Tag Archives: Bandcamp

ELISE ROTH WEARS THREE HATS, AT LEAST

A friend whose taste I trust asked, “Have you heard the singer Elise Roth? I think you’d be impressed.” I report: I am not only impressed, but triply so.

Many people underestimate how difficult it is to sing effectively, and how arduous it is to be a “jazz singer.” Much more is involved than glamour, hair styling, lovely clothes, and a repertoire of ten songs ranging from WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO to MY FUNNY VALENTINE, all learned from famous (read: “over-familiar”) recordings. A genuine singer needs more than the stage presence required to stand up, open one’s mouth and glide along in an approximate relationship to one’s accompaniment.

But rather than rant about the depths of what is offered to us as the real thing, I present to you someone impressive and delightfully versatile. Elise Roth has at least three artistic selves, each one a wow. She’s also known as Elise M. Roth — two names, appropriate for someone so vividly diversified without a hint of multiple-personality disorder.

The first thing you’ll hear — no matter which of the selves you encounter — is the beauty of Elise’s voice, whether she’s deep in romance, sprightly in a swing tune, or enjoying herself more than the laws allow in mockery. Her classical training is evident, but it isn’t a hindrance: she never sounds like Lily Pons trying to swing. She has elegant diction, a fine sense of melody and the melodic line, and a serious rhythmic awareness. Her musicianship comes through no matter what the context.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present not one but three Ms. Roths: ROMANTIC, SWINGER, and COMEDIAN.

(However, she has but one YouTube channel. I don’t make the rules.)

The ROMANTIC (with superb accompaniment by Eric Baldwin):

She’s impassioned but in complete control, and the looseness of her second vocal interlude is charming and convincing. It’s a polished performance, but it has the relaxation of an assured musician, secure enough in the song to be able to move around within it. And her sound!

How about an even more difficult test — EASY LIVING, so associated with Billie and Lester that it’s a trap for most singers, one Elise avoids by singing the song in her own way, on its own terms:

Superb accompaniment here by Eric Baldwin, Alex Olsen, George Darrah, and Sahil Warsi as well.

But Elise is also a well-established big band singer, performing with Dan Gabel and the Abeltones, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, and her own Harvard Squares. And, as any experienced singer will tell you, working with a large ensemble requires even more intuition and art than being your own boss in front of the microphone. These live videos don’t always present her voice with the same resonant closeness, but they give an idea of how well she sings in real life.

MOON RAY:

and here she is in New York City in front of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, for HUMMIN’ TO MYSELF, displaying a fine rhythmic ease and her own wit (“rehearsin’ all afternoon”):

and most recently, with her own Harvard Squares for I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE:

Then, the COMEDIAN. Or should I say the CLEVER SATIRIST? Elise’s ever-expanding magnum opus in her own splendidly quirky field is what she calls THE GARBLED AMERICAN SONGBOOK, VOLUME ONE. And I quote, “In 2018, I started running the lyrics to jazz standards from the Great American Songbook through Google Translate, via several different languages and then back into English. I don’t know what possessed me to do this. This is the result.”

This, indeed.

as well as This (Jacob Hiser, piano):

and, finally, This:

Enjoy her equilibrium as she rode the ungainly lyrics over the familiar melodies — the result somewhere between Leo Watson and Ulysses . . . in swing, of course.

I hope you are as impressed as I am, and want to hear more / see more of Elise Roth, with or without the M. How to accomplish this? She is currently in London, and here you can find her gig calendar. But for those of us not near Covent Garden, the news is still reassuring: on her Bandcamp page, you can find links to her first effort, CHECKING OUT! (where GOOM-BYE comes from), THE GARBLED AMERICAN SONGBOOK, VOLUME ONE, and her latest, ELISE ROTH’S 2nd SWING EP: A SOCIALLY DISTANCED COLLABORATION.

I’ve enjoyed all three, and I look forward to what the talented Ms. Roth will surprise us with next.

Oh, my title. When I wrote to Elise to introduce myself and express my pleasure, I launched my then-working title to see if she would approve. Her reaction? “Three hats, sounds great! Funnily enough I have worked at a hat shop, though wearing three at a time was frowned upon 🙂

So her wit is real. And, as you can see and hear, her art is also.

May your happiness increase!

DANCE WHILE PURRING, AND THE REVERSE: HAL SMITH’S JAZZOLOGISTS (2021)

A long prelude, but with a point.

Julian Barnes has an extraordinary story in his 2005 collection THE LEMON TABLE, “A Short History of Hairdressing,” in which the narrator recounts his life as a series of haircuts.

It amuses me to offer my life in a few lines as a purchaser of recorded music:

Fifty-five years ago, when my mother went shopping in a department store, I ran off and bought a Louis Armstrong long-playing record for $2.79 plus tax.  Thirty years ago, I stopped off at Tower Records on my way home from work and bought an Arbors or a Concord CD for $16 and hid it in my briefcase so it wouldn’t be seen and cause an argument.  In the past twelve months, although I still buy music from Amazon and eBay and the musicians themselves, the music cornucopia has become Bandcamp.com, where one can hear and purchase all sorts of divinely inspired improvised music — from Bob Matthews to Brad Linde and Freddie Redd, to Gordon Au, Keenan McKenzie, Jonathan Doyle, The Vitality Five, The Dime Notes, Andrew Oliver, Michael McQuaid and two dozen more . . . and now, a wonderful addition to Hal Smith’s catalogue of inspiring music.

This isn’t a collection of howling, meowing, and hissing: no need to open the window and shout “STOP THAT!” at the feline orgy below.  Rather, it’s hot New Orleans dance music.  Hal [one of the greatest swinging drummers on the planet, and that’s no stage joke] says, of this brand-new session, “a sound somewhere between Bunk’s band (if Don Ewell had been the pianist) and the 1964 ‘Jazzology Poll Winners.'”

Filet of soul — not canned or freeze-dried.  I confess to always entering into an emotional relationship with music — those rare and delicious effusions that make me feel warmly embraced.  Hal’s new disc does that.

Here, listen.  And I believe that Bandcamp waives its fees on Friday, so the musicians get more of the hot savory pie.

The facts, ma’am (thinking of Jack Webb, if you remember):

Hal Smith (drums, leader); Clint Baker (trumpet, vocal on MY LITTLE GIRL); John Gill (trombone); Ryan Calloway (clarinet); Kris Tokarski (piano); Bill Reinhart (banjo); Katie Cavera (string bass).  YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE / ARKANSAS BLUES / BLUE MASK STOMP / HONEY BABE / SAN SUE STRUT / BLACK CAT ON THE FENCE / BLUE FOR YOU, BUNK / MY LITTLE GIRL //

Jake Hanna said — often — “What are you waiting for the last chorus of a tune to swing?  Start swinging from the beginning!” and this band does, no matter what the tempo.  Twenty years ago, a work-colleague would say, “You ROCK!” as

Before I heard a note, I was happy with the tune list.  Occasionally I think, “If I hear one more JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH ME or PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE or SI TU VOIS MA MERE I will bang my head into the wall — don’t try this, it ruins the paint — but the avoidance of tediously overplayed songs was immediately refreshing.  Aside from the homage to Bunk Johnson’s repertoire, there are affectionate glances at Messrs. Morton, Manone, Bechet, and others.

It’s a band with New Orleans in their hearts — strong melodic improvisations, a pulsating supportive rhythm section, and a delightfully idiosyncratic front line making SOUNDS.  There is a refreshing reliance on ensemble playing, and a return to one of my favorite things: one player offering a straight but swinging melody while the other improvises around it.

I said it was warm — and warming — music.  I hear other bands full of players I admire hewing so closely to the recordings that the collective effect is technically dazzling but a little cool to the touch.  The Jazzologists know the score (pun intended) but they romp all on their own.  And they don’t fall into the reverent trap of imitating the limitations of venerable senior players.  They play.

And it’s a triumph of passion as well as technology.  Yes, it was created remotely, with players in six cities — but the groove is such that you wouldn’t know it.

Not for the first time in my adult life have I lamented the disconnect between my ears and heart (those parts that receive the music and revel in it) and my rather stiff stubborn legs.  But hearing this disc, I would happily dance around the kitchen, not caring how goofy I might look.  It’s that inspiring.

To be a good critic, one must find flaws, or so it seems.  That was hard with this session — now on its fifth playing as I write this — but I did find one thing to complain about.  I wish this had been a digital two-CD set.  Maybe in a few months (what is the feline gestation period?) there can be Kittens?

Swing, you cats! — here.

May your happiness increase!

“LATCH ON TO THAT RHYTHM” AND OTHER SWING TREATS: MICHAEL GAMBLE AND HIS VERY SWINGING FRIENDS

Michael Gamble amid friends. How many swing stars do you recognize?

In person, bandleader-string bassist Michael Gamble is quiet and unassuming, but he really knows how to swing.  It’s a pleasure to tell you about four new digital-EP releases by his virtual groups, now available at Bandcamp. Those who like can skip the rest of this post and go directly there to listen.

They sound great, which is particularly remarkable, considering how hard the musicians have to work to make music in “isolation sessions.”

Michael explains, “All recordings from this series were made remotely, each of the 18 musicians (from 9 states) playing either in their homes, home-studios, or whatever they could make work! Despite the logistical challenges, we were determined to make an artistically cohesive and exciting project. Sections were pieced together painstakingly to make sure that no part was recorded prior to something that it needed to react creatively to, which often required multiple takes by the same musician on the same tune, spread over weeks. We believe the result — while certainly different in feel than prior Rhythm Serenaders albums which were recorded live in a single room — is a special set of recordings with their own completely unique flavor. We hope they’ll be enjoyed for years to come!”

I can swear to that last sentence.  Without a hint of museum dustiness, it is as if Michael and friends lifted me out of my chair and teleported me to splendid sessions truly happening, let us say, between 1934 and 1947.  Or, if you prefer, he came to my house and gave me a waist-high stack of perfectly recorded 16″ transcription discs of all my heroes and heroines.  Both of those science-fiction scenarios require a suspension of disbelief: all you have to do to drink at the extraordinary Fountain of Swing is to go here and buy yourself and friends holiday and early-holiday and post-holiday presents.  (Friday, December 4, by the way, is one of Bandcamp’s special days where all the proceeds go to the musicians, with no fees deducted, so it’s a wonderful time to do this.)

The musical worlds (note plural) Michael and friends live in are so spacious that each of these has its own distinctive flavor, which I will try to describe.

Volume One, LATCH ON TO THAT RHYTHM, goes like this:
Somebody Loves Me / Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise / Lester Smooths It Out / Bounce Me Brother, with a Solid Four / Did I Remember? / Joe Louis Stomp / One Never Knows, Does One? and the musicians are Laura Windley, vocals (1, 4, 5, 7); Dan Levinson, clarinet / tenor; Noah Hocker, trumpet; Jonathan Stout, acoustic and electric guitars / Chris Dawson, piano; Michael Gamble, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  The overall flavor is multi-layered, with tastes of mid-Thirties Wilson and Billie, the Gramercy Five, and a splendid infusion of 1946 Aladdin and Keynote.  Even if the references mean little to you, hear how good the band sounds on JOE LOUIS STOMP.  And listen to Laura Windley work her magic on ONE NEVER KNOWS, DOES ONE? — that rarest of compositions, a song about the magic of love balancing frail hope and deep melancholy.  (By the way, it’s a Mack Gordon-Harry Revel creation from 1936, and although everyone knows it from Billie, it’s first sung by Alice Faye in a Shirley Temple film.  Consider that.)

Volume Two, EFFERVESCENT SWING, features
A Sunbonnet Blue (and a Yellow Straw Hat) / Coquette  / Me, Myself, and I / South / Am I Blue? / Sweet Sue / Effervescent Blues / Tickle-Toe, and some of the same rascals are present: Laura Windley (1, 3, 5); Dan Levinson (tenor 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; clarinet 5; alto 8); Chloe Feoranzo  (clarinet 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8; tenor 6); David Jellema, cornet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jonathan Stout; James Posedel, piano; Michael Gamble, Hal Smith.  The flavors — still delicious — are a little different.  Think the small-group Basie riffing of the Kansas City Six; toss with Reuss and Catlett seasonings; add some Commodore Condon rideouts; mix gently with the Charlie Christian – Benny Goodman Sextet (yes, I have those names in the right order); several tablespoons of 1938 Bobby Hackett, top with modern tailgate from Charlie Halloran, and you get the idea.  And the three songs associated with Billie — and sung gloriously by Laura — have sly arrangements that honor the period but don’t copy the records.  For one instance only, hear how the rideout of ME, MYSELF, AND I nods to LAUGHING AT LIFE, and Michael’s cross-dressing riffs that start off AM I BLUE remarkably.  So rewarding.  For musical samples, hie thyself to the Bandcamp page!

Volume Three, DIGGIN’ IN THE DEN, offers these daily specials: Good Morning Blues / Scuttlebutt / I’m Painting the Town Red / Tumble Bug / It’s Like Reaching for the Moon / Diggin’ in the Den / Honeysuckle Rose  — performed by these swing alchemists, Laura Windley (3, 5); Keenan McKenzie (clarinet / tenor); Gordon Au (trumpet); Jonathan Stout; Craig Gildner (piano); Michael Gamble; Riley Baker (drums).  Here, the recipe calls for a dark Kansas City groove (think Eddie Durham, Lips Page, Dick Wilson), with equal parts Gramercy 5 pre-bop gloss, Lady Day Vocalions (the gorgeous trumpet-tenor interplay at the start of IT’S LIKE REACHING FOR THE MOON) — all mixed together with modern ingenuity harking back to Basie and Ellington small groups but sounding fresh — even on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which (admit it!) has been played to shreds in its various incarnations.

Volume Four THE GAMBLER, unwraps its digital box to reveal these gifts: Something to Pat Your Foot To / The Gambler / Smokey Shoulders / Sunday / Cotton Tail / Night Bloom / What’s the Fuss? / Bottoms Up.  The musicians radiating expert joy here are Laura Windley (4); Keenan McKenzie (clarinet and tenor); Jacob Zimmerman (clarinet and alto); Gordon Au; Lucian Cobb (trombone); Jonathan Stout; Chris Dawson; Michael Gamble; Josh Collazo (drums).  Here the aura is pleasantly situated between just-after-the-war sessions led by Sir Charles Thompson and Illinois Jacquet and the late-Forties Basie band.  I hear a good deal of mute work from the brass (all those not-terribly frightening snarls and growls) and glistening late-Forties electrified Reuss, with reed playing that soars and slides.  COTTON TAIL leaps over the fence likea caffeinated bunny, the originals stick in my head — always a good sign — and the last few tracks nudge so wondrously into what I’d call 1951 Clef Records territory.

If you’ve lost your way in the forest of words, the musical oasis can be found here.  I encourage you to visit there now, or December 4, or any old time.

Three things.  One is that I listened to all four discs in one sitting (a tea break between Two and Three doesn’t count) with delight, never looking at my watch.

Second, if you ever meet one of the Official Jazz Codgers who grumps, “Oh, these kids today try, but they don’t know how to swing,” I encourage you to box his ears with digital copies of this music — a wild metaphor, but you’ll figure it out — until he stops speaking nonsense.

Three, a paradox.  These are “isolation sessions,” with everyone miles apart, earbuds or headsets, praying for swing synchronicity — and that is a miracle itself.  (Ask any musician who’s participated in such rigors.)  But as I listen to this music, I feel much less alone — less isolated, to be exact.  Try it and see if you don’t feel the same way.

May your happiness increase!

YOU’LL WANT TO TAKE THEM HOME: THE OXBLOOD MELODIANS

Those who have visited my apartment would agree that it resembles as a homemade record store-yard sale.  Or a spousal nightmare.  Over there, a George Barnes lp, on that table an Eddie Miller cassette; on top of some papers, a Jimmie Rowles CD, and then there are the 78s — which, I say proudly, are in alphabetical order.  So I don’t need any more music right away.

Sorry, I was proven wrong this morning when I had a chance to hear and purchase the Oxblood Melodians’ debut CD on Bandcamp.  Listen to the first track here while you read.

I had heard of the band — rather like one of those listings in Brian Rust that you know were once recorded (Adrian Rollini, Teddy Bunn, and Frank Froeba, 1930) but you have never heard — I knew some of the musicians, but did not know that they would appear, fully-feathered, to me, this Friday, August 7.  More about that date shortly.

For now, some enticing data.  Or you can read it all for yourself here if you are a proud independent cuss who don’t take help from nobody.

We are excited to present The Oxblood Melodians. This self-titled album is the collaboration of Jonathan Doyle & David Jellema, and features many of our favorite Austinites and honorary Austinites. Our goal was to create an ensemble that evokes the New York and Chicago small groups of the mid-late 1920s, with bass saxophone in the bass role and embracing both jazz and blues traditions. The Oxblood Melodians are named in part after the oxblood lilies that grace Austin and central Texas yards in the fall (including our own). Recorded at the legendary “Dandyville” by Alex Hall in 2014, these sides have been simmering and gestating, waiting for just the right moment to be released into the world. That time is finally upon us!

Day 1 :: 4,5,6,7,10,12,14
Alice Spencer—vocals 6 & 14
David Jellema—cornet &/or clarinet
Lyon Graulty—clarinet &/or tenor saxophone
Mark Gonzales—trombone (except 7)
Westen Borghesi—tenor banjo (+vocal on 12)
Jonathan Doyle—bass saxophone
Hal Smith—drum set 4,6,12,14

Day 2 :: 1,2,3,8,9,11,13
Alice Spencer—vocals 1,2,9
Austin Smith—violin
David Jellema—cornet &/or clarinet
Lyon Graulty—clarinet &/or tenor saxophone
J.D. Pendley—guitar & tenor banjo
Jonathan Doyle—bass saxophone (+contra-alto clarinet 3 only)

1. Louis-I-An-Ia (Day 2) / (Joe Darensbourg) dir. D.Jellema

2. Oh Daddy Blues / (William Russell / Ed Herbert) arr. D.Jellema, J.D.Pendley

3. Dardanella / (Fred Fisher / Felix Bernard / Johnny S. Black) arr. D.Jellema

4. Goose Pimples / (Jo Trent / Fletcher Henderson) adpt. J.Doyle

5. New Orleans Shuffle / (Bill Whitmore) dir. D.Jellema

6. Of All the Wrongs You’ve Done to Me / (Lew Payton / Chris Smith / Edgar Dowell) dir. D.Jellema

7. Farewell Blues / (Paul Mares / Leon Roppolo / Elmer Schoebel) dir. D.Jellema

8. Cryin’ All Day / (Frank Trumbauer / Chauncey Morehouse) arr. D.Jellema

9. Don’t Give All the Lard Away / (Lockwood Lewis / Henry Clifford) adpt. J.Doyle

10. Feel the River Move / (David Jellema / Rod Jellema) dir. D.Jellema

11. Old Stack O’Lee Blues / (Sidney Bechet) dir. D.Jellema

12. Love Affairs / (Al Dubin / J. Russel Robinson) adpt. J.Doyle

13. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams / (Ted Koehler / Billy Moll / Harry Barris) dir. D.Jellema

14. Louis-I-An-Ia (Day 1) / (Joe Darensbourg) dir. D.Jellema

Some of the repertoire will point us to “the dear boy” from Davenport, but this is both a humble tribute to him and an understanding that our heroes prize individuality the most.  So this isn’t a bunch of kids dressing up for Halloween: “I want be Bessie this year!  How come you always get to be Bessie?” “Your brother gets to be Larry Binyon this year.  I promised him.”  “Let us be.  Mom and I are going as Fats Waller.”  

Rather, what you will hear is a group of dear musical friends, exuberant and precise, who know the history and have their own songs to sing.  Too many delights to elucidate here: I’d rather you head over to Bandcamp directly.  Why the rush? Because today Bandcamp gives all the proceeds to the artists and takes no fees.  So if you haven’t been able to hear some live jazz, hear this lively version: it will make you glad.  

“Believe me,” as Alice tells us at the end of OH DADDY BLUES.

May your happiness increase!

TRANSLUCENT SERENADES: “DUETS FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C”– MICHAEL McQUAID and CURTIS VOLP (Bandcamp, 2020)

Artwork by Nicholas D. Ball

I’ve known the multi-instrumentalist and jazz scholar Michael McQuaid for ten years now (we first met at the Whitley Bay Jazz Party, on a bus from the airport, if I remember); I just became Facebook friends with guitarist Curtis Volp.  This post is to let you know about their brand-new CD — can I call it a CD if it only, for the moment, exists intangibly? — available here.  There you can hear the first track for free, no obligations implied or expressed.

Some words, not mine, but right on target:

Established hot jazz authority Michael McQuaid and youthful guitar virtuoso Curtis Volp team up for a dynamic yet intimate series of duets, for no reason at all – other than musical enjoyment, of course.

The album features a surprising array of tunes from the 1920s and 30s, ranging from familiar favourites like ‘The Man I Love’ and ‘Melancholy’ to unjustly neglected gems such as ‘Forget-Me-Not’ and ‘If I Can’t Have You’.

Though inspired by the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Johnny Dodds, Frank Trumbauer, Annette Hanshaw, Eddie Lang and Teddy Bunn, the duo achieves a fresh new sound through their warm and witty musical dialogue.

Some facts, now that you’ve figured out the personnel.  The songs are THERE AIN’T NO LAND LIKE DIXIELAND TO ME / WITHOUT THAT GAL! / FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C / MELANCHOLY / THE MAN I LOVE / LOTS O’MAMA / MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES / BLUE RIVER / FORGET-ME-NOT / LOOKING AT THE WORLD (Thru’ Rose-Colored Glasses) / IF I CAN’T HAVE YOU / WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD / BECHET’S STEADY RIDER /

And another sample:

Some random observations, because it seems important to me to make the JAZZ LIVES readership aware of this music right now.  I’m on my third playing, because when the “disc” ended the first time, I was shocked.  “Is it over?  Is that all?” which you can take as a positive endorsement.

The music is nicely varied — in tempo, in mood, in emotions and emotional associations.  Several of the more morose songs (you’ll know them when you hear them) are taken a little more brightly than is conventional, but the approach works.  Both Michael and Curtis are free, imaginative players, but they clearly love the melodies, so no track is a blowing exercise on the chord changes.  The person who has been deep in the music for a half-century (wait, that’s me!) can find subtleties to admire, but this is also unashamedly “pretty” music that wouldn’t scare the new kitten back into the closet.

The repertoire is of a certain era, and the playing is spiritually and chronologically appropriate — there are no quotes from 1958 Rollins or Wes here — but it isn’t a museum tour, with a guard glowering at us to keep our distance and not touch the precious OKeh icons.  Their approach is loving but not timid, reverent but not imitative (except in their FOR NO REASON AT ALL, which has its own little individualistic nuances).  Occasionally I felt as if I’d wandered into an alternate universe of “What if?” as in “What if Tram and Lang had had a whole side to themselves to play BLUE RIVER?” Although Curtis reminds me beautifully of Salvatore Massaro, he isn’t a clone; Michael knows so many reed players so deeply that there’s no danger of him getting buckled into one cosplay suit and never being able to free himself.

I admire this session all the more because I know how risky duet improvisations are when the two musicians are in the same space, can make mutual eye contact to signal changes in the itinerary, and can prance simultaneously together.  Somehow, I think watching the monitor and listening through earbuds doesn’t make it easier, and I rejoice at the warmth of their duet.

Incidentally, there are no jokes, no gimmicks, no earnest or comic vocals, but the musicians are having fun — this is a very lively jovial session, and Curtis even shouts “Yeah!” on BECHET’S STEADY RIDER.  Appropriately.

This is beautiful fulfilling warm music, a real accomplishment.  I think you’ll love it.  I certainly do.

May your happiness increase!

GORDON AU PAYS TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG and his ALL-STARS at LINDY FOCUS

It’s distressingly easy to make a paper-thin tribute to Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars: start with the “Greatest Hits,” add a Louis-caricature, stir in high notes, fast tempos and a dash of audience-clapping, and stand back.  Or one could decide to be “innovative” and “harmonically adventurous,” but I will not even consider those possibilities, because the room is starting to spin.

But Gordon Au is a studious and deep musician and individual, so that when I heard he was planning a tribute to the music that Louis and his world-famous band created over nearly twenty-five years, I was eager to hear it.  And the results are subtle and gratifying.  You can find out more here while you listen.  I’ve picked two songs from this recording that are — sadly or wryly — currently appropriate:

and a song I wish were not so relevant, the somber BLACK AND BLUE:

That should send listeners who get it right to the link to download and purchase.  But perhaps some of you need more information.

Gordon writes, “I grew up listening to Louis Armstrong. Last year I had the chance to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: bring the music of Louis & the All-Stars to swing dancers. I heard a few hip DJs play Louis for lindy hoppers over the years, but I always wished there were more, and I knew that I myself would love dancing to the All-Stars. I wanted to give dancers the chance to hear the music of the All-Stars with a live band, and to dance to it and fall in love with it.

Last December, that wish came true. At Lindy Focus XVIII, I presented a tribute to Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars with a dream team of 10 musicians, and finally got to share that music I love with hundreds of people dancing their hearts out, late at night in a packed ballroom, surrounded by smiling faces, at the largest lindy hop event in the nation. And now I’m happy to share it with all of you.”
1. Squeeze Me (79 BPM)
2. All That Meat and No Potatoes (110 BPM)
3. Twelfth St. Rag (128 BPM)
4. I’ll Walk Alone (88 BPM)
5. Back o’Town Blues (74 BPM)
6. Blueberry Hill (96 BPM)
7. Faithful Hussar (133 BPM)
8. Someday You’ll be Sorry (105 BPM)
9. Unless (87 BPM)
10. My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It (141 BPM)
11. Beale St. Blues (105 BPM)
12. Lovely Weather We’re Having (88 BPM)
13. C’est Si Bon (143 BPM)
14. Yellow Dog Blues (88 BPM)
15. Black and Blue (99 BPM)
16. Don’t Fence Me In (106 BPM)
17. Saint Louis Blues (118 BPM)
18. Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now (130 BPM)

All tracks adapted/arranged by Gordon Au (Gordonburi Music – ASCAP)

Laura Windley—vocals (1,2,4,6,9,10,16-8)
Jim Ziegler—vocals (1,2,5,8,10,12,14), trumpet (8,14)
Gordon Au—trumpet/leader
Keenan McKenzie—soprano sax (2,3,6,8,10,12-15,17), clarinet (4,5,8,9,16,18)
Jacob Zimmerman—clarinet (1-4,6-15,17)
Lucian Cobb—trombone
Jonathan Stout—guitar
Chris Dawson—piano
Jen Hodge—bass
Josh Collazo—drums

And if the combination of music and words were not enough, I would add my own of the latter.  I don’t remember if I asked Gordon if he needed some prose or I insisted on writing something (I did see Louis live on April 23, 1967 — that would be my opening credential) and he graciously agreed.  So here’s mine:

I tried to walk like him, talk like him, eat like him, sleep like him. I even bought a pair of big policeman’s shoes like he used to wear and stood outside his apartment waiting for him to come out so I could look at him.

The magnificent cornetist Rex Stewart remembered the monumental effect Louis Armstrong had when Louis came to New York in 1924. More to the point, he recalled without embarrassment his awestruck attempts to gain some of Louis’ splendor by magic. (How lucky for him and for us that Rex had his own splendor for four decades.)

I write this to remind readers of Louis’ life-changing power, and to point out that musicians began trying to emulate him nearly one hundred years ago – when Louis himself was not yet 25. Somewhere I read of a group of players, stripped-down to their underwear, shivering in an unheated basement, hoping to catch cold so that their singing voices would be closer to his. Everyone wanted some of his celestial power: Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Connee Boswell, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin, and many others. As I write, musicians are posting their versions of Louis’ WEST END BLUES’ cadenza on Facebook.

Trying to capture his essence, his admirers have taken many diverse paths. The most shallow efforts have been grotesque: a distended grin, waving a handkerchief as if drowning, and growling a few chosen phrases, ending inevitably with an extended “Oh yeah!” (If you knew nothing of Louis, you might think, “Someone get that man to a hospital now!”) Such approaches resemble a jazz version of demonic possession, and we have it on good authority (clarinetist Joe Muranyi) that Louis hated such imitations.  Some trumpet players misunderstood Louis’ mastery simply as his ability to play an octave higher than anyone else had, but they mistook range for music.  Only those who understood Louis’ art perceived that it was essentially a singer’s craft, melodic to its core, offering songs that any listener, skilled in jazz or not, could appreciate immediately. It was emotive more than exhibitionistic.

This is especially true in the period of Louis’ greatest popular appeal – his triumphant quarter-century of worldwide fame, recognition, and affection. Those who don’t understand his final sustained triumph suggest that his All-Stars period was marked by a desire for larger audiences, “popularity” at the expense of innovative art, and the limitations of an aging man’s playing and singing. To this I and others would say “Nonsense,” a polite euphemism selected for these notes, and point out that the splendidly virtuosic playing of Louis’ earlier years was – although dazzling – not as astonishing as, say, his 1956 WHEN YOU’RE SMILING or THAT’S FOR ME. Ask any trumpeter whether it is easier to copy Louis’ solo on NEW ORLEANS STOMP – the most brilliant amusement-park ride – or to play LA VIE EN ROSE as Louis did. (Those who are struck by this CD might investigate the original recordings and be amazed, and they might follow their amazement to the best book on the subject, Ricky Riccardi’s WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS.)

Gordon Au understands the sweet ardor at the heart of Louis’ last quarter-century, and he also understands that sincere admiration of an innovator’s art requires loving innovation as well as expert imitation. I’ve been admiring Gordon’s playing for over a decade now, and it has always had subtle Armstrongian qualities while remaining perfectly personal: a clarion sound, hitting those notes squarely, a love of melody, but also an essential whimsy: Gordon’s phrasing is not predictable, nor are his particular choices. His solos have their own arching structure and they always deliver pleasant shocks. He moves with quiet daring and great wit between declarations and subversions.

Elsewhere in these notes, Gordon has eloquently written of his own journey to the music of Louis’ All-Stars, so I will leave that to him, and I will not debate those who felt Louis had abandoned his “pure jazz” for “showmanship” by choosing CABARET over POTATO HEAD BLUES. The All-Stars repertoire, in performance and on record, was delightfully varied, from funky New Orleans blues to pop songs new and venerable, as well as Louis’ own compositions and attempts at pop hits — perhaps a broader palette than at any other time in his career (even though we have heard tales of the Creole Jazz Band and Fletcher Henderson playing waltzes and tangos). I have always loved Gordon’s spacious imagination, and it is evident here not only in his playing and arranging, the musicians he has working with him – wonders every one! – but the songs chosen. A dull tribute could have been Greatest Hits (I might not be writing for this project had it included WHAT A WONDERFUL . . . . and DOLLY!) or it might reproduce an All-Stars concert, inexplicable to those who aren’t Louis-scholars. But Gordon understands that UNLESS and BLACK AND BLUE are both music and must be cherished – and performed – with amiable reverence.

The result of Gordon and the band’s deep understanding makes for truly gratifying music, even for those who had never heard the originals. I know the originals, and my experience of listening has been a constant happiness, the warm thought, “Listen to what they are doing there!” And since this band was conceived for swing dancers, the music is always groovy, rocking, and stimulating, no matter what the tempo. The slightly enlarged instrumentation and Gordon’s imaginative arrangements make for a more varied experience than the All-Stars I heard in person in 1967 (I know that is a heretical statement). At their finest, Louis’ group was a collection of inspired soloists, but they could also sound skeletal: three horns, three rhythm, and a “girl singer” – but we were so dazzled by Louis that we did not care how much open space there was in the performances. Gordon’s vision is far more orchestral, and the band pleases on its own terms from first to last, with delightfully jaunty singing by Laura Windley and Jim Ziegler, who do us the compliment of sounding just like themselves, sailing along.

I also know that Louis would be delighted not only with the music here but would have been thrilled to be invited to perform with this band. He left for another gig far too early, and I regret that this collaboration never happened, but I can hear it in my mind’s ear.

“I’m so excited, y’all!” Laura bursts out at the end of DON’T FENCE ME IN. I am also. You can hear the effect the band had on the dancers. And it will offer the same magic to you as well.

Ultimately, here’s my verdict on this lovely musical effort:

So good!  Find it here.

May your happiness increase!

“BUSY DOING NOTHING”: JACOB ZIMMERMAN TRIO (COLE SCHUSTER, MATT WEINER) — a NEW RELEASE on BANDCAMP

First, how about some music? — multi-layered and subtle, full of joy and surprises.  The creators are Jacob Zimmerman, reeds and arrangements; Cole Schuster, electric guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass:

Now, before we move on, a relevant and pleasing cat portrait:

You’ll have to ask Jacob and Elena about the curious feline: I stick to music.

The occasion here is the release of the Jacob Zimmerman Trio’s new record (or CD or download), called BUSY DOING NOTHING.  Don’t let the self-deprecating title fool you: it’s quietly warm music that remains in your feelings and thoughts.

I believe that when Jacob told me about his new project, I said, with all the delicate guile at my fingertips, “I want to write something for that,” and he graciously agreed.  Here is the Bandcamp link.  (My version of this link says “You own this,” because I do, but I hope that acts as an inducement to follow in my path after you’ve listened to LITTLE WHITE LIES.)

And here’s what I wrote about the music.

Some jazz listeners rhapsodize over the seismic power of a large ensemble. But such efforts make me say to no one in particular, before I stop the disc, “Please. Take the pianist, drummer, and all but one horn away. There’s a great Thai place two blocks south. Have lunch on me.” Many of the most beautiful sounds I know have been made by the smallest groups, austerely lovely, energetically romping, each a triumph of intuition and empathy: Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, Skeeter Best; Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Zutty Singleton; Duke and Blanton; Vic Dickenson and Ralph Sutton. And when the instrumentation is “unorthodox,” all the better.

It’s in this spirit that I greet and embrace BUSY DOING NOTHING, a sly title for these trio performances. They have a translucent sparseness yet they are also rich in melody and improvisation. Each chorus seems a complete composition in itself: BILL, for one gorgeous example. These three musicians create lovely textural variations as well as melodic embellishment and sweet harmonic delving, and the results feel honest, fresh but never self-consciously “adventurous.”

CHRISTMAS IN JAIL has a deep-blue moan to it – even though I would suspect that Jacob, Cole, and Matt have done nothing more criminal than parking tickets. Jacob told me that this session was inspired by the Braff-Barnes Quartet and the Jimmy Giuffre Trio – and this track has a close kinship with THE TRAIN AND THE RIVER, which is great praise. For uncomplicated irresistible swing, there’s MY GAL SAL – “good and groovy,” to quote Trummy Young. ALL OF YOU has, in its quiet pensive splendor, echoes of Brahms, if Brahms had been wiser. I WON’T DANCE is charming, expert, and hilarious: “Look what they did there!” is how I felt on first listening. THE BOY NEXT DOOR gave me chills – moving from unaffected tenderness to sophistication and back again.

BLUE ROSE holds a special place in my affections: when I last saw Jacob, an occasion that, pre-pandemic, seems a lifetime ago, at the March 2020 “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” he and Riley Baker joined me for a meal and conversation, then Jacob brought his tiny audio setup to my hotel room so that we could hear a track from this session. It was this, his gift to our hero Ray Skjelbred, an improvisation on a passage from the 1933 Horace Henderson record of HAPPY FEET. When I could form words, I said only, “Would you play that again?” It thrills me to know that I, and you, can play BLUE ROSE forever. There is an arching imagination behind this – composition and the trio’s playing – that makes me very glad. It feels like a three-dimensional aural ballet, airy and solid at once.
LAZYBONES is the soundtrack for a Swing Cowpoke short subject that hasn’t been filmed yet, with Matt, Cole, and Jacob rounding up the out-of-tune rustlers and getting them to play their parts correctly before riding off to educate the next bunch of amateurs. IDA of course harks back – how beautiful Matt’s arco sounds! – to Nichols, Rollini, and Livingston, but Jacob’s entrance reminds me of Lester, ten years later, and the whole performance is a sweet world that we are encouraged to make ourselves at home in. SOMEBODY LIKE YOU is one of Jacob’s discoveries of otherwise-forgotten Walter Donaldson music. It has an unaffected 1927 lope to it, dance music for another time and place, shined up by this trio so that we can delight in it right now. I love Cole’s chiming arpeggios and Matt’s serious two-four dance underneath Jacob’s bright-toned melodies. My only complaint about this track (and others as well) is that they are so sweetly terse that I said, on first hearing, “Wait. Is that over?” THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES suggests some lovely Sixties music heard at a distance – another dance, both saying, “Come join us.”

I wonder how listeners in 2021 and beyond will take this music in. It is so rewarding, track by track, that I hope they will not gobble it down in one sitting. I wistfully envision these thirteen performances as being issued as a set of Victor Red Seal or Keynote 12” discs in a cardboard “album” that one would have to reverently play, one after the other, placing each disc on the turntable and lowering the tone arm. The thirteenth side would be shiny and ungrooved, a reminder for us to go back to LITTLE WHITE LIES, in amazed delight at what Jacob, Cole, and Matt create for us. This session is immense fun, but approaching it with joyful astonishment would be right.

When you’ve heard the music, and I hope you will, you will understand that I did not overstate here.  And if you can find it in your heart and wallet to purchase this music on Juneteenth — June 19, 2020, Bandcamp has done something both moral and special.  I quote from their site:

The recent killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the ongoing state-sanctioned violence against black people in the US and around the world are horrific tragedies. We stand with those rightfully demanding justice, equality, and change, and people of color everywhere who live with racism every single day, including many of our fellow employees and artists and fans in the Bandcamp community.

So this this coming Juneteenth (June 19, from midnight to midnight PDT) and every Juneteenth hereafter, for any purchase you make on Bandcamp, we will be donating 100% of our share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a national organization that has a long history of effectively enacting racial justice and change through litigation, advocacy, and public education. We’re also allocating an additional $30,000 per year to partner with organizations that fight for racial justice and create opportunities for people of color.

The current moment is part of a long-standing, widespread, and entrenched system of structural oppression of people of color, and real progress requires a sustained and sincere commitment to political, social, and economic racial justice and change. We’ll continue to promote diversity and opportunity through our mission to support artists, the products we build to empower them, who we promote through the Bandcamp Daily, our relationships with local artists and organizations through our Oakland space, how we operate as a team, and who and how we hire.

Beyond that, we encourage everyone in the Bandcamp community to look for ways to support racial equality in your own local community, and as a company we’ll continue to look for more opportunities to support racial justice, equality and change.

Blessings on Jacob, Cole, and Matt, and thanks to Bandcamp for not only making this music accessible to us but also giving an extra moral push towards a kinder future for all.

May your happiness increase!

DRIFTING ON A REED: TED BROWN / BRAD LINDE, GARY VERSACE, AARON QUINN, DERIC DICKENS (The Jazz Gallery: February 2, 2020). . . . BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Dramatis Personae, 2.2.20.

I’ll let Ted Brown introduce this beautiful new recording:

This is the 4th album Brad and I have done together.  It is the first time we have recorded with an audience and the first time we have worked with a Hammond B-3 organ.

Brad arranged for us to do it at the Jazz Gallery on Broadway in New York on February 2nd.  We did two sets with Gary Versace on organ, Aaron Quinn on guitar, Deric Dickens on drums, and Brad and I on tenor saxophones.  I am now 92 years old and was not really expecting this.

It felt really good and we all had a good time.  Also, st Brad’s urging, I managed to write a new tune entitled “Watch Out!” based on an old standard called “Sunday.”

Brad and Ted allowed me to come to the recording session wih my camera, so here are two performances that I captured.  Know that the sound on the issued download is far superior.  Both are Charlie Parker tunes; Brad told me that he picked the repertoire to celebrate Bird’s centennial and his intersection with Tristano. The CD is also dedicated to Lee Konitz for obvious reasons.

SCRAPPLE FROM THE APPLE:

DRIFTING ON A REED (alias AIR CONDITIONING or BIG FOOT):

Now, before you rush to bandcamp.com to purchase this music, may I ask you to do the least contemporary act — that is, to delay gratification?  On Friday, May 1, Bandcamp will waive its usual fees and give all revenue from sales directly to the musicians.  So if you are reading this on Thursday, April 30, you are too early to make the most effective purchase; if you are reading this on Saturday, May 2, or later, you’ve missed the window of the greatest collective good.  But buying the music is the thing to do in any case.

Here‘s the link: now you’re on your own!

The Scene.

In the best of times, the artists who sustain us need and deserve our support.  These aren’t the best of times.  Act accordingly, please.

May your happiness increase!