Tag Archives: Christmas music

MONK FOR CHRISTMAS

The eBay seller (Louie’s Juke Joint) is offering this holiday gift for a substantial price . . . for those who like their Christmas music a la Thelonious.  He never recorded it but decided to keep it in the family, but it has been recorded after his death.

A MERRIER CHRISTMAS Monk

Here’s the link.

And here are two appropriately playful versions of this toylike but quirkily memorable song, the first by Alexander von Schlippenbach, the second by Ryan Burns:

Whatever you celebrate, may it be merry and merrier — which is a seasonal way of saying . . .

May your happiness increase! 

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HOLIDAY GREETINGS FROM DUCHESS, “A CHRISTMAS COMPROMISE,” (December 17, 2015)

DUCHESS 12 29

The wonderful vocal trio DUCHESS mixes sharp wit, sweet sentiment, and uplifting swing.  Thanks to Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou for this restorative holiday song, A CHRISTMAS COMPROMISE, originally performed by “the bird and the bee.”  You can’t see him, but the invaluable Michael Cabe is at the piano.

It’s the one song I know of that addresses the potentially stressful situation where one partner wants all the Christmas accoutrements and the other one comes from another tradition — Doin’ the Uptown Inter-faith, as the Mills Blue Rhythm Band called it in 1933 on a disc never released.

This nifty performance comes from their set at a benefit for WBAI’s David Kenney and his long-running radio show, EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN, an evening at the Metropolitan Room, December 17, 2015.

If you weren’t there on the 17th — and the room was full of the trio’s fans — you can follow these members of the nobility here or here to find out their schedule here and abroad.

Wishing you holidays where all the necessary compromises are joyous, enacted to the sound of lovely music.

May your happiness increase!

CHRISTMAS COMES EARLY WITH JOHN SHERIDAN, REBECCA KILGORE, HARRY ALLEN and FRIENDS: MONDAY NIGHT JAZZ at FEINSTEIN’S (December 5, 2011)

The Beloved and I had a wonderful time at our October 2011 visit to Feinstein’s at the Regency for Harry Allen’s Monday Night Jazz — a monthly series featuring the finest jazz musicians, sponsored by Arbors Records.  The music was splendid; the room was comfortable and the atmosphere warm; the drinks huge (for those who need to know such things).

Feinstein’s (at the Loew’s Regency Hotel) is located at 540 Park Avenue — at 61st Street, New York City.  You may dine and dance from 7 to 8 PM; the concert will continue from 8-10 PM.   The music charge is $20 and there is a one-drink minimum.  For reservations, telephone 212-339-4095

December 5:  Hooray for Christmas show with Bob Wilber and John Sheridan, Rebecca Kilgore, Jon- Erik Kellso, Randy Sandke, John Allred, Tom Artin, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, James Chirillo, with The Harry Allen Quartet

And the good news is that the series has been extended into 2012 — as they used to say, “by popular demand,” which is a nice way of saying that the room was filled.  (So don’t wait to reserve!)  I hope to see you there!

A footnote.  I wouldn’t recommend an ordinary Christmas show to my readers — because I am an aesthetic Scrooge about the music that starts everywhere even before Christmas.  So much of it is frankly hackneyed that it gets by on pure sentiment rather than virtue — at least to my ears.  But Sheridan’s HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS project is the very opposite of hackneyed.  Rudolph takes a nap, and Velcro keeps those infernal bells from jingling.  Based on Sheridan’s Dream Band of the same name, the repertoire is full of surprises — lonely love ballads, growly blues, pretty heartfelt songs by Harry Warren and Irving Berlin (but not the one you’d expect from the latter genius) — a whole bagful of variety.  If there is no way you are going to make it to Feinstein’s, you might want to investigate the CD — it’s a present that won’t end up in the closet:

http://www.arborsrecords.com/recordtemplate.html?ProductID=19397.

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND (Dec. 19, 2010)

This isn’t about Dostoevsky or his grim-pre-existential narrator.

No, the subject is much happier and equally profound. 

I had learned from trumpeter Gordon Au that there would be a below-ground wingding on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010: he and the Grand Street Stompers would play an hour’s gig down on the subway platform, the F train at Second Avenue for those taking notes.  Even better, they would be joined by New York City swing dancers in vintage attire.  Then, everyone would board an antique subway train (circa 1960 with yellow / blue rattan seats), do a round-trip out to Queens and make way for a second train trip. 

I could only take the vintage subway a few stops uptown, but I did capture the vivid action on the platform.  The Grand Street Stompers began as a trio — Gordon, Pete Anderson on clarinet, Rob Adkins on bass — but soon became a quartet when guitarist Mikey Freedom Hart arrived.

Their first number was a nicely rocking / sentimental BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, perhaps a homage to Louis, who began his concerts with this sweet old song for nearly twenty-five years:

Then, in the first acknowledgment of the season, IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS in two tempos, the dancers dipping and whirling even in the confined space (everyone was fully aware that overdramatic dancing would take them and us too close to the edges of the platform):

An unusual (and brave) choice for the context, Hoagy Carmichael’s NEW ORLEANS, with Gordon growling passionately, Rob bowing in the best old-New-Orleans manner:

SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN (the song that made J. Fred Coots financially secure forever) here sounds as if BLUE MONK was not far in the background — it’s really a good, simplistic Thirties song:

I don’t know if Fats Waller ever took the subway, but he would have been pleased by this pretty — although brief — version of his 1929 hit AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Finally, the pop lexicon’s version of the primal scene — Freudian or out of PEYTON PLACE? — I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS.  Let’s hope it was Daddy in the red suit, shall we?

I delighted in the lovely playing of the quartet, the delicious incongruity of the music and the setting — but the real pleasure was in watching the dancers reflect the music in their bodies, singly and in pairs, switching off, having a fine time.  Lynn Redmile, who appears in the beginning of the last video (to the right), promised she would tell me the names of the spirited and agile dancers we so admire here.  

The Home of Happy Feet for the price of a Metrocard swipe — !

CHRIS DAWSON: STRIDE FOR CHRISTMAS!

Yesterday I received my copy of pianist Chris Dawson’s first solo CD, STRIDIN’ THROUGH CHRISTMAS, and it’s a wow.  But perhaps you’d like to read some expert testimony:

Let’s get my personal prejudices out of the way.  To me, “Christmas music” tends either to be religious or fairly limited pop hits.  But I calmed myself when I saw there were no versions of THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY or RUDOLF THE RED-NOSED REINDEER on this CD.  Dawson plays each selection as a new composition, exploring its improvisatory possibilities. 

Many CDs pall quickly because the artist or artists have one approach and sustain it through as many as twenty-five selections.  Not so here.  You will hear piano playing that’s sometimes rollicking, sometimes deeply sensitive . . . and Chris doesn’t take predictable paths. 

What’s loosely called “stride piano” has also come in for some rough handling from players who have only a superficial understanding of the idiom.  All it is, they think, is a steady left-hand pattern, rhythmically powerful, alternating low notes in the bass and a resounding chord . . . over and over, while the right hand does whatever it likes.  For many players, who may well be technically gifted, the result is rather like the ticking of a loud watch or the pounding of a machine.  Others model their playing on Fats Waller, which is fine in theory but not if it’s a matter of learning the eight or ten patented “Wallerisms” and sprinkling them liberally through every composition.  Stride, clearly athletic and virtuosic, also gets confused in some pianists’ minds with exhibitionism: faster, more percussive, louder, longer. 

Chris Dawson is someone who knows and has internalized the whole jazz piano tradition — forwards to Bill Evans, let us say, and backwards to the early James P. Johnson.  What you’ll hear on this disc is often delicate but never so ruminative as to become dull.  Most often, while listening, I thought of Chris as offering his own variations on three masters: Teddy Wilson, Dave McKenna, and Dick Hyman.  (And there are touches of Forties Johnny Guarneri in there, too — which is a high compliment.)  I hear the delicacy, strength, and vivid imagination that I associate with these three masters in every bar of this CD, and it’s not an archivist’s recreation, not jazz archaeology — but living improvised music.  He has a fine swing in his playing, but he is harmonically free, and at times the experienced jazz listener will marvel at the happy marriage of presumed opposites in his playing.  He can make something as melodically simple as SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN hilariously mobile, and I was moved by Chris’s tender explorations of SILENT NIGHT.  He’s accurate but never stiff; the performances don’t go on too long; the CD is wonderfully varied and the sound of the recording is delicious.     

To hear some samples, I would direct the reader back a few posts to: https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/an-early-christmas-present/.  Hear Chris stride through WE THREE KINGS, surely not the usual . . . .

Or, if you prefer soundbites: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ChrisDawson

To buy the CD: http://shop.astinmusic.com/

I think that you’ll still be playing this CD in February 2010 and onwards, when the house has returned to its normal state and the only reminder of the holiday is the credit card bills.

AN EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT!

When Chris Dawson told me that he had recorded a solo piano album of Christmas music, inwardly I cringed, but remained polite.  He assured me that it wasn’t treacly or sanctimonious: holiday tunes that he swung.  I remained hopeful but inwardly skeptical, although I trust Chris.  This evening, I was so busy grinning at the YouTube clip of him ripping through WE THREE KINGS that my skepticism is all gone. 

I want this CD — before Christmas, mind you — and you will, too.  Check this out!  And I’ll have more to say in future.  Right now I’m in stride / swing bliss:

SANTA’S ALCHEMICAL SECRET

As is her habit, the Beloved is listening to Jonathan Schwartz’s Christmas show on WNYC-FM, where his guests include Mandy Patinkin, Charles Osgood, Jay Leonhart, Steve LaSpina, Harry Allen, John Pizzarelli, Tony Monte, and Gene Bertoncini.  When the chatter comes to a graceful halt, Jonathan offers high-quality seasonal music, including tenor saxophonist Harry’s romp through “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” 

The Beloved, quite properly, was delighted with Harry’s performance.  But she asked me, “Do jazz musicians really enjoy playing such silly songs?” 

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is well-established in the American cultural landscape, ubiquitous, even.  I used to roll my eyes whenever it was played.  However, when I found out that it had been composed by J. Fred Coots, composer of “You Go To My Head” and “For All We Know,” I was able to feel more kindly towards the song.  Somehow it appealed to me that Coots should have made a fortune on this musical shred — enabling him to live comfortably and write far better songs.   

I answered the Beloved’s question by invoking the Sage of Corsicana, Texas, Hot Lips Page, who, when asked a similar question, reputedly said, “The material is immaterial.”  And Django Reinhardt, who surely knew something about improvisation, asked for the simplest theme from “Tiger Rag” as material to improvise on at a jam session. 

Like alchemists, jazz musicians inhabit a miraculous universe, turning junk into gold, often enjoying the vapidity of a piece of music because its three-chord structure allows them to improvise freely while the F, G7, and C are endlessly returning.  Think of the twelve-bar blues as the perfect example.  The freedom to create as one wishes — what a blessing!

But back to seasonal matters.  Between now and Christmas, I am always tempted to equip myself with a pair of earplugs when I go out in public.  I would be thrilled to hear Bing’s “White Christmas” once a day, but “The Little Drummer Boy” performed with funk underpinnings raises my blood pressure alarmingly.  So I propose two aesthetic alternatives for the season.

mark-shane-santaOne is the best, most jubilant jazz Christmas CD I have ever heard: Mark Shane (and his X-mas All-Stars, including Jon-Erik Kellso) on the Nagel-Heyer label, WHAT WOULD SANTA SAY?  It’s a CD I enjoy all through the year.    

The other piece of music is accessible online, as I found to my delight.  It’s a 1944 record made for the Savoy label, featuring the delightfully accomplished pianist Johnny Guarneri and the irreplaceable bassist Slam Stewart.  A truly irrepressible pair! 

The song — apparently improvised impromptu in the studio — is called SANTA’S SECRET, a jolly evocation of Fats Waller, who had died less than a year before.  It answers the pressing question, “What makes Santa so jolly?”  Whether Johnny and Slam were Tall when they recorded this I leave to scholars more erudite than myself. 

If you visit http://www.musicalfruitcake.com (which bills itself as offering the worst Christmas songs ever recorded — a position I don’t hold) and search for “Guarneri,” all should be revealed.  The link is genuinely troublesome, but it is alive and worth pursuing.      

In this holiday season and beyond, I hope that you are as happy as Johnny and Slam seem to be on that record.  And that you get to display your very own alchemical wizardries, even if you don’t play an instrument.