Tag Archives: Chuck Wilson

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

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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!

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ECUMENICAL PLEASURES: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (August 14, 2016) PART ONE: TERRY WALDO, CHUCK WILSON, JIM FRYER, JAY LEONHART, JAY LEPLEY

In my adolescence, I read every jazz book on the shelves of the very well-stocked suburban public library.  I didn’t understand everything I read (when one reads Andre Hodeir’s harsh analysis of, say, Dickie Wells’ later style without having the musical examples at hand, it is an oddly unbalanced experience) but I absorbed as much as I could, from Rudi Blesh to Barry Ulanov and beyond.

I remember clearly that some of the history-of-jazz books (each with its own ideological slant) used diagrams, in approved textbook fashion, for readers who needed an easy visual guide.  Often, the diagram was a flow chart —

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Sometimes the charts were location-based: New Orleans branched out into Chicago, New York City, Kansas City (as if the authors were tracing the path of an epidemic).  More often, they depicted “schools” and “styles”: Ragtime, New Orleans, Dixieland, Chicago jazz, Early Big Bands, Stride Piano, The Swing Era, Fifty-Second Street, Bebop, Modern . . .

Sectarian art criticism, if you will.  You had different dishes for New Orleans and Modern; you didn’t eat Dixieland on Fridays.  And you had to wait two hours before going in the water. It also supported mythic constructs: the earliest jazz styles were the Truth and everything else was degenerate art, or the notion that every new development was an improvement on its primitive ancestor.

The critics and journalists loved these fantasies; the musicians paid little attention.  Although you wouldn’t find Wingy Manone playing ANTHROPOLOGY, such artificial boundaries didn’t bother George Barnes, Joe Wilder, or Milt Hinton (the latter eminence having recorded with Tiny Parham, Eddie South, Clifford Brown, and Branford Marsalis).

Happily, the musicians are able to assemble — in the most friendly ways — wherever there is a paying gig.  No one has to wear a t-shirt embossed with his or her allegiance and stylistic categorization.  Such a gathering took place on Sunday, August 14, 2016, in the basement of 75 Christopher Street, New York City — known in the guidebooks as FAT CAT, although there are many variants on that title.

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The leader and organizer of this ecumenical frolic was Terry Waldo, pianist, ragtime scholar, vocalist, and composer.  For this session, his Gotham City Band was Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Jim Fryer (the Secret Marvel), trombone and vocal; Jay Leonhart, string bass and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums.

And here are four examples of the good feeling these musicians generated so easily.

DIGA DIGA DOO:

MEMORIES OF YOU (starting with Terry’s elaborate homage to its composer, Eubie Blake):

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (with a funny, theatrical vocal by Terry):

OLD FASHIONED LOVE (sung by the romantic Jim Fryer):

Once again, this post is dedicated to the inquiring scholar from Bahia, who sat to my left and brightened the room.

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

SECRET STROLLERS: CORIN STIGGALL, CAROL MORGAN, CHUCK WILSON (Milano’s, Nov. 4, 2014)

Some jazz gigs are publicized energetically: you read about them on Facebook; you get emails and reminders; a paper brochure arrives in your mailbox. Other rewarding musical experiences go almost unnoticed — as if spies had gathered, swinging and playing melodies in whispers.

One such gig features bassist Corin Stiggall’s little band, STIGGALL & ASSOCIATES, that features Corin, the wonderful trumpeter Carol Morgan, and the always surprising Chuck Wilson on alto.  Guests have come by, too. They have been gathering at a little New York City bar, Milano’s (51 East Houston Street, about ninety seconds’ walk from the F train Broadway-Lafayette stop) on Tuesdays from 1 to 3 PM, and Thursdays from 2-4.

Weekday gigs at that hour are rare.  Even though the New York Times has told us that brunch is for the wrong people, jazz brunch gigs proliferate, often featuring wonderful singers.  But a weekday afternoon instrumental improvising gig?  How marvelous, how unusual.

And the music lived up to both those adjectives.

Corin is one of the city’s fine (and under-utilized) string bassists, who can keep time but does so much more — creating inventive castles of sound without ever treating his instrument like a guitar that has had espresso poured into its F-hole. A three-chorus solo from him is both logical and full of surprises, and he holds an audience’s interest (no rise in chatter) because of his melodic eloquence.

Carol is a wonder — melding all kinds of late-swing and contemporary influences while sounding exactly like herself.  She constructed phrases that made perfect sense (and were sometimes subtle musical jests) that started and ended in surprising places; her tone was golden without being sweet, her dynamics were admirable, and she continued to startle but in the best reassuring ways.

I’ve known Chuck the longest, and he is a sustaining pleasure, his tone his own — lemony but never acrid, his phrases following natural rhythms rather than strict four-bar divisions. He knows and admires the great alto Forerunner (that Avian deity) but doesn’t copy him; he is fleet but never glib.

What does a trio of string bass, trumpet, and alto saxophone sound like?

I didn’t miss the makings of a traditional quintet: piano and drums. Corin provided all the melody and harmonic basis needed, so the trio sounded like a small orchestra rather than a band with some of its members missing in action. Chuck and Carol hummed behind one another and behind Corin; they chatted happily, swapping melody and harmony; their solos never seemed a moment too long.

“Strolling,” as I understand it, was a term invented in the Forties (did Roy Eldridge have something to do with it?) where a horn soloist would work with a smaller portion of the three-or-four piece rhythm section.  Most often, the pianist would take a rest, often the drummer as well.  I heard it most often in the Seventies when I followed Ruby Braff, who — given a quartet of himself with traditional rhythm — would play duets in turn with piano, bass (most often) and drums, to vary the presentation, to get away from the familiar.

Without offending the many superb pianists and drummers I know, I will say that it was joyous today to hear horn / string bass duets and trios for an afternoon — music with translucent clarity, deliciously unadorned.  I could list the small groups I thought of, but why be historical? — this trio was a 2014 treat for the ears, with melodic improvisation the basis for their and our pleasure.

Although the musicians here know the creative improvised music offered in 1959 by Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry (they could have performed LONELY WOMAN splendidly) they stuck to more recognizable themes on which to improvise.  The first set began with a pair of show tunes, I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE and THE BEST THING FOR YOU (WOULD BE ME), then moved south for the theme from BLACK ORPHEUS, took a saunter into Tadd Dameron’s line on ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE from a Fats Navarro date, JAHBERO, and concluded with ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  (During SUNNY SIDE, a woman at the bar burst into song — but Milano is a hip bar and she was on key, in tune, and knew the words.  Brava, Madame, wherever you are!)

The second set started with Bud Powell’s SHE (a tune, I was told, that Barry Harris favors), moved into I’LL REMEMBER APRIL — then the esteemed bassist Murray Wall sat in, admiring the sound of Corin’s bass — for IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, and the set concluded with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN that began with a Latin-rhythm chorus of the Navarro-Don Lanphere line on those chords, called STOP.

STOP was the last thing anyone wanted from this band, and I hope they don’t. Ever.

At this point, some of you may be looking eagerly for videos.  Circumstances got in the way — but I and the group are eager to present some music to you in the future.  For the moment, all I can do is urge you to break out of your weekday routine and go to Milano’s, a long narrow room that reminds me happily of jazz bars some decades back — happy, attentive customers and a pleasant staff.  A variety of beverages await; the atmosphere is happily informal; there is a plastic take-out container (it might have held a quart of wonton soup or coleslaw once) that acts as a tip jar.

I will return to Milano’s and hope you can be there also.  Stroll on by.

May your happiness increase!

THREE BY FIVE: THE ALDEN-BARRETT QUINTET SWINGS OUT (Sept. 21, 2013)

Here is one of the finest small jazz groups — swinging, precise, and free — that we’ll ever hear, brought together for one of its annual reunions.  This one took place on September 21, 2013 at Jazz at Chautauqua (now reborn as the Allegheny Jazz Party) and the participants were Howard Alden, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone; Frank Tate, string bass — three of the original members — with Dan Block, reeds, and Pete Siers, drums (taking the place of Chuck Wilson and Jackie Williams).

A Buck Clayton blues (his composition and arrangement), CHOCOLATE SHAKE:

Hoagy’s WASHBOARD BLUES:

FASCINATIN’ RHYTHM:

What a group!  And I am sure they will perform again at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party.

May your happiness increase!

BRYAN SHAW’S BLUEBIRD BRINGS HAPPINESS

I first wrote a few lines about Bryan Shaw’s most recent CD, THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS (Arbors Records) here, last year, because its music made a small sweet story possible.  For those who have been listening to jazz recordings, I will say only that this CD has the savor of an early-Fifties Vanguard session, and that I have returned to it often with increased pleasure.

BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS

I first heard Bryan on CD more than a decade ago, on his first Arbors release, NIGHT OWL.  At the time, he was only a name to me — but the CD found him among others whose work I knew and valued: Dan Barrett, the late Brian Ogilvie, Scott Robinson, Chuck Wilson, Dave Frishberg, Jeff Hamilton, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joel Forbes, Rebecca Kilgore, David Stone, Eddie Erickson.  I was impressed with the playing and singing of those people, but Bryan struck me as a true find — a trumpet player with a singing lyricism, deep swing, real imagination . . . and although you could play the game that Barbara Lea called “Sounding Like,” that favorite pastime of critics and liner-note writers, Bryan sounded most like himself.

I had the opportunity to meet and hear Bryan in March 2010, and found all the virtues he had displayed on NIGHT OWL just as vivid in person.  And, at one of our meetings, I said, “When are you going to make another CD?”  Eventually, he told me about THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS . . . and now I can share it with you.

This CD features Bryan, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Ehud Asherie, piano; John Dominguez, string bass; Brad Roth, guitar / banjo; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  And the songs are in themselves a telling guide to the breadth of Bryan’s musical imagination — reaching back to Clarence Williams and forward into the future with equal ease: LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / ALL MY LIFE / WANG WANG BLUES / VIGNETTE / PAPA DE DA DA / SONG OF DREAMS / I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO / OLD MAN BOWERS / BLOOMIN’ BLUES / I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS / ELLIE / BLUE ROOM / CHLOE / STRANGE BLUES / THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS.  Four of these songs — ELLIE, SONG OF DREAMS, OLD MAN BOWERS, and BLOOMIN’ BLUES — are flavorful originals by Brad Roth: each of them with a distinctive character, so much more than lines superimposed on familiar chord changes.  And the tidy, ingenious arrangements are by Dan Barrett, master of written charts and impromptu riffs and backgrounds.

If you wanted a compact living definition of what Stanley Dance called “Mainstream” in the twenty-first century, this CD would be a vivid multi-dimensional example.

The instrumental performances themselves are marvelous: Bryan’s trumpet, glowing or growling, seems to move from one beautiful phrase to the next without strain — no cliches here — and his solos have their own architectural sense, which translates into performances with shape, starting simply and rising to emotional peaks.  To me, Dan Barrett has been a model of the way to play trombone since I first heard him about a quarter-century ago. Evan Arntzen shines on clarinet and saxophone, finding just the right lines to enhance an ensemble and creating soaring solos.  And the rhythm section is all anyone could want: our splendid friend Ehud Asherie, who can merge Fats or the Lion, sauntering down the street (from one hot-dog stand to the next) with his own version of witty “modernist” swing.  Brad Roth — whether on banjo, sweet rhythm guitar, or single-string electric, adds so much to the ensemble, as do John Dominguez (supple and solid) and the ever-surprising Jeff Hamilton.

The overall effect varies from selection to selection, but I heard evocations of a Johnny Hodges small group, a live Basie performance circa 1940; a Buck Clayton Jam Session; the 1940 Ellington band, and more — and the performances benefit so much from what Ruby Braff used to do on the stand: to avoid monotony, he would subdivide a quartet into even smaller bands, playing duets and trios within it. BLUE ROOM offers us a trumpet-banjo verse; I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO does the same but with trumpet and piano.

Even though there are a few mood pieces, this is a reassuringly optimistic CD, from the absolutely delicious swing of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, ALL MY LIFE, BLUE ROOM . . . to the soaring (nearly operatic) assertion of the title song. Bryan believes in that BLUEBIRD, and the CD will bring happiness to anyone able to listen — and listen — to it in the right spirit. You can hear brief excerpts (each slightly less than thirty seconds) here and here, but I predict those tiny tastes will serve only to whet your appetite for the whole experience.

Some words from Bryan about the whole delicious enterprise:

This album was recorded by me, Bryan Shaw, at my studio in Costa Mesa, California, over 2 days in early November 2010. No overdubs. I met with Brad and John several time to brainstorm tunes, but no rehearsals. Dan had told me that he didn’t have time for any arrangements, then he showed up at the session with a key drive full of new charts, having stayed up all night for several days. We would record the charts as they came out of the printer.

I picked the songs with my heart, not my head.

The odd cover, initially a pencil sketch drawn by my daughter, shows a cozy old fashioned cottage with a garden and an old car. But when you open it up, you realize that there is a futuristic hovering BLUE spacecar in front. In the background is a big city of the future — and it may not even be earth.

Why?

I enjoy old jazz, gardening, old values, and more.  But I have my hovering space car to be able to function in the modern world. In my real life, I have fruit trees, extensive gardens, chickens, I raise fish in aquaponics. My roof is covered in solar panels and I generate all my own electricity. My hovering space car is my minivan that will drop me off at the airport for the next festival or cruise.

My concept on this album was a response to the world as I see it today. I believe that people need to turn off the TV and follow their hearts. I decided to follow mine long ago. I wanted to make music, even though playing a musical instrument is impossible. If you give any adult a musical instrument for the first time, they can’t play it. To become a musician you have to do the impossible — every day, over and over, till some day you can do it in public.

This CD is my attempt to put some basic principles of mine into music.  TIME: “When” is more important than “What.”  TONE: Be true to the voice you have. I don’t have a singing voice so I sing through the trumpet.  ENSEMBLE: A good jazz ensemble is a spontaneous conversation of seven players, each with an story to tell. You can tell that we actually were listening to each other and responding to the conversation. DYNAMICS: A jazz band with dynamics! We did bring it down to simmer at times. HARMONY: I’m tired of jazz players making everything sound ugly. I’m tired of chord changes, I wanted chord progressions. MELODY: Another forgotten concept. I lose interest in jazz when the melody becomes “the head” and the ensemble becomes “playing the head” (in a bad unison). RHYTHM: I’ve been fortunate to play a fair amount of swing dances and I wanted this CD to be something people could dance to. Rhythm is really the foundation of jazz and it provides the when to the what. BLEND: Fit in, support, harmonize, another lost concept in jazz.

Bryan’s THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS exemplifies his beliefs in the most melodic, swinging ways possible.

I’ve learned that wishes have power. What I wish for is that people buy this Hot Shots CD and find it as life-enhancing as I have. And then these same people make it known that they want to see this band in action.  It could happen, you know.

May your happiness increase!

IN ITS GLORY: THE ALDEN-BARRETT QUINTET at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 22, 2012)

Howard Alden, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone, cornet, arrangements, of course.  A working band is one of the great glories of jazz.  Although some prize the ideal of the jam session, where disparate musicians come together, elate and startle us, a group of players who have stood side by side for a period of time might create something more lasting.  Think of Soprano Summit, of Davern and Wellstood, of the Ruby Braff trios and quartets, the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet.  If you would like historical precedent, there’s the rapport that Bird and Diz developed or the Armstrong All-Stars.

The ABQ was nurtured by the friendship of its two California pals, then mentored even more by the aging but still very creative Buck Clayton.  It held together as a working (and recording) band for less time than it should have, but one of the delights of Jazz at Chautauqua was the ABQ reunions that its late founder Joe Boughton insisted on and made possible.  The charter members of the ABQ are Chuck Wilson, clarinet / alto; Frank Tate, string bass; Jackie Williams, drums — and in my delicious immersions at Jazz at Chautauqua beginning in 2004, I believe I saw an ABQ that was authentic in all but Jackie.  And it always swung — a neat mixture of stripped-down Ellington colors, Kirby-with-guts classicism, a Basie rock, a Kansas City Six swagger.

Here, from the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua, are two lengthy outings for this glorious band — Howard, Dan, Dan Block on alto and tenor, Frank Tate, Pete Siers.  The first is a Buck Clayton composition and arrangement: Buck had very good times in France, so IN A PARISIAN MOOD is groovy, hardly gloomy:

Then, a beautifully realized nod to Buck’s colleague Lester with LADY BE GOOD, explained carefully by Professor Barrett:

I dream of a world where working bands of this sleek swing persuasion could work as themselves.  We’re so fortunate that the ABQ can reassemble . . . too bad it seems to be only once a year.

May your happiness increase. 

A NIGHT FOR JOE MURANYI

I took a few inutes out of my absorption in the Sacramento Music Festival (hooray!) to write this.  Tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, I will be at St. Peter’s Church on East 54th Street in New York City . . . to honor and praise our friend Joe Muranyi.  (Save two seats down front — the Beloved might be there too!)

Joe was greatly loved by several generations of musicians and jazz scholars for his playing, his wit, his generosity of spirit.  As Louis had learned so much from Joe Oliver, Joe Muranyi became this century’s own “Papa Joe” to many.  So I encourage you to do homage to the man and his sounds.

But there’s more.  Many people will speak about Joe, but there will be music.  Appropriately!  Among the players: David Ostwald, Mike Burgevin, Marty Grosz, Chuck Folds, Terry Waldo, Scott Robinson, Chuck Wilson, Marty Napoleon, Sal Mosca, maybe a few more. Ricky Riccardi will talk about his friendship with Joe and show two videos of Louis and Joe together.  I expect Michael Cogswell will have his own heartfelt memories of Joe.

I hope to see you there.

May your happiness increase.