Tag Archives: Dan Block

LIVING THE BASIE WAY at THE EAR INN: DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JAMES CHIRILLO, ROB ADKINS (May 7, 2023)

It isn’t heralded with drums, parades, fireworks, and headlines, but sometimes the miraculous happens. Musically, I mean.

It did two Sundays ago, May 7, 2023, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) when a singular version of the EarRegulars assembled in the corner that has been their stage and pulpit for about sixteen years now.

They were Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass. And here’s an example of their gliding lyrical mastery: the Count Basie-associated pop tune, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU, written in 1929 (Bud Green, Sam H. Stept, and Herman Ruby). Did the Basie musicians play and sing it in Kansas City then? I can’t say, but it certainly enjoyed a renaissance in 1936 . . . and in 2023.

But let us consider the source material, a very pretty waltz:

It came from a pioineering sound film, with an enticing one-word title:

so I assume that musicians as well as civilians went to see the film and had the song in their minds. But when Count Basie picked it up again, perhaps seven years later, it was not to be a waltz, but a swing number for the dancers. And the Basie way — sly, understated joy through swing — lives on here:

But “the Basie way” is a beautiful paradox: taking life and art with the greatest seriousness while refusing to be perceived as doing so. Literary people will recognize Castiglione’s sprezzatura, or nonchalance . . . grooving without sweating over it, making the most difficult work appear easy. Messrs. Tobias, Block, Chirillo, and Adkins know how in their cells, and show it here. Bless them as they bless us.

More to come. And you’ve never been to the Ear Inn on a Sunday night?

P.S. as of today, May 25, I am still exiled from Facebook, thanks to a hacker. So please share this with people who will get its spirit. Thank you.

May your happiness increase!

SPRING STREET JOYS, PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE! (featuring JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES CHIRILLO, RUSSELL HALL; DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, KELLY FRIESEN, PAT O’LEARY, 2016 and 2023)

Oh, The Ear Inn . . . shrine for swing among friends.

The Glorious Past (June 19, 2016) —

DIGA DIGA DOO, with Danny Tobias, cornet; Dan Block, clarinet; James Chirillo, guitar; Kelly Friesen, string bass:

The Recent Past (April 9, 2023) —

HAPPY FEET, with Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, bass saxophone AND trumpet; James Chirillo, guitar; Russell Hall, string bass:

and!

this coming Sunday, May 7, the EarRegulars will be Messrs. Tobias, Block, Chirillo, and the wonderful bassist Pat O’Leary . . . wow, yeehaw, and hot damn!

I’ll be there. Will you?

May your happiness increase!

MISTER BLOCK TO YOU (DAN BLOCK, STEVE ASH, LEE HUDSON): COMING to MEZZROW, MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2023

Dan Block, Rob Adkins at Casa Mezcal, a few years ago.

Note: An earlier version of this post had the gig as Tuesday, not Monday. I have fired the offending staff member.

Dan Block is one of my living heroes and a consistent pleasure. Lyrical, thoughtful, swinging, unpredictable. And I don’t get to see him as often as I’d like, so his upcoming Mezzrow gig: that’s this coming Monday, April 24, 2023, is one that I and the OAO are going to attend.

To cut to the chase, tickets here. Mezzrow is at 163 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City. Dan will be appearing with other heroes, Steve Ash, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass, at 7:30 and 9 PM. If you’ve never been to Mezzrow, it is a gem: friendly staff, a fine piano, good sight lines, an attentively quiet crowd. And splendid music is created there.

I’ve followed Dan around with recording equipment for nearly twenty years, so I have a good deal of evidence to support my feelings about his mastery — emotional, intellectual, and technical. Here are a few examples which I hope will hasten your cyber-footsteps to the Mezzrow site above. I apologize to Steve and Lee for not having video examples of their mastery with Dan . . . I hope this blogpost acts as suitable penance for that lapse.

one ravishing chorus of PENTHOUSE SERENADE (with Rossano Sportiello, Marty Grosz, Kerry Lewis, Pete Siers):

TICKLE-TOE (with Michael Kanan and Pat O’Leary):

I hope you’ll be able to join us. And if you live far away from West Tenth Street, both sets will be streamed on the website above. So don’t deprive yourself of rare pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

MARTY GROSZ and FRIENDS HONOR FRANK TESCHEMACHER: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, JAMES DAPOGNY, VINCE GIORDANO, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 29, 2006)

The clarinetist / saxophonist / arranger Frank Teschemacher, a brilliant individualistic voice in Chicago jazz of the late Twenties, didn’t live to see his twenty-sixth birthday. Everyone who played alongside him spoke of him with awe. Even though the recorded evidence of his idiosyncratic personality amounts to less than ninety minutes, he shines and blazes through any ensemble.

In celebration of what would have been Tesch’s centenary, Marty Grosz put together a tribute at the September 2006 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend. It wasn’t a series of note-for-note copies of his recordings (this would have horrified the Austin High Gang) but a sincere hot effort to capture Tesch’s musical world — with great success. I was there with a moderately-concealed digital recorder, and couldn’t bear that this set would only be a memory, so what follows is my audio recording.

Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal, commentary; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; James Dapogny, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, tuba, bass saxophone; Pete Siers, drums. (The voice you’ll hear discoursing with Marty is that of the late Joe Boughton, creator of this and many other festivals.)

PRINCE OF WAILS (Dapogny transcription / arrangement) / BULL FROG BLUES (JD arr) / WAILING BLUES (JD arr) / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN (possibly Marty’s arrangement) / TRYING TO STOP MY CRYING (possibly Marty arrangement, his vocal, glee club) / SUGAR (possibly Marty arrangement, his vocal) / COPENHAGEN (with Marty’s Indiana etymology / story of Boyce Brown getting fired for talking about reincarnation). Thanks to Chris Smith for his assistance.

This post is in honor of Missy Kyzer, who was fascinated by Tesch and his world a long time ago. See her work here and here.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING WEATHER FORECASTS: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, DAN BLOCK, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, December 14, 2021)

Spreading joy.

Every Tuesday night in June, the wonderful trio of Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass, has an early-evening gig (5:30 to 7 PM, more or less) at the comfortable Birdland Theater, one flight down, at 315 West 44th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in midtown Manhattan.

The OAO and I were there for the first Tuesday and it was delightful and delightfully varied. I couldn’t bring back any video-evidence for you, but here are two previously unseen delights from the Dan Block Quartet’s gig at Swing 46, with Dan on tenor saxophone.

I can’t account for the meteorological theme, but since everyone talks about the weather, I hope that will hold true for these beautiful musicians and their art.

Here’s a rarity, WITH THE WIND AND THE RAIN IN YOUR HAIR, by Clara Edwards and Jack Lawrence — its first recordings from 1940. (Both Edwards and Lawrence are fascinating figures: she was a singer, pianist, composer of art songs as well as popular ones, and he is perhaps best known for the Ink Spots’ IF I DIDN’T CARE — but their biographies are intriguing.)

From the rare to the perhaps over-familiar . . . ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, like ALL OF ME, has been performed so many times that I often sigh when a band or singer calls it, but not with this band and this singer. It’s credited to Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, although the gossip says that the melody was first composed by one Thomas Waller. Whether that’s true or not, I am reminded of Jonathan Schwartz’s anecdote about his father, Arthur Schwartz, saying to his son when they were walking in the shade, “Let’s cross over to Dorothy’s side of the street.”

Here, we can do the same thing (looking all four ways) and find ourselves in creative happiness. Catch Gabrielle’s exultant second chorus and the wondrous playing by Dan, Pat, and Michael (the last slyly reminding us of the pitter-pat, as he should):

Don’t miss Gabrielle and her friends, no matter what your phone tells you about the weather. They improve the darkest day.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE THE RENO CLUB MEETS FILM NOIR: “BEALE STREET BLUES,” by The EarRegulars: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, DUKE HEITGER, HARVEY TIBBS, DAN BLOCK, NEAL MINER (The Ear Inn, June 7, 2009)

I missed out on the Reno Club, and Fifty-Second Street transformed downwards years before my birth, but there are serious compensations. I did and do have The Ear Inn (and so do you) where The EarRegulars have been playing every Sunday night from 8-11 PM since the summer of 2007. 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

This is one of the earliest videos I shot there . . . at a time when YouTube allowed posters to take dark-hued video and change it into black-and-white. So we have my version of film noir, bowing to Ida Lupino, to the Reno Club, to wartime Greenwich Village jazz, to building intensity through backgrounds and riffs. All priceless.

Fault-finders are encouraged to floss with a cactus needle, then take Nipper out for a constitutional.

The song? Handy’s BEALE STREET BLUES. The performers? Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass. Heroes all. They know what to do — no one needs a GPS — and they do it beautifully, individually and collectively. And they know how to sustain and build a mood, gently but dramatically, for twelve minutes.

And, yes, such things are still possible. But you do have to get out of your chair and find them where they are happening . . . real players, too substantial for any lit screen. Bless them when you see and hear them, too.

May your happiness increase!

THE IMMORTAL BOB BARNARD (1933-2022), PART TWO: CHEER IN THE MIDST OF SORROW

In yesterday’s post celebrating the extraordinary person and musician Bob Barnard, I referred to his delightful penchant for songs no one else was playing or improvising on. I suggested it was a love of melodies, but I think also it was a way of avoiding routine, sweetly challenging himself and the others on the stand, so the musical special for this evening wouldn’t be ROYAL GARDEN BLUES or SATIN DOLL, although he played them with ingenuity and fervor.

I wish I had had my recording equipment at Jazz at Chautauqua when Bob played A BROWN SLOUCH HAT, the patriotic Australian song from 1942 that I suspect few, if any in the audience had heard or heard of. But I was properly equipped in 2007 (although secretly) when he called this tune, from PINOCCHIO, by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, sung by Cliff Edwards as “Jiminy Cricket”:

So to celebrate Bob properly, as a bright beacon of joy, I offer this audio-only performance from the 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend. The other soloists are Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums. Performed on Friday, September 14, 2007 and recorded surreptitiously, of course:

And always let your conscience be your guide.

A TENDER INTERLUDE: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, DAN BLOCK, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, December 14, 2021)

A WEAVER OF DREAMS, music by Victor Young, lyrics by Jack Elliott, published in 1951, is both notable and obscure. It’s been recorded by so many people (Lord’s discography lists 154 recordings): Carmen McRae, Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Cedar Walton, Lee Konitz, Tony Bennett come to mind, but I couldn’t remember hearing it performed on a gig until Gabrielle Stravelli sang it with Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass, at Swing 46, on December 14, 2021.

This version is pensive and lovely. I hope more people add this song to their repertoires, and, as always, I hope to expand the fan clubs of Gabrielle, Dan, Michael, and Pat — working band of four friends:

This band and these musicians are reasons I plan to stay in New York: they make what could be an urban desert bloom and keep blooming.

May your happiness increase!

CAHIERS DU CINEMA, or REVISITING PLEASURE: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BLOCK, JAMES DAPOGNY, NICKI PARROTT at the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (September 12, 2015)

Playful heroic figures: Jim Dapogny, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, Nicki Parrott

There’s a brief story behind this post, but you can skip forward to the wonderful music, performed at the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass. My friend and videographer Laura Wyman (of WYMAN VIDEO) were both at this party, with cameras, tripods, batteries, all the detritus of the profession, and we both eagerly recorded this session: four of our heroes stretching out in the nicest ways. I had the videos in my archives, unseen, and thought to release them to the eager public, and got permission to do so, and then saw that I had publicized Laura’s versions on this blog in 2015 here . . . but saw that those videos had not been seen by the thousands of viewers they deserved. So here is my exercise in — archaeology? — comparative cinematography? — or simply spreading joy. You pick. And here, as if we needed them, are three more reasons to miss Jim Dapogny terribly.

The first is Irving Berlin’s RUSSIAN LULLABY (and, even given the political climate of March 2022, please don’t boycott this performance):

ISHAM JONES’ pretty ON THE ALAMO:

Finally, revenge and remorse, thanks to Harry Ruby and Gus Kahn, WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

Gratitude and blessings to Laura, the four inventive marvels on the stand, and to Nancy Hancock Griffith and her mother for making all of this happen in Cleveland, not that many years ago.

May your happiness increase!

SLOWLY, WITH PASSION: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, December 14, 2021)

Going slowly can be a true art, enabling musicians who understand to get behind the song and let light shine through, also. The four people in these two performances are masters of those subtle arts: Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Dan Block, reeds; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass. They don’t double the tempo; Gabrielle doesn’t reduce the beautiful lyrics to scat-rubble. What emerges, bar by bar, is magic.

First, the Hoagy Carmichael – Johnny Mercer SKYLARK, translucent, tender, intense:

Mercer again, this time with Victor Schertzinger, for I REMEMBER YOU, with the brief but touching verse:

Like bird-flight, sweetly memorable.

May your happiness increase!

EXEMPLARY BEHAVIOR: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, October 5, 2021)

This neat little band has been attracting fans and friends on early Tuesday evenings at Swing 46 (349 West 46th Street, New York City) for more than a few months . . . and it deserves to have its names up in lights. Leader Dan Block (tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet) gives equal time to the wonderful Gabrielle Stravelli (vocals), Michael Kanan (piano), and Pat O’Leary (string bass). Here they are — about two months ago — tenderly moseying through the Waller-Razaf AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — which is truly a love song about fidelity and joyous discovery — at a tempo that makes it emotionally meaningful, rather than a race to the outchorus:

What lovely playful sounds! And in their three sets on a Tuesday night, this splendid quartet creates marvel after marvel. You mean to say you could have visited them at West 46th Street and haven’t . . . ?

May your happiness increase!

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN: DAN BLOCK, GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, PAT O’LEARY, PAUL BOLLENBACK at SWING 46 (September 9, 2021)

This, the second tune of the evening, was completely prescient, because by the end of the evening the impending drizzle had indeed turned to rain and it was, thank you, Harry Warren, September. But these four lovely intrepid musical explorers soldiered on in the nicest ways: Dan Block, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, clarinet; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Pat O’Leary, string bass; Paul Bollenback, guitar. All this goodness happened on one of Dan Block’s Tuesday soirees (5:30-8:30 PM) at Swing 46, 349 West 46th Street, New York.

and that swinging Sinatra-rooted ultimatum, ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL:

and after an intentionally other-worldly prelude, Arlen’s OUT OF THIS WORLD:

Finally, at the close of the evening, when it really DID begin to rain, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, with the multi-talented Michelle Collier (a fine singer herself) scurrying to batten down the hatches:

All praise to this quartet, including the resonant even when invisible Pat O’Leary! And they will be back in November, on the last two Tuesdays (say that quickly — I dare you) to lift our spirits and create joy. Swing 46 has an “inside,” with a piano and a stage, so you won’t have to think about your underwear. Unless, of course, you’d like to: then who am I to stop you?

May your happiness increase!

A CONTROLLED BLAZE: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, PAUL BOLLENBACK, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, September 21, 2021)

Art is all about passion: think of the great soprano arias, whether Puccini or Bechet; think of Louis or Bird — the heart on fire, so full of feelings to be shared with us. But there’s the counterbalance: passion without control might be noise. Anyone who’s tried to play or sing — seriously — knows how much exactitude is required to create the notes, the phrases, the pauses, that create that drama that didn’t exist five minutes before.

Gabrielle Stravelli and the instrumentalists surrounding her on the early-evening performances at Swing 46 not only know these truths but embody them: call it passion and control, abandonment and discipline: here are three soulful examples by Gabrielle, Dan Block, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Paul Bollenback, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

I WALK A LITTLE FASTER (Cy Coleman – Carolyn Leigh):

BORN TO BE BLUE (Mel Torme – Robert Wells):

BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH (Oscar Levant – Edward Heyman):

The closing notes of BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH say it all.

Gabrielle and her friends (most often the irreplaceable pianist Michael Kanan) have gigs all over town (hooray!) and you can find out more here or here. Even in the ruckus that is West 46th Street, sirens and chatter at no charge, their art aims straight at us. And sticks.

May your happiness increase!

“WE LOVE THEM. MADLY.” GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, October 5, 2021)

When you know, you know. I was at Swing 46 last night to see and hear and applaud Dan Block, alto and tenor saxophones; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass. It threatened to rain all through the gig and the usual street theatre of that block was at its best (come visit and see for yourselves).

In the middle of the second set, Gabrielle called the Ellington LOVE YOU MADLY and they performed it with great enthusiastic beauty . . . at the end of the performance, Gabrielle said exultantly, as if she were Ida Lupino directing a film, “CUT! And PRINT!” looking at me, which I took as the sign of a small miracle, that an artist, completing a performance, is happy with it. I got permission from the other three, so you can enjoy this marvel, hot and fresh:

This wonderful quartet performs every Tuesday from 5:30 to 8:30. I’ve been there every week and have always come away full of joy. They’re loved . . . madly.

May your happiness increase!

EVEN MORE MAGIC IN MIDTOWN: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, September 14, 2021)

Here’s what I wrote about this superb quartet when I visited them on August 31:


Between 5:30 and 8:30 last night, beauty filled the air in front of Swing 46 (Forty-Sixth Street, west of Eighth Avenue, New York City) thanks to Gabrielle Stravelli (above), vocals; Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet, Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

I don’t have any video evidence for you, but with good reason: that’s a busy street, and occasionally the music was– shall we say — intruded upon by clamor. But the music won out, of course, and it wasn’t a matter of volume, but of emotional intensity. I’ve admired Gabrielle for more than a decade now: her beautiful resonant voice, lovely at top and bottom, her wonderful vocal control. But more so, her candid expressive phrasing, matching the emotions of each song in subtle convincing ways. She’s always fully present in the musical story, eloquent and open. With witty lyrics, she sounds as if she’s just about to burst into giggles; on dark material, she can sound downright vengeful. In three sets last night, she offered a deep bouquet of ballads — and not only songs usually done slowly: FLY ME TO THE MOON; I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?, I’LL WALK ALONE; YOU’VE CHANGED; I’LL BE AROUND. A few vengence-is-mine songs — GOODY GOODY and THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY — added spice, and her readings of the first title and the second song’s “Good riddance, good-bye,” suggested once again that she is a splendid friend and perhaps a fierce enemy. Many of the other standards — NIGHT AND DAY, JUST IN TIME, AS LONG AS I LIVE — are well-established landmarks in the repertoire, but Gabrielle made them shine. She embraces the song; her singing reaches out to us, fervently and gently.

Her delight in singing to us was matched by that of her colleagues. Dan Block is quietly memorable in any context, and his sound alone was delightful. But he and Gabrielle had flying conversations where their intuitive telepathy was a marvel. Other times, he played Lester to her Billie, “filling in the windows,” offering just the right counterpoint and loving commentary. He was matched by Michael Kanan, master of quiet touching subversions in the manner of our hero Jimmie Rowles; both he and the superb bassist Pat O’Leary not only kept the time and the harmonies beautifully in place but created their own songs throughout.

I visited Swing 46 again last night, and the four artists just outdid themselves. And although 46th Street is not ideal for video-recording, I have two to offer you. But first, some updates.

Dan brought his most magical bass clarinet to add to tenor saxophone and clarinet: he’s always astounded me on that possibly balky instrument since our first intersections in 2004. In the hustle and bustle of the street — in Gabrielle’s closing lines of AS LONG AS I LIVE, a song about how the singer wants to take good care of herself, an ambulance, lights and sirens blazing and blaring, went by — Michael and Pat created one quirky inquiring beautiful phrase after the other, supporting, encouraging, exploring, even trading musical witticisms. And Gabrielle touched our hearts in singular ways on song after song.

And this band has a splendidly expansive repertoire: two “all right” tunes — I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT and IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME, a seriously playful LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME and a brooding WARM VALLEY — to which Gabrielle has created very touching, simple but not cliched, lyrics; an EXACTLY LIKE YOU where it seemed as if the whole band was ready to break into laughter at something, an enthusiastic SOON, a LADY BE GOOD where Gabrielle and Dan did Lester’s 1936 solo line (!) — a few more classic love songs, FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE than became LET’S FALL IN LOVE (with the verse), ISN’T THIS A LOVELY DAY which perhaps subliminally led into NIGHT AND DAY. The other side of love had to be explored, and was, in LITTLE WHITE LIES and ILL WIND. There was Gabrielle’s jaunty tread through YOU’RE GETTING TO BE A HABIT WITH ME, love via meteorology with A FOGGY DAY and a few more. One I cannot forget is Gabrielle’s reading of BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH — heartbreaking yet controlled.

I heard whispers that this group is considering a CD with some deep slow songs. I hope these rumors are true.

And there’s video. Imperfect but there. But it requires a little prelude.

I had checked the weather report obsessively, hoping for enough rain to bring the band and audience inside but not enough to make the sometimes-leaky building a disaster. No such luck. So when I arrived early and was greeted by the kind, resourceful Michelle Collier (a fine singer herself) I had resigned myself to no video. But, I thought, I could set up the camera, put it on the table with the lens cap on, and have an auditory souvenir. If my video and audio capers documented in this blog haven’t made it clear, I delight in having evidence of joyous creativity — to make it last forever.

I’d resigned myself to creating the modern equivalent of radio (and the black-screen audios sound quite nice) but for the third song, when Dan put the bass clarinet together, I thought, “I HAVE to capture this,” and held the heavy camera-and-microphone in my hands for nearly six minutes (hence the mildly trembling unsteadiness . . . no time to unpack my tripod and no space for it anyway) and I am delighted I did, because this LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is the most inspired conversation among a quartet:

I couldn’t hold the camera steady after that, but I found a place for it on the table, and I’m glad I did — for WARM VALLEY, with Gabrielle’s lyrics. Most lyrics added after the fact to Ellington songs seem out of place; hers do not:

I try to avoid hyperbole, but those are two masterpieces. I believe this quartet will appear at Swing 46 for the remaining two Tuesdays in September and the last two weeks in October. If you vibrate to the arts of this music, tender, solemn, hilarious, raucously swinging, you owe it to yourself to get to 349 West 46th Street, between Eight and Ninth Avenue (on the north side) on Tuesdays from 5:30 to 8:30. Gabrielle, Mchael, Dan, and Pat bestow blessings in every song.

May your happiness increase!

MAGIC IN MIDTOWN: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, August 31, 2021)

Between 5:30 and 8:30 last night, beauty filled the air in front of Swing 46 (Forty-Sixth Street, west of Eighth Avenue, New York City) thanks to Gabrielle Stravelli (above), vocals; Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet, Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

I don’t have any video evidence for you, but with good reason: that’s a busy street, and occasionally the music was — shall we say — intruded upon by clamor. But the music won out, of course, and it wasn’t a matter of volume, but of emotional intensity. I’ve admired Gabrielle for more than a decade now: her beautiful resonant voice, lovely at top and bottom, her wonderful vocal control. But more so, her candid expressive phrasing, matching the emotions of each song in subtle convincing ways. She’s always fully present in the musical story, eloquent and open. With witty lyrics, she sounds as if she’s just about to burst into giggles; on dark material, she can sound downright vengeful. In three sets last night, she offered a deep bouquet of ballads — and not only songs usually done slowly: FLY ME TO THE MOON; I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?, I’LL WALK ALONE; YOU’VE CHANGED; I’LL BE AROUND. A few vengence-is-mine songs — GOODY GOODY and THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY — added spice, and her readings of the first title and the second song’s “Good riddance, good-bye,” suggested once again that she is a splendid friend and perhaps a fierce enemy. Many of the other standards — NIGHT AND DAY, JUST IN TIME, AS LONG AS I LIVE — are well-established landmarks in the repertoire, but Gabrielle made them shine. She embraces the song; her singing reaches out to us, fervently and gently.

Her delight in singing to us was matched by that of her colleagues. Dan Block is quietly memorable in any context, and his sound alone was delightful. But he and Gabrielle had flying conversations where their intuitive telepathy was a marvel. Other times, he played Lester to her Billie, “filling in the windows,” offering just the right counterpoint and loving commentary. He was matched by Michael Kanan, master of quiet touching subversions in the manner of our hero Jimmie Rowles; both he and the superb bassist Pat O’Leary not only kept the time and the harmonies beautifully in place but created their own songs throughout.

This quartet has been appearing with some regularity on Tuesdays at Swing 46 from 5:30 to 8:30. You can come by, have a drink or a full meal, and pretend — even in the intermittent clamor of midtown — that you are on vacation somewhere unnamed with the finest musicians entertaining you. To quote Alec Wilder, you certainly ought to try it.

May your happiness increase!

IRRESISTIBLE DANCE MUSIC: “EARLY BLUE EVENING,” ANDY FARBER and his ORCHESTRA (ArtistShare 0186)

I shy away from hperbole, but the new CD by Andy Farber and his Orchestra is a triumph.

Watch, listen, and marvel:

I was informed just a few days ago of a package — the new CD by Andy Farber and his Orchestra, EARLY BLUE EVENING — and I started to play it and was so very delighted. It feels so comfortable and so convincing. It was a working band (for the musical AFTER MIDNIGHT) and it has that lovely cohesion that ensembles with regular work acquire — a sort of assurance, that “We know the way home,” so prevalent in the Swing Era and beyond. Listeners will hear evocations of the blessed past, of Basie and Ellington, but this CD is light-years away from a ghost band or “a cover band.” They are creating, not recreating, with heart and wit and strength. The CD features nine originals — memorable ones — two standards, and the wonderful appearance of Catherine Russell. Here’s the collective personnel, with a reed section adept in flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, and other wonderful things.

Andy Farber: leader, alto, tenor, baritone saxophones; arranger, composer
REEDS: Mark Gross, Godwin Louis, Dan Block, Lance Bryant, Carl Maraghi
TRUMPETS: Brian Pareschi, Bruce Harris, Shawn Edmonds, James Zoller
TROMBONES: Art Baron, Wayne Goodman, Dion Tucker
RHYTHM: James Chirillo, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums.

You’ll notice it’s a large ensemble but it’s never ponderous. I kept thinking of how splendid it was to hear an orchestra with the power of a Broadway pit ensemble and the sleek witty grace of a small group. (My mind collects bits of data, as crows collect shiny objects, and I kept thinking of rotund Jimmy Rushing, who was a great nimble dancer.) I know some of the musicians through decades of admiring their work in person, others through their recordings, and they are superb — bridging the noble past and the delighted present with such grace.

Other factors that don’t always get mentioned are these: Andy’s compositions are vividly alive, and they don’t sound alike . . . they have scope and humor, so there’s none of the repetitive claustrophobia that some CDs have, where one wakes from a half-dream, saying, “Is it track 19 already?” And that scope extends as well to the recorded sound: you’ll notice in the video, no baffles and headphone — so the sound is what you would hear if you were seated in front of the band — only better.

I know the philosophical-practical question comes up, “Given all the music I have already and what I can access, why in the name of Emile Berliner should I buy another CD? And why this one?”

The answer comes in two parts. If you like jazz that swings without being self-conscious about it, a wonderful large group leavened with tasty soloists and neat section work, a phenomenal rhythm section, you’ll like this. To be simpler: perhaps the test of any purchase should I be, “Will this make me happier than if I hadn’t bought it?” It would be presumptuous to say YES to this singular audience, with its own likes and detestations . . . but YES.

This band rocks. Go back to FEET AND FRAMES if you need a booster shot of genuineness. I said it is irresistible dance music: my dancing days never happened, but I am gyrating in my chair as I write this.

And the second part of the answer is just as plain . . . jazz fans who truly “love the music” know that art is not free, and that we are in the delightful position — not a burden — of being able to support what gives us pleasure. And last I saw, musicians like paying their rent and having semi-regular meals also.

You can purchase a CD with all the side dishes — or a download at the ArtistShare website here.Then you won’t have to ask yourself HOW AM I TO KNOW? Because you will KNOW.

May your happiness increase!

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS (Part Two): MARTY GROSZ and his PEP-STEPPERS at Jazz at Chautauqua: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, PETE SIERS (September 22, 2012).

Marty Grosz, by Lynn Redmile.

Some nine years after this performance, I think of my immense good fortune at being “there,” and being able to document these moments. In those nine years, I thought now and again, “I’m going to save these for my retirement,” and now I can say, “Hey, I’m retired! Let the joys commence.”

These two performances — perhaps from a SONGS OF 1928 set? — are accomplished, joyous, and hilarious — created by musicians who can Play while they are Playing and nothing gets lost, nothing is un-swung.  For instance: the bass clarinet and taragoto figures created on the spot by Scott Robinson and Dan Block behind Dan Barrett’s DIGA solo — Louis and Duke applaud, but so does Mack Sennett.  The jubilant expert Joy-Spreaders are Marty Grosz, guitar and arrangements; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, taragoto; Dan Block, clarinet, bass clarinet.

Ask yourself, “Who’s wonderful?  Who’s marvelous?” and the answer is of course MISS ANNABELLE LEE:

and another hit (I hear Irving Mills’ vocalizing) DIGA DIGA DOO:

I feel better than I did ten minutes ago. You, too, I hope. Marty and everyone else in these performances are still with us: talk about good fortune, doubled and tripled.

May your happiness increase!

O RARE FATS WALLER! –“CAUGHT”: MARTY GROSZ, JAMES DAPOGNY, DUKE HEITGER, BOB HAVENS, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, VINCE GIORDANO, ARNIE KINSELLA (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 14, 2007)

Do consider. What could be better than an unpublished Fats Waller composition arranged twice for all-star hot jazz band — the arrangers being Marty Grosz and James Dapogny — with the arrangements (different moods, tempi, and keys) played in sequence? I know my question is rhetorical, but you will have the evidence to delight in: a jewel of an extended performance from 2007.

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, 2014, by Michael Steinman.

CAUGHT is an almost-unknown Fats Waller composition (first recorded by James Dapogny) presented in two versions, one after the other, at the 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua, first Marty Grosz’s ominous music-for-strippers, then Dapogny’s romp. One can imagine the many possible circumstances that might have led to this title . . . perhaps unpaid alimony, or other mischief?

Marty, 2009, by Michael Steinman.

The alchemists here are James Dapogny, piano; Marty Grosz, banjo and explanations; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, alto saxophone, clarinet; Scott Robinson, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Vince Giordano, tuba, string bass, bass saxophone; Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Note to meticulous consumers of sounds: this track begins with immense extraneous noise, and Arnie’s accents explode in the listeners’ ears. The perils of criminality: I had a digital recorder in my jacket pocket, so if and when I moved, the sound of clothing is intrusive. I apologize for imperfections, but I am proud of my wickedness; otherwise you wouldn’t have this to complain about:

I have been captivated by this performance for years — the simple line, so developed and lifted to the skies by the performers, the arrangements: the generous music given unstintingly to us. You might say I’ve been CAUGHT.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET [COSMOLOGICAL] SOUNDS FROM SWING 46 (Part Three): DAN BLOCK, GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (July 13, 2021)

On the calendar, July 13, 2021, was an ordinary Tuesday in New York City — July, hot and humid. But at Swing 46 (that’s 349 West 46th Street) extraordinary music was being created . . . by Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass. I’ve posted performances from this evening for the past two days here.

Dan, Pat, Gabrielle: photo by Jon De Lucia.
Michael Kanan, photo by Jon De Lucia.
Gabrielle, photo by Jon De Lucia.

I don’t think there was a conscious choice on the part of this stellar group, but a number of the songs chosen (including Weill’s LOST IN THE STARS) suggested that their composers had their eyes aloft to the heavens. So it pleases me to group them together: perhaps NASA will subsidize a concert by this cosmic quartet?

First, Tadd Dameron’s melody line over SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN, called ON A MISTY NIGHT:

A gleeful IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON:

The most gorgeous STAIRWAY TO THE STARS:

Harold Arlen’s IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS:

May your happiness increase!

SWEET SOUNDS FROM SWING 46 (Part Two): DAN BLOCK, GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (July 13, 2021)

The very place: Swing 46, 349 West 46th Street, New York City, where good music is fresh, hot, and sweet.
Dan, Pat, and Gabrielle: photo by Jon De Lucia.
Michael Kanan, photo by Jon De Lucia.
Gabrielle, photo by Jon De Lucia.

On July 13, which was an ordinary Tuesday, late afternoon, Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass, created wonderful music for all to savor. And savor we did. In my first posting from that evening, they mingled Lester Young, George and Ira, Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler . . . gorgeously here. But I said there was more to come, and I wouldn’t want to deceive anyone.

Here are three more: two Ellingtons, one Lerner and Loewe.

ALL TOO SOON (with Ben Webster at the bar, feeling it):

DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME:

ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE:

Yes, more to come (a cosmological quartet, to pique your curiosities).

And a few words about Swing 46 — it was a pleasure to be there in a congenial atmosphere — a large food-and-drink menu and a very welcoming staff. Next Tuesday, Dan will be back with the delightful Hilary Gardner (swinging, surprising, and introspective) and other luminaries to be announced, from 5:30 to 8:30. And at 9, the irreplaceable Michael Hashim leads noble friends — who have included Chris Flory and Kevin Dorn — in an impromptu session. That’s 349 West 46th Street, the north side, between Eighth and Ninth Avenue. Leave your bedroom: put down the phone: Netflix will be here when you come back: what’s in the freezer is safe. Hear some restorative live music among like-minded friends.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET SOUNDS FROM SWING 46 (Part One): DAN BLOCK, GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (July 13, 2021)

Four of my musical heroes made wonderful sounds the other night at Swing 46 (that’s 349 West 46th Street, New York City): Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

Dan Block, Pat O’Leary, Gabrielle Stravelli. Photo by Jon De Lucia.
Gabrielle Stravelli. Photograph by Jon De Lucia.

Four heroes, five wonderful performances. It was a Tuesday night; the gig went from 5:30 to 8:30 — hardly the day and time one would expect aesthetic firework displays, but they certainly happened.

Michael Kanan. Photograph by Jon De Lucia.

TICKLE-TOE — an instrumental tribute to and embodiment of Lester Young, so happily. Savor the first ballad chorus!:

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME — could anything be more tender?:

Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler give us friendly rules for living and romance, AS LONG AS I LIVE:

Even though it was becoming dark, here’s a frolicsome DAY IN, DAY OUT:

A sweetly pensive Kurt Weill medley scored for the trio — LOST IN THE STARS / HERE I’LL STAY:

And a few words about Swing 46 — it was a pleasure to be there in a congenial atmosphere — a large food-and-drink menu and a very welcoming staff. Next Tuesday, Dan will be back with the delightful Hilary Gardner (swinging, surprising, and introspective) and other luminaries to be announced, from 5:30 to 8:30. And at 9, the irreplaceable Michael Hashim leads noble friends — who have included Chris Flory and Kevin Dorn — in an impromptu session. That’s 349 West 46th Street, the north side, between Eighth and Ninth Avenue. Leave your bedroom: put down the phone: Netflix will be here when you come back: what’s in the freezer is safe. Hear some restorative live music among like-minded friends.

May your happiness increase!