Tag Archives: Cap’n John Handy

SARAH SPENCER’S TRANSATLANTIC BAND! (2015)

SARAH SPENCER

I first met Sarah Spencer (tenor and soprano saxophones and vocal) slightly more than a year ago and was immediately impressed by her deep immersion in the music — more specifically, New Orleans jazz (think of Cap’n John Handy) with digressions into Red Allen and J. C. Higginbotham, Al Bowlly, and others far and wide.  I wouldn’t get into a discussion of what “authentic” jazz is — too many potholes and roller skates left on the stairs — but Sarah played and sang in ways that seemed to come right from the heart, and she did her idols honor by evoking them while being herself.

Sarah had recorded several CDs but not much recently, so her new one — a selection of music recorded on location (Rochester, New York, October 18 / 19, 2015) is very much welcome.

SARAH CDand the other side:

SARAH CD 2I think the details are readable, but a few words about the music are apropos.

First off, it’s her TRANSATLANTIC BAND.  Sarah was born in the UK, and trombonist / vocalist Mike Owen made the trip especially for the session.  The other members of the ensemble live and work on the East Coast, from Connecticut to Massachusetts, and their names should be familiar to traditional jazz devotees in that “Northeast corridor.”

The band is a refreshing hybrid.  I think that someone deep into the recorded legacy will recognize some respectful nods to legendary performances, but this is not an hour-and-change of “playing old records live.”  It’s audible immediately that this is a band that values both individual expression and ensemble improvisation, and several performances absolutely get up and romp as they gain momentum.  (It’s the kind of band where cornet and trombone both have metal derby mutes set up in front of them, if you get the reference.)

You can hear an enthusiastically involved audience, but no one claps along, whether on the beat or near it.

Sarah is distinctive — her rolling, bubbling tenor and soprano work goes in and out of the band (she thinks of herself often as a member of the rhythm section as well as a front-line soloist) and for all the people who come up to her after a set and say, “You really should listen to ______ or _______,” people she admires, she follows the more obscure but also satisfying path of Manny Paul.  Her singing is truly gutty and rich, fervent and occasionally raw (when the material demands it) and she never stands at a distance from the song, but jumps right in.

Here are two samples from the sessions, with a slide show of the players.

One begins the CD (a bit of whimsy, perhaps?): GET OUT OF HERE AND GO HOME:

and here’s LOVE SONGS OF THE NILE (video first, sheet music cover below:

LOVE SONGS OF THE NILE cover

Other delightful vocal highlights on the disc come from Messrs. Mazzy and Owen, both deep into their own particular grooves.

The selections on the disc are wisely and sweetly arranged so that variety — not in some irritating way — is the principle.  Tempos, keys, and approaches vary from song to song, and there are several performances that are slower than medium tempo (always pleasing) with a stomping samba, sidelong glances at NOLA street parade conventions, and some deep blues.  The recording has some of the endearing imperfections that come with a live session (and I emphasize endearing) — all the things that I would rather have than the sometimes chilly perfection of a studio recording.

I’ve listened to the CD twice since its arrival yesterday, and I don’t see it as being shelved any time soon.  It’s honest, juicy music.  To get a copy for yourself, your friends, your extended family, email Sarah herself at sarahtsax@aol.com and let her know your thoughts.  The financial details are $20 for each disc (including postage and packing within the US); £15 (as above) in the UK.  Other countries will have their own special economic deals, and I am sure that Sarah would listen intently to a conversation about quantity pricing for double-digit orders.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

“THE WORLD’S SMALLEST BRASSBAND”: JIM and JOEP, EARLY IN THE DAY (Terneuzen, the Netherlands, 1985)

Yes, video footage of the great and elusive Jim Goodwin, whom I’ve been writing about most recently here.

I cannot tell whether this was somewhat informally recorded or if it was local television coverage, but the music is what matters: an incomplete WHEN YOU’RE SMILING, introduction of the band members, BLUE MONK (faded out), CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO, (again faded out):

When, last year, I asked Joep Peeters, the excellent altoist [who evokes both Cap’n John Handy and Pete Brown here], for information on this video, he graciously replied, “The tuba player is John Rijnen and the drummer is Jan-Willem van Zwol. The Terneuzen Festival was a yearly event with lots of music and lots of fun. That year we decided to be the world’s smallest brassband.  But we had to leave Breda around 8 am and start at 11.00 am.  So what you see is not our “Finest Hour” (Churchill).  It’s the start of a day that lasted till 2 am!”

They surely sound fine to me — with a rocking momentum that belies the early hour.

May your happiness increase!

SHE CAME TO PLAY: SARAH SPENCER STOMPS IT DOWN, PART TWO (June 10, 2015)

I can precisely document the time and place my admiration for Sarah Spencer began.  The site was the second floor of Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side of New York City) around 3 PM on Sunday, June 5 — an event I’ve documented here. Witnessing this was Tamar Korn (it was her gig), violinist / baritone saxophonist Andy Stein and pianist Ehud Asherie.  Then, happily, Sarah brought her tenor saxophone to the Wednesday, June 10 gig of the Hot Jazz Rabble at the Tryon Public House (4740 Broadway).

Her friends in the Rabble were Jim Fryer, trombone; Mike Davis, trumpet; Glenn Crytzer, banjo; Jennifer Vincent, string bass.

A word before readers jump into the videos.  To tenor saxophone aficionados who have grown up on Hawk, Ben, Lester, and their modern descendants, Sarah’s playing may take sixteen bars to get used to.  If, however, you know the New Orleans tradition of Cap’n John Handy and Emmanuel Paul, Sarah’s bubbling, exuberant work will make you feel at home immediately.

She told me that she doesn’t see herself as a member of the front line, alongside trumpet and trombone, but rather as part of the rhythm section, energizing it in naturally.  What you’ll hear in her joyous ensemble playing sounds like a cross between water rushing over rocks and a very dark, ferocious Bud Freeman who’s been boling crawfish.

With that as preface, here she is on MARIE:

And here Sarah sings DOWN IN THE MOUF’ BLUES, which is a late Clara Smith performance.  Please note that she does more than copy the recorded performance.  Even better, she varies her phrasing from chorus to chorus with lovely shifts of emphasis and meter.  There is the surface appearance of don’t-care roughness, but underneath there is many subtle variations on the simple theme:

Sarah’s authenticity and enthusiasm are very winning.  Her personality doesn’t come through entirely in the videos, so you have to see and hear her for yourself.  I think of her as a youthful Earth Mother of New Orleans stomp by way of the UK and Connecticut.

And she and her Transatlantic Band are playing a gig this June 20th: details here!

May your happiness increase!

“BIG EASY BIG BANDS: DAWN AND RISE OF THE JAZZ ORCHESTRA,” by EDDY DETERMEYER

A successful book on jazz has to be accurate, unbiased, and deep.  The writer shouldn’t twist evidence to fit an ideology; (s)he has to base conclusions on solid research; ideally, the book has to contain something new.

Eddy Determeyer’s new book on New Orleans “big bands” is successful in these ways.  I knew his work from his 2009 RHYTHM IS OUR BUSINESS: JIMMIE LUNCEFORD AND THE HARLEM EXPRESS — a beautifully thorough and lively study of that band and its somewhat elusive leader — so I was eager to read BIG EASY BIG BANDS.

BIG EASY BIG BANDS

It’s a fascinating book because it focuses on an aspect of New Orleans jazz and dance music that we knew existed but that apparently never received such loving attention — “orchestras,” groups larger than five or six pieces, relying on written arrangements — from the teens to the present day.

Determeyer’s scope is broad: in this book, one finds Louis Armstrong and Joe Robichaux, Champion Jack Dupree, Aaron Bell, Benny Powell, Ornette Coleman, Papa Celestin, Wallace Davenport, Sam Lee, Ed Blackwell, Dooky Chase, “Mr. Google Eyes,” Papa Jack Laine, and many others.

That a number of those names are less familiar is the point of the book, and testimony to the hard work behind it.  For one thing, Determeyer has shown by his research that there was a vital musical tradition in New Orleans running parallel to the one that most of us acknowledge: street musicians, small improvising bands, larger marching aggregations.  But — so runs the accepted myth — the “big bands” came out of Kansas City, New York, and Chicago, leaving New Orleans as a kind of improvisers’ Eden, both pure and somewhat behind the curve.

Determeyer’s research, from Congo Square to hard bop, shows that there was much more going on: picnics at Milneburg, steamboats and minstrel shows, Sam Morgan’s band, the excursion boats — with Fate Marable in charge (including drummer Monk Hazel’s account of a cutting contest between Emmett Hardy and young Louis (where Louis is reputed to have said, “You is the king!).

One of the strengths of Determeyer’s book is that the reader glides happily from one vivid anecdote to another: Huey Long saws off one leg of a three thousand dollar Steinway grand so that it can get into a club; Joe Robichaux, forty years later, is nearly done in by the erotic / financial insistence of a Japanese prostitute.  Cap’n John Handy sits in with his younger namesake, John Handy, and they have a good time.

It’s a thoroughly entertaining and informative book — stretching from the 1700s in New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina — with a number of surprising photographs, an index, and clear links to research sources.

You can purchase a copy at the Determeyer’s webstore — BIG EASY BIG BANDS is surprisingly affordable.  It will entertain and enlighten . . . what more could we ask?

May your happiness increase.