I’m so glad and relieved that no one has written in to ask, “How come you post so much of The EarRegulars?” because then I might have to question their aesthetic. These summer revival meetings at The Ear Out have proven, performance after performance, that this band — in all its permutations — has no peer in The Groove, in swinging inventiveness. Here’s another example, Walter Donaldson’s binary ultimatum, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, a festival of daring sounds and inspired conversations:
I love them, and I hope they never have to leave us. Class dismissed.
There are certain songs I have a limited tolerance for, and BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME is one. I revere the Jimmie Noone and Eddie Condon versions, but too many times when this song is performed by a “traditional” band someone steps forth to speak-sing it, chorus and patter. Perhaps I have NAUGHTY SWEETIE PTSD.
But not in this case. For one thing, no one in this edition of The EarRegulars burst into song. They are Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, bass.
No, the ambiance here is entirely lacking in striped-vest-and-plastic-boater-counterfeited-glee. In fact, even though none of these musicians was born in either Kansas City, there is a distinct Pres-Reno Club flavor to this, and I am sure Milt Gabler and Harry Lim approve:
Nothing particularly naughty about this — innovative, rocking, and delightful, though. Characteristically EarRegular.
If you already know Percy France, don’t spend another moment reading what I’ve written. Go immediately to www.percyfrance.info — where you can hear him play, read about him (tributes by people who loved him), and learn more.
But if he’s only a name to you . . .
Perhaps because it is often mistaken for simple entertainment, jazz is oddly distinguished from other art forms by a powerful Star System. There is too much of “the greatest of all time,” which negates the broader accomplishments of many beautiful artists. But those who listen deeply know that alongside — not behind — Louis, there are Ray Nance and Bill Coleman; alongside Art Tatum there are Ellis Larkins and Jimmie Rowles, and so on, creative men and women ignored in the speeding-train chronicles of Important Artists.
With that in mind, and the joy of discovering someone “new,” here is tenor saxophonist Percy France. He may be little-known or even unknown to many. I did hear him on the radio (broadcasts by WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s station, from the West End Cafe in New York, presided over by Phil Schaap), but I never saw him in person.
But before you assume that Percy’s semi-obscurity is the result of a diluted talent, let me point out that this summer when Sonny Rollins was asked about him, his response was as enthusiastic as it could be. The excerpt that caught my eye is simple: I never could beat him. We were good friends, and I think of him as my brother.
Let that sink in.
And since you might be saying, “All right . . . praised by Sonny. What did he sound like?” here are three samples, thanks to Daniel Gould, about whom I will have more to say.
Here’s Percy, fluid, melodic, cheerfully making the over-familiar come alive:
and a different kind of groove, quietly lyrical:
France plays Fats, light-hearted and witty:
I admire honest deep research unashamedly, since often what’s passed off as information is made of cardboard. So I present to you Daniel Gould’s wonderful Percy France site — solid and ever-growing — his energetic tribute to a musician who should be cherished as more than a name in a discography: www.percyfrance.info will take you there.
Daniel has done and continues to do the great hard work of the reverent researcher: he proceeds without ideological distortion, for his sole purpose is to ensure that Percy and his music (as if one could separate the two) are not going to be forgotten. And, also quietly and without fanfare, he wants us to honor Percy as an individualist, someone “with his own voice,” not simply another “tough tenor” following well-worn paths.
To the site. What will you find there? First a biography (audio as well as print) documenting his too-brief life (1928-1992) his musical development, his associations with Sonny Rollins, Bill Doggett, Jimmy Smith, Freddie Roach, Sir Charles Thompson. Charlie Parker and Count Basie make cameo appearances as well. Then, even more beautiful, remembrances by Doggett, Bill Easley, Allen Lowe, Mike LeDonne, Sascha Feinstein, Michael Hashim, Sammy Price, Randy Sandke, Chris Flory, Scott Hamilton and others — all testifying to Percy’s qualities as musician and gentleman.
Then the treasure-box opens, revealing hours of unknown enlightenment and pleasure: a session by session listing, complete with newspaper clippings, photographs, record labels — first, Percy’s King and Blue Note record dates of 1949-1962.
The sessions continue — 1977-81, live dates featuring Percy alongside Doc Cheatham, Sammy Price, Chris Flory, Loren Schoenberg, Randy Sandke, Allen Lowe, Dick Katz, and others . . . and here Daniel has provided selections from these wonderful and wonderfully rare performances.
Finally, and most expansively, the period 1982-1990, is documented through the Leonard Gaskin Papers held at the Smithsonian — and it contains seventy-five percent of Percy’s recorded work . . . with Gaskin, Cliff Smalls, Oliver Jackson, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Lance Hayward, Bill Pemberton, Major Holley, Bob Neloms, Bill Berry, Wild Bill Davis, Big John Patton, Doug Lawrence, and others. And there’s MUSIC . . . my goodness, how much music there is. I abandoned my chores for the better part of the day to listen, and I still have more to hear.
A few more words about Daniel Gould and his site. He is a clear fluent writer; his site is a pleasure to visit, and the treasures overflow. And he has a purpose: that Percy France, one of the lovely creators now no longer on the planet, shall be remembered with the attention and affection he deserves. I delight in Percy and in Daniel’s efforts.
The magic continues — situated outdoors at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, on Sunday afternoons 1-3:30.
I would guess that many jazz listeners know the Isham Jones – Gus Kahn ON THE ALAMO from recordings by Benny Goodman and Kenny Davern, but how many of us know that it was originally a song of deep love that didn’t flourish? Here’s a marvelous version by Red Nichols, with a vocal chorus by Scrappy Lambert:
That’s Red Nichols, Leo McConville, Manny Klein; Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Bill Trone or Herb Taylor; Benny Goodman, Babe Russin; Arthur Schutt or Jack Russin or Bobby Van Eps; Carl Kress, Art Miller, Gene Krupa; Scrappy Lambert; Bobby Van Eps (arranger): New York, April 18, 1929. No one burst into song as the EarRegulars explored Isham Jones’ melody, but there is luminous music:
And, as Jon-Erik says to the woman who has enriched The Bucket, “Thank you very much!”
In the name of accuracy, I must point out that TOPSY was composed by Eddie Durham and 9:20 SPECIAL (which was meant to be 920 SPECIAL in honor of the AM radio station) was written by Earle Warren — but they were both members of the Count Basie orchestra, so we associate them with William Basie of Red Bank, New Jersey.
Because of the enthusiastic response to the first posting from this session, titled simply FLOATING BRILLIANCE, I thought, “Why wait?” and here are two more performances from that happy gathering — created by Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
9:20 SPECIAL (catch Scott on trumpet as well as tenor!):
Of course, there’s more to come. But it also happens with real people in real time, so visit The Ear Inn at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, on a Sunday from 1-3:30. I can’t be there every week, so if you wait for the videos, you will miss some marvels. I guarantee this.
Eager birdsong, sun and clouds, and the great pageant of humanity, no extra charge. A few Sunday afternoons ago, the EarRegulars gathered at their summer 2021 outdoor shrine to lift our spirits: Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass. Here are two hosannas in swingtime.
If you want to call any version of OH, BABY! “Chicago jazz,” I can’t stop you; I prefer to think of tis performance as Lovable Mainstream:
for Louis, by Louis — usually a set-closer, but it fits right in here, SWING THAT MUSIC:
Much more to come. Have you visited the EarRegulars in their (and our) happy place? Spiritual uplift guaranteed.
On three Sunday afternoons this month, I have had the immense privilege of watching worlds come back to life, stretch their limbs, sniff the sweet air, and create boundless joy. I refer, of course, to the al fresco sessions created by The EarRegulars in front of The Ear Inn, from 1-3:30, when the threatened rain holds off.
This coming Sunday, the quartet will be Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. Pray for cloudless skies, Brothers and Sisters.
A week ago, the trio above created wondrous floating sounds — their text being Tadd Dameron’s IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, with Scott playing the tenor saxophone, a horn he loves:
If that isn’t love transmuted into vibration, I don’t know.
I said to a friend while we were seated outside The Ear Inn, “During the pandemic, if you’d told me that I would be sitting outdoors in the sunshine, watching and listening to the EarRegulars, I would have said it was cruel to tease.”
But now it’s happened, and it’s glorious. On May 2, the band was Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary. Two weeks later (rain got in the way) it was Jon-Erik, John Allred, Neal Miner, and Joe Cohn.
AND on May 23 — which is today! — from 1-3:30, the band will be Jon-Erik, Scott, Pat, and Chris Flory. So if you (in the tri-state area, of course) are sitting home amidst coffee mugs and the remnants of the Times, you could be feeling the spirit at 326 Spring Street. I don’t mean to nag. Just a suggestion.
In case you woke up and said, “Honey, what day is today?” the EarRegulars answer the question:
and this venerable song, so associated with Billie Holiday, is addressed to those who can see live music but choose to live their aesthetic lives through the computer, wherever they are:
Will there be more? Oh goodness, yes. Joy will be spread like cream cheese on a genuine New York bagel.
Listen up, as someone used to say. And I’m not reminding you to watch the Oscars. On Sunday, May 2, Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be performing outside the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York City, from 1-3:30.
That will soon be NOW. Until that moment, here’s some beauty from THEN — January 16, 2011, created by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Mark Lopeman, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass.
‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:
BALLIN’ THE JACK:
with Chris Flory sitting in for Matt, Miner, HAPPY FEET:
The pot is a-bubble, slowly. Maybe there will be EarRegularity in our collective futures: what a dream come true!
Speaking of “something to look forward to,” did you know that Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside The Ear Inn on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30? Of course you knew.
It’s premature to play this, but I don’t care. And any excuse to feature Bobby Hackett, Ernie Caceres, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, and Sidney Catlett has to be seized:
And here are some “old times” that are forever new, from January 16, 2011. provided generously by Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Mark Lopeman, Neal Miner, and friends Pete Martinez, Chris Flory, Tamar Korn, and Jerron Paxton.
Chris sits in for Matt on that most durable of philosophical statements, I WANT TO BE HAPPY:
Tamar sings of love — surrender and power — in BODY AND SOUL:
Jerron Paxton tells us what will happen SOME OF THESE DAYS:
Tamar sings a faster-than-usual WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:
As they say, “I’m a fan.” Not only of the wonderful, completely-herself singer Yaala Ballin, but of guitarist Chris Flory, pianist Michael Kanan, string bassist Ari Roland . . . and that Israel Baline fellow, Americanized to Irving Berlin, gleaming on a splendid new CD.
Here’s a quick video-audio tour:
and — to support the title of this post:
I can’t get enough — Yaala truly improvises! — here she is with Michael, last Valentine’s Day, telling the Ballin – Baline story in a few words:
That should convince anyone that this is music to purchase, to treasure, to share. But a few words.
Berlin himself is — like some stocks — disgracefully undervalued.
His music has been perceived for so long as well-behaved. No sudden shocks of the sort you find in Hart’s or Porter’s lyrics; he doesn’t always aim for the arching melodies of Kern. Berlin’s curse is that, like Bing Crosby, he manages so deftly to appear simple. “I could write a song as good as that.” But you didn’t, we must point out. Berlin can be sassy and witty: “Be careful, it’s my heart. It’s not my watch you’re holding, it’s my heart.” And how many of us know his arch but tender FOOLS FALL IN LOVE? But his great strength is in his apparent plainness: the melodies that sound as if you could pick them out on the piano with one finger, the lyrics that sound like casual speech. Of course his songs have “become part of the cultural landscape,” but that is why they get taken for granted. Hear the singer stride into BLUE SKIES or CHEEK TO CHEEK and we may be forgiven for thinking, to quote Sammy Cahn, “It seems to me I’ve heard that song before.” It’s easy to regard Berlin the same way one might look at the two slices of toast that accompany our eggs at the diner. Familiar, not essential. But his music is lit from within by a depth of feeling that makes his songs expressions of dear truths. Think of HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, that most passionate declaration of love couched entirely in questions, decades before JEOPARDY.
And — if we stop to listen to his songs with fresh attention, they sparkle with gentle daring.
Gentle daring also characterizes Yaala Ballin’s singing. When I listen to her, I always wish I had a very astute companion next to me to whom I could say, “Did you hear what she just did with that tone, that pause, that phrase?” She is incapable of delivering the simplest line in a formulaic way. Her gliding phrasing, so musical, is a kind of lively quirky speech. A minute hesitation here, a startling rush there: she’s not locked in by the 1-2-3-4 although she keeps lovely time and swings from the start. Her slides from one note to another summon up instrumental masters Vic Dickenson and Ben Webster. She is a magnificently subversive actress, because we never feel that she is acting. As you hear in the examples above, she is a quiet risk-taker. You don’t come to one of Yaala’s songs on this CD and think, “Wow, she painted everything bright orange and nailed a chair to the ceiling for effect,” rather it’s as if a sly artist has moved one vase and two bowls in the room and everything is wonderfully improved. Hear her second chorus of HOW MANY TIMES? Or THIS YEAR’S KISSES, always thought of as Property of Billie Holiday — Yaala and Michael Kanan, in their first rubato duet chorus, say kindly to the Lady, “We bow low to you, but we have our own ways of getting that feeling” — rueful feeling with swing but not needing capital letters.
It would be cruel to not share it with you:
Describing Yaala’s co-equals (it would be demeaning to call them “accompanists”) — Michael Kanan, Chris Flory, Ari Roland — I find myself in the nicest critical quandary. Are they a subtle muscular twenty-first century Nat Cole trio? No, I think, they are the 1940 Basie band in portable form. The tracks that began with brief instrumental introductions brought happiness from the first notes. And their approach mixes respect and innovation. Singers have occasionally taken Berlin very slowly: here, REMEMBER, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? SAY IT ISN’T SO, and BE CAREFUL, IT’S MY HEART are taken at walking tempos, stripping away decades of melodrama to reveal the strong structures beneath. Several of the songs have unexpected rhythmic underpinnings, adding freshness: for the first time ever, I was able to put Astaire aside while hearing CHANGE PARTNERS.
And the CD sounds the way these four people sound in person, so I had the dreamy sensation of having Yaala, Michael, Chris, and Ari in my living room. Thanks to Chris Sulit and Nils Winther for making this happen.
The CD is deliciously varied: the compact performances feel just right, completely satisfying in their old-fashioned refusal to sprawl. Little arranging touches — Yaala in duet with each of the players, split choruses and other variations — make this a splendid tasting menu. I kept returning to some of the songs, as if it was too difficult to let go of the sensations they had evoked until I’d heard them three or four times. I hope for a yard-length CD series of YAALA BALLIN SINGS THE __________ SONGBOOK. (I vote for Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, but that’s just me.)
When I had finished my first hearing of the CD, I felt as if I had been given great gifts. And then I played it again. Deprive yourself of such pleasures at your own peril. The disc and its digital contents are available in the usual places and the usual ways.
Overheard . . . an order at the bar at The Ear Inn on Sunday night, January 16, 2011: “I need one TIGER, two of HAPPY, an order of LOVE.” The EarRegulars, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Mark Lopeman, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Matt Munisteri or Chris Flory, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass, were eager to comply.
The videos are extraordinarily dark. It is, after all, a New York bar in January with no light coming in from outside. Close your eyes and enjoy.
Chris Flory, always welcome, takes over the guitar chair for HAPPY FEET:
I WANT TO BE HAPPY, with Pete Martinez, paying his own visit:
A Shrine for Swing, which the EarRegulars create when / wherever they play.
I think my subject line says it all. There are musicians who can swing when the band is swinging (they hitch onto the back of the truck and ride along). Others can swing the whole room, unaccompanied, in eight bars.
Chris Flory is a shining example of the latter species; his playing is full of emotion but limber, and his music always feels honest. Here he is, improvising on Harold Arlen’s I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES at Cafe Bohemia in the fabled past — November 14, 2019 — with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass:
Don’t let the red lighting disconcert you: everything Chris plays has, somewhere in it, indigos. They shine, and they warm us.
Care for a cup of caffeinated groove? Here’s Vincent Youmans’ 1922 Broadway classic, performed for a quietly appreciative audience at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City. The noble players here are Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.
I won’t write about the emotions that surround such a performance as I and others view it now: you can imagine. We live in hope that such marvels will come again, in a recognizable landscape. Until then, let the music help us to float from day to day, from poignant memory to poignant memory.
Certain simultaneous experiences resonate in my memory even though they happened decades ago. I believe that I heard Louis sing and play CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN in the same year that I was first introduced to that downtown New York City neighborhood, through the kindness of S.N. Zimny, so a hot performance of that song always tastes like the first bite of roast duck chow mei fun to me.
Louis loved Chinese food, by the way.
More recently, through the good offices of Joel and Mary Forrester, I found out about XO Kitchen Restaurant on Hester Street, pictured above and below.
They are open for business! I don’t have the psychic energy needed to go there, but I can dream. (If you go, know that they don’t take credit cards.)
WordPress is not yet sophisticated enough for me to send you dinner through this blogpost — you’re on your own — but I can and will share a hot performance of CHINATOWN that was created right in front of me on November 14, 2019, by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street.
Returning to the culinary thread for just a moment, Google Maps says it’s a 1.7 mile walk from Cafe Bohemia to X O — either way — that would take 12 minutes. They haven’t seen me walk, but no matter.
Here’s the music: as satisfying as any meal I could imagine and then some:
Perhaps 2021 will be the year when both these pleasures are once again available to us, freely and easily. For now, you can change the dinner menu in intriguing ways — perhaps add stir-fried broccoli? — and you can watch and listen, I hope joyously in both cases.
An hour ago, I was on the phone with my dear friend Matthew Rivera, and when we hung up I was pierced with nostalgia for past times, joys temporarily suspended. Nostalgia for pure New York City – Kansas City groove, first created by Eddie Durham. Nostalgia for 15 Barrow Street, Cafe Bohemia nights. Music by Chris Flory, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, created on November 14, 2019. The title? TOPSY:
I pray these gatherings will come again, and I know I am not alone in this.
I’m told it’s Sunday again. How this happened, I have no idea, but here we are.
Sunday means that it’s time to saddle the cyberspace pack animals and head to 326 Spring Street, The Ear Inn, the home of happy ears, for a restorative session with the EarRegulars: our weekly uplift. I am assuming you can find your way “there,” to the previous twenty-two weekly posts. If not, just ask.
Ready? Bang your ruby slippers together and it’s Sunday night, June 13, 2010. And although our Guardian Angel might be Billy Kyle, that night it was a quiet, witty, irreplaceable fellow from New Jersey, Bill Basie — with the swinging music being created by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass:
Here’s Herschel Evans’ DOGGIN’ AROUND:
and a Youmans melody that started its life with Jimmie Noone and still keeps its freshness, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:
For Ruby Braff as well as Herschel, we have BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:
Thinking of Lester Young, we have Andy Farber, Dan Block, tenors left and right; Chris Flory, guitar; Fumi Tomita, string bass:
Beautiful, isn’t it? I know better times are coming, and I hope to celebrate with you all at 326 Spring Street . . . sooner rather than later.
Brothers and Sisters, here‘s last week’s prayer meeting, in case any of you were otherwise occupied — at your country retreat or perhaps hiding behind the towels, praying for deliverance. After fifteen weeks of this series, you wouldn’t need a map to find 326 Spring Street, New York City, but it’s pleasing to the eye:
I take you to the Ear Inn, where the EarRegulars play on Sunday nights — for one of those time-bending moments of THEN and NOW . . . in this case, May 9, 2010, “Mother’s Night,” where the inspired core quartet is Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Pat O’Leary, string bass, and Jim Masters, trombone.
For the cinematographers in the JAZZ LIVES audience, I point out that I had purchased a more light-sensitive camera, so we have emerged from the darkness, always a good thing.
From Mothers to Babies, in this case I FOUND A NEW BABY:
IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN, so pretty, always makes me think of Joe Thomas, who loved to play and sing it. The EarRegulars catch the mood. And the core quartet changes a bit: Chris Flory sits in for Matt, and Dan Block sings out on the alto saxophone:
The quintet stays for PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE:
The closing performance is LAZY RIVER, by Jon-Erik, Matt, Pat, and Jim:
As my friend, the Listening Woman (the title of a superb short story by Sylvia Townsend Warner) suggests, rapt attentiveness is the one true way, and it will help us get through the days and nights to come.
Are you ready to join me on our Sunday pilgrimage to the Shrine of Sounds, where the EarRegulars and friends gambol and inspire? I hope so.
Let us begin with music from the second set at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, on Sunday, April 25, 2010: Ben Webster’s line on IN A MELLOTONE, which was based on ROSE ROOM — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass — asking the musical question, DID YOU CALL HER TODAY?
and the second part, the length of a 10″ 78 rpm record:
Then, another hint of Ellingtonia — Johnny Hodges’ line on I GOT RHYTHM, called THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ — which adds Danny Tobias, trumpet, and Andy Farber, tenor saxophone to the mix . . . for ten minutes:
because it would be cruel to leave out the final forty-five seconds, here they are:
Mr. Tobias calls his favorite tune, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, where he’s joined by Andy Farber, Harry Allen, Matt Munisteri, and Jim Whitney, string bass:
A new constellation of brilliant friends plays COMES LOVE: Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Harry Allen, Andy Farber, Chris Flory, guitar, and Jim Whitney:
and we know LOVE takes its own time to . . . . arrive:
Finally, the song that always amuses me by its paradoxical nature when it’s the last tune of the night, LINGER AWHILE, a gift from Messrs. Kellso, Tobias, Allen, Farber, Flory, and Miner:
Joy. And while we contemplate the joys of a decade ago, let us keep our eyes comfortably fixed on a future not yet realized, but one we hope for.
Here you can find five posts devoted to the truth that beauty never gets dusty. And just below you can find the newest-historical-unaging samples from my (and perhaps your) Sunday-night worship services at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.
From December 6, 2009, naughtiness from Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Nicki Parrott, string bass:
Also from that night, a deep-blue version of Benny Carter’s BLUES IN MY HEART:
And, from November 29, 2009, with Danny Tobias, sitting in for Jon-Erik Kellso, along with Dan Block, reeds; Chris Flory, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass, saying hello to Dick and Larry:
And some spiritually-enhanced jam from that session of November 29, 2009: Jon-Erik Kellso, Gordon Au, trumpet; Dan Block, Attilio Troiano, reeds; Chris Flory, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass:
Appropriately, something for Lil and Louis: Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Gordon Au, Dan Block, Attilio Troiano, Chris Flory, Jon Burr:
Imagine the experience we will all have when — to quote Jabbo Smith — “times get better.” Balance between unrealistic optimism and depthless gloom; wear your mask; keep the mental-spiritual jukebox going. We’ll get there.
To start, JAZZ LIVES endorses social distancing, properly positioned mask-wearing (plain or patterned), hand-washing, hand sanitizer, vinyl gloves, intelligent caution, without reservation. But I miss the intimacies that were part of the common culture only five months ago, give or take a hug. When I watch any film or television show on YouTube these days, the casual peck on the cheek given and received causes me a real pang. And hugging? Unendurable.
But enough of sticking hatpins in myself while I try to write.
THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES is a haunting piece. When I first heard it, without liner notes, I would have wagered that it was composed by Horace Silver — a dark blues march, so stark and elusive. I was startled to learn it was by Billy Strayhorn. And it makes me think of other improvisations that march. OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE? has a very clear shouting meaning: “We’re coming back from the cemetery, where we laid our dear friend Keith in the ground. He had a good life, it’s over, but ours isn’t, so we are going to celebrate himself and ourselves.” INTIMACY has no such clear direction: we are going somewhere, our feet are heavy, but where are we headed?
This performance has the same haunting quality, and I treasure it. The players, perhaps looking in to the void or just exploring a medium-slow blues, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar. It took place at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, before Thanksgiving 2019. Ironically or perhaps coincidentally, Cafe Bohemia was the site of the most recent live-jazz performance I was privileged to witness and record, on March 12, 2020.
May we all assemble there again, intimacies no longer forbidden. Until then:
More than ever, I bless the courageous musicians who bare their souls to us. The most mournful song on the darkest stage is a statement of resilience.
For nearly twelve years, The Ear Inn has been my Sunday-night shrine (that’s 326 Spring Street in New York City, via the 1 or the C) because of the EarRegulars’ sublime residency.
Two Sundays ago, Jon-Erik Kellso was in New Orleans, making records (I use the archaic term) with Evan Christopher, but the band that Scott Robinson — on tenor saxophone, contrabass taragota, and trumpet — assembled for the night of May 20, 2019, was stellar: Jay Rattman on clarinet and alto saxophone; Chris Flory on guitar; Pat O’Leary on string bass. It was less crowded than usual at The Ear, because (I am told) it was the last episode of GAME OF THRONES. Hence my title.
Beauty paid a visit to 326 Spring Street when this quartet of masters created melodies than floated in the darkness.
And the usual caveats: yes, there are people chatting over their drinks, the image is quite dark at points, and my camera wobbles occasionally because The Ear is not the place to bring a tripod . . . but even the most finicky viewer should be able, through closed eyes, be transported by the Tones: subtle rejoicing scored for four instruments on two rhythm ballads — sweet and slow music with a definite pulse.
Art? Yes, today:
If you don’t think that performance lives up to Berlin’s title, we must politely but vehemently disagree. And this 1945 classic by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon is up in the same clouds:
Jay, Scott, Chris, and Pat made loveliness tangible. As they always do.