Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

SOLITUDE, AND THEN SOME: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, HOWARD ALDEN, FRANK TATE (ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY, September 19, 2014)

SOLITUDE Columbia

Four of my New York heroes — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone, taragoto, cornet; Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass — onstage at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party, playing a most famous Ellington composition that, oddly enough, doesn’t get played that much, SOLITUDE, with great eloquence and  simplicity, in front of that rarest of things, a hushed, attentive audience:

No fancy arrangements, just beautiful solos and ensemble playing.

SOLITUDE Victor

Then, time for a Frolic on SOME OF THESE DAYS, which starts as a brass extravaganza and then builds:

SOME OF THESE DAYS

Quite amazing, I think, and I’ve been following these four musicians for more than a decade now.  This is just a small sample of what characteristically takes place at the Allegheny Jazz Party, a quiet spectacular of a weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. To have this experience for yourself, you might want to visit here to find out about the Party, taking place this September 10-13, 2015.

And . . . . Jon and Matt Munisteri and a cast of wonderful characters have just released their second CD as “The EarRegulars”: the first also features Scott Robinson and Greg Cohen; the latest one (on Jazzology Records) features Evan Christopher and Kerry Lewis.  Delightful music.

May your happiness increase!

HE RODE WITH JAMES P. JOHNSON: TALKING WITH IRV KRATKA (July 31, 2015)

irv

Irv Kratka (drums) doesn’t have a huge discographical entry in Tom Lord’s books, but he played with some fine musicians: Bunk Johnson, Dick Wellstood, James P. Johnson, Ephie Resnick, Joe Muranyi, Bob Mielke, Knocky Parker, Jerry Blumberg, Cyrus St. Clair, among others, in the years 1947-50.  I knew of Irv from those recordings (many of which are quite rare) but also as the creator and guiding genius of Music Minus One and a number of other jazz labels including Classic Jazz and Inner City.

But I had never met Irv Kratka (human being, jazz fan, record producer, concert promoter) in the flesh until this year when we encountered each other at the Terry Blaine / Mark Shane concert in Croton-on-Hudson, and I immediately asked if he’d be willing to sit for a video interview, which he agreed to on the spot.  Irv is now 89 . . . please let that sink in . . . and sharp as a tack, as Louis would say.  His stories encompass all sorts of people and scenes, from Bunk’s band at the Stuyvesant Casino, Louis and Bunk at a club, a car ride with James P. Johnson, lessons from Billy Gladstone, a disagreement between Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke, all the way up to the present and his current hero, multi-instrumentalist Glenn Zottola.

I didn’t want to interrogate Irv, so I didn’t pin him to the wall with minutiae about what James P. might have said in the car ride or what Jerry Blumberg ordered at the delicatessen, but from these four casual interview segments, you can get a warm sense of what it was like to be a young jazz fan in the late Thirties, an aspiring musician and concert producer in the Forties, onwards to today.  It was a privilege to speak with Irv and he generously shared his memories — anecdotes of Bunk Johnson, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson, Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Bill Russell, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dick Wellstood, Peg Leg Bates, Lena Horne, Joe Muranyi, Billy Gladstone, Jacques Butler, Jerry Blumberg, Art Hodes, Albert Nicholas, Sarah Vaughan, George Brunis — also fond recollections of Bob Wilber, Bob Mielke, Ephie Resnick and others.

Here are four informal segments from our conversation — the first and last fairly lengthy discussions, the middle two vignettes.

One:

Two:

Three:

Four:

Now, here’s another part of the story.  Irv plans to sell several of his labels: Inner City, Classic Jazz, Proscenium (the last with three Dick Hyman discs) Audio Journal (The Beatles at Shea Stadium – Audience Reaction), and Rockland Records which consists of the first and only CD by the Chapin Bros. (Harry, Tom, and Steve) comedy albums by Theodore, and a disc featuring Mae West songs / W.C. Fields. The catalogue includes 141 titles, and there are more than 42,000 discs to turn over to the new owner, all at “a very nominal price.”  Serious inquiries only to ikratka@mmogroup.com.

May your happiness increase!

SWING FOR ROMANTICS (1931)

When the conversation turns to the great swinging bands before “the Swing Era,” the names that are mentioned are usually the Luis Russell Orchestra and Bennie Moten’s Kansas City aggregations, Henderson, Ellington, Goldkette, Calloway, and Kirk.  Each of these bands deserves recognition.  But who speaks of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers?  (Is it the name that so embarrasses us these days?)

mckinneyscottonpickers

The song and performance that so enthralls me is from their last record date in September 1931 — DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE AT SIGHT? — composed by Ted Fio Rito and Gus Kahn. I am assuming that it was originally meant as a love ballad, given its title and world-view, but the band takes it at a romping tempo. (Was it played on one of their “coast to coast radio presentations”?  I hope so.) Several other marvelous features of this recording have not worn thin: the gorgeous melody statement by Doc Cheatham; the incredible hot chorus by Rex Stewart; the charming vocal by Quentin Jackson; the tenor saxophone solo by Prince Robinson, the arrangement by Benny Carter, and the wondrous sound of the band as a whole — swinging without a letup.

The personnel is listed as Benny Carter, clarinet, alto saxophone, arranger / leader: Rex Stewart, cornet; Buddy Lee, Doc Cheatham, trumpet;  Ed Cuffee, trombone; Quentin Jackson, trombone, vocal; Joe Moxley, Hilton Jefferson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Prince Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Todd Rhodes, piano, celeste; Dave Wilborn, guitar; Billy Taylor, brass bass; Cuba Austin, drums. Camden, New Jersey, September 8, 1931.  (The personnel offered by Tom Lord differs, but I think this one is more accurate.)

Here, thanks to our friend Atticus Jazz — real name available on request! — who creates one gratifying multi-media gift after another on YouTube — is one of the two takes of DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE AT SIGHT?:

I love Doc Cheatham’s high, plaintive sound, somewhat in the style of his predecessor, Joe Smith — and how the first chorus builds architecturally: strong ensemble introduction, trumpet with rhythm only (let no one tell you that tuba / guitar doesn’t work as a pairing), then the Carter-led sax section — imagine a section with Carter, Hilton Jefferson, and Prince Robinson — merging with the brass.  By the end of the first chorus, you know this is A BAND. (I’m always amused by the ending of the chorus, which exactly mimics the end and tag of THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  Nothing new under the sun.) And whose idea — Carter’s? — was it to so neatly use orchestra bells throughout this chart?  Lemon zest to the ear.

But then there’s Rex Stewart’s expert and hilarious solo — he wants to let you know he is here, immediately.  I always think of him as one of those bold trumpeters who, as the tempo speeded up, he played even more notes to the bar, rather than taking it easy and playing whole and half notes.  In this chorus, he seems like the most insistent fast-talker, who has so much to say and only thirty-two bars in which to say it.  Something else: at :56 there is a small exultant sound. It can’t be Rex taking a breath and congratulating himself (as he does in WILD MAN BLUES on THE SOUND OF JAZZ) so I believe it was one of his colleagues in the band saying without the words, “Yeah, man!”

Then a gloriously “old-fashioned” vocal from Quentin Jackson, but one that no one should deride.  He told Stanley Dance that he learned to sing before there were microphones, so that you had to open your mouth and sing — which he does so splendidly here.  He’s no Bing or Columbo, wooing the microphone: this is tenor singing in the grand tradition, projecting every word and note to the back of the room.

The final chorus balances brass shouts and the roiling, tumbling Prince Robinson, who cuts his own way amidst Hawkins and Cecil Scott and two dozen others: an ebullient, forceful style.  And by this chorus, I always find myself rocking along with the recording — yes, so “antiquated,” with tuba prominent, but what a gratifying ensemble.  Yes, I believe!

Here is what was to me the less familiar take one:

It is structurally the same, with the only substantial difference that Rex continues to play a rather forceful obbligato to Quentin’s vocal — almost competing for space, and I suspect that the recording director at Camden might have suggested (or insisted on) another take where the vocalist was not being interfered with.  How marvelous that two takes exist, and that they were recorded in Victor’s studios in Camden — a converted church with fine open acoustics.

There is a third version of this song, recorded in 1996 by Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton — sixty-five years later, but for me it is a descent from the heights.  You can find it on YouTube on your own.

Whether or not you believe in love at sight (that’s a philosophical / emotional / practical discussion too large for JAZZ LIVES) I encourage you to believe in the singular blending of hot and sweet, of solo and ensemble, that is McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.  One has to believe in something.

May your happiness increase!

DIVINELY INSPIRED, PART TWO: JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 26, 2014)

Here is Part One.

This is the band I flew to Colorado to hear and video-record in July 2014 at the Evergreen Jazz Festival.  James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band.  And it was glorious.  The players?  James Dapogny, piano, arrangements, leader; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Christopher Smith, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone; Russ Whitman, tenor and baritone saxophones; Dean Ross, string bass; Rod McDonald, guitar; Pete Siers, drums.

One of the nicer aspects of the EJF was the different venues at which bands could perform — outside (alas, in the rain), in a ballroom, in a wooden lodge, and in the most delightful small church.

Here is the second half of a superb set by a superb band, all arrangements by the Professor (that’s James Dapogny).

Hoagy’s COME EASY, GO EASY LOVE — rollicking, with an extraordinary (yet typical) solo by Dapogny, then hot horn solos from everyone — Commodore-style in its own way:

MOBILE BAY — eloquent small-band Ellington (originally featuring Rex Stewart) with astonishing work from Jon-Erik:

And an unfettered STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

This band is so special: a wondrous mix of loose-limbed ecstatic soloing, tight ensemble playing, gorgeous arrangements full of surprises.  Why they aren’t asked to every festival is beyond me, but I also wonder why PBS hasn’t picked them up, why Marvel Comics is proving so recalcitrant. . . you get the idea. More to come.

And since, to quote Craig Ventresco, the past is yet to come, here are four more video offerings from JD and the CJB at the EJF.  ONE. TWO. THREE. FOUR.

Yeah, man.

May your happiness increase!

AN ISLAND OF BEAUTY: CONAL FOWKES and DAN BLOCK (Chez Josephine, June 6, 2015)

Island palm tree

You would hardly expect musical beauty to be so generously evident in a busy New York City restaurant on a Saturday night, but it happened again on June 6, 2015.  The creators were Conal Fowkes, piano; Dan Block, clarinet. The unlikely spot is Chez Josephine on West 42nd Street in New York.

And here are six charmers.

Never mind the darkness, the waitstaff crossing back and forth (it’s what they are paid to do and diners want their food and drink right now), the occasional tendency to use the top of the piano as a service area.  Instead, concentrate on the lovely music.

Harold Ross — beloved and idiosyncratic editor of The New Yorker — once said, “Talent doesn’t care where it resides.”  We bless Conal and Dan for filling the air with such lovely sounds . . . for those who can hear them, subliminally or directly.

The videos are odd, but the sound of the piano and clarinet is clear and distinct. And I’ve given up hopes of an Oscar for cinematography, for 2015 at least.

IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN (the first song of the night, and I caught it in progress, as they say):

I’LL GET BY:

MY IDEAL:

MAKE BELIEVE:

PRELUDE TO A KISS (I think playing a ballad in a rather conversational place is a heroic act; see what you think):

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

May your happiness increase!

SOLACE IN SWING (June 26, 2015)

Though it’s a fickle age, beauty can always rescue us if we know where to look. And how to listen.  This spiritual panacea is brought to us by James Dapogny, piano; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass. Recorded by Laura Beth Wyman on June 26, 2015, at Glacier Hills Senior Living Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Fats Waller’s declaration of high fidelity:

Irving Berlin’s celebration of bliss (here with a little DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM nuance at the start and a little Spanish binge on the bridge):

How lyrical, how sublime.  I feel so much better.

May your happiness increase!

EDDIE CONDON, BUD FREEMAN, and THE CREATION OF JOY

Commodore Love

Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, and I go ‘way back, although those two gentlemen would not have noticed me all that much.  I only saw Eddie once at close range, in the summer of 1972, and at several late concerts; I saw Bud once at a Newport in New York tribute to Eddie.

But I have been following both men since I was a youth in suburbia, when department stores had record departments and there was always a reason to walk to the one nearby or tag along when my parents, who loved to shop for what I think of as home-trivia, went to one that I couldn’t walk to.

I started collecting Louis Armstrong records, which should not shock anyone. But soon I decided that Jack Teagarden was fascinating as well, and bought THE GOLDEN HORN OF JACK TEAGARDEN, which featured Pee Wee Russell, Eddie, Wild Bill Davison, George Wettling, and others.  Then, in 1969, the Mainstream label started to issue vinyl compilations drawn from the Commodore Records catalogue.  Most, if not all, were in reprocessed stereo, had obtuse liner notes, limited discographical information . . . but here I could hear SERENADE TO A SHYLOCK.  I was hooked for life.  And I became a deep convert to Condonia, and the territory known as the Land of Bud.

Both of them are ferociously underrated musicians and their music, when mentioned, is often viewed patronizingly.  More about that later.  But I would fight for the Commodores and later Deccas to be taken as seriously as any small-group recordings of the period.  Click here for several sound samples: clear your mind of jazz-history debris (the categorization of this music as Not Terribly Innovative and Created Mostly by Caucasians) and listen.

CONDON MOSAIC

I’ve had the new Mosaic Records cornucopia of the Condon / Freeman Commodore / Deccas 1938-1950 sitting on my coffee table, the box unwrapped but the discs still virginal, for two weeks now.  I think I was afraid of breaking the spell.  Sometimes the hallowed records one remembers just aren’t what one has idealized, and one hears all the flaws.

But I began to listen, and disillusionment never appeared.  I approached the set in two ways — front and back — starting with the first Commodore session (admiring the way that I could hear shadings and subtleties I’d never heard before) and then the later Deccas . . . unheard Dave Tough, James P. Johnson, Johnny Windhurst, and more.

Here are the details.  Eight CDs, 199 tracks, many new Decca alternates, everything in gorgeous sound, $136.00.  Wonderful photographs, many new to me — and I’m a Condon obsessive.  Notes by Dan Morgenstern, a real plus.

The Commodore and Decca band sides of the first period, 1938 to 1944, are elated and elating music.  Even at slow tempos, a delicious energy bubbles through.  Condon and the Blessed Milt Gabler, the guiding light of Commodore, favored obscure pop songs of the early Twenties — PRAY FOR THE LIGHTS TO GO OUT, TELL ‘EM ABOUT ME, YOU CAN’T CHEAT A CHEATER, IT’S TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND, as well as impromptu blues and durable ballads. Where some of the later Commodore sessions (for example, those led by Muggsy Spanier) sound heavy in their earnestness, the Condons sound light, frisky.  One can study a record like MEET ME TONIGHT IN DREAMLAND or TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL for its ensemble lightness or densities, as well as the glowing solos.

And the Deccas that follow are almost as glorious — with alternate takes of beloved performances (IDA and JUST YOU, JUST ME) as well as familiar ones in wonderfully clear sound.

As with any Mosaic set, the incautious listener will go down into the depths and arise befuddled by an over-abundance of beauty.  Although the price is far lower than a collection of the original 78s, I urge any student of the music to listen with serious caution, as one might have in 1938 or 1945: two sides, at most, making up a listening session.

I have written elsewhere at length about my hopes for a re-evaluation of Eddie Condon as a color-blind prophet of authentic music, but here I wish to praise him as a beautiful Intuitive, someone who knew what tempos (the plural is intentional) would work, a guitarist who knew the right chords and whose beautiful sound uplifted any group.  Even in his last appearances, when the guitar was more an ornament than an instrument, Eddie knew how to make a group cohesive and sprightly.  I mean to take nothing away from Freddie Green, but rhythm guitarists and aspiring swingsters should study his work on these sides.  And if you take contemporaneous sides recorded by similar bands where Condon is not present, his absence is immediately heard and felt.  That’s the musician.  As for the man, history — taking his actions and utterances as the only evidence — has leaned towards a portrait of a man more enamored of alcohol than anything else, a wise-cracking smart-ass whose jibes were often mean. Some of that might be true: his quick-witted retorts were often not gentle, but the music, ultimately, is what counts.  And the Mosaic set offers it in glorious profusion.  (I would offer the WOLVERINE JAZZ sides as an engaging way to play “jazz repertory” that isn’t bound and gagged by the originals.)

Several heroes also shine through these sides.  One of the most noble is Jack Teagarden — as singer and trombonist.  I suspect that Teagarden has been ill-served by his durability (which is an odd statement, I admit) and his narrowing repertoire.  If one were to see him merely as a re-creator, say, of BASIN STREET BLUES into infinity, one would do him a great disservice.  I defy any trombonist to be as limber, as inventive, as surprising.  And as a singer he is simply glorious, even on the less inspiring material, such as IT’S TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND (which I find and always found terribly endearing).

I can’t say enough about Charles Ellsworth Russell, so I will simply say this.  To me he is the equal of Lester Young, of Benny Carter, and (yes!) of the King of Swing.  Too much has been made of his “eccentricities,” which are ultimately the hallmarks of an utterly self-aware and courageous musician.

The later Commodores often featured a violently effective front-line pairing of Wild Bill Davison and George Brunis, but these sides most often have Bobby Hackett and other lyrical trumpeters / cornetists: Max Kaminsky, Billy Butterfield, even Johnny Windhurst.  Hackett is my idea of angelic music: let that statement stand by itself, and Kaminsky’s even, compact playing is a wonderful model.  The rhythm sections on these records are delights in themselves: consider Jess Stacy or Joe Bushkin, George Wettling, Dave Tough, coming-to-the-rescue Lionel Hampton and even on one long delicious 1943 date, Sidney Catlett.  I can’t ignore delicious cameos by Fats Waller and Lee Wiley.

In 1969 and onwards, I tended to skip over the Bud Freeman trio sessions (with Stacy and Wettling).  How narrow my perspective was.  I now hear them as gloriously radical creations, slyly subversive answers to the Goodman Trio. In some ways, they are the most “free” recordings before the term became more common in jazz: three rollicking eccentrics going at it, each on his own path, improvising wildly and sometimes acrobatically.

And since Miles Davis is the Great Exalted Potentate of All Jazz in the past decades, I present this little passage (found my accident) where he speaks of Lawrence Freeman:

Lester had a sound and an approach like Louis Armstrong, only he had it on tenor sax. Billie Holiday had that same sound and style; so did Budd Johnson and that white dude, Bud Freeman. They all had that running style of playing and singing. That’s the style I like, when it’s running. It floods the tone. It has a softness in the approach and concept, and places emphasis on one note.

I didn’t make that up.

Rather than reading more of my words, I hope you listen to the music presented on the Mosaic site.  These sessions are as precious as any of the more “hallowed” contemporaries.  I would put them next to the Ellington, Hampton, Basie small groups of the period, and they stand up splendidly in comparison to the independent-label recordings of the Forties.  Clear your mind of the odious categorizations and enjoy.

Postscript: before writing this post, I intentionally did not read the beautiful liner notes by Dan Morgenstern, who was on the scene and knew Eddie . . . because Dan’s influence is so strong (in the best way) that I wanted to attempt to write this from my own perspective.  But I know that Mister Morgenstern and I will agree.

May your happiness increase!

May your happiness increase!