Tag Archives: Big Money in Jazz Band

A CHANGE IN PLANS: MAL SHARPE MAKES US BELIEVE IT (August 26, 2012)

One of the great pleasures of my California summer was being able to see and hear Mal Sharpe and his Big Money in Jazz Band every Sunday afternoon at the No Name Bar in Sausalito, California.  Mal has so many talents that not all of them get to emerge at once: there’s the comic improviser, the surrealistic jester, the gutty trombonist, the head-arrangements-while-you-wait bandleader . . . as well as the creator of contests and quizzes with prizes of spectacular insignificance.

But one of Mal’s talents often overlooked is his singing — and I don’t mean the exuberant JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE that begins most sessions or the almost as joyous THE SONG IS ENDED.  He says, “I just like to sing,” and that’s clear.  But a recent performance of the Dietz-Schwartz I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN continues to be bittersweet without being maudlin, memorable without being overdramatic.

The song has a lovely melody (think of the instrumental version by Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden) but a singer has to get inside the mixture of emotions — rueful surprise that admits to self-pity and self-blame without saying so.  Call it jaunty despair.  Mal conveys all of this beautifully, mixing wit and delicate sadness.  He does summon up some of the lightness of Astaire, the sorrow of Rushing and Louis — and there’s even a joke in the lyrics — but he so completely gives himself to the song that when I return to California I am sure that I will ask him to sing more songs like this.  He could be the next sensation as a rhythm balladeer, don’t you think?

Here’s I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN, recorded on the spot on Sunday, August 26, 2012 — with the assistance of Leon Oakley, trumpet; Richard Hadlock, soprano saxophone; Si Perkoff, keyboard; Harley White, string bass (who told us about Earl Hines and his many toupees); Carmen Cansino, drums.  And the band manages to summon up the great ones, too — Si’s quirky piano hints at Basie and Monk; Richard hints at late, late Lester; Leon tells us that Bunny and Wild Bill would have loved to play this; Carmen punches it home with the vigor of Thirties Wettling . . .

If anyone in California reads this and then goes to one of Mal’s haunts — the No Name on Sundays; the Savoy Tivoli (in North Beach SF) on Saturdays; Armando’s in Martinez . . . tell him, “I saw you on JAZZ LIVES!”  Maybe he’ll give you a zipper or a letter-B sticker.  And we’ll all be pleased.

May your happiness increase.

NOT ONCE, BUT FOUR OR FIVE TIMES: MAL DOES MARTINEZ (August 23, 2012)

One of the great pleasures of this summer stay in California has been the opportunity to hear / enjoy / talk with / delight in the remarkable Mal Sharpe, larger than life and I don’t mean in height or girth.  His music, his wildly improvised deadpan comedies, his stage presence . . . a remarkable fellow indeed.

Once a month, on a Thursday, Mal brings his Big Money in Jazz Band to Armando’s in Martinez — a very pleasant place (more a social club than a nightspot) run by the amiable Roy Jeans.  August 23 was Mal’s “Dixieland” immersion — for our benefit.

He played trombone and sang; Dwayne Rambey played clarinet, tenor saxophone, and soprano, and also sang; Clint Baker sat in the back and directed jazz traffic while playing the banjo or the guitar; youngblood / swing star Sam Rocha gave his all on tuba; fiery Jim Gammon poured his heart into his trumpet; swinging Roy Blumenfeld, drums.  (Notice that a few performances begin with an impromptu Gammon – Baker duet, reminding me of 1928 Louis and Johnny St. Cyr, very happily).

Here are four musical treats and one avian interlude.  For your dining and dancing pleasure, of course.

HINDUSTAN (where there are still a few parking spaces for caravans and no meters):

A magnificent piece of musical architecture — FOUR OR FIVE TIMES — our delight, doin’ things right:

THE SHEIK OF ARABY, clothed or not:

An ancient folktale about a member of the avian family.  Caution!  It contains a naughty word:

And a beautifully earnest reading of JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE:

Wasn’t that nice?

May your happiness increase.

LAUGHIN’ IN RHYTHM: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at SAUSALITO (August 5, 2012)

Swing and improvised comedy have been the high points of my Sundays for the past two months, for I’ve been spending my afternoons (from 3-6) at the No Name Bar (757 Bridgeway) in Sausalito, California.  Mind you, I’m not a bar habitue — one drink is enough, two drinks is plenty.  And I’d rather have my calories in food.

But Mal Sharpe and his band, Big Money in Jazz, have been at the No Name Bar for years . . . and I can see why.  Even when the instrumentation is frankly improbable, relaxed swing fills the air — along with made-up-right-now comic vignettes, of which Mal is a master.

Last Sunday, the band featured three guitarists (“no waiting!”) — Denny Guyer, with the admirable summer hat; Bill De Kuiper, to his right, and Ken Emerson on lap steel guitar.  The eloquent Sam Rocha made it all right with his string bass; Roy Blumenfeld swung out on his drum kit; trumpeter Jim Gammon and Mal (trombone and vocals) were the front line.  Here are five highlights from that happy Sunday afternoon.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE is what I think of as a New Orleans carpe diem, but in Mal’s hands it seems a jocular way to begin his band’s weekly tenure at the No Name Bar, “Don’t be upset that we’re here and don’t object too loudly — we’ll be out of here in a few hours”:

Mal began the afternoon — it was warm — by telling the audience that what they were witnessing was NBC’s rebroadcast of the Christmas show (a nice absurdity on many levels) which then inspired Jim Gammon to lead the band into a funky, lopsided SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN — as if Santa had been listening to Hot Lips Page rhythm and blues in his sleigh:

A vaguely Hawaiian-inflected BREEZE was a tropical delight, although the reasons behind this pineapple-flavored rendition are more than a bit puzzling to the anthropologists at the No Name.  Mahalo, you cats:

DALLAS BLUES is in part my responsibility.  I had been talking with the very entertaining Jim Gammon in the set break and had casually told him that Clint Baker (who has played with Mal’s bands) began his gig with a romping version of that song, one of my favorites.  When the next set began, I heard Jim suggest this song, “for Michael,” and I am delighted to have been the partial instigator of this song selection.  But I had no idea that one of Mal’s socio-political blues was in the offing: it will catch you by surprise, as will his surrealistic solo:

And, finally, LAUGHIN’ IN RHYTHM — courtesy of Slim and Slam or Sidney Bechet and Vic Dickenson.  It’s frankly goofy — I GOT RHYTHM with the giggles — but it sat just right:

Forget your troubles.  C’mon, get happy — some Sunday at 757 Bridgeway, Sausalito, from 3-6 PM.

May your happiness increase.

HONEY, DO!

Yet another excursion with Louis Armstrong — backwards to 1933 and 1966 or so and forwards to yesterday, July 7, 2012.

Step One: HONEY, DO! (lyrics by Andy Razaf, music by J.C. Johnson).  It’s customary to lament how poor Louis’ bands were, but this version is swinging away for the first part of the song.  And what Louis is doing, so joyously, is beyond description:

In 1966 — more or less — department stores in suburbia all had flourishing record departments.  I don’t know which store it was, but I remember as someone too young to drive a car going off with my mother to some store (more furniture than anything) for something she needed . . . and saying to her, “Ma, I’ll be right back,” running off to the record department, forsaking all others, heading to the Louis browser, snatching up this RCA Victor anthology with one side devoted to his recordings in the early Thirties, the other to his 1946-7 efforts, giving the cashier my $2.67 or an equivalent amount, and racing back to my mother (who had bought her pillows or bowls by that time) . . . I was guilty but exultant as she stood there — with that look of mild reproach and concern that I already knew too well: translation: “Did you have to spend your allowance on another record?”  Yes, Ma, I did.  I love you and you were right but now I have HONEY, DO! — nearly fifty years later, too.  A good return on $2.67.

Fast forward to yesterday, where the Beloved and I were digging Mal Sharpe and The Big Money in Jazz Band at the No Name Bar in Sausalito.  Circumstances prevented my video-recording, but I have a story for you all instead.  Superb music from Mal, Jim Gammon, trumpet; Rob Reich, accordion; Bill DeKuiper, guitar; Ari Munkres, string bass; Pete Magadini, drums.  A vigrously rocking band that also showed off deep subtlety — a version of I GOT IT BAD with its first chorus a duet for Jim (plunger-muted) and Ari.

Early in the final set, Mal (trusting the audience a bit) asked if anyone had a request.  STARDUST was suggested but politely turned aside for the moment, as was I DOUBLE DARE YOU.  But the latter suggestion turned Mal’s thoughts to Louis, and Pete suggested HONEY, DO! — which Jim took up with ease and pleasure.  The other members of the band weren’t entirely familiar with this obscure song, but they fell in gamely and the No Name Bar was rocking as the BMIJ turned the corner into the second chorus . . . and then Mal, bless him, put down his trombone and belted out the lyrics with skill and abandon.

I’m still grinning.  Maybe I can ask them to play it again when I have a video camera handy.  You should have been there!

May your happiness increase.