Tag Archives: Bob Reitmeier

ANOTHER “MONDAY DATE” TO REMEMBER: TOM PLETCHER, DAN BARRETT, BOB REITMEIER, JIM DAPOGNY, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2009)

Yesterday I published a post where four wonderful musicians — Eddy Davis, Conal Fowkes, Jon-Erik Kellso, and Evan Arntzen — improvised on OUR MONDAY DATE in December 2019 at Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village, New York City.  You can enjoy it here.  And I hope you do.

A MONDAY DATE has a personal resonance.  It’s not unique to me, but I haven’t had the pleasure of “being on a date” with a tangible person since the end of February (dinner and a festival of short animated films).  For me, songs about dating are poignant and hopeful: such encounters can come again, although the February evening was more short than animated.  Mirror-gazing over. Onwards.

This MONDAY DATE was performed at Jazz at Chautauqua in September 2009, although not on a Monday.  These brilliant players are Tom Pletcher, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Jim Dapogny, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.  I was, as I have explained elsewhere, shooting video sub rosa without Joe Boughton’s permission, which lends a subversive air to the recording, but I was thrilled it came off, then and now.  It is a special pleasure to hear Jim’s piano ringing through, adding magic.

Jim Dapogny and Tom Pletcher are no longer with us: I’ve written about them here and (with a beautiful long essay by David Jellema) here.  Both posts also have video-recordings of performances you won’t see or hear elsewhere.

A note about “recordings” at Jazz at Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton was enthusiastically kind to me long before we met in person: he recognized that we adored the same music.  When I visited Chautauqua in 2004, he greeted me warmly, and I spent the whole weekend writing about the joys I experienced there, and wrote the program biographies for more than ten years.

Joe had certain aversions, in large type.  The most dramatic was his loathing for over-familiar songs: SATIN DOLL, SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, slow blues, and more.  Musicians who broke this rule were asked not to return — in one case, in the middle of the weekend.  Secondly, although Joe apparently recorded every note of the weekends I came to — someone operated a videocamera high above our heads — he would not tolerate anyone else recording anything, although he let an amateur jazz photographer make low-quality cassettes.  I gave Joe valuable publicity in The Mississippi Rag, which he appreciated: I don’t know whether he saw me with my camera and tacitly accepted it as part of the Michael-bargain or whether he was too busy with the music to notice, but I send him deep gratitude now.  I hope you do also.

May your happiness increase!

“PEACEMAKERS, HEALERS, RESTORERS, STORYTELLERS AND LOVERS OF ALL KINDS”: ANDY SCHUMM’S GANG at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (September 23, 2012)

Reading my colleague M. Figg’s blogpost on Don Murray — meditations witty and sad — made me think, not for the first time that although the Great Hallowed Figures are dead and their recorded legacies are small (think of Frank Melrose, Frank Teschemacher, Rod Cless, George Stafford, Tony Fruscella, Leon Roppolo, Guy Kelly and a hundred others) there are vivid compensations in 2012.

We don’t have to restrict ourselves to the anguished study of too-short solos on a few records (think of Teagarden and Tesch having the sweetest conversation that you almost can’t hear on the Dorsey Brothers’ ROUND EVENING) . . . we have Living Players who bridge past and present right in front of us.  “In front of my video camera, too,” I think with unbounded gratitude.

One of these fellows is the sly, surprising, lyrical, hot Andy Schumm, already legendary.  (I know there are gatherings of listeners who are out-Schumming one another: “I knew Andy was a genius when I heard him in 1993,” “You did? I knew he was a genius before he was out of diapers,” etc.)  My own acquaintance with Mister Schumm only started in this century, but he amazes every time, on cornet, piano, clarinet, drums, comb . . . more to come!

Here are Andy and friends at Jazz at Chautauqua just a few months ago: Mike Greensill, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums — honoring the music of the early Twenties into the middle Thirties, with associations with Fats Waller, Jabbo Smith, James P. Johnson, Bing Crosby, Garvin Bushell, Phil Napoleon, Bix, Eddie Condon, and others.  Lovely subtle forceful romping hot jazz — for our listening and dining pleasure, performances one can marvel at over and over.

MY SWEETIE WENT AWAY:

PERSIAN RUG:

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Thank you, gentlemen, for so bravely creating this music for us — right out there in the open.

I take my title from sweet deep words uttered by the Dalai Lama — connected so strongly to this music: “The planet does not need more successful people.  The planet needs desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”  Hail, Andy, Mike, Bob, Howard, Jon, Ricky . . . who fit so many of those categories in their musical generosities.

May your happiness increase.

BOB HAVENS, SUPERHERO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2012)

Trombonist Bob Havens looks nothing like a Marvel Comics star.  In fact, his quiet Midwestern appearance and demeanor make Clark Kent look rather raunchy by comparison.  But Bob shows us, every time he puts together his trombone, that a man may be in his eighties and have his superpowers remain undiminished, and that red and blue costuming is not essential.

Here he is with Randy Reinhart, cornet; Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums — recorded at Jazz at Chautauqua on Friday, September 21, 2012.

Just because it’s amusing and surprising, Randy began the set with the classic end-of-the-night I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

A tribute to Bix and Tram in SINGIN’ THE BLUES:

Then Mr. Havens leaps into action on ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE:

And they end the set with IN A MELLOTONE:

You don’t have to take it from me that Bob Havens is simply remarkable — the Douglas Fairbanks Sr. of the sliphorn.  Just look at the expressions on the faces of his colleagues.  I want to know what Bob eats (or doesn’t eat) for breakfast.  Surely we could all try it, too.

May your happiness increase.

JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2012 IS ALMOST HERE!

Four little reminders.

1.  Jazz at Chautauqua begins on Thursday evening, September 20, 2012, and concludes on Sunday afternoon, September 23.  (The Traditional Jazz Workshop precedes it — details below.)

2.  I have been attending Jazz at Chautauqua every year since 2004, and it is one of the high points of my year.  It’s not simply the music, which is superb and varied.  It’s the lovely Hotel Athenaeum overlooking Lake Chautauqua, the beautiful surroundings (think old-fashioned houses with awnings and hydrangeas), and seeing old friends — meeting new ones, too.

3.  I think these are magical names (in alphabetical order, for a change): Howard Alden, Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Dan Block, Jon Burr, Faux Frenchmen, Mike Greensill, Marty Grosz, Bob Havens, Duke Heitger, Alex Hoffman, Keith Ingham, Jon-Erik Kellso, Rebecca Kilgore, Kerry Lewis, Ricky Malichi, Bill Ransom, Randy Reinhart, Bob Reitmeier, Scott Robinson, Andy Schumm, John Sheridan, Pete Siers, Rossano Sportiello, Lynn Stein, Frank Tate.  

4.  In case all of this seems financially overwhelming (and I understand that feeling, really) Jazz at Chautauqua has now arranged something they call single-event pricing . . . which means that you can buy a ticket to attend one or more of four lengthy sessions (Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon) for $120 each.  Details can be found here.  And it is not too late to sign up for the Traditional Jazz Workshop: imagine taking a master class with personalized instruction from Dan Barrett, Becky Kilgore, Duke Heitger, Scott Robinson, and the others — the stuff that dreams are made of.

I consider it a stroke of great good fortune to be attending Jazz at Chautauqua again this year, and I would like everyone I know who loves this music to share the pleasure . . . although they’d then have to build a much larger hotel ballroom.

May your happiness increase.

JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (AND MORE) IS COMING: SEPTEMBER 2012

When I was a child, Autumn came a few weeks after the mingled delights and worries of Back to School.  Later, Autumn meant no more barbecues for another year and the start of leaf-raking, gutter-cleaning and other suburban joys.  But since September 2004, I have a different set of associations — all exceedingly pleasant.

To be accurate, Autumn (or Fall) 2012 begins — in the Northern Hemisphere — on September 22, at 10:49 Eastern Daylight Time.  I looked it up.

The Beloved and I will be celebrating the change of seasons as we have done for the past years at Jazz at Chautauqua, the fifteenth such exaltation.

Chautauqua takes place at the glorious Athenaeum Hotel (built in 1881 and architecturally fascinating) from Thursday, September 20, to Sunday, September 23.  On Thursday, there’s a delightful series of  informal jam sets; Friday afternoon features piano and guitar solos and duets in the parlor, and on Friday evening a cornucopia of wonderful sounds begins and doesn’t stop until Sunday afternoon.  I’ve been filming live performances there for a few years, so you have only to head over to my YouTube channel, “swingyoucats,” and search for “Chautauqua” to have strong evidence of what fun awaits.

Here’s that great Romantic, John Sheridan, playing MY FOOLISH HEART:

This year, the personnel is quite wonderful (although that is frankly no surprise):

Cornet / trumpet: Duke Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, Andy Schumm; reeds: Harry Allen, Dan Block, Bob Reitmeier, Scott Robinson, Alex Hoffman;  trombone: Dan Barrett, Bob Havens;  guitar/banjo: Howard Alden, Marty Grosz;  piano: Mike Greensill, Keith Ingham, John Sheridan, Rossano Sportiello; bass: Jon Burr, Kerry Lewis, Frank Tate; drums: Ricky Malichi, Pete Siers, John Von Ohlen;  vocals: Marty Grosz, Rebecca Kilgore, Wesla Whitfield.  Bands: Alden-Barrett Quintet; Faux Frenchmen (Don Aren, bass; George Cunningham, guitar; Brian Lovely, guitar; Joe Lukasik, clarinet; Paul Patterson, violin);  Photographic exhibit by Duncan P. Schiedt.

Here’s Duke Heitger and friends taking us into the jungle for a hot TIGER RAG:

All these men and women have been personally approved of by JAZZ LIVES and they have received this blogsite’s Seal of Approval.

Jazz at Chautauqua is one of those weekend parties where life is comfortable: guests staying at the hotel have only to come down a flight of stairs (or take the antique elevator) to find their wishes gratified: jazz, copious amounts of food and drink, smiling staff, a basket of apples on the front desk, beautiful views of Lake Chautauqua).  For details of pricing, reservations, and the like, all will be revealed here.

But wait!  There’s more!

For those of you who want to learn from the Masters — a most amiable crew of people whom we admire — before Jazz at Chautauqua begins, there will be the first-ever, turbo-charged, fully synchronous Traditional Jazz Workshop.  You will be able to study with Professors Kilgore, Lewis, Sportiello, Malichi, Heitger, Barrett, Robinson, Alden.  Dan Barrett is the Music Director and I am told that it is all Pass / Fail but no one ever Fails.  The details are on the same page; the Workshop runs from September 16 to the 20th, and students can stay at the hotel.  If my embouchure can be made to improve by early September, I may ask my colleagues to cover my classes, pack my valve oil and my cornet and become a student again.  I know there’s so much to learn!

I can hear some of you saying, “Michael, aren’t you rushing our summers away?  It isn’t even Bastille Day and here you are talking us into September.”  True, true.  But summer’s lease hath too short a date.  And — if not now, when?

I look forward to seeing some of my JAZZ LIVES friends there.  Heaven knows the bandstand will be full of them.

May your happiness increase.

“WELL, THIS’LL BE FUN”: MEMORIES OF JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, 2004

I have a special place in my heart for Jazz at Chautauqua: it was the first jazz party I’d ever attended, an uplifting experience in every way.

The 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua is taking place this year — September 15-18.  Details to follow.

This is the piece I wrote after my first experience of Jazz at Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton is no longer with us, but the elation remains the same.

Well, This’ll Be Fun

On a Thursday evening in September 2004, two jazz musicians decided on Eubie Blake’s “You’re Lucky To Me” to begin their performance, set an affable, conversational tempo, and started – moving from embellished melody to more adventurous improvisations before coming back down to earth.  They stood at one end of a small rectangular mint-green hotel dining room elaborately decorated with nineteenth-century chandeliers and moldings.  The tall young trumpet player, apparently a college fullback, wore jeans and an untucked striped dress shirt; the pianist resembled a senior account executive for a firm that knew nothing of casual Fridays.  As the applause slowly diminished, Duke Heitger, trumpet held loosely at his side, looked slyly at John Sheridan, the other half of his orchestra, grinned, and said, “Well, this’ll be fun.”  They had just played the opening notes of the seventh annual Jazz at Chautauqua, a four-day jazz party held at the Athenaeum, the upstate New York site of the Chautauqua Institution – now a hotel unused for nine months of the year (no heating system).  Appropriately, the site reflected something of the Chautauqua ideal of entertaining self-enrichment, now given over to a weekend’s immersion in the music once our common colloquial language.

The imaginary map of American culture might seem a homogenous cultural landscape of Outkast, Diet Coke, press-on nails, and Paris Hilton.  But there are millions of smaller, secret cultural nations pulsing all at once: people subversively playing Brahms at home, wearing hemp clothing, and making sure that what commercialism has consigned to the past is kept alive.  One of those underground institutions is the jazz party – an idea quietly subsisting for forty years, now one of the only venues for this music.

If a newcomer assumed that a “jazz party” is nothing more than two or three semi-professional musicians playing background music for a roomful of people, perhaps a singer seated atop a piano, Jazz at Chautauqua would be staggering.  It featured nearly thirty-three hours of nonstop music played to two hundred and fifty people between Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon by twenty-six musicians: Bob Barnard, Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, and Joe Wilder (trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn); Dan Barrett and Bob Havens (trombone); Harry Allen, Dan Block, Bobby Gordon, Bob Reitmeier, Scott Robinson (reeds); Johnny Frigo (violin); Jim Dapogny, Larry Eanet, Keith Ingham, and John Sheridan (piano); Howard Alden and Marty Grosz (guitar); Vince Giordano, Nicki Parott, and Phil Flanigan (bass); Arnie Kinsella, Eddie Metz, Jr., and John Von Ohlen (drums); Grosz, Rebecca Kilgore, and Parrott (vocals).  These players are unknown to a general audience but are both remarkable and sought after.  Except for Wilder, the musicians were white, (which didn’t bother him: he was delighted to be playing among friends) and many hailed from the tri-state area, with a few startling exceptions:  Barrett and Reitmeier flew from California, Kilgore from Oregon, and the winner for distance, Barnard, from New South Wales.  Most of them were middle-aged (although Parrott and Heitger are not yet forty), looking oddly youthful (I think that joy transforms), but jazz musicians, if fortunate, live long: Frigo is 87, Wilder, 82.

A listener, fortified by food at regular intervals and consistently available drinks (for me, an excess of caffeine for medicinal purposes – a jam session started while I was asleep on Thursday night, and I was anxious that I miss nothing else) may sit in a comfortable chair and listen to eight hours of jazz in short sets, from fifteen minutes for duets to an hour for a larger band.  It was overwhelming, as though someone who had only read about model trains or Morris dancing had wandered into a convention of enthusiasts where everything in the ballroom focused on the chosen subject, non-stop.  But Chautauqua was more than a museum: it offered the art itself in action, unfettered and created on the spot.

All this is due to its creator and director, Joe Boughton, who feels a moral compulsion to preserve the music he first heard in the Boston area in the late 1940s.  Boughton is a solidly packed man who in profile resembles a Roman general, but his more characteristic expression is pleasure when his musicians are playing well and his audience is reverent.  He is the enemy of needless chatter unless it comes from the bandstand, and printed cards decorated each table, reading, “Afford our artists the respect they deserve and be considerate to those at your table and surrounding tables who have come from long distances and paid a lot of money to hear the music and not be annoyed by talking.”  That contains Boughton’s voice – low-key but impatient with nonsense.  He is also a one-man campaign to rescue jazz from the deadening effects of a limited repertoire.  Jazz musicians who are thrown together on the stand choose familiar songs: variations on the blues, on “I Got Rhythm,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” as well as crowd-pleasers “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Satin Doll,” which Boughton calls “Satin Dull.”  At Chautauqua, now-rare melodies filled the air — jazz standards ranging from King Oliver’s “Canal Street Blues,” circa 1923, to the Parker-Gillespie “Groovin’ High” of 1945 and John Lewis’s “Skating In Central Park,” but rare once-popular surprises, including “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World,” “Smiles,” “Ida,” “Aren’t You Glad You’re You” and “Moon Song.”  Although the songs might seem antique, the approach is not self-consciously historical: the young tenor saxophonist Harry Allen (to cite only one example) who delivers eloquent solos while standing motionless, once leaning against the bar, would fit in well with the bebop legend Clifford Brown or the Harlem stride master James P. Johnson.

Each of the four days was full of highlights, rarely loud or at a high pitch, but emotionally exhilarating all the same, from the first set on Thursday, as the Heitger-Sheridan duet became a trio with the addition of drummer John Von Ohlen (who resembles Ben Franklin in coiffure but Franklin, from eighteenth-century reports, tended to drag at fast tempos – something that Von Ohlen, sharp and attentive, never does) on a Benny Goodman Trio –tempoed “Liza” that blossomed into a quintet in mid-performance with tenor saxophonist Dan Block and bassist Phil Flanigan joining in because they couldn’t wait until it concluded.  Block looks as though he had slipped off from his professorship at an esteemed university, but has (unlike Allen) all the archetypical tenor saxophonist’s violent physical gestures, moving his horn ecstatically as his phrases tumble out, adopting a hymnlike tone on a ballad or floating at a fast tempo in the best Lester Young manner.  Flanigan hoisted this band (and others) on his shoulders with his elastic, supple time and when it came to his solo, no one succumbed to bass ennui, for his choruses had the logic and emotion of Jack Teagarden’s architectural statements.  (Flanigan is married to the eloquent singer Hanna Richardson, who had been at Chautauqua in 2003 and was much missed this year.)

Thus, Thursday night, an hour along, had become 52nd Street or Minton’s again, with no cigarette smoke or watered drinks in sight.  No one got up and danced, a pity, but no one clapped to an imagined beat while the musicians played – an immense relief.  What made the music memorable might have escaped a casual listener who expected jazz performances to be lengthy, virtuosic solos.  The players were concise, saying what they had to say in two or three choruses, and the technical brilliance was usually in making the difficult seem easy, whether on a racing hot performance or a tender ballad (although perfectly placed high notes did ornament solos).  What distinguished the performances was a joyous, irresistible forward motion – listeners’ heads steadily marked the beat, and everyone had their own sound: I could tell who was taking a solo with my eyes closed.  And there was an affectionate empathy on the stand: although musicians in a club chatter during others’ solos, these players listened intently, created uplifting background figures, and smiled at the good parts.  Off-duty players stayed to admire.  And when the last set of the night ended, the players gathered around the bar to talk about music – but not predictably.  Rather, they swapped stories about symphonic conductors: Joe Wilder sharing Pierre Boulez anecdotes, Dan Block giving us Fritz Reiner gossip.  The general bonhomie also turned into friendly banter with their colleagues and the audience: most musicians like to talk, and most are naturally witty.  The unstoppable Marty Grosz, beginning to explicate the singing group the Ink Spots for a late-evening tribute, said, “I’ll make this short, because I already hear the sounds of chins hitting breastbones.”  (He was wrong: the crowd followed every note.)

Some stereotypes are truer than not, however: I overheard this conversation between a musician I’ll call “M” and a solicitous member of the Chautauqua staff:

“M, would you like a drink?”

“Yes, thank you!  Gin.”

“A martini?  With ice?  Olives?  An onion?  Some tonic?”

“No.  [Emphatically.]  Gin.

Gin in its naked state was then provided.

On Thursday evening, I had talked with Phil Flanigan about the paying guests.  I had brought with me gloomy doubts about the aging, shrinking, and exclusively white audience, and the question of what happens to a popular art when its supporters die off, envisioning nothing but empty chairs in ten years.   I had expected to find a kindred pessimism in Flanigan, earnestly facing his buffet dinner, but it didn’t bother him that the audience that had once danced to Benny Goodman had thinned out.  Flanigan told me, emphatically, how he treasured these people.  “They’re dedicated fans.  They come to listen.”  “What about their age?” I asked.  “Lots of age,” he said.  “This is a good thing.  Think of the accumulated wisdom, the combined experience.  These are the folks who supported the music when it was young.  When they were young!  What do you know? They just happened to be loyal and long-lived.”  (Flanigan’s optimism, however, would have been tested to the limit by the affluent, fiftyish couple who shared our table and seemed to ignore the music in favor of the New York Times, barely looking up.)

Flanigan’s commentary was not the only surprise – especially for those who consider jazz musicians as inarticulate, concerned more about reeds than realities.  The next day, I had attached myself to Joe Wilder for lunch.  The conversation, steered by Wilder, weaved around memories of his friends, famous and not – but he really wanted to talk about Iraq and eco-devastation, and his perspective was anything but accepting.

Friday began with rain, and the hotel corridors were ornamented by white plastic buckets; from one room I heard an alto player practicing; behind another door trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso was turning a phrase this way and that in the fashion of a poet accenting one word and then another while reciting the line half-aloud.  I spent some costly time entranced by the displays of compact discs, buying and considering.

Later, the party began officially in the main ballroom with fourteen musicians (six brass, four reeds, four rhythm), stretched from left to right, jostling for position on the stage of the main ballroom, played “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” at its original, yearning tempo, with the trumpeter Randy Reinhart directing traffic, the musicians creating simple chordal backgrounds of organ tones played in whole notes (called “footballs” for the way they look on music paper) and the brilliant anachronism Vince Giordano switching from his bass saxophone (an instrument out of fashion by 1935) to the only aluminum double bass I have ever seen, as the spirit took him, the convocation suggesting Eddie Condon meeting Count Basie in 1939.

The set that followed was a masterpiece of small-band friendship, featuring Allen, Wilder, Block (on alto), the underrated Washington, D.C., pianist Larry Eanet, Howard Alden, Flanigan, and Von Ohlen.  In forty minutes, they offered a strolling “If Dreams Come True,” with Flanigan beginning his solo with a quote from the verse to “Love in Bloom,” a speedy “Time After Time,” usually taken lugubriously, with the melody handed off among all the horns and Alden in eight-bar segments, an even brisker “This Can’t Be Love,” notable for Eanet, who offered his own version of Hank Jones’s pearls at top speed and for Wilder – who now plays in a posture that would horrify brass teachers, his horn nearly parallel to his body, pointing down at the floor.  His radiant tone, heard on so many recordings of the Fifties, is burnished now into a speaking, conversational one – Wilder will take a simple, rhythmic phrase and repeat it a number of times, toying with it as the chords beneath him go flying by, a Louis Armstrong experiment, something fledgling players shouldn’t try at home, and he enjoys witty musical jokes: quoting “Ciribiribin” and, later, “Mona Lisa,” in a solo on “Flyin’ Home.”  Often he brought out a bright green plastic cup and waggled it close to and away from the bell of his horn, creating growly, subterranean sounds Cootie Williams would have liked.  (“From the five and ten,” he said, when I asked him about the cup.)  Wilder’s ballad feature, “I Cover the Waterfront,” was a cathedral of quiet climbing phrases.  And the set closed with a trotting version of “The Jeep is Jumpin’,” a Johnny Hodges riff on “I Got Rhythm” changes, played the way it was in 1941, before musicians believed that audiences needed to hear everything faster and louder.

A series of beautifully shaped impromptu performances followed, including a Bobby Gordon – John Sheridan duet full of Gordon’s breathy chalumeau register, and a Rebecca Kilgore set.  Kilgore has a serious, no-nonsense prettiness and doesn’t drape herself over the microphone to woo an audience, but she is an affecting, sly actress, who uses her face, her posture, and her hands to support or play off of what her beautiful voice is offering.  She is especially convincing when she is acting herself and her twin at once: on “Close Your Eyes,” a song full of serious assurance that the hearer will be safe forever in the arms of the true love, Kilgore managed to suggest that the lyrics were absolutely true while she audibly winked at the audience, as if to say, “Do you believe this sweet, silly stuff I’m singing?”

Friday closed with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, an explosive ten-piece band, replicating late Twenties and early Thirties jazz and dance orchestras.  Giordano, who resembles a movie idol who could have partnered Joan Blondell, is remarkable – an eloquent melodist and improviser on his unwieldy bass saxophone, where he gets a room-filling tone both sinewy and caressing; his aluminum string bass, ferociously propulsive tuba, and boyishly energetic vocals.  The Nighthawks reunion band featured whizzing tempos, bright solos, and on-target ensemble passages on a for-dancers-only repertoire, circa 1931, Savoy Ballroom.  Most listeners have never heard a band like the Nighthawks live – they shout to the heavens without being extraordinarily loud, and their ensemble momentum is thrilling.  Hoarse and dizzy, we climbed the stairs to our rooms at 1:30 AM.

Saturday morning began sedately, with solo piano, some pastoral duos and trios, and then caught fire with a Kilgore-James Dapogny duet.  Dapogny is a rolling, rumbling pianist in the style that used to be called “Chicagoan”: right-hand single note melody lines, flashing Earl Hines octaves, stride-piano ornamentations supported by a full, mobile left hand, and he and Kilgore had never played together before.  Kilgore let herself go on the nineteenth-century parlor favorite “Martha,” subtitled “Ah! So Pure!” which Connee Boswell took for a more raucous ride with the Bob Crosby band sixty-five years ago.  Kilgore’s approach was gliding and swinging, with hand gestures that would not have disgraced a Victorian songstress or a melodramatic 1936 band singer (a raised index finger for emphasis, a gentle clasp of her own throat), but the sly glint in her eye and the sweetly ironic quotation marks in her delivery suggested that Martha’s purity was open to question.  Then came a trio of Dan Barrett and Bob Havens on trombones, backed only Marty Grosz, someone his Chicago comrade Frank Chace has called “a one-man rhythm gang,” in a short set notable for fraternal improvising and Barrett’s interpolating one vocal stanza of a lewd blues, “The Duck’s Yas Yas” into “Basin Street Blues.”  More brass ecstasy followed in a trumpet extravaganza, ending with a six-trumpet plus Barrett version of Bunny Berigan’s famous “I Can’t get Started” solo, by now a piece of Americana, with the ballroom’s walls undulating with the collective passion.  The Nighthawks played an afternoon session, full of exuberance and wit: Giordano, calling a difficult tune for the band, smiled at his players and said, “Good luck, boys,” in the manner of Knute Rockne encouraging Notre Dame, before they leapt in to the forests of notes.  And it wasn’t all simply hot music: where else in America, I wondered, could you hear someone sing “Okay, Baby,” with its deathless, funny lyrics about the romantic couple: “The wedding ring I’ve bought for you / Fifty-two more payments and it’s yours, dear”?  Grosz followed with a set devoted to those musicians who would have turned 100 this year – Coleman Hawkins, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Dorsey, and Fats Waller, where Grosz (who knows these things, having come here from Berlin as a child in 1930) commented, “America is the land of easy come, easy go,” before singing a Waller ballad, “If It Ain’t Love,” as tenderly as if he were stroking the Beloved’s cheek.

Sunday morning began with a solo recital by guitarist Howard Alden, which itself began with a rueful “Blame It On My Youth” – Alden also had elevated all the rhythm sections of the bands he had been in, as well as being a careful, lyrical banjo soloist with the Nighthawks – but the temperature of the room soon rose appreciably.  A nearly violent “It’s All Right With Me” featured three storming choruses of four-bar trades among Harry Allen, Wilder, Barrett, and Dan Block; Duke Heitger closed his set with an extravagant “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” with its seldom-played stomping verse, here played twice before the ensemble strode into the chorus; the band supported by Grosz, constructing chordal filigrees at a very fast tempo; Giordano, slapping his aluminum bass for dear life, and Ed Metz, Jr., recalling Zutty Singleton, Armstrong’s drumming pal of the late Twenties, if Singleton had gone to the gym regularly.

Then it was time to go, to close with another Boughton extravaganza – a ballad medley lifted up greatly by Scott Robinson’s “Moonlight Becomes You” on bass flute, Jon-Erik Kellso’s “Willow Weep For Me,” growled as if he had become one of Ellington’s brass in 1929, and the clarinetist Bob Reitmeier’s soft “Deep Purple.”  These heartfelt moments gave way to the true closing “After You’ve Gone,” which featured impromptu piano duets among the many pianists, and an uproarious enthusiasm – greeted with the cheers it deserved.

I wasn’t surprised that on Sunday afternoon, driving back through Erie, Pennsylvania (where Lloyd’s Fireworks advertised “pepper spray, stun guns, sale on Lord of the Rings tape”) that my thoughts drifted back to Heitger’s Thursday-evening prediction.  Yes, there had been too much white and blue hair to make me feel confident about the future of the audience, Flanigan notwithstanding; there had even seemed to be too much music, pushing me to the brink of satiety, and it had all been evanescent – but Heitger had been right: it had been fun.

And just so my readers don’t forget the present and future while celebrating past glories: this year’s Jazz at Chautauqua will include (in egalitarian alphabetical order) Alden, Allen, Barrett, Block, Jon Burr, Dapogny, the Fauz Frenchmen, Grosz, Havens, Heitger, Glenn Holmes, Ingham, Kellso, Kinsella, Kilgore, Dan Levinson, Bill Ransom, Reinhart, Robinson, Sandke, Andy Schumm, Sheridan, Pete Siers, Rossano Sportiello, Andy Stein, Lynn Stein, Frank Tate, Von Ohlen, and Chuck Wilson.  That should provide sufficient music for a weekend!

CLASSIC BALLADS FROM JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 19, 2010)

The late Joe Boughton, commander-in-chief of Jazz at Chautauqua and other jazz parties, had very definite ideas about what should go on in a jazz performance and what was verboten, taboo, unforgivable.  So it would have caused him some astonishment to be told that he and Norman Granz (whose Jazz at the Philharmonic — with its long themeless blues, drum solos, and explorations of I GOT RHYTHM changes — represented everything he deplored) agreed on anything.  But they both understood something crucial about the performance of jazz ballads before a live audience.

Both men knew, through experience, that having all the musicians on the stand play BODY AND SOUL, for instance, each one taking two choruses, could lead to a certain sameness, not only for the audience but for the players.  Granz got there first with the solution: a ballad medley, where each of the horn players told the rhythm section what their chosen song was, the key (the tempo remained fixed throughout) and played a chorus in leisurely fashion.  You can hear this on Granz’s recordings, live and in the studio.

Joe Boughton didn’t release any of his ballad medleys, but the one that closed off the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua — the most recent party, and not the last — was particularly moving.  Here are three videos that capture most of it (with some editing for a variety of reasons, none of them musical).

We begin with an extraordinary rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums, and an unusual combination of songs: Rossano tenderly delineates I GOT IT BAD (AND THAT AIN’T GOOD) then turns it over to Marty, who sings and plays the Louis Armstrong – Horace Gerlach IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN:

Randy Reinhart climbs the stage to deliver an absolutely velvety APRIL IN PARIS, a performance that seems untoppable until Dan Barrett convincingly explains how THAT OLD FEELING is still in his heart.  (The crowd properly gives it a small ovation, and Dan looks does a comic double-take of surprise, “Me?”  Yes, you!) 

The very gentlemanly and polite Bob Havens asks PLEASE — doing Bing very proud.  Continuing in this most gallant fashion, clarinetist Bob Reitmeier very quietly asks us in for TEA FOR TWO.  Harry Allen sweetly tells us I WISH YOU LOVE, with Dan Block coming up immediately after!  

The Man of Feeling, Dan Block, assures us (the stakes are getting higher with each delicious cameo) that EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS.  Scott Robinson isn’t a combative, competitive player, but his version of SLEEPY TIME GAL — on the bass sax, which he carries — would be a masterpiece anywhere.  Scott Robinson heroically lifts the bass sax for SLEEPY TIME GAL.  Bobby Gordon tenderly whispers his love for the music in SUGAR; Andy Stein devotes himself to LAURA; Jon Burr emotes lyrically with PRELUDE TO A KISS — which is received with the proper hush (how nice to hear a bass solo receive such quiet attention):

Extraordinarily lovely, with not a hackneyed or overdramatized note in the bunch.  I’d like to make these clips required viewing for jazz musicians and singers of all vintages — to say nothing of those of us who can’t live without beauty.  And not incidentally — the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua will be held from September 15-18.  If you have already purchased your 2011 calendar . . . .

MARTY GROSZ at CHAUTAUQUA: IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLES

Sometimes uplifting music happens in the most casual circumstances — as was the case at this year’s Chautauqua jazz party, which began with informal jam sessions on Thursday night.  Here are two more performances from a splendid little group, led by Marty Grosz and featuring Andy Schumm, Bob Reitmeier, John Sheridan, Frank Tate, and Pete Siers.

Here’s a pleasingly brisk run through I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

And a tune that musicians of a certain inclination love to play — perhaps because they spend so many hours on planes, away from their loved ones — BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD:

Impromptu and rewarding both.

PAGING DOCTOR JAZZ: FOR JIM DAPOGNY

Recently Jim Dapogny had major surgery.  But he is recovering (as Marty Grosz would say) With Dispatch and Vigor

If you don’t know Jim, what a pity — Professor Dapogny is not only a music scholar of great renown, noted for his work on Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson, but he is a stomping pianist of splendid subtleties, someone who can rock the hall without half trying — a true successor to Joe Sullivan and Frank Melrose.  And he’s a wonderful arranger for big bands and small.   

Even with the stellar pianists at this year’s Jazz at Chautauqua, we missed the Professor. 

But the waggish Martin Oliver Grosz, he of the rapier wit, is very fond of his colleague and dedicated a tune to him during the Thursday night jam sessions.  What tune?  YOU PUT A BANDAGE ON ME — known to more sedate listeners as YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME. 

Here, Marty, John Sheridan, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Frank Tate, bass; Pete Siers, drums, swing out in true Dapogny style.  They’re all specialists; they don’t need second opinions:

Get well, Professor!  Watch out for those co-pays!  See you next month!

DON’T MISS JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2010!

There are still seats available for the September 2010 Jazz at Chautuaqua.

That means plenty of hot music, rhythm ballads, lesser-known but beautiful songs from Tin  Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood . . . all performed by a celebrated cast of musicians and singers.   The party begins on Thursday, September 16, 2010, at the Hotel Athenaeum on Lake Chautauqua, New York. 

The heroes and heroines on the bill are Bob Barnard, Randy Reinhart, Joe Wilder, Andy Schumm, Randy Sandke, Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, Bobby Gordon, Harry Allen, Chuck Wilson, Scott Robinson, Bob Reitmeier, Dan Block, Marty Grosz, Gene Bertoncini, Ehud Asherie, John Sheridan, Keith Ingham, Rossano Sportiello, Mike Greensill, Vince Giordano, Jon Burr, Frank Tate, Andy Stein, Pete Siers, Arnie Kinsella, John Von Ohlen, The Faux Frenchmen, Rebecca Kilgore, and Wesla Whitfield.

As always, the music will begin with a series of informal jam sessions on Thursday night, and continue from Friday afternoon to Sunday around 2 PM.  In the past five years, some of my most exultant musical experiences have taken place there, and I am looking forward to more of the same — plus tables of rare sheet music and CDs, books and photographs (the latter department presided over by the venerable Duncan Schiedt) — good food, an open bar, friendly conversation and a chance to meet old friends who love Hot jazz.

I picked this rendition of IF DREAMS COME TRUE from last year’s party in case anyone is still wondering whether the jazz is worth the trip.  Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Ehud Asherie, Andy Brown, and Arnie Kinsella show that Jazz at Chautauqua is indeed a place where dreams do come true.

For more information on pricing, weekend lodging, and ticket order procedures, contact the Athenaeum Hotel at 1-800-821-1881 or athenaeum1881@hotmail.com.

ONE LAST LOOK, PERHAPS?

In the great stories, looking back over your shoulder is emotionally understandable.  But it often ends up badly.  Ask Eurydice; ask Lot’s wife. 

But I am having a hard time parting from my videos of the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua, so I thought I would post yet another set, recorded at 10:30 Sunday morning, undiscovered territory for most jazz musicians, nocturnal by occupation and habit.  Some of the players look unusually impassive, but even in the unaccustomed bright light, the set has an undeniable casual splendor.

On the stand were Duke Heitger, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Bob Reitmeier, Ehud Asherie, Marty Grosz, Frank Tate, and Pete Siers — gathered together for a medium-fast one, a ballad medley, and a short romp through an ancient Good Old Good One.

Here they are, caught a few bars too late, into LINGER AWHILE, a song I always associate with the 1943 Dicky Wells recording featuring Bill Coleman, Lester Young, Ellis Larkins, Al Hall, and Jo Jones.  You’ll admire Pete’s splashing cymbal work, the neatness of Dan’s solo, Scott’s winding lyricism, and the way a hidden Andy comes from nowhere:

One of the highlights of Jazz at Chautauqua is the opening ballad medley, where just about everyone is asked to play one chorus at a slow tempo of a ballad — the musicians climb on and off the stand, the rhythm section learns at short notice that the next endeavor is, say, SKYLARK in F, and everyone handles it magnificently.  (It’s so much more rewarding than asking everyone to play BODY AND SOUL for twenty minutes.)  Duke decided to repeat this treat in miniature, beginning with his own MEMORIES OF YOU, followed by Bob playing STARDUST, Scott weaving his way through PRELUDE TO A KISS, Andy recalling Willard Robison on OLD FOLKS, and Dan Barrett bringing everyone together to intone IF I HAD YOU.  But the bad news is that YouTube wouldn’t let me post it: it ran longer than ten minutes.  Grrrr.  But here’s some consolation — an ideal get-off-the-stage performance, a brisk CHINA BOY, compact and hot:

How many days is it till Jazz at Chautauqua 2010?

“BUGLE CALL RAG” (Sept. 2009)

I find myself drawn back to this clip (and this performance) from Jazz at Chautauqua over and over.

“But it’s only BUGLE CALL RAG,” I hear the skeptics saying.

“Yes, but watch!”  I imagine myself retorting.  “Observe the carefully offhanded way that Duke Heitger shapes the performance, assigning breaks and solos, monitoring the ensemble diminuendos and crescendos in true Chicagoan style — you need to get soft so that you can get loud!  This reminds me so of the closing IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLES of 1944-5 Condon concert broadcasts.  Bob Havens, unfazed by anything, strolling along exuberantly at this hot tempo.  Bob Reitmeier, pretending to float along in mid-air while the rhythm section boils below him, a delicious contrast between his cool restraint (and harmonic explorations) and the plunging beat around him.  James Dapogny, King of the Ticklers, striding with force and accuracy — not only in his solos but also as the essential connective of that rhythm section; Marty Grosz strumming for all he’s worth and then laying out during Dapogny’s solo to observe without intruding.  Vince Giordano making the most out of the chords on his trusty aluminum string bass.  And Arnie Kinsella, the prophet of Glorious Noise, deciding that his sole purpose at that moment was to hit his cowbell as vigorously as he could until he decided to move to another part of the set.”

That’s what I say to myself.  Now savor the jubilation for yourselves!

IN FRONT OF OUR EYES (Chautauqua 2009)

Here are songs from the very first informal set of music at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua, where we watched and heard our heroes create. 

People for whom jazz is a foreign language ask, “How do they do that, I mean, without music in front of them?  How do they know what they’re doing?”  The answer, of course, is a mix of skill, experience, and daring, beyond mastery of one’s instrument: knowing the chord changes to YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY is one preliminary step; knowing how to play whatever comes to mind another; knowing what not to play a third; having the courage to follow one’s impulses perhaps the final and greatest step.  No amount of immersion in the jazz tradition, no amount of studying recordings, can make up for an absence of courage and playfulness.

Inspired playfulness was evident all through the first set — with musicians who don’t always have the opportunity to get together and exchange ideas: Andy Schumm, cornet; Andy Stein, forsaking his violin for the baritone sax; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Vince Giordano, bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; John Von Ohlen, drums.  A close observer will notice a good deal of making-it-up-as-we-go-along here . . . which is not the same thing as uncertainty or tentativeness.  Rather, it is a willingness to invent while the car is in fourth gear, to say, “Let’s try this and not worry too much whether it’s perfect or not.”  That attitude can add up to train wrecks when less inspired players gather; here, it made some great loose playing possible.  You will notice, as a wonderful added benefit, the smiles on the musicians’ faces, their attentive listening to each others’ solos.  Viewers who like their videos uncluttered will have to get used to the backs of people’s heads in front of me — I could identify most of them as friends! — but their rhythmic bobbing and weaving doesn’t distract from the experience: it’s a pleasure to see the audience, attentive and quiet, but having a fine time.   

The first song is an exploration of a Twenties composition, attractive because its twists and turns aren’t overfamiliar: WABASH BLUES.  I admire the rocking motion of that rhythm section, at once intense and cool; Dapogny’s solo (it would have been perfectly in place in a Chicago joint circa 1933), Reitmeier and Barrett, building splendid solos out of logically-connected short phrases; Andy Schumm, rough-housing and tumbling around in his surprising Wild Bill Davison manner, and an especially impassioned Andy Stein — before the ensemble rocks it all out:

A trotting version of THE SHEIK OF ARABY ewcalled a Red Nichols-Jack Teagarden record of 1929, where Teagarden improvised a stirring solo over the band’s humming the straight melody behind him.  SHEIK is sometimes taken much faster; I admire this band’s steady lope:

Dan Barrett, like Duke Heitger, likes to begin performances of YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY with the rather-rare verse, and this performance took off from his outlining the brief melody.  This version tipped its collective cap to Louis and to the Bennie Moten band and its later Kansas City incarnations.  Barrett, suggesting that being driven crazy could be pleasurably romantic, quotes both SAY IT and the verse to LOVE IN BLOOM, with whatever associations imaginable:

I could write more about these performances, but I’m going to watch them again.  You come, too.

CHAUTAUQUA JOYS

The Beloved and I spent the past long weekend (Thursday, September 17 – Sunday, September 20) at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, delighting in the twelfth Jazz at Chautauqua. 

This party, burnished to a happy sheen, is the result of Joe Boughton’s sixty-year immersion in the timeless jazz he loves, situated somewhere between King Oliver and Charlie Parker, with reverential nods to Mr. Condon, Mr. Strong, Mr. Waller, Mr. Wilson.  Joe is also the fierce champion of melodies that don’t get played elsewhere, and as the common parlance of jazz occasionally seems to shrink into a few syllables, Joe is trying to keep the beautiful repertoire of the past alive.  That means CHINA BOY, BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU, SKYLARK, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY, and others.  Play SATIN DOLL at a Boughton extravaganza and you might get glared at, which I understand. 

Jazz at Chautauqua has its own delightful conventions (and I don’t mean the clusters of people who gather around the coffee urn, the bar, the tables of compact discs and sheet music).  Thursday night is devoted to what Joe calls “informal music with all musicians in parlor room,” sometimes the most eloquent jazz of the whole weekend — loose jam session sets by bands Joe has assembled on the spot — no lighting, the musicians on the same level as the audience.  Friday afternoon is spent in the parlor around a grand piano, with a variety of solo recitals, and the opening blow-out that night begins as if we had returned to the Third Street Condon’s of 1947, with two front lines alternating and then joining forces for an unusual number (this year it was GOD BLESS AMERICA), a ballad medley, and an old favorite. 

Each day features an exalted version of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, because most of the Chautauqua players are also Nighthawks alumni — rather like an all-star baseball team behind their blue banners and music stands.  In between, there’s the occasional set by “the faux Frenchmen,” a QHCF group augmented this year by Andy Stein on violin, sets for the wondrous Rebecca Kilgore.  Musicians ranging in age from 29 to 87 come and go, and there’s a good deal of friendly conversation between players and listeners, with some players holding forth at length while sitting on the porch or leaning against the front desk.  (The Athenaeum, if you’ve never been there, is a delicious throwback: an entirely wooden hotel, over a hundred years old, with perhaps the most friendly, solicitous hotel staff on the planet.) 

In years past, I brought my notebook to Chautauqua and wrote down the details of every set.  This year, I abandoned my notebook for other methods of capturing the evanescent and as a result this reminiscence is more impressionistic than quantitative.  I was also busily chatting with friends David and Maxine Schacker, John Herr, John and Mary-Etta Bitter, Jim Adashek, Sally and Mick Fee, Caren Brodskey, and making new friends of Steve LaVere, Lois Lardieri, James Stewart, John and Helen Trudinger, as well as various Boughtons.  Essayist and art photographer Lorna Sass graciously offered her candid portraits for this post. 

What sticks in my mind is, of course, the music.  On Thursday night, after a witty set by “the faux Frenchmen,” a delicious band of Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Bob Reitmeier, Jim Dapogny, Vince Giordano, Marty Grosz, and John Von Ohlen took the stand, and offered seven tunes that paid homage to Red Nichols (a slow SHEIK OF ARABY), Louis (YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY) and the tradition of the “rhythm ballad,” with Marty Grosz’s earnest vocal on BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.  They were followed by Duke Heitger, Dan Block, Bob Havens, Ehud Asherie, Frank Tate, and Pete Siers, whose set reached a peak with SEPTEMBER SONG — featuring Duke, plunger-muted, and Dan Block, richly emotional.  Joe Wilder and Harry Allen floated over the wonderful rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello and Jon Burr for four leisurely numbers, ending with a growly JUST SQUEEZE ME and a BLUES in Bb.  Then, suitably inspired by what they had heard, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson (wearing a red-and-black shirt that had SPACE CADET or was it SPACE CHAMP printed on the front) hit five home runs, playing ecstatic tag with one another with the help of Ehud, Andy Brown, and Arnie Kinsella — a rhythm section that had probably never gotten together ever but produced gliding, propulsive swing.  The closing SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL was hilarious, hot, and intense. 

After that point, I put my notebook away — so what remains is a happy blur of solos, ensembles, and moments. 

ChauAndyStein09Andy Stein, shown here on violin, was even better on his secret weapon, the baritone sax, anchoring and boosting every group he played in.

Jim Dapogny, properly Professor Dapogny, jazz scholar, once again showed himself the invaluable member of every ensemble, his right hand landing with force and delicacy to produce ringing octaves; his left offering powerful stride and variations. 

 

ChauEhud09Just as impressive was Ehud Asherie, not yet thirty (someone I had recommended to Joe to fill the piano chair) who so impressed us all — whether recalling Donald Lambert or being harmonically and melodically adventurous.  One of the highlights of the first night was a long Asherie-Harry Allen duet set, capped by three numbers where Ehud invited Dan Barrett to join them.  Two horns plus a piano might seem lopsided, but it was a wonderfully balanced trio. 

Andy Schumm, the young Bixian from Wisconsin, continued to delight and amaze — not only with his evocations of the Beiderbecke era (his versions of RHYTHM KING and NO-ONE KNOWS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT) but with his delicate fluency: he would fit in anywhere and shine.  When I passed through the bandroom, I was touched to see Andy and Tom Pletcher, Bixians young and old, deep in conversation.  Too bad that they didn’t get to play a set together.

Guitarist Andy Brown reminded me happily of George Van Eps, his chordal traceries gleaming (he is one of those rare guitarists who knows better than to stun us with rapid-fire passages); he and the lovely Petra van Nuis offered two brief sets.  Petra, who appears girlish, has a surprising emotional range: she got absolute rapt attention at 9 in the morning with her opening song, a version of SERENATA.  (Later in the weekend, I prevailed upon the modern troubadour Edward Lovett to sing two songs, accompanying himself on the guitar: he’s somewhere between Seger Ellis, young Crosby, and Dave Frishberg — you’ll hear about him!) 

ChauDuke 09And there were non-musical moments: Duke Heitger, now the delighted father of two beautiful little girls, showing off their pictures and positively glowing with pride.  Marty Grosz, discoursing at length both on and off the stand — at one point discussing how current CD covers all show grinning performers and his reluctance to adopt that pose.  Marty also sang I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at the just-right 1931 ballad tempo, recalling his hero Red McKenzie. 

Jon-Erik Kellso, at his ease on the stand (he is an inestimable bandleader as well as player) and happily taking his ease with wife Jackie.  Rebecca Kilgore, getting so pleased with the rhythm and solos her accompanists were creating that she indulged in a good deal of ladylike trucking on the stand (as well as singing better than ever). 

ChauJoe09

On one of Rebecca’s sets, Joe Wilder was so buoyed by the rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello, Jon Burr, and Pete Siers, that he flew through dazzling solos — leading Dan Block, as a spectator, to say, “Unbelievable!” while shaking his head in amazed delight.  Scott Robinson, playing a luminous AT SUNDOWN on trumpet.  That same Dan Block, eloquent on clarinet, bass clarinet, and various saxophones, his body always reflecting the power of the music flowing through him.  An impassioned I CAN’T GET STARTED by Duke Heitger, who saw the heights of passion and attained them.  Arnie Kinsella, the poet of volcanic ebullience, hitting his cowbell in a solo, as he said later, “as loud as he could,” because he wanted to — in a way that we agreed was a celebration of joyous impulse and a Bronx cheer in the face of death. 

The music still rings in my ears.  And I am thrilled to announce that on Sunday, Joe Boughton was busily signing up musicians for next year’s Jazz at Chautauqua.  I’ll have to wait, but it won’t be easy. 

I’ll have more to say about this ecstatic weekend in posts to come.

NEXT STOP, WHITLEY BAY!

suitcaseFor someone who spent the better part of his life venturing no more than a hundred miles from his birthplace, I’ve traveled a great deal since 2004, most of my peregrinations courtesy of and beside the Beloved, the world’s finest travel companion.

And we’d already made plans to go to the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua in September (where we’ll hear and meet Dan Barrett, Marty Grosz, Duke Heiger, Becky Kilgore, Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, Jon-Erik Kellso, James Dapogny, Bob Reitmeier . . . need I say more) — that delightful party situated amidst the lovely leaf-strewn walks and cottages of Chautauqua, New York.

But as my faithful readers know, I have never been to a British jazz party, although some of the jazz musicians I revere are European.  So when I read about July’s Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, run by trumpeter Mike Durham, my pulse rate increased and I began to fantasize.  Bent Persson, Frans Sjostrom, Matthias Seuffert, Spats Langham, Nick Ward, Martin Wheatley, Jacob Ullberger, Michael McQuaid, the Red Hot Reedwarmers, Rene Hagmann, Norman Field, the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings . . .people I’ve admired so much on Stomp Off, Kenneth, and other CDs.

Initially I simply wanted to go in the way that people would like to do something.  Wouldn’t it be nice to hear all these musicians I’ve only heard on record and CD?  But it would be so far away.  It would be inconvenient (flying is not my passion); it would cost a great deal; the Beloved had larger plans for a UK tour — involving things beyond staying in a hotel for four days listening to jazz from noon to midnight.  So I put it aside in the corner of my mind where the things I want to do but have some doubts about aleep at night.

Then it hit me — I can’t say I sat up in bed or had to pull over to the side of the road on the way to work.  I wasn’t knocked out of my saddle.  But I have been teasingly saying to friends for the past two years that the Beloved and I have incorporated to form the CARPE DIEM TRAVEL AGENCY (deep discounts, experienced planning, an easy payment plan).

But the nagging question formed itself over and over in my mind: “What if I should die and never have heard the Hot Jazz Trio (Persson, Sjostrom, and Ullberger) live, not on CDs?”  It was too painful to envision.  Two days ago, I booked my flight — an extravaganza of airplanes and airports beyond belief — and I just gave the Village Newcastle (the hotel where the festival takes place) my credit card information.

I’m coming!  And my head surely isn’t bending low.  If any blog-readers are going to be at Whitley Bay (and I cannot, for the life of me, see how anyone could resist the lineup), please let me know.  Perhaps you can guide me to a portion of fish and chips that won’t stop my heart by the second bite, perhaps I can find some American CDs you’ve been searching for.  Or something equally friendly and enlivening.

That lineup and more is posted at http://www.whitleybayjazzfest.org

I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES

That title isn’t just a pretty Thirties song recorded by Fats Waller, Ruby Braff, Bob Wilber, Ralph Sutton, and Marty Grosz.  Although I am incorrigibly secular, my version of a jazz miracle took place a few days ago when I learned that the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua party was going on, full speed ahead, this year.  It will take place, as it has for some time, at the lovely, old-fashioned Athenaeum Hotel, looking out over Lake Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton, who has a deep affection for improvised lyricism and wondrous songs that haven’t been overplayed, is once again at the helm.  He tells me he’s grown a beard, but I expect that the faithful will still recognize him.  And he has once again triumphed over the obstacles that would have stopped an army in their tracks to create this party.

Loyal readers of this blog — if they search for “Chautauqua” — will find that it was the subject of my very first posting.  I am very sentimental about this party, because I’ve heard some of the best impromptu jazz of my life there.  The party starts with informal music (sometimes the best of the whole weekend, but that’s a secret) on Thursday night, September 17 — and it goes apparently without a four-bar rest up to the early afternoon of Sunday, September 20.

I won’t clutter up this blog with the annoying details of prices, but you can find all of that out for yourself by contacting Apryl Seivert, reservations manager and tracer of lost persons at the Athenaeum — at 1-800-821-1881 or at athenaeum1881@hotmail.com.

I know that September seems a long way off, but it’s not too early to close your eyes and imagine the music that you’ve heard at past Chautauquas . . . or the music you know that the players below will invent.  Here’s the magical cast of characters, most of them returning veterans with a few new stars:

Cornet / trumpet: Duke Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Joe Wilder, Andy Schumm, Tom Pletcher

Trombone: Dan Barrett, Bob Havens

Reeds: Dan Block, Harry Allen, Bob Reitmeier, Bobby Gordon, Chuck Wilson, Scott Robinson

Piano: Keith Ingham, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, Rossano Sportiello

Guitar: Marty Grosz, Howard Alden, Andy Brown

Bass: Jon Burr, Frank Tate, Vince Giordano

Tuba / Bass Sax: Vince Giordano

Drums: John Von Ohlen, Pete Siers, Arnie Kinsella

Vocal: Rebecca Kilgore, Petra van Nuis, Marty Grosz

Extra Added Attractions: the faux frenchmen with Andy Stein and Joe Lukasik

I know that it is a really bad idea to rush time ahead — you never get those days back! — but I’m looking forward eagerly to this.  More to come!

A JAZZ HOLIDAY — CHAUTAUQUA 2008

Jazz at Chautauqua, the cherished baby of Joe Boughton and the Allegheny Jazz Society, whirled around for yet the eleventh year — filling the hours of September 18 – 21 with hot jazz, rare songs, and sweet, swinging lyricism.  It was my fifth visit there, and the Beloved’s first.  We had a wonderful time, tearing ourselves away from the music at regular intervals to walk the Chautauqua grounds, with their elaborately done houses, the leaves already changing, and the glory of Lake Chautauqua.  We took a number of meals on the wide wooden porch of the Athenaeum Hotel, with high-level sitters-in who were carrying plates of food rather than horns and charts: Marty Grosz, Bob Reitmeier, Nina Favara . . . and we got to hang out with Jackie Kellso and Becky Kilgore, Ray Cerino and Carol Baer, David and Maxine Schacker (creators of BEING A BEAR).

By my count, there were about forty sets of music, starting at breakfast and going on until 1:30 AM.  When I was younger and more vigorous in 2004, I devoted myself with a pilgrim’s determination to hearing every last note, with Coffee as my friend and non-prescription ally.  Eventually, I couldn’t sit and listen to even the world’s best jazz for that long.  Everything, including the cerebral cortex, set up a protest.

So here are some highlights, admittedly a subjective list, but, as the narrator of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight says, “To tell all the tale would tax my five wits.”  I was too busy taking notes to take pictures, so readers who want visual stimuli should go to www.mississippirag.com for the October issue, which will be festooned with photographs by John Bitter.

I’ve written about the Thursday festivities (see WITH DISPATCH AND VIGOR) but Friday began to pop with two wonderful sets.  One was led by Jon-Erik Kellso, oddly, his only formal opportunity to do this all weekend, which I find mysterious. because he is an engaging, funny leader.  His set featured lively old songs at the front and back, “Alice Blue Gown” and a Louis-inflected “Some of These Days,” but the middle was even better — Dan Block and Jon-Erik on the 1933 romance “The Day You Came Along,” which managed to summon up both Bing and Hawkins, a neat trick.  Then Bob Havens, exploding all over the horn like a teenager, charged through Harry Warren’s “42nd Street,” a song neglected by jazz players, more’s the pity.  And a delicate, plaintive “Always” featured Block on bass clarinet and Bob Reitmeier on clarinet — not evoking Soprano Summit or the Apex Club Orchestra, but some otherworldly strain, Debussy with a beating Thirties heart.

Becky Kilgore’s set was too short but each song was a neat surprise.  Backed by the endearing Joe Wilder, who moved from bucket mute to his red-and-white metal derby to his fluegelhorn, Dan Barrett being himself, and the ever-thoughtful Rossano Sportiello, Becky offered a happy “Getting Some Fun Out of Life,” whose title seemed more true than ever, “But Not For Me” with a pensive verse, and a sly “Little White Lies,” dedicated to “the politicians.”  In an enlighted administration, our Becky could sing at the Inaugural Ball, but I don’t hold out great hopes for this.

A Saturday-morning Duke Heitger extravaganza was notable for a slow-dance “Whispering” which began with a lovely Ingham introduction, romantic and sweet.  Music to hug by!  Eventually the band decided they had had enough of good behavior and doubled the tempo (Duke turned into Bunny Berigan at points) moving on to a riotous Condon finale with earth-shaking breaks from Arnie Kinsella, unbridled even before lunchtime.

Rather like Becky’s cameo of the previous evening, a Joe Wilder – Rossano Sportiello duet seemed over before we had had time to accustom ourselves to the magical idea of hearing them together with no interference (and with Joe getting to pick the songs he wanted to play, which isn’t always the case).  Tender versions of “Embraceable You” and “Skylark” paved the way for a steadily moving “Idaho,” memorably energetic.  Joe’s glossy tone has become more a speaking utterance in recent years, which is even more personal, and Rossano is my idea of Jazz Ecumenism — getting Fats Waller and Bud Powell to shake hands whenever he plays.

A Marty Grosz set was devoted to the memory of the vocalist, comb-and-tissue paper virtuoso, and bandleader Red McKenzie, about whose music no one is lukewarm.  Typically, we enjoyed a long winding Marty-narrative, full of priceless jazz arcana and some wicked comedy, but it showed off his convincing crooning on “I’ve Got The World On A String.”  The group that backed him — Block, Andy Stein on violin, and the irreplaceable Vince Giordano, seemed the perfect modern embodiment of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four.  About enjoyment, incidentally: Joe Boughton introduced Marty and ended with the ritualistic crypto-command, “Enjoy.”  Marty, who can be as dangerous as a drawer full of scissors, replied, while he was settling in, “I don’t make music to be enjoyed,” as if the concept offended his fastidious self.  But we did, anyway.  So there!

The Wisconsin Bixians (Andy Schumm and Dave Bock) once again got to play with their heroes — Reitmeier, Stein, James Dapogny, Vince, Marty, and Arnie Kinsella — the all-star rhythm team of the weekend or perhaps of this century? — and proved themselves up to the challenge.  Except for a pretty “At Sundown,” they chose Bix-rompers from 1927-8, “Jazz Me Blues,” “Clarinet Marmalade,” and “Somebody Stole My Gal,” making me think of Bix and Miff Mole in some ideal alternate universe, backed by Tesch, Sullivan, Condon, Artie Bernstein, and Krupa.

Keeping the momentum and the mood, Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks showed themselves off as the Jazz Larks.  We”ve all heard the band parse early Pollack, Challis, Isham Jones, Ellington — but this was a leaping ensemble of veteran alumni, fully warmed up.  The Beloved turned to me and murmured, “Vince is in his glory,” and we all were.  Kellso, Block, and Havens sang out — no surprise!

That evening, a lovely set featured Duke Heitger, Havens, Bobby Gordon, the priceless rhythm section mentioned above, and Kellso.  After a casual “Tea for Two,” everyone cut loose (especially Gordon) on “Mahogany Hall Stomp.”  Jon-Erik and Duke are old Midwestern pals, and Kellso was Duke’s model and mentor when neither of them had a driver’s license.  It wasn’t a cutting contest but a friendly reunion, but the two of them gave me chills on “If We Never Meet Again.”  The rafters rang — not with volume, but with passion and a shouting tenderness, which is no oxymoron when you have players who have devoted their lives to it.

Later that night, a set led by Randy Reinhart again showed off two trumpets, as he and Jon exploded into “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” reminding me of Louis’s Decca big band version and a short passage from a film about Dick Gibson’s jazz parties where Ruby Braff and Clark Terry duetted on the sidewalk while fireworks went off around them.  Another touching Reitmeier-Block duet (clarinet and bass-clarinet) on “I Got It Bad” made me wish that every set had had two ballad performances.  (At parties, musicians get excited about playing with their friends, so tempos and volume sometimes rise.)

Sunday morning — at a pre-consciousness hour for most musicians — began with a solo set by Dapogny.  I haven’t said much about him in this post, but I was tremendously impressed with him as an ensemble pianist as well as a soloist.  I had gotten happily used to the idea of his stomping propulsion at previous Chautauquas, his forceful accuracy (think Sullivan, Hines, Fats) but time and again he surprised us all by going into unexpected harmonic corners, playing phrases that were the very opposite of formulas.  And how he swung the bands he was in!

Marty Grosz’s Sunday set honored mid-Thirties Red Allen.  In fairness, the musicians were sight-reading the charts, so there was an uncertain passage here and there . . . but who among us would do better?  I was nearly stunned by the band’s vehement “Jamaica Shout,” which I would assume refers to the Queens neighborhood rather than the Caribbean, but this may be mere speculation.

Finally, a marvelous quartet took the stand — Bob Wilber, his tone still glossy, his rhythmic intensity still intact at eighty, Jon-Erik, blinking slightly in the unaccustomed daylight, Marty and Vince — the best people to summon up the ferocious glories of the 1940 Bechet-Spanier Big Four recordings for the Hot Record Society.  (When I visited guitarist Craig Ventresco, he had the original 12″ 78s, which seemed holy relics — and they still sounded fine on his three-speed phonograph!)  A peerless quartet, deep in contrapuntal hot ensembles and soaring solos.

With regret, the Beloved and I left before it was all over to begin the day-long drive back to New York City, both exhausted and thrilled by the music.

The rewarding thing about Jazz at Chautauqua is that I began to write this post with the idea of including only a few highlights — but there were so many asterisks and exclamation points in my notebook that the idea of a “few” quickly became impossible.  For every set I mentioned, for every solo, there were two or three more of equal quality — a true jazz holiday!  The music rings in my ears as I sit at the keyboard.

WITH DISPATCH AND VIGOR (Thursday Night at Chautauqua)

Seven months ago, when I edged into blogging and sat down to write my first post, I was immensely pleased that I could tell people that Jazz at Chautauqua would be held, once again, in September.  It came to pass!  And last Thursday night, we heard four sets of informal, joyous jazz.  The setting was as close to ideal as anyone could want: a well-lit room full of cheerfully listening people, with the musicians set up, informally, on the same level.  No stage, no suits; buffet food and a well-stocked bar.  Outside this room in the Athenaeum Hotel was a wooden porch with comfortable chairs, from where you could see an expansive lake.  And the staff at the hotel was happily always at the ready.  (Here they resemble a barbershop quartet, although they never burst into song.)

Things began in a sly, understated way when the “faux frenchmen” took up positions at one end of the room.  They are an earnest, supple quartet of players from Cincinnati who model themselves after the Quintette of the Hot Club of France.  Yes, the quartet follows Django and Stephane in their love of beautiful melodies and hot rhythm, but they aren’t committed to reproducing cherished records note-for-note, a good thing.  After an ambling “Bye Bye Blackbird,” they eased into a sidling, slow-drag “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” and romping versions of “I Saw Stars” and “Limehouse Blues.”  Jazz party promoters here and abroad should take note: they’re a fine group.

The second set made me think I had died and gone to Heaven — no, strike that — to Jimmy Ryan’s, circa 1942, for one of Milt Gabler’s Sunday afternoon jam sessions photographed by Charles Peterson.  Led by Marty Grosz, guitar, vocals, and raillery, the band included Randy Reinhart, Duke Heitger, and Bob Havens on the brass, Dan Block and Bobby Gordon on reeds, Jim Dapogny on piano, and Arnie Kinsella on drums.  Generously filling a vacancy in the rhythm section, Andy Stein, most well-known for his Venuti-inspired violin capers, strapped his baritone saxophone on and took up a chair next to the piano, providing Rollini bass lines and climbing solos.  Marty was in good spirits, happy to be surrounded by friends, and took us back to 1936 with a jolly “Love Is Just Around the Corner,” which mixed a little Bing Crosby in Marty’s hot crooning with some Condon touches.  Usually sets are assembled so that the second song is slower than the opening rouser, but Marty kicked off a fast “Them There Eyes,” again singing the sweet, silly lyrics — inspiring Duke to great early-Louis flights of passion.  The Beloved, who had never seen Duke play before, leaned over and said, “His playing is clear as a bell!”

A trotting “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” followed, and the set concluded with a song Marty explained as the band’s tribute to Connie Francis, who, he said, had recorded a “maudlin, mawkish” version of it in her heyday.  I was momentarily mystified — Connie Francis isn’t usually hailed at jazz parties — but then the band swung into a ferocious version of “Who’s Sorry Now?” that owed its heart and soul to the Blue Note Jazzmen, nothing at all to Connie.  The soloists were so fine that it would take a whole page to celebrate them, but I still marvel at how Arnie’s thundering accents drove the band, how Dapogny’s right hand evoked the glories of Stacy and Hines, his left some of the magic of James P.  And the band worked hard — on the way out after the last song, a listener got up to shake Randy Reinhart’s hand, and I heard Randy say, “Now I can relax.”

A somewhat more pastoral set followed, with the front line of the inestimable Joe Wilder (now eighty-six!) on fluegelhorn and Bob Reitmeier on clarinet, whose easy lines complemented each other beautifully, making the most familiar pieces of jazz repertory, “Lady Be Good,” “Fine and Dandy,” and a ballad medley come alive.  Wilder continues to amaze: it’s not the simple matter of his age — playing a brass instrument is difficult for anyone — but the surprises he unfurls as he plays, his dancing, leaping phrases never going in predictable ways.  And he got the highest praise: when Joe was playing, Bob Reitmeier grinned at particularly felicitous inventions.

In one of those odd turns that jazz parties and jam sessions often bring, the elder statesman of the party (and of the brass world) was followed in the closing set by two immensely talented youths — Bix-inspired fellows from Wisconsin: Andy Schumm (cornet and piano) and David Bock (trombone), 22 and 20 respectively.

They were joined by players we know well: Rossano Sportiello on piano, Pete Siers on drums, and Dan Barrett on trombone.  Jon Burr, who had packed his bass, was prevailed upon to stay (another good thing!) and the session began.  It’s one kind of pleasure when a listener hears someone fine and familiar, another entirely when someone you’ve never heard steps onstage and proceeds to shine.  Schumm reveres Bix and can easily reproduce the nuances of that style, but he isn’t playing copies of the records.  Rather, he has somehow gotten inside the Bixian thought patterns, so that what comes out, alternatively hesitant and plunging, sounds like what Bix might have played had he been allowed to live into 1939.  On the one song the band played that was outside the Beiderbecke canon, “In A Mellotone,” Schumm drew upon a nicely tailored Mainstream approach, somewhere between Hackett and Harry Edison, always a reassuring combination.  His trombone playing friend, wearing a Gennett Records t-shirt, was more energetically rough-hewn, but he was no tailgater: his solos made Dan Barrett smile and applaud.  And Barrett was in fine form: not only playing smoothly and exuberantly, but taking an unexpected vocal, plaintive and casual, on “Louise.”

As the set was nearing its end, two moments happened that seemed to echo the great Hollywood fictions about jazz players in clubs — recall the scene in THE FIVE PENNIES where Danny Kaye, playing Red Nichols, comes back from drunken embarrassment to play extravagantly glowing phrases from the back of the speakeasy — phrases so compelling that he nearly steals the spotlight from one Louis Armstrong?  While the Wisconsin Bixians were playing, a once-exhausted Jon-Erik Kellso sat down next to me, put his horn together, and joined them, from the audience, moving on to the stage, on a very fast “Somebody Stole My Gal,” then leading the troops on an affectionate “Sugar,” and closing the set with “I’ll See You In My Dreams.”  At the same time, Dan Block was standing behind the piano, assembling his clarinet, joining the band in mid-chorus.  Wonderful additions to an already gifted band!  I had yet another occasion to note Kellso’s gentle, intuitive leadership.  He never says “Do this,” but he shapes a performance by suggesting riffs, backgrounds, and solos.  He is a great soloist with an architectural sense of the jazz band as small, flexible orchestra.  It’s the kind of thing Count Basie and Ruby Braff did so splendidly, and a band with Kellso in it has a certain loose-limbed intelligent order that it wouldn’t have otherwise.  When one player is soloing, the musicians don’t lean against the wall or tell jokes.  They become a living organism, and the music soars.

I’ll write about the highlights of the next three days (and there were plenty) in future posts.

P.S.  The inexplicable title?  That’s one of Marty Grosz’s stage jokes.  “We’ll do the next tune with dispatch and vigor,” he says seriously.  Gesturing to the left and right, to two musicians standing nearby, he then says, “That’s Dispatch, and that’s Vigor.”  English music-hall or Twenties vaudeville, I don’t know, but it makes me laugh every time.