Tag Archives: Casa Mezcal

“ASSES IN SEATS” AND THE JAZZ ECOSYSTEM

Here’s something comfortable, enticing, seductive.

It’s not my living room, I assure you: too neat, no CDs.

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Andrew Swann, drums.  “Sweet Rhythm,” October 26, 2008, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Shane, piano; Dan Block, tenor sax.  “Casa Mezcal,” October 26, 2014, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

(This is not a post about numerology or the significance of October 26 in jazz.)

Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  “Sweet and Hot Music Festival,”  September 5, 2011, TOGETHER:

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs: Ray, piano, composer; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass, Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Sacramento Music Festival,” May 25, 2014, BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES:

I will explain.

“Sweet Rhythm” was once “Sweet Basil,” a restaurant-with-jazz or the reverse, in New York City.  Now it is just a restaurant.  “Casa Mezcal,” across the street from the Tenement Museum, also offered jazz as well as food.  Now, only food.  The two California festivals depicted above are only memories now.  (I could have included the Cajun, Bourbon Street, Roth’s Steakhouse, Banjo Jim’s, the Garage, the Bombay Club, Jazz at Chautauqua, and perhaps a dozen other vacancies in the cosmos — in my time, which isn’t the whole history of the music.)  Jazz clubs become apartments, drugstores, dormitories, nail salons.  Or what was once a jazz bar now has karaoke night and game night.

That’s not difficult to take in.  Everything changes.  “Things are tough all over,” as my father said.

But I’ve included the chair and ottoman because so many jazz listeners prefer the comforts of home to live music, and thus, venues collapse and are not replaced.

The expression I’ve heard from festival producers is the blunt ASSES IN SEATS. It presumes that other body parts are attached to the asses, of course.  But it’s simple economics.  When a club owner looks out at the landscape of empty chairs and tables with napkins undisturbed, when there are more musicians on the stage than there are people in the audience, you can imagine the mental cogitations that result.  This has nothing to do with musical or artistic quality — I’ve heard terrible music played to filled rooms, and once in a New York club I was the audience (let that sink in) — not even me, myself, and I — for the first few songs by a peerless band.  And if you think that musicians are a substantial part of the club budget, it isn’t so: a world-famous jazz musician told me once of being paid sixty dollars for three hours’ work, and some of my favorite musicians go from fifty-and-seventy-five dollar gigs, or they play “for the door.”

And as an aside, if you go to a club and sit through two sets with your three-or-five dollar Coke or well drink or standard beer, you are subsidizing neither the club or the music.  Festival economics are different, but even the price of the ticket will not keep huge enterprises solvent.  I hear, “Oh, the audience for jazz is aging and dying,” and the numbers prove that true, but I think inertia is a stronger factor than mortality, with a side dish of complacency.  And people who study the swing-dance scene say that what I am writing about here is also true for younger fans / dancers.

So before you say to someone, “I’m really a devoted jazz fan,” or proudly wear the piano-keyboard suspenders, or get into arguments on Facebook over some cherished premise, ask yourself, “How active is my commitment to this music?  When was the last time I supported it with my wallet and my person?”

I do not write these words from the summit of moral perfection.  I could have gone to two gigs tonight but chose to stay home and write this blog.  And I do not go to every gig I could . . . energy and health preclude that.  And I am also guilty, if you will, in providing musical nourishment for viewers through technology, so that some people can live through YouTube.  I admit both of these things, but on the average I go to more jazz gigs than some other people; I eat and drink and tip at the jazz clubs; I publicize the music here and elsewhere.

But you.  Do you take the music for granted, like air and water?  Do you assume it will go on forever even if you never come out of your burrow and say hello to it, that other people will keep supporting it?  Do you say, “I must get there someday!” and not put wheels under that wish?  Mind you, there are exceptions.  Not everyone lives close enough to live music; not everyone is well-financed, energetic, or healthy.  But if you can go and you don’t, then to me you have lost the right to complain about clubs closing, your favorite band disbanding, your beloved festival becoming extinct. Jazz is a living organism, thus it needs nourishment that you, and only you, can provide.  Inhaling Spotify won’t keep it alive, nor will complaining about how your fellow citizens are too foolish to appreciate it.

If you say you love jazz, you have to get your ass out of your chair at regular intervals and put it in another chair, somewhere public, where living musicians are playing and singing.  Or you can stay home and watch it wither.

May your happiness increase!

GLORIOUS LYRICISM: ROB ADKINS, EVAN ARNTZEN, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (Feb. 7, 2016)

How do you honor the past?  By being yourself and letting the ancestral beauties and lessons flow through you.  Here are three young musicians who not only understand that deep truth but embody it: Rob Adkins, string bass; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone (and a surprise vocal on DREAMS); Ehud Asherie, piano.  I offer you two lovely performances recorded at Casa Mezcal on February 7, 2016.

WAS I TO BLAME

I knew this gorgeous song through Louis’ Decca recording, then through Ruby Braff and Scott Hamilton (separately) but it was a thrill to hear this trio explore it with such deep fwwling but such a light tread.  And its title — and unheard lyrics — ask the eternal question:

Then, a Swing Era anthem — beloved of James P. Johnson, Lester and Billie, and many more.  The sheet music below credits Benny Goodman and  Irving Mills along with Edgar Sampson, but I’d give the latter full credit.

IF DREAMS COME TRUE

Incidentally, I’ve left the Louis version of WAS I TO BLAME? and the James P. and Billie-Lester versions to those willing to embark on a few YouTube clicks. I revere those records and have done so for decades, but comparison is — not necessarily odious — to me, disrespectful.  We should honor the giants who walk and create among us, shouldn’t we?  And thank them, not posthumously, but now, for their gracious, eloquent playing and singing.

May your happiness increase!

HOW ABOUT THIS? PABLO, EVAN, and ROB at CASA MEZCAL (February 7, 2016)

how about you cover

I originally wanted to title this post THE THREE EXPATS — Pablo Campos (piano) was visiting from France; Evan Arntzen (reeds / vocal) hails from Vancouver, and Rob Adkins came south from Boston . . . but the JAZZ LIVES legal staff warned me against possible misrepresentation.

So all I will say is that these three gentlemen made delightful music on Sunday, February 7  (while Ehud Asherie was having a coffee at the other end of the room and relaxing) — on two classics that (ironically) don’t get played or sung as much as they might by jazz people.  I associate GONE WITH THE WIND with Ben Webster, either with Art Tatum or Jimmy Rowles; HOW ABOUT YOU? with Judy Garland and Becky Kilgore.  Here are some new and delightful 2016 versions.

GONE WITH THE WIND (which predates the motion picture):

HOW ABOUT YOU?:

Two more performances from this afternoon — with Ehud back on the bench — will appear soon.  For now, please learn more about the very gifted Pablo Campos here.

May your happiness increase!

DREAMS, A LAMENT, A WILD BEAST: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (October 25, 2015)

Some performances are magical — so much so that I hate to see them come to an end.  But “an end” only means that there are no more video surprises to post; it also means that I have been able to share eleven leisurely delights from one Sunday afternoon at Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, the Lower East Side of Manhattan) featuring Rob Adkins, string bass; Ehud Asherie, piano; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone.  Here and here are the first two helpings of delight from that day.

Now, I offer — with mingled joy and regret — the final three improvisations from that very rewarding afternoon: a swing classic by Edgar Sampson that brings Billie and Lester and James P. to mind; a melancholy, rueful tone poem from the late Twenties, originally called LITTLE BUTTERCUP and (I believe) premiered with lyrics by Mildred Bailey — but also memorable thanks to Lester and Billie; and the tale of a jungle beast running wild in the best New Orleans way, whether or not Jelly Roll Morton composed it by adapting part of a French quadrille.  All wonderful.  Thank you, gentlemen-magicians Rob, Ehud, and Dan.

tiger_rag_cover

IF DREAMS COME  TRUE:

I’LL NEVER BE  THE SAME:

TIGER RAG:

May your happiness increase!

SWING, BROTHERS, SWING: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (October 25, 2015)

Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015

Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015

Rob Adkins (string bass and catalyst) brought two of his illustrious friends to Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City for a Sunday afternoon gig on October 25th — the inventive pianist Ehud Aherie and the very lyrical swinging reedman Dan Block.  Here‘s the first part of that afternoon’s Hymn to Beauty.

And four more.

WHO? (rarely played in jazz, but certainly linked to Lester via the odd and wonderful Glenn Hardman 1939 session):

I COVER THE WATERFRONT (from Louis to Billie to Lester to everyone):

BABY BROWN (written by Alex Hill but forever identified with Fats Waller):

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (Tram, Bix, and many more, including Jimmy Rushing):

Couldn’t be better.

May your happiness increase!

FOR BIRD, BASIE, FATS, EUBIE: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (October 25, 2015)

SHOE SHINE BOY

Certain combinations of musicians — and there are many variations on this theme — can make me shake off my sloth and move quickly to where they will be playing. One such trio is Rob Adkins, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie.  These three wizards of swinging melodic improvisation got together last Sunday, October 25, 2015, for a party in a manner a la mode — at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street — that’s the Lower East Side of New York City.

Here are four gems from early on in the program: old tunes played with such sweet fervor that they don’t sound old.

QUASIMODO, Charlie Parker’s winding line on the chord changes of EMBRACEABLE YOU:

SHOE SHINE BOY — via Jones-Smith, Inc., New York by way of Kansas City and Chicago.  Romping! —

UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, a sweetly mobile swing paean by Fats:

I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY, continued evidence that we need to listen much more closely to the music of Eubie Blake:

What a band, what musical sympathy and swinging empathy.  Timeless creativity.

May your happiness increase!

DO YOU HAVE A JOB TO OFFER THESE YOUNG WOMEN?

WOMEN ON BENCH 1928 Paris

I know the economy is improving, but even the most gifted job applicants sometimes have trouble finding the work they seek. This distressing situation was dramatized in music by Tamar Korn, vocal; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Joanna Sternberg, string bass; Wanda Seeley, the Singing Pride of Bozeman, Montana –July 26, 2015, at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City — through this song:

I'M AN UNEMPLOYED SWEETHEART

I imagine the scenario: the songwriters at their desk in the Brill Building, 1931:

“Look at this.  So many people unemployed.  But people don’t want to sing about that.  People want songs that make them forget their troubles.”

“Yeah, but how many songs can we write about moonlight on my canoe with you — when those poor slobs are hungry?”

“Wait.  I NEED A JOB IN LOVE.  No.  I NEED THE JOB OF BEING YOUR SWEETIE.”

“How about I NEED A JOB UNDER THE COVERS WITH YOU AND I’M A HARD WORKER“?

Long pause for cogitation and regrouping.

“How about I’M AN UNEMPLOYED SWEETHEART“?

And an obscure masterpiece — made famous by Lee Morse — was born.

Fortunately for us, the four people in the video have jobs that they do so splendidly.  We cherish them.

May your happiness increase!

 

ARE YOU LOST?: CRAIG VENTRESCO and JOANNA STERNBERG TEACH THE LESSON (July 26, 2015)

NY map

I’ve known Deacon Craig Ventresco for more than a decade now, and learned a great deal from his moral teachings at Bar Tabac, the Cajun, and other pulpits on both coasts.

CRAIG

But I’d never heard him deliver such a serious sermon on the dangers of being destabilized in the cosmos as I did on Sunday, July 26, 2015, at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street (that’s the Lower East Side of New York City).  In his stern peroration, he was supported nobly by another great teacher, Joanna Sternberg (to be precise, Craig plays guitar and sings; Joanna accompanies him on the string bass).  In their efforts to uplift the community, they are assisted by members of the congregation Tamar Korn and Meredith Axelrod.  Heed the words of Deacon Ventresco.  Take them to heart:

The song was a 1908 hit for Bert Williams, composed by Chris Smith and Cecil Mack:

RIGHT CHURCH BUT THE WRONG PEW 1908Given the ubiquity of the GPS and the smartphone, to say nothing of those antiquities, paper maps . . . don’t let this happen to you.  And — if a less serious moral statement of mine may be permitted — I think Craig should sing more often. He has noble stories to impart to us.

May your happiness increase!

“BUT, GEE, IT FEELS GOOD”: MORE FROM TAMAR KORN, ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK at CASA MEZCAL (May 24, 2015)

The neophyte at a jazz performance asks with the proper mixture of curiosity and awe, “How do they know what they are doing, I mean, without any music? How do they know where they are going?”  Deep questions, and the musicians can answer in terms of experience, craft, practice, the common language.  All true. But I’d suggest it comes down to a combination of courage and faith — faith in what they feel, in the deep listening necessary to make any collaboration work, and the courage to launch oneself into the blue air, with expertise and a delight in risk as equal factors.  How lost can you be with friends to support you when you strike out into the unknown . . . making it known and beautiful?

I think of Emerson’s SELF-RELIANCE embodied over a swinging, melodic four-four heartbeat.  I’ve written here about the music made by Tamar Korn, voice; Dan Block, reeds; Rob Adkins, string bass, on a sunny Sunday afternoon — May 24, 2015.

Here are three more beautifully surprising and satisfying explorations by this trio, where the original melodies and harmonies are never obliterated, but the formal boundaries are delightfully made elastic.  Song becomes speech becomes sound; singing becomes theatre; solo becomes accompaniment; tempo and pitch are flexible and meant to be so. Beautiful sounds become the reason these there are where they are, and we are grateful.

Fats Waller and Andy Razaf’s I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:

Irving Berlin’s most tender declaration of unbroken fidelity, ALWAYS (at such a beautiful tempo):

Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s most wistful SKYLARK full of birdsong:

This music is bold and gentle both, a remarkable offering. And a few more marvels will emerge in time.

May your happiness increase!

MAGIC MADE AUDIBLE: TAMAR KORN, ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK at CASA MEZCAL, PART ONE (May 24, 2015)

I follow the lead of the Blessed Eddie Condon when it comes to hyperbole about music, but in this case restraint is something I will put aside for a moment.  What you are about to see — the first part of a Sunday afternoon session at Casa Mezcal featuring Tamar Korn (voice and theatre), Dan Block (reeds and courage), Rob Adkins (string bass and moral foundation) is some of the most quietly astonishing music I’ve ever seen.

A friend of mine who saw one of the videos called it “an opportunity for magic to be made audible,” and I think that is perfectly evocatively true.

I’ve always had an idea that the music made when there’s no audience is a transporting experience, that the way musicians play for themselves is freer and more exalted than when they have to be conscious of an audience.  In most public situations, all sorts of distractions intrude.  An audience there for brunch won’t stop talking.  Waitstaff cross back and forth with dishes, full or empty. Even the artists most able to free themselves from their surroundings have to notice, now and again, what is buffeting them from the outside world.

Sunday, May 24, 2015, was a gloriously sunny day — a gift from the cosmos to remind us that such things are possible.  And Casa Mezcal was nearly empty as a result.  I was there, as was my new friend Richard Basi from Oregon, and a few others.  But the room was so still that Tamar decided to sing without amplification.  And there was no instrument — piano or guitar — to provide chords.  So the result was ethereal, elastic, delicious: three voices in sweet conversation, stretching time, pitch, and lines.  I’ve left in more than I usually would of the pre-song whimsical deliberations because I find them immensely touching.

What happened wasn’t anything predictable.  It wasn’t Singer with Accompaniment (in Twenties terms, Comedienne with Orchestra) nor was it a cut-down Billie, Pres, and Walter.  Imagine a soulful conversation where no one gets stifled or interrupted, where no one is The Lead, where the common goal is something new and beautiful and rare.  Experiencing this was like being admitted behind the curtain for the genuine deep rituals.

Here are eight glorious performances from the trio’s first set: a divine interchange of energies, and I do not use those words lightly.

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

SINGIN’ THE BLUES:

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE:

THEM THERE EYES:

COME RAIN OR COME SHINE:

WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA:

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET:

Gorgeous, free, exact, playfully exuberant, joyous.  And this was only the first set of two.  It was an honor to be there.

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!

THE COMFORT OF SWING: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, DALTON RIDENHOUR at CASA MEZCAL, APRIL 12, 2015 (Part Two)

About two months ago, I had the great honor of recording a delightful swing session at Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, New York City) featuring Rob Adkins, string bass; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone.  This wasn’t a working trio, but they quickly showed their deep intuitive rapport, their lyricism and swing. Here is the first part of their session.

And ten more beauties. (I could have made two blogposts of this, but I felt that we all needed a deep immersion in this life-affirming music.)

YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME:

BODY AND SOUL:

SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

BLUE RIVER:

BROADWAY:

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

SWEET SUE:

TANGERINE:

BEALE STREET BLUES:

Here’s what I wrote about the players: I believe it bears repeating.  I’ve been admiring and following Dan Block for over a decade now: his music is a bright light in a sometimes murky world, always surprising but in its own way a deeply kind phenomenon. When he puts any horn to his lips, what comes out is intense yet playful: I’ve been moved to tears and have had to stifle laughter — the best kind — listening to his music.

Rob Adkins is terribly modest and gently low-key, but he reminds me — without saying a word — of Milt Hinton’s axiom that the bass was the foundation of the band. Harmonically, rhythmically, emotionally, morally. He knows and loves his instrument, and he plays for the comfort of the ensemble, never egotistically — although he is proud to swing and he is always ready to be lyrical. And as you can see and hear here, he is a great catalyst.

Dalton Ridenhour gets a few more words. Because the Music Business — as distinguished from the music — encourages non-musicians to make people into commodities, into products, I first encountered Dalton as “a ragtime pianist” and a “stride pianist.” These little boxes are accurate: he can play superbly in both idioms. But when I actually heard Dalton — both words need emphasis here — I understood that his musical soul was much more expansive than the careful reproduction of one idiom. He’s a free bird, someone whose imagination moves through decades and idioms with grace. You’ll hear his brave light-heartedness through this session (I also had wonderful opportunities to hear him at the Atlanta Jazz Party this year: more about that in time) — he makes music, something that is very rare and very endearing. So far, he has only one solo CD, but ECCENTRICITY on Rivermont Records (2o12) is a constant delight. I urge you to “check it out,” as they used to say on Eighth Avenue in New York City in the Seventies, and you will hear that Dalton has all the accuracy and sparkle of the Master, Dick Hyman, with his own very personal warmth.

Such music — casually expert, light-hearted yet deep — is rare.  I feel grateful that I am in the same time and place as these masters.

May your happiness increase!

SARAH SPENCER STOMPS IT DOWN (June 7, 2015)

SARAH SPENCER

I feel so fortunate to have met the delightfully authentic Sarah Spencer about 72 hours ago.

Although Sarah didn’t bring her tenor saxophone to Tamar Korn’s Sunday afternoon soiree at Casa Mezcal, she did sit in and sing a 1928 Ma Rainey blues, HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YOU.  Her singing initially hits with the force of a phenomenon that should be reported on the Weather Channel, but those who listen closely will hear an entreaty, a tenderness beneath the seriously forthright power.  She’s accompanied by Andy Stein, baritone saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano (the latter bringing some Ellington and Hines down to New Orleans):

If you weren’t at Casa Mezcal, you have another chance right away to immerse yourself in Sarah’s swinging world — a Saturday-night gig on June 20 from 8 to midnight.  It’s at the Windmill Tavern at 400 Hollister Street, Stratford, Connecticut.  The phone number for reservations is 203-378-6886.  No cover, no minimum.

Sarah explains, “The band is Sarah Spencer’s Transatlantic Band and we play New Orleans Music – from Piron to Professor Longhair (and always hot and dirty!)  People can check out my website here.  The personnel for the gig is Sarah Spencer, tenor sax and vocal; Fred Vigorito, cornet; Bill Sinclair, piano; Art Hovey, tuba and string bass; Molly Sayles, drums.  It looks like there is a load of room to dance so people should come with their dancing shoes and be prepared to shake it in good New Orleans fashion (or any other way they see fit)!”

You know what to do.  And obviously so does Sarah.

P.S.  I told Sarah that her photograph was terrifying, and she grinned and said, “That’s my best butt-kicking, hard-blowing, get outta ma way cos I’m comin’ through photo — my cutting contest face.  But I’m a big squishy inside.”  She is both of those people, and I hope you get a chance to find out for yourself.

May your happiness increase!

THE COMFORT OF SWING: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, DALTON RIDENHOUR at CASA MEZCAL, APRIL 12, 2015 (Part One)

The music I love conveys deep feeling in a few notes; it engages me.  I may not know the players as people but I feel their friendship in sounds.  When the music is spirited but calm, expert but experimental, playful without being goofy, I feel at home in the world, embraced by dear sounds.  It can happen in the first eight bars of the first song.

I had one of those wonderful musical interludes at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in April of this year — one of the divine Sunday afternoon sessions often led by Tamar Korn.  But when Tamar is out of town, her friends do their best to make sure we feel wonderful — instrumentally speaking.

Rob Adkins, musically and emotionally trustworthy — with his bass, with his fingers, with his bow — picked two great players to make up an uplifting trio: Dan Block, clarinet and tenor; Dalton Ridenhour, piano.  Here are some selections from the first half of the afternoon.  Yes, there’s audience chatter, but try to feel compassion for the people whose Sunday brunch is their social highlight, an escape from their apartments.  Or, if you can’t ascend to compassion, just listen to the music.  It’s what I do.

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:

NIGHT AND DAY (One):

NIGHT AND DAY (Two) — the reason for the break was that the battery in my Rode microphone passed out and could not be revived by the battery EMT crew, so there is a gap.  Imagine it as the music missed while Jerry Newman put a new acetate on the turntable and lowered the cutting arm.  Or not:

I NEVER KNEW:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

A few words about the players.  I’ve been admiring and following Dan Block for over a decade now: his music is a bright light in a sometimes murky world, always surprising but in its own way a deeply kind phenomenon. When he puts any horn to his lips, what comes out is intense yet playful: I’ve been moved to tears and have had to stifle laughter — the best kind — listening to his music.

Rob Adkins is terribly modest and gently low-key, but he reminds me — without saying a word — of Milt Hinton’s axiom that the bass was the foundation of the band.  Harmonically, rhythmically, emotionally, morally.  He knows and loves his instrument, and he plays for the comfort of the ensemble, never egotistically — although he is proud to swing and he is always ready to be lyrical. And as you can see and hear here, he is a great catalyst.

Dalton Ridenhour gets a few more words.  Because the Music Business — as distinguished from the music — encourages non-musicians to make people into commodities, into products, I first encountered Dalton as “a ragtime pianist” and a “stride pianist.”  These little boxes are accurate: he can play superbly in both idioms.  But when I actually heard Dalton — both words need emphasis here — I understood that his musical soul was much more expansive than the careful reproduction of one idiom.  He’s a free bird, someone whose imagination moves through decades and idioms with grace.  You’ll hear his brave light-heartedness through this session (I also had wonderful opportunities to hear him at the Atlanta Jazz Party this year: more about that in time) — he makes music, something that is very rare and very endearing.  So far, he has only one solo CD, but ECCENTRICITY on Rivermont Records (2o12) is a constant delight. I urge you to “check it out,” as they used to say on Eighth Avenue in New York City in the Seventies, and you will hear that Dalton has all the accuracy and sparkle of the Master, Dick Hyman, with his own very personal warmth.

And a small personal caveat.  Some of my listeners, who love making connections between the Now and the Hallowed Past, will leap to do this and hear Lester Young – Nat Cole – Red Callendar, or perhaps Lucky Thompson – Oscar Pettiford, etc.  I know it’s meant as high praise.  “Sounding Like” is a great game, and I do it myself.  But I beseech such wise historiographers to for once leave the records behind and hear the music for itself.  It is even more magnificent when it is not compared to anything or anyone.

There will be more music from this trio to come.  I look forward to someday encountering them again as a group.  Such things are possible and quite wonderful.

May your happiness increase! 

THE SWEETNESS OF FRIENDSHIP: NEW ORLEANS / NEW YORK CITY (April 2015)

Friends keep us afloat in this world.

Pianist / composer Kris Tokarski is a dear friend I’ve not yet met in person; the same is true for videographer / free spirit Kelley Rand.  Together with the fine tenor saxophonist Rex Gregory they conspired to give me a delicious gift.

Recently, Kris and I were in conversation online about his upcoming gig (April 23, 2015) at the Bombay Club in New Orleans in duet with Rex . . . and the subject of the 1956 quartet session, PRES AND TEDDY [that’s Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, and Jo Jones] came up.  I told Kris my story about seeing Teddy in person at a shopping center in 1971 and asking him to autograph my record, which he did, speaking only two words, “Thank you.”

Half-facetiously, I said to Kris that he and Rex should play LOUISE, one of the great lyrical songs from that session — one rarely performed by jazzmen, Bix and Tram being a notable exception.  I thought that would be the extent of my cyber-meddling, until Kelley dropped this gem at my feet.  Don’t miss the spoken dedication:

How lyrical, how joyous.  And connoisseurs of improvisation will note that Kris and Rex know the places where one could insert an easy cliché, a glib quotation; they nimbly dance around such temptations to create something light and heartfelt.

I’m both honored and delighted — by the lovely music and the generous intent behind it all.  And if you subscribe to Kelley Rand‘s YouTube channel, there are more videos of Kris and friends . . . . and I know other surprises are on the way.

The other instance of what I call Love in Swingtime — after the Ellington performance — came during a Sunday afternoon appearance on April 5, 2015, at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City by Tamar Korn, that celestial butterfly of song; Ehud Asherie, piano; Rob Adkins, string bass.

I had told Tamar, whom I count as a dear friend and cosmic marvel, of some rough times I had been having, and she was compassionate and sympathetic. When she began her set, I expected nothing more to come of her affectionate concern, but when she launched into that wonderful bit of optimistic philosophy, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, she delivered a great gift at :27.

I was and am immensely touched, and the memory of this moment has made me more buoyant ever since.  Yes, the people at Mezcal are talking, but the music — that bright spiritual beacon — cuts through:

“Say my glory was I had such friends.”  W.B. Yeats, “The Municipal Gallery Revisited.”

May your happiness increase!

“IT WAS THE SWEETEST MELODY”: TAL RONEN, MARK LOPEMAN, JAMES CHIRILLO at CASA MEZCAL (March 29, 2015)

Here are six lovely performances from a Sunday afternoon session at Casa Mezcal, March 29, 2015.  The three glorious understated melodists are Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Lopeman, tenor saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar.  To describe or anatomize this music, either by tracing the historical paths that got everyone to this point, or to analyze it as a musicologist would (someone’s surprising use of pedal ninths in bars 11-14) would be both silly and blasphemous. What we have here is beauty, and beauty needs no explanation for those ready to receive it.

One caveat: the room was rather crowded with happy people, so at the start of a few of the videos there is an apparent roar of conversation.  It quiets down as this exalted trio begins to work its magic.

IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING (appropriately):

WHO CARES?:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

WARM VALLEY:

I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART:

SOME OF THESE DAYS:


May your happiness increase!

SAD SONGS SWUNG: TAMAR KORN, MARK LOPEMAN, JON WEBER at CASA MEZCAL (January 25, 2015)

When asked why his writing was so melancholy, Philip Larkin quoted the French dramatist Montherlant — “Happiness writes white” — which I take to mean that bliss is not an enthralling subject for fiction or drama.

Montherlant’s aphorism has been embodied in what we call the Great American Songbook, where (on a rough guess) songs of desolation outnumber those of elation by 2 or 3 to 1.  But from the early Thirties onwards, jazz improvisers — vocal and instrumental — figured out that what a musician friend calls “draggy ballads” were not always restorative . . . so they kept the sad words and lifted the tempo.

Here are three examples of this wonderful melding — as enacted on the spot in this century by the brave explorer Tamar Korn, with the assistance of the multi-talented reedman Mark Lopeman (one of the secret heroes of the New York jazz scene) and the adventurous pianist Jon Weber.  All of this happened last Sunday, January 25, 2015, at my Sunday oasis on 86 Orchard Street, Casa Mezcal.

If you studied the words deeply for themselves, could you keep from weeping? But these musical dramas blend sorrow and swing.

A homage to Bing, the lovely JUST ONE MORE CHANCE:

Desolation indeed, in WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE:

That yearning, returning, in WHEN DAY IS DONE:

I especially admire Tamar’s elasticity of phrasing — how she stretches the lyric and melodic line into new shapes without ever obliterating their sense or emotional impact.

I hope you have only short bursts of sadness, if at all, and that they can be made to swing. And if you haven’t seen it, here is the sweetly brave Korn-Lopeman improvisation on MOOD INDIGO that concluded this January 25 session.

May your happiness increase!

IMPROMPTU FOR VOICE AND CLARINET: “MOOD INDIGO,” TAMAR KORN / MARK LOPEMAN at CASA MEZCAL (January 25, 2015)

At the conclusion of last Sunday’s brunch at my new musical oasis Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, New York) pianist Jon Weber had to rush off to another gig.  But the other members of the ad lib trio, Tamar Korn and Mark Lopeman, still had music bubbling up inside of them, so they launched into this lovely impromptu duet:

Creating such beauty is a brave and wonderful act.

I imagine an intimate concert, perhaps in someone’s house, devoted to Tamar and friends — an evening of duets with a changing cast of characters.

Until that day, we have MOOD INDIGO.  Magic.

May your happiness increase!

TAMAR KORN’S NEW YORK (with MICHAEL COLEMAN, ROB ADKINS: CASA MEZCAL, December 14, 2014)

Although Tamar Korn hails from Long Beach, California, she has deep roots in New York City — something evident in her choice of material.  Here are two ancient paeans to Gotham exuberance sung by Tamar and her friends, bassist Rob Adkins and pianist Michael Coleman during their Sunday afternoon gig at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in that very same city, December 14, 2014.

The first song may be more famous to jazz fans because it is a Jelly Roll Morton composition — late in his career, perhaps representing his final attempt to make this cruel city fall at his feet.  The melodic line is simple but inescapable, and the cheerfully simple lyrics stay in the mind long after more subtle ones have become dim.

JELLYand here are Tamar, Michael, and Rob:

Another Gotham ode, this one from 1931, is DO THE NEW YORK — a much more Art Deco supercharged composition, with an appropriately delightful unaccompanied verse from Tamar.  The composers are listed as J.P. Murray, Barry Trivers, Ben Oakland — which I find pleasing, because Oakland was a distant cousin on my mother’s side (I believe the original family name was Auslander).  But enough genealogy: here’s the exuberant performance:

Thanks to Michael and Rob for their swinging individualities.  And I know that we are grateful that a brightly-colored bird (species Tamar Korn) has decided to perch in New York and gladden our lives.

May your happiness increase!

MS. KORN EXCLAIMS! (MICHAEL COLEMAN, ROB ADKINS: Casa Mezcal, December 14, 2014)

It’s nice to see someone get all excited about something positive, to have vivid energy flow through . . . directly to us.

I’ve never seen Tamar Korn give a dull or routine performance: she allies herself with the song, and if the material is jubilant, she rides the emotions as energetically as she can.

This was the closing song of a long and delightful afternoon gig at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City, where jazz flourishes on Sundays from 1-4. Tamar’s colleagues were pianist Michael Coleman and string bassist Rob Adkins, and they played marvelously throughout the afternoon.  But for this closing number, I decided to take a chance and zero in on the most emotive Ms. Korn.  I believe that Michael and Rob will forgive me for being left out of the shot — you can still hear them splendidly.

I also think you will agree that her rendition of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO — that 1935 Harry Woods number lit from within by Billie Holiday — is a superb expression of their enthusiastic joy:

There will be more videos from that gig . . . and I hope to visit Casa Mezcal often when I return to New York.  You should visit it now . . . And if you would like to know about Tamar’s upcoming gigs, I suggest you click the-first-kind-of-music/ and thank David S. Isenberg.  You’ll understand why.

May your happiness increase!

MAKE MINE MEZCAL: TAMAR KORN, JAKE HANDELMAN, JESSE GELBER (Oct. 19, 2014)

Casa Mezcal — 86 Orchard Street on New York City’s Lower East Side — became one of my favorite places in autumn 2014.  Brightly lit with friendly people and good food, it also has been offering the best music for a Sunday afternoon: with appearances by Tamar Korn, Dan Block, Ehud Asherie, Tal Ronen, Mark Shane, Jake Handelman, Jesse Gelber, and others.

(At the time of this video, Jesse and Kate Manning’s new baby, Greta Helen Gelber, had not yet made her appearance on the scene — but she’s happily here now.)

Here are three more performances from October 19, 2014, featuring the trio of Tamar (vocal improvisations), Jake (trombone and vocal), Jesse (piano), the repertoire ranging from Twenties pop to jazz classics to a spiritual:

CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME:

DO THE NEW YORK:

DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE:

Here’s the instrumental highlight of that afternoon — a trombone / piano duet on JAZZ ME BLUES:

This session was my first introduction to the very talented and jubilant Mister Handelman — trombone and voice — and you should meet him for yourself.

The odd ectoplasmic effect on a few of these videos is what happens when one shoots video against a brightly lit window.  At points, Tamar and Jake look like actors in a silent film . . . which might be temporally appropriate.

Now.  Don’t tell anyone, but I was at Mezcal yesterday and experienced a delicious musical afternoon with Tamar, pianist Michael Coleman, and bassist Rob Adkins.  Hotter than the salsa verde!  (Videos to come.)  Try Mezcal for yourself — a most congenial place.

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANCE TIMES THREE (Part Three): TAL RONEN, MARK SHANE, DAN BLOCK at CASA MEZCAL (Oct. 26, 2014)

The bright and comfortable Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, New York City) has become one of my favorite haunts for Sunday-afternoon jazz, with good food, friendly staff . . . and tremendously restorative music.  Often, our heroine Tamar Korn is in charge of the spiritual festivities, but when she can’t make it, her friends fill in superbly.

On October 26, 2014, string bassist Tal Ronen brought together two other heroes, pianist Mark Shane and reed virtuoso Dan Block.  Here are the first four videos from that magical afternoon, and this is the second offering — magical music that never calls attention to itself through melodrama or histrionics. It’s art we can be thankful for, and it’s better for you than a trip to the mall.

PERDIDO:

SERENADE IN BLUE:

TEA FOR TWO:

ILL WIND:

LADY BE GOOD (ALMOST) — with apologies for the abrupt ending, my fault entirely (and thanks to Coleman Hawkins):

It is easy to take beauty for granted, to multi-task our way through the marvelous, but consider this: if this music turned up as a set of unidentified acetates from Jerry Newman’s uptown recordings, would we not marvel at the discovery?

May your happiness increase!