Tag Archives: Dan Tobias

WHERE BLISS BLOSSOMS: THE EARREGULARS and FRIENDS at THE EAR INN (September 16, 2012): JON-ERIK KELLSO, HARRY ALLEN, NEAL MINER, CHRIS FLORY, DOUG FINKE, DAN BLOCK, DANNY TOBIAS, ALEX HOFFMAN, ELI PREMINGER, PETE ANDERSON, WILL ANDERSON

The Ear Inn, as I have been pointing out for a number of years, is the place to be on a Sunday night in New York City.  When you come to 326 Spring Street in Soho, sometime between 8 and 11, you will hear wondrous music, subtle and exuberant.

A few Sundays ago, on September 16, 2012, the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar.  That group in itself deserves a WOW!

Doug Finke joined the original quartet for ROSETTA.  And it was never too close for comfort:

(A word about Doug, who isn’t as well known as he should be in East Coast circles.  I knew his work from three CDs by the Independence Hall Jazz Band — spectacular sessions featuring Jon-Erik, Duke Heitger, Paul Asaro, Dan Barrett, Orange Kellin, Vince Giordano, Scott Anthony, Chris Tyle — and I met Doug in person last March at Dixieland Monterey (the Jazz Bash by the Bay) where he appeared with Bob Schulz, Ray Skjelbred, Kim Cusack, and Hal Smith . . . a man is known by the company he keeps!  But with Doug it is more than being able to travel in fast musical company: notice the easy way he has his own luxuriant style, having absorbed all kinds of jazz to sound entirely and happily like himself.)

The Fantastic Five did their own variations on Romberg’s lament, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

After a brief break for nourishment, the Original Four took the stand (a figure of speech at The Ear Inn) for a leisurely, I might even say “lingering” version of LINGER AWHILE.  Savor the beautiful solos and the way each solo leads into the next — this is a band of individualists who know all there is to know about Swing Synergy.  This performance is a living lesson in craft, courage, and heart.

I think it takes a lifetime to learn how to play music like this; aren’t we lucky that these players and their friends share their masteries with us?

I would have been very happy to listen to what you’ve heard far into Monday morning . . . but my friends who play instruments wanted to add their voices to this swing splendor.  Jon-Erik invited Dan Tobias (cornet) and Dan Block (tenor saxophone) to join the party for IF DREAMS COME TRUE, and they did.  The dreams, I mean:

Jon-Erik is a witty observer of the lives around him — so in honor of the Jewish New Year (where families dip apple slices in honey at Rosh Hashonah dinner for a sweet new year to come), he called for the Woody Herman line, APPLE HONEY — with amused reverence for customs and how they can be honored in swing.  The soloists are Harry; Will Anderson (alto); Dan Tobias; Pete Anderson (tenor); Jon-Erik; Alex Hoffman (tenor); Dan Block (tenor); Chris Flory (guitar, remembering Tiny Grimes at the start);   Neal Miner (string bass) — backed by hilariously appropriate riffs:

Jon-Erik temporarily retired from the field and turned matters over to Eli Preminger, the hot trumpet man from Israel . . . and Doug Finke returned for I FOUND A NEW BABY, with Dan Block and Harry Allen in conversation, Will and Pete Anderson showing brotherly love, Dan Tobias and Eli having a swing chat before Alex and Chris speak up.  Then it’s every tub on its own bottom (with Neal being epigrammatic on the bridge):

And if that wasn’t enough, some blues to close out the night — the YELLOW DOG BLUES, thirteen minutes and fifteen seconds of hot bliss:

“My goodness!” to quote Dan Barrett.

I don’t know of another place on the planet where such collective exultation takes place on a weekly basis . . . . thank you, gentlemen, for making this joy possible (and for allowing me to spread the healing vibrations to people who live far away).

P.S.  I must also say that what and how a band plays is in some small measure determined by their audience.  It is entirely possible, and sometimes necessary, for musicians to ignore the loud or distracting people in front of them . . . in fact, if musicians got distracted from their life-purpose by the couple at the table near the window, they wouldn’t last very long in this business.  But I digress.  At the Ear Inn that night, there were many musicians and deep listeners in the audience, and I am sure this made the atmosphere even more special: Gary Foster, Frank Basile, Ben Flood [players!] and Lynn Redmile, Shelley Finke, Nan Irwin, Claiborne Ray, Marcia Salter [listeners!].

P.P.S.  After five years of fairly steady attendance at The Ear, I feel that it is a beautifully special place in my world.  It’s where I go to wash away the dust of everyday life, to get my aesthetic vitamins, to get my batteries charged.

This may be too personal for some of my readers, but I write openly that 326 Spring Street on Sundays from 8-11 is my synagogue, my church, my mosque, my sacred space, my place of worship.  I go there to get uplifted, to witness and participate once again in individual and collective Joy.  I go there to learn so much about beauty and generosity.

I wish that everyone who vibrates as I do could go there and be inspired.

And I do not overstate a word here.

May your happiness increase.

HAPPY NEW EAR! (Jan. 2, 2011)

One of the regular features of JAZZ LIVES is my reporting on what delights occurred at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on the preceding Sunday night.  Saying that I have a good time would be an understatement.   

But even I — expecting the finest kind of jazz synergy on a regular basis — was astonished by what happened on January 2, 2011.

The EarRegulars and their friends created extraordinary music last Sunday night as 2011 took hold.  I had the privilege of watching individual creative impulses coalesce into something larger, something casually magnificent — all only a few feet from my camera.      

If this seems overstatement, a kind of “witness to history” pronouncement appropriate only to breaking news, the music will explain my feelings.  I’m delighted to present some of the evening’s many highlights. 

The EarRegulars, for the first set, were a quartet of friends: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Nicki Parrott, bass; John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar. 

They began with OH, BABY! — a song beloved of Jazz Age Chicagoans and of Eddie Condon and friends.  Because of the season, this performance was full of sly references to wintry / holiday tunes, causing Matt to say it should have been called OH, BROTHER!  But now that I am safe from FROSTY THE SNOWMAN for another eleven months, I didn’t mind.  See if you can catch all the in-and-out jokes.  And see if you can keep from laughing at the musical frolics:

Another good old good one, AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, reminiscent of Bix as well, could easily have been the title for this posting.  Enjoy the conversational games played so well by these four brilliant improvisers:

To cool things off a bit, Jon-Erik asked John to choose one with a trombone lead, and John suggested the timeless “rhythm ballad” THESE FOOLISH THINGS, a performance full of quiet feeling:

Early on in the evening, there were intimations of a jam session to come.  I had spotted trombonist Emily Asher sitting at one table, then saxophonist Lisa Parrott, then trumpeter Bria Skonberg.  To my right appeared (like a belated holiday gift) the cornetist Dan Tobias, who was invited to join the festivities for a romping FROM MONDAY ON:

When the first set had ended, even more musicians came in, among them the ever-faithful Dan Block, clarinet at the ready.  I chatted with another clarinet wizard, Pete Martinez, about the Albert system, Johnny Windhurst, Eddie Condon in the 1950s, Skeets Tolbert and his Gentlemen of Swing, and TISHOMINGO BLUES.  Where else but at The Ear Inn?

Later, Howard Alden came in — first to listen — and I eventually noticed the broad back of someone I didn’t recognize, but when he began to play wire brushes on the paper-covered table, I knew that he knew: it was Chuck Redd!

(In the break, the actor James Gandolfini had come in, had a drink or two, and decided not to stay — a grave mistake.  When Jeremy Irons had visited The Ear Inn some years back, he had the good sense to stick around for The EarRegulars!)

The second set was masterfully orchestrated by Maestro Kellso, who invited these friends up one at a time.  It swelled into a thirteen-piece ensemble for AFTER YOU’VE GONE (which — if you’re keeping score — began with the last eight bars — more accurately, the last sixteen played double-time, says Jon-Erik).  And please note how each jam-session performance levitates itself on a flying carpet of Kellso-driven riffs, some from Basie, some from Louis, all in the grand tradition:

Then, a more moderate approach to WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM, an unlikely prospect for both players and audience.  In F, please:

Seeing the three trombones, Jon-Erik suggested TIGER RAG — an ecstatic romp presented here in two parts, because I couldn’t bear to lose even the final thirty-five seconds:

The last little bit (good to the last drop!):

Writing about this experience two days later, I don’t think that this music — simultaneously ecstatic and expert — needs much explication.  But more was going on at The Ear Inn than musicians stopping by to play a chorus or two. 

It was the creation of an inspired, mutually supportive community, nothing less. 

Jon-Erik, Matt, Victor Villar-Hauser (behind the bar but so much more than a mere pourer of libations), and the owners of The Ear Inn have all worked without calling attention to themselves to make 326 Spring Street on Sunday nights a remarkable place. 

It’s that rare spot where jazz musicians know they will be allowed and encouraged to play their own music with their peers.  Those of us who value such an unusual occurrence come to the Ear as if on a pilgrimage  — and the musicians feel the same way.  (In the audience but not playing were Chuck Wilson, Barbara Dreiwitz, and many others.)

And there’s more. 

In our time, where texting offers itself as equal to experience, the creation of such a community is both beautiful and special.  The sense of separateness that underlies much of our daily life disappears while the music is playing. 

Here we are!” say the musicians.  “Come with us!”  The smiles of the players and the observers light the dark room.  And a singular cohesiveness blossoms, a solace we seek all through our waking hours without knowing it.

As the new year begins, may we all embody our work as beautifully as these musicians do.  May we  all wear our accomplishments with such easy grace.   

And while writing these words, I felt for a moment, “I have witnessed something that will never come again,” but who knows?  There’s always next Sunday at The Ear Inn, which is hopeful and uplifting. 

Eight o’clock (really seven-thirty or earlier if you like sitting). 

You come, too. 

Bring your appreciative self and something for the tip jar.  The EarRegulars will supply the joy.

DAN BARRETT and THE EarRegulars (Oct. 17, 2010)

Sadly, Dan Barrett is flying back to California as I write this.  I know he’ll be happy to be reunited with Laura and Andy, but we’ll miss him here terribly.

In the past ten days, he’s done a number of club gigs, a concert, a private party, and maybe some other playing I missed.  I couldn’t follow him around as much as I would have liked, but I did catch him on video on three occasions — twice at The Ear Inn and once at Arthur’s Tavern with Bill Dunham’s Grove Street Stompers. 

Highlights of those three glorious nights are a-coming! 

I don’t know when Dan touched down in New York City, but after a triumphant jazz afternoon playing alongside Dan Levinson, Dan Tobias, Keith Ingham, and Kevin Dorn in celebration of Ray Cerino’s ninety-first birthday party, a joyous event, Dan (after a nap) made his way downtown to that Soho salon of swing, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) for another Sunday extravaganza with The EarRegulars. 

Here are several performances, featuring the charter co-leaders Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet) and Matt Munisteri (guitar), with Joel Forbes (bass) and several esteemed joiners-in.

How about a paean to the power of love to keep superstition at bay that isn’t YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME?  Rather, I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED, memorably done by Louis and Fats in their respective recording studios in 1935:

Someone requested DONNA LEE, perhaps knowing what a delicious meal the EarRegulars could make of this variation on INDIANA:

Jon-Erik gave the trumpet chair to his friend and ours Danny Tobias, and the two Dans lingered deliciously in a wistful IF I HAD YOU:

Jon-Erik came back to make a three-man brass frontline.  They did a beautiful job on that old favorite, LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART, with the innocently tender lyrics.  And the instrumental trades near the end are worth their weight in Vocalion test pressings:

And the second-set jam session called in Dan Block (clarinet) and Simon Wettenhall (on Eb alto horn rather than trumpet) for a lively ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash, I hope it’s Sunday night at The Ear Inn!  (Incidentally, many more marvelous things happened . . . but you’d have to be there to share the experience.  There’s nothing like seeing this music live!)

“BENNY GOODMAN’S BOYS” (plus MOLLY RYAN) on July 11, 2010

    The PENNSYLVANIA JAZZ SOCIETY will present their annual JAZZFEST with a TRIBUTE TO BENNY GOODMAN on Sunday, July 11, 2010, from noon to 5:30 p.m. at the Plainfield Township Fire Company Hall, 6480 Sullivan Trail, Wind Gap, PA 18091.  The two bands featured that day are THE MIDIRI BROTHERS and DAN LEVINSON’S PALOMAR QUARTET.
    The Midiri Brothers will play from noon to 2:30 p.m.  Their group is Joe Midiri on clarinet, Paul Midiri on vibraphone, drums, and trombone, Dan Tobias on trumpet, Pat Mercuri on guitar, Steve Kramer on piano, Ed Wise on bass, and Jim Lawlor on drums.
    Dan Levinson’s Palomar Quartet will play from 3:00 – 5:30 p.m. and will feature Dan on clarinet, Mark Shane on piano, Matt Hoffmann on vibes, Kevin Dorn on drums, and Molly Ryan on vocals.  In addition, because Dan believes that “One Good Twin Deserves Another,” he has invited the Anderson twins (Will and Peter Anderson) to be part of his group, playing clarinet and saxophone.Advance Tickets are $ 20.00. (For advance tickets and directions, send SASE to Pennsylvania Jazz Society, P. O. Box 995, Easton, PA 18044.)  Tickets at the door are $ 25.00.  Student Admission is FREE!  For more information, phone 610-625-4640 or go online at pajazzsociety.org

A LITTLE JAM! (Nov. 29, 2009)

I remember that once an interviewer, trying to find out whether Ruby Braff was playing a cornet or a trumpet, asked him, “What is that?” pointing at his horn.  Ruby, characteristically, responded at top speed, but in italics: “That?  That is a musical instrument.”  Ruby would have approved of the jazz played at the end of the night on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009, at The Ear Inn, where gifted improvisers seemed to come from everywhere.

After an easy-going opening set by the Earregulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block (on tenor sax and clarinet), Chris Flory, and Jon Burr, some sterling players came in: cornetist Dan Tobias, bassist Gary Cattley, clarinetist Attilio Troiano, and (new to me and quite impressive) trumpeter Gordon Au.  (To read and hear more about Gordon, visit http://www.gordonaumusic.com/html/slideshow.php.

Jon-Erik first offered his chair to Dan Tobias and said, happily, “It sounds too good.  I’m going to take notes,” and he watched happily as Dan chose one of his favorite songs, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, for a genial run-through that reminded me of one of Ruby Braff’s late-period groups. 

Then someone suggested THE PREACHER (perhaps by Horace Silver, although the version I know is by a pair of fellows named Bing and Louis).  To my ears, it’s really not much of a composition, and Jon Burr pointed out that its chord structure resembles I’VE BEEN WORKIN’ ON THE RAILROAD, but everyone swung out.

Finally, Jon-Erik ended the evening on a triumphant note by calling for STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, complete with an upwards modulation at the end.  Trumpets all out!  (You knew, of course, that the title of that song — translated into current slang — would be WALKING AROUND WITH MY HOT GIRLFRIEND FOR EVERYONE TO SEE?  It has nothing to do with brisket or hot dogs.)

P.S.  Victor, the Ear’s guiding spirit and bartender, set the mood before any of the players had come in — by playing Bix and Norvo, Berigan and Condon . . . turning his head to the speakers, Jon-Erik said, “We know we’re in the right place!” and he was correct.

MR. TOBIAS COMES ON!

THE BRONZE MESSENGER, by Ericka Midiri

I’m very happy to report that cornetist Danny Tobias has finally come out with his own CD, aptly called CHEERFUL LITTLE EARFUL — a subtle trio session, intimate yet propulsive.

I was fortunate enough to write the very brief notes for the CD:

Danny Tobias is an old-fashioned jazz player in the best modern way, at home in any swinging jazz context. Like his heroes Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, he loves melody, his improvisations have a beautiful shape, and he is always recognizably himself. Danny didn’t learn his jazz from a textbook but through experience – early gigs with Ed Metz, Jr., Paul Midiri, and Joe Holt, and a fifteen-year musical apprenticeship with drummer Tony Di Nicola and master clarinetist Kenny Davern.

Kenny was an inspiration. He taught me what not to play, how to play in an ensemble, and how to construct a solo. He could build a solo as well as anyone who has ever played. Period. Tony and Kenny were always willing to teach me and I loved every night that I had the privilege to work with them. Since those two passed away I’ve been traveling with the Midiri brothers to festivals all over the country and leading my own groups whenever possible. It’s funny but when I looked at the tunes I’d picked for this CD almost all of them were written between 1925 and1935. I don’t think of these songs as old. They speak to me and remind me of Tony and Kenny.

When I asked Danny about his original compositions, he said, The names of my tunes are rather silly. I rehearse with an organ trio once a week in Trenton saxophonist Dom DeFranco’s cellar. Hence the name DOMINIC’S BIG CELLAR, which is based on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME. When I brought up NO MATH, he just grinned. And the song with the most striking title has an intriguing explanation: HOW’S YOUR MOTHER was first written as a Christmas song for my three sons. The title comes from a gag of mine (with people I know very well): when someone mentions something off color or foul, I will say “How’s your mother?” as if the bawdy comment has jogged a memory.

Danny’s trio is completed by two very sympathetic and supportive players. Pianist Joe Holt is a fixture in jazz rooms along the Eastern Seaboard, and he and Danny have been playing together for years, often with the Midiri brothers. (You can see them on YouTube.) Gary Cattley has his Ph.D. from North Texas State University, plays tuba in addition to string bass, and appears with the Princeton Symphony as well as Marty Grosz.

This easy-going trio got together for sessions in summer 2009, with the head arrangements done by Danny. The results remind me of the finest sessions for Keynote Records in the Forties or the John Hammond sessions for Vanguard a decade later: neat but inspired. Each performance was completed in one or two takes. This CD captures the kind of jazz that musicians play for their own pleasure when only the attentive customers are in the club. It’s comfortable, late-evening music, from the sorrowing SAY IT ISN’T SO to the romping CHICAGO RHYTHM and the title tune, a perfect description of Danny Tobias’s jazz.

The disc is available from the modest, soft-spoken Mr. Tobias himself for $15.00.  Send check, cash, or other negotiable instruments to Danny at 38 Fenwood Avenue, Mercerville, New Jersey 08619.  More to come!

P.S.   When Dan Barrett started his New York City tour — sadly too brief — one of the first things he said to me was that he had played two concerts in New Jersey with a wonderful cornet player, Danny Tobias.  Did I know him?  (I murmured assent but Dan was so intent that I don’t know if it registered.)  That young Mr. Tobias was so good, so melodic that he reminded the elder Dan why he had taken up the cornet himself: to play the melody.  Dan (Barrett) continued, looking at me sternly, “You really ought to mention Danny in your blog,” and I happily said, “I have, at length, and he’s coming out with his own CD.  He’s a fine player and a fine person!”  All true!

COMING SOON!

coming_soon I’d like to alert you to three new compact discs I’ve heard — available soon!  

MELISSA COLLARD has recorded a session for Audiophile — with Hal Smith, drums; Richard Simon, bass; Chris Dawson, piano; Bryan Shaw, trumpet.  I first heard Melissa some five years ago on her debut CD, “Old Fashioned Love,” (Melismatic Records), a wonderful disc, thoughtful, witty, and moving.  This one’s even better. 

For the same label, REBECCA KILGORE has recorded a disc devoted to Jerome Kern, “Sure Thing.”  It also features Hal, Richard, and Chris.  Until you’ve heard Becky sing I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR, you haven’t lived . . .

DANNY TOBIAS, who just brought his cornet to the Ear Inn, has recorded an intimate swing session with Joe Holt, piano; Gary Cattley, bass, that reminds me very much of the best late-period Ruby Braff recordings.  Need I say more?

Make room on your CD shelves . . .