TRANSLUCENCE: ANDY BROWN, SOLO JAZZ GUITAR

Andy Brown Soloist

Andy Brown knows and embodies the simple truth.  It’s not how many notes you can play: it’s how you convey feeling with those notes.

For some time, the guitar has been the most popular instrument on the planet. Many guitarists aspire to blazing technique that causes the fretboard to burst into flames.  If you like to blame people, you can blame Hendrix, Bird, or even Django, masters who suggested to the unwary that the way to be even better was to be faster, more densely aggressive.

I come from a different school, having heard Charlie Christian, Teddy Bunn, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Mary Osborne, George Barnes, George Van Eps and others early in my development. I cherish deep simplicities, not fireworks. That is why I have delighted in the playing of Andy Brown and am especially entranced by his most recent CD, plainly named SOLOIST (Delmark Records).

Andy Brown makes music, first and always.  His music woos the ear and the brain but lodges deep in the heart.  You shouldn’t get the wrong idea about him from my somewhat reactionary description: he is no primitive, rejecting technique because he has none.  On the contrary, he can play quickly, elaborately, and dramatically when the music calls for it.  The most mature players know that the greatest displays of technique involve restraint, subtlety, and breathing space.  Andy understands this, and what you hear is a relaxed lyricism where every note counts.  He is a melodic improviser, someone in love with beautiful warm sounds, not trying to impress listeners with outlandish dramatic spectacle.

Andy sounds like himself, but if I were pressed to say what ancestral heroes his playing suggests, they wouldn’t be guitarists.  Rather, I think this CD would have made Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, and Count Basie grin, for its understated singing grace, its beaming pleasure in music-making.

Time for a sample? Make yourself comfortable and savor these varied performances — beginning with luminous solos, then moving to collaborations with Howard Alden, Petra van Nuis, Jeannie Lambert, the cats at the Chautauqua Jazz Party, and even Barbra Streisand.  (Don’t be disconcerted that on the Streisand video — taken from a television appearance — the words “INSIDE DEATH ROW” appear bottom right.  No hidden messages here.)

Here you can hear brief audio samples from the CD.

Andy’s idols are many — he explains all that in his delightfully understated liner notes — but this isn’t a homage to any one guitarist.  It isn’t a disc where the artist reproduces and then elaborates on an influential album or set of recordings.

SOLOIST is a love letter to beautiful songs played with affection and swing, and it is easy to listen to without being Easy Listening.  It would impress any harmonically-astute guitar whiz but it could also embrace someone who knew nothing about substitute chords.  And although most of the songs are “standards,” they are played as if they were just written. Their melodies shine through; they swing.

And — unlike many solo guitar recordings I’ve heard — the sound is plain, unaltered, but gorgeously warm.  I see that the engineer is Scott Steinman — we are no relation — and he has done a lovely job.  And all I can say is that when I began listening to this disc, I delighted in it from first to last and then it seemed the most natural thing to start it up again.  You will feel similarly.

SOLOIST is a lovely recording, and an accurate record of the music of someone I admire, having heard him in person.

Andy writes in his notes that he simply began to play in the recording studio as he would on a gig. That should give any motivated person in the Chicago area a good idea: see Mr. Brown live and buy several copies of the CD from him.

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING THE TWO GUITAR QUARTET: HOWARD ALDEN and ANDY BROWN CELEBRATE IN CHICAGO (November 1-2, The Green Mill)

I wish I could be there, because this quartet (Andy Brown, Howard Alden, guitars, Joe Policastro, string bass; Bob Rummage, drums) makes splendid music.

TWO GUITARS

If you can’t make it to these gigs (and even if you can) you will want a copy of their splendid new CD, HEAVY ARTILLERY, on Delmark Records. Here is what I wrote about it.

May your happiness increase!