Tag Archives: Bennie Moten

ÉLAN VITAL: THE VITALITY 5 ROCKS!

vitality-5

The VITALITY FIVE (and its band-within-a-band, the VITALITY THREE) are the real thing, and the quintet has released its debut CD, which is a complete delight.  They are a hot jazz band; their performances marry ferocious energy and precise delicacy.

Drum roll, please?

THE FAMOUS “VITALITY FIVE” JAZZ BAND of London.
Featuring internationally-renowned Syncopators from three corners of the globe :

Mr. MICHAEL McQUAID : Clarinet, Alto Saxophone & Trumpet.
Mr. DAVID HORNIBLOW : Bass Saxophone & Clarinet.
Mr. MARTIN WHEATLEY : Banjo & Guitar.
Mr. ANDREW OLIVER : Pianoforte.
Mr. NICHOLAS D. BALL : Drums & Percussion.

I know three of these Syncopators in person and will vouch for their Credentials of Hot.  Their biographies can be found here.

But mere words have their limitations, so here is audio-visual evidence:

and a Morton trio:

and some Nichols-Mole-Livingston-Berton modernism:

The repertoire on this CD says a great deal about the players and their overall conception.  Familiar hot tunes: EAST COAST TROT, MOJO STRUT, SMOKE-HOUSE BLUES, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME, WA WA WA — and the less familiar MOTEN STOMP, KANSAS CITY BREAKDOWN (both early Bennie Moten), CLARINETITIS (another Benny), STEAMBOAT STOMP (Boyd Senter), DIXIE (Adrian Rollini, for his wife), the pop tune IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW, and the never-played DESDEMONA, BLACK RAG, REVERIE, RETOUR AU PAYS, suggesting a deep immersion and erudition about this period of music.  Although the credits say “transcriptions,” it’s easy to see that when you “transcribe” WA WA WA or SMOKE-HOUSE BLUES for this singular ensemble, it is much more a transformation.  And it’s thus a lively reimagining.  JAZZ LIVES viewers with memories will know Michael McQuaid, Nicholas Ball, and Martin Wheatley as peerless musicians; I assure that David Horniblow and Andrew Oliver are nothing short of spectacular.  In fact, the entire ensemble has an appealing looseness precisely because they are honoring the originals and the originators without striving to provide copies of the records.  So this is hot jazz of the middle Twenties that is also aware that it is no longer 1926, which is fine with me.

All I know is that it took an act of will to pry the disc out of the player.  The band’s website is here.  To purchase the CD, visit here.  I can assure you that this quintet superbly lives up to the band’s name.

And thanks to Julio Schwarz Andrade, of course.

May your happiness increase!

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BACK TO SCHOOL, WITH TIME TO SWING (CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, September 15-18, 2016)

BACK TO SCHOOL

For those who work fifty or more weeks a year, September is just the month that precedes October.  For those of us whose lives have been governed by the academic calendar — I’ve been on one side of the desk or the other since age four — September means something else.  For me, it means the clock radio has to be set, I have to re-attach my office keys to my key ring, and I will soon be saying, “Good morning!  Please put your phones away where you can’t get to them. There are human beings in the room, and they take precedence over texting.” Or words to that effect.  (That’s the modulated polite version . . . )

You can tell I might have been teaching for a few years, or perhaps a few years too many.

But September also means music.  And I mean MUSIC.  One glorious friendly event is the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  Since I’ve been part of that event for a dozen years, I could even throw an avuncular arm around the Party’s shoulders, and say, “Kid, I remember you when you were Jazz at Chautauqua, and then the Allegheny Jazz Party,” but I guess I won’t.

Here’s a quietly groovy sample of the wonderful music that happens at this Party: as it was captured last year, on September 13, 2015 — created by Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

The song is MOTEN SWING — with links to Basie, Walter Donaldson, and Bennie Moten — proving once again that great improvised music need not be Fast and Loud to make us very happy:

I hope to see many friends, off and on the bandstand, at the 2016 Party!

Here’s the Party’s  Facebook page, and their website.

And something nice: “Free Student Tickets.  Thanks to our generous supporters, we’re able to open up the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party to student musicians interested in jazz. Listening is the best education, and your kids or grandkids will certainly be inspired by our musicians.  One free student ticket is available with each paid ticket to any session. Call us at 216-956-0886 for details.”

May your happiness increase!

SWING FOR ROMANTICS (1931)

When the conversation turns to the great swinging bands before “the Swing Era,” the names that are mentioned are usually the Luis Russell Orchestra and Bennie Moten’s Kansas City aggregations, Henderson, Ellington, Goldkette, Calloway, and Kirk.  Each of these bands deserves recognition.  But who speaks of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers?  (Is it the name that so embarrasses us these days?)

mckinneyscottonpickers

The song and performance that so enthralls me is from their last record date in September 1931 — DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE AT SIGHT? — composed by Ted Fio Rito and Gus Kahn. I am assuming that it was originally meant as a love ballad, given its title and world-view, but the band takes it at a romping tempo. (Was it played on one of their “coast to coast radio presentations”?  I hope so.) Several other marvelous features of this recording have not worn thin: the gorgeous melody statement by Doc Cheatham; the incredible hot chorus by Rex Stewart; the charming vocal by Quentin Jackson; the tenor saxophone solo by Prince Robinson, the arrangement by Benny Carter, and the wondrous sound of the band as a whole — swinging without a letup.

The personnel is listed as Benny Carter, clarinet, alto saxophone, arranger / leader: Rex Stewart, cornet; Buddy Lee, Doc Cheatham, trumpet;  Ed Cuffee, trombone; Quentin Jackson, trombone, vocal; Joe Moxley, Hilton Jefferson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Prince Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Todd Rhodes, piano, celeste; Dave Wilborn, guitar; Billy Taylor, brass bass; Cuba Austin, drums. Camden, New Jersey, September 8, 1931.  (The personnel offered by Tom Lord differs, but I think this one is more accurate.)

Here, thanks to our friend Atticus Jazz — real name available on request! — who creates one gratifying multi-media gift after another on YouTube — is one of the two takes of DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE AT SIGHT?:

I love Doc Cheatham’s high, plaintive sound, somewhat in the style of his predecessor, Joe Smith — and how the first chorus builds architecturally: strong ensemble introduction, trumpet with rhythm only (let no one tell you that tuba / guitar doesn’t work as a pairing), then the Carter-led sax section — imagine a section with Carter, Hilton Jefferson, and Prince Robinson — merging with the brass.  By the end of the first chorus, you know this is A BAND. (I’m always amused by the ending of the chorus, which exactly mimics the end and tag of THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  Nothing new under the sun.) And whose idea — Carter’s? — was it to so neatly use orchestra bells throughout this chart?  Lemon zest to the ear.

But then there’s Rex Stewart’s expert and hilarious solo — he wants to let you know he is here, immediately.  I always think of him as one of those bold trumpeters who, as the tempo speeded up, he played even more notes to the bar, rather than taking it easy and playing whole and half notes.  In this chorus, he seems like the most insistent fast-talker, who has so much to say and only thirty-two bars in which to say it.  Something else: at :56 there is a small exultant sound. It can’t be Rex taking a breath and congratulating himself (as he does in WILD MAN BLUES on THE SOUND OF JAZZ) so I believe it was one of his colleagues in the band saying without the words, “Yeah, man!”

Then a gloriously “old-fashioned” vocal from Quentin Jackson, but one that no one should deride.  He told Stanley Dance that he learned to sing before there were microphones, so that you had to open your mouth and sing — which he does so splendidly here.  He’s no Bing or Columbo, wooing the microphone: this is tenor singing in the grand tradition, projecting every word and note to the back of the room.

The final chorus balances brass shouts and the roiling, tumbling Prince Robinson, who cuts his own way amidst Hawkins and Cecil Scott and two dozen others: an ebullient, forceful style.  And by this chorus, I always find myself rocking along with the recording — yes, so “antiquated,” with tuba prominent, but what a gratifying ensemble.  Yes, I believe!

Here is what was to me the less familiar take one:

It is structurally the same, with the only substantial difference that Rex continues to play a rather forceful obbligato to Quentin’s vocal — almost competing for space, and I suspect that the recording director at Camden might have suggested (or insisted on) another take where the vocalist was not being interfered with.  How marvelous that two takes exist, and that they were recorded in Victor’s studios in Camden — a converted church with fine open acoustics.

There is a third version of this song, recorded in 1996 by Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton — sixty-five years later, but for me it is a descent from the heights.  You can find it on YouTube on your own.

Whether or not you believe in love at sight (that’s a philosophical / emotional / practical discussion too large for JAZZ LIVES) I encourage you to believe in the singular blending of hot and sweet, of solo and ensemble, that is McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.  One has to believe in something.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HUMPH!

HUMPH

Humphrey Lyttelton would have been 94 this May 23, 2015.  Although I have ordinarily not celebrated the birthdays of my heroes, living and departed, this calls for a celebration.  (Humph, gregarious onstage, was the most private of jazz musicians, so whether he approves of this tribute is open to debate.  But here it is, anyway.)

The gorgeous soundtrack — rare and previously unheard — has been provided for us by Stephen Lyttelton, Humph’s son, and curator of the beautiful and engrossing website devoted to his father.

The song is an old favorite (oddly enough, one I associate with the pre-Basie / pre-Eddie Durham version of the Bennie Moten band, San Francisco jazz, and Louis with the Dukes of Dixieland) SOUTH:

Stephen’s brand-new YouTube channel is here.  (My feeling is that if many of us subscribe, he will be motivated to share more rare, unheard music.  What could possibly go wrong?)

And here is Stephen’s commentary, which I couldn’t improve:

A birthday gift for all Humphrey Lyttelton fans – please pass it on.

Humph would have been 94 today and to celebrate here is a free recording never before released.

Humph, with Bruce Turner and Roy Williams, was part of the Salute to Satchmo Tour that visited Australia in 1978. Rolling back the years and delving back into the New Orleans catalogue, Humph is joined by a local band called The West Coast Jazzmen from North Freemantle, Australia. The gig was a ‘loosener’ before the main concern the next day and the band let rip with their version of ‘South’.

The recording(s) was found on a CDR and restored by David Watson at The Monostery.

Please pass on to fans who may not be linked to Humph’s web page or Facebook.

And here‘s the Facebook page for Humphrey Lyttelton 1928-2001.  “Like” it!  I do.

May your happiness increase! 

AMONG THE REEDS: DAN BLOCK, ALLAN VACHE, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, JOHN COCUZZI, FRANK TATE, DANNY COOTS at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 26, 2014)

No postmodern ironies in sight. No drama, no competition.  Just gliding swing from Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Allan Vache, clarinet; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; John Cocuzzi, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Danny Coots, drums. Recorded on April 26, 2014, at the Atlanta Jazz Party, where swing gets comfortable.

MOTEN SWING:

SOMEBODY LOVES ME:

THOSE Bb BLUES:

Thanks for the expert ride, gentlemen.

May your happiness increase!

CREATING BEAUTY: THE THRIFT SET ORCHESTRA

Festival promoters, swing dance bookers, people who love good music, beautifully played, take note!

(If John Hammond were alive, this band would already have a contract with English Parlophone, be playing at Smalls Paradise, and be broadcasting over WEVD . . . but it’s 2014, and we have to make such things happen for ourselves):

KRAZY KAPERS (take 1):

and another set of KAPERS:

Who are these Swing miracle-workers?  Why, they are the Thrift Set Orchestra, a band based in Austin, Texas.  At their site, you can read the biographies of the individual musicians and learn more about the group. I don’t see a place where one can request an autographed picture of the TSO, but soon that will be necessary, as jazz and swing dance fans coast-to-coast get the message.

If the Thrift Set Orchestra looks familiar to you, it might be because I posted two versions of their THE MOOCHE in honor of the band and of Ellington’s birthday here.

What makes them so special? I have to put them in context. There are many other youthful jazz bands out there devoted to the music of the Swing Era (and by that I do not mean formulaic versions of IN THE MOOD for dancers), and they all serve a useful function.  But few of them play as convincingly and with as much inventiveness as the TSO.

Some bands execute transcriptions of the original arrangements and recorded solos splendidly (no harm done there); other bands offer their own improvisations (likewise); some bands woo audiences with energy and vintage clothing or snappy uniforms and Art Deco stands (visually appealing for those who like spectacle).

But for me the deepest question is always: “What does the music sound like if I close my eyes?  Does it please my deepest self?”

I know it might seem odd, but for me, the test for a new CD is the car — my Old New Car with a decent sound system.  Driving somewhere with a previously unheard disc in the player, I can’t read the liner notes or check who’s soloing on track six.  I can only listen. And my response to the TSO disc was nearly ecstatic. I played it once, then again. And in the next few days I played it every time I drove, even for a five-minute errand. Driving on a main street in a suburban business district, I made sure to lower my windows so that everyone could hear the TSO put their own stamp on NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, BLUE DRAG, or HELLO BABE. No one came over at a stop light to ask the source of this joy, but I am convinced that I did some good, even subliminally, by offering this swinging beauty to innocent bystanders. Spreading joy to children who have never read a book about improvisation.  “Mama, that man had music coming from his car!” “Hush, child! We’re going home right now.”

Back to the sounds. The TSO is a compact, energetic, and accurate jazz-swing orchestra, with players who can read and improvise in an idiomatic yet loose manner, and who can swing convincingly on their own solos. Their ensemble playing is authentic but not stiff, the solos inventive and personal. The band echoes Ellington and Bennie Moten, but it has its own Western Swing spiciness too.  The CD offers a pleasing mix of classic songs and originals, as well as less familiar Thirties evocations (not copies) of Freddy Taylor, Cab Calloway, Bob Crosby, Jean Goldkette, informal sessions at Squirrel Ashcraft’s featuring Bill Priestley on cornet. Guitarist / vocalist Albanie Faletta sings deliciously on BLUE DRAG, and trombonist Mark “Speedy” Gonsalez plays Roy Eldridge’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR marvelously as a feature for the lower-register horn, getting every note splendidly in place. David Jellema’s cornet shines throughout, nimbly evoking early Hackett, and he adds his clarinet to the ensemble when a trio is called for. The two-man sax section of Graulty and Doyle, switching horns, is absolutely a model — and their soloing is individual yet idiomatic in the best way.  Anchored by Hal Smith’s perfect drumming (you could listen to any of these tracks for the drumming alone and be refreshed), the rhythm section rocks — no pianists need apply.

The overall sound of the band is both light and intense, and there is no hint of pretension or stiffness. They don’t sound as if they can’t wait to get back to their post-Coltrane modal studies. The rhythm section is powerful but never obtrusive, and the horns glide from lyrical solos to speaking gutty truths through their horns (trombonist Mark could be our generation’s Snub Moseley, and we welcome him!).  The TSO, in addition, has the sound of a working band: people who are used to playing together and who enjoy each other’s musical company.

Had this CD had simply been expert recreations of recordings, I would have been far less enthusiastic.  Although eleven of the tracks here display some allegiance to recorded performances, each of them has small delicious surprises: brief horn solos where one wouldn’t expect them, a brief horns-only passage in SUNDAY; the welcome presence of a banjo on HELLO BABE; friendly adjustments, adaptations, and inventions: new touches that seem just right, something that Foots Thomas or Bill Challis would have liked just fine.  Witty musical ingenuity rather than idolatrous museum-quality reproduction is the result.

And in case you are someone with a record collection, muttering, “I’d rather hear the originals,” the TSO has some new originals to offer you, danceable melodies with memorable lines — most of them taking a single melodic phrase and moving it around in the best Waller style to create tunes that don’t leave your head.

The musicians are David Jellema, cornet, clarinet; Jonathan Doyle, soprano, alto, clarinet; Lyon Graulty, tenor, clarinet, vocal; Albanie Faletta, guitar, vocal; Westen Borghesi, banjo, vocal; Ryan Gould, string bass, vocal; Hal Smith, drums, performing NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / SURE FINE / BLUE DRAG / SHAGTOWN JUBILEE / ROCKIN’ CHAIR / SNOWBOUND IN A CABIN / SUNDAY / SUGAR / HELLO BABE / SWEET IS THE NIGHT / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / KRAZY KAPERS / HANG ON EVERY WORD / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM / THE MOOCHE.  Good sound from sessions recorded July 2013.

You can purchase the CD here for $15 plus $3 shipping.

original

I predict a brilliant future for the TSO. I’m delighted they exist. We need them — a musical embodiment of Bach’s Rescue Remedy.

And as for its band name — the Thrift Set Orchestra, here’s what its creator Jonathan Doyle told me: “The name came from a thought around the idea of the economy of size of the orchestra, or maybe about an economy of musical style. It might have been about recycled culture too, finding clothes and records in thrift stores and putting all of the styles from the different eras together as one pleases, embracing beautiful and interesting things from the past that have lost value in contemporary society.”

The TSO embodies a beautiful philosophy in their music.

May your happiness increase!

MEET ME AT THE CORNER OF THEN AND NOW

Although the physicists explain gravely that time — make that Time — is not a straight line but a field in which we may meander, it often feels as if we are characters in a Saul Steinberg cartoon, squinting into the looming Future while the Past stretches behind us, intriguing but closed off.  We anxiously stand on a sliver of Now the thickness and length of a new pencil, hoping for the best.

Jazz, or at least the kind that occupies my internal jukebox, is always balancing (not always adeptly) Then and Now.  For some, Then is marked in terms of dates: this afternoon in November 1940, or this one in July 1922. The most absorbed of us can even add artifacts and sound effects: uncontrollable coughing, a trout sandwich, the sound of dancers’ feet in a ballroom.

But for me, Then is a series of manifestations, imagined as well as real, that have no particular date and time.

Bix and Don Murray watching a baseball game. The Chicago flat where Louis and friends drank Mrs. Circe’s gin and told stories. Mezz Mezzrow on the subway. Strayhorn auditioning in Ellington’s dressing room. Mystics Boyce Brown, Tut Soper, and Don Carter, each imagining the universe in his own way. Eddie Condon picking up the tenor guitar. Hot Lips Page shaking a Texan’s hand. Art Hodes and Wingy Manone politely deciding who gets to wear the bear coat tonight. Francene and Frank Melrose having Dave Tough and friends over for a scant but happy meal of rice and peppers. E.A. Fearn making a suggestion. Billy Banks arriving late for the record date. Bird washing dishes while hearing Art Tatum. Joe Oliver having a snack in a Chinese restaurant.

Any jazz fan who has read enough biography can invent her own mythography of the landmarks of Then.

Now, although it recedes as I write this, is a little easier to fix in time and space, in the way one pushes a colored push-pin through a map.

Andy Schumm, cornet and archives; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Levinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Howard Alden, banjo; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums: late in the evening of September 20 at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua, now reinvented as the Allegheny Jazz Party.

OLD MAN SUNSHINE (LITTLE BOY BLUEBIRD):

SHAKE THAT JELLY ROLL:

LITTLE WHITE LIES (in an arrangement inspired by British Pathe sound film of the Noble Sissle band — and piling rarity upon rarity — giving us a glimpse of Tommy Ladnier playing):

DEEP NIGHT:

GET GOIN’ (in honor of the Bennie Moten band, which also had spiders to deal with in Kansas City):

KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW (Sheridan’s verse gets everyone in the right mood):

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

18TH AND RACINE (a street intersection in Chicago / an Andy Schumm original / the title track of the Fat Babies’ delicious new CD on Delmark Records):

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (with a wonderful surprise at 3:00 — why isn’t there a whole CD of this?):

See you in Cleveland, Ohio, between September 18 and 21, 2014, for more of the same delicious time-superimpositions, courtesy of the Allegheny Jazz Party, where such things happen as a matter of course.

May your happiness increase!