Tag Archives: Dave Miller

LEGENDS REVISITED: THE SONS OF BIX (Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978: Tom Pletcher, Don Ingle, John Harker, Don Gibson, Russ Whitman, Dave Miller, Glenn Koch) with an APPRECIATION by DAVID JELLEMA

Of course, the Legends are Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Adrian Rollini, and their majestic colleagues.  But from this distance — can it be a little more than forty years ago? — Messrs. Pletcher, Ingle, Harker, Gibson, Whitman, Miller, and Koch are legendary as well.

I asked someone who is too young to be a legend but certainly plays like one, David Jellema, to write an appreciation of this band, this video, and Tom Pletcher, and I am delighted to present it to you.  David, whom I’ve known for more than a few years, is a world-class cornet and clarinet hero, hot and lyrical, his work intelligent and passionate, his style all his own even when he is paying tribute to the Masters who have inspired him.  At the end of this presentation, I’ll share a few videos where David shines and list a few sessions that delightfully showcase his work.

But now, to the Sons, through David’s affectionate and perceptive lens.

In the 1970s and 80s, many of the founding fathers of jazz and swing, although in their twilight years, were fortunately yet with us. It was also a great time for the second generation of jazzmen not only to be personally influenced by the ancestors, but to be mingling and collaborating to make their own unique sweet preserves of musical fruits. Bands featured at many of the revival traditional jazz festivals tapped specific, living veins of American jazz heritage.

There were a few bands on the scene that dedicated themselves to the memorialization of the legend of Bix Beiderbecke, some featured over the years at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society jazz festival in Davenport, Iowa where Bix was born. One such specialty band, western Michigan’s “The Jackpine Savages,” formed in 1971, had the expected repertoire of traditional jazz standards and many tunes that Beiderbecke had recorded, but had the honored distinction of including leader Don Ingle (Baldwin, Michigan) on valve trombone and vocals, and Tom Pletcher (Montague, Michigan) on cornet.

Ingle’s father, Ernest ‘Red’ Ingle, played tenor sax and violin,and over his career had recorded with Ted Weems, Spike Jones Orchestra, and his own group,the Natural Seven. For an engagement in Cincinnati in May and June 1927, Red appeared on tenor sax with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra. So Don Ingle (1931-2012, who, as an infant, had been held in Bix’s own arms), inheriting his father’s music, humor, and artistic talents, was tutored on cornet by Red Nichols, on arranging by Matty Matlock, and played at Chicago’s Jazz Limited in the mid ‘60s. When he formed The Jackpine Savages in the early 1970s to play at the Lost Valley Lodge on Lake Michigan’s shore near Montague (also for various appearances locally and at aforementioned festivals), he switched to the valve trombone and hired local business-man Pletcher to play the cornet.It was just a few years later that Ingle collaborated with Chicago-based bandleader and piano player Don Gibson (Al Capone Memorial Jazz Band) in forming the Bix-style repertory band heard here, the “Sons of Bix,” whose repertoire and arrangements were primarily informed by Bix’s recordings and as well by period tunes Bix may have played.

This cornet player, Tom Pletcher (1936-2019), was fortunate to have been born to a sterling jazz trumpet player who had played in a few of the earliest jazz groups in collegiate circles. Stewart (“Stu” or “Stew”) Pletcher had friends and associates among the likes of Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett, and Roy Eldridge (who had once exclaimed to young Tom sweet profanities of praise about his dad), and played professionally for Ben Pollack, Smith Ballew, Red Norvo. Young Tom had the nurturing environment of the earliest of the jazz pioneers even in his home growing up; and at 15, hearing his first Bix record, decided to take up the cornet. After formative youth years on the West Coast, adult Pletcher ended up taking over his grandfather’s decorative metal business in the White Lake, Michigan area (something his jazz musician father was not in position nor disposition to do) throughout a good deal of his life. This metal fabricator shop was a little more than 7 miles from where Ingle’s band would play at that lone restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan shores.

Pletcher’s fascination with Beiderbecke’s music led him into remarkable musical circumstances and personal associations that fueled and lent credence to his knowledge of Bix’s life and music. He corresponded with and visited the homes of the guys who had known and played with Bix. As a layman, he was diligent in seeking, and lucky in finding, not only information, facts, and stories about Bix, but even unseen pictures and a previously unheard recording, thereby to a small degree aiding in the research of Phil Evans toward two different exhaustive books about Bix. In that respect alone he deserves some credit toward the shaping of a factual account of Bix’s life beyond romantic and apocryphal mythologies and fantasies, something the dreamy jazz icon was victim to even before his tragic early death.

Pletcher’s acute intimacy with Bix’s music found its real recognition, however, in how he played a Getzen Eterna cornet(–one from 1965 that Ingle sold to him when Tom joined the Jackpines, and another large bore Eterna he bought in 1987). Certainly Pletcher had been influenced by his own father, Stu, and the musicians Stu associated with (especially Armstrong and Teagarden). Pletcher was an avid fan of Bobby Hackett, and often could deliver a solo sounding convincingly like the gentle man from Providence. He loved the recordings of Bunny Berigan, listening til the end of his life. Tom had acquired and absorbed all the lp records of Chet Baker. (Pletcher was also a keen listener, with Bix, to the music of the French Impressionist composers, Debussy, Ravel, and Delius, beautiful sounds that also influenced how he felt the music.) So a broad base of jazz (and classical) sounds made for a rich depth and diversity of the ideas that he expressed on the horn: he didn’t just play Bix’s licks or try to copy Bix. (The note-for-note tribute solo features like “Singin’ the Blues” mark the rare exception).

It was the extent to which Pletcher had absorbed and internalized technical aspects of Bix’s playing (attack and articulation, tone, vibrato, dynamics, effects and idiosyncrasies, and often, humor) without slavishly or consciously copying Beiderbecke that allowed him the acclaim among fans and musicians, contemporaneous to his generation and that of Beiderbecke’s, that he had come closest to Bix’s sound and spirit of anyone to date. All the other influences that had seasoned his playing allowed him freedom to express his own modern feel of the Bixian sound, keeping those sounds fresh.

Among musicians in the 1980s and early 1990s, he would be the first call to sit in “Bix’s chair” for a host of projects that recreated that period in repertory bands. While yet still alive, Bill Challis, the Bix-friendly arranger for the famous Jean Goldkette Orchestra and Paul Whiteman Orchestra (and the man who transcribed and published Bix’s piano compositions), joined with protégé Vince Giordano to do some newer, expanded renditions of songs from the Goldkette years, including tunes Bix had recorded and some he hadn’t. Legendary piano demi-god and musical powerhouse Dick Hyman had Pletcher featured in a 92nd Street Y concert in New York City (and subsequent CD for Arbors Records) called “If Bix Played Gershwin,” a delicious pallet of all Gershwin tunes rendered as if they had been played in some of the formats that Bix had been grouped in. (Actually, only one Gershwin song from the concert was one that Bix had recorded, “Sunny Disposish.”) An Italian film producer had Pletcher playing the Bixian lead and solos for the stellar soundtrack of a not-so-stellar film loosely based on Bix’s life called “Bix: An Interpretation of a Legend.” John Otto’s “Hotel Edison Roof Orchestra” made in two recordings the perfect setting for Pletcher’s sound: hot jazz arrangements from Jean Goldkette, California Ramblers, Ted Weems, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Sam Lanin, Frank Skinner, and more.

A word must be said about one of Pletcher’s longest standing gigs of fairly consistent personnel. Pletcher played yearly among a group of musicians who gathered to play at Princeton 50th class reunions (months of June, 1975-1981), partly to entertain alumni, but mostly to enjoy their own private ongoing reunions of musicians who were fond of Bix’s music and some who were there when Bix played at Princeton near the end of his life. Squirrel Ashcraft, Bill Priestley, Jack Howe, and other Princeton grads had continued playing music under Bix’s spell at jam sessions in the 40s, 50s, and 60s; they were joined by later Princeton grads like Ron Hockett and Doug James, and collegiate and commercial band alumni like Spencer Clark, Bud Wilson, and Bob Haggart. The music had Eddie Condon-like small group spirit and freedom, and a relaxed approach. Live recordings from these were privately issued on vinyl for the musicians, friends, and alumni. They too called themselves “Sons of Bix.” They later went into Jazzology studios to record formal lps under Haggart’s name, with arrangements on “Clementine” and “In a Mist” by Hockett. They also did a number of private parties on the east coast that carried the reunion flames forth, one among many in Vero Beach which produced a nice album of cassettes with a complete 8-page history of the various “Sons of Bix” configurations over the decades, written by Jack Howe.

The Sons of Bix that you hear in this video (originally calling themselves, tongue in cheek, “The Sons of Bix’s”) only have Pletcher in common with the Princeton Reunion Sons of Bix, although their personnel may have had associations in the Evanston, Illinois jam sessions at Squirrel’s. These SOBs had three lp albums that were released (“A Legend Revisited” on Fairmont Records;“Ostrich Walk,” “Copenhagen”both on Jazzology). One was recorded but not issued on vinyl, and only in part much later online, called “San.” They played at the popular traditional jazz festivals like San Diego, Central City, and Sacramento. They toured Europe in 1979, playing in numerous countries and at the Breda Jazz Festival. (That is no small feat for loads of luggage, many horn and drum cases, a bass sax, train schedules and coaches, plane rides, small alleys, streets, and bars, wives and my own tagging aunt and uncle..)

In their “first East Coast appearance,” introduced here by the director of the DC-area Manassas Jazz Festival, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, the personnel consists of Glenn Koch, drums; Don Ingle, announcer, valve trombone, arranger, co-leader; Don Gibson, piano, arranger, co-leader; John Harker on clarinet and alto sax; Dave Miller, banjo and guitar; Tom Pletcher, cornet; and Russ Whitman, bass saxophone. In this video you’ll hear six songs that Beiderbecke had recorded, and one traditional tune they occasionally played.

I heard this band live for the first time at this very festival. I was a little boy, almost 14, with a bowl-cut Dutch-boy head of blonde hair and corduroy pants climbing high over white socks. I joined some of them for a brief after-hours jam session, along with another young Bix-Pletcher protégé named Ralph Norton, whose hair was slicked back and parted down the middle. (By the next time I heard them live, Ralph and I were in a cordial race to see who could part with his hair first.)Fast forward. In August 1987, I was just graduated from college, and for that summer was at my family farmhouse near Montague, Michigan (within a 12-minute walk from the Lost Valley Lodge where I first had heard the Jackpine Savages as a lad). The Sons of Bix had two appearances in the area the 8th and 9th, one at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp with guest Marian McPartland, in which she joined the band for a standard, played “In a Mist” solo, and did a haunting duet of “Stardust” with Pletcher. The next day,the SOBs were at a country club near Muskegon. Tom was playing that weekend on a brand new, large-bore Getzen Eterna, and any adjustments he needed to get used to the feel of the new horn on its maiden voyage Saturday night had been made into a crackling performance for the local jazz society the next day.

Unfortunately, life was making demands on me that did not allow me any further opportunities to hear this band live. But the lp records had to suffice, and the magic had been done on me. In either case, here was a band that liked playing together, liked the specific material they were reviving and reshaping, played with energy and cohesion, joked and giggled a lot. They had intelligent arrangements when needed, they could hug the ballads, and could fire up listeners with the standard barn-burners of the genre. Each musician was a seasoned, veteran master at his craft. Each one had remarkable personal connection to his antecedents at a time when some of those musical forebears were still alive to enjoy their own memories and these new achievements.

I have resisted a number of other opportunities herein to insert myself further into the narrative about this band and its roots, about Ingle, and especially about Pletcher. I will simply close with a note of gratitude to them for their loving treatment of their musical heroes and their influence on the younger musicians they had the chance to shape, to the two horn players that especially mentored me, to all the other musicians who play in these sounds, and finally to the historians, archivists, and documenters that have the cultivating hands in making this tree continue to grow in the shape of a musician from Davenport, Iowa.

And now, that 1978 session.  SUSIE / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / BORNEO / CARELESS LOVE / THOU SWELL / CLEMENTINE / FIDGETY FEET // Introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee: Tom Pletcher (cornet), Don Ingle (valve trombone), John Harker (clarinet), Don Gibson (piano), Russ Whitman (bass sax), Dave Miller (guitar, banjo), Glenn Koch (drums).

Back to David for a rewarding short interlude.

What could be nicer than four friends romping through a jazz evergreen: Albanie Falletta, David, Jonathan Doyle, and Jamey Cummins in 2014:

More friends, the Thrift Set Orchestra (yes, that’s Hal Smith!) in 2013, doing KRAZY KAPERS:

Many of the same rascals, plus the wonderful Alice Spencer, in 2014:

You can also hear David on the Brooks Prumo Orchestra’s THIS YEAR’S KISSES, two sessions by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet, THE ROAD TO LEAVING and LIVE AT THE SAHARA LOUNGE, as well as FLOYD DOMINO ALL-STARS.

May your happiness increase!

THE BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE: JOE POLICASTRO TRIO, “SCREEN SOUNDS”

I’ve always been fascinated by the music filmmakers used, detached from the films themselves.  Get those actors, children, animals, props out of the way: remove the dialogue, let us hear the sounds.

The very imaginative and lyrical string bassist Joe Policastro has created a new CD, SCREEN SOUNDS, that is more than gratifying.  With Joe are guitarist Dave Miller and drummer Mikel Avery, and their music is as good as any film that holds viewers spellbound.

You can tell from the cover — serious and whimsical at the same time — that this is no trip back to the Fifties, LEROY HOLMES AND HIS ORCHESTRA (or the 101 Strings) PLAY MOVIE  THEMES, but neither is it MUSIC TO TORMENT YOUR HOUSEMATES WHO DISLIKE JAZZ.

This project is a happily inventive — and I would say audacious — creative enterprise.  It’s not nostalgia, although the themes from famous films and television shows are initially recognizable.  But the trio thoughtfully “re-imagines” the original music which is, in most cases, evocative.  Audacious?  For one thing, the original music was almost always scored for larger ensembles, so that reinventing it for this trio is both ingenious and loving (you’ll note that “irony,” or deconstruction is not their purpose).  “We put such a personal stamp on it [the original material] that these things belong to us” stands as a meaningful comment in the video above.

Here is the trio’s fascinating look-from-the-inside-out at the theme from YOJIMBO, as thoughtful and deep as a film on its own, mixing lyricism and strangeness (and that’s a compliment):

YOJIMBO’s dark brooding is, however, not the one musical theme of the CD. EVERYBODY’S TALKIN’ mixes melancholy and swing, sweetness and forward motion: the end result seriously danceable.  But it’s not pandering to an imagined audience in any way: even when the Trio is respectfully sounding out the melody, theirs is not cocktail music for the reception: you have to provide your own hors d’oeuvres.  (You’ll want to.)  The theme from THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS has its own dramatic arc, but it’s not like anything that came out of anyone’s television on a weekday afternoon.  COOL HAND LUKE is surprisingly light-hearted (it works its way into a shuffle) helping me imagine an alternative screenplay where the convicts form a band and get paroled to gig.

I’ll stop here (although I am writing this blog having listened to the CD several times with great pleasure) so that you can find out the lyrical pleasures of this imaginative travelogue for yourselves.  Popcorn optional.  You’re on your own.

Here you can preview and purchase the CD; here you can see and hear their version of the theme from THE KIDS IN THE HALL and find out where the Trio will be performing next.

May your happiness increase!

“POPS!”: JOE POLICASTRO TRIO (DAVE MILLER, MIKEL AVERY, with guests ANDY BROWN, ANDY PRATT)

I am seriously out of touch with the pop culture of my generation.  Wake me at 4 AM, ask me for ten facts about Lester Young, and I can do it.  But Neil Young? Sorry.  There’s only so much space left on my internal hard drive, and if I choose to devote it to alternate takes of Sally Gooding with Teddy Wilson, go ahead and laugh.

When I received a copy of the fine Chicago bassist Joe Policastro’s new CD, below, I immediately thought that it would be related to Louis Armstrong.

JOE POLICASTRO 2016_pops cover

But once I started to listen, I was happy to have been wrong, since the music here is wonderful, an antidote to crabby narrowness.  Hear for yourself — the trio of Joe, the fine guitarist Dave Miller (whom I’ve admired — alongside Lena Bloch — in a variety of New York City surroundings), and the listening drummer Mikel Avery — working on the Sixties pop classic WIVES AND LOVERS here.  (I had that 45 single — by Jack Jones — in 1963 0r 4.)

Here’s Joe.  The music he creates is not as somber as this portrait:

JOE POLICASTRO

And Joe’s website.

I would like to see this CD in wide circulation, because the improvisations are so delightful.  Many of us have an unshakable fondness for certain songs — whether on their own terms, or because of sentimental associations — and we often want to hear jazz musicians improvise on just those songs.  I won’t enter into the needless argument whether Strayhorn is better than Porter or whether either of them is better than “those kids” Stevie Wonder and Prince.  Truly, once we brush away our associations, a strong melody is appealing, no matter who wrote it or when.  Think of Clark Terry and friends jamming on the FLINTSTONES theme.

So I dream of being in a car with a few Official Jazz Fans whose allegiances are clearly defined — let us say early Basie, 1960 Duke, Norvo-Farlow-Mingus, and so on, and playing this CD without identifying it.  And when the quibbling breaks out from the back, “Hey, Michael, that sounds good!  Who is it?  Let me have the CD sleeve so I can stop listening closely to the music and make judgments based on my reactions to people’s names, players and composers both!  I’ve got a little conceptual box right here!” I could politely say, “Please.  Just listen to the music and tell me what you think.  Life is only a Blindfold Test for people who want to be Blindfolded.”

I think they would come to the consensus that the music was superb, as I already have.  And then we could discuss players.  “That’s Joe Policastro!  What a fine bassist he is — I’ve seen and heard him with Andy Brown and Petra van Nuis.  He sings on his instrument.  And Dave Miller, full of surprise: I admired his work with Lena Bloch some time back.  That drummer Mikel is really swinging and paying attention.  And Andy twice — Brown and Pratt.  Where can I get this disc?”

Of course, some of the imaginary jazz fans in my car might recognize a few of the pop classics.  I know they would admire the gleeful, heartfelt transformations that Joe’s trio creates.

This disc would be an absolute hit with people who knew the pop originals but were ready to say how they didn’t like jazz, couldn’t listen to it, didn’t understand what “those people” were doing up there without any music stands.

For the record, the songs are WIVES AND LOVERS (Bachrach) / HARVEST MOON (Neil Young) / CREEPIN’ (Stevie Wonder) / WAVE OF MUTILATION (The Pixies) / MORE THAN A WOMAN (Bee Gees) / PRINCE MEDLEY: CONDITION OF THE HEART and DIAMONDS AND PEARLS / ME AND MRS. JONES (Billy Paul) / US AND THEM (Pink Floyd) / TAKE IT WITH ME (Tom Waits) / DRIVE (The Cars).

This session isn’t rock-pop played by jazz people in safe ways — for old folks who don’t want to be disturbed (i.e., wedding band music for those with delicate sensibilities).  There’s a good deal of inspired exploration, guitar sounds that made me think of TWIN PEAKS, energetic percussion.  No one would snooze through this disc: it’s not the twenty-first century version of THE HOLLYRIDGE STRINGS PLAY THE BEATLES.

POPS! is engaging inventive music.  And we’ll never have too much of that.

May your happiness increase!

FEATHERY MUSIC, GENTLE QUESTIONS: LENA BLOCH

I’ve always heard that attorneys only ask questions to which they know the answers. I have nothing against them individually or as a group, but this seems like a closed loop of an endeavor.  The tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch is on a more inspiring track: she asks questions for which there might be no simple answer, no single answer.  Asking the question is the purpose and the rewarding result. I have been admiring her musical inquiries as often as possible during the last few years our paths have intersected in New York City, and have seen her as a very authentic player — someone devoted to melodic explorations that, while gentle, have weight and seriousness to balance off their soaring possibilities.

ajazz bloch

Lena has a wonderful new CD, FEATHERY — it’s her debut CD as a leader, and as you read this it will be available, as a physical CD or as downloads, with sound samples, hereShould you prefer to voyage up the Amazon, you can ask your own questions and purchase a copy here. It’s on Thirteenth Note Records, and Lena’s curious, inventive colleagues are drummer Billy Mintz, string bassist Cameron Brown, guitarist Dave Miller.

Knowing can easily be confused with wisdom. Lena Bloch, Dave Miller, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz are deeply aware that real wisdom is in the tireless asking of questions, not an irritable straining to come up with the one right answer.  Their willingness to inquire, this gentle wondering, informs their music.   Rather than treat this grouping of players and voices as it usually is done (ensemble line, solos, drum fours, ensemble), they often take the opportunity to ask questions of the music itself.

The music created by these four artists is far more subtle and affecting than hearing another jazz quartet working its own variations on Playing What We Already Know.  The art – for let us call it by its right name – is feathery-light and durable.  I hear Lester Young and Brahms, sorrows and exultations, Eastern meditation and collective invention.

The music is strong and sweet, dense and welcoming.  The musicians have sensations to share with us, secrets made tangible, their language too deep for words.

Lena Bloch does not announce herself as courageous, and I think she would start giggling if you told her this was the case.  But she surely is.  Her artistic courage is not a matter of being big, bold, and loud. She approaches the music with tender reverence.  But she is not afraid to venture into new spaces in pursuit of beauty.  Her models and mentors  knew that the cosmos could be dark and terrifying, but the only human response to the void was to speak, through playing and composing, know how to keep terrors at bay.  I will fill the air with floating sounds. I will be brave enough to say WHO IS OUT THERE? I will soar above on feathers of melody.

Lena’s friends and colleagues on this disc are equally inspired. They trust themselves, and their loving energy comes through in every note sounded.  They fly happily. No sun dares to melt their wings.

And the music on this disc continues to resonate once the disc has concluded.  Billy, Dave, and Cameron are great painters of sound. They listen to their hearts; they listen to their instruments; they listen to each other. They create a world where Beauty is not only possible, but inevitable. Their sounds will guide us into the darkness and into the light.  Hear them, and be uplifted.

I’m not the only one who admires Lena’s questing spirit and FEATHERY: here is Dan McCleneghan’s review in All About Jazz.

Once you’ve visited Lena’s website and seen more of the videos there, once you’ve heard FEATHERY, you could attend a quartet gig at the most convivial of spaces, The Drawing Room, on 56 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn, New York: Sunday, March 30, at 7:30, and the group will be Lena, Putter Smith, string bass; Dave Miller, and Billy Mintz.

Whatever ways you can, find and find out more about Lena Bloch.

May your happiness increase!

APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH, or NEW YORK JOYS (2013)

Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow.  I have something for you.”

ny skyline

These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:

Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.

And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.

T.S. Eliot had it wrong.  Just another average jazz-month in New York.

P.S.  This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .

May your happiness increase.

GLIDING ALOFT: LENA BLOCH, FRANK CARLBERG, DAVE MILLER, BILLY MINTZ at The Finland Center (April 13, 2013)

Sometimes the best music presents us with the answers: This is how it is, and this is how it should be.  Other musical explorations seem to ask Beethoven’s question: Must it be?  Or perhaps What lies beyond?

The quartet of musicians who enlarged our horizons on April 13, 2013, at the Finland Center, asked the latter question — sweetly, not abrasively — and let us compose our own answers.  They are Lena Bloch, tenor saxophone; Frank Carlberg, keyboard; Billy Mintz, drums; Dave Miller, guitar.

I invite you to join their inquiries, to allow their music to lift you aloft.

Monk’s WE SEE:

Lena’s HIGH POINT:

Billy’s FLIGHT:

Berlin’s series of questions, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?:

Ted Brown’s FEATHER BED:

Lena’s TWO OCEANS OF MADNESS:

Dave’s RUBATO:

And the concert ended ALL TOO SOON:

All of these fine vibrations were created by these four eminent courageous players . . . but we also thank Janna Rehnstrom of the Finland Center Foundation for giving this music a home — for establishing a regular concert series here, at the Salmagundi Club, 47 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York — details here.

May your happiness increase.

OH, HOW SHE CAN IMPROVISE! (DARYL SHERMAN, April 18 / LENA BLOCH, April 17)

Maybe it’s the jazz emergence of SPRING IS HERE . . . but I’ve never seen a month in New York City so crammed with enticing opportunities to see and hear great improvisers.

Two gigs in the near future feature women instrumentalists (one of them sings, too!) in different parts of Manhattan.  As a prelude to the May showing of THE GIRLS IN THE BAND, how about some intriguing gender-neutral swing?

The uniquely playful singer / pianist Daryl Sherman will be performing at the Kitano on Thursday, April 18 — with the inquisitive Scott Robinson on reeds or brass or some combination, and Harvie S on string bass.  I know the bill of fare will be a nicely-cooked assortment of swing tunes, pretty ballads, obscure but deserving songs, witty and energized.

daryl_at_kitano_web (1)

A day earlier, (Wednesday, April 17) tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch will be performing at the Salmagundi Club (Finland Center) at 47 Fifth Avenue, beginning at 8 PM in the bar.  Lena will be joined by Dave Miller, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums, and the exceptional pianist / composer Frank Carlberg.  It’s billed as an International Jazz Quartet, accurately:

This international jazz quartet is a project on interactive, spontaneous, freshly performed compositional activity, where all four band members are featured as soloists and composers.  

Originally a native of Helsinki, Finland, Frank Carlberg has been involved in many crossover projects throughout the years. Some of his most notable collaborations have included performances and recordings with Steve Lacy, Bob Brookmeyer, and Kenny Wheeler. He has been commissioned to write music for big bands, small ensembles, symphony orchestras as well as modern dance companies. Carlberg also serves on the faculty at New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music.

Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door — and can be purchased here.

Two adjacent evenings of intriguing music — joyous, exploratory, gratifying.  Make a date!

May your happiness increase.

TENDER QUESTIONS: LENA BLOCH, DAN TEPFER, DAVE MILLER, BILLY MINTZ at THE FIREHOUSE SPACE (Dec. 9, 2012)

A chilly damp December night in Brooklyn — but The Firehouse Space was warmed by the inquiring music of Lena Bloch, tenor saxophone; Dan Tepfer, piano; Dave Miller, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.

Rather than treat this grouping of players and voices in a traditional way (ensemble line, solos, drum fours, ensemble), Lena, Dan, Dave, and Billy approached this set as an opportunity to ask questions of the music, to sweetly probe the possibilities of four improvisers on the same stand.  So the music seemed a series of inquiries and hypothetical questions given substance: “What would happen if you and I conversed in this manner for a time?”

And the results were deeply rewarding.  It was a privilege to be there and equally a privilege to be able to share this music with you.  If you expect the expected, the brave explorations of this quartet may surprise . . . but their respect for the music comes through in every note and rest, every solo and improvised colloquy.

The enigmatic title of Lena’s composition, HIGH POINT OF FLAT HILLS, has an intriguing explanation.  You’ll have to ask her at her next gig (January 31, 2013):

Variations on OUT OF NOWHERE:

The occasionally mournful reharmonization of the familiar STAR EYES:

The sweet, searching question: HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?:

Lena’s own 33:

Improvisations on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE / SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (which Lee Konitz tells everyone was not his title):

Testing the waters, taking chances gently, experimenting with new combinations, flavors, textures, essences . . . .

May your happiness increase.

ROSES IN DECEMBER: TED BROWN, THE EARREGULARS GO NORTH, LENA BLOCH (December 2 / December 9 / December 13, 2012)

“Mark it down.”

Rather than spending your energies on Black Friday hysteria, how about some inspired music?

The memorable tenor saxophonist / composer Ted Brown will be celebrating his eighty-fifth birtthday in December . . . in the best possible way, avoiding the sheet cake and M&Ms but choosing instead to give us all thoughtful, sweet-natured lessons on what improvisation is all about.  Two gatherings deserve your attention.

One — on Sunday, December 2, will take place at Michael Kanan’s serene studio in Brooklyn, The Drawing Room, on Willoughby Street.  The musical gathering will also celebrate the release of two new Ted Brown CDs — POUND CAKE, with cornetist Kirk Knuffke, and TWO OF A KIND with reedman Brad Linde.  The gala starts at 7:30 PM; admission is a mere $10, and the location is 70 Willoughby Street, # 2A.  Also appearing will be Matt Wilson, Murray Wall, Taro Okamoto, Sarah Hughes, Michael Kramer, Michael Kanan, and special guests.  Here’s the Facebook event page.

Cornetist Kirk Knuffke is someone new to me — but as you’ll hear, he has a deep lyricism reminiscent of Tony Fruscella.  With pianist Jesse Stacken, he explores Ellington’s SUNSET AND THE MOCKINGBIRD:

Two — On Thursday, December 13, the eloquent trumpeter Bob Arthurs will be hosting a continuation of the party for Ted — with Ted himself — at Somethin’ Jazz Club 212 East 52nd Street, third floor, from 7 to 9 PM.  The Facebook event page is here.  Joining Ted and Bob will be Jon Easton, piano; Joe Solomon, bass; Barbara Merjan, drums.

Here are Ted and Michael Kanan in duet at the Kitano (January 12, 2011) creating a tender, searching PRISONER OF LOVE:

Moving right along, in swing time . . .

For those who find it difficult to be at The Ear Inn on a Sunday night (a problem I have never been troubled by), the EarRegulars are playing a rare off-site gig on Sunday, December 9 — at 2 PM at the Rockland Center for the Arts.  This edition of the EarRegulars will have Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (the co-founders); Pete Martinez, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass.  Not to be missed!  Details / reservations as noted above.

Here’s a near-match: the EarRegulars in 2011, playing RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE  joyously — Kellso, Munisteri, Martinez, and bassist Greg Cohen:

On that same Sunday, the coolly intent, always swinging tenorist Lena Bloch will be playing at the Firehouse Space in Brooklyn, with Dan Tepfer, piano; Dave Miller, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.  The gig starts at 8 PM, and the Space is at 246 Frost Street in Brooklyn, New York: more details here.

Here’s Lena with Dave Miller, Putter Smith, and Billy Mintz from 2012 — appropriately playing Ted Brown’s FEATHER BED:
I would like to be at all four of these gigs and will do my best — but my presence and my video camera (when permitted) can’t fill the room or the tip jar — is that sufficiently subtle? — so I hope friends of the music will join me to celebrate these happy occasions.
May your happiness increase.

TRANSLUCENT EXPLORATIONS: LENA BLOCH QUARTET at SOMETHIN’ JAZZ (April 29, 2012)

I first met the tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch in fast company — alongside Joel Press, Brad Linde, Ted Brown, Michael Kanan.  And I was impressed immediately by her expertise and willingness to explore the unknown, what Sam Parkins called “precision and abandon.”

I haven’t managed to make it to as many of Lena’s gigs as I would like, but I made a special effort to get to this one: at a new club, Somethin’ Jazz (very nice!) on East 52nd Street between Second and Third Avenues, a ten-dollar cover and a ten-dollar minimum, with a new group for Lena — guitarist Dave Miller, drummer Billy Mintz, and bassist Putter Smith.  (With this group, she will be recording her debut CD, UNFOREHEARD.)  On the final two performances of this evening, pianist Roberta Piket sat in, most eloquently.

The music created wasn’t a reheating of the familiar.  In fact, the first two selections were floating inquiries rather than boxed-in statements of formulas, and I felt that the musicians had embarked on improvisational journeys even when the chord structures beneath the performances were familiar.  Lena guided the group but was also a gentle participant who didn’t demand the prerogatives of A Leader.  Each song embodied a gentle communal awareness, with a crucial openness-to-experience that we could feel.

Much of my pleasure was also in encountering musicians I had not known well if at all before this evening.  I had heard Putter Smith on several recordings, and musicians whose opinions I respect had spoken most fervently of him, but I was not prepared for the variety of sonorities he created, the sweet validity of his sound.  Dave Miller, bless him, didn’t feel compelled to fill space with notes and runs.  I could feel him thinking, quietly, “What might I add here?  Perhaps it could be a lovely silence.”

Billy Mintz is a revelation.  My drumming heroes of the past and present keep time, create colors, and drive the band forward — all noble aspirations.  Although Billy is intuitively connected to the rhythms that the band might float on, he is never mechanical, never content to create predictable patterns.  He struck me most strongly as thinking of what color, what texture, would best fit the situation — making it happen and then moving on to something new, never entrapping himself or the band.  He is soft-spoken and intent in person, equally so at the drums.  Like Dave and Putter, he is poetic without being showy, generous yet spare.

All I will say about Roberta Piket is that I want to hear her play more and again: she has a great deal of technique and accuracy, but it never dominates her music.  Her soloing and accompaniment were elegant but not fussy; she added so much without calling attention to herself.

Lena was free and brave, questing towards something whose name she might not have known, but getting somewhere satisfying — whether humming almost in a whisper, echoing the songs of a mythological bird, or showing that she, too, could follow the Tristano – Konitz – Marsh – Brown path without being hemmed in by its rules and obligations.

At the end of the evening, I felt as if I had witnessed art both translucent and powerful, with echoes of Lester Young and Brahms, of Eastern meditation and collective invention: strong but never harsh, sweetly fulfilling in its desire to ask questions without worrying about conclusions.

Some of my more “traditionally-minded” readers might think this music more open-ended than they would like . . . and they are free, as always, to recall Chaucer’s gentle encouragement to choose another page.  But if they embrace the bravery that animates the jazz they so love, I invite them to choose a performance based on “familiar chord changes” and start there.  I predict that open-hearted listening will make their hearts more light and more full.

Here is the music that made me write the elated words you have, I hope, read.

Lena’s questing original, 33:

Billy’s BEAUTIFUL YOU:

Ted Brown’s FEATHER BED (based on the chord changes of YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO):

Lena’s mournful reharmonization of STAR EYES — making it both deep and surprising:

MARSHMALLOW (based on CHEROKEE — by Warne Marsh with the bridge written by Lee Konitz:

Dave Miller’s deep searching RUBATO:

Roberta Piket joined in for Lena’s own HI LEE (based on HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN):

And Lena concluded the evening’s explorations with SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (written by Mr. Konitz but not titled by him — based on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?):

These musicians take us with them on their voyages.  I am exceedingly grateful.

May your happiness increase.

GENEROSITIES: OUR FRIEND IN JAZZ, LENA BLOCH

The superb tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch is ready to make her first CD in May 2012 with Dave Miller, Cameron Brown, and Billy Mintz.  If you haven’t heard Lena play, the company she keeps should indicate her worth: Mal Waldron, Joe Lovano, Johnny Griffin, Ted Brown, Michael Kanan, Evgeny Sivtsov, Kenny Werner, Brad Linde, Joel Press . . .

To learn more about Lena’s history, her compositions — to hear and see her play — click here.

Here she is in May 2011 in duet with Evgeny on EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME:

I am delighted that she is finally going to allow her music to be heard beyond YouTube videos and club dates.  But such enterprises need a little help from friends . . .

In another world, Lena would be the happy recipient of a substantial government grant — but such things aren’t easy to come by in 2012, especially if you are “a foreign artist without a home country.”

So she has begun the most modest campaign on Kickstarter — to raise $2000 for the disc.  (I’ve never seen a campaign that started with contributions of five dollars — something that speaks to Lena’s essential modesty and humility.)  As always with Kickstarter, there are a variety of “rewards,” depending on how much one can contribute to the project.  All the money will go to pay the musicians, for studio time, mixing and mastering costs.  (Did I say that the CD has the clever title of UNFOREHEARD?)

The contributions are being handled through Amazon, so no one will be charged anything until the deadline, which is May 13.  At 2 AM, to be exact.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/813167235/lena-bloch-debut-cd-unforeheard?ref=live

The CD will feature improvising — individual and collective — on themes and freely . . . and it will be dedicated to Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh.

Lena Bloch and her music — what she is creating now and what she will create — deserve your attention and support.

May your happiness increase.