Tag Archives: Charlie Holmes

GIVE US A SHOUT: DAN BARRETT’S “BLUE SWING” at ASCONA (July 2, 2000)

My dear friend Michael Burgevin was the first person I knew who used the expression “Give me a shout,” when he meant “Call me when you can,” or “Be in touch,” and it’s almost archaic these days.  But I know MB would enjoy what I am about to post.

It’s only a few minutes long, but it is both Prime and Choice — and the result of the kind energetic generosity of our friend Enrico Borsetti, who took his video camera to the JazzAscona, Switzerland, and captured a set by Dan Barrett’s Blue Swing — a noble band that had, alongside Dan, Jon-Erik Kellso, Brian Ogilvie, John “Butch” Smith, Ray Sherman, Eddie Erickson, Joel Forbes, and Jeff Hamilton.

Here’s a wonderful blues with flourishes, composed by Luis Russell and Charlie Holmes for the splendid band (featuring also Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Paul Barbarin, and Pops Foster) the former led from 1926-34, named for the Saratoga Club, where they romped:

I’ll let Jon-Erik have the last word: “Can’t believe this was 17 years ago already. Fond memories of playing with Dan Barrett’s Blue Swing at the JazzAscona fest in Switzerland. “Saratoga Shout” by Luis Russell. I miss our friend Brian Ogilvie, the tenor player here, very much, he left us much too young. I also miss this band, one of the finest I’ve been a part of.”

And Enrico, our Benefactor, promises to share the rest of the set with us. Grazie, amico!

As we know, sometimes The Past comes out of the darkness and raps us sharply across the bridge of the nose.  In this case, it’s given us a very warm hug.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN CELEBRATES CHARLIE SHAVERS and FRIENDS (April 21, 2017)

When Dan Morgenstern and I had concluded our first series of video interviews, he reminded me that we hadn’t spoken of Charlie Shavers, and I was also eager to do this when we met for a second time.  Charlie was an extraordinary trumpeter, arranger, and singer — someone not celebrated in this century as he deserves.

Why stardom seems to come naturally to one artist and not another is mysterious, but I hope that Dan’s wise, affectionate, and first-hand recollections will help people rediscover Mister Shavers:

“Smother me!” Charlie with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra and Louis Bellson:

This is why sound film was invented, so that we could see and hear Charlie and Sidney Catlett have a delightful conversation — also John Kirby, Billy Kyle, Buster Bailey, and Russell Procope (or is it Charlie Holmes?) in 1947:

and late in life with Ben Webster, playing some “dirty blues”:

and the quartet that Dan referred to:

Previous interview segments with Dan can be found here.  And there are more to come.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR BY FOUR IN 4 / 4: “The Unaccounted Four,” Scheveningen, July 2015

I’ve written about the wondrous quartet, whimsically called THE UNACCOUNTED FOUR, as often as I could: here, herehereherehere. They make music that is both cerebral and welcoming.

The unusual proliferation of hyperlinks should indicate my enthusiasm, but a few words might help for those who would rather read than click.

Amsterdam, 11 januari 2015 – Gala van de verkiezing van de Amsterdammer van het Jaar in de Stadsschouwburg. Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four brengt een muzikale ode aan de genomineerden. Foto: Mats van Soolingen

Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four, Amsterdam.  Photograph by Mats van Soolingen.

The Unaccounted Four is a quartet of trumpet, clarinet / tenor, guitar, bass. Historically-minded readers will think of the Django-Rex Stewart session, the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, and in our century, the EarRegulars.  And all of those connections would be valid, although the U 4 leans more to the pensive than the combative, with echoes of the Alec Wilder Octet.

The U 4 is swinging, melodic, deeply thoughtful and playful all at once.  And they have understood something about time as well — and I don’t mean simply a swinging flexible 4 / 4.  If modern physics — and modern art — have helped us understand that time is more a field than a series of beads on a string, the U 4 enacts that easy flexibility in the most charming ways.  In their playing, hot jazz and The Birth of the Cool sit at the same table; Charlie Parker and Charlie Holmes go to the same reed repairman, and Miles smiles warmly at Louis.

Did I say that they have a wonderful CD, called PLAYGROUND?  They do. One could hear some of it here.  And here.

PLAYGROUND

For visual as well as auditory proof of this band’s happy approach to music and to our hearts, here are four videos from a July 2015 performance.

Nothing UNDECIDED here — sparkling chamber jazz that makes this familiar song sound exactly like new:

Then, Ravel’s SLEEPING BEAUTY:

James P. Johnson’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES:

And Bix’s IN THE DARK:

Endearing lyricism is what I call it.

Now, I can’t make it out of the country for next Wednesday, but the U 4 will be playing a gig then.  More room for you!  Details here and here.

May your happiness increase!

BENT PERSSON HONORS LUIS RUSSELL at WHITLEY BAY (Nov. 3, 2013)

Some of the hottest music of the late Twenties was created by Luis Russell and his Orchestra.  That band could “romp,” to use Pops Foster’s perfectly accurate verb, in ways that blended New Orleans polyphony and the awareness of how musicians in a big band could play effectively as sections.  Russell wrote wonderful arrangements and the band showed off a galaxy of soloists — Red Allen, Charlie Holmes, Albert Nicholas, J. C. Higginbotham, Teddy Hill, Greely Walton, Will Johnson, Pops Foster, Paul Barbarin (later editions of the band, captured on record, also included Dicky Wells, Rex Stewart, and a sweetly vocalizing Vic Dickenson).  The band also backed Louis Armstrong on memorable records — and it became the nucleus of Louis’ Decca band as well.

If someone asked me to define “swing,” it would be easy to do by playing the Russell PANAMA or JERSEY LIGHTNING — perpetual motion machines that amaze and delight.

Trumpeter / arranger / scholar Bent Persson has long loved the Russell band, not only for its soloists but for its ensemble beauty — and last year at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party he offered a full plate of joy, taking us in time and space to the Saratoga Club in 1929-1930.  He was aided in this journey by Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocal; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums; Jacob Ullberger, banjo and guitar; Andy Schumm, trumpet; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Jean-Francois Bonnel, Lars Frank, Stephane Gillot, reeds.

SARATOGA SHOUT:

DOCTOR BLUES:

NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS (with its classic vocal: is it an invitation or a command?):

LOUISIANA SWING:

ON REVIVAL DAY (purification of the Spirit thanks to Reverends Jeff and Kris):

POOR LI’L ME, with an extraordinary vocal by Jeff:

SARATOGA DRAG:

HONEY, THAT REMINDS ME (which was Vic Dickenson’s first recorded vocal):

Oh, what a band! — both in the original and in the energetic evocation here.

All of this wonderfully uplifting jazz was performed (in 2013) at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party where many of these musicians will be performing in the 2014 version in a few days.

May your happiness increase!

SIX SURPRISES: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at the NO NAME BAR in SAUSALITO (August 19, 2012)

Since the school year will soon be upon us, here is a one-question jazz quiz on the recent content of JAZZ LIVES.  Please turn your phones off — the answer won’t be found there — and those of you who have been paying close attention have nothing to worry about.

1.  On a Sunday afternoon at the No Name Bar in Sausalito (extra credit if you can accurately recall the street address and the hours that the band plays), when Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band take center stage, the results can best be described as:

a.     swinging

b.     hilarious

c.     unpredictable

d.     all of the above.

Make sure you’ve written your name at the top, and please hand them in.  The correct answer is D, although I will give partial credit for A, B, or C.  Extra credit?  757 Bridgeway, 3-6 PM.  I’ll see you all next week.

Mal and his Colleagues in Swing had a good time last Sunday and they shared the pleasure with us.  Mal offered some Dickensonian trombone asides, loose-limbed singing and comic commentaries; trumpeter John Dodgshon was mellow, on the horn and in his vocals; Tom Schmidt continues to delight and surprise on clarinet and Hodges-inspired alto (I think of Charlie Holmes, a real compliment) — he sang memorably,  too.  The rhythm section worked together splendidly, with Our Lady of the Trap Kit, sweetly pungent Carmen Cansino, tersely rocking Bill De Kuiper on guitar, and quietly eloquent Paul Smith (another videographer!) on string bass.

Here are six movements from the monumental Big Money in Jazz Suite, Opus 8.19.12.

Mal is the most generous of men, but this Sunday his resources might have been low, for he chose I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:

August 21 is a national holiday, although you didn’t see the appropriate sales in mattress stores — it’s Count Basie’s birthday.  Here’s a version of LADY BE GOOD that starts with a Kansas City Six rhythm section chorus:

John Dodgshon seemed entirely trustworthy, reliable to the end, when I spoke with him at the start.  Thus I believed him utterly when he sang YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

For Louis and Benny and Bing, SHINE, with special cadenzas for Carmen near the end.  And if you still think of that song as having deplorably racist lyrics, please read this:

I have noticed how most requests from audience members make the players sigh behind their affable smiles, so I try to restrain myself.  But when asked (as I was here) I will often propose SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, perhaps because I’ve been so transformed by hearing Louis, Ruby Braff, and Doc Cheatham play it.  And Perry Como stayed quietly in the back room (the fans tend to mob him when he comes to the No Name Bar, so Nancy and Scarlet make him comfortable there):

There was a large and enthusiastic Texas contingent in the No Name Bar that Sunday, so perhaps this edged John Dodgshon away from the TIN ROOF BLUES to the 1918 DALLAS BLUES.  I didn’t know the verses that Tom Schmidt sang with such easy fervor. . . .thank you, Tom!  And pay special attention to Bill De Kuiper, the Troubadour of the Silver Subaru, as he takes an inspiring off-the-harmonies solo, immensely refreshing:

Now, don’t you wish you had been there?

May your happiness increase.

(ANOTHER) SUNDAY IN SAUSALITO WITH MAL (July 15, 2012)

It was a sunny afternoon in Sausalito, California, Sunday, June 15, but I and enlightened souls chose the semi-darkness of the No Name Bar (757 Bridgeway) from 3-6 PM for the good hot music and sweet ballads and occasional hijinks of trombonist / philosophical wanderer Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band.  It was fun, and often even more memorable than that.

Incidentally, yelp.com lists the No Name Bar as a “dive bar,” but as one of the patrons said, “I know dive bars, and this is no dive bar.”  The No Name is rather too clean and congenial to qualify . . . sorry!

Mal had with him Paul Smith, string bass; Carmen Cansino, drums; Si Perkoff, keyboard and vocals; Tom Schmidt, clarinet, alto, and vocal; Andrew Storar, trumpet and vocals: a very cohesive group, as you will shortly find out.

People who might only know Mal from his many public lives might be unaware of his work as a jazz trombonist and singer.  In the first of those roles, he is a fine ensemble player — simple, uncluttered, propulsive; as a soloist he emulates Vic Dickenson and Dicky Wells, happily!  Paul Smith is a subtle bassist whose time and taste are delightful; his solos are concise and tasty, and the band rests easily on his foundation.  Drummer Carmen Cansino was new to me, but she’s a wonderfully attentive drummer who catches every musical cue and never gets in the way: her solos have the snap of Wettling or Leeman — a series of well-placed epigrams.  Si Perkoff’s harmonies are supportive, his improvisations eager but never garrulous: he’s a witty, relaxed player with Monkish edges.

The clarinet, by its very nature, inspires some of the most experienced players into unedited exuberance.  Tom Schmidt’s phrases are neat constructions; his sweet / hot alto playing would make Charlie Holmes very happy.  I knew Andrew Storar as the lead trumpet in Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, but was unprepared for how fine a small-band soloist he is — with a graceful, stepping approach and a burnished tone reminiscent of Doc Cheatham.

Andrew, Sy, and Tom are also first-rate singers . . . with markedly different styles.  These six players blend marvelously as a unit — the band rocked through three sets without a letup.

Mal is a sharp-edged improvisatory comedian (he doesn’t tell jokes; he invents situations and then builds them into wonderfully unbalanced edifices) who plays with and off of the crowd.

Here are some of the highlights of another Sunday in the bar with Mal.

A strolling ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, with a vocal that emphasizes the importance of proper refuse recycling:

Mal had created an extended comedy about one Randy Mancini, and other unrelated Mancinis were in the house (that’s Virgina having her photo taken with the band) so MOON RIVER, with a sweet vocal from Andrew, was just the ticket:

Take you down to New Orleans!  BOURBON STREET PARADE:

And Si reminds us that most everyone Wants A Little Girl.  Or boy.  Or someone to share popcorn with:

Keeping the romantic mood, Mal offers SWEET LORRAINE in honor of Nat and Maria Cole:

More New Orleans cuisine — although not for the lactose-intolerant — ICE CREAM:

A hot version of DINAH:

Andrew Storar favors the singing of Dean Martin, and honors him without copying, on EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY:

Turning the No Name Bar into Rick’s wasn’t easy — the carpenters had to work feverishly — but Si delivers AS TIME GOES BY in a more jocular fashion than the last Dooley Wilson:

And to send everyone out into the sun with just a tinge of harmless malice (Lorna in the audience jumped when Mal said those dark words to her . . . ) here’s YOU RASCAL YOU, sung by Tom and Mal:

I know where the GPS will be pointing me next Sunday.  In fact, I think I already know how to get to 757 Bridgeway without the GPS, and given my directional skills, that is the highest tribute I can pay Mal and the Big Money in Jazz All-Star Orchestra.  And don’t forget to say GOOD NIGHT, PROVINCETOWN.  We are, after all, on the air.

May your happiness increase.

SO SWEET: THE FIRST THURSDAY BAND (Feb. 2, 2012)

More from the First Thursday Band — a small hot jazz ensemble that appears on a particular day at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington.  They are Steve Wright on reeds and cornet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Dave Brown, string bass;  Mike Daugherty, drums.  Each member of the band occasionally takes a casual but expert vocal, and these four players swing as soloists — and, even better, as an ensemble.  Here are a few selections from their their Thursday date of 2.2.12 — a harmonious-looking date in itself.

A song I love deeply — could it be from hearing Louis, Bobby, Joe Thomas, Jack Teagarden, and others perform it? — HOME.  And this version perfectly balances Sweet and Hot:

SO SWEET comes from Jimmie Noone, and the title describes it perfectly:

Disorientation and perhaps even homelessness never swung so hard or sounded so good as in SONG OF THE WANDERER:

MOANIN’ should be a depressing exercise, but this performance is quite uplifting:

One of my favorite tunes — which other Thirties cowboy number has ties to Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, and a doomed Bob Hoskins?  Take another one, Mike!  ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:

To me, this compact little band is a triumph of both sound and intuition.  The players hark back to a time when you could tell an instrumentalist or singer in a few notes — instantly recognizable personal identities, like the great film stars.  No one ever confused Bette Davis or Benny Morton with anyone else!  Each member of this quartet has his own identity, and although the whole concept honors the past (so you could, if you liked, talk about Charlie Holmes and Jess Stacy, George Wettling and Al Morgan among a hundred other heroic figures), you hear Skjelbred’s traceries, Brown’s resonant pulse, Daughterty’s cornucopia of rocking sounds, Wright’s lyrical messages.  And the quartet is more than simply four great players bundled together onstage: they remind me of the great string quartets who worked together for years and played better than four individuals with bigger names.  Intuition is at work here — so that each player is both advancing his own vision and listening deeply to what the other fellow just “said,” or anticipating what he thinks is coming next.  A little family of people who know the same language and love its possibilities.

I don’t know when I will end up in Seattle, but I would like it to be a First Thursday.

These videos — and more! — are posted on YouTube by the very gifted Mr. Wright — you might want to subscribe to his channel, swr2408018 — so you don’t miss even a four-bar break.

HOTTER THAN THAT: KUSTBANDET PLAYS “PANAMA” (1985)

Thanks once again to Franz Hoffmann, this more contemporary treasure — the Swedish band KUSTBANDET performing its own very rocking evocation of the 1929-30 Luis Russell Orchestra (original stars Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Charlie Holmes, Albert Nicholas, Pops Foster, Paul Barbarin) playing the living daylights out of W.H. Tyers’ atmospheric piece, PANAMA:

Franz dates this as September 27, 1985 for NDR-TV, and thinks the personnel is Claes-Goran Faxell, Bent Persson, Ola Palsson, trumpet; Jens Lindgren,trombone; Goran Eriksson, Jan Akerman, Erik Persson, reeds; Ake Edenstrand, piano; Hans Gustafsson, banjo; Bo Juhlin, brass bass, bass trombone; Goran Lind, bass; Christer Ekhe, drums.

Bent Persson plays Red Allen; Jens Lindgren does Higgy.  I don’t know the reed section by name, or else I would surely credit them.  Two questions: can anyone read the autograph / inscription on Goran Lind’s bass?  It looks like a real treasure.  And it may just be my point of view, but I am astonished at how serene . . . calm . . . impassive this television audience is.  One fellow, at about 2 minutes in, to the bottom right of the frame, is fanning himself.  That reaction I understand.

I never leap to my feet and shout YEAH! because I have a video camera in my hand, but this performance made me want to do just that.

CINEMA STUDIES: LOUIS, SEPT. 30, 1938: HEARST METROTONE NEWS

Uwe Zanisch, whose blog SATCHMOTUBE (satchmotube) chronicles the appearances of Louis Armstrong on television and film, let me know about this marvel — three minutes of amazement.

But the real Onlie Begetter is the jazz-on-film scholar Franz Hoffmann, who specializes in Red Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, and their friends: his YouTube channel can be found here.

What’s all this about?  I will let Franz explain — but how about live sound footage of Louis and his big band playing a dance in 1938?  Intriguing?

8/9/30 poss. Baton Rouge, Old Fellows Temple for white public – Hearst Metrotone News, LOUIS ARMSTRONG (t, v) & HIS ORCH.: Shelton Hemphill, Otis Johnson, Red Allen (t) Wilbur DeParis, George Washington, J.C.Higginbotham (tb) Albert Nicholas (cl, ts) Rupert Cole, Charlie Holmes (cl,as) Bingie Madison (cl, ts) Luis Russell (p) Lee Blair (g) Pops Foster (b) Paul Barbarin (d) 2:56 MEDLEY: SKELETON IN THE CLOSET – SWING THAT MUSIC – CONFESSIN´

My late friend Dr.Klaus Stratemann wrote in his Louis Armstrong-film book (pages 93-94): parts of this footage with the first two tracks originally came to the attention of Armstrong enthusiasts in a 1969 documentary by Francois Rossif (“Why America”). In 1971, another clip of “The Skeleton…” was used in an Armstrong TV-obituary, with dubbed over narration….

Charlie Holmes denied a suggested Oct. 16th New Orleans location where they played for a larger auditorium. Possibly the Hearst team had come with Armstrong from L.A. who joined at 9/30/38 Baton Rouge where the played the first eve for white publicity and dancers.  I separated several very short silent reed-section clips out of a 1999 BBC-Armstrong documentation, which used probably a longer very clean David Chertok´s Armstrong-footage and mixed them with the below known Medley with new syncrone sound from recorded “Swing That Music” -100% identical with the known MEDLEY sound. Who owns the original complete reel now?  The Hearst News Team filmed in general without soundtrack and remixed that.  Rather mysterious is the black male dancer among the other white dancers — either also a fake mixed in or it suggests another location than on the Octorber-tour in the US-Southern States. (Franz Hoffmann — Red Allen Bio Disco in four parts on pdf-files with chapter-5: Louis Armstrong “Day By Day 1937-1940”).

I confess to being less the scholar than Professor Hoffmann.  I don’t worry about the particular date in 1938.  I am simply enthralled.  This is marvelous stuff.  And when Louis kisses his “little Selmer trumpet” so sweetly . . . we would kiss him if he were alive in person to recieve it.  SWING THAT MUSIC, indeed!

PAPER, NOT EPHEMERAL

This piece of paper comes from the collection of Boston jazz aficionado Samuel Prescott, and it’s an absolute Who’s Who of jazz stars who came through that city in the Forties.  The Prescott papers (and discs) are now held by the University of New Hampshire Library, and they took good care of this piece of paper, crowded with signatures of great men and women:

On the back (invisible at the moment) is the autograph of one Duke Ellington.  And here are the names that the librarians found: a good pastime for a rainy day with a magnifying glass: 

Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines (twice).  Al Morgan.  Pete Brown.  Joe Battaglia (piano).  Shirley Mhore (vocal).  Gene Sedric.  Art Hodes.  Vic Dickenson.  J. C. Higginbotham.  Roy Eldridge.  Erskine Hawkins (twice).  Joe Marsala.  Adele Girard.  Jimmy Shirley.  Jess Stacy.  Ev Schwarz (pian0).  John Kirby.  James P. Johnson.  Edmond Hall.  Louis Armstrong.  Billy Kyle.  Bob Wilber.  Frankie Newton.  Willie ‘Bunk’ Johnson (twice).  Baby Dodds.  Johnny Windhurst.  Johnny Field (bass).  Sparky Tomasetti.  Jack Teagarden.  Dick Wellstood.  Pops Foster.  Sidney Bechet.  Sandy J. Williams.  Jimmy Archey.  Howey ‘Peacoo’ Gadboys.  Sidney de Paris.  Rex Stewart.  ‘Wild’ Bill Davison.  Pleasant Joseph.  Henry ‘Red’ Allen.  Milton ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow.  Pee Wee Russell.  Don Kirkpatrick.  Max Kaminsky.  Paul Watson.  Bob Guy.  Charlie Holmes.

Amazing, no?

FAULTY TECHNIQUE (by John McWhorter)

In the December 14, 2009 issue of THE NEW YORKER, the book review is given over to Terry Teachout’s Louis Armstrong biography, POPS, which has received unprecedented media coverage.  The review is titled “THE ENTERTAINER,” which gave me pause. 

Its author is John McWhorter, “a Senior Fellow of Public Policy at the Manhattan Institute and a lecturer at Columbia University.”  Thus, he seems not to be an official “Jazz Critic,” which is fine, and his prose is commendably clear.  And the review is mostly an overview of Armstrong’s life, with comments on Teachout’s book sprinkled here and there.  McWhorter closes by quoting alto saxophonist Charlie Holmes, a commendable act.

I suppose I should confess (although close readers will have guessed it by now) that I am what some uncomprehending writer referred to as “guilty of Amstrongidolatry,” although I do not value all of Louis’s performances equally.  But he seems monumental.   

Halfway through the review, nine words leapt out at me:

“Armstrong, like many self-taught geniuses, had a faulty technique. . . .”

Lest I seem to be quoting out of context, I will add that McWhorter then speaks of the scar tissue on Armstrong’s upper lip, and that the result of his “faulty technique” was audible in the Fifties, when “rapid-fire cascades of notes no longer came as easily.”

All of this is true, although I will leave aside the question of whether Arnold Palmer or Joe Louis would have been reproached for, later in life, having less muscular ability than in their youth.

But “faulty technique” sticks in my throat, or my craw, or wherever irritating half-truths can be said to stick.

“So!” I said to myself.  “That “faulty technique” must be the reason Louis’s playing on HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH and AFTER YOU’VE GONE and GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT and WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR is so . . . . “faulty.” 

Had Louis, instead of being placed in the Colored Waifs’ Home, been fortunate enough to master legitimate trumpet technique . . . had he been able to spend several years in a Jazz Studies program . . . had he been able to master the proper rudiments of brass playing with teachers more well-trained than Peter Jones and Joseph Oliver. . . well, then.  Then we would have heard some great music, instead of these flawed performances.

I was a very very bad trumpet player in fifth grade, and my later attempts at the brass family would impress no one.  But I do know how difficult it is to play the trumpet at any level, and thus Louis’s playing strikes me as astonishing.  And it might seem to some to be ad hominem to ask on what instrument McWhorter has distinguished himself, and is his technique beyond reproach?

And before any reproachful readers write in to (of course) deliver reproaches, I would ask that they listen to at least three minutes of an Armstrong performance they hold dear and work diligently to uncover the faults in its technique.  Only then might we be able to discuss this in some informed way.

TELEPATHY AND TUXEDOS!

Last night, the Sunday that began March 2009, the Beloved and I took up our positions at the Ear Inn, close enough to the band to hear some of the muttered in-jokes.  And what a band!  Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Mark Lopeman on tenor sax, James Chirillo on guitar, Jon Burr on bass — and, after the first number, Dan Block on alto sax.

ear-minnie-12-08-3-09005

That’s the reed and rhythm sections.  Here’s the trumpet section, with friends.  Everyone’s concentrating hard, eyes shut:

ear-minnie-12-08-3-09003

Photographs copyright 2009 by Lorna Sass.  All rights reserved.

You’ll notice that two of the EarRegulars are tuxedo-clad, although with room to breathe.  Not the usual Ear Inn dress code!  We in the fashion world call this Unbuttoned Formal.  Lest you were wondering if this was a new West Village aesthetic, the more obvious reason is that Jon-Erik, Dan, and Mark had just come from an afternoon gig with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks — the Pee Wee Russell Memorial Stomp, or “the PeeWee Stomp” to those in the know.  Dan and Jon-Erik were wearing their Nighthawks regalia.  Where Mark hid his is currently unknown.

I won’t say that the band’s particularly splendid playing last night was due to their clothing, but the situation reminded me of something common in the Thirties and Forties.  Jazzmen spent the evening sitting in a big band, soloing occasionally but more often reading the charts — and then went someplace to blow, to get all of those arrangements out of their system.  Vince, as you know, is no Swing Era martinet, and those charts are a pleasure to play . . . but there was a noticeable absence of printed music at the Ear last night.  No one missed it.

Jon-Erik suggested Fats Waller’s cheerful I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY as an opener.  Was he thinking about his own delightful Jackie, sitting nearby, or Liz, Jon Burr’s endearing partner, or even myself and the Beloved?  Who can tell?  But it’s always a good tune to play, and the streamlined quartet dug in joyously.

For any other jazz group, it would have been a triumphant performance.  For the EarRegulars, who happily set their standards so high, it was only a casual romp, a friendly warm-up.  An appetizer!

Dan Block, his injured finger still bandaged but playing marvelously, came aboard for Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR, taken at a less lugubrious tempo than usual.  And it was a stirring lesson in the many shades an improvising ensemble can bring to a piece of music — from intense hymnlike beginnings, with the saxes humming behind Jon-Erik, to a downhome shuffle with hints of rhythm and blues, coming full circle with Jon-Erik’s Braffish cadenza.  We cheered, and the set was still young.

JEEPERS CREEPERS (in Bb) was another subliminal homage to Louis (with thanks to Johnny Mercer).  Here the band rose to new peaks of swinging empathy.  Jon-Erik ended his solo with a sideways homage to the Basie EVERY TUB, and Dan picked up the phrase to start his own solo.  Jon Burr was particularly eloquent, shaping his phrases and leaving elegant spaces in between, and the “telepathy” of my title was at its height, with the two-man sax section answering Jon-Erik in the final ensemble with the wonderful intuition of artists fluent in a shared language.  Everyone in this quintet knows how to respond to each other without taking time to intellectualize.  I thought of the little bands that Hot Lips Page used to lead — trumpet, three saxes, and rhythm — a great compliment to the EarRegulars.

Mark Lopeman shone on a grooving, rhapsodic IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN that showed off his beautiful tone.

Then it was “tempo di jump” once again, and Jon-Erik, feeling cheerful and with good reason, called I WANT TO BE HAPPY.  For the semanticists in the audience, of course the wish expressed in that title would have been a redundancy, but perhaps Jon-Erik wanted to make sure that every molecule in the Ear Inn felt the way he did.  The performance began with a wondrously dissonant introduction by Chirillo — who occasionally delights everyone with thrillingly weird chords and jagged lines that meld Appalachia and Charles Ives — and everyone riffed behind Dan, who was flying.  His Muse was not only Charlie Parker, but Charlie Holmes.  Beautiful solos led into what I think of as Keynote Records-riffs, a shout chorus, an upwards key change (thanks, James!) for another exuberant finish.

The EarRegulars were having too much fun to stop, and it was time to let Phillip DeBucket, who loves to visit at every table,  make his rounds of the Ear, so Jon-Erik called for the blues, which happily took shape as Strayhorn’s THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES — spiritual, groovy, sad and spirited.

It was a thrilling hour.  Creativity, a common jazz vocabulary, and high-level telepathy were all on display.  Good job!  Well done!  Blessings on all your heads!

FOR THE LOVE OF LOUIS AND DOC

Louis Armstrong understandably provoked awe, admiration, protectiveness, gratitude, reverence.  And those who know his life will think without hesitation of the people who cherished him: his beloved wife Lucille, his manager Joe Glaser, his friend Jack Bradley, recently celebrated in The New York Times for his astonishing collection of sacred artifacts. 

You can read the story about Jack here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/29/nyregion/29satchmo.html?_r=2&ref=nyregion&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

But Gosta Hagglof, perhaps less famous, has done heroic things to keep Louis’s music alive.  Gosta is an Armstrong scholar and aficionado as well as an enterprising record producer.  On his own Ambassador label, he has created a wonderful multi-disc edition of Louis’s 1935-49 recordings, primarily for Decca, including alternate takes, airshots, and film soundtracks.  Much of this material is not only new to CD but new to everyone.  And it’s beautifully annotated and carefully speed-corrected: the ideal!  On his Kenneth label, its label imitating the Gennett company’s baroque whorls, he also made it possible for us to hear Bent Persson’s awe-inspiring recreations and imaginings of Louis’s 1927 Hot Choruses and Breaks.

With typical generosity, Gosta has just issued / re–issued a Doc Cheatham CD tribute to Louis, a gem.  It’s called THE EMINENCE, VOLUME 2: DOC CHEATHAM: “A TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG,” and nothing in that title is hyperbolic.  (Kenneth Records CKS 3408)

doc-louis-kenneth-cd

Cheatham is someone I think of as jazz’s Yeats, getting wiser and deeper and subtler as he grew older.  Brassmen have a hard time because trumpets and trombones require such focused physical energy and skill just to get from one note to another with a pleasing tone.  Doc truly did seem ageless, pulling airy solos out of nowhere, then embarking on weirdly charming vocals that mixed crooning, speech, and bits of Wallerish comedy.  He hasn’t been well represented on compact discs, and this one is a particular pleasure because his Scandinavian friends, both reverent and playful, inspire him to majestic yet casual playing and singing.  Those players, as an aside, are Gosta’s stock company — many of them playing nobly behind Maxine Sullivan in her finest late recordings (five compact discs worth!), the ambiance being somewhere between the Teddy Wilson Brunswicks and the Fifties John Hammond Vanguard sessions.

The original sessions from 1988 and 1989 also feature wonderful playing — piano and Eb alto horn — and arrangements by Dick Cary, someone who knew Louis well, having been the first pianist in the All-Stars at the irreplaceable Town Hall Concert.  (Gosta asked Cary to replicate his original piano introduction to “Save It Pretty Mama,” which Cary does here.  It is immensely touching.)  The gifted but less-known pianist Rolf Larsson shines on two songs not originally issued.  The gutty, loose trombone work of Staffan Arnberg is delightful, and the reed section — Claes Brodda, Goran Eriksson, Erik Persson, and Jan Akerman are all original, fervent players.  I heard hints and echoes of Pete Brown and Charlie Holmes, of Herschel Evans, early Hawkins and Hodges, but they have their own styles, a swinging earnestness.  The rhythm section, collectively featuring Mikael Selander, guitar; Olle Brostedt, bass, guitar; Goran Lind, bass, and Sigge Dellert, drums, rocks in a gentle, homemade, Thirties fashion.  I imagine everyone in shirtsleeves.  I especially enjoyed the hardworking lyricism of Selander, combining the great acoustic guitar styles of the period without imitating anyone: he has a Reinhardt eloquence without entrapping himself in QHCF cliches.

The sessions embraced the expected hot tunes: “Swing That Music,” “Our Monday Date,” a version of “Sweethearts on Parade” with Cary’s alto horn and Cheatham’s trumpet in jousting tandem, “I Double Dare You,” and “Jeepers Creepers,” all essayed with the looseness you would expect from expert players who love to take chances.  The Swedish All-Stars play with daredevil ease — I don’t mean high notes or technical displays — but we hear them experimenting with the possibilities of the songs and the ensembles.  The result is impromptu rather than overly polished, and I can imagine the musicians grinning triumphantly at the end of each take, as if to say, “Hey! We did it!” or the equivalent.

But the best performances here are painted in deep romantic, yearning hues.  “Confessin,” a trio performance for Doc, Selander, and Lind, is the very epitome of tenderness, as is “I’m in the Mood for Love,” complete with the rarely-heard verse.  “Save It Pretty Mama” has Cheatham at his most convincing as a singer; he pours his heart into “A Kiss To Build A Dream On,” a rueful “I Guess I’ll Get the Papers and Go Home” (the song with which he concluded his Sunday brunch performances at Sweet Basil for years), a slow “Dinah” and “Drop Me Off At Harlem,” “Sugar,” and “That’s My Home.”  We often associate Louis with bouncy numbers, with “Tiger Rag” and “Indiana,” but Cheatham draws on his awareness of Louis the romantic, early and late.

Especially in these performances, Cheatham and his young colleagues get at Louis’s huge heart — his wistfulness, hopefulness, and deep feeling, without ever overacting.  Many of these slow performances left me with a lump in my throat.  The results are music to treasure.  Visit Classic Jazz Productions (http://www.classicjazz.eu) for more details.

LANCELOT ET SES CHEVALIERS

Some weeks ago, I wrote about discovering the Parisian stride wizard Olivier Lancelot. Today, I found an enticing flat package in my mailbox: a CD by Oliver with the clarinetist / altoist Didier Desbois and the washboardist / singer* Stephan Seva, recorded at a concert in 1999.

The trio plays Grandpa’s Spells / Liza / Love Me / Harlem Joys / I Believe In Miracles / Original Dixieland One-Step / Breeze* / Lulu’s Back in Town / Buddy’s Habits / Le Lac des Cygnes [Swan Lake] / High Society / Honeysuckle Rose.

The word “washboard” makes some listeners justifiably anxious, for many players of that instrument are loud, intrusive, unsteady. But Seva is a delicate player, not given to clangorous banging, and his time is just right. In fact, his solo work reminds me of late-period Zutty Singleton. Seva’s tappings and rattlings have a thoughtful sound, as if he was experimenting with his paraphernalia to see what would come out of it.

Desbois is an unusual clarinet player, and his singularity is to be praised. Most clarinetists aim for a full, rounded woody tone — the better to rip off Benny Goodman phrases! — or they growl and sputter, hoping to emulate PeeWee Russell. Desbois has a focused, penetrating, reedy tone, reminiscent of black pre-Goodman clarinetists (Cecil Scott, Benny Carter, Prince Robinson). His approach may take you by surprise when you first hear it, but it is a truly pleasant surprise. He sounds like Pan, if Pan swung this hard, which I doubt. He is also an extraordinary Hodges (and Charlie Holmes) alto virtuoso: his tone on “I Believe In Miracles” is rich but never syrupy, as he glides from note to note.

And then there’s the noble Lancelot himself, someone I have already celebrated as a solo player. But many solo players, in and out of stride, can’t merge their rhythms with other players. Not so Olivier, who proves himself a fine accompanist — in the groove — as Thirties players used to say. And you might, at first, admire his instrumental facility, his sheer mastery of stride conventions, fluidly played and creatively reimagined. But soon you stop saying, “There’s a James P. passage,” or “Hear how Olivier executes that familiar Fats run,” and you admire the serious joy he brings to his own version of the style.

As a group, the trio has its own witty fun — the startling key changes in “Original Dixieland One-Step,” Seva’s heartfelt vocalizing on “Breeze,” and the mournful ending to “Le Lac de Cygnes” — these and other touches give this trio an identity: it’s no one’s repertory band.

Visit Olivier’s website (www.lancelotmusic.com) for information on how to get the CD — and the generous bonus of unissued tracks from this concert. Here they are, in a Parisian club, “Le Petit Opportun,” in 2000.