Tag Archives: Cole Porter

MUSIC FOR FEBRUARY FOURTEENTH! –YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN PERFORM LOVE SONGS FOR US

This post, Janus-like, looks forward and backward.

Forward?  I want to alert you to a Valentine’s Day love-offering that’s special, a way to be bathed in the sounds of love.  Yaala Ballin, voice, and Michael Kanan, piano, will present songs of love on February 14, 7-9 PM, at St. John’s in the Village (Eleventh Street) with tickets a very loving $10.

It’s a gently interactive event as well.  No, not a sing-along.  But when ticket-buyers enter, they will be handed a list of perhaps fifty songs, classic ones, given a slip of paper and asked to mark down the titles or numbers of two songs they would like to hear.  And these little papers, selected at random, will be the music performed that evening.  I’ve seen this in action (more about that below) and it’s fun.  Details — if you need more — are here, and you can buy tickets through Eventbrite or take your chances that this won’t be sold out (which would be unromantic for you and your Ideal, wouldn’t it?).

Backward?  Yaala and Michael have already performed “the Great American Songbook, Requested,” at St. John’s in the Village last October, and I captured their performances here.  In December, they took their little show — sweet and impish — to Mezzrow, and here  are some delights from that evening.  I have left in Yaala’s inspired introductions because they are so very charming.

Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan at Mezzrow, Dec.11, 2019, by Naama Gheber.

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

MANHATTAN:

BUT NOT FOR ME:

SO IN LOVE:

CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING (one of my requests that night):

BLUE SKIES:

I should point out that although both Yaala and Michael treat their material tenderly, they are improvisers, so I could not get tired of their explorations of these deep songs.  I will follow them “while breath lasts,” as a friend used to say.

Here are more auditory blossoms from Mezzrow.  Listen and be glad, and make plans for Valentine’s Day . . . in the name of love.  And if you don’t have a partner for that evening, buy a ticket as an act of self-love, an activity that many people scant themselves in.  And when I was at St. John’s for the October concert, I noticed some elegantly-dressed people by themselves . . . so who knows what could happen?  Be brave and join us.

May your happiness increase!

“LOVE SAID ‘HELLO!'”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN at MEZZROW (December 11, 2019)

Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan at Mezzrow, by Naama Gheber.

My friends and musical heroes, Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan, returned to Mezzrow on December 11, 2019, for another evening of glorious songs, selected by the audience, as Yaala explains in the second video.  They call this “show of surprises” “The Great American Songbook, Requested,” and it is a consistent offering of joys.

But first, the Gershwins’ LOVE WALKED IN:

and for those new to Yaala and Michael’s playful plan-and-not-plan for their evening, Yaala explains it all while Michael quietly explores I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

THE MAN I LOVE has been performed so often that when someone launches into it I feel a little world-weary, “Oh, not that again.”  But I find this version completely compelling and emotionally plausible.  It is their teamwork, Michael’s palette of colors and textures, Yaala’s playful but deep speech-cadences.  Their performance has emotional ardor but is never “dramatic” for the sake of drama:

On with the dance, the dance of affection shared– Berlin’s CHEEK TO CHEEK, so beautifully begun and continued.  But first, Yaala tells a tale:

STAIRWAY TO THE STARS, Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli, full of hope.  Please savor Michael’s solo chorus, his light and shadows:

The Gershwins’ OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY:

and Ellington’s I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART:

This is only the first part of a completely satisfying evening — with fourteen more songs delicately and ardently reinvented for us.  If you missed this December tasting menu, don’t despair: Yaala and Michael will be performing again for Valentine’s Day at St. John’s in the Village on Eleventh Street: details to come.

May your happiness increase!

MORE FROM RICKY ALEXANDER AND HIS “STRIKE UP THE BAND” BAND at CAFE BOHEMIA: CHRIS GELB, DANIEL DUKE, ADAM MOEZINIA (November 22, 2019)

Swing court 2019 is now in session.  All rise!

Exhibit A:

Ricky Alexander and Adam Moezinia at Cafe Bohemia, by Michael Steinman

Exhibit B:

Exhibits C: – F

Ricky Alexander made a wonderful debut CD, STRIKE UP THE BAND, which I’ve reviewed here.  And then he brought a swinging quartet to Cafe Bohemia (Chris Gelb, drums; Adam Moezinia, guitar; Daniel Duke, string bass) on November 22, 2019 — exhibits here, and here.

But it would be imprudent — even selfish — to keep all the music the quartet made to myself, so here are five more performances to brighten the skies, wherever you find yourself.

PERDIDO:

Ricky’s own I KNEW I LOVED YOU:

CHICAGO:

The rueful and little-known Cole Porter gem AFTER YOU, WHO?:

Frank Loesser’s THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU:

Of course there will be more from Ricky and this delightful quartet, and there will be more from sessions at Cafe Bohemia.  And you might want to investigate the new CD (or “vinyl”)here.  Yes, the holidays are over, but one can always give gifts.

May your happiness increase!

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC” (Part Two): YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Yes, these two magicians: Yaala Ballin, singing; Michael Kanan, playing.

About four weeks ago, they did their subtle transformations here:

They made music blossom.  The sign is perfectly apt.

Never let it be said that JAZZ LIVES omits any relevant detail:

And here‘s the first part, the songs being I COULD WRITE A BOOK; SO IN LOVE; EASY TO LOVE; THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT; BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED; HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?

And if that weren’t enough, here is the second part.

S’WONDERFUL:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

I LOVE PARIS:

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

MANHATTAN:

I’LL BE AROUND:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

It was delightful to be there, which my videos may not convey wholly.  But if you missed it, and I am sure some New York readers did, be glad: Michael and Yaala will be doing another box-of-surprises program at Mezzrow on December 11 of this year.  Details here.

Yaala told us, during the concert, that she, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are recording a CD devoted to her near-namesake, Israel Baline, whom we know as Irving Berlin.  That will be a treat — but do come out for the music as it is performed in real time, in front of people who appreciate it.

May your happiness increase!

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Last Saturday, I was on my way along West 11th Street in Greenwich Village to the church above for a musical event that turned out to be more memorable than I could have imagined.  Ambling along, I had my video equipment; the musicians are friends of mine as well as heroes, and I was imagining the blogpost that might come of it.  Then I saw this banner from another church and the top two phrases struck me as completely apropos to the event to come — and they are, in the ideal world, the same thing:

Back to St. John’s for the event poster, which depicts Yaala Ballin:

“The Great American Songbook, Requested” presented Yaala Ballin, vocal, and Michael Kanan, piano, in a duo-recital drawing on Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and Alec Wilder.

The songs were treated lovingly, but as old friends — which is to say that both Yaala and Michael have a reverence for their melodies and harmonies as printed on the contemporaneous sheet music, and a depth of knowledge about the best performances, but that they felt free to improvise, to express their own personalities without obscuring the music.

“Requested” was a sly and endearingly playful idea.  When we entered the church, we were given a list of songs, more than forty, organized by composer, and asked to write down two on a small slip of paper — a favorite first, another second — that we wanted to hear.  It gave the afternoon the slight flavor of a children’s party (or the office grab bag, without the terrors that can inspire).  The thirteen selections Yaala and Michael performed were drawn at random from a basket that Yaala — for that brief time, the Red Riding Hood of the West Village — had brought with her.  Of course, they knew the songs on the list, but it was a small adventure, the very opposite of a tightly-planned program.  And it worked sweetly, as you will see and hear.

I COULD WRITE A BOOK (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Pal Joey):

SO IN LOVE (Cole Porter, Kiss Me Kate):

EASY TO LOVE (Porter, Born to Dance):

THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT (Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Swing Time):

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED (Rodgers and Hart, Pal Joey):

HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (Irving Berlin):

I don’t think this playful, light-hearted but emotional musical partnership displayed this afternoon, could have been better.  I could go on about Michael’s deeply musical approach to the piano, and the chances Yaala takes and how they pay off, but the evidence is all here.  And seven more performances will be shared soon.

Yaala and Michael will be performing another version of this concert at Mezzrow on December 11.  And (as if that would not be enough), Yaala, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are going in to the studio to record a CD of Israel Baline’s music (he wrote the preceding song and a few others).

May your happiness increase!

LIGHT-HEARTED MELODIC DANCES: ALEX LEVIN TRIO, “A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE” (ALEX LEVIN, PHIL ROWAN, BEN CLINESS)

I gravitate towards music that welcomes me in.  I approve of melodies.  I even love them, and I love those that I remember.  There!  I’ve said it.

And the pianist Alex Levin has the same affectionate relations with song: he’s not a prisoner of the written notes, but he respects what the composer has created, and his own original compositions have the gamboling pleasure of the great songs that some of us still hum in the car or in the grocery-store line.

I first heard (and heard of) Alex almost a decade ago, when he released his first CD, which I liked a great deal: you can read my review here.

And I like Alex’s new CD even more.

Here’s what I wrote, offhandedly, after hearing only two or three tracks through my computer’s speakers.

Some ninety years ago, jazz began to position itself as the delinquent of music.  In opposition to all those sweet bands with violins, playing the melody in harmony, tied to the notes in front of them, jazz took a puff on its Marlboro, abruptly stood up from its seat (frightening the kittens) and made unpredictable sounds.  That was HOT, a spiritual barrage against the apparent dullness of SWEET.  And jazz listeners followed the narrow often unmarked ideological path: think of all those 78s whose grooves remain black, shiny, unplayed except for the eight bars of Bix or Purvis or Jack.  Sweet was for Aunt Martha; hot was for rebellious enlightened  outsiders.  It created a pervasive false dichotomy: if you could hear the melody, was it true improvisation? 

And — to oversimplify (because Bird and Trane could play melodically with great art) jazz aimed at abstraction, sharp edges and magical paths into the labyrinth.  Thus, so many listeners tell themselves and others that they don’t understand jazz, as if  it became a subject one had to study for to pass the final.

But the great players and singers knew and still know that melody is at the heart of any musical expression, and that “sweetness” was, in itself, a goal rather than a trap.  Think of Lester Young, “I don’t like a whole lot of noise — trumpets and trombones…I’m looking for something soft. It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig?”

It is in this spirit of an apparent conservatism that becomes radical that I commend to you Alex Levin’s new trio CD, A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, where the trio does more than glue themselves to the written notes, but they treat melodies with love and respect . . . the result being quietly affecting swing playing of the highest order.  Some might not be able to hear the lights and shadows, preferring instead the sounds of the piano dropped to the street below, but that would be their loss.

Because readers are sometimes hurried, you can hear samples, download the music, or purchase a CD here.  And I caution the unwary listener to not jump to conclusions: “It sounds too easy,” for as that great master of contemporary jazz, Ovid, was fond of saying, ars est celare artem [he recorded it for Clef], which Monk transposed into “Simple ain’t easy.”

Now back to our regularly scheduled basket of prose.

I left off there, because Life (the hussy) interfered, with her racket of parking tickets, laundry, dinner, recycling, and more — make your own list.  But I came back and listened to the CD in a sitting, my enthusiasm just as strong.

Some facts.  Alex, who has a light touch on a well-recorded piano, is accompanied — in the truest sense of the word — by the fine string bassist Phil Rowan and drummer Ben Cliness.  And they have the ease, intuitive comfort, and wit one would expect from a working band: they catch each other’s signals without having to be told to turn the page.  incidentally, I’ve seen a review of this CD calling it “modern” and “clever.”  I can’t argue with those terms, but to me it seems “heartfelt” and “playful,” which qualities are audible.

Alex has divided the repertoire on this disc between standards that, for the most part, got their greatest exposure in the Fifties: the title track (which, for those of us over fifty, has a yearning nostalgia — rather like THE THINGS WE DID LAST SUMMER — even though my adolescence came later), SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP, THE BEST THING FOR YOU (Would Be Me), WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? and I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR — which, for the purists in the audience, is a much older composition, but I would guess most memorably allied with jazz because of Sonny Rollins (although Annie Ross, Marian McPartland, and others returned to it).

And of course one could say, “There are a million piano trio recordings that draw on Rodgers, Berlin, Porter, and Kern,” but the other five tracks — all Levin originals — SWEETS, THE JETSETTERS, BLUES FOR WYNTON K., AT LEAST WE’RE TOGETHER, STROLLING THROUGH YONKERS — are strong jazz compositions on their own, with one foot delicately poised in the past, Alex not trying to hide that his heart belongs to 1956 Prestige, but moving around happily in this century.  His songs ARE songs rather than lines over slightly modified chord progressions; they have the breath of life rather than the aroma of the Xerox machine.

Convinced?  It’s music that befriends the listener, which is sometimes rare.  Hear for yourself here, and then download or purchase, as the spirit moves you.

May your happiness increase!

WELCOMING SOUNDS: “STRIKE UP THE BAND”: RICKY ALEXANDER (with MARTINA DaSILVA, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS, ANDREW MILLAR)

Ricky Alexander, saxophonist and clarinetist, holding up his debut CD, July 2019. Photograph by Nina Galicheva.

This Youngblood can play — but he doesn’t wallop us over our heads with his talent.  To quote Billie Holiday, recommending a young Jimmie Rowles to a skeptical Lester Young, “Boy can blow!”

Ricky Alexander is an impressive and subtle musician, someone I’ve admired at a variety of gigs, fitting in beautifully whatever the band is (Jon DeLucia’s Octet, Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, The New Wonders, at The Ear Inn, and more) — swing dances, big bands, jam sessions.

I particularly cherish his sweetly understated approach: he loves melody and swing, which is rarer than you might think: youthful musicians in this century are sometimes prisoners of their technique, with the need to show off the chord extensions and substitutions they’ve learned in dutiful hours in the woodshed, even if the woodshed is a room in a Brooklyn walk-up.  The analogy for me is the novice cook who loves paprika and then ruins a recipe by adding tablespoons of it.  In jazz terms, Ricky’s opposite is the young saxophonist whose debut self-produced CD is a suite of his own original compositions on the theme of Chernobyl, each a solo of more than ten minutes.  Perhaps noble but certainly a different approach to this art form.

Ricky tenderly embraces a song and its guiding emotions.  He has his own gentle sound and identity.  Hear his version of Porter’s AFTER YOU, WHO?:

If readers turn away from this music as insufficiently “innovative,” or thinks it doesn’t challenge the listener enough, I would ask them to listen again, deeply: the art of making melody sing is deeper and more difficult than playing many notes at a rapid tempo.  And youthful Mr. Alexander has a real imagination (and a sly wit: the lovers in this Porter song are on the edge of finding a small hotel — run by Dick and Larry — to increase their bliss, in case you didn’t notice).

His music is sweet but not trivial or shallow: hear his sensitive reading of I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES for one example.  And he quietly shows off a real talent at composition: on first hearing, I thought his I KNEW I LOVED YOU was perhaps an obscure Harry Warren song.

Ricky’s also commendably egalitarian: he shares the space with guitarist James Chirillo, string bassist Rob Adkins, drummer Andrew Millar, and the colorful singer Martina DaSilva, who improvises on several selections to great effect.  As well as those I’ve commented on above, the repertoire is mainly songs with deep melodic cores: WHERE OR WHEN, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, I CAN’T GET STARTED, SKYLARK (as a light-hearted bossa nova), STRIKE UP THE BAND, with several now fairly-obscure delights: THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU, AND THE ANGELS SING, and a particular favorite from the 1935 hit parade, YOU HIT THE SPOT by Gordon and Revel.

STRIKE UP THE BAND is a model of how artists might represent themselves on disc.  Like Ricky, this effort is gracious, welcoming, friendly: listeners are encouraged to make themselves at home, given the best seat on the couch.  It’s smooth without being “smooth jazz”; it has no post-modern rough edges on which listeners will lacerate themselves.  And although Ricky often gigs with groups dedicated to older styles, this is no trip to the museum: rather, it’s warm living music.

I’m told that it can be streamed and downloaded in all the usual places, and that an lp record is in the works.  For those who wish to learn more and purchase STRIKE UP THE BAND, visit here.  If you know Ricky, the gently lovely character of this CD will be no surprise; if he’s new to you, you have made a rewarding musical friend, who has songs to sing to us.

May your happiness increase!