Tag Archives: Bernie Privin

“THE MAIN THING, OF COURSE, WAS THE MUSIC”: DAN MORGENSTERN on SANDY WILLIAMS, BENNY MORTON, and THE SCENE (April 21, 2017)

Once again, our friend, hero, and down-home Eminence, Dan Morgenstern, shares his stories with us. . . . stories that you can’t get on Spotify.

But first, some musical evidence — both for people who have never heard Sandy Williams play the trombone, and those, like me, were happy to be reminded of this “barrelhouse solo”:

Here’s Dan in a wide-ranging memory-journey that encompasses not only Sandy and Benny Morton, the Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza, but an astounding cast of characters, including Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Bob Maltz, Conrad Janis, Ed Allen, Cecil Scott, Floyd Casey, Clarence Williams, Bob Dylan, Carl Kendziora, Annette Hanshaw, Bernie Privin, Leadbelly, Josh White, Horace Henderson, Lips Page, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge,Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, and more.

and just so no one forgets Mr. Williams or his associates:

Or the very sweet-natured Benny Morton (heard here with Billie Holiday, Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Jo Jones) — it would be a sin to forget Benny!

I emphasize that Dan’s stories — squatting next to the piano to hear James P. Johnson more clearly, the kindness of Benny Morton, and other bits of first-hand narrative — have a larger resonance, one not limited to hot jazz devotees.

When the music is gone, when the band has packed up, when the chairs have been upended on the tables, the memories and stories remain.  I urge my readers to tell theirs — and to record the stories of older generations.  These stories are priceless now; as the participants leave us, the stories are even more precious.

The people in them don’t have to be famous, and the tales don’t have to be dramatic: asking Grandma what she ate when Grandpa took her out for their first date is irreplaceable.  (I nag at my students to do this — aim your iPhone at someone! — and I am fairly sure they won’t.  Forty years from now, their loss will be irreparable.)

That is also why Dan Morgenstern’s generosity of spirit — taking time to share his memories with us — is a great gift, one that won’t wear out or fade.

May your happiness increase!

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JOE LICARI / MARK SHANE: SWEET MUSIC

Clarinetist Joe Licari has been a fixture on the New York scene for a good long time now and he shows no signs of slowing down or of losing his light touch.  Tangible proof of this can be heard on his latest compact disc (recorded in December 2010), ALL MY LIFE — a series of duets with the irreplaceable Mark Shane on piano.

The standard repertoire — ALL MY LIFE, BODY AND SOUL, CHINA BOY, I MUST HAVE THAT MAN, and MOONGLOW — would suggest that this is very much in the mood and style of the greatest early Goodman small groups.  And indeed it is easy to close your eyes and to think that the King of Swing and Teddy Wilson have come back for a visit to this century.  The light touch, the easy, flowing melodies, the respect for the composers’ intentions, the delicate yet convincing swing are all there.  The longest track is five minutes and it seems too short.  But there’s more here than just another “let’s pretend to be Benny and Teddy” project.  This CD is more than Goodman Lite or Tofu-based Swing Era, especially when we move into Django (DJANGO’S CASTLE), a jointly-composed blues that begins with a minor theme that reminds me of KING OF THE ZULUS, a Bob Wilber original and two of Joe’s own compositions — all of the three with simple, haunting melodic lines.

Listened to closely, Licari brings much more than the usual pastiche of Goodmania to his playing.  In fact, his woody lower register suggests those two less-heralded masters, Joe Marsala and Rod Cless.  And where other clarinetists need to dazzle (or occasionally pummel) us with their facility, running up and down the keys, this is not Licari’s way.  He is not overcautious or tentative — he knows where he’s going at every turn of phrase — but he is sparing with his notes and he uses them to construct logical, sweetly balanced phrases that fit in to one another to create fulfilling solos, never getting too far from the melody but enlivening it nonetheless.

And Shane remains a wonder.  Yes, his style owes a great deal to Teddy and Fats Waller and Earl Hines . . . but it’s clear that he has also listened hard to the masters Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones.  This is particularly evident in his unaccompanied introductions, each a four or eight-bar jewel, a little resonant composition that would be complete and satisfying in itself.  He never rushes, never drags, never overacts . . . he is the very model of a delicious, fully formed composer-at-the keyboard.  And Joe and Mark make a wonderful team: no one steps on the other one’s lines.  The CD has a lovely homelike natural sound, and it is thoroughly heart-warming, rather like having the good fortune to hear Joe and Mark in your living room.  It is available at http://www.joelicari.com., and I think every house should have not one but several copies.

On that same site, you can find a whole big handful of compact discs Joe has recorded with a wide variety of musicians, and his own book — his delightfully down-to-earth memoir, THE INVISIBLE CLARINETIST.  Most memoirs are exercises in self-absorption and self-praise or there’s some wrenching trauma at the center.  Not so for Mr. Licari — his book is a series of cheerful tales of encounters with Benny Goodman (on record), Bob Wilber, Wild Bill Davison, Dill Jones, Kenny Davern, Larry Weiss, Bernie Privin, Cliff Leeman, and many more.  It’s very entertaining because it’s so unaffected — rather like having Joe come over to your house and tell you stories.  A delightful experience — and it’s also available on Joe’s website.

Joe Licari is not invisible: he’s alive and well and playing beautifully.

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