Tag Archives: Dave Frishberg

ORIGINALITY, WITH FEELING: ANGELA VERBRUGGE’S SPLENDID IMAGINATIONS

Welcome Angela Verbrugge, whose talents are not narrow, nor are they limited to her lovely voice.  Listen, and be delighted.

Much of the contemporary music criticism I read praises the “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” “and “adventurous,” sounds that may fall abruptly on my ears.  Angela’s music doesn’t assault; rather, it brings joy.

You can hear that Angela is certainly imaginative, but her singing rests securely on deep emotional understanding.  She understands the song, not only as notes and syllables on paper, but also the heart-messages it sends us.  She conveys tenderness, thoughtfulness, wit, and ardor: emotions and perceptions aimed right at us through her very human voice, its phrase-ending vibrato signifying a sweet earnestness.

When I received a copy of Angela’s debut CD — she’d been recommended to me by a Vancouver musical friend — I turned first to ALL TOO SOON, and was delighted and — in the best way — mildly startled.  Nothing abrupt that would have violated the Ellington – Carl Sigman creation, but it was as if someone had gently shifted the furniture by a matter of inches while I slept.  I had the same feeling I did when listening to Jimmie Rowles thoughtfully prowl his way through a song known for decades, making it new by building new surprises in from beneath.  And in a world of studio-modernism and thudding bass lines, to hear her walk serenely through the musical world of Ray Gallon, piano; Cameron Brown, string bass; Anthony PInciotti, drums, is reassuring as well as elating.

But back to ALL TOO SOON for a moment.  I sent Angela a note of admiration and asked her how she had gently tinkered with that song to shift its center of gravity so tellingly.  She told me, “I created a ‘verse’ using the bridge/ B section lyrics and elements of the A section melody, and it is sung out of time and then we go into 3/4 waltz time until near the end I bookend it with a more heartbroken take on the ‘verse.’ I brought it Miles Black to arrange in 3/4 and Ray Gallon helped me to tweak and finalize it to fall in a way that felt great; when you move a piece from 4/4 to 3/4 here are some options and massaging to get it to sit comfortably.”  Her explanation, as well as her performance,  show her remarkable musical intelligence.

She performs some of the same magic on familiar standards on this disc — LOVE WALKED IN, THIS COULD BE THE START OF SOMETHING BIG, THE MOON WAS YELLOW, SPEAK SOFTLY, LOVE — but the disc is much more than “Here’s my original take on songs everyone sings.”

Angela visited New York City, but I missed the opportunity to ride the subway with her.

Here is another affecting realization, another interlude — her version of A NIGHT IN TUNISIA with lyrics by Raymond Levey, thus INTERLUDE.  Fervent yet spare:

But that’s not all.  Not that I wouldn’t welcome a whole disc of Angela, rueful thrush singing her lonely song from a fragile branch.  She is a witty songwriter, drawing on Cole Porter, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Johnny Mercer for inspiration and rapid-fire rhymes, occasionally resembling a less vinegary Dave Frishberg.  And before more words fill the page, here‘s Angela’s website, and here you can buy or download the CD.

Here’s Angela’s I’M RUNNING LATE, her lyrics to Ray Gallon’s THAT’S THE QUESTION — a hilarious downhill slalom she negotiates with style:

The disc features three more originals by Angela.  I will feel much better about this decade when I hear new singers take up her songs . . . as well as modeling themselves on her warm, lively approach.  Those aspiring artists will take their own paths to passion and control, how to convey deep meanings without resorting to capital letters and bright primarily colors.  But those wise enough to take inspiration from Angela will find her art won’t outwear its welcome.  I am not the first to celebrate Angela Verbrugge, nor will I be the last.  But her art is her own, and she offers rare pleasures.

May your happiness increase!

REBECCA KILGORE and ECHOES OF SWING: “WINTER DAYS at SCHLOSS ELMAU”

Before writing this post, I was thinking about Rebecca (or Becky or Roo — she has many names, as appropriate to a multi-faceted personality) someone I have been listening to with awe and pleasure since 1994, perhaps beginning with I SAW STARS (Arbors).  As for Echoes of Swing, I got to hear them in person in Germany (in 2007, thanks to Manfred Selchow) and could tell them how I admired them.  It’s one of my dreams to have musicians and groups of musicians I revere play together, and the new CD is just such a dream. . . . one that you and I can hear and re-hear.

The disc also affords us a chance to adjust our perspectives, to shake off some preconceptions.  Some listeners have perched Rebecca on a sunny windowsill in the country of Light, Bright, and Sparkling. Yes, she may prefer PICK YOURSELF UP to GLOOMY SUNDAY, but for me a little darkness will suffice.  Hear her on this disc as she sails through I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM and her reputation as an antidote to darkness is intact.  But only shallow listeners will mistake optimism for shallowness: she has depths of feeling.

Echoes of Swing plus Two: Chris Hopkins, Bernd Lhotzky, Rolf Marx, Oliver Mewes, Henning Gailing, Colin T. Dawson. Photo by Katrin Horn.

Echoes of Swing has also been slightly mis-characterized, praised for their large orchestral sound (the core unit is four players, count them, four — even though on this CD they add a string bass and guitar as well as Rebecca) — as if they were somehow marvelous simply for this magic trick, and critics have heard them as successors to the John Kirby Sextet, which is both plausible and confining.  But on this CD, the players — whom I should name now: Bernd Lhotzky, piano and musical director; Colin T. Dawson, trumpet and flugelhorn; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Oliver Mewes, drums, with Henning Gailing, string bass, and (on four tracks) Rolf Marx, guitar — create such rich varied sounds inside and outside of the arrangements by Bernd and Chris that I felt as if I’d wandered into a universe scored by, let us say, Gil Evans, spacious and resonant.

Other artists have created records and CDs devoted to Winter.  And many of those jolly efforts are avalanches of fake snow from the arts-and-crafts store.  Christmas music looms, no matter how many chairs might be wedged against the studio door, or there’s LET IT SNOW, the now-troublesome BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE, or WINTER WEATHER.  Sweet, certainly, but not always true to the reality of the season, for Winter is a time for introspection as the world becomes colder and darker.  This disc, I assure you, is not a descent into Seasonal Affective Disorder, and there are a few familiar cheery songs on it, but it is not the usual forgettable fluff.

Here’s a wonderful example, the text being the 1931 WINTER WONDERLAND, where the focused purity of Rebecca’s voice balances against a complex, shifting orchestral background:

Bernd’s quirkily cheerful setting of the most famous Robert Frost poem:

Rebecca’s own witty and sweet song:

You’ll have to explore the other surprises for yourself — songs I’d never heard by Frishberg, Berlin, and Jobim, and a few poems set to music by Bernd — performances that are remarkable on the first hearing and grow more so.

The disc is dense — which is not to say difficult or off-putting — but it has levels and levels of musical and emotional pleasure.  Some discs make wonderful background music — the soundtrack for rearranging one’s spice rack — but this one has the delicious resonance of one short story after another.  It’s available in all the old familiar places.  Details here. WINTER DAYS is ambitious, heartfelt, completely rewarding.  You won’t regret it, no matter what the temperature.

May your happiness increase!

ONE TREAT AFTER ANOTHER: DARYL SHERMAN, “LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE”

Daryl Sherman‘s new CD, LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE (Audiophile), is just splendid, and I don’t exaggerate.  I’d thought that with her most recent disc, MY BLUE HEAVEN, she’d reached a real peak of intimacy and swinging expressiveness.  But this newest recording offers even more expansive delights.  And, by the way, don’t let the title put you off: the music is not morose.

Daryl, once again, presents very heartfelt dramatic vignettes — a dozen.  It’s a tasting menu for the ears, the brain, and the heart, and one can dine at this particular restaurant over and over again.  No shock at the multi-digit bill, no caloric woes.

Daryl’s colleagues — in various permutations — are our hero Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Don Vappie on guitar, banjo, and vocal; Jesse Boyd, string bass; Boots Maleson, string bass on RAINBOW HILL only.

They are a splendid crew, but I want to say something about the pianist, who also happens to be Ms. Sherman.  Daryl’s playing here is so fine that I occasionally found myself distracted from what she was singing or one of the instrumentalists was playing to admire its restrained elegance that never lost the beat.  Think, perhaps, of Hank Jones or of Dick Katz.  And when Daryl accompanies herself, she is — without multiple-personality disorder — a pianist who is kind to the singer and a singer who doesn’t overwhelm the pianist.  Her opening instrumental duet with Jon-Erik on the title song is wonderful — the way it should be done.

Then there’s Daryl the composer / lyricist: both selves in evidence on the opening song, THE LAND OF JUST WE TWO, a song that could easily pass as a kinder, gentler Frishbergian romance.  Her lyrics to Turk Mauro’s improvisation over TANGERINE that he called TURKQUOISE are nimble and witty.

There’s Daryl the song-scholar: offering not only the rarely heard verse to STARS FELL ON ALABAMA but the never-heard verse to IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN, bringing forth Barbara Carroll’s LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE — with sweetly anachronistic lyrics (from 1956) by Irving Caesar that speak of finding a dime for the pay phone — and Billy VerPlanck’s RAINBOW HILL, here offered as a fond tribute to Daryl’s friend, Billy’s wife, singer Marlene.

There’s Daryl the comedienne, never resorting to “humor,” which quickly wears thin, but underpinning her vocal delivery with an unexpressed giggle.  I don’t know that it’s possible to sing and grin simultaneously, but there are places on AT SUNDOWN where I’d swear it was happening, and even more so as Daryl negotiates her way with great style through THE LORELEI.  It’s not comedy, exactly, that uplifts many of the songs on this disc, but it is Daryl’s pleasure at being able to be the vehicle through which the music passes to us. EVERYTHING BUT YOU is not just an Ellington song to her, but a witty, rueful commentary on romance.

Going back to my start: when I first heard MY BLUE HEAVEN, I thought, “This is the way Daryl really sounds in the most welcoming circumstances — no debatable amplification system, no patrons with glasses full of ice, no waitstaff asking, “Who has the parmigiana?”   Her singing on CROWDED PLACE is even more subtly compelling, if that’s possible.  I won’t compare her to other singers: she is herself, and that’s reassuring.  The recording by David Stocker is faithful without being clinical or chilly, so that her remarkable sound — “sounds,” I should say — come through whole.

I would have singers study her phrasing on this disc — that wonderful science of balancing song and conversation, adherence to the melody and improvisation.  How she does it from song to song, from chorus to chorus, is something quite remarkable.

And Daryl presents herself as not “just a singer,” which is to say, someone trained in singing and performance practice who has brought a dozen lead sheets to the studio, but someone with great (quietly dramatic) skill at making each song its own complete emotional and intellectual statement.  Each of the twelve performances is like a fully-realized skit or an aural short story, and no one sounds like the other in some monotonous way.  Consider the sweet — and I mean that word seriously — duet (a duet of many colors, shifting like a long sunset) between Daryl and Don on YOU GO TO MY HEAD, a song that I would have thought done to a crisp, or the HELLO, DOLLY! world Daryl and Co. create on NEW SUN IN THE SKY.  These are memorable performances, each one with its own shadings.  And the mood is often a wise tenderness, something rare and needed in our world.

Daryl’s colleagues are inspiring on their own, but at times rise to new and surprising creative heights.  Boots Maleson is her long-time colleague, and his one offering, RAINBOW HILL, reminds me of  how beautifully he plays, both pizzicato and arco.  More to the forefront is bassist Jesse Boyd, eloquent and swinging.  I have the privilege of seeing and hearing Jon-Erik Kellso often in New York City, and I know him best as the heroic leader of the EarRegulars, but here he is a superb accompanist as well as delivering some melodic choruses that startled me with their beauty, or providing the perfect echoes in THE LORELEI.  I’d only known Don Vappie at a distance, but his rhythm guitar is more than welcome, his solos remind me of a down-home Charlie Byrd, his banjo is splendid, and his vocal duet on YOU GO TO MY HEAD is touching, loose, and inspiring.  Fine incisive notes by Carol Sloane, who knows, also.

But this is Daryl’s masterful offering.  I only apologize for writing at such length that some readers might have been delayed from purchasing several copies.  LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE is that rewarding, and you can purchase it here.  Thank you, Daryl.

May your happiness increase!

IF THERE’S A GLEAM IN HER EYE, SHE’S LISTENING TO THIS BAND: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE at LUCA’S JAZZ CORNER (Dec. 22, 2016)

The song, THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU, music by Burton Lane (a bubbling rhythmic line) and witty incisive lyrics by Frank Loesser, first emerged in 1939 and was a big-band hit immediately for Krupa, Miller, and Goodman.  Then, in 1944, it emerged again as a Condon favorite.  I give full credit to Eddie for making it popular, with everyone from Jimmy Rowles to Annie Ross to Mel Torme to Susannah McCorkle recording it — with special notice for Marty Grosz and Rebecca Kilgore in my decades.

ladys-in-love-larger

It’s a great premise — that these are all the litmus tests one can use to determine if, in fact, the lady is infatuated — a nice change from the usual “I wish she loved me again” plaint.  Here are Rebecca and Dave Frishberg — verse and two choruses, beautifully:

But the punchy repeated phrases lend themselves to vigorous instrumental strutting, as evident in this version, created at Luca’s Jazz Corner on December 22, 2016, by Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Rossano Sportiello, and Frank Tate. Building inspectors stopped in near the end of the performance because of calls that the whole block was swaying dangerously in 4/4:

Lovely music happens regularly at Luca’s Jazz Corner (1712 First Avenue in Manhattan): a Kellso quartet will be back on March 23 . . . a clear day for hot jazz indeed.  Incidentally, if you haven’t been following the intensive JAZZ LIVES coverage of this band, this evening, here you can enjoy dazzling renditions of JUBILEE, RUNNIN’ WILD, and FINE AND DANDY.  All three song titles appropriately describe the music, too.

May your happiness increase!

A PRIVATE RECITAL: DARYL SHERMAN’S BLUE HEAVEN

Daryl-at-piano-green-web

Singers who perform in public — as they must — have singular obstacles to face in performance.  Even though the ringing cash register is now a museum piece, there are so many extraneous sounds to surmount even when the audience is properly quiet and (imagine this!) everyone’s smartphone is shut off.  Dishes and glasses clink; the waitstaff murmurs details of the specials, offers a dessert menu, presents the bill.  The presumed answer to this is amplification, which can make a quiet sound audible at the back of the room, but in the process coarsens every nuance.

A CD session recorded in a studio has its own set of obstacles: the creative artist may be restricted to one small space, may be burdened with headphones and be banished into a booth . . . but we don’t see these travails, and the sound we hear through our speakers is a kinder representation of the human voice.

Hence, this delightful surprise (recorded by Malcolm Addey, so you can imagine the clear, accurate sound) in 2015:

My-Blue-Heaven-CD-cover-768x319

In case you can’t read the back cover, the songs are I Walk a Little Faster / Wouldn’t It Be Loverly / Feel Like Makin’ Love / Lets Go Live In a Lighthouse / Cycling Along With You / Inside a Silent Tear / My Blue Heaven / A O Zora / You Turned the Tables On Me / Fly Me To The Moon / You Wanna Bet / The Brooklyn Bridge / The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

And the Orchestra with Vocal Refrain is Daryl, piano and vocals, with Harvie S, string bass, on tracks 2 and 10.  It’s a delightfully old-fashioned CD: twelve tracks, fifty minutes, but no need to turn it over.

From the start, it’s a wonderful chance to hear Daryl — “her ownself” — as we might say in the Middle West a century ago.  She is of course her own splendid accompanist, and her two selves never get in each other’s way.  And I would direct some pianists who revere Tatum as their model to her spare, pointed accompaniment.

Her voice is the true delight here.  Daryl sounds so much like herself, and is I think instantly recognizable, although one may call to mind Mildred Bailey, Blossom Dearie, and Dave Frishberg as musical colleagues and inspirations.  I think she’s been undervalued because of what sounds (to the casual listener) like girlish charm, a high sweet voice with a conversational, sometimes wry delivery. But once the listener is into this CD for more than a chorus, the absence of other instrumentalists allows us to hear emotional depth beneath the apparent light-heartedness.  This isn’t to say that the disc veers towards the dark or maudlin, but there is a true adult sensibility that makes even the most familiar material shine as if beautifully polished and lit.  And even if you think you know how Daryl sings and plays, I submit that this CD is her masterpiece to date, sending us gentle immediacy of the most rare kind.

It’s a wonderful one-woman show, with nothing to excess, and a CD I’d like to send to many singers to show ’em how it can be done.

Matters of finance!  If you send Daryl an email here, and say the magic words, “I’d like to buy MY BLUE HEAVEN,” her staff will help you do just that.  You can also ask for an autographed copy.  For now, checks only: $20 plus $ for shipping.  You can also browse around her site to learn about upcoming gigs, to read her biography, see pictures, and more.  I’m amused and pleased that four of the five videos are mine.

 May your happiness increase!

“MOONSHADOW DANCE”: REBECCA KILGORE, ELLEN VANDERSLICE, and MIKE HORSFALL

I’m delighted to tell you about a new Rebecca Kilgore CD, delicious and new. I’ve repeated NEW in the first sentence for a reason: MOONSHADOW DANCE is not only a new plastic artifact in a new cardboard sleeve, but it contains new music — songs by Ellen Vanderslice, Mike Horsfall, and Rebecca herself.

MSD_Cover

The idea of the singer-songwriter is such a familiar one in the last half-century that I won’t make a fuss about it.  However, our Rebecca has made her wondrous reputation by singing “the Great American Songbook,” which in most cases has meant songs from the late  Twenties to the late Fifties, with some exceptions. And for most CD-buyers and audience members, that has meant a certain amount of comfort.  Rebecca is a happily curious Songhound — she searches out deserving songs whether they are rare or familiar, and they glisten when she sings them.  But at a concert, for instance, I can almost feel the audience sigh with pleasure when Rebecca finishes the verse of a Rodgers and Hart song and tenderly makes her way into the chorus.  “A beloved friend,” is our unspoken response, our happiness at hearing something we have the most tender feelings for.

It is of course possible and even delightful to devote one’s career to singing or playing the familiar.  Louis never got tired of WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, and Hot Lips Page is reputed to have said, “The material is immaterial.” But the great pleasure of this new CD, MOONSHADOW DANCE, is that almost every song is a new creation by Vanderslice, Horsfall, and Kilgore.

But before any reader panics and snorts, “New songs?  Why doesn’t anyone sing any of the great old songs anymore?” and reaches for a familiar sheaf of 78s . . . here’s some pleasing evidence that “new” doesn’t have to mean “loud,” “coarse,” or “postmodern,”when the songs are written by the masterful Ellen Vanderslice, Mike Horsfall, and our Rebecca:

Not only do you hear Rebecca’s silken voice, but the melody and lyrics are beautifully crafted — no cliches, either musical or lyrical — but with a certain fresh flair, so that a listener doesn’t think for a moment, “Wow, that turn of phrase must have been the cat’s meow or the cat’s pajamas in 1929.”  Rather, this song and the fifteen others on this disc are musically substantial but not imitations of older songs, and the lyrics sound the way an elegant, witty speaker of this century might talk.

A digression about the video: words and music by Ellen Vanderslice, music by Mike Horsfall.  Musicians are Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Randy Porter, piano; Tom Wakeling, string bass; Todd Strait, drums; Dan Balmer, guitar; Mike Horsfall, vibraphone / arrangement.  The wonderful dancers are Rachel Lidskog-Lim and Jack Lim.  (I am a literal-minded type, so I was relieved that the pasta did not get overcooked and gummy and that Rachel and Jack — unlike me — can cook so neatly that they don’t mess up their formal clothes.)

Back to the CD.  On it, you’ll hear wry portraits of contemporary life (a blues about the civilization and its discontents) that are mildly reminiscent of Portland’s master viewer-at-a-slant, Dave Frishberg, but there are plenty of songs about songwriters’ favorite subject: love.  There’s ONE LITTLE KISS, AEOLIAN SHADE, I’M NOT SUSCEPTIBLE TO LOVE, UM MINUTO A MAIS (ONE MINUTE MORE), TO HAVE, TO HOLD, TO LOVE, ONE MORE TIME TO SAY GOODBYE, and the even more emphatic THAT’S IT!  There’s also what I believe is the first recorded performance of Rebecca’s multilingual fantasy, THE DAY I LEARNED FRENCH.  And I already have found myself humming BIRTHDAY SONG, GENERIC, which has a hilarious punchline.

The instrumental accompaniment from Randy Porter, Tom Wakeling, Todd Strait, Dan Balmer, Israel Annoh, Steve Christofferson, Marco DeCarvalho, David Evans, Mike Horsfall, Tim Jensen, Mike Horsfall, John Moak, and Dick Titterington is first-rate: singer Susanna Mars joins in on YOU MAKE IT LOOK SO EASY.

It’s a very rewarding CD, full of small sweet / tangy surprises.  I predict that some of the “new” songs” will become memorable friends in one or two listening.

Now — if you live in Portland, Oregon, and are reading this early on Sunday, January 31, 2016, you have a special opportunity to enjoy this music in an experience larger than your earbuds: a concert from 2-4 PM, with Rebecca, Randy Porter, Todd Strait, Tom Wakeling, Mike Horsfall and other musicians, as well as dancers Rachel and Tim from the video above.  Details here at the bottom of the page.  Also on that same page you will find links to help you purchase the CD as a disc or download.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get dressed up and cook some pasta.  And MOONSHADOW DANCE will be the entirely fitting soundtrack.

May your happiness increase!

“TWO SONGBIRDS OF A FEATHER”: BECKY KILGORE / NICKI PARROTT

I’ve known both of these gloriously talented musicians for more than a decade, and have delighted in their live performances at festivals for that time.  So I am delighted to report that their first full-length duo CD, TWO SONGBIRDS OF A FEATHER (Arbors ARCD 19447) is even better than I expected.

SONGBIRDSThe facts?  The CD was recorded in March 2015 (lively sound thanks to the ever-professional Jim Czak) with beautiful photographs and design by Brian Wittman.  The band is Mike Renzi, piano; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, drums; Nicki, bass; Becky, guitar on several tracks; Becky and Nicki, vocals and patter.  The songs: TWO LITTLE GIRLS FROM LITTLE ROCK / TWO SONGBIRDS OF A FEATHER / RAY NOBLE MEDLEY / LIFE IS SO PECULIAR / WHEN LOVE GOES WRONG / S’WONDERFUL / Theme From VALLEY OF THE DOLLS / THEY SAY IT’S SPRING / BLUE MOON – MOONGLOW / THEM THERE EYES / A WOMAN’S PREROGATIVE / EL CAJON / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.

First off.  There isn’t a moment on this CD, whatever the mood or tempo, that doesn’t swing.  And it’s a deep intuitive swing: take, for example, the a cappella chorus that begins WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.  With all due respect to the instrumental accompaniment — a fine band — Becky and Nicki are swinging in the best understated but authentic Basie manner when they utter the first syllable.  And their voices — alternatively lighter, darker, flying, trading places in mid-air — go together perfectly, whether they are alternating phrases within a song, singing in unison or harmonizing.  Each performance is full of small sweet surprises (including some witty banter) which makes the CD an old-fashioned experience, a “show” rather than simply two people standing at microphones and singing one song after another.  One can hear that the routines have been carefully planned, but nothing is stiff or formal.  They sound as if they are having a good time, fully enjoying the pleasures of music-making.  The effect is never cute or artificial, but there is a good deal of cheerful play.  And singers could learn so much from studying this disc.

Some highlights.  Nicki and Becky essay some of their proven crowd-pleasers, with roots in Louis Jordan (PECULIAR) and the Marilyn Monroe songbook (LITTLE ROCK, WRONG) — but much of the material here is new to Kilgore-Parrott fanciers.  There’s a clever arrangement of S’WONDERFUL, a racing romp on THEM THERE EYES, and several blissfully tender performances — the Ray Noble medley couldn’t be more sweet; VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is rueful and yearning; the BLUE MOON – MOONGLOW collation enables us to hear those familiar songs anew.  And the title track, SONGBIRDS, has a lively chorus by Brian Wittman — living up to his name — a verse by Becky, music by Nicki. True group work!  If there were still a network of hip radio stations, the performance of the Johnny Mandel – Dave Frishberg EL CAHON would be an instant classic.

The thirteen selections are wonderfully varied and paced, so the CD seems far too short.  And the band rocks gorgeously around and with the singers.

I am being unsubtle when I say BUY THIS ONE, but occasionally subtlety is a burden.  I received my copy yesterday and it is now playing for the fourth time. On the surface, it is an hour of joy: I think it is hours of that rare substance.

P.S.  You’ll note — rare for me — that no videos accompany this posting.  On camera, Nicki and Becky come across as the most hilariously swinging and endearing pair of vocal pals, sisters even.  But even in the most expertly-done jazz party situations, they sing into a microphone, the sound goes through an engineering board, comes out of two large speakers, crosses the room, and is picked up by my camera’s trustworthy but small microphone.  All this is to say, gently, that the videos often do not do singers’ voices justice — and the sound on this CD is so much more intimate and rich that I would do the disc a disservice by posting a video as evidence.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD FEELINGS: DANNY TOBIAS, KENNY DAVERN, TOM ARTIN, JOHN BUNCH, JOHN BEAL, TONY DeNICOLA at the 2004 MARCH OF JAZZ

Hot jazz can be both leisurely and intense.  It doesn’t have to be too loud or too fast. And the best musicians do the neat trick of honoring their ancestors while sounding exactly like themselves.

New evidence of this — a swing session by masters, recorded in 2004 — has recently surfaced.  It comes from Mat and Rachel Domber’s (the team responsible for so much joy on Arbors Records) MARCH OF JAZZ in celebration of Kenny Davern’s birthday, and the noble, gently convincing participants are Kenny, clarinet; Danny Tobias, cornet; Tom Artin, trombone; John Bunch, piano; John Beal, string bass; Tony DeNicola, drums.

Kenny Davern is justly the most famous and perhaps the most missed person on stage, but I would like to draw your attention also to the cornet player.

Young Mister Tobias plays with easy lyrical grace.  When I first heard him a decade ago (as the trumpet with Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective at the Cajun) I was instantly a convert and fan.  At the end of the first set, I went over, introduced myself, and said, “You sound beautifully.  I guess you also like Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, don’t you?”  He grinned, and we became friends.

Please enjoy, observe, and commit to memory:

JAZZ ME BLUES:

SUGAR:

and a most remarkable ALL OF ME, in a romantic tempo (the romance isn’t diminished by Kenny’s silent-film comedy gestures at the start):

I asked Danny what he remembered about this session:

I was delighted that Kenny got me on the event.  I remember being very nervous playing because in the hospitality room, on the top floor of the Sheraton Hotel the other musicians watched the stage via closed circuit TV.  I was, and am, in awe of the musicians who were in attendance that weekend. I remember talking to Bucky, Joe Wilder, Dave Frishberg, Bob Dorough, and many more. I had no idea what Kenny would call, and was relieved when he asked the audience if anyone had played “All of Me” yet that weekend?  He then turned to the band and said, “Nobody played it like this!” and counted off the slowest tempo I’ve ever heard for that tune.  It could have been painful but with Bunch, and Tony DeNicola it was pure bliss. Watching the video reminds me of how lucky I was to be able to make music with these masters. Kenny was so generous with me.  He would make me tapes of PeeWee, Joe Sullivan, Irving Fazola, Johnny Dodds, etc. When I heard the recording of “Who Stole the Lock?” I flipped out!  It was clear after listening to these records that Kenny incorporated these players into his playing. For example when he would soar into the final chorus on a gliss, I knew that he was channeling Fazola.  He would, after a gig, invite me to hear something in his car. Sometimes it was a rare recording of Benny Goodman playing tenor, or William Furtwangler conducting movement of a Beethoven symphony.

I miss Tony, and John Bunch, and Kenny.  But I feel good that I knew how good it was when it was happening and let them know I felt.

Danny Tobias is a modest fellow with a true subtle talent, and in these videos you can experience what many already know, that he is a master among masters.

And — as a postscript — it reminds me how much I and everyone who knew him miss Mat Domber. (Rachel, bless her, is still with us.)  I believe these videos were done by the faithful and diligent Don Wolff: bless and thank him, too.

May your happiness increase!

WELCOME, HETTY KATE!

Hetty Kate and Gordon Webster

Hetty Kate and Gordon Webster

I am delighted to introduce the fine singer Hetty Kate. To those who already know her, let this be a repeat embrace and celebration.  Hetty does all the right things, without straining or undue drama.  Her voice is clear and penetrating; her diction beautiful without being “learned” (she has a conversational ease); she swings; she subtly but affectingly improvises; she understand the lyrics; she embellishes and ornaments but never obliterates the melody. She respects the great singers of the past and present but never climbs in to the tomb and closes the door.

I delight in the two new CDs she has presented to us, in her sweet light-hearted approach.  When she decides to snap out a lyric, the results are explosively good (hear her FROST ON THE MOON).  She sounds as if she is merely singing the song, but we know that such casualness is true art.

Hetty is international in the best way: based in Melbourne, Australia, she recorded one CD on a New York City trip — enjoying the company of fine local musicians including Gordon Webster, piano; Dan Levinson, reeds; Mike Davis, trumpet, Cassidy Holden, guitar (now of New Orleans, but I knew him first as a string bassist with the Cangelosi Cards), Kevin Congleton, drums; Rob Adkins, string bass; Joseph Wiggan, tap dancing (wonderfully on Shoo Fly Pie); Adrien Chevalier, violin (Besame Mucho); Adam Brisbin, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; and a quartet of additional horns on the final track to make a rocking big band, Nadje Noordhuis, Jay Rattman, Michael Webster, Mike Fahie.  The truly international trombonist Shannon Barnett (Australia / New York / Germany) also pays a call.  The result is irresistible, one of those CDs I wanted to play again right away as soon as it ended.

The CD is called GORDON WEBSTER MEETS HETTY KATE, and the equality of the title is mirrored in the music, with a nice balance between singer and band.  The soloists tell us stories; Gordon’s wonderfully off-center piano is always a deep pleasure, and the sound — thanks to Michael Perez-Cisneros — is rich, exquisite.

GORDON HETTY

Hetty told me, “I really let my imagination go a little with the song list, and love digging out tunes that aren’t played too much,” thus, Button Up Your Overcoat / Blitzkrieg Baby / Peek-a-boo / Shoo Fly Pie & Apple Pan Dowdy / How D’ya Like To Love Me? / Eight, Nine & Ten / There’s Frost On The Moon / Busy Line /  Sweet Lover No More / I Wanna Be Around / Hard Hearted Hannah / Bésame Mucho / I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City.

Two songs were unfamiliar charmers, so I asked her about their origins.  Here’s what Hetty wrote:

I first heard Peek-A-Boo on a .. wait for it.. Dove advertisement (probably on You Tube), where they’d used the song as the soundtrack to a story about how women are always so self conscious about their looks, and don’t like being photographed – but when they are children they have no shame about this and just dance and ham for the camera.. a little message about trying to be confident and see the beauty in us all! So the song was a cute one.. I fell immediately in love with it and with some research found the vocalist, Rose Murphy, the “chee chee girl” and also added her other famous song ‘Busy Line’ to the album. She was quite an extraordinary performer and pianist, and now I’m a big fan. 

There are so many wonderful singers who don’t get much of a ‘look in’ because of Ella / Billie / Peggy / Anita and so forth – I feel that not only am I getting a benefit from discovering these other singers, but their memory can be kept alive a little too! Audrey Morris sang ‘How D’Ya Like To Love Me’ and she was an extraordinary talent as well (Bob Hope also famously sang that song) Sweet Lover and I Wanna Be Around were given to me on a mix tape by a good friend with a Blossom Dearie obsession and her approach to two rather evil songs was of course cute as a button – at the time I was going through some romantic challenges of my own, and I love to sing about the darker side of love as well as its light and sparkling hopefulness!

There’s Frost On The Moon was also given to me — Chick Webb’s band with Ella Fitzgerald (very young) and I believe Louis Jordan – and again, the lyrics were an immediate drawcard as well as the melody. The band in the studio had a great time with this one! I think it’s our favourite!

A lot of my family are writers, and as well as being drawn to the melody of a tune, I am always entranced by a clever turn of phrase, and with this album being able to match clever songs with some great dance tempos and arrangements by Gordon I was in heaven!! 

Had Hetty recorded only this CD, I would be heralding her as a reassuringly professional new talent. But there’s more. DIM ALL THE LIGHTS is an entrancing collection of “vintage love songs” associated with Peggy Lee, June Christy, and Julie London: The Thrill Is Gone / In the Still of the Night / Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered / Answer Me, My Love / Why Don’t You Do Right? / Cry Me A River / Something Cool / Wives and Lovers / I Get Along Without You Very Well.  Hetty is accompanied by a spare but beautiful quartet of Sam Keevers, piano; James Sherlock, guitar; Ben Robertson, string bass; Danny Farugia, drums.

HETTY DIM ALL THE LIGHTS

The temptation for a singer, choosing these songs so strongly associated with these majestic artists, would be either to copy or to go in the other direction — vary the tempo, add odd rhythmic backgrounds, and the like. Hetty does neither: I am sure that the voices of the Great Foremothers are echoing in her head, but she treats each song as its own new script, and takes her time, inventing a new, lifelike way to sing it.  No maudlin swooning, no pounding drums, no melodramatic rubato.  Just effective singing: I’d put her version of BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, and BEWILDERED up against anyone’s. Understated, apparently cool, but with real passion coming through.

I believe Hetty has been singing professionally only since 2006, but she is a real treasure.  No fakery — no little-girl cute, no look-at-me-I’m-so-hip / punk / sexy here at all.  Just good music, intelligently interpreted and always swinging. And don’t let the gorgeous cover shot prejudice you against the elegant Ms. Kate: her CDs are about her voice, not her hair or her beautiful dress.

Here is Hetty’s Facebook page, and here is the website for the CD with Gordon.  Both discs are on iTunes.  Visit here and enjoy one-minute sound bites; visit the ABC site to purchase DIM ALL THE LIGHTS, and here to purchase the CD with Gordon — which is also available at CDBaby. (I know — life is complicated, especially for those of us used to dropping in at our local record stores and coming home with some new or old treasure.  But Hetty’s CDs are worth the digging.)

It’s a critical commonplace to welcome the new artist at the start of “a brilliant career” to come.  In Hetty Kate’s case, she is already singing brilliantly — a young artist with a mature, engaging sensibility.

May your happiness increase!

TODD LONDAGIN’S EXTRAORDINARY RANGE: “LOOK OUT FOR LOVE”

I met and admired the trombonist and singer Todd Londagin several times in 2005 and onwards; he was one of the crew of cheerful individualists who played gleeful or dark music with the drummer Kevin Dorn.  A fine trombonist (with a seamless reach from New Orleans to this century) and an engaging singer, Todd is someone I have faith in musically.  But when I received his second CD, LOOK OUT FOR LOVE, I hardly expected it to be as remarkable as it is.

TODD LONDAGIN cover

On it, Todd sings and plays (occasionally doing both simultaneously, through an Avakian-like graceful use of multi-tracking . . . even sounding like Jay and Kai here and there), with a splendid small band: Pete Smith, guitar; Matt Ray, piano, Jennifer Vincent, string bass; David Berger, drums.  Singer Toby Williams joins in on BRAZIL.  The presentation is neither self-consciously sparse or overproduced. With all due respect to Todd, the foursome of Pete, Matt, Jennifer, and David could easily sustain their own CD or gig. I had only met Matt (unpredictable) and Jennifer (a swing heartbeat) in person, but this “rhythm section” is a wonderful — and quirky — democratic conversation of singular voices, each one of them a powerful yet gracious rhythm orchestra.

But I keep returning to Todd.  And his “extraordinary range” doesn’t refer to the notes he can hit on trombone or sing.  It’s really a matter of a deep emotional intelligence, and I can’t think of anyone who can equal him here. (That’s no stage joke.)

Consider these songs: LOOK OUT FOR LOVE / BYE BYE BABY / SOME OF THESE DAYS / BRAZIL / I CONCENTRATE ON YOU / LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / YOU GO TO MY HEAD / I CAN’T HELP IT / BUST YOUR WINDOWS.  The first two songs show off Todd’s sly, ingratiating self — witty and wily on the first (with a neo-Basie rock) and endearing on the second. Those who have to think of Echoes might hear Chet Baker, Harry Connick, Jr., a young Bob Dorough, or Dave Frishberg. I thought on the first playing and continue to think that if there were aesthetic justice in the world, the first two songs would be coming out of every car radio for miles.  (Todd would also be starring on every enlightened late-night television show, or do I dream?)

The pop classics that follow are always served with a twist — a slightly different tempo, a different rhythmic angle, a beautiful seriousness (I’ve never heard CONCENTRATE interpreted so well).

Maybe Todd is understandably afraid of being pigeonholed as Another Interpreter of The Great American Songbook — with all the attendant reverence and dismissal that comes with that assessment — so the closing songs are “more modern.”  I think he does Stevie Wonder’s I CAN’T HELP IT justice in his own light-hearted, sincere, swinging way.

I am not attuned to contemporary pop culture, except to cringe when I hear loud music coming from the car next to mine, so I had no historical awareness with which to approach BUST YOUR WINDOWS.

In fact, I thought the title would herald some exuberant love song, “My love for you is so strong, it’s going to bust your windows,” or something equally cheerful.

Thus I was horrified to hear Todd sing, “I had to bust the windows out your car,” and all my literate-snobbish-overeducated revulsion came to the surface, as I called upon the shades of Leo Robin and Yip Harburg to watch over me.

But then I calmed down and reminded myself just how much fun the preceding nine tracks had been, and that I would be very surprised if Todd — bowing to whatever notion of modernity — had gone entirely off the rails. And I listened to BUST YOUR WINDOWS again. And again. For those who don’t know the song, it was an immense hit for one Jazmine Sullivan in 2008, and there’s a YouTube video of her doing it. The premise is that the singer finds her lover has been untrue with another (not a new idea) but (s)he then takes a crowbar to her lover’s car so that her lover will know what faithlessness does to others. Tough love, indeed.  I researched Sullivan’s music video — where she is threatening to unzip herself to a tango / rhythm and blues beat — and disliked it.

But I had no patience for her rendition of her own song because I had been struck so powerfully by Todd’s — almost a stifled scream of brokenhearted passion worthy of a great opera’s finish before the grieving one, betrayed, commits suicide. Todd’s performance has no tango beat, no intrusive orchestration: he merely presents the lyrics and melody as if he is showing us his bleeding heart . . . as if he has used the crowbar on himself.  It is a performance both bone-dry and powerful, understated and unforgettable. I can’t forget it, just as I keep on wanting to replay LOOK OUT FOR LOVE.

You can find out more about Todd here, and after you’ve heard the three samples, I hope you will chase down a copy of this CD. It is wildly rewarding and beautifully-textured music, and it will stay with you when other CDs by more “famous” players and singers have grown tedious. I don’t like “best” or “favorite,” but this CD is magnificently musical in so many ways that it will astonish.

May your happiness increase!

“I HEAR THE MUSIC NOW”: REBECCA KILGORE and RANDY PORTER at the PIEDMONT PIANO COMPANY (Oakland, California: Jan. 31, 2014)

A few nights ago, Rebecca Kilgore and pianist Randy Porter gave a delightful duo-concert at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, California.  Randy was performing on a brand-new Yamaha CPX piano, and Rebecca brought her own beautiful instruments: her creamy voice, her wise, light-hearted interpretations.  And although Becky is always heralded as “an interpreter of the Great American Songbook,” she has a very expansive repertoire, going back seventy-five years and forward to contemporary music by Nellie McKay.

Here are some highlights of that evening.

Sammy Fain’s I HEAR THE MUSIC NOW:

Nellie McKay’s I WANNA GET MARRIED:

The Rodgers and Hammerstein edgy declaration of thwarted love, THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE:

Dave Frishberg’s ZANZIBAR:

Johnny Mercer’s JAMBOREE JONES, with its roller-coaster tongue-twisting lyrics:

and the lovely hip lullaby, thanks to Mercer and Harold Arlen, HIT THE ROAD TO DREAMLAND:

My ears, as always, were focused on the Kilgore magic — gently gliding through the lyrics, making them even more meaningful, gently improvising, making the melodies shine . . . but our Mr. Porter is astonishing: his command of the piano, his touch, his harmonic depths and always-surprising but beautiful inventions.  And what a beautiful place Piedmont is . . . wonderful-sounding instruments everywhere.  And they have regular concert performances from a wide variety of artists: click here.

Don’t you wish your local piano emporium had a Kilgore recital on the calendar?

May your happiness increase!

BRYAN SHAW’S BLUEBIRD BRINGS HAPPINESS

I first wrote a few lines about Bryan Shaw’s most recent CD, THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS (Arbors Records) here, last year, because its music made a small sweet story possible.  For those who have been listening to jazz recordings, I will say only that this CD has the savor of an early-Fifties Vanguard session, and that I have returned to it often with increased pleasure.

BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS

I first heard Bryan on CD more than a decade ago, on his first Arbors release, NIGHT OWL.  At the time, he was only a name to me — but the CD found him among others whose work I knew and valued: Dan Barrett, the late Brian Ogilvie, Scott Robinson, Chuck Wilson, Dave Frishberg, Jeff Hamilton, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joel Forbes, Rebecca Kilgore, David Stone, Eddie Erickson.  I was impressed with the playing and singing of those people, but Bryan struck me as a true find — a trumpet player with a singing lyricism, deep swing, real imagination . . . and although you could play the game that Barbara Lea called “Sounding Like,” that favorite pastime of critics and liner-note writers, Bryan sounded most like himself.

I had the opportunity to meet and hear Bryan in March 2010, and found all the virtues he had displayed on NIGHT OWL just as vivid in person.  And, at one of our meetings, I said, “When are you going to make another CD?”  Eventually, he told me about THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS . . . and now I can share it with you.

This CD features Bryan, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Ehud Asherie, piano; John Dominguez, string bass; Brad Roth, guitar / banjo; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  And the songs are in themselves a telling guide to the breadth of Bryan’s musical imagination — reaching back to Clarence Williams and forward into the future with equal ease: LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / ALL MY LIFE / WANG WANG BLUES / VIGNETTE / PAPA DE DA DA / SONG OF DREAMS / I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO / OLD MAN BOWERS / BLOOMIN’ BLUES / I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS / ELLIE / BLUE ROOM / CHLOE / STRANGE BLUES / THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS.  Four of these songs — ELLIE, SONG OF DREAMS, OLD MAN BOWERS, and BLOOMIN’ BLUES — are flavorful originals by Brad Roth: each of them with a distinctive character, so much more than lines superimposed on familiar chord changes.  And the tidy, ingenious arrangements are by Dan Barrett, master of written charts and impromptu riffs and backgrounds.

If you wanted a compact living definition of what Stanley Dance called “Mainstream” in the twenty-first century, this CD would be a vivid multi-dimensional example.

The instrumental performances themselves are marvelous: Bryan’s trumpet, glowing or growling, seems to move from one beautiful phrase to the next without strain — no cliches here — and his solos have their own architectural sense, which translates into performances with shape, starting simply and rising to emotional peaks.  To me, Dan Barrett has been a model of the way to play trombone since I first heard him about a quarter-century ago. Evan Arntzen shines on clarinet and saxophone, finding just the right lines to enhance an ensemble and creating soaring solos.  And the rhythm section is all anyone could want: our splendid friend Ehud Asherie, who can merge Fats or the Lion, sauntering down the street (from one hot-dog stand to the next) with his own version of witty “modernist” swing.  Brad Roth — whether on banjo, sweet rhythm guitar, or single-string electric, adds so much to the ensemble, as do John Dominguez (supple and solid) and the ever-surprising Jeff Hamilton.

The overall effect varies from selection to selection, but I heard evocations of a Johnny Hodges small group, a live Basie performance circa 1940; a Buck Clayton Jam Session; the 1940 Ellington band, and more — and the performances benefit so much from what Ruby Braff used to do on the stand: to avoid monotony, he would subdivide a quartet into even smaller bands, playing duets and trios within it. BLUE ROOM offers us a trumpet-banjo verse; I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO does the same but with trumpet and piano.

Even though there are a few mood pieces, this is a reassuringly optimistic CD, from the absolutely delicious swing of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, ALL MY LIFE, BLUE ROOM . . . to the soaring (nearly operatic) assertion of the title song. Bryan believes in that BLUEBIRD, and the CD will bring happiness to anyone able to listen — and listen — to it in the right spirit. You can hear brief excerpts (each slightly less than thirty seconds) here and here, but I predict those tiny tastes will serve only to whet your appetite for the whole experience.

Some words from Bryan about the whole delicious enterprise:

This album was recorded by me, Bryan Shaw, at my studio in Costa Mesa, California, over 2 days in early November 2010. No overdubs. I met with Brad and John several time to brainstorm tunes, but no rehearsals. Dan had told me that he didn’t have time for any arrangements, then he showed up at the session with a key drive full of new charts, having stayed up all night for several days. We would record the charts as they came out of the printer.

I picked the songs with my heart, not my head.

The odd cover, initially a pencil sketch drawn by my daughter, shows a cozy old fashioned cottage with a garden and an old car. But when you open it up, you realize that there is a futuristic hovering BLUE spacecar in front. In the background is a big city of the future — and it may not even be earth.

Why?

I enjoy old jazz, gardening, old values, and more.  But I have my hovering space car to be able to function in the modern world. In my real life, I have fruit trees, extensive gardens, chickens, I raise fish in aquaponics. My roof is covered in solar panels and I generate all my own electricity. My hovering space car is my minivan that will drop me off at the airport for the next festival or cruise.

My concept on this album was a response to the world as I see it today. I believe that people need to turn off the TV and follow their hearts. I decided to follow mine long ago. I wanted to make music, even though playing a musical instrument is impossible. If you give any adult a musical instrument for the first time, they can’t play it. To become a musician you have to do the impossible — every day, over and over, till some day you can do it in public.

This CD is my attempt to put some basic principles of mine into music.  TIME: “When” is more important than “What.”  TONE: Be true to the voice you have. I don’t have a singing voice so I sing through the trumpet.  ENSEMBLE: A good jazz ensemble is a spontaneous conversation of seven players, each with an story to tell. You can tell that we actually were listening to each other and responding to the conversation. DYNAMICS: A jazz band with dynamics! We did bring it down to simmer at times. HARMONY: I’m tired of jazz players making everything sound ugly. I’m tired of chord changes, I wanted chord progressions. MELODY: Another forgotten concept. I lose interest in jazz when the melody becomes “the head” and the ensemble becomes “playing the head” (in a bad unison). RHYTHM: I’ve been fortunate to play a fair amount of swing dances and I wanted this CD to be something people could dance to. Rhythm is really the foundation of jazz and it provides the when to the what. BLEND: Fit in, support, harmonize, another lost concept in jazz.

Bryan’s THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS exemplifies his beliefs in the most melodic, swinging ways possible.

I’ve learned that wishes have power. What I wish for is that people buy this Hot Shots CD and find it as life-enhancing as I have. And then these same people make it known that they want to see this band in action.  It could happen, you know.

May your happiness increase!

THROUGH MANY LANDS, BECKY AND RANDY JOURNEY, BRINGING MELODY

From Portland (Oregon) to Oakland (California) to be precise.

Rebecca Kilgore and the fine pianist Randy Porter are coming south for a duet concert on Friday, January 31, 2014, at 8 PM.  They will present “a wide variety of songs from the Thirties to the present, celebrating the musicians they love, including Billie Holiday, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Dave Frishberg, Lyle Ritz, honoring composers famous or obscure. Tender or exuberant, Rebecca and Randy team up for a memorable program.”  The place? Piedmont Piano Company, 1728 San Pablo Ave. (at 18th), Oakland, California. To reserve tickets, please call (510) 547-8188.  Their website is www.piedmontpiano.com.  Tickets are $20.

I’ve only heard our Becky for the last fifteen years or so — which is enough to form an opinion of her as a peerless singer and interpreter of songs. I just met Randy in his home town, heard him play, and admire him immensely.  These two have been working together and their concert promises to be a treat for Californians — or denizens of other states as well.

And, by the way, a concert in a piano company will feature a spectacular instrument, good sound, a small, quiet audience . . . so don’t wait, because these events sell out, as I can testify.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER’S QUIET TRIUMPHS (Jazz at Kitano, September 25, 2013)

The Beloved and I went to see and hear the fine singer Hilary Gardner and her band last night at Jazz at Kitano: a wonderful seventy-minute performance.  Her musicians were impressive: Jason Marshall on tenor and soprano saxophone; Ehud Asherie on piano; Elias Bailey on string bass; Kevin Kanner on drums.

That instrumental quartet began the set with a leisurely but pushing I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE.  Quickly, we noticed Kanner’s boyish exuberance at the drums; Bailey’s steadiness; Asherie’s inventive ebullience, and Marshall — someone new to me but a splendid mix of Rollins and Southwestern passion (think of Buddy Tate).  I couldn’t predict where his phrases would land, but his lines had a speaking grace.

Hilary has been offering songs that celebrate (or delineate) life in New York, relating to her CD, THE GREAT CITY.  Often those songs have been dryly witty, salty glances at life-as-it-is-lived in Manhattan.  (There are very few songs about the boroughs, one notices.  Apologies to Staten Island and the Bronx, especially.)

She began with THE GREAT CITY, whose message isn’t the optimistic fraudulence of “If you can make it here . . . ”  Rather, the song suggests that one wants to keep a clear path to the exit at the same time one enters the Manhattan cosmos.  WHEELERS AND DEALERS had much of the same balsamic-vinegar flavor.

But there were love songs — Ronnell Bright’s cheerful SWEET PUMPKIN, the more subdued THIS LITTLE TOWN IS PARIS (associated with Beverly Kenney), the wry tale of an urban love that is transmitted but not received, SWEETHEART — sung by the imagined protagonist, who is moony over a male customer she waits on in the doughnut shop.  Another of Hilary’s creations was the love song to the lost world, WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG.  (For the first time, I thought that this song — in its possibly melodramatic verse and more familiar chorus — has a sideways kinship with JUST A GIGOLO.)

The performances I have briefly listed would act as convincing evidence that Hilary is a superb singer: her multi-colored voice, her unerring time, her fine but subtle dramatic sense, her wit, her swinging ability to let the song pour through her rather than insisting that the song sit behind her.

But the show had three triumphs where she outdid herself.  And the remarkable connection among those three performances was that they were all of “familiar” songs, which could in other hands have been formulaic, predictable, unsurprising.  Hilary didn’t “do” anything to these three songs to change them — the songs didn’t need it — but she embodied them with deep feeling, freshness, and ardor.  The first was, in honor of the season, ‘T’IS AUTUMN.  I love the song for its melody and its sentimental associations, but think the lyrics alternate between the touching, the almost too-cute, and the inept: “La-di-da, di-da-di-da,” to me, is a lyricist being sweetly unambitious.  But I love “the birds got together / to chirp about the weather,” with unshakable affection.  Hilary took the song at a slightly slower tempo, letting us hear its sweet whimsicality without a trace of contemporary irony. When she sang, “My holding you close really is no crime,” I thought I could see several men in the row in front of us lean forward hopefully, expectantly. They had fallen under her spell and the song’s.

Then, she essayed Dave Frishberg’s DO YOU MISS NEW YORK?  Frishberg’s songs are so remarkable in themselves, and many of us remember their composer singing them at the piano, so it is an act of courage for other singers to attempt them in his shadow.  Hilary’s version was only a shade slower than I might have expected (the better to let us savor Frishberg’s brilliant witty, wry poetry) but I have never heard a more poignant version.  The song came alive in all its rueful splendor, and it was as if I could hear both Frishberg (as composer) and Hilary (as enactor) discovering just how much they did miss New York, and that the loss was irreparable.

And the sly apex of this trio was Hilary’s sly take on YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS — with its satiric, punchy verse.  I’ve heard some singers deliver that song with the emphatic dismissiveness of someone slamming the door on an ex-lover or an unmasked pretender.  Hilary gave the song a bluesy, groovy slither — as if to say, “Look, pal.  Other people may not have noticed that you are really tofu masquerading as something else — but I know.”  Not angry or mocking, but amused.

I felt as if I had heard these three songs for the first time.  The audience didn’t stand and cheer (they only do that in the movies or for drum solos, I think) but they should have.

You will note that no videos accompany this posting.  I’d decided I wanted to enjoy the show, pretending to be more like my peers than someone peering through the viewfinder.  So you will have to find Hilary at one of her gigs for yourself!  Or you can purchase her CD.  Or you can find her at the next concert of the Sidney Bechet Society — Monday, October 14 — with Evan Christopher, Randy Reinhart, and other notables.

But don’t ignore the exceedingly talented Hilary Gardner.  If you catch on to her subtle beauties, then you can say, in Frishberg’s words, “Me, too.”

May your happiness increase!

WISHING WILL MAKE IT SO, PERHAPS?

I always remember how Wild Bill Davison responded to an audience member’s request that the band play a particular tune, “Get your own band!”  So I write what follows with some amusement and some hope.

I have been able to post some extraordinary videos from the 2011 San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Festival thanks to Rae Ann Berry, and she hasn’t completely gotten down to the bottom of her hoard by any means.  But there is one set that has eluded both of us, and since the air seemed to be thick with video cameras at that festival, I am asking my readers to think of JAZZ LIVES kindly.

The set I am trying to find (and post) took place on Saturday night — around 9 PM.  It was originally scheduled as a Reynolds Brothers set, but word must have gotten around, as it does, and by the end of the whole glorious riotous enterprise, the quartet of John, Ralf, Marc, and Katie, had become an All-Star Orchestra, with visitors Brian Casserly, Jeff Hamilton, Tim Laughlin, Dawn Lambeth, Chloe Feoranzo, Peter Meijers, Howard Miyata, Bryan Shaw, Justin Au, Brandon Au, and Nik Snyder* — all on a tiny rectangular bandstand.

They played THREE LITTLE WORDS, FAT AND GREASY, I CRIED FOR YOU, an astonishing MY LITTLE BIMBO, and closed with ‘DEED I DO.

Did anyone capture this set, and (more importantly) are you willing to upload it to YouTube so that it can be posted here?  I would be eternally grateful — and if the music surfaces, other readers of JAZZ LIVES will truly understand why.

Imagine Bing and Eddie Lang working their way through PLEASE, and you’ll get the general idea of my current state of mind.

*Had Dave Frishberg been there, he could have created a wonderful song lyric from just those names alone.

“WE ALL NEED GOOD MUSIC / TO STRAIGHTEN UP THE SOUL”: MATT MUNISTERI – WILLARD ROBISON (Barbes, Dec. 15, 2011)

Those lines come from Willard Robison’s THE DEVIL IS AFRAID OF MUSIC, and the sum up the experience I — and a receptive audience — had last night at Barbes in Brooklyn, New York.  Matt Munisteri sang and played both electric and acoustic guitars, aided by Danton Boller on string bass and Ben Perowsky on drums — with a late cameo appearance (two songs) by guitarist Julian Lage.

It was a lovely evening, and Matt both performed and reimagined a dozen of Robison’s songs perfectly — his singing a mix of tenderness and amusement, his playing a marvelous offering of textures: twangy notes and assertive dissonances, a rhythmic rocking whether the trio was in 2/4 or 4/4 — ranging from thunderous opening chords to lullabies.  Danton Boller was a swinging foundation, every note a pleasure in itself, whether he was creating chiming harmonies or walking the pulse.  And Perowsky was a perfect sound-receptor in the manner of Sonny Greer: what he heard, he echoed, he anticipated, he commented on — never losing the thread of the music.

I can’t wait for the Munisteri CD of Robisonia!

Last night, Matt began with one of Robison’s “syncopated sermons,” STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS, which opened with minor-key vamping over Ben’s brushwork, then segued into a sweet but emphatic lesson about finding one’s life purpose by being aware of other people (always a pertinent message).

I’LL HAVE THE BLUES UNTIL I GET TO CALIFORNIA was a delicious mixture of optimism about the Golden State and a lover’s hope to be reunited.

Robison loved to quietly suggest to his listeners that they could find joy in being kinder human beings, but he had a satiric streak — one of his sly, naughty folktales is REVOLVING JONES (where one must listen very carefully to the verse to understand the chorus): Jones, before he dies, instructs his wife not to take a lover after he’s gone, or else he’ll turn over in his grave . . . and you can see where the song is headed.  With a wink, Matt delivered the tale of infidelities to his Brooklyn hearers.

Another piece of sweet Nature-worship was I HEARD A MOCKINGBIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA . . . which (not for the first time) led me to wonder just how much of the folk-poetry Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer are justly celebrated for comes straight from Robison.  MOONLIGHT, MISSISSIPPI had a couplet that Mercer would have been proud to write — describing the languorous cadences of speech in this “whistle-stop town,” the lyrics point out, “Like corn on the cob, it’s mighty sweet on the ear.”

Appeals for building funds never charmed me, but WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME IN THE MORNING (anticipating Habitat for Humanity) was a rocking exhortation: we were ready to pick up hammer and nails and begin constructing something!

TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN, the tale of a syncopating man of the cloth who swings the organ while telling his congregation what they need to know, “You’ll never get ahead if you try to keep your brother down,” was uplifting — and also reminiscent of music I’d never heard: Fats Waller said that his dream was to go out with a big band behind him and preach sermons.  He would have grinned so happily at the music I heard last night.

Many evenings of improvised music hit a peak and then trail off: this one climbed and soared.  Matt picked up his acoustic guitar for a solo trilogy (and I noted that Danton and Ben stayed there and listened admiringly) of three sweet songs I associate with Mildred Bailey: an instrumental chorus of OLD FOLKS, a deeply tender GUESS I’LL GO BACK HOME THIS SUMMER, and (what I think of as the evening’s masterpiece) a reading of LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN that was loving without being mawkish, amused without being in the least emotionally distant.

COUNTRY BOY BLUES was one of Robison’s satires — where the singer has been taken advantage of by an urban vamp, having let “a shoemaker’s daughter make a heel of me.”

Matt and Julian Lage had a good time with the closing songs — echoes of a Mississippi revival meeting in THE DEVIL IS AFRAID OF MUSIC and a reinvented T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO which began in funk territory before moving into the light.

It was a wonderful evening, with so much to admire in Robison: his earnestness and goodness of heart mixed with a Frishbergian sharpness and awareness of life’s little hypocrisies.  And then there was Mr. Munisteri, humming along with his solos, rocking the blues, creating sweet music throughout.  And he is a peerless singer, sincere or sly or both at the same time.

As I said, I can’t wait for the CD.  You might want to investigate Matt’s recorded output while you’re waiting, though . . . !

“PORTRAIT OF A SONG OBSESSIVE”: REBECCA KILGORE by CHRISTOPHER LOUDON

Published in JAZZ TIMES, May 2011:

Rebecca Kilgore: Portrait of a Song Obsessive

Christopher Loudon gives an Overdue Ovation for Portland-based singer

By Christopher Loudon

Portland is renowned for a lot of things: curbside gourmet delicacies, concerted environmental concern, spectacular roses, great microbreweries. But it is only recently, since the advent of the superbly programmed Portland Jazz Festival in 2004, that the hipster mecca north of San Francisco has earned a wider reputation as a jazz hub. Actually, Portland’s jazz roots are quite deep, and among the strongest of those roots is vocalist and (occasional) guitarist Rebecca Kilgore.

 Confer with her collaborators and the compliments quickly begin flowing. “Becky is my favorite singer to play for,” says pianist Dave Frishberg, who first partnered with Kilgore on 1994’s Looking at You and has since become her most frequent musical confidant. “She is technically a marvelous singer,” he continues, “[and] always in shape. Her voice sounds great, and her delivery is flawless.” John Pizzarelli, a longtime fan and recent recording mate on several albums, including the new Lovefest at the PIZZArelli Party (Arbors), adds, “She just sings perfectly. She’s a dream of a studio singer. You just feel great when you’re in the room with her. You’re happy to be there, and you know it’s going to work.”

High praise, particularly for a performer so inherently shy she waited until age 30 before making her professional debut. Raised in the Boston suburb of Waltham, Kilgore’s first love was folk music. “When I was in high school,” she says, “I was into Joan Baez and Judy Collins and people like that. I got a guitar and strummed along. Then I discovered a disc jockey in the area who played classic jazz. I got acquainted with Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O’Day and just flipped. Those singers took me on a complete musical detour. They were my teachers, because I never had any formal training. I consider myself so fortunate to be a torchbearer for that style of singing.”

Toward the end of the 1970s, Kilgore relocated to Portland. Alone in a new town and eager to make friends, she regularly attended local music gigs. One night she caught a jazz act called Wholly Cats. “There was a gal in the group playing rhythm guitar and singing,” she recalls, “and that’s what I did in the privacy of my own home. We became fast friends, and when she decided to quit the group, she suggested I try out. I was aghast. I didn’t think I could sing professionally, but the idea got stuck in my head, and I got the job. It was a major turning point in my life. I loved being with musicians, loved learning new music all the time, and it was like a whole new family for me. There was no turning back after that.”

In 1982, Kilgore made her recording debut with Wholly Cats, then rapidly widened her horizons, working with drummer Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers and his Roadrunners, joining the Bob Wills-style Western swing outfit Ranch Dressing, performing with fiddle player Hollis Taylor and joining pianist John Sheridan’s Dream Band.

Another major turning point came in 1991, when Frishberg, having settled in Portland, began a two-night-per-week gig at the Heathman Hotel. He performed with the late cornet player Jim Goodwin for the first couple of months, and after Goodwin departed, the hotel said they’d prefer a singer in the band. Frishberg reached out to Kilgore, who at the time was holding down a secretarial day job at Reed College. When she got the call from Frishberg, she decided it was finally time to devote her full attention to music. “It was like jumping off a cliff,” she laughs, “but it worked out. I think of my life as ‘before Dave’ and ‘after Dave.’ I am so grateful for everything I have learned from him. He is such a high quality musician and is very inspiring.”

During their five-year run at the Heathman, Kilgore got the chance to dig deep into the Great American Songbook. “Her repertoire is enormous,” says Frishberg. “The entire time we played the Heathman, she kept a log of all the songs we performed. After our final show, she handed me a printout of the entire log. We’d performed over 500 songs, and many of them we only did once. Every time I’d come to the gig, I knew she’d have something new. It was very stimulating.”

“I never like to do the tried and true,” says Kilgore. “My passion is discovering songs. When I uncover a song it is like falling in love, and I want to impart to the audience the fun and the beauty of finding it.” Nearly as ardent a musical archivist as Michael Feinstein, a professed Kilgore fan, she comes across vintage tunes in a variety of ways. “Some people send me CDs and say, ‘Here are some songs you might like.’ There was a gentleman from Savannah who was a Johnny Mercer expert, and he sent me an entire disc of Mercer obscurities. I’d never heard of any of them, and I know a lot of Mercer songs! And sometimes when I’m in a shopping mall, I’ll be listening to the Muzak and a song will pop up that I’d forgotten all about. The music just comes into my life. I seem to be a magnet for good songs.”

Nor is Kilgore opposed to newer material. “I don’t go out of my way to avoid contemporary songs,” she says. “I believe we’re in the middle of a resurgence of good songwriting, so I’m always on the lookout. My fishing lines aren’t always in the contemporary world, but I’m trying!”

As for her guitar work, though both Frishberg and Pizzarelli praise her playing, Kilgore considers herself “a pretty basic guitarist. I look at my guitar as a tool. That’s how I study music and learn songs. In my Western swing days, I used to play rhythm guitar, but these days I sing with such wonderful pianists that my guitar playing would be pretty gratuitous.”

In addition to Frishberg, Kilgore has forged long-term relationships with several artists, including guitarist/banjoist/vocalist Eddie Erickson, pianist Keith Ingham, saxophonist Harry Allen and the man she calls her “musical soulmate,” trombonist Dan Barrett. “Lester Young to Billie Holiday, that’s how I consider Dan and me,” she says. “He and I think alike, we hear the same lines and we love the same recordings, though what I know about old jazz is the tip of the iceberg compared to what he knows. He is a walking encyclopedia.”

It was Barrett, via Frishberg, who first introduced Kilgore to Arbors Records co-founder Mat Domber. “Dave tells the story,” says Kilgore, “that he and Dan were on tour. While traveling in the car together, Dave said, ‘I have this cassette of this singer,’ and Dan rolled his eyes and said, ‘Oh, no, not another vocalist!’”

Kilgore’s association with Arbors has continued apace since 1994, when she recorded I Saw Stars with a band featuring Frishberg and Bucky Pizzarelli. (Barrett wrote most of the arrangements.) “Rebecca is an outstanding talent,” says Domber. “And she is a very easy person to work with. She always comes prepared and knows her business. She has almost perfect pitch and a great sense of a lyric. In my opinion, she’s the best jazz singer around today.”

Also the most prolific. Since 1982, Kilgore has appeared, as leader or featured vocalist, on no fewer than 49 albums spanning 16 labels. “Sometimes I worry,” she confesses, “that the world is going to say, ‘Oh, another Kilgore CD, who cares?’” Still, in addition to Lovefest, she planned two more releases for 2011, both for Arbors. Available now is Live at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, a document of a program she performed last summer with the Harry Allen Quartet, “Lady Day and Prez: A Musical Tribute to Billie Holiday and Lester Young.” The show allowed Kilgore to further explore the Holiday-Young symbiosis, but in the company of Allen rather than Barrett. As New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden raved, “The show’s avoidance of slavish imitation made for the best kind of tribute: one that captured the streamlined ease of performances in which Holiday and Young carried on a spontaneous, private conversation.” And come fall there will be The Sound of Music, a continuation of the Broadway series that she, Allen and Erickson launched a few years ago with South Pacific and Guys and Dolls.

At 61, she has no intention to slow down. “The problem,” she gleefully insists, “is that there are so many great songs. My desk is an absolute mess because of a huge stack of sheet music. I’ll take one off the top and incorporate it into my repertoire and then add five more to the pile. My tombstone is going to read, ‘I can’t go yet—I haven’t learned all the songs!’”

Recommended Listening:

I Saw Stars (Arbors, 1995)

The Music of Jimmy Van Heusen (Jump, 2005)

Why Fight the Feeling? Songs by Frank Loesser (Arbors, 2008)

Sure Thing: Rebecca Kilgore Sings the Music of Jerome Kern (Audiophile, 2010)

Lovefest at the PIZZArelli Party (Arbors, 2011)

RETTA CHRISTIE SINGS! (Volume Two)

Retta Christie continues to delight. 

Some contemporary singers approach their material through an ironic, cool pose.  Retta faces her songs directly.  Without being sentimental, she conveys their emotional force, letting lyrics and melody pass through her, opening herself to emotions.  She doesn’t overact; she doesn’t linger on syllables for “dramatic effect,” but you hear her heart. 

But don’t take my word for it — here’s a review by Maxwell Chandler (February 15, 2010) that echoes my sentiments: http://www.jazzpolice.com/content/view/8850/79/.

Retta’s first CD continues to give me much pleasure.  Simple rather than fussy, it is a trio — Retta on vocals and discreet brushes-on-snare drum backing; David Evans on tenor and clarinet; the splendid Dave Frishberg on piano.  The trio’s approach is easy, relaxed without being sleepy.  And they animate a wide variety of material, from Thirties pops and ballads to a few country classics.  I was amazed and amused to find myself playing RIDIN’ DOWN THE CANYON as my getting-to-work theme song.  Evans is a potent, light-toned player (I thought of Al Cohn) and Frishberg remains my favorite piano accompanist — tender, apt, and humorous.  The music I heard reminded me, in equal measure, of the Mel Powell – Bobby Donaldson – Paul Quinichette Vanguard session; the Cohn – Jimmy Rowles duet, with Retta adding to the ambiance rather than intruding. 

The second volume of this group’s brave yet casual exploration is just as satisfying, and that’s saying a good deal.  Retta’s swinging candor is worth the price of the disc — so that when she sings I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS, I think that she actually does — no fooling, no pretense.  She is no amateur, someone who just decided on whim,  “Gee, it would be fun to sing!” but she conveys the freshness of someone enthusiastic rather than someone who has studied hard at seeming enthusiastic.  I have no particular love for the conventions of “country” music, but I find Retta’s approach to her material charming.  I could listen to Evans and Frishberg all day — or until the cows come home, whichever is later.  

Retta has a touch of quiet audacity — the courage to approach FOOLIN’ MYSELF and A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT on their own terms, so that the listener never thinks, “Oh, no, not another Little Billie.”  I found myself truly listening to the lyrics anew, hearing the song as if I hadn’t had Holiday’s records burned into my consciousness.  

This second session is openly a tribute to Retta’s great friend and musical mentor Jim Goodwin, a memorable cornetist, pianist, and life-force.  I would urge you to listen closely to her version of OLD FOLKS — a song she recorded specifically as a loving tribute to Goodwin, who died in 2009.  If you can listen to it without being moved by its peaceful sadness, by the love in eery turn of phrase, you are made of stern stuff.  

Retta also brings back I ONLY WANT A BUDDY, NOT A SWEETHEART (a song I know from the Dick Robertson Decca with Bobby Hackett) and she introduced me to ‘NEATH THE PURPLE ON THE HILLS, which has its own irresistible swaying motion, complete with “Yoo hoo”s at the right place.  I am very fond of the two instrumental tracks — ONLY A ROSE and SWEET AND SLOW — which showcase the two Davids, eloquently.  Doug Ramsey’s gently erudite liner notes are just right.  Like him, I am waiting for Volumes Three and Four and more.  Till that day, you should investigate One and Two.  Retta’s musical honesty is something I cherish.  Visit www.rettachristie.com. for more information.

DON’T “BRUSH ASIDE THE ITALIANS”

 From the KANSAS CITY JEWISH CHRONICLE:

The ‘multi-talented musical genius’ of jazzman Dave Frishberg

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Written by Rick Hellman, Editor   
Friday, 12 February 2010 12:00
 

altDave Frishberg

Jazz pianist, singer and songwriter Dave Frishberg, the author of such witty ditties as “I’m Hip,” “Peel Me a Grape” and “My Attorney Bernie,” rejects the notion that Jews are overrepresented among great, white American jazz players — as they are among, say, Nobel Prize winners.  “I don’t know if you can just brush aside the Italians,” Frishberg said dryly last week in a telephone interview from his home in Portland, Ore. “I never thought about Jewish representation in roles; I don’t know why that would be.”

As a former sideman for Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, Ben Webster, Gene Krupa and more, the 76-year-old Frishberg is practically a one-man history of American jazz. He grew up in St. Paul, Minn., and recognized Kansas City’s contribution to the form early on.

He visits Feb. 27 for the first time in 30 years as part of the Folly Jazz Series. (See below for details.)

“My older brother had all these records — Jay McShann and Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing,” Frishberg said. “I knew all that stuff as a kid, and I guess it just stuck with me. …

“I eventually got to play with a lot of people — Ben Webster and Gus Johnson and other people — from Kansas City. And I remember Jo Jones! … I guess mainly it was Lester Young. I loved him so much, and from listening to him, I got familiar with all the music surrounding him.”

Although his own style wound up a bit more cerebral, Frishberg said Basie and McShann “were very influential” on his playing.

“More recently, I have crossed paths with two wonderful Kansas City musicians,” Frishberg said. “One is the guy I consider best drummer in the world, Todd Strait, who lives in Portland now. The other was when I was playing the Regency Hotel’s Feinstein Room, and in walks Marilyn Maye, a name that I used to see around a lot. She was kind of legendary.”

Frishberg respects what a great set of pipes can do with one of his songs. They have been recorded by such jazz greats as Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney and Blossom Dearie.

Solo act
Today, Frishberg sings and performs his own material as a solo act. It started in the late 1960s or early ’70s, he said, when he was living in New York.

“I had been there 10 or 12 years as a pianist, writing all that time,” Frishberg said, “But I never really thought about singing, except to make demos of my songs. At that time, I made a record album (including vocals), but I had still never faced an audience in the face. I never really intended to sing in front of people. But Carl Jefferson at Concord (Records) made an album of mine, and he invited me to bring the band on the album up to play at the Concord Jazz Festival. It was the first time I ever faced a crowd. … One of the most daunting things was that I was the opening act for Bing Crosby. It was a crushing responsibility and also the thrill of my life to be in that position. I was struck by the fact that I was well received. Then I began to include singing tracks in some of my albums.”

It progressed to the point where Frishberg plays and records almost exclusively as a solo act.

“When I do my own songs, it’s always by myself,” he said. “It’s just easier for me that way. I don’t have to rehearse with a band. It’s all special material. There are no standards in it, so nobody can fake my show. They’ve got to be reading it. And it never sounded good till the gig was over. So I thought, well, I can handle this myself. It leaves me more flexible. I can make instant decisions without having to worry about anyone else.”

Finally, Frishberg said, “The songs are better served that way. None of them depend on beat or groove. They are mostly personal addresses to the people, not rhythm-section music. There is a certain starkness to it that works in my favor.”

Folly Theater Development Director Steve Irwin called the venerable downtown hall “the perfect venue to showcase the multi-faceted musical genius of Dave Frishberg. … He’s done it all in his career … and did I mention he’s one of the best cabaret entertainers in the business?”

Irwin joked that if Frishberg’s career had been as a thespian, “I would describe him as one of those great character actors you love seeing, and who always gives a great performance — but you don’t know his name! On Feb. 27 at the Folly you can have the total Frishberg experience. You won’t be disappointed!”

Humorous songs
Frishberg might even play his best-known song, although it’s not one primarily associated with jazz, but, rather, children’s educational television. Frishberg is the author of “Just a Bill,” perhaps the best-known song from the 1970s ABC animated television series, “Schoohouse Rock!” It was one of a handful of songs he wrote for the series, Frishberg said. It tells how proposals become laws in the American system of government.
And while humor is clearly a tool in Frishberg’s entertainment arsenal, it’s not all he wants to be known for.

“I don’t think of my songs as funny,” he said. “Maybe half of them are. I write in different moods and with different things in mind than getting laughs. My favorite songs are the ones that don’t get the laughs, but seem to touch people. …

“When I was a kid, my ambition was to be a cartoonist; even a political cartoonist. I thought that was great to make these one-panel statements with a drawing, and I find that same kind of thing creeping into my song writing. I think of my songs as cartoons; and maybe not funny, but a three-panel strip. The characters are caricatures, almost … It’s the character that sings the song about his attorney Bernie. So the song is not about Bernie, but the guy who’s singing it. I take that approach. I like to write for characters.”

Frishberg at the Folly

The Folly Jazz Series presents “An Evening with Dave Frishberg” at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Folly, 300 W. 12th St. There will be a pre-show talk at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30. To charge by phone, call the Folly, (816) 474-4444 or Ticketmaster, (800) 745-3000. Or visit follytheater.com or ticketmaster.com.

JIM GOODWIN, HOT MAN

The much-loved jazzman Jim Goodwin died this year just shy of his sixty-fifth birthday.  I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about his talents, but what struck me when I first heard him on record was his surpassing heat, a pushing intensity that drove the musicians around him.  Red Allen had it, as did Roy Eldridge.  Think of Louis on HOTTER THAN THAT, or the closing choruses of I NEVER KNEW by the Chocolate Dandies, or Joe Sullivan in his prime. 

Jim always played — no matter what the context or the tempo — as if his life depended on it.  Not necessarily loud or high, not necessarily spattering the listener with fancy runs, but taking chances, never coasting.  Even when he playing the opening chorus of something like PLEASE BE KIND, you knew that the request wasn’t an idle one: he meant business!

Many of Jim’s vinyl recordings haven’t yet made it to compact disc, and there are private sessions treasured by those who have heard them.  But he and his friend Dave Frishberg made DOUBLE PLAY, an enlivening duet session for Arbors Records (they were both passionate baseball aficionados).  [As I write this, the CD and cassette versions are available at the Arbors site for reduced prices. ]

And, more recently, the Blue Swing label has issued two sets featuring an incendiary little band, the Sunset Music Company, recorded live in Europe, under the leadership of banjoist / singer Lueder Ohlwein, and featuring Jim alongside such notables as Dan Barrett, John Smith, Bill Carter, Mike Fay, and Jeff Hamilton.  Think of a cross between Fats Waller and his Rhythm circa 1935 and the Rhythmakers, and you’ve got the collective ambiance of these rewarding concert recordings.

Finally, Jim’s dear friend and musical colleague Retta Christie (whose singing is full of feeling and swing) has created a website to honor Jim — content and photographs provided by his friends, so it has a delightful, often hilarious candor not always found on the web.  And — there are audio clips for those for whom Jim was just a legendary name.   

Instead of reading the grim headlines in the newspaper or cyber-shopping, look and listen here.  I assure you that the experience will be uplifting.  And Hot.  http://jamesrgoodwin.com/

CHAUTAUQUA JOYS

The Beloved and I spent the past long weekend (Thursday, September 17 – Sunday, September 20) at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, delighting in the twelfth Jazz at Chautauqua. 

This party, burnished to a happy sheen, is the result of Joe Boughton’s sixty-year immersion in the timeless jazz he loves, situated somewhere between King Oliver and Charlie Parker, with reverential nods to Mr. Condon, Mr. Strong, Mr. Waller, Mr. Wilson.  Joe is also the fierce champion of melodies that don’t get played elsewhere, and as the common parlance of jazz occasionally seems to shrink into a few syllables, Joe is trying to keep the beautiful repertoire of the past alive.  That means CHINA BOY, BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU, SKYLARK, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY, and others.  Play SATIN DOLL at a Boughton extravaganza and you might get glared at, which I understand. 

Jazz at Chautauqua has its own delightful conventions (and I don’t mean the clusters of people who gather around the coffee urn, the bar, the tables of compact discs and sheet music).  Thursday night is devoted to what Joe calls “informal music with all musicians in parlor room,” sometimes the most eloquent jazz of the whole weekend — loose jam session sets by bands Joe has assembled on the spot — no lighting, the musicians on the same level as the audience.  Friday afternoon is spent in the parlor around a grand piano, with a variety of solo recitals, and the opening blow-out that night begins as if we had returned to the Third Street Condon’s of 1947, with two front lines alternating and then joining forces for an unusual number (this year it was GOD BLESS AMERICA), a ballad medley, and an old favorite. 

Each day features an exalted version of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, because most of the Chautauqua players are also Nighthawks alumni — rather like an all-star baseball team behind their blue banners and music stands.  In between, there’s the occasional set by “the faux Frenchmen,” a QHCF group augmented this year by Andy Stein on violin, sets for the wondrous Rebecca Kilgore.  Musicians ranging in age from 29 to 87 come and go, and there’s a good deal of friendly conversation between players and listeners, with some players holding forth at length while sitting on the porch or leaning against the front desk.  (The Athenaeum, if you’ve never been there, is a delicious throwback: an entirely wooden hotel, over a hundred years old, with perhaps the most friendly, solicitous hotel staff on the planet.) 

In years past, I brought my notebook to Chautauqua and wrote down the details of every set.  This year, I abandoned my notebook for other methods of capturing the evanescent and as a result this reminiscence is more impressionistic than quantitative.  I was also busily chatting with friends David and Maxine Schacker, John Herr, John and Mary-Etta Bitter, Jim Adashek, Sally and Mick Fee, Caren Brodskey, and making new friends of Steve LaVere, Lois Lardieri, James Stewart, John and Helen Trudinger, as well as various Boughtons.  Essayist and art photographer Lorna Sass graciously offered her candid portraits for this post. 

What sticks in my mind is, of course, the music.  On Thursday night, after a witty set by “the faux Frenchmen,” a delicious band of Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Bob Reitmeier, Jim Dapogny, Vince Giordano, Marty Grosz, and John Von Ohlen took the stand, and offered seven tunes that paid homage to Red Nichols (a slow SHEIK OF ARABY), Louis (YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY) and the tradition of the “rhythm ballad,” with Marty Grosz’s earnest vocal on BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.  They were followed by Duke Heitger, Dan Block, Bob Havens, Ehud Asherie, Frank Tate, and Pete Siers, whose set reached a peak with SEPTEMBER SONG — featuring Duke, plunger-muted, and Dan Block, richly emotional.  Joe Wilder and Harry Allen floated over the wonderful rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello and Jon Burr for four leisurely numbers, ending with a growly JUST SQUEEZE ME and a BLUES in Bb.  Then, suitably inspired by what they had heard, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson (wearing a red-and-black shirt that had SPACE CADET or was it SPACE CHAMP printed on the front) hit five home runs, playing ecstatic tag with one another with the help of Ehud, Andy Brown, and Arnie Kinsella — a rhythm section that had probably never gotten together ever but produced gliding, propulsive swing.  The closing SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL was hilarious, hot, and intense. 

After that point, I put my notebook away — so what remains is a happy blur of solos, ensembles, and moments. 

ChauAndyStein09Andy Stein, shown here on violin, was even better on his secret weapon, the baritone sax, anchoring and boosting every group he played in.

Jim Dapogny, properly Professor Dapogny, jazz scholar, once again showed himself the invaluable member of every ensemble, his right hand landing with force and delicacy to produce ringing octaves; his left offering powerful stride and variations. 

 

ChauEhud09Just as impressive was Ehud Asherie, not yet thirty (someone I had recommended to Joe to fill the piano chair) who so impressed us all — whether recalling Donald Lambert or being harmonically and melodically adventurous.  One of the highlights of the first night was a long Asherie-Harry Allen duet set, capped by three numbers where Ehud invited Dan Barrett to join them.  Two horns plus a piano might seem lopsided, but it was a wonderfully balanced trio. 

Andy Schumm, the young Bixian from Wisconsin, continued to delight and amaze — not only with his evocations of the Beiderbecke era (his versions of RHYTHM KING and NO-ONE KNOWS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT) but with his delicate fluency: he would fit in anywhere and shine.  When I passed through the bandroom, I was touched to see Andy and Tom Pletcher, Bixians young and old, deep in conversation.  Too bad that they didn’t get to play a set together.

Guitarist Andy Brown reminded me happily of George Van Eps, his chordal traceries gleaming (he is one of those rare guitarists who knows better than to stun us with rapid-fire passages); he and the lovely Petra van Nuis offered two brief sets.  Petra, who appears girlish, has a surprising emotional range: she got absolute rapt attention at 9 in the morning with her opening song, a version of SERENATA.  (Later in the weekend, I prevailed upon the modern troubadour Edward Lovett to sing two songs, accompanying himself on the guitar: he’s somewhere between Seger Ellis, young Crosby, and Dave Frishberg — you’ll hear about him!) 

ChauDuke 09And there were non-musical moments: Duke Heitger, now the delighted father of two beautiful little girls, showing off their pictures and positively glowing with pride.  Marty Grosz, discoursing at length both on and off the stand — at one point discussing how current CD covers all show grinning performers and his reluctance to adopt that pose.  Marty also sang I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at the just-right 1931 ballad tempo, recalling his hero Red McKenzie. 

Jon-Erik Kellso, at his ease on the stand (he is an inestimable bandleader as well as player) and happily taking his ease with wife Jackie.  Rebecca Kilgore, getting so pleased with the rhythm and solos her accompanists were creating that she indulged in a good deal of ladylike trucking on the stand (as well as singing better than ever). 

ChauJoe09

On one of Rebecca’s sets, Joe Wilder was so buoyed by the rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello, Jon Burr, and Pete Siers, that he flew through dazzling solos — leading Dan Block, as a spectator, to say, “Unbelievable!” while shaking his head in amazed delight.  Scott Robinson, playing a luminous AT SUNDOWN on trumpet.  That same Dan Block, eloquent on clarinet, bass clarinet, and various saxophones, his body always reflecting the power of the music flowing through him.  An impassioned I CAN’T GET STARTED by Duke Heitger, who saw the heights of passion and attained them.  Arnie Kinsella, the poet of volcanic ebullience, hitting his cowbell in a solo, as he said later, “as loud as he could,” because he wanted to — in a way that we agreed was a celebration of joyous impulse and a Bronx cheer in the face of death. 

The music still rings in my ears.  And I am thrilled to announce that on Sunday, Joe Boughton was busily signing up musicians for next year’s Jazz at Chautauqua.  I’ll have to wait, but it won’t be easy. 

I’ll have more to say about this ecstatic weekend in posts to come.

CHRIS ALBERTSON’S NEW BLOG

http://stomp-off.blogspot.com/2009/08/chris-albertson-credits-artistdirect.html

chris

If Chris Albertson’s name doesn’t mean much to you, perhaps you haven’t been exposed to much in jazz.  He’s written the definitive biography of Bessie Smith (and rewrote it when new information emerged); he’s produced many recording sessions with people from Roy Eldridge, Bud Freeman, Dave Frishberg, Jo Jones, Elmer Snowden, Clark Terry, Earl Hines, Lonnie Johnson . . . . he roomed with the Baron Timme Rosenkrantz; he seems to have encountered everyone possible. 

Chris is also a forthright writer and careful archivist.  The photos on his site show something of his range — from Charles Mingus to Lucille Hegamin, from Don Pullen and Johnny Griffin to Pops Foster and Lovie Austin!

So I was thrilled to find out that he has begun a jazz blog.  And it’s not the usual thing — “The records I like” — but first-hand experience.  The stories that impressed me greatly were Lil Hardin Armstrong’s recollections of what Joe Oliver told her about his childhood (!) and the sad, odd tale of the life and death of Linda Kuehl — who did much of the pioneering research on Billie Holiday.  I’ll keep this post brief because I want to see what Chris has posted since I checked last.  Welcome to the blogosphere, Chris, and thank you!