Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

WHERE ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN AND OFTEN DOES: The EarRegulars All-Star Ad Hoc Big Band and Brass Conference (The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City): JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, BILL ALLRED, PAT O’LEARY, GORDON AU, JOHN ALLRED, HARVEY TIBBS, STEVE BLEIFUSS, JOAN CODINA, ADAM MOEZINIA (Sunday, October 17, 2021)

Sunday afternoon, slightly autumnal but bright. The EarRegulars began as Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Bill Allred, trombone; Pat O’Leary, string bass. But we knew that other trombones were spotted — loyal friends and EarRegulars themselves, John Allred and Harvey Tibbs.

Jon-Erik, Bill, Matt, and Pat started things off with MARGIE, EXACTLY LIKE YOU, and WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING (the last for friends of Jon-Erik’s in the crowd, folks from the Allen Park, Michigan hood, with connections to the marching band). Then, Jon-Erik invited John Allred to join in — a family affair:

This quintet romped through ALWAYS, YES SIR, THAT’S MY BABY, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, a magnificently expansive PANAMA (twelve minutes long) and went back to its original quartet for a closing STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE. In the photograph above, Jon-Erik might be taking a breath, but you see his pleasure on his face.

An intermission followed: conversation, food and drink, old friends and new ones.

A quartet version of I MAY BE WRONG included an apocalyptic ambulance siren: the siren was medically necessary but aesthetically wrong, and the band took it in stride. After that, an unscripted SPRING STREET BLUES.

Then, one of the great features of these gatherings, which date back to 2007, where the original quartet welcomed a proliferation of friends and guests — rather like putting the extra leaf in the dining room table to have many people to dinner, even if no one was expecting them.

Jon-Erik invited Adam Moezinia, guitar; John Allred; Harvey Tibbs, Joan Codina, and Steve Bleifuss, making a five-person trombone choir — for an easy ROSETTA (in F). The more, the merrier: Gordon Au, trumpet, joined the delightful ensemble for this happy marvel, PERDIDO (what else?) with the appropriate riffs. Photographic evidence:

Audio-visual evidence. Please note the characteristic blend of ease and intensity, the fact that everyone knows the way there and back, and the hilariously wonderful final bridge, neither immoral nor atonal, but consciously “out there,” for dramatic effect:

At the conclusion, I wasn’t standing because my tripod is in the way, but I certainly felt like cheering. What happened was more than an accidental profusion of players: it is a community of expert friends who know the common language and joyously share their craft with us.”

Bless them, every last one of them, and that includes the two who didn’t get to join in on PERDIDO — trumpeter Andrew Stephens and guitarist Lou Salcedo — who joined in for a final UNDECIDED, a joy-fest beyond our expectations. With every note, they bless us.

May your happiness increase!

“WE LOVE THEM. MADLY.” GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, October 5, 2021)

When you know, you know. I was at Swing 46 last night to see and hear and applaud Dan Block, alto and tenor saxophones; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass. It threatened to rain all through the gig and the usual street theatre of that block was at its best (come visit and see for yourselves).

In the middle of the second set, Gabrielle called the Ellington LOVE YOU MADLY and they performed it with great enthusiastic beauty . . . at the end of the performance, Gabrielle said exultantly, as if she were Ida Lupino directing a film, “CUT! And PRINT!” looking at me, which I took as the sign of a small miracle, that an artist, completing a performance, is happy with it. I got permission from the other three, so you can enjoy this marvel, hot and fresh:

This wonderful quartet performs every Tuesday from 5:30 to 8:30. I’ve been there every week and have always come away full of joy. They’re loved . . . madly.

May your happiness increase!

ELISE ROTH WEARS THREE HATS, AT LEAST

A friend whose taste I trust asked, “Have you heard the singer Elise Roth? I think you’d be impressed.” I report: I am not only impressed, but triply so.

Many people underestimate how difficult it is to sing effectively, and how arduous it is to be a “jazz singer.” Much more is involved than glamour, hair styling, lovely clothes, and a repertoire of ten songs ranging from WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO to MY FUNNY VALENTINE, all learned from famous (read: “over-familiar”) recordings. A genuine singer needs more than the stage presence required to stand up, open one’s mouth and glide along in an approximate relationship to one’s accompaniment.

But rather than rant about the depths of what is offered to us as the real thing, I present to you someone impressive and delightfully versatile. Elise Roth has at least three artistic selves, each one a wow. She’s also known as Elise M. Roth — two names, appropriate for someone so vividly diversified without a hint of multiple-personality disorder.

The first thing you’ll hear — no matter which of the selves you encounter — is the beauty of Elise’s voice, whether she’s deep in romance, sprightly in a swing tune, or enjoying herself more than the laws allow in mockery. Her classical training is evident, but it isn’t a hindrance: she never sounds like Lily Pons trying to swing. She has elegant diction, a fine sense of melody and the melodic line, and a serious rhythmic awareness. Her musicianship comes through no matter what the context.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present not one but three Ms. Roths: ROMANTIC, SWINGER, and COMEDIAN.

(However, she has but one YouTube channel. I don’t make the rules.)

The ROMANTIC (with superb accompaniment by Eric Baldwin):

She’s impassioned but in complete control, and the looseness of her second vocal interlude is charming and convincing. It’s a polished performance, but it has the relaxation of an assured musician, secure enough in the song to be able to move around within it. And her sound!

How about an even more difficult test — EASY LIVING, so associated with Billie and Lester that it’s a trap for most singers, one Elise avoids by singing the song in her own way, on its own terms:

Superb accompaniment here by Eric Baldwin, Alex Olsen, George Darrah, and Sahil Warsi as well.

But Elise is also a well-established big band singer, performing with Dan Gabel and the Abeltones, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, and her own Harvard Squares. And, as any experienced singer will tell you, working with a large ensemble requires even more intuition and art than being your own boss in front of the microphone. These live videos don’t always present her voice with the same resonant closeness, but they give an idea of how well she sings in real life.

MOON RAY:

and here she is in New York City in front of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, for HUMMIN’ TO MYSELF, displaying a fine rhythmic ease and her own wit (“rehearsin’ all afternoon”):

and most recently, with her own Harvard Squares for I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE:

Then, the COMEDIAN. Or should I say the CLEVER SATIRIST? Elise’s ever-expanding magnum opus in her own splendidly quirky field is what she calls THE GARBLED AMERICAN SONGBOOK, VOLUME ONE. And I quote, “In 2018, I started running the lyrics to jazz standards from the Great American Songbook through Google Translate, via several different languages and then back into English. I don’t know what possessed me to do this. This is the result.”

This, indeed.

as well as This (Jacob Hiser, piano):

and, finally, This:

Enjoy her equilibrium as she rode the ungainly lyrics over the familiar melodies — the result somewhere between Leo Watson and Ulysses . . . in swing, of course.

I hope you are as impressed as I am, and want to hear more / see more of Elise Roth, with or without the M. How to accomplish this? She is currently in London, and here you can find her gig calendar. But for those of us not near Covent Garden, the news is still reassuring: on her Bandcamp page, you can find links to her first effort, CHECKING OUT! (where GOOM-BYE comes from), THE GARBLED AMERICAN SONGBOOK, VOLUME ONE, and her latest, ELISE ROTH’S 2nd SWING EP: A SOCIALLY DISTANCED COLLABORATION.

I’ve enjoyed all three, and I look forward to what the talented Ms. Roth will surprise us with next.

Oh, my title. When I wrote to Elise to introduce myself and express my pleasure, I launched my then-working title to see if she would approve. Her reaction? “Three hats, sounds great! Funnily enough I have worked at a hat shop, though wearing three at a time was frowned upon 🙂

So her wit is real. And, as you can see and hear, her art is also.

May your happiness increase!

EVEN MORE MAGIC IN MIDTOWN: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, DAN BLOCK, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (Swing 46, September 14, 2021)

Here’s what I wrote about this superb quartet when I visited them on August 31:


Between 5:30 and 8:30 last night, beauty filled the air in front of Swing 46 (Forty-Sixth Street, west of Eighth Avenue, New York City) thanks to Gabrielle Stravelli (above), vocals; Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet, Michael Kanan, keyboard; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

I don’t have any video evidence for you, but with good reason: that’s a busy street, and occasionally the music was– shall we say — intruded upon by clamor. But the music won out, of course, and it wasn’t a matter of volume, but of emotional intensity. I’ve admired Gabrielle for more than a decade now: her beautiful resonant voice, lovely at top and bottom, her wonderful vocal control. But more so, her candid expressive phrasing, matching the emotions of each song in subtle convincing ways. She’s always fully present in the musical story, eloquent and open. With witty lyrics, she sounds as if she’s just about to burst into giggles; on dark material, she can sound downright vengeful. In three sets last night, she offered a deep bouquet of ballads — and not only songs usually done slowly: FLY ME TO THE MOON; I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?, I’LL WALK ALONE; YOU’VE CHANGED; I’LL BE AROUND. A few vengence-is-mine songs — GOODY GOODY and THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY — added spice, and her readings of the first title and the second song’s “Good riddance, good-bye,” suggested once again that she is a splendid friend and perhaps a fierce enemy. Many of the other standards — NIGHT AND DAY, JUST IN TIME, AS LONG AS I LIVE — are well-established landmarks in the repertoire, but Gabrielle made them shine. She embraces the song; her singing reaches out to us, fervently and gently.

Her delight in singing to us was matched by that of her colleagues. Dan Block is quietly memorable in any context, and his sound alone was delightful. But he and Gabrielle had flying conversations where their intuitive telepathy was a marvel. Other times, he played Lester to her Billie, “filling in the windows,” offering just the right counterpoint and loving commentary. He was matched by Michael Kanan, master of quiet touching subversions in the manner of our hero Jimmie Rowles; both he and the superb bassist Pat O’Leary not only kept the time and the harmonies beautifully in place but created their own songs throughout.

I visited Swing 46 again last night, and the four artists just outdid themselves. And although 46th Street is not ideal for video-recording, I have two to offer you. But first, some updates.

Dan brought his most magical bass clarinet to add to tenor saxophone and clarinet: he’s always astounded me on that possibly balky instrument since our first intersections in 2004. In the hustle and bustle of the street — in Gabrielle’s closing lines of AS LONG AS I LIVE, a song about how the singer wants to take good care of herself, an ambulance, lights and sirens blazing and blaring, went by — Michael and Pat created one quirky inquiring beautiful phrase after the other, supporting, encouraging, exploring, even trading musical witticisms. And Gabrielle touched our hearts in singular ways on song after song.

And this band has a splendidly expansive repertoire: two “all right” tunes — I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT and IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME, a seriously playful LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME and a brooding WARM VALLEY — to which Gabrielle has created very touching, simple but not cliched, lyrics; an EXACTLY LIKE YOU where it seemed as if the whole band was ready to break into laughter at something, an enthusiastic SOON, a LADY BE GOOD where Gabrielle and Dan did Lester’s 1936 solo line (!) — a few more classic love songs, FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE than became LET’S FALL IN LOVE (with the verse), ISN’T THIS A LOVELY DAY which perhaps subliminally led into NIGHT AND DAY. The other side of love had to be explored, and was, in LITTLE WHITE LIES and ILL WIND. There was Gabrielle’s jaunty tread through YOU’RE GETTING TO BE A HABIT WITH ME, love via meteorology with A FOGGY DAY and a few more. One I cannot forget is Gabrielle’s reading of BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH — heartbreaking yet controlled.

I heard whispers that this group is considering a CD with some deep slow songs. I hope these rumors are true.

And there’s video. Imperfect but there. But it requires a little prelude.

I had checked the weather report obsessively, hoping for enough rain to bring the band and audience inside but not enough to make the sometimes-leaky building a disaster. No such luck. So when I arrived early and was greeted by the kind, resourceful Michelle Collier (a fine singer herself) I had resigned myself to no video. But, I thought, I could set up the camera, put it on the table with the lens cap on, and have an auditory souvenir. If my video and audio capers documented in this blog haven’t made it clear, I delight in having evidence of joyous creativity — to make it last forever.

I’d resigned myself to creating the modern equivalent of radio (and the black-screen audios sound quite nice) but for the third song, when Dan put the bass clarinet together, I thought, “I HAVE to capture this,” and held the heavy camera-and-microphone in my hands for nearly six minutes (hence the mildly trembling unsteadiness . . . no time to unpack my tripod and no space for it anyway) and I am delighted I did, because this LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is the most inspired conversation among a quartet:

I couldn’t hold the camera steady after that, but I found a place for it on the table, and I’m glad I did — for WARM VALLEY, with Gabrielle’s lyrics. Most lyrics added after the fact to Ellington songs seem out of place; hers do not:

I try to avoid hyperbole, but those are two masterpieces. I believe this quartet will appear at Swing 46 for the remaining two Tuesdays in September and the last two weeks in October. If you vibrate to the arts of this music, tender, solemn, hilarious, raucously swinging, you owe it to yourself to get to 349 West 46th Street, between Eight and Ninth Avenue (on the north side) on Tuesdays from 5:30 to 8:30. Gabrielle, Mchael, Dan, and Pat bestow blessings in every song.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET SOUNDS FROM SWING 46 (Part Two): DAN BLOCK, GABRIELLE STRAVELLI, MICHAEL KANAN, PAT O’LEARY (July 13, 2021)

The very place: Swing 46, 349 West 46th Street, New York City, where good music is fresh, hot, and sweet.
Dan, Pat, and Gabrielle: photo by Jon De Lucia.
Michael Kanan, photo by Jon De Lucia.
Gabrielle, photo by Jon De Lucia.

On July 13, which was an ordinary Tuesday, late afternoon, Dan Block, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass, created wonderful music for all to savor. And savor we did. In my first posting from that evening, they mingled Lester Young, George and Ira, Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler . . . gorgeously here. But I said there was more to come, and I wouldn’t want to deceive anyone.

Here are three more: two Ellingtons, one Lerner and Loewe.

ALL TOO SOON (with Ben Webster at the bar, feeling it):

DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME:

ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE:

Yes, more to come (a cosmological quartet, to pique your curiosities).

And a few words about Swing 46 — it was a pleasure to be there in a congenial atmosphere — a large food-and-drink menu and a very welcoming staff. Next Tuesday, Dan will be back with the delightful Hilary Gardner (swinging, surprising, and introspective) and other luminaries to be announced, from 5:30 to 8:30. And at 9, the irreplaceable Michael Hashim leads noble friends — who have included Chris Flory and Kevin Dorn — in an impromptu session. That’s 349 West 46th Street, the north side, between Eighth and Ninth Avenue. Leave your bedroom: put down the phone: Netflix will be here when you come back: what’s in the freezer is safe. Hear some restorative live music among like-minded friends.

May your happiness increase!

HELLO, GREATNESS!

First, some music: STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY as performed by Don Redman’s Orchestra in Geneva, Switzerland, October 27, 1946.  The band is Bobby Williams, Alan Jeffreys, trumpet; Peanuts Holland, trumpet, vocal; Quentin Jackson, Jack Carman, trombone; Tyree Glenn, trombone, vibraphone; Don Redman, alto saxophone, piano, vocal, arranger; Chauncey Haughton, Pete Clarke, alto and baritone saxophone, clarinet; Don Byas, Ray Abrams, tenor saxophone; Billy Taylor, piano; Ted Sturgis, string bass; Buford Oliver, drums; Inez Cavanaugh, vocal: 

The music (in this case featuring Tyree Glenn, Ted Sturgis, Don Byas, and others) is relevant to the pieces of paper below. And for those who would like to hear the whole Geneva concert — happily broadcast on Swiss radio and even more happily, preserved for us seventy-five years later! — here are all the performances:

Now I shall modulate into another key.

As a young jazz fan, I had to decide what variety of souvenir I wanted to take home from an evening’s entertainment.  At one point, I fancied myself a still photographer — with a Canon AE-1 — and I would take as many shots as I’d bought rolls of 35 millimeter film.  That was especially appropriate in the venues where I had learned beforehand that illicit audiotaping would get me thrown out unceremoniously (as in, “We don’t allow that here. Give it to me and please leave”).    

I asked very few musicians for autographs, because I was afraid that they would say, “Was that a cassette recorder I saw in front of you?  Kindly bring it here so that I can smash it with my shoe, if you don’t mind.”  I also felt at the time that asking for a hero’s autograph relegated me to the status of “fan,” where conversation would have been limited.  I could speak to Bennie Morton, but if I’d asked him to sign something, perhaps he would have done so, said a few polite words, and the interchange would have ended.

Eventually I also realized that approaching an artist for their autograph right before a set was ungenerous (“Let me get prepared, let me discuss the first song and the key, or let me get my charts together”) and after a set perhaps more so (“I just gave you my all for 45 minutes; I’m depleted, and want to visit the facilities”) so thrusting a tiny piece of paper in the Idol’s face was not always a kindness.

I must say, though, that in 1971 if I delayed Teddy Wilson for three minutes to ask him to sign my copy of PRES AND TEDDY and send beams of admiration at him, I feel no guilt now, and a prize of mine (thanks to the very dear Mike Burgevin) is an enthusiast’s 1933 autograph book that has a Jack Pettis signature.  So I am not free from such urges.

Many people, however, perhaps with less timidity, have asked for autographs.  Their ease, decades after the fact, results in slips of paper being offered for sale on eBay.  One of the most rewarding sites is “jgautographs” — and here are a few items of unusual interest from a recent auction.

Don Redman’s 1946 orchestra (including Don Byas) that “went to Europe”:

and

and one of its trumpet stars, Peanuts Holland:

another Quentin Jackson signature (he deserves the attention):

our hero, James Rushing, Esquire:

the underrated and superb drummer Kansas Fields:

A souvenir of the 1938 Paul Whiteman orchestra, featuring Charlie Teagarden, Frank Signorelli, and George Wettling, and what looks like a Miff Mole signature squeezed in at the bottom:

Finally, a trio that I would have loved to hear — perhaps at a festival in 1978 — Jo Jones, Milt Hinton, and Ray Bryant:

Holy relics, mingling gratitude, admiration, affection, passing back and forth from artist to happy listeners.

(Postscript: none of these seem mechanical: if you haunt eBay, as I do, you can find what seem like hundreds of signatures by certain famous musicians, and I suspect they sat at a table, as do sports stars, and signed a thousand in an afternoon, which now are for sale. These seem to be signed in real life and under real circumstances, which is a very fine thing.)

May your happiness increase!

“CREOLE LOVE CALL”: BARNEY BIGARD, KENNY DAVERN, BOB WILBER, EDDIE DANIELS, DICK HYMAN, JACK SEWING, J.C. HEARD, and a brief DAVERN INTERLUDE (Nice, July 15, 1977)

Writing about Kenny Davern and sharing people’s memories of him have left me wanting to share more, so I thought I might share this wonderful on-the-spot piece of musical architecture with you. The participants are Barney Bigard, Kenny, Bob Wilber, and the rather idiosyncratic Eddie Daniels, clarinet; Dick Hyman, Jack Sewing, string bass, and J.C. Heard, drums. It was performed at the Grande Parade du Jazz — known to its friends as the Nice Jazz Festival — on July 15, 1977.

CREOLE LOVE CALL is thematically as plain as you could want, but the simplicity becomes a beautiful freeing place from which to soar, to sing individual songs, to moan dark feelings and reach for the stars in the space of a chorus. This performance, for me, is intense and intensely melodic: a triumph of understanding, leaving Mr. Daniels aside for the moment.

The video also catches Kenny amusing himself and attempting to amuse the crowd — for once, without success. I know that the audience might not have had a preponderance of English-proficient people, but their absolute silence after Kenny’s patented jape is a little unnerving (surely they’d heard those names before?) and his annoyance is palpable . . . but I am glad this exchange is captured for posterity, for it summons up the whole of the much-missed Mr. Davern. But, the music. The music!

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

“JAZZ CAN BE HOT OR LANGUID”: BILLIE HOLIDAY, ROY ELDRIDGE, CHARLIE SHAVERS, ED HALL, BEN WEBSTER, VIC DICKENSON, BENNIE MORTON, ART TATUM, AL CASEY, SLAM STEWART, ARTHUR TRAPPIER, JOSH WHITE (“New World A-Coming,” WNYC, June 25, 1944)

Billie Holiday and Sidney Catlett at the Metropolitan Opera House, January 18, 1944

Here’s an extraordinarily fulfilling eighteen minutes, as if — in the name of humanity and enlightenment — a New York radio station was able to gather everyone of note into its studios to uplift listeners: Billie Holiday, vocal; Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers; trumpet; Vic Dickenson, Bennie Morton, trombone; Ed Hall, clarinet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Art Tatum, piano; Al Casey, guitar; Slam Stewart, string bass; Arthur Trappier, drums; Josh White, vocal and guitar.

“NEW WORLD A-COMING: THE STORY OF NEGRO MUSIC,” Broadcast on WMCA, June 25, 1944, based on the book by Roi Ottlei, narrated by Canada Lee. Theme by Duke Ellington. Introduction / I GOT A HEAD LIKE A ROCK Josh White / FINE AND MELLOW Billie / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / ALL OF ME Billie / I GOT RHYTHM // Hall Johnson Choir announced but edited out of this recording.

The music is timeless; the commentary may seem less so: I was struck by “from cabin to cabaret,” and sensitized listeners might find other archaisms. But the music!

P.S. “Jazz can be hot or languid.” You knew that, of course.

P.P.S., based on fifteen minutes of online curiosity: WMCA was a rock-and-pop AM station in the Sixties, home of the “Good Guys.”  Started in 1925, it had a wide range of popular music programming, with programs aimed at an African-American audience.  In 1989, it became a Christian radio station and continues today.

May your happiness increase!

HIS SENTIMENTAL MOOD: JOHN ALLRED, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, January 16, 2020)

I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time when we say, “Stop!  That’s enough beauty!” and certainly this recent period is not one of those times.

John Allred, Duke Heitger, Ehud Asherie, 2009

So I offer a vivid example: Duke Ellington’s IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD played with great feeling and virtuosity by John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass — at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, on a Thursday night, January 16, 2020. 

The fellow introducing the performance and then leaving the stand to enjoy it better is Jon-Erik Kellso, who knows a good deal about the creation of beauty.

Allred’s magnificence is that he makes those pieces of greased metal sing heartfelt memorable songs.  And the string section of Munisteri and Ronen is glorious also.

May your happiness increase!

THE PERFECT JAZZ REPERTORY QUINTET: DICK HYMAN, BOB WILBER, PEE WEE ERWIN, MILT HINTON, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN (Nice Jazz Festival, July 9, 1978)

Truth in advertising.

The PERFECT JAZZ REPERTORY QUINTET actually was.

It was one of those bands that actually lived up to its bold title, whether the front line was as it was here, or the variation that I saw in Morgan Park in Glen Cove, so many years ago — Joe Wilder and Phil Bodner (with Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, and I think Ronnie Zito).

Under Dick Hyman’s astonishing leadership, the Quintet chose to concentrate on jazz before the Second World War, but the result was timeless, full of improvisational brilliance and energy, even though there were many manuscripts on those music stands. One of the pleasures of the video that follows is seeing members of the quintet, professional in every detail, taking their music off the stands at the end of the set.  But I have doubt that a Quintet performance concentrating on the music of Tadd Dameron, Charlie Parker, and early Miles Davis would have been compelling music also.

Here we have their first manifestation: Dick Hyman, piano; Pee Wee Erwin, cornet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones; Milt Hinton, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums.

The video that follows captures a performance at the Grande Parade du Jazz, made for French television but apparently not broadcast and certainly not trimmed-down for time limitations.

Setting up [for the impatient, the “music begins at” 5:55] / CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME / I’M GONNA STOMP MR. HENRY LEE [at a lovely swaying tempo] / MY MAN’S GONE NOW (Wilber) / OLD MAN BLUES / SOPHISTICATED LADY (Hyman, Hinton, Rosengarden) / JUST BEFORE DAYBREAK (Erwin – Hyman) / DOOJI WOOJI / DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / a few seconds of packing up //.

The late reedman Leroy “Sam” Parkins told me, more than once, that great art was in the balance between passionate abandon and expert restraint.  The Quintet embodies that in every note.

A very happy P.S.  I posted this video early on Friday, February 20, and mid-afternoon Mr. Dick Human himself (he will be 94 this March 8) commented on the video:

I am so glad that Michael Steinman posted this performance. I had no idea that we were documented at the time. Everyone was at his best, and I am grateful that he released it.—Dick Hyman

It’s a real thrill to know that your heroes are paying attention to what you do.

May your happiness increase!

ROMANTIC SOUNDS from DUKE ELLINGTON IN CLEVELAND (August 29, 1942)

 

Duke and Evie [Ellis] Ellington

Deep wartime romance, recorded four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor:

I might have heard the music that follows in 1990, but it’s more than memorable to me.  Yes, it’s a medley of current hits for the dancers — but what hits, and how gorgeous they sound.  I only dimly remembered Tricky Sam being inimitable on TANGERINE, but Ben Webster’s absolutely romantic reading of I DON’T WANT TO WALK WITHOUT YOU by Jule Styne and Frank Loesser is a paean to intimacies, never to be forgotten.

It’s the post-Blanton, post-Bigard, but still celestial Ellington orchestra on an NBC broadcast from the Palace Theatre, in Cleveland, Ohio, August 29, 1942 — proving once again Barbara Rosene’s assertion that everything good comes from that state, even if the band was only passing through.

Rex Stewart, cornet; Wallace Jones, trumpet; Ray Nance, trumpet, violin; Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Lawrence Brown, trombone; Juan Tizol, valve-trombone; Chauncey Haughton, clarinet, tenor saxophone;  Johnny Hodges, alto saxophone; Otto Hardwick, alto saxophone, clarinet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass-clarinet; Duke Ellington, piano, arranger; Fred Guy, guitar; Junior Raglin, string bass; Sonny Greer, drums.

TANGERINE (featuring Tricky Sam Nanton) / WHO WOULDN’T LOVE YOU? (Lawrence Brown), / (unidentified interlude for Chauncey Haughton[?]) / I DON’T WANT TO WALK WITHOUT YOU (Ben Webster) //

May your happiness increase!

 

ANDY MacDONALD’S “SUITE SOLITUDE”

I first encountered Andy MacDonald on Facebook — a shy but amiable presence who liked my postings.  We had similar tastes, so we actually had a conversation (now, how nineteenth-century is that?).  Jazz guitarist, songwriter, singer — and for once that latter combination of words did not inspire fear.

He shared his new three-song opus, SWEET SOLITUDE, and I liked it very much, so much so that I am encouraging you to take a sniff, or several, at it.

But first.  Andy and “pandemic puppy,” whom he’s named Duke Ellington, the inspiration for one of three parts of the Suite, which veers delightfully from hot small-band swing, to Lang-Venuti frolic and meditation, to a song which I think of as our century’s Tom Lehrer goes to Eddie Condon’s.

But every blog should have a photograph of a cute puppy and his happy owner:

One is not enough:

Here are two videos from the Suite, the first asking the musical question, “Will everything be all right soon?” featuring Andy, guitar; Drew Jurecka, violin:

and “March 13, 2020,” featuring Andy, guitar and voice; Drew Jurecka, violin; Dave Kosmyna, cornet;  Tom Richards, sousaphone and trombone:

I’d asked Andy to write something about himself to introduce himself to the mass of people who hadn’t yet realized what was lacking in their lives, and here’s his verbal opus:

I’m a Canadian guitarist, banjoist, and vocalist playing hot jazz in a cold country. I’m from Toronto, but I decided Toronto wasn’t cold enough so I moved to Montreal in 2015. I’ve played (and taught) jazz in Canada, USA, and Europe and my favourite audience members are swing dancers. Django Reinhardt has always been my greatest influence on the guitar, but recently I’ve been going backwards and getting inspired by the players who influenced Django. Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller are my new muses.

My musical mission is to write honestly about profound subjects without taking myself too seriously. I feel like Fats Waller and Marty Grosz take a similar approach. Fats wrote sincerely about heavy stuff like depression, heartbreak and loneliness, yet his music sounds lighthearted and whimsical. His tune Draggin’ my Poor Heart Around (recorded March 13, 1931) opens with the line: «Sweet mama, did you ever hear of depression? Well, that’s what you did to my heart, I’m tellin’ ya!» When he starts his piano solo, he declares: «Oh baby, listen to my pleadin’ on the ivories!» My 2019 album Asking For A Friend is a heartbreak album that for me is comedic and upbeat in its tone.

I love drawing inspiration from classic hot jazz recordings to create new works. The balancing act of respecting the tradition while saying something original is a tricky challenge. Luckily, there seems to be a new resurgence of interest in this music so even in Canada, it’s possible to find talented players to help bring the music to life. In the “before times”, I ran a weekly hot jazz jam in a dive bar with cheap whiskey and free pool. I can’t wait to get back there!

About Suite Solitude

Suite Solitude is a collection of three songs brought on by the tragedy of social isolation and the COVID19 pandemic. The original idea for the project was to do a real-time, live recording using state-of-the-art software. Well, the software and internet speeds are still about 5 years away from that being feasible, so we recorded it all one track at a time in this order: 1) guitar & banjo; 2) sousaphone; 3) cornet; 4) violin; 5) trombone; 6) voice. Each time, the latest mixdown would be sent to the next player to record so that there could be at least some social and musical interaction.

I wrote about how much my life has flipped upside down since this pandemic began. I lost all my work as a musician and music therapist so it felt like the rug got pulled from under me in a very sudden way. Although the themes are profound at face value, there’s a good deal of comic relief and lightheartedness to the music. For example, when writing about my new puppy, I sing: «Pandemic puppy will help me see when times get rough, you can just say {RUFF} He’s chasing squirrels, he’s chasing ducks, he gives no [BARK]s

You can purchase the music on Bandcamp for $8CAD: https://andymacdonald.bandcamp.com/album/suite-solitude.

Consider yourself encouraged to do such a thing — I mean purchase the music on Bandcamp.  With or without cute puppy, Mr. MacDonald shows great promise and I would like to see his talents encouraged.

May your happiness increase!

 

MELLOW TONES: BUCKY PIZZARELLI, RANDY NAPOLEON, FREDDY COLE, PAUL KELLER, ED METZ (Atlanta Jazz Party, April 25, 2014)

Sometimes what’s in the archives is there for a reason: imperfections; sometimes what’s been hidden is sublime. Case in point: this performance of Ellington’s IN A MELLOTONE (a/k/a ROSE ROOM) by a small group at the Atlanta Jazz Party on April 25, 2014. The personnel: Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Freddy Cole, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz, drums. Bucky and Freddy have left us just this year, but when I checked with the younger members of this quintet, their delight in seeing this video was strong, as was their eagerness to share it.

Part of the pleasure of this performance is its infallible swing; another is watching the Old Master, Bucky, direct traffic; a third part is the joy on the faces of Randy, Paul, and Ed.

The archives hold more surprises from Atlanta in April 2014.

May your happiness increase!

“STRICTLY FROM PISCES AND NEW YORK”: The FRAN KELLEY MYSTERIES (Part Three)

New information, no answers.

I’ve written about the wonderful and elusive Fran Kelley here and hereI had hoped that her connections to Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington would have stirred up more research, but little has come to light.  (I thank Brian Kane, Nick Rossi, Paolo Alderighi, and CB Datasearch for invaluable finds.)

Let me reintroduce this remarkable person.

You would think that the producer of this concert [advertised in the Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1946] would be as famous as Norman Granz or George Wein:

For those who have forgotten, this was her first concert at UCLA:

These are the beautiful sounds she made possible.

The other side:

The Fran-Tone “waxery” was mentioned in the March 25, 1946 BILLBOARD:

I know that at least four copies of 2004 exist.  But I have no evidence that 2005 has ever been issued.  It’s clear that Fran-Tone did not thrive as a money-making proposition because Fran sold the eight masters she had recorded to Capitol, and Capitol did nothing with them, as far as I know, which amazes me.  Do any readers have access to a comprehensive Capitol discography, and do the Fran-Tone sides appear there?

You would want to hear more about and more from this writer, writing her own condensed autobiography for the liner notes of Jimmy Rowles’ first session as a leader, RARE — BUT WELL DONE, on Liberty Records:

Fran Kelley is strictly from Pisces and New York.  Her love and understanding of music just comes naturally, stemming from her father, whose distinguished voice was heard in leading concert centers both here and abroad.  Fran’s musical background is varied: as an arranger-composer [one score was accepted by Duke Ellington], as a producer [she worked with Lester Horton and Duke Ellington to stage jazz-ballet], as an impresario [Fran presented the first jazz concert ever held at the University of California at Los Angeles which presented Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Nat “King” Cole and Benny Carter], and as an expert in the field of musical therapy.  Fran is currently West Coast Editor and Representative for Metronome Magazine.   

Here is evidence (from BILLBOARD, February 24, 1958) of what might have been the start of a new brilliant collaboration:

and

The end of the story is told by Ellington himself, in a few lines in MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS: “And there is one more person–Fran Kelley, musician, poet, songwriter, singer, orchestrator, manager, executive. This great woman with all these talents gave up running a radio station and record company in Los Angeles to pursue her spiritual quests in San Francisco.”

When I first bought Fran-Tone 2004, I was captivated by the music and intrigued by its guiding genius.  Surely, I thought, she would have merited an essay if not a biography — multi-talented, one of very few women operating at this high level in the boys’ club of jazz at the time.  But no.  Because I have friends who graciously do research, the twenty or so clippings that are the basis of this research were offered to me.  But Fran seems absent from any book on Bird or Duke.  Why?

Thanks to Brian Kane, a lead opened up — an audible one — because four sides recorded by Fran for her label, with arrangements by Tom Talbert, were preserved and issued on Hep 22, “Memphis in June: Boyd Raeburn and his Orchestra.”  That’s a vinyl issue; the CD (Hep 95) contains only the two Allyn vocals:

Vince DeRosa, French horn; Lenny Hartman, English horn; Harry Klee, alto saxophone, flute; Sam Sachelle, bass clarinet; Hy Mandel, baritone saxophone; Ray Still, oboe; Erroll Garner, piano; Leonard “Lucky” Enois, Allan Reuss, guitar; Harry Babasin, Red Callender, string bass; Jackie Mills, drums; David Allyn, vocal; Tom Talbert, arranger.  AFRS Downbeat, Los Angeles, early 1946

BLACK NIGHT AND FOG (David Allyn vocal) / C JAM BLUES / PLEASE LET ME FORGET (David Allyn vocal) – [also known as PASTEL] / CARAVAN //

Note: Following from “The Most Happy Piano – Errol Garner Discography” by James M. Doran : “According to Jack McKinney, the following personnel are definitely not Raeburn’s, even though these performances were released under his name on Hep (E)22. This studio session was produced by Fran Kelley, probably in conjunction with her Swingposium concert of June 24, 1946, which was to be released on her Fran-tone label. This never happened.”

I’ve obtained a copy of Hep 22, and those four sides are gorgeous.  Guess whose name is absent in the detailed notes by Jack McKinney?  And, for a chance to compete in the bonus round, guess whose name . . . in the biography of Talbert?

And two nearly irrelevant postscripts.  Fran Kelley was married to the trumpeter Clyde Reasinger, who lived until 2018.  Reasinger turns up twice in a data-search in the Sixites, two gossip-column entries.  In a 1962 entry, “Stripper Titian Dal is will shelve her career in favor of marriage to trumpeter Clyde Reasinger,” and a year later Reasinger is playing trumpet for the show NO STRINGS and is married to Karen, who is not identified as a stripper.  I don’t know what that says about the Reasinger-Kelley marriage, but twenty years later, the two parties were apparently living in very different worlds.

As I wrote at the start, no answers.  Speculations, yes.  I could understand that the secular world has taken little notice of someone who chose to leave it, decisively, perhaps in 1958.  And I hope that moving into the spiritual realm gave Fran Kelley the satisfaction that “the music business” did not.  Our choices are mysterious to others, and often they are mysterious to us as well.  So I cannot offer more evidence about why Fran Kelley seemed to disappear.  I can wonder if there was a connection between music therapy and spiritual work, but it is only a speculation.  Did she go underground to write poetry in an ashram?  Did she become a nun ministering to the wounded in a Catholic hospital?

I was ready to publish this post and end on a somewhat despairing note: “I am baffled by the lack of reportage devoted to her, and even now — can I and my little band of research-friends be the only ones on the planet fascinated by who she was, what she did, and where she went?”

But before ending my quest for information, I posted inquiries on an online jazz-research group I belong to, not expecting much, and then Patricia Willard, long-time jazz scholar and writer, emerged like a blessed apparition, and wrote this, which I reprint with her permission and with gratitude:

Re: Fran Kelley, Duke considered her a genius, in 1958 signed her to a contract specifying that anything she produced–music, poetry, spoken ideas et al would be owned by him in exchange for continuing financial support. They both told me this but I never saw the actual contract or knew the precise terms. Among her talents that Duke found most intriguing was that she always knew what time it was–to the second–but never wore a watch (nor did he). Their collaborations were largely on the West Coast during a time when Strayhorn was East. The last times I heard from her (several years hence) were letters, always written on music ms. paper with a San Francisco hotel return address. She had a daughter whose name I unfortunately cannot recall. I met her in the mid-1980s at the invitation of my L.A. neighbor Benny Carter. The daughter was searching for Fran or any of her work and trying to find out if she were still alive. The daughter remembered that Fran had spoken often about her friend Benny. Benny had no recent knowledge of her activities or whereabouts. Two years ago I asked Hilma Carter, Benny’s widow, if she remembered the daughter’s name, and she didn’t. I only recall that it wasn’t Kelley.

Fran Kelley is a novel, although I am no novelist.  But fascinating books are on the horizon.  Patricia Willard is completing three of them — one on Ellington, one on Sinatra, and one a memoir.  I can’t wait to have them on my coffee table, at this desk, and on my nightstand.  I will let you know when they appear.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Fourteen) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Are you ready to join me on our Sunday pilgrimage to the Shrine of Sounds, where the EarRegulars and friends gambol and inspire?  I hope so.

Let us begin with music from the second set at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, on Sunday, April 25, 2010: Ben Webster’s line on IN A MELLOTONE, which was based on ROSE ROOM — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass — asking the musical question, DID YOU CALL HER TODAY?

and the second part, the length of a 10″ 78 rpm record:

Then, another hint of Ellingtonia — Johnny Hodges’ line on I GOT RHYTHM, called THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ — which adds Danny Tobias, trumpet, and Andy Farber, tenor saxophone to the mix . . . for ten minutes:

because it would be cruel to leave out the final forty-five seconds, here they are:

Mr. Tobias calls his favorite tune, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, where he’s joined by Andy Farber, Harry Allen, Matt Munisteri, and Jim Whitney, string bass:

A new constellation of brilliant friends plays COMES LOVE: Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Harry Allen, Andy Farber, Chris Flory, guitar, and Jim Whitney:

and we know LOVE takes its own time to . . . . arrive:

Finally, the song that always amuses me by its paradoxical nature when it’s the last tune of the night, LINGER AWHILE, a gift from Messrs. Kellso, Tobias, Allen, Farber, Flory, and Miner:

Joy.  And while we contemplate the joys of a decade ago, let us keep our eyes comfortably fixed on a future not yet realized, but one we hope for.

May your happiness increase!

A NICE ASSORTMENT: BARNEY BIGARD, JOHN LEWIS, SLAM STEWART, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN, CLARK TERRY, EDDIE DANIELS, KAI WINDING, JIMMY MAXWELL, VIC DICKENSON, JOE NEWMAN (July 15, 1977)

Jazz festivals and jazz parties with a proliferation of star soloists sometimes get everyone who’s available to take a few choruses on a standard composition, which can result in brilliant interludes or dull displays.  The results are not the same as a working jazz ensemble, but they do often create splendid surprises.

Here is a seventeen-minute exploration of the Duke Ellington-Bubber Miley 1932 evergreen that took place at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 15, 1977, nominally under clarinetist Barney Bigard’s leadership, which really translates here as his being the first horn soloist.  The others are John Lewis, piano; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Clark Terry, Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpets; Vic Dickenson, Kai Winding, trombones; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone.  (To my ears, Daniels seems a visitor from another world.)  A “string of solos,” yes, but, oh! what solos:

In the summer of 1972, Red Balaban led one of his often-eloquent bands at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now an empty space for rent) with Bobby Hackett as the guest star — and I recall Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Chuck Folds, Marquis Foster.  Barney Bigard was in the house, and Bobby invited him up (Muranyi graciously sat the set out except for a two-clarinet HONEYSUCKLE ROSE).  The bell of Barney’s clarinet was perhaps three feet from my face, and his sound — on ROSE ROOM, MOOD INDIGO, and two or three others — was warm and luminous.  Yes, he looked exactly like my tenth-grade English teacher, but Mr. Kavanagh had no such glissandos.

There will be more to come from the Nice Jazz Festival.  And in case you missed my most recent extravagant offering — ninety-seven minutes of bliss — you can immerse yourself here.  MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) used to say it had “more stars than there are in heaven,” and you will find them in that post: George Barnes, Benny Carter, Bobby Hackett, Illinois Jacquet, Ruby Braff, Wingy Manone, Dick Sudhalter, Spiegle Willcox, Michael Moore, Pee Wee Erwin, Eddie Hubble . . . along with Barney, Vic, and others.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Ten) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Ear ye!  Ear ye! 

You’ll notice that this photograph depicts a different young woman, listening intently.  My first model enjoyed the music but complained that her elbow was sore because of keeping that pose for nine weeks and she had to see her acupuncturist.  But she’s covered by the JAZZ LIVES health insurance plan, and she’ll be back soon.

And here is the doorway through which you can immerse yourself in the previous nine postings.

History: The Ear Inn in 1940, thanks to Kathy Barbieri:

Back to NOW, or the reachable past.

Being at The Ear Inn on a Sunday night is a kind of national holiday, although the calendar-makers haven’t gotten the idea yet.  But once in many Sundays it coincides with another holiday — in April 2010, it was also Easter Sunday, and the gallant celebrants took notice of this, musically.  They are Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Pat O’Leary, string bass; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone, joins in for the closing number.  You’ll notice an affectionate bunny-and-[Irving] Berlin concentration of joyous energies.

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET:

EASTER PARADE, of course:

RUSSIAN LULLABY, also for Mr. Baline:

Matt invited Ellington’s little bunny to stop in for a salad:

See you next Sunday!  And someday I hope to say those words with “at 326 Spring Street” attached.

May your happiness increase!

JIMMY ROWLES, SOLO

Jimmy Rowles — a painter, sly and romantic, who sat on a piano bench — was not often recorded as a solo pianist.  Whether by choice or circumstance, I don’t know, but most often he was captured with a string bassist and drummer.  The bassists and drummers were always superb, but the half-dozen recordings of  Rowles unadorned are something extraordinary.

One can hear his chord voicings, his approach to playing in and out of time, his love for the melody.  I think his 1982 performance of HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, part of a collective tribute to Bill Evans, is subtle, sad, and quirky all at once, with touching nods to WHAT IS THERE TO SAY? and THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU as poignant salutes:

and a year earlier, for an Ellington-Strayhorn tribute, JUMPIN’ PUNKINS, where Rowles becomes the whole 1941 Ellington orchestra:

He remains a marvel, no matter how many times you hear a performance.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS TUBBY, CEE TEE, and ART (December 26, 2019)

Since I can’t (for the moment) visit Dan Morgenstern at his Upper West Side apartment to listen and learn, I am inviting all of you to go back into the recent past for a few previously unseen interview videos, showing his large range: the music he has advocated for and the friends he has made.  There was construction going on outside, but Dan comes through clearly.

Some music from Tubby Hayes, tenor saxophone; Clark Terry, trumpet; Horace Parlan, piano; George Duvivier, string bass; Dave Bailey, drums.  October 1961 in New York: OPUS OCEAN:

From last December, Dan speaks briefly and with affection about UK tenor saxophonist / vibraphonist Tubby Hayes:

More from the irreplaceable Cee Tee, that is, Clark Terry, here in 1976 with Nick Brignola, saxophone; Sal Maida, piano; Bill Crow, string bass; Larry Jackson, drums, performing MACK THE KNIFE:

and Dan’s fond recollections:

Music by the beloved Chicago pianist Art Hodes, SOUTH SIDE SHUFFLE, 1939:

Memories of Art and friends, including Lester Young:

Glimpses of worlds that most of us never got to visit, thanks to Dan.  And there are more interviews to come . . . to quote Tubby, “Lovely!”

Postscript: we have a real scholar — diligent and affectionate — of Tubby Hayes (and many others) in our midst, the tenor saxophonist / biographer / musical archivist Simon Sipllett on Facebook and elsewhere: he offers information and sounds with great grace.

May your happiness increase!

SKATING TEN FEET ABOVE THE GROUND: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS (America’s Classic Jazz Festival, Lacey, Washington: June 28/30, 2019)

An inspiring Cub relic.

Hearing Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, I recall the folktale where the wind and the sun (having nothing better to do) wager about which one can get a man to remove his coat.  The wind blows, but the man merely wraps his coat tightly around him.  The sun gently beams down on the man, and sweat starts to pour off his forehead, so he is glad to take off that coat.  Persuasion, not force.

That tale stands for so much jazz that I admire.  Sometimes it’s ferocious, even bombastic — ensemble choruses at the end of a performance, and we cheer.  Perhaps I am thinking of the Great Dane puppy who just wants to greet you, and then you’re both on the floor.  Surprise!

But I secretly revere the sweet stealth of music that says, “Come a little closer.  Of course, nothing is happening.  Just set a spell and enjoy,” and, seductively, osmotically, we become spellbound.  The finest example is the Basie rhythm section; then, Duke and Blanton; Fats Waller on PRETTY DOLL; Sir Charles Thompson on Vanguard; and Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs.

Thirteen months ago, give or take a day, what I call the Pacific Northwest edition of Ray and his Cubs appeared as a guest band at America’s Classic Jazz Festival, in Lacey, Washington.  I wasn’t there to record it, but Ray’s faithful videographer RaeAnn Berry was, and so I can share a few videos with you: dancing or skating without ever doing something so mundane as touching the ground.

They are Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, acoustic guitar.

OUT OF NOWHERE, June 30:

IDA (for Auntie Ida Melrose Shoufler, of course), June 28:

and with a nod to Joe and Bing, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, again from June 30:

I could have called this post ADVENTURES IN MEDIUM-TEMPO, and you would have gotten the point as well.  Or, this photograph of two Deities who took human form for some decades to show us how it should be done:

Blessings on Ray, his Cubs, and RaeAnn.

May your happiness increase!

 

IMAGINATIVE THEN, INVISIBLE NOW: THE ABSENCE OF FRAN KELLEY

Even now, when it seems that everything can be known, some people appear for a moment and then vanish.  One such is Fran Kelley, whose work as an imaginative record producer came to me some months ago, as I describe here.

Before I offer more information and speculation — all of the print data excavated by the diligent, generous Professor Brian Kane of Yale University — please hear one of the two sides that Fran made possible. Ethereal music:

A gentle caution: if you come to JAZZ LIVES only for videos, I’ll see you tomorrow or the next day.  I think this is a terribly important post, though: my attempt to make sense of a brilliant life from fragments of information.  And I can’t promise any melodrama: death from automobile accident or medical crisis: no, Fran Kelley seems to have turned from “the scene” to choose another life.

Here is not only a portrait (a disembodied one, alas) but the most thorough biographical sketch we have, even though it might be based on her answers to a questionnaire, when Fran was West Coast Editor of METRONOME (1953-57):

For the moment, a few additional facts.  1246 Orange Grove Avenue would have been near Spaulding Square, in what is now considered “West Hollywood,” once a residential area of single-family houses and small apartment buildings, but Google turns up no photographs, which leads me to think Fran’s residence was torn down sometime after 1957.  Whether the “Met” was the opera or the museum, I could find nothing relevant about her father.  Clyde Reasinger, famous for his work with Kenton and for being a section trumpeter on the television performance of MILES AHEAD, was long-lived, 1927-2018.  He has a Facebook page (whose administrator did not reply to my inquiry); his spouse has none.

Based on decades of reading, but jazz writing circa 1945-1957 (the years in which we have the most evidence) was primarily if not exclusively done by men, exceptions being Helen Oakley Dance and a few others, so even given the mildly patronizing tone of the sketch, it shows the regard in which Fran was held by her colleagues.  (In my previous post, I note the stories / reviews she’d written for Metronome.)  I am sure no one asked Bill Coss what he cooked, but that merits only a sigh.  By the way, if you think it condescending of me to call her “Fran,” I am writing this post out of fond admiration: “Kelley” seems icy.  Please don’t write in to lecture.

She accomplished great things, and I say here to readers, “Fran is now invisible in a landscape of Gene Norman, Norman Granz, George Wein and more, all of whom deserve their fame.  Her name is absent from studies of Dizzy, of Bird, of Benny Carter.  Had Fran been Francis, would she be so erased?”

She feels so much, at this distance, like Virginia Woolf’s “Shakespeare’s sister.”

Let us follow the paper trail.

DOWN BEAT, 15 November 1945: “Fran Kelly [sic] of Hollywood House of Music will launch her new international label with star jazz headliners.”

More about “the Hollywood House of Music,” from      https://peggyleediscography.com/p/LeeResearchCapitolEarly.php:

The Nebraskan son of an Union Pacific Railway accountant, Glenn Everett Wallichs had been interested in electronics since his childhood — focusing on the design of radio sets and the mechanics of train railroads. A North Hollywood transplant (at 16 years of age, in his family’s company), he started his adult workdays locally, as a radio station technician (at WFWB) and then as the owner of a car-radio repair shop (at Ivar Avenue). Wallichs’ small shop evolved into a radio and electronics store, and that one store brought enough profit to allow for its multiplication into a chain (a total of five stores, all of them in the Hollywood area). In 1938, Wallichs took his business ventures even further. Accompanied by his brother Clyde, he joined forces with former WFWB co-worker Al Jarvis (the pioneering disc jockey, who also happened to be an LA record shop owner) to create Hollywood House of Music, a compound that merged Jarvis’ record shop with the fifth, youngest of Wallichs’ electronics stores. The most noteworthy aspect of the merger was that the latter was no longer just a retail store: it was converted into a small specialty recording studio, whose specialty became custom recordings. Though “normal civilian” requests for recordings of events such as weddings or parties were certainly taken, the studio primarily catered to artists’ requests of airchecks from radio broadcasts. It also chiefly became the place from which Jarvis’ legendary creation, the Make Believe Ballroom show, was broadcast during the late 1930s. Known to have been recorded there in 1938 is a novelty tune that featured Wallichs himself along with Stan Kenton, Paul Weston, Jo Stafford and others (all of them playing instruments, Stafford included, and some of them under pseudonyms). The resulting instrumental number was chucklingly titled “The World’s Worst Record.”

METRONOME Yearbook, 1956, showing the astonishing roster of musicians who performed at the concert Fran organized on April 12, 1946:

My friend Nick Rossi — guitarist, jazz scholar, painter — magically turned up the program for the concert here.  Someone’s bought it, but what can be seen here is stunning.

One exception to the contemporary erasure of Fran Kelley is Douglas Daniels’ 2002 biography of Lester Young, LESTER LEAPS IN, where he writes of this concert:

In Los Angeles, [Norman] Granz, Billy Berg, and Fran Kelly [sic] typified a new type of jazz promoter dedicated to racial equality. Kelly, with the aid of Lester Young, Ray Bauduc, Kay Starr, Lucky Thompson, Red Callender, Charlie Parker, Nat Cole, Benny Carter, and other artists, sought to foster racial tolerance by booking UCLA’s Royce Hall for a performance to benefit the scholarship fund of the George Washington Carver Club, named after the famous Tuskegee scientist. A Metronome recap reported that Young and Parker offered ‘‘the best number of the program.’’ All the musicians either donated their services or received a nominal fee, with proceeds going to the scholarship fund. This marked a first for UCLA. . . .

Granz gets top billing; Kell[e]y is unidentified.

DOWN BEAT, 6 May 1946, a very small comment on the concert, compared to the coverage of Les Brown’s “ball team”:

CLEF, June 1946, a concert review which begins with a beautiful quote:

METRONOME, August 1946.  More about the concert.  Linger, please, over the names of the musicians, and when you are through with time-travel, also note that a new Lester Young record gets a “C+”:

Because online research is part pearl diving and part trash collection, my continued inquiries into the George Washington Carver Club led me to this site, which I avoided as if made of Kryptonite: Twin Towers 911 Video Clips Video De Sexo De Paris Hilton …8.aksuchess.ru › VkjWBA.  

We move on.

BAND LEADERS AND RECORD REVIEW, August 1946, notes “Kelly,” “gal platter impresario”:

DOWN BEAT, 6 May 1949, noting that the Fran-Tone masters were sold to Capitol (which Wallichs, Johnny Mercer, and Buddy De Sylva had founded) — my guess is that they did not sell and they were never issued on that label . . . plus a famous Lester interview:

DOWN BEAT, 14 December 1955, a nameless reviewer mocks Fran’s liner notes for a Chico Hamilton record:  “Only clinker are the notes on the individual numbers by Fran Kelley, written in her inimitable prose, a cross between science fiction and theosophy.”

DOWN BEAT, 4 April 1956, an approving review of Jimmy Rowles’ first session as a leader, where Fran is called “the only pretty jazz critic”:

And here are the notes for that album, with a tiny portrait of the author:

METRONOME, February 1957, Fran’s imaginative profile of Keely Smith:

DOWN BEAT, 3 April 1958: the last mention of Fran — “poetess,” working for Ellington:


There the trail stops, except for Ellington’s coda in MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS: “And there is one more person–Fran Kelley, musician, poet, songwriter, singer, orchestrator, manager, executive. This great woman with all these talents gave up running a radio station and record company in Los Angeles to pursue her
spiritual quests in San Francisco.”

I have not been able to find out anything about Fran Kelley’s life after 1958.  And that may have been the way she wanted it, to turn away from the secular world, “the music business,” to shuck off being called “pretty,” and live another life.  If you are born Fran Kelley and you enter a religious order and take the name of Sister Angela, even Google cannot find you.  (Consider Boyce Brown, “Brother Matthew.”)  And even a rudimentary glance at actuarial tables would suggest that she is no longer living.

But I hope she wasn’t driven away by misogyny.  Yes, regarding the past through the lenses of the present can distort, but someone so sensitized might want to abandon the world where music was for sale and one’s best efforts got ignored.  A world where Lester Young got a C+.

I feel her absence.  A great loss.  Her legacy is and should be more than a dozen or so clippings from jazz trade papers.

This post is in memory of Fran Kelley, once remarkable and now unknown, with no biography and no Wikipedia page. And it is also in honor of all the women who create imaginative ideas and art and don’t get heard at the meetings or find their ideas vacuumed up and presented by men, but still keep creating.

Thanks to Katherine Vasile, Brian Kane, and Richard Salvucci: without them, this post would never have happened.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL AND RARE: FRAN KELLEY’S “THE DOUBLE QUINTET,” 1945

I haven’t watched ANTIQUE ROADSHOW for years, but to me the record below is like finding that the old painting in my basement is really a Caravaggio.  In 2019, I bought it on eBay for fourteen dollars, thinking, “I’ve never seen this label before nor heard of this session; it has wonderful people on it, and how disappointed could I be?”

I am elated, not disappointed.  Here are reverent still portraits:

And the other side:

The Double Quintet is Emmett Berry, trumpet; Eddie Rosa, Willie Smith, alto saxophone; Eddie Lucas, oboe; Clint Davis, reeds; Arnold Ross, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Billy Hadnott, string bass; Keg Purnell, drums.  Joe Macanarny or Herb Jeffries, vocal; Johnny Thompson or Herschel Gilbert, arranger.  Los Angeles, October, 1945 The four sides issued were LOUISE (instrumental) / PRELUDE TO A KISS (Jeffries, vocal; Thompson, arrangement) / LOVE FOR SALE (Joe Macanarny, vocal?) / YOU’RE BLASE (Jeffries, vocal).  I have not heard the latter sides, and my collector-friends’ network has not found a copy.  I would be interested in obtaining the disc, to put it mildly.

The Fran-Tone label — whose complete output was two discs, four sides — was the creation of Fran Kelley, about whom I would like to know much more.  These two sides received good press in Billboard, January 12, 1946 (thanks to Ellington scholar Steven Lasker for sending this to me):

Fran Kelley wrote articles or reviews of Chet Baker, Jimmy Giuffre, Leith Stevens, Bud Shank, Howard Rumsey and the Lighthouse All-Stars, and  others in Metronome in 1955 and 1956.  And (thanks to Brian Kane, Yale University) we know this:

Erroll Garner’s “Frantonality” is named after Frances Kelley, who briefly ran
a label in Los Angeles called Fran-Tone records. Garner’s recording of
“Frantonality” (recorded in Hollywood, April 9, 1946) was for that
label [but was issued on Mercury] and the title is also an advertisement for the
label.  She appears in Duke Ellington’s Music is My Mistress,
the chapter on San Francisco. “And there is one more person–Fran
Kelley, musician, poet, songwriter, singer, orchestrator, manager,
executive. This great woman with all these talents gave up running a
radio station and record company in Los Angeles to pursue her
spiritual quests in San Francisco.”

If you would like to disappear from public scrutiny, meaning no disrespect, pursuing spiritual quests is one surefire way.  As they say in detective films, the trail goes cold after 1956.  But we have this extraordinary record.

I’d start with the arrangers first: both Thompson and Gilbert wrote arrangements for Harry James c. 1943-45 — Gilbert also played viola, and went on to be a prolific orchestrator for television: I looked at the listing of shows for which he provided music over several decades, and concluded that everyone over 50 has heard his work.  But it’s Thompson’s arrangement of PRELUDE that is so beautifully arresting.  As well as James, he did arrangements for Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey (many for her 1944-45 radio show), and Tommy Dorsey.  They were big band charts almost exclusively, but one example of Thompson’s intriguing writing for a small group can be heard on the Norvo Keynote Records 1944 date.  If you need to know more about Thompson’s subtle mastery — more than PRELUDE will tell you — know that Norvo, interviewed for the liner notes of a CD containing live material from an otherwise unrecorded 1942 band (“Live at the Blue Gardens”) speaks of him in the same breath with Eddie Sauter.

Incidentally, only the most superficial listener will say, “Oh, it’s just like the Alec Wilder Octet, those Third Stream experiments.”  Much more, technically and emotionally, is going on here.

When I took the record out of its cardboard box, I first played LOUISE — a song I love — also because I had not seen the curious “vocal phrases” notation on the label of PRELUDE, and thought, “This is going to be a Jeffries vocal feature, and I know both him and the song very well already.”  It’s lovely to be proven wrong, but I will start with LOUISE.  I thought it began with a harpsichord, but the introduction seems to be played by Lucas and Reuss, oboe and guitar — a very unusual sound.  What follows is a little less surprising, a chorus scored for a compressed big band, although with space for Willie Smith and Emmett Berry, their voices so singular, then outings for clarinet (is it Davis?) before everything shifts gears into 3 / 4 for the kind of interlude one hears in films — the hero and heroine are suddenly wearing eighteenth-century clothing and powdered wigs — moving to a swing-to-bop passage for Arnold Ross.  (Yes, that was a car going by beneath my window — think of MISS BROWN TO YOU in July.)  For the last minute of the recording, Gilbert seems to have run out of ideas: yes, Berry noodles beautifully on top of the ensemble, and solo voices have brief moments, and it’s swinging dance music — but it almost feels as if he’d brought an incomplete arrangement to the date and needed to fill space before Billy Hadnott so eloquently closes the performance.  Perhaps I am being unkind to Gilbert, but the opening and closing of this arrangement are so rich in detail that the late interlude seems bare.  I was still glad I’d bought the record.

Consider for yourselves:

When I turned the disc over, I expected a formulaic vocal showcase: an introduction, then Jeffries would deliver a chorus of the song, the band providing background.  Perhaps a piano half-chorus, then a horn solo to finish out, and Jeffries might take the last eight or sixteen.  But what I heard was a delightful rebuke to formulaic expectations.  I won’t delineate all the pleasures of this performance, but I had never heard a recording where a song’s lyrics rose and fell as part of the instrumental background.  Whether Jeffries sings in half-voice or was consciously asked to turn away from the microphone for the first phrase, I can’t know — but the effect is unlike anything I’d ever heard on record.  The first twenty seconds are dreamlike, a mist-enhanced forest landscape, instruments and voices heard from afar, brief but telling personal utterances from Reuss, Ross, Berry — so delicate and earnest, before Willie Smith enters to rhapsodize in the Hodges manner.  Jeffries returns to sing the title, and the record — a marvel — ends.  I couldn’t believe it, and on return listenings, shook my head at the way Thompson treated every instrument in his small orchestra with equal respect: the reed section, Reuss, Hadnott, as well as “the singer” and “the jazz soloists.”

See if you don’t share my pleased amazement:

Marvels appear to us in the most subdued ways.

And I repeat: does anyone have a copy of Fran-Tone 2005?

May your happiness increase!