Tag Archives: “Body and Soul”

DISMISSED, DERIDED, DELICIOUS: THE VARSITY SEVEN: 1939 and 1940

If you consider an artist’s works in chronological sequence (bibliography as well as discography) certain landmarks blot out their neighbors.  In the case of Coleman Hawkins, there’s BODY AND SOUL, then the Hampton Victor date, then his big band — leading up to the small-group sessions of 1943-44 for Signature, Keynote, Savoy, and more.

The Varsity Seven sides — full of delights — recorded in December 1939 and January 1940 — haven’t received the admiration they deserve.  Hawkins’ admiring biographer, the diligent John Chilton, calls them “a pastiche of Dixieland.”  I disagree.

The Varsity label (please note the transparent pseudonyms for Hawkins and Carter) was run by Eli Oberstein, and it never seems to have been entirely out in the open.  I don’t know that Oberstein was the equal of Herman Lubinsky of Savoy, but Eli seems to have been ingenious in his dealings.  I believe the masters of these and other sessions were bought by Savoy, and thus the trail to licit reissues is complex.  Were they Victor sessions, they would have been available straightforwardly for decades now, including “official” CD issue.

Another side-note is that the session — one or both? — was co-produced by Leonard Feather and Warren Scholl, which may account for a Feather composition being there.  I knew two sides from this date because my Long Island friend Tom Piazza played them for me, forty-plus years ago: SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT and A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY.  I don’t know where each of the musicians was working in 1939-40, whether Fifty-Second Street or Cafe Society or uptown, but they come together to create great jazz.  Cheerful Jeanne Burns (known for work with Adrian Rollini and Wingy Manone) is a liability, but we’ve all heard less polished singers.  Here’s the information for the first session.

Benny Carter, trumpet, alto saxophone; Danny Polo, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Joe Sullivan, piano; Ulysses Livingston, guitar, vocal; Artie Bernstein, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Jeanne Burns, vocal.  New York, December 14, 1939.

IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (Burns, vocal).  The first two choruses — bless Sullivan and Wettling, who are bringing Jimmy Ryan’s to a record date or doing the Commodore? — are flawless.  Ms. Burns has pitch trouble, but I concentrate on Sullivan behind her.  Polo and Livingston (the latter sounding much like a sweet Teddy Bunn) aren’t derailed by the young lady, and then Hawkins charges in, “I’m back from Europe, and let me remind you who is still King!”  My idea of perfection is of course subjective, but the instrumental portions of this recording stand up with any other of this period:

EASY RIDER (Burns, Livingston, vocal).  Hawkins starts off rhapsodically, and is then relieved by Polo, whose sound in itself is an aural landscape, no matter how simple his phrases.  (In this, he reminds me of poets Joe Marsala, Raymond Burke, and Edmond Hall.)  Ms. Burns Is much more at ease at this tempo and in this range, and her unusual mixture of Mae West and Mildred Bailey is her most successful vocal.  Livingston’s vaudeville couplets are harmlessly archaic counterpoint, leading in to an ensemble where Carter and Polo take up most of the space, leaving Hawkins little to do.  One must admire the lovely drumming of Wettling — and how beautifully Artie Shapiro’s bass comes through — before the consciously “old-timey” ending:

SCRATCH MY BACK is the one Leonard Feather composition, and a charming one, revisited by Dan Barrett a few years ago.  I can’t figure out the changes beneath the melody — an experienced friend / musician says the first strain is similar to YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME.  I love the opening ensemble, and Shapiro’s deep notes behind Polo, then Sullivan’s rollicking solo chorus, where Wettling is having a wonderful time — and the passage where Sullivan abstracts the melody for great dramatic effect.  Then — what’s this? — a glorious alto solo by “Billy Carton” (heir to the cardboard box fortune) punctuated by a Livingston blues-pastoral.  Everyone steps aside for Hawkins, and a recap of the theme with Livingston adding sweet arpeggiated chords.  No complaints here:

SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA (Burns, vocal).  Aside from the ending, I don’t think of this as “Dixieland”: rather a series of splendid improvisations from Carter, Sullivan, and two choruses from Hawkins — over a gently propulsive and balanced rhythm section.  I find Burns’ version of Mildred Bailey’s upper-register-vibrato jarring, but I was listening to Polo, murmuring sweet limpid asides, and the rhythm section while she sang:

Fast forward to January 15, 1940: the same personnel except Big Joe Turner replaces Burns, an improvement.

And in his honor, they began with HOW LONG, HOW LONG BLUES.  In the opening ensemble, Hawkins is nearly submerged (could this have been what irritated Chilton?) which leads into a lovely chorus by Polo — with plain-spoken rhythm section work.  Then, Big Joe, in glowing voice, supported by a very powerful Sullivan, with lovely ensemble encouragements.  It almost seems as if Hawkins has been waiting his chance, and he takes it eloquently, before Big Joe and the band return.  At 2:23, apparently Turner has momentarily forgotten the lyric couplet or has gotten distracted.  A fine improvised ensemble closes off the record, with a Wettling accent.  This side seems slightly under-rehearsed, but the looseness adds to its charm:

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT has always been a favorite, and this vocal version is a prize.  If there’s a sound more engaging than this rhythm section following Sullivan, I have yet to hear it.  Big Joe sounds positively exuberant (in touch with the lyrics); Polo and Livingston keep the forward motion going , and everyone is even more gleeful for Joe’s second chorus (“rub it all over the wall”) before particularly hot choruses by Carter and Hawkins follow, leading to jamming (with Wettling happily prominent) to end the record.  If this is “Dixieland,” I want many more sides:

A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY was not a song much utilized for jam session recordings, but to have it here is a pleasure.  I wonder if Oberstein said, “No more blues, fellows!  Let’s have a hot one!” as Big Joe left the studio.  Or it just seemed like a melodic yet under-played Berlin song, taken a little quicker than I imagine it was done in the Ziegfeld Follies.  A very simple — even cliched — vamp led by Livingston starts things off before Polo takes the lead — which surprisingly turns into an ensemble passage, then a wonderfully quirky Sullivan solo AND Hawkins leaping into his chorus with the zeal of a great athlete (powerful playing from Shapiro, Livingston, and Wettling) — then a magnificent Carter solo and a romping ensemble close.  This is one of the most successful sides of the eight:

And, finally, POM POM, a Carter original which might be a phrase from one of his solos scored for small band, with a particularly light scoring: I would have thought the opening 16 was scored for alto, clarinet, and tenor, but for the speed with which Carter plays trumpet on the bridge.  Polo’s chorus is so tenderly levitating that if you, hearing his work on this session, don’t want to hear more, then I have failed.  Hawkins is energized in his two-chorus solo, reminding me of the trio records he made in 1937, especially in his powerful second chorus — but Carter is as elegant a mountain-climber as I can imagine (with a distinct similarity to Joe Thomas or Bill Coleman of this period); another piece of swing lace-weaving from Livingston, and the record gracefully winds down — simultaneously hot and gentle.  Is that a recording engineer’s “fade” or simply everyone getting softer?  I don’t know, but it’s very sweet:

These aren’t flawless records. Some of them might have benefited from a second take.  But they are uplifting examples of the stars willing to come in and play two dates for what I imagine was scale.  All in a day’s work — and how glorious the results are.

May your happiness increase!

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MAKE TIME FOR BEAUTY: AHMED ABDUL-MALIK, SELDON POWELL, RAY NANCE, PAUL NEVES, WALTER PERKINS (1964)

You have to hear this.

Without fanfare, seven minutes of beauty: after a chiming piano introduction, a beautiful tenor chorus (more Lucky Thompson than Coleman Hawkins), an impassioned cornet chorus, a piano solo (improvising sweetly around the cornet’s closing phrase) that becomes a dialogue for everyone, with sweet thoughtful codas.

The players: Paul Neves, piano; Ahmed Abdul-Malik, string bass / leader; Walter Perkins, drums; Seldon Powell, tenor saxophone; Ray Nance, cornet. New York, March 12, 1964.

Jazz musicians had a strong attraction to BODY AND SOUL (think Louis, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum) even before Coleman Hawkins made his recording of it in 1939 — so this later exploration of the song by kindred spirits would have surprised no one.  Since this session was recorded for the STATUS label (a subsidiary of Prestige, devoted to jazz-for-people-who-didn’t-necessarily-consider-themselves-jazz-fans) I can imagine the session producer asking the musicians to stretch out on BODY AND SOUL as a familiar ballad.

But how beautiful their individual sounds are, and the collective mixture of serenity and intensity that results.  I remember with pleasure that even living in suburbia, I had an opportunity to see and hear Seldon Powell (leading a small group in a local park’s jazz concert series) and several to marvel at Ray Nance, one of the greatest — and least acknowledged — musicians ever.

I could think, with some regret, that this was the end of a great period where popular music and jazz could coexist in the consciousness of adult hearers; a year later, the Beatles would come to Shea Stadium and this equilibrium would never return in quite the same ways.

But for now, I will play BODY AND SOUL again.

May your happiness increase! 

WITH FEELING: CHRIS DAWSON at the PIANO

Ezra Pound said — as an artistic manifesto — MAKE IT NEW.  He never heard the master pianist Chris Dawson, but I think he would have nodded appreciatively at what Chris does.

I know there are people who strive for novelty, thinking “Why play those familiar old tunes again?  I don’t want to hear ROYAL GARDEN BLUES or DON’T BLAME ME — give me esoterica, like MAKE MY COT WHERE THE COT-COT-COTTON GROWS, or give me nothing.  We must have new material to improvise on so that our improvisations will in themselves be new.”

Hooey, says I.

Of course, a pedestrian performance of an overplayed song is going to be formulaic and tiresome.  But great improvisers can embody deep truths through the most banal material: think of Louis, Bechet, Django, Jack T., Benny, Lester, and a thousand other players.

In conversation with Jon-Erik Kellso last night (and he knows!) he said that when you have someone like Henry “Red” Allen take on BILL BAILEY, it’s a whole new world.  And for my part, I repeated the words of the Sage, Hot Lips Page: “The material is immaterial.”

So when Chris turns his attention to two of the most familiar classics of solo jazz piano, ALL OF ME and BODY AND SOUL, it is an occasion to marvel at his gentle thoroughness.  The melody and chord changes are treated lovingly — his touch is superb, his voicings splendid — but he isn’t just walking through familiar territory, half-asleep because of the familiarity of it all.  Rather, he is acting on Pound’s dictum of making the familiar seem fresh, of playing the most familiar chord changes and turnarounds as if they were brand new — of imbuing the “traditional” with great emotional power — joy or despair — by believing in it.

ALL OF ME:

Crystalline, from that dancing introduction on — lighter-than-air but steady, with a great deal of breathing space.  (Unlike some other pianists, Chris feels no need to fill in all the empty spaces.)  Chris doesn’t strive for dissonance, but his subtle harmonic vocabulary is large; his bass lines varied; his rigth-hand ornamentations never predictable.  And his improvisation is full of small suspensions — so that the light stride patterns never become mechanistic.  For me, the test of satisfying music is, “When it’s through, have I had enough, or do I want to hear it once again right away?”  You know the answer to that one: these two performances don’t reveal all their beauties with just one listening.

BODY AND SOUL:

Apropriately darker, with more dense harmonies to offer emotions more complex than the simple joy of ALL OF ME.  But BODY AND SOUL — that song of deep romantic self-immolation and abasement — never becomes morose, and the rhythmic engine beneath it never sputters and dies.

How does he accomplish his singular balance between restraint and forward motion, between delicacy and strength?  All I know is that once I said something to him after a particularly Dawsonish miracle of music, and he said, wryly, “People don’t know how hard it is to do that,” or words to that effect.  I am sure that it is the fulfillment of a lifetime of study, practice, listening, feeling — and swinging empathy.  When will the rest of the world discover that Chris Dawson is an utterly stylish improviser?  Soon, I hope.

I wish that he, Janice, and Jack lived in the apartment next door to mine — I would never complain about the music, but I probably would get nothing done because I would be listening and grinning all the time.

DAN TOBIAS, QUIETLY LYRICAL

After discovering Louis Armstrong, I began my exploration of jazz by way of Bobby Hackett, so I am innately fond of those trumpet and cornet players who make their way to the heart of a song subtly, even subversively.   This inclination led me to Ruby Braff and Buck Clayton, Shorty Baker and Joe Thomas, Joe Wilder, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bob Barnard, Duke Heitger, Peter Ecklund, Marc Caparone, and Dan Tobias.

Dan Tobias may be the least well-known player on that list, which is a pity.  He hasn’t made compact discs under his own name, and he isn’t a regular on the jazz festival / jazz party circuit.  But the good news is that he is alive, youthful,  and playing beautifully.  New Yorkers and Jerseyites (especially the latter) can see him play, and he has two gigs coming up (details below).  But you don’t have to believe me without any evidence.

Here he is, playing BODY AND SOUL with casual unaffected mastery.  Hear his lovely tone, his delicate phrasing, his architectural sense of how to construct a solo.  Admire his love of the melody and respect for it, too.  And his singing approach to that demanding collection of tubing and metal. Dan can lead a shouting ensemble, and he can zip around corners in the best Clifford Brown way, but he is essential a tone-painter.  (In fairness, this impromptu duet favors the capable pianist Joe Holt, but you can’s miss our Mr. Tobias.)

I first heard Dan play on a CD by the Midiri Brothers band, where his compact lyricism was immediately apparent, and then I had the good luck to catch him one night as the cornetist with Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  I haven’t heard him regularly enough for my taste, but he has shown up occasionally at the Ear Inn . . . and impressed everyone, even when the front line included his admiring peers Kellso and Ecklund.  On that score, rumor has it that he will once again be at the Ear this Sunday (that’s May 31) with guitarist Matt Munisteri.  I’ll be there, happily.

And there’s another gig in Dan’s home state of New Jersey, in Medford, to be exact — on June 13, from 7:30 to 10 PM.  Dan writes, “The concert will take place at Memorial Hall,Cathedral of the Woods, 100 Stokes Road, Medford Lakes, New Jersey [609-654-4220].  This is a group from Trenton that rehearses weekly (not weakly).  The band features Trenton organ legend Tom Pass, chop monster guitarist Mike Remoli, the fearless saxophonist Dom DeFrancesco, the ever swinging Joe Falcey, and me on the trumpet. The material that we perform is adventurous and the band takes no prisoners!  The venue is a cool log cabin building with really good acoustics.  I hope that you can make it to the concert!”  Admission is $0, $15 for students and seniors, and refreshments are included.

A good deal!  If you’ve heard Dan play live, you won’t need my urging; if you haven’t, wait no longer.

MORE WORDS TO LIVE BY

“His main theme was that you didn’t have to play loud but that you needed intensity to get the listener’s attention.  This turned out to be the greatest of all lessons in how and what to play.”

wo-smithThese words come from a fascinating book, now apparently out of print but worth searching out: SIDEMAN: THE LONG GIG OF W.O. SMITH.  William Oscar Smith is the bassist on Hawkins’s 1939 Bluebird session, the one that produced “Body and Soul.”  That should be enough renown for anyone, but Smith went on to be a generous and respected educator.

Those of you who follow this blog will not be surprised that the quotation is something Smith remembered Sidney Catlett telling young musicians in the early Forties.  I’ve included it here not as another tribute to Sid, although who would deny me that?  But it’s applicable — in its own way — to current jazz performance practice.

At the gigs I attend, musicians rarely feel the need to outshout one another.  Most of the clubs are intimate (read: “cramped”) so that raising the volume of your solo for the sake of loudness isn’t something people do.

But I am always amazed and dismayed by how many musicians unconsciously accelerate tempos, carried away by the intensity of the solos they hear.  Musician A plays more intensely, digging into his notes, so B (feeling the spirit alongside him) gets faster and faster.  These aren’t amateurs, by the way.  Now, I know how hard it is to improvise, and I am sitting at a table, silently censorious as the piece that began as a medium-tempo rock is now a sprint.  I also know that some of the greatest live performances rush or drag, and that very famous musicians tended to do this.  I will not call the roll in this blog, for, after all, jazz isn’t a metronomic art.  It isn’t mechanical, nor should it be.

But the only rushing I approve of wholeheartedly is Jiimmy Rushing.

OUR OWN FOUR-DAY NYC JAZZ FESTIVAL

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This remarkable weekend began on Friday night (November 7) at the New York Historical Society on Central Park West, with a free one-hour concert featuring bassist-singer-composer Jay Leonhart, amidst what the MC introduced, somewhat oddly, as “rising stars” Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals, Ted Rosenthal, piano, and Alvin Atkinson, drums. The program mixed several Richard Rodgers classics, “Shall We Dance,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” Bernstein’s “Cool,” with two Leonhart originals and a closing romp through “Lester Leaps In.”  Rosenthal sparkled; Atkinson swung.

But the high point of the evening was an exploration of what Leonhart called “a jazz prayer,” “Body and Soul.”  That 1930 song can be a problem for musicians, as it has been played so nobly by so many: Coleman Hawkins, Louis, Bird in his first flights, Duke and Blanton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Lucky Thompson, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, the Benny Goodman Trio, etc.   This performance began with Leonhart’s arco solo and then reached heights with Wycliffe’s plunger-muted, stately exploration of the theme.  Wycliffe knows full well how to honor a melody rather than simply leaping into variations on chord changes).  Waggling his plunger in and out, he mixed growls and moans, naughty comedy and deep sighs, as if Tricky Sam Nanton or Vic Dickenson was playing a hymn.  The solo ended all too soon.

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Not only was the concert free, but the museum was open to all, so the Beloved and I wandered through lovely landscape paintings.  Future Fridays at the NYHS (all beginning at 6:30 PM) will feature The Western Wind (a contemporary classical vocal sextet) on November 14, on the 21, guitarists from the Manhattan School of Music (teachers and proteges); Cheryl B. Engelhardt and Oscar Rodriguez (guitar) on December 5, jazz again on December 12, with Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Tootie Heath, and ending with Latin music on the 19th from the Samuel Torres Group.

We rested on Saturday to prepare ourselves for the exuberances to come.

Sunday afternoon found us at Sweet Rhythm on Seventh Avenue South for the third gathering of Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends: this time bassist Kelly Friesen, drummer Andrew Swann, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and reedman Peter Reardon-Anderson, doubling tenor and clarinet.  Hyperbole is a dangerous thing, but I came away from these two sets thinking that I had heard the most exciting jazz in years.

I so admire Jon-Erik’s ability to shape an ad hoc ensemble into a cohesive one, and he did it through the two sets, creating jazz that was of this time and place, looking back to New Orleans and collective improvisation, forward to contemporary “Mainstream” solos.  If I kept thinking of Keynote Records 1943-46, perhaps that’s because those jubilant performances kept being evoked on the stand at Sweet Rhythm.  Rossano strode and glided, sometimes in a Basie mood (appropriately) on “Doggin’ Around” and “Topsy”; Kelly took the glories of Milt Hinton (powerful rhythm, a huge tone, beautiful arco work on “All Too Soon”) and made them his own, and Andrew Swann, slyly grinning, added Sidney Catlett and Cliff Leeman to his swinging progenitors.  Anderson, twenty-one years old, is someone we can greet at the beginning of a brilliant career (to quote Emerson on Whitman): Zoot Sims and Ed Hall stand in back of his graceful, energetic playing.  Basie got honored, but so did Bing and Louis in “I Surrender, Dear,” and Kellso reminded us that not only is he playing marvelously but he is a first-rate composer: his line on “Linger Awhile” was a memorable hide-and-seek creation.  We cheered this band, and with good reason.

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And the room was full of Jazz Friends who didn’t get up on the bandstand: Bill and Sonya Dunham, Jim and Grace Balantic, Nina Favara, Lawri Moore, Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  A righteous congregation!

And the five portraits you see here — from the top, Jon-Erik, Rossano, Kelly, Andrew, and Peter — come from this gig, courtesy of Lorna Sass, jazz photographer.

Perhaps I am a jazz glutton, but those two sets weren’t enough: I walked downtown to the Ear Inn to soak up one more set by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik, Chris Flory on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass, and Michael Blake on tenor, someone entirely new to me.  (He and Jon-Erik go ‘way back, although they hadn’t played together in years.)  Blake is exceedingly amiable, so we found ourselves chatting at the bar — about small towns near Victoria (Souk for one) and Pee Wee Russell, about the odd and gratifying ways people come to jazz, about Lucky Thompson and jazz clarinet.  Then it was time for the EarRegulars to hit, and they surely did — from a “Blue Skies” that became “In Walked Bud,” to Blake’s feature on (what else?) “Body and Soul.”  Here, backed by the wonderfully sensitive duo of Chris and Greg, he broke the theme into fragments, speculating on their possibilities, becoming harmonically bolder with a tone that ranged from purring to rasping (some echoes of Lacy), exploring the range of his instrument in a delicate, earnest, probing way.  It was a masterful performance, and I am particularly delighted to encounter such brave creativity from a player I didn’t know before.

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Of course, the near-collisions of beauty and contemporary weirdness never fail to amaze.  I was sitting at the bar at the Ear, welcomed there by Victor, who knows more jazz than most critics.  At the bar, to my left, three and sometimes four people were facing away from the band, hunched over their Black Berry or Black Berries, their iPhones, what have you.  Electronically glowing tiny screens, blue and white, shone throughout the club.  I too am a techno-addict — but why go to a bar to check your BlackBerry and ignore the live art being created not five feet away?  To treat Kellso, Blake, Flory, and Cohen as background music seems oblivious or rude.

Monday there was work — but that is always a finite obligation, even when it looms inescapably — but soon I was back in Manhattan, drawn inexorably with the Beloved to Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and Ninth Street) to hear two groups in one night.  Banjo Jim’s seems ideal — small, congenial, a private neighborhood bar full of young people listening to the music, a real blessing.

The first group was full of old friends — Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  This incarnation included Charlie Caranicas on cornet, Michael Hashim on alto sax, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, Jesse Gelber on piano, Kevin on drums.  Kevin kicked things off with a romping “I Want To Be Happy,” explicitly summoning up the 1972 New School concert where Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood — someone named Eddie Condon in charge — showed what could be done with that simple line.  (I was at that concert, too.)  J. Walter Hawkes, one of my favorite unsung singers, did his wonderful, yearning “Rose Room.”  Barbara Rosene sat in for a thoughtful “Pennies From Heaven,” complete with the fairy-tale verse, and the proceedings closed with a hot “China Boy.”

And then — as if it that hadn’t been enough — the Cangelosi Cards took the stand.  They are the stuff of local legend and they deserve every accolade.  A loosely-arranged ensemble: Jake Sanders on acoustic guitar, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Gordon Webster on piano, Karl Meyer on violin, Cassidy Holden on bass.  They are all fine players, better than many with larger reputations.  I thought I heard a drummer but saw no one at the trap set: later I found out that their singer, Tamar Korn, has a remarkable vocabulary of clicks, hisses, and swishes — she fooled me and she swung.  The group has a Django-and-Stephane flavor, but they are not prisoners of that sound, that chugging rhythm, that repertoire.  They began with “Douce Ambiance,” moved to Harry Barris’s “It Was So Beautiful,” and then Eddie Durham’s “Topsy.”

Early on in the set, it became clear that this band has a devoted following — not just of listeners, but of dancers, who threw themselves into making the music physically three-dimensional in a limited space.  Wonderful inspired on-the-spot choreography added to the occasion, an exultant Happening.

Then Tamar Korn got up to sing — she is so petite that I hadn’t quite seen her, because I was seated at the back of the small square room.  But I heard her, and her five songs are still vibrating in my mind as I write this.  Without attempting to be mysterious in any way (she is friendly and open) she is someone unusual.  Rumor has it that she hails from California, but I secretly believe she is not from our planetary system.  When I’ve suggested this to her, she laughs . . . but doesn’t deny it.

Tamar’s singing is focused, experimental, powerful.  In her performance of “Avalon,” she began by singing the lyrics clearly, with emotion but not ever “acting,” then shifted into a wordless line, high long held notes in harmony with the horns, as if she were Adelaide Hall or a soprano saxophone, then did two choruses of the most evocative scat-singing I’ve ever heard (it went beyond Leo Watson into pure sound) and then came back to the lyrics.

Her voice is small but not narrow, her range impressive.  What I find most exhilirating is the freedom of her approach: I hear old-time country music (not, I must add, “country and western,” but real roots music), blues and bluegrass, the parlor soprano essaying light classics, opera, yodeling, swing — and pure sound.  She never appears to be singing a song in any formulaic way.  Rather, she is a vessel through whom the force of music passes: she is embraced by the emotions, the notes, the words.

And when the Cards invited their friends — that is, Charlie Caranicas, Michael Hashim, and Jesse Gelber — to join them for “Milenberg Joys,” “I’m Confessin’,” and “Avalon,” it was as close to soul-stirring ritual in a New York club as I can remember.  The room vibrated; the dancers threw their hands in the air, people stood up to see better, the music expressed intense joy.  I don’t know whether Margaret Mead had rhythm in her feet, but she would have recognized what went on at Banjo Jim’s.

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I hope to have video, thanks to Flip, to post shortly.  Tune in again!  (And another weekend is coming soon . . . tempus fugit isn’t so terrifying when there are glories like this to look forward to.)

Only in New York, I am sure.

All photographs by Lorna Sass, copyright 2008.