Tag Archives: Dalton Ridenhour

STEVE PIKAL, “SWINGIN’ THE BASS,” with DALTON RIDENHOUR at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (June 1, 2018)

Steve Pikal, characteristically morose. Photograph by Andrea Canter.

String bassist / perpetual motion machine Steve Pikal is a marvelous force of nature.  Ask any musician who has been privileged to play alongside him.  His time is splendid, his inventiveness astonishing, his energy a delight.  He has perfect pitch — you can’t lose him! — and he finds the right notes.  He takes his playing tremendously seriously, but his work is joyous, and his ego almost invisible.  When I suggested to him that I do a bass-instruction video about him, he laughed and said he was self-taught so he didn’t know what he would have to offer.

Music elevates him, and the only time I’ve ever seen him without a smile is when he’s been studying a new chart with intentness.  I quote, “Swingin’ the Bass with all you great cats as often as I can is my mission. Gotta love it!!

What follows, slightly less than three minutes, is one of those occasions where I thank my lucky stars that I have a video camera and microphone, it was ready to go, and I was carrying it.

All through the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, free musical programs were sprinkling the air with notes — some a few blocks away at Gazebo Park, but most under the red-and-white tent pitched a block away from the Hotel Bothwell.  I had gone back to the hotel to get my camera and fresh batteries to record an evening’s concert performance, and was on my way to the theatre . . . when delightful strains of Swing filled the air.  It was Steve, apparently joining pianist Dalton Ridenhour for a number.  It sounded so good: jazz pheronomes, that I began to record the second half of their improvisation on MY BLUE HEAVEN, which owed a good deal to Walter Page and perhaps Johnny Guarnieri — but most of all to Pikal and Ridenhour. It makes me happy every time I revisit it:

I hope that the Fates offer another chance — when I am early and ready — to see, hear, and record Steve and Dalton again.  There will be a plenitude of Pikal-powered joy on this site (the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet and the Rock Island Roustabouts) and there are several new CDs that feature him, most notably GROOVUS (with Brian Holland and Danny Coots).

What a wonder he is, and how fortunate we are to have him.

May your happiness increase!

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DALTON RIDENHOUR, POET-NAVIGATOR (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, May 31, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

I’ve heard the splendid pianist Dalton Ridenhour several times in New York City, although most often as a member of an ensemble — where, Hines-like, he glitters and surprises.  But this year’s Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (in Sedalia, Missouri) offered more opportunities to savor his exceptional solo and duo playing — both deeply rewarding.

I said to him that he reminded me, at the keyboard, of a man who had built his own idiosyncratic, beautiful house, and was gently exploring it in the dark.  And, of course, inviting us along for the journeys.  He said the metaphor was about right.

Dalton can frolic and stomp, but he can also muse, and his playing is always animated by wonderful rhythmic impulses.  He takes familiar repertoire and through slight shifts — he’s never cliched — we visit old songs and hear them, tenderly liberated from decades of routine.  He doesn’t covet “innovation” for its own sake, but his performances reflect his deep self, no matter what the tempo.  Here he guides us, gently but with swinging intent, through four compositions either by or associated with Fats Waller.

I find it so reassuring to know that he and his music exist, and hope you share my delight.

Here’s MARTINIQUE, from Fats’ last show, EARLY TO BED.  I envision it as a hip-swinging chorus line dance: admire how Dalton’s variations within the form expand and extend it without ever undermining it:

SWEET SAVANNAH SUE begins close to the 1929 Waller version, but becomes even more spirited and playful as it goes along:

Another kind of sweetness, the Harry Warren SWEET AND SLOW, as a change of pace.  I love this song dearly, and hear Al Dubin’s always-clever lyrics in my head:

Finally, the Waller classic so often obliterated into a series of chords — but not here — HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which Dalton turns into a stroll through familiar fields yet with surprising vistas.  And his shift into Uptown tempo halfway through still makes me feel uplifted:

How that young fellow can play!  And his imagination is broad and unfettered.

May your happiness increase!

DENNIS LICHTMAN and THE QUEENSBORO SIX: “JUST CROSS THE RIVER”

Slightly less than three years ago, the superbly gifted multi-instrumentalist / composer Dennis Lichtman assembled his Queensboro Six and gave a concert at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.  Here is the first half, and here is the second.  The music was multi-colored and seriously rewarding: Dennis’ tribute to the true jazz borough, Queens County, New York, home of so many jazz figures — from Clarence Williams and Basie to Louis and Dizzy, Milt Hinton and James P. Johnson — and currently home to so many more of the musicians we love.  Dennis assembled his Queensboro Six for a truly delightful new CD, its title above, its theme song below:

This disc is a model of how to do it — musicians and composers take note.  For one thing, the band has an immense rhythmic and melodic energy, but the pieces are compact — sometimes explosions of twenty-first century Hot, sometimes evocative mood pieces, but none of them sounding just like the preceding track.  Dennis is a real composer, so that even an exploration of Rhythm changes sounds lively and fresh.  His arrangements also make for refreshing variety, so that one doesn’t hear him as the featured soloist to the exclusion of the other luminaries, and the performances are multi-textured, harking back to the later Buck Clayton, to Charlie Shavers’ work for the John Kirby Sextet, Raymond Scott, to sensitive elegies and musings that hint at the work of Sidney Bechet and Django Reinhardt.  You’ll also notice compositions by and associated with those Queens denizens Louis, Fats, Clarence Williams.  As that borough boasts some of the finest ethnic restaurants, this disc offers one savory musical dish after another.   As they used to say, “For listening and dancing”!  Peter Karl is responsible for the lovely recorded sound and Ricky Riccardi for the fine liner notes.

Here are some details.  The musicians are Dennis, clarinet; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Rob Garcia, drums; Nathan Peck, string bass — with guest appearances by Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, vocal , guitar; Mazz Swift, violin, vocal; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nick Russo, guitar.  If you know even a few of those performers, you will want this disc, because they seem especially inspired by Dennis’ compositions, arrangements, and playing.  And no one imitates any of the Ancestors.

The songs are 7 EXPRESS / FOR BIX / MIDNIGHT AT THE PIERS / ROAD STREET COURT PLACE AVENUE DRIVE / SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY / WALTZ FOR CAMILA / L.I.C. STRUT / JUST CROSS THE RIVER FROM QUEENS / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / 23rd BETWEEN 23rd AND 23rd / SQUEEZE ME / THE POWER OF NOT THEN / I’D REMEMBER HAVING MET YOU / CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME.

You may order a download or a disc here at very reasonable prices.

But perhaps more important than the disc itself, on August 1, the Queensboro Six will play two sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.  Tickets and details here.  Get yours today:

May your happiness increase!

DALTON RIDENHOUR PLAYS THE BLUES, or “KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN,” (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, June 1, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

Dalton Ridenhour is a genuine improvising musician, but someone whose subtleties might get taken for granted because he is so good at so many things.  And he doesn’t self-congratulate as he plays, as some do, turning their head to the audience as if to say, “See how impressively I played that last little thing there?  Time to break into spontaneous applause!”

He has the confidence and steadiness to go his own way within a song or a performance, creating structures of sound that aren’t flashy but that are terribly moving.  I came away from Dalton’s solo performances at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival feeling that I’d witnessed someone brave and patient, balancing the familiar and the inherently personal.  I told him after one set that I thought he had built his own house and was roaming around inside it, and the metaphor seemed to please him.

His SEDALIA BLUES pleased us so much more.

Around the three-minute mark in this leisurely performance, a while city sanitation truck came to a stop on the street (out of camera range but nearby) and began doing what such trucks do.  It had “Keep Our City Clean” painted in green letters on its side, and for a moment I thought of titling this improvisation “KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN BLUES,” but it isn’t my place to do so.  My place is to celebrate Dalton Ridenhour, splendid quiet explorer of heartfelt music.

Here’s SEDALIA BLUES.  Underestimate it, and Dalton, at your peril.

I will post more from Dalton, in solo and duo, for certain.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL RARE SOUNDS: JAKE SANDERS, “ESTRELLAS DE RADIO”

I first encountered Jake Sanders almost a decade ago at Banjo Jim’s, when he was the leader of the Cangelosi Cards, the group that had Tamar Korn as its vocal improvising genius.  Later I followed him to other Cards gigs and an especially wonderful rainy evening in a dance studio where he swung like mad, Charlie Christian style, on electric guitar.  When he moved to Chicago, I saw and heard him with the Fat Babies in person, on record, and on video, and now he is blazing his own paths.  (Most recently for me, in a trio with Dennis Lichtman and Jared Engel which appeared at The Django in New York City — lovely eloquent music.)

His new CD is what we used to call a doozy, precisely because it follows no narrow formula.  Here’s a sample of the music Jake loves and plays with great feeling — captured at the February 2018 CD release party in Mexico City:

And here you can buy an actual disc or download the music (each for the low price of $10 USD) or hear four of the thirteen tracks, in case you need convincing.

and here is the prose (not by me) that accompanies the music:

Estrellas de Radio features the sounds of acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, violin, piano, and upright bass. The songs and styles range across a broad spectrum of traditions, drawing from or expanding upon the roots of American jazz. The album features beautiful waltzes, rags, blues, and band arrangements of four guitar solos originally published in the 30’s which have never been previously recorded. Three of these rare and unique compositions are credited to guitar legend Nick Lucas.

Recorded over a two year period by Alex Hall at Reliable Records in Chicago, the album features a host of musicians from New York, Chicago and Detroit; these include: Jared Engel, Dalton Ridenhour, Dennis Lichtman, Aaron Jonah Lewis, Beau Sample, Paul Asaro, and Patrick Donley.

Three tracks feature the exceptional sounds of Fraulini Guitars hand-crafted by the esteemed luthier Todd Cambio. (Jake Sanders plays an Annunziata on Serate Primaverili, Speranze Perdute, and Flappers Trot; Patrick Donley plays an Angie on Speranze Perdute).

While the early Italian pioneers of the jazz guitar Nick Lucas and Eddie Lang made their mark on 20th century music, an earlier generation of Italian string virtuoso were also recording in America. Masters such as Giovanni Gioviale and Giovanni Vicari brought old world sounds to the new world. L’Ultimo and Serate Primaverili are adaptations of Giovale’s brilliant compositions originally conceived for mandolin. Speranze Perdute was inspired by a recording by Giovanni Vicari, as was the mazurka Mia Carina, which he recorded with The Continental Trio.

While Nick Lucas is famous amongst jazz aficionados both as a vocalist and for his early recorded guitar solos (Picking the Guitar and Teasing the Frets), he is also credited with composing numerous guitar solos which were never recorded, but appeared in folios and early flat-picking method books. Bootlegger’s Blues, Flappers Trot, and Gold Diggers are all examples of Lucas guitar solos which exist as sheet music, but have not been recorded until now.

The exquisite waltz, Margaret, that appears as a piece in The Nick Lucas Guitar Method Vol. 1, however, was composed by J. Nicomede. Sanders’ unique conception and arrangements of these songs are drawn from his nearly 20 years of playing roots music. (Flappers Trot, guitar and piano) (Bootlegger’s Blues, Gold Diggers, Margaret, guitar, violin, piano, bass).

Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Wang Wang Blues are classically-styled guitar and mandolin duets arranged in studio. Charleston Rag, known as a piano solo, is heard here uniquely arranged for piano, guitar, and upright bass. The Memphis Shakedown, made famous by the Memphis Jug band, is a common tune for old-time and jug bands performing today. However on Estrellas de Radio the tune becomes something altogether different, achieving new sounds in old music. The Sunset Blues is the album’s one original composition. Like any blues it borrows from the past, however its spare style, unusual form, and crafted melody give it a sound all its own.

ABOUT JAKE SANDERS:

Jake Sanders is a guitarist, bandleader, and arranger, whose musical career began in New York City at the end of the last century. After years as a street performer, playing jazz and American traditional music, Sanders formed the popular roots band, The Cangelosi Cards. They performed nightly in the back rooms and bars of the East Village, but soon traveled well beyond Manhattan, playing shows from Shanghai to Stockholm. After years with the Cards, Jake joined The Fat Babies, an acclaimed hot jazz band which continues to perform weekly at Chicago’s world famous Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. His last album with the group, Solid Gassuh (Delmark Records), made DownBeat Magazine’s “Best of 2017” list – a rare feat for a traditional jazz band in modern times.

A long time musical collaborator with vocalist and world-renowned Lindy hop champion, Naomi Uyama, Jake both plays guitar and arranges for her swing outfit, Naomi & Her Handsome Devils. Sanders has recorded with the great stride and ragtime piano player Paul Asaro, and has been featured on record and stage with the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet.

Jake Sanders has performed at The Chicago Jazz Festival, The Detroit Jazz Festival and The Brooklyn Folk Festival as well as countless clubs, dance halls and theaters throughout North America. Jake’s guitar playing has brought him across Europe and Asia and he is a regular performer in-residence at Cracovia 32, home of the emerging swing scene in Mexico City. As a solo performer or with the Handsome Devils, The Dotted Halves trio or with the quintet, The Lovestruck Balladeers, Jake Sanders is a consummate traveling musician who can be heard far and wide.

A few words from me, on behalf of JAZZ LIVES.  I trust Jake’s taste completely, so even though some of the compositions on this disc are not Hot Music in the established sense, I fell in love with the sounds here at first playing.  The only reason this post is written at the end of May rather than a few months earlier is because I wanted actual discs to play in the car.  I’ve amazed a number of unsuspecting passengers with ESTRELLAS DE RADIO, and one even said, “Michael, I didn’t know you liked beautiful music like this!”  I do, and you will.

May your happiness increase!

ON THE ROAD TO SEDALIA, MISSOURI (May 30 – June 2, 2018)

The Sages urge us to live in the moment, but I need something to look forward to — even if it’s nothing larger than that second cup of coffee.

But this post is about something far more expansive: the 37th Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival that will take place in Sedalia, Missouri from May 30 – June 2, 2018.

The performers at the 2017 Festival, a welcoming bunch.

You can see the enticing list of the people who will be playing, singing, talking, and (if I guess correctly) being lively and funny at the 2018 Festival here.  I don’t know every one on the list, because I have never been immersed in ragtime, but those I do know are very exciting artists and good friends: Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Marc Caparone, Steve Pikal, Evan Arntzen (that’s the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet), Carl Sonny Leyland, Jeff Barnhart, Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor, and Dalton Ridenhour.  There are just as many luminaries I haven’t mentioned here, and I hope they don’t take offense: look at the list to see what heroes and friends of yours will be there also.

The map suggests that the festival is neatly laid out, and it should be a pleasure to be trotting around in the late-Spring sun:

I expect to be dazzled by people I’ve never heard before (although I am no longer obsessed with Seeing and Hearing Everything — that’s for people with more energy) but here are two favorite groups / performers.  One is the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, the five brilliant planets that came together for a hot constellation last summer in Nashville.  I wrote about my visit here and about the CD that resulted here.

Incidentally, I don’t promote the CDs below as substitutes for the experience you will have in Sedalia — rather, as a way of making the time between now and May 30 seem easier to endure.

Here you can learn more and buy copies.

And if the thought of reading more words makes the room spin, try this:

As Eubie Blake would shout exultantly at the end of a performance, “That’s RAGTIME!”  And who would disagree?

The other group also has Brian Holland and Danny Coots at its center, but with the addition of the best chemical catalyst I know — the wonderful one-man orchestra, gutty and tender and rocking, Carl Sonny Leyland.  Here are more details.  And a few words from me.

OLD FASHIONED refers to two pleasures: music-making the way it used to be, and the cocktail . . . sometimes consumed in tandem.  Recordings of two pianos plus “traps” go back to 1941 or perhaps earlier — I am thinking of a Victor set called EIGHT TO THE BAR, featuring Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Jimmy Hoskins, which was about twenty-five minutes of locomotion, no matter what the tempo.  Having the train come roaring down the track is a pure adrenaline jolt, but eighty minutes of high-intensity, high-speed music could soon pall.  So the three wise men have opted for sweet variety — slow drags and old pop tunes treated with affection, originals in different moods.  Thus the CD rocks its way to the end before you know it.  And the sound is lovely — it’s possible that Carl’s singing voice has never been captured so well on disc.

May your happiness increase!

WONDER-FULL: THE NEW WONDERS’ NEW CD

There are many ways to honor the tradition, in jazz as well as the other arts.  Let us say you are a young musician who falls in love with an artifact — the OKeh record of TIGHT LIKE THIS by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in 1928.  You can use the recorded music as an inspiration to go your own way, to play something that honors Louis but is your own creation.  Or, equally honorable, you can transcribe the recorded evidence, and offer to a new audience a live performance that comes as close to the original as possible, or one that allows for individual variation within the hallowed architecture of the original.

Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks — the great progenitor — and the newer groups such as the Original Cornell Syncopators and the New Wonders follow the latter path gloriously, sometimes recreating and re-enacting, sometimes honoring the original architecture while painting the interior windowsills periwinkle.

From left, Jared Engel, banjo; Joe McDonough, trombone; Jay Lepley, drums; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Mike Davis, cornet, leader; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano. Photograph by Jane Kratochvil

There are many ways in which the New Wonders are special.  For one thing, they offer repertoire that has not been overdone — no SINGIN’ THE BLUES, no STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE.  They draw from recordings made by the California Ramblers, the Chicago Loopers, Tiny Parham, Red Nichols, the Goofus Five, and others — wonderful pop tunes that haven’t been played in ages. And they are a great paradox, for their approach is exact (reproducing pieces of arrangements, both instrumental and vocal, that are not easy to do) but loose.  They are not museum curators, but they are not only playing the songs and moving on . . . and there is a spirit of great fun and ebullience without the least mockery or condescension.  A performance or a recording by the New Wonders is a convincing bit of theatre: as if this group of beautifully-dressed young men had come to your house with the sweet notion of bringing 1927 back for a few hours.  And they do it with love: the music can be precise and tender, or hot and bumptious — all in the space of a few songs.

I saw them create such wonders last August in Brice Moss’ pastoralia, and it was memorable, as you can observe here.  But there were limitations to the sound my microphone could capture, and this was the pianoless New Wonders.  So I am delighted to announce their debut CD, titled THE NEW WONDERS, so that no one can mistake it for anything else.  It’s a delightful banquet of sounds from Messrs. Davis, McDonough, Alexander, Rattman, Engel, Lepley, and Ridenhour, as they playfully work their way through FLAMIN’ MAMIE; REACHING FOR SOMEONE; I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED; BONEYARD SHUFFLE; POOR PAPA; I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS; I’D RATHER CRY OVER YOU; PERSIAN RUG; CLORINDA; I NEED LOVIN’; SMILE, DARN YA, SMILE; JUNGLE CRAWL; I’M WALKING BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS; SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY; THE BALTIMORE.

I may be accused of ageism, but there is something particularly pleasing to hear these reasonably young (at least to me) musicians immerse themselves in music made by young musicians — an enthusiastic freshness.  And there’s another delightful oddity in the New Wonders’ presentation: the vocal choruses.  In my youth, we made fun of Wes Vaughan, we lifted the needle over Irving Kaufman (unless there was a hot obbligato) and in general, we waited for Bing to come along and make everything all right.  Four members of The New Wonders sing (Lepley, Rattman, Alexander, and leader Davis) and they do it splendidly, not only in solo — verse as well as chorus — but in reproducing the intricate vocal parts from the Chicago Loopers date, CLORINDA and I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED — with great style, earnest without being stiff.  Replaying this disc, I found myself looking forward to those beautifully-executed vocal outpourings, and I think you might share my pleasure.

Al fresco, August 2017

Here you can find out more about Mike and the band, and here is the band’s Facebook page.  And . . . . here is the CDBaby page for the new CD.

But the best way to buy a band CD is at the gig — maybe you’ll get it signed, and you have the direct economic transfer of giving money to the musicians who have just played for you, so here is the event page for the New Wonders’ CD release party — Tuesday, March 13, 2018, from 8-10 PM at Norwood, 241 W 14th St, New York, New York 10011.  Mike points out, “Norwood is a members-only club. In order to attend this event all tickets must be purchased in advance. NO tickets will be sold on the premises.”  And I won’t be able to make this gig, so those of you who are waiting for more videos might have to be in attendance, if possible.  It will be Wonderful.

May your happiness increase!