Tag Archives: calypso

“WARM WATERS, SUNNY AFTERNOONS, AND PACKED DANCE FLOORS”: THE PLEASURES OF CHARLIE HALLORAN’S “ALCOA SESSIONS”

Charlie and friends at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, 2018

The trombonist Charlie Halloran has a sweetly audacious imagination. We can all say, “I wonder what this combination of musical experiences would sound like”; Charlie goes ahead and gives his brightly-colored set of possibilities musical shape. And the surprises that result are so very pleasing. Before I introduce you to his latest creation, I would go back a few years to praise one from the past:

Charlie is the first-call trombonist in New Orleans, which means that he plays with a variety of bands — Tuba Skinny, the Shotgun Jazz Band, the Little Big Horns, his own Quality Six, and more. He’s come up to New York to be a featured guest with the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, where he played nobly and made everyone happy. But I think his heart beats fastest (without rushing, mind you) to a larger world-view than SOMEDAY SWEETHEART.

Charlie has immersed himself in that wonderful Venn diagram where New Orleans jazz meets the music of the Caribbean, as astute listeners could hear above. This brings listeners to places they’ve never been but where the music is — although the songs are new — deeply heartfelt and satisfying. When I first began to listen to CE BIGUINE, for example, I thought within a few minutes, “This is going to be one of my favorite discs, full of embracing surprises.” And it’s remained so. When I heard Charlie play some of the same music at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, I looked away from my camera to see the room swaying, the band playing. Smiles proliferated. And the room was gently sashaying in time.

Charlie’s new CD, THE ALCOA SESSIONS, is just extraordinary: not a simple plastic disc with good sounds embossed digitally into it, but a combination of a novel, a travelogue, a happy series of musical voyages to places that only exist in our ears and imaginations. Here’s the cover: doesn’t it make you feel like finding sandals and sunscreen? (It’s not even lunchtime as I write this, but a mojito dances before my eyes.)

But I hear you saying. “Alcoa. Isn’t that an antique brand of aluminum foil? What has all this got to do with music?” Patience. All will be revealed.

The Alcoa Sessions

Featuring

Charlie Halloran………Trombone

Tomas Majcherski……Tenor Sax

Jonathan Doyle….Tenor Sax. Clarinet.

Mike Davis…………Trumpet

with

Don Vappie, John Rodli and John Maestas………..Guitar

Tyler Thomson, Pete Olinciw……..Bass

Joe Lastie, Doug Garrison, Chris Davis……..Drums

Larry Sieberth, David Boeddinghaus…….Piano

Cesar Bacaro…..Percussion

Dédé St. Prix, Drew Gonsalves, Don Vappie………Vocals

Now, a pause for some enlivening musical evidence:

Trombonist Charlie Halloran’s fifth album, and first on the ArtistShare label, imagines the musical experience aboard cruises run by the Alcoa Steamship Co. out of New Orleans from 1949-1959. Pulling from dance band repertoire of Mid Century New Orleans, Trinidad, Venezuela and Guadeloupe, the Alcoa Sessions presents a band in the style of Paul Barbarin or Dave Bartholomew, augmented by Cuban percussion, French Creole and calypso vocals, fully leaning into the Crescent City’s placement as the northernmost city in the Caribbean.

Don Vappie leads the band through “When I Was a Little Child,” a swinging creole number from the Paul Barbarin / John Bruinous band, followed by the appropriately titled “Everybody’s Wailin’,” originally recorded by Huey Piano Smith.

By now the cruise has left the Mississippi River and we begin to explore ports further south. Considered Venezuela’s unofficial national anthem, “Alma Llanera” is given a Trinidadian dance band treatment ala Johnny Gomez. The moody and exotic “Margarita Rosa” comes from the Fitz Vaughan Bryan Orchestra, another dance band working in Port of Spain throughout the 1950s.

Back on the boat now, Halloran provides the vocals for the old jazz standard, “I Used To Love (But It’s All Over)”. 1950s New Orleans saw the explosion of seminal Rock and Roll and R&B recordings, so surely a New Orleans dance band of the era would be ready to let rip on a tune such as Dave Bartholomew’s “Twins” featuring fine trumpet work here from Mike Davis.

Lionel Belasco was a prolific composer working in Barbardos, Trinidad, Venezuela and New York City through the 1960s. His composition “Miranda” is a Venezuelan waltz and provides the perfect outlet for practicing some Arthur Murray dance steps, whose classes were often taught on these cruises. But don’t get too comfortable in 3/4, as Martinique’s Dédé St. Prix is up next to lead the band through “Moune a ou, ce moune a ou,” a brisk biguine from the French Caribbean, featuring the interplay between the trombone and reeds, particularly Tomas Majcherski’s tenor, giving the trumpet player a moment to grab a drink. 

Jonathan Doyle steps to the front on the raucous, “Feeling Good”, harkening to Herb Hardesty, Lee Allen and the screaming tenor sax driven R&B of the 1950s. Trinidadian/Canadian singer Drew Gonsalves of the band Kobotown joins the band for a humorous calypso from Lord Funny, featuring Gonsalves’ infectious rhythm and cadence.

The band swings out the last two numbers, first with the uptempo “Goodnight” written by Pat Castagne for the sign-off music for Radio Trinidad, and finally the dreamy tropical standard, “Song of the Islands.”

The “Alcoa Sessions” mines wonderful, under the radar repertoire, all of it danceable and from the era when calypso, biguine, R&B, and traditional New Orleans Jazz were exploding and intermingling, alongside the tiki craze, mambo and tropicalia. The Alcoa Steamship company used music imagery and language in their ads and brochures, and Halloran’s “The Alcoa Sessions” is sure to melt the ice in your drink and have you packing your suitcase for a TWA plane bound for warmer climes this winter.

Excited? I certainly was. You can check in here to hear a sample, purchase a download or a disc. Echoes of calypso, early rhythm and blues, and delicious old-school NOLA music. I’ve heard the music and am delighted. You will be, too.

I’ll let Charlie have the last word(s):

I like to imagine a young band aboard the Alcoa steamships, comfortable playing traditional jazz and New Orleans R&B, but incorporating local musicians while in port, blending calypso, beguine, and mazurkas, with their New Orleans sensibilities. This album will feature the sounds likely heard on a 13 day excursion from New Orleans through the Caribbean on the Alcoa Clipper, Corsair, and Cavalier.

May your happiness increase!

JUST ADD RUM, ICE, AND SUNGLASSES: “CHARLIE AND THE TROPICALES” (Part Two): CHARLIE HALLORAN, BEN POLCER, JONATHAN DOYLE, KRIS TOKARSKI, ALEX BELHAJ, JOSHUA GOUZY, JOSH COLLAZO (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

Back by popular demand (and not just mine)!

Here’s the second half of Charlie Halloran’s glorious set of hot and sweet island dance music, performed at the Redwood Coast Music Festival last May 11.  Charlie is on trombone (and I believe research and arrangements as well); Ben Polcer, trumpet; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.  And here is the first  half of their musical cocktail.

Lord Melody’s THE RIVER:

JULIANNE:

The title of Charlie’s most recent CD, CE BIGUINE:

THE RHYTHM WE WANT, which would be a good CD title:

MIRANDA:

The Mighty Sparrow’s JEAN AND DINAH:

I have it on good authority that there will definitely be another set like this at next May’s Redwood Coast Music Festival . . . I’ll be in front, grooving!

May your happiness increase!

SO FLAVORFUL: “CHARLIE and the TROPICALES” at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (Part One): CHARLIE HALLORAN, BEN POLCER, JONATHAN DOYLE, KRIS TOKARSKI, ALEX BELHAJ, JOSHUA GOUZY, JOSH COLLAZO (May 11, 2019)

Charlie Halloran’s wonderful CD of rocking island music.

I confess that if you tapped me on my shoulder at a jazz festival and said, “Do you want to hear a band playing calypsos, music from the islands?” even though I live on one, I might be skeptical.  But if you said, “Charlie Halloran is leading a group on this stage,” I would trip over myself in my eagerness to be there.  (And those of you who want only ROYAL GARDEN BLUES . . . I encourage you to be brave and approach the new songs without fear.)

(I first fell in love with the music Charlie and friends create because of his Quality Six, and then his CD devoted to rocking Caribbean music, CE BIGUINE, which I’ve written about here and here.)

I didn’t have to go through this imagined playlet at the musical Garden of Delights that is the Redwood Coast Music Festival: I was ready in my seat for this set, which Charlie now calls “Charlie and the Tropicales.”  Perhaps you need to know who else was there besides Charlie on trombone: Ben Polcer, trumpet; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.

Much has been said about the multi-cultural influences on what we loosely call the music of New Orleans: I’ll leave such ruminations to the cultural anthropologists — I prefer music to theorizing.  And what music did Charlie and the Tropicales make!  If you can listen to it without smiling and swaying, that (as they say) is your problem.  And if you’ve turned away because it isn’t a jazz classic played by your favorite band, to quote Louis, “too bad for you.”  Here’s music that rocks!

ROAD MARCH:

DOUDOU PAS PLEURE:

VICKY:

VOLTIGE ANTILLAIS:

TABU:

If you sat still in your seat through that music, let me talk to your neurologist, please.  There’s a second part of this set to come . . . quickly, if you ask nicely.

May your happiness increase!

ON MY WAY / TO WHITLEY BAY / WHERE GOOD TIMES ARE PLENTIFUL

Feel free to join in with my new song — doggerel created to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s JAMAICA FAREWELL: “I’m on me way / to Whitley Bay / won’t be back / till late Monday / I’m all excit’ / Won’t miss my flight / I know I’ll have a time / at Whitley Bay.”

Obviously, I have no reputation as a composer of calypso.

The omens and portents are much more favorable today than they were in 2012.  That trip that began with this weary traveler leaving his passport at home and making a costly racing roundtrip to retrieve it. The glorious jazz weekend ended with Superstorm Sandy and its global effects.   Of course, in both cases, I was helped immensely by generous strangers (at British Airways) and swing friends.

But Whitley Bay — now the Classic Jazz Party, formerly the International Jazz Festival — has been a special place since my first visit in 2009. There I met and admired Bent Persson, Aurelie Tropez, Nick Ward, Jacob Ullberger, Matthias Seuffert, Emma Fisk, Frans Sjostrom, Norman Field, and two dozen others. There I basked in the wit and generosity of the late Mike Durham, who still remains a vivid presence. I will be looking around corners for him all weekend long.  And this year the visiting Americans aren’t so bad, either: Andy Schumm, Josh Duffee, Duke Heitger, Jeff Barnhart, Daryl Sherman.

This year’s party offers exciting thematic presentations: the music of Coon-Sanders, early Ellington, Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, Basie 1937, Johnny Dodds, Eddie South and Stuff Smith, rare Bix, rare Fats, California Ramblers, and more.  My camera batteries are charged and I feel the same way.

I wish I could sweep you all along with me, but the airlines are fussy about bringing unscheduled guests.  So I hope JAZZ LIVES readers have patience: I will video-record as much as possible, and subject to musicians’ approval, you will see much of it in the months to come.

I expect to be busy listening, recording, talking and hanging out — living life away from the computer — so if this blog seems quiet for this long weekend, don’t feel abandoned. I am simply gathering new material for your pleasure.

I don’t anticipate think that any of my readers has sufficient frequent flyer miles to jump on a plane right this minute, but “day tickets” are still available, £50 a day.  Details here.  But you’d have to be fairly close to Newcastle to make this possible.  (On a whim, I checked Expedia for round-trip from New York and the least expensive flight was $1500.)

By the time some of you read this, I will already be on a Delta flight to Newcastle by way of Amsterdam . . . a jazz pilgrim on one of the great pilgrimages, bearing notebook and camera, CDs and snacks, clothing, pills, and an umbrella — instead of a scallop shell.

See you back at the ranch on Tuesday, November 5!

Here’s a little music from the 2012 Party, a video of mine that has not been made public before, to lift up your spirits and embody what the weekend is all about.  Rene Hagmann, cornet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, clarinet; Roly Veitch, guitar; Manu Hagmann, string bass, performing THAT’S A-PLENTY in hono(u)r of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four. My feelings exactly.

May your happiness increase!

JOHN SHERIDAN KICKS IT (Sept. 5, 2011)

Underestimate pianist / composer / arranger John Sheridan at your peril.  Neatly dressed, apparently serious-minded, he is really a volcanic eruption of swing just waiting for the proper moment.  Yes, he can play the most delicate traceries behind a soloist or our Becky Kilgore, and when he sits down at a new piano he is more likely to venture into IN A MIST than HONKY TONK TRAIN BLUES (although his version of the latter song is peerless).  But he’s a Force of Nature when seated at the piano.  No cascades of notes; no violent runs up and down the keyboard; no “displays of technique”: John simply starts plainly and builds and builds — at these times, the pianist he summons up most is the much-missed Dave McKenna, without consciously aping the Woonsocket, R.I. master’s locomotive patterns.

Sheridan remains Sheridan, and that’s a good thing.

Here he is (with Richard Simon, bass; Dick Shanahan, drums) in the final set of the final afternoon of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  All the musicians and the varied audiences were in a state of Jazz Satiety: whatever could have been played or heard was in the preceding four days.

So wily Mr. Sheridan eschewed his stride extravaganzas and tender ballads: instead, he suggested something both elementary and profound, Sonny Rollins’ calypso ST. THOMAS.  And from those simple chords and potentially repetitive rhythmic patterns he built a powerful edifice — a masterpiece of variations on themes, of creative improvisation.  And it rocked the house there — as I think it will do for yours now:

Another winning play from John Sheridan, man of many surprises!