Tag Archives: Don Vappie

JON-ERIK KELLSO: “SWEET FRUITS SALTY ROOTS”: EVAN CHRISTOPHER, DON VAPPIE, PETER HARRIS (Jazzology Records)

One of the great pleasures of living close to New York City is the ability to hear Jon-Erik Kellso.  I’ve been following him around since our first meeting in autumn 2004, and he’s nearly used to me by now.  Given his many gigs before the pandemic — with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, as leader of The EarRegulars at the Ear Inn, stints at Sweet Rhythm, Birdland, Bourbon Street, and two dozen other places in the city — you would think I would have gotten my fill, but no.   He is subtle, imaginative, and consistent.  He “comes to play.”

Even given the deflation of the recording industry, Jon-Erik has continued to appear, but of late he hasn’t always had the opportunities to record as a leader.  A new CD on the Jazzology label (JCD-408) is a stellar example of his ease and passion.  Recorded in New Orleans, it’s a quartet with Jon-Erik, Evan Christopher, clarinet; Don Vappie, guitar; Peter Harris, string bass: no gimmicks, no jokes, just deep music.

People with ears and feelings can purchase a CD or download the music here.

May I offer you a taste?  Why, you’re welcome:

This music, so refreshing to the spirit, has many antecedents.  As jazz performance became more a product for audience consumption, certain conventions emerged and solidified.  (Small bands, I mean: big bands are another matter entirely.)  One was a balance between horn players and rhythm sections, which we hear on recordings from the late Twenties onwards: two or three horns, three or four rhythm players at least.  Over there, it’s trumpet / trombone / saxophone / clarinet / piano / guitar or banjo / string bass or tuba / drums . . . add thirty years, and it’s trumpet or trombone / saxophone / piano / bass / drums.  Recognizable formats, recognizable styles.  But, whether out of necessity or caprice, players tried out different combinations of instruments to see what would happen, and the results were always intriguing.  Or, perhaps these arrangements were pragmatic: the club didn’t have a piano or the drummer got a better gig that night.  Or it was a summer gig on someone’s porch, perhaps a band playing tunes in between innings at the ballpark.

I think of two most rewarding ensembles: the quartet that George Barnes and Ruby Braff had for a few years, and of course Jon-Erik’s EarRegulars, the latter of which I continue to document here with gratitude.  Of course, there were earlier improvisations on this theme, the most notable of them being the Bechet-Spanier Big Four in 1940.

This CD resembles the Big Four outwardly: trumpet, clarinet, acoustic guitar and string bass.  But there is one marvelous difference.  The HRS session had at times the flavor of a cutting contest, perhaps arm-wrestling — exhilarating but also combative.  (Muggsy’s style has been called “punchy” so many times that it requires an act of will to find other adjectives.)  But music made by people who like and respect each other has a singular flavor: call it swinging camaraderie.  As Mike Karoub pointed out recently, it is the difference between the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions and Jazz at the Philharmonic, meaning no disrespect to the latter (and noting that Buck played in JATP memorably).  SWEET FRUITS, even when the tempos are quick, is a delightful conversation where no one pounds the table.

Mind you, the music swings like mad — this isn’t jazz to nap by — but it is friendly, the kind of music that shows the listener it’s possible for people to play nicely, to blend their singularities into something lovely without obliterating their identities.  Definitely music for 2020.  And beyond.

I trust readers have gathered that I approve of this CD.  And I think its virtues — the surprising-but-reassuring playing by all four gentlemen, the way the rhythm rocks, the wonderfully varied repertoire (Louis, Fats, Duke, Billie, Bechet, Hodges, Morton, Berlin, and more) and the beautiful recorded sound, a special gift for people like me who often hear Jon-Erik in places where rapt silence is not the norm.  Jon-Erik is a fine writer, and his compact pointed annotations are another pleasure.

Here’s how Jon-Erik closed, after thanking the people who “made this possible”:

Lastly, thanks to YOU!  Especially if you paid to hear this!  In an age where music is too often devalued and pirates abound, your support of music is a deliberate choice for which we are grateful.

When you purchase this CD, you, too, will be very grateful.  And the link is here.

May your happiness increase!

 

ONE TREAT AFTER ANOTHER: DARYL SHERMAN, “LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE”

Daryl Sherman‘s new CD, LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE (Audiophile), is just splendid, and I don’t exaggerate.  I’d thought that with her most recent disc, MY BLUE HEAVEN, she’d reached a real peak of intimacy and swinging expressiveness.  But this newest recording offers even more expansive delights.  And, by the way, don’t let the title put you off: the music is not morose.

Daryl, once again, presents very heartfelt dramatic vignettes — a dozen.  It’s a tasting menu for the ears, the brain, and the heart, and one can dine at this particular restaurant over and over again.  No shock at the multi-digit bill, no caloric woes.

Daryl’s colleagues — in various permutations — are our hero Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Don Vappie on guitar, banjo, and vocal; Jesse Boyd, string bass; Boots Maleson, string bass on RAINBOW HILL only.

They are a splendid crew, but I want to say something about the pianist, who also happens to be Ms. Sherman.  Daryl’s playing here is so fine that I occasionally found myself distracted from what she was singing or one of the instrumentalists was playing to admire its restrained elegance that never lost the beat.  Think, perhaps, of Hank Jones or of Dick Katz.  And when Daryl accompanies herself, she is — without multiple-personality disorder — a pianist who is kind to the singer and a singer who doesn’t overwhelm the pianist.  Her opening instrumental duet with Jon-Erik on the title song is wonderful — the way it should be done.

Then there’s Daryl the composer / lyricist: both selves in evidence on the opening song, THE LAND OF JUST WE TWO, a song that could easily pass as a kinder, gentler Frishbergian romance.  Her lyrics to Turk Mauro’s improvisation over TANGERINE that he called TURKQUOISE are nimble and witty.

There’s Daryl the song-scholar: offering not only the rarely heard verse to STARS FELL ON ALABAMA but the never-heard verse to IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN, bringing forth Barbara Carroll’s LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE — with sweetly anachronistic lyrics (from 1956) by Irving Caesar that speak of finding a dime for the pay phone — and Billy VerPlanck’s RAINBOW HILL, here offered as a fond tribute to Daryl’s friend, Billy’s wife, singer Marlene.

There’s Daryl the comedienne, never resorting to “humor,” which quickly wears thin, but underpinning her vocal delivery with an unexpressed giggle.  I don’t know that it’s possible to sing and grin simultaneously, but there are places on AT SUNDOWN where I’d swear it was happening, and even more so as Daryl negotiates her way with great style through THE LORELEI.  It’s not comedy, exactly, that uplifts many of the songs on this disc, but it is Daryl’s pleasure at being able to be the vehicle through which the music passes to us. EVERYTHING BUT YOU is not just an Ellington song to her, but a witty, rueful commentary on romance.

Going back to my start: when I first heard MY BLUE HEAVEN, I thought, “This is the way Daryl really sounds in the most welcoming circumstances — no debatable amplification system, no patrons with glasses full of ice, no waitstaff asking, “Who has the parmigiana?”   Her singing on CROWDED PLACE is even more subtly compelling, if that’s possible.  I won’t compare her to other singers: she is herself, and that’s reassuring.  The recording by David Stocker is faithful without being clinical or chilly, so that her remarkable sound — “sounds,” I should say — come through whole.

I would have singers study her phrasing on this disc — that wonderful science of balancing song and conversation, adherence to the melody and improvisation.  How she does it from song to song, from chorus to chorus, is something quite remarkable.

And Daryl presents herself as not “just a singer,” which is to say, someone trained in singing and performance practice who has brought a dozen lead sheets to the studio, but someone with great (quietly dramatic) skill at making each song its own complete emotional and intellectual statement.  Each of the twelve performances is like a fully-realized skit or an aural short story, and no one sounds like the other in some monotonous way.  Consider the sweet — and I mean that word seriously — duet (a duet of many colors, shifting like a long sunset) between Daryl and Don on YOU GO TO MY HEAD, a song that I would have thought done to a crisp, or the HELLO, DOLLY! world Daryl and Co. create on NEW SUN IN THE SKY.  These are memorable performances, each one with its own shadings.  And the mood is often a wise tenderness, something rare and needed in our world.

Daryl’s colleagues are inspiring on their own, but at times rise to new and surprising creative heights.  Boots Maleson is her long-time colleague, and his one offering, RAINBOW HILL, reminds me of  how beautifully he plays, both pizzicato and arco.  More to the forefront is bassist Jesse Boyd, eloquent and swinging.  I have the privilege of seeing and hearing Jon-Erik Kellso often in New York City, and I know him best as the heroic leader of the EarRegulars, but here he is a superb accompanist as well as delivering some melodic choruses that startled me with their beauty, or providing the perfect echoes in THE LORELEI.  I’d only known Don Vappie at a distance, but his rhythm guitar is more than welcome, his solos remind me of a down-home Charlie Byrd, his banjo is splendid, and his vocal duet on YOU GO TO MY HEAD is touching, loose, and inspiring.  Fine incisive notes by Carol Sloane, who knows, also.

But this is Daryl’s masterful offering.  I only apologize for writing at such length that some readers might have been delayed from purchasing several copies.  LOST IN A CROWDED PLACE is that rewarding, and you can purchase it here.  Thank you, Daryl.

May your happiness increase!

PILGRIMAGES TO BEAUTY

I urge anyone who loves the music to experience it live.  For some, that isn’t possible because of cost or one’s health.  But even though I am proud of my video recordings, they are not the same thing as being on the spot while beauty is created.  And jazz festivals, parties, clubs, concerts can only go on if there are people in attendance.

My readers know all this.  But the trick is to make the great leap from an intellectual awareness (“I should go hear some live jazz . . . someday.”) to action. All of us who have said, “I’ll go to hear Hot Lips Ferguson some other Sunday . . . those gigs will go on forever!” know the sadder reality.)

End of sermon.

I cannot attend this year’s Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans, but my absence means there’s another seat for you.  It begins Friday evening, November 14, and ends Sunday afternoon, the 16th.  In  between I count nineteen one-hour sets of music, in addition to a presentation about the Historic New Orleans Collection, four steam calliope concerts by Debbie Fagnano.  Much of the music will be performed on the two decks of the steamboat Natchez, gliding up and down the Mississippi River.  The artists include Duke Heitger, Don Vappie, Evan Christopher, the Yerba Buena Stompers, Dukes of Dixieland, Tim Laughlin, David Boeddinghaus, Hal Smith, Banu Gibson, Solid Harmony, Jon-Erik Kellso, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Clint Baker, Tom Bartlett, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Leon Oakley, Steve Pistorius, and another dozen.

I was able to attend in 2013, and had a wonderful time.  Some evidence!

SWEET LOVIN’ MAN by Duke and the Steamboat Stompers:

Steve Pistorius considers the deep relationship between music, memory, and love in A DOLLAR FOR A DIME:

Banu Gibson, as always, shows us her heart, and it’s full of RHYTHM:

and the Yerba Buena Stompers play a later King Oliver piece, EDNA:

INSERT FOUR-BAR MODULATION HERE.

I returned last night from the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, exhausted and uplifted.  The exhaustion will wear off (it always does) after a day or two of treating myself like an invalid, nut the joy is permanent.  It comes from seeing people make friends through music.  The music began with rehearsals at 9 AM on Thursday and ended sometime late Monday morning (I heard the jam session at the pub as I was going up the stairs around 1 AM).  The texts for those mellow sermons were based on the teachings of Johnny Dodds, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra, Jabbo Smith, Jean Goldkette, Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Chu Berry, Paul Whiteman, Cootie Williams, Adrian Rollini, Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Johnny Dunn, Luis Russell, Bing Crosby, Helen Morgan, Jimmie Lunceford, Benny Carter, Don Byas, Willie Lewis, Sidney Bechet, Al Bowlly, Cliff Edwards, Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, Chick Webb, Jelly Roll Morton . . . you get the idea.

And the performers!  Rico Tomasso, Duke Heitger, Menno Daams, Andy Schumm, Bent Persson, Claus Jacobi, Thomas Winteler, Matthias Seuffert, David Boeddinghaus, Graham Hughes, Alistair Allan, Martin Litton, Janice Day, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Keith Nichols, Richard Pite, Malcolm Sked, Phil Rutherford, Spats Langham, Emma Fisk, Frans Sjostrom, Josh Duffee, Nick Ball, Mauro Porro, Henri Lemaire, Kristoffer Kompen, Lars Frank, Martin Wheatley, Jean-Francois Bonnel. . . and sitters-in at the Pub, including Torstein Kubban.  (If I’ve omitted anyone’s name, it is because yesterday was nearly twenty hours of travel, which does terrible things to cognition.)

And the friends!  Everyone who was there will have a mental list, but I think we all start with Patti Durham — then I think of Bob Cox, Bobbi Cox, Derek Coller, Veronica Perrin, Chris Perrin, the young woman clarinetist, so intent, Jonathan David Holmes, Julio Schwarz Andrade, Andrew Wittenborn — and many more.

If you are wondering, the answer is Yes, I did bring my video cameras.  Plural. Safety first.

And I shot video of all the sets, one jam session / concert in the Victory Pub, and many of the rehearsals — several hundred performances.  It takes some time to upload and download, so I have nothing from this last weekend to share with you at the moment.  But I will.

While you are thinking, “How could I start putting money away for the 2015 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY?” (for that will indeed happen), I invite you to revel in this, recorded at a rehearsal at the 2012 Party:

All over the quite comfortable Village Hotel in Newcastle (with a very solicitous staff) are signs and photographs advertising the pleasures to be found there, all sharing a lower case “v.” at the start, both to show an intensity of feeling (“very!”) as well as remind you of the hotel chain’s identifying logo.  In the mechanism that takes you from one floor to another (I called it an elevator and was reminded that it was a “lift,” because I was in the  United Kingdom now) was a photograph of three pillows reading “v. snuggly” “v. cheeky” and “v.lazy.”

All I will say here, as a bow to the Party and to the Village Hotel and to my heroes and friends, is that I am “v.joyous.”

May your happiness increase!