Tag Archives: David Horniblow

SWEETLY UPLIFTING: The MICHAEL McQUAID SAXOPHONE QUARTET

I’ve been thinking about the saxophonist Chuck Wilson, who left us on October 16 (my post about him is here).  Chuck came from a tradition where the saxophone made beautiful melodic sounds and blended with other reeds — he was a consummate section leader.  It’s a tradition sometimes overlooked today, where it occasionally feels that everyone wants to be a soloist, at length.

But the tradition has been splendidly recalled and embodied by our friend, the brilliantly imaginative multi-instrumentalist, Michael McQuaid in his recent musical gift to us: four musical cameos inspired by the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet of 1929-30.  The arrangements by Michael — lovely translucencies, swinging and tender — were recorded “with minimal rehearsal” (I emphasize this to hail the professionalism of the players) in the UK on July 27, 2018.

I think of these performances as modern reworkings of classical string quartets, but with a particular harmonic delicacy applied to popular songs of the day, with hot solos implied, delightful counterpoint, and a compositional sense: each arrangement and performance has a wonderful logical shape, a light-hearted emotional resonance.  Each performance rewards repeated listening.  (I cannot play MY SIN just once.)

The remarkable players are Michael McQuaid (first alto); David Horniblow (second alto); Simon Marsh (tenor); Tom Law (baritone).

IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER, which I associate with Annette Hanshaw, Barbara Rosene, and Tamar Korn:

OUT OF THE DAWN, by Walter Donaldson, from 1928, recorded by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:

WASHBOARD BLUES, whose arrangement is inspired by the 1926 recording by Hitch’s Happy Harmonists, with composer Hoagy Carmichael at the piano:

MY SIN, by DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson, also associated with Annette Hanshaw:

I wasn’t the only one astonished by the arrangements and the playing, and I wrote to Michael to ask, “When’s the CD coming out?  When’s the concert tour?”  No one else is making music like this anywhere.

Michael responded on Facebook:

Once again, this video features great playing from some of London’s best saxophone players. Their musicality is all the more remarkable when one considers this is closer to sight-reading than a fully-rehearsed ensemble.

A few of you have asked whether I’m going to release these recordings. Well, yes – they’re on YouTube anytime you want! But properly producing a full album of this material would require significant rehearsal followed by hours in the studio, and hence probably a wealthy philanthropic benefactor (please message me if that might be you!).

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing saxophone quartet arrangements until I have a whole concert’s/album’s worth. It’s been great reading your positive words on these videos, and I’m glad if I’ve been able to draw attention to the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet and their beautiful 1929 records. Our musical heritage is filled with many such neglected treasures, ready to leap into the present (and the future) with only a little of our time and attention.

Since some readers might not have heard the originals, here (courtesy of generous Enrico Borsetti) is the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet playing BABY, OH WHERE CAN YOU BE?:

I haven’t found out much about Merle, except that he played clarinet, alto, and tenor, was born in upstate New York, and lived from 1897 to 1978, and was a renowned saxophone teacher.  Michael told me that Merle’s students included Larry Teal and Joe Allard (each became a highly influential saxophone teacher in his own right), as well as famous players such as Buddy Collette and Frank Morgan. His legacy is probably more lasting as a teacher than as a player or bandleader!

Merle’s recording career — according to Tom Lord — ran from 1923 to 1930, with Sam Lanin (alongside Red Nichols), Isham Jones, Seger Ellis, the Ipana  Troubadours, Jack Miller, a young fellow named Crosby.  He was friends with Leo McConville, and he led his own band called the Ceco Couriers, which alludes to a radio program supported by a product: in this case, CeCo radio tubes, advertised in the October 1928 POPULAR SCIENCE (the tubes “cost no  more but last longer”).

Did Merle leave the New York City studio scene after the stock market crash for the security of a teaching career?  Can it be that no one interviewed him or one of his pupils?  Incidentally, when I do online research on someone obscure and find that one of the resources is this — a JAZZ LIVES post I wrote in 2011 — I am both amused and dismayed.

“Research!” to quote Lennie Kunstadt.  Calling David Fletcher!

And here’s another gorgeous quartet record, this one of DO SOMETHING:

I post the two Merle Johnston “originals” not to show their superiority to the modern evocations, but to celebrate Michael’s arranging and the playing of the Quartet: to my ears, fully the equal of the antecedents.

Listen once again, and be delighted.  I am sure that Chuck is pleased by these sounds also.

May your happiness increase!

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“WHAT A DAY!”: JANICE DAY and MARTIN LITTON’S NEW YORK JAZZ BAND, LIVE IN LONDON (September 19, 2018)

I’ve admired the wonderful singer Janice Day and pianist Martin Litton for some years now, in person, CD, and video.  They are remarkable originals who evoke the jazz past while keeping their originalities intact.  Martin is a splendidly inventive improviser, able to summon up the Ancestors — Earl, Fats, Jelly, Teddy — without (as they say) breaking stride.  But he’s not merely copying four-bar modules; he’s so internalized the great swinging orchestral styles that he moves around freely in them.  Janice is deeply immersed in the tender sounds of the Twenties and Thirties — from Annette Hanshaw forwards — and she is such a crafty impersonator that it’s easy to forget that she, brightly shining, is in the midst of it all.

 

 

Janice and Martin had a splendid opportunity, on September 19, 2018, to appear — as Janice Day with Martin Litton’s New York Jazz Band — at The Spice of Life, Cambridge Circus, London. The band is Martin Litton, piano and arrangements, Martin Wheatley on guitar, Kit Massey on violin, David Horniblow on bass sax, Michael McQuaid on reeds and trumpet. And here are two quite entertaining performances from the Annette Hanshaw book.

Here’s MY SIN:

and LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

Just the right mix of wistful and swinging.  Twenties authentic but not campy, and did I say swinging?  I wish Janice and Martin and their splendid band many more gigs (and more videos for us).

May your happiness increase!

THEY KEEP ROLLING ON: DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON, BEAUTIFULLY

It’s one thing to have a bright idea, another to give that idea tangible shape.  But consistent unflagging creativity is dazzling.  The Complete Morton Project — Andrew Oliver, piano, and David Horniblow, reeds, with occasional doubling and special guests — is a wonderful embodiment of all the principles above.

I have trouble keeping up with their weekly gifts, but here is another sustained offering of pleasure.

DON’T YOU LEAVE ME HERE was recorded in Morton’s last flourish, although I suspect he had had the composition in his repertoire for years.  With its melancholy title, it’s always a pleasing shock to hear it treated in this jauntily ambling fashion:

and a Morton line that used to be played more often — famous versions with Louis, Bechet, Red, Johnny Dodds — WILD MAN BLUES, with a delicious conversation-in-breaks created by Andrew and David:

GAN JAM (or GANJAM) was never recorded by Jelly, but was envisioned as an orchestral composition for a big band.  James Dapogny reimgined it as it might have been, and here the CMP envisions it as a duet — full of what might have been called “Oriental” touches but to our ears might simply be extended harmonies, quite fascinating.  I’d bet that someone hearing this for the first time would not think Morton its composer.  You can read Andrew’s observations on both tune and performance here:

Finally, a title that would not apply to what Andrew and David have been giving us so generously, THAT’LL NEVER DO (did Morton say that to one of his musicians at a rehearsal or run-through?).

I see a chorus line in my mind, high-kicking:

May your happiness increase!

LONDON’S HOTTEST RHYTHM JUGGLERS: THE VITALITY FIVE, “SYNCOPATION GONE MAD”

I’ve had an alarm clock / clock radio at the side of my bed for decades now, and its message is unvarying and irritating. Time to go to school!  Time to go to work! Time to move the car to avoid a ticket! 

But playing the new CD by The Vitality Five, its title noted above, I thought if I could rig up a musical machine that would, at first softly, play one of their glorious lively evocations of a vanished time, I would be much more willing to get out of bed and face the world.

The Vitality 5 is inherently not the same as many other bands performing Twenties hot repertoire.  For one thing, the 5’s reach is informed and deep: of the seventeen songs on this disc, perhaps four will be well-known to people who “like older jazz.”  Be assured that even the most “obscure” tunes are melodic and memorable.  More important to me is the 5’s perhaps unstated philosophy in action.  Many bands so worship the originals that they strive to create reverent copies of the original discs, and in performance this can be stunning.  But the 5 realizes something in their performances and arrangements that, to me, is immensely valuable: the people who made the original records were animated by joyous exuberance.

The players we venerate were “making it up as they went along,” as if their lives depended on it.  Theirs did, and perhaps ours do as well.

So these performances are splendidly animated by vivacious personality: they leap off the disc.  I don’t mean that the 5 is louder or faster, but they are energized.  You can’t help but hear and feel it.

Facts.  The band has been together since 2015, and it is that rare and wonderful entity — a working band.  Two of its members should be intimate pals to JAZZ LIVES readers: David Horniblow, reeds, and Andrew Oliver, piano — they are the one and only Complete Morton Project.  The other three members who complete the arithmetic are special heroes of mine, people I’ve admired at the Whitley Bay / Mike Durham jazz parties: Michael McQuaid, reeds and cornet; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.

And they are superb players — not only star soloists, but wonderful in ensemble, making the 5 seem much more a flexible orchestra than the single digit would suggest.  They are, as Louis would say, Top Men On Their Instruments.  Each performance has its own rhythmic surge, the arrangements are varied without being “clever,” and the band is wise enough to choose material that has a deep melodic center — memorable lines that range in performance from sweetly lyrical to incendiary.  The back cover proclaims that there are “17 CERTAIN DANCE HITS!” and it’s true.

A final word about repertoire — a subject whose narrowing I find upsetting, as some “Twenties” groups play and replay the same dozen songs: this disc offers songs I’d either never heard before (JI-JI BOO) or not in decades (THE SPHINX) as well as classics that aren’t simply transcriptions from the OKeh (FIREWORKS, EVERY EVENING, COPENHAGEN) — across the spectrum from Nichols-Mole to Clarence Williams to McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and more.

I know it’s heresy to some, but the Vitality 5 performs at a level that is not only equal to the great recordings, but superior to them.  A substantial claim, but the disc supports it.

Visit here to hear their hot rendition of COPENHAGEN — also, here you can buy an actual disc or download their music.  Convinced?  I hope so.

And to the Gentlemen of the Ensemble: if you perfect the Vitality Five Rise-and-Shine machine, suitable for all electric currents, do let me know.  I’ll be your first purchaser.  Failing that, please prosper, have many gigs, and make many CDs!

May your happiness increase!

“STOMP IT RIGHT NOW!”: DAVID HORNIBLOW, ANDREW OLIVER, MICHAEL McQUAID, NICHOLAS BALL PLAY JELLY ROLL MORTON

The Complete Morton Project showers us with gifts musical and even zoological, once again.

I’M LOOKING FOR A LITTLE BLUEBIRD, which has the flavor of a late-Twenties pop song, which is a compliment:

An extraordinary romp through BLACK BOTTOM STOMP:

I have no idea who MISSISSIPPI MILDRED was, if she existed at all, and what Morton’s conception about the women’s names that became part of song titles, aside from ‘NITA and MABEL, sweet and fussy, respectively:

And now, properly credited, “Nicholas D Ball – Drums and goat / Michael McQuaid – Reeds, cornet, and beastliness / David Horniblow – Bass sax and caprine outbursts / Andrew Oliver – Piano, cornet, and vocables, show us “It’s beastly hot in here!”

And here is Andrew’s blogpost on these four selections.  Alas, no more information seems to have surfaced on Lew LeMarr, the wild laugher on HYENA STOMP and the goat on this:

May your happiness increase!

IT MUST BE JELLY: ANDREW OLIVER and DAVID HORNIBLOW PLAY MORTON

The COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT keeps on rolling along, which is lovely.  We know there isn’t an infinite supply of Morton compositions — which makes me a little nervous, thinking of the end — but their steady progress, song by song, is more than uplifting.

And since I am always a little behind the best runners, here are four more.  IF YOU KNEW comes from the late sessions for the General label (“Tavern Tunes” — for the jukebox market in places where people drank alcohol?) but my thought is that if you knew how good this music was, and you surely do, you would spread the word:

and the beautifully tender love song, SWEET SUBSTITUTE, here with equal time given to the yearning verse.

I think I first heard Henry “Red” Allen’s 1965 version — he had been on the original session — and then other heroes, Rebecca Kilgore and Marty Grosz, did it also.  But this version is just as heartfelt:

and this week’s basket of Jelly!

Beginning with a wild romp that is either near to or right on top of FAREWELL BLUES, Jelly’s BURNIN’ THE ICEBERG, a title that makes me uncomfortable in the face of global warming / climate change / welcome, O Doom / whatever you’d like to call it:

and finally, the spectacularly evocative WININ’ BOY BLUES, which has as many interpretations attached to it as you can imagine.  Looking around online for the record label below, I found someone reproducing the lyrics as “whining boy.”  For goodness’ sake.  Morton never whined, nor does his music.

Perhaps the truth lies in between the Library of Congress lyrics and the idea of someone bringing wine to resuscitate hard-working women:

Yes, it MUST be Jelly when Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow get together, no matter which side of the room the piano nestles, although they can and do play many more beautiful songs.  Wonderfully.

P.S.  And. . . . have you heard the Vitality Five’s latest e-78, which pairs LAND OF COTTON BLUES and THAT’S NO BARGAIN?  Check it out (as they used to say on the Forty-Second Street of my adolescence — New Yorkers will get the reference — here.

May your happiness increase!

“THIS NEW ART FORM”: ANDREW OLIVER and DAVID HORNIBLOW TALK AND PLAY JELLY ROLL MORTON

What a nice surprise — a mini-documentary featuring the two Onlie Begetters of the Complete Morton Project, Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, reeds:

and last week’s treats (I’m always lagging behind): MISTER JOE, named for Joe Oliver:

and JERSEY JOE, which I have speculated — with no particular evidence — might be in tribute to the boxer Jersey Joe Walcott, although it could have been someone who tipped Morton heavily on a New Jersey gig.  Another mystery:

We were taught as children that sharing was what good people do, not just a social obligation.  So I salute Andrew and David, who have so much to share and have done so expertly and generously.  We love them no matter which side of the room the piano is on.  Great couch pillows, too: stylish in all things.

May your happiness increase!