Tag Archives: Banjo Jim’s

“ASSES IN SEATS” AND THE JAZZ ECOSYSTEM

Here’s something comfortable, enticing, seductive.

It’s not my living room, I assure you: too neat, no CDs.

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Andrew Swann, drums.  “Sweet Rhythm,” October 26, 2008, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Shane, piano; Dan Block, tenor sax.  “Casa Mezcal,” October 26, 2014, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

(This is not a post about numerology or the significance of October 26 in jazz.)

Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  “Sweet and Hot Music Festival,”  September 5, 2011, TOGETHER:

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs: Ray, piano, composer; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass, Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Sacramento Music Festival,” May 25, 2014, BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES:

I will explain.

“Sweet Rhythm” was once “Sweet Basil,” a restaurant-with-jazz or the reverse, in New York City.  Now it is just a restaurant.  “Casa Mezcal,” across the street from the Tenement Museum, also offered jazz as well as food.  Now, only food.  The two California festivals depicted above are only memories now.  (I could have included the Cajun, Bourbon Street, Roth’s Steakhouse, Banjo Jim’s, the Garage, the Bombay Club, Jazz at Chautauqua, and perhaps a dozen other vacancies in the cosmos — in my time, which isn’t the whole history of the music.)  Jazz clubs become apartments, drugstores, dormitories, nail salons.  Or what was once a jazz bar now has karaoke night and game night.

That’s not difficult to take in.  Everything changes.  “Things are tough all over,” as my father said.

But I’ve included the chair and ottoman because so many jazz listeners prefer the comforts of home to live music, and thus, venues collapse and are not replaced.

The expression I’ve heard from festival producers is the blunt ASSES IN SEATS. It presumes that other body parts are attached to the asses, of course.  But it’s simple economics.  When a club owner looks out at the landscape of empty chairs and tables with napkins undisturbed, when there are more musicians on the stage than there are people in the audience, you can imagine the mental cogitations that result.  This has nothing to do with musical or artistic quality — I’ve heard terrible music played to filled rooms, and once in a New York club I was the audience (let that sink in) — not even me, myself, and I — for the first few songs by a peerless band.  And if you think that musicians are a substantial part of the club budget, it isn’t so: a world-famous jazz musician told me once of being paid sixty dollars for three hours’ work, and some of my favorite musicians go from fifty-and-seventy-five dollar gigs, or they play “for the door.”

And as an aside, if you go to a club and sit through two sets with your three-or-five dollar Coke or well drink or standard beer, you are subsidizing neither the club or the music.  Festival economics are different, but even the price of the ticket will not keep huge enterprises solvent.  I hear, “Oh, the audience for jazz is aging and dying,” and the numbers prove that true, but I think inertia is a stronger factor than mortality, with a side dish of complacency.  And people who study the swing-dance scene say that what I am writing about here is also true for younger fans / dancers.

So before you say to someone, “I’m really a devoted jazz fan,” or proudly wear the piano-keyboard suspenders, or get into arguments on Facebook over some cherished premise, ask yourself, “How active is my commitment to this music?  When was the last time I supported it with my wallet and my person?”

I do not write these words from the summit of moral perfection.  I could have gone to two gigs tonight but chose to stay home and write this blog.  And I do not go to every gig I could . . . energy and health preclude that.  And I am also guilty, if you will, in providing musical nourishment for viewers through technology, so that some people can live through YouTube.  I admit both of these things, but on the average I go to more jazz gigs than some other people; I eat and drink and tip at the jazz clubs; I publicize the music here and elsewhere.

But you.  Do you take the music for granted, like air and water?  Do you assume it will go on forever even if you never come out of your burrow and say hello to it, that other people will keep supporting it?  Do you say, “I must get there someday!” and not put wheels under that wish?  Mind you, there are exceptions.  Not everyone lives close enough to live music; not everyone is well-financed, energetic, or healthy.  But if you can go and you don’t, then to me you have lost the right to complain about clubs closing, your favorite band disbanding, your beloved festival becoming extinct. Jazz is a living organism, thus it needs nourishment that you, and only you, can provide.  Inhaling Spotify won’t keep it alive, nor will complaining about how your fellow citizens are too foolish to appreciate it.

If you say you love jazz, you have to get your ass out of your chair at regular intervals and put it in another chair, somewhere public, where living musicians are playing and singing.  Or you can stay home and watch it wither.

May your happiness increase!

“BIRDS DO IT”: TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS TAKE FLIGHT (Part Two): June 17, 2018

The stereotype of improvising musicians is that they come out at night; like bats, they avoid bright sunlight.  But this crew (Tamar Korn, Evan Arntzen, Dennis Lichtman, Adam Brisbin, Sean Cronin) seems so happy to be out in Nature, with no one calling to the bartender for another Stella.  The greenery and friendship is positively inspiring, and they offer us uplifting music.  You can savor the first part of this restorative afternoon here.  And here’s a second helping of brilliant joyous invention.  Thrilling to be there.

MILENBERG JOYS:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, vocal harmonies by Sean and Tamar:

LET’S DO IT (yes, let’s!):

I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS (with a Spanish tinge):

IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER:

ONE LITTLE KISS, verse and chorus by host Brice Moss (a song I associate with Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys):

Enjoying these videos again, I am reminded of 2009, when I brought Leroy “Sam” Parkins down to Banjo Jim’s to hear Tamar and the Cangelosi Cards, and he said, “You know, she gets me right in the gizzard.  She, Caruso, and Louis,” and that was no stage joke.  I think he would say the same thing of not only Tamar, but this band.  And somewhere, Sam is happily sitting in with them.

There’s more to come, two more posts’ worth.  Yes.

May your happiness increase!

“TO BE SWEETLY RECLINING”

Urged on by a historical impulse I don’t quite understand, I put on the proper clothing and ventured deep into the archives of YouTube to see one or two of my earliest videos of fine jazz I had created.

A place where one could sweetly recline, alone or in duo.

A place where one could sweetly recline, alone or in duo.

I came up with this: recorded at Banjo Jim’s (defunct) with a lesser camera (defunct) on November 10, 2008.  The band is Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective, whose musicians are not at all defunct: Kevin Dorn, drums; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone and vocal; Michael Hashim, reeds; Charlie Caranicas, cornet; Jesse Gelber, piano. And led by Walter, they remind us that ROSE ROOM was once a swoony lullaby rather than a Forties romp:

Now I have a better camera and a wide-angle lens.  No doubt the gentleman sitting right in the middle of my viewfinder will come around on my next video gig, but you get used to him.  And Kevin and friends continue to enrich our lives. The video has its cinematic limitations, but its soul is huge.  Blessings on all the fellows herein.  And Art Hickman too.

May your happiness increase!

MEET MIMI TERRIS, WHO SINGS BEAUTIFULLY

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I first encountered Mimi Terris late in 2008, a sweetly humble young singer who joined Tamar Korn and the Cangelosi Cards at the Lower East Side music spot Banjo Jim’s.  With Naomi Uyama, the three songbirds stood out on the sidewalk on a cold night and serenaded me, Jim and Grace Balantic with an a cappella Boswell Sisters chorus.  It might have been SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT, and we were thrilled. Tamar, Mimi, and Naomi are immortalized on a few videos on YouTube, and the EP CD of “The Three Diamonds”.

Now, Mimi has released her debut CD: it is just wonderful throughout. It’s not simply the winning purity of her voice; it’s the depth of her emotions and the wide range of her musical affections — from gutty Bessie Smith to floating sweet lyricisms.  She can be as light as Beverly Kenney or Blossom Dearie, but she isn’t limited by any one approach. Mimi is classically trained, but she doesn’t sound like Helen Traubel “trying to swing.”  Swing comes naturally to her, but so does beautiful enunciation, convincing phrasing, a deep love of both the original melody and the lyrics.

Here she is, with friends, deep in the purple dusk of twilight time:

The CD, THEY SAY ITS SPRING, is just as delicious.  On it, Mimi is joined by pianist Gordon Webster and bassist Cassidy Holden with visits from guitarist Jacob Fischer and trumpeter Peter Marrott on THEY SAY IT’S SPRING / WEST END BLUES / EN SADAN NATT SOM DENNA (an instantly memorable Swedish pop song from the Thirties) / IT WON’T BE YOU / LILAC WINE / I GOT IT BAD / ROCKIN’ CHAIR / LOVER, COME BACK TO ME / STAR DUST / ALICE.

Listening to it, a dozen times, I thought of Eddie Condon’s praise of Lee Wiley: “She just sings the melody.  No tricks.”  But Mimi’s delicate, reverberating art — deeply simple — is even better than the absence of melodrama.  Although young, she sounds like a mature artist, offering her love of the songs to us.

Mimi’s Facebook page is here; her website is here; to hear music samples or download the CD, visit here.

May your happiness increase!

DELICATELY INTENSE: TAMAR KORN and FRIENDS in CONCERT: PART ONE (August 4, 2012)

I’ve been listening, entranced, to Tamar Korn four almost four years now, and I first recorded her in November 2008, at the East Village bar, Banjo Jim’s.  She was then a charter member of the Cangelosi Cards, a group that mixed Twenties hot jazz, Quintette of the Hot Club of France, Fats Waller, Jimmie Rodgers, and what I think of as barn-dance music.  It is possible that the first time I heard her was at the end of a Sunday night at The Ear Inn, where everyone was entranced by her singing.  Later, she has appeared with Dennis Lichtman’s Brain Cloud, Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, and with small groups of her own.

Tamar was not merely a singer who had chosen to mimic an assortment of unusual vocal breaks and yodels, adding to this a muted trumpet simulation that would have won the hearts of the Mills Brothers, and an air-violin that was both another way to get to the heart of the melody and a loving evocation of her father, an expert violinist.  Her background was originally in theatre, so she delighted in experimenting with the possibilities of her voice, a remarkable instrument in itself.  Her approach is deceptively delicate but intense, and she makes each song into a small drama, arching from quiet expositions to near-operatic climaxes, her improvisations becoming more and more brave.  But she always swings.

I usually saw and recorded Tamar in places where people were chatting, drinking, laughing . . . understandable but distracting.  So when I had the chance to capture her and the Cards at the Shambhala Meditation Center in New York City (February 27, 2010), it was a cherished experience.  (Thanks to Paul Wegener!)  Here is one segment of that evening.

I thought that the concert at the Shambhala would be the only time I would be able to see and hear Tamar and friends in such a peaceful place.

But I am happy to report that through the good offices of all the musicians and the Varshavsky family, I was able to bring my video camera to the Porto Franco Art Center at 953 Valencia Street in San Francisco . . . and share the divine music with you.

Tamar was joined by her New York friends Gordon Au, trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and violin; Rob Adkins, string bass, and SF’s remarkable Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo.

LAZY RIVER:

A fast SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLIN’:

IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW (You Must Have The Rain):

ANNIVERSARY WALTZ:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

Miss Korn is amazing.  But so are Messrs. Au, Lichtman, Adkins, and Ventresco, each of them a sweet explorer, searching deep into the music.

Another set awaits.

May your happiness increase.

THE GOLDEN EAR(A) (Dec. 12, 2010)

I’ve heard live jazz in many settings here and abroad.  In New York City, I can think of the last Eddie Condon’s, Jimmy Ryan’s, The Cajun, Smoke, Cleopatra’s Needle, Gregory’s, The Cookery, Arthur’s Tavern, Smoke, Iridium, Jazz Standard, The Garage, Bradley’s, The Half Note, The Onliest Place, Banjo Jim’s, Your Father’s Mustache, Bourbon Street, Sweet Rhythm, Smalls, Fat Cat, and many more. 

With all due respect to these clubs that have provided lasting memories from the early Seventies onward, I can’t over-estimate the joyous resonance of the Sunday night sessions at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) which have been going on for nearly three and a half years now.

The EarRegulars — co-led by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, and Matt Munisteri, guitar — have offered serene / hot chamber jazz by a quartet staffed by a changing cast of characters . . . with expansion possibilities up to a dozen strolling players. 

But Sunday night, December 12, 2010, was a high point: two brass, two rhythm.  That combination might have been challenging with other players, but when the two others were Joel Forbes, bass, and Randy Reinhart, cornet, I knew great jazz was in store.  Joel and Matt are a wonderful team — as soloists and a wasteless, energetic but never noisy rhythm section.  Piano?  Drums?  Not missed.

Jon-Erik and Randy are pals (as you’ll hear) and although an evening featuring two other trumpeters — even though Randy plays cornet — might turn into a competitive display of ferocity, an old-time cutting contest, nothing of the sort happened here.  The two hornmen sounded for all the world like dear friends having a polite but involved conversation.  They soloed without interruption; their contrapuntal lines tumbled and soared; they created great hot ensembles, each one handing off the lead to the other.

Deep music and rollicking fun as well.

How about two tributes to the forever-young man from Davenport,  the dear boy Bix, compositions that have become hot jazz standards, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and JAZZ ME BLUES? 

Written by Earl Hines, performed by Louis and Basie — some solid credentials for the song YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

What followed was a highlight of the evening — a deep, rocking exploration of DALLAS BLUES.  They’re on the right track!

Honesty counts, and candor is a great virtue.  So IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE, as Fats Waller told us:

Fidelity, even for a short period, is a great thing.  IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) is James P. Johnson’s wistful evocation of the desire for more than sixty minutes:

But everything in this life is mutable (root word: “muta”) and so THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

I’m so grateful that such music is being created where I and others can see and hear it!

YES! NEW MUSIC FROM THE CANGELOSI CARDS

The Cangelosi Cards provoke enthusiastic affirmations wherever they go. 

And recently they’ve gone as far as I can imagine — to the House of Blues and Jazz in Shanghai, China for a three-month residency.  They’re returning for gigs between October 22 and November 4, including a stint at the Nanjing Jazz Festival,  October 22nd-28th. The group will also make a four-city tour including Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. 

I am cheered by their widening circle of friends.  But for those of us who can’t drop everything and follow the Cards to China, there’s new musical evidence to savor.

When I first heard the Cards at Banjo Jim’s some years ago, I was moved by their swinging momentum and deep feeling — unaffected sentiment with a rocking pulse.  The singular instrumental voices always sounded like a conversation — intimate yet fervent — that I was privileged to eavesdrop on.  When Tamar Korn began to sing, the experience became otherworldly, music coming from what Yeats called “the deep heart’s core.” 

Tamar and the band loved the music of the Boswell Sisters — not only the beautiful repertoire and hot solos but the vocal harmonies and sophisticated arrangements.  I saw Tamar and her sweetly singing friends Naomi Uyama and Mimi Terris create their own variations on the Boswell repertoire.  I remember their acapella rendition of MOONGLOW performed on the sidewalk outside Banjo Jim’s brought me to tears. 

Now that experience has taken tangible shape, for Tamar, Mimi, and Naomi,  as “The Three Diamonds,” have recorded a mini-CD of three selections backed by the Cards (Gordon Webster, Dennis Lichtman, Jake Sanders, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, and Marcus Milius). 

It’s extraordinary music — connected by a celestial theme: STARDUST, MOONGLOW, and the lesser-known WHEN MY BLUE MOON TURNS TO GOLD AGAIN.  The EP will be available at the Cards’ shows and can be purchased online at www.losmusicosviajeros.net for $3 plus shipping.

And since the Cards are back in New York City for a moment, they can be experienced at Harefield Road, where, to quote Jake, they’re “inviting a bunch of folks out this Sunday, some good friends-fine players from other groups.”  Harefield Road is on Metropolitan between Graham and Humboldt in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the third stop on the L.  The Cards will play from 5 to 9. 

Members of the band will also be playing at MOTO (http://www.cafe-moto.com) on Friday nights from 9 to midnight. 

And they will also be presented in concert by the New Jersey Jazz Society — at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey, on October 11.  The concert begins at 8 PM: tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door.  The Bickford Theatre/Morris Museum: On Columbia Turnpike/Road (County Road 510) at the corner of Normandy Heights Road, east of downtown Morristown.    The hall is near Interstate 287 and the Route 24 Expressway.  It seats 300 and there’s ample on-site parking and wheelchair access.  Weeknight concerts are one long set (8 to 9:30 PM).  Tickets may be purchased via credit card over the phone by calling the box office at (973) 971-3706.  The box office can also provide information and directions, or email Jazzevents@aol.com.

DANCERS IN VILNIUS (by TAMAR KORN)

Who knew that the ethereally gutty Ms. Korn, an irreplaceable singer, was also a nifty photographer?  Well, here’s a sample — taken in Lithuania when the Cangelosi Cards did their summer 2009 tour:

I found this photograph (and others) on the newly enlarged site devoted to the Cards and to Mona’s Hot Four, to their music (compact disc issues for sale!), their calendar, news, contact information, and more.  Thanks to Marcus Milius for telling me about this.  I gather that the Cards are not (as I write this) performing Monday nights at Banjo Jim’s — for the time being — but all things are mutable.

Check it out!  http://www.losmusicosviajeros.net

WE’RE THANKFUL FOR TERRY WALDO (Nov. 2009)

Terry Waldo was a protege of Eubie Blake and continues to be a stomping pianist, an intriguing composer, singer, and bandleader.  Here are details of Terry’s upcoming gigs: welcome alternatives to holiday shopping!  

Banjo Jim’s

700 E. 9th St. & Ave. C

(212) 777-0869

http://www.banjojims.com/

Terry Waldo – Solo

Tuesday, November 24, 7:00 to 9:00PM

____________________

Smalls Jazz Club

183 W. 10th St. at 7th Ave.

http://www.smallsjazzclub.com/

Terry Waldo Gotham City All-Stars With Special Guest Performers:

Ruth Brisbane, legendary Blues and Jazz singer.

She Starred in the original Black & Blue and she has been on Broadway in a number of shows including The Wiz. She appears on several Waldo albums.  Joe Muranyi was Louis Armstrong’s clarinet player for many years.  Arnie Kinsella played drums on A Prairie Home Companion.

Saturday, November 28, 7:30 to 10:00 PM

______________________________

Waldo’s Gotham City Band:  Peter Ecklund, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Joe Muranyi, clarinet; Terry Waldo, piano; Andrew Hall, bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Fat Cat Billiards

75 Christopher St (Just West of 7th Ave.)

New York, NY 10014

(212) 675-6056

Sunday, November 29, 5:45 to 7:45

TEA WITH THE CARDS (Nov. 16, 2009)

As I’ve written, the downtown haunt Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and 9th Street) in New York City offers the possibility for ecstatic musical experiences when the Cangelosi Cards take the floor.  Literally, it is the floor, since there is no demarcation between the audience, the dancers, and the band . . . which is perhaps as it should be. 

I visited the Cards one week ago at their Monday-night gig and captured their first exuberant performance of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, featuring Tamar Korn, singing and percussive effects; Jake Sanders, guitar; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and mandolin; Matt Musselman, trombone; Marcus Milius, harmonica; Gordon Webster, piano; Cassidy Holden, bass.  No drums, none needed. 

I sat as close to the band as I could.  Although I’ve always approved of the synchronicity between the Cards and the dancers, this night — as the video shows — I had reason to feel imperiled by the substantial yet graceful, wildly swinging couple dancing.  I’m no swing-dance aficionado, so I wouldn’t presume to evaluate their performance, but they were so close to me that I feared a flying elbow or arcing sneaker.  Fortunately, I had room enough to cower in my seat, averting any collisions, but I hope my readers appreciate the raw courage my videography demands!  

What a marvel this band is — their effervescent swing, the jazz-battle that Matt and Dennis get into, and Tamar’s luminous voice floating above it all.  And all this on the first tune of the night!

The two still photographs — made eerie and lovely by the light at the rear of the bandstand — were taken before the Cards began to play.

SUNSET: LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

Leroy “Sam” Parkins, clarinetist, raconteur, and enthusiastic friend of this blog, died in Israel on November 18, 2009: he was 83. 

Sam loved beautiful photographs, so I offer this sunset, taken from a window on the Upper West Side, in his memory.

I am an unabashed jazz matchmaker: I tried to get Whitney Balliett to hear Kevin Dorn, but Whitney died before it could happen.  But I succeeded in getting Sam to jam with the Cangelosi Cards — only once, alas — but I captured a set with my Flip video camera. 

That was February 2, 2009, at Banjo Jim’s — and Sam had a wonderful time amidst Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Dennis Lichtman, Karl Meyer, Marcus Milius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden. 

Thank you, Sam, and farewell —

KEEP THE HEAT IN IT!

But sweeten it . . . !

If you need something to cheer you up, or you are already cheerful, watch the Silver Shadows, male and female, strut and wiggle.  It’s not hard to see how much fun they are having, is it? 

I first met Naomi Uyama at Banjo Jim’s, when she had come up from her Washington, D.C. home to be one of Tamar Korn’s Boswell Sisters.  (I didn’t ask whether she aspired to be Vet or Martha, but perhaps that question would have been impudent.)  And now I find out that she is a champion Lindy Hop dancer as well. 

Visit www.naomiuyama.com for more delightful information.

A JAZZ HOLIDAY! (February 2009)

No, this post isn’t about Benny Goodman’s 1928 recording — although that record does deserve to be celebrated.  Rather, it’s about a jazz immersion because of what my college calls “Presidents’ Week” — the Monday holiday stretching into a full week to follow the public school calendar.

What that means for me (and the Beloved) is a wonderful chance to hear four live jazz sessions.

Sunday night I went to the Ear Inn, newly lit and full of people celebrating that they, too, didn’t have to get up early the next morning.  The EarRegulars were there in stellar form: Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, with their inspiring friends Scott Robinson and Greg Cohen.  I was sitting three feet from Greg’s bass, and it was a transforming experience: the rhythm shot through me all night long.  And Scott — the mysterious shape-changer of jazz, who finds a new self whenever he picks up a different horn — was in a happy groove from the opening notes of WEARY BLUES.  (Scott had brought his tenor, a cornet — I couldn’t see if it was his fabled echo cornet) and his sopranino sax.  In the second set, Rachelle Garniez sat in with her Hohner claviola, Ted G (we couldn’t figure out his last name) brought his Maccaferri guitar, and Lucy, sixteen years old, sat in on trumpet.  As they used to say in the society pages of small-town newspapers, “a good time was had by all.”

Last night I went to Banjo Jim’s to catch a return appearance of the Cangelosi Cards with their guest star Sam Parkins, who had brought “his Klarinette.”  If you want to get the flavor of that evening, I’ve posted clips from their last jam session on “LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS.”  It was a smaller hand of Cards — Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Karl Meyer, Marcus Millius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden (who uses gut strings on his bass — as the great players of the Swing Era did).  The joint rocked: Tamar sang the blues and ALL OF ME; the Cards turned into a gypsy /tango band with NUAGES, MINOR SWING, and their own line on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.  Heady stuff!

Tonight, the Beloved and I are going to the 8 PM show at Iridium to hear Barbara Rosene and her New Yorkers.  Enough said!  Barbara will sparkle and move us, and the New Yorkers include Jon-Erik, Michael Hashim, Conal Fowkes, Matt Szemela, Doug Largent, and Kevin Dorn — fine players and fine friends.

And (if that weren’t enough) we’re going downtown on Thursday for the 36th Anniversary HIGHLIGHTS IN JAZZ concert, featuring David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (or the Gully Low Jazz Band, what you will) — Jon-Erik, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, Mark Shane, David himself, and Kevin Dorn.  Jack Kleinsinger’s concerts are always models of jazz generosity, and this one includes a pair of raw recruits named Joe Wilder and Dick Hyman.

Yes, I still have to grade two more sets of student essays, but I would call this A JAZZ HOLIDAY.  Wouldn’t you?  And I haven’t even mentioned the Gully Low Jazz Band’s regular Birdland gig on Wednesday and a midday solo piano outing for Hyman at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in midtown.

New Yorkers are lucky to live in this time and place, the economy notwithstanding.  Go and hear some live jazz, even if you don’t have the week off.

CANGELOSI CARDS: LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS

Often, when the Beloved and I go to a wonderful restaurant the second time, hoping to repeat the delicious experiences, Disappointment is one of the specials, on or off the menu.  What was blissful now seems formulaic; the shine is off of everything.

So I am thrilled to report that I dared the Fates and went back to Banjo Jim’s last night to repeat the experience of one week earlier — seeing the Cangelosi Cards perform on a Monday night.

And I brought a friend: the clarinetist and reed explorer / jazz scholar / memoirist Leroy “Sam” Parkins, whose words you’ve been reading in these pages.

Or, rather, he couldn’t stay away.  He had seen my January 30 posting about the Cards: CANGELOSI CARDS: SWEET SATORI! and wondered what they were like in person, and if he should bring his “Klarinette.”  I gave him encouraging answers to both questions.  The result was that Sam sat next to me right in front of the band for the first four songs (you’ll see them below) transfixed.  In fact, if you listen closely, you’ll hear an astonished man’s voice commenting on what’s going on in a kind of jazz rapture.

Tamar and Jake were happy to meet him and delighted with the idea that he wanted to sit in once the band got itself into its groove.

The Cards began as a band-within-the-band (a neat trick for such a compact touring ensemble) in Hot Club style.  Tamar Korn stood at our left, and you’ll see Karl Meyer on violin, Marcus Millius on harmonica, Jake Sanders on guitar, and Cassidy Holden on bass, pizzicato and arco both.  Everyone was in splendid form, with solo honors often going to Jake and Cassidy, both of whom soloed at greater length than I had heard them do a week ago.

The set began unusually with a soulful rendition of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, one of those songs (like GOODNIGHT, SWEETHEART) I expect bands to play at the end of the night, the close of the gig.  Here it was a wistful jumping-off place, quite remarkable.

Then, another piece associated with farewells (what was going through everyone’s mind?): AFTER YOU’VE GONE.

Gordon Webster, pianist of note, came in just in time to join the Cards on EXACTLY LIKE YOU — which I think of as ‘ZACKLY — and he was more than welcome.

Another admonitory song (in the “you’d better watch your step” mode) followed: SOME OF THESE DAYS.

Next to me, Sam alternated between rapture and impatience — this, after all, is truly his music, the sounds he grew up with.  Ever the instigator, I suggested he politely let everyone see that his clarinet was assembled, the reed properly moist and seated happily in the ligature . . . and it worked.  He was invited to the bandstand (an illusion at Banjo Jim’s) and, even better, the estimable trombonist Matt Musselman and Dennis Lichtman (usually on clarinet but initially doubling mandolin with great style and skill) came in.

Once the front line (actually leaning against the back wall and window) had settled itself in and introductions had been accomplished, someone asked Sam if he knew IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE.  This courtesy made me smile: it’s graciousness of the highest order when the members of the band want to make sure that the newcomer is comfortable with their repertoire.  But it was a kindness that Sam didn’t need, as he smiled gently and said that it was the first song he had learned to play as a young man in the Thirties.  He has an innate gleeful sense of his environment, and he let them know how pleased he was that they had chosen something that was in his very capillaries.)

And did they swing out.  Catch Matt grinning while Sam plays, and notice that although Tamar has taken her inspiration from Fats Waller’s recording (always a good idea!) that her scat singing goes deep inside.  It’s plaintive and nearly primitive, reaching back before recordings.

After a sweet, long MOONGLOW and a deep-down TISHOMINGO BLUES (not visible here because so many eager, expert dancers — including the nimbly stomping Mimi Terris — obscured Flip’s view), the Cards decided to end their set with another surprise.  Eddie Cantor’s theme, IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, is almost always done at a medium tempo.  Red Nichols took it very slowly; Eddie Condon (twenty years later) repeated the same wonderful idea (Pee Wee Russell in charge, both times).  But I’d really never heard it done as a stomp — which it is here. (Incidentally, all the percussive accents you hear in these clips are Tamar’s inventions.)

When this set was over, I was both elated and drained.  I had said I would stay for the second one, but I ended up taking my leave by saying to Tamar, “I’m full!  I don’t need to hear any more music,” and I happily drove home, thinking about the experience — which is at once jazz, country, Hot Club stomp, and music with a timeless yearning delicacy.  And a good deal of my pleasure is that Flip and I can share essential portions of it with you.

It just might be that the Cards are a pleasure we can go back to again and again with no diminuition of joy or insight.  At least I can testify that their brand of heartfelt, romping lightning struck twice — in the same place, no less.

CANGELOSI CARDS: SWEET SATORI!

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Because of a much-appreciated friendly email nudge from Jim Balantic, the Beloved and I (with Flip tagging along) wended our way down to Banjo Jim’s last Monday night.

Banjo Jim’s sits at the corner of Ninth Street and Avenue C.  The area feels much like the mysterious East but it was worth the trip.  The club is a small squarish room with tables, stools, and a bar (the latter presided over by the cheerfully expert “Banjo” Lisa).  Banjo Jim’s is a neighborhood hangout, and it offers a dazzling variety of groups who play for the tip basket.

The crowd is mostly younger people, which I find encouraging, and even when the chat level gets high, they get reverently quiet when the band begins a ballad or they sense something unusual is happening.  (And, when feelings run high, there’s a good deal of fervent jitterbugging and even slow-motion tangoing in front of the band.)

Of course the club has a website: www.banjojims.com., and a MySpace page:  www.myspace.com/banjojims — everyone seems to have a MySpace page except the Beloved and myself.  (Flip isn’t telling.)

We were there because of the regular Monday night gig of the Cangelosi Cards, that musical cornucopia, and Jim’s news that their splendid singer Tamar Korn had been working on Boswell Sisters-inspired repertoire with two other harmonizing women.

And — this is no small matter — Tamar had graciously agreed to do some of the new trio material in the band’s first set (their gig ordinarily runs from 9 PM to 2:30 AM) so that the nine-to-fivers could hear some of it before their ancient eyelids began to sag.  I was especially grateful to her for this kindness, because my clock radio makes itself known four mornings a week at 5:45 AM.

When we arrived, we were met on the sidewalk by Jim and his wife Grace and a beaming Tamar; Tamar and I talked happily until our faces began to grow numb from the cold.  We spoke of the Boswell Sisters, and how their vocal arrangements seemed to have the same intense purity of chamber music — to be revered, but also to be improvised on in a personal style.  Tamar said that she and her two friends — Mimi Terris and Naomi Uyama — found that they could do instant improvisation in the style they loved on songs the Boswells had never recorded, which suggests that they have moved well beyond imitative groups, and there have been a few.  (Copying the Boswell Sisters, incidentally, is not at all easy to do.)

Inside, a young band, calling itself “The Scandinavian Half Breeds,” no fooling, was plunking away.  That foursome, offered surrealistic gypsy swing, some Thirties songs, and some lopsided yet earnest singing. The Scandinavians have a CD for sale — a mere five dollars — and they also have a MySpace page with audio samples: www.myspace.com/scandinavianhalfbreeds.

But they were what my people call a forshpeits — an appetizer, an amuse-bouche before the entree.

The Cards were at full strength: in addition to Tamar, they had Marcus Millius on harmonica, Karl Meyer on violin, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Jake Sanders on guitar (he set tempos and routines as well), Cassidy Holden on string bass, Matt Musselman on trombone, and Gordon Webster on piano.

Here’s some of what Flip, that tidy little fellow, captured.  I have to point out that Banjo Jim’s isn’t a movie set, so that people walk in front of Flip (he’s used to it) and there were couples gyrating in front of the lens.  These clips offer atmospheric cinema verite of a particularly unbuttoned sort, but I think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the club and the Cards, who are more like an ecstatic travelling ceremony than a formal orchestra.  And that’s high praise.

Here’s a wonderful rocking version of “I Ain’t Got Nobody”:

In the name of accuracy, I have to say it begins in darkness — but soon your eyes make out the nimble fingers of Jake Sanders playing his National steel guitar in the wonderful manner I associate with the West Coast genius Craig Ventresco.  Then it starts to rock, and rock hard.  This is the kind of music that great improvisers of any kind make when no one is paying attention, when they are blissfully playing for themselves.  And the dancers!  Tamar couldn’t keep still at the beginning, and the whole room was swaying, although Flip couldn’t take his little monocular self away from the band.  (He’s a fan.  Now it can be told.)

The Cards decided to slow the tempo down — and Tamar explored a truly lovely ballad, “It’s Like Reaching For the Moon,”  which most people know, if at all, through Billie’s version.  Examined closely, the song is a rather simple motif, repeated, and the lyrics aren’t exactly Larry Hart.  (Charlie Levenson, jazz man-about-town, was sitting next to me, and he kept muttering ecstatically, “I love this song.  This is my favorite song!” so perhaps I am being too harsh.)  But what lifts it above the ordinary is Tamar’s singing — full of genuine yearning.  We believe her, as do the Cards.

After two songs about unfulfilled love, even at different tempos, it was time to explore another dramatic situation, and the Cards turned to Irving Berlin’s satiric Socialism (like “Slummin’ On Park Avenue,” it has a sharp political subtext).  Catch the weaving, seductive tempo they choose, and admire Matt’s wicked trombone playing:

Then it was time for what Jim had promised: Tamar, Mimi Terris, and Naomi Uyama got together on the tiny bandstand (this is one of those clubs where nothing delineates the end of the Audience and the beginning of the Stage, which is a truly good thing in this case) for “Moonglow,” which was properly ethereal.  These girls have it:

We were glowing!  The set ended with another loving consideration of meteorological phenomena, “Stardust,” which Tamar said she “learned from the music,” but clearly she, Naomi, and Mimi are well beyond the notes on the page, into some beautifully mystical realm:

When the Cards’ set was over, it was around 11:30 — time for the aging wage-slaves to find their cars and drive home.  But there was more!

As we were getting ready to go, Tamar said there was one more Boswell Sisters piece that she, Mimi, and Naomi had been working on.  They planned to perform it much later on but knew we would want to hear it.  Would we mind waiting for them?  Jim, Grace, and I looked at each other, grinned, wrapped our coats a little tighter, and waited on Avenue C.  In a few minutes, the Girl Trio came out (as an unrequested surrogate parent, I checked that their coats were properly buttoned up).

The trio positioned themselves in front of us on Ninth Street, and began a most unearthly beautiful a cappella rendition of the Sisters’ radio theme, “Shout, Sister, Shout.”  As you may remember, that’s a moody slow-drag, all about how singing the right way has Satan on the run.  (Would that this were the case.)  Their voices were pure and low-down at the same time, soulful and intense.  I listened, transfixed.

In an odd way, it was as close to being a royal patron of the arts as I will ever be — with Mozart playing his new piece near the dinner table to give the guests a little night music.  It was eerie, lovely, and awe-inspiring. . . as if Beauty had slipped her arms around me while I stood out in the cold.

Listening to live jazz is, with luck, a series of special moments when a listener feels that Something Rare is taking place, and it often is.  But it’s even rarer for a musician or musicians to create such tender intimacy that the listener feels, “They are playing this song just for me.”

Even though I knew it was an illusion, I felt that way while Lee Wiley sang in her 1972 farewell concert in Carnegie Hall, and I remember a much more personal example.  Once, Stu Zimny and I went to hear Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s — this would have been the same year.  Ryan’s was an inhospitable place for college kids who wanted to make their bottle of Miller High Life (awful beer even at $2.50 a bottle) last for hours.  Roy must have been playing another gig, so his place was taken by the veteran Louis Metcalf, who had played with King Oliver and Duke Ellington in the Twenties.  He was a far less electrifying player than Roy, but one moment cannot be erased.  On a medium-tempo “Rosetta,” Metcalf put his Harmon mute (the stem still attached) in his horn and went from table to table, playing a half-chorus here and there, six inches from our ears.  I can no longer remember the shape of his solo or the contours of the melodic paraphrase, but the experience — jazz at the closest possible range — gave me delighted chills then and I can see it now.

This version of “Shout, Sister,Shout,” girlish and earnest, graceful and disembodied — their three voices harmonizing as if in the middle of the darkness — was even more electrifying.  As I drove home, shaken and levitated, I thought, “I might have died and never heard this.  My God, I am lucky!”

To experience something of the same repertoire — although I can’t promise that you will have a private serenade on the sidewalk — be sure to follow the Cards wherever they go.  If you judge musicians by the quality of their formal wear, the Cards seem loose and casual, but the musical experiences they offer you won’t encounter elsewhere.  Blazing enlightenment is possible if you’re listening closely.

STILL MORE CAPTAIN VIDEO! THE CANGELOSI CARDS, NOVEMBER 10, 2008

A warning to the aesthetically sensitized: the video clips below are cinematographically substandard.  In video and films, if you are offended by the distracting sight of people walking in front of the camera, obscuring your view, the purported subjects appearing tiny, please don’t attempt to watch this (especially without a parent or guardian present).

However, you would then be depriving yourself of evidence of one of the great moments in recent jazz: the meeting of the Cangelosi Cards and members of the Traditional Jazz Collective.  As an alternative, turn away from the monitor and delight in the sounds.

There!  These videos would never get me into the cafeteria of the world’s least accomplished film school, but they do — however weirdly — record what I saw and heard from the back of the room at Banjo Jim’s, 11 PM on Monday night, November 10, 2008.  As I’ve written, that performance seemed one of those ecstatic moments where everyone in the room understood the joyous purposes that had brought them together: the musicians, the dancers, the crowd.  I thought it a thrilling experience, and I hope that some small fragment of the emotion comes through on these clips.

On the first one, Tamar Korn sings “Milenberg Joys,” accompanied by Jake Sanders, guitar; Karl Meyer, violin; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Cassidy Holden, bass; Marcus Milius, harmonica, and sitters-in Jesse Gelber, piano; Charlie Caranicas, cornet; Michael Hashim, alto sax.  The “drums” you hear are from Tamar’s repertoire of sounds — rimshots, hi-hat cymbal hisses and swishes . . . frankly amazing, even for someone who catches himself doing Jo Jones when he thinks that the recorded music needs it.

And here’s a tender, searching exploration of “I’m Confessin'”:

And for those of you whose eyes cry out for visual representation that won’t cause eyestrain, after those minutes of cinema-excessively-verite, here is Jim Balantic’s lovely candid portrait of the Cards at Harefield Road, looking alternatively happy, pensive, and peaceful.  Thanks, Jim!

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MORE CAPTAIN VIDEO! KEVIN DORN AND THE TJC, NOVEMBER 10, 2008

One of the highlights of my recent life has been getting to know and to admire Kevin Dorn — a creative musician blessed with singular perceptions.  He’s been leading his own Traditional Jazz Collective, a stirring group of improvisers.  Here’s a recent incarnation of the TJC at Banjo Jim’s, doing a fast one and a slow one.  From the left, there’s Michael Hashim on alto sax, Kevin on drums, Charlie Caranicas on cornet, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, and Jesse Gelber on piano.  Nadia’s in the audience, although she’s hard to see here.

First, the TJC has an energetic workout on “Everybody Loves My Baby,” which goes back to the middle Twenties but has lost none of its liveliness:

When the TJC had a regular Monday-night gig at the Cajun, one of the songs I loved most was J. Walter Hawkes’s slow, soulful rendition of “Rose Room.”  Most of us Art Hickman’s ballad simply as an instrumental, as a set of chord changes to improvise on at a medium tempo, but JWH, sweetly perverse, sings it as it was originally written: a yearning plaint.

“Oh! to be sweetly reclining.”

I didn’t request that Walter sing this one, but I’m thrilled to have caught it on video — and to be able to share it here.  (Did you know that he’s an Emmy-award winning composer as well as one of the great unheralded jazz trombonists?  You do now.)

Kevin and the TJC appear intermittently at a variety of New York jazz haunts, including the Garage; Kevin himself plays with the Gully Low Jazz Band at Birdland and with John Gill at The Ear Inn.  Check his website, on my blogroll, for vital information on when and where you can hear him play.

CAPTAIN VIDEO! KELLSO AND FRIENDS, NOV. 9, 2008

Here’s a sampling of the remarkable jazz that Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends (Peter Reardon-Anderson, tenor and clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kelly Friesen, bass; Andrew Swann, drums) played last Sunday at Sweet Rhythm, 88 Seventh Avenue South (5-7 PM).  I’m still a novice cinematographer — someone who accidentally cuts off the top of heads — but the sound is good, so perhaps that counts for more?

First, the lovely Harry Barris song, immortalized by Bing and Louis, “I Surrender, Dear”:

Then, the Twenties pop hit, “Linger Awhile,” a jam tune much beloved of Forties players (Dicky Wells, Lester Young, and Bill Coleman did it magnificently on Signature).  This version has a wonderfully twisty line, courtesy of Master Kellso, who calls his creation “Stick Around.”  Somehow, that line summons up the 1945 band Coleman Hawkins led, with Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, Denzil Best, and (memorably) Vic Dickenson.  Do you agree?  (Wily man that he is, Jon-Erik quotes Mingus’s “Fables of Faubus” on his first bridge, but I had to have it pointed out to me by another listener.)

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And here’s that lively Sophie Tucker warning, “Some of These Days.”  This performance isn’t fast or loud, but it is the very definition of propulsive fun.  Everyone in this quintet has his own sound, but the ghosts of Louis, the entire Basie band, Ed Hall, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones were grinning, too:

The next two performances take us back to the glory days of 1938 — the hot summer when the Basie band appeared at the Famous Door, jammed in next to one another.  Here’s Eddie Durham’s “Topsy,” a minor blues with a bridge:

From the same blue-label Decca period, here’s Herschel Evans’s “Doggin’ Around,” taken at just the right tempo:

Finally, in quite a different mood but just as impassioned, here is bassist Kelly Friesen’s eloquent version of the Ellington classic “All Too Sooon”:

If you’re looking for more of the same on YouTube, Jim Balantic (jazz fan and DVD videographer) captured this group doing a swinging “Limehouse Blues.”  His account is called “recquilt,” and it should come up when these videos are selected.

And on November 16 (that’s this coming Sunday) we should all extricate ourselves from our computers to meet up at Sweet Rhythm and see Jon-Erik, pianist Ehud Asherie, trombonist John Allred, Kelly Friesen, and Andrew Swann.

As rewarding as these video clips are, isn’t it better when the musicians are life-size?  I think so.

P.S.  That being said, look for my postings of video clips from Kevin Dorn and the Traditional Jazz Collective and two from the Cangelosi Cards with members of the TJC sitting in — captured at Banjo Jim’s on Monday, November 10, 2008.

OUR OWN FOUR-DAY NYC JAZZ FESTIVAL

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This remarkable weekend began on Friday night (November 7) at the New York Historical Society on Central Park West, with a free one-hour concert featuring bassist-singer-composer Jay Leonhart, amidst what the MC introduced, somewhat oddly, as “rising stars” Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals, Ted Rosenthal, piano, and Alvin Atkinson, drums. The program mixed several Richard Rodgers classics, “Shall We Dance,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” Bernstein’s “Cool,” with two Leonhart originals and a closing romp through “Lester Leaps In.”  Rosenthal sparkled; Atkinson swung.

But the high point of the evening was an exploration of what Leonhart called “a jazz prayer,” “Body and Soul.”  That 1930 song can be a problem for musicians, as it has been played so nobly by so many: Coleman Hawkins, Louis, Bird in his first flights, Duke and Blanton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Lucky Thompson, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, the Benny Goodman Trio, etc.   This performance began with Leonhart’s arco solo and then reached heights with Wycliffe’s plunger-muted, stately exploration of the theme.  Wycliffe knows full well how to honor a melody rather than simply leaping into variations on chord changes).  Waggling his plunger in and out, he mixed growls and moans, naughty comedy and deep sighs, as if Tricky Sam Nanton or Vic Dickenson was playing a hymn.  The solo ended all too soon.

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Not only was the concert free, but the museum was open to all, so the Beloved and I wandered through lovely landscape paintings.  Future Fridays at the NYHS (all beginning at 6:30 PM) will feature The Western Wind (a contemporary classical vocal sextet) on November 14, on the 21, guitarists from the Manhattan School of Music (teachers and proteges); Cheryl B. Engelhardt and Oscar Rodriguez (guitar) on December 5, jazz again on December 12, with Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Tootie Heath, and ending with Latin music on the 19th from the Samuel Torres Group.

We rested on Saturday to prepare ourselves for the exuberances to come.

Sunday afternoon found us at Sweet Rhythm on Seventh Avenue South for the third gathering of Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends: this time bassist Kelly Friesen, drummer Andrew Swann, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and reedman Peter Reardon-Anderson, doubling tenor and clarinet.  Hyperbole is a dangerous thing, but I came away from these two sets thinking that I had heard the most exciting jazz in years.

I so admire Jon-Erik’s ability to shape an ad hoc ensemble into a cohesive one, and he did it through the two sets, creating jazz that was of this time and place, looking back to New Orleans and collective improvisation, forward to contemporary “Mainstream” solos.  If I kept thinking of Keynote Records 1943-46, perhaps that’s because those jubilant performances kept being evoked on the stand at Sweet Rhythm.  Rossano strode and glided, sometimes in a Basie mood (appropriately) on “Doggin’ Around” and “Topsy”; Kelly took the glories of Milt Hinton (powerful rhythm, a huge tone, beautiful arco work on “All Too Soon”) and made them his own, and Andrew Swann, slyly grinning, added Sidney Catlett and Cliff Leeman to his swinging progenitors.  Anderson, twenty-one years old, is someone we can greet at the beginning of a brilliant career (to quote Emerson on Whitman): Zoot Sims and Ed Hall stand in back of his graceful, energetic playing.  Basie got honored, but so did Bing and Louis in “I Surrender, Dear,” and Kellso reminded us that not only is he playing marvelously but he is a first-rate composer: his line on “Linger Awhile” was a memorable hide-and-seek creation.  We cheered this band, and with good reason.

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And the room was full of Jazz Friends who didn’t get up on the bandstand: Bill and Sonya Dunham, Jim and Grace Balantic, Nina Favara, Lawri Moore, Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  A righteous congregation!

And the five portraits you see here — from the top, Jon-Erik, Rossano, Kelly, Andrew, and Peter — come from this gig, courtesy of Lorna Sass, jazz photographer.

Perhaps I am a jazz glutton, but those two sets weren’t enough: I walked downtown to the Ear Inn to soak up one more set by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik, Chris Flory on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass, and Michael Blake on tenor, someone entirely new to me.  (He and Jon-Erik go ‘way back, although they hadn’t played together in years.)  Blake is exceedingly amiable, so we found ourselves chatting at the bar — about small towns near Victoria (Souk for one) and Pee Wee Russell, about the odd and gratifying ways people come to jazz, about Lucky Thompson and jazz clarinet.  Then it was time for the EarRegulars to hit, and they surely did — from a “Blue Skies” that became “In Walked Bud,” to Blake’s feature on (what else?) “Body and Soul.”  Here, backed by the wonderfully sensitive duo of Chris and Greg, he broke the theme into fragments, speculating on their possibilities, becoming harmonically bolder with a tone that ranged from purring to rasping (some echoes of Lacy), exploring the range of his instrument in a delicate, earnest, probing way.  It was a masterful performance, and I am particularly delighted to encounter such brave creativity from a player I didn’t know before.

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Of course, the near-collisions of beauty and contemporary weirdness never fail to amaze.  I was sitting at the bar at the Ear, welcomed there by Victor, who knows more jazz than most critics.  At the bar, to my left, three and sometimes four people were facing away from the band, hunched over their Black Berry or Black Berries, their iPhones, what have you.  Electronically glowing tiny screens, blue and white, shone throughout the club.  I too am a techno-addict — but why go to a bar to check your BlackBerry and ignore the live art being created not five feet away?  To treat Kellso, Blake, Flory, and Cohen as background music seems oblivious or rude.

Monday there was work — but that is always a finite obligation, even when it looms inescapably — but soon I was back in Manhattan, drawn inexorably with the Beloved to Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and Ninth Street) to hear two groups in one night.  Banjo Jim’s seems ideal — small, congenial, a private neighborhood bar full of young people listening to the music, a real blessing.

The first group was full of old friends — Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  This incarnation included Charlie Caranicas on cornet, Michael Hashim on alto sax, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, Jesse Gelber on piano, Kevin on drums.  Kevin kicked things off with a romping “I Want To Be Happy,” explicitly summoning up the 1972 New School concert where Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood — someone named Eddie Condon in charge — showed what could be done with that simple line.  (I was at that concert, too.)  J. Walter Hawkes, one of my favorite unsung singers, did his wonderful, yearning “Rose Room.”  Barbara Rosene sat in for a thoughtful “Pennies From Heaven,” complete with the fairy-tale verse, and the proceedings closed with a hot “China Boy.”

And then — as if it that hadn’t been enough — the Cangelosi Cards took the stand.  They are the stuff of local legend and they deserve every accolade.  A loosely-arranged ensemble: Jake Sanders on acoustic guitar, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Gordon Webster on piano, Karl Meyer on violin, Cassidy Holden on bass.  They are all fine players, better than many with larger reputations.  I thought I heard a drummer but saw no one at the trap set: later I found out that their singer, Tamar Korn, has a remarkable vocabulary of clicks, hisses, and swishes — she fooled me and she swung.  The group has a Django-and-Stephane flavor, but they are not prisoners of that sound, that chugging rhythm, that repertoire.  They began with “Douce Ambiance,” moved to Harry Barris’s “It Was So Beautiful,” and then Eddie Durham’s “Topsy.”

Early on in the set, it became clear that this band has a devoted following — not just of listeners, but of dancers, who threw themselves into making the music physically three-dimensional in a limited space.  Wonderful inspired on-the-spot choreography added to the occasion, an exultant Happening.

Then Tamar Korn got up to sing — she is so petite that I hadn’t quite seen her, because I was seated at the back of the small square room.  But I heard her, and her five songs are still vibrating in my mind as I write this.  Without attempting to be mysterious in any way (she is friendly and open) she is someone unusual.  Rumor has it that she hails from California, but I secretly believe she is not from our planetary system.  When I’ve suggested this to her, she laughs . . . but doesn’t deny it.

Tamar’s singing is focused, experimental, powerful.  In her performance of “Avalon,” she began by singing the lyrics clearly, with emotion but not ever “acting,” then shifted into a wordless line, high long held notes in harmony with the horns, as if she were Adelaide Hall or a soprano saxophone, then did two choruses of the most evocative scat-singing I’ve ever heard (it went beyond Leo Watson into pure sound) and then came back to the lyrics.

Her voice is small but not narrow, her range impressive.  What I find most exhilirating is the freedom of her approach: I hear old-time country music (not, I must add, “country and western,” but real roots music), blues and bluegrass, the parlor soprano essaying light classics, opera, yodeling, swing — and pure sound.  She never appears to be singing a song in any formulaic way.  Rather, she is a vessel through whom the force of music passes: she is embraced by the emotions, the notes, the words.

And when the Cards invited their friends — that is, Charlie Caranicas, Michael Hashim, and Jesse Gelber — to join them for “Milenberg Joys,” “I’m Confessin’,” and “Avalon,” it was as close to soul-stirring ritual in a New York club as I can remember.  The room vibrated; the dancers threw their hands in the air, people stood up to see better, the music expressed intense joy.  I don’t know whether Margaret Mead had rhythm in her feet, but she would have recognized what went on at Banjo Jim’s.

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I hope to have video, thanks to Flip, to post shortly.  Tune in again!  (And another weekend is coming soon . . . tempus fugit isn’t so terrifying when there are glories like this to look forward to.)

Only in New York, I am sure.

All photographs by Lorna Sass, copyright 2008.

MUSIC IN THE MOMENT: NOVEMBER 10, 2008

In the spirit of the previous post, where I paradoxically urged my readers to stop reading, to abandon their screens to go hear some live jazz, I have a Real Gig to be enthusiastic about.

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That thinking drummer Kevin Dorn will be leading his Traditional Jazz Collective — the title alone should tell you that it is both serious and playful — for a one-hour set at Banjo Jim’s (that’s Avenue C and Ninth Street), 8:30 – 9:30 PM on Monday, November 10.  The TJC will include some of the finest players I know: trumpeter Charlie Caranicas, trombonist and soulful singer J. Walter Hawkes, pianist-singer Jesse Gelber, and other friends.  We used to be lucky enough to hear versions of this band on Monday nights at the vanished Cajun, so this is a treat.

I’ve written elsewhere about Kevin as a musician (check out his website, http://www.kevindorn.com) but here I want to say a few words about him as a philosopher-artist.  Kevin thinks about the music — not breaking it down into tiny theoretical toast-crumbs, but considering what it is to play jazz.  It isn’t, for him, a matter of copying a record or a style; it isn’t a matter of making sure you insert your favorite technically-impressive licks in every solo; it isn’t trying to “sound like” anyone but yourself.  Music, for Kevin and his pals, is a living thing — it happens under their fingers, as we watch and marvel.  They know how to play, but they abandon themselves to the music, and are often happily surprised at where they end up, whether they are stomping through “Limehouse Blues,” “Louisiana,” or breathing new life into “Royal Garden Blues.”

And, as a happy postscript, the Cangelosi Cards — featuring the slow-burning Jake Sanders and Tamar Korn — will follow the TJC.  For some of us, the next day (Veterans’ Day) is a holiday, so this is reason to celebrate.  “We called it music,” said Eddie Condon, “Guess that’s good enough.”  For me, it certainly is.

KEEP LIVE JAZZ ALIVE!

nicksChecking this blog’s stats this afternoon, I note with pleasure that the preceding post, featuring live video of Jon-Erik Kellso, Chuck Wilson, Ehud Asherie, Kelly Friesen, and Andy Swann, has broken records.  More people have seen this post than any I’ve ever created.  I don’t take credit for this.  Credit belongs to the musicians and to Sweet Rhythm for providing a place for them to create magic on Sunday afternoons.

But I also hope that the people who, like me, are glued to their computers, actually get out and hear jazz live.  That’s one part of the punning title of this blog.  Enjoy this video.  Come up and see me sometime.  I send you a cyber-embrace and real gratutude.  But live jazz has qualities that equal and surpass the finest recordings.  And we need to support it tangibly so that it continues, even flourishes.

Club owners are unmistakably pragmatic.  They will hire those musicians who bring people into the club (people who also spend a dollar or two, if at all possible).  When the musicians outnumber the audience, club owners just turn up the sound on the large-screen televisions mounted over the bar.

So please visit the sites where jazz is being kept alive.  In a random list, they include Sweet Rhythm, Smalls, The Ear Inn, Sofia’s, Birdland, Arthur’s Tavern, Roth’s, Fat Cat, Banjo Jim’s, Cafe Steinhof, the Garage, the Telephone Bar, Moto, Harefield Road, the National Underground, Iridium, the Blue Note . . . and so on.

Nick’s, the home of hot jazz and sizzling steaks, became Your Father’s Mustache, and is now a Gourmet Garage.  As much as I admire the fresh produce and farmhouse cheddars on sale there, I would trade it all for one more thriving jazz club.  We can’t bring back the lost Edens: the Onyx Club, the Half Note, or any of the clubs once called Eddie Condon’s.  But we can keep alive what we have now.  There!  I’ve said it.  See you soon, in the flesh.