Tag Archives: Arthur Schwartz

“IT MUST BE SOME MAGIC ART”: DAWN LAMBETH, CONAL FOWKES, MARC CAPARONE (San Diego, Nov. 24, 2018)

Yes, it’s the Real Thing.

This wonderful little-known 1932 song by Fats Waller, Don Redman, and Andy Razaf, is yet another celebration of romantic devotion.

But it is one of the clever concoctions I call “backwards songs” for want of a better name.  The lyricist and singer don’t say “This is love,” because that gambit had animated a thousand pop songs even by this date.  Rather, the lyrics upend the expected conceit by asking, “If it ain’t love, why are its effects so powerful?”  The parallel song is the Dietz-Schwartz THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU where the singer doesn’t state “I will never tire of you,” but proposes, “I will be tired of you when — and only when — these unimaginable cosmic events take place,” entering love’s house by the window.

Here’s a very tender performance of this song — only a few months ago — by three of my favorites: Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet — in performance at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 24, 2018:

I love drama in music: Louis soaring; Big Sid and Sidney Bechet rocking the once-stable world; the Basie band in a final joyous eruption in the outchorus.  But I have a deep feeling for music like this, that tenderly caresses my soul, that comes in the ear like honey.  Dawn, Conal, and Marc do more than play a song: they beam love out at us.  And I, for one, am grateful.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE LASTS: YAALA BALLIN and ARI ROLAND (2015)

Songwriters have always done well with the sudden romantic infatuation, the blinding green flash “across a crowded room.”  “And all at once I owned the earth and sky.”  But love that lasts when such mind-altering experiences have grown familiar is much more rarely a subject.  Oh, there’s WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE, but MAGGIE is no longer around to appreciate the encomium; there’s THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL, but that couple is also apparently fairly sedentary.

THEN I'LL BE TIRED OF YOU

The song that I think of with great affection is the 1934 THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU, music by Arthur Schwartz, lyrics by Yip Harburg.  I heard it first in a rather irreverent version by Fats Waller (when the song was new) and later by Vic Dickenson and Joe Thomas — instrumental but deeply fervent.  The simple melody is memorable (Joe delighted in those repeated notes) yet for me what makes it complete is Harburg’s witty conceit: rather than attempt to revitalize “I will always love you,” he turns it on its head in the conditional: “I’ll weary of you when these improbable events happen, but not a second before.” High fidelity, and long-playing, too.

YAALA

Here’s a deliciously intimate version by the fine young singer Yaala Ballin and string bassist Ari Roland, recorded in December 2015 at The Drawing Room (video by the very gifted Neal Miner):

Even better than this video is the news that Yaala and Ari will be singing and playing on Sunday, June 19, at the pastoral hour of 3:30, at The Drawing Room (56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn — right near a subway!)  Here are the details of that event.  And later on that same June 19, Lena Bloch, Russ Lossing, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz (the FEATHERY quartet) will be creating and improvising . . . from 7 PM on.

May your happiness increase!

ON DOROTHY’S SIDE: THOMAS WINTELER, TORSTEIN KUBBAN, FRANS SJOSTROM, JACOB ULLBERGER, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 5, 2015)

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET

Jonathan Schwartz told the story of walking with his father (Arthur Schwartz, of Dietz and Schwartz fame) on a shady city street, and his father saying, “Come on, let’s cross over to Dorothy’s side of the street,” the reference being to the lyricist Dorothy Fields and the classic 1930 song ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (music by Jimmy McHugh).

Even though the rendition that follows was hours away from the sunshine, it glows and radiates in the best way: evoking Bechet, Louis, and Hines if you like, or dramatizing that such mastery is still entirely possible in this century: the players are Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Torstein Kubban, cornet; David Boeddinghaus, keyboard; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Jacob Ullberger, banjo.  All of this goodness took place on November 5, 2015, at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.  And I know for a certainty that more like it will take place at the November 2016 Party.

Living sunshine, even in the darkness.  Thanks to Messrs. Sjostrom, Winteler, Kubban, Boeddinghaus, and Ullberger:

May your happiness increase!

AN ISLAND OF BEAUTY: CONAL FOWKES and DAN BLOCK (Chez Josephine, June 6, 2015)

Island palm tree

You would hardly expect musical beauty to be so generously evident in a busy New York City restaurant on a Saturday night, but it happened again on June 6, 2015.  The creators were Conal Fowkes, piano; Dan Block, clarinet. The unlikely spot is Chez Josephine on West 42nd Street in New York.

And here are six charmers.

Never mind the darkness, the waitstaff crossing back and forth (it’s what they are paid to do and diners want their food and drink right now), the occasional tendency to use the top of the piano as a service area.  Instead, concentrate on the lovely music.

Harold Ross — beloved and idiosyncratic editor of The New Yorker — once said, “Talent doesn’t care where it resides.”  We bless Conal and Dan for filling the air with such lovely sounds . . . for those who can hear them, subliminally or directly.

The videos are odd, but the sound of the piano and clarinet is clear and distinct. And I’ve given up hopes of an Oscar for cinematography, for 2015 at least.

IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN (the first song of the night, and I caught it in progress, as they say):

I’LL GET BY:

MY IDEAL:

MAKE BELIEVE:

PRELUDE TO A KISS (I think playing a ballad in a rather conversational place is a heroic act; see what you think):

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

May your happiness increase!

STRENGTH, POISE, FEELING: ROBERTA PIKET, “EMANATION”

In a world where we are asked to pretend that the hologram is human, pianist / composer Roberta Piket’s music is so refreshing for its integrity and honesty. I feel that she approaches her music with that most winning openness: “Let me see what can come of it,” and the results are elating.  She has power but she isn’t angry at the keyboard or at us.  Rather, hers is a singular balance between toughness and gentleness: her music peers into the darkness without getting downtrodden and brings back light from surprising angles.

Her playing is original without being self-consciously “innovative,” and it isn’t a catalogue of familiar gestures, audience-pleasing bobs and weaves . . . there is nothing formulaic in her art.  Honoring her and our Ancestors, she pays them the best tribute, which is to sound like herself.

Her art — deep and subtle — is wonderfully on display on her new solo CD, which is (happily for us) her second solo exploration, EMANATION.

Roberta-Piket-Emanation-Cover-300x268Roberta’s chosen repertoire is for the most part recognizable — not an ego-display of one “original” after another) but she isn’t trapped by the Past.  Her evocations of Monk, Romberg, Gillespie, Arthur Schwartz, Kern, McPartland, and Hancock are both reassuring and playfully lit from within. One could play this CD for someone who “doesn’t like jazz” without causing trauma, but it is galaxies away from Easy Listening Piano For People Who Aren’t Listening.

Her two originals, the wistful SAYING GOODBYE and the sweetly curious EMANATION, are full of feeling — novellas of sound.  The CD closes with her variations on a Chopin theme . . . both a loving bow to the source and a gentle statement of her own identities.  The CD — beautifully recorded, with wonderful notes by the eminent Richie Beirach — is a fifty-minute journey into other worlds, both nearby and tantalizingly far-off.

Visit here for sound samples and ordering information and here to learn more about Roberta, her music, and upcoming gigs.

Because I know my audience is honest and trustworthy, I offer a boon for those who check out the CD and Roberta’s site (I’ll know!): music from a divine duo concert by Roberta and Lena Bloch, from February of this year, at The Drawing Room — here.  Gorgeous searching music from two modern masters.  (Learn more about Lena here.  Music and musicians like Roberta and Lena give me hope.

May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part Two: June 15, 2014)

Good things happen at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California) — the food and the North Beach ambiance — but for me the best things happen on the third Sunday of each month, when the Esteemed Leon Oakley, cornet,and Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo, improvise lyrically on pop tunes and authentic blues for two hours.  I posted four performances from their satisfying June 15, 2014, session here. I was taught as a child to share . . . so here are five more beauties, in living color both in the view and the soaring improvisations.

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (with Craig on banjo, delightfully):

BLUES IN F (nothing more, nothing less — evoking Joseph Oliver):

MARGIE (that 1920 lovers’ classic):

And two songs that make requests — one spiritual, connected to Bunk Johnson and Sidney Bechet, LORD, LET ME IN THE LIFEBOAT:

and one secular — I think of Pee Wee Russell with TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF JAZZ:

Which they do.  More Divine Music to come.

 May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part One: June 15, 2014)

Have you been? I refer to the hot chamber music sessions created by Maestro Leon Oakley and Professor Craig Ventresco — improvising on classic themes — held at Cafe Divine, 1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California, on the third Sunday of each month.

Here are the first four of a dozen treats — in living color visually as well as musically:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

MOONGLOW:

May your happiness increase!

ADULT BEAUTY and TENDERNESS: MARIANNE SOLIVAN / MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (April 21, 2013)

I know that beauty and worth cannot be quantified by the amount of public appreciation they receive; in simpler terms, the most rewarding painting in the museum may not have the longest line of people who wish to stare at it.

But here is a very brief reposting of something both beautiful and honest.  My motivation, and it may be a crass one, is that I saw that this video had been seen by 22 people on YouTube.  Twenty-two seems like a small number . . . so I hope that JAZZ LIVES readers will forgive me for saying, “If you missed this, you owe it to yourselves to take a few minutes and watch and listen calmly.”

It is a medley of two love songs performed by singer Marianne Solivan and pianist Michael Kanan at Smalls on April 21, 2013.  The first, I’LL FOLLOW YOU, is — to my mind — inescapably associated with Bing Crosby circa 1932; the second, THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU, is an Arthur Schwartz / Howard Dietz classic* that I first heard in Fats Waller’s jovial but loving version.

Marianne introduces them by noting that most of the love songs she knows are about new love (“Oh gee, oh gosh, oh golly, she’s a great great girl, I can’t wait until we go to the preacher!” — to conflate three or four Twenties songs) and, having listened to Marianne as often as possible, I know she is one of the most wrenching explorers of love that has failed.

But here she and Michael pay living subtle moving tribute to love that lasts, commitment without phobia, devotion.  It’s not the aging idea of Darby and Joan — I sense that the lovers dramatized in Marianne’s versions are still able to get up and do the hokey-pokey without making an appointment well in advance — but I so admire this presentation of music that dramatizes the idea that real love isn’t microwaveable.

And I would also like us all to bow low in the direction of Michael Kanan, soulful and generous — at the piano and away from it.

Please listen again, or for the first time.  Or send this posting as a love-token to your Beloved . . . perhaps even to someone you’d like to audition as one?

May your love be as rewarding as that Marianne and Michael bring to us.

*I sent a link to this video to Jonathan Schwartz: I hope he is able to observe and admire, too.

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANT PLAYERS!: MARIANNE SOLIVAN and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (April 21, 2013): THE FIRST SET

Genius at work.  Brilliance at play.  Two artists so confident and playful that they inspire each other to take risks, risks that come off.  Watching the singer Marianne Solivan and the pianist Michael Kanan in duet is rather like watching great athletes, actors, or dancers — so sure of their immersion in the art that courage and wit come naturally to them.

Here’s the first set of a completely inspiring duo-performance at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) that I recorded on Sunday, April 21, 2013.

LOVE IS A NECESSARY EVIL:

LOVE WALKED IN:

I’LL FOLLOW YOU / THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU:

I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE:

DAY IN, DAY OUT:

BLUE:

BEAUTIFUL MOONS AGO:

REMEMBER:

They bring such pleasure — I admire them so.

May your happiness increase!

ROBERTA PIKET, “SOLO”: SWEET PUNGENCY

Although others have justly celebrated her, I was unaware of pianist Roberta Piket until she sat in on a Lena Bloch gig at Somethin’ Jazz at the end of April 2012.  Then I heard the lovely, inquiring sounds that she made: she appears on the final two performances here.

ROBERTA PIKET Solo

I am even more impressed by her latest CD, called simply SOLO.

My early introductions to solo piano were, not surprisingly, based in swing: Waller, Wilson, James P., Hines, Williams, Tatum, and their modern descendants — players who appropriately viewed the instrument as orchestral, who balanced right-hand lines against continuous, sometimes forceful harmonic / rhythmic playing in the bass.  I still admire the Mainstream piano that encompasses both Nat Cole and Bud Powell, but I no longer feel deprived if I listen to a solo pianist who approaches the instrument in a more expressive way, freeing both hands from their traditional roles.  To me, James P. Johnson’s IF DREAMS COME TRUE, Wilson’s DON’T BLAME ME, Tatum’s POOR BUTTERFLY, and almost anything by Jimmie Rowles scale the heights. But I know there are fresh fields and pastures new beyond those splendid achievements.  And players who are willing to explore can often take us on quite rewarding journeys.

Roberta Piket is on her own quest — although she notes that SOLO was, in some ways, a return to her own comfort zone.  But within that zone she both explores and provides comfort for us.  For one thing, her choices of repertoire are ingenious and varied: Arthur Schwartz, Monk, Strayhorn – Ellington, Bruno Martino, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Chick Corea, Marian McPartland, and Frederick Piket.

Her work surprises — but not for novelty’s sake alone — and whose variety of approaches is intuitively matched to the material she has chosen.  Some solo artists have one basic approach, which they vary slightly when moving from a ballad to a more assertive piece, but the narrowness of the single approach quickly becomes familiar and even tiresome.  SOLO feels more like a comprehensive but free exploration of very different materials — without strain or pretension, the result feels like the most original of suites, a series of improvised meditations, statements, and dances based on strikingly chosen compositions.

The first evidence of Piket’s deep understanding of line and space, of shade and light, comes almost immediately on the CD, as she approaches the repeated notes of I SEE YOUR FACE BEFORE ME with a serious tenderness reminiscent of a Satie piece, an emotion that echoes in its own way in the final piece.  (I hope Jonathan Schwartz has been able to hear this: it is more than touching.)

Then, as soon as the listener has been sweetly and perhaps ruefully lulled, two strong, almost vigorous improvisations on Monk themes follow.  Many pianists have reduced Monk to a handful of by-the-numbers dissonances; not Piket, who uses his melodic material as a starting point rather than attempting to show that, she, too, can “sound Monkish.”

Lovely songs by Strayhorn (SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR) and McPartland (IN THE DAYS OF OUR LOVE) are treated with sincerity and reverence, but Piket does far more than simply play the familiar melody and chords: her voicings, her touch, illuminate from within.  ESTATE shows off Piket’s easy versatility, as she places the melody in the bass and ornaments in the treble during the performance.  Roberta’s precise power and energetic technique are shown in the uptempo original CLAUDE’S CLAWED, Shorter’s NEFERTITI, and Corea’s LITHA — at times powerful investigations that bridge post-bop jazz and modern classical, at times a series of unanswered questions.

The disc ends as it began, with tenderness — Sam Rivers’ BEATRICE,  an easy swinger that seems light-hearted without losing its essential serious affection.  And there’s a prize.  I didn’t know about Roberta’s father, Viennese-born composer Frederick Piket (whose life and work is examined here).  Although he wrote much “serious” music — secular and religious — IMPROVISATION BLUE is a lovely “popular” song I kept returning to: its melody is haunting without being morose, and I imagined it scored for the Claude Thornhill band in a Gil Evans chart.  It should have been.

SOLO begins sweetly and tenderly and ends the same way — with vigorous questioning and exploring of various kinds in the middle.  Roberta is an eloquent creator who takes chances but is true to her internal compass, whichever way it might point for a particular performance.

You can hear some of SOLO at Roberta’s website and at CDBaby.

On Facebook: Roberta Piket’s Music and Roberta Piket.

And this January 31, you will be able to hear Roberta, the inspiring percussionist Billy Mintz (he and Roberta are husband and wife, a neat match), celebrating tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch’s birthday — with bassist Putter Smith and legendary saxophonist John Gross.  Fine Israeli food and wine are part of the party at the East End Temple.  Tickets are $18 in advance, $22 at the door; $15 for students: click here to join the fun.

May your happiness increase.

“IT’S A TÉCLA PEARL!”

At great cost and expense, a major mystery has been solved.

But first, the problem.

Here’s Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra, with George Elrick singing GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT — music by Arthur Schwartz, words by Howard Dietz, from the 1935 revue AT HOME ABROAD, where the song was sung by Ethel Waters:

And here’s singing / tap-dancing Eleanor Powell’s version of the same song with the young Tommy Dorsey Orchestra:

After the bridge, the singer (male or female) sings of donning a “tiepin” or “stickpin,” that’s a genuine “Técla pearl.”  In these versions, “Técla” rhymes with  “Decca,” more or less — although the two most famous versions of this song — by Mister Strong and Mister Waller — pronounce the first syllable to rhyme with “week.”

Since Thirties men’s fashion is not a subject I have studied well, I thought the singers were referring to something particularly arcane: a “T-clasp pearl,” which suggested a jeweled tie clasp.  I only found out that what they were singing was “Técla pearl” when I bought the sheet music for the song at an antique store about a year ago.

Trying to find out what kind of pearl a Téecla pearl was . . . . I must not have had my websurfer’s hat (the one with the light on) fastened correctly.  So I despaired.  I thought it would be another unsolved mystery.  But then a friend recommended that I secure the services of Sir Damien Sitzfleisch, the world’s most successful tracer of the obscure.  We haggled over price, but one we had agreed, results were immediately forthcoming.  Hence and forthwith.

Serene and radiant.

And (circa 1923) there was only one Técla shop in America, so the wearer of such a pearl was someone of means who knew (and wore) the best.  I’m also fascinated with the lyric as an early example of product placement, or perhaps giving a company a free advertisement . . . and that something so well-known in 1935 has become completely obscure today.  With or without the accent over the first E (the sheet music lacks the accent, I believe).

In 1913, the Técla pearl was a standout in Germany:

It was especially ELEGANT in France in 1932:

And here — as a special treat — is the May 2012 version of this song (in G, no less) by John Reynolds, guitar and vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Ralf Reynolds, washboard; Clint Baker, trombone; Katie Cavera, string bass.  John knows about a Técla pearl, because I shared the results of my preliminary research with him . . . but he hasn’t seen the advertisements!

Not only is the mystery solved, but we get to hear John sing (twice), Marc and Clint, Ralf and Katie rock it for all time . . . !

And perhaps someone more gifted will share the Louis and Fats versions on YouTube if we all ask politely . . . ?  Perhaps some JAZZ LIVES readers are specialists in early twentieth-century jewelry and can tell us more.  But for me, anything that Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz created, that Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Eleanor Powell, Henry Hall, George Elrick, and the Reynolds Brothers s(w)ing out is important in itself.  (There’s also an instrumental version by Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman on a wondrous Chiaroscuro recording, FATS WALLER’S HEAVENLY JIVE . . . )

You won’t find me wearing a string of Técla pearls at the next jazz party, but that’s only because they make my complexion look sallow.

P.S.  398 Fifth Avenue, once the home of Técla pearls, now is the home of a rug company.  Nothing against rugs, mind you, but sic transit gloria mundi.

May your happiness increase.

GOOD AND GROOVY — “PLAY DATE”: NEAL MINER / CHRIS BERGSON

I have had the opportunity to hear guitarist / vocalist Chris Bergson and string bassist Neal Miner three ways recently: in their short film, “The Making of Play Date”; at a live session at 55 Bar on Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York — and (most conveniently for my readers), their new CD, PLAY DATE:

It’s a superb disc — and since it doesn’t have any liner notes, I feel obliged to supply a few lines to explicate and praise.  Readers of JAZZ LIVES will know how much I admire Neal — he is both supple and steady, and his lines make elegant sense without being fussy.  He never expends flurries of guitarish notes and his bass always sounds down-to-earth.  A melodic fellow who swings!  Chris was new to me, but Neal and he go back a decade, and he is just as much a melodic swinger as his pal on the upright . . . whether he’s playing acoustic, electric, or singing in a surprisingly let-it-all-out way.

One of the nicest things about this CD — and there are many — is the middle course it steers.  Guitar / bass duets sometimes turn into sweet Easy Listening or cutting contests (I can play faster than you can; I can run up and down the fretboard like a wild bunny) — or they are attempts to create ornate orchestral textures.  Chris and Neal choose naturalness over artifice — so that the disc has the sound and heft of two brilliantly relaxed friends making music for themselves or, at most, a few friends — the site someone’s living room.

No studio tension, no fancy miking or reverb, no inserts or punches: just music.

And the music is wonderfully varied — from Monk, Rodgers, Van Heusen, Berlin, Schertzinger, Schwartz — to Ray Charles and a few originals.  Within that tune list, all sorts of delicious surprises await: the Bergson / Miner duo is aware of a variety of musical shapes: the twang of early Fifties rock, the saltiness of Roger Miller, and some deep-down blues.  They offer the verse to THESE FOOLISH THINGS.  It’s hugely entertaining music and I didn’t look at my watch once.

Here’s a link for MP3 downloads: Play-Date and the link to CD Baby for those in that frame of mind: chrisbergsonnealminer.  And while we’re energetically stacking up links, here’s one last one — to the YouTube video — from someone’s blog: jazzlives.  With music this fine, “attention must be paid.”  By the way, the absolute best way to purchase this CD is to encounter Neal or Chris on an actual gig and give either of them some cash and walk off with a real CD: this way, the money is going directly to the creators.  But you knew that already.

MODERNISM WITH ROOTS: KEITH INGHAM PLAYS JOHN LEWIS (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 18. 2011)

Everyone knows John Lewis at the pianist and musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and a serious composer.  The aura of seriousness followed Lewis in other ways: I don’t recall any photographs of him in a t-shirt, although there are some portraits in which he is broadly smiling.  But the imagined picture of that handsome man in the tuxedo is so strong that some might forget that Lewis had deep roots in Basie and Ellington and the blues, that he accompanied Lester Young and Jo Jones on some splendid small-group recordings, and that he swung.  (Check out DELAUNAY’S DILEMMA on an Atlantic session — IMPROVISED MEDITATIONS AND EXCURSIONS — if you don’t believe this.)

What better pianist to honor Lewis than our own Keith Ingham, someone who is also occasionally perceived through the wrong end of the telescope as a uniquely fine accompanist to singers, someone able to swing any band or to write arrangements that make everyone sound better.  But Keith is not caught in the Thirties; his new Arbors CD has (by his choice) songs he loves by Wayne Shorter as well.

So we have a meeting of two modernists with roots — Lewis creating lovely melodies on his score sheet; Keith creating his at the piano, with the inspired playing of Frank Tate, string bass, and John Von Ohlen, drums, to guide and propel — all recorded at Jazz at Chautauqua on Sept. 18, 2011.

AFTERNOON IN PARIS:

SKATING IN CENTRAL PARK:

DJANGO:

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW:

Cerebral music with a deep soul.

And while we’re on the subject of Mr. Ingham and his subtly deep ways at the keyboard, I would like to follow up on an earlier posting — featuring Keith playing Dave Brubeck (also Arthur Schwartz and Billy Strayhorn).  My friend Hank O’Neal (a member of the down-home nobility) sent the Brubeck recital to Dave himself!  Dave loved it and said so in an email: “From listening to the Chautauqua concert on UTube I would say that Keith Ingham has a wonderful concept, an appreciation of jazz from the past and a look into the future.  Really enjoyed it.”

I know that Keith spends far more time at the piano keyboard than the computer keyboard, but I know that Dave’s praise will get to him.  Love will find a way, as Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle told us.  And I hope some smart jazz booking agents will find ways to send Keith in person throughout the world of clubs and concerts.

The Brubeck post, in case you missed it, can be found here

KEITH INGHAM PLAYS BRUBECK, ARTHUR SCHWARTZ, STRAYHORN, and MORE (Jazz at Chautauqua 2011)

Many people know Keith Ingham as a wonderful accompanist to singers — never getting in the way, but always adding so much to their work.  Others have found him a fine band pianist — going back to Stacy and boogie-woogie, forward to a swinging empathy.  But the Ingham fewer people know about is the powerful Mainstream player — someone with strong lyrical tendencies, a poet of songs others don’t play.  But there’s nothing fussy in Keith’s approach, and whether he is tracing a tender love ballad or building an improvisation from clearly-constructed rhythms and harmonies, he’s always in control without losing any essential grace.

Here are two brief recitals from the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua party.  The first finds Keith on his own, exploring songs and composers that some in the audience might have found surprising.  But everything gleams under his fingers, beginning with this leisurely exploration of some songs by Dave Brubeck:

The compositions are IN YOUR OWN SWEET WAY, IT’S A RAGGY WALTZ, and TAKE FIVE.  Like Dave McKenna, Keith often arranges songs whimsically by the themes implied in their titles — so here are HERE’S THAT RAINY DAY, A FOGGY DAY, and SOME OTHER SPRING (although the weather was perfectly pleasant at Chautauqua):

And Keith closed this recital with an Ellington / Strayhorn medley — of PASSION FLOWER, UPPER MANHATTAN MEDICAL GROUP, CHELSEA BRIDGE, and TAKE THE “A” TRAIN — energized, not formulaic:

The next day (Saturday, Sept. 17) Keith asked bassist Jon Burr and drummer Pete Siers to join him for a serious (but light-hearted) exploration of the songs of Arthur Schwartz, including I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN, DANCING IN THE DARK, MAKE THE MAN LOVE ME, BY MYSELF, and more.  Here’s that delicious recital:

Craig Ventresco told me some years back that Keith was “a real musician,” and these performances testify to that.  I hope someone lets Jonathan Schwartz know about the recital of his father’s work: I am sure that JS would be very pleased.

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS and SOUNDS LIKE (at DIXIELAND MONTEREY): March 5, 2011

More from Dixieland Monterey 2011 (the Jazz Bash by the Bay)!

On paper, this was advertised as simply another session by the Reynolds Brothers, which was good enough for me: I had been following them around, a dazed and grinning hero-worshipper.  They’re John (National steel guitar, vocals, whistling), Ralf (washboard), Katie Cavera (string bass, vocal), Marc Caparone (cornet).  More than enough for anyone!

But when I saw their friends — Jeff Barnhart (piano), Dan Barrett (trombone), Bryan Shaw (trumpet), I settled into my seat knowing that great things — a jazz colloquy on Olympus — would come.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

They began with I NEVER KNEW (homage to that wonderful recording by Benny Carter, Floyd O’Brien, Teddy Wilson, Chu Berry, Ernest Hill, Sidney Catlett, and Max Kaminsky, as “The Chocolate Dandies”).  Their reimagining has stunning brass playing and a delightfully weird harmonic interlude by Jeff — picked up by the horns — before they rock on out:

I adjusted my camera’s white balance so the scene looked less like a Vincent Price film in time for the second number, I WANT A LITTLE GIRL.  Originally recorded in 1930 by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (with a vocal by George Thomas, if I remember correctly), it was rediscovered in 1945-6 by Buck Clayton and Louis.

The spirits of Mr. Strong and Mr. Clayton — tender yet annunciatory — permeate this performance.  And look at the faces of the musicians!  Watch Dan listening to Marc and Bryan!  Catch the dreamy don’t-wake-me-now look on Katie’s face!  It’s thrilling to see musicians afloat on mutual love for beautiful sounds:

I don’t know who suggested the next tune — a wonderful one, almost forgotten, by Harry Warren from FORTY-SECOND STREET, recorded by Bing Crosby and (much later) by Ruby Braff — another jazz carpe diem for the ages.  The clever lyrics are by Al Dubin.  This version has the approving ghosts of Bing and Putney Dandridge hovering around it — with the brass section discoursing in the happiest way on the beauties of Thirties and Forties swing epigrams.  And Jeff’s performance (swinging, hilarious, sweet) suggests what Fats might have done with the song:

Because I had made dinner plans with the irrepressible Jack Rothstein, I had to leave at this point, but I turned to my dear friend Rae Ann Berry and begged her in an insistent whisper, “Please.  Please tape the rest of this?  I have to go but I can’t stand missing the rest.”  And Rae Ann, truly a good sport, took over.  So the remaining videos exist because of her generosity.

And they are generous!

Katie asks the lover’s question — DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?  Oh, we do, Katie.  Her sweetly unaffected vocal gives way to a brass fantasy (who needs clarinets?) in solos and riffs.  And in the middle, there is a perfectly astonishing piano solo — try this at home.  I dare you!  And catch Jeff watching John in delighted amazement while John scrolls through one of his amazing solos (Jeff is chording with his left hand).  Another Katie chorus, and then Brass Ecstasy — circa 1933 (I think), with everyone shouting for joy to the heavens:

Then something beautiful and rare — a Bryan Shaw ballad feature!  It’s I’M CONFESSIN’ (with the bridge of his first solo loving embodiment of Buck Clayton) — again embodying the tradition of singing trumpets born from Louis.  (I’ve heard that Bryan has completed a new Arbors CD with Dan Barrett and friends, coming soon!)  Then a weirdly sweet Jeff Barnhart piano interlude before Bryan offers his own mixture of drama and sweetness:

Back to Louis and Fats (what could be wrong?) for the 1935 GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT — in the key of G, by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz.  About a minute into this performance, you’ll hear that delicious sound of a band locking into swing — a swing that some bands reach only in the last chorus and some never reach at all!  John’s sweet, flying vocal is appropriate for this song and for a man so beautifully dressed:

I’ve already written encomia for Becky Kilgore’s guest appearance with this band on WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA — but I’m including this video because I think it cannot be seen too many times:

And to close — a simple Louis blues, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, absolutely exultant:

This music gave and gives so much pleasure that I had trouble finding a title for this posting.  I am content with mine — see the smiles on the faces of the musicians! — but have to share another story, with apologies for the dropping of names.  When I was fortunate enough to chat with clarinetist Frank Chace (now more than a decade ago), he remembered that he and Marty Grosz had listened, rapt, to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on SWEET SUE with the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers.  Marty’s comment was, “Well, if that doesn’t scrape the clouds . . . !” which is as good a summation of what artistic bliss feels like.

Thank you, Jeff, Dan, Marc, Ralf, Bryan, Katie, John, and Rae Ann — for keeping Beautiful Music Alive!

PHILIPPE SOUPLET’S “PIANO STORIES”

Not long ago, I encountered the impressive French jazz / stride pianist Philippe Souplet on YouTube. 

Here’s the evidence: his 2009 performance of MULE WALK:

Now, Philippe has come out with his first solo CD, and it’s delightful: PIANO STORIES: FAT LIONS, GENTLE DUKES, AND OTHER OLD FRIENDS — which should give you an idea of his musical range and light-hearted approach to the music. 

On it, he explores compositions by Willie “the Lion” Smith, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Edgar Sampson, Arthur Schwartz, and of course James P. Johnson.

The CD benefits greatly from a wonderful piano, splendidly recorded, but Philippe’s approach to this material would come through in less ideal circumstances. 

Although he is deeply respectful of the Stride tradition, he doesn’t treat the repertoire as a series of rigidly established classical compositions.  He’s a graceful improviser, serving the music.  He isn’t combative — he doesn’t try to overwhelm the music with speed and volume.  His tempos are peaceful, giving the melodies time to breathe. 

And Philippe is not constrained by some narrow definitions of musical history: there’s an elegant openness to his playing, with sideways glances at Dave McKenna and Hank Jones.  It’s a varied CD that ranges from the pensive to the joyous. 

The selections are I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN / HERE COMES THE BAND / CHELSEA BRIDGE / THE MULE WALK / HONEY HUSH / ELLINGTON – STRAYHORN MEDLEY: Passion Flower – Mood Indigo – Prelude To A Kiss – Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me / IF DREAMS COME TRUE / MORNING AIR / RETROSPECTION / IT DON’T MEAN A THING (IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING) / I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING / MELANCHOLIA / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’. 

Philippe produced the CD himself: you can contact him at psouplet@wanadoo.fr. for information about how to purchase a copy.

LOCAL HEROES: THE EAR REGULARS (March 21, 2010)

Why do some combinations of musicians coalesce memorably, and others not?  I suspect that it is a matter of forces the players themselves can’t explain.  They can tell you in detail why things don’t work: someone’s tired or annoyed; X dislikes that tempo; Y can’t stand the song; Z doesn’t feel well. 

But when all the stars are in alignment, the music is uplifting.  And the players look contented when they hear their colleagues; the smiles you see at the end of a song add up to a contented glow around the band.

This unpredictable magic happened on Sunday, March 21, 2010, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City). 

Two of the Ear Regulars were the valiant co-leaders: guitarist Matt Munisteri and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, brave and true, who have led their little band on Sunday nights for thirty months now, a delightfully consistent series of small-band jam sessions.  One of the horn players, clarinetist Pete Martinez, had played there a week ago in concert with trombonist Harvey Tibbs.  And Scott Robinson has been a Regular, off and on, since the start — but this time he was featured on bass sax (with a surprise appearance on piccolo late in the evening). 

Were they especially happy to be playing together, although they knew each other from other appearances?  Was pleasurable anticipation, soon realized, in the air?  I don’t know.  But on this Sunday, the Ear Regulars reminded me of the great New York sessions of my youth — small groups featuring Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Milt Hinton, and others — lyrical, singing hot jazz.

Here are nine performances from this wondrous constellation of players, with guests coming by.  I know that the videos aren’t the same as being there, but perhaps if you raise the volume and get in the groove, you’ll catch the fervent spirit.  And I know it wasn’t just my happy hallucination: you can ask Jackie Kellso, Kevin Dorn, Doug Pomeroy, Molly Ryan, Dan Levinson, Barbara Rosene, and the elated Friends of The Ear whose names I didn’t catch. 

After a spirited warmup on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, Jon-Erik did something unusual by suggesting an even faster CHINA BOY.  It summoned up the drive of the Bechet-Spanier HRS session, with a good deal of Adrian Rollini added, as well as some Quintet of the Hot Club of France flavoring from guitarist Julian Lage:

Then, the Ear Regulars decided to try that very pretty Arthur Schwartz song, I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN (associated in my mind with Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden), happily asking Scott to take the melody statement, a splendid idea:

Do you associate LOUISIANA with Bix, Bing, or Lester and Basie?  Whichever version you prefer, this one rocks:

I don’t know who thought of CREOLE LOVE CALL, but any time Jon-Erik takes out his plunger mute, I listen attentively to the secret messages he’s sending:

And the set closed with a minor romp, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME, which gave Pete another chance to sear us with his lovely exuberant upper register:

After a break for dinner, it was time (however late) for a sensitive reading of Walter Donaldson’s AT SUNDOWN, at a lovely ballad tempo:

Cornetist John Bucher had come in when the second set started, and Jon-Erik invited him aboard for I NEVER KNEW, with closing riffs reminiscent of the 1933 Chocolate Dandies record:

Guitarist Dave Gross joined in for the final two numbers: a beautifully articulated IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Finally, after some discussion, the Regulars chose WHISPERING to end the evening:

This music speaks for itself.  If you’ve never been to The Ear Inn on a Sunday, you’re denying yourself rare pleasure.

CHRIS DAWSON, SWING MASTER

I don’t use those words lightly.  If you’ve never heard Chris play, go immediately to the clip below:

Think of delicacy and intensity in every phrase, his sound, his touch, his chord voicings — the subtlety of a great jazz musician who knows how to get inside Arthur Schwartz’s beautiful melodies while keeping a strong pulse going.  

I first heard Chris on a CD some years back with Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers — and then on a Marty Grosz session.  And I said aloud, “Who the hell is that?!” in the fashion of someone making an astonishing, delightful discovery.  “That boy plays fine piano!” is what I imagine Thomas Waller saying.  Or Jimmy Rowles.  Or Barry Harris.

And here’s more — one of my favorite bouncing Twenties love songs — played by a phenomenal small band.  How about Dan Barrett and Hal Smith rocking with Chris?  And two players who are new to me — Denny Hardwick (guitar), and Christoph Luty (bass).   Hilarious and perfectly apt quotations by Dan, and a beat that no one could stop from Hal, Denny, and Christoph. 

And the best news is that this is part of a new CD to be released by Chris Dawson. 

Is it too unsubtle to write in italics — “I want this CD now.  Not later, but now”? 

Watch this space: I hope to have more news of Chris Dawson and his good works.  He’s GOT it, as you can hear. 

Category:  Music

THE SPIRITS OF RHYTHM

Spirits Alabamy

Spirits

Up until a few weeks ago, I would have sworn that the entire output of the Spirits of Rhythm — that gloriously hot (and sometimes silly) group — could have been contained on one CD of their 1933-41 recordings, including sessions with Ella Logan and Red McKenzie.

spirits 1Of course, there were other extras — Leo Watson’s one session for Decca, a later one for Signature (with Vic Dickenson), and a mid-Forties reunion of the group on the West Coast which resulted in four sides for the Black and White label.  Tangentially, Leo Watson appeared on a few Jubilee shows and once on a Rudy Vallee radio program, as well as recording with Gene Krupa and Artie Shaw, but I thought the musical material was unbearably finite.

Spirits SWEETHEART

That was until I found “TOM TOM, THE ELEVATOR BOY” on YouTube and got to see the Spirits in action (the clip came from the otherwise-forgotten 1941 musical SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS).

And some more online research has just turned up that they appeared in two other films that year: ALABAMY BOUND and YES, INDEED!  Both musicals were directed by Dudley Murphy, the second with Josef Byrne (it seems to be a short subject with Dorothy Dandridge).  Something tells me that these weren’t big-budget mass-market productions, but perhaps productions aimed at the Black market, done in a hurry and on a minimal budget.  In fact, I have no assurance that the three films have different musical numbers.  And in 1942, the Spirits appeared in PANAMA HATTIE.

Spirits DeccaBut did you know that the 6 Spirits of Rhythm (including Teddy Bunn, Wilbur and Douglas Daniels, Leo Watson, Virgil Scoggins, and Ernest “Serious” Myers) appeared on Broadway from September 1935 to March 1936 — alongside Bea Lillie, Eleanor Powell, Ethel Waters, and Eddie Foy, Jr. in the Dietz-Schwartz musical AT HOME ABROAD?  Do I have any Broadway archivists among my readers?

At the top of the page is a still of Leo Watson from ALABAMY BOUND.  The world needs more film footage of Leo and Teddy Bunn.  Or, if you think that statement’s too sweeping, I do.