Tag Archives: Bria Skonberg

FUN FOR ALL AGES: DANNY COOTS PLUS TEN at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 26, 2014)

Large groupings of musicians on the stand of a jazz  party look impressive but they don’t always come off as well as they might.

But this one was even better than the best I could have imagined — genial, melodic, and always inspired: led by Danny Coots, drums; with Paul Keller, string bass; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibes; Dan Block, tenor sax; Allan Vache, clarinet; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Ed Polcer, cornet; Bria Skonberg, trumpet. All this delightful music was created at the 15th Atlanta Jazz Party, late in the evening of April 26, 2014.

The set began with a romping version of PANAMA, but my camera betrayed me. (Note to self: never change batteries in midstream.) So you will have to imagine it. But what followed was even better, WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

After the comedy by Allan Vache, Dan Barrett, and Danny himself, we move into a deeply satisfying series of “conversations,” starting with the two trombones.  If you want to go back into recorded history, this device reminds me of Red Nichols sessions where Jack Teagarden played a “hot” chorus while Glenn Miller played the melody sweetly — a delicious simultaneous mixing of tastes.  (I also recall, since Ed Polcer was on this session, nights at the last Eddie Condon’s where Ed and Ruby Braff would switch off — melody and improvisation — for a few choruses, always very inspiring.)  The device also solves the unstated problem — if each of the soloists takes the traditional two choruses, performances stretch out to amazing lengths.  This DREAM is about five minutes of music, but it feels filled to the very brim with melody and swing that floats through the conversations of Ed and Bria, of Dan and Allan (over the rhythm section’s rocking two-beat) — followed by sweet epistles by Randy, Rossano, Paul, and then the tidy but never constricted ensemble — a model of letting everyone have his / her say in a flexible, compact fashion.

I think everyone on the stand was elated by what they had created, and I know the audience was joyful.  Danny then (after more comedy) called for MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME (another “ancient” pop tune that is rarely played — and if it is, not at this walking tempo) that reminds me of the best swing sessions I’ve ever heard, playful improvisation never flagging:

What could top that?  Well, nothing — but adding Rebecca Kilgore to the band to sing some Anita O’Day – Gene Krupa blues, DRUM BOOGIE / BOOGIE BLUES, which is closely related to SENT FOR YOU YESTERDAY, but we’ll let people who care about provenance argue over that.  Me, I simply love to hear Ms. Kilgore sing — and over this sweetly-Basie group, it is a treat:

Couldn’t be better. And I think it’s relevant to mention that another version of all this good feeling and good sounds will be taking place in April 2015.  I’ll be at the Atlanta Jazz Party (April 17-19) as will many of the brilliant players you see here — with some surprises.  Make plans!

May your happiness increase!

SWEET AND SALTY: EDDIE ERICKSON’S AMERICANA at the 2014 SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY

This version of SIDE BY SIDE, performed by Mr. Erickson at the  February 2014 San Diego Jazz Party, has some surprises.

Eddie’s co-conspirators (some of them who may not know the script) are Johnny Varro, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Antti Sarpila, clarinet.  But the spotlight is justifiably on Mr. Erickson, great guitarist, seductive vocalist, splendid improvisatory-theatre director and comedian, creating a sweet collective experience that turns comic at the end:

I read what I could about the closing verse and one source says that of course the author is Anonymous, but this set of lyrics is said to have originated during the Second World War.  Seems right to me: the sort of thing that soldiers could sing to amuse themselves, that children could learn and horrify their parents, and that we could all remember — a sort of guilty pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

KILGORE SWINGS EMERSON

In SELF-RELIANCE, Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home.” BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, written by Dave Dreyer, Billy Rose, and Al Jolson in 1928 (I would give almost all of the credit to Mr. Dreyer) makes the same claim in a different way. It proposes that home is so lovely that it makes travel unnecessary, and that those who roam find their greatest happiness when they return — nostalgia more than transcendentalism, perhaps, but the effect is the same.

Rebecca Kilgore doesn’t present herself as a philosopher, although she does hail from Massachusetts, home of Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts, but she makes this philosophical statement exultant in its hopefulness and its swing.

This performance was recorded at the 26th San Diego Jazz Party, on February 22, 2014.  The other philosophers on the stand are Chuck Redd, drums; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Johnny Varro, piano; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Antti Sarpila, clarinet.

Home is where such music is.

May your happiness increase!

ROMBERG IN RHYTHM: A SWING INTERLUDE FROM THE 2014 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 27, 2014): DANNY COOTS, ED POLCER, BRIA SKONBERG, DAN BARRETT, BOB HAVENS, ALLAN VACHE, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOHN COCUZZI, RANDY NAPOLEON, PAUL KELLER

I am still smiling because of the music I heard and the good feelings it engendered at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party.

If you were there, you need no convincing; if you weren’t able to attend, here is a soul-stirring example of the great jazz created consistently over the weekend.

This song (as explained by witty leader, drummer Danny Coots) is WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.  Danny was in front of a group of serious individualists: Ed Polcer, cornet; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Paul Keller, string bass.

Now, that lineup glistens all by itself. But some JAZZ LIVES readers, veterans of jazz parties now and then, might expect what a musician I know calls, sadly, “jazz party jazz”: a session that features everyone taking two choruses after a single-chorus ensemble.  Competent playing, always, but long, formulaic solos.

The musicians at the AJP seemed exceedingly happy to be there, and their improvisations were delightfully on target, cheerful, inspiring. Listen for that often-forgotten device, the split chorus, where A plays the first half and B the second, or A plays everything but the bridge, leaving those harmonically fast-moving eight bars to B. Here, you’ll also note the musicians happily creating impromptu duets and conversations: lively and enlightening.

Some of the credit for this goes to our Mister Coots, but much of it comes from the musicians’ ingenuity and pleasure at being onstage at the AJP.

See and hear for yourself:

With deferential apologies to lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, you never grow too old to dream when music like that is being made! What a wonderful time we had!

The 26th Atlanta Jazz Party will take place on April 17-19, 2015. Thanks to Pualani and Philip Carroll for such a great party.

May your happiness increase!

MISS RYAN RECORDS!

I’ve been a fan of the sweet-voiced singer Molly Ryan since I first heard her, live and on recording, and she has only become more subtle and more affecting with each year.  Her natural warmth, her easy swing, and her friendly approach to the song are inspiring. Molly’s made two CDs with friends — SONGBIRD IN THE MOONLIGHT and SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER, both refreshing reminders of what swing singing was and can still be.

Now, she’s poised to make a third one, which is good news. But a self-produced recording is an expensive business. I’ve been reluctant to write fund-raising appeals here, lest JAZZ LIVES turn into JAZZ ASKS, but I make an exception in this case, since I look forward to the CD and to supporting Molly and her friends in making the world safe for music.

Those friends?  Dan Barrett, Adrien Chevalier, Kevin Dorn, Joel Forbes, Dick Hyman, Dan Levinson, Randy Reinhart, John Reynolds, Mark Shane, Bria Skonberg. And the sounds will be captured by the noted recording engineer Stewart Lerman.

Here you can find details of amounts one can pledge and the appropriate rewards; you can see Molly’s direct appeal in her own music video, and you can come away with the feeling that you have done something direct to support the music and musicians we admire so.

May your happiness increase!

LUCKY TO BE THERE: THE ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY NEARS! (April 25-27, 2014)

April is a-coming in, and so is the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party.

I offer a beautiful interlude, recorded at the 2012 AJP, of Rossano Sportiello tenderly playing Leonard Bernstein — as a soundtrack while you read more.

At the Atlanta Jazz Party, good music flourishes over the course of a weekend. All the elements are in place before a note sounds: comfort, friendliness, ease, variety.  A well-lit room, good sound, good sight lines, easy access to high-quality food and drink in a clean, hospitable hotel.  Each player or singer gets to lead at least one set, and the stylistic range goes back to King Oliver and forward to the present day, with pleasing stops for up-tempo romps and pretty ballads.

This is the AJP’s twenty-fifth anniversary, proof that they understand the fine art of pleasing both patrons and musicians. I’ve joined the Party twice and found it a banquet each time, supervised with generosity and common sense by Pualani and Philip Carroll.

Details! Here is  the Facebook page for the AJP.

The musicians at this year’s Party are once again enthusiastic, swinging, and surprising:

Ed Polcer, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, cornet / trumpet and an occasional vocal; Allan Vaché, Dan Block, reeds; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibes, piano, vocal; Freddy Cole, vocal, piano; Randy Napoleon, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Frank Tate, Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz Jr., Danny Coots, drums; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal.

You can look forward to thirty sets of beautifully-conceived jazz: ballads, New Orleans, mainstream, small-band swing, offered in four sessions: Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, Sunday afternoon. Guarantors and Patrons get to attend all four sessions plus the exclusive Saturday morning jazz brunch just for patrons, guarantors and musicians. More details can be found at the AJP site. You can sign up for a single session or for all four.  The hotel (the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North) is exceedingly comfortable: it is located at 7 Concourse Pkwy. NE, Sandy Springs, Georgia, 30328 — about thirty minutes from downtown Atlanta. Be sure to mention the Party for the best room rate! Click here to reserve rooms.

JUST PEACHY: THE 2014 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY

I’m in the mood for the Atlanta Jazz Party, and it’s coming up — April 25 through 27, 2014.  Here’s the appropriate song from the 2012 Party (played by Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Richard Simon, and Ed Metz):

The Atlanta Jazz Party promises — and delivers — delightful music over the course of a weekend.  I’ll name the esteemed musicians in a few lines, but I want to say something about what goes on above and beyond.

A jazz party is more than a series of performances: for the party to satisfy, the patrons and musicians must be happy and comfortable.  The patrons need variety, comfortable seating, a well-lit room, good sound, good sight lines, easy access to high-quality food and drink in a clean, hospitable hotel.  The AJP provides all of this with great style. And as for the music: the musicians are not tied down by restrictions; each player or singer gets to lead at least one set, and the stylistic range goes back to CHIMES BLUES or KEEP OFF THE GRASS up to ANTHROPOLOGY or SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY, with surprising digressions along the way.

This is the AJP’s twenty-fifth anniversary, so you know they understand the fine arts of pleasing both patrons and musicians.

I’ve joined the Party twice and found it a banquet each time, supervised with generosity and common sense by Pualani and Philip Carroll.

Details! Here is  the Facebook site for the AJP.

The musicians at this year’s Party (as always) are professionals, enthusiastic, swinging, and surprising: Ed Polcer, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, cornet / trumpet and an occasional vocal; Allan Vaché, Dan Block, reeds; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibes, piano, vocal; Freddy Cole, vocal, piano; Randy Napoleon, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Frank Tate, Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz Jr., Danny Coots, drums; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal.

I anticipate thirty sets of beautifully-conceived jazz: ballads, New Orleans, mainstream, small-band swing, offered in four sessions: Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, Sunday afternoon. Guarantors and Patrons get to attend all four sessions plus the exclusive Saturday morning jazz brunch just for patrons, guarantors and musicians.

More details can be found at the AJP site. You can sign up for a single session or for all four.  The hotel (the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North*) is exceedingly comfortable.

*The hotel is located at 7 Concourse Pkwy. NE, Sandy Springs, Georgia, 30328 — about thirty minutes from downtown Atlanta. Be sure to mention the Party for the best room rate! Click here to reserve rooms.

Here are two examples of uplifting jazz I recorded at the 2012 AJP.

STEALIN’ APPLES, performed by Allan Vache, John Cocuzzi, Rossano Sportiello, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Chuck Redd:

Bucky, solo, tenderly considering TRES PALABRAS:

As I;ve said before, if you need tres palabras from me, they could be “Mark your calendars,” or “Make your reservations,” or “Don’t miss this.”

May your happiness increase!

FABULOUS FRIDAY at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (Part One): FEBRUARY 21, 2014

A week ago (that would be February 21) I was ready to have fun at my first-ever San Diego Jazz Party.  And I certainly did.  The music below will speak — and play and sing — for itself, but the SDJP was a real pleasure . . . comfort all around, the details managed gently and wisely, the musicians smiling.  As were we.

Here are a few shining examples of how fine the music was, how comfortable the musicians were . . . couldn’t ask for more!

If you need more words — data, information, facts —   here is what I wrote about the party as it was in progress.  But I think you’ll want to hear and see some of the joyousness first.

WABASH BLUES (Ed Polcer, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Antti Sarpila, soprano saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; John Cocuzzi, piano; Richard Simon, string bass; Ed Metz, drums):

ROBBINS’ NEST (John Allred, trombone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, vibes; Jason Wanner, piano; Dave Stone, string bass; Butch Miles, drums):

THE FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE (Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ed Metz, percussion and miscellaneous instruments):

That, dear friends, is just a sample of how delicious the whole weekend was.  And my videos — which I am proud of — can’t convey the whole experience.  You’ll just have to be there in 2014.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD, BETTER, BEST: SWEET NOTES FROM THE 26th SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY

The musicians are taking a break; it’s too early for another meal; what should I do?  I can share my joy at being at the San Diego Jazz Party, that’s what.

It’s only about twenty percent through (there’s still a full day-and-a-half of music to come) but it has been splendid.  Nicely organized, humanely planned — all the things that make a jazz weekend comfortable as well as gratifying — and the music last night was often spectacular.  You can find out the complete list of players here but I just want to speak of a few delicious moments that happened last night so you, too, can get a taste . . .

Even before the official festivities began, there was wonderful music during the cocktail hour: Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, Jason Wanner, and Dave Stone started slow and easy and then romped through a closing IDAHO; Antti Sarpila, Chuck Redd, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, and Nicki Parrott followed with a passionate NEW ORLEANS and an old-school SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL.

(During the soundcheck that followed, Sarpilla sat down at the piano and quietly — as if no one had been listening — played a sweet, streamlined DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, which was a private treat.)

A ten-minute swaggering WABASH BLUES was offered to us by Ed Polcer, Bria, Antti, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Cocuzzi, Richard Simon, Ed Metz.  A smaller group — John Allred, Harry Allen, Chuck Redd, Jason Wanner, Dave Stone, and Butch Miles — showed us what Groovy and Sweet meant in less than half an hour, with a coasting ROBBINS’ NEST, a from-the-heart SOLITUDE, and an exuberant CHEROKEE.  Becky Kilgore, looking mighty glamorous, took the stage with old pals Barrett and Erickson, Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, and Ed Metz for a set that culminated in the best FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE since Ivie Anderson, and a Romany duo: Becky’s own THE GYPSY (which began with a tender Sportiello-Barrett duet) followed by Eddie’s narrative of finding love and caffeine, IN A LITLE GYPSY TEAROOM.

And four more sets followed!  How about a duo of Venerables Bucky Pizzarelli and Mundell Lowe (the latter now 91) for — among other beauties — I REMEMBER YOU and an Oscar Pettiford blues?  Bria Skonberg told us all about Ruth Etting and then sang and played — with real ardor — LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.  Houston Person wooed the crowd with medium-tempo ballads and Ellington; Anti Sarpilla took out his curved soprano for SUMMERTIME and his clarinet for RUNNIN’ WILD, and a band of Harry Allen, Bria, and Dan Barrett, Rossano, Richard Simon, and Butch Miles created a hot THEM THERE EYES, which made many pairs shine and gleam.

If you were in the audience, you know I am understating what we all saw and heard.  More to come.  Save your quarters, make your plans for 2105.

May your happiness increase! 

FEBRUARY COULD BE THE WARMEST MONTH, IF YOU’RE PROPERLY SITUATED: THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 21-23, 2014)

Although it is the shortest month, February has a well-deserved reputation for unpleasantness.  But this February could change all the bad press, if you can make it to the San Diego Jazz Party.

The Party begins Friday, February 21 and continues at a leisurely pace to Sunday, February 24, 2014, at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar (15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014-1901 — (800) 833-7904 (toll-free) / (858) 792-5200 (local) / (858) 792-9538 (fax).

Here is the Party’s site.

They’ve been doing a fine job of presenting classic mainstream jazz since 1988, when these musicians who appeared at the first Party, a list that makes me very nostalgic:

John Clayton, Jr. (b); Bob Haggart (b); Milt Hinton (b); Kenny Davern (cl); Peanuts Hucko (cl); Bob Wilber (cl); Jake Hanna (d); Gus Johnson, Jr. (d); Butch Miles (d); Herb Ellis (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g); Dick Hyman (p); Paul Smith (p); Ralph Sutton (p); Scott Hamilton (ts); Flip Phillips (ts); Marshal Royal (as); Buddy Tate (ts); Al Grey (tb); George Masso (tb); Bill Watrous (tb); Ed Polcer (co); Warren Vaché (co); Snooky Young (t).

The 2014 list of players and singers is just as inspiring: Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Mundell Lowe, Ed Metz Jr., Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpilla, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.

On that list, players born in 1922 and 1926: will we have decades to see their like again? And — to balance it all out — there are Youngbloods born in 1978 and only a little earlier. Men and women, American and European, a lovely diversified mix — but with one common goal, to swing memorably and melodically.

And when you look here, at how the sets have been planned — you can see how intelligently this Party has been laid out. All the music is in one ballroom of a comfortable hotel (so no rushing from room to room); the music runs from late afternoon Friday to late afternoon Sunday with breaks for meals, and the layout of who-plays-when is wise and sensible. There’s a comforting awareness of an audience’s need for dynamics, for variety, so solo piano sets and duos for piano, for guitar, alternate with quartets and quintets.  There is one eleven-person blowout and that is appropriately on Saturday night.

As to those important questions, “Can I / we get there?” “Can I / we afford it?” you’re on your own and only by visiting the site will you find answers to these questions. I do think that a weekend like this is worth its weight in YouTube videos and CDs, but that’s me.

Worth repeating, I think: many jazz fans spend much energy lamenting What Was. “Were you there at the sessions when Kitty Katz and the Persian Hairballs would play MY LITTLE BIMBO or C JAM BLUES for weeks at a time? That club / festival / party is now gone and I miss it so.”  I miss it too. But I know why it’s no longer here, and so do you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Scatman Crothers said, “It is better to Do Something than to Lament in your den.  The things you love will evaporate if you aren’t participating in them.”

See you at San Diego on February 21st! Details here. And if you want to tell them, “I only did it to stop that pesky JAZZ LIVES from tugging at my cyber-clothes and hissing “Carpe diem!” in my ear, I will accept the stigma and the guilt.

May your happiness increase!

COME CELEBRATE APRIL IN ATLANTA at THE ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 25-27, 2014)

During the weekend of April 25-27, 2014, the Atlanta Jazz Party will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary.  I’ve joined the Party twice and it was an extravagant banquet each time, supervised with generosity and common sense by Pualani and Philip Carroll.

Details! Here is  the Facebook site for the AJP.

The musicians at this year’s Party (as always) are a wonderful bunch, linked by a common urge to swing, to surprise us with new melodies, to play sweet, to get us all excited with the music: Ed Polcer, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, cornet / trumpet and an occasional vocal; Allan Vaché, Dan Block, reeds; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibes, piano, vocal; Freddy Cole, vocal, piano; Randy Napoleon, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Frank Tate, Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz Jr., Danny Coots, drums; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal.

The music is beautifully conceived, with something for everyone: pretty ballads, rocking New Orleans, hot Goodman-style small groups; timeless Mainstream. And no one will go away hungry for music: I counted thirty sets in four sessions (Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, Sunday) Guarantors and Patrons get to attend all four sessions plus the exclusive Saturday morning jazz brunch just for patrons, guarantors and musicians.

More details can be found at the AJP site. You can sign up for a single session or for all four.  The hotel (the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North*) is exceedingly comfortable; the ballroom is also, with good sight lines and nice sound.  There is a pleasing democracy at work here: everyone gets to lead a session, and the results are nicely situated between Old Favorites and New Surprises.

*The hotel is located at 7 Concourse Pkwy. NE, Sandy Springs, Georgia, 30328 — about thirty minutes from downtown Atlanta. Be sure to mention the Party for the best room rate! Click here to reserve rooms.

Here are two examples of uplifting jazz I recorded at the 2012 AJP.

STEALIN’ APPLES, performed by Allan Vache, John Cocuzzi, Rossano Sportiello, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Chuck Redd:

Bucky, solo, tenderly considering TRES PALABRAS:

If you need tres palabras from me, they could be “Mark your calendars,” or “Make your reservations,” or “Don’t miss this.”

May your happiness increase!

GOIN’ TO SAN DIEGO (and YOU CAN COME, TOO)

I’ve been listening to a bootleg Jimmy Rushing lp where he sings GOIN’ TO CHICAGO, with the famous lines, “Goin’ to Chicago / Sorry, but I can’t take you.”

Thus my title: the Beloved and I are thrilled to be making our debut voyage to the 2014 San Diego Jazz Party, and we can — in a manner of speaking — take you. And even if you don’t want to be Our New Pals, you owe it to yourself to check out what the SDJP is offering from Friday, February 21 to Sunday, February 24, 2014, at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar (15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014-1901 — (800) 833-7904 (toll-free) / (858) 792-5200 (local) / (858) 792-9538 (fax).

Here is the Party’s site.

They’ve been doing a wonderful job of presenting classic mainstream jazz since their first party in 1988: I looked at their archives and found these musicians who appeared at the first Party, a list that makes me very nostalgic.  It’s also proof of fine taste:

John Clayton, Jr. (b); Bob Haggart (b); Milt Hinton (b); Kenny Davern (cl); Peanuts Hucko (cl); Bob Wilber (cl); Jake Hanna (d); Gus Johnson, Jr. (d); Butch Miles (d); Herb Ellis (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g); Dick Hyman (p); Paul Smith (p); Ralph Sutton (p); Scott Hamilton (ts); Flip Phillips (ts); Marshal Royal (as); Buddy Tate (ts); Al Grey (tb); George Masso (tb); Bill Watrous (tb); Ed Polcer (co); Warren Vaché (co); Snooky Young (t).

Some of those heroes are gone, but the 2014 list of players and singers is just as inspiring: Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Mundell Lowe, Ed Metz Jr., Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpilla, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.

On that list, players born in 1922 and 1926: will we have decades to see their like again?  And — to balance it all out — there are Youngbloods born in 1978 and only a little earlier.  Men and women, American and European, a lovely diversified mix — but with one common goal, to swing memorably and melodically.

And when you look here, at the lineup — how the sets have been planned — you can see how intelligently this Party has been laid out. All the music is in one ballroom of what I see is a comfortable hotel (so no rushing from room to room); the music runs from late afternoon Friday to late afternoon Sunday with breaks for meals, and the layout of who-plays-when is wise and sensible. Some parties put one seven-piece band (three or four horns with rhythm) on after another and the results can seem similar.

At this Party, there’s a very comforting awareness of an audience’s need for dynamics, for variety, so solo piano sets and duos for piano, for guitar, alternate with quartets and quintets; there’s only one eleven-person blowout and that is appropriately on Saturday night.

As to those important questions, “Can I / we get there?” “Can I / we afford it?” you’re on your own and only by visiting the site can you find answers to the second question. I do think that a weekend like this is worth its weight in YouTube videos and CDs, but that’s me.

What follows might seem overly gloomy, but it’s no less true.  Many fanciers of the music who have long memories spend much energy lamenting What Was.  “Were you there at the sessions when Big Barko and his Leash-Pullers used to play IN A MELLOTONE (or UNDER THE BAMBOO TREE) for forty-seven minutes?  That club / festival / party is now gone and I miss it so.”

I miss it too.  But I know why it’s no longer here, and so do you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Eddie South used to say, “It is better to write a check, make a hotel reservation, and be there now than to sit in your living room lamenting that The Great Things are here no more.  The Great Things need you to preserve them.”

See you at San Diego on February 21st! Details here.  And if you want to tell them, “I only did it to stop that nagging JAZZ LIVES from plucking at my sleeve and whispering “Carpe diem!” in my ear, I will bear the emotional burden.

May your happiness increase!

UNDER WESTERN SKIES, JAZZ HORIZONS

Long-Beach-California-Sunrise

With great pleasure, I have transplanted myself from one coast to the other, from suburban New York to Marin County in California, where I will be for the next eight months.  So what follows is a brief and selective listing of musical events the Beloved and I might show up at . . . feel free to join us!

Clint Baker and his New Orleans Jazz Band will be playing for the Wednesday Night Hop in San Mateo on January 8: details and directions here.

Emily Asher’s Garden Party will be touring this side of the continent in mid-January, with Emily’s Hoagy Carmichael program.  On January 16, she, friends, and sitters-in will make merry at a San Francisco house concert: details here.  On the 17th, the Garden Party will reappear, bright and perky, at the Red Poppy Art House, to offer another helping of subtle, lyrical, hot music: details to come here.

Clint and Friends (I don’t know the official band title, so am inventing the simplest) will be playing for the Central Coast Hot Jazz Society in Pismo Beach on January 26.  Details are not yet available on the website, but I have it on good authority that the band will include Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Mike Baird, Carl Sonny Leyland, and Katie Cavera.

A moment of self-advertisement: I will be giving a Sunday afternoon workshop at Berkeley’s The Jazz School  — on February 9, called LOUIS ARMSTRONG SPEAKS TO US.  Details here.’

And, from February 21-23, the Beloved and I will be happily in attendance at the San Diego Jazz Party — details here — to be held at the Del Mar Hilton, honoring guitar legend Mundell Lowe and featuring Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpila, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.  The sessions will offer solo piano all the way up to nonets, with amiable cross-generational jazz at every turn.  In a triumph of organization, you can even see here who’s playing with whom and when, from Friday afternoon to Sunday farewell.

In March, the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey . . . make your plans here!

And — a little closer to the here and now — if you don’t have plans for a New Year’s Eve gala, check out ZUT! in Berkeley.  Good food — and Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz (with singer Kallye Gray) will be giving 2013 a gentle push at the stroke of midnight.  Details here.

We hope to see our friends at these events!

May your happiness increase!

THE JAZZ BOOKSHELF: “JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ” and “MR. B”

A quarter-century ago, in actual bookstores, I could find shelves devoted to books on jazz.  That reassuring sight still exists (I saw it in the Strand in New York last week) but the great era of print publishing is, understandably, over. Thus it’s always a pleasure to encounter new books on jazz, and the two below are quite different but will both reward readers.

Jazz-Beat-review--195x300

JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ, by Lew Shaw (AZtold Publishing) is a very amiable collection of profiles written by an admiring, long-time fan and former sportswriter.

What makes these brief affectionate portraits different from the norm is that all (except one) the musicians in this book are living.  Not all of them are stars, but they have devoted followings — from the youthful Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, Pete and Will Anderson, Josh Duffee, Michael Kaeshammer, Ben Polcer, Molly Ryan, Bria Skonberg, Andy Schumm, Stephanie Trick, to the veterans Bill Allred, Jim Cullum, Bob Draga, Yve Evans, Chet Jeager, Flip Oakes, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Mike Vax, Pat Yankee, and Ed Polcer — the book’s inspiration, whose picture is on the cover.

Shaw also profiles other regulars on the festival circuit, Tom Rigney, the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, the Natural Gas Jazz Band, the New Black Eagles, Igor’s Jazz Cowboys.

His emphasis is on musicians exploring older jazz forms and repertoire, but the book is happily free from ideological bickering (with one exception, and the words aren’t the author’s*.  The book is comfortable and easy: I sense that the musicians are delighted to find someone sympathetic, interested, willing to get the facts right for publication.

I was pleased to find a number of my jazz friends and heroes profiled, among them Clint Baker, Kevin Dorn, Banu Gibson, Nicki Parrott, Carl Sonny Leyland, Randy Reinhart, Hal Smith, Rossano Sportiello, and the late Mat Domber.  I know I’ve left several people off this list, but readers will have fun seeing some of their favorites here.

Shaw’s method is simple: he establishes the musician’s place in the world of contemporary traditional jazz, constructs a brief biography — a story rather than a collection of dates and a listing of names and places.  Some comments from a writer or blogger offer different insights (I’m even quoted here a few times) and the musician speaks for him or herself.  The result is a fast-moving collection of short pieces (somewhere between journalistic features and extensive liner notes) that capture their subjects’ personalities in only a few pages.

Shaw is frankly admiring — from a literate fan’s perspective.  For instance (I picked this at random), the opening of his piece on Bob Draga: “Clarinetist Bob Draga is considered the consummate entertainer, having mastered the art of pleasing an audience with musical talent, classy appearance and entertaining repartee.”  That’s Bob, to the life.

One particularly moving episode in this book is the profile of drummer Joe Ascione — and his life with multiple sclerosis since 1997.  If Shaw had done nothing but allow Joe to speak for himself, JAZZ BEAT would still be well worth reading. Many fans come up to musicians at gigs, concerts, and festivals, and ask questions; it is reassuring to see that Lew Shaw has willingly shared his energies and research with us.  The 211-page book is nicely produced with many black-and-white photographs, and copies can be ordered here.

*Chet Jaeger, of the Night Blooming Jazzmen, told Shaw about playing in a Disneyland marching band when Dizzy Gillespie was also performing there, and his reaction: “I decided I would attend and try to learn something about modern jazz, but I gave up after a few numbers.  I always say that when I hit a bad note, everyone knows it’s a bad note. When Miles Davis hits a bad note, people will say, ‘Isn’t that creative.'”

MISTER B

Cary Ginell, author of a fine book on the Jazz Man Record Shop (reviewed here) and a rewarding biography of Cannonball Adderley (here) has produced another first-rate book in the same series: MR. B: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF BILLY ECKSTINE (Hal Leonard, 228+ pages).  Ginell may turn out to be this generation’s model for jazz biography, for he doesn’t indulge in pathobiography (chronicling every time his subject is supposed to have left no tip for a waitperson or some other example of bad behavior) and he isn’t a secret Destroyer (appearing to write admiringly of the subject then deflating the Hero(ine) chapter after chapter).

His books are tidy, graceful, compact affairs — full of stories but never digressive, sticking to chronology but never mechanical.

Eckstine has been treated gingerly by the jazz community: yes, he was Earl Hines’ band vocalist, bringing the blues to a larger audience with JELLY, JELLY, then someone given credit for his “legendary” band featuring Dizzy, Bird, Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, and others . . . but once Eckstine comes to even greater prominence as an African-American balladeer (think of I APOLOGIZE), the jazz audience loses interest and the naughty word “commercialism” enters the dialogue.

Ginell doesn’t over-compensate, and he — unlike Mister B — doesn’t apologize, but he makes a serious case for Eckstine being one of the important figures in the slow struggle for White Americans to respect people of color.

One of Eckstine’s sons remembered, “Until the day he died, whenever he ordered a sandwich, he always separated the two pieces of bread and gently ran his fingers over the meat, because on a number of occasions while touring the South, they would send the band boy. . . to pick up food from a white restaurant. When they got the sandwiches, they would discover finely ground glass, or vermin feces mixed in with the tuna, chicken, egg, or potato salad.”  We also learn about the repercussions of a LIFE magazine photograph where Eckstine was captured amidst young White female fans — a horrifying example of racist attitudes in 1950. Stories such as that are invaluable, and make a book both readable and memorable, no matter who its subject might be.

The band business was difficult even when the enemy wasn’t trying to poison you so directly; Ed Eckstein also recalled that the critic Leonard Feather subtly attacked his father’s band because Eckstine refused to record Feather’s compositions.  Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie created a parody — sung to the tune STORMY WEATHER, with these lyrics:

I know why, we can’t get a gig on Friday night, / Leonard Feather / Keeps on makin’ it hard for me to keep this band together, / Talkin’ shit about us all the time . . .  

We learn about the relationship between June Eckstine and the promising young Swedish clarinetist Stan Hasselgard; we learn of Eckstine’s close friendship with Dr. King, his devotion to his fans, his generosities.  And as for Eckstine’s apparent “selling-out,” he had this to say, “Some creeps said I ‘forsook’ jazz in order to be commercial. So I saw one of these creeps, a jazz critic, and I said, ‘What are you, mad at me because I want to take care of my family?  Is that what pisses you off? You want me to end up in a goddamn hotel room with a bottle of gin in my pocket and a needle in my arm, and let them discover me laying there? Then I’ll be immortal, I guess, to you . . . It ain’t going to work that way with me, man. I want to take care of my family and give them the things that I think they deserve.'”

And we learn that Eckstine’s last word was “Basie,” which should go some distance in supporting his deep feeling for jazz.

It’s an admirable book.  Although nearly everyone who worked with Eckstine is dead, Ginell has had the cooperation of the singer’s family and friends; he has done thorough research without allowing minutiae to overwhelm the narrative, and the book moves along at a fine 4 / 4 pace.  With rare photographs, as well.

Ginell’s work — and this series in general — is very fine, and these books fill needed spaces in jazz history.  Who’s next?

May your happiness increase!

A SECOND TASTE: BRIA SKONBERG, MARTY NAPOLEON, BILL CROW, RAY MOSCA (July 5, 2013)

Fabulous musicians at play in Glen Cove, New York, with a single purpose: “Remembering Pops.”  That’s Marty Napoleon, swinging out on the piano (88 keys, 92 years); the sweetly incendiary Bria Skonberg on trumpet; and reliable experts Bill Crow, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums.  Recorded by our pal Jim Balantic; concert turned from an idea into a reality by our comrade Geri Goldman Reichgut.  And rumor has it that more video from this concert is being posted, as I write this, by the ever-true-blue Neal Siegal.

I’d like to hear more of this band . . . any suggestions for future gigs?

May your happiness increase!

FOR THE LOVE OF LOUIS: MARTY NAPOLEON, BRIA SKONBERG, BILL CROW, RAY MOSCA (July 5, 2013)

What a wonderful band, and a wonderful evocation of the man Eddie Condon called “Mister Strong” — recorded live at a concert two days ago at Glen Cove, New York.  The players are Marty Napoleon, piano / vocal; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Bill Crow, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums.  And they begin the concert in the best way: a gripping, lovely SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH — that gave me chills — into INDIANA, which is the way Louis did it:

You don’t need me to explain just how good this music is.  It’s so evident that it leaps out of speakers or earbuds, and I don’t mean volume.  Bria lights up the sky; Marty continues to surprise us* (at 92, he is the very opposite of “old-time,” isn’t he?) and pals Bill and Ray remind me of Milt and Jo while sounding very much like themselves.

Beauty needs friends to get it out in the light, and while this concert wouldn’t exist without the four masterful players, it also comes to us through the loving diligence of Geri Goldman Reichgut and videographer Jim Balantic.  So let’s have thanks all ’round.  Now I’m going back to listen and watch again.  It’s a deep pleasure.

*Mister Napoleon is available for high-quality gigs, too.

May your happiness increase!

WOW! BRIA SWINGS IT at THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG HOUSE (July 4, 2013)

“Yeah, man!” is the only apt response to this performance — captured live at the Louis Armstrong House in celebration of the day Louis believed was his birthday.  Here the effervescent Miss Bria Skonberg swings out (thinking of Valaida Snow, perhaps) with Dalton Ridenhour, keyboard; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Darin Douglas, drums; Jared Engel, string bass:

The sound of muted trumpet and clarinet over a rocking rhythm section is so warmly a reminder of Swing Sessions — think of Joe Marsala’s bands.

Recorded and preserved by Jim Balantic — another errand boy for Rhythm!

May your happiness increase!

A DATE TO CELEBRATE LOUIS: MARTY NAPOLEON, BRIA SKONBERG, BILL CROW, RAY MOSCA (July 5, 2013)

I can’t make this July 5 party, being far to the West of this gig.  But you should! It’s free; it will be wonderful music; the absence of myself and my tripod will leave room for several music lovers.

So don’t forget OUR MARTY DATE.

Marty Flier

I am told there will be space for dancers.  And Marty, bless him, just turned 92.  He has all the spring and snap of a man and musician much younger — so don’t let this gig pass you by.  His friends, Bill and Ray, are esteemed veterans of this art form, and Bria shines — playing, singing, letting the music flow through her.

I know it is one day after the 4th, which Louis thought was his birthday, and one day before the 6th, the day on which he left this earthly realm, so it’s numerologically in perfect balance.  Musically, too!

May your happiness increase!

THANK YOU, MARTY NAPOLEON — CELEBRATING HIS BIRTHDAY

On Sunday, June 2, 2013, pianist /singer / composer / raconteur Marty Napoleon turns 92.  He is still creating music, still ebullient, with a sharp-edged wit and an eagerness for new experiences: Marty doesn’t simply reside in the past.

But oh! — what a past.  Here are some examples from YouTube — and they are only the smallest fraction of Marty’s wide-ranging musical experiences.

On a 1947 Savoy record date with Kai Winding, Allen Eager, Eddie Safranski, Shelly Manne:

In December 1957 for the Timex All-Star Jazz Show with Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Peanuts Hucko, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole:

With Louis Armstrong and the All-Stars on a 1968 Bell Telephone Hour:

June 2012 at Feinstein’s — introduced by the late Mat Domber — with Harry Allen, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs, Jon-Erik Kellso:

December 2012 with Bill Crow and Ray Mosca:

By my rudimentary math, Marty has been entertaining audiences with his lively music for seventy years . . . we are lucky to have him with us!  Thank you for being so resilient, Marty.

And . . . he keeps on going.  On July 5, 2013, Marty will be leading a quartet (including trumpeter / singer Bria Skonberg) in a tribute to Louis Armstrong, his former employer and great inspiration — in Glen Cove, New York: details can be found here.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE IN BLOOM AT BIRDLAND: DAN BLOCK / JAMES CHIRILLO (May 8, 2013)

May 8, 2013, was a special day in jazz lore — although the mainstream jazz media didn’t pay it any attention: the fourteenth anniversary of David Ostwald’s Wednesday early-evening gig at Birdland with the band once called the Gully Low Jazz Band, then the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band, now (appropriately) the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band.  The participants included Jon-Erik Kellso, Tom Artin, Dan Block, David Ostwald, James Chirillo, Marion Felder — and guest stars Anat Cohen and Bria Skonberg.  The joint was jumping, but here’s a sweet bit of musical romance: Dan and James duetting, becoming a tiny but fulfilling orchestra on TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE:

Who knew midtown New York City could suddenly become so bucolic?  The pipes of Pan and a verifiable Roman lute . . .

This one’s for the Beloved, who was at my side, for Lynn and Danny, for Mar and Ricky, Noya and Eric, and all the other loving couples out there.  And if you’re currently single, be not afeard: take a chance on love!

May your happiness increase!

GO WEST (into NEW JERSEY) FOR JAZZ!

New Jersey

Even with my much-used GPS glued to the windshield, I get lost easily while driving; certain neurons must not be speaking kindly to one another.  So for several years, the thought of “driving to Brooklyn” was stressful.  But I have gotten more brave.  Now. . . to the next summit . . . conquering New Jersey!

But what is life without live jazz?

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to hear Mark Shane — Prince of Pianists — sit down at a baby grand piano and saunter through four choruses of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU.  I am going to see Mark and Catherine Russell (and Matt Munisteri, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, and some rhythmic gents) on Monday, April 15 at Symphony Space . . . but that concert, one I am looking forward to with eagerness, seemed a long way off.  Here are the details.

I had to do something!

Full of jazz-flavored courage, I made the necessary arrangements, checked in with my cardiologist, informed the authorities.  I will be driving from Long Island to the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey, this coming Monday, April 8, to see and hear cornetist / trombonist Randy Reinhart lead a small band (small in numbers only): Mark, piano; James Chirillo, guitar; Brian Nalepka (back in the saddle again!) on string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Here’s the needed information:

The Bickford Theatre/Morris Museum: On Columbia Turnpike/Road (County Road 510) at the corner of Normandy Heights Road, east of downtown Morristown. Near Interstate 287 and the Route 24 expressway. This is a 300-seat hall with generous parking on site. Wheelchair access. Weeknight concerts are one long set (8 to 9:30 PM). Tickets are generally $15 in advance, but $18 at the door. Tickets may be purchased via credit card over the phone by calling the box office at (973) 971-3706. The box office can also provide information, directions or a simple “jazz map.”

To keep up with future events, email Jazzevents@aol.com and let them know you’d like to be in the loop — for concerts featuring the Midiri Brothers, Danny Tobias, Bria Skonberg, Dennis Lichtman, Dan Levinson, Molly Ryan, Neville Dickie, Emily Asher, Bucky PIzzarelli, Frank Vignola, Vinny Raniolo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Ehud Asherie, Peter and Will Anderson, Gordon Webster, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra and more.

May your happiness increase.

IN THE MAIN STREAM: THE MORGANVILLE FOUR (DAN LEVINSON, BRIA SKONBERG, NICKI PARROTT, GORDON WEBSTER)

You have to like a CD whose cover puts the players — at their ease — in a Rousseau painting.

Morganville Four

But the charms of this disc go deeper than the cover, because the music is stylish and lovely.  The CD appeals in so many ways.

For one, it is Mainstream jazz of a kind not always encountered in recordings and performances.  Although the four players are often spotted at “traditional” “jazz” events — whatever the words in quotation marks mean these days — this is a session that celebrates the music, affectionate, melodic, with rhythmic lilt.  No tricks, no gimmicks, just feeling and mastery.

For another, the cost-conscious almost-purchaser can know that (s)he is getting good value.  Although this is billed as a FOUR, it is one of those magician’s tricks — a quartet that seems infinitely expandable.

Consider: two men, two women; two singers, four instrumentalists, string bass, piano, trumpet, clarinet, C- melody sax, tenor sax (with friends stopping by to offer the appropriate percussion).  I grew weary just typing (or is it “keyboarding”?) all of that.

And the four players / singers are marvelously first-rate jazz stars who know how to blend, to be supportive, to create delicious ensemble traceries.  Dan Levinson plays all those reeds; Bria Skonberg the trumpet; Gordon Webster, the piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass — and Bria and Nicki sing, together and singly.

I couldn’t fit that foursome in my car, but their expansive music fills the room very sweetly.  And that music!  I call it “Mainstream,” thanks to Stanley Dance, and although I distrust all of those boxes and labels — the critical blurt we call  DixietradNewOrleansbigbandbeboprevivalisthardbopswingretrofreenewthing — “Mainstream” still has a good deal of validity.  You’ll know it when you hear it, and only obsessive classifiers will say, “Is this hot jazz or cool?”  “Is that modern or traditional?”  “Is that a terrifying be-bop phrase I just heard?”

What is immediately audible on this disc is a deep love of melodic improvisation over swinging rhythms, with lyricism allied to an unhackneyed harmonic awareness.  To put it another way, although there are Twenties tunes here — THE ONE I LOVE and I WISH I COULD SHIMMY LIKE MY SISTER KATE — the approach is free and friendly, detached from the shackles of convention and cliche, but not attempting to “freshen up the old stuff.”  No striped vests but nothing self-consciously esoteric, either.

The spirit I imagined most frequently as the spiritual overseer of this music was Ruby Braff: lyrical, surprising, imaginative, someone who made great creative use of “unorthodox” combinations.  (No drums, no trombone — just four pals floating along happily down the Main Stream of jazz.)  And there’s a certain witty lightness animating everything but we are always in touch with the deep feeling beneath the notes.

The CD has all the right elements: a variety of songs and approaches (essential to make it into a concert rather than a test of stoic endurance); lovely recorded sound, thanks to Peter Karl; nifty liner notes from Will Friedwald and Jon Hill.  The latter fellow deserves truckloads of credit: the M4 played at a private party of his in 2011, and he thought, “Wow, let’s make a record!”  And he did.  (You can find Jon to congratulate and thank him at Jazz_Rules@yahoo.com.)

I’d buy / play this CD for someone worried about THE DEATH OF JAZZ or THE VANISHING AUDIENCE.  I’d also be delighted to play it for someone who looks at me quizzically when I suggest that “my” music is not rooted in KIND OF BLUE.

You can check out the CD in all the usual places.  Hear samples here.

May your happiness increase.