Tag Archives: Django Reinhardt

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!

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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!

SALE! REDUCED! DJANGO! A LIMITED TIME ONLY!

Reduced from $12,000.  Now only $10,800.

And the descriptive paragraph:

Rare photograph signed by one of Europe’s first great jazz musicians, considered by many to be the finest guitarist the world has ever known.
Rare Photograph signed: “D. Reinhardt”. B/w, 5×6. Captioned at lower margin: “Club Rythmique de Belgique.” Jean Baptise “Django” Reinhardt (1910-1953), who was born in Belgium, grew up in a gypsy camp near Paris. Originally a violinist, he is best remembered for his jazz and swing performances on the acoustic guitar (because of youthful burn injuries that cost him two fingers, Reinhardt had to develop an original fingering system). In the 1930s, he performed with Stephane Grappelli in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Although he couldn’t read music, Reinhardt created many influential jazz compositions. The pioneer of the concept of the lead guitarist in a musical group, Reinhardt is best remembered for such songs as “My Sweet”, “Minor Swing”, “Tears”, “Belleville” “Djangology” and “Nauges”. In addition to touring throughout Europe, Reinhardt was acclaimed in the U.S., opening for Duke Ellington and playing at Carnegie Hall. Reinhardt, who influenced a number of styles of music, is consistently named as an influence by many modern guitarists and musicians, including Chet Atkins, Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, George Benson and Willie Nelson. Reinhardt is rare in any form. This is a fine example. Slightly soiled at blank margins. Minor surface scratches, some visible on forehead of image. Overall, fine condition.

And the link for those with disposable income.

And the reason — to many of us — for the adulation:

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING DAN MORGENSTERN, WHO GIVES SO MUCH TO US

On October 24, 1929, Bennie Moten, Lud Gluskin, Horace Heidt, Junie C. Cobb, Jack Hylton, and a few other bands made records.  In the United States, terrible things were happening to the economy.  But in Munich, Germany, our hero Dan Morgenstern was born.  Whether his first cries were in 4/4, there is no evidence,  but I would venture that it was an early example of spontaneous scat singing.

Given the math above, even I can add up the figures to write that Dan will be 88 this week.  I’m not the only one celebrating.  There will be a musical birthday party hosted by David Ostwald, who leads the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band, at Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, New York City, this Wednesday, the 25th, from 5:30 to 7 PM.  And I’ll bet Dan chirps a few with the Band. You can reserve online (and you should) here.

On Saturday, October 28th, from 1-4 PM, Loren Schoenberg (a very good friend of Dan’s and a scholar in his own right) will host a celebration / interview of Dan at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, 58 West 129th Street, New York City. Details — to reserve a seat / buy a ticket at a nominal price — here — or here.

While you’re making your reservations, a little Morgenstern-music to accompany your mouse-clicks:

I don’t have a jazz club or museum as a place to honor Dan.  But JAZZ LIVES is not without its resources, and as readers know, I have had the honor of interviewing Dan at length . . . an utterly gratifying experience for me, so I will share two as-yet-unseen segments.

One takes Dan back to Copenhagen in 1938.  I knew he had delighted in Fats Waller on Fats’ European tour, but I hadn’t known he had seen the Quintet of the Hot Club of France AND the Mills Brothers.  Dan also recalls his first jazz records.  Wonderful memories:

Remembering the Quintet also led to Dan’s enthusiastic portrait of violinist Svend Asmussen:

“A wonderfully enveloping good nature,” Dan says of Fats.  He would never say it of himself, but it is no less true.  It is our immense good fortune to know Mr. Morgenstern.

May your happiness increase!

GOLD IN THOSE GROOVES (Los Angeles, 1938)

Truman “Pinky” Tomlin, singer, composer, bandleader, film star

Everyone reading JAZZ LIVES could, with not much effort, compile a list of a dozen well-known and rewarding jazz recordings.  Your list might be entirely different, but I feel that we would recognize the names of most, if not all, of the entries. But what continues to delight me is the wonderful music to be found on recordings that don’t get any attention, those beneath the surface of the collective attention.

One such record is a recent purchase from eBay, and it’s repaid its original price (perhaps $2.99?) a dozen times over, even though its star, Oklahoma-born “Pinky” Tomlin, would not be at the top of many people’s lists.

The record isn’t listed in Tom Lord’s or Brian Rust’s discography, although the records Pinky made with (among others) Joe Sullivan and Joe Haymes are. Make of this what you will, but two sides made at the same session — SMILES and THE OLD OAKEN BUCKET — are listed (and thus certified as Official Jazz Records) although they are less memorable: I bought that disc also from eBay.

The orchestra is directed by Harry Sosnik, and features Pinky with Mannie Klein, trumpet; Andy Secrest, cornet; Abe Lincoln, trombone; Jack Mayhew, clarinet; Claude Kennedy, piano; Perry Botkin, guitar; Slim Jim Taft, string bass; Spike Jones, drums.  It was recorded in Los Angeles, April 23, 1938.

Those are illustrious names; some readers will notice that the band is close to the group that accompanied Mr. Crosby and Mr. Mercer on their version of the Gallagher-and-Shean vaudeville routine in July of that year: the evidence here. I suspect that more than a few worked in radio and were known as the best “studio” musicians on the West Coast.  The one unknown in this band, pianist Kennedy, I found out through reading Pinky’s autobiography, THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION (his best-known composition) was a friend and musical colleague of Pinky’s from Oklahoma.  (Just because you might be wondering, Truman Tomlin got his nickname early on because of his complexion.)

I wonder if this session was another of Jack Kapp’s crossover ideas, joining hot jazz, swing, and Western swing, to support Pinky, already well-known on radio and films.  Had Kapp noticed the success of Maxine Sullivan’s LOCH LOMOND, a swing version of a traditional song, or Ella Logan’s efforts (in all those cases, no composers to pay)?

But enough words.  Feast your ears (and, yes, there is authentic surface noise, because the original owner of this record played it often).

RED WING:

RED RIVER VALLEY:

These sides are fun, and that comes from their ease, the sweet balance between Pinky’s sincere Oklahoma voice, not trying to “get hot” except for the one upwards Bing-meets-Louis scat phrase on RED WING.  He’s telling us stories, and he’s completely earnest but never stiff.  Sosnik wasn’t always so swinging on other Deccas that bear his name, but the arranged passages are right on target, and it’s especially pleasant that the endings on both sides aren’t histrionic, but wind down gently.  Secrest plays beautifully, but it’s the band that charms me — its unsung heroes being Perry Botkin and Spike Jones, who certainly swung.

“It’s not in the discography, so it can’t be jazz.”  But it’s rewarding music.

I find myself charmed by Pinky: he seems guileless, someone who is being rather than acting.  Two more examples: one, from a 1937 film, where he, like Bing, seems to say to a viewer, “I’m on the screen, singing, and putting clothing into a trunk.  But you could do this, too.”:

Two decades later, Pinky faces Groucho, his essential sweetness intact:

A few words about THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION.  I read in Pinky’s autobiography how the song was a spur-of-the-moment creation that grew from the casual phrase that was its title.  But it has deep jazz credentials: Ella sang it early, and later in life, when she and Pinky were together at some public function, went out of her way to express her gratitude.

Three versions, each showing the song’s durability and emotional appeal.  First, Carl Switzer:

Helvetia, Connie, and Martha:

Garnet Clark, Bill Coleman (“from brown to rosy red”), June Cole, George Johnson, Django:

May your happiness increase!

THESE COZY VIRTUOSI: EMMA FISK, JACOB ULLBERGER, SPATS LANGHAM, HENRY LEMAIRE at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 4, 2016)

Violinist Emma Fisk — with a lovely dark tone, a romantic conception to match her fine technique — never disappoints and is always swinging.  Here she is with three of the best — Spats Langham on the right and Jacob Ullberger on the left, guitars, and Henry Lemaire, string bass — in a session celebrating Django, Stephane, and their work together both as the Quintette of the Hot Club of France and later.

This delight took place at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, held in Whitley Bay, England: this set comes from November 4, 2016.We begin with an incomplete performance — my fault — but I thought the remainder was too good to ignore.

COQUETTE:

I’M CONFESSIN’:

BELLEVILLE:

IF YOU ONLY KNEW (HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU):

DARK EYES:

As you can hear, Emma is a superb violinist, one not restricted to this particular genre.  She and guitarist James Birkett have formed a duo devoted to the music of Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, and the delightful evidence — audio and video — can be found here.  I’ve heard rustlings that a new CD by the duo is on the way as well.  Emma and friends — what friends! — will be back for the 2017 Party, held in late October: visit here for details, videos, and more.  I won’t be there, but that will leave more room for you and yours.

May your happiness increase!

“NOT A SCIENCE EXPERIMENT”: IAN DATE, NIGEL DATE, BOB BARNARD, JONATHAN ZWARTZ / CHRIS O’DEA, STAN VALACOS, ANDREW DICKESON

To paraphrase Aquinas, to those who can hear, no explanation is necessary.

You might not recognize the musicians, and the song might be unfamiliar, but it is unmistakably Good Music, as Milt Hinton would have called it:

and then there’s the issued version, with useful visuals:

To reiterate the obvious (it goes with my job description) this is a new CD created by (electric) guitarist Ian Date and his brother Nigel, who plays acoustic guitar, string bassist Jonathan Zwartz, and the heroic Bob Barnard on trumpet. JUST MY LUCK was recorded in Sydney in March 2016, and it’s a delight.

I confess that even though I did not know Ian’s music well, when I saw that he and Nigel had recorded this with Bob, I entreated a copy.  Bob is one of my true idols: a gentle, witty man in person, and a truly melodic player — he carries on the great legacy of Bobby Hackett and others while making acrobatics seem both easy and plausible.  Although Bob is mildly older than I am, nothing that he plays has an iota of strain or effortful gracelessness.  And the three other players are brilliantly easeful as well: Ian compares them to four blokes sitting around playing cards.

The result is music that is truly conversational and collaborative — no competition, just a deep awareness that song and swing are the essential cosmic forces.  It’s beautifully recorded as well, and the songs are a pleasure.  I don’t know who came up with the title song — an obscurity from Broadway — but I wish more bands would play it.  And the others are all simultaneously deeply rewarding but not overplayed: MIS’RY AND THE BLUES / COCKTAILS FOR TWO / MAD ABOUT THE BOY / YOU’RE MY THRILL / MOON SONG / IT’S WONDERFUL / BY MYSELF / YOU ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL.

Incidentally, once I’d heard JUST MY LUCK, I looked up Ian’s recording career and found that he was on a dozen or more CDs with Dan Barrett and Tom Baker — CDs I’d treasured for years.  So, Ian, I apologize for not putting your name in cyber-lights sooner, and hope this little nosegay makes up for it slightly.

From a slightly earlier session, here’s DINETTE:

Here’s the somewhat quirky cover:

Don’t let the homegrown, slightly satiric cover fool you.  This CD is consistently delightful: I plan to keep a copy in my car to use as a Blindfold Test, should I have passengers who think themselves knowledgeable about the music, so that they can say, “Michael, WHO are those people?  Damn, they are superb!”  The overall ambiance of the disc is — sonically and spiritually — Mainstream — but it is so good that it is hard to describe.  The quintet plays the blues convincingly, ballads in emotive yet swinging ways.  At times, I thought of an imagined Herb Ellis session or another track from the 1939 Charlie Christian – Jerry Jerome – Pettiford session.  Nothing’s imitative: there’s no effort to Evoke An Era, but the end result is wonderfully reassuring, as if reminding us that such music can still be made, and made superbly in this century.  Incidentally, Ian and Nigel are sometimes advertised as “Gypsy jazz,” but what they’ve taken from that sometimes distorted genre is a deep feeling for melody, for lyricism, for swing — rather than having the fretboard burst into flames.  I think they remember that Django’s original inspirations were Louis, local melodies, and dance bands . . .

If anything, what I’ve written is a sedately restrained understatement.  The songs are DANCE HALL BEAT / SI TU VOIS MA MERE / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / POINCIANA / SEGMENT / I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN / DINETTE / THERE GOES MY HEART / MMF BLUES / A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT, and Ian’s comrades are brother Nigel, guitar; Chris O’Dea, tenor saxophone; Stan Valacos, string bass; Andrew Dickeson, drums.  From the first rimshot to the last notes (an instrumental flourish that suggests late Louis) of SAILBOAT, I was delighted — and I’ve played it half-a-dozen times.

To purchase a copy of LET’S PLAY, visit here.

I suspect that this would be another good place to visit for those who would like copies of these CDs.  But here more modern folks can download JUST MY LUCK for a mere pittance.  What beautiful, warm, and vibrant music these fellows make.

And just because Ian can, and I can, here’s another sample of his talents:

May your happiness increase!