Tag Archives: Bach

WARM SOUNDS IN MOTION: JON DE LUCIA OCTET in RECITAL: JON DE LUCIA, ANDREW HADRO, DAN BLOCK, RICKY ALEXANDER, JAY RATTMAN, STEFAN VASNIER, AIDAN O’DONNELL, STEVE LITTLE (City College, May 3, 2018)

I abandoned my adult responsibilities last Thursday to hear the Jon De Lucia Octet at City College, and I am so glad: this performance was an oasis.

Jon’s group, in existence for slightly more than two years, is a flexible, swinging chamber group devoted to the music-for-saxophones of Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre, Ted Brown, Bill Smith, Alec Wilder, the Dave Brubeck Octet, and Jon’s own arrangements and compositions.  I’ve been following Jon and the Octet around New York since their inception, and have always felt rewarded.  Here is a sample from March 2017.

Perhaps it no longer applies, but it used to be fashionable to characterize such music as “cerebral,” to some, a euphemism for chilly aural architecture, jazz drained of untidy emotions, art from the neck up.  Not true for the Octet, which is a warm, mobile band, always with a generous offering of improvised solos.  You’ll hear and see for yourself.

If you have an established prejudice against what is perceived by some as “cool,” please take a visit to PRESERVATION, DREAMILEE, DISC JOCKEY JUMP . . . . and then re-assess.

At this too-brief concert, the players were Jon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Stefan Vasnier, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Jay Rattman, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, alto saxophone and clarinet; Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Andrew Hadro, baritone saxophone.

Gerry Mulligan’s DISC JOCKEY JUMP, originally composed by young Mr. Mulligan for the Gene Krupa ensemble, then arranged for saxophones a decade later by Bill Holman:

Jerome Kern’s PICK YOURSELF UP (I think of Fred Astaire pretending to be clumsy) arranged by Jon:

The Gershwins’ TREAT ME ROUGH, from GIRL CRAZY, arranged by Dick Hyman for a Trigger Alpert record date:

PRESERVATION, by Ted Brown, a sinuous improvisation on Lester Young’s TICKLE-TOE, arranged by Jon:

The gorgeous PRELUDE, by Dave Van Kriedt, originally for the Dave Brubeck Octet:

DREAMILEE, Lee Konitz’s solo / variations on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, arranged by Jon:

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST, a Baroque jazz fantasy by Jon, which I associate with his new  Bach Shapes book:

Cole Porter’s very pretty LOOKING AT YOU (I think of Lee Wiley’s 1940 recording with Bushkin and Berigan) arranged by Jon.  Dance music for very hip couples:

and a memory of a vanished New York City subway-system entrance machinery, TURNSTILE, again composed by Mulligan and arranged by Holman:

Jon’s Octet — with the splendid Ted Brown — will be releasing their debut recording, a live performance from their first recital — on Neal Miner’s noble Gut String Records — this summer.  Expect to hear more about it here.

May your happiness increase!

PARADISE FOR STRINGS: MARTIN WHEATLEY’S IMAGINATIVE WORLDS

Photograph by Andrew Wittenborn, 2015

Photograph by Andrew Wittenborn, 2015

I know Martin Wheatley as an astonishingly talented player of the guitar, banjo, electric guitar, ukulele.  I’ve heard him on a variety of recordings as a wonderful rhythm player and striking soloist, and had the good fortune to see him in person at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) from 2009 to 2015.

One facet of his talent is as a virtuosic ukulele player (and arranger for that instrument): a 2010 solo performance of THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER:

Here’s Martin on electric guitar from the November 2015 Party in a salute to Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, with Lars Frank, Martin Litton, Enrico Tomasso, Richard Pite, Henry Lemaire:

From that same weekend, here are Emma Fisk, Spats Langham, Henry Lemaire, and Martin doing their own evocation of the Quintette of the Hot Club of France on J’ATTENDRAI:

Here’s Martin on banjo in 2010 with the Chalumeau Serenaders — Matthias Seuffert, Norman Field, Nick Ward, Keith Nichols, Malcolm Sked — performing A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY:

And there’s more.  But the point of this blogpost is to let you know that Martin has made a truly imaginative CD under his own name, called LUCKY STAR — a musical sample below:

Martin says of LUCKY STAR, “Quite a mixture of things, lots of my own compositions and some standards.  Some solos –  plenty of overdub extravaganzas.  All me apart from Tom Wheatley (one of Martin’s sons) on bass.”

Solo efforts that have a good deal of overdubbing might suffer from sameness, because of the strength of the soloist’s personality, but not this CD: Martin is seriously and playfully imaginative.  And when you open the disc and read the instruments he plays, you know the disc is expansive, not constricted: guitar, tenor guitar, Hawaiian guitar, lap steel guitar, soprano / tenor / baritone ukulele; tenor / five-string / fretless banjo; moonlute, mandolin, octophone, percussion, keyboard, vocals.

The five standards are IF DREAMS COME TRUE, ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR, MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE, and MY SWEET.  I couldn’t tell absolutely which instruments Martin is playing on any track, but I can say that DREAMS sounds like a one-man Spirits of Rhythm, with a swinging bass interlude by Tom after Martin’s absolutely charming vocal (think Bowlly crossed with McKenzie, Decca sunburst edition); CHILLUN is Pizzarelli-style with more of the same swing crooning intermingled with virtuosic playing — but no notes are smudged or harmed, and there’s a cameo for Hawaiian guitar at a rocking tempo.  LUCKY STAR begins with harp-like ukulele chords and Martin picks up the never-heard verse, turning the corner into the sweet chorus in the most light-hearted sincere way, and MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE follows — a quiet instrumental masterpiece, a hymn to secular devotion. MY SWEET — beloved of Louis and Django — begins with serene chiming notes picking out the melody delicately and then builds into a rocking vocal / guitar production worthy of the QHCF — ending with waves rhythmically yet gently coming up the beach.

I’ve given these details because if I had heard one of those tracks I would want to know who the fine singer and the fine guitarists were, and I would buy the CD. They are that delightful.

But that survey would leave out the majority of the disc, Martin’s original compositions: STARGAZING / ON THE BANKS OF THE WINDRUSH, FAR AWAY / EPPING FOREST / GOLDEN HILL / THE OTTER / BRUNTCLIFFE / FOUND & LOST / COLONEL FAWCETT’S UKULELE / IN THE MERRY LAND OF UZ / X.  They aren’t easy to describe, much less categorize.  I hear lullabies, rhapsodies, inquiries, echoes of Hawaii, of Weill and Broadway shows, of Bach and modern classical, Forties film soundtracks, harp choirs, Scottish folk music, bluegrass, birdsong and forest sounds — all immaculately and warmly played.  Words fail me here, but the journey through this CD is rather like reading short stories or being shown a series of watercolors — nothing harsh, but everything evocative.

Martin told me, “Over the last seven or eight years I’ve returned to writing music and wanted it to have an outlet, which it wouldn’t get on gigs.  Although jazz is what I do, I have other musical interests and have played other sorts of music in the past. Without making any self-conscious attempts at ‘fusions’ I’ve tried to allow it all to come out – English folk tunes, Psychedelia, classical music – especially English 20th century, Hawaiian music, doubtless others. I don’t know how evident any of those is but they’re in there somewhere!

It probably is evident that most of it is romantic – Bruntcliffe, for example, I wrote as an organ piece to be played as entrance music for my wedding to Lindsay in 2011.  Most of it is less specific.  One piece with something of a programme is Colonel Fawcett’s Ukulele. Aside from punning on Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, it was inspired by reading about Colonel Percy Fawcett and his habit of playing his ukulele to the natives he encountered in the Amazon.  What he played and how they reacted is unrecorded.  It’s an amazing tale.  The obvious conclusion is that he was deluded in his belief in the Lost City of Z and its civilization from which we could learn; however, we know that with no more certainty than we know what he played on his ukulele.”

A technical note: “Overdubs were done usually to a guide track which is not heard on the final mix (pulling up the ladder after climbing up!).  This allows for a steady pulse and changes in tempo when required.  Wayne McIntyre, the sound engineer, did a terrific job.”

“If anyone would like a copy please contact me. £10 incl p&. Hope you like it!”

Find Martin on Facebook here.  If it’s not evident, I recommend this disc fervently.  It’s original yet melodic, lyrical, sweet and rocking.

May your happiness increase!

 

LUCKY STAR

SWING IN PARADISE (The Second Set): ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, STEPHANIE TRICK, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH at FILOLI (July 29, 2012)

The only mournful thing about the music that follows is that it’s the last set of two divine concerts by this happy group — Rossano and Stephanie, piano; Nicki, vocal and string bass; Hal, drums — that took place at Dominican University, San Rafael (July 28) and at extraordinary Filoli, Woodside (July 29).

Rossano and Nicki began this set with a patented Sportiello – Parrott Extravaganza, which took in SCENES FROM CHILDHOOD, a bit of Bach, LULLABY OF BIRDLAND, and more.  I’ve called it JAZZ MEETS THE CLASSICS, and it’s a wondrous ride:

For something more familiar by this stellar group, Henri Woode’s ROSETTA:

And that 1930 celebration of love found at last, EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

Stephanie is the least threatening of mortals, so it’s amusing that she plays Pete Johnson’s ominously-named DEATH RAY BOOGIE (had Mr. Johnson been reading Thirties science-fiction in pulp magazines, I wonder?):

She goes to town on Fats Waller’s MINOR DRAG:

Who knew Nicki was so deeply involved in Yiddischkeit?  Hear for yourself — BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN:

And the question remains — posed with such insouciant swing by Nicki — IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY?:

The appropriate finale was AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

But the wise crowd didn’t want to let these four players out of their sight, so the quartet baked a delicious two-layer cake of an encore, TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE- LIZA:

Now, who among us will begin to book the global concert tour for this group?  They and the rest of the world surely deserve it.

May your happiness increase.

HOW DOES HE DO IT?

We expect that someone’s speaking voice is immediately identifiable, a personal signature.  But it seems magical that a pianist, seated at a complex of wires and wooden hammers, does the same thing in a few notes.  Teddy Wilson is one of those masters; there’s no mistaking him.

Each of us who has been listening to jazz for more than a few years has a kind of mental iPod (some will imagine a jukebox) of music first heard decades ago that stays in the mind.  Wilson’s 1938 solo performance of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is a favorite touchstone — ever since I first encountered a 10″ lp on the bootleg Jolly Roger label in a New York secondhand shop — a series of otherwise unidentified Wilson solos I knew nothing of at the time.

How does he make the piano sound so clearly an extension of himself?  Pianists will speak of the individual instrument, the player’s physical approach to the keys and pedals, of chord voicings and note choices, of Wilson’s ringing treble lines and mixture of walking tenths and stride bass  — all matters I understand in a rather indefinite way.  All of that is true, but there always is something mystical in the relations between player and instrument, deep and elusive.  One can attempt to copy a Wilson transcription by playing the notes off of the page and the result will not sound like him.

I heard Teddy in ten or twelve different settings live between 1972 and 1981: at the overamplified Carnegie Hall piano; outdoors at a Suffolk County airport; in a suburban shopping mall; in Radio City Music Hall: he sounded like himself, no matter where you put him.

This solo is even more remarkable to me because it was originally intended as a way for Wilson to teach people how to play in his style — by correspondence.  (He had become much more famous through his appearances and recordings with Goodman, Holiday, and others, and I am happy that he entered into this business venture, for it left such lovely evidence behind.)  In 1938, one could enroll as a student in the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists, its headquarters at 1650 Broadway, and for some fee (I wish I knew how much it cost) receive printed instruction sheets and commentary on piano solo recordings.

I note that the label says “Score and analysis text” available at the school: does anyone possess the transcriptions of these performances?

But the music is what counts.  Wilson had mastered the great paradox: his playing sounds calm, unhurried, but his lines that push forward with a quiet rhythmic intensity.  And a Wilson performance at a slow or medium tempo has some of the same false ease one experiences while listening to Bing Crosby: an optimistic listener thinks, “That doesn’t sound too hard.  With a few lessons, I could do that, too.”  But the goal is elusive.  I’ve tried to reproduce some version of the four-bar introduction by playing the recording and then going to the piano: its easy translucency is not easily reproduced.

Wilson clearly learned a good deal from Louis and Hines, from Fats and the great horn players — but there’s a classical reserve in his playing, a translucency that I think comes from playing Bach and Chopin: knowing how to make simple melodies come alive, to make notes ring.  There’s nothing formulaic or mechanical in this performance, even though he had chosen a simpler-than-usual approach in the first two choruses, saving some complexities for the final one.  His rhythms pulsate; even the most formal statement of the melody swings; the interplay between his left-hand harmonies and his melodic inventions is something to marvel at.  And although the performance is a sterling example of “keeping time” — it never accelerates or drags — Wilson’s rubato hesitations and suspensions at unexpected moments keep it flexible and full of surprises, even when the surprises are understated.

I think of 1938 — hardly a year for global optimism — as a time when people actually wanted to study Teddy Wilson’s piano improvisations.  That speaks of an idyllic past, perhaps lost.  But we can still hear Teddy Wilson in our dreams.

A ROSSANO SPORTIELLO RECITAL at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 16, 2011)

Friday afternoon, before Jazz at Chautauqua “officially” begins, is given over to a series of solo recitals in the Hotel Athenaeum — around a grand piano.  I will be posting music by John Sheridan, Keith Ingham, James Dapogny, Howard Alden, and Maestro Sportiello, who embarked on an unbroken solo recital that began with pop classics — WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER and LUCKY TO BE ME — then segues into Schumann’s SCENES FROM CHILDHOOD and more:

Here’s the second part, featuring George Shearing, Bach, Chopin, and Don Lambert:

All I could say, then or now, is, “Beautiful, Rossano!”

JOHN BUNCH by RANDY SANDKE

Randy Sandke writes:

Someone should really acknowledge the passing of John Bunch.  He was a truly unique stylist and a brilliant improviser.  I remember listening with awe once as he played multiple choruses on the blues, every one taking up a new idea and developing it through each 12-bar sequence without being the slightest bit pedantic.  I thought I was listening to the spontaneous creation of a 20th Century Goldberg Variations.  John had a all the qualities of a great player – originality, flawless technique (which never called attention to itself), great subtlety, and infectious swing.  All he lacked was the major recognition, partly because his personality was very much like his playing: no flash or gimmicks.  Also, perhaps because he was identified as a “mainstream” player, which signifies lack of originality in critical parlance.  But as Harry Allen once said, John was always the most modern (and timeless I would add) player on the bandstand.

<http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/02/arts/music/02bunch.html>

Nate Chinen’s piece in the NY Times was respectful and accurate to a point, but again, it implied that John was a “swing” player (there’s that word again).  John’s conception began with bebop, and his whole approach (rhythm, harmonic, melodic) was much more in the Hank Jones school than Teddy Wilson, though again, he spoke unequivocally in his own voice.

John was also a gentle and self-effacing person, on the reserved side, but one who had a wealth of fascinating stories to tell: of being shot down over Germany in WWII and spending months in a prisoner-of-war camp (all of which he told me as we were touring Germany); how his trio in Indianapolis couldn’t find a bass player so they used Wes Montgomery playing bass lines on guitar; and how, after playing with a young Freddie Hubbard, he thought “this guy sounds terrible; he’ll never make it.”

John will be sorely missed by those who knew him and those who revered his playing.  Like any true artist, he leaves a void that cannot be filled.

I can only add that I first saw and heard John play with Ruby Braff in the early Seventies.  In retrospect, I was so awed by Ruby’s playing that it took some time for me to actually hear closely what John was consistently, quietly doing.  But I can still see and hear Ruby standing by the piano while John soloed, urging him on, agreeing, smiling at what he heard. 

In a musical landscape of extroverts and self-dramatizers, John pursued his art — serenely and thoughtfully, with wonderful swing and understated eloquence.  In my experience, certain musicians, now gone, were always reliable and more: seeing them onstage, I could relax, knowing that the music was going to be superb.  Jake Hanna, George Duvivier, Milt Hinton, John Bunch.  We are fortunate to have heard them, to have been welcomed into their individual rooms.

To hear more from John himself, visit Marc Myers’ invaluable JazzWax, where he is posting an interview he did with John — incomplete but invaluable: http://www.jazzwax.com/2010/04/interview-john-bunch-part-1.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Jazzwax+%28JazzWax%29&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

WARMED BY JAZZ

fireside20chatAlthough live jazz gives me more spiritual and emotional pleasure than I can say here, I admit to being hard to please.  Maybe it’s because I have heard so much transcendent music on records (from James P. in 1921 to the newest releases) and in person.  My memory is inconsistent, but I have lasting,sharp recollections of club dates.  The night at Condon’s where Ruby Braff kicked off “I Would Do Most Anything For You” at a wickedly fast tempo and drove the band across the finish line by simple stubborness.  When Benny Morton played the melody of “When You’re Smiling” two feet from my ear.   

So the bar (to use one of a dozen cliches) is set quite high, perhaps impossibly so.  And I am often discontented by my surroundings.  When I’m at a club, I wish the people around me would sit down and be still; when I’m at a concert, I long for the freedom musicians have to take chances and make mistakes they don’t always find while playing in a large hall. 

But something interesting happens — neurological or psychlogical or just idiosyncratic.  When I’m listening to jazz in performance, if I’m not transfixed, critical thoughts pop unbidden into my head.  I don’t invite them and wish they would go away and lie down.  All of these thoughts might seem unfair, of course, coming from someone who still aims for sub-amateur status on any of half-a-dozen instruments.  But I think, “That player has so much technique: when is he going to sing us a song?  Too many notes!”  “You — why don’t you lay out so we can hear what X is playing?”  Or “That tempo is too slow.” 

I don’t say these things aloud — I hope for a long lifespan — but the Beloved has had to put up with a good deal of sotto voce grumbling.  However, here’s the redeeming part I myself don’t understand: give me twelve hours, and the flaws, if they’re not mountainous, fade away.  Emotion recollected in tranquility, perhaps?  But the music takes on a golden sheen, and I think how fortunate I was to have been there. 

Last night was a special occasion: another of Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights in Jazz” concerts — celebrating his thirty-sixth anniversary! — held at the congenial Tribeca Arts Center (a pleasant hall in the Borough of Manhattan Community College). 

This, for faithful blog-readers, is the concert that Phil the groundhog was so insistent about.  I’m going to take him a jar of Trader Joe’s almond butter next time I visit him in Pennsylvania, to say thanks.

Jack was energetic, enthusiastic, and loquacious as ever — but all these are good things.  It’s a delight to see someone so genuinely animated by the music he is presenting, and jazz is sadly lacking in such commitment these days.  He told us that next year might be his final season — mournful news — unless more funding comes through.  Are there any wealthy jazz angels out there?  I’ll give you Jack’s phone number.

The first half of the concert was given over to David Ostwald’s Birdland band, augmented by pianist Mark Shane — Jon-Erik Kellso on cornet, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and vocals, Anat Cohen on clarinet, Howard Alden on banjo, Kevin Dorn on drums, and David on tuba.  LIMEHOUSE BLUES started the good works with some Krupa-flavored tom tom work from Kevin that got us sitting forward expectantly before anyone else had sounded a note.  And this hot version was subtly shaped by a one-chorus duet between Jon-Erik and Mark, perhaps recalling Louis and Earl or Ruby and Dick Hyman.  LONESOME ROAD had a lovely Shane solo and some extraordinary broad-toned playing from Wycliffe, who (for sheer abandon) must be the most accomplished trombonist on the planet.  A rocking YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY (which David dedicated, with a grin, to the concert’s producer) began with the verse — a boon! — and Kellso pulled off a floating Louis bridge, a great suspended arch in the sky, during his second chorus.  (In the middle, there was a fascinating duet for clarinet and piano, one set of lines weaving around the other.)  Since young players don’t get tired, Anat stayed onstage with the rhythm section for a gallop through Morton’s SHREVEPORT STOMP which showed how she and Howard could improvise, conversationally and contrapuntally, at top speed.  For his feature, Wycliffe chose something so familiar that it’s rarely played as itself — I GOT RHYTHM, which gave him an opportunity to sing, something he does with great charm.  During his three vocal choruses, he made his way by great leaps from a respectful reading of the lyrics to great Leo Watson figures.  He stayed at the vocal microphone (with a sheet of lyrics helpfully provided by David) for a brooding WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE, which began and ended with touching four-bar miniatures by Shane and had an interval of moody growling obbligato by Jon-Erik.  They closed the first half with a romp through ATLANTA BLUES (also known as “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor”) — with a hilariously intent solo by Kevin.

That would have been enough for almost anyone — but the second half provided other delights.  One of them was the presence of Dick Hyman, now 82 or thereabouts, up from Florida, his virtuosity undiminished.  He performed two standards — BODY AND SOUL and IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT (the latter with its pretty verse), showing how fertile his imagination is, how unbounded his energy.  Tatum, Bach, and McKenna, fugues and waltzes all put in appearances, but the result — sprawling and ingenious — was recognizable at every turn as pure Hyman.  In between, he paid tribute to the young man from Davenport with his original THINKING ABOUT BIX.  During his solo set, I became aware that the hall and the listeners were so quiet that the loud sound of Hyman’s tapping foot reverberated throughout the room.  Fats Waller got his nod with AFRICAN RIPPLES — a choice that made the gentleman next to me say happily to his Beloved, “I have the original 78,” beaming.  Hyman’s version was illuminated from within by his own ideas — it wasn’t a copy of the record — with a wonderful bounce.  A pensive, twining duet with Alden (now on guitar) on SOFTLY, IN A MORNING SUNRISE brought us from mid-Thirties Harlem to more harmonically exploratory lands.  It reminded me of one of my favorite recordings, the Pablo “Checkmate” — duets between Joe Pass and Jimmy Rowles. 

Then came the moments I had been waiting for.  I knew Joe Wilder (who will be 87 this month) was scheduled to play duets with Dick, and we could see him in the wings, his horns gleaming, waiting.  He came out and joined the fun for a fast SECRET LOVE, an inquiring, calling-in-the-highlands HOW ARE THINGS IN GLOCCA MORRA?, and SAMBA DE ORFEO.  Joe is a relentless critic of his own playing, and his brow was furrowed at some points, but a Wilder solo with a note or two that cracks is still a work of art — Joe, swimming upstream against the demands of metal tubing, lung power, and embouchure, is my hero. 

And the evening closed (as is Jack’s habit) with everyone on stage for a strutting performance of Waller’s THAT RHYTHM MAN, David Ostwald’s happily unhackneyed choice.  The band was flying, but the best part of this cheerful performance was that Mark and Dick did piano-acrobatics: you take the treble and I’ll take the bass; now, let’s switch; let’s each play sixteen bars.  Splendid, accomplished, and swinging.   

 It was frigid out last night — winds that would have done Coleman Hawkins proud made us all feel vulnerable and under-dressed.  But this concert let us warm ourselves through the music.   They don’t call it HOT JAZZ for nothing.  Highlights all ’round!