Tag Archives: Dave Bennett

THINKING OF BIX, TRAM, PRES, and PEE WEE: HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL at CENTRAL MARKET (August 28, 2016)

swing-central

The response to my first posting with videos of Hal Smith’s Swing Central from August 28 of  this year has been so enthusiastic that I offer four more — with thematic connections to three of the greatest lyrical players of jazz: Bis Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Lester Young, and Pee Wee Russell.  We know that Lester deeply admired the other three players, and it’s not hard to hear an emotional connection between Pee Wee and Pres when their clarinet explorations are the subject.  Four great poets who also swung deliciously.

Swing Central is made up of Hal on drums, Jon Doyle on clarinet, Joshua Hoag on string bass, Dan Walton on piano, Jamey Cummins on guitar. This performance is from a swing dance gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.

Before you plunge in, might I suggest that you be prepared to listen closely. This is a band that understands the pleasure of playing softly, of placing note after note and harmony upon harmony with great delicacy: yes, they can swing exuberantly (as in the final SUNDAY) but some of what follows is soft, tender, introspective — I think of Japanese paintings, where one brushstroke both is and has depths of implication.  Allow this music to reverberate — placidly yet definitely — as you listen.

And the fine videos are the work of Gary Feist of Yellow Dog Films.

FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C (an improvisation on I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN):

PEE WEE’S BLUES (with some real-life end-of-the-night tidying at the start, very atmospheric):

BLUE LESTER:

SUNDAY (that Jule Styne opus recorded by all four of these players):

I look forward to a happy future for this gratifying small orchestra, its music so pleasing.

May your happiness increase!

JUST DELICIOUS: HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL!

swing-central

Please put everything else aside.  Stop multi-tasking for a few minutes.  I invite you to celebrate the birth of a great band: Hal Smith’s Swing Central:

That’s Hal on drums, Jon Doyle on clarinet, Joshua Hoag on string bass, Dan Walton on piano, Jamey Cummins on guitar.  This performance is from a swing dance gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.  I’ll have more to say about the music — which really “needs no introduction” and “speaks for itself,” later, but I have asked Hal to tell us everything about the creation and gestation of this fine new ensemble.  (Interspersed with his narrative you’ll find other videos from the Central Market gig, like hand-drawn illustrations in a picture book.)

A word about Hal, though.  I’ve been listening to him on records and CDs for a long time (putting the needle back over and over to listen to the way he swings the band and takes solos that seem too short rather than “fountains of noise,” as Whitney Balliett called most drum solos) and I have heard him in person for the last five years.  He’s a splendid drummer — old-fashioned in the best ways — always dreaming of the bands who can really understand and embody the glories of the past.  And he’s always on a quest to put congenial talented people together to form bands: the Roadrunners, his own trios with Bobby Gordon, Albert Alva, James Evans, Ray Skjelbred, Chris Dawson, Kris Tokarski; his California Swing Cats and Rhythmakers, Hal’s Angels, the New El Dorado Jazz Band, the Jazz Chihuauas, the Down Home Jazz Band, and the Creole Sunshine Jazz Band.

Here’s Hal, himself:

In 2015, Dave Bennett and I wanted to put together a jazz quintet. I suggested Dan Walton and Jamey Cummins from Austin and Steve Pikal from the Twin Cities. Even though we had not all played together as a group, I was sure that everything would click.

Interlude: HELLO, FISHIES, by Jon Doyle:

The quintet did click, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in March, 2016. I secured another engagement for the group at the Capital City Jazz Festival in Madison, Wisconsin but Dave inadvertently double-booked himself that same weekend. Fortunately, the festival organizers were willing to keep the quintet in the lineup with JON DOYLE on clarinet.

Since everyone in the band plays SWING music and lives in the CENTRAL time zone, that was how the group wound up with the name.

Jon and I exchanged many e-mails regarding the repertoire and sound of the band. Since so many swing combos attempt to play in the style of Benny Goodman’s Trio, Quartet, etc. we agreed that a different song list and sound would be the way we would go.

Interlude:  SUNDAY

I have always admired Jon’s sound on clarinet, but he really caught my ear one time before a gig with Floyd Domino’s All-Stars. Jon was warming up by playing Lester Young’s introduction to the Kansas City Six’s “I Want A Little Girl.” Remembering that, I proposed that Swing Central play songs associated with Lester, then further suggested material recorded by Pee Wee Russell and Frank Chace. Jon agreed enthusiastically and began writing charts.

Interlude: JELLY ROLL

Jon was running late to our first set on Friday evening, and did not have time to go back for his tenor sax — so he played the entire set on clarinet. We kicked off with “Love Is Just Around The Corner,” and the audience responded with enthusiasm, which continued with every number. Jon’s totally unstaged animation and Steve Pikal’s contagious good spirit permeated the crowd. Jamey Cummins scored big with a swinging version of “Shivers.” Jon cued ensembles and solos and kept most performances to 78 rpm length, so with about 20 minutes left on the clock, I got Dan’s attention during a song, and mouthed, “Can you do a boogie woogie feature?” The rollicking version of “Roll ‘Em, Pete” he came up with had the crowd whistling and stomping. Our last song of the first set garnered a standing ovation, and each succeeding set ended the same way.

Fast-forward to August, 2016…I was going to be working with a Western Swing band in South Texas, and coincidentally Jon Doyle was planning to be in Austin also. Jamey and Dan would be in town, so I was able to book an appearance for the band at Central Market-Westgate. (Both Central Market locations in Austin offer a fantastic selection of groceries, an in-store café, and live music by local artists on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In addition to paying the musicians, the market provides a professional soundman and even feeds the band). However, the performance budget would not cover the cost of an airfare from the Twin Cities, so the great Austin bassist Josh Hoag filled in for Steve Pikal.

Gary Feist, of Yellow Dog Films, was available to videotape several performances.  He captured the band, the audience, and quite a few local dancers in high spirits.

For me, playing in a band like this makes the aches and pains of the music business worthwhile. Dan, Jamey and Josh are great friends as well as great musicians. All of us look to Jon Doyle for inspiration and he always delivers! Best of all, Jon has immersed himself in the recordings of Young, Russell and particularly Chace. He inhabits the styles without copying note for note, but there is no question regarding his influences. A mutual friend, upon hearing Jon’s clarinet work on an audio clip from this session (“I Must Have That Man”) remarked, “I think the torch has been passed!” It has, and is burning brightly!

I know that Hal is speaking with several jazz festival directors about appearances for SWING CENTRAL, and that they are getting together to record their debut CD in Chicago — all excellent news.  There are many other wonderful small jazz groups on the landscape, thank heavens, but this is a real band with its own conceptions.  You wouldn’t mistake them for anyone else; they are not locked in one tiny stylistic box, and my goodness, how they swing!

May your happiness increase!

CLARINETITIS: TIM LAUGHLIN, JIM BUCHMANN, DAVE BENNETT (November 29, 2014)

AVALON, “composed” in 1920 by Al Jolson and Vincent Rose, owed so much to a Puccini melody that Puccini’s publishers sued and won.  Thanks to Chris Tyle for the facts here.

AVALON sheet

Between 1920 and 1937, AVALON was a popular composition recorded by Red Nichols, Isham Jones, Coleman Hawkins, the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, Jimmie Lunceford, and others.  In 1937, Benny Goodman featured it as a quartet number (with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa) in the film HOLLYWOOD HOTEL — also recording it for Victor, performing it in 1938 at his Carnegie Hall Concert.  Benny performed it hundreds of times in the next half-century, and a performance of that song has been a way for contemporary clarinetists both to salute him and to dramatize their aesthetic kinship with him.

AVALON label

As a delightful point of reference, here is the 1937 Victor, a lovely performance by four men clearly enjoying themselves expertly:

That recording is, in its own way, a joyous summit of swing improvisation.

On November 29, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Tim Laughlin (leading his own New Orleans All-Stars with Connie Jones) had already invited clarinetist Jim Buchmann to join him for a few songs.  Then, Tim spotted clarinetist Dave Bennett and urged him to join in.  I thought that AVALON might be on the menu for three clarinets. Not that Tim is in any way predictable, but AVALON is familiar music — with known conventions — in the same way that a group of saxophonists might call WOODSIDE or FOUR BROTHERS — music that would please the crowd and the route signs are all well-marked.

Connie Jones and Doug Finke sat this one out, but Connie’s delighted reactions mirror every nuance of the music.

The other members of this band: Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums, are deeply immersed in both the tradition of Goodman AVALON’s and how to make it alive at the moment — Chris and Hal create their own variations on Wilson and Krupa most beautifully.

This one’s for my friend Janie McCue Lynch, and for students of the Swing School everywhere.

(For those correspondents who say “This is TOO Swingy!” in the tone of voice one would discuss a contagious disease, you are exempt from watching this.  But you’ll miss deep joy.)

See you all at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest: we’ll all gather.

May your happiness increase!

HERE’S THE BEAUTIFUL PART: CELEBRATING KING LOUIS (2013, 2014, 2015)

KING LOUIS

Take your pick.  Would you like to celebrate Louis Armstrong’s birthday as if it had been July 4, 1900 (what he and perhaps his mother believed it to be), July 4, 1901 (where Ricky Riccardi and I think the evidence points), or August 4, 1901 (what’s written in the baptismal record)?  I don’t think the debate is as important as the music.

KING LOUIS 2

And to show that LOUIS LIVES, I offer three examples of musicians evoking him with great warmth and success in this century.  Louis isn’t a historical figure; he animates our hearts today, and tomorrow, and . . .

KING LOUIS 3

Folks down there live a life of ease.  WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 29, 2014: Connie Jones, cornet; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Jim Buchmann, Dave Bennett, clarinet; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums):

Cold empty bed.  BLACK AND  BLUE (Fraunces Tavern, July 25, 2015: Mike Davis, cornet; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass):

Does he strut like a king?  HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 2013: Marc Caparone, cornet and vocal; Clint Baker, clarinet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; John Reynolds, guitar; Katie Cavera, string bass; Ralf Reynolds, washboard):

KING LOUIS 4

Yes, Louis made the transition into spirit in 1971.  But his spirit is very much alive.

May your happiness increase!

“LIVE FROM LONDON: BOB WILBER, DAVE McKENNA, PUG HORTON, RON RUBIN, DEREK HOGG”

WILBER cover larger

I want to write a few lines about someone — ferociously swinging and deeply lyrical — who, at 87, is still with us.  For decades, and without calling attention to himself, Bob Wilber has done the lovely creative work of making melodies sing and making the rhythm swing irresistibly.  Bob has slowed down a bit and is more relaxed these days (not the energetic globe-trotter of a few years back) but he and his wife, singer Pug Horton, a few years younger, are still making music and devoted to it.  (As an aside, how many musicians do you know whose recorded careers go from 1946 to 2011?  Amazing durability, I think.)

I was stirred to write this because of a gratifying 2-CD release called LIVE FROM LONDON — recorded over five nights of performance in April 1978.  The place was Pizza Express, and the band was Bob, reeds and compositions; Dave McKenna, piano; Pug, vocals; and UK stalwarts Ron Rubin, string bass; Derek Hogg, drums.  It comes from recordings made by the sound wizard Dave Bennett, and the results are issued on Irv Kratka’s resourceful Classic Jazz label, CJ 36.  It is a consistently gratifying two-and-a-half hours of soaring yet casual music.  For those of my generation, it is a wonderful window into those New York nights of the Seventies and beyond where a glorious little band would play a three-hour gig and keep delighting and surprising us.

The sound is excellent, the music superb.  Wilber has often been minimized as one of the great Followers — understandably, because he studied with Bechet — and smaller-minded listeners have been so enraptured by “his” Bechet, Hodges, Goodman, Bigard, and others, that they have forgotten the Wilber-energies that made those sounds come so alive.  I think of him as someone like Buck Clayton — completely individual — an artist who made his own identity complete and satisfying while letting the great energies of the Ancestors flow through him.  (Is it heresy to write that his Goodman evocation improves on the King?) His sounds are his own (and his compositions are very satisfying as well — whether nicely-shaped “blowing” vehicles like JONATHAN’S WAY or Thirties-evocations like EVERYWHERE YOU GO).  Wilber is in fine form here, eloquent and relaxed . . . a modern equal to the great reed masters.

Pug (born Joanne) Horton, Bob’s devoted wife, is also singing beautifully on these discs.  Although she harks back to the dark ferocity of Bessie and the lighter tenderness of Ivie, she is immediately identifiable and delightful: her sound a purr with British tendencies.  And she swings deliciously.

And Dave.  There has never been a pianist like him and few have come close in the years since his passing.  A whole orchestra, a rhythmic-melodic train barrelling down the tracks at us, but a melodic improviser of sweet gossamer subtleties.  Each disc has a solo feature or two, and they are magnificent: effusions I would play for any classical pianist who thought jazz players were somehow limited.

With the two expert yet gentle UK rhythm players, this was and is a dynamic, varied, shape-shifting quintet, and the CDs are a compact way to travel to a time and place most of us never got to, to enjoy evenings of brilliant heartfelt music. The songs are I’M NOBODY’S BABY / JONATHAN’S WAY / BLACK AND BLUE / MEAN TO ME / HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT / I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT / I FOUND A NEW BABY / THE  VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / EVERYWHERE YOU GO / LOTUS BLOSSOM / PUGGLES / FREEMAN’S WAY / 144 WEST 54th STREET // ROCKS IN MY BED / I GOT IT  BAD / ‘DEED I DO / MELANCHOLY / CLARION SONG / I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA (which turns into a McKenna medley of songs with women’s names) / DID I REMEMBER? / ALL OF ME / WEQUASSET WAIL / ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE / DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE / INDIANA //  (Nice and modest liner notes by Bob and Pug, too.)

Here is the CDBaby link — where one can purchase the discs, download the music, or hear sound samples.  And the itunes link as well.

You’ll enjoy it.

May your happiness increase!

A THANKSGIVING CORNUCOPIA OF JAZZ: SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26-30, 2014)

You can always have turkey if that’s your pleasure, and I hope you will have many occasions to get together with your family, but the San Diego Jazz Fest — the generous creation of America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society comes once a year.  This November will be the thirty-fifth such explosion of music, and it is not to be missed. The SDJF website can be found here, and the amount of good music offered during this long weekend is more than amazing.

Some of the wonderful musicians and bands who will be there are —

Connie Jones-Tim Laughlin New Orleans All Stars, Jim Buchmann, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Marc Caparone, Carl Sonny Leylnd, Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor, High Sierra Jazz Band, Josh Duffee’s Graystone Monarchs, the Fat Babies, Yerba Buena Stompers, Dave Bennett, Cornet Chop Suey, Katie Cavera, Titanic Jazz Band, Grand Dominion, Ellis Island Boys, Duke Heitger,Leon Oakley,Kevin Dorn, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Euphoria Brass Band, Andy Schumm, Chris Dawson, Jonathan Doyle, John Royen, High Society Jazz Band, Sweethearts of Swing, Night Blooming Jazzmen, Clint Baker, Hal Smith, Tom Bartlett, Chris Dawson, Mission Bay High School Preservationists, Sue Palmer and Motel Swing, the Memphis Speed Kings, Red Skunk Gipzee Swing, Corey’s Rolling Figs, Jazz Souffle, South Street Market Jazz Band Reunion, Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band,  Dixie Express Jazz Band, Dick Williams’ Jazzsea Jam, Hal and Georgia Myers’ Dance Classes, Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, Chloe Feoranzo, Uptown Rhythm Makers, San Fernando Valley Banjo Band, San Diego Banjo Band, Paragon Quartet, South Bay Jazz Ramblers.

If you can’t find some favorites, some people or groups you love to hear in that list, I would worry for your sake. Anhedonia is a terrible burden.

Paul Daspit, who runs the giant rollicking enterprise, clearly loves the music, and he is a good sort who wants to make sure everyone — musicians, guests, volunteers — is happy and fulfilled.  Full to the brim of fine hot music.

You can buy tickets online here and I urge you to do so soon.

The San Diego Jazz Fest is something to be thankful for.  Truly.

May your happiness increase!

DRUMNASTICS BY PETE SIERS: FOR GENE KRUPA

SIERS

Soft-spoken jazz drummer Pete Siers is a wonder behind his kit, a player whose work should be known by many more people.

I’ve been entirely impressed by his playing every year I’ve attended Jazz at Chautauqua: light yet forceful, tasty yet explosive when needed.  Pete listens and responds in the most heartening ways, and he makes soloists and ensembles soar with subtle, sonically varied playing.  When he’s given a chorus or two on his own, his solos have shape and flavor.

His new CD, KRUPA, is a tribute to the master in a trio format — with clarinetist Dave Bennett and pianist Tad Weed, evoking not only the Goodman trio of the Thirties and onward, but Gene’s small groups with Teddy Napoleon and Charlie Ventura into the Fifties.

SIERS KRUPA

From the first notes of a racing WIRE BRUSH STOMP to the closing of a poignant ST. LOUIS BLUES (taken in a groovy ballad tempo to start and then double-and-triple-timed) this disc is a loving tribute not only to Gene but to the groups he lifted up.

Krupa himself, as he recedes into the past, is known yet underrated: perhaps modern percussionists and devotees of the idiom categorize him as the man who brought attention to the drummer, as a sweat-soaked man driving a big band — but he apparently has been relegated to History as rhythmically ancient, unsophisticated. This CD could do a good deal to remind listeners that Gene (and Pete) were and are stylistically varied although rooted in solid swing.

Clarinetist Dave Bennett has steadily displayed a dazzling mastery of his instrument in the idiom and beyond, and Tad Weed’s piano playing is technically marvelous and emotionally convincing.  These three men throw blazing curveballs at the listener, but even at the fastest tempo, nothing is sacrificed: every note is crystalline, and the interplay is remarkable.  Should any listener be a little wary of a drummer-led session, Pete is a gracious leader, concerned with the ensemble possibilities of this trio, so the CD is not one long loud percussive explosion after another.

Through the magic of Photoshop, and through the generosity of the great jazz scholar and photographer Duncan Schiedt, the cover has an older Krupa smiling appreciatively at Pete, something that I can easily imagine happening had the Master heard Pete play.

It’s far in the future, but Pete’s trio will be having a CD release concert on September 27 at the Kerrytown Concert Hall in Ann Arbor, Michigan (a beautiful intimate performance space).  Details here.  To learn more about Pete and see / hear more music, visit here.

May your happiness increase!