Tag Archives: Chuck Wilson

“THE MYSTICAL MOIST NIGHT AIR”: PETRA van NUIS, ANDY BROWN, CHUCK WILSON, DAN BLOCK, KEITH INGHAM, ARNIE KINSELLA, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2009)

With the frightening turmoil on land occupying my thought, the night sky seems a peaceful refuge, and Whitman’s WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN’D ASTRONOMER comes to mind:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Whitman approved of song — hence the title of his greatest work: I don’t think he would have turned away from the melodies I present here, delicious treasures from a vanished — but sweetly remembered — time and place.  And the poem speaks of savoring experience deeply, which is what the musicians we love both accomplish and share with us.

Here are two lovely musical vignettes from Sunday morning at Jazz at Chautauqua.  The first, Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown, dear friends, musing through the Burke-Van Heusen MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU:

Then, Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Chuck Wilson, so deeply missed, alto saxophone; Keith Ingham, piano; Arnie Kinsella, drums; Vince Giordano, looking up at the meteor shower that gave birth to STARS FELL ON ALABAMA:

Tonight, immerse yourself in the night sky if you can.  Such vistas heal.

May your happiness increase!

BORN ON THE 28th of FEBRUARY

We know many people born on February 28th.  However, we know a much smaller number born on that date in 1930.  And there is only ONE Martin Oliver Grosz, who will thus turn ninety in a few days.

Marty won’t read this post, so I will spare him and all of us a lengthy explication of his particular virtues.  But let me inform you about a few events related to his birthday . . . and then there will be a reward for those with high reading comprehension skills.  “Three ways,” not chili . . . but a book and two parties.  And patient readers will find another reward, of a particularly freakish nature, at the end of this post.

Marty has talked about writing his autobiography for years now (I was almost a collaborator, although not in the wartime sense) — he has stories!  And the book has finally happened, thanks to the Golden Alley Press, with the really splendid editorship of Joe Plowman, whom we know more as a superb musician.  Great photos, and it’s a pleasure to look at as well as read.

 

The book is entertaining, readable, funny, and revealing — with stories about people you wouldn’t expect (Chet Baker!).  It sounds like Marty, because the first half is a tidied-up version of his own story, written in longhand — with elegant calligraphy — on yellow legal paper.  I’m guessing that a few of the more libelous bits have been edited out, but we know there are severe laws about such things and paper is flammable.

The second part of the book, even more vividly, is a stylishly done series of interviews with Marty — a real and sometimes startlingly candid pleasure.  I’ve followed Marty musically for more than twenty-five years and have had conversations with him for two decades . . . this, as he would say, is the real breadstick, and I learned a great deal I hadn’t already known.  More information here and here.  The official publication date is March 4, but you can pre-order the book from several of the usual sites — as noted above.

And two musical events — Marty encompasses multitudes, so he gets two parties.

One will take place at the Hopewell Valley Bistro, tomorrow at 6 PM, where Marty will be joined by Danny Tobias, Scott Robinson, and Gary Cattley, for an evening of swing and badinage, sometimes with the two combined.  Details here.  And on March 4, another extravaganza — at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, with what used to be called “an all-star cast”: Vince Giordano, Danny Tobias, Scott Robinson, Dan Block, Randy Reinhart, Joe Plowman, Jim Lawlor, Jack Saint Clair, and I would guess some surprise guests.  Details here.  Even though I am getting on a plane the next morning to fly to Monterey for the Jazz Bash by the Bay, I am going to this one.  You should too!

Now, the unearthed treasure . . . for all the Freaks in the house, as Louis would say, a congregation in which I happily include myself.  I’ve written elsewhere of taking sub rosa videos at the 2007 and 2008 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend ecstasies, and I recently dug out this spiritual explosion.  The camerawork is shaky and vague (I was shooting into bright light), but the music is life-enhancing.  Even the YouTube Disliker is quietly applauding:

Let us celebrate Marty Grosz.  He continues to be completely Himself, which is a fine thing.  With Dispatch and Vigor, Fats, Al Casey, and Red McKenzie looking on approvingly.

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!

FLIP LEAVES US WITH A SHOUT: MARTY GROSZ, JAMES DAPOGNY, DUKE HEITGER, DAN BLOCK, CHUCK WILSON, DAN BARRETT, VINCE GIORDANO, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2008)

A math problem or perhaps a logic one.  When you add this

and this

what is the result?  From my perspective, pure joy and a delightful surprise.

The Hawk.

Here and here I’ve shared the story of Flip as well as two otherwise undocumented live performances by Randy Reinhart, Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, James Dapogny, John Sheridan, Marty Grosz, Vince Giordano, John Von Ohlen at the September 2008 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend.

Horace Henderson.

And here is Flip’s final gift to us — a performance of the Horace Henderson composition (recorded in 1933 by a small group led by Coleman Hawkins) JAMAICA SHOUT by Marty Grosz, guitar; James Dapogny, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor sax; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Vince Giordano, string bass; Pete Siers, drums:

There are many things I do not know about this song and this performance.  I suspect that the JAMAICA in the title refers to the Long Island, New York suburb — “the country” in 1933 — rather than the Caribbean island, but neither Walter C. Allen nor John Chilton has anything to say on the subject.  I don’t know if the chart is Marty’s or Jim’s, but it certainly honors the original while giving the players ample room to be themselves.

I do know why I only recorded three performances — fear of the Roman-emperor-of-Hot Joe Boughton, who could be fierce — but I wish I had been more daring.  You’ll note that my video-capture has all the earmarks of illicit, sub rosa work — there is a splendid Parade of Torsos by men entirely oblivious of my presence and camera, but Louis forgive them, they knew not what they did.  And they may have been returning to their seats with slices of cake, a phenomenon which tends to blot out all cognition.  (On that note, Corrections Officials here or on YouTube who write in to criticize the video will be politely berated.)  However, the music is audible; the performance survives; and we can celebrate the living while mourning the departed, James Dapogny and Chuck Wilson, who are very much alive here.

There are many more newly-unearthed and never-shared performances from the 2011-17 Jazz at Chautauqua and Cleveland Classic Jazz Party to come: one of the benefits of archaeological apartment-tidying.  For now, I thank Flip, who enabled this music to live on.  And the musicians, of course — some of whom can still raise a SHOUT when the time is right.

May your happiness increase!

SWEETLY UPLIFTING: The MICHAEL McQUAID SAXOPHONE QUARTET

I’ve been thinking about the saxophonist Chuck Wilson, who left us on October 16 (my post about him is here).  Chuck came from a tradition where the saxophone made beautiful melodic sounds and blended with other reeds — he was a consummate section leader.  It’s a tradition sometimes overlooked today, where it occasionally feels that everyone wants to be a soloist, at length.

But the tradition has been splendidly recalled and embodied by our friend, the brilliantly imaginative multi-instrumentalist, Michael McQuaid in his recent musical gift to us: four musical cameos inspired by the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet of 1929-30.  The arrangements by Michael — lovely translucencies, swinging and tender — were recorded “with minimal rehearsal” (I emphasize this to hail the professionalism of the players) in the UK on July 27, 2018.

I think of these performances as modern reworkings of classical string quartets, but with a particular harmonic delicacy applied to popular songs of the day, with hot solos implied, delightful counterpoint, and a compositional sense: each arrangement and performance has a wonderful logical shape, a light-hearted emotional resonance.  Each performance rewards repeated listening.  (I cannot play MY SIN just once.)

The remarkable players are Michael McQuaid (first alto); David Horniblow (second alto); Simon Marsh (tenor); Tom Law (baritone).

IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER, which I associate with Annette Hanshaw, Barbara Rosene, and Tamar Korn:

OUT OF THE DAWN, by Walter Donaldson, from 1928, recorded by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:

WASHBOARD BLUES, whose arrangement is inspired by the 1926 recording by Hitch’s Happy Harmonists, with composer Hoagy Carmichael at the piano:

MY SIN, by DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson, also associated with Annette Hanshaw:

I wasn’t the only one astonished by the arrangements and the playing, and I wrote to Michael to ask, “When’s the CD coming out?  When’s the concert tour?”  No one else is making music like this anywhere.

Michael responded on Facebook:

Once again, this video features great playing from some of London’s best saxophone players. Their musicality is all the more remarkable when one considers this is closer to sight-reading than a fully-rehearsed ensemble.

A few of you have asked whether I’m going to release these recordings. Well, yes – they’re on YouTube anytime you want! But properly producing a full album of this material would require significant rehearsal followed by hours in the studio, and hence probably a wealthy philanthropic benefactor (please message me if that might be you!).

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing saxophone quartet arrangements until I have a whole concert’s/album’s worth. It’s been great reading your positive words on these videos, and I’m glad if I’ve been able to draw attention to the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet and their beautiful 1929 records. Our musical heritage is filled with many such neglected treasures, ready to leap into the present (and the future) with only a little of our time and attention.

Since some readers might not have heard the originals, here (courtesy of generous Enrico Borsetti) is the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet playing BABY, OH WHERE CAN YOU BE?:

I haven’t found out much about Merle, except that he played clarinet, alto, and tenor, was born in upstate New York, and lived from 1897 to 1978, and was a renowned saxophone teacher.  Michael told me that Merle’s students included Larry Teal and Joe Allard (each became a highly influential saxophone teacher in his own right), as well as famous players such as Buddy Collette and Frank Morgan. His legacy is probably more lasting as a teacher than as a player or bandleader!

Merle’s recording career — according to Tom Lord — ran from 1923 to 1930, with Sam Lanin (alongside Red Nichols), Isham Jones, Seger Ellis, the Ipana  Troubadours, Jack Miller, a young fellow named Crosby.  He was friends with Leo McConville, and he led his own band called the Ceco Couriers, which alludes to a radio program supported by a product: in this case, CeCo radio tubes, advertised in the October 1928 POPULAR SCIENCE (the tubes “cost no  more but last longer”).

Did Merle leave the New York City studio scene after the stock market crash for the security of a teaching career?  Can it be that no one interviewed him or one of his pupils?  Incidentally, when I do online research on someone obscure and find that one of the resources is this — a JAZZ LIVES post I wrote in 2011 — I am both amused and dismayed.

“Research!” to quote Lennie Kunstadt.  Calling David Fletcher!

And here’s another gorgeous quartet record, this one of DO SOMETHING:

I post the two Merle Johnston “originals” not to show their superiority to the modern evocations, but to celebrate Michael’s arranging and the playing of the Quartet: to my ears, fully the equal of the antecedents.

Listen once again, and be delighted.  I am sure that Chuck is pleased by these sounds also.

May your happiness increase!

CHUCK WILSON, ADMIRED, LOVED, MISSED

I’ve come to think that one goal is to live one’s life whole-heartedly, generously, singularly, so that when one dies — moving to another neighborhood in the cosmos — one is missed.  Or, there is a hole shaped like you in the world that people notice.  “I wish Susie were here to have a piece of this pie.  I wish I could give Liz just one more hug.” and so on.

The alto saxophonist and sometime clarinetist Chuck Wilson, who died on October 16, accomplished that goal and more.

A CD worth searching for — a beauty in so many ways.

I saw and heard Chuck intermittently from 2004 to 2016, in Jazz at Chautauqua with the Alden-Barrett Quartet, and in various New York groups, including Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the EarRegulars, with Corin Stiggall and Carol Morgan, but I can’t say I knew him well.  So I will leave the anecdotes to others, and the outline of his biography also.  I did observe him at close range as an unusual man and player: part shy boy, part boisterous side-of-the-mouth wisecracker and social critic.  His playing was just so splendid, although I think he rarely wanted to step forward and lead — any sax section or any band that had Chuck in it immediately sounded so much better.  His sound was lovely.  And he understood both his horn and the music.

Chuck was initially very wary of my video camera (and perhaps also of the civilian who operated it) but eventually he 1) figured that I wasn’t out to embarrass him but to praise him, or 2) I wouldn’t go away so there was no use telling me to do so.  So I have a few — too few! — performance videos of him which I will share again with you — so that you who knew Chuck can have the bittersweet joy of having him in action, and that those who never heard him can regret the omission.

Here he is with Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — for that August 2016 afternoon, Chuck, Terry, Jim Fryer, Jay Leonhart, Jay Lepley, playing DIGA DIGA DOO in what I think of as a Fifty-Second Street manner:

And here, at The Ear Inn on May 30, 2010 with Danny Tobias, James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, for a easy groovy EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I wish there had been more opportunities to capture Chuck live: many things got in the way, but you can savor another large handful of performances from these gigs here and here.

I also hope that Chuck knew how much he was admired and loved.  And is.

May your happiness increase!

“VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST”

vincegirodano_poster

About seventy-five minutes into this gratifying portrait of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, trombonist and keen observer Jim Fryer describes its subject as “an intense man . . . a driven man . . . consumed” by the ideals he’s devoted the last forty years to.  And his goal?  As Vince says in the film, it is “to get the great music out there for the people.”

From his early introduction to the music — the hot jazz 78s on his grandmother’s Victrola — to the present moment, where he is the inspired creator of a ten-piece Jazz Age big band possibly without equal, Vince’s ideal has been complex. Reproduce live the sound, accuracy, and vitality of the music he heard on the records, and add to that repertoire by playing, vividly and authentically, music that never got recorded. His quest has been to have a working band, the contemporary equivalent of the great working bands, sweet and hot, of the Twenties and Thirties, visiting the Forties on occasion. Add to this the constant schlepping (you could look it up) of the equipment for that band; finding a new home after Sofia’s could no longer stay open; finding gigs; keeping this organization running against the odds.  The film wholly captures how difficult Vince’s consuming obsession is to accomplish, and to keep afloat day after day.

Many readers of JAZZ LIVES are fervent Giordanians or perhaps Vinceites, and we crossed paths for years in the darkness of Sofia’s, at the Christmas teas.  I have a long history with this band, going back to a Nighthawks gig in the preceding century, in the eastern part of Long Island, New York, where the night sky darkened, the thunder rumbled louder than Arnie Kinsella’s drum set, lightning flashed, but the band kept playing until the last possible minute before the deluge.  So I’ve experienced Vince’s dedication firsthand.

Here’s the film’s trailer — a delightful encapsulation that doesn’t give away all the surprises:

The narrative follows Vince and the band over two years and more, from Sofia’s to Wolf Trap for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with Garrison Keillor, to Aeolian Hall with Maurice Peress for a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s presentation RHAPSODY IN BLUE — the opening clarinet solo brilliantly played by Dan Block — to the Nighthawks’ search for a new home, which they found at Iguana.  The film brings us up in to the present with the New York Hot Jazz Festival and a band led by Nighthawk Dan Levinson (his “Gotham Sophisticats”) as well as a new generation of musicians inspired by Vince, who has shown that it is possible to play hot music at the highest level with accuracy and spirit.

So much credit for this beautifully-realized film, must, of course, go to its intensely-charged subject, the Nighthawks, and their music. But filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards are expert visionaries.

Even given this vibrant multi-sensory material, formulaic filmmakers could have created something dull.  They might have been satisfied to simply document performance: aim cameras at the Nighthawks and record what they play, as videographers like myself have done, which would have been accurate but limiting as cinema. Or, given the many people willing to talk about Vince and the Nighthawks, Edwards and Davidson could have given us a pageant of New York’s most erudite talking heads, some of whom would have been happy to lecture us.

Instead, by beautifully combining both elements and adding some surprises, they have created a wholly engaging, fast-moving portrait of Vince, the Nighthawks, and their world.  THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST never seems to stand still, and the cameras take us places that even the most devoted fans have never gone.  We get to peek in at Terry Gross’s interview of Vince, to travel downtown for a Nighthawk-flavored session of the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn and a recording session for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

One of the film’s most pleasing aspects is candid, often witty commentary from people who know — the musicians themselves. Edwards and Davidson have fine instincts for the telling anecdote, the revealing insight.  We see and hear Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mike Ponella, Mark Lopeman, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Cynthia Sayer, Jim Fryer, and others, people who have worked with Vince for twenty-five years and more, and their stories are as essential to the film as is the music.

Edwards and Davidson quietly capture telling details, visual and otherwise: the box of doughnuts brought on the bus; the rivets on Vince’s aluminum double bass; Jon-Erik Kellso’s hand gestures — contrapuntal choreography — during SHAKE THAT THING; the voices of the Nighthawks joking about being fired as they head into a band meeting.  The film is admiring without being obsequious, so we also see a short, revealing episode of Vince losing his temper. But the details ever seem excessive.  In this era of fidgety multi-camera over-editing, the film’s charged rhythm — appropriately, a peppy dance tempo — is energetic but never overdone, never cleverly calling attention to itself.

There’s vivid photographic evidence of the spectacle at Sofia’s and the Iguana: the tuxedo-clad Nighthawks not only playing hot but enacting it; the dancers jubilantly embodying what they hear in ecstatic motion.  A documentary about Vince would be empty without the music.  I noted SUGAR FOOT STOMP, THE MOON AND YOU, PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE featuring Catherine Russell, WHITE HEAT, SWEET MAN, Kellso burning up the cosmos on SINGING PRETTY SONGS, THE STAMPEDE, ONE MORE TIME, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON, even BESAME MUCHO at a rainy Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  And the sound recording is just splendid.

One of the secret pleasures of this film, for the true believers, is in spotting friends and colleagues: Matt Musselman, Will Friedwald, Tina Micic, Jim Balantic, John Landry, Molly Ryan, Sam Huang, Chuck Wilson, and a dozen others.  (I know I’ve missed someone, so I apologize in advance.)

In every way, this film is delightful, a deep yet light-hearted portrait of a man and an evocation of a time and place, a casual yet compelling documentary that invites us in.  First Run Features is presenting its New York theatrical premiere at Cinema Village on January 13, 2017, and I believe that Vince and the filmmakers will be present at a number of showings.

May your happiness increase!