Tag Archives: Count Basie

“AT BREAK OF DAWN, THERE IS NO SUNRISE,” or THE JOY OF SORROW: ALBANIE FALLETTA, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN, KEVIN DORN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, New York City, March 12, 2020)

Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, another night at Cafe Bohemia, creating beauty.

Great art doesn’t need a museum with guards or a concert hall: sometimes it happens right in front of us, and this was one of those moments: my last trip into New York City to be transported by live music before the world we all knew began to distort in front of us, a visit to Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village for the last of the Thursday-night-jazz-prayer-meetings. March 12, 2020.

I’ve posted music and written about that ominous and uplifting evening here and here — and I can still see in my mind’s eye the stairway down into the nearly-empty subway station, the feel of a produce-section plastic bag wrapped around my hand (I hadn’t found gloves for sale yet) so that I would touch as few surfaces as possible.  A new world, and not an easy one.  But I digress.

The music.  The magical transmogrifiers I capture with my camera are — I use the present tense on purpose — Albanie Falletta, voice and resonator guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums; Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  The sad text that they make joyous — the great paradox of art — is Einar A. Swan’s 1931 WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE.

That paradox fascinates me.  If you look at the individual facial expressions as the alchemists below make their wise feeling ways through this venerable lament, they are not morose.  Rather, they are the concentrated faces of people intent on making the result of their work (lifetimes of practice and contemplation) come out right.  Were they to “break up their lines to weep,” to quote Yeats, the song would fail as each one retreated into their private universe of grief.  And there is always enough to grieve about.  But I think of Basie and Jimmy Rushing singing and playing the saddest song with a glint of mischief under their labors, embodying and celebrating the powers of art.

Here I’d like to quote from the unpublished journals of Sammut of Malta:

Nothing is ever strictly functional in music because all music is ornamental.

Music is not necessary for our well-being even if we come to need it on an emotional level. The fact is that if organized sound were never a thing, we’d still be here. But that’s what make something as simple as a triad so amazing. There’s really no practical reason for it to exist. But we wouldn’t want to be here without it. So that’s why I’d suggest there’s never any such thing as JUST A II-V-I progression.

We are such complicated humans and simplistic beasts all at once who can never see past our own noses. So when I hear a bass line—any bass line— I like to remind myself of its ultimate meaninglessness outside of my ears, but it makes it more special for that reason.

Or, as Hot Lips Page once told Steve Lipkins on the band bus, “Look, an Eb don’t mean shit unless you bring something to the fucking note.”

What Albanie, Kevin, Sean, Josh, Evan, and Jon-Erik bring to that Eb and all the other notes in this performance is precious — wafting past us in time, evaporating, but memorable.  Bless them for moving us so.

And I will restate some thoughts that are even more pertinent in June:

This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also.  I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator.  The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining  you.  How can you help them and express gratitude?  Simple.  Buy their CDs from their websites.  Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar.  Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say.  Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.  Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, or a really cool leopard-print mask.

What you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.  Musicians remind us that there’s more to live for than lunch, and we must prize them for their pointing this out in every Eb.

May your happiness increase!

A MAGICAL SESSION IN JAM: JUNE 27, 1945

 

 

 

In case you can’t read the label, these four sides — two 78 discs — were created by the Don Byas All Stars: Byas, tenor saxophone; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Eddie Safranski, string bass; Denzil Best, drums, in New York City on June 27, 1945, almost seventy-five years ago.

This session has been part of my consciousness for a long time, perhaps going back before 1980.  Don Byas doesn’t get his name written large in those jazz-history-trees I have seen recently, and in the taxonomy of jazz Stars of the tenor saxophone, he’s rarely noticed in the rush to oversimplify: it’s Hawk and Lester and Ben — leaving out Don, Chu Berry, Dick Wilson, Bud Freeman, Gene Sedric, Video Musso, Prince Robinson, George Auld, Herschel Evans, Eddie Miller, Buddy Tate, Robert Carroll, and many others.  But Byas continues to amaze: his lovely expressive ballad playing, his indefatigable work at fast tempos, and his intense swing in general.  He knew his harmonies, and his arpeggios never put a foot wrong.  You might know his early work on a 1938 record date for Victor under the nominal leadership of Timme Rosenkrantz, or his classic opening solo on the 1941 HARVARD BLUES with Basie, but he made perhaps a hundred consistently realized small band sides for small independent labels between 1944-46 before leaving for Europe, where he spent the rest of his life, coming back to New York a few times before his death.

On these four sides, he’s in the company of giants who also rarely get their proper recognition.  Eddie Safranski, then a young bassist in Hal McIntyre’s big band, was at the start of a long career — his last recordings are in 1975 — and he played and recorded with everyone from Stan Kenton to Teresa Brewer.  Denzil DaCosta Best began at the top — his playing career ended in 1962 and he died a few years later, sadly, but he also recorded with everyone from Ben Webster to George Shearing to Erroll Garner to Sheila Jordan.

Johnny Guarnieri is one of the finest pianists and musicians, but he also seems neglected.  An ebullient virtuoso, he was a regular life-enhancer on small-group dates going back to the Benny Goodman Sextet: he could do so many things beautifully that he might not be well-known for his delightful swing.

I left the graceful and astonishingly consistent Buck Clayton for last: his autobiography tells of his long career better than I could (BUCK CLAYTON’S JAZZ WORLD) but I can’t think of an uninspired performance in his forty-plus years of recordings.  I have some late-career trumpet videos I will post, and even when his embouchure was not completely certain and his range was seriously limited, he made lovely melodies out of the fewest notes and he always swung.

As to the recordings themselves: you must discover their marvels on your own, but each is both wonderfully impromptu and a careful orchestral composition on its own, their texts being familiar pop songs from 1930-1, with DEEP PURPLE being the newest theme (a piano solo in 1934, a hit with lyrics in 1939).  I can imagine them discussing tunes, tempos, and approach briefly before making a take.  They knew how many choruses would fit on a side; someone took the lead and someone improvised a countermelody; someone took the bridge; they decided on how to begin and how to end — but the records document a peak of this music, the great meeting of experience, professionalism, and passion.

Walter Donaldson’s ode to candor:

and the lovely violet ballad, so rarely played or sung these days:

The eyes are the windows of the soul, aren’t they?

and a more hopeful ballad, about a sudden magical romantic appearance:

Now, a different perspective on these lovely creations.  I never knew anything about the Jamboree Records issues except that they must have sold well — there’s one label in red and silver, another in red and gold — and used copies continue to be offered for sale.  The label had a short run: three four-song sessions with Byas as leader (one where he is the only horn, this one with Clayton, and a third with Joe Thomas), a Dave Tough-led session (with Thomas and Ted Nash), a Horace Henderson-led date featuring Clayton, Eddie Bert, and two reeds (recorded for Harry Lim’s Keynote label and sold to Jamboree), a trio session recorded in Detroit in 1947 featuring pianist Willie Anderson and one vocal by Kenny Hagood, and finally a 1949 date led by pianist Skip Hall, featuring Clayton, Buddy Tate, Walter Page, with six issued and two unissued sides.

Jazz fans deep into the wonderful music of this period know that small labels with terrible pressings were frequent, owing to the number of brilliant improvisers at large (without recording contracts with major labels) and the end of the first Petrillo record strike or ban . . . think of Regis, Manor, Session, Guild, National, Apollo, Signature, Comet, Hub, and a dozen others.

I’ve been aided in my fragmentary research into Jamboree by Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, founder of The Hot Club of New York, so thanks to him.  The head of Jamboree Records was one Morty Kline, who ran Melody Record Supply and Record Associates on 314 West 52nd Street, although another address has it on Tenth Avenue.

Where Melody Record Supply once stood.

That address allows one of my favorite hypotheses (“favorite” because I find it plausible but lack any specific evidence that it happened).  Did jazz musicians walk into Melody Record Supply, talk to Morty, and walk out with a handshake agreement to cut four sides next Thursday — bring a quintet at 9 AM for scale, or words to that effect?  Had Morty known Byas’s recordings from his Basie days, or from those on Savoy in 1944, or had he been in the audience for the Town Hall concert produced by Timme Rosenkrantz?  Or did Morty walk east after he closed the shop to have a drink on Swing Street and offer some of the musicians on the stand a record date at the bar?  I don’t know if Morty took a hand in the music’s direction (as did people like Harry Lim and Milt Gabler) or if he was simply the businessman-producer.  I suspect that it was an excellent business move for Melody Record Supply to have its own issues to sell: “product,” as we now say. I can’t ask Morty: he died in Boca Raton, Florida, in 1997.  But I can thank him for the commerce that allowed these beautiful minutes of imperishable music to exist and live on.

May your happiness increase!

LESSONS IN LEVITATION: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JOSH ROBERTS, MATT WEINER, JEFF HAMILTON (June 30, 2019)

An inspiration for this inspiring little band.

Thanks to the ever=devoted SFRaeAnn, we have a five-minute treatise on the most inspired floating, created in front of an audience at America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington, on June 30, 2019.  The players here are Ray Skjelbred, making that old keyboard sound exactly like new; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Josh Roberts, guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And their particular text is LADY BE GOOD, by George and Ira Gershwin, first performed in 1924 and immediately taken up by jazz musicians, dance bands, and singers of all kinds — from Ben Bernie and the California Ramblers to the present day.

Perhaps because tempos in performance naturally increase, and because it is such a familiar set of chord changes (from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Incorporated recording on) it’s usually played at a brisk tempo.  This performance is a sly glide, a paper airplane dreamily navigating the air currents before coming to a gentle landing.  And — taking the Basie inspiration to new heights — this performance so lovingly balances appreciative silence with sound.

It doesn’t need my annotations: it reveals itself to anyone willing to pay attention.  Watch the faces of the musicians; hear their delighted affirmations.  As James Chirillo says, music was made:

Blessings on them all, past and present, visible and ectoplasmic.  The Cubs lift us up but never drop us down.

May your happiness increase!

FINE [REMOTE] RIFFING THIS AFTERNOON (April 2020)

One of the nicest things about my jazz-immersion through this blog is the possibility of having dear friends and admired artists — rarely or never met face-to-face.  I think of these two: the saxophonist / composer Keenan McKenzie (still only a cyber-pal) and the singer Laura Windley, whom I’ve had the good fortune to encounter on both coasts.

Let me begin with the most recent expression of good-humored swing and expert rockin’ in rhythm, Keenan’s PARTS AND LABOR, beautifully Basie-fied by Josh Collazo, drums; Noah Hocker, trumpet; William Ledbetter, string bass; Keenan McKenzie, saxophone; James Posedel, piano; Jonathan Stout, guitar:

Keenan’s also a composer of nifty love songs — here’s a favorite, with Laura singing and charming us, along with Lucian Cobb, trombone; Daniel Faust, drums; William Ledbetter, Keenan McKenzie, James Posedel, and Jonathan Stout:

Yes, socially distant but emotionally close.

Now, some history and then some commerce.

I first encountered Laura and the Mint Julep Jazz Band in 2013 (can it be that long ago?) when a friend sent me a copy of their CD, DURHAM ON SATURDAY NIGHT, and I wrote happily about it here.  And the same thing happened again two years later, with their BATTLE AXE, and my pleasure here.  Keenan offered his own wonderful CD, FORGED IN RHYTHM, in 2017 — my post here  — and so I trust these people to make the best music, subtle and groovy.  They are also part of what I would respectfully call the Great Swing Dance Collective, so they pop up with their own groups and as side-people: I video-ed Laura at San Diego (2018) with Michael Gamble’s Rhythm Serenaders, and she sings gorgeously as part of Gordon Au’s evocation of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars.

Now, since Sam Goody’s is just a memory (insert name of your favorite record store chain) those in the know go to bandcamp.com — where we can purchase the music of independent artists on CDs and downloads.  TODAY, MAY 1, Bandcamp has waived all fees, so that whatever you pay goes directly to the artist.  “Good deal!” to quote my hero Sidney.

So, please, instead of wallowing in the torrents of free music offered open-heartedly, go visit https://keenanmckenzie.bandcamp.com/  and  https://mintjulepjazzband.bandcamp.com/ and https://gordonau.bandcamp.com/ — drop some bills in the tip jar, and enhance the gray days of isolation / quarantine / lockdown with music that rewards not only the hearer but the artists.  You’ll find the irritations of daily life diminished because of the sounds.

May your happiness increase!

FRED GUY, TRICKY SAM NANTON, CHANO POZO, MEADE LUX LEWIS, J.C. HIGGINBOTHAM, BABS GONZALES, ABBEY LINCOLN, SAM JONES, LEE KONITZ, KARIN KROG, JOHN LEWIS, COUSIN JOE, BUD FREEMAN, EDDIE GOMEZ, ANDY KIRK, MED FLORY, CHUBBY JACKSON, WILBUR LITTLE, HELEN HUMES, FREDDIE GREEN, TAFT JORDAN, and MANY MORE, FROM JG AUTOGRAPHS on eBay

The astonishing eBay treasure chest called jgautographs has opened its lid again.  Apparently the trove is bottomless, since the latest offering is 118 items under “jazz,” with only a few debatable entries.  “Donovan,” anyone?  But the depth and rarity and authenticity are dazzling.

Consider this Ellington collection, including Joe Nanton, Billy Taylor, Fred Guy, Juan Tizol, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, and the Duke himself:

The appropriate soundtrack, give or take a few years — Ellington at Fargo, 1940 with the ST. LOUIS BLUES (wait for “WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK”):

Incidentally, someone wrote in and said, “Michael, are they paying you to do this?” and the answer is No, and that’s fine.  Imagine my pleasure at being able to share Joe Nanton’s signature with people who just might value it as I do.

Here’s Meade Lux Lewis:

And his very first Blue Note issue, from 1939, MELANCHOLY BLUES:

Taft Jordan, star of Chick Webb, Duke, and his own bands:

Taft in 1936, singing and playing ALL MY LIFE with Willie Bryant:

“Mr. Rhythm,” Freddie Green, with an odd annotation:

a 1938 solo by Freddie (with Pee Wee, James P. Dicky, Max, and Zutty):

Tyree Glenn, a veteran before he joined Louis (Cab Calloway and Duke):

Tyree’s ballad, TELL ME WHY:

The wonderful Swedish singer Karin Krog:

Karin and Bengt Hallberg, joining BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL and SENTIMENTAL AND MELANCHOLY:

The link at the top of this post will lead you to more than a hundred other marvels — the delighted surprises I will leave to you.  And as in other eBay auctions, you or I are never the only person interested in an item . . .

May your happiness increase!

"DOGGIN’ AROUND": JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JOE COHN, MURRAY WALL (Cafe Bohemia, January 30, 2020)

I doubt that the title of this original composition by Herschel Evans, recorded by the 1938 Basie band, has much to do with this puppy, named W.W. King, or any actual canine.

Many of the titles given to originals in that period were subtle in-jokes about sex, but somehow I don’t associate that with Herschel.  I had occasion to speak a few words to Buck Clayton and Buddy Tate, to spend a long subway ride with Bennie Morton, and to be spoken at by Jo Jones . . . and I regret I never asked them, although they might have been guarded or led me down the garden path because I was clearly a civilian outsider.  But we have the music.  And — unlike other bandleaders — Bill Basie did not take credit for music composed by his sidemen, which I am sure endeared him to them even more.

Moving from the linguistic or the canine to the music, listeners will hear Jon-Erik Kellso delineate the harmonic structure of the tune as “UNDECIDED with a HONEYSUCKLE bridge.” What could be simpler?

Thus . . . music to drive away gloom, created by Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, cornet; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Joe Cohn, guitar; Murray Wall, string bass, Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City.

I look forward to the day we can meet at Cafe Bohemia and hear such music.

May your happiness increase!

HOLY RELICS, BEYOND BELIEF (Spring 2020 Edition)

The eBay seller “jgautographs,” from whom I’ve purchased several marvels (signatures of Henry “Red” Allen, Rod Cless, Pee Wee Russell, Pete Brown, Sidney Catlett, among others) has been displaying an astonishing assortment of jazz inscriptions.  I haven’t counted, but the total identified as “jazz” comes to 213.  They range from “traditional” to “free jazz” with detours into related musical fields, with famous names side-by-side with those people whose autographs I have never seen.

As I write this (the early afternoon of March 21, 2020) three days and some hours remain.

Here is the overall link.  Theoretically, I covet them, but money and wall space are always considerations.  And collectors should step back to let other people have a chance.

The signers include Benny Carter, Betty Carter, Curtis Counce, Jimmy Woode, Herb Hall, Bennie Morton, Nat Pierce, Hot Lips Page, Rolf Ericson, Arnett Cobb, Vernon Brown, Albert Nicholas, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Sammy Margolis, Ed Polcer, Ed Hall, Billy Kyle, Sam Donahue, Al Donahue, Max Kaminsky, Butch Miles, Gene Krupa, Ray McKinley, Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden, Arvell Shaw, Barrett Deems, Buck Clayton, Babs Gonzales, Benny Bailey, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Burrell, Reggie Workman, Stanley Turrentine, Louis Prima, Wayne Shorter, Tiny Bradshaw, Harry Carney, Juan Tizol, Bea Wain, Red Rodney, Frank Socolow, Bobby Timmons, George Wettling, Roy Milton, Charlie Rouse, Donald Byrd, Kai Winding, Kenny Drew, Kenny Clarke, Steve Swallow, Shelly Manne, Frank Bunker, Charlie Shavers, Ben Pollack, Jess Stacy, Ron Carter, Bob Zurke, Jimmy Rushing, Cecil Payne, Lucky Thompson, Gary Burton, Jaki Byard, Noble Sissle, Muggsy Spanier, Don Byas, Pee Wee Russell, Slam Stewart, Hazel Scott, Ziggy Elman, Buddy Schutz, Ernie Royal, Boyd Raeburn, Dave McKenna, Claude Thornhill.

And signatures more often seen, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Marian McPartland, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Hoagy Carmichael, Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, Gerry Mulligan, Cab Calloway, Rosemary Clooney, Wynton Marsalis,Tommy Dorsey, Oscar Peterson, Billy Eckstine, Mel Torme, Chick Corea, Count Basie.

In this grouping, there are three or four jazz-party photographs from Al White’s collection, but the rest are matted, with the signed page allied to a photograph — whether by the collector or by the seller, I don’t know.  And there seems to be only one error: “Joe Thomas” is paired with a photograph of the Lunceford tenor star, but the pairing is heralded as the trumpeter of the same name.

My head starts to swim, so I propose some appropriate music — sweet sounds at easy tempos, the better to contemplate such riches, before I share a half-dozen treasures related to musicians I revere.

Jess Stacy’s version of Bix Beiderbecke’s CANDLELIGHTS:

Harry Carney with strings, IT HAD TO BE YOU:

Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, Jo Jones, PRISONER OF LOVE:

Here are a double handful of autographs for your amazed perusal.

Bob Zurke:

Charlie Shavers, name, address, and phone number:

Lucky Thompson, 1957:

Jimmy Rushing, 1970:

Harry Carney:

Juan Tizol:

Bill Coleman:

Buck Clayton:

Hot Lips Page (authentic because of the presence of the apostrophe):

Joe Sullivan:

Don Byas:

George Wettling:

Frank Socolow:

Benny Carter (I want to see the other side of the check!):

And what is, to me, the absolute prize of this collection: Lester Young, whom, I’m told, didn’t like to write:

Here’s music to bid by — especially appropriate in those last frantic seconds when the bids mount in near hysteria:

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC TO OUR HEARTS: HETTY KATE’S “UNDER PARIS SKIES”

 

It’s been suggested to me that I might write too much, so here is my compact review of singer Hetty Kate‘s new CD, UNDER PARIS SKIES: “When I finished listening to the closing track, I wanted to hear it all over again.  I cam completely charmed.”  And you can buy it here   — $10 digital, $18 tangible.

Might I need to explain more?  This is Hetty’s ninth CD, and I first encountered her — on disc and in person — in 2014, and was charmed.  I wrote about her here and here.  The venue she performed at was terrifically noisy, so my videos were unusable, but Hetty was delightful — not, to quote Mildred Bailey, a bringdown.

UNDER  PARIS SKIES is mostly — but not completely — a CD of “French songs.” I put the phrase in quotation marks because for some singers it will might have been a selling gambit.  “What shall we do, now that I’ve done my Disney album and my holiday album?  I know, ‘French songs’!  That’ll sell like [insert appropriate French delicacy here]!”  But in a world of lovely (Photoshopped or otherwise) and beautifully styled young maids who present themselves as chanteuses, and create discs where the best thing is the cover, she is happily free from artifice.

Each song is its own particular pleasure.  There are a dozen, harking back to the records of my earlier life, reassuring.  But before I say another word about the music, I would ask Hetty to tell us about the genesis of this disc.

In January 2017, I moved by myself from Melbourne, Australia, to Paris, France. I can’t tell you one particular reason why, but I can tell you I was ready, and it felt right. Moving to Paris was, and is, one of the most rewarding, and challenging, things I’ve ever done.

I love to sing standards, and I chose these beautiful songs to represent the myriad emotions I felt before, during and after my arrival. I flew away from the people and the things I love to try something new, and as I tumbled into France, brave, joyful, hopeful and unprepared, I broke my heart and fell in love again a million times. Sometimes great distance allows us to see clearly, and sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder.

I must add that many of these songs are for friends who were kind to me, friends who have inspired me, and friends I miss when I’m in either France or Australia. So, it’s fitting to think of this album as a love song, to two cities, to new and old friends, and to being brave.

This album took a somewhat meandering path along the boulevards of Paris before it reached its final destination. Now that it’s here I hope you enjoy it.

That says a great deal about Hetty — not only her peregrinations, but her attitude, gracious, open-hearted, and warm.  That attitude comes through the songs, but the CD is not simply a swoony paean to the city of the most formulaic sort.  Rather, Hetty, without melodrama, has a splendid intelligence about the way to set each song off to its best.  You might think of her as an intuitive jeweler who knows how to present even the smallest stone so that it gleams memorably.

In this, she is aided immeasurably by guitarist James Sherlock and string bassist Ben Hanlon — neither of whom I’d heard of before, but in this three-quarters-of-an-hour CD I came to think of them as modern masters, subtle, gently incisive  soloists and accompanists.  UNDER PARIS SKIES becomes in the first minutes a gratifying conversation among equals who never compete for our attention.  As an aside, the recording quality is a joy, and I understand that James and Ben have made their own duo CD.  Meaning Hetty no disrespect, I would like to hear that as well.

Hetty herself has a very mobile voice and vocal texture: she can be passionate but she avoids aiming for Piaf, or, for that matter, the conscious little-girlishness of Dearie.  Her sound is sweet but she can be tart, and her phrase-ending vibrato seems emotive but never melodramatic.  Her voice has a slight reediness, which is very endearing.  At times, she has a speaking directness, but she is always singing.  Her phrasing intelligently follows the contours of the lyrics, but it’s never a rigid up-and-down.  Her diction is superb (and her vowels are deliciously cultured) even on the most elaborately treacherous set of lyrics, and she makes each song completely believable . . . but with layers that emerge as we listen and listen again.

The disc begins, and woos us, with AZURE-TE, which some singers have so dampened with unshed tears that the result is soggy.  But Hetty, James, and Ben realize that it is a song about songs about Paris — every cliche Velcro-ed in place — so there is an amused lightness about the performance.  I was reminded slightly of Jean Sablon, warning us about the wolf, but more subtly, the way Basie would play a very slow blues, reminding us that playing sad music didn’t mean he had to be sad himself.  ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE rocks from the first note, the three voices enjoying themselves thoroughly, and the longest track on the CD ends in a flash.

I said that each song was a small drama shaped by Hetty, and ONCE UPON A SUMMERTIME has a great deal of emotional energy, as Hetty, rubato, begins in duet with Hanlon’s arco bass for the first chorus — shifting into waltz time for the second chorus, then to rubato for Hanlon (who is a string quartet on his own): quite amazing.  Should you think I exaggerate, listen:

A hilariously energized GET OUT OF TOWN follows — where Hetty’s second chorus is resonantly wittily convincing (I remember thinking, “She must be a powerfully charged opponent in a romantic argument, winning points while smiling broadly”): Sherlock’s playing is a lesson in spare orchestration.  Guitar fanciers in the audience may fuss over who he Sounds Like; for me, I hope he and Ben are accepting the best students and transforming lives.

IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, a song flattened by over-performance, is uplifted here, because of Hetty’s sweet deep understanding of the lyrics, her understated yet vibrating sincerity.  How gentle yet compelling her voice is; how unerringly warm and — to make the cliche apt — how “pitch-perfect”!

We have to come down from such a peak, and DARLING, JE VOUS AIME BEAUCOUP is just the thing, where Hetty can gleam at us, savoring the unspoken comedy of the English speaker who wants better French to charm the Love Object.  It is a sly soft-shoe dance of a performance, even though you won’t hear a foot being moved, unless they are your own.  UNDER PARIS SKIES is, to me, sweetly trite, but Hetty, Ben, and James move through it at a brisk rocking 3/4.  Since it’s the chosen title of the CD, I have to take it with generosity, and Hetty’s light approach rescues the song, as does the dancing playing of Ben and James, and the ending made me smile.  “Stranger beware,” but we aren’t afraid.

LA BELLE VIE, is, I recognized immediately, THE GOOD LIFE, rendered in bright capital letters by Tony Bennett a year after Sasha Distel’s original version: Hetty’s French falls lightly on the ear, which is no surprise:

Hetty wrote above that a few of the songs on the disc were favorites of friends, and since AFTER YOU’VE GONE has no French connection, I must assume it has a place for that reason.  I dreaded hearing this song, because it has been obliterated through a century of performance, but Hetty makes it come alive from the verse to her final improvisations, and Hanlon’s gorgeous accompaniment: arco and pizzicato, one of the tracks overdubbed but I couldn’t tell which, give this elderly tune a complete makeover in the name of Play and Playfulness.  TOUT DOUCEMENT returns us to French, reminiscent of Dearie without coyness.

DOWN WITH LOVE comes across like a fusillade of pistol shots as every word explodes at the listener — not volume but precise enunciation, mixing hilarity and exasperation.  “Take it away” is the most delightful rapid-fire triplet: all of Hetty’s shots are in the center of the target, and the performance is a lemony chaser to the amorous sentiments in other songs.

A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE is both a favorite song — another one perilously over-familiar.  But here, with Hanlon trotting alongside, after Hetty’s frankly impassioned reading of the verse, we are in the middle of the most seductive “rhythm ballad,” passions in swingtime:

For the first time in my listening history, I actually believe that the streets were “paved with stars.”  The enchantment Hetty, James, and Ben create is flawless.

You can purchase this CD here.  And I urge you to for purely selfish reasons: if this disc sells well, she will create more.  Gifts to those who can hear.

May your happiness increase!

IN PERFECT ALIGNMENT (Part Two): DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (11.21.19)

November 21, 2019 might have been an unremarkable day and night for some of us — leaving aside that it is Coleman Hawkins’ birthday — but at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, the stars were wonderfully in alignment when Danny Tobias, trumpet / Eb alto horn, Dan Block, clarinet / tenor, Josh Dunn, guitar, and Tal Ronen took the stage.

As James Chirillo says, “Music was made,” and we dare not underestimate the importance of that.

Not just formulaic “music,” but eloquent, swinging, lyrical playing in solo and ensemble, as you can hear in their BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL I’ve already posted here.

Those who take improvised music casually don’t realize the combination of skill, emotion, restraint, and individuality that is at its heart, where musicians create a model community for a few hours.

I hear an intelligent graciousness, where no one musician wants to be powerful at the expense of the others, where collective generosity is the goal, playing “for the comfort of the band,” as Baby Dodds described it — but when a solo opportunity comes along, each musician must be ready to speak their piece, share their distinct voice.  Too much ego and the band squabbles; too little ego and you have watery oatmeal for the ears.

That such music as you hear here and elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES exists is, to me, frankly miraculous.  Five glowing memorable examples of this holy art follow.  And if these sounds remind anyone of a small Count Basie group (you can add the sounds of Jo Jones in your head, if you care to) that would be fine also.

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

DIGA DIGA DOO:

LADY BE GOOD:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

MY GAL SAL:

May your happiness increase!

DEEP FEELINGS, QUIET SWING: DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (November 21, 2019)

Beauty doesn’t ever have to raise its voice.

Here is some beauty for us  — by Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. They created this quiet marvel and many others on November 21, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down, a place where beauty is invited to make itself comfortable on a regular basis.

BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL always makes me think of Herschel Evans, so much a part of the 1938-9 Basie band.  His short life is a model to us — not that we should die so young, but that we should make beauty, make its creation our goal, and thus be remembered decades after we are no longer on the planet.  You could substitute “love” for “beauty” and still be right.

(I also think of Ruby Braff and Sammy Margolis, but they are another story — although branches from the same lyrical tree.)

Thanks to Danny Tobias, Dan Block, Josh Dunn, and Tal Ronen — people who send us love notes of the best kind — and to Christine Santelli and Mike Zieleniewski, who make evenings like this at Cafe Bohemia possible.

May your happiness increase!

“WARM REGARDS” and “THANK GOD FOR EARS”: A COLLECTION OF PRECIOUS PAGES

The nimble folks atjgautographs” had their hands full of surprises . . . although their holdings range from Frederick Douglass to Marilyn Monroe to Irene Dunne, Stephen Sondheim, and Thomas Edison, it’s the jazz ephemera — no longer ephemeral — that fascinates me and others.  Here’s a sampling, with a few comments.  (The seller has many more autographs, from Sonny Rollins and Eubie Blake to Gene Krupa and Conrad Janis, so most readers of this blog will find something or someone to fascinate themselves.)  For those who want(ed) to buy what they see here, the auction ended this evening: if you are curious, I bid and lost on the Ivie Anderson and Jimmy Rushing; I won the Henry “Red” Allen and will be giving showings at a future date.  Check Eventbrite for tickets.

A number of the older autographs were inscribed to “Jack,” as you’ll see, and some of the newer ones to “Mark,” “Mark Allen,” and “Mark Allen Baker,” which led me on another path — more about the latter at the end of this post.

Husband and wife, very important figures in popular music, now perhaps less known.  Arranger Paul Weston:

and warm-voiced Jo Stafford:

Yusef Lateef lectures Mark:

while Louie Bellson is much more gentle in his inscription:

Lady Day, to Jack:

and Billie’s former boss, who called her “William”:

Notice that the Count’s signature is a little hurried, which to me is proof of its on-the-spot authenticity, because artists didn’t always have desks or nice flat surfaces to sign autographs after the show.  His calligraphy is in opposition to the next, quite rare (and in this case, quite dubious) signature:

Beautiful calligraphy, no?  But Helen Oakley Dance told the story (you can look it up) that Chick was embarrassed by his own handwriting, and when Helen asked for an autograph, Chick said, no, his secretary should sign it because her handwriting was so lovely . . . thus making me believe that this paper was not in Chick’s hands.  People who are less skeptical bid seriously on it, though.

Blossom Dearie, who arouses no such doubts:

And James Rushing, of that same Count Basie band:

I saw Mister Five-by-Five once, and his sound is still in my ears:

another Jimmy, happily still with us:

yet another Jimmy, playing at the Hotel Pennsylvania:

Would you care to join me for dinner?

Perhaps you’d like to meet both Dorsey Brothers?

and we could stay for the “Bombe Borealis,” whatever it looked like:

A woman I would have loved to see and hear, Miss Ivie Anderson:

She continues to charm:

Smack:

Jay Jay:

and Cee Tee:

The wondrous Don Redman:

Ella, whose inscription is elaborate and heartfelt:

One of the million he must have signed:

Jim Hall, always precise:

One can’t have too many of these:

an influential bandleader and personality:

one of Lucky’s great stars — and ours — from an era when you noted what instrument the star played, even if you couldn’t quite spell it:

Here’s the musical background, in the foreground:

finally, something that deserves its own scenario, “Mister Waller, could I have your autograph?”  “Of course, young lady.  What’s your name?”  “Mildred.”

which raises the question: was the bus ticket the spare piece of paper she had, or were they both on a Washington, D.C. streetcar or bus?  At least we know the approximate date of their intersection:

Neither Fats nor Mildred can answer this for us anymore, but here is the perfect soundtrack:

Mark Allen Baker, in the pre-internet world I come from, would have remained a mystery — but I Googled his name and found he is a professional writer, with books on sports teams and boxing, but more to the point, on autograph collecting.  So although I would have hoped he’d be a jazz fan, my guess is that his range is more broad.  And the autographs for sale here suggest that he has found the answer to the question, “Why do you collect autographs?” — the answer being, “To hold on to them and then sell them,” which benefits us.

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE EASY TO DANCE TO! (Part Two): HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND” at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Evergreen, Colorado, July 26, 2019)

The evidence is seriously against the nostalgic proposition that jazz was ever “America’s popular music” — even at the height of what we like to call the Swing Era.  But up until some time, and you can determine when that was, jazz was wonderful and respected dance music.  We know that hot bands — among them Henderson, Oliver, Goldkette — played tangos and waltzes as part of an evening’s entertainment.  But we also know that, in this century, it is possible to play lively hot music that gets dancers on the floor and keeps them there.

I don’t think many jazz fans associate Kid Ory with dance music, but their error and their loss — for he was much more versatile than his Twenties recordings (which are marvels) suggest.  When he returned to playing in the mid-Forties, up until the end of his life, he created bands with musicians who hadn’t taken up permanent residence in 1928, and the Kid wanted to see people dance to his bands.  Hal Smith has taken up the challenge of creating hot danceable jazz with his On the Levee Jazz Band — a beautiful ensemble featuring Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Kris Tokarski, piano; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Clint Baker (in this case), trombone; Ben Polcer, trumpet.  I caught them in a wonderful dance set at the Evergreen Jazz Festival last July, and the first part is here — swinging renditions of LADY BE  GOOD, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, I GOT RHYTHM, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE . . . songs you would think had all the life drained out of them through decades of performance, but feel new again.

Here’s the remainder of that set, featuring songs we associate with the Swing Era.  Ory fanciers will recognize many of them as coming from the two recordings Henry “Red” Allen made with the Kid, in addition to a European tour.  Inspiring stuff for sure.

Yes, that’s the Erskine Hawkins hit TUXEDO JUNCTION:

Ory’s own SAVOY BLUES, briskly:

Chu Berry’s CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:

Yes, the Glenn Miller (or Wingy Manone) IN THE MOOD to close:

This lovely rocking band has a CD, and will be appearing at the San Diego Jazz Fest coming this Thanksgiving — also as one of two bands appearing at the Saturday-night dance.  I predict exuberant swaying to the sounds.

May your happiness increase!

A TRIUMPH: “LESTER’S BLUES – RED LABEL: HOMMAGE TO LESTER YOUNG AND THE BASIE-ITES” (2018)

A Preface:

I came to this band through their Facebook page and was thrilled by their sound.  When I noticed the great reed played David Lukacs (whose CD DREAM CITY I have praised here) was one of the two tenor saxophonists (he also plays clarinet) I asked him to put me in touch with saxophonist / leader Tom Callens.  A few days ago, a neat package arrived; I extracted both the CD and vinyl issue, slid the former into the player, played it three times in a row, and was uplifted each time. It has also become the soundtrack to this post, appropriately.

Several Relevant Illustrations:

This is the band’s website, where you will see their video of the recording of DICKIE’S DREAM.  I encourage you to click on it, or visit the video here:

Here’s TICKLE-TOE, a legal stimulant:

and a seductive live version of THE GOON DRAG. It’s also on the record, but the live version shows that their magic comes from inspiration:

Emulation, not Repetition (I):

LESTER’S BLUES is the wonderful embodiment of ideas (to be explicated below) for which Tom Callens may take credit.  The repertoire springs from Lester’s recordings of about a decade, with nods to Count Basie, Billie Holiday, but also Lester’s Aladdin period, his Keynote sessions, and the aforementioned GOON DRAG, originally a Sammy Price recording for Decca. The titles will make this even clearer: KING PORTER STOMP / ONE O’CLOCK JUMP / EASY LIVING / LESTER’S BE-BOP BOOGIE / SIX CATS AND A PRINCE / MY MAN / THE GOON DRAG / SHOE SHINE BOY / AD LIB BLUES / TICKLE-TOE / SUN SHOWERS / DICKIE’S DREAM.

The Repeater Pencil (II):

There’s evocation and freedom, soulfully balanced, throughout.  Lester said he didn’t want to be a “repeater pencil” (my musings on that here and here — the second post has the pleasure of my hero Dan Morgenstern correcting me).

Lester urged musicians to “be original,” to “sing your own song,” so I think he would be pleased by LESTER’S BLUES because it evokes him but does not copy.  The band is not Supersax, nor is it Lester’s Greatest Hits, nor is it The Chronological Lester.  What a relief.  But there’s no thin “innovation,” no playing MY MAN with a Second Line drum beat, nor is it “what would happen if Lester had played GIANT STEPS or THAT’S A PLENTY?”  Another relief.

The Musicians, Being Original (III):

Thus Delphine Gardin understands Billie but sounds pleasingly like herself (a self who knows the records but also knows the futility of mimicking them); ONE O’CLOCK JUMP is based on the small group Basie had ten years after Lester left; drummer Frederik Van den Berghe does not restrict himself to Jo Jones’ hi-hat; David Lukacs and Tom Callens know Lester’s solos but — except in the case of SHOE SHINE BOY — use them as suggestions rather than strictures.  And there are warm traces of Herschel Evans and later reed players here as well.  Singing EVENIN’, Tom Callens bows to Jimmy Rushing but is himself; pianist Luk Vermeir gracefully cuts a path around just-like-the-Count cliches.  Trumpeter Hans Bossuyt has an estimable wildness that breaks out of the Buck Clayton mold; Sam Gerstmans has a beautiful lower-register sound that Walter Page would praise, but he’s heard other players; guitarists Victor Da Costa and Bart Vervaeck swing their own glorious ways.

A First Inducement to Purchase (IV):

Thus, even if you know every performance on this disc by heart; if you can hum Lester’s solos on both takes of Billie’s WHEN YOU’RE SMILING, you will find this recording a series of small warming surprises that, listened to several times, become inevitable and memorable.  And the band is a band — there are beautifully “right” ensemble passages, jammed or written — thus the recording is more than a series of great solos over a rhythm section.  Tom is responsible for all the arrangements, which are varied and delightful.

Technical Data (V):

It’s no small thing that its recorded sound is lovely, the result of old-fashioned technology that still rewards us.  Callens’ liner note — more about that in a minute — is memorable in its rejection of all the digitalia that makes some sessions sound so cold: “Recorded live in one-takes (no edits), in one room with the band centered around two main microphones, mixed straight to analog 1/4″ tape on a two-track MCI 1H-110 machine.  No external effects other than compression were used during tracking.  The tapes were edited the old-school way — cutting and splicing — to prepare for mastering.”  More technical details await interested readers on the LP sleeve.

What it Means, and it Means a Great Deal (VI):

I rarely quote from liner notes except when I’ve written them (!) but Tom’s notes are so quietly fervent and wise that I share them without editing.  They give insights not primarily into the music of the band but the souls of its musicians and the soulful impulse behind its birth.  I don’t exaggerate.

You could say that the members of Lester’s Blues are from the MTV generation: born in a wealthy, predominantly white Western country in the eighties: raised on FM radio hits, as well as underground music like grunge, hip hop, drum’n’bass, triphop, witnessing the change from analog technology like wired phones, television, radio, cassettes, and vinyl to the digital age of computers, compact discs, mp3s, wireless technology, and the internet.  As we grew up, we saw the general ‘dehumanization’ of our world, as the disappearance of religion gave way to even great reliance on machines, the rise of tools for quantification and efficiency made out societies market-and-performance-driven, and the unrelenting blare of media left us in constant chaos and fragmentation.

As a result, the people around us are seeking authenticity, both externally and mentally, subconsciously feeling that they have lost something.  People are looking for connection.  You see it everywhere in specialist, handcrafted bicycles, clothes and beer; in yoga and meditation practices; in the return of past pop culture styles of dance, fashion, music, graphics and videos; in homegrown vegetables, local produce and slow food; in the desire for an original identity through particular choices of dress, tattoos, hobbies, language . . .

Most of our generation-X musicians went to the jazz conservatory and primarily learned the language of bebop and the idioms / styles that followed.  To be sure, that syllabus didn’t include any lessons on ‘connection’. . . After this education, we were thrown into the real world to start honing our craft, possibly playing different genres of music, by choice or financial necessity.  Such was, and still is, my path.  Over the year, I became aware that I was missing something deeper.  It led me to music that could connect to the soul: something healing or even spiritual.  I listened to classical and world music, often religious music, or particular singer-songwriters, gospel, and blues.

In the middle of all of this, I discovered the music of Lester ‘Prez’ Young.  I have kept on listening to him and his peers over the years.  It eventually dawned on me just how deeply his expression could reach me, on many levels, and so much emotion.  I am convinced that this music is one of the strongest, timeless projections in human nature, universally understood, and I get confirmation of that whenever I meet another Lester fan.  It touches me in more ways than I can describe.  It is music in which you feel that every musician is equally important, where everyone’s contributions melt into a single voice.  It has its unpredictabilities and imperfections.  It can be strange and weird, happy, vibrant, fast, slow . . . just like real life or nature.  It is, of course, technically impressive, yet at the same time it reaches an equally (if not more) impressive emotional level, sending shivers up your spine, making it a rare example of both technical prowess and emotional intelligence.

After a moment of deep introspection somewhere in 2016, it came to me that playing this music with people I love and respect professionally was something that I had to do, like a calling.  To study and share that music and its language-fabric, bringing it to life on stage and creating a moment where everybody would come together, right there in the present.  To look for surprises, to try and  have a coherent musical dialogue devoid of excess, to be open to our humanness, with all its quirks, inventiveness, and humor.  In sum: to search for another way of living the music than what we have become used or programmed to do.

This way of seeing things makes every step – the concert, rehearsal, recording – a life-learning experience.  We have already gained so much from being close to the music of Young, Basie, and their peers. Even if Lester Young may hesitate to see us playing his music and emulating his style – he used to say, ‘You got to be original, man!’ – I think we are paying in our own small way a tribute to his always-searching, life-respecting, irreverent yet humble, freedom-seeking being.  That’s what I see in this music, and hope you can see it, too.

After Such Knowledge, What Action? (VII):

Here (on Bandcamp) you can buy a “vinyl” 12″ long-playing record with a lovely Savoy label, or a CD, or download the music digitally.  Another digital version can be purchased through Amazon here and through Apple Music here.

(Other sites offer the music, but JAZZ LIVES doesn’t endorse other streaming music platforms that take advantage of musicians; if you want to exploit creators, you’ll have to find your own paths.)

This is extraordinary uplifting music, and it swings like mad.  Who deserves a copy more than you, Faithful Reader?

May your happiness increase!

BLISS (Part One): DANNY TOBIAS, LARRY McKENNA, SILAS IRVINE, JOE PLOWMAN (1867 Sanctuary, Ewing, New Jersey, Sept. 21, 12019)

Everyone’s bliss is different.  But for me, one version is being close to and recording a small group of creative musicians playing splendidly, listening attentively to one another in a quiet space in front of a rapt audience.  It’s bliss when it happens, and also because it happens so rarely.

But it did happen in the lovely 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey, for two hours on September 21, 2019.  The noble creators were Danny Tobias, trumpet, fluegelhorn, and Eb alto horn; Larry McKenna, tenor saxophone; Silas Irvine, piano; Joe Plowman, string bass.  And here’s their first set: lyrical, controlled, passionate, swinging, deeply melodic.

Larry McKenna

They began with I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU, which although it did not begin life as a swinging tune, Count Basie made it so — as do they:

What followed continued to make me and the rest of the audience happy, but if this quartet had decided that enough was enough with this single performance, I would have been satisfied.  Slightly mystified, but smiling.  But I am thrilled they continued.

The lovely MY IDEAL (check out the lyrics if you don’t know them):

Danny picked up his new / old Eb alto horn for MOOD INDIGO.  Wait until the end, after the last notes, for his musicological commentary and a patented Tobias comic flourish:

Danny’s own HOW’S IT GO? — based on chord changes that were part of the common language when there was one:

Get up, stretch, find some snacks, and the second half will be posted shortly. I bless these four creators and thank them as well.  Thanks also to Bob and Helen Kull, for making the 1867 Sanctuary a shrine for wonderful art.  This post is for John Scurry, John Herr, Sam Taylor, Melissa Gilstrap, and R1, of course.

May your happiness increase!

THEY LED BANDS, OR PLAYED IN THEM: A COLLECTION OF SIGNATURES

Thanks to jgautographs for putting these and other bits of sacred ephemera up on eBay, where I found them.  This seller has a wide range — from Mae West and Rudy Vallee to Stephen Sondheim, Playbills, actors and actresses both famous and obscure.  But I thought the JAZZ LIVES audience would especially warm to these signatures (some, late-career, but all authentic-looking, many inscribed to Al or Albert) from bandleaders and famous musicians.  In no particular order of reverence.

This is not common at all:

Artie Shaw, 1984:


The Kid From Red Bank, undated (but its casualness makes it feel all the more authentic, with rust, mildew, or food embellishments):

Pioneering trumpeter Billie Rogers:

Glorious lead trumpeter Jimmie Maxwell (always listed as “Jimmy”); I regret that he died two years before I moved into his Long Island town:

Yes, Sammy Kaye, included here because of a Ruby Braff story, memorable and paraphrased: an interviewer tried to get Ruby to say something harsh about this sweet band, and Ruby retorted that if he saw Sammy he would kiss him, because “You had to be a MUSICIAN to play in those bands!”  True:

The front of a card, signed by the insufficiently-celebrated Miff Mole:

and the back, which tells the story, although the handwriting is mysterious and the stains might require a good chemical laboratory to identify — circa 1944:

and two signatures from people who spent their lives signing autographs, the Sentimental Gentleman:

and That Drummer Man, 1967:

Once again, it brings up the question of what we leave behind us when we depart, and how are we remembered.  Did Basie or Gene think, when they were signing a fan’s autograph book, that their signatures would be for sale decades later?  I don’t know what to hope.

May your happiness increase!

THE PURSUIT OF SWEETNESS, OR, LIFE BEYOND “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON, a/k/a “THE HOT CORNER” (September 15, 2019)

Hot Lips Page is supposed to have said, on the subject of repertoire one could improvise on, “The material is immaterial.”  Or, as a segment on the Benny Goodman Camel Caravan was headlined, “Anything can swing!”  Many jazz fans cling to a favored selection of songs, performed loud and fast — you know the tunes that the audience is ready to applaud even before a note is played, the lure and comfort of the familiar.  Not so here.  This is music for people willing to pay close attention, and to feel what’s being created for them.

Ray Skjelbred goes his own way, deep in the heart of melody, and we are glad.  Here he is with Marty Eggers, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, documented for all of us and for posterity by RaeAnn Berry.  Ray’s renamed this trio “The Hot Corner,” a reference to third base in baseball, but the music lives up to the name in very subtle ways.  In fact, it’s quiet and thus even more compelling, reminding me of the passages on 1938-40 Basie records where only the rhythm section is playing, quiet and even more quiet: enthralling!

Ray loves Bing Crosby, and Bing inspired some of the best songs, including his theme, a melody almost forgotten now:

Here’s what my dear friend Mike Burgevin would call “another Bingie,” this one best listened to over a dish of fresh — not canned — pineapple:

We wander from Bing to King — Wayne King, “the Waltz King,” that is:

Notice, please, the sweet patience of musicians who don’t have to jump into double-time, who can stay contentedly in three-quarter time, and it all swings so affectingly.  And here, just because technology makes it so easy, for those listeners who might not know the originals (and can now marvel even more at what Ray, Jeff, and Marty make of them), here they are.

Bing, with added attractions Eddie Lang and Franklin Pangborn:

and in a Hawaiian mood:

That famous waltz (which Bob Wills and Tamar Korn have also made their own):

and the Wills version, because why should I deny us the pleasure?

May your happiness increase!

CELESTIAL VIBRATIONS FROM PLANET DOYLE: JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

The music that Jonathan Doyle writes, plays, and inspires is too expansive to fit into any box, but listening to these four glorious performances from the Redwood Coast Music Festival, I thought, “What would happen if some magical science could graft the soundtrack of JAMMIN’ THE BLUES onto the Ellington small groups and the secret John Hammond-Basie sessions of 1936-9?”  That imagined concoction, a rich brew, amused me, but again it was too confining for what Jonathan does with and through his Swingtet.

I would have you note the obvious: he is a wonderfully inspired soloist and ensemble player, improvising as he goes with great feeling, but his lines are quirky and surprising, and his arrangements are so rewarding that one should revisit any performance more than twice or three times to savor the mix of soloists, ensemble passages, dynamics, timbres (delicate to raucous) which all add up to a compositional sense that keeps the fervor of a jam session / head arrangement — the results not only please but amaze.

Some of the amazement, to be accurate, comes from the singular talents Jonathan attracts — I think people on this level are eager to play alongside him and read his charts, because they thrive on the stimulation they can find here.  It is as far from formulaic readings of PERDIDO or ROYAL GARDEN BLUES as one could imagine or hope for.  For this set, Jonathan’s colleagues are Hal Smith, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Kris Tokarski, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar (SOME rhythm section, as E.B. White’s Charlotte would have written); Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet.  All brought to you — not only by the musicians — by the generous wise pair who create the Redwood Coast Music Festival, Mark and Valerie Jansen.

Here’s more.  Only the first half of Laura Glaess’ title applies here:

Jonathan’s JUST A LITTLE RIGHT:

Named for the thrilling Mister Smith:

and the gorgeously textured STEPPIN’ LIGHT:

And a brief didactic moment, which those who listen deeply can skip.  I suspect, sadly, that some jazz consumers are brand-fixated, rather like children who will only eat McNuggets and drink Coke.  “That’s not My Favorite Band, so I’ll skip it.” Dear consumers, take a chance and listen: beauty sprouts and blooms all through Jonathan Doyle’s Swingtet.

May your happiness increase!

RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS at OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON (June 2019): RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JEFF HAMILTON, MATT WEINER, JOSH ROBERTS

I was closer to home — Beantown in Beverly, Massachusetts — when Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs played several sets (more than forty videos recorded and posted by Rae Ann Berry) at the 28th Annual Greater Olympia Dixieland Jazz Festival, in Lacey, Washington.  Ray also appeared at a crucial member of the Evergreen Jazz Band, which Rae Ann also captured on video for us.

Three of the Cubs were the heroes we know: Ray, piano, vocal, and moral leadership; Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums, banter.  But two other stars — Clint Baker and Katie Cavera — couldn’t be there, so Ray brought two splendid young musician-colleagues from the Pacific Northwest, whom you should get to know right away: Matt Weiner, string bass, vocal; Josh Roberts, guitar.  What music they make!

Here are a few glorious samples: finding the rest is not difficult and worth the clicking and mousing.

BOLL WEEVIL BLUES, one I’ve never heard Ray play and sing:

I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU: what if Kim Cusack had been the right age to sit in with the 1937 Basie band?

IDA (for Ida Melrose Shoufler, of course, “Auntie”):

and a blues inspired by an Eddie Condon Commodore record, BEAT TO THE SOCKS:

and another Condon homage, IMPROVISATION FOR THE MARCH OF TIME:

I think of “Buy them, trade them, collect the set!” but that isn’t right: how about “Watch them, enjoy them, honor this music!” You can find more of Rae Ann’s treasures here.

May your happiness increase!

DID YOUR RECENT BLOOD TEST SHOW DECREASED GROOVE LEVELS? JAZZ LIVES IS HERE TO HELP (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 12, 2019)

When I feel poorly, the conventional choice is this (with all respect to my internist, not pictured here):

I prefer this medical group, photographed at their 1936 convention:

A similar gathering of holistic groove-healers, inspired by Ammons and Basie, assembled on May 12, 2019, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: doctors Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Little Charlie Baty, guitar; Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Young J.C.” is James Caparone, himself.

With thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen, patron saints of Redwood Coast sounds, where musicians not only know how to spell RHYTHM but make it jump.

May your happiness increase!

CHOOSING TO SWING: NIRAV SANGHANI AND THE PACIFIC SIX

I don’t have grandchildren*, but I can imagine myself gathering the younguns around and telling them, “Younguns, Grandpa knew Nirav Sanghani when he was only a swing dancer, before he began to lead a band!” They would be properly awestruck.  As I am by Nirav’s debut CD, its pretty cover displayed above.

Some facts: the CD is immensely danceable music, the tracks at righteous groovy tempos, with a mix of classic standards and riff-based originals.  Nirav is one of the young musicians mentored by Clint Baker, so you know that he has taken all the right impromptu classes and scored high on the real-life exams (in front of audiences).  And he understands rhythm guitar (rather than attempting to become a Famous-Solo-Guitarist-Clone) and playing for the band.  The band is a compact sextet of wise individualists, and they rock in solo and ensemble.  Beautiful sound . . . . and a digital download costs $8.  I am sure that Elders like myself could also buy a physical disc from Nirav at any of the swing events he and the Pacific Six adorn.

The band: Justin Au, trumpet; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Rob Reich, piano; Nirav Sanghani, guitar; Jen Hodge, string bass; Riley Baker, drums; Clint Baker, trombone (on BAKER BOUNCE only).

The songs: BAKER BOUNCE / DOODLE RHYTHM / MARIANAS / BLUE (And Broken-Hearted) / IRRATIONAL BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / LULLABY OF THE WAVES / WHISPERING.  arch 26, 2019

Recorded August 19, 2018 at Community Music Center, San Francisco, CA.

From the first notes, the band floats on a well-connected four-piece rhythm section: Reich, Sanghani, Hodge, and Baker have listened hard to the great small groups of the Forties and the wartime Basie influence is so happily evident (although none of the cliches are).  I noticed happily that more than a few of the tracks began with a rhythm-section introduction, reminiscent of the great small groups and also clearly setting the tempo for dancers.  (Incidentally, that rhythm section has its own delicious quirky approach: hear the opening chorus of WHISPERING to get at it: hilarious and completely effective.)  IRRATIONAL BLUES is beautifully evocative of the 1938 Kansas City Six, with a guitar introduction by Sanghani.

And the horn soloists (Zimmerman switching from clarinet to saxophone on some tracks; a terse, lyrical Au — with the impassioned Clint Baker, jazz parent, adding huge trombone sounds on the first track) are wonderfully idiomatic but never imitative.  Eddie Condon would surely admire their interplay on BLUE and on SOMEDAY SWEETHEART.  The jazz fans in the audience might think of 1946, of Savoy Records, of swing-to-bop; the dancers will be too busy dancing to consider such erudite matters.

Nirav’s originals are made of familiar materials but each has its own little surprises, and the arranging touches are well-shaped but never overfussy.  I know that if I heard this on the radio or on a DJ’s playlist, I might not immediately call each of the players by name but I certainly would insist on knowing about the band and buying a few copies of the disc.

I propose that people who enjoy this CD pass along copies of it to dance organizers who might be out of touch with the best Bay Area jive so that we can spread the swinging word(s).

My only complaint about this disc is that it isn’t a two-disc set.

Here is the band’s Facebook page, and here, perhaps even more important, is the Bandcamp page where you can hear the sounds and download the music.

If you have a swing dance event coming up, this would be one of the many fine bands to hire.  If, like me, you don’t, you surely will want to have the music in your home, your ears, your car . . . the possibilities are endless, and gratifying.

*Because I don’t have grandchildren, I am expecting like-minded younger JAZZ LIVES readers to visit us in assisted living, bearing new CDs, organic fruit and vegetables.  I think that’s not too much to ask.

May your happiness increase!

“LARKIN’S LAW” AND ITS DISCONTENTS, or “WHO’S SORRY NOW?”

When I first read poet / jazz-lover / jazz-essayist Philip Larkin’s “law,” some forty years ago, I thought it sardonically amusing, as was Groucho’s “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”  Now, I find it and its effects quite sad:

“If I were to frame Larkin’s Law of Reissues, it would say that anything you haven’t got already probably isn’t worth bothering about.  In other words, if someone tries to persuade you to buy a limited edition of the 1924-25 sessions by Paraffin Joe and his Nitelites, keep your pockets buttoned up: if they were any good, you’d have heard of them at school, as you did King Oliver, and have laid out your earliest pocket money on them.”

I’ve always had an odd admiration for Larkin, while making the necessary effort to ignore much of what he wrote: he is the embarrassing relative at the holiday dinner table who shares his racist, misogynistic views.  I am also certain that had we met, he would have satirized me in his diary that evening.  But his vigorous parochialism ran parallel to some of my taste: he thought the 1932 Rhythmakers sessions the height of Western civilization, a sentiment I can understand.

Larkin’s Law would seem valid to many in “the jazz audience” I know, a credo in support of Their Kind of Music.  Caveat immediately: there are so many jazzes and thus so many audiences that I can only speak of the small slice I experience, in person, in correspondence, and through social media.

With JAZZ LIVES as my creation for over a decade, I continue to be thrilled by the music yet often puzzled by the provincialism of the response it receives.  Of course this blog is an expression of my own tastes, which have been shaped by experience(s).  I prefer X to Y even if received wisdom says I shouldn’t.  And although my response may be simply “That band doesn’t move me,” I stand by my aesthetics.

However, even though jazz was once a radical music, an art form relegated to the basement where it wouldn’t upset the pets, the audience can be aesthetically conservative, defining itself in opposition.

As Sammut of Malta writes, people view art as a box rather than as a spectrum.

I think many of the jazz-consumers have decided What They Like and it is often What They Have Always Liked.  Their loyalty is fierce, even in the face of unsettling evidence.  My analogy is the restaurant at which one has a brilliant meal, then a good meal, then a dreadful meal — but one keeps returning, because one always eats there.  Familiarity wins out over the courage to experiment.  “I love this band.  I first heard them in 1978!”

As an aside: I’ve watched audience members at jazz festivals who race to see Their Favorite Band and then talk through the set, applauding loudly what they could not have heard, convinced that they are having the time of their lives.  (This phenomenon is a subject for another blog: it worked its way in here and it deserves its few words.)

Loyalty is a lovely thing, and audience members certainly may gravitate to what pleases them.  If you tell me that Taco Bell is the best Mexican food that ever was, I can protest, I can meet you after lunch, I can invite you to the taqueria down the street, but changing your mind is difficult.  You like what you like for a complex network of reasons, many of them unexamined.

What does worry me is when affection becomes rigidity and turns into a rejection of anything a few degrees away from the Ideal.  It happens on both ends of the aesthetic continuum.  One of my Facebook fans used to dismiss music she found too modern as “Too swingy.”  I suggested to her that jazz of the kind she preferred also swung, but it was clear that some music I embraced seemed heretical to her.  Conversely, “I don’t like banjos and tubas” is a less-heard but prevalent response, to which I want to say, “Have you heard A play the banjo or B play the tuba?  Perhaps your condemnation needs to be refined to ‘I prefer rhythm guitar and string bass in rhythm sections, but other ways to swing can be pleasing as well’.”  I can even say, “Have you heard Bernard Addison and John Kirby in 1933?” but does everyone recognize those names?

In practical terms, Larkin’s Law means that many people reject as unworthy what they do not immediately recognize.  Closing the door on anything even slightly different will not help those who want the music they love to go on.  And it will deny the listener pleasurable surprises.

I, too, know jazz parochialism.  When I was 14, I could have told you that I liked jazz.  Pressed for a definition of what I liked, I would have said Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman small groups, and not much else.  Soon I added the Billie Holiday small groups, 1940 Ellington, 1938 Basie, and so on.  It took a long time before I could “hear” Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with pleasure and understanding, but I knew there was something worth investigating.  I have not gotten beyond early Ornette or Wilbur Sweatman, but I keep listening and attending live jazz performances.

I know some JAZZ LIVES readers and friends have more open ears than what I describe.  And some of them, whom I celebrate happily, have written to say, “Thank you, Michael, for introducing me to _____ and _________, whom I wouldn’t have heard without your blog.”  Reading this, I think gleefully, “My work on the planet is done,” and go to do the dishes with a big grin.  But I wonder how many listeners have seriously considered, let us say, both Mike Davis and Lena Bloch, Kim Cusack and Ted Brown, Paul Asaro and Joel Forrester, the Chicago Cellar Boys and the Microscopic Septet, Kirk Knuffke and Danny Tobias — to pick a few vivid examples.

My apparent ecumenicism does not mean I like everything.  And I receive a good number of solicitations from music publicists and even CDs: I listen before saying, “No, that’s not for me.”  Rarely do I think, “Wow, that’s bad music!”; rather, I say, “What that artist is doing is not pleasing to me, but that says much about me as well as what it says about the art.”

We all, I believe, fell in love with certain varieties of this art because they made us feel excited, joyous, alive, exuberant — a WOW moment.  For some, the Love Object may be Oliver’s ROOM RENT BLUES or the closing chorus of the Hot Seven’s WEARY BLUES, or a Decca Lunceford, the Jones-Smith session, Hawkins’ SIRIUS . . . .  And no one would propose to say to an enraptured listener, “You really shouldn’t listen to that,” unless one wants to argue.  But what if some musician or band offered a serious WOW moment and the listener had refused to try it out, because, “I don’t listen to anything that isn’t . . . . “?  Should we be so in love with what we love that we keep our ears closed, as if it would be fatal for us to spend two or three minutes with a music that didn’t instantly please us?

Our preferences are strong.  But occasionally those preferences are so negative that they make me envision my fellow jazz-lovers as irritable toddlers.  “Honey, we have A through L for lunch.  What would you like?” The response, in a howl, “No!  No!  No!  Want R!”

There is another manifestation of this calcified reaction, one I perceive regularly through JAZZ LIVES.  Certain artists have powerful magnetism: call it star quality, so whatever they play or sing attracts an audience.  (It is reminiscent of the imagined book with the widest audience, called LINCOLN’S DOCTOR’S DOG.)  I have often thought that the most-desired video I could offer would have technically dazzling music at a fast tempo, performed by young people, women and men both.  A little sexuality, a drum solo, novelty but not too much, evocations of this or the other jazz Deity . . . it’s a hit!

But it also should be music made by Famous Names.  You can compile your own list of stars who often play and sing beautifully.  But when I offer a video without Famous Names, without the visual novelty, fewer people go to it, enacting Larkin’s Law.  “I don’t know who that is.  How could (s)he be any good?”

Do we listen with our ears or our eyes or with our memory for names?

Could listeners, for instance, make serious judgments about music they knew nothing about — the Blindfold Test?  I admire Hot Lips Page above most mortals, but I have learned to be courageous enough to say, “I love Lips, but he seems bored here — he’s going through the motions.”  Whether I am right or not matters less, but making the critical judgment is, I think, crucial.

These thoughts are provoked by Larkin’s Law as an indication of historical allegiance rather than expansive taste, of a narrowness of reaction rather than a curiosity about the art form.

What I conceive as the ideal may seem paradoxical, but I applaud both a willingness to listen outside one’s tightly-defended parameters and, at the same time, to be seriously aware in one’s appreciation and not turn habit into advocacy.  Let us love the music and let us also hear it.

And, in honor of Philip Larkin, who may have stubbornly denied himself pleasure by hewing to his own asphyxiating principles, here are some of his artistic touchstones:

A personal postscript: JAZZ LIVES gives me great joy, and I am not fishing for praise.  Many people have told me in person how much they appreciate my efforts.  But I perceive provincialism creeping up the limbs of the jazz body as sure as rigor mortis, and I would like this music to continue, vigorous, when I am no longer around to video it.

May your happiness increase!

“LITTLE THINGS THAT DON’T GET INTO THE HISTORY BOOKS”: DAN MORGENSTERN TELLS TALES of SYMPHONY SID TORIN, WILLIS CONOVER, ARTIE SHAW, and COOTIE WILLIAMS (June 8, 2018)

I am so fortunate in many ways, some of them not evident on this site.  But JAZZ LIVES readers will understand that my being able to interview Dan Morgenstern at his home from March 2017 on — at irregular intervals — is a gift I would not have dreamed possible when I was only A Wee Boy reading his liner notes and DOWN BEAT articles.

Dan is an unaffected master of small revealing insights that show character: in some ways, he is a great short-story writer even though he is working with factual narrative.  Watching these interviews, you’ll go away with Artie Shaw pacing the room and talking, Willis Conover’s ashtrays, Cootie Williams reverently carrying Louis’ horn back to the latter’s hotel, and more.

About ten days ago, we spent another ninety minutes where Dan told affectionate tales of Jaki Byard, Ulysses Kay, Randy Weston, Kenny Dorham, and more.  Those videos will come to light in time.  But we had a marathon session last June, with stories of Louis, Cozy Cole, Milt Hinton, Coltrane, Roy, Teddy, Basie, Joe Wilder, Ed Berger, Perry Como and others — which you can savor here.  And, although it sounds immodest, you should.  (I also have videos of a July session with Dan: stay tuned, as they used to say.)

Here are more delightful stories from the June session.

Dan remembers Symphony Sid Torin, with sidebars about John Hammond, Nat Lorber, Rudi Blesh, Stan Kenton at Carnegie Hall, Roy Eldridge, and jazz radio in general:

Dan’s affectionate portrait of another man with a mission concerning jazz — the Voice of America’s Willis Conover:

and some afterthoughts about Willis:

and, to conclude, another leisurely portrait, early and late, of Artie Shaw:

with Artie as a “champion talker,” and a gig at Bop City, and sidelights about Benny Goodman and Cootie Williams, the latter reverent of Louis:

Thank you, Dan, for so generously making these people, scenes, and sounds come so alive.

May your happiness increase!