Tag Archives: Charlie Christian

WHIMSY THAT SWINGS: CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND

Josh Collazo by Jessica Keener

I had met the excellent drummer Josh Collazo only once — at Dixieland Monterey in 2012, where he played splendidly with Carl Sonny Leyland and Marty Eggers.  The evidence is here.  After that, I heard him on record and saw him on video with Dave Stuckey, Jonathan Stout, Michael Gamble and possibly another half-dozen swinging groups.  So I knew he could play, and that sentence is an understatement.

What I didn’t know is that he is also a witty composer and bandleader — whose new CD, CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND, I recommend to you with great pleasure. And in the name of whimsy, Josh made sure that the CD release date was 4/4.

And this is how the CJJB sounds — which, to me, is superb.  Some facts: it’s a small band with beautifully played arrangements that make each track much more than ensemble-solos-ensemble.  The band is full of excellent soloists, but they come together as a unit without seeming stiff or constricted by an excess of manuscript paper.  Few bands today use all the instruments so well and wisely: a horn background to a piano solo, for instance.  Hooray!

The players are Josh, drums and compositions; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone and arrangements; Nate Ketner, alto and clarinet; Bryan Shaw, trumpet; Dave Weinstein, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano, Seth Ford-Young, string bass; guests (on two tracks)  Jonathan Stout, guitar; Corey Gemme, cornet.

To my ears, this band is particularly welcome because it does the lovely balancing act of cherishing the traditions (more about that shortly) while maintaining its own identity.  The latter part — a swinging originality, splendid for dancers and listeners — blossoms because the compositions are not based on easy-to-recognize chord sequences, and there are no transcriptions from hallowed discs.  The soloists have profoundly individual voices — and are given ample freedom to have their say — and the rhythm section rocks.  The first time I listened to the CD, I enjoyed it for its own sake: you would have seen me grinning in an exuberant way.  On another hearing, I put on my Jazz Critic hat (the one with the ears) and noted with pleasure some echoes: here, an Ellington small group; here, an HRS session; there, Woody Herman’s Woodchoppers and the Basie Octet; over here, a 1946 Keynote Records date; and now and again, a late-Forties Teddy Wilson group.  You get the idea.  Buoyant creation, full of flavor.

The cover art — by artist / clarinetist Ryan Calloway — reminds me so much of David Stone Martin’s best work that it deserves its own salute:

I asked Josh to tell me more about the band and the repertoire, and he did: you can hear his intelligent wit come through:

The term “Candy Jacket” was birthed during a conversation with my cousin at a family get together a few years ago. He was telling me that he saw a segment on the news about the first marijuana-friendly movie theater being opened in Colorado. Jokingly, he went on to say that he was going to open a candy shop next door and sell “Candy Jackets” so that people could sneak stuff in. All in all, it was really just a silly conversation but the term stuck inside my head. I then got to thinking about how much I love all the jive talk of the early jazz era. Why couldn’t I just make up my own? That being said, I like to think of the term as a way to describe someone who (A) is a jazz/swing lover, (B) is fun to be around, and (C) doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Again, very silly but I like it!

The main drive of putting this group together was to create original, classic sounding jazz and swing. The music of the 1930’s and 1940’s is my musical passion. After recreating it for so long in various bands, I just had a burning desire to make something new with respect to the musical framework of that time period that we all love.

Regarding the songs…

“Don’t Trip!” – While I was sitting at the piano coming up with the melody to this song, my son (4 years old) had set up a bunch of his toys around and behind the piano bench.  He then proceeded to put on a pair of my shoes and navigate the elaborate toy landscape like a giant walking through a city. I found myself giving him the side-eye every so often and thinking “Don’t Trip…”. Thankfully, he didn’t but guess who did? HA!

“Vonnie” – This is obviously written for my wife, Vonnie, for whom I love so much. When Albert Alva and I finished the arrangement for the tune, he turned to me and said “You’ve captured the essence of Vonnie – sweet and sassy!”

“Here’s the Deal” – Another song written for my son. With him being 4 years old, my wife and I find ourselves making little deals with him every so often in exchange for good behavior. After awhile, the phrase “Here’s the deal” became so common between us that he even began using it. I really tried to capture his mischievous side with this song starting with the clarinet representing my son and the drums being myself and us going back and forth in conversation.

“March of the Candy Jackets” is the first song I wrote for this album years ago. It was just the melody which is quite quirky and only has two chords in the form. I showed it to Albert Alva many times and each time we ended up passing over it for something with more of a traditional form and melody. As we began the arranging process on the other tunes, this song kept coming back to me. Finally I realized that I wanted it to be a blues song but not just a basic blues that just keeps going round and round. I wanted the solo forms to unfold just like the melody was designed.

“From Bop to Swing” is a take on the Ira Gitler book title, “Swing to Bop,” as well as the live recording with the same name by Charlie Christian and Dizzy Gillespie. Back in the day, swing musicians evolving into bop musicians was a naturally standard progression. Nowadays, I find that most young jazz musicians that love playing swing music have reversed this progression since bop and modern jazz has become the starting point in most schools. I do love bebop music and love all the recordings during the transitional period of the 40’s where the rhythm sections would be playing in a swing style while the horns began branching out melodically with trickier heads. It still had that rhythmic bounce that the dancers could move their feet to. Jonathan Stout is a devout Charlie Christian disciple and I thought this would be a perfect song to feature him on along with Nate Ketner.

“Monday Blues” was literally written on a Monday morning after a long night out playing. I do love the interplay between Albert Alva and Dan Weinstein trading solos.

“Stompin’ with Pomp” – While writing this song, I only had the dancers in mind. I wanted to create the feeling of excitement that you get while dancing to a band live. The song “Ridin’ High” by Benny Goodman is my end all of swing era dance music and I just love the energy that his band had.

“Relume the Riff” – This track track features Corey Gemme and Nate Ketner keeping it cool throughout. I really wanted to get this song on the album last minute so I banged out the arrangement the morning of the session.

“Amborella” was written for our friend and trumpet player, Barry Trop, who passed away last year. He was always a fun guy to be around as well as play alongside. I heard of his passing while working on another song at the piano. The melody just poured out of me. Later, while watching a documentary on prehistoric earth, the flower, Amborella, was talked about. This flower is one of the oldest plant species on our earth. I immediately thought of Barry and how he would indeed live on a long time through our memories of him.

“Giggle in the Wiggle” is a bare bones swinger that I used as a vehicle to feature everyone on the album.

“Albert’s Fine Cutlery” – My nickname for Albert Alva is the “knife” because he is very sharp witted in his humor. He always catches you off guard. I wanted to capture that with the melody of the song.

This CD is a consistent pleasure.  To have it for your very own, there’s Bandcamp (CD / download high quality formats) — here — CD Baby (CD or download) — here — iTunes (download only) — here.  The CJJB site is here and their Facebook page here.  Now, having navigated the Forest of Hyperlinks, I hope you go and enjoy this fine music.

May your happiness increase!

“JOE BUSHKIN QUARTET LIVE AT THE EMBERS 1952: BUCK CLAYTON, MILT HINTON, PAPA JO JONES”

Jazz fans get very wistful when dreaming of scenes that were only captured in words: the twenty chorus solos young Lester would take; Louis on the riverboats; Lips Page singing and playing the blues at the Riviera.  But the recording machine has been the time-traveler’s best friend.  Because of a variety of electrical devices, we have been able to go uptown to hear Frank Newton and Art Tatum; we’ve heard Charlie Christian, Oscar Pettiford, and Jerry Jerome in Minneapolis; we can visit YouTube and hear Lester sing A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA.

This new issue, explained boldly by its cover picture, is one of those time-travel marvels.  I was alive in 1952, but no one was taking me to the Embers to hear Joe Bushkin’s quartet with Buck Clayton, trumpet; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums.  But now — somewhat older, thanks to this beautifully-produced disc on the Dot Time Records label — I can visit that club and hear exalted music any time I want.

This was a celebrated quartet, and for good reason.  Buck and Jo were a fulfilling pair from around 1936 for perhaps forty years; Milt and Jo were also one of the most gratifying teams in the music.  The three of them were at their peak in this period (although one could make a case that they were among the most consistently inventive musicians in Mainstream jazz).

I’ve left the leader for last, because he’s rarely got the attention he deserved — although he certainly appeared with the greatest musicians: Bing, Billie, Louis, Lester, Bunny, Tommy Dorsey, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, Eddie Condon . . . a Bushkin discography is astonishing.  Musicians knew, admired, and valued him. But his glistening style has led some casual listeners to hear him shallowly, the vivid, mobile approach to the piano as a display of technique.  But when one hears Bushkin closely, there is a real lyricism underneath the facility, and an equally deep love for the blues: in the ancient argot, he is a real barrelhouse player, even in a pricey Upper East Side supper club.

And although Joe was not allowed to chat or to sing on this gig (a matter of arcane tax laws in cabarets) his bubbling sense of humor, his ebullience, comes through in every note.  With a different pianist, Buck, Jo, and Milt would have still made great jazz, but the result wouldn’t have been as much fun.  And “fun” wasn’t a matter of goofy quotes or scene-stealing: Joe was a perfectly sensitive accompanist.  (I saw three-quarters of this group: Jo, Milt, Joe, and Ruby Braff — create a ten-minute MOTEN SWING in 1975 — and Fifty-Fourth Street has never been the same.)

Unlike other reissues, this disc sparkles for another reason — explained beautifully in the liner notes by Bushkin’s devoted son-in-law, trumpeter Robert Merrill, here.  That reason is the most gorgeous recorded sound you’ve ever heard at a live gig: there are people in the room, but their presence is not intrusive, and each instrument is heard as beautifully as if this session was in a studio.  To learn more about the label’s Legends series, visit here.  (Dot Time has also issued recordings by Mulligan and Ella — and a magnificent Louis series is coming out.)

As I wrote above, Joe ran with the best.  I’ve posted this once before, but everyone sentient in the known world needs to hear and re-hear it:

And here’s Joe being interviewed by the genial Stuart Klein in 1985:

2017 is Joe’s centennial, so there are a variety of celebrations going on, appropriately.  Recordings of the Joe Bushkin Songbook are on the way, and there’s something to leave the house and the computer for, a Highlights in Jazz (a series in its 45th year) concert: the Joe Bushkin Centennial Concert
featuring Wycliffe Gordon, Harry Allen, Eric Comstock, Ted Rosenthal, Spike Wilner, Nicki Parrott, Steve Johns and John Colliani, under the musical direction of Bob Merrill — and a surprise Guest as well.  It will take place at 8 PM, on Thursday, May 4, at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center at Borough of Manhattan Community College, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007.

One can purchase tickets by calling the box office [212-220-1460] or visiting www.tribecapac.org.  Those who find the Post Office more consoling can mail a check made payable to highlights in Jazz for $50 per ticket (still a bargain, for those who have been to a club recently) to Highlights In Jazz, 7 Peter Cooper Road, Apt. 11E New York NY 10010.  (Please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope).

A concert celebrating Joe Bushkin will be fun.  And the CD is a thorough pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

“NOT A SCIENCE EXPERIMENT”: IAN DATE, NIGEL DATE, BOB BARNARD, JONATHAN ZWARTZ / CHRIS O’DEA, STAN VALACOS, ANDREW DICKESON

To paraphrase Aquinas, to those who can hear, no explanation is necessary.

You might not recognize the musicians, and the song might be unfamiliar, but it is unmistakably Good Music, as Milt Hinton would have called it:

and then there’s the issued version, with useful visuals:

To reiterate the obvious (it goes with my job description) this is a new CD created by (electric) guitarist Ian Date and his brother Nigel, who plays acoustic guitar, string bassist Jonathan Zwartz, and the heroic Bob Barnard on trumpet. JUST MY LUCK was recorded in Sydney in March 2016, and it’s a delight.

I confess that even though I did not know Ian’s music well, when I saw that he and Nigel had recorded this with Bob, I entreated a copy.  Bob is one of my true idols: a gentle, witty man in person, and a truly melodic player — he carries on the great legacy of Bobby Hackett and others while making acrobatics seem both easy and plausible.  Although Bob is mildly older than I am, nothing that he plays has an iota of strain or effortful gracelessness.  And the three other players are brilliantly easeful as well: Ian compares them to four blokes sitting around playing cards.

The result is music that is truly conversational and collaborative — no competition, just a deep awareness that song and swing are the essential cosmic forces.  It’s beautifully recorded as well, and the songs are a pleasure.  I don’t know who came up with the title song — an obscurity from Broadway — but I wish more bands would play it.  And the others are all simultaneously deeply rewarding but not overplayed: MIS’RY AND THE BLUES / COCKTAILS FOR TWO / MAD ABOUT THE BOY / YOU’RE MY THRILL / MOON SONG / IT’S WONDERFUL / BY MYSELF / YOU ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL.

Incidentally, once I’d heard JUST MY LUCK, I looked up Ian’s recording career and found that he was on a dozen or more CDs with Dan Barrett and Tom Baker — CDs I’d treasured for years.  So, Ian, I apologize for not putting your name in cyber-lights sooner, and hope this little nosegay makes up for it slightly.

From a slightly earlier session, here’s DINETTE:

Here’s the somewhat quirky cover:

Don’t let the homegrown, slightly satiric cover fool you.  This CD is consistently delightful: I plan to keep a copy in my car to use as a Blindfold Test, should I have passengers who think themselves knowledgeable about the music, so that they can say, “Michael, WHO are those people?  Damn, they are superb!”  The overall ambiance of the disc is — sonically and spiritually — Mainstream — but it is so good that it is hard to describe.  The quintet plays the blues convincingly, ballads in emotive yet swinging ways.  At times, I thought of an imagined Herb Ellis session or another track from the 1939 Charlie Christian – Jerry Jerome – Pettiford session.  Nothing’s imitative: there’s no effort to Evoke An Era, but the end result is wonderfully reassuring, as if reminding us that such music can still be made, and made superbly in this century.  Incidentally, Ian and Nigel are sometimes advertised as “Gypsy jazz,” but what they’ve taken from that sometimes distorted genre is a deep feeling for melody, for lyricism, for swing — rather than having the fretboard burst into flames.  I think they remember that Django’s original inspirations were Louis, local melodies, and dance bands . . .

If anything, what I’ve written is a sedately restrained understatement.  The songs are DANCE HALL BEAT / SI TU VOIS MA MERE / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / POINCIANA / SEGMENT / I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN / DINETTE / THERE GOES MY HEART / MMF BLUES / A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT, and Ian’s comrades are brother Nigel, guitar; Chris O’Dea, tenor saxophone; Stan Valacos, string bass; Andrew Dickeson, drums.  From the first rimshot to the last notes (an instrumental flourish that suggests late Louis) of SAILBOAT, I was delighted — and I’ve played it half-a-dozen times.

To purchase a copy of LET’S PLAY, visit here.

I suspect that this would be another good place to visit for those who would like copies of these CDs.  But here more modern folks can download JUST MY LUCK for a mere pittance.  What beautiful, warm, and vibrant music these fellows make.

And just because Ian can, and I can, here’s another sample of his talents:

May your happiness increase!

THE REMARKABLE MS. GIBSON, BETTER KNOWN AS BANU: “BY MYSELF”

Banu Gibson, triumphant, by Elsa Hahne

Banu Gibson, triumphant, by Elsa Hahne

The ebullient woman shining her light in the photograph, Banu Gibson, is a superb singer who doesn’t get the credit she deserves as a singer.

If you have no idea of what she sounds like, here, take a taste:

Banu, Bucky, and Berlin — endearing adult music, no tricks.

I think Banu is undervalued because she is so powerfully distracting as an entertainer, and this is a compliment.  We hear the wicked comic ad-libs, we see the flashing eyes, we admire the dance steps, we are entranced by the Show she puts on (that, too, is a good thing) but I think we don’t always hear her fine voice as we should — her warm timbre, her dramatic expression, her phrasing, her intuitive good taste, her swing.

banu-by-myself

But with her new CD, we have a chance to hear her, deeply.  That CD, BY MYSELF, is delightfully swinging, at times poignant.  The song list is a perceptive assortment of songs that haven’t been overdone: BY MYSELF / MEET ME WHERE THEY PLAY THE BLUES / ILL WIND / THE MOON GOT IN MY EYES – MOONRAY / WAITIN’ FOR THE TRAIN TO COME IN / YOU LET ME DOWN / UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG / THEY SAY / STOP THE SUN, STOP THE MOON (MY MAN’S GONE) / MY BUDDY / NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS / OH! LOOK AT ME NOW / DAYTON, OHIO – 1903 / OUR LOVE ROLLS ON / LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES.  And Banu’s wonderfully empathic band is Larry Scala, guitar; Ed Wise, string bass; Rex Gregory, tenor sax and clarinet; Tom McDermott, piano on DAYTON and OUR LOVE.

Banu is a great connoisseur of songs, with a wide range of under-exposed great ones, as opposed to the two dozen that many singers favor.  I’ve only heard her in performance a few times, but when she announces the next song, I always think, “Wow!  How splendid!  She knows that one!” rather than thinking, “Not another MY FUNNY VALENTINE or GOD BLESS THE CHILD, please, please.”

Song-scholars will notice that a number of these songs have sad lyrics, but this is not a mopey or maudlin disc.  Every performance has its own sweet motion, an engaging bounce, as the musicians explore the great veldt of Medium Tempo.

Although a handful of songs on this disc are associated with other singers — Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, and Billie Holiday — BY MYSELF is not in a tribute to any of those great foremothers, nor is there any ill-starred attempt to recapture those recorded performances.  If Rex and Larry happen to sound a little like Pres and Charlie Christian on these sides, that is a wonderful side-effect, but no one’s been asked to pretend it’s 1937 and John Hammond is in the studio.  Everyone swings gently — the shared goal, with no artificial ingredients.

The disc is not narrow in its conception, either.  Banu and the band approach each song as a separate dramatic playlet with its own mood, tempo, and feeling. It’s one of those rare and delicious discs where the emotions are not only intense but fully realized.  I could not listen to it all in one sitting — not because it bored me, but because I felt full of sensations after a few tracks, and few CDs are so quietly arresting.  Each song is treated tenderly and attentively, and although I suspect the underlying theme of this disc is deeper than “Hey, I haven’t made a CD in a few years and here are some songs I like,” we’re not whacked over the head with one emotion.  Rather, it’s as if Banu wanted us to consider the whole spectrum of intimate personal relationships.  She and her band have deep true stories to tell, but you have to figure out what they are, performance by performance.

Incidentally, I am snobbish, narrow, hard to please (ask people who have heard me discuss what I do and don’t like) but I fell in love with this disc in the first twenty or so seconds of BY MYSELF, which is a rubato duet between Banu and Larry Scala.  (When is the world going to wake up about Scala?  Come ON, now! But I digress.)  Her diction is remarkable; her solo swing a model, and her voice is rich and full of feeling.  Her sweet vibrato is so warm: there’s nothing mechanical in her delivery and her superb phrasing: the second variation on the theme is never a clone of the first.  (Hear her variations on “He made a toy of romance!” in MOONRAY: nothing that a lesser artist could do or what have envisioned.)  By the way, the Gregory-Scala-Wise swing machine (with two interludes from McDermott) is perfectly lyrical and swinging — Basie plus Lester with Basie taking a smoke break in the hall, or perhaps Skeeter Best / Oscar Pettiford / Lucky Thompson if you prefer.  On many singer-plus-band sessions, the disparity between one and the other is sharp, so the listener waits through the instrumental interlude for the Singer to come back, or vice versa.  Here, every note seems right, and the result is very affecting.

In the ideal world, Banu and her band would be touring the world — giving concerts and clinics and workshops — and I would hear this music from other cars’ radios when we were at red lights.  But until this happens, I commend this splendidly-recorded disc to you: the emotional density of a great volume of short stories combined with the elation of a book of coupons to your favorite ice-cream shoppe.  BY MYSELF — after many listenings — seems a series of gems.  You can buy it here.  You will rejoice.

May your happiness increase!

“PASS THE BOUNCE”: BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA at the HOT RHYTHM HOLIDAY (Jan. 28, 2017)

The charts for the BPO at Hot Rhythm Holiday.

The charts for the BPO at Hot Rhythm Holiday.

Nothing beats music, which is its own kind of prayer, for both instant and lasting spiritual relief.  No extra calories, liver damage, or worries about The Law. One of the newest groups of roving spiritual practitioners is the Brooks Prumo Orchestra led by young Mister Prumo of Austin, Texas, dancer, rhythm guitarist, and man-with-more-than-one-plan.  And we can now see and hear the results of his energetic devotion: a swing band that is serious about the music but has a large light heart.  (Thanks to Kevin Hill for the fine videos.)

Here are the band members, many of them familiar as players in the Thrift Set Orchestra, the Sahara Swingtet, Swing Central, and groups led by Jonathan Doyle and Hal Smith.  (Speaking about Hal, this gig was, I believe, his second or third after being sidelined for a time because of an auto accident.  WELCOME BACK!  WE MISSED YOU!  The sound of Hal’s drumming — his percussive insight as well as the silvery float of his hi-hat — always makes me feel good, and I know I am not alone.)

Back to the BPO: Cale Montgomery, Marcus Graf, David Jellema, trumpet; Mark Gonzales, Leo Gauna, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, Lyon Graulty, tenor saxophone / clarinet; Zack Varner, alto saxophone / clarinet; Greg Wilson, alto / baritone saxophone; Dan Walton, piano; Ryan Gould, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Brooks Prumo, guitar; Albanie Falletta, vocal.  All these very pleasing videos are on YouTube (where else?) and you can subscribe to the Orchestra’s channel .  I did.

ESQUIRE BOUNCE, arranged by Jonathan Doyle:

BENNY’S BUGLE, a mixture of Lee and Lester Young 1941-2, SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, Charlie Christian, Cootie Williams, and Benny Goodman. (arrangement by David M. Jellema, his first for this band):

BOLERO AT THE SAVOY (echoes of Krupa and Basie), vocal by Albanie Falletta:

AVENUE C (by Buck Clayton for the 1942-3 Basie band):

PASS THE BOUNCE (arranged by Lauryn Gould), vocal by Albanie Falletta:

JON’S DREAM a/k/a DICKIE’S DREAM, arranged, properly, by Jonathan Doyle:

LAST JUMP, arranged by Zach Varner:

I know that it won’t be the LAST JUMP for this swinging band for some time: wishing them many gigs, appreciative audiences, public notice, and pleasures — like the ones they give us.

May your happiness increase!

FIVE GEMS BY THREE MASTERS: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH at the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (September 16, 2016)

We must acknowledge the passage of time.  Art Tatum, Johnny Guarneri, Hank Jones have become Ancestors.  Israel Crosby, Milt Hinton, and Oscar Pettiford have moved to another neighborhood.  Sidney Catlett, Dave Tough, and Jo Jones have passed into spirit.

FRANK.

FRANK.

But we cannot mourn those shifts too sorrowfully, because we have Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Hal Smith, drums to show us how it’s done in 2016 — Old Time Modern, flawlessly.

They did it (perhaps for the first time ever?) at the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, for a short spell.  It seemed that by the time I had set up my camera, their set was over.

HAL.

HAL.

This year, on September 16, 2016, I was better prepared . . . and caught the whole glorious effusion.  I was transported, and the audience was rocking alongside me.  You’ll hear immediately that I don’t list the names of the illustrious forbears in vain. This trio has a lightness and grit that I don’t hear very often, and it is good medicine for troubled times and happy ones.  They perform two early-twentieth century pop classics, two blues, with nods to Basie, Charlie Christian, and the boogie-woogie masters, as well as Rossano’s Chopin-into-jazz transformations.  All with style, grace, and enthusiasm beyond compare.  And this is a blissfully natural-sounding group: a fine grand piano (no microphones pushed under its lid); an unamplified string bass; a drum kit of snare drum and hi-hat cymbal, wire brushes to the fore — the old days without anything dusty about them.

ROSSANO.

ROSSANO.

SHOULD I? (from Rhapsody to Romp, which could serve as a title for the set):

SWEET LORRAINE:

SOFT WINDS:

CHOPIN IN JAZZ:

BASIE BLUES / BOOGIE (exalted dance music):

I have it on good authority that this trio is accepting gigs.  Private parties, public concert tours, canonization . . . what you will.  They deserve it, and so do we.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT A BAND! MICHAEL GAMBLE and THE RHYTHM SERENADERS

Yes, Virginia, there are many “swing” “bands” that “play” Thirties and Forties repertoire for dancers and listeners.  I could tell many a tale.  But Michael Gamble and The Rhythm Serenaders really swing, without a quotation mark in sight.  Maybe it’s because their leader is a swinging string bassist who’s thus situated in the heart of the rhythm section that the disc sounds so good.  Maybe it’s because Michael has surrounded himself with musicians who understand ensemble playing as well as their solo excursions.  Musicians, I point out, who understand Buck Clayton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Allan Reuss, Pete Brown, Dicky Wells, Charlie Christian, Jo Jones, Billie Holiday without copying them.

Whatever magic it took to create this band and this CD is in the hearts and bodies of the creators, I can only imagine.  I can only comment on the gratifying results.

michael-gamble

Their debut CD is an authentic-sounding tasting menu of good things.  If you’re like me, a close listener who has many Swing Heroes and Heroines, the list of people on the disc will immediately act as confirmation that a purchase would be a good idea (you have a birthday behind you or coming soon, correct?):

Michael Gamble, Bass / Keenan McKenzie, Clarinet and Saxes / Jonathan Stout, Lead Guitar / Paul Cosentino, Clarinet and Saxes / Russ Wilson, Vocals and Drums / Brooks Prumo, Rhythm Guitar / Gordon Au, Trumpet / Craig Gildner, Piano / Noah Hocker, Trumpet / James Posedel, Piano / Josh Collazo, Drums / Lucian Cobb, Trombone / Laura Windley, Vocal / David Wilken, Trombone.

And the repertoire: BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD / I NEVER KNEW / SLIDIN’ AND GLIDIN’ / SEVEN COME ELEVEN / PICK-A-RIB / A MELLOW BIT OF RHYTHM / BUG IN A RUG / HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / WOKE UP CLIPPED / ROSE ROOM / WHAT A NIGHT, WHAT A MOON, WHAT A GIRL / CRAZY ABOUT LESTER /SCOTTIE / SMOKE GETS IN YORU EYES.

You’ll notice that this band has dug deeply and wisely into the music rather than offering the standard two dozen overplayed standards of the swing era.  Rocking tempos with lovely fervent playing and singing throughout.  I guarantee it.

And here’s an audio-visual sampler, quite authentic and lively:

 

Here is the spot that’s hot: where you can purchase this disc. Even if you’re like me, whose swing dancing is the happy motion of my head and my right foot — an imagined choreography much more than a full-body actualized one — you will love the music that Michael and the band create.  It feels real — rhythmically, melodically, and spiritually.  (If you are a swing dancer, you surely have encountered this band somewhere and already have purchased their music, which amounts to a compact party.  Just add bottled water and snacks.)

And here is the band’s schedule: coming soon to a waxed floor near you!

May your happiness increase!

BOUNCE, ROCK, and GROOVE: THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET (2015)

Who's that young man in the grip of Music? Jonathan Doyle, for certain.

Who’s that young man in the grip of Music? Jonathan Doyle, for certain.

I first encountered Jonathan Doyle (tenor saxophone, clarinet, compositions, arrangements) through my friend, master percussionist Hal Smith — more about that later — which is a stellar recommendation.  I then encountered Jon as the lead horn in a San Diego Jazz Fest session with Ray Skjelbred (another gold star) and most recently with the Fat Babies at the Evergreen Jazz Festival.  Somewhere in this delightful process of admiration, I heard and loved Jonathan’s CD, THE FED HOP, and we actually had a short friendly conversation at Evergreen.  His official biography can be found here.

Jonathan is not one of those highly-schooled fellows who “understands” swing from a safe distance.  Watch him on video for even eight bars, and you see that he is utterly immersed in it, his horn and his body in the grip of the most beautiful energies.  He also surrounds himself with like-minded souls who obviously live for this kind of lyrical groovy experience.  AND his compositions are quite wonderful: often subversively built on almost-familiar chord changes with titles that almost give the joke away.  For instance, I think I’VE NEVER BEEN TO NEW YORK is a slow rock over the harmonies of ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, the results being satisfying and a well-executed in-joke.  This band harks back to the Keynote sessions, to Basie small groups (with Basie himself smiling at the sounds but not at the keyboard), Benny Carter lines, and more . . . but they’re not in town to copy, but to evoke.  And they do it splendidly.

The swing heroes for this particular session, captured slightly more than a year ago at the Sahara Lounge in Austin, Texas, are Jonathan, tenor sax; David Jellema, cornet; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Brooks Prumo, rhythm guitar; Joshua Hoag, string bass; Jason Baczynski, drums.  The very expert videos are by Gary Feist of yellowdogvideo.com.

From left: Mark Gonzales, David Jellema, Joshua Hoag, Jonathan Doyle

From left: Mark Gonzales, David Jellema, Joshua Hoag, Jonathan Doyle

ESQUIRE BOUNCE:

Al Sears’ hit, CASTLE ROCK (a title that stands for something good, magnified):

Jon’s original, I’VE NEVER BEEN TO NEW YORK:

Another original, STRANGE MACHINATIONS:

Some very good omens.  First, a close cousin of the band shown above has recorded a new CD, TOO HOT FOR SOCKS, which I will be writing about — enthusiastically, having heard some of it through digital magic.  You can hear it and Jon’s other recordings at his website and here.  He’s also on Facebook  here.  And — just to pile tantalizing bits of data one upon another –here is his YouTube channel, full of delights.  (So the young man may play like it’s 1946 but he certainly knows how to navigate this century with grace.)

Hal Smith (mentioned admiringly above) has a new band, SWING CENTRAL, which features Jon as the sole horn, exploring the best floating small-band swing with a focus on Lester Young, Charlie Christian, and Pee Wee Russell.  The other participants have been pianist Dan Walton, guitarist Jamey Cummins, and either Joshua Hoag or Steve Pikal on string bass.  They’ve played at the Capital City Jazz Fest in Madison, Wisconsin in April, and they just had a gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.  Rumor has it that a few festival appearances are being discussed, as is a CD recording session.  And — no rumor — I will have some videos from Austin to share with you in the near future.  A band to look out for!

Keep grooving with Jonathan Doyle and friends, wherever you find them.

May your happiness increase!

ANDY BROWN, SWING MASTER: “APPEL DIRECT”

Theoretically, I should not be able to write that the Chicago-based guitarist Andy Brown is in fact a Swing Master.  He is certainly too young and too healthy. He’s been on a skateboard.  He might even lack the maladjustments so common to Great Artists.  But these things have not limited his creative magic.

andy_brown2

There’s more delightful evidence at hand, a new Delmark CD, DIRECT CALL, which I would gladly dub SWING MASTERPIECE OF 2016.

andy brown direct call cover

For those who’d rather trust their ears than this blog, here are samples from the CD.  And here is the riotously rocking title track — Django’s APPEL DIRECT:

The three other masters here are Phil Gratteau, drums; Jeremy Kahn, piano; Joe Policastro, string bass.  Like Andy, they know what and where it is.

The session was recorded in Chicago last September — beautiful sound thanks to my non-relative Scott Steinman: THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ / PRISONER OF LOVE / EL CAJON / FUNK IN DEEP FREEZE / APPEL DIRECT / RELAXING / ONE MORNING IN MAY / CATCH ME / ELA E CARIOCA / FREAK OF THE WEEK.

In a crime novel whose name I forget, someone said, less politely, “Everybody can talk but not everyone has things to say.”  The art of swing improvisation is not something learned from the Real Book or from copying gestures to fool an audience. (Ending a performance of SHINY STOCKINGS with three Basie chords doesn’t make it Basie.)

Compelling, light-hearted, authentic swing and melodic improvisations are a matter of years of study — usually on the job.  The members of this quartet, although not Elders chronologically, are wise players whose art comes from playing, listening, thinking, feeling.

Some like their jazz to be startling, even abrupt.  It has to be “innovative” and “adventurous.”  I wouldn’t deny them such pleasures, but music that shouts BOO! in my ear is not for me.  I warm to jazz that delicately balances the familiar and the surprising, with comfort the result, as if I were a passenger with a driver I wholly trusted.  This comfort is felt immediately in the opening choruses of APPEL DIRECT.  “These players know how to sustain feeling and build on it; they won’t let me down or disappoint me.”

Although the CD is in no way a repertory project, I could settle into the joy of experiencing and anticipating right from the start: the same way I feel when (let us say) I heard Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones play an eight-bar introduction.  Basie and Charlie Christian.  Jimmie Rowles, Jim Hall, Leroy Vinnegar, Frank Butler. You can supply your own names.  Mastery and ease.

I urge you to check out the CD, and, even better, share the music with others . . . or do that most radical thing, hear this quartet in a Chicago club or elsewhere. I believe that you will feel uplifted, rewarded — by the sweetness of PRISONER OF LOVE, the rare energy of CATCH ME and the other swinging tunes.  It’s a beautifully integrated quartet, with each player generously giving of himself to the band.  And now I will play APPEL DIRECT again.

May your happiness increase!

A GENUINE PAGE-TURNER: “SWINGIN’ ON CENTRAL AVENUE: AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ IN LOS ANGELES,” by PETER VACHER

I’m a very tough audience when it comes to jazz history books.  Many of them, understandably, are pastiches of familiar evidence with big helpings of speculation mixed in.  Nice enough for people new to the subject, but give me first-hand information rather than paraphrases of what has already been published.

In addition, most jazz literature seems star-struck, fixated on the forty or fifty BIG NAMES.  That’s splendid: books about Louis, Lester, Ben, Hawkins, Roy, Red, and others are treasures.  But since the musicians themselves didn’t always get the attention they merited, much jazz biography is brilliant posthumous research.  If someone were to turn up pages by Walter or Hot Lips (I couldn’t resist) they would be priceless.  And the people who never get to report on what they saw, felt, heard, experienced are likely to have the best stories to tell.  This brings us to Peter Vacher’s new book, SWINGIN’ ON CENTRAL AVENUE: AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ IN LOS ANGELES (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, 331+ pages, many photographs).

It is an irresistible book, and I speak as someone who finds many books — after decades of reading — utterly resistible.

SWINGIN' ON CENTRAL AVENUE

Peter Vacher (much like the recently-departed John Chilton, although Peter is still very much alive) is one of those rare multi-talented writers: a splendid unaffected prose stylist, a very diligent researcher and “connecter,” someone with an eye for what’s true and what’s intriguing.  In this case, he offers us oral histories and historical research into the lives and music of sixteen musicians — his research done over more than two decades.  The musicians profiled are Andrew Blakeney, Gideon Honore, George Orendorff, “Monk” McFay, Floyd Turnham, Betty Hall Jones, “Red Mack” Morris, Caughey Roberts, Chester Lane, Monte Easter, Billy Hadnott, Norman Bowden, John “Streamline” Ewing, Chuck Thomas, Jesse Sailes, “Red” Minor William Robinson.

I knew of perhaps one-half of those musicians: Blakeney had played with Kid Ory; Honore with Jimmie Noone; Orendorff with Les Hite and Louis; “Red Mack” with Lee and Lester Young’s band; Caughey Roberts had been replaced in the early Basie band by Earle Warren; Billy Hadnott was on famous JATP recordings as well as with Nat Cole; Norman Bowden had recorded with Zutty Singleton; “Streamline” Ewing had played with Hines, McShann, Horace Henderson.

Because of the “star-system” in jazz, many might assume that these interviews with people who — apparently — were on the fringes of the big time would be narrow and not terribly interesting.  To assume this would be a huge error.  For one thing, these sixteen people hadn’t been interviewed much, if at all, so their reminiscences are fresh and eager, full of good stories.  Not one page in Vacher’s book has the stale, “Must we go through this again?” quality of the recitals the stars have given so often they take on an inescapable sleepiness (both in the speaker and the reader).  Although many older musicians expressed themselves through their instruments, sometimes their narratives are enthusiastic but closed: “Big Boy was a terror when he got into that whiskey, but he sure could blow.”  Not here.  And Vacher’s interludes are brief, lively, and the very antithesis of narcissism: he shines the light with great skill and affection on his subjects.

And the stories are amazing.  Andy Blakeney was in Chicago when Louis joined King Oliver; he played in a Doc Cooke band.  Streamline Ewing was asked to join the Basie band; he heard Charlie Parker before Bird had made records.  Speaking of Bird, he stayed with Billy Hadnott and his wife — and it’s a sad story — before the Hadnotts were compelled to ask him to leave.  Ewing also mentions seeing both Mutt Carey and Nat Cole at the union — consider that pairing!  Norman Bowden talks of rehearsing with Jelly Roll Morton, “the most sophisticated man I ever met in my life,” in 1940.  We hear of Benny Goodman sitting in with Mutt’s band in 1925; the book offers the first substantial sketches of drummer Cuba Austin, of bandleaders Reb Spikes, Sonny Clay, the pianist Lady Will Carr. We learn — in just a sentence — that the short-lived and extremely talented pianist Margaret “Countess” Johnson was Lester Young’s “heartbeat.”That Eddie Nicholson was Billie Holiday’s drug supplier.  There are extended stories about a young Charlie Christian, about Lester, about the Basie band at the Reno Club in 1935, about Louis, marijuana, Charles Mingus, Buck Clayton in Shanghai, Lionel Hampton in 1936 . . .  And some musicians, like Kid Ory and Christian, pop up in different contexts, so one has the advantage of seeing them as if they were characters in a Faulkner novel, from many angles.

I deplore the kind of advertising assertion that suggests, “If you don’t buy / read / eat ____________, your life will be joyless, devoid of meaning.”  But I found myself thinking, “Every jazz fancier I know would find something delightfully memorable in these pages.”

And there’s more.  Extraordinary photographs, many from the subjects’ personal hoards.  Interludes of fact taken from contemporary music magazines. And, should you think this to be simply a collection of oral histories of little-known musicians retelling their careers, the book presents so much more — as in race and racism from the Twenties onwards.  Not all the stories are grim, but they are all revealing.  I offer only one example — in Billy Hadnott’s section, Vacher includes this comment from DOWN BEAT, March 15, 1944, where Frankie Laine and a four-piece “mixed group” are praised for their music, then the reporter notes, “Despite their excellent air shots the group has found difficulty in club bookings because of the racial angle involved in the mixed group. Setup includes two colored and three ofays, and it will be interesting to find if this group can break through the Jim Crowism so strong out here.”  That quotation — both in subject and style — is worth a good deal of study, and it reminds us that there were two unions at the time in Los Angeles.

Such fascinating evidence spills out of Vacher’s book — because his subjects haven’t simply played or lived locally, and they are people one would otherwise know only as names in discographies or on record labels.

The book is entertaining, powerful, and eye-opening.  Peter Vacher has surpassed himself, and that is saying a great deal.  Now I’m going back to read more.  As a postscript, I opened the book at random and found Chester Lane’s story about working with Bob Alexander’s Harmony Kings in El Dorado, Arkansas, circa 1928, with Louis Jordan . . . and the band is taken over by one Wilson, who owns Wilson’s Tell-‘Em-‘Bout-Me Cafe.  I’ll stop there, but you will see why such real-life details make the book a deep pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

KINGS OF SWING: ALLAN VACHÉ, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOHN COCUZZI, PAUL KELLER, DARRIAN DOUGLAS at the 2015 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 18, 2015)

ALLAN VACHE

Allan Vaché knows what swing is all about, and when you get him on a bandstand with a good rhythm section, floating jazz improvisations happen.  And that was the case at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party — when he and Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Paul Keller, string bass; Darrian Douglas, drums, took their happy way through three Charlie Christian / Lionel Hampton riff tunes that have been associated with Benny Goodman for seventy-five years.

I’m amused that one title seems to refer to air travel (more of a novelty in 1939 than now), one to Benny’s clarinet, one to shooting craps.

FLYIN’ HOME:

SOFT WINDS:

SEVEN COME ELEVEN:

Yes, we certainly could lament that this is no longer our popular music, and occasionally I myself dip into that pit of despair, but the music that these five people made and still make is a true cure for any sadness.

And here is the information you’ll need about the 2016 Atlanta Jazz Party, April 22-24.

May your happiness increase!

THE TRIUMPHS OF JAMES P. JOHNSON

James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Baby Dodds, 1946, by Charles Peterson

James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Danny Barker, 1946, by Charles Peterson

When the Student is more dramatically visible than the Teacher, even the most influential mentor and guide might become obscure.  James Price Johnson, pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader, has become less prominent to most people, even those who consider themselves well-versed in jazz piano.  He was a mentor and teacher — directly and indirectly — of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum. “No James P., no them,” to paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie. But even with memorable compositions and thirty years of recording, he has been recognized less than he deserves.

CAROLINA SHOUT eBay OKeh

 

Fats Waller eclipsed his teacher in the public eye because Waller was a dazzling multi-faceted entertainer and personality, visible in movies, audible on the radio.  Fats had a recording contract with the most prominent record company, Victor, and the support of that label — he created hit records for them — in regular sessions from 1934 to 1943.  Tatum, Basie, and Ellington — although they paid James P. homage in words and music — all appeared to come fully grown from their own private universes.  Basie and Ellington were perceived not only as pianists but as orchestra leaders who created schools of jazz composition and performance; Tatum, in his last years, had remarkable support from Norman Granz — thus he left us a series of memorable recordings.

Many of the players I’ve noted above were extroverts (leaving aside the reticent Basie) and showmanship come naturally to them.  Although the idea of James P., disappointed that his longer “serious” works did not receive recognition, retiring to his Queens home, has been proven wrong by Johnson scholar Scott Brown (whose revised study of James P. will be out in 2017) he did not get the same opportunities as did his colleagues.  James P. did make records, he had club residencies at Cafe Society and the Pied Piper, was heard at an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert and was a regular feature on Rudi Blesh’s THIS IS JAZZ . . . but I can look at a discography of his recordings and think, “Why isn’t there more?”  Physical illness accounts for some of the intermittent nature of his career: he had his first stroke in 1940 and was ill for the last years of his life.

There will never be enough.  But what we have is brilliant.  And the reason for this post is the appearance in my mailbox of the six-disc Mosaic set which collects most of James P.’s impressive recordings between 1921 and 1943.  (Mosaic has also issued James P.’s session with Eddie Condon on the recent Condon box, and older issues offered his irreplaceable work for Blue Note — solo and band — in 1943 / 44, and the 1938 HRS sides as well.)

JAMES P. Mosaic

Scott Brown, who wrote the wise yet terse notes for this set, starts off by pointing to the wide variety of recordings Johnson led or participated in this period.  And even without looking at the discography, I can call to mind sessions where Johnson leads a band (with, among others, Henry “Red” Allen,  J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Johnny Williams, Sidney Catlett — or another all-star group with Charlie Christian, Hot Lips Page, Lionel Hampton on drums, Artie Bernstein, Ed Hall, and Higginbotham); accompanies the finest blues singers, including Bessie Smith and Ida Cox, is part of jivey Clarence Williams dates — including two takes of the patriotic 1941 rouser UNCLE SAMMY, HERE I AM — works beautifully with Bessie Smith, is part of a 1929 group with Jabbo Smith, Garvin Bushell on bassoon, Fats Waller on piano); is a sideman alongside Mezz Mezzrow, Frank Newton, Pete Brown, John Kirby, swings out on double-entendre material with Teddy Bunn and Spencer Williams. There’s a 1931 band date that shows the powerful influence of Cab Calloway . . . and more.  For the delightful roll call of musicians and sides (some never before heard) check the Mosaic site here.

(On that page, you can hear his delicate, haunting solo BLUEBERRY RHYME, his duet with Bessie Smith on her raucous HE’S GOT ME GOING, the imperishable IF DREAMS COME TRUE, his frolicsome RIFFS, and the wonderful band side WHO?)

I fell in love with James P.’s sound, his irresistible rhythms, his wonderful inventiveness when I first heard IF DREAMS COME TRUE on a Columbia lp circa 1967.  And then I tried to get all of his recordings that I could — which in the pre-internet, pre-eBay era, was not easy: a Bessie Smith accompaniment here, a Decca session with Eddie Dougherty, the Blue Notes, the Stinson / Asch sides, and so on.  This Mosaic set is a delightful compilation even for someone who, like me, knows some of this music by heart because of forty-plus years of listening to it.  The analogy I think of is that of an art student who discovers a beloved artist (Rembrandt or Kahlo, Kandinsky or Monet) but can only view a few images on museum postcards or as images on an iPhone — then, the world opens up when the student is able to travel to THE museum where the idol’s works are visible, tangible, life-sized, arranged in chronology or thematically . . . it makes one’s head spin.  And it’s not six compact discs of uptempo stride piano: the aural variety is delicious, James P.’s imagination always refreshing.

The riches here are immense. All six takes of Ida Cox’s ONE HOUR MAMA. From that same session, there is a pearl beyond price: forty-two seconds of Charlie Christian, then Hot Lips Page, backed by James P., working on a passage in the arrangement.  (By the way, there are some Charlie Christian accompaniments in that 1939 session that I had never heard before, and I’d done my best to track down all of the Ida Cox takes.  Guitar fanciers please note.)  The transfers are as good as we are going to hear in this century, and the photographs (several new to me) are delights.

Hearing these recordings in context always brings new insights to the surface. My own epiphany of this first listening-immersion is a small one: the subject is HOW COULD I BE BLUE? (a record I fell in love with decades ago, and it still delights me).  It’s a duo-performance for James  P. and Clarence Williams, with scripted vaudeville dialogue that has James P. as the 1930 version of Shorty George, the fellow who makes love to your wife while you are at work, and the received wisdom has been that James P. is uncomfortable with the dialogue he’s asked to deliver, which has him both the accomplished adulterer and the man who pretends he is doing nothing at all.  Hearing this track again today, and then James P. as the trickster in I FOUND A NEW BABY, which has a different kind of vaudeville routine, it struck me that James P. was doing his part splendidly on the first side, his hesitations and who-me? innocence part of his character.  He had been involved with theatrical productions for much of the preceding decade, and I am sure he knew more than a little about acting.  You’ll have to hear it for yourself.

This, of course, leaves aside the glory of his piano playing.  I don’t think hierarchical comparisons are all that useful (X is better than Y, and let’s forget about Z) but James P.’s melodic improvising, whether glistening or restrained, never seems a series of learned motives.  Nothing is predictable; his dancing rhythms (he is the master of rhythmic play between right and left hands) and his melodic inventiveness always result in the best syncopated dance music.  His sensitivity is unparalleled.  For one example of many, I would direct listeners to the 1931 sides by Rosa Henderson, especially DOGGONE BLUES: where he begins the side jauntily, frolicking as wonderfully as any solo pianist could — not racing the tempo or raising his volume — then moderates his volume and muffles his gleaming sound to provide the most wistful counter-voice to Henderson’s recital of her sorrows.  Another jaunty interlude gives way to the most tender accompaniment.  I would play this for any contemporary pianist and be certain of their admiration.

I am impressed with this set not simply for the riches it contains, but for the possibility it offers us to reconsider one of my beloved jazz heroes.  Of course I would like people to flock to purchase it (in keeping with Mosaic policy, it is a limited edition, and once it’s gone, you might find a copy on eBay for double price) but more than that, I would like listeners to do some energetic reconstruction of the rather constricted canon of jazz piano history, which usually presents “stride piano” as a necessary yet brief stop in the forward motion of the genre or the idiom — as it moves from Joplin to Morton to Hines to Wilson to Tatum to “modernity.”  Stride piano is almost always presented as a type of modernized ragtime, a brief virtuosic aberration with a finite duration and effect. I would like wise listeners to hear James P. Johnson as a pianistic master, his influence reaching far beyond what is usually assumed.

JAMES P. postage stamp

I was happy to see James P. on a postage stamp, but it wasn’t and isn’t enough, as the Mosaic set proves over and over again. I would like James P. Johnson to be recognized as “the dean of jazz pianists”:

jamesp-johnsongravemarker

Listen closely to this new Mosaic box set six compact discs worth of proof that the genius of James P. Johnson lives on vividly.

May your happiness increase!

THE MAIL; THE PROBLEMS; THE BREEZES: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH at the ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 10, 2015)

Two beautiful exercises in swing and feeling from the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party, created by Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  The first is a Thirties song so associated with Fats Waller than some believe him to be the composer, which isn’t the case:

I'M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN

I deplore the current use of “gonna,” but here I accept it without flinching.

The second is one of Rossano’s wonderful medleys — joining EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (a song I cherish for its mixture of self-pity and self-mockery) and the Charlie Christian blues, SOFT WINDS:

What beautiful merging of three individual sounds!  Rossano and Nicki appear often as a duo, and have made several wonderful CDs, but I believe this is their first collaboration with Hal — who fits them delightfully.  I delight in his swinging brushwork throughout, shades of Jo and Sidney especially as SOFT WINDS shifts into its highest gear without getting any faster.

Such music happens regularly at the Allegheny Jazz Party . . . and will again in September 2016.

May your happiness increase!

I’M GETTING MY BONUS IN STRIDE: JAMES P. FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Everyone who follows jazz devotedly has theories about why some musicians become Stars and others remain Obscure.  It clearly isn’t artistic quality, as one could find out quickly by playing recordings of famous and neglected artists. No, other factors interfere.

In that wonderfully uplifting sub-genre known as Harlem stride piano, the pantheon seems to have room for only one man, Fats Waller.  His fame is well-deserved: his genial embellishments, his rhythmic drive, his delicious pianistic surprises.  But we also have to consider the effect of Fats as a Personality (many recordings and some film appearances) and a Composer.  (In the jazz mythology, he is also remembered as a joyous Dionysiac child who died young — elements that stick in our minds.) Willie “the Lion” Smith seems a collection of delightful eccentricities — melodies, derby hat, cigar, scraps of Yiddish, an elegant braggadocio.  In our time, pianists Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Don Ewell, and their current counterparts have (or had) the advantage of being accessible.

But what of the man who came first (leaving aside Eubie Blake and Luckey Roberts), Fats’ teacher, James P. Johnson?  He was not a Personality; the one or two times he sings on record he seems uncomfortable; a quiet man, almost shy, he did not thrust himself forward.  It would seem that he didn’t record sufficiently, but the discographies prove otherwise.  Wellstood once said in print that James P.’s recordings didn’t always document his greatness — although for those of us who didn’t see and hear James P. at all, that would be a moot point.

Mosaic Records, blessedly, has seen fit to put Wellstood’s casual assertion to the test.

JAMES P. Mosaic

This box set will be available in mid-December; it offers the usual Mosaic largesse spread over six CDs; rare material (eleven sides not previously issued), beautiful photographs; a lengthy essay by Dr. Scott Brown, James P.’s biographer, familiar material in the best sound.

And should some worry about six CDs of stride piano, fear not: we hear James P. accompanying blues and pop singers (including Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Clara Smith, and Ethel Waters) and as a sideman in bands that include Frank Newton, Jabbo Smith, Clarence Williams, Garvin Bushell, Louis Metcalf, Fats Waller, Cootie Williams, Arthur Whetsel, King Oliver, Jimmy Archey, Teddy Bunn, Lonnie Johnson, Roy Smeck, Tommy Ladnier, Sidney DeParis, Mezz Mezzrow, John Kirby, Cozy Cole, Sidney Catlett, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Christian, Ed Hall, and others.

Here‘s the discography, for those who (like myself) find listings of music we are going to hear very enticing.  And if you haven’t heard James P. recently — someone Thelonious Monk admired — scroll down on this Mosaic page and listen.

My holiday shopping list is now complete — my gift to myself, I mean.

May your happiness increase!

A HALLEY’S COMET OF HOT (July 20, 2015: Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola)

Halleys Comet

I know that even the most devoted jazz fans get complacent.  “Oh, we have to go to my sister-in-law’s that night.  We can always see that band.”  Or “She’ll be coming back to [insert your city or favorite jazz club] in a few months.  I’m tired.  I have a headache.  It’s raining.”  I’ve done it myself.  But I think — in what I admit is a rather gloomy way — what if someone had said, “Oh, we can always hear Bix / Charlie Christian / Jimmie Blanton / Sidney Catlett / Clifford Brown,” and then woke up to the newspapers a few days later.

Now, here is a band portrait.  Each of these gentlemen has many decades to go, to spread joy, to fill the air with beautiful sounds.  So I am not writing a morbid post.

If you don’t recognize them, they are known as THE HOT JAZZ ALLIANCE, which is an accurate name.

HJA picture

BUT.  This band — an Australian-US conglomeration of the highest order — is not a group that you can see every Monday and Thursday, wherever you live. Two of its members, Andy Schumm, cornet and miscellaneous instruments; Josh Duffee, drums, come from the United States.  Yes, I’ve seen them in the UK, but not as part of this group.  The other four luminaries hail from Australia, and although I’ve met Michael McQuaid, reeds; Jason Downes, reeds, and John Scurry, banjo / guitar, also in the UK (I apologize to Leigh Barker, string and brass bass, for not having bowed low before him.  Yet.) this group took a good amount of will-power and diligence to assemble.

So they are playing three shows in the United States, unless my information is faulty.  One is Josh’s July 22 tribute to Chauncey Morehouse in PoPa’s home town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania — details here — I wonder how many Hot devotees in the tri-state New York area have plans to attend the HJA’s delicious two-show offering at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola?  One night, July 20.  Two shows, at 7:30 and 9:30.  You can read about the event here and you can purchase tickets (which I suggest you do while they are still available) here.

Now, it is possible that someone reading this post is already impatient.  “What? Does Michael think I am made of money?  The kids need braces; Mama needs to finish her post-doc in Spenser, and our ancient Toyota is falling apart as I sit here.”  I apologize.  I have a mortgage and an ancient car, and the orthodonture my parents paid for in my childhood has not stayed where it was put.  I understand other people’s bills.  But this is a once-in-a-who-knows-how-long event.

I’ll be at Dizzy’s . . . but without video camera.  Draw whatever conclusions you like, but if you are depending on me to be the Frank Buck of Hot (you could look it up) it won’t happen.  My apologies.

On another note.  “Michael, why should I go to hear a band I don’t know, when I can hear the Elastic Snappers any time I want?”  Good question.  Valid objection. But take an aural sniff of this:

Frank Melrose’s FORTY AND TIGHT:

CHICAGO RHYTHM:

TEXAS MOANER BLUES:

What I hear here is intense, passionate, “clean” and dirty all at once, expert and casual.  The HJA harks back to the beloved Ancestors but they aren’t in the business of reproducing old discs right in front of us.  They enliven and cheer.

And — just for a thrill — here is the cover photo, the gents all spiffy! — of their debut CD.  I’ve heard it and the glasses in the kitchen cabinet are still rocking. The CD will be on sale at Dizzy’s too, so you can take home a souvenir.

HJA CD coverEnough loving bullying for one post, one month, perhaps for ever.

But I think of a line from a late-Forties Mildred Bailey blues: “If you miss me / you’ll be missing that Acme Fast Freight.”  I am not a connoisseur of Forties freight shipping . . . but obviously the AFF was something special, perhaps the FedEx of 1947:

Acme Fast FreightI quietly suggest that the HJA is even more special, its New York appearance even more a rarity . . . who cares if there is not yet a special Hot Jazz Alliance matchbook?

I hope to see you at Dizzy’s!

May your happiness increase!

 

GENTLY BUT FIRMLY: HOT CLUB PACIFIC: “JIVE AT FIVE”

HCP front

Looking at the sleeve, one could underrate this sweet session from a group of West Coast players as just another “Hot Club” effort.  But the listener who goes within the cardboard has pleasant surprises in store.

For one thing, the HCP is not bowing low to the Quintette of the Hot Club of France in its most famous — and most imitated — Thirties incarnation, with one solo guitar, two rhythm, one violin, one string bass.

Rather, it emulates in its instrumentation the later Reinhardt – Rostaing efforts, clarinet instead of violin. And the group eschews some of the more limiting aspects of “Gypsy jazz,” especially the note-laden guitar solos at searing tempos.

No, this Hot Club leans more towards a Basie / Charlie Christian aesthetic, which is fine with me. The prime movers here are Marc Schwartz (lead guitar), Jack Fields (rhythm guitar), Dale Mills (clarinet), Nat Johnson, Bill Bosch, or Matt Bohn (bass), Olaf Schipiacasse (drums).  And you’ll see from the tune list below that they have neatly sidestepped some of the most overplayed numbers in the G.S. repertoire, for which relief much thanks.

HCP back

I know what follows next might seem like faint praise, but as I was listening to JIVE AT FIVE, I kept noting those corners and musical niches where lesser players might have stuffed in familiar quotes, phrases taken from famous records — in short, cliches.  And each time the band went its own happy swinging way, which is always reassuring.

Here is the HCP Facebook page, and here is what I wrote about them a few years back — with convincing videos.

The HCF has regular gigs in the Santa Cruz / Monterey area, best checked on the Facebook page.  But for pictures of the band and booking information, there’s no better place than here.

The CD is a limited edition, so don’t wait too long to snap up a copy — or else you will be fishing around on eBay.  And if you don’t feel that my endorsement is sufficient proof, how about this: guitar maestri Paul Mehling, Howard Alden, and Larry Coryell have visited and sat in during the band’s ten-year run.  That’s good enough for me.

 May your happiness increase!

HAPPY BUCKY, BIRTHDAY! (with ED METZ, ALLAN VACHE, JOHN COCUZZI, PAUL KELLER at the ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY, April 26, 2014)

Bucky Pizzarelli was born on January 9, 1926.  Ordinarily I don’t devote JAZZ LIVES to birthday celebrations — but it seems right to celebrate Bucky at 89.

I have experienced the several sides of Mr. Pizzarelli: the man who likes to play tender unaccompanied ballads; the great duet player who summons up a whole guitar tradition from its Italian roots to Dick McDonough, Charlie Christian, and his once-partner George Barnes; the swinging rhythm wizard . . . and the showman who is not happy until the audience is standing and hollering.  It is this last Bucky (a beloved and infallible rabble-rouser) that I celebrate here, with a version of SING SING SING recorded at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, with the help of Ed Metz, drums; Paul Keller, string bass; Allan Vache, clarinet; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone:

Bucky played often with Benny Goodman, so he knows the routine.  I might also mention Gene Krupa (celebrated by Mr. Metz) and the much-missed Jess Stacy and Harry James.  But Bucky directs traffic — and we are all glad. Thank you for being so entertaining and so durable.  Bucky won’t see this blog . . . but he knows he’s well and truly loved.

May your happiness increase! 

FRIDAY NIGHT SWING SESSION AT CAFE BORRONE: CLINT BAKER, LEON OAKLEY, ROBERT YOUNG, BILL REINHART, SAM ROCHA, TOM WILSON, RILEY BAKER (June 13, 2013)

We didn’t dream it.  It happened last Friday night at Cafe Borrone (1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, California) — exalted swing time-travels thanks to Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, alto and soprano saxophone; Clint Baker, guitar; Tom Wilson, string bass; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Riley Baker, drums — a 1937 Fifty-Second Street group transplanted south and west.  The evidence, please.

A good tune to jam on, and one Charlie Christian knew well, ROSE ROOM:

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN was the first song played at Eddie Condon’s Third Street club, and the one Ed Polcer chose to close the midtown incarnation, forty years later:

Delighting in the sound of that floating rhythm, a nod to Count Basie and SWINGIN’ THE BLUES:

And a sweet homage to Mister Strong, the wellspring, with THAT’S MY HOME:

After a brief break for nourishment and friendly conversation, the band reassembled itself — with Clint shifting over to trombone and Sam Rocha joining on guitar.

Louis was still on everyone’s mind with BYE AND BYE:

Robert Young sang his own regional lyrics to AVALON:

Blues from that exalted meeting of Django and the Ellingtonians, SOLID OLD MAN:

More Louis (and why not?) with BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

Memories of Wild Bill Davison, who loved to play BLUE AGAIN:

Care for some Hot Five?  Not only ONCE IN A WHILE:

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, with an unexpected reference to someone who is rich in music:

Magic. (To say nothing of the sweet-natured staff at Cafe Borrone, the good food and drinks — a wonderful experience and place.)

May your happiness increase!

LOOK. LISTEN.

Considering the context — James P. Johnson, solo piano, playing his own HARLEM STRUT — the advertising exhortations seem reasonable.

BLACK SWAN

Over a twenty-five year period, James P. was recorded — in the studio, on radio, and in concert — alongside Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Henry “Red” Allen, Sidney Catlett, Pee Wee Russell, Freddie Green, Dicky Wells, Max Kaminsky, Zutty Singleton, Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools (with Louis, Buster Bailey, Kaiser Marshall), Lavinia Turner, Trixie Smith, Fats Waller, Sadie Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Cootie Williams, Garvin Bushell, Jabbo Smith, Gene Sedric, Johnny Dunn, Ethel Waters, King Oliver, Teddy Bunn, Spencer Williams, Cecil Scott, Roy Smeck, Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Ladnier, Eddie Dougherty, Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, Pops Foster, Omer Simeon, Ida Cox, Pete Brown, Frank Newton, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Al Casey, Yank Lawson, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Rushing, Vic Dickenson, Vernon Brown, Sidney Bachet, Tommy Dorsey, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, Johnny Windhurst, George Brunis, Albert Nicholas, Bunk Johnson, George Wettling . . . which sounds as if he recorded with everyone in creation.

Here is his 1923 solo, BLEEDING HEARTED BLUES:

And his 1930 romp, JINGLES:

And the musing 1944 ARKANSAW BLUES:

From the middle of the Twenties, James P. (1894-1955) was comfortably earning money because of royalties on his most famous compositions (consider CHARLESTON, ONE HOUR) but he wasn’t satisfied to be a composer of hit songs.  He wanted to be known and respected as a serious composer of extended works, perhaps the race’s answer to George Gershwin.  He didn’t gain the respect and attention he desired, which hurt him. Both his discography and biography suggest that he was not always in good health — another good reason for our not having even more recorded evidence.

I wonder if James P. was more than the cliche of the popular entertainer yearning for serious acceptance, but a man who knew that he had more to offer than writing thirty-two bar songs and playing piano, solo or in bands.  Did he distance himself from “the music business” or did it ignore him because he would not fit in to one of its tidy categories?

James P.’s pupil Fats Waller died younger, but received more attention because of his ebullient personality: hundreds of recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances.  Willie “the Lion” Smith outlived them both and was always ready to play, sing, and talk.

I wish James P. had recorded more, had received more attention of the kind his talents deserved. If someone uncovers a James P. trove, I’d like to know about it.

Because this blogpost threatens to slide into the morose, I will offer a recording that has never failed to cheer me up: the duet of James P. and Clarence Williams on HOW COULD I BE BLUE? What a pleasure to hear James P. somewhat awkwardly negotiate the vaudeville dialogue . . . and then to hear his intense rhythmic lead, his melodic inventiveness, in the duet that follows:

May your happiness increase!

JOURNEY TO UNMAPPED PLACES: “JAZZ LIVES: TILL WE SHALL MEET AND NEVER PART” by JAAP VAN DE KLOMP

JazzLives Blog

Between 2005 and 2008, the Dutch photographer and jazz scholar Jaap van de Klomp began a series of soulful pilgrimages in honor of the men and women who had created the music he so loves.

The result is the lovely and often sad book of photographs, JAZZ LIVES, which takes its subtitle, TILL WE SHALL MEET AND NEVER PART, from the words chiseled into Lester Young’s gravestone.

Yes, gravestone.

Every jazz lover knows the familiar photographs of our heroes and heroines: Billie Holiday with her dog; Louis Armstrong snappily dressed in London; Charlie Parker on the bandstand.  But where are our idols now?

The two hundred and more pages of JAZZ LIVES document where their mortal remains lie: with elaborate gravestones, unmarked plots of overgrown land, monuments proud and forlorn.  Jaap took his camera across the United States and Europe to capture these landscapes, resulting in a heartfelt pilgrimage to shrines of the dead. Each photograph is accompanied by a concise biography by Scott Yanow, and the book is organized by instruments once played.

The gravestones sometimes speak of posthumous reputation and fame: huge blocks of costly stone or unmarked areas of grass.  A monument for Ellington and empty space for Bud Powell.  An essay by Dan Morgenstern opens the book; one by the jazz musician and writer Bill Crow closes it. A simply written but evocative essay by the photographer himself explains something about his travels.

But the graves say so much — by presence and absence, reality and implication — about Scott Joplin, King Oliver, Serge Chaloff, Vic Dickenson, Andrew Hill, Sarah Vaughan, Illinois Jacquet, Django Reinhardt, Jack Teagarden, Britt Woodman, Al Grey, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, John Carter, Russell Procope, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Dorsey, Eric Dolphy, Willie the Lion Smith, Gigi Gryce, Roland Kirk, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Wardell Gray, Stuff Smith, Red Norvo, Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton, Hank Mobley, Jelly Roll Morton, Art Tatum, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Teddy Wilson, Herbie Nichols, Eddie Lang, Charlie Christian, Grant Green, Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro, Milt Hinton, Jimmie Blanton, George Duvivier, Jo Jones, Zutty Singleton, Denzil Best, Billy Higgins, Sidney Catlett, Gene Krupa, Chick Webb, Ivie Anderson, Bessie Smith, Jimmy Rushing, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Johnny Hartman, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Billy Strayhorn, Sun Ra, Bennie Moten, W. C. Handy, Tadd Dameron, Benny Carter, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, and others.

To give some sense of the breadth of his searching, the gravestones of trumpet players included in this book are: Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Hot Lips Page, Henry Red Allen, Cootie Williams, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, Booker Little, Lee Morgan, Lester Bowie.

Jaap, born in 1940, has been involved with the music and the musicians for more than half a century, including Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Donald Byrd, Kenny Drew, and Kenny Clarke among others.

But he is not only a person of great feeling and a fine photographer.  Jaap is one of those rare souls who wants to share what he has done.  He wrote this to me, “The book which is sold out in the Netherlands by now will not be reprinted and has been proven to be physically too heavy for worldwide distribution. In this form I still hope to reach more jazz enthusiasts with a book which was a great pleasure to make.and which is still a very dear project to me.”

He has offered to make his book available as a digital download — for free — to anyone who emails him at info@jaapvandeklomp.nl  with JazzLives in the subject line.  The whole book is about 150 MB and it might take a few minutes to download.

This is generosity without hidden motive, and it is a beautiful work of art and devotion.

May your happiness increase!

“JUST IMAGINE: CLASSIC JAZZ AT CLASSIC PIANOS”: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, PAOLO ALDERIGHI

Stampa

I am very happy to announce a new CD by the Rebecca Kilgore Trio (Rebecca, vocal and rhythm guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone, piano, arrangements; Paolo Alderighi, piano) — on Blue Swing Fine Recordings 014.  Recorded at the end of 2013 in Portland, Oregon, it’s called CLASSIC JAZZ AT CLASSIC PIANOS, the latter half of that title referring to the congenial place where the Trio performed and where the disc was masterfully recorded by Randy Porter.  Click here to hear samples.

It’s a delicious session, with Rebecca singing (and playing rhythm guitar on a track or two), Dan on trombone, piano, and providing arrangements, Paolo holding everything together on piano for these selections: OH, LOOK AT ME NOW / DADDY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / JUST A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA / SONG OF THE BLUES / JUST IMAGINE / THIS IS MY LUCKY DAY / ALMOST IN YOUR ARMS / I’M IN A LOWDOWN GROOVE / I’M RHYTHM CRAZY NOW / THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN / CRY ME A RIVER / SERENADE TO SWEDEN / SOFT WINDS / MIS’RY AND THE BLUES.  Connoisseurs of Song will note the wonderfully varied repertoire, with loving connections to Billie Holiday, Sammy Cahn, Jack Teagarden, Charles LaVere, Annette Hanshaw, Jean Goldkette, Joe Bushkin, Frank Sinatra, Lester Young, Anita O’Day, Sophia Loren, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Julie London, Jim Goodwin, Duke Ellington and more, but this isn’t a history lesson.  Rather it is fresh buoyant Music — a rare commodity.

I was doubly privileged to be at the recording session and to be asked to write something for the CD, which also has notes by Dan and Becky. Here’s what I wrote:

More often than not, jazz is asked to blossom forth in inhospitable places: the noisy club where musicians must compete with the bartender’s blender, or the recording studio, a maze of headphones and wires. Imagine a quiet room, shaded as if an Edward Hopper nightscape, with three musicians, two grand pianos, the only other people a recording engineer, himself a musician; another man taking notes. It was no fantasy, for this all happened during two December 2013 sessions in Portland, Oregon, in a back room at CLASSIC PIANOS, where three friends gathered for warm, intimate musical conversations in the name of classic jazz.

Becky, Dan, and Paolo believe that music, created on the spot, can bring joy in the moment and renew us in the future. They gave each of the songs they had chosen its own life, reflective or ebullient: the poignancy of DADDY, the bounce of CAROLINA, the swagger of RHYTHM CRAZY, the romance of COINS, the melancholy of MIS’RY AND THE BLUES. Many of the songs have associations with Annette Hanshaw, Anita O’Day, Jack Teagarden, Julie London, Billie Holiday, Ellington, Charlie Christian, Trummy Young, Sophia Loren, Joe Bushkin, Lee Wiley, Fletcher Henderson. But these sessions were no “tribute,” no “repertory” re-creation, for the musicians brought their own personalities to this project, adding new melodies to the ones we know.

When Becky sings, we hear a gently compelling honesty. Yes, we admire the way she glides from note to note, the creamy naturalness of her voice, the way her smallest melodic embellishments enhance the song, her infallible swing. But what sets her apart is her quiet determination to share the song’s emotional message candidly, fully. Becky doesn’t overstate or dramatize. She doesn’t place herself in front of the material, but she opens the song for us, so that we feel what its creators hoped for.

Hearing Dan, I think, “That is how any creative player should sound: forthright, assured, subtle, inventive.” Like a great musical conversationalist, he always knows the right epigram to add at the right time. I can guess what some other musicians might play in their next phrase, but Dan’s imagination is larger and more rewarding than we expect. His reading of a melody is a joy; his improvisations are witty, pungent. The trombone can be a buffoon or a bully; in his hands it can be divinely inspired, even when Dan’s aural messages are earthy indeed.

Becky and Dan could float or soar all by themselves, and they’ve proved that many times in concert and on recordings since they first met in 1994. CRY ME A RIVER on this disc, majestic and mournful, is proof. But recently they have called in an Italian sorcerer, Paolo Alderighi, who generously spreads rich sound-weavings, Garneresque threads glittering – lovely orchestral tapestries, neither formulaic nor overemphatic. His solos gleam and chime.

In duet, Dan and Paolo are a model of creative conversation in jazz – empathic, intuitive, concise yet fervent. And when they sat down at the two pianos to accompany Becky for MIS’RY AND THE BLUES their contrasting textures were a delight. Completely original, too – neither Evans and Brookmeyer nor Ferrante and Teicher, but splendidly themselves.

What we call The Great American Songbook sometimes weaves helplessly towards songs that, if their lyrics were actual speech, would be legal documentation of domestic abuse, self-inflicted destruction. Over time, Becky has turned away from these famous masochistic outcries. But this disc shows her playing bravely in the dark, getting in a lowdown groove, calling out to an absent lover, creating rueful and vengeful tears. This isn’t a major life-shift in all things Kilgore, but a willingness to expand her repertoire into classic songs based on real life-experiences. She is having a good time being so sad for a few minutes: like Basie, she keeps the blues at bay by playing them. Or it might be her own particular jazz homeopathy practice, where dark cures dark.

These sessions produced lasting music, the rare kind that emerges from a devotion to the art. What a gift to us all!

JUST IMAGINE is now available here.  You can also purchase copies directly from Becky, Dan, or Paolo at their gigs — the most personal way to do it.  I’ve seen them with Sharpies after a session, so going home with an autographed copy is a real possibility.

I understand that JAZZ LIVES readers sometimes skip the text and look for the tasty music video. In this case, the sound that Randy Porter recorded of Rebecca’s floating voice was so lovely that it would do everyone a disservice to post one of my session videos.  But I think I will be forgiven if I post Dan and Paolo’s memorably dark and lovely SERENADE TO SWEDEN as a musical appetizer.  Thanks to Randy, it sounds even more glorious on the CD:

Intimate, refreshing, and warm music.

May your happiness increase! 

GEORGE BARNES, AT HOME WITH FRIENDS: MASTER IMPROVISER, 1941

Ask any jazz scholar to name another early innovator in jazz electric guitar in addition to Charlie Christian.  A few scholarly types will remember Eddie Durham, Leonard Ware, Floyd Smith, Les Paul. Someone will think of Allan Reuss’s PICKIN’ FOR PATSY.

But few will think of George Barnes.

That’s a pity, because Barnes was exploring the instrument’s possibilities in the late Thirties.

BARNES 1941

Proof of just how inventive he was — at 19! — has recently been offered by the George Barnes Legacy Foundation: a series of delightful home recordings of Barnes and friends in mid-1941.

On these tracks, Barnes improvises masterfully not only on electric guitar but also piano, and he’s aided by Bill Huntington and Bill Iverson, rhythm guitar; Ralph Hancock, cello; Jerry Marlowe, piano; Bill Moore, string bass; Benny Gill, violin; Adrienne Barnes, vocal.

Here’s the story behind the music (from the notes):

In the spring of 1941, 19-year-old guitarist George Barnes had already been a national radio star for almost two years, and enjoyed jamming with his colleagues after they’d wrapped their respective NBC shows. In March, June, and September of 1941, George’s friends — including violinist Benny Gill, rhythm guitarist Bill Huntington, and bassist Bill Moore — dropped by his Chicago apartment in The Chelsea Hotel and played into the wee hours. These 15 tracks were recorded directly to acetate discs by recordist Joe Campbell, who had been a Barnes fan since the first time he heard 17-year-old George play at Gus Williams’ Nameless Cafe on Chicago’s West Side.

The fifteen selections are BARNES’ BLUES / BARNES’ BOOGIE WOOGIE / BODY AND SOUL / JA-DA / MEMORIES OF YOU / NIGHTFALL (four versions) / SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY (two versions) / SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY / SWEET LORRAINE / TEXAS BLUES.

And for those who shy away from “old private recordings,” these sound good for their age.  The originals have been well-mastered, and they were originally 12″ acetates, which afforded longer playing time. Barnes’ colleagues, although their names are not well-known today, are rewarding players who hold our attention throughout. Violinist Gill plays beautifully on BODY AND SOUL, MEMORIES OF YOU, SUNNY SIDE, SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY — in an Eddie South mood; Adrienne Barnes (George’s first wife) reminds me beautifully of Ella Logan and Maxine Sullivan, and the supporting players are first-rate.

In addition, the collection offers two rare October 1941 electric guitar duets by Barnes and Ernie Varner, G MINOR SPIN and SWOON OF A GOON, as well as a brief audio reminiscence by recordist Campbell.

A video and audio taste:

And here, a little reiteration is necessary.  Barnes was 19.

What does it all sound like?  Since George’s first instrument was the piano, it’s fitting that the set begins with a violent but precise boogie-woogie that sounds as if Albert Ammons had been studying the Romantic tradition (Rachmaninoff, not love ballads); the guitar blues that follows is delightful, a subtle mixture of harmonically deep chordal playing and sharp single-line inventions, a JA-DA that alternates between musing interludes and straight-ahead swing. MEMORIES OF YOU has touches of Louis and of what we would come to call “American roots music,” and is the work of a compelling melodist, someone with his own sound on guitar, someone more than able to make electricity work for him.

When he is backing Adrienne Barnes on NIGHTFALL (the first version), his accompaniment is a beautiful orchestral tapestry, moving the melody along while creating a rich hamonic background. The three versions that follow — solo, duo, and trio — are also lessons in what can be done, so evocatively, with lyrical material.

The solo piano SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is also a pleasure, combining an endearing simplicity with harmonic experimentation (think of, say, Nat Jaffe two and three years later) and an audible sense of humor: had Barnes chosen piano as his instrument, he would be known in jazz histories.  SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY, which begins with extravagantly rhapsodic piano, shifts into fourth gear when Barnes begins his guitar solo. SWEET LORRAINE has a melody statement worthy of Eldridge in its contained force; the closing TEXAS BLUES is rocking from the start, merging Western swing and the hot jazz of the time.

The Barnes-Varner duets that close the set are intricate, twining duets — compositionally rich, the sort of playing Barnes and Carl Kress, Barnes and Bucky Pizzarelli did later on.

It might be hard for some to hear how radical Barnes was in 1941, but that’s tribute to his mastery, for all of his style has been subliminally integrated into the mainstream of jazz guitar playing: the pistol-shot single notes, the audacious harmonies, the singular way of constructing a solo — in these solo guitar performances, he has the mastery of Django or Lang, weaving even the most simple material (JA-DA) into a concerto with shifts of mood and tempo.

This set — which I hope is the first of many — has been produced by George’s daughter, Alexandra Barnes Leh, who hopes to make more people aware of her father’s swinging, innovative playing.  For more information on how to order this set — available only as a digital download — click here.  There, you can learn more about what the Legacy Project — how you can purchase instructional materials (audio and print) created by Barnes for beginners and for advanced students — and more.

May your happiness increase!