Tag Archives: Avalon

THE MUSIC WAS HOT IN AVALON, BESIDE THE BAY: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 26, 2019)

The rainbows I associate with the Evergreen Jazz Festival weren’t always in the sky.  More often than not, they appeared on the bandstand and went vibrating towards everyone in the audience, memorably. One of the people I most associate with cosmic phenomena is pianist-singer-composer Carl Sonny Leyland.  People who like to categorize say that Sonny is a fine boogie-woogie and Chicago blues pianist and singer . . . and they would be correct.  But he’s also a rollicking full-spectrum jazz pianist, and one of my great pleasures is listening to him rip into a classic pop song as if he were a large puppy and the song a brand-new chew toy.  Or, once you’ve calmed down after this performance, you may want to invent a more demure metaphor, and I invite you to do so.

I associate AVALON with numberless Benny Goodman small-group performances and Goodman-inspired performances, but the song was “written” and published in 1920 — composer credits Billy Rose, Al Jolson, and Buddy De Sylva (to figure out who actually “wrote” this would tax my five wits, especially since its initial melody came from Puccini’s TOSCA).  However, it remains a reliable uptempo jazz standard for performers with certain associations.

Here is the strain from Puccini, sung by that Caruso fellow:

Hear Sonny, Marty Eggers, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, make a meal out of it at the Evergreen Jazz Festival:

By the way, no matter what MyLife might say, there is only ONE Jeff Hamilton.  Accept no substitutes.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD MEN AND TRUE (July 6, 1952)

 

 

 

 

 

Written in between sets at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.

For some jazz fans, however one defines that slippery term, it remains fashionable to look down on Benjamin David Goodman, hot clarinetist. He was popular and prolific, prosperous and famous; he didn’t suffer (except for severe back pain); he lived a long time, was pale in complexion and Hebraic at birth.  Some thought his press-agentry (“the King of Swing”) was both inaccurate and insulting to other monarchs.

And the overwhelming evidence of his music has had, for some, a flattening effect: those who don’t listen closely might find that one version of AVALON runs into the next, high-speed crowd-pleasing set pieces.  (However, I notice that few raise the same objection with Charlie Parker’s returning to his controlled repertoire.)

But he was not only an extraordinary musician; he was a hot improviser who had splendid taste in his colleagues.  This post is for Kati Powell, daughter of the delightful and always-surprising pianist / composer / arranger Mel Powell, pictured above, whose work brightens every recording he ever made.

Here is a new lovely discovery, brought to us by the generous “Davey Tough” — whose YouTube channel is one marvel after another.  Listen, savor, and be transformed.  These three men are not going through the motions, and their hot virtuosity has yet to be equaled, both in solo and in ensemble:

Play that again.  Three minutes more out of your busy life will be rewarded by beauty.  And give thanks to the unknown recordist, who made marvels permanent rather than evanescent.

May your happiness increase!

BLISS AT 326 SPRING STREET: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DANNY TOBIAS, SCOTT ROBINSON, ADAM MOEZINIA, ROB ADKINS (August 14, 2016)

EAR INN sign

Nine minutes of the real thing, no side effects aside from possible stiffness from sitting on a barstool for longer than is doctor-prescribed.  Yours for the asking, created on Sunday, August 14, 2016, by the gracious and eminent EarRegulars du jour: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Adam Moezinia (note his variations on AC-DC CURRENT), and Rob Adkins, string bass.  All this joy took place at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, where such bliss is regularly offered on Sunday nights from eight to eleven o’clock, approximately.  But there’s nothing approximate about the on-the-spot riffing and solos that these brilliant players gave us.  The song?  AVALON, which dates back to 1920 and still sounds gorgeously fresh in 2016.

I’m posting this on the morning of Sunday, September 4, 2016.  If you read it early and are in the NYC area, this band — with Pat O’Leary in for Rob — will be playing at The Ear tonight.  Just leave me a barstool or two in front of the band so that I can capture some more joy for JAZZ LIVES, especially for the Brazilian contingent.

May your happiness increase!

CLARINETITIS: TIM LAUGHLIN, JIM BUCHMANN, DAVE BENNETT (November 29, 2014)

AVALON, “composed” in 1920 by Al Jolson and Vincent Rose, owed so much to a Puccini melody that Puccini’s publishers sued and won.  Thanks to Chris Tyle for the facts here.

AVALON sheet

Between 1920 and 1937, AVALON was a popular composition recorded by Red Nichols, Isham Jones, Coleman Hawkins, the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, Jimmie Lunceford, and others.  In 1937, Benny Goodman featured it as a quartet number (with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa) in the film HOLLYWOOD HOTEL — also recording it for Victor, performing it in 1938 at his Carnegie Hall Concert.  Benny performed it hundreds of times in the next half-century, and a performance of that song has been a way for contemporary clarinetists both to salute him and to dramatize their aesthetic kinship with him.

AVALON label

As a delightful point of reference, here is the 1937 Victor, a lovely performance by four men clearly enjoying themselves expertly:

That recording is, in its own way, a joyous summit of swing improvisation.

On November 29, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Tim Laughlin (leading his own New Orleans All-Stars with Connie Jones) had already invited clarinetist Jim Buchmann to join him for a few songs.  Then, Tim spotted clarinetist Dave Bennett and urged him to join in.  I thought that AVALON might be on the menu for three clarinets. Not that Tim is in any way predictable, but AVALON is familiar music — with known conventions — in the same way that a group of saxophonists might call WOODSIDE or FOUR BROTHERS — music that would please the crowd and the route signs are all well-marked.

Connie Jones and Doug Finke sat this one out, but Connie’s delighted reactions mirror every nuance of the music.

The other members of this band: Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums, are deeply immersed in both the tradition of Goodman AVALON’s and how to make it alive at the moment — Chris and Hal create their own variations on Wilson and Krupa most beautifully.

This one’s for my friend Janie McCue Lynch, and for students of the Swing School everywhere.

(For those correspondents who say “This is TOO Swingy!” in the tone of voice one would discuss a contagious disease, you are exempt from watching this.  But you’ll miss deep joy.)

See you all at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest: we’ll all gather.

May your happiness increase!

THE FORTUNATE ISLAND, FOUND!

To the most erudite readers, those who consult Geoffrey of Monmouth more than Facebook, the legendary island of Avalon is deeply significant in Arthurian legend: the Fortunate Island, the Island of Apples, the place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged and where Arthur went to die but remained immortal.  The best guess — only a guess — places the island somewhere near Wales.

Al_Jolson_Avalon_cover (1)

To others, AVALON is a hit popular song of 1920, composer credit going to Al Jolson, Buddy DeSylva, and Vincent Rose, yet its opening motif so close to a Puccini aria that the composer sued for plagiarism and won. (Knowing Jolson’s habit of cutting himself in on songs — that is, “Put my name on it as co-composer and thus give me one-third of the royalties, and I will sing it, making it a hit” — I think the song’s credit goes only to the other two writers. (Why only Rose and Jolson are credited on this cover is mysterious.)

Still others, and I am one of them, associate this song with unforgettable jazz performances by Red Nichols, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong and the Dukes of Dixieland, and many others.  The Goodman Quartet version has its own conventions: a descending riff near the end accented by a drummer — originally the Blessed Eugene Krupa — playing the pattern on the wood rim of the snare.  Charlie Parker recorded his own improvisations over the Quartet version, and the song continued to be immensely durable: ask Al Haig, Ted Brown, Lester Young, Art Pepper, Elmo Hope, Eddie Condon, Mel Powell, and Don Byas.

But back to myth and evidence.

Recent archaeological research now suggests that the Fortunate Island is located near or in Kecskemét, Hungary.  I could fill pages with the documentary evidence, but offer this video as proof.  This musical evocation of AVALON is so vividly alive here that I am convinced.  The researchers — a gallant international team — assembled at the 24th International Bohém Ragtime & Jazz Festival held in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 27-29, 2015.  The team had an informal name, but it will make sense once you understand the video revelations — Attila’s International All Stars, and they are Malo Mazurié (France) – trumpet, Evan Arntzen (Canada/USA) – clarinet, tenor sax, Attila Korb (Hungary) – trombone, Dave Blenkhorn (Australia/France) – guitar, Sebastien Girardot (Australia/France) – string bass, Guillaume Nouaux (France) – drums.

As a reward for patiently reading (or scrolling down through) my japes, here is a wondrously swinging AVALON by a band worthy of Arthurian legend:

I am especially delighted to see Attila Korb appropriately adorned, but that IS a stage joke.

You may order the festival DVD (in English) here.  And for more information about the festival, visit here.  All of this is thanks to the Producer,Tamás Ittzés, Kecskemét Jazz Foundation, who is a splendid musician himself, and to the legendary musicians who transport us to AVALON.

If you are ideologically fierce, hewing to your conviction that only people born in a certain nation or with a certain ethnicity or racial background can play “America’s classical music,” I propose an intensive course of aesthetic rehabilitation: listening to this video, eyes closed, for as many times as it takes to loosen the death-grip of those beliefs.

May your happiness increase!

CHAMBER MUSIC OF THE LAST CENTURY

Just a congenial musical group in the corner of a clarinet player’s apartment, playing a familiar composition from their collective past.

Yes, Mister Goodman, Hampton, Stacy, Krupa, and Braff.  I’d heard an audio tape of this but hadn’t known this video was on YouTube — in color, no less.  Thanks to the inimitable Superheidi for pointing it out.

May your happiness increase!

HOW FAR IS IT TO NÎMES?

I need Google Maps, or maybe Mapquest, to figure out the distance. Because on the evidence of this and an earlier video clip, that French city is the place to be for Hot!

Here’s what the descriptive summary says beneath the latest YouTube video by washboardist Jeff Guyot and noble pals:

AU PUB O’FLAHERTY’S A NÎMES LE 8 JANVIER 2014 AVEC

Michel BASTIDE(ct) DANIEL HUCK (sax & vocal)Jean-François BONNEL (sax tenor,tp,cl)Bernard ANTHERIEU (Cl)Philippe GUIGNIER (Bj) Patrice AVIET(B) Jeff GUYOT (Wb)

Vidéo: Armand YEPES

Which I translate (!) as Armand Yepes, my French brother, went to O’Flaherty’s Pub on January 8, 2014, and recorded a band with some allegiance to the Hot Antic Jazz Band and the Anachronic Jazz Band romping through AVALON: Michel Bastide, cornet; Daniel Huck, saxophone and ecstatic vocal; Jean-Francois Bonnel, my hero, on tenor saxophone; Bernard Antherieu, clarinet; Philippe Guignier, banjo; Partrice Aviet, string bass; Jeff Guyot, washboard.  Not only are the solos delightful, but the riffs (listen, for instance, behind Antherieu) and the general ebullience . . . priceless.  And my Facebook pals were having a serious debate the other day about their favorite male vocalist — may I ask that the name of DANIEL HUCK be inscribed in anyone’s list in capital letters?

How do you say WOW! in French?

May your happiness increase!

Part One: THE CARDS OUTDO THEMSELVES (Feb. 27, 2010)

It was an immense thrill to hear and see the Cangelosi Cards on Saturday, February 27, 2010, at the Shambhala Meditation Center in New York City on 22nd Street.  That’s not an idle statement.

Before this, I had seen the Cards primarily at Banjo Jim’s, where the atmosphere was exuberant and loud.  And for all their own exuberance, they are truly a subtle band, so I had to strain to hear them.  But the Shambhala provided a large, quiet wood-floored space.  True, an overhead fan clicks at the beginning of this performance, but that sound is swallowed up by the rhythm section.  And (perhaps a small point?) the dancers were in back of me and the room was well-lit, so I was able to capture the Cards as they should be captured.  Those dancers, by the way, included Eve Polich of “Avalon” and Heidi Rosenau and Joe McGlynn.  The whole delightful event was the idea of Paul Wegener, a fan of the Cards from way back, who had the inspired idea of bringing them to this wonderfully open, serene, receptive space.

This edition of the Cards included the regular brilliant musicians: Jake Sanders on banjo, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet and mandolin, Tamar Korn on vocals.  And there were Debbie Kennedy on bass and Gordon Au on trumpet. 

Here is the third performance of the night (after two jaunty warm-up songs): I SURRENDER, DEAR.

It’s a masterpiece of sorrowing intensity, supported throughout by the bring bring bring of Jake’s banjo and the melodic pulse of Debbie’s bass.  Marcus and Dennis seem transported; Gordon takes his time, creating one sad, thoughtful phrase after another. 

And Tamar.  I told her during the set break that I thought she was growing as a dramatic actress, and her delicate face registers every nuance of the song.  Not only in the first chorus, where she outlines the text, but in her return — becoming a muted trumpet for sixteen bars and then returning to the lyrics.  She told me that she sings this song as an expression of penitence, which is undeniable, but I also hear barely controlled rage in the way she bites off the words “a spice to the wooing.”

I dedicate this lovely, deep exploration of music and lyrics to Bing Crosby, to Harry Barris, to Louis Armstrong, to the Mills Brothers, and to Sam Parkins, who told Tamar that her singing “got him right in the gizzard.”  Truer words were never spoken, and they apply equally to the Cards as a whole.

Did I say it was a thrill to hear the Cards?  No, an honor.  A privilege.

PROFESSOR EVE WILL TEACH YOU!

I’ve never met Eve Polich although we’ve been at the same event and we’ve corresponded — but I have seen her dance!  So I can recommend her upcoming dance classes with confidence.  Maybe she will encourage me to find my Capezios, get over my previous lack of success as a ballroom dancer, and try once again.

Here’s the information: worth a trip from everywhere!

AVALON JAZZ DANCE LESSONS!

 So many people have approached me asking about dance lessons that I have decided to start some classes starting in March every 2nd and 4th Monday/Tuesday to test the waters. These classes are ridiculously cheap if you are a musician. Just sayin’.  (All classes are $10 for civilians, $5 for musicians.)

Beginner Lindy-Hop! Mondays

Learn traditional partnered swing dancing from the 1920’s and 30’s.  This class will cover the basic steps as well as discuss technique, connection, and musicality.

March 8th and March 22nd: 8-9 PM

Beginner/Intermediate Lindy-Hop! Tuesdays

Learn traditional partnered swing dancing from the 1920’s and 30’s.  This class will be for beginner students who want to take their dancing to the next level.  We will focus on more complex moves, technique, connection, and musicality.

March 9th and 23rd: 6-7 PM

Solo Charleston! Tuesdays

Learn traditional solo jazz movement from the 1920’s and 30’s.  Not only is this awesomely fun, but will also inform your partnered dancing.

March 9th and 23rd

All classes will be held at Chelsea Studios, 151 West 26th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues

If you attend both Tuesday classes, together they will be only $16 or $8 for musicians!

Private lessons available for $40/hour or bartered goods and services.

RSVP to evepolich [at] avalonjazz [dot] com

And if you visit Eve’s site (AVALON) and click on the hyperlinks, she promises you’ll see “examples old and new” of these dances — worth investigating!  Check out http://avalonjazz.blogspot.com/2010/02/avalon-jazz-dance-lessons.html

Here’s the ideal — the collegiate Shag done to Artie Shaw’s DIGA DIGA DOO.  Anything’s possible, right?

BENNY VISITS “AVALON”

In the last few days I’ve been listening to the Benny Goodman Festival being broadcast on WKCR-FM (if you’re out of range of this New York City FM station, you can hear it online at www.wkcr.org).  Whenever I turn on the radio a Goodman small group is eagerly exploring AVALON at a jaunty tempo, a coincidence that both amuses and puzzles me.

BGNow, I don’t plan to accuse Goodman of being an aging artist caught in his own boredom, but the frequency with which jazz musicians return to their own narrowing repertoire of familiar songs to improvise on is worth comment.

I know that Hot Lips Page famously said (to whom?) “The material is immaterial,” and Bob Rusch has gently reminded me that jazz is about what one does with the material rather than the material itself.  “‘T’ain’t what you do, it’s the way that’cha do it,” sang Trummy Young.

And anyone brave enough to improvise in public at the tempos Goodman favored should, by law, have the right to choose his or her own favorite set of chord changes — no matter whether the improviser in question is Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, or John Coltrane.  But I’ve also heard some of the finest jazz artists turn in established solos on familiar pieces for their features, occasionally playing something quite moving, but more often falling back on set routine.  I think of Jo Jones’s CARAVAN, of Buddy Tate’s BODY AND SOUL, of Vic Dickenson’s IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD, and so on.

One could, of course, make the case that jazzmen have “master solos” and “polished performances” to fall back on, because improvisation is such a demanding art.  And Ricky Riccardi has made the point that Louis Armstrong’s versions of INDIANA that often began his later performances were anything but rote repetition.

But Benny himself (according to Ross Firestone’s sweet-natured biography) seems to have been dissatisfied with the music he played in his last decade, saying to someone, “You can’t play LADY BE GOOD forever.”  But he did play AVALON for fifty years.

Did he play it so regularly because it was a song he loved from his childhood (it first appeared in 1920)?  Did he return to it because it was one of his proven hits, a selection that his audience — sometimes made up of people who had cheered him on in 1937 — wanted, expected, and waited for?  Did he feel a responsibility to please the people who had paid to hear him with a medley of his Greatest Hits?  Or was playing AVALON something that gave him pleasure in itself — both as a stunning ride over the chord changes and as a way of making an exciting performance?  I can’t begin to say.

And some of the performances of AVALON I’ve heard on WKCR-FM are justly thrilling — not just in terms of technique and facility, but as musical expressions — evidence of an older artist still finding “something new to say” on a familiar text.  Some of them sound like Goodman playing at being Benny Goodman — with playing that is technically exciting but not especially creative improvised music.

The only time I was fortunate enough to see Goodman in person — at a great distance — was at a Carnegie Hall concert in 1974 or 1975, with a truly all-star group including Bobby Hackett and Roy Eldridge (!).  Of course, the King offered us AVALON, STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, and DON’T BE THAT WAY to enthusiastic applause, but I was much more moved by Hackett’s choice of a feature number — an uptempo SECRET LOVE, which I can still dimly hear in my head as I write this.

Does this make me a snob for asking my beloved jazz heroes to “be original”?  I don’t know.  Perhaps if I had been able to ask Benny why he explored and re-explored AVALON, he would have said, “I like it.”  And that would have been enough, even for me.  Any artist who’s given us so much for such a long time is entitled to his idiosyncracies.