Tag Archives: Andy Brown

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!

IMPASSIONED CLASSICISM: ANDY BROWN, HOWARD ALDEN, BOB RUMMAGE, JOE POLICASTRO

I’d like to think I am responsible for this CD (just out on Delmark 5008 and through the usual download sources) . True, I didn’t play any instruments, nor did I hire the studio or produce the disc itself.  But when JAZZ LIVES speaks, someone listens.  (I promise to use my superpowers only for good.)

In January 2012, I wrote this post about a video of Andy, Howard, Joe, and Bob in a beautiful extended performance, and ended with a wish that some CD producer might record this group.  Delmark Records heard my plea, or perhaps they already knew it was a good idea.  Et voila!  Then Andy asked if I would be interested in writing the liner notes, which pleased me no end.  Here’s the verbal result: the music is within your grasp.

ANDY BROWN spelled OK

Howard Alden and Andy Brown are remarkable improvising artists – who became two of the finest jazz guitarists today. But their particular artistic intelligence – an impassioned classicism – would have made them stand out no matter how they expressed themselves, in skateboarding or water colors. In their hands, the emotions contained in the notes – joy, sorrow, musing, ebullience – come to us enriched and intensified. But they understand that music is more than simply a riotous series of notes flung at the listener. Each phrase, each chorus has its own lovely compositional shape, a breathing existence, and each performance is a satisfying three-dimensional dance.

Although Howard and Andy are separated by nearly two decades, this session isn’t a showy contest between Alpha Dog and Ambitious Puppy. Rather, it is a friendly conversation scored for four – a living swing community at play.

Howard says, “Andy has a rock-solid yet relaxed sense of time and harmony, which makes it a joy to play with him. When he was living in New York a few years ago, I would always recommend him wholeheartedly, as he’s such a supportive, sympathetic accompanist. All that musicality and intelligence comes out equally in his solo playing, which makes it a delight to have him as a front line partner. He loves and respects the jazz guitar tradition, and likes to discover/re-investigate interesting things from that tradition while always keeping it fresh and in the moment. It’s been a great journey playing with him regularly for the last few years, and I look forward to much more for a long time to come!”

Andy seconds this, “I’ve dug Howard’s playing since I first heard him live at the Blue Wisp in Cincinnati. Local guitar legend Cal Collins was at the bar listening, at one point leaning over to me and grinning slyly, as if to say “Howard’s somethin’ else, ain’t he?” His intricate harmonies and his uncanny creativity make him very inspiring to play with and listen to. He shows us what is possible on the instrument. For at least fifteen years, he has been a mentor, very encouraging — generous with his time and knowledge.”

This session grew out of mutual admiration and respect. Andy says, “When I moved to Chicago I really missed playing with and hearing Howard. I made an effort to bring him to town, so everyone could hear him, and so I could play with him! Dave Jemillo, the owner of the Green Mill, set up a weekend for us in 2010, and the group on this recording was formed. I knew Joe Policastro and Bob Rummage would be ideal. I’ve played with both of them so much, and Howard felt the same way. We’ve been lucky to bring the group back to the Mill several times, and on Howard’s last trip to Chicago we booked a short tour as well as a day in the studio, the results of which can be heard here.

We picked some standards (Louisiana, If Dreams Come True, I Had The Craziest Dream), as well as some Brazilian tunes we both enjoy (Vocé E Eu, Brigas Nunca Mais). It’s always fun for two guitarists to play unison and counterpoint lines together, and we worked up Thad Jones’ Three And One, as well as a 1928 Louis Armstrong tune Howard used to play with Ruby Braff, No One Else But You. We also paid tribute to some of our favorite guitarists with Django Reinhardt’s Heavy Artillery, and two tunes recorded by Tal Farlow, the Clark Terry blues Chuckles and a tune Tal co-wrote with Red Norvo with the caffeine-inspired title I Brung You Finjans For Your Zarf. Bob and Joe lay out on I Had The Craziest Dream and If Dreams Come True.

I always wanted to make a record like this. Playing jazz in a relaxed studio setting with three of my favorite musicians, in the middle of a week-long tour…and with Howard Alden no less? Sweet!”

The results are both translucent – swing that is easy to listen to – and complex – ask a professional guitarist to anatomize what Andy and Howard are doing in any four beats, and stand back. But ultimately music like this doesn’t need annotation. Howard takes the first solo on Louisiana and Chuckles. After that, you’re on your own – to analyze and enjoy this joyous beauty through many hearings to come. And don’t forget the selfless, energized yet subtle playing of Bob and Joe – who add so much without insisting on taking over.

My only worry is that the title HEAVY ARTILLERY might warn of an acoustic assault. But this disc is much more like Cupid’s quiver – a series of loving arrows aimed at our hearts.

I mean it, and so do they.  Howard, Andy, Joe, and Bob make deep yet light-hearted music.  Hear more on this CD.

May your happiness increase!

APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH, or NEW YORK JOYS (2013)

Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow.  I have something for you.”

ny skyline

These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:

Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.

And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.

T.S. Eliot had it wrong.  Just another average jazz-month in New York.

P.S.  This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .

May your happiness increase.

ANDY BROWN ADDS BEAUTY

What is the task of the Artist?  One answer is Joseph Conrad’s: “I want to make you see,” which to me means a clarity of perception, a heightened awareness of patterns and details never before observed.  I applaud that, but my parallel idea may strike some as more sentimental: that the Artist’s job / chosen path is to make the world more beautiful, to bring beauty where there was none a moment before.

In these two quests, guitarist Andy Brown succeeds wonderfully.  When he is playing the most familiar melody, we hear it in ways we had never thought of before — not by his abstracting or fracturing it, but because of his affection for its wide possibilities.  And we go away from a note, a chord, a chorus, a whole performance, feeling that Andy has improved our world.

Andy Brown CD cover

He is obviously “not just another jazz guitarist” in a world full of men and women with cases, picks, extra strings, and amplifiers.  For one thing, he is devoted to Melody — understated but memorable.  He likes to recognize the tune and makes sure that we can, also.

This doesn’t mean he is unadventurous, turning out chorus after chorus of sweet cotton for our ears.  No.  But he works from within, and is not afraid to apply old-fashioned loving techniques.  A beautiful sound on the instrument.  Space between well-chosen notes and chords.  An approach that caresses rather than overwhelms.  Swing.  A careful approach to constructing a performance.  Wit without jokiness.  Medium tempos and sweet songs.

His TRIO AND SOLO CD — pictured above — offers a great deal of variety: a groovy blues, a Johnny Hodges original, Latin classics, a George Van Eps original, some Thirties songs that haven’t gotten dated, a nod to Nat Cole, and more.  Although many of the songs chosen here are in some way “familiar,” this isn’t a CD of GUITAR’S GREATEST HITS, or the most popular songs requested at weddings.  Heavens, not at all.  But Andy makes these songs flow and shine — in the most fetching ways — with logical, heartfelt playing that so beautifully mixes sound and silence, single-string passages and ringing chords.

In the trio set, he is wonderfully accompanied by bassist John Vinsel and drummer Mike Schlick — and I mean “accompanied” in the most loving sense, as if Andy, John, and Mike were strolling down a country lane, happily unified.  The CD is great music throughout.  You’ll hear echoes of great players — I thought of Farlow, Van Eps, Kessel, Ellis, and others — but all of the influences come together into Andy Brown, recognizable and singular.

And he’s also one of those players who is remarkably mature although he is years from Social Security.  We hops he will add beauty to our world for decades to come.  To hear more from this CD — rather generous musical excerpts — click here.  To see Andy in videos, try this.

May your happiness increase.

SWINGING OUT WITH PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN: “LIVE IN CHICAGO”

I knew the fine singer Petra van Nuis and her husband, the splendid guitarist, Andy Brown, from their appearance at Jazz at Chautauqua a few years ago — and they’ve been favorites of mine: musicians who know what it is to let the music flow through them to us — whether on a sweet ballad or a hot uptempo number.  I’ve written here about their duet CD, FAR AWAY PLACES, but now there’s even more good news.  Petra’s been “the girl singer” with a swinging Chicago-based small band, whimsically yet candidly calling itself Petra’s Recession Seven, and they’ve been playing gigs regularly.  That in itself is excellent news for people who can get to Chicago.  For those of us who don’t get to make the trip, Petra’s Recession Seven has issued its new CD, LIVE IN CHICAGO.

The musicians who surround Petra are well-known players: Art Davis, trumpet; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Andy Brown, guitar; Joe Policastro, bass; Bob Rummage, drums.

“But how do they sound?” I would be asking at this point.

Here’s the opening track of the new CD — RUNNIN’ WILD — accompanied by photographs of the band by veteran jazz photographer Bill Klewitz.

Convinced?  To purchase the new disc, or Petra’s other recordings, click here.

All art thrives on the balance between contrast and restatement.  Petra’s Recession Seven is always moving in t the same direction, no matter what the tempo, with lovely melodic embellishments and admirable team playing over a rocking rhythm section.  Their ballads have their own rhythmic energy, and the fast tunes romp.  And even though the band is characterized as “trad/early swing,” there’s not a striped vest within ten miles of their bandstand.  Rather, their jazz is a kind of hot Mainstream that looks back to the great Thirties recordings of Billie and Mildred (and the later incarnations by Barbara Lea) but their musical cosmos is large enough to encompass the wider harmonies that made their way into the jazz vocabulary in the Forties.  In short, this is timeless music, where the songs themselves are honored and the improvisations are concise and memorable.

Having Petra as part of the band only enhances the collective pleasure.  She’s not a coloratura or Broadway belter who has come to jazz as a sideline; she feels the music in her bones and her delight in the pulse and the repertoire is obvious.  Her voice is lovely on its own, but I take special delight in her handling of lyrics.  Without dramatizing, she makes it clear that the words in the lyrics have something to tell us, and her phrasing subtly reveals their meaning.  Some singers, performing I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, follow the notes, so that “I’ll never be the same / There is such an ache in my heart,” bounces along as if someone were ordering Thai takeout over the phone.  Petra has spent time, it’s clear, choosing songs that mean something to her and considering what the words and the notes have to tell us in 2012.  She and the band make familiar songs seem fresh; we hear their depth and spontaneity.

And the recording itself is beautifully done — with fine notes by jazz scholar and enthusiast Perry Huntoon.

About the band title (and here I quote): “Many have asked Petra, ‘What will you do when the recession is over?  The band’s name is cute, but it is quite topical and we surely hope the band continues long after the recession ends.’  This is when Petra smiles and reminds them that whatever happens to the economy in general, the jazz recession continues! And they play on….”

I don’t know.  I think of “recession” in the older sense of returning — the way the grade school orchestra plays a Recessional so that all the sixth-graders can file out of the gymnasium at the end of the ceremony.  Petra’s Recession Seven is, for me, a glorious return to the great principles of swinging jazz: “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,” and “play yourself, “tell your story.”

Wonderful music.

May your happiness increase.

LET PETRA AND ANDY ARRANGE YOUR VOYAGES

I occasionally think that I, like many other jazz fans / collectors, am half in love with novelty: the latest CD by one of my heroes / heroines, the concert or gig next Thursday.  So as a corrective, I make it a point to go back to my CD shelves and immerse myself in some music I have loved.

Yesterday I took great pleasure from a serene, deep, swinging duet session by singer Petra Van Nuis and guitarist Andy Brown: their FAR AWAY PLACES.  What good, sweet music!  And since I had written about this disc, I will point you in that direction.

I found myself smiling all through their music.  And I think my readers could enjoy the same reaction.

May your happiness increase.

“COME AND GET IT”: PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN at THE JAZZ SHOWCASE, CHICAGO

Not everyone knows the wonderful singer Petra van Nuis — but they’re missing out on a rare pleasure.  The same sentiments apply to guitarist Andy Brown: both are subtle, winning improvisers much admired by Chicagoans.  Petra and Andy know the rare art of becoming the songs they sing and play rather than standing at a distance from the material.

They’ve been performing with a swinging ensemble candidly titled PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN, which features superb musicians: clarinetist Kim Cusack; trombonist Russ Phillips; trumpeter Art Davis; bassist Joe Policastro; drummer Bob Rummage — everyone in lyrical, rocking form.  Here, Petra and the band woo us with DO IT AGAIN:

Another invitation — of another sort — to join the band on a trip to BASIN STREET.  I always think this song could be given a brief vacation (it’s been done so often) but this version makes it new:

Wonderful music — and perhaps someday the band name will appropriately be PETRA’S PROSPERITY PLAYERS?  Until that day . . . we can savor the charming sounds here.  And to find out more about Petra and Andy, please visit here.

May your happiness increase.

TODAY’S MUSIC IS SWING: HOWARD ALDEN / ANDY BROWN QUARTET at THE GREEN MILL (November 12, 2011)

I haven’t yet made it to Chicago to hear guitarist Andy Brown in his native habitat (although he travels well), but this extended romp on the theme song from the 1959 film classic will do for now.  It finds Andy in the company of one of his musical friends and idols, Howard Alden, with bassist Joe Policastro and drummer Bob Rummage.

This isn’t “nostalgia” or “repertory” jazz — it shines in its own ways.  First admire the ease of the soloists as both Andy and Howard intuitively build their solos, moving from quiet single-note lines to percussive chords.  Notice their wise use of space (hear the phrase with which Howard begins).  Then move back a bit and listen to the thoughtful, rocking support each guitarist gives the other, and the strong sweet heartbeat of the bass and drums.  Who needs a piano, a big band, or amps turned way up high?  What we need to make us happy is contained within this remarkable subtle quartet.  Any CD producers out there?  Seems to me many of us would enjoy a whole hour of this music . . .

And there are two other performance videos by this group on YouTube: Tal Farlow’s METEOR and Barney Kessel’s BERNARDO.  Click here to enjoy them:

“DELICIOUS!”: THE DAVID LUKACS TRIO

Ruby Braff wasn’t terribly interested in food . . . but one of his prime words of praise was DELICIOUS.  And it came into my mind in the first few seconds of these performances by tenor saxophonist David Lukacs,tenor saxophone; Henk Sprenger, guitar; Uli Glaszmann, string bass — recorded on November 13, 2011, in the Theatre De Meerpaal, Dronten, the Netherlands.

Here they make something positively translucent out of Victor Herbert’s INDIAN SUMMER:

And a collection of jazz standards beginning with the witty, twisty Fifties anthem, BERNIE’S TUNE, before moving to a limpid clarinet reading of YOU TURNED THE TABLES ON ME,and a bit of BESAME MUCHO (the Swing Era is back!), a touch of INDIAN SUMMER, a mournful glance at SEPTEMBER SONG, a sniff at CLARINET MARMALADE, and some FLYING HOME to get us there.

Every note’s beautifully in place, but nothing’s chilly or over-intellectualized.  This swinging trio reminds me greatly of Lucky Thompson / Oscar Pettiford / Skeeter Best or — in this century — the nifty playing of Americans Chris Madsen, Andy Brown, Dan Elfland, Joe Policastro.  I first encountered David (through the magic of YouTube) as a member of the Menno Daams small band, and was instantly won over.  I hope there are more videos of this group, and a CD, and a concert tour . . . world stardom, riches beyond the dreams of avarice . . . they deserve it and more!  (I’m ready!)

SOMETHING TENDER: CHRIS MADSEN, JOE POLICASTRO, ANDY BROWN

We all need beauty in our lives. 

Here’s a wonderfully singing example of it — saxophonist Chris Madsen, string bassist Joe Policastro, and guitarist Andy Brown taking their time through STARDUST — recorded June 12, 2011, at an event for the Brookfield Jazz Society. 

Chris purrs; Andy chimes; Joe supports.  Each one has a story to tell, of stardust, of love, of hope and yearning.

And since we also need community and communities, let us enjoy this trio as a living example: how Joe so lovingly plays those deep resonant notes throughout, commenting, adding, urging, without saying “Pay attention to me!”  How Chris rumbles and sings harmonies behind Andy’s ringing lines; how the trio works as a gathering of generous individuals who have chosen to make something much larger than three.  What a serene world they create, on the stand, in the mirror, in our ears!

And let me praise Cheryl Fort, who created the video: I applaud her as a kindred soul who wants to present a moving picture of what the players created.  By her restraint, her seeming reluctance to interfere through “modern” actions that draw our attention from the music to the video, she is a collaborative creator.

I don’t think this could be improved on.  A deep admiring bow and thank-you to the four of you!  (And to those fellows, Hoagy and Ben and Blanton, off in space.)

You can hear more beautiful music, including the subtle singing of Petra Van Nuis — at Andy’s YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/stringdamper.

DON’T MISS JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2010!

There are still seats available for the September 2010 Jazz at Chautuaqua.

That means plenty of hot music, rhythm ballads, lesser-known but beautiful songs from Tin  Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood . . . all performed by a celebrated cast of musicians and singers.   The party begins on Thursday, September 16, 2010, at the Hotel Athenaeum on Lake Chautauqua, New York. 

The heroes and heroines on the bill are Bob Barnard, Randy Reinhart, Joe Wilder, Andy Schumm, Randy Sandke, Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, Bobby Gordon, Harry Allen, Chuck Wilson, Scott Robinson, Bob Reitmeier, Dan Block, Marty Grosz, Gene Bertoncini, Ehud Asherie, John Sheridan, Keith Ingham, Rossano Sportiello, Mike Greensill, Vince Giordano, Jon Burr, Frank Tate, Andy Stein, Pete Siers, Arnie Kinsella, John Von Ohlen, The Faux Frenchmen, Rebecca Kilgore, and Wesla Whitfield.

As always, the music will begin with a series of informal jam sessions on Thursday night, and continue from Friday afternoon to Sunday around 2 PM.  In the past five years, some of my most exultant musical experiences have taken place there, and I am looking forward to more of the same — plus tables of rare sheet music and CDs, books and photographs (the latter department presided over by the venerable Duncan Schiedt) — good food, an open bar, friendly conversation and a chance to meet old friends who love Hot jazz.

I picked this rendition of IF DREAMS COME TRUE from last year’s party in case anyone is still wondering whether the jazz is worth the trip.  Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Ehud Asherie, Andy Brown, and Arnie Kinsella show that Jazz at Chautauqua is indeed a place where dreams do come true.

For more information on pricing, weekend lodging, and ticket order procedures, contact the Athenaeum Hotel at 1-800-821-1881 or athenaeum1881@hotmail.com.

COME OUT FROM BEHIND THOSE WORDS!

I’m troubled by the code words that jazz listeners use to describe the varieties of music they prefer. 

Some who believe that jazz only reached fruition when Charlie Parker (or John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman) burst forth, say in print that they prefer jazz that is “forward-looking,” “adventurous,” “innovative.”  Others who think jazz reached the perfection of form sometime before 1945 or 1960 or 2000 and has been in decline ever since, then your music of choice is “authentic,” “the real thing,” “pure,” “uncorrupted.”  Of course, “modern,” “contemporary,” “timeless” get a workout as well.   “Adventurous,” too. 

Veiled in code words, these ideological positions seek to validate a false premise: that Art progresses or declines.  Did Louis “improve” on King Oliver?  Did Clifford Brown “improve” on Roy Eldridge?  Was “Swing” more innovative than “New Orleans” or “Chicago”; did “Bebop” sweep all that come before it away, only to be rumped by “Hard Bop” and “Free Jazz”? 

Seriously, it makes jazz seem like a parade of the years: if you thought 1944 was great, wait till you hear 1945 — or one box of detergent replacing the last one because the NEW box is IMPROVED (and orange with blue stripes, too).

We all have very particular — sometimes idiosyncratic — preferences in our music as well as in everything else. 

But when those preferences are expressed as statements of critical truth, they may do the music a disservice.  I prefer Ellington’s analogy of the diner in a restaurant who likes his fish cooked the way Pierre does it.  So if your definition of the ideal way to play the alto saxophone is Hilton Jefferson or Benny Carter or Phil Woods, say so.  Those who see jazz as a progress year by year, with each new stylistic change an inevitable improvement on the old-fashioned music of the dusty past are missing out on many hot choruses, now and on record.  And the listeners who are so committed to banjo-and-tuba rhythm sections and find anything else oppressively “modern” may deprive themselves of the joy of Andy Brown, Neil Miner, and Jeff Hamilton. 

So let us abandon the ideological structures for an hour or a day.  Say, rather, “I like the way _________ sings, the way ________ plays trumpet,” rather than suggesting that either of these players has somehow made all others superfluous.  “Better” and “greater” might well be dispensable.  Let us be open about our admittedly subjective likes and dislikes (I have boxes of them to share) — to be cherished as personal expressions, but not made into statements of value. 

And perhaps it’s time for listeners and critics, too, to go back to the Blindfold Test — or what CADENCE calls “Flying Blind.”  Let us not be swayed by the famous name (or the absolutely unknown name) on the CD: what does the music sound like? 

A few unsolicited ruminations to begin 2010 . . . .

FINEST FIG JAM

fig jam

Some history might be needed here.  “A fig,” “a Moldy Fig,” even “a Mouldy Figge,” is now-archaic language invented during the Forties, when jazz found itself divided into warring factions called Dixieland and Bebop.  This divisiveness may have splintered the music and its audiences irrevocably.  Much of the noisy conflict was fomented by journalists and publicists seeking to attract audiences through controversy.  At this distance, we know that GROOVIN’ HIGH is only WHISPERING with a new blouse, but people allowed themselves to ignore this.  I find the poet Philip Larkin very endearing in his art and his vinegary energies, but his jazz prose embodies this point of view, where the world had reached an artistic peak in 1932 with the Rhythmakers recordings and had gone steadily downhill.  I agree with the first part of this formulation but not the second. 

I began my devotional listening as a Fig, so it took a long gradual period of contemplative immersion before I could understand that, say, John Coltrane wasn’t The Enemy out to destroy the music I loved.  In truth, I was never an extremist but I had strong, narrow likes and dislikes.  I remember having a brief conversation with another student in a middle-school Music Appreciation class who was deeply immersed in the New Thing — this was forty-plus years ago and the new thing was Archie Shepp, and the conversation went like this:

“Alan,” which might not be his name, but is a good guess: “I hear you like jazz.”

Me (brightening at having found a fellow subversive): “Oh, yes, I do!”

“Alan”: “Do you listen to Archie Shepp?”

Me (horrified that he hadn’t mentioned Louis, and coming up with a wise-acre New Yorker rejoinder): “Archie Shepp?! I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it!”

“Alan”: “Well, the hell with you!”

So goes critical discourse at its finest! 

I would like to boast that I’ve seen the light and the scales have dropped from my eyes, but if you told me I had to choose only one jazz recording to spend eternity with, it still might be AFTER YOU’VE GONE by the Blue Note Jazzmen, even though I can understand and appreciate music that would have perplexed and repelled me in my youth.  And the music was always there, I just didn’t get it. 

This self-scrutiny is provoked by a phone conversation I had yesterday with Bob Rusch (or RDR), editor and chief spiritual guide of the quarterly journal devoted to Creative Improvised Music, CADENCE.  Full disclosure requires me to say that I write reviews for CADENCE, and I continue to admire the journal’s honesty.  And working with Bob has always been a pleasurable lesson in Emersonian candor: when I have felt an inexplicable need to tactfully cloak the truth in polite words, he has always asked, “Why?” 

If you’ve never read CADENCE, you have been missing something special and rare.  See for yourself (www.cadencebuilding.com).

In the course of our conversation — we speak infrequently, but over the past five years it has always been both bracing and affectionate — Bob said gently that he thought I was “getting more figgish,” and I agreed.  But it made me think, and perhaps my experience will ring true with my readers. 

There used to be “the jazz record industry,” and I am not talking about sixty-five years ago, the Commodore Music Shop, and listening booths.  Ten years ago, perhaps, there were many more active companies producing compact discs.  (If you want to have a sobering experience, casually inspect the spines of any fifty CDs in your library and note how many of those labels no longer exist.)  This, of course, has to do with the economy, an aging audience, and more. 

It has had an double-edged result.  On one hand, no more new issues from Chiaroscuro, no more Pablo, fewer ways for musicians to be encouraged by a label.  But because labels no longer exist, many energetic musicians have gone into business for themselves and produce their own discs.  

This can be a boon: musicians can record what they want, have it sound the way they want, without the interference of recording engineers or the heads of record companies . . . and splendid personal statements emerge.  But this asks musicians to be both courageous and affluent (or at least credit-worthy): a self-produced CD might require a $10,000 investment that the artist might get back over ten years of selling the discs one at a time on the gig.  We should all live and be well! 

(Musician joke: “My latest CD is a million-seller.  I’ve got a million in my cellar.”)

Many players I know have made a virtue of necessity, but I think many of them look back nostalgically to the dear dead days when they got a call to go to a studio at noon to make a date, they played their hearts out, they got paid, and eight months later they knew that the disc they had appeared on was being sold all over the world.  Yes, their control over the music was compromised, their pay was a percentage of the profit, but someone else was handling all the annoying business.  

What this means for someone like myself, reviewing CDs, is that a good deal of what I am asked to listen to is by artists new to me (a good thing) who are offering their own music (potentially a good thing).  And occasionally it leads me to sit up in my chair and say, “By God, (s)he’s got it!”  Melissa Collard was new to me when I first heard her OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, and she is one of those singers whose work I most treasure.  Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Danny Tobias, Lyle Ritz, Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, and more.  

But much of what I hear is both competent yet entirely forgettable.  I know that Lips Page said, “The material is immaterial,” but hand me a CD full of original compositions by a player and I wonder, “Gee, you’ve already decided that there’s nothing new for you to say on the blues or on I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR?”  Funny, that hasn’t occurred to Sonny Rollins.

And it is sad to receive a CD by a singer or musician, male or female, where great effort has gone into burnishing the exterior at the expense of other things.  When the artist credits his or her hair stylist and wardrobe person first, I think, “Oh no.  Repertoire, not manicure.  No one listens to the cover.” 

So my “figgishness” or “figitude” (both my own coinings) is a way to get back to what music means to me — a spiritual / intellectual / experience that makes me want to grin foolishly and shout exultantly.  I would indeed rather hear a wonderful performance of an original composition by musicians I don’t know than a tired rendition of OUR BUNGALOW OF DREAMS, but I need to hear jazz that makes me remember why I began to listen to the music in the first place: joy, inventiveness, clear delight in being alive in the face of death.  If your listening is purely an intellectual exercise and you find that gratifying, fine, but mine is tied up with the emotions.  Is the music beautiful?  Does it make me feel some strong emotion, preferably happiness?  Can I admire the players?            

So I close this post with a new example of FINEST FIG JAM — pure, organic, and locally sourced.  It’s another YouTube clip from the lucky and generous SFRaeAnn of the Eldorado Serenaders, whose front line is Don Neely on reeds, Robert Young on reeds, trumpet, and vocal, Dave Frey, plectrum banjo, Jim Young, tenor banjo, Steven Rose, sousaphone, Stan Greenberg, percussion.  This performance of BALTIMORE (one of those delightful songs-about-a-new-dance-craze) honors Bix and Wingy and Red, and I think this band is terribly, admirably brave to be shouting it out in a bookstore.  “Fit audience, though few,” said Milton, but he never had to worry about the tip jar.  It was recorded on October 25, 2009 at North Light Books in Cotati, California.  

PETRA and ANDY REWARD US

One of the many pleasures of the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua was hearing Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown perform in front of a live audience, and I think the performance clips I’ve posted are solid evidence of their talents.  I was hoping that the duo’s new CD would provide the same experience.  Sometimes, of course, magic dissolves in the recording studio amid attempts to make recordings flawless.     

But I need not have worried.  Petra and Andy’s new CD is splendid.

cdcover-faraway_400 

Where to begin?  (Once we’ve taken in the picture of the happy good-looking couple above . . . )  The songs on the CD are DESTINATION MOON, FAR AWAY PLACES, FROM THIS MOMENT ON, I’LL NEVER STOP LOVING YOU, CARAVAN, BORN TO BLOW THE BLUES, LET’S DO IT, BIM BOM (a solo for Andy), A COTTAGE FOR SALE, HOW LITTLE WE KNOW, INVITATION, ME MYSELF AND I, WITH A SONG IN MY HEART. 

That song list speaks to a wide-ranging and discerning knowledge of the great songs of the last eighty or so years, a delight in itself: Porter, Ellington, Robison, Rodgers, and some delightful oddities.  I know, for instance, that DESTINATION MOON is attached to a film of the same name and it even appears on a Lester Young live date c. 1950, but how many people have ever recorded it?  (If you don’t know the song, imagine IN MY MERRY OLDSMOBILE updated to the era of fantasy rocket travel.)  And BORN TO BLOW THE BLUES is associated with Marilyn Moore — but I haven’t heard it in ages.  But this CD isn’t a high-toned musical archeology lesson, either.

Andy Brown, first: barring a half-dozen I admire, most jazz guitarists have become entranced, Narcissus staring at their own reflection in the shiny body of the Gibson or Macaferri, with the endless possibilities of their own technique.  (You could blame Charlie Parker or Jimi Hendrix for this, but we’re here to celebrate.)  So the notes pour out in what sound like endless streams; the fingers fly.  Few guitarists seem to understand the value of space, of breathing pauses, of logical solo construction — with music delivered at an intelligible rate.  Andy could cover the fingerboard, digits a blur, if he chose to.  But he knows better.  So his playing unfolds beautifully in its own song, no matter what tempo or what chords.  He loves melody; he can swing any band several steps closer to Heaven with his chordal strum, and he is an absolutely flawless team-player, never fixated on the limelight.  Accompanying a singer isn’t easy, either, but Andy is rather like a tactful, energized conversationalist at the party: he has things to tell us, he has comments to offer and support by the bucketful, but he never tries to outshine Petra.

And Petra?  The first thing I noticed about Petra (before I had heard her in person) was the focus she brought to her songs.  She isn’t one of these gospel whoopers; she hasn’t channelled Aretha or Billie; she isn’t a Broadway belter.  All to the good, let me assure you.  It means that she doesn’t overact, that she fits the word to the deed and the notes to the emotion, never smudging a lyric to appear hip, never landing in the wrong place.  She can romp very happily (her enunciation is flawless, even in fourth gear) and she has a speaking presence.  And before I had heard this CD, I would have praised Petra for avoiding the dramatic excesses I hear from so many singers.  But then I heard her version of A COTTAGE FOR SALE, and I was just about stunned by its great dramatic range, mixing ruefulness, poignancy, and loss — without overacting so much as a hair.  It was pure feeling, captured beautifully.  I might never hear that song sung so heartbreakingly again.      

Both Petra and Andy get first place in my imagined TALENT DESERVING COSMIC RECOGNITION category!  Check out their websites — www.petrasings.com., and www.andybrownguitar.com — to find out such useful information as “May I hear some audio clips?” and, following quickly,”How can I buy these CDs?”

cdcover_recession7_smPsst!  Want something for free?  Go to Petra’s site and you’ll be able to see many more clips of this duo and other combinations . . . and you can listen to a four-tune demo CD of Petra with her RECESSION SEVEN, which is a sort of well-behaved small swing band (think Eddie Condon – Lee Wiley – Teddy Wilson – Mildred Bailey) including legendary Chicagoans Kim Cusack and Russ Phillips.

THAT DREAM COMES TRUE!

The most lasting art produces an immediate visceral delight, nearly overpowering. 

I could go on at length about why this version of IF DREAMS COME TRUE, recorded live at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua, is so intellectually satisfying: the conversational inventiveness of the players, the spirited, inventive soloing, the splendid pulse of the rhythm section, the unique sound of each player . . . but I have to leave my analytical self behind when this music begins.  I can’t watch this clip without jogging up and down, back and forth in my chair, in pure pleasure.

Blessings on Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Ehud Asherie, Andy Brown, and Arnie Kinsella.  May their porridge always be nicely flavored; may their pillows be fluffy but not too fluffy; may they always have reason to smile as they do here — because they spread joy generously.  How they rock!

EDWARD LOVETT, TROUBADOUR

One afternoon at Jazz at Chautauqua (mid-September 2009) I was walking through the musicians’ room — no doubt on my way to ask someone a question — when I was stopped abruptly by the unexpected and beautiiful sound of a man quietly crooning a song, accompanying himself on the guitar.  I didn’t know him but when he came to a halt I introduced myself, said how much I admired his singing, and asked if he would like me to capture an impromptu performance for my readers.  Happily, he said yes.  His name is Edward Lovett; he lives in New York; he admires early Crosby and the “transitional singers” of the late Twenties, without imitating them.  He reminds me very much of that old-time ideal of making lovely music all on your own — a Jazz Age troubadour, ready to serenade his lady with Carmichael and Porter.

I asked him what song he would like to offer, and we settled on STARDUST, with the verse.  I apologize for the rippling-waters accompaniment, but Edward’s performance was so complete that I did not want to ask for a retake.  Just imagine that Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm is rehearsing nearby:

Then he revealed previously unknown talents as a satirical contemporary lyricist — beginning his rendition of YOU’RE THE TOP with Porter’s verse before launching into three choruses full of nimble rhymes and social commentary:

If he isn’t Talent Deserving Wider Recognition, I don’t know the art of intimate singing.  And Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown, in the audience, agreed with me wholeheartedly (they know!).

JOHN HERR TAKES CHAUTAUQUA!

The fine photographer John Herr was everywhere, camera in hand, at the most recent Jazz at Chautauqua.  The first portrait comes from Professor James Dapogny’s Saturday afternoon solo gig in the Athenaeum lobby. 

Herr Chau 1

I’m most intrigued by the two secret agents, who happen to be jazz pianists, in the audience.  At the rear, lurking behind a pillar with his pink necktie, barely undercover, is Ehud Asherie.  Off to the right, in a plaid shirt, is Andy Schumm, more usually found behind his cornet — drinking in every nuance. 

Here’s Dapogny, close up, working hard to amaze us.

Herr Chau 2

John captured Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown, both deeply immersed in their duet. 

Herr Chau 3

Thank you, John, for showing us such beautiful music!

PETRA VAN NUIS / ANDY BROWN, Chautauqua 2009

Petra and Andy are long-time sweethearts (now married) who make lovely intimate swinging sounds together.  I caught them at their two morning sets at Jazz at Chautauqua, and they kept a roomful of people (otherwise busily dropping their heavy silverware) rapt. 

Petra is a find: she has a delicate focused voice, doesn’t overact or emote, has beautiful lilting time and musical wit.  She honors the songs and their emotions.  And she’s no Imitation: when I first heard her, I didn’t instantly think, “Oh, she’s been listening to the Complete Recordings of _ _ _ _ _ ,” which is a relief. 

Andy impressed me immediately with his lovely chording, subtle melodies, and generous accompaniment.  Many guitar players spatter the room with notes, gangster-style: Andy makes music.  (In another posting, you’ll see him providing incredible drive and subtlety to a band.)  He has a lovely tone and a quiet pulse. 

And — even better — this duet shows just how well this pair of expert musicians listen to one another.  They are worth listening to!

Here’s a wistful SERENATA, a song I associate with big names (Sinatra and Nat Cole), but Petra makes its yearning her own as Andy chimes behind and around her:

A surprisingly jaunty BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU shows how well Mr. Waller’s melodies work at any tempo.  And Andy summons up George Van Eps, which is a real accomplishment:

The leaves were beginning to fall on the grounds of the Athenaeum Hotel, so Petra and Andy performed EARLY AUTUMN in honor of the impending equinox:

And, just to show that this couple has mischief in its collective soul, here’s RUNNIN’ WILD, a performance with a sweetly wicked glint in its eye, as Andy and Petra have enough rhythm in their souls to fill the room:

Petra and Andy give us hope.

CHAUTAUQUA JOYS

The Beloved and I spent the past long weekend (Thursday, September 17 – Sunday, September 20) at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, delighting in the twelfth Jazz at Chautauqua. 

This party, burnished to a happy sheen, is the result of Joe Boughton’s sixty-year immersion in the timeless jazz he loves, situated somewhere between King Oliver and Charlie Parker, with reverential nods to Mr. Condon, Mr. Strong, Mr. Waller, Mr. Wilson.  Joe is also the fierce champion of melodies that don’t get played elsewhere, and as the common parlance of jazz occasionally seems to shrink into a few syllables, Joe is trying to keep the beautiful repertoire of the past alive.  That means CHINA BOY, BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU, SKYLARK, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY, and others.  Play SATIN DOLL at a Boughton extravaganza and you might get glared at, which I understand. 

Jazz at Chautauqua has its own delightful conventions (and I don’t mean the clusters of people who gather around the coffee urn, the bar, the tables of compact discs and sheet music).  Thursday night is devoted to what Joe calls “informal music with all musicians in parlor room,” sometimes the most eloquent jazz of the whole weekend — loose jam session sets by bands Joe has assembled on the spot — no lighting, the musicians on the same level as the audience.  Friday afternoon is spent in the parlor around a grand piano, with a variety of solo recitals, and the opening blow-out that night begins as if we had returned to the Third Street Condon’s of 1947, with two front lines alternating and then joining forces for an unusual number (this year it was GOD BLESS AMERICA), a ballad medley, and an old favorite. 

Each day features an exalted version of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, because most of the Chautauqua players are also Nighthawks alumni — rather like an all-star baseball team behind their blue banners and music stands.  In between, there’s the occasional set by “the faux Frenchmen,” a QHCF group augmented this year by Andy Stein on violin, sets for the wondrous Rebecca Kilgore.  Musicians ranging in age from 29 to 87 come and go, and there’s a good deal of friendly conversation between players and listeners, with some players holding forth at length while sitting on the porch or leaning against the front desk.  (The Athenaeum, if you’ve never been there, is a delicious throwback: an entirely wooden hotel, over a hundred years old, with perhaps the most friendly, solicitous hotel staff on the planet.) 

In years past, I brought my notebook to Chautauqua and wrote down the details of every set.  This year, I abandoned my notebook for other methods of capturing the evanescent and as a result this reminiscence is more impressionistic than quantitative.  I was also busily chatting with friends David and Maxine Schacker, John Herr, John and Mary-Etta Bitter, Jim Adashek, Sally and Mick Fee, Caren Brodskey, and making new friends of Steve LaVere, Lois Lardieri, James Stewart, John and Helen Trudinger, as well as various Boughtons.  Essayist and art photographer Lorna Sass graciously offered her candid portraits for this post. 

What sticks in my mind is, of course, the music.  On Thursday night, after a witty set by “the faux Frenchmen,” a delicious band of Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Bob Reitmeier, Jim Dapogny, Vince Giordano, Marty Grosz, and John Von Ohlen took the stand, and offered seven tunes that paid homage to Red Nichols (a slow SHEIK OF ARABY), Louis (YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY) and the tradition of the “rhythm ballad,” with Marty Grosz’s earnest vocal on BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.  They were followed by Duke Heitger, Dan Block, Bob Havens, Ehud Asherie, Frank Tate, and Pete Siers, whose set reached a peak with SEPTEMBER SONG — featuring Duke, plunger-muted, and Dan Block, richly emotional.  Joe Wilder and Harry Allen floated over the wonderful rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello and Jon Burr for four leisurely numbers, ending with a growly JUST SQUEEZE ME and a BLUES in Bb.  Then, suitably inspired by what they had heard, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson (wearing a red-and-black shirt that had SPACE CADET or was it SPACE CHAMP printed on the front) hit five home runs, playing ecstatic tag with one another with the help of Ehud, Andy Brown, and Arnie Kinsella — a rhythm section that had probably never gotten together ever but produced gliding, propulsive swing.  The closing SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL was hilarious, hot, and intense. 

After that point, I put my notebook away — so what remains is a happy blur of solos, ensembles, and moments. 

ChauAndyStein09Andy Stein, shown here on violin, was even better on his secret weapon, the baritone sax, anchoring and boosting every group he played in.

Jim Dapogny, properly Professor Dapogny, jazz scholar, once again showed himself the invaluable member of every ensemble, his right hand landing with force and delicacy to produce ringing octaves; his left offering powerful stride and variations. 

 

ChauEhud09Just as impressive was Ehud Asherie, not yet thirty (someone I had recommended to Joe to fill the piano chair) who so impressed us all — whether recalling Donald Lambert or being harmonically and melodically adventurous.  One of the highlights of the first night was a long Asherie-Harry Allen duet set, capped by three numbers where Ehud invited Dan Barrett to join them.  Two horns plus a piano might seem lopsided, but it was a wonderfully balanced trio. 

Andy Schumm, the young Bixian from Wisconsin, continued to delight and amaze — not only with his evocations of the Beiderbecke era (his versions of RHYTHM KING and NO-ONE KNOWS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT) but with his delicate fluency: he would fit in anywhere and shine.  When I passed through the bandroom, I was touched to see Andy and Tom Pletcher, Bixians young and old, deep in conversation.  Too bad that they didn’t get to play a set together.

Guitarist Andy Brown reminded me happily of George Van Eps, his chordal traceries gleaming (he is one of those rare guitarists who knows better than to stun us with rapid-fire passages); he and the lovely Petra van Nuis offered two brief sets.  Petra, who appears girlish, has a surprising emotional range: she got absolute rapt attention at 9 in the morning with her opening song, a version of SERENATA.  (Later in the weekend, I prevailed upon the modern troubadour Edward Lovett to sing two songs, accompanying himself on the guitar: he’s somewhere between Seger Ellis, young Crosby, and Dave Frishberg — you’ll hear about him!) 

ChauDuke 09And there were non-musical moments: Duke Heitger, now the delighted father of two beautiful little girls, showing off their pictures and positively glowing with pride.  Marty Grosz, discoursing at length both on and off the stand — at one point discussing how current CD covers all show grinning performers and his reluctance to adopt that pose.  Marty also sang I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at the just-right 1931 ballad tempo, recalling his hero Red McKenzie. 

Jon-Erik Kellso, at his ease on the stand (he is an inestimable bandleader as well as player) and happily taking his ease with wife Jackie.  Rebecca Kilgore, getting so pleased with the rhythm and solos her accompanists were creating that she indulged in a good deal of ladylike trucking on the stand (as well as singing better than ever). 

ChauJoe09

On one of Rebecca’s sets, Joe Wilder was so buoyed by the rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello, Jon Burr, and Pete Siers, that he flew through dazzling solos — leading Dan Block, as a spectator, to say, “Unbelievable!” while shaking his head in amazed delight.  Scott Robinson, playing a luminous AT SUNDOWN on trumpet.  That same Dan Block, eloquent on clarinet, bass clarinet, and various saxophones, his body always reflecting the power of the music flowing through him.  An impassioned I CAN’T GET STARTED by Duke Heitger, who saw the heights of passion and attained them.  Arnie Kinsella, the poet of volcanic ebullience, hitting his cowbell in a solo, as he said later, “as loud as he could,” because he wanted to — in a way that we agreed was a celebration of joyous impulse and a Bronx cheer in the face of death. 

The music still rings in my ears.  And I am thrilled to announce that on Sunday, Joe Boughton was busily signing up musicians for next year’s Jazz at Chautauqua.  I’ll have to wait, but it won’t be easy. 

I’ll have more to say about this ecstatic weekend in posts to come.

DREAMS OF CHAUTAUQUA 2009

I may have overwhelmed readers of this blog with my new enthusiasm for the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, less than a month away.  But I hope you understand. 

Chau foliageHowever, when falling in love with something new it would be ungracious in the extreme to forget the familiar — and, in this case, the familiar (but ecstatic) is Joe Boughton’s western New York State extravaganza, Jazz at Chautauqua.  This year the dates are September 17-20. 

I know all of the reasons people decide not to go to jazz parties.  The money.  Their health.  The potential inconvenience.  The economy.  And so on.  I would be remiss if I suggested that any of these reasons should be ignored.  But I am writing this post, of my own accord, to tempt people into Pleasure.

Although at times the modern world seems to be a gaudy hedonistic circus, I still think that Pleasure gets a bad rap.  We’re always urged to hang out with Prudence, that rather severe woman in the corner.  You know — she’s drinking water when everyone else is having Campari; she doesn’t eat anything fried, ever . . . she knows what’s in her 401K plan to the penny.  Prudence will outlive all of us.  But is she having any fun?  Do her investments make her tap her foot and bob her head?

Here endeth the sermon.  I’ll suggest, however, what the Beloved and I are looking forward to at this year’s Chautauqua:

Leaves under our feet in the walkways between the houses.  Stories, on and off the bandstand, from that bow-tied master of badinage Marty Grosz.  Joe Wilder playing SAMBA DE ORFEU.  Jon-Erik Kellso saying naughty things through his plunger mute.  Jim Dapogny rocking the piano in the parlor with a song no one’s ever heard before.  Newcomers Andy Brown (guitar), Petra van Nuis (vocal), Ehud Asherie (piano), and Tom Pletcher (cornet) making everyone lean forward, intently, when they play.  Andy Schumm, Dave Bock, and Tom bringing Bix into the Hotel Athenaeum.  Duke Heitger leading the troops through some romping ensemble.  Dan Block and Harry Allen caressing a ballad.  Rebecca Kilgore being tender or perky, as required.  Dan Barrett being himself.  Vince Giordano, likewise, and leading the best version of the Nighthawks anyone could imagine.   

I can hear it now!

I can hear it now!

That’s only a small sampling, and I mean no disrespect to the musicians I’ve left out of my list. 

So perhaps you might consider slipping out the side door while dour Prudence squats watchfully in the kitchen, making sure that no one puts butter on their bagel.  You can always explain to Prudence when you get back!  Tell her that it was your moral duty to be there.  Moral duty she understands.  And perhaps you can bring her a CD, too.

For details, prices, and availability, you can visit the Allegheny Jazz Society website at www.alleghenyjazz.com, or call the ever affable Apryl Sievert at the Hotel Athenaeum (1-800-821-1881.)  Remember, no one has yet invented a way to make carpe diem work retrospectively.

NEXT STOP, WHITLEY BAY!

suitcaseFor someone who spent the better part of his life venturing no more than a hundred miles from his birthplace, I’ve traveled a great deal since 2004, most of my peregrinations courtesy of and beside the Beloved, the world’s finest travel companion.

And we’d already made plans to go to the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua in September (where we’ll hear and meet Dan Barrett, Marty Grosz, Duke Heiger, Becky Kilgore, Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, Jon-Erik Kellso, James Dapogny, Bob Reitmeier . . . need I say more) — that delightful party situated amidst the lovely leaf-strewn walks and cottages of Chautauqua, New York.

But as my faithful readers know, I have never been to a British jazz party, although some of the jazz musicians I revere are European.  So when I read about July’s Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, run by trumpeter Mike Durham, my pulse rate increased and I began to fantasize.  Bent Persson, Frans Sjostrom, Matthias Seuffert, Spats Langham, Nick Ward, Martin Wheatley, Jacob Ullberger, Michael McQuaid, the Red Hot Reedwarmers, Rene Hagmann, Norman Field, the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings . . .people I’ve admired so much on Stomp Off, Kenneth, and other CDs.

Initially I simply wanted to go in the way that people would like to do something.  Wouldn’t it be nice to hear all these musicians I’ve only heard on record and CD?  But it would be so far away.  It would be inconvenient (flying is not my passion); it would cost a great deal; the Beloved had larger plans for a UK tour — involving things beyond staying in a hotel for four days listening to jazz from noon to midnight.  So I put it aside in the corner of my mind where the things I want to do but have some doubts about aleep at night.

Then it hit me — I can’t say I sat up in bed or had to pull over to the side of the road on the way to work.  I wasn’t knocked out of my saddle.  But I have been teasingly saying to friends for the past two years that the Beloved and I have incorporated to form the CARPE DIEM TRAVEL AGENCY (deep discounts, experienced planning, an easy payment plan).

But the nagging question formed itself over and over in my mind: “What if I should die and never have heard the Hot Jazz Trio (Persson, Sjostrom, and Ullberger) live, not on CDs?”  It was too painful to envision.  Two days ago, I booked my flight — an extravaganza of airplanes and airports beyond belief — and I just gave the Village Newcastle (the hotel where the festival takes place) my credit card information.

I’m coming!  And my head surely isn’t bending low.  If any blog-readers are going to be at Whitley Bay (and I cannot, for the life of me, see how anyone could resist the lineup), please let me know.  Perhaps you can guide me to a portion of fish and chips that won’t stop my heart by the second bite, perhaps I can find some American CDs you’ve been searching for.  Or something equally friendly and enlivening.

That lineup and more is posted at http://www.whitleybayjazzfest.org

I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES

That title isn’t just a pretty Thirties song recorded by Fats Waller, Ruby Braff, Bob Wilber, Ralph Sutton, and Marty Grosz.  Although I am incorrigibly secular, my version of a jazz miracle took place a few days ago when I learned that the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua party was going on, full speed ahead, this year.  It will take place, as it has for some time, at the lovely, old-fashioned Athenaeum Hotel, looking out over Lake Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton, who has a deep affection for improvised lyricism and wondrous songs that haven’t been overplayed, is once again at the helm.  He tells me he’s grown a beard, but I expect that the faithful will still recognize him.  And he has once again triumphed over the obstacles that would have stopped an army in their tracks to create this party.

Loyal readers of this blog — if they search for “Chautauqua” — will find that it was the subject of my very first posting.  I am very sentimental about this party, because I’ve heard some of the best impromptu jazz of my life there.  The party starts with informal music (sometimes the best of the whole weekend, but that’s a secret) on Thursday night, September 17 — and it goes apparently without a four-bar rest up to the early afternoon of Sunday, September 20.

I won’t clutter up this blog with the annoying details of prices, but you can find all of that out for yourself by contacting Apryl Seivert, reservations manager and tracer of lost persons at the Athenaeum — at 1-800-821-1881 or at athenaeum1881@hotmail.com.

I know that September seems a long way off, but it’s not too early to close your eyes and imagine the music that you’ve heard at past Chautauquas . . . or the music you know that the players below will invent.  Here’s the magical cast of characters, most of them returning veterans with a few new stars:

Cornet / trumpet: Duke Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Joe Wilder, Andy Schumm, Tom Pletcher

Trombone: Dan Barrett, Bob Havens

Reeds: Dan Block, Harry Allen, Bob Reitmeier, Bobby Gordon, Chuck Wilson, Scott Robinson

Piano: Keith Ingham, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, Rossano Sportiello

Guitar: Marty Grosz, Howard Alden, Andy Brown

Bass: Jon Burr, Frank Tate, Vince Giordano

Tuba / Bass Sax: Vince Giordano

Drums: John Von Ohlen, Pete Siers, Arnie Kinsella

Vocal: Rebecca Kilgore, Petra van Nuis, Marty Grosz

Extra Added Attractions: the faux frenchmen with Andy Stein and Joe Lukasik

I know that it is a really bad idea to rush time ahead — you never get those days back! — but I’m looking forward eagerly to this.  More to come!