Tag Archives: Count Basie

SOME NOTES FROM BUCK: DUKE HEITGER, SCOTT ROBINSON, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, NICKI PARROTT, RICKY MALICHI (CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, SEPT. 13, 2015)

BUCK

Aside from being one of the most handsome men in jazz, and a gloriously consistent soloist, Buck Clayton was also a splendid arranger and composer. In his hands, an apparently simple blues line had its own frolicsome Basie flavor, and his compositions take simple, logical, playful ideas and connect them irresistibly.

Here’s a winning example — a blues from 1961 or earlier, from the period when Buck and his Basie colleagues (sometimes Emmett Berry, Dicky Wells, Earle Warren, Gene Ramey, and others) toured Europe and the United States, teaching and re-reaching everyone how to swing, how to solo effectively and concisely, and how to play as a unit.

Such nice things as this — a spontaneous Buck Clayton evocation (thanks to Rossano Sportiello) happen as a matter of course at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (held this year September 15-18).  OUTER DRIVE is performed by Duke Heitger, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.

Please, on your second or third listening, notice the variety of ensemble textures — how well five musicians who understand the swing tradition can and do sound like an orchestra, and how they intuitively construct riffs and backgrounds to keep the presentation lively.

May your happiness increase!

ANDY BROWN, SWING MASTER: “APPEL DIRECT”

Theoretically, I should not be able to write that the Chicago-based guitarist Andy Brown is in fact a Swing Master.  He is certainly too young and too healthy. He’s been on a skateboard.  He might even lack the maladjustments so common to Great Artists.  But these things have not limited his creative magic.

andy_brown2

There’s more delightful evidence at hand, a new Delmark CD, DIRECT CALL, which I would gladly dub SWING MASTERPIECE OF 2016.

andy brown direct call cover

For those who’d rather trust their ears than this blog, here are samples from the CD.  And here is the riotously rocking title track — Django’s APPEL DIRECT:

The three other masters here are Phil Gratteau, drums; Jeremy Kahn, piano; Joe Policastro, string bass.  Like Andy, they know what and where it is.

The session was recorded in Chicago last September — beautiful sound thanks to my non-relative Scott Steinman: THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ / PRISONER OF LOVE / EL CAJON / FUNK IN DEEP FREEZE / APPEL DIRECT / RELAXING / ONE MORNING IN MAY / CATCH ME / ELA E CARIOCA / FREAK OF THE WEEK.

In a crime novel whose name I forget, someone said, less politely, “Everybody can talk but not everyone has things to say.”  The art of swing improvisation is not something learned from the Real Book or from copying gestures to fool an audience. (Ending a performance of SHINY STOCKINGS with three Basie chords doesn’t make it Basie.)

Compelling, light-hearted, authentic swing and melodic improvisations are a matter of years of study — usually on the job.  The members of this quartet, although not Elders chronologically, are wise players whose art comes from playing, listening, thinking, feeling.

Some like their jazz to be startling, even abrupt.  It has to be “innovative” and “adventurous.”  I wouldn’t deny them such pleasures, but music that shouts BOO! in my ear is not for me.  I warm to jazz that delicately balances the familiar and the surprising, with comfort the result, as if I were a passenger with a driver I wholly trusted.  This comfort is felt immediately in the opening choruses of APPEL DIRECT.  “These players know how to sustain feeling and build on it; they won’t let me down or disappoint me.”

Although the CD is in no way a repertory project, I could settle into the joy of experiencing and anticipating right from the start: the same way I feel when (let us say) I heard Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones play an eight-bar introduction.  Basie and Charlie Christian.  Jimmie Rowles, Jim Hall, Leroy Vinnegar, Frank Butler. You can supply your own names.  Mastery and ease.

I urge you to check out the CD, and, even better, share the music with others . . . or do that most radical thing, hear this quartet in a Chicago club or elsewhere. I believe that you will feel uplifted, rewarded — by the sweetness of PRISONER OF LOVE, the rare energy of CATCH ME and the other swinging tunes.  It’s a beautifully integrated quartet, with each player generously giving of himself to the band.  And now I will play APPEL DIRECT again.

May your happiness increase!

WAY OUT WESTOVERLEDINGEN / PAPENBURG JOYS (APRIL 8-10, 2016)

I don’t always speak to my college students about Literature; more often, I find myself standing at the intersection of Literature and Life.  So that when a student says to me that (s)he is exhausted because of working too many hours to pay for “things,” I encourage that student to consider, before springing to buy a glittery object, exactly how many hours of work it will cost.  I don’t know if my parental exhortation has any effect, but it is part of a cost / benefit calculation that has sometimes led me to put back something I was about to buy.

Cost and benefit is relevant here, because the person writing these words is still seriously exhausted by the previous weekend’s travel to the Rathaus, in Papenburg, in the larger territory of Westoverledingen, where the Generous Man of Jazz Manfred Selchow lives and has been staging concerts and tours for thirty years.  I know I spent more hours in transit than I did listening to music, but the ten-plus hours of the latter were and are precious.  A few notes follow. But first, a photograph (by my new friend Elke Grunwald):

Rathaus photo by Elke Grunwald

From the left, that’s Engelbert Wrobel, tenor saxophone; Helge Lorenz, guitar; Matthias Seuffert, tenor saxophone; Nicki Parrott, string bass / vocal; Menno Daams, cornet; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Moritz Gastreich, drums.  Others on the program were Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Niels Unbehagen, piano; Bert Boeren, trombone; Bernard Flegar, drums; Nico Gastreich, string bass.  And in the audience there’s a balding fellow with a turquoise shirt and a video camera, as close to the music as he can get without ascending the stage.

Friday night featured a two-set concert by Engelbert, Stephanie, Paolo, and Nicki — a group coyly termed SWINGIN’ LADIES PLUS 2.  The music was lively (TEMPTATION RAG), funky (BLUEBERRY HILL), riotously exuberant (THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE), multi-colored (THANKS FOR THE MEMORY), classic (SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, SHINE, LIZA, ST. LOUIS BLUES) tender (THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU) and Brazilian (Nicki sang BRAZIL and played a samba medley).  I heard delicious echoes of Goodman, James P. Johnson, Garner and Don Lambert, but the quartet was itself as well as evocative, full of sweet surprises in ensemble and solo.

FROM JOPLIN TO JOBIM

If you weren’t in the audience, you can still hear this group — their wonderful CD, FROM JOPLIN TO JOBIM, is available on iTunes and elsewhere.

And that was Friday.

Saturday, post-breakfast, was devoted to a necessary exploration of Sleep.  But at night, there was JAM SESSION NIGHT — four hours and more of sheer pleasure.  It began with a set devoted to Eddie Condon’s music and world, which was started off in just the proper spirit by Nico, reading aloud from WE CALLED IT MUSIC — in German — the passage where Eddie has to go to the induction center to determine if he is fit for service.  (The punchline, in English, is something like, “Get this man a drink!”)  After the laughter died down, Menno, Rico, Bert, Matthias, Niels, Nico and Moritz offered songs directly related to Eddie’s recordings and performances: LOUISIANA, WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE, DIANE, OH, BABY!, THEM THERE EYES, a ballad medley, and MEET ME TONIGHT IN DREAMLAND.  The music also honored Milt Gabler and George Avakian, appropriately.  And it honored Eddie, with beautiful hot lyricism from everyone.

A short pause, and then Paolo introduced his clever AROUND BROADWAY — jazz classics that were originally show tunes in one way or another — with Engelbert, Stephanie, Nicki, and Bernard.  Berlin, Youmans, Gershwin, with intelligent but never pedantic commentary by Paolo.  And we heard HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, BLUE SKIES, OVER THE RAINBOW, ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, THE MAN I LOVE, and I WANT TO BE HAPPY.  (The audience and the musicians were already happy.  I saw this.)

One of the highlights of the weekend followed, a Hoagy Carmichael set featuring Menno, Matthias, Engelbert, Paolo, Nicki, and Moritz.  The classics were beautifully played and sung: SKYLARK, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, NEW ORLEANS, STARDUST, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, LAZY RIVER — with two delicious surprises: SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, which Carmichael’s Collegians had recorded, although not a Carmichael composition, and THANKSGIVING, which was his work.  My marginal notations (what Stephanie called my “grades”!) were very enthusiastic.

Finally — who or what could follow that? — a set led by Rico in tribute to his mentor, idol, and ideal Louis.  A brief AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ led off, then a seriously intent CHINATOWN, a more relaxed MY WALKING STICK, WILLIE THE WEEPER, a Rico-Niels duet on SWEET LORRAINE (unplanned and elegant), two versions of I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA, YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, and a two-tiered finale, merging STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE and WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.

A seemingly insatiable audience called for more, and got it — eleven players assembled for a Benny Carter-flavored I NEVER KNEW and a promise, WE’LL MEET AGAIN.

Delighted, thrilled, elated, exhausted, I went to bed as soon as I could.

After a perfect German breakfast buffet (I dream of these lavish assortments of food, I confess) it was time for Sunday’s JAZZ FRUSCHOPPEN (I now know that the second word means “morning / lunchtime drink,” another linguistic morsel for the word-hoard).  Bert, Rico, Engelbert, Niels, Stephanie, Helge, Nico, and Moritz took on the pleasure of honoring Basie in under an hour, with MOTEN SWING, SPLANKY, a plunger-muted feature a la Al Grey for Bert on MAKIN’ WHOOPEE, SHINY STOCKINGS, ALL OF ME (for the rhythm section) and a searing JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE.

Nicki led Menno, Matthias, Stephanie, Paolo, and Bernard through a tenderly swinging evocation (not imitation) of Billie, Teddy, and Lester, with ME, MYSELF AND I, LOVER MAN, PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE, SAY IT ISN’T SO, THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT, STORMY WEATHER, and WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO — drawing on the best songs that Billie ever recorded, instead of A SUNBONNET BLUE.

And — a proper climax — a JATP set with a five-horn front line backed by Paolo, Helge, Nicki, and Moritz, which presented long versions of TEA FOR TWO, STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, I SURRENDER DEAR, IDAHO, a BLUES FOR MANNIE, THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME, LADY BE GOOD with Lester’s 1936 solo for two tenors, and an encore of PERDIDO, with swing rather than honking.

It was wonderful.

Yes, I video-ed the weekend, so those who weren’t there should not grieve.  It will, however, take some time for the videos to emerge: courtesy to the musicians requires that they be given a chance to see what they like or loathe.

A Manfred Selchow weekend is a jazz feast, and he’s been doing this and more for three decades.  We are all so grateful.

May your happiness increase!

“WOULD YOU CARE TO SWING?” (Part Three): JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, PAT O’LEARY, and ELDAR TSALIKOV at THE EAR INN (March 20, 2016)

It was a truly glorious evening of musical camaraderie at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) but that’s completely typical of what happens when the  EarRegulars get together on Sunday nights from around eight to around eleven.

EAR INN 2012

Here and here are wonderful highlights from earlier in the evening — marvels created by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and mellophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.  I call them “marvels” with complete confidence: listen closely to the inspired conversations that take place in each performance (this is a listening band), the sonic variety — each player making his instrument speak with a wholly personal voice — the melodic inventiveness, the wit and tenderness, and the swing.

For the closing three performances, Scott Robinson also brought out his rare Albert system “C” clarinet with the Picou bell — rarity upon rarity (Clint Baker owns one — it was Tom Sharpsteen’s — and Alan Cooper handmade his, but how many others are there on the planet?) which has a lovely persuasive sound.  And the young Russian reed wizard Eldar Tsalikov spent his last evening of his New York trip, happily, here, playing alto saxophone and clarinet.

For Lester and Buck and the Kansas City Six — in some subliminal ways — a romping ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS with some of the same lightness:

For Herschel, Lester, and the Decca Basie band, BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL*:

And for pure fun, IT’S BEEN SO LONG:

Lovely, fully satisfying inventiveness.  Every Sunday night at about eight.

Two footnotes.  One (*) is a small mystery that so far I haven’t found an answer to.  When Herschel Evans died in 1939, he was not yet thirty.  And somewhere I have read that he was married and that his wife was around the same age.  What happened to Mrs. Evans?

Two.  Some viewers comment acidly (here and YouTube) that people in the audience are talking. But to rage in print at people on a video seems ineffective. I delete these comments, because there’s enough anger in the world as it is.

I hear the chatter, too, but I am grateful for the music, no matter what is happening around it.  As an analogy, I think of someone finding an unissued Louis test pressing and then being furious because the disc has surface noise. “People will talk,” as the expression goes.  Accept what you can’t change, and bring your silently appreciative self to a jazz club to reset the balance.

May your happiness increase!

LYRICISM, DRAMA, FUN, SWING: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 29, 2014)

I’ve seen and heard a great deal of live jazz performance since 2004 (and before then) and occasionally I feel as if the video camera has been grafted on my body (“More than five thousand published YouTube videos,” he said immodestly) — but the band that follows is one of my great pleasures.

TIM AND CONNIE FQF

It’s a delicious hybrid of deep New Orleans, Bob Crosby Bobcats, Teddy Wilson and Basie small groups.  I speak of Tim Laughlin’s All Stars featuring the master of melody on clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  Here they are in all their delightful gliding majesty at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest.

TIM AND CONNIE

YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME:

BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES:

DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?:

And a vocal feature for someone who’s not only one of the greatest instrumentalists I know — but also a great musical actor and singer, Mister Connie Jones — NEW ORLEANS AND A RUSTY OLD HORN:

I treasure these musicians and these performances, and feel privileged beyond words that I have been in the same room (with a camera) with these masters.

May your happiness increase!

A GENUINE PAGE-TURNER: “SWINGIN’ ON CENTRAL AVENUE: AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ IN LOS ANGELES,” by PETER VACHER

I’m a very tough audience when it comes to jazz history books.  Many of them, understandably, are pastiches of familiar evidence with big helpings of speculation mixed in.  Nice enough for people new to the subject, but give me first-hand information rather than paraphrases of what has already been published.

In addition, most jazz literature seems star-struck, fixated on the forty or fifty BIG NAMES.  That’s splendid: books about Louis, Lester, Ben, Hawkins, Roy, Red, and others are treasures.  But since the musicians themselves didn’t always get the attention they merited, much jazz biography is brilliant posthumous research.  If someone were to turn up pages by Walter or Hot Lips (I couldn’t resist) they would be priceless.  And the people who never get to report on what they saw, felt, heard, experienced are likely to have the best stories to tell.  This brings us to Peter Vacher’s new book, SWINGIN’ ON CENTRAL AVENUE: AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ IN LOS ANGELES (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, 331+ pages, many photographs).

It is an irresistible book, and I speak as someone who finds many books — after decades of reading — utterly resistible.

SWINGIN' ON CENTRAL AVENUE

Peter Vacher (much like the recently-departed John Chilton, although Peter is still very much alive) is one of those rare multi-talented writers: a splendid unaffected prose stylist, a very diligent researcher and “connecter,” someone with an eye for what’s true and what’s intriguing.  In this case, he offers us oral histories and historical research into the lives and music of sixteen musicians — his research done over more than two decades.  The musicians profiled are Andrew Blakeney, Gideon Honore, George Orendorff, “Monk” McFay, Floyd Turnham, Betty Hall Jones, “Red Mack” Morris, Caughey Roberts, Chester Lane, Monte Easter, Billy Hadnott, Norman Bowden, John “Streamline” Ewing, Chuck Thomas, Jesse Sailes, “Red” Minor William Robinson.

I knew of perhaps one-half of those musicians: Blakeney had played with Kid Ory; Honore with Jimmie Noone; Orendorff with Les Hite and Louis; “Red Mack” with Lee and Lester Young’s band; Caughey Roberts had been replaced in the early Basie band by Earle Warren; Billy Hadnott was on famous JATP recordings as well as with Nat Cole; Norman Bowden had recorded with Zutty Singleton; “Streamline” Ewing had played with Hines, McShann, Horace Henderson.

Because of the “star-system” in jazz, many might assume that these interviews with people who — apparently — were on the fringes of the big time would be narrow and not terribly interesting.  To assume this would be a huge error.  For one thing, these sixteen people hadn’t been interviewed much, if at all, so their reminiscences are fresh and eager, full of good stories.  Not one page in Vacher’s book has the stale, “Must we go through this again?” quality of the recitals the stars have given so often they take on an inescapable sleepiness (both in the speaker and the reader).  Although many older musicians expressed themselves through their instruments, sometimes their narratives are enthusiastic but closed: “Big Boy was a terror when he got into that whiskey, but he sure could blow.”  Not here.  And Vacher’s interludes are brief, lively, and the very antithesis of narcissism: he shines the light with great skill and affection on his subjects.

And the stories are amazing.  Andy Blakeney was in Chicago when Louis joined King Oliver; he played in a Doc Cooke band.  Streamline Ewing was asked to join the Basie band; he heard Charlie Parker before Bird had made records.  Speaking of Bird, he stayed with Billy Hadnott and his wife — and it’s a sad story — before the Hadnotts were compelled to ask him to leave.  Ewing also mentions seeing both Mutt Carey and Nat Cole at the union — consider that pairing!  Norman Bowden talks of rehearsing with Jelly Roll Morton, “the most sophisticated man I ever met in my life,” in 1940.  We hear of Benny Goodman sitting in with Mutt’s band in 1925; the book offers the first substantial sketches of drummer Cuba Austin, of bandleaders Reb Spikes, Sonny Clay, the pianist Lady Will Carr. We learn — in just a sentence — that the short-lived and extremely talented pianist Margaret “Countess” Johnson was Lester Young’s “heartbeat.”That Eddie Nicholson was Billie Holiday’s drug supplier.  There are extended stories about a young Charlie Christian, about Lester, about the Basie band at the Reno Club in 1935, about Louis, marijuana, Charles Mingus, Buck Clayton in Shanghai, Lionel Hampton in 1936 . . .  And some musicians, like Kid Ory and Christian, pop up in different contexts, so one has the advantage of seeing them as if they were characters in a Faulkner novel, from many angles.

I deplore the kind of advertising assertion that suggests, “If you don’t buy / read / eat ____________, your life will be joyless, devoid of meaning.”  But I found myself thinking, “Every jazz fancier I know would find something delightfully memorable in these pages.”

And there’s more.  Extraordinary photographs, many from the subjects’ personal hoards.  Interludes of fact taken from contemporary music magazines. And, should you think this to be simply a collection of oral histories of little-known musicians retelling their careers, the book presents so much more — as in race and racism from the Twenties onwards.  Not all the stories are grim, but they are all revealing.  I offer only one example — in Billy Hadnott’s section, Vacher includes this comment from DOWN BEAT, March 15, 1944, where Frankie Laine and a four-piece “mixed group” are praised for their music, then the reporter notes, “Despite their excellent air shots the group has found difficulty in club bookings because of the racial angle involved in the mixed group. Setup includes two colored and three ofays, and it will be interesting to find if this group can break through the Jim Crowism so strong out here.”  That quotation — both in subject and style — is worth a good deal of study, and it reminds us that there were two unions at the time in Los Angeles.

Such fascinating evidence spills out of Vacher’s book — because his subjects haven’t simply played or lived locally, and they are people one would otherwise know only as names in discographies or on record labels.

The book is entertaining, powerful, and eye-opening.  Peter Vacher has surpassed himself, and that is saying a great deal.  Now I’m going back to read more.  As a postscript, I opened the book at random and found Chester Lane’s story about working with Bob Alexander’s Harmony Kings in El Dorado, Arkansas, circa 1928, with Louis Jordan . . . and the band is taken over by one Wilson, who owns Wilson’s Tell-‘Em-‘Bout-Me Cafe.  I’ll stop there, but you will see why such real-life details make the book a deep pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

LIVING, BREATHING HISTORY: DUKE HEITGER, TOM FISCHER, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PAUL KELLER, CHUCK REDD: ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY, April 18, 2015

rwe_big_portrait

Some wish to honor the past by attempting to reproduce it exactly.  An honorable effort, but I much prefer those bold tightrope walkers who know that the only way to honor the glories of, say, 1929, is to make them alive in this century by adding personal innovative sparks to the outlines of the revered masterpieces.  (I know that this is a controversial position, but I also have enough evidence that the great masters didn’t approve of imitation; they preferred homage through individuality.  Ask Lester; ask Bix.  And I’ve done scholarly work for decades, but I also reverberate to Emerson’s tart words that Shakespeare was not made by the study of Shakespeare.)

So I present to you a too-short set by a vibrant jazz band onstage at the Atlanta Jazz Party (April 18, 2015) led by the eloquent Duke Heitger, trumpet, with Tom Fischer, clarinet / tenor; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums.

What they had to tell us was plenty — and it had no connections to the Wax Museum of Hot, although one could see and hear easily that the Ancestors were being honored: Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, and their worthy colleagues. No academia, no didacticism, no laser pointer or Power Point.  Just wonderful hot music.

I NEVER KNEW:

IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN:

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:

BLACK BOTTOM STOMP (which begins with the time-honored invocation, “Meet you at the end”):

Five noblemen of jazz, honoring the past by being fully alive in Now.

May your happiness increase!