Tag Archives: Charlie Christian

A DELICIOUS TASTING MENU OF MELODIES: JONATHAN STOUT, “PICK IT AND PLAY IT”

Here, taste this:

I can think of no one (except the Venerable Marty Grosz) who is doing what Jonathan Stout does.  But the truly important thing is that he IS doing it, and beautifully.  And the evidence is all through his lovely solo CD, PICK IT AND PLAY IT.

The guitar has a long history, and what we call “jazz guitar” does also.  Before amplification, guitarists — solo or in ensemble — had the same complicated orchestral responsibilities as pianists: keep a melody line going, play the harmonies (implied or stated), do all this while offering a solid rhythmic pulse.  If you couldn’t do all three as easily as breathing, talking, and walking, you didn’t get the gig — whether the gig was playing rocking blues in a Mississippi juke joint or supporting a small hot band in Harlem.  The masters of this genre — more than two dozen — did it as a matter of course.  Anyone who has ever picked up a guitar can learn in under a minute just how complex and intimidatingly difficult their art is.  I write this from experience.

Jonathan has mastered the subtle mystical arts of such swing deities as Allan Reuss and George Van Eps, and PICK IT AND PLAY IT presents fifteen delicious sound-paintings that come from the acoustic past but sound fresh, personal, and lively.  More than once, while listening, I found myself thinking, “If Dick McDonough had lived, he might have made a session like this.”  If you understand my reference, you either already have this disc or you owe it to yourself to have several copies, in case rationing comes back.

If I remember correctly, Van Eps — whose gracious presence is vividly audible here — called this style of guitar playing “lap piano,” and it balances sharply-realized single lines with an overall orchestral approach.  Not only does the listener not miss string bass and drums on this CD, but they would be positively intrusive.  Stout doesn’t need them: he is his own resonant orchestra, full of shadings and colors, with a nearly relentless quiet swing.

And unlike many guitarists who are entranced by Django and post-Django, he does not seek to impress us by velocity, endurance, or flash.  His approach is stately, leisurely, full of melodic and harmonic subtlety: although these performances have the breath of improvisatory life, they are not “Hey, let’s do four choruses on [familiar tune] and go home.”  Rather, Stout has a deep compositional sense, so that I arose from each performance refreshed and fulfilled.  The CD is dense with music, but it never gets dull.  And the sense one comes away with of both Stout and his approach to the genre is not “Hey, look at me!  I spent a thousand hours on this piece!” but “How beautiful the guitar is, and listen to what memorable sounds can come from it.”

This CD offers “fifteen arrangements for solo guitar,” with a repertoire that mixes familiar pop classics with rare compositions for the instrument.  The latter are wonderful and I think they will be new to all except the most ardent student of this arcane art: Frank Victor’s PICK IT AND PLAY IT; Roy Smeck’s ITCHING FINGERS; and Allan Reuss’s APARTMENT G and PET SHOP.  (Many listeners, if they know Reuss at all, know him as the steady sweet resonant pulse in the Benny Goodman orchestra and later small-group sessions, but his compositions are a revelation.  And Reuss is Stout’s model, which says a great deal about Jonathan himself.)  Stout’s originals — dedicated to his son, not to Charlie Christian — PICKIN’ FOR CHARLIE and CHARLIE’S LULLABYE — are particularly delightful, the latter tender but never soporific.

To the casual listener, the remaining songs might seem familiar, even too much so (although in this century, the people who have heard, say, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN too often are an increasingly smaller group): STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, MOONGLOW, CHEEK TO CHEEK, IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, SUNDAY, GEORGIA ON MY MIND, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, OVER THE RAINBOW.  But this assumption would be completely wrong.

I came to CHEEK TO CHEEK, for one example, with a half-century of associations, expectations, and prized performances in my head.  But in the first minute of hearing Stout’s playing, I thought, “Wow, I’ve really never heard that song before.”  And it wasn’t that he was being consciously or self-consciously innovative, but his performance had the integrity and wonder that the best musicians bring to even the simplest series of chord changes or melodies.

Two more delights add to the overall pleasure, both provided by people who themselves make splendid music.  One is the too-brief but delicious essay by guitarist Nick Rossi: what a pleasure to read uncliched prose that rests on a deep knowledge of the art.  The other is the gorgeous recorded sound created by master engineer Bryan Shaw: the guitar sounds like itself, with no “natural flavors” synthesized in the laboratory, with a minimum of string noise that is often distracting on recordings of acoustic guitar.

PICK IT AND PLAY IT is a series of small fulfilling delights — and “small” is not a criticism but a compliment.  Even if you’ve never heard of Frank Victor, or perhaps especially if you’ve never heard of Frank Victor, you will be thrilled by Jonathan Stout’s masterful subtle art.  Hear and purchase here and here.  And Jonathan is also quite a teacher: visit here to learn more — not only about his solo guitar folios and transcriptions, but about his swinging bands.

May your happiness increase!

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PISMO JOYS (Part Five): “LARRY, DAWN, and FRIENDS”: LARRY SCALA, DAWN LAMBETH, DANNY TOBIAS, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, BILL BOSCH // CHLOE FEORANZO, DANNY COOTS (October 26 and 27, 2018, Jazz Jubilee by the Sea)

One of the great highlights of the 2018 Pismo Jazz Jubilee by the Sea was the small flexible swing groups led by guitarist Larry Scala, featuring the wonderful singing of Dawn Lambeth. Without being consciously imitative, they harked back to the great Thirties and Forties recordings and performances of Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian, Count Basie, Mildred Bailey, Benny Goodman, and more.  But they weren’t ancient artifacts behind glass: they swung and were full of joyous expertise.  Here are three more performances, the first two featuring Larry, Dawn, bassist Bill Bosch, trumpeter Danny Tobias, pianist Carl Sonny Leyland; the third, from the next day, featuring clarinetist Chloe Feoranzo instead of Danny, and adding drummer Danny Coots.

Dee-lightful.

Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF:

Walter Donaldson’s LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

And from the next day, Dawn, Larry, and Bill, with Danny Coots, drums; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, for Cole Porter’s YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

Thanks to all these creative people for bringing their own brand of sweet swing to Pismo.  I hope they’ll be brightening the corners in 2019.

May your happiness increase!

PISMO JOYS (Part One): “LARRY, DAWN, and FRIENDS”: LARRY SCALA, DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, BILL BOSCH, DANNY COOTS (October 26, 2018, Jazz Jubilee by the Sea)

Only a few days ago, I had my first immersion in the pleasures of Pismo — not the sunsets or the salt-water taffy, but the musical joys of the Jazz Jubilee by the Sea, which combines congenial people and seriously uplifting music.

What finally got me to Pismo (aside from the immense kindness of Linda and John Shorb and other helpful folks) was the chance to hear and see some friends and heroes in new combinations: Larry Scala, guitar; Dawn Lambeth, vocals; Marc Caparone and Danny Tobias, cornet and trumpet; Dave Caparone, trombone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal; Danny Coots and Jim Lawlor, drums; Steve Pikal and Bill Bosch, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar and vocal; the Au Brothers; and — new to me in person — the Shake ‘Em Up Band and Jeff Beaumont’s Creole Syncopators.  She didn’t play an instrument, but I was also able to be dazzled by my Facebook friend Brettie Page.

But first on my list was “Larry, Dawn, and Friends,” a group that delighted me throughout the weekend.  Readers will know how much I admire Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, and Danny Coots, but it was a pleasure to see Larry — with his nice mixture of the blues, Basie, and Charlie Christian — lead a small group.  His long-time friend Bill Bosch also impressed me because Bill is a purist who plays without amplification and has a lovely sound.

Here are three highlights from the first set I caught.  First, the rarely-played swing tune COQUETTE, yes, by Carmen Lombardo:

Dawn’s lovely version of the Gershwins’ THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME:

And a lightly swinging THAT OLD FEELING that has a truly feeling coda:

More to come!  (I’ve already been invited back to Pismo for next year, and it took a long pause of several miliseconds for me to say “Yes!”)

May your happiness increase!

FOUR-FOUR RHYTHM: KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, HAL SMITH at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24, 2017)

Jazz at Lincoln Center (and JazzTimes) just sent an announcement about the 2019 Jazz Congress, January 7-8, 2019 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 60th Street, New York, New York.  One panel is:

 Jazz, Swing, Race and Culture
Considering swing as a rhythm or swing as a feeling or a verb, what are the social, cultural, and racial factors that affect individuals’ perception, acceptance or rejection of the concept? Player[s] and thinkers ponder what swing means in 2019.

I doubt that it will happen, but in my ideal world, the player[s] and thinkers at JALC will watch these videos before pondering.  The music was created in 2017, not 2019, and there are other ways to swing, but what Kris and his Gang did was genuine and might eliminate some theorizing.

These four performances come from a magical band that made a splash at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest: Kris Tokarski, piano; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet / tenor saxophone; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  I could spend paragraphs pointing out resemblances and echoes of the Ancestors (you’re free to chase such things at your leisure) but I’d rather you admire these living heroes at play, and such expert play.

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

REPEATER PENCIL (and, yes, such a thing did exist: see here):

DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:

JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:

Festival organizers, club bookers, concert promoters with taste: now’s the time!

Incidentally, this is the charming 1929 record from which I take my title:

May your happiness increase!

“TAL FARLOW: A LIFE IN JAZZ GUITAR / AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY,” JEAN-LUC KATCHOURA and MICHELE HYK-FARLOW

Tal Farlow, photograph by Francis Wolff, 1953

Once again, I am in the odd position of writing a review of a book I have not finished.  I am a very quick reader of fiction, but books full of new information are imposing.  The good news is that I feel compelled to write about this book now because it is expansive and delightful: a gorgeous large-format 340-plus page book about Tal Farlow, in English and French, illustrated with many rare photographs and at the end, “Gifts from Tal,” a CD of rare music.  Unlike many substantial research volumes, it is splendidly designed and visually appealing, with so many color photographs, magazine covers, and priceless ephemera that one could spend several days, entranced, without ever looking at the text.

Here is the link to purchase this delightful volume.

Recently, I finally decided to take the more timid way into the book, and started by playing the CD — rare performances with Red Mitchell, Jimmy Raney, Gene Bertoncini, and Jack Wilkins, some recorded at Tal’s home in Sea Bright.  Interspersed with those performances, quietly amazing in their fleet ease, are excerpts from interviews with Tal done by Phil Schaap, edited so that we hear only Tal, talking about Bird, about technique, about his childhood.  I think the CD itself would be worth the price of the book, which is not to ignore the book at all.  (It is playing as I write this blogpost.)

And a digression that might not be digressive: here is the author speaking (in French) about his book and about working with Tal and Tal’s wife to create it:

and a small musical sample (Neal Hefti’s classic, here titled very formally) for those who might be unfamiliar with Tal’s particular magic: he was entirely self-taught and could not read music:

The book brims with first-hand anecdotes about Tal in the company of (or being influenced by) Charlie Christian, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Billy Kretchmer, Dardanelle, Red Norvo (whose extended recollections are a  highlight), Charles Mingus, Mary Osborne, Eddie Costa, Norman Granz, Oscar Pettiford, and Tal’s brothers of the guitar, including Herb Ellis, Jimmy Raney, Barney Kessel.

It’s a dangerously seductive book: I began revisiting it for this blog and two hours went by, as I visited text and photographs from Tal’s childhood to his death.  For guitar fanciers, there are pages devoted to his Gibsons as well.

This book deserves a more comprehensive review, but I know JAZZ LIVES readers will happily write their own.  And I have my entrancing jazz reading for the winter to come.

May your happiness increase!

A MEETING OF KINDRED SOULS: KRIS TOKARSKI, HAL SMITH, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 24, 2017)

Kris Tokarski, piano; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet / tenor sax, with guest Katie Cavera, guitar and vocals. San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 2017

In the words of Sammy Cahn, “I fall in love too easily,” but not when the Love Object is a great artist or a collection of them.  There my devotion rarely plays me false.  This band, led by the quiet virtuoso Kris Tokarski, gave extraordinary pleasure at the November 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.  I followed them happily and recorded (I think) five hour-long sets of the six they played.  Glowing music: heartfelt but beautifully expertly executed.  Somewhere Milt Gabler, Alfred Lion, and John Hammond are happily in the groove with all of us.  Here are the six posts I have already offered of the band’s great joyous surge — with guests Katie Cavera, Marc Caparone, and Dawn Lambeth: one and two and three and four and five and six.  (I did all that annoying hypertexting because I love my readers and I don’t want you stumbling around in the dark reaches of cyberspace.  Enjoy yourselves!)

Here are four brilliant performances from the band’s very first set at San Diego.  The first is a Jonathan Doyle original from 2016, called BATS ON A BRIDGE, dedicated to an Austin, Texas nature phenomenon, described here.  Jonathan has, to me, no peer at creating winding, clever witty lines based on the harmonies of “jazz standards,” and sometimes his lines are so irresistible on their own that I’ve found it hard to dig beneath to find the familiar harmonies. I’ll help you out here: the title of the song is exactly what Bithiah, otherwise known as Pharoah’s daughter, exclaimed when she saw the infant Moses in the bulrushes:

Next, a rarity at “trad” festivals, a purring reading of a ballad: in this case, YOU GO TO MY HEAD, which I believe Jonathan knew but had never performed in public.  Isn’t he marvelous?

Another Doyle original, from 2017, LONG DISTANCE MAN, whose source we get from the wise and observant Larry Kart — a story of the clarinetist Frank Chace’s meeting with Lester Young: [Chace] also told a very “Frank” story about his encounter with Lester Young in 1957 in Pres’s hotel room in (I think) Indianapolis, where Frank was playing at a club and Pres was in town with a non-JATP package tour. The drummer in the band Frank was part of, Buddy Smith, suggested that they pay Pres a visit after the gig, and when they got there, Frank (“I’m shy,” he said), hung back while the other guys gathered around Pres. Having noticed this bit of behavior, Pres beckoned Frank to come closer, addressing him softly as “long-distance man.” Probably a meeting of kindred souls.

The “kindred souls” create one of the finest blues performances I’ve heard in this century, beginning with Jonathan’s barks — part schnauzer, part Henry “Red” Allen, part walrus.  The only complaint I have here is that I wish the band had jettisoned the set list and just kept playing this, just kept on exploring the infinite spaces between the three chords, the tonalities, the steady swing:

As a set closer, the down-home classic, BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

You’ll notice I’ve avoided the game of Sounding Like (all praise to the late Barbara Lea for putting it so pungently): I hear murmurs from the admiring ghosts of Sidney Catlett, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Frank Chace, Omer Simeon, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Miller, Bud Freeman, Ike Quebec and others I haven’t named.  But they are quietly present.  The real and the truly brilliant voices I hear come from Tokarski, Doyle, Scala, Ozaki, and Smith.  And what glorious music they make. There will be more to come.

Festival promoters and concert bookers looking for noise and flash, circus acts and Vegas Dixieland, pass this band by with my blessings.  People who want to give genuine jazz and swing a venue [think of the San Diego Jazz Fest!], consider these heroes.

May your happiness increase! 

“IT SURE SOUNDS GOOD TO ME”: WHEN IT’S SWINGTIME IN SAN DIEGO (PART TWO) with KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, HAL SMITH, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, and KATIE CAVERA (Nov. 25, 2017)

Yes, the very thing: Kris Tokarski, piano; Hal Smith, drums; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass, with guest star Katie Cavera, guitar / vocals.  Recorded November 25, 2017.

No one is truly that shade of purple in real life (aside from children’s television) but they played beautifully, ignoring the vagaries of stage lighting.  For the first part of this set, including CRAZY RHYTHM, IDA, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, I MUST HAVE THAT MAN, and I NEVER KNEW, please click here.

Now the second helping.

Here’s Katie to sing one of her (and our) favorites, I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS — a Twenties phrase brought back a decade later in this 1936 song by Charlie Tobias and Sam H. Stept, which I first learned through Henry “Red” Allen’s recording of it, where (as was the custom) he couldn’t change the gender of the lyrics.  They fit Katie better:

SOMEBODY LOVES ME, with a delicate reading of the verse by Kris, solo:

This is surely a swing (and swinging) band, but my goodness, how they can play a ballad.  Case in point, I SURRENDER, DEAR:

and the set concludes with the Twenties classic, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

What a great band!  I look forward to seeing them at other festivals, and I hear that PBS, NPR, and the BBC are all ears, too.

May your happiness increase!