Tag Archives: banjo

JIMMY MAZZY’S SOULFUL SELVES: SARAH SPENCER, BILL SINCLAIR, ART HOVEY (2019, 2016)

I first have to thank my dear friend Sarah Spencer — essential in so many ways — for telling me about the first video (as well as being the central part of those that follow).  This small post is about the divinely inspired Jimmy Mazzy, banjo icon, magnificent singer, and occasionally philosopher-humorist.

Jimmy was inducted into the American Banjo Museum’s Hall of Fame in September 2019, and happily there is a video tribute.  The first five minutes are a respectful overview of his career, with delightful photographs and a snippet of performance, leading up to his own solo turn on MY PRAYER.

Dear viewers, please make time to drink in the majesty of this performance.  I think of Jimmy as at heart shy — but when he begins to sing, passion courses through him and comes straight to us.  It’s electrifying, and it is a prayer.

As a kind of aesthetic palate-cleanser (that’s a compliment, son) here is Steve Provizer’s wonderful profile of Jimmy in THE SYNCOPATED TIMES, notable for Jimmy’s deeply-felt candor and humanity.

I have had only one extended occasion to witness Jimmy — majestic, funky, hilarious, and completely soulful — right up close, at Sarah’s Wine Bar, in Ridgefield, Connecticut, when he appeared with Sarah, Art Hovey, and Bill Sinclair on August 28, 2016.  Again, divinely inspired, joyous, and touching.  The performance is here in three parts: here, here,  and here.  At the time, we knew this evening was something special: it radiates even more strongly now.

May your happiness increase!

“DOING THINGS RIGHT”: EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020)

Eddy Davis — that bright light, never very far from his banjo, always ready to propel the band, to play the proper chords, to uplift everyone with song — one that he wrote or a venerable classic — moved on after his illness yesterday afternoon.  My title for this post is because I think it will never be possible for me to think of him as was.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

Although I witnessed him in all his splendor over fifteen years, I didn’t get to know him in the way I might have others whom I saw and spoke to more regularly.  So in Eddy’s case, the music — eloquent, subtle, brightly-colored —  will speak for him here.  The last time I saw him was December 26, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village, where he was one-fourth of that night’s swinging quartet: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds and vocal; Conal Fowkes, string bass and vocal.  I’ve presented a hot performance from that evening here.

And now, with more complicated emotions, I offer the first three performances of that night.  They start off easily — I think of the way musicians feel the pulse of the room, get used to their instruments (even if it’s only been a day since they were last playing), take the  measure of their friends on the stand.  But don’t underestimate this music: I think of spicy cuisine that initially tastes tame but then after a few spoonfuls, you realize just how hot it is.

BOGALUSA STRUT:

and some basic math — doin’ things right:

and a dream of the place where they make you welcome all the time:

I will devote the next few days to honoring the sly, expert, exuberant Eddy — through performances I captured and through the recollections of others who were at closer range . . . who were playing rather than behind a camera.  He remains is.

And someone I respect deeply, Scott Robinson, has written this tender essay about Eddy, which I offer to you here:

I’ve just lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in music. Eddy Davis was a highly significant and influential presence in my life. He was a fiercely individualistic performer… a veteran of the old Chicago days when music was hot, joyful, exuberant and unselfconscious. A character and a curmudgeon, who could hold court for hours after the gig. And a loving mentor who helped younger musicians like myself learn and grow in this music.

I had only played with Eddy a handful of times when he called me in late 1998 to say that he was forming a new band to fill a weekly Wednesday spot at the Cajun on 8th Avenue. He wanted me to play lead on C melody saxophone, in a little group with two reeds, and no drums. This by itself gives a clue to what an original thinker he was.

I already knew that Eddy was a proficient and highly individualistic stylist on the banjo, who sounded like no one else. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that this man was also a walking repository of many hundreds if not thousands of tunes of every description, ranging far beyond the standard repertoire… with a fascinating background story at the ready for nearly every one. I quickly learned that he was also a prolific and idiosyncratic composer himself, with a wonderfully philosophical work ethic: write original music every day, keep what works, and throw the rest away without a backward glance.

Eddy was also what used to be called a “character”: affable, opinionated, hilarious, and irascible all in one, and above all highly passionate about music. What I learned over the ensuing 7 ½ years in Eddy’s little band, I cannot begin to describe. I came to refer to those regular Wed. sessions as my “doctor’s appointment” — for they fixed whatever ailed me, and provided the perfect antidote to the ills of the world, and of the music scene. Over the years we were graced with the presence of some very distinguished musicians who came by and sat in with us, including Harry Allen, Joe Muranyi, Bob Barnard, Howard Johnson, and Barry Harris.

Eddy was generous with his strong opinions, with his knowledge and experience, and with his encouragement. But he was a generous soul in other ways as well. When he heard that I was building a studio (my “Laboratory”), he had me come by the apartment and started giving me things out of his closets. A Roland 24-track recorder… three vintage microphones… instruments… things that I treasure, and use every single day of my life. When my father turned 75, Eddy came out to New Jersey and played for him, and wouldn’t take a dime for it.

When I got the call today that Eddy had passed — another victim of this horrible virus that is ruining so many lives, and our musical life as well — I hung up the phone and just cried. Later I went out to my Laboratory, and kissed every single thing there that he had given to me. How cruel to lose such an irreplaceable person… killed by an enemy, as my brother commented, that is neither visible nor sentient.

THE CAJUN, by Barbara Rosene –a Wednesday night.

One night at the Cajun stands out in my memory, and seems particularly relevant today. It was the night after the last disaster that changed New York forever: the World Trade Center attack. There was a pall over the city, the air was full of dust, and there was a frightful, lingering smell. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “This is crazy.” But somehow we all made our way to the nearly empty club. We were in a state of shock; nobody knew what to say. I wondered if we would even be able to play. We took the stage, looked at each other, and counted off a tune. The instant the first note sounded, I was overcome with emotion and my face was full of tears. Suddenly I understood exactly why we were there, why it was so important that we play this music. We played our hearts out that night — for ourselves, for our city, and for a single table of bewildered tourists, stranded in town by these incomprehensible events. They were so grateful for the music, so comforted by it.

The simple comfort of live music has been taken from us now. We must bear this loss, and those that will surely follow, alone… shut away in our homes. I know that when the awful burden of this terrible time has finally been lifted, when we can share music, life, and love again, it will feel like that night at the Cajun. My eyes will fill, my heart will sing, and the joy that Eddy Davis gave me will be with me every time I lift the horn to my face, for as long as I live.

Scott Robinson

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

May your happiness increase!

AN HOUR OF JOY WITH EDDIE ERICKSON and FRIENDS at the JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY: DANNY TOBIAS, KATIE CAVERA, GARY RYAN, JERRY KRAHN (March 6, 2020)

In one of those curious episodes of dislocation we all take for granted (read Philip K. Dick’s “The Eyes Have It”) my ears met Eddie Erickson long before the rest of me caught up.  Perhaps I first heard him on recordings with Dan Barrett, Rebecca Kilgore, Melissa Collard?  I know we met in Germany in 2007 for one of Manfred Selchow’s concert weekends, and a few years later, in California.  More to the point: I saw him, to my great delight, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in March of this year.

Those who know Eddie only superficially categorize him as a dazzling vaudevillian — someone who, had he been born earlier, would have starred in Vitaphone short films and on Broadway — a natural comedian, a banjo virtuoso, a walking compendium of lovable entertainment.  I think of his performances of MY CANARY HAS CIRCLES UNDER HIE EYES and the dreadful honeymoon night of SIDE BY SIDE.  But he goes much deeper.  I celebrate the other Eddie: the swinging guitarist whose solos make sense, and, perhaps most of all, the very touching ballad singer.  And were you to visit my YouTube channel,  “swingyoucats”, you would find that I’ve been documenting Eddie’s multi-faceted self for nearly a decade now.

But that’s history of a very delightful kind, which I plan to add to right now.  What follows is a set of music performed on March 6, 2020, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, under the title “Eddie Erickson and Friends.”  Strictly speaking, that was inaccurate, because if all of Eddie’s friends had assembled at 7:39 in the Colton Room, all the other rooms would have been empty and the fire marshals would have been called.  So it was “and Friends who are Expert Musicians,” which meant Jerry Krahn, guitar; Katie Cavera, string bass and vocal; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Gary Ryan, banjo and vocal; Kathy Becker, attendant to the Emperor.

Two details to point out before you dive in.  Ordinarily, I would edit the pre-song conversation and getting-ready more seriously, but in Eddie’s case, his asides are precious, so what you have here is as close to the full hour as my camera would allow.  (I lost a few notes of ALWAYS, but you can imagine what was left out.)  And ordinarily I would not post ten performances at one time, but I envision people — needing more joy and uplift right now — setting aside an hour to visit with Eddie, to savor the joy they might not have been able to have when it was happening.  So . . . stop multi-tasking and enjoy, please.

After an introduction that hints at ZONKY, Eddie heads into BLUE SKIES:

What would a jazz festival be without a belated coronation?

Gary Ryan keeps working at it, in honor of the National Pastime:

When skies are cloudy and gray . . . we can always think of Eddie:

Katie Cavera’s saucy feature, I BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS:

Louis, 1947 — SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

Jerry Krahn’s pretty IF I HAD YOU:

A banjo Ecstasy for Messrs. Erickson and Ryan, THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE, with a little Prokofiev at the start and some NOLA:

Something to change the mood, Danny Tobias’ ST. JAMES INFIRMARY:

Eddie’s heartfelt version of Berlin’s ALWAYS:

And a closing romp on Hoagy’s JUBILEE:

What a treasure Eddie is!

May your happiness increase!

SPREADING JOY IN PHILADELPHIA with MARTY GROSZ, DANNY TOBIAS, RANDY REINHART, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, JACK SAINT CLAIR, VINCE GIORDANO, JIM LAWLOR, BRENNAN ERNST (March 4, 2020)

On April 1, Bucky Pizzarelli left us, and he is much in my and other people’s thoughts: see here.  But as Gabriel Conroy says in Joyce’s The Dead,” referring to people we mourn, “Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely with our work among the living.

So let us also celebrate the living who continue to uplift our spirits.

and

and

Looks like fun.  It was.

On February 28, Marty turned ninety, and on March 4, there was a party held in his honor (organized by Joe Plowman and Jim Gicking) at the World Cafe Live — in conjunction with the publication of Marty’s autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE (Golden Alley Press, thanks to Nancy J. Sayre) — which I’ve described here.  Excellent reading material for those rediscovering books these days!

Marty’s glowering expression on the cover says, “You can listen to music for free, but buy the book, for Chrissake!”

But back to the music.  The World Cafe Live was sold out, the audience was happy and attentive, and Marty enjoyed himself — he even picked up the banjo on several numbers, and here’s one (the last tune of the first set) JAZZ ME BLUES at a nice easy lope.  His colleagues for this number are Vince Giordano, bass saxophone; Jack Saint Clair, tenor saxophone; Scott Robinson, sarrusophone; Dan Block, clarinet; Brennan Ernst, piano; Jim Lawlor, drums; Randy Reinhart, trombone; Danny Tobias, trumpet:

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

THE JOHNNY DODDS JUBILEE, PART ONE: WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 8, 2014)

This was a truly delightful set, balancing neatly between uproarious riot and precise tribute, where the participants paid tribute to New Orleans / Chicago clarinetist Johnny Dodds by evoking some of his less famous recordings.  Those expert participants were Claus Jacobi, reeds; Matthias Seuffert and Thomas Winteler, clarinet; Rico Tomasso, cornet; Martin Litton, piano; Spats Langham, Jacob Ullberger, Martin Wheatley, banjo; Malcolm Sked, bass; Nicholas Ball, washboard. (That’s the collective personnel: you’ll see / hear who is playing on each number.)

Here’s the first part, as captured at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party on November 8, 2014.

I note with pleasure how happy the musicians look — and that’s no stage joke. The most accurate emotional barometer on this little stage is the visage of one Nick Ball, percussionist supreme: he looks as if he’s going to explode with rhythmic joy.  You can imagine how happy I was from behind my camera.

IDLE HOUR SPECIAL (with an unexpected cameo by a t-shirted jazz fan at 4:00, who momentarily blocked the view but thankfully not the sound — I knew he was a “jazz fan” because it was written on his shirt, thus saving me the need to speculate):

ORIENTAL MAN:

39TH AND DEARBORN:

CARPET ALLEY BREAKDOWN:

More to come.  And you might want to investigate this year’s Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.  It’s a place where such things happen — beautifully — throughout a long weekend.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

 

OUR BUDDIES: DUKE HEITGER, ANDY SCHUMM, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, HOWARD ALDEN, JON BURR, PETE SIERS at the ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 22, 2014)

In the jam session scenes of films of the preceding century, the two or three trumpet players are always competitive, their horns extending towards the sky, solos played faster, louder, higher. I’m sure this assertive display still goes on somewhere, but the true masters of collaborative creation understand that music is an enterprise where you welcome other players and thus make an audience welcome from the start.

You can experience it here: at the Allegheny Jazz Party, on September 22, 2014: featuring Duke Heitger, trumpet; Andy Schumm, cornet and clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Howard Alden, banjo; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums — and the text for the mellow sermon was, appropriately, Walter Donaldson’s MY BUDDY:

Making lifelong friendships in and through music.

May your happiness increase!