Tag Archives: Creole Jazz Band

BIRD, TIGER, BIRD (December 16, 2014)

Weatherbird_Rag

Some etymology first.  WEATHER BIRD (or WEATHER BIRD RAG) was composed by Louis Armstrong, first recorded in 1923 by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, then as a duet in 1928 by Louis and Earl Hines.  The latter was an iconic recording — two great artists completely at play, leap-frogging and performing spectacular hide-and-seek for three minutes.  No wonder Gerald Murphy named his yacht after that record, and if I am correct, had a copy of it built inside the hull.

Weatherbird parlophone

I’d always thought a weatherbird was our “weather vane,” the metal or wood implement on top of a house or barn that pointed as the wind turned.  (I doubted that it was some avian creature that by its appearance told of rain or clear weather.)

weatherbird

Looking deeper, I found the lines in — of all places — Tennessee Williams’ A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, where someone “hit the old weather-bird for three hundred dollars,” and the online definition that this referred to a long-shot bet . . . going back to when people would try to hit the weather vane on a barn to show they could throw or shoot.  So — if you follow that line of reasoning, WEATHER BIRD might well be called HITTING THE JACKPOT AGAINST ALL ODDS, which is a good title to keep in mind for the music that follows.

Here are the peerless trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and the equally gifted pianist Ehud Asherie in duet at the West Tenth Street mecca for improvised music in New York City, Mezzrow, on December 16, 2014, venturing into Louis-and-Earl territory.  To me, it’s also Roy Eldridge – Claude Bolling territory, ditto for Frank Newton and Art Tatum, for Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman.  But I cherish Jon-Erik and Ehud, and you will too.

There is a small zoological digression . . . where the BIRD meets the TIGER. Ehud lets you know when the species switch, so no one can feel worried:

This is the first Musical Offering from that night at Mezzrow.

More to come.  Thank you, peerless Zoologists.

May your happiness increase!

SCALING MOUNTAINS AT MONTEREY 2012 with the HIGH SIERRA JAZZ BAND and MARC CAPARONE (March 2, 2012)

No, no one burst into CLIMB EV’RY MOUNTAIN, and Julie Andrews was otherwise engaged.  But the High Sierra Jazz Band — here with guest hero Marc Caparone added to an already hot front line — knows how to get to the top and stay there.  I present (for your listening, dining, and dancing pleasure) an early set from the 2012 Dixieland Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay — with leader and raconteur Pieter Meijers on reeds and wry commentary; Charlie Castro, drums; Earl McKee, sousaphone and vocals; Stan Huddleston, banjo; Bruce Huddleston, piano; Howard Miyata (“the happiest man in Dixieland,” but why stop there?) on trombone, misc. brass, and vocal; and the electrifying two-cornet team of Bryan Shaw and Marc.

They began with the Creole Jazz Band’s irresistible MABEL’S DREAM.  Pieter has obviously told many audiences a long wooly tale about who Mabel was and what she dreamed about (thrilling but somehow dubious).  Does anyone know the real story?  Was Mabel someone’s girlfriend, and did she dream lucky?  Do tell:

Earl McKee takes us under her wing — let’s go DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN:

Ah, that Boy is here again — and he has something to tell us named the WININ’ BOY BLUES:

Mister Morton, take the stand!  KANSAS CITY STOMPS:

When Sidney Bechet and Pieter book the tour, PASSPORT TO PARADISE is not merely an extravagant figure of speech:

Oh, Mister Jelly!  “Get off the sidewalk, can’t you?”  SIDEWALK BLUES:

They concluded their set with Fats Waller’s composed-in-a-taxicab-on-the-way-to-the-recording-studio-and-possibly-misidentified-on-the-label MINOR DRAG.  Another thing we have Eddie Condon to thank for.  (Should this song have been issued as HARLEM FUSS?  One never knows.  Do one?):

Good, good, good — hot and powerful, at the very peak.

May your happiness increase.

ONE MORE FROM THE JAZZ TREASURE CHEST: MIKE POINTON, TOMAS ORNBERG, BENT PERSSON: ASKERSUND JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 1994)

Thanks to Franz Hoffmann!

From June 18, 1994, at the Askersund, Sweden Jazz Festival: Bent Persson, cornet; Mike Pointon, trombone, vocal; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet, alto sax; possibly Ray Smith, piano; Tom Stuip, banjo; unknown (perhaps Bo Juhlin?), brass bass.

Flying all the way, they do HEEBIE JEEBIES — a very funny version for those who know the “original story”; a rousing CHATTANOOGA STOMP from the Creole Jazz Band book — with great Mortonish emphatic playing from the pianist; a loose and easy FOUR OR FIVE TIMES.

And thanks to Mister Strong, who lives on in this music.

THREE FOR LOUIS: MARTY EGGERS and FRIENDS at PIER 23 (May 2, 2011)

My West Coast role model Rae Ann Berry was on the move again in the beginning of May 2011 and she captured this hot afternoon session at Pier 23 in San Francisco.

It’s a splendid cross-generational encounter, the kind of music that results when experienced jazz players who know the common language and history get together and have their say, individually and collectively.

The bow-tied gent in front is cornetist Jim Cullum; well behind him in the shades is Leon Oakley, also on cornet; to their left is clarinet hero Bill Carter; Marty Eggers (often on bass) is stompin’ ’em down at the piano, J. Hansen doing the same at his drum kit.  Although my attention is usually focused on the cornetists, Hansen is solid, his sounds colorful; Marty is often thinking about Morton, and Bill Carter sounds exactly like himself — perfectly surprising, heartfelt, witty, brave.

Although Rae Ann recorded fifteen performances, I’ve chosen three I like very much as homages to Louis.

The first comes from the time when Louis was just up from New Orleans, “Little Louis,” although he was hardly slender, playing alongside his musical father, King Joe Oliver, in the Creole Jazz Band: RIVERSIDE BLUES:

And something from the Clarence Williams period (the Red Onion Jazz Babies), a hot CAKEWALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME where one of the gentlemen of the ensemble, obviously inspired, bursts into song to tell us all about those champions:

Here’s the closing selection of the Louis-evocation, what I think of as the National Anthem of our music, two cornets entwining on WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH:

To see the dozen other performances that the diligent Ms. Berry has captured for us and for posterity, visit her YouTube channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/SFRaeAnn

It’s moments like these that make a man think of pulling up his New York roots and moving — with the Beloved, CDs, turntable, computers, and tea strainer — to California.  Could one of my readers find me an income that will run for the next ten years so that this might be accomplished?

GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS with TAMAR KORN at RADEGAST (March 30, 2011)

The Grand Street Stompers (led by trumpeter, composer, and arranger Gordon Au) made a return visit to the Radegast Bierhall on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 — and I got myself there without mishap.  Brooklyn is still mysterious to me, but the mysts are beginning to lift.

With Gordon were Emily Asher (trombone), Dennis Lichtman (clarinet), Peter Maness (bass), Nick Russo (guitar and banjo and the proud father of five-month twins!), and Tamar Korn.  A small firmament of jazz stars (who will blush at this characterization).

Please listen to the band — not only the soloists, but to the textures they and Gordon create, moving back and forth between the Creole Jazz Band of 1922 and the Birth of the Cool of 1949 and the Grand Street Stompers of 2011.  No dull spots or routines: nifty head arrangements, split choruses, a neat orchestral sensibility!

I always found W.C. Handy’s OLE MISS irresistible — named for an especially speedy railroad train — whether it was played by the Condon gang at Town Hall or by Louis and the All-Stars.  This version pleases me immensely: its leisurely, rocking tempo and the alternating keys (I asked Gordon — F and Ab) from chorus to chorus.   And I love impromptu riffs:

Here’s Gordon’s own THIRTIETH STREET THINGAMAJIG, which would sound like a Sixties “Dixieland composition” (and that’s a compliment) until you notice the unusual chord changes throughout.  Not the usual thing or thingamajig at all:

How about going UP A LAZY RIVER with Miss Tamar?  A good idea:

Is it true that Glenn Miller was working undercover for Eisenhower and the entire “small-plane-and-bad-weather” story was made up to conceal the facts?  It wouldn’t surprise me (Joe Yukl would now)  . . . but what we have here is a pretty rendition of his theme, MOONLIGHT SERENADE, with unusual twists — Bubber Miley meets the Schillinger system:

And here’s CRAZY EYES — a hilarious modern love song with music and lyrics by Gordon.  To learn the lyrics, I think you’ll have to purchase the Stompers’ new CD . . . watch this space for late-breaking news:

Thank you, gentlemen and ladies of the GSS!

CHARLESTON MAD! (The SCANDINAVIAN RHYTHM BOYS)

The Scandinavian Rhythm Boys are a deeply rewarding hot band, and they’ve just come out with a new CD, CHARLESTON MAD.  I’ve been excited by the band for a few years now.  And I was delighted to be able to write a short liner note for this new release, which I’ve reprinted below.

I first encountered the SRB on YouTube and was astonished and delighted by their skill and feeling, their wit and casual intensity. I didn’t feel the need for a pianist, a trombonist, a drummer. They swung; they were complete; they lived within the jazz tradition without imitating its recorded artifacts. Even better, they had solved the problem common to musical groups and larger communities (world leaders take note): how to gather individuals with strong personalities and blend them into a cohesive whole without trampling on anyone’s identity.

Who are the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys? I’ll start with the one musician I’ve been privileged to meet: reed master Frans Sjostrom. (I’m especially happy that I’ve learned how to pronounce his name correctly.) Frans’ rhythm is irresistible; his solos are haunting songs. The easy assessment on hearing Frans play the bass sax is to compare him to Adrian Rollini, but why define his creativity in such a narrow way? When I hear Frans play any saxophone I think of Coleman Hawkins; I think of Pablo Casals.

Then there’s Ole Olsen, whose clarinet playing has the deep feeling and down-home ease of Louis Cottrell and the New Orleans masters. On string bass, he supports and guides the group with his simple, neat lines, his woody sound, his strong pulse. His partner is the splendid Michael Boving, whose banjo rings and whispers – never a threat to communal serenity. Ole and Michael could rock a seventeen-piece band and have energy left over after the gig. Michael is also an astonishing singer whose vocals come from his heart. When he sings, “How long will I have to wait?” it has the mournful shouting force of a soul in torment; when he tells you he’s “Charleston mad,” we know it’s true.

Robert Hansson must have daredevils and acrobats in his genetic makeup, because he knows no fear: his spinning, shining lines, light as air, leap and dance high above the crowd. I think of early Bill Coleman, of Doc Cheatham, of Bob Barnard when I hear Robert – and of bright traceries in the twilight sky.

These four players combine to make lovely music, an art that doesn’t show off how difficult its achievements are. Whether they’re playing the classic jazz repertoire of Joe Oliver, Clarence Williams, Lovie Austin, or the ODJB, or Scandinavian pop classics – they spread joy and inspire us to smile, to dance, to exult. What a delicious accomplishment this CD is!

The website for the SRB is http://www.srbjazz.com.  There you can hear two performances from the CD, HESITATING BLUES and CLARINET MARMALADE, and there you can buy the CD.  Or, as Michael Boving suggested, “JAZZCLUB Copenhagen is our best jazz record shop in town.  They have
got the CD and it can be ordered now – your readers can find Jazzclub Copenhagen on Google and it’s there.”

Here are two video clips recorded by our mutual friend Flemming Thorbye — of the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys on a harbor cruise in Copenhagen.  One of the sweetest things about this CD, by the way, is that the SRB create swinging versions of Scandinavian classic pop tunes — giving listeners like myself something new to hum (something new that we can’t get out of our heads no matter how hard we try)!

Here’s TRUBBLE:

And here’s the title tune, with a thrilling, rough-cut vocal by Michael Boving, CHARLESTON MAD:

There are many video clips of the SRB on YouTube, including a few with the esteemed Joe Muranyi, but none of them will substitute for the pleasure of this CD — which I’ve been playing while driving through Central Park, for instance, with my window rolled down and the volume up to respectable (I hope not annoying) levels, sending this Good Hot Music out into the world.  It deserves to be heard!  (One of the best vignettes on this disc is the Richard M. Jones song — I associate it with the Oliver band — I AIN’T GONNA TELL NOBODY — which I’ve never heard with lyrics.  That is the very opposite of the way I feel about this music.)

“BLUE BLOOD BLUES”: SPENCER’S NIGHTHAWKS

I’ve been listening to a five-disc set called JAZZ MAGIC featuring cornetist Carl Spencer and his bands.  Between 1964 and 1972, Spencer led a small hot group called the Washboard Kings which devoted itself to a wide range of music — from early pop and jazz to the earliest Thirties.  After an extended hiatus, Spencer reformed his band as Carl Spencer’s Nighthawks Orchestra and it’s continuing to gig as I write this. 

Spencer’s bands have impresssed me both by their wide range (the musicians are comfortable playing the repertoire of the Creole Jazz Band, Bix Beiderbecke, Luis Russell, and pop music of the day — TAKE YOUR GIRLIE TO THE MOVIES IF YOU CAN’T MAKE LOVE AT HOME for one example) and their relaxed authenticity.  They know the Twenties styles well and can improvise within these idioms. 

Here’s a YouTube clip of two of Spencer’s star reed players working their way through Morton’s BLUE BLOOD BLUES.  This was recorded at the 2001 Bude Jazz Festival and features Brian Hills and Mac White, clarinets; Henry Davis, piano; Mike Parle, banjo; Roger Graham,  tuba; Tim Philips, drums.

JAZZ MAGIC contains 122 tracks, drawn from studio sessions and live performances, with guest features for pianists Martin Litton and Neville Dickie, banjoist / singer Spats Langham, and others — a delightfully varied assortment that deserves to be better known.  Visit  www.spencersnighthawks.com for more information on the band and on JAZZ MAGIC.

SURPRISED BY JAZZ (IN OAK CREEK CANYON)

The Beloved and I are taking a holiday in Sedona, Arizona, land of astonishing red rock formations and much more that we haven’t encountered yet.  On the road north through Oak Creek Canyon, we spotted a green-and-white sign for GARLAND’S INDIAN JEWELRY, and decided to pull over to take a look.

Garland’s is a beautiful store — more museum-quality silver than one can initially take in.  While the Beloved engaged a cheerful blonde woman in conversation about a particular purple stone from South Africa — a conversation that eventually managed to wend its way through the woman’s recently departed father-in-law, whose business it was (he had died recently at 92), the stress of being a war veteran, vegetarian and vegan diets . . . and more.

I confess I had been giving everything in the store, even the surprisingly deep conversation, only half of my attention — because they were playing my song.  And my songs.  From an Artie Shaw record to someone’s WOLVERINE BLUES to more Swing Era hits, I was pleased and surprised.  In a century where the background music, even in elaborately outfitted restaurants, strikes me as oppressively loud and aesthetically alien, this was a relief.  No, better.  It was balm. 

Cynically, I thought to myself, “Well, they want to attract the upscale market of people old enough to recall Artie Shaw — retirees with beau koo jack, sizable amounts of disposable income. 

But then the music shifted into the hard stuff: the Creole Jazz Band’s SNAKE RAG.  Billie, Lester, and Teddy in 1937.  Louis singing and playing ALL OF ME in 1931.  And my cynicism melted.  I apologized for intruding on the conversation to say, “Who chose the CD for this store?  That’s my music?”

The blonde woman — her name is Tricia Garland — smiled and said, “That’s Pandora, a free download channel: we set it to New Orleans Jazz.  Yes. today is Mardi Gras, but that’s not the reason.  We enjoy the music!” 

I told her a bit about this blog, and she said, “Jazz crosses all boundaries, doesn’t it?”

Truer words were never spoken.  Thanks to Tricia Garland for making sure that Hot jazz follows us wherever we go.  And it’s truly a lovely store: see for yourself at www.garlandsjewelry.com.  You can trust anyone who plays SNAKE RAG!

PLAY IT AGAIN, BOYS!

Brought to you through the good offices of Rae Ann Berry, another brief trip to San Diego (November 27, 2009) to visit with the Yerba Buena Stompers.

Make yourself to home.  Coffee?  Campari?  Seltzer? 

A great deal of music strikes me as pleasant and competent, but I need to hear it only once.  “That’s nice,” the mind says, “and now we can move on!”  But some performances, whether subversively quiet or shouting, make me think, “I have to hear that again,” my reason for posting the three clips below. 

This edition of the Yerba Buena Stompers is led by John Gill, banjo and vocal; Marty Eggers, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Hal Smith, drums; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Leon Oakley and Duke Heitger, trumpets.  This band is my imagined version of what the Oliver band must have sounded like at the Lincoln Gardens: it has the same steady rock at medium tempos.  And the sweet interplay between Leon and Duke is a visual metaphor for Papa Joe and Little Louis.

Oddly, two of these performances have to do with melancholy; the first, BROKEN PROMISES, comes from the Lu Watters book, and is a simple song — almost a country-and-western lament, but it sticks in the mind.  Leon’s half-chorus (backed by Hal on the cymbal) is a delight.  Unfortunately, we can’t see John singing, but he still comes through:

The other bit of sadness is MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE, which starts with the verse, new to me. 

When SFRaeAnn first posted this on YouTube, I started the clip and went some fifteen feet away to the kitchen.  But the second instrumental chorus — a duet between Duke, part-muted, and Marty’s incisive piano, made me abandon the caffeine and come back to the monitor, delighted.  No pyrotechnics but great skill!

The two performances made me think, not for the first time, about jazz musicians and singers who take the edge off of sad music (and lyrics) by raising the tempo, pushing the rhythm.  When you’re thinking about your Hot Mama, who’s gone, or those Broken Promises, you can’t be quite so despairing if you’re tapping your foot.  Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson get credit for this — consider Billie’s acidly swinging TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE — but it was happening before either of them was born.

And there’s MY LITTLE BIMBO (Down On A Bamboo Isle), a Walter Donaldson song whose subject is cross-cultural adultery.  Could I ignore a song that describes the sultry Love Object as having a “shape like a ukulele”?  Joy abounds. 

O RARE BENT PERSSON (and FRIENDS)!

Last night — Thursday, July 9, 2009 —  I witnessed the kind of jazz creativity and bravery that at times left me with tears in my eyes. 

The occasion was a concert organized by the Swedish trumpeter / cornetist / Louis Armstrong scholar Bent Persson, one of my heroes, in tribute to his hero Louis: “YOUNG LOUIS,” which — in two hour-long sets — demonstrated much about Louis’s first six years of recordings as well as the majesty of players now alive. 

The band was a stellar international crew: Mike Durham, tpt, joining Bent at the start and finish, as well as being a most adept and witty master of ceremonies; the gruff trombonist Paul Munnery; the brilliant reedman (clarinet and alto this time) Matthias Seuffert; the nimble pianist Martin Litton; the remarkable plectrist (banjos and guitar) Jacob Ullberger; the very fine brass bassist Phil Rutherford; the frankly astonishing percussionist Nick Ward.  The concert took place at the very modern Sage Gateshead in Newcastle, UK — lovely acoustics and a sound engineer at the back who was truly paying attention!  I attempted to videotape the whole thing (being a man of daring but not much discretion) but was stopped by an usher who whispered ferociously that there was NO photography of any kind allowed and I would have to leave if I continued . . . so I stopped.  But I did capture the band’s second song, a stately rock through King Joe Oliver’s WHERE DID YOU STAY LAST NIGHT? — much as it might have sounded in Chicago, 1922-23.  My video doesn’t capture everything — but you can see the graceful arcs of Nick Ward’s arms behind his drum set: I had a hard time taking my eyes off of him.   

Lovely as it is, that performance can’t summon up all of what I found so moving in this concert.  It wasn’t a pure repertory performance, where musicians strive to reproduce old records “live”; no, what was fascinating was the fervent interplay between the Past and Now, between the Great Figures and the living players onstage.  Everyone in this band knew the original records, but they were encouraged to dance back and forth between honoring the past by playing it note-for-note and by going for themselves.  Thus, Bent created solos that sounded like ones Louis might have — should have! — recorded, and his bravery and risk-taking were more than heartening.  I have never seen him in person, and he would give the most timid of us courage to learn the craft, to shut our eyes, and to make something new.  His playing on POTATO HEAD BLUES was immensely moving — watching him dare the Fates and declare his love for Louis in front of our eyes.  Bent also sang in several performances — mostly scatting, but once or twice delivering the lyrics in a sweetly earnest way — another example of an artist going beyond the amazing things we’ve already come to expect.  It was also delightful to watch the musicians grin broadly at each other as the beautiful solos and ensemble work unfolded.   

The concert moved briskly from Louis’s sojourn with Oliver to his work with Clarence Williams small groups, his own Hot Five and Seven, an evocation of Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards, Louis’s duet with Earl Hines, his Hot Choruses (as reimagined by Bent over a thirty-year period), with more than a few surprises.  One of them — gloriously — was the appearance of bass saxophone titan Frans Sjostrom for a version of BEAU KOO JACK by the trio called, so correctly, the Hot Jazz Trio (their one CD is under that name on the Kenneth label): Bent, Jacob, and Frans.  Wonderful both in itself and as a reinvention of that brightly ornate recording.  Sjostrom stayed around for the final ensemble celebration on HIGH SOCIETY, which brought tears to my eyes.   

I am posting this on Friday morning, hours before the Whitley Bay extravaganza — some 130 bands playing in rotation for three days in four simultaneous locations — is scheduled to begin.  There’ll be more magnificent, moving jazz, I am sure!  It promises to be both uplifting and overwhelming.  (And, as an extra delight, I am joined here by two of my three Official British Cousins — Bob Cox and John Whitehorn — men of great humor, generosity, and sensibility — whom I first met at Westoverledingen, Germany, in 2007, when we were rapt attendees at another Manfred Selchow jazz festival.  Always nice to have friends nearby!)

A postscript: at the concert, copies of an otherwise unknown compact disc were for sale — a recording of a similar YOUNG LOUIS concert from 2002, with many of the same players.  I snapped up one copy (paying for it, of course) and by the end of the concert, the CDs were all gone.  Let us hope that Bent and Co. choose to reissue that one and other versions.  I’m going to treasure it, as well as my memories of the concert I experienced.