Tag Archives: Arnie Kinsella

TWO GENTLEMEN OF THE LYRICAL BRASS FRATERNITY: JOHN BUCHER, PETER ECKLUND

I’ve been putting off this post because it makes me sad to write about these fine musicians I won’t encounter face to face again: I didn’t know either of them well, but felt that we had connected in various ways.  But it would be worse than my sadness to let their beauty be forgotten in the relentless howl of the news.  And although I cannot assume that John and Peter were close friends, their characteristic graciousness suggests to me that they would have known and admired each other.  So I trust they won’t mind the propinquity of this blogpost.

John Bucher, some years ago, photograph courtesy of The Syncopated Times

John Bucher moved on — to “go home,” in his own words, on April 5: he was 89 and had a long-time cardiac condition.  Peter Ecklund, who had dealt with Parkinson’s disease for a long time, moved to his own destination in another neighborhood on April 8: he was 74.

Peter Ecklund, photograph by Lynn Redmile

I didn’t know either of them well enough to have extended conversations, but I believe they both — in the past two decades — recognized me as being on their side, whether I was writing for The Mississippi Rag or another periodical, or, eventually, carrying a camera and a notebook for JAZZ LIVES.  Peter was gracious to me but terse in all communications — in person or in email — but I was aware that his health was a burden to him and perhaps, although I could publicize a gig, I might also capture his playing in ways that did not show him in the best light.  (In both Peter’s and John’s case, I did get permission to make any video public, and would have honored their wish to delete a performance.)  John would give me a substantial grin when I greeted him; circumstances never allowed us to sit down and talk, but he made me very welcome.

My awareness of Peter goes back before I met him in person, to recordings he made in 1987 for the Stomp Off label — one under Marty Grosz’s name (“The Keepers of the Flame”) and one session that Peter led (“Melody Makers”) — brilliant recordings that I played and replayed.  I may have found them at the Corner Bookstore in East Setauket, run by Nancy Mullen: Nancy and Frank were serious jazz fans who had celebrated their engagement at the bar at Lou Terassi’s in 1951 or 2, with Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton adjacent to them.  That, I point out, is the way to do it, although you’d have to find other comrades today.

In 1990, Nancy and Frank invited me to join them for a concert given by the Long Island Traditional Jazz Society in North Babylon, if I have the name right — Marty Grosz, Peter, Dan Barrett, Joe Muranyi, perhaps Greg Cohen and Arnie Kinsella — memorable to me now, thirty years later, for Muranyi singing LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE and interpolating, “Can it be NORTH BABYLON at last?”  I bought all the Stomp Off records and, later, the Arbors Records and Jazzology CDs on which Peter appeared, often as a key player in Marty Grosz’s Orphan Newsboys.  Peter had incredible leaping facility — romping through Jabbo Smith’s JAZZ BATTLE at top speed — but he was also a lyrical swinger who could create a memorable short story in a four-bar break.  When I heard him in person, he reminded me of Doc Cheatham — the light-footed dancing in air quality, a man with many delicate ideas to offer us in a chorus.

I met John in person for the first time in 2005, I think, at the Cajun — and admired him instantly.  Like Peter, I had heard him first, but in John’s case, not known his identity: John played on the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s SLEEPER, which was a hit at the movie theatre where I worked as a doorman (“Good evening,” tearing the paper ticket, then returning it with “Thank you.”)  so his firm swinging lead on CANAL STREET BLUES impressed me over and over.  I wish I’d known that he was playing so I could have told him this story when we met, nearly a quarter-century later.  But he knew how much I enjoyed his playing — whether at the Cajun, in a trio with Marty and John Beal at Charley O’s in midtown, or sitting in with the EarRegulars at the Ear Inn.  John was a thoughtful “singing” player who never hurried or missed a step, but he was never stiff.  A favorite quote, inserted neatly, was COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN, which always made me laugh with pleasure.  He stayed in the middle register, but occasionally would end phrases with a growl or find a mute he liked to vary his sound.

Roswell Rudd once told me, “You play your personality,” and both of these gentlemen did just that.  Peter’s playing could be heated and impetuous, rounding the corner of a hot chorus, but he was poised and epigrammatic in person.  John, who made his living as some variety of stockbroker (he told his colleague and my friend Dick Dreiwitz that it was a career where he could go to work at 10 and stop at 3) was beautifully dressed; he sat up straight when playing.

After all those words, here is some lovely music.  I video-recorded John at the Cajun in 2006 (a whole evening) and when he visited The Ear Inn in 2010.  All the details are in the blogposts.

John at the Cajun, June 24, 2006: one and two, and at The Ear Inn, March 21, 2010: one and two.  Peter, sitting in at Radegast, whistling and ukulele, December 13, 2011: here.

It distresses me to realize that I and my camera came along too late in Peter’s playing career to have rewarding video-footage of his beautiful hot cornet playing, so I will include these performances, knowing that John would not feel slighted in the least.

and something for Bing (with a distinct Davison flavor):

I write this at the start of May 2020, having mourned a number of completely irreplaceable musicians — and people — whom I knew as well as heard.  I feel unequal to the task of mourning John and Peter adequately.  I also hope they sensed — when we did encounter each other — how much joy it brought me to see them on the bandstand, a pleasure that sustained itself through the evening and does so, years later, in memory and in video.

Blessings on you, inventive gentlemen of brass.  You can’t be replaced.  And I invite those readers who knew and admired John and Peter to chime in.

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

BOB HAVENS SHOWS US HOW: JAMES DAPOGNY, VINCE GIORDANO, ARNIE KINSELLA (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2009)

I take my title from what Bobby Hackett told Max Jones about his friend Jack Teagarden, “The Good Lord said to Jack, ‘Now you go down there and show them how to do it.”  (I am paraphrasing, because the book, TALKING JAZZ, is hiding from me.)

My subject is one of Jack’s noble colleagues, the trombonist Bob Havens, born May 3, 1930, in Quincy, Illinois — thus seventy-nine in the performance I will share with you, which he created at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend — with Arnie Kinsella, drums; Vince Giordano, string bass; James Dapogny, piano.  The song Havens chose for his feature is the venerable IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, which has its jazz immortality due to the 1927 Red Nichols recording featuring Adrian Rollini and Pee Wee Russell along with Red and Miff Mole.  Bob’s performance is three choruses, a continuing amazement.

Bob Havens, 2016

What strikes me immediately is the serious ease with which Bob approaches the melody, not rushing, not being in a hurry to get to the “hot” part, but playing it, slightly embellished, in his first chorus.

His tone.  His huge sound — a sound on which you could build your church.  His generous but intelligently applied phrase-ending vibrato.  His complete command of the trombone in all registers.  And, for me, that first chorus is a complete meal in itself, so beautifully offered.  But to look at the video and know, as I do, that there are two more choruses that will follow leaves me nearly open-mouthed.

Please, on your second and third viewing, and there should be occasions to revisit this splendor, savor the solid drumming of Arnie Kinsella, who knew how to play simply but with great soul; the delicious supportive work of Vince Giordano, who knows not only the right notes but where they should fall and how; James Dapogny’s intuitive embrace of both the soloist and the music in every phrase.

Bob’s turning-the-corner into his second chorus is exultant: now this is serious business, his shouting announcement seems to say.  I’ve laid out the melody, now let me show you what I can do with it.  Only a trombonist could explicate the dazzling variety of technical acrobatics — all beautifully in service of the song — Bob creates in that chorus, ending with a bluesy flourish.  And the third chorus is a magnificent extension of what has come before, with technique and taste strolling hand in hand.  (Again, no one in this quartet of masters rushes.)  Admire the structure, variations on variations, as simplicity gives way to complexity but the simplicity — IDA is a love song! — remains beneath.  Bob’s virtuosity is amazing, super-Teagarden thirty stories up, but his pyrotechnics never obscure emotions, and his sound never thins or becomes hard.

I invite you to admire someone who astonishes, who gives us great gifts.

What glorious music. in some ways, beyond my words.

This post is in honor of my Auntie, Ida Melrose Shoufler, the young trombone whiz and friend Joe McDonough, and Nancy Hancock Griffith, who made so much beauty possible.

May your happiness increase!

HOW THE MASTERS DO IT: BOB HAVENS // MARTY GROSZ (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 16, 2011)

I am moderately accident-prone: I can trip over an uneven sidewalk; have the last bit of salad dressing adhere to my shirt; while driving, I may unsuccessfully avoid a pothole with an $800 repair bill as the result.  I laugh about it.

So I admire those who see the looming catastrophe, however its size and shape, and step around it without spilling their tea.  They aren’t Bojangles, Fred, or Gene — just people who sense the landmine and gracefully avoid it.  Jazz musicians are especially good at fixing errors before they turn into train wrecks.

Two of these Masters — you could call them spiritual acrobats or merely veterans of the trade — are trombonist Bob Havens and guitarist / singer / arranger Marty Grosz.  Both of these heroes are born in 1930, so when this brief interlude took place on September 16, 2011, they were 81.  Decades of experience!  The occasion was the yearly Jazz at Chautauqua, the beloved child of Joe Boughton, that was held at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York (ninety minutes from Buffalo).  It was a memorable jazz weekend, with about thirty musicians playing and singing from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon.

One of the particular delights of Chautauqua grew out of Joe’s love for beautiful semi-forgotten songs.  Thus the weekend began and ended with a ballad medley.  Four musicians were chosen as a skilled rhythm section, and from one side of the stage, everyone else walked on, indicated briefly to the rhythm section what song they had chosen and in what key, played or sang a chorus at a slow tempo, and walked offstage from the other side.  Emotionally powerful, visually charming, full of surprises and sweet sensations.

For the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua’s closing medley, the rhythm section was Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Arnie Kinsella, drums.  The complete medley ran perhaps twenty minutes: I’ve excerpted a segment I find particularly touching.

You’ll see at the start of this excerpt Bob Havens step onstage and explain by words and gestures that he plans to play — in seconds — LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND, the nostalgic creation of Charles and Nick Kenny and Danny Coots’ great-uncle, J. Fred.  It’s a favorite song of mine, first recorded in 1931 by (among others) Ruth Etting, then made into a huge success by Pat Boone.  I won’t comment on what the trajectory from Ruth to Pat suggests to me, especially because it was one of Vic Dickenson’s favorites also (his medium-bounce version can be found on YouTube).  In its homespun way, it’s a seventeenth-century poem: human love always loses the battle with nature and time, and tears are inevitable.

The opening phrase is familiar, the harmony simple, but unless my ears deceive me, there is a slight uncertainty in the rhythm section about the harmonies that follow, so Havens, used to this sort of thing for decades, “spells out” the harmony by emphasizing arpeggiated chords as he goes along — and the performance not only reaches its goal but our hearts as well.

Then Marty, who always goes his own way, thank goodness, asks everyone to be silent while he essays EMALINE.  That in itself would be brave — the lyrics to the chorus are pure Waltons-Americana, but they might be fairly well known.  No, our hero Martin Oliver Grosz begins with the verse and gets about one-third of the way before realizing his memory of the lyrics is incomplete: hear his inimitable rescue!  And the chorus is just lovely.  Incidentally, Frank Tate is someone I deeply admire: watch and listen to this clip again, and look at his facial expressions as Marty walks the thorny path he has chosen for himself.

For those who need to know (I had to look them up) the pretty although seriously hackneyed lyrics to the verse are: Ev’ning breezes hum a lullaby / There’s a million candles in the sky / I’ve put on my Sunday suit of blue / Emaline, just for  you / Here I’m standing at your garden gate / While the village clock is striking eight / Hurry up! Hurry down! / Honey, don’t be late!  (I especially like the “up” and “down,” but I’m a sentimentalist.)

The musicians on this stage (and their friends) are my role models.  What does a brief error matter if you either head it off or make a joke out of it: in both cases, they not only avoid trouble but cover it up so stylishly that the result is even better than plain old competence.  All hail!

There will be more previously unknown treasures from the Jazz at Chautauqua weekends — and then its successor, the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — in months to come.  “Too good to ignore,” said Eddie Condon, who spoke truth.

May your happiness increase!

“VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST”

vincegirodano_poster

About seventy-five minutes into this gratifying portrait of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, trombonist and keen observer Jim Fryer describes its subject as “an intense man . . . a driven man . . . consumed” by the ideals he’s devoted the last forty years to.  And his goal?  As Vince says in the film, it is “to get the great music out there for the people.”

From his early introduction to the music — the hot jazz 78s on his grandmother’s Victrola — to the present moment, where he is the inspired creator of a ten-piece Jazz Age big band possibly without equal, Vince’s ideal has been complex. Reproduce live the sound, accuracy, and vitality of the music he heard on the records, and add to that repertoire by playing, vividly and authentically, music that never got recorded. His quest has been to have a working band, the contemporary equivalent of the great working bands, sweet and hot, of the Twenties and Thirties, visiting the Forties on occasion. Add to this the constant schlepping (you could look it up) of the equipment for that band; finding a new home after Sofia’s could no longer stay open; finding gigs; keeping this organization running against the odds.  The film wholly captures how difficult Vince’s consuming obsession is to accomplish, and to keep afloat day after day.

Many readers of JAZZ LIVES are fervent Giordanians or perhaps Vinceites, and we crossed paths for years in the darkness of Sofia’s, at the Christmas teas.  I have a long history with this band, going back to a Nighthawks gig in the preceding century, in the eastern part of Long Island, New York, where the night sky darkened, the thunder rumbled louder than Arnie Kinsella’s drum set, lightning flashed, but the band kept playing until the last possible minute before the deluge.  So I’ve experienced Vince’s dedication firsthand.

Here’s the film’s trailer — a delightful encapsulation that doesn’t give away all the surprises:

The narrative follows Vince and the band over two years and more, from Sofia’s to Wolf Trap for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with Garrison Keillor, to Aeolian Hall with Maurice Peress for a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s presentation RHAPSODY IN BLUE — the opening clarinet solo brilliantly played by Dan Block — to the Nighthawks’ search for a new home, which they found at Iguana.  The film brings us up in to the present with the New York Hot Jazz Festival and a band led by Nighthawk Dan Levinson (his “Gotham Sophisticats”) as well as a new generation of musicians inspired by Vince, who has shown that it is possible to play hot music at the highest level with accuracy and spirit.

So much credit for this beautifully-realized film, must, of course, go to its intensely-charged subject, the Nighthawks, and their music. But filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards are expert visionaries.

Even given this vibrant multi-sensory material, formulaic filmmakers could have created something dull.  They might have been satisfied to simply document performance: aim cameras at the Nighthawks and record what they play, as videographers like myself have done, which would have been accurate but limiting as cinema. Or, given the many people willing to talk about Vince and the Nighthawks, Edwards and Davidson could have given us a pageant of New York’s most erudite talking heads, some of whom would have been happy to lecture us.

Instead, by beautifully combining both elements and adding some surprises, they have created a wholly engaging, fast-moving portrait of Vince, the Nighthawks, and their world.  THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST never seems to stand still, and the cameras take us places that even the most devoted fans have never gone.  We get to peek in at Terry Gross’s interview of Vince, to travel downtown for a Nighthawk-flavored session of the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn and a recording session for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

One of the film’s most pleasing aspects is candid, often witty commentary from people who know — the musicians themselves. Edwards and Davidson have fine instincts for the telling anecdote, the revealing insight.  We see and hear Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mike Ponella, Mark Lopeman, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Cynthia Sayer, Jim Fryer, and others, people who have worked with Vince for twenty-five years and more, and their stories are as essential to the film as is the music.

Edwards and Davidson quietly capture telling details, visual and otherwise: the box of doughnuts brought on the bus; the rivets on Vince’s aluminum double bass; Jon-Erik Kellso’s hand gestures — contrapuntal choreography — during SHAKE THAT THING; the voices of the Nighthawks joking about being fired as they head into a band meeting.  The film is admiring without being obsequious, so we also see a short, revealing episode of Vince losing his temper. But the details ever seem excessive.  In this era of fidgety multi-camera over-editing, the film’s charged rhythm — appropriately, a peppy dance tempo — is energetic but never overdone, never cleverly calling attention to itself.

There’s vivid photographic evidence of the spectacle at Sofia’s and the Iguana: the tuxedo-clad Nighthawks not only playing hot but enacting it; the dancers jubilantly embodying what they hear in ecstatic motion.  A documentary about Vince would be empty without the music.  I noted SUGAR FOOT STOMP, THE MOON AND YOU, PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE featuring Catherine Russell, WHITE HEAT, SWEET MAN, Kellso burning up the cosmos on SINGING PRETTY SONGS, THE STAMPEDE, ONE MORE TIME, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON, even BESAME MUCHO at a rainy Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  And the sound recording is just splendid.

One of the secret pleasures of this film, for the true believers, is in spotting friends and colleagues: Matt Musselman, Will Friedwald, Tina Micic, Jim Balantic, John Landry, Molly Ryan, Sam Huang, Chuck Wilson, and a dozen others.  (I know I’ve missed someone, so I apologize in advance.)

In every way, this film is delightful, a deep yet light-hearted portrait of a man and an evocation of a time and place, a casual yet compelling documentary that invites us in.  First Run Features is presenting its New York theatrical premiere at Cinema Village on January 13, 2017, and I believe that Vince and the filmmakers will be present at a number of showings.

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!

“JOHN KIRBY PLAYS FATS WALLER” BY DAN BLOCK (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, Sept. 17. 2011)

Dan Block is full of refreshing, gratifying ideas.

His imagining Fats Waller’s compositions as played by the John Kirby Sextet in the twenty-first century makes its own appealing sense.  Kirby and Waller knew each other and even show up in the same place (as in Fats’ Carnegie Hall concert in 1942).  Their paths probably crossed in ways not documented in jazz histories or discographies.  One can, without much exertion, imagine them having a drink — or several — uptown, and we know they both had a Henderson connection and they both led very well-known and immediately identifiable small jazz groups.

I suspect also that Dan, a thinking person — engage him on a political question and you’ll see what I mean — enjoys puzzles that require imagination to solve or untangle.  So the idea of writing arrangements within (and without) a clearly defined style for songs that have powerful melodic lines would have intrigued him.  And the music intrigues me.

At Jazz at Chautauqua, the results of this industry were clear: visually, in the pages of music unfurled in front of expert sight-readers Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan and Scott Robinson, reeds; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums.  And what we heard was instantly entrancing: part of it was the pleasure of the band’s innate swing.  (Whisper this: they swung much more than the Kirby crew did . . . )  The other pleasure was in hearing something both old and new at once: beautiful skirling Waller melodies from new angles.  It was a remarkable occasion and a stirring set, as you will see.

Here’s a very pretty ballad, IF IT AIN’T LOVE (listeners with substantial record collections may want to revisit the Boswell Sisters version or the Bobby Hackett serenade done at a Condon Town Hall concert as well):

What started out as I WISH I WERE TWINS, when cross-bred with Bach’s A minor violin concerto, became in the fertile Block imagination I WISH BACH COULD SEE MY TWINS:

LONESOME ME, sweetly sorrowful:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, perennially swinging:

And HENDERSON STOMP, a “secret” Waller composition: did he sell it for alimony money or for other, more pleasant rewards?

In an ideal world, DAN BLOCK PLAYS JOHN KIRBY PLAYS FATS WALLER would be a hit at jazz festivals, and there would be several CD sets, for Dan’s imagination is just that splendidly sprawling.  I can dream, can’t I?

DOWN-HOME DELIGHTS WITH DUKE HEITGER, RANDY REINHART, DAN LEVINSON, BOB HAVENS, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, ARNIE KINSELLA (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, Sept. 17, 2011)

The wonderful Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, who writes both hilariously and sensitively of living between Nazism and Socialism in the Forties, would call this music “Bob Crosby Dixieland.”  That would be a high compliment.  You might describe it as “New Orleans, “Condon-style,” or “Dixieland,” but the labels are too small for the superb music created by Duke Heitger, trumpet; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Levinson, reeds; Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Here are four sterling “good old good ones,” and if their pedigrees are slightly scattered — from Memphis to Twenties pop, from a song created in the Forties for Louis and Billie, to a hit record for the ODJB (a piece of hot zoology that Jelly Roll Morton said he created) — it all swings marvelously.  And there’s the great bonus of a touching vocal from Duke on DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS — he looks terribly embarrassed when someone points it out, but he’s a great singer.

From Memphis with love!  BEALE STREET BLUES:

Thomas Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid,” taken uptown or to Clark and Randolph Streets, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

What a terrible movie NEW ORLEANS was!  But it gave us this paean to the Crescent City, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?

Finally — call the Animal Rescue people: that tiger’s on the loose in the Hotel Athenaeum ballroom.  Hide the children!  TIGER RAG (with bravura work from Rossano):

Wow!

PENSIVE AND HOT: RANDY REINHART, BOB HAVENS, DAN LEVINSON, ANDY STEIN, KEITH INGHAM, ARNIE KINSELLA at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 16, 2011)

The varied moods of a hot jazz ensemble, on display at the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua.

The players: Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Levinson, reeds; Bob Havens, trombone; Andy Stein, baritone sax and violin; Keith Ingham, piano; Arnie Kinsella, drums.

The songs:

The moody theme (associated with the deadpan Jack Webb) for a radio series, film, and television series — the trifecta! — (as well as a number of really fine record albums) PETE KELLY’S BLUES:

Something for Bix — a trio version of BLUE RIVER — informally scored for Messrs. Ingham, Levinson, Stein:

And “the 78 version” of that affirmative song, ‘DEED I DO:

Something for everyone in about fifteen minutes: a neat demonstration of casual, moving versatility.

A GREAT NOTION: JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 15-18, 2011)

I just got an invitation in the mail . . . your presence requested . . . .

Top hat, white tie, and tails aren’t needed — but it’s the official invitation to the 14th Jazz at Chautauqua, held from Thursday, September 15 – Sunday, September 18, 2011, at the sweetly atmospheric Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York.

The music will take place from 7-11 PM on Thursday; 2:30-4:30 and 5:30-midnight on Friday, from 10 AM-2 PM and 5:30-midnight on Saturday, and 9 AM – 1 PM on Sunday.  The musicians?

Duke Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, Randy Sandke, Andy Schumm, trumpet / cornet; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Harry Allen, Scott Robinson, Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Chuck Wilson, reeds; Andy Stein, violin; Marty Grosz, Howard Alden, guitar; Jim Dapogny, Keith Ingham, John Sheridan, Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, Frank Tate, Glenn Holmes, bass; Arnie Kinsella, John Von Ohlen, Pete Siers, Bill Ransom, drums; Rebecca Kilgore, Lynn Stein, Marty Grosz, vocals; the Alden-Barrett Quintet; Faux Frenchmen.

A photographic exhibit by Duncan P. Scheidt, too.

I won’t detail the prices and the packages here, but no one I know has ever gone away from Jazz at Chautauqua saying that there was an insufficiency of music, of people with common interests, of compact discs, of things to eat and drink.  It is a wonderful cornucopia in every way . . . and those spouses and partners who have enough jazz to suit them can walk among the lovely paths and admire the houses, the hydrangeas, Lake Chautauqua, and more.

Don’t be left out!  Visit the hotel’s website, http://athenaeum-hotel.com.,  telephone 1.800.821.1881 or fax 716.357.4175, or email athenaeum@ciweb.org.

AND — in boldface!

The magnificently talented Dan Barrett will be Musical Director of the new Chautauqua Jazz Workshop, to take place Sunday through Thursday, prior to the Chautauqua Jazz Party itself.  Dan will head a staff of eight instructors (including Scott Robinson; Rossano Sportiello; Rebecca Kilgore, et al), hosted and sponsored by the Athenaeum Hotel.  And the students will be part of the informal Thursday music — inspiring prospects!  For details, interested parties should contact: Mr. Bruce Stanton, General Manager of the Athenaeum: bstanton@ciweb.org

“WELL, THIS’LL BE FUN”: MEMORIES OF JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, 2004

I have a special place in my heart for Jazz at Chautauqua: it was the first jazz party I’d ever attended, an uplifting experience in every way.

The 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua is taking place this year — September 15-18.  Details to follow.

This is the piece I wrote after my first experience of Jazz at Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton is no longer with us, but the elation remains the same.

Well, This’ll Be Fun

On a Thursday evening in September 2004, two jazz musicians decided on Eubie Blake’s “You’re Lucky To Me” to begin their performance, set an affable, conversational tempo, and started – moving from embellished melody to more adventurous improvisations before coming back down to earth.  They stood at one end of a small rectangular mint-green hotel dining room elaborately decorated with nineteenth-century chandeliers and moldings.  The tall young trumpet player, apparently a college fullback, wore jeans and an untucked striped dress shirt; the pianist resembled a senior account executive for a firm that knew nothing of casual Fridays.  As the applause slowly diminished, Duke Heitger, trumpet held loosely at his side, looked slyly at John Sheridan, the other half of his orchestra, grinned, and said, “Well, this’ll be fun.”  They had just played the opening notes of the seventh annual Jazz at Chautauqua, a four-day jazz party held at the Athenaeum, the upstate New York site of the Chautauqua Institution – now a hotel unused for nine months of the year (no heating system).  Appropriately, the site reflected something of the Chautauqua ideal of entertaining self-enrichment, now given over to a weekend’s immersion in the music once our common colloquial language.

The imaginary map of American culture might seem a homogenous cultural landscape of Outkast, Diet Coke, press-on nails, and Paris Hilton.  But there are millions of smaller, secret cultural nations pulsing all at once: people subversively playing Brahms at home, wearing hemp clothing, and making sure that what commercialism has consigned to the past is kept alive.  One of those underground institutions is the jazz party – an idea quietly subsisting for forty years, now one of the only venues for this music.

If a newcomer assumed that a “jazz party” is nothing more than two or three semi-professional musicians playing background music for a roomful of people, perhaps a singer seated atop a piano, Jazz at Chautauqua would be staggering.  It featured nearly thirty-three hours of nonstop music played to two hundred and fifty people between Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon by twenty-six musicians: Bob Barnard, Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, and Joe Wilder (trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn); Dan Barrett and Bob Havens (trombone); Harry Allen, Dan Block, Bobby Gordon, Bob Reitmeier, Scott Robinson (reeds); Johnny Frigo (violin); Jim Dapogny, Larry Eanet, Keith Ingham, and John Sheridan (piano); Howard Alden and Marty Grosz (guitar); Vince Giordano, Nicki Parott, and Phil Flanigan (bass); Arnie Kinsella, Eddie Metz, Jr., and John Von Ohlen (drums); Grosz, Rebecca Kilgore, and Parrott (vocals).  These players are unknown to a general audience but are both remarkable and sought after.  Except for Wilder, the musicians were white, (which didn’t bother him: he was delighted to be playing among friends) and many hailed from the tri-state area, with a few startling exceptions:  Barrett and Reitmeier flew from California, Kilgore from Oregon, and the winner for distance, Barnard, from New South Wales.  Most of them were middle-aged (although Parrott and Heitger are not yet forty), looking oddly youthful (I think that joy transforms), but jazz musicians, if fortunate, live long: Frigo is 87, Wilder, 82.

A listener, fortified by food at regular intervals and consistently available drinks (for me, an excess of caffeine for medicinal purposes – a jam session started while I was asleep on Thursday night, and I was anxious that I miss nothing else) may sit in a comfortable chair and listen to eight hours of jazz in short sets, from fifteen minutes for duets to an hour for a larger band.  It was overwhelming, as though someone who had only read about model trains or Morris dancing had wandered into a convention of enthusiasts where everything in the ballroom focused on the chosen subject, non-stop.  But Chautauqua was more than a museum: it offered the art itself in action, unfettered and created on the spot.

All this is due to its creator and director, Joe Boughton, who feels a moral compulsion to preserve the music he first heard in the Boston area in the late 1940s.  Boughton is a solidly packed man who in profile resembles a Roman general, but his more characteristic expression is pleasure when his musicians are playing well and his audience is reverent.  He is the enemy of needless chatter unless it comes from the bandstand, and printed cards decorated each table, reading, “Afford our artists the respect they deserve and be considerate to those at your table and surrounding tables who have come from long distances and paid a lot of money to hear the music and not be annoyed by talking.”  That contains Boughton’s voice – low-key but impatient with nonsense.  He is also a one-man campaign to rescue jazz from the deadening effects of a limited repertoire.  Jazz musicians who are thrown together on the stand choose familiar songs: variations on the blues, on “I Got Rhythm,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” as well as crowd-pleasers “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Satin Doll,” which Boughton calls “Satin Dull.”  At Chautauqua, now-rare melodies filled the air — jazz standards ranging from King Oliver’s “Canal Street Blues,” circa 1923, to the Parker-Gillespie “Groovin’ High” of 1945 and John Lewis’s “Skating In Central Park,” but rare once-popular surprises, including “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World,” “Smiles,” “Ida,” “Aren’t You Glad You’re You” and “Moon Song.”  Although the songs might seem antique, the approach is not self-consciously historical: the young tenor saxophonist Harry Allen (to cite only one example) who delivers eloquent solos while standing motionless, once leaning against the bar, would fit in well with the bebop legend Clifford Brown or the Harlem stride master James P. Johnson.

Each of the four days was full of highlights, rarely loud or at a high pitch, but emotionally exhilarating all the same, from the first set on Thursday, as the Heitger-Sheridan duet became a trio with the addition of drummer John Von Ohlen (who resembles Ben Franklin in coiffure but Franklin, from eighteenth-century reports, tended to drag at fast tempos – something that Von Ohlen, sharp and attentive, never does) on a Benny Goodman Trio –tempoed “Liza” that blossomed into a quintet in mid-performance with tenor saxophonist Dan Block and bassist Phil Flanigan joining in because they couldn’t wait until it concluded.  Block looks as though he had slipped off from his professorship at an esteemed university, but has (unlike Allen) all the archetypical tenor saxophonist’s violent physical gestures, moving his horn ecstatically as his phrases tumble out, adopting a hymnlike tone on a ballad or floating at a fast tempo in the best Lester Young manner.  Flanigan hoisted this band (and others) on his shoulders with his elastic, supple time and when it came to his solo, no one succumbed to bass ennui, for his choruses had the logic and emotion of Jack Teagarden’s architectural statements.  (Flanigan is married to the eloquent singer Hanna Richardson, who had been at Chautauqua in 2003 and was much missed this year.)

Thus, Thursday night, an hour along, had become 52nd Street or Minton’s again, with no cigarette smoke or watered drinks in sight.  No one got up and danced, a pity, but no one clapped to an imagined beat while the musicians played – an immense relief.  What made the music memorable might have escaped a casual listener who expected jazz performances to be lengthy, virtuosic solos.  The players were concise, saying what they had to say in two or three choruses, and the technical brilliance was usually in making the difficult seem easy, whether on a racing hot performance or a tender ballad (although perfectly placed high notes did ornament solos).  What distinguished the performances was a joyous, irresistible forward motion – listeners’ heads steadily marked the beat, and everyone had their own sound: I could tell who was taking a solo with my eyes closed.  And there was an affectionate empathy on the stand: although musicians in a club chatter during others’ solos, these players listened intently, created uplifting background figures, and smiled at the good parts.  Off-duty players stayed to admire.  And when the last set of the night ended, the players gathered around the bar to talk about music – but not predictably.  Rather, they swapped stories about symphonic conductors: Joe Wilder sharing Pierre Boulez anecdotes, Dan Block giving us Fritz Reiner gossip.  The general bonhomie also turned into friendly banter with their colleagues and the audience: most musicians like to talk, and most are naturally witty.  The unstoppable Marty Grosz, beginning to explicate the singing group the Ink Spots for a late-evening tribute, said, “I’ll make this short, because I already hear the sounds of chins hitting breastbones.”  (He was wrong: the crowd followed every note.)

Some stereotypes are truer than not, however: I overheard this conversation between a musician I’ll call “M” and a solicitous member of the Chautauqua staff:

“M, would you like a drink?”

“Yes, thank you!  Gin.”

“A martini?  With ice?  Olives?  An onion?  Some tonic?”

“No.  [Emphatically.]  Gin.

Gin in its naked state was then provided.

On Thursday evening, I had talked with Phil Flanigan about the paying guests.  I had brought with me gloomy doubts about the aging, shrinking, and exclusively white audience, and the question of what happens to a popular art when its supporters die off, envisioning nothing but empty chairs in ten years.   I had expected to find a kindred pessimism in Flanigan, earnestly facing his buffet dinner, but it didn’t bother him that the audience that had once danced to Benny Goodman had thinned out.  Flanigan told me, emphatically, how he treasured these people.  “They’re dedicated fans.  They come to listen.”  “What about their age?” I asked.  “Lots of age,” he said.  “This is a good thing.  Think of the accumulated wisdom, the combined experience.  These are the folks who supported the music when it was young.  When they were young!  What do you know? They just happened to be loyal and long-lived.”  (Flanigan’s optimism, however, would have been tested to the limit by the affluent, fiftyish couple who shared our table and seemed to ignore the music in favor of the New York Times, barely looking up.)

Flanigan’s commentary was not the only surprise – especially for those who consider jazz musicians as inarticulate, concerned more about reeds than realities.  The next day, I had attached myself to Joe Wilder for lunch.  The conversation, steered by Wilder, weaved around memories of his friends, famous and not – but he really wanted to talk about Iraq and eco-devastation, and his perspective was anything but accepting.

Friday began with rain, and the hotel corridors were ornamented by white plastic buckets; from one room I heard an alto player practicing; behind another door trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso was turning a phrase this way and that in the fashion of a poet accenting one word and then another while reciting the line half-aloud.  I spent some costly time entranced by the displays of compact discs, buying and considering.

Later, the party began officially in the main ballroom with fourteen musicians (six brass, four reeds, four rhythm), stretched from left to right, jostling for position on the stage of the main ballroom, played “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” at its original, yearning tempo, with the trumpeter Randy Reinhart directing traffic, the musicians creating simple chordal backgrounds of organ tones played in whole notes (called “footballs” for the way they look on music paper) and the brilliant anachronism Vince Giordano switching from his bass saxophone (an instrument out of fashion by 1935) to the only aluminum double bass I have ever seen, as the spirit took him, the convocation suggesting Eddie Condon meeting Count Basie in 1939.

The set that followed was a masterpiece of small-band friendship, featuring Allen, Wilder, Block (on alto), the underrated Washington, D.C., pianist Larry Eanet, Howard Alden, Flanigan, and Von Ohlen.  In forty minutes, they offered a strolling “If Dreams Come True,” with Flanigan beginning his solo with a quote from the verse to “Love in Bloom,” a speedy “Time After Time,” usually taken lugubriously, with the melody handed off among all the horns and Alden in eight-bar segments, an even brisker “This Can’t Be Love,” notable for Eanet, who offered his own version of Hank Jones’s pearls at top speed and for Wilder – who now plays in a posture that would horrify brass teachers, his horn nearly parallel to his body, pointing down at the floor.  His radiant tone, heard on so many recordings of the Fifties, is burnished now into a speaking, conversational one – Wilder will take a simple, rhythmic phrase and repeat it a number of times, toying with it as the chords beneath him go flying by, a Louis Armstrong experiment, something fledgling players shouldn’t try at home, and he enjoys witty musical jokes: quoting “Ciribiribin” and, later, “Mona Lisa,” in a solo on “Flyin’ Home.”  Often he brought out a bright green plastic cup and waggled it close to and away from the bell of his horn, creating growly, subterranean sounds Cootie Williams would have liked.  (“From the five and ten,” he said, when I asked him about the cup.)  Wilder’s ballad feature, “I Cover the Waterfront,” was a cathedral of quiet climbing phrases.  And the set closed with a trotting version of “The Jeep is Jumpin’,” a Johnny Hodges riff on “I Got Rhythm” changes, played the way it was in 1941, before musicians believed that audiences needed to hear everything faster and louder.

A series of beautifully shaped impromptu performances followed, including a Bobby Gordon – John Sheridan duet full of Gordon’s breathy chalumeau register, and a Rebecca Kilgore set.  Kilgore has a serious, no-nonsense prettiness and doesn’t drape herself over the microphone to woo an audience, but she is an affecting, sly actress, who uses her face, her posture, and her hands to support or play off of what her beautiful voice is offering.  She is especially convincing when she is acting herself and her twin at once: on “Close Your Eyes,” a song full of serious assurance that the hearer will be safe forever in the arms of the true love, Kilgore managed to suggest that the lyrics were absolutely true while she audibly winked at the audience, as if to say, “Do you believe this sweet, silly stuff I’m singing?”

Friday closed with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, an explosive ten-piece band, replicating late Twenties and early Thirties jazz and dance orchestras.  Giordano, who resembles a movie idol who could have partnered Joan Blondell, is remarkable – an eloquent melodist and improviser on his unwieldy bass saxophone, where he gets a room-filling tone both sinewy and caressing; his aluminum string bass, ferociously propulsive tuba, and boyishly energetic vocals.  The Nighthawks reunion band featured whizzing tempos, bright solos, and on-target ensemble passages on a for-dancers-only repertoire, circa 1931, Savoy Ballroom.  Most listeners have never heard a band like the Nighthawks live – they shout to the heavens without being extraordinarily loud, and their ensemble momentum is thrilling.  Hoarse and dizzy, we climbed the stairs to our rooms at 1:30 AM.

Saturday morning began sedately, with solo piano, some pastoral duos and trios, and then caught fire with a Kilgore-James Dapogny duet.  Dapogny is a rolling, rumbling pianist in the style that used to be called “Chicagoan”: right-hand single note melody lines, flashing Earl Hines octaves, stride-piano ornamentations supported by a full, mobile left hand, and he and Kilgore had never played together before.  Kilgore let herself go on the nineteenth-century parlor favorite “Martha,” subtitled “Ah! So Pure!” which Connee Boswell took for a more raucous ride with the Bob Crosby band sixty-five years ago.  Kilgore’s approach was gliding and swinging, with hand gestures that would not have disgraced a Victorian songstress or a melodramatic 1936 band singer (a raised index finger for emphasis, a gentle clasp of her own throat), but the sly glint in her eye and the sweetly ironic quotation marks in her delivery suggested that Martha’s purity was open to question.  Then came a trio of Dan Barrett and Bob Havens on trombones, backed only Marty Grosz, someone his Chicago comrade Frank Chace has called “a one-man rhythm gang,” in a short set notable for fraternal improvising and Barrett’s interpolating one vocal stanza of a lewd blues, “The Duck’s Yas Yas” into “Basin Street Blues.”  More brass ecstasy followed in a trumpet extravaganza, ending with a six-trumpet plus Barrett version of Bunny Berigan’s famous “I Can’t get Started” solo, by now a piece of Americana, with the ballroom’s walls undulating with the collective passion.  The Nighthawks played an afternoon session, full of exuberance and wit: Giordano, calling a difficult tune for the band, smiled at his players and said, “Good luck, boys,” in the manner of Knute Rockne encouraging Notre Dame, before they leapt in to the forests of notes.  And it wasn’t all simply hot music: where else in America, I wondered, could you hear someone sing “Okay, Baby,” with its deathless, funny lyrics about the romantic couple: “The wedding ring I’ve bought for you / Fifty-two more payments and it’s yours, dear”?  Grosz followed with a set devoted to those musicians who would have turned 100 this year – Coleman Hawkins, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Dorsey, and Fats Waller, where Grosz (who knows these things, having come here from Berlin as a child in 1930) commented, “America is the land of easy come, easy go,” before singing a Waller ballad, “If It Ain’t Love,” as tenderly as if he were stroking the Beloved’s cheek.

Sunday morning began with a solo recital by guitarist Howard Alden, which itself began with a rueful “Blame It On My Youth” – Alden also had elevated all the rhythm sections of the bands he had been in, as well as being a careful, lyrical banjo soloist with the Nighthawks – but the temperature of the room soon rose appreciably.  A nearly violent “It’s All Right With Me” featured three storming choruses of four-bar trades among Harry Allen, Wilder, Barrett, and Dan Block; Duke Heitger closed his set with an extravagant “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” with its seldom-played stomping verse, here played twice before the ensemble strode into the chorus; the band supported by Grosz, constructing chordal filigrees at a very fast tempo; Giordano, slapping his aluminum bass for dear life, and Ed Metz, Jr., recalling Zutty Singleton, Armstrong’s drumming pal of the late Twenties, if Singleton had gone to the gym regularly.

Then it was time to go, to close with another Boughton extravaganza – a ballad medley lifted up greatly by Scott Robinson’s “Moonlight Becomes You” on bass flute, Jon-Erik Kellso’s “Willow Weep For Me,” growled as if he had become one of Ellington’s brass in 1929, and the clarinetist Bob Reitmeier’s soft “Deep Purple.”  These heartfelt moments gave way to the true closing “After You’ve Gone,” which featured impromptu piano duets among the many pianists, and an uproarious enthusiasm – greeted with the cheers it deserved.

I wasn’t surprised that on Sunday afternoon, driving back through Erie, Pennsylvania (where Lloyd’s Fireworks advertised “pepper spray, stun guns, sale on Lord of the Rings tape”) that my thoughts drifted back to Heitger’s Thursday-evening prediction.  Yes, there had been too much white and blue hair to make me feel confident about the future of the audience, Flanigan notwithstanding; there had even seemed to be too much music, pushing me to the brink of satiety, and it had all been evanescent – but Heitger had been right: it had been fun.

And just so my readers don’t forget the present and future while celebrating past glories: this year’s Jazz at Chautauqua will include (in egalitarian alphabetical order) Alden, Allen, Barrett, Block, Jon Burr, Dapogny, the Fauz Frenchmen, Grosz, Havens, Heitger, Glenn Holmes, Ingham, Kellso, Kinsella, Kilgore, Dan Levinson, Bill Ransom, Reinhart, Robinson, Sandke, Andy Schumm, Sheridan, Pete Siers, Rossano Sportiello, Andy Stein, Lynn Stein, Frank Tate, Von Ohlen, and Chuck Wilson.  That should provide sufficient music for a weekend!

THE NIGHTHAWKS, ELI GOODHOE, AND “THE MOOCHE”

Here (as promised) is the debut performance of sixteen-year old Eli Goodhoe, on banjo, with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks — playing Ellington’s THE MOOCHE on February 15, 2011 at Club Cache in the Hotel Edison (211 West 46th Street).

Vince is enthusiastic, and with good reason, about the jazz orchestra that trumpeter Kevin Blancq shepherds at LaGuardia High School — an orchestra that is full of budding talent like Eli’s.  In future, I hope to bring you more from Kevin, his young musicians, and the LaGuardia jazz orchestra.

Right now, listen to THE MOOCHE — a piece reaching back to 1927 — and consider that it is also the seedbed for a new generation of inventive hot jazz players who will, with luck, carry on the grand tradition for decades to come.

The other members of the Nighthawks are Mike Ponella, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harvey Tibbs, Dan Levinson, Peter Anderson, Mark Lopeman, Alan Grubner, Peter Yarin, Ken Salvo (stepping aside for Eli on this number), Vince, and Arnie Kinsella.  

Where the past and the present meet and make room for the future!

HONOR THE LIVING MUSICIANS: CLICK HERE! 

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WHERE THE PAST AND THE FUTURE MEET

“Heaven on Earth, they call it 211 West 46th Street.”

Last Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011,  at Club Cache in the Hotel Edison, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks did what they’ve been doing every Monday and Tuesday night for many weeks: they made the past come alive.  But last night they also peeked around the corner of the present into the future. 

The future didn’t announce itself melodramatically: it wasn’t a larger-than-life baby wearing nothing but a sash.  It was a young man, sixteen years old, who plays the banjo in the jazz band led by trumpeter Kevin Blancq at New York’s LaGuardia High School.  The young man’s name is ELI GREENHOE, and he sat in with the Nighthawks to play one of the tunes he loves and has learned from his time in the LaGuardia Jazz Orchestra — Duke Ellington’s growly THE MOOCHE.  I’ll have that performance for all of you to see and hear in a future posting. 

To hear about Kevin’s band — rehearsing in a room with pictures of Benny, Hawkins, and Carter on the walls — is exciting.  JAZZ LIVES hopes to pay them a visit, so stay tuned.

And the Nighthawks always excite!  Here’s some of the hot music the boys offered last night — that’s Vince on vocals, bass sax, tuba, and string bass; Ken Salvo on banjo; Peter Yarin on piano; Arnie Kinsella on drums; Mike Ponella and Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpets; Harvey Tibbs on tronbone; Alan Grubner on violin; Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman, and Peter Anderson on reeds.

You can’t go wrong with Benny Carter, who remains the King.  Here’s his 1934 EVERYBODY SHUFFLE (which bears some relationship to KING PORTER STOMP, I believe): the original recording drew on Fletcher Henderson’s men and I recall a typically slippery Benny Morton trombone solo:

The nightly jam session — always a rouser — was BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES (or GAVE, if you’re lucky) TO ME:

Something for Bix and Jean Goldkette and Joe Venuti and a very young Jule Styne, SUNDAY:

Who knew that Ellington had written two compositions called COTTON CLUB STOMP?  This is the later one, from 1930:

In honor of the Bennie Moten band (with Hot Lips Page, Eddie Durham, Count Basie, and Jimmy Rushing), OH, EDDIE!:

And since Vince and JAZZ LIVES always try to bring you something old, new, and futuristic all at once, here’s a Nighthawks premiere of arranger / composer / reedman Fud Livingston’s IMAGINATION (from 1927).  Readers with excellent memories will recall that I posted the piano sheet music for this advanced composition on this site some time back at https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/imagine-this/.  If you can open two windows at once on your computer, why not play along on your piano!

More to come!

DROP A NICKEL IN THE SLOT TO HEAR THE MUSIC PLAY! ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS:

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ARBORS JAZZ PRESENTS MARTY GROSZ and THE HOT WINDS (January 2011)

Thanks to the 3rd Annual Arbors Invitational Jazz Party just held in Florida (through the generous love of the music displayed by Mat and Rachel Domber) and the videography of Don Wolff, we can enjoy some enthusiastic swing by Marty Grosz, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, Vince Giordano, and Arnie Kinsella. 

These clips (and many more) come from the “ArborsJazz” and “MrDonWolff” channels on YouTube . . .  

Here’s JAZZ ME BLUES, which rocks irresistibly from its opening notes.  Catch the delicious interplay among the three reeds, and the smile on Scott’s face when Vince switches to his aluminum string bass.  Savor the variations of timbre and attack the reed players bring on — this whole performance could be a tribute to Kenny Davern, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Teschmacher, and Adrian Rollini — over that galloping, just-right rhythmic pulse.  Marty, of course, has managed to wholly internalize Fats Waller’s stride on his guitar.  And those spontaneous riffs at the end:

IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN, such a pretty tune, brings on the “Mystery Song” by Horace Gerlach (believe this vaudeville gambit at your peril) and an exposition by Professor Grosz on the music business and the questions of compositional integrity.  What sublime tenderness elevates this performance, from Marty’s sweet ballad tribute to Louis to Scott’s just-right cornet and onwards:

In the bar, for the listening and dancing pleasure of the lucky patrons, here’s “the band within a band,” the informal duet of Block and Grosz.  What is this band called?  The Hot Wind?  The Balmy Zephyr?  One Stiff Breeze?  But I digress.

Marty and Dan offer I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES (complete with a classic Martyian exposition of facts and satire):

Following that, a delightful exposition of Hoagy Carmichael’s JUBILEE:

And an impromptu but swinging ALL MY LIFE:

I initially thought, “This is music to die for,” but then amended it to “music to LIVE FOR (and LIVE BY).”  Better, no?

HORACE GERLACH SAYS: CLICK THE LINK BELOW IN THE NAME OF SWING (ALL PROCEEDS GO TO THE MUSICIANS)! 

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AUGUST IN NEW YORK: FOUR DAYS WITH JIM FRYER

Photograph by Lorna Sass, 2008

(This is trombonist / euphonist / vocalist Jim Fryer’s essay on life-as-a-hard-working-jazz-musician . . . as printed in the November 2010 edition of The American Rag and reprinted here with everyone’s permission)

ME & NYC

6 gigs in 4 days: a life of slice

August 15–18, 2010

This is a somewhat random “Report From NYC,” based on a few days of “feet on the sidewalk” activity. It’s certainly not an exhaustive accounting of the activity around here, although it was a bit exhausting. There is so much great music, great jazz, and great trad jazz around here. This is just a slice, my little slice, of the scene. I think it was Hemingway who said you should write about what you know, and what you know best is your own life. It is also true, in my experience, that narcissism is one of the few skills that can improve with age, and I’m definitely on that bandwagon. So here goes. I hope someone else may find this interesting. I know I do.

* * *

Following a big chunk of time and energy expended (along with Jeff & Anne Barnhart) in helping our 5 “International All Stars” from the UK have a swell time in Connecticut, New York, and California (including doing double duty at the Orange County Classic Jazz Festival with the Titan Hot 7, the band that most readers of this journal will know me from), I enjoyed a respite visiting my parents at their house in the Maine woods. A short time after my return to New York, I found myself back on the busy streets & subway trains: the Asphalt Jungle. A small flurry of local gigs helped reorient me to this place where I am trying to live the good – or at least, the interesting – life.

Sunday August 15: From our domicile in West Harlem, I drove south on the Henry Hudson Parkway and West Side Highway, down to the Fat Cat Café, just off Sheridan Square in the West Village. This is one of my favorite joints ever: down the stairs to a very large room that contains games such as ping pong, pool, scrabble, chess, and beer and wine drinking. And oh yes, a small music area off to the side, easy chairs and sofas, a grand piano and a sound system (with a sound engineer!). When I die, if I’m lucky enough to choose my personal heaven, it will look a lot like the Fat Cat. (Our younger daughter once came along to a gig there, and decided that was where she wanted to get married.)

The band at the Fat Cat was a classic: Terry Waldo leading his Gotham City Jazz Band from the piano, singing & striding along; Peter Ecklund (tpt), Chuck Wilson (clr/as), Brian Nelepka (sb), John Gill (dms),and me (with my euphonium along for the ride). Nice, relaxed, easy. Good IPA on tap. 2 sets, no muss, no fuss, just plain fun. Girls boogie to our music while playing foozball. I’m very thankful that there are bandleaders who hire me for such good times. John Gill sang a lovely rendition of Irving Berlin’s When The Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam’. John continues vocalizing (accompanying himself on guitar) later on Sunday nights over at the National Underground, where he, Brian, & drummer Kevin Dorn play good old rock and roll & country/western.

Normally, after the Fat Cat, I have the option to sit in with the Dixie Creole Cooking Jazz Band (led by cornetist Lee Lorenz) at Arthur’s Tavern, right around the corner from the Fat Cat, on their weekly Sunday gig; and then travel a few blocks down to The Ear, New York’s oldest saloon, for another fantastic session with the Ear-Regulars (led by Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri). But today, it’s back into the car and a scramble against heavy crosstown traffic and over the Williamsburg Bridge, to the Rose Café in Brooklyn. The gig thankfully started late anyhow! I played a duo set with Bliss Blood, the talented singer/songwriter/ukelele-ist from Texas via Brooklyn. We followed a young violinist/singer/synthesizer player who managed to sound like a rock band and symphony orchestra, all by herself. Playing old blues and Bliss’s original songs, our music sounded simple in comparison (one of my goals, actually), but the ‘elite’ (small) audience seemed to enjoy it.

Monday August 16: Every Monday brings me a steady musical diet. I play with a rehearsal big band in the afternoon. Working jazz musos the world over know what that means: get together for a few hours every week and ‘read’ (play) big band ‘charts’ (arrangements) for no commercial purpose whatsoever. The opportunity to sight read new material (often written by someone in the band) and schmooze with friends is sufficient compensation. If you hang out at the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 building on West 48th Street for a week, you’ll hear dozens of these bands, taking advantage of the very low room rental rates.

Next comes one of the musical highlights of my life for the last several years: Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks making their weekly Monday appearance at Club Cache, downstairs from Sofia’s Restaurant in the famed Edison Hotel on West 46th Street, just a few feet west of Times Square. I’m not enough of a wordsmith to adequately bring to life the excitement and dynamism that Vince Giordano brings to each & every gig he plays. He is a one man tornado, playing hot string bass, tuba, and bass sax, singing, performing mc duties, meeting & greeting each customer who comes down the stairs into our subterranean cabaret, and setting up & breaking down equipment for hours each week. A characteristic touch is added by our technician & ‘introducer,’ John Landry (aka Sir Scratchy), and we couldn’t do without our various ‘Mikes’ (Mike being the generic term to describe anyone who helps out on the gig, from moving equipment to playing music). Our steadiest Mike is Carol, Vince’s partner, who [wo]mans the door and seats patrons; we also are lucky to have Earl, who in addition to schlepping equipment, spends his ‘down’ time translating Vince’s antique arrangements into modern notation via Sibelius software – at an incredible clip (he will complete a full 13 piece arrangement during the course of the 3 hour gig, something that would take me weeks).

Vince’s Monday night gig has become enormously popular since its debut in May of 2008. A great dance floor brings in the rugcutters (including many athletic young lindy hoppers), and the room is typically full of customers from the world over. The legendary 88 year old clarinetist Sol Yaged is featured on a tune each set. Vince is the Toscanini of the evening, conducting our journey through the sublime world of Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, and a plethora of songwriters & arrangers: Bill Challis, Raymond Scott, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin. From the downbeat at precisely 8pm to the closing at 11pm, it is truly a world of amazing music & delight. We often have quite well known folks ‘sitting in:’ singers like Michael Feinstein, Nellie McKay, and Daryl Sherman; instrumentalists from around the world; the comedian Micky Freeman; and famous audience members such as cartoonist R. Crumb, a big classic jazz fan.

This particular Monday included all members of what I call the “A Team;” that is, all the first call musicians. (The band hardly suffers when subs come in: John Allred in the trombone chair could not be described as bringing the level down!). Many of these players are quite well known in a variety of genres. Here they are:

Reeds: Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman

Trumpets: Mike Ponella, Jon-Erik Kellso

Trombone: your humble (ahem!) reporter

Violin/Sax: Andy Stein

Piano: Peter Yarin

Banjo/Guitar: Ken Salvo

Percussion: Arnie Kinsella

Basses/Everything: Vince Giordano

Tuesday August 17: Tuesday daytime may bring a few trombone students to me (in the summer, a handful; during the school year, a full day – if I’m lucky); or an occasional concert in a Connecticut school, with a band called the Cool Cats; then comes a reprise of Monday night. Vince has been working hard since this past June to get a second night established. It’s still the quieter night, and I bet Vince is counting audience members as he’s counting off tunes; but it also can work more as a rehearsal, Vince handing out charts on stage from his vast collection (60,000 in the archives).

At 11:40pm, I’m back on the train from Grand Central Station (busy place, that) to Rye, 25 miles NE of the city, where my wife (sometimes described as “long suffering”) works at a private school, which offers on-campus housing as a benefit for her very hard work. I love the view walking east on 43rd Street, with the Chrysler Building looming over the majestic train terminal. By 12:30am I’m strolling down our very quiet and pretty suburban street, where Peter Cottontail may sometimes be seen munching lettuce in the garden. This particular night a local cop car slows to a stop as I’m walking up to our place. The cop looks me over (trombone, wheelie bag for mutes etc, garment bag with tux), and says, “Ya got everything?” Funny guy. It’s good to know they’re out on the beat. Sometimes I stay “in town,” at the apartment we have in West Harlem (currently also the abode of our eldest daughter, a fervent New Yorker).

Wednesday August 18: Wednesday brings another doubleheader (paydirt for us musos; even better, the rare tripleheader; many years ago I played 4 gigs on the Fourth of July). First the late afternoon session at Birdland, the world famous club on West 44th: David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band. This long running (10+ years) weekly gig features a rotating roster of the finest trad players in town. Today, in addition to tuba player & leader Osti, I had the pleasure of being on stage with Jon-Erik Kellso (tpt), Anat Cohen (clr), Ehud Asherie (pn), & Marion Felder (dms). Yours truly was the old guy on stage. (I’m trying to get used to that.) David’s bands are some of the most ‘diverse’ in the biz, in terms of not only age but also gender and race. The general lack of diversity can be a slightly touchy issue in the trad jazz arena, so it’s nice to see Osti put together bands that ‘look like America’ – and also swing like crazy! This Wednesday session was a very special one: Dave Bennett, the young clarinet virtuoso from Michigan, sat in, along with a young also sax player (from Russia, I believe; I didn’t catch his name); and in the audience, 91 year old George Avakian, one of the most esteemed figures in jazz history (George has produced hundreds of classic jazz albums).

Then to Brooklyn (by subway), to play again with Bliss Blood, this time with the Moonlighters (20s/30s swing, with a Hawaiian flavor). Bliss’s vocals & uke are joined by Cindy Ball (guitar & impeccable vocal harmonies), Raphael McGregor (lap steel), Rus Wimbish (string bass), & the horn section: me! I love being the only horn player, it’s nice & quiet, with no temptation to engage in technical battles: who can play faster, higher, or more cleverly. As I get older, I feel pleasure in knowing how to add a bit of value to the music, no pyrotechnics, please. I’m trying to play better by playing less. It’s a thrill to learn brand new songs that Bliss and Cindy write. The art form continues to evolve. I also love this venue. The Radegast Beer Hall, a big open space, with fine beer (of course) and hearty German food, is in the heart of Williamsburg, a neighborhood that feels young and vibrant. It restores my faith in humanity when the band is fed so well on the gig! All kinds of bands play here, including several youthful units, such as Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, and the Baby Soda band (which includes trombonist Emily Asher of Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Band fame). Several times folks got up and danced around the bar area, in most cases to our music. Finishing after midnight means arriving back in Harlem close to 2am – fortunately, not driving, which reduces the danger and risk (seriously, everyone who’s been in the music business knows musos who have fallen asleep at the wheel late at night); as long as I don’t sleep through my subway stop and end up in Riverdale (a nice neighborhood, but miles north of my pad).

* * *

It was a great little run of gigs. I feel quite lucky to be able to work with so many interesting people. And if sometimes being the oldest on stage is a bit of a bittersweet experience (I guess I ought to get used to it as “As Time Goes By”), it is certainly encouraging for the future of the music. From long time residents (like drummer Kevin Dorn, born in Manhattan about 30 years ago – his band, the Traditional Jazz Collective, gigs all over town) to those newly arrived, NYC is still, as ever, a magnet for young, ambitious, and hardworking people. A few of the young “immigrants:” trombonist Emily Asher, transplanted from Washington state for a couple of years to get her Masters degree; trumpeter Gordon Au, from California (I should mention Gordon’s very musical family: brothers Justin and Brandon are fine players who have blown with the Titans in Pismo Beach CA, and Uncle Howard Miyata plays a mean tailgate trombone with High Sierra Jazz Band); young trombonist Matt Musselman from Maryland, a recent graduate of Manhattan School of Music, and one of my subs in the Nighthawks (his band is called Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators); and trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg, due to arrive any second now. There is most definitely a youth movement going on! I wouldn’t know how to advise these young people about putting together an actual living in NYC: this is one tough town to pay your bills in – but somehow they are doing it. Perhaps I should ask them for advice! The total take from my 6 gigs (minus the expenses) will buy a few bags of groceries, pay back the loan for a couple of textbooks for my younger daughter’s college degree, with about $1.13 left for my pension contribution. Guess I can’t retire yet. I’ll get up tomorrow and go off in search of more students and gigs. I know one musician who was heard to say: “Retire! How can I retire? I’ve never had a job!”

I would be remiss if I didn’t also tip my cap to the folks around here who have been promoting the classic jazz scene for many years, such as: Bruce McNichols, musician, impresario, and radio OKOM producer; Jack Kleinsinger, whose “Highlghts In Jazz” series has run for 37 years; the Sidney Bechet Society, which puts on fine concerts in Manhattan; New Jersey folks like Bruce Gast & the New Jersey Jazz Society; Connecticut jazzers who put together the Hot Steamed Festival and the Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival; & radio hosts such as Rich Conaty on WFUV-FM and Phil Schaap on WKCR-FM. Youth combined with Experience will carry the day for the music we love!

Jim Fryer

August 2010

For more info:  www.jfryer.com, www.terrywaldo.com, www.blissblood.com, www.myspace.com/vincegiordanothenighthawks, http://www.ostwaldjazz.com/., www.coolcatjazz.info,

ANDY STEIN and JOE WILDER at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2010

The pairing of violin and trumpet as a jazz front line might initially seem odd until one thinks of Stuff Smith and Jonah Jones, Stephane Grappelli and Bill Coleman, even Joe Venuti and Jimmy Dorsey.  Then, of course, there’s Ray Nance, who was his own pairing.

Someone at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua had the good idea of putting violinist (and vocalist and saxophonist) Andy Stein together with trumpeter-fluegelhornist Joe Wilder for a set, and backing them with Arnie Kinsella, drums; Keith Ingham, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass and more — all New York friends and long-time associates.  Andy and Joe had worked together for Garrison Keillor on the PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION show, and (as the Irish say) this band “worked a treat.”

Here’s what happened!  I first must note — admiringly — the way Andy and Joe play so beautifully as front-line partners, each allowing the other space, their lines intertwining beautifully. 

They began with the jazz standard CHEROKEE, played at a tempo more easy than blistering, with the original melody being heard:

I suspect that Don Redman understood that GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? was one of those rhetorical questions: if the object of one’s affection replied, “I don’t think so,” the relationship was in trouble.  But this performance of this mournful song is anything but that:

Joe spent many years in the pit orchestras of Broadway shows, although I don’t know if he was there for Irving Berlin’s CALL ME MADAM.  But the duet YOU’RE JUST IN LOVE is, well, lovely:

Andy’s BLOZIN’ — as he explains — is his own satire on the pretentions of the bebop generation.  You’ll have to listen twice to catch all his funny, snide lyrics:

Finally, the old jazz chestnut BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA — but with the proper melody line, as Andy (he’s quite exact) explains it to us, to conclude a winning set of sweet Mainstream jazz:

And — is it too unsubtle to point this out?  Joe Wilder was eighty-eight years old when he performed this set.  He is one of the marvels of the age, no question!

“OH, MERCY!”: MARTY GROSZ PLAYS JAMES P. JOHNSON at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

Twenty years ago and more, Marty Grosz told an interviewer, somewhat wistfully, “I would have been dynamite in 1933.”

I agreed wholeheartedly when I read those words, and although time has passed, Martin Oliver Grosz can still create spontaneous combustion on the bandstand.

It’s not just his chordal acoustic guitar playing, nor his sweet ballad singing or his romping comedy (vocally and in his extended introductions to each song): it’s the combination of all three.  Marty summons up not only Fats Waller and Red McKenzie but also Dick McDonough and Carl Kress, with a healthy overlay of wicked humor. 

Marty was in characteristic form at Jazz at Chautauqua 2010 — leavening his own recipe for hot music with acidic commentaries.  He had been assembling obscure material and writing charts for a CD devoted to the music of pianist-composer James P. Johnson (pictured above in a 1946 photograph), but when Marty arrived at Chautauqua, he decided to improvise his tribute to James P. — with delightful results.  (I’ll have more to say about that Arbors CD when it appears.)

Marty’s friends and colleagues here are the blazing cornetist Randy Reinhart, reed wizards Dan Block (here on clarinet and bass clarinet) and Scott Robinson (on alto clarinet, I think, and a German version of the echo cornet whose name I have forgotten), the steadily rollicking John Sheridan on piano and double-takes, Vince Giordano on string bass, and Arnie Kinsella on drums.

They began with a sweet ONE HOUR (properly called IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT) which had the right spirit all the way through.  Marty doesn’t recycle Vic Dickenson’s naughty gesture — when Vic, singing, came to “one hour,” he held up two fingers — but he puts his own spin on it, turning this pretty rhythm ballad into a Fats Waller and his Rhythm evocation (what a pity Fats never recorded this one!).  And what a front line — bass clarinet, cornet, and alto clarinet!  Watch Dan Block delight in Randy and Scott; hear Arnie behind Sheridan; savor Marty’s guitar propulsions, pure Albert Edwin Condon — appropriately leading into a modern version of a 1938 Commodore ensemble.  “Oh, mercy!” indeed:

Then, one of Marty’s specialties, A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID (even though he required a second take — jazz while you wait! — to get Andy Razaf’s lyrics in the correct order) — after one of Marty’s ad libs cracks Sheridan up completely.  But once things get properly underway, everyone is in the groove — beautiful horn solos and rocking piano from John, then a surprise bass sax solo from Vince and an interlude from Marty:

Finally, Marty has said that he finds James P.’s most famous song a little limiting as it’s written and performed — so here’s CHARLESTON performed as if Bizet’s Carmen had decided to go uptown (after a let’s-put-on-a-show-in-my-father’s-barn prelude).  Habanera?  Tango?  Spanish tinge?  Whatever it is, does it ever swing (after John delineates the verse in near-classical shadings).  I don’t exactly remember the name of Scott Robinson’s new find (is it a love-child of the echo-cornet?) but he plays it splendidly, even though it was a very new acquisition — leading into Dan on bass clarinet with band interjections behind him (and Arnie’s Cuban enthusiasms), then Randy, soaring, Sheridan rollicking, Arnie stomping — and it gets even better:

Have my viewers guessed just how much I loved this little set?  Or have I successfully concealed my enthusiasm in the name of objectivity?  It’s hard, no, impossible, to be objective about what these musicians create — especially when they are led by M. Grosz.  He can make as many savage jokes as he likes or forget the proper order of lyrics: he’s still dynamite.

TAMAS SITS IN (Nov, 23, 2010)

Visitors to this blog will already know Tamas Itzes as more than the director of the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band, the spirit behind twenty years of delightful jazz festivals in Hungary, and the inventor of “OhYeahDay,” covered in the previous posting. 

Tamas is also a swinging violinist and pianist.  And he and his friends visited New York City for a few jazz-filled days and nights. 

I caught up with Tamas and Co. at The Ear Inn and then at Club Cache, where he sat in with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks for two numbers.  (The Nighthawks were, along with Vince, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella, Jim Fryer,Andy Stein, Ken Salvo, Arnie Kinsella, Andy Farber, Dan Block, and Dan Levinson.)

First, Tamas borrowed Andy Stein’s Stroh phono-violin to double the string section for SAY YES TODAY, a song originally performed by the Roger Wolfe Kahn band (composition by Walter Donaldson, arrangement by Arthur Schutt):

Then, in the last set, Tamas came up to play the piano for a swinging, loose version of Earl Hines’s ROSETTA:

Tamas, your visit here was too brief: do come again!  And for the complete and total path to enlightenment, without climbing mountains, visit http://www.myspace.com/VinceGiordanotheNighthawks.

RINGSIDE AT RANDY’S: JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

Here’s another tangible reminder of how wonderful the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua experience was.  

In four songs, cornetist Randy Reinhart created a rewarding reflection of the jazz played by Eddie Condon and friends.

I can’t say for sure that Randy had this theme in mind at all.  Perhaps he thought, “OK, here’s the band I’ve been asked to lead — great soloists and a cooking rhythm section.  Let’s make it easy for the guys to have fun and the audience, too — a reliable swinger to start with, a pretty change of pace, a feature for someone, and a hot one to go out on!” 

But much more happened on that bandstand.  First off, Randy had prime melodists and swingers around him: Bob Havens, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Sheridan, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass and bass sax (Vince never sidled over to the tuba on this set); Arnie Kinsella, drums. 

A band like that can do anything — especially with a leader who has the good sense to keep things reasonably uncomplicated (save the fugues for later) and to give his players — almost all of them leaders on their own — space to invent.

Randy began his set with a Gershwin classic, another piece of music whose title is a witty affirmation, ‘S’WONDERFUL, and kicked it off at a nice tempo, not too fast.  You’ll notice that although no one is consciously “modernistic,” the harmonic vocabulary here hasn’t stopped at 1936.  Hear the wonderful teamwork between Bobby and Marty when Bobby takes his winding, musing solo.  Bob Havens here reminds me of the great and under-celebrated Lou McGarity, and Vince (in his own way) summons up both Adrian Rollini and Ernie Caceres in his bass sax solo.  Everyone gets aphoristic in the four-bar trades that follow before the final sauntering ensemble:

Randy featured himself — but in a very modest fashion — in duet with the thoughtfully swinging John Sheridan on something that was the very opposite of formulaic: a wonderful song from the 1933 Bing Crosby book, LEARN TO CROON — and the duet showed that they, too, had already passed the graduate course with honors: Randy’s ringing tone, John’s harmonic subtleties show that they’ve eliminated each rival immediately:

Turning to one of the sidemen and saying, “Here’s your turn; do whatever you’d like,” might lead even the most creative musician into His or Her Feature.  Vic Dickenson played MANHATTAN for years, alternating with IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD; Jack Teagarden had his half-dozen specialties. 

Bob Havens always surprises — not only with his super-gliding technique — but this choice was extra-special: BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILV’RY MOON, a pretty song that used to be part of the American musical landscape (and was parodied in cartoons) before lesser music came along.  I suspect that Bob, a solid product of the sweet Midwest, had heard, sung and played the song, through childhood and adulthood.  And what he and the immensely melodic Mr. Giordano did here is priceless and touching.  I only regret that there wasn’t time for us all to sing along, two choruses — one to fumble, one to sing out now that everyone had recalled the words.  No matter: you can harmonize with the video; thinking of people here and there singing along with Bob and Vince will please me for a long time.  Even Arnie’s train whistle doesn’t intrude on the sweet moment.  And for those who are taking notes, Bob had turned eighty a few months before, which makes his continued mastery an astonishment:

Affirmation, crooning, sweet sentimentality . . . how to conclude this session?  How about a hot Chicago-style paean to the beauty and charms and fidelity of one’s Beloved — EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (But My Baby Loves Nobody But Me):

Early in this posting, I mentioned the name of Eddie Condon.  I don’t want that man and his music ever to be forgotten, or for our recollection to be eroded by time and inaccurate recollection.  Watching these videos again, I thought how well — and without fanfare — Randy and his friends had made the spirit of Condon alive and vigorous: tributes to friends George and Bing, to Louis and Bechet, to sweet sentimental music.  

And the ambiance — hot playing, correct tempos, sweet melodies, easy improvisation — brought back the various Condon clubs, Commodore Records, Town Hall, the Floor Show, the Deccas and Columbias. 

To paraphrase Eddie, whose understatements were high praise, that set didn’t harm anyone!

ANDY SCHUMM LEADS THE WAY at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

If you’ve been reading this blog even casually, the name Andy Schumm — the hot cornet / piano man from Milwaukee — will not be new to you.  And he continues to offer surprises: his fine, ringing lead; his well-chosen tempos; his deep immersion in the repertoire; the ease with which he melds the heroic choruses of the recordings we’ve all come to treasure with his own improvisations . . . and more.

Here’s the first set he led at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua, a fine, compact outing.  It says a great deal about Andy and the respect that his peers offer him that he was so capably able to get all these personalities — these veteran musicians, for the most part, men of strong opinions — going in his direction.  And that says that his direction pleased them and it was right!  

The band had its own delightful reed section in Bobby Gordon, clarinet, and Dan Block, tenor sax and (wonderfully on WHISPERING), bass clarinet; a one-man trombone section in Bob Havens, and a bouncing rhythm team of John Sheridan, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Jon Burr, bass (Jon fits in everywhere!); Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Andy began with CRAZY RHYTHM, properly not too fast, with Bobby in a wailing Pee Wee Russell mood:

He then called WHISPERING, such a pretty melody (I applaud the inventions of Dizzy and Bird but always hear WHISPERING poking through GROOVIN’ HIGH), where Dan Block picks up his bass clarinet and steals the show until Bobby reminds us of late Lester Young — wandering yet hopeful:

What would a a session be without some homage, large or small, to Louis?  Here, Andy’s idea was a rocking WEARY BLUES, with all the strains of this 1927 favorite firmly in place — fine leadership here:

And, to close, the old anthem to the-eyes-are-the-windows-of-the-soul metaphysical conceit, THEM THERE EYES.  Don’t miss John Sheridan’s romping, tumbling stride chorus:

What a band!  I thought of a Hackett group — from any period — crossed with a Condon Town Hall concert with some Keynote spices and a touch of Fifties Vanguard.  And although it might seem immodest, I keep revisiting these video performances, grinning and bobbing rhythmically in front of the computer, no doubt to the astonishment of my neighbors, should any of them climb a ladder to peer into my second-floor window.

JAZZ CASUAL: BOB BARNARD at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 17, 2010)

No muss, no fuss.

For a too-brief period at the close of September 17, 2010, the great trumpeter Bob Barnard and poet-friends John Sheridan (piano), Jon Burr (bass), Gene Bertoncini (guitar), and Arnie Kinsella (drums) took the stage at Jazz at Chautauqua.

And they could have convinced anyone that making beautiful music is the easiest thing in the world.  Bob tossed off sky-climbing melodic phrases as if playing the trumpet was something you could do in your spare time; John laid down just the right chords and spun out dancing lines; Gene created chiming melodies and ringing single notes; Jon gave everyone a solid foundation for their own ballets and then spun and pirouetted by himself; Arnie made sounds that propelled everyone (musicians and listeners alike) closer to jazz bliss. 

Easy, right?  Try it sometime (in a safe place at home).

Bob began by calling RAIN — which is what it was conveniently doing outdoors — to honor not only the weather but this pretty tune that Bobby Hackett used to play:

And here’s IT’S BEEN SO LONG, a Walter Donaldson song from 1936 that has a long line of heroic brassmen in its history: Bunny Berigan, Bobby Hackett, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson . . . but Bob and friends had their own stories to tell us:

MARTY GROSZ’S BASS MOTIVES at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

My flippant title is not completely irrelevant.

For starters, at jazz clubs and parties and festivals, there are performances ranging from humdrum to spectacular.  And — not very often — there are performances that viewers and listeners know they won’t ever forget. 

I take great pride in presenting one such episode: around four minutes long, quietly rocking rather than explosive, and performed before noon — an unseemly time of day for most jazz musicians.

The band was officially titled Marty Grosz and “The Mouldy Figs,” referring to those rather artificial wars between musical ideologies stirred up by jazz critics and fans in the Forties and Fifties.  A “Mouldy Fig” read Rudi Blesh rather than Barry Ulanov or Leonard Feather, revered Bunk Johnson rather than Fats Navarro.  Figs deplored “be-bop,” horn-rimmed glasses, and berets.

Since Marty Grosz has displayed a serious leaning towards band-names no one has thought of before (his Hot Puppies, his Orphan Newsboys, and so on) I have taken the liberty of renaming the band — for this performance only “Bass Motives.”  Why?  Well, there’s Arnie Kinsella on drums — someone who knows how to make a particular point with a ferocious hit to his bass drum; Andy Stein, usually playing violin but here picking up his baritone sax; Vince Giordano, bass saxophonist supreme; Scott Robinson, the Doc Savage of the instrument room, also playing bass saxophone. 

The tune they launch into is the pretty old Eddie Cantor tribute to his wife, Ida — IDA (SWEET AS APPLE CIDER).  But behind Eddie and Ida and their family is the far more serious presence of Red Nichols and his Five Pennies in the Brunswick studios in 1927 — the Pennies including Pee Wee Russell and Adrian Rollini, perhaps the finest bass saxophonist ever, ever.  And one of the songs they took on was a moving ballad-tempo version of IDA. 

Marty and his Bass Motives not only evoke that lovely recording but sing out in their own style.  When I wrote that some rare performances are unforgettable, I wasn’t over-praising this one:

Incidentally, for the chroniclers in the audience: Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke have received a good deal of well-earned praise for their imperishable recordings in early 1927 of two “jazz ballads,” that is, improvisation carried out at a medium-slow tempo: SINGIN’ THE BLUES and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (with a sweet reading of ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS not far behind).  The original Nichols recording — in August of that same year — seems deeply emotionally influenced by the pretty playing of Bix and Tram.