Tag Archives: ballad

WISTFUL STRENGTH: CHRIS HOPKINS at the PIANO

Say it simple: Chris Hopkins is such a fine pianist.

He is imaginative without being self-consciously “innovative”; he respects the composer’s intentions without being enslaved by the manuscript; he is both delicate and sure-footed.  The temptation, I think, is to play Eubie Blake’s MEMORIES OF YOU as eulogy or elegy even before the current world so violently changed shape, but Chris’ performance is tender and rueful without getting bogged down.  Admire his touch; his harmonies; his taste [he plays the verse, also].  And subscribe to his YouTube channel — why deprive yourself of pleasures?  It’s here, and there is space in the cyber-clubhouse for you.  Now, the music:

Chris’ “problem,” I say facetiously, is that he is also a world-class improviser on the alto saxophone, which he plays gloriously with the marvelous quartet of shape-changers called Echoes of Swing . . . you could look that up, too.  I think that, like me, you might have four bars of leisure time more than two months ago to admire his work — on CD and on YouTube — thoroughly. But of course I could be mistaken.

May your happiness increase!

THE ART OF THE RHYTHM BALLAD: MARTY GROSZ, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, HOWARD ALDEN, DAN BLOCK, KERRY LEWIS, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2012)

We all know what a ballad is — a rhapsodic experience, possibly melancholy, played or sung slowly.  But a “rhythm ballad” is something created in the Thirties: a sweet ballad played at a danceable tempo, so that you and your honey could swoon while doing those steps you had practiced at home.  Even when the lyrics described heartbreak, those performances had a distinct pulse, or as Marty Grosz says below, “I gotta wake up.”  Here are some moving examples of the form, performed during the closing ballad medley at Jazz at Chautauqua in September 2012.  First, Marty evokes 1931 Bing Crosby, then Rossano Sportiello honors Hoagy Carmichael, and Dan Barrett tenderly expresses a wish for gentle romantic possession:

Howard Alden’s melodic exposition of an early-Fifties pop hit:

Finally, Dan Block — incapable of playing dull notes — woos us in a Johnny Hodges reverie over imagined real estate:

It’s appropriate that this post begins with THANKS — words cannot convey my gratitude to these artists who continue to enrich our lives.  And I am particularly grateful to those who allowed me to aim a camera at them . . . so that we can all enjoy the results.

May your happiness increase!

NIGHTINGALES SINGING (November 29, 2014)

NIGHTINGALE

Beauty like this is so hard to create, so delicate, so profoundly meaningful.  I ask for five minutes of your deep attention: it will be rewarded memorably.

Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Chris Dawson, piano, Hal Smith, drums; Doug Finke, trombone; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar.  Recorded at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest.

Bless these artists for creating such beauty.  Without it, how would we go on?

May your happiness increase!

THE RETURN of MIKE and MIKE (LIPSKIN and HASHIM, Smalls, April 28, 2015)

Jazz thrives on individuality.  The Ancestors always emphasized that a musician’s sound had to be as personal as a voice, instantly recognizable. Ben Webster spent the early part of his career trying to sound like Coleman Hawkins — a necessary stage in the development — then he realized it was time to be Ben Webster.

Two staunch individualists, happily thriving and playing, are swing piano master / singer / composer Mike Lipskin and saxophone master (here on alto and soprano) Mike Hashim.  And here are five beauties from their most recent New York City duo-recital, performed for an attentive international audience at Smalls on West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village.

I could have called this post THREE SLOW, TWO ROMPING, but you’ll discern such qualities for yourself as you watch and listen.

James P. Johnson’s wistful love poem, ONE HOUR:

Billy Strayhorn’s reverie, DAY DREAM:

I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU, that lovely ballad, has nearly vanished from the jazz repertoire.  I’m glad that Mike and Mike have good memories:

For Bix and the Louisiana Sugar Babes, an affirmation, THOU SWELL:

And for Fats.  The history’s inaccurate but the music is on course. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:

Thank you, gentlemen!  Come back soon.

May your happiness increase!

MAKE TIME FOR BEAUTY: AHMED ABDUL-MALIK, SELDON POWELL, RAY NANCE, PAUL NEVES, WALTER PERKINS (1964)

You have to hear this.

Without fanfare, seven minutes of beauty: after a chiming piano introduction, a beautiful tenor chorus (more Lucky Thompson than Coleman Hawkins), an impassioned cornet chorus, a piano solo (improvising sweetly around the cornet’s closing phrase) that becomes a dialogue for everyone, with sweet thoughtful codas.

The players: Paul Neves, piano; Ahmed Abdul-Malik, string bass / leader; Walter Perkins, drums; Seldon Powell, tenor saxophone; Ray Nance, cornet. New York, March 12, 1964.

Jazz musicians had a strong attraction to BODY AND SOUL (think Louis, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum) even before Coleman Hawkins made his recording of it in 1939 — so this later exploration of the song by kindred spirits would have surprised no one.  Since this session was recorded for the STATUS label (a subsidiary of Prestige, devoted to jazz-for-people-who-didn’t-necessarily-consider-themselves-jazz-fans) I can imagine the session producer asking the musicians to stretch out on BODY AND SOUL as a familiar ballad.

But how beautiful their individual sounds are, and the collective mixture of serenity and intensity that results.  I remember with pleasure that even living in suburbia, I had an opportunity to see and hear Seldon Powell (leading a small group in a local park’s jazz concert series) and several to marvel at Ray Nance, one of the greatest — and least acknowledged — musicians ever.

I could think, with some regret, that this was the end of a great period where popular music and jazz could coexist in the consciousness of adult hearers; a year later, the Beatles would come to Shea Stadium and this equilibrium would never return in quite the same ways.

But for now, I will play BODY AND SOUL again.

May your happiness increase! 

ON THE CREST OF A THRILL: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI and MICHAEL KANAN CREATE BEAUTY (February 8, 2015)

What follows is so much more than a formulaic visit to the Great American Songbook by a singer and a pianist.  What Gabrielle Stravelli and Michael Kanan offer us here is nothing short of miraculous.

I think of the eloquent reedman, now gone, Leroy “Sam” Parkins, who — when confronted by music that was deeply heartfelt and expert without artifice — would hit himself in mid-chest and say, “Gets you right in the gizzard, doesn’t it?” And he spoke with great conviction about musicians who knew the sacred wisdom of “taking their time,” of letting beauty unfold at its own pace.

Sam never got to hear Gabrielle and Michael, but I sense his approving spirit.

The music here is so emotionally deep without play-acting (“Look how much drama we can wring out of this old song!”) and it is both intense and leisurely, because they know that the slow growth of real feeling cannot be hurried.

They offer a rich quiet mixture of delicacy and intensity; they create a wondrous synergy, inspiring one another.

The song is STAIRWAY TO THE STARS, music by Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli (both jazz improvisers who you’ll find on many recordings from the Twenties to the Sixties), lyrics by Mitchell Parish.  It’s a sweet ballad, but Gabrielle and Michael keep the tempo moving, even though it feels like a thoughtful rubato throughout.

Please note the absolutely reverent attention given to the nuances of melody that Michael brings to his somberly hopeful exposition of the theme — a completely satisfying musical offering in itself.  Then Gabrielle’s quietly hopeful song — with Michael playing the most sensitive intuitive accompaniment (and I see “accompaniment” here as a lovely friendship, with the two of them sweetly climbing those stairs as the lyrics suggest).

Gabrielle’s voice in itself is a rare thing, but what she does with and within it is simply incomparable:

This performance took place on Sunday, February 8, 2015 — at The Drawing Room, 56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn (easily reached by a half-dozen subway lines).  When I have brought myself and my camera to a place where such music is created in front of my eyes, I do not simply feel rewarded; I feel uplifted.  And grateful beyond my power to express here.

I also think this performance should remind people who dearly love music that it is being created right now, all around us.  It exists in human form: people with voices and instruments, inventing beauty on the spot. The music is large, vividly alive, and energized — in ways that earbuds cannot contain.  Even this video is a shadow on the cave wall — encapsulating the experience but not a complete equivalent for it.

My words are more than “Go and hear some live music,” although that is also my intent.  To be in a place where actual people are creating something like this in public is an experience more inspiring than clicking the icon to download the track . . . but many people seem to have forgotten this.  Honor the music by joining the creators, while it and they still thrive.

May your happiness increase!

ATLANTA WARMTH: ALLAN VACHE, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOHN COCUZZI, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, PAUL KELLER, DANNY COOTS (April 25, 2014)

Even in sunny Northern California, it can be quite chilly as the year ends, so I have been thinking of warm places with warm music.  One that came to mind instantly was the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party. Here’s a swing set performed there on April 25, 2014, by Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Paul Keller, string bass; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Danny Coots, drums.  It’s Goodman-inspired in terms of repertoire but anything but imitative, and Allan encourages everyone to stretch out in the most rewarding ways on three ensemble numbers and one ballad feature for Signor Pizzarelli.

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

A SMOOTH ONE:

DARN THAT DREAM (featuring Maestro Pizzarelli):

SEVEN COME ELEVEN:

The next AJP will take place April 17, 18, 19, 2015: click here for details.

May your happiness increase!

FOR IVIE: CECILE McLORIN SALVANT / DARYL SHERMAN at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 3, 2013)

Jazz parties sometimes are stereotyped as loud — raucous affairs where one high-energy band or singer succeeds another.  This isn’t true, and I offer this tender interlude from last year’s Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — in honor of Miss Ivie Anderson.  The very expressive Cecile McLorin Salvant is joined here by the underrated pianist (and much-loved singer) Daryl Sherman to summon up a vanished era and the entire Ellington band of 1937 in the Mack Gordon – Harry Revel THERE’S A LULL IN MY LIFE:

And although you may be completely captivated (and rightly so) by Cecile’s singing on a first hearing, I would draw your attention to Daryl’s perfectly subtle accompaniment — with the verse.  I think Daryl’s final chord is as touching as anything that has preceded it.

LULL IN MY LIFE sheet

Thank you, dear Cecile and Daryl.  And of course, Miss Ivie.

May your happiness increase!

 

“A LOVELY MAN”: PORTRAITS OF SPIKE MACKINTOSH

Thanks to Dave Gelly and his book AN UNHOLY ROW, I found out about the magnificently subtle musician, trumpeter Ian Robert “Spike” Mackintosh, and wrote this in his honor.

Ian Cuthbert, attentive and generous, pointed me to one volume of the British singer George Melly’s autobiography, OWNING-UP, where there was a brief but memorable “pen portrait” of my elusive hero.  Here it is — and I am pleased that Spike in person is as singular as his trumpet playing.

. . . there was a whole generation of jazz musicians in England who predated the revival [which Melly dates as beginning in 1951] and yet played swinging music in the Harlem style of the late thirties. Some were professionals . . . . Others were amateurs, and the most remarkable of these was a timber merchant called Ian “Spike” Mackintosh who played trumpet in the style of mid-period Louis Armstrong. Small and neat, a little mustache and horn-rimmed spectacles, he looked exactly what he was, two sons down at Public School and a house at Cuffley. But inside him was a wild man in chains. He played with extreme modesty, his back to the audience, and a green beret full of holes hanging over the bell of his trumpet. In conversation he was both courteous and restrained, but he could become very aggressive if anyone suggested that there was any other trumpet player except his hero.

At parties there was a psychological moment when he would lurch towards the gramophone and take off whatever record was playing if it hadn’t got a Louis on it, and substitute one that had. Another anti-social habit was his reaction when his host turned down the volume. He’d just wait until he wasn’t looking and turn it up again.

He once offered Mick [Mulligan] and me a lift home from a suburban jazz club in his car, and when we were safely inside, drove all the way out to Cuffley despite our protests. His wife was away, and he wanted us to sit up all night listening to Louis and drinking whisky. It was an enjoyable night, and it didn’t finish until three p.m. the following day when the local closed. It was just that we hadn’t planned on it. Mackintosh’s friends were another hazard: huge city men in waistcoats, and pre-war musicians with patent leather hair. . . . despite Mac’s party tricks and city mates, we all liked him very much. He was kind, loyal, and generous, and he could, when on form, play absolutely beautifully.

This comes from pages 100-1 of my paperback copy of OWNING-UP — a book whose spine was nearly broken at those pages.  Was its previous owner also looking for Spike?

And this reminiscence (in August 2014) by the very gracious Ralph Laing:

Spike was a well-off London timber merchant with a passion for jazz and Louis in particular. To my knowledge the only sides he cut commercially were the feature on Sandy Brown’s ‘Sandy’s Sidemen’ and the Wally Fawkes sides you have on Lake. Like Wally he was never a professional, and in his early days was an inveterate sitter-in. Sandy featured him usually on the 100 Club alfresco Thursday night. He had three loves – his sons (all well positioned, especially billionaire Cameron), Louis Armstrong and booze. As he got older the latter dominated and it was hard to get him to play, although he often carted his trumpet around. I persuaded him to do a few numbers with my band at a Edinburgh Festival sometime in the late 1980’s, and that was unusual. Stan Greig and I, though, did spend many hours with him at my flat in Edinburgh (he always attended the Festival), listening to Louis, Jabbo Smith and Jack Purvis.  He loved to talk about and listen to jazz, and was a founder member of the Codgers, a group of London musicians and ex-musicians who cared about music (and a drink) – Wally, Stan, Ian Christie and Jack Hutton (ex-Melody Maker editor) among them. When he died his sons mounted the greatest jazz wake in British history at the ‘Pizza On The Park’ taking over the downstairs supper/night club and dispensing endless refreshment to most of the jazz fraternity. Those present and still alive remember it with awe. The surviving Codgers still host an annual Xmas dinner in his memory. He was a lovely man, unlike most, endearing and funny in his cups. I miss him.

Leader of the Classic Jazz Orchestra Ken Mathieson came up with these anecdotes, “in the book THE BEST OF JAZZ SCORE, which consists of selected excerpts from the BBC radio programme of the same name”:

George Melly:
Spike McIntosh played trumpet with the Wally Fawkes Band in the late 1950s. He was a great fan of Messrs Gordon’s and Louis Armstrong. In fact I suspect his real reason for playing the trumpet was to capture other musicians and take them home with him in order to drink the product of one and listen to the product of the other.

Humphrey Lyttelton:
There is a lovely story about Spike McIntosh being at a party at Wally Fawkes’ house. In those days Wally had a large divider in his main room which was covered in pottery, glassware, bowls of fruit and that sort of thing. Typically, Spike was among the last to leave and, as he got himself out of an armchair, he stumbled into this divider which crashed to the floor with Spike sprawled across the wreckage.

The crash woke up Wally’s daughter, then about nine years old. She came out on to the landing in some distress. Prostrate in the middle of the wreckage, Spike saw her at the top of stairs and, with as much dignity as he could muster, he said “Shouldn’t that child be in bed?”

Although his famous son, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, has been acerbic when mentioning his father in interviews, he was more affectionate in his extended sketch for the book, DADS: A CELEBRATION OF FATHERHOOD BY BRITAIN’S FINEST AND FUNNIEST, ed. Sarah Brown and Gil McNeil (Random House, 2008). This excerpt begins with Spike in the Second World War:

. . . . he was blown up . . .in the Egyptian desert during Montgomery’s rout of Rommel, at the Battle of El Alamein, and was rescued by some passing Bedouins who took him back to Cairo where he lay unconscious for three months. While recuperating, he was summoned to play for King Farouk, whose son loved jazz. Throughout his adventures, Dad’s trusted trumpet never left his side or his hospital bed.

Jazz was his life and he played with a veritable Who’s Who of British jazz (Humphrey Lyttelton, Wally Fawkes, Sandy Brown to name but a few). He even played with his hero Louis Armstrong whose style he closely mirrored, and, at one impromptu gig, Louis borrowed Dad’s treasured Selmer trumpet so he could join in. However, Dad had to make a living as a timber merchant to feed and educate three hungry boys — especially me — as jazz simply didn’t pay that much. The fact that Dad couldn’t make music his sole profession had one silver lining for myself and my two brothers, Nicky and Robert, as he always encouraged us to do anything we wanted as a career. His other great example was that he always went through life thinking the best of people — ‘jolly good chap’ — and was genuinely disappointed if they turned out to be ‘a rotter.’  This was counterbalanced by our mother’s far more beady approach to life.

Having met my mother Diana in Naples towards the end of the war, when they were both working for E.N.S.A., the Army’s entertainment division, he was no stranger to the flamboyance of show business, so I had no opposition to my dreams of being a theatre producer, nor did my youngest brother, Nicky, in becoming a chef or my middle brother Robert, in going into the music business, as both a writer and a record producer. Dad still managed to play regularly throughout his life and made several terrific recordings with his colleagues.

In retrospect, one of his other great gifts to us was taking us to see many of the jazz greats in their prime and sometimes introducing us to them after the show. Who could forget the dazzling concerts of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Louis Armstrong? The brilliant trombone playing of Jack Teagarden, the haunting saxophone of Johnny Hodges, the dazzling piano playing of Art Tatum and Earl Hines, and going to an intimate Ronnie Scott’s to see Ella Fitzgerald.

Every time I hear these great artists on the radio, I go, ‘Thanks Dad,’ and hear him ‘Zaba Doo Zatz’ in his inimitable musical ‘Satchmo’ growl, as he gratefully sips another pint.  

Two more visual portraits: the front and back cover of the vinyl issue of SANDY’S SIDEMEN, devoted to compositions by trumpeter Al Fairweather:

SANDY'S SIDEMEN lp cover

Spike, caricatured, at the top.

SANDY'S SIDEMEN lp backand a few words by Sandy Brown about Spike and his work on the “straight ballad,” HIGH TIME.

But the most affecting portrait of Spike Mackintosh I can offer is his music. Here is my homemade video of HIGH TIME, where his playing is both delicate and powerful. (The volume level is low, but you can always repair that.):

I need to know more about the reticent creator of such beauty.

May your happiness increase!

A ROSARY OF TEARS: CECILE McLORIN SALVANT SINGS AT WHITLEY BAY (November 1, 2013)

The very intense young singer Cecile McLorin Salvant sings MEMORIES OF YOU, which we don’t always characterize as a memorable “torch song,” at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, with the estimable assistance of Ben Cummings, trumpet; Alistair Allan, trombone; Jean-Francois Bonnel, tenor saxophone; Martin Seck, piano; Malcolm Sked, string bass; Spats Langham, guitar; and Nick Ward, drums. For details about this year’s Classic Jazz Party, please click here.

May your happiness increase!

SOMETHING TENDER: GEORGE and EVELYN BARNES by ALEXANDRA LEH

Like many jazz fans, I first heard the guitarist George Barnes on record. He had a swaggering attack and a powerfully recognizable sound, whether he was cutting through a big band record date or shaking up the group behind Louis Armstrong in 1956-7. In the early Seventies, I was able to see and hear him in person with Ruby Braff, George Duvivier, Dick Hyman, Jo Jones, Michael Moore, Wayne Wright — often in the brilliant Braff-Barnes Quartet.

Because Barnes had a way of attacking his notes that sounded like small swing firecrackers, I was utterly unprepared for the tender beauty of this performance. It is even more tender when you learn that it was something he played on the final day of his life. His daughter Alexandra has created this video tribute to her father, his music, and his beloved wife Evelyn — appropriately the music is ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

What beauty and what a tribute!

May your happiness increase!

DAWN LAMBETH: MOONBEAMS AT MONTEREY

Polka

POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS, by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, was Frank Sinatra’s first big hit record.

Although the lyrics take odd turns — initially one stumbles over the idea of a “pug-nosed dream” as the brand-new Love Object, it remains an endearing song.  Lester Young, Clifford Brown, Paul Desmond, Glenn Miller, and Wes Montgomery recorded it, among others.

The song seemed especially endearing this past March when Dawn Lambeth sang it during a Van Heusen tribute set at Dixieland Monterey / Jazz Bash by the Bay, accompanied by Yve Evans and friends.

One of my favorite singers, Dawn is a sophisticated artist who manages to make the dream-castles she creates seem real, withour straining.  Easy and casual; she summons up deep emotions without feeling the need to act them out.  A performance by Dawn lingers in the memory with sweet swing.  Her song winds its way into our hearts.

Incidentally, the song has a verse that no one sings — a very brief prelude to introduce the story of love found in a garden:

Would you care to hear the strangest story? / At least it may seem strange to you. / If you saw it in a moving picture / You would say it couldn’t be true.  

But Dawn makes it perfectly true.

May your happiness increase! 

SCOTT ROBINSON and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2012: FROM THEIR HEARTS TO OURS

We live at a rapid pace.  But I hope you can take two minutes for heartfelt beauty, created by Scott Robinson (taragoto) and Rossano Sportiello (piano) at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2012: WHAT WILL I TELL MY HEART:

Here are the lyrics:

I’ll try to explain to friends, dear
The reason we two are apart
I know what to tell our friends, dear
But what will I tell my heart

It’s easy to say to strangers
That we played a game from the start
It’s easy to lie to strangers
But what will I tell my heart

When I smile to hide all the tears inside
What an ache it will bring
Then I’ll wander home to a telephone
That forgot how to ring.

I could say you’ll soon be back, dear
To fool the whole town may be smart
I’ll tell them you’ll soon be back, dear
But what will I tell my heart.

And here is the story behind the song, as told by lyricist Jack Lawrence.

WHAT WILL I TELL MY HEART

I continue to marvel at something we don’t always pay attention to — the way great creators use metal, wood, strings, breath, and fingers to make inanimate objects — musical instruments — sing with the sweet lightness and gravity of human souls.  Thank you, Scott and Rossano!

This post is for Barb Hauser, who loves this melody.

May your happiness increase!

“THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL”: DAN BARRETT, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOE COHN, JOEL FORBES at THE EAR INN (Sunday, September 30, 2012)

Wonderful!

This beautiful Irving Berlin love-ballad was first sung by Ethel Merman (and her male partner, Ray Middleton) in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1946) — and it has been treated lovingly by all manner of singers and instrumentalists — Sinatra and Ruby Braff, Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane, Doris Day, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Scott . . .


But this song got a lovely, sweetly swinging performance last Sunday, September 30, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) because of those Masters of Wonder, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Joe Cohn, guitar; Joel Forbes, string bass.

I think that “wonderful” used to mean worthy of our amazed admiration, full of wondrous things.  It seems an appropriate description for the music at The Ear Inn every Sunday night from 8 – 11 PM.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: BUCKY PIZZARELLI, ROMANTIC MAGICIAN (April 20, 2012)

Bucky Pizzarelli knows how to do it.  He can quiet a crowd and hold their attention — magically make us spellbound as he sweetly makes his way through music full of light and shade.  He did this once again at the Atlanta Jazz Party, all by himself, with a set that was simultaneously a work of art and the sort of thing our Mister Bucky does quite naturally.  Listen, watch (his facial expressions show that creating such high art is never easy), and be moved.

A sweet DARN THAT DREAM, more light-hearted than exasperated:

Harold Arlen’s lovely melodies, mixing memory, regret, and hope (LAST NIGHT WHEN WE WERE YOUNG / OUT OF THIS WORLD / A SLEEPIN’ BEE):

I didn’t know the title or origin of this song, but thanks to Song Sleuth Rebecca Kilgore (also a charter Friend of Melody and of Bucky) I now do — TRES PALABRAS, sung so passionately by the late Javier Solis:

Something for Bix and Bill Challis, IN A MIST:

Remarkable, no?  Great Romantic music accomplished with such feeling and skill.

May your happiness increase.

LOVE IN SWINGTIME (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011)

Jazz isn’t binary by nature, but occasionally it seems to fit Groucho Marx’s whimsical definition of the two kinds of Broadway plays: Sad or High-Kicking.  What was played at Jazz at Chautauqua on September 15, 2011 (the informal Thursday night sessions) went beyond those categories, but they will do for now.  Here are two splendid examples.

LOVE, of course, is personified by Harry Allen, tenor sax; Rossano Sportiello, piano, supported by Glenn Holmes, bass; Bill Ransom, drums — whispering through the Rodgers and Hart MY ROMANCE:

SWINGTIME came out to play with Randy Sandke and Duke Heitger, trumpets; Scott Robinson, Dan Block, and Andy Stein, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Jon Burr, bass; John Von Ohlen, drums — having a good time with STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

Something for everyone!

TIMES THREE: JIM FRYER at Birdland (Dec. 1, 2010)

The Beloved and I braved the ominous weather last Wednesday night to see David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band at Birdland.  Onstage with David were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet, alto, and vocal; Jim Fryer, trombone, euphonium, and vocal; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums.

High-powered indeed! 

Early in the evening, David asked Jim to take a solo feature.  Trombonists in such settings often think of their hero, Jack Teagarden, and rely on BASIN STREET BLUES or STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, but although Jim admires Big T, he has other things in mind.  And the song he chose was THE GYPSY, famous in some circles as one of the few pop songs that both Louis Armstong and Charlie Parker immortalized. 

In a very few minutes, Jim showed off — casually and modestly — every facet of his considerable talents: his smooth and elegant playing of the possibly-ungraceful euphonium, then his sleek and suave approach to the trombone. 

In between his two instrumental selves, he sang both verse and chorus in the most convincing yet understated way.  Clearly he understands that each song is its own story, its own drama, and he invites the audience into the world of that song, without “dramatizing” it or copying anyone.  There’s something of the great crooners in his approach, but nothing’s “nostalgic” or mannered. 

It was a quietly masterful performance, but those of us who have observed Jim at close range expect no less.  In fact, when we see he’s at a gig, or notice him coming through the door to sit in, we get comfortable and eagerly expectant: something good is going to happen!  As it does here:

And watching this video performance again, it struck me that Jim (like so many of his colleagues) is someone who, in another decade, would have been a star of popular television, with a large, enthralled audience.  Those of my readers who recall THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW . . . can’t you see Jim on it?  Alas that such a thing is no longer possible: we will have to content ourselves with seeing Jim in person, not a bad consolation at all.

A SOARING “SKYLARK”

Hoagy Carmichael’s SKYLARK is not the usual ballad — it has Beiderbeckian twists and turns; its harmonic structure is far from the usual sequence.  But Duke Heitger, Dan Block, Bob Havens, Ehud Asherie, Jon Burr, and Arnie Kinsella gave it a wonderful reading at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua.  You’ll notice that Ehud gets everyone in the right pensive mood with a sideways glance at IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW in his introduction.  And the first chorus is a small miracle of melodic embellishment, as the three horns and Ehud each respectfully put their own shine on the melody, Jon and Arnie quietly keeping the beat behind them.  Heroic Dan Block (bold explorer!) creates an entirely new melody — in the fashion of mid-period Lester or the Bird of EMBRACEABLE YOU — that both soars above the original and keeps reminding us of its beauties.  Duke, not to be outdone, creates a small masterpiece that alternates between heart-on-sleeve straightforward statements and decorative flourishes, with never a sixteenth note out of place.  After Bob’s eloquently singing solo (shades of Jack Teagarden, of course), the horns join chorally behind Duke — as he sings it out, to the skies, in the manner of Fifties Ruby Braff or Thirties Louis.  We need more beauty like this in our lives, and not just at jazz parties.

“ONE HOUR” WITH HUMPH AND HENRI CHAIX

YouTube is full of moving surprises: this is a 1982 quartet performance by Humphrey Lyttelton (tpt), Henri Chaix (p), John Treichler (b), and Gerry Ceccaroni (dr).  Other concert clips feature Lyttelton, Chaix, and Acker Bilk (cl) with the Harlem Ramblers Dixieland Band from Zurich.  (www.harlemramblers.ch)

Lyttelton was so multi-talented, in and out of music, that people sometimes forget that he was one of the great lyrical trumpeters of the last century: he could sing a ballad in a deeply feeling way.  And Chaix, also now gone, was a wonderful soloist and superb accompanist. 

James P. Johnson’s seriously pretty song is often flattened out through bands that trot trhough it at a medium-tempo.  Humph and Henri take its sweet sentiments to heart — which is, after all, what this music is all about.

When Vic Dickenson used to sing “One Hour” and get to the title phrase, he would emphatically hold up two fingers, letting us know that what he wanted to accomplish would take twice the time.  In his honor, why not watch this performance twice?  It deserves no less.