Tag Archives: Casey MacGill

The CASEY MacGILL ORCHESTRA, “THE ROYCROFT SESSION”

You’re going to have to trust me on this — that Casey MacGill’s new five-song CD, pictured below, is excellent and beyond — because I can’t offer you sound samples or downloads.  You’ll have to (gasps from the audience) buy the CD.  It’s $15 and it’s splendidly worth it.  Details here.  The other necessary bit of candor is that it a an EP-CD . . . or whatever they call it nowadays, twenty minutes long.  Take it as the best compliment I can offer that when I first got a copy, I began to audition it in the Mobile Audition Studio (my 2014 Camry) and I played it three times through without stopping, and thought, “That’s more pleasure than many standard-length CDs.”

“A swing band, yes, but what makes this special is the combination of great arrangements, vocals, and its irresistible rhythmic pulse. Flavor, tonal colors, musical storytelling; two brilliant originals and three classics that are must-hear,” is the description on Casey’s website, and it’s an accurate one.  The band recorded on January 8, 2018 — in beautiful sound and no trickery.

Here are the players — and some of them you will not only recognize but greet as masters on their instruments.  Casey plays piano, ukulele, sings lead, and does the arrangements.  The reeds are Jacob Zimmerman, lead alto, clarinet, vocal; Saul Cline, tenor, clarinet; Hans Teuber, alto, clarinet; Jonathan Doyle, tenor, baritone, clarinet, bass sax.  The brass: Charlie Porter, lead trumpet; Dan Barrett, trumpet; Trevor Whitridge, trombone; David Loomis, trombone; Christian Pincock, trombone.  Rhythm: D’Vonne Lewis, drums; Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar.

And they rock.

About the music.  Casey understands and embodies several truths in his music — in theory and performance.  One is that if the music isn’t fun, why do it?  (This doesn’t mean jokes, but a certain lively ebullience.  Joy.)  Two is that there is no artificial division between “jazz” and “swing,” that the former ought to get the dancers on the floor, but that the latter has to be ornamented with high-level inspiring improvisations.  Three is that simplicity is commendable rather than a weakness, and that music can fall down under the weight of too much of anything, so that well-played riffs can be a great pleasure, even if we know them by heart.

The disc starts with SWING NATION (its refrain “People groovin’ together!” a philosophical foundation for everything Casey and friends do) with a duo vocal by Casey and Jacob Zimmerman — I thought I heard a little Trummy Young and Sy Oliver in there, and that’s a compliment.  It’s a short performance, but a memorable one: I was humming it in the days that passed after my first listenings.  I was rocking in my driver’s seat before the song was a minute old. Great solo segments by Doyle (on bass sax!), Barrett, Lewis, Loomis, Casey on piano, all deserved multiple hearings on their own.  The arrangement is full of little surprises, but none of them seem obtrusive, and the rhythm section is superb: Casey, switching from piano to ukulele, is a splendid anchor and guide. His piano playing is Basie-like but without any of the half-dozen (by now tedious) Basie “trademarks.”

I NEVER KNEW is often taken too fast, but not here, and the arrangement looks to the 1933 Benny Carter recording, with a sweet discussion between Zimmerman and Cline at the start, before Barrett does what he does so superbly, the second sixteen over to Casey at the piano.  Then — “What is that?” — a transcription of Lester’s 1943 solo for sax section, glossy and supple, again with a piano bridge by Casey leading into a muted brass rendering of the closing Carter chorus, Barrett backed by Lewis’ tom-toms for the bridge.  So far (and I left a phone message with my primary care physician) I have been unable to listen to this track only once.

LA DAME EN BLUES, another MacGill original, is what they used to call a “mood piece.”  Its groove reminds me a little of THE MOOCHE, with a much more harmonically sophisticated second half, that turns into a melancholy yet swinging clarinet solo.  Again, the ensemble writing is compelling without grabbing the listener’s collar.  Loomis summons up Joe Nanton, gruff but tender, before piano leads the band out.

The opening of NIGHT AND DAY — muted brass against and with reeds — makes me wish I had practiced more during those ballroom dancing lessons of 2007.  I delight in the band’s lovely sound: everyone knows how to play as part of a section, which is a great thing.  Casey’s vocal is hip but completely sincere: he doesn’t ooze, but he’s deeply in the pocket of Romance, with an easy conversational lilt to his phrasing.  A gorgeous solo chorus by Teuber (who makes me think of Pete Brown and Rudy Williams, sweet-tart) follows, before Casey returns to woo the unknown hearer and us.

Finally, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which has been done so often that it might labor under the burden of familiarity, starts off with a bang — a short vocal introduction before the band says, “HERE we are!” in the opening chorus.  Casey’s vocal, hip and hilarious, is so winning, before Teuber comes on, and that’s no idle 1946 cliche.  Barrett, for the second sixteen, visits NOLA, before the band starts to rock what I think of as “the Henderson riff” or perhaps it’s the Hopkins one — buy the CD and argue among yourselves.  Another riff is overlaid, which I love but cannot place, before Casey does a Johnny Guarneri for the bridge, and the band mixes unison scat — college cheerleaders? — while thinking of Christopher Columbus, before bringing on a Django-and Stephane riff.

Perfectly swinging music, ensemble, solos, vocal: it’s a delight.  I thought, when I’d finished writing this overview, “Hey, the only thing wrong with this disc is that it’s not a two-CD set!” but perhaps that’s best.  Maybe Casey has a firm hand on the tiller and is looking out for us all.  Given two hours of this band, I might be so overwhelmed by pleasure that I couldn’t write.

Buy yours here.  Bliss has rarely been so easy to come by.

May your happiness increase!

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EXQUISITE FUN: “RECORDING WITH JOHN S. REYNOLDS and CASEY MacGILL,” JANUARY 2018

Improvising, that act we celebrate in jazz, is larger than simply constructing new melodies on familiar harmonies, or making-it-up-as-they-go-along.  Sometimes the willingness to capture it live is precious and creates splendid memorable — if unplanned — results.

Casey MacGill and John Reynolds, perhaps a few revolutions ago.

A little personal history.  One of the reasons I came out to California in 2011 was to hear and see for myself the Reynolds Brothers.  Thanks to the videos created by RaeAnn Berry, I’d seen the band on my computer screen but wanted more immediacy — which I found in session after session for the next few years.  I was awed by John S. Reynolds — guitarist, singer, whistler — and remain so.  He combines deep romance, satire, and irresistible swing.  I had few opportunities to savor his unpredictable magic once returning to New York in 2015.  On January 24, when I saw a Facebook video (captured perfectly by the Blessed Jessica McKinney) of John and the nimble multi-talented Casey MacGill — whose work I’ve known and admired — (ukulele, cornet, vocal) I was thrilled and elated.  Here’s the first of their performances, a rollicking SENTIMENTAL GENTLEMAN FROM GEORGIA:

Perhaps in tribute to the late Rose Marie, TAKE A PICTURE OF THE MOON:

And another delicious slice of 1931-2, WITHOUT THAT GAL!

As you can imagine, I was ecstatic about this music, and asked — not altogether whimsically — when the DVD was coming out, how could I buy the CD, when was the world tour, and could these videos be synthesized in pill form so that I could carry them in a tin and take as needed.

Here’s an excerpt from Casey’s sweet response:

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your kind words and support. We really appreciate it.  Our get together with John was originally intended to be a part of a CD created to market to people in the ukulele community. The recording was to consist of myself playing one or two tracks with different musicians. Some of them come from the ukulele community, and are ukulele players themselves, and other musicians are long term collaborators like John.

My partner Jessica has a zoom recording machine which we are using to make these recordings. We are getting together with people as we travel to collect songs. This obviously is a modest effort geared to a specific audience.

We met John at his home in Glendale, California, and repaired to his tiny art studio in the back of the garage. John and I had only been playing a few minutes when Jessica felt compelled to film us as she also made an audio recording. We never dreamt that there would be such a huge reaction to the videos.  When you and others responded by asking about a CD, it has made us think of recording more with John. And that is where we are currently.

John and I do go back to 1975, actually. We met at a holiday party in the home of Robert Armstrong, one of the original Cheap Suit Serenaders. Another guest at the party was Ward Kimball, famous artist at Walt Disney Studios and founder of the Firehouse Five.  We worked together constantly for about 3 1/2 years between 1980 and 1984, to great acclaim in Los Angeles as 2/3 of the trio Mood Indigo. There was always great chemistry and I am still happy to play straight man to John’s magic.

Jessica and I will have to figure out when and how to make this recording with John a project unto itself. We want to do this as soon as possible and we will keep you posted.

So there’s something else life-enhancing to look forward to.  It’s just idle musing, but I wonder how people who savor this fine music could help get a CD made.

Blessings on Casey, John, and Jessica.  Thanks for lifting our spirits in swing.

May your happiness increase!

“DECIDED,” I WOULD CALL THIS: JONATHAN STOUT, CASEY MacGILL, CHRIS DAWSON, JIM ZEIGLER, ALBERT ALVA, WALLY HERSOM, JOSH COLLAZO in SEATTLE (January 2013)

UNDECIDED — by Charlie Shavers — evokes a certain ambivalence.  “What do you want to call this tune, Charlie?” “UNDECIDED” comes back in a telegram — or so the story goes.  I remember Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman playing it in such a manner that you knew there was no dithering at all.

Here’s a more current example: Jonathan Stout and the Campus Five, with guest Casey MacGill on guitar and scat vocal; Jim Ziegler on trumpet; Albert Alva on tenor saxophone; Chris Dawson on piano; Wally Hersom on string bass; Josh Collazo on drums; Jonathan himself on guitars.  It was recorded just a few days ago — January 4, 2013, at Rusty’s Rhythm Club – a weekly swing dance at an Elks Lodge in Playa del Rey, California.  Rusty’s also has live music on the first Fiday of the month: details here.

I like music that knows its own mind.  Even though the video is somewhat informal, it’s a gift to have it.  To see more of Jonathan’s bands, you need only visit here.

May your happiness increase.

SWING, YOU CATS: A VISIT TO CAMP JITTERBUG 2012

Here are two videos created by the fine musician / videographer Candace Brown — taken on the spot at Camp Jitterbug in Seattle on May 27, 2012.  The first is just under a minute, but what a delightful world it evokes: happy dancers swinging out to live hot jazz provided by Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five (Jonathan, guitars, vocal; Meschiya Lake, vocal; Steve Mostovoy, trumpet; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone; Dave Brown, string bass; Paul Lines, drums; Casey MacGill, piano, vocals.)

And something for the those of us who need a minor-key romp to pick up our spirits — DIGA DIGA DOO played by the band, with a vocal by Casey — watch the band and the dancers!  And the band gets extra points for the KRAZY KAPERS riff:

I don’t think I could get admitted to Camp Jitterbug — my dancing needs remediation — but it looks like the place to be!

May your happiness increase.

CRAZY RHYTHM and MORE: CASEY MacGILL’S BLUE 4 TRIO

Mike Daugherty, Matt Weiner, Casey MacGill

A band that calls itself “the Blue 4 Trio” has a touch of surrealism about it — reminiscent of the Magritte painting of a pipe that is subtitled “This is not a pipe.” But don’t let the quartet-that’s-really-a-trio disconcert you.

Casey MacGill and his colleagues make delicious music — in the best old-fashioned ways without being a “repertory orchestra” devoted to copying vintage 78s.

Casey, Matt, and Mike all sing — in that infectious way that recalls the Mills Brothers, the Spirits of Rhythm, the early King Cole Trio, Duke Ellington’s 1937 vocal trio, Slim and Slam, the Cats and the Fiddle, with touches of Fats, Louis, and Bing added to the mix.

Instrumentally, Casey is a fine pianist, ukulele player, and a heartfelt middle-register cornet serenader.  You’ve heard Mike Daughterty swing the First Thursday Jazz Band; here he gets many opportunities to show off his skill on the wirebrushes; bassist Matt Weiner who would make Milt Hinton proud.

I stress the inherent musicality of the B4T because many groups across the country market themselves as “swing bands” offer a rigid, by-the-numbers version of swing.   Sartorially, they are perfect: the hats, two-tone shoes, suits, but their music is rigid and limited.  Not this little band.

I listened to the Blue 4 Trio at length — two CDs worth — while driving back and forth to work.  I would testify under oath in Jazz Court that they swung, that every track lifted my spirits.

There’s no postmodern irony here, no “distance” from the material: their readings of I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY or I AIN’T LAZY, I’M JUST DREAMIN’ (memories of Jack Teagarden in 1934) are deep inside the song.  I now know the verse to CRAZY RHYTHM, which is no small boon.

Here’s a three-minute video portrait of these fellows and the band — created in Casey’s Seattle living room by filmmaker Keith Rivers:

Although the Trio’s repertoire is drawn from the Swing Era, they aren’t prisoners of 1936: their CDs and performances feature a few idiomatic originals and some more recent material: DAYDREAM (by John Sebastian) and the Leiber-Stoller THREE COOL CATS.

Visit here to hear music samples, keep up with the band’s gig schedule, and more.

And if you visit here and click at the top of the page, you can hear Casey and Orville Johnson play and sing ALOHA OE BLUES . . . a pleasure.

The two CDs I got so much pleasure from are THREE COOL CATS (which has guest appearances from guitarists Orville Johnson and Del Ray, as well as tenor sax and clarinet from Craig Flory).  The songs are GANGBUSTERS / THREE COOL CATS / I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY / LULU’S BACK IN TOWN / SUNNY AFTERNOON / UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE / THE SPELL OF THE BLUES / EVERYTHING BUT YOU / IT’S MY LAZY DAY / LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / CHICKEN DINNER / DAYDREAM.

and the newest one, BARRELHOUSE (a MacGill original with clever lyrics), features the Trio plus Orville Johnson, Hans Teuber on tenor sax and piccolo, and New York’s own guitar master Matt Munisteri.  It begins with the title tune, and goes on to PALM SPRINGS JUMP / CHANGES / ME AND THE MOON / OUT OF NOWHERE / SMALL FRY / CRAZY RHYTHM / COW COW BOOGIE / I AIN’T LAZY, I’M JUST DREAMIN’ / I’VE GOT TO BE A RUG CUTTER / BLUE BECAUSE OF YOU / WARM IT UP TO ME.

They are the real thing.  Accept no substitutes!