Tag Archives: Charles Ives

“BLUE NOTES THAT FRAME THE PASSION”: RAY SKJELBRED’S TRIBAL WISDOM

Pianist / composer / scholar / poet Ray Skjelbred is one of the rare ones.

I don’t say this only because of his deeply rewarding piano playing — soloist, accompanist, bandleader — but because of the understanding that it rests upon.  Ray understands that he is one of long line of creators — members of the tribe of improvising storytellers, some of them no longer on the planet but their energies still vividly alive.

He doesn’t strive to copy or to “recreate”; rather, he honors and embodies in ways that words can only hint at.  Call it an enlightened reverence that takes its form in blues-based melodic inventions, and you’ll be close to understanding the essence of what Ray does, feels, and is.

Here are some of his own introspections: “I get ideas by trying to hear the world differently, sometimes even misunderstanding sound on purpose. . . . I like to see things differently, to shape a song, to make it mine. I like to make tempo changes, especially fast to slow, I like to make the notes as round and warm as possible and part of that comes from shading a composition with blue notes that frame the passion. I like to fill in harmonies when the melody feels a little bony to me. . . . I think music is an adventure, a chance to shape sound with your bare hands.”

I’ve admired his playing for some years now — before I knew him as a soloist, I heard him through ensembles on recordings led by other musicians, rather in the way one would hear Hines, Horace Henderson, Joe Sullivan, Frank Melrose, Jess Stacy, Zinky Cohn, Tut Soper, Cassino Simpson, Alex Hill, or a dozen others subversively and happily animating the largest group.

There are several ways to experience this magic — Ray making himself a portal through which the elders can speak, while adding his own personal experiences.  One, of course, is to witness his transformations in person.  To do this, you’d have to know where he is going to be playing — check out the bottom of the page here for his appearances in the near future.

Another way t0 have a portable Skjelbred festival is through his compact discs, recent and otherwise, listed here. I call two new issues to your attention.  One, RAGTIME PIANO, is — beneath its rather plain title — a continued exploration of subversive possibilities, witty and warm.

I remember the first time I began to listen to it — with small surprises popping through the surface like small flowers, catching me off guard, subtler than Monk creating his own version of stride piano but with some of the same effect.  Each track is a small hot sonata, with the surprises resurfacing to make the whole disc a suite of unusual yet comfortable syncopated dance music.

The sixteen solo piano performances offer classics, stretched and reconsidered: SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / SOMETHING DOING / WHOOPEE STOMP / LOUISIANA RAG / MOURNFUL SERENADE / DANCE OF THE WITCH HAZELS / PINEAPPLE RAG / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING, as well as Ray’s originals — inspired by everyone from Emily Dickinson to Julia Child: SMILING RAG / LEAN AND GRIEFY RAG / DON’T CROWD THE MUSHROOMS / COCHINEAL RAG / LITTLE ELMER’S RAG / THE PICOT RAG / REFLECTIONS RAG / BALLS AND STRIKES FOREVER.

Another deep lesson in how to get the most music possible — and then some — from the piano can be found in Ray’s PIANO PORTRAITS, which demonstrates his range of endearing associations, from the Hot Five and early blues singers to Carl Kress and Eddie Lang, from Jimmie Noone and early Ellington to Bix, Hines, and Charlie Shavers. It’s a filling and fulfilling musical banquet: SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD / FEELING MY WAY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / WEATHER BIRD RAG / SQUEEZE ME / I NEED YOU BY MY SIDE / DINAH / READY FOR THE RIVER / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / CLARK AND RANDOLPH / CANNED MEAT RAG / BLUES FROM “CREOLE RHAPSODY” / BLUES FOR MILLIE LAMMOREUX / FATHER SWING / WHEN I DREAM OF YOU / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / MY HEART / MUGGLES / UNDECIDED.  Ray’s prose is as forthright and evocative as his playing, so this CD is worth reading as well as hearing for his recollections of Johnny Wittwer, Joe Sullivan, Burt Bales, Art Hodes, and Earl Hines.

Another way to experience Ray, his mastery of “those pretty notes and jangly octaves,” can be through these video performances.  He has been more than gracious to me, allowing me to capture him in a variety of settings.  I offer one here, BULL FROG BLUES, recorded on November 29, 2013, at the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival — with his Cubs, that savory band: Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Mike Daugherty, drums:

Wherever Ray goes, whatever the context in which he makes music, it’s always rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

GENEROUS FRIENDS BEARING GIFTS: UNHEARD LOUIS (1947), BUSTER, DUKE, AND MORE

BLOGGIN’ AROUND, Autumn 2013 edition.

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People who know me are often startled by the hours I spend in front of the computer, but if they knew what friendships and generosities I find there, they would be less appalled, or at least I hope so.  Here are four blogs that will capture your attention for the best reasons, if you love this music.

My ebullient friend Ricky Riccardi has been writing and sharing music connected with Louis Armstrong for some years now, but just the other day he offered us an amazing treat: the earliest recordings we have (new discoveries) of live performance by Louis’ All-Stars, in Chicago, performing ROYAL GARDEN BLUES.  The band — a heaven-sent ensemble — was Louis, Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Dick Cary, Arvell Shaw, and Sidney Catlett. It’s a marvelously leisurely performance, full of controlled power and ease. Hear it here and read Professor Riccardi’s lively commentary.

My pal and colleague Andrew Jon Sammut has also been pedaling along in cyberspace, creating his own path, for some time now: enjoying “pop music” from several centuries, from Vivaldi to Venuti and back again.  Here he shares his latest discovery with us — some music in a variety of forms from the much-respected yet often-undervalued clarinetist William C. “Buster” Bailey from Memphis, Tennessee.

David J. Weiner is a newcomer to the world of blogging but certainly not to the world of music.  A generous humorous fellow who is erudite about a large variety of music, he never wields his knowledge violently. David (whom I first met before I had my driver’s license) has started a new blog, which he calls — in proper Millerite adulation — COMMUNITY SWING and its early entries have startling discoveries about Duke Ellington, Chick Webb, even Charles Ives. I’ve been enjoying it fervently.

And someone I’ve not met, James A. Harrod, has created a new blog devoted to the television program JAZZ SCENE USA, the mid-Fifties creation of Steve Allen.  On it you can see information about television that will make you rethink Newton Minnow’s characterization of it as a “vast wasteland,” for Allen’s love for jazz reached from Ben Pollack to Jutta Hipp, which is admirable.  Visit here for all of the good stuff.

Generous, informed, wise people — and they never tell us what they had for breakfast.  I treasure them!

May your happiness increase!

THE IMAGININGS OF EARL HINES

Earl Hines is both revered and under-acknowledged, a position many jazz legends find themselves in.  He was in the public eye for more than sixty years, playing everywhere.  But his energy and abundance have often tended to make him a caricature of himself: late in life, he surrounded himself with functional but less inspiring musicians, and the listener was often treated to spectacles: mountainous versions of BOOGIE WOOGIE ON THE SAINT LOUIS BLUES that seemed to go on forever.

But in his prime — and that lasted, intermittently, throughout his life, he could be mesmerizing.  I remember seeing him at a solo concert at The New School in 1972: his pyrotechnics on BWOTSLB made me look at my watch, but his tender, mournful playing and singing of I’M A LITTLE BROWN BIRD LOOKING FOR A BLACKBIRD stays in my mind all these years.

When he was fully realized — often when playing solo — he reminded me of Emerson’s comment that the best journey is a series of zigzag tacks.  Stride piano proceeded in straight lines (and that’s no insult); Hines started from apparently simple but highly embellished statements of the melody and grew wilder and wilder, even at slow tempos, seeming like the Japanese brush painter beginning a view of Mount Fuji with only four calligraphic strokes but ending up, three or four minutes later, with an intensely detailed mosaic — the canvas filled to the edges with flourishes and dancing satyrs.  Hines didn’t know “restraint”; “ornate” to him was like breathing.  In some ways, he resembles the Joyce of Ulysses, who found simple linear narrative constricting and boring, preferring to present a reader (a hearer) with simultaneous conversations going on.  You forget that it’s only one piano and one musician, only ten fingers: a full Hines solo defies all logic.  “That can’t be one person playing!” the ears insist.  But it is.  His own Charles Ives, with no orchestra but his own ten fingers.

Here he is, explaining his style to Ralph J. Gleason and the television audience on Gleason’s JAZZ CASUAL, circa 1961:

And the gorgeous and dense GLAD RAG DOLL from 1929 — a wandering universe complete in itself, full of light and shade and surprises:

A year earlier, his ruminations on I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, which takes its beautiful time to get there:

Finally, two little lessons by contemporary jazz masters of the keyboard.  First, Chris Dawson’s transcription of Hines’s 1934 ROSETTA solo:

Then Dick Hyman tells us how to become Hines at home.  Remember to keep counting!

Thanks to Robert D. Rusch, whose gentle urging made this happen, and of course to Louis Armstrong, whose gentle prodding made Hines leap forward into the power of his own audacities.

“THE TRISTANO SCHOOL” (New York Times, Jan. 9, 2011)

First, the picture — from the Bettmann / Corbis archives: the original jazz club Birdland, perhaps on opening night in 1949.  From the left, Max Kaminsky on trumpet, Lester Young on tenor saxophone, a nearly-hidden George Wettling on drums, Hot Lips Page on trumpet, Charlie Parker on alto saxophone, Lennie Tristano on piano.

Had I been there at that front table, I would not have been turning my head away to see what the other people or the photographer happened to be doing, but that matters little now.  (And where are the acetates of this music, broadcast by the Voice of America — this imagined blues performance, especially?)

The photograph accompanies an article by Nate Chinen in The New York Times, relevant to my anticipation of tenor saxophonist Ted Brown’s upcoming gig:

Had he enjoyed a different sort of jazz career, you might say that Ted Brown was finally making a comeback. A tenor saxophonist drawn to a light and lyrically swinging style, Mr. Brown turned 83 last month, with just a handful of albums to his name. For the better part of 30 years, from the early 1960s on, he made his living as a computer programmer. “I’m not good at going out and getting gigs,” he said recently, sounding resigned and matter of fact. By his account his last booking in New York as a bandleader was in 1976 at the short-lived Midtown branch of George Wein’s Storyville club.

His next booking is Wednesday night at the Kitano Hotel on Park Avenue, and the circumstances are ripe for his return. Mr. Brown was among the early protégés of Lennie Tristano, a blind pianist and composer who charted his own course through modern postwar jazz before withdrawing into a reclusive life of pedagogy. (He died in 1978.) The music of the Tristano School, as it came to be known, was for many years the province of niche enthusiasts, and only a rare point of reference for musicians in the jazz mainstream.

That’s no longer the case, thanks to the ascendant influence of a generation of players — like the saxophonist Mark Turner, 45, and the guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, 40 — who have been vocal in their admiration for Tristano’s harmonically daring, melodically intricate music. Greater availability of that music has furthered the cause, as have scholarly examinations like “Lennie Tristano: His Life in Music” (University of Michigan Press), published in 2007. The Tristano School, always ahead of its time, has come to feel congruent with ours, exerting real influence among younger musicians, including some of the brightest and best.

Mr. Brown, a first-wave initiate with stories to tell, should be of serious interest to them. “I moved from Southern California to New York in September 1948,” he said in a phone conversation, speaking from his home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. “I had been to New York when I was in the Army in ’46, and heard a lot of music on 52nd Street. I wanted to get back here, and I wanted to find a good teacher.”

Tipped off by an Army acquaintance who had studied with Tristano, Mr. Brown attended a private session and soon became a disciple, joining two other gifted saxophonists: Lee Konitz, who at 83 is among jazz’s great unfaltering elders; and Warne Marsh, who died in 1987. Mr. Brown’s best-circulated recordings were all made with one or the other of these peers.

Tristano was an imposingly dexterous pianist with a commitment to contemporary harmony and the forward-skimming melodic line. Born and raised in Chicago, he moved to New York in 1946, when bebop was ascendant. His music resembled bop in its brisk variations on standard themes, but was less rhythmically volatile and more sternly obsessed with pure improvisation. He took part in the New York scene for a while, earning the respect of some prominent critics and musicians — including Charlie Parker and the pianist Billy Taylor, who died last month — but even then Tristano’s primary focus was on developing musical ideas in a workshop setting.

“Right at the beginning he told me he didn’t want students who were coming in for a few lessons and popping out on the road,” Mr. Brown said. He remained a student for seven years, helping establish a rehearsal studio above an auto shop at 317 East 32nd Street in Manhattan. The address quickly became the title of a Tristano School anthem.

“It’s gotten blown out of proportion,” Mr. Brown said of Tristano’s aloof and imperious reputation. “He was strict, but he also had a very human side.” Yet it’s true that Tristano issued scathing judgments of other musicians, and that he maintained a compulsive control over his music, gradually abandoning live performance for the studio, where he could overdub parts — as on his pioneering, self-titled 1956 Atlantic album — and stamp the output with metronomic precision, often using an actual metronome.

“He was a cult groove weirdo,” said Ethan Iverson, the pianist in the Bad Plus. “I really disapprove of the way he separated his scene from other cats who could play.”

In 2008 Mr. Iverson published a thoughtful essay on his band’s blog, Do the Math, praising Tristano’s singular genius but taking him to task for his social disengagement. In the end, Mr. Iverson wrote, it helps to think of Tristano not as a jazz musician, but rather alongside the player-piano visionary Conlon Nancarrow and the modernist composer Charles Ives, “both experimental American hermits who decided not to play with others.”

Seclusion was one reason for Tristano’s obscurity. Another, more complex, was race. (Mr. Iverson’s essay delves into that issue in detail.) Tristano played with a number of black musicians, but his inner circle was white, as was the perceived affect of his music. “Lennie’s concept was first to get a rhythm section playing very basic, so that what he was doing would be in clear relief,” Mr. Konitz explains in the 2007 book “Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser’s Art” (University of Michigan Press). Given the centrality of dynamic rhythm in jazz, that approach alienated some listeners from Tristano’s music.

“People thought it was cold,” Mr. Turner said. “The African diasporic rhythmic element was not there, not strong enough.” In his own music — notably with Fly, a leaderless trio that will appear at the Jazz Gallery on Tuesday — Mr. Turner set out to make an adjustment. “That’s something that I wanted to do, was bring that into the fold,” he said. “The harmonic information, the melodic information, all of that is so interesting, so why can’t it be brought into a warmer place rhythmically?” (He has a tune called “Lennie Groove.”)

Growing up in Southern California, Mr. Turner discovered Warne Marsh and responded to the style. “It was almost like a no-no,” he said of his interest in the Tristano School. “No one was doing it, no one in the quote-unquote modern mainstream jazz world.” He responded to the articulate force of the music, but it was more than that: “Something about it spoke to my own personal life and upbringing, being a person of African descent brought up primarily in Caucasian neighborhoods. I felt I was going out on a limb, kind of like when I started listening to rock music and new wave and ska.”

Because Mr. Turner is one of the most emulated saxophonists of the last 15 years, especially among music students, the Tristano School has seeped into the consciousness of a new generation of players. Some of his colleagues, similarly revered by the conservatory crowd, have intensified the process. Mr. Rosenwinkel, a longtime band mate of Mr. Turner’s, favors the harmonic involution and long, unfurling lines of the Tristano School. The drummer Jorge Rossy, another Tristano enthusiast, was a decadelong member of the extremely influential Brad Mehldau Trio. And of course there’s Mr. Iverson, who like Mr. Mehldau has played occasionally with Mr. Konitz.

There was a post-bop Tristano School undercurrent well before Mr. Turner and his circle. The critic Stanley Crouch has astutely argued that Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock drew from Marsh and Tristano, and there’s at least a whisper of Tristano in Keith Jarrett’s pianism. But widespread acknowledgment of the influence is new. “When I was coming up, I felt like I was really excited about that music and had very few people to share it with,” said Michael Kanan, another contemporary of Mr. Turner’s and the pianist in Mr. Brown’s quartet at the Kitano. “Now I’m encountering more young musicians interested in that music than I’ve ever seen.”

Among the 20-something pianists who have a clear admiration for Tristano is Dan Tepfer. “There are tracks of his that just can’t be ignored,” Mr. Tepfer said. Two years ago he released an album called “Duos With Lee” (Sunnyside), featuring Mr. Konitz. With two saxophonists closer to his own age, Noah Preminger and Dan Voss, he has played gigs around the city featuring nothing but Tristano School music.

Because of obvious precursors, saxophonists may be the chief new inheritors of the style. In addition to Mr. Preminger and Mr. Voss, a noncomprehensive list would include Lena Bloch, Ben Van Gelder, Jeremy Udden and Ben Wendel in New York, and Brad Linde in Washington. (For what it’s worth, all of these musicians are white.)

The streamlined aspects of jazz in the contemporary sphere make for a naturally receptive Tristano moment. “I would say there was a certain ‘straighter’ feel to the way Tristano and his school played eighth notes,” Mr. Wendel, a member of the band Kneebody, wrote in an e-mail message, “and this fits in with how a lot of present-day players approach time.”

For his part Mr. Brown, a profound admirer of Charlie Parker and Lester Young, looks to a more classic mode of interplay. “I always liked the concept of swinging and melody,” he said. One of his best albums, “In Good Company” (Steeplechase), from 1985, features the guitarist Jimmy Raney, the bassist Buster Williams and the drummer Ben Riley: a deeply swinging rhythm team.

What still distinguishes Mr. Brown as a Tristano-ite is the resistance to pattern work and cliché in his solos. “He’s just such a pure improviser,” Mr. Kanan said. “He plays these lovely, beautiful melodies, one after the other, never repeating himself. And never playing in a way where it seems like he’s trying to get attention.”

A DOWNTOWN PILGRIMAGE (May 30, 2010)

My Sunday-night trips downtown to the Ear Inn (in Soho, Greenwich Village, New York City, 326 Spring Street) are really spiritual pilgrimages in search of the right sounds to heal any of the non-musical affronts of the preceding week.  These quests let me watch artists at play, hear them improvise delightfully, to feel joy — things not to be taken lightly in this world.

Fortunately for me, the trip to The Ear is less arduous than the one Chaucer’s pilgrims had to undertake: they didn’t have the benefit of the C or the number 1 train.   

The healers I went to see last Sunday night (May 30) weren’t Doc Cooke and his 14 Doctors of Syncopation.  They were The Ear Regulars (or the EarRegulars — scholars differ on this): Danny Tobias, cornet; Chuck Wilson, also sax; James Chirillo, guitar; Murray Wall, bass.  Later on in the evening other swing gurus joined: Dan Block, clarinet; Pat O’Leary, cello and bass; and newcomer (from County Mohan, Ireland — although he’s been here for ten years), Tony Steele, bass.  

They began the evening with the most encouraging welcome: LINGER AWHILE:

And then, a slow-rocking SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY:

LINGER AWHILE made me think of the precious 1943 recording by Dicky Wells; SOMETIMES reminded me greatly of all the Keynote Records sessions — Danny’s lyrical motions and subtle (almost invisible) bandleading, his riffs and encouragements, always create the best small-band-Swing.

A tender but gutty CREOLE LOVE CALL followed:

Please notice James Chirillo’s wonderfully dissonant surprises [Charles Ives meets Teddy Bunn meets Herb Ellis]; Chuck Wilson’s speaking melodic style, Murray Wall’s lovely pulsing beat and singing solos.

Dinner for the band and conversation amongst everyone followed; then it was time for the second set.

A deliciously slow-motion EXACTLY LIKE YOU led off (proof that almost all great melodies can benefit from being played slowly):

An eager BEALE STREET BLUES:

A two-part version of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ brought Pat back with his cello, alongside Tony Steele on bass:

And the riffing conclusion with Pat O’Leary’s cello commentaries:

LOVE ME!:

OR LEAVE ME!:

And the evening closed with a brisk, brief, speedy CHINA BOY — the original band plus Dan Block:

Feeling lost?  Downtrodden?  Does your clothing suddenly seem heavy on your shoulders?  A trek to ask the Sage for guidance won’t be necessary.  Come to the Ear Inn or any of the other jazz spots I’ve been featuring.  I predict an immediate emotional uplift in a few hours.

THEY CALL IT MUSIC: “THE BIG 72” (March 19, 2010)

Last night I went to another of Kevin Dorn’s late-Friday evening gigs at The Garage (Seventh Avenue South).  The band, “The Big 72,” plays from 10:30 to 2:30.  Staying for all four sets would require a preparatory nap, something I’ve never managed to do — but I was so delighted with the music that I stayed for two sets rather than my customary one.  You’ll see why. 

Like his hero Eddie Condon, Kevin likes to employ his friends for gigs (you’d be surprised at the rancor floating around the bandstand on some gigs — not Kevin’s) and he had a particularly congenial crew of individualists last night. 

For lyricism, there’s the always-surprising Charlie Caranicas on cornet, who has a singing tone and many nimble approaches, not just one.  The clarinet master (and occasional singer) Pete Martinez was in splendid form, murmuring in his lower register or letting himself go with whoops and Ed Hall-shrieks.  I’d heard Adrian Cunningham only on clarinet before (at The Ear Inn and Sweet Rhythm): it was a revelation to hear him on alto, where he showed raucous rhythm-and-blues tendencies, bending notes in the manner of Pete Brown.  In the background, Michael Bank took tidy, swinging solos and offered just the right chords behind soloists.  He deserves a better piano, but he added so much.  Kelly Friesen, hero of a thousand bands, pushed the beat but never raced the time, and his woody sound cut through the Garage’s constant aural ruckus.  And Kevin — well, he was in his element, letting the music take its own path without getting in its way by “leading.”  His solos were delicious sound-structures, full of variety and propulsion, but I found myself listening even more to his accompaniments: the sound of a stick on a half-closed hi-hat cymbal, the steady heartbeat of his bass drum, the tap of his stick on the hi-hat stem.

Here are ten performances I recorded.  At first the Garage’s patrons were unusually chatty and ambulatory (or should I say Talky and Walky?)  but many of them noticed that me and my video camera.  Surprisingly, they executed sweet arabesques of ducking down and getting small so they wouldn’t walk in front of my lens.  Thank you! 

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, a pop tune beloved by late-Twenties jazz players (I think of Teagarden and Condon among them):

A devoted, serious reading of SUGAR by Pete Martinez:

If Louis Armstrong didn’t invent THEM THERE EYES, he certainly owned this bright, silly song (until Billie Holiday came and reinvented it for everyone):

That probing, perhaps unanswered question (before Charles Ives), HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, played as a Wettling-Davison romp rather than a lament:

MY GAL SAL (whose title musicians happily corrupted into “They called her Syphillis Sal”):

Homage to Bix Beiderbecke — here’s JAZZ ME BLUES:

IDA (Sweet As Apple Cider) is forever associated in my memory with Pee Wee Russell, whose choruses were always unusual in the best way:

BALLIN’ THE JACK, an eternally popular “here’s how to do this new dance” song:

Finally, BLUES MY NAAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME, recollecting JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S:

The Big 72 calls what they play music.  Or what would you suggest?

“A PRINCE OF A GUY”

MARIANNE MANGAN REMEMBERS LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

A PRINCE OF A GUY

Prequel: After spending a wonderful week in Israel (during which time he had, curiously or presciently, found the spot where he wanted his cremated ashes scattered), Sam Parkins fell gravely ill. We lost him on November 18, 2009.

Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye
I Wish That I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate
I’m A Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas
On the Alamo
These were the songs that Sam choose to play (and sing boisterously!) as solos over this last year or so since I met him. And what a Sam list it is: ebullient, eccentric, retro but vividly alive, audience-engaging, and-in the case of “On the Alamo”-very, very tender.

Sam’s musical artistry was all this. He played clarinet and tenor saxophone with a gutsy intensity that could blow right through you, but sometimes the yearning tore you in half instead. He worked professionally in idioms ranging from classical (his training) to post-swing to traditional (his heartbeat). This last year found him playing with musicians spanning 60 years in age, including regular appearances with the Gotham Jazzmen and Ronnie Washam & Friends and guesting with the Cangelosi Cards. Music never got old for Sam. There was always a new clarinet on the horizon.

And that wasn’t the half of it, either. The record business knew him as a first-rate producer for over 25 years, issuing albums of artists as diverse as Charles Ives to Cecil Taylor to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band-and in his humanistic way he championed them all. (He also won a European Grammy, 4 Grammy nominations and was praised by Gary Giddins in a recent online interview as a “solid, canny producer.”) He composed chorales of startling complexity with lyrics based on Biblical references. His engrossing, ever-evolving memoir and/or ebook chronicled the musical/political/social/historical/personal cataclysms and vagaries of the last three-quarters of a century in an emotive-intellectual-poetic style, Pauline Kael crossed with Dylan Thomas.

My husband, writer Robert Levin, and I came to know Sam through the NYC traditional jazz scene and he embraced us immediately. At one point, at his request, we’d hoped to work with him on his voluminous “Journey to Bohemia” project. As can happen, however, with 3 professional agendas, he wanted both too much and too little from us, and after a delightful but revealing dinner at his apartment we realized with heavy hearts that we would have to extricate ourselves from involvement. BUT: Not to worry, dear people, said he, let’s just be friends!

So Sam. It seems clear that this smart man was remarkably able to reconcile conflicting styles, eras, genres, desires, people, and get to the good part. He knew what to keep, and he had about a billion friends because of that. Also, because he LOVED them, and so many things. He loved riding his bicycle in Central Park. He loved his cats. He loved sharing nature photography. He loved his country. He missed his wife.

And it was so Sam of the life-affirming Mr. Parkins to die on vacation, seeing beautiful things, visiting dear friends, choosing where he wanted to Rest (but maybe not so soon). Goodbye tootsie goodbye, you ding dong daddy you–and may flights of angels…

R.I.P.  LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

Postscript: the photograph of Sam was taken at the 2008 New Year’s Eve party at David Ostwald’s apartment.  David is to Sam’s left, Howard Alden and Joe Muranyi to his right.