Tag Archives: busking


A corner in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood: Google says it is “18th and Racine”:

then, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer Andy Schumm:

then, some music that ties the two together: a performance of Andy’s own “18th and Racine” on September 13, 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend, with Dan Levinson, Dan Barrett, John Sheridan, Kerry Lewis, Ricky Malachi:

That’s an admirable piece of music, which nobody can deny.  The players are dressed in adult business attire, but they are neither stiff nor constrained; in fact, there’s a bit of unscripted comic repartee before they start to play.

I have been digging through my archives to find previously unknown performances from Jazz at Chautauqua, starting in 2011.  This video, this performance, was hidden in plain sight: it had been given to the larger YouTube public for free six years and a month ago.  I was dumbstruck to see that it had been viewed fewer than one hundred times.  Was it dull?  Was it “bad,” whatever that means?  Had the Lone YouTube Disliker come out of the basement to award it his disapproval?  No, none of those things.

I write this not because my feelings are hurt (Love me, love my videos, or the reverse) but because I don’t understand this lack of enthusiasm.

“Pop” music videos are viewed by millions, and the audience for “hot jazz,” “trad,” whatever you want to call it, is a crumb in the cosmic buffet.

But — follow me.  Invent a band with a clever name.  Let them sit in chairs on the street in the sunshine.  Let them be a mix of young women and young men.  Let them be emotive.  Let there be a washboard.  Perhaps one of the members is fashionably unshaven.  There are shorts, there are legs, there are sandals, there are boots.  No one wears a suit, because buskers have their own kind of chic, and it has nothing to do with Brooks Brothers.  If the members know who Strayhorn and Mercer are, they keep such knowledge to themselves.  They are very serious but they act as if they are raw, earthy, primitive.  Someone sings a vaguely naughty blues.

Mind you, this is all invention.

But let a fan post a new video of this imaginary group and in four days, eleven thousand people scramble to it.

I understand that my taste is not your taste.  And I know that anyone who privileges their taste (“I know what the real thing is.  I like authentic jazz!”) is asking for an argument.  But . . . .”Huh?” as I used to write on student essays when I couldn’t figure out what in the name of Cassino Simpson was going on.

Is this the triumph of sizzle over substance?  Is the larger audience listening with their eyes, a group of people in love with bold colors in bold strokes?  Is all art equally good because some people like it?

And if your impulse now is to reproach me, “Michael, you shouldn’t impose your taste on others,” I would remind you that imposition is not my goal and shouldn’t be yours, and that there is no schoolyard bully at your door threatening, “Like what you see on JAZZ LIVES or else, and gimme your lunch money!”

Everyone has an opinion.  I spoke with an amiable fan at a jazz festival.  I had been delighting in a singularly swinging and persuasive band, no one wearing funny clothes or making noises, and when I told her how much pleasure I was taking, she said, “That band would put me to sleep!  I like (and she named a particularly loud and showy assemblage whose collective volume was never less than a roar).  I replied, “Not for me,” and we parted, each of us thinking the other at best misguided.  Or perhaps she thought me a New York snob, and I will leave the rest of the sentence unwritten.  The imp of the perverse regrets now, perhaps six years later, that I didn’t ask in all innocence, “Do you like Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins?” and see what her reply was.

As the King says, “Is a puzzlement.”

Legal notice: no such band as described above exists, and any resemblance to a group of persons, real or imagined, is accidental.  No one in the 2013 performance video asked me to write this post in their defense, and they may perhaps be embarrassed by it, for which I apologize.  Any other questions should be directed to JAZZ LIVES Customer Service, to be found in the rear of our headquarters (look for the bright red cat door).  Thank you.

May your happiness increase!



In the past few years, I’ve heard a good deal about the singer Meschiya Lake from friends in New York and England, and been able to enjoy her debut CD — you can hear her music here.

A new documentary by filmmaker Tao Norager, TRUE FAMILY, is a superb evocation of this compelling musician, the changing face of New Orleans, and a group of young people utterly in tune with the deepest improvising impulses.  I urge you to visit here.  You’ll see why I am so captivated by the film.  It’s not a stodgy documentary that opens with a serious voice-over giving a history lesson.  Now is it an amateurish exercise with a hand-held camera.

Rather, Tao has gotten to the heart of things with passion and directness — while staying out of the way.  The result is warm yet unsentimental, with surprising mobility: in one scene, Meschiya Lake is eating cookies and milk at home; then she is getting ready for a gig in Berlin.  Anything is possible, TRUE FAMILY reminds us.

True Family

Watching the film, one feels transported to delightful scenes — as Meschiya and her families of musicians create remarkable art on the streets of New Orleans, visiting clubs where dancers cavort in total harmony with the band.  And Tao is a truly mobile filmmaker: we ride alongside Meschiya on her way home as she points out history and local geography.

But the film isn’t just an adoring portrait of one singer, one group of young musicians who are living fully connected to the music.  Subtly and quietly, it makes us aware of the lives of improvising artists — their history, their life in the present moment.  And the film is full of glorious music, as Meschiya and friends — hot jazz nomads, blues troubadours, spiritual guides and chroniclers  — move from site to site.  You’ll see amazing impromptu swing-dancing contests and tap-dancing buskers (frankly amazing “tap kids”) on Bourbon Street.

On one level, the documentary is an instant trip to the heart of New Orleans — but it gets beneath the surface of that brightly-colored city to show us artists honest about their lives and their music.  “It’s a life in motion.  The wheel has to constantly be turning.  If I can’t play music, then I can’t make money to live,” Meschiya says.

There is the exuberant spectacle of Meschiya and her band jamming SATAN, YOUR KINGDOM MUST COME DOWN on a summer day in New York’s Washington Square Park — but the film keeps asking the question, “Where can art be nurtured and prosper and continue to be free?”

Ultimately, TRUE FAMILY is more than a performance film; it chronicles the near-death and vivid rebirth of both its subject, Meschiya, and the city that surrounds her.

And it glows with the joy of its music she makes with her Little Big Horns, with anyone who is spiritually allied.  When she and pianist Tom McDermott are navigating through BACK WATER BLUES, we know we are in the presence of emotions and craft that come from the heart.

As the closing credits unfurl, we hear Meschiya singing MY LIFE WILL BE SWEETER ONE DAY.  It’s clear that she, her friends, and her art have buoyed many people: TRUE FAMILY is imbued with a deep sweetness.

Usually at this point in a post, I would be writing that the film might be coming to a theatre near you — someday, eventually — or that you could purchase a DVD copy for a moderate sum.  But I have better news.  Without passing the cyber-hat for hot jazz, I can direct you to the  TRUE FAMILY site where you can download and watch this engaging and quirky film for a few dollars.  I commend it to you!

May your happiness increase.


Although the name BABY SODA conjures up weird visions of toddlers working their way through quart-sized paper cups of Diet Coke (tell me it’s all a dream?), the BABY SODA JAZZ BAND has no artificial ingredients and Science has shown that their joyous music extends rather than shortens human life.  Here’s a recent sample — JAZZ ME BLUES from Stompology in Rochester, New York, recorded this June:

Their most recent disc is a delightful encapsulation of their essence.  For those of my readers who doubt that they will get to the Radegast Bierhalle in Brooklyn any time soon, this disc can act as an effective flying carpet.  For those familiar with the delights to be found there, this disc — with equally magic powers — can make a night at Radegast portable . . . compressing the whole experience so that it can reverberate through your earbuds or car audio system.

The music was recorded live on June 29, 2011, by an all-star cast: Emily Asher, trombone, vocal; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Kevin Dorn, drums; Jared Engel, plectrum banjo; Peter Ford, box string bass, vocal; Kevin V. Louis, cornet, vocals . . . and guests Will Anderson, clarinet; Satoru Ohashi, trumpet; Ed Polcer, cornet; Bria Skonberg, trumpet.  The songs are YOU RASCAL YOU / WEARY BLUES / MARDI GRAS IN NEW ORLEANS / JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP / WININ’ BOY BLUES / JOSHUA FIT THE BATTLE OF JERICHO / PALM COURT STRUT / SUGAR / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / GLORY GLORY.

Now, I know that some readers — looking at the song list and not knowing many of the musicians — might sniff derisively and think, “Oh, New York Dixieland — the same routines I heard, better, in 1956 / 1971 / whenever.”  Wrong.  Sorry, but Wrong.

Most of the musicians in this band (with the exception of the Senior Ambassador, Mister Polcer) are still within hailing distance of their thirties, and they approach this music with a good deal of expert enthusiasm and precise vigor.  They have heard the records but they are going for themselves, which is always a good thing.  So rather than this being a routine gathering of players who can do BOURBON STREET PARADE in their sleep, this session conjures up much of the joyous unbridled energy of a New Orleans street band in this century.  It isn’t Jazz By The Numbers.  There is good humor, lyricism, and a deep understanding of jazz as a dance music with cadences designed to make Grandma get up and Shake That Thing.

For more information and delight, visit the BABY SODA homepage.  And if you would like to buy the music in MP3 form, here is the link to do just that.

As a colleague of mine says (it’s her highest accolade), THEY ROCK.

May your happiness increase.