Tag Archives: Brian Nalepka

COME TO PHILLY FOR JOY: MARTY GROSZ, DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, BRIAN NALEPKA (Sept. 25, 2016)

I’m going to be in New Orleans on the night of September 25, otherwise I’d be here.  And with me absent, there will be one, perhaps two empty seats.  Do you need any more inducement?

"Tell us a story, Mister Grosz!" Photo by Lynn Redmile

“Tell us a story, Mister Grosz!” Photo by Lynn Redmile

Oh, yes.  It will be a concert — hugely informal, of course — by Marty Grosz, guitar / vocals / badinage / vaudeville; Danny Tobias, cornet; Dan Block, reeds, Brian Nalepka, string bass.  “Four of the best,” as they used to say in English boarding schools.  The host will be Philadelphia guitarist Barry Waharhaftig, leader of the Hot Club of Philadelphia.

Here’s three of the four heroes, with a typical Grosz free-association interlude, from 2013.  It was terribly dark at the Mermaid Inn, but we could still hear Marty, Danny, Dan, and Ed Wise, string bass:

I would point out, most gently, that Marty is now 86.  (And I don’t mean “86” in the bartending sense, but his chronological age.)  So the race is to those who do not delay.

Marty and his friends will be appearing on Sunday, September 25, from 8-10:30 PM.  The jollities will take place at the Venetian Club Ballroom, 8030 Germantown Avenue, in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, under the swinging aegis of Barry Waharhaftig and the Hot Club of Philadelphis.  Tickets are $20, with 5% going to the Weavers Way Food Co-op “Food Moxie” Program.

For tickets, visit http://MartyGrosz-Quartet.BPT.me.  For further information, contact Barry Wahrhaftig at 215-380-2588 or HotClubPhilly@gmail.com.

May your happiness increase!

MORE HOT NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (March 13, 2016)

Fat-CatBilliards, ping pong, and Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — on appropriate Sunday afternoons at Fat Cat.  On March 13, 2016, the downstairs revelers were Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Daniel Glass, drums, with a guest appearance by Eldar Tsalikov on the final three performances.  I posted the first half of this delightful session here.

Here are some highlights from the latter half of this hot session.

A song I associate with that hilly city: setting the cordial barroom atmosphere firmly in place, SAN FRANCISCO BAY BLUES.  Terry’s vocal is confidential, but that’s part of the theatre — one doesn’t shout one’s heartbreak across the room:

Something for Bix, RHYTHM KING, with an appearance by Doctor Kellso and his patented glass medical appliance (it saves lives):

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (vocal by Terry):

Hot from the oven, I AIN’T  GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL, sung with serious charm by Evan (and hear the delightful alto sax of sitter-in Eldar Tsalikov).  Magnificent playing on this one — the power of sugar and white flour, no doubt:

BEALE STREET BLUES, with Jim telling the story, vocally and instrumentally:

RUNNIN’ WILD (with choreography, too!):

For more of the same, be sure to check the schedule at Fat Cat — where there’s interesting jazz seven afternoons and evenings a week (and admission is unbelievably inexpensive): that’s 75 Christopher Street, right off Seventh Avenue South, and very close to the subway.

May your happiness increase!

HOT NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (March 13, 2016)

FAT CAT NYCPerhaps two Sundays of every month, Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band descends the wide stairway to the expansive basement that is Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, New York City) for a hot session from about 5:45 to 7:45. Ragtime, blues, W.C. Handy, Morton, Louis, vintage pop tunes, and more are the delightful offerings.  I took my camera down there on Sunday, March 13, and captured a dozen highlights — music created by Terry, piano / vocal; John Gill, banjo / vocal; Brian Nalepka, string bass / vocal; Daniel Glass, drums / no vocal yet; Jim Fryer, trombone / vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano saxophone / vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet / no vocal yet.

Here are the first six delights.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND, which begins as a duet for Jim Fryer and John Gill and then takes on passengers:

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

HESITATING BLUES, at a faster-than-usual tempo, with a soulful vocal by John Gill:

CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME, delivered enthusiastically by Evan Arntzen:

THE SONG IS ENDED, happily not true, sung earnestly by Jim Fryer:

MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, Jon-Erik Kellso’s majestic evocation of Mister Strong:

Another half-dozen to come.  Look for Brian Nalepka’s up-to-the-minute announcements on Facebook for which roving masters will be with Terry on Sundays to come.  And remember — you CAN keep a good band down.  At least for two hours in the Fat Cat basement and rec room.

May your happiness increase!

DANIEL GLASS, MASTERFUL CHAMELEON: “THE CENTURY PROJECT,” “TRAPS,” AND MORE

I know that the magnificent drummer Daniel Glass is capable of fully engaged conversation; he eats and drinks (pistachios and more), and has a full life away from his drum kits.  But he continues to be so generous in his wise offerings that I don’t quite see how he carries on a life in addition to what he gives us.  I’ll have to ask him whether he actually sleeps . . . when I see him next.  Daniel is so often in motion that a still picture hardly does him justice, but it is a start.

Daniel Glass at 2105 Chicago Drum Show

The wisecrack (so beloved by those who have never been in front of a classroom) is “Those who can’t do, teach.”  Daniel Glass is that rare creature who both does and teaches, and he accomplishes both of those ends with a light yet memorable touch.  When I call him a chameleon, I don’t of course mean it in the zoological way, but I mean it as highest praise: someone who easily and without fuss shows us generously his deep and varied talents, all of which come from a center of knowledge, the desire to inform us with gentleness and accuracy, and a splendid basis of experience — living experience, never dusty.

I should explain that I am not a drummer; my drum career was if not nasty and brutish, certainly short — because I am mentally but not physically coordinated. The high points of my percussion career have been as an observer (watching Krupa, Jo Jones, Gus Johnson, Leeman, and their modern forbears), an autograph-seeker (Jo again) and purchaser (one set of 5B parade sticks bought from Jo at Ippolito’s drum shop.

But I am someone who finds information — beautifully and clearly presented — thrilling.  And if Daniel Glass never put a stick to a drumhead, I would salute him as a splendid guide through matters percussive.  But more about that below.

I first met Daniel in the darkness of Fat Cat one Sunday when Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band was the most admired attraction.  I’d never heard him and was properly suspicious — after all, how good could he be if I didn’t know him? — but within two choruses I realized I was in the presence of a Master, someone who played for the comfort of the band, was in the idiom but not imprisoned by it, a musician with history and innovation balanced neatly within him.

Here’s WOLVERINE BLUES (with Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Jim Fryer, John Gill, Brian Nalepka in addition to Terry and Daniel):

And here are all the videos from that frolicsome late-December 2015 session.

When I had my Daniel Glass Experience (the first of several) I had no knowledge of this gloriously head-spinning performance from 2009 created by Daniel — with the smallest amount of percussive equipment one can imagine) — the blessed John Reynolds, and the superb Rusty Frank:

Sidney and Jo are grinning, I am sure.

Here is a wonderful interview where Daniel explains where he came from and where he is taking us.  It’s from 2012, so some of the references to “now” are perhaps slightly out of date, but it gives a wonderful sense of who he is as a musician and scholar:

Part One:

Part Two:

I couldn’t keep up with the articles, books, and videos that Daniel has created, but I can say a few words about his two 2-CD sets, THE CENTURY PROJECT and TRAPS.  The first would have pleased Isiah Berlin because Daniel is both hedgehog and fox: his knowledge and love and enthusiasm is both intensely focused and broad.  THE CENTURY PROJECT, on the face of it, is a history of jazz drumming from 1865 to 1965 — and it accomplishes that purpose beautifully — but it is also a quietly subversive, never didactic, history both of American music and of the contributions from other cultures.  We think of the trap set as an American creation, but Daniel opens up that perhaps narrow idea to ask where the Turkish tom-toms came from, the Chinese cymbals, temple blocks, and so on.  Never dull but splendidly researched.

Here’s Daniel explaining and beautifully demonstrating “double drumming,” which was a revelation to me — both the history and the performance:

Here’s the splendidly musical solo with which Daniel concludes THE CENTURY PROJECT — on a cousin of SING SING SING:

Oh, and did I mention there is music?  Daniel and friends (including our own Dan Barrett and Dan Levinson) move from New Orleans parade music to ragtime to early jazz onwards to swing, bebop, and beyond.  Even if you’ve never come closer to drumming than tapping impatiently on the arm of the couch in the doctor’s waiting room, these musical interludes are priceless as jazz and as history.

And here is a very brief introduction to TRAPS, the companion 2-DVD set which beautifully displays and anatomizes a century of the most gorgeous vintage drum sets:

Even I, who know little about vintage drums aside from the sound of Zutty Singleton’s cymbals in 1928 or Sidney Catlett’s hi-hat in 1944, or the way those drum sets looked in still photographs and films, found this riveting up-close history.

Daniel’s website — found here — offers a fascinating blog, podcasts (philosophical and percussive) opportunities for lessons in person and via Skype, the aforementioned books, DVDs, and more.  Clinics and gigs of all kinds — from Terry Waldo to Eydie Gorme and Marilyn Maye, from private parties to Christmas celebrations and swinging big bands.  He has much to share with us, and he offers it generously.

May your happiness increase!

BLOSSOMING UNDERGROUND: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (Dec. 27, 2015): JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, TERRY WALDO, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, DANIEL GLASS

violets

A good deal of inspiring music blossoms underground — I think of Mezzrow, and Smalls, and Fat Cat, that paradise of unusual pleasures: hot jazz, creative swing, a variety of games, soft couches from which one might never rise, and youngbloods having fun, playing games, coming in, out, and around.

Pianist / singer / composer / scholar Terry Waldo leads his Gotham City Band there most Sundays from about 5:45 to 7-something, two sets.  On Sunday, December 27, 2015, he had a particularly illustrious crew: aside from Terry on piano, there was John Gill, banjo / vocal; Brian Nalepka, bass / vocal; Daniel Glass, drums; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / soprano saxophone / vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone . . . thus the music was loose, expert, and  gratifying.  Here are several highlights of that late-afternoon session:

RHYTHM KING:

APRIL SHOWERS (where Brian reminds us that Spring is always on the way):

HAPPY FEET (vocal Evan):

WOLVERINE BLUES:

ACE IN THE HOLE (vocal John):

WILLIE  THE WEEPER:

All of the musicians in this edition of the Gotham City Band were well-known to me, many of them for over a decade, but the new fellow, Daniel Glass, is a stunning ensemble and solo drummer: he listens, he swings, and he has a whole peaceful arsenal of appropriate sounds.  JAZZ LIVES readers may know him better than I did, but he is someone special, and I will write more about his various enterprises in future.

Right now, I am going to think of violets descending from the sky, a lovely image.

May your happiness increase!

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE: DENNIS LICHTMAN / MISS IDA BLUE (August 29, 2015)

Just hold on a moment.  Before you start packing the car to flee somewhere pastoral for the final weekend of August, may I inform you of two delightful reasons to stay in (or visit) New York City on Saturday, August 29, 2015?

The first concerns our friend Dennis Lichtman — virtuoso on clarinet, fiddle, and mandolin.  I first heard and met Dennis in 2009 when he was a member of the Cangelosi Cards, then heard him in other contexts around the city — always playing marvelously, with a bright sound and memorable creativity, whether sitting in with a hot band or leading his own group, the Brain Cloud.

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

At 2 PM on Saturday, Dennis will be celebrating his tenth year as a resident of the borough of Queens, New York — in music.  He and a great band will be offering a concert celebrating the history of jazz in Queens . . . the result of his first grant project, “Queens Jazz: A Living Tradition.”  Thanks to the Queens Council on the Arts, he will be presenting “original music inspired by this borough’s jazz heritage.” In addition, there will be classic songs associated with Queens jazz masters of the Twenties to the Forties. (Think of Clarence Williams and Fats Waller, among others.)

The concert — the FREE concert — will take place at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, 34-56 107th Street, Corona, New York, (718) 478-8274.  In case of rain, it will be held at the Queens Public Library, 40-20 Broadway, Queens, New York.

Lichtman Queens Jazz

Dennis has assembled a wonderful band: Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nathan Peck, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.  You can keep up with Dennis here and here is the Facebook event page for the concert.

But that might leave you at liberty in mid-afternoon on a beautiful Saturday.  What to do?

I will be heading towards lower Manhattan for evening music of a most soulful kind: Miss Ida Blue and friends (including Dan Block, reeds, and John Gill, guitar) will be hosting an evening of the blues at Joe’s Pub.  The photograph below also shows Andrew Millar, drums, and a figure I assume to be the heroic Brian Nalepka — you hear his sound even when you can’t see him.

Photograph by Steve Singer

Photograph by Steve Singer

Here is the Facebook event page for this concert.  It’s a one-hour gig, starting at 9:30.  And Miss Ida and Joe’s Pub go together spectacularly, as I have written here about her triumphant May 15 gig.  I first heard her delivering the blues like a superb short-order cook — hot and ready — with the Yerba Buena Stompers, and I look forward to more of that spicy cuisine at this year’s Steamboat Stompwhich will begin in New Orleans a little more than a month from this posting.

Miss Ida Blue debut blues

I note with pleasure that Miss Ida has two pairs of dark glasses in this photograph.  Obviously the energy she unleashes is so powerful that wise listeners might want to bring extra protection — aural sunscreen.  But don’t be afraid: her power is a healing joyous experience.  And you might hear songs associated with blues monarchs Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, and others, all performed with conviction, invention, and ingenuity by our own Ida.  To purchase tickets ($15), click here.

Now you know it all, and can make plans.  For me, a suburban New Yorker who commutes to Manhattan and Brooklyn for pleasure, I can occupy my spare moments in the next two weeks with the philosophical calculus of transportation: drive to Corona in the morning, enjoy the concert, then choose — take my car into lower Manhattan on a Saturday night and attempt to find street parking, or go home after Corona, take the commuter railroad in . . . matters of time, finance, ease.  Such things should be my (or your) largest problems.  I hope to see friends at both concerts!

May your happiness increase!

HAVIN’ HERSELF A TIME: MISS IDA TRIUMPHS (Joe’s Pub, May 15, 2015)

Photographs by Kate Dulub

Photographs by Kate Dulub

Late last Friday night, I and an illustrious audience (including Terry Waldo, Mike Davis, and Mike Zirpolo) enjoyed a stirring evening of music at Joe’s Pub. Miss Ida Blue and a stunning band of New York jazzmen paid tribute to Billie Holiday in her centennial year.

Miss Ida has impressed me in her appearances with the Yerba Buena Stompers, as a delightfully personal interpreter of Twenties blues, but at Joe’s Pub she absolutely surpassed herself.  It wasn’t because she suddenly succeeded at imitating Billie or “channeling” her — but because the spirit of Thirties Billie animated her, making her even more joyously herself.  The sixteen songs she and the band delivered came from 1933 (YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW) to 1944 (I COVER THE WATERFRONT).  Without offering a history lesson, she and the band happily evoked a singer, an era, and a world of heedless yet expert music.

MISS IDA TWO

A word about the superb band.  Like Miss Ida, they evoked rather than copied. Pianist Conal Fowkes had created arrangements that kept the contours of the original recordings without tying the musicians to the manuscript paper.  And he swung out in his own delicate yet ardent version of Teddy Wilson’s glowing style. Conal’s rhythm section mates are wonderful swingers as well, and they meshed gloriously: John Gill, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Their pleasure was evident even when I couldn’t see their faces.  Their rhythmic rocking was a treat; they never faltered.  And the tempos were in themselves delightful and instructive: always slightly faster or slower than the original inspirations, which gave me a sense of looking at a newly cleaned masterpiece, or someone lovely who always wears black, turning up in mint green.  The most pleasing small shocks.

MISS IDA THREE

The horn soloists were uniformly eloquent: reed heroes Jay Rattman and Dan Block occasionally made me recall Buster Bailey and Lester Young, but they sounded so much like themselves that it was deeply authentic music; Block, especially, took on a  heavier tone and more definite attack than the floating Lester of that period, although his obbligatos behind Ida were touching clouds of sound.  Jon-Erik Kellso loves Buck Clayton, so occasionally he offered a ringing statement in the best Basie manner, but we wouldn’t know Jon without his plunger mute, so often there was a good deal of Cootie’s ferocity audible there. As always, his melody statements and ride-outs were lyrical, memorable.  The band sounded well-rehearsed but happily loose.

MISS IDA FOUR

Miss Ida, most appealingly, knows where she has come from, and has a sweet earnest reverence for her ancestors.  Not just Billie, but Miss Ida Cox [hence her chosen stage name] and it was very pleasing to hear her and the band do their soundcheck for us with a tough blues in honor of B.B. King, the monarch who just made the transition.  And she was so happy to be at Joe’s Pub, honored to sing for Billie and for us.  Early in the evening, she turned and waved happily at the rhythm section as if she just couldn’t believe her good fortune to be on the stand with her heroes.  Ours, too.  She told us how her hair had caught on fire at a gig (Kevin Dorn, the 007 of swingtime, rescued her); I wonder if she knows the story of Billie, the curling iron, and the gardenia — told to us by Sylvia Syms, whose recollection I trust completely.  A sign from the heavens of some destiny.

MISS IDA FIVE

Listening closely to Miss Ida (as well as the gorgeous band) I began to hear aspects of her style I’d not heard before.  For one thing — and I mean this as praise — she is a substantial stage personality.  One way this is expressed is in her nearly constant yet genuine motion, as if her energy is too strong for her to stand still.  It’s not just hair-tossing, but a continual series of dance moves that also look like yoga poses and warm-up stretches, even a jubilant marching-in-place.  Often she held her arms over her head, her hands open.  I think it was always exuberant emotion, but it was also her own expression of an ancient and honorable theatrical style . . . so that even the people in the most distant balcony of the Apollo Theatre could see you and join in with the person onstage.  And her voice matched her larger-than-life physical presence.  On a Twenties record label, she might have been billed as COMEDIENNE WITH ORCHESTRA, and that odd designation rang true.  The comedy bubbled up here and there in speech: she hails from Brooklyn, so that her sailboat in the moonlight was idling along in Sheepshead Bay.  But it also emerged delightfully in her voice: I heard echoes of Fanny Brice, of comic Eastern European melodies . . . it never sounded as if she was taking Billie or the music lightly, but as if she was having such a good time that she couldn’t help playing.  And the audience loved it.  It was SHOW in the best tradition — not caricature, but something Louis would have admired immensely.

For me, the two highlights of the evening were songs devoid of comedy but rich in feeling: the rarely-heard CARELESSLY and the more familiar I COVER THE WATERFRONT.  (A sweet sad I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME featuring Dan Block and Conal Fowkes was not far behind.)

Without a hint of self-conscious “acting,” Miss Ida let those melancholy narratives of heartbreak unfold eloquently for us.  Although I had known her almost exclusively as a blues singer, I saw her, in a blinding flash, as a deep ballad singer, someone who could break our hearts while singing of her own distress.

I could write more about the beauties of this evening, of I’M GOING TO LOCK MY HEART, of MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU, and the other performances by Miss Ida and her band that impressed me so, but I will instead simply hope that she gets many more opportunities to create this wonderful evening in other places, for other audiences.

Early on in this performance, she turned to us, and grinning, said, “This is so so so exciting!”  It was and it is.

May your happiness increase! 

MISS IDA PROMISES SWING AND FEELING (Joe’s Pub, May 15, 2015)

Billie Holiday has been the victim of a good deal of dangerous adoration.  She was copied by other singers during her lifetime and it has only increased mightily since her death in 1959.  Emerson’s idea that “imitation is suicide” has never taken root with them.

So when a singer launches into FINE AND MELLOW, my usual reaction is to look for a hiding place, because in Billie’s case, what passes for homage is often toxic flattery.  Many of her admirers have often caught only the most superficial aspects of her style: the feline growl, the behind-the-beat phrasing that often sounds as if a battery needs charging.  Choosing the Doomed Heroin Madonna, they forget the joy she embodied.

But I am eagerly anticipating a performance of Billie’s music this coming Friday, May 15, 2015 — because I know the singer and the musicians are both respectful and true to their own essential selves.  The singer is Miss Ida Blue, someone I’ve come to admire and love for her heated work with the Yerba Buena Stompers, and a wonderful band of New Yorkers who know what swing is: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, Dan Block, reeds; Conal Fowkes, piano; John Gill, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  Billie and the Basie-ites, but here and now.  I can hear it now: a congenial group delivering their own thoughtful evocations of “such beautiful music.”

I suspect the theme for this evening will be less DON’T EXPLAIN and more GETTING SOME FUN OUT OF LIFE, and that suits me perfectly.

The show is at Joe’s Pub, and the doors open at 11 PM.  Details here.

And while you’re leisurely getting your way to Friday, let this ring in your ears:

May your happiness increase!

WEDNESDAY’S JUST AS GOOD: KEVIN DORN, MARK SHANE, BRIAN NALEPKA (March 5, 2014)

Three great players who are also deep thinkers and good friends!

Some people couldn’t attend this concert because of the snow; others, like myself, found the commute from California daunting.

But, thanks to Chip Phillips and Toms River Schools TV, the first half of this wonderful trio jazz concert at Ocean County College is here for the viewing.  The participants?  Three kindred spirits who say they’d never played a concert as a trio before: Kevin Dorn, drums; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Mark Shane, piano. It’s all presented by the New Jersey Jazz Society and the Midweek Jazz Facebook page is here.

Our friend Ricky Riccardi as what the British call a “compere” — the George Wein / Norman Granz of the future — who introduces the band and then wisely lets them do what they do so well:

To quote Alex Hill, “Wasn’t that nice?” And a second half to come.

May your happiness increase!

THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG ETERNITY BAND at BIRDLAND (Dec. 11, 2013) PART ONE

David Ostwald takes Louis Armstrong very seriously — not only as a philosophical model, but as a musical beacon.  That’s why he’s created and led a small hot jazz group devoted to Louis and the music he loved — now called the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band — that has had a regular Wednesday gig at Birdland for fourteen years.

But sometimes honoring Louis takes David off the bandstand.  On December 11, he stopped in at Birdland to say hello to everyone before heading to the Louis Armstrong House Museum gala which was honoring Quincy Jones and Dan Morgenstern.  But David wanted to make sure that the music at Birdland would be right on target, so he asked his friend and ours, Brian Nalepka, to lead the band.

Brian brought his string bass and sang on a few songs, and had the best assistance from Danny Tobias, cornet; Tom Artin, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Vinny Raniolo, banjo; Kevin Dorn, drums. Here’s the first half of that delightful concert for Louis.

SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH / INDIANA:

OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE:

STAR DUST:

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

BODY AND SOUL (featuring Pete Martinez, King of Tones):

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

Many first-class songs associated with that Armstrong fellow, and what a band!

May your happiness increase!

LIVE AND ENLIVENING: JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY RETURNS! (Oct. 11-13, 2013)

When asked about the origins of jazz and the blues, Willie “the Lion” Smith was certain that the music had originated in the brickyards of Haverstraw, New York, where he first heard it.

Official Jazz Historians may scoff at his theory, based on first-hand experience, but I do know that traditional jazz — hot and ready — flourishes in Guilford, Connecticut, as a rewarding seasonal event: JEFF and JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY — that’s Jeff Barnhart, piano, vocals; Joel Schiavone, banjo. Both men have been known to burst into song at intervals as well.

The autumnal event (a hot jazz solstice of sorts) will take place this year from Friday, October 11, to Sunday, October 13.  Details immediately below!

J and J flyer 10 13

My first-hand experience of two House Parties is that these events are delightful, with an authenticity not always found at more formal jazz events. Part of this comes from the easy friendliness of the people who run the House Party, people whom it’s easy to get to know.  But a good deal of the happiness here has to do with the physical setting — as if a group of jazz musicians just happened to be having a relaxed session in someone’s home.  Unlike some “jazz parties,” where the musicians are far away on a stage, the House Party is informal, and the barriers between musicians and audience are never quite established.  Not only do you get to hear your heroes; you might have a casual conversation over a sandwich, or find one standing outside on the porch, admiring the lovely fall landscape.  (The leaves are especially beautiful at this time of year.)  And the music-packed sessions are good value indeed (for the budget-conscious, Guilford has a number of pleasant inexpensive motels a few minutes’ drive away from the Schiavone farmhouse.)  For those who don’t see themselves getting to France any time soon, the extra-added-attraction on Friday of PARIS WASHBOARD is something you don’t want to miss.

The music has been blissfully wide-ranging, from Hot Five and two-trumpet King Oliver to Twenties New Orleans and early Ellington, Joplin as it might have been played in “Disneyland for adults” (a bordello circa 1904), a good deal of Bix-related music, evocations of early Bennie Moten and Willie the Lion Smith ensembles.  Chopin, Lil Hardin, Don Lambert, and other notables stopped by, too.

If you need some audible evidence (video provided by CineDevine), here is memorable music from the April 2013 party.  I present one of my musical heroes, John Gill, singing and accompanying himself of Ernest Ball’s classic SALOON — with friends Jeff, piano; Lew Green, cornet; Noel Kaletsky, clarinet; Brian Nalepka, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums:

For more information and good times amidst hot music, click here.

May your happiness increase! 

APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH, or NEW YORK JOYS (2013)

Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow.  I have something for you.”

ny skyline

These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:

Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.

And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.

T.S. Eliot had it wrong.  Just another average jazz-month in New York.

P.S.  This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .

May your happiness increase.

BEAUTY AT THE BICKFORD (Part Three): RANDY REINHART, MARK SHANE, JAMES CHIRILLO, BRIAN NALEPKA, KEVIN DORN (April 8, 2013)

Here’s Part One and here’s Part Two of this glorious — although understated — musical experience that we had at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey.  Thanks to Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Kevin Dorn, and Bruce Gast for the good feelings and uplifting sounds.

ONE HOUR (a solo for Mark):

ATLANTA BLUES, also known as MAKE ME A PALLET ON (THE) YOUR FLOOR:

A very charming medley from MY FAIR LADY, delivered by our fair James:

CRAZY RHYTHM, where Brian shows us what that rhythm can do:

And a rousing closer — PANAMA:

My only regret is that there isn’t a Part Four, Five, onwards.  But I am grateful for the pleasures of this evening, and Bruce Gast has a number of fine jazz evenings planned for the future.  Check out the details in Part One or Two — worth the trip!

May your happiness increase.

BEAUTY AT THE BICKFORD (Part Two): RANDY REINHART, MARK SHANE, JAMES CHIRILLO, BRIAN NALEPKA, KEVIN DORN (April 8, 2013)

Here’s the second part of the delightful concert I witnessed on April 8, 2013, at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey, thanks to Bruce Gast and a stellar quartet: Randy Reinhart (cornet); Mark Shane (piano); James Chirillo (guitar); Brian Nalepka (string bass / vocal); Kevin Dorn (drums).

Randy is not only a fine brassman but a thoughtful leader in the Ruby Braff mold — given ninety minutes and a quintet, he encouraged the players to have solo features and he reinvented the quintet in a variety of even smaller bands, with wonderful results.

For ROCKIN’ CHAIR, at a nice medium tempo, we had a rockin’ trio of Randy, Mark, and Kevin:

MY GAL SAL moved speedily:

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE was a solo feature for James (with Brian and Kevin) , who began by offering his own version of the famous Dick McDonough solo chorus:

Randy and James got very pretty with I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE:

I associate DON’T TAKE YOUR LOVE FROM ME with pop-song melancholy (all that tearing and weeping and breaking), but Brian is constitutionally more cheerful than that, so his vocal / instrumental feature on this song is very lively, although no less heartfelt:

More to come!

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 (8-9:30 p.m.). 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.”

You can keep up to date on brilliant concerts to come by emailing Jazzevents@aol.com.

For my part, I’ve made BICKFORD one of the “Favorites” on my GPS — evidence of my musical happiness.  And if you missed the first part of this concert, make yourself at home with another sample of delicious music in a wonderful environment here.  

May your happiness increase.

BEAUTY AT THE BICKFORD (Part One): RANDY REINHART, MARK SHANE, JAMES CHIRILLO, BRIAN NALEPKA, KEVIN DORN (April 8, 2013)

The concert I witnessed on April 8, 2013, was well worth the trip to Points Formerly Unknown (the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey).

Randy Reinhart (cornet); Mark Shane (piano); James Chirillo (guitar); Brian Nalepka (string bass / vocal); Kevin Dorn (drums) played beautifully — in solo and in ensemble.

Bruce Gast made everyone more than comfortable, and the Bickford itself is a truly congenial place to hear music.

Here’s a sample — with more to come!

The quintet urged us to LINGER AWHILE — no protests here!

The venerable but still blushing-pink ROSE ROOM:

Randy growls (but doesn’t bite) on DO NOTHIN’ TILL  YOU HEAR FROM ME:

Mark offers a lovely cosmological vista with MOONGLOW:

And congratulations to Brian Nalepka — this was his first gig back after a series of medical adventures . . . he sounds beautiful!

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 (8-9:30 p.m.). 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.”

You can be kept up to date on brilliant concerts to come by emailing Jazzevents@aol.com.

For my part, I’ve made BICKFORD one of the “Favorites” on my GPS — evidence of my new courage and musical happiness.  

May your happiness increase.

HOTTER THAN THAT! JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY . . . ALMOST HERE!

Just a reminder . . . because there are only a few tickets left for this April 20-21 party / extravaganza / hot jazz retreat.  I guarantee you’ll hear delightful music from fifteen of the best in ever-shifting combinations: Armstrong, Ellington, Morton, “Dixieland,” “New Orleans,” “Chicago,” “Fifty-Second Street”: you name your pleasure.  It all takes place at Joel Schiavone’s 1805 farmhouse in Guilford for 3 sessions of music, food, and fun on Saturday and Sunday, April 20-21.

Under the direction of pianist / vocalist / instigator Jeff Barnhart, the musicians include: Lew Green and Gordon Au on trumpet, Noel Kaletsky and Joe Midiri on reeds, Craig Grant and Paul Midiri on trombone and vibraphone, Jeff Barnhart and Ian Frenkel on piano, Bob Price, John Gill, and Joel Schiavone on banjo and guitar, Frank Tate and Brian Nalepka on bass and tuba, Tom Palinko, Kevin Dorn and John Gill on drums.

Tickets for all 3 sessions – Saturday at 11 AM to 4 PM including lunch, 5 PM to 10 PM with dinner and Sunday 11 AM to 4 PM with brunch are $225, and for a single session $80 with setups provided for BYOB.

For information call 203-208-1481 or click here.

And here’s some evidence, courtesy of another bunch of merrymakers at the October 2012 party, caught for posterity by CineDevine:

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.

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME: JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY: October 2012, April 2013, and BEYOND

The word that comes to mind about Jeff and Joel’s House Party is a Yiddish one that has entered the common language in some places — haimisch — meaning “like home,” “comfortable,” “easy to love.”  All of these things apply to the rollicking weekend that Jeff Barnhart and Joel Schiavone have created in Joel and Donna’s beautiful farmhouse in Guilford, Connecticut.  I was a happy member of the group last October, and I will be there again for April 20-21, 2013.  (They are already veterans at this, having hosted a successful February 2012 party)

Continuing the secular-Hebraic theme, “Why is this jazz gathering different from all jazz gatherings,” the youngest son asks.

Even the most convivial jazz parties or festivals remind the listeners that they are not at home.  Most sets are played in large rooms; sometimes there is a raised stage.  Yes, the barriers between musicians and fans are less obvious than at, say, Carnegie Hall, but the illusion of welcome-to-my-house is impossible to sustain.

Not so at Jeff and Joel’s House Party, which is what it purports to be.  I think it might be exhausting for the musicians, but everyone hangs out in the same place — playing, listening, chatting, laughing, telling stories, snacking . . . for three sessions — a Saturday afternoon fiesta, one at night, and a Sunday afternoon cookout.

The other remarkable difference is that the musicians don’t play “sets,” which is standard practice elsewhere . . . half-hour or forty-five minute gatherings for anywhere from a duo to twelve or more players and singers.  At this House Party (again, possibly exhausting for the musicians but never ever dull for anyone) there is a constant changing of the guard, as musicians come and go for each new  performance.  Variety is the key, and no one yawns.

And without leaving anyone under-praised, I have to say that Jeff and Joel strike a remarkable balance.  Jeff — the most serious clown, the deepest philosophical trickster it has been my pleasure to know — is a splendid singer, pianist, bandleader, archivist of lost songs, sixty-second cousin of Thomas Waller you could imagine.  In fact, you can’t imagine Jeff.  He surpasses anything you could think up.  And Joel is making the world safe for sweet / hot banjo playing and group singing.  Don’t scoff: SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON softly sung by a roomful of sympathetic adults is worth decades of therapy or cholesterol-lowering drugs.  (The results of a study done using IF YOU KNEW SUSIE are inconclusive.  I will keep you informed.)

The April 2013 party will have many new faces — in the most gentle sense of that phrase, since many of them are heroic figures and friends to those of us in the tri-state area.  Consider this list (aside from Jeff and Joel): Lew Green, Gordon Au; cornet / trumpet; Craig Grant, Paul Midiri, trombone; Noel Kaletsky, Joe Midiri, reeds; Ian Frenkel, piano; Bob Price, banjo; John Gill, banjo / vocal / drums; Brian Nalepka, Frank Tate, string bass; Kevin Dorn, Tom Palinko, drums.

With that group, you just know that things will swing — and there will be interesting side-discussions about James Bond, James Whale, and other pressing philosophical matters.

The October party was an unusual one for me.  Usually, these days, I arrive with a camera, a tripod, batteries, a marble-covered notebook, and go away with an elevated sense of well-being, a stiff neck, drained batteries, and a hundred or more videos.  Not this time, and for the best reasons.  J&J HP already has its own videographer, Eric Devine (his YouTube channel is CineDevine), a very nice fellow and a splendid video professional.  Two cameras, no waiting; a good recording system.  And the fellow knows how to edit.  I must apprentice myself to Mr. Devine someday.  But I was free to roam around, to listen, to stand outside (the weather was lovely), to talk to people . . . knowing that Eric was on the job.  His videos are super-special, and he’s posted a goodly assortment.

Here are a nifty seven videos from that October weekend . . . to make some of you recall the pleasure of that time; to make others think, “Why did I miss that?”; to make others say, “Have to get there in April.”

Musical evidence, Maestro! The noble players who amused, elated, and delighted us for three sessions in October 2012 were pianist / singer / philosopher Jeff Barnhart, pianist Ross Petot; reed wizards John Clark, Noel Kaletsky; Renaissance man Vince Giordano; trombonist / singer / euphonist Jim Fryer, trombonist Craig Grant; trumpeter / tubaist Paul Monat, trumpeter Fred Vigorito, banjoist / singer Bob Barta, string bassist Genevieve Rose, banjoist / singer Joel Schiavone, drummers Sal Ranniello, C.H. “Pam” Pameijer.

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, as they used to do it in old Chicago — with the law firm of Clark and Kaletsky:

DARKNESS ON THE DELTA, featuring Bob Barta:

A serious exploration into romantic cosmology, Thirties-style — WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN?:

A heroic STEVEDORE STOMP, romping:

YOUNG AND HEALTHY: a collaboration between Jeff, a somewhat bemused Joel, and yours truly (“our blog guy”) — not yet the Lorenz Hart of the blogosphere:

Jim Fryer shows off his remarkable talents on THE GYPSY:

JAZZ ME BLUES, properly Bix-and-Rollini-ish:

You can read what I wrote about the pleasures of that party here.

Here you can find out more information about the April 20-21, 2013 shindig.  You can email here or call Maureen at (203) 208-1481.  For those whose day isn’t complete without a soupcon of social networking, the Party has its very own Facebook page.  I know I “like” it.  Seriously.

And there might even be a few seats left.  But “a few” is no stage joke.

May your happiness increase.

TEARS, SMILES, INSIGHTS, SWING: THE MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR JOE MURANYI (May 29, 2012)

People are known not only for what they accomplish while alive, but the quality of the memories and love they evoke in death.  Clarinetist / reedman / singer / composer / writer / raconteur Joseph P. Muranyi — Joe or Papa Joe to everyone  — was a sterling person even without making a note of music.  The tributes he received at his May 29, 2012 memorial service at St. Peter’s Church in New York City prove that as strongly as any phrase he played alongside Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Marty Grosz, Dick Sudhalter, Dick Wellstood, or many other musicians here and abroad. Aside from one brief musical passage (most of an ensemble version of OLE MISS) that I missed due to the camera’s whimsical battery, here is the entire service: words, video, audio, and live music.    We honor Joe Muranyi! And for the sake of accuracy.  Later in the program — one of its high points, to me — Scott Robinson played an unaccompanied tarogato solo (on one of Joe’s instruments) of a Hungarian folk song, “Krasznahorka büszke vára” which translates as “The Proud Castle of Krasznahorka.” In the next segments, you will hear and see the live and recorded presence of Joe himself, alongside Louis Armstrong, Tyree Glenn, Marty Napoleon, Buddy Catlett, and Danny Barcelona.  You’ll hear tales of Roy Eldridge and Charlie Shavers, listen to words and music from Tamas Itzes, Mike Burgevin, Scott Robinson, Chuck Folds, Brian Nalepka, Jackie Williams, Simon Wettenhall, Jordan Sandke, Herb Fryer, Tom Artin, Jim Fryer, Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Ricky Riccardi, Dan Morgenstern, Michael Cogswell, Fred Newman, Bob Goldstein, James Chirillo, Jack Bradley, and others. Here is what I witnessed.  But two hours is too small a room for Joe Muranyi, so this is simply one kind of tribute.  We will remember him always. May your happiness increase.

PETE MARTINEZ’S “JAM TASTY”

I first heard clarinetist Pete Martinez about six years ago and was instantly impressed — his sound (from searing Ed Hall to tender, moody, sweet); his ensemble wisdom (he knew how to play well with others); his deep perceptions of the world around him; his delight in the obscure . . . I could go on.  He shone on record sessions with Kevin Dorn and with Barbara Rosene, but I was waiting (politely, I hope) for Pete to make his own record date as a leader of a small band.

And it’s happening!

I was invited to Peter Karl’s very hospitable Brooklyn studio to watch and listen — which I did  on April 20, 2011 — to Pete, trumpeter Simon Wettenhall, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Brian Nalepka, and drummer Kevin Dorn.  They made wonderful music: including SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, SINGING A VAGABOND SONG, SCHROEDER COMP (you’ll have to ask Pete about that, but it goes right back to RINGSIDE AT CONDON’S), CHERRY, YOU’RE MY EVERYTHING, THAT RHYTHM MAN, and YOU LET ME DOWN.

And the next day they finished the session, recording DIANE and other wonderful songs . . .

Recording studios, even ones as congenial as Peter’s, don’t always lend themselves to video-recording, so I contented myself with sitting on the red leather sofa (comfortable but entrapping), taking notes, listening to the witticisms, and taking photographs.  Here are a few, with brief commentary:

Messrs. Martinez, Dorn, and Wettenhall, deeply considering.

The two faces of Pete.

Mike, meet Kevin.

The many mutes of Simon.

Accessorizing for Spring (a totally impromptu shot).

Studio tension — recording studios make musicians so unhappy and ill-at-ease!  (Postscript: there are no pictures of Mark or Brian, not because they are any less photogenic, but because they were more usually sequestered in the piano booth or the bass booth.)

AUGUST IN NEW YORK: FOUR DAYS WITH JIM FRYER

Photograph by Lorna Sass, 2008

(This is trombonist / euphonist / vocalist Jim Fryer’s essay on life-as-a-hard-working-jazz-musician . . . as printed in the November 2010 edition of The American Rag and reprinted here with everyone’s permission)

ME & NYC

6 gigs in 4 days: a life of slice

August 15–18, 2010

This is a somewhat random “Report From NYC,” based on a few days of “feet on the sidewalk” activity. It’s certainly not an exhaustive accounting of the activity around here, although it was a bit exhausting. There is so much great music, great jazz, and great trad jazz around here. This is just a slice, my little slice, of the scene. I think it was Hemingway who said you should write about what you know, and what you know best is your own life. It is also true, in my experience, that narcissism is one of the few skills that can improve with age, and I’m definitely on that bandwagon. So here goes. I hope someone else may find this interesting. I know I do.

* * *

Following a big chunk of time and energy expended (along with Jeff & Anne Barnhart) in helping our 5 “International All Stars” from the UK have a swell time in Connecticut, New York, and California (including doing double duty at the Orange County Classic Jazz Festival with the Titan Hot 7, the band that most readers of this journal will know me from), I enjoyed a respite visiting my parents at their house in the Maine woods. A short time after my return to New York, I found myself back on the busy streets & subway trains: the Asphalt Jungle. A small flurry of local gigs helped reorient me to this place where I am trying to live the good – or at least, the interesting – life.

Sunday August 15: From our domicile in West Harlem, I drove south on the Henry Hudson Parkway and West Side Highway, down to the Fat Cat Café, just off Sheridan Square in the West Village. This is one of my favorite joints ever: down the stairs to a very large room that contains games such as ping pong, pool, scrabble, chess, and beer and wine drinking. And oh yes, a small music area off to the side, easy chairs and sofas, a grand piano and a sound system (with a sound engineer!). When I die, if I’m lucky enough to choose my personal heaven, it will look a lot like the Fat Cat. (Our younger daughter once came along to a gig there, and decided that was where she wanted to get married.)

The band at the Fat Cat was a classic: Terry Waldo leading his Gotham City Jazz Band from the piano, singing & striding along; Peter Ecklund (tpt), Chuck Wilson (clr/as), Brian Nelepka (sb), John Gill (dms),and me (with my euphonium along for the ride). Nice, relaxed, easy. Good IPA on tap. 2 sets, no muss, no fuss, just plain fun. Girls boogie to our music while playing foozball. I’m very thankful that there are bandleaders who hire me for such good times. John Gill sang a lovely rendition of Irving Berlin’s When The Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam’. John continues vocalizing (accompanying himself on guitar) later on Sunday nights over at the National Underground, where he, Brian, & drummer Kevin Dorn play good old rock and roll & country/western.

Normally, after the Fat Cat, I have the option to sit in with the Dixie Creole Cooking Jazz Band (led by cornetist Lee Lorenz) at Arthur’s Tavern, right around the corner from the Fat Cat, on their weekly Sunday gig; and then travel a few blocks down to The Ear, New York’s oldest saloon, for another fantastic session with the Ear-Regulars (led by Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri). But today, it’s back into the car and a scramble against heavy crosstown traffic and over the Williamsburg Bridge, to the Rose Café in Brooklyn. The gig thankfully started late anyhow! I played a duo set with Bliss Blood, the talented singer/songwriter/ukelele-ist from Texas via Brooklyn. We followed a young violinist/singer/synthesizer player who managed to sound like a rock band and symphony orchestra, all by herself. Playing old blues and Bliss’s original songs, our music sounded simple in comparison (one of my goals, actually), but the ‘elite’ (small) audience seemed to enjoy it.

Monday August 16: Every Monday brings me a steady musical diet. I play with a rehearsal big band in the afternoon. Working jazz musos the world over know what that means: get together for a few hours every week and ‘read’ (play) big band ‘charts’ (arrangements) for no commercial purpose whatsoever. The opportunity to sight read new material (often written by someone in the band) and schmooze with friends is sufficient compensation. If you hang out at the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 building on West 48th Street for a week, you’ll hear dozens of these bands, taking advantage of the very low room rental rates.

Next comes one of the musical highlights of my life for the last several years: Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks making their weekly Monday appearance at Club Cache, downstairs from Sofia’s Restaurant in the famed Edison Hotel on West 46th Street, just a few feet west of Times Square. I’m not enough of a wordsmith to adequately bring to life the excitement and dynamism that Vince Giordano brings to each & every gig he plays. He is a one man tornado, playing hot string bass, tuba, and bass sax, singing, performing mc duties, meeting & greeting each customer who comes down the stairs into our subterranean cabaret, and setting up & breaking down equipment for hours each week. A characteristic touch is added by our technician & ‘introducer,’ John Landry (aka Sir Scratchy), and we couldn’t do without our various ‘Mikes’ (Mike being the generic term to describe anyone who helps out on the gig, from moving equipment to playing music). Our steadiest Mike is Carol, Vince’s partner, who [wo]mans the door and seats patrons; we also are lucky to have Earl, who in addition to schlepping equipment, spends his ‘down’ time translating Vince’s antique arrangements into modern notation via Sibelius software – at an incredible clip (he will complete a full 13 piece arrangement during the course of the 3 hour gig, something that would take me weeks).

Vince’s Monday night gig has become enormously popular since its debut in May of 2008. A great dance floor brings in the rugcutters (including many athletic young lindy hoppers), and the room is typically full of customers from the world over. The legendary 88 year old clarinetist Sol Yaged is featured on a tune each set. Vince is the Toscanini of the evening, conducting our journey through the sublime world of Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, and a plethora of songwriters & arrangers: Bill Challis, Raymond Scott, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin. From the downbeat at precisely 8pm to the closing at 11pm, it is truly a world of amazing music & delight. We often have quite well known folks ‘sitting in:’ singers like Michael Feinstein, Nellie McKay, and Daryl Sherman; instrumentalists from around the world; the comedian Micky Freeman; and famous audience members such as cartoonist R. Crumb, a big classic jazz fan.

This particular Monday included all members of what I call the “A Team;” that is, all the first call musicians. (The band hardly suffers when subs come in: John Allred in the trombone chair could not be described as bringing the level down!). Many of these players are quite well known in a variety of genres. Here they are:

Reeds: Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Mark Lopeman

Trumpets: Mike Ponella, Jon-Erik Kellso

Trombone: your humble (ahem!) reporter

Violin/Sax: Andy Stein

Piano: Peter Yarin

Banjo/Guitar: Ken Salvo

Percussion: Arnie Kinsella

Basses/Everything: Vince Giordano

Tuesday August 17: Tuesday daytime may bring a few trombone students to me (in the summer, a handful; during the school year, a full day – if I’m lucky); or an occasional concert in a Connecticut school, with a band called the Cool Cats; then comes a reprise of Monday night. Vince has been working hard since this past June to get a second night established. It’s still the quieter night, and I bet Vince is counting audience members as he’s counting off tunes; but it also can work more as a rehearsal, Vince handing out charts on stage from his vast collection (60,000 in the archives).

At 11:40pm, I’m back on the train from Grand Central Station (busy place, that) to Rye, 25 miles NE of the city, where my wife (sometimes described as “long suffering”) works at a private school, which offers on-campus housing as a benefit for her very hard work. I love the view walking east on 43rd Street, with the Chrysler Building looming over the majestic train terminal. By 12:30am I’m strolling down our very quiet and pretty suburban street, where Peter Cottontail may sometimes be seen munching lettuce in the garden. This particular night a local cop car slows to a stop as I’m walking up to our place. The cop looks me over (trombone, wheelie bag for mutes etc, garment bag with tux), and says, “Ya got everything?” Funny guy. It’s good to know they’re out on the beat. Sometimes I stay “in town,” at the apartment we have in West Harlem (currently also the abode of our eldest daughter, a fervent New Yorker).

Wednesday August 18: Wednesday brings another doubleheader (paydirt for us musos; even better, the rare tripleheader; many years ago I played 4 gigs on the Fourth of July). First the late afternoon session at Birdland, the world famous club on West 44th: David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band. This long running (10+ years) weekly gig features a rotating roster of the finest trad players in town. Today, in addition to tuba player & leader Osti, I had the pleasure of being on stage with Jon-Erik Kellso (tpt), Anat Cohen (clr), Ehud Asherie (pn), & Marion Felder (dms). Yours truly was the old guy on stage. (I’m trying to get used to that.) David’s bands are some of the most ‘diverse’ in the biz, in terms of not only age but also gender and race. The general lack of diversity can be a slightly touchy issue in the trad jazz arena, so it’s nice to see Osti put together bands that ‘look like America’ – and also swing like crazy! This Wednesday session was a very special one: Dave Bennett, the young clarinet virtuoso from Michigan, sat in, along with a young also sax player (from Russia, I believe; I didn’t catch his name); and in the audience, 91 year old George Avakian, one of the most esteemed figures in jazz history (George has produced hundreds of classic jazz albums).

Then to Brooklyn (by subway), to play again with Bliss Blood, this time with the Moonlighters (20s/30s swing, with a Hawaiian flavor). Bliss’s vocals & uke are joined by Cindy Ball (guitar & impeccable vocal harmonies), Raphael McGregor (lap steel), Rus Wimbish (string bass), & the horn section: me! I love being the only horn player, it’s nice & quiet, with no temptation to engage in technical battles: who can play faster, higher, or more cleverly. As I get older, I feel pleasure in knowing how to add a bit of value to the music, no pyrotechnics, please. I’m trying to play better by playing less. It’s a thrill to learn brand new songs that Bliss and Cindy write. The art form continues to evolve. I also love this venue. The Radegast Beer Hall, a big open space, with fine beer (of course) and hearty German food, is in the heart of Williamsburg, a neighborhood that feels young and vibrant. It restores my faith in humanity when the band is fed so well on the gig! All kinds of bands play here, including several youthful units, such as Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, and the Baby Soda band (which includes trombonist Emily Asher of Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Band fame). Several times folks got up and danced around the bar area, in most cases to our music. Finishing after midnight means arriving back in Harlem close to 2am – fortunately, not driving, which reduces the danger and risk (seriously, everyone who’s been in the music business knows musos who have fallen asleep at the wheel late at night); as long as I don’t sleep through my subway stop and end up in Riverdale (a nice neighborhood, but miles north of my pad).

* * *

It was a great little run of gigs. I feel quite lucky to be able to work with so many interesting people. And if sometimes being the oldest on stage is a bit of a bittersweet experience (I guess I ought to get used to it as “As Time Goes By”), it is certainly encouraging for the future of the music. From long time residents (like drummer Kevin Dorn, born in Manhattan about 30 years ago – his band, the Traditional Jazz Collective, gigs all over town) to those newly arrived, NYC is still, as ever, a magnet for young, ambitious, and hardworking people. A few of the young “immigrants:” trombonist Emily Asher, transplanted from Washington state for a couple of years to get her Masters degree; trumpeter Gordon Au, from California (I should mention Gordon’s very musical family: brothers Justin and Brandon are fine players who have blown with the Titans in Pismo Beach CA, and Uncle Howard Miyata plays a mean tailgate trombone with High Sierra Jazz Band); young trombonist Matt Musselman from Maryland, a recent graduate of Manhattan School of Music, and one of my subs in the Nighthawks (his band is called Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators); and trumpeter/vocalist Bria Skonberg, due to arrive any second now. There is most definitely a youth movement going on! I wouldn’t know how to advise these young people about putting together an actual living in NYC: this is one tough town to pay your bills in – but somehow they are doing it. Perhaps I should ask them for advice! The total take from my 6 gigs (minus the expenses) will buy a few bags of groceries, pay back the loan for a couple of textbooks for my younger daughter’s college degree, with about $1.13 left for my pension contribution. Guess I can’t retire yet. I’ll get up tomorrow and go off in search of more students and gigs. I know one musician who was heard to say: “Retire! How can I retire? I’ve never had a job!”

I would be remiss if I didn’t also tip my cap to the folks around here who have been promoting the classic jazz scene for many years, such as: Bruce McNichols, musician, impresario, and radio OKOM producer; Jack Kleinsinger, whose “Highlghts In Jazz” series has run for 37 years; the Sidney Bechet Society, which puts on fine concerts in Manhattan; New Jersey folks like Bruce Gast & the New Jersey Jazz Society; Connecticut jazzers who put together the Hot Steamed Festival and the Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival; & radio hosts such as Rich Conaty on WFUV-FM and Phil Schaap on WKCR-FM. Youth combined with Experience will carry the day for the music we love!

Jim Fryer

August 2010

For more info:  www.jfryer.com, www.terrywaldo.com, www.blissblood.com, www.myspace.com/vincegiordanothenighthawks, http://www.ostwaldjazz.com/., www.coolcatjazz.info,

FOR LOUIS: BIRDLAND, April 14, 2010

It’s very simple.  For just about ten years, David Ostwald (tubaist-raconteur) has organized regular Wednesday jazz sessions at Birdland in midtown Manhattan, getting congenial friends together to honor Louis Armstrong.  Depending on the phase of the moon, the band is called either the GULLY LOW JAZZ BAND or the LOUIS ARMSTRONG CENTENNIAL BAND.  Names don’t matter much — GULLY LOW BLUES was one of Louis’s most stirring recordings of 1927, and the CENTENNIAL BAND plays music associated with The Master.

David could not be there this night — April 14, 2010 — and it took two players to replace him.  One was Vince Giordano, singing, announcing tunes, and playing banjo, keeping the rhythm riding.  Bass chores were handled nimbly by Brian Nalepka, who slapped away in fine style and also sang on SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  That hero of the snare drum, Marion Felder, kept a swinging pulse without raising his volume.  In the front line, a newcomer to Birdland (but not to us), clarinetist Dennis Lichtman wove beautiful curlicues around the melody, making every note count.  Dion Tucker, sometimes gruff, sometimes tender, shone in solo and in ensemble.  And Gordon Au constructed lovely solos whether the band was lamenting or shouting. 

(I only found out something about Gordon’s heroic ancestry — and that’s because the Beloved asked the right question: did you know that his “Uncle Howie” is the extraordinary trumpet / tuba / trombone / vocalist Howard Miyata, with the High Sierra Jazz Band and the New El Dorado Jazz Band?  Gordon didn’t take lessons from his uncle, but Howard did give his young nephew a cornet . . . from which marvels have come.)

The band began, as it usually does, with WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH that segues into INDIANA, the way Louis used to begin his concerts with the All-Stars:

Then Vince called the joyous Fats Waller tune, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (something Louis sang and played so beautifully in the Fifties).  And Vince sang, exuberantly:

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, a classic at a number of tempos, was Brian Nalepka’s choice for a vocal feature:

(For his feature, Dion Tucker did a sorrowing I SURRENDER, DEAR, but I had technical problems with the video — the sweet-natured waitperson came over in the middle of it to ask us culinary questions.  Sorry, Dion!)

Returning to the Land of Waller, Vince called for a brisk AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — at a tempo that reminded him of the 1929 version that Bill Robinson recorded with a small Ellington contingent:

Dennis Lichtman showed his fluid swing on BLUE SKIES (fitting because Louis loved Irving Berlin’s melodies and, I think, recorded this one circa 1943 with his big band):

An audience member (was it Steve?) called out HELLO, DOLLY! when Vince asked for requests:

The second set began with a rocking CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Vince reminded us that Louis’s recordings of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING are slow and spacious, frankly operatic:

And — for a closing rouser — the band launched into AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

All for you, Louis!