Tag Archives: Dan Barrett

The CASEY MacGILL ORCHESTRA, “THE ROYCROFT SESSION”

You’re going to have to trust me on this — that Casey MacGill’s new five-song CD, pictured below, is excellent and beyond — because I can’t offer you sound samples or downloads.  You’ll have to (gasps from the audience) buy the CD.  It’s $15 and it’s splendidly worth it.  Details here.  The other necessary bit of candor is that it a an EP-CD . . . or whatever they call it nowadays, twenty minutes long.  Take it as the best compliment I can offer that when I first got a copy, I began to audition it in the Mobile Audition Studio (my 2014 Camry) and I played it three times through without stopping, and thought, “That’s more pleasure than many standard-length CDs.”

“A swing band, yes, but what makes this special is the combination of great arrangements, vocals, and its irresistible rhythmic pulse. Flavor, tonal colors, musical storytelling; two brilliant originals and three classics that are must-hear,” is the description on Casey’s website, and it’s an accurate one.  The band recorded on January 8, 2018 — in beautiful sound and no trickery.

Here are the players — and some of them you will not only recognize but greet as masters on their instruments.  Casey plays piano, ukulele, sings lead, and does the arrangements.  The reeds are Jacob Zimmerman, lead alto, clarinet, vocal; Saul Cline, tenor, clarinet; Hans Teuber, alto, clarinet; Jonathan Doyle, tenor, baritone, clarinet, bass sax.  The brass: Charlie Porter, lead trumpet; Dan Barrett, trumpet; Trevor Whitridge, trombone; David Loomis, trombone; Christian Pincock, trombone.  Rhythm: D’Vonne Lewis, drums; Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar.

And they rock.

About the music.  Casey understands and embodies several truths in his music — in theory and performance.  One is that if the music isn’t fun, why do it?  (This doesn’t mean jokes, but a certain lively ebullience.  Joy.)  Two is that there is no artificial division between “jazz” and “swing,” that the former ought to get the dancers on the floor, but that the latter has to be ornamented with high-level inspiring improvisations.  Three is that simplicity is commendable rather than a weakness, and that music can fall down under the weight of too much of anything, so that well-played riffs can be a great pleasure, even if we know them by heart.

The disc starts with SWING NATION (its refrain “People groovin’ together!” a philosophical foundation for everything Casey and friends do) with a duo vocal by Casey and Jacob Zimmerman — I thought I heard a little Trummy Young and Sy Oliver in there, and that’s a compliment.  It’s a short performance, but a memorable one: I was humming it in the days that passed after my first listenings.  I was rocking in my driver’s seat before the song was a minute old. Great solo segments by Doyle (on bass sax!), Barrett, Lewis, Loomis, Casey on piano, all deserved multiple hearings on their own.  The arrangement is full of little surprises, but none of them seem obtrusive, and the rhythm section is superb: Casey, switching from piano to ukulele, is a splendid anchor and guide. His piano playing is Basie-like but without any of the half-dozen (by now tedious) Basie “trademarks.”

I NEVER KNEW is often taken too fast, but not here, and the arrangement looks to the 1933 Benny Carter recording, with a sweet discussion between Zimmerman and Cline at the start, before Barrett does what he does so superbly, the second sixteen over to Casey at the piano.  Then — “What is that?” — a transcription of Lester’s 1943 solo for sax section, glossy and supple, again with a piano bridge by Casey leading into a muted brass rendering of the closing Carter chorus, Barrett backed by Lewis’ tom-toms for the bridge.  So far (and I left a phone message with my primary care physician) I have been unable to listen to this track only once.

LA DAME EN BLUES, another MacGill original, is what they used to call a “mood piece.”  Its groove reminds me a little of THE MOOCHE, with a much more harmonically sophisticated second half, that turns into a melancholy yet swinging clarinet solo.  Again, the ensemble writing is compelling without grabbing the listener’s collar.  Loomis summons up Joe Nanton, gruff but tender, before piano leads the band out.

The opening of NIGHT AND DAY — muted brass against and with reeds — makes me wish I had practiced more during those ballroom dancing lessons of 2007.  I delight in the band’s lovely sound: everyone knows how to play as part of a section, which is a great thing.  Casey’s vocal is hip but completely sincere: he doesn’t ooze, but he’s deeply in the pocket of Romance, with an easy conversational lilt to his phrasing.  A gorgeous solo chorus by Teuber (who makes me think of Pete Brown and Rudy Williams, sweet-tart) follows, before Casey returns to woo the unknown hearer and us.

Finally, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which has been done so often that it might labor under the burden of familiarity, starts off with a bang — a short vocal introduction before the band says, “HERE we are!” in the opening chorus.  Casey’s vocal, hip and hilarious, is so winning, before Teuber comes on, and that’s no idle 1946 cliche.  Barrett, for the second sixteen, visits NOLA, before the band starts to rock what I think of as “the Henderson riff” or perhaps it’s the Hopkins one — buy the CD and argue among yourselves.  Another riff is overlaid, which I love but cannot place, before Casey does a Johnny Guarneri for the bridge, and the band mixes unison scat — college cheerleaders? — while thinking of Christopher Columbus, before bringing on a Django-and Stephane riff.

Perfectly swinging music, ensemble, solos, vocal: it’s a delight.  I thought, when I’d finished writing this overview, “Hey, the only thing wrong with this disc is that it’s not a two-CD set!” but perhaps that’s best.  Maybe Casey has a firm hand on the tiller and is looking out for us all.  Given two hours of this band, I might be so overwhelmed by pleasure that I couldn’t write.

Buy yours here.  Bliss has rarely been so easy to come by.

May your happiness increase!

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HOT, SWEET, HOTTER: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and FRIENDS at CLEVELAND (Sept. 15, 2017), PART TWO: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH

I posted the first part of a frankly incendiary set from the now-lamented Cleveland Classic Jazz Party here, and it seems just the right time to offer the three performances from the second half.

ROSSANO.

Rossano and his majestice friends — Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Frank Tate, string bass; Hal Smith, drums — really know how to do it, to play the venerable repertoire with loving care so that it doesn’t seem stale or by-the-numbers, with heartfelt solos, intelligent ensemble work, and lovely tempos.

Here’s Kid Ory’s SAVOY BLUES:

Eddie Condon always mixed in beautiful ballads with the hot numbers, so Rossano features Dan Barrett in GHOST OF A CHANCE:

Since time was running out, the final number was compact — AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  But Rossano brilliantly said, “Four choruses, ensemble,” and offered us this memorable evocation of easy teamwork in the land of Hot:

Unforgettable.  And another reason to be grateful — to the musicians, to the traditions they embody, and to Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock.  We who were there know why.

May your happiness increase!

“THE JOYS OF D*******D” (PART ONE): ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 15, 2017)

Let the truth come out: the glorious pianist Rossano Sportiello loves Dixieland. Yes, that naughty word so scorned by many jazz listeners.

[An update: since I published this blog, with the word spelled out in full, I have been rebuked by several esteemed jazz journalists, a few of them friends, for my daring to print the obscenity, as if I were wrapping myself in the flag of the Confederacy.  “‘D*******d’ is the name given to the kind of music Rossano heard, loved, and played in his Milan youth.  And — should sensibilities still be raw — it’s the name Louis gave to what he played.  Do I need to cite a higher authority?]

Not, as he will point out, the homogenized variety, but the music he grew up listening to: Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, and their noble colleagues.

In 2017, for one of his sets at the much-missed Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, he chose to play the familiar repertoire . . . but with energy and love.  He called on Hal Smith, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Duke Heitger, trumpet, to accomplish this.  And even though these songs (or almost all of them) have been played to shreds by less-splendid musicians, they shine here.  Admire the relaxed tempos and fine dynamics: the hallmarks of players who remember what the songs are supposed to sound like, that MUSKRAT and BARBECUE have fine melodies that must be treated with care and admiration.

They began with the song Louis loved so well, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

Again, thinking of Louis, a sweet-and-slow AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Hot Five territory once more, but not too fast, for MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

There’s a second half, to come soon — classic performances, created on the spot.

Thanks not only to these delightful creators, but to Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock for making all this possible.  The Cleveland Classic Jazz Party is now only a sweet memory, but it was a glorious outpouring while it lasted.

May your happiness increase!

UNEARTHED TREASURES: MARTY GROSZ, DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, RICKY MALICHI at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (September 22, 2012)

A few more previously unseen beauties from the September 2012 appearance of Marty Grosz and his Sentient Stompers at the much-missed Jazz at Chautauqua, held at the Hotel Athenaeum.

Faithful readers will know I and my team of Oxford University-trained archaeologists have been uncovering marvels this year, featuring (collectively) Marty, Andy Schumm, Scott Robinson, John Sheridan, Kerry Lewis, Pete Siers, Jon-Erik Kellso, and Bob Havens.  The findings are on view here, and here,  and here.  Don’t push; don’t crowd.  All of them, including this post, come with great gratitude to Nancy Hancock Griffith, and those of us who were there know why.

And now, three more marvels by the gentlemen listed in the post’s title.  For the uninitiated, Marty Grosz, guitar and occasional banter; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, taragoto, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, clarinet, bass clarinet, and trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.  And you’ll notice that these splendid improvisers are also sight-reading Marty’s arrangements, another thing to admire them for.

First a very Ellingtonian approach to the theme of erotic expertise:

Then, a swinging arrangement of TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS, with an intro that sounds like BIG CHIEF DE SOTA (also circa 1937) and with room for a wonderful surprise: Dan Block on trumpet:

Musical savagery from the early Thirties, with Dan Block’s bass clarinet solo:

What treasures!  To me, worth more than unearthed Troy.  But that’s just me.

May your happiness increase!

SIMPLY ELOQUENT: DAN BARRETT and JOEL FORBES (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 16, 2017)

As a way for musicians to express themselves, the duet can be compelling, also greatly revealing: no place to hide.  But with Dan Barrett, trombone, and Joel Forbes, string bass, there’s no reason for concealment.

Here they are, in duet on LULLABY OF THE LEAVES, performed at the much-missed Cleveland Classic Jazz Party on September 16, 2017:

and here is the composer, Bernice Petkere (1901-2000), whose other memorable song is CLOSE YOUR EYES:

May your happiness increase!

SWEET AND HOT: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, EDDIE ERICKSON, JOEL FORBES, and TIM LAUGHLIN (September 3, 2011)

“You’ll find that happiness lies / right under your eyes,” say the lyrics for BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.  I don’t have a backyard any more, but I stumbled across this performance — that made me happy in 2011 and continues to do so now — by accident.  In the decade or so that I’ve had this blog, I’ve spent a good deal of energy with a video camera, recording live performances.  Around six thousand of them are visible on YouTube now, and I get notified when viewers comment.  Ungenerous comments from armchair critics make me fume, and if they insult “my” artists, I delete the comments.  But someone saw this, felt about it as I do, and so it is Time To Share Some Joy.

This performance came from the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, held in Los Angeles over Labor Day weekend.  I was fortunate to attend it in its last year, and it offered joyous music and very lovely people, not all of them musicians.  (“Hello, Laurie Whitlock!  Love from New York!”)

But the music was often stunningly pleasurable.

I think that I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS vied with GOODNIGHT, SWEETHEART to be the song played at the end of the evening.  But Henderson recorded it as a hot dance number in 1925 (Louis on the verse) and it was picked up in the Swing Era by bands large and small — my favorite the Teddy Wilson Brunswick side.

But this 2011 live version is so dear: sweetly lyrical and rocking, balancing tenderness and Fifty-Second Street riffing.  And it adds to my delight that the musicians in this video are very much alive and making music.  Bless them.  I single out Rebecca Kilgore as my ideal of lyrical heartfelt witty swing.  Now and forever.

May your happiness increase!

HAIL AND FAREWELL: SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (a/k/a SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE) TO CLOSE AFTER 44 YEARS

More bad news for people who like their jazz in profusion over one weekend: the Sacramento Music Festival, once known as the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, will not continue on next year. Here is the whole story.

An observant person could tell the reasons for this decision, and they are primarily financial: festivals are terribly expensive to run, and the ratio between costs and audience was not always encouraging.  I am sad to read this, because in the past six months a number of festivals have said goodbye.  I won’t mount the soapbox and harangue readers who had said, “Oh, I’ll go next year,” but the moral — carpe diem over a swinging 4/4 — is clear.

My videos — about one hundred and fifty — show that I attended the SJJ in 2011, 12, and 14.  It was an unusual event.  I seem to remember racing from one side of the causeway (if that is what it was called) to the other for sets, and scurrying (that’s not true — I don’t really scurry) from one venue to another.  There was an astonishing amount of good music in the years I attended, and some very lovely performances took place in the oddest venues.

Here are more than a half-dozen splendid performances, so we can grieve for the loss of a festival while at the same time smiling and swinging.

From 2011, TRUCKIN’ by Hal Smith’s International Sextet:

and one of my favorite 1926 songs, HE’S THE LAST WORD:

The Jubilee also made room for pretty ballads like this one, featuring John Cocuzzi, Jennifer Leitham, and Johnny Varro:

A year later, Rebecca Kilgore was HUMMIN’ TO HERSELF:

Marc Caparone doffs his handmade cap to Louis for HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH:

Another pretty one — MORE THAN YOU KNOW — featuring Allan Vache:

and some Orientalia out of doors — SAN by the Reynolds Brothers and Clint Baker:

A nice medium blues by Dan Barrett and Rossano Sportiello:

THE BOB AND RAY SHOW in 2014 — Schulz and Skjelbred, performing SHOE SHINE BOY:

CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS, featuring Dave Stone and Russ Phillips with Vince Bartels and Johnny Varro:

and an extended performance by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs from 2014:

One of my favorite stories — a Louise Hay affirmation of sorts — comes from the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee.  It was held over Memorial Day weekend, and there was riotous excitement on the days preceding Monday — but Sacramento on Memorial Day was one of the most deserted urban centers I’ve ever encountered. The nice Vietnamese restaurant I had hopes of returning to was shuttered for the holiday, the streets were quiet with only the intermittent homeless person taking his ease.  Since I have been a New Yorker all my life, the criminal offense termed “jaywalking” does not terrify me.  On one such Monday, the light was red against me but there were no cars in sight.  Full of assurance, I strolled across the street and made eye contact with a young woman standing — a law-abiding citizen — on the opposite curb.  When I reached her and grinned at her legal timidity, she looked disapprovingly at me and said, “Rule-breaker!”  I grinned some more and replied, “Free spirit!”

At its best, the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee inspired such free-spirited behavior, musical and otherwise — among dear friends.  Adieu, adieu!

May your happiness increase!