Tag Archives: bass saxophone

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Nine) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Are you listening?

Before we inch forward, here is the doorway to the previous eight posts of Sunday-evening joy and solace at 326 Spring Street.

Return with us to the thrilling nights of yore, which will come again.

Because I feel that everyone is in the late-summer doldrums, I’ve ladled out a double helping from the glorious session of March 21, 2010.  Here, the EarRegulars are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, bass sax; Pete Martinez, clarinet, and guest Julian Lage, guitar.

CHINA BOY:

and a stunning I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN — Julian sat back and admired the proceedings:

“No place is grander, I do declare.” Yes, 326 Spring Street but also LOUISIANA:

I hear a CREOLE LOVE CALL:

That NAUGHTY SWEETIE certainly gets around:

Scott leads off, so sweetly, for AT SUNDOWN:

And here’s something that touches my heart — not only the wondrous Pete Martinez making his way so beautifully, but also Scott playing both piccolo and bass sax; and guests John Bucher, cornet; Dave Gross, guitar.  It touches me so to hear John quote COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN.  And the chosen text is I NEVER KNEW:

WHISPERING, with the same house band and guests:

And a very nostalgic IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Every Sunday night at The Ear Inn was typical — people who knew, knew what to expect — but “typical” was also remarkable.  Utter the right invocations to the Goddess of Heartfelt Lyrical Swing and they will have a salutary effect.  See you there when the clouds clear.

May your happiness increase!

MORTON FOR MAY: DAVID HORNIBLOW / ANDREW OLIVER DO IT FOR US!

Yes, those gifted young men are here again, ringing the Mortonian doorbell to let us know that it is Tuesday (already?!) and that means two more Jelly Roll Morton compositions rendered faithfully but not stiffly by Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, reeds.

Here’s a frolicsome STROKIN’ AWAY — with surprising twists and turns:

Talk about surprising: here’s David on his new bass sax, and the duo performs JUNGLE BLUES, which is built on only one chord:

As always, here is the YouTube channel for the Complete Morton Project, where more delights by Andrew and David can be found.

May your happiness increase!

STUDY YOUR PRONOUNS at THE EAR INN with THE EARREGULARS (JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, ATTILA KORB: January 25, 2015)

A pronoun takes the place of a noun in a sentence, so, rather than saying “Emily,” we might say “her.”

First, THEM: a personal pronoun referring to a group of people or objects. “Move them off the table so we can eat, please,” is one example.

THEM THERE EYES (although more casual than formal) is another:

Second, THAT: a demonstrative pronoun that demonstrates or indicates.  I always think of these pronouns as fingers pointing our eyes to something specific.  “That‘s a horrible tie you’re wearing,” is one possibility.

THAT’S A PLENTY (again, more casual than formal) is another, full of delicious thrilling mutant sounds:

(It may strike some as ego-display, but I love the woman — who’s a fixture on Sunday nights — passing the Bucket, who says to me at :08, “Oh, great, you’re taping this.  That’s awesome!”  Thank you, dear lady, wherever you are.)

The grammar lesson is concluded.  Those who wish to correct my grammar are kindly requested to line up at the outer door marked JAZZ LIVES and wait patiently until it opens.  Bring something to read.

And by the way, this magical music took place on Sunday night, January 25, 2015, at The Ear Inn, the home of happy sounds in Soho, 326 Spring Street, New York City.  The heroic participants are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, bass saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Attila Korb, trombone.

Bless Them; That music is spectacular, isn’t it?

May your happiness increase!

A SHORT TRIP TO THE SWING SHRINE: THE EARREGULARS CREATE BEAUTY (JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, ATTILA KORB, JANUARY 25, 2015)

Here are two glowing lessons on how to make the familiar brightly new: taught to us in the most endearing ways by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, bass sax and taragoto; Attila Korb, trombone.  Vocal interjections by Barry Foley, the temporarily landlocked pirate of Soho.

All of this beauty took place on January 25, 2015, at the Swing Shrine — The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York, where the EarRegulars uplift us on Sunday nights from 8-11 PM.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

DINAH:

If you want to observe virtuosic solo playing; it’s all here.  If you want to marvel at a small community of like-minded souls who work together to make orchestral joy, that too.

A few other blissful moments from this session can be found here and here.

Bless these musicians for bringing swing to us.   And it continues.  Find your way to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night while these miracles can be experienced first-hand.

May your happiness increase! 

TWO MINUTES AND TWENTY-SEVEN SECONDS

My title doesn’t refer to someone’s hallowed solo or a famous 78 recording.  No, it’s music created this month, March 2015.

I have watched with pleasure and amusement the birth and development of a new band — no, a new instrumental ensemble with its own gravely whimsical music.  The object of my affection is the Endangered Species Trio, which brings together Emily Asher, trombone; Tom Abbott, bass saxophone; Rob Reich, accordion.

I could make a case for all species as being endangered these days, but the title refers more to the three instruments, which have been the subject of curiosity (at best), sliding down to active mockery, contempt, disdain, and incredulity. Except for the trombone, which has a certain acceptance — although there are many jokes about trombones and trombonists — the bass saxophone and the accordion are regarded, at best, as highly miscellaneous instruments, even though both of them are capable of great beauty.

Tom, Emily, and Rob just returned from a brief stay at an artists’ retreat in Banff, and they shared this delicious musical vignette, TOM AND LIZ, on YouTube.

Humor me.  Even if you have deep reservations about “original compositions” by jazz artists; even if the thought of the accordion brings up deep childhood traumas, experience this beautiful cockeyed swinging melodic many-textured interlude:

I expect to have a good day — pleasing experiences have already taken place and there are more to come — but for sheer compact pleasure, these two minutes and twenty-seven seconds will be hard to top.

Go ahead:  see if you can listen to it only once.  I dare you.

More about this wonderful group here.

May your happiness increase! 

TWO GALS FROM SOHO (Jan. 25, 2015)

What you’re about to see is true.  And I will testify to this under oath.  It happened at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday night, January 25, 2015, when The EarRegulars were nobly ensconced, as they should be.  (May they always be!)

That Sunday’s version of The EarRegulars was Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, bass saxophone; Attila Korb (our friend from Hungary) trombone.

Midway through the first set, the wise suggestion was made that Scott Robinson could play the lead on a selection of his choice.  I know that Scott is renowned for interstellar explorations of the most courageous kind, but he is also a deep loving melodist — and here is SLEEPY TIME GAL as proof:

(SLEEPY TIME GAL, if you are not familiar with it, would suggest a cozy woman, ready to curl up in bed — ideally with the singer cuddled alongside — ready for sweet dreams.  But the lyrics are different: the singer is a little concerned that his Gal never seems to want to come to bed at all before daybreak.  A very different scenario.)

This version, so sweet and tender, reminds me of an unissued Seger Ellis side from 1929 with accompaniment from Jack Purvis, apparently doubling trumpet and trombone — a rare masterpiece.  Even the faint annoying tinkling of someone’s smartphone a few barstools away in the beginning of this performance did not ruin the mood.

Later in the evening, musicians made the trip to the Shrine, and some of them had brought their instruments (physical and vocal).  The penultimate selection of that night was MY GAL SAL, and the guest artists were Charlie Caranicas, trumpet (seated on the barstool to my left, so you see only the bell of his horn, rising and falling like a heartbeat, but you know he’s there);  Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Will Reardon Anderson, alto sax.  And they romped:

(SAL, by the way, is much less complex than her SLEEPY TIME compatriot.  I can’t speak to SAL’s nocturnal rhythms, but she is a pal, dead on the level . . . someone who would pull your car out of a ditch if you asked her.)

The Ear Inn is a sacred place.  I hope you’ve been there and can continue to support this beauty.

May your happiness increase!

JOE RUSHTON’S JAZZ HOME MOVIES, 1943: HERBIE HAYMER, JIMMY McPARTLAND, MIFF MOLE, BILL PRIESTLEY, AND A FEW OTHER LUMINARIES

Joe Rushton was an eminent bass saxophonist and clarinetist.  You can hear him on a variety of recordings — perhaps most often with Red Nichols’ later Pennies.

home movie camera

But he also owned a home movie camera in 1943 and onwards, as many people did.  However, where the average amateur films show Mom and the kids at holiday meals, or perhaps the new puppy on the lawn, Joe’s films show his jazz friends goofing around — on the West Coast, as members of the Benny Goodman band, on their way to play the gig and to appear in THE GANG’S ALL HERE.

Joe’s son, Josh, has not only rescued these film clips — black and white and silent — from oblivion, but he’s taken good care of them, annotated them, and put a few on YouTube here for us to marvel at and be amused by.  Here are two recent gifts to us and an astonishing one — in case you haven’t seen it recently. The odd allure of these films is strong yet hard to define.  Is it that the people captured here almost always come to us as sound, occasionally with a still picture — and those sounds have come to represent the whole men or women.  So when we see, for instance, that Miff Mole actually had a corporeal reality in some ways larger and more human than his notes coming out of the speaker, that’s a pleasure and a surprise.  When we see him in motion, putting on one suspender for the camera, not wearing his suit or his tiny eyeglasses, we might think, “They were human, too!”  Always a valuable realization.

Thank you, Joe!  Thank you, Josh!

Saxophonists Herbie Haymer (who played with Norvo as well as BG and showed up on a fine Keynote Records date around this time:

Any expert lip readers in the worldwide JAZZ LIVES audience?

And this group of playful jazz icons, captured at their ease:

So far the best guess at “the mystery man” is that he is Chummy MacGregor . . .

Finally, what may have been the most astonishing find in the Rushton archives, something I’ve already written about here:

May your happiness increase.

SKVORECKY and ROBINSON — BASS SAXOPHONE(S) in CONCERT

Skvorecky

That’s the much-missed Czech novelist Josef Skvorecky, who died in 2012, and the happily-with-us multi-instrumentalist and deep thinker Scott Robinson.  I don’t know how I first found my way to Skvorecky’s work, but perhaps thirty years ago I picked up THE BASS SAXOPHONE, a novella — recommended on the back by Graham Greene (!) and was entranced in the first few pages.  Skvorecky was wry without being broad (although he indulged a taste for slapstick in several of his books), whimsical without being silly, political without being overly didactic.

Skvorecky Bass Saxophone

And he wrote beautifully about jazz — how it felt to play it (he had been an amateur tenor saxophonist in his teens), what the music did for listeners and dancers . . . in the Forties world where having a Chick Webb record was both a radical act and a life-affirming one.

I found out that he was teaching at a Canadian university, and (acting on impulse) I sent him an admiring letter and a cassette tape which had Joe Rushton (the bass saxophone master) on one side and and Art Tatum on the other.  He sent back a very gracious handwritten note of thanks which I still have — it’s tucked into my copy of THE ENGINEER OF HUMAN SOULS.

I just found out about a wonderful concert that I know JAZZ LIVES readers in the New York area would find very rewarding.  I will still be in California, so you’re on your own here.  It’s taking place this coming Wednesday. January 9, 2013,  at 7 PM, at Bohemian National Hall on the east side of Manhattan.

From Scott Robinson himself:

This special event, a “jazz and literary tribute to Josef Skvorecky,” is co-sponsored by the Czech Center and the Dvorak American Heritage Association.  Readings from the great writer’s work, including excerpts from his famous novel The Bass Saxophone, will be interspersed with the music.  I will play bass saxophone exclusively, along with my dear friend pianist Emil Viklicky – who knew Skvorecky personally – plus Martin Wind on bass and Klaus Suonsaari on drums.  All the details are here.

It’s not an overstatement to say that this is a rare opportunity to enjoy the best intersection of literature and music — with great improvisers in each realm.  I urge you to be there!  Admission (at the door) is $20; students, senior citizens, Czech Center Club Members $10.

May your happiness increase.

SOUL MUSIC: THE SCANDINAVIAN RHYTHM BOYS (April 2011)

The four gentlemen who make up the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys make more music than a full orchestra — simple yet deep, propulsive yet full of feeling, with arching melodies, deep roots, and more.  They are Robert Hansson, trumpet; Frans Sjostrom, bass and soprano saxophones; Michael Boving, banjo, guitar, and vocal; Ole Olsen, bass and clarinet.  The excellent videos were created by Flemming Thorbye, my Scandinavian comrade.

Here’s a lovely, poignant version of I’M COMIN’ VIRGINA, with Bix in mind:

MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR was “written” by W.C. Handy as the ATLANTA BLUES.  Here, this achingly slow version features Frans on soprano saxophone and Michael on one of his irreplaceable deep-inside vocals.  Robert dares the brass Fates and Ole lays down a foundation you could build a cathedral on:

The Boys ask the unanswerable existential question, HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY?

Michael continues in the same searching vein, “How long will I have to wait?” enclosed in this rendition of HESITATING BLUES.  (For passion without artifice, he touches the heart every time!):

JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH ME is perfect for a jazz lecture in a church (a very hip church that has both the SRB and a menorah):

Moving again towards secular matters, the Boys explore BUDDY’S HABIT.  We don’t know what his habit was — but I suspect he couldn’t get enough hot, lyrical jazz of the kind the SRB lays down here:

And finally — the most endearing version of “Mind your own business!” you’ll ever hear — AIN’T NOBODY’S BUSINESS IF I DO:

For those who can’t get enough of proper documentation, the first performance was recorded at the Hotel Christiansminde, Svendborg, Denmark, on April 16, 2011.  The remainder were captured at a jazz lecture given by the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys on April 30, 2011, at Broenshoej Kirke — the oldest church in Copenhagen (from 1180) titled GOSPEL, JAZZ, AND THE SONGS OF THE OPPRESSED. 

To hear more, find the SRB’s latest CD — CHARLESTON MAD — a wonderful effort.    

Thank you, Michael, Frans, Robert, Ole, and Flemming!

P.S.  Flemming Thorbye has excellent taste in hot jazz: visit his YouTube channel, thorbye, for much more enjoyment.

WHAT RAPT CONTEMPLATION LOOKS LIKE

Josh Rushton, the very generous son of bass saxophonist (and clarinetist) Joe Rushton, sent along this photograph of his father — one of our collective heroes:

Josh says:

Hope your new year is starting out OK.  Just came across another shot of dad in rapt concentration, probably to a playback of just recorded track.  Not sure when this taken, could be early 1960’s or thereabouts in LA.  After seeing the PanAm bag in the distance, I might assume this took place after the 1960 good will tour for the US government?  Most of our family’s great B&W shots (including this one no doubt) were courtesy of Bill Wood, Red Nichols’ clarinet player back then, a good friend and frequent visitor to the Rushton household, and an avid near-pro photographer who never went anywhere without his Leica camera.

Making beauty is serious business!

Heartfelt thanks to both Rushtons and Bill Wood for their generous spirits.

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DO YOU SPEAK BIX? (ANDY SCHUMM and his BIXOLOGISTS at WHITLEY BAY 2010)

The title is not as fanciful as it seems.  Bix Beiderbecke lived in and created his own world, much as Lester Young did — and it had its own private musical language.  Think of the special break on SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, the modulation into the vocal on SUNDAY, and more.  So when a group of musicians get together to play the Bix-and-Tram repertoire, it’s especially rewarding when they know all the curves in the road and share all the musical in-jokes.

This playful unity happens whenever Andy Schumm gets to lead a group of his musical intimates, and it was especially in evidence at his closing session at the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival in the summer of 2010.  Here are the remaining nine performances from that set.  The musicians are Andy, cornet and piano; Paul Munnery, trombone; Norman Field, reeds and vocal; Keith Nichols, piano and vocal; Spats Langham, banjo, guitar, vocal; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Josh Duffee, drums and vocal; Nick Ward, drums.

Josh tells the tale on THERE AIN’T NO LAND LIKE DIXIELAND TO ME:

And here’s DEEP DOWN SOUTH, edging towards its proper ballad tempo:

When the sun goes down and the tide goes out . . . all the percussionists assemble for a choke-cymbal conversation (that’s Nick Ward to the right) on MISSISSIPPI MUD:

The band-within-a-band pays homage to Bix, Tram, and Lang on WRINGIN’ AND TWISTIN’:

Have you received your packet of seeds?  Political commentary aside, I wish that ev’rybody was doin’ it now, the WA-DA-DA way:

Thinking of the glorious Jean Goldkette band in 1927 with SUNDAY:

Now that we all know how to pronounce CLEMENTINE (she comes from New Orleans), let’s hear Norman Field sing about her charms:

Watch Spats Langham become the whole Paul Whiteman Orchestra on CHANGES:

Andy and the Bixologists offered a splendidly rocking SORRY to conclude:

I’d call these musicians (and singers) post-doctorate linguists, wouldn’t you?

LISTENING TO BIX, 1956

Josh Rushton, son of the late bass saxophonist / clarinetist Joe Rushton, sent this photograph — taken in his family house in Silverlake, California, in 1956.  The three men here are rapt in concentration, listening to Joe’s Bix Beiderbecke 78s.  From the left, they are cornetist Tom Pletcher, happily still with us, his father Stewart Pletcher — no longer alive but brought back to life through an extraordinary audio portrait on the JAZZ ORACLE label, and Rushton himself.  Josh pointed out the very exciting wallpaper (how could anyone miss it?) and the fact that it was used to cover the front of the floor-standing speaker to the right.  And don’t miss the photos on the wall of the Rushton den!  The photograph here gets deeper as you look more into it: the family photograph on the wall echoes the jazz family depicted and the jazz family gathered to listen to Bix. 

To me, casual photography seems devalued these days, with everyone snapping candids of themselves on their smartphones, but a photograph like this captures people, a place, a way of being: you can almost hear the records spinning. 

The photograph appears here courtesy of Josh Rushton, and is reproduced with his kind permission.

WHOLLY WRIT

As I see it, here are the three possibilities.

The best thing that might have happened to one of us would have been to play alongside Adrian Rollini in a band.

The next best thing would have been to have heard that band and gotten Rollini’s autograph.  (Extra points if he wrote your name on the piece of paper.)

The next best thing would be to be able to purchase a Rollini autograph:

Now, here’s another example.  See if you can do this one on your own:

If that signature seems tantalizingly elusive, it’s Glenn Miller.

Those two pieces of paper are both for sale (as I write this) in the same eBay lot — the third is a Les Brown autograph.  Stranger things have happened, but I can’t quite think of them at the moment.

RINGSIDE AT RANDY’S: JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

Here’s another tangible reminder of how wonderful the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua experience was.  

In four songs, cornetist Randy Reinhart created a rewarding reflection of the jazz played by Eddie Condon and friends.

I can’t say for sure that Randy had this theme in mind at all.  Perhaps he thought, “OK, here’s the band I’ve been asked to lead — great soloists and a cooking rhythm section.  Let’s make it easy for the guys to have fun and the audience, too — a reliable swinger to start with, a pretty change of pace, a feature for someone, and a hot one to go out on!” 

But much more happened on that bandstand.  First off, Randy had prime melodists and swingers around him: Bob Havens, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Sheridan, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass and bass sax (Vince never sidled over to the tuba on this set); Arnie Kinsella, drums. 

A band like that can do anything — especially with a leader who has the good sense to keep things reasonably uncomplicated (save the fugues for later) and to give his players — almost all of them leaders on their own — space to invent.

Randy began his set with a Gershwin classic, another piece of music whose title is a witty affirmation, ‘S’WONDERFUL, and kicked it off at a nice tempo, not too fast.  You’ll notice that although no one is consciously “modernistic,” the harmonic vocabulary here hasn’t stopped at 1936.  Hear the wonderful teamwork between Bobby and Marty when Bobby takes his winding, musing solo.  Bob Havens here reminds me of the great and under-celebrated Lou McGarity, and Vince (in his own way) summons up both Adrian Rollini and Ernie Caceres in his bass sax solo.  Everyone gets aphoristic in the four-bar trades that follow before the final sauntering ensemble:

Randy featured himself — but in a very modest fashion — in duet with the thoughtfully swinging John Sheridan on something that was the very opposite of formulaic: a wonderful song from the 1933 Bing Crosby book, LEARN TO CROON — and the duet showed that they, too, had already passed the graduate course with honors: Randy’s ringing tone, John’s harmonic subtleties show that they’ve eliminated each rival immediately:

Turning to one of the sidemen and saying, “Here’s your turn; do whatever you’d like,” might lead even the most creative musician into His or Her Feature.  Vic Dickenson played MANHATTAN for years, alternating with IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD; Jack Teagarden had his half-dozen specialties. 

Bob Havens always surprises — not only with his super-gliding technique — but this choice was extra-special: BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILV’RY MOON, a pretty song that used to be part of the American musical landscape (and was parodied in cartoons) before lesser music came along.  I suspect that Bob, a solid product of the sweet Midwest, had heard, sung and played the song, through childhood and adulthood.  And what he and the immensely melodic Mr. Giordano did here is priceless and touching.  I only regret that there wasn’t time for us all to sing along, two choruses — one to fumble, one to sing out now that everyone had recalled the words.  No matter: you can harmonize with the video; thinking of people here and there singing along with Bob and Vince will please me for a long time.  Even Arnie’s train whistle doesn’t intrude on the sweet moment.  And for those who are taking notes, Bob had turned eighty a few months before, which makes his continued mastery an astonishment:

Affirmation, crooning, sweet sentimentality . . . how to conclude this session?  How about a hot Chicago-style paean to the beauty and charms and fidelity of one’s Beloved — EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (But My Baby Loves Nobody But Me):

Early in this posting, I mentioned the name of Eddie Condon.  I don’t want that man and his music ever to be forgotten, or for our recollection to be eroded by time and inaccurate recollection.  Watching these videos again, I thought how well — and without fanfare — Randy and his friends had made the spirit of Condon alive and vigorous: tributes to friends George and Bing, to Louis and Bechet, to sweet sentimental music.  

And the ambiance — hot playing, correct tempos, sweet melodies, easy improvisation — brought back the various Condon clubs, Commodore Records, Town Hall, the Floor Show, the Deccas and Columbias. 

To paraphrase Eddie, whose understatements were high praise, that set didn’t harm anyone!

MARTY GROSZ’S BASS MOTIVES at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

My flippant title is not completely irrelevant.

For starters, at jazz clubs and parties and festivals, there are performances ranging from humdrum to spectacular.  And — not very often — there are performances that viewers and listeners know they won’t ever forget. 

I take great pride in presenting one such episode: around four minutes long, quietly rocking rather than explosive, and performed before noon — an unseemly time of day for most jazz musicians.

The band was officially titled Marty Grosz and “The Mouldy Figs,” referring to those rather artificial wars between musical ideologies stirred up by jazz critics and fans in the Forties and Fifties.  A “Mouldy Fig” read Rudi Blesh rather than Barry Ulanov or Leonard Feather, revered Bunk Johnson rather than Fats Navarro.  Figs deplored “be-bop,” horn-rimmed glasses, and berets.

Since Marty Grosz has displayed a serious leaning towards band-names no one has thought of before (his Hot Puppies, his Orphan Newsboys, and so on) I have taken the liberty of renaming the band — for this performance only “Bass Motives.”  Why?  Well, there’s Arnie Kinsella on drums — someone who knows how to make a particular point with a ferocious hit to his bass drum; Andy Stein, usually playing violin but here picking up his baritone sax; Vince Giordano, bass saxophonist supreme; Scott Robinson, the Doc Savage of the instrument room, also playing bass saxophone. 

The tune they launch into is the pretty old Eddie Cantor tribute to his wife, Ida — IDA (SWEET AS APPLE CIDER).  But behind Eddie and Ida and their family is the far more serious presence of Red Nichols and his Five Pennies in the Brunswick studios in 1927 — the Pennies including Pee Wee Russell and Adrian Rollini, perhaps the finest bass saxophonist ever, ever.  And one of the songs they took on was a moving ballad-tempo version of IDA. 

Marty and his Bass Motives not only evoke that lovely recording but sing out in their own style.  When I wrote that some rare performances are unforgettable, I wasn’t over-praising this one:

Incidentally, for the chroniclers in the audience: Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke have received a good deal of well-earned praise for their imperishable recordings in early 1927 of two “jazz ballads,” that is, improvisation carried out at a medium-slow tempo: SINGIN’ THE BLUES and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (with a sweet reading of ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS not far behind).  The original Nichols recording — in August of that same year — seems deeply emotionally influenced by the pretty playing of Bix and Tram.

MORE FROM ANDY SCHUMM at WHITLEY BAY (July 11, 2010)

We were very fortunate that Andy Schumm had three concert-length appearances at the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, each with his Bixologists.  On the final day of the festival, the Bixologists were Norman Field, reeds; Paul Munnery, trombone; Keith Nichols, piano and vocals; Spats Langham, guitar, banjo, vocals; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone, with guest appearances by Michael McQuaid, clarinet, and Nick Ward, drums (the latter in the second part of this posting). 

Here are ten marvelous performances from that session!

Howdy Quicksell’s SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN is unusually sprightly for its rather sad theme.  Two conventions are also at work here: the witty imitation of a wind-up phonograph at the start, sliding into pitch on the first note, and the slow-drag break at the end.  (They are as solidly accepted pieces of performance practice as the whole-tone break in SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, something that Dan Barrett and Jon-Erik Kellso do perfectly when the stars are right.):

SUGAR isn’t the more famous Maceo Pinkard song, beloved of Ethel Waters and Louis Armstrong, but a bouncy concoction on its own, here sung most convincingly by Mr. Langham:

RHYTHM KING (listen to that Rhythm King, I tell you!) falls to Keith Nichols, so ably:

Bix and his friends didn’t exist in a vacuum, though: while they were in the OKeh studios, so were Louis and Bessie Smith and Clarence Williams. Andy invited our friend Michael McQuaid up to the stand to whip up a ferocious version of Clarence Williams’ CUSHION FOOT STOMP, which suggests a healing visit to the podiatrist or something else whose meaning eludes me:

Letting Michael off the stand after only one number would have been a bad idea, so he and Norman embarked on a two-clarinet version of the ODJB (and Beiderbecke) CLARINET MARMALADE, which paid homage not only to Johnny Dodds and Boyd Senter but to Olympic gymnasts as well:

Who was CLORINDA?  Only the Chicago Loopers knew for sure:

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band affected everyone who had even fleeting thoughts of playing jazz at the beginning of the last century: here’s their ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JAZZ BAND ONE-STEP, which has no relation whatsoever to CUSHION FOOT STOMP:

Andy Secrest would be jazz’s most forgotten man if it weren’t for the affectionate recall of people like Andy Schumm and Dick Sudhalter, who brought him out of the shadows (he was rather like the understudy forced to step into an unfillable role).  WHAT A DAY! is in his honor:

I’M GOING TO  MEET MY SWEETIE NOW — always a delightful thought — brings us back to the days of those all-too-few romping recordings the Jean Goldkette Orchestra made for Victor Records:

And (finally, for this posting) another version of BALTIMORE — the new dance craze — a rhythm that’s hot, as Keith Nichols knows so well:

More to come (on the other side, of course)!

THREE BY THREE AT WHITLEY BAY (July 11, 2010)

Originally I thought of calling this post COULDN’T BE BETTER, but I decided to be less emphatic.  Still, I am a devout and devoted admirer of the Hot Jazz Trio, one of the few aggregations on this planet that not only lives up to their billing but usually transcends it. 

Who are (or is?) the Hot Jazz Trio?  The simple answer is Bent Persson, trumpet, cornet, mellophone, and even vocals; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone and masterful master of ceremonies; Jacob Ullberger, banjo, guitar, and more. 

These three musicians are Swedish, but they don’t get together that frquently for gigs, because they don’t all live nearby.  So what I have in my mind and ears is a wondrous CD on the Kenneth label, titled HOT JAZZ TRIO, their 2009 performance at Whitley Bay, and their briefer one this year.  That’s not enough, but it will have to do for the moment.

The three videos below tell the story of a versatile jazz ensemble, who (collectively and singly) are able to get inside the skins of Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers, Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, the Ellington orchestra of the late Thirties and early Forties, Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang.  They aren’t trying to “play old records live,” but they do bring those noble ghosts into the room and make them welcome.

Here’s their AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, both energized and focused:

And in the name of good Middle East relations, they summon up not only an amusing period piece (LENA suggested EGYPTIAN ELLA and more) but also the ODJB and all that vaguely exotic splendor of the beginning of the last century — in LENA FROM PALESTEENA:

And, because everyone needs a little more disposable income, here’s BEAU KOO JACK — in honor of Louis, Earl, and Don Redman:

Live, lively, and more — the Hot Jazz Trio!

“JAZZ FUTURIST, MAD SCIENTIST”: SCOTT ROBINSON in the WALL STREET JOURNAL!

Thanks to the tireless Will Friedwald, we have this wonderful portrait and juxtaposition of two unlikely spheres —

‘What planet did this guy come from?” That was how Benny Goodman reacted when he heard the legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke for the first time. Trumpeter Randy Sandke has been known to use the same line to introduce the multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson.

Although Beiderbecke’s music has a certain futuristic quality to it, Mr. Robinson is even more aptly compared to an otherworldly visitor. There’s no one else doing anything close to what Mr. Robinson is doing: playing every style that exists in the jazz world (and classical, pop and world music besides), on almost every horn known to man (reeds, brass) and even some rhythm instruments. He is the only musician I have encountered who is equally likely to play clarinet in a re-creation of the music of Sidney Bechet on a Monday, and then turn up on Tuesday playing tenor saxophone with a swing-era big band. On the next night, you might spot him playing baritone in the sax section of a contemporary orchestral jazz composer; then on Thursday, he’ll bring out his really far-out horns for an outerspace jam with musicians from the Sun Ra Arkestra.

[ccrobinson] Ken Fallin

During a concert earlier this year at the Riverdale YM-YWHA in Bronx, N.Y., Mr. Robinson played cornet alongside two trumpets (Mr. Sandke and Jon-Erik Kellso) in a harmonized transcription of Beiderbecke’s classic solo to “At the Jazz Band Ball.” In “Waiting at the End of the Road,” Mr. Robinson and co-leader Dan Levinson crossed swords on two C-melody saxophones. And throughout the evening, Mr. Robinson also held down the bottom of the ensemble on another horn rarely heard since the 1920s—the bass saxophone, which gave the group a vigorous two-four rhythmic push that bands without a horn bass simply don’t have.

This week, Mr. Robinson plays with the legendary Bob Brookmeyer as part of “East Coast Sounds,” as presented by the L.A. Jazz Institute.

At his home in Teaneck, N.J., Mr. Robinson recently told me, “I’ve had so many comfortable years being everybody’s sideman, in every style, and I’m still going to keep doing that.” But after playing on more than 200 albums mostly for other people, he now wants to devote more time to pursuing his own musical visions. “I think of music as a big world that you can go into and never come back out of. It’s endless, and it’s filled with endless rooms and funny doors and branches that go off like caves.” Mr. Robinson has released four highly eclectic albums for Arbors Jazz and was determined to start his own label, “ScienSonic Laboratories,” by the time he turned 50; the label launch occurred earlier this year, a few weeks before his 51st birthday.

Born in New Jersey and raised in a farmhouse in Virginia, Mr. Robinson was encouraged to play jazz by a father who collected old records, a mother who taught piano, and an older brother, Dave, who plays traditional jazz cornet. He read a children’s book about a geeky kid who “found himself” by playing the saxophone, which inspired him to start studying that instrument, especially when he discovered that his high school had a bass sax that no one had touched for 50 years. Later, he bought a beat-up trumpet for $3 and taught himself to play that as well. “My home base,” he insists, however, “is the tenor sax, which is a whole musical universe unto itself.”

The same can be said of Mr. Robinson’s “laboratory,” a converted garage behind his house, where he stores his working instruments; thousands of additional parts and incomplete horns are stashed in his basement. Lanky, bearded and bespectacled, Mr. Robinson plays up the idea of looking and acting like a mad scientist of jazz; he has a custom lab coat that he wears to his own gigs, and hands out specially made test tubes as souvenirs. Although comfortable in the jazz past, his own ScienSonic projects are distinctly futuristic and avant-garde, starting with the album covers, which use paintings from ’50s science-fiction paperbacks by the late Richard Powers.

Scott Robinson’s collection of musical oddities includes variations on the saxophone, a couple of theramins, and a marimba set once used by Sun Ra’s Arkestra. When he plays music, his genre of jazz is equally eclectic.

The centerpiece of his collection is the contrabass saxophone, one of only 16 or so believed to exist, a seven-foot monster of a horn. Mr. Robinson discovered it in a secondhand-furniture store in Rome about 15 years ago, and it took more than two years to convince the owner to part with it. It was worth the effort: The contra produces a beautiful roar that might be likened to the love dance of a pair of happy hippopotami but is like nothing else in the human world. Then there’s the normaphone, an utterly Martian device invented in Germany that seems to be a saxophone, a trumpet, a trombone and bicycle pump all at once. Wildest of all is the slide saxophone, in which the pitches are controlled by a slide instead of keys and pads. Mr. Robinson once brought the slide sax over to the home of Ornette Coleman—godfather of all musical experimentalists—who somehow managed to play it in tune. The sound it produces is rather like the hybrid of a sax and a theremin.

Along with the giant saxophone, Mr. Robinson has stuffed his garage with what looks like King Kong’s rhythm section: a bass marimba (the very same one used by Sun Ra on his famous “Heliocentric Worlds” album) that you have to climb a ladder to play; a 180-pound Chinese ceremonial drum; a 7-foot banjo; and what looks like a 9-foot conga from the Philippines. At the opposite end of the spectrum, he also plays teeny-tiny devices like the sopranino sax and the indescribable octavin; there’s also the sarrusophone (played on one famous recording by Bechet), which looks like a brass-band marching instrument but uses a bassoon-like reed.

Only a handful of these implements are brought to bear on the first ScienSonic release, “Live at Space Farm,” a facility that is itself a unique hybrid of zoo and museum in Sussex, N.J. (whose exhibitions include a giant stuffed bear, once the largest in captivity, big enough to play the contrabass). The music is a completely free-form piece improvised by Mr. Robinson and a quartet co-starring saxophonist Marshall Allen, current leader of the Sun Ra Arkestra. Recorded in a bell tower in the middle of a cow pasture, the last note of the work was spontaneously provided by an obliging bull.

Meanwhile, a firm in Brazil is building Mr. Robinson the world’s first subcontrabass saxophone, which promises to be the biggest and lowest sax in history. The saxophonist also looks with a mischievous glint in his eye at his slide soprano: “If only I could get one of these on a bass sax,” he says.

THE NIGHTHAWKS ARE FLYING! (April 19, 2010)

Here are two wonderfully acrobatic performances by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks that I recorded at Sofia’s in the Hotel Edison one week ago.  My nomination for Olympian here is trombonist Jim Fryer, but he has stiff competition!  On that Monday night, the Hawks were Vince (vocal, bass sax, tuba, string bass); Kenny Salvo (banjo, guitar); Peter Yarin (piano); Arnie Kinsella (drums); Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella (trumpets); Dan Levinson, Dan Block, Mark Lopeman (reeds); Andy Stein (violin / baritone sax). 

The Nighthawks pay tribute to a 1930 West Coast band, Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders, with a TIGER RAG variant called CHARLIE’S IDEA that originally featured Lawrence Brown and Lionel Hampton.  You’ll see what I mean about a leaping Jim Fryer as well as the dancers on the floor and Jon-Erik’s version of HOTTER THAN THAT, another ragged tiger:

And here’s a hot jam session on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, with a pair of slow-motion dancers and a positively demonic solo from Arnie Kinsella (and some calmer excursions from Dan Levinson, Andy Stein on the Stroh phono-violin, among others):

And this virtuosity takes place every Monday from 8-11 PM at 211 West 46th Street!

LOCAL HEROES: THE EAR REGULARS (March 21, 2010)

Why do some combinations of musicians coalesce memorably, and others not?  I suspect that it is a matter of forces the players themselves can’t explain.  They can tell you in detail why things don’t work: someone’s tired or annoyed; X dislikes that tempo; Y can’t stand the song; Z doesn’t feel well. 

But when all the stars are in alignment, the music is uplifting.  And the players look contented when they hear their colleagues; the smiles you see at the end of a song add up to a contented glow around the band.

This unpredictable magic happened on Sunday, March 21, 2010, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City). 

Two of the Ear Regulars were the valiant co-leaders: guitarist Matt Munisteri and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, brave and true, who have led their little band on Sunday nights for thirty months now, a delightfully consistent series of small-band jam sessions.  One of the horn players, clarinetist Pete Martinez, had played there a week ago in concert with trombonist Harvey Tibbs.  And Scott Robinson has been a Regular, off and on, since the start — but this time he was featured on bass sax (with a surprise appearance on piccolo late in the evening). 

Were they especially happy to be playing together, although they knew each other from other appearances?  Was pleasurable anticipation, soon realized, in the air?  I don’t know.  But on this Sunday, the Ear Regulars reminded me of the great New York sessions of my youth — small groups featuring Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Milt Hinton, and others — lyrical, singing hot jazz.

Here are nine performances from this wondrous constellation of players, with guests coming by.  I know that the videos aren’t the same as being there, but perhaps if you raise the volume and get in the groove, you’ll catch the fervent spirit.  And I know it wasn’t just my happy hallucination: you can ask Jackie Kellso, Kevin Dorn, Doug Pomeroy, Molly Ryan, Dan Levinson, Barbara Rosene, and the elated Friends of The Ear whose names I didn’t catch. 

After a spirited warmup on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, Jon-Erik did something unusual by suggesting an even faster CHINA BOY.  It summoned up the drive of the Bechet-Spanier HRS session, with a good deal of Adrian Rollini added, as well as some Quintet of the Hot Club of France flavoring from guitarist Julian Lage:

Then, the Ear Regulars decided to try that very pretty Arthur Schwartz song, I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN (associated in my mind with Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden), happily asking Scott to take the melody statement, a splendid idea:

Do you associate LOUISIANA with Bix, Bing, or Lester and Basie?  Whichever version you prefer, this one rocks:

I don’t know who thought of CREOLE LOVE CALL, but any time Jon-Erik takes out his plunger mute, I listen attentively to the secret messages he’s sending:

And the set closed with a minor romp, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME, which gave Pete another chance to sear us with his lovely exuberant upper register:

After a break for dinner, it was time (however late) for a sensitive reading of Walter Donaldson’s AT SUNDOWN, at a lovely ballad tempo:

Cornetist John Bucher had come in when the second set started, and Jon-Erik invited him aboard for I NEVER KNEW, with closing riffs reminiscent of the 1933 Chocolate Dandies record:

Guitarist Dave Gross joined in for the final two numbers: a beautifully articulated IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Finally, after some discussion, the Regulars chose WHISPERING to end the evening:

This music speaks for itself.  If you’ve never been to The Ear Inn on a Sunday, you’re denying yourself rare pleasure.

“BIX AND HIS GANG” REDUX, 1975

I don’t exactly know the source of the videos below — except that they’ve been posted by “sergech” on YouTube some time ago.  I was in the audience at several New York City concerts of the New York Jazz Repertory Company in 1974 and 1975: two tributes to Louis Armstrong, two to Bix Beiderbecke, but I can’t say whether these clips come from either of the two Bix concerts that I saw.

And perhaps the whole world has already seen them on YouTube.  But since I keep returning to them with pleasure, awe, and sadness, perhaps they will be new to someone?  The personnel is Richard M. Sudhalter and Warren Vache, cornets; Ephie Resnick, trombone; Bob Wilber, reeds; Kenny Davern, bass sax; a nearly invisible Dill Jones, piano; Marty Grosz, banjo; Chauncey Morehouse, drums.  Although the color is murky (perhaps the source was a videotape?) the camerawork is professional, as is the sound. 

Here’s a serious, steady ROYAL GARDEN BLUES that features Sudhalter and Vache trading congenial solos at the end, anchored by Davern’s stately bass sax (he sounds as if he’s playing LESTER LEAPS IN at one point) and Morehouse’s rocking drums:

DAVENPORT BLUES, where Sudhalter takes the solo:

And GOOSE PIMPLES, solidly anchored by Morehouse’s parade beats on the snare, Dill Jones both audible and visible, Vache having the last word:

Finally, a moving SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN, with the “slow-drag” section firmly in place and a wonderful Davern solo:

Shall we mourn all of them who are gone — Davern, Dill Jones, Morehouse, Sudhalter?  Or shall we celebrate the survivors — Grosz, Resnick, Vache, Wilber?

Both, I believe.  And Bix, both gone and surviving.

ANDY SCHUMM and FRIENDS! (Sept. 2009)

I don’t think I have to praise young Mr. Schumm in this post — the video clips I’ve been posting (my own, from Jamaica Knauer and others) are eloquent testimony.  But here he is, surrounded by his musical elders, entirely comfortable, playing the music of Bix Beiderbecke that he loves, as well as a few rarities from the period.  Those well-known elders are Bob Havens on trombone; Scott Robinson on reeds; Andy Stein on violin and baritone sax; James Dapogny on piano; Marty Grosz, who needs no introduction here; Vince Giordano, ditto; Arnie Kinsella, drums. 

Andy opened his set with a slower-than-usual LOUISIANA, whose beginning I missed.  I especially admire Dapogny’s tremolos behind Scott Robinson’s Lesterish clarinet, and the way that Andy leaps in.  And Dapogny, playing the verse as an unaccompanied interlude, slyly reminds us that Mister Jelly was also in Chicago when Bix and the boys were visiting.  I apologize deeply for the lurching of the camera near the end.  Was I carried away with emotion or was it something more mundane?  Either way, the jazz ship was in no danger of going down: 

The second tune was ANGRY (it wasn’t really), which I associate with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings ans George Brunis, from the start of career to the end.  That’s some rhythm section!  Note the enthusiastic backing Arnie Kinsella gives Bob Havens, and the ferocious way Dapogny lets everyone know that he’s here at the start of his solo, emphasizing that three-note ascending phrase.  The tuba isn’t always a melodic instrument, but Vince just forges ahead, creating long-lined inventions that stick in the mind.  And I especially love it that Andy Stein said to himself, “This piece needs a baritone saxophone more than a violin,” picks his up, and boots the final chorus along energetically:

Next, from the Bix and Tram book (recording as “The Chicago Loopers”), the Fats Waller tune, I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED.  Perfectionists will note that there is a moment, coming out of the ensemble, where the team seems to have forgotten the signals (and what was the esoteric meaning of Dapogny’s right-hand gesture to the band — was it “My hand hurts,” or perhaps, “Could we start this thing, for the love of Jo Trent”?) but the performance recovers nicely.  Dapogny’s solo is a model of hot construction, and the rhythm section passage, with Vince finding his low notes and Arnie rocking the temple blocks, couldn’t be better:

And two rarities: ROSY CHEEKS (you can almost invent the bouncy lyrics without ever having heard it sung — it seems an illegitimate relative of BABY FACE, which makes sense in a plagiaristic way).  Although few members of this group could have been intimate with the song, it seems to have simple, if not simplistic chord changes, and they leap right in.  That no one in the house cheered when Scott Robinson concluded his energetically labyrinthine solo is a mystery indeed.  Perhaps they were busily concentrating on their heaped-high plates of food?  Notice how Arnie Kinsella drives the band along in the last chorus — his beat more nourishing than what was on those plates:

Then, a song recorded by Harold Austin’s Ambassadors for Gennett in 1930 (what resonance those words have) — an unusual pop tune called MONA*.  Andy’s lead is, like Bix’s late work, a both poignant and urgent.  The chorus split by and shared by Andy Stein (on baritone) and Scott (on metal clarinet) is a wonderful impromptu creation, again under-appreciated.  And the band energetically takes it out, with Andy Schumm showing the way:

To conclude the set (perhaps to everyone’s relief), Andy called NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, much more familiar material.  Two endearing things happen at the end of the first ensemble chorus: Marty reaches forward and turns off the light on his music stand, because he doesn’t need it, and Arnie shifts into his own version of Jo-Jones-on-the-hi-hat, to encourage the congregation.  Am I the only one who finds such shifts, when done masterfully, absolutely levitating experiences?  And then, Scott whispers to Andy — certainly something about trading phrases.  What happens next reminds me a great deal of Bix and Tram on YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, except we know it’s being created there in front of our eyes, gloriously.  More split choruses (Andy Stein and Marty, Vince and Arnie) lead into a final chorus that begins with some tentativeness and then gets heated in a nice “Chicagoan” way just in time for the last eight bars:

Yeah, man!  And more Andy Schumm footage to come – – –

*There’s also a fascinating YouTube clip of Austin’s recording — a good hot dance band of the period, with a debatable vocal — that uses period phonograph advertisements as illustrations — don’t miss the naughty postcard and the Hebrew family illustrations!  But you’ll have to search it out on your own.