Tag Archives: bass clarinet

“OH, MERCY!”: MARTY GROSZ PLAYS JAMES P. JOHNSON at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

Twenty years ago and more, Marty Grosz told an interviewer, somewhat wistfully, “I would have been dynamite in 1933.”

I agreed wholeheartedly when I read those words, and although time has passed, Martin Oliver Grosz can still create spontaneous combustion on the bandstand.

It’s not just his chordal acoustic guitar playing, nor his sweet ballad singing or his romping comedy (vocally and in his extended introductions to each song): it’s the combination of all three.  Marty summons up not only Fats Waller and Red McKenzie but also Dick McDonough and Carl Kress, with a healthy overlay of wicked humor. 

Marty was in characteristic form at Jazz at Chautauqua 2010 — leavening his own recipe for hot music with acidic commentaries.  He had been assembling obscure material and writing charts for a CD devoted to the music of pianist-composer James P. Johnson (pictured above in a 1946 photograph), but when Marty arrived at Chautauqua, he decided to improvise his tribute to James P. — with delightful results.  (I’ll have more to say about that Arbors CD when it appears.)

Marty’s friends and colleagues here are the blazing cornetist Randy Reinhart, reed wizards Dan Block (here on clarinet and bass clarinet) and Scott Robinson (on alto clarinet, I think, and a German version of the echo cornet whose name I have forgotten), the steadily rollicking John Sheridan on piano and double-takes, Vince Giordano on string bass, and Arnie Kinsella on drums.

They began with a sweet ONE HOUR (properly called IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT) which had the right spirit all the way through.  Marty doesn’t recycle Vic Dickenson’s naughty gesture — when Vic, singing, came to “one hour,” he held up two fingers — but he puts his own spin on it, turning this pretty rhythm ballad into a Fats Waller and his Rhythm evocation (what a pity Fats never recorded this one!).  And what a front line — bass clarinet, cornet, and alto clarinet!  Watch Dan Block delight in Randy and Scott; hear Arnie behind Sheridan; savor Marty’s guitar propulsions, pure Albert Edwin Condon — appropriately leading into a modern version of a 1938 Commodore ensemble.  “Oh, mercy!” indeed:

Then, one of Marty’s specialties, A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID (even though he required a second take — jazz while you wait! — to get Andy Razaf’s lyrics in the correct order) — after one of Marty’s ad libs cracks Sheridan up completely.  But once things get properly underway, everyone is in the groove — beautiful horn solos and rocking piano from John, then a surprise bass sax solo from Vince and an interlude from Marty:

Finally, Marty has said that he finds James P.’s most famous song a little limiting as it’s written and performed — so here’s CHARLESTON performed as if Bizet’s Carmen had decided to go uptown (after a let’s-put-on-a-show-in-my-father’s-barn prelude).  Habanera?  Tango?  Spanish tinge?  Whatever it is, does it ever swing (after John delineates the verse in near-classical shadings).  I don’t exactly remember the name of Scott Robinson’s new find (is it a love-child of the echo-cornet?) but he plays it splendidly, even though it was a very new acquisition — leading into Dan on bass clarinet with band interjections behind him (and Arnie’s Cuban enthusiasms), then Randy, soaring, Sheridan rollicking, Arnie stomping — and it gets even better:

Have my viewers guessed just how much I loved this little set?  Or have I successfully concealed my enthusiasm in the name of objectivity?  It’s hard, no, impossible, to be objective about what these musicians create — especially when they are led by M. Grosz.  He can make as many savage jokes as he likes or forget the proper order of lyrics: he’s still dynamite.

ANDY SCHUMM LEADS THE WAY at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

If you’ve been reading this blog even casually, the name Andy Schumm — the hot cornet / piano man from Milwaukee — will not be new to you.  And he continues to offer surprises: his fine, ringing lead; his well-chosen tempos; his deep immersion in the repertoire; the ease with which he melds the heroic choruses of the recordings we’ve all come to treasure with his own improvisations . . . and more.

Here’s the first set he led at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua, a fine, compact outing.  It says a great deal about Andy and the respect that his peers offer him that he was so capably able to get all these personalities — these veteran musicians, for the most part, men of strong opinions — going in his direction.  And that says that his direction pleased them and it was right!  

The band had its own delightful reed section in Bobby Gordon, clarinet, and Dan Block, tenor sax and (wonderfully on WHISPERING), bass clarinet; a one-man trombone section in Bob Havens, and a bouncing rhythm team of John Sheridan, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Jon Burr, bass (Jon fits in everywhere!); Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Andy began with CRAZY RHYTHM, properly not too fast, with Bobby in a wailing Pee Wee Russell mood:

He then called WHISPERING, such a pretty melody (I applaud the inventions of Dizzy and Bird but always hear WHISPERING poking through GROOVIN’ HIGH), where Dan Block picks up his bass clarinet and steals the show until Bobby reminds us of late Lester Young — wandering yet hopeful:

What would a a session be without some homage, large or small, to Louis?  Here, Andy’s idea was a rocking WEARY BLUES, with all the strains of this 1927 favorite firmly in place — fine leadership here:

And, to close, the old anthem to the-eyes-are-the-windows-of-the-soul metaphysical conceit, THEM THERE EYES.  Don’t miss John Sheridan’s romping, tumbling stride chorus:

What a band!  I thought of a Hackett group — from any period — crossed with a Condon Town Hall concert with some Keynote spices and a touch of Fifties Vanguard.  And although it might seem immodest, I keep revisiting these video performances, grinning and bobbing rhythmically in front of the computer, no doubt to the astonishment of my neighbors, should any of them climb a ladder to peer into my second-floor window.

DAN BLOCK’S VIVID IMAGINATIONS

Dan Block is a peerless reed player, arranger, composer, bandleader.  A new CD captures his many imaginations whole.  The picture (by Dan’s daughter Emma) adorns the cover of his Ellington tribute, FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE. 

Tributes to Ellington, hoever well-intentioned, have often become self-limiting, even formulaic.  Some musicians try to duplicate the sound of famous recordings; others rely upon Duke’s hit songs; others nod to an Ellington line for a chorus and then go off on their own.  Dan Block’s way is his own.  No SATIN DOLL, no transcriptions.   Rather, the most familiar songs on this CD are OLD KING DOOJI and KISSING BUG.  (Ask anyone who admires Ellingtonian to hum DOOJI and you’ll see what I mean.)  The repertoire, although not consciously esoteric, encompasses both COTTON CLUB STOMP and SECOND LINE. 

Dan didn’t try to find musicians who could simulate Cootie, Blanton, Greer.  And while he can evoke Jimmy Hamilton, Webster, Gonsalves, Bigard, Hodges, he doesn’t ever shed his own identity.  Every track has its own sound — respectfully inventive.  So an Ellington composition from 1940 (MORNING GLORY) is treated as if it were timeless (which it is) material for melodic improvisation, but never imprisoned by its “period” and “genre.”

Duke’s compositions are deeply re-imagined: KISSING BUG, which leads off, has Dan wistfully playing the line — only after he has perched atop the rattling percussion of Renato Thoms, the drums of Brian Grice, the chiming vibes of Mark Sherman, alternating with 4 /4 sections where we hear James Chirillo’s guitar, Lee Hudson’s bass, Mike Kanan’s piano.  The rhythm section work throughout — in shifting permutations — is energized without being restrictively “modern” or “traditional.”  Although Dan is the only horn player on this CD, I never tired of his sounds or styles.     

I also noticed and applauded the natural sound of the sessions, for which I thank not only Dan but fellow saxophonist Andy Farber, who did the recording and shared mixing duties with Andrew Williams.  The players whose work I knew — James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, Lee Hudson — sound beautifully and thoroughly realized.  The players who were new to me impress me thoroughly. 

Each track has its own suprises — a brief but wholly musical drum solo on BUG; an unaccompanied tenor cadenza on a musing NEW YORK CITY BLUES.  Dan understands that a slight shift of tempo (changing a ballad into a Fifties walk) makes a new composition although the notes seem the same. 

Dan has a searching lyricism, but he also loves to rock, as I see whenever he performs.  Not only does he vary his approach from performance to performance, but his horn (alto, tenor, a variety of clarinets, bass clarinet, and basset horn) without the result becoming gimmicky. 

The disc is full of marvels — but three in particular stand out.  One is THE BEAUTIFUL INDIANS (originally from 1947) that Dan makes into a shimmering impressionist painting through multi-tracking four reed voices (on as many instruments) — reed lines echo and intertwine, then hum and waft — all supported exquisitely by Hudson on bass and O’Leary on cello. 

Another is the ambling ballad medley of ALL HEART and CHANGE MY WAYS, a track combining duets for clarinet and piano, then alto sax and piano.  Mike Kanan is wondrously intuitive, his lines gliding from one beautiful voicing to the next. 

But I marvel the most at the pensive A PORTRAIT OF BERT WILLIAMS reconsidered at a slightly faster tempo as a four-minute chamber piece for Dan, bass clarinet; Chirillo, guitar; O’Leary, cello; Hudson, bass.  Imagine the Budapest Quartet playing Dvorak’s “American” Quartet / hybridized with the Basie rhythm section, with a touch of Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, and Skeeter Best . . . that would hint at this irresistible performance.  (Chirillo’s acoustic playing is both funky and delicate.)  This quartet returns for a sweetly lamenting ROCKS IN MY BED which reminds me of Jimmy Giuffre, Pee Wee Russell, and Danny Barker: you’ll understand when you hear it. 

But this disc is full of pleasures, some instantly apparent, some appearing only on repeated hearings.  The music honors Ellington but no one is subsumed into an already-established idea of “Ellingtonia.”  And the title says a great deal: Dan and friends play approach Ellington’s music by finding revelations within it.     

The disc costs $20.  To order yours, email its creator at BlockDan@aol.com.

THE KINGS OF SWING: THE ANDERSON TWINS’ SEXTET (May 19, 2010)

As far as I can see, the Swing Era isn’t coming back any time soon.  Gone are the days when sixteen or seventeen tuxedo-clad musicians (seated neatly behind their individual music stands bearing the bandleader’s initials) played dances, toured the country in a bus for one-night stands.  1938 and 9 don’t seem to be returning.  Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman have been gone for some time.

But their music isn’t dead and isn’t gone. 

The Anderson Twins proved that last night at 59 E 59 (a New York City theatre located at 59 East 59th Street: http://www.59e59.org.) in two sets devoted to the music Artie and Benny and their bands made in their prime.

The Anderson twins are Pete (on clarinet, tenor, and bass clarinet) and Will (clarinet, alto, and flute).  Pete is on the left in the videos below.  Both are expert musicians — although they young, they are deeply immersed in this music, able to improvise nimbly in it rather than just copying the notes.  And they’re also engaging, low-key bandleaders as well as first-rate arrangers, responsible for the wonderful charts we heard. which kept the flavor of the big bands without seeming cut-down or compressed. 

At this concert (with no microphones: how rare and wonderful!), the other players were Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Ehud Asherie (piano), Clovis Nicolas (string bass), and Steve Little (drums).  The premise of this week of concerts was to consider who the real King of Swing was — which one of the rather neurotic, talented Jewish clarinet players from immigrant backgrounds was the reining musical monarch. 

Of course, Will and Pete like each other too much to make it into a dysfunctional musical family onstage: the atmosphere was congenial, and the boys didn’t vie for the limelight.  And it was very sweet to know that their parents were in the audience: we chatted with Will, Pete, and their mother and father after the concert: gentle, unaffected people.   

The series of concerts runs from May 18-23 and again from May 25-30.  The second week’s performances focus on Shaw’s music and to the vocalists who sang with the band — hence the appearance of the charming Daryl Sherman in Week Two, who will sing some of the music associated with Billie Holiday’s brief stint with the band and Helen Forrest’s longer one.  Daryl is a contemporary singer who actually worked with an “Artie Shaw band” supervised by the Master himself — and I am sure she will have good stories.  Incidentally, the second week of concerts celebrates Shaw’s centennial, an occasion for celebration. 

The boys promise that there will be new repertoire throughout the run of the concerts, so that’s good reason for going more than once.  Various musicians will fill the chairs: Charlie Caranicas and Mat Jodrell (trumpet), Steve Ash (piano), and Kevin Dorn (drums). 

Last night, we arrived late and missed AVALON, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?, STARDUST, CARIOCA, MOONGLOW, STEALIN’ APPLES.  Marianne Mangan (there happily with husband Bob Levin) told us that STARDUST followed the iconic Shaw Victor recording, but that there had been a good deal of impromptu jamming otherwise.

Here are seven performances from last night’s concert, beginning with an excerpt from the Sextet’s extended exploration of CONCERTO FOR CLARINET, Artie’s “answer” to Benny’s SING SING SING:

FRENESI was a huge hit for Artie and his band, and this nifty arrangement (with Will on flute and Pete on bass clarinet) not only summons up the Shaw band, but also echoes the Alec Wilder Octet, always a good thing:

BEGIN THE BEGUINE, more evidence of Artie Shaw’s affinity for Cole Porter, became the ironic apex of his career.  No one expected it would be a massive popular hit, and he came to hate it and the people who demanded that he play it.  Here the Andersons offer a bouncy, entirely unironic reading of the song.  Too bad there was no room for dancing:

GOOD-BYE (a treat to hear it before the end of a concert!) was the Goodman band’s closing theme, a melancholy song by Gordon Jenkins.  Goodman fanciers are used to hearing it in fragments, as the broadcast fades away, but the Andersons are generous listeners and players, and offered this beautifully textured and complete arrangement:

When Goodman planned the program for his January 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, one of the organizing ideas was “Twenty Years of Jazz,” beginning with the ODJB and going up to “the present.”  Of course there had to be a tribute to Louis, and Harry James was asked (or asked to?) to perform Louis’s astounding solo on SHINE (or S-H-I-N-E, if you prefer).  Here Jon-Erik plays his own version of the classic explosion, with encouragement from his colleagues:

It might say a good deal about Artie’s approach to his audiences that he didn’t open his shows with something pretty, accessible.  Rather he gave his jitterbugging fans a good dose of their darkest urges and fears in NIGHTMARE:

The evening concluded with a romping LADY BE GOOD — in an arrangement that owed a good deal to the Shaw band, to Eddie Durham’s chart of EVERY TUB for the 1938 Count Basie band, and to Lester Young — although Benny had his own good time playing the Gershwin standard in every conceivable context:

The Kings of the Swing Era may be dead, but long live their successors!

[Just so no one makes our mistake of arriving late, there are no shows on Monday.  Tuesday and Wednesday, the show starts at 7.  Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, it’s moved to 8, and there’s a Sunday matinee at 3.]