Tag Archives: Django Reinhardt

“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!

“JOHN PAUL GEORGE AND DJANGO”: THE HOT CLUB OF SAN FRANCISCO

2016hcsflivingroom

I think I am older than Paul Mehling, but we both came up in a time when the Beatles were not only the sensational mop-tops who had made all the girls scream at concert performances but when their songs were the ubiquitous popular soundtrack.  I can remember buying each new album as it came out and listening avidly.  Of course, both Paul and I felt drawn to a different kind of music, as he writes in the brief notes to this new CD:

The idea that Django Reinhardt would have played the Beatles’ tunes has haunted me ever since I took up the guitar.  Like so many of my generation who were galvanized by their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, I became part of the ‘culture of guitar’ and never looked back.  But unlike my guitar brethren who stayed on for sex, drugs, and/or rock ‘n’ roll, I was devastated by the breakup of the Beatles and I quit listening to rock entirely, foolishly believing that the best was now over.  Luckily, I was already deeply inspired by traditional jazz — Goodman, Bechet, Dorsey, Shaw, & others of the swing era, especially Django.  This record was inevitable in that regard.

johnpaulgeorgedjangocdcover

For those impatient with words, here you can hear sound samples, learn more about the Hot Club of San Francisco, and purchase the music.

The HCSF is a venerable band — much of its personnel staying the same for a long time — and it has the ease and intensity of a working band.  The players are Paul Mehling, Evan Price, SAm Rocha, Iabelle Fontaine, Jordan Samuels, with guests Jeff Hamilton, Nate Ketner, Jeff Magidson, Michel Saga.

The repertoire neatly balances the familiar (going all the way back to 1964) and the less well-known: ALL MY LOVIN’ / BECAUSE / MICHELLE / I WILL / HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE / YOU WON’T SEE ME / THE FOOL ON THE HILL / IF I NEEDE SOMEONE / JULIA / YOU CAN’T DO THAT / FOR NO ONE / DON’T BOTHER ME / HEY JUDE – DUKE & DUKIE / THINGS WE SAID TODAY / YELLOW SUBMARINE.  Because Mehling is a gleeful subversive, there is a French group vocal, visits from musical saw, banjo, melodica, and barrel organ. It isn’t the Beatles on hallucinogens visiting an abandoned gypsy caravan, but it has immense wit, verve, and variety.  As impatient as I can be, I listened to this CD without a break many times.

In the Sixties and beyond, there were many recordings of Beatles “covers”: the Hollyridge Strings Play Lennon and McCartney; Nelson Eddy Sings the Beatles; Wilbur Sweatman Plays the Hits of Today (seriously, both Basie and Ellington attempted this, and Louis sang — most convincingly — GIVE PEACE A CHANCE).  In general, these recordings were often an attempt to bridge the generations and to give record buyers senior and junior something to purchase. But the end result was often watery.

Not so the HCSF CD.  Each song is quietly linked to the ones before and after — so the end result is a charming Beatles suite, a too-brief immersion.  But it’s also a brightly colored journey, with each track exhibiting its own glowing personality: brilliant and sometimes surprising arranging makes this delightfully possible.  And if you are worried about such things, the session swings mightily and is wonderful dance music. To describe this CD track-by-track would be to spoil the fun, but I can see why devoted fans of the HCSF had been after Paul to make a CD like this.

May your happiness increase!

SIGN IN, PLEASE! (Summer 2016 edition)

From the hallowed archives of eBay, where anything and everything is for sale.

7 16 DJANGO autograph

Duke, 1950.

7 16 DUKE 1950

Louis, 1944:

7 16 LOUIS 1944 autograph

Billie, on a Columbia album of her classics (the image might be huge, but it was the only capture I could make):

and from a Canadian fan’s autograph book:

7-16 Billie

Wonderful to see the evidence that the Divines had pens and would make contact with Mortals.

May your happiness increase!

THE JIMMY GRANT ENSEMBLE: “LYNN’S BLUES”

JIMMY GRANT photo

I met guitarist Jimmy Grant on one of my California sojourns, and was impressed immediately by the way he comfortably moved in and out of the predictable.  He is a superb Django-style player, someone who understands the master’s inherent lyricism, creating resonant melodies full of memorable phrases that don’t overwhelm the listener with notes.  (Many contemporary Django-emulators have innocently thought that the way to both be and outdo their inspiration was to play everything twice as quickly, to aim for powerful density, never realizing that Django’s masters — among them Louis — let their phrases breathe.  Jimmy knows this well.)  But Jimmy has also listened deeply to other kinds of improvised syncopated dance music that didn’t have to come out of a gypsy caravan.

JIMMY GRANT ENSEMBLE YT

Thus his new CD, LYNN’S BLUES, doesn’t sound like the QHCF in improved sound, able to play longer than an Ultraphone 78 side. Yes, there’s ROSE ROOM, TEARS, and J’ATTENDRAI (none of which I object to) but also several of Jimmy’s surprising, twisty originals, greatly pleasing on their own.  The members of the Ensemble are Javi Jiménez on guitar, Hanna Mignano on violin, and Jamie Mather on bass, with guest appearances by Bay Area luminaries Evan Price, violin, and Sam Rocha, string bass.

JIMMY GRANT ENSEMBLE CD pic

The music of the Ensemble is rewarding precisely because it is slippery, but in a very friendly way.  It is never museum-piece Hot Club recreation, but it is also not abruptly and self-consciously “postmodern.”  The venerable songs are outfitted with small pleasing touches — introductions and codas, playful shifts of instrumentation, and their firm tangible melodic strengths sing out proudly. Jimmy’s originals are indeed original — rather than being thin melodic constructs — but they embrace at the same time they enliven.

Here’s an audio-visual sample of one of Jimmy’s originals, BUNICAL, which is also the opening song on the CD:

And a version of Jimmy’s DRUNK, performed out-of-doors:

The Ensemble’s Facebook page is here, and Jimmy’s website is here.

Jimmy and friends create light-hearted music that is seriously worth investigating.

May your happiness increase!

AN ORDER OF HOT CLUB FOR FOUR, PLEASE: EMMA FISK, SPATS LANGHAM, MARTIN WHEATLEY, HENRY LEMAIRE (Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, Nov. 6, 2015)

Emma Fisk

Emma Fisk is a deep-rooted jazz violinist.  Here, from her website, is the story of how she became one.

I first encountered Emma at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, where in the past three years she has been called upon to honor Eddie South, Stuff Smith, Stephane Grappelly, Joe Venuti, and others — see her in action here and here. (Emma pops up here and there on my most recent videos from the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, and she’s always welcome.)  Then I heard the CD, featuring Emma, as part of the splendid small group aptly calling itself DJANGOLOGIE.

Fast forward to November 6, 2015, where Emma was leading a stellar quartet that she whimsically called “the Hot Club of Whitley Bay,” herself on violin, Martin Wheatley, Spats Langham, guitar; Henry Lemaire, string bass.  Here are the delights they offered us.

DINAH:

J’ATTENDRAI:

DOUCE AMBIANCE:

NUAGES:

MINOR SWING:

A sidelight: Emma is giggling through some of this set, and there’s good reason, if you see a youngish man sitting on the floor right in front of the band.  That’s no Quintette-obsessed fan, but the fine guitarist / banjoist Jacob Ullberger.  Emma told me, “I was laughing at Jacob coming to sit under a table to listen at the start of one of the songs. He looked like a little boy sitting cross-legged in the school hall, which tickled my funny bone. He told me afterwards that he wanted to come and hear the acoustic sound of the music.”

And quite rightly so.

Follow Emma (as we say in this century) on Facebook, where she is Emma Fisk Jazz Violin.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR BY FOUR IN 4 / 4: “The Unaccounted Four,” Scheveningen, July 2015

I’ve written about the wondrous quartet, whimsically called THE UNACCOUNTED FOUR, as often as I could: here, herehereherehere. They make music that is both cerebral and welcoming.

The unusual proliferation of hyperlinks should indicate my enthusiasm, but a few words might help for those who would rather read than click.

Amsterdam, 11 januari 2015 – Gala van de verkiezing van de Amsterdammer van het Jaar in de Stadsschouwburg. Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four brengt een muzikale ode aan de genomineerden. Foto: Mats van Soolingen

Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four, Amsterdam.  Photograph by Mats van Soolingen.

The Unaccounted Four is a quartet of trumpet, clarinet / tenor, guitar, bass. Historically-minded readers will think of the Django-Rex Stewart session, the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, and in our century, the EarRegulars.  And all of those connections would be valid, although the U 4 leans more to the pensive than the combative, with echoes of the Alec Wilder Octet.

The U 4 is swinging, melodic, deeply thoughtful and playful all at once.  And they have understood something about time as well — and I don’t mean simply a swinging flexible 4 / 4.  If modern physics — and modern art — have helped us understand that time is more a field than a series of beads on a string, the U 4 enacts that easy flexibility in the most charming ways.  In their playing, hot jazz and The Birth of the Cool sit at the same table; Charlie Parker and Charlie Holmes go to the same reed repairman, and Miles smiles warmly at Louis.

Did I say that they have a wonderful CD, called PLAYGROUND?  They do. One could hear some of it here.  And here.

PLAYGROUND

For visual as well as auditory proof of this band’s happy approach to music and to our hearts, here are four videos from a July 2015 performance.

Nothing UNDECIDED here — sparkling chamber jazz that makes this familiar song sound exactly like new:

Then, Ravel’s SLEEPING BEAUTY:

James P. Johnson’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES:

And Bix’s IN THE DARK:

Endearing lyricism is what I call it.

Now, I can’t make it out of the country for next Wednesday, but the U 4 will be playing a gig then.  More room for you!  Details here and here.

May your happiness increase!

FEELING AFFECTIONATE?

PINKY TOMLIN

Here’s the theme song for all affectionate types (which I hope is a large audience) — this on-air version from January 1935:

And later in 1935, one of my favorite recordings ever:

It was issued under the name of pianist Garnet Clark, but it’s more often presented these days as a Django Reinhardt recording.  The stars are Clark, trumpeter Bill Coleman (catch his wonderful Louis-homages at the end, two, gloriously), clarinetist George Johnson, string bassist June Cole.  Poor Garnet Clark had a short life and a shorter recording history, dying young and in a psychiatric institution.  But how he could play!

Extra credit to those who know who Pinky Tomlin is.

I hope that the air today is full of people humming and singing this song.

May your happiness increase!