Tag Archives: Bill Dunham

REMEMBERING BILL DUNHAM (1928-2016)

Often the latest jazz news is an obituary notice. It’s not surprising given the age of some of my friends and heroes, but I don’t always linger on such news: if I immersed myself in it, I might become too sad to continue stating confidently that JAZZ LIVES.

BILL D one

But I will make an exception for William B. Dunham — known to me as Bill, known earlier in his life as Hoagy.  For more than half a century he was the regular pianist with the Grove Street Stompers, who play on Monday nights at Arthur’s Tavern in Greenwich Village, New York.

Bill died on January 11: details here.

Like most of us, Bill had many facets he showed to the world.  Officially he was a New York City real estate eminence who signed his emails thusly:

William B. Dunham
Licensed Real Estate Broker
Barrow Grove Associates Inc.
P.O. Box 183, Cooper Station P.O.
New York, NY 10276-0183

But this serious signature was only one side of a man who was at heart puckish. I’d met him perhaps a decade ago and we had become friendly, so when I hadn’t seen or heard from him last year, I emailed him in August to ask if all was well, and got this response:

Hey Michael……………….Thanks for asking. For a couple of doddering old geriatrics we are doing OK – not quite at the strained food stage. I have had a little problem which has kept me out of Arthur’s. Getting better.

Blog recommendation. Every Sunday from 12:30 – 2:30 a great trio at Cafe Loup on 13th Street. Piano, bass and guitar. Not to be missed! Could you video there?

Our cat population has dwindled by 50%. We had to download Manning because he tended to bite. Love bites mind you. I used to enjoy the occasional love bite – but not by a cat!

Let me know if you ever want to visit Cafe Loup on a Sunday…………

Best……Bill

PS……….LOVE your blogs!!

That was the Bill Dunham I will always remember: the enthusiastic jazz-lover who turned up at gigs, always beautifully dressed, the man who marveled at the music and the musicians, who would email me to share his delight in a video I’d just posted.  He and his wife Sonya were a reliable couple at New York City jazz gigs, cheerful and ardent.

I don’t remember whether I first met Bill at Arthur’s Tavern and then at gigs or the reverse, but our early correspondence was often his urging me to come down to hear the Grove Street Stompers on a Monday night, or telling me what wonderful things had happened the previous Monday.  I am afraid I put him off fairly consistently, because I have taught early-morning Tuesday classes for thirty years and even when the GSS gig ended at ten, I yawned my way through my work.  But I did make my way down there — with camera — one night in 2010, and recorded this performance, the regular band with guest stars Dan Barrett, cornet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone (later in the evening Rossano Sportiello took to the piano):

Others in that band are Peter Ballance, trombone (seen here in front of the narrow bandstand, keeping track of the songs played that night); Joe Licari, clarinet; Giampaolo Biagi, drums; Skip Muller, string bass.

Here is a more recent still photograph of that band, with Scott Ricketts, cornet; Steve Little, drums:

BILL D at Arthurs Ballance Ricketts Licari Little perhaps MullerAs a pianist, Bill was an ensemble player who offered the plain harmonies as the music moved along.  He knew this, and did not seek to inflate his talents: when I saw him at a gig where Rossano Sportiello or Mark Shane was at the keyboard, he spoke of them and their playing as versions of the unreachable ideal.  He was proud of the Grove Street Stompers as a durable organism upholding the collective love of jazz, but modest about himself.

A digression.  Bill became one of my most enthusiastic blog-followers but he often found technology baffling, which is the right of people who came to computers late in life.  WordPress would inexplicably unsubscribe him from JAZZ LIVES, and I would get a plaintive telephone call and then attempt — becoming Customer Service — to walk him through the steps that would re-establish a connection.  Once the complication was beyond my powers to fix on the telephone, and since I knew I was coming in to Manhattan, I offered to come to his apartment and fix things there, which he happily accepted.  There I found out about the four cats — I don’t remember their names, and since I was a stranger, they went into hiding (perhaps they didn’t like something I’d posted on the blog?) and I never saw them.

Once I fixed the connection, because it was noon, Bill offered me a glass of iced gin, which I declined, and spoke of his other jazz obsession — Wild Bill Davison. Wild Bill, when he was in New York City in between gigs, would come down to Arthur’s and play, and Bill (Dunham) spoke happily of those encounters: he’d also become a WBD collector, but not in the usual way: Bill’s goal was to acquire a copy of every recording WBD had ever made, perhaps on every label and every speed. I was awe-struck, but perhaps tactlessly asked if this was like collecting stamps, because WBD’s solos had become more worked-out than not. To his credit, Bill agreed.

He also had a substantial collection of paper ephemera and memorabilia. However, by the time I’d met him and had this blog, any ideas of an interview were brushed aside, “Michael!” he’d say, laughing, “I can barely remember my wife’s name!”

Before I’d ever met Bill, though, I knew of him as a youthful eminence in ways more important to me.  He had graduated from Harvard in 1952.  To my mind, this made him a truly sentient being — even if gentlemen at Harvard those days aimed no higher than a C, I believe those C grades meant something.  He was seriously involved with jazz before I was able to crawl.

Thanks to my dear friend John L. Fell, I heard a tape of Bill in 1951 as part of the Harvard jazz band, the Crimson Stompers — including drummer Walt Gifford — on a session where clarinetist Frank Chace, visiting Boston, had been the star. In Manfred Selchow’s book on Edmond Hall, I learned that Hall had been recorded at an informal session in 1948, and “Hoagy Dunham” had played piano on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES. I had a cassette copy of what remained of those sessions.  At some point I copied these tapes onto another cassette and sent them to Bill, who was ecstatic.  Through Jeanie Wilson, Barbara Lea’s dearest friend, I learned that Bill — for a very short time — had dated Barbara, and I got Bill to write his memories when Barbara died, which you can read here.  Here is a post in which Bill figures — both in a black-and-white photograph of himself, Barbara, and the Stompers, and a Harvard news story where he is “Hoagie” Dunham.

Another photograph of the Crimson Stompers, from drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook, tenderly maintained by Duncan Schiedt:

CRIMSON STOMPERS 11 48

And here is Bill, as a JAZZ LIVES stringer or jazz town crier, with some New York news (hilariously).

A few memories from cornetist Scott Ricketts, seen above with Bill on the bandstand —

“At the end of a set, Bill would refer to Arthur’s as ‘The West Side’s Finest Supper Club’. But the only food I ever saw there was in the 25 cent glass peanut machine in the front.”  

“Bill would always close the set (over Mood Indigo) by telling the audience, “Have a couple of Wild Turkeys, we’ll be right back.” At the band’s 50th anniversary party, I asked Bill if he was having a Wild Turkey? He said ‘No, I don’t drink that stuff!'”

And a neat summation from a cousin of  Bill’s:

“Bill was a terrific guy, who served in the military in Korea and then came back to attend Harvard on the GI bill. He was a bit of a renaissance man; having gone to Harvard, worked on Wall Street, been a noted jazz musician (his real passion), and then into real estate. I was fortunate enough to get to see him just a few weeks ago, and we coaxed him to play some music on the piano in the front lobby of the assisted living home they were visiting with their daughter. He still had it then.”

How might people count their lives well-lived?  To me (and the person who has made the transition can only know this in some spiritual way) if you’ve lived your life properly, people miss you when you are no longer there.  I know I will from now on think, “I wonder if  Bill will show up tonight?” when I am seated at a particular gig — and then have to remind myself that he won’t.  I send my condolences to Sonya, and Bill’s daughter Amy.

My jazz universe and my personal universe are smaller and less vibrant because of Bill’s death.

Thanks so much to Alison Birch for her generous help in this blogpost.

And “this just in,” thanks to Joseph Veltre and ancestry.com — Bill’s picture from the 1952 Harvard yearbook:

BILL DUNHAM 1952

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ STUDIES PROGRAM, NOVEMBER 1948

Sixty-five years ago, if you found yourself deeply entranced by hot music, you studied it in the ways available to you.  You collected records and talked about them with other devotees: Lee Konitz and Omer Simeon, bootleg reissues on labels like Temple and Baltimore. If you tended towards the dogmatic, you quarreled over Bunk Johnson versus Dizzy Gillespie. If someone had records you’d never heard, you had listening sessions where each of you could share the good sounds. You sought out live performances and talked to the professional musicians. You read Marshall Stearns and Barry Ulanov, Rudi Blesh and Art Hodes, DOWN BEAT, METRONOME, THE JAZZ RECORD, and more.

But perhaps most importantly, you didn’t find your jazz in classrooms, but in frat houses, dances, basement rec rooms, and the houses of friends and friends’ parents.

If you were any good (and even if you weren’t) you formed a band. One of the best was a Harvard group — The Crimson Stompers — of such fame that Ed Hall, Bobby Hackett, Bob Wilber, a young Barbara Lea (then a Wellesley girl) Frank Chace, and Vic Dickenson sat in.

From drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook, thanks to Duncan Schiedt, here’s a portrait of what embodying the jazz impulse at college was sixty-five years ago:

CRIMSON STOMPERS 11 48

Bill “Hoagy” Dunham is still with us and still playing Monday nights at Arthur’s Tavern in Greenwich Village, New York City.  Any memories of this, Bill?

The photograph is before my time, but I salute the young men enjoying themselves.  What is college for if you can’t explore new subjects?

May your happiness increase!

WHEN THEY WERE ALL VERY YOUNG (Part One): MISS LEACOCK, MR. GIFFORD, AND THE FELLOWS

Barbara Lea and the Crimson Stompers, 1948:

LEA AND STOMPERS 1948 HARVARD

That’s Miss Leacock, Barbara Lea to you, singing as if her life depended on it, with the Harvard small hot jazz band, the Crimson Stompers, in 1948.  Bill “Hoagy” Dumham is at the piano; Walt Gifford is at the drums; Larry Eanet is on trombone; Ollie Taylor is one of the clarinetists . . . and the rest are not known to me, at the moment.  The photograph originally belonged to Gifford, then was passed on to the late Joe Boughton, and it now resides in the Barbara Lea Archives, tenderly maintained by Jeanie Gorman Wilson — and is reprinted here with her kind permission.  Here’s a story from the Harvard student newspaper, which explains everything:

Stompers Have Brought Basin Street to College

By EDWARD J. COUGHLIN,

October 11, 1950

Back in the days when the Crimson Stompers were getting organized, they held their practice jam sessions down on Coolidge Hill Road behind Stillman Infirmary at the home of Charles H. Taylor, professor of History. And they had a cornetist sitting in with the band whose playing Walter H. Gifford, Jr. ’52, drummer and manager of the group, describes as a “mean cornet a la Max Kaminsky.” The horn-player’s name was Sargent Kennedy ’28, Registrar of Harvard College.

During the summer of 1948, Gifford went to a musicians’ hangout in his home town of Washington, D. C., and met a heavy dark-haired young trombonist-pianist named Laurence J. Eanet ’52. It didn’t take long for them to discover two important facts about each other–that they were both starting at Harvard as freshmen that fall, and that they both loved Dixieland jazz.

It was quite natural that, when they came up to Cambridge in September, the two started shopping around for enough men to fill out a little “amusement only” jazz ensemble. Friends told them about a fine guitar player who was a junior at the time–David Sutherland ’50, who is now at the Law School. And then there were three.

“Through the College grapevine” they heard about a fine young clarinetist, Oliver S. Taylor ’53, Professor Taylor’s son, who was then attending the Belmont Hill School. They found that Taylor was not only enthusiastic about joining their group, but that he could also recommend a good trumpeter, a Milton Academy boy named Bruce Elwell. (Elwell, relatively young and inexperienced compared to the others, has since moved on to Rollins College in Florida).

The unit was rounded out by the addition of two classmates, bassist Herbert Levin ’52 and pianist Hoagie Dunham ’52.

Proving Ground

They used to go down to Taylor’s home evenings and shake the house with their practice sessions. “The Taylors’ was a proving ground for our band,” Gifford explains. “We really started to play well in ensemble there.” During this period Kennedy enjoyed going to the house at night to sit with the boys.

They started to make trips to the Savoy on Massachusetts Avenue to listen to trumpeter “Red” Allen and the Searsdale (New York) High School sensation, clarinetist Bob Wilber. After a time, when they became known at the Savoy, they would climb up on the stand and take over the nightclub.

One night Dunham showed up with a girl who could sing. He had met Barbara Leacock, Wellesley ’51, on a blind date. The good-looking brunette had a voice that pleased Dunham’s fellow musicians and she became a featured vocalist on the band’s College engagements during the following year. They put on two concerts in the Lowell House Junior Common Room and broadcast Monday nights.

Union Was Watching

The day before they played at the Freshman Smoker, the entire group trooped down to join the musicians’ union, because New Orleans clarinetist Edmond Hall was coming out from the Savoy to play with them “and the union was watching us like a hawk.” Shortly afterwards they played for the Radcliffe freshmen at Agassiz Hall, where they were paid off in rye smuggled in by an admiring Cliffe girl.

Last year the band started off at the Savoy with the trumpet played by 20-year-old. Tufts graduate Paul Gibson, whom Gifford calls “the best jazz trumpeter this side of New York.” Then they branched out. They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby). And they found another faculty supporter in Roy Lamson, Jr. ’29 clarinet-playing professor of Sociology at Williams.

They played the college circuit from a house party at Dartmouth to a performance in a baseball cage at a Spring Country Fair at Wesleyan in Middletown, Connecticut. Sandwiched in between were a number of Monday night sessions at the Savoy with bands led by Hall, trombonist Vic Dickenson, and pianist Joe Sullivan.

I was too young to be in that group, but I have heard the Stompers (Frank Chace played with them, and there is a riotous long ROYAL GARDEN BLUES from the session with Ed Hall — alas, neither of these delicious combinations are available on CD for the masses thirsting for the Real Hot Stuff) and wish that such impudent explosions of joy, collective and singular, were happening on college campuses all over the world.  When I go back to teaching, I would give extra credit to any group of students who could play COAL CART BLUES.  That’s a promise.

And Bill Dunham, happily, is still with us, beating it out on Monday nights with the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street off Seventh Avenue in lower Manhattan.  Stop by and tell him you saw his back on JAZZ LIVES.

May your happiness increase!

OUR BECKY, HER NEW YORK: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, EHUD ASHERIE at SMALLS, April 28, 2013

Everyone in the know was excited that Rebecca Kilgore, our Becky, Miz Roo, was coming to New York and New Jersey for a short stop at the end of April 2013.  Before heading off to the UK for the Norwich Jazz Party, she and Dan Barrett had one gig at Smalls, one glorious evening with Rossano Sportiello and friends at Carnegie Hall (!), and another intimate evening at Shanghai Jazz.

The Beloved and I attended the first two . . . and I brought my camera to Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York).  I’ve adjusted the videos so that Becky, pianist Ehud Asherie, and trombonist Dan appear to be performing in a light-hearted version of film noir . . . but the music shines brightly in a rainbow of colors!

Here, incidentally, is what I wrote in anticipation of Miss Becky’s visit.

And here are five glorious performances from that Smalls triumph in swing . . . with a few more to come!  Our Becky swings sweetly, offers nuances and shadings that surprise, move, and enlighten.  She makes us smile — under a baking spotlight, in the middle of two great jazz extroverts, in front of a portrait of Louis, smiling for good reason.

The Beloved and I weren’t the only ones paying close delighted attention: the room was full of singers: Marianne Solivan, Hilary Gardner, Molly Ryan, Yaala Ballin, Petra van Nuis — as well as friends of the Jazz Bears: Justin, Danny, and Kristin; Jeanie Wilson beamed at us; Bill and Sonya Dunham made sure everyone behaved well; Stompy Jones and Maxine were there in spirit, too.

THOU SWELL:

I HEAR MUSIC:

I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU:

TEA FOR TWO:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

What extraordinary music!

May your happiness increase.

BECKY AND HARRY BRING WARMTH AND LIGHT: REBECCA KILGORE with HARRY ALLEN, EHUD ASHERIE, JOEL FORBES, KEVIN KANNER at THE METROPOLITAN ROOM (March 7, 2013)

Oh, the weather outside was frightful, but the music was delightful.

True enough for last night, March 7, in New York City.  It was a chilly mix of rain, snow, sleet — not enough to be dramatic, but it soaked into everyone.  But once I made it to The Metropolitan Room, that warm oasis on 34 West 22nd Street, it was summery inside.

Becky_Kilgore

Becky Kilgore doesn’t get to come to New York City as often as I would like (although there are signs that is changing) but this six-show gift (that’s Wednesday through Sunday — 9:30 each night BUT two shows, the early one at 7 on Sunday!)

Becky’s shows have been just that — not just “songs I always sing,” but beautifully-shaped thematic presentations.  Often they’ve paid tribute to specific singers: Judy, Billie, Marilyn, and Becky (a great researcher) has delved into the repertoire to find hidden, unknown gems as well as greatest hits.  Unlike other people’s thematic presentations, these shows are light-hearted, not weighty seminars full of “and then she sang” data.

This new show takes its cue from a Peggy Lee song, I LIKE MEN — and it’s not a formulaic tribute to the furry members of the species, but a varied look (in music and words) at us.  Becky pointed out early that except for two Lee compositions, all the songs she was singing were written by men for women to sing . . . and the variety of viewpoints was quite remarkable.  Becky veered away from the “he beats me but I love him” darkness of romantic masochism to offer twelve delights in seventy-five minutes . . . a compact, fast-paced, and satisfying evening.  I know she has a substantial song list for this run, so the set list is going to change somewhat from night to night.

Last night she and the band offered Sissle and Blake’s I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY (perfectly apt, because all of us are!) complete with the verse . . . then on to two Harold Arlens — one familiar, the other a rarity; a Gershwin; Frank Loesser’s grimly comic MARRY THE MAN TODAY (where the Wise Woman sings that you should offer your fiance the hand today because once he is wed, it can then turn into the fist tomorrow); a Pearl Bailey-inflected MY HANDY MAN AIN’T HANDY ANY MORE (which suggests that old dogs can’t be taught new tricks); a wonderful Ralph Blaine-Hugh Martin wooer with the line, “I can be your passion fruit”; an unusual Hoagy Carmichael song where the overeager lover is treated rather like a poorly-trained puppy, without the rolled-up newspaper making an appearance.  For me, the great moving highlights of the evening — in addition to these bright sparks — were a tender THE BOY NEXT DOOR; a wistful rather than melodramatic THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY, and a sweet WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN.  Miss Kilgore’s delightful genius was once again made evident in the way she sang these three songs, so strongly identified with Judy and Billie, and made them sound like Becky.

And all I will say about “sounding like Becky” is that it is a deep pleasure.  Miss Kilgore is full of feeling without ever resorting to Drama; she swings naturally; she is witty without being jokey, and the simple sound of her voice is a delight in itself.  As well, she is a great improviser in subtle, subversive ways: listening to her very lightly restretch the melody in ways that would have pleased its composers, listening to her handle the language in ways that make us hear the words anew . . . well, I always think I am in the presence of greatness, even though she is one of the more humble mortals I know.  And I have been listening to her, on CD and vinyl, in person and even over the telephone, for two decades.  Every time I am fortunate to hear her in person, I go away, quietly thinking, “How does she do it?  She’s a treasure, and she’s getting better!”

Her instrumental colleagues were simply wonderful, too.  Harry Allen has gotten a reputation, with some people, of being a gentle player, someone who can tenderly caress a ballad in the best Webster manner.  But don’t let that impression turn into a mask; Harry has a deeply raucous side, and he loves to race and holler, too.  Drummer Kevin Kanner was new to me, but he’s a listening fellow; his sticks caught all the nuances and his brushes made a swinging carpet. Ehud Asherie often stole the show — in the manner of Jess Stacy in the Goodman band — offering a witty harmonic variation or a phrase that started in a predictable place and went into other astral realms.  And Joel Forbes, quietly, darkly, reliable, swung from the first note: every note was in the right place at the right time.  The five people onstage were happy as the day is long — you could see it in their grins — and they shared their joys with us.

Even though the weather was indeed frightful (or almost), the room was full — Dan Morgenstern and Daryl Sherman and Michael Moore were there, as were Bill and Sonya Dunham, Beck Lee, Claiborne Ray, Gwen Calvier . . . and the people I hadn’t met yet were just as enthusiastic.  One fellow (Ezra?) sat with his head perhaps three feet from the bell of Harry’s saxophone, and he bobbed and weaved ecstatically with every phrase: the music was reflected in his happiness. I had never been to The Metropolitan Room before, but will come back again: Jean-Pierre made the instruments sound perfectly acoustic, which is the ideal goal of a “sound man”: he is certainly a sound man.  The lighting was perfectly in tune but never obtrusive, and everyone was genuinely friendly.

Becky and Harry, Ehud, Joel, and Kevin will be there for four more shows.  Find your waterproof shoes and make the trek: you won’t regret it.  Details  here.

May your happiness increase.

DAN BARRETT HAS PLANS FOR THE EVENING OF MONDAY, SEPT. 24, 2012

Dan Barrett thinks ahead . . . and he is coming to New York City for an all-too-brief sojourn, with stops at The Ear Inn, Birdland, Little Branch, and other places.  But after his work on the First Traditional Jazz Workshop at Chautauqua, New York and the party — Jazz at Chautauqua — that follows, he will be putting his horn together the following Monday night to join the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern at 57 Grove Street (that’s Greenwich Village, New York) for a 7-10 PM musicale.  Dan will be joined by pianist Bill Dunham for the first set, Ehud Asherie for the two following sets; Giampaolo Biagi, drums; Jack Stuckey, clarinet; Barry Bryson, trumpet; Kelly Friesen, string bass.

I am sure that others will drop by . . . get there early, as Arthur’s has been known to fill up with the faithful!

May your happiness increase.

IMAGINE THIS!

The generous jazz collector Sonny McGown keeps surprising me: first with that lovely candid shot of Barbara Lea and Johnny Mince, now with this — a disc that isn’t playable at the moment but may be restored in the near future.

It made me catch my breath at the computer, because not only is it a live 1951 recording of Miss Leacock with the great pianist Larry Eanet, it also features the irreplaceable and (to my mind) under-recorded trumpeter Frank Newton.  In 1951.

I knew he had spent much of his last half-decade in Boston, and had read about concerts he had played in, gigs he had done — both from Manfred Selchow’s encyclopedic studies of Ed Hall and Vic Dickenson as well as the recollections of Leroy “Sam” Parkins — but I never expected to see this:

If that isn’t something to dream about in 2012, I don’t know.  Thanks, Sonny!

BILL DUNHAM REMEMBERS BARBARA LEA

The good friend of JAZZ LIVES, pianist and bandleader Bill Dunham, sent his recollections of Barbara Lea for us:

I guess I’m Barbara’s oldest friend – both in terms of age and friendship.  She was at Wellesley (where she was Barbara Leacock out of Detroit) when I was Harvard in the late 40’s.  We met on a blind date and dated briefly (I was pretty inept and Larry Eanet took over in that department).  It was there that I introduced Barbara to the Harvard Crimson Stompers a Dixieland band that was really a hot item among the college jock fraternities (Dartmouth, etc.) Her singing career started!  I was a member of the Stompers at the time and can remember how we were all knocked out by this Wellesley girl’s singing!

During her senior year at Wellesley and after graduation she sang at local Boston clubs – some not too upscale including a Mafia-run club where she called me one night and asked me to please come down the next night because she had been threatened by a gang thug.  I was to call a police lieutenant should there be a confrontation.  I was not too enthusiastic about this assignment but fortunately it went OK with me sitting nervously clutching the policeman’s phone number.

As you know, Barbara made scores of LPs, CDs, etc.  One of my favorites is the one she made with Johnny Windhurst, a marvelous young trumpet player.  He incidentally sat in with the Grove Street Stompers a number of times.

Barbara has often been labeled as a young Lee Wiley. Yes, one can pick up traces of Wiley in her singing but Barbara was her own person and had her own approach to singing the great standards with a beautiful, pure, ungimmicky voice!

I have been a close friend of hers since college and will really miss her!

Another pianist with young Barbara Lea

FINE TIMES at FEINSTEIN’S with HARRY ALLEN and FRIENDS (Oct. 3, 2011)

The first Monday night of every month has taken on new significance since Harry Allen and his world-class musical friends (courtesy of Arbors Records) have been appearing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City (540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street, 212-339-4095). 

The Beloved and I went there for the festivities of October 3, 2011, for what was whimsically but accurately called a Cavalcade of Singers.  The singers?  Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, and Lynn Roberts — backed by Harry Allen (tenor sax); Mike Renzi (piano); Joel Forbes (bass); Chuck Riggs (drums), and guest star Dan Barrett (trombone). 

Feinstein’s at the Regency is a very warm place — we got a friendly greeting and a very nice table with a good view of the stage, in a comfortably appointed, intimate room.  The atmosphere was very relaxed: a few of the musicians made their way from table to table, greeting old friends and making new ones, chatting and joking.  By the time the music started, the room was full, a very good sign — and we talked with Bill and Sonya Dunham (celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary!), Will Friedwald and friends, photographer Alan Nashigian, jazz friends Steve and Dafna, singer Melissa Hamilton, and a sweet surprise — I finally met Jeanie Wilson (whom I’ve known in cyberspace), the great good friend of Barbara Lea.

Everyone felt included, as if we had come to the most hip living room for a great yet casual evening of music.  And this warm feeling was firmly established even before I embarked on the Bloody Mary I had ordered, of a size and depth to require the Coast Guard.  The well-chosen soundtrack / background music was authentic Swing Era hits, entirely in keeping with the music we had come to hear, sweet and propulsive both. 

The instrumental quintet — Harry and Dan in the front line — began with a chipper PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, perhaps a nod to the weather that night, then moved to a sweet EMBRACEABLE YOU, where Dan showed off his Tommy Dorsey blue-steel control in the upper register, a rocking BEAN AND THE BOYS that featured some heartening cymbal playing from Chuck, a solo feature for Dan on a plunger-muted THE GLORY OF LOVE.  They ended the set with a deep-down version of Harry Edison’s blues, CENTERPIECE, which Dan introduced with the appropriate suggestion, “Turn out all the lights.”  Harry Allen usually looks serious, unflappable (unless he’s laughing or has his tennis racket), but he was rocking from side to side while the rhythm section was playing, and his solos soared throughout the set.

The Cavalcade of Singers began with our Becky: a cheerful PICK YOURSELF UP (“Good words to live by”), I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO that moved from a pensive start to deep improvising in the second chorus, with Harry purring obbligati behind her.  Nicki Parrott joined Becky for a duet on BETTER THAN ANYTHING, and took off on her own sultry BESAME MUCHO and an unusual WHERE OR WHEN — taken at a fast tempo with the verse.  Lynn Roberts (whose experience dates back to Tommy Dorsey in the Fifties but looks perky) joked with the audience before singing in her trumpetlike way THE LADY IS A TRAMP and a forceful AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  At the end of the set, the three women of song stood side by side and floated a deft S’WONDERFUL over Mike Renzi’s powerful chording, Joel’s splendidly deep bass, and Chuck’s floating hi-hat.

After a break, the band assembled for a vigorous LADY BE GOOD — Dan and Harry playing Lester Young’s 1936 solo in unison, before Lynn offered I’M CONFESSIN’ and a medley of Sinatra’s “saloon songs.”  Nicki created a sweet HEY THERE in honor of Rosemary Clooney, and then moved from the wistful to the straight-ahead with THE MORE I SEE YOU.  Becky returned for a sweet OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY in honor of the Dunhams’ anniversary (her singing provoking the Beloved to turn to me and say, “She has an understated elegance,” which is entirely true) and — in amusing contrast — an energetic THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.  The three singers assembled for a proper finger-snapping rendition of FEVER, for which they received great applause. 

When we went out into the night, we had been cheered, amused, elated, and warmed.  Great music, good value, and fine times at Feinstein’s at the Regency.

And for the future — the first Monday in November will be Harry’s Brazilian evening, and the December show will be John Sheridan’s Christmas extravaganza, with reindeer and drummer boys in residence elsewhere . . . not to be missed!  Visit http://feinsteinsattheregency.com/. for all the useful details.

DAN BARRETT COMES EAST (September – October 2011)

To quote Henry Nemo, “‘Tis autumn,” and one of the more rewarding manifestations of that season is the annual Dan Barrett Comes East tour.  The inimitable Costa Mesa, California trombonist, cornetist, arranger, composer, pianist, singer, comes to this coast for a series of what have proven memorable gigs.

Thursday – Sunday, Sept. 15-18: Dan at Chautauqua Jazz Party, Chautauqua, New York (http://athenaeum-hotel.com/Jazz-at-Chautauqua/)

Monday, Sept. 19: Dan at Arthur’s Tavern, with Bill Dunham’s Grove Street Stompers (Grove Street & 7th Ave South; 7-10 pm)

Tuesday, Sept. 20: Dan in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with Howard Alden & Frank Tate (details to follow)

Wednesday, Sept. 21: Dan at Birdland with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (5:30-7:15 pm): see http://www.ostwaldjazz.com/live/ for details.  Dan will be joined by Bria Skonberg (trumpet), Vinny Raniolo (banjo and guitar), Marion Felder (drums) and others.

Sunday, Sept. 25: a double-header!  Dan will join Terry Waldo’s band at Fat Cat (77 Christopher Street), from 5:45 to 8 pm).  Then, Dan will go south and west for an evening at the Ear Inn, with Evan Christopher, Matt Munisteri, and New York’s finest, immediately after that (8-11 pm)

Monday, Sept. 26: Dan will again appear alongside Evan Christopher at a concert sponsored by the Sidney Bechet Society, beginning at 7:15 pm.  Evan’s “Clarinet Road” will pay tribute to the Master in “Blues for Bechet.”  Featured guests will include vocalist Catherine Russell, guitar virtuosi Doug Wamble and Matt Munisteri, and LaFrae Sci on drums.  The concert will take place at Symphony Space (95th Street and Broadway), and tickets are available here:

http://www.sidneybechet.org/purchase-tickets/

Tuesday, Sept. 27: Dan will join the brass section — on cornet — of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks at “Club Cache'” — the lower floor of Sofia’s restaurant in the Edison Hotel, 211 West 46th Street.

Wednesday, September 28: Dan will again be part of David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band at Birdland, from 5:45-7:15 pm, alongside Bria Skonberg, Pete Martinez, Howard Alden, Marion Felder, and others.

Sunday, October 2: Another double-header: Dan at Fat Cat again with Terry Waldo’s band; then on to the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York (8-11 pm)

Monday, October 3: Dan will be part of another Arbors Records event at Feinstein’s at the Regency with singers Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Lynn Roberts, and Harry Allen’s Quartet (Harry, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Chuck Riggs).

Alas and woe for New Yorkers, Dan flies home the next day.  Don’t miss out on the Barrett Comes East tour.  There are, as yet, no plans for souvenir sweatshirts, buttons, or pennants — merely fine jazz and many musical surprises.

And in case you are just discovering Mr. Barrett, here’s some musical evidence — his cornet lights up this August 2011 performance of MY BUDDY, recorded at the JAZZ LIVES party (with John Smith, alto; Vinnie Armstrong, piano; Marc Caparone, bass; Mike Swan, guitar):

DAN BARRETT, THE GROVE STREET STOMPERS, and FRIENDS (Oct. 18, 2010)

Bill Dunham, the pianist-leader of the Grove Street Stompers, will proudly tell you that the band’s unbroken run of Monday nights at Arthur’s Tavern, the “West Side’s smartest supper club,” began in 1959 — a record indeed! 

Monday, October 18, 2010, was a special night because Dan Barrett brought his own jubilant energy and a borrowed cornet.  Dan’s cornet playing is a great joy, both clipped and lyrical.  On this horn, he comes from the great tradition, echoing Louis, Bobby, Ruby, Sweets, Buck, and more, but the result always sounds like Barrett, which is the way it’s supposed to be.

Dan inspired the GSS: Bill on piano, Peter Ballance on trombone and announcements, Joe Licari on clarinet, Skip Muller on bass, and Giampaolo Biagi on drums.

Here are three selections from that evening.  JUST A CLOSER WAlK WITH THEE is one of those “Dixieland chestnuts” that usually descends into cliche, but not with the preaching trombone of guest J. Walter Hawkes, welcome at any gig:

A rousing THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE called to mind the ecstatic Condon recording for Columbia in the early Fifties:

And at the end of the evening, Bill gracefully gave up his seat at the piano to the Maestro, Rossano Sportiello, and they swung out on OH, BABY!: 

At the Tavern, the Creole Cooking Jazz Band (featuring Lee Lorenz, Dick Dreiwitz, Barbara Dreiwitz, and others) plays on Sundays, Eve Silber (often with Michael Hashim) holds down Wednesdays, and the Monday-night ensemble includes Peter Ecklund or Barry Bryson on trumpet / cornet.  Other guests have included Bria Skonberg, Emily Asher, and Bob Curtis.  Arthur’s Tavern (some spell it Arthurs) is located at 57 Grove Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, and the Sunday sessions run from 7-10 PM.

A JAZZ BOUQUET: DAN BARRETT and ANDY SCHUMM at THE EAR INN (Oct. 24, 2010)

Last Sunday, in the late afternoon, I began to fidget — perhaps two hours before The EarRegulars were scheduled to start playing at The Ear Inn.  The Beloved said to me, kindly, “What are you so anxious about?  We’ll be there in plenty of time,” which was of course true.  (She knows such things.) 

I replied, “You’re right, but I’ve been waiting two months for this evening,” which was no less true.

Why?  Let’s call the roll:

Andy Schumm, cornet (sitting in for a traveling Jon-Erik Kellso); Dan Barrett, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, bass sax.

And I didn’t even know that there were going to be august guests, that Vince Giordano would sit in on tenor guitar, that Dan Block and John Otto would bring their clarinets, that I would get to hear saxophonist Ned Goold, and that I would meet the thoroughly captivating singer Jerron Paxton. 

Had I known all this in advance, I might have camped out at the bar of The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) a day in advance. 

But we got there in time, I situated myself in proper video range (near pals Jim and Grace Balantic, Rob Rothberg, Bill and Sonya Dunham, and Lucy Weinman), and here’s what happened.  I’m thrilled by what I witnessed and recorded: a dozen beauties, a jazz bouquet.  (And I wasn’t the only one feeling blissful: look at the expressions on the faces of the musicians!)

The EarRegulars began with a bouncy CHINA BOY — recalling not just Bix and Whiteman, but also Bechet-Spanier and the Condon gang:

A rousing opener usually is followed by something in a medium-tempo, but not for these fellows: someone suggested the lovely, sad/hopeful Irving Berlin song WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, which evokes Bing and Fats as well as Bix (or Secrest, you choose):

Dan Barrett called for MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (or, as Cutty Cutshall used to say, MAHONEY’S); he and Andy knew the verse and leaped in, and then Dan vocalized — splendidly and wittily:

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL could have been the title of this posting and an apt summation of the whole night:

A sweetly pensive SLEEPY TIME GAL (in a Red Nichols IDA mood) was next, with Scott singing out on his bass saxophone:

Clarinetist John Otto joined in, and Vince Giordano added his own special pulse to the rhythm section. Dan Barrett suggested one of his favorite jam tunes, the early-Thirties number, its title a wistful plaint, its tempo more optimistic, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?:

WEARY BLUES is always too joyous to live up to its name, and this version was a honey — with Scott picking up his flea-market trumpet, then (to my delight and astonishment) Dan putting his own mouthpiece on it and swinging out!

YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME demands a chase chorus in honor of Bix and Tram– Dan Block had joined the EarRegulars and the three horns conversed diligently and sagely on this 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic:

Then something even more remarkable (and cinematic) happened.  A substantial young man, handsome and casually imposing — he would have been all these things even if he hadn’t been wearing down-home overalls — was asked by Matt Munisteri to sing.  (Thank you, Matt!) 

I’LL BE A FRIEND “WITH PLEASURE” is thought of as a wounded dirge, although the Condonites tried to turn it into a romp on their BIXIELAND album.  People who know the original recording well start cringing well in advance of Wesley Vaughan’s sweetly effete “vocal.” 

When the young man started to sing, I nearly fell off my barstool.  Although his strong musical personality was evident from the first phrase, he put himself at the service of the song, with an unaffected but deeply moving style that comes from his shoes on up.  His name is Jerron Paxton; he later told me he was “half blind,” and his business card reads MUSICIANER.  Hear for yourself; he’s astounding!  (The serious bespectacled man sitting behind Jerron is photographer John Rogers, a jazz devotee of the finest kind):

Then saxophonist Ned Goold joined the band, to great effect — soloing in a deliciously individualistic way and placing himself perfectly in the band riffs.  Jerron sat out MARGIE, which swung delightfully: Bix and Tram and Lester and Jo would have been happy with this version.  Scott quoted HANDFUL OF KEYS; Dan Barrett became Tricky Dan Nanton; Andy and Matt duetted (!), and Scott picked up his trumpet once again:

I was hoping that Jerron would be asked to sing again (not being able to believe my ears) and Matt must have read my mind, for he invited Jerron for BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU — which melded swing and melancholy.  Dan Barrett’s muted sound is a joy, and Scott just sang on his bass saxophone:

Even in Soho, everyone has to go home sometime, and things ended with JAZZ ME BLUES: 

Driving home, I felt thoroughly jazzed, completely elated.  Although many times the recordings one makes at the gig (audio or video) seem diminished, pallid in the unforgiving light of day, these continue to amaze.

And the young man from Wisconsin?  He doesn’t need me to trumpet his glories: music speaks louder than words, most beautifully, in Andy’s case.

Jim Balantic, seated next to me, leaned over and whispered, “This is the greatest night of my life.”  I don’t know if that statement would stand up under hypnosis or truth serum, but I certainly know how he felt. 

In case you’re new here, singular versions of this musical magic take place every Sunday night from 8-11 at The Ear Inn.  This evening was extraordinary but not in the least atypical!

DAN BARRETT and THE EarRegulars (Oct. 17, 2010)

Sadly, Dan Barrett is flying back to California as I write this.  I know he’ll be happy to be reunited with Laura and Andy, but we’ll miss him here terribly.

In the past ten days, he’s done a number of club gigs, a concert, a private party, and maybe some other playing I missed.  I couldn’t follow him around as much as I would have liked, but I did catch him on video on three occasions — twice at The Ear Inn and once at Arthur’s Tavern with Bill Dunham’s Grove Street Stompers. 

Highlights of those three glorious nights are a-coming! 

I don’t know when Dan touched down in New York City, but after a triumphant jazz afternoon playing alongside Dan Levinson, Dan Tobias, Keith Ingham, and Kevin Dorn in celebration of Ray Cerino’s ninety-first birthday party, a joyous event, Dan (after a nap) made his way downtown to that Soho salon of swing, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) for another Sunday extravaganza with The EarRegulars. 

Here are several performances, featuring the charter co-leaders Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet) and Matt Munisteri (guitar), with Joel Forbes (bass) and several esteemed joiners-in.

How about a paean to the power of love to keep superstition at bay that isn’t YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME?  Rather, I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED, memorably done by Louis and Fats in their respective recording studios in 1935:

Someone requested DONNA LEE, perhaps knowing what a delicious meal the EarRegulars could make of this variation on INDIANA:

Jon-Erik gave the trumpet chair to his friend and ours Danny Tobias, and the two Dans lingered deliciously in a wistful IF I HAD YOU:

Jon-Erik came back to make a three-man brass frontline.  They did a beautiful job on that old favorite, LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART, with the innocently tender lyrics.  And the instrumental trades near the end are worth their weight in Vocalion test pressings:

And the second-set jam session called in Dan Block (clarinet) and Simon Wettenhall (on Eb alto horn rather than trumpet) for a lively ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash, I hope it’s Sunday night at The Ear Inn!  (Incidentally, many more marvelous things happened . . . but you’d have to be there to share the experience.  There’s nothing like seeing this music live!)

DAN BARRETT IS COMING EAST!

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call Dan Barrett one of the greatest jazz musicians I’ve ever heard.  In an age that seems to think multi-tasking the highest virtue, he’s a splendidly gifted trombonist, cornetist, pianist, singer, arranger, composer, and artistic sparkplug.  Any band that has Dan in it is already operating at a higher level of inspired play. 

Those of us who live on the East Coast don’t get to see and hear Dan as often as we’d like, but this is about to be remedied for a too-brief period.  “Mark it down,” as Billie growled on MISS BROWN TO YOU.  Here are the dates (at present) for Dan’s tri-state sojourn: I’ll be attending as many of these events as I can.   

Sunday, Oct 17: The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York) with Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars: 8 – 11 PM.

Monday, Oct 18th: Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street (New York City) with the Grove Street Stompers.  Dan will be playing cornet with pianist Bill Dunham and other hardy souls.

Tuesday, Oct 19th: Bickford Theater, Morristown, New Jersey, with Danny Tobias; Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate, and Kevin Dorn. 

Sunday, Oct 24th: The Ear Inn — another version of The EarRegulars featuring Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan, trombone.

Monday, Oct 25th: Concert for the Sidney Bechet Society at the Kaye Playhouse, Hunter College,  695 Park Ave., New York (a jam session with leader Dan Levinson; Randy Reinhart; Bucky Pizzarelli; Joel Forbes; others.)

Practical matters: The Ear Inn and Arthur’s tavern are casual places, but you’ll want to show up early to sit near the band.  Bring some folding money for the tip jar to say THANKS to the hard-working musicians!

To purchase tickets for the Bechet Society jam session, visit http://kayeplayhouse.hunter.cuny.edu/tickets.shtml or call (212) 772-4448.  The Society’s website is www.sidneybechet.org.

Tickets for the Bickford Theatre concert are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Buying ahead of time, by phone, using a credit card, will shorten the lines… and reduce disappointment at the occasional sellout. Pick up your prepaid tickets in the express line that night (suggested), or have them mailed for $1 per order. Purchase at the door or via credit card over the phone. Box office: (973) 971-3706.  The Bickford is on Columbia Turnpike/Road (County Road 510) at the corner of Normandy Heights Road, east of downtown Morristown, NJ. Near Interstate 287 and the Route 24 Expressway.

THE GROVE STREET STOMPERS

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As fond as I am of the West Village, I can’t say that Grove Street is architecturally distinguished.  But it is memorable for the landmark shown above — Arthur’s Tavern — where pianist Bill Dunham has led the Grove Street Stompers for forty-seven years of Monday nights.  By even the most stringent calculations, that’s over seven thousand sets of loose improvised jazz, over seven thousand brief renditions of “Mood Indigo,” the song that the Stompers use as their closing theme.  I’ll leave it to Bill, who is charmingly gregarious, to list the great jazz players who have been regulars or guests in that astonishing long run.

Last night was a particularly unusual Monday for me: my college had closed itself down because of the snow, and I was unexpectedly free to hear some live jazz.  I hadn’t been at Arthur’s for some time, so I decided to visit an old haunt.  Bill had told me that his front line was going to feature cornetist Randy Reinhart and clarinetist Joe Muranyi, which was an inducement to brave the cold winds.  Bill would be on piano, and regulars Peter Ballance (trombone and general keeper-of-decorum) and drummer Giampaolo Biagi would be there.  Bassist Tim Ferguson and pianist-visitor Ron Ferry completed the dramatis personae.

The Stompers are a home-grown jazz band in the finest old style: drawing on a wide variety of material, they take medium-tempo jogs through spirituals, pop tunes, Tin Pan Alley classics, Condon and Armstrong favorites, and jazz evergreens.  Last night, “Dixieland” was represented by CHINA BOY, CHANGES MADE, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?, I FOUND A NEW BABY, JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE, SWEET GEORGIA BROWN and a few more.  But the band’s range is happily broader: THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE, WININ’ BOY BLUES, OUT OF NOWHERE, and MY BUDDY lit up the place.

A word about “lighting up the place.”  The Tavern should be seen not only for the music, but for its general decor.  On the wall above my head, signs wishing me a Happy Halloween were much in evidence; over the bar’s cash register was a sign reading CLOSED, and strings of brightly colored lights — Christmas, probably — are always on.  The wine list is, shall we say, limited, but the amiable waitress was busy supplying everyone’s alcohol-related needs.  I was fortunate to be among friendly Spouses: Sonya Dunham and Nina Favara (Mrs. Reinhart) who were listening intently and cheering the band on.

And the music?  Well, the Stompers are the very antithesis of slick.  Yes, there is an occasional lead sheet passed around in case someone in uncertain about the chords on the bridge, but any arranging is done in the heat of the moment.  Last night, Randy decided, as he always does, to act as a prime mover, and he drove the band, choosing to play brass eight-bar trades with trombonist Peter, to leap into solos as if his life depended on it, to show off his beautiful command of the horn from bottom to top, mixing Berigan and Fifties Mainstream with delicacy and fervor.  Joe Muranyi, who’s seen many ensembles come and go, including Louis’s, was in fine quiet form, showing off his lovely chalumeau register.  The regulars — Bill, Peter, and Giampaolo — aren’t fancy, and their solos are concise, but they’ve got the feeling.  And Tim Ferguson, someone I’d not heard before, kept everything in good order and took nice resonant solos.

This musical convocation takes place from 7-10 on Monday nights, and worth the trip — just south of the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square subway stop.  The Stompers won’t necessarily be there for another forty-seven years, so you might well want to visit.

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AWFUL SAD . . .

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I didn’t have to go to graduate school to learn that things come to an end, including the summer, the bag of potato chips, and the cup of Earl Grey tea.  Of course we know that change may be the only constant.  But I was saddened to find that Jon-Erik Kellso’s Sunday gig at Sweet Rhythm is no more.

The reasons surely weren’t musical, and the audience had grown exponentially from the first Sunday to the fourth, which was November 16.  No, the gig ended for economic reasons, understandable but sorrowful nonetheless.  I envision this blog as a place to celebrate, so I will not embark on dark ruminations.

What I prefer to do here is thank the musicians who played so beautifully: Jon-Erik, Chuck Wilson, Will Anderson, Peter Reardon-Anderson, John Allred, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello, Kelly Friesen, Andrew Swann, and a host of gifted sitters-in including Lisa Hearns and Adrian Cunningham.  And the Friends of Jazz who filled the room: the Beloved, of course; Jackie, Lala, and Nina Favara; Bill and Sonya Dunham; Dick Dreiwitz; Jim and Grace Balantic; Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  And thanks to the people I didn’t get to meet who grinned and clapped and were moved along with us.

The music lives on in our memories and on YouTube.  You can visit my “swingyoucats” account and Jim’s “recquilt” for clips on this band in action.  But even the best live video isn’t the same thing.

AWFUL SAD, to quote Ellington.

OUR OWN FOUR-DAY NYC JAZZ FESTIVAL

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This remarkable weekend began on Friday night (November 7) at the New York Historical Society on Central Park West, with a free one-hour concert featuring bassist-singer-composer Jay Leonhart, amidst what the MC introduced, somewhat oddly, as “rising stars” Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals, Ted Rosenthal, piano, and Alvin Atkinson, drums. The program mixed several Richard Rodgers classics, “Shall We Dance,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” Bernstein’s “Cool,” with two Leonhart originals and a closing romp through “Lester Leaps In.”  Rosenthal sparkled; Atkinson swung.

But the high point of the evening was an exploration of what Leonhart called “a jazz prayer,” “Body and Soul.”  That 1930 song can be a problem for musicians, as it has been played so nobly by so many: Coleman Hawkins, Louis, Bird in his first flights, Duke and Blanton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Lucky Thompson, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, the Benny Goodman Trio, etc.   This performance began with Leonhart’s arco solo and then reached heights with Wycliffe’s plunger-muted, stately exploration of the theme.  Wycliffe knows full well how to honor a melody rather than simply leaping into variations on chord changes).  Waggling his plunger in and out, he mixed growls and moans, naughty comedy and deep sighs, as if Tricky Sam Nanton or Vic Dickenson was playing a hymn.  The solo ended all too soon.

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Not only was the concert free, but the museum was open to all, so the Beloved and I wandered through lovely landscape paintings.  Future Fridays at the NYHS (all beginning at 6:30 PM) will feature The Western Wind (a contemporary classical vocal sextet) on November 14, on the 21, guitarists from the Manhattan School of Music (teachers and proteges); Cheryl B. Engelhardt and Oscar Rodriguez (guitar) on December 5, jazz again on December 12, with Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Tootie Heath, and ending with Latin music on the 19th from the Samuel Torres Group.

We rested on Saturday to prepare ourselves for the exuberances to come.

Sunday afternoon found us at Sweet Rhythm on Seventh Avenue South for the third gathering of Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends: this time bassist Kelly Friesen, drummer Andrew Swann, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and reedman Peter Reardon-Anderson, doubling tenor and clarinet.  Hyperbole is a dangerous thing, but I came away from these two sets thinking that I had heard the most exciting jazz in years.

I so admire Jon-Erik’s ability to shape an ad hoc ensemble into a cohesive one, and he did it through the two sets, creating jazz that was of this time and place, looking back to New Orleans and collective improvisation, forward to contemporary “Mainstream” solos.  If I kept thinking of Keynote Records 1943-46, perhaps that’s because those jubilant performances kept being evoked on the stand at Sweet Rhythm.  Rossano strode and glided, sometimes in a Basie mood (appropriately) on “Doggin’ Around” and “Topsy”; Kelly took the glories of Milt Hinton (powerful rhythm, a huge tone, beautiful arco work on “All Too Soon”) and made them his own, and Andrew Swann, slyly grinning, added Sidney Catlett and Cliff Leeman to his swinging progenitors.  Anderson, twenty-one years old, is someone we can greet at the beginning of a brilliant career (to quote Emerson on Whitman): Zoot Sims and Ed Hall stand in back of his graceful, energetic playing.  Basie got honored, but so did Bing and Louis in “I Surrender, Dear,” and Kellso reminded us that not only is he playing marvelously but he is a first-rate composer: his line on “Linger Awhile” was a memorable hide-and-seek creation.  We cheered this band, and with good reason.

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And the room was full of Jazz Friends who didn’t get up on the bandstand: Bill and Sonya Dunham, Jim and Grace Balantic, Nina Favara, Lawri Moore, Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  A righteous congregation!

And the five portraits you see here — from the top, Jon-Erik, Rossano, Kelly, Andrew, and Peter — come from this gig, courtesy of Lorna Sass, jazz photographer.

Perhaps I am a jazz glutton, but those two sets weren’t enough: I walked downtown to the Ear Inn to soak up one more set by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik, Chris Flory on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass, and Michael Blake on tenor, someone entirely new to me.  (He and Jon-Erik go ‘way back, although they hadn’t played together in years.)  Blake is exceedingly amiable, so we found ourselves chatting at the bar — about small towns near Victoria (Souk for one) and Pee Wee Russell, about the odd and gratifying ways people come to jazz, about Lucky Thompson and jazz clarinet.  Then it was time for the EarRegulars to hit, and they surely did — from a “Blue Skies” that became “In Walked Bud,” to Blake’s feature on (what else?) “Body and Soul.”  Here, backed by the wonderfully sensitive duo of Chris and Greg, he broke the theme into fragments, speculating on their possibilities, becoming harmonically bolder with a tone that ranged from purring to rasping (some echoes of Lacy), exploring the range of his instrument in a delicate, earnest, probing way.  It was a masterful performance, and I am particularly delighted to encounter such brave creativity from a player I didn’t know before.

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Of course, the near-collisions of beauty and contemporary weirdness never fail to amaze.  I was sitting at the bar at the Ear, welcomed there by Victor, who knows more jazz than most critics.  At the bar, to my left, three and sometimes four people were facing away from the band, hunched over their Black Berry or Black Berries, their iPhones, what have you.  Electronically glowing tiny screens, blue and white, shone throughout the club.  I too am a techno-addict — but why go to a bar to check your BlackBerry and ignore the live art being created not five feet away?  To treat Kellso, Blake, Flory, and Cohen as background music seems oblivious or rude.

Monday there was work — but that is always a finite obligation, even when it looms inescapably — but soon I was back in Manhattan, drawn inexorably with the Beloved to Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and Ninth Street) to hear two groups in one night.  Banjo Jim’s seems ideal — small, congenial, a private neighborhood bar full of young people listening to the music, a real blessing.

The first group was full of old friends — Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  This incarnation included Charlie Caranicas on cornet, Michael Hashim on alto sax, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, Jesse Gelber on piano, Kevin on drums.  Kevin kicked things off with a romping “I Want To Be Happy,” explicitly summoning up the 1972 New School concert where Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood — someone named Eddie Condon in charge — showed what could be done with that simple line.  (I was at that concert, too.)  J. Walter Hawkes, one of my favorite unsung singers, did his wonderful, yearning “Rose Room.”  Barbara Rosene sat in for a thoughtful “Pennies From Heaven,” complete with the fairy-tale verse, and the proceedings closed with a hot “China Boy.”

And then — as if it that hadn’t been enough — the Cangelosi Cards took the stand.  They are the stuff of local legend and they deserve every accolade.  A loosely-arranged ensemble: Jake Sanders on acoustic guitar, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Gordon Webster on piano, Karl Meyer on violin, Cassidy Holden on bass.  They are all fine players, better than many with larger reputations.  I thought I heard a drummer but saw no one at the trap set: later I found out that their singer, Tamar Korn, has a remarkable vocabulary of clicks, hisses, and swishes — she fooled me and she swung.  The group has a Django-and-Stephane flavor, but they are not prisoners of that sound, that chugging rhythm, that repertoire.  They began with “Douce Ambiance,” moved to Harry Barris’s “It Was So Beautiful,” and then Eddie Durham’s “Topsy.”

Early on in the set, it became clear that this band has a devoted following — not just of listeners, but of dancers, who threw themselves into making the music physically three-dimensional in a limited space.  Wonderful inspired on-the-spot choreography added to the occasion, an exultant Happening.

Then Tamar Korn got up to sing — she is so petite that I hadn’t quite seen her, because I was seated at the back of the small square room.  But I heard her, and her five songs are still vibrating in my mind as I write this.  Without attempting to be mysterious in any way (she is friendly and open) she is someone unusual.  Rumor has it that she hails from California, but I secretly believe she is not from our planetary system.  When I’ve suggested this to her, she laughs . . . but doesn’t deny it.

Tamar’s singing is focused, experimental, powerful.  In her performance of “Avalon,” she began by singing the lyrics clearly, with emotion but not ever “acting,” then shifted into a wordless line, high long held notes in harmony with the horns, as if she were Adelaide Hall or a soprano saxophone, then did two choruses of the most evocative scat-singing I’ve ever heard (it went beyond Leo Watson into pure sound) and then came back to the lyrics.

Her voice is small but not narrow, her range impressive.  What I find most exhilirating is the freedom of her approach: I hear old-time country music (not, I must add, “country and western,” but real roots music), blues and bluegrass, the parlor soprano essaying light classics, opera, yodeling, swing — and pure sound.  She never appears to be singing a song in any formulaic way.  Rather, she is a vessel through whom the force of music passes: she is embraced by the emotions, the notes, the words.

And when the Cards invited their friends — that is, Charlie Caranicas, Michael Hashim, and Jesse Gelber — to join them for “Milenberg Joys,” “I’m Confessin’,” and “Avalon,” it was as close to soul-stirring ritual in a New York club as I can remember.  The room vibrated; the dancers threw their hands in the air, people stood up to see better, the music expressed intense joy.  I don’t know whether Margaret Mead had rhythm in her feet, but she would have recognized what went on at Banjo Jim’s.

oaxaca-10-08-jazz-11-08-0741

I hope to have video, thanks to Flip, to post shortly.  Tune in again!  (And another weekend is coming soon . . . tempus fugit isn’t so terrifying when there are glories like this to look forward to.)

Only in New York, I am sure.

All photographs by Lorna Sass, copyright 2008.

UP TO DATE WITH BILL DUNHAM

Hi…………..
– Last Monday was a bumper night at Arthur’s Tavern – the West Side’s smartest supper club. Sitting in was Jiri Kripac, a pocket cornet player from Australia (Bob Barnard referred him). He is a hot player and along with our regular hot cornet player, Scott Black, we peeled some paint off the wall. Subbing for our regular bass player was Brian Nalepka of Manhattan Rhythm Kings fame. Also sitting in was Jack Watanabe – a Japanese stride piano player.
– The Monday before Gary Pace (clarinetist Sol’s son) sat in on piano. Great player!
– Notes from the world of jazz violin players:
– Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, a 13 year old violin player, also sat in with us on the Monday cited above. Jonathan started sitting in with us once a month starting when he was a mop-haired 7 year old.! He has really developed. He recently won the WINS “Tomorrow’s Newsmaker” award in the field of Arts and Entertainment. Past winners have all been classical musicians. He is also playing with Wynton Marsalis and the JALC orchestra on Nov. 6,7 & 8 at Rose Hall as a guest artist in the Nursery Song Swing Series. Quite an accomplishment.
–    A friend dragged me up to Dizzy’s Place at 11:00 P.M. to hear the Caswell Sisters group featuring Sara Caswell on hot violin. I’m glad I went. She is extraordinary – what technique! Turns out she was once Jonathan’s teacher.
Cabaret notes:
–Except to hear Barbara Lea I’m not one to go to cabaret shows. We however have a friend, Chris Marlowe, who is an excellent arranger and piano player for singers who is highly sought after by the top singers. Mostly to see and hear him we went to the Metropolitan Room to hear Marianne Challis. Wow! what an act – great singer with a really funny routine and stage persona! I highly recommend Challis! She’s the one who told this one:
A chicken and an egg were lying on a bed recovering from a steamy session. The egg rolled over and said to the chicken, ” Well, we certainly have the answer to the proverbial question!”
I arranged to have Marianne and Chris booked into the Harvard Club recently and she laid (Ha Ha) that joke on the well heeled audience. I was the only one who laughed! Not to worry, said the entertainment director at the club, it is very difficult to get a Harvard Club audience to laugh at anything!
Regards
Stringer Minion
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BILL DUNHAM’S GOTHAM NEWS

An email received yesterday from Bill Dunham, pianist-leader and eminence of The Grove Street Stompers, who shake things up every Monday night at Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street:

         You should have been there! We went to the tribute and benefit for Barbara Lea last night at the West Bank Cafe. Very moving! Sold out two weeks in advance. I first knew Barbara (at the time Barbara Leacock) when we were fixed up on a blind date – she at Wellesley and me at Harvard in 1950. She was a great singer even then. So good in fact that she was taken on as the vocalist with the Harvard Crimson Stompers – a student dixieland band – me a member.  Barbara as you know is not well and really doesn’t recognize anything. Very sad! She received countless warm tributes from the many stars present – Loren Schoenberg (with his Big Band including Dick Katz) , pianist Keith Ingham, many singers including Ronny Whyte, Steve Ross, Daryl Sherman, Karen Oberlin etc. They all spoke so lovingly about Barbara and what she has taught them over the years. Barbara is now 79.

 
        News Flash!! Randy Reinhart, fantastic cornetist and trombonist, is moving back to the area and is available for gigs! His cell number is (917) 273-5106. He is playing with the Grove Street Stompers this Monday at Arthur’s Tavern.
                                   Regards
                                                            Bill
 
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Bill told me today that Randy had gotten marooned in California (a cancelled flight) and so Simon Wettenhall would be taking his place this Monday . . . but I gather the esteemed and modest Mr. Reinhart will be on the New York scene (with his lovely wife Nina) in the future. 

And since a person’s medical expenses are never completely taken care of, since the bills keep coming — here’s more information about aiding Barbara Lea for those who, like myself, didn’t get to the benefit. 

 

 

 

 

Donations can be made to:  Barbara Lea Fund c/o Jeanie Wilson, 212 Ramblewood Drive, Raleigh, NC 27609.  For further information kindly contact: Sue Matsuki, 917-821-4342, or or Karen Oberlin, 917-405-5181.