Tag Archives: duet

THE SKIES WILL CLEAR UP: BARBARA ROSENE / EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW

Barbara Rosene EhudBarbara Rosene is a great, subtly emotive singer.  Her warm voice caresses the melody and lyrics, and her deep feeling takes us inside each song, making each composition its own small drama or comedy.  New Yorkers like myself have known this for more than a decade; if you’ve heard Barbara with the Harry James Orchestra, you know it as well.

Barbara and the splendid pianist Ehud Asherie performed two sets at Mezzrow (West Tenth Street, New York City) a week ago, on May 17, 2016.  Early in the evening, Barbara and Ehud offered one of my favorite songs, LAUGHING AT LIFE.  As she points out, most people know the song from Billie Holiday’s rollicking version — with elating assistance from Lester Young and Roy Eldridge — but it goes back to 1930, with recordings by Ruth Etting and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.  (My guess is that John Hammond, who loved the older songs, suggested it to Billie, although the Goodman band was playing it on broadcasts a few years earlier.)

Laughing_at_Life_FilmPoster

A sidelight: I had not known about this 1933 pre-Code film, which might not even have the song included, but who can pass up a poster like this?

To get back to our subject: I was instantly moved by Barbara’s rendition of the song — which could be sweetly maudlin in less subtle hands or sped up to “swing it.”  The tempo is perfect, and her delivery is sweetly, endearingly convincingly.  The rich textures of her voice are marvelous in themselves.

I don’t think anyone will be guffawing or chortling in empathy once the video has left its mark, but I know that Barbara and Ehud add to our collective happiness, as they always do.  (Ehud’s medium tempos are a wonderful education in themselves.)

And Barbara always has my permission to sit down.

Here’s the relevant evidence.  And there will be more music from this delightful evening at Mezzrow.  (A word about that club: it is comfortable in every possible way, and the music is lovingly the center of attention, as it should be.)

May your happiness increase!

MIKE LIPSKIN and EVAN ARNTZEN at SMALLS, PART TWO (December 8, 2015)

Mike Lipskin

Here are the first five videos from that evening.

Photograph by Tim Cheeney

Photograph by Tim Cheeney

and here’s what I said about the music from that night:

There’s so much lyrical life in the melodies of the twentieth century, when they are explored by masters of improvisation. This was proven throughout a delightful evening at Smalls (West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) by piano master Mike Lipskin and reed master Evan Arntzen. Here are five masterful performances from that night, December 8, 2015. And I believe that this was the first time Mike and Evan had played together in duet: talk about deep swing empathy. It’s easy to hear and admire such lyricism and their wise exploration of the varied ways to improvise melodically at medium tempos.

And a second portion of lyrical swing:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

BLUE SKIES:

WHERE ARE YOU?:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

We’re crazy ’bout this duo’s music.  Come back, come back.

May your happiness increase!

EYES, HANDS, SONGS: JON-ERIK KELLSO and EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW

I’ve been parcelling out the videos from a wonderful night at Mezzrow when trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and pianist Ehud Asherie played magnificently yet casually for two sets. (For those taking notes for the JAZZ LIVES final, it was December 16, 2014, and Mezzrow is below street level at 163 West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village, New York.)

Here are two more beauties:

A good request from the audience, Maceo Pinkard’s THEM THERE EYES, memorably sung and played by Louis and Billie, many times:

And the bittersweet, melancholy MY FATE IS IN YOUR HANDS, by Fats Waller and Andy Razaf.  I don’t know if I believe the story that Fats was driving, got pulled over by an officer, and said, meekly, “My fate is in your hands,” but it’s a nice story:

And other gems from that evening can be found herehereherehereand finally here.

My advice?  Look at the gig schedules at Mezzrow, at Jon-Erik’s site, and on Ehud’s.  Something good will happen.

May your happiness increase!

GENTLY SWINGING, THEN ROMPING: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and FRANK TATE: “WONDER WHY” / “STRIKE UP THE BAND” (September 22, 2013)

Beautiful music with two deep hearts and an irresistible bounce. Pianist Rossano Sportiello and string bassist Frank Tate, conversing with us and with each other at Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party) in September 2013.

From a medium-tempo meditation on WONDER WHY to a full-out swing call to arms on STRIKE UP THE BAND:

There are many ways to swing and tell melodic stories, and Messrs. Sportiello and Tate are Sages and Masters of this Art.

May your happiness increase!

SCOTT ROBINSON and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2012: FROM THEIR HEARTS TO OURS

We live at a rapid pace.  But I hope you can take two minutes for heartfelt beauty, created by Scott Robinson (taragoto) and Rossano Sportiello (piano) at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2012: WHAT WILL I TELL MY HEART:

Here are the lyrics:

I’ll try to explain to friends, dear
The reason we two are apart
I know what to tell our friends, dear
But what will I tell my heart

It’s easy to say to strangers
That we played a game from the start
It’s easy to lie to strangers
But what will I tell my heart

When I smile to hide all the tears inside
What an ache it will bring
Then I’ll wander home to a telephone
That forgot how to ring.

I could say you’ll soon be back, dear
To fool the whole town may be smart
I’ll tell them you’ll soon be back, dear
But what will I tell my heart.

And here is the story behind the song, as told by lyricist Jack Lawrence.

WHAT WILL I TELL MY HEART

I continue to marvel at something we don’t always pay attention to — the way great creators use metal, wood, strings, breath, and fingers to make inanimate objects — musical instruments — sing with the sweet lightness and gravity of human souls.  Thank you, Scott and Rossano!

This post is for Barb Hauser, who loves this melody.

May your happiness increase!

SERENE EARTHLY MUSIC: REBECCA KILGORE and KEITH INGHAM at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 22, 2012)

For me, this was one of the high points of the long jubilant weekend that was the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua — the duet of Rebecca Kilgore and Keith Ingham on the Jimmy Van Heusen – Johnny Burke song, IT’S ALWAYS YOU.

Keith’s sweet harmonies, his rhythmic steadiness, his intuitive sense of the right notes — he is a brilliant accompanist — go so well alongside Rebecca’s convincing underacting, her gentle sincerity, her creamy tone and delicate rubatos.

And, like all great art, it looks easier than it really is.

Thank you, Keith and Rebecca.  This gracious fervent music touches the heart.

May your happiness increase.

WARM YET COOL: BOB REITMEIER and KEITH INGHAM at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (September 21, 2012)

I had never seen these two singular musicians in duet before, but this set at the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua was a highlight: clarinetist Bob Reitmeier bringing his own cool clear-toned lyricism alongside Keith Ingham’s more impassioned orchestral creations, rocking or pensive.

Berlin’s PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, which summons up Fred Astaire:

The Carmichael-Mercer SAY IT WITH A KISS, evoking Maxine, Billie, Teddy, and Bobby Hackett:

Bing and Bob, anyone?  Here’s the Burke-Van Heusen THE ROAD TO MOROCCO:

The Carmichael-Loesser HEART AND SOUL (explored fully this time):

Memories of Louis, Dizzy, and a Benny Goodman Camel Caravan before Charlie Christian burst on the scene — UMBRELLA MAN:

The Gershwins’ STRIKE UP THE BAND:

There’s a good deal of summer’s-not-over frolic here, but with an awareness that the leaves are starting to turn.  And I can look out my window and see the trees weighed down by a November mini-blizzard; I suggest we turn away from the Weather Channel and find our comfort and elation in the beautiful music.

May your happiness increase.

BEAUTY IN THE CORNER: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and NEAL MINER (Jan. 25, 2012)

Harold Ross, who edited THE NEW YORKER, once wrote, “Talent doesn’t care where it resides.”  I think of jazz improvisation as a secret beautiful art.  Although the players are happy to have a receptive audience, often the audience’s inattention matters not at all, for the players are creating something that we happen to eavesdrop on. 

This was the feeling that the Beloved and I had listening to pianist Rossano Sportiello and string bassist Neal Miner last Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, at Sofia’s Ristorante (211 West 46th Street).  I had originally entertained thoughts of going there as a civilian — an ordinary listener with nothing more complicated in his hands than his drink, but the music was so quietly eloquent that I started videotaping and then asked permission of Rossano and Neal when they took a breather.

Photograph by Lorna Sass. All rights reserved. Copyright 2012.

Listening to Rossano, one hears his delicate touch, his rhythms (romping or subtle), his orchestral sense of the piano balanced with crystal-clear lines, his unerring ear for what Coleman Hawkins called “the choice notes.”  And Neal Miner embodies swinging persuasiveness.  Bass players usually get less attention than people with shiny horns.  Understandable in a way: the bass is in the lowest register and it stands to the rear of the background.  But the horn players I know admire the shape and scope of Neal’s lines and would be delighted to have invented them. 

On some of these performances, the audience is somewhat interactive.  You’ll hear someone’s comment when Rossano began to play a dreamy Liszt piece, “What is this, classical music?”  Yes, sir.  Classical and classic in the best senses of the words.  And rather than be annoyed at the people who chatted while the music was being created, I would simply hope that they went home subliminally elated by the fine loving sounds.  Maybe, with luck, someone might think, “At that bar there’s really nice background music . . . ” 

Early in the evening, a breezy optimism prevailed — even in the face of current economic reality, as the duo swung into THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:

A Basie improvisation on I GOT RHYTHM changes that began as JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE and then went its own merry ways:

Indecision was never so pleasantly propulsive as in this UNDECIDED:

And the unexpected high point of the two sets — Liszt’s CONSOLATION # 3 in Db . . . a sweet musing exploration . . . then Rossano took a breath and turned the corner with Neal — uptown — to STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

And this set concluded with Tadd Dameron’s GOOD BAIT:

Talent, taking up temporary residence on 46th Street.  Beauty in the corner.  Much to be thankful for.

DEEP HARMONY: JOEL PRESS and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (October 20, 2011)

Here is the introduction I wrote for my first posting about a wonderful evening of intimate, powerful improvisation created by these two great players.  (You can hear the music at https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/soul-searching-joel-press-and-michael-kanan-at-smalls-oct-20-2011/).

I told both Michael Kanan (piano) and Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophones) that I had been waiting a few years to hear them perform as a duo. I knew that they had done this informally for twenty-five years in their respective studios and even appeared in public (probably in the Boston area) but I had always heard them in less intimate settings. Last Thursday, October 20, 2011, I had my chance, and the music was memorable.

Michael is younger than Joel, whom he met when he was only seventeen or eighteen, and he looks up to the saxophonist with love and reverence — as a great melodic improviser, someone full of surprises, able to create new things on the most familiar standard. But Joel, for his part, says he keeps learning from Michael — and hearing the depths and subtleties of Michael’s playing, it’s no hyperbole.

It would be very easy to skate over the surface of these familiar songs, but these two players know what it is to listen, to respond, to improvise. It’s lovely to witness the deep, playful interchanges of artists so attuned to one another yet so able to take off on small experimental impulses. Their friendship and telepathy imbue every note, every phrase.

Here’s the second, magical set.

Monk, cryptic and irresistible as ever — WELL, YOU NEEDN’T:

Michael offered the verse of YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO — with great tenderness:

SCRAPPLE FROM THE APPLE — fattening but delicious:

ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE, with a sweet Lestorian bounce:

It was dark inside and outside, perhaps leading Joel to think of the Bud Powell – Sonny Still variations on THESE FOOLISH THINGS called SUNSET:

GET OUT OF TOWN — swinging, rather than abruptly dismissive:

A searching improvisation based on OUT OF NOWHERE:

Something funky and delightful — RED TOP.  Smalls doesn’t sell food, but I thought I could smell spareribs:

They ended the evening — reluctant to stop playing — while waiting for the next band to arrive — with an impromptu yet heartfelt BODY AND SOUL:

I have it on good authority that Joel will be back in New York this coming month (November 2011) and for more news about Michael, check this out:

https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/michael-kanan-and-friends-are-throwing-a-party-nov-6-2011/

SOUL / SEARCHING: JOEL PRESS and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (Oct. 20, 2011)

I told both Michael Kanan (piano) and Joel Press (tenor and soprano saxophones) that I had been waiting a few years to hear them perform as a duo.  I knew that they had done this informally for twenty-five years in their respective studios and even appeared in public (probably in the Boston area) but I had always heard them in less intimate settings.  Last Thursday, October 20, 2011, I had my chance, and the music was memorable.

Michael is younger than Joel, whom he met when he was only seventeen or eighteen, and he looks up to the saxophonist with love and reverence — as a great melodic improviser, someone full of surprises, able to create new things on the most familiar standard.  But Joel, for his part, says he keeps learning from Michael — and hearing the depths and subtleties of Michael’s playing, it’s no hyperbole.

It would be very easy to skate over the surface of these familiar songs, but these two players know what it is to listen, to respond, to improvise.  It’s lovely to witness the deep, playful interchanges of artists so attuned to one another yet so able to take off on small experimental impulses.  Their friendship and telepathy imbue every note, every phrase.

Here is the first set of this magical evening at Smalls (138 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City).

And this posting is especially for RDR, without whom it would have taken me much longer to hear and meet Joel and Michael . . .

GONE WITH THE WIND always makes me think of Ben Webster and Art Tatum, not a bad pair of heroic ancestors:

HOW’S THE HORN TREATING YOU? is both Joel’s whimsical memory of Steve Lacy, who would ask him this question as a greeting (the soprano saxophone is notoriously unforgiving) and an improvisation on I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU:

A very lovely yet intense DON’T BLAME ME:

Truer words were never spoken: I HEAR A RHAPSODY:

SOMEBODY LOVES ME, the Gershwin standard (now right years old) that Joel begins, solo:

For Lester and Billie, in loving swing memory, FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

And a cheerful LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (at such a pretty tempo) to close off the first set:

More to come!

THE HEART OF THE SONG: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN (June 12, 2011)

Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan inspire awe and wonder.

I experienced this first-hand in a small Brooklyn studio last Sunday, June 12, 2011, and share the music with you here. 

These two artists created music full of feeling but never “dramatic.”  Each song had its own pliant shape, with unaffected casual intensity and splendor. 

Abigail has a speaking directness.  Her mobile voice arches into long tones and soaring phrases; she lives within the lyric and the melody she is singing.  She makes each song full of small peaks of intelligence and emotion. 

Hear, for instance, how she handles the words “drop a line” in Wilder’s I’LL BE AROUND.  Her TOO LATE NOW is almost unbearably poignant yet it doesn’t whimper or carry on.  Her approach is at once serious and joyous.  BLUE SKIES cavorts. 

And although these songs are not new — each one has powerful ghosts standing behind the curtain to upstage the living artists — Abigail takes her own small liberties and makes them work, turning IN LOVE IN VAIN (one of the saddest songs I know) into something a little more resilient, in the same fashion that Billie Holiday recreated TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE as her own nearly defiant statement. 

Abigail’s singing touched everyone in the room: even in the videos here, you can feel their powerful quiet empathy and delight.  I hear a great artistry.

Michael is a poet at the keyboard with none of the pretense some have brought to that role.  I think often of Jimmy Rowles when he plays, and at times of the witty, pointed spareness of John Lewis.  Like Abigail, he never overacts, never calls attention to himself in some look-at-me way, but you can’t help but pay attention — both to what he is creating and what trodden ways he is wisely avoiding. 

His sound is lucent; his pauses are knowing and subtle; he is a master of light and shade and shadow.  At its most serene and quiet, his playing is resonant. 

The art of accompaniment might be the most arduous of endeavors, and Michael is the most generous of partners, sweetly creating just the right sound-shape to make the singer or players around him seem even better. 

And these two artists create a delicate yet powerful musical world in duet — their playful energies complementing each other.  They are gracious; they are polite; they don’t interrupt each other’s sentences, but together they make something wise and subtle and rich that wasn’t there a minute before. 

They offer and enact deep calm and brave experiment.

LUCKY TO BE ME:

TOO LATE NOW:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

THE MORE I SEE YOU:

I’LL BE AROUND:

I’M OLD-FASHIONED:

ALL THE WAY:

BLUE SKIES:

EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE:

Throughout this performance, I kept feeling it was an honor to be in the same room, a privilege to witness and record such art.  I still do.

MARTY ELKINS SINGS! EHUD ASHERIE PLAYS! at SMALLS, March 29, 2011

The singer Marty Elkins is so good-natured that I know she won’t mind being compared to an imaginary restaurant.

That’s the way I can explain her most easily.  Wherever you live, there are hidden treasures: the little place without a sign that does wonderful authentic tamales, or the serene old-fashioned restaurant with wonderful food and loving service . . . places that aren’t “popular” or “trendy” but that you prize dearly.

Although Marty isn’t An Official Jazz Star, she is a treasure: someone who easily, lightly makes her way through a lyric without overacting — letting the meanings shine through.  She doesn’t aim to be Ella or Sarah, so her vocal style is heartfelt rather than histrionic.  Hearing her sing, you know what the lyrics mean, and you know that she knows.

And her voice is a simple pleasure in itself: she has some of Lady Day’s loving tartness, but she never descends to imitation or emotive caricature.  And she swings!

I had the pleasure of seeing (and recording) Marty and her pal, the ever-developing Ehud Asherie, on March 29 at Smalls.

(Just eight bars: let’s say a good word for Smalls!  (183 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City.)  Quiet, with the underground secret-cellar feeling of an old-time jazz club — a twenty-dollar admission fee lets you stay until the next morning; a well-stocked bar; portraits of Louis and James P. Johnson; a Maine Coon cat.  What more could we want?)

Hear how sweetly Marty glides through her lines and how tenderly, wittily Ehud adds his own thoughts.  (One of them that made me laugh was a famous Tatum riff from the 1944 Metropolitan Opera House jam session: listen and you’ll hear it, too.)  Listen to Ehud’s introductions: each is a satisfying meal in itself, and his left hand does what a pianist’s left hand should do.

They began with the nicest of commands — JUST SQUEEZE ME (BUT PLEASE DON’T TEASE ME):

And Marty knows a good deal about the subject and can sing with rueful amusement of what happens — COMES LOVE:

Another stop on the romantic Ellingtonian highway — DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME:

Then, a deep but swinging WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

And, finally, a rocking LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

I hope for many more opportunities to hear Ms. Elkins and Mr. Asherie — what a team!  (I wouldn’t mind a duo CD, either . . . .)

HARRY ALLEN and EHUD ASHERIE at CHAUTAUQUA 2010

This very inspired duo — Harry on tenor, Ehud on piano — took the stage early on at Jazz at Chautauqua and left a deep impression.  Although their play looks casual, they reach memorable heights — whether they are handling the twists and turns of PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ like a pair of gliding skiers, or turning SOME OTHER SPRING into a rueful ode. 

Some duos are an exhibition of two very ego-driven selves who happen — sometimes under duress — to occupy the same space.  Harry and Ehud listen seriously to each other, and their duo becomes more than the two men standing on a much larger stage.  Ehud’s spikiness plays off Harry’s creamy tone; they complement rather than collide.  A witty telepathy governs their interplay.  Even the people trotting to and fro with full plates were grinning at what they were hearing.

For Mr. Berlin, Mr. Astaire, and Miss Rogers — ISN’T IT A LOVELY DAY?  Who could say anything but “Yes”?  Hear Harry’s purring, yearning sound; admire Ehud’s most sympathetic commentary: adding up to a lovely quiet seriousness with not one superfluous note:

Ehud loves James P. Johnson, and here the duo takes that lovely ballad IF IF COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT (or “ONE HOUR” for those in a hurry) at a surprising clip — a young Bud Powell has entered the room.  But there’s a sterling precedent for this kind of audacity: think of Bill Basie and his little band riding high on SHOE SHINE BOY in 1936.  Midway through the exultant performance, you’ll have to remind yourself that this is a duo, not the Blue Note Jazzmen:

THE LITTLE THINGS THAT MEAN SO MUCH was the song Teddy Wilson used as the theme for his short-lived big band.  And as Ehud says, it’s so true — not only for this kind of heartfelt chamber jazz, where every nuance counts — but as a life-motto:

PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ is virtuosic but never exhibitionistic:

And, to close, a sweetly sad SOME OTHER SPRING, with memories of Lady Day:

Jazz, stripped down to its essential selves, with no distractions!

BOB SPARKMAN AND JERRY NOBLE AT PLAY

Recently, someone commented enthusiastically and knowledgeably on a posting of mine.  His name was familiar: Bob Sparkman.  I knew about him through our mutual friend John L. Fell.  I also recalled seeing Bob play clarinet one evening at the “new” Eddie Condon’s in 1975. 

I must digress for a moment to describe that oddly intriguing evening: Ruby Braff led the band — with the sweet-natured Dick Rath on trombone, Bob, Jimmy Rowles (!), Marty Grosz (!), Al Hall, and Connie Kay.  I recall that Ruby didn’t let Marty solo once, and that he taught Rowles IT’S THE SAME OLD SOUTH in a minute or two — with great success.  My cassette recorder, uncharacteristically fickle, didn’t capture a note, but this might have been the evening when Ruby asked me, “Want my autograph?” which was unusual for him, since we already had it in a variety of forms . . . . took my notebook and Flair pen, drew a cartoon of a revolver with smoke coming out of the barrel, and signed it LUCKY LUCIANO.  

I recall that Bob had a pretty, sweet-tart tone, and played simple, heartfelt lines.  I soon found out that it was indeed the same man, gracious and witty, still playing, having moved from New York to Massachusetts. 

And he’d formed a rewarding musical partnership with the pianist / guitarist Jerry Noble.   

Here they are in concert (April 2008) at Smith College, truly at play on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE and JITTERBUG WALTZ.  I first delight in Bob’s tone and the way he shapes his phrases, so much like singing, and in Jerry’s lavish but never overwhelming imagination at the keyboard: in this duet, the “lead” shifts back and forth and finally evaporates, as we hear two equals having a good time and a musical conversation.   

We’re shaped by the music we hear as children and adolescents; in 1942, Bob was fortunate to hear a record of Muggsy Spanier with the clarinetist Rod Cless.  Soon he was playing informally with Dick Wellstood and Eddie Hubble, eventually playing professionally in New York City — and, after retiring up north, with a variety of small bands, including the Espresso Jazz Trio, the King Phillip Dixieland Band, and with pianist  / guitarist / composer Clifton “Jerry” Noble.  Bob and Jerry have recorded five compact discs of their favorite tunes, and have also collaborated with bassist Genevieve Rose and drummer Richard Mayer on Mayer’s CD Vermont Songbook.  As I write this, their disc, called THANKS A MILLION, is playing.  Jerry is a splendidly mobile pianist, someone not restricted to one style; he listens deeply and responds intuitively, never trying to steal the show.  And Bob is unlike many traditional jazz clarinetists in his use of space, his vocalized phrasing, his subtle dynamics and tonal variety.  Both men are melodic players, creating a democratic musical conversation. 

You can find out about their CDs, their schedules, and more at http://www.bobandjerry.com/index.html.

SIXTY-MINUTE MEN

The title refers to a famous rhythm and blues hit by Billy Ward and his Dominoes — a song that celebrates the romantic expertise of one “Lovin’ Dan.”  Having spent a very rewarding hour last night at Smalls listening to the eloquent jazz duetting of pianist Ehud Asherie and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, I award them the same praise — in musical terms. 

Jon-Erik and Ehud were supposed to play a set from eight to nine, but they got onstage ten minutes early.  That should tell you something about the pleasure these two friends take in their mutual improvisations.  And they began with a bouncy WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE.  Jon-Erik decided that the pastoral exploits of Maggie and her now ancient beau could only have been evoked accurately with plunger-mute growls and halloos.  We were off to a very eloquent start.  Ehud was in fine form, daring and playful, offering unexpected crashing chords and stabbing single bass notes that reverberated through the basement room.  Moving to the more tender Fats Waller composition, MY FATE IS IN YOUR HANDS, Ehud began with a thoughtful exposition of the verse.  Then they played the chorus, with Jon-Erik especially soulful on open horn.  On a jogging THREE LITTLE WORDS, Jon-Erik chose a metal mute and Ehud raised some eyebrows (happily) by referring to Bud Powell’s PARISIAN THOROUGHFARE. 

Ehud called for Eubie Blake’s LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, a truly delicate love song from the pioneering 1921 musical SHUFFLE ALONG.  (Incidentally, Ehud and Jon-Erik, who together know thousands of songs other players don’t or have forgotten, could plan a whole evening around the compositions of great jazz pianists.)  Eubie’s love song is often played at a nearly operatic tempo, but the duo gave it a Thirties bounce, as if imagining the recording that Mildred Bailey might have made of it in 1936.  (I imagine it as an unissed Vocalion side, myself.)

After a growly DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM (one of those Ellington songs everyone vaguely knows but few play), Ehud became “the band within a band” for a grieving, abstract reading of Billy Strayhorn’s A FLOWER IS A LOVESOME THING, with dark, affecting funeral-march chords in the bass clef. 

Jon-Erik returned for a trotting Burns-and-Allen LOVE NEST, homey and affectionate.  I NEVER KNEW had ornate trumpet lines weaving in and out of lush pianistic tapestries — Baroque music, swinging fiercely.  When it came time for the bridge of Jon-Erik’s second chorus, somehow BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN worked itself in there — a perfect fit, and Sholom Secunda would have been pleased indeed.  SOMEDAY SWEETHEART led to the closing song, Eubie Blake’s exultant I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY.  Before embarking on this romp, Jon-Erik turned to Ehud and asked, “What key are we wild about in?” a question surely applicable to other contexts.  Ehud knows the verse and shared it with us in rhapsodic style — then the two players shouted and pranced.  Which Harry we were celebrating I do not know, but I hope he was near enough to Seventh Avenue South to enjoy the tribute.  

Ehud and Jon-Erik made this a memorable hour — moving from peak to peak, from mood to mood without faltering or running out of inspiration.  Every minute counted, memorably.

BRILLIANT EMPATHY! (November 20, 2008)

The jazz musicians I know say that improvisatory duet playing is intensely difficult, sometimes highly rewarding.  For a duet to work, it needs a great deal of intuitive cooperation, players anticipating each other’s thought patterns.  But the duo that is too congenial runs the risk of being tamely polite.  Alphonse and Gaston are ideal pals, but some friendly jousting is at the heart of jazz.  However, if players go their own heedless, self-absorbed ways, collisions are a sure thing.  Each of the two players must be attuned not only to what is being played, but what might be played, what might be just around the corner.

The video clips of pianist Ehud Asherie and reedman Dan Block (here on tenor sax and clarinet) here will show that the title I’ve chosen for this posting is enthusiastic but wholly justified.  They listen; they take chances; their technical brilliance is matched only by their emotional depth, their timeless swing.

Flip and I went to Smalls on West Tenth Street about ten days ago for one of Ehud’s Thursday night duo gigs.  These gigs last only an hour, but they offer more resonant jazz than many other sessions that go on much longer.  Ehud’s partner was the wonderfully soulful Dan Block.  Here they work their eager way through Vincet Youmans’ HALLELUJAH!  (My sentiments exactly, with the shades of Tatum and Hawkins standing in the wings, smiling sagely.)

Here they are on a haunting melody, one of those that you might begin to hum without knowing its name or the lyrics.  AUTUMN NOCTURNE, music by Josef Myrow, was a favorite of Sonny Rollins, Claude Thornhill, Art Farmer, and many others, although it never became a popular or jazz standard.  (Myrow, incidentally, wrote many more forgettable songs — “Keep Cool, Fool” suggests the kind of evanescent pop ditty he leaned towards — although we know him better for YOU MAKE ME FEEL SO YOUNG.)

A more familiar jazz standard, Fats Waller’s I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, is next — with the memorable verse.

And this mini-program concludes with two more contemporary jazz standards from another stride pianist, Thelonious Monk.  (Monk scholars will remember that when he was corralled into a Down Beat “Blindfold Test” and one of his own records was played for him, he said, “That sounds like James P. Johnson.”)  Dan and Ehud, comfortable playing all sorts of music, treat us to Monk’s lyrical RUBY, MY DEAR.

Finally, here’s the duo’s propulsive OFF MINOR.

This coming Thursday, December 4, Ehud will be improvising alongside his great friend, tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart, someone I’ve celebrated in this blog.   I’ll be there!