Tag Archives: Benny Goodman Trio

CLARINETITIS: TIM LAUGHLIN, JIM BUCHMANN, DAVE BENNETT (November 29, 2014)

AVALON, “composed” in 1920 by Al Jolson and Vincent Rose, owed so much to a Puccini melody that Puccini’s publishers sued and won.  Thanks to Chris Tyle for the facts here.

AVALON sheet

Between 1920 and 1937, AVALON was a popular composition recorded by Red Nichols, Isham Jones, Coleman Hawkins, the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, Jimmie Lunceford, and others.  In 1937, Benny Goodman featured it as a quartet number (with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa) in the film HOLLYWOOD HOTEL — also recording it for Victor, performing it in 1938 at his Carnegie Hall Concert.  Benny performed it hundreds of times in the next half-century, and a performance of that song has been a way for contemporary clarinetists both to salute him and to dramatize their aesthetic kinship with him.

AVALON label

As a delightful point of reference, here is the 1937 Victor, a lovely performance by four men clearly enjoying themselves expertly:

That recording is, in its own way, a joyous summit of swing improvisation.

On November 29, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Tim Laughlin (leading his own New Orleans All-Stars with Connie Jones) had already invited clarinetist Jim Buchmann to join him for a few songs.  Then, Tim spotted clarinetist Dave Bennett and urged him to join in.  I thought that AVALON might be on the menu for three clarinets. Not that Tim is in any way predictable, but AVALON is familiar music — with known conventions — in the same way that a group of saxophonists might call WOODSIDE or FOUR BROTHERS — music that would please the crowd and the route signs are all well-marked.

Connie Jones and Doug Finke sat this one out, but Connie’s delighted reactions mirror every nuance of the music.

The other members of this band: Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums, are deeply immersed in both the tradition of Goodman AVALON’s and how to make it alive at the moment — Chris and Hal create their own variations on Wilson and Krupa most beautifully.

This one’s for my friend Janie McCue Lynch, and for students of the Swing School everywhere.

(For those correspondents who say “This is TOO Swingy!” in the tone of voice one would discuss a contagious disease, you are exempt from watching this.  But you’ll miss deep joy.)

See you all at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest: we’ll all gather.

May your happiness increase!

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THE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LOWER STOCKTON STREET: PROFESSORS GROSZ, OAKLEY, and VENTRESCO (August 17, 2014: Part One)

A long time ago, when I was a college student listening to string trios, quartets, and quintets, I was told that the great groups were Thibaud-Cortot-Casals, the Budapest Quartet and Friends, the Guarneri Quartet (whom I saw several times in concert). But while I was learning my Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak, and others, I was getting deeper into small-group jazz.  And it occurred to me often that the inspired interplay I heard in the “Trout” or the “American” was no different from a record of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett boogieing their way through a blues, or the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet, the Goodman Trio, Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the Basie rhythm section.  And in person I saw Soprano Summit, Al and Zoot, Bobby and Vic, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, the EarRegulars, and many others.
All this is long prelude to say that inspiring chamber music takes many forms. In jazz, it is always incredibly uplifting to see a very small group of musicians do two or three things at once — create communal variations out of their shared knowledge and conventions AND go their own brave ways. Courage, joy, playfulness, and beauty.
Here is some very recent evidence that stirring chamber-jazz sessions are happening all around us, with some of the finest players.  This one brought together East and West — East being Professor Grosz (Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) and West being Professors Oakley and Ventresco from the San Francisco Bay Area.  No music stands, just swing and on-the-spot frolicking. Acoustic splendor, with two very different approaches to the guitar — in solo and accompaniment — and with Leon’s very heartfelt cornet shining a light for us all to follow. (Highlights from the 2014 Marty Grosz West Coast Tour, for the historians in the audience.)
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
SHOE SHINE BOY:
I’M CONFESSIN’:
JOE LOUIS STOMP:
CRAIG’s LOWDOWN BLUES:
Three more performances from the second half (after a quiet intermission) will be offered in the near future.
May your happiness increase!

JUST PERFECT, THANK YOU

As a long-time jazz listener, I find myself mentally editing and revising many recordings (silently, without moving my lips).  “Tempo’s too fast for that song, “”That side would have been even better if the tempo had stayed steady,” or “Why couldn’t he have taken just one more chorus?”  Since the musicians can’t hear my silent amending and since the recordings remain their essential character, I think I am permitted this fussy but harmless pastime.  Fruitless, of course, but amusing exercises in alternate-universe construction that serious readers of fiction know well: every close reader is by definition an unpaid and unheard editor.  

But there are some jazz recordings no one could improve on.  Here are two flawless sides.     

This music was issued on a non-commercial V-Disc (“V” stands for Victory) recorded during the Second World War especially for the men and women in the armed forces.  The musicians gave their services for free; the sessions were supervised by (among others) George T. Simon; the discs were 12″ rather than the usual 10″, allowing for blessedly longer performances.  And many sessions took place after midnight, when the musicians had finished their gigs, lending them a certain looseness; as well, the recording companies gave up their usual restrictions, so that musicians under contract to one label were free to cross over from the land of, say, Victor, into Decca. 

This October 1943 session was led by Teddy Wilson (itself a near-guarantee of success); it is a quartet taken from his working sextet, which would have also included Benny Morton (trombone) and Johnny Williams or Al Hall (bass).  Perhaps those men were tired after a night’s work; perhaps they didn’t want to record without getting paid.  But as much as I revere Morton and Williams or Hall, the men who remained made irreplaceable music. 

What follows is a series of impressionistic notes on the music: keen listeners will hear much more as they immerse themselves in the music, as I’ve been doing for thirty-five years. 

The four voices are powerful ones — Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Ed Hall, and Joe Thomas — but this quartet is not a display of clashing ego.  Of the four, Thomas is least known, but his work here is deeply moving. 

After the little end-of-tune flourish that brings on Wilson’s (scripted) introduction, his harmonically-deep, crystalline lines and embellishments float over Sidney’s steady brush tread (forceful but not loud.  I think of the padding of a large animal in slippers).  Wilson’s second chorus is pushed forward by a Catlett accent early on; the two men dance above and around the chords and rhythm. 

In the third chorus, Hall joins them: as much as I admire the Goodman Trio, how unfortunate that this group never was asked to record — Hall’s tonal variations are beyond notating, in their own world. 

Thomas’s entry, clipped but mobile, provokes Catlett into tap-dance figures.  No one’s ever matched Joe’s tone, velvet with strength beneath it, the slight quavers and variations making it a human voice.  The annunciatory figure midway through his chorus is a trademark, those repeated notes looking backwards to 1927 Louis and forward to a yet-unrecorded Ruby Braff.  (Thomas was Frank Newton’s favorite trumpet player, a fact I can’t over-emphasize.)  He seems to stay close to the melody, but the little slurs and hesitations, the dancing emphases of particular notes are masterful, the result of a lifetime spent quietly embellishing the written music, making it entirely personal. 

And then Sidney comes on.  The sound of his brushwork is slightly muffled and muddied by the 78 surface, but his figures are joyous, especially his double-timing, the closing cymbal splashes.  Try to listen to his solo and remain absolutely still: hard, if not impossible! 

Then the ensemble plays (with everyone facing in the same direction, not breathing hard) a variation on the melody — something taken for granted well before the official birth of bop — with a jammed bridge in the middle.  Notice how Catlett and Wilson ornament and encourage the line that the two horns share.  And the side concludes with a little jam session finish (Sidney urging everyone on) with Thomas recalling the “Shoot the likker to me, John boy,” that was already a familiar convention perhaps eight years before. 

Incidentally, the swing players had discovered HOW HIGH THE MOON as early as 1940: Roy Eldridge and Benny Carter, guest stars on a Fred Rich Vocalion session in that year, improvise on it.

As delightful as I find HOW HIGH THE MOON, the masterpiece –subtler, sorrowing — is RUSSIAN LULLABY.  Berlin’s melody was already familiar, and I wonder what thoughts of the Russian Front might have been going through the heads of these four players, what political or global subtext. 

Often LULLABY is taken briskly, but this version is true to its title.  After Wilson’s introduction, Joe essays the melody: if he had recorded nothing else than this statement, I’d hail his unique trumpet voice: his tone, his vibrato, his use of space, his pacing.  Hall sings quietly behind him — but that soaring, melancholy bridge is a creation that is both of the trumpet and transcending it.  I hear the passion of an aria in those eight bars, with little self-dramatization.   

Wilson, following him, is serious, his lines restating and reshaping.  (Some listeners find Wilson’s arpeggios and runs so distracting that they miss out on his melodic invention: he was a superb composer-at-the-keyboard, and his solo lines, transcribed for a horn, would seem even more stunning.  Not accidentally, he learned a great deal about melodic embellishment and solo construction from his stint in Louis Armstrong’s 1933 band.) 

Keeping Wilson’s mood, Catlett plays very quietly, although you know he’s there.  Hall’s approach is more forceful and Catlett follows suit. 

Then . . . a drum solo?  At this tempo?  Most drummers would have found it hard to be as relaxed, as restrained.  He quietly paddles along in between the horns’ staccato reduction of the melody, making it clear that he is a serious servant of the rhythm, the time, devoted to the sound of the band — until he moves to double-time figures and two cymbal accents.  Music like this is deceptively simple: a casual listener might think it is easy to play in this manner, but how wrong that mild condescension would be!  Wilson and Catlett join forces for a momentary interlude before the horns return — Joe, sorrowing deep inside himself, Hall soaring. 

How marvelous that we have these two sides! 

Thanks to vdiscdaddy for posting them on YouTube; his channel is full of music worth hearing that has been hidden from us.  Thanks of a larger sort to Wilson, Thomas, Hall, and Catlett — brilliant creators who knew how to bring their individual selves together to create something brilliant, immortal.  And I don’t use the word “immortal” casually.

P.S.  I first heard these sides thanks to the late Ed Beach, and then savored them on an Italian bootleg lp on the Ariston label, THE V-DISC.  In 1990, they came out on CD — with an incomplete alternate take of RUSSIAN LULLABY — on the Vintage Jazz Classics label (TEDDY WILSON: CENTRAL AVENUE BLUES, VJC 1013-2), a production that brought together, although not face to face, John Fell, Doug Pomeroy, and Lloyd Rauch.  I don’t think a copy of that CD would be easy to find today, though.

“HAPPY BIRDLAND TO YOU!” (MAY 6, 2009)

The Beloved and I went to Birdland last night, video camera and tripod at the ready, to celebrate.  Not an occasion of our own, but to raise our glasses and cheer a long run that shows no sign of abating.  It’s the Wednesday night gig of David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (a/k/a/ the Gully Low Jazz Band) — which celebrated its ninth anniversary.  As David correctly pointed out, a two-week gig in jazz is a rare thing.  So for the LACB to be on the stand for approximately four hundred and fifty Wednesdays in a row is testimony to their endurance, the love they generate in their audiences, and the lasting appeal of the music they play and the exuberant way they play it.  It also says something about the enduring appeal of the man whose music they celebrate, but that should be obvious to everyone by now.

This Wednesday’s gig wasn’t a riotous affair.  True, a tidy little cake with one candle appeared during the second set, but the general atmosphere was superficially quiet.  But that’s a good thing in a jazz club when it is the attentiveness of a great band (musicians who listen to each other!) focused on their material and the quiet of a happy, perceptive audience, listening closely — people sitting straight in their chairs, grinning, tapping their feet, applauding in the right places.  A hip band, a hip crowd.  Just how hip was the crowd?  How about George Avakian, Daryl Sherman, Dan Morgenstern, Lloyd Moss, the Beloved, and myself.

The band was a first-class version of David’s floating ensembles: Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Vincent Gardner on trombone and vocal; Anat Cohen on clarinet; Mark Shane on piano; David Ostwald on tuba and commentary; Kevin Dorn, “young Kevin,” on drums.  Here’s some of what they played — for those of you beyond midtown.

About the music: they began this Wednesday as they always have, in tribute to the Louis Armstrong All-Stars of blessed memory, with a nostalgic WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN that segued, after Kevin kicked it off, into a rousing BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA.  (For wise commentary on Louis and the All-Stars, be sure to visit Ricky Riccardi’s site, “The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong,” and save your dimes (get some cash for your trash!) for his book on Louis’s later years, to be published in 2010 by Pantheon.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES is a song that has been flattened down somewhat by formulaic playing by many jazz bands of varying quality, but it was first a tribute to the place where Louis and King Oliver amazed everyone, so it has to be taken seriously.  And Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang did a pretty good version of it as well.  (So did Count Basie and the Benny Goodman Sextet, so the song — and its routines — are durable for sure.)

Don Redman’s pretty rhythm ballad, SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA, was recorded twice by Louis — in 1928 with his Hot Five, and in 1947 at Town Hall.  In these days of economic uncertainty, saving whatever “it” might be seems like a good idea, and Vincent Gardner sings the simple lyrics with conviction and a bit of amusement.

W.C. Handy’s compositions drew on traditional folk and blues forms, and ATLANTA BLUES is one of his most lively, also memorably recorded by Louis in his 1954 Columbia tribute, a recording produced by the venerable and venerated Mr. Avakian.

I don’t think Louis ever recorded SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART but it’s certainly a lasting tune.  Here, the spotlight falls on a quartet: Anat, Mark, David, and Kevin, at points summoning up the happiness that was the Benny Goodman Trio.  Or Mildred Bailey’s recording with Teddy Wilson.  (Mark knew the verse and played it splendidly.)

Finally, a delightful surprise: the Wednesday manager of Birdland, Brian Villegas, is also a fine singer: he joined the band on IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME — and it was more than all right with us.  Wishing you fame and happiness, Brian!

If you couldn’t make it to Birdland last night to join in the festivities, you missed something dee-licious, as Louis would say.  But some of the same hot jazz and good energy will be there next Wednesday from 5:30 – 7:15, and the Wednesdays into the future.  I’m sure David will accept belated felicitations with his usual graciousness.

BENNY RIDES AGAIN, PERHAPS

2009 is a great year for jazz centennials — Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Stuff Smith, Chick Webb, and Benny Goodman.  bg-portraitLast year, I began to write an article on the subject –or should I say the subjects — of BG, but eventually gave it up because balancing his many selves got to be overwhelming.  I felt like a novice waiter who takes too many dishes from the table . . . with the inevitable crash.  Goodman was so many people, depending on which angle he was observed from: the cruel skinflint; the star who didn’t want to share the applause; the artist so engrossed in perfection of the art — his clarinet, his band — that his awareness of his fellow musicians diminished and almost disappeared.  But he was also the jazzman who loved to swing, before there was Swing; the supreme melodic improviser; the man who gave Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Cootie Williams and many others the kind of recognition they would not have had otherwise.  (I even have forgiven him for having made Sidney Catlett cry.)  John Hammond, the great mythologizer, would have had it that Goodman was timid, someone who would have stayed in the studios, playing lucrative pop music, if Hammond hadn’t rescued him — perhaps that was true in 1931, but I don’t think it stayed true for long.  Hear how Goodman inspired and was inspired by Jack Teagarden, by Basie, by Jo Jones, and you hear a truly creative improviser.  How many years will have to pass before we can listen to his playing on, for instance, WHO? (by the Trio) and recognize its immense art?

But Goodman may not need my defense as long as the recordings exist.  This post, however, is about public celebrations of his centennial at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.  Both programs take place at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza.

On Monday, June 1, at 3 PM, the discussion is titled, appropriately, “Memories of You.” Martin E. Segal and Phoebe Jacobs will remember Benny — their conversation moderated by George Boziwick.  Phoebe, in case you’ve never met her or heard her speak, is a Genuine Treasure.  She was there; she tells the truth, lovingly and hilariously.

On Monday, June 8, at 6 PM, the emphasis shifts to “The Music of Benny Goodman,” as played by this small jazz ensemble: Miles Brown, bass; Paul Merrill, trumpet; Bobby Weinschenk, alto saxophone; Joshua Abraham, tenor saxophone; Robert Cowie, piano; Kevin Lowe, drums.  These musicians are new to me, but I am sure they know how to swing.  I do find it odd that no one is listed as playing the clarinet, but perhaps the two saxophonists will switch off.  It should be most intriguing to learn who’s written the charts for a group that obviously isn’t imitating any of the Goodman small groups, and what repertoire they choose.

I hope to be at both events.  Admission to both programs is free; first come, first served.  Call 212-641-0142 or visit www.nypl.org/lpaprograms.

And the best part of these centennial celebrations is that no one, I am sure, will even think to say, “Benny, don’t BE that way.”

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT

Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Gene Krupa back together again on television (although not the 1940s, as it is captioned).  Idyllically.

Not only is the song a wonderful Gershwin compostion, its title is so apt here.