Tag Archives: Bob Rusch

DESTINY, “SWEET WATER,” and ALTERNATE JAZZ UNIVERSES

Louis Joe

In an alternate universe, King Oliver brushed his teeth three times a day, ate salads and drank soda water, thus changing the course of the twentieth century.

I have been reading and transcribing oral histories published in CADENCE for a book I am editing.  I am deep into the conversation Louis Armstrong had with the young editor Bob Rusch at Louis’ home in Corona, Queens — February 7, 1969.  Louis happily talks about being mentored (and parented) by Papa Joe — but also that Stella Oliver would make meals for the three of them:

Any of the moments with King Oliver were always choice with me. When I first came from New Orleans to Chicago to play in King Oliver’s band, I used to have my meals with King Oliver and his wife. Whatever she cooked for him, she cooked for me. I enjoyed that, she’d fix mine the same, big pot of rice and beans. A big old tin can, like a peach can, full of water he put about a half pound of sugar in it. That’s what he called “sweet water.” That’s what he liked and I’d have sweet water, too. Every moment was choice with Joe Oliver.

When Joe Oliver went north to Chicago, and asked Little Louis to join him, the King was already in his fifties; his teeth and gums were already deteriorating: regular dental care was for the affluent.  “Pyorrhea” is the ominous name for the disease that meant the end of his reign as King.

But we can trace these events back to the genetic predisposition for all things sweet that Joe allowed to dominate his diet.  Had Oliver tended towards other dietary weaknesses; had he (like Bunk Johnson) a better dentist to make him more effective dentures . . . would he have asked Louis to come up to Chicago and play second cornet?  Louis, for his part, recognized this as the opportunity of a lifetime — and it started him on his path to worldwide fame.  Only later did he recognize that Joe Oliver’s motives were not entirely selfless; the King told other musicians that as long as he had Little Louis in his band “he can’t hurt me,” by outshining him on his own.  But what if Joe’s self-protectiveness turned out to be generosity to the world?

But young Louis seems to have been deeply grateful and perhaps a little complacent (“All I want to do is blow the horn,” he said more than once during his career).  Might he have stayed in New Orleans forever — recording in 1925 or 1927, then again twenty years later — a local legend without the global reputation?

The little things that shape our paths in life!  When you consider how you got to be where you are (however you define “where”) ask yourself: how much of it is intent, how much accident — good or bad — or things that seemed irrelevant at the time?

And here’s the soundtrack for those ruminations — courtesy of Louis, Barney Bigard, and Vic Dickenson in 1946:

May your happiness increase.

“YOU DIG IT, SON?”: PIERRE FAVRE REMEMBERS PAPA JO JONES

Jo Jones, the Sage, by Chip Stern

Jo Jones, the Sage, by Chip Stern

An excerpt from an interview with drummer Pierre Favre, published in CADENCE:

Cadence (Ken Weiss): What unforgettable encounter did you have with Papa Jo Jones?

Favre:  I’ll never forget that.  I had a drum clinic at the American Hotel in New York and many drummers were there and Papa Jo Jones was there and I was playing that free business.  Everyone later went to the buffet, of course, and Jo Jones came over and said to me, “Son, come here.”  He sat at my drum set with two brushes and he was just stretching the drums, not hitting, just smiling.  It was like some fresh air came into the room, you know?  This is all he did for a few seconds, just stretching the instrument, and then he said, “You dig it, son?  OK, let’s go have a drink.”  It was a short lesson but it was a lesson for life in a few minutes.

Cadence:  So that encounter changed how you played?

Favre:  No, it was confirming what I was looking for, otherwise it would not have worked.  If somebody puts his finger exactly on what you are looking for, boom, then you have it.  He was a wise man, the drums were his world.  I know he was not always gentle with young drummers, he was very hard on them if he didn’t feel they were really concerned about it so his interest in me was a real compliment.

(CADENCE, Annual Edition 2012, 174-5).

A lesson for sure!

And now a word from me about CADENCE — that honest long-running magazine of Creative Improvised Music, whose reach goes from ragtime to the most extravagantly independent expressions imaginable.  I used to be a Cadence freeloader — leaning against the browser in Tower Records, reading the new issues for free.

Then I came to write for the magazine (I still do) and I admire its continued intelligent independence.  It was the first jazz magazine I’d ever written for where candor was prized, so that when I timidly sent in a negative review of a reissue by a very famous player, I was delighted to find that the then Editor, Bob Rusch, applauded my undiplomatic truth-telling.  And it continues on its honest ways.  Learn more about it here.

May your happiness increase.

FOUR BEAUTIES FOR MR. EVANS: HOWARD ALDEN, SCOTT ROBINSON, JON BURR, RICKY MALICHI at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (September 22, 2012)

Most of the music I hear on the jazz-party circuit stops at an invisible wall labeled 1945 or BEBOP, as if harmonic extensions and rhythmic shifts were a kind of influenza.  Of course the musicians slip in and out of larger conceptions of improvised music all the time, but if they don’t announce to a traditionally-minded audience, “We’re now going to play something you won’t like,” no one notices.

And some more “modern” listeners dismiss anything that sounds “old” as “that corny shit,” which is equally sad.  It is as if jazz was a small country, and crossing the border meant you couldn’t come in.  Or as if there were Dixieland or avant-garde cooties.  You get the idea.

Rigidity like this reminds me of children who burst into tears if the mustard is not on the hot dog in the appropriate way.  At what point does one’s “comfort zone” become confining?

But it’s all MUSIC, and those who can hear more deeply than the surface find rewards they might not have expected.

Thus, when Messrs. Alden (guitar), Robinson (tenor saxophone), Burr (string bass), and Malichi (drums) embarked on a set of Bill Evans’ compositions at Jazz at Chautauqua, I was delighted.  Not, mind you, because I am an Evans fan or conoisseur, particularly.  But I thought, “I could hear something new — something not IF I HAD YOU — and I trust the four players on the stand are people who will lead me into beauty, whatever the name of the songs are.”

The music proves it.  Yes, to some listeners in that audience, these four selections were unfamiliar, even angular — but they swung and the melodies were often sweet.  Worth the trip, and worth suspending one’s anxious prejudices for some part of an hour.  Hear for yourself.

FIVE:

VERY EARLY:

TURN OUT THE STARS:

FUNKALLERO:

This post is dedicated to Bob Rusch, Stu Zimny, and my father, who would say to me, “How do you know that you won’t like it if you won’t even taste it?”

May your happiness increase.

SO RARE: SAYING GOODBYE TO “CADENCE”

I think sometimes that becoming a complete human being requires immense daily practice in the art of saying goodbye. 

Our emails (and perhaps the morning paper) tell us all about the deaths of people we love and know, or perhaps have never met.  Jazz blogs like this one have to resist very strongly the urge to turn into the Daily Necrology. 

And we say goodbye to things and situations that are meaningful to us — and I don’t just mean the lost iPod or the very sweet person who used to work at the grocery store who has moved away. 

For the jazz devotee, loss is tangible all around us.  We awaken into this music with the sharp mournful awareness of the people we will never get to encounter in person.  My readers can compile their own list of names. 

Places, too.  Think of all the concerts we never got to, the clubs closed, the record stores now turned into banks and forgettable restaurants.  Nick’s, the Commodore Music Shop, Swing Street, 47 West Third . . . and so on.

The past few years have been especially hard on print journalism, not simply for jazz periodicals, although in my own experience CODA and THE MISSISSIPPI RAG have both ended fruitful existences; JAZZ JOURNAL died and was reborn. 

About a week ago I got an email from CADENCE, which opened (after a polite salutation): By now you have heard that Cadence will stop publishing at the end of this year unless other arrangements come forth. (Any of you want to be a publisher?)

I sidestepped the parenthetical question, but I read the announcement with sorrow and inevitability.  In this century, any periodical that publishes with a minimum of advertising and a commitment to candor is remarkable.  To do it for what will be thirty-six years at the end of 2011 (if my math is correct) is remarkable . . . and when you consider that the subject of CADENCE is and has been Creative Improvised Music, its continued stamina is an accomplishment to be celebrated at the same time we mourn the announced end of their epoch. 

I can’t speak for the world of, say, opera journalism or that of hip-hop.  But about jazz publishing I do know something. 

And because it is a particularly cloistered world, with a smaller (sometimes more intense) audience than many other arts, it has certain inescapable qualities, one of them often a certain slyness. 

In this world, candor is particularly rare: when the business end of a magazine must keep its advertising income up, the possibility of true assessments narrows. 

I have been told, explicitly, by two editors that writing negative reviews did jazz harm; their journals were there to encourage the music.  So if I wrote that the Great Neck Jalapeno Boys were out of tune, my words did jazz an injustice. 

I was younger and more eager for an outlet, so I subsumed my criticisms in my reviews . . . and, to be fair, I was being asked to write about music I liked, for the most part.  But I continue to see “reviews” (in quotations) and advertisements on adjacent pages in journals other than CADENCE

Which came first, the chicken-journalism or the egg-money for the ads?

CADENCE has been different.  I confess that my first experience with the magazine goes a long way back — the Eighties — when Tower Records carried it, and I would stand in their magazine racks and skim it, looking for the names of people I recognized.  My horizons were much narrower, and often I went away from my quick and selfishly unpaid-for reading thinking that it was full of discs by people I didn’t know and whose music I wouldn’t like if I did know.

That changed after I got a chance to write about some CDs that were more to my taste and after I spoke on the telephone to its editor, Bob Rusch (or RDR).  He was imposing on the phone, but we got along fine — he only needled me that I was slow in sending reviews. 

And as our friendship deepened, I had — and have — the deepest respect for him as a person of feeling and perception, someone willing to commit himself to an ideal.  The ideal had a hard time making money, and it would have been so much easier to be polite, take the ad money, make the deals.  But Bob and the Crew are stubborn: their stubbornness coming from ethics and a love for the music. 

When, at the end of 2011, CADENCE might call it quits, I will have writen for it for about six years.  They have been a rewarding experience.  I haven’t liked all of what I’ve been asked to review, but I have been exposed to music and musicians — deeply gratifying — I never would have encountered otherwise.  And Bob’s guidance has made me a better writer, a deeper thinker, a better listener.  Hilariously, he’s only chided me when he thought I was being slippery-tactful, and he’s never asked me to change a word, even if I disliked music he thought was fine. 

I gather that even after CADENCE ceases to publish as a print journal, its other enterprises — creating CDs by worthy artists who aren’t well-represented in the mainstream, and promoting top-flight audio products by way of North County Audio — will continue.  And there may be more, although I don’t know the details.

I will be very sad when it all comes to a close — no more cardboard boxes of surprises! — but I salute Bob and the Crew for their wonderful example of loving fortitude.  And if a publisher were willing to take over the magazine, I could certainly continue to do my bit . . . there is a small mound of CDs on the coffee table near me that I have to write about, now!

Hail, hail!

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CADENCE, RESOUNDING

I’ve mentioned CADENCE Magazine often — but perhaps not often enough — in these pages.  It has a brand-new website, http://www.cadencemagazine.com., which I urge you to visit. 

Candor requires that I say I have written reviews for the magazine for a number of years.  But I would applaud CADENCE even if they had never encouraged me to have my say.  It is the only honest jazz magazine I know . . . which sounds both irascible and contentious, but is true.  I recall that CODA did not accept advertising, but it is now defunct. 

All the other jazz journals I am aware of accept, encourage, and perhaps solicit advertising, and it is hard to imagine the situation where a reviewer might be allowed to say that the new CD by the Blenheim Palace Hot Boys was terrible if the BPHB had paid for an ad on the facing page. 

CADENCE has advertising, it is true, but it is kept to a separate section in the way that the new puppy might be kept in the kitchen.  And — as a reviewer — I have always been asked to tell the truth, and if the truth was impolitely stated, no one suggested that I could benefit from a course in good manners. 

Editor Bob Rusch is one of the great men in support of creative improvised music, and some of the most rewarding discs I know have emerged precisely because he has put his money where his beliefs are.  All this is long prelude to my happily drawing your attention to the site — as a way of encouraging you to consider subscribing to the magazine. 

My most traditionally-minded readers will at first think that the names they see in the sample pages are obscure, but (for instance) vibraphonist Mark Sherman is on Dan Block’s splendid new Ellington CD . . . and everyone is obscure to someone.  I have written about the most delightfully old-fashioned New Orleans jazz in CADENCE’s pages, so even before I wrote for the magazine, I was a happy reader. 

Check it out!

ERNIE KRIVDA KNOWS

It’s possible that some readers have never heard of Cleveland-born saxophonist Ernie Krivda, now 65.  I’d like to change that, for I have been impressed by his work in various contexts for some time.  And musicians in the know (among them Quincy Jones and Joe Lovano) have always admired Ernie as a person and a player. 

Thanks to Bob Rusch, I first heard Ernie on a magical tribute to Stan Getz, where Ernie had assembled a large ensemble, including forty strings. to play Eddie Sauter’s film music for FOCUS and then, taking Getz as his inspiration but not copying him, had soared over that background.  The disc, “Ernie Krivda: Focus on Stan Getz: Live at Severance Hall,” (Cadence Jazz 1165)  remains one of my favorites — tumultuous, tender, sweet, ferocious — and I am not exaggerating when I say that I bought a copy of Getz’s FOCUS and preferred Ernie’s version.  (Heresy, I know, but true.)  Here’s some first-hand (or first-heard evidence of what Ernie does so magnificently: his 1993 duo exploration of LOVE WALKED IN with pianist Bill Dobbins):

Although Ernie clearly has a whole range of saxophone influences in his mind, from early Hawkins and Young onwards to Rollins, he is an individualist with his own sound and approach.  He’s not one of those musicians who has only two approaches: one, the respectful first chorus of a ballad; two, the abrupt deconstruction of the melody and harmony into abstract fragments.  Krivda, as you can hear in LOVE WALKED IN, honors George Gershwin’s melody, but is also making the terrain his own, gently pulling and tugging at the music’s familiar contours, experimenting with timbre, harmony, rhythmic alterations.  His playing is hard to categorize (for those who need categories), but I hear the sound of a man thinking, feeling, and exploring. 

Since this blog is often devoted to musicians who are no longer with us, I am pleased to be able to write about one who is alive and inventive.  Ernie had three new CDs: a solo saxophone effort, “November Man,”a second, “The Art of the Trio,” and a third (in process), “Ernie Krivda and The Detroit Connection,” featuring Dominick Farinacci and Sean Jones.  Krivda has also received the nationally recognized Cleveland Arts Prize for career achievement and a major fellowship acknowledging him as a player and composer.  His next album with The Detroit Connection is a tribute to the music of John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, and Sonny Rollins.  The Detroit Connection band includes 78-year-old pianist Claude Black, Marion Hayden on bass (the matriarch of the Detroit jazz world), and Paul Gonsalves’ son Renell Gonsalves on drums.  It will be Ernie’s 30th album.

To learn more about Ernie, visit http://www.erniekrivda.com/index.php.. One of the categories I invented for this blog, early on, is “Pay Attention!” — profoundly relevant to the man and the music I’ve been describing here.

FINEST FIG JAM

fig jam

Some history might be needed here.  “A fig,” “a Moldy Fig,” even “a Mouldy Figge,” is now-archaic language invented during the Forties, when jazz found itself divided into warring factions called Dixieland and Bebop.  This divisiveness may have splintered the music and its audiences irrevocably.  Much of the noisy conflict was fomented by journalists and publicists seeking to attract audiences through controversy.  At this distance, we know that GROOVIN’ HIGH is only WHISPERING with a new blouse, but people allowed themselves to ignore this.  I find the poet Philip Larkin very endearing in his art and his vinegary energies, but his jazz prose embodies this point of view, where the world had reached an artistic peak in 1932 with the Rhythmakers recordings and had gone steadily downhill.  I agree with the first part of this formulation but not the second. 

I began my devotional listening as a Fig, so it took a long gradual period of contemplative immersion before I could understand that, say, John Coltrane wasn’t The Enemy out to destroy the music I loved.  In truth, I was never an extremist but I had strong, narrow likes and dislikes.  I remember having a brief conversation with another student in a middle-school Music Appreciation class who was deeply immersed in the New Thing — this was forty-plus years ago and the new thing was Archie Shepp, and the conversation went like this:

“Alan,” which might not be his name, but is a good guess: “I hear you like jazz.”

Me (brightening at having found a fellow subversive): “Oh, yes, I do!”

“Alan”: “Do you listen to Archie Shepp?”

Me (horrified that he hadn’t mentioned Louis, and coming up with a wise-acre New Yorker rejoinder): “Archie Shepp?! I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it!”

“Alan”: “Well, the hell with you!”

So goes critical discourse at its finest! 

I would like to boast that I’ve seen the light and the scales have dropped from my eyes, but if you told me I had to choose only one jazz recording to spend eternity with, it still might be AFTER YOU’VE GONE by the Blue Note Jazzmen, even though I can understand and appreciate music that would have perplexed and repelled me in my youth.  And the music was always there, I just didn’t get it. 

This self-scrutiny is provoked by a phone conversation I had yesterday with Bob Rusch (or RDR), editor and chief spiritual guide of the quarterly journal devoted to Creative Improvised Music, CADENCE.  Full disclosure requires me to say that I write reviews for CADENCE, and I continue to admire the journal’s honesty.  And working with Bob has always been a pleasurable lesson in Emersonian candor: when I have felt an inexplicable need to tactfully cloak the truth in polite words, he has always asked, “Why?” 

If you’ve never read CADENCE, you have been missing something special and rare.  See for yourself (www.cadencebuilding.com).

In the course of our conversation — we speak infrequently, but over the past five years it has always been both bracing and affectionate — Bob said gently that he thought I was “getting more figgish,” and I agreed.  But it made me think, and perhaps my experience will ring true with my readers. 

There used to be “the jazz record industry,” and I am not talking about sixty-five years ago, the Commodore Music Shop, and listening booths.  Ten years ago, perhaps, there were many more active companies producing compact discs.  (If you want to have a sobering experience, casually inspect the spines of any fifty CDs in your library and note how many of those labels no longer exist.)  This, of course, has to do with the economy, an aging audience, and more. 

It has had an double-edged result.  On one hand, no more new issues from Chiaroscuro, no more Pablo, fewer ways for musicians to be encouraged by a label.  But because labels no longer exist, many energetic musicians have gone into business for themselves and produce their own discs.  

This can be a boon: musicians can record what they want, have it sound the way they want, without the interference of recording engineers or the heads of record companies . . . and splendid personal statements emerge.  But this asks musicians to be both courageous and affluent (or at least credit-worthy): a self-produced CD might require a $10,000 investment that the artist might get back over ten years of selling the discs one at a time on the gig.  We should all live and be well! 

(Musician joke: “My latest CD is a million-seller.  I’ve got a million in my cellar.”)

Many players I know have made a virtue of necessity, but I think many of them look back nostalgically to the dear dead days when they got a call to go to a studio at noon to make a date, they played their hearts out, they got paid, and eight months later they knew that the disc they had appeared on was being sold all over the world.  Yes, their control over the music was compromised, their pay was a percentage of the profit, but someone else was handling all the annoying business.  

What this means for someone like myself, reviewing CDs, is that a good deal of what I am asked to listen to is by artists new to me (a good thing) who are offering their own music (potentially a good thing).  And occasionally it leads me to sit up in my chair and say, “By God, (s)he’s got it!”  Melissa Collard was new to me when I first heard her OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, and she is one of those singers whose work I most treasure.  Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Danny Tobias, Lyle Ritz, Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, and more.  

But much of what I hear is both competent yet entirely forgettable.  I know that Lips Page said, “The material is immaterial,” but hand me a CD full of original compositions by a player and I wonder, “Gee, you’ve already decided that there’s nothing new for you to say on the blues or on I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR?”  Funny, that hasn’t occurred to Sonny Rollins.

And it is sad to receive a CD by a singer or musician, male or female, where great effort has gone into burnishing the exterior at the expense of other things.  When the artist credits his or her hair stylist and wardrobe person first, I think, “Oh no.  Repertoire, not manicure.  No one listens to the cover.” 

So my “figgishness” or “figitude” (both my own coinings) is a way to get back to what music means to me — a spiritual / intellectual / experience that makes me want to grin foolishly and shout exultantly.  I would indeed rather hear a wonderful performance of an original composition by musicians I don’t know than a tired rendition of OUR BUNGALOW OF DREAMS, but I need to hear jazz that makes me remember why I began to listen to the music in the first place: joy, inventiveness, clear delight in being alive in the face of death.  If your listening is purely an intellectual exercise and you find that gratifying, fine, but mine is tied up with the emotions.  Is the music beautiful?  Does it make me feel some strong emotion, preferably happiness?  Can I admire the players?            

So I close this post with a new example of FINEST FIG JAM — pure, organic, and locally sourced.  It’s another YouTube clip from the lucky and generous SFRaeAnn of the Eldorado Serenaders, whose front line is Don Neely on reeds, Robert Young on reeds, trumpet, and vocal, Dave Frey, plectrum banjo, Jim Young, tenor banjo, Steven Rose, sousaphone, Stan Greenberg, percussion.  This performance of BALTIMORE (one of those delightful songs-about-a-new-dance-craze) honors Bix and Wingy and Red, and I think this band is terribly, admirably brave to be shouting it out in a bookstore.  “Fit audience, though few,” said Milton, but he never had to worry about the tip jar.  It was recorded on October 25, 2009 at North Light Books in Cotati, California.  

BENNY VISITS “AVALON”

In the last few days I’ve been listening to the Benny Goodman Festival being broadcast on WKCR-FM (if you’re out of range of this New York City FM station, you can hear it online at www.wkcr.org).  Whenever I turn on the radio a Goodman small group is eagerly exploring AVALON at a jaunty tempo, a coincidence that both amuses and puzzles me.

BGNow, I don’t plan to accuse Goodman of being an aging artist caught in his own boredom, but the frequency with which jazz musicians return to their own narrowing repertoire of familiar songs to improvise on is worth comment.

I know that Hot Lips Page famously said (to whom?) “The material is immaterial,” and Bob Rusch has gently reminded me that jazz is about what one does with the material rather than the material itself.  “‘T’ain’t what you do, it’s the way that’cha do it,” sang Trummy Young.

And anyone brave enough to improvise in public at the tempos Goodman favored should, by law, have the right to choose his or her own favorite set of chord changes — no matter whether the improviser in question is Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, or John Coltrane.  But I’ve also heard some of the finest jazz artists turn in established solos on familiar pieces for their features, occasionally playing something quite moving, but more often falling back on set routine.  I think of Jo Jones’s CARAVAN, of Buddy Tate’s BODY AND SOUL, of Vic Dickenson’s IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD, and so on.

One could, of course, make the case that jazzmen have “master solos” and “polished performances” to fall back on, because improvisation is such a demanding art.  And Ricky Riccardi has made the point that Louis Armstrong’s versions of INDIANA that often began his later performances were anything but rote repetition.

But Benny himself (according to Ross Firestone’s sweet-natured biography) seems to have been dissatisfied with the music he played in his last decade, saying to someone, “You can’t play LADY BE GOOD forever.”  But he did play AVALON for fifty years.

Did he play it so regularly because it was a song he loved from his childhood (it first appeared in 1920)?  Did he return to it because it was one of his proven hits, a selection that his audience — sometimes made up of people who had cheered him on in 1937 — wanted, expected, and waited for?  Did he feel a responsibility to please the people who had paid to hear him with a medley of his Greatest Hits?  Or was playing AVALON something that gave him pleasure in itself — both as a stunning ride over the chord changes and as a way of making an exciting performance?  I can’t begin to say.

And some of the performances of AVALON I’ve heard on WKCR-FM are justly thrilling — not just in terms of technique and facility, but as musical expressions — evidence of an older artist still finding “something new to say” on a familiar text.  Some of them sound like Goodman playing at being Benny Goodman — with playing that is technically exciting but not especially creative improvised music.

The only time I was fortunate enough to see Goodman in person — at a great distance — was at a Carnegie Hall concert in 1974 or 1975, with a truly all-star group including Bobby Hackett and Roy Eldridge (!).  Of course, the King offered us AVALON, STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, and DON’T BE THAT WAY to enthusiastic applause, but I was much more moved by Hackett’s choice of a feature number — an uptempo SECRET LOVE, which I can still dimly hear in my head as I write this.

Does this make me a snob for asking my beloved jazz heroes to “be original”?  I don’t know.  Perhaps if I had been able to ask Benny why he explored and re-explored AVALON, he would have said, “I like it.”  And that would have been enough, even for me.  Any artist who’s given us so much for such a long time is entitled to his idiosyncracies.

BARBARA ROSENE at IRIDIUM, February 17, 2009: SWEET, HOT, and SOULFUL!

barbara-rosene-2003-cd1I first heard Barbara Rosene sing on a compact disc — the 2003 Stomp Off “Ev’rything’s Made For Love,” which I’d obtained serendipitously.  Bob Rusch of Cadence thought I would take pleasure in this music, and (as is often the case) he was splendidly correct. I loved the sounds — plural, not singular — of Barbara’s pure, clear voice, tenderly exploring the layers of feeling in a ballad, being naughty on a double-entendre Twenties song, or simply swinging her way exultantly through one of those unashamedly happy songs that used to be the fashion.  Although Barbara often sang obscure songs, she was more than an archivist delighting in artistic esoterica.

Some singers sing at the song, or, worse, they present it at a distance with ironic quotation marks around it.  Barbara immerses herself in the emotions of the lyrics and the melody, uniting herself with the song.  Although some of her material was peripherally connected to girl singers who chose to present themselves as Twenties Lolitas (little girls lispiing through the lyrics), Barbara is serious when her material is, riotous when the song calls for it.

In October 2004, I was in the audience for a late-night jam session at the Cajun, where Barbara, at someone’s request, got up and sang a touching FOOLS RUSH IN.  Later, I introduced myself to her as the Phantom Reviewer, and was delighted by her genuineness.  She and Kevin Dorn are close friends, so I began to see Barbara sing more often in a variety of places — from an Episcopal church in Hicksville, New York to an uptown club whose name I forget to the now-eradicated Jacques-Imo’s.

All of this is prelude to what the Beloved and I enjoyed last night: Barbara and her New Yorkers appearing at Iridium for two sets — an engagement I hope will be repeated soon and often.  She always surrounds herself with the best musicians, and the band last night was choice: Kevin on drums, Conal Fowkes on piano, Doug Largent on bass, Michael Hashim on alto and tenor, Matt Szemela on violin, and Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet.

The lovely thing about Barbara’s Iridium gig was that the room was packed with quietly appreciative people, many of whom knew each other, so it was like a reunion — or a party in someone’s large living room.  The Beloved and I sat at a table with the cheerful Joe and Carla Samolduski, the people responsible for Barbara’s appearances at “Cabaret Night” at the Hicksville church.  All that was missing was the basket of potato chips in front of us.

The music began with a positively rambunctious THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  When the gleeful dust had settled, Barbara chatted with the audience about her song choices.  She believes in what she sings: GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON is not just a series of words for her.  Matt Szemela added his sweet countrified violin to the ensemble, a wonderful bonus.  Acknowledging her debt to Annette Hanshaw, Barbara began a deeply serious (although rhythmically mobile) version of AM I BLUE.  Jon-Erik growled ominously behind her, and Michael Hashim explored the low register of his horn, reminding me of Ben Webster at his Fifties best.  The mood brightened dramatically when Barbara offered a chipper rendition of LOVABLE AND SWEET, composed by Oscar Levant, rhyming “nice man” and “iceman” for naughty reasons.  DEEP NIGHT, which Barbara dedicated to her late father, who loved the song, was a sultry tango.  Barbara is a gracious and generous leader, so she gave the band a chance to romp on I WONDER WHERE MY BABY IS TONIGHT, which featured a patented Hashim stop-time chorus and two jammed ensemble choruses, the first quiet, the second shouting.  A delicate IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER followed; during Michael’s solo, Barbara sat on the piano bench next to Conal, her eyes closed, rocking happily to the beat.  A brisk IT HAD TO BE YOU came next: Barbara sang the familiar lyrics as if the song was new, and Conal provided a rocking minimalist solo (Basie without the cliches), supported in high style by Doug and Kevin.

Readers familiar with this blog might be asking themselves, “Where was Flip all this time?”  “Struggling to get out of my pocket,” would be the answer.  Flip was thrilled to be at Iridium (it was his first time) and he wanted to get close to the stage, but I kept on trying to quiet him down.  People had the audacity to be sitting in front of us and their heads were in the way; Flip wriggled and jumped so vigorously that I thought the waitstaff were going to ask us to leave.

When it was clear that Barbara’s set was more than half over, I took Flip out of my pocket and aimed him at the stage — thinking that the Iridium staff would hardly eject us so close to the end.  (I was right.)  The result is that you are now able to see and hear some of what Barbara and her New Yorkers did so beautifully last night.

Here’s Irving Berlin’s melancholy SAY IT ISN’T SO, a fully realized dramatic performance without a hint of “acting”:

Barbara featured the band on AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, which offers wonderful hot solos and ensemble joys.  I especially love the trades between Doug and Kevin at the end, reminiscent of the playful jazz conversations Milt Hinton and Jo Jones had so memorably:

And something even more special: Barbara’s ukulele feature.  Faithful readers will know of my recent (and continuing) ukulele obsession — I’m still finding my way around the fingerboard.  But I was thrilled when Barbara unsheathed a soprano ukulele and put on her own one-woman show.  It’s not that she’s the East Coast version of Lyle Ritz (or at least not yet) but she encapsulates another world in her performance of KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW — as if we were sitting on the porch with her and she decided it was time for a little music.  It’s charming!  And her whistling is both casual and accomplished:

Finally, a rocking version of MY BLACKBIRDS ARE BLUEBIRDS NOW — one of several songs that exploited this avian metaphor.  I feel sorry for the poor blackbirds, who got a bad reputation as emblems of bad luck.  All because of that one flying terrorist who pecked off the housemaid’s nose, if I remember correctly?  Bluebirds are fine, of course — but the blackbirds swung.  Here’s Barbara and her New Yorkers:

Barbara says that she is trying to keep this music alive without turning into the guardian of a time capsule.  That’s a tall order, but she is doing it heroically every time she sings, and she did it splendidly last night.  I hope these homegrown video clips convey something of her special gifts.  She is The Real Thing.

DIAL B FOR BEAUTY, T FOR TARDO

One of the pleasures of writing for the journal Cadence is in working with its editor, Bob Rusch, who has great faith in his reviewers’ intellectual elasticity, their ability to consider art that falls slightly outside their accustomed orbit.  Although I could be happy listening to James P. Johnson until the day of doom, Bob has asked me to listen closely and think about recordings I wouldn’t have ordinarily purchased, artists I wouldn’t have otherwise known.  One such CD was a trio recording on the Sharp Nine label (its title an emblem of witty hipness) featuring the pianist Tardo Hammer, bassist Dennis Irwin, and drummer Jimmy Wormworth, Tardo’s Tempo.  I thought it a remarkable recording because of Hammer’s beautiful touch, his unhurried melodic sense, the way the trio worked together, and (no small matter) the beauty of the recorded sound.  Although Hammer might have been classified superficially as a boppish pianist of the Bud Powell persuasion, he has and had a thoughtful restraint, his lines distilled musings rather than violent displays of pianistic ferocity.

Then Tardo surfaced on a particularly moving quartet effort by saxophonist Grant Stewart, Young At Heart, and a live session featuring Stewart and the trumpeter John Marshall, Live at Le Pirate.  I confess that all of his fine playing on these discs did not add up to a conversion experience.  That took place when I heard his latest recording, Look   Stop   Listen: The Music of Tadd Dameron, also on Sharp Nine.  It features Tardo, John Webber, and Joe Fransworth, a truly empathetic trio.  All of their virtues are even more beautifully on display here.  Because Dameron created ringing, mournful melodies, Tardo has wonderful material to explore, and he is someone who (in Eubie Blake’s phrase) knows how to make the piano sing.  He takes his time, he considers the implications of each note without ever getting bogged down in his own cogitations; his tone is like nothing so much as a fine cognac.  Listen to his thoughtful exploration of something as well-worn as “Hot House,” made into a headlong rush by generations of eager emulators of Bird and Diz; hear the pearls he creates out of “Dial B for Beauty” and “If You Could See Me Now.”  Webber is every pianist’s dream: solid but supportive, his focused sonority relaxed yet pulsing.  And Farnsworth (especially on brushes) urges and comments without changing the tempo a hair.  It is one of those sessions that without being in the slightest bit backwards-looking, summons up all the glories of the past without imitating anyone’s familiar gestures.

Because I organize my compact discs alphabetically, Hammer will now have his own section among Ed Hall, Scott Hamilton, Lionel Hampton, Annette Hanshaw, Michael Hashim, and Coleman Hawkins — a set of great melodists.  Those players will welcome him; he’ll be right at home.

Visit Tardo’s website and Sharp Nine’s:http://home.earthlink.net/~tardo/ and http://www.sharpnine.com.

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