Tag Archives: Charlie Parker

TO L.G.

Leonard Gaskin, Eddie South, Allen Tinney, 1947.

Leonard Gaskin, Eddie South, Allen Tinney, 1947.

The string bassist Leonard Gaskin (1920-2009) could and did play with anyone: from Forties bop small groups (including Bird, Miles, Max, Cecil Payne, J.J., and more), to Billie and Connee, to Louis Armstrong to Eddie Condon to pickup groups of all shapes and sizes.  Like Milt Hinton, he was steady, reliable, with a beautiful big sound that fit any ensemble: backing Odetta, Solomon Burke, Earl Hines, Butterbeans and Susie, as well as LaVern Baker, Cecil Scott, Ruby Braff, Kenny Burrell, young Bob Dylan, and Big Maybelle too.

Here is Peter Vacher’s characteristically fine obituary for Leonard.  (I’d like Peter to write mine, but we have yet to work out the details.)

And if you type in “Leonard Gaskin” on YouTube, you can hear more than two hundred performances.

Leonard was the nominal leader of a few “Dixieland” sessions for the Prestige label in 1961.  Another, led by trumpeter Sidney DeParis, was called DIXIELAND HITS COUNTRY AND WESTERN (draw the imagined cover for yourself) with Kenny Davern, Benny Morton, Charlie Queener, Lee Blair, Herbie Lovelle. . . . from whence this sly gem comes:

Here is a loving tribute to Leonard from the singer Seina — it will explain itself:

And since anything even remotely connected with Miles Davis is judged important by a large percentage of jazz listeners, I offer the very Lestorian FOR ADULTS ONLY from February 1953, with Al Cohn (tenor, arranger) Zoot Sims (tenor) John Lewis (piano) Leonard (bass) Kenny Clarke (drums):

and from another musical world, the 1950 poem in praise of awareness, from a Hot Lips Page date, where Lips and Leonard are joined by Jimmy Buxton (tb) Vincent Bair-Bey (as) Ray Abrams (ts) Earl Knight (p) Herbie Lovelle (d) Janie Mickens (vcl):

Now, why am I writing about Mr. Gaskin at this moment?

Sometimes I feel that the cosmos tells me, gently, what or whom to write about — people or artistic creations to celebrate.  I don’t say this as a great puff of ego, that the cosmos has JAZZ LIVES uppermost in its consciousness, but there is a reason for this post.

WP_20160709_17_11_26_Pro

Recently, I was in one of my favorite thrift stores, Savers, and of course I wandered to the records.  Great quantities — wearying numbers — of the usual, and then I spotted the 1958 record above.  I’d owned it at one time: a Condon session with Rex Stewart, Herb Hall, Bud Freeman, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Leonard, and George Wettling, distinguished by a number of songs associated with the ODJB. (A completely uncredited Dick Cary is audible, and I am fairly sure he would have sketched out lead sheets and spare charts for the unfamiliar songs.) An interesting band, but not the apex of Fifties Condonia.

I debated: did I need this hot artifact.  Then I turned it over, and decided that I did, indeed.

WP_20160709_17_12_17_Pro

I suspect that signature is later than 1958, but the real autographs are usually not in the most perfect calligraphy.  And, as always, when a record turns up at a thrift store, I wonder, “Did Grandpa have to move?  Did the folks’ turntable give out?  What’s the story?”

I won’t know, but it gently pushed me to celebrate Leonard Gaskin.

And for those who dote on detail, I’d donated some items to this Savers, and so the record was discounted: I think I paid seventy-two cents.  Too good to ignore.

May your happiness increase!

THANK YOU, SIR CHARLES (1918-2016)

Sir Charles Trio

The news from Yoshio Toyama (from Mike Fitzgerald’s online jazz research group):

“Sir Charles Thompson left us on June 16th in Japan.

He was a very unique pianist with style in between swing and bebop, also very close to great Count Basie’s piano style. He was married to Japanese wife Makiko Thompson in 1990s, lived in Japan in 1990s and 2002 to this day. Funeral will be held in Tokyo, Japan, Higashi Kurume, by his wife Makiko Thompson and family and friends on June 21st.

He was born March 21, 1918, and he just turned 98 last March. He started as professional when he was very young, played with and admired people like Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins . . . .

He was very active in Bebop era also, and his style has lots of Bebop flavor mixed with mellow swing. He was very good golf player too.

He left so many great jazz records including “Vic Dickenson Showcase”. In Japan, he made recording with Yoshio and Keiko Toyama in late 1990s.  Had appeared in many concerts held by Toyama’s Wonderful World Jazz Foundation.  Sir Charles and Toyama stayed very close friends.

We all miss him. Yoshio and Keiko”

sircharlesthompson

Readers will know that I have worked very hard to keep this blog focused on the living thread of the music I and others love.  Were it to become a necrology (and the temptation is powerful) it would slide into being JAZZ DIES.  But I make exceptions for musicians whose emotional connection with me is powerful.  I never met Sir Charles, but he was an integral part of recordings I loved and knew by heart forty-five years ago.  Here he is in 1955 with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  You could make a case that anyone would swing with those three people, but Sir Charles was consistently his own subtle swing engine: he could light up the sonic universe all by himself.

Hearing that, you can understand why Lester Young knighted him.

And — from that same period — another glorious Vanguard session featuring Vic Dickenson (the second volume, since I presume the first was a success, both musically and for its wonderful clarity of sound) on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, where Vic and Sir Charles are joined by Shad Collins, trumpet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Steve Jordan, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Jo Jones, drums:

That’s been one of my favorite recordings since my teens, and it continues to cheer and uplift.  But listen to Sir Charles — not only in solo, but as a wonderfully subtle ensemble player.  With a less splendid pianist (I won’t name names) these soloists would have been less able to float so gracefully.

If you measure a musician’s worth by the company (s)he keeps, Sir Charles was indeed remarkable: the pianist of choice for the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions; work with Coleman Hawkins early and late, with Charlie Parker both in the studio and on the air in Boston, with Lionel Hampton, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Buck Clayton, Danny Barker, Lucky Millinder, Shadow Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, Pete Brown, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Rushing, Earl Bostic, Ike Quebec, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Paul Quinichette, Joe Williams, Harry Edison, Ben Webster, Eddie Condon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Bobby Hackett, Don Byas, Humphrey Lyttelton, Herbie Steward . . . and on and on.

If you want to hear more of Sir Charles, YouTube is full of musical evidence, from the 1945 sides with Bird and with Hawkins, all the way up to 2012 with Yoshio’s band (playing, among other things, RUSSIAN LULLABY) and as a speaking member of a panel — with Allan Eager and Hank Jones — talking about Charlie Parker.

But I will remember Sir Charles as the man who — in his own way and with his own sound — played a good deal like Basie, but understanding that impulse from within rather than copying him, adding in Fats, Wilson, and more advanced harmonies.  His sound, his touch, and his swing are unmistakable, and although he lived a very long life and had a long performance career, his death leaves a void in the swing universe.

I’ll let the poetic pianist Ray Skjelbred have the last word: “He was a perfect player who knew the force of silence around his notes. An inspiration to me.”

There is a silence where Sir Charles Thompson used to be.

WARM CONVERSATIONS IN MUSIC: JON DE LUCIA / PUTTER SMITH / TATSUYA SAKURAI at OLIVIER BISTRO (May 9, 2016)

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

I’ve only met the altoist / clarinetist / flautist / composer Jon De Lucia this year, but I have been delighted and astonished by his subtle warm talent.  The first opportunity I had to experience his floating improvisations was his April 15 graduate recital at City College, which you too can experience here (where Jon is joined by Greg Ruggiero, Aidan O’Donnell, Steve Little, and Ray Gallon).

I wanted to hear more, so I asked Jon if I could come video him at a regular Brooklyn gig at Olivier Bistro (469 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, very close to the F train for people who know and respect such things) and he said I could — thus, this quartet of videos from his performances on May 9. On three of them, Jon’s partner in soulful dialogue is the most revered Putter Smith, string bass; on MOHAWK, that blues we know from the late Dizzy and Bird session, they are joined by the youthful guitarist Tatsuya Sakurai, to great effect.  (Ordinarily Jon’s duet partner is the wonderfully lyrical Greg Ruggiero — a duo I hope to capture soon.)

Thinking of Billie, YOU’VE CHANGED:

The question no one asked that night, WHO CARES?:

The aforementioned Bird / Dizzy blues, with Tatsuya along for the fun of the explorations:

And a statement of fidelity, “forsaking all others” in 4 / 4, IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

What lovely intimate music.

And a non-musical postscript: the food at Olivier Bistro was wonderful, the service likewise (look for kind Annette!): I look forward to returning to enjoy more.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERY: JON DE LUCIA, GREG RUGGIERO, AIDAN O’DONNELL, STEVE LITTLE, RAY GALLON (CITY COLLEGE, APRIL 15, 2016)

I first met Jon De Lucia at a concert celebrating tenor legend Ted Brown’s birthday.  The concert was held at Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s The Drawing Room, so I knew the very gracious young man traveled in the best company.

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

But I hadn’t heard him play.  It turns out that my ignorance of Jon — altoist, clarinetist, and imaginative composer / improviser — was a serious loss, which I remedied on April 15, 2016.  Slightly after noon on that day, Jon gave a graduate recital at City College of New York — a degree requirement so that he could receive his Master’s in Jazz Studies.  With him (and alongside him) were Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums.  Pianist Ray Gallon joined in for two performances.

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

A Master in Jazz Studies is what Jon De Lucia is, and as I write this he hasn’t even worn the robes or gotten his diploma.

Jon’s recital lasted about an hour, and he and his ensemble performed seven improvisations — most of them his own arrangements and reinventions over moderately familiar chord sequences (with one glorious ballad).  But this wasn’t an afternoon of thin contrefacts, so that the members of the audience could say in two bars, “Oh, that’s LADY BE GOOD.”  “Again.”  No, Jon showed off his craft, his subtle gift for creating luxurious melodies, actual songs.

As  you’ll hear, some of the music had a dreamlike serenity — elusive and lovely; at other points I thought of the dear seriousness of Fifties West Coast jazz, or dance movements from early modern classical yet with a strong pulse.  It was delicate yet pointed, light-hearted but never effete.

Jon’s music didn’t fit easily into stylistic boxes (which is delightful): his lines soared, his solos had their own internal logic; the music breathed and rang and glistened. Not only is he a wonderfully seductive altoist, his tone sweet and tart, avoiding avian flurries of notes or post-Parker harshness, he is a master of that unforgiving horn, the clarinet.

I was thrilled to be in the audience.  And once you’ve heard only a few minutes of this music, you will understand why.

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST:

CONFLAGRATION:

I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU (a breathtakingly gorgeous performance):

VALSE VIVIENNE:

RONDO A LA RUSSO, featuring Aidan O’Donnell:

THE Q 25 BLUES, inspired by a bus and its route:

LOST AND FOUND, by Hod O’Brien, its title a sly wink at its origin, as is the riff that sets up Steve’s solo passages:

Now I see that Jon and friends have gigs in Manhattan and Brooklyn — information you can find out here and there is more information at his website.

I salute him and his colleagues, and look forward to hearing more.

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!

WARM AND SWINGING: AN EVENING WITH BILL CROW and FLIP PETERS (PROJECT 142: January 28, 2016)

BILL CROW

On January 28, 2016, I had the rare privilege of seeing / hearing / recording a duo session (under the aegis of project142) featuring the eminent Bill Crow — at 88 still a peerless string bassist, engaging raconteur, and surprisingly effective singer — and his friend and colleague, guitarist / singer Flip Peters.  (Thanks to Scot Albertson for making this all possible!)

227917ee-3815-4ca8-8925-dc8c48667946

Here, in six parts, is that evening, one I won’t ever forget for swing, elegance, humor, feeling, and the joy of being alive, the joy of playing music.  And here is what I posted about the evening as prelude — don’t miss Flip’s beautiful words about Bill.

Bill describes his childhood immersion with music — all the way up to hearing Nat Cole for the first time:

Bill’s sings and plays SWEET LORRAINE for Nat Cole; his arrival in New York, memories of Birdland, Lester Young and Jo Jones, of Charlie Parker and Stan Getz:

More about Stan Getz, Claude Thornhill, Terry Gibbs, and the Detroit players: Billy Mitchell, Paul Chambers, Curtis Fuller (with a wicked cameo by Miles Davis) — then Bill and Flip play YARDBIRD SUITE:

Working with Marian McPartland and with Gerry Mulligan, and a swinging vocal from Flip on NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT:

Studying with Fred Zimmerman, a concert with Duke Ellington, then (in tribute to Duke) ROSE ROOM / IN A MELLOTONE:

Bill on his writing career, tales of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and a touching bonus, his vocal rendition of a forgotten 1936 swing tune, SING, BABY, SING:

I hope some person or organization, seeing these videos, says, “Let’s have Bill and Flip spend an evening with us!”  You know — for sure — that they have more music to offer and certainly more stories.  And their rich musical intimacy is wondrous.  To learn more about Bill, visit www.billcrowbass.com/.  To find out about booking the duo, contact Flip at flippeters@gmail.com or call him at 973-809-7149.  I hope to be able to attend the duo’s next recital: watch the videos and you will know why, quickly.

May your happiness increase!

FATS, CONNIE, BUNNY, LIPS, BIRD, CHICK

As the people who were swing / jazz / popular music fans in the Thirties and Forties leave the planet, their possessions come up for sale on eBay.  This makes me mildly sad — let’s make money off Gramps’ stuff! — but it is far better than the beloved artifacts being tossed in the recycling bin.  Four treasures that are or were for sale.  I don’t know who Joe Walsh was.  But I do know that Fats Waller autographed this photograph in green fountain pen ink to him:

FATS TO JOE WALSH full

and a magnified view:

FATS TO JOE WALSH detail

Fats Waller’s best wishes are always free, thankfully:

DO ME A FAVOR:

WHOSE HONEY ARE YOU?:

and then there is Carol (Lotz) Lantz:

CONNIE BOSWELL to CAROL front

and the back:

CONNIE BOSWELL to CAROL rear

and the provenance:

Signed and inscribed to CAROL (Lotz) Lantz, daughter of Charles Lotz (1891-1965), a prominent band director from Canton, Ohio. Apparently Boswell performed sometime with Lotz’s band and signed this photo for his daughter. From the Lotz family collection.  SOURCE: From the archives of the World War History & Art Museum (WWHAM) in Alliance, Ohio. WWHAM designs and delivers WWI and WWII exhibits to other rmuseums. Our traveling exhibts include Brushes With War, a world class collection of 325 original paintings and drawings by soldiers of WWI, and Iron Fist, an HO scale model of the German 2nd Panzer Division in 1944 with 4,000 vehicles and 15,000 men.

A little sound from Connie, on a 1936 fifteen-minute radio program in honor of the charms of Florida — with Harry Richman and Fred Rich:

Then there’s Joe Williams, someone I reasonably sure is not the singer:

BUNNY to JOE WILLIAMS

Bunny was proud of his beautiful handwriting, and this one looks authentic. So is this music — A 1938 Disney song (with Dave Tough and Gail Reese):

And one page from a serious scrapbook (with signatures of Chu Berry and Ivie Anderson) belonging to L. Sgt. McKay:

HOT LIPS PAGE to McKay

This record may not be the finest example of Lips (or Lip’s) trumpet playing, but it has a sentimental meaning to me — if I may name-drop — that when I was at Ruby Braff’s apartment, this 78 was leaning against the wall.  So it’s doubly meaningful:

And the Yardbird:

BIRD

Finally, something quite rare: a Chick Webb photograph I’ve never seen before, signed by the Master, who was embarrassed (according to a Helen Oakley Dance story) about his poor handwriting:

CHICK WEBB autographed photo

And Chick in an unusual setting — with an Ellingtonian small group (and Ivie):

I am fond of being alive, and dead people don’t blog, but I wish I’d been around to ask Fats, Connie, Bunny, Lips, Bird, and Chick for their autographs.

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!

SWING, BROTHERS, SWING: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (October 25, 2015)

Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015

Dan Block, Rob Adkins, Ehud Asherie at Casa Mezcal, October 25, 2015

Rob Adkins (string bass and catalyst) brought two of his illustrious friends to Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City for a Sunday afternoon gig on October 25th — the inventive pianist Ehud Aherie and the very lyrical swinging reedman Dan Block.  Here‘s the first part of that afternoon’s Hymn to Beauty.

And four more.

WHO? (rarely played in jazz, but certainly linked to Lester via the odd and wonderful Glenn Hardman 1939 session):

I COVER THE WATERFRONT (from Louis to Billie to Lester to everyone):

BABY BROWN (written by Alex Hill but forever identified with Fats Waller):

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (Tram, Bix, and many more, including Jimmy Rushing):

Couldn’t be better.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE I’VE BEEN, AND WHAT I HEARD (November 5, 2015)

There won’t be much prose in this blogpost: a seventeen-hour travel day has a way of overpowering ordinary cognition (Newcastle to Amsterdam to New York to home, including a taxi, two planes, two airports, a shuttle, and a drive home in rush hour).

But I wanted to let the JAZZ LIVES faithful know that I hadn’t decided to abandon them or the blog.   I will have something to say about the glorious cabaret evening that singer Janice Day and pianist Martin Litton put on in Hay-on-Wye.  And I assure you I will have much more to say about the Mike Durham Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, which is still ringing beautifully in my ears.

Nick Ball and Josh Duffee in the Victory Pub, November 2015, at the Party

Nick Ball and Josh Duffee in the Victory Pub, November 2015, at the Party

But music speaks louder than words, as Charlie Parker reminded Earl Wilson. So here’s a sample from the Thursday, November 5, 2015, after-hours jam session at the Victory Pub in the Village Hotel Newcastle . . . on RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE.

The energized participants are Torstein Kubban, cornet; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Thomas Winteler, clarinet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Nick Ball, drums:

The Party will go on in 2016, but it needs you to survive and flourish.  So do make a note of that, in honor of hot jazz, in honor of Hoagy and Bix too.

May your happiness increase!

FOR BIRD, BASIE, FATS, EUBIE: ROB ADKINS, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (October 25, 2015)

SHOE SHINE BOY

Certain combinations of musicians — and there are many variations on this theme — can make me shake off my sloth and move quickly to where they will be playing. One such trio is Rob Adkins, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie.  These three wizards of swinging melodic improvisation got together last Sunday, October 25, 2015, for a party in a manner a la mode — at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street — that’s the Lower East Side of New York City.

Here are four gems from early on in the program: old tunes played with such sweet fervor that they don’t sound old.

QUASIMODO, Charlie Parker’s winding line on the chord changes of EMBRACEABLE YOU:

SHOE SHINE BOY — via Jones-Smith, Inc., New York by way of Kansas City and Chicago.  Romping! —

UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, a sweetly mobile swing paean by Fats:

I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY, continued evidence that we need to listen much more closely to the music of Eubie Blake:

What a band, what musical sympathy and swinging empathy.  Timeless creativity.

May your happiness increase!

POP SONGS, HOT TUNES, WILD BILL DAVISON and the JAZZ GIANTS

It’s not often that I receive a new CD on Monday, play it on Monday and Tuesday, and sit down to write about it on Wednesday, but the new reissue (I know, illogical but true) of a March 1968 session led by Wild Bill Davison, issued on Delmark Records, has inspired me.  The session was originally recorded by John Norris for Sackville Records, and the band — for once — deserved the title, with Wild Bill, cornet; Benny Morton, trombone; Herb Hall, clarinet; Claude Hopkins, piano; Arvell Shaw, string bass; Buzzy Drootin, drums.  

Davison CD

What makes this CD so endearing is not a whole host of rare / previously unissued material — although there is one new performance and one unissued take.  No, it is the band, the music, and the repertoire.

Although Davison was praised by none other than Ruby Braff, who said that the pride of Defiance, Ohio, had “drama,” I found Davison’s appeal limited in his later years.  He passionately got up and played for all he was worth — he never seemed to coast — but his solos were often set-pieces, established in 1947 and played verbatim night after night.  I recall seeing him in New York City in the Seventies, and it was rather like watching a polished stand-up comedian do identical material.  All one could say was, “Well, Bill’s timing tonight is off,” or “He’s on fire tonight!” but he rarely surprised.  But on this disc he seems inspired sufficiently by his colleagues to venture from his time-tested solos, and the result often made me look up and think, “I never heard him play that before,” which, for me, is one of the great pleasures of improvisation.

Herb Hall sounds lovely and liquid; Arvell Shaw is more than reliable.  Claude Hopkins was never captured enough on record, so his particular version of stride — polite but classically perfect — is a delight, in solo and in ensemble.

But this CD is unusually valuable for the opportunity to hear Buzzy Drootin and Benny Morton — players held dear by their colleagues but rarely given any opportunity to lead sessions.  I saw Buzzy in person many times in the early Seventies, and I fear I did not appreciate him sufficiently.  But now, heard afresh, how arresting he sounds!  Yes, there are echoes of Catlett in his four-bar breaks, but he is entirely his own man with his own sound-galaxy and his own way of thinking, as individualistic as Cliff Leeman.  Instantly recognizable, always propulsive, ever engaged.  And Benny Morton, who recorded with a wide range of players and singers over a half-century (appearing live with Louis, Bird, and Benny Carter!) is in peerless form, his eloquent phrasing, his yearning tone, a great boon.  Sadly, Morton, a terribly modest man, doesn’t have a solo feature (which might have been WITHOUT A SONG).

The CD isn’t perfect.  A few of the solo features sound overdone and the band is, for me, a little too cleanly miked (each instrument rings through, as if there were six separate tracks rather than one — the perils of modern recording and the horror of “leakage”), but it is a rewarding hour-plus.

And it made me think, which is always an enjoyable unexpected benefit — about the repertoire.  Consider this list: STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / DARDANELLA / BLACK AND BLUE (two takes) / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / I FOUND A NEW BABY / BLUE AGAIN / I SURRENDER, DEAR / YESTERDAYS / THEM THERE EYES / THREE LITTLE WORDS.  What struck me about that assortment is that most of the band’s choices were “popular songs” known to the larger audience rather than “jazz favorites” known only to the cognoscenti.

Repertoire in jazz has often served artists as ways to define themselves and their allegiances.  If you are a young singer or player, and you offer a performance (or a CD) of your original compositions, you are in effect saying, “Take me seriously as a composer; I have ideas and feelings to offer you that aren’t Cole Porter, Shelton Brooks, or Ornette Coleman.”

Some players and singers use repertoire as loving homage: Bix Beiderbecke played AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL because his heroes, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, had written and recorded it; Eddie Condon and his friends played the song because it was a good one but also as a loving bow to Bix; players in this century offer it as an extension of the Condon tradition.  In any jazz club or festival, one can hear people playing the music of Louis, Bird, Hawkins, or a hundred others.  Even if one is playing the blues or a song built on familiar changes, the choice of the melodic line superimposed on top says, “Here’s to Don Byas.  Here’s to Roy Eldridge,” and so on.

But this CD reminds me of something Davison told an interviewer.  When he came to New York City in 1943, he was asked by Commodore Records’ saintly founder Milt Gabler to make 12″ 78s of “classic jazz tunes,” for instance PANAMA, THAT’S A PLENTY, and more.  Davison remembered that these songs were not what he was used to playing — for audiences that had come to hear jazz — in Chicago and Milwaukee, but they had played popular songs of the day. And when I heard him in New York, he was most likely to play AS LONG AS I LIVE, SUNDAY, or THEM THERE EYES.  And no one, sitting in the audience, demanded their money back because he wasn’t playing “authentic” jazz.

What the moral of all this is I can’t say.  Perhaps it’s only that I would like to hear Mainstream / traditional ensembles remember the treasures of popular song. There are worlds to be explored beyond the same two dozen favorites — favorites often chosen as markers of ideology / regional or stylistic pride (BIG BEAR STOMP and RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE).  I’d love to hear such bands play THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL, YOU CALL IT MADNESS, or WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT MEETS THE GOLD OF THE DAY.

I offer musical evidence:

Wild Bill paying tribute to Louis at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival by playing THEM THERE EYES, supported by Dave McKenna, Larry Ridley, Oliver Jackson (there is an unsubtle edit in the film, probably removing a Ridley solo, alas) with even more beautiful — although subtle — backing from Ray Nance, Bobby Hackett, Benny Morton, and Tyree Glenn.  “Indecent exposure” for sure.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC BLAZING IN THE DARKNESS: TAL RONEN’S HOLY MOLY (JAY RATTMAN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO) at LITTLE BRANCH (April 13, 2015: PART ONE)

The string bassist / composer / arranger / good fellow TAL RONEN is not only all these heroic things, but he creates imaginative ensembles.  I’d heard of his HOLY MOLY when I was on the other coast — Christmas Eve and Christmas at Smalls — and had wanted to be there but couldn’t.  However, just a few nights ago I was able to visit the HOLY MOLY trio — Tal, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, clarinet — at Little Branch (22 Seventh Avenue South in New York City) for a late session of music.

Before we turn to the videos, which require a serious preface, here’s what Tal had to say when I asked him about this delicious ensemble:

Holy Moly has its start about three-four years ago, when Spike Wilner had me bring my band to play at Smalls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, me being non-observing and so on. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to bring a band, since I keep pretty busy playing in other people’s bands, and band leading is a huge headache.  But I welcomed the challenge, and brought a group of great straight-ahead guys to play. It became a tradition, and I brought my band on those two nights the next year, and the following one. 

However, around last Christmas, I had a different idea. My mind has been brewing with a musical concept for a while. Plainly put, the concept can be described as “impressionist sketches on romantic themes.”  I have a special passion for the work of great American composers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Hoagy Carmichael, who mix a romantic classical approach with the genuine feeling of American folk forms, the blues, roots music etc. I also have a special passion for the interpreters of what can be called the impressionist age in jazz, namely greats like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Oscar Pettiford and my personal mentor, Frank Wess. I was looking for a way to have both my passions, undiluted. This led me to this great crew – Jon-Erik Kellso, Rossano, Jay, Steve Little and Tamar Korn. I decided to call it Holy Moly as an irreverent wink to the holiness of the holiday that was our birth. It also has a certain old timey ring to it which denotes our direction, and lastly, well, when you’re done hearing these guys, that would be your response.

HOLY MOLY! indeed.

I recorded eight videos at Little Branch, and present the first four below.  But there’s a catch.  Little Branch is a basement room, imitating the closeness of a speakeasy, and it is thus quite dark.  I seated myself three feet from the piano, clarinet, and string bass, set up my camera, opened the lens to its widest setting, and began to shoot — the camera recording complete darkness.  Good sound, but no visual whatsoever.  (My pal and video colleague Laura Wyman asked me if I had left the lens cap on.  No, for better or worse.)

There are a few small glimmers of candles in glasses, and in one of the videos someone took some photographs, so the flash weirdly illuminates the players, but otherwise these videos are the finest jazz radio you can imagine.  I found this terribly funny: better to have nothing to see and decent sound than the reverse — bright vistas and terrible noise.  (From long habit, I initially moved my camera and microphone to capture the musician soloing, but gave that up quickly as a whimsy, no more.)

And since people tell me they have trouble keeping up with JAZZ LIVES, these four long performances will give you an opportunity to turn up the volume, stack the dishwasher, groom the cat, pay a bill — whatever needs to be done.  If this weirdness is bothersome, I apologize.  I suspect I have created more than forty-five hundred videos so far on YouTube, so there might be something you haven’t yet seen.  I ask the pardon of those readers who find the blackness terrifying, also.  The music blazes gorgeously.

In case you haven’t been reading closely, there’s nothing to see here.  Keep moving . . .

Four classics:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

LIZA:

POOR BUTTERFLY:

The overall ambiance is of a Goodman small group, but it also reminded me of a Jerry Newman session with Tatum and Pettiford, Minton’s 1941 moved downtown and forward in time. I’d follow this group — or other Tal-creations — wherever they were.

May your happiness increase!

THE FORTUNATE ISLAND, FOUND!

To the most erudite readers, those who consult Geoffrey of Monmouth more than Facebook, the legendary island of Avalon is deeply significant in Arthurian legend: the Fortunate Island, the Island of Apples, the place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged and where Arthur went to die but remained immortal.  The best guess — only a guess — places the island somewhere near Wales.

Al_Jolson_Avalon_cover (1)

To others, AVALON is a hit popular song of 1920, composer credit going to Al Jolson, Buddy DeSylva, and Vincent Rose, yet its opening motif so close to a Puccini aria that the composer sued for plagiarism and won. (Knowing Jolson’s habit of cutting himself in on songs — that is, “Put my name on it as co-composer and thus give me one-third of the royalties, and I will sing it, making it a hit” — I think the song’s credit goes only to the other two writers. (Why only Rose and Jolson are credited on this cover is mysterious.)

Still others, and I am one of them, associate this song with unforgettable jazz performances by Red Nichols, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong and the Dukes of Dixieland, and many others.  The Goodman Quartet version has its own conventions: a descending riff near the end accented by a drummer — originally the Blessed Eugene Krupa — playing the pattern on the wood rim of the snare.  Charlie Parker recorded his own improvisations over the Quartet version, and the song continued to be immensely durable: ask Al Haig, Ted Brown, Lester Young, Art Pepper, Elmo Hope, Eddie Condon, Mel Powell, and Don Byas.

But back to myth and evidence.

Recent archaeological research now suggests that the Fortunate Island is located near or in Kecskemét, Hungary.  I could fill pages with the documentary evidence, but offer this video as proof.  This musical evocation of AVALON is so vividly alive here that I am convinced.  The researchers — a gallant international team — assembled at the 24th International Bohém Ragtime & Jazz Festival held in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 27-29, 2015.  The team had an informal name, but it will make sense once you understand the video revelations — Attila’s International All Stars, and they are Malo Mazurié (France) – trumpet, Evan Arntzen (Canada/USA) – clarinet, tenor sax, Attila Korb (Hungary) – trombone, Dave Blenkhorn (Australia/France) – guitar, Sebastien Girardot (Australia/France) – string bass, Guillaume Nouaux (France) – drums.

As a reward for patiently reading (or scrolling down through) my japes, here is a wondrously swinging AVALON by a band worthy of Arthurian legend:

I am especially delighted to see Attila Korb appropriately adorned, but that IS a stage joke.

You may order the festival DVD (in English) here.  And for more information about the festival, visit here.  All of this is thanks to the Producer,Tamás Ittzés, Kecskemét Jazz Foundation, who is a splendid musician himself, and to the legendary musicians who transport us to AVALON.

If you are ideologically fierce, hewing to your conviction that only people born in a certain nation or with a certain ethnicity or racial background can play “America’s classical music,” I propose an intensive course of aesthetic rehabilitation: listening to this video, eyes closed, for as many times as it takes to loosen the death-grip of those beliefs.

May your happiness increase!

JO JONES, SPECIAL

I’m always intrigued yet sometimes puzzled by the waves of interest in jazz figures that I can discern in the searchers who find this blog.  I’m thrilled to know that somewhere, people yearn to know more about the obscure, “al drootin,” or “bernard addison.”

But often the curiosity (as tabulated by search engine visits) has been both odd and sad.  It feels as if unknown people want badly to put large figures into tiny labeled boxes.

I note with discomfort the morbidly voyeuristic fascination with Billie Holiday unrelated to her music, as documented in many inquiries about her last husband, Louis McKay, about heroin (some searchers have gotten the threads tangled and search for “ella fitzgerald heroin death”), as well as “billy holiday nude” and “how much did billie holiday weigh,” which I find both inexplicable and painful.

More recently, I’ve noted a consistent fascination with Jo Jones.  That in itself would cheer me up, but it seems to grow out of one legend connecting Jo — disdainful, furious — with a youthful and unprepared Charlie Parker.  I wrote about that incident in 2011 here.  (Do people still take Clint Eastwood’s BIRD, where this incident is a repeated narrative thread, as an accurate historical record?)

I saw and heard Jo Jones often in person between 1971 and 1982, and although he was not a predictable individual, what I remember about him is more than the potential for violence, as I have written here.

Jazz enthusiasts and makers of myth apparently need to simplify; they take pleasure in flattening out complex individuals into single iconic gestures, as if making plastic action figures out of them. I imagine a series of dolls sold at giant toy store.  Buy them.  Trade them.  Collect the set!  Here’s Billie Holiday with a needle in her arm or knocked to the ground by her man.  A plastic Louis Armstrong grins and sweats.  In another box, Miles Davis scorns the audience.  Count Basie strikes a single note.  Duke Ellington, in an electric-blue suit, woos a woman.

And now, Jo Jones imperiously humiliating Charlie Parker — complete with tiny gold cymbal flying through the air as if to decapitate the boy who has presumed to enter the world of men.

The Jo Jones I experienced was part mannered exhibitionist, a complete commedia dell’arte troupe in himself, grinning, gesticulating, insisting on playing eleven-minute solo spectacles, demanding our sustained attention.

And then there was the unpredictable deity who commanded the ocean, summoning cosmic rhythms.  His outward appearance — someone you could see on the subway, the compact balding man wearing short trousers that revealed white socks — was only a guise put on so that he could pass among mortals.

Hear him with his peers Emmett Berry, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and that same Count, playing SHOE SHINE BOY:

The sounds Jo creates — I use the present tense intentionally — will outlast any concocted myths, searchers and search engines.

And if future cosmologists discover that the Basie rhythm section was and is really the music that animates the universe, it would explain the durability of this cosmos that some people have tried so hard to destroy.

May your happiness increase!

ELEGANTLY IMAGINATIVE: ECHOES OF SWING, “BLUE PEPPER”

I begin somberly . . . but there are more cheerful rewards to follow.

As the jazz audience changes, I sense that many people who “love jazz” love it most when it is neatly packed in a stylistically restrictive box of their choosing. I hear statements of position, usually in annoyed tones, about banjos, ride cymbals, Charlie Parker, purity, authenticity, and “what jazz is.”

I find this phenomenon oppressive, yet I try to understand it as an expression of taste.  One stimulus makes us vibrate; another makes us look for the exit.  Many people fall in love with an art form at a particular stage of it and their development and remain faithful to it, resisting change as an enemy.

And the most tenaciously restrictive “jazz fans” I know seem frightened of music that seems to transgress boundaries they have created .  They shrink back, appalled, as if you’d served them a pizza with olives, wood screws, mushrooms, and pencils.  They say that one group is “too swingy” or “too modern” or they say, “I can’t listen to that old stuff,” as if it were a statement of religious belief.  “Our people don’t [insert profanation here] ever.”

But some of this categorization, unfortunately, is dictated by the marketplace: if a group can tell a fairly uninformed concert promoter, “We sound like X [insert name of known and welcomed musical expression],” they might get a booking. “We incorporate everyone from Scott Joplin to Ornette Coleman and beyond,” might scare off people who like little boxes.

Certain musical expressions are sacred to me: Louis.  The Basie rhythm section. And their living evocations.  But I deeply admire musicians and groups, living in the present, that display the imaginative spirit.  These artists understand that creative improvised music playfully tends to peek around corners to see what possibilities exist in the merging of NOW and THEN and WHAT MIGHT BE.

One of the most satisfying of these playful groups is ECHOES OF SWING. Their clever title says that they are animated by wit, and this cheerful playfulness comes out in their music — not in “comedy” but in an amused ingenuity, a lightness of heart.  They have been in action since 1997, and when I saw them in person (the only time, alas) in 2007, they were wonderfully enlivening.

This action photograph by Sascha Kletzsch suggests the same thing:

EchoesOfSwingInAction1 (Foto Sascha Kletzsch, v.l. Lhotzky, Hopkins, Dawson, Mewes)

They are Colin T. Dawson, trumpet / vocal;  Chris Hopkins, alto sax; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums.  And they are that rarity in modern times, a working group — which means that they know their routines, and their ensemble work is beautiful, offering the best springboards into exhilarating improvisatory flights. They are also “a working group,” which means that they have gigs.  Yes, gigs!  Check out their schedule here.

Here  is a 2013 post featuring their hot rendition of DIGA DIGA DOO, and an earlier one about their previous CD, MESSAGE FROM MARS, with other videos — as well as my favorite childhood joke about a Martian in New York City here.  And while we’re in the video archives, here is a delicious eleven-minute offering from in November 2014:

and here they are on German television with a late-period Ellington blues, BLUE PEPPER:

All this is lengthy prelude to their new CD, aptly titled BLUE PEPPER:

EchoesOfSwing  - BluePepperCover

The fifteen songs on the disc are thematically connected by BLUE, but they are happily varied, with associations from Ellington to Brubeck and Nat Cole, composers including Gordon Jenkins, Rodgers, Bechet, Waller, Strayhorn — and a traditional Mexican song and several originals by members of the band: BLUE PEPPER / AZZURRO / BLUE PRELUDE / LA PALOMA AZUL / BLUE & NAUGHTY / BLUE MOON / BLACK STICK BLUES / BLUE RIVER / OUT OF THE BLUE / AOI SAMMYAKU [BLUE MOUNTAIN RANGE] / THE SMURF / BLUE GARDENIA / THE BLUE MEDICINE [RADOVAN’S REMEDY] / WILD CAT BLUES / AZURE.

What one hears immediately from this group is energy — not loud or fast unless the song needs either — a joyous leaping into the music.  Although this band is clearly well-rehearsed, there is no feeling of going through the motions. Everything is lively, precise, but it’s clear that as soloists and as an ensemble, they are happily ready to take risks. “Risks” doesn’t mean anarchy in swingtime, but it means a willingness to extend the boundaries: this group is dedicated to something more expansive than recreating already established music.

When I first heard the group (and was instantly smitten) they sounded, often, like a supercharged John Kirby group with Dizzy and Bird sitting in while at intervals the Lion shoved Al Haig off the piano stool.  I heard and liked their swinging intricacies, but now they seem even more adventurous.  And where some of the most endearing CDs can’t be listened to in one sitting because they offer seventy-five minutes of the same thing, this CD is alive, never boring.

A word about the four musicians.  Oliver Mewes loves the light-footed swing of Tough and Catlett, and he is a sly man with a rimshot in just the right place, but he isn’t tied hand and foot by the past.  Bernd Lhotzky is a divine solo pianist (he never rushes or drags) with a beautiful lucent orchestral conception, but he is also someone who is invaluable in an ensemble, providing with Oliver an oceanic swing that fifteen pieces could rest on.  I never listen to this group and say, “Oh, they would be so much better with a rhythm guitar or a string bassist.”

And the front line is just as eloquent.  Colin T. Dawson is a hot trumpet player with a searing edge to his phrases, but he knows where each note should land for the collective elegance of the group — and he’s a sweetly wooing singer in addition.  Chris Hopkins (quiet in person) is a blazing marvel on the alto saxophone — inventive and lyrical and unstoppable — in much the same way he plays the piano.

And here is what my wise friend Dave Gelly wrote: It’s hard to believe at first that there are only four instruments here. The arrangements are so ingenious, and the playing so nimble, that it could be at least twice that number. But listen closely and you will discover just a quartet of trumpet, alto saxophone, piano and drums – with absolutely no electronic tricks. The style is sophisticated small-band swing, the material a judicious mixture of originals and swing-era numbers and there is not a hint of whiskery nostalgia in any of it. It’s about time this idiom received some fresh attention and here’s the perfect curtain-raiser.

Here is their Facebook page, and their website.

We are fortunate that they exist and that they keep bringing us joyous surprises.

May your happiness increase!

WARM TRANSLUCENCE: ANDY BROWN, SOLO JAZZ GUITAR

Andy Brown Soloist

Andy Brown knows and embodies the simple truth.  It’s not how many notes you can play: it’s how you convey feeling with those notes.

For some time, the guitar has been the most popular instrument on the planet. Many guitarists aspire to blazing technique that causes the fretboard to burst into flames.  If you like to blame people, you can blame Hendrix, Bird, or even Django, masters who suggested to the unwary that the way to be even better was to be faster, more densely aggressive.

I come from a different school, having heard Charlie Christian, Teddy Bunn, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Mary Osborne, George Barnes, George Van Eps and others early in my development. I cherish deep simplicities, not fireworks. That is why I have delighted in the playing of Andy Brown and am especially entranced by his most recent CD, plainly named SOLOIST (Delmark Records).

Andy Brown makes music, first and always.  His music woos the ear and the brain but lodges deep in the heart.  You shouldn’t get the wrong idea about him from my somewhat reactionary description: he is no primitive, rejecting technique because he has none.  On the contrary, he can play quickly, elaborately, and dramatically when the music calls for it.  The most mature players know that the greatest displays of technique involve restraint, subtlety, and breathing space.  Andy understands this, and what you hear is a relaxed lyricism where every note counts.  He is a melodic improviser, someone in love with beautiful warm sounds, not trying to impress listeners with outlandish dramatic spectacle.

Andy sounds like himself, but if I were pressed to say what ancestral heroes his playing suggests, they wouldn’t be guitarists.  Rather, I think this CD would have made Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, and Count Basie grin, for its understated singing grace, its beaming pleasure in music-making.

Time for a sample? Make yourself comfortable and savor these varied performances — beginning with luminous solos, then moving to collaborations with Howard Alden, Petra van Nuis, Jeannie Lambert, the cats at the Chautauqua Jazz Party, and even Barbra Streisand.  (Don’t be disconcerted that on the Streisand video — taken from a television appearance — the words “INSIDE DEATH ROW” appear bottom right.  No hidden messages here.)

Here you can hear brief audio samples from the CD.

Andy’s idols are many — he explains all that in his delightfully understated liner notes — but this isn’t a homage to any one guitarist.  It isn’t a disc where the artist reproduces and then elaborates on an influential album or set of recordings.

SOLOIST is a love letter to beautiful songs played with affection and swing, and it is easy to listen to without being Easy Listening.  It would impress any harmonically-astute guitar whiz but it could also embrace someone who knew nothing about substitute chords.  And although most of the songs are “standards,” they are played as if they were just written. Their melodies shine through; they swing.

And — unlike many solo guitar recordings I’ve heard — the sound is plain, unaltered, but gorgeously warm.  I see that the engineer is Scott Steinman — we are no relation — and he has done a lovely job.  And all I can say is that when I began listening to this disc, I delighted in it from first to last and then it seemed the most natural thing to start it up again.  You will feel similarly.

SOLOIST is a lovely recording, and an accurate record of the music of someone I admire, having heard him in person.

Andy writes in his notes that he simply began to play in the recording studio as he would on a gig. That should give any motivated person in the Chicago area a good idea: see Mr. Brown live and buy several copies of the CD from him.

May your happiness increase!

NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY (1936)

I was originally going to title this post HIDE THE CHILDREN but then it occurred to me that my caution was excessive.  No actual obscenities are uttered on these sides and the children of 2015 often know and use casually what 1936 listeners would have called “bad words.”

But these records were startling discoveries to me, and they swung — with a cast of characters not renowned in jazz lore.  The records also weren’t under-the-counter “party records,” but issued in 1936 on a major label (Decca’s race series, but note the absence of “Sepia Series” on the label).

DON’T COME OVER:

and the reverse, more familiar, praise of the humble tuber on the commodities market:

HOT NUTS SWING:

Happily, I found the personnel as reported in Storyville 144, courtesy of the National Jazz Archive (UK) here —

STELLA JOHNSON Vocal, acc, by Dorothy Scott’s Rhythm Boys: Randolph Scott or Jimmy Strange, t; Bob Fagin, as; Dorothy Scott or Henry Gordon, p; Bob Tinsley, g, *Bassie* sb; Pete Peterson, d.  Chicago, Thursday, 10 Sept.1936:

90868-A Don’€™t Come Over De 7217

90869-A Hot Nuts Swing De 7217.

I offer no moral here, except to point out how good the band sounds, how adept the unheralded Bob Fagin is in the pre-Bird style, how effective the overall swing sounds.

On DON’T COME OVER, the device of creating a rhyme where the second rhyming word, unspoken, is clearly vulgar, must go back several centuries in vernacular folk music.  It is particularly intriguing because it requires listeners to reach into their personal word-hoards and come up, perhaps involuntarily, with the naughty word, the obscene punchline to the joke.  We become participants in the naughty playlet.  Consider that.

May your happiness increase!

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME: MARK SHANE REMEMBERS AL HAIG

Since jazz musicians know how to improvise on their instruments and their voices, it’s no surprise that many of them are great homespun comic talents as well — the world is their stage for instant improvisation.

In case you don’t know the wonderful pianist Mark Shane, here is a recent on-the-spot example of his swinging melodic mastery:

Yesterday, Mark told me this story about the revered Al Haig:

Al Haig was playing with Chuck Wayne at Gregory’s and I used to sit in.

One night, Al sneaked up in back of me and I heard him say sotto voce right in my ear, “Would you sit in a while longer while I park my car?”

“Sure,” sez I.

“Do you know where I want to park it?”

“No, Al, where?”

“At home.  Goodnight!!”

I never saw Al Haig again. He was sublime on those Bird recordings!! The great Al Haig … indeed, indeed!!

May your happiness increase!

SOMETHING FOR SIR CHARLES THOMPSON, WHO IS HAPPILY WITH US: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON (Sacramento Music Festival, May 2014)

I had to write that long title; if I just offered Ray’s song title — BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES — readers would jump to the most dire conclusions.  But no! Sir Charles Thompson is in his middle nineties, plays golf, lives in Japan, is happily married.  There’s hope for all of us, although I don’t intend to take up golf.

For about sixty years, Sir Charles has been one of the rare birds of jazz — emerging on record in 1940 with the Horace Henderson band and making his name with Charlie Parker in 1945, on recordings with Buck Clayton (the Jam Sessions and more), Joe Newman, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Morton, Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, and three-quarters of the Basie rhythm section.  Unlike the equally unheralded Nat Pierce, Charles’ version of Basie was stealthily his own, with boppish harmonic underpinnings that never got in the way of his floating swing.  Indeed, the recording Charles made of SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES with Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones (John Hammond admired him and welcomed him on sessions for Vanguard and Columbia) is one of the recordings I go to first if someone asks me, “What does swing mean to you?”

Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs were one of the highlights of the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival (they are a highlight wherever I encounter them) and this swinging blues shows them off beautifully — Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar.

BLUES FOR [IN CELEBRATION OF!] SIR CHARLES THOMPSON:

This one’s for everyone who could use a little swing, and it’s especially for my pal Bill Gallagher, who is the official Sir Charles Thompson discographer.

May your happiness increase!

IN FULL STRIDE: DICK HYMAN and MIKE LIPSKIN at PIEDMONT PIANO (August 9, 2014)

Here are two masters of swing and stride piano with impeccable credentials — Dick Hyman and Mike Lipskin.  Together they’ve learned from and played with everyone from Teddy Wilson to Willie “the Lion” Smith to Willie Gant, Cliff Jackson . . . not forgetting Charlie Parker, Ruby Braff, Joe Wilder, and many others.  They played beautifully on wonderful instruments supplied by Piedmont Piano in Oakland, California, on August 9, 2014.  And the buoyant tune is LINGER AWHILE — which we did:

“Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,” said Mister Morton.

And for the scholars in the audience, LINGER AWHILE — a favorite of pianists and  bands even today — was written in 1923 by Vincent Rose and Harry Owens:

LINGER AWHILEMay your happiness increase!

BELIEF and GOODNESS (in SWING)

Here’s a taste of something good — easy and spicy, honestly in the tradition but not copying any famous recording robotically.

The very endearing song, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME (Jimmy McHugh and Clarence Gaskill) has been recorded and performed by many jazz musicians, beginning with a 1927 hot dance record by Roger Wolfe Kahn.  The song truly took off with memorable records by Louis, Red McKenzie (a favorite swooning tempo), Billie, Basie, Cootie, Ed Hall, Marty Grosz, and so on.

Here is an outdoors performance by Austin, Texas pianist / bandleader Floyd Domino and his All-Stars, featuring Alice Spencer, vocal; David Jellema, cornet; Jonathan Doyle, tenor sax; Brooks Prumo, guitar; Ryan Gould, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. Recorded at Central Market North in Austin, Texas on Aug. 3, 2014:

The very adept videoing is thanks to  Luke Hill (Austin guitarist / vocalist / bandleader) and it came to YouTube thanks to percussionist, scholar, instigator, video creator Hal Smith.

The virtues of this performance should be immediately apparent to any listener who can feel the good vibrations. But I would point out that Domino’s quirky piano lines are engaging and always surprising, and the rhythm trio is always energetic but never obtrusive.  Jellema and Doyle (the former serious; the latter on springs) know what Louis, Buck, Ruby, Lester, and others have done with this song, but they cut their own lyrical paths through the familiar thickets of imitation. And Miss Spencer delightfully avoids the temptation of becoming yet the fifteen-hundredth Billie clone, dragging behind the beat in “meaningful” ways. She sounds like herself, with no postmodern ironies, and if I heard any Swing Goddess with a dainty hand on Miss Alice’s shoulders, it would be Lena Horne, and that is not a bad invisible guide through the song.  The band swings and they are having a subtle good time — instantly transmittable to us through the flat screen.

I believe it.  Don’t you?

And (as they say on the news) THIS JUST IN!  The same band, without Miss Spencer (although you can see her nimbly seat-dancing), performing LADY BE GOOD:

Nicely!  And in one of those moments that couldn’t be staged for anything, at about 3:53 an unidentified bird flies across the scene from right to left and contentedly perches in a branch above and behind the band, happily enjoying the swing.  Is it the ghost of Bill Basie or of the Yardbird, who knew the Jones-Smith record by heart, by heart?  I leave it for the mystically-minded to assign their own identities to this Bird.

May your happiness increase!