Tag Archives: Big Band Era

AN ABSOLUTE WOW: BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA: “PASS THE BOUNCE”

Probably no one is asking forlornly, “Are the Big Bands going to come back?” because we once thought we knew the gloomy answer.  But hearing this disc, I feel bursts of swinging optimism cascading around me.  Brooks Prumo Orchestra has done the best magic: evoking past glories without imitating them.  If you heard this disc from another room, you might think, happily, that a new cache of Bill Savory’s discs has descended from Heaven (something that will, in fact, be true soon) — but these musicians are alive and ready to swing out on their own terms, in their own remarkable voices.

And speaking of voices, this is my first real introduction to Alice Spencer, who has one of the greatest voices I have heard in this century — supple, witty, multi-colored — and she knows what to do with it.

Artwork by Laura Glaess. 

The songs: BOLERO AT THE SAVOY / DICKIE’S DREAM / BENNY’S BUGLE / NOTHING TO DO BUT HANG WITH YOU / LOSERS WEEPERS / DINAH / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID / SWING, BROTHER, SWING / SIMPLE SWEET EMBRACE / SIX CATS AND A PRINCE / PASS THE BOUNCE / ESQUIRE BOUNCE / JUMP JACK JUMP / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / THE LAST JUMP (A JUMP TO END ALL JUMPS – SILVER SHADOWS) / STARDUST.

And, lest you feel overwhelmed by words, you can go here and hear the CD.

Now, “a mission statement” from Brooks:

“The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was created for swing dancing.”

For me, big band music from the Swing Era is my favorite music for swing dancing. I wanted to put out an album only of tunes that were either original compositions, original arrangements, or remakes of tracks where the original version did not have a good recording. Please take a look at the inside liner notes for info about each track. Hopefully this release is a positive contribution to the world of swing music and swing dancing!  In addition to the tracks themselves, I also wanted to hit a wide range of tempos for dancing. This album has songs at approximately the following tempos: 235, 230, 225, 210, 190, 180, 175, 160, 155, 145, 140, 135, and 125 beats per minute.  Every single song on this recording holds a special place in my heart. I truly hope you enjoy it and thank you for your support!

The Musicians: Alice Spencer, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Dan Walton, piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar; Marcus Graf, Adrian Ruiz, trumpet; David Jellema, cornet, clarinet; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Greg Wilson; alto sax; Dan Torosian, alto sax, baritone sax; Jonathan Doyle, tenor sax, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, tenor sax, soprano sax.

About the music: some of the names above will be familiar to you if you’ve heard The Thrift Set Orchestra, the Sahara Swingtet, or Jonathan Doyle’s groups.  And certain names in that personnel have well-deserved star status.  Worth repeating: musicians have praised Alice Spencer to me, but she comes through this CD like a gorgeous swing breeze, with a big wink, as if Joan Blondell had taken swing lessons and graduated at the head of her class.

The rhythm section of the BPO is just peerless.  And let us say “Hal Smith!” all together, reverently.

The sections hit together wonderfully, and the solos — often by Jellema, Doyle, Gonzales, Walton, Ruiz — although everyone gets a taste — are idiomatic yet free.  I know there are charts on this session, but the band and Alice swing out from their hearts.

The only side-effects from this music might be silly grinning and bouncing around one’s domicile, and these side-effects will persist after the disc is no longer spinning.  Don’t tell your doctor: tell everyone!

The repertoire draws on Basie, Goodman, Krupa, Shaw, with a few original arrangements and original tunes thrown into the mix — performances that evoke Commodore and Keynote sessions, Lester Young, Tommy Dorsey, Billie Holiday, Andy Kirk.  But the BPO is not a machine devoted to “playing old records live”: they sound wonderfully like a 1940-44 Basie small group with a few extra friends along for the joyride.

PASS THE BOUNCE contains highly seductive music.  Even though my ballroom dance instructor and my neurologist suggested — a decade apart — that I was not going to impress anyone on the dance floor, this CD makes me feel as if I can dance.  Even better, that I should be.  It’s that lovely and encouraging.

Make your holiday season rock . . . or any season.  This CD is seriously joyous.  Grab a few copies here — or if you prefer to download and stream (having it your way) that door is wide open as well.  And the BPOrchestra’s Facebook page is here.

It is more reassuring than I can say that such music is getting played and recorded: maybe the end of civilization as we know it can be postponed for a bit?

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

A GREAT HUMAN STORY: “THE SAVOY KING: CHICK WEBB and the MUSIC THAT CHANGED AMERICA”

We have all seen our share of documentaries, perhaps beginning in elementary school.  The least successful are tedious although well-meaning, taking us year-by-year, serving up moral lessons.  Although they strive to inform and move us, often they are unsatisfying and undramatic in their desire to present us with facts.

Jeff Kaufman’s brilliant feature-length portrait is a soaring antidote to every earnest, plodding, didactic documentary.  It is full of feeling, insightful without being over-emphatic.  It tells several stories in affecting, subtle ways.

Chick Webb was a great musician — a drummer other drummers still talk about with awe and love.  He guided and lovingly protected the teenaged Ella Fitzgerald, helping her grow into a mature artist.  Crippled from childhood — he would never grow much taller than 4′; he was in constant pain; he died shortly after turning thirty — he was fiercely ambitious and ultimately triumphant in ways he did not live to see.

But this is far more than the story of one small yet great-hearted man.  It is much larger than the chronicle of one jazz musician.  It is the story of how Webb’s love, tenacity, and courage changed the world.  That sounds hyperbolic, and I do not think that any American history textbook has yet made space for the little king from Baltimore, who deserves his place alongside Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson.  This film will go a long way towards correcting that omission.  For Chick, tiny yet regal behind his drum set, helped create an environment where Black and White could forget those superficial differences and become equal in the blare of the music, the thrill of the dance.

Without Webb, would there have been a Savoy Ballroom where American men and women could have forgotten the bigotry so prevalent, lost in the joy of swing?  I like to imagine someone, trained into attitudes of racism from birth, hearing HARLEM CONGO on the radio and feeling transformed as if by a bolt of lightning, not caring that the players were not Caucasian, making the shift in his / her thinking from cruel derision to admiration and love.  How may people moved to an acceptance of racial equality because they were humming Ella’s recording of A TISKET, A TASKET?  We will never know . . . but just as the sun (in the fable) encouraged the stubborn man to shed his heavy coat where the cold wind failed, I believe that jazz and swing did more than has ever been acknowledged to make White and Black see themselves as one.

And the film documents just how aware Webb was of the reforming power of his music.  The idea of him as a subtle crusader for love, acceptance, and fairness is not something imposed on him by an ideologically-minded filmmaker: it is all there in the newspaper clippings and the words he spoke.

Here is Candace Brown’s superb essay on the film — with video clips from the film.

I must move from the larger story to a few smaller ones.  Put bluntly, I think filmmaker Kaufman is a wonder-worker, his talents quiet but compelling — rather like the person in the tale who makes a delicious soup starting with only a stone.  It took six years and a great deal of effort to make this film, and the result is gratifying throughout.

Making a documentary in this century about someone who died in 1939 has its own built-in difficulties.  For one thing, the subject is no longer around to narrate, to sit still for hours of questions.  And many of the subjects friends and family are also gone.  Chick Webb was a public figure, to be sure, but he wasn’t someone well-documented by sound film.  Although his 1929 band can be heard in the rather lopsided film short AFTER SEBEN, the director of that film cut Chick out of the final product because he thought the little man looked too odd.

I don’t think so.  Here is a still from that film (with Chick’s dear friend John Trueheart on banjo and my hero Bennie Morton on trombone):

But back to Kaufman’s problem.  Although there are many recordings of Chick’s band in the studios and even a radio broadcast or two, other figures of that period left behind more visual evidence: think of the photogenic /  charismatic Ellington, Goodman, Louis.  Of Webb and his band in their prime, the film footage extant lasts four seconds.

So Kaufman had to be ingenious.  And he has been, far beyond even my hopes.

The film is a beautifully-crafted tapestry of sight and sound, avoiding the usual overexposed bits of stock film and (dare I say it) the expected talking heads, droning into the camera.  The living people Kaufman has found to speak with love of Chick Webb are all singular: jazz musicians Roy Haynes (swaggering in his cowboy hat), Joe Wilder (a courtly knight without armor), Dr. Richard Gale (son of Moe, who ran the Savoy), dancers Frankie Manning and Norma Miller . . . their affection and enthusiasm lifts up every scene.

And Kaufman has made a virtue of necessity with an even more brilliant leap.  Webb wasn’t quoted often, but his utterances were memorable — rather like rimshots.  Ella, Gene Krupa, Ellington, Basie, Helen and Stanley Dance, Artie Shaw, Mezz Mezzrow, and twenty others have their words come to life — not because a serious dull voiceover reads them to us, but because Kaufman has arranged for some of the most famous people in the world to read a few passages.  Do the names Bill Cosby and Janet Jackson suggest how seriously other people took this project?

THE SAVOY KING is a work of art and an act of love, and it desrves to be seen — not just by “jazz lovers” or “people who remember the Big Band Era.”

It has been selected to be shown at the 50th annual New York Film Festival, tentatively on September 29, which in itself is a great honor.

That’s the beautiful part.  Now here comes four bars of gritty reality.  In the ideal world, no one would ever have to ask for money, and a major studio would already have done a beautiful job of exploring Chick Webb’s heroism, generosity, and music by now.  But it hasn’t happened, and we know what results when the stories we love go Hollywood.

Filmmaker Kaufman is looking for funding through INDIEGOGO to arrange a “proper launch” for this film — the goal being $5000 to cover the extra work of our PR team (media, publicity, sales, etc), and other key expenses that will help lead to a commercial release.  All levels of support (ideally $75 and up) will make a real difference.  Here is the link.

Think of a world made better by swing.

See and support this film.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: WHEN HARRY (Allen) MET BUCKY (Pizzarelli), FRANK (Tate), AND ED (Metz), April 21, 2012

I don’t need to tell you what happened.  This quartet showed off its amazing range — musically and dramatically.

The quartet becomes the Woody Herman band of sainted memory for FOUR BROTHERS:

Bing Crosby’s dramatic STREET OF DREAMS (with its drug-related lyrics) merges with a line on the same chord changes, QUICKEN:

The Romantic Mr.Pizzarelli plays Richard Rodgers’ EASY TO REMEMBER / THIS NEARLY WAS MINE:

And a titanic finish — as boisterous as any version of the Goodman band, SING SING SING:

May your happiness increase.

ANDY FARBER: MAKING BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS

Having a large jazz orchestra in this century has often posed challenges besides the economic ones. 

Many “big bands” get formed only for special occasions and are thus not well-rehearsed.  Then there’s the matter of repertoire: should a band made up of improvising jazz players go into the past or boldly plunge into the future, however one defines it?  Or should such an orchestra bridge Past and Present — not an easy thing: it means more than letting the saxophone soloist play GIANT STEPS licks in the middle of A STRING OF PEARLS. 

Saxophonist Andy Farber has found his own answer to these questions.  He’s worked with all kinds and sizes of ensembles comfortably.  But his own orchestra has found its own path that pays homage to the past without being anyone’s ghost band — in a way that’s both reassuring and innovative.

Here’s what Andy told Alvester Garnett, who not only plays wonderful big band drums but also wrote fine liner notes (!): “The goal of this record is to focus on the emotional and spiritual element of large group ensemble playing.  I feel like there is a great amount of nuance in this band, ao conscious effort in playing pretty, shaping lines, playing parts as if it were a solo.”  Does that give you a sense of the silken textures Andy and his Orchestra have created?

You don’t have to take it on faith.  The band sounds wonderful — and its overall sound is not heavy or ponderous, nor does it make you wonder what all the players in the band are doing (some “big bands” quickly break down into soloist-plus-rhythm that you wonder if the other players have gotten off the bandstand to check their email — not here). 

And the names of the players will tell you a great deal.  Andy himself is a fine solo player (as I hope you’ve seen in my videos of him sitting in at The Ear Inn): here he’s joined by Dan Block, Chuck Wilson, Jay Brandford, Marc Phaneuf, Kurt Bacher, saxes (with a special guest appearance by Jerry Dodgion); Brian Pareschi, Irv Grossman, Kenny Rampton, and Alex Norris are the trumpets; Art Baron, Harvey Tibbs, Wayne Goodman, Max Seigel the trombones; Bob Grillo plays guitar; Mark Sherman, vibraphone; Kenny Ascher, piano; Jennifer Vincent, bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.  And there is some hip vocalizing from the Prince of Hip, Jon Hendricks and his Singers.

The repertoire includes the happily familiar (BODY AND SOUL, MIDNIGHT, THE STARS AND YOU, THE MAN I LOVE, SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, JACK THE BELLBOY) and Andy’s witty, swinging originals (SPACE SUIT, BOMBERS, IT IS WHAT IT IS, and SHORT YARN) — and more.  All sinuously played, with a delight in sound rather than volume, texture rather than speed. 

If someone were to ask me the honorably weary question, “Are the big bands ever coming back?” I would play them this CD.  This band has no need to return: it is most reassuringly here. 

The CD is on BWR (Black Warrior Records) and can be found at better record stores everywhere?  Well, not quite — but it is available online through a number of sites and (of course) from Andy when you see him playing, which I urge you to do.

SWINGING FOR ARTIE AND BENNY, 2010

I was delighted with the May 2010 concert series that Peter and William Reardon Anderson did in celebration of the music of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw — a series that featured, among others, Jon-Erik Kellso, Ehud Asherie, and Kevin Dorn.  For those who couldn’t make it to East 59th Street in New York City, the boys have released a wonderful CD that contains the music they played on May 23, 2010, which would have been Shaw’s hundredth birthday.  What better way to celebrate?

Here are the details:

Anderson Twins Sextet celebrate Artie Shaw’s Centennial – CD- $15

Celebrating Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman
Recorded Live at 59E59 Theaters, NYC
May 23, 2010 (Artie Shaw’s 100th Birthday!)
All arrangements by Peter and Will Anderson

1. Avalon (A. Jolson)
2. What is This Thing Called Love (C. Porter)
3. Stardust (H. Carmichael)
4. Carioca (V. Youmans)
5. Moonglow (E. De Lange)
6. Stealin Apples (F. Waller)
7. Concerto for Clarinet (A. Shaw)
8. Frenesi (A. Dominguez)
9. China Boy (P. Boutelje)
10. Begine the Beguine (C. Porter)
11. Goodbye (G. Jenkins)
12. Shine (L. Brown)
13. Nightmare (A. Shaw)
14. Oh, Lady Be Good (Gerswhin)

Peter & Will Anderson (clarinets, saxes, flute)
Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet)
Ehud Asherie (piano)
Clovis Nicolas (bass)
Kevin Dorn (drums)

To buy this product please e-mail:

andersontwinsjazz@gmail.com

I’ve been ejoying this disc and can enthusiastically recommend is as a neat mixture of hot improvisation and big-band charts reimagined for a tidy, energetic sextet.  The jam session numbers bring together some of my favorite New York musicians — people I have been celebrating here as long as I’ve had this blog — and the arranged songs both summon up the big bands and (in subversive ways) actually improve on the original charts by presenting them as slim, streamlined versions of the recordings we cherish.

ONE PERSON’S “MODERN”

When I was in graduate school, we knew that “modernism” began around the First World War; we are now in “post-modernism,” although the name makes me itchy, especially when it’s collapsed into “pomo.”   

I feel a kinship to “modernism” as practiced by Woolf, Joyce, Kandinsky, Stravinsky, and so on.  Looking at the world through rose-colored glasses that are a little askew, intentionally.  Breaking things up to see what nifty shapes they might take.  Shoring those fragments against our ruins. 

In jazz, some older listeners define “modern” as the music of Gillespie and Parker.  They were revolutionaries, we are told, getting rid of all that stale Big Band stuff.  But even that might seem antiquarian to those listeners who hear “modernism” as Anthony Braxton.  Both those assertions makes me bristle, because Louis and Lester and Big Sid and Bill Basie were “modern” then and remain so. 

But my point of view is obviously outmoded. 

The Museum of Modern Art is restoring its series of outdoor free concerts in its Summergarden.  A fine thing!  I did not expect them to send Mozart into the warm summer evening (although I would have loved it) but someone’s idea of jazz “modernism” is Andrew Cyrille and Don Byron.  Fine, respected fellows, both of them . . . but when will curators and their likes realize that “modernism,” if you’re going to connect it accurately to the climate it came from, might be something like Louis bursting out of the Henderson band or Bix in 1927? 

The double standard is at work: a Kandinsky (like the one at top) remains “modern,” while the free-thinking jazz modernism still practiced in New York City has, to some ears, become “old.” 

See for yourself:

https://mail.google.com/mail/?shva=1#inbox/128d509a32b96740

My imagined series would be called KANDINSKY MEETS KAMINSKY, but would MOMA go for it?

ARTIE SHAW, THREE WAYS

Artie Shaw has been gone since 2004 and he last played the clarinet in public around fifty years before that, so the people who heard him play must be diminishing day by day.  But he remains an astonishing musician and a public figure capable of stirring up controversies.  I offer three ways of looking at the King of the Clarinet.

One is a glimpse of the intelligent but highly prickly writer, as evidenced by this letter for sale on eBay:

Another is through Tom Nolan’s superb biography, THREE CHORDS FOR BEAUTY’S SAKE, which I’ve reviewed here: https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/three-chords-for-beautys-sake-artie-shaw-by-tom-nolan/

But these pieces of paper don’t always get us close to the music. 

Rather than coop yourself up with the Bluebirds or the new Mosaic set, why not come out and hear New York City’s finest jazz musicians play a tribute to Artie?  The reed-playing Andersons, Will and Peter Reardon, have planned two weeks of Shaw-inspired jazz at 59e59 in New York City.  They’re not only fine clarinetists but fine musicians: these concerts will be lively and evocative but far from note-for-note recreations of famous Shaw solos.  The Anderson Twins Sextet will include Jon-Erik Kellso, Ehud Asherie, and Kevin Dorn.     

The first week  — Tuesday, May 18, through Sunday, May 23 — will be an instrumental fiesta, with the band exploring the rivalry (real and imagined) between Artie and Benny Goodman (something their respective fans keep arguing about)  Details:   http://www.59e59.org/shows/WhoWasKing.html.  The next week will move away from clarinet-a-la-rancor and add the gifted singer Daryl Sherman, who sang with Artie’s “last” band and no doubt has some good stories to tell in between songs: http://www.59e59.org/shows/DarylSherman.html.

For those who haven’t been to this theatre, it is (reassuringly) located at 59 East 59th Street in New York City: www.59e59.org. or (212) 753-5959 for more information.