Tag Archives: Count Basie

STROLLING ON SPRING STREET: The EarRegulars PLAY LOUIS FOR US — JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, JAMES CHIRILLO, NEAL CAINE (The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, July 25, 2021)

There’s an immense Groove to whatever the EarRegulars play: think Louis and Basie having a good time together.

Yes, those two deities are posing for a photographer, but I imagine them grinning at the music made by the EarRegulars one Sunday afternoon, July 25, 2021 (although any EarRegulars gathering would produce the same response).

That Sunday, the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass — lovingly playing Louis’ 1947 composition, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, which I think of as the sweetest song of reproach and revenge possible:

The EarRegulars have been appearing all summer at The Ear Out, details specified above, from 1-3:30 on Sundays. Have you been?

May your happiness increase!

“A CLASSICALLY BIG-TONED TENOR PLAYER”: THE MANY KINGDOMS OF PERCY FRANCE, thanks to DANIEL GOULD

If you already know Percy France, don’t spend another moment reading what I’ve written. Go immediately to www.percyfrance.info — where you can hear him play, read about him (tributes by people who loved him), and learn more.

But if he’s only a name to you . . .

Perhaps because it is often mistaken for simple entertainment, jazz is oddly distinguished from other art forms by a powerful Star System. There is too much of “the greatest of all time,” which negates the broader accomplishments of many beautiful artists. But those who listen deeply know that alongside — not behind — Louis, there are Ray Nance and Bill Coleman; alongside Art Tatum there are Ellis Larkins and Jimmie Rowles, and so on, creative men and women ignored in the speeding-train chronicles of Important Artists.

With that in mind, and the joy of discovering someone “new,” here is tenor saxophonist Percy France. He may be little-known or even unknown to many. I did hear him on the radio (broadcasts by WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s station, from the West End Cafe in New York, presided over by Phil Schaap), but I never saw him in person.

But before you assume that Percy’s semi-obscurity is the result of a diluted talent, let me point out that this summer when Sonny Rollins was asked about him, his response was as enthusiastic as it could be. The excerpt that caught my eye is simple: I never could beat him. We were good friends, and I think of him as my brother.

Let that sink in.

And since you might be saying, “All right . . . praised by Sonny. What did he sound like?” here are three samples, thanks to Daniel Gould, about whom I will have more to say.

Here’s Percy, fluid, melodic, cheerfully making the over-familiar come alive:

and a different kind of groove, quietly lyrical:

France plays Fats, light-hearted and witty:

I admire honest deep research unashamedly, since often what’s passed off as information is made of cardboard. So I present to you Daniel Gould’s wonderful Percy France site — solid and ever-growing — his energetic tribute to a musician who should be cherished as more than a name in a discography: www.percyfrance.info will take you there.

Daniel has done and continues to do the great hard work of the reverent researcher: he proceeds without ideological distortion, for his sole purpose is to ensure that Percy and his music (as if one could separate the two) are not going to be forgotten. And, also quietly and without fanfare, he wants us to honor Percy as an individualist, someone “with his own voice,” not simply another “tough tenor” following well-worn paths.

To the site. What will you find there? First a biography (audio as well as print) documenting his too-brief life (1928-1992) his musical development, his associations with Sonny Rollins, Bill Doggett, Jimmy Smith, Freddie Roach, Sir Charles Thompson. Charlie Parker and Count Basie make cameo appearances as well. Then, even more beautiful, remembrances by Doggett, Bill Easley, Allen Lowe, Mike LeDonne, Sascha Feinstein, Michael Hashim, Sammy Price, Randy Sandke, Chris Flory, Scott Hamilton and others — all testifying to Percy’s qualities as musician and gentleman.

Then the treasure-box opens, revealing hours of unknown enlightenment and pleasure: a session by session listing, complete with newspaper clippings, photographs, record labels — first, Percy’s King and Blue Note record dates of 1949-1962.

The sessions continue — 1977-81, live dates featuring Percy alongside Doc Cheatham, Sammy Price, Chris Flory, Loren Schoenberg, Randy Sandke, Allen Lowe, Dick Katz, and others . . . and here Daniel has provided selections from these wonderful and wonderfully rare performances.

Finally, and most expansively, the period 1982-1990, is documented through the Leonard Gaskin Papers held at the Smithsonian — and it contains seventy-five percent of Percy’s recorded work . . . with Gaskin, Cliff Smalls, Oliver Jackson, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Lance Hayward, Bill Pemberton, Major Holley, Bob Neloms, Bill Berry, Wild Bill Davis, Big John Patton, Doug Lawrence, and others. And there’s MUSIC . . . my goodness, how much music there is. I abandoned my chores for the better part of the day to listen, and I still have more to hear.

A few more words about Daniel Gould and his site. He is a clear fluent writer; his site is a pleasure to visit, and the treasures overflow. And he has a purpose: that Percy France, one of the lovely creators now no longer on the planet, shall be remembered with the attention and affection he deserves. I delight in Percy and in Daniel’s efforts.

May your happiness increase!

FLOATING BRILLIANCE (Part Two), or THE WAY OF BASIE. The EarRegulars at The Ear Out: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, CHRIS FLORY, PAT O’LEARY (May 23, 2021)

In the name of accuracy, I must point out that TOPSY was composed by Eddie Durham and 9:20 SPECIAL (which was meant to be 920 SPECIAL in honor of the AM radio station) was written by Earle Warren — but they were both members of the Count Basie orchestra, so we associate them with William Basie of Red Bank, New Jersey.

Because of the enthusiastic response to the first posting from this session, titled simply FLOATING BRILLIANCE, I thought, “Why wait?” and here are two more performances from that happy gathering — created by Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

TOPSY:

9:20 SPECIAL (catch Scott on trumpet as well as tenor!):

Of course, there’s more to come. But it also happens with real people in real time, so visit The Ear Inn at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, on a Sunday from 1-3:30. I can’t be there every week, so if you wait for the videos, you will miss some marvels. I guarantee this.

May your happiness increase!

THAT GENUINE BASIE FEELING: “LESTER’S BLUES”: A CONCERT FOR “SWING PARADISE” at HOT CLUB GENT (April 9, 2021)

I’ve written about the wonderful band, “Lester’s Blues,” led by tenor saxophonist Tom Callens, here, when they released their first recording, a few years ago. Those who play know that such swing isn’t something one learns in the first weeks of practice, but these musicians make it feel effortless . . . in the grand tradition.

But here is an hour of them in performance, lightly swinging but firmly in that 1936-40 groove: emulating but not copying. This session was aired 9th of April 2021 for the online Swing Paradise festival of Vilnius, Lithuania. The players are Frederik Van den Berghe, drums; Sam Gerstmans, string bass; Victor Da Costa, guitar; Luk Vermeir, piano; Frank Roberscheuten, clarinet / tenor saxophone; Hans Bossuyt, trumpet; Tom Callens, tenor saxophone.

And the songs — so well-chosen — are ESQUIRE BOUNCE / BROADWAY / I LEFT MY BABY / LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / SIX CATS AND A PRINCE / ONE O’CLOCK JUMP / LITTLE WHITE LIES / TICKLE TOE / BASIE’S BOOGIE (I MAY BE WRONG) / AFTER THEATRE JUMP / JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE.

Listening to them, I am reminded that the early glorious Basie band was really a small group with extra horns added for volume and force, so that the dancers in large halls (before everything was amplified) could feel the band’s power. LESTER’S BLUES harks back to the streamlined, all-muscle Reno Club band — its essence so warmly and happily captured here:

I hear that this band — so right, so swinging — is making a second recording. You’ll learn of it here. For now, let your day and night be guided by this easy rocking motion. What a group!

May your happiness increase!

“BORN TO SWING”: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, PATRICK ARTERO, THILO WAGNER, LINDY HUPPERTSBERG, GERGOR BECK (October 2019)

Thanks to these delightful musicians, a reminder that swinging jazz is resilient and, what’s more, present: this concert was shown recently on television, a very pleasing phenomenon in itself.  Its theme?  Swinging jazz is thriving.

Matthias Seuffert, January 2020.

The creators are Matthias Seuffert, tenor saxophone and clarinet (hear him on the latter on AFTER SUPPER); Patrick Artero on trumpet; Thilo Wagner on piano; Lindy Huppertsberg, string bass and announcements; Gregor Beck, drums.  The repertoire honors “New Testament” Basie and Neal Hefti, Fifties American pop classics, Louis and Hoagy Carmichael, Edgar Sampson and the Swing Era, neatly evoked without all those music stands: FLIGHT OF THE FOO BIRDS / AFTER SUPPER / SECRET LOVE (Thilo, Lindy, Gregor) / JUBILEE / and the encore, BLUE LOU.

Wonderful music, so expert, so warm, and so reassuring.  Bless its vividly imaginative friends, making it get up and do its dance in 2019.

May your happiness increase!

“LATCH ON TO THAT RHYTHM” AND OTHER SWING TREATS: MICHAEL GAMBLE AND HIS VERY SWINGING FRIENDS

Michael Gamble amid friends. How many swing stars do you recognize?

In person, bandleader-string bassist Michael Gamble is quiet and unassuming, but he really knows how to swing.  It’s a pleasure to tell you about four new digital-EP releases by his virtual groups, now available at Bandcamp. Those who like can skip the rest of this post and go directly there to listen.

They sound great, which is particularly remarkable, considering how hard the musicians have to work to make music in “isolation sessions.”

Michael explains, “All recordings from this series were made remotely, each of the 18 musicians (from 9 states) playing either in their homes, home-studios, or whatever they could make work! Despite the logistical challenges, we were determined to make an artistically cohesive and exciting project. Sections were pieced together painstakingly to make sure that no part was recorded prior to something that it needed to react creatively to, which often required multiple takes by the same musician on the same tune, spread over weeks. We believe the result — while certainly different in feel than prior Rhythm Serenaders albums which were recorded live in a single room — is a special set of recordings with their own completely unique flavor. We hope they’ll be enjoyed for years to come!”

I can swear to that last sentence.  Without a hint of museum dustiness, it is as if Michael and friends lifted me out of my chair and teleported me to splendid sessions truly happening, let us say, between 1934 and 1947.  Or, if you prefer, he came to my house and gave me a waist-high stack of perfectly recorded 16″ transcription discs of all my heroes and heroines.  Both of those science-fiction scenarios require a suspension of disbelief: all you have to do to drink at the extraordinary Fountain of Swing is to go here and buy yourself and friends holiday and early-holiday and post-holiday presents.  (Friday, December 4, by the way, is one of Bandcamp’s special days where all the proceeds go to the musicians, with no fees deducted, so it’s a wonderful time to do this.)

The musical worlds (note plural) Michael and friends live in are so spacious that each of these has its own distinctive flavor, which I will try to describe.

Volume One, LATCH ON TO THAT RHYTHM, goes like this:
Somebody Loves Me / Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise / Lester Smooths It Out / Bounce Me Brother, with a Solid Four / Did I Remember? / Joe Louis Stomp / One Never Knows, Does One? and the musicians are Laura Windley, vocals (1, 4, 5, 7); Dan Levinson, clarinet / tenor; Noah Hocker, trumpet; Jonathan Stout, acoustic and electric guitars / Chris Dawson, piano; Michael Gamble, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  The overall flavor is multi-layered, with tastes of mid-Thirties Wilson and Billie, the Gramercy Five, and a splendid infusion of 1946 Aladdin and Keynote.  Even if the references mean little to you, hear how good the band sounds on JOE LOUIS STOMP.  And listen to Laura Windley work her magic on ONE NEVER KNOWS, DOES ONE? — that rarest of compositions, a song about the magic of love balancing frail hope and deep melancholy.  (By the way, it’s a Mack Gordon-Harry Revel creation from 1936, and although everyone knows it from Billie, it’s first sung by Alice Faye in a Shirley Temple film.  Consider that.)

Volume Two, EFFERVESCENT SWING, features
A Sunbonnet Blue (and a Yellow Straw Hat) / Coquette  / Me, Myself, and I / South / Am I Blue? / Sweet Sue / Effervescent Blues / Tickle-Toe, and some of the same rascals are present: Laura Windley (1, 3, 5); Dan Levinson (tenor 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; clarinet 5; alto 8); Chloe Feoranzo  (clarinet 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8; tenor 6); David Jellema, cornet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jonathan Stout; James Posedel, piano; Michael Gamble, Hal Smith.  The flavors — still delicious — are a little different.  Think the small-group Basie riffing of the Kansas City Six; toss with Reuss and Catlett seasonings; add some Commodore Condon rideouts; mix gently with the Charlie Christian – Benny Goodman Sextet (yes, I have those names in the right order); several tablespoons of 1938 Bobby Hackett, top with modern tailgate from Charlie Halloran, and you get the idea.  And the three songs associated with Billie — and sung gloriously by Laura — have sly arrangements that honor the period but don’t copy the records.  For one instance only, hear how the rideout of ME, MYSELF, AND I nods to LAUGHING AT LIFE, and Michael’s cross-dressing riffs that start off AM I BLUE remarkably.  So rewarding.  For musical samples, hie thyself to the Bandcamp page!

Volume Three, DIGGIN’ IN THE DEN, offers these daily specials: Good Morning Blues / Scuttlebutt / I’m Painting the Town Red / Tumble Bug / It’s Like Reaching for the Moon / Diggin’ in the Den / Honeysuckle Rose  — performed by these swing alchemists, Laura Windley (3, 5); Keenan McKenzie (clarinet / tenor); Gordon Au (trumpet); Jonathan Stout; Craig Gildner (piano); Michael Gamble; Riley Baker (drums).  Here, the recipe calls for a dark Kansas City groove (think Eddie Durham, Lips Page, Dick Wilson), with equal parts Gramercy 5 pre-bop gloss, Lady Day Vocalions (the gorgeous trumpet-tenor interplay at the start of IT’S LIKE REACHING FOR THE MOON) — all mixed together with modern ingenuity harking back to Basie and Ellington small groups but sounding fresh — even on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which (admit it!) has been played to shreds in its various incarnations.

Volume Four THE GAMBLER, unwraps its digital box to reveal these gifts: Something to Pat Your Foot To / The Gambler / Smokey Shoulders / Sunday / Cotton Tail / Night Bloom / What’s the Fuss? / Bottoms Up.  The musicians radiating expert joy here are Laura Windley (4); Keenan McKenzie (clarinet and tenor); Jacob Zimmerman (clarinet and alto); Gordon Au; Lucian Cobb (trombone); Jonathan Stout; Chris Dawson; Michael Gamble; Josh Collazo (drums).  Here the aura is pleasantly situated between just-after-the-war sessions led by Sir Charles Thompson and Illinois Jacquet and the late-Forties Basie band.  I hear a good deal of mute work from the brass (all those not-terribly frightening snarls and growls) and glistening late-Forties electrified Reuss, with reed playing that soars and slides.  COTTON TAIL leaps over the fence likea caffeinated bunny, the originals stick in my head — always a good sign — and the last few tracks nudge so wondrously into what I’d call 1951 Clef Records territory.

If you’ve lost your way in the forest of words, the musical oasis can be found here.  I encourage you to visit there now, or December 4, or any old time.

Three things.  One is that I listened to all four discs in one sitting (a tea break between Two and Three doesn’t count) with delight, never looking at my watch.

Second, if you ever meet one of the Official Jazz Codgers who grumps, “Oh, these kids today try, but they don’t know how to swing,” I encourage you to box his ears with digital copies of this music — a wild metaphor, but you’ll figure it out — until he stops speaking nonsense.

Three, a paradox.  These are “isolation sessions,” with everyone miles apart, earbuds or headsets, praying for swing synchronicity — and that is a miracle itself.  (Ask any musician who’s participated in such rigors.)  But as I listen to this music, I feel much less alone — less isolated, to be exact.  Try it and see if you don’t feel the same way.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERS OF ART: RUBY BRAFF, HARRY “SWEETS” EDISON, JOE NEWMAN, JOHNNY GUARNIERI, MICHAEL MOORE, RAY MOSCA (Nice Jazz Festival, July 26-27, 1975)

Ruby Braff

This musical interlude is an absolute triumph — not a cutting contest, but a jovial conversation among three brass legends (Braff, cornet; Sweets and Joe, trumpet) with a thoroughly congenial modern-swing rhythm section (the splendid virtuosi Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Michael Moore, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums).

Harry “Sweets” Edison

Ruby, Joe, and Sweets are vehement individualists with roots in the same earth that gave us Louis and Basie.  You’ll hear florid declamatory phrases, side-of-the-mouth whispers and in-jokes, loud blasts and half-valve things a gentleman does not say in company.  They live in 1975 yet are completely aware of the half-century of music that came before.  And they live now, thirty-five years later.

Joe Newman

The songs are ROSETTA, JUST FRIENDS, CAROLINA SHOUT (Guarnieri, solo), TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, all performed at the Nice Jazz Festival, July 26 and 27th, 1975.  Heartfelt thanks to Tom Hustad, who made all this possible:

What gifts these magicians gave us.  What gifts the music continues to give us.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Twenty-Three) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

I’m told it’s Sunday again.  How this happened, I have no idea, but here we are.

Sunday means that it’s time to saddle the cyberspace pack animals and head to 326 Spring Street, The Ear Inn, the home of happy ears, for a restorative session with the EarRegulars: our weekly uplift. I am assuming you can find your way “there,” to the previous twenty-two weekly posts.  If not, just ask.

Ready?  Bang your ruby slippers together and it’s Sunday night, June 13, 2010.  And although our Guardian Angel might be Billy Kyle, that night it was a quiet, witty, irreplaceable fellow from New Jersey, Bill Basie — with the swinging music being created by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass:

Here’s Herschel Evans’ DOGGIN’ AROUND:

and a Youmans melody that started its life with Jimmie Noone and still keeps its freshness, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

For Ruby Braff as well as Herschel, we have BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:

Thinking of Lester Young, we have Andy Farber, Dan Block, tenors left and right; Chris Flory, guitar; Fumi Tomita, string bass:

Beautiful, isn’t it?  I know better times are coming, and I hope to celebrate with you all at 326 Spring Street . . . sooner rather than later.

May your happiness increase!

ANNIVERSARY STOMP: HAPPY BIRTHDAY to RAY SKJELBRED!

Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs: from left, Clint Baker, gazing skyward; Kim Cusack, arms folded; Katie Cavera, instantly recognizable; Ray, with blue cap, inviting us to come along; Jeff Hamilton, thinking his thoughts.

I’m honored to share the planet with Ray Skjelbred, who turns eighty today.

At the piano bench as well as elsewhere, he is a poet, a teacher, an inventor and then revealer of secrets, a writer of mysteries populated by velvet moles, eagles, and dogs, where no one gets killed.  Tenaciously yet delicately, he walks through walls as if they were beaded curtains.

Ray Skjelbred calls his Cubs “my favorite band,” and it’s easy to see why — a lovely combination of Basie and Bobcats, illuminated by a sweet lyricism at once on-the-porch and Milt Gabler-joyous.

We salute him; we salute his Cubs, who are Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. These performances took wing at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 28, 2015.

OH, BABY, DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE:

Kim swears he’s KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, but the jury is still out:

something for the Apex Club Orchestra, EVERY EVENING:

If my wishes aren’t enough, here’s a HAPPY BIRTHDAY (March 10, 1938) from Bobby Hackett, Pete Brown, Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, Ray Biondi, Artie Shapiro, George Wettling, Leo Watson.  Since it’s mislabeled below, I also offer the nostalgic maroon Commodore label, a jazz madeline:

as it appeared on turntables:

To borrow Whitney Balliett’s words, “Bless Ray Skjelbred.  And may he prosper.”

May your happiness increase!

“SPRING AHEAD, FALL BACK” the JAZZ LIVES WAY

Today, Saturday, October 31, is Halloween — but no “spooky” posts, because the holiday is eviscerated for valid health reasons.  And at my age, the only costume I don is my own, and I don’t buy candy bars for myself.

But Sunday, November 1, is the official end of Daylight Saving Time in most of the United States, “giving us” an extra hour of sleep or some other activity.  (Sundays are reserved for the EarRegulars, which is why this post comes early.)

I encourage all of you to enjoy the faux-gift of sixty minutes in some gratifying ways.  But here are my suggestions about how you could happily stretch out in the extra time: versions of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT, the unaging classic by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer, which speaks to our desire to spend time in pleasurable ways.

Here’s a pretty, loose version from the September 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua, performed by Marty Grosz, guitar, vocals, and commentary; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, tuba, bass sax; Arnie Kinsella, drums:

Two years later, Andy Schumm’s evocation of the Mound City Blue Blowers, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, paying tribute to one “Red” McKenzie, hot ambassador of the comb / newspaper — here, with Andy, comb;  Jens Lindgren, trombone, off-screen because of a patron’s coif; Norman Field, Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Spats Langham, banjo, vocal; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Malcolm Sked, brass bass; Josh Duffee, drums:

and, from the 2018 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, here’s the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, for that set, Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Marty Eggers, string bass (subbing for Steve Pikal, who was on secret assignment):

1944, for V-Disc, with Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocal; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Lou McGarity, trombone; Ernie Caceres, clarinet; Nick Caiazza, tenor saxophone; Bill Clifton, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Felix Giobbe, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums — one of those perfectly memorable recordings I first heard decades ago, with its own sweet imperfections: some uncertainty about the chords for the verse, and the usually nimble Caiazza painting himself into a corner — but it’s lovely:

Of course, we have to hear the composer, in 1944, with Eddie Dougherty, drums:

Marion Harris, 1930:

Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud, 1940:

Helen Humes and Buck Clayton with Count Basie, 1939:

Ade Monsbourgh and his Late Hour Boys, 1956, with Bob Barnard, trumpet;  Ade Monsbourgh, reeds, vocal; Graham Coyle, piano; Jack Varney, banjo, guitar; Ron Williamson, tuba; Roger Bell, washboard:

George Thomas with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, 1930:

and at the very summit, Louis in 1930:

Now, you’re on your own: use the time for pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

IRRESISTIBLY SWINGING: THE BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA: “THIS YEAR’S KISSES”

The new CD by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, THIS YEAR’S KISSES, is wonderfully groovy, rather like the thing you can’t stay away from, Bert Lahr’s single Lay’s potato chip.  (You can look that up on YouTube.  I’ll wait.)  By the way, I loved the BPO’s first CD, PASS THE BOUNCE (2017): read about it here.

Here‘s the Bandcamp link for KISSES, where you can see the personnel, the song titles, hear a sample, download, or purchase this CD.

The description reads: The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was made for dancing. Featuring brand new arrangements of long-lost big band tunes, original compositions, and crowd favorites, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra aims to embody a big band dance orchestra of the Swing era. Filled with world-class musicians, the band will evoke thoughts of Count Basie, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and Billie Holiday.

The noble members of the BPO are Alice Spencer, vocals*; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, alto saxophone; David Jellema, cornet; Oliver Steck, cornet; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kris Tokarski,  piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar.

And the delicious repertoire is  CASTLE ROCK / SOMEBODY LOVES ME* / ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT / PEEK-A-BOO / THIS YEAR’S KISSES* / JO-JO / DON’T BE THAT WAY / ARMFUL O’ SWEETNESS* / OUT OF NOWHERE / THE THEME / WHAT’S YOUR NAME?* / BLUE LESTER / BROADWAY / I’M THRU WITH LOVE* / JEEP’S BLUES.

Those who know will see splendid associations: Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Count Basie, Karl George, Billie Holiday, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Alex Hill, Fats Waller, Henry “Red” Allen, Dexter Gordon, Nat Cole.

Happily, the CD is very forgiving of the dance-challenged: it allows me to sit in my chair, listen, and beam.  And to give you an idea of the intense attraction I had for this CD on my first hearing I thought, “I want this CD!” and then calmed down enough to think, “You already have it.”

Listening to it again and again, I envisioned the eleven members of this orchestra as a kind of M.C. Escher drawing, people swimming blissfully in two divergent streams at once.  One could be labeled NOW, which means that the musicians here sound like themselves — and their voices are so individualistic — but they are also having a high old time splashing around in THEN, so that many of the performances have a tender connection to past recorded performances.  But there is no conscious attempt (use your Steve Martin voice) to say, “Hey! Let’s Get OLD!” — no archival stiffness.  And the familiar material, say SOMEBODY, BROADWAY, NOWHERE, is delightfully enlivened by the band’s passionate immersion in not only the notes but the emotions.

The rhythm section is fine-tuned, flexible and resourceful, four individuals playing as one; the solos are memorable; the ensemble work is both loose and graciously cohesive.  This is a band, and even if there isn’t the official BPO band bus for the one-nighters, you can hear their pleasure in working together, easy and intense.

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated with Billie Holiday for decades into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

This CD is a great gift.  It’s music for dancers, music for those of us who know the originals, music for people who need joy in their lives.  THIS YEAR’S KISSES is like sunshine breaking through: a consistent delight, much appreciated.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to it again.

May your happiness increase!

THE BAND THE ANGELS HIRED FOR THEIR PROM (January 15, 1967, Carnegie Hall)

Some may read those words as blasphemy, but the music is its own divine truth.

One of John Hammond’s best ideas, and he had many, was the two FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING concerts in 1938 and 1939: marvelous events with irreplaceable music from Benny Goodman, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Hot Lips Page, Ida Cox, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Count Basie, and more.  The music was recorded, and even with some technical flaws, it remains monumental.  Because of Hammond’s connection with Vanguard Records, it was issued there — first a two-record set, and more recently, on CDs.  (Like most CD sets, it’s “out of print,” but you can find copies.)

But this post is concerned with “newer” music . . . created in 1967.

In 1967, someone had the good idea of booking Carnegie Hall for a thirtieth anniversary concert, and selections from the concert were recorded and (five years later) issued on a two-record set featuring Basie, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, John Handy, George Benson, and Marion Williams.  I wrote on the back of my copy that I bought it at Record World, a local chain, for $5.29, on April 23, 1972.  (I no longer annotate purchases this way: life got more complicated.)  The segment I love the most has a distinct Basie flavor.

In conversation with a new erudite jazz friend, Randy Smith, I found that we both had hoped for this music to be issued on CD, but obviously the glory days of jazz reissues are gone for whatever corporate entity controls this music, and even the European issuers have not touched it.  So — since yesterday was oddly and happily quiet in my apartment building, the families and dogs elsewhere for the moment, I made a DIY transfer of the music.  There’s a certain echo-y quality, but pretend that you have been taken by magic back to Carnegie Hall on January 15, 1967, and let me — and us — have our fun.

Goddard Lieberson introduces the “Cafe Society Band,” with some rueful amusement that the crowd response to that fabled place is small (the generation that had heard Frank Newton and Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, and Basie there had probably stayed at home) and he stumbles over Milt Hinton’s name, but he brings on the celestial orchestra: Count Basie, piano; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums, for SWINGIN’ THE BLUES.  I won’t explicate the delights here, but these nine minutes have been special music since 1972, and when I return to this performance I hear gratifying surprises, the hallmark of the greatest art.

The solos and ensemble interplay between Buck, Ed, and Buddy are priceless, showing that the players so brilliant in 1937 were still brilliant thirty years later, without a hint of repeating their routines.  (How DO they age so well?)  For me, though, this is a post-graduate seminar in rhythm-section playing, with each of the three “in the back” bringing so much sonic and textural variety, playing little aural games of hide-and-seek.  Basie, especially, shows once again that he was not only the master of silence, which is not a paradox, but of how to push a soloist with the right note or propulsive chord.  I think only Sidney Catlett approached his mastery in this — when to bide his time, when to create one accent that would have the effect of a “Yeah!”:

“They called him a shouter.”  Big Joe Turner, who had appeared at Hammond’s original concerts, comes onstage.  In his later years, he often appeared to be very little concerned with what verses he sang in what order (although he may have had a plan that I am not able to discern) and the result was a kind of swing autopilot, where I and others just listened to the majestic roar and holler of his voice.  But here, on a blues called (perhaps after the fact) I’M GOING AWAY TO WEAR YOU OFF MY MIND, his dramatic gift, his sadness, is lovely and powerful.  Hear how he sings his initial “Thank you,” and note the wonderful support Ray Bryant gives him, Buck’s solo, and Jo Jones’ exhortations:

Then, ROLL’EM, PETE — which Joe and Pete Johnson first recorded in 1938.  Pete Johnson had been ill, but he was at this concert.  I’ll let Dan Morgenstern, who was also there, describe the scene that you will hear, as he did in DOWN BEAT (included in Don DeMicheal’s fine liner notes):

Then, for the concert’s most moving moment, Lieberson escorted Pete Johnson on stage and introduced him as one of the participants in the original Spirituals to Swing and the greatest boogie-woogie pianist. Johnson had suffered a series of paralytic strokes and had not played piano for many years. His old buddy, Turner, took him by the hand, and for a moment the two middle-aged men looked touchingly like little boys.

Turner dedicated ROLL ‘EM PETE to his old friend, as Lieberson and Johnson were about to leave the stage. Instead, they stopped, and the pianist seated himself next to Bryant at the piano and began to play the treble part of his old showpiece, Bryant handling the bass. Johnson was a bit shaky but game, gaining in confidence as the number built in intensity:

It wasn’t 1938 any longer, but it was a damned fine evocation, with Buddy Tate at his vocal best, Edmond Hall matching him in exuberance (Hall died later that year), Buck and Jo building castles of swing as only they could:

In 2020, no one who sang or played on that stage in 1967 is around to uplift us.  (I take pleasure in knowing that Dan Morgenstern will read this post.)

But their sounds, their passion, their grace remains.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS IRA GITLER (March 22, 2019)

Yesterday I had a brief pleasant phone conversation with Dan Morgenstern, who to me is a Jazz Eminence, and it sent me back to my YouTube hoard of unseen video interviews.  I have been saving them, even before the pandemic, like a squirrel worried about the winter (Dan and I talked about squirrels) but I apologize for keeping this one hidden for so long.  It’s Dan’s affectionate melancholy remembrance of his “oldest American friend,” the jazz lover and writer Ira Gitler, who died at 90 on February 23, 2019.

Dan speaks of their first meeting in “the salad days” for jazz writers and the “Jewish Jazz Junkies” (Ira, Dan, David Himmelstein, Don Schlitten).

Dan recalls Ira’s entrance into jazz by way of Count Basie records, his development into a champion of bebop, then of Coltrane, and his early work for Prestige Records, his prose, his alto saxophone playing, sharply assessed by Joe Thomas, Ira’s well-meant rebuke of a young Miles Davis, and his hockey career. Ira was married to the painter Mary Jo Schwalbach, who survives him.  The interview stops abruptly in the middle of Dan’s anecdote about WBAI (thanks to ambulances going by) but you can figure it out:

Dan’s comments (some of them light-hearted) about Ira’s memorial service, Jon Faddis, and Lew Soloff:

and a brief coda:

More interviews to come: Dan recalls and considers Tommy Flanagan, Benny Goodman, Tiny Grimes, Jack Purvis . . .

May your happiness increase!

“SONG OF THE ISLANDS,” VARIOUSLY (1930-2006)

I’m going to allow myself the freedom of not writing the history of this song, nor posting all the versions, but simply offering a few that please me immensely.  This post is in honor of Doctor J, who knows why it is.

A little introduction (2006) by the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, who closed sets with it: Jon-Erik Kellso, Brad Shigeta, Orange Kellin, Morten Gunnar Larsen, John Gill, Skye Steele, Conal Fowkes, Rob Garcia:

Louis gets to introduce his own performance:

and here’s the lovely 1930 version, with magnificent Louis (yes, I know that’s redundant) and his “Rhythm Boys” drawn from the Luis Russell band, starring J.C. Higginbotham and Pops Foster.  Apparently Paul Barbarin plays vibraphone and the band’s valet plays drums: he swings!

And a more contemporary version I treasure because it seems to convey decades of vernacular music performance, making the transition from waltz-time to quietly majestic rocking (yes, Louis is standing in the wings, very happy).  I imagine the opening choruses as a tea-dance or perhaps a summer band concert in a gazebo in the town park, and then the band takes on restorative color and swing, never aggressively but with sweet eloquence. The group is the 1987 Red Roseland Cornpickers, featuring Bent Persson, Claus Jacobi, and Keith Nichols, and this is taken from my prized “long-playing record” on the Stomp Off label:

Details for those who crave data: Bent Persson (tp-2,vcl) Folker Siegert (tb-3,vcl) Claus Jacobi (as-4,ts-5,cl-6,vcl) Engelhard Schatz (cl-7,sop-8,ts-9,vcl) Lothar Kohn (as-10,g-11,vcl) Joachim Muller (bassax-13,cl-14,as-15) Keith Nichols (p,vcl) Gunter Russel (bj-12,vcl) Ulf-Carsten Gottges (d)  Gottingen, January 4 & 5, 1987.  SONG OF THE ISLANDS: (2,3,4,6,7,9,12,13,14,15, Bent, Folker, Claus, Engelhard, Lothar, and Keith, vocal).

In these stressful times, this music evokes warm days, cool nights, tropical beaches, and fresh pineapple.

May your happiness increase!

 

“I’LL PUT YOUR PICTURE IN THE PAPERS”

Several eBay rambles turned up a hoard of beautiful unseen portraits — from the archives of the photographic giant Brown Brothers (who, I believe, divested themselves of the print archives a number of years ago).  They remind me of a time when musicians, now obscure, were known to a large audience and had their remarkable faces in print.

Here are some of the treasures: the bidding was intense, so I did not acquire any of these, but the images are here for  you to admire for free.  The seller, evansarchive, has only one jazz photograph for sale as I write this, but the other photographs — film and stage actors — are equally fascinating.

Let us start with a particularly rare image — an unusual shot of the John Kirby Sextet on a very small bandstand, with glimpses of Kirby, Charlie Shavers, and Russell Procope (alas, no Buster Bailey) but a remarkable photograph of the short-lived drummer / vocalist O’Neil Spencer:

And here’s another under-celebrated hero, baritone saxophonist Jack Washington, definitely in action in the Count Basie band, with Vic Dickenson and another trombonist, possibly Bennie Morton, to his right.  Vic is ignoring the photographer, but Jack — I think — is a little suspicious of the flash camera so near to his face:

and the real prize (which eluded me), a portrait of Frank Newton on a job:

I suspect this is a spring or summertime gig, given the lightweight suits — at some point Newton put his hand in his right jacket pocket and the flap is half-undone. I can’t identify the pianist, and the club is not familiar to me (which makes me think of Boston rather than New York City) but Ernie Caceres is immediately identifiable — with clarinet rather than baritone saxophone — and the skeptical-looking trombonist (gig fatigue or suspicion of a flashbulb explosion) might be Wilbur DeParis.  But I’d love to know where and when: perhaps this is a hall rather than a jazz club?

Here’s composer, arranger, alto saxophonist Edgar Sampson in a photograph by Otto Hess:

Another Otto Hess photograph: Albert Nicholas and Zutty Singleton.  Does the wall covering suggest Jimmy Ryan’s?

Stuff Smith in action (the photographer crouched behind the drum kit and the flashbulb rendered the underside of the cymbal bright white:

Bobby Hackett at Carnegie Hall, Eddie Condon behind him:

and just in case anyone needed confirmation:

Erroll Garner:

Now, a few masterful percussionists.  Jimmie Crawford:

Ray Bauduc:

and someone identified as Bauduc, but clearly not.  Who’s it?

and some well-dressed luminaries who can certainly be identified, as well as the occasion — World Transcription session, 1944 — Wilbur DeParis, Bob Casey, and Pee Wee Russell:

From another source, Sidney Catlett in full flight.  I can hear this photograph:

As I said, once upon a time these people were stars in larger orbits.  Rather than mourn the shrinking of interest and knowledge, I celebrate the glorious circumstances that made these photographs “news.”

May your happiness increase!

 

ASKING THE EXISTENTIAL QUESTION: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, LAKSHMI RAMIREZ, JEFF HAMILTON (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

You may think that this blogpost has an overly serious title, but look at the sheet music below, words and music by Charles N. Daniels, who also wrote (in part or wholly) CHLOE, SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, MOONLIGHT AND ROSES, and YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM — under a number of pseudonyms:

“Where shall I go?” is the question for the ages, especially for 2020.  Even Lucille Benstead, “Australian Operatic Star,” with her particularly yearning expression, wants to know the healing answers.  And the GPS had not yet been invented.

It used to be that one answer was “Go out and hear live music,” an option almost closed off, in the name of Prudence.  But I offer an alternative: music that is still alive, even though it comes to us through a lit screen.

This frolicsome example — suggested by alto saxophonist Jacob Zimmerman — is good medicine. Helen Humes recalled that it was the first song she sang with the Count Basie band in 1938, and that’s a wonderful double endorsement.

It comes from a set at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, under the leadership of Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, with Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, performed on March 7, 2020, before the skies darkened.

I don’t know where you’re going to go, but I am going to play the video again.  Better than coffee, clean sheets, a shower, or a phone call from a friend for making the soul feel as if answers are possible.

May your happiness increase!

“ON ROLLER SKATES,” or “SOMEBODY STOLE MY FATS!” (an eBay Vignette)

When I weary of the usual pursuits, I visit eBay to see what’s floating around at enticing prices.  Sometimes it’s a CD or a 78, a book, or even a teapot.  (I’ve bought most of my wardrobe there in the past few years, but for obvious reasons the need to Dress for Success has quieted down.)

Late Tuesday, I saw this gem, upside-down in the original posting (I’ve rotated it to show off the signature):

I have seen enough carefully ornate signatures by Fats to feel this one is authentic, and, better yet, it’s from real life: when the star is leaning against the wall and people ask for autographs, as opposed to what one might do sitting at a desk.  Incidentally, too-neat signatures are usually suspect, especially if the star’s handwriting was not all that tidy.

Feeling artifact-lust and isolation boredom, I noticed that the bid was low — around $28 — and offered a more substantial bid, and sat back.  I’ve seen autographs and inscriptions that I felt passionately I had to have, but I was easy about this one.

Today, engrossed in chores, I forgot to obsess over the bidding when the auction ended, and got a notification from eBay that someone had plunged more money than I had offered, which suited me fine.  I lost this sacred piece of paper, but I have an extra $107.51, a relief.

And at the bottom of the eBay notification, as if to bring me back to commerce, this delicacy was for sale:

Happily, I didn’t need this: I have a Basie signature, and around 1973 I met Buck Clayton and he graciously autographed a record he was on.  Both signatures look genuine.  Basie had perfected his in one swoop, and it is a little raggedy, which suggests on-the-spot.  I’d never seen Buck use a fountain pen, nor write in green, nor offer his own trumpet logo-ornament.  But as remarkable as this holy relic is, all I need is a photograph to show you.

Maestro, please?  And bring along Mr. Holmes, if you will:

That piece of paper is gone, but no one can steal my Waller-joys.

A postscript, as of August 15.  A dear Swiss collector-friend pointed out very kindly (and that makes a difference, you Corrections Officers out there!) that the Waller signature could not in any way be connected to Fats, because the paper on which it was written was from a Down Beat 78 rpm record sleeve, and that the D.B. label started in 1947, four years after Fats left us.  So I feel a twinge of wicked pleasure in being saved from buying something fake presented as real.  It pays to have good friends!

May your happiness increase!

SKATING TEN FEET ABOVE THE GROUND: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS (America’s Classic Jazz Festival, Lacey, Washington: June 28/30, 2019)

An inspiring Cub relic.

Hearing Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, I recall the folktale where the wind and the sun (having nothing better to do) wager about which one can get a man to remove his coat.  The wind blows, but the man merely wraps his coat tightly around him.  The sun gently beams down on the man, and sweat starts to pour off his forehead, so he is glad to take off that coat.  Persuasion, not force.

That tale stands for so much jazz that I admire.  Sometimes it’s ferocious, even bombastic — ensemble choruses at the end of a performance, and we cheer.  Perhaps I am thinking of the Great Dane puppy who just wants to greet you, and then you’re both on the floor.  Surprise!

But I secretly revere the sweet stealth of music that says, “Come a little closer.  Of course, nothing is happening.  Just set a spell and enjoy,” and, seductively, osmotically, we become spellbound.  The finest example is the Basie rhythm section; then, Duke and Blanton; Fats Waller on PRETTY DOLL; Sir Charles Thompson on Vanguard; and Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs.

Thirteen months ago, give or take a day, what I call the Pacific Northwest edition of Ray and his Cubs appeared as a guest band at America’s Classic Jazz Festival, in Lacey, Washington.  I wasn’t there to record it, but Ray’s faithful videographer RaeAnn Berry was, and so I can share a few videos with you: dancing or skating without ever doing something so mundane as touching the ground.

They are Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, acoustic guitar.

OUT OF NOWHERE, June 30:

IDA (for Auntie Ida Melrose Shoufler, of course), June 28:

and with a nod to Joe and Bing, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, again from June 30:

I could have called this post ADVENTURES IN MEDIUM-TEMPO, and you would have gotten the point as well.  Or, this photograph of two Deities who took human form for some decades to show us how it should be done:

Blessings on Ray, his Cubs, and RaeAnn.

May your happiness increase!

 

EXTREMELY NICE: HOMAGE TO COUNT BASIE, with SWEETS EDISON, JOE NEWMAN, CLARK TERRY, VIC DICKENSON, EARLE WARREN, ZOOT SIMS, BUDDY TATE, LOCKJAW DAVIS, ILLINOIS JACQUET, JOHNNY GUARNIERI, MARTY GROSZ, GEORGE DUVIVIER, RAY MOSCA, HELEN HUMES (Grande Parade du Jazz, July 22, 1975)

Jake Hanna said it best, “You get too far from Basie, you’re just kidding yourself.”  So this post and the performance it contains are as close to Basie as anyone might get in 1975 — the loose jam-session spirit of the 1938-9 band at the Famous Door.  Some of the originals couldn’t make it for reasons you can investigate for yourself, but more than enough of the genuine Basieites were on this stage to impart the precious flavor of the real thing.

For the first song, JIVE AT FIVE, the composer, Harry “Sweets” Edison was on hand, among friends: Buddy Tate, Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone; Earle Warren, alto saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums.

Then, LESTER LEAPS IN, with the addition of Lockjaw Davis, Illinois Jacquet, tenor saxophone; Clark Terry, Joe Newman, trumpet.  And deliciously, Miss Helen Humes recalled those sweet songs from her Basie days, SONG OF THE WANDERER / BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL / DON’T WORRY ‘BOUT ME.

I’m certain Jake would have approved, and the Count also.

May your happiness increase!

 

“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!