Tag Archives: Don Lambert

“LET’S PLAY BALL!” or STILL SPINNING WITH PLEASURE-VERTIGO: A REPORT FROM JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY (October 13-14, 2012)

Before I go on, here’s the very first song of the party, AFTER YOU’VE GONE, recorded by Eric Devine, master videographer:

Last weekend, in an 1804 farmhouse in Guilford, Connecticut (home of Joel and Donna Schiavone), hot music filled the air from noon – 10 PM Saturday, from noon to late afternoon Sunday.  And it wasn’t in sets with breaks: twelve hours or so of fairly continuous and certainly inspired music.

The creators were pianist / singer / philosopher Jeff Barnhart, pianist Ross Petot; reed wizards John Clark, Noel Kaletsky; Renaissance man Vince Giordano; trombonist / singer / euphonist Jim Fryer, trombonist Craig Grant; trumpeter / tubaist Paul Monat, trumpeter Fred Vigorito, banjoist / singer Bob Barta, string bassist Genevieve Rose, banjoist / singer Joel Schiavone, drummers Sal Ranniello, C.H. “Pam” Pameijer.

They performed one hundred selections in those three sets (yes, I was counting).  The repertoire went all the way from sweet solo piano serenades to set-this-house-on-fire incendiary ensembles.  Two trombones, two sopranos, two trumpets; many banjos, much cheerful momentum.  Paul Monat played fours with himself on tuba and trumpet, stopping the show. Jim Fryer sweetly sang THE GYPSY (with verse) and soloed fore and aft on euphonium.  Genevieve Rose gave a pensive yet swinging rendition of JADA as her solo feature.

Pam Pameijer switched from drums to washboard and kept things moving. Bob Barta cooled us off with a heartfelt DARKNESS ON THE DELTA; John Clark and Noel Kaletsky had a wailing two=clarinet discussion on APEX BLUES; Fred Vigorito increased the temperature of the room (we were peeling off layers of clothing) every time he stepped forward and began to play.

Craig Grant, new to me, played beautifully in ensembles and as a soloist; Sal Ranniello (whom I’d heard on recordings) kept the ship on a straight course. Joel sang and played many nifty old songs that I’d nearly forgotten, delighting us all — a very generous man.

More?  Unlike some “jazz parties,” where the musicians are far away on a stage, this was as informal as could be.  There was a trotting parade of players through rooms — not exactly second-lining with parasols, although that did happen once.  The barriers between Musicians and Audience were broken down early and stayed down.  (This accessibility might have been exhausting for the musicians, but I didn’t see anyone complaining.)

The music was blissfully wide-ranging, from Hot Five and two-trumpet King Oliver to Twenties New Orleans and early Ellington, an interlude of Joplin as it might have been played in “Disneyland for adults” (a bordello circa 1904), a good deal of Bix-related music, evocations of early Bennie Moten and Willie the Lion Smith ensembles, a Chopin waltz turned into Don Lambert ecstasy.

Joel treated us to I ONLY WANT A BUDDY, NOT A GAL and THAT LUCKY OLD SUN.  Jeff, for his part, sang / played / embodied DAPPER DAN FROM DIXIELAND as well as his tour de force on YOUNG AND HEALTHY (more about that in a future post).

A fourteen-year old piano wizard brought the blues to the room — in the nicest of ways: his name is ANDREW FERMO and you will be hearing from him, I predict.  The musicians tried to terrify us with THE YAMA YAMA MAN but Bob Barta told us it was all going to be fine with YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU.  Ross Petot, not well-enough known outside his neighborhood, hit home runs with LIMEHOUSE BLUES and GONE WIH THE WIND.  Leonard “Red” Balaban, who made so many good things happen with his bands, sat in for a gracious version of A PORTER’S LOVE SONG and followed with a sweet I COULD WRITE A BOOK.  (We hope he does.)  Paul Monat impersonated Wild Bill Davison on BLUE AND BROKENHEARTED . . . but he sounded (impious as it is to write these words) better.  Yes, better.  You’d have to hear it to believe it.

There was a good deal of unforced wit in the air.  Jeff Barnhart is a hilarious force of nature; luckily for us, he can’t help it.  After his opening invocation, “Let’s play ball!”  he headed the musicians into what is ordinarily the closing song, AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  Someone’s cell phone rang, and he turned from the piano and said, “If you have a cell phone, please turn it off or make sure it rings in the key we’re playing in.”  If he weren’t such an extraordinary pianist, singer, raconteur, he could certainly make a living by making us laugh . . .

Here’s the second treat — BREEZE (BLOW MY BABY BACK TO ME):

In addition to the lovely music, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with sweet people: Joel and Donna foremost among them, an assortment of Jazz Spouses — Anne Barnhart, Carol Hughes, and Micki Balaban, Sherrie Barta; Sherral Devine, Maureen Cunningham, Judy Postemsky, Marce Enright, Rutj Miller, Mairi Bryan (and her mother), Irene Cowen, my pal Nancie Beaven, the well-met Bill Bunter, and many others.  Lovely food (generously available) and an enlivening air of joy throughout the weekend.

Because Joel is the guiding spirit behind YOUR FATHER’S MUSTACHE (where “the time of your life is under your nose,” for sure) — bringing together banjos in profusion and gleeful audience participation, there were several extended medleys of songs familiar and obscure.  Had you asked me my opinion of such frolics before this party, I would have extended my nose skyward and done my best to imitate patrician hauteur.  But something surprising happened (it happened once before, when John Gill called SHINE ON HARVEST MOON, sang the first chorus, and then led us in the second — I was in the presence of something sweetly spiritual and the room vibrated with good feeling).

I was in the rear of the room when the medley turned to BYE BYE BLACKBIRD, a song I have heard musicians treat with some violence.  At a nice easy tempo, surrounded by people obviously on the same sweet path, I found myself singing along to Maureen Cunningham who was standing near me, and — driven by what nostalgic version of Jung’s collective unconscious — making the vaudeville gestures that point up the lyrics.  “Make my bed” (putting thumb in mouth, cocking head, eyes closing = naptime) “and light the light” (pulling the imaginary lightbulb’s chain), “I’ll arrive late tonight” (pointing to our watches and tapping on them with index finger), “Blackbird, bye, bye!” (huge waving motions with right arm and hand).  I wouldn’t have believed it myself, and if Eric Devine, expert videographer, had caught this, he would be running for his life — but it was an unforgettable reminder of what music can do and does!

At times, when I needed a change of scenery, I walked outside and sat on a little porch.  The sky was bright blue with wispy clouds; I looked up through the remaining orange-tan leaves on the trees and sunk into the music.

The party ended with a very sweet WE’LL MEET AGAIN.

And we will: April 20-21, 2013.  Tickets on sale on December 1.

Watch this space, and subscribe to “CineDevine” on YouTube for more, more videos — beautifully done by Eric Devine! — from 2012 (and some from 2011).

And for more information on the party — and parties to come — click here.

Taa-daah!  Simply wonderful!

May your happiness increase.

Advertisements

A SWING TIME WAS HAD BY ALL (Part Two): ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, STEPHANIE TRICK, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH (Dominican University, San Rafael, California: July 28, 2012)

If you’ve seen the first half of this concert (expertly produced by Paul Blystone) I don’t have to tell you how fine it was.  If not, you can see it here.

Rossano opened the second half with one of his solo extravaganzas, connecting O SOLE MIO, Johnny Mandel’s A TIME FOR LOVE, Chopin’s Nocturne in Eb and his “Revolutionary” Etude:

The quartet reassembled for a strolling version of ROSETTA:

EXACTLY LIKE YOU began as a duo-piano exploration, then Nicki and Hal joined in — the latter’s hi-hat cymbal work a special pleasure:

Stephanie took the spotlight for Fats Waller’s MINOR DRAG:

She then offered Albert Ammons’ BOOGIE WOOGIE STOMP — and a man from Milan couldn’t resist joining in:

Nicki asked the vexing question (courtesy of Louis Jordan) IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY?

Early in the performance, Rossano warmly welcomed the stride pianist and scholar Mike Lipskin — a student of Willie “the Lion” Smith’s.  To close the concert, Rossano asked Mike to join the quartet for a truly mobile AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

It was an extraordinary concert — and the first time these four artists had performed as a group.

P.S.  After an Italian dinner and a night’s sleep, this quartet reassembled for an Afternoon of Swing at the beautiful Filoli Gardens.  Those performances are coming soon to a blog near you.

May your happiness increase.

MAESTRO ROSSANO SPORTIELLO MAKES HEAVENLY MUSIC

My title is brought to life as a rare truth every time the young man from Milan sits down at the piano, but there are two special reasons for it being even more evident.  And you can take them home with you, play them in the car . . . . the possibilities are nearly endless.

Rossano has recorded two more CDs for the Japanese East Wind label that continue his explorations into the classical piano repertoire reinvented in a variety of jazz guises.  The first was CHOPIN IN JAZZ; the new issues — with bassist Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs — are LISZT IN JAZZ and SCHUBERT IN JAZZ.

For the classically-minded out there, the Liszt disc offers Sonetto 123 del Petrarca; Rhapsodie Hungaroise No. 2; Consolation No. 3 in D-Flat Major, Lento Placido; Sonetto 47 del Petrarca; Il Pensieroso; Etude de Concert No. 3, Un Sospiro; Sonetto 104 del Petrarca; La Campanella; Liebestraum No.3; Funeraillesm Oct. 1849; Vallee d’Obermann; Sonata en si Mineur.

And the Schubert recital is composed of Sonata for Apreggione and Piano, D.821, 1st Movement; Erste Walzer, D.365, Op. 9; Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano, D.821, 2nd Movement; Moment Musicaux, D.780, Op. 94, No.3; An de Musik, D.547, Op. 88, No. 4; Piano Quintet (“The Trout”), D.667, Op.114, 4th Movement; Heidenroselein, D.257, Op.3, No. 3; Standchen from Schwanesgang, D.957, No. 4; Wiegenlied, D.498, Op. 98; Der Lindenbaum from Winterreise, D.911, Op. 89; 4 Impromptus, Op. 142, No. 3; Ave Maria, D.839, Op. 52,No.6.

If you haven’t figured it out, Rossano is not only classically trained but someone who has kept up his skills.

A word about “classics in jazz” for the skeptical.  I know there is a long tradition of this — conspicuous examples are the John Kirby Sextet and Don Lambert.  Sometimes, alas, it was simply a matter of playing the famous theme from The Classics faster and louder and syncopating like mad.  Many of those experiments worked well but others sunk under their own self-created monotony.  None of this for Maestro Sportiello, although both CDs have passages of some of the best-played stride piano you could want — music to make Dick Hyman, Ralph Sutton, and James P. Johnson grin and relax.

Rossano Sportiello is such a superb pianist that whatever he turns his fingers to emerges as delightful creative music.  His tone, his touch are beyond compare.  And he is possessed of wonderful lightness that makes some of his contemporaries — who are fine players in their own regard — seem heavy by comparison.  His swing is peerless, and his harmonic imagination seems boundless, as one might hope for from a young man who studied the work of Barry Harris as well as the great dead masters.  But there is more to be heard in Rossano’s playing than simply beautiful pianism.  He displays that rare quality of taste — and a deep regard for both the music and the audience who will hear it.  So these CDs seem infinitely varied, never dull: each track is its own surprising musical playlet, whether Rossano is conjuring up the whole Basie band or recalling Johnny Guarneri swinging his way down the street — or playing the original theme with love, care, and reverence.  In all this he is aided mightily by two of the best rhythm players I know — Joel Forbes and Chuck Riggs.

The best way to obtain copies of these discs is in itself a pleasure: to encounter the gracious Maestro at one of his gigs and press money into his hand.  New York City residents have ample opportunity to do this, and I am pleased to remind my California friends that Rossano, Nicki Parrott, Hal Smith, and Stephanie Trick will be presenting two concerts at the end of July — details here.  Not to be missed!

And lest things get too serious: here is my favorite new picture of Rossano, one I took at the Sacramento Music Festival just weeks ago.

May your happiness increase.

A ROSSANO SPORTIELLO RECITAL at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 16, 2011)

Friday afternoon, before Jazz at Chautauqua “officially” begins, is given over to a series of solo recitals in the Hotel Athenaeum — around a grand piano.  I will be posting music by John Sheridan, Keith Ingham, James Dapogny, Howard Alden, and Maestro Sportiello, who embarked on an unbroken solo recital that began with pop classics — WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER and LUCKY TO BE ME — then segues into Schumann’s SCENES FROM CHILDHOOD and more:

Here’s the second part, featuring George Shearing, Bach, Chopin, and Don Lambert:

All I could say, then or now, is, “Beautiful, Rossano!”

THEIR IRRESISTIBLE STORIES

It’s taken me some time to write about Hank O’Neal’s book, THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM (Vanderbilt University Press), but admiration slowed me down.  What follows is only the smallest sample of its contents. 

Between 1985 and 2007, O’Neal (an excellent home-grown journalist who knew how to ask questions and get out of the way) interviewed forty-two jazz giants.  Some were well-known (Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Williams, Clark Terry, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Illinois Jacquet, Cab Calloway, Andy Kirk, Sy Oliver, Jonah Jones, Benny Carter, Maxine Sullivan, Buddy Tate), others no less deserving but in semi-obscurity to all but jazz devotees and scholars (Al Cobbs, Ovie Alston, Gene Prince).  Almost all of O’Neal’s subjects have now died: Frank Wess, Terry, and Billy Taylor might be the sole survivors. 

Rather than ask each musician for a long autobiographical summary, O’Neal focused on their memories of Harlem.  Fascinating stories resulted, which eventually proved stronger than their grief for a way of life that they had seen vanish.  

O’Neal is also a fine photographer from the old school — Berenice Abbott was his occasionally irritable mentor — so the book has large-format photographs of its subjects, often in their homes, as well as invaulable jazz memorabilia (advertisements and posters, record labels and the like) and photographs of the buildings that now stand where the uptown clubs used to be.  I find those transformations hard to take; that Connie’s Inn is now a C-Town supermarket makes me gloomy.

But because many of the musicians had never been asked to talk about Harlem, they responded with fresh stories that were hilarious, profound, touching.  

Fats Waller’s advice to guitarist Al Casey: “Don’t ever let your head get too big because there is always that little boy around the corner that can outplay you and outdo everything you do.”

Harry Edison, recalling his mother’s economic advice: ” [When I was fourteen or fifteen] I played with a guy named Earl Hood.  I remember I had to have a tuxedo and my mother paid two dollars for it.  We played little jobs around Columbus and every time I got home my mother used to ask me, ‘How much did you make?’  I’d tell her that Mr. Hood told me I was playing for the experience, and she said, ‘To hell with experience, you might as well stay home if you’re not going to get paid.’ ”

Edison’s memory of pianist Don Lambert taunting Art Tatum at an uptown jam session: “Get up off that chair.  You can’t play, you’ve got no left hand, you’re the world’s worst piano player.”

How clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton asked Teddy Wilson for a raise: “Teddy, I think you ought to put a little yeast in the money.”

Al Cobbs, remembering what Louis Armstrong said about the crowds he drew: “Let me tell you something.  The kind of music I’m playing makes people feel good–the folks come in and they buy steaks.  But some of the things people are playing make people sad, and these folks will just sit there, drink a Coca-Cola, and stay all night.”

The record session that Nat Cole wanted to organize in California, with Illinois Jacquet: “He’d be on piano.  I’d play my horn, and Jimmy Blanton, Sid Catlett, and Charlie Christian would make up the rhythm section.  That sounded great to me.”

The book is full of stories: impatient Stuff Smith wandering out on the ledge of a tall building.  How Coleman Hawkins explained his record of BODY AND SOUL to Thelma Carpenter as musical love-making.  What Milt Hinton’s teacher said to him.  Danny Barker explaining the difference between New Orleans and New York in terms of hospitality.  Al Casey paying tribute to Teddy Bunn.  Buddy Tate remembering the last time he saw Charlie Parker alive. 

And the book comes with a compact disc of many of the giants playing (and talking) — musical history.

THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM is too cumbersome to take to the beach, but it’s a masterpiece.  To learn more about it, visit http://www.vanderbiltuniversitypress.com/books/335/the-ghosts-of-harlem, where you can see twenty beautiful sample pages.

A WONDROUS TRIO (September 2009)

Three by three . . .  Or perhaps the Jazz Magi, bearing gifts . . . .

On Friday night at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua, after the initial fireworks and ballad medley, the stage cleared for something out of the ordinary: a long duet set pairing the irreplaceable tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and the youthful-but-remarkable Ehud Asherie, making his debut appearance at this party.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, I had recommended him to director Joe Boughton . . . who was delighted.)  The sets at Chautauqua are usually compact affairs, but Joe gave this duo ample room to stretch out.  Then Ehud added a proven musical catalyst to the mix by inviting trombonist Dan Barrett up to the stage.  I’ve been a Barrett enthusiast since 1987: he’s a natural-born wonder, as readers will know. 
“Tonation and phrasing” in splendid ways.  Two horns and a piano might seem lopsided, but Harry and Dan were clearly having a ball, conversing in swing time, and Ehud’s orchestral playing kept everything on track.  In fact, one of the pleasures of this mini-session is in watching Dan’s face, beaming at Ehud’s playing and Harry’s — we get to beam at Dan’s work in front of our own screens. 

They began with a slow-medium SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY, ruminative but never stodgy, that reminded me of the private recordings Timme Rosenkrantz did in his apartment in 1944-5, with musicians stretching out, letting their solos build in the most relaxed way, everyone taking his time . . . to great effect.  I also think of it as Lester Young Keynote tempo!  Or is it Ben Webster with Jimmy Rowles?  And the riff that they drift into with such ease, leaving space for Ehud to comment and ornament . . . before moving into his own slow, striding world.  Catch Dan’s explosion in the penultimate chorus (it caught me by surprise) and the slow-motion rocking of this trio — an art much more difficult than playing fast and loud:

I didn’t recognize the verse of the next selection, although it seemed subliminally familiar: when the trio hit the chorus at the sprinting pace Ehud had chosen, I knew it was James P. Johnson’s CHARLESTON, which is such a wonderful (and rarely played) piece of jazz Americana.  Like two friends who know each other’s minds so well, Dan and Harry fill in the spaces in each other’s phrases in the most delightful way, with Ehud rollicking along with them (is that a bit of bossa nova I hear before he launches into full Harlem-rent-party stride?).  Then, memorable interplay, and an ending that is abruptly hilarious or is it hilariously abrupt?:

Finally (what could follow that?) Ehud went back to Irving Berlin (and Fred Astaire) — always reliable — and called I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET, a song that brings out a surprising emotions in the horns, especially Mr. Allen.  And in Ehud’s ringing declarative solo, I hear the Giants — Fats, James P., Willie the Lion, Don Lambert, and others.  You’ll find your own delights — the hot telepathy Dan and Harry create before Dan decides to suggest that we carry our basket on to the A train: 

(This clip is at points obscured by a dark figure who turned out to be Joe Boughton with an eye on the clock, which was a pity: this trio could have jammed all night, and we would have begged for more.  But perhaps it’s not right to be greedy: three marvelous group improvisations at this level should be enough for anyone!)