Tag Archives: Bob Curtis

JUST THREE-QUARTERS OF AN HOUR OF LOVE WITH MONA’S HOT FOUR AND GUESTS (“THE ‘TUESDAYS AT MONA’S’ ALL-STAR JAM BAND”) at the ROCKLAND MUSIC HALL (Dec. 11, 2012)

Although my spiritual persuasions lead me in other directions, here is the Official JAZZ LIVES 20 13 Christmas Gift: forty-five minutes in jazz heaven.

That Elysium was found at the Rockland Music Hall (Allen Street, the East Village, New York City) on Dec. 11, 2012 — when Mona’s Hot Four (plus many stellar friends) took to the small stage to celebrate their CD / DVD release.  You can read about the CD / DVD here: in the words of Stuff Smith and Mitchell Parish, it’s wonderful.

Mona’s Hot Four appears every Tuesday night at Mona’s on Avenue B and Thirteenth Street; they begin their ecstatic festivities close to midnight and continue until 4 AM or so.  So this early-evening set was a treat for nine-to-fivers like myself (and my pals Ricky Riccardi and Ben Flood, who felt as I do about the music).  And through the kindness of MH4, I was allowed to record the proceedings and share them with you.

The core unit is Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Jared Engel, string bass; Nick Russo, guitar / banjo.

And they began with the Sidney Bechet song, CHANT IN THE NIGHT:

Then Dennis invited Gordon Au, trumpet; Emily Asher, trombone; Jerron Paxton, vocal / banjo to join in for CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Miss Tamar Korn came along for a vocal duet with Jerron on SUGAR BLUES:

David McKay became the sole vocalist for a Nat Cole-inflected WHEN I GROWN TOO OLD TO DREAM:

And the scene shifted: Dennis, Gordon, and Nick remained, but Molly Ryan, Vocal; Rob Adkins, string bass; Chris St. Hilaire, snare drum; Mike Davis, cornet replaced their august friends for WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:

And to close — a vocal trio of Tamar, Molly, Margi Gianquinto sang DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME with help from Bob Curtis, clarinet:

If that isn’t three-quarters of an hour of love, I don’t know.

After you’ve watched these free-to-all videos a dozen times and told your pals, I urge you (if you can) to get down to Mona’s for a late-night swing session.  If  you can’t do that, the urge is transmuted . . . pick up several copies of the CD / DVD, which is just as sweet and far more riotous.  Art can’t live on love alone, can it?

May your happiness increase.

AN ECSTATIC EXPERIENCE NOT TO BE MISSED: MONA’S HOT FOUR AND FRIENDS! (Tuesday, December 11, 2012: Rockwood Music Hall, New York City)

With all due respect to every other gig, concert, club date that I have agitated for in the past few posts, I feel that if you miss this one . . . well, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY.

Can I be any less subtle?

Because I have a day gig that starts rather early, I have been to Mona’s, the long narrow rectangular club in the Extreme East Village (that’s Greenwich Village, New York City) exactly twice.  Once I had a very good time listening to the band, and the second time it was already so crowded that I couldn’t squeeze myself in.  But the Tuesday-late-night / early-Wednesday morning jam sessions are legendary.  They feature a band called MONA’S HOT FOUR — Dennis Lichman, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Jared Engel, string bass; Nick Russo, guitar / banjo.  But everyone who’s anyone in the New York hot jazz scene has made an appearance at Mona’s, and the immense joy / hilarity / heat have become mythic.

For those of you saying, “I can’t go to a weekday gig that starts after 11 PM,” I sympathize.  But Dennis Lichtman is riding to the rescue on behalf of people who have to go to work and people who couldn’t shoehorn themselves into Mona’s.

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On Tuesday, December 11, 2012:  Mona’s Hot Four will be having a CD/DVD release party / concert / ecstatic gathering at Rockwood Music Hall (Allen and Houston Streets in the East Village) at 8 PM, continuing until 9:15.

The Hot Four will be there with special guests: Tamar Korn, Emily Asher, Gordon Au, Mike Davis, and many more great musicians.   Admission is $10.

Those who don’t have to be awake early on Wednesday may continue the celebration after the show at Mona’s (Avenue B between 14th & 15th Street, beginning at 11 PM and going until 3:30 AM at the least.

Now, just in case you might be wondering, “How does Michael get to be so sure that an ecstatic jazz experience awaits those voyagers bold enough to get themselves to Allen and Houston Streets?”  I have been listening over and over to the CD while driving to work and everywhere else.  And the other drivers are, I am sure, more than a little puzzled at the man in the aging Toyota who is grinning and laughing and pounding the steering wheel in swingtime.

If the music at the Rockwood Music Hall is anywhere as elating as the CD, it will be a seventy-five minute set to remember, to tell the imaginary grandchildren.  Here’s some information about the CD, which contains these tracks: MY BLUE HEAVEN / CHANT IN THE NIGHT / TIGER RAG / WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO / LAZY RIVER / FIDGETY FEET / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / AVALON / SUGAR BLUES / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.

In addition to MH4, there are guest appearances from Emily Asher, Ehud Asherie, Gordon Au, Bob Curtis, Mike Davis, Jim Fryer, J. Walter Hawkes, Tamar Korn, David Langlois, Dan Levinson, David McKay, Andrew Nemr, Jerron Paxton, Nathan Pick, Molly Ryan, Bria Skonberg, Dave Speranza, Chris St. Hilaire, and Miss Tess.

All I can say is that these recorded performances rank easily with the best music I have heard in New York City since I ventured out of my cocoon in May 2004.  I am still grinning at the sounds stuck happily in my memory from this CD.

And there’s more — a professionally-done DVD documentary (slightly less than twenty minutes) about the scene at Mona’s.  I have held off watching this on my computer because it will be shown on December 11.

The Beloved, a few years ago, taught me something about “non-violent communication,” which is a soulful way of expressing yourself without pushing your wishes on anyone.  So rather than saying, “If you miss this, you’re nuts,” or “You should go to this gig if you want some extra added pleasure,” I will say only, “Would you be willing to consider the idea of this evening?  I think it will make you very happy.”  And I do.  My idea of absolute bliss, of course, is this: attend Rockland Music Hall.  Buy CD / DVDs in plural, keep one, give the rest as gifts, support the music and the musicians who do so much for us.

Here’s the Facebook link.  Look for me there (and say “Hello!” after).

And if you live far away or are tied to some responsibility on Dec. 11, you can order the CD / DVD package here.

May your happiness increase.

SPREADING JOY at THE EAR INN (Jan. 16, 2011)

It’s wonderful to spread joy.  To me, the concept doesn’t mean acting silly or buying someone a greeting card to send good cheer: it means something larger, creating beauty and sharing it so that other people become deeper and more enlightened.

Readers of JAZZ LIVES won’t be surprised when I say that the EarRegulars and friends spread joy splendidly on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011 (from 8-11 PM).  As always, they did it at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. 

The regular EarRegulars (what pleasure it is to write that!) were Jon-Erik Kellso, trying out a Thirties Conn trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar and vocalizations, both singular.  Then we had Mark Lopeman on tenor sax and clarinet and Neal Miner on string bass — both quietly eloquent, nimble individualists.  Later, the heroic Pete Martinez brought his clarinet!  (In a prior post, I’ve offered the three vocal performances at the end of the evening — by Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, with the addition of yet another clarinetist, Bob Curtis.)

But here is some genuine Hot Jazz to warm you up, spiritually and any other way.

WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS is one of those songs that works wonderfully at a number of tempos, from the yearning Bix-and-Tram version (and even slower when performed by Peter Ecklund) to the jogging Kansas City Six (1938) version with Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Eddie Durham or Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones.  I didn’t bring my metronome, so I can’t tell where the EarRegulars romp fits in, but it nearly lifted me out of my seat.  Hear the four players cascade, each one in his own way:

I associate BALLIN’ THE JACK with the Blue Note Jazzmen — also, oddly, with a vocal version done in the late Forties by Danny Kaye, someone who could swing in his own fashion when he decided to put the clowning aside.  The song — an ancient let’s-learn-to-do-this-dance by Chris Smith — has one of the most seductive verses I know of, and it was a thrill to hear the EarRegulars wend their way through it.  Hear how Jon-Erik balls the jack into his first solo chorus:

Mark, Matt, and Neal took time to consider OLD FOLKS, that loving Willard Robison meditation on a much-loved elder member of the family:

Because Mark Lopeman’s band director was in the house and TIGER RAG was the school fight song (what a hip place indeed!) Jon-Erik suggested it.  This version is compact (four players rather than thirteen) but it growls and frolics just as energetically.  Listen to Lopeman (when is someone going to offer him a chance to do a CD under his own name, please?): he rocks!

James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE is, to me a combination of a secular hymn to sweet fidelity given a down-home flavor.  I first heard it on the Vic Dickenson Showcase, so many years ago, and it’s never left me.  And I like the old-fashioned kind, I do, I do — as do the monogamous fellows of the ensemble.  You can hear it in their playing!  (It occurs to me that Matt’s tangy twang evokes not only the Mississippi Delta but also George Barnes, whose single-note lines consisted of notes that snapped and crackled.  And those wonderful exchanges between Jon-Erik and Neal — a bassist whose solos have strength and resonance.)

The irreplaceable Chris Flory (just returning to action after an accident — we’re so glad he’s back, intact!) took Matt’s place for HAPPY FEET, a song that has the distinction of being connected with Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman, THE KING OF JAZZ, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Red Allen, Dicky Wells, Fred Astaire — quite a pedigree (as opposed to “pedicure,” although witty Jon-Erik ends his solo with a kick at TICKLE-TOE!):

And I end this posting with the universal expression of desire (the second movement of the EarRegulars Happiness Suite), I WANT TO BE HAPPY, its delight intensified by a visit from Pete Martinez, who is beyond compare.  And the “Flory touch” at the start is completely remarkable; the riffs behind Pete are pure Louis, always a good thing:

I call that joy, don’t you?

THREE ARIAS, THREE MOODS at THE EAR INN (Jan. 16, 2011)

Despairing.

Optimistic.

Sly.

If you thought that arias were sung only in opera houses and on PBS; if you thought that Puccini and Mozart had cornered the market on passionate vocal expression . . . then I would ask you to consider the three performances below.

Recorded at my favorite Sunday-night hangout of all time, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City), these three vocal – dramatic expressions are emotionally powerful.  They capture two singers: Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, alongside Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, bass; Mark Lopeman, tenor sax and clarinet, and Pete Martinez, clarinet (far left) — on the final number, clarinetist Bob Curtis can be seen and heard even more to the left. 

The three songs couldn’t be more familiar landmarks of twentieth-century American popular song, but listen to what these singers and players make of them! 

I had heard Tamar perform BODY AND SOUL once before (with the Cangelosi Cards at the Shambhala Meditation Center, on Feb. 27, 2010 — you can see that performance on this blog) but I do not think I have ever heard her or anyone else sing this song with such despairing power and intensity.  And, yes, I know it has been sung beautifully and strongly by Louis, Billie, Frank, and many others.  But listen — listen! — to Tamar and the band here, the musicians giving her their full love and support, as she stretches notes in some phrases, stating some plainly.  And her second chorus, where she suggests by her singing that some things are too deep for mere words: 

I am not alone in having some awkward feelings about this song: its somewhat syntactically-tortured lyrics; its inescapably masochistic air (much more self-immolating than UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG); it is more a song of voluntary indeiture than of simple fidelity.  And Tamar enters so wholly into the spirit of it that I hear her moving closer and closer to the flame, to the brink, in the manner of Piaf.  But a strange thing happens here.  You realize that as much as Tamar is apparently performing open-heart surgery in front of the crowd, saying, sobbing, “You want my heart?  Here!  Here it is!  Take it!” she is simultaneously the artist in full control, creating a dramatic (but not melodramatic) statement about love and art and passion.  In appearing to throw herself into the song, she is also the artist knowing how to create that spectacle which is so unsettling, so seismic.  And the gentlemen of the ensemble evoke Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Ed Hall, Charlie Christian, and Oscar Pettiford in the most singular ways!  Perhaps they’ve all been prisoners of love, too?

After that performance, I felt utterly satisfied and drained: in some way, I thought, “That’s it for me!  I don’t have to hear anything else tonight, tomorrow, next week . . . ”  But it was early — perhaps twenty minutes before the EarRegulars would call it a night — and they conferred on another song that Tamar might sing with them.  It took some time — choices were suggested and rejected — and since I am a born meddler and enjoy the friendly tolerance of everyone in that band, I leaned forward and said, “Sorry to intrude!  But what about WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS”?  And — my goodness! — Tamar and the Regulars thought it a good idea, and they took it up at a brisk tempo, everyone playing around with the written harmony to spark it up a bit (what I’ve heard called “the Crosby changes”) which you’ll notice.  Here, the mood was properly restorative, hopeful.  Yes, you sold my heart to the junkman, but I can always barter something and get it back in decent shape.  The clouds will soon roll by.  Your troubles can, in fact, be wrapped up in dreams and made to disappear.  Hokey Depression-era thoughts, not supported by evidence?  Perhaps.  But if I woke up in a gloomy mood every morning, which I fortunately do not, I would want to play this video — more than once — until I felt better.  See if it works for you, too:

The heroic Jerron Paxton had come in to The Ear Inn between the first and second sets, and I had hopes that he would sing.  When he shows up at a club, music happens!  And for the final performance of the night, he and the EarRegulars settled on a rocking SOME OF THESE DAYS, that anthem of “You left me and won’t you be sorry!” but sung with a grin rather than finger-waggling or real rancor.  Jerron is a sly poet, singing some phrases, elongating others, speaking some . . . and he gets his message across when he seems to be most casually leaning against the wall, just floating along: a true improvising dramatist:

Thank you, gentlemen and lady, for your passionate candor, your eloquence.