Tag Archives: Dave Brown

CATHERINE RUSSELL WELCOMES US IN!

Photograph by Richard Conde

The Beloved and I were in the presence of magic at the Allen Room (Jazz at Lincoln Center) last night when singer Catherine Russell welcomed us in.

I don’t mean that she just began her show by saying, “I’m glad you are all here,” as artists usually tell an audience.

But from the first phrase of her opening song, I’M SHOOTING HIGH, she turned the Allen Room into something warm, making us feel both as if we were in her own magically cozy space.  Although she was stylishly dressed, in front of a ten-piece band, with the great New York street scene viewed from above, none of this distracted her from her great purpose: to lift us up through sweet swinging music.

She is such an expert performer that she made her art — clearly the result of great attention to detail — seem natural and intuitive, as if she and the band had just gotten together to have a good time.

Her delight in being with us was genuine.  When a couple, arriving late, made their way to their seats down front, Catherine beamed at them and said the most encouraging thing, “Welcome, welcome!” — and we relaxed even more, knowing that she meant it.

What she was welcoming us to was a musical evening of the most gratifying kind.  It was inspired by Louis Armstrong, for one, always a good start.  Most of the songs she and the band offered were connected to Louis, but she remained herself: no growl, no handkerchief, no mugging.  Rather she understood and demonstrated what Louis was all about — deep romance, great fun, rocking rhythm, daring improvisations.  Love, whether eager celebration or brokenhearted lament — was her theme.  And there was another man inspiring her performance: Louis’ friend, pianist, and musical director for many years: Luis Russell, who (by the way) happened to be Catherine’s father.  Pops and Daddy, if you will.

She drew most of her material from the great period of the Louis / Luis collaboration — 1935-42, the songs now collected on the great Louis Mosaic box set, so we got to exult with her for I’M SHOOTING HIGH (“Got my eye / On a star / In the sky”), dream along with I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, swing out on I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, mourn to I COVER THE WATERFRONT, laugh out loud to PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE.  Catherine’s vision of Louis reached back to the Twenties for STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, SUGAR FOOT STRUT (now, finally, I know what the lyrics are talking about!), and a romping EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY.

And it expanded to include BACK O’TOWN BLUES and LUCILLE, songs with which she had a very personal connection.  The first of those two — written by Louis and Luis — was the flip side of Louis’ 1956 hit, MACK THE KNIFE.  For some, that fact would be only a jazz-fiend’s winning Trivial Pursuit answer.  But for Catherine it was so much more.  The royalties from BACK O’TOWN BLUES enabled her parents, Luis and Carline Ray (Catherine’s mother had been in the audience for the first show) to purchase their first new car — a two-tone blue 1956 Mercury.  Even from row N, the Beloved and I could see how much that car had meant to the Russells from Catherine’s very warm retelling of the story.  And the very touching LUCILLE had been written by Luis in 1961 for Louis to try — a loving tribute to Lucille Wilson Armstrong . . . and, not incidentally, a beautiful song, now fully realized by Catherine.

She also showed her great emotional range in a dark reading of NO MORE, a sultry evocation of ROMANCE IN THE DARK, a hilarious I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE (evoking Abbey Lincoln, Lil Green, and Ivie Anderson, respectively).

Catherine is also an astonishing singer, if you haven’t guessed by now.  She has a perfectly placed voice, with power and depth but a kind of reedy intensity (she can sound like an alto saxophone but more often she reminded me of a whole reed section coming out of her long lithe frame).  Her sound is sweet yet pungent.  She has great dramatic intensity but she never seems as if she’s “acting.”  From somewhere inside the song, she lights the way, matching her readings of lyrics and melody exactly to the emotions . . . making familiar songs feel roomy and new.  And rhythm bubbles up through her — she was always in motion, rollicking around the stage, expertly dancing, embodying joy in person.

And the band was just as delightful: let me write their names here again to celebrate them: Matt Munisteri, Mark Shane, Lee Hudson, Mark McLean, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dave Brown, John Allred, Scott Robinson, Andy Farber, Dan Block.  New York’s finest!  Each one of them had something deliciously incisive to bring, from McLean’s saucepan-percussion reminding us of Zutty Singleton on SUGAR FOOT STRUT, Allred’s plunger-dialogue on GOOM-BYE, Scott Robinson’s soprano taragota on NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS (a whole surrealistic play in itself, with the horn section picking up their paper parts to read the unforgettable Dada poetry: “Stick out your can / here comes the garbage man. . . . “).  Kellso, once again, became the Upper West Side Louis, and Matt swung us into bliss — to say nothing of the eloquent gents of the sax section, Mister Brown to You, the reliable Hudson keeping it all together, Mark Shane pointing the way — Jess Stacy to Catherine’s Helen Ward.  The brilliant arrangements by Matt, Jon-Erik, and Andy gave us a rocking big band distilled to its essence.

The Beloved and I enjoyed every note.  We would be there tonight if we could.  If you can, stop reading this post right now and get a pair (or more) of tickets for the Saturday night shows — 7:30 or 9:30.  Or if that’s not possible, do what I did and buy Catherine’s latest CD, STRICTLY ROMANCIN’ — it has some of the same songs and almost the same band.

Miss Russell will welcome you in, too!

May your happiness increase.

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COMES IN LIKE A LION, SWINGS OUT LIKE A CAT

We have delightful plans for this Friday night — March 30, 2012: we’ll be at the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center to hear the remarkable singer Catherine Russell and her all-star band:

Our Catherine’s pedigree is impeccable — daughter of pianist-composer-bandleader Luis Russell and string bassist-bandleader Carline Ray, she grew up with the music (how about childhood acquaintance with one Mister Armstrong?) and she keeps swinging with a big heart.   And her new program will not only connect with her CD, STRICTLY ROMANCIN’ but will focus on Louis and Luis — lifelong friends.  The concerts will take place on Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, 2012, with two shows nightly (7:30 and 9:30), located on Broadway at 60th Street in New York City.

And Grammy-winner Miss Russell is wise enough to know that a great singer deserves a great band — with new arrangements.  The sterling fellows onstage will be  Matt Munisteri, guitar, arranger, musical director;  Mark Shane, piano;  Jon Erik-Kellso, trumpet, arranger;  John Allred, trombone;  Dan Block, saxophones, clarinet;  Andy Farber, saxophones, arranger; Lee Hudson, string bass;  Mark McLean, drums; Dave Brown, trumpet; Scott Robinson, whatever he likes.   For tickets visit the JALC Box Office at Broadway at 60th, or www.jalc.org — or call Center Charge at 212-721-6500.  The Beloved and I will be there — I’ll be making notes on a pad to tell you what happened . . . be sure to get there on your own!

“WHO, ME?” “YES, ‘YOU’!”

My silly title shouldn’t distract you from the hot jazz to follow.  The song is YOU (no, not the Cole Porter classic) — music by Walter Donaldson, lyrics by Harold Adamson, performed first in the 1936 THE GREAT ZIEGFELD.  I think of it as the songwriter’s solution to the problem of potential sheet music buyers being unable to remember the title. 

Here’s a hot performance of YOU by Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band — at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle on March 1, 2012: Steve Wright, alto; Ray, piano; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums:

I know that in this century we value NEW and IMPROVED very highly, but music isn’t detergent.  And what I love about this rocking performance is the way it eagerly and expertly brings musical styles of “the past” into “the present” so convincingly that these distinctions fall away.  Since everything is transitory, we may live in the Moment that this music offers so generously.  Yes, Virginia, people did play this way before Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Jimmy Garrison, and Max Roach changed the musical landscape — to say nothing of Ornette Coleman, whose radicalism is now fifty years old . . .

Anyway, put aside the musical categories and critical “schools” and listen to the beautiful swinging sounds: the sweet racing turns of Steve’s alto; the rollick and frolic of Ray’s right and left hands; the sustaining heartbeat of Mister Brown to You on the bass; the exuberant slap and dance of Mike’s drums. 

Music for YOU, YOU — and especially YOU!

Thanks to “islandstarfish” and “swr2408018,” a great team, for making it possible for us to see and hear this wonderful jazz.

“CATEGORY: MUSIC”: THE NEW EL DORADO JAZZ BAND PLAYS “SALTY BUBBLE” (Seaside, Oregon, Feb. 2012)

Sometimes YouTube has just the right idea.

Here is the New El Dorado Jazz Band, performing at the Seaside, Oregon Jazz Festival during February 22-24, 2012 — that’s Hal Smith, washboard; Katie Cavera, banjo / guitar; Dave Brown, string bass; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Mike Baird, clarinet; Howard Miyata, trombone; Marc Caparone, trumpet.

The song is SALTY BUBBLE, composed by trumpeter / vocalist Papa Ray Ronnei, and catapulted to fame by Woody Allen, who used it in his film WHATEVER WORKS.  (SALTY BUBBLE does have a certain kinship with a famous Twenties song about an Asian gentleman who puts people to sleep in the nicest ways, but no matter.)

Back to YouTube.  Without meaning to do so, they have cut through the ideological chatter that continues to afflict jazz.  Is this New Orleans jazz, Dixieland, traditional jazz, small-band swing . . . what-cha-call-em-blues?  No, without knowing it, they have taken their cue from Eddie Condon and his brother-in-law Sidney Smith, who chose to call what Eddie and friends played simply MUSIC.

And that it is!  More to come from Seaside and the New El Dorados, courtesy of the fine band and of our steady videographer “islandstarfish“.

SO SWEET: THE FIRST THURSDAY BAND (Feb. 2, 2012)

More from the First Thursday Band — a small hot jazz ensemble that appears on a particular day at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington.  They are Steve Wright on reeds and cornet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Dave Brown, string bass;  Mike Daugherty, drums.  Each member of the band occasionally takes a casual but expert vocal, and these four players swing as soloists — and, even better, as an ensemble.  Here are a few selections from their their Thursday date of 2.2.12 — a harmonious-looking date in itself.

A song I love deeply — could it be from hearing Louis, Bobby, Joe Thomas, Jack Teagarden, and others perform it? — HOME.  And this version perfectly balances Sweet and Hot:

SO SWEET comes from Jimmie Noone, and the title describes it perfectly:

Disorientation and perhaps even homelessness never swung so hard or sounded so good as in SONG OF THE WANDERER:

MOANIN’ should be a depressing exercise, but this performance is quite uplifting:

One of my favorite tunes — which other Thirties cowboy number has ties to Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, and a doomed Bob Hoskins?  Take another one, Mike!  ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:

To me, this compact little band is a triumph of both sound and intuition.  The players hark back to a time when you could tell an instrumentalist or singer in a few notes — instantly recognizable personal identities, like the great film stars.  No one ever confused Bette Davis or Benny Morton with anyone else!  Each member of this quartet has his own identity, and although the whole concept honors the past (so you could, if you liked, talk about Charlie Holmes and Jess Stacy, George Wettling and Al Morgan among a hundred other heroic figures), you hear Skjelbred’s traceries, Brown’s resonant pulse, Daughterty’s cornucopia of rocking sounds, Wright’s lyrical messages.  And the quartet is more than simply four great players bundled together onstage: they remind me of the great string quartets who worked together for years and played better than four individuals with bigger names.  Intuition is at work here — so that each player is both advancing his own vision and listening deeply to what the other fellow just “said,” or anticipating what he thinks is coming next.  A little family of people who know the same language and love its possibilities.

I don’t know when I will end up in Seattle, but I would like it to be a First Thursday.

These videos — and more! — are posted on YouTube by the very gifted Mr. Wright — you might want to subscribe to his channel, swr2408018 — so you don’t miss even a four-bar break.

THE JAZZ CORNUCOPIA WITH RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (December 18, 2011)

A few days ago, I re-posted a few videos by this wonderful band  in performance at the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society, and I had hopes of more.  Now, thanks to Steve Wright and Candace Brown, the cornucopia has overflowed . . .

As I write this, twenty — twenty — new video performances have emerged on YouTube.  Not only are they notable for good clear sound and clear videography — the band is sweetly spectacular.  The jazz heroes on the stage are Ray Skjelbred, piano, vocal, leader;  Chris Tyle, trumpet and vocal; Steve Wright, reeds and vocal; Jake Powell, banjo and guitar; Dave Brown, acoustic string bass (arco and pizzicato); Mike Daugherty, drums and vocal.

I won’t post all twenty here: the cornucopia overwhelms emails and I receive puzzled comments. You can visit Steve Wright’s channel

There, you’ll get the good stuff first-hand: romping ensembles, lyrical solos, swing from the first note, and a rhythm section that just won’t quit . . . but here are three tastes:

a musing, Commodore Records-in-mind JADA:

Who’s that coming down the street?  Looks like a boy from my home town — that’s Charlie Alexander.  How about a surprisingly swinging WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH (all those people are wide awake and cutting a rug in Puget Sound):

Feel like a drive?  Take the Goldkette band — I mean the First Thursday Jazz Band along — no matter how small your car is.  IN MY MERRY OLDSMOBILE (remember, “you can go as far as you like with me”):

I could explain why these performances are so life-enhancing, but you’d gain more by watching them — more than once, perhaps.  Students of what is called “jazz history” in “the academy” should put down their textbooks and enroll for this very lively, totally enlightened intensive workshop in swing: this is music aware of the traditions but happily situated in 2011: nothing antiquarian here.  Not nostalgic — just superb.  And I know “the state of the jazz economy” is just as dismal as you imagine it to be — but this band should be starring at festivals and have a shelf of CDs . . .

Why not?

FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS!: RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society, Dec. 18, 2011)

These two elevating performances come from a Dec. 18, 2011, concert by Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Jazz Band for the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society in Seattle, Washington.  The band members are Ray Skjelbred (leader, piano), guest artist Chris Tyle (trumpet), Steve Wright (reeds), Mike Daugherty (drums), Dave Brown (bass), guest artist Jake Powell (guitar and banjo).

Echoes of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and a thousand other Twenties blues records, BARRELHOUSE BLUES.  But this performance, although deep-down, has a sweet propulsive Thirties rock to it — imagine an Albert Ammons band circa 1936 allowed to go on for a good long time.  Or one of those groups that we know Frank Melrose led in a smoky Chicago basement club:

And something equally gutty, NOBODY’S FAULT BUT MINE — a rocking jazz sermon by Pastor Skjelbred and friends:

I take my title from the notion that these two performances swing dangerously — not at high volume or excessive speed, but deep-down velocity.  And since the Beloved and I are going to be on a plane in a few days, I was reminded of the flight attendant’s often-stated reminder that I should fasten my seat belt “low and tight around my hips.”

I wanted to call this post — in tribute to this Hot Music — LOW AND TIGHT AROUND THE HIPS — but thought it might seem distracting.  You choose!