Tag Archives: Danny Tobias

“NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU”: DANNY TOBIAS and MARK SHANE’S NEW CD

It’s just so good.

When Mark Shane told me that he had plans to record a CD session in duet with Danny Tobias, I was thrilled: a dream that I hadn’t imagined would come to be.  And it did, and the results are glorious.  I am taking it for granted that JAZZ LIVES readers know well who Mark and Danny are: if these names are new to you, please search them out on this very site.  I’ll wait until you get back.

Here is the link where you can hear sound samples, download the music or buy the disc.  I recommend all three actions!

And because I don’t recommend music I don’t like, you should know that I just about insisted on writing liner notes for this disc.  Instead of plain text, I offer them in Lynn Redmile’s delightful design:

and

May your happiness increase! 

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“LARKIN’S LAW” AND ITS DISCONTENTS, or “WHO’S SORRY NOW?”

When I first read poet / jazz-lover / jazz-essayist Philip Larkin’s “law,” some forty years ago, I thought it sardonically amusing, as was Groucho’s “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”  Now, I find it and its effects quite sad:

“If I were to frame Larkin’s Law of Reissues, it would say that anything you haven’t got already probably isn’t worth bothering about.  In other words, if someone tries to persuade you to buy a limited edition of the 1924-25 sessions by Paraffin Joe and his Nitelites, keep your pockets buttoned up: if they were any good, you’d have heard of them at school, as you did King Oliver, and have laid out your earliest pocket money on them.”

I’ve always had an odd admiration for Larkin, while making the necessary effort to ignore much of what he wrote: he is the embarrassing relative at the holiday dinner table who shares his racist, misogynistic views.  I am also certain that had we met, he would have satirized me in his diary that evening.  But his vigorous parochialism ran parallel to some of my taste: he thought the 1932 Rhythmakers sessions the height of Western civilization, a sentiment I can understand.

Larkin’s Law would seem valid to many in “the jazz audience” I know, a credo in support of Their Kind of Music.  Caveat immediately: there are so many jazzes and thus so many audiences that I can only speak of the small slice I experience, in person, in correspondence, and through social media.

With JAZZ LIVES as my creation for over a decade, I continue to be thrilled by the music yet often puzzled by the provincialism of the response it receives.  Of course this blog is an expression of my own tastes, which have been shaped by experience(s).  I prefer X to Y even if received wisdom says I shouldn’t.  And although my response may be simply “That band doesn’t move me,” I stand by my aesthetics.

However, even though jazz was once a radical music, an art form relegated to the basement where it wouldn’t upset the pets, the audience can be aesthetically conservative, defining itself in opposition.

As Sammut of Malta writes, people view art as a box rather than as a spectrum.

I think many of the jazz-consumers have decided What They Like and it is often What They Have Always Liked.  Their loyalty is fierce, even in the face of unsettling evidence.  My analogy is the restaurant at which one has a brilliant meal, then a good meal, then a dreadful meal — but one keeps returning, because one always eats there.  Familiarity wins out over the courage to experiment.  “I love this band.  I first heard them in 1978!”

As an aside: I’ve watched audience members at jazz festivals who race to see Their Favorite Band and then talk through the set, applauding loudly what they could not have heard, convinced that they are having the time of their lives.  (This phenomenon is a subject for another blog: it worked its way in here and it deserves its few words.)

Loyalty is a lovely thing, and audience members certainly may gravitate to what pleases them.  If you tell me that Taco Bell is the best Mexican food that ever was, I can protest, I can meet you after lunch, I can invite you to the taqueria down the street, but changing your mind is difficult.  You like what you like for a complex network of reasons, many of them unexamined.

What does worry me is when affection becomes rigidity and turns into a rejection of anything a few degrees away from the Ideal.  It happens on both ends of the aesthetic continuum.  One of my Facebook fans used to dismiss music she found too modern as “Too swingy.”  I suggested to her that jazz of the kind she preferred also swung, but it was clear that some music I embraced seemed heretical to her.  Conversely, “I don’t like banjos and tubas” is a less-heard but prevalent response, to which I want to say, “Have you heard A play the banjo or B play the tuba?  Perhaps your condemnation needs to be refined to ‘I prefer rhythm guitar and string bass in rhythm sections, but other ways to swing can be pleasing as well’.”  I can even say, “Have you heard Bernard Addison and John Kirby in 1933?” but does everyone recognize those names?

In practical terms, Larkin’s Law means that many people reject as unworthy what they do not immediately recognize.  Closing the door on anything even slightly different will not help those who want the music they love to go on.  And it will deny the listener pleasurable surprises.

I, too, know jazz parochialism.  When I was 14, I could have told you that I liked jazz.  Pressed for a definition of what I liked, I would have said Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman small groups, and not much else.  Soon I added the Billie Holiday small groups, 1940 Ellington, 1938 Basie, and so on.  It took a long time before I could “hear” Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with pleasure and understanding, but I knew there was something worth investigating.  I have not gotten beyond early Ornette or Wilbur Sweatman, but I keep listening and attending live jazz performances.

I know some JAZZ LIVES readers and friends have more open ears than what I describe.  And some of them, whom I celebrate happily, have written to say, “Thank you, Michael, for introducing me to _____ and _________, whom I wouldn’t have heard without your blog.”  Reading this, I think gleefully, “My work on the planet is done,” and go to do the dishes with a big grin.  But I wonder how many listeners have seriously considered, let us say, both Mike Davis and Lena Bloch, Kim Cusack and Ted Brown, Paul Asaro and Joel Forrester, the Chicago Cellar Boys and the Microscopic Septet, Kirk Knuffke and Danny Tobias — to pick a few vivid examples.

My apparent ecumenicism does not mean I like everything.  And I receive a good number of solicitations from music publicists and even CDs: I listen before saying, “No, that’s not for me.”  Rarely do I think, “Wow, that’s bad music!”; rather, I say, “What that artist is doing is not pleasing to me, but that says much about me as well as what it says about the art.”

We all, I believe, fell in love with certain varieties of this art because they made us feel excited, joyous, alive, exuberant — a WOW moment.  For some, the Love Object may be Oliver’s ROOM RENT BLUES or the closing chorus of the Hot Seven’s WEARY BLUES, or a Decca Lunceford, the Jones-Smith session, Hawkins’ SIRIUS . . . .  And no one would propose to say to an enraptured listener, “You really shouldn’t listen to that,” unless one wants to argue.  But what if some musician or band offered a serious WOW moment and the listener had refused to try it out, because, “I don’t listen to anything that isn’t . . . . “?  Should we be so in love with what we love that we keep our ears closed, as if it would be fatal for us to spend two or three minutes with a music that didn’t instantly please us?

Our preferences are strong.  But occasionally those preferences are so negative that they make me envision my fellow jazz-lovers as irritable toddlers.  “Honey, we have A through L for lunch.  What would you like?” The response, in a howl, “No!  No!  No!  Want R!”

There is another manifestation of this calcified reaction, one I perceive regularly through JAZZ LIVES.  Certain artists have powerful magnetism: call it star quality, so whatever they play or sing attracts an audience.  (It is reminiscent of the imagined book with the widest audience, called LINCOLN’S DOCTOR’S DOG.)  I have often thought that the most-desired video I could offer would have technically dazzling music at a fast tempo, performed by young people, women and men both.  A little sexuality, a drum solo, novelty but not too much, evocations of this or the other jazz Deity . . . it’s a hit!

But it also should be music made by Famous Names.  You can compile your own list of stars who often play and sing beautifully.  But when I offer a video without Famous Names, without the visual novelty, fewer people go to it, enacting Larkin’s Law.  “I don’t know who that is.  How could (s)he be any good?”

Do we listen with our ears or our eyes or with our memory for names?

Could listeners, for instance, make serious judgments about music they knew nothing about — the Blindfold Test?  I admire Hot Lips Page above most mortals, but I have learned to be courageous enough to say, “I love Lips, but he seems bored here — he’s going through the motions.”  Whether I am right or not matters less, but making the critical judgment is, I think, crucial.

These thoughts are provoked by Larkin’s Law as an indication of historical allegiance rather than expansive taste, of a narrowness of reaction rather than a curiosity about the art form.

What I conceive as the ideal may seem paradoxical, but I applaud both a willingness to listen outside one’s tightly-defended parameters and, at the same time, to be seriously aware in one’s appreciation and not turn habit into advocacy.  Let us love the music and let us also hear it.

And, in honor of Philip Larkin, who may have stubbornly denied himself pleasure by hewing to his own asphyxiating principles, here are some of his artistic touchstones:

A personal postscript: JAZZ LIVES gives me great joy, and I am not fishing for praise.  Many people have told me in person how much they appreciate my efforts.  But I perceive provincialism creeping up the limbs of the jazz body as sure as rigor mortis, and I would like this music to continue, vigorous, when I am no longer around to video it.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC THAT FALLS KINDLY ON THE EAR: DANNY TOBIAS, JACK SAINT CLAIR, SILAS IRVINE, SAM HARRIS at the 1867 SANCTUARY (Ewing, New Jersey: April 6, 2019)

Some of the most memorable sessions — improvising without arrangements — are marked by a delightful ensemble tension coming out of competitiveness.  Think of almost any date Roy Eldridge played on, for an example close to hand.  Others are marked by an equally pleasing calm friendliness: we’re all here for the same purpose, and let’s have a good time.  A collective hug rather than head-cutting.

The quietly impressive group that Danny Tobias — master of various brass instruments — brought to the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey, on Saturday, April 6, really exemplified the affectionate community of the second example.  Danny assembled very gifted young men from Philadelphia: reedman Jack Saint Clair, here solely on tenor; pianist Silas Irvine, and string bassist Sam Harris.  Here’s their sweet version of CHEROKEE — not at a racetrack tempo, but as a waltz:

And the Rodgers and Hart SPRING IS HERE, wistful, pensive, still swinging:

Danny’s secret indulgence (one that makes me particularly glad) is the Eb alto horn — beloved of Dick Cary and very few others.  This particular specimen, Danny notes, was a gift from his friend, the very fine trombonist Gil Toth, who was in the audience.  (Also in the audience were dance luminaries Lynn Redmile and Renee Toplansky.)

What better way to say “Thank you” to Gil and all of us than with this heartfelt rendition of SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME?

Every jazz concert needs a song with disputed authorship, so here’s DIG, a line on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, that Miles Davis took credit for:

Even if your idea of paradise is King Oliver 1923, I hope you can hear the sweet floating beauties on display here.  And let’s not forget Jack Saint Clair’s melancholy-uplifting solo feature, posted earlier.

It was a wonderful afternoon at the 1867 Sanctuary — where art flourishes — and Danny, Jack, Silas, and Sam gave us great gifts.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING MELODY COME ALIVE: JACK SAINT CLAIR, SILAS IRVINE, SAM HARRIS (April 6, 2019)

I knew something of young Philadelphia reedman Jack Saint Clair before I heard him — on a Danny Tobias gig last Saturday — by implication, because Danny has excellent taste.  And Jack has been part of the Marty Grosz Repertory Company that appears at the Mermaid Inn in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania.  Later, I saw Jack get the coveted Larry McKenna Seal of Approval . . . if there is a higher honor I don’t know it.  But I was delighted and moved by his playing at that concert (with Silas Irvine, piano, and Sam Harris, string bass) so I think you should meet him too, doing what he does beautifully: making melody come alive, airborne, quietly compelling.

The song is SPRING CAN REALLY HANG YOU UP THE MOST, lyrics by Fran Landesman, music by Tommy Wolf — their 1955 variation on Eliot’s “April is the cruelest month.”  Or close enough.  Only 33 years separate Eliot and Landesman, proof of how quickly language moves and changes.

But there’s nothing cruel in Jack’s lovely consideration of this pastoral lament:

Anyone who has sung or played an instrument will know just how difficult it is to make melody come that alive.  For those of you, and you know who you are, who leap to Compare, whisper the comparisons to your coffee and don’t send them here . . . . Jack sounds exactly like himself, and we are glad of it.

May your happiness increase!

THE VIEW FROM THE FRONT ROW (Jazz Bash By The Bay, Monterey, March 1-2, 2019)

A garden of earthy delights and delightful people.

 

 

It’s the late afternoon of March 2 at the Bash, and it has been wonderful and promises to continue.  So far, I’ve heard Carl Sonny Leyland, Marty Eggers, Jeff Hamilton, Brian Holland, Marc Caparone, Jacob Zimmerman, Steve Pikal, Danny Coots, Dawn Lambeth, Paolo Alderighi, Sam Rocha, Danny Tobias, Jim Lawlor, and I’ve swapped hellos, stories, and hugs with Clint Baker, Riley Baker, Stephanie Trick, Paul Hagglund, Katie Cavera, Jeff and Anne Barnhart, Amy Holland, Rae Ann Berry, Barbara Sully, Bill Reinhart, and more.  Tonight, if the stars align, I’ll meet the Crescent Katz with Jacob Zimmerman, Holland-Coots again (they blew the roof off yesterday and construction crews have been called in), GROOVUS, and Dawn Lambeth with Clint and Riley Baker, Jerry Krahn, and Ike Harris.  Sunday . . . . more Carl Sonny Leyland, Jacob Zimmerman, and GROOVUS.

There are, of course, many other bands and itinerant musicians . . . but these are the people I’ve flown across the continent to see.  And I’ll be smiling all the way home.  Videos to come, if the Tech Goddess smiles on my efforts.  Next year is the Bash’s fortieth anniversary — about fifty-one weeks from now.  Make plans!

May your happiness increase!

PISMO JOYS (Part Five): “LARRY, DAWN, and FRIENDS”: LARRY SCALA, DAWN LAMBETH, DANNY TOBIAS, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, BILL BOSCH // CHLOE FEORANZO, DANNY COOTS (October 26 and 27, 2018, Jazz Jubilee by the Sea)

One of the great highlights of the 2018 Pismo Jazz Jubilee by the Sea was the small flexible swing groups led by guitarist Larry Scala, featuring the wonderful singing of Dawn Lambeth. Without being consciously imitative, they harked back to the great Thirties and Forties recordings and performances of Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian, Count Basie, Mildred Bailey, Benny Goodman, and more.  But they weren’t ancient artifacts behind glass: they swung and were full of joyous expertise.  Here are three more performances, the first two featuring Larry, Dawn, bassist Bill Bosch, trumpeter Danny Tobias, pianist Carl Sonny Leyland; the third, from the next day, featuring clarinetist Chloe Feoranzo instead of Danny, and adding drummer Danny Coots.

Dee-lightful.

Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF:

Walter Donaldson’s LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:

And from the next day, Dawn, Larry, and Bill, with Danny Coots, drums; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, for Cole Porter’s YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

Thanks to all these creative people for bringing their own brand of sweet swing to Pismo.  I hope they’ll be brightening the corners in 2019.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW THEY SWING! (Part Three): DANNY TOBIAS, WARREN VACHÉ, PHILIP ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (September 22, 2018: 1867 Sanctuary, Ewing, New Jersey)

The proceedings, photographed from above by Lynn Redmile

I apologize to all concerned: because of being overwhelmed and a filing system that I keep in my overwhelmed head, this third part of a glorious afternoon got away from me for a bit.  But all is not lost!  And here is the music created in the first and second sections.

I don’t know who took the picture of Warren (left) and Danny (right) but it is quite nice:

However, it leaves out the rest of the heroes: Philip Orr, piano; Pat Mercuri, guitar; Joe Plowman, string bass.  Here are the four remaining performances — quiet mastery by artists who really know and feel what heartfelt improvisation is:

A Tobias original (based on a song about soporific nature) dedicated to the much-missed Tony Di Nicola:

Harold Arlen, always welcome, as is Danny’s playing the Eb alto horn:

A gorgeous TOO LATE NOW:

And the real national anthem:

What beautiful warm inspired music these heroes make.

May your happiness increase!