Tag Archives: Cafe Bohemia

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!

“AT BREAK OF DAWN, THERE IS NO SUNRISE,” or THE JOY OF SORROW: ALBANIE FALLETTA, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN, KEVIN DORN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, New York City, March 12, 2020)

Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, another night at Cafe Bohemia, creating beauty.

Great art doesn’t need a museum with guards or a concert hall: sometimes it happens right in front of us, and this was one of those moments: my last trip into New York City to be transported by live music before the world we all knew began to distort in front of us, a visit to Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village for the last of the Thursday-night-jazz-prayer-meetings. March 12, 2020.

I’ve posted music and written about that ominous and uplifting evening here and here — and I can still see in my mind’s eye the stairway down into the nearly-empty subway station, the feel of a produce-section plastic bag wrapped around my hand (I hadn’t found gloves for sale yet) so that I would touch as few surfaces as possible.  A new world, and not an easy one.  But I digress.

The music.  The magical transmogrifiers I capture with my camera are — I use the present tense on purpose — Albanie Falletta, voice and resonator guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums; Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  The sad text that they make joyous — the great paradox of art — is Einar A. Swan’s 1931 WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE.

That paradox fascinates me.  If you look at the individual facial expressions as the alchemists below make their wise feeling ways through this venerable lament, they are not morose.  Rather, they are the concentrated faces of people intent on making the result of their work (lifetimes of practice and contemplation) come out right.  Were they to “break up their lines to weep,” to quote Yeats, the song would fail as each one retreated into their private universe of grief.  And there is always enough to grieve about.  But I think of Basie and Jimmy Rushing singing and playing the saddest song with a glint of mischief under their labors, embodying and celebrating the powers of art.

Here I’d like to quote from the unpublished journals of Sammut of Malta:

Nothing is ever strictly functional in music because all music is ornamental.

Music is not necessary for our well-being even if we come to need it on an emotional level. The fact is that if organized sound were never a thing, we’d still be here. But that’s what make something as simple as a triad so amazing. There’s really no practical reason for it to exist. But we wouldn’t want to be here without it. So that’s why I’d suggest there’s never any such thing as JUST A II-V-I progression.

We are such complicated humans and simplistic beasts all at once who can never see past our own noses. So when I hear a bass line—any bass line— I like to remind myself of its ultimate meaninglessness outside of my ears, but it makes it more special for that reason.

Or, as Hot Lips Page once told Steve Lipkins on the band bus, “Look, an Eb don’t mean shit unless you bring something to the fucking note.”

What Albanie, Kevin, Sean, Josh, Evan, and Jon-Erik bring to that Eb and all the other notes in this performance is precious — wafting past us in time, evaporating, but memorable.  Bless them for moving us so.

And I will restate some thoughts that are even more pertinent in June:

This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also.  I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator.  The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining  you.  How can you help them and express gratitude?  Simple.  Buy their CDs from their websites.  Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar.  Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say.  Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.  Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, or a really cool leopard-print mask.

What you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.  Musicians remind us that there’s more to live for than lunch, and we must prize them for their pointing this out in every Eb.

May your happiness increase!

THE SKY DARKENED, THE MUSIC SOARED: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN, ALBANIE FALLETTA, KEVIN DORN (Cafe Bohemia, March 12, 2020)

Outside the world was getting darker — not just the way the sky looks after sunset.  That was March 12, 2020, in New York City. I and others knew it, felt it, although we could have had no idea of what was to come.  I had balanced my anxieties (the genetic and parental gift given to me) against the feeling, “You had better do this. It may not come again for some time,” and I am thrilled that I was able to be at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village for those glorious hours.

Broadway went dark, but my hero-friends lit up the night and lifted our hearts.

Here’s a shining example — 1944 rocking made tangible in 2020 — from the end of that evening’s gig, when Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor; Josh Dunn, guitar; Sean Cronin, string bass, were joined by Albanie Falletta, guitar and vocals [YouTube didn’t have enough space for me to type her full name in the credits, but there’s only one Albanie] and Kevin Dorn, drums.

More from March 12 here.  Take as needed, with a full glass of hope.

May your happiness increase!

NOT WEARY, JUST GROOVY: EDDY DAVIS, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CONAL FOWKES at CAFE BOHEMIA (Dec. 26, 2019)

Another treat from Boxing Day 2019, at 15 Barrow Street, New York.

by these Creators: Eddy Davis, banjo; Conal Fowkes, string bass; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone.

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

and, from a slightly different vantage, the Quartet for that night —

This beautiful joyous-sad evening seems so many years ago. Eddy Davis moved to another neighborhood, much to our sadness; Cafe Bohemia has become quiet for the uncertain future. But Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone, and Conal Fowkes, string bass, are afloat and we hope to embrace them when the world seems less threatening. Until that happens, savor their groovy version of Artie Matthews’ WEARY BLUES, and use it wisely, so that it will keep weariness away from you.

And wait for the real ending!

In case you missed the postings devoted to that night, here is some more music.  And here and here.

May your happiness increase!

SHE’S LIVING THE BEST SHE CAN: MARA KAYE, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JARED ENGEL, ARNT ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, November 19, 2019)

Mara Kaye, another time, another place.

Mara Kaye, holding the bright light of her voice and her passions, shines out at us — with the wise emotional assistance of Arnt Arntzen, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  All of this revelation took place at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, last year, November 19, 2019.  Ages ago, but we live in hope that it can and will return:

I hope we’re all living the best we can, although it is our privilege and burden to make up our own lyrics and our own tempo.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE-NOTES FROM 15 BARROW STREET: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ALBANIE FALLETTA, JEN HODGE (January 9, 2020)

Another uplifting evening at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City.

Jon-Erik Kellso and Evan Arntzen at Cafe Bohemia, Jan. 9, 2020

From pleasure to pleasure.  First, May 8 is Jon-Erik Kellso’s birthday.  This post, and so many others, is in his honor.  Happiness to jonnygig!

Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, a few seconds before or after.

The ensemble, creators of joy.

Everyone, plus the little intruder at the right, the viewfinder of my camera.

Four wonderful players, four creations.  A certain symmetry.

THE SONG IS ENDED, where Albanie’s singing encapsulates Louis and the Mills Brothers, of course with noble swing friendship from The Ensemble:

MY MELANCHOLY BABY, which is now so ancient that Jon has to explain it:

A rollicking NEW ORLEANS STOMP:

DOCTOR JAZZ, who came to your house without Zoom:

Bless these four brilliant sparks, and Mike Zielenewski and Christine Santelli, as well as Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, for sustaining us.

May your happiness increase!