Tag Archives: comedy

“MY HEART IS BEATING RAGTIME”: MAUD HIXSON and RICK CARLSON

For a minute, put aside any definitions of “jazz” and simply listen to this:

The singer is Maud Hixson; the pianist Rick Carlson.  And this new CD,  just released, is a singular pleasure.

Listening for your song

It is a sweet-natured yet swinging tribute to a series of children’s books, the Betsy-Tacy books (thirteen volumes, published 1940-55) set in Minnesota, and following two and three young women from childhood to marriage. All the books are set at the start of the twentieth century . . . the final one in the series has a young husband going off to serve in the Great War.

Over two hundred songs are mentioned in the series — some familiar, some that will be new to all but the deepest scholars of American vernacular music.

Here are Maud and Rick in the studio, with excerpts from three songs on the CD:

What Maud and Rick have created is an hour of delicately memorable music. But it’s not simply an immersion in the Dear Departed Days.  For one thing, the songs vary splendidly from track to track.  Yes, there are hymns in praise of the glorious summertime, of the beloved one the singer hopes to wed, sweet yearnings and romantic reveries in the best World War One manner.  But there are songs celebrating automobiles and airplanes, and a good dose of vaudeville — not only Irish comedy, but comic songs depicting what we now call “family dysfunction”: husbands who attempt to deceive their wives, or who avoid work as if it were the plague, others who imbibe.  Spooning and sparking in the dark are delightfully explicated, but there’s also a woman who loves the sounds of the cello much more than she loves the cellist.

And just to keep things in balance, the CD begins with a sweetly serious spoken introduction by Maud over THE MERRY WIDOW WALTZ as background, but just when the listener might think, “Oh, this is a documentary rather than a musical presentation,” Maud and singer Maria Jette offer a completely feline-on-the-fence reading of Rossini’s THE CAT DUET . . .

Maud and Rick have learned not only the familiar choruses, but the wonderfully theatrically essential verses and sometimes second and third choruses.  Each performance is an understated but fully realized dramatic presentation, completely satisfying.  The language is innocent — the lyrics call a phony tale “Same old load of peaches,” rather than “bullshit,” but I welcome the sweetness of the demotic — since we all know what’s meant.

Before I listened closely to this disc, I expected it to be formal presentation in the manner of Joan Morris and William Bolcom.  There is much of the same devotion to the song, respect for melody and lyrics in this duet — but Maud and Rick are fully themselves, and that is a wonderful thing.  Since the accompanist sometimes is pushed into the background, a few words about Rick Carlson first. The repertoire — presumably the popular song of ancient times — might lead a lesser artist into stiffness, the polite rigidities of someone convinced that swinging was heresy.  Rick does a lovely job of blending parlor piano with the sweet elasticity of ragtime and early stride.  It’s clear that he reveres the melody and the original harmonic turns . . . but Teddy Wilson isn’t his enemy, and James P. Johnson isn’t unknown to him.  His time is lovely, his touch inspiring.  No note or phrase is stiff, and his duetting with Maud is a wonderful supportive conversation.  Hear him on SAME OLD STORY and BY THE BEAUTIFUL SEA, where his frolicking stride figures would make Dick Hyman smile.

Maud Hixson is a delicious embodiment of the idea that the greatest art is in the subtle concealment of art.  It would be very easy and quite wrong to undervalue her singing.  She’s not Sarah Vaughan; she doesn’t have a four-octave range. (“What a relief!” I think.)  What she does have is a beautiful voice — whether speaking or singing — subtly modulated, wonderful diction . . . all the things that make for singing that falls like honey on our ears.  But her delivery is so easy that we might think less of it — “I could do that!” — as people felt when singing along with Bing on the radio.  Don’t believe it.  What Maud does is a special art, rooted in the deep desire to make singer and song interwoven and inseparable. She IS the song, and the song glows as a result.

At the end of this hour of music (and I’ve listened to this disc a dozen times) I feel as if I’ve been tenderly embraced by touching, hilarious, satisfying music. Try it for yourself.  LISTENING FOR YOUR SONG is a rare delight.

May your happiness increase!

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“I’M DONE”: EDDIE HUNTER, ALEX ROGERS, LUCKEYETH ROBERTS

I first heard this piece of ancient but still witty vaudeville thanks to Allen Lowe’s massive CD box set, THAT DEVILIN’ TUNE . . . and although my emotional life is far more tranquil and gratifying, this is one of my favorite recordings.  Perhaps it appeals to my deep inner silliness; I find it ingenious all the way from the introduction to the two singers in harmony for a few seconds at the end.

And what’s just as remarkable is the flexible, varied, lightly swinging stride piano accompaniment by C. Luckeyeth Roberts — Luckey to those more casual — that is as light, bright, and sparking as anything Fats or James P. ever recorded.  (It has the same lovely distracting quality of a Jess Stacy accompaniment, pulling my attention away from what is supposed to be the main event.)  Early on: December 17, 1923.

Enjoy this little frolic — first for the mock-serious indignation of Hunter and Rogers, then for the lacy twining of the piano — delicious and never over-done.

Here, courtesy of the Library of Congress and the “National Jukebox,” is a comic swinging pleasure.  Remember to “make a wush”!

May your happiness increase.

THE TITAN HOT SEVEN at DIXIELAND MONTEREY (March 5, 2011)

The Titan Hot Seven is (are?) a lively, multi-faceted, energetic band — full of jostling good humor.  They aren’t locked into one narrow style or approach; they are popular and swinging both.  A full-service jazz band!

The band is spearheaded by pianist / singer / raconteur Jeff Barnhart, someone you’ve just heard about on JAZZ LIVES for his Fats Waller CD.  Then there’s the multi-talented Jim Fryer (trombone, vocals, euphonium) and the swinging Danny Coots, master of the matched grip and rocking down-home rhythms.  Danny’s partners in the rhythm section are the very able guitarist / banjoist Jerry Krahn and the powerful bassist Ike Harris.  Up in the front, there’s the splendidly assured pairing of Flip Oakes (trumpet / fluegelhorn) and reedman Jim Buchmann.  A hot band and a great show!

Here they are at Dixieland Monterey, the Jazz Bash by the Bay.

Danny Coots and Jeff start things rocking instantly with the Twenties favorite (it seems one of those bits of Oriental exoticism — here given a Krupa SING SING SING kick-off) SAN:

And for an instant change of pace, how about the TH7’s romantic side?  Here Flip Oakes dedicates Porter’s I LOVE YOU to his wife, in the audience:

Deadpan comic raconteur Jim Fryer brings us to France to honor Sidney Bechet, on the latter’s PROMENADE DES CHAMPS-ELYSSES:

I don’t think the Titans know my dear Aunt Ida Melrose, but they take an easy lyrical trot through “her” song.  Listen for Jim Buchmann’s sweet soprano and booting tenor, and Jeff’s irresistible late-vaudeville singing, mixing sincerity and just a hint of Wallerian satire:

I’m sorry that the variety shows on television no longer exist: it seems to me that I’M GOING TO SKEDADDLE BACK TO SEATTLE would have been perfect as a production number for Carol Burnett or Jackie Gleason.  Where did the June Taylor Dancers go?

In honor of young Bella Coots, a rocking (klezmer-tinged) I FOUND A NEW BABY:

Something for everyone and then some!

BE A TITAN!  CLICK HERE TO GIVE TO THE MUSICIANS YOU SEE IN THESE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):

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BECKY CREATES JAZZ SATORI

“Knock-knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Becky Kilgore.”

“Oh, my goodness!  Come in!  May I make you some tea?”

Our Rebecca

Entirely fanciful, I know, but I am honored to welcome the most esteemed Ms. Kilgore to JAZZ LIVES in all her glory.

Becky (or Rebecca), citizen of the world, bringer of joy, much-loved swingstress — all I can say is that when she sings, I feel the same pleasure as when I hear Ben or Bobby or Vic.  Enough said!

Here is a video performance by Becky, the Reynolds Brothers (sublime hot men and no fooling: John on guitar, Ralf on washboard), cornetist Marc Caparone, trumpeter Bryan Shaw, trombonist and wit Dan Barrett, pianist Jeff Barnhart, and bassist Katie Cavera — onstage at Dixieland Monterey, March 5, 2011.

And we owe this video to my pal, saintly and salty and tireless Rae Ann Berry.

One of the things I love most about the great recordings of the Thirties is their sweet seamless ability to mix fun and swing: Fats.  Louis.  Mildred.  The Boswell Sisters.

Perhaps the closest I will ever get to Satori — at least Jazz Satori — is the state of laughing, nearly crying, and moving my body in time, helplessly surrendering myself to joy.  This performance of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, both impromptu and cohesive, makes me feel just like that.  But onwards.  See for yourself, brothers and sisters:

Readers who wish to watch the clip again (I can’t watch it only once) are allowed to skip what follows — the spectacle of a man deep in love with this music and so grateful for it, explicating it at length — and go back to the clip.  I have put my enthusiasm in italics for those who are enthusiasm-averse or for whom it is contraindicated.  Meet me at the end of the post!

Comedy and deep feeling and joy and swing all intertwine here.  My pleasure starts instantly with Jeff’s sweet, insinuating piano introduction — you know you’re in for a good time when the music starts that way (bless you, Jeff!) and Becky’s got the feeling right off — dig her playful, floppy hand gestures and the smile on John Reynolds’ face.  Katie Cavera hasn’t yet started to swing out, but she’s in the groove — listening to Ralf’s beat.

And Ms. Kilgore starts, in the easiest, most unaffected way, to tell the story of the verse (I’ve found love and my life has changed — let me tell you all about it!) as if she were telling us a life-story, rather than Singing A Song.  Feel the difference?  It’s a deep yet casual human narrative our Becky is unreeling for us.  When Becky gets to “done” and “Mmmmm,” I’m entranced . . . she has my rapt attention!  Notice the expressions on the musicians’ faces — the brass section alternates between puppyish joy (bouncing around in happiness) and deep contemplation.  And how does Ralf swing out so much on one cymbal?  I have to sign up for the correspondence course.

Then we turn the corner into the chorus . . . the audience recognizes the song (you can hear sighs of pleasurable relief-of-suspense) — they relax even more because of the way Becky is floating over that rhythm section.

(Make note: send thanks to Ralf, Jeff, Katie, and John for swinging so luxuriantly.)

Deep listening — being Present — enhances every experience, even if it’s drinking your breakfast coffee — and there is a perfect example of that here: Jeff hits a bass note three times to emphasize a Becky-phrase and the brass section — as one — silently says, “Hey, what a good idea!” and picks it up as a riff.  That phrase is a Louis-idea that the Basie boys picked up . . . all roads lead back to Louis.

And Becky is both deep inside the music and lying in a hammock, free to sing the melody straight while simultaneously embellishing it with bends and dips, changes in timbre, shadings.  A fellow named Bing comes to mind, also a gal named Connee — but it’s all Becky.  Singers, take note!  Players, take note!  What she does with sound, with the beat — a light shines out of her to us.

Dan Barrett.  Ain’t he something?  Hilarious and profound, bringing together Vic and Dicky Wells and Louis and a little bit of Jackie Gleason — showing us how to construct a solo by putting together different pieces, in thirty-two bars, less than a minute.

Bryan and Marc — children of Louis — begin their exalted conversation.  They shout for joy.  I have watched this clip many times since Rae Ann posted it and this is always the moment I find it hard not to cry.  As the late Sam Parkins used to say, “Gets me right in the gizzard!”  I still can’t locate my gizzard, but I know what he meant.

Becky returns for another exploration of the chorus — looser, more playful, gliding like an Olympic ice skater over the notes, over that brass section, over Jeff’s traceries, over that rocking rhythm section.  Her witty blues inflections while Jeff is playing at being Earl Hines!  And the last minute or so of this clip is so full of marvels that to tell all the tale would tax my five wits (memories of Sir Gawain and his Green Stompers) . . . it’s the performance of a lifetime.  Mister Barnhart offers a gallant arm to Miss Kilgore and they walk off the stage . . .

In some ways, the twenty-first century has proven to be grueling.  You can supply your own examples.  But isn’t it a blessing that we can hear and see WHEN I TAKE ME SUGAR TO TEA whenever we want?  It is an honor to live in the same world as the one Becky, Jeff, Dan, John, Ralf, Marc, Bryan, Katie, Rae Ann, and the Brooklyn Kid do.  Thank you.  I bow low before you and your generosities.

And that’s no stage joke.

SATORI DESERVES GENEROSITY: LOVE THE LIVING MUSICIANS.  CLICK HERE!  ALL MONEY GOES TO THEM:

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HANG ON TO ME (MY FRETTING LIFE BEGINS)

I bought a ukulele yesterday — perhaps not a heirloom, but it is a tenor Pono, made of koa, with a beautiful large sound.  Although I am not so optimistic as to see myself transplanted into the clip below (the lighted cigarettes make me nervous), I wouldn’t mind “a Hawaiian frappe.”  Later in the day, though. 

Edwards had marvelous poise — sweetness, swing, and comedy mixed.  He knows we’re out there, but is pretending that we aren’t.