Tag Archives: Bill Evans

JIMMY ROWLES, SOLO

Jimmy Rowles — a painter, sly and romantic, who sat on a piano bench — was not often recorded as a solo pianist.  Whether by choice or circumstance, I don’t know, but most often he was captured with a string bassist and drummer.  The bassists and drummers were always superb, but the half-dozen recordings of  Rowles unadorned are something extraordinary.

One can hear his chord voicings, his approach to playing in and out of time, his love for the melody.  I think his 1982 performance of HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, part of a collective tribute to Bill Evans, is subtle, sad, and quirky all at once, with touching nods to WHAT IS THERE TO SAY? and THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU as poignant salutes:

and a year earlier, for an Ellington-Strayhorn tribute, JUMPIN’ PUNKINS, where Rowles becomes the whole 1941 Ellington orchestra:

He remains a marvel, no matter how many times you hear a performance.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BEAUTY DROPS BY: JEREMY KAHN AND ANDY BROWN IN CONCERT (November 24, 2017)

Even in the most dire times — when the latest news suggests that Armaggedon is closer than next month’s credit card bill, to be followed by a few days of polar vortex — beauty is always possible and sometimes it pays a call.  You have only to be receptive to it and ready to sit still for three-quarters of an hour: and you arise from the experience nourished, joyous, rebalanced.

The creators of this latest gift of beauty are pianist Jeremy Kahn and guitarist Andy Brown — both Chicagoans, and Andy should be familiar to readers of this blog.  They performed a brief yet utterly fulfilling recital in November of last year — at the serene space provided by PianoForte in Chicago.  On paper, it was devoted to the inspired teamwork created by Bill Evans and Jim Hall, but don’t let that trick you into thinking they were imitating UNDERCURRENT, for example.

Both Jeremy and Andy are supreme melodists who pay homage to the composers and the moods created by the original songs, but they also are having fun conversing and playing.  Nothing here is childish — ask any pianist or guitarist how many decades of hard work it takes to play this way for even four beats — but they both are humorous, and sly quotes pass back and forth, including a nod to the WEST END BLUES cadenza that I will let you find for yourselves.  Or, if you’re impatient for high-level joyous musical tennis, go directly to I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN with its impish repartee or the closing MY FUNNY VALENTINE that I can only describe as slightly at an angle and happy to be there.  This is marvelous music, and it gently swings; it’s never too-much-of-the-same-thing.  I’m so grateful it happened and was recorded.

The compositions are DARN THAT DREAM / YOU GO TO MY HEAD / I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU / STAIRWAY TO THE STARS / I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN / MY FUNNY VALENTINE:

What a gift to us all.  I am, like everyone else in this century, trained by bright lights and rapidly-changing stimuli to be more impatient, but I sat for the entirety of this set, entranced: it passed like a light-hearted dream.

May your happiness increase!

“ONE OF THE GREAT WAYS TO LEARN IS TO DO SOMETHING WRONG”: JERRY DODGION SPEAKS

This interview of the splendid and splendidly durable reed master Jerry Dodgion (born in 1932) created by Ed Joffe, is quite wonderful — not only in his stories of Gerald Wilson, Charlie Mariano, Shorty Rogers, Red Norvo, Frank Sinatra, Erroll Garner, Bill Evans, Jerome Richardson, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Cannonball Adderley, Coleman Hawkins, Godwin Louis, the importance of the acoustic string bass, playing in a section, and more — but the insight Jerry offers us into the music.

What comes through here is a gentle portrait of a man thoroughly imbued with gratitude, humility, kindness.  That Jerry Dodgion is a saxophone master is beyond dispute: that he exudes the calm sweet intelligence of a fully-realized human being is also evident throughout.  “Life is a learning experience.”  “Get your pen out!”

Even if Jerry Dodgion is not familiar to you, you’ve heard his beautiful sound on many recordings, and the interview is wonderfully rewarding.  Don’t miss the final minutes of this video — his unaccompanied chorus of THAT’S ALL, which is memorable and more.

Here is the source — Joffe Woodwinds — to which we owe a debt of gratitude.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTY WITHOUT BORDERS, 1959

When I find the current news or someone’s smallness of spirit irksome or depressing, I try to turn my concentration to one evidence of Beauty close at hand.  From where I sit, a pear tree’s leaves and branches wave in front of my window.  At the right time, pink striations of sunset, glowing and ever-changing, are in that same window.  Or I can cast my mind back to Beauty, once witnessed, never elusive: this Colorado rainbow, for instance:

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014.

My readers know well the healing power of Beauty through music.  So I invite you to click on the video below and simply listen — without research, without preconceptions, without judgment . . . as if you trusted me to feed you something delicious after I’d asked you to close your eyes:

Gorgeous, understated, melodic, persuasive, no?  (If it doesn’t play in your country, there are multiple postings of this music: I picked the one that didn’t start with a high-volume advertisement.)

I come to this recording late, but gratefully — thanks to saxophone master and general inspiration Jon De Lucia, who put on a concert of some of these arrangements last Sunday at the Drawing Room.  Because of him, I purchased the CD and listened to it this morning.

Why do I present this music in such a sideways fashion?  Of course, I’d like to share what pleases me and what I believe will please my readers — hence the hours I spend on JAZZ LIVES.

But I also have an ideological purpose.  Some divide this art that we love by erecting boundaries.  THIS is the music I will listen to.  THIS is the music I shy away from.  And they apply tests, rather like someone trying to find out whether the soil is acid or alkaline.  “Is this OUR KIND OF MUSIC?”  “Is it “too modern?” “Is it tainted by . . . Swing . . . ?”

Everyone’s entitled to preferences.  I don’t trust the taste of someone who says, “I like everything!” whether it’s music, literature, food — without some discernment, a person seems blind to subtleties.  But I think sadly of people who would turn away from this music, Konitz and Giuffre, because they weren’t Papa Joe and Omer Simeon.  They deprive themselves of the possibility that some Beauty — even if initially strange or alien — could enrich them for under four minutes.

So be courageous.  Listen.  Open ears, open heart, close prejudices, knock down barriers.  Leave the Venn diagrams of PURE and IMPURE to others.

May your happiness increase!

HOD O’BRIEN, WRITER

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Pianist Hod O’Brien is a master of melodic improvisations.  If you missed his July 2015 gig at Mezzrow with bassist Ray Drummond, the evidence is here.

But here’s the beautiful part.  Some jazz musicians keep words at a distance and their expressiveness comes out through the keyboard, the brass tubing, and so on.  But Hod has written a pointed, light-hearted memoir that operates the way he plays.  His words seem simple, his constructions are never ornate, but he gets to the heart of things and leaves the reader enlightened, renewed.

HOD BOOK

The first thing to say about this book is how pleased I am to read a book by someone who, like Hod, has been an active part of jazz for six decades.  It’s not “as told to,” nor is it embellished by a jazz scholar as a posthumous tribute.  Here is part of  Hod’s preface, which reveals much about his character:

“This book is not intended to be a strictly biographical text, but, rather a collection of funny, little incidents and stories I’ve witnessed and heard along my way, on my path as a freelance jazz musician over the past 60 years of my professional life.

It’s intended mostly for fans of mine, whomever and wherever you all are, and fellow musicians, who might be interested in hearing a little bit more about me from another perspective, rather than from just my music and recordings alone. . . . The jazz community is a small, but hip part of the world, of which I’m happy and proud to be a member, and to whom I wish to express my deep gratitude — to those of you in it and interested in my work.”

I was immediately struck by Hod’s self-description as “happy and proud,” and the book bears him out.  “Proud” doesn’t mean immodest — in fact, Hod constantly seems delighted and amazed at the musicians he’s gotten to play with, but his happiness is a great and reassuring undercurrent in the book.  (When was the last time you met someone deeply nourished by his or her work?  Hod is that person.)

His  book moves quickly: at the start he is a child picking out one-finger melodies on the piano, learning boogie-woogie, hearing JATP and bebop recordings; a few pages later it is 1955 and he filling in for Randy Weston at a gig in Massachusetts, hearing Pepper Adams, getting threatened by Charles Mingus, meeting and playing with Zoot Sims and Bob Brookmeyer.  Oscar Pettiford (called “Pet” by Thad Jones) gets a longer portrait.  The O.P. portrait is so good that I won’t spoil it, but it has cameo appearances by Bill Evans and Paul Chambers, Chet Baker, and Philly Joe Jones.  In case you are realizing that Hod has managed to play with or hear or meet many jazz luminaries in the past sixty years, that alone is reason to buy the book.  There’s J.R. Monterose and a defective piano, a compromised Wilbur Ware, friendliness from Max Roach and Arthur Taylor.

The book (and Hod’s life) takes a surprising turn with Hod losing interest in his jazz career, studying with Charles Wuorinen, and delving into physics, higher mathematics, and early computer programming.  But a reunion with his old friend Roswell Rudd moves him back to performance and the club scene.

Interruption: for those of you who can only read about doomed heroic figures, victims, or the chronically self-destructive, this is not such a book.  Hod has setbacks but makes friends and makes music; he marries the fine singer Stephanie Nakasian, and they remain happily married, with a singer in the family, daughter Veronica Swift (born in 1994) — who just won second place in the Thelonious Monk jazz competition.  Now back to our regularly scheduled narrative.

Hod’s experiences as a clubowner are somewhere between surreal, hilarious, and sad — but his reminiscences of Sonny Greer (and a birthday gift), Joe Puma, Chuck Wayne, Al Haig, Stan Getz, and the little East Side club called Gregory’s (which I remember although I didn’t see Hod there).  There’s  Hod’s playing a set with Dizzy, Ornette, Ed Blackwell, and Teddy Kotick . . . and much more, including more than fifty photographs, a discography, and a list of Hod’s compositions: very nicely done at 122 pages.

You can buy it here — and you can also find out more about Hod . . . such as his return to Mezzrow on March 18-19, 2016. But until then, you can entertain yourself with a copy of HAVE PIANO . . . WILL SWING! — a book that surely lives up to its title.

May your happiness increase!

“BEAUTIFUL LOVE, YOU’RE ALL A MYSTERY”: REBECCA KILGORE / KEITH INGHAM (ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY, September 19, 2014)

BEAUTIFUL LOVE Bing

The haunting waltz BEAUTIFUL LOVE was composed in 1931, music credited to Wayne King, Victor Young, and Egbert Van Alstyne; lyrics to Haven Gillespie. That is an eminent group of artists.  I don’t know whether King insisted that his name be put on the music (thus, he would receive royalties) before he would perform the song.  On no evidence whatsoever, I think Victor Young might be most responsible for this melody.

I do know that I first became aware of BEAUTIFUL LOVE through one or another 1934 Art Tatum recording.  Here is his early Decca improvisation, characteristically with everything imaginable offered, including a vivid digression into RUSSIAN LULLABY:

There are, of course, many improvisations on it by Bill Evans, by Helen Merrill, Anita O’Day, Benny Carter, Joe Pass, Kenny Dorham, Lee Konitz, Shirley Horn, George Shearing, and a sweet, intent one by Bing Crosby.

What other song can you think of that has been recorded by both Donald Lambert and Chick Corea?

In this century, the song retains its popularity among improvisers, if YouTube videos are a measure of that.  Here is a sheet music cover from 1959 with the UK pop singer Edna Savage posing inexplicably:

BEAUTIFUL LOVE Edna Savage

But my new favorite performance of BEAUTIFUL LOVE is this, which took place at the Allegheny Jazz Party on September 19, 2014  —

That’s our Rebecca, Becky Kilgore, and Keith Ingham — in one of their duets in a Victor Young tribute set.  I so admire the varied textures and shadings Becky brings to individual words and to those words, made into tapestries of sound and feeling.  The most modest of stars, she is a great understated dramatic actress who seems never to act; she is possessed by the song and rides its great arching wings.

Love is of course the great mystery, whether it is gratified or if it remains elusive.  How the great artists touch us so deeply is perhaps mysterious.  But what we feel and perceive is not — whether we experience it in person or on a recording or a video performance.

To experience an unforgettable weekend of music by Becky and friends, one need only visit here to find out all one needs to know about the Allegheny Jazz Party, taking place in Cleveland, Ohio, September 10-13, 2015.

May your happiness increase!

JOURNEY TO UNMAPPED PLACES: “JAZZ LIVES: TILL WE SHALL MEET AND NEVER PART” by JAAP VAN DE KLOMP

JazzLives Blog

Between 2005 and 2008, the Dutch photographer and jazz scholar Jaap van de Klomp began a series of soulful pilgrimages in honor of the men and women who had created the music he so loves.

The result is the lovely and often sad book of photographs, JAZZ LIVES, which takes its subtitle, TILL WE SHALL MEET AND NEVER PART, from the words chiseled into Lester Young’s gravestone.

Yes, gravestone.

Every jazz lover knows the familiar photographs of our heroes and heroines: Billie Holiday with her dog; Louis Armstrong snappily dressed in London; Charlie Parker on the bandstand.  But where are our idols now?

The two hundred and more pages of JAZZ LIVES document where their mortal remains lie: with elaborate gravestones, unmarked plots of overgrown land, monuments proud and forlorn.  Jaap took his camera across the United States and Europe to capture these landscapes, resulting in a heartfelt pilgrimage to shrines of the dead. Each photograph is accompanied by a concise biography by Scott Yanow, and the book is organized by instruments once played.

The gravestones sometimes speak of posthumous reputation and fame: huge blocks of costly stone or unmarked areas of grass.  A monument for Ellington and empty space for Bud Powell.  An essay by Dan Morgenstern opens the book; one by the jazz musician and writer Bill Crow closes it. A simply written but evocative essay by the photographer himself explains something about his travels.

But the graves say so much — by presence and absence, reality and implication — about Scott Joplin, King Oliver, Serge Chaloff, Vic Dickenson, Andrew Hill, Sarah Vaughan, Illinois Jacquet, Django Reinhardt, Jack Teagarden, Britt Woodman, Al Grey, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, John Carter, Russell Procope, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Dorsey, Eric Dolphy, Willie the Lion Smith, Gigi Gryce, Roland Kirk, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Wardell Gray, Stuff Smith, Red Norvo, Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton, Hank Mobley, Jelly Roll Morton, Art Tatum, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Teddy Wilson, Herbie Nichols, Eddie Lang, Charlie Christian, Grant Green, Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro, Milt Hinton, Jimmie Blanton, George Duvivier, Jo Jones, Zutty Singleton, Denzil Best, Billy Higgins, Sidney Catlett, Gene Krupa, Chick Webb, Ivie Anderson, Bessie Smith, Jimmy Rushing, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Johnny Hartman, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Billy Strayhorn, Sun Ra, Bennie Moten, W. C. Handy, Tadd Dameron, Benny Carter, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, and others.

To give some sense of the breadth of his searching, the gravestones of trumpet players included in this book are: Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Hot Lips Page, Henry Red Allen, Cootie Williams, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, Booker Little, Lee Morgan, Lester Bowie.

Jaap, born in 1940, has been involved with the music and the musicians for more than half a century, including Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Donald Byrd, Kenny Drew, and Kenny Clarke among others.

But he is not only a person of great feeling and a fine photographer.  Jaap is one of those rare souls who wants to share what he has done.  He wrote this to me, “The book which is sold out in the Netherlands by now will not be reprinted and has been proven to be physically too heavy for worldwide distribution. In this form I still hope to reach more jazz enthusiasts with a book which was a great pleasure to make.and which is still a very dear project to me.”

He has offered to make his book available as a digital download — for free — to anyone who emails him at info@jaapvandeklomp.nl  with JazzLives in the subject line.  The whole book is about 150 MB and it might take a few minutes to download.

This is generosity without hidden motive, and it is a beautiful work of art and devotion.

May your happiness increase!

ABIGAIL RICCARDS: HER HEART IS IN HER SONG

Two years ago, the pianist Michael Kanan invited me to hear and video his duo-recital with the singer Abigail Riccards, who was moving from New York to Chicago.  I had not heard of Abigail, but Michael’s endorsement of any artist is an unshakable statement of the artist’s deep value.  I was immediately impressed with Abby’s steady pace, her wise understanding of lyrics, her ability to evoke feelings in us with even the most familiar song, and her light-hearted swing.

Here they are with a prayerful ALL THE WAY: you’ll get the idea of what so struck me, and everyone else listening — the warmth, openness, intelligence, and empathy of Abigail’s singing.

I’ve been waiting for a CD that would show Abigail at her best, and EVERY LITTLE STAR is it.

abigailriccard_everylittlestar_cmb

Co-produced by Jane Monheit and Abigail herself, it is a consistent delight.  Some of that is due to the musicians she asked to join her: Michael on piano, Peter Bernstein, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.  Some of it is due to the sprightly mix of songs Abigail has chosen: old favorites made new — I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR / SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN / IF I HAD YOU / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN / A SLEEPIN’ BEE / I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SMILE / BYE BYE BLACKBIRD / WALTZ FOR DEBBY — and an original by Jeannie Tanner, ENDLESS JOY, and Joni Mitchell’s CIRCLE GAME (a duet for Abigail and Jane).

But this isn’t another program of a youthful singer offering up songs everyone knows in predictable ways.  You will quickly admire the easy, conversational way Abigail delivers the lyrics — words uttered as if the thoughts were hers — and her sweet improvisations, which shed light on the song rather than superimposing her ego on the composer’s.  Her generous spirit comes through in the substantial space she gives to Michael, Neal, Peter, and Eliot — so that when she returns after their instrumental interludes, it is as if she is now being carried triumphantly on their shoulders.

The tempos chosen are also deliciously insightful: ballads never drag and the quicker songs don’t rush.  Little arranging touches raise each performance well above the familiar: a wordless prelude to IF I HAD YOU; a nifty beginning to HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?; the way Abigail and Jane intertwine on CIRCLE GAME; the tender way she and the band approach I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU; the bouncing scat chorus with which she begins I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE before shifting to another key. . .

My current favorites — instant classics! — are a Riccards / Kanan duet of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN that begins with an slow rubato reading of the verse, then slowly tumbles into the chorus . . . where we hear singer and pianist discovering this 1929 classic as if for the first time.  I couldn’t immediately place where I had heard such intimacy before, then it hit me — the Fifties duets of Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins.  The same qualities are evident throughout A SLEEPIN’ BEE, a Riccards / Kanan duet.  And in the Riccards / Bernstein SMILE, tender and rueful without being melancholic.

On the dozen songs that make up this varied program, Abigail Riccards proves herself not only a splendidly intuitive singer, but an artist who is the equal of the fine improvising instrumentalists around her.

Now, hearing this, you could choose to explore the banquet of live performances Abigail Riccards has on YouTube, and I wouldn’t blame you a bit.  But I would urge you to take the leap forward into purchasing this CD here.  All CD sales go to ArtStrides (a nonprofit program for special needs and financially disadvantaged children) so you benefit them by your generosity and you benefit yourself by having this music to listen to often.  

May your happiness increase!

SWEET WITCHCRAFT: DARYL SHERMAN at JAZZ at KITANO — with SCOTT ROBINSON and HARVIE S (April 18, 2013)

I had my first visit to the very cozy Jazz at Kitano a few weeks ago for a delightful set by singer / pianist / storyteller Daryl Sherman, accompanied by the multi-talented Scott Robinson and the very swinging string bassist Harvie S.  Here are some of the auditory delights of the first set.  Daryl draws on all kinds of music — familiar to obscure, from show tunes to hot jazz classics, always neatly accompanying herself with great style.

(I must apologize for the slightly muzzy quality of the visual image, which puzzles me.  Was Mercury in retrograde; were there sunspots; had my camera gotten into the gin when I’d put it down on the bar for a second?  For those who object to such imperfections, please pretend that what follows is divinely-inspired radio.)

Sorcery on the East Side — another way of reconsidering WITCHCRAFT (with a musical explanation of that unusual-looking reed by Magus Robinson):

Without being in the least disloyal to her extraordinary father, trombonist Sammy Sherman, Daryl tells a story of how she might have had a different parent.  A delightful visit to the land of WHAT IF:

One of Louis Armstrong’s less-known endearing Socialist specialties, a heartfelt reading of RED CAP (with Scott on the taragota given to him by Louis-alumnus Joe Muranyi):

The very pretty MIDNIGHT SUN:

A song — quite endearing — I’d never heard before — IN APRIL.  (The melody is Bill Evans’ FOR NENETTE; the lyrics are by Roger Schore, who was in the audience):

THEM THERE EYES is from 1930 but it never gets old:

Brilliantly at play — puckish and expert all at once.

May your happiness increase!

EXPLORING FROM THE OUTSIDE IN: LUCIANO TROJA, GIANCARLO MAZZÙ, BLAISE SIWULA at the CASA ITALIANA (April 29, 2013)

Here’s what I wrote in anticipation of the April 29 concert appearance of guitarist Giancarlo, pianist Luciano, and special guest saxophonist Blaise Siwula at New York University’s Casa Italiana.  I had expected wise, playful inquiries into jazz standards in the manner of Jimmy Rowles and Joe Pass, of Rowles and Al Cohn.  I wasn’t disappointed, but the music was at such a gloriously high level while seeming the most casual amused conversation amid friends.  And they usually began someplace far from an orthodox melody statement — but as if tentatively approaching the familiar from a distance — worked their way to the familiar.  I alternated between being moved and being ready to burst out laughing — not a bad combination.

Luciano began with a short solo piano tribute to the recently departed composer Earl Zindars (you know his compositions because of the love Bill Evans had for Zindars’ music): MOTHER OF EARL and ROSES FOR ANNIG.  (For a whole CD of such lovely music, look for Luciano’s AT HOME WITH ZINDARS):

Giancarlo — master of unusual tonalities, from the near-acoustic murmurings of a mandolin-strumming gondolier to the more familiar electric spectrum —  joined him for BUT NOT FOR ME:

SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE:

AUTUMN LEAVES:

A marvelously elliptical MY FUNNY VALENTINE for the trio:

Their transformation of BYE BYE BLACKBIRD:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, their tribute to New York City:

As an encore, YOU AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC:

I have a new CD by the duo — recorded live at New York’s Metropolitan Room in 2012 — and I will report on its pleasures and queries soon.  I also gather that the duo has recorded a yet-unreleased CD of songs associated with Fred Astaire.  I can’t wait for that — I am sure it continues their playful, warm, even romantic explorations of those songs we think we know so well.

May your happiness increase!

ROBERTA AND BILLY GO EXPLORING: “SIDES, COLORS”: ROBERTA PIKET / BILLY MINTZ

Anyone who’s ever been in the same room with pianist / singer / composer Roberta Piket and drummer / percussionist / composer Billy Mintz would sense the deep emotional connection between them — a good thing, since they are married, quite happily.  But the connection is also musical.  I’ve seen it in performances in the last two years, and their 2011 CD, SIDES, COLORS, is deep proof of how well-suited they are for each other, and for us.

robertapiket

Wisely, this CD is structured as a traditional vinyl record was — two sides with six songs apiece.  And although the listener doesn’t have to get up and flip the disc, the sense of two complementary musical worlds is strong.

The disc begins sweetly and serenely with Roberta gently presenting the melody of Bill Evans’ LAURIE for us.  Soon, bass (eloquently played by Johannes Weidenmueller) and quiet drums join in — but a surprise awaits as with the gentle stirrings of a string quartet and several purring horns.  (Real musicians, I might add — not conjured up on a synthesizer keyboard.)  Is it jazz, or modern classical, Third Stream, or evocative dance music?  I gave up wondering about categories early on in the CD and simply allowed myself to be swept along by the shadings and timbres.

Billy’s brushes — quietly symphonic — bring on the Broadway standard MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, then Roberta adds her single-note piano lines.  (I was already happy, mind you.)  Clear, contemporary music, harmonically sophisticated, but firmly rooted in Basie, Pettiford, Jo Jones.  And it subtly builds — not just in volume, but in densities, as the three lines intertwine, before settling back down to earth in a taciturn yet swinging final chorus, with a few witty small dissonances in — like spices — to remind us that we are in the land of surprises.

Roberta begins BILLY’S BALLAD in the most pensive way — letting the music speak its piece in its own time — a most leisurely yet searching exploration.  Then, a pause, and she begins the theme again, but with the most tender support and counterpoint from the string and horn ensemble.  I didn’t think, “Oh, this is jazz-piano-with-strings”; rather, I thought of Dvorak — deep yet translucent beauty.  Roberta is responsible for all the string and horn arrangements — but this one, wine-rich, is Billy’s.

MY FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS (dedicated to Sam Rivers) opens with dark woody sounds from Johannes . . . and then the gorgeous strings come on.  Neither sentimental nor abrasive, carefully delineating the traditional melody but with edges and depths.  Roberta’s solo improvisation follows; Billy adds his own voices as the piano’s exploration goes onwards . . . with strings and horns making what had been simple lines multi-dimensional, powerful, assertive, no longer serene.  But the performance has a compositional arc — coming back to a hymnlike reading of the melody for piano and strings after a dramatic climax in sound.

The venerable IF I LOVED YOU — from CAROUSEL — is revealed to us from new angles; the tempo is elastic rather than held down by the waltz (as Billy’s brushes make their own quiet patterns behind Roberta’s reverent melody and revamped harmonies).  What was reverent becomes more free, even abstract, as the horns add their own commentary and Roberta brings her pure, focused voice to the lyrics — honoring the intent of the lyrics while elongating and recomposing phrases.  She is at once girlish and adventurous: a model improvising singer . . . then taking fragments of melody and holding them to the light.

Tapping cymbals and stern piano chords begin EMPTY HOUSE.  A pause, then the horns outline a melody line, as if delineating a space through serious strokes of a brush, before Roberta joins them.  I sense that this is a meditation on two minor chords, but the spare material never seems thin.  And the four-and-a-half minutes is over too soon.

The imagined SIDE TWO begins with Billy’s SHMEAR — the emotional opposite of the pensive, spacious EMPTY HOUSE.  Not simply the musical evocation of an area of cream cheese, it vacillates between a nearly violent piano trio and a meditative piano solo passage . . . with the roles switching around among the three players.  Quiet gives way to conversation and back to quiet again.

IDY’S SONG AND DANCE (in two parts) begins with a solo meditation by Roberta on electric piano — simple but with its own searching groove . . . then moves to the longer DANCE in 5/4.  (You can see the video for the second track — a boisterous dance piece — with its own little domestic comedy — below.)

Billy’s RELENT changes the timbre of the trio — with Roberta exploring on organ over rapid-fire lines from Billy and Johannes.  UGLY BEAUTIFUL (again by Billy) returns to piano – string bass – drums, with improvisations that work off the song’s stark contours.  And the CD closes with Roberta’s DEGREE ABSOLUTE — her evocation of the famed television series THE PRISONER, where escape is impossible and rebellion thwarted — but, happily, the music isn’t as bleak as the inspiration for it.  In fact, the serene solo that begins the final track leads us back to LAURIE, which is another testimony to SIDES, COLORS being a work larger than the individual tracks.

Here let me credit the musicians by name — besides Roberta and Billy and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller; string players Fung Chern Hwei, Mikyung Kim, Charisa Rouse, Jeremy Harman; horn / reed players David Smith, Charles Pillow, Anders Bostrom, Sam Sadigursky.  The cover art is by Billy; graphic design by Roberta — and the whole effort is beautifully recorded by Michael Marciano.

Rather than being formulaic — solos / head / solos or some variation, or “free-form,” this CD is exemplary in its compositional intelligence.  The music never seems “written down,” yet each performance has its own larger shape — one that relates to the other compositions.  And the music is given many chances to breathe.  Hear, for example, the pauses on EMPTY HOUSE — music for a film not yet completed, I think.  The listener becomes part of the exploration, wondering, anticipating, delighting.

Here you can hear samples and purchase the CD (it’s also available for download on iTunes).  And here you can watch Roberta and Billy in action — recording this CD.  Here, they improvise in time and space.  And don’t despair: love conquers all!  (As it should.)

May your happiness increase.

FOUR BEAUTIES FOR MR. EVANS: HOWARD ALDEN, SCOTT ROBINSON, JON BURR, RICKY MALICHI at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (September 22, 2012)

Most of the music I hear on the jazz-party circuit stops at an invisible wall labeled 1945 or BEBOP, as if harmonic extensions and rhythmic shifts were a kind of influenza.  Of course the musicians slip in and out of larger conceptions of improvised music all the time, but if they don’t announce to a traditionally-minded audience, “We’re now going to play something you won’t like,” no one notices.

And some more “modern” listeners dismiss anything that sounds “old” as “that corny shit,” which is equally sad.  It is as if jazz was a small country, and crossing the border meant you couldn’t come in.  Or as if there were Dixieland or avant-garde cooties.  You get the idea.

Rigidity like this reminds me of children who burst into tears if the mustard is not on the hot dog in the appropriate way.  At what point does one’s “comfort zone” become confining?

But it’s all MUSIC, and those who can hear more deeply than the surface find rewards they might not have expected.

Thus, when Messrs. Alden (guitar), Robinson (tenor saxophone), Burr (string bass), and Malichi (drums) embarked on a set of Bill Evans’ compositions at Jazz at Chautauqua, I was delighted.  Not, mind you, because I am an Evans fan or conoisseur, particularly.  But I thought, “I could hear something new — something not IF I HAD YOU — and I trust the four players on the stand are people who will lead me into beauty, whatever the name of the songs are.”

The music proves it.  Yes, to some listeners in that audience, these four selections were unfamiliar, even angular — but they swung and the melodies were often sweet.  Worth the trip, and worth suspending one’s anxious prejudices for some part of an hour.  Hear for yourself.

FIVE:

VERY EARLY:

TURN OUT THE STARS:

FUNKALLERO:

This post is dedicated to Bob Rusch, Stu Zimny, and my father, who would say to me, “How do you know that you won’t like it if you won’t even taste it?”

May your happiness increase.

A BOWL OF CHERRIES?

A true story in parable’s clothing follows.

As a child — aside from my refusal to eat peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches — I was happily omnivorous.  But I had gotten it into my head that I didn’t like ripe cherries.  It could have been my reaction to a pie made with canned filling, but I turned away from the real fruit for years.  Then, someone said, “You don’t like cherries?  Try one of these!”  A rapturous experience.  But while I was savoring the fruit, I thought to myself, “There’s twenty years that you could have been enjoying this experience, and you didn’t, because of some irrational prejudice that stuck.”

This story came to mind yesterday.

Earlier this year I was at a jazz party (its name doesn’t matter) whose stylistic range sat easily between the Wolverines and Buck Clayton — call it “small band swing,” “Condon style,” “Mainstream.”  Delightful in all its variations.

But one of the sets, as an experiment (the musicians got to suggest their own thematic ideas) was a tribute to Bill Evans.  I had only heard Evans’ works for piano trio, for the most part, but when a small group of musicians I admire took the stage, I soon settled into the adventurousness of the music, as improvised lines crossed in midair, echoed, crackled and resounded.  The set was thoroughly uplifting.

Seated near me was someone — a semipro musician whom I’ve come to respect, a perceptive listener, someone devoted to the music in many ways.  Sandy [an invented name] looked at me when the set concluded, with a serious facial expression, and said, “Well?”  I replied, “I thought it was marvelous.”  Sandy frowned.  “Well, I don’t understand it.  And I don’t like it!

Not wanting to seem too didactic, I said quietly, “Forty years ago if I had heard that coming out of the radio, I might have turned away in annoyance.  But if you listen closely to it, all sorts of interesting and lovely things are going on.”  “Well, I don’t like it.”  End of discussion.

Later in that same weekend, someone saw me videoing and we got into conversation.  This person planned to visit Manhattan; I offered to send information about places to go, people to hear.  Again, after expressions of gratitude, there was the same ominous facial expression.  “I don’t like any of that progressive stuff.”  Another door closed somewhere.  I said only, “New York is full of musicians you might not have heard of who play the music you like to hear.”

Do you think if I had told these stern people my story of the cherries they would have seen its relevance?

I am not proposing that all art should be embraced equally.  People who say “I like everything!” always make me wonder if they really understand what they enthusiastically espouse.  But arteriosclerosis of its audience’s sensibilities can kill off an art form.

May your happiness increase.

DON’T MISS CHRIS (DAWSON)!

Artists rarely get paid in relation to how beautifully they create or how much their art pleases us — but if that were the case, the subtly brilliant pianist Chris Dawson would be a wealthy man.

Here’s the evidence, twice:

Victor Young’s aptly named BEAUTIFUL LOVE*:

A souvenir from Fats Waller’s 1939 London sojourn, PICCADILLY:

So, as you can easily hear, Mr. Dawson is a man of many talents: he can sweetly rhapsodize in a most restrained, elegant manner — not an extra note in an hour — with a beautiful touch.  And he can swing out in the best hot manner, evoking Fats, Nat Cole, Mel Powell, Teddy Wilson . . . imitating no one, staking his own claim.

Because he is based in Southern California, Chris is — to my way of thinking — both a National Treasure and a Well-Kept Secret . . . but ask musicians about him — Jean-Francois Bonnel, Connie Jones, Tim Laughlin, Clint Baker, Dawn Lambeth, Dan Barrett, Hal Smith — and they will agree with me.

If you find yourself deep down South (down Santa Monica way) in the next few days, Chris is playing two gigs . . .

The “South Bay Swing Combo” will be appearing this Friday night, August 10, beginning at 6:30PM, at DeLuca Trattoria,  225 Richmond Street,  El Segundo, California: 310.640.7600.  Musicians who have eaten there say the food is delicious and the atmosphere relaxed.  Chris will be playing with two fine improvisers: Bryan Shaw, trumpet; Albert Alva, reeds.

The other appearance is a solo recital on Sunday, August 12, at 5:00pm in PDT at Mt Olive Lutheran Church Elca, on 1343 Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica, California 90405.  The telephone number is 310.452.1116.

I’m beginning the one-man JAZZ LIVES campaign to make sure that everyone hears Chris and that wise concert / party / festival promoters put his name at the top of their lists.  Anyone want to join me in this endeavor?

*As an experiment, play BEAUTIFUL LOVE for someone who can’t see the screen or identify Chris.  Ask the listener who’s playing — my guess is that all sorts of august names (Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Bill Evans) will come up — which is praise for Chris and more evidence that he should be better known.

May your happiness increase. 

A SMALL MASTERPIECE: CHRIS DAWSON’S “BEAUTIFUL LOVE”

This performance of Victor Young’s BEAUTIFUL LOVE — by the subtle, heartfelt pianist Chris Dawson — is aptly named.  The 1931 song was originally a waltz, but that was before Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Jimmy Rowles, and many singers got to it.  (That the song appeared in the film THE MUMMY still continues to baffle and amaze.  Who sang it and to whom?

Here’s Chris — every note a pearl, but there’s nothing precious about his approach to the keyboard:

And for the Jazz Karaoke fans out there, here’s an online version of the lyrics.

Beautiful love, you’re all a mystery

Beautiful love, what have you done to me?

I was contented till you came along

Thrilling my soul with your song

Beautiful love, I’ve roamed your paradise

Searching for love, my dream to realize

Reaching for heaven, depending on you

Beautiful love, will my dreams come true?

Just please don’t drown out the quietly brilliant Mr. Dawson.  That wouldn’t be Beautiful Love at all.

DEEP JAZZ AHEAD: MICHAEL KANAN QUARTET with JOEL PRESS (May 13 and 14, 2011)

These are gigs to plan for — with the subtle and moving Michael Kanan at the piano; the veterans Joel Press (the Swing Explorer on tenor and soprano) and Joe Hunt (by way of Bill Evans and Getz, on drums) with expert bassists Sean Smith (the 13th) and Lee Hudson (the 14th).

As Michael writes, “Joe Hunt lived in New York and played with many of the jazz greats like Bill Evans, Stan Getz, George Russell, Charles Mingus, and many others. Check out this article about him”: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=26099

“Joel Press is also a veteran of the New York jazz scene in the 50’s and 60’s.  He had the great experience of hearing giants like Bird, Pres, Coleman Hawkins, and Monk.  He truly embodies their sound and spirit.  Hearing him is hearing the sound of swing!  And New York audiences are familiar with fantastic bassists Sean Smith and Lee Hudson.”

Michael speaks the truth — here and at the piano.  I know some deep jazz will be played on these two nights by people of feeling.

Friiday, May 13th: Smalls Jazz Club, New York City.  183 West 10th Street (just west of 7th Ave).  7:30 – 9:45.  $20 admission, well-stocked bar.  www.smallsjazzclub.com

Saturday, May 14th: Sofia’s Ristorante, New York City.  221 West 46th Street, between Broadway and 8th Ave.  7:00 – 11:30.  no cover/minimum, bar seating available.

OUR IDEAL: MICHAEL KANAN and PETER BERNSTEIN at SMALLS (March 31, 2011)

Pianist Michael Kanan and guitarist Peter Bernstein created great beauty at Smalls (183 Tenth Street) last Thursday night. 

They are both intuitively gracious players, so the two chordal instruments (each its own orchestra) never collided, never seemed to overpower each other.  It was a sweet dance, a conversation, rather than a cutting contest — with lovely sonorities.  Michael and Peter decided at the start of the night to alternate song choices: one of them would begin a song and the other would fall in — a delightfully playful collaboration.   

The music they made was harmonically and emotionally deep yet it felt translucent, open. 

Hear MY IDEAL or the second set’s BALLAD MEDLEY.  Brad Linde, sitting next to me for a few numbers before going off to his own gig with Ted Brown, thought of Bill Evans and Jim Hall.  I thought of the Pablo duet of Jimmy Rowles and Joe Pass, CHECKMATE, of Tatum and Debussy, of a reverence for melody and harmony.  But to burden this music with words would be wrong.  Listen!

THE NEARNESS OF YOU:

YESTERDAYS:

MY IDEAL:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

PANNONICA:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

NOBODY ELSE BUT ME:

BALLADS (Gone With The Wind, Too Late Now, Moonlight in Vermont):

DEWEY SQUARE:

An honor, a privilege to hear this music!

FRANK CHACE, SEEKER

Clarinetist Frank Chace stood very still when he played, his eyes closed.  In the fashion of the true mystic, he looked inwards, seeking something new, beautiful, personal.  His own speech, his own pathways. 

A Chace solo winds around the melody and the chords, hesitant but guided by its own self-trust: “I don’t know the way but I know where I’m going.” 

He didn’t record enough for any of us, and often he seemed to be making his way through his fellow players — yearning to break free.  When he was playing alongside his great friends Don Ewell or Marty Grosz, he knew that they would supply an indefatigable rhythmic pulse, they would lay down the right chords, and he could then soar.

And soar he did.

In 1985, when I had only recently encountered the mysterious, elliptical Chace universe, Jazzology Records issued a record of a live session led by pianist Butch Thompson.  I thought it remarkable that here was a new Frank Chace record: it remains a treasure.  Charlie DeVore, cornet, John Otto, clarinet, alto sax, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Jack Meilahn, guitar; Bill Evans, bass, were the other fellows on the stand.  And the session was full of delights, aside from Frank: Hal’s press rolls and shimmering hi-hat; the solid rhythm section; Otto’s sweet, thoughtful alto; De Vore’s Muggy Spanier-emphases.  But Frank Chace produces marvel after marvel. 

Hear him chart his own paths, his eyes closed, his only goal to create his own speech.  Frank was rarely — if ever — satisfied with something he had recorded, so I can’t say that he was complacently pleased with this or any other disc.  About an early session with the Salty Dogs, he told me, “I was fighting for my life!”  But no strain can be heard here: just beauty, impassioned or quietly subversive.     

Now, the complete session (offering twenty-four selections) is available on a double-CD Jazzology set.  (JCD 373/374), available at a variety of online sources.  I can’t praise it highly enough. 

The selections are I FOUND A NEW BABY / ROSE ROOM / I SURRENDER, DEAR / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / SWEET SUBSTITUTE / SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE / ONE HOUR / JAZZ BAND BALL / IDA / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / SWEET LORRAINE / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / HOME / JELLY ROLL / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT? / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / FROM MONDAY ON / S’POSIN’ / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS / THANKS A MILLION. 

Frank doesn’t make an obsession out of being “untraditional,” but he won’t play the expected lines, the predictable harmonies.  You might think you know where his next phrase is going . . . but it turns out that he has led us in his own way, eyes closed, finding new surprises.

Listen to his ardor, his courage, his whimsical explorations. 

“THANKS A MILLION”: CLICK HERE.  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

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

BREATHING THE SAME AIR

Were I a different sort of person, I could blame my parents, who were lovingly overprotective.  I could be irked at them now for not encouraging me to leave my suburban nest at 14 or 15 to go into New York City.  Had they been more adventurous souls themselves, I might have seen Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Rex Stewart in the flesh.  But by the time I began to make the trek, Ben Webster had left for Europe; Coleman Hawkins had died. 

Rather than lament the ones I’ve missed, I will list the names of the heroic players and singers  — now dead — I did get to see.

Trumpets / cornets: Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ray Nance, Louis Metcalf, Herman Autrey, Doc Cheatham, Pat Jenkins, Joe Newman, Joe Thomas, Max Kaminsky, Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Jimmy McPartland, Johnny Windhurst, Taft Jordan, Franc Williams, Jimmy Maxwell.

Trombones: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Benny Morton, Bobby Pratt, Georg Brunis, Dick Rath, Tyree Glenn, Eli Robinson.

Reeds: Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Al Klink, Herb Hall, Kenny Davern, Sal Pace, Russell Procope, Benny Carter, Johnny Mince, Bud Freeman, Buddy Tate, Phil Bodner, Sam Margolis, Harold Ashby, Earle Warren, Rudy Rutherford, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Clifford Jordan, Rudy Powell, Budd Johnson, Eddie Barefield, Lockjaw Davis, Allen Eager, Barney Bigard, Paul Quinichette, Illinois Jacquet, George Kelly.

Pianos: Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Claude Hopkins, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Jane Jarvis, Hank Jones, John Bunch, Jimmy Rowles, Eubie Blake, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans, Ross Tompkins, Joe Bushkin, Ellis Larkins, Sammy Price, Art Hodes.

Guitars: Eddie Condon, Freddie Green, Wayne Wright, Herb Ellis, Al Casey, Bernard Addison, Carmen Mastren, George Barnes.

Basses: Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Charles Mingus, Al Hall, Bill Pemberton, Gene Ramey, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Franklyn Skeete.

Drums: Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Cliff Leeman, Chauncey Morehouse, Buzzy Drootin, Tommy Benford, Oliver Jackson, Eddie Locke, Sonny Greer, Sam Woodyard, Gus Johnson, Jake Hanna, Connie Kay, Freddie Moore.

Vibraphone (or Vibraharp): Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo.

Violin: Joe Venuti.

Vocals: Jimmy Rushing, Helen Humes, Lee Wiley, Bing Crosby, Al Hibbler, Maxine Sullivan.

I miss them all, but feel so fortunate that I was there to breathe the same air, to hear their sounds.

HAL SMITH REMEMBERS FRANK CHACE

The drummer and versatile bandleader — man of many personalities, all of them rocking — Hal Smith is also a fine writer, someone who counted his too-rare opportunities to play alongside the Chicago clarinetist Frank Chace as life-altering experiences.  Here, with Hal’s permission, I’ve reprinted his tribute to Frank, first published in JAZZ RAMBLER and reprinted in JAZZ BEAT. 

FRANK CHACE — FREE SPIRIT OF THE CLARINET

By Hal Smith

President, America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society

Chicago pianist Oro “Tut” Soper once said, “A Chicago Jazz musician will always have to fight to keep a free, wild heart.” For over 60 years, clarinetist Frank Chace fought for that same freedom.

Chace was born in Chicago on July 22, 1924—over three years before the first classic recordings that would define the Windy City’s musical style. As a youth he played flute, but did not stay with the instrument. In 1943, while attending Yale University, he was drafted by the U.S. Army. The Army is often castigated—justly—for its treatment of musicians such as Lester Young. Luckily for Frank Chace, his Army hitch yielded a benefit: A posting to New York, which resulted in an opportunity to hear Pee Wee Russell at Nick’s. Chace was instantly drawn to Russell’s idiosyncratic sound. He took up clarinet and used Pee Wee Russell’s music as a template for his own playing.
His first recordings were made with the “Cellar Boys” in New York in 1951. The personnel included three musicians who became lifetime friends of Chace: guitarist Marty Grosz, multi-instrumentalist John Dengler and pianist Dick Wellstood. (The great New Orleans bassist Pops Foster and Jelly Roll Morton’s drummer Tommy Benford also played on the records).

Later in 1951, Chace played with Wild Bill Davison at George Wein’s Storyville Club in Boston. Two of the evenings with Davison were recorded and several tracks were issued on the Savoy label.

In 1952, Chace played at the Barrel in St. Louis. The band included another lifelong friend: pianist Don Ewell. Live recordings made at the Barrel indicate that although Pee Wee Russell was still his main inspiration, Chace had also listened to Omer Simeon, Johnny Dodds, Frank Teschemacher and Darnell Howard.

After the St. Louis job ended, Chace established permanent residence in Chicago. In 1955 he played with the Salty Dogs. He also recorded with pianist Dave Remington for the Jubilee label and with Natty Dominique’s New Orleans Hot Six for Windin’ Ball. (Dominique’s group also included the legendary Baby Dodds and Lil Hardin Armstrong). Two years later Chace played a concert in Minneapolis with Doc Evans—later issued on a Soma LP.

One of Frank Chace’s greatest performances was recorded in 1957, when Marty Grosz organized a recording session for the Riverside label. The record, “Hooray For Bix,” by the Honoris Causa Jazz Band, featured Chace on clarinet and bass sax. The other sidemen were: Carl Halen, cornet; Bud Wilson, trombone; Bob Skiver, tenor sax and clarinet; Tut Soper, piano; Chuck Neilson, bass; and Bob Saltmarsh, drums. Bill Priestley, a longtime friend of Bix Beiderbecke, played cornet and guitar on a few tunes. Grosz played guitar, led the band and wrote the arrangements. His charts were based on the sound of Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude band (which was also the inspiration for the band name). Chace is in top form throughout the record, but his first chorus on “Sorry” is the crown jewel of the session. After the four-bar introduction by the horns and string bass, the horns play the melody in tight harmony. Chace floats above the ensemble, joyfully deconstructing the melody in the best tradition of Pee Wee Russell. His use of extended harmonics and rhythmic suspension is as close to “free jazz” as one can get in a swing setting. This breathtaking chorus is Chace’s supreme moment on record and one of the most inspired solos in the history of recorded jazz!

Another highlight for the clarinetist in 1957 was the opportunity to meet Lester Young when both were performing in Indianapolis. One night, after their club date was finished, drummer Buddy Smith offered to take Chace to the hotel where Young was staying. The other musicians gathered around “The Prez,” but Chace hesitated. Young finally asked the shy clarinetist to join the throng, addressing him as “Long-Distance Man.” Compare Lester Young’s introspective clarinet playing on “I Want A Little Girl” (with the Kansas City Six) with Chace’s on “For No Reason At All In C” from the “Hooray For Bix” session. In Lester Young’s own words, “See if you hear something.”
In 1959, Chace was reunited with Don Ewell and John Dengler when Grosz assembled a recording band for the Audio Fidelity label. The band, with Max Kaminsky, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder (alternating sessions with Ewell) and Don Maclean, recorded enough material for two LPs: “Roaring Twenties at the Gaslight” and “Banjo at the Gaslight Club.” As good as these recordings are, Chace is even better on some private tapes made during the same period. One of these—a session at Bill Priestley’s home in the summer of 1959—features the clarinetist in a trio with Ewell and Grosz. Musicians and jazz fans agree that Chace’s playing on “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” ranks with “Sorry” as one of his greatest performances.

He also worked briefly with Gene Mayl’s Dixieland Rhythm Kings in 1959. That particular edition of the band included banjoist and vocalist Clancy Hayes. During that period, Chace and Hayes were involved in another memorable session at Priestley’s, with vocalist Lee Wiley. Fortunately, the tape recorder was running on that occasion too!

Chace’s only commercially-issued recordings from the early 1960s are two LPs on the Jazz Art label, taken from rehearsal sessions with the legendary trumpeter Jabbo Smith; these sides are being reissued with this release. .

During the early and mid ‘60s, except for a brief stint with Muggsy Spanier, Chace worked with the Salty Dogs and also led his own bands. One such group included veterans Johnny Mendel, Floyd O’Brien, Tut Soper and Jim Lanigan as well as younger musicians—Bob Skiver, Grosz and Wayne Jones. When this group played for the Chicago Historical Society in 1964, they were joined by a very special guest—Gene Krupa!

A late-60s Chicago recording session by guitarist/vocalist Jim Kweskin resulted in three more classic Chace solos. The album, “Jump For Joy,” released in 1967, paired Kweskin with cornetist Ted Butterman’s Neo-Passé Jazz Band. In addition to Butterman, the personnel consisted of Chace (clarinet and bass sax); Kim Cusack, clarinet; Johnny Frigo, violin; Grosz (guitar, banjo and arranger); Truck Parham, bass; and Wayne Jones, drums. Fellow reedman Kim Cusack called Chace’s playing on “You’re Not The Only Oyster In The Stew” “one of the sublime moments in jazz.” The clarinet choruses on “Memphis Blues” and “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” are two more outstanding examples of Frank Chace at his best.

Recently, the GHB label released a two-CD set of Chace playing with a specially-assembled band in 1967 at the Emporium of Jazz in Mendota, Minnesota. The group included Bill Price (cornet), Jimmy Archey (trombone), Don Ewell (piano), Bill Evans (bass) and Sammy Penn (drums). A cursory glance at the personnel and their stylistic differences might cause concern. However, the musicians—particularly Chace and Ewell—sound wonderful together.

Sometime during the ‘60s, or possibly the ‘70s, Chace went to work as a technical writer. He continued to work with bands around Chicago, and to play sessions, but did not rely on music for a living. As musician/author Richard Hadlock explains,
“Most jazz players learn to adjust, at least somewhat, to shallow audiences, wrongheaded entrepreneurs, pandering bandleaders and jaded or inept sidemen.

“Not clarinetist Frank Chace, however. Over the thirty-some years I’ve been observing his largely hidden talent, I have heard story after story to do with Frank’s losing out because he wouldn’t play ‘pretty’ or ‘straight’ or ‘traditional’ or some other term that meant going outside his own natural way of making music…

“There have been occasions when Frank simply would not take a paying but dumb job. At other times he hasn’t been hired or was let go because someone wanted to hear, say, Stardust and didn’t recognize Frank’s version of it. The result is that Frank Chace has kept one of the lowest profiles among outstanding jazz players.”

During the 1970s, Chace also listened closely to the music of John Coltrane and other modern jazzmen. In the right setting, his solos often went farther “out” than ever before! Delmark Records producer Bob Koester, a longtime admirer of Chace’s music, wrote about his plan to record the clarinetist with a “modern rhythm section.” Alas, the session never materialized.

This writer’s first encounter with Frank Chace was on Apr. 28, 1985. Pianist Butch Thompson assembled a band to play a concert for the Good Time Jazz Club in Libertyville, Illinois. Butch invited Frank to play clarinet, in a group that included Charlie Devore, cornet; John Otto, alto sax; Jack Meilahn, guitar; Bill Evans, bass; and myself on drums. It was an unbelievable thrill to hear that intense, wailing, clarinet coming from directly in front of the drums! The concert flew by—much too fast—and my only contact with Frank Chace for the next year would be written correspondence. The letters are priceless, especially for the humor. In one exchange, he obviously remembered the salutation on my first letter (“Dear Mr. Chace”). At the end of a very funny letter, which ran to several pages, he signed off as Your Friend, Mr. Chace.

In 1986, he was flown to New York, to perform at the JVC Jazz Festival’s “Chicago Jazz Summit.” An LP was subsequently issued, featuring several instrumental combinations recorded live at the festival. Unbelievably, Chace is only heard on one track. However, it is a rip-roaring version of “At The Jazz Band Ball,” played by Yank Lawson, George Masso, Eddie Miller, Truck Parham, Ikey Robinson, Barrett Deems and festival producer George Wein. Though we can wish that Chace was heard on more tracks, it is safe to say that his two idiosyncratic choruses are easily worth the price of the record!

My final gig with “Mr. Chace” was in 1987—another concert for the Good Time Jazz Club. On that occasion, I led the “Chicago Loopers” which also included Tom Pletcher, cornet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Joe Johnson, piano; and Dan Shapera, bass. Frank’s playing that day—passionate, rasping, keening, whispered—was other-worldly. It was an indescribable high.

He continued to play with unlimited creativity for nearly 20 more years. In 2001, Drummer Wayne Jones played with Chace at a gig sponsored by Delmark’s Bob Koester. He reported that “Frank sounded not the least dimmed by the passing years.”

Frank Chace died on 28 Dec., 2007. He never gave up that fight to keep a wild, free heart.

Following is a list of recent CD issues that feature Frank Chace:
Salty Dogs 1955 (Windin’ Ball CD-105)
Marty Grosz & The Honoris Causa Jazz Band: Hooray For Bix
(Good Time Jazz 10065-2)
Marty Grosz & The Cellar Boys 1951/Honoris Causa Jazz Band alternate takes 1957
(J&M CD-004)
Jim Kweskin with Ted Butterman & the Neo-Passé Jazz Band: Jump For Joy
(Universe UV0051)
Jimmy Archey & Don Ewell at the Emporium Of Jazz 1967
(GHB BCD-461/462)
Chicago Jazz Summit
(Atlantic 81844-2)

These sessions are due for release in 2009:
Jabbo Smith – 1961 GHB BCD-510
The Chicago Loopers with Frank Chace – Live, 1987 Jazzology JCD 371-372
Butch Thompson and his Boys in Chicago – 1985 Jazzology JCD 373-374

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN, HAL SMITH, AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

CHRIS DAWSON: STRIDE FOR CHRISTMAS!

Yesterday I received my copy of pianist Chris Dawson’s first solo CD, STRIDIN’ THROUGH CHRISTMAS, and it’s a wow.  But perhaps you’d like to read some expert testimony:

Let’s get my personal prejudices out of the way.  To me, “Christmas music” tends either to be religious or fairly limited pop hits.  But I calmed myself when I saw there were no versions of THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY or RUDOLF THE RED-NOSED REINDEER on this CD.  Dawson plays each selection as a new composition, exploring its improvisatory possibilities. 

Many CDs pall quickly because the artist or artists have one approach and sustain it through as many as twenty-five selections.  Not so here.  You will hear piano playing that’s sometimes rollicking, sometimes deeply sensitive . . . and Chris doesn’t take predictable paths. 

What’s loosely called “stride piano” has also come in for some rough handling from players who have only a superficial understanding of the idiom.  All it is, they think, is a steady left-hand pattern, rhythmically powerful, alternating low notes in the bass and a resounding chord . . . over and over, while the right hand does whatever it likes.  For many players, who may well be technically gifted, the result is rather like the ticking of a loud watch or the pounding of a machine.  Others model their playing on Fats Waller, which is fine in theory but not if it’s a matter of learning the eight or ten patented “Wallerisms” and sprinkling them liberally through every composition.  Stride, clearly athletic and virtuosic, also gets confused in some pianists’ minds with exhibitionism: faster, more percussive, louder, longer. 

Chris Dawson is someone who knows and has internalized the whole jazz piano tradition — forwards to Bill Evans, let us say, and backwards to the early James P. Johnson.  What you’ll hear on this disc is often delicate but never so ruminative as to become dull.  Most often, while listening, I thought of Chris as offering his own variations on three masters: Teddy Wilson, Dave McKenna, and Dick Hyman.  (And there are touches of Forties Johnny Guarneri in there, too — which is a high compliment.)  I hear the delicacy, strength, and vivid imagination that I associate with these three masters in every bar of this CD, and it’s not an archivist’s recreation, not jazz archaeology — but living improvised music.  He has a fine swing in his playing, but he is harmonically free, and at times the experienced jazz listener will marvel at the happy marriage of presumed opposites in his playing.  He can make something as melodically simple as SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN hilariously mobile, and I was moved by Chris’s tender explorations of SILENT NIGHT.  He’s accurate but never stiff; the performances don’t go on too long; the CD is wonderfully varied and the sound of the recording is delicious.     

To hear some samples, I would direct the reader back a few posts to: https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/an-early-christmas-present/.  Hear Chris stride through WE THREE KINGS, surely not the usual . . . .

Or, if you prefer soundbites: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ChrisDawson

To buy the CD: http://shop.astinmusic.com/

I think that you’ll still be playing this CD in February 2010 and onwards, when the house has returned to its normal state and the only reminder of the holiday is the credit card bills.

PSST! WANT TO BUY SOME RARE JAZZ RECORDS?

tom-madden

RECORD GURU KEEPS JAZZ’S GOLDEN AGE SPINNING (from the San Francisco Chronicle, 1/14/09)

When Tom Madden was 12, he started going to jazz clubs in San Francisco. The best of them, the Black Hawk, had a food license, which meant that minors could attend as long as they didn’t drink. 

“I saw the two house bands, which were Dave Brubeck and Cal Tjader,” Madden says. “I saw Coltrane, Miles, Cannonball, Bill Evans.” Those were golden years for live jazz. Madden, a San Francisco native, was lucky to catch them. Today, he’s keeping the flame alive as owner of Jazz Quarter, a record store in the Sunset District. Arguably the city’s resident expert on jazz recordings, Madden, 69, sees his customer base getting older and, inevitably, shrinking. “They’re mostly old and gray,” says Madden, a 6-foot-5-inch bearded hipster with a long, dreaded ponytail. Several of his regulars are too old to visit the store. “A couple of them had hip operations and don’t like to go anywhere. And they can get stuff on Amazon now.” An old, overhead heater groans and rattles as Madden speaks. The counter spills over with yellowed jazz magazines and piles of CDs. One wall is papered with newspaper obits on jazz musicians, others with old concert posters. His inventory, arranged in a maze of bins and stacks and boxes, is two-thirds LPs, one-third CDs. Madden opened Jazz Quarter in the late ’80s, after years of working at the Magic Flute and other long-gone record emporia. On 20th Avenue near Irving, the store doesn’t feel like a business so much as a cluttered, unkempt, musty salon for Madden and his clientele. “You walk in there and see this tall, imposing figure,” says August Kleinzahler, a San Francisco poet and Jazz Quarter habitue. “Not at all friendly initially. He doesn’t smile or say, ‘Have a look around.’ He just sort of shambles around. “If you ask him a question, he might give you a direct answer,” Kleinzahler says. “But often as not he’ll give you a sideways answer. He’s certainly not the Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year.” Madden was wearing a Jules Broussard T-shirt, polyester vest and sneakers when Kleinzahler visited the store recently. He put on a CD of Sacha Perry, a New York bebop pianist, and poured a glass of Diet Pepsi from a jumbo-size container. During a one-hour conversation, only one customer entered the store. Madden’s stock is low right now. In September, a Japanese collector flew into town and bought 900 LPs for $3,500. “Some of my regular customers say, ‘The bins are low!’ ” Madden says. “Like I’m just gonna turn up new records, abracadabra.” The store is full of treasures, covering a wide range of jazz idioms. “He stocks what he likes,” Kleinzahler says, “not what he thinks will move.” If Madden doesn’t like a customer or notices that “they buy all kinds of crap,” he’ll refuse to sell them his good stuff. “There are people who shouldn’t even deserve records that good,” he says. “Everyone has this enormous respect for Tom’s knowledge,” says Larry Letofsky, a longtime friend and fellow jazz enthusiast. “He’s also kind of a record detective. He’ll go to Amoeba on his hands and knees and go through all the cheap stuff and find some obscurity that’s just phenomenal.” Enigmatic and sleepy-eyed, Madden doesn’t say much when asked about his past. He joined the Merchant Marines as a teenager, worked part time as a process server, drove a cab “for about an hour.” His dad, an attorney who worked for Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, was a Fats Waller fan who turned him on to jazz. Madden says he’s never married, “but there’s a few women who still talk to me.” Once a month, Madden meets with a group of jazz lovers at Letofsky’s Sunset District home. “It’s called the Second Thursday of the Month Club,” Letofsky says. Twelve or 15 guys show up and each takes a turn playing a selection of five to 10 minutes. “You pay a dollar to get in and then we vote at the end of the evening for the best selection. Whoever wins gets the money. We make it into a big deal; it’s bragging rights more than anything.” Most of the regulars are geezers, Letofsky says. But two guys are in their 30s. “Fortunately one of them’s a physician, so in case anybody collapses …” There’s an intensity, a competition among serious record collectors. One day in the ’70s, Letofsky was combing through an obscure record store and found a rare, mint-condition album by Tina Brooks, a tenor saxophonist who recorded a handful of records in the late ’50s and early ’60s. “I didn’t know who Tina Brooks was,” Letofsky says. “I told Tom about it over the phone and he started screaming at me. He got really upset that I had found it and he hadn’t. Finally, after he had calmed down I said, ‘Well you can have the album. It’s not that important to me.’ ” Madden says he has no plans to close Jazz Quarter, “unless something happens. I’ll be 70 soon.” He pays $1,500 rent – there isn’t a lease – and says the proceeds from the store rarely cover the rent. “I have some money left over from my folks.” Jazz is in bad shape today: Clubs are closing, musicians can’t make a living and young audiences have no interest in the form. It’s heartbreaking, but Madden seems resigned. He’s got his record collection, his fellow enthusiasts. He’s still a fixture at most Bay Area jazz events. He’s hanging on. “Art Blakey said, ‘Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life,’ ” Madden says. “What he didn’t say is that it doesn’t sell a lot.” In the Jazz Quarter, the enormous overhead heater continues its mechanical drone. The phone rings. “That’s someone I don’t hear from much,” Madden says after hanging up. “He wants to know if I’m still open.”

E-mail Edward Guthmann at eguthmann@sfchronicle.com

Thanks to Barb Hauser for sending this story: it reminds some of us of the days gone by when you looked at, inspected, and considered the jazz records you might buy — rather than ordering them online.   This summer, I visited a few stores like this in Portland and Orono, Maine: I’m reassured to know that such dens of improvisatory iniquity exist on both coasts. 

Photograph of Madden (top) by Mike Kepka.