Tag Archives: Christopher Smith

NEW YORK CAKE: TERRY WALDO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, BRIAN NALEPKA, JIM FRYER, JOHN GILL, JAY LEPLEY at FAT CAT (January 29, 2017)

Not this (announced as “the best New York style cheesecake):

but a hot version of the song immortalized in 1924 and 1925 by Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith and others, CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME.  This is my second CAKE post: the first, presenting two hot performances by Dave Kosymna, Christopher Smith, Ray Heitger, Nicole Heitger, James Dapogny, and Pete Siers (all deftly captured by Laura Wyman) may be visited here.

But my experience of New York and New  Yorkers — even from the suburbs, what Flaubert would call the provinces — is that we don’t like to take second place to anyone or anything.  And in a cake walking contest, second place is noplace.

So here’s the New York version, created a month earlier at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village) by Terry Waldo and the Gotham City Band, who were on that Sunday Evan Arntzen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Jim Fryer, Jay Lepley, Brian Nalepka, John Gill.  Consider for yourselves:

I won’t ask viewers to set up mock combat between Ohio and New York: all those cakes and contests are beautiful and hot.

May your happiness increase!

THEY TAKE THE CAKE (ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, TOO): DAVE KOSMYNA, CHRISTOPHER SMITH, RAY HEITGER, JAMES DAPOGNY, PETE SIERS, NICOLE HEITGER, LAURA WYMAN (February 25 and 26, 2017)

My dear friend Laura Beth Wyman, Sole Proprietor of Wyman Video and head of the Michigan branch of JAZZ LIVES, has been busy capturing Hot for us these days.  In Ohio, no less.  Here are two versions of the same jazz classic for your perusal and pleasure.

CAKEWALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME is an invitation to rumble when most jazz bands play it, because of the early pugilism of young Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet on the two Clarence Williams recordings of the song.

On Saturday, February 25, 2017, Laura captured the Original Downhome Jass Band at “Ye Olde Durty Bird” in Toledo, Ohio.  For this performance, the ODJB (yes, you noticed!) was Dave Kosmyna, cornet and leader; Christopher Smith, trombone; Ray Heitger, clarinet and vocal; James Dapogny, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Nicole Heitger, vocal.  Hot and exuberant:

A day later, without Nicole, alas, the band had donned tuxedos (and an altered band name) to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the first jazz recordings in concert at Freed Auditorium, Ohio Northern University. Ada, Ohio.  In this version, the band rocks through many more ensemble interludes.  Better?  No, just different:

Unlike cake, hot music never gets stale.  Thanks to the players and to Laura for making these otherwise evanescent beauties permanent and accessible, even for those of us who have never visited Ada, Ohio.

May your happiness increase!

TWO CHAMPIONS: “FLEA CIRCUS,” PETE SIERS DUO FEATURING MR. B

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Now I have to narrate, with embarrassment, how I waited some time to review an excellent jazz CD because its title made me itchy all over.   Here’s Exhibit A:

FLEA CIRCUS

Before you start scratching, too, use those hands to click here for sound samples from this disc. (It’s also available through iTunes and Amazon.)

The duo here — really a trio, but with two musicians, which I call good conservation of energy, is Pete Siers, drums, and “Mr. B,” who is Mark Lincoln Braun, piano, vocals, and perhaps a little more.

I relaxed when I read in the excellent notes by arwulf arwulf, that Pete has always wanted to play in the circus — or is it “with” the circus?  No matter.  So I assume that FLEA CIRCUS refers only to the compact size of the enterprise.

Enough of that.  FLEA CIRCUS is a deeply felt album of deep blues and related songs, sung* and played by two men who are wholly in the tradition.  The sixteen titles here are varied not only in tempo,  key, and composer, but also in mood. Each one is a small dramatic playlet, intense or free-wheeling, with its own mood: funky, rueful, hilarious, romping, woebegone, tender, Friday-night-paycheck-at-the-bar.  No listener would find an hour with these two creative spirits too much: rather, when the disc was over, I said, “Is that it?” which speaks well for a return engagement for Pete and Mark.

Here are the songs: VICKSBURG BLUES (in honor of Little Brother Montgomery) / SHE’S TOUGH* / JIMMY’S SPECIAL (for Jimmy Yancey) / WHAT WAS I THINKING OF?* / I LIKE WHAT YOU DID (WHEN YOU DO WHAT YOU DID LAST NIGHT) a variation on Roosevelt Sykes’ immortal theme / KIRKSEY FLASH, for Web Kirksey, pictured above / TREMBLIN’ BLUES / MOJO HAND* / COW COW BLUES (for and by Cow Cow Davenport) / LITTLE BROTHER / TEXAS STOMP / TOO SMART TOO SOON* / WAY DOWN UPON THE SWANEE RIVER (in honor of Albert Ammons) / WHEN I LOST MY BABY (for Blind John Davis) / NEVER WOULD HAVE MADE IT (with a guest appearance by trombonist Christopher Smith) / YPSI GYPSI (a world of its own) //

Both of these musicians know how to take their time, so this isn’t a boogie-woogie extravaganza with Niagara Falls of notes that overwhelm the listener. Were I introducing the CD to someone new to it, I would start off with what I believe is Mark’s original, SHE’S TOUGH, where the Love Object stops clocks, distracts college professors, and silently effects a cease-fire.  The lyrics are delightful, but the piano playing is even better, and Pete’s silken accompaniment is a lesson for all drummers.  TOO SMART TOO SOON should have been recorded by Walter Brown with Jay McShann, if you know that reference.  Mark’s singing, throughout, is perfectly focused — honoring rather than copying — and the recording adds just a touch of what I hear as Fifties reverb to his voice, adding a good deal to the atmosphere without making this an exercise in play-acting.

Even though Pete is the nominal leader on this disc, it is not a percussionist’s narcissistic dream.  I heard only two drum solos — very brief but delightful, but what I truly heard and appreciated was his unerringly thoughtful and swinging support, nothing formulaic or mechanical.

Together, Pete and Mark evoke the very best of vocal blues, piano blues, boogie-woogie, with sweet nods to R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll.

The result is delightful, and I hope many people listen, download, purchase.  Don’t be like me and be put off by the idea of dancing insects, please.  FLEA CIRCUS is the real thing, full of flavors.  It rocks.

May your happiness increase!

MARCHING AND SWINGING: JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 2014)

Rainbow OneI am just back from the 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival, where I heard and admired glorious music.  But while I’m going through the process of getting videos to you (eagerly alert and waiting) I cannot forget the delights of the recent past: July 2014 at Evergreen with James Dapogny, Jon-Erik Kellso, Christopher Smith, Kim Cusack, Russ Whitman, Dean Ross, and Pete Siers:

and a rare Fats Waller tune:

What a band they are.

May your happiness increase!

POIGNANT BEAUTY: JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 26, 2014): JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHRISTOPHER SMITH, KIM CUSACK, JAMES DAPOGNY, ROD McDONALD, DEAN ROSS, PETE SIERS

Sunrise over Mobile Bay

Sunrise over Mobile Bay

Because I’ll be on my way to the 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival tomorrow, my thoughts turned back to those few days in July 2014 where — amidst rainbows and rain, nocturnal elk, Vietnamese food with dear friends and heroes — I heard some of the finest music of my life.

The music was  created by Professor James Dapogny (piano, arrangements, research, and even a sly vocal or two) and his Chicago Jazz Band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Kim Cusack, Russ Whitman, reeds; Christopher Smith, trombone, Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.  No gimmickry, just deep music.

One of the most memorable performances of that weekend was the Ellington – Rex Stewart MOBILE BAY, deep and slow.  Here’s a map for those who need to  orient themselves:

MOBILE BAY

I think of this four-minute interlude as the very definition of poignant: something that gives the sensitive person a sharp pang.  But the pain of regret, of loss, the feeling of sadness, is counterbalanced by awe: “How beautiful is that embodiment of sadness,” so that we have to entertain both sensations at once.

At the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival, I recorded and shared the better part of seven sets by this band.  I apologize if what I am about to write seems greedy, but I want to hear them again.  Shall we talk of the financing necessary to have the official JAMES DAPOGNY CHICAGO JAZZ BAND FESTIVAL?  No other groups need apply.

Until then . . . .

May your happiness increase!

PLENTY RHYTHM! ERIN MORRIS, JAMES DAPOGNY, CHRISTOPHER SMITH, ALEX BELHAJ, ROD McDONALD, BONNIE SMITH, CHRIS TABACZYNSKI, LAURA WYMAN: YPSILANTI, MICHIGAN (June 2016)

No, I didn’t hear any shouts in the night, “The British are coming!” (Or, for that matter, “The British are going!”)

paul-revere-statue

But if Paul Revere had been well and truly hip, he might have shouted, “Hot jazz in Ypsilanti!  Thursday nights!  Cultivate!” and that would have gotten me out of bed for sure.

Here are three truly entrancing performances recorded on June 16 and 23, 2016, by Laura Wyman of Wyman Video — yes, she deserves her own place in the personnel roster).  The leader of this morphing band of creators is Erin Morris, tuba.  Yes, I know you know Erin as a unique dancer and choreographer, but she is also a wonderful low-brass player, able to entrance us when she’s just sitting still.

I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING with Erin; James Dapogny, keyboard (“He makes that new piano sound exactly like old,” to paraphrase Johnny Mercer); Rod McDonald, guitar; Chris Tabaczynski, C-melody saxophone. Where?  Cultivate Coffee & Tap House, Ypsilanti, Michigan:

That’s the very definition of Mellow to me, what I think of as the music the great artists make for themselves when the lights aren’t shining in their faces.  Not morose nor a let’s-show-the-people-this-is-jazz romp, but pretty and moving.  And Erin plays the tuba with gentleness; at times in the ensemble it sounds like a sweet bass saxophone heard from far away.  And Chris Tabaczynski is my new Youngblood Hero.  Dapogny and McDonald have been Heroes of mine for years.

Now, let’s add a little Americana to the mix, as Bonnie Smith sings CARELESS LOVE in an unaffected, heartfelt way, with her father, Christopher, on trombone; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Erin and Jim:

Finally, what my dear friend Mike Burgevin used to call a “Bingie” — one of those songs that we hear through a sacred veil of Crosby — WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, performed by Christopher, Alex, Jim, and Erin:

All I can say about this scene is that it does my heart good to know that a small group of secular saints is bringing lyricism into the world.  Cultivate Joy.  And for my part, I’ve got my plane ticket to Ann Arbor.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGIN’ IN THE RAIN: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JIM DAPOGNY (Part Two)

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

On September 3, James Dapogny (“Jim” to some, “Prof” to some of his devoted students) celebrated a major birthday.  I can’t remember what the number is, and I don’t quite care, but JAZZ LIVES wants to return the compliment and celebrate Jim.  It is perhaps offensive to value one mortal over another, but he’s been giving us musical presents — and presence — for a good long time now, as a pianist, arranger, bandleader, scholar, researcher {Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson primarily] trumpeter, valve trombonist . . . on recordings from 1975 on and in person before that.

Many people know Jim as a stomping yet subtle pianist on records and now on videos, and we cherish that.  But I’ve been privileged over the past decade to encounter him as a friend, and in that role he is someone I deeply value: under an occasionally gruff or satiric exoskeleton, there is someone wise, generous, and thoughtful, someone I am proud to know.

But back to the music.  Last year, at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, Jim brought his “A-team” Chicago Jazz Band: Pete Siers, drums; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross [a Denver native], string bass; Russ Whitman, Kim Cusack, reeds, Christopher Smith, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  They played a number of sets and I’ve posted a good deal of the music on JAZZ LIVES.  But one set was particularly dear to my heart.  Jim is a master arranger — one way he makes the hallowed music of our shared past come alive in this century — but this set was outdoors, and it was raining seriously.  As a result, no music and no music stands.  The Chicago Jazz Band wailed — on six glorious romping selections. “The way it used to was,” came to my lips then and now.

Here are the first three performances from that set.  And here are the remaining three.

OH, LADY BE GOOD:

I WANT A LITTLE GIRL:

HINDUSTAN:

Jim is atypically modest.  When I asked him whether he was OK with my making these videos public, he wrote back:

These show what a wonderful group of musicians this is.  I can take no credit for how well these guys play as individuals.  And here, unfettered by my jottings and scribblings, unreasonable demands and Draconian discipline, is the band as a group, just playing nice material without preparation–in a conversation in the rain.  I listen to these and gasp at the ingenuity here, laugh out loud at the fun and interaction, and realize why, every day, I lament the lack of opportunity to play more with them.  No matter whose name is on the posters, a band like this has eight de facto leaders who make things happen.

Thank you, Professor Jim, for being.  You improve our world.

May your happiness increase!