Tag Archives: Dorothy Fields

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC” (Part Two): YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Yes, these two magicians: Yaala Ballin, singing; Michael Kanan, playing.

About four weeks ago, they did their subtle transformations here:

They made music blossom.  The sign is perfectly apt.

Never let it be said that JAZZ LIVES omits any relevant detail:

And here‘s the first part, the songs being I COULD WRITE A BOOK; SO IN LOVE; EASY TO LOVE; THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT; BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED; HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?

And if that weren’t enough, here is the second part.

S’WONDERFUL:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

I LOVE PARIS:

IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME:

MANHATTAN:

I’LL BE AROUND:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

It was delightful to be there, which my videos may not convey wholly.  But if you missed it, and I am sure some New York readers did, be glad: Michael and Yaala will be doing another box-of-surprises program at Mezzrow on December 11 of this year.  Details here.

Yaala told us, during the concert, that she, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are recording a CD devoted to her near-namesake, Israel Baline, whom we know as Irving Berlin.  That will be a treat — but do come out for the music as it is performed in real time, in front of people who appreciate it.

May your happiness increase!

START WITH OPTIMISM, AND IF THAT DOESN’T WORK, AIM FOR RESILIENCE: REBECCA KILGORE, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, DAN BARRETT, JON BURR, RICKY MALACHI at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 21, 2012)

There are maladies everywhere, but there are also cures.  You could see your doctor and get a prescription designed to take care of angst, malaise, and ennui; it would be a little plastic vial with a long name that would surely upset your stomach.  Or you could simply click on the two videos below, never before seen, and wait for the results . . . with no side-effects.  Music hath charms, indeed.

Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, Ricky Malachi at Jazz at Chautauqua 2012.

These two performances took place at the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend in September 2012, and they bring joy.  Specifically, Rebecca Kilgore, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Jon Burr, and Ricky Malachi — vocals and guitar, piano, trombone, string bass, and drums — do that rare and wonderful thing.

Here’s a burst of optimism in swing, the 1939 pop hit above, which has been so completely overshadowed by WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD and IT’S A BIG WIDE WONDERFUL WORLD that I am immediately grateful to Becky and friends for singing and playing it:

And resilience added to optimism, in a song associated with the unlikely spectacle of Fred Astaire having trouble mastering a dance step.

This Kern-Fields beauty occasionally gets mixed up with the Berlin LET YOURSELF GO, perhaps the same principle, but one is about recovery (even a triumph over gravity) — the other, release:

These performances are from seven years ago, but Becky and friends are currently performing their magic in various ways and places.  You can find out her schedule here, and there is her seriously beautiful new CD with Echoes of Swing (Bernd Lhotzky, Colin T. Dawson, Chris Hopkins, and Oliver Mewes) called WINTER DAYS AT SCHLOSS ELMAU, about which I’ll have more to say soon.  Rossano’s globe-crossings are documented here; Jon Burr’s many adventures here and Dan Barrett’s here.

Not a pill in sight, and I feel better now.

May your happiness increase!

“SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT = LIVE MUSIC”: YAALA BALLIN and MICHAEL KANAN, “The Great American Songbook, Requested” (St. John’s in the Village, New York City, October 19, 2019)

Last Saturday, I was on my way along West 11th Street in Greenwich Village to the church above for a musical event that turned out to be more memorable than I could have imagined.  Ambling along, I had my video equipment; the musicians are friends of mine as well as heroes, and I was imagining the blogpost that might come of it.  Then I saw this banner from another church and the top two phrases struck me as completely apropos to the event to come — and they are, in the ideal world, the same thing:

Back to St. John’s for the event poster, which depicts Yaala Ballin:

“The Great American Songbook, Requested” presented Yaala Ballin, vocal, and Michael Kanan, piano, in a duo-recital drawing on Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and Alec Wilder.

The songs were treated lovingly, but as old friends — which is to say that both Yaala and Michael have a reverence for their melodies and harmonies as printed on the contemporaneous sheet music, and a depth of knowledge about the best performances, but that they felt free to improvise, to express their own personalities without obscuring the music.

“Requested” was a sly and endearingly playful idea.  When we entered the church, we were given a list of songs, more than forty, organized by composer, and asked to write down two on a small slip of paper — a favorite first, another second — that we wanted to hear.  It gave the afternoon the slight flavor of a children’s party (or the office grab bag, without the terrors that can inspire).  The thirteen selections Yaala and Michael performed were drawn at random from a basket that Yaala — for that brief time, the Red Riding Hood of the West Village — had brought with her.  Of course, they knew the songs on the list, but it was a small adventure, the very opposite of a tightly-planned program.  And it worked sweetly, as you will see and hear.

I COULD WRITE A BOOK (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Pal Joey):

SO IN LOVE (Cole Porter, Kiss Me Kate):

EASY TO LOVE (Porter, Born to Dance):

THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT (Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Swing Time):

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED (Rodgers and Hart, Pal Joey):

HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (Irving Berlin):

I don’t think this playful, light-hearted but emotional musical partnership displayed this afternoon, could have been better.  I could go on about Michael’s deeply musical approach to the piano, and the chances Yaala takes and how they pay off, but the evidence is all here.  And seven more performances will be shared soon.

Yaala and Michael will be performing another version of this concert at Mezzrow on December 11.  And (as if that would not be enough), Yaala, Michael, Ari Roland, and Chris Flory are going in to the studio to record a CD of Israel Baline’s music (he wrote the preceding song and a few others).

May your happiness increase!

WON’T YOU PLEASE ARRANGE IT? (July 10, 2019)

We love Ray Skjelbred, who loves Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, and Joe Sullivan.  Here, he starts THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT — dedicated to Ginger, her hair a mass of shampoo-suds — as a rubato exploration, then shifts into dreamy dance music:

And here’s the original scene from SWING TIME, which makes me wish that the fantasies of 1936 were plausible: that our lovers could serenade us so tenderly through the bathroom door.  I don’t know where the RKO studio orchestra would fit themselves, but no matter.

Thanks to Ray for evoking such a sweet moment, and to Rae Ann Berry for the video.  And here‘s Ray’s November 2016 solo rendition of this song (he told me it was the first time he’d performed it) along with several other gems.

May your happiness increase!

THAT DANCING FEELING: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO PLAY FIELDS and MCHUGH at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 25, 2016)

I could have called this post WHY I WENT TO SAN DIEGO, but the music — not my travel itinerary — is the real subject.  For me, “San Diego” is not the city, but the Jazz Fest there, which unrolled happily during Thanksgiving weekend of this year, a true cornucopia of delights.

doin-the-new-lowdown

One such delight was a trio performance by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, reeds — and this little gem, their cheerfully swinging exploration of the Fields and McHugh delight made famous by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, DOIN’ THE NEW LOW-DOWN:

“That dancing feeling / Has my feet in a trance,” state the lyrics by Dorothy Fields.  How true, when this trio is around — a sweet compact lesson in ensemble intelligence, generosity, and swing.  Happily, there’s more from this session to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

“I KNOW THAT MUSIC LEADS THE WAY TO ROMANCE”: HARRY ALLEN / EHUD ASHERIE (Cleveland, September 13, 2015)

Fred-and-Ginger-color

Here is a shining, memorably understated lesson in how to play the melody, how to embellish it, how to honor it.  Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano, perform the Jerome Kern – Dorothy Fields song I WON’T DANCE (so deeply associated with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) at the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party — now the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party:

I honor Dorothy Fields’ dear clever lyrics in my title, and when Harry and Ehud play Kern’s melody and their own beautiful embellishments on it — at a very danceable tempo — I still hear the words, which is all praise to her work.

Did you know that this duo (and perhaps two dozen other musicians) will be appearing at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — starting on Thursday, September 15? Now you do.  And when we meet there, I or someone else will explain the secret of that huge flower arrangement, which serves a very useful purpose.

May your happiness increase!

THEY MADE SOME MUSIC: DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JAMES CHIRILLO, KELLY FRIESEN at THE EAR INN (June 19, 2016)

EAR INN sign

Nothing fancy.  No theorizing, no dramatizing.  Just four jazz masters having a good time on Sunday, June 19, 2016, at The Ear Inn: Danny Tobias, cornet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Kelly Friesen, string bass. Without a moment’s thought of imitation, this group got closer to the spirit of the exalted Kansas City Six than any I’ve heard recently.  That’s a serious thing!

Here are a few highlights:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (at an easy lope, reminding me of Ruby Braff and Scott Hamilton):

I NEVER KNEW (where the two-person front line evokes the 1938 Basie band while the gentlemen in the back row do a fine job of becoming that band’s rhythm section — I find this performance completely thrilling, quiet as it is):

OUT OF NOWHERE (thinking of Bing and all the great rhythm ballad performances, or simply on the quest to make beauty):

BLUE ROOM (at a sweetly wistful tempo one never hears these days):

DIGA DIGA DOO (for those who need to visit the jungle before they can head home to their apartment):

A few comments.  First, these time-honored standards offer such luxurious room for improvisation for those who care to enjoy the freedom to roam: the old songs are far from dead when played [or sung] by vividly alive musicians. Second, the art of counterpoint or ensemble playing isn’t something that died when the last New Orleans forbear went to the cemetery: one of the great pleasures of this set is the easy playful witty conversations between instruments. And, finally, I note with great pleasure that this quartet played quiet music for listeners.  And the listeners did what they were supposed to do.  How nice is that?

As always, I entreat my readers to find live music and savor it when possible. Marvels are all around us.  We dare not take them for granted.  Thank you, Swing wizards!

May your happiness increase!

ON DOROTHY’S SIDE: THOMAS WINTELER, TORSTEIN KUBBAN, FRANS SJOSTROM, JACOB ULLBERGER, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 5, 2015)

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET

Jonathan Schwartz told the story of walking with his father (Arthur Schwartz, of Dietz and Schwartz fame) on a shady city street, and his father saying, “Come on, let’s cross over to Dorothy’s side of the street,” the reference being to the lyricist Dorothy Fields and the classic 1930 song ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (music by Jimmy McHugh).

Even though the rendition that follows was hours away from the sunshine, it glows and radiates in the best way: evoking Bechet, Louis, and Hines if you like, or dramatizing that such mastery is still entirely possible in this century: the players are Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Torstein Kubban, cornet; David Boeddinghaus, keyboard; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Jacob Ullberger, banjo.  All of this goodness took place on November 5, 2015, at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.  And I know for a certainty that more like it will take place at the November 2016 Party.

Living sunshine, even in the darkness.  Thanks to Messrs. Sjostrom, Winteler, Kubban, Boeddinghaus, and Ullberger:

May your happiness increase!

“THIS ROVER / CROSSED OVER”: MARTY GROSZ, JON BURR, PETE SIERS, ANDY SCHUMM, DAN LEVINSON at the ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY (September 20, 2014)

It’s one of the most familiar songs in American popular music:

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET

But you might not know this variation on the theme, with an urban New York twist:

Sign on sidewalk: 'Please direct your feet to the sunny side of the street...'

Sign on sidewalk: ‘Please direct your feet to the sunny side of the street…’

And this, courtesy of Marty Grosz, Andy Schumm, Dan Levinson, Jon Burr, Pete Siers:

You wouldn’t have seen this morning musicale unless you’d been at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party.  This is just to say — with thanks to William Carlos Williams — that such glorious effusions will take place once again at this year’s Party from September 10-13.  It’s a chance to be on the sunny side, with no after-effects requiring a dermatologist.

May your happiness increase!

MILT GABLER APPROVES: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JIM BUCHMANN, KATIE CAVERA, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 4, 2014)

Few readers of JAZZ LIVES were actually enjoying the music on Fifty-Second Street, or at a Jimmy Ryan’s jam session, or were in the audience after-hours in Harlem, Chicago, or Kansas City.  What we have now are reminiscences, photographs, and the very rare live recording.  We have to rely on issued recordings for evocations of those times and places, and — infrequently — live performances in this century.  Every so often, I am sitting in front of a band whose musical energy is so wise, so deep, and so intense, that I say to myself, “That’s what it might have sounded like at the Lincoln Gardens,” or “uptown in 1941,” or “at the Reno Club.”

This performance — recorded on November 4, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest — made me think, “This is an unissued Commodore session . . . rejected because it ran too long.”  I don’t have higher praise than that, and since I think the dead know, I believe that Milt Gabler is feeling the good spirits too.

Milt Gabler

Milt Gabler

 

The musicians (or wizards of feeling?) are Ray Skjelbred, piano and inspiration; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jim Buchmann, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

The song chosen is really a layer-cake of three.  First, DIGA DIGA DOO (by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields) — a song made for romping, even though its people-of-color-are-so-hedonistic lyrics are now hard to sing.  It’s overlaid by KRAZY KAPERS, a riff created at the 1933 “Chocolate Dandies” session overseen by John Hammond (the awful band title aside, it was a hot mixed group), and then the song that Ray murmurs about — the one that went too long at Carnegie Hall — Louis Prima’s SING SING SING, with or without commas, which gives Ray a chance to evoke Jess Stacy, always welcome.

When I was busily setting up the video on YouTube — writing a title, description, and creating tags, one of the suggested tabs that the YT machinery came up with was

Wow

My feelings exactly.

It’s in moments like this — nearly seven minutes of moments — that I feel I’m doing the important work of my life (with no offense meant to the students I teach) . . . attempting to make the evanescent permanent, attempting to make the local heroes world-famous.  It makes the knapsack with cameras and tripod feel feathery, not burdensome.

Commodore label

And — quite relevant to this music — I just read that Mosaic Records has completed an eight-CD set of the complete Commodore and Decca recordings of Eddie Condon and Bud Freeman, which will be available in mid-April.  Need I say more?

May your happiness increase!

 

HAPPINESS, PLURAL: JAMES DAPOGNY, MIKE KAROUB, ROD McDONALD, KURT KRAHNKE (Ann Arbor, January 10, 2015)

I wrote elsewhere on this blog recently that so many of the songs in what we call the Great American Songbook are about the desolation of lost love, love unsuccessfully yearned for, love that has been broken past repair.

As a corrective, I offer two chamber-music improvisations on happier themes, created by James Dapogny and Strings at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 10, 2015.  This quartet — formal in aspect but lively in spirit — is Dapogny at the piano; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass.  No amplification requested or applied, and the lovely videos are the work of Laura Beth Wyman.

I am sure it is only a narrative I have created out of my essential romanticism and optimism, but the two songs below describe a brief play of risk-taking that is sure to bring deep rewards, and the delight of fulfillment.  May it be so for those listening as well!

Vernon Duke’s cheerful TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE (impossible for me to hear this song without hearing Ethel Waters singing it as well):

And the full quartet returns for the Jimmy McHugh – Dorothy Fields EXACTLY LIKE YOU, a song that so epitomizes the most elated feelings of lovers at their most rapturous: “YOU are the only person I have ever wanted to be with, and our connection has been pre-ordained by both the cosmos and my Mother!”:

I have listened to these performances many times, and find them delightfully contradictory: on one hand, there is a priceless translucency, all of the component parts shining and apparently weightless — yet these performances are musically dense, and each time I listen I have the epiphanies, “Did you hear what he did there, how he responded?”  Playful brilliance at every turn, never showy or self-referential.  Thank you so much, James, Rod, Mike, Kurt, and Laura.

I have posted other performances from this gig, and here is an uplifting place to begin.

May your happiness increase!

EXCELLENT MEDICAL ADVICE (from DOCTORS McHUGH, FIELDS, OPPENHEIM, and WALLER)

YOUR SPEED

Yes, I know we are all important people with critically important time-sensitive tasks to accomplish, but still I inquire:

What’s the rush?

Where’s the fire?

Who’s chasing you?

TAKE IT EASY.

Instead of my telling you, here is the message in musical form . . . delivered by the best shamans I know.

It was snowing this morning: I suspect that a good number of the accidents I saw were caused by hurry.  My students, eager for the semester to be over, rush through their final explications and are then puzzled when their grades are low.  Life is meant to be lived in a leisurely way — a steady rocking medium tempo.

TAKE IT EASY.  Thanks to Jimmy McHugh (melody); Dorothy Fields and George Oppenheim (lyrics); Fats Waller and his Rhythm (1935).

May your happiness increase!

THE STEM, THE MOOD, THE NEST at ATLANTA 2012: CHUCK REDD, HARRY ALLEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, RICHARD SIMON, ED METZ (April 21, 2012)

A simple set: celebrating New York as jazz’s central heating system; amorous feelings; the comforts of home.  By that I mean Ellington’s MAIN STEM, the Fields-McHugh I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, and Sir Charles Thompson’s tribute to disc jockey and friend of jazz Fred Robbins, ROBBINS’ NEST — all performed with grace and style by Chuck Redd, vibraphone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Richard Simon, string bass; Ed Metz, drums — at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party.

MAIN STEM:

I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, featuring Harry, Rossano, Richard, and Ed:

ROBBINS’ NEST:

May your happiness increase.

THERE’S MAGIC IN THE EAR (Part Two): The EarRegulars and Friends at The Ear Inn, May 13, 2012)

There are certain live musical events I hope to remember the rest of my life.  Three that come to the surface immediately: an I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU that Ruby Braff created one night in 1975 at the last Eddie Condon’s — at such a quick tempo that the other players had to scurry to get in their sixteen bars before the performance ended.  There’s also a Vic Dickenson chorus of LOUISE performed as part of a Condonite ballad medley alongside Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood in 1972 at Your Father’s Mustache.  The BODY AND SOUL played at the 1975 Newport “Hall of Fame” by Bobby Hackett, Vic, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones — where Hackett gave the bridge of the final chorus to Jo, who created a subtle, dancing wirebrush sound sculpture.

I could extend this list, but it is only my way of prefacing this: the music I heard and recorded last Sunday night at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) — created by the EarRegulars and friends — is on that list.

The EarRegulars that night were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (a special one, a 1970s Conn horn that had belonged to Bobby Hackett); Ken Peplowski, tenor saxophone and clarinet; James Chirillo, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass — and some fine congenial friends.  I have written in my earlier post (check it out here) about a community of joyous magicians (Jazz Wizards, perhaps?), artists and friends listening deeply to one another . . . but the new friends coming along didn’t break the spell.  Rather, they enhanced it.  The party expanded and became more of what it was meant to be.

Listen, savor, marvel, be enlightened!

They began with that twelve-bar commentary on how the universe feels on a dark Monday morning — a lament with a grin, THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE.  Here it’s a soulful shuffle with a big heart.  Things might be annoying but if we play the blues for a good long time, we won’t notice so much:

Listening to THINGS, I thought once again of Miss Barbara Lea’s mildly imperial disdain for what she called “Sounding Like” — the game critics and listeners play of “Oh, that phrase Sounds Just Like . . . ” and a name, famous or obscure, follows — but most importantly, the names mentioned are never those of the musicians actually playing.  I declare that for this post, the musicians these players Sound Like are named Kellso, Peplowski, Chirillo, Burr, Anderson, Au, Musselman . . . no one else but them!

Someone proposed that minor romp — all about a melancholic African fellow whose liturgical utterance swings like mad: DIGA DIGA DOO.  Concealed within in, not too subtly, is an Andrew Marvell carpe diem, which you can find for yourself.  The Ellington connection isn’t all that obscure: it was a 1928 hit by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh from the show BLACKBIRDS OF 1928 — which also included Bill Robinson’s DOIN’ THE NEW LOWDOWN.  (If Fields and McHugh had never collaborated, how much poorer would our common language be.) And the Ellington band recorded it when the song was new and kept the chord changes for many romps in later decades.  All I can say is that I was happy to hear them begin it — and I got happier chorus by chorus through their Krazy Kapers:

The eternal question, DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW)?  What beauty!  And the surprise for me — among others — is that lovely bridge.  In this performance, every note is in place but it all sounds fresh, new — from their hearts!

An aside: as an introduction to DON’T YOU KNOW?, Jon-Erik said that the EarRegulars were going to continue their explorations of Ellingtonia because a friend was in the house who likes Ellington.  I found out later that it was the UK rocker Joe Jackson, who has created his own Ellington-tribute CD: details here.

The first of the Friends to join the fun was the brilliant young reedman Will Reardon Anderson, who had been sitting at a table with a very happy Missus Jackie Kellso — he leapt in the carrot patch for a exhilarating COTTON TAIL:

The emotional temperature in the room was increasing, not only because we moved from the plaintive question DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE to the romantic request JUST SQUEEZE ME.  And the stellar cornetist Gordon Au joined the band for this sweet improvisation.  (Behind Missus Kellso the observant eye can catch a glimpse of night-owl Charles Levinson and ragtime hero Terry Waldo, enjoying themselves immensely.)  The first thirty seconds of this performance continue to make me laugh out loud . . . for reasons I don’t need to explain here.  And I hope you’ll drink in this performance’s beautiful structure — from ensemble to solos to conversations.  We’re among Friends!

And the young trombone master Matt Musselman came to play on the last song of the night, Juan Tizol’s PERDIDO . . . a true exercise in swing by all concerned!  And pay attention (to echo Jake Hanna) to the casually brilliant dialogues than just happen: not cutting contests, but chats on subjects everyone knows so well:

I write it again (“with no fear of contradiction,” as they used to say): we are so fortunate to live on the same planet as the magical creative folks.  Blessings on all of you!

May your happiness increase.

UNDERNEATH THE ARCHES: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and BOB DRAGA at SWEET AND HOT 2011

The Reynolds Brothers bring it in a gratifying hot, witty way.  More from these Swing Masters and clarinetist Bob Draga, recorded outdoors at “Rampart Street” at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  (“Rampart Street” is something of a joke born of necessity: sharp-eyed viewers will see that the imagined ceiling of this outdoors stage is a highway ramp.) 

For this set, the Brothers were Ralf (washboard, vocal); John (guitar, banjo, vocal, whistling); Marc Caparone (cornet), Katie Cavera (string bass, vocal); Larry Wright (alto sax, ocarina), with the nimble lines of Bob Draga weaving in and out.

Is there anything finer than DINAH?

The band that has Katie Cavera in it is doubly or triply gifted — instrumentally and vocally, as she demonstrates on DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?

Nothing but BLUE SKIES do I see:

Perhaps because the odd stage, John came up with OUT OF NOWHERE for his homage to Harry Lillis Crosby:

Translate the lyrics to the Fields-McHugh DIGA DIGA DOO without being politically incorrect and win a prize — or just get swept along by the fine momentum here:

SADIE GREEN (The Vamp of New Orleans) . . . was a hot mama, and this tune is a heated improvisation in her honor — half vaudeville, half rocking jazz:

I have a special fondness for OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN — one of those 1931 songs designed to make the homeless and unemployed feel that their lot was endurable . . . but the sentiments it espouses (a love of Nature, freedom from materialism, and a Thoreau-like simplicity mixed with a hip socialism) touch a responsive chord, as do the Brothers in this performance:

I’m as happy as I can be (even though my heart feels a chill) when the Reynolds Brothers SWING THAT MUSIC.  And Marc’s singing is just grand:

Yeah, man!

P.S.  A reader wrote in, “I love the Reynolds Brothers, but why does the one with the washboard [that’s Ralf] keep blowing that whistle?”  Youth wants to know: Ralf blows that whistle when a member of the band creates a particularly hoary “quotation” from another song — it’s in the interest of fairness, a referee calling FOUL.  Now you know.

P.P.S.  Connee Boswell’s rendition of the beautifully sad song UNDERNEATH THE ARCHES should be better known, especially in perilous economic times.

PIECES OF OUR PAST (August 2011)

Wordsworth was correct when he wrote that in “getting and spending” we “lay waste our powers.”  I live not too far from a large shopping mall, and visit it only when other ways to buy something necessary are worse.  But certain kinds of “getting” and “spending” aren’t so bad: when the purchases uplift the spirits and don’t cost much.  Exhibits below.  First, sheet music from a Vallejo, California antique shop.

I was motivated to buy this 1926 laff-riot because of the title and the line drawing — I sympathize with that fellow, even though I haven’t worn a three-piece suit in years.  However, instead of being a comic ditty about table manners, it is more literal — X does all the work but Y, who doesn’t, gets all the credit.  And it must have been a smash in vaudeville, for the inside front cover contains 24 knock-em-dead versions of the chorus.  I will spare you.  And if the name “Larry Shay” looks familiar, he was in part responsible for WHEN YOU’RE SMILING.

A much more seriously valuable song: I can hear Billie singing it or Ed Hall playing it.  The most touching part of this sheet music is the inscription of ownership on top — I don’t know if it’s entirely visible, but this copy was the property of WOODY’S DANCE DEMONS.  I looked them up on Google and didn’t find anything, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t play well in 1929 or 1930.

This song is deeply unimaginative, but I thought that if the Benson Orchestra had played it and its composer had written OKLAHOMA INDIAN JAZZ, it might have some merit.  We live in hope.

I wouldn’t call this a memorable Berlin tune (I suspect it was meant as a frisky dance number) but it does contain the lines, “Let me mingle with a peppy jingle / That the jazz bands love to play,” which is certainly hip for 1922.

I heard Rosy McHargue sing this on a Stomp Off recording (he must have been in his middle eighties) and thought it was hilarious.  Also, isn’t that the most thoroughly anthropomorphized dog face you’ve ever seen?  Now for several artifacts that are more fragile, heavier, and harder to pack — but no less irresistible.

Although I can’t imagine Eddie Condon with a novel in front of him, he admired John Steinbeck and was very proud that they were friends.  Steinbeck loved the music that Eddie and the boys created, with only one caveat: he kept asking Eddie to take up the banjo again, an offer Eddie steadfastly pushed aside.  This 12″ 78 cost more than fifty cents when it was new, and the band is flawless.

Also (not pictured, but you can imagine):

another Commodore 12″ of OH, KATHARINA and BASIN STREET BLUES; a Blue Note Jazzmen 12″ of WHO’S SORRY NOW (no question mark) and BALLIN’ THE JACK.  Moving into the microgroove era, I proudly snapped up a Collectors’ Classics lp of the Red Allen Vocalions 1934-5 (with the exultant ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON), Ray Skjelbred’s first solo session for Berkeley Rhythm Records, from 1973-4 (signed by the artist), and the JUMP compilation of (Charles) LaVere’s Chicago Loopers, with Jack Teagarden, Joe Venuti, Nick Fatool, and other stalwarts.

“JAZZ LIVES” GOES TO A PARTY (August 9, 2011)

Marc Caparone and Dawn Lambeth are dear friends and superb musicians.  When they heard that the Beloved and I were coming to California for much of this summer, Marc proposed a jazz evening to be held at their house, and spoke of it in the most flattering way as the “Michael Steinman Jazz Party,” a name that both embarrassed and delighted me.

And it happened on Tuesday, August 9, 2011.  You’ll see some of the results here: great music from good-humored, generous people.

The guests — of a musical sort — were a small group of warmly rewarding musicians.  Besides Marc (cornet and string bass) and Dawn (vocals), there were Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet), John “Butch” Smith (soprano and alto saxophones), Vinnie Armstrong (piano), and Mike Swan (guitar and vocals).  The listeners included the Beloved, Bill and Sandy Gallagher (fine friends and jazz enthusiasts), Cathie Swan (Mike’s wife), Mary Caparone (Marc’s mother), James Arden Caparone (four months but with a great musical future in front of him), and a few others whose names I didn’t get to record (so sorry!).

Jazz musicians take great pleasure in these informal, relaxed happenings: no pressure to play faster, louder, to show off to an already sated crowd.  In such settings, even the most familiar old favorites take on new life, and unusual material blossoms.  We all witnessed easy, graceful, witty, heartfelt improvising on the spot.  And you will, too.

Jazz itself was the guest of honor.  Everyone knew that their efforts were also reaching the larger audience of JAZZ LIVES, so this happy cyber-audience was in attendance as well, although silent.

The first informal group (Dan on cornet, Butch on soprano, Vinnie, Marc on bass, and Mike) led off with Walter Donaldson’s MY BUDDY, performed at what I think of as Lionel Hampton 1939 tempo:

Then, evoking memories of Jim Goodwin and the Sunset Music Company (more about that later), the band created a buoyant homage to Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, to Duke Ellington, and to Bill Robinson, in DOIN’ THE NEW LOWDOWN:

A request from the Beloved for ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (in 1945 Goodman Sextet tempo) was both honored and honorable:

Dawn — sweetly full of feeling and casual swing — joined the band for S’WONDERFUL:

After Dan told one of his Ruby Braff stories, Dawn followed up with BLUE MOON, one of her favorites, and you can hear The Boy (that’s James Arden) singing along in his own fashion:

Then the band shifted — Marc put down the string bass and picked up his cornet to lead the way alongside Dan, now on trombone, for ROSETTA:

And a really fascinating exploration of a song that isn’t played much at all (although Billie, Lester, Roy, and the Kansas City Five are back of it), LAUGHING AT LIFE, explored in the best way by Marc, Butch, and Vinnie:

Mike Swan joined this trio for a truly soulful IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Without prelude, Mike launched into the verse of WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Dan couldn’t help himself and joined in): what a singer Mike is (and he’s listened hard to Crosby, always a good thing)!

Mike also began MELANCHOLY with Dan — wait for Marc and Vinnie adding their voices to this improvisation:

And the session ended with GEORGIA ON MY MIND, scored for a trio of Dan, Mike, and Vinnie:

The informal session came to a gentle stop there, but the music didn’t go away.  Butch had brought with him a video (taken from Dutch television in 1978) of the Sunset Music Company — a band featuring banjoist Lueder Ohlwein, cornetist Jim Goodwin, trombonist Barrett, reedman Smith, pianist Armstrong.  Since Vinnie and Dan and I had never seen the video, we all retreated to the den and watched it.

It was both moving and hilarious to see the men of 2011 watching their much younger 1978 selves, as well as a moving tribute to those who were no longer with us.  I wish there had been time and space to make a documentary about those men watching themselves play. . . . perhaps it’s possible.

I feel immensely fortunate to be surrounded by such beauty, and to have my name attached to it in even the most tangential way is a deep honor.  I can’t believe that it happened, and I send the most admiring thanks to all concerned.  Even if you weren’t there, unable to witness this creation at close range, I think the generous creativity of these musicians will gratify you as well.  This post is a gift also to those who will see it and couldn’t be there: Arianna, Mary, Melissa, Aunt Ida, Hal, June, Candace, Dave, Jeff, Barbara, Sonny, Clint, David, Maxine, Ricky, Margaret, Ella, Melody . . . the list goes on.  These gigabytes and words are sent with love.

A postscript.  JAZZ LIVES is so engrossed with music that I rarely write about anything else, but if you are ever in the Paso Robles, California, area, I urge you to consider spending a night (as the Beloved and I did) at the accurately-named INN PARADISO, 975 Mojave Lane (805-239-2800: innparadiso@att.net).  We have never stayed at a more satisfying place.  Everything was beautiful and comfortable — from the room to the view to the quiet to the dee-licious breakfast, to the gentle friendly kindnesses of Dawna and Steve — making it a genuinely memorable experience.  I want to go back!  See for yourself at www.innparadiso.com.

NEW OLD JOYS in BROOKLYN (April 21, 2011)

In the short time I’ve known them, I’ve come to trust trumpeter / composer / arranger Gordon Au and singer / Mills Sister  / air-fiddler / Tamar Korn as artists whose path leads to valuable, inquisitive music that embraces the old (whether that’s embodied by Connee Boswell or Bob Wills) and the new (original approaches to their material, original compositions, or reinventing a wide variety of songs).

So when I found out that they would be one-half of a group led by five-string fiddler Rob Hecht, with bassist Ian Riggs, I made another journey to Williamsburg, Brooklyn — to Teddy’s, a restaurant / bar / music room [fine food, delightful Pilsner, delightful staff] situated at 96 Berry Street — with video camera and tripod.  The results appear below!

Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys have been gone for about seventy-five years, but the combination of violin and trumpet, swinging out, is still intoxicating.

But first: the quartet was mostly unamplified, and listeners easily unnerved might at first find the balance between music and conversation not to their liking.  See my postscript below for further ruminations on this subject.

Here’s the Rob Hecht Quartet, featuring Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, and Ian Riggs.

They began with what might seem an odd choice for an opening song, WHEN DAY IS DONE — but the sun had set a few hours ago, and the song is one of those that blossoms at a variety of different tempos:

Then, everything locked into place with that 1929 assertion of Love on Good Behavior, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

How about another love-affirmation: you’re the Beloved my mother told me to wait for?  Or, to put it another way, EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I think the river closest to Teddy’s would be the East River — not exactly what Hoagy Carmichael may have in mind as a pastoral spot, but it would do as an inspiration for this rendition of LAZY RIVER:

The hopeful optimism of Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh in ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET is always welcome:

Tamar sat out for an enthusiastic trio reading of LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

If you listen closely to the lyrics, SOME OF THESE DAYS is one of the most finger-waggling of songs: YOU BE GOOD OR ELSE YOU’RE GOING TO WAKE UP ALONE!  I hope no one in the JAZZ LIVES audience has to hear it sung to him or her for real — but we can be safe with this rocking version:

GIVE ME A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM on comes from a rather patchy movie, THE STRIP — but when your pretty song is introduced by the Great Romantic, Louis Armstrong, how could anything possibly go wrong?  And Tamar offers it in her most tenderly hopeful way:

Another superbly uplifting song about the possibilities of imagining a way out of your troubles is Harry Barris’ classic WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS — I believe in this song, especially when Miss Korn so earnestly tells us it’s all possible:

Although we cherish everything that is NEW and IMPROVED, what is better than OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, however you might define it?:

And something else sweetly and enduringly old-fashioned: a bounding rendition of WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (And I Wore A Big Red Rose), which will keep me elated for a long time.  You too, I hope:

P.S.  Although the crowd at Teddy’s applauded in the right places and no one shouted at the television sets over the bar in response to someone scoring a goal, the sound of their conversation is noticeable.  But someone who wishes to do so can, as I did, concentrate on the music, which was varied and lovely.  And my new line of response to people who complain about inattentive audiences will be, “Yes, I know.  If you and your friends had been there, listening, there would have been that much more delighted attentive silence in the room.  Come on down!  Join us next time!  Or, as Eleanor Roosevelt never said, ‘Better to go to a jazz club and swell the ranks of the inspired than sit at home and complain about the unenlightened.”

A GRAND NIGHT at RADEGAST: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS with TAMAR KORN (April 20, 2011)

Last Wednesday, April 20, 2011, I made the now familiar trip to the Radegast Bierhall (131 North 3rd Street, corner of Berry in Brooklyn, New York) to enjoy one of my favorite bands — trumpeter Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers — with the alwys surprising Tamar Korn.

Nick Russo (guitar and banjo) and Rob Adkins (bass) swung out, keeping it all together; the front line was Gordon (trumpet, compositions, arrangements, and quiet moral leadership), Matthew Koza (clarinet), Will Anderson (tenor saxophone).

And here are the festivities, in living HD.

Gordon delights in the songs from certain Disney films, with justification — they’re good songs with good associations.  I connect BARE NECESSITIES with Louis. 

I told Gordon about seeing Louis on television around 1968, singing and playing this song, and (someone’s idea of a clever visual pun) a man in a bear suit came out, danced around Louis, and the bear and Louis may even have performed a little twirl on camera.  Radegast hasn’t yet had anyone come in dressed as a bear; perhaps it will happen.  Bears love sausage, as do men dressed in bear suits:

SHE’S CRYIN’ FOR ME is a New Orleans favorite, composed (I believe) by Santo Pecora, although it was originally called GOLDEN LEAF STRUT, a reference to muta, muggles, or shuzzit:

I never get tired of hearing WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, especially when Tamar sings its message of optimism and resilience:

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND is a new old favorite, dating from 1913, a song Gordon has revived with the GSS (splendidly on their new CD . . . soon to be available where better books and records are sold):

EXACTLY LIKE YOU is from 1930 but still seems fresh, and its message, that the Beloved is precisely the person of our dreams, never gets stale:

BE OUR GUEST is another Disney creation, this time from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  I love Gordon’s mock-symphonic treatment, full of crescendo and decrescendo, and all those Italian words.  And the key changes.  Can I be the only person who thinks this line is close to WHEN YOU’RE SMILING?:

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA is one of the loveliest songs about going back home to Dixie, and it calls up memories of Bix, Tram, and Jimmy Rushing:

AVALON reminds me of Puccini (and a lawsuit), Al Jolson, the Benny Goodman Quartet, and of course of Miss Korn:

At points, WALTZ OF THE FLOWERS sounds so much like A MONDAY DATE (or MY MONDAY DATE) that Earl Hines should have sued Tschaikovsky for plagiarism:

Think of how much the previous century and this one owe to Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler while you listen to I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

CRAZY EYES is a silly, frisky Gordon Au love song — it would have been a huge hit in 1936, wouldn’t it?:

And while you’re up, give thanks to Irving Berlin, too, for THE SONG IS ENDED and more:

Gordon comes across splendidly — his swing, feeling, and wit — on this glowing, memorable CORNET CHOP SUEY:

LINGER AWHILE is both a sweet sentiment and a swinging song:

Although some of the lyrics of the Disney songs seem too hopeful for reality, I wouldn’t argue with the idea of A DREAM IS A WISH YOUR HEART MAKES, which begins in sweet 3 / 4 before becoming a delicately swinging rhythm ballad:

As I write this, it’s gray outside.  But in the world conjured up by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, the SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (at a nice bouncy 1938 Louis tempo) is only a few steps away:

Rather than end the evening with something uptempo, Tamar suggested the wistful and romantic A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, which would be a lovely song even if it didn’t make us think of Louis.  I think that she is expanding her emotional awareness and taking more chances — not that she was a timid singer to begin with:

This posting contains a large number of video performances — too many to be absorbed at a single sitting?  But I couldn’t stand to leave any of them in my camera.  Not sharing them would have seemed selfish.

NORMAN FIELD’S NOVELTY RECORDING ORCHESTRA at WHITLEY BAY (July 11, 2010)

Norman Field is a man of many talents. 

He’s a wildly versatile reed player — capable of becoming hot in the best Teschmacher manner or serene a la Trumbauer — while always retaining his own identity.  And he’s a wonderfully erudite jazz scholar, ready to discourse on esoterica — alternate takes and label colors — at the drop of an acetate. 

Norman’s also an engaging raconteur and enthusiastic singer: the session has new energy when he’s onstage! 

His website is http://www.normanfield.com/cds.htm

But that’s only one small sliver of what interests our Mr. Field: see http://www.normanfield.com/hobby.htm for a larger sample, including investigations of obscure recording artists, Norman’s beautiful wildlife photographs, disquisitions on an againg tumble dryer, and more. 

But what we’re concerned with at the moment is a delightful set Norman and friends created at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival — an ad hoc group named by festival director “Norman Field’s Novelty Recording Orchestra.”  I was recording it, and although many of the songs were familiar jazz classics, every performance had its own novelty.

The group — a compact assemblage of individualists — included the eminent Nick Ward on percussion, Frans Sjostrom on bass saxophone, Jacob Ullberger on banjo and guitar, Paul Munnery on trombone, and Andy Woon on cornet.  Here they are!

For those without a calendar or an iPhone, here’s OUR MONDAY DATE, created by Earl Hines in 1928 when he, Louis Armstrong, and Zutty Singleton were Chicago pals:

Another good old good one, ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, honors Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh, Louis, Johnny Hodges, and many other creators:

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, another hot Chicago song, was named for the dance (or was it the reverse?).  I think of Red Nichols and Eddie Condon as well as Frank Chace when I hear this multi-themed composition:

What could be more wholesome than a nice BLUES (IN G)?

Then, there’s the Claude Hopkins – Alex Hill declaration of romantic devotion made tangible, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, with a bouncing vocal from Norman — being a solid romantic citizen, notice that he eschews the MOST sometimes found in the title:

Time for something soft and slow — Paul Munnery’s feature on BODY AND SOUL:

Back to dear old Chicago in the Twenties, evoking Bix and his Gang with a fervent JAZZ ME BLUES:

And it’s always a pleasure to watch and hear Nick Ward swing out on his very own percussion ensemble, as he does on SWEET SUE:

The barroom favorite, MY MELANCHOLY BABY, is still a good song to play at almost any tempo:

And a closing romp on NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW made us all elated, notwithstanding the lyric.  Has anyone considered that the unnamed young woman of the song is really one of Thomas Hardy’s “ruined women,” who’s much happier having lost her innocence and gained her independence?

Thanks for the cheer, O Norman Field and Novelty Recording Orchestra!