Tag Archives: blues

THEY DO THE THING, AND SPLENDIDLY: ETHAN LEINWAND / VALERIE KIRCHHOFF

If you don’t get to St. Louis often, these two people may be unfamiliar to you.  But they make excellent music.

You say you’d like to hear some?  Consider this — a short film by Bill Streeter:

and this, which pairs Ethan with Valerie Kirschhoff:

A friend told me about Ethan and Valerie, and I’ve been listening to their CDs with great pleasure.  I know that comparisons are not only odious, but they cause one to lose friends, but Ethan and Valerie, together or singly, have got it.  By “it” I mean a certain easy authority and authenticity: when they perform their special music — the low-down St. Louis blues, rags, and pop of the time — I don’t feel as if they are children playing at being adults, nor do I feel that I am listening to copies of 78s.  (However, if they’d been born a century ago, you would, I am sure, know them from their recordings on Paramount, Bluebird, and Decca.  They’re that much in the groove.)

Ethan and Valerie have a certain brash tenderness that is very much appealing, and although I hear echoes of certain performers (famous and obscure) I hear the personalities of these two — in this century — coming right at me.  This is rare and delicious, and even when they perform songs that are by today’s standards “ancient,” they seem full of emotion and fun.

And they are not shallow: by that I mean that certain young “stride” pianists have taught themselves AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and four other tunes; certain young singers know GOD BLESS THE CHILD and FINE AND MELLOW . . . and then it’s time for a break.  One of the pleasures of the three CDs I have on hand: THE ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS, MISS JUBILEE: “THROW ME IN THE ALLEY,” and Ethan’s solo piano offering, THE LOW-DOWN PIANO, is the scholarly breadth of their chosen repertoire.  It’s not simply a non-stop parade of twelve-bar blues (incidentally, the closing video of this blog shows Valerie, with ukulele and friends, including Marty Eggers, making a meal of MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT, which belongs to Mound City hero Red McKenzie, although Marty Grosz has brought it back in recent times).

In his solo recital, Ethan plays compositions by Romeo Nelson, Little Brother Montgomery, Jabo Williams, Montana Taylor, and others in addition to the expected heroes; I was familiar with two of the sixteen compositions on the GRINDERS CD, and MISS JUBILEE dips happily into Thirties ephemera, including THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS and JERRY THE JUNKER.  (In fact, on that CD — with friends — the overall effect is somewhere between Clarence Williams and the Lil Hardin Armstrong small groups, with a dash of the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and completely refreshing — a kind of hot elegant rawness, a wild oxymoron that will make sense with the first listening.)

I am not writing as much as I might, because I’d rather listeners go to the videos and sound samples to enjoy for themselves.  Ethan and Valerie have put up many videos on YouTube, and they have an expansive online presence, as one must these days.

Here is Ethan’s website. And here is the site for MISS JUBILEE — the aptly-named group Valerie and Ethan co-lead.  And the Facebook page for the ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS — who also live up to their proud title, never faltering or hesitating.

You can listen to excerpts from and buy MISS JUBILEE’s CDs here and the same is true for Ethan’s solo piano CD  here.

They are very welcome: they make the best noises, and they spread joy in all directions.

May your happiness increase!

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CHARLIE JUDKINS: NEW OLD MUSIC, ONE FLIGHT DOWN (December 17, 2017)

That’s one view of Charlie Judkins, ragtime / stride / traditional jazz pianist (taken in 2015); here’s a more orthodox one:

At the end of last year, I ventured down the long staircase to the underground home of improvised music, surrealism, and (it cannot be ignored) noise from “screeching fratboys,” to quote a friend.  You know it, you love it: it’s Fat Cat at 75 Christopher Street.  Terry Wldo was holding one of his Sunday piano parties, with his special guest being Mike Lipskin.  I’ve posted Mike’s two beautiful performances here.

During the afternoon, Terry and Mike played, and also a number of Terry’s friends and students.  The one who impressed me most was a young man with dark hair who played beautifully — and, even more pleasing to the ear, ragtime pieces new to me.  That’s our man Charlie, seriously talented and seriously young.

“Mule Blues” by Milo Rega (pseud. for Fred Hager and Justin Ring) 1921:

“Le Bananier” by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, 1846:

“The Delmar Blues” by Charley Thompson, written but unpublished, c. 1910:

Charlie Judkins (b. 1991) is a practitioner of Ragtime, Traditional Jazz and Blues piano, as well as a lifelong Brooklyn native. He began playing piano in 1997 at age six. In 2007, he was introduced to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and immediately began studying traditional ragtime and blues piano. Shortly thereafter he came under the informal tutelage of several highly-regarded pianists including Terry Waldo, Mike Lipskin, Ehud Asherie and the late George Mesterhauze. He is currently studying classical piano technique and theory under Jeff Goldstein.

His piano playing has been in demand at various public and private events in the New York City area since debuting as a professional bar-room pianist in the Summer of 2010. He also works as a silent film accompanist at various theaters in the New York area, and also provides scores for silent animation archivist Tom Stathes’s series of DVD/Blu-Ray releases.

Charlie will be performing on Wednesday, January 31, at Dixon Place: “I’ll be accompanying my friend Lara Allen performing obscure ragtime/comedy songs from the early 1900s/late 1890s that were featured by pioneer female recording artists such as May Irwin, Marie Dressler and Clarice Vance.”  Details here: Dixon Place is at 161A Chrystie Street, and the show begins at 9.

I’m very pleased to know that Charlie Judkins exists.

May your happiness increase!

MORE HOT NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (March 13, 2016)

Fat-CatBilliards, ping pong, and Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — on appropriate Sunday afternoons at Fat Cat.  On March 13, 2016, the downstairs revelers were Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Daniel Glass, drums, with a guest appearance by Eldar Tsalikov on the final three performances.  I posted the first half of this delightful session here.

Here are some highlights from the latter half of this hot session.

A song I associate with that hilly city: setting the cordial barroom atmosphere firmly in place, SAN FRANCISCO BAY BLUES.  Terry’s vocal is confidential, but that’s part of the theatre — one doesn’t shout one’s heartbreak across the room:

Something for Bix, RHYTHM KING, with an appearance by Doctor Kellso and his patented glass medical appliance (it saves lives):

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (vocal by Terry):

Hot from the oven, I AIN’T  GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL, sung with serious charm by Evan (and hear the delightful alto sax of sitter-in Eldar Tsalikov).  Magnificent playing on this one — the power of sugar and white flour, no doubt:

BEALE STREET BLUES, with Jim telling the story, vocally and instrumentally:

RUNNIN’ WILD (with choreography, too!):

For more of the same, be sure to check the schedule at Fat Cat — where there’s interesting jazz seven afternoons and evenings a week (and admission is unbelievably inexpensive): that’s 75 Christopher Street, right off Seventh Avenue South, and very close to the subway.

May your happiness increase!

SOME NOTES FROM BUCK: DUKE HEITGER, SCOTT ROBINSON, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, RICKY MALICHI (CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, SEPT. 13, 2015)

BUCK

Aside from being one of the most handsome men in jazz, and a gloriously consistent soloist, Buck Clayton was also a splendid arranger and composer. In his hands, an apparently simple blues line had its own frolicsome Basie flavor, and his compositions take simple, logical, playful ideas and connect them irresistibly.

Here’s a winning example — a blues from 1961 or earlier, from the period when Buck and his Basie colleagues (sometimes Emmett Berry, Dicky Wells, Earle Warren, Gene Ramey, and others) toured Europe and the United States, teaching and re-reaching everyone how to swing, how to solo effectively and concisely, and how to play as a unit.

Such nice things as this — a spontaneous Buck Clayton evocation (thanks to Rossano Sportiello) happen as a matter of course at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (held this year September 15-18).  OUTER DRIVE is performed by Duke Heitger, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.

Please, on your second or third listening, notice the variety of ensemble textures — how well five musicians who understand the swing tradition can and do sound like an orchestra, and how they intuitively construct riffs and backgrounds to keep the presentation lively.

May your happiness increase!

HOT NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (March 13, 2016)

FAT CAT NYCPerhaps two Sundays of every month, Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band descends the wide stairway to the expansive basement that is Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, New York City) for a hot session from about 5:45 to 7:45. Ragtime, blues, W.C. Handy, Morton, Louis, vintage pop tunes, and more are the delightful offerings.  I took my camera down there on Sunday, March 13, and captured a dozen highlights — music created by Terry, piano / vocal; John Gill, banjo / vocal; Brian Nalepka, string bass / vocal; Daniel Glass, drums / no vocal yet; Jim Fryer, trombone / vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano saxophone / vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet / no vocal yet.

Here are the first six delights.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND, which begins as a duet for Jim Fryer and John Gill and then takes on passengers:

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

HESITATING BLUES, at a faster-than-usual tempo, with a soulful vocal by John Gill:

CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME, delivered enthusiastically by Evan Arntzen:

THE SONG IS ENDED, happily not true, sung earnestly by Jim Fryer:

MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, Jon-Erik Kellso’s majestic evocation of Mister Strong:

Another half-dozen to come.  Look for Brian Nalepka’s up-to-the-minute announcements on Facebook for which roving masters will be with Terry on Sundays to come.  And remember — you CAN keep a good band down.  At least for two hours in the Fat Cat basement and rec room.

May your happiness increase!

HAVIN’ HERSELF A TIME: MISS IDA TRIUMPHS (Joe’s Pub, May 15, 2015)

Photographs by Kate Dulub

Photographs by Kate Dulub

Late last Friday night, I and an illustrious audience (including Terry Waldo, Mike Davis, and Mike Zirpolo) enjoyed a stirring evening of music at Joe’s Pub. Miss Ida Blue and a stunning band of New York jazzmen paid tribute to Billie Holiday in her centennial year.

Miss Ida has impressed me in her appearances with the Yerba Buena Stompers, as a delightfully personal interpreter of Twenties blues, but at Joe’s Pub she absolutely surpassed herself.  It wasn’t because she suddenly succeeded at imitating Billie or “channeling” her — but because the spirit of Thirties Billie animated her, making her even more joyously herself.  The sixteen songs she and the band delivered came from 1933 (YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW) to 1944 (I COVER THE WATERFRONT).  Without offering a history lesson, she and the band happily evoked a singer, an era, and a world of heedless yet expert music.

MISS IDA TWO

A word about the superb band.  Like Miss Ida, they evoked rather than copied. Pianist Conal Fowkes had created arrangements that kept the contours of the original recordings without tying the musicians to the manuscript paper.  And he swung out in his own delicate yet ardent version of Teddy Wilson’s glowing style. Conal’s rhythm section mates are wonderful swingers as well, and they meshed gloriously: John Gill, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Their pleasure was evident even when I couldn’t see their faces.  Their rhythmic rocking was a treat; they never faltered.  And the tempos were in themselves delightful and instructive: always slightly faster or slower than the original inspirations, which gave me a sense of looking at a newly cleaned masterpiece, or someone lovely who always wears black, turning up in mint green.  The most pleasing small shocks.

MISS IDA THREE

The horn soloists were uniformly eloquent: reed heroes Jay Rattman and Dan Block occasionally made me recall Buster Bailey and Lester Young, but they sounded so much like themselves that it was deeply authentic music; Block, especially, took on a  heavier tone and more definite attack than the floating Lester of that period, although his obbligatos behind Ida were touching clouds of sound.  Jon-Erik Kellso loves Buck Clayton, so occasionally he offered a ringing statement in the best Basie manner, but we wouldn’t know Jon without his plunger mute, so often there was a good deal of Cootie’s ferocity audible there. As always, his melody statements and ride-outs were lyrical, memorable.  The band sounded well-rehearsed but happily loose.

MISS IDA FOUR

Miss Ida, most appealingly, knows where she has come from, and has a sweet earnest reverence for her ancestors.  Not just Billie, but Miss Ida Cox [hence her chosen stage name] and it was very pleasing to hear her and the band do their soundcheck for us with a tough blues in honor of B.B. King, the monarch who just made the transition.  And she was so happy to be at Joe’s Pub, honored to sing for Billie and for us.  Early in the evening, she turned and waved happily at the rhythm section as if she just couldn’t believe her good fortune to be on the stand with her heroes.  Ours, too.  She told us how her hair had caught on fire at a gig (Kevin Dorn, the 007 of swingtime, rescued her); I wonder if she knows the story of Billie, the curling iron, and the gardenia — told to us by Sylvia Syms, whose recollection I trust completely.  A sign from the heavens of some destiny.

MISS IDA FIVE

Listening closely to Miss Ida (as well as the gorgeous band) I began to hear aspects of her style I’d not heard before.  For one thing — and I mean this as praise — she is a substantial stage personality.  One way this is expressed is in her nearly constant yet genuine motion, as if her energy is too strong for her to stand still.  It’s not just hair-tossing, but a continual series of dance moves that also look like yoga poses and warm-up stretches, even a jubilant marching-in-place.  Often she held her arms over her head, her hands open.  I think it was always exuberant emotion, but it was also her own expression of an ancient and honorable theatrical style . . . so that even the people in the most distant balcony of the Apollo Theatre could see you and join in with the person onstage.  And her voice matched her larger-than-life physical presence.  On a Twenties record label, she might have been billed as COMEDIENNE WITH ORCHESTRA, and that odd designation rang true.  The comedy bubbled up here and there in speech: she hails from Brooklyn, so that her sailboat in the moonlight was idling along in Sheepshead Bay.  But it also emerged delightfully in her voice: I heard echoes of Fanny Brice, of comic Eastern European melodies . . . it never sounded as if she was taking Billie or the music lightly, but as if she was having such a good time that she couldn’t help playing.  And the audience loved it.  It was SHOW in the best tradition — not caricature, but something Louis would have admired immensely.

For me, the two highlights of the evening were songs devoid of comedy but rich in feeling: the rarely-heard CARELESSLY and the more familiar I COVER THE WATERFRONT.  (A sweet sad I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME featuring Dan Block and Conal Fowkes was not far behind.)

Without a hint of self-conscious “acting,” Miss Ida let those melancholy narratives of heartbreak unfold eloquently for us.  Although I had known her almost exclusively as a blues singer, I saw her, in a blinding flash, as a deep ballad singer, someone who could break our hearts while singing of her own distress.

I could write more about the beauties of this evening, of I’M GOING TO LOCK MY HEART, of MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU, and the other performances by Miss Ida and her band that impressed me so, but I will instead simply hope that she gets many more opportunities to create this wonderful evening in other places, for other audiences.

Early on in this performance, she turned to us, and grinning, said, “This is so so so exciting!”  It was and it is.

May your happiness increase! 

BOOGIN! (with INFINITE VARIETY)

A little gift of music — three minutes of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett playing a boogie-woogie blues in July 1945:

To me, this is not simply piano, drums, and the blues.  It is a small glowing exercise in bringing infinite variety into what could otherwise be a closed form. Listen to the textures — the varied and ever-shifting sound of Sidney’s drums alongside the piano, the shifting rhythms he and Sammy set up and move through, the varied harmonies and melodies.  Of course, listened to casually from another room, “it’s just boogie-woogie.”  But that would be so limiting, so unjust to the rich textures heard here.

And Sammy and Sidney did not set out to make a classic; they had time at the end of a King Jazz record session and decided to play some blues: this is what they casually and splendidly created.

This post is for my departed friend Michael Burgevin, who loved this record. And for Carl Sonny Leyland, who is deeply in the music and creates it infallibly: he understands!

May your happiness increase!