Tag Archives: Chris Dawson

GORDON AU PAYS TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG and his ALL-STARS at LINDY FOCUS

It’s distressingly easy to make a paper-thin tribute to Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars: start with the “Greatest Hits,” add a Louis-caricature, stir in high notes, fast tempos and a dash of audience-clapping, and stand back.  Or one could decide to be “innovative” and “harmonically adventurous,” but I will not even consider those possibilities, because the room is starting to spin.

But Gordon Au is a studious and deep musician and individual, so that when I heard he was planning a tribute to the music that Louis and his world-famous band created over nearly twenty-five years, I was eager to hear it.  And the results are subtle and gratifying.  You can find out more here while you listen.  I’ve picked two songs from this recording that are — sadly or wryly — currently appropriate:

and a song I wish were not so relevant, the somber BLACK AND BLUE:

That should send listeners who get it right to the link to download and purchase.  But perhaps some of you need more information.

Gordon writes, “I grew up listening to Louis Armstrong. Last year I had the chance to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: bring the music of Louis & the All-Stars to swing dancers. I heard a few hip DJs play Louis for lindy hoppers over the years, but I always wished there were more, and I knew that I myself would love dancing to the All-Stars. I wanted to give dancers the chance to hear the music of the All-Stars with a live band, and to dance to it and fall in love with it.

Last December, that wish came true. At Lindy Focus XVIII, I presented a tribute to Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars with a dream team of 10 musicians, and finally got to share that music I love with hundreds of people dancing their hearts out, late at night in a packed ballroom, surrounded by smiling faces, at the largest lindy hop event in the nation. And now I’m happy to share it with all of you.”
1. Squeeze Me (79 BPM)
2. All That Meat and No Potatoes (110 BPM)
3. Twelfth St. Rag (128 BPM)
4. I’ll Walk Alone (88 BPM)
5. Back o’Town Blues (74 BPM)
6. Blueberry Hill (96 BPM)
7. Faithful Hussar (133 BPM)
8. Someday You’ll be Sorry (105 BPM)
9. Unless (87 BPM)
10. My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It (141 BPM)
11. Beale St. Blues (105 BPM)
12. Lovely Weather We’re Having (88 BPM)
13. C’est Si Bon (143 BPM)
14. Yellow Dog Blues (88 BPM)
15. Black and Blue (99 BPM)
16. Don’t Fence Me In (106 BPM)
17. Saint Louis Blues (118 BPM)
18. Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now (130 BPM)

All tracks adapted/arranged by Gordon Au (Gordonburi Music – ASCAP)

Laura Windley—vocals (1,2,4,6,9,10,16-8)
Jim Ziegler—vocals (1,2,5,8,10,12,14), trumpet (8,14)
Gordon Au—trumpet/leader
Keenan McKenzie—soprano sax (2,3,6,8,10,12-15,17), clarinet (4,5,8,9,16,18)
Jacob Zimmerman—clarinet (1-4,6-15,17)
Lucian Cobb—trombone
Jonathan Stout—guitar
Chris Dawson—piano
Jen Hodge—bass
Josh Collazo—drums

And if the combination of music and words were not enough, I would add my own of the latter.  I don’t remember if I asked Gordon if he needed some prose or I insisted on writing something (I did see Louis live on April 23, 1967 — that would be my opening credential) and he graciously agreed.  So here’s mine:

I tried to walk like him, talk like him, eat like him, sleep like him. I even bought a pair of big policeman’s shoes like he used to wear and stood outside his apartment waiting for him to come out so I could look at him.

The magnificent cornetist Rex Stewart remembered the monumental effect Louis Armstrong had when Louis came to New York in 1924. More to the point, he recalled without embarrassment his awestruck attempts to gain some of Louis’ splendor by magic. (How lucky for him and for us that Rex had his own splendor for four decades.)

I write this to remind readers of Louis’ life-changing power, and to point out that musicians began trying to emulate him nearly one hundred years ago – when Louis himself was not yet 25. Somewhere I read of a group of players, stripped-down to their underwear, shivering in an unheated basement, hoping to catch cold so that their singing voices would be closer to his. Everyone wanted some of his celestial power: Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Connee Boswell, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin, and many others. As I write, musicians are posting their versions of Louis’ WEST END BLUES’ cadenza on Facebook.

Trying to capture his essence, his admirers have taken many diverse paths. The most shallow efforts have been grotesque: a distended grin, waving a handkerchief as if drowning, and growling a few chosen phrases, ending inevitably with an extended “Oh yeah!” (If you knew nothing of Louis, you might think, “Someone get that man to a hospital now!”) Such approaches resemble a jazz version of demonic possession, and we have it on good authority (clarinetist Joe Muranyi) that Louis hated such imitations.  Some trumpet players misunderstood Louis’ mastery simply as his ability to play an octave higher than anyone else had, but they mistook range for music.  Only those who understood Louis’ art perceived that it was essentially a singer’s craft, melodic to its core, offering songs that any listener, skilled in jazz or not, could appreciate immediately. It was emotive more than exhibitionistic.

This is especially true in the period of Louis’ greatest popular appeal – his triumphant quarter-century of worldwide fame, recognition, and affection. Those who don’t understand his final sustained triumph suggest that his All-Stars period was marked by a desire for larger audiences, “popularity” at the expense of innovative art, and the limitations of an aging man’s playing and singing. To this I and others would say “Nonsense,” a polite euphemism selected for these notes, and point out that the splendidly virtuosic playing of Louis’ earlier years was – although dazzling – not as astonishing as, say, his 1956 WHEN YOU’RE SMILING or THAT’S FOR ME. Ask any trumpeter whether it is easier to copy Louis’ solo on NEW ORLEANS STOMP – the most brilliant amusement-park ride – or to play LA VIE EN ROSE as Louis did. (Those who are struck by this CD might investigate the original recordings and be amazed, and they might follow their amazement to the best book on the subject, Ricky Riccardi’s WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS.)

Gordon Au understands the sweet ardor at the heart of Louis’ last quarter-century, and he also understands that sincere admiration of an innovator’s art requires loving innovation as well as expert imitation. I’ve been admiring Gordon’s playing for over a decade now, and it has always had subtle Armstrongian qualities while remaining perfectly personal: a clarion sound, hitting those notes squarely, a love of melody, but also an essential whimsy: Gordon’s phrasing is not predictable, nor are his particular choices. His solos have their own arching structure and they always deliver pleasant shocks. He moves with quiet daring and great wit between declarations and subversions.

Elsewhere in these notes, Gordon has eloquently written of his own journey to the music of Louis’ All-Stars, so I will leave that to him, and I will not debate those who felt Louis had abandoned his “pure jazz” for “showmanship” by choosing CABARET over POTATO HEAD BLUES. The All-Stars repertoire, in performance and on record, was delightfully varied, from funky New Orleans blues to pop songs new and venerable, as well as Louis’ own compositions and attempts at pop hits — perhaps a broader palette than at any other time in his career (even though we have heard tales of the Creole Jazz Band and Fletcher Henderson playing waltzes and tangos). I have always loved Gordon’s spacious imagination, and it is evident here not only in his playing and arranging, the musicians he has working with him – wonders every one! – but the songs chosen. A dull tribute could have been Greatest Hits (I might not be writing for this project had it included WHAT A WONDERFUL . . . . and DOLLY!) or it might reproduce an All-Stars concert, inexplicable to those who aren’t Louis-scholars. But Gordon understands that UNLESS and BLACK AND BLUE are both music and must be cherished – and performed – with amiable reverence.

The result of Gordon and the band’s deep understanding makes for truly gratifying music, even for those who had never heard the originals. I know the originals, and my experience of listening has been a constant happiness, the warm thought, “Listen to what they are doing there!” And since this band was conceived for swing dancers, the music is always groovy, rocking, and stimulating, no matter what the tempo. The slightly enlarged instrumentation and Gordon’s imaginative arrangements make for a more varied experience than the All-Stars I heard in person in 1967 (I know that is a heretical statement). At their finest, Louis’ group was a collection of inspired soloists, but they could also sound skeletal: three horns, three rhythm, and a “girl singer” – but we were so dazzled by Louis that we did not care how much open space there was in the performances. Gordon’s vision is far more orchestral, and the band pleases on its own terms from first to last, with delightfully jaunty singing by Laura Windley and Jim Ziegler, who do us the compliment of sounding just like themselves, sailing along.

I also know that Louis would be delighted not only with the music here but would have been thrilled to be invited to perform with this band. He left for another gig far too early, and I regret that this collaboration never happened, but I can hear it in my mind’s ear.

“I’m so excited, y’all!” Laura bursts out at the end of DON’T FENCE ME IN. I am also. You can hear the effect the band had on the dancers. And it will offer the same magic to you as well.

Ultimately, here’s my verdict on this lovely musical effort:

So good!  Find it here.

May your happiness increase!

SHARP IT, FLAT IT! (1933-1999)

The JAZZ LIVES quarantine-collection of venerable lively recordings, ever-expanding.

Every Monday night, Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera has been gathering the Hot Club of New York for a Zoom session from 7-10 PM, playing wonderful 78 rpm jazz records with great flair and great sound.  You can become a member here. And there’s more information here.

Last Monday night, one of the sides was Clarence Williams’ MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — whose composer credits read Clarence Williams, (Banjo) Ikey Robinson, and Alex Hill.  My money is on Mister Hill.  Matthew, who knows things, has suggested wisely that Mister Robinson would have been responsible for the jivey lyrics.  I wish I could trace the story I once read that Clarence, late in life, told someone that none of the compositions under his name had been his.  Amazing if so.

But this post is about MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — a song of great melodic simplicity, with two-note phrases that have burned themselves into my brain, and lyrics that are unforgettable because they are so much a part of their time that they have a majestic silliness.  And we could all use a Serenade.  Please join me in Incid. Singing.

Here’s the first version, with Eva Taylor singing first (her voice is catnip) and Cecil Scott, clarinet; Herman Chittison AND Willie “The Lion” Smith, piano; Ikey Robinson, banjo, tenor-guitar; Clarence Williams, jug; Willie Williams, washboard; Clarence Todd, vocal.  New York, August 7, 1933:

That recording has so many delights: the almost staid way it begins with Eva’s demure yet emotive delivery, and the underrated Cecil Scott, Chittison’s very “modern” piano — remember, this is 1933 . . . then the short pause while the band has to get it together for the key change into Clarence Todd’s much more exuberant Calloway-inflected vocal AND the rollicking duo-piano background.  It may be a Silly Symphony, but it is a symphony nonetheless.

Here’s the second Williams version, brighter, with the leader’s potato-ey vocal:  Ed Allen, cornet; Cecil Scott, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Roy Smeck, guitar, steel guitar; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba; Floyd Casey, washboard. New York, January 17, 1934:

Notable for me is the emphasis on steady rocking ensemble playing — and the sound of Clarence’s closing inquiry: he means it.

But wait! there’s more! — a frolicsome big band version from the little-known Tiny Bradshaw band: Lincoln Mills, Shad Collins, Max Maddox, trumpet; George Matthews, Eugene Green, trombone; Russell Procope, Bobby Holmes, alto saxophone; Edgar Courance, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Clarence Johnson, piano; Bob Lessey, guitar; Ernest Williamson, string bass; Harold Bolden, drums; Tiny Bradshaw, vocal.  New York, September 19. 1934:

The Williams recording looks backwards to chugging leisurely ways (it feels rural in its approach) where the Bradshaw band is aerodynamic, speeding down the Swing highway — beautiful solos (Maddox, Procope, Courance, Matthews?) and an uncredited effective arrangement.  That band’s eight Decca sides (autumn ’34) deserve more attention.

Here’s a more recent version, at a lovely tempo, with the verse, the group led by Ted des Plantes with some of my friends : Leon Oakley, cornet; Larry Wright, clarinet, saxophones, ocarina; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Ted des Plantes, piano; John Gill, banjo; Ray Cadd, tuba, jug; Hal Smith, washboard. Berkeley, California, August 15-17, 1997:

The most contemporary version — reminiscent of a Teddy Wilson session! — by Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers: Marc Caparone, cornet; Alan Adams, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Chris Dawson, piano; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. San Diego, California, November 29 & 30, 1999.

See if you can go through the next few days without humming a phrase from this song.  I dare you.

I love the arc of this chronology — even though I couldn’t produce versions by Mike Durham and Bent Persson — that starts with a rare record from 1933 and ends up with performances by some of my most respected friends.

I’ll Serenade.  Won’t you?

May your happiness increase!

LOVABLE ART: JANICE ANDERSON and CHRIS DAWSON (4.30.20)

“Find some beauty every day,” Janice Anderson gently suggests about three-quarters of the way through this nearly hour-long living room concert.

When she’s singing and husband Chris Dawson is at the piano, beauty radiates through very powerfully: no search engines are needed.

And if their music doesn’t win you, I can only shake my head sadly, as I often do these days.

The menu for April 30 — International Jazz Day and also Janice’s birthday — was BLT’s and lemon cake.  Enticing enough to plan a visit to Santa Monica next April.

And if you’d like more (I did and do) go to Janice’s Facebook page for a twenty-minute informal duo concert with Chris.  Simply wonderful.  You’ll notice that neither Janice nor Chris is soliciting contributions for themselves: those who feel uplifted and generous can make a contribution to the Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, where these two have run a music series for fifteen years, bringing in a variety of artists on the second Sunday of every month.

One more thing: at very widely-spaced intervals, I’ve met and heard Chris and Janice over the past nine or ten years.  The most recent encounter — they came to New York in mid-November and appeared magically at Cafe Bohemia: I’m convinced they stopped by just to delight and startle me, but that theory has no evidence behind it.  It’s not always the case that lovable people make lovable art (we all have our stories of the negative exemplars) but in the case of this duo, it is brilliantly true.

May your happiness increase!

 

“ASSES IN SEATS” AND THE JAZZ ECOSYSTEM

Here’s something comfortable, enticing, seductive.

It’s not my living room, I assure you: too neat, no CDs.

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Andrew Swann, drums.  “Sweet Rhythm,” October 26, 2008, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Shane, piano; Dan Block, tenor sax.  “Casa Mezcal,” October 26, 2014, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

(This is not a post about numerology or the significance of October 26 in jazz.)

Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  “Sweet and Hot Music Festival,”  September 5, 2011, TOGETHER:

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs: Ray, piano, composer; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass, Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Sacramento Music Festival,” May 25, 2014, BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES:

I will explain.

“Sweet Rhythm” was once “Sweet Basil,” a restaurant-with-jazz or the reverse, in New York City.  Now it is just a restaurant.  “Casa Mezcal,” across the street from the Tenement Museum, also offered jazz as well as food.  Now, only food.  The two California festivals depicted above are only memories now.  (I could have included the Cajun, Bourbon Street, Roth’s Steakhouse, Banjo Jim’s, the Garage, the Bombay Club, Jazz at Chautauqua, and perhaps a dozen other vacancies in the cosmos — in my time, which isn’t the whole history of the music.)  Jazz clubs become apartments, drugstores, dormitories, nail salons.  Or what was once a jazz bar now has karaoke night and game night.

That’s not difficult to take in.  Everything changes.  “Things are tough all over,” as my father said.

But I’ve included the chair and ottoman because so many jazz listeners prefer the comforts of home to live music, and thus, venues collapse and are not replaced.

The expression I’ve heard from festival producers is the blunt ASSES IN SEATS. It presumes that other body parts are attached to the asses, of course.  But it’s simple economics.  When a club owner looks out at the landscape of empty chairs and tables with napkins undisturbed, when there are more musicians on the stage than there are people in the audience, you can imagine the mental cogitations that result.  This has nothing to do with musical or artistic quality — I’ve heard terrible music played to filled rooms, and once in a New York club I was the audience (let that sink in) — not even me, myself, and I — for the first few songs by a peerless band.  And if you think that musicians are a substantial part of the club budget, it isn’t so: a world-famous jazz musician told me once of being paid sixty dollars for three hours’ work, and some of my favorite musicians go from fifty-and-seventy-five dollar gigs, or they play “for the door.”

And as an aside, if you go to a club and sit through two sets with your three-or-five dollar Coke or well drink or standard beer, you are subsidizing neither the club or the music.  Festival economics are different, but even the price of the ticket will not keep huge enterprises solvent.  I hear, “Oh, the audience for jazz is aging and dying,” and the numbers prove that true, but I think inertia is a stronger factor than mortality, with a side dish of complacency.  And people who study the swing-dance scene say that what I am writing about here is also true for younger fans / dancers.

So before you say to someone, “I’m really a devoted jazz fan,” or proudly wear the piano-keyboard suspenders, or get into arguments on Facebook over some cherished premise, ask yourself, “How active is my commitment to this music?  When was the last time I supported it with my wallet and my person?”

I do not write these words from the summit of moral perfection.  I could have gone to two gigs tonight but chose to stay home and write this blog.  And I do not go to every gig I could . . . energy and health preclude that.  And I am also guilty, if you will, in providing musical nourishment for viewers through technology, so that some people can live through YouTube.  I admit both of these things, but on the average I go to more jazz gigs than some other people; I eat and drink and tip at the jazz clubs; I publicize the music here and elsewhere.

But you.  Do you take the music for granted, like air and water?  Do you assume it will go on forever even if you never come out of your burrow and say hello to it, that other people will keep supporting it?  Do you say, “I must get there someday!” and not put wheels under that wish?  Mind you, there are exceptions.  Not everyone lives close enough to live music; not everyone is well-financed, energetic, or healthy.  But if you can go and you don’t, then to me you have lost the right to complain about clubs closing, your favorite band disbanding, your beloved festival becoming extinct. Jazz is a living organism, thus it needs nourishment that you, and only you, can provide.  Inhaling Spotify won’t keep it alive, nor will complaining about how your fellow citizens are too foolish to appreciate it.

If you say you love jazz, you have to get your ass out of your chair at regular intervals and put it in another chair, somewhere public, where living musicians are playing and singing.  Or you can stay home and watch it wither.

May your happiness increase!

LIFE IMPROVES AT FORTY, ESPECIALLY FOR THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST and SWING EXTRAVAGANZA (Nov. 27-Dec. 1, 2019)

The 1932 best-seller (with a Will Rogers movie a few years later):

Even before I was 40, I was slightly suspicious of the idea, even though it came from better health and thus longer life expectancy.  Was it an insult to the years that came before?  And now that I’m past forty . . . .

But the San Diego Jazz Fest and Swing Extravaganza is celebrating its fortieth this year and is in full flower.  So no Google Images of birthday cakes for us — rather, music of the highest order.

The bands and soloists who will be featured include John Royen, Katie Cavera, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Grand Dominion, John Gill, On the Levee Jazz Band, the Mad Hat Hucksters, Carl Sonny Leyland, the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, the Yerba Buena Stompers, the Chicago Cellar Boys, Titanic Jazz Band, the Night Blooming Jazzmen, and more than twenty others, with youth bands, sets for amateur jammers, and the Saturday-night dance extravaganza featuring On The Levee and the Mad Hat Hucksters.

The Festival is also greatly comfortable, because it is one of those divine ventures where the music is a two-to-five minute walk from the rooms at the Town and Country Convention Center.

Click to access schedule.pdf

is the “almost final” band schedule for Wednesday night through Sunday.  I will wait until the “final” schedule comes out before I start circling sets in pen and highlighting them — but already I feel woozy with an abundance of anticipated and sometimes conflicting pleasures.

For most of the audience, one of the pleasures of the festival circuit is returning to the familiar.  Is your trad heartthrob the duo Itch and Scratch, or the Seven Stolen Sugar Packets?  At a festival, you can greet old friends both on the bandstand and in the halls.  But there’s also the pleasure of new groups, and the special pleasure of getting to meet and hear someone like John Royen, whom I’ve admired on records for years but have never gotten a chance to meet.

Here’s John, playing Jelly:

And here are a few previously unseen videos from my visits to the Jazz Fest.  First, one of my favorite bands ever, the band that Tim Laughlin and Connie Jones co-led, here with Doug Finke, Katie Cavera, Hal Smith, Chris Dawson, and Marty Eggers — in a 2014 performance of a Fats classic:

and the Chicago Cellar Boys — who will be at this year’s fest — in 2018.  The CCB is or are Andy Schumm, John Otto, Paul Asaro, Johnny Donatowicz, and Dave Bock:

and for those deep in nostalgia for traditional jazz on a cosmic scale, how about High Sierra plus guests Justin Au and Doug Finke in 2014:

Pick the bands you like, explore those new to you, but I hope you can make it to this jolly explosion of music and friendship: it is worth the trip (and I’m flying from New York).  You’ll have an unabridged experience and lose your anxieties!

May your happiness increase!

IN SWING WE TRUST: CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND: “UNSTUCK IN TIME”

Yes, another wonderful new CD.  But remember: I told you to save your spare change, to make coffee at home instead of going to Starbucks, that there would be great pleasures in store.  But enough of that.  The four-minute video that follows might make prose superfluous: watch and listen to the end:

Josh Collazo is a magnificent jazz drummer: I had a great deal of gleeful first-hand evidence at the Redwood Coast Music Festival a short time ago to reinforce what I already knew.  He listens, he makes thrilling sounds, he leans forward into the beat so that any band he’s part of levitates.  But better than that, he has a huge imagination based in swing and melody, in danceable new music.  This is an elaborate prelude to say that his new CD, UNSTUCK IN TIME, by the organization he calls the CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND, is an unerring delight.

This was no surprise: here is my delighted reaction to the CJJB’s first disc.

But let us return to whimsical-completely serious video:

Facts?  Eleven original swing compositions by Josh, Dan Weinstein, Albert Alva, and Seth Ford-Young alone or in combination; a lovely small band of Josh, drums, vocal; Seth Ford-Young, string bass; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Chris Dawson, piano; Dan Weinstein, trombone, vocal; Corey Gemme, cornet; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone; Nate Ketner, alto saxophone, clarinet; arrangements (and they’re important, since UNSTUCK IN TIME is not a jam session) by Albert, Dan, and Josh.

And a few words about this disc’s glorious antecedents.  For me, one of the unheralded peaks of jazz happened while the official “Swing Era” was no longer at its apex: the period between 1942-7, more or less, that coincided with the more dramatic recording ban.  Because of that ban, small record companies had their pick of jazz artists — think Keynote, Blue Note, Comet, Savoy, Regis, Jamboree, HRS, Jazz Record, Musicraft, Black and White, Apollo, Sittin’ In, and a dozen others.  The music as passed down to us on recordings, loosely defined, moves from Art Hodes to early bebop, but the middle ground is what attracts me: small groups with a few horns, ample space for solos, but intelligent arrangements.  Why do I write of this?

Simply, because UNSTUCK IN TIME by the Candy Jacket Jazz Band seems to my ears a glorious extension of the best Keynote sessions.  I will even write that were someone able to narrow the sound and add some surface noise, many of the tracks on this CD could pass as previously-unheard and intensely refreshing Forties gems that had been overlooked.  It’s just that warmly idiomatic, sweetly rhythmic, and full of improvisational delight.

And the title is more than a verbal two-bar tag.  Josh and the band value time highly in the sense of knowing where “one” is, in keeping the rhythm going in the nicest ways (did I point out how splendid this CD is as dance music?) but they are not tied down by clock and calendar: this disc is not a poker-faced science experiment in the Jazz Lab, bringing 1944 forward by cloning it, but rather a blend of present and past swinging into the future, free to groove without concerns of “repertory” or “authenticity.”  I think of Golden-Era science fiction, full of alternate universes: “What kind of tune would Johnny Hodges like?”  And that spirit — to honor a Hodges-universe — lifts the music in performance after performance, honoring the innovators by refusing to imitate them except in exuberant playful ways.

I’ll stop here, so that you can get to pleasure as quickly and directly as possible.  You can hear the music here.  You can buy a digital download or CD here.  You can hear the CJJB’s first CD here.

I’m so grateful this light-hearted free-wheeling yet level-headed band exists.  Their inventive music is the very heart of what I hold dear.

May your happiness increase!

GOIN’ TO TISHOMINGO: A FEW WORDS FOR CONNIE JONES

This morning, I learned through Ed Wise and Tim Laughlin that Connie Jones died in his sleep at home next to his beloved wife Elaine.  Although I hold to cherished ideas about death and transitions — that those who leave their earthly form behind never leave us utterly, that they have merely moved to another neighborhood — I find it hard to write that Connie has left us. He was a great poet without a manuscript, a great singer of immediate heartfelt songs even when he wasn’t singing.

I had the immense good fortune to see and video-record Connie in performance from 2011 to 2015: mostly at the San Diego Jazz Fest, but once at Sweet and Hot and once during the Steamboat Stomp, and I’ve posted as many of those performances as I could.

We didn’t converse much: I suspect he had some native reticence about people he didn’t know, and perhaps he had a perfectly natural desire to catch his breath between sets, ideally with a dish of ice cream.

His playing moved me tremendously.  I tried not to gush, although my restraint failed me once, memorably.  After a particularly affecting set, I came up to him and said, more or less, “Do you think of yourself as a religious man?” and he gave me the polite stare one gives people who have revealed themselves as completely unpredictable, and said, after a pause, “Yes, I do,” and I proceeded to say, quietly, “Well, I think your music is holy.”  Another long pause, and he thanked me.  And I thanked him.  Which is what I am doing in this post.

With all respects to the people who recorded him and played alongside him in various recording studios, I think the real Connie Jones only came through complete when he was caught live — one reason I am proud that I had the opportunity to catch him, as it were, on the wing.  He was the bravest of improvisers, reminding me at turns of Doc Cheatham, of Bob Barnard, of Bobby Hackett — someone so sure of his melodies that he would close his eyes and walk steadily towards a possible precipice of music . . . but creating the solid ground of loving music as he went.

I expect to have more reason to celebrate and mourn Connie in the future, but I think this is one of the most quietly affecting vocal and instrumental performances I will ever hear or witness. See if you don’t agree: Connie, cornet and vocal; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, at the San Diego Jazz Fest on Nov. 29, 2014:

He was so unaffected, so generous in what he gave us.  No one can take his place.

May your happiness increase!

EVERYONE’S LOOKING OUT FOR YOU, SAY MESSRS. BURKE and SPINA

Imagine a community where people are concerned about your happiness in the most affectionate ways.  Today, with smartphone-induced isolation the norm, that world full of solicitous people seems like a dream.  I don’t know if it was truly possible in the middle Thirties, although I think of Wilder’s OUR TOWN, but a charming pop song came out of that vision: one of those simple but memorable melodies with witty sweet lyrics (“who prints / blueprints” is very clever).  As you see below, music by Harold Spina and words by Johnny Burke.

I would have liked to hear Miss Etting sing this.  But we have, instead, a sweet version with the verse (as sung by Kay Weber, Ray Eberle, and the Dorsey Trio — backed by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, the emphatically swinging Ray McKinley — echoing Stan King’s accents — moving it all along):

And here’s the masterful version I heard some decades ago and still love.  This song obviously appealed to Fats, who keeps referring to the bridal march, and the last sixteen bars are a model of great delicate swing:

Here is the only “modern” version that — to me — can follow Fats (Rebecca Kilgore, Chris Dawson, Hal Smith, and Bobby Gordon):

Some readers may wish to point out more recent versions by McCartney and Clapton.  Thanks, but no thanks.  But if you want to muse on the vagaries of pop music, listen — if you can — to the versions by Johnny Angel and Joy and Dave, found on YouTube.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  And thank the milkman if you’re up early.

May your happiness increase!

CONNIE AND TIM IN SAN DIEGO: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (Nov. 30, 2014)

When you feel embraced and uplifted by a harmonious existence, you know it, perhaps because it happens all too rarely.  Readers will have their own remembered experiences, but for perhaps four years I could be certain of being transported to another, delicate yet solid plane of consciousness: when Connie Jones began to play.  He’s retired from playing, but the music he created is like a light in the darkness.

I saw Connie almost exclusively in the company of Tim Laughlin, who understood Connie’s irreplaceable majesties, and played wonderfully because of that inspiration.  I’ve been saving some video performances — not quite for my old age, but for a time when we might well need infusions of beauty.  So here are eight more performances: savor them gently and slowly.  The splendid band (all of them happily active) is Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums — performing at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 30, 2014.  (By the way, that Fest is still perking along nicely: I’ll be there this Thanksgiving.)

MY GAL SAL:

YOU CAN’T LOSE A BROKEN HEART:

THAT OLD FEELING:

LINGER AWHILE (a different set):

A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY:

GENTILLY STRUT:

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Connie and friends bless us, so consider returning the compliment.

May your happiness increase!

“FORGED IN RHYTHM”: KEENAN McKENZIE with LAURA WINDLEY, GORDON AU, LUCIAN COBB, CHRIS DAWSON, JONATHAN STOUT, SETH FORD-YOUNG, JOSH COLLAZO (AUGUST 2017)

To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, “To one who feels the groove, no explanation is necessary. To one who doesn’t feel it, no explanation is possible.”

This new CD is just wonderful.  Listen to a sample here while you read.  And  that link is the easiest way to purchase a download or a disc.

The irresistibly catchy songs are TRANSCONTINENTAL* / MY WELL-READ BABY* / PARTS AND LABOR / LIGHTS OUT / IF I WROTE A SONG FOR YOU / CINCINNATI / DOWN THE HATCH / CALLOUS AND KIND* / BUFFALO CONVENTION / FORGED IN RHYTHM* / WHEN I’M HERE ALONE* / POCKET ACES / CITY IN THE DEEP / EASTBOUND / THE DWINDLING LIGHT BY THE SEA*.

I don’t write “irresistibly catchy” often, but I mean it here.  The lyrics are clever without being forced, sometimes deeply tender.  “Don’t send me names / Of potential flames,” is one tiny example of the Mercer-Hart world he visits. I emphasize that Mister McKenzie not only wrote music and lyrics, but arranged these originals AND performs beautifully on a variety of reeds.  He is indeed someone to watch, and admire.  He’s also a generous wise leader who gives his colleagues ample space, thus the CD is truly varied, each performance its own pleasing world.

The “tunes” themselves stick in the mind.  Some are contrafacts — new melodies built over sturdy lovable harmonic sequences (SUGAR BLUES, ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, INDIAN SUMMER, and BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA if my ears do not deceive me).  These hybrids work delightfully: it’s as if you’ve met beloved friends who have decided to cross-dress for the evening or for life: you recognize the dear person and the garb simultaneously, admiring both the substance and the wrappings.

The delicious band, sounding so much larger than a septet, is Keenan McKenzie, reeds; Gordon Au, trumpet; Lucian Cobb, trombone; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Chris Dawson, piano; Seth Ford-Young, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Laura Windley, vocals*.  You might not recognize all the names here, but you are in for compact explosions of joy when the music starts.

The soloists are playing superbly — and that includes players Gordon and Chris, whom I’ve been stalking for what seems like a decade now (my math is wrong but my emotions are correct) as well as the newer members of the Blessed Swing Flock.  Although they don’t work together regularly as a unit, they speak the same language effortlessly and listen contentedly to each other: Soloist Three starts his solo with a variation on the phrase that Soloist Two has just played.  That’s the way the Elders did it, a tradition beautifully carried forward here.

The rhythm section has perfected the Forties magic of seeming to lean forward into the beat while keeping the time steady.  Harry Lim and Milt Gabler smile at these sounds.  This band knows all that anyone needs to know about ensemble playing — they offer so much more than one brilliant solo after another.  Yes, Virginia, there are riffs, send-offs, and all those touches of delightful architecture that made the recordings we hold dear so memorable.  Without a vibraphone, this group takes some spiritual inspiration from the Lionel Hampton Victors, and you know (or should) just how fine they are.  “Are,” not “were.”

And there is the invaluable Laura Windley, who’s never sounded more like herself: if Joan Blondell took up singing, she’d sound like Laura.  And Joan would be thrilled at the transformation.

The lovely sound is thanks to Miles Senzaki (engineer at Grandma’s Dojo in Los Angeles, California; Jason Richmond, who mixed the music; Steve Turnidge, who mastered the disc).  The nifty artwork and typography — evoking both David Stone Martin and Al Hirschfeld — is by artist-clarinetist Ryan Calloway.

The disc is also available through CDBaby and shortly on Amazon and iTunes: check here for updates on such matters.  And here you can find out more about Keenan’s many selves, all of them musical.

I end on a personal note.  I first began to enjoy this disc at the end of the semester for me (I teach English at a community college) — days that are difficult for me.  I had graded enough student essays to feel despondent; I had sat at the computer for so long so that my neck hurt and my eyes ached.  But this disc had come in the mail, and I’d heard TRANSCONTINENTAL and MY WELL-READ BABY already, so, feeling depleted and sulky, I slipped it into the player.  Optimism replaced gloom, and I played the whole disc several times in a row, because it made me tremendously happy.  It can do the same spiritual alchemy for you, if you only allow it in.

May your happiness increase!

“SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND”: JONATHAN STOUT AND HIS CAMPUS FIVE

I did my own private Blindfold Test, and played a track from this new CD for a very severe jazz friend who prides himself on his love of authenticity, and he said, “Well, they’ve GOT IT!” which is how I feel about Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five.

Here’s a sample of how they sounded in 2016 at the Lindy Blossom Weekend:

The first piece of good news is that this group knows how to swing.  Perhaps “knows” is the wrong word, because I never believe that genuine swing feeling could be learned in a classroom.  They FEEL it, which is immediately apparent. Second, although some of the repertoire will be familiar, this isn’t a CD devoted to recreating the fabled discs in better fidelity; the group understands the great recorded artifacts but uses them as jumping-off places to stretch out, to offer their own creations.

I hear traces of the Goodman Trio on LIMEHOUSE BLUES, the 1937 Basie band on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE; Don Byas and Buck Clayton drop by here and there; as do Louis and Astaire; NAUGHTY SWEETIE owes some of its conception to Jimmie Noone, as SUNDAY does to Lester . . . but these versions are expressions of the blended personalities that make up a working band, and are thus precious for us in this century.

Jonathan’s two originals, MILL HOUSE STOMP and DANCE OF THE LINDY BLOSSOMS, work on their own as compositions with their own rhythmic energy. The former bridges the late Hampton Victors and 2 AM at Minton’s; the latter suggests EVENIN’, in mood more than chord changes.

Those familiar with the “modern swing dance scene,” however you define it, will recognize the musicians as energized and reliable: the leader on guitar; Jim Ziegler, trumpet; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone and clarinet (both of the horn players bringing a variety of selves to the project — but often I thought of Emmett Berry and Illinois Jacquet, players I am grateful to hear evoked — and a rhythm team of Chris Dawson (yes!) piano; Wally Hersom, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.  Jim takes the vocal on CHEEK TO CHEEK, sincerely but with a light heart, and several of the other songs are charmingly sung by Hilary Alexander, who has an engaging primness and delicacy while swinging along.  “Special guests” for a few numbers are the splendid Bryan Shaw, trumpet; Marquis W. Howell, string bass.

The individual soloists are a pleasure: everyone has the right feeling, but I’d just like to single out the leader, because his guitar work is so much the uplifting center of this band.  Stout has obviously studied his Charlie Christian but his solos in that context sound whole, rather than a series of patented-Charlie-phrases learned from transcriptions strung together for thirty-two bars.  His chord work (in the ensemble) evokes Reuss, McDonough, and VanEps in marvelous ways — glimpses of a near-vanished swing landscape in 2017.

And here they are in 2017, once again at the Lindy Blossom Weekend:

When I had heard the CD once again this morning, for purposes of writing this post with the evidence in my ears, I put it on for a second and third time, with no diminution of pleasure.  Later, I’ll play it in my car with the windows open, to osmotically spread joy as I drive.  Look for a man in a Toyota: he’ll be smiling and nodding rhythmically, although both hands on the wheel in approved position.  Rhythm, as they say, will be spread.  Around.

May your happiness increase!

WHIMSY THAT SWINGS: CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND

Josh Collazo by Jessica Keener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regarding the songs…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

THE LESSONS OF THE MOST HUMBLE MASTER

Lessons for everyone, not only musicians.

Connie and Tim Laughlin at the San Diego Jazz Fest

I will write few words because Connie Jones is so much more eloquent.  Thanks to Joel Albert for photographing this at the New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp, Banu Gibson’s dream, and for sharing it with us:

“There was just the way [Connie] played”:

And we can learn from Connie the way Ed did.

“Here’s one of the good old good ones that musicians all like to jam . . . the ROYAL GARDEN  BLUES!”  From the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 30, 2014, you can hear Connie, Tim Laughlin, Doug Finke, Chris Dawson, Katie Cavera, Marty Eggers, Hal Smith.

What are the lessons of the Master?

Humility before the Music.  Devotion to one’s Art.  Honoring the tradition and honoring one’s Self.  Willingness to work to create Beauty.  Actions more than words.  “I cannot be alive without hearing a melody.”  It’s all about love, which should be evident, and it’s a living, life-long focus on what’s important.

Bless the humble Master Connie Jones, who blesses us.

May your happiness increase!

SOLITUDE, THEN RUSHING WATER: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 30, 2014)

I am not a certified Hoarder, although perhaps someone scrupulous would look at the books and music in the room I’m writing this in and say otherwise.  (I like clear paths in and around objects.)  But if I am guilty of Hoarding, it would be of video recordings of performances by the Tim Laughlin – Connie Jones All Stars, such as the two that follow, recorded at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2014).  You’ll understand why evidence of this magical orchestra is precious to me in about four bars.  Melodic, gentle, intense, swinging.  Tim, clarinet; Connie, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums.

Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF:

and the folk-tinged favorite, DOWN BY THE OLD MILL STREAM:

This band won’t come again, but if JAZZ LIVES’ readers want to see and hear more, all that is needed would be to type in “Tim Laughlin” and “Connie Jones” into the magic Search box, and the whole day could be deliciously spent on things more uplifting than the news.  And . . . Tim, pianist David Boeddinghaus, and Hal have recently created the second volume of Tim’s “Trio Collection,” which I am told will soon be available to the eager public, of whom I am one.

May your happiness increase!

GOIN’ TO SAN DIEGO (The San Diego Jazz Fest, November 23-27, 2016)

california-here-i-come-eddie

Why, you ask?  Why would a reasonably stable person spend most of a day traveling across the country on Thursday and then do the same on Sunday night? The answer is the 37th San Diego Jazz Fest, which runs from November 23 through the 27th.  Many of my friends — musical, personal, and both! — will be there.  (Facebook page here).

Here’s a sample of what happened in November 2015:

and in 2014:

a day earlier in 2014:

and in 2013:

Optimism in 2012:

and a feature for the rhythm section in 2012.

Tim and Connie won’t be there this year — Connie has retired from playing, alas — but these videos sum up what I find most endearing about the Fest.  There’s nothing like it.  And it’s worth sitting in seat 7C, coming and going.  I assure you. And here is the schedule: if you can’t find something / someone to listen to, you might not be trying at all.

And, as a joyous bit of laginappe, here is a Frolick from Dixieland Monterey 2011 (John Reynolds, ever polite, calls this song, CALIFORNIA, HERE I BREATHE HEAVILY):

Dixieland Monterey is no more.  You — yes, you — are essential to keeping these mammoth enterprises afloat.  But you know that.

May your happiness increase!

 

THINKING OF BIX, TRAM, PRES, and PEE WEE: HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL at CENTRAL MARKET (August 28, 2016)

swing-central

The response to my first posting with videos of Hal Smith’s Swing Central from August 28 of  this year has been so enthusiastic that I offer four more — with thematic connections to three of the greatest lyrical players of jazz: Bis Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Lester Young, and Pee Wee Russell.  We know that Lester deeply admired the other three players, and it’s not hard to hear an emotional connection between Pee Wee and Pres when their clarinet explorations are the subject.  Four great poets who also swung deliciously.

Swing Central is made up of Hal on drums, Jon Doyle on clarinet, Joshua Hoag on string bass, Dan Walton on piano, Jamey Cummins on guitar. This performance is from a swing dance gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.

Before you plunge in, might I suggest that you be prepared to listen closely. This is a band that understands the pleasure of playing softly, of placing note after note and harmony upon harmony with great delicacy: yes, they can swing exuberantly (as in the final SUNDAY) but some of what follows is soft, tender, introspective — I think of Japanese paintings, where one brushstroke both is and has depths of implication.  Allow this music to reverberate — placidly yet definitely — as you listen.

And the fine videos are the work of Gary Feist of Yellow Dog Films.

FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C (an improvisation on I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN):

PEE WEE’S BLUES (with some real-life end-of-the-night tidying at the start, very atmospheric):

BLUE LESTER:

SUNDAY (that Jule Styne opus recorded by all four of these players):

I look forward to a happy future for this gratifying small orchestra, its music so pleasing.

May your happiness increase!

JUST DELICIOUS: HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL!

swing-central

Please put everything else aside.  Stop multi-tasking for a few minutes.  I invite you to celebrate the birth of a great band: Hal Smith’s Swing Central:

That’s Hal on drums, Jon Doyle on clarinet, Joshua Hoag on string bass, Dan Walton on piano, Jamey Cummins on guitar.  This performance is from a swing dance gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.  I’ll have more to say about the music — which really “needs no introduction” and “speaks for itself,” later, but I have asked Hal to tell us everything about the creation and gestation of this fine new ensemble.  (Interspersed with his narrative you’ll find other videos from the Central Market gig, like hand-drawn illustrations in a picture book.)

A word about Hal, though.  I’ve been listening to him on records and CDs for a long time (putting the needle back over and over to listen to the way he swings the band and takes solos that seem too short rather than “fountains of noise,” as Whitney Balliett called most drum solos) and I have heard him in person for the last five years.  He’s a splendid drummer — old-fashioned in the best ways — always dreaming of the bands who can really understand and embody the glories of the past.  And he’s always on a quest to put congenial talented people together to form bands: the Roadrunners, his own trios with Bobby Gordon, Albert Alva, James Evans, Ray Skjelbred, Chris Dawson, Kris Tokarski; his California Swing Cats and Rhythmakers, Hal’s Angels, the New El Dorado Jazz Band, the Jazz Chihuauas, the Down Home Jazz Band, and the Creole Sunshine Jazz Band.

Here’s Hal, himself:

In 2015, Dave Bennett and I wanted to put together a jazz quintet. I suggested Dan Walton and Jamey Cummins from Austin and Steve Pikal from the Twin Cities. Even though we had not all played together as a group, I was sure that everything would click.

Interlude: HELLO, FISHIES, by Jon Doyle:

The quintet did click, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in March, 2016. I secured another engagement for the group at the Capital City Jazz Festival in Madison, Wisconsin but Dave inadvertently double-booked himself that same weekend. Fortunately, the festival organizers were willing to keep the quintet in the lineup with JON DOYLE on clarinet.

Since everyone in the band plays SWING music and lives in the CENTRAL time zone, that was how the group wound up with the name.

Jon and I exchanged many e-mails regarding the repertoire and sound of the band. Since so many swing combos attempt to play in the style of Benny Goodman’s Trio, Quartet, etc. we agreed that a different song list and sound would be the way we would go.

Interlude:  SUNDAY

I have always admired Jon’s sound on clarinet, but he really caught my ear one time before a gig with Floyd Domino’s All-Stars. Jon was warming up by playing Lester Young’s introduction to the Kansas City Six’s “I Want A Little Girl.” Remembering that, I proposed that Swing Central play songs associated with Lester, then further suggested material recorded by Pee Wee Russell and Frank Chace. Jon agreed enthusiastically and began writing charts.

Interlude: JELLY ROLL

Jon was running late to our first set on Friday evening, and did not have time to go back for his tenor sax — so he played the entire set on clarinet. We kicked off with “Love Is Just Around The Corner,” and the audience responded with enthusiasm, which continued with every number. Jon’s totally unstaged animation and Steve Pikal’s contagious good spirit permeated the crowd. Jamey Cummins scored big with a swinging version of “Shivers.” Jon cued ensembles and solos and kept most performances to 78 rpm length, so with about 20 minutes left on the clock, I got Dan’s attention during a song, and mouthed, “Can you do a boogie woogie feature?” The rollicking version of “Roll ‘Em, Pete” he came up with had the crowd whistling and stomping. Our last song of the first set garnered a standing ovation, and each succeeding set ended the same way.

Fast-forward to August, 2016…I was going to be working with a Western Swing band in South Texas, and coincidentally Jon Doyle was planning to be in Austin also. Jamey and Dan would be in town, so I was able to book an appearance for the band at Central Market-Westgate. (Both Central Market locations in Austin offer a fantastic selection of groceries, an in-store café, and live music by local artists on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In addition to paying the musicians, the market provides a professional soundman and even feeds the band). However, the performance budget would not cover the cost of an airfare from the Twin Cities, so the great Austin bassist Josh Hoag filled in for Steve Pikal.

Gary Feist, of Yellow Dog Films, was available to videotape several performances.  He captured the band, the audience, and quite a few local dancers in high spirits.

For me, playing in a band like this makes the aches and pains of the music business worthwhile. Dan, Jamey and Josh are great friends as well as great musicians. All of us look to Jon Doyle for inspiration and he always delivers! Best of all, Jon has immersed himself in the recordings of Young, Russell and particularly Chace. He inhabits the styles without copying note for note, but there is no question regarding his influences. A mutual friend, upon hearing Jon’s clarinet work on an audio clip from this session (“I Must Have That Man”) remarked, “I think the torch has been passed!” It has, and is burning brightly!

I know that Hal is speaking with several jazz festival directors about appearances for SWING CENTRAL, and that they are getting together to record their debut CD in Chicago — all excellent news.  There are many other wonderful small jazz groups on the landscape, thank heavens, but this is a real band with its own conceptions.  You wouldn’t mistake them for anyone else; they are not locked in one tiny stylistic box, and my goodness, how they swing!

May your happiness increase!

SWEETLY IN BALANCE: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, JIM BUCHMANN, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 29, 2014)

COSMIC HARMONY

I once read a Persian poet on music.  The translation ran, “Melody is the song the universe sings to us, harmony the beautiful twining-together of many songs, and rhythm is the universe’s heartbeat echoed in our own.”  Although that poet lived and wrote perhaps five hundred years before the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest, I am sure that he would have agreed that the performances I offer you today exemplify those words.

TIM CONNIE YouTube

They come from the final set of the Tim Laughlin – Connie Jones All Stars with the addition of clarinetist Jim Buchmann for several numbers.  That’s Tim, clarinet; Connie, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

Here is the full band for AS LONG AS I LIVE:

Then, two clarinets plus rhythm for THE ONE I LOVE:

Another helping of that nice combination for IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

And the ensemble for a Bobcat-inspired SPAIN:

May your happiness increase!

POUR MONSIEUR BECHET: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (San Diego, Nov. 30, 2014)

The great man himself, signing a promotional postcard, in 1955 or 56:

Bechet postcard front

and the other side:

Bechet postcard back
Honoring Sidney, these great lyrical artists, November 30, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest:

An absolutely exquisite rendering of SI TU VOIS MA MERE, Bechet’s paean to maternal love and memory, here performed by Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

I look forward to seeing Tim at the Steamboat Stomp, later this month.

May your happiness increase!

CLARINETITIS: TIM LAUGHLIN, JIM BUCHMANN, DAVE BENNETT (November 29, 2014)

AVALON, “composed” in 1920 by Al Jolson and Vincent Rose, owed so much to a Puccini melody that Puccini’s publishers sued and won.  Thanks to Chris Tyle for the facts here.

AVALON sheet

Between 1920 and 1937, AVALON was a popular composition recorded by Red Nichols, Isham Jones, Coleman Hawkins, the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, Jimmie Lunceford, and others.  In 1937, Benny Goodman featured it as a quartet number (with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa) in the film HOLLYWOOD HOTEL — also recording it for Victor, performing it in 1938 at his Carnegie Hall Concert.  Benny performed it hundreds of times in the next half-century, and a performance of that song has been a way for contemporary clarinetists both to salute him and to dramatize their aesthetic kinship with him.

AVALON label

As a delightful point of reference, here is the 1937 Victor, a lovely performance by four men clearly enjoying themselves expertly:

That recording is, in its own way, a joyous summit of swing improvisation.

On November 29, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Tim Laughlin (leading his own New Orleans All-Stars with Connie Jones) had already invited clarinetist Jim Buchmann to join him for a few songs.  Then, Tim spotted clarinetist Dave Bennett and urged him to join in.  I thought that AVALON might be on the menu for three clarinets. Not that Tim is in any way predictable, but AVALON is familiar music — with known conventions — in the same way that a group of saxophonists might call WOODSIDE or FOUR BROTHERS — music that would please the crowd and the route signs are all well-marked.

Connie Jones and Doug Finke sat this one out, but Connie’s delighted reactions mirror every nuance of the music.

The other members of this band: Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums, are deeply immersed in both the tradition of Goodman AVALON’s and how to make it alive at the moment — Chris and Hal create their own variations on Wilson and Krupa most beautifully.

This one’s for my friend Janie McCue Lynch, and for students of the Swing School everywhere.

(For those correspondents who say “This is TOO Swingy!” in the tone of voice one would discuss a contagious disease, you are exempt from watching this.  But you’ll miss deep joy.)

See you all at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest: we’ll all gather.

May your happiness increase!

THE ARTS OF MELODY: CONNIE JONES, TIM LAUGHLIN, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 29, 2014)

TIM CONNIE large

There is an art to playing melody so that it soars, so that the performer, the notes, and what we sense of the composer’s mood and intentions are all one, as if the performer was subtly lifting the melody upwards so that we could admire it as we had never been able to before.

There’s the equally subtle art of melodic embellishment: improvising around and through that melody to make it shine more brightly without obscuring it.

Bobby Hackett, who not only knew these arts but embodied them, said after hearing Louis Armstrong, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come so alive?”

And Goethe wrote of “thou holy art,” though he never made it to a jazz festival.

Here is a gloriously eloquent example of melody-making by a group of masters: Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, performing at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 29, 2014.  The text they chose is Hoagy Carmichael’s plaintive NEW ORLEANS:

What marvels.  It takes lifetimes to learn how to do this, and then a quiet determination to be able to do it in public, courageously and with love.

And — as a postscript — if you’ve never heard the FAREWELL BLUES to which Tim refers (it preceded this performance) it would be cruel to deny you this rocking, melodic pleasure:

May your happiness increase!

THE GLORIES OF THE RECENT PAST: THREE BY TIM AND CONNIE FROM THE 2014 SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST

TIM AND CONNIEThe Tim Laughlin – Connie Jones All Stars, a band I was fortunate enough to hear for a few years at the San Diego Jazz Fest, remains in my mind as a transcendent listening experience: a completely melodic group with great sensitivity and a wonderful quiet drive.

Here’s another sample of their magic, from the 2014 Fest — with a romper, a groove, and a pretty ballad — each gloriously realized.  The players are Tim, clarinet; Connie, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

that Da Da Strain sheet music

THAT DA DA STRAIN has nothing to do with baby talk or with Marcel Duchamp; like many other songs of the times, it describes a dance that would bring dancers bliss.  Mamie Smith, early on, then Eva Taylor, then the NORK, and on.  Everyone solos here except Marty (who will on the next performance) but I’d call special attention to Hal, who rocks the church:

Here’s another Twenties song (popularized by Paul Whiteman) with an equally onomatopoetic title, THE WANG WANG BLUES.  We’ve looked for deep meaning in that title, but I recall reading somewhere that one of the three people listed on the cover thought that WANG made a good sound once, and twice was even better — so it added a little spice to the conventional she-went-away-and-I’m-so-sad.  As far as I can tell, there was no other intention, not Asiatic or anything else.

Wang_Wang_Blues_Paul_Whiteman_sheet_music_1921

DYKWIMTMNO

Now to move forward to 1947, to a song immediately taken up by Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, and Billie Holiday — connected to the film NEW ORLEANS.  This performance has a surprise in it: Tim talk-sings the lyrics, and it is a heartfelt effusion of feeling for him, because he has a deep connection to his city, immediately evident in his playing and now in his song:

What a band.  How generously they offer splendid subtle music to us.  And I count myself fortunate that I will see Tim (and Kris Tokarski) at the Evergreen Jazz Festival at the end of this month, and then at the Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans in September.

May your happiness increase!