Tag Archives: Count Basie

“IT’S GOT TO BE SWEETNESS, MAN, YOU DIG?”: MICHAEL KANAN, NEAL MINER, GREG RUGGIERO at MEZZROW, MARCH 23, 2015 (Part Two)

Lester Young told François Postif in 1959, “It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig? Sweetness can be funky, filthy, or anything, but which part do you want?”*

As someone who has sought sweetness all his life, I delight in that statement. I don’t mean stickiness or sentimentality, but a gentle approach to the subject being considered, loving rather than aggressive or passive-aggressive.

I have met many people who are acquainted with jazz in an intellectual way, who value Miles and Trane as modernists influential as Kandinsky or Joyce, but who have missed or disdained the sweetness that can be so integral to the music.

For some of them, jazz is a mystery to be wary of.  It is intricate, cerebral, complex, a closed system with no way in for the lay person. This might spring from a sensibility that equates anger with authenticity.  Thus, they experience sweet warm music as banal, the faded dance music of oblivious grandparents shuffling around the floor, clinging to each other as the ship tilts dangerously.

“Ben Webster with strings? Oh, that’s beautiful saxophone playing, but does it challenge the listener? It’s too pretty for me!”

I warm to art that embraces me rather than one that says, “Sorry.  You are not educated enough or radical enough to appreciate this.”  Complexity is always intriguing but not as an aggressive rebuke to the listener.  Sweetness can elevate a music that creates a direct line from the creators’ hearts to the hearers’.

And sometimes the dearest and deepest art is a masquerade, where the artists act as if nothing particularly difficult is being created.  But consider Edmond Hall, Harry Carney, Tony Fruscella, Bobby Hackett, Frank Chace, or Benny Morton playing a melody, or the 1938 Basie rhythm section, or four quarter notes by Louis on YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR.  To fully understand such gorgeous phenomena would take a lifetime, but at the same time the sounds are immediately accessible as beautiful.  This music woos the listener’s ears, brain, heart, and spirit.

Such sweetness, delicate intricacy, conviction, expertise, and deep feeling were all evident when Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Greg Ruggiero, guitar, took the stage at Mezzrow on March 23, 2015. Here are three more deep examples:

Michael’s ADORÉE, which he wrote for the late singer Jimmy Scott:

A brisk THE NEARNESS OF YOU:

Ellington’s wonderful THE MOOCHE:

(I thought this performance was especially delicious: in the ideal world, there would be the two-CD set of this trio performing Ellington and Strayhorn.)

Here is the first part of the beautiful music created that evening.

Lester would have loved to play with this trio. I felt his admiring spirit in the room.

*This quotation comes from THE LESTER YOUNG READER, ed. Lewis Porter (Smithsonian, 1991): 189.

May your happiness increase!

JO JONES, SPECIAL

I’m always intrigued yet sometimes puzzled by the waves of interest in jazz figures that I can discern in the searchers who find this blog.  I’m thrilled to know that somewhere, people yearn to know more about the obscure, “al drootin,” or “bernard addison.”

But often the curiosity (as tabulated by search engine visits) has been both odd and sad.  It feels as if unknown people want badly to put large figures into tiny labeled boxes.

I note with discomfort the morbidly voyeuristic fascination with Billie Holiday unrelated to her music, as documented in many inquiries about her last husband, Louis McKay, about heroin (some searchers have gotten the threads tangled and search for “ella fitzgerald heroin death”), as well as “billy holiday nude” and “how much did billie holiday weigh,” which I find both inexplicable and painful.

More recently, I’ve noted a consistent fascination with Jo Jones.  That in itself would cheer me up, but it seems to grow out of one legend connecting Jo — disdainful, furious — with a youthful and unprepared Charlie Parker.  I wrote about that incident in 2011 here.  (Do people still take Clint Eastwood’s BIRD, where this incident is a repeated narrative thread, as an accurate historical record?)

I saw and heard Jo Jones often in person between 1971 and 1982, and although he was not a predictable individual, what I remember about him is more than the potential for violence, as I have written here.

Jazz enthusiasts and makers of myth apparently need to simplify; they take pleasure in flattening out complex individuals into single iconic gestures, as if making plastic action figures out of them. I imagine a series of dolls sold at giant toy store.  Buy them.  Trade them.  Collect the set!  Here’s Billie Holiday with a needle in her arm or knocked to the ground by her man.  A plastic Louis Armstrong grins and sweats.  In another box, Miles Davis scorns the audience.  Count Basie strikes a single note.  Duke Ellington, in an electric-blue suit, woos a woman.

And now, Jo Jones imperiously humiliating Charlie Parker — complete with tiny gold cymbal flying through the air as if to decapitate the boy who has presumed to enter the world of men.

The Jo Jones I experienced was part mannered exhibitionist, a complete commedia dell’arte troupe in himself, grinning, gesticulating, insisting on playing eleven-minute solo spectacles, demanding our sustained attention.

And then there was the unpredictable deity who commanded the ocean, summoning cosmic rhythms.  His outward appearance — someone you could see on the subway, the compact balding man wearing short trousers that revealed white socks — was only a guise put on so that he could pass among mortals.

Hear him with his peers Emmett Berry, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and that same Count, playing SHOE SHINE BOY:

The sounds Jo creates — I use the present tense intentionally — will outlast any concocted myths, searchers and search engines.

And if future cosmologists discover that the Basie rhythm section was and is really the music that animates the universe, it would explain the durability of this cosmos that some people have tried so hard to destroy.

May your happiness increase!

DOT’S AUTOGRAPH BOOK (1944-47)

HAMPTON autographs 1945

These remarkable pages come from a time when big jazz bands appeared regularly at large urban ballrooms — for dancing and listening.  The assiduous jazz fan and “autograph hound” was one Dot Spokisfield, who lived in or near St. Louis, Missouri.  My source (offering the autographs for sale on eBay) writes, “Dot would encourage to the musicians to write what they pleased on the page, with most of them writing the name of the band or orchestra they were associated with most of the signatures being signed in pencil and often personalized to Dot. Dot would then write where and when the signature was obtained and adding a red asterisk next to the name.”

The perforations show that these pages were originally bound in an autograph book, the pages being 4 by 6 inches.  I have not been able to find anything out about Dot — even with her unusual name.  But the evidence of her friendly enthusiasm for the music and the musicians remains. Fortunately for us, she was a careful archivist and musicians in that era not only signed their names but indicated what instrument they played — making our twenty-first century research almost too easy.  The page at top:

4×6’ album page autographed by Teddy Sinclair, Dave Page, William Mackel, Alice Lindsey, Freddie Simon and Charlie Harris on one side, and Joe Marr, Arnette [later Arnett] Cobb and Charles Fowlkes on the back. The signatures were obtained on September 24, 1946.

LOUIS 1945

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Velma Middleton, Larry Anderson, Big Chief Moore and on the back by Norman Powe and Elmer Warner. These were signed on February 10, 1945.
DIZZY CAB 1946

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Dizzy Gillespie (signed Be-Bop, Big Diz) and two members of the Cab Calloway Orchestra in Norman Powe and Hilton Jefferson. These were signed on December 7, 1946 and August 12, 1946.

JACK T 1947

A 4×6’ album page with an affixed cut measuring 3×4’ autographed by Jack Teagarden in pencil, with a notation that it was signed at Tune Town on April 13, 1947 as part of the Cavalcade of Jazz.

COATSVILLE HARRIS 1947

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Leslie Scott and on the back by James “Coatsville” Harris, Adam Martin, Elmer Warner and Ed Swantson, all then members of Louis Armstrong’s band.

BASIE 1944
A 4×6’ album page autographed by Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Joe Newman, Dickie Wells, Harry ‘Sweets” Edison, Joe Newman one side, and Dickie Wells (another), Harry Edison, Al Killian, Louis Taylor and Ted Donelly on the on the back. The signatures were obtained on June 25, 1944.

KRUPA CAB 1946

A 4×6’ album page autographed by James Buxton and Keg Johnson and on the back, an affixed cut signature of Gene Krupa. These were signed on December 17, 1946 and December 9, 1946.

HINES KIRK 1944

A 4×6’ album page autographed by La Verne Barker and Bob DeVall (Andy Kirk’s valet or band manager?) on one side and Earl ”Fatha” Hines (glues to the page) on the back. The signatures were obtained on May 7, 1944, and one side had McGhee, while on the reverse are the others.

LIPS DINAH WASHINGTON 1947

A 4×6’ album page with an affixed paper autographed by 8 Jazz greats, including Dinah Washington, George Jenkins, Freddie Washington and on the back by Hot Lips Page, Carl Wilson. Ronnie Lane and J.C. Higginbotham. It is noted that this was signed at Tune Town on April 13, 1947 as part of the Cavalcade of Jazz.

CAB 1946 Milt Kansas

4×6’ album page autographed by Dave Rivera, Kansas Fields, Milt Hinton, Hilton Jefferson and on the back by Lammar Wright, Charles Frazier and Paul Webster. These were signed on December 7, 1946.

LIONEL and RED CAPS

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Lionel Hampton and on the back by The Red Caps (signature affixed within the book), and signed in 1945.

Lionel SNOOKY LEO SHEPPARD

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Snooky Young and on the back by Leo Sheppard (signature affixed within the book), and most likely signed in 1946.

KENTON 1944 in audience

Stan Kenton, in the audience, 1946.

FRED BECKETT NANCE LAWRENCE BROWN

Hamp, Duke, Ray Nance!

ANDY KIRK 1944

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Edward Loving, Jimmy Forrest, Ben Smith and Ben Thigpen on one side, and Wayman Richardson, (Art?) and J.D. King on the back.The signatures were obtained on May 7, 1944, and one side had Howard McGhee.

HAMP 1945

A lot of two 4×6’ album page autographed by Dinah Washington and three others, and on the back is signed by Milt Buckner.

SLICK JONES

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Slick Jones, dated August 19, 1944.

MILLS BROS

A 4×6’ album page autographed by The Mills Brothers, Herbert (April 2, 1912 – April 12, 1989), Donald (April 29, 1915 – November 13, 1999) and John Mills Sr.(February 11, 1882 – December 8, 1967). This was signed on September 22, 1944.

ED ROANE AL MORGAN

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Al Morgan and Ed Roane.

JUAN TIZOL

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Juan Tizol and Buddy Devito from the Harry James Orchestra and on he back by Ted (Barnett?) from the Louis Armstrong Orchestra. These were signed on February 9, 1946.

Cozy Cole Ace Harris E Hawkins

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Ace Harris, Leroy Kirkland, Joe Murphy, Ray Hogan, Laura Washington, Matthew Gee, Lee Stanfield, Bobby Smith, C.H. Jones and on the back, affixed to the page is the signature of Cozy Cole. These were signed on January 7, 1947 and March 1, 1947.
LOUIS JORDAN

A 4×6’ album page autographed by Louis Jordan on one side (dated August 18, 1944) and on the back by his piano player Tommy Thomas.

“Keep groovin”!  indeed.  There was a time when giants swung the earth. Blessings on them, and also on people like Dot, who kept them alive for us, seventy years later.

May your happiness increase!

“DUCHESS” SWINGS BY, ON DISC AND IN PERSON

A delicious new group has made an equally satisfying debut CD.  See here!

DUCHESS — an ebullient female trio — is quirky, swinging, silly, and loose but exact.  The three “girl singers,” justly known for their own solo work, are Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, Melissa Stylianou — listed here in alphabetical order, no ranking implied — and they are backed by swinging modernists  —  Michael Cabe, piano; Paul Sikivie, string bass; Matt Wilson, drums; Jeff Lederer, saxophone (1, 5, 6, 9, 11); Jesse Lewis, guitar (1, 2, 7, 8).  The surprising and fresh arrangements are by producer Oded Lev-Ari for their debut CD on the Anzic label.  You can read more about DUCHESS here.

Many jazz groups have clear antecedents or they follow a pattern (you can provide your own examples here).  But I don’t think there’s been any group like DUCHESS for decades.  This isn’t to suggest that they are a conscious re-enactment of the past, although they do perform one spiffy homage to the Boswell Sisters on HEEBIE JEEBIES.  They are inspired by Connie, Vet, and Martha, but in the most inventive way — their close harmony performances are startlingly alive and full of surprises, tempo changes, and sophisticated play.

Each track is a miniature symphony for voices, shifting their places in the great musical dance, and a lively improvising ensemble.  For one instance — there is a famous second bridge to P.S., I LOVE YOU (which I know from Sinatra’s Capitol version): in this new version, each of the singers takes one line in the bridge, something so pleasingly startling that I had to play the track again to be sure I’d heard correctly.

The atmosphere isn’t a re-creation of the Boswell Sisters’ recordings or of their “approach” in some mechanistic way, but DUCHESS seems — to my ears, anyway, to play with the question, “What would the cheerful radicalism of the Sisters’ elastic improvisations be like with three different singers and a new band, all of us fully cognizant of what has come after 1936?”  So one hears a rhythmic pulse that evokes the Basie band brought forward in to this century, and tenor saxophone playing that sounds like Paul Gonsalves, updated and made even more personal.  The magnificently musical drumming of Matt Wilson drives it all along, with quiet brushwork when the mood requires it.

This is one of those CDs that doesn’t fully reveal all its pleasures or exhaust itself on one hearing.  I was so delighted, listening to voices and instruments tumbling over each other in neatly acrobatic exuberance, that I haven’t yet figured everything out (who is that singing now; who’s leading the harmony?) after several listenings.  I can only say that the three voices are singular in themselves, in range, timbre, and sound, but that they blend marvelously. And the blending is anything but formulaic.  One can’t go to sleep while DUCHESS is romping.  Their simple cheerfulness blasts through LOVE BEING HERE WITH YOU, LOLLIPOP, the aforementioned HEEBIE JEEBIES, and even in the medium-tempo swaggering performance I hear the whole group grinning.  But for me the real triumphs are the more tender offerings: a melting QUE SERA, SERA, P.S., I LOVE YOU; a shape-shifting I’LL BE SEEING YOU, and BLAH, BLAH, BLAH — that most surprising comic love poem.

Speaking of BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, here’s the group’s live performance of that Gershwin opus at their home base, the 55 Bar:

This points up another facet of DUCHESS — their willingness to traverse the ground between silly and witty.  They aren’t slapsticky in their comedy, but their light-hearted approach is elevating.  And they are never blah.

Here are the songs on the CD:

1. “I Love Being Here with You” (Peggy Lee, Bill Schluger) / 2. “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” (Fred Fisher) / 3. “Que Sera, Sera” (Jay Livingston, Ray Evans) / 4. “My Brooklyn Love Song” (Ramey Idriss, George Tibbles, featuring Hilary) / 5. “A Doodlin’ Song” (Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, featuring Amy) / 6. “A Little Jive Is Good for You” (Ralph Yaw) / 7. “P.S. I Love You” (Johnny Mercer, Gordon Jenkins) / 8. “Hummin’ to Myself” (Sammy Fain, Herb Magidson, Monty Siegel, featuring Melissa) / 9. “It’s a Man” (Cy Coben) / 10. “I’ll Be Seeing You” (Irving Kahal, Sammy Fain) / 11. “Lollipop” (Beverly Ross, Julius Dixon) / 12. “Blah, Blah, Blah” (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin) / 13. “Heebie Jeebies” (Boyd Atkins)

You can bring some of this joy into your life with the CD, or, if you are in the tri-state area, you should know that DUCHESS, backed by the same band as on the album, will perform an album-release show at New York City’s Jazz Standard on March 3, 2015.

In most time zones, that’s tomorrow.

Shows are at 7:30 and 10 PM, and you can buy tickets and learn more about the group here.

May your happiness increase!

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GENTLY BUT FIRMLY: HOT CLUB PACIFIC: “JIVE AT FIVE”

HCP front

Looking at the sleeve, one could underrate this sweet session from a group of West Coast players as just another “Hot Club” effort.  But the listener who goes within the cardboard has pleasant surprises in store.

For one thing, the HCP is not bowing low to the Quintette of the Hot Club of France in its most famous — and most imitated — Thirties incarnation, with one solo guitar, two rhythm, one violin, one string bass.

Rather, it emulates in its instrumentation the later Reinhardt – Rostaing efforts, clarinet instead of violin. And the group eschews some of the more limiting aspects of “Gypsy jazz,” especially the note-laden guitar solos at searing tempos.

No, this Hot Club leans more towards a Basie / Charlie Christian aesthetic, which is fine with me. The prime movers here are Marc Schwartz (lead guitar), Jack Fields (rhythm guitar), Dale Mills (clarinet), Nat Johnson, Bill Bosch, or Matt Bohn (bass), Olaf Schipiacasse (drums).  And you’ll see from the tune list below that they have neatly sidestepped some of the most overplayed numbers in the G.S. repertoire, for which relief much thanks.

HCP back

I know what follows next might seem like faint praise, but as I was listening to JIVE AT FIVE, I kept noting those corners and musical niches where lesser players might have stuffed in familiar quotes, phrases taken from famous records — in short, cliches.  And each time the band went its own happy swinging way, which is always reassuring.

Here is the HCP Facebook page, and here is what I wrote about them a few years back — with convincing videos.

The HCF has regular gigs in the Santa Cruz / Monterey area, best checked on the Facebook page.  But for pictures of the band and booking information, there’s no better place than here.

The CD is a limited edition, so don’t wait too long to snap up a copy — or else you will be fishing around on eBay.  And if you don’t feel that my endorsement is sufficient proof, how about this: guitar maestri Paul Mehling, Howard Alden, and Larry Coryell have visited and sat in during the band’s ten-year run.  That’s good enough for me.

 May your happiness increase!

EASY DOES IT: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, ENRICO TOMASSO, MARTIN LITTON, HENRI LEMAIRE, MALCOLM SKED, RICHARD PITE at WHITLEY BAY (Nov. 9, 2014)

Jake Hanna said — more than once — “When you get too far from Basie, you’re just kidding yourself.”

Reedman Matthias Seuffert knows this well, and put his knowledge into action at the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, with a delightful set of Basie music. Matthias diverted us with his tenor saxophone and clarinet; Enrico Tomasso played trumpet; the rhythm section, essential, was Martin Litton, piano; Henri Lemaire, rhythm guitar; Malcolm Sked, string bass; Richard Pite, drums.

EASY DOES IT:

Eddie Durham’s TOPSY:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

COUNTLESS BLUES, in honor of the 1938 Kansas City Six:

BLUE LESTER:

SHOE SHINE BOY:

BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL, for Herschel:

and moving into the Fifties, FLIGHT OF THE FOO BIRDS (don’t let all that manuscript paper seem intimidating):

“Easy does it” isn’t just a bumper sticker or a catchphrase: it’s a way of life both inside and outside jazz.  What would happen if we tried to live the Basie way? Worth considering.

And on a more pragmatic note, each of the musicians seen in the videos will be playing at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party — November 6-8.  I’ve already started to look into airplane tickets and fares . . . a sign of great moral commitment to this Party.  If you’ve never been there, and you can get there, and you don’t . . . why, you’re just kidding yourself.  Where have I heard those words before?

May your happiness increase!

WARM TRANSLUCENCE: ANDY BROWN, SOLO JAZZ GUITAR

Andy Brown Soloist

Andy Brown knows and embodies the simple truth.  It’s not how many notes you can play: it’s how you convey feeling with those notes.

For some time, the guitar has been the most popular instrument on the planet. Many guitarists aspire to blazing technique that causes the fretboard to burst into flames.  If you like to blame people, you can blame Hendrix, Bird, or even Django, masters who suggested to the unwary that the way to be even better was to be faster, more densely aggressive.

I come from a different school, having heard Charlie Christian, Teddy Bunn, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Mary Osborne, George Barnes, George Van Eps and others early in my development. I cherish deep simplicities, not fireworks. That is why I have delighted in the playing of Andy Brown and am especially entranced by his most recent CD, plainly named SOLOIST (Delmark Records).

Andy Brown makes music, first and always.  His music woos the ear and the brain but lodges deep in the heart.  You shouldn’t get the wrong idea about him from my somewhat reactionary description: he is no primitive, rejecting technique because he has none.  On the contrary, he can play quickly, elaborately, and dramatically when the music calls for it.  The most mature players know that the greatest displays of technique involve restraint, subtlety, and breathing space.  Andy understands this, and what you hear is a relaxed lyricism where every note counts.  He is a melodic improviser, someone in love with beautiful warm sounds, not trying to impress listeners with outlandish dramatic spectacle.

Andy sounds like himself, but if I were pressed to say what ancestral heroes his playing suggests, they wouldn’t be guitarists.  Rather, I think this CD would have made Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, and Count Basie grin, for its understated singing grace, its beaming pleasure in music-making.

Time for a sample? Make yourself comfortable and savor these varied performances — beginning with luminous solos, then moving to collaborations with Howard Alden, Petra van Nuis, Jeannie Lambert, the cats at the Chautauqua Jazz Party, and even Barbra Streisand.  (Don’t be disconcerted that on the Streisand video — taken from a television appearance — the words “INSIDE DEATH ROW” appear bottom right.  No hidden messages here.)

Here you can hear brief audio samples from the CD.

Andy’s idols are many — he explains all that in his delightfully understated liner notes — but this isn’t a homage to any one guitarist.  It isn’t a disc where the artist reproduces and then elaborates on an influential album or set of recordings.

SOLOIST is a love letter to beautiful songs played with affection and swing, and it is easy to listen to without being Easy Listening.  It would impress any harmonically-astute guitar whiz but it could also embrace someone who knew nothing about substitute chords.  And although most of the songs are “standards,” they are played as if they were just written. Their melodies shine through; they swing.

And — unlike many solo guitar recordings I’ve heard — the sound is plain, unaltered, but gorgeously warm.  I see that the engineer is Scott Steinman — we are no relation — and he has done a lovely job.  And all I can say is that when I began listening to this disc, I delighted in it from first to last and then it seemed the most natural thing to start it up again.  You will feel similarly.

SOLOIST is a lovely recording, and an accurate record of the music of someone I admire, having heard him in person.

Andy writes in his notes that he simply began to play in the recording studio as he would on a gig. That should give any motivated person in the Chicago area a good idea: see Mr. Brown live and buy several copies of the CD from him.

May your happiness increase!