Tag Archives: Django Reinhardt

A DELICIOUS TASTING MENU OF MELODIES: JONATHAN STOUT, “PICK IT AND PLAY IT”

Here, taste this:

I can think of no one (except the Venerable Marty Grosz) who is doing what Jonathan Stout does.  But the truly important thing is that he IS doing it, and beautifully.  And the evidence is all through his lovely solo CD, PICK IT AND PLAY IT.

The guitar has a long history, and what we call “jazz guitar” does also.  Before amplification, guitarists — solo or in ensemble — had the same complicated orchestral responsibilities as pianists: keep a melody line going, play the harmonies (implied or stated), do all this while offering a solid rhythmic pulse.  If you couldn’t do all three as easily as breathing, talking, and walking, you didn’t get the gig — whether the gig was playing rocking blues in a Mississippi juke joint or supporting a small hot band in Harlem.  The masters of this genre — more than two dozen — did it as a matter of course.  Anyone who has ever picked up a guitar can learn in under a minute just how complex and intimidatingly difficult their art is.  I write this from experience.

Jonathan has mastered the subtle mystical arts of such swing deities as Allan Reuss and George Van Eps, and PICK IT AND PLAY IT presents fifteen delicious sound-paintings that come from the acoustic past but sound fresh, personal, and lively.  More than once, while listening, I found myself thinking, “If Dick McDonough had lived, he might have made a session like this.”  If you understand my reference, you either already have this disc or you owe it to yourself to have several copies, in case rationing comes back.

If I remember correctly, Van Eps — whose gracious presence is vividly audible here — called this style of guitar playing “lap piano,” and it balances sharply-realized single lines with an overall orchestral approach.  Not only does the listener not miss string bass and drums on this CD, but they would be positively intrusive.  Stout doesn’t need them: he is his own resonant orchestra, full of shadings and colors, with a nearly relentless quiet swing.

And unlike many guitarists who are entranced by Django and post-Django, he does not seek to impress us by velocity, endurance, or flash.  His approach is stately, leisurely, full of melodic and harmonic subtlety: although these performances have the breath of improvisatory life, they are not “Hey, let’s do four choruses on [familiar tune] and go home.”  Rather, Stout has a deep compositional sense, so that I arose from each performance refreshed and fulfilled.  The CD is dense with music, but it never gets dull.  And the sense one comes away with of both Stout and his approach to the genre is not “Hey, look at me!  I spent a thousand hours on this piece!” but “How beautiful the guitar is, and listen to what memorable sounds can come from it.”

This CD offers “fifteen arrangements for solo guitar,” with a repertoire that mixes familiar pop classics with rare compositions for the instrument.  The latter are wonderful and I think they will be new to all except the most ardent student of this arcane art: Frank Victor’s PICK IT AND PLAY IT; Roy Smeck’s ITCHING FINGERS; and Allan Reuss’s APARTMENT G and PET SHOP.  (Many listeners, if they know Reuss at all, know him as the steady sweet resonant pulse in the Benny Goodman orchestra and later small-group sessions, but his compositions are a revelation.  And Reuss is Stout’s model, which says a great deal about Jonathan himself.)  Stout’s originals — dedicated to his son, not to Charlie Christian — PICKIN’ FOR CHARLIE and CHARLIE’S LULLABYE — are particularly delightful, the latter tender but never soporific.

To the casual listener, the remaining songs might seem familiar, even too much so (although in this century, the people who have heard, say, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN too often are an increasingly smaller group): STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, MOONGLOW, CHEEK TO CHEEK, IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, SUNDAY, GEORGIA ON MY MIND, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, OVER THE RAINBOW.  But this assumption would be completely wrong.

I came to CHEEK TO CHEEK, for one example, with a half-century of associations, expectations, and prized performances in my head.  But in the first minute of hearing Stout’s playing, I thought, “Wow, I’ve really never heard that song before.”  And it wasn’t that he was being consciously or self-consciously innovative, but his performance had the integrity and wonder that the best musicians bring to even the simplest series of chord changes or melodies.

Two more delights add to the overall pleasure, both provided by people who themselves make splendid music.  One is the too-brief but delicious essay by guitarist Nick Rossi: what a pleasure to read uncliched prose that rests on a deep knowledge of the art.  The other is the gorgeous recorded sound created by master engineer Bryan Shaw: the guitar sounds like itself, with no “natural flavors” synthesized in the laboratory, with a minimum of string noise that is often distracting on recordings of acoustic guitar.

PICK IT AND PLAY IT is a series of small fulfilling delights — and “small” is not a criticism but a compliment.  Even if you’ve never heard of Frank Victor, or perhaps especially if you’ve never heard of Frank Victor, you will be thrilled by Jonathan Stout’s masterful subtle art.  Hear and purchase here and here.  And Jonathan is also quite a teacher: visit here to learn more — not only about his solo guitar folios and transcriptions, but about his swinging bands.

May your happiness increase!

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UP IN THE CLOUDS (Part One): The JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH (May 11, 2019)

Jonathan Doyle, 2015

 

It’s lovely to have heroes, and the man in the photograph is one of mine.  The only problem with the photograph is that it’s a still picture, and he is rarely still, but the videos below will remedy that.

When I was fortunate enough to chat with clarinetist Frank Chace on the telephone (now more than twenty years ago), he remembered that he and Marty Grosz had listened, rapt, over and over, to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on SWEET SUE with the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers on Commodore. Marty’s comment was, “Well, if that doesn’t scrape the clouds . . . !” which is as good a summation of what artistic bliss feels like.

Those words kept coming back to me all through my weekend immersion in joy at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: I listened, quite amazed, at the wonderful music I was privileged to hear.  I’m still in a state of blissful amazement: feelings shared by those around me.

One of the reasons for this unearthly happiness has to do with reedman / composer / arranger / imaginative-phenomenon Jonathan Doyle, a rare source of  renewable energy in our time. Here ‘s where you can find him on Facebook as well.  Spiritual electricities course through him without harming him or us, and they come out as the most beautiful surprising patterns of notes, tones, and rests.  He never coasts; he never parodies anyone or himself.

Jonathan was a stimulating presence all through the weekend: with Charlie Halloran’s Calypsonians, leading several sets of his own and with Jacob Zimmerman (one a Walter Donaldson tribute with Doyle on bass sax), as lead horn in Hal Smith’s Swing Central, with the extravagant Western Swing Party co-led by Hal and Dave Stuckey.  (He was also one-third of the double tribute to composer-players Gordon Au and Josh Collazo, but by that time I had collapsed as if I’d been made of damp cardboard.  I’ll do better next year, I hope.)

Here are four uplifting performances from the first set of Jonathan’s Swingtet, a glorious affair consisting of Doyle, Jacob Zimmerman, alto; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Hal Smith, drums.

BLUE DRAG (a nod to 1934 Django):

CHICAGO (he’ll show you around!):

THE FED HOP (Jonathan’s irresistible original):

DICKIE’S DREAM (Basie 1939, anyone?  Because of sudden battery demise, I lost the first ensemble chorus and Charlie Halloran’s delicious solo, but what remains is very satisfying):

When you’re through admiring the solo work and the overall joyous bounce of these four performances, I urge you to listen again to Jonathan’s arrangements, their sweet surprises, their dynamics and voicings.  He’s not just a great player and composer: he’s a wonderful orchestral visionary who makes his dreams and ours come true in swing.

More to come from my hero JD and his friends.

May your happiness increase! 

HANDFULS OF KEYS: DAN MORGENSTERN CELEBRATES MARTIAL SOLAL (and ANDRE HODEIR), EDDIE COSTA, and WILLIE “THE LION” SMITH (July 6, 2018)

Another visit with our favorite Jazz Eminence who, having spoken first of saxophonists Dexter Gordon here, Sonny Stitt, and Lee Konitz here, moves on to pianists Solal (with a digression to critic / violinist Hodeir), pianist-vibraphonist Costa, and pianist-force of nature Willie “the Lion” Smith . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a previous conversation Dan had spoken of Solal with great enthusiasm, so I followed his lead:

I also wondered what Dan knew of the brilliant, short-lived, multi-talented Eddie Costa:

and finally, for that afternoon, glimpses of Willie “the Lion” Smith:

Now, some music.

Martial Solal, 1963, playing Django (with whom he recorded) — accompanied by Teddy Kotick and Paul Motian.  (The sessions were recorded in New York City.):

Eddie Costa, Wendell Marshall, Paul Motian:

Willie “the Lion” Smith, 1965, introduced by Humphrey Lyttelton — accompanied by Brian Brocklehurst and Lennie Hastings.

Thank you so much, Mister Morgenstern!  More stories to come . . . Randy Weston, Jaki Byard, Ira Gitler, Slim Gaillard, Harry Lim, Jeff Atterton, Kiyoshi Kuyama . . . and others.

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE BACK! DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG at FRESNO (Part Two): DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, DAVID AUS, SAM ROCHA, GARETH PRICE, and RILEY BAKER (January 8-9, 2019)

Yesterday’s post of PARDON MY SOUTHERN ACCENT by Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang received a great deal of attention and praise . . . so here is a second helping.  But I confess that I am posting more music by this band for an even simpler reason: they make me feel jubilant, and I can’t dismiss that reaction.

Here are three more rocking performances by Dave and the Hot House Gang from February 8-9th at the “Sounds of Mardi Gras” in Fresno, California.  The swing luminaries on the stand in addition to Dave, guitar and vocal, are Gareth Price, drums; Sam Rocha, piano; David Aus, piano [taking the place of Carl Sonny Leyland for this gig]; Nate Ketner, reeds; Marc Caparone, cornet; guest star Riley Baker, trombone.

The first, ‘T’AIN’T NO USE, comes from the 1936 book of Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys:

Another reproachful meditation on romance that hasn’t quite reached the target, WHY DON’T YOU PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH? — renowned because of Henry “Red” Allen and the Boswell Sisters.  Here it has a little glee-club flair, which works so well:

A splendid swing classic by Edgar Sampson, BLUE LOU:

Don’t they just rock the building?  I’ve known almost all of the Gang — on disc and in person — through my California Period — but I would especially call out for praise and attention a few Youngbloods, Messrs. Price, Baker, and Rocha.  How very inspiring.

May your happiness increase!

GROOVIN’ WITH DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG at FRESNO (Part One): DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, DAVID AUS, SAM ROCHA, GARETH PRICE, and RILEY BAKER (January 9, 2019)

You’ve heard of people dowsing for water — using a forked stick or a pendulum to discern where there’s water under the surface of apparently barren land.  I think of Dave Stuckey as the modern swing equivalent.  His skill is just as rewarding, for he finds the groove where other musicians or bands might not.  Audiences, dancers, and players hear it and respond beautifully.  I’d heard Dave and the Hot House Gang only once before in person, at a Saturday-night dance at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest (results here) and on the group’s debut CD (read my review here) but these pleasurable interludes made me incredibly eager to hear Dave and Co. at the 2019 “Sounds of Mardi Gras” in Fresno, California — a weekend I’ve just come back from.  More about Fresno below.

Here’s one sweet convincing sample.  Dave has a deep affinity for the music Henry “Red” Allen recorded in the Thirties, and PARDON MY SOUTHERN ACCENT by Matty Malneck and Johnny Mercer is one of those memorable tunes.  Dave is joined by Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, reeds; David Aus (a newcomer, subbing this once for Carl Sonny Leyland) piano; Sam Rocha, string bass; Gareth Price, drums, and guest Riley Baker, trombone.

I video-ed everything Dave and the Gang created, and it was rather like a wonderfully unusual yet compelling blend of Fats, Wingy, Red Allen, Tempo King, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Joe and Marty Marsala, Stuff Smith, Eddie Condon, and Django — with great riffing both afternoon and evening.  They can play ballads as well as stomps, and the groove was something to behold: you could ask the dancers.

Mercer came by his Southern accent authentically, being a Savannah native.

A few words about Fresno.  It was my first visit to that jazz festival and I’ll be back next year — not only because of the fine music and the convenience (everything was under one comfortable roof) but the pervasive geniality: much friendliness from everyone, from the waitstaff to the musicians and volunteers. Thanks to Linda Shipp, Alberto, and friends for making everyone so comfortable.  And you can bet there will be more video evidence from the Hot House Gang and Bob Schulz and his Frisco Jazz Band (featuring Ray Skjelbred and Kim Cusack).

 

May your happiness increase!

DENNIS LICHTMAN and THE QUEENSBORO SIX: “JUST CROSS THE RIVER”

Slightly less than three years ago, the superbly gifted multi-instrumentalist / composer Dennis Lichtman assembled his Queensboro Six and gave a concert at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.  Here is the first half, and here is the second.  The music was multi-colored and seriously rewarding: Dennis’ tribute to the true jazz borough, Queens County, New York, home of so many jazz figures — from Clarence Williams and Basie to Louis and Dizzy, Milt Hinton and James P. Johnson — and currently home to so many more of the musicians we love.  Dennis assembled his Queensboro Six for a truly delightful new CD, its title above, its theme song below:

This disc is a model of how to do it — musicians and composers take note.  For one thing, the band has an immense rhythmic and melodic energy, but the pieces are compact — sometimes explosions of twenty-first century Hot, sometimes evocative mood pieces, but none of them sounding just like the preceding track.  Dennis is a real composer, so that even an exploration of Rhythm changes sounds lively and fresh.  His arrangements also make for refreshing variety, so that one doesn’t hear him as the featured soloist to the exclusion of the other luminaries, and the performances are multi-textured, harking back to the later Buck Clayton, to Charlie Shavers’ work for the John Kirby Sextet, Raymond Scott, to sensitive elegies and musings that hint at the work of Sidney Bechet and Django Reinhardt.  You’ll also notice compositions by and associated with those Queens denizens Louis, Fats, Clarence Williams.  As that borough boasts some of the finest ethnic restaurants, this disc offers one savory musical dish after another.   As they used to say, “For listening and dancing”!  Peter Karl is responsible for the lovely recorded sound and Ricky Riccardi for the fine liner notes.

Here are some details.  The musicians are Dennis, clarinet; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Rob Garcia, drums; Nathan Peck, string bass — with guest appearances by Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, vocal , guitar; Mazz Swift, violin, vocal; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nick Russo, guitar.  If you know even a few of those performers, you will want this disc, because they seem especially inspired by Dennis’ compositions, arrangements, and playing.  And no one imitates any of the Ancestors.

The songs are 7 EXPRESS / FOR BIX / MIDNIGHT AT THE PIERS / ROAD STREET COURT PLACE AVENUE DRIVE / SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY / WALTZ FOR CAMILA / L.I.C. STRUT / JUST CROSS THE RIVER FROM QUEENS / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / 23rd BETWEEN 23rd AND 23rd / SQUEEZE ME / THE POWER OF NOT THEN / I’D REMEMBER HAVING MET YOU / CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME.

You may order a download or a disc here at very reasonable prices.

But perhaps more important than the disc itself, on August 1, the Queensboro Six will play two sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.  Tickets and details here.  Get yours today:

May your happiness increase!

JAMES BIRKETT AND EMMA FISK PLAY VENUTI AND LANG, WITH GREAT AFFECTION AND EXPERTISE

The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”

If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.

As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out.  Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing.  Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.

Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster.  (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.)  And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.

Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases.  She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace.  In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else.  He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental.  So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints.  The music breathes comfortably and well.

Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.

A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:

May your happiness increase!