Tag Archives: banjo band

“LET’S PLAY BALL!” or STILL SPINNING WITH PLEASURE-VERTIGO: A REPORT FROM JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY (October 13-14, 2012)

Before I go on, here’s the very first song of the party, AFTER YOU’VE GONE, recorded by Eric Devine, master videographer:

Last weekend, in an 1804 farmhouse in Guilford, Connecticut (home of Joel and Donna Schiavone), hot music filled the air from noon – 10 PM Saturday, from noon to late afternoon Sunday.  And it wasn’t in sets with breaks: twelve hours or so of fairly continuous and certainly inspired music.

The creators were pianist / singer / philosopher Jeff Barnhart, pianist Ross Petot; reed wizards John Clark, Noel Kaletsky; Renaissance man Vince Giordano; trombonist / singer / euphonist Jim Fryer, trombonist Craig Grant; trumpeter / tubaist Paul Monat, trumpeter Fred Vigorito, banjoist / singer Bob Barta, string bassist Genevieve Rose, banjoist / singer Joel Schiavone, drummers Sal Ranniello, C.H. “Pam” Pameijer.

They performed one hundred selections in those three sets (yes, I was counting).  The repertoire went all the way from sweet solo piano serenades to set-this-house-on-fire incendiary ensembles.  Two trombones, two sopranos, two trumpets; many banjos, much cheerful momentum.  Paul Monat played fours with himself on tuba and trumpet, stopping the show. Jim Fryer sweetly sang THE GYPSY (with verse) and soloed fore and aft on euphonium.  Genevieve Rose gave a pensive yet swinging rendition of JADA as her solo feature.

Pam Pameijer switched from drums to washboard and kept things moving. Bob Barta cooled us off with a heartfelt DARKNESS ON THE DELTA; John Clark and Noel Kaletsky had a wailing two=clarinet discussion on APEX BLUES; Fred Vigorito increased the temperature of the room (we were peeling off layers of clothing) every time he stepped forward and began to play.

Craig Grant, new to me, played beautifully in ensembles and as a soloist; Sal Ranniello (whom I’d heard on recordings) kept the ship on a straight course. Joel sang and played many nifty old songs that I’d nearly forgotten, delighting us all — a very generous man.

More?  Unlike some “jazz parties,” where the musicians are far away on a stage, this was as informal as could be.  There was a trotting parade of players through rooms — not exactly second-lining with parasols, although that did happen once.  The barriers between Musicians and Audience were broken down early and stayed down.  (This accessibility might have been exhausting for the musicians, but I didn’t see anyone complaining.)

The music was blissfully wide-ranging, from Hot Five and two-trumpet King Oliver to Twenties New Orleans and early Ellington, an interlude of Joplin as it might have been played in “Disneyland for adults” (a bordello circa 1904), a good deal of Bix-related music, evocations of early Bennie Moten and Willie the Lion Smith ensembles, a Chopin waltz turned into Don Lambert ecstasy.

Joel treated us to I ONLY WANT A BUDDY, NOT A GAL and THAT LUCKY OLD SUN.  Jeff, for his part, sang / played / embodied DAPPER DAN FROM DIXIELAND as well as his tour de force on YOUNG AND HEALTHY (more about that in a future post).

A fourteen-year old piano wizard brought the blues to the room — in the nicest of ways: his name is ANDREW FERMO and you will be hearing from him, I predict.  The musicians tried to terrify us with THE YAMA YAMA MAN but Bob Barta told us it was all going to be fine with YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU.  Ross Petot, not well-enough known outside his neighborhood, hit home runs with LIMEHOUSE BLUES and GONE WIH THE WIND.  Leonard “Red” Balaban, who made so many good things happen with his bands, sat in for a gracious version of A PORTER’S LOVE SONG and followed with a sweet I COULD WRITE A BOOK.  (We hope he does.)  Paul Monat impersonated Wild Bill Davison on BLUE AND BROKENHEARTED . . . but he sounded (impious as it is to write these words) better.  Yes, better.  You’d have to hear it to believe it.

There was a good deal of unforced wit in the air.  Jeff Barnhart is a hilarious force of nature; luckily for us, he can’t help it.  After his opening invocation, “Let’s play ball!”  he headed the musicians into what is ordinarily the closing song, AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  Someone’s cell phone rang, and he turned from the piano and said, “If you have a cell phone, please turn it off or make sure it rings in the key we’re playing in.”  If he weren’t such an extraordinary pianist, singer, raconteur, he could certainly make a living by making us laugh . . .

Here’s the second treat — BREEZE (BLOW MY BABY BACK TO ME):

In addition to the lovely music, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with sweet people: Joel and Donna foremost among them, an assortment of Jazz Spouses — Anne Barnhart, Carol Hughes, and Micki Balaban, Sherrie Barta; Sherral Devine, Maureen Cunningham, Judy Postemsky, Marce Enright, Rutj Miller, Mairi Bryan (and her mother), Irene Cowen, my pal Nancie Beaven, the well-met Bill Bunter, and many others.  Lovely food (generously available) and an enlivening air of joy throughout the weekend.

Because Joel is the guiding spirit behind YOUR FATHER’S MUSTACHE (where “the time of your life is under your nose,” for sure) — bringing together banjos in profusion and gleeful audience participation, there were several extended medleys of songs familiar and obscure.  Had you asked me my opinion of such frolics before this party, I would have extended my nose skyward and done my best to imitate patrician hauteur.  But something surprising happened (it happened once before, when John Gill called SHINE ON HARVEST MOON, sang the first chorus, and then led us in the second — I was in the presence of something sweetly spiritual and the room vibrated with good feeling).

I was in the rear of the room when the medley turned to BYE BYE BLACKBIRD, a song I have heard musicians treat with some violence.  At a nice easy tempo, surrounded by people obviously on the same sweet path, I found myself singing along to Maureen Cunningham who was standing near me, and — driven by what nostalgic version of Jung’s collective unconscious — making the vaudeville gestures that point up the lyrics.  “Make my bed” (putting thumb in mouth, cocking head, eyes closing = naptime) “and light the light” (pulling the imaginary lightbulb’s chain), “I’ll arrive late tonight” (pointing to our watches and tapping on them with index finger), “Blackbird, bye, bye!” (huge waving motions with right arm and hand).  I wouldn’t have believed it myself, and if Eric Devine, expert videographer, had caught this, he would be running for his life — but it was an unforgettable reminder of what music can do and does!

At times, when I needed a change of scenery, I walked outside and sat on a little porch.  The sky was bright blue with wispy clouds; I looked up through the remaining orange-tan leaves on the trees and sunk into the music.

The party ended with a very sweet WE’LL MEET AGAIN.

And we will: April 20-21, 2013.  Tickets on sale on December 1.

Watch this space, and subscribe to “CineDevine” on YouTube for more, more videos — beautifully done by Eric Devine! — from 2012 (and some from 2011).

And for more information on the party — and parties to come — click here.

Taa-daah!  Simply wonderful!

May your happiness increase.

HOT STRINGS AT MONTEREY (Dixieland Monterey 2011: The Final Set)

I know it’s subjective, but I find some instruments intrinsically more pleasing than others.  I am slightly ashamed that when someone asked, “Are you going to hear the four-banjo set at the Wharf Theatre?” the words “four” and “banjos” in such proximity made me a little nervous.

But then I got more information.  “It should be good, Michael.  The four banjos will be played by Clint Baker, Katie Cavera, Paul Mehling, and John Reynolds.  Marc Caparone will play bass, and Ralf Reynolds will swing out on the washboard and blow his whistle whenever he hears a musical ‘Foul!'”

I headed north to the Wharf with expectations that it would be, well, not bad.  I could endure four banjos . . .

The music I heard not only lifted me out of my seat but is a rebuke to my inherent jazz snobbery.  This set swung as hard as anything I’ve ever heard live, and you will see that I ain’t jiving.

And since I am still grappling with a wicked cold as I write this post, I think of Aimee Gauvin’s words (when he put on his white coat and became Dr. Jazz): GOOD FOR WHAT AILS YOU!

For once, I will present with a minimum of comment.  If this music needs explanation (and the onstage speakers are wonderfully, hilariously articulate), you need more than Sudafed.

Politically incorrect intro, please?  CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Something for Louis!  SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

John explains that shiny thing!  DIGA DIGA DOO:

Clint warns us — SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Did you know the secret rules of banjo culture?  Now you do.  And Katie (Baby Face) explains it all, in the key of Ab.  I wanted so badly to sing along but didn’t want my voice to overwhelm the video, so you are encouraged to sing loudly at home:

Something pretty — the 1931 DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME:

Paul reinforces the banjo’s international theme with DARK EYES:

Once Katie explains the great gender-divide, we can head into what I think is a highlight of my life in 2011.  If you watch only clip in this posting (perhaps being banjo-timid) please watch this one. Surprises abound!  Watch out for flying cornets on CHARLEY, MY BOY:

Something hinting at Claude Hopkins and Fletcher Henderson c. 1932-33, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  Identify the quotations and win the prize:

Since these folks love their home state, what would be a better closer than CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME with a cornet interlude:

My pal Ricky Riccardi says he wants to see the Reynolds Brothers on Mount Rushmore — a fine sentiment.  But I am a man of more modest dreams.  I’d like to hear the Reynolds Brothers’ music being played on jazz / vintage pop radio shows — do any of my readers have a radio program?  Get in touch with me!

I’d like to see the Brothers appearing at jazz festivals outside of their home state.  California will just have to stop being selfish and allow the boys to travel.  We’ll change that restrictive law.  What, New York doesn’t need ferocious, hilarious swing?  England?  Really!

These are the last of the videos I took at Monterey — a mere ninety or so.  I am very proud of what I captured and have shared, and am only sad that I didn’t take more . . . But Rae Ann Berry (that’s SFRaeAnn to YouTube) has posted videos of a session or two that I didn’t catch, so head on over to YouTube to see more.

I know it is a bad idea to rush time away — with every day a wrapped box full of surprises! — but I can’t wait for the 2012 Jazz Bash By The Bay.  Thanks to all of the musicians for lifting the stage up and up and up; thanks to Sue Kroninger for creating a wonderful world for all of us to float in for that weekend.

I will close with a very personal note.

At the end of the set, Clint — who has a heart as big as the Bay Area — asked all the musicians to sign his banjo head.  I watched from a distance, not wanting to intrude.  How sweet!  His way of saying, “I never want to forget this moment, and we are all brothers and sisters.”  Then he asked me to sign it also.

I have never been so honored in my life.

I’ve won awards.  I’ve had my books reviewed in the New York Times.  But to be handed a Sharpie and encouraged to sign was something I wouldn’t have had the temerity to dream of.  I wrote only three words, “With deep love,” but that was what I felt and feel.  No one is going to ask me to sit in by playing, and that’s a good thing for the jazz cosmos, but I’ve been embraced by the people I love and admire.

WOW! to quote the Sage, Eddie Erickson.