Tag Archives: Arbors Records

REBECCA KILGORE and ECHOES OF SWING: “WINTER DAYS at SCHLOSS ELMAU”

Before writing this post, I was thinking about Rebecca (or Becky or Roo — she has many names, as appropriate to a multi-faceted personality) someone I have been listening to with awe and pleasure since 1994, perhaps beginning with I SAW STARS (Arbors).  As for Echoes of Swing, I got to hear them in person in Germany (in 2007, thanks to Manfred Selchow) and could tell them how I admired them.  It’s one of my dreams to have musicians and groups of musicians I revere play together, and the new CD is just such a dream. . . . one that you and I can hear and re-hear.

The disc also affords us a chance to adjust our perspectives, to shake off some preconceptions.  Some listeners have perched Rebecca on a sunny windowsill in the country of Light, Bright, and Sparkling. Yes, she may prefer PICK YOURSELF UP to GLOOMY SUNDAY, but for me a little darkness will suffice.  Hear her on this disc as she sails through I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM and her reputation as an antidote to darkness is intact.  But only shallow listeners will mistake optimism for shallowness: she has depths of feeling.

Echoes of Swing plus Two: Chris Hopkins, Bernd Lhotzky, Rolf Marx, Oliver Mewes, Henning Gailing, Colin T. Dawson. Photo by Katrin Horn.

Echoes of Swing has also been slightly mis-characterized, praised for their large orchestral sound (the core unit is four players, count them, four — even though on this CD they add a string bass and guitar as well as Rebecca) — as if they were somehow marvelous simply for this magic trick, and critics have heard them as successors to the John Kirby Sextet, which is both plausible and confining.  But on this CD, the players — whom I should name now: Bernd Lhotzky, piano and musical director; Colin T. Dawson, trumpet and flugelhorn; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Oliver Mewes, drums, with Henning Gailing, string bass, and (on four tracks) Rolf Marx, guitar — create such rich varied sounds inside and outside of the arrangements by Bernd and Chris that I felt as if I’d wandered into a universe scored by, let us say, Gil Evans, spacious and resonant.

Other artists have created records and CDs devoted to Winter.  And many of those jolly efforts are avalanches of fake snow from the arts-and-crafts store.  Christmas music looms, no matter how many chairs might be wedged against the studio door, or there’s LET IT SNOW, the now-troublesome BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE, or WINTER WEATHER.  Sweet, certainly, but not always true to the reality of the season, for Winter is a time for introspection as the world becomes colder and darker.  This disc, I assure you, is not a descent into Seasonal Affective Disorder, and there are a few familiar cheery songs on it, but it is not the usual forgettable fluff.

Here’s a wonderful example, the text being the 1931 WINTER WONDERLAND, where the focused purity of Rebecca’s voice balances against a complex, shifting orchestral background:

Bernd’s quirkily cheerful setting of the most famous Robert Frost poem:

Rebecca’s own witty and sweet song:

You’ll have to explore the other surprises for yourself — songs I’d never heard by Frishberg, Berlin, and Jobim, and a few poems set to music by Bernd — performances that are remarkable on the first hearing and grow more so.

The disc is dense — which is not to say difficult or off-putting — but it has levels and levels of musical and emotional pleasure.  Some discs make wonderful background music — the soundtrack for rearranging one’s spice rack — but this one has the delicious resonance of one short story after another.  It’s available in all the old familiar places.  Details here. WINTER DAYS is ambitious, heartfelt, completely rewarding.  You won’t regret it, no matter what the temperature.

May your happiness increase!

GUILTY, AS CHARGED

This morning, Connor Cole, a young Facebook friend, someone with good taste, casually asked me to list the recordings that had impressed me in the past year.  I’ve stopped composing “ten best” lists because I know that I will hurt the feelings of someone I’ve left off.  (I once applied for a job where there were openings for five people, and was told afterwards that I was number six, a memory which still, perhaps absurdly, stings.)  But Connor’s request pleased me, so I began thinking of the recordings of 2019.

Perhaps it was that I wasn’t fully awake, but I came up with almost nothing, which troubled me.  So I began searching through blogposts and came up with these reassuring entities (new issues only) in approximate chronological order, with apologies to those I’ve omitted, those discs which I will write about in 2020:

IN THIS MOMENT, Michael Kanan, Greg Ruggiero, Neal Miner

NEW ORLEANS PEARLS  Benny Amon

UNSTUCK IN TIME  Candy Jacket Jazz Band

NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU  Danny Tobias, Mark Shane

RAGTIME — NEW ORLEANS STYLE, Volume 2  Kris Tokarski, Hal Smith

PICK IT AND PLAY IT  Jonathan Stout

BUSY TIL’ ELEVEN  Chicago Cellar Boys

TENORMORE  Scott Robinson

UPTOWN  The Fat Babies

COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT  Andrew Oliver, David Horniblow

A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, Alex Levin

DREAM CITY  David Lukacs

THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE  Charles Ruggiero, Hilary Gardner

LESTER’S BLUES  Tom Callens

WINTER DAYS  Rebecca Kilgore, Echoes of Swing

The majority of those discs are musician-produced, funded, and released — which is yet another blogpost about “record companies” and their understandable attrition.  Economics, technology, and a changing audience.

But that list made me go back in time, decades of trading money for musical joy.

In late childhood, I would have walked or bicycled the mile to Times Square Stores and bought Louis’ Decca JAZZ CLASSICS for $2.79 plus tax.  A few years later, Monk cutouts on Riverside at Pergament or Mays. E.J. Korvette. Lester Young and Art Tatum Verves at Sam Goody’s.  A British enterprise, Tony’s, for exotic foreign discs.  In New York City, new Chiaroscuro issues at Dayton’s, Queen-Discs at Happy Tunes.

In the CD era, I would have stopped off after work at Borders or the nearby Tower Records for new releases on Arbors, Concord, Pablo, and import labels.  Again in the city, J&R near City Hall for Kenneth, French CBS, and more.  But record stores gave way to purchasing by mail, and eventually online.  Mosaic Records was born, as was Amazon, eventually eBay.

So today the times I actually visit “a record store,” it is to browse, to feel nostalgic, to walk away with a disc that I had once coveted — often with a deceased collector’s address sticker on the back — but I am much more likely to click on BUY IT NOW in front of this computer, or, even better, to give the artist twenty dollars for a copy of her new CD.

What happened?  I offer one simple explanation.  A musician I respect, who’s been recordings since 1991, can be relied upon to write me, politely but urgently and at length, how I and people like me have ruined (or “cut into”) his CD sales by using video cameras and broadcasting the product for free to large audiences.

So it’s my fault.  I killed Decca, Columbia, and Victor — Verve, Prestige, and Riverside, too.  Glad to have that question answered, that matter settled.  Now I’m off to do more damage elsewhere.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET CREATIONS: “DREAM CITY”: DAVID LUKÁCS, MALO MAZURIÉ, ATTILA KORB, FÉLIX HUNOT, JOEP LUMEIJ

David Lukács dreams in lyrical swing.  His most recent CD is evidence that I do not exaggerate.  Now, I know that some of my American readers might furrow their brows and say, “Who are these people?  I don’t know their names!” but I urge them to listen and watch.

To quote the lyrics from SAY IT SIMPLE (I hear Jack Teagarden’s voice in my head as I type), “If that don’t get it, well, forget it right now.”

Here you can hear the music, download it, purchase a disc.

The sweet-natured magicians are David Lukacs, clarinet, tenor saxophone, arrangements; Malo Mazurie, cornet, trumpet; Attila Korb, bass saxophone*, trombone; Felix Hunot, guitar, banjo; Joep Lumeij: string bass.  The songs are DREAM CITY / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / OLD MAN BLUES / MORE THAN YOU KNOW / THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC / MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES / I HAD IT BUT IT’S ALL GONE NOW / HALLELUJAH! / BLUE PRELUDE / MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND / THEN SOMEONE’S IN LOVE / LOUISIANA / CLARINET MARMALADE / MANOIR DE MES REVES.  The liner notes are by Scott Robinson.

David told me that this CD is inspired by his father’s record collection (obviously the Lukacs lineage has taste and discernment) but his vision is even larger: “With this album I created my own city, my Dream City, where there’s Bix and Tram’s music in one club, Duke is playing in the theatre beside, and you might hear Django’s music around the corner.”

That transcends the time-machine cliche, and each track is a dreamy vision of a heard past made real for us in 2019. The dreaminess is most charming, because this disc isn’t simply a series of recreations of recordings.  Occasionally the band follows the outlines of a famous disc closely — as in A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND — but each song becomes a sweet playground for these (sometimes shoeless) dear geniuses to roam in.

Here’s another video tour, with snippets of the title tune, OLD MAN BLUES, MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES, MANOIR DE MES REVES (and comments from Scott, who knows):

Readers who feel this music as I do won’t need any more explanation — but a few lines are in order.  I first heard David on record with Menno Daams (check out the latter’s PLAYGROUND) — two musicians who have deep lyrical intelligence, but DREAM CITY is an astonishing combination of the hallowed past and true contemporary liveliness.  David told me that he has been inspired not only by the old records, but by the music Marty Grosz and others made, using those sounds as a basis.  I hear echoes of the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet and the small-group sessions that were so prolific and gratifying on the Arbors label.

DREAM CITY offers us glorious yet understated solo work and — perhaps even better — delicious ensemble playing and gratifying arrangements.  The inspirations are also the Kansas City Six, the Ellington, Basie, and Wilson small bands, and more.  You can draw your own family tree with chalk on the sidewalk.  The “unusual” instrumentation also allows a great flexibility in voicings — this is no formulaic band that plays each song in the same way, simply varying tempo and key — and this CD is not a series of solos-with-rhythm.  Each selection, none longer than a 12″ 78, is a short story in sounds.

If you care to, go back to the video of DREAM CITY — which begins, if I am correct, with a line on the chords of BYE BYE BLUES and then changes key into a medium-bounce blues — and admire not only the soloing, so tersely expert, so full of feeling without self-consciousness — but the arrangement itself: the quiet effective way horns hum behind a soloist, the use of stop-time and a Chicago “flare,” the echoes of Bix and Tram without tying the whole endeavor to a 1927 skeleton . . . worth study, deserving of admiration.

All of the players impress me tremendously, but Attila gets his own * (and that is not the title of a children’s book) because I’d not known of his bass saxophone playing: he is a master of that horn, handling it with elegance and grace, sometimes giving it a limber ease I would associate with the bass clarinet, although he never hurries.  (I also discovered Attila’s 2017 TAP ROOM SWING, a tribute to Adrian Rollini, which I hope to write about in future.)

I plan to continue blissfully dreaming to DREAM CITY, an ethereal soundtrack, so rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

“MORE TOMORROW”: SCOTT ROBINSON, “TENORMORE”

Scott Robinson isn’t a single flower; he’s a whole garden in bloom.  Each phrase he plays contains surprises: sounds and feelings he is intent on sharing with us.

He does so many things well that perhaps it’s hard for those of us who love him to sit down and contemplate him as he deserves.  Having heard him in person for fifteen years, I am always amazed.  He is brave; he is honest; he doesn’t coast.  Like him, his music is welcoming, never predictable; kind and energized.

His most recent CD, TENORMORE, is a great accomplishment, and it reflects his long love affair with the tenor saxophone, which he plays with more ardor and expertise than others who are better-known.  Unlike some of his recordings, it is narrow in its focus (“narrow” is a compliment here): he plays only that one horn, and there are four musicians with him: Helen Sung, piano, Hammond B3 organ; Dennis Mackrel, drums; Martin Wind, string bass and acoustic bass guitar; Sharon Robinson plays flute on THE WEAVER.

The disc starts in the most open way: a solo performance by Scott on the Lennon-McCartney song of my youth, AND I LOVE HER, which shows not only his full mastery of the horn but also his passion, controlled yet ferocious.  And from then you’re on your own: Scott’s music is too spacious to compartmentalize, although I know some listeners will be putting what they hear in tiny labeled boxes, but it would be both rude and reductive to do so.  I have written more briefly than usual of this CD because it’s too spacious for mere prose.

But what I hear on this disc is a wooing, playful love — for the horn, for the musics it can make — Scott’s deep feelings for the worlds he knows and those he wants us to imagine.  I particularly delight in his purring sweet PUT ON A HAPPY FACE, which feels like a kind arm around your shoulders when you feel low, and the dance he and wife Sharon perform on THE WEAVER.  Other standards, explored with care and daring, include THE NEARNESS OF YOU and THE GOOD LIFE, and original compositions are Martin Wind’s RAINY RIVER, Scott’s own TENOR ELEVEN, TENOR TWELVE, and the title song.

But this will show and tell you more than I ever could:

TENORMORE is also a celebration of Scott’s 60th birthday.  Savor with me the pleasure of saying, “I share the planet with Scott Robinson.  My goodness, what a great thing that is!

And a postscript, just in: I saw this quotation on Facebook and instantly  thought of Scott and TENORMORE: We are slowed down sound and light waves, a walking bundle of frequencies tuned into the cosmos. We are souls dressed up in sacred biochemical garments and our bodies are the instruments through which our souls play their music.  The source?  Albert Einstein, violin.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW WORDS FOR OUR FRIEND RON HOCKETT

I only had the good fortune to meet Ron Hockett in person once — at a John Sheridan Dream Band session for Arbors Records at Nola Studios in Manhattan. Of course I’d heard him play before, so it was a pleasure to speak to him, but even more than his playing, I was impressed by his easy kindness, the quiet spirituality he brought in to the room, even when he was sitting silently, listening to a playback.

In case his sweet lucid sound isn’t familiar, here he is (with John Sheridan, James Chirillo, Phil Flanigan, Jake Hanna) on IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

Dreams coming true — and needing to come true — are the subject of this post.  Recently, Ron’s friend and mine, Sonny McGown, contacted me to say that Ron’s health was deteriorating.  Here’s the news from Alex, Ron’s stepdaughter:

In February, Ron received a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which is a chronic and progressive scarring of the lungs which eventually leads to respiratory failure. There is no cure, the only real treatment is a lung transplant. He is now a patient at Duke . . . and if all of the testing/evaluations/pulmonary rehab goes well, he will be listed for transplant. He has a five day evaluation in August. He is on supplemental oxygen with exertion but he can still play the clarinet thus far! It is our biggest hope that all of this will happen and that he will be healthy, will once again be able to travel and play larger gigs, see his friends, and of course be able to breathe! As you can imagine, the cost is enormous and he and my mom will be forced to relocate for a year or so.  I’ve just started a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.

Here‘s the link.

And here’s some lovely music that I hope will evoke generous feelings and actions.  Let us do a friend a favor.

May your happiness increase!

“FUTURISTIC RHYTHMS: IMAGINING THE LATER BIX BEIDERBECKE,” by ANDY SCHUMM AND HIS SINK-O-PATORS”

Even to the casual viewer, this CD, just out on Rivermont Records, is immediately enticing.  For one thing, and it cannot be undervalued, it has The Name on its cover — the dear boy from Iowa.  Catnip to many.  Then, Joe Busam’s lovely funny cover, perfectly evoking Jim Flora’s work — as well as presenting a band led by the splendid Andy Schumm.  It also (in that band name) has an inside joke for the cognoscenti, who turn hot and cold on request.  Some will delight in the concept, jazz time-travel, brought to us by the erudite Julio Schwarz Andrade, imagining what Bix would have played in a variety of contexts had he lived longer.  The conceit does nothing for me (I think the dead have the right to be left alone, not dressed up for Halloween) but I love the music, thrilling in its ease and subtlety.

Hearing Andy Schumm, cornet; Ewan Bleach, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Andrew Oliver, piano; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Tom Wheatley, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums — now, that’s a rare pleasure.  You can see the song titles below, and the Musical Offering is neatly divided between a scattering of familiar tunes and some deeply lyrical ones that have become obscure.  (I hadn’t heard THINGS and OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY before, and WHY CAN’T YOU BEHAVE is memorable to me only because of a wondrous recording by Spike Mackintosh.)  The first ten songs were meant to be the official recording session, with the last two — hot “warm-up” performances added as a delightful bonus: we’re lucky the recording equipment was switched on.

Back to the music.  There are lovely little touches.  MOTEN SWING uses the riffs from the 1932 Victor recording, and the lyrical numbers still retain the slight bounce one would have heard in Thirties “rhythm ballads.”  Indeed, the whole session has the delightful motion of, perhaps, a Marty Grosz session from the end of the previous century.  This, of course, is helped along considerably by the wonderful Martin Wheatley — hear him on RAIN and elsewhere.  The CD also reminded me most happily of sessions by Marty and by Ruby Braff because of the cheering variety of approaches within each performance.  I offer the rubato Oliver-Schumm verse to  THE NEARNESS OF YOU as a heartening example, followed by a poignant Bleach tenor solo.  There’s none of the usual tedium that results from a surfeit of ensemble-solos-ensemble.  (I think of certain live sessions in the Seventies I attended where after the requisite single ensemble chorus, the clarinet always took the first solo.  Routine of this sort has a chilling effect.)

The members of the rhythm section, Messrs. Oliver, Wheatley, and Ball, add their own special bounce to the music.  I know Andrew Oliver these days as a Mortonist and have known Nick Ball as a scholar of pre-Swing drumming, but they aren’t antique in any way.  And the two Wheatleys, father and son, are a wonderful team: the right notes in the right places.  As fine as Andy and Ewan are, one could listen to any track on this disc solely to revel in, and learn from, this rhythm team.  As an example, OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY.

Ewan Bleach is new to me and delightful: his work on either horn is floating and supple, and I never felt he was reaching for a particular phrase that someone had recorded eighty years ago.  His solos have their own lithe charm and his ensemble playing is the great work of an intuitive conversationalist who knows when to add a few notes and when to be still.  I looked in Tom Lord’s discography and found that I’d already admired his work with the Basin Street Brawlers.  I hope the reaction to this CD is such that Mr. Bleach gets a chance to record a horn-with-rhythm session of his own.

And Andy Schumm.  Yes.  I just heard him in person in my Wisconsin jaunt, and he hasn’t ceased to amaze and please, whether leaping in to his solo, playing a wistful coda, or lyrically purling his way through one of the rhythm ballads I’ve mentioned above.  To my ears — here comes another heresy — he isn’t Bix, nor is he the reincarnation of Bix.  He is Andy Schumm, and that’s a wonderful thing, with its own joyous surprises.

Buy it here.  I did.  You won’t regret it.

May your happiness increase!

STILL SPARKLING: JOE BUSHKIN AT 100

joe-bushkin-on-piano

I suspect that everyone who reads JAZZ LIVES has heard the magical sounds of Joe Bushkin‘s piano, songs, voice, and trumpet.  My birthday celebration for him is a bit early — he was born on November 7, 1916, but I didn’t want to miss the occasion.  (There will also be birthday cake in this post — at least a photograph of one.)

He moved on in late 2004, but as the evidence proves, it was merely a transformation, not an exit.

I marvel not only at the spare, poignant introduction but Bushkin’s sensitive support and countermelodies throughout.

“Oh, he was a Dixieland player?” Then there’s this:

and this, Joe’s great melody:

A list of the people who called Joe a friend and colleague would include Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon, Lee Wiley, Joe Marsala, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett,Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Bunny Berigan, Fats Waller, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Zoot Sims, Bill Harris, Buddy Rich, Hot Lips Page, Sidney Catlett, Judy Garland, Jimmy Rushing, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Spargo, Red McKenzie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Tough, Brad Gowans, Benny Goodman, Joe Rushton, Roy Eldridge, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Ruth Brown, June Christy, Barney Kessel, Pearl Bailey, Gene Krupa, Stuff Smith, Chuck Wayne, Jake Hanna . . .

Here’s a sweet swinging tribute to Irving Berlin in 1951 that segues into Joe’s own homage to Miss Bankhead, PORTRAIT OF TALLULAH:

He’s on Billie’s SUMMERTIME and Bunny’s first I CAN’T GET STARTED; he’s glistening in the big bands of Bunny, Tommy, and Benny.  He records with Frank Newton in 1936 and plays with Kenny Davern, Phil Flanigan, Howard Alden, and Jake Hanna here, sixty-one years later:

But I’m not speaking about Joe simply because of longevity and versatility.  He had an individual voice — full of energy and wit — and he made everyone else sound better.

A short, perhaps dark interlude.  Watching and listening to these performances, a reader might ask, “Why don’t we hear more about this wonderful pianist who is so alive?”  It’s a splendid question.  In the Thirties, when Joe achieved his first fame, it was as a sideman on Fifty-Second Street and as a big band pianist.

Parallel to Joe, for instance, is Jess Stacy — another irreplaceable talent who is not well celebrated today.  The erudite Swing fans knew Bushkin, and record producers — think of John Hammond and Milt Gabler — wanted him on as many record dates as he could make.  He was a professional who knew how the music should sound and offered it without melodrama.  But I suspect his professionalism made him less dramatic to the people who chronicle jazz.  He kept active; his life wasn’t tragic or brief; from all I can tell, he didn’t suffer in public.  So he never became mythic or a martyr.  Too, the jazz critics then and now tend to celebrate a few stars at a time — so Joe, brilliant and versatile, was standing behind Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum, then and now.  He was also entertaining — someone who could act, who could do a television skit with Bing and Fred, someone who could fill a club by making music, even for people who wouldn’t have bought a Commodore 78.  Popularity is suspect to some people who write about art.

But if you do as I did, some months back, and play a Bushkin record for a jazz musician who hasn’t heard him before, you might get the following reactions or their cousins: “WHO is that?  He can cover the keyboard.  And he swings.  His time is beautiful, and you wouldn’t mistake him for anyone else.”

One of the memorable moments of my twentieth century is the ten-minute YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY /  MOTEN SWING that Joe, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Wayne Wright, and Jo Jones improvised — about four feet in front of me — at the last Eddie Condon’s in 1976.  “Memorable” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Consider this: Joe and his marvelous quartet (Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton or Sid Weiss, and Jo Jones) that held down a long-running gig at the Embers in 1951-2:

Something pretty and ruminative — Joe’s version of BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:

And for me, and I suspect everyone else, the piece de resistance:

For the future: Joe’s son-in-law, the trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill — whom we have to thank for the wire recording (!) of SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY —  has organized what will be a stellar concert to celebrate his father-in-law’s centennial.  Mark your calendars: May 4, 2017.  Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights in Jazz” at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Ted Rosenthal, John Colianni, Eric Comstock, Spike Wilner, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Steve Johns, drums; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Bob Merrill, trumpet; Warren Vache, cornet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; and of course a surprise guest.

Here’s the promised photograph of a birthday cake.  Perculate on THIS:

louis-birthday-cake

Thank you, Joseephus.  We haven’t forgotten you.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR THE TUESDAY AFTER LABOR DAY (September 8, 2015)

alarm clock

For all those people lamenting the end of the long weekend, who will be complaining when the alarm goes off and they have to resume their lives as adults, here is a more cheerful ditty — circa 1933, words and music by Herman Hupfeld, performed here by Marty Grosz and the Hot Winds in 2009 (Dan Block, Scott Robinson, Vince Giordano, Rob Garcia) for Arbors Records:

I confess that my favorite recording of this optimistic ditty is the one featuring Red McKenzie with Adrian Rollini’s Orchestra . . . and that I pestered Marty to record his own version, since he and I share an obsession with Mr. McKenzie. But the Rollini version is not on YouTube, although it is on a beautiful Jazz Oracle double-CD set devoted to Adrian.

Here is the source — an excerpt from a 1933 film, MOONLIGHT AND PRETZELS (two of my favorite things) with a good deal of Busby-Berkley-esque waving of attractive bodies and body parts [choreography by William Miller], then a positively stimulating rendition of “Are You Makin’ Any Money?” by Lillian Miles.  That second question is directly relevant to the going-to-work scenario I’ve chosen to describe:

For more about MOONLIGHT AND PRETZELS, visit this entrancing site devoted to pre-Code films, also the source for the film poster:

MoonlightandPretzelsPoster

I hope that all of you who want jobs have them, that you are treated nicely, that the work suits you — that even after you shut off that obscene noise in the darkness, you are OK with going to a place where they give you some money for doing some thing.

May your happiness increase!

RUBY, LOUIS, BUCK, ME (1954, 1983, 1989, 1996)

Ruby Braff, December 7, 1980. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Ruby Braff, December 7, 1980. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Ruby Braff remains one of my heroes: brave, curious, exploratory, full of lyrical warmth in his music — and one of those people I had many opportunities to observe between 1971 and 1983, at close range, in New York City.

Here is something new to me and I think absolutely remarkable — an interview with Ruby, done August 18, 1989, at the Newport Casino.  Ruby is remarkably patient with a somewhat inept questioner, but the subject is Louis Armstrong, so Ruby was very happy to speak about his and our hero:

Ruby despised his earlier recordings — and said so often, loudly and profanely.  I have no idea if he would have winced and swore at this one, but I am safe from his anger, so I present the 1954 Vanguard session (thanks to John Hammond) that paired him with Buck Clayton, Bennie Morton, Buddy Tate, Jimmy Jones, Steve Jordan, Aaron Bell, and Bobby Donaldson.  The shift into 4 / 4 at the start is one of my favorite moments in recorded jazz.  And the song is, of course, also.

LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

Much later, in 1996, Ruby created a gorgeous and irreplaceable Arbors CD, BEING WITH YOU, in honor of Louis and of Ruby’s recently-departed friend, the great reedman Sam Margolis. Along with Ruby, there were Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dan Barrett, Jerry Jerome, Johnny Varro, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bob Haggart, Jim Gwin.  Ruby gave everyone a spot, and the results are glorious. And if you didn’t know what a magnificent singer he could be, savor LITTLE ONE.

I apologize for the intrusive advertisement that begins the final two videos:

LITTLE ONE:

And my own Ruby story, very brief and elliptical.  I had followed Ruby around with cassette and reel-to-reel recorder, with notebook and (once) camera — so much so that my nickname was “Tapes,” as in “Hey, Tapes!” — from 1971 on. This was not embarrassing to me; rather, it was an honor.

He played a concert at the New School with Dick Hyman early in 1983, and I, recently married, asked my new wife to come along.  She did not particularly like jazz, but it was a novel invitation and off we went.  We sat down in the middle of the auditorium — early, as is my habit — and I looked around for Ruby.  Surely, I thought, I could make eye contact and he would come over, exchange pleasantries, and I could not-so-subtly suggest to my new bride that I was Someone in this jazz world.  Ruby emerged from somewhere, and I stood up.  Perhaps I waved to catch his eye, or said, “Hey, Ruby!”  He looked at me, grinned, and pointed a forefinger.  “You!” he said.  “I remember you when you were in diapers!”  That was not the effect I had hoped to create, so I sat down and the deflated encounter was over.  He played beautifully.  As he always did.

Ask me about lyrical improvisation, and I might play you this as a glowing exemplar.

ONE HOUR:

I miss Ruby Braff, although, like Louis, he is always with us through his music.

May your happiness increase!

 

“TWO SONGBIRDS OF A FEATHER”: BECKY KILGORE / NICKI PARROTT

I’ve known both of these gloriously talented musicians for more than a decade, and have delighted in their live performances at festivals for that time.  So I am delighted to report that their first full-length duo CD, TWO SONGBIRDS OF A FEATHER (Arbors ARCD 19447) is even better than I expected.

SONGBIRDSThe facts?  The CD was recorded in March 2015 (lively sound thanks to the ever-professional Jim Czak) with beautiful photographs and design by Brian Wittman.  The band is Mike Renzi, piano; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, drums; Nicki, bass; Becky, guitar on several tracks; Becky and Nicki, vocals and patter.  The songs: TWO LITTLE GIRLS FROM LITTLE ROCK / TWO SONGBIRDS OF A FEATHER / RAY NOBLE MEDLEY / LIFE IS SO PECULIAR / WHEN LOVE GOES WRONG / S’WONDERFUL / Theme From VALLEY OF THE DOLLS / THEY SAY IT’S SPRING / BLUE MOON – MOONGLOW / THEM THERE EYES / A WOMAN’S PREROGATIVE / EL CAJON / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.

First off.  There isn’t a moment on this CD, whatever the mood or tempo, that doesn’t swing.  And it’s a deep intuitive swing: take, for example, the a cappella chorus that begins WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.  With all due respect to the instrumental accompaniment — a fine band — Becky and Nicki are swinging in the best understated but authentic Basie manner when they utter the first syllable.  And their voices — alternatively lighter, darker, flying, trading places in mid-air — go together perfectly, whether they are alternating phrases within a song, singing in unison or harmonizing.  Each performance is full of small sweet surprises (including some witty banter) which makes the CD an old-fashioned experience, a “show” rather than simply two people standing at microphones and singing one song after another.  One can hear that the routines have been carefully planned, but nothing is stiff or formal.  They sound as if they are having a good time, fully enjoying the pleasures of music-making.  The effect is never cute or artificial, but there is a good deal of cheerful play.  And singers could learn so much from studying this disc.

Some highlights.  Nicki and Becky essay some of their proven crowd-pleasers, with roots in Louis Jordan (PECULIAR) and the Marilyn Monroe songbook (LITTLE ROCK, WRONG) — but much of the material here is new to Kilgore-Parrott fanciers.  There’s a clever arrangement of S’WONDERFUL, a racing romp on THEM THERE EYES, and several blissfully tender performances — the Ray Noble medley couldn’t be more sweet; VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is rueful and yearning; the BLUE MOON – MOONGLOW collation enables us to hear those familiar songs anew.  And the title track, SONGBIRDS, has a lively chorus by Brian Wittman — living up to his name — a verse by Becky, music by Nicki. True group work!  If there were still a network of hip radio stations, the performance of the Johnny Mandel – Dave Frishberg EL CAHON would be an instant classic.

The thirteen selections are wonderfully varied and paced, so the CD seems far too short.  And the band rocks gorgeously around and with the singers.

I am being unsubtle when I say BUY THIS ONE, but occasionally subtlety is a burden.  I received my copy yesterday and it is now playing for the fourth time. On the surface, it is an hour of joy: I think it is hours of that rare substance.

P.S.  You’ll note — rare for me — that no videos accompany this posting.  On camera, Nicki and Becky come across as the most hilariously swinging and endearing pair of vocal pals, sisters even.  But even in the most expertly-done jazz party situations, they sing into a microphone, the sound goes through an engineering board, comes out of two large speakers, crosses the room, and is picked up by my camera’s trustworthy but small microphone.  All this is to say, gently, that the videos often do not do singers’ voices justice — and the sound on this CD is so much more intimate and rich that I would do the disc a disservice by posting a video as evidence.

May your happiness increase!

A NEW BIX PROJECT

Few jazz musicians stir up as much longing and yearning as Bix Beiderbecke. This isn’t an aesthetic judgment on his achievement as measured against anyone else’s, but I sense that he is so powerfully missed by so many people. Although his recorded legacy is not by any means the most brief, those who love his music both revel in its beauties and wish with all their hearts that there would be more. Nearly seventy-five years after his final appearance in a recording studio, it seems unlikely that more will surface — although more unusual events have happened.

So those who revere him and his music have turned to Alternate Universes — tributes that do more than offer beautifully recorded or more leisurely versions of Okeh, Victor, Gennett, Harmony, Columbia sessions — but attempts to recreate something unheard.  (The parallel experiment, and a beautiful one, has always been Bent Persson’s ongoing Studies in Louis, spread over many records and CDs, and always rewarding.)

Nearly fifteen years ago, the very imaginative trumpeter Randy Sandke and friends recorded a CD for the Nagel-Heyer label of music associated with Louis and Bix: here is Doug Ramsey’s 2000 review of that disc.  A few years later, Dick Hyman took a small group in to the studio for Arbors Records (with Tom Pletcher inventing new beauties) to consider what would have happened if Bix played Gershwin.  (A wonderful Stomp Off session paired Bent and Tom for, among other imaginative fancies, a Bix-meets-Louis romp on MAD.)

Now, a decade later, Julio Schwarz Andrade came up with this new imaginative venture and recruited the musicians, and Paul Adams of Lake Records is eager to record the results, so a CD will become reality with some support from you. It’s a continuation of Paul’s work over a number of years called Vintage Recording Projects — where he assembles wonderful idiomatic musicians, records them with a minimum of fuss (no baffles or headphones, just people playing in a suitable room) with delightful results. Here is what the most recent session looked and sounded like — heroically gratifying!

I’ll let Julio explain:

The premise is, of course, that there are many tunes that we know Bix played and was fond of, but never had the chance to record. So this is our humble attempt to right that historical / circumstantial wrong, and to recreate what could have been. The musicians are: Andy Schumm, cornet; Mauro Porro, reeds; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Josh Duffee, percussion.  The list of tunes hasn’t been finalized yet, but the following are being considered (in no particular order): STARDUST / SKYLARK / WOLVERINE BLUES / WASHBOARD BLUES / SWANEE / I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN / LAZY RIVER / IT MUST BE TRUE / PANAMA / ANGRY / HIAWATHA’S LULLABY / NO-ONE KNOWS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT among others.

Now, projects like this don’t take shape without support, so we are asking people to help out. Here is the link to contribute some . . . money.  A £30 donation gets your name in the booklet. Anything more than that gets you a place in heaven and eternal salvation as well. And all contributions will win gratitude from the organizers, the band, and future listeners.

The session will take place right after this year’s Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, and I look forward to the results.

May your happiness increase!

BECKY AND THE BOYS

BECKY MEN

The title of Rebecca Kilgore’s new CD for Arbors Records comes from a Peggy Lee song, I LIKE MEN — but the simple title belies the variety of expression the session offers. There’s delight that echoes the title (I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY, HE’S MY GUY); yearning for the relationship that hasn’t happened (THE BOY NEXT DOOR, THE MAN I LOVE); sorrow over one that has ended (THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY); an admonition to a puppyish too-eager fellow (DOWN BOY); comments on the possibilities of monogamy and other variations (AN OCCASIONAL MAN, FOR EVERY MAN THERE’S A WOMAN, ONE MAN AIN’T QUITE ENOUGH).

And more! — sharp-eyed contemplation of the movement from romance to marriage (MARRY THE MAN TODAY); a song balanced between yearning and annoyance at the Love Object’s inability to see what’s in front of him (THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE); songs that characterize both the Man’s desirability and his flaws (HE’S A TRAMP, HE NEEDS ME); a few unclassifiables (GOLDFINGER and an instrumental version of BALLAD OF THE SAD YOUNG MEN).

The recital by Rebecca, Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Kevin Kanner is emotionally and artistically varied; the disc moves easily from uptempo swing to sorrowful ruminations to light-hearted wit.  And although the title seems one-sided, it is really an hour-plus trip through the Land of Relationships, with Rebecca offering commentary on the foibles, rewards, and terrors that are part of the journey. She and the instrumental foursome fit the mood of each song without strain or artifice.

Here’s a song you will hear on the new CD, although with a different instrumental contingent.  HE’S A TRAMP comes from LADY AND THE TRAMP — written by Peggy Lee, and sung sweetly by Becky with superb accompaniment from Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz, drums. This performance took place at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, on April 25, 2014:

If you’re anywhere near Cleveland, Ohio, September 18-21, this year (coming soon!) you can catch Becky, Harry, Rossano, and other luminaries at the Allegheny Jazz Party.

Becky and the Boys (known more respectfully as the Harry Allen Quartet — Harry, Rossano, Joel, and Kevin) will be offering an urban and urbane I LIKE MEN to a New York City audience on Thursday, September 25, 2014, at 6-7:15 PM at Birdland (315 West 44th Street: doors open at 5 PM).

Wherever you find Ms. Kilgore, she and her friends — male or female — create great music. A friend of ours, staying for dinner tonight, said, “I don’t like most of the singers you have on your blog.  But that Becky Kilgore!  She flies when she sings.”  True story.

May your happiness increase!

MS. KILGORE’S ROAD TRIP: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, STEPHANIE TRICK, PAOLO ALDERIGHI at MONTEREY, March 9, 2014

They are impossible to pack but two pianos are obviously essential for a proper rendering of ROUTE 66, performed by Becky Kilgore, vocal and instrumental surprise; Dan Barrett, Paolo Alderighi, Stephanie Trick, piano:

Recorded on March 9, 2014, at JazzAge Monterey’s Jazz Bash by the Bay, a cornucopia of musical pleasures.

Becky, Dan, and Paolo have a new CD, called JUST IMAGINE; Becky, Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Kevin Kanner have created one called I LIKE MEN; Stephanie and Paolo have a new duo disc, coming soon, called SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY.  Westward ho to all.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFULLY IN BALANCE: REBECCA KILGORE AND FRIENDS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 27, 2014)

This is how it’s done. 

The masters of melodic improvisation here are Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz, drums — at the twenty-fifth Atlanta Jazz Party in April 2014.

Becky and Bucky, romantics, quieting the room with their duet on TRES PALABRAS (and what courage it takes to begin a set with such a tender ballad):

Southern pastoral in swing (recalling Lester Young and Anita O’Day), JUST A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA, with delicious playfulness all the way through:

Becky so sweetly and tenderly honors Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and Roger Edens, YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (and Dan Barrett has Vic on his mind, too):

She and the band give us an ebullient finish, with JEEPERS CREEPERS:

This set was so  very satisfying, lyricism and swing, feeling and expertise intermingled throughout: I wouldn’t change a single note. And I’ve listened to the twenty minutes of music here, over and over, delighted, moved, and amazed.

Rebecca has two new CD releases: JUST IMAGINE (with Dan Barrett and Paolo Alderighi) and I LIKE MEN (with Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Kevin Kanner) for those of us who find our appetites for tenderness, joy, and subtlety stimulated (not satiated) by these four videos.

And if you’re in New York City on Monday, May 19, 2014, in the early evening, you should seriously consider visiting Becky and friends at Symphony Space for the Sidney Bechet Society’s tribute to Mat Domber . . . particularly apt here because Mat and Rachel Domber recorded so many sessions for their Arbors Records label that are as beautiful as this live performance. “All-Star Tribute to Mat Domber & Arbors Records“: Anat Cohen, Wycliffe Gordon, Bob Wilber, Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Randy Sandke, Warren Vache, Harry Allen, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Joel Forbes, John Allred, Rossano Sportiello, and Rajiv Jayaweera.

May your happiness increase!

BRYAN SHAW’S BLUEBIRD BRINGS HAPPINESS

I first wrote a few lines about Bryan Shaw’s most recent CD, THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS (Arbors Records) here, last year, because its music made a small sweet story possible.  For those who have been listening to jazz recordings, I will say only that this CD has the savor of an early-Fifties Vanguard session, and that I have returned to it often with increased pleasure.

BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS

I first heard Bryan on CD more than a decade ago, on his first Arbors release, NIGHT OWL.  At the time, he was only a name to me — but the CD found him among others whose work I knew and valued: Dan Barrett, the late Brian Ogilvie, Scott Robinson, Chuck Wilson, Dave Frishberg, Jeff Hamilton, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joel Forbes, Rebecca Kilgore, David Stone, Eddie Erickson.  I was impressed with the playing and singing of those people, but Bryan struck me as a true find — a trumpet player with a singing lyricism, deep swing, real imagination . . . and although you could play the game that Barbara Lea called “Sounding Like,” that favorite pastime of critics and liner-note writers, Bryan sounded most like himself.

I had the opportunity to meet and hear Bryan in March 2010, and found all the virtues he had displayed on NIGHT OWL just as vivid in person.  And, at one of our meetings, I said, “When are you going to make another CD?”  Eventually, he told me about THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS . . . and now I can share it with you.

This CD features Bryan, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Ehud Asherie, piano; John Dominguez, string bass; Brad Roth, guitar / banjo; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  And the songs are in themselves a telling guide to the breadth of Bryan’s musical imagination — reaching back to Clarence Williams and forward into the future with equal ease: LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / ALL MY LIFE / WANG WANG BLUES / VIGNETTE / PAPA DE DA DA / SONG OF DREAMS / I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO / OLD MAN BOWERS / BLOOMIN’ BLUES / I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS / ELLIE / BLUE ROOM / CHLOE / STRANGE BLUES / THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS.  Four of these songs — ELLIE, SONG OF DREAMS, OLD MAN BOWERS, and BLOOMIN’ BLUES — are flavorful originals by Brad Roth: each of them with a distinctive character, so much more than lines superimposed on familiar chord changes.  And the tidy, ingenious arrangements are by Dan Barrett, master of written charts and impromptu riffs and backgrounds.

If you wanted a compact living definition of what Stanley Dance called “Mainstream” in the twenty-first century, this CD would be a vivid multi-dimensional example.

The instrumental performances themselves are marvelous: Bryan’s trumpet, glowing or growling, seems to move from one beautiful phrase to the next without strain — no cliches here — and his solos have their own architectural sense, which translates into performances with shape, starting simply and rising to emotional peaks.  To me, Dan Barrett has been a model of the way to play trombone since I first heard him about a quarter-century ago. Evan Arntzen shines on clarinet and saxophone, finding just the right lines to enhance an ensemble and creating soaring solos.  And the rhythm section is all anyone could want: our splendid friend Ehud Asherie, who can merge Fats or the Lion, sauntering down the street (from one hot-dog stand to the next) with his own version of witty “modernist” swing.  Brad Roth — whether on banjo, sweet rhythm guitar, or single-string electric, adds so much to the ensemble, as do John Dominguez (supple and solid) and the ever-surprising Jeff Hamilton.

The overall effect varies from selection to selection, but I heard evocations of a Johnny Hodges small group, a live Basie performance circa 1940; a Buck Clayton Jam Session; the 1940 Ellington band, and more — and the performances benefit so much from what Ruby Braff used to do on the stand: to avoid monotony, he would subdivide a quartet into even smaller bands, playing duets and trios within it. BLUE ROOM offers us a trumpet-banjo verse; I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO does the same but with trumpet and piano.

Even though there are a few mood pieces, this is a reassuringly optimistic CD, from the absolutely delicious swing of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, ALL MY LIFE, BLUE ROOM . . . to the soaring (nearly operatic) assertion of the title song. Bryan believes in that BLUEBIRD, and the CD will bring happiness to anyone able to listen — and listen — to it in the right spirit. You can hear brief excerpts (each slightly less than thirty seconds) here and here, but I predict those tiny tastes will serve only to whet your appetite for the whole experience.

Some words from Bryan about the whole delicious enterprise:

This album was recorded by me, Bryan Shaw, at my studio in Costa Mesa, California, over 2 days in early November 2010. No overdubs. I met with Brad and John several time to brainstorm tunes, but no rehearsals. Dan had told me that he didn’t have time for any arrangements, then he showed up at the session with a key drive full of new charts, having stayed up all night for several days. We would record the charts as they came out of the printer.

I picked the songs with my heart, not my head.

The odd cover, initially a pencil sketch drawn by my daughter, shows a cozy old fashioned cottage with a garden and an old car. But when you open it up, you realize that there is a futuristic hovering BLUE spacecar in front. In the background is a big city of the future — and it may not even be earth.

Why?

I enjoy old jazz, gardening, old values, and more.  But I have my hovering space car to be able to function in the modern world. In my real life, I have fruit trees, extensive gardens, chickens, I raise fish in aquaponics. My roof is covered in solar panels and I generate all my own electricity. My hovering space car is my minivan that will drop me off at the airport for the next festival or cruise.

My concept on this album was a response to the world as I see it today. I believe that people need to turn off the TV and follow their hearts. I decided to follow mine long ago. I wanted to make music, even though playing a musical instrument is impossible. If you give any adult a musical instrument for the first time, they can’t play it. To become a musician you have to do the impossible — every day, over and over, till some day you can do it in public.

This CD is my attempt to put some basic principles of mine into music.  TIME: “When” is more important than “What.”  TONE: Be true to the voice you have. I don’t have a singing voice so I sing through the trumpet.  ENSEMBLE: A good jazz ensemble is a spontaneous conversation of seven players, each with an story to tell. You can tell that we actually were listening to each other and responding to the conversation. DYNAMICS: A jazz band with dynamics! We did bring it down to simmer at times. HARMONY: I’m tired of jazz players making everything sound ugly. I’m tired of chord changes, I wanted chord progressions. MELODY: Another forgotten concept. I lose interest in jazz when the melody becomes “the head” and the ensemble becomes “playing the head” (in a bad unison). RHYTHM: I’ve been fortunate to play a fair amount of swing dances and I wanted this CD to be something people could dance to. Rhythm is really the foundation of jazz and it provides the when to the what. BLEND: Fit in, support, harmonize, another lost concept in jazz.

Bryan’s THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS exemplifies his beliefs in the most melodic, swinging ways possible.

I’ve learned that wishes have power. What I wish for is that people buy this Hot Shots CD and find it as life-enhancing as I have. And then these same people make it known that they want to see this band in action.  It could happen, you know.

May your happiness increase!

PAINTING WITH SOUND: BOBBY GORDON (1941-2013)

The ranks of the Elders are thinning: Bobby Gordon has left us. He died peacefully last night (December 31, 2013).

If you saw the outside only, Bobby was a frail-looking clarinetist and occasional vocalist.  Hearing his playing, you might have thought, “lyric poet,” with unpredictable measures of tenderness, swing, and surprise.

But Bobby’s music was a matter of constantly shifting shadings — words would have been too coarse for him — so I think of him as a great painter, offering us in one chorus the quiet tints of a Turner watercolor, then shifting to the spiky abstractions of a Kandinsky.

Two choruses by Bobby could be a whole world of sound, echoing his mentors Joe Marsala and Pee Wee Russell, but with his own distinctive enthusiasms and investigations.

I had heard Bobby on record and private tapes from the early Seventies on, but had the good fortune to hear (and video-record) him in person at what was then Jazz at Chautauqua.  We only had one conversation (instigated by him in an empty hotel lobby at 2 AM because he had noticed that I was living one suburban town away from his birthplace) but he sang his melodies with sweet intensity, the intensity of a man who knew full well that every note counts.

I wrote a brief biography for Bobby’s Chautauqua appearances:

I first heard Bobby Gordon play in the early 1970s – not in person, but on a tape which included his friend, the great New York drummer Mike Burgevin, where Bobby was teamed with that dynamo, Kenny Davern, in a two-horn quartet. Playing sweetly, quietly, and soulfully, Mr. Gordon cut the extrovert Mr. Davern decisively without having to exert himself. His art is a subtle one – but attentive listeners know just how hard it is to play melodies so simply, with such feeling, so many subtleties of tone and shading. Even when Bobby appears to be hewing closely to the notes we know, he is creating an impressionistic masterpiece. Happily, his quiet brilliance is no longer a secret, nor has it been for some time. Since he moved to San Diego in 1979, where he met his English-born wife, Sue – the reason Bobby often calls the tune “Sweet Sue” — and he began to record prolifically with Marty Grosz, Keith Ingham, Hal Smith, and Rebecca Kilgore among others, listeners have gotten tangible, permanent evidence of his warm musical individuality. We can’t have too many CDs that feature Bobby, but his performances make a reassuring section on anyone’s alphabetically-organized CD shelves. And the good news is that he continues to record regularly, still making San Diego his home base, although fans in England, Japan, and Scotland have showed their enthusiasm for his work as well. Arbors Records has recognized Bobby as a treasure, and his sessions have teamed him with everyone from Joe Marsala’s widow, the harpist Adele Girard Marsala, to Marty Grosz, Dave McKenna, and Bob Wilber: Don’t Let It End (1992), Pee Wee’s Song (1993), Bobby Gordon Plays Bing (996), Clarinet Blue (1999), and Yearnings (2003). But my favorite Gordon CD, I confess, is his JUMP trio with Keith Ingham and Hal Smith – such a popular issue that it is now only available on cassette. Bobby was born in Manhasset, New York, in 1941. Happily for him, his father worked for RCA and sold Tommy Dorsey records for them. Through these connections, young Bobby met the uniquely soulful clarinettist Joe Marsala, becoming what Marsala called his “most gifted student and protégé.” In 1957, Bobby won a scholarship to the Lenox School of Jazz in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, and continued his studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He’s been lucky to work with many of the original masters: Muggsy Spanier, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy McPartland, Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell. For a time, he was the house clarinetist at the last Eddie Condon’s on 54th Street in Manhattan, as well as working with Jim Cullum’s Jazz Band, The World’s Greatest Jazz Band, and varying Marty Grosz units, all with original names. One opportunity that didn’t materialize was his replacing Buster Bailey in the Louis Armstrong All Stars in 1968. Bobby remembers being measured for the band uniform and learning the repertoire. But Louis suffered a heart attack, “and I never got to play with him.” Bobby has ambitions to be a better songwriter and “to really let my influences come out more…to play like Hackett and Louis and Pee Wee and Marsala and Condon; and I’d like to be able to sing like Red McKenzie.” Audiences at Chautauqua have shown their approval of Bobby’s mastery in set after set.

Bobby’s music — the song not ended — is so much more affecting than my words:

MY MELANCHOLY BABY:

AT SUNDOWN:

PEE WEE’S BLUES:

His melodies linger on, and Bobby Gordon taught us so much about the courage it takes to create beauty every time he played or sang. We thank him. We miss him.

May your happiness increase!

THE RUBAIYAT OF MARTY GROSZ

Tidying one’s apartment has unforeseen benefits.  Not only can one find things that should be disposed of, but objects forgotten or unknown bob to the surface. Domestic archaeology.

This little piece of paper has been on my kitchen counter for some time now: who would throw out a scrap of paper handwritten (a holograph manuscript) from the Most Revered Martin Oliver Grosz?

With the help of the experts at the British Museum and the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library, who offered their best carbon-dating and electron-microscope expertise, their deep analysis of paper fibers and ink, we have an approximate date of early 2011.  I could have told them that . . . but experts must be allowed to play.

Marty and Co. (including Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, James Dapogny, Vince Giordano, Arnie Kinsella, and “Panic Slim”) had recorded a CD called THE JAMES P. JOHNSON SONGBOOK (Arbors).  I had been allowed to attend the recording sessions in Union City, New Jersey — on October 27, 28, 29, 2010. Here’s a link to find out more. Some months later, when the finished CD was ready but not yet released to the eager public, Marty sent me a copy and enclosed this gnomic utterance:

MARTY GROSZ WRITES

In the presence of such wisdom, any commentary would be profane.

In the illustration below, Omar Khayyam is being serenaded by Saki.  Historians are uncertain whether she is using the Carl Kress tuning. Research!

omar-khayyam-and-saki-AE05_l

May your happiness increase!

THE JAZZ BOOKSHELF: “JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ” and “MR. B”

A quarter-century ago, in actual bookstores, I could find shelves devoted to books on jazz.  That reassuring sight still exists (I saw it in the Strand in New York last week) but the great era of print publishing is, understandably, over. Thus it’s always a pleasure to encounter new books on jazz, and the two below are quite different but will both reward readers.

Jazz-Beat-review--195x300

JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ, by Lew Shaw (AZtold Publishing) is a very amiable collection of profiles written by an admiring, long-time fan and former sportswriter.

What makes these brief affectionate portraits different from the norm is that all (except one) the musicians in this book are living.  Not all of them are stars, but they have devoted followings — from the youthful Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, Pete and Will Anderson, Josh Duffee, Michael Kaeshammer, Ben Polcer, Molly Ryan, Bria Skonberg, Andy Schumm, Stephanie Trick, to the veterans Bill Allred, Jim Cullum, Bob Draga, Yve Evans, Chet Jeager, Flip Oakes, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Mike Vax, Pat Yankee, and Ed Polcer — the book’s inspiration, whose picture is on the cover.

Shaw also profiles other regulars on the festival circuit, Tom Rigney, the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, the Natural Gas Jazz Band, the New Black Eagles, Igor’s Jazz Cowboys.

His emphasis is on musicians exploring older jazz forms and repertoire, but the book is happily free from ideological bickering (with one exception, and the words aren’t the author’s*.  The book is comfortable and easy: I sense that the musicians are delighted to find someone sympathetic, interested, willing to get the facts right for publication.

I was pleased to find a number of my jazz friends and heroes profiled, among them Clint Baker, Kevin Dorn, Banu Gibson, Nicki Parrott, Carl Sonny Leyland, Randy Reinhart, Hal Smith, Rossano Sportiello, and the late Mat Domber.  I know I’ve left several people off this list, but readers will have fun seeing some of their favorites here.

Shaw’s method is simple: he establishes the musician’s place in the world of contemporary traditional jazz, constructs a brief biography — a story rather than a collection of dates and a listing of names and places.  Some comments from a writer or blogger offer different insights (I’m even quoted here a few times) and the musician speaks for him or herself.  The result is a fast-moving collection of short pieces (somewhere between journalistic features and extensive liner notes) that capture their subjects’ personalities in only a few pages.

Shaw is frankly admiring — from a literate fan’s perspective.  For instance (I picked this at random), the opening of his piece on Bob Draga: “Clarinetist Bob Draga is considered the consummate entertainer, having mastered the art of pleasing an audience with musical talent, classy appearance and entertaining repartee.”  That’s Bob, to the life.

One particularly moving episode in this book is the profile of drummer Joe Ascione — and his life with multiple sclerosis since 1997.  If Shaw had done nothing but allow Joe to speak for himself, JAZZ BEAT would still be well worth reading. Many fans come up to musicians at gigs, concerts, and festivals, and ask questions; it is reassuring to see that Lew Shaw has willingly shared his energies and research with us.  The 211-page book is nicely produced with many black-and-white photographs, and copies can be ordered here.

*Chet Jaeger, of the Night Blooming Jazzmen, told Shaw about playing in a Disneyland marching band when Dizzy Gillespie was also performing there, and his reaction: “I decided I would attend and try to learn something about modern jazz, but I gave up after a few numbers.  I always say that when I hit a bad note, everyone knows it’s a bad note. When Miles Davis hits a bad note, people will say, ‘Isn’t that creative.'”

MISTER B

Cary Ginell, author of a fine book on the Jazz Man Record Shop (reviewed here) and a rewarding biography of Cannonball Adderley (here) has produced another first-rate book in the same series: MR. B: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF BILLY ECKSTINE (Hal Leonard, 228+ pages).  Ginell may turn out to be this generation’s model for jazz biography, for he doesn’t indulge in pathobiography (chronicling every time his subject is supposed to have left no tip for a waitperson or some other example of bad behavior) and he isn’t a secret Destroyer (appearing to write admiringly of the subject then deflating the Hero(ine) chapter after chapter).

His books are tidy, graceful, compact affairs — full of stories but never digressive, sticking to chronology but never mechanical.

Eckstine has been treated gingerly by the jazz community: yes, he was Earl Hines’ band vocalist, bringing the blues to a larger audience with JELLY, JELLY, then someone given credit for his “legendary” band featuring Dizzy, Bird, Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, and others . . . but once Eckstine comes to even greater prominence as an African-American balladeer (think of I APOLOGIZE), the jazz audience loses interest and the naughty word “commercialism” enters the dialogue.

Ginell doesn’t over-compensate, and he — unlike Mister B — doesn’t apologize, but he makes a serious case for Eckstine being one of the important figures in the slow struggle for White Americans to respect people of color.

One of Eckstine’s sons remembered, “Until the day he died, whenever he ordered a sandwich, he always separated the two pieces of bread and gently ran his fingers over the meat, because on a number of occasions while touring the South, they would send the band boy. . . to pick up food from a white restaurant. When they got the sandwiches, they would discover finely ground glass, or vermin feces mixed in with the tuna, chicken, egg, or potato salad.”  We also learn about the repercussions of a LIFE magazine photograph where Eckstine was captured amidst young White female fans — a horrifying example of racist attitudes in 1950. Stories such as that are invaluable, and make a book both readable and memorable, no matter who its subject might be.

The band business was difficult even when the enemy wasn’t trying to poison you so directly; Ed Eckstein also recalled that the critic Leonard Feather subtly attacked his father’s band because Eckstine refused to record Feather’s compositions.  Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie created a parody — sung to the tune STORMY WEATHER, with these lyrics:

I know why, we can’t get a gig on Friday night, / Leonard Feather / Keeps on makin’ it hard for me to keep this band together, / Talkin’ shit about us all the time . . .  

We learn about the relationship between June Eckstine and the promising young Swedish clarinetist Stan Hasselgard; we learn of Eckstine’s close friendship with Dr. King, his devotion to his fans, his generosities.  And as for Eckstine’s apparent “selling-out,” he had this to say, “Some creeps said I ‘forsook’ jazz in order to be commercial. So I saw one of these creeps, a jazz critic, and I said, ‘What are you, mad at me because I want to take care of my family?  Is that what pisses you off? You want me to end up in a goddamn hotel room with a bottle of gin in my pocket and a needle in my arm, and let them discover me laying there? Then I’ll be immortal, I guess, to you . . . It ain’t going to work that way with me, man. I want to take care of my family and give them the things that I think they deserve.'”

And we learn that Eckstine’s last word was “Basie,” which should go some distance in supporting his deep feeling for jazz.

It’s an admirable book.  Although nearly everyone who worked with Eckstine is dead, Ginell has had the cooperation of the singer’s family and friends; he has done thorough research without allowing minutiae to overwhelm the narrative, and the book moves along at a fine 4 / 4 pace.  With rare photographs, as well.

Ginell’s work — and this series in general — is very fine, and these books fill needed spaces in jazz history.  Who’s next?

May your happiness increase!

“LET ME HEAR THAT MUSIC!”

It’s all true.

This morning, I was driving across Manhattan to see the Beloved. Predictably, I was stuck in congealing traffic.  I did what I often do (since the weather was fine and I wasn’t going anywhere fast) — put a new jazz CD in the player, opened my window, and turned up the sound.  I assure you, should you worry, that my aging car’s sound system can do no harm to my or anyone else’s eardrums.

As I inched forward, I saw a man on foot — what Chaucer might have described as a mendicant, someone in search of alms — going from car to car, peaceably. He was not intoxicated, untidy, or threatening. When he was several cars away, I reached into my trousers pocket to find a dollar to give him.  When he came to my car window, I offered him the dollar, and said, “Here you are, my man,” and he took the bill and thanked me.

But then something quite unexpected happened.  He heard the music (a hot rendition of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME by Bryan Shaw’s Hot Shots — a glorious new Arbors CD featuring Dan Barrett, Evan Arntzen, Ehud Asherie, Brad Roth, John Dominquez, Jeff Hamilton) and his face changed — from casual to intent.

That’s Dixieland!” he cried.  “Let me hear that music!

I turned up the volume and we listened, together, happily, for another half-chorus before the drivers in back of me grew restive.  He was smiling.  So was I.

Music, surely, has charms.  At the end of his day, the dollar I gave him is faceless, without personality: the minute or so of hot jazz we shared might have a much more lasting — and salutary — effect.

Postscript: Since I abhor the names and styles and categories under which improvised music labors, I did not think it a useful expenditure of energy or love to be didactic, “No, my good man.  ‘Dixieland’ can be defined as . . . . . What we are listening to is small-band swing / contemporary traditional / Mainstream . . . .”  I leave that to others.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW WORDS FOR MAT DOMBER

I just received word that Mat Domber, who founded Arbors Records in 1989, died peacefully this morning — with his beloved wife Rachel at his side.  Mat had been ill for some time, but you hardly knew it: when I last saw him, at a Harry Allen Monday night function at Feinstein’s last June, he was cheerful, amused, and gracious as ever.

When the history of any art form is written, it invariably concentrates on the artists who are seen as the prime movers — and logically so.  But artists need patrons and friends and people who help them communicate their vision.  Mat Domber was a stellar example.  Other jazz fans delight in the music; some throw parties for their friends, or concerts.

Mat and Rachel decided that the music they loved wasn’t getting recorded . . . and thus he put his business acumen and his musical taste into play — at first, relying on Rick Fay and Dan Barrett for musical guidance, but eventually building up a roster of players and singers he knew were first-rate.  If you go to your CD shelves at this moment, chances are some of the most gratifying discs there are on the Arbors label.

I list some of the players who might otherwise have had fewer chances to express themselves: Rebecca Kilgore, Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Dick Hyman, Kenny Davern, John Sheridan, Scott Robinson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, George Masso, Bob Wilber, Ehud Asherie, Johnny Varro, Dan Block, Marty Grosz, Eddie Erickson, Jackie Coon, Warren Vache, Nicki Parrott, Rossano Sportiello, Peter Ecklund, Bucky Pizzarelli, Aaron Weinstein, Harry Allen, Bob Haggart, John Bunch, Derek Smith, Keith Ingham, Ellis Larkins, Bobby Gordon, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Randy Reinhart, Joel Helleny, Howard Alden, Joe Wilder, Jerry Jerome, Flip Phillips . . . you can add other names as well.

Mat was a delight to be with — someone who enjoyed the company of the musicians after the session almost as much as he enjoyed the sessions.  And he made Arbors parties and festivals and happenings for all of us to enjoy.

There will be other things to say about Mat, but I will end this by saying that Ruby Braff and Kenny Davern, two of the most exacting men in the world of jazz, relied on him.  He will be missed.  JAZZ LIVES sends its deepest sympathy to Rachel and the people who loved Mat Domber.

May your happiness increase.  

MORE FROM HARRY ALLEN AND FRIENDS at FEINSTEIN’S (June 10, 2012)

People are surely known by the company they keep.  Harry Allen is not only a splendid creative musician and a deeply gracious person — he also has superb friends.  Three of them are in his Quartet — Chuck Riggs (drums), Joel Forbes (string bass), and Rossano Sportiello (piano).

This delicious combination took the stage on Sunday, June 10, 2012, at Feinstein’s (the comfortable club nestled within Loews Regency, 540 Park Avenue, New York City). Harry and his friends were there thanks to Mat and Rachel Domber, the generous spirits responsible for so much good music through Arbors Records and live concerts.

It was a privilege to be there, and the Beloved and I basked in the warm, friendly atmosphere of that room — and the warm creativity of the players. And for the first time, I was allowed to video-record the evening, so consider yourself invited to the extraordinary musical scene created magically by Harry and friends — with surprises to come.  (In the house were Dan Morgenstern, Daryl Sherman, Marlene VerPlanck, Gwen Calvier and her beau Joe, and a few surprises . . . )

I posted the first glorious set of that evening here.  Delicious, isn’t it?

Two of Harry’s friends joined the band for a second helping — Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), well-known to JAZZ LIVES, and the majestic Joe Temperley (baritone sax), whom I am honored to have here.

They began their explorations with BLUE SKIES:

Only bands that are this far from being lost — in any way — can play PERDIDO so wonderfully:

Joe offered us a beautifully mobile THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU:

For his part, Jon-Erik made us feel good with a romping THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU:

And, as Louis would write at the end of a page, S’all — but there will be more to come.

May your happiness increase.

SUNDAY, MONDAY, and ALWAYS: THE HARRY ALLEN QUARTET at FEINSTEIN’S: The First Set (June 10, 2012)

Harry Allen is one of those rare musicians who needs only his horn to get something started — but when he’s joined by Chuck Riggs (drums), Joel Forbes (string bass), and Rossano Sportiello, a delicious combination of excitement and relaxation fills the room.  This happened once again on Sunday, June 10, 2012, at Feinstein’s (the comfortable club nestled within Loews Regency, 540 Park Avenue, New York City).  Harry and his friends were there — thanks to Mat and Rachel Domber, the generous spirits responsible for so much good music through Arbors Records and live concerts.

It was a privilege to be there, and the Beloved and I basked in the warm, friendly atmosphere of that room — and the warm creativity of the players.  And for the first time, I was allowed to video-record the evening, so consider yourself invited to the extraordinary musical scene created magically by Harry and friends — with surprises to come.

Harry began the evening with a loping performance of CHEEK TO CHEEK that would have pleased Fred, Ginger, and Mr. Berlin as well:

Then, something really pretty — a pensive reading of Kern’s SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES that, surprising us all, segued into a rollicking I WANT TO BE HAPPY with the first of several extraordinary outings from our hero Rossano at the piano:

The familiar anthem of hipness, SATIN DOLL:

And A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP (with such beautiful support from Joel and Chuck):

A tender MY FOOLISH HEART (did the SATIN DOLL prove fickle?):

Harry closed off the first set — a satisfying offering of jazz — with the always-delicious  (Basie-flavored) BLUES, this time in Ab:

Harry and friends have been a regular attraction on the first Monday of every month — for over a year now.  (The Sunday, June 10, date was an exception.)  They will return on the first Monday of September with more good sounds and special guests.  Here’s the schedule:

September 10th: (Harry and the young saxophone masters!)  Luigi Grasso, Jesse Davis, Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

October 8th: (Harry and splendid singers!)  Lynn Roberts, Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Mike Renzi, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

November 5th: (Harry and the jazz masters!)  Bucky Pizzarelli, Ken Peplowski, John Allred, Bill Allred, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs.

December 2nd: (Harry and the jazz masters, continued!)  George Wein and the Newport All Stars

You can find out more about the musical bill of fare offered at Feinstein’s by visiting http://www.fesinsteinsattheregency.com.

And I’ll be back shortly with more music from this glorious evening.  May your happiness increase.