Tag Archives: Cassidy Holden

REALLY, THEY COME OUT SWINGING! — Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND at SAN DIEGO (Part One: Nov. 30, 2019): BEN POLCER, RILEY BAKER, JOE GOLDBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSH GOUZY, HAL SMITH and JOHN GILL

One of the pleasures of the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest was getting to hear and see Hal Smith’s gliding On the Levee Jazz Band.  Although they are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory and his California-based bands, they are a very subtle, swinging group whose music delights the dancers.  The personnel of this OTL incarnation is Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Riley Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Josh Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, leader, drums. Ordinarily Alex Belhaj is the OTL guitarist, but Alex was home sick in New Orleans, so for this set his place was taken, splendidly, by John Gill, who also sang one for us.

A technical note (as one says): the band played in the large hall which had space for dancers in front, and the dancers happily took advantage of it.  But that would have made conventional filming difficult, so I took myself, camera, and tripod onto the stage, found a chair, made myself to home, and video-ed from there.  Yes, I lost a little volume on Joe Goldberg’s wonderful clarinet playing, but Joe is a forgiving sort, and I got to feature him in the last set of the festival with John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm.  Ordinarily I don’t set up near the drums, but Hal is one of the handful of drummers I know who plays for the band, who understands dynamics.  So this was a delightful opportunity to capture exactly what he is doing, visually as well as audibly, and I hope you enjoy the results.

DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN:

SUGAR BLUES, in honor of Joe Oliver’s glucose addictions:

Feeling low?  Feeling sore?  Consult DOCTOR JAZZ, who makes house calls:

ALL THE ‘GIRLS’ GO CRAZY, a hymn of appreciation:

A feature for Joe Goldberg, Ellington’s CREOLE LOVE CALL, which can be traced back to Joe Oliver:

A swinging treatment by Kris, Josh, and Hal of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE, at a nice easy tempo which shows off all its beauties:

More Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES, so soulfully sung by John Gill:

The On the Levee Jazz Band, you’ll hear, is playing a venerable repertoire, but their first priority is danceable swing.  You can read more about their CD here and the two CDs that Kris, Hal, and Josh (or Cassidy Holden) have made of delicious New-Orleans-flavored ragtime here.  “Check it OUT,” as they used to say in New York City forty-plus years ago.

 

May your happiness increase!

WHAT WOULD JELLY DO? “RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH

Kris Tokarski has been one of my favorite solo and ensemble pianists for some years now.  It can’t be “many” years, because Kris is perhaps half my age, but my admiration is not limited by the length of our acquaintance.  He listens, he creates melodies, he swings, he sounds like himself, and he has a deep appreciation for the past without being chained by narrow historical definitions.

He’s recorded in a variety of settings, but here I draw your attention to two CDs of ragtime pieces done with delicacy and individuality: the first, issued in 2016 on Solo Art, paired him with drummer-scholar Hal Smith and string bassist Cassidy Holden, pleased me and others immensely: read more about it here.  KINKLETS from that disc:

The second disc by Kris and  Hal, now joined by bassist Joshua Gouzy, issued on Big Al Records, is called RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO, and it’s a real pleasure. Hear a sample for yourself here (scroll down the page through the evidence of how well Kris plays with others and on his own).

The premise is a collection of rags that Jelly Roll Morton planned to record — or would have known and played.  And it’s not a fanciful vision, as Hal Smith’s  solid annotations show — in 1939, Morton discussed with Roy Carew his plans to play Joplin and others in his own style, because, as he told Carew, “he didn’t know of anyone more qualified to do it than himself,” and he envisioned recording thirty or forty rags.  (Oh, had he lived for another decade!)

He didn’t live to accomplish this, but we have Tokarski, Gouzy, and Smith to make the fantasy real.

I am especially fond of projects that take a gently imaginative look at the past. Let those who feel drawn to such labors reproduce recordings: the results can be dazzling.  It takes decades of skill to play BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and sound even remotely like the Hot Five.  But even more entrancing to me is the notion of “What might have happened . . . .?” going back to my early immersion in Golden Era science fiction.  An example that stays in my mind is a series of Stomp Off recordings devoted to the Johnny Dodds repertoire, with the brilliant Matthias Seuffert taking on the mantle.  But the most memorable track on those discs was Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, a pop tune from 1929 that Dodds might well have heard or even played — rendered convincingly and joyously in his idiom.  (It really does something to me.)

That same playful vision applies to this disc.  It merges, ever so gently, Jelly Roll Morton and an unhackneyed ragtime repertoire, mixing piano solos and piano trio.  That in itself is a delightful combination, and I replayed this disc several times in a row when I first acquired a copy.

Kris plays beautifully, with a precise yet flexible approach to the instrument and the materials.  He doesn’t undercut, satirize, or “modernize”; his approach is simultaneously loving and easy. It’s evident that he has heard and absorbed the lessons of James P. Johnson and Teddy Wilson — their particular balance of propulsion and relaxation — as well as being able to read the notes on the page. He doesn’t pretend to be Morton in the way that lesser musicians have done (with Bix, Louis, Monk, and others) — cramming in every possible Mortonism over and over.  What he does is imagine a Mortonian approach, but he allows himself freedom to move idiomatically, with grace and beauty, within it.  And he doesn’t, in the name of “authenticity,” make rags sound stiff because they were written before Joe Oliver and Little Louis took Chicago.  He’s steady, but he’s steadily gliding.  His approach to the rags is neither stuffy reverence nor near-hysterical display.

He’s in good company with Josh and Hal.  Many string bassists working in this idiom confuse percussiveness with strength, and they hit the fretboard violently: making the bass a victim of misplaced enthusiasm.  Not Joshua, who has power and melodic wisdom nicely combined: you can listen to his lines in the trio with the delight you’d take in a great horn soloist.  Every note sings, and he’s clearly there with the pulse.

As for the drummer?  To slightly alter a famous Teagarden line, “If Hal don’t get it, well, forget it right now,” which is to say that Hal’s playing on this disc is a beautifully subtle, completely “living” model of how to play ensemble drums: gracious yet encouraging, supportive.  He doesn’t just play the beat: he creates a responsive tapestry of luxuriant sounds.

The CD is beautifully recorded by Tim Stambaugh of Word of Mouth Studios, and the repertoire is a treat — rags I’d never heard (THE WATERMELON TRUST by Harry C. Thompson, and ROLLER SKATERS RAG by Samuel Gompers) as well as compositions by Joplin, Lamb, Scott, Turpin, Matthews, and May Aufderheide.  Nothing overfamiliar but all melodic and mobile.

Here’s another sample.  Kris, Joshua, and Hal are the rhythm section of Hal’s Kid Ory “On the Levee” band, and here they play May Aufderheide’s DUSTY RAG at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2018:

Hear what I mean?  They play with conviction but their seriousness is light-hearted.  Volume Two is a disc that won’t grow tired or stale.  Thank you, Kris, Josh, and Hal!  And Jelly, of course.

May your happiness increase!

“SYNCOPATED CLASSIC”: GREG RUBY AND THE RHYTHM RUNNERS PLAY FRANK D. WALDRON

Frank D. Waldron wasn’t well-known outside the Seattle area, but the music he composed nearly a century ago is memorable.  Greg Ruby and the Rhythm Runners have brought Waldron’s quirky, lively music to life on a new CD.

As Greg tells us in the video above, Waldron’s music is an unearthed treasure. And the band he assembled to play it is superb: Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Charlie Halloran, Cassidy Holden, Julian MacDonough, and himself — with Mike Marshall as a guest on two tracks.

As you’ve gathered from Greg’s video, the project needs funding to reach completion: see here or visit Kickstarter here — where you can contribute the smallest amount and get a tangible reward.  “Every dollar helps a lot.”

I am writing this post for reasons both selfish and altruistic.  First and perhaps most plain: the music is rewarding as a series of surprises: truly idiomatic previously-unheard compositions.  Of course there are Twenties and Thirties songs we haven’t heard before, but people deeply involved in this music know a wide range of compositions.  Waldron’s music has what they would have called “pep,” and it’s not a matter of being a series of rapid one-steps.  Rather, his compositions have memorable melodies, unpredictable turns, and multiple strains.  This CD is the equivalent of finding a folio of new Morton or Parham songs.

And, as I’ve written here, since there are few working bands with fixed personnel these days, the repertoire has understandably narrowed to “something everybody knows,” and that can make for monochromatic performances.  I dream that Greg’s work will stimulate a Waldron revival.

Second, music is more than its notation.  Greg’s Rhythm Runners are a superb group — musicians who respect the compositions but let their individual personalities come out sweetly and convincingly.  I was delighted by Greg’s first CD, WASHINGTON HALL STOMP, which I wrote about about here (and the personnel on that CD is the same as on SYNCOPATED CLASSIC).  I’d like to see this band prosper.

New music, estimable young musicians, a delightful — and well-recorded / well-produced new CD.  I encourage you to support this project.  And Frank D. Waldron thanks you as well.

May your happiness increase!

“RELENTLESS JOY”: GREG RUBY and THE RHYTHM RUNNERS

GREG RUBY RHYTHM RUNNERS

In this century, ensembles devoted to the music so popular in the Twenties and Thirties have several choices as far as repertoire.  One is plain: take the most-loved songs, those most closely associated with the idiom, and whether the band’s approach is reverent or extravagant, the songs are waiting.  ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE, SINGIN’ THE BLUES, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, MILENBERG JOYS, and so on. Audience recognition comes along with this repertoire, although so does the possibility of comparison.  And there is the possibility of over-familiarity, although as Doctor Johnson said, “When a man is tired of TIGER RAG, he is tired of life.”  Or words to that effect.

The second choice requires more digging: going back into the Twenties and Thirties repertoire for songs both beautiful and possibly obscure: TWO TIMES, CROCODILE CRADLE, CAFE CAPERS, CLOUDY, WHEN YOU LEAVE ME ALONE TO PINE, and a thousand others. One might have to take a minute to instruct an audience, and some audiences weary quickly of the necessity of listening closely, but this broadens the repertoire.  (There are fascinating treasures to be found here . . . read on.)

A third choice (and there might be a fourth and fifth) is to compose new songs with all the delightful flavor of the era being celebrated.  When this is done superficially, the results are forgettable; when it’s done well, it’s delightful on several levels.  Gordon Au has succeeded here, and now Greg Ruby is doing a lovely job of merging 2016 and the Twenties.  Greg is a fine acoustic guitarist, creating memorable solos and gently driving any band with great rhythm playing.  And here’s his debut CD as a leader of the Rhythm Runners.

It might be too unsubtle at this point to write, simply, BUY IT, so I will offer more evidence.

GREG RUBY cover one

The evidence is here, in a very pleasing March 2016 KPLU-FM interview and performance by the Rhythm Runners who are Greg, guitar / arrangements / compositions; Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Cassidy Holden, string bass; Julian MacDonough, drums.

If those names are familiar, you have been doing your JAZZ LIVES homework. If not, there’s always remediation.

Listen and be delighted.  (The only thing missing in this audio gift is the name of the host, who is certainly hip and knowledgeable.  Bravo to him and to the band.)

And you can hear more sound samples from the actual (beautifully-recorded) CD Sound samples: here.

That would be enough to please me: a great band playing new songs that sound comfortably “vintage” with no hint of artifice or superficiality.  But there’s more. If you hail from any place that isn’t Seattle, I’d guess you’ve never heard of Franklin D. Waldron, multi-instrumentalist and the early teacher of Quincy Jones and Buddy Catlett, among others.  Waldron, legendary and obscure, never recorded: record companies didn’t know there were musicians in Seattle worth the trip until the Forties.  Below is a photograph of Waldron, on cornet, circa 1915, with the Wang Doodle Orchestra (courtesy of the Black Heritage Society.)

Greg explains in the interview how he’d come to learn about Waldron, and about SYNCOPATED CLASSIC, Waldron’s 1924 book of original compositions for saxophonists — and how he ended up with a copy of that book.  If this is sounding a little like someone’s dissertation, be not alarmed — for three of the songs on the CD are Greg’s reimaginings of Waldron lines for band, and they are quite refreshing.  Greg plans to do more with the Waldron book, and I look forward to the musical results: hot lively compositions from 1924 that have instant validity and (in Greg’s hands) delicious energy.  Here‘s more about the Waldron project.

Wang_Doodle_Orchestra_Seattle_ca_1925-610x445

That’s all you need to know.  The CD is joyous, with world-class players and swinging originals; it truly expresses “relentless joy,” a coinage of Greg’s (at 29:45).

Greg, when and if you come to New York City again, do let me know.  I’d be honored to salute you in person.  And for the rest of you, check Greg’s site to find out when and where his groups are playing.

May your happiness increase!

TOKARSKI’S NIGHTINGALE (AND OTHER RARE SPECIES)

Although I’ve only met the young pianist / composer Kris Tokarski a few brief times in person, I admire him as a remarkable musician with great wit, warmth, flexibility, and swing.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

Kris Tokarski. Photograph by Scott Myers.

About sixteen months ago, Kris made his first CD as a leader, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM — a delightful musical collation with Kris among his friends and peers James Evans, Evan Christopher, and Benji Bohannon.  Here’s what I wrote about Kris (with music samples) in April 2014.

Although Kris’ musical and emotional range is substantial, he is a great subtle player of older music with the right feeling — without being hemmed in by written manuscript, older recordings, or restrictive stylistic conventions.  Here is a recent video-recording Kris did especially for JAZZ LIVES — at home and informally — of Joseph Lamb’s RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE:

Notice his lovely touch, his gentle approach.  Would you like to hear more? That is easily accomplished.

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly's house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

Kris, photographed by Don Keller, in front of Jelly’s house, Frenchmen and Robertson Streets, New Orleans

In March of this year, Kris, Hal Smith, drums, and Cassidy Holden, string bass, went into the GHB Studios in New Orleans to create a CD that would consider classic rags from a Mortonian perspective, with performances modeled on Jelly’s own evocations as well as songs known to be familiar during his career but not recorded.  The compositions are Pastime Rag #3 / Heliotrope Bouquet / Kinklets / Peacherine Rag / Elite Syncopations / Ragtime Nightingale / Grace And Beauty / Please Say You Will / Sunflower Slow Drag / Swipesy / Magnetic Rag / The Easy Winners / Cataract Rag / St. Louis Rag.  If you understand the concept, the CD is a magnificent invention; if you’ve never heard the Morton Library of Congress recordings, the CD will please just as deeply.

I was delighted to be asked to write the liner notes.  Here’s what I said:

SOFT, SWEET, PLENTY RHYTHM

In 1972, I had several opportunities to marvel at Eubie Blake, then nearing ninety.  He would play MEMORIES OF YOU, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER, or CHARLESTON RAG, but he always concluded with a virtuosic display and a triumphant shout, “That’s RAGTIME!” It certainly was, but the music was more than notes on the page; it was shaped by the personality and experiences of its creator. Jazz improvisation is never pure (thank goodness): it’s all subliminal osmosis and hybridization.  Eubie’s ragtime was broad-minded: it cuddled up with stride, eight-to-the-bar, orchestral flourishes owing as much to Rachmaninoff as Joplin. 

I’ve heard many musicians approach the ragtime repertoire according to their spirit animal.  Some storm through a rag as if preparing for a martial arts tournament.  Others play it with reverent rigidity, the way a child in an antique shop sits tensely on the chair to which he’s been affixed.  This CD presents one, two, and three musicians embodying a radical idea: “Let’s play the music with joy and attention to detail, and whatever happens, it will be good.”     

On this CD, Jelly Roll Morton’s proud, playful New Orleans spirit is strong, although Kris Tokarski wisely avoids the Morton caricature: lesser pianists turn Morton into a large papier-mache figure at the keyboard. 

Kris’s playing is, as always, warm and delicate but you know there is stomping power beneath the surface. I admire his beautiful touch, the logic of his phrases, but he’s never so precise as to be chilly.  Kris animates the rags, reminding us that ragtime is swinging syncopated dance music: pastoral but not effete.

Masterful playing by Cassidy Holden and Hal Smith makes this a genuine trio, democratic and empathic.  Hear the low woody propulsive sound Cassidy gets (the right notes, the right changes, a wonderful pulse) as well as his cellolike clarity.  Hal’s playing appears uncomplicated, but it takes decades of devoted playing to know what to leave out, what sounds to make, how and when to make them.  I thought occasionally of Minor Hall and Tommy Benford, but most often of Hal.

These performances aren’t “recreations” of some imagined past, but neither are they free-form improvisations on the harmonies.  I hear echoes of the jungle (ANIMULE BALL) in CATARACT RAG, the Spanish tinge in MAGNETIC RAG.  But each song sounds like a movement in a dance suite – with echoes of marches, quadrilles, and street parades. PLEASE SAY YOU WILL moves so deliciously from waltz to a gently swinging rhythm ballad with a few closing moments of stomp (as Morton did on MY GAL SAL).  ST. LOUIS RAG – in the words of Jake Hanna – starts swinging from the beginning.  GRACE AND BEAUTY shows off this trio’s many virtues: they don’t get louder or faster, but you know the train is moving on the right track and it will arrive on time. 

SUNFLOWER SLOW DRAG is a history of the first decades of jazz, as it progresses from a tender, almost shy start to a romp.

We owe this session to Hal Smith, not only a master percussionist but a jazz scholar and detective.  He had long been fascinated by Morton’s transformations of famous ragtime pieces, and wondered how other rags would sound if played in Jelly’s style.  He knew that Kris would be perfect for the project, making the performances vibrant, not dusty.  Hal put together a list of rags that might have been played in New Orleans between 1900 and 1917 – and after swapping music and recordings, this wonderful group was ready – not for the river, but for the studio.  Thank you, Kris, Hal, Cassidy, for opening the magic toybox and offering us so much joy.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Or perhaps I have.

To purchase the CD, visit here. Or if you encounter Kris at a gig, I am sure he will be happy to arrange a mutually satisfying transaction.

And I am looking for several chances to enjoy Kris and friends in the coming months.  His trio — with Hal Smith and Tim Laughlin (yes, you did read that correctly!) — is a highlight of the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado at the end of July; the “Hot Classicism” trio of Kris, Hal, and Andy Schumm will also appear at the 2016 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans.

May your happiness increase!

NAOMI AND HER HANDSOME DEVILS

I first met Naomi Uyama in a downtown New York music club five years ago. Soon, we adjourned to the sidewalk.

It’s less melodramatic or noir than it appears.  The club was Banjo Jim’s — ‘way down yonder on Avenue C — where a variety of jazz-folk-dance groups appeared in 2009. The most famous was the Cangelosi Cards, in their original manifestation, featuring among others Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Marcus Milius, Cassidy Holden, Gordon Webster, Kevin Dorn. Tamar, who has always admired the Boswell Sisters, got together with singers Naomi and Mimi Terris to perform some Boswell numbers as “The Three Diamonds.” On one cold night, the three singers joined forces on the sidewalk to serenade myself, Jim and Grace Balantic, and unaware passers-by with a Boswell hot chorus of EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY. Tamar has recorded on her own, as has Mimi, but I and others have been waiting for Naomi to record, to share her sweet swing with the world. And the disc is delightful.

NAOMI

The first thing one notices about the disc is its authentic swing feel courtesy of players who have a deep affection for a late-Basie rhythmic surge and melodic ingenuity: Jake Sanders, guitar; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Jared Engel, string bass; Jeremy Noller, drums, and a two-person frontline of Adrian Cunningham, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Matt Musselman, trombone.  The band is neither over-rehearsed or overly casual; they provoke regular movements of the listener’s head, torso, and limbs.  (I can attest to this.)  They aren’t busily copying the sound of classic recordings; they are swinging out in fine style. I heard echoes of Illinois Jacquet and Al Grey, of a Buddy Tate band uptown or a Forties Jay McShann small group, of Tiny Grimes and Sir Charles Thompson — those players who swung as reliably as breathing. The band never gets in Naomi’s way, and they make happy music for dancers, riffing as if to the manner born.

But this might seem to ignore Naomi, which would be unthinkable. She came to jazz through lindy hop, which means her rhythm has a cheerful bounce to it, even on slower numbers. But she knows well that making music is more than beating a solid 4/4 so that the dancers know where one is. Naomi is an effective melodist, not tied to the paper but eminently respectful of the melodies we know. Her improvisations tend to be subtle, but when she breaks loose (trading scat phrases with the horns on MARIE) she never puts a foot wrong. (MARIE, incidentally, is the fastest track on the disc — 223 beats per minute — and it never seems rushed. I approve that Naomi and her Handsome Devils understand the beautiful shadings possible within medium-tempo rocking music.)

Naomi’s voice is a pleasure in itself — no rough edges, with a wide palette of timbres, but perfectly focused and with an effective phrase-ending vibrato. She doesn’t sound like someone who has spent her life memorizing Ella, Billie, or a dozen others; she sounds, rather, like someone who has fallen in love with the repertoire and decided to sing it, as if she were a bird bursting into song. In swingtime, of course. On Lil Johnson’s seductive encouragement, TAKE IT EASY, GREASY, she does her own version of a Mae West meow, but she doesn’t go in for effects and tricks. Her phrases fall in the right places, and she sounds natural — not always the case among musicians offering milkless milk and silkless silk in the name of Swing.

And I had a small epiphany while listening to this CD. A front-line of trombone and reed (mostly tenor) is hardly unusual, and it became even less so from the middle Forties onwards, but it makes complete aesthetic sense here, because the spare instrumentation (two horns, powerful yet light rhythm section) gives Naomi the room she needs to be the graceful and memorable trumpet player of this little band. Think, perhaps, of Buck Clayton: sweet, inventive, bluesy, creating wonderful phrases on the simplest material, and the place Naomi has made for herself in the band seems clear and inevitable.

The songs also suggest a wider knowledge of the Swing repertoire than is usual: Basie is represented not with a Joe Williams blues, but with the 1938 GLORIANNA, and the Dorsey MARIE is an evocation rather than a small-band copy. There are blues — I KNOW HOW TO DO IT and the aforementioned TAKE IT EASY, GREASY — as well as classic pop standards that feel fresh: I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, ONE HOUR, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME, AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY, GOODY GOODY, IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY, WHAM, and THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.

The disc offers nothing but good music, never ironic or post-modern, neither copying nor satirizing, just beautifully crafted melodic Swing.  Welcome, Naomi — with your Handsome Devils alongside. On with the dance!

Now, some bits of information. You can find Naomi on Facebook here; the band has its own page here. To buy the disc (or a download), visit here, where you also can hear samples of the songs. To hear complete songs, visit here. Naomi and a version of her Devils can be found on YouTube, and here is her channel. Enough data for anyone: listen to the music and you’ll be convinced.

May your happiness increase!

WELCOME, HETTY KATE!

Hetty Kate and Gordon Webster

Hetty Kate and Gordon Webster

I am delighted to introduce the fine singer Hetty Kate. To those who already know her, let this be a repeat embrace and celebration.  Hetty does all the right things, without straining or undue drama.  Her voice is clear and penetrating; her diction beautiful without being “learned” (she has a conversational ease); she swings; she subtly but affectingly improvises; she understand the lyrics; she embellishes and ornaments but never obliterates the melody. She respects the great singers of the past and present but never climbs in to the tomb and closes the door.

I delight in the two new CDs she has presented to us, in her sweet light-hearted approach.  When she decides to snap out a lyric, the results are explosively good (hear her FROST ON THE MOON).  She sounds as if she is merely singing the song, but we know that such casualness is true art.

Hetty is international in the best way: based in Melbourne, Australia, she recorded one CD on a New York City trip — enjoying the company of fine local musicians including Gordon Webster, piano; Dan Levinson, reeds; Mike Davis, trumpet, Cassidy Holden, guitar (now of New Orleans, but I knew him first as a string bassist with the Cangelosi Cards), Kevin Congleton, drums; Rob Adkins, string bass; Joseph Wiggan, tap dancing (wonderfully on Shoo Fly Pie); Adrien Chevalier, violin (Besame Mucho); Adam Brisbin, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; and a quartet of additional horns on the final track to make a rocking big band, Nadje Noordhuis, Jay Rattman, Michael Webster, Mike Fahie.  The truly international trombonist Shannon Barnett (Australia / New York / Germany) also pays a call.  The result is irresistible, one of those CDs I wanted to play again right away as soon as it ended.

The CD is called GORDON WEBSTER MEETS HETTY KATE, and the equality of the title is mirrored in the music, with a nice balance between singer and band.  The soloists tell us stories; Gordon’s wonderfully off-center piano is always a deep pleasure, and the sound — thanks to Michael Perez-Cisneros — is rich, exquisite.

GORDON HETTY

Hetty told me, “I really let my imagination go a little with the song list, and love digging out tunes that aren’t played too much,” thus, Button Up Your Overcoat / Blitzkrieg Baby / Peek-a-boo / Shoo Fly Pie & Apple Pan Dowdy / How D’ya Like To Love Me? / Eight, Nine & Ten / There’s Frost On The Moon / Busy Line /  Sweet Lover No More / I Wanna Be Around / Hard Hearted Hannah / Bésame Mucho / I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City.

Two songs were unfamiliar charmers, so I asked her about their origins.  Here’s what Hetty wrote:

I first heard Peek-A-Boo on a .. wait for it.. Dove advertisement (probably on You Tube), where they’d used the song as the soundtrack to a story about how women are always so self conscious about their looks, and don’t like being photographed – but when they are children they have no shame about this and just dance and ham for the camera.. a little message about trying to be confident and see the beauty in us all! So the song was a cute one.. I fell immediately in love with it and with some research found the vocalist, Rose Murphy, the “chee chee girl” and also added her other famous song ‘Busy Line’ to the album. She was quite an extraordinary performer and pianist, and now I’m a big fan. 

There are so many wonderful singers who don’t get much of a ‘look in’ because of Ella / Billie / Peggy / Anita and so forth – I feel that not only am I getting a benefit from discovering these other singers, but their memory can be kept alive a little too! Audrey Morris sang ‘How D’Ya Like To Love Me’ and she was an extraordinary talent as well (Bob Hope also famously sang that song) Sweet Lover and I Wanna Be Around were given to me on a mix tape by a good friend with a Blossom Dearie obsession and her approach to two rather evil songs was of course cute as a button – at the time I was going through some romantic challenges of my own, and I love to sing about the darker side of love as well as its light and sparkling hopefulness!

There’s Frost On The Moon was also given to me — Chick Webb’s band with Ella Fitzgerald (very young) and I believe Louis Jordan – and again, the lyrics were an immediate drawcard as well as the melody. The band in the studio had a great time with this one! I think it’s our favourite!

A lot of my family are writers, and as well as being drawn to the melody of a tune, I am always entranced by a clever turn of phrase, and with this album being able to match clever songs with some great dance tempos and arrangements by Gordon I was in heaven!! 

Had Hetty recorded only this CD, I would be heralding her as a reassuringly professional new talent. But there’s more. DIM ALL THE LIGHTS is an entrancing collection of “vintage love songs” associated with Peggy Lee, June Christy, and Julie London: The Thrill Is Gone / In the Still of the Night / Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered / Answer Me, My Love / Why Don’t You Do Right? / Cry Me A River / Something Cool / Wives and Lovers / I Get Along Without You Very Well.  Hetty is accompanied by a spare but beautiful quartet of Sam Keevers, piano; James Sherlock, guitar; Ben Robertson, string bass; Danny Farugia, drums.

HETTY DIM ALL THE LIGHTS

The temptation for a singer, choosing these songs so strongly associated with these majestic artists, would be either to copy or to go in the other direction — vary the tempo, add odd rhythmic backgrounds, and the like. Hetty does neither: I am sure that the voices of the Great Foremothers are echoing in her head, but she treats each song as its own new script, and takes her time, inventing a new, lifelike way to sing it.  No maudlin swooning, no pounding drums, no melodramatic rubato.  Just effective singing: I’d put her version of BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, and BEWILDERED up against anyone’s. Understated, apparently cool, but with real passion coming through.

I believe Hetty has been singing professionally only since 2006, but she is a real treasure.  No fakery — no little-girl cute, no look-at-me-I’m-so-hip / punk / sexy here at all.  Just good music, intelligently interpreted and always swinging. And don’t let the gorgeous cover shot prejudice you against the elegant Ms. Kate: her CDs are about her voice, not her hair or her beautiful dress.

Here is Hetty’s Facebook page, and here is the website for the CD with Gordon.  Both discs are on iTunes.  Visit here and enjoy one-minute sound bites; visit the ABC site to purchase DIM ALL THE LIGHTS, and here to purchase the CD with Gordon — which is also available at CDBaby. (I know — life is complicated, especially for those of us used to dropping in at our local record stores and coming home with some new or old treasure.  But Hetty’s CDs are worth the digging.)

It’s a critical commonplace to welcome the new artist at the start of “a brilliant career” to come.  In Hetty Kate’s case, she is already singing brilliantly — a young artist with a mature, engaging sensibility.

May your happiness increase!

MEET MIMI TERRIS, WHO SINGS BEAUTIFULLY

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I first encountered Mimi Terris late in 2008, a sweetly humble young singer who joined Tamar Korn and the Cangelosi Cards at the Lower East Side music spot Banjo Jim’s.  With Naomi Uyama, the three songbirds stood out on the sidewalk on a cold night and serenaded me, Jim and Grace Balantic with an a cappella Boswell Sisters chorus.  It might have been SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT, and we were thrilled. Tamar, Mimi, and Naomi are immortalized on a few videos on YouTube, and the EP CD of “The Three Diamonds”.

Now, Mimi has released her debut CD: it is just wonderful throughout. It’s not simply the winning purity of her voice; it’s the depth of her emotions and the wide range of her musical affections — from gutty Bessie Smith to floating sweet lyricisms.  She can be as light as Beverly Kenney or Blossom Dearie, but she isn’t limited by any one approach. Mimi is classically trained, but she doesn’t sound like Helen Traubel “trying to swing.”  Swing comes naturally to her, but so does beautiful enunciation, convincing phrasing, a deep love of both the original melody and the lyrics.

Here she is, with friends, deep in the purple dusk of twilight time:

The CD, THEY SAY ITS SPRING, is just as delicious.  On it, Mimi is joined by pianist Gordon Webster and bassist Cassidy Holden with visits from guitarist Jacob Fischer and trumpeter Peter Marrott on THEY SAY IT’S SPRING / WEST END BLUES / EN SADAN NATT SOM DENNA (an instantly memorable Swedish pop song from the Thirties) / IT WON’T BE YOU / LILAC WINE / I GOT IT BAD / ROCKIN’ CHAIR / LOVER, COME BACK TO ME / STAR DUST / ALICE.

Listening to it, a dozen times, I thought of Eddie Condon’s praise of Lee Wiley: “She just sings the melody.  No tricks.”  But Mimi’s delicate, reverberating art — deeply simple — is even better than the absence of melodrama.  Although young, she sounds like a mature artist, offering her love of the songs to us.

Mimi’s Facebook page is here; her website is here; to hear music samples or download the CD, visit here.

May your happiness increase!

YES! NEW MUSIC FROM THE CANGELOSI CARDS

The Cangelosi Cards provoke enthusiastic affirmations wherever they go. 

And recently they’ve gone as far as I can imagine — to the House of Blues and Jazz in Shanghai, China for a three-month residency.  They’re returning for gigs between October 22 and November 4, including a stint at the Nanjing Jazz Festival,  October 22nd-28th. The group will also make a four-city tour including Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. 

I am cheered by their widening circle of friends.  But for those of us who can’t drop everything and follow the Cards to China, there’s new musical evidence to savor.

When I first heard the Cards at Banjo Jim’s some years ago, I was moved by their swinging momentum and deep feeling — unaffected sentiment with a rocking pulse.  The singular instrumental voices always sounded like a conversation — intimate yet fervent — that I was privileged to eavesdrop on.  When Tamar Korn began to sing, the experience became otherworldly, music coming from what Yeats called “the deep heart’s core.” 

Tamar and the band loved the music of the Boswell Sisters — not only the beautiful repertoire and hot solos but the vocal harmonies and sophisticated arrangements.  I saw Tamar and her sweetly singing friends Naomi Uyama and Mimi Terris create their own variations on the Boswell repertoire.  I remember their acapella rendition of MOONGLOW performed on the sidewalk outside Banjo Jim’s brought me to tears. 

Now that experience has taken tangible shape, for Tamar, Mimi, and Naomi,  as “The Three Diamonds,” have recorded a mini-CD of three selections backed by the Cards (Gordon Webster, Dennis Lichtman, Jake Sanders, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, and Marcus Milius). 

It’s extraordinary music — connected by a celestial theme: STARDUST, MOONGLOW, and the lesser-known WHEN MY BLUE MOON TURNS TO GOLD AGAIN.  The EP will be available at the Cards’ shows and can be purchased online at www.losmusicosviajeros.net for $3 plus shipping.

And since the Cards are back in New York City for a moment, they can be experienced at Harefield Road, where, to quote Jake, they’re “inviting a bunch of folks out this Sunday, some good friends-fine players from other groups.”  Harefield Road is on Metropolitan between Graham and Humboldt in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the third stop on the L.  The Cards will play from 5 to 9. 

Members of the band will also be playing at MOTO (http://www.cafe-moto.com) on Friday nights from 9 to midnight. 

And they will also be presented in concert by the New Jersey Jazz Society — at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey, on October 11.  The concert begins at 8 PM: tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door.  The Bickford Theatre/Morris Museum: On Columbia Turnpike/Road (County Road 510) at the corner of Normandy Heights Road, east of downtown Morristown.    The hall is near Interstate 287 and the Route 24 Expressway.  It seats 300 and there’s ample on-site parking and wheelchair access.  Weeknight concerts are one long set (8 to 9:30 PM).  Tickets may be purchased via credit card over the phone by calling the box office at (973) 971-3706.  The box office can also provide information and directions, or email Jazzevents@aol.com.

TEA WITH THE CARDS (Nov. 16, 2009)

As I’ve written, the downtown haunt Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and 9th Street) in New York City offers the possibility for ecstatic musical experiences when the Cangelosi Cards take the floor.  Literally, it is the floor, since there is no demarcation between the audience, the dancers, and the band . . . which is perhaps as it should be. 

I visited the Cards one week ago at their Monday-night gig and captured their first exuberant performance of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, featuring Tamar Korn, singing and percussive effects; Jake Sanders, guitar; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and mandolin; Matt Musselman, trombone; Marcus Milius, harmonica; Gordon Webster, piano; Cassidy Holden, bass.  No drums, none needed. 

I sat as close to the band as I could.  Although I’ve always approved of the synchronicity between the Cards and the dancers, this night — as the video shows — I had reason to feel imperiled by the substantial yet graceful, wildly swinging couple dancing.  I’m no swing-dance aficionado, so I wouldn’t presume to evaluate their performance, but they were so close to me that I feared a flying elbow or arcing sneaker.  Fortunately, I had room enough to cower in my seat, averting any collisions, but I hope my readers appreciate the raw courage my videography demands!  

What a marvel this band is — their effervescent swing, the jazz-battle that Matt and Dennis get into, and Tamar’s luminous voice floating above it all.  And all this on the first tune of the night!

The two still photographs — made eerie and lovely by the light at the rear of the bandstand — were taken before the Cards began to play.

SUNSET: LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

Leroy “Sam” Parkins, clarinetist, raconteur, and enthusiastic friend of this blog, died in Israel on November 18, 2009: he was 83. 

Sam loved beautiful photographs, so I offer this sunset, taken from a window on the Upper West Side, in his memory.

I am an unabashed jazz matchmaker: I tried to get Whitney Balliett to hear Kevin Dorn, but Whitney died before it could happen.  But I succeeded in getting Sam to jam with the Cangelosi Cards — only once, alas — but I captured a set with my Flip video camera. 

That was February 2, 2009, at Banjo Jim’s — and Sam had a wonderful time amidst Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Dennis Lichtman, Karl Meyer, Marcus Milius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden. 

Thank you, Sam, and farewell —

EXTRA! THE CANGELOSI CARDS CD

newsboy2Thanks to Eve Polich, I learned that the Cangelosi Cards debut CD was not only finished but on sale.  I’d been thinking about this disc since Tamar Korn had said that the Cards were making their first-ever formal recording.   

But at the same time, bringing this extraordinary group into a recording studio made me anxious.  The Cards create an ecstatic spectacle whenever they perform.  Even if there isn’t a whole line of dancers in front of the band, the music makes everyone bond joyously, and the band climbs higher and higher. 

I’ve been at recording sessions, observing the most experienced professionals, and I know the effect that even the most congenial studio can have on creative improvisers.  Everyone plays splendidly, but there is the chilling effect of being watched too closely, of having your every breath recorded — literally — for posterity.  It’s a rare band that’s totally relaxed in the studio, and most musicians seem exhausted at the end of the session, relieved that it’s over, vaguely dissatisfied with the results.  I wondered if the artificial environment of the recording studio would cause the Cards to lose some of their exquisite energies?   

I need not have worried.  Yes, there’s no crowd audible on the CD, and the absence of enthusiastic noise took a few minutes to get used to.  But the music comes through more clearly than it ever does in live performance.  I hear nuances of timbre in solo and ensemble that I would only have sensed in a club.  And the Cards seem not at all intimidated by the microphones, the weight of being captured for immortality.  From the first notes of MY BLUE HEAVEN, the Cards rock — without strain or tension, but with a graceful intensity.  The rhythm section is splendidly easy; the front-line players show off their distinctive voices and timbres.  Subtle, convincing little arrangements, too.  As we’ve seen, the Cards are full of surprises: no performance is predictable, although there is none of that irritating seeking-after-novelty that distinguishes lesser groups.  You’ll hear a persuasive, irresistible swing that gives way to tender ballad playing, in their characteristically varied repertoire — hinting at Billie Holiday and Jimmie Rodgers, to mention only two names. 

Tamar’s voice is, as always, a delight — and in this form, I can hear textures that a club audience might have over-ridden.  She sings sweetly, growls the blues, becomes her own trumpet / hi-hat cymbal, and yodels — her focused but expansive vocal instrument responding to every nuance of the music.  And I truly admire the witty trombone playing of Musselman, Lichtman’s fluent clarinet and eloquent mandolin work, Milius’s forceful harmonica solos, Meyer’s perfectly poised violin playing, Sanders’ solid rhythm playing and eloquent lines, Holden’s deep-down bass support, and Webster’s nimble, searching piano.  The Cards would have been welcome on Fifty-Second Street in its glory days: hear the rocking momentum they create on IDA, as well as the Victorian delicacy of TREASURES UNTOLD.       

And, although it seems paradoxical, the disc isn’t too long.  Many CDs are filled to the brim with twenty similar performances, making listening to them somewhat exhausting.  The eight selections here are a wonderfully satisfying banquet.     

The details?  The CD is available for $10 from La Compania de Musicos Viajeros (www.losmusicosviajeros.net) 718-744-7391; email is correspondence@losmusicosviajeros.net.  Obviously, the ideal way to buy it is to pick up several copies at a Cards appearance.  Why “several copies”?  They make ideal gifts;  they will be collectors’ items; they help fund this irreplaceable band.  But you already have figured that out.  I heard rumblings that it would be possible to download the music from the site, but you’d have to check there.

The disc is called THE CANGELOSI CARDS: CLINTON STREET RECORDINGS.  My Blue Heaven / It’s Like Reaching For The Moon / Blue Yodel No. 2 / Ida, Sweet As Apple Cider / September Song / Puttin’ On The Ritz / Treasures Untold / The Anniversary Song.  It features the full octet: Jake Sanders, guitar; Tamar Korn, vocals; Cassidy Holden, bass; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and mandolin; Marcus Millius, harmonica; Karl Meyer, violin; Gordon Webster, piano.

It delights me — and I can’t wait until the next one!

A JAZZ HOLIDAY! (February 2009)

No, this post isn’t about Benny Goodman’s 1928 recording — although that record does deserve to be celebrated.  Rather, it’s about a jazz immersion because of what my college calls “Presidents’ Week” — the Monday holiday stretching into a full week to follow the public school calendar.

What that means for me (and the Beloved) is a wonderful chance to hear four live jazz sessions.

Sunday night I went to the Ear Inn, newly lit and full of people celebrating that they, too, didn’t have to get up early the next morning.  The EarRegulars were there in stellar form: Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, with their inspiring friends Scott Robinson and Greg Cohen.  I was sitting three feet from Greg’s bass, and it was a transforming experience: the rhythm shot through me all night long.  And Scott — the mysterious shape-changer of jazz, who finds a new self whenever he picks up a different horn — was in a happy groove from the opening notes of WEARY BLUES.  (Scott had brought his tenor, a cornet — I couldn’t see if it was his fabled echo cornet) and his sopranino sax.  In the second set, Rachelle Garniez sat in with her Hohner claviola, Ted G (we couldn’t figure out his last name) brought his Maccaferri guitar, and Lucy, sixteen years old, sat in on trumpet.  As they used to say in the society pages of small-town newspapers, “a good time was had by all.”

Last night I went to Banjo Jim’s to catch a return appearance of the Cangelosi Cards with their guest star Sam Parkins, who had brought “his Klarinette.”  If you want to get the flavor of that evening, I’ve posted clips from their last jam session on “LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS.”  It was a smaller hand of Cards — Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Karl Meyer, Marcus Millius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden (who uses gut strings on his bass — as the great players of the Swing Era did).  The joint rocked: Tamar sang the blues and ALL OF ME; the Cards turned into a gypsy /tango band with NUAGES, MINOR SWING, and their own line on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.  Heady stuff!

Tonight, the Beloved and I are going to the 8 PM show at Iridium to hear Barbara Rosene and her New Yorkers.  Enough said!  Barbara will sparkle and move us, and the New Yorkers include Jon-Erik, Michael Hashim, Conal Fowkes, Matt Szemela, Doug Largent, and Kevin Dorn — fine players and fine friends.

And (if that weren’t enough) we’re going downtown on Thursday for the 36th Anniversary HIGHLIGHTS IN JAZZ concert, featuring David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (or the Gully Low Jazz Band, what you will) — Jon-Erik, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, Mark Shane, David himself, and Kevin Dorn.  Jack Kleinsinger’s concerts are always models of jazz generosity, and this one includes a pair of raw recruits named Joe Wilder and Dick Hyman.

Yes, I still have to grade two more sets of student essays, but I would call this A JAZZ HOLIDAY.  Wouldn’t you?  And I haven’t even mentioned the Gully Low Jazz Band’s regular Birdland gig on Wednesday and a midday solo piano outing for Hyman at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in midtown.

New Yorkers are lucky to live in this time and place, the economy notwithstanding.  Go and hear some live jazz, even if you don’t have the week off.

CANGELOSI CARDS: LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS

Often, when the Beloved and I go to a wonderful restaurant the second time, hoping to repeat the delicious experiences, Disappointment is one of the specials, on or off the menu.  What was blissful now seems formulaic; the shine is off of everything.

So I am thrilled to report that I dared the Fates and went back to Banjo Jim’s last night to repeat the experience of one week earlier — seeing the Cangelosi Cards perform on a Monday night.

And I brought a friend: the clarinetist and reed explorer / jazz scholar / memoirist Leroy “Sam” Parkins, whose words you’ve been reading in these pages.

Or, rather, he couldn’t stay away.  He had seen my January 30 posting about the Cards: CANGELOSI CARDS: SWEET SATORI! and wondered what they were like in person, and if he should bring his “Klarinette.”  I gave him encouraging answers to both questions.  The result was that Sam sat next to me right in front of the band for the first four songs (you’ll see them below) transfixed.  In fact, if you listen closely, you’ll hear an astonished man’s voice commenting on what’s going on in a kind of jazz rapture.

Tamar and Jake were happy to meet him and delighted with the idea that he wanted to sit in once the band got itself into its groove.

The Cards began as a band-within-the-band (a neat trick for such a compact touring ensemble) in Hot Club style.  Tamar Korn stood at our left, and you’ll see Karl Meyer on violin, Marcus Millius on harmonica, Jake Sanders on guitar, and Cassidy Holden on bass, pizzicato and arco both.  Everyone was in splendid form, with solo honors often going to Jake and Cassidy, both of whom soloed at greater length than I had heard them do a week ago.

The set began unusually with a soulful rendition of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, one of those songs (like GOODNIGHT, SWEETHEART) I expect bands to play at the end of the night, the close of the gig.  Here it was a wistful jumping-off place, quite remarkable.

Then, another piece associated with farewells (what was going through everyone’s mind?): AFTER YOU’VE GONE.

Gordon Webster, pianist of note, came in just in time to join the Cards on EXACTLY LIKE YOU — which I think of as ‘ZACKLY — and he was more than welcome.

Another admonitory song (in the “you’d better watch your step” mode) followed: SOME OF THESE DAYS.

Next to me, Sam alternated between rapture and impatience — this, after all, is truly his music, the sounds he grew up with.  Ever the instigator, I suggested he politely let everyone see that his clarinet was assembled, the reed properly moist and seated happily in the ligature . . . and it worked.  He was invited to the bandstand (an illusion at Banjo Jim’s) and, even better, the estimable trombonist Matt Musselman and Dennis Lichtman (usually on clarinet but initially doubling mandolin with great style and skill) came in.

Once the front line (actually leaning against the back wall and window) had settled itself in and introductions had been accomplished, someone asked Sam if he knew IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE.  This courtesy made me smile: it’s graciousness of the highest order when the members of the band want to make sure that the newcomer is comfortable with their repertoire.  But it was a kindness that Sam didn’t need, as he smiled gently and said that it was the first song he had learned to play as a young man in the Thirties.  He has an innate gleeful sense of his environment, and he let them know how pleased he was that they had chosen something that was in his very capillaries.)

And did they swing out.  Catch Matt grinning while Sam plays, and notice that although Tamar has taken her inspiration from Fats Waller’s recording (always a good idea!) that her scat singing goes deep inside.  It’s plaintive and nearly primitive, reaching back before recordings.

After a sweet, long MOONGLOW and a deep-down TISHOMINGO BLUES (not visible here because so many eager, expert dancers — including the nimbly stomping Mimi Terris — obscured Flip’s view), the Cards decided to end their set with another surprise.  Eddie Cantor’s theme, IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, is almost always done at a medium tempo.  Red Nichols took it very slowly; Eddie Condon (twenty years later) repeated the same wonderful idea (Pee Wee Russell in charge, both times).  But I’d really never heard it done as a stomp — which it is here. (Incidentally, all the percussive accents you hear in these clips are Tamar’s inventions.)

When this set was over, I was both elated and drained.  I had said I would stay for the second one, but I ended up taking my leave by saying to Tamar, “I’m full!  I don’t need to hear any more music,” and I happily drove home, thinking about the experience — which is at once jazz, country, Hot Club stomp, and music with a timeless yearning delicacy.  And a good deal of my pleasure is that Flip and I can share essential portions of it with you.

It just might be that the Cards are a pleasure we can go back to again and again with no diminuition of joy or insight.  At least I can testify that their brand of heartfelt, romping lightning struck twice — in the same place, no less.

CANGELOSI CARDS: SWEET SATORI!

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Because of a much-appreciated friendly email nudge from Jim Balantic, the Beloved and I (with Flip tagging along) wended our way down to Banjo Jim’s last Monday night.

Banjo Jim’s sits at the corner of Ninth Street and Avenue C.  The area feels much like the mysterious East but it was worth the trip.  The club is a small squarish room with tables, stools, and a bar (the latter presided over by the cheerfully expert “Banjo” Lisa).  Banjo Jim’s is a neighborhood hangout, and it offers a dazzling variety of groups who play for the tip basket.

The crowd is mostly younger people, which I find encouraging, and even when the chat level gets high, they get reverently quiet when the band begins a ballad or they sense something unusual is happening.  (And, when feelings run high, there’s a good deal of fervent jitterbugging and even slow-motion tangoing in front of the band.)

Of course the club has a website: www.banjojims.com., and a MySpace page:  www.myspace.com/banjojims — everyone seems to have a MySpace page except the Beloved and myself.  (Flip isn’t telling.)

We were there because of the regular Monday night gig of the Cangelosi Cards, that musical cornucopia, and Jim’s news that their splendid singer Tamar Korn had been working on Boswell Sisters-inspired repertoire with two other harmonizing women.

And — this is no small matter — Tamar had graciously agreed to do some of the new trio material in the band’s first set (their gig ordinarily runs from 9 PM to 2:30 AM) so that the nine-to-fivers could hear some of it before their ancient eyelids began to sag.  I was especially grateful to her for this kindness, because my clock radio makes itself known four mornings a week at 5:45 AM.

When we arrived, we were met on the sidewalk by Jim and his wife Grace and a beaming Tamar; Tamar and I talked happily until our faces began to grow numb from the cold.  We spoke of the Boswell Sisters, and how their vocal arrangements seemed to have the same intense purity of chamber music — to be revered, but also to be improvised on in a personal style.  Tamar said that she and her two friends — Mimi Terris and Naomi Uyama — found that they could do instant improvisation in the style they loved on songs the Boswells had never recorded, which suggests that they have moved well beyond imitative groups, and there have been a few.  (Copying the Boswell Sisters, incidentally, is not at all easy to do.)

Inside, a young band, calling itself “The Scandinavian Half Breeds,” no fooling, was plunking away.  That foursome, offered surrealistic gypsy swing, some Thirties songs, and some lopsided yet earnest singing. The Scandinavians have a CD for sale — a mere five dollars — and they also have a MySpace page with audio samples: www.myspace.com/scandinavianhalfbreeds.

But they were what my people call a forshpeits — an appetizer, an amuse-bouche before the entree.

The Cards were at full strength: in addition to Tamar, they had Marcus Millius on harmonica, Karl Meyer on violin, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Jake Sanders on guitar (he set tempos and routines as well), Cassidy Holden on string bass, Matt Musselman on trombone, and Gordon Webster on piano.

Here’s some of what Flip, that tidy little fellow, captured.  I have to point out that Banjo Jim’s isn’t a movie set, so that people walk in front of Flip (he’s used to it) and there were couples gyrating in front of the lens.  These clips offer atmospheric cinema verite of a particularly unbuttoned sort, but I think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the club and the Cards, who are more like an ecstatic travelling ceremony than a formal orchestra.  And that’s high praise.

Here’s a wonderful rocking version of “I Ain’t Got Nobody”:

In the name of accuracy, I have to say it begins in darkness — but soon your eyes make out the nimble fingers of Jake Sanders playing his National steel guitar in the wonderful manner I associate with the West Coast genius Craig Ventresco.  Then it starts to rock, and rock hard.  This is the kind of music that great improvisers of any kind make when no one is paying attention, when they are blissfully playing for themselves.  And the dancers!  Tamar couldn’t keep still at the beginning, and the whole room was swaying, although Flip couldn’t take his little monocular self away from the band.  (He’s a fan.  Now it can be told.)

The Cards decided to slow the tempo down — and Tamar explored a truly lovely ballad, “It’s Like Reaching For the Moon,”  which most people know, if at all, through Billie’s version.  Examined closely, the song is a rather simple motif, repeated, and the lyrics aren’t exactly Larry Hart.  (Charlie Levenson, jazz man-about-town, was sitting next to me, and he kept muttering ecstatically, “I love this song.  This is my favorite song!” so perhaps I am being too harsh.)  But what lifts it above the ordinary is Tamar’s singing — full of genuine yearning.  We believe her, as do the Cards.

After two songs about unfulfilled love, even at different tempos, it was time to explore another dramatic situation, and the Cards turned to Irving Berlin’s satiric Socialism (like “Slummin’ On Park Avenue,” it has a sharp political subtext).  Catch the weaving, seductive tempo they choose, and admire Matt’s wicked trombone playing:

Then it was time for what Jim had promised: Tamar, Mimi Terris, and Naomi Uyama got together on the tiny bandstand (this is one of those clubs where nothing delineates the end of the Audience and the beginning of the Stage, which is a truly good thing in this case) for “Moonglow,” which was properly ethereal.  These girls have it:

We were glowing!  The set ended with another loving consideration of meteorological phenomena, “Stardust,” which Tamar said she “learned from the music,” but clearly she, Naomi, and Mimi are well beyond the notes on the page, into some beautifully mystical realm:

When the Cards’ set was over, it was around 11:30 — time for the aging wage-slaves to find their cars and drive home.  But there was more!

As we were getting ready to go, Tamar said there was one more Boswell Sisters piece that she, Mimi, and Naomi had been working on.  They planned to perform it much later on but knew we would want to hear it.  Would we mind waiting for them?  Jim, Grace, and I looked at each other, grinned, wrapped our coats a little tighter, and waited on Avenue C.  In a few minutes, the Girl Trio came out (as an unrequested surrogate parent, I checked that their coats were properly buttoned up).

The trio positioned themselves in front of us on Ninth Street, and began a most unearthly beautiful a cappella rendition of the Sisters’ radio theme, “Shout, Sister, Shout.”  As you may remember, that’s a moody slow-drag, all about how singing the right way has Satan on the run.  (Would that this were the case.)  Their voices were pure and low-down at the same time, soulful and intense.  I listened, transfixed.

In an odd way, it was as close to being a royal patron of the arts as I will ever be — with Mozart playing his new piece near the dinner table to give the guests a little night music.  It was eerie, lovely, and awe-inspiring. . . as if Beauty had slipped her arms around me while I stood out in the cold.

Listening to live jazz is, with luck, a series of special moments when a listener feels that Something Rare is taking place, and it often is.  But it’s even rarer for a musician or musicians to create such tender intimacy that the listener feels, “They are playing this song just for me.”

Even though I knew it was an illusion, I felt that way while Lee Wiley sang in her 1972 farewell concert in Carnegie Hall, and I remember a much more personal example.  Once, Stu Zimny and I went to hear Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s — this would have been the same year.  Ryan’s was an inhospitable place for college kids who wanted to make their bottle of Miller High Life (awful beer even at $2.50 a bottle) last for hours.  Roy must have been playing another gig, so his place was taken by the veteran Louis Metcalf, who had played with King Oliver and Duke Ellington in the Twenties.  He was a far less electrifying player than Roy, but one moment cannot be erased.  On a medium-tempo “Rosetta,” Metcalf put his Harmon mute (the stem still attached) in his horn and went from table to table, playing a half-chorus here and there, six inches from our ears.  I can no longer remember the shape of his solo or the contours of the melodic paraphrase, but the experience — jazz at the closest possible range — gave me delighted chills then and I can see it now.

This version of “Shout, Sister,Shout,” girlish and earnest, graceful and disembodied — their three voices harmonizing as if in the middle of the darkness — was even more electrifying.  As I drove home, shaken and levitated, I thought, “I might have died and never heard this.  My God, I am lucky!”

To experience something of the same repertoire — although I can’t promise that you will have a private serenade on the sidewalk — be sure to follow the Cards wherever they go.  If you judge musicians by the quality of their formal wear, the Cards seem loose and casual, but the musical experiences they offer you won’t encounter elsewhere.  Blazing enlightenment is possible if you’re listening closely.

STILL MORE CAPTAIN VIDEO! THE CANGELOSI CARDS, NOVEMBER 10, 2008

A warning to the aesthetically sensitized: the video clips below are cinematographically substandard.  In video and films, if you are offended by the distracting sight of people walking in front of the camera, obscuring your view, the purported subjects appearing tiny, please don’t attempt to watch this (especially without a parent or guardian present).

However, you would then be depriving yourself of evidence of one of the great moments in recent jazz: the meeting of the Cangelosi Cards and members of the Traditional Jazz Collective.  As an alternative, turn away from the monitor and delight in the sounds.

There!  These videos would never get me into the cafeteria of the world’s least accomplished film school, but they do — however weirdly — record what I saw and heard from the back of the room at Banjo Jim’s, 11 PM on Monday night, November 10, 2008.  As I’ve written, that performance seemed one of those ecstatic moments where everyone in the room understood the joyous purposes that had brought them together: the musicians, the dancers, the crowd.  I thought it a thrilling experience, and I hope that some small fragment of the emotion comes through on these clips.

On the first one, Tamar Korn sings “Milenberg Joys,” accompanied by Jake Sanders, guitar; Karl Meyer, violin; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Cassidy Holden, bass; Marcus Milius, harmonica, and sitters-in Jesse Gelber, piano; Charlie Caranicas, cornet; Michael Hashim, alto sax.  The “drums” you hear are from Tamar’s repertoire of sounds — rimshots, hi-hat cymbal hisses and swishes . . . frankly amazing, even for someone who catches himself doing Jo Jones when he thinks that the recorded music needs it.

And here’s a tender, searching exploration of “I’m Confessin'”:

And for those of you whose eyes cry out for visual representation that won’t cause eyestrain, after those minutes of cinema-excessively-verite, here is Jim Balantic’s lovely candid portrait of the Cards at Harefield Road, looking alternatively happy, pensive, and peaceful.  Thanks, Jim!

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OUR OWN FOUR-DAY NYC JAZZ FESTIVAL

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This remarkable weekend began on Friday night (November 7) at the New York Historical Society on Central Park West, with a free one-hour concert featuring bassist-singer-composer Jay Leonhart, amidst what the MC introduced, somewhat oddly, as “rising stars” Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals, Ted Rosenthal, piano, and Alvin Atkinson, drums. The program mixed several Richard Rodgers classics, “Shall We Dance,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” Bernstein’s “Cool,” with two Leonhart originals and a closing romp through “Lester Leaps In.”  Rosenthal sparkled; Atkinson swung.

But the high point of the evening was an exploration of what Leonhart called “a jazz prayer,” “Body and Soul.”  That 1930 song can be a problem for musicians, as it has been played so nobly by so many: Coleman Hawkins, Louis, Bird in his first flights, Duke and Blanton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Lucky Thompson, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, the Benny Goodman Trio, etc.   This performance began with Leonhart’s arco solo and then reached heights with Wycliffe’s plunger-muted, stately exploration of the theme.  Wycliffe knows full well how to honor a melody rather than simply leaping into variations on chord changes).  Waggling his plunger in and out, he mixed growls and moans, naughty comedy and deep sighs, as if Tricky Sam Nanton or Vic Dickenson was playing a hymn.  The solo ended all too soon.

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Not only was the concert free, but the museum was open to all, so the Beloved and I wandered through lovely landscape paintings.  Future Fridays at the NYHS (all beginning at 6:30 PM) will feature The Western Wind (a contemporary classical vocal sextet) on November 14, on the 21, guitarists from the Manhattan School of Music (teachers and proteges); Cheryl B. Engelhardt and Oscar Rodriguez (guitar) on December 5, jazz again on December 12, with Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Tootie Heath, and ending with Latin music on the 19th from the Samuel Torres Group.

We rested on Saturday to prepare ourselves for the exuberances to come.

Sunday afternoon found us at Sweet Rhythm on Seventh Avenue South for the third gathering of Jon-Erik Kellso and Friends: this time bassist Kelly Friesen, drummer Andrew Swann, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and reedman Peter Reardon-Anderson, doubling tenor and clarinet.  Hyperbole is a dangerous thing, but I came away from these two sets thinking that I had heard the most exciting jazz in years.

I so admire Jon-Erik’s ability to shape an ad hoc ensemble into a cohesive one, and he did it through the two sets, creating jazz that was of this time and place, looking back to New Orleans and collective improvisation, forward to contemporary “Mainstream” solos.  If I kept thinking of Keynote Records 1943-46, perhaps that’s because those jubilant performances kept being evoked on the stand at Sweet Rhythm.  Rossano strode and glided, sometimes in a Basie mood (appropriately) on “Doggin’ Around” and “Topsy”; Kelly took the glories of Milt Hinton (powerful rhythm, a huge tone, beautiful arco work on “All Too Soon”) and made them his own, and Andrew Swann, slyly grinning, added Sidney Catlett and Cliff Leeman to his swinging progenitors.  Anderson, twenty-one years old, is someone we can greet at the beginning of a brilliant career (to quote Emerson on Whitman): Zoot Sims and Ed Hall stand in back of his graceful, energetic playing.  Basie got honored, but so did Bing and Louis in “I Surrender, Dear,” and Kellso reminded us that not only is he playing marvelously but he is a first-rate composer: his line on “Linger Awhile” was a memorable hide-and-seek creation.  We cheered this band, and with good reason.

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And the room was full of Jazz Friends who didn’t get up on the bandstand: Bill and Sonya Dunham, Jim and Grace Balantic, Nina Favara, Lawri Moore, Marianne Mangan and Robert Levin.  A righteous congregation!

And the five portraits you see here — from the top, Jon-Erik, Rossano, Kelly, Andrew, and Peter — come from this gig, courtesy of Lorna Sass, jazz photographer.

Perhaps I am a jazz glutton, but those two sets weren’t enough: I walked downtown to the Ear Inn to soak up one more set by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik, Chris Flory on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass, and Michael Blake on tenor, someone entirely new to me.  (He and Jon-Erik go ‘way back, although they hadn’t played together in years.)  Blake is exceedingly amiable, so we found ourselves chatting at the bar — about small towns near Victoria (Souk for one) and Pee Wee Russell, about the odd and gratifying ways people come to jazz, about Lucky Thompson and jazz clarinet.  Then it was time for the EarRegulars to hit, and they surely did — from a “Blue Skies” that became “In Walked Bud,” to Blake’s feature on (what else?) “Body and Soul.”  Here, backed by the wonderfully sensitive duo of Chris and Greg, he broke the theme into fragments, speculating on their possibilities, becoming harmonically bolder with a tone that ranged from purring to rasping (some echoes of Lacy), exploring the range of his instrument in a delicate, earnest, probing way.  It was a masterful performance, and I am particularly delighted to encounter such brave creativity from a player I didn’t know before.

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Of course, the near-collisions of beauty and contemporary weirdness never fail to amaze.  I was sitting at the bar at the Ear, welcomed there by Victor, who knows more jazz than most critics.  At the bar, to my left, three and sometimes four people were facing away from the band, hunched over their Black Berry or Black Berries, their iPhones, what have you.  Electronically glowing tiny screens, blue and white, shone throughout the club.  I too am a techno-addict — but why go to a bar to check your BlackBerry and ignore the live art being created not five feet away?  To treat Kellso, Blake, Flory, and Cohen as background music seems oblivious or rude.

Monday there was work — but that is always a finite obligation, even when it looms inescapably — but soon I was back in Manhattan, drawn inexorably with the Beloved to Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and Ninth Street) to hear two groups in one night.  Banjo Jim’s seems ideal — small, congenial, a private neighborhood bar full of young people listening to the music, a real blessing.

The first group was full of old friends — Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  This incarnation included Charlie Caranicas on cornet, Michael Hashim on alto sax, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and vocal, Jesse Gelber on piano, Kevin on drums.  Kevin kicked things off with a romping “I Want To Be Happy,” explicitly summoning up the 1972 New School concert where Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood — someone named Eddie Condon in charge — showed what could be done with that simple line.  (I was at that concert, too.)  J. Walter Hawkes, one of my favorite unsung singers, did his wonderful, yearning “Rose Room.”  Barbara Rosene sat in for a thoughtful “Pennies From Heaven,” complete with the fairy-tale verse, and the proceedings closed with a hot “China Boy.”

And then — as if it that hadn’t been enough — the Cangelosi Cards took the stand.  They are the stuff of local legend and they deserve every accolade.  A loosely-arranged ensemble: Jake Sanders on acoustic guitar, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Gordon Webster on piano, Karl Meyer on violin, Cassidy Holden on bass.  They are all fine players, better than many with larger reputations.  I thought I heard a drummer but saw no one at the trap set: later I found out that their singer, Tamar Korn, has a remarkable vocabulary of clicks, hisses, and swishes — she fooled me and she swung.  The group has a Django-and-Stephane flavor, but they are not prisoners of that sound, that chugging rhythm, that repertoire.  They began with “Douce Ambiance,” moved to Harry Barris’s “It Was So Beautiful,” and then Eddie Durham’s “Topsy.”

Early on in the set, it became clear that this band has a devoted following — not just of listeners, but of dancers, who threw themselves into making the music physically three-dimensional in a limited space.  Wonderful inspired on-the-spot choreography added to the occasion, an exultant Happening.

Then Tamar Korn got up to sing — she is so petite that I hadn’t quite seen her, because I was seated at the back of the small square room.  But I heard her, and her five songs are still vibrating in my mind as I write this.  Without attempting to be mysterious in any way (she is friendly and open) she is someone unusual.  Rumor has it that she hails from California, but I secretly believe she is not from our planetary system.  When I’ve suggested this to her, she laughs . . . but doesn’t deny it.

Tamar’s singing is focused, experimental, powerful.  In her performance of “Avalon,” she began by singing the lyrics clearly, with emotion but not ever “acting,” then shifted into a wordless line, high long held notes in harmony with the horns, as if she were Adelaide Hall or a soprano saxophone, then did two choruses of the most evocative scat-singing I’ve ever heard (it went beyond Leo Watson into pure sound) and then came back to the lyrics.

Her voice is small but not narrow, her range impressive.  What I find most exhilirating is the freedom of her approach: I hear old-time country music (not, I must add, “country and western,” but real roots music), blues and bluegrass, the parlor soprano essaying light classics, opera, yodeling, swing — and pure sound.  She never appears to be singing a song in any formulaic way.  Rather, she is a vessel through whom the force of music passes: she is embraced by the emotions, the notes, the words.

And when the Cards invited their friends — that is, Charlie Caranicas, Michael Hashim, and Jesse Gelber — to join them for “Milenberg Joys,” “I’m Confessin’,” and “Avalon,” it was as close to soul-stirring ritual in a New York club as I can remember.  The room vibrated; the dancers threw their hands in the air, people stood up to see better, the music expressed intense joy.  I don’t know whether Margaret Mead had rhythm in her feet, but she would have recognized what went on at Banjo Jim’s.

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I hope to have video, thanks to Flip, to post shortly.  Tune in again!  (And another weekend is coming soon . . . tempus fugit isn’t so terrifying when there are glories like this to look forward to.)

Only in New York, I am sure.

All photographs by Lorna Sass, copyright 2008.