This is the second part of a wonderful musical evening that took place at Mezzrow, on West Tenth Street, New York City, last Sunday night. The quietly eloquent Hilary Gardner brought her new program of “trail songs,” which combine film-cowboy-music with a real understanding of the “vast open spaces” that sometimes seem lost to us when we are commuting to work or contemplating the view from our largest window. But imagine, if you will, prairies and plains without nail salons or cellphone towers.
The songs have deep jazz / American songbook connections in Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer, Jack Teagarden, Benny Carter, Frank Sinatra, and more. And Hilary’s little band — Justin Poindexter, guitar, vocal; Alex Hargreaves, violin; Noah Garabedian, string bass — creates lyrical swinging conversation, full of feeling. They have a good time, and they invite us to join in.
I’ve been admiring Hilary’s singing for a decade now: she’s sending those emotional messages us so sweetly and deeply – never losing her grip on the metaphysical saddle for an instant. Her pleasure in what she’s doing, the lines she sings, comes across in every phrase.
I should also say this isn’t fake-nostalgia: these songs come out of a yearning for an America that’s sometimes hard to see, and the joy of discovering and re-discovering it, in music.
Hilary, Noah, Justin at their first gig at Bar 55, 2021
You don’t need to lasso a pinto pony or drink cowboy coffee from a tin cup (both hazardous in their own ways) — just listen, watch, and admire. Make yourself to home. And if you haven’t enjoyed the first part of the evening, it’s right beyond the campfire.
SMOKIN’ MY LAST CIGARETTE, also known as COWBOY SERENADE:
A goofy paean to singlehood, JINGLE JANGLE JINGLE:
The very pretty CALL OF THE CANYON:
Cole Porter dons his leather chaps for DON’T FENCE ME IN:
For Bob Wills, NEW SAN ANTONIO ROSE:
And the program ended with the proper sign-off, thinking of Trigger, Dale, and Roy, with HAPPY TRAILS TO YOU:
The applause will tell you that I wasn’t the only one enjoying myself: there will be many such evenings to come for Hilary and her little band of heartfelt players, lighting the way home down the winding trail, wherever it may lead.
Yesterday, while many people were watching the Olympics or the pre-game Super Bowl show, the OAO and I were at a marvelous concert, “The Great American Songbook, Requested,” which Yaala Ballin and Michael Kanan have put on four years — with a brief interruption you might know about — at St. John’s in the Village, on Eleventh Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. As always, it was an extraordinary duet performance, delicate and intense at once. And what bliss to experience music in a quiet place with wonderful acoustics so that no amplification was needed.
If you’ve followed JAZZ LIVES for any length of time, you’ll know how I admire Michael Kanan — and of course I have company — his serious respect for the composer’s intentions, his steady but lightsome pace, the lovely voicings, his small sweet surprises. And his friendly embrace of any singer or horn player who works with him. No self-conscious “innovations,” but no cliches, no spattering-keyboard exhibitionism, just a tender swing, deeply intuitive.
Yaala is of course a wonderful singer — as opposed to someone “who sings” — and I marvel at her range of expression, from an under-the-breath conversational phrase, almost tossed away, to great sliding and bending of notes that lead into an almost operatic power and zeal without ever becoming too much. She is a grand teller of stories: better, she is a wonderful actress who writes new scripts within the familiar confines of lyrics and melodies.
Both of them are delighted to be performing this music, and their delight comes through to us: they are unabashedly joyous. And the audience — both in the church and online — couldn’t help but feel it.
Here are four love letters Yaala and Michael sent yesterday: love sent to us, to the song, to music itself.
To the lovely night sky:
To a city, home to the loved one:
To Love itself:
and to the person one thinks of constantly:
Better than roses, chocolates, candy hearts, or greeting cards: the emotions and sounds will still be fresh on February 15.
This is not the most famous of Cole Porter’s songs, nor the most heralded of Teddy Wilson’s performances. But I found myself humming it — silently — the past few days, and thought I would remind myself and you of these moments of beauty. The three-note downward motif is not complex, but it ensnares the listener, and the bridge is so lyrical that it startles on first hearing or rehearing. The version I have permanently embossed on my brain is Lee Wiley’s, but when I turned to the solo piano inventions here — Teddy at his thoughtful best — I was entranced.
Here, from a 1939-40 transcription session:
Here, for Musicraft Records, in 1946:
It’s easy to caricature the most obvious facets of Wilson’s style: the rapid tempos, walking-tenths basslines, the magnificent right-hand arpeggios, but at this tempo, the beauties of his style — sedate, grave, respectful but rhythmic — are evident. Teddy, like his colleagues of the early Thirties, knew how to honor the melody while spelling out the harmonies, and to create new melodies from those harmonies. Elegance, grace, and feeling, all in place from his introduction to Louis’ I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING. The ease of his performance, less violent than Hines, or room-filling like Tatum, could lead someone to believe that it was easy to do, but having spent some time attempting to reproduce four measures of his introduction to I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS from the 1928 “School for Pianists” recordings, I assure you that even when he simplified his style, he was creating magic. And these two performances, exploring Porter’s melody without the “smart” lyrics, have a wistful grace.
And, just because Miss Wiley’s version didn’t leave my mental soundtrack either, here she is at an Eddie Condon concert (Ritz Theatre, March 17, 1945) with Joe Bushkin, piano; Sid Weiss, string bass. That the top notes are slightly beyond her reach only adds to the poignancy of her rendition):
Even though I would be characterized as someone faithful to “hot jazz,” I love this supple, lyrical, compact orchestra. Jon has taste, as do the musicians who fill the chairs, and there is a sweet floating sweep to the sounds, individually and collectively, that emerge.
When Jon said that his Octet was giving a (too-brief) recital at City College, where he teaches, I packed my gear and — even without Anita and Roy — let myself off Uptown. Here are a few delightful interludes from that session. The saxophones are Jon and Bill Todd, alto; Dan Block and Dan Ransom, tenor; Andrew Hadro, baritone; the rhythm is JinJoo Yoo, piano; Kevin Thomas, string bass; Steve Little, drums (but with the caveat that the drums are someone else’s), and the arrangements and transcriptions are Jon’s.
PICK YOURSELF UP:
Cole Porter’s tender yet jaunty LOOKING AT YOU:
Jon’s own VALSE VIVIENNE, scored for four clarinets::
I’ll follow this band whenever and wherever I can.
Pay no attention to ENGER D OP OFF — they were last week’s band.
Here’s another in the series of intimate, swinging jazz concerts that take place at the 1867 Sanctuary on Scotch Road in Ewing, New Jersey: others have featured Phil Orr, Joe Holt, Danny Tobias, Warren Vache, Larry McKenna.
The most recent one was a showcase for string bass virtuoso Joe Plowman (friend of Larry McKenna and Marty Grosz, so that should tell you something about his authentic credentials — with Danny Tobias on various brass instruments, Joe McDonough, trombone; Silas Irvine, piano; Dave Sanders, guitar. As you’ll hear immediately, these five friends specialize in lyrical melodic swing — going back to Irving Berlin classics — without a hint of the museum or the archives. Their pleasure in making song was apparent all afternoon, and we shared it. And just as a comment on the leader: notice how quiet the crowd is when he solos, maybe because he creates long arching melodic lines with a beautiful sound and wonderful intonation.
At times, I was reminded of a group I saw for half an hour at the old Michael’s Pub — the front line was Bobby Hackett and Urbie Green, and what delightful sounds they made. (The digressive story of that evening I offer below as a postscript.*)
Here are five highlights from the brilliant afternoon’s play.
Everyone’s “got rhythm” so why not Ellington’s COTTON TAIL?:
The Gershwins’ WHO CARES? — with a touch of Tobias-humor to start:
Porter’s JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:
ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, featuring expressive Mr. McDonough:
Berlin’s THE SONG IS ENDED, which announcement was premature, since there was another half-concert to follow:
You see why the trip to Ewing, New Jersey, to 100 Scotch Road, is essential to my well-being and that of the larger audience.
*Now for my self-indulgent story, which took place before either Joe was born. I’ve never told it before and it is true.
Bobby Hackett was and is one of my greatest heroes, and when he appeared in New York City between 1971 and 1976, I tried to go see him. However, I was a shy college student, working a part-time job that paid $1.85 / hour, so some gigs were beyond me.
Michael’s Pub was a restaurant-bar-with music on the East Side of Manhattan, in the Fifties, that offered excellent jazz in hostile surroundings. (To be fair, I did not appear as a well-heeled customer to even the most inexperienced waiter.) They had a bar where one could sit and have a single drink without being chased for perhaps thirty minutes, but the view of the music room was very limited. When I learned of a Hackett-Urbie Green quintet gig, I gathered up the shreds of my courage, put on my sportsjacket and my Rooster tie, and went.
I think I made a reservation for two: that was my cunning at work. I was guided to a table, a menu was thrust in my face, and I said, “I’m waiting for my date. A vodka-tonic, please,” and the waiter went away, returning in seconds with my drink. The music began and it was of course celestial. I nursed my drink, ate the rolls in the bread basket one by one, and fended off the waiter, who was more insistent than any date I’d had up to that point. Finally, somewhere in the first set, when the waiter had become nearly rude, I looked at my watch, and said grimly so that he could hear, “Damn. She’s not coming. I’ll take the check, please,” paid and left.
I can now say that I heard Bobby and Urbie, but the sad part is that I can’t remember a note because it was completely blotted out by the sense of being unwanted. But, in a pinch, vodka-tonic, buttered rolls, and a divine soundtrack are nutritious enough. And memory is soul food.
Welcome Angela Verbrugge, whose talents are not narrow, nor are they limited to her lovely voice. Listen, and be delighted.
Much of the contemporary music criticism I read praises the “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” “and “adventurous,” sounds that may fall abruptly on my ears. Angela’s music doesn’t assault; rather, it brings joy.
You can hear that Angela is certainly imaginative, but her singing rests securely on deep emotional understanding. She understands the song, not only as notes and syllables on paper, but also the heart-messages it sends us. She conveys tenderness, thoughtfulness, wit, and ardor: emotions and perceptions aimed right at us through her very human voice, its phrase-ending vibrato signifying a sweet earnestness.
When I received a copy of Angela’s debut CD — she’d been recommended to me by a Vancouver musical friend — I turned first to ALL TOO SOON, and was delighted and — in the best way — mildly startled. Nothing abrupt that would have violated the Ellington – Carl Sigman creation, but it was as if someone had gently shifted the furniture by a matter of inches while I slept. I had the same feeling I did when listening to Jimmie Rowles thoughtfully prowl his way through a song known for decades, making it new by building new surprises in from beneath. And in a world of studio-modernism and thudding bass lines, to hear her walk serenely through the musical world of Ray Gallon, piano; Cameron Brown, string bass; Anthony PInciotti, drums, is reassuring as well as elating.
But back to ALL TOO SOON for a moment. I sent Angela a note of admiration and asked her how she had gently tinkered with that song to shift its center of gravity so tellingly. She told me, “I created a ‘verse’ using the bridge/ B section lyrics and elements of the A section melody, and it is sung out of time and then we go into 3/4 waltz time until near the end I bookend it with a more heartbroken take on the ‘verse.’ I brought it Miles Black to arrange in 3/4 and Ray Gallon helped me to tweak and finalize it to fall in a way that felt great; when you move a piece from 4/4 to 3/4 here are some options and massaging to get it to sit comfortably.” Her explanation, as well as her performance, show her remarkable musical intelligence.
She performs some of the same magic on familiar standards on this disc — LOVE WALKED IN, THIS COULD BE THE START OF SOMETHING BIG, THE MOON WAS YELLOW, SPEAK SOFTLY, LOVE — but the disc is much more than “Here’s my original take on songs everyone sings.”
Angela visited New York City, but I missed the opportunity to ride the subway with her.
Here is another affecting realization, another interlude — her version of A NIGHT IN TUNISIA with lyrics by Raymond Levey, thus INTERLUDE. Fervent yet spare:
But that’s not all. Not that I wouldn’t welcome a whole disc of Angela, rueful thrush singing her lonely song from a fragile branch. She is a witty songwriter, drawing on Cole Porter, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Johnny Mercer for inspiration and rapid-fire rhymes, occasionally resembling a less vinegary Dave Frishberg. And before more words fill the page,here‘s Angela’s website, and here you can buy or download the CD.
Here’s Angela’s I’M RUNNING LATE, her lyrics to Ray Gallon’s THAT’S THE QUESTION — a hilarious downhill slalom she negotiates with style:
The disc features three more originals by Angela. I will feel much better about this decade when I hear new singers take up her songs . . . as well as modeling themselves on her warm, lively approach. Those aspiring artists will take their own paths to passion and control, how to convey deep meanings without resorting to capital letters and bright primarily colors. But those wise enough to take inspiration from Angela will find her art won’t outwear its welcome. I am not the first to celebrate Angela Verbrugge, nor will I be the last. But her art is her own, and she offers rare pleasures.
You can figure out from the banner above what I’m suggesting as a way to spend a Friday evening with someone you’re fond of. To borrow from James Chirillo, music will be made: Yaala and Michael have a wonderful playful sensibility; they are a special musical pair.
Their most recent engagement was at Mezzrow last December, and here is some delicious evidence. I present the remainder of their Mezzrow performance for your delectation, amorous or simply aesthetic.
MORE THAN YOU KNOW:
After the JEOPARDY theme, an Alec Wilder classic:
I LOVE PARIS:
I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT:
The closing medley: AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, I COULD WRITE A BOOK, and FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE:
I hope your February 14th plans include this emotionally lively music by Yaala and Michael.
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:
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):
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.
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.
Ricky Alexander and Adam Moezinia at Cafe Bohemia, by Michael Steinman
Exhibits C: – F
Ricky Alexander made a wonderful debut CD, STRIKE UP THE BAND, which I’ve reviewedhere. 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.
Ricky’s own I KNEW I LOVED YOU:
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.
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.
IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:
I LOVE PARIS:
IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:
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.
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).
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.
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.
One of the great highlights of the 2018 Pismo Jazz Jubilee by the Sea was the small flexible swing groups led by guitarist Larry Scala, featuring the wonderful singing of Dawn Lambeth. Without being consciously imitative, they harked back to the great Thirties and Forties recordings and performances of Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian, Count Basie, Mildred Bailey, Benny Goodman, and more. But they weren’t ancient artifacts behind glass: they swung and were full of joyous expertise. Here are three more performances, the first two featuring Larry, Dawn, bassist Bill Bosch, trumpeter Danny Tobias, pianist Carl Sonny Leyland; the third, from the next day, featuring clarinetist Chloe Feoranzo instead of Danny, and adding drummer Danny Coots.
Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF:
Walter Donaldson’s LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:
And from the next day, Dawn, Larry, and Bill, with Danny Coots, drums; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, for Cole Porter’s YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:
Thanks to all these creative people for bringing their own brand of sweet swing to Pismo. I hope they’ll be brightening the corners in 2019.
The stereotype of improvising musicians is that they come out at night; like bats, they avoid bright sunlight. But this crew (Tamar Korn, Evan Arntzen, Dennis Lichtman, Adam Brisbin, Sean Cronin) seems so happy to be out in Nature, with no one calling to the bartender for another Stella. The greenery and friendship is positively inspiring, and they offer us uplifting music. You can savor the first part of this restorative afternoon here. And here’s a second helping of brilliant joyous invention. Thrilling to be there.
I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, vocal harmonies by Sean and Tamar:
LET’S DO IT (yes, let’s!):
I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS (with a Spanish tinge):
IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER:
ONE LITTLE KISS, verse and chorus by host Brice Moss (a song I associate with Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys):
Enjoying these videos again, I am reminded of 2009, when I brought Leroy “Sam” Parkins down to Banjo Jim’s to hear Tamar and the Cangelosi Cards, and he said, “You know, she gets me right in the gizzard. She, Caruso, and Louis,” and that was no stage joke. I think he would say the same thing of not only Tamar, but this band. And somewhere, Sam is happily sitting in with them.
I abandoned my adult responsibilities last Thursday to hear the Jon De Lucia Octet at City College, and I am so glad: this performance was an oasis.
Jon’s group, in existence for slightly more than two years, is a flexible, swinging chamber group devoted to the music-for-saxophones of Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre, Ted Brown, Bill Smith, Alec Wilder, the Dave Brubeck Octet, and Jon’s own arrangements and compositions. I’ve been following Jon and the Octet around New York since their inception, and have always felt rewarded. Here is a sample from March 2017.
Perhaps it no longer applies, but it used to be fashionable to characterize such music as “cerebral,” to some, a euphemism for chilly aural architecture, jazz drained of untidy emotions, art from the neck up. Not true for the Octet, which is a warm, mobile band, always with a generous offering of improvised solos. You’ll hear and see for yourself.
If you have an established prejudice against what is perceived by some as “cool,” please take a visit to PRESERVATION, DREAMILEE, DISC JOCKEY JUMP . . . . and then re-assess.
At this too-brief concert, the players were Jon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Stefan Vasnier, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums; Jay Rattman, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, alto saxophone and clarinet; Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Andrew Hadro, baritone saxophone.
Gerry Mulligan’s DISC JOCKEY JUMP, originally composed by young Mr. Mulligan for the Gene Krupa ensemble, then arranged for saxophones a decade later by Bill Holman:
Jerome Kern’s PICK YOURSELF UP (I think of Fred Astaire pretending to be clumsy) arranged by Jon:
The Gershwins’ TREAT ME ROUGH, from GIRL CRAZY, arranged by Dick Hyman for a Trigger Alpert record date:
PRESERVATION, by Ted Brown, a sinuous improvisation on Lester Young’s TICKLE-TOE, arranged by Jon:
The gorgeous PRELUDE, by Dave Van Kriedt, originally for the Dave Brubeck Octet:
DREAMILEE, Lee Konitz’s solo / variations on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, arranged by Jon:
PRELUDE TO PART FIRST, a Baroque jazz fantasy by Jon, which I associate with his new Bach Shapes book:
Cole Porter’s very pretty LOOKING AT YOU (I think of Lee Wiley’s 1940 recording with Bushkin and Berigan) arranged by Jon. Dance music for very hip couples:
and a memory of a vanished New York City subway-system entrance machinery, TURNSTILE, again composed by Mulligan and arranged by Holman:
Jon’s Octet — with the splendid Ted Brown — will be releasing their debut recording, a live performance from their first recital — on Neal Miner’s noble Gut String Records— this summer. Expect to hear more about it here.
Michael Kanan prizes friendship very highly, and not in some abstract way. He is a true Embracer, and his deep love of community lasts longer than a simple hug. He showed us this once again a few Mondays ago at a little gathering at his Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room.
Michael’s colleagues in melodic exploration were his friends and ours, Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass: each of them a thoughtful swinging intuitive orchestra in himself.
It was a jam session evening, so even though this trio played six songs (you’ll have the first three here) it wasn’t a mini-recital, more a gathering of friends who don’t get to play together often. They hadn’t played together in months, and after Michael had seen the videos, he called them “music in its raw natural state,” but it was an acknowledgment rather than a criticism. I think of them as cherries picked from the tree, their stems still attached, as opposed to cherry pie filling from a can.
Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:
Strayhorn’s TAKE THE A TRAIN:
Ellington’s I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:
When you’re invited to a party at Michael’s, you go home laden with gifts.
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.
The clearly indefatigable RaeAnn Berry captured some wonderful performances at the 27th Annual America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington. So far, I am most fond of these duets between the consistently delightful singer Dawn Lambeth and the nimble, sensitive pianist Conal Fowkes. Here’s a selection.
Conal runs the risk of being typecast as Cole Porter in Woody Allen’s films, but he bears up nobly under the burden, we think. Here’s his sparkling solo rendition of Porter’s YOU’VE GOT THAT THING (to be defined ad lib) — I think of this as Park Avenue barrelhouse:
The Festival’s sound system doesn’t do Dawn’s rich voice justice, but you can get a good idea of the sweet subtleties that endear her to us on MORE THAN YOU KNOW:
Dawn charms us with the evergreen (certainties undermined in swingtime) I MAY BE WRONG. Incidentally, I read somewhere that the conceit of the lyric is that the optimistic singer is seriously visually impaired, so the song then makes better sense:
The moral of MOONBURN — Hoagy Carmichael’s first song for films, composed with Edward Heyman — might be “Always carry protection,” or not. Most of us know it from a wonderful 1935 Decca recording featuring Bing Crosby and Joe Sullivan. Dawn and Conal make me want to research lunar moonscreen:
Harold Arlen’s song of emotional confusion (I guess?) BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, occasion for a lengthy and splendid Frolick by Conal:
Finally, for this posting, here’s that paean to the magic powers of caffeine when mixed with love, YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE:
To see and hear more from Dawn and Conal, and other glowing artists recorded live, visit SFRaeAnn— our video benefactor’s YouTube channel. Another thousand subscribers would please her mightily.
My search for the singer Pat Kirby — an extraordinary artist — began last Monday, June 12, with a trip to the thrift store closest to my college, as I described here. I’d amassed nearly thirty dollars of records, and the long-playing one by a singer I’d never heard of before caught my eye because of the cover photo, the Decca label (Decca in that period tended to be more rewarding than some lesser labels), the repertoire, and the identification that the orchestra was directed by Ralph Burns.
That the disc was also $1.49 minus the Monday 25% discount was also encouraging, and I thought there might be excellent musicians accompanying Miss Kirby. I should point out that I had never heard a note of her singing, nor had I been of an age to see her perform on television.
And, having just come from teaching a class of mostly uninspired students, it is likely that the cover picture of Miss Kirby, sweet pedagogue, caught my eye. I would have bet that her students were paying attention. It might be silly to have an instant crush on a portrait of someone c. 1956, but I make no more apologies for myself than that.
Good songs, as well.
Before Monday evening, I had played the album four times, had spent a good deal of time searching for Miss Kirby, and had emailed several friends who are professional singers to say, “You have to listen to her.” Rebecca Kilgore listened and approved: I knew I was on the right track.
At this point I invite readers to do just that. I confess that I had put the needle down on the first track hoping for a pleasing, competent singer but really searching for surprises from unannounced jazz stars. They may well be there, but Miss Kirby took my attention wholly.
I hear a controlled passion, a lovely dramatic sense. She understands the words, offers them with diction that is both natural and impressive. Some passages of lyrics that I had never fully understood are clear for the first time. Her rhythmic sense is splendid . . . and although she has a splendid vocal instrument, her voice is never the main subject. It’s the song. She’s not imitating anyone (although she reminds me ever so delicately of Teddi King) and her approach seems so unaffected but, as any singer would tell you, she is no amateur. I hear a tender tremulous vibrato, full of emotion but Miss Kirby is in complete control, never over-dramatic. Yet she can be almost saucy on DOWN WITH LOVE, which rises to a near-shout; however, her LOVER MAN is a young woman’s sweet series of wishes. Her IN LOVE IN VAIN — backed only by a guitarist who might be Barry Galbraith and a string bassist — is beyond memorable.
I don’t know whether she or Burns or perhaps Milt Gabler chose the songs, but Miss Kirby shows tremendous courage in singing LOVER MAN with the potent shade of Billie hovering. She manages to make me hear her on I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY, making that song her own, not Mr. Sinatra’s.
I will put my adoration down for several paragraphs and offer a story, by John Fink, from the September 15, 1956 Chicago Tribune “TV Week” — full of attractive photographs of a dark-haired, pretty young woman, sipping soda through a straw, singing in front of an overhead microphone, demurely wearing a narrow-striped top. The story’s headline, in lower-case turquoise, is “once too shy to stand up and sing!” I know the enthusiastic prose that one finds in weekly television guides, but at least Mr. Fink had offered a few facts.
Philadelphia has always been home base for Pat Kirby. The songstress of the Tonight program, seen week days at 11 p. m. on Channel 5, started life there as Patricia Querubin, and did her first vocalizing with a high school band. Too shy to stand up and sing, she sat at her piano at the rear of the stage.
Two years ago, after a shot at local radio, Pat was tapped for an Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts appearance. She won, then retired to Philadelphia to consider a Hollywood offer. But Hollywood, she decided, was too far from home.
By that time Steve Allen had signed her up for guest appearances on Tonight, and she was staying in a Manhattan convent, returning to Philly on week-ends to be with her parents and three brothers. She was signed as a regular on the program, and had begun to make records. She knew she had really arrived when they asked her to make an album called “Pat Kirby Sings.”
The singer with the jet black hair and flashing black eyes stands 5 feet, 6 1/2 inches tall and weighs a tidy 125 pounds. Her father, a merchant mariner, is of Spanish descent; her mother comes of Irish stock.
Pat chooses her songs for the feeling in the lyrics and leans towards “standards” by Gershwin and Arlen and Rodgers and Hart. “If the words don’t mean anything,” she says, “why bother pronouncing them. You might just as well sing vowels.”
But her long range goal was to get married. She was all of 20, and she had made up her mind. Pat accomplished that last June. The lucky fellow? A boy back home in Philadelphia, of course.
For the moment, we can ignore all the stereotypes and sexism of 1956.
Here are the (uncredited) notes on the back of the Decca album:
Decca’s newest recording artist, Pat Kirby, is one of the most talented as well as the most attractive newcomers in show business. She appears several times a week over NBC Television, and hardboiled critics as well as enthusiastic watchers of Steve Allen’s “Tonight” show are already predicting that she will soon be one of the nation’s top-flight stars.
Born twenty-one years ago in Philadelphia, where she was raised, Pat Kirby comes from Irish and Spanish forbears — her real last name is Querubin. She was educated at St. Francis Xavier Grammar School and John W. Hallahan Catholic High School, and it was at the latter institution that Pat began to display her musical versatility. In the school band she played the tympani, drums, piano, organ, and celeste — there seemed to be no instrument she could not master. There was only one thing that did not seem to interest her, and that was singing. A vocal career was the last thing on her mind; her ambition was to play the drums in an all-girl orchestra. It was only after she graduated that she took up singing because she thought the ability to sing might help her in show business.
Pat’s professional career began when she was offered occasional piano and singing jobs with small bands in and around Philadelphia. She forsook the piano — reluctantly — when Buddy Williams engaged her as vocalist for his orchestra. It was not long before she was featured with the band in such coveted showcases as the Bellevue-Stratford and Benjamin Franklin Hotels in Philadelphia, the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, and many other top spots. A little more than a year ago, Pat began doing a “single.” In November 1954, she gained national recognition by winning the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Program, She also appeared for twenty weeks on “Get Happy,” a show emanating from Philadelphia’s WCAU-TV, in which Pat was given a chance to act and ad-lib as well as sing.
This album furnishes proof that Pat Kirby has arrived. The songs she sings are among America’s favorites, and she renders them all with a delicate and sure touch. The songs themselves have a central theme. Whether the numbers are Ballads, Rhythm Tunes, or Torch Songs, all of them answer the question posed in the title, “What Us This Thing Called Love?” The arrangements for the numbers are unusually lush in scoring, and their enriched instrumentations furnish a worthy background for Pat Kirby’s voice.
In writing this post, I have spent a good deal of energy chasing invisible cyber-rabbits. I found out that after Miss Kirby had made this recording, she “abruptly retired,” although I saw mentions of her singing on the Merv Griffin Show c. 1960-62. Did she retire as soon as she became pregnant? Did she choose, a good Catholic, to forsake the bright lights for happy domesticity? Did she miss performing? (Did Someone hasten her flight by behaving inappropriately to her? She was, as we say, both very attractive and very young.) Decca, incidentally, seems to have had her record some pop singles, including the paper-thin TAMMY (circa 1957), and this Frank Loesser rarity, which might have had merit. And then, nothing.
I found out that Buddy Williams played drums and apparently had played them for Miller and one of the Dorseys. Of course, no recordings from the period are listed in Tom Lord’s online discography, and there is no entry for Miss Kirby. Or Miss Querubin.
There is a single by “Pat Kirby” of the theme from the motion picture SAYONARA, but it does not sound like the same singer. There is no YouTube video of her, although there is televised evidence in the Paley Center (more about that shortly). Facebook bristles with authorities, some quite incorrect and vehement about it, but no one responded to my request for information — from a group devoted to the dark corners of popular culture. And I have little success with family-ancestry sites: her parents may have been Robert and Helen Querubin; her married name might have been Burgoyne. Given that she was born in 1935 or so, I doubt that she will write to me to say, “Young man, you have gotten the facts of my life all wrong.”
However, I have a frustratingly lively lead that might lead nowhere: a Google search for Pat Kirby led me to the Paley Museum, which has two kinescopes of the Steve Allen show: on one she sings THE BOY NEXT DOOR, the other I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU. And . . . on Trip Advisor, of all places, Liz M. from Philadelphia visited the Paley Museum and wrote this comment:
I visited here to see a video of my mom on the Steve Allen show from 60 years ago. She was young singer Pat Kirby who sang regularly with Andy Williams. They had 2 episodes. It is so wild to see your mother in action years before you were born. My friend had never been there before and can’t wait to go back for special events.
I find that very touching, and Trip Advisor has a space to “ask Liz M. a question,” which I did. Keep your fingers crossed.
Pat Kirby, who obviously wanted privacy after her brief intense turn in the spotlight, might have planned it all this way. A short bolt of fame, of public visibility, might have been all she could tolerate or all she wanted. William Faulkner said of fame that his ideal would have been to have written his books without his name on the title page — to do the work and remain anonymous. Pat Kirby leaves us under an hour of musical evidence of the finest kind imaginable, and then she made her exit. Thank goodness we have the records, because who would believe this tale otherwise?
I’d love to know more, if only to honor one of the finest — and least heralded — singers I’ve ever heard.
P.S. (“This just in!”) Music scholar Bob Moke told me on Facebook that Pat is the speaking voice in the middle of this famous record. The singing voice at the start is Lois Winters — all confirmed by one of the Lads. Any snippet of Miss Kirby is greatly appreciated:
Here is the first set (and what I wrote about Joel) of that glorious afternoon.
And now, as the night follows the day or some equivalent, is the second. Joel at his poetic unpredictable best. Each piece feels like a short story, and the whimsical titles add to the effect.
BUNNY BOY (a Blues Frolick for the Afternoon):
NIGHT AND DAY (for Mr. Porter of Peru, Iowa, a rendition that seems built from the rhythmic surge up to the spare melody):
MILDEW LIZA (as explained by the composer, also an adept Joycean):
ON MARY’S BIRTHDAY (Joel’s most recent composition as of that afternoon, a rhythmic celebration of his wife’s natal day):
A beautifully somber reading of GHOST OF A CHANCE:
Having heard several performances of Joel’s INDUSTRIAL ARTS, excerpts and improvisations on sections of this piece, which he has been known to perform for eight hours, I asked him to write something about it, because the piece so stands out — in its incantatory splendor — in what I think of as his oeuvre. Joel writes: I’ve been improvising on it since l974, my first year in New York. When I’m feeling emotionally generous, I give my wife Mary co-composer credit: the music has its genesis in our weekly Saturday mornings at Washington Square Church. I’d improvise at the piano while watching her dance; she feels time in a deeper way than any dancer I’ve ever seen. This would go on for several hours (we were quite young). Then we’d wax ‘n’ buff the floor. The music grew, its interlocking rhythms calling out weird overtones I would learn to embrace if never truly to corral. In its entirety, INDUSTRIAL ARTS occupies 8 hours. I’ve only played it straight-through once: at The Kitchen in l977. I’ve always striven to play a precis of the tune on my solo gigs, borrowing ideas from the 8 one-hour sections. At least 11 times, over the years, I’ve either been warned, fired, or not asked back…all on account of this one, highly-repetitive tune. The most humorous instance of this took place in 1980 at a Bowery art bar called Sebossek’s. I was only five minutes into INDUSTRIAL ARTS when the Israeli cook burst out of the kitchen with blood inher eyes and a sizzling pan in her hand. What she wanted to do was to show me that she had burned herself, thanks to my music. But, of course, what I saw was a furious woman holding a frying pan. For my sins, I admit that I cowered under the piano. …Over the last five years, all that has changed—who can tell me why? Have listeners become inured to repetitive music, if presented in different forms from mine? Short attention spans promoting selective deafness? In any case, a 10- or 15-minute version of INDUSTRIAL ARTS has become part of my standard repertoire; and I seem to be getting away with it. And longer “concert” versions are sometimes called for. Who knew?
YOUR LITTLE DOG (exceedingly tender, my new favorite):
ANYTHING GOES (its opening measures truncated because of videographer-error, but there’s still enough Romp left to see by):
As I write these words, Joel has a steady Saturday afternoon gig (12:30 to 3:30) at Cafe Loup (135 West 13th Street at Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Village, New York City) and June is an extraordinarily rich month for Forrester-sightings, so check them out http://joelforrester.com/calendar/.