Tag Archives: Chelsea

“OH, MEMORY! OH, MEMORY!”: The MANHATTAN RAGTIME ORCHESTRA at THE CAJUN, PART ONE: JOHN GILL, MATTHEW SZEMELA, JON-ERIK KELLSO, CONAL FOWKES, BRAD SHIGETA, PETE MARTINEZ, JESSE GELBER, ROB GARCIA (July 13, 2006)

The power of memory:

That girl, and the story of that girl, are both imperishable.  Not only does Mr. Bernstein recall her, but everyone who has ever seen CITIZEN KANE recalls him recalling her.  Or so I hope.

Music, so powerful and so multi-layered, is more slippery in the memory, giving us a mixture of sensations and emotions.  Of course people remember Louis playing 250 high C’s, but how many people can recall with clarity a performance full of lights and shadings that happened once, on the spot, and then was over?

Fortunately we have recording equipment of all kinds, and to think of what would have happened to jazz without it is impossible.  But here’s a New York story with gratifications attached, not simply narratives of what happened.

Exhibit A, “The Big Easy”:

Exhibit B, courtesy of eBay:

Exhibit C, self-explanatory:

In 2005, when I was once again free to explore, I discovered The Cajun, a traditional-jazz club in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood.  It closed in late summer 2006, and it was obliterated to become luxury housing, alas.

The owners were Herb Maslin and Arlene Lichterman (Arlene is still with us) and at our first encounter I offered to help publicize the club, even though I had not yet imagined having a jazz blog.  I was writing for The Mississippi Rag and other jazz periodicals, and offered help with press releases.  She was eager to have what festival promoters call Asses in Seats, so I could come anytime and make notes on performances and the general ambiance.  I was free to modestly of generic food.  (I worked my way through the menu, an explorer looking for edible land.)

I have said elsewhere that I’d seen people of my vintage shooting videos of their grandchildren and the ducks on the pond, and it dawned on me that I could buy one to document the music I and others loved.  Exhibit B was, after Flip, my first real video camera.  It recorded on 30-minute mini-DVDs, difficult to transfer, but it worked in the odd lighting and the built-in microphone was acceptable, especially when I sat close to the band.  At the time, I did not know what I might do with the discs — YouTube was only allowing postings of no more than ten minutes and my editing skills were not even rudimentary — but the thought of capturing what would otherwise be evanescent was entrancing.

Thirteen years later, I uncovered a number of videos from 2006: a small stack of mini-DVDs in plastic cases still sits in a bookcase as I write this.  Some videos, when I shared them with the participants (I ask permission first, the videographer’s “informed consent”) created hot-jazz-PTSD, and will remain unseen.  But the four sets of the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra pleased my hero John Gill, and the trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, who encouraged me to  post them so that this splendid band would not be just a memory or a record.  I canvassed the musicians, some of whom are friends, and those who responded agreed that these performances should be enjoyed now.

John continues to believe in the music: he told an interviewer long ago, “It’s music of the people. It’s open and honest and straightforward and comes to you with open arms,” and he continues to live that truth in New Orleans.

Here is the first hour of music (a set-and-a-half of four) from the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, playing their own warm, spirited “radical pop music”: John is on banjo and vocals, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matthew Szemela, violin; Brad Shigeta, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet (subbing for leader Orange Kellin); Jesse Gelber, piano; Conal Fowkes, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.

No tricks, no funny hats, no gimmicks: just real music.  A woman fanning herself: it was July.

Part One, including PORTO RICO / NEW ORLEANS JOYS / TEE NAH NAH (Gill vocal) with Arlene Lichterman cameos / BUDDY’S HABITS / HOME IN PASADENA (Gill) / HIAWATHA (Lizard On A Rail) / DEAR HEART – I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES //

Part Two, including a Buddy Bolden Medley: DON’T GO WAY, NOBODY – MAKIN’ RUNS / CONGO LOVE CALL / BOUNCING AROUND / SONG OF THE ISLANDS (closing theme) / CREOLE BELLES (Gill) / A BUNCH OF BLUES //

To me, much more gratifying that a fleeting glimpse of a girl and her parasol.  And there is another forty-five minutes of music to come.

May your happiness increase!

MY JAZZ MADELEINE (October 20-21, 2004)

dsc00515

Yesterday, I was sifting through one of the mountains of papers I carefully cultivate in my apartment.  Unlike orchids, superfluous papers flourish even when neglected.  Horticulturists take note!  I found a large envelope on which I’d written details of a jam session at the now-vanished Chelsea jazz club, The Cajun, on October 20, 2004.  Marcel Proust tidying the kitchen counter, if you will.

October 20, 2004 was a Wednesday, and Wednesdays were given over to Eddy Davis’s compact, surprising ensemble. “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm,” which had as its core clarinetist Orange Kellin, multi-instrumentalist and interstellar denizen Scott Robinson, Eddy on banjo, vocals, and original compositions, and Debbie Kennedy on bass.  You could always find WQXR-FM broadcaster Lloyd Moss, happily attentive at a table right in front of the band.

My involvement in this story began in mid-September 2004, when I went to Jazz at Chautauqua for the first time, a rapturous weekend.  There, I met Becky Kilgore in person, although we already knew about each other. Either she or trombonist Dan Barrett invited me to come along for their upcoming East Coast gig at Shanghai Jazz in Madison, New Jersey.  A version of their then new group, BED, would make a rare Eastern appearance.  B and D (that’s Becky and Dan) had been able to make the trip, but E (that’s Eddie Erickson, on guitar, banjo, ballads, and comedy) had commitments in California and couldn’t.  The “silent J,” bassist Joel Forbes would be there, and the Erickson-gap would be filled by the endearing pianist Rossano Sportiello.

Here the story becomes more autobiographical.  I had spent Wednesday with a small group of amiable but somewhat untrained moving men who lugged my belongings up the stairs to my new apartment.  They were sweet-natured, funny, and hard-working.  And from this experience I gleaned one piece of irreplaceable vaudeville:

Mover 1, holding up one end of my piano, “Henry, are you ready, for God’s sake?”

Mover 2, getting into position at the other end: “Man, I was born ready!”

But what was supposed to take four hours took nine.  It was physically exhausting for them, psychically draining for me.  A reasonable man would have taken to his bed (amidst the neatly-labeled cardboard boxes) with a Scotch or two, but in the short scuffle between Prudence and Hedonism inside my brain, Prudence didn’t have a chance.

Thus, I found myself in the New Jersey train station, with Dan, Becky, Rossano, and the ever-ebullient Shirley Scott, who seemed to personally know every jazz musician in a ten-state area.  Shirley had brought the daily New York Times crossword puzzle, which we did, collectively and hilariously.

I don’t recall much about the Shanghai Jazz gig except that the club seemed to be an odd place for BED. They played and sang gloriously, but the patrons focused on the excellent food, loudly praising their spicy noodles.  When BED finished their second set, we left, and after some adventures in the cold and dark on the train platform, were on our way back to New York.  Shirley called ahead and found that the Cajun was still open; Eddy and his musicians were eager to meet up with BED.

When we arrived, Eddy’s group was on the stand, with Orange, Scott, Pete Martinez on clarinet, and Conal Fowkes (a sterling pianist) on bass.  Dan took out his cornet and they played an easy “Somebody Loves Me,” one of those let’s-see-where-we’re-at opening tunes musicians like (another one is “Sunday”).  Everyone wanted Becky to sing, and she offered a lightly swinging “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me,” and Barbara Rosene, sitting in the audience and enjoying it all, was asked to follow, and offered a wistful “Fools Rush In.”  At some point, Dan switched back to trombone, and the band tried out the rare “I Had Somebody Else,” the familiar “St. James Infirmary” and a charging “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” with Pete Martinez ripping through splendid Ed Hall whoops and runs.

I was ecstatic, and the players were having a great deal of fun as well.  Rossano picked up Dan’s trombone for a multi-clarinet “Somebody Stole My Gal.”  Although Rossano says that he doesn’t play the instrument well, he sounds like a homespun Sandy Williams.  Scott Robinson and Dan both took cornet solos on “A Melody From The Sky,” Dan led the group through “A Monday Date,” and things concluded with a riotous “Dinah,” Debbie Kennedy taking over the bass.  Trimphantly and joyously, Dan sounded much like 1933 Louis in Copenhagen.

The Cajun session came to an end, but the story doesn’t: Shirley called the fine guitarist Joe Cohn, and everyone took over his midtown  apartment.  What I remember now is a series of brilliant flashes: sitting on Joe’s low couch with a tiny glass of demonic grappa in hand, listening to Becky sing “These Foolish Things” with deep tenderness, Rossano playing his own version of Teddy Wilson behind her — a time machine trip back to 1938.  Joe taking out his trumpet (he played it with real style), he and Dan duetting on a line of his father’s (that’s Al Cohn); Joe playing violin for us.  I sat, silently beaming.

The session broke up around 2:30 in the morning, and I made my way to Penn Station — conveniently missing the last LIRR train, so I waited in the nearly-deserted, cavernous station for another two hours.  Fast forward to a blissful man walking home at 6 in the morning, not believing his own good fortune.

I didn’t have my camera with me, and the minidisc recorder I’ve written about here was not yet an indispendsable part of my luggage — but the envelope reminded me of this intensely happy time.  And, even better, all of the players and singers I’ve celebrated here are alive and well.  May they be well, happy, and prosperous!  And thanks to Arlene Lichterman and Herb Maslin: you know who you are!