Tag Archives: Donald Lambert

HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY, GEORGE WEIN!

In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.

I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):

NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.

Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.

George deserves a little more fuss.

The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone.  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben.  What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins?  If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set.  George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive.  Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.

Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities.  When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart.  In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones.  I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.

Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.

George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.

I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums.  Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.

Happy birthday, George!  Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.

May your happiness increase!

A HOT AFTERNOON AT NEWPORT: EUBIE BLAKE, DONALD LAMBERT, WILLIE “THE LION” SMITH, DANNY BARKER, BERNARD ADDISON, AL HALL, RUDI BLESH (July 1, 1960)

Here is some delightfully rare music from a legendary concert — in videos, no less, although the visual quality is seriously limited.  I had heard about this music and these films decades ago and, years later, a copy, how many generations removed, I can’t say, made its way to me.  The videos are hard to watch, especially for eyes used to today’s brilliantly sharp images, but they are precious.  [They will be less eye-stressful for those who can sit far back from the screen.] All of the music performed that afternoon is now blessedly available for a pittance (see details at the end) but the videos add a remarkable dimension of “being there.”

July 1, 1960 was hot at the Newport Jazz Festival, perhaps especially in the afternoon for Rudi Blesh’s “Stride Piano Stars” program, a select group of “old-timers,” none of whom were particularly elderly in years or energy that day.

Here is Eubie’s BLACK KEYS ON PARADE and LOVEY JOE:

Now, the Danny Barker Trio (Danny, banjo and vocal; Al Hall, string bass; Bernard Addison, mandolin) with a feature for Danny on THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

More virtuosic showmanship on TIGER RAG:

Here’s Donald Lambert’s ANITRA’S DANCE:

Now, the Lamb plays LIZA as the restless camera-eye finds wiggling limbs:

Eubie and the Lamb play CHARLESTON, Eubie taking the star role:

Hat firmly in place, Willie “the Lion” Smith offers Walter E. Miles’ SPARKLETS:

Fats would have been 56: the Lion sings and plays AIN’T MSBEHAVIN’:

Two melancholy postscripts to all this joy.  On Saturday, July 2, a riot broke out, and the festival did not return until 1962.  Donald Lambert died less than two years later.

But the music remains.  Here, at Wolfgang’s Concert Vault, one can download the audio for the entire afternoon concert (slightly more than ninety minutes) for five dollars.  The performances are listed below.

Introductions by Willis Conover and Rudi Blesh / Stride Piano Demonstration (“Sweet Lorraine”)- Donald Lambert / Development of Ragtime and Stride Piano-Blesh / Early Hits from 1920’s-Eubie Blake / Black Keys On Parade / Lovey Joe // Take Me Out To The Ballgame- Danny Barker Trio / Muskrat Ramble / The World Is Waiting For the Sunrise // Anitra’s Dance-Lambert / Tea For Two / Liza // Polonaise- the Lion / “Shout” Defined / Carolina Shout / Ain’t Misbehavin’ // Fats Waller Medley-Lambert / James P. Johnson Medley // Old Fashioned Love-Eubie / Charleston / Charleston (Part 2) // My Gal Sal-Danny Barker / Tiger Rag // Sparklets-the Lion // I Know That You know-Lambert // Memories Of You-Eubie // Stars and Stripes Forever-Eubie, Lambert, the Lion //

This film or video is a wonder, even greenish and blurred.  With the audio, we can revel in vivid art.

May your happiness increase!

“BANG A FEW NOTES”: HOWARD KADISON REMEMBERS DONALD LAMBERT (5.5.20)

A long post follows, with many new stories.

My awareness of the amazing musician Donald Lambert began in 1970, when I heard this music coming out of my FM radio speaker when Ed Beach (WRVR-FM of sainted memory) offered a program of Lambert’s then few recordings:

I loved then and still love the beautiful carpet of the verse.  But I was uplifted by the rollicking tempo and swing of the chorus.  And not only by the pianist, but by the drummer, cavorting along — not overbearing, but personal and free, saying “Yeah!” to Lambert at every turn, but not too often.

The magic possible in cyberspace has made it possible for me to talk with Howard Kadison, the nimble drummer on that recording and — no cliche, a witness to history, because he knew and played with people we revere.  First, he and Audrey VanDyke, another gracious scholar, made available to me the text of an entire periodical devoted to the Lamb, which I have posted here eight months ago.  It’s an afternoon’s dive, I assure you: I’ve also presented the two fuzzy videos of Lambert, solo, at Newport, July 1, 1960, that are known on YouTube.

But Howard and I finally had a chance to talk at length, and I can offer you the very pleasing and sometimes surprising results.  Howard doesn’t have a high profile in the jazz world, and I suspect he is content with that.  But he played drums with Danny Barker, Connie Jones, George Finola, and many others whose names he recalls with pleasure.  However, he was most famous to me as the drumming sidekick — the delightful accompanist — to stride piano legend Donald Lambert.  The session they created for Rudi Blesh (pictured above) always lifts my spirits.  As did my conversation with the man himself.

On May 5, Howard graciously talked to me about “Lamb” and his experiences being Lambert’s drummer of choice — both at Frank Wallace’s High Tavern in West Orange, New Jersey, and in the recording studio.  Sit back and enjoy his beautiful narrative.  He was there, and he loved Lambert.

HOWARD KADISON REMEMBERS DONALD LAMBERT

 I always fooled around with the drums.  I was really drum-crazy — I used to have a telephone book with brushes, and I’d play with the radio when I was fourteen, fifteen, twelve years old.  I always liked music and if I heard a song I could always remember it.  I had come from a divorced home and was dividing my time between Chicago and Miami when my parents split up.  And when I was in Miami I heard a radio station, WMBM, “The Rockin’ MB,” Miami Beach, and I didn’t know what kind of music it was, but it was jazz.  I had no idea about jazz.  And I listened to it and just fooled around with it.  Then I went on to college, and in my junior year, I really decided that I wanted to play drums.  Whenever there was music in Miami, I would go to whatever event it was.  I always had a peripheral interest.

In 1959, I went to New York, and was very serious about it, and started taking lessons.  When I was in college, I was an econ major, so it was quite a change.  I studied with Jim Chapin initially, and for a long while with George Gaber.  I had an endless series of day jobs, and one of them had me working in the mailroom of ABC.  George Gaber was a staff percussionist, and he was a brilliant teacher who eventually ran the percussion program at Indiana University.  But before he left New York I studied with him for a couple of years.  The way I met him was he was practicing one day — he came in and was warming up — and I watched him.  I was delivering mail, and he just started talking to me.  He asked me if I was a drummer, because I was watching him so intently.  I told him I was trying to be, and he took me under his wing.

While I was there, I ran into a banjoist and guitar player who became one of my mentors, Danny Barker.  Danny was playing at a place called the Cinderella, which was on West Third Street in the Village.  He kept in touch with me, and he started giving me little gigs that would come up.  And there were a bunch of guys playing around at that time.  There was a wonderful piano player named Don Coates, and Ed Polcer, and Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood.  They were all older than I, but I got to know them a little bit.  I started working, just gradually.  And then Don Coates, who was from Jersey, brought me out to hear Don Lambert play.  I just thought it was the most wonderful music.  I forget exactly how it happened, but this was shortly after Lambert had gone to Newport in July 1960.

Danny Barker told me that Don came up on the bandstand at Newport, at what they called the Old-Timers concert in the early afternoon, and there were a lot of good stride players there, and he got up and, to use Danny’s words, “this old man killed everybody. He got up there and played and scared the crap out of everybody in the place.”  And Danny never used language like that. “He left those people there shaking like a leaf.”

So I met Lambert through Don Coates, and Lambert said, “If you ever want to come in and bring a snare drum, there’s not much room back here, but you can bang a few notes with me.”  That’s a direct quote.  So I took the Hudson Tubes to Newark, and then got on a bus, and finally found myself in West Orange, New Jersey, I think it was, and would walk from the bus to Wallace’s High Tavern, which was where Lambert was playing.  I brought a snare drum, and played some brushes.

I should explain.  He played behind a long oval bar on a platform which was just enough room for a baby grand piano.  Guys would come sit in with him occasionally, but there wasn’t a whole lot of room to play with.  Anyway, I played a couple of tunes, and as I was leaving, Frank Wallace came up to me — he was the owner of the  place — and he said, “Would you like to come in once and a while and play?  Lambert enjoyed your playing.”  You know, Lambert didn’t talk to me; he did.  And I said yes: I didn’t know he was offering me a gig, I thought he was just talking to me to come in and play once in a while.  I did it a couple more times, and then he said, “What would be involved to get a set of drums back here?”  I said, “Well, there’s not much room.”  There was just room for a snare drum to fit in one little place.  I used sit near a display of alcohol on one side and Lambert on the other, and in the middle there was a cash register where he would ring up the sales.  He had me sitting next to the cash register, and when he’d ring up a sale, if I wasn’t careful and didn’t duck, the drawer would hit me in the head, which I’m sure explains a lot of my behavior these days.

Anyway, he figured out a way of getting a bass drum in there, and he moved some things under the bar.  I think there was a connection to a sink or something, he kind of juggled some stuff and I was able to get a small bass drum in there, a hi-hat, and one cymbal.  It was pretty cramped in there, but I was able to do it.  And I started playing on a regular basis, about three nights a week, and it was eight bucks a night plus a sandwich, one of those heated sandwiches where they use an electric bulb and they put them in those cases.  I was working days, and Frank would drive me to the train station after the gig, and I’d take the train home, back to New York City.  But I would go there by bus, from Port Authority bus station, through the Hudson Tubes, and then a pretty long walk.  I’d have to leave the drums there.  That went on for a while.

There was one very critical thing that happened that was helpful.  The set-up didn’t allow me to see Lambert while he was playing.  We would play almost with our backs to one another, or at right angles.  So I had to listen very intently to everything he was going to do, because he didn’t do a lot of talking when he played.  He’d go from one tune to another, and I’ve often thought in retrospect that this experience of really listening was very important, because it required a very specific kind of focus to know what he was going to do.  He’d play an introduction, then he’d play the time, and that was it.

That went on a couple of years, and then there was a project that came up.  It was a guy named Rudi Blesh was going to record Lambert.  That didn’t involve me at all.  I think it was going to be a solo album with Lambert.  I don’t know how the conversation began, but they said that they wanted to add a drummer.  Blesh wanted to use some other players, and Lambert wanted to use me.  Danny Barker, who was at Newport when Lambert played, heard about the project — I’m not quite sure of tthe mechanics involved — but Danny, I learned later, recommended me and said that if I’d been playing with the guy, I’d probably be the one you’d want to get.  When they asked me if I wanted to do it, I was terrified, because I’d never done anything like that before.  Ultimately, I was the one who made the recording, and that was primarily because of Danny.  Frank Wallace, the owner of the bar, had kept in touch with Danny after Lambert played, and evidently Danny told Frank that Lambert should use me.  A lot of tap-dancing, a bunch of up-and-back stuff.  I didn’t know anything about it.  I was just a kid playing drums, and that’s it.

(At this point the Editor interrupted and reminded Howard that there was a story extant of Lambert telling Blesh, “That’s my drummer,” referring to Howard.)

Yes.  That was one of the most thrilling things that had happened to me.  If I’d quit playing drums after that, I could have been happy.  I could have died happy.  I was astounded by all of it.  I didn’t know what the hell to do.  I just sat down, and Lambert said, “Hey, man!  Just do what you do with me at the bar.  That’s it!”

Sometimes I’d go out at night after the gig and shoot pool with Lambert, if I didn’t have to work the next day at my day job, hang with him in Newark, and sometimes he would talk about music.

I learned a lot on the job.  He’d make comments.  If he wanted me to do a specific thing, he’d turn around and say, “Now, don’t do something until you hear me sound like I’m ready to have you play.”  Then he’d wait and turn around and say, “And then, put me in the alley!”  That was one of his favorite phrases, “Put me in the alley!”  He didn’t talk a whole lot, but he spoke volumes, the way he played things.  If you just listened carefully, you didn’t have to watch him.  If I were going to speak about people who guided me, it would be Danny Barker and Don Lambert.

One of the rules that I learned, that I thought was extremely important, is that you have to focus, to remember whom you’re accompanying.  And that’s important.  You’ve got to find a way to connect with the soloist.  I never thought of drumming as soloing, I always thought of it as being an accompanist.  And that was something I took away from two extraordinarily different experiences, completely dissimilar in every respect, as far as music.  But the philosophical approach to every gig is the same: you’ve got to listen, be part of the solo, and help the soloist.  And that’s, I believe, of critical importance.  That’s all you can do!

There was a thing that Danny Barker used to say.  He would tell me, “Hey, man, if you’re a drummer, most of the time you’re going to be playing for other people, you’re not going to playing drum solos.  So it’s nice to do all kinds of monkeyshines” (and I quote) “but your real job is to be an accompanist.  So you gotta learn how to back people up,” and he always talked about that.  He was a wonderful guitarist, and playing time with him was marvelous.  You’d get such a groove, and, hey, if you could get that going, why would you want to do anything else?   So the trick is to be good at accompanying people.  I was lucky, because I got to play with him, and I did an album with him.  And that was a great pleasure.

You could learn on every gig.  You might learn how to develop your chops with a teacher, but in the final analysis, you’re doing it so that you can play with people.  So, to me, the trick is to just stay in the background and play for somebody else.  That’s it.

I’ll tell you a story, and I don’t know the details.  It’s something that Don Coates told me.  At one point, Lambert was working as a janitor or a clean-up guy at the Adams Theatre in Newark.  Jack Teagarden was there with a big band.  There was evidently a piano backstage.  Lambert was fooling around with it, and Teagarden happened to hear what he was doing.  There was a song that Lambert played, a song he had written himself, and Lambert gave Teagarden the music, and, according to what Coates told me, Teagarden used it as a kind of opening theme for his big band.  The story is fuzzy and not very precise, and there’s no way to verify it, because Coates has passed away, but there was some connection between Lambert and Teagarden.  (At this point, the Editor interrupted to tell the story of Lambert being at Jack’s 1940 HRS session, documented in a photograph.)

I’d call him “Lamb,” because that’s what he always did.  And I’d call him “Don” sometimes.  The other thing you might be interested in, one of the sterling times I had with Lambert, is that Frank Wallace called me one day and said, “We’re going to go visit Eubie Blake at his house in Brooklyn.  Would you like to come along?”  I was tongue-tied, but I said, “Sure.”  And I just sat there and listened to them talk, and didn’t say a word the whole time.  It was great, listening to them talk, up and back.  And they both played.

He had interesting things he would say.  His mother was his piano teacher, and she used to tell him he should learn every tune in every key, and he did.  Every tune he played, he could play in all twelve keys.  He was technically a very fine player.  I’ve heard stories about when he was in New York in the Thirties and early Forties, and then he left and kind of buried himself in Jersey.  He was always very humble.  He told me once that he thought he was one of the better piano players in the state of New Jersey.  That’s a direct quote.  Lambert was a lot of fun.  He had a good sense of humor.  He was generous, and he was helpful.  He’d come over sometime and say, “Remember what you just did, because that was OK.”  And that was nice.  I mean, I just played with the guy and had fun.  I was a kid and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.  I was very lucky, and he was very kind.

Lambert didn’t live a lot longer after the record date.  He had a stroke at one point, and he was still playing, and playing well.  But he wasn’t feeling well, and he didn’t always take care of himself as well as he should.  He was in a place in Newark called Martland Medical Center, I think the name of it is, and I visited him there once, and after that he passed away.  I went to his funeral, as a matter of fact.  A very bad time, a difficult time.  I loved him very much.  He was a good guy.

I want to close — in a mist of gratitude to Howard and Audrey and the Lamb — with three ways to celebrate Donald Lambert, and none of them is a photograph of a headstone, because well-loved people are never relegated to such forms.

Second, a marvel.  At the site called Wolfgang’s Concert Vault, the Voice of America tape of the “Old-Timers'” afternoon concert at the Newport Jazz Festival, arranged by Rudi Blesh, including Lambert, Eubie Blake, Willie “the Lion” Smith, the Danny Barker Trio with Bernard Addison and Al Hall — some 93 minutes — can be downloaded here in high-quality sound for $5.

And finally, another marvel.  Videos exist of that afternoon: two solos by Lambert, several each by Barker, Eubie, and the Lion — but this one, I don’t think, has been widely circulated or ever circulated.  I caution finicky viewers that the image is blurry — perhaps this was a film copy from a television broadcast, or it is the nineteenth copy of a videotape (I do not have the original).  But here are Eubie Blake and Donald Lambert essaying CHARLESTON.  Eubie takes over early and Lambert is in the most subsidiary role . . . but we see what he looked like at the piano, and that is a treasure.

Bless Donald Lambert.  Bless Howard Kadison, too.

May your happiness increase!

“THE LAMB OF GOD!”: ELEGIES FOR DONALD LAMBERT IN STORIES, PHOTOGRAPHS, AND MUSIC

Meet the Lamb!  Here he is — don’t mind the murky visual — at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:

Thanks, deep thanks to Howard Kadison and Audrey VanDyke, keepers of so many flames.  Here is Howard’s prized copy of the PRINCETON RECOLLECTOR, a historical journal almost exclusively devoted — in this issue — to the marvelous and elusive jazz piano genius Donald Lambert.

An editorial about Donald Lambert: will wonders never cease?

Lambert plays the Sextette from Lucia:

Recollections of Bill Priestley, a fine cornetist:

Pee Wee Russell and the milk truck:

Fashions:

More rare narrative:

Lambert in his native haunts:

Playing two melodies at once:

THE TROLLEY SONG, with friend Howard Kadison at the drums:

SPAIN, with Lambert and Kadison:

ANITRA’S DANCE, from the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:

LIZA, from the same concert:

Yes, Art Tatum:

Physiognomy:

The 1941 Bluebird PILGRIM’S CHORUS:

I GOT RHYTHM (recorded by Jerry Newman, 1940) with Lambert, Hot Lips Page, Herbie Fields, Pops Morgan:

DINAH, from the same party at Newman’s parents’ home):

I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE:

and TEA FOR TWO from the same incredible session, Lambert also playing FRENESI:

 

A very rare (and I think unissued) 1949 performance, BLUE WALTZ:

LINGER AWHILE, with Kadison (the first Lambert I ever heard):

An unlisted WHEN BUDDHA SMILES, with trumpet and string bass:

Another local legend:

May your happiness increase!

TAKE IT FROM THEM: NEVILLE DICKIE and DANNY COOTS PLAY FATS WALLER (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival; Sedalia, Missouri; May 31, 2018)

One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date?  I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person.  I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays!  Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.

Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech.  Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.

Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply.  And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps.  I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.

Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more.  He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play.  In life.

Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing.  Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed.  Medium tempos, too.

A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:

TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody.  I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination.  But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit.  And they play the verse!  Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:

Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING.  Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else.  And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!

Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear.  But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:

What a pair!  Mr. Waller approves.  As do I.  As did the audience.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS FRIENDS AND HEROES (Part Three: March 3, 2017)

Dan Morgenstern is a remarkable person, lively and kind, and would be so if he had been a veterinarian with only a passing interest in music.  But even better for us: he hung out with [and wrote about] some of the greatest artists we know and still revere.  I continue to feel immensely fortunate that I could visit him, and that he so generously shared some candid loving stories of people who many of us know only as a photograph or a sound emerging from a speaker.

For those of you who have been otherwise occupied, and I understand, I have posted videos where Dan speaks of Tommy Benford, Frank Newton, Al Hall, Mary Lou Williams and her friends, Donald Lambert, Eubie Blake, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Nat Lorber, Buddy Tate, Gene Ramey, Lester Young (twice for Pres).

But before you leap in, a small caveat.  Dan is soft-spoken, and my few comments from behind the camera are louder.  Friends have pointed this out, and I have been penitent, citing inexperience rather than ego and I will balance the audio better on our future encounters.  The first five videos are here.

More friends and heroes.  Eddie Condon (and I had to say a few things, given my reverence for Eddie):

Buster Bailey, Stanley Dance, Coleman Hawkins, cameos by Milt Jackson, Roy Eldridge, Joe Thomas, John S. Wilson, Billy Kyle, Louis, and Dan’s thoughts on writing about artists:

More about Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, with comments about Sir Charles Thompson, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker as well:

Notice in the second interview that Dan took an unpaid gig because “it will be good for the musicians.”  And I am touched by Coleman Hawkins’ generosities (acceptance in to the tribe) to Dan — which Dan has repaid us ten thousandfold.  More to come.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS FRIENDS AND HEROES (Part One: March 3, 2017)

On Friday, March 3, 2017, I had the immense honor of visiting Dan Morgenstern at his home on the Upper West Side of New York City.  I brought my video camera.  Dan and I sat in his living room and he graciously talked about the wonderful people he has encountered.  I am writing this simply, without adjectives, because I truly don’t know how to convey the pleasure of being able to ask this delightful man questions about his friends and heroes.  Our heroes, too.

Dan offered telling portraits of Lester Young, Mary Lou Williams, Tony Fruscella, Brew Moore, Lee Wiley, Donald Lambert, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Dick Wilson,Olivia de Havilland, Andy Kirk, Ben Webster, Curly Howard, Bud Powell, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Rushing, Teddy Wilson, Stan Getz, Joe Thomas, Jimmy Rowles, Buster Bailey, Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, and more.

My premise, which Dan had approved of, was that I would ask him about people, “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” in the DOWN BEAT phrase, who didn’t get the attention they deserve.  I thought it best to speak of musicians who have moved on, because if the conversation was about the living (who are also deserving of recognition!) someone’s feelings might be hurt by being left out.

We spent more than four hours together, and the cliche that the “time just flew” is appropriate.  I recorded twelve segments, and present the first three here. Look for the others soon.  If you’ve never heard or seen Dan in person, you will soon delight in his enthusiasm, wit, sharp recollection of details — the kind of telling details that a novelist would envy — and graciousness.  And he was seriously pleased to be able to tell true first-hand stories to you — this audience of people who know who Hot Lips Page is.

and!

and!

We have another afternoon session planned, with a list of  people we did not talk about the first time.  As I say, I have kept my language restrained for fear of gushing, but we are blessed to have such a generous wise unaffected fellow in our midst.  Of course he has great material to share with us, but he is a magnificent storyteller.  And for those who savor such details: Dan is 87.  Amazing, no?

May your happiness increase!

“KALEIDOSTRIDE”: PHILIPPE SOUPLET AT THE PIANO

Pianist Philippe Souplet makes lovable music.  Here is what I wrote about the young man — born in 1967! — in 2010, complete with videos, and this is my review, that same year, of his first CD, PIANO STORIES.  Although he and I have never met in person, as they say in the boroughs, “We go WAY back.”

SOUPLET

It took about eight bars of Philippe’s new solo piano CD, KALEIDOSTRIDE, to charm me.  In fact, it had that rare and delightful apparent contradiction of effects: I felt both excited and relaxed.  I prescribe it for all disorders, emotional, nervous, or physical — and especially for those proud readers who say, “Disorders? Not me!”

Now you can stop reading and begin listening: here are extracts from the CD, to soothe the agitated, to elate the low, to educate the wise, to bring joy:

The excerpts are not identified visually, but if you visit the description beneath this video on YouTube, you will find all the necessary details.

What I find particularly delightful is Philippe’s deep understanding of what this kind of orchestral piano is and isn’t.  Yes, it is inherently athletic (try moving your left hand at a Waller tempo for four minutes, never mind about the keyboard or where it might land) but it need not be forceful or loud.  As flashy as virtuosic stride playing might be, its heart is not speed or density.  What Philippe understands and demonstrates is the winning combination of lightness, subtlety, and lyricism: sweet melodies superimposed over a magic carpet, never faltering, of intriguing harmonies and irrepressible rhythms.  Yes, he knows his Waller, his Tatum, his James P. — but he’s also listened hard to Wilson and more “modern” players: I hear Hank Jones as well as Donald Lambert, and that’s high praise.

Of the fourteen performances on this disc, three are “standards”: Strayhorn’s LOTUS BLOSSOM, James P. Johnson’s YOU CAN’T LOSE A BROKEN HEART, and Ellington’s COTTON TAIL.  The remainder — with humorous titles — are Philippe’s own, and rather than being improvisations on familiar chord structures, they are charming evocations of the sound and style of pianists he admires.  Not imitations, mind you — one Waller cliche after another, for instance — but evocations.  I heard some of this music for the first time without access to the notes, and I could say, “Wow, that Tatum-idea is beautifully executed,” or “That young man has been listening hard to Oscar Peterson.” The pianists evoked are monumental: Waller, the Lion, James P., Tatum, Ellington, but also Francois Rilhac, Herman Chittison, and Aaron Bridgers.  It’s a delightful recital, and beautifully recorded as well.

The CD is Philippe’s own project and you can order it by contacting him at psouplet@wanadoo.fr.  Each disc is 18 Euros plus shipping, which 3 Euros in France, 5 in EEC, 7 outside EEC — priority mail).  PayPal is “the easiest way.”

I hope many people are as impressed by M. Souplet: he deserves your attention.

May your happiness increase!

“BEAUTIFUL LOVE, YOU’RE ALL A MYSTERY”: REBECCA KILGORE / KEITH INGHAM (ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY, September 19, 2014)

BEAUTIFUL LOVE Bing

The haunting waltz BEAUTIFUL LOVE was composed in 1931, music credited to Wayne King, Victor Young, and Egbert Van Alstyne; lyrics to Haven Gillespie. That is an eminent group of artists.  I don’t know whether King insisted that his name be put on the music (thus, he would receive royalties) before he would perform the song.  On no evidence whatsoever, I think Victor Young might be most responsible for this melody.

I do know that I first became aware of BEAUTIFUL LOVE through one or another 1934 Art Tatum recording.  Here is his early Decca improvisation, characteristically with everything imaginable offered, including a vivid digression into RUSSIAN LULLABY:

There are, of course, many improvisations on it by Bill Evans, by Helen Merrill, Anita O’Day, Benny Carter, Joe Pass, Kenny Dorham, Lee Konitz, Shirley Horn, George Shearing, and a sweet, intent one by Bing Crosby.

What other song can you think of that has been recorded by both Donald Lambert and Chick Corea?

In this century, the song retains its popularity among improvisers, if YouTube videos are a measure of that.  Here is a sheet music cover from 1959 with the UK pop singer Edna Savage posing inexplicably:

BEAUTIFUL LOVE Edna Savage

But my new favorite performance of BEAUTIFUL LOVE is this, which took place at the Allegheny Jazz Party on September 19, 2014  —

That’s our Rebecca, Becky Kilgore, and Keith Ingham — in one of their duets in a Victor Young tribute set.  I so admire the varied textures and shadings Becky brings to individual words and to those words, made into tapestries of sound and feeling.  The most modest of stars, she is a great understated dramatic actress who seems never to act; she is possessed by the song and rides its great arching wings.

Love is of course the great mystery, whether it is gratified or if it remains elusive.  How the great artists touch us so deeply is perhaps mysterious.  But what we feel and perceive is not — whether we experience it in person or on a recording or a video performance.

To experience an unforgettable weekend of music by Becky and friends, one need only visit here to find out all one needs to know about the Allegheny Jazz Party, taking place in Cleveland, Ohio, September 10-13, 2015.

May your happiness increase!

“SWEETIE DEAR”: MIKE LIPSKIN AT THE PIANO (August 15, 2013)

Authenticity is immediately recognizable, no matter where one finds it.

Hearing Mike Lipskin at the piano, it’s immediately evident that he didn’t learn his stride from a DVD or a book of transcriptions.  No, he lived and breathed it as a young man — studying with Willie “the Lion” Smith, learning from Cliff Jackson, Willie Gant, and by playing alongside such modern masters as Dick Hyman (their friendship goes back 45 years and continues to this day).  Experience and improvisation rather than copying gestures and figures.

Although Mike is seriously influenced by the great players who were the Lion’s contemporaries — James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Don Lambert — and later generations, his style is much more than pastiche: he has his own sound, a steady yet flexible pace, delicious voicings, a nimble tread at the keyboard.

In addition, Mike is a humorist at play: in any performance, there will be playful surprises — modulations up a step or down, key changes for a few bars, and more.  Anything to keep the terrain from becoming too level and too predictable.

The Beloved and I had the great good fortune to hear a mini-recital by Mike, happily at his own piano in his Nicasio home (with the very loving audience including his wife, the swinging Dinah Lee).  Here’s one of the highlights: Mike’s solo rendition of SWEETIE DEAR, composed by Joe Jordan, most well-known for the quick one-step recording from 1932 by Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier, and Hank Duncan (as the New Orleans Feetwarmers) — riffing seriously all the way through:

Mike’s version is calmer, although subtly propulsive.  In the great piano tradition, his sweet improvisation begins in affectionate rubato mode (love can’t be rushed), moves into a strolling tempo, and then to a jaunt before settling down for a conclusion.

On the West Coast, Mike can be found at Bix Restaurant and Pier 23 in San Francisco, and there will be another Stride Summit in Filoli in 2014.  You can keep up with him on his Facebook page or website.

He brings joy, and young players should be coming to study him.  He has much to share with us — not only about music but about joy.

And if you missed the Stride Summits of August 2013, or the resulting videos, you have only to click here to admire Mike amidst his friends Dick Hyman, Stephanie Trick, Clint Baker, and Paul Mehling.  Swing, you cats!

May your happiness increase!

STRIDE PARADISE FOUND: DICK HYMAN, MIKE LIPSKIN, STEPHANIE TRICK, DINAH LEE, CLINT BAKER, PAUL MEHLING, and SURPRISE GUEST PAOLO ALDERIGHI

Last Saturday and Sunday, the Beloved and I were privileged to see and hear three wonderful concerts — Stride Piano Summits — at the Lesher Arts Center in Walnut Creek, California, and the new SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco.  The eminent players and singers are as shown in my title.  If you were there, I think you are still smiling; if you weren’t, you will feel forlorn when reading about the performances you missed.

A very brief summary follows: Dick and Mike began with a duet on Fats’ HANDFUL OF KEYS; Stephanie frolicked through Eubie’s TROUBLESOME IVORIES; Stephanie and Mike paid tribute to James P. with OLD FASHIONED LOVE and KEEP OFF THE GRASS; Dick and Mike offered SNOWY MORNING BLUES and Porter’s IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME; Mike created delicious variations on LOVER; Dinah Lee sang her way right into our hearts with Fats’ THERE’S A MAN IN MY LIFE and the pretty (but rarely heard) ZING WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART.  Stephanie began to rock the house with Pete Johnson’s DEATH RAY BOOGIE but Dick, Clint, and Paul crept onstage to join in; Dick offered a solo piano interlude that (depending on the concert) covered AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – JITTERBUG WALTZ – STEALIN’ APPLES, or James P.’s ECCENTRICITY and Hyman’s own SCRABBLE.  Mike became both Fats and Andy Razaf for one of his own evocative, funny compositions, COULD IT BE YOU’RE FALLING IN LOVE?  Mike and Dick again joined forces for an evocation of the Louisiana Sugar Babes’ THOU SWELL; a seismic I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS by Dick and Stephanie followed; a wildly creative Hyman solo set — LULLABY (early Gershwin, from his first string quartet), I GOT PLENTY OF NUTTIN’, and HONEYCUKLE ROSE, had us cheering; Dinah returned for a beautifully focused HARLEM BUTTERFLY and SUGAR (with two verses, no less); Mike transformed the Beatles’ YESTERDAY into something worthy of Don Lambert; a trio jam on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN by Clint, Paul, and Dick was followed by a real delight, a duet on RUNNIN’ WILD by Stephanie Trick and a young man very close to her heart, Paolo Alderighi.  This gave way to a more expansive jam session — complete with bench-swapping and musical hijinks from everyone on I NEVER KNEW; the encore, I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER, brought Dinah back, tender and witty.

Are you breathless yet?  (And I might have missed a song or two.)

A few words.  The well-paced and remarkably-paced evenings are thanks to Maestro Lipskin, who has a very good idea of what is needed to keep an audience happy.  (Some stride events are all Allegretto — solo, duo, or all-hands-on-deck — and the pace is quickly wearying.) He’s also a wonderfully authentic player on his own: you could close your eyes and feel transported to Fats Waller’s house in St. Albans, Queens, for an afternoon: no rush, no fuss, nothing out of place.

Stephanie Trick has continued to blossom as an artist who not only can duplicate the leaps and entrechats needed for this style, but can invent her own caprices.  Her TROUBLESOME IVORIES was anything but, and she kept Eubie’s spirit alive while swinging out in her own terms.  Her pianistic partner, Paolo Alderighi, has been justly praised in this blog, and he didn’t disappoint in person: his amazing technique is matched by a swooping but right-on-target improvisatory sense, no matter what end of the keyboard he is at.

Dinah Lee was warm, funny, sweet, and salty — all in good time and with a large honeyed voice that honored the songs.  Clint Baker swung out on string bass, clarinet, and cornet (as he always does), and Paul Mehling’s rhythmic swing and single-string solos were a treat.

That leaves the Patriarch, Dick Hyman — who is somewhere in his eighth decade, playing astonishing music: inventive, startling, rangy, energized . . . the art of a great musical thinker, athlete, and instant composer who can imagine other musical worlds and gently transport us there.

Individually, these musicians held us rapt: in combinations, they created new synergies that left us open-mouthed or grinning widely.  I only hope that the Lesher Arts Center and SFJAZZ understood what marvels had taken place, and invite these magicians back in 2014 to amaze us again.

May your happiness increase! 

A RIDDLE: WHAT HAS MANY LEGS AND MANY FRIENDS, SWINGS AND STRIDES?

No, it’s not a playground set.  Or a new insect. Give up?

It’s the STRIDE PIANO SUMMIT, featuring pianists Dick Hyman, Mike Lipskin, Stephanie Trick, guitarist Paul Mehling, multi-instrumentalist Clint Baker, singer Dinah Lee . . . and more.

I know that there will be a good deal of Fats, James P., the Lion, boogie-woogie, some jazz classics and pop standards, a touch of Cole Porter, a whisper of Django, a sniff of Donald Lambert . . .

Three concerts have been scheduled for some time: lucky and wise people bought tickets to the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, California, for the 5 and 8 PM concerts on Saturday, August 24, so that these concerts are sold out.  (I hope only that this enthusiastic response means a return engagement for this group in 2014.  Is that hint sufficiently subtle?)

But all is not lost.  I believe that tickets are still available for the Sunday, August 25, show at the new SF Jazz Center: click here. If you are not close to this hall, I am sorry. But if you are, come join the party. I don’t think there will be any more asking of riddles, but some questions will be answered from the stage — using notes, not words — such as WHY DOES SWING MAKE US SO HAPPY?

May your happiness increase!

SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND, 2013: MIKE LIPSKIN STRIDES!

I’d heard pianist Mike Lipskin in New York City in the Seventies, and treasured his recording with his mentor Willie “The Lion” Smith, CALIFORNIA HERE I COME — appropriately — but what the Beloved and I heard tonight at San Francisco’s Pier 23 was a delightful revelation.  Mike led a trio with Clint Baker, trumpet and clarinet, and Paul Mehling, leader of the Hot Club of San Francisco, guitar.  Their interplay was delicious — a gleeful tossing back and forth of phrases and musical ideas — but Mike has remained one of the contemporary giants of Harlem stride piano.

Stride playing is an athletic art (ask anyone from Stephanie Trick to Dick Hyman to Rossano Sportiello) and even the greatest players occasionally falter as they come out of middle age.  Mike Lipskin’s fastball still blazes.

It’s not simply that he plays rocketing tempos, but his time is steady (no matter what the groove) and his inventions dazzling without being exhibitionistic.  And his style is his own — not simply a collection of mannerisms learned from the Lion and the great players he heard and followed — Donald Lambert, Cliff Jackson, and others.  So although he may whimsically offer a Fats gesture or a Lion roar, he is always creating small surprises, key changes and small modulations in the manner of a far less rococo Tatum.  He doesn’t call attention to such things, and they could slide by listeners absorbed in the greater aural picture, but his playing is a series of small explosions that serve the song rather than detract from it.

Mike, Clint, and Paul offered music that was at once complex, endlessly rooted in the traditions and common language, but remained sweet and clear.  Special pleasures were several Ellington medleys, a rocking SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND, a somber I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA, a sweet MEMORIES OF YOU and IF I HAD YOU, and a few hallowed but little-played Thirties songs, ZING! WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART and I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU — all played in ways that were both witty and heartfelt. Clint and Paul distinguished themselves by deep melodic playing, taking risks, and swinging out in ensemble and solo.

Someone as devoted to his video camera as I am occasionally takes a rest: I’d decided it would be a refreshing way to spend an evening with the Beloved where I wasn’t staring at the viewfinder, so there is no video evidence to accompany this.  But anyone willing to spend an extra minute on YouTube can find videos of this trio captured by the assiduous RaeAnn Berry . . . and I might have some good things for JAZZ LIVES in future.  Mike will be playing solo at Bix Restaurant in San Francisco this coming Saturday and two Sundays a month (call ahead) and you can visit here to keep up with his schedule and recordings.

He’s absolutely genuine: a true explorer of those sacred arts.

May your happiness increase!

“STOMP OFF, LET’S GO!”: MIKE DURHAM’S CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY 2011

Mike Durham’s Classic Jazz Party is the successor to the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, and will be held in the comfortable Village Hotel Newcastle from Friday, November 4, 2011, to Sunday (no doubt Monday morning), November 6-7, 2o11.

(In an earlier version of this posting, I had the incorrect dates — the party begins on the fourth, not the eleventh.  Apologies for any confusion this might have caused.)

Here’s the jazz cornucopia to end all . . . hour-long concert sessions beginning at noon, then a break for dinner, and more music until midnight, followed by jam sessions in the Victory Pub.  I’m already thinking of the inflatable cushion, the tea flask and sandwiches, the extra batteries, and more . . . be prepared!

Friday (11/4):

Clarence Williams Lives! The Hot Antic Jazz Band with guests Kristoffer Kompen (trombone) and Raymond Graisier (vibraphone)

The Jelly Roll Morton Trios:  Keith Nichols (piano), Matthias Seuffert (clarinet), and Nick Ward (drums) salute Mr Jelly Lord

Teasin’ the Ivories: Mauro Porro (piano) salutes Arthur Schutt, Rube Bloom, and Seger Ellis

Dear Bix: Andy Schumm and His Gang

Benny Moten’s Music: Keith Nichols’ Blue Devils Orchestra explore Kansas City

Djangology: Philippe Guignier and Henri Lemaire, Mike Piggott (violin), Norman Field (reeds)

The Ellington Small Bands: Matthias Seuffert, Rico Tomasso (trumpet)

Dishin’ the Dirt: Caroline Irwin sings saucy songs – oooh!

Benny, Fud, Pee Wee, and Tesch: Norman Field, Keith Nichols, and Nick Ward laud some of the tough clarinets

Dallas Blues: Bent Persson and his Orchestra explore mid-30s Armstrong

A Gardenia for Lady Day: Cecile McLorin sings Billie Holiday

Andy’s Midnight Ramblers: Kristoffer Kompen, Andy Schumm and Co. – Twenties Chicago in the Victory Pub

Saturday (11/5):

Jazz Goes To The Movies: Film rarities from the collection of Mike Hazeldine

Syncopated Paraphernalia: Richard Pite’s amazing one-man percussion show

Cornet Chop Suey: Bent Persson’s Hot Five recall the glory days of 1925-1926

Vibraphonia:  Raymond Graisier’s tribute to Lionel Hampton

The Magic Ukulele Show: Professor Martin Wheatley tells us everything we need to know about the “jumping flea”

Singing In Tongues: Caroline Irwin displays her linguistic capabilities

Pickin’ Cotton: Josh Duffee (USA) and 11-piece band recreate McKinney’s music

Lincoln Gardens Stomp: Mike (Durham) and Doc (Bastide)’s Creole Jazz Band: six nationalities go back to 1923!

Three Pods of Pepper: Frans Sjöström, Norman Field, and Martin Wheatley muse over some jazz byways

Tellin’ it to the Daisies: Debbie Arthurs’ Sweet Music and the world of Annette Hanshaw

Snowy Morning Blues: Paul Asaro’s solo recital of James P Johnson’s works

East St Louis Toodle-Oo: Keith Nichols’ Blue Devils Orchestra play early Ellington

The Three Tenors: Steve Andrews, Jean-François Bonnel, and Matthias Seuffert with an all-star rhythm section

Doc’s Night Owls: The Hot Antic Jazz Band and guests play music for insomniacs in the Victory Pub

Sunday (11/6):

Encore! Encore!: More movie magic from Mr Hazeldine’s archives

The Lion & the Lamb: Willie “The Lion” Smith and Donald “The Lamb” Lambert tribute from Nichols & Asaro

Potato Head Blues: More Louis-worship from Bent Persson’s Hot Seven

From A-flat to C: Rico Tomasso & friends play the music of the John Kirby Sextet

Sau Sha Stomp: The Hot Antics & special guest David Sager (trombone) recall trumpet ace Jabbo Smith

Got the World in a Jug:  Cecile McLorin sings Bessie Smith

Zonophone Stomp: Mauro Porro’s international band tip their hat to Bert Firman’s Rhythmic Eight

Humpty Dumpty: More Bixiana from Andy Schumm and the Gang

High Hat, Trumpet, and Rhythm: Cecile McLorin pays tribute to the legendary Valaida Snow, with Rico Tomasso (trumpet)

Venuti, Rollini & Lang:  Mike Piggott (violin), Frans Sjöström (bass saxophone), Martin Wheatley (guitar), Keith Nichols, Norman Field, Raymond Graisier, Josh Duffee

The Rhythmakers: Bent Persson, Matthias Seuffert, and Co. recall the great 1932 Billy Banks sessions with Red Allen and Pee Wee Russell

The Small-Hours Swingers: Andy Woon leads a hand-picked group deep into the morning in the Victory Pub

For more information, visit http://www.whitleybayjazzfest.org/concerts.html.  Mike tells me that there are some seats — not many — left . . . so don’t be left out!

“WAKIN’ UP MUSIC”

When he lived in Europe, Ben Webster had a tape recording of all his favorite pianists — mostly Art Tatum but also Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, and the other stride masters — which he played every morning to get himself in spiritual shape to face the world gleefully. 

Stride piano can do that for you. 

Here’s a young fellow from France — Jean-Baptiste Franc — who knows what he’s doing on those keys.  His YouTube channel is called “countbasiedonlambert,” which should tell you something about his musical allegiances.  And you don’t have to take my word for it: watch Jean-Baptiste romp through RUSSIAN LULLABY: athletic and inventive, making every beat of those three minutes count:

Not bad for a young lion!

EHUD AND HARRY’S PARTY (September 2, 2010)

Those names refer to the splendid young pianist Ehud Asherie, the inimitable tenor saxophonist Harry Allen.  They were celebrating in a cozy corner of the Hotel Kitano’s bar last Thursday — celebrating the release of their new quartet CD, MODERN LIFE, for the Posi-Tone label.  At the Kitano, they were joined by master timekeepers Chuck Riggs, drums; Clovis Nicolas, bass (Joel Forbes is on the CD but couldn’t make the party). 

“Music speaks louder than words,” Charlie Parker told a rather befuddled Earl Wilson, and I will follow his direction.  If these performances need explication, do let me know . . .

Ehud began with a composition of his own (also on the CD) — ONE FOR V.  It’s based on the chords of OLD-FASHIONED LOVE (by James P. Johnson) — homage not only to James P., one of Ehud’s heroes, but also to the Swing / Bop habit of composing new lines over familiar chord changes:

Given the problems of urban mass transit, Ehud cleverly offered his own solution, THE TROLLEY SONG — which some will associate with Judy Garland, others with that New Jersey marvel, Donald Lambert:

Most people think of Bud Powell as the master of fleet keyboard lines — not as a composer of love songs, pledges of eternal devotion.  Harry and Ehud make the most tender promises, musically, in Bud’s I’LL KEEP LOVING YOU:

Here’s a World War Two episode in popular culture, a song whose title I hope is irrelevant, GOTTA DO SOME WAR WORK (featured by the Cootie Williams band featuring the same young Bud Powell):

As a solo feature, Ehud honored one of the masters of the piano and popular song, Eubie Blake, with a lovely, varied reading of LOVE WILL FIND A WAY:

Here’s the pretty tune Teddy Wilson chose as the theme for his wonderful but short-lived 1940-1 big band, IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT MEAN SO MUCH:

And, as a jaunty set-closer, Ehud called SOMEBODY LOVES ME:

We love the music of this quartet!

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!)

CHAUTAUQUA JOYS

The Beloved and I spent the past long weekend (Thursday, September 17 – Sunday, September 20) at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, delighting in the twelfth Jazz at Chautauqua. 

This party, burnished to a happy sheen, is the result of Joe Boughton’s sixty-year immersion in the timeless jazz he loves, situated somewhere between King Oliver and Charlie Parker, with reverential nods to Mr. Condon, Mr. Strong, Mr. Waller, Mr. Wilson.  Joe is also the fierce champion of melodies that don’t get played elsewhere, and as the common parlance of jazz occasionally seems to shrink into a few syllables, Joe is trying to keep the beautiful repertoire of the past alive.  That means CHINA BOY, BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU, SKYLARK, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY, and others.  Play SATIN DOLL at a Boughton extravaganza and you might get glared at, which I understand. 

Jazz at Chautauqua has its own delightful conventions (and I don’t mean the clusters of people who gather around the coffee urn, the bar, the tables of compact discs and sheet music).  Thursday night is devoted to what Joe calls “informal music with all musicians in parlor room,” sometimes the most eloquent jazz of the whole weekend — loose jam session sets by bands Joe has assembled on the spot — no lighting, the musicians on the same level as the audience.  Friday afternoon is spent in the parlor around a grand piano, with a variety of solo recitals, and the opening blow-out that night begins as if we had returned to the Third Street Condon’s of 1947, with two front lines alternating and then joining forces for an unusual number (this year it was GOD BLESS AMERICA), a ballad medley, and an old favorite. 

Each day features an exalted version of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, because most of the Chautauqua players are also Nighthawks alumni — rather like an all-star baseball team behind their blue banners and music stands.  In between, there’s the occasional set by “the faux Frenchmen,” a QHCF group augmented this year by Andy Stein on violin, sets for the wondrous Rebecca Kilgore.  Musicians ranging in age from 29 to 87 come and go, and there’s a good deal of friendly conversation between players and listeners, with some players holding forth at length while sitting on the porch or leaning against the front desk.  (The Athenaeum, if you’ve never been there, is a delicious throwback: an entirely wooden hotel, over a hundred years old, with perhaps the most friendly, solicitous hotel staff on the planet.) 

In years past, I brought my notebook to Chautauqua and wrote down the details of every set.  This year, I abandoned my notebook for other methods of capturing the evanescent and as a result this reminiscence is more impressionistic than quantitative.  I was also busily chatting with friends David and Maxine Schacker, John Herr, John and Mary-Etta Bitter, Jim Adashek, Sally and Mick Fee, Caren Brodskey, and making new friends of Steve LaVere, Lois Lardieri, James Stewart, John and Helen Trudinger, as well as various Boughtons.  Essayist and art photographer Lorna Sass graciously offered her candid portraits for this post. 

What sticks in my mind is, of course, the music.  On Thursday night, after a witty set by “the faux Frenchmen,” a delicious band of Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Bob Reitmeier, Jim Dapogny, Vince Giordano, Marty Grosz, and John Von Ohlen took the stand, and offered seven tunes that paid homage to Red Nichols (a slow SHEIK OF ARABY), Louis (YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY) and the tradition of the “rhythm ballad,” with Marty Grosz’s earnest vocal on BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.  They were followed by Duke Heitger, Dan Block, Bob Havens, Ehud Asherie, Frank Tate, and Pete Siers, whose set reached a peak with SEPTEMBER SONG — featuring Duke, plunger-muted, and Dan Block, richly emotional.  Joe Wilder and Harry Allen floated over the wonderful rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello and Jon Burr for four leisurely numbers, ending with a growly JUST SQUEEZE ME and a BLUES in Bb.  Then, suitably inspired by what they had heard, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson (wearing a red-and-black shirt that had SPACE CADET or was it SPACE CHAMP printed on the front) hit five home runs, playing ecstatic tag with one another with the help of Ehud, Andy Brown, and Arnie Kinsella — a rhythm section that had probably never gotten together ever but produced gliding, propulsive swing.  The closing SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL was hilarious, hot, and intense. 

After that point, I put my notebook away — so what remains is a happy blur of solos, ensembles, and moments. 

ChauAndyStein09Andy Stein, shown here on violin, was even better on his secret weapon, the baritone sax, anchoring and boosting every group he played in.

Jim Dapogny, properly Professor Dapogny, jazz scholar, once again showed himself the invaluable member of every ensemble, his right hand landing with force and delicacy to produce ringing octaves; his left offering powerful stride and variations. 

 

ChauEhud09Just as impressive was Ehud Asherie, not yet thirty (someone I had recommended to Joe to fill the piano chair) who so impressed us all — whether recalling Donald Lambert or being harmonically and melodically adventurous.  One of the highlights of the first night was a long Asherie-Harry Allen duet set, capped by three numbers where Ehud invited Dan Barrett to join them.  Two horns plus a piano might seem lopsided, but it was a wonderfully balanced trio. 

Andy Schumm, the young Bixian from Wisconsin, continued to delight and amaze — not only with his evocations of the Beiderbecke era (his versions of RHYTHM KING and NO-ONE KNOWS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT) but with his delicate fluency: he would fit in anywhere and shine.  When I passed through the bandroom, I was touched to see Andy and Tom Pletcher, Bixians young and old, deep in conversation.  Too bad that they didn’t get to play a set together.

Guitarist Andy Brown reminded me happily of George Van Eps, his chordal traceries gleaming (he is one of those rare guitarists who knows better than to stun us with rapid-fire passages); he and the lovely Petra van Nuis offered two brief sets.  Petra, who appears girlish, has a surprising emotional range: she got absolute rapt attention at 9 in the morning with her opening song, a version of SERENATA.  (Later in the weekend, I prevailed upon the modern troubadour Edward Lovett to sing two songs, accompanying himself on the guitar: he’s somewhere between Seger Ellis, young Crosby, and Dave Frishberg — you’ll hear about him!) 

ChauDuke 09And there were non-musical moments: Duke Heitger, now the delighted father of two beautiful little girls, showing off their pictures and positively glowing with pride.  Marty Grosz, discoursing at length both on and off the stand — at one point discussing how current CD covers all show grinning performers and his reluctance to adopt that pose.  Marty also sang I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at the just-right 1931 ballad tempo, recalling his hero Red McKenzie. 

Jon-Erik Kellso, at his ease on the stand (he is an inestimable bandleader as well as player) and happily taking his ease with wife Jackie.  Rebecca Kilgore, getting so pleased with the rhythm and solos her accompanists were creating that she indulged in a good deal of ladylike trucking on the stand (as well as singing better than ever). 

ChauJoe09

On one of Rebecca’s sets, Joe Wilder was so buoyed by the rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello, Jon Burr, and Pete Siers, that he flew through dazzling solos — leading Dan Block, as a spectator, to say, “Unbelievable!” while shaking his head in amazed delight.  Scott Robinson, playing a luminous AT SUNDOWN on trumpet.  That same Dan Block, eloquent on clarinet, bass clarinet, and various saxophones, his body always reflecting the power of the music flowing through him.  An impassioned I CAN’T GET STARTED by Duke Heitger, who saw the heights of passion and attained them.  Arnie Kinsella, the poet of volcanic ebullience, hitting his cowbell in a solo, as he said later, “as loud as he could,” because he wanted to — in a way that we agreed was a celebration of joyous impulse and a Bronx cheer in the face of death. 

The music still rings in my ears.  And I am thrilled to announce that on Sunday, Joe Boughton was busily signing up musicians for next year’s Jazz at Chautauqua.  I’ll have to wait, but it won’t be easy. 

I’ll have more to say about this ecstatic weekend in posts to come.

THREE WISE MEN (OF JAZZ)

three-wise-men-jpeg

The wonderful reed player Frank Roberscheuten, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and drummer Martin Breinschmid mad a CD — they call their trio THREE WISE MEN.  And they are!  Here’s what I had to say in Cadence (January-March 2008) about the disc:

Often, the most traditional Jazz trio format – a reed player, pianist, and drummer – leads well-intentioned players into tributes to Goodman. That is hardly a bad thing, and I’ve heard many stirring evocations, but there is more to say from the instrumentation and the format. This CD goes its own way in featuring a balanced international small group whose scope reaches from James P. Johnson and Bud Freeman to Horace Silver, Monk, and Miles, never compromising the material or forcing it into stylistic boxes. Roberschuten can purl through a lovely rubato verse and then shift into tempo to deliver swinging improvisations, concise yet musically expansive. He has learned a great deal from his instrumental ancestors but his approach is a creative synthesis. On tenor, he has a Getz-Cohn fluidity, which doesn’t stop him from doing a splendid version of Bud Freeman’s bubbles and flourishes on “The Eel.” His clarinet playing is nuanced, caressing, and free from cliché, whether he is playing a Thirties pop song or a Jim Hall waltz. And his charming alto sound blends Phil Woods and Hilton Jefferson to great effect. He loves to linger over the melody, as on “You’re Mine, You,” a rewarding song that hasn’t been overdone. And his original, “From the East,” suggests late-period Ellington and Strayhorn. Throughout, I was reminded of the marvelous cohesiveness of sound, rhythm, and conception that distinguished the early Fifties Vanguard sessions – in particular the trios of Ruby Braff or Paul Quinichette with Mel Powell and Bobby Donaldson. Pianist Sportiello remains a champion: hear his beautiful touch on “Detour Ahead,” and “You’re A Sweetheart,” his astonishing whirlwind on “Dearest,” and marvel at his pushing accompaniment throughout. He suggests Jimmy Rowles or Tommy Flanagan when he is being serene; Ralph Sutton, Donald Lambert, and Dave McKenna when he chooses to stomp. A loud, uneven, or passive-aggressive drummer can sink a trio, but there’s no danger here. Breinschmid has listened closely to Krupa, but isn’t hemmed in by that style: his work on “Dark Eyes” is both homage to the originals and his own improvement on them; his brushwork on “You’re A Sweetheart” is reminiscent of Jo Jones in his prime. I never yearned for the absent bass player or guitarist, and there’s no monotony on this disc. I would begin with “How Deep Is the Ocean?” which combines deep feeling and forward motion at the same time. (The session is beautifully recorded, too.) If Roberscheuten is an unfamiliar name, he has also been an integral part of the debut CD by “Three’s A Crowd,” which matches him with the fine singer Shaunette Hildabrand and pianist Bernd Lhozsky. And the witty, ambling liner notes by trombonist Dan Barrett are assurance of Jazz quality.

The good news is twofold.  First, you can order the CD from frank.roberscheuten@planet.nl for $18, including shipping.  And I recommend that you do so!

Even better: the trio recorded another excellent session last month, which they are calling GETTING TOGETHER.  It should be available for purchase in a few weeks.  I will point out, immodestly, that I wrote the notes for the CD — music that’s easy to praise.

LANCELOT TAKES MANHATTAN

Last Monday, the French stride wizard Olivier Lancelot flew in from Paris for ten days of tri-state jazz immersion — a duet gig at Smalls with Dan Levinson, and appearances at the Hot Steamed Jazz Festival in Essex, Connecticut, with serendipitious sitting-in here and there. 

Photograph by Lorna Sass.  Coptright 2008.

When Olivier sat down at the keyboard at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse (680 Columbus Avenue at 93rd Street) only five hours after his plane had landed, he looked serene and cheerful.  And he approached his four-hour gig with enthusiasm, playing nearly fifty songs in the course of the night, drawing on a huge repertoire.  His musical standrads are high: thus, no “Feelings,” no “The Way We Were,” no “New York, New York.”  Rather, he explored “Body and Soul,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” “That Old Feeling,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “Darn That Dream,” “Blue Moon,” all at a gentle jog reminiscent of middle-period Teddy Wilson.  True to his reputation, he gave out with a few stride showpieces, most memorably “Handful of Keys” and a blazing “Song of the Vagabonds.”  A very pretty “La Vie En Rose” reminded us of Piaf and Louis at once, a neat accomplishment. 

But the unfamiliar material was even more intriguing: a song neither I nor the Beloved could place turned out to be “Somethin’ Stupid,” a Sixties AM radio hit for Frank and daughter Nancy Sinatra.  Late in the evening, driven by some private whimsy, Olivier went into “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” once the tradmark song of Helen Kane, reprised by Marilyn Monroe in SOME LIKE IT HOT.  Following that line of thought, he leapt into a jaunty “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” a song James P. Johnson would have loved — although who, besides Olivier, ever thought of it as worthy material?  “Do-Re-Mi,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein, became a Donald Lambert fantasy.  

Lancelot’s understanding of the music goes beyond his admirable facility at the keyboard.    Many players who identify themselves as stride (or Stride) piano specialists narrow the style as a double handful of composed pieces: here’s “Carolina Shout,” here’s “Russian Fantasy,” here’s “Keep Your Temper.”  Dick Wellstood, ever questing, extended this approach by playing Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and “Rubber Duckie” (from SESAME STREET) as they would have been done uptown circa 1934.  Olivier has the technique and stamina to play ten or twelve choruses of violently athletic stride without strain, even though he pantomimed exhaustion (a giant wiping-of-the-forehead gesture) after his extravaganzas.  But he didn’t restrict himself to such fireworks: as he told me during the evening, playing these pieces too often in a set blurs the effect quickly.  Rather, he played stride patterns, casually and as a matter of course, remembering a time when that was the accepted way to play, at a variety of tempos — whether the song was an easy “Darn That Dream” or even “As Time Goes By,” suggesting Bogart and Bacall at Monroe’s Uptown House.  His rhythm was impeccable, his time steady, his bass lines varied (not just a metronomic oom-pah).  Combined with a light touch, he made it seem as if we had been invited into Fats’s living room to hear him play some tunes — informal and delightful.           

The last word belongs to our waiter Chad, a gracious import from the South.  “You know our regular pianist Ehud?  He sent this guy in for tonight — he’s from Paris.  Oh, this one’s great!” 

Yes, indeed.