Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

MUSIC WITH FRIENDS (Part One): MICHAEL KANAN, GREG RUGGIERO, NEAL MINER (The Drawing Room, January 8, 2018)

Michael Kanan prizes friendship very highly, and not in some abstract way.  He is a true Embracer, and his deep love of community lasts longer than a simple hug.  He showed us this once again a few Mondays ago at a little gathering at his Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room.

Michael Kanan

Michael’s colleagues in melodic exploration were his friends and ours, Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass: each of them a thoughtful swinging intuitive orchestra in himself.

Greg Ruggiero

It was a jam session evening, so even though this trio played six songs (you’ll have the first three here) it wasn’t a mini-recital, more a gathering of friends who don’t get to play together often. They hadn’t played together in months, and after Michael had seen the videos, he called them “music in its raw natural state,” but it was an acknowledgment rather than a criticism.  I think of them as cherries picked from the tree, their stems still attached, as opposed to cherry pie filling from a can.

Neal Miner

Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:

Strayhorn’s TAKE THE A TRAIN:

Ellington’s I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:

When you’re invited to a party at Michael’s, you go home laden with gifts.

May your happiness increase!

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JOHN SCURRY’S SINGULAR VIGNETTES: REVERSE SWING: “POST-MATINEE”

You might not have heard of the splendid musician John Scurry, but that can be remedied right away.  Here’s a whimsical, swinging sample — elating even if you are allergic to cats:

John and I have a long yet intermittent musical friendship.  I know I heard him on a variety of Australian jazz recordings with, among others, Allan Browne and Bob Barnard, but we did not meet in person until July 2010 at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, where he performed as part of Michael McQuaid’s Late Hour Boys, captured here with John on banjo, playing that often abused instrument with grace.  In time, I began to hear John as a guitarist but even more importantly as a composer.  And I heard tales of his small ingenious band, REVERSE SWING, which I described here.  I’d not heard the band, but John’s explanation of the title (enclosed in the post above) made me an enthusiast, taking it on faith.

As a serious but relevant digression, John is also a lyrical painter and photographer, imbuing “common” objects with resonance that makes me think of the painter Giorgio Morandi.  The cover is his, and when you purchase the disc, the photographs inside are his also.

In 2011, John — along with Andy Schumm, Jason Downes, Josh Duffee, Leigh Barker, and Michael McQuaid, was part of the Hot Jazz Alliance: they gave concerts and toured in 2014 and 2015.  I saw them at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in the latter year and followed John and a larger ensemble led by Josh to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania — Chauncey Morehouse’s home town — for a concert of Morehouse / Goldkette music.  In the lobby of John’s hotel, we had a long conversation, and I believe he said a REVERSE SWING disc was in process and I (perhaps not subtly) offered my services as a pro bono liner-note writer.  (I’d done the same for the HJA disc.)

And so it came to pass . . . that I heard REVERSE SWING, and was captivated by it.  The seventeen compositions on the disc are all John’s, varied in mood and approach: the CD feels like a leisurely sweep through a hall of evocative paintings.  Or a slim volume of short stories.  It’s not a “trad” band nor a post-bop ensemble — the performances swing — but a group that draws on a tradition of improvising over strong, sometimes quirky melodies and surprising harmonies.

The basic personnel is Eugene Ball, trumpet; Michael McQuaid, clarinet, alto saxophone; Matt Boden, piano; Howard Cairns, string bass, concertina; John Scurry, guitar — with additional cameos by Shelley Scown, vocal; Danny Fischer, drums; James Macaulay, trombone; Phil Noy, alto saxophone.

I know that the combination, for some more staid listeners, of original compositions and a band of less well-known musicians might be slightly intimidating, but we all have sufficient shelf space devoted to Our Favorite and Sometimes Predictable Bands . . . REVERSE SWING well deserves your attention.

Here are my notes:

In A VISION, Yeats wrote that the spirits visited him “to give him metaphors for poetry.” For inspiration, all I can claim is Facebook, where, a few hours before this disc arrived I had seen a famous Mississippi restaurant, The Dinner Bell, with a round table, seating twenty, two dozen entrees on its rotating center. As I listened to REVERSE SWING, I thought of diners moving from one serving dish to another, each one different in content, texture, seasoning, all harmonizing memorably.

A didactic annotator could fill pages saying what this track Sounds Like and what band / musician he Is Reminded Of, but I will leave such fetishes to those who cannot find pleasure without them. Scurry’s music, although irresistibly swinging, is MUSIC first, jazz second: melodic, surprising but inevitable (to steal from Whitney Balliett) with its bright eyes on us, sometimes teary, sometimes winking, even tenderly sleepy. I imagine a dance programme ranging from uptown funk to pastoralia, or soundtrack music for a never-seen Dennis Potter project.

Of John’s light-hearted but distincitve compositional art I can write only that I kept smiling and saying to myself, “Look what he’s doing THERE!” Each song is complete and shapely: a painting or photograph in itself, which is apt. I am also thrilled to hear so much of his guitar playing out in the open, concise yet emotive in solo, prancing in ensemble. Of the other players I write, as would Louis, that they are Topmen On Their Instruments, masters of Tonation and Phrasing. I’d never heard Shelley Scown sing before, but I bow low before her sweet elegance.

Alec Wilder would have admired this; Ellington, too. I want a second and third volume.

Now, something from the Uncollected Scurry-Steinman Correspondence.  I’d asked John — so that I could understand the musical scenes better — where the compositions came from, and he wrote me this.  Its length is my doing, not his immodesty, because I frankly badgered him to tell me everything, because I find the artist’s motivations fascinating — and how often do we have the artist ready to tell all through a series of emails?

“This CD is a selection of tunes of mine written over some years and conceived specifically for this recording. I can liken it to having an exhibition of paintings wherein there is no articulated concept or theme at play, rather a gathering of works that hopefully cohabit together and make sense musically. Most of the pieces were kept relatively short so as to state them as tunes in their various guises and feels and not as extensive flights of improvisation. Part of the joy in producing this body of works was in having the privilege of playing with my fellow musician friends developing and coaxing these melodies into life as new presences. Some have been recorded previously such as “Yes’” and “By practised Skill”. These two, put to music from two poems by Dashiell Hammett written in 1927 (from memory) with the words and poetic form fitting well in 32 bar and 24 bar formats common to the period. With the song “How Calm the Sea is Tonight,” when I put it together melodically and with the words, my original thought was to use Shelley Scown to sing it. I had imagined her singing for several years before actually meeting her. She made a wonderful recording called “Angel” with Paul Grabowsky and the late Allan Browne and Gary Costello respectively. Her voice had a lilting purity that I thought would embody the song. The song I developed verbatim from the last paragraph of a brief magazine story told by a woman reflecting on her life in a whaling town in southern New South Wales. Hence its folk ballad sense. The melody was originally created as a sound backdrop for a short animation. I finally met Shelley last year at a memorial concert for my old comrade Allan Browne where we were both performing and the circle was completed. Shelley’s other vocal,”Your Face”, I fess up to the words. In the spirit of all those who have gone before, another song about longing and the tactility of memory.

“Virology” was conceived for the band “Virus” that I played with regularly for many years. Strangely we never played this tune. Some of the tunes have personal connections such as “A Walk Around Tom” which is for my oldest brother who sadly has severe short term memory recall. A big jazz aficionado in his day with what he referred to as progressive jazz and, like my immediate next brother, a huge influence. “Post Matinee” for me has cinematic overtones. Sometimes meaning in a non literal way evolves out of the process of connecting time signatures and chord structures. My first paid employment, albeit brief, was as a ten year old theatre attendant selling screen news magazines at our local theatre. The theatre is long defunct but maintains its physical presence as an apartment block in Windsor, Melbourne. Going to the Saturday matinee every week was like church. A few years back I made a small painting of the then ex Windsor Theatre and called it “Post Matinee”.

Two more with poetry connections. “ Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines” is by Pablo Neruda. The first seven words of the opening stanza are enough to create the feel and melodic context for the resultant song. “Last Trams” is titled after the poem by Australian poet Kenneth Slessor. Originally, from memory, I think I was playing around with the changes to “Baby Won”t You Please Come Home”.

Some fauna related pieces. “Otis the Cat” is not the guy you are sharing a cell with; he is my dear friend of eighteen years, our cat Otis. Unbridled sentimentality to the fore. “A Blackbird Skipped Quivering Between Things” Yes, I know. Behind every title is a story. Oddly enough titles emanate from the spirit of the work. We are visited daily by a blackbird family in search of morsels of cat food. They stop and start skipping across grass and verandah and at a pinch have the odd quiver. I came across a lovely quote by a French art critic who was lauding the paintings of Berthe Morisot, Manet’s sister, and he stated with reference to the light in her paintings that there was “a quivering between things”. Hence my theft which seemed apt at the time. A little waltz with an inadvertent homage to American folk traditions, as our music from my first memories is a great melting pot of American popular song plus a smattering of British music hall and folk song, not to forget the centrality of hymns. “Sad Songs” is a tune without words which it almost demands. It started off as “Sad songs and bad songs,” a would be letter to a recently deceased musical friend, reassuring him as to his boy’s welfare, but somehow it turned into a sort of optimistic cowboy song. They can assert themselves with a life of their own, these songs.

The last piece I shall comment on is “Thomas and Green,” named for the street corner where I grew up. My first encounter with live music was not “Honey Hush” or “Buttons and Bows” that blared regularly on the radio, but the mellifluous sounds of tenor horns and cornets from the Salvation Band that would appear of a Sunday evening on that corner. Howard Cairns grew up in a Salvo family, his dad being a Major in it. Howard inherited his father’s concertina so we conceived honouring that connection in the chorale “Thomas and Green” as a coda to the album.”

Here the wise and curious listener can hear more, purchase a disc or a download.  I recommend all these actions.  REVERSE SWING is quietly, subversively remarkable.

May your happiness increase!

DUKE WITH A DIFFERENCE, NO, SEVERAL DIFFERENCES

Jack Hylton meets Ellington at Waterloo Station, 1933

This disc pictured below is a serious Holy Relic — a RCA Victor Program Transcription with autographs — Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, Hayes Alvis, Rex Stewart and Ivie Anderson.  The seller candidly says, “E- condition. Rough start on ‘East St. Louis.'”

The price is $400, but shipping is a bargain: “Buyer to pay $5.00 shipping (which includes $1.00 for packing material) in the United States. Shipping discount for multiple 78s. Insurance, if desired, is extra.”

Here‘s the link.  Too late for Christmas, but always a thoughtful gift for the Ellingtonian in your house.

And perhaps you don’t have $405.00 for this.  There’s no shame.  I don’t either. So here’s the music:

and here’s the “stereo” version.  This was created in the Seventies, I think, when Ellington collectors discovered two versions of this performance, each recorded with a different microphone setup, then stitched them together to create a binaural recording. No autographs, though:

This post is for my dear friend Harriet Choice, who always knows the difference.

May your happiness increase!

ELLINGTONIA with FRANK ROBERSCHEUTEN, AURELIE TROPEZ, ENRICO TOMASSO, CHRIS HOPKINS (October 29, 2017)

Ellington by Hirschfeld

The Frank Roberscheuten Hiptett, led by Frank on alto and tenor, did the lovely magic of honoring an ancestor and a tradition without copying the records note-for-note.  This magic took place at the Classic Jazz Concert Club in Sassenheim, in the Netherlands, on October 28, 2017, and it appeared — magically! — on YouTube this morning. I couldn’t resist, and I hope you can’t either.

The other creators are Aurelie Tropez, clarinet; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; Chris Hopkins, piano (his accompaniments especially subversive and delicious), Mark Elton, string bass; Stan Laferrière, drums. And there’s a surprise vocal trio — always a treat.

The songs they chose are familiar, yet the light of individuality shines through these performances, even when the ghosts of Ellington, Procope, Cootie, Nance, Hodges, Gonsalves, are visiting.

Thank you for being, dear players and singers.

May your happiness increase!

QUIET EMOTION: JON-ERIK KELLSO, CHRIS FLORY, JOEL FORBES at SARAH’S WINE BAR (August 27, 2017)

On August 27, which seems like a long time ago, I drove up to Ridgefield, Connecticut, to spend an evening at this welcoming spot — Sarah’s Wine Bar, located upstairs at the fine restaurant called Bernard’s.  The food and service were both lovely, but I had more serious goals: Jon-Erik Kellso was playing, and Jon had with him Chris Flory and Joel Forbes.

They are three good reasons to venture out, and the music was exceedingly rewarding: thoughtful, quiet, deep, and swinging — performed in a quiet room to an attentive audience.

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

I WANT A LITTLE GIRL:

MOOD INDIGO:

In simple math, three times three equals a mere nine.  These performances prove that the end result is uncountable pleasure.  Thanks to Ken and Marcia Needleman for their kindnesses.

And THIS JUST IN: tonight, Sunday, October 22, from 8-11 PM, give or take a few moments, The EarRegulars will be at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) with two of the heroes above — Jon-Erik and Chris — as well as Aaron Johnson, reeds; Neal Miner, string bass.  To learn about all things Kellso-musical, you can join his mailing list.  As Monk wrote, Ask Me How.

May your happiness increase!

xxxxxx

THE MARIEL BILDSTEN SEPTET ROCKS TIME WARNER CENTER WITH BASIE AND DUKE (October 3, 2017)

Mariel Bildsten. Photograph by Jeff Drolette.

Mariel Bildsten’s grandfather was an architect, as is her mother. Mariel, a brilliant young trombonist, doesn’t construct buildings. She makes them rock.

I first met Mariel underground — less ominous than it sounds — about two weeks ago, when she and the wonderful guitarist Greg Ruggiero were setting up to play duets in TURNSTYLE, beneath the Time Warner Center, more or less. They made delicious music while, on either side, shoppers and eaters and commuters rushed by.  I already knew Greg as a player both lyrical and swinging, from his work with Michael Kanan and Neal Miner, but Mariel — born in 1994 — was a pleasing revelation.

She has a big beautiful tone, facility without glibness, a mature sense of phrasing (you can feel her thinking about what the next note might be — no hesitation, but a thoughtfulness), and an unerring swing.

So when Mariel said she’d have a septet playing Ellington and Basie at the free Tuesday late-afternoon sessions at the Time Warner Center (sponsored by the Eileen Fisher clothing company) I wanted to be there, and was able to video-record the session, which was a delight.  With Mariel were Patrick Alexander Bartley Jr., alto Saxophone; Ruben Fox, tenor saxophone; Giveton Gelin, trumpet; Evan Sherman, drums; Mathis Jaona Jolan Picard, keyboard, and Barry Stephenson, string bass.

I knew everything was going to be all right when the band played ninety seconds of DICKIE’S DREAM for a soundcheck.  You won’t hear that, but here’s the full performance that followed after Mariel had introduced the band:

and then the Ellington small-band classic, first known as SUBTLE SLOUGH, then as JUST SQUEEZE ME when lyrics were added:

Later-period Basie (1962), SENATOR WHITEHEAD, on familiar changes:

From Ellington’s 1967 COMBO SUITE, the justly-famous THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES (first simply called “Billy Strayhorn’s riff” at the record date):

Also from the COMBO SUITE, TELL ME ‘BOUT MY BABY:

Finally, from the Suite, NEAR NORTH:

Mariel’s tribute to Lawrence Brown, clearly one of her inspirations, was her improvisation on LET’S FALL IN LOVE, which Brown played so splendidly on the Johnny Hodges session called SIDE BY SIDE:

Patrick Bartley’s wonderful evocation of that same Hodges on Billy Strayhorn’s PASSION FLOWER:

TICKLE-TOE, one of the high points of Western Civilization, by Lester Young:

And another nod to later Basie, WHAT’CHA TALKIN’?:

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the jazz scene as it is unfolding in New York City or elsewhere; I know my musicians and I revere them.  But it was a great pleasure to meet and hear so many young players, so expert, who were new to me.  The next time I read some journalist who wants to convince me that jazz is dead, I will think of this session and these players, providing living rebuttals.

May your happiness increase!

ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF GOOD SURPRISES: THE MICHAEL BANK SEPTET at SHRINE (August 1, 2017)

I first encountered the pianist-composer Michael Bank sometime in late 2004 or early 2005, at a Basque restaurant called BAR TABAC in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when he was pianist in a little band that had some of my — now lasting — friends in it: Kevin Dorn, Craig Ventresco, Jesse Gelber, among others.  When I heard Michael play — evoking Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, and his own original thinking — I was impressed, and when he introduced the band’s version of ALL OF ME by quoting Teddy from PRES AND TEDDY, I went over to him at the set break and said, having introduced myself, “Excuse me, what the hell was that intro figure you did on ALL OF ME?” and we established its provenance (I am afraid I showed off by telling him I’d gotten Teddy’s autograph on that album) and I knew he was someone to pay attention to.

But I knew only a fraction of the totality of Michael Bank, and my admiration grew when I heard him lead his Septet.  The official press release calls this band “a four-horn group in the mainstream jazz tradition,” but that is a serious understatement.  For this gig, the Septet is Tony Speranza, trumpet;  John Ludlow, alto saxophone; Matt Haviland, trombone; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone; Ben Rubens, string bass;  the esteemed Steve Little, once again playing a set of drums not his own, with one happy exception being a beautiful snare drum lent for this gig by our friend Kelly Friesen.

Michael is an intriguing composer of originals that sound, at first, familiar, but then take their own twists and turns: not into dissonance, but into surprising melodies and voicings.  I think of his compositions as beginning in the 1951-55 Johnny Hodges band book and then deciding to move around by visiting Jaki Byard (a model and mentor to Michael), and going their own ways.  What underpins all of this is Michael’s delighted commitment to a rocking swing motion rooted in Ellingtonian momentum.  The Septet’s modernism is curious and amiable; the dissonances or unusual voicings do not treat the audience unkindly.  One could dance to this band, and that impulse comes from the Septet’s roots as a backing band for The Silver Belles, a veteran tap dance troupe. But like Ellington, Michael sees the beauty in simple forms: he loves the blues and how they can be asked to soar; he doesn’t find the Past something to be rejected but he conceives of ancient inspirations in his own ways.

Having taken the wrong subway line (Michael suggested that this post should be called TAKE THE 2 TRAIN, which amused me but would require too much explanation) I went up hill and down dale to be at this one-hour gig at the Shrine Music Venue at 134th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, but I was seriously rewarded for my aerobics with music that balances lightness and density.

Here are four extended highlights of this all-too-brief gig:

FALL AND RISE:

THE AZTEC TWO-STEP, which is its own kind of choreography:

Jaki Byard’s ONE NOTE:

TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:

I know it is hard to keep a band together without regular gigs, but I certainly think that Michael’s Septet is eminently worthy of a comfortable venue, a nice piano.  If you swing it, they will come.  Or perhaps.

May your happiness increase!