Tag Archives: Delmark Records

THE FAT BABIES: “UPTOWN” (Delmark Records): ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, JONATHAN DOYLE, DAVE BOCK, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, BEAU SAMPLE, ALEX HALL

To my ears, modern bands don’t find it easy to reproduce the music of Twenties and early Thirties medium-sized ensembles beyond playing the notes, although I commend their attempts.  The most pleasing exceptions have been Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, still doing the thing regularly in New York and elsewhere; I’ve also delighted in some ad hoc ensembles put together at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Festival.  (Listeners have other favorites, I know: I am not compiling a list here.)

But most recently, the Chicago-based FAT BABIES are are a consistent pleasure.

Here’s UPTOWN, performed at the July 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival:

UPTOWN is also the name of the Babies’ latest CD, their fourth for Delmark, beautifully thought-out, played, and recorded.

Visit here to buy the disc and hear samples, or vice versa.

The band on this disc is the 2016-18 version, with Andy Schumm, cornet, alto saxophone, clarinet; Dave Bock, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet, tenor, soprano; John Otto, clarinet, tenor; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, tenor banjo, tenor guitar; Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums, percussion.  They deeply understand the music without being stuffy.

Of the thirteen selections, UPTOWN and THAT GAL OF MINE are originals by Andy Schumm; SWEET IS THE NIGHT by Jonathan Doyle.  The arrangements and transcriptions are by Schumm, Doyle, and Paul Asaro, who also sings on five tracks with proper period flourishes.  The rest of the repertoire — venerable songs — EDNA, HARMONY BLUES, THE BATHING BEAUTY BLUES, RUFF SCUFFLIN’, OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY, THUMPIN’ AND BUMPIN’, THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, TRAVELIN’ THAT ROCKY ROAD, THE SOPHOMORE, HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE — have noble associations with King Oliver, Bennie Moten, Andy Kirk, Eubie Blake, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Bing Crosby, the Dorsey Brothers, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Clarence Williams, Claude Hopkins, and others.  But you’ll notice that the song selection, although deep and genuine, is not The Same Old Thing (you know: the same two Ellingtons, one Bix, DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, MOTEN SWING, and so on): even scholars of the period might not be used to hearing some of these compositions.

What makes this band so delightful?  The answers come thick and fast.  They are a working band, so their section work is beautifully polished but never stiff.  The solos caress or explode, depending on what the song requires.  There’s also a refreshing variety in tempo and mood: the Babies do not need to play racetrack tempos all the time, and they know that hot is best served with with nicely seasoned side dishes of sweet.  This is music for dancers as well as listeners.  I’ve seen other ensembles do creditable work with charts they are seeing for the first or second time, but nothing can replace the comfortable familiarity that comes with playing a song twenty times in a month.

“Authenticity” is always a slippery subject, but the Babies manifest it in every note and phrase: they’ve lived with this music long enough and intensely enough to have the rhythmic feel of this period as part of their individual and collective nervous systems, so there is no self-conscious “going backwards,” but the band feels as if they’ve immersed themselves in the conventions of the style — which go beyond slapped bass and choked cymbal.  It doesn’t feel as if they are acting, pretending to be ancient: their joy in being comes through.  And the solos are stylistically gratifying without being museum-pieces.  It’s been said before, but if the Babies were to be dropped in Harlem in 1931, they would cause a sensation and be welcomed at the Rhythm Club, the dance halls, and after-hours clubs.

It’s joyous music, joyously played.  And my only reservation about this Delmark CD (which, again, I point out, is beautifully recorded) is that it’s not a three-disc set.  Maybe next time.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S FAT LIKE THAT”: MORE FROM THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 30, 2016)

Rainbow One

One of the great pleasures of the summer of 2016 was the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado.  There I and others enjoyed the Carl Sonny Leyland trio with Clint Baker and Jeff Hamilton; the Kris Tokarski trio with Tim Laughlin and Hal Smith (and guest star Andy Schumm), and the Fat Babies, with Beau Sample, Andy Schumm, Dave Bock, John Otto, Jonathan Doyle, Paul Asaro,  Jake Sanders, and Alex Hall.

I’ve posted videos from the Fat Babies’ July 29 set here.  And some especially Fat music here. And even here.

Here are three more from the next day’s frolic.

The first, a composition from 1925 where Louis Armstrong plays slide whistle as well as cornet with his Hot Five, WHO’S IT . . . which I am assuming might have something with playing tag or an adult version rather than being a metaphysical inquiry into the slippery parameters of identity.

whos-it

Here are the Fat Babies romping through the thickets of swing:

Another Louis-related item, I AIN’T GONNA PLAY NO SECOND FIDDLE, which he recorded with Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools as well as with Bessie Smith:

and Jimmie Noone’s APEX BLUES:

And here is my review of the band’s latest CD — on the Delmark Records label, SOLID GASSUH — a disc whose virtues I do not exaggerate.

Support The Fat Babies!  They’re remarkable.

May your happiness increase!

TRUTH IN (HOT) ADVERTISING: THE FAT BABIES, “SOLID GASSUH,” DELMARK RECORDS 257

We hope this truth can be made evident.  The new CD by The Fat Babies, SOLID GASSUH, on Delmark Records, embodies Truth in Advertising in its title and its contents.

solid-gassuh

“Solid gassuh,” as Ricky Riccardi — the Master of all things Louis — informs us in his excellent liner notes, was Louis’ highest expression of praise.  (I’d like to see it replace “sick” and “killin'” in the contemporary lexicon.  Do I dream?)

The Fat Babies are a superb band — well-rehearsed but sublimely loose, authentic but not stiff.  If you don’t know them, you are on the very precipice of Having Missed Out On Something Wonderful — which I can rectify herehere, and here.  (Those posts come from July 29, 2016 at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and feature the “new” Fat Babies with the addition of the heroic Jonathan Doyle on reeds.)

SOLID GASSUH was recorded at the Babies’ hangout, the Honky Tonk BBQ, but there’s no crowd noise — which is fine — and the recorded sound is especially spacious and genuine, thanks to Mark Haynes and Alex Hall.  I know it’s unusual to credit the sound engineers first, but when so many recordings sound like recordings rather than music, they deserve applause.

The Babies, for this recording, their third, are Andy Schumm, cornet and arrangements; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals (also the chart for EGYPTIAN ELLA), Jake Sanders, banjo and guitar, Beau Sample, leader, string bass; Alex Hall, drums.

Their repertoire, for those deep in this music, says so much about this band — DOCTOR BLUES / AFTER A WHILE / FEELIN’ GOOD / DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? / ORIGINAL CHARLESTON STRUT / PENCIL PAPA / I MISS A LITTLE MISS / PARKWAY STOMP / YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME / ALABAMY BOUND / SLOW RIVER / DELIRIUM / EGYPTIAN ELLA / SING SONG GIRL / MAPLE LEAF RAG.  There are many associations here, but without looking anything up I think of Ben Pollack, Paul Mares, Boyce Brown, Ted Lewis, Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, Fud Livingston, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Luis Russell, Bud Freeman, Bing Crosby, Nat Finston, Thomas Morris, Lil Hardin, Sidney Catlett, Al Wynn, Punch Miller, Alex Hill . . . and you can fill in the other blanks for yourself.  And even though some of the songs may be “obscure,” each track is highly melodic and dramatic without ever being melodramatic.  (As much as we love ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, it’s reassuring to know that it wasn’t the only song ever played.)

The Babies are remarkable for what they aren’t — not a “Dixieland” or “New Orleans” or “Condon” ensemble, but a group of musicians who obviously have studied the players, singers, and the recordings, but use them as inspired framework for their own creativity.  Occasionally, the Babies do offer us a transcription of a venerable recorded performance, but it is so energized (and by that I don’t mean faster or louder) that it seems as if someone has cleaned centuries of dust off an Old Master and it’s seen freshly.  More often, they use portions of an original arrangement, honoring it, as a way to show off their own bright solos.  So the effect at times is not an “updating,” but music seen from another angle, an alternate take full of verve and charm, as if the fellows had been playing the song on the job rather than in the studio.

If you follow the Babies, and many do, you will have known that this recording is coming, and will already have it.  When my copy arrived, I played it through three times in a row, marveling at its energy and precision, its lively beating heart.  SOLID GASSUH is immensely satisfying, as are the Fat Babies themselves.

You can purchase the disc and hear sound samples here, and  this is the Delmark Records site, where good music (traditional and utterly untraditional) flourishes.

May your happiness increase!

SO FAT, SO GOOD (Part One): THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 29, 2016)

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Wonder of wonders (continue) with the Miracle Boys of Hot, The Fat Babies, at their July 29, 2016.  Even the elk were swinging.  They are (of course) Alex Hall, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Paul Asaro, piano / vocal; Jake Sanders, guitar / banjo; Jonathan Doyle, John Otto, reeds; Dave Bock, trombone; Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, arrangements.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

PLEASURE MAD (later known as VIPER MAD, by Sidney “Bash-shay” in any case:

HE MAY BE YOUR MAN (BUT HE COMES  TO SEE ME SOMETIMES):

and a quick but satisfying set-closer, MAPLE LEAF RAG, Charles LaVere 1935 style:

So hot it’s delightful.  And another whole Evergreen set to come.

And . . . the Babies have three CDs out on the Delmark label: CHICAGO HOT, 18th and RACINE, and the new Baby, SOLID GASSUH, as well as two featuring Paul Asaro on Rivermont, WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM (devoted to Fats) and SWEET JAZZ MUSIC (for Jelly).  Lay in a supply.  They say it’s going to be a cold cold winter.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, FAT THAT THING!” THE FAT BABIES, featuring PAUL ASARO and JOHN OTTO, PLAY FATS WALLER (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 29, 2016)

The most difficult part of this blogpost has been trying to find a polite title for the congenial combination of THE FAT BABIES and THOMAS “FATS” WALLER, but I think I’ve managed to be as little offensive as possible.  I hope.  No suggestions solicited, please.

Here are three performances by that wonderful octet — Andy Schumm, cornet; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto and Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals; Jake Sanders, banjo / guitar; Beau Sample, leader / string bass; Alex Hall, drums — at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado, on July 29, 2016.

THE FAT BABIES, before Jonathan Doyle had joined the band.

THE FAT BABIES, before Jonathan Doyle had joined the band.

From Fats’ first published song (based on THE BOY IN THE BOAT, as we know), onwards to a sadder one:

Finally, the delightful Jimmy McHugh tune that Fats made his own — performing it in the 1935 film KING OF BURLESQUE.  (Then, it got taken up by Louis and others, happily):

On all these performances, the ebullient Paul Asaro — striding, singing, and smiling — stands out, as he always does.  Paul has made two CDs — tributes to Waller and Morton — with the Fat Babies, issued on Rivermont Records.

More to come from Colorado — and if you’re near Chicago, you can hear The Fat Babies live.  http://www.thefatbabies.com/ is their website and performing schedule.  And — even more! — I’m waiting for a copy of their latest release, correctly titled SOLID GASSUH (!) on Delmark Records.

Hotter than a fat baby, for sure.

May your happiness increase!

ANDY BROWN, SWING MASTER: “APPEL DIRECT”

Theoretically, I should not be able to write that the Chicago-based guitarist Andy Brown is in fact a Swing Master.  He is certainly too young and too healthy. He’s been on a skateboard.  He might even lack the maladjustments so common to Great Artists.  But these things have not limited his creative magic.

andy_brown2

There’s more delightful evidence at hand, a new Delmark CD, DIRECT CALL, which I would gladly dub SWING MASTERPIECE OF 2016.

andy brown direct call cover

For those who’d rather trust their ears than this blog, here are samples from the CD.  And here is the riotously rocking title track — Django’s APPEL DIRECT:

The three other masters here are Phil Gratteau, drums; Jeremy Kahn, piano; Joe Policastro, string bass.  Like Andy, they know what and where it is.

The session was recorded in Chicago last September — beautiful sound thanks to my non-relative Scott Steinman: THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ / PRISONER OF LOVE / EL CAJON / FUNK IN DEEP FREEZE / APPEL DIRECT / RELAXING / ONE MORNING IN MAY / CATCH ME / ELA E CARIOCA / FREAK OF THE WEEK.

In a crime novel whose name I forget, someone said, less politely, “Everybody can talk but not everyone has things to say.”  The art of swing improvisation is not something learned from the Real Book or from copying gestures to fool an audience. (Ending a performance of SHINY STOCKINGS with three Basie chords doesn’t make it Basie.)

Compelling, light-hearted, authentic swing and melodic improvisations are a matter of years of study — usually on the job.  The members of this quartet, although not Elders chronologically, are wise players whose art comes from playing, listening, thinking, feeling.

Some like their jazz to be startling, even abrupt.  It has to be “innovative” and “adventurous.”  I wouldn’t deny them such pleasures, but music that shouts BOO! in my ear is not for me.  I warm to jazz that delicately balances the familiar and the surprising, with comfort the result, as if I were a passenger with a driver I wholly trusted.  This comfort is felt immediately in the opening choruses of APPEL DIRECT.  “These players know how to sustain feeling and build on it; they won’t let me down or disappoint me.”

Although the CD is in no way a repertory project, I could settle into the joy of experiencing and anticipating right from the start: the same way I feel when (let us say) I heard Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones play an eight-bar introduction.  Basie and Charlie Christian.  Jimmie Rowles, Jim Hall, Leroy Vinnegar, Frank Butler. You can supply your own names.  Mastery and ease.

I urge you to check out the CD, and, even better, share the music with others . . . or do that most radical thing, hear this quartet in a Chicago club or elsewhere. I believe that you will feel uplifted, rewarded — by the sweetness of PRISONER OF LOVE, the rare energy of CATCH ME and the other swinging tunes.  It’s a beautifully integrated quartet, with each player generously giving of himself to the band.  And now I will play APPEL DIRECT again.

May your happiness increase!

HOT MUSIC FROM CHICAGO: MARTY and the BABIES

The paragraph that follows is not for the timid.  Years ago, when I first started trading cassette tapes with jazz fanciers who lived far away, I encountered the delightful Bill Coverdale of Naples, Florida — another Joe Thomas enthusiast. A dear man, now passed into spirit.  But when Bill wanted to know if I’d liked a particular tape or performance, he would write, “Did that wiggle your stylus?” You’d have to know something about pre-Eighties means of sound reproduction to get the joke . . . but this CD certainly does make for a good deal of wiggling joy.

DIGA DIGA DOO Grosz

That says it all, doesn’t it — and with the bonus of a Martin Oliver Grosz cutout collage.  But here are the details, so read on.

The selections chosen by the Gentlemen of the Ensemble: Why Couldn’t It Be Poor Little Me? / A Jazz Holiday / Intro to Blue (and Broken-Hearted) / Blue (and Broken-Hearted) / In A Little Spanish Town / Sweet Sue / My Daddy Rocks Me / Prince of Wails / Hold Me / Diga Diga Doo / Forevermore / Rose of Washington Square / How Deep Is The Ocean / A Good Man is Hard to Find / Church Street Sobbin’ Blues / Strut Miss Lizzie / Intro to The Lady in Red / The Lady in Red / Marty talks.

“Tell us a story, Mister Grosz!” Photo by Lynn Redmile

The Gentlemen of the Aforementioned Ensemble: Grosz, g, bj, voc, speech; Andy Schumm, cnt, blue-blowing; John Otto, cl, ts, bari-s; Jonathan Doyle, cl, ts; Dave Bock or “Panic Slim,” tb; James Dapogny or Paul Asaro, p; Beau Sample, bs; Alex Hall, d. 2013 and 2014, Chicago, Illinois.
Marty Grosz is the last of a breed that, were we to be honest, never existed anywhere except in our imaginations.  A chordal acoustic rhythm guitarist in the style of Dick McDonough, Carl Kress, Bernard Addison, Al Casey; a ringing banjoist who plays the instrument only under duress; a singer who combines the satire of Fats Waller with the tender croon of Red McKenzie and early Crosby; a sharp-edged raconteur and jazz / pop culture historian; a composer of swing ditties; a first-rate arranger; an adept on-the-spot bandleader, skilled at head arrangements while you wait. He once told a liner note writer (ruefully), “I would have been dynamite in 1933.” The regretful tone of that statement was no doubt because Marty was then 3; he is now 85, which makes us all the more glad to have him with us.

Marty’s most recent CD was, if I recall correctly, done in 2010.  With the slow attrition of “record companies,” I am thrilled that this one came out.

A little History, which fans of Marty will already know.

After many years as a respected but under-employed Chicago sideman playing what he likes to call Hot Jazz, alongside Frank Chace, Art Hodes, Don Ewell, Albert Nicholas, and others (even a mysteriously reappearing Jabbo Smith) he became much better-known during his brief tenure with the Bob Wilber-Kenny Davern Soprano Summit (1974-78); he made a few sessions under his own name, both bands and guitar duets; he was then part of the Dick Sudhalter / Dick Wellstood / Joe Muranyi Classic Jazz Quartet. To me, the Great Grosz Period began in 1987, when Bob Erdos of Stomp Off Records began to feature Marty as a leader – songs, personnel, arrangements, encouraging him to record obscure material.  From 1987 to 2010, he recorded prolifically for Stomp Off, Jazzology, Sackville, Jump, Arbors, and other labels. Then, as several of those labels closed their doors, there was a long hiatus. I followed Marty, often with camera, and can attest that he had neither staled nor withered.

His most recent recording, DIGA DIGA DOO, is both a celebration of Marty and of Hot. Recorded in 2013 and 2014, it relies on the hot sensation of the Midwest (and many festivals in the US and Europe) THE FAT BABIES, led by string bassist Beau Sample and featuring cornetist Andy Schumm, trombonist Dave Bock, reedman John Otto, drummer Alex Hall, pianist Paul Asaro. For a second session, Marty brought in the eminent pianist / arranger James Dapogny, Marty’s friend “Panic Slim,” trombone, and Austin, Texas, hot reedman Jonathan Doyle.

It is joyous Hot Music of the kind they would have played in Chicago in the Twenties through the Forties, but it is more than a museum piece, a recreation of old records in better sound. The band shines; their rollicking expert energy comes through every track. Schumm, freed of the necessity of Bix-impersonation, growls and saunters; Dapogny offers startlingly original orchestral backgrounds and solos; Otto veers between sweet melodism and Don Murray / Fud Livingston abstractions. And the other members are just as fine. Some of the selections place us firmly in 1928, but others offer intriguing new views of what is considered an old music, for Marty’s imagination also takes in “rhythm ballads” and music that I imagine he might have heard while playing for strippers.

One of the beautiful talents Marty rarely gets credit for is his effective, even when skeletal arrangements. It would have been easy to take this band into the studio and let them jam on familiar tunes, but Marty finds this approach boring and limiting. So – although the spirit of Hot isn’t ever lost – a Grosz session, in the studio or at a jazz party – has a good deal of paper, which works out well. One could profitably listen to any selection on this disc and admire the assignment of solos, the idiomatic backgrounds and riffs, which give a five-minute performance vitality and variety.

Another characteristic of Marty is an almost inexhaustible flow of verbal commentary; on this disc we have a few precious fragments that will let audiences a hundred years from today – should they exist – get a deeper sense of the man singing, playing, and leading.

A pause for candor. Is this the most polished disc that Marty has ever done? No, and at times it must be measured by the standards we apply to live performance rather than the clinical perfection we expect from studio sessions. But these selections are lively and authentic and thus precious. I could list many delights from this disc but will share only one. Listening to DIGA DIGA DOO for the first time, I came to IN A LITTLE SPANISH TOWN – which begins with a syncopated Spanish rhythm and then – after a wonderful string bass break – shifts into completely groovy swing. I think I’ve played that ninety-second passage a hundred times, and I force my friends to hear it, too.

Here it is, courtesy of “Orchard Enterprises,” a company that has now picked and gleaned the best music for free propagation on YouTube.  I disapprove of the endeavor but could not resist sharing this performance with my readers in hopes that it encourages actual disc purchases:

More about Marty in an April 2015 article hereAnd you can see him in full flower at the Allegheny Jazz Party, coming up in less than a month.

I keep returning to a quote from Stephen Sondheim because I find it particularly irksome: he told an interviewer that the late work of great artists (excepting I think Picasso and Stravinsky) was always second-rate. I’d like to lock our Stephen in a room with DIGA DIGA DOO at a medium volume until he recanted.

May your happiness increase!