Tag Archives: David Sager

MARA KAYE SINGS LADY DAY with JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAVID SAGER, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, SCOTT RICKETTS, EYAL VINER at THE EAR INN (August 13, 2017)

Mara Kaye is one of New York’s great gifts to the world. Two years ago, she did a concert performance at Joe’s Pub, an evening of songs associated with Billie Holiday.  Here is some of what I wrote, that still rings true.

She is a substantial stage personality.  One way this is expressed is in her nearly constant yet genuine motion, as if her energy is too strong for her to stand still.  It’s not just hair-tossing, but a continual series of dance moves that also look like yoga poses and warm-up stretches, even a jubilant marching-in-place. Often she held her arms over her head, her hands open.  I think it was always exuberant emotion, but it was also her own expression of an ancient and honorable theatrical style . . . so that even the people in the most distant balcony of the Apollo Theatre could see you and join in with the person onstage. And her voice matched her larger-than-life physical presence.  On a Twenties record label, she might have been billed as COMEDIENNE WITH ORCHESTRA, and that odd designation rang true. The comedy bubbled up here and there in speech: she hails from Brooklyn, so that her sailboat in the moonlight was idling along in Sheepshead Bay. But it also emerged delightfully in her voice: I heard echoes of Fanny Brice, of comic Eastern European melodies . . . it never sounded as if she was taking Billie or the music lightly, but as if she was having such a good time that she couldn’t help playing. . . . SHOW in the best tradition — not caricature, but something Louis would have admired immensely.

I’m always glad to see Mara, and when she showed up at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho) on Sunday, August 13, I had hopes she would be invited to sit in with the EarRegulars.  Leader and brass deity Jon-Erik Kellso has the same feelings about this young woman, so he invited her to join the band . . . and these two performances are the result. The EarRegulars, that night, were Jon-Erik; David Sager, trombone (making a guest appearance from his home in a southern town), John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass, with sitters-in Scott Ricketts, cornet and Eyal Viner, to my left, alto saxophone.  The ghosts of Buck Clayton, Lester Young, and Benny Morton were there, and they approved.

Two gorgeous performances: FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

and I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE (during the instrumental portion you’ll see Mara, ever the good jazz citizen, walking around with the tip jar — the tip pumpkin — to help the band:

Music like this, peerless and delicate, improves our world, for these musicians give us love and more.

May your happiness increase!

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“DEFINITELY A TEAM SPORT”: A BIRTHDAY CARD FROM THE ORIGINAL CORNELL SYNCOPATORS

odjbcard

I’ve gotten into trouble for saying this, but I’m not always enthusiastic about note-for-note recreations of recordings.  But what follows — music and dance from the Original Cornell Syncopators — has such energy, wit, and life force that I just might have to change my mind.  The OCS, led by multi-instrumentalist and wizard Colin Hancock, is Noah Li, drums; Hannah Krall, clarinet; Amit Mizrahi, piano; Rishi Verma, trombone.  Their director is Joe Salzano; their “coaches” are Dan Levinson, Hal Smith, and David Sager, so you know — even before you hear a note — that they’re all on the right path.  And then there’s the splendidly mobile Crazeology Dance Troupe.  I might have to visit Ithaca, New York.

Incidentally, the detailed and articulate description underneath the first video answers all the questions you had and some you didn’t know you did but are glad they are answered.

DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL is often approached far too quickly: this version is both percussive and lyrical:

BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA has been worn to a nub, but this version allows us to hear it again, afresh (with a few of the original chord changes, which now sound unusual):

Most of us hear OSTRICH WALK through Bix and his Gang: this is what Bix and friends heard:

You’d better dig this JASS BAND BALL is what I say:

How deliciously heretical this music must have sounded a century ago; how refreshing it sounds today.  Thank you, Creative Youngbloods!  (And the OCS have other projects in mind — I suggest you subscribe to the appropriate YouTube channel for hours of satisfying and thought-provoking music.  You could dance to it, I’m told, as well.

May your happiness increase!

GET ON THE BUS! (July 22, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania; July 20, New York City)

Goldkette bus

 

It’s a familiar sight.  But now it’s re-emerged for an even more exciting reason. Josh Duffee, drummer and bandleader who loves the hot / dance music of this period, especially admires drummer multi-instrumentalist Chauncey Morehouse.  And rightly so.

Josh’s dreams are substantial, and he energetically makes them take shape.  His newest venture will please up to 800 people on the evening of Wednesday, July 22, 2015, at the Capitol Theater in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

CAPITOL THEATRE

Chambersburg isn’t one of the most famous stops on the Official Jazz History tour, but it was the home town of Chauncey and of Jean Goldkette trumpeter Fuzzy Farrar.  In 1927, the Goldkette orchestra played a concert in this beautiful theatre; on July 22, a reconstituted tentet of some of the finest hot musicians worldwide will honor Chauncey and his music.  And it’s free.

Goldkette ad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find out much more about the concert here and, should you be so inclined, you can make a donation to cover the expenses.

I asked Josh for more details about the music and the musicians.  First off, this ten-piece band will be primarily made up of the brilliant Hot Jazz Alliance, a sextet that is four-sixths Australian and two-sixths North American and six-sixths brilliant: From Oz, Michael McQuaid, reeds; Jason Downes, reeds; John Scurry, banjo / guitar; Leigh Barker, string bass.  From the US: Andy Schumm, cornet; Josh Duffee, drums.  Joining them for this concert will be Jay Rattman, reeds; Mike Davis, trumpet; David Sager, trombone; Tom Roberts, piano.
If you’ve heard nothing of the Hot Jazz Alliance, feast your ears here:

GIVE ME YOUR TELEPHONE NUMBER:

MILENBURG JOYS:

The second performance is particularly significant because it comes from the HJA’s debut CD — which is now issued, in gorgeous sound, ready for the eager multitudes.

But back to the Capitol Theatre concert.

The tentet will be playing a variety of songs that Chauncey played throughout his career. Josh says, “We’ll play the closest Goldkette recording to the date they played in 1927, Slow River. We’ll also be playing Congoland, which Chauncey co-wrote with Frank Guarente when they were with the Paul Specht Orchestra.  Audience members will hear music from the bands Chauncey played in throughout his career, like Paul Specht, Jean Goldkette, Russ Morgan, Frank Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke, Howard Lanin’s Benjamin Franklin Dance Orchestra, Irving Mills’ Hotsy-Totsy Gang, and others.  This will be the very first time this music will have been heard in this acoustic form in this theatre! Here are some of the songs we’ll be playing: Slow River; Harvey; My Pretty Girl; Midnight Oil; Clarinet Marmalade; Don’t Wake Me Up, Let Me Dream; Stampede; Dinah; Idolizing; Three Blind Mice; Congoland; 
Singin’ The Blues . . . .”

I don’t like being in the car for more than ninety minutes at a time, but I’m driving out to Chambersburg for this one.

And two days earlier / closer to home in New York City, the Hot Jazz Alliance will be performing two shows on Monday, July 20, at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in Jazz at Lincoln Center:  details here.

As I write these words, it is ninety degrees and humid both inside and out.  But even more Hot — of the best sort — is coming.

May your happiness increase!

LOOKING AND LISTENING CLOSELY: “IN SEARCH OF RAG-A-JAZZ,” by ANDREW SAMMUT

One of the pleasures of the last few years has been that I have met a whole host of jazz people younger than myself — sometimes seriously younger.

The musicians I cherish and celebrate you all know, and I dare not start the list because a) it would be very long, and b) I surely would leave someone out and hurt her / his feelings.  I’m talking about people who write about this music.

I’ve recently reminded people of the fine heartfelt work Ricky Riccardi is doing — in print, in person, online, on the media — and he is someone I admire and trust, when he speaks about Louis Armstrong and about jazz in general.

You may not know the other young man I am about to celebrate, because he doesn’t have the ebullient public profile of our Mr. R.

But you should know him and his work.  He’s Andrew Jon Sammut, and he thinks deeply but not ponderously about a variety of “early musics,” Vivaldi as well as The Georgians, Locatelli and Larry Binyon. He admires Louis and Bix and the Masters whose names we all know, but he also writes intelligently and with feeling (with research, too) about the people who sometimes get ignored.

His blog is called THE POP OF YESTERCENTURY — Andrew is witty — and the most recent posting is wise and thoughtful, an investigation into that not-well-studied music that draws from ragtime and early ensemble jazz, dubbed later “rag-a-jazz.”  He’s done some serious homework here — in a modern vein — talking with jazz scholar-players Dan Levinson, Vince Giordano, Chris Tyle, Jon-Erik Kellso, David Sager, Hal Smith, and others.

I hope you can read Andrew’s piece: IN SEARCH OF RAG-A-JAZZ. He asks good questions, and invites others to add what they know: the hallmarks of an honest and humane scholar.  I read the piece with pleasure when it came out, and I am proud that he and I can discuss shared passions and questions.  (“What would Don Murray have been like at a dinner party?”  “Is this an important question?” and more.)

May your happiness increase! 

AT THE BALL, THAT’S ALL (THE ARMISTICE BALL 2013: November 2, Madison, New Jersey)

On November 2, 2013, you have another chance to travel back to a time and place not easily reached: America around a century ago.  It’s the Armstice Ball, a yearly affair held in New Jersey, with authentic Twenties music and dancing (even a lesson in the afternoon).  The band will be led by Dan Levinson, with jazz scholar Sue Fischer on drums; Jay Rattman on reeds; David Sager on trombone; Matt Tolentino on tuba (he’s the leader of the Dallas band “Singapore Slingers”; Mike Kuehn, banjo.  The Ball goes from 8 – 11 PM at the historic Madison Community House, 25 Cook Avenue, Madison, New Jersey.  Tickets are $30 in advance, $15 with a student ID, and $35 at the door ($20 for students).  (So it pays not to wait till the last minute!)

For details — everything you’d need to know about lodging, food, and fashions, click here.

I asked Sue about the repertoire and she told me that it will include some Morton — FROGGIE MOORE, KING JOE, some hot Chicago tunes related to Noone, Dodds, Hines: FORTY AND TIGHT, MY MONDAY DATE, OH SISTER AIN’T THAT HOT, I NEVER KNEW WHAT A GAL COULD DO, as well as waltzes I’M DRIFTING BACK TO DREAMLAND, and tangos CHALITA, ADIOS MUCHACHOS, and POR UNA CABEZA.  Among other surprises.  

Here’s a video from the 2011 Armistice Ball: different musicians, but you get the picture.  A classy affair, with one-steps for all!  (None of those artificially ripped jeans the youth of America now prefer, either.)  That’s David Boeddinghaus, piano; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Will Reardon Anderson, clarinet; Mike Kuehn, banjo; Johnny Peppers, bass sax; Sue Fischer, drums. And it looks like John Landry is ready to make sure there will be none of that indecent close-dancing here.  (I would be there, but I am going to be enjoying the Classic Jazz Party at Whitley Bay . . . too much distance from Newcastle to Madison, even for me.)

May your happiness increase!

DO WHAT ORY SAY: “CREOLE TROMBONE: KID ORY AND THE EARLY YEARS OF JAZZ,” by JOHN McCUSKER

It’s always a pleasure to encounter a new jazz book that’s not a rehash of overexposed source materials or burdened by academic ideologies, and John McCusker’s fresh look at the life and music of trombonist / composer / bandleader Edward “Kid” Ory (1886-1973) is just such an engaging book.

In CREOLE TROMBONE, McCusker carefully documents Ory’s roots, his development as an artist, and the scenes in which he lived and workd — not only rural Louisiana and New Orleans, but California in the early years of the twentieth century and Chicago in the Twenties.

We learn a great deal about a variety of subjects — life on a sugar cane plantation, New Orleans band battles and etiquette, early recordings and the music business.  And there are portraits, some of them from an unusual angle or an unexpected perspective, of Joe Oliver, young Louis Armstrong, Mutt Carey, Jelly Roll Morton, Freddie Keppard, Buddy Bolden, and others.

McCusker is praised for his “meticulous research” in three of the back-cover blurbs, and the book does not disappoint here.  Not only does he make use of published work by scholars including David Sager, Henry Kmen, Al Rose, and interviews with the surviving musicians held in the Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University, but he has spoken to Ory’s relatives and drawn liberally on Ory’s unpublished autobiography (made available to him through the generosity of Ory’s daughter Babette).  As usual, there are brief “historical” passages in which the author works to set the scene for those unfamiliar with it, and the expected use of census and baptismal records.

The book offers thirty pages of endnotes, contains twenty photographs of Ory, his family, and the bands — only three of which will be familiar.  CREOLE TROMBONE also reproduces lead sheets from six unpublished Ory songs — the most intriguing being MUSSOLINI CARRIES THE DRUM FOR HITLER and DON’T FORGET THE SANTA FE TRAIN AND BUS.  (Do I hear a CD project, “The Unrecorded Kid Ory,” in the works?)

I came away from the book with an increased awareness of and respect for Ory — not only as independent and ambitious, but someone with a keen eye for making his musical activities pay off.  I was struck by Ory the entrepreneur (circa 1912-13) who not only booked his own dances — arranging for his band to play in a hall he had rented — but because he was worried about competition, paying to rent a hall two blocks away and keep it dark that night.

The most animated parts of the book, of course, are the first-hand recollections of the musicians: a leisurely word-picture of the worst place Ory ever played, Spano’s, that catered to prostitutes and “freakish” men and women; his depiction of life in a Storyville brothel, where a customer who hung his trousers over a chair would find himself wishing he had been more cautious.  McCusker’s research delves into the musical communication between more formal ragtime-dance music and hotter jazz, between Ory and his colleagues and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  Ory and Joe Oliver were advertising their band as playing “Jazz” as early as November 1917; in 1922, “Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra” was broadcasting on the radio in California.

McCusker is by profession a photographer and journalist, someone obviously wanting to add to the record and to make it accurate, so that Ory would not be overshadowed, forgotten, or ignored — very good reasons to research and write a book.  McCusker clearly admires Ory but the book is not worshipful.  His writing is lively and the book moves quickly; although he relies greatly on sources, it does not resemble an academic thesis.

Because McCusker sees Ory as a seriously influential figure, I was not surprised to find a great deal of study devoted to the years before Ory made his first recordings in 1922.  Ory’s musical career continued until 1933 or so, then — after a decade of non-musical work) it resumed for nearly two decades.  But CREOLE TROMBONE covers the years from 1943 to Ory’s death in a few quick pages.

Had Ory retreated into an old man’s obscurity, I could understand this, but in that period Ory made more than two-thirds of his recordings, many for major labels (Columbia, Decca, Victor, and the Norman Granz conglomerate) toured Europe several times — and was more popular than ever before.

Since I first encountered Ory’s music in this period — as a member of a 1946 Armstrong group and on two Verve recordings that paired him effectively with Henry “Red” Allen, I find the omission curious, and the book feels to me hurried or deflating.  This could have been an economic decision (a press choosing a manuscript of X words only and its author deciding to concentrate on the less explored early period), but the last pages of this otherwise rewarding book feel truncated.

But here’s my offering to make up for it:

Another view of the authorship of MUSKRAT RAMBLE from Louis himself — twice (thanks to Ricky Riccardi) — here.  Who knew that fried muskrat had such powers?

May your happiness increase.

THE SOUNDS OF MUSIC: PLEASING SHOCKS FROM PAPA JOE, LITTLE LOUIS, BIX, KID ORY, and THEIR FRIENDS

By the time I started listening seriously to jazz, King Oliver had been dead for almost thirty years, Bix nearly forty.  And every year that I delved deeper into the music, more of the original players died.  So recordings became the only way for me to encounter many players, singers, and bands.

I first heard King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band on microgroove vinyl reissues on the Milestone and Epic labels; the Wolverine sessions likewise.  I had read about these records in books about jazz and the musicians had described them reverently (Louis speaking lovingly of his musical father to Richard Meryman and Larry L. King; Richard M. Sudhalter writing about Bix, and so on).

But the sounds that came through the phonograph speaker were disappointing.  Peggy Lee had not yet sung IS THAT ALL THERE IS? but her words would be appropriate.  I could distinguish cornets and clarinets,  banjos and pianos, but it was like putting my head underwater.  The sound could be made loud but it was impossible to make it clear.  Some of my reaction, of course, was the result of my own training in listening to live music and records of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties — clear, electrically recorded, bright.

Eventually I got better at extracting the music from acoustic recordings, better at “filling in” what I imagined the original bands sounded like in the studio.  But the Creole Jazz Band and the Wolverines were always at a distance.  It was rather like hearing someone describe transcendent spiritual experiences I hadn’t had.

Until now.

I know I am coming late to this particular party, but five compact discs issued in the past few years have been astonishing musical experiences.  The first set, KING OLIVER: OFF THE RECORD, presents all the 1923 recordings by the Creole Jazz Band — originally issued on Gennett, OKeh, and Paramount.  37 tracks on two CDs, with all the alternate takes, everything in chronological order, with a beautifully detailed / scholarly set of liner notes.

(A word about the liner notes for these CDs — writer, scholar, trombonist David Sager deserves a round of applause with a hug after for his candor.  Most liner-note writers know that their job is to say every note is a masterpiece, but Sager praises the high points and also honestly notes when things are ever so slightly collapsing.  Hooray for objective listening, even to hallowed masterpieces!)  Beautiful rare photographs and newspaper clippings, too — pages to get lost in.

But all this wouldn’t mean much if the sound was murky or overly processed.  (Some issues of the Oliver band had been made into “stereo,” shrill on the left and thumpy on the right, a bad idea for sure.)

The sound that comes out of the speaker from these CDs is bright without being fraudulent.  One can hear the individual instruments in a way not previously possible.  I can actually HEAR the interweaving of Papa Joe and Louis on cornets; I can get an idea of how the ensemble parts twined around each other.  Without hyperbole, I hear the music — the band — for the first time.

The same is true for Off The Record’s CD devoted to the Wolverine Orchestra.

The Wolverine recordings, like the Olivers, were also seen and packaged, because of the star system in jazz, as showcases for one musician.  True, Bix stands out, across the decades, as THE player in that band.  But these new transfers allow us to hear him in the larger context — not simply as the loudest player in the group.  It is possible to appreciate the particular rhythmic swagger that these young fellows brought to the studio — “sock time,” intense yet relaxed, that strikes us as both new and familiar.  Sager makes a good case for the band being “modern,” which allows us a deeper understanding of what they were attempting and how they did (and didn’t) succeed.

Four tracks by post-Wolverine groups featuring Bix — the SIOUX CITY SIX and BIX AND HIS RHYTHM JUGGLERS — are here, as well as the two later Wolverine sides with Jimmy McPartland (1924) and four from 1927.  But a great pleasure of this CD comes at its close with two recordings from May 24, 1928, billed as THE ORIGINAL WOLVERINES — LIMEHOUSE BLUES and DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, with a clarinetist / saxophonist who could only be Frank Teschemacher (Bud Freeman and Jess Stacy said they heard Tesch on these sides, and who would argue with that?)

The third set, although it initially doesn’t have the “star power” of the Oliver – Louis – Bix issues, is deliciously rewarding.

Most jazz fans of a certain age will have heard at least a few Creole Jazz Band or Wolverine tracks.  But perhaps only diligent musical archaeologists will have heard the music on CABARET ECHOES.

Again, the recordings are wonderfully bright (and I don’t mean harsh with an overemphasis on the treble).

Much of what we call “New Orleans jazz” was inevitably at a distance.  Musicians from that city recorded in Chicago and New York once they had migrated North; some returned home in the Forties and later.  This collection, although it begins with Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra, recorded in Santa Monica, California, offers twenty-four selections recorded in New Orleans by OKeh between March 1924 and January 1925.  I had read about Johnny DeDroit, Fate Marable (with a young Zutty Singleton), the Original Crescent City Jazzers (Stirling Bose, likewise), Johnny Bayersdorffer, the Half-Way House Orchestra (with Leon Roppolo), Anthony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys, Billy and Mary Mack (with Punch Miller), Brownlee’s Orchestra, John Tobin’s Midnight Serenaders, and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra — but I’d heard perhaps three or four sides of this grouping.

It’s easy to hear — from the six sides by Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra — how powerfully energetic that band was in 1922.  And even earlier, there are enthusiastic sides by a 1918-1920 jazz band featuring one Jimmy Durante on piano.  A world of delights that most of us have never heard.

That would be enough for most listeners.  But a surprise awaits,  Between the discs themselves, this collection offers excerpts from oral histories, so that we can hear Kid Ory, his daughter Babette, Johnny DeDroit, Amos White, Yvonne Powers Gass (daughter of saxophonist Eddie Powers), Abbie Brunies, Joe Loyocano, Tony Parenti, Tony Sbarbaro, Billy Mack and Mary McBride, Norman Brownlee, “Baba” Ridgley, and Arnold Loyocano — an amazing set of first-hand narratives from the original sources . . . in their own voices.

Back to the Sound for a moment.  As “new technologies” come into view, many individuals have tried to make the old recordings “listenable.”  Some have seen their role as removing all extraneous noise — which, when done without subtlety, also removes much of the music.  Doug Benson, with help from generous collectors, has done a magnificent job of preserving the sound without reshaping it to a set of arbitrary aesthetics of what it “should” sound like in 2012.

This was accomplished through simple intelligent methods: get the best available copy of the original disc; play it with the stylus that offered the most sound; make sure that the disc was playing at the right speed (so that the music was in a recognizable key); judiciously apply the most subtle digital restoration.

It’s taken me this long to write this review because I’ve been entranced by the sound — and the sounds — and have gone back to the old paradigm of playing one track at a time rather than making the CDs into hot background music.  But each track is a powerful auditory experience.  The veils are lifted.

Click CREOLE  to read more about the Oliver CDs.  Click BIX to read more about the Wolverines CD.  And CABARET  will tell you all about CABARET ECHOES.  You can, when visiting these pages, click on a variety of links to hear brief audio samples, but hearing excerpts through earbuds or your computer’s speakers will give only a small fraction of the sonic pleasures that await.

I seriously suggest that any jazz fan who wants to hear — to know, to understand — what “those old records” really sounded like (and thus be transported) should consider these compact discs.

And — with equal seriousness — I suggest them as aids to a happy relationship: every partner who has ever walked through the room where the “old records” are being played and said, gently or scornfully, “How can you listen to those scratchy old records?  How can you hear anything?” might pick up the Off the Record CDs as a gift — not only for the jazz-loving partner, but to actually HEAR what (s)he loves so deeply.  (“Can these marriages be saved?”  “Yeah, man!”)

May your happiness increase.