Tag Archives: Busby Berkeley

HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE: “THE LATE SET”

This new CD doesn’t have a false note in it, just tremendously satisfying music.

I don’t recall the first time I heard Hilary Gardner sing, with or without Ehud Asherie’s accompaniment, but I was smitten — in a nice legal Platonic way — by the blending of her tender, expressive voice and his elegant, sometimes raucous piano.  Singular individualists, they combine in wonderful synergy, and this CD expertly reproduces what it’s like to hear marvelous improvisations in a small club full of attentive, sympathetic listeners, leaning forward to catch every nuance.  The sound is spectacularly fine — by which I mean natural, and you don’t have to leave your house to “be there.”  (Although seeing them at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street has been one of my great pleasures for a few years.)

Both Hilary and Ehud are splendid connoisseurs of the best songs, and this recital shows off their sensitivity to fine melodies and telling lyrics: SHADOW WALTZ by Al Dubin and Harry Warren; SWEET AND SLOW by the same two masters in a completely different mood; the very sad Rodgers and Hart A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL; the ancient but still lively AFTER YOU’VE GONE with the never-heard second chorus; I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote; Irving Berlin’s immensely touching I USED TO BE COLOR BLIND; the wicked EVERYTHING I’VE GOT, again by Hart and Rodgers; the sweet command to MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, by Adolph Green, Betty Comden, and Jule Styne; the wistful SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo.

Song-scholars will find connections to Fred Astaire, Diane Keaton, Arthur Godfrey, Sophie Tucker, Lee Wiley, Fats Waller, Busby Berkeley, and two dozen others, but this is not a CD of homages to the Ancestors nor to their recordings.  Although the majority of the songs are enshrined in “the Great American Songbook,” this CD isn’t an exercise in reverential mummification.  No, the magic that Hilary and Ehud bring to these possibly venerable pages is to sing and play the songs for real — asking the questions, “What meaning might be found here?  What feelings can we share with you?”  And, ultimately, “Why are these songs so affecting in themselves?”

I’ve celebrated Ehud a great deal on this blog: his ability to create a Frolick all by himself, evoking both Bud Powell and Francois Rilhac, his touch precise but warm, his marvelous ability to think of anything and then to play it, his eye for the perfect swinging epigram a master archer’s.

Hilary was a wonderfully complete singer when I first heard her.  She has outdone herself here.  I find myself reaching for adjectives: is her voice “warm,” “creamy,” “light,” “rich”?  Then I give up, because it sounds as if I am a blindfolded contestant on a cooking show assessing a pound cake.

In plain English: she swings, she understands the lyrics, she improvises splendidly but without theatricality, and when she descends into a song, even if it’s one she’s sung a hundred times before, she comes to the surface, immensely naturally, showing us something we’ve never thought of before.  She’s witty but not clever; emotive but not melodramatic, tender but not maudlin.  Her approach is warm, delicate, unhurried.

When Hilary and Ehud did a brief tour of the Pacific Northwest not long ago, they visited KNKX, did an interview about the CD, and performed three songs in the studio — SWEET AND SLOW, I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, and AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  Here‘s the link to watch the videos and hear the interview.

You can find THE LATE SET at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and the Anzic Records site.  I urge you to find and purchase a physical disc, because one of the great pleasures — hidden inside — is Hilary’s own pitch-perfect evocation of “the late set” in what I presume is a New York City jazz club.

This is extraordinary music.  How delightful that it exists in this century.

May your happiness increase!

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HOT AND READY: BOB SCHULZ’S FRISCO JAZZ BAND at DIXIELAND MONTEREY (March 3, 2012)

Here is a very generous helping from an old-fashioned stomping band — led by the very amiable cornetist and singer Bob Schulz — that played beautifully at the 2012 Dixieland Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay.

There are thirteen songs for your listening and dancing pleasure (a set and a half).  If you think this unlucky, email me and I will do my best to allay your fears.

In the front line alongside Bob, we have Doug Finke — slippery and sly, someone I’d heard with great pleasure on his Independence Hall Jazz Band discs for Stomp Off — and the remarkable and always surprising Kim Cusack, now and again singing a song in what I think of as the subtlest barroom style.

Propelling the band is the dangerously swinging Hal Smith, the steady Jim Maihack on tuba, the engaging Scott Anthony on banjo, guitar, and vocals, and the inimitable Ray Skjelbred.  Quite an assortment of stars — with one purpose only.  You can guess what it is.

ROSETTA:

I’LL BE A FRIEND “WITH PLEASURE,” with its variant title, with a vocal by Scott that certainly makes us forget the original by Wes Vaughn:

THE GYPSY, sung by the romantic Mr. Schulz.  It would be such a pretty tune even if Louis and Charlie Parker had never taken charge of it:

BROTHER LOWDOWN, for Bob Helm:

GEORGIA BO BO, music to dance to:

SAND BAG RAG, featuring Ray:

MISTER JOHNSON, TURN ME LOOSE, where Kim voices the fears of all the potential miscreants in the audience:

THE LADY IN RED — catch Hal’s brushes and the rhythm section’s rocking start:

WHO WALKS IN WHEN I WALK OUT, featuring Kim and the front line in Nijinsky-inspired choreography.  Or is it Busby Berkeley?  You decide:

Then, a brief pause for deep breathing, battery changing, and healing infusions of food and drink.

BEALE STREET BLUES, a la 1954 Condon:

CAROLINA IN THE MORNING, sung sweetly by Scott:

ORIENTAL STRUT, in honor of the Hot Five:

LOUISIANA, with all the proper Bix touches:

I think that music is a tangible good-luck charm, thirteen or not!  Thanks again to Sue Kroninger and the wise folks who make Dixieland Monterey so fine for this rocking music!

May your happiness increase.

POETRY IN SWING: BOB BARNARD / BOBBY GORDON at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

This was a wonderful set — full of love in the lyrics and love for the music. 

It took place at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua party, and a quintet full of beautiful singer-poets was in the spotlight.  Trumpeter Bob Barnard, clarinetist / singer Bobby Gordon, pianist Rossano Sportiello, bassist Jon Burr, drummer John Von Ohlen played Irving Berlin and Harry Warren, paid homage to Louis and King Oliver, Bix and Basie, as well as Edith Piaf and Dick Powell.  You wouldn’t want any more, would you, in the space of half an hour?  

Bob Barnard has a great love for melodies and their associations, so THE SONG IS ENDED resonates with him as a triple play: Louis, the Mills Brothers, and Irving Berlin.  But Bob is also a sly humorist: how many players start the set with this title?  Even though “the melody lingers on,” as it does here:

Then Bob wisely asked Bobby Gordon what he had in mind for a second number, and the poetic Mr. Gordon chose that old favorite SWEET LORRAINE.  I don’t know why I broke it in two, but I suspect I was carried away by the emotions Bobby aimed at all of us.  And — let there be no mistake here: Bobby looks somewhat frail in this performance, sitting in a chair, bringing the microphone close to his lips, but his heart is strong, and that’s what matters:

That fellow Louis recorded I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU late in the Fifties, and it’s a wonderful creation.  I don’t know whether Bob had that one in mind or he simply knew the tune — or perhaps saw the film with Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, and those Busby Berkeley exuberances.  Whatever the reasons might be, it’s an intriguing and less-played song to improvise on:

Then — in his own romantic exultation, singing of passion and loss, Mr. Barnard offered LA VIE EN ROSE, his lines arching into the night and the room, ecstatically and sadly:

But an audience needs something of a different emotional tenor to conclude, so Bob called for the faithful ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and sent it off at a Basie tempo:

I can’t forget to praise that wonderful rhythm section — the two singular melodists Rossano and Jon, and the honest timekeeper John — who made this an ideal small group, swinging, poetic, intuitive, and full of feeling.