Tag Archives: Cafe Bohemia

MURRAY WALL, RESONANT (January 30, 2020)

I started writing this post about ten days ago and wrote several mournful paragraphs to begin, then thought, “I should put this aside for a bit,” as one does. I came back to it, reread it, and thought, “If Murray read this, he would perhaps say, with a gentle tilt of his eyebrow, ‘Really, Michael,’ and then pause for more than four bars, so that I would know I had been excessive. So since he created joy, I will cut to the music, which is joyous.

But first, as they say, here is the most detailed obituary for Murray:

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, August 27, 2022

Played bass for some of the great jazz musicians

(JAMES) MURRAY WALL September 28, 1945-July 18, 2022

Murray Wall, one of Australia’s most highly regarded jazz musicians, has died in New York City after a short illness. Originally from Melbourne, yet largely unknown in this country, Wall lived and worked for almost 50 years in New York. Over his lifetime, he played and toured with some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians including Benny Goodman, Barry Harris, Jon Hendricks, Eartha Kitt, Clark Terry, Anita O’Day, Billy Eckstine and Mel Torme.

Wall was born in Melbourne and grew up in the bayside suburb of Sandringham. In 1955, at the age of 10, his sister Sheila took him to a Nat King Cole concert at Festival Hall, a performance he would later credit as having inspired in him a life-long love of music. He was largely self-taught and learned jazz by playing along to records by Oscar Pettiford, Ray Bryant, and Lester Young. He also studied classical double-bass with Marion Brajsa, the principal bassist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Wall began playing professionally in 1962, working in dance bands with his brother Richard before progressing to performing and recording music in the Melbourne jazz scene. In 1969, he moved to Sydney to play bass in the first Australian production of Hair at the Metro Theatre in Kings Cross. Having established himself as a professional musician, he soon became an in-demand bass player for visiting American musicians such as Clark Terry, Billy Eckstine, and Mel Torme.

In 1979, Wall moved to New York and began studying improvisation with the jazz pianist, Lennie Tristano. In the early 1980s, he was invited by the legendary swing band leader Benny Goodman to join his group and continued performing with him until Goodman’s final gig the night before his death in 1986.

Wall was based in New York for his most of his working life and played with some of the most respected musicians including Ken Peplowski, Marty Grosz, Keith Ingham, Frank Vignola, Chuck Wilson, Buck Clayton, Eddie Locke, Claude Williams, Richard Wyands, Grover Mitchell, Kenny Davern, Warne Marsh, Dave Van Ronk, and Spanky Davis. He was also a regular player at Barry Harris’ renowned weekly jazz masterclasses.

Wall was hugely respected for his peerless musicianship and melodic playing as well as his friendship and camaraderie that made him widely liked and sought after by band leaders. He was generous with his time in helping younger players and Australian jazz musicians on pilgrimages to New York would seek him out for his anecdotes and advice. He was a working musician until the end and kept a regular gig at the 11th St. Bar until shortly before his death.

Wall is survived by his wife Diana, daughter Gabrielle and stepson Alexis, grandchildren Raphael and Olga, brother Richard and sister Sheila and their extended families in Australia.

Written by Guy Freer and his wife, Gabrielle, Wall’s daughter.

That’s one way to sum up Murray, beautifully. Here are four more: portraits in sound, where he is joined by Joe Cohn, Scott Robinson, and Jon-Erik Kellso on January 30, 2020.

For Hoagy, Louis, Jack, Mildred, and others, ROCKIN’ CHAIR:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

I FOUND A NEW BABY:

CREOLE LOVE CALL:

Thank you, Murray, and resonant gentlemen. Your sounds will vibrate forever.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE-NOTES FROM MURRAY WALL, CONTINUED: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JOE COHN (Cafe Bohemia, January 30, 2020)

Murray Wall, irreplaceable musician and man, moved to another neighborhood last month.

Here is my first posting in his honor. There will be more.

When dear and memorable people leave the planet, we don’t stop missing them in a few weeks, a few years, ever. Their absence is palpable, as was their singular presence. Murray was sweetly modest and utterly swinging; he created a beautiful foundation no matter what the context.

Here he is with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, reeds; Joe Cohn, guitar, on a Thursday night set (January 30, 2020) at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York:

He sent love to us; I hope he knows that love was and is sent in return, in profusion.

May your happiness increase!

ON THE BANKS OF THE WABASH, FAR AWAY: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DENNIS LICHTMAN, JOSH DUNN, JARED ENGEL (Cafe Bohemia, December 12, 2019)

Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City

For about six months — September 2019 to March 2020 — much longer than one brief shining moment, we had Cafe Bohemia, downstairs at 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City. And on Thursday nights, if I recall correctly, the Cafe Bohemia All-Stars, led by Jon-Erik Kellso (“You know them, you love them.”) took the stage.

Here’s a particularly sinuous and searching WABASH BLUES, performed by Jon-Erik, Puje trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Josh Dunn, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass.

The photograph shows the Wabash River in Indiana.

This memorable performance doesn’t make me want to book a flight to the Wabash River, but it certainly makes me wish that we could have those Bohemia nights back.

May your happiness increase!

DOWNSTAIRS JOYS AT 15 BARROW STREET: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ALBANIE FALLETTA, JEN HODGE (Cafe Bohemia, January 9, 2020)

Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City c. 2020.

“On the night in question,” as they say on police procedural television shows, Jen Hodge, string bass, and Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar:

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, and Evan Arntzen, clarinet:
Magic grooving, one flight down:

I recently uncovered much more music from this night — before the world went into its nightmarish nap — and hope to share it with you. What wonders were created! And, fortunately for us, the four heroes are alive and well and playing / singing beautifully today.

May your happiness increase!

“FEELS LIKE ANOTHER UNIVERSE”: EDDY DAVIS, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CONAL FOWKES (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City

Where we were, when we were. Years gone by. “Feels like another universe,” says Evan. Glorious music in another time: December 26, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City. Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Eddy Davis, now gone, banjo, vocal, electricity; Conal Fowkes, string bass.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

The tune? CANDY, a Forties ballad, swung as hard as a band can swing. And watch the band fall into line and become a magical Basie small group right on the stage (with Jon-Erik’s nod to THAT’S MY HOME — don’t miss it).

That universe is slowly coming back, although Eddy took his leave of us not long after this session — in April 2020. But he lives on in his joys so generously spread. And the other luminaries: Conal, Jon-Erik, and Evan — continue to illuminate our world. So sweetly.

May your happiness increase!

AN ONRUSH OF JOY, or “SO FUN!”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, RICKY ALEXANDER, ALBANIE FALLETTA, SEAN CRONIN at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City (January 9, 2020)

Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City

Gather round, children. There was once a time when I could come out of the #1 subway at Christopher Street, cross the street and walk south to this joyous haven of sounds and people — between September 2019 and March 12, 2020. These days my city wanderings rely on the #2 and the #Q to Brooklyn, but the feelings I have for and about Cafe Bohemia are intense.

Pre-pandemic joys: they seem like effusions of joy from another world. But how they uplift! Yes, the WEARY BLUES is neither of those things, especially when delightfully exploded from within by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Ricky Alexander, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Sean Cronin, string bass. May these times come again!

For me, once wasn’t enough, so I hope you can make time to watch it again. It doesn’t grow old.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S BEEN SO LONG,” or DOWNSTAIRS UPROAR: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, January 16, 2020)

Walter Donaldson’s IT’S BEEN SO LONG could have been the theme song of the pandemic. But this performance, two months before the lights went out, is cheerful, rambunctious, uplifting.

These celestial noises were created below stairs at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, at one of their Thursday-night revels, this one featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. Apologies to John for not including him in the frame: I recall trying to do so and being blocked by someone’s head, never a great accomplishment in cinematography:

Cafe Bohemia has not resumed its revels, although we live in hope. But — did you know — Jon-Erik, John, Joe Cohn, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass, will be playing outside The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York, tomorrow, Sunday, May 15, from 1 to 3:30?

Now you know.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR KINDS OF RADIANCE: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (January 16, 2020)

Before darkness fell, there was light. And although the stage lighting was sometimes an unusual deep red, one of the places where it shone brightly was the basement of 15 Barrow Street in New York City, Cafe Bohemia.

Here’s a glowing example: radiance created with unaffected skill by Tal Ronen, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. Heroes of mine.

But first . . . their choice of material is not the usual, but A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN — one of those popular songs given new life by improvisers. On YouTube, you can find Ted Lewis’ 1932 let-no-heartstring-be-untugged version, the 1940 Johnny Long hit (where the band sings vaguely-hip glee club lyrics) and there’s also a Soundie. But many deep listeners will know it from recordings by Edmond Hall and Coleman Hawkins, then Red Allen and George Lewis and on and on. The harmonies are not the usual, with many traps for the unwary.

The lyrics, not heard here, are a Depression-era fiction (1932) where the speaker rhapsodizes about his decrepit home in the poorest section of town, but inside there’s a “queen / with a silvery crown,” whom I take to be Ma. Another version of “We’re incredibly poor but we’re happy,” which I suspect kept Americans from rioting. Cultural historians are invited to do their best.

I thought “shanty” came from Gaelic, but it’s French Canadian. The shanty on the cover of the sheet music is really rather attractive, with electric wires visible. Even though there’s erosion, it would be listed high on Zillow.

Here’s the luminous performance by these four, shining their particular light:

I am very sentimental about performances like these: without fuss or fanfare, musicians taking little stages in New York City to illuminate the darkness and uplift us. We didn’t know (or at least I didn’t) that it was all going to stop in March. But I see glimmerings and rumblings of new life. For one thing, directly related to the joys above, Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30. I expect that our friend Phillip (“the Bucket”) will also be in attendance.

To keep your spirits high, here is a recording that I think few know — a soaring, Louis-inspired version of SHANTY, from 1938, by Willie Lewis and his Entertainers, recorded in Holland, featuring Herman Chittison, piano; Frank “Big Boy” Goudie, clarinet; Bill Coleman, vocal and trumpet — giving that tumble-down shack wings:

Those New York days and nights will come again and are starting to happen . . . .

May your happiness increase!

DRIVER’S LICENSE: MARA KAYE, TIM McNALLEY, ALBANIE FALLETTA, JON-ERIK KELLSO, BRIAN NALEPKA (Cafe Bohemia, February 6, 2020)

BOHEMIA

Here are a few more minutes of the blues with a very clear subtext — transportation can be fun even if you scrape the curb! — performed at Cafe Bohemia what seems like centuries ago but is really only fourteen months, if my math holds.  The elated perpetrators are Mara Kaye, vocal; Tim McNalley, guitar; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Brian Nalepka, string bass.  The Department of Motor Vehicles informs me that all five of them passed their driving tests easily, the first time.  Experts.

1941 Ford V8 Super Deluxe 5 Passenger Coupe

Yes, this beautiful automobile, a 1941 Ford V-8, is particularly relevant to what follows.

Just be sure to use all your mirrors and go slowly when maneuvering into tight spaces.  More to come, as we say.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

VJM Banner 2020

HIS SENTIMENTAL MOOD: JOHN ALLRED, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, January 16, 2020)

I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time when we say, “Stop!  That’s enough beauty!” and certainly this recent period is not one of those times.

John Allred, Duke Heitger, Ehud Asherie, 2009

So I offer a vivid example: Duke Ellington’s IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD played with great feeling and virtuosity by John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass — at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on a Thursday night, January 16, 2020. 

The fellow introducing the performance and then leaving the stand to enjoy it better is Jon-Erik Kellso, who knows a good deal about the creation of beauty.

Allred’s magnificence is that he makes those pieces of greased metal sing heartfelt memorable songs.  And the string section of Munisteri and Ronen is glorious also.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERS OF DOWNTOWN GROOVE: JOHN ALLRED, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, January 16, 2020)

Here’s a beautiful sustained lesson in how to Groove, taught by four past Masters: Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Tal Ronen, string bass.  Their classroom was Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, on January 16, 2020.  The text for this class was Vincent Youmans’ SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY.

With these four in control, it’s ALWAYS, not SOMETIMES.

May your happiness increase!

ON NIGHTS LIKE THIS, THEY DO: JON-ERIK KELLSO, RICKY ALEXANDER, ALBANIE FALLETTA, SEAN CRONIN (Cafe Bohemia, January 9, 2020)

Music like this gives me hope.  It was created right in front of my eyes, at a place reachable by public transportation in New York City (with a parking garage right across the street); it was created in this century by four people I love and admire. So it can and will come again, like the little purple crocus that grows in cracks in the concrete.  It has beauty; it has durability.  What’s a global pandemic to this?  Kid stuff.

The details?  Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York.  Sean Cronin, string bass (sitting in for Jen Hodge that night for a few); Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Ricky Alexander, clarinet; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  Edgar Sampson, composer.

I urge you: listen.  Do not take this spiritual phenomenon casually, because it is the breath of life:

IF DREAMS COME TRUE?

No.  WHEN DREAMS COME TRUE.

And bless the bringers of joy.

May your happiness increase!

CHRIS FLORY’S MAGIC DEEP-BLUE SWING ENGINE (with JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, NEAL MINER at CAFE BOHEMIA, November 14, 2019)

I think my subject line says it all.  There are musicians who can swing when the band is swinging (they hitch onto the back of the truck and ride along).  Others can swing the whole room, unaccompanied, in eight bars.

Chris Flory is a shining example of the latter species; his playing is full of emotion but limber, and his music always feels honest.  Here he is, improvising on Harold Arlen’s I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES at Cafe Bohemia in the fabled past — November 14, 2019 — with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass:

Don’t let the red lighting disconcert you: everything Chris plays has, somewhere in it, indigos.  They shine, and they warm us.

May your happiness increase!

JOSH DUNN: MELODY MAN’S DREAM

Photograph by Jessica Keener Photography.

In the past fifteen years of being an involved observer in New York City, I’ve met many musicians.  Sometimes the circles I travel in are both small and reassuring.  But every so often I’ll come to a gig and there will be someone setting up whose face is unfamiliar, and I will introduce myself, then sit back and be ready to take in the new sounds.  More often than not, the experience is a delightful surprise, so much so that I might go up to the person after the set and say, my enthusiasm barely restrained, “You sound wonderful.  Where on earth did you come from?”

That was my experience with young guitarist Josh Dunn, whom I hope many of you have met in person as well as through videos — mine and his own.  And when he said, “Tasmania,” I had to ask him again. “What?” “Tasmania.” And it finally sunk in — that he had traveled over ten thousand miles (sixteen thousand kilometers) to arrive here, bearing sweet inventive melodies and irresistible swing.

I first met and heard Josh at Cafe Bohemia on November 21, 2019 — where he was quite comfortable in the fastest musical company New York City has to offer: Tal Ronen, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn.  Hear how he fits right in and elevates the proceedings on LADY BE GOOD:

and a few months later, I had another opportunity to admire Josh’s steady rhythmic pulse, his intuitive grasp of the right harmonies (those chiming chords), and the way his single-string lines never seem glib but always offer refreshing ways to get from expected point A to point B.  Here, again — on the last night I visited New York City — he fit right in with the best of them: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Sean Cronin, string bass:

And he understands the guitar’s honored and venerable role as a small orchestra, where a masterful player has to keep melody, harmony, and rhythm going on what George Van Eps called “lap piano.”  Here’s a wonderful solo by Josh on a Duke Ellington- Barney Bigard composition, A LULL AT DAWN:

I’m inspired by how much music Josh makes ring in the air.  But this video of THE GLORY OF LOVE stops abruptly — so be warned — it’s almost painful.  I think, “I want to hear more!”:

Because I was impressed by Josh as a player — the evidence is here and on YouTube — and as a person (he’s soft-spoken, witty in an offhand way, and quite modest . . . he’s thrilled to be on the stand with these heroes) I suggested we do an email interview so that more people could get to know him.  The results:

I come from an incredibly supportive, but non-musical family background. My family are mostly in medical/health-related fields, and as middle child I felt compelled to get as far away from that as possible, hence traditional jazz guitar. I told my folks I wanted to pick up guitar when I was about 7, I can’t recall if there was any reasoning behind this except that guitars looked cool. I still think they look cool.

For its size, Tasmania is an incredibly vibrant place for the creative arts, including music. I am really grateful that I had opportunities to grow up there, and play with and learn from such terrific musicians. My first guitar teacher in Tasmania, Steve Gadd, introduced me to a lot of the music styles I still listen to, practice, and perform now. However, Tassie is such a small community, and it’s hard to find opportunities to make a living playing music when you live on tiny island at the bottom of the world, especially in a somewhat niche style like traditional jazz.

I grew up listening to jazz and the more I learnt about the music and its history, the more I started to gravitate towards New York. I didn’t initially see myself living here (it’s about as far removed from rural Tasmania in lifestyle and environment as you can find) but in 2013 I received a grant to travel and study in the US for three months, and halfway through I arrived in New York and immediately changed my plans so I could spend the rest of the trip exploring the city. As someone who has learnt this music from afar, it was so exciting to experience jazz as a living music and culture, and it made me want to come and learn more. So from there I applied for the Fulbright and that provided the impetus to move to the US and play music.

An interlude from reading: Josh plays SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES:

So a big part of my informal jazz education before coming to New York was watching the Jazz Lives videos on YouTube, particularly the Sunday nights at the Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri and Company. It was how I learnt a lot of the repertoire, and discovered how this music was actually being played by contemporary musicians today.

Matt’s one of my musical heroes, so when I knew I’d be visiting NYC, I contacted him out of the blue and asked for a lesson. We emailed a little but somehow never quite managed to confirm a time, and I only had a few days left in NYC. So I took the drastic action of working out what approximate neighborhood he lived in from an allusion to a particular local venue in an online interview, and then just spent the afternoon wandering around that part of Brooklyn with a guitar, hoping for the best. Somehow it worked, I ran into him on the street, and we had our lesson, and it was only recently that we talked about how creepy it was to be approached on the block where he lived by a stranger from the other side of the world wanting a guitar lesson. It’s probably commonplace for Matt now, but I get the feeling that in 2013 it was a novel experience him.

You asked me for unusual NYC gig stories — I was hired for a mystery gig a few years back by a singer I didn’t know, I was just given an address, a dress code and a time, and it ended up being a private party hosted by a well known Hollywood actor. Which, as someone who’s only experience with that world was watching rented films while growing up in rural Tasmania, was a bit of culture shock for me.

I have no lofty ambitions of fame or fortune in music (but I admire those that do). The thing I have spent most of my life doing is playing guitar, usually by myself in my bedroom, but also with some of my favorite people in front of an audience. Since moving to the US I’ve somehow been able to turn that into something I get paid to do most nights of the week. So I want to keep learning and honing my craft as a musician, and also to continue making good music with good people. More recently I’ve started keeping a list of notes on my phone whenever I have the thought of “I wish someone had told me that a few years ago,” so maybe down the track I’ll be more involved in teaching in some form, but my main goal is to be in New York playing music.

More recently I’ve been enjoying the challenge of making solo jazz guitar an interesting thing to listen to for people who aren’t solo jazz guitarists. I could see myself pursuing this avenue too.

If you asked me for a compact embodiment of Beauty, as it happens now, I might very well reach for this:

Or if you asked me to define Collective Joy.  You don’t see Josh until three minutes’ in, but you certainly hear what he adds is the real thing, and then:

I’ll leave with this.  At one of the Cafe Bohemia gigs, I talked with a musician who’d dropped by to admire the band, and I said, “How about that Josh Dunn?” His reaction was immediate and emphatic, “We’re not letting him leave New York any time soon!”  My thoughts exactly.

Thank you, Josh, for improving the air.

May your happiness increase!

GROOVING, DOWNTOWN: CHRIS FLORY, EVAN ARNTZEN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, NEAL MINER (Cafe Bohemia: November 14, 2019)

An hour ago, I was on the phone with my dear friend Matthew Rivera, and when we hung up I was pierced with nostalgia for past times, joys temporarily suspended.   Nostalgia for pure New York City – Kansas City groove, first created by Eddie Durham. Nostalgia for 15 Barrow Street, Cafe Bohemia nights.  Music by Chris Flory, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, created on November 14, 2019.  The title? TOPSY:

I pray these gatherings will come again, and I know I am not alone in this.

May your happiness increase!

“JUST A GLANCE AT YOU”: EDDY DAVIS, CONAL FOWKES, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

It’s reassuring to think that romantic songs nearly ninety years old still have the power to move us.  I know nothing about the  composers of the 1931 LITTLE GIRL, Madeline Hyde and Francis Henry, aside from their credits on this Deco cover, but the song has an irresistible three-note hook that, as they say, hooks the listener.

Proof?  Here’s a sweetly swinging performance of that song from a memorable Thursday-night session at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, at the very end of 2019 (December 26) by Eddy Davis, banjo; Conal Fowkes, string bass and endearing vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

That was the last time I saw and heard Eddy, who was in wonderful form on and off the bandstand, making this video both sad and joyous.

Moments like this . . . .

May your happiness increase!

THE ARTIE MATTHEWS PARADOX: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ALBANIE FALLETTA, SEAN CRONIN, JOSH DUNN (Cafe Bohemia, March 12, 2020)

This 1915 composition is not only one but several paradoxes.  It’s a multi-strain ragtime composition, not a blues, and it is anything but WEARY.  For more about Artie Matthews, who had a rich life when he wasn’t composing, click here to read an impressive biographical sketch by Bill Edwards.

Appropriately, the gentleman pictured above resembles some of us in early-pandemic, with a bundle of hand sanitizer, wipes, masks, gloves, and angst.

An electrifying performance of the WEARY BLUES is our centerpiece today.  It leads us back to mid-March of this year.  I won’t write about my experiences as the familiar world constricted, because everyone has their stories.  But I am sure that none of your stories has such an inspired soundtrack.

This performance comes from my March 12, 2020, trip to Manhattan.  Should I call it my “last” night in the city or my “most recent” one?  Both are accurate, but the latter sounds more hopeful.  And the music below radiates hope: created at Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street on that Thursday night by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, Sean Cronin, string bass, and guest Josh Dunn, guitar.

As you drink it all in, please admire the beauties below: a tempo both leisurely and intense, an ensemble that knows all the strains (so beautifully directed by Maestro JEK), eloquent lessons in individual approach and timbre, graduate work in the art of building solos and ensemble playing.  Although there are only five players, this performance has all the orchestral density of a composed piece, yet it’s invented in front of our glistening eyes. There was only a small audience at Cafe Bohemia that night for this set — more cautious people were huddling at home or nervous at the grocery store — but now the audience can be world-wide:

What’s the paradox here?

The song is called Weary, but it’s joyously exuberant.  Let it be our theme song as we turn aside from weariness to embrace life-affirming emotions.

May your happiness increase!

IN WISTFUL CELEBRATION: “GOOD OLD NEW YORK”: EDDY DAVIS, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CONAL FOWKES (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

We can celebrate and mourn at the same time, and the combination feels right today, because Eddy Davis — imaginative, unpredictable, magical, mysterious — would have been eighty today, September 26, 2020.  Yes, he went away, but he is never far from us.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

I offer a triple homage: to Eddy, his hand a blur, his mouth open in song; to Jelly Roll Morton; to the good old New York that we had before the pandemic so altered our lives.  Here are Eddy and friends, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, string bass, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, where joy flourished regularly:

I look forward to a future where we can once again gather joyously.  How I’ll bring my easy chair along is a problem, but perhaps they can be provided.

May your happiness increase!

BY THE WAY, ARE YOU FREE TO JOIN ME ON MONDAY EVENING? (EDDY DAVIS, CONAL FOWKES, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN: Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

“Don’t forget OUR MONDAY DATE that you promised me last Tuesday.”

What the proper first word of the title is, A, OUR, or MY, depends on context:  the instrumental version was labeled as we see here, and then when lyrics were added, it became OUR.  MY is for possessive types.

It is, however, a durable song that can be performed to great effect no matter what day of the week it’s being played and sung.  The version below happily blossomed into the air on a Thursday, December 26, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street in New York City.

And the noble foursome was Eddy Davis, so sorely missed, on banjo here; Conal Fowkes, string bass and vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone, with intermission 78s provided by Matthew (Fat Cat) Rivera.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

and here’s the lovely performance! — at a grownup tempo, because one never rushes through a DATE:

I wish I had a date to go to Cafe Bohemia again, and I look forward to the day when that is not just a wish. . . . and the sounds that Michael Zielenewski and Christine Santelli made possible can ring once more through the room.

May your happiness increase!

FORTY SECONDS OF THREE-DIMENSIONAL DANCE MUSIC

I’ve known and admired the drummer and thoughtful man Kevin Dorn for fifteen years and more.  I could see Kevin in a jazz club, lifting the rhythm and making the other musicians happier — to say nothing of the audience.  In fact, Kevin came by and sat in at Cafe Bohemia for the last pre-pandemic gig, whose date is seared into my neural pathways, March 12, 2020.

Years gone by: 2008.

Kevin is also one of those musicians able to talk about what he is doing in terms that do not bore the insiders nor puzzle the civilians: he is a superb teacher / explicator with no hint of pretension . . . and he is one of those who “can do” as well as explain.  I know this because of the gratifying YouTube videos he has been creating for a year now: just him, his drum set, assorted essential paraphernalia, and a fine clear soundtrack of music and words.  Here is his YouTube channel.

He’s explored the work of Gene Krupa, George Wettling, Cozy Cole, Morey Feld, Nick Fatool, Jake Hanna, and Cliff Leeman so far, and I know his one-man seminar on Buzzy Drootin is in the works.

But this wonderful solo performance caught me in many ways.  Many drum solos lack a compositional shape, but not this.  And in this wildly “busy” world where no one has much time for anything, this solo is forty seconds long.  I urge you to take the time and immerse yourself in the world Kevin creates in honor of Cliff Leeman.  I call it “three-dimensional” because not only can we hear the songs Kevin creates on Cliff’s snare drum, but we can watch the ever-changing human sculpture of his moving arms, one visible leg, and hands.  Art, dear viewers.

 

The back covers of long-playing records (“microgroove”) that I grew up with often wooed the prospective buyer with IF YOU LIKED THIS LONG-PLAY RECORD, YOU’LL LIKE THESE — and then showed tiny cover portraits.  That appeal is a long way back into the past, but if you enjoyed the video above, let me direct you to a more elaborate one: Kevin’s variations on WOLVERINE BLUES:

Such expressive music.

May your happiness increase!

YOUR HAPPINESS LIES RIGHT UNDER YOUR EYES: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOSH DUNN, ALBANIE FALLETTA, SEAN CRONIN, KEVIN DORN (Cafe Bohemia, March 12, 2020)

As 2020 ticks on, I find myself daydreaming about being in JFK, my bags checked, the TSA pat-down concluded, walking towards my gate, knowing that soon I will be on a plane for an eagerly-anticipated jazz festival.  Then the emotional mist clears, and I think, “Not yet, even if one is announced,” and I turn my thoughts to the local scene.

This is my local scene: the suburban apartment complex where I’ve lived for sixteen years.  I no longer apologize for my nesting impulse, for the fact that I haven’t driven anywhere since March 24 (yes, I do start the car weekly) and that I spend hours in a triangular rotation of computer – kitchen – bedroom.  This is as close as I can get to having a bosky dell, a garden, or a backyard, and it’s a consolation.  And in this landscape where virus numbers often rise and rarely dip, it’s a good place to spend time.

I also love the song commemorating the pleasures of nesting.  You may think of that vintage composition in connection with Al Jolson or Billie Holiday, but the lovely strains I prize happened right in front of my face, ears, camera, and heart on Thursday, March 12, 2020 — the last song of the last set of music I experienced in New York City (at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street) — a performance that, to me, would still have been transcendent had the circumstances been mild and predictable.

The noble improvisers here, the official uplifters, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Josh Dunn, guitar; Sean Cronin, string bass — with delightful visitors Kevin Dorn, drums (wire brushes and snare, to be exact) and Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar:

Why are tears forming in my eyes?  They aren’t from despair, but from the effort necessary to sustain hope.

As for The Backyard, masked-and-prudent visitors invited.  Transportation’s up to you, but I can provide iced drinks, unhealthy snacks, bathroom facilities, and gratitude.  Two days’ notice, please.  If I’m out, Maisie will take the message.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN INTIMACY WAS NOT ONLY POSSIBLE BUT DEEPLY FELT: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CHRIS FLORY, NEAL MINER (Cafe Bohemia, November 14, 2019)

To start, JAZZ LIVES endorses social distancing, properly positioned mask-wearing (plain or patterned), hand-washing, hand sanitizer, vinyl gloves, intelligent caution, without reservation.  But I miss the intimacies that were part of the common culture only five months ago, give or take a hug.  When I watch any film or television show on YouTube these days, the casual peck on the cheek given and received causes me a real pang.  And hugging?  Unendurable.

But enough of sticking hatpins in myself while I try to write.

THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES is a haunting piece.  When I first heard it, without liner notes, I would have wagered that it was composed by Horace Silver — a dark blues march, so stark and elusive.  I was startled to learn it was by Billy Strayhorn.  And it makes me think of other improvisations that march.  OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE? has a very clear shouting meaning: “We’re coming back from the cemetery, where we laid our dear friend Keith in the ground.  He had a good life, it’s over, but ours isn’t, so we are going to celebrate himself and ourselves.”  INTIMACY has no such clear direction: we are going somewhere, our feet are heavy, but where are we headed?

This performance has the same haunting quality, and I treasure it.  The players, perhaps looking in to the void or just exploring a medium-slow blues, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar.  It took place at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, before Thanksgiving 2019.  Ironically or perhaps coincidentally, Cafe Bohemia was the site of the most recent live-jazz performance I was privileged to witness and record, on March 12, 2020.

May we all assemble there again, intimacies no longer forbidden.  Until then:

More than ever, I bless the courageous musicians who bare their souls to us. The most mournful song on the darkest stage is a statement of resilience.

May your happiness increase!