Tag Archives: Cleveland Classic Jazz Party

MARTY GROSZ’S “BIXIANA”: “I’M LOOKING OVER A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER” (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2011)

Days gone by, but not days beyond recall — afternoons and evenings in September 2011 at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York — for the late Joe Boughton’s annual jazz weekend.  Because I am feeling more than a little melancholy at the news of the end of the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, I thought I’d share some music from the glory days — to ease the feelings.

Here is one stomping example of the goodness that I was privileged to witness from 2004 to 2017.  It comes from a Marty Grosz set devoted to songs associated with Bix Beiderbecke, performed in styles he wouldn’t necessarily have known.  (Marty’s opening interlude reminds me pleasantly of Alex Hill’s MADAM DYNAMITE, recorded two years after Bix’s death.)

The band includes Marty, guitar and inventive arrangements; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Block and Scott Robinson, reeds; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jim Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums, performing a song I know from the Goldkette Victor — a song of romantic optimism that is perhaps now best known in the banjo-and-let’s-all-sing genre, but it gets up and moves around nicely, not only because of the hot solos, but because of the truly varied and rich arrangement:

“We’ll always have Chautauqua.  And Cleveland,” says some famous film actor.

May your happiness increase!

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THANK YOU, NANCY AND KATHY!

You might not think it from the picture, but two of these women have done the music we love an irreplaceable service, and not just once.

From the left, they are Kathleen Hancock, Abbey Griffith, and Nancy Hancock Griffith: grandmother, granddaughter, and mother.

What have they got to do with JAZZ LIVES, and with jazz?  Joe Boughton, hallowed and irascible, began a series of weekend jazz parties in the Eighties, which I encountered late in their existence, in 2004, as “Jazz at Chautauqua.” I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about these yearly ecstasies of music, friendship, coffee, Scotch, and music.  When Joe’s health began to fail, Nancy gently offered her assistance, both musical and practical — and she was quickly expert and invaluable in all things, from settling disputes about seating or who wouldn’t play with whom, and Chautuqua went on — even improved — after Joe died in 2010.

When the Allegheny Jazz Society moved itself to new quarters in Cleveland, Nancy and her mother, Kathy, took over the running of the Party.  Beautifully, without complaining about the year’s worth of labor such a weekend required.

I won’t go into the economics and logistics of running such a weekend, but even from my semi-outsider’s perspective, the work required had been massive.  And then there’s the financial balancing act.  Thus I was saddened but not entirely startled to read this letter from Nancy and Kathy on the 14th:

Cleveland Classic Jazz Party
All Good Things…

As they say,

— Go out on a high note.

So, after four years trying to make a go of the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, we find we must take this advice. The 2017 Jazz Party was the best one yet, but unfortunately we find we cannot continue. We gave it our best shot.

This was a very hard decision for us, as we both dearly love this genre of music. We had hoped that we would be able to garner much more support in Cleveland for the Jazz Party, but we were never able to get to the break- even point — even with your generous donations. The costs involved in putting together the first-class productions we all appreciate are too high for us to absorb.

We are still trying to think of a way to continue to support traditional jazz in a small way, but for now, we find we need to disband the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party. We will always remember the wonderful friends we made, and the good times (and some of the challenges) we had along the way.

Many thanks to all of your for your support over the years. We hope to see you often at other jazz events and venues.

Warmest regards,

Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock

I could write many things here, but what needs to be said can best be said in music — in a performance from the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, THANKS A MILLION, dedicated to Jon-Erik Kellso, by Duke Heitger, Rossano Sportiello, Scott Robinson, Nicki Parrott, and Ricky Malichi:

Nancy and Kathy gave time, energy, patience, good humor, and money — for years — to make these enterprises flourish.  Without them, my life would have been less gratifying.  Bless them! I send deep gratitude, and I know I am not alone.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S “PRETTY WILD”: A TRIBUTE TO WILD BILL DAVISON (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 16, 2017)

Ruby Braff, who could be ungenerous in his quick assessments of fellow musicians, said of Wild Bill Davison, “He had drama,” and he was right.  Even at the last stages of Bill’s life, when he was working his way through one time-tested solo after another, he was never lukewarm.  And it wasn’t simply a matter of volume or tempo, but an intensity that burned through the most romantic ballad he played.  And he inspired everyone around him.  I saw this in person several times in New York City in the Seventies, and those who saw Bill will agree.

For the 2o17 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, drummer / jazz scholar Hal Smith realized a long-held dream, a Davison tribute band he has called PRETTY WILD, honoring the two sides of Bill’s musical personality and the album he made with strings.  This version of Hal’s band had Randy Reinhart, cornet (becoming Bill without resorting to copying or caricature); Dan Barrett, trombone; Andy Schumm, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Joel Forbes, string bass.  They rocked the ballroom in the best Davison-Condon tradition, playing themselves at all times.

Here’s the set.  Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened.  Have your fire extinguisher accessible.

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, a ballad Bill loved to burn through:

A Commodore classic from the ODJB book, FIDGETY FEET:

BLUE AGAIN, Bill’s ballad feature (inspired by Louis):

A dangerously hot BEALE STREET BLUES (how I wish George Avakian, the guiding genius of so much hot music, could hear this):

Finally, a nearly violent THAT’S A-PLENTY (catch the trading of phrases among Randy, Andy, and Dan):

After Wild Bill and the band had burned through their first number, he would often take the microphone and leer at the audience, a gum-chewing W.C. Fields with a cornet, “I see that you like dinner music.”  Hal and PRETTY WILD make sure that dinner is always hot and ready.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH SWINGS BY: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, DAN BLOCK, DUKE HEITGER, JOEL FORBES (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 14, 2017)

Usually when I set up my video camera to record a band, I try to stay a safe distance from the percussionist — no matter how much I respect him or her — for simple matters of volume.  But at the informal Thursday night sessions at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, I found myself right near the drums, which was a good thing . . .

Hal Smith I can always trust to swing beautifully.  Here, in a piano trio, a clarinet quartet, and a two-horn quintet, he stayed on his brushes — mostly on the snare and hi-hat cymbal, with bass drum commentary — and the swing that resulted was subtle, reassuring, and immense.

It didn’t hurt at all (“it didn’t bother me”) that he was joined by Rossano Sportiello, piano, and Frank Tate, string bass — for the first number, WHO’S SORRY NOW?  Not Connie Francis, but James P. Johnson:

(I knew there was much exhilarating music to come, but after that performance I thought, “Well, I’m full.  Whatever else happens is a bonus.”)

Then, Rossano slowed the tempo down, and they began JADA.  A man walked in front of the camera at around twenty seconds, and ordinarily I find such walk-throughs irritating, but not when the man is my hero Dan Block, moving in to play with the irresistible trio:

To quote Alex Hill, AIN’T IT NICE?

And as a final bit of pleasure in this add-a-part informal set, Joel Forbes took over for Frank at the bass and Duke Heitger joined in for JUST YOU, JUST ME:

Did you ask me why I travel to the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, or why I seek out gigs where these musicians play?  I think these videos will answer the [musical] question.  I plan to offer more videos from this weekend, as will Laura Wyman of Wyman Video, who has some delights for us as well.

May your happiness increase!

“HAVIN’ MYSELF A TIME”: PETRA VAN NUIS, ANDY SCHUMM, DAN BARRETT, ANDY BROWN, SCOTT ROBINSON, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 16, 2017)

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

My title comes from a wonderful, lesser-known song by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, from a minor Paramount Pictures comedy, TROPICAL HOLIDAY — with Ray Milland, Dorothy Lamour, Martha Raye (possibly playing a matador) and Bob Burns.

We know the song because it was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1938.

And it was performed anew by Petra van Nuis and Friends at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.

Petra had herself a time with some of the best players I know: Ricky Malichi, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, reeds; Noah Won, piano.

Petra, if you are new to her or her work, can also be seen having a wonderful swinging time at Cleveland here on Sunday morning with an entirely different cast of luminaries: John Di Martino, Nicki Parrott, and Hal Smith.

Rather like our swing ideal Rebecca Kilgore, Petra doesn’t choose to drown herself in melancholy on the bandstand: even when she sings EVENIN’, the brisk tempo reminds us that the grim lyrics are only half the story.  Her outlook is optimistic, as you will see and hear in these four wonderful performances.

She began with an upbeat song, almost a century old, SAVE YOUR SORROW:

After that encouraging beginning, Petra moved to “an old Billie Holiday song,” but you’ll notice she doesn’t attempt to be the Lady — no meow, no rasp:

Another song identified with Billie and Basie (built on DIGA DIGA DOO, I now know by hearsay), SWING, BROTHER, SWING — also a policy statement from the van Nuis camp:

And finally, a real pleasure.  Petra is tall and svelte, but here she extends an affectionate embrace to those who, like me, ruefully are neither.  It’s Fats’ SQUEEZE ME, with the shade of Mildred Bailey in the wings, grinning:

It is so dreadfully unpopular these days to suggest that jazz of any kind is “happy music”; to some it conjures up nightmarish visions of striped jackets and straw boaters.  But Petra and a first-class band create joy.

And here is her website, where you can see other videos, learn all about her and the Recession Seven, and find out where she’ll be appearing next.

May your happiness increase!

BOTH “FINE” AND “DANDY”: PETRA VAN NUIS, JOHN DI MARTINO, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (September 17, 2017)

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

One of the many pleasures of the recent Cleveland Classic Jazz Party was the opportunity to hear the wonderful singer Petra van Nuis, someone who has been pleasing Chicago audiences for the past decade and more.  She can sing is the simplest way to put it.  Although she has a fine sense of humor — catch her introductions to songs in this set — it bubbles out of her rather than being a rehearsed routine.  She has her own sound and phrasing — conversational, occasionally surprising, but it always honors the lyrics and comes out of her deep respect for words as well as melodies.  She improvises but does not obliterate the composers’ intent, and I came away from this quietly glowing set feeling that I had heard the songs in emotionally satisfying ways.  This delicious interlude is the result of Petra’s sensibility: her nice mix of delicate yet intense feeling and buoyant swing.  I could delineate the pleasures of each chorus she sings, but I’d rather leave those sweet surprises to you as you watch and listen.

Petra’s instrumental colleagues have the same spirit: a sweet focused attentiveness that delights in small details without losing sight of the songs themselves.  Nicki and Hal are long-time friends, people I admire for many reasons: their generous spirits, their melodic inventiveness.  John Di Martino was new to me, and he’s a wonder: his beautiful touch, his wise harmonies, and his willingness to put himself in the service of the music: he is secure enough in his self to do just those things that make his colleagues shine so brightly.  It’s only after you get accustomed to his selfless creativity that you realize just how wonderful his playing is.

If it seems as if I admire this group and the music they make, that impression would be correct.  Here, “without further ado,” is a glorious Sunday-afternoon interlude.  And, as Hal said to me afterwards, “You could see a lot of smiles and laughs, and none of them were forced!”  I’m still grinning.

DAY IN, DAY OUT:

On MY OLD FLAME, hear how Petra delicately yet meaningfully offers the first two phrases — the mark of very great exposition of lyrics and melody:

MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY has lent itself (in lesser hands) to caricature, but not here:

Let us honor Irving Berlin once again.  How beautiful I GOT LOST IN HIS ARMS is — its apparently plain melody allied to simple words, the whole being so moving when Petra explores it:

Both FINE AND DANDY here!  And blessings on the rhythm team for a fine 1944 Johnny Guarnieri groove to start:

I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:

After this set, we all felt just as fortunate.  And grateful.

May your happiness increase!

PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN LIVE AT THE JAZZ SHOWCASE (July 31, 2017)

Make yourself comfortable.

Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, Eric Schneider

What follows is rare and worth celebration.  On the face of it, it might seem unremarkable: a young singer leading a jazz septet through seven songs, several of them venerable but sounding fresh.  However, this performance by Petra van Nuis — leading “Petra’s Recession Seven” at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase on July 31, 2017 — is delightful simply because it is traditional without being dusty, original without being abrasive, simultaneously expert and free-floating.

The smiles on everyone’s face tell you that they know Music is being made.  Petra and her Seven exude the joyous confidence of people who know how to get inside the music in genuine ways.

The Seven is (are?) Andy Brown, guitar; Bob Ojeda, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Eric Schneider, reeds; Dan DeLorenzo, string bass; Bob Rummage, drums.  Before you venture into the delightful forty-eight minutes and twenty-four seconds of this video (accuracy is always desirable), the songs Petra and her band have chosen say a great deal about a deep immersion in music that has feeling, intelligence, and buoyancy — songs that deserve to be heard but are neither esoteric nor “chestnuts” too long in the fire.

Since women are still paid a serious percentage less than men, I applaud Petra’s taking on the Tiny Grimes – Charlie Parker opus, ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE, for her own, making it both straightforward and witty.  I don’t know if there’s a causal link to Morton’s SWEET SUBSTITUTE, which portrays the ideally devoted male partner: deciphering is up to you.  A jubilant EVERYBODY LOVES ME BABY is an even more solid affirmation, with Petra and the band essaying this Twenties romp with no condescension, no faux-Prohibition gestures.  IF YOU WERE MINE is just so tender (what a fine song it is!) but Petra’s approach is her own, deeply sinking into the lyrics without a hint of “homage” to Lady Day.  From Lady Day to O’Day — more pleasure in the trip UPTOWN.  SUGAR used to be a true standard, performed by everyone from Louis to Lee Wiley, but it’s now slightly neglected, a situation that I hope will soon be remedied. And an absolute highlight for me, Harry White’s EVENIN’ — again, a song that rewards us in many ways.  (And what a set closer!)

I haven’t said much about Petra’s singing: its virtues are evident from the first phrase: an irresistible swing, clear diction that isn’t obtrusively “correct,” a willingness to descend into the song rather than to make the song a showpiece for her, phrasing that sounds conversational but is full of small sweet improvisatory surprises, and a joyous confidence.  Like Petra, the Recession Seven never falters but it never sounds over-rehearsed and reheated.  The gratifying results come from devotion and earnest study, with musicians so expert that they thrive on risks and are happily loose.

Petra and Andy also have a new duet CD, LYRICAL LESSONS, which is an intimate, warm delight.

And you can click here to hear samples from it.

I will see Petra and Andy at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — September 14-18 — another reason to be there!  But if you can’t, you can hear and see them in all their unashamed glory on disc, on video, and in person.

May your happiness increase!