Tag Archives: Craig Ventresco

“IF LOVE IS A TRANSACTION, CAN IT BE GIVEN FREELY?”: WHERE ALL THE RIVERS GO TO SLEEP (NYMF, July 18-19, 2015)

I first met jazz pianist / composer / singer Jesse Gelber in the early part of 2005, when he was playing a Sunday brunch gig deep in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and was impressed by his music, his wit, and his imagination.  Soon after I met his wife, Kate Manning, and heard her beautiful focused singing.  We’ve crossed paths infrequently in the last decade, but I am pleased to be able to tell you about their musical — set in the early part of the last century, in New Orleans, in Storyville. Kate has written the book and lyrics; Jesse, the music and story.  I didn’t know when I first met Jesse that he was a “serious” composer, but since then he has won an ASCAP Foundation’s Morton Gould Young Composer Award for his opera, and has arranged music for Itzhak Perelman and PBS.  And here I thought he was simply an inventive musician — praised by Kevin Dorn, Craig Ventresco, and Tamar Korn.

RIVERS Gelber Manning

You can learn more about this project here — and, if you are so inclined, support it.  To quote Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, every nickel helps a lot. And this is the production’s website, where you can hear such enticing songs as MID-COITAL MUSINGS (MONEY ON THE TABLE); WE HAD TODAY; IF IT FEELS GOOD, IT’S GOOD.  You see a general trend, I hope: this is an officially hedonistic musical, and we could use more of those.

The story — in brief — is this: the musical follows Cora Covington, a young prostitute in Storyville, the fabled New Orleans red-light district, who falls in love with Apolline Albert, a beautiful Creole woman. Cora draws Apolline into a life of prostitution at one of the district’s most extravagant brothels, servicing the city’s wealthiest and most powerful men, and run by the notoriously cold Madame and voodoo priestess Marie Snow. When Apolline’s husband Joe returns from up North and wants her back, a desperate Cora will do anything to keep her from leaving. She commits a terrible crime, for which she then seeks redemption.  In a world where love is a transaction, can it ever be given freely?

Ordinarily I have to be lassoed to a musical newer than 1936, but I trust Gelber and Manning’s artistic instincts, so I will be at the July 18 performance of WHERE ALL THE RIVERS GO TO SLEEP at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.  It’s a concert performance, with a twelve-person cast and twelve-person orchestra.

Since this is JAZZ LIVES, let’s start with the orchestra: Peter Yarin, piano; Andrew Hall, string bass; David Langlois, washboard; Nick Russo, guitar and  banjo; Benjamin Ickies, accordion; Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Matthew Koza, clarinet; Jake Handelman, trombone; Josh Henderson, Eddie Fin, violin; Sarah Haines, viola; Emily Hope Price, cello.

And the cast, under the direction of Tony nominee Randal Myler and the musical direction of Dan Lipton (The Last Ship): Carole J. Bufford (Broadway By The Year, speak easy, Body and Soul) as Cora, and Ann McCormack (West Side Story 50th Anniversary World Tour) as Apolline, with Jacqueline Antaramian (Dr. Zhivago, Coram Boy, Julius Caesar), Kenny Brawner (Kenny Brawner is Ray Charles), Damian Norfleet (Show Boat, Ragtime), Brynn Williams (In My Life, 13), Amanda Castaños (Spring Awakening), Mariah MacFarlane (Nice Work If You Can Get It, American Idiot), Ryan Clardy, David Lajoie, Michael Lanning, and Erika Peterson.

Here is the link to buy tickets for the Saturday, July 18 performance at 8 PM and the Sunday, July 19 one at noon. Performances will take place at PTC Performance Space, 555 West 42nd Street, New York City.  I’m told that tickets are going quickly, and since this is not a huge space, I know it’s true.

See you there.

May your happiness increase!

DIVINELY INSPIRED: JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 26, 2014)

I will say only that this is the band I flew to Colorado to hear and video-record in July 2014 at the Evergreen Jazz Festival.  James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band.  Accept no substitutes.  Dogs bark for it.  Ask for it wherever better bands are booked.

The players?  James Dapogny, piano, arrangements, leader; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Christopher Smith, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone; Russ Whitman, tenor and baritone saxophones; Dean Ross, string bass; Rod McDonald, guitar; Pete Siers, drums.

One of the nicer aspects of the EJF was the different venues at which bands could perform — outside (alas, in the rain), in a ballroom, in a wooden lodge, and in the most delightful small church.

Here is the first half of a superb set by a superb band, all arrangements by the Professor (that’s James Dapogny).

STRIKE UP THE BAND (with the verse!):

TOOT-TOOT, DIXIE BOUND:

HOW JAZZ WAS BORN (take a lesson from Fats):

IT WAS A SAD NIGHT IN HARLEM (homage to Helmy Kresa, Duke Ellington, and Barney Bigard):

This band is so special: a wondrous mix of loose-limbed ecstatic soloing, tight ensemble playing, gorgeous arrangements full of surprises.  Why they aren’t asked to every festival is beyond me, but I also wonder why PBS hasn’t picked them up, why Marvel Comics is proving so recalcitrant. . . you get the idea.  More to come.

And since, to quote Craig Ventresco, the past is yet to come, here are four more video offerings from JD and the CJB at the EJF.  ONE. TWO. THREE. FOUR.

Yeah, man.

May your happiness increase!

A GLORIOUS EVENING, PART THREE: TAMAR KORN, DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, CRAIG VENTRESCO, MEREDITH AXELROD, JERRON PAXTON, TAL RONEN (JALOPY THEATRE, September 28, 2014)

By the end of this utterly satisfying musical evening (September 28, 2014) at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, the stage was filled with happy individualists — not a repeater pencil or copycat in sight. The cast of characters was Tamar Korn, vocal; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Meredith Axelrod, vocal and ukulele; Jerron Paxton, piano; Tal Ronen, string bass.  I think that’s an accurate census of the people, not all of them appearing on each number, and some of them audible rather than visible.

In retrospect, it feels like a combination jam session – hootenanny – revival meeting – improvisational theatre piece. . . . unique and fulfilling. And even though those of us who have followed Tamar for the past five years or more know these songs (the first three: NEW YORK is a new favorite) the stage was alight with fresh energies.

For those who missed this glorious constellation of musical comets and asteroids, whether live or on video, here are the first two parts of this evening.

SUGAR BLUES:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (Ms. Korn in bliss, announced freely):

DO THE NEW YORK:

Rarely do I use the word “unforgettable” about an event I’ve attended, but this evening solidly fits that description.  Blessings on the artists and the generous people at Jalopy who made this evening happen.

May your happiness increase!

A GLORIOUS EVENING, PART TWO: DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, TAMAR KORN (JALOPY THEATRE, September 28, 2014)

This is the second portion of a Saturday night performance at the Jalopy Theatre, one of those musical evenings I don’t think I will ever forget, featuring Craig Ventresco, Meredith Axelrod, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Matt Munisteri, Jerron Paxton, and Tal Ronen.

Here are some highlights of the first set.

And here are six more magical performances by Dennis, Tamar, and Matt in varying combinations.  No posturing, just deep feeling for the particular idiom of each song,great unaffected expertise, a sweet intensity.

Hoagy Carmichael’s SKYLARK:

Irving Berlin’s RUSSIAN LULLABY:

Willard Robison’s WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME IN THE MORNING:

RISONHA (by Luperce Miranda, the Brazilian mandolinist and composer, 1904-1977):

TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING (from Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys):

SO BLUE (a gem by De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson 1927):

WHAT’S THE USE OF LIVING WITHOUT LOVE? (thanks to a late King Oliver record):

Part Three will be arriving soon.

May your happiness increase!

HIS WESTERN SWING (Marty Grosz / Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars, August 15, 2014)

Marty Grosz, a citizen of the world who has spent much of his time in the eastern United States, visited California for nearly two weeks in August 2014.  I’ve documented some of his musical activities, especially a glorious afternoon at Cafe Divine with Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco here and here, but the Grosz Tour also touched down on Friday, August 15, at the nexus of Hot, Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, to play some with Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars: Clint, string bass / vocal; J Hansen, drums; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, soprano saxophone; Jim Klippert, trombone.

Here are three highlights of that session.

A 1936 song we associate with Louis, Red Allen, and Wingy Manone: ON TREASURE ISLAND:

A nineteenth-century favorite that I heard in childhood, both in a lewd parody and in the Louis / Mills Brothers disc, IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE:

And a classic song to send the dancers home in a romantic haze — here performed at a groovy dance tempo with a heartfelt sing-along that almost took off, I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

Thank you, Marty, and the gentlemen of the ensemble.

May your happiness increase!

DOWN-HOME EBULLIENCE! THE FIRST SET: MEREDITH AXELROD, CRAIG VENTRESCO, TAMAR KORN, JERRON PAXTON, MATT MUNISTERI at JALOPY (Sept. 28, 2014)

One test of any artistic expression is how long it lingers in our selves after we’ve experienced it.  What follows has been my mental soundtrack for some time now, and its effect hasn’t diminished.

On September 28, 2014, Doug Pomeroy (my guide to uncharted Brooklyn) and I made the trek to the Jalopy Theatre ay 315 Columbia Street to see a double bill of Meredith Axelrod, vocal / guitar / ukulele; Craig Ventresco, guitar // the BRAIN CLOUD with Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Tamar Korn, vocal; Matt Munisteri, guitar; special guests Jerron Paxton, vocal, piano, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.

It was a memorable evening, and revisiting these performances continues to make me immensely happy.  But Jalopy is a place where good things happen.  See their website for the schedule of events.  (And see this wonderful evidence from 2011, as well as this 2013 bouquet of sounds.)

Here are some highlights from the first set of September 28.

Craig and Meredith in duet on SILVER BELL — from darkness to light:

Meredith singing to Craig’s guitar — RED LIPS, KISS MY BLUES AWAY:

Tamar, Meredith, and Craig performing WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND (a song brought back into twenty-first century repertoire by the intrepid Gordon Au, I believe):

An jubilant extravaganza on LONESOME AND SORRY, featuring Meredith, Craig, Tamar, Jerron, and Matt, and two verses:

The same players essayed SOME OF THESE DAYS although Matt was now seated in the audience — to my immediate right, which was friendly:

This joyous music — so playful — reminds me of what might happen in someone’s living room.  Wit is bubbling beneath the surface at all times. But you’d have to have the very best musical guests imaginable, people of this sensibility who can be absolutely full of good energy while performing the saddest songs.  (The lyrics of LONESOME AND SORRY are especially desolate, those of SOME OF THESE DAYS sorrowful with an angry undercurrent, but how delighted these performances are!)

The second set — with Dennis and Tal joining in — was unforgettable.  And it will be shared here as well.

May your happiness increase!

MEREDITH AXELROD, CRAIG VENTRESCO, LEON OAKLEY, ROBERT YOUNG, ARI MUNKRES (The JAZZ LIVES House Concert Series, August 24, 2014)

Two very creative souls are singer / guitarist Meredith Axelrod and guitarist Craig Ventresco — wonderful elliptical individualists who energetically and sweetly reinvent the larger musics (the plural is intentional) of nearly-forgotten times.  I’ve known and admired them for nearly a decade now, but was often slightly frustrated because they send out extraordinary music that has to battle with conversation.  I know this is a fact of playing and singing in this century, but I was involved in a little house party that featured Meredith and Craig.  And there were friends making music, too: Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, saxophone; Ari Munkres, string bass.  I asked this group if they would perform a few tunes just for you — the JAZZ LIVES audience.  They did, and here are three delicious unbuttoned but precise offerings:

NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES:

EGYPTIAN ELLA:

I’M GOING TO MEET MY SWEETIE NOW:

I wish there were some way to hear Meredith and Craig with a small cast of strolling players on a regular basis, and several ideas come to mind.

If this music appeals to you, contact Meredith at her whimsical email address, meredithanthraxelrod@gmail.com and she will respond promptly.  They love the idea of coming to your home and making merry.

Or you can check her website to see videos of the two of them in performance, to learn their current schedule, to have deep metaphysical queries answered — perhaps with more queries, but that’s metaphysics. Here is Meredith’s website, a very educational experience.

If you live near North Beach in San Francisco, in Berkeley, or Oakland, you have a good chance to see these two — and friends — on a regular basis.  But I hear the New Yorkers whimpering, “What about US?”

Good news.  Meredith and Craig will be making a brief but intense New York tour in less than two weeks, and on Saturday, September 27, they will be appearing at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn — along with Dennis Lichtman, Matt Munisteri, and Tamar Korn — for a 9 – 11:30 PM show.  Buy tickets here. Jalopy is at 315 Columbia Street, and their many-splendored website is here.

East or West, Meredith and Craig and their exalted friends make refreshing music.

May your happiness increase!