Tag Archives: Benny Morton

GOODBYE, RED BALABAN. FAREWELL, BOB GREENE

I’ve written very sparingly about the deaths of jazz musicians in JAZZ LIVES — for one reason, thinking that turning this blog into an ongoing necrological record was at odds with its title. But without saying that one musician is more important than another (Bobby Gordon, Frank Wess, Al Porcino, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Sam Ulano, and a dozen others I am not mentioning here) I want to write and share a few words about two deaths of late 2013.

One was the bassist / guitarist / singer / impresario Leonard “Red” Balaban, the other, pianist Bob Greene.  Both of them were ardent workers in the jazz vineyards, and both (in their own subtle ways) did as much to advance the music as more-heralded musicians.

I had occasion to observe and interact with Red Balaban many times in 1972-5, again in 1975-the early Eighties, and once in 2013. In the summer of 1972, I learned from reading the listings in THE NEW YORKER that Sunday-afternoon jazz sessions were being held at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage — sic transit gloria mundi) on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street.  I and several friends made pilgrimages there.  The Mustache was a huge hall with sawdust on the floor, creaking long tables and wobbly chairs.  But for a nominal admission charge and the purchase of food and drink of dubious quality, we could sit as close to the bandstand as possible and (often) illicitly record the music.  The house band — Balaban and Cats — harking back to Red’s heritage in show business with the Chicago movie theatre chain created by Balaban and Katz — was usually a sextet, with Red playing string bass and singing, occasionally guitar or banjo, rarely tuba.  He called the tunes in consultation with the guest star, chose tempos, and led the session.  The Cats I remember were Marquis Foster, Buzzy Drootin, Dick Wellstood, Bobby Pratt, Chuck Folds, Red Richards, Sal Pace, Kenny Davern, Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Herb Gardner, Ed Polcer, Doc Cheatham, and I am sure there were others.  The guest stars, stopping in from Olympus or Valhalla, were Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Bob Wilber — enough stiumlation for a lifetime.  I was a college student with limited funds, so I didn’t see every session: missing Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, Lou McGarity, and others.  But I did see Eddie Condon in the audience, which would make the Sunday sessions memorable even if no music had been played.  And his daughter Liza was there now and again, photographing the musicians.

A few years later, I saw Red occasionally as a member of Mike Burgevin’s little band at Brew’s, playing alongside Vic Dickenson and other luminaries.  Eventually, Red and Ed Polcer created the “last” Eddie Condon’s, on 54th Street, and I went there when I could — the house band, as I recall it, included Ed, Vic, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, John Bunch, Connie, Kay, Ronnie Cole, and another galaxy of visitors, including Helen Humes, Al Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Kerr, Marty Grosz, Bob Sparkman, Ruby Braff, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones.  At Condon’s one could also see Billy Butterfield, Dan Barrett, Soprano Summit, Zoot and Al — a midtown oasis, now gone.

Finally, I got to meet Red once again, after a lapse of decades, at the October 2012 house party created by Joel Schiavone and Jeff Barnhart. I introduced myself as someone who had good reason to be grateful to him for those Sunday sessions, and we chatted a bit.

Thanks to CineDevine, we have two samples of Red, late in his career, gently entertaining the room, with assistance from Jim Fryer, Jeff Barnhart, and others.  In a Waller-Razaf mood:

and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:

A musician I respect, someone around in those New York years, had this to say about Red: “Not only did he love the music, but thousands upon thousands of dollars went through his hands and into the hands of musicians.  What he did with Condon’s # 3 is part of New York City jazz history.  He was a kind man who came from a very interesting family.  He wasn’t Ray Brown or Bob Haggart, but he kept jazz alive.”

Without Red Balaban, I doubt that I — and many others — would have heard as much memorable music as we did in those New York years.  So we owe him a great deal.  And he will be missed.  Another view of Red can be found here.

Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.

Bob devoted his life to celebrating Jelly Roll Morton and his music. He wasn’t the only pianist who has done so, but his emulation was fervent. I saw him summon up the Master at Alice Tully Hall in 1974 with a lovely little band (Pee Wee Erwin, Ephie Resnick, Herb Hall, Alan Cary, Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford).  They couldn’t quite turn that austere space into a Storyville bordello or the Jungle Inn (it would have required an architectural reconstruction taking years) but the music floated and rocked.  Across the distance of the decades, I think of Bob as a brilliant actor, committed with all his heart and energy to one role and to the perfection of that role — not a bad life-goal.

Bob was respected by his peers.  Mike Lipskin said, “Bob was a fine performer of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, and devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of this giant early jazz pioneer alive. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert many years ago.”  And a man we just lost, Bobby Gordon, told me, “I have fond memories of Bob for 40 years. He was always enthusiastic about music. I recorded with him 40 years ago and most recently for Jazzology. It was wonderful to record with him again, and a joy to be with such a remarkable talent. I will miss him……..a dear friend.”

Here’s a beautiful expansive piece by Hank O’Neal, a very lively evocation of Bob:

The first time I saw Bob Greene, he was playing a poor electric piano with a fairly loose ensemble, on the back of a flat bed truck. The band on the truck was trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the feeling generated by old time bands on wagons in New Orleans. It is a long way from New Orleans to Manassas, Virginia, and 1967 was a half a century removed from those heady days in the Crescent City. I don’t remember the enterprise stirring up much support for the first Manassas Jazz Festival, but Bob was on board because his old friend, Edmund “Doc” Souchon was also there, and Doc had probably asked him to come along. I know it happened because I have a snapshot to prove it. In another snapshot from the same day he’s playing cornet.

You had to look pretty hard to find out anything about Bob. He’s not well-known today, rarely mentioned in any of the standard jazz reference books, and you have to dig pretty deep to come up with any information at all, but the bits and pieces are there if you look for them. And the story and the music he’s made along the way are both wonderful.

Bob’s first love was Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy and the swing guys who were all over the place when he was a teenager. He could still, when asked, do the best imitation of Stacy I’ve ever heard, but at some point he heard Jelly Roll Morton, and was hooked. Until his death in 2013, he remained one of the foremost exponent of Jelly’s music in the land. There are other guys who could play more notes, play King Porter Stomp louder or Fingerbuster faster, but when it came to really delivering the goods, with just the right mix of technique, exuberance and sentiment, nobody else even came close.

There are other guys who play Morton’s compositions well, in the style, often with more sheer technique, but, for the most part, this is just a portion, usually a small portion, of their repertory. The music of Jelly Roll Morton and some of his circa 1900 contemporaries, made up about 90 percent of Bob’s playbook, and the telephone doesn’t ring very often these days, or any other days for the past few decades, for someone to play a recital of Morton’s music. Which was just fine for Bob. He never had any intention of being a full time musician. The world was just full of too many other things to try.

Bob made his first recordings in 1950 with Conrad Janis (Circle) and in 1951 with Sidney DeParis (Blue Note) and recorded intermittently for the next sixty years, whenever it was convenient. His performance schedule was about the same. He played in and around New York City in the 1950s and Washington D.C. in the 1960s because he was writing some pretty fancy stuff for assorted notables to read on radio or in political speeches. Goodness knows what else he may have been up to. When he wrote a book about the OSS exploits of his cousin, Paul Blum, he had no difficulty gaining access to the highest levels of the intelligence community. But back to the music.

After Bob climbed down off the back of the truck during the ill-fated parade in Manassas, I discovered he could also play a real piano and when he played Morton it was special. As I’ve suggested, he made up in spirit and authenticity what he may lacked in a formidable technique. Not that he made mistakes, he didn’t, but to this particular pianist, passion was the point, not technique. He had all he needed to get his point across. Much in the same as Thelonoius Monk. Other people played Just A Gigolo better than Monk, but nobody played it with more quirky feeling.

The first time I really heard Bob was when I was asked to round up the gear to record a band to be led by the then legendary, now largely forgotten drummer, Zutty Singleton. The gear came from Squirrel Ashcraft, the recorder, microphones, even the take-up reels. It was February 12, 1967, I remember the date with great affection because it was the very first commercially released record I ever worked on. It was also my first encounter with Zutty, still a marvelous drummer, and the only person I ever heard in person who could almost simulate a melody on the drums.

Bob Greene was a strong presence among many exceptional players that day and the highlight of the recording, to me at least, was a duo, just Zutty and Bob, on Cake Walking Babies From Home. I don’t know if Jelly ever played the tune, but if he did, he would have played it like Bob played it that day, and maybe Zutty would have been around to make sure. This was Johnson McRee’s first record for his Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and except for a solo outing by Don Ewell, perhaps the best record he ever produced.

In the 1970s, I asked Bob to record for Chiaroscuro on many occasions, but he always declined. There was always a semi-legitimate excuse. He was the only person I asked to record in those years who didn’t jump at the chance, including Bob’s first idol, Jess Stacy. In the late 1970’s Bob assembled his World of Jelly Roll Morton band, made a fine record for RCA, played Carnegie Hall a few years and toured successfully with the group. But most of the time he was in between New Orleans, Paris, Tokyo and New York, rarely in any place for very long. He slowed down long enough to record all the Jelly Roll Morton tracks for Louis Malle’s fine film, Pretty Baby and he enthralled audiences with his Jelly Roll show at numerous Floating Jazz Festivals. I recorded one of these shows in the late 1980s. Maybe I’ll listen to it one day and see if it should be released.

In 1994 we produced an event for Cunard on Queen Elizabeth 2, a 12-day survey of the music of New Orleans, and Bob was on board, as both Jelly Roll Morton and as the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Yorker’s noted critic, Whitney Balliett, was also on board, in disguise as Baby Dodds, tastefully accompanying Bob on a snare and cymbal. Romantic that he was, Bob fell in love with the ship and was heartbroken when he learned that much of the furniture in the ship’s Theater Bar, where he held forth nightly with Whitney, was to be taken off QE2 when it reached New York, and given to the Salvation Army. He decided he had to have a table and four leather chairs and set about finding a way to work it out.

When we docked, I left via the crew gangway, and saw Bob at the other end of the pier in heated conversation with a man in a Salvation Army uniform. Longshoreman were hauling the furniture and putting it inside a truck. I later learned that Bob got his furniture. The deal was for a table and four leather chairs, in the best condition possible, delivered to his home on 92nd Street. In exchange, Bob promised to assemble a band, including Whitney, to play for a Salvation Army Christmas party. A decade or so later Bob moved out to the end of Long island and that old Theater Bar furniture moved with him, a few miles closer to Southampton. This is the kind of thing that appealed to Bob.

If Bob had worked at a career in music half as hard as he worked at getting that furniture, who knows what might have happened? But perhaps nothing would have happened, which is the case with most people who try to have a career in jazz, and he wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time as he had for the past 91 years. He was one of a handful of pianists I’d go out of my way to hear because he always made me happy. He had the same effect on others.

In November 2006 he toured Japan and a lot of other people went out of their way to hear him. After that he began working on a project to present a Jelly Roll Morton show at Jazz At Lincoln Center but it didn’t work out. A year or so after that he asked what I thought of getting him together with Joshua Bell for some duets. I thought it sound like a good idea, that Bell could do a lot worse. That didn’t work out either but an awful lot did and the music that resulted with simply wonderful.

Bob and friends:

MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):

I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):

TIGER RAG (2011):

Thinking about these men, all I can say is this.

Not everyone is a Star, but everyone counts.  And fortunate are those who can follow their life’s calling and share their passions with us.

May your happiness increase!

BEING OLDER HAS BENEFITS

My chronological age is increasing, as I occasionally notice.

Tonight, the Beloved created a wonderful homemade Thai dinner, and when we’d finished, we worked our way through the dishes to music: an assortment of the 1937-41 sides that Billie Holiday and Lester Young created together, with friends.

And I thought, not for the first time, “How lucky I am to be the age I am. I saw Buck Clayton play — at the end of his trumpet career — and got his autograph. My friend Stu and I rode the subway uptown with Benny Morton, who sweetly and patiently answered our eager questions. I saw Teddy Wilson play at a shopping center, and got his autograph. Jo Jones spoke to me several times; two autographs, some recordings, some photographs. Dicky Wells waved an annoyed finger at me to get me to stop recording him with my cassette recorder. I saw Freddie Green and Count Basie, from a distance, at a concert in a Long Island park, Benny Goodman and friends in Carnegie Hall in the late Seventies.

Yes, Lester Young, Walter Page, Red Allen, Buster Bailey, Ed Hall, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Pee Wee Russell were already gone when I began actively searching out live jazz. But if I were younger today, I wouldn’t have had the precious experiences I did.

And listening to Billie and her friends — buoyant, wise, exultant, and so sweetly IN the music they were making — reminds me of how beauty never grows old. Let all the people who voyeuristically want only to make Billie into the Heroin Madonna, the Woman Abused by Louis McKay listen to this:

“Now they call it swing.” Exactly.

May your happiness increase!

“GOOD AFTERNOON, HOT MUSIC AFICIONADOS,” SEPTEMBER 1944, AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO UNCLE DA DA

I don’t ordinarily join in the chorus of people celebrating the birthdays of those who have left us, but, “from Ketchikan to Calcutta,” we can all salute Eddie Condon, who was born November 16, 1905. . . . with a little music, as he would have liked — in this case, an AFRS transcription of a Town Hall concert from September 9, 1944.

A New York Times advertisement for a Condon concert, 1942: courtesy of MULE WALK AND JAZZ TALK

An April 1942 advertisement: thanks to MULE WALK AND JAZZ TALK

The collective personnel, as explained by Mister Condon — from the hallowed and gilt-edged Town Hall — is Max Kaminsky, Muggsy Spanier, Billy Butterfield, trumpet / cornet; Miff Mole, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet;  Ernie Caceres, baritone saxophone; Gene Schroeder, Bob Haggart, bass; Condon, Gene Krupa, Joe Grauso, drums.

Some stream-of-delighted-consciousness notes on the music: LOVE NEST (with Krupa accents during Mole’s solo, continuing to push Max onwards, then Pee Wee).  Some words from Eddie and Gene, leading in to BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA (how beautiful the sound of Haggart’s bass is!); a salute to Louis — with a brief arranged introduction — in BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN (with Muggsy replacing Max) — pay close attention to Pee Wee’s sixteen bars, where he seems to float backwards against the nearly-violent current of the music — before Muggsy pays the Master homage.  A pause before THE BLUES BY PEE WEE RUSSELL with dark filigree by Schroeder behind him; then HEEBIE JEEBIES featuring Billy Butterfield and Joe Grauso (Krupa may have had to sprint back to his regular gig at the Capitol Theatre) — with some skips in the disc during Miff’s solo; then the closing IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE, with the soloists announced: Schroeder, Caceres, Mole (nifty pushing riffs behind him), Max, Muggsy with his plunger mute, Pee Wee, Billy Butterfield, Haggart, Schroeder for another circuit, Caceres also, Max, Muggsy, Pee Wee (the subject of sarcastic witticisms), Butterfield, Grauso . . . .leading into an ensemble paraphrase of DIPPERMOUTH BLUES with drum breaks.  And that applause was real (with unannounced segments of BIG BOY and SWING THAT MUSIC  — Krupa audibly present on the latter — spliced in from a different concert: I hear Max, Pee Wee, Caceres, and Benny Morton up front.)

I have a wall of CDs, and a good many of them are by Eddie Condon and his friends, but I would certainly love to live in an alternate universe where on a Saturday afternoon I could be sure of turning on my radio and hearing a half-hour of this splendor.

Note: the music from this transcription — without the AFRS “fillers” at the end can be heard, in better sound quality, on Volume Five of the comprehensive Jazzology Records series of Condon concerts 1944-45, more than twenty CDs in all.

This one’s for Hank O’Neal — who enabled many of us to hear the Town Hall concerts for the first time — and for Maggie Condon, for many reasons.

May your happiness increase!

SOULFUL ELEGANCE: JOE THOMAS, TRUMPET

The trumpet master Joe Thomas, aplacid, reserved man, didn’t make as many recordings as he should have.  But he played alongside the finest musicians: Jack Teagarden, Vic Dickenson, Red Norvo, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Herman Chittison, Benny Carter, Barney Bigard, Joe Marsala, Buck Clayton, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Edmond Hall, Art Tatum, Pete Brown, Claude Hopkins, Kenny Kersey, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Russell, Buddy Tate, Tony Scott, Dicky Wells, Oscar Pettiford, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Maxine Sullivan, Benny Morton, Bobby Gordon.  Harry Lim (of Keynote Records) was a special champion of Joe’s and featured him on many sessions.

Here is a 1945 recording — during the great flourishing of small independent jazz labels — on the Jamboree label, which issued perhaps twenty discs in all, most featuring Don Byas; one session under Horace Henderson’s name; another was the only session under Dave Tough’s name — featuring our Mr. Thomas.  One of the Byas discs, recorded by Don, Joe, and the mighty rhythm section of Johnny Guarneri, Billy Taylor, and Cozy Cole, is JAMBOREE JUMP — a groovy 32-bar head arrangement:

My ears tell me that JUMP has a close relationship with STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, exceedingly familiar chord changes for that period. The line sounds at first simple, something out of a child’s scale exercise — but it turns more adventurous.  There is a suggestion of a phrase we know from DIZZY ATMOSPHERE as well.  Swing and Be-Bop were adjacent, simultaneous, rather than two epochs as the journalists wanted us to believe.

Byas swoops and hollers, evoking Ben, over that concisely effective rhythm section, with Guarneri offering his own synthesis of Waller and Basie over Taylor’s powerful bass and Cole’s restrained drums — their sound somewhat swallowed by the whoosh of the 78 surface, although his bass drum is a swing heartbeat.

The quartet glides for two minutes until Thomas announces himself with one of the upwards arpeggios he loved, a sea creature leaping gracefully through the ocean’s surface.  His repeated notes never seem mechanical or over-emphatic: he just states he has arrived!  Joe, as Whitney Balliett pointed out, had listened hard to the Louis of the Hot Seven period, although Joe always kept his cool.  What follows might seem simple, undramatic for those anticipating the attack of an Eldridge or an Emmett Berry.  But Joe knew how to structure a solo through space, to make his phrases ring by leaving breathing room between them.  Like Bix or Basie, Joe embodied restraint while everyone around him was being urgent.  His pure dark sound is as important as the notes he plays — or chooses to omit.  Although his bridge is a leisurely series of upwards-moving arpeggios, it is more than “running changes.”

A simple phrase, in Thomas’s world, is a beautifully burnished object.  And one phrase flows into another, so at the end of the solo, one has embraced a new melody, resonant in three dimensions, that wasn’t there before, full of shadings, deep and logically constructed.  The band returns for the last statement of the theme, but it’s Joe’s solo I return to.

Louis, speaking about playing the trumpet, praised as the greatest good “tonation and phrasing.”  Joe’s tone, dark and shining, makes the simple playing of a written line something to marvel at, and each of his notes seems a careful choice yet all is fresh, never by rote: someone speaking words that have become true because he has just discovered they are the right ones for the moment.

I offer JAMBOREE JUMP as prelude to something even more marvelous.

Harry Lim, the guiding genius of Keynote Records — which, session for session, was consistently rewarding — loved Joe and featured him often.  The Pete Brown All-Star Quintet had a splendid rhythm section and the contrast between Joe’s stately sweetness and Pete’s lemony ebullience.  IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN shows off not only the contrast between them, stylistically, but also in tempos — this 12″ 78 (another one of the independent labels’ of the time’s great ideas — thank Milt Gabler and Alfred Lion) contrasts sweeping elegance with double-time romping.

That song might well have been Joe’s choice.  I was fortunate enough to see him in person a few times in the early Seventies, and he took this song as a kind of personal utterance.  I don’t know if the lyrics meant something deep to him — he was happily married to the singer Babe Matthews for many years — or if he associated the song with some event or place in his past, but he played it and sang it as if he had composed it.  And given Joe’s delight in the possibility of repeated notes in his soloing, TALK provides ample opportunities in its written melody.  (Like DARN THAT DREAM, it is a song that — played mechanically — could grow wearisome quickly.)

Here’s the Keynote recording, beautifully annotated by its generous YouTube creator:

If you’ve heard little of pianist Kenny Kersey, his chiming, serious solo introduction is evidence that he is another unheard master.

Then Joe comes to the fore in a sorrowing embellishment of the theme.  Hear his vibrato, his tone — without stating anything in melodramatic capital letters, he says, “What you are hearing is very serious to me.  It comes from my heart.”  Indeed, I think of the great later Louis of THAT’S FOR ME.  Joe is somber and tender at once, lingering over a note here, adding a small ornamental flourish, as he does at the end of the first sixteen bars, almost in a casual whisper, his brass voice trailing away.

Around him, the elements are in place: the warm resonance of Milt’s notes; the gentle timekeeping of J.C. Heard; Kersey, pointing the way; the sweet understated agreements provided by Pete’s alto.

When Joe would sing TALK OF THE TOWN, he would get even more emphatic on the bridge.  A song that begins, “I can’t show my face” already starts passionately, but the bridge is a drama of disappointment and betrayal: “We sent out invitations / To friends and relations / Announcing our wedding day. / Friends and relations gave congratulations. / How can you face them? / What can you say?”  Here, Joe’s trumpet rises to depict this heartbreak without increasing his volume or adding more notes.  The run that begins the second half of the bridge is Joe’s version of an early Thirties Louis phrase in sweet slow-motion.

Something startling comes next, and although I have known this recording for several decades, I can’t prepare myself for it: Pete Brown and the rhythm section go into double-time.  Pete loved to push the beat, and perhaps the idea of playing TALK OF THE TOWN as an extended ballad seemed too much of a good thing.  I also wonder if Pete knew that to follow Joe in the same fashion was not a good idea*.  Whatever the reason, the spirit of Roy Eldridge playing BODY AND SOUL at double-time is in the room.  Although Pete’s rough bouncy energy is initially startling, his bluesy vocalized tone is delightful, and the rhythm section digs in (Heard’s soft bass drum accents suggest Catlett).  And there’s the SALT PEANUTS octave jump at the end of the bridge, too.

It’s left to Kersey to return everyone to the elegiac tempo set at the start, and he does it beautifully, although the section has to settle in.  Joe returns, declamatory and delicate.  Where many trumpeters of the period might have gone up for a high one, Joe repeats the title of the song as if to himself.

I have loved Joe Thomas’ work for forty-five years, having heard him first on an Ed Beach radio show with the Keynote SHE DIDN’T SAY YES and then on a Prestige-Swingville session led by Claude Hopkins and featuring Buddy Tate.  His playing still moves me.  Although his simple notes are not difficult to play on the trumpet, to play them as he does, to learn how to sing through metal tubing is a lifetime’s work.  There were and are many compelling Louis-inspired trumpeters, and they all brought their own special joy.  But there was only one Joe Thomas.

Thanks to SwingMan1937 for posting JAMBOREE JUMP and to sepiapanorama for IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN.  These generous YouTube folks have excellent taste!

*About Pete Brown’s double-time section.  I came across another YouTube presentation of IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN — Connee Boswell’s lovely 1933 reading with the Dorsey Brothers in an orchestra directed by Victor Young — and she lifts the tempo, too.  Perhaps it was a swing convention when the song was first introduced?  (The picture of the singer isn’t Connee but Jo Stafford, by the way.)

May your happiness increase.

BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY and DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES

THIS JUST IN (Sept. 8, 2012): BORN TO PLAY is available at a special discount price.  I feel honored — this is the first official JAZZ LIVES promotional code!

JAZZ LIVES SPECIAL PRICE: Available directly from the publisher with 25% discount ($71.25 + $5.00 shipping): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810882645 and enter special Jazz Lives promotion code in shopping cart: 7M12BTPRB

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time, and it’s even better than I anticipated.  It is the latest volume in the Scarecrow Press “Studies in Jazz” series, nearly 750 pages of information about the late cornetist.

Its author, Thomas P. Hustad, knew Ruby, spoke with him, and had Ruby’s full cooperation and enthusiastic advocacy.  Although the book isn’t a biography, nearly every page offers a deeper understanding of Ruby, musician and personality, and the contexts within which he operated.

Ruby would have been a challenging subject for a typical biography.  For one thing, although jazz musicians seem to lead unusual lives (nocturnal rather than diurnal hours, for one thing) they take their work with the utmost seriousness, and their daily responsibilities are not much different from ours.  A diary of what Ruby, for instance, accomplished when the horn was not up to his lips, might not be particularly revealing.  And Ruby’s strong, often volatile personality might have led a book astray into the darker realms of pathobiography: a chronological unfolding of the many times Ruby said exactly what was on his mind with devastating results would grow wearying quickly, and would leave even the most sympathetic reader with a sour impression.

No, Ruby wanted to be remembered for his music, and Tom honored that request.  So there is no psychoanalysis here, in an attempt to explore why Ruby could be so mercurial — generous and sweet-natured to some, vocal in defense of his friends, furious at injustice, fiercely angry without much apparent provocation otherwise.  True, the reader who peruses this book for tales of inexplicably bad behavior will find some, but BORN TO PLAY offers so much more.

Its purpose is to celebrate and document Ruby’s playing and recording over more than half a century.  What a body of recordings he left us!  From the earliest Boston broadcasts in 1949 to his final August 2002 appearance in Scotland with Scott Hamilton (happily available on an Arbors Records 2-CD set), Ruby played alongside the greatest names in jazz history.

Without looking at the book, I think of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, Nat Pierce, Dave McKenna, Freddie Green, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Dick Hafer, Scott Hamilton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dick Hyman, Teddi King, Lee Wiley, Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, Oscar Pettiford, George Wein, George Barnes, Michael Moore, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Howard Alden, Frank Tate, Jack Lesberg, John Bunch, Sir Charles Thompson, Trummy Young, Bob Wilber, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Dan Barrett, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Lawrence Brown, Ernie Caceres, Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Rushing, Urbie Green.

BORN TO PLAY is more than a straightforward discographical listing of Ruby’s issued recordings (although even there I found surprises: Ruby’s sessions with the Weavers, a final unissued Vanguard session, work with Larry Adler, Lenny Solomon, and others).  From his earliest appearances, listeners noticed that Mr. Braff was something special.  Jazz critics made much of him as an “anachronism,” someone whose style came out of Louis Armstrong rather than Miles Davis, but such assessments missed the point.

Ruby was one of the great romantics and improvising dramatists: he could take the most familiar melody and find new lyricism in it, singing it out as if he had become Fred Astaire or Judy Garland or Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS rather than “a saloon entertainer with a bit of tin in his hand.”  Ruby’s playing touches some hidden impulses in us — our need to express emotions without holding back — but his wasn’t the “barbaric yawp,” but quiet intensity with many surprises on the way.

His admirers (among whom I count myself) paid tribute to their hero by recording his performances whenever possible — the chronicle of private recordings begins in 1949 and continues to the end.  Those private recordings are  more than tantalizing: Ruby’s encounters with Louis, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Buddy Rich, Danny Moss, Sidney Catlett, Benny Carter . . .as well as his day-to-day gigs with musicians both famous and little-known across the globe.

One of the surprises in this book is that Ruby worked so often: before he became known for his singular approach to melodic improvisation, he was a diligently gigging musician.  (In print, Ruby sometimes complained about his inability to find congenial work: these listings suggest that aside from some early stretches where it was difficult to get gigs, he was well-employed.)

BORN TO PLAY also contains rare and unseen photographs, and the text is interspersed with entertaining stories: Nat Pierce and the sardine cans, Benny Goodman and the staircase, and more.

What this book reminds us of is the masterful work of an artist performing at the highest level in many contexts for an amazing length of time . . . all the more remarkable when you recall that Ruby suffered from emphysema as early as 1980.  Without turning his saga into a formulaic one of the heroic artist suffering through disabling illnesses, Hustad subtly suggests that we should admire Ruby much more for his devotion to his art than stand back in horrified wonder at his temper tantrums.  And Tom is right.

Ruby emerges as a man in love with his art, someone so devoted to it that the title of the book becomes more and more apt as a reader continues.  I have only read it intermittently, but find it both entrancing and distracting.  Much of this is due to Tom Hustad: a tireless researcher (still finding new information after the book’s publication), a fine clear writer, and someone Ruby trusted . . . so the book floats along on a subtle friendship between subject and chronicler.  And Tom was there at a number of sessions, providing valuable first-hand narratives that enlighten and delight — especially telling are his stories of relationships between Ruby and his champions: John Hammond, George Wein, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett, Mat and Rachel Domber, and others.

And the little details that make a book even better are all in place: a loving introduction by one of Ruby’s long-time friends, Dan Morgenstern; a cover picture showing Ruby and Louis (the photographer another great friend of the music, Duncan Schiedt) . . . and orange was Ruby’s favorite color — one he associated with the aural experience of hearing Louis for the first time, his sound blazing out of the radio speaker.  The layout is easy on the eye, all in nicely readable type.

In the interests of full disclosure (as the lawyers and politicians say) I should point out that I admire Ruby’s playing immensely, met him in 1971, spoke with him a number of times, saw him at close range, and contributed information about some private sessions that I recorded to this book.

BORN TO PLAY is a fascinating document, invaluable not only for those who regarded Ruby as one of the marvels of jazz — it is also a chronicle of one man’s fierce determination to create beauty in a world that sometimes seemed oblivious to it.  Many large-scale works of scholarship are thorough but cold, and the reader feels the chill.  Others have adulation intrude on the purpose of the work.  Tom Hustad’s book is an ideal mixture of scholarship, diligence, and warm affection: its qualities in an admirable balance.  I think the only way this book could have been improved would have been for Ruby to continue on past 2002 and the book to follow him.

Click here to purchase a copy.

And here’s something to beguile you as you click — the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 (Ruby, George Barnes, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore) sauntering through LIZA:

May your happiness increase.

“WHAT IT IS: THE LIFE OF A JAZZ ARTIST”: DAVE LIEBMAN in conversation with LEWIS PORTER

I expected to dislike this new Scarecrow Press because it chronicles a jazz player whose musical vision begins where mine ends.  Liebman worked and recorded with Elvin Jones and Miles Davis in the Seventies and has gone on into a variety of free jazz / electric jazz projects.

I began reading as an obligation but found myself fascinated by the development of an improvising artist — a bright Jewish Brooklyn boy stricken with polio before he had entered school, receiving piano lessons because they were a mark of upper-class cultured life, becoming a saxophonist gigging in Catskills resorts at fourteen, discovering John Coltrane live at Birdland in 1962 . . . .

Unlike some musicians whose energy seems primarily musical, Liebman has sharp recall (or novelistic skills), a sense of humor, and the ability to articulate his perceptions.  Thus there are strongly-realized portraits of Elvin Jones and “the Prince of Darkness,” Miles — who, at one point, had a large 1970 photographic portrait of himself and Louis hung over his couch.  (Liebman’s insights into Miles are intriguing: he portrays Miles as bored and even shy . . . which will give the Davis-idolators something to ponder.)

Liebman has a good deal to say about his colleagues — occasionally unsparing, although he is candid about his own shortcomings.  He is perceptive about the Masters — Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, and Cannonball Adderley are summed up in several thoughtful, witty pages, once again proving that musicians are often the best critics of their own art.

I came to admire the book as I read, and I am paying it the best tribute I can by giving it away — to a new young friend, a saxophonist from Santa Cruz, who will also — as I did — learn from Liebman.  I applaud Scarecrow for publishing such an in-depth portrait, and only wish (wistfully) that someone had been able to sit down with, say, Brew Moore or Benny Morton or a hundred others.  But this book is a model of what can be done to illuminate jazz from the inside as well as chronicling one artist’s passage through it.

Here you can find out more about WHAT IT IS, which I am sure is available in the usual online places.

TAKE ME TO THE LANDS OF JAZZ — 1948 and 1949

These postcards (being sold on eBay) have a certain poignancy for me — not only because I can’t get to these occasions by any means short of the paranormal — but because when I go down to Greenwich Village in New York to hear jazz at Smalls, for instance, I could walk to these fabled sites.

Read the postcard, close your eyes, and imagine the band!

I can hear Benny Morton and that rhythm section . . . and I’ll bet there were some serious blues played that night.  Worth $1.25.

Three of the finest cornetists / trumpeters one could imagine — with Gowans and Marsala, James P., and that Bechet fellow.  Have mercy.

Well, it is reassuring to know — even at this distance — that such things happened — not once but often.

May your happiness increase.

“FAMILY-FRIENDLY”: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS, FAMILY, AND FRIENDS at DIXIELAND MONTEREY (March 3, 2012)

“Family-friendly” often means that there will be a Children’s Menu, mac and cheese, crayons, and a paper tablecloth . . . or that the master of ceremonies will avoid anatomical jokes in favor of balloon animals.

But when it comes to hot jazz, the Reynolds Brothers are always family-friendly, since Ralf (washboard and commentary) and John (vocals, guitar, banjo, whistling, and commentary) are brothers.  Apparently they are friendly as well!  Katie Cavera (string bass, vocals) and Marc Caparone (cornet, vocals) are related only in their love of deep swing and an awareness of absurdities.

But this session — recorded on March 3, 2012, at the Dixieland Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay — was seriously family-friendly in the most elevating way because Dave Caparone — Marc’s father — a superb swing trombonist, came along for the ride.  Dave never studied Benny Morton, but he has a good deal of the Master’s warm, burry sound in solo and his neat, unhackneyed ensemble playing.

The cosmic syncopations the Brothers and family created acted as jazz pheronomes, so other players joined in, as you will see.

Swing, you cats!

LADY BE GOOD:

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Allan Vache brought himself and his clarinet for LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

Mark Allen Jones couldn’t wait to hear Katie’s Second Avenue turn on BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN:

I GOT RHYTHM:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS:

HAPPY FEET:

May your happiness increase.

Incidentally, I have it on good authority that Ralf is going to be forming a Southern California chapter of the Anti-Defamation League exclusively for the aid and comfort of washboard players.  I’ve asked to be an honorary member, and remind the anti-washboardians that any instrument can swing when played with expertise and feeling.  And yes, I would be happy if my sister married a washboard player — if he swung like Ralf.  But she’s taken, so it might be a moot point.

BAD BOYS, NAUGHTY GIRLS: JAZZ MYTHOGRAPHY

This post grew out of an online conversation with my friend Julio Schwarz Andrade, a fine young musician currently exploring the music of short-lived trumpeter Tony Fruscella.  Julio said he found Fruscella both moving and inconsistent, and asked my opinion.  I said that Fruscella was one of those musicians elevated to mythic status not only because he could play beautifully (hear his I’LL BE SEEING YOU) but because the jazz audience seems eager to create a posthumous mythography, celebrating behavior they themselves don’t indulge in.

“Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse,” is the philosophy of Studs Lonigan in James T. Farrell’s fiction.

I think it ironic that men and women who pay their bills, have two beers on a Friday night and then stop, wear their seat belts — people who not only espouse all the bourgeois middle-class virtues but live them — are secretly entranced by those who do not or cannot: the OUTLAW, the SUPERNOVA, the ECCENTRIC.

Were I asked by a young jazz musician how to ensure posthumous fame, one answer would be “Practice your instrument so that you play brilliantly, memorably.  Learn from those who have gone before you and listen closely on the bandstand.”

But that isn’t always enough to merit a place in the great jazz mythography.  So my advice (delivered ironically) might sound like this: “Want to make sure that your life in jazz will be chronicled long after your death?  Take heroin; you’re much more interesting if you’re tortured.  Die young.  Break the law.  Be dramatically inconsistent, so that someone narrating the arc of your career can chart your “early beginnings,” “meteoric rise,” “sad end.”  Behave in an apparently erratic fashion.  Steal someone’s horn; give up hygiene.  Cultivate intellectual arrogance; antagonize your fellow players.  Avoid the ordinary, the conventional, give up all attempts at social awareness.”

Of course, the musicians and singers I know view these personality traits — echoes of a presumed hipster way of life — with pained skepticism at best.  They may see themselves as outsiders, but they prize bourgeois virtues: showing up early for the gig, ready to play, one’s clothes clean, being a professional, knowing the key.  They like to work alongside reliable individuals, not those too stoned to play.

But these habits don’t make for dramatic mythography, so they don’t get celebrated.

Although the players and singers who outlived the most famous self-destructive figures in jazz speak with reverence and affection of the dead, it can’t have been easy to deal with these “jazz titans” on the stand.  In retrospect, they describe how A stole someone’s horn, how B didn’t bathe, how C broke the plate-glass window; how D nodded off while the band was playing, how E apparently committed suicide through excess of food or drink.  Great stories after the fact, but not easy to tolerate in real life.  In this century, nonconformity seems expected, and Thoreau still has validity, but is it essential to creative improvisation?

The voyeuristic fascination with the painful details of the lives of some musicians puzzles me.  I wonder how many people who see Billie Holiday as an iconic victim have heard more than a few of her performances.

Do some people secretly envy the outlaw his or her defiance, self-destructive boldness?  Are prudent listeners enthralled by myths of people who defied everything that was “good” for them because the short lives of their musical heroes make them feel comfortable and secure?  Or are others so entranced by the Jazz Martyr, whose life is so deeply focused on the music that all else becomes unimportant?

In a world where people — kindly and sometimes officiously — tell us what to do (get that taillight fixed, lose fifteen pounds, be on time for work) I wonder if some well-behaved people find stories of disobedience vicariously gratifying?

Could we make a case that (for one example) Fats Waller had to behave the way he did — or thought he did — to create the music that lives on after him?  EARLY TO BED was the name of his last musical show . . . but a way of life he chose to reject.

Speculating on the inner lives of the people we admire must always be both intriguing and futile: they take their secrets with them.  Who among us fully understands what motivates his or her behavior?

I don’t see the doomed-artist mythography diminishing any time soon, as long as readers want to immerse themselves in tales of Outsider rule-breaking.  But I wish we could simply listen to the music without getting distracted by the figures we have invented.

Perhaps we could also honor a Barry Harris, a Buck Clayton, an Ed Hall, a Benny Morton, a Joe Wilder, an Eddie Higgins, a Milt Hinton.  These players — and so many others — show that one can be a middle-class citizen and a creative improviser.  But the bad boys and girls get all the press.

P.S.  As a real-life postscript.  Last night (Feb. 21, 2012) I went to a new room where a fine jazz trio was playing.  Behind me were two “jazz fans,” talking throughout the music about their favorites and when they had discovered each musician.  At one point, the conversation about pianists took this turn: “I can’t think of the name of that druggie jazz pianist.  Very famous,” (presumably Bill Evans?) and a few songs later, one fan opined to the other, “I liked Chet Baker.  But he wasn’t a very nice person.  And, you know, he took drugs.”

CELEBRATING EDDIE CONDON’S BIRTHDAY

Eddie Condon left us in 1973, but the musical cosmos he created lives on in 2011 and beyond.  It’s not difficult to imagine his approving shade at Whitley Bay, at The Ear Inn, at Jazz at Chautauqua — when gifted men and women get together to worship at the shrine of Hot Jazz, of graceful melodic improvisation, of swinging solos and ensemble.  And today would have been his birthday.  But any day is a good one to remember Eddie, as a prophet and advocate of beautiful energetic collective improvisations. 

I’ve chosen to honor him through music rather than on film.  Here are three examples of what he did so well.  The first is the opening segment from a 1944 Condon concert, as broadcast on the radio and to the troops.  You’ll hear Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Benny Morton, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Sid Weiss, and Gene Krupa:

And just because Eddie and the boys (in this case, Max Kaminsky, Brad Gowans, Pee Wee, Joe Sullivan, Al Morgan, Eddie, and George Wettling) found the twelve-bar blues a real source of inspiration, here are two of the life-enhancing Commodore 12″ 78s in honor of John Steinbeck — Tortilla B Flat:

and More Tortilla B Flat:

Thanks to Hal Smith — who knows the spirit of Condon well! — for the timely reminder.

HIS HONOR IS ON THE BENCH: RAY SKJELBRED PLAYS! (September 2011)

Ray Skjelbred is back in his element and playing better than ever — full of the real down-home spirit.

Here’s BLUESIANA (by Frank Melrose) — dedicated to his daughter, Aunt Ida Melrose!  And this video (taken September 13, 2011 at San Francisco’s Pier 23) has a real rarity enclosed: a casual conversation between the subject, Mr. Skjelbred, and the diligent videographer from north central Texas, Ms. Rae Ann Berry:

And an older, sadder tune — one I associate with Clarence Williams and King Oliver, WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO? (the eternal question):

Two days earlier, Ray and his Cubs performed in Sacramento, California, for the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society.  Here are a few videos from that date — with Ray joined by Katie Cavera on guitar, Kim Cusack on clarinet, Clint Baker on bass, and Hal Smith on drums.

Here’s BULL FROG BLUES:

One of my favorite songs — for the musical line, the hopeful romance of the lyrics, and the echoes of Louis and Ruby Braff, HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY:

MY GALVESTON GAL will never win awards for folk poetry, but Henry Red Allen, Benny Morton, and Coleman Hawkins recorded it in 1933 — that’s good enough for me:

That sweet zephyr in the air?  That’s BREEZE (BLOW MY BABY BACK TO ME):

And to send you out in the right mood, here’s a stomping SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE (it was a dance):

Hot Chicago jazz for this century and for all time — thanks to Ray, Rae Ann, Clint, Kim, Katie, and Hal.

ESSENTIAL LISTENING: CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND “TEARS”

Some time ago on JAZZ LIVES, I had some fun posting two Desert Island Disc lists of my own — one of the Great Dead, one of the Happily Living.

Now, it’s time to revise those lists — because TEARS, by Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, is an absolute delight.

It’s not a respectful museum-piece, but a lively, surprising evocation of many jazz eras — one of those CDs you will listen to all the way through and then want to play again.

Clint Baker is one of those blessed players who can swing the band no matter what instrument he picks up.  On Rae Ann Berry’s YouTube videos (and some of mine), the exciting evidence is there: Clint on trumpet, cornet, trombone, clarinet, guitar, banjo, drums, vocal — all superbly.  On this CD, he plays trombone — moving around stylistically from the hot roughness of the late Twenties to the smoothness of mid-Thirties Benny Morton, all with conviction and wit.  In the front line, he has Marc Caparone (punching out that fine lead in the best Mutt Carey manner or looping around in the sky a la Buck Clayton) and Mike Baird (think Johnny Dodds or Prince Robinson).

But the best front line imaginable sinks without a cohesive, friendly rhythm section — like the one on this CD: Dawn Lambeth on piano (more about Dawn in a minute), Katie Cavera on swinging guitar and banjo (ditto); Mike Fay (did someone say “Wellman Braud”?) and the wonderful Hal Smith, propulsive but always deeply sensitive to the band as a whole.

Katie delivers one of her delicious sweet-tart, almost-innocent vocals on SWEET MAN, which is a treat.  And Clint convinces us of the earnest message of WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.  But this CD also has a vocal masterpiece: Dawn Lambeth’s pure, yearning I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?  And Dawn illuminates four more selections — jazz singing at its best.

Clint favors what he calls “musical whiplash,” which has a rather ominous ring to it — but it’s not what happens when you’re driving, engrossed in a new CD.  No, what he means is a wide-ranging repertoire, a band comfortable with playing music from the ODJB, King Oliver, operetta and opera (Saint-Saens!), Twenties pop and novelty tunes . . . all with precision and abandon, intensity and relaxation.

The CD runs 73;34, and the songs are OSTRICH WALK / I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I? / TEARS / SWEET MAN / ONE HOUR / YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (the Hot Five song, not Jolson’s) / LOVING YOU THE WAY I DO / MY HEART AT THY SWEET VOICE / WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE / ORIENTAL STRUT / BLUES IN THIRDS / IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.

Need more information?  It’s all here: http://www.katiecavera.net/ctb_tears.html

DRUMATIC CYMBALISM is COMING!

Artist Alex Craver, Mike Burgevin, and Sadiq Abdu Shahid

“DRUMATIC CYMBALISM” CONCERT SERIES

May – October 2011, Stamford, New York

Two of Central New York’s top kit drummers will perform six concerts of  spell-binding rhythms and creative drumming. The focus will be The American Drum Kit from the 1930’s until the present day.

Professional drumming is a way of life for these seasoned performers “Mike” Burgevin and Sadiq Abdu Shahid (formerly Archie Taylor, Jr.).

“Sadiq,”who resides with his family on their farm in Masonville, New York, was born and raised in the Midwest and studied with Cleveland Symphony Orchestra percussionist Charles Wilcoxon.  He performed and recorded with many famous avant-garde jazzmen: Pharaoh Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, and Cecil Taylor (among others) and was a resident drummer for Motown Records in Detroit, there recording many albums backing R&B groups.

His father, Archie Taylor, Sr., was also a famous drummer accompanying Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, and the one and only Billie Holiday.

Michael “Mike” Burgevin, now a resident of Bainbridge, New York, began drumming professionally at age 15.  From the mid 1960’s through the 1980’s he worked regularly at famous NYC jazz clubs, Jimmy Ryan’s, Sweet Basil, Eddie Condon’s, and Brew’s side by side with many of the great jazz “Swing” players (now legends) Max Kaminsky, “Doc” Cheatham, Jimmy and Marian McPartland, Roy Eldridge, Wild Bill Davison, Warren Vaché and many, many others.

He has had the honor and privilege of playing with Joe Thomas, Herman Autrey, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Benny Morton, Bobby Gordon, Rudy Powell, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Al Casey, and many others.  It was my privilege to see him swing the band every time he started a gentle beat with his brushes or tapped his closed hi-hat.

Mike studied with Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra percussionist Richard Horowitz.  He also performed in several of the “Journey in Jazz” concerts with saxophonist Al Hamme in Binghamton University’s Anderson Center as well as producing many jazz concerts in the historic Town Hall Theatre in Bainbridge between 2001 and 2007.

No two DRUMNASTIC CYMBALISM concerts are ever the same!

Drumming becomes a musical art form in the hands of these outstanding percussionists.  A show may begin with “Curious Curlicues & Nimble Noodles” then move to whisper-quiet ruffs and other rudiments… then pass through sonorous tonalities before roaring into layered polyrhythmic styles of Jazz, and Free Form drumming.  Sadiq and Mike totally explore the drum set with all its possibilities.  Their concerts open with a brief discourse on the history and development of the drum and the evolution of various styles of drumming.

A Master Creative Drum Workshop will take place on July 16th from 3:00 to 5:00 at The Gallery East, 71 Main Street, Stamford, NY.  Workshop fee is $25. Students should bring sticks, a practice pad or snare drum and stand.

Questions?  Call The Gallery in Stamford at 607 652 4030.

Before the concerts: Come early and enjoy dining in one of Stamford’s fine restaurants.  Then visit artist Timothy Touhey’s two galleries, both located on Main Street (Route 23).

You will be uplifted by the art and music!

So mark your calendar: May 21st / June 18th / July16th / August 21st / Sept.17th / Oct.15th — Performances begin at 7:00. Tickets at the door are $10.00 / $8.00 in advance.

For information in advance call:   THE GALLERY EAST 71 MAIN ST. STAMFORD, NY @ 607 652 4030.   On the day of the concert please call 607 353 2492.   Tour The Gallery at www.touhey.com.

“GRAB YOUR AXE, MAX!” or A SPLENDID PRESENT

Oh, I absolutely have to start practicing!  Do I have enough time to become semi-amateurish by September 2011 . . . . ? 

Consider the following, very enticing for anyone who’s got rhythm:

CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION PRESENTS

THE CHAUTAUQUA TRADITIONAL JAZZ WORKSHOP

Dan Barrett, Music Director

September 11-15, 2011

Faculty:

Duke Heitger, Trumpet

Scott Robinson, Reeds

Dan Barrett, Trombone

Rossano Sportiello, Piano

Howard Alden, Guitar / Banjo

Kerry Lewis, Bass

Ricky Malachi, Drums

Rebecca Kilgore, Vocals

Chautauqua’s first ever Traditional Jazz Workshop will be held on the beautiful grounds of the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, with your home base at the historic Athenaeum Hotel.  The 4-day session will include ensemble workshops, coaching, jam sessions, and performance opportunities in student groups and with faculty members.  Students will focus on jazz standards and works from the American Songbook, with emphasis on improvisation and ensemble performance.  Enjoy social events with faculty and fellow students on beautiful Chautauqua Lake.  The workshop culminates in a performance opportunity at the opening session of the 14th Annual Jazz at Chautauqua traditional jazz party on Thursday evening. 

Tuition for the workshop will be $550 USD; the lodging and meal package at the Athenaeum Hotel will be $525 per student (single occupancy) or $775 (double occupancy) USD.  Stay on for the annual Jazz at Chautauqua party and receive a 20% discount on your food and lodging.  For reservations at the Athenaeum, call 1-800-521-1881 or email athenaeum1881@hotmail.com.  For information about the workshop, contact Nancy Griffith at 216-956-0378 or email her at nancylynngriffith@yahoo.com.

I wasn’t quite serious about practicing enough to be accepted into the workshop in time for September, but I meant “A Splendid Present” emphatically.  Many older jazz fans lament the impending demise of traditional jazz.  Why not give the art form we love a blood transfusion from young folks — that grandson of yours who has just discovered Teddy Bunn, or that niece who is trying to play Cootie Williams’ growls on BENNY’S BUGLE — being able to attend this workshop and learn from these genial masters could be a life-changing event.  And you don’t have to be a raw youth to come aboard, either . . . if you yourself would like to sound more like Benny Morton or Tricky Sam Nanton, this is a heavensent opportunity.  Maybe I should sign up for the singers’ workshop just to be taught breath control by Rebecca Kilgore . . . now there’s a thought.

See you in Chautauqua, and don’t be late! 

 

 

FAMILIES THAT PLAY TOGETHER (at DIXIELAND MONTEREY, March 5, 2011)

They stay together, if you hadn’t noticed.

Here’s more rollicking joy from Dixieland Monterey (the Jazz Bash by the Bay) that I attended in March 2011.

(“Attended” isn’t really the right word — too formal — but I can’t find a really good way to say “floated.”  I’m still floating, and if you wonder why you need only to sit down in front of the videos below.)

This was a session held at the Wharf Theatre.  It wasn’t billed as FAMILY REUNION, but it might as well have been. 

First, the Reynolds Brothers (and they are!): John Reynolds on National steel guitar, vocals, and sweet whistling, and brother Ralf on washboard, whistle, emotional uplift, and traffic control. 

Then there’s the Caparone Family.  Marc on cornet; his father Dave (the fellow over to the left of your screen, looking very serious, sounding like Benny Morton — in fact, sounding like Don Redman’s trombone section of 1932-3 with an occasional nod to Dicky Wells — a real prize!), and daughter-in-law Dawn Lambeth (vocals, piano, and cheer). 

Observant eyes will catch that Dawn is about to become a Jazz Mommy (Marc had something to do with this, it was told to me) so there’s another generation of Caparone onstage.  And baby does make three! 

The sole non-relative was the sweetly leafy Katie Cavera (string bass and vocals) . . . but everyone who meets Katie adopts her within the first few minutes, so she’s not an outsider.

Free-range and locally sourced, too!  She’s NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW (for the dancers):

Jazz scholars will note so many wonderful influences floating through these performance: Bing, the QHCF, Louis, Basie, Steve Brown, Red Allen, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, the Marx Brothers, Brunswick Records, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, Steve Washington, and more.

Time for something deeply satisfying in its sweetness: and watch everyone’s face as they feel the love on that stand, just as we do.  What tenderness as Dawn, Dave, and Marc celebrate SUGAR!

Something exultant — from the man who wrote the brooding ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET — a song from A DAY AT THE RACES (originally sung by Ivie Anderson).  How they rock it here!  And at the end, Marc reminds us of a song from another 1937 movie.  Hint: “Mister Gloom won’t be about / Music always knocks him out.”  Here’s ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM:

Dawn had a cold — a great problem for a singer! — but her natural swinging heart, her spirited earnestness comes through complete . . . and no one bends and slides into notes as she does.  Here, MY BLUE HEAVEN, the perfectly appropriate song for the moment, with the verse.  And Marc suggests what might have happened if Louis and the Mills Brothers had recorded this one for Decca, before Papa Dave and John show what they can do:

One of the great delights is being introduced to a “new” “old” song — from 1922 or 1923 . . . a song Vic Dickenson loved (although I never heard him play it), TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME.  Isn’t it wonderful how lovely / hilariously comfortable Whislin’ John Reynolds is in front of an audience!  He’s a thrill and a hoot all in one.  And the brass section — worth another watching.  Like father, like son.  More below*:

Finally, something sweet and tenderly nostalgic — Dawn sings BLUE ROOM, which has very endearing lyrics (although the position the lovers find themselves in — an innocent one — might lead to neck pain, whether your head is wee or not):

“Every day’s a holiday” with a band like this, for sure!

While watching these videos, I keep thinking of Baby Lambeth-Caparone, who’s going to greet the new day at the end of March 2011.  Someday that Baby is going to be able to see these clips and say, “There’s Mommy, and Daddy, and Grandpa, and I was there, too!”  Yes, Baby — you were swinging with your families.

CLICK HERE TO GIVE BACK TO THE MUSICIANS IN THE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):

 https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

SWING MASTERS: BECKY KILGORE and FRIENDS at DIXIELAND MONTEREY (March 5, 2011)

I’ve admired Becky Kilgore’s singing and grace for some years now: her creamy voice, her understated, convincing dramatic sense, her innate swing.  And although she is poised, she is also a great chance-taking improviser, someone able to abandon herself to the song, shining her light through it, letting it reveal its beauties to us.

At Dixieland Monterey, she was most often joined by the noble members of her Quartet: Dan Barrett on trombone, vocals, and piano; Eddie Erickson on banjo, guitar, and vocals; Joel Forbes on string bass.

But there came a time when a few more pals — old and new — crept onto the stage to create a lovely little jazz party within the jazz party: Carl Sonny Leyland, rocking piano man; Bryan Shaw, trumpet wizard; Jeff Hamilton, drum stylist.

I am thrilled to be able to share some of the music created that evening with my readers.  It is a special pleasure — everyone was so happy and relaxed, witty and swinging.  Propulsive and gentle, masterful and casual: the great art that is a matter of skill, practice, nonchalance, and relaxation.

Let’s begin with I’M GOING TO SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER that swings so persuasively from the first note — and Becky gets herself up on the streamline train without spilling her coffee!  Hear the horns and that rhythm section — eloquent and easy.

I would like my friends to use this clip as a Blindfold Test.  Say, for instance, you have friends who “don’t like jazz,” or “don’t get that old jazz,” or find “Dixieland” boring.  Let them hear this — without naming anyone’s name or explaining a thing.  Then ask, “Does that make you feel good?”  Let them get into the absolutely impromptu Kilgore – Hamilton discussion: it makes everyone on stage feel BETTER!

(Musicians’ in-joke: this song is sometimes called I’M GOING TO  SIT RIGHT DOWN AND KNIT MYSELF A SWEATER, but the weather is warming up rapidly, even in Farmer City, Illinois, so a letter might be all that was needed.)

HARD-HEARTED HANNAH comes from the intersection of vaudeville, pop music, and hot improvisation.  Once she’s been properly attired in Guitar, she treats the hyperbolic lyrics with just the right mixture of amusement and seriousness.  And, dear viewers, look how happy everyone on that stand is!  That isn’t always the case, and it is meaningful — a tribute to the easy grace of all concerned.  The interplay between Dan and Bryan is priceless (think of Teagarden and Davison, please?) over that splendidly-swinging Vanguard Records rhythm section (could someone direct me to the Reno Club or the Famous Door, 1938?).  Eddie digs deep into his stash of bent notes and witty banjo run before Dan decides to let us know all about the verse — in his upper register, but we get the point!  And Becky rocks us out through the rather gruesome lyrics (she is a stellar musical comedienne, isn’t she, in the great tradition?):

Although both Eddie Erickson and Thomas Waller are usually associated with hi-jinks and romping jazz, both of them shared a deep yearning tenderness.  (Hear Fats’ late recording of I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN if you need proof.)  Eddie is often asked to make people laugh, but his first vocal chorus is a sweet, feeling masterpiece in miniature — followed by Dan’s Dickensonian ruminations on the theme and Carl’s special mixture of Fats, Pete Johnson, and Jess Stacy, to great effect.  After Joel’s deep-down chorus, the key changes so that Becky can come in and float over the band.  She’s more than believable: the embodiment of tender commitment!

Even if you had left all your mischief behind, you might have to take a fast train to see your Beloved — and Carl Sonny Leyland, Joel Forbes, and Jeff Hamilton show us how with an easy but intense HONKY TONK TRAIN BLUES, with its own deep swinging pulse:

Less expert musicians would have tried to top the HONKY TONK TRAIN with something faster and louder — but not this group.  Becky chooses ALL OF ME, which (since 1931) has been turned into a jaunty offering.  But it’s really a song of near-romantic immolation: let me take myself apart to offer the pieces and the totality to you, as complete tribute to you and love.

She never sounds soggy or self-pitying, but she offers the imagined hearer and the audience her entire being.  Eddie’s chiming guitar solo doesn’t lose the mood (and Jeff’s cymbals are just-right commentary); Dan plays around wtih the opening phrase of the song in the best singing Benny Morton tradition, handing off to Carl (who is ornate without a superfluous note).  Becky, soaring and crooning, improvising without smudging a note or a word, is absolutely compelling without seeming to strain even the smallest muscle.  A perfect rhythm ballad and dramatic utterance:

I think it was an honor to be in that audience, a stroke of good fortune to have my video camera, and a privilege to be able to share this music with the readers of JAZZ LIVES.

These video performances were made possible by the editorial stewardship and support of the Shuzzit Charitable Trust.  JAZZ LIVES thanks to the SCT and to all the artists for performing as they did and do!

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WHERE THE PAST AND THE FUTURE MEET

“Heaven on Earth, they call it 211 West 46th Street.”

Last Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011,  at Club Cache in the Hotel Edison, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks did what they’ve been doing every Monday and Tuesday night for many weeks: they made the past come alive.  But last night they also peeked around the corner of the present into the future. 

The future didn’t announce itself melodramatically: it wasn’t a larger-than-life baby wearing nothing but a sash.  It was a young man, sixteen years old, who plays the banjo in the jazz band led by trumpeter Kevin Blancq at New York’s LaGuardia High School.  The young man’s name is ELI GREENHOE, and he sat in with the Nighthawks to play one of the tunes he loves and has learned from his time in the LaGuardia Jazz Orchestra — Duke Ellington’s growly THE MOOCHE.  I’ll have that performance for all of you to see and hear in a future posting. 

To hear about Kevin’s band — rehearsing in a room with pictures of Benny, Hawkins, and Carter on the walls — is exciting.  JAZZ LIVES hopes to pay them a visit, so stay tuned.

And the Nighthawks always excite!  Here’s some of the hot music the boys offered last night — that’s Vince on vocals, bass sax, tuba, and string bass; Ken Salvo on banjo; Peter Yarin on piano; Arnie Kinsella on drums; Mike Ponella and Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpets; Harvey Tibbs on tronbone; Alan Grubner on violin; Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman, and Peter Anderson on reeds.

You can’t go wrong with Benny Carter, who remains the King.  Here’s his 1934 EVERYBODY SHUFFLE (which bears some relationship to KING PORTER STOMP, I believe): the original recording drew on Fletcher Henderson’s men and I recall a typically slippery Benny Morton trombone solo:

The nightly jam session — always a rouser — was BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES (or GAVE, if you’re lucky) TO ME:

Something for Bix and Jean Goldkette and Joe Venuti and a very young Jule Styne, SUNDAY:

Who knew that Ellington had written two compositions called COTTON CLUB STOMP?  This is the later one, from 1930:

In honor of the Bennie Moten band (with Hot Lips Page, Eddie Durham, Count Basie, and Jimmy Rushing), OH, EDDIE!:

And since Vince and JAZZ LIVES always try to bring you something old, new, and futuristic all at once, here’s a Nighthawks premiere of arranger / composer / reedman Fud Livingston’s IMAGINATION (from 1927).  Readers with excellent memories will recall that I posted the piano sheet music for this advanced composition on this site some time back at https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/imagine-this/.  If you can open two windows at once on your computer, why not play along on your piano!

More to come!

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“UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE” and MORE: JON-ERIK KELLSO and EHUD ASHERIE at SMALLS (Jan. 20, 2011)

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The Beloved and I went to see two of our favorite musicians (and people!) in duet at Smalls (that’s 138 West 10th Street, New York City) on January 20, 2011.  Here are some of the songs they played — classics and rarities (many of the latter by Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, disciple and master). 

My title refers to the opening song — recorded late in Fats’s career — but also to a delightful happening that took place early in the evening.  But now, settle in to UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, which has a deliciously unexpected bridge:

Then, moving more towards the familiar, Ehud and Jon-Erik settled on another Waller song, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY — which Ruby Braff always remembered as being titled WALKIN’ ON AIR, from the opening phrase of the verse.  Jon-Erik and Ehud remind me mightily of Ruby and Dick Hyman — listening, playful, balancing their individual styles to create something even more gratifying:

Another lovely obscurity (Ehud brings new tunes to gigs like this one, knowing Jon-Erik’s ears and bravery) was APRIL IN MY HEART — from 1939, recorded by Billie Holiday with an amazing band including Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Harry James, Benny Morton, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones . . . a song written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. 

That in itself would have been bliss — but someone from the club couldn’t stand being left out and, like Lester, leaped in, around ninety seconds into the performance.  You can’t miss her:

Let me introduce you to Minnow, the Maine Coon cat who lords it over Smalls.  She’s a “ham,” says Spike Wilner, “there are a million pictures of Minnow floating around the web,” but she wanted her place in the sun. 

Either Minnow wanted to be closer to the musical action (look how contented she is!) or she knows that my YouTube channel is called SWINGYOUCATS and felt it needed the real article.  One never knows, do one? 

If her timing had been better and she had entered the scene for UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, I would have been even more astonished.

As a favor to JAZZ LIVES that costs nothing — if you know a cat-lover, send this clip out his or her way.  I want fame for Minnow!  (And do applaud my restraint.  I could have called this blogpost KITTEN ON THE KEYS or ALL THE CAT JOINS IN, but decided to err on the side of restraint and decorum.) 

Onwards!

PERDIDO (by valve-trombonist Juan Tizol) is in the odd position of being a jazz standard played and overplayed — now, as fashions change, it’s refreshing to hear it, especially by this duo:

James P. Johnson’s AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC? is — in its lyrics — a faux-spiritual, but having heard Henry “Red” Allen and Dick Wellstood’s recordings of it, I treasure it — and having your life uplifted through music is an idea JAZZ LIVES seeks to embody.  In the second chorus, hear how Jon-Erik becomes a whole brass section, sermonizing, and Ehud’s beautifully varied striding would have pleased Jimmy no end:

Keeping James P. in mind, Ehud proposed a surprise — THE LOVE BUG — one of the Master’s unknown tunes (I think I’d only heard it from a piano roll).  No problem for our man Kellso here:

Now for three classics — a majestic reading of BODY AND SOUL, imploring and powerful; Ehud’s sophisticated wanderings reminding us that he knows Bud Powell’s world deeply and well:

And the perennially versatile ONE HOUR, again by James P., one of those songs that sits so well at a variety of tempos, its hopeful message intact:

And (to close this posting, although the music at Smalls went on for a long time), SWEET GEORGIA BROWN — once a well-known pop song, then a set of changes for jazz improvisers to float over, now, perhaps, nearly returning to obscurity unless you’re over fifty?  I don’t know — but this performance, beginning with variations on the original melody, is as charming as hearing the melody of I GOT RHYTHM nowadays:

Thank you so much, gentlemen, and Minnow (of course), who offered paws for the cause — not lightly and politely, but in the only we she could.  And when you hear the music, you know why Louis is grinning down on the stage.

IN SUNNY ROSELAND WITH THE EarRegulars (Jan. 23, 2011)

ROSE ROOM, by Art Hickman and Harry Williams, has a special place in the hearts of jazz fans.  It’s a lovely pastoral song from either 1917 or 1918, but several things raise it above the level of the ordinary pre-Twenties pop hit. 

One is that it is famous as the song Benny Goodman called when that interloper Charlie Christian was sneaked up on the bandstand by the meddlesome but inspired John Hammond.  Legend has it that Goodman thought — not a nice thought — that Charlie wouldn’t know the song or would find the chord changes difficult and either be embarrassed or sneak off the stand in disgrace.  Of course, Charlie had no trouble and he played rings around everyone on the stand.  The rest is too-brief history.

Two is that it is the harmonic basis for Ellington’s IN A MELLOTONE.

Three is that it is one of those songs that reveals itself in different, beautiful ways whenever the tempo is changed.  I’ve heard it played as a romp, a saunter (the 1943 Commodore version with Max Kaminsky, Benny Morton, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey, and Sidney Catlett), and as a yearning love ballad (J. Walter Hawkes, in this century, in live performance).

And four is that there is a Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars concert recorded in Vancouver in 1951.  For whatever reason, Louis was (atypically) not onstage when the concert was supposed to begin, so Barney Bigard, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, and Cozy Cole just jammed ROSE ROOM for a start — an easy hot performance.  Were I Ricky Riccardi of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG, http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/, I could share it with you right now, but alas . . . you’ll have to imagine it.

But all that is prose.  How about some music?

Last Sunday, the mighty EarRegulars, the reigning kings of small-band swing who appear at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, 8-11 PM on Sundays — except this next week, Feb. 6, because of some large-scale sporting event whose name eludes me) took on ROSE ROOM late in the first set.

The EarRegulars were charter members, co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (in a rousing Eldridge mood); Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, bass; and the newcomer to The Ear Inn — but not to New York jazz! — tenor saxophonist Tad Shull, who has a laid-back, coasting behind the beat, relaxed Websterian approach that’s very refreshing.  Here’s what they played (with hints of Webster’s DID YOU CALL HER TODAY in the encouraging conversation between Jon-Erik and Tad at the end):

The Ear Inn is dark, but it was sunny Roseland for ten minutes!

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REMEMBER! HERBIE NICHOLS AND THE OLD DAYS

My friend, the clarinetist H. Grundoon Chumley (he’s Scottish – Malaysian, hence his beautiful and unusual name), called me up to tell me stories from the late Fifties onwards on Seventh Avenue South in New York City. 

You know that the pianist Herbie Nichols played in Dixieland bands.  One night, I popped into a club called the Riviera — across from Nick’s on Seventh Avenue — and there was a jazz band.  The clarinetist was someone I knew from school and he forced me to sit in.  To my amazement, I got through it.  After the set was over, Herbie said to me, “Man, you’re a real player.”  That really egged me on, encouraged me tremendously, so I stayed with the horn and enjoyed it.  It was much later through a book by A.B. Spellman that I discovered the esteem in which Herbie was held.  I do recall the band at the Riviera — a Dixieland band led by the trumpet player Al Bandini, a friend of Pee Wee Russell’s.  Tom Lord played baritone.  After Herbie died, Bandini got Eddie Wilcox (who had taken over the Jimmie Lunceford band after Lunceford passed) who became the house piano player at the Riviera.  Once in a while Bandini would call and I would go down there and play.  A lot of pros would come and sit in: in those days there were many places to sit in and famous people walked in.  I never forgot one night.  A chap in a sailor suit came in and said, “Can I sit in?” and took out his trombone.  He played a solo on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN and our jaws dropped: it was Bill Watrous.  Another trombonist was Benny Morton — a wonderful man.  Once Dick Dreiwitz got us a gig to play Central Plaza (this would have been around 1961) because we all knew Jack Crystal from the Commodore Music Shop.  At the end of the night, the two bands would get together to play THE SAINTS.  I looked over at the other band, and it was Willie “the Lion” Smith, Charlie Shavers, and Jo Jones, and I couldn’t stop shaking.  Then I felt an arm around my shoulders, and Benny Morton was saying to me, “Come on, man, relax.  Just play!”  And I did.

One other thing.  We used to go to the Metropole and see all the greats — Coleman Hawkins, Buck Clayton, Gene Krupa, and Roy Eldridge.  I was a friend of Jack Bradley and he called me up — around 1964 or so — to tell me that Louis was going to play one night there.  There was a line around the block.  But I’ve never heard a record that captured a live performance, and that night I thought the ceiling was going to fall down with the power and purity of Louis’s sound.

HEARING IS BELIEVING: GORDON AU / TAMAR KORN (Dec. 16, 2010)

If you close your eyes, something interesting might happen.  Listen deeply. 

Last Thursday, I made a pilgrimage to Williamsburgh in Brooklyn, New York, and eventually arrived at RADEGAST, a beer garden on the corner of Berry and North Third Streets.  The Grand Street Stompers were playing: they are directed by trumpeter Gordon Au (always a good thing) and this edition was all-star: Emily Asher, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Nick Russo, guitar / banjo; Rob Adkins, bass.  And Tamar Korn sang.

But.

Before anyone embarks on the first video, the viewers I call the Corrections Officers should know that Radegast is the darkest club I have ever been in.  Cozy but Stygian.  My video camera was not entirely happy.  So the result is nocturnal, visually. 

Also, the dance floor in front of me was properly filled with dancers: once your eyes get accustomed to the whirling shadows you can discern the most graceful pair, in harmony with each other and the music.

Because of the season, Gordon chose to play I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS.  Leaving aside the psychological associations: adultery, roleplay with costumes, the primal scene, love-for-sale . . . it’s a Thirties tune that I can hear in my head as a Teddy Wilson Brunswick . . . or what would Fats have done with this?  This version has some of the rocking motion of a Goodman Sextet circa 1941, thanks to Nick and Dennis; also echoes of a Fifties date for, say, Ruby Braff and Benny Morton, courtesy of Gordon, Emily, and Rob:

The same flavors continue into I’M CONFESSIN’ — with the addition of the remarkable Tamar Korn, singing from her heart while standing to the left of Rob’s bass.  Catch the whimsical contrast between Tamar’s air-trajectories and Gordon’s muted answers: is he our modern Hot Lips Page?  And Emily Asher’s tone gets bigger, broader, and more lovely every time I hear her:

With music like this, who couldn’t weather the storm?  Homage to Irving Berlin and more of that Thirties combination of sweet-tart vocals and hot playing, I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM.  I’ve always admired Tamar as a singer who doesn’t cling to safe routines, and her reach continues to expand into space:

I knew the next performance was Serious Business when someone turned on the light above the music stand.  I didn’t immediately recognize the pretty melody Dennis was delicately playing, but I knew I had heard it once.  Then Gordon braved the way into . . . . THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which came back to me from 1962.  As the performance progressed and everyone relaxed (Rodgers’ melody takes a few unexpected turns), I had a different aural epiphany. 

Joe Glaser, Louis Armstrong’s manager, was obsessed with the quest for more popular hits for Louis.  Sometimes this worked: consider MACK THE KNIFE and HELLO, DOLLY!  But Joe missed this one!  I can hear an imagined All-Stars version of this song (with banjo) that would have been extraordinary.  And Gordon might have felt it too, as he launched into his solo with a passage that suggests Louis — hinting at the bluesy flourishes of the Hot Seven and the cosmic scope of the 1932 Victor sides.  Then Nick’s chimes before settling into a very non-von Trapp Family (say that three times) segment backed by Rob’s Hintonian bass.  Hear and see for yourself:

Tamar returned, for one of her classics — LOVER, COME BACK TO ME — that would have pleased Sigmund Romberg, especially if he’d had some of the delicious German beer that Radegast offers all and sundry.  And she swings out on invisible trumpet (meeting Gordon’s!) in her second outing. 

But I have to apologize to the gifted tenor saxophonist who appeared to the right and began to swing out.  Who are you, kind Sir?  Are you the ghost of Dick Wilson?

Finally, in honor of the season and of Elvis, Tamar creates a mourning rockabilly interlude in BLUE CHRISTMAS, with Nick going a-sliding along.  (I can hear Louis and Trummy Young doing this one, too.  Where was Joe Glaser?):

I hope the only thing of yours that’s blue this holiday season is the sky.  Or socks, lingerie, or a fleece sweatshirt!

BARNEY JOSEPHSON, CAFE SOCIETY, and MORE

It’s a long time since I got so wrapped up in a book that I didn’t want to stop reading it — but CAFE SOCIETY: THE WRONG PLACE FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE (Barney Josephson with Terry Trilling-Josephson, Univ. of Illinois Press, 2009) is just that book.

Who was Barney Josephson (1902-88)?  If he hadn’t worked very hard to make his dreams become reality, we would only know him as a successful businessman: his specialty, stylish shoes. 

Happily for us, Barney had thoughts beyond Cuban or French heels: a yearning to run a nightclub in New York City, a keen sensitivity to talent, a hatred of social injustice.  And CAFE SOCIETY is the book his life and accomplishments deserve.  It could have been dull, academic, or third-hand.  But it’s a lively memoir of Barney’s life, taken from the tape recordings he made — he was a born raconteur — subtly annotated and expanded by his widow Terry Trilling-Josephson.  

CAFE SOCIETY (like the Downtown and Uptown nightclubs that had that name) is energetic, memorable, full of memorable anecdote and gossip.  Josephson was someone who had good instincts about what artists — musicians, comedians, or actors — whose work had substance.  He said he viewed himself as a “saloon impresario”: “I love it when people say that because I’m not more than that.  It’s the way I view myself.  In this business if you’re an ‘impresario,’ I say that with quotation marks around the word, you have a feeling.  You hear something, and you say, ‘This is it!’  You go ahead and you do it.  You don’t analyze.  You have to follow your hunches.”

Josephson had the good fortune to have John Hammond as his guide, instigator, and occasional arm-twister.  When Barney wanted to start a New York night club with music, it was Hammond who urged him to hire the three boogie-woogie pianists, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis, the blues singer Big Joe Turner, and Billie Holiday. 

Cafe Society is remarkable for the improvisers who played there: Teddy Wilson with a band including Joe Thomas, Emmett Berry, or Bill Coleman; Benny Morton; Ed Hall or Jimmy Hamilton; Sidney Catlett.  Frank Newton with Sonny White, Kenneth Hollon, Tab Smith, Eddie Dougherty, Johnny Williams.  Ed Hall with Mouse Randolph and Henderson Chambers.  Ellis Larkins with Bill Coleman and Al Hall. 

Later on, at the Cookery, Teddy Wilson, Mary Lou Williams.  Josephson brought back Helen Humes and Alberta Hunter for successful late-life “comebacks.”  And it wasn’t simply jazz and popular songs: think of the Revuers (with Judy Holiday and Adolph Green), of Jack Gilford and Zero Mostel, of the now-forgotten Jimmy Savo, all given encouragement and room to develop by Josephson.   

But this isn’t purely a list of who-sang-what and how they were received, a collection of press clippings and schedules.  Josephson was a first-class storyteller with a remarkable memory, and the stories he remembered are priceless.  Nowhere else would I have learned that Emmett Berry, when trying to get someone to take a drink, would ask, “Will you have a drink of Doctor Berry’s rootin’ tootin’ oil?”  For me, that’s worth the price of the book.  Wonderful photographs, too. 

And the stories!

Billie Holiday, at first not knowing what to do with the lyrics of STRANGE FRUIT when they were handed to her, and showing her displeasure in the most effective non-verbal way when an audience annoyed her.

Zero Mostel, always onstage, making life difficult for the man trying to fit him for clothing.

Barney’s firing of Carol Channing and his missing a chance to hire Pearl Bailey.

Tallulah Bankhead complaining — at high volume — about what she’d encountered in the ladies’ room.

Teddy Wilson’s drinking problem, late in his career.

The dramatic entanglements of Hazel Scott and Adam Clayton Powell.

The amorous hopes of Joe Louis for Lena Horne.

Big Joe Turner and the magic bean.

Mildred Bailey’s religious beliefs.

 And there is a deep, serious undercurrent throughout: the difficulty of having an establishment where neither the bands nor the audiences were segregated, and the looming shadow of the House Un-American Activities Committee.  (Leon Josephson, Barney’s brother, was a particular target, which cast a shadow over Barney’s endeavors.)

Ultimately, the book is delightful for its stories (and the wonderful photographs) and the way Terry Trilling-Josephson has woven recollection and research together.  And the book is — on every page — the embodiment of Barney’s achievements and of the deep love he and Terry shared.  Not to be missed!