Tag Archives: Carl Sonny Leyland

WHIMSY THAT SWINGS: CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND

Josh Collazo by Jessica Keener

I had met the excellent drummer Josh Collazo only once — at Dixieland Monterey in 2012, where he played splendidly with Carl Sonny Leyland and Marty Eggers.  The evidence is here.  After that, I heard him on record and saw him on video with Dave Stuckey, Jonathan Stout, Michael Gamble and possibly another half-dozen swinging groups.  So I knew he could play, and that sentence is an understatement.

What I didn’t know is that he is also a witty composer and bandleader — whose new CD, CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND, I recommend to you with great pleasure. And in the name of whimsy, Josh made sure that the CD release date was 4/4.

And this is how the CJJB sounds — which, to me, is superb.  Some facts: it’s a small band with beautifully played arrangements that make each track much more than ensemble-solos-ensemble.  The band is full of excellent soloists, but they come together as a unit without seeming stiff or constricted by an excess of manuscript paper.  Few bands today use all the instruments so well and wisely: a horn background to a piano solo, for instance.  Hooray!

The players are Josh, drums and compositions; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone and arrangements; Nate Ketner, alto and clarinet; Bryan Shaw, trumpet; Dave Weinstein, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano, Seth Ford-Young, string bass; guests (on two tracks)  Jonathan Stout, guitar; Corey Gemme, cornet.

To my ears, this band is particularly welcome because it does the lovely balancing act of cherishing the traditions (more about that shortly) while maintaining its own identity.  The latter part — a swinging originality, splendid for dancers and listeners — blossoms because the compositions are not based on easy-to-recognize chord sequences, and there are no transcriptions from hallowed discs.  The soloists have profoundly individual voices — and are given ample freedom to have their say — and the rhythm section rocks.  The first time I listened to the CD, I enjoyed it for its own sake: you would have seen me grinning in an exuberant way.  On another hearing, I put on my Jazz Critic hat (the one with the ears) and noted with pleasure some echoes: here, an Ellington small group; here, an HRS session; there, Woody Herman’s Woodchoppers and the Basie Octet; over here, a 1946 Keynote Records date; and now and again, a late-Forties Teddy Wilson group.  You get the idea.  Buoyant creation, full of flavor.

The cover art — by artist / clarinetist Ryan Calloway — reminds me so much of David Stone Martin’s best work that it deserves its own salute:

I asked Josh to tell me more about the band and the repertoire, and he did: you can hear his intelligent wit come through:

The term “Candy Jacket” was birthed during a conversation with my cousin at a family get together a few years ago. He was telling me that he saw a segment on the news about the first marijuana-friendly movie theater being opened in Colorado. Jokingly, he went on to say that he was going to open a candy shop next door and sell “Candy Jackets” so that people could sneak stuff in. All in all, it was really just a silly conversation but the term stuck inside my head. I then got to thinking about how much I love all the jive talk of the early jazz era. Why couldn’t I just make up my own? That being said, I like to think of the term as a way to describe someone who (A) is a jazz/swing lover, (B) is fun to be around, and (C) doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Again, very silly but I like it!

The main drive of putting this group together was to create original, classic sounding jazz and swing. The music of the 1930’s and 1940’s is my musical passion. After recreating it for so long in various bands, I just had a burning desire to make something new with respect to the musical framework of that time period that we all love.

Regarding the songs…

“Don’t Trip!” – While I was sitting at the piano coming up with the melody to this song, my son (4 years old) had set up a bunch of his toys around and behind the piano bench.  He then proceeded to put on a pair of my shoes and navigate the elaborate toy landscape like a giant walking through a city. I found myself giving him the side-eye every so often and thinking “Don’t Trip…”. Thankfully, he didn’t but guess who did? HA!

“Vonnie” – This is obviously written for my wife, Vonnie, for whom I love so much. When Albert Alva and I finished the arrangement for the tune, he turned to me and said “You’ve captured the essence of Vonnie – sweet and sassy!”

“Here’s the Deal” – Another song written for my son. With him being 4 years old, my wife and I find ourselves making little deals with him every so often in exchange for good behavior. After awhile, the phrase “Here’s the deal” became so common between us that he even began using it. I really tried to capture his mischievous side with this song starting with the clarinet representing my son and the drums being myself and us going back and forth in conversation.

“March of the Candy Jackets” is the first song I wrote for this album years ago. It was just the melody which is quite quirky and only has two chords in the form. I showed it to Albert Alva many times and each time we ended up passing over it for something with more of a traditional form and melody. As we began the arranging process on the other tunes, this song kept coming back to me. Finally I realized that I wanted it to be a blues song but not just a basic blues that just keeps going round and round. I wanted the solo forms to unfold just like the melody was designed.

“From Bop to Swing” is a take on the Ira Gitler book title, “Swing to Bop,” as well as the live recording with the same name by Charlie Christian and Dizzy Gillespie. Back in the day, swing musicians evolving into bop musicians was a naturally standard progression. Nowadays, I find that most young jazz musicians that love playing swing music have reversed this progression since bop and modern jazz has become the starting point in most schools. I do love bebop music and love all the recordings during the transitional period of the 40’s where the rhythm sections would be playing in a swing style while the horns began branching out melodically with trickier heads. It still had that rhythmic bounce that the dancers could move their feet to. Jonathan Stout is a devout Charlie Christian disciple and I thought this would be a perfect song to feature him on along with Nate Ketner.

“Monday Blues” was literally written on a Monday morning after a long night out playing. I do love the interplay between Albert Alva and Dan Weinstein trading solos.

“Stompin’ with Pomp” – While writing this song, I only had the dancers in mind. I wanted to create the feeling of excitement that you get while dancing to a band live. The song “Ridin’ High” by Benny Goodman is my end all of swing era dance music and I just love the energy that his band had.

“Relume the Riff” – This track track features Corey Gemme and Nate Ketner keeping it cool throughout. I really wanted to get this song on the album last minute so I banged out the arrangement the morning of the session.

“Amborella” was written for our friend and trumpet player, Barry Trop, who passed away last year. He was always a fun guy to be around as well as play alongside. I heard of his passing while working on another song at the piano. The melody just poured out of me. Later, while watching a documentary on prehistoric earth, the flower, Amborella, was talked about. This flower is one of the oldest plant species on our earth. I immediately thought of Barry and how he would indeed live on a long time through our memories of him.

“Giggle in the Wiggle” is a bare bones swinger that I used as a vehicle to feature everyone on the album.

“Albert’s Fine Cutlery” – My nickname for Albert Alva is the “knife” because he is very sharp witted in his humor. He always catches you off guard. I wanted to capture that with the melody of the song.

This CD is a consistent pleasure.  To have it for your very own, there’s Bandcamp (CD / download high quality formats) — here — CD Baby (CD or download) — here — iTunes (download only) — here.  The CJJB site is here and their Facebook page here.  Now, having navigated the Forest of Hyperlinks, I hope you go and enjoy this fine music.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD ADVICE / GOOD MUSIC

Thank you, George Carlin.  Now, musical variations on this most crucial theme — whether local or global.

Clarence Williams’s performance of a composition by Cecil Scott and Don Frye, with an interesting personnel as notated by Tom Lord: unknown (cnt), Cecil Scott (cl,ts) unknown (as) unknown (ts) or 2nd (as), prob. Don Frye (p) Cyrus St. Clair (tu) prob. Floyd Casey (d) Little Buddy Farrior (vcl), New York, June 28, 1934.  (This is the session, famous or not in the annals of jazz discography, where Brian Rust suggested, on some fragment of hopeful hearsay, that Lester Young was in the band.  If he was, he’s not soloing.)

All I can add to the commentary is that the cornetist seems to be playing into a metal derby, and that the whole record is a wonderful example of jazz genres subtly in transition: solos and vocal over riffing ensembles.

Take One:

Take Two.  The message is so important we need to hear it twice:

That’s positive and romantic.  Tampa Red’s version from May 10, 1940 (which I learned about thanks to the very candid Carl Sonny Leyland) is much more direct.  Tell the truth OR ELSE:

Now, go out and live the message, please.  Thanks to AJS for encouragement.

May your happiness increase!

“RED HOT!”: CARL SONNY LEYLAND / MARC CAPARONE at DURANGO (March 24-26, 2017)

Before there was a way to order takeout food with your smartphone, before Blue Apron and Peapod sent the makings of meals and grocery orders to your door, there were mobile food vendors aplenty.

I’m not talking about the Good Humor Man, the iceman, or the milkman.  Or the man who went door-to-door, selling uncooked pizza dough, plastic envelopes of tomato sauce and cheese as a less-expensive alternative to takeout pizza.

I mean Serious Food: the Hot Tamale Man!  (Incidentally, for purposes of this post, I am — for once — putting aside all possible double-entendres arising from the shape and heat of this filled delicacy, and a tamale is a tamale.)  Tamale sellers were a familiar phenomenon in cities, providing passers-by with inexpensive hot meals.  When I was Craig Ventresco’s guest in San Francisco more than a decade ago, as we were entering some transit station, he pointed to a woman selling tamales from a small corner stand: pork or chicken, a dollar apiece, and memorable.

Dining Chicago offers a feast of information about Chicago tamales, their origins (more African-American than Mexican) with appropriate musical examples.  But food history is not really my subject, although I wouldn’t chase away a hot tamale vendor beneath my window.  No, it’s hot music — and this recording — featuring Freddie Keppard and Jimmie Noone — its label as examplar:

All that is wondrous historical evidence, but here’s something fresh and spicy: pianist / singer Carl Sonny Leyland and cornetist Marc Caparone’s performance of HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN at the 2017 Durango Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival, video-recorded by YouTube’s  “banjojudy” (that’s Judy Muldawer to the rest of the world) — who recorded a great deal of the Durango Festival, March 24-26, both audio and video, and offers it to us here.

And here’s the portable feast:

May your happiness increase!

DELIGHT IN DURANGO: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN, STEVE PIKAL, JUDY MULDAWER (March 24-26, 2017)

Imagine — a new band, five versatile creative players who obviously delight in the music and in the joyous collaboration.  At the moment, it’s called the Holland – Coots Quintet, with a more elaborate name to follow.  We’re fortunate to have an abundance of evidence about how good this band sounds, recorded by musician and archivist Judy Muldawer at the 5th annual Durango (Colorado) Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival, March 24-26, 2017.  The link to see the videos is http://www.banjojudy.com/2017/03/durango-ragtime-and-early-jazz-festival-2017-videos/.

The HCQ is Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / tenor saxophone; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, trumpet.  Also at the festival were Carl Sonny Leyland, Morten Gunnar Larsen, and Adam Swanson. Here are brief biographies of all the players.

Judy’s YouTube channel is here, and it’s full of delights (I subscribed as soon as the first video emerged).  She also maintains a flourishing website with audio recordings from this and other festivals: for more video links and the audio files from the 2017 festival, visit http://banjojudy.com.  The key word in the search engine is “durango”.

and something sweet by James P., sung by Evan:

Doctor Caparone prescribes:

Judy has uploaded to YouTube more than fifty videos from this festival, and her own website has what seems like hours of audio, as if she’d stayed in her seat as a devoted archivist would.

And reliable sources have told me that this band — the HCQ — will be making a CD this summer.  I look forward to it.

May your happiness increase!

SATURDAY NIGHT FUN: DAWN LAMBETH, DAVE STUCKEY’S HOT HOUSE GANG, and DANCERS at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 26, 2017)

DAWN headshot

Dawn Lambeth sings; this band rocks. That’s all you need to know. Dave Stuckey, leader, guitar; Dan Barrett, Corey Gemme, brass (swapping cornet and trombone at will); Nate Ketner, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Gareth Price, drums. Recorded at the Saturday-night dance party at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 26, 2016.

DAVE STUCKEY photos

Well, maybe a little explanation would do no harm.  Dave’s band is a wonderful combination of Fats Waller and his Rhythm (with sly twists) and any number of fabled Fifty-Second Street small groups.  But not only do they swing, but Dave writes and sings hilariously inventive originals. I’d known of Dave and the Hot House Gang because of their first CD, which I applauded here.

When I met him at San Diego, I immediately perceived him to be genuine, not someone wearing a mask for audiences.  Although he and his band had only one set on Saturday night, and it was to be a battle of the bands for dancers (not conducive to my video questing) I showed up anyway, and was rewarded with this riotous performance (audibly and visually) of SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE . . . and then this collection of Dave’s originals and jazz classics.

I met Dawn in the last century, first through the medium of her CDs, and then in person, on both coasts. I was impressed right away by her swing, the gentle timbres of her voice, the subtle way she glides in and out of notes and phrases, her approach always natural.  But usually I heard her in quiet, intimate settings (duos and trios) so when she stood in front of a larger band — such as Clint Baker’s — it was a pleasant shock.  And friends have told me that she is a superb big-band singer, utterly at home in front of four brass, three reeds, and a rhythm section.  I have yet to see this for myself, but look forward to it.  I got a taste of what it might be like when Dawn sang so beautifully with the Hot House Gang.

And these three videos — through no conscious design of mine — resemble Reginald Marsh paintings in motion, no small benefit.

The Forties hit for Ella Mae Morse — cowboy plus Harlem hip — COW COW BOOGIE:

Two for Billie, inspired by but not imitating her.  WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:

And a pensive THESE FOOLISH THINGS, at a tempo to suit the dancers:

Hail, Dawn!  Hail, Dave!  Hail, dancers!  Thank you, San Diego Jazz Fest, for making this magic happen.

May your happiness increase!

SEISMIC MOTION, or “WAIL, FELLOWS, WAIL!”: DAVE STUCKEY, DAN BARRETT, NATE KETNER, COREY GEMME, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, KATIE CAVERA, GARETH PRICE at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 26, 2016)

DAVE STUCKEY photos

Without trying to copy a note or a cadence, Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang can take me back into the imagined past.  It’s not adoration that becomes cloning: at times he and the band resemble Fats Waller and his Rhythm or a Red McKenzie group, but they all sound like themselves: playful, joyously tumbling around — musically, that is. And Dave’s originals have a friendly kinship with the best music of the middle Thirties, so I could imagine some of them having been issued, in an alternate jazz universe, on Vocalion, Decca, Bluebird, and Brunswick.  But they’re here — glowing right in front of us — in this case at the Saturday-night dance party at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 26, 2016. I’d posted the first tune I’d heard, a rollicking SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, here — and I urge you to see it or see it again, because it is a Hoot and a Holler with serious Commodore roots for certain.

But after that, I moved up to a more stable position (on one side, of course, but the side where I could in effect look over Carl’s shoulder, always a nice spot) and I stayed there.  Dave offered three of his originals, all gratifying.  And the Hot House Gang certainly lived up to its name: Dan Barrett, Corey Gemme, brass; Nate Ketner, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Dave, guitar, vocal; Katie Cavera, string bass; Gareth Price, drums.

MAYBE IT’S THE BLUES:

Dave’s Egyptian serenade, THE POTENTATE OF HARLEM:

PARDON MY FRENCH (an expression that my mother used to use before saying something naughty):

Those are really good tunes, aren’t they?  They are complete expressions, words and music — not just scraps pasted together with Gorilla Glue and hope.

Here’s a homage to Wingy Manone in his Capitol Period, BESAME MUCHO:

and the jazz classic I associate with Louis and Lillie Delk Christian, TOO BUSY:

Never too busy to swing!  And the banquet’s not over: three delicious vocals from this set by Dawn Lambeth, bluesy, hot, and tender, will follow shortly.

Incidentally, it is possible that Dave and the Gang possess too much talent, but until the authorities find out, we’ll enjoy the superfluity.

May your happiness increase!

FIELD RECORDING: DAVE STUCKEY and THE HOT HOUSE GANG at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (PART ONE): November 26, 2016)

DAVE STUCKEY photos

Last year, I’d had the pleasure of hearing the debut CD of Dave Stuckey and The Hot House Gang — expertly jubilant — but the San Diego Jazz Fest this November afforded me my first chance to meet Dave (a warm, funny, swinging fellow — truly a solid sender) and to hear The Gang in person . . . thrills indeed. For this Saturday-night dance party, the Hot House Gang was Dave Stuckey, guitar, vocals, leader, moral guidance; Dan Barrett, cornet / trombone; Corey Gemme, trombone / trumpet; Nate Ketner, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano, vocals; Katie Cavera, string bass; Gareth Price, drums.

A word about the video that follows.  I had had some anxiety about trying to video this most adorable band, not because of them, but because of the situation: a dance party in a large room.  I love the dancers I know as people, but en masse they are not conducive to my videoing, because they are supposed to be there, in motion, as opposed to a rather slow-moving person with a camera and a tripod who wants to stand stock-still in the midst of things. But I was drawn by the music (Dave always swings!) and by the challenge . . . so I approached timidly from the back of the room and started shooting in the spirit of “What the hell!”

When the band started to play, it sounded so very good that I thought, “If this is visually terrible, at least the sound will be preserved.”  As it is. The dark shapes passing in front of my lens are dancers, and my camera takes a second to readjust, but just keep listening and watching.

Thus, I present to you a rocking version of the 1917 SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

More orthodox videos will follow, some with guest vocalist Dawn Lambeth, a special pleasure.  And for my own sardonic pleasure, I will see how long it takes one of the armchair experts out there to “dislike” this video on YouTube. Everyone’s a critic.  But not you!

May your happiness increase!