Tag Archives: Bing Crosby

“A MOMENT’S BLISS WE TOOK”: EPHIE RESNICK and MARTY GROSZ HONOR THE MELODY

In this century, we seem to prize art that is complex, multi-layered, innovative, art that a lay person would not immediately be able to enter into.  Simplicity is presumably for those too unsophisticated to create labyrinths.

But it takes a whole lifetime to learn how to be simple, to know that simplicity can be touching beyond words.  I offer an example: a melody played by Ephie Resnick, trombone, and Marty Grosz, piano — created in the early Eighties for a record they called THE END OF INNOCENCE.  Here is one of Marty’s sketches for the cover, and notice who’s on the wall, giving his blessing.  The music that follows is just over a minute and some may think it unadorned . . . but no.  Listen until it sinks into your heart.

Here’s the luxuriant directness of two masters in duet, who know what it is to be concise, to be supportive, to honor the melody, to sing through brass and strings:

Emotion of the highest order, that is, feeling so deep that it doesn’t need to go on and on about itself — aimed right at us.  There will be more to come from this magnificent recording, and more from Ephie (as well as more about Ephie!).

May your happiness increase!

“IN YOUR HOLLYWOOD BED” and OTHER SEISMIC EXPERIENCES: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, LAKSHMI RAMIREZ, JEFF HAMILTON (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

These posts require a good deal of research.  For instance, in the first song performed by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay (March 7, 2020), Big Joe Turner’s CHERRY RED, the lyrics refer to “your Hollywood bed,” and I had to find out what variety of bed that was.

The general consensus is that it is a bed frame with low legs, a box spring, a mattress, no footboard but with an upholstered or elaborate headboard.  Hence:

In other versions of CHERRY RED, Big Joe sings “your big brass bed,” but Sonny wisely chose an ornate headboard for this performance:

Those lyrics describe pleasure, regularly offered and enjoyed: in fact, the erotic bliss is such that the singer’s athletic female partner raises his blood pressure to possibly dangerous levels, but it’s worth it.  “Eagle rock me, baby.”

IF I HAD MY WAY (in an instrumental version) made famous once again by Bing Crosby, was written in 1913 by James Kendis (music) and Lou Klein (words).  The lyrics, suitable for that year, are chaste and respectful: the singer wants to treat his darling with reverence befitting a queen.  I can’t say that this 2020 version is at all reverent, but it surely rocks just as vigorously as the carnality of CHERRY RED:

And to keep everything in balance — Dionysiac eroticism and Apollonian good behavior, here’s a boogie-woogie jam with no name and no theme: Sonny announces it as NO PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS, which I like tremendously:

More to come from this wonderful little band that does everything so well.  It seems ages ago that I was in this little room, in the front row, camera and notebook, enjoying every thirty-second note.  Gratitude to you, Sonny, Lakshmi, Jeff, and Jacob, for so generously giving of yourselves.

May your happiness increase!

HEART FULL OF RHYTHM: THE BIG BAND YEARS OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG, by RICKY RICCARDI (September 1, 2020)

For impatient readers, the compressed review, in the language of vintage advertising, “No home should be without it.”

Because perception is its own kind of reality, if you squint your eyes just right, you can make Louis Armstrong seem an ordinary mortal, a genial fellow who lived in Corona, Queens, ate Chinese food, smoked marijuana, told jokes, typed letters and made phone calls.  Oh, yes, he made music.  And that wrong-end-of-the-telescope view has a certain validity.

Or, if you simply followed his itinerary, you could see him as a mechanical figure, a jazz-machine who got on the bus, slept, got off, made music, and got back on again.  I’ve read  biographies where the writer relied heavily on the subject’s gig notebooks, and the artist becomes a journeyman doing a job, night after night in different places.  Or amplified discographies: “On February 29, _______ went into the studio to wax the classic _______________,” some of which is of course necessary when the artist’s work is primarily a series of recordings, but it’s a shallow lens through which to view an artist’s life and development.

The totality of Louis Armstrong is so much larger.

If you know him, his art, and his life a little better, he seems an astonishing continent, with mountains and orchards, valleys and forests.  And people do like to claim continents for themselves and plant their flag.  Since the early Thirties, Louis has been depicted often in print, and the writers have come to him with their own ideologies and judgments.  So in the books written about him (and with him) since 1936, we have seen Louis the naive country boy who needed Joe Oliver, Lillian Hardin, and Joe Glaser to tell him how to live; the sellout; the Uncle Tom; the aesthetic failure; the tragic victim; the clown; a man unaware of himself.

Louis doesn’t need a defender, but if he did, the man to the rescue, gloriously, is Ricky Riccardi, the scholar who finds marvels and, better, who understands their impact.  Full disclosure: Ricky and I are friends, and I read the galleys of this new book (occasionally saying “No . . . ” as one would to an exuberant puppy.  Louis is my hero on earth and otherwise.  I thought Ricky’s first part of his Louis-saga, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS, a superb book and a model of biography, as I wrote here.

To please me, a book should have new information — facts and first-hand narratives that correct misperceptions, fill in the blanks, and add to the larger tapestry.  Its writer should be as free from ideological bias as possible (many biographers palpably come to loathe their subjects) but, in the nineteenth-century mode, sustain a gentle admiration, unless the subject is monstrous.

The question might be, for some, with all the writing on Louis, why would we need another book?  The book will speak for itself — its thrilling research and the beautiful synthesis of hundreds of sources all work together to portray this man, joyously goofing around with his friends, but all seriousness when it came to creating music.  Since there has been a school of critical opinion (I cannot call it “analysis” or “thought”) that Louis’ records after 1928 are evidence of commercialism, of his losing his way, and the Decca recordings that form much of this period, 1935-44, have been particularly maligned, this book is a needed re-evaluation.  And we cannot ignore Louis as a man steadfast in the pursuit of fair treatment for himself and his race, an artist giving wholly of himself night after night in the quest to bring joy to his hearers.

Ricky’s first biography dealt with Louis’ last twenty-five years, his international fame, his small group, the All-Stars, and his popular successes — being “the cause of happiness” for millions.  HEART FULL OF RHYTHM steps back in time, documenting not only the day-t0-day life of “Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra,” but the subtle shifts in popular awareness.  When this volume begins, in 1929, Louis was no longer making “race records,” but I doubt that record dealers in strictly Caucasian neighborhoods carried his latest hit.  When this book ends, Louis is so known and so loved — starring not only in theatres and dances, not only selling records, but starring in films, having his own radio series, breaking down barriers — that he is no longer relegated to that cruelly narrow perception.

An interlude (1937, with Albert Nicholas, Charlie Holmes, and Paul Barbarin):

Because this biography delineates the middle period of an artist who had already reached artistic pinnacles (think of WEST END BLUES, NEW ORLEANS STOMP, and BEAU KOO JACK) it does not follow the predictable arc of early struggles, recognition, and blossoming fame.  When we meet Louis in 1929, he has come to New York, has recorded KNOCKIN’ A JUG and MAHOGANY HALL STOMP with what were then called “mixed bands,” and records I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, expanding both his repertoire and his identity.  Indeed, if we consider the songs in the canon of pop songs that Louis recorded first or early — BODY AND SOUL, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, I SURRENDER DEAR, WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE, I’M CONFESSIN’, BLUE AGAIN, I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, STARDUST and two dozen others, it’s clear that he was moving towards a larger audience and a larger conception of himself — what I sometimes call “Louis the romantic.”

As an aside, the book raises and answers the question, “How does a sincere artist take on popular material and retain his artistic integrity?”  We watch Louis do it again and again by remaining both himself and completely heartfelt.

But the arc, as I suggested above, is different — Louis begins this period appearing in a revue on Broadway (in 1939, in the middle of this book, there is an actual Broadway show, SWINGIN’ THE DREAM, but it closes quickly), in 1936 he co-stars with Bing Crosby in the film PENNIES FROM HEAVEN; when the book concludes he has played at the Metropolitan Opera House, Town Hall, and Carnegie Hall.

Incidentally, those Decca recordings are so labored, the band so under-rehearsed and unswinging.  Here’s a relevant example:

Readers will note that I have not followed this incredibly detailed book chapter by chapter, and when you pick up a copy you will understand why.  I have been listening to and reading about Louis Armstrong for more than fifty years, and if I were to pick three pages in this book at random, I would be greeted by facts I’d never known, and better, threads connecting those facts — Riccardi isn’t a simple hoarder of detail; he finds and creates patterns — and new photographs.  Too, he has diligently used Louis’ scrapbooks and private tape recordings to get the stories first-hand.  Thus, I confess that I can’t create even the most cursory summary of the book in fewer than ten thousand words because what it contains is both fascinating and overwhelming.  But it is written with a light touch and consistent love for the man and his music.

And should you worry that you might get bored in all the information, take heart: there’s blood, violence, opium, laxatives, sex, run-ins with the police, homemade cookies, racial harassment, people who present themselves as allies but turn out to be horrors (Johnny Collins and Leonard Feather) and quiet heroes (Zilner Randolph for one: if anyone wants to start the Zilner Randolph Appreciation Page on Facebook, that’s one group I will gladly join).

For myself, I’m waiting for the third volume of this trilogy in reverse, which will begin nine months before July 4, 1901, in what I hope was an interlude of bliss, include Black Benny, the recipe for a trout sandwich, the lovely and charming Daisy Parker, a long train ride to Chicago, a pair of old-fashioned shoes, and more.

I’ve said enough.  This book is a dense yet entertaining portrait of a man and artist, often minimized and misunderstood, a beautiful work of art that honors him on every page.  Amazon says that the book will be released on September 1, and you can pre-order it here.  September 1 isn’t really that far away (given the way Monday becomes Friday these days) but you certainly could pass the time and entertain yourself with Ricky’s first Louis book, here.

If you look up “Louis Armstrong” and “July 6, 1971,” you will find newspaper stories and television reports that say he died.  Thanks to this splendid book by Ricky Riccardi, you will find it even more impossible to believe those rumors.

May your happiness increase!

HER TENDER MAGIC: BECKY KILGORE and FRIENDS (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21-22, 2012)

Archaeologists always exult over their discoveries — a bone-handled spoon, a bird-skeleton.  Wonderful, I guess.  But when I go back into my YouTube archives, I come up with Rebecca Kilgore and friends touching our hearts.  I’ll trade that for any noseless bust or porcelain ornament.

So very touching: featuring one of the greatest singers I know in a September 21st late-night set with Duke Heitger’s Swing Band at Jazz at Chautauqua: the other members of the Band are Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, alto saxophone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Mike Greensill, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Bill Ransom, drums:

And the next night, Becky sent the Fellows off so that she and Keith Ingham could perform IT’S ALWAYS YOU, a 1941 Jimmy Van Heusen – Johnny Burke song from THE ROAD TO ZANZIBAR, song — of course — by Mr. Crosby to Ms. Lamour:

Such lovely sounds — beyond compare for knowing sweetness.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW WORDS ABOUT ART METRANO, THEN THREE CHORUSES OF BEAUTY: JAMES DAPOGNY at the PIANO (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 16, 2016)

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

Jim Dapogny’s absence in my world is a tangible thing, as solid as any object I might stumble over or into on my path through my hours.  But his presence is even more solid: his voice, his gestures, his puckish surprising off-handed self.  And the sounds he created at the piano, a simple phrase articulated so memorably that the notes sound like a joke for us.  I bless recording equipment: imagine if Jim had been Buddy Petit, someone recalled but never heard.

At fast tempos, Jim’s playing was raucous, exact, and astonishing: here comes the band!  I knew it would take a lifetime of concentrated practice to come close to a bad imitation of what he could do, so my reaction was always, “Did you hear what he just did there?”  On a slow blues or a rhythm ballad, he created the momentary illusion: I would think, “I could do that if I really worked at it,” which of course was a delusion, but Jim was, in his own way, strolling along in the way Bing sang.  As Fats told Joe Bushkin, “It’s so easy when you know how.”

Jim knew how.

Here he is, very relaxed, at the piano at one of the short solo interludes that were a delight at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party: the piano situated informally in a large open area, a small attentive quiet audience.  I knew I was in the presence of something and someone magical: I hope everyone felt as I did.  And do.

This video begins with the tail of Jim’s previous performance of musings on FINE AND DANDY, rather like a glimpse of a cat going in to another room.  (I hope to be able to share those musings someday.)  And what follows is playing that sounds like relaxed speech or song, but is anything but easy.  It’s a 1938 rhythm ballad, IF I WERE YOU, which Billie and others sang, and I think of it as a Brill Building song coming from a familiar phrase, as so many did.

The first sixteen bars might seem only a straight exposition of the melody, stated clearly in bright colors.  But listen to the sound, Jim’s definite but never abrupt attack, his touch, and then, as he begins to explore the bridge, even more shadings emerge. His distinctive harmonic flavorings, the elasticity of his time (the way his left hand is steadily keeping the danceable tempo while the rhythmic placements of his single notes and chords is not locked in to four-beats to the bar), the very slight grace-note dissonances that are here and gone.  There’s enough in that “straight” first chorus to keep me happy for years.

The second chorus is freer, more expansive, although the melodic thread isn’t lost in the suspensions, the hesitations between chords, the sweet emphases.  In the manner of the greatest players (think Morton, Louis, Sullivan, Hodges) Jim plays a phrase, considers it, plays a variation on that phrase, and then another, before moving on to the next idea — we see the structures being sketched in the air before the artist’s hand moves on.  In real life, as I wrote above, I would be thinking, “WHAT was that?”  Thank goodness for video: I can return, and you can too, to examine a particular aural jewel.  The bridge of the second chorus, for example — four-dimensional tap dancing.

The third chorus seems more abstract, with dancing single-note lines, but Jim tenderly returns to melodic cadences as if embracing an old friend once again.  Catch the rocking-rowboat phrase with which he ends the bridge, and the gentle tag with which the whole performance closes.

A quiet marvel, and he performed like this for more than fifty years.  How fortunate we are that we shared the planet with Professor Dapogny:

I imagine a reverent pause here.  You will have to create one for yourselves, or perhaps play this video over again.

A conversation with Jim was always animated by reminiscences of some fairly obscure comedian’s bit, a theatrical world rather than “a joke” — re-enacted at the table, over the lamb vindaloo, so here are two brief videos devoted to the remarkable Art Metrano, whom Jim delights in at the start of his performance:

Moving Art closer to current times — he is still with us, at 83:

This posting is for Jim, the complex marvel whom some of us got to know and others simply can hear, and for those of us who miss him deeply.  You know who you are.

May your happiness increase!

THE GLORIES OF WALTER DONALDSON: JONATHAN DOYLE – JACOB ZIMMERMAN SEXTET at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: KRIS TOKARSKI, KATIE CAVERA, CHARLIE HALLORAN, HAL SMITH, BRANDON AU (May 12, 2019)

Few people would recognize the portrait on its own.

But Walter Donaldson (1893-1947) wrote songs that everyone knows (or perhaps, in our collective amnesia, once knew): MY BLUE HEAVEN; LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME; AT SUNDOWN; YES SIR, THAT’S MY BABY; HOW YA GONNA KEEP THEM DOWN ON THE FARM?; MAKIN’ WHOOPEE; CAROLINA IN THE MORNING; LITTLE WHITE LIES; MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME; WHAT CAN I SAY AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY; YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, and many more — six hundred songs and counting.  Ironically, the man who created so much of the American vernacular in song is little-chronicled, and if Wikipedia is to be believed, he is buried in an unmarked grave in Brooklyn.  So much for Gloria Mundi.

On May 12, 2019,  Jonathan Doyle (here playing bass saxophone) and Jacob Zimmerman (clarinet and alto saxophone) created a  wonderful exploration of Donaldson’s less-known and often completely unknown compositions for the Redwood Coast Music Festival.  Joining them were Kris Tokarski (piano); Katie Cavera (guitar); Charlie Halloran (trombone); Hal Smith (drums).  Charlie had to rush off to another set, so Brandon Au takes his place for the final number, JUST THE SAME.  There are some small interferences in these videos: lighting that keeps changing, dancers mysteriously magnetized by my camera, yet oblivious to it (a neat trick) but the music comes through bigger-than-life.

Ordinarily, I parcel out long sets in two segments, but I was having such fun reviewing these performances that I thought it would be cruel to make you all wait for Part Two.  So here are ten, count them, Donaldson beauties — and please listen closely to the sweetness and propulsion this ad hoc ensemble gets, as well as the distinctive tonalities of each of the players — subtle alchemists all.  At points, I thought of a Twenties tea-dance ensemble, sweetly wooing the listeners and dancers; at other times, a stellar hot group circa 1929, recording for OKeh.  The unusual instrumentation is a delight, and the combination of Donaldson’s unerring ear for melodies and what these soloists do with “new” “old” material is, for me, a rare joy.  In an ideal world, this group, playing rare music, would be “Live from Lincoln Center” or at least issuing a two-CD set.  We can hope.

LITTLE WHITE LIES, still a classic mixing swing and romantic betrayal:

DID I REMEMBER? — possibly best-remembered for Billie’s 1936 recording:

SWEET JENNIE LEE! which, for me, summons up a Hit of the Week paper disc and a Frank Chace home jam session:

MAYBE IT’S THE MOON — so pretty and surprisingly unrecorded:

YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO TELL ME (I KNEW IT ALL THE TIME) — in my mind’s ear, I hear Jackson T. singing this:

SOMEBODY LIKE YOU, again, surprisingly unacknowledged:

CLOUDS, recorded by the Quintette of the Hot Club of France:

TIRED OF ME, a very touching waltz:

REACHING FOR SOMEONE (AND NOT FINDING ANYONE THERE), which enjoyed some fame because of Bix, Tram, and Bing:

JUST THE SAME, which I went away humming:

Thoroughly satisfying and intriguing as well.

I dream of the musical surprises that will happen at the 2020 Redwood Coast Music Festival (May 7-10, 2020).  With over a hundred sets of music spread out over four days and on eight stages, I feel comfortable saying there will be delightful surprises.  Their Facebook page is here, too.

May your happiness increase!

THE ART OF THE RHYTHM BALLAD: MARTY GROSZ, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, HOWARD ALDEN, DAN BLOCK, KERRY LEWIS, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2012)

We all know what a ballad is — a rhapsodic experience, possibly melancholy, played or sung slowly.  But a “rhythm ballad” is something created in the Thirties: a sweet ballad played at a danceable tempo, so that you and your honey could swoon while doing those steps you had practiced at home.  Even when the lyrics described heartbreak, those performances had a distinct pulse, or as Marty Grosz says below, “I gotta wake up.”  Here are some moving examples of the form, performed during the closing ballad medley at Jazz at Chautauqua in September 2012.  First, Marty evokes 1931 Bing Crosby, then Rossano Sportiello honors Hoagy Carmichael, and Dan Barrett tenderly expresses a wish for gentle romantic possession:

Howard Alden’s melodic exposition of an early-Fifties pop hit:

Finally, Dan Block — incapable of playing dull notes — woos us in a Johnny Hodges reverie over imagined real estate:

It’s appropriate that this post begins with THANKS — words cannot convey my gratitude to these artists who continue to enrich our lives.  And I am particularly grateful to those who allowed me to aim a camera at them . . . so that we can all enjoy the results.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL AT THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL, PART ONE: HAL SMITH, STEVE PIKAL, DAN WALTON, JAMEY CUMMINS, JONATHAN DOYLE (May 11, 2019)

This is part of the world that Hal Smith’s Swing Central comes from — but the world of Swing Central is living and thriving now.

Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives

This little group is packed with pleasures.  It’s Hal Smith’s evocation of a world where Pee Wee Russell and Lester Young could hang out at Jimmy Ryan’s, where Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian, Eddie Condon, Pops Foster, and Dave Tough could have breakfast after the gig, perhaps chicken and waffles uptown.  And the music they created as naturally as breathing was lyrical hot swing that didn’t have the time or patience for labels.

This version of Hal’s group has him on drums and moral leadership, Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and some original compositions, Dan Walton, piano and vocal, Steve Pikal, string bass; Jamey Cummns, guitar.  This is the first part of a long leisurely showcase at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California.

and a Bing Crosby hit that justifiably entered the jazz repertoire:

Jonathan Doyle’s wonderful HELLO, FISHIES:

something for people who have been to Austin, Texas, or for those who need to take a trip there, BATS ON A BRIDGE:

A dedication to one Mister Capone, who liked jazz when he wasn’t working:

Dan Walton sings and plays Moon Mullican’s PIPELINER’S BLUES, while everyone joins in on this jump blues:

for the Chicagoans and the rest of us as well, WINDY CITY SWING:

and we’ll close the first half of this uplifting set with HELLO, LOLA — a reminder of Red McKenzie and his friends:

Hal’s beautiful little group also made a CD where they strut their stuff quite happily: I wrote about it here.

And they will be appearing — with Kris Tokarski and Ryan Gould in for Walton and Pikal — at the Austin Lindy Exchange, November 21-24 — which, like love, is just around the corner.

Not incidentally, the Redwood Coast Music Festival is happening again, thank goodness and thanks to Mark Jansen and Valerie Jansen, from May 7-10, 2020.  More information  here as well.  Some numbers: it’s their 30th anniversary; it runs for 4 days; there are 30 bands; more than 100 sets of music.  Do the math, as we say, and come on.

May your happiness increase!

THE FAT BABIES: “UPTOWN” (Delmark Records): ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, JONATHAN DOYLE, DAVE BOCK, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, BEAU SAMPLE, ALEX HALL

To my ears, modern bands don’t find it easy to reproduce the music of Twenties and early Thirties medium-sized ensembles beyond playing the notes, although I commend their attempts.  The most pleasing exceptions have been Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, still doing the thing regularly in New York and elsewhere; I’ve also delighted in some ad hoc ensembles put together at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Festival.  (Listeners have other favorites, I know: I am not compiling a list here.)

But most recently, the Chicago-based FAT BABIES are are a consistent pleasure.

Here’s UPTOWN, performed at the July 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival:

UPTOWN is also the name of the Babies’ latest CD, their fourth for Delmark, beautifully thought-out, played, and recorded.

Visit here to buy the disc and hear samples, or vice versa.

The band on this disc is the 2016-18 version, with Andy Schumm, cornet, alto saxophone, clarinet; Dave Bock, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet, tenor, soprano; John Otto, clarinet, tenor; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, tenor banjo, tenor guitar; Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums, percussion.  They deeply understand the music without being stuffy.

Of the thirteen selections, UPTOWN and THAT GAL OF MINE are originals by Andy Schumm; SWEET IS THE NIGHT by Jonathan Doyle.  The arrangements and transcriptions are by Schumm, Doyle, and Paul Asaro, who also sings on five tracks with proper period flourishes.  The rest of the repertoire — venerable songs — EDNA, HARMONY BLUES, THE BATHING BEAUTY BLUES, RUFF SCUFFLIN’, OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY, THUMPIN’ AND BUMPIN’, THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, TRAVELIN’ THAT ROCKY ROAD, THE SOPHOMORE, HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE — have noble associations with King Oliver, Bennie Moten, Andy Kirk, Eubie Blake, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Bing Crosby, the Dorsey Brothers, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Clarence Williams, Claude Hopkins, and others.  But you’ll notice that the song selection, although deep and genuine, is not The Same Old Thing (you know: the same two Ellingtons, one Bix, DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, MOTEN SWING, and so on): even scholars of the period might not be used to hearing some of these compositions.

What makes this band so delightful?  The answers come thick and fast.  They are a working band, so their section work is beautifully polished but never stiff.  The solos caress or explode, depending on what the song requires.  There’s also a refreshing variety in tempo and mood: the Babies do not need to play racetrack tempos all the time, and they know that hot is best served with with nicely seasoned side dishes of sweet.  This is music for dancers as well as listeners.  I’ve seen other ensembles do creditable work with charts they are seeing for the first or second time, but nothing can replace the comfortable familiarity that comes with playing a song twenty times in a month.

“Authenticity” is always a slippery subject, but the Babies manifest it in every note and phrase: they’ve lived with this music long enough and intensely enough to have the rhythmic feel of this period as part of their individual and collective nervous systems, so there is no self-conscious “going backwards,” but the band feels as if they’ve immersed themselves in the conventions of the style — which go beyond slapped bass and choked cymbal.  It doesn’t feel as if they are acting, pretending to be ancient: their joy in being comes through.  And the solos are stylistically gratifying without being museum-pieces.  It’s been said before, but if the Babies were to be dropped in Harlem in 1931, they would cause a sensation and be welcomed at the Rhythm Club, the dance halls, and after-hours clubs.

It’s joyous music, joyously played.  And my only reservation about this Delmark CD (which, again, I point out, is beautifully recorded) is that it’s not a three-disc set.  Maybe next time.

May your happiness increase!

THE PURSUIT OF SWEETNESS, OR, LIFE BEYOND “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON, a/k/a “THE HOT CORNER” (September 15, 2019)

Hot Lips Page is supposed to have said, on the subject of repertoire one could improvise on, “The material is immaterial.”  Or, as a segment on the Benny Goodman Camel Caravan was headlined, “Anything can swing!”  Many jazz fans cling to a favored selection of songs, performed loud and fast — you know the tunes that the audience is ready to applaud even before a note is played, the lure and comfort of the familiar.  Not so here.  This is music for people willing to pay close attention, and to feel what’s being created for them.

Ray Skjelbred goes his own way, deep in the heart of melody, and we are glad.  Here he is with Marty Eggers, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, documented for all of us and for posterity by RaeAnn Berry.  Ray’s renamed this trio “The Hot Corner,” a reference to third base in baseball, but the music lives up to the name in very subtle ways.  In fact, it’s quiet and thus even more compelling, reminding me of the passages on 1938-40 Basie records where only the rhythm section is playing, quiet and even more quiet: enthralling!

Ray loves Bing Crosby, and Bing inspired some of the best songs, including his theme, a melody almost forgotten now:

Here’s what my dear friend Mike Burgevin would call “another Bingie,” this one best listened to over a dish of fresh — not canned — pineapple:

We wander from Bing to King — Wayne King, “the Waltz King,” that is:

Notice, please, the sweet patience of musicians who don’t have to jump into double-time, who can stay contentedly in three-quarter time, and it all swings so affectingly.  And here, just because technology makes it so easy, for those listeners who might not know the originals (and can now marvel even more at what Ray, Jeff, and Marty make of them), here they are.

Bing, with added attractions Eddie Lang and Franklin Pangborn:

and in a Hawaiian mood:

That famous waltz (which Bob Wills and Tamar Korn have also made their own):

and the Wills version, because why should I deny us the pleasure?

May your happiness increase!

“FESTINA LENTE”: RAY SKJELBRED, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER at BIRD and BECKETT (July 11, 2019)

σπεῦδε βραδέως.  “Make haste slowly.” 

Yes, this post begins with classical Greek and a photograph of Louis Armstrong singing to a horse — all relevant to the performances below, recorded just ten days ago at the remarkable cultural shrine of San Francisco, Bird and Beckett Books and Records (653 Chenery Street).  Thanks, as always, to the faithful Rae Ann Berry for documenting this facet of Ray Skjelbred’s California tour.

As bands play familiar repertoire over the decades, tempos speed up.  Perhaps it’s to stimulate the audience; perhaps it’s a yearning to show off virtuosity . . . there are certainly other reasons, conscious as well as unexamined, that are part of this phenomenon.  But Medium Tempo remains a lush meadow for musicians to stroll in, and it’s always pleasing to me when they count off a familiar song at a groovy slower-than-expected tempo.  I present two particularly gratifying examples, created by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Clint Baker, trumpet; Riley Baker, drums.  Here, JEEPERS CREEPERS is taken at the Vic Dickenson Showcase tempo, or near to it, reminding us that it’s a love song, even if sung to a horse:

and a nice slow drag for AFTER YOU’VE GONE, in keeping with the lyrics:

I don’t know how many people have seen the film clip below from the 1938 Bing Crosby film GOING PLACES, where Louis Armstrong introduced the Harry Warren – Johnny Mercer song JEEPERS CREEPERS.  (There is a brief interruption in the video: the music will resume.)

For the full story of Louis, the horse (a mean one), and the movie, you’ll have to wait for Ricky Riccardi’s splendid book on Louis’s “middle years,” 1929-47, HEART FULL OF RHYTHM.  For now, who knows the uncredited rhythm section on this clip?. I imagine it to be Joe Sullivan and Bobby Sherwood, but that may be a fantasy, one I happily indulge myself in.

And what Eric Whittington makes happen at Bird and Beckett Books is no fantasy: he deserves our heartfelt thanks, whether in classical Greek or the San Francisco demotic of 2019.

May your happiness increase!

“A TRULY LOVING PERSON”: DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS LOUIS ARMSTRONG (May 24, 2019)

I’ve had many beautiful experiences in my life, but being able to hear Dan Morgenstern talk about Louis Armstrong — the man, seen at close range — is one of those I treasure now and will always treasure.  We spent an early afternoon a few days ago, sharing sweet thoughts of our greatest hero.  I invite you to join us for tender memories and some surprises.  I have intentionally presented the video segments here without annotation so that viewers can be delighted and surprised as I was and am.

These segments are emotionally important to me, so I saw no reason to wait until July 4, July 6, or even August 1 to share them with you.

And just a small matter of chronology: Dan will be ninety on October 24, 2019.  Let us start planning the parades, shall we?

a relevant musical interlude:

Part Two:

some life-changing music:

Part Three:

Dave and Iola Brubeck’s SUMMER SONG:

Part Four (and before one of the JAZZ LIVES Corrections Officers rushes to the rescue, I am sure that the funeral Dan refers to as the ideal was Ellington’s):

Part Five:

The blessed EV’NTIDE:

A very brief postscript, which I whimsically began by telling Dan I was going to throw him a curveball, which he nimbly hit out of the park:

SUN SHOWERS:

Dan and I owe much to the great friend of jazz and chronicler, Harriet Choice, who encouraged us to do this interview.

And a piece of mail, anything but ordinary:

 

Early in the conversation, Dan said that Louis “made everyone feel special.”  He does the same thing, and it comes right through the videos.  That we can share the same planet with Mister Morgenstern is a great gift.

May your happiness increase!

“A PACKAGE OF SUNSHINE AND FLOWERS”: MARC CAPARONE PLAYS LOUIS ARMSTRONG at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, DAN WALTON, SAM ROCHA, JEFF HAMILTON (May 12, 2019)

My own periodic table of the essential chemical elements has a space for OP, or optimism, the substance that has carried me and others through darkness — the organism needs it in regular doses.  (Under my breath, I say, “Especially these days.”)

Next to it, of course, is the element LA, for Louis Armstrong, who conveyed more optimism than any other human being.

I grew up deeply in love with the music of Louis’ last quarter-century, with the most played jazz record in my tiny childhood collection the Decca sides with Gordon Jenkins; the second in line, TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS, which I played until its grooves were a soft gray.  (My original copy disappeared in a period of marital acrimony, but I found another one for solace.)

 

Here is William P. Gottlieb’s famous photograph of that band, that place, and even hints of that fortunate 1947 audience:

But we are in 2019, where I can magically share a passionate new performance of a song very important to Louis — coming from the 1936 film in which he was billed alongside Bing Crosby, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN — created by Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet; Dan Walton, keyboard (which he makes sound like a piano); Sam Rocha, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. Uncredited dancers and irrelevant conversation free of charge.

All this goodness took place at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival (thanks to Mark and Val Jansen) in Eureka, California, a musical weekend that made me extremely happy and fulfilled.  More about those joys as I share videos of this and other bands.

On the original performance at Town Hall in 1947, Louis was accompanied by “little Bobby Hackett” on cornet, playing magnificently.  Marc hints at both Louis and Bobby while sounding like himself.  When the group makes their CD, we will bring back George Avakian to do his magical multi-tracking, so that Marc can play cornet filigree to his own vocal.

By the way, if you are one of those lopsided souls who believe that Louis had little to give the world after 1929, I encourage you to read this book, slowly and attentively:

And there are two pieces of good news.  One is that there is more from this Louis tribute; the second is that Ricky Riccardi has completed the second volume of what may become a Louis-trilogy, HEART FULL OF RHYTHM, covering the period 1929-1947.

Blessings on all the musicians, Mark and Val Jansen, Ricky, and all the optimists we have the good fortune to encounter.

May your happiness increase!

“FINE RIFFIN’ THIS EVENIN'”: DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG at FRESNO: DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, GARETH PRICE, SAM ROCHA, NATE KETNER, DAVID AUS (February 9, 2019)

Seat belts fastened, seat backs upright, tray tables in the upright position?

As the ebullient guitarist / singer / bandleader Dave Stuckey says, “Come on, cats!”

Here are three Stuckey-beauties from the Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” last month, in which our heroes teach the Gentle Art of Swing and the Arcane Secrets of Riffing.  (See: “Arrangement, head” in the index.)

The rollicking heroes are Dave Stuckey, guitar, vocal, imagination; Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, reeds, David Aus, piano; Sam Rocha, string bass; Gareth Price, drums.  Special plaudits go to Youngbloods Rocha and Price, who make seismic upheaval fun.

FROM MONDAY ON, for Bix, Bing, and Eddie:

I NEVER KNEW, for Benny Carter:

YOU’RE GONNA LOSE YOUR GAL, for Red Allen:

“Wow wow wow!” as my friend Anna Katsavos says.

“May your happiness increase!”

GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN? THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (Nov. 24, 2018)

The Chicago Cellar Boys are a lovely band — not only the easy swing, the ringing solos, the choice of material, the consistent lyricism, the faith that melody, played with feeling, is essential — but they have an ensemble conception, so that something pleasing is always going on.  Five pieces make a wonderful portable orchestra, where sweet and hot balance and show each other off by contrast.  People unfamiliar with this group might think it landlocked — a quintet devoting itself to Twenties and very early-Thirties music — but they would be wrong, because this is one of the most versatile groups I know: tempo, approach, arrangements, instrument-switching, and more.  They give great value!

I suggest that any listener who is deeply involved in creative improvisation, not only solos but ensemble timbres, the possibilities of a small group that transcend soloist-plus-rhythm, and the beauty of imaginative arrangements could study any one of these performances with the attention normally given to a hallowed OKeh or Oriole disc and be both enthralled and enlightened.

I’ve posted other videos of them herehere, and (with Colin Hancock sitting in) here.

The individual heroes are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor, clarinet, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba.  Here they are at the 29th San Diego Jazz Fest, in a set performed on November 24, 2018.  They began with one of the classic late-Twenties songs about the glory to be found below the Mason-Dixon line:

and from the Clarence Williams book, by Maceo Pinkard, PILE OF LOGS AND STONE, another song glorifying the joys of rustic home life:

Thanks to Irving Berlin, Bing, and Ethel Waters:

Bless Don Redman is what I say:

LET’S DO THINGS is one of those songs I’d never known before (typically, I go away from a CCB set with new discoveries).  I was unable to find the composers, but I did stumble into a 1931 Hal Roach comedy of the same name starring ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd, in which the then new song THEM THERE EYES figures happily and prominently.  Here is the link to the film.  Now, the ingenious song (is it a Schumm concoction? Youth wants to know):

Another song I associate with Clarence Williams, NOBODY BUT MY BABY (IS GETTING MY LOVE):

Finally, James P. Johnson’s GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN — beloved of Ethel Waters and Max Kaminsky on Commodore:

There are many CCB videos (about thirty — yes!) still for me to share with you: I think I missed at most one and one-half of their sets at this jazz weekend.  So watch this space for more good news.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE A MELLOW MOON IS ALWAYS SHINING

Billy Hill, 1933

Billy Hill knew how to write songs that were easy to hum (although not always easy to sing) and that stuck lovingly in our ears, memories, and hearts: THE GLORY OF LOVE, THE LAST ROUNDUP, WAGON WHEELS, EMPTY SADDLES, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY?, and THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN. And he breaks stereotypes.  He was born in Boston and died there at 41, and although he spent the most productive decade of his life in New York, another of the Tin Pan Alley demigods, he seems to have deeply understood Americana in much the same way Willard Robison did.  His songs touch us.

I’ve been thinking about cabins these days.  The soundtrack is his 1933 melody:

The lyrics are somewhat sad, but Hill and his peers knew, I think, that songs with a center of heartbreak — that would be repaired when the lovers reunited — were more likely to find audiences than songs saying “My baby and me, we’re so happy,” perhaps because of demographics: more people were yearning than satisfied.  Or that’s my theory for the moment.  However, he did write THE GLORY OF LOVE, so he was emotionally even-handed.

Here’s a version I fell in love with immediately this morning, by the San Francisco-based singer / guitarist Sylvia Herold.  I am sorry I didn’t encounter her in “my California period,” because she can really get inside this song and others:

She has a most endearing little cry in her voice, and she swings.  I knew I loved this performance because I am now playing it for the sixth time.

Here are my heroes Marc Caparone and Ray Skjelbred, from the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest, introduced by the splendid singer Dawn Lambeth:

Now we move to the most Honoured Ancestors.  Please note that they are not presented in some value-hierarchy: they all move me deeply in their own ways.

Mildred Bailey with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:

Al Bowlly (I prefer this less elaborate version):

Mister Strong:

Mister Crosby:

I ask myself, “Why are you in tears?” But I know why.

The soul’s home can be an urban apartment, or right across from the BP gas station, but with the right vibrations it can become a dear rustic haven.

May your happiness increase!

OF COURSE, THEY WEREN’T “TRAINED SINGERS”!

Anna Moffo, one of my mother’s favorite sopranos: my definition of a “trained singer.”

Everyone of us has pet theories: there’s a secret way to fold fitted sheets; day-old bagels, toasted, are better than fresh, and so on.  You, no doubt, have yours.

One of mine that is relevant to JAZZ LIVES is that often, singers who never sing because they are busy playing are the best singers of all.  I don’t mean those who are clearly identified as singers — Louis, Jelly, Teagarden, Cleo Brown — but those instrumentalists who have recorded once or twice only.  So I assembled a host of my favorites, leaving out scat choruses.  Some recordings were inaccessible: Sid Catlett’s OUT OF MY WAY, Basie’s HARVARD BLUES (where he, not Jimmy, takes the vocal) Ed Hall’s ALL I GOT WAS SYMPATHY — but this is, I hope, a pleasing, perhaps odd offering.  I present them in no particular order, except for Lester being the last, because that recording so touches me.

James P. Johnson, 1944 (with Frank Newton, Al Casey, Pops Foster, Eddie Dougherty).  The story is that Alan Lomax thought that James P. was a blues pianist when he interviewed him for the Library of Congress — and compelled him to sing this.  I don’t know: James P. is having a good time:

Coleman Hawkins, 1936, highly impassioned (when was he not?):

Vic Dickenson, crooning in 1931 with the Luis Russell Orchestra:

Vic — nearly fifty years later — singing his own composition with Ralph Sutton:

Benny Carter, aiming for Bing and having a dear good time in the process, 1933.  (This has been one of my favorite records since 1974.  Catch Benny’s trumpet solo and clarinet solo.  And Sid Catlett pleases.)  Those clever lyrics aren’t easy to sing at that tempo: ask Dan Barrett:

And another helping of Benny-does-Bing, gliding upwards into those notes.  Another favorite:

Yes, Art Tatum could sing the blues.  Uptown, 1941:

I save this for last, because it leaves me in tears.  Lester Young, 1941, and since this is the only copy of a much-played acetate, there’s a lot of surface noise.  Be patient and listen deeply:

Little is known about that recording, but I remember learning that one side of it was a dub of SHOE SHINE BOY by Jones-Smith, Inc., and this — a current pop tune with glee-club embroideries — was the other.  It’s been surmised that this was a demo disc for Lester’s new small band that he hoped to make flourish after leaving Basie.  Some of the sadness, to me, is that the attempt worked poorly, and although Lester loved to sing, there is only one other recording (the 1953 IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO) that exists.

These singers go right to my heart.

May your happiness increase!

SWEETLY UPLIFTING: The MICHAEL McQUAID SAXOPHONE QUARTET

I’ve been thinking about the saxophonist Chuck Wilson, who left us on October 16 (my post about him is here).  Chuck came from a tradition where the saxophone made beautiful melodic sounds and blended with other reeds — he was a consummate section leader.  It’s a tradition sometimes overlooked today, where it occasionally feels that everyone wants to be a soloist, at length.

But the tradition has been splendidly recalled and embodied by our friend, the brilliantly imaginative multi-instrumentalist, Michael McQuaid in his recent musical gift to us: four musical cameos inspired by the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet of 1929-30.  The arrangements by Michael — lovely translucencies, swinging and tender — were recorded “with minimal rehearsal” (I emphasize this to hail the professionalism of the players) in the UK on July 27, 2018.

I think of these performances as modern reworkings of classical string quartets, but with a particular harmonic delicacy applied to popular songs of the day, with hot solos implied, delightful counterpoint, and a compositional sense: each arrangement and performance has a wonderful logical shape, a light-hearted emotional resonance.  Each performance rewards repeated listening.  (I cannot play MY SIN just once.)

The remarkable players are Michael McQuaid (first alto); David Horniblow (second alto); Simon Marsh (tenor); Tom Law (baritone).

IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER, which I associate with Annette Hanshaw, Barbara Rosene, and Tamar Korn:

OUT OF THE DAWN, by Walter Donaldson, from 1928, recorded by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:

WASHBOARD BLUES, whose arrangement is inspired by the 1926 recording by Hitch’s Happy Harmonists, with composer Hoagy Carmichael at the piano:

MY SIN, by DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson, also associated with Annette Hanshaw:

I wasn’t the only one astonished by the arrangements and the playing, and I wrote to Michael to ask, “When’s the CD coming out?  When’s the concert tour?”  No one else is making music like this anywhere.

Michael responded on Facebook:

Once again, this video features great playing from some of London’s best saxophone players. Their musicality is all the more remarkable when one considers this is closer to sight-reading than a fully-rehearsed ensemble.

A few of you have asked whether I’m going to release these recordings. Well, yes – they’re on YouTube anytime you want! But properly producing a full album of this material would require significant rehearsal followed by hours in the studio, and hence probably a wealthy philanthropic benefactor (please message me if that might be you!).

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing saxophone quartet arrangements until I have a whole concert’s/album’s worth. It’s been great reading your positive words on these videos, and I’m glad if I’ve been able to draw attention to the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet and their beautiful 1929 records. Our musical heritage is filled with many such neglected treasures, ready to leap into the present (and the future) with only a little of our time and attention.

Since some readers might not have heard the originals, here (courtesy of generous Enrico Borsetti) is the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet playing BABY, OH WHERE CAN YOU BE?:

I haven’t found out much about Merle, except that he played clarinet, alto, and tenor, was born in upstate New York, and lived from 1897 to 1978, and was a renowned saxophone teacher.  Michael told me that Merle’s students included Larry Teal and Joe Allard (each became a highly influential saxophone teacher in his own right), as well as famous players such as Buddy Collette and Frank Morgan. His legacy is probably more lasting as a teacher than as a player or bandleader!

Merle’s recording career — according to Tom Lord — ran from 1923 to 1930, with Sam Lanin (alongside Red Nichols), Isham Jones, Seger Ellis, the Ipana  Troubadours, Jack Miller, a young fellow named Crosby.  He was friends with Leo McConville, and he led his own band called the Ceco Couriers, which alludes to a radio program supported by a product: in this case, CeCo radio tubes, advertised in the October 1928 POPULAR SCIENCE (the tubes “cost no  more but last longer”).

Did Merle leave the New York City studio scene after the stock market crash for the security of a teaching career?  Can it be that no one interviewed him or one of his pupils?  Incidentally, when I do online research on someone obscure and find that one of the resources is this — a JAZZ LIVES post I wrote in 2011 — I am both amused and dismayed.

“Research!” to quote Lennie Kunstadt.  Calling David Fletcher!

And here’s another gorgeous quartet record, this one of DO SOMETHING:

I post the two Merle Johnston “originals” not to show their superiority to the modern evocations, but to celebrate Michael’s arranging and the playing of the Quartet: to my ears, fully the equal of the antecedents.

Listen once again, and be delighted.  I am sure that Chuck is pleased by these sounds also.

May your happiness increase!

“TWO BINGS, PLEASE!”

Given the collective memory loss, I am sure that few people under fifty automatically know who Bing Crosby is, which is a pity.  Their loss.  I fell in love with the sound of his voice when I was a child (I even came to appreciate the distorted renditions of WHITE CHRISTMAS played through loudspeakers throughout December) and my reverence for his work has only grown with time.  Add to that his delight in working with jazz players, his insouciant yet hilariously erudite film persona, and you have an Icon.  By the way, the second volume of Gary Giddins’ Bing tome is supposed to be published before the end of 2019: something to read while the days grow short.

Incidentally, the question of “Is X a jazz singer?” is not terribly interesting to me.  “Does it sound good? Does it move the listener?  Is it artfully done?” are the questions that do.

Here’s what he sounded like three days before his death: lovely, apparently casual, full of feeling:

and some forty years later, a recording that the fine singer Dawn Lambeth told me about, very loose, with the guitarist Perry Botkin the only accompaniment — a splendid song, taken in a light-hearted,  jovial way:

You may prefer other singers, but he remains inimitable.

May your happiness increase!

“YOU CAN GO AS FAR AS YOU LIKE WITH ME.”

JAZZ LIVES has not changed its nature to advertise automobiles, but this is one instance where the music related to the car is memorable to those who remember and I hope it will become irresistible to those who have never heard it.

Sheet music, 1931

From the subversive geniuses at the Fleischer Studios, in the early Thirties, this tuneful piece of advertising (as old as 1905) — thanks to Janette Walker:

I always hear the invitation of the lyrics as not too subtly lascivious, because I dimly remember the statistics that showed the birth rate in this country ascended once more people had automobiles . . . but the couple in the song is also headed for marriage, lest you worry that this blog condones sinful behavior.

Thanks to Emrah Erken, the beautiful transfer of the Jean Goldkette Orchestra’s 1927 version:

and the first take:

and a sweet-hot version from this century, by Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band at the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society on December 18, 2011, with Ray Skjelbred, piano, leader; Chris Tyle, trumpet; Steve Wright, reeds; Jake Powel, banjo; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal:

and a two-minute wartime coda, reminding me of the days when music was our common language, when everyone knew the words and the tune:

The song suggests that one could have fun being with one’s sweetheart, which is always a wonderful goal.  The couple in the Oldsmobile were even speaking to each other — cellphones not being in evidence when the song was new.

Sheet music, 1905

Incidentally, this post is in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Brown, who understand.

May your happiness increase!

“JUST LIKE THAT!” DAN MORGENSTERN TELLS A TALE (June 8, 2018)

Perry Como, 1944:

You didn’t expect to see him on JAZZ LIVES, but he deserves the attention.  People of my generation will remember him as a completely relaxed television presence, wearing a sweater before Fred Rogers, comfortable and warm.  As a young singer, he did his own very convincing version of Bing, which is not something I would chastise him for.  Here’s an early vocal on a Ted Weems record — to complete the Bing-ness, there’s whistling by Elmo Tanner:

But this blogpost isn’t a return to the fairly sweet sounds of yesteryear.  When I visited Dan Morgenstern last June, I think we’d planned to talk about a variety of jazz notables . . . but I’ve learned to start the camera and trust the teller.

What Dan recalled is, to me, memorable: it says, “There ARE righteous people”:

One of the righteous is Dan himself.  But you knew that.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE NOTES FROM RAY SKJELBRED (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 27, 2016)

First, Ray makes friends with the piano, then says quietly, “Well, I’m not going anywhere, so I’ll play something I like,” or words to that effect.

He does and we do.

THE ONE I LOVE is not only a memorably catchy Isham Jones tune, but it’s famous in jazz history as the first song Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines improvised on together, at their first meeting at the musicians’ union.  I hear their approving phantasmal selves in Ray’s version:

Like AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN has become victim to people who race through it and make its lovely contours mechanical.  Knowing, as I do, the memorable versions by Bing Crosby (1936) and Louis (1947), who treated it as a rhythm ballad, I’ve come to dread it in performance.  But Ray’s tender version, starting with the verse, is what the song is all about: gently swinging optimism, a view of the world where wonderful surprises are still possible:

Here’s James P. Johnson’s hymn of praise to the gentle loving ways that we all might recall and even enact, OLD FASHIONED LOVE:

Finally, a reminder that even when love affairs implode, the subject is still good for beautiful music: I COVER THE WATERFRONT (“We like it!  We like it!”):

Ray Skjelbred doesn’t cater to his audiences; he doesn’t woo us.  But he continues to delight, to amaze, with his love for the piano, the songs, and the great traditions.

This post is for my faraway and well-remembered friend Donna Courtney.

May your happiness increase!