Tag Archives: Count Basie

HELEN’S DREAMS

I saw and heard Helen Humes in person only once, in 1975, but she made a lasting impression.  When Ed Polcer was leading the band at the last “Eddie Condon’s,” marvelous players and singers were invited to get up on the narrow bandstand and astonish us.  I was there because Ruby Braff was leading the group; Helen came up and sang IF I COULD BE WITH YOU and ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and I have a clear memory of her beautiful smile, heartfelt delivery, and warm voice.

At the early peak of the Swing Era, John Hammond had yet another one of his good ideas: to feature Harry James (then in his first year as a star of the Goodman band) with a small group drawn from the Basie band.  There was a clear rapport, and these under-acknowledged records stand alongside the more heralded Wilson-Holiday sessions.  Helen had recorded a decade earlier, but she was then perceived as a classic blues singer, and those records show only one side of her considerable talent.  In these 1936-38 sides, we hear what made her memorable.  (On YouTube, you can hear the other sides from the James sessions.)

The first session (on December 1, 1937) had Harry, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Earl Warren, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Jess Stacy, Walter Page, Jo Jones.  Helen sang several songs; here is I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?:

On January 5, 1938, the same group reassembled, with Vernon Brown replacing Eddie Durham, and Helen sang IT’S THE DREAMER IN ME:

Other aspects of these recordings (of the two glorious sessions) are memorable: the warm sounds of Harry and Herschel, the beautiful distractions of Jess Stacy at the piano, joined by Walter Page and Jo Jones . . . but at this remove, Helen wins my heart — her deep sincerity, her vibrato, the way she delivers two love songs with complete conviction, even at the faster tempo of the first.  She’s been overshadowed for decades, but what a great artist she is.  In a few minutes, she invites us to live her dreams.

May your happiness increase!

JOEL FORRESTER’S MOVING WORLDS

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

My fascination with Joel Forrester and his music goes back more than a decade. I would guess that I heard the quizzically entrancing orchestra THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET on WKCR-FM and was intrigued by its unpredictable mixture of new and old.  And then I heard Joel in person with a few small bands he’d assembled — one called THE TRUTH, which was an accurate description.

Joel doesn’t strive to shock the listener, but he doesn’t follow predictable paths — which is, in an era of reproducible art, an immense virtue. His playing and his compositions can be hilarious, angular, tender — sometimes all at once, and his music is vividly alive, which is no small thing.

I write not only to celebrate Joel — in all his surprises that invite us in — but to remind New Yorkers of opportunities to savor his art.  Every Saturday, he is playing a solo piano gig at Café Loup, 105 West 13th St. at 6th Avenue, in Greenwich Village, from 12:30—3:30 PM.

On Tuesdays, from 6-10, Joel plays solo piano at the Astor Room (located in the Kaufman Studios complex) 34-12 36th St. in Astoria, Queens.  I suggest you mark your calendars for Tuesday, June 6, when there will be a special — no, remarkable — happening, where Joel will begin with a solo piano set (his custom on Tuesdays) and then there will be two sets by The Microscopic Septet with Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone (visiting from Australia!); Don Davis, alto saxophone; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone; Joel, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.

And their latest CD — thirteen variations on the blues, with echoes of Johnny Hodges, a Basie small group, Mingus, rhythm ‘n’ blues . . . titled BEEN UP SO LONG IT LOOKS LIKE DOWN TO ME — is frankly extraordinary.  Read more here.

and here’s DON’T MIND IF I DO from that new CD:

And I am not surprised that Joel is a fine writer — think of Joseph Mitchell at a tilt, an affectionate chronicler of urban scenes: read his “Three Memorable Drunks.”

Finally, since I expect that this will awaken some of you to the whimsical glories Joel so generously offers us, here is a link to Joel’s website and gig calendar.  As for me, I have new places to savor, which, even in New York City, is a wonderful thing.

May your happiness increase!

BLOWINGLY, 1951

As part of my continuing quest to make the world more aware of Oran Thaddeus Page — known to those who know as Lips or Hot Lips, here is SWEET SUE, recorded at a session organized by Rudi Blesh in New York City on February 10, 1951, with Lips, Tyree Glenn, trombone; Burnie [or “Burney”?] Peacock, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Quinichette, tenor saxophone; Kenny Kersey and Dan Burley, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Sonny Greer, drums.  Some of the shorter tracks from what was eventually issued as JAMMIN’ AT RUDI’S came out on Circle 78s; the most recent official CD issue is on the Jazzology label (JCD 262) with five tracks from this 1951 date, and a good deal of it — circuitously — has found its way to YouTube.  (Blesh had sponsored an earlier, more “traditional” session with Conrad Janis, Bob Wilber, Ralph Sutton, Eubie Blake, and others, so this was JAMMIN’ No. 2.)  Thanks to Jon-Erik Kellso for reminding me to revisit this session, a few weeks ago.

I’ve always been fascinated by this session because it successfully replicates the feel of an actual jam session — in good sound — with musicians who didn’t usually work together.  Some of them did play gigs as members of Hot Lips Page’s little band of the time, but others seem assembled as former Swing Era stars who were no longer working with big bands: Page (Basie); Greer (Ellington); Barker and Glenn (Calloway); Kersey (Kirk and others), Peacock (Calloway, Basie).  I suspect that these musicians, for Blesh, were perilously “modern,” and I admire him for venturing into unusual territory.  Peacock, for me, was the least-known of the bunch: here is a Wikipedia entry with some possibly verifiable facts.

But there is a wonderful looseness, a let’s-start-this-and-see-if-we-can-get-out-of-it-safely feel to this performance, that speaks to familiar repertoire and no charts in sight.  I suspect Blesh might have even encouraged this as “authentic” and frowned on head-arrangement riffs and backgrounds, something Lips and the others created masterfully as a matter of course.  What else do we hear?  A nicely unhurried tempo, the tender expressiveness of Lips’ lead in the first chorus (a sweet conversational approach), Greer rattling and commenting all through; the sounds Lips got with his plunger — an emphasis on pure sound — before Quinichette dances in, Lester-airy; the powerful motion of Walter Page’s bass in duet with Danny Barker’s single-string solo.  Then the contrast between Lips, apparently at full power, alternating with Greer, before Tyree peaceably returns us to the melody.  How beautifully individualistic his sound is!  A more familiar Barker chordal solo (again, with impressionistic support from Walter Page and Sonny) before Lips returns, as if to say, “You thought I was piling it on before?  Hear THIS!”  Pure drama, and it — like the Jerry Newman recordings and a MUSKRAT RAMBLE recorded in Philadelphia (issued on a Jerry Valburn recording years ago) — shows Lips’ intuitive understanding of dynamics, and even more, the dramatic construction of a large-scale solo.

Never mind that the YouTube picture makes Walter Page the leader of the session and that the cover picture is of his own orchestra, decades ago.  We live in strange times.

And here is more tangible evidence of Mr. Page’s gracious spirit, if you didn’t hear it coming through those notes — a thank-you note to (I am assuming) some Swedish friends:

This emerged on eBay a week ago, and the lucky owner ventured much more money for it than I was willing to spend (the imaginary grandchildren tell me they need sneakers) but you can see it here for free.  I know it’s authentic because of the way Lips made his capital L (he went to school when “penmanship” was still part of your report card) and, for better or worse, “Lip’s” as part of his signature.  I’ve also seen an autograph where Lips — enthusiastically, I assume, signed VERY BLOWINGLY above his name.

SWEET SUE, to me, equals VERY BLOWINGLY by all.  And it didn’t cost $103.56.

May your happiness increase!

WHIMSY THAT SWINGS: CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND

Josh Collazo by Jessica Keener

I had met the excellent drummer Josh Collazo only once — at Dixieland Monterey in 2012, where he played splendidly with Carl Sonny Leyland and Marty Eggers.  The evidence is here.  After that, I heard him on record and saw him on video with Dave Stuckey, Jonathan Stout, Michael Gamble and possibly another half-dozen swinging groups.  So I knew he could play, and that sentence is an understatement.

What I didn’t know is that he is also a witty composer and bandleader — whose new CD, CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND, I recommend to you with great pleasure. And in the name of whimsy, Josh made sure that the CD release date was 4/4.

And this is how the CJJB sounds — which, to me, is superb.  Some facts: it’s a small band with beautifully played arrangements that make each track much more than ensemble-solos-ensemble.  The band is full of excellent soloists, but they come together as a unit without seeming stiff or constricted by an excess of manuscript paper.  Few bands today use all the instruments so well and wisely: a horn background to a piano solo, for instance.  Hooray!

The players are Josh, drums and compositions; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone and arrangements; Nate Ketner, alto and clarinet; Bryan Shaw, trumpet; Dave Weinstein, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano, Seth Ford-Young, string bass; guests (on two tracks)  Jonathan Stout, guitar; Corey Gemme, cornet.

To my ears, this band is particularly welcome because it does the lovely balancing act of cherishing the traditions (more about that shortly) while maintaining its own identity.  The latter part — a swinging originality, splendid for dancers and listeners — blossoms because the compositions are not based on easy-to-recognize chord sequences, and there are no transcriptions from hallowed discs.  The soloists have profoundly individual voices — and are given ample freedom to have their say — and the rhythm section rocks.  The first time I listened to the CD, I enjoyed it for its own sake: you would have seen me grinning in an exuberant way.  On another hearing, I put on my Jazz Critic hat (the one with the ears) and noted with pleasure some echoes: here, an Ellington small group; here, an HRS session; there, Woody Herman’s Woodchoppers and the Basie Octet; over here, a 1946 Keynote Records date; and now and again, a late-Forties Teddy Wilson group.  You get the idea.  Buoyant creation, full of flavor.

The cover art — by artist / clarinetist Ryan Calloway — reminds me so much of David Stone Martin’s best work that it deserves its own salute:

I asked Josh to tell me more about the band and the repertoire, and he did: you can hear his intelligent wit come through:

The term “Candy Jacket” was birthed during a conversation with my cousin at a family get together a few years ago. He was telling me that he saw a segment on the news about the first marijuana-friendly movie theater being opened in Colorado. Jokingly, he went on to say that he was going to open a candy shop next door and sell “Candy Jackets” so that people could sneak stuff in. All in all, it was really just a silly conversation but the term stuck inside my head. I then got to thinking about how much I love all the jive talk of the early jazz era. Why couldn’t I just make up my own? That being said, I like to think of the term as a way to describe someone who (A) is a jazz/swing lover, (B) is fun to be around, and (C) doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Again, very silly but I like it!

The main drive of putting this group together was to create original, classic sounding jazz and swing. The music of the 1930’s and 1940’s is my musical passion. After recreating it for so long in various bands, I just had a burning desire to make something new with respect to the musical framework of that time period that we all love.

Regarding the songs…

“Don’t Trip!” – While I was sitting at the piano coming up with the melody to this song, my son (4 years old) had set up a bunch of his toys around and behind the piano bench.  He then proceeded to put on a pair of my shoes and navigate the elaborate toy landscape like a giant walking through a city. I found myself giving him the side-eye every so often and thinking “Don’t Trip…”. Thankfully, he didn’t but guess who did? HA!

“Vonnie” – This is obviously written for my wife, Vonnie, for whom I love so much. When Albert Alva and I finished the arrangement for the tune, he turned to me and said “You’ve captured the essence of Vonnie – sweet and sassy!”

“Here’s the Deal” – Another song written for my son. With him being 4 years old, my wife and I find ourselves making little deals with him every so often in exchange for good behavior. After awhile, the phrase “Here’s the deal” became so common between us that he even began using it. I really tried to capture his mischievous side with this song starting with the clarinet representing my son and the drums being myself and us going back and forth in conversation.

“March of the Candy Jackets” is the first song I wrote for this album years ago. It was just the melody which is quite quirky and only has two chords in the form. I showed it to Albert Alva many times and each time we ended up passing over it for something with more of a traditional form and melody. As we began the arranging process on the other tunes, this song kept coming back to me. Finally I realized that I wanted it to be a blues song but not just a basic blues that just keeps going round and round. I wanted the solo forms to unfold just like the melody was designed.

“From Bop to Swing” is a take on the Ira Gitler book title, “Swing to Bop,” as well as the live recording with the same name by Charlie Christian and Dizzy Gillespie. Back in the day, swing musicians evolving into bop musicians was a naturally standard progression. Nowadays, I find that most young jazz musicians that love playing swing music have reversed this progression since bop and modern jazz has become the starting point in most schools. I do love bebop music and love all the recordings during the transitional period of the 40’s where the rhythm sections would be playing in a swing style while the horns began branching out melodically with trickier heads. It still had that rhythmic bounce that the dancers could move their feet to. Jonathan Stout is a devout Charlie Christian disciple and I thought this would be a perfect song to feature him on along with Nate Ketner.

“Monday Blues” was literally written on a Monday morning after a long night out playing. I do love the interplay between Albert Alva and Dan Weinstein trading solos.

“Stompin’ with Pomp” – While writing this song, I only had the dancers in mind. I wanted to create the feeling of excitement that you get while dancing to a band live. The song “Ridin’ High” by Benny Goodman is my end all of swing era dance music and I just love the energy that his band had.

“Relume the Riff” – This track track features Corey Gemme and Nate Ketner keeping it cool throughout. I really wanted to get this song on the album last minute so I banged out the arrangement the morning of the session.

“Amborella” was written for our friend and trumpet player, Barry Trop, who passed away last year. He was always a fun guy to be around as well as play alongside. I heard of his passing while working on another song at the piano. The melody just poured out of me. Later, while watching a documentary on prehistoric earth, the flower, Amborella, was talked about. This flower is one of the oldest plant species on our earth. I immediately thought of Barry and how he would indeed live on a long time through our memories of him.

“Giggle in the Wiggle” is a bare bones swinger that I used as a vehicle to feature everyone on the album.

“Albert’s Fine Cutlery” – My nickname for Albert Alva is the “knife” because he is very sharp witted in his humor. He always catches you off guard. I wanted to capture that with the melody of the song.

This CD is a consistent pleasure.  To have it for your very own, there’s Bandcamp (CD / download high quality formats) — here — CD Baby (CD or download) — here — iTunes (download only) — here.  The CJJB site is here and their Facebook page here.  Now, having navigated the Forest of Hyperlinks, I hope you go and enjoy this fine music.

May your happiness increase!

“FOX TROT, VOCAL CHORUS”: JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, BRIAN NALEPKA with TERRY WALDO, JAY LEPLEY, JOHN GILL, JON-ERIK KELLSO at FAT CAT (Jan. 29, 2017)

Even if they don’t have trained voices, the instrumental soloists I know tend to be really convincing singers, often with a loose, sleeves-rolled up approach to the song, which, by its casualness, conceals a real understanding of melody, rhythm, and how to “sell a song.”  (And sometimes the most under-documented singers are the most affecting: Basie, muttering his way through HARVARD BLUES, Hawkins emoting on LOVE CRIES, Carter wooing us with SYNTHETIC LOVE.)

Musicians know that bursting into song delights an audience (if it’s not offered on every performance) and it rests tired lips and hands. Here are three wonderful examples from a Sunday afternoon session by Terry Waldo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Jim Fryer, Evan Arntzen, Brian Nalepka, John Gill, and Jay Lepley — January 29, 2017).  I will point out that everyone in this band has been known to warble a chorus, but today I am concentrating on Messrs. Fryer, Arntzen, and Nalepka — all of whom have sung in performance and the recording studio.

And since so much of American pop music of the last century and more takes romance as its subject, here are three very different love songs: the first a chronicle of deprivation (“I’d love to join the fun but they bar me.”) the second a narrative of how serendipity made for great love (“I kept buying china / Until the crowd got wise.”) and the last a happy description of mutual adoration (“My baby don’t care who knows it.”)

Jim Fryer chronicles romantic woes, Lombardo / Louis style on SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE:

Evan Arntzen reminds us of Bing, 1931, incidentally, with I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY (IN A FIVE-AND-TEN CENT STORE):

and Brian Nalepka tells the truth (ask Mary Shaughnessy), MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME:

These frolics happen most Sunday afternoons at Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City (take the #1 train to Christopher Street / Sheridan Square).

May your happiness increase!

THE REMARKABLE MS. GIBSON, BETTER KNOWN AS BANU: “BY MYSELF”

Banu Gibson, triumphant, by Elsa Hahne

Banu Gibson, triumphant, by Elsa Hahne

The ebullient woman shining her light in the photograph, Banu Gibson, is a superb singer who doesn’t get the credit she deserves as a singer.

If you have no idea of what she sounds like, here, take a taste:

Banu, Bucky, and Berlin — endearing adult music, no tricks.

I think Banu is undervalued because she is so powerfully distracting as an entertainer, and this is a compliment.  We hear the wicked comic ad-libs, we see the flashing eyes, we admire the dance steps, we are entranced by the Show she puts on (that, too, is a good thing) but I think we don’t always hear her fine voice as we should — her warm timbre, her dramatic expression, her phrasing, her intuitive good taste, her swing.

banu-by-myself

But with her new CD, we have a chance to hear her, deeply.  That CD, BY MYSELF, is delightfully swinging, at times poignant.  The song list is a perceptive assortment of songs that haven’t been overdone: BY MYSELF / MEET ME WHERE THEY PLAY THE BLUES / ILL WIND / THE MOON GOT IN MY EYES – MOONRAY / WAITIN’ FOR THE TRAIN TO COME IN / YOU LET ME DOWN / UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG / THEY SAY / STOP THE SUN, STOP THE MOON (MY MAN’S GONE) / MY BUDDY / NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS / OH! LOOK AT ME NOW / DAYTON, OHIO – 1903 / OUR LOVE ROLLS ON / LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES.  And Banu’s wonderfully empathic band is Larry Scala, guitar; Ed Wise, string bass; Rex Gregory, tenor sax and clarinet; Tom McDermott, piano on DAYTON and OUR LOVE.

Banu is a great connoisseur of songs, with a wide range of under-exposed great ones, as opposed to the two dozen that many singers favor.  I’ve only heard her in performance a few times, but when she announces the next song, I always think, “Wow!  How splendid!  She knows that one!” rather than thinking, “Not another MY FUNNY VALENTINE or GOD BLESS THE CHILD, please, please.”

Song-scholars will notice that a number of these songs have sad lyrics, but this is not a mopey or maudlin disc.  Every performance has its own sweet motion, an engaging bounce, as the musicians explore the great veldt of Medium Tempo.

Although a handful of songs on this disc are associated with other singers — Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, and Billie Holiday — BY MYSELF is not in a tribute to any of those great foremothers, nor is there any ill-starred attempt to recapture those recorded performances.  If Rex and Larry happen to sound a little like Pres and Charlie Christian on these sides, that is a wonderful side-effect, but no one’s been asked to pretend it’s 1937 and John Hammond is in the studio.  Everyone swings gently — the shared goal, with no artificial ingredients.

The disc is not narrow in its conception, either.  Banu and the band approach each song as a separate dramatic playlet with its own mood, tempo, and feeling. It’s one of those rare and delicious discs where the emotions are not only intense but fully realized.  I could not listen to it all in one sitting — not because it bored me, but because I felt full of sensations after a few tracks, and few CDs are so quietly arresting.  Each song is treated tenderly and attentively, and although I suspect the underlying theme of this disc is deeper than “Hey, I haven’t made a CD in a few years and here are some songs I like,” we’re not whacked over the head with one emotion.  Rather, it’s as if Banu wanted us to consider the whole spectrum of intimate personal relationships.  She and her band have deep true stories to tell, but you have to figure out what they are, performance by performance.

Incidentally, I am snobbish, narrow, hard to please (ask people who have heard me discuss what I do and don’t like) but I fell in love with this disc in the first twenty or so seconds of BY MYSELF, which is a rubato duet between Banu and Larry Scala.  (When is the world going to wake up about Scala?  Come ON, now! But I digress.)  Her diction is remarkable; her solo swing a model, and her voice is rich and full of feeling.  Her sweet vibrato is so warm: there’s nothing mechanical in her delivery and her superb phrasing: the second variation on the theme is never a clone of the first.  (Hear her variations on “He made a toy of romance!” in MOONRAY: nothing that a lesser artist could do or what have envisioned.)  By the way, the Gregory-Scala-Wise swing machine (with two interludes from McDermott) is perfectly lyrical and swinging — Basie plus Lester with Basie taking a smoke break in the hall, or perhaps Skeeter Best / Oscar Pettiford / Lucky Thompson if you prefer.  On many singer-plus-band sessions, the disparity between one and the other is sharp, so the listener waits through the instrumental interlude for the Singer to come back, or vice versa.  Here, every note seems right, and the result is very affecting.

In the ideal world, Banu and her band would be touring the world — giving concerts and clinics and workshops — and I would hear this music from other cars’ radios when we were at red lights.  But until this happens, I commend this splendidly-recorded disc to you: the emotional density of a great volume of short stories combined with the elation of a book of coupons to your favorite ice-cream shoppe.  BY MYSELF — after many listenings — seems a series of gems.  You can buy it here.  You will rejoice.

May your happiness increase!

“PASS THE BOUNCE”: BROOKS PRUMO ORCHESTRA at the HOT RHYTHM HOLIDAY (Jan. 28, 2017)

The charts for the BPO at Hot Rhythm Holiday.

The charts for the BPO at Hot Rhythm Holiday.

Nothing beats music, which is its own kind of prayer, for both instant and lasting spiritual relief.  No extra calories, liver damage, or worries about The Law. One of the newest groups of roving spiritual practitioners is the Brooks Prumo Orchestra led by young Mister Prumo of Austin, Texas, dancer, rhythm guitarist, and man-with-more-than-one-plan.  And we can now see and hear the results of his energetic devotion: a swing band that is serious about the music but has a large light heart.  (Thanks to Kevin Hill for the fine videos.)

Here are the band members, many of them familiar as players in the Thrift Set Orchestra, the Sahara Swingtet, Swing Central, and groups led by Jonathan Doyle and Hal Smith.  (Speaking about Hal, this gig was, I believe, his second or third after being sidelined for a time because of an auto accident.  WELCOME BACK!  WE MISSED YOU!  The sound of Hal’s drumming — his percussive insight as well as the silvery float of his hi-hat — always makes me feel good, and I know I am not alone.)

Back to the BPO: Cale Montgomery, Marcus Graf, David Jellema, trumpet; Mark Gonzales, Leo Gauna, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, Lyon Graulty, tenor saxophone / clarinet; Zack Varner, alto saxophone / clarinet; Greg Wilson, alto / baritone saxophone; Dan Walton, piano; Ryan Gould, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Brooks Prumo, guitar; Albanie Falletta, vocal.  All these very pleasing videos are on YouTube (where else?) and you can subscribe to the Orchestra’s channel .  I did.

ESQUIRE BOUNCE, arranged by Jonathan Doyle:

BENNY’S BUGLE, a mixture of Lee and Lester Young 1941-2, SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, Charlie Christian, Cootie Williams, and Benny Goodman. (arrangement by David M. Jellema, his first for this band):

BOLERO AT THE SAVOY (echoes of Krupa and Basie), vocal by Albanie Falletta:

AVENUE C (by Buck Clayton for the 1942-3 Basie band):

PASS THE BOUNCE (arranged by Lauryn Gould), vocal by Albanie Falletta:

JON’S DREAM a/k/a DICKIE’S DREAM, arranged, properly, by Jonathan Doyle:

LAST JUMP, arranged by Zach Varner:

I know that it won’t be the LAST JUMP for this swinging band for some time: wishing them many gigs, appreciative audiences, public notice, and pleasures — like the ones they give us.

May your happiness increase!