Tag Archives: Billy Joel

“SWINGIN’ FOR THE FENCES”: BRIAN HOLLAND AND DANNY COOTS (AND MORE)

Oh, no.  Another wonderful CD?  Will those musicians ever let us alone?  When the musicians are pianist Brian Holland and drummer Danny Coots, the answer is a joyous NO.

But first.  Let’s assume you’ve never heard Brian and Danny.  Nothing simpler than remedying this deficiency. From the 2017 Santa Cruz Ragtime Festival, here is their rendition of two Fats Waller compositions, JITTERBUG WALTZ and BACH UP TO ME:

and here are the two gentlemen, caught by a still camera:

Holland (left), Coots (right), for those who have never had the good fortune to see and hear them in person or in action or both.

Their new CD is a delightfully varied offering:

The songs:  Charleston Rag / Jimmy McHugh Medley (Spreadin’ Rhythm Around – I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed) / Memphis Blues / Doll Dance / Wolverine Blues / Black and Blue / Tico Tico – Besame Mucho / Root Beer Rag / Hymn to Freedom / Violet Wedding (A Song for Marcia) / Rubber Plant Rag / Ragtime Nightingale / Troublesome Ivories / Planxty.

Students of the music will notice some well-deserved homages to great composers and players: Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, W.C. Handy, Nacio Herb Brown, Jimmy McHugh, Joseph Lamb, and a few slightly less expected sources: Oscar Peterson, Glenn Jenks, Billy Joel, and an original by Brian.  Ragtime, stride, novelty piano, deep blues, venerable pop tunes, and more.

The title of the CD — even for those who shy away from professional sports, like me — would explicitly suggest that virtuosic larger-than-life musical athleticism is in store.  And in a few instances that impression is correct.  Brian and Danny romp with great grace and power, and they can show off in the most impressive musical ways.  You won’t find players who are more deft at fast tempos than these two, and their quickest skirmishes still make great artistic sense: the listener never feels pummeled with notes.  They work together splendidly as a telepathic team, hearing each other’s impulses and subtexts as well.

But leave aside the gorgeous rapid beauties of the up-tempo performances –CHARLESTON RAG, DOLL DANCE, RUBBER PLANT RAG, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, to consider BLACK AND BLUE, which Brian says he began, musingly, in an effort to get into the mind of Thomas Waller — whose affecting song about racial prejudice this is. It is the most quiet and searching show-stopper I can imagine, beginning with pensive suspended chords, an improvisation that hints at Beiderbecke and Gershwin, before gaining emotional power as it climbs to a moving end.  I call it a show-stopper because once it had concluded, I was overpowered and needed to pause before moving on to the next track.

In an entirely different way, HYMN TO FREEDOM begins as a solo human being’s prayer — for what and to whom I leave to you — and ends up as a jubilant prayer meeting.  PLANXTY starts as a small utterance of grief and ends up a funeral procession, without its volume increasing that much.

But lamenting is not always what Danny and Brian have in mind.  Some of these duets are seriously cinematic: listening more than once to TICO-TICO / BESAME MUCHO, I found myself imagining the brightly colored musical film for which they had invented a provocative soundtrack.  I see elegant, formally dressed dancers all through RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE as well.  I have to say a word about TROUBLESOME IVORIES — perhaps too much autobiography — but had I the ability to dance, and a willing partner, I would not be typing these words now, being otherwise occupied.

The disc is beautifully recorded and, even better, splendidly sequenced, so one never has the sense of listening to ten or twelve minutes of the same thing. Piano and drums — no gimmicks, no novelty vocals or sound effects.  Just lovely music.

You can purchase the CD here.  Or you can find it on Facebook.

And . . . speaking of pleasures that won’t grow old quickly, the Holland-Coots Quintet has just released a new disc, a tribute to Fats Waller, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, with Marc Caparone, Evan Arntzen, Steve Pikal as the additional merry-makers.  I was at the sessions in Nashville in July 2017, and this band made thrilling music, which I wrote about here.  (Caution: HOT VIDEO ALERT.)

I will have more to say when the actual disc flutters into my mailbox.  And don’t let the title fool you: quantity purchases are not only legal, but medically-recommended.

May your happiness increase!

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OPINIONS, PERCEPTIONS, BELIEFS, and “THE LAST JAZZ RECORD”

True stories from the world of jazz, 2012.

One.  I am at a place where jazz was about to be played, and a very good-natured man perhaps twenty years younger than myself, turns to me in conversation and asks, “Do they [the band] play only covers or do they play original material?”

He says it in such a sweetly inquisitive way — clearly a real question coming from someone (I assume) deeply versed in the conventions of popular music, that I explain that the split between COVERS (i.e., your band imitates Billy Joel performing X or Bob Dylan performing Y) and ORIGINAL MATERIAL (you write the music and lyrics yourself: the subject being your last breakup, the state of the world, or your childhood) does not exist in the same fashion in jazz.

I think he understands, and I do my best to be gently enthusiastic, neither didactic or condescending.  And when he leaves the room, about an hour later, he has had a very good time.  The music has won him over; he is now convinced that those categories — any categories, in fact — are not as fulfilling as the sound and energy he has been part of.

Two.  I am at a place where jazz is being played, and a woman perhaps twenty years older than myself turns to her companion after four songs have been announced by the leader and performed by the band — one of the songs was SWEET SUE, so you know we are not deep in musical esoterica.

In a middle-register wail of puzzlement and frustration, she says, “I don’t know ONE SONG!”  (I think in this context that “know” stands for “recognize.”)  Her companion, soothingly, in the voice one uses to a fretful child, says, “That’s because they’re all jazz tunes.”

Three.  David Weiner sends along this Facebook link to a blogpost and documentary about the peerless 78 RPM record collector Joe Bussard, who has some fifteen thousand of the shiny flat artifacts.

Commendable, no?

But Bussard says plainly that the last jazz record was made in 1932 (by Clarence Williams, by the way), and that anything else was a mere sham.  See for yourself here.

I am not going to mock these three people, although I am at a great distance from their perceptions.

But I hold out much more hope for the young man of One, who didn’t know but was willing to learn and enjoyed the music.

And the older woman of Two, perplexed by it all, stayed for the whole performance.

Mr. Bussard, to most people, is an authority on the music, on recordings.  His collection, lovingly obtained, catalogued, and preserved, is a treasure-house of sacred sounds.  But I wonder if his mind is much more closed to possibility than the first two people I have described — whose misconceptions were innocent and could be expanded through gentle discussion.

At least One and Two were seen out in the real world, listening to actual musicians, rather than seated at their shelves, admiring row upon row of neatly vertical Brunswicks and Vocalions.

The moral?  Must there be one?  I don’t think so.

May your happiness increase.