Tag Archives: Andy Brown

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!

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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!