Tag Archives: Arnie Kinsella

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!

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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