Tag Archives: Bob and Ruth Byler

HIDDEN TREASURE, NOW SHARED: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOEL HELLENY, CHUCK WILSON, JOHNNY VARRO, PHIL FLANIGAN, JAKE HANNA (May 2007, Sacramento Jazz Jubilee)

I bought a video camera in 2006 but didn’t come to California until 2010 (except for that sojourn in utero, where the lighting was poor).  But there were people, bless them, recording jazz performances before I figured out how to do it.  Bob and Ruth Byler captured music at many festivals in California and Florida.  I wrote a piece about him here in 2016 while he was around to read it.

I don’t know whether Bob thought he would get to the documentation someday, or if he thought everyone knew who everyone was, but the many videos he left us are often mysterious.  I know it might sound ungrateful, but when I look at one of them, I have to think about who’s playing; he often combined footage from two festivals on one VHS tape, and, in the name of thrift, he often did not preserve those moments when the leader introduces the players.

Mister Kellso, still happily with us.

All this is prelude to say that, while roving around YouTube like a terrier in search of crumbs, I found a fifty-minute video from the 2007 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, which was held over Memorial Day weekend when I attended later.

I knew I recognized most of the six “N.Y. All-Stars” in the second: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Joel Helleny, trombone; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Johnny Varro, piano; Phil Flanigan, string bass; Jake Hanna, drums (Jon-Erik identified two people I had mistaken).

For once, “All-Stars” was apt.

Having seen it, Jon-Erik was eager for me to share it, and with alchemical magic (thanks to Tom Hustad) — chalk symbols on the wood floor, chanting, and incense — I can present to you the music played by the New Yorkers.  I never had the good fortune to meet Joel Helleny, but I admire his work tremendously; this is a fine sample.

The exuberantly-talented and much-missed Joel Helleny.

A treasure!  And even though California festivals sometimes aim at more ostentatiously “trad” repertoire and performance practice, this is Mainstream of the highest order.  The songs are ROSETTA / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ (obviously not a title familiar to some patrons) / GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? (Kellso’s feature, inexplicably truncated) / IF DREAMS COME TRUE // The video has all the characteristic limitations of the genre, including a restless, chatty audience (I told a friend years ago that I wanted to fund the Sit Still and Be Quiet Jazz Festival) but you won’t find me complaining.  I encourage you to celebrate this magical time-capsule.  And I bless all the participants.

May your happiness increase!

THIRTY YEARS AGO, WHEN JAZZ CAME UP THE RIVER TO TIFFIN, OHIO: BANU GIBSON AND THE NEW ORLEANS HOT JAZZ ORCHESTRA: CHARLIE FARDELLA, TOM FISCHER, DAVID SAGER, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, JAMES SINGLETON, HAL SMITH (July 1989)

Now you know the truth — none of this New Orleans mythology.  Jazz came here to Tiffin (south of Toledo) as the performance below shows.

The exultant event you will see and hear took place thirty years ago, in July 1989, and was recorded by Bob and Ruth Byler — before digital video, but the music roars through, sweet, hot, and expert.  (Bob left us in April 2018 at 87; Ruth had died earlier.)  While I was still hiding a cassette recorder in an airline bag, hoping to go undetected at concerts, Bob was capturing hours and hours of live music on video.  Here is the 2016 post I wrote about Bob’s archive.

Banu Gibson and the New Orleans Hot Jazz Orchestra (properly titled) offer what I can only describe as a hustling lyricism — free-wheeling improvisations within carefully-worked-out routines, with a glorious sense of Show, even comedy (“Show ’em how it comes apart!”), as well as a marvelous intuitive synergy between the horns and the rhythm section.  And Banu is so full of lovely energy that she never seems to stand still: her voice a caress a la Connee Boswell or a roof-raising shout, as the song dictates — full of power but also exquisitely controlled.  Singers could learn so much from watching her perform, and the same is true for players.

This concert is a complete lesson in “how to put on a show,” and how to pace a program.  Although the repertoire was far from new in 1989, not a note seems tired or formulaic (and the arrangements are both lovely and exceptionally well-played, often suggesting a 1936 swing band).

In case the players are not familiar to you (and how could this be?): Banu sings, plays guitar or banjo on the instrumentals; Charlie Fardella, cornet; David Sager, trombone, vocal on SOME OF THESE DAYS and MAKIN’ FRIENDS; Tom Fischer, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal on I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU; David Boeddinghaus, piano; James Singleton, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  They are perfectly splendid.

The songs are DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / THE WANG WANG BLUES / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (instrumental) / TIN ROOF BLUES / HELLO, LOLA (instrumental) / I’VE GOT WHAT IT TAKES / MUDDY WATER / SOME OF THESE DAYS (vocal Sager) / I’M GOING TO CHARLESTON BACK TO CHARLESTON / CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME / intermission / TRUCKIN’ / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR  YOU (vocal Fischer) / MAKIN’ FRIENDS (vocal Sager) / WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO / WHY DON’T YOU DO RIGHT? / I GOT RHYTHM //

I haven’t explicated all the delightful surprises — you can find them for yourselves, such as Banu’s duets with Fardella, and the exuberant solo work — but so much of the energy of this performance comes from Ms. Gibson herself, with the vocal power of a young Merman and the joyous energies of, let us say, Gwen Verdon.  She captivated the audience then and does so now.

The video isn’t a sophisticated multi-camera shoot; the audio is occasionally slightly hard to hear; the video has the slight murkiness of digitally-recovered VHS tape — but this is precious.  And since I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and hearing in person every one of the stars on this stage with the exception of Charlie Fardella, whom I’ve only encountered on disc, I can say that this is a glorious record of the talent still at work in New Orleans and elsewhere.

I don’t know what the Tiffin audience members said when the powerful applause died down, perhaps, “That was a very nice show.  Let’s buy one of her records?” but now, thirty years later, this video record of a concert seems a precious gift to us all.  Thanks to everyone on the stage, to Bob and Ruth Byler, but especially to David Sager, who set this post in motion.

May your happiness increase!