Tag Archives: BED

YES, INDEED!*

A new CD by the group formerly known as B E D is cause for celebration.  Although this quartet (by common consent) has shed its coy acronym to be known simply as the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, their musical essence — swinging, tender, witty, surprising — has not changed except to get better. 

Rebecca’s Quartet is a musical alliance between Becky (vocals and guitar); Eddie Erickson (the same plus banjo), Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet, piano, arrangements, vocals) and Joel Forbes (string bass).  They were friends and co-conspirators long before they formed this versatile group, and their pleasure in playing and singing continues to grow, audibly.  And I stress that the RK4 is a musically interconnected group rather than a star turn for a singer and her backing rhythm section. 

This CD is also happily distinguished by its variety (most CDs seem too long not because we can’t sit still for sixty-five minutes, but because many groups present the same experience eleven or twenty times during the course of the disc) — and it’s not an artificial yearning for “something completely different” from track to track.  Singers Becky and Eddie are often out front, as they deserve to be, but the music behind and around them is both delicate and propulsive.  Much of that is due to bassist Joel, someone I’ve been privileged to see and hear at close range at The Ear Inn.  Joel knows all about the right notes in the right places, and his big woody sound lifts any ensemble.  Here — since there’s piano only on one track and no drums at all, we can hear his righteous elegance.  He’s featured throughout the CD but comes to the forefront on MY OLD FLAME, which is just lovely.

Daniel P. Barrett, to be formal, inhabits a roomy musical universe.  Shall we begin with the talents he’s less celebrated for?  His piano on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE would make you think that Nat Cole had decided to remain an instrumentalist, and his cornet playing on A GAL IN CALICO and GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOURSELF is a flexible, swinging delight — evoking Bobby Hackett and Bill Coleman.  Want more?  He’s an impish singer on ACQUAINTED: it’s hard to hear him sing anything without grinning at his wryly personal delivery.  The clever, understated arrangements are his, and his trombone playing is what the instrument ought to sound like, whether he’s caressing a ballad line or nodding to one of Vic Dickenson’s less printable epigrams.

Eddie Erickson hasn’t yet gotten his due as a wonderful rhythm guitarist and creator of tumbling single-note lines where every note is perfectly in place, even when the tempo is supersonic.  His banjo playing is so melifluous that it makes me forget all the other things done to and with that instrument in the wrong hands.  As a singer . . . he is earnest without being homespun, someone who makes the lyrics come alive without the slightest hint of affectation.  He makes the rather violent lyrics of A GAL IN CALICO charming rather than oppressive; his MY OLD FLAME is rueful but wise; his DAY DREAM is tenderly masterful.  He is also a wonderful team player, having the time of his life joining in with Becky when they sing.

And “Rebecca (Becky) Kilgore,” as the back cover identifies her?  My feeling (based on this CD and her Jerome Kern tribute, SURE THING, just out on Audiophile) is that her only flaw is that she keeps getting better.  When I have received a new CD of hers, I think I know how good it’s going to be, but her subtlety continues to amaze me.  She is able to sing songs that I know by heart and make them evocative and fresh — including THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME and THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT, which I had thought Mr. Astaire had permanently made his own.  Her wistfulness, her deep feeling are evident all through I WISH I KNEW; her multi-lingual effortlessness comes through on UNDER PARIS SKIES.  Her delivery of the lyrics is of course pitch-perfect, conversationally casual and graceful, but she is a great dramatic actress who never is caught acting: her rubatos, her hesitations and urgencies, are emotionally convincing improvisatons.  And she doesn’t demand the spotlight for herself: her singing makes acceptable songs sound much better than they would otherwise, and makes great songs astonishing.  On this CD, as well, our Becky displays another side to her character, a wholly natural kind of bluesy Funk: hear her on BUZZ ME BLUES and the half-time section (homage to Connee Boswell and the Sisters) of CHANGES MADE.  And the whole band rocks church on the opening YES, INDEED! — an appropriate title for this delightful disc. 

Here’s a link to CD Baby to purchase the Blue Swing Fine Recordings CD: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/RebeccaKilgoreQuartet

*This post’s title, of course, comes from the CD itself and its opening track: I wanted to call this YOU WILL SHOUT WHEN IT HITS YOU, but my legal advisers said that these words sounded like an incitement to civil unrest so that I should find another phrase.  And the cover picture, most atmospheric, captures Dan’s mother Dorothee striding down a busy street in St. Louis, circa 1937 — she kows where she’s going and she’s going to get there . . . just like the RK4.

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DESERT ISLAND DISCS (FEBRUARY 3, 2009)

desert-island-discsAt the suggestion of my friend Bill Gallagher, I am compiling this afternoon’s list of Desert Island Discs — named for the famous BBC radio program — and invite readers to do likewise.

The rules?  There are always rules, although readers may wish to be less stringent with themselves.  One item by any musician: no ostentatious duplications, although overlaps are inevitable.  Box sets (a generous self-indulgence) are of course allowed and encouraged.  Half of the list may be devoted to the Dearly Departed; the remainder must include a majority of living artists.  Alphabetical order, so as not to imply a ranking by virtue.

Here goes (as of a snowy February 3, 2009) — done off the top of my head, without visits to the CD stacks!  Try it yourself and send in your lists, which I am sure will be revealing.

Louis Armstrong 1935-49 Decca releases (Ambassador)

Bob Barnard / John Sheridan: The Nearness of Two (Nif Nuf)

BED, Four + One (Blue Swing)

The Blue Note Jazzmen (Blue Note)

Melissa Collard, Old-Fashioned Love (Melismatic)

The Vic Dickenson Showcase (Vanguard)

Eddie Condon Town Hall Concerts (Jazzology)

Billie Holiday: Lady Day (Sony)

Jon-Erik Kellso, Blue Roof Blues (Arbors)

Barbara Rosene, It Was Only A Sun Shower (Stomp Off)

Mark Shane: Riffles (Amber Lake)

I lament that I didn’t invent an Honorable Mention category — but there’s always next week, next month . . . . Then I can sneak in Dan Block, Basie at the Famous Door, the Fargo dance date, Tony Fruscella, Bix, Buck, Bobby . . . . the mind it simply reels! And if you’re going to write in, taking me to task for leaving out Bent Persson, Ben Webster (with or without strings), Fats Waller, Jack Teagarden, Hal Smith, Red Allen, Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Dave Frishberg, Bennie Moten in 1932, Goodman, Jess Stacy, Teddy Wilson, Mel Powell, Ehud Asherie . . . . I know, I know, I know.  It’s only a game, mind you.

Thanks to http://www.colindussault.com for the image above!

MY JAZZ MADELEINE

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Yesterday, I was sifting through one of the mountains of papers I carefully cultivate in my apartment.  Unlike orchids, superfluous papers flourish even when neglected.  Horticulturists take note!  I found a large envelope on which I’d written details of a jam session at the now-vanished Chelsea jazz club, The Cajun, on October 20, 2004.  Marcel Proust tidying the kitchen counter, if you will.

October 20, 2004 was a Wednesday, and Wednesdays were given over to Eddy Davis’s compact, surprising ensemble. “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm,” which had as its core clarinetist Orange Kellin, multi-instrumentalist and interstellar denizen Scott Robinson, Eddy on banjo, vocals, and original compositions, and Debbie Kennedy on bass.  You could always find WQXR-FM broadcaster Lloyd Moss, happily attentive at a table right in front of the band.

My involvement in this story began in mid-September 2004, when I went to Jazz at Chautauqua for the first time, a rapturous weekend.  There, I met Becky Kilgore in person, although we already knew about each other. Either she or trombonist Dan Barrett invited me to come along for their upcoming East Coast gig at Shanghai Jazz in Madison, New Jersey.  A version of their then new group, BED, would make a rare Eastern appearance.  B and D (that’s Becky and Dan) had been able to make the trip, but E (that’s Eddie Erickson, on guitar, banjo, ballads, and comedy) had commitments in California and couldn’t.  The “silent J,” bassist Joel Forbes would be there, and the Erickson-gap would be filled by the endearing pianist Rossano Sportiello.

Here the story becomes more autobiographical.  I had spent Wednesday with a small group of amiable but somewhat untrained moving men who lugged my belongings up the stairs to my new apartment.  They were sweet-natured, funny, and hard-working.  And from this experience I gleaned one piece of irreplaceable vaudeville:

Mover 1, holding up one end of my piano, “Henry, are you ready, for God’s sake?”

Mover 2, getting into position at the other end: “Man, I was born ready!”

But what was supposed to take four hours took nine.  It was physically exhausting for them, psychically draining for me.  A reasonable man would have taken to his bed (amidst the neatly-labeled cardboard boxes) with a Scotch or two, but in the short scuffle between Prudence and Hedonism inside my brain, Prudence didn’t have a chance.

Thus, I found myself in the New Jersey train station, with Dan, Becky, Rossano, and the ever-ebullient Shirley Scott, who seemed to personally know every jazz musician in a ten-state area.  Shirley had brought the daily New York Times crossword puzzle, which we did, collectively and hilariously.

I don’t recall much about the Shanghai Jazz gig except that the club seemed to be an odd place for BED. They played and sang gloriously, but the patrons focused on the excellent food, loudly praising their spicy noodles.  When BED finished their second set, we left, and after some adventures in the cold and dark on the train platform, were on our way back to New York.  Shirley called ahead and found that the Cajun was still open; Eddy and his musicians were eager to meet up with BED.

When we arrived, Eddy’s group was on the stand, with Orange, Scott, Pete Martinez on clarinet, and Conal Fowkes (a sterling pianist) on bass.  Dan took out his cornet and they played an easy “Somebody Loves Me,” one of those let’s-see-where-we’re-at opening tunes musicians like (another one is “Sunday”).  Everyone wanted Becky to sing, and she offered a lightly swinging “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me,” and Barbara Rosene, sitting in the audience and enjoying it all, was asked to follow, and offered a wistful “Fools Rush In.”  At some point, Dan switched back to trombone, and the band tried out the rare “I Had Somebody Else,” the familiar “St. James Infirmary” and a charging “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” with Pete Martinez ripping through splendid Ed Hall whoops and runs.

I was ecstatic, and the players were having a great deal of fun as well.  Rossano picked up Dan’s trombone for a multi-clarinet “Somebody Stole My Gal.”  Although Rossano says that he doesn’t play the instrument well, he sounds like a homespun Sandy Williams.  Scott Robinson and Dan both took cornet solos on “A Melody From The Sky,” Dan led the group through “A Monday Date,” and things concluded with a riotous “Dinah,” Debbie Kennedy taking over the bass.  Trimphantly and joyously, Dan sounded much like 1933 Louis in Copenhagen.

The Cajun session came to an end, but the story doesn’t: Shirley called the fine guitarist Joe Cohn, and everyone took over his midtown  apartment.  What I remember now is a series of brilliant flashes: sitting on Joe’s low couch with a tiny glass of demonic grappa in hand, listening to Becky sing “These Foolish Things” with deep tenderness, Rossano playing his own version of Teddy Wilson behind her — a time machine trip back to 1938.  Joe taking out his trumpet (he played it with real style), he and Dan duetting on a line of his father’s (that’s Al Cohn); Joe playing violin for us.  I sat, silently beaming.

The session broke up around 2:30 in the morning, and I made my way to Penn Station — conveniently missing the last LIRR train, so I waited in the nearly-deserted, cavernous station for another two hours.  Fast forward to a blissful man walking home at 6 in the morning, not believing his own good fortune.

I didn’t have my camera with me, and the minidisc recorder I’ve written about here was not yet an indispendsable part of my luggage — but the envelope reminded me of this intensely happy time.  And, even better, all of the players and singers I’ve celebrated here are alive and well.  May they be well, happy, and prosperous!  And thanks to Arlene Lichterman and Herb Maslin: you know who you are!

THURSDAY NIGHT AT SMALLS (October 16)

You won’t want to miss this triple-feature.  At 8, pianist Ehud Asherie and reedman Dan Block will embark on an hour of duets, introspective to fiercely swinging.

Visual aids: a photograph of Ehud at the piano, taken by your humble correspondent.  Dan Block and Harry Allen (in that order), photo by J. Elkins. 

At 9:30 and 11, “The Italians are coming!  The Italians are coming!”

Don’t be alarmed, though: these Italians are extraordinary jazz players, led by the inspiring pianist Rossano Sportiello — someone we hope to hear on a regular basis in New York City.  Rossano’s friends — as he tells me — are the noble bassist Joel Forbes (he’s the “silent J” of BED), Luca Santaniello on drums, and “two fantastic young Italian brothers, Luigi and Pasquale Grasso, alto sax and guitar.  They are only 22 and 20, but they play the most amazing stuff.  They are students of Barry Harris since they were babies!”

Smalls lives up to its name, so be sure to get there early.  It’s on 183 West Tenth Street, near Seventh Avenue South (www.smallsjazzclub.com).

And here’s Rossano Sportiello, characteristically cheerful, in a photo by Duncan Schiedt:

CD OF THE MONTH: “BED: FOUR + 1”

This new CD by B E D (that’s Becky Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, and Dan Barrett — joined by Joel Forbes and Jeff Hamilton) is a wonder.  But since aesthetic criticism should have more substance than that, I must tell you about the late Howard Siegman, who was my professor of Dramatic Literature in the days when we wrote our essays on typewriters and went to the card catalogue to look up information in books.  Professor Siegman began the Drama Appreciation course by teaching us the three principles of criticism — precepts we had to master before we could be allowed to visit the college theatre.  “I liked it,” “I didn’t like it” were both punishable by serious frowning and lowered grades.

The precepts were:

1. What is the artist attempting to do?

2.   How well has he or she succeeded at doing it?

3.   Was it worth doing in the first place?

Applying these precepts to the new BED CD (Blue Swing Fine Recordings BSR 008) I came up with these answers after much listening and serious study.

1.   The stated purpose of BED is “To swing and have fun.”  This translates into beautiful rhythmic singing and playing, full of subtle improvisation — with joy being the prevailing emotion, even on the ballads.  The group is a living example of jazz empathy: the rocking backgrounds to the singing of the three participants, the delicious instrumental solos and jamming, the peerless support of Joel’s bass and Jeff’s drums.  In addition, Dan shifts from trombone to cornet to piano, and the repertoire is wonderfully varied.  This is one of the few CDs in recent memory that I listened to in one sitting.

2.   See # 1.  And: I think this group has gotten better and better on each of its CDs.  In addition, the recorded sound (courtesy of the fine trumpeter and recording engineer Bryan Shaw) is faultless.  And the repertoire: a groovy “Hucklebuck,” a deeply felt “East of the Sun,” a down-home “Seven Lonely Days,” a romping instrumental version of “Midnight in Moscow.”  The group also takes chances that come off in high style.  The first gamble is in performing James P. Johnson’s pretty “You Can’t Lose A Broken Heart,” most memorably recorded in 1949 by Louis and Billie — a tough act to follow.  Becky and Dan do a fairly close version of that record without adopting the surface mannerisms of either singer, and it works — against anyone’s expectations.  A 1937 Tommy Dorsey-style “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” with the men of the chorus offering witty rejoinders to Becky’s reading of the melody, is nearly as much fun.    And Jeff Hamilton drives this combo along perfectly: the sound of his silvery cymbals is music to exult by.  Eddie’s “Jubilee” is suitably groovy; Becky has uncovered the verse to “You’re A Lucky Guy,” and these days, doesn’t everyone need to be reminded that “The Best Things in Life Are Free”?

3.   There are two possible answers here: a) “See # 1 and # 2.  b) “Hell, yes!”

This is an extraordinarily fine session — playful, soulful, hot, and subtle.  The songs are: I’ve Heard That Song Before / This Can’t Be Love / East of the Sun / Jubilee / Cheek to Cheek / Say It (Over and Over Again) / The Hucklebuck / You Can’t Lose A Broken Heart / Midnight in Moscow / You’re A Lucky Guy / Cross Your Heart / The Best Things in Life Are Free / Seven Lonely Days / Drum Boogie / I’ll See You In My Dreams //

It’s available through www.worldsrecords.com.  Don’t be the last one on your block!

P. S.  If you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of Worlds Records, you’re missing out on a great firm.  I’ve been buying CDs from them for years.  And if we want small indepent businesses to survive, we need to support them.

OUR FAR-FLUNG CORRESPONDENTS: SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE (II)

Bill Gallagher, also a fine writer, is encountered too infrequently in the pages of the IAJRC Journal. Here’s his report on the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, held Memorial Day Weekend:

This celebration of jazz was started in 1974, primarily as a Trad Jazz festival. Today it is still mostly a Trad thing but there is a good deal of Mainstream jazz and even Latin, Gypsy and Zydeco. The problem, if you could call it that, is that there are 105 different bands appearing throughout the city at 30 different venues. Commendably, there are a number of youth bands that get to strut their stuff and it is heartening to see jazz attract the younger set, particularly while the audience (myself included) seems to be aging at an alarming rate. Attendance this year was about 75,000 people. Not a bad draw, you might say, but not close to the 200,000 attendees of ten years ago. Another reality in this age of shrinking budgets is that fewer international bands are to be seen. While the festival provides a highly efficient transportation system for getting from one venue to another, the sheer size of the three-day event makes it impossible to see and hear everything. But that doesn’t stop the faint of heart from trying.

Overlooking the magnitude of the event and its associated logistics, there was lots of great jazz. Becky Kilgore and BED knocks everybody’s socks off. Various All Stars in numerous configurations provided stunning, extemporaneous performances. Performers like Harry Allen, Russ Phillips, John Allred, Randy Reinhart, Joe Ascione, John Cocuzzi, Jim Galloway, Jake Hanna and, I’m proud to say, my good friend and pianist with few peers, Eddie Higgins, provided a continuous succession of one great performance after another. But a good part of the fun was listening to the banter that goes on with musicians and the occasionally funny slip by a fan. What do I mean? Well, here’s a sampler.

Tommy Saunders made reference to a compatriot of many years with the aside, “I’ve drunk to your health so much I’ve ruined mine.”

A woman approached Bob Schulz of the Frisco Jazz Band with a request. Would you play “I’ll Be Your Friend For Pleasure”? Sure, but I think you mean “I’ll Be Your Friend WITH Pleasure.”

As Jim Galloway began to introduce a number that featured him, “Bewitched, Bothered and …” But before he could get the last word out, Dan Barrett injected “Bob Wilber-ed.”

Bob Ringwald, father of actress Molly Ringwald, performed “Bethena,” a beautiful Scott Joplin rag. As background, Bob told the audience that his daughter had asked him to play it for her wedding. It was a difficult piece to learn and it took Bob some time to finally get it down. “In fact,” said Bob, “it took me longer to learn it than the marriage lasted.”

Great music. Great fun. Good times.

—- Bill Gallagher