Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

A BLUE-EYED PAIR and A WEE HEAD

Small painful ironies emerge even in the midst of listening to and thinking about beautiful music. Ivie Anderson and the Duke Ellington Orchestra recorded the Edgar Leslie-Joe Burke song AT A DIXIE ROADSIDE DINER in July 1940 and played it on a broadcast:

The elaborate video production is the work of Tim Gracyk. But what concerns me is that these African-American musicians were singing and playing a love song in praise of a specific locale “in the heart of Caroline,” a favorite of New York City / Hollywood songwriters — where a blue-eyed pair fall in love.  However, when the Ellington band toured the American South, the roadside diners wouldn’t allow them inside or sell them food. Did it hurt to sing and play this song?

On that same emotional path . . . Lorenz Hart was a gay man at a time when his love had to be concealed.  (And he thought himself physically unattractive.)  But he spent his career turning out one song after another in praise of heterosexual bliss, or at least bliss that a heterosexual listening public could identify as their kind of attachment.  “With your wee head upon me knee,” in BLUE ROOM, is the first example that comes to mind, and there are many more.  It’s very clearly a he-and-she marriage with a trousseau, the prospect of children, and more, in this sweet performance from 1926 by the Revelers.

Did that wound him with each new song? We can’t know, but merely considering these hurts is in itself painful.

May your happiness increase!

MORE SEAGOONERY, BY POPULAR REQUEST (MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, November 8, 2015)

IF I GIVE UP THE SAXOPHONE

Several audience members and a musician-friend wrote in after yesterday’s post featuring Keith Nichols and the Seagoon Serenaders, asking if I would post more.  Happy to oblige!

Here you can find out more about Keith’s inspiration, THE  GOON SHOW, a radio series from 1951-60.

The Serenaders are Keith, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Spats Langham, guitar; Nick Ball, drums; Malcolm Sked, bass; Lars Frank, Thomas Winteler, Michael McQuaid, reeds (Michael doubling cornet). Dance music of the highest order.

The first song of the set is the old Chicago standard, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, with an explanation of the group’s inspiration by Keith as well as a vocal:

IF I GIVE UP THE SAXOPHONE (WILL YOU COME BACK TO ME?) was a hit for Eddie Cantor in the 1929 film WHOOPEE — written by Irving Kahal, Sammy Fain, and Willie Raskin.  I suspect that the song is an outgrowth of the instrument’s popularity early in the decade and the large number of amateur players:

I don’t know how much Goonery there will be at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party (November 3-6) but there will be some.  Musicians are often great comic improvisers, and they honor the guiding spirit of the party: Mike was both witty, sometimes dangerously so, and he had a stockpile of jokes that was astonishing.

See you there.

May your happiness increase!

“THE MOOCHE”: THE SEAGOON SERENADERS at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 8, 2015)

MOOCHE

What happens when vestiges of THE GOON SHOW meet early jazz, under the benignly unsettling leadership of Keith Nichols?  I present a brilliant example below.  Keith’s presentation, mixing satire and Hot, was called THE SEAGOON SERENADERS, and it came alive at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party on November 8, 2015:

Once when we get past the hilarity, the Serenaders launch into a very delightful performance of Ellington’s THE MOOCHE (named, I am told, for a contemporary dance), complete with clarinet trio and hot cornet chorus.  That’s Keith, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Spats Langham, guitar; Nick Ball, drums; Malcolm Sked, bass; Lars Frank, Thomas Winteler, Michael McQuaid, reeds (Michael doubling cornet on this performance).  Dance music of the highest order.

A nice mixture of hot jazz, occasionally leavened with comedy, can be found this November 3-6.  Details here.

May your happiness increase!

“PLEASE! HAVE SOME PITY,” AND ONWARDS

The inspiration for this blogpost is the fine guitarist and thoughtful modernist Nick Rossi — and our online discussion this afternoon is yet another refutation to the general scorn that nothing good comes out of Facebook.  Nick had been exulting about the pleasure of playing rhythm guitar in a jam session on LADY BE GOOD — a jam that went on for twenty minutes, like the fabled communal joys we read about.

And I pointed him towards one of my favorite recordings of the song.  Not Lester’s (in two takes) but something perhaps less famous — a recording (either from December 1933 or January 1934) by “Buck and Bubbles.”

buck_n_bubbles

Buck was the fine Hines / stride pianist who accompanied Louis on DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND and Hawkins on other sides (so his jazz credentials are stellar); John W. “Bubbles” Sublett went on to play Sportin’ Life in PORGY AND BESS — and together they were an extraordinary team.

For me, this recording summons up a whole era of theatrical performance — where two men could swing as winsomely and effectively as any large group. You can certainly see them in your mind’s eye as the performance moves from swinging piano introduction to sweet / sad narrative over piano, then to a key change and a solo piano romp, then a hilarious dialogue (anticipating Fats or moving alongside him?) with Buck taking the lead — which seems to have cheered Bubbles up considerably.  It’s a model of how to create a duet, to hand off lead and accompaniment, to “sell” a song without ever appearing to do so:

Bubbles’s slightly hoarse, worn voice, creates a half-amused, half-despairing plea (who could resist such a plaintive entreaty?) and if one cares, on a later listening, to concentrate solely on Buck’s piano, it’s quite remarkable.

And here’s a later British version (!) with clarinet and rhythm section — new to me and delightful:

Wouldn’t it be nice if Buck and Bubbles had appeared on film in their prime?

Your wish is our command.  1937 VARIETY SHOW, much more elaborate, but with good material:

And this improvisation on RHYTHM FOR SALE from 1944, introduced by a most august personage:

For a genial overview of Bubbles — as the “father of rhythm tap” as well as a singer alongside Buck, here’s Part One of a documentary that starts slowly but then presents the team alongside Dick Powell, Ethel Waters, and Duke Ellington:

The second part is primarily about Bubbles’s protege, Chuck Green, but contains some astounding footage — and it closes with audio of Buck and Bubbles performing ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF  THE STREET:

A small speculative footnote.  For years, I have been teaching Toni Morrison’s mournful, vengeful THE BLUEST EYE, whose victimized center, Pecola, suffers completely because of her misguided desire (stimulated by members of her own community) to embody a white, blue-eyed standard of beauty.  And when I teach it, I mention the sad spectacle of African-Americans deprived of handsome and beautiful and noble models of their own race on the screen.  But watching the first video from VARIETY SHOW, I wonder if I should tell my students that there were some exceptions, a few African-Americans in the movies who weren’t comic stereotypes, who weren’t afraid of ghosts, and point them to beautifully dressed and casually commanding Buck and Bubbles.

But, for the moment, I would send readers and listeners back to the first version of OH, LADY BE GOOD — a little sweet monument of swing and theatre.  No wonder George Gershwin wrote Bubbles a substantial part in PORGY AND BESS.

Postscript: if you can hear Nick Rossi play, you will be satisfied, gratified, and highly delighted.

May your happiness increase!

A DOUBLE ORDER OF EXUBERANCE: MICHAEL HASHIM / EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (May 17, 2016)

Michael Hashim, June 2016

Michael Hashim, June 2016.  Photograph by Tara O’Grady.

About three weeks ago, singer Barbara Rosene and pianist Ehud Asherie delighted us with an evening of music at Mezzrow; early on they were joined by the reed wizard Michael Hashim.  I have become used to hear Michael doubling on alto and soprano saxophones — our mutually pleasing acquaintanceship goes back to very late 2004 or early 2005.  But that night, coming from a gig playing for NYU graduation ceremonies, he brought his tenor saxophone along.  If you’ve never met Michael, he is an absolute virtuoso (and someone deeply interested in a scholarly way in many artistic endeavors that don’t have reeds in them).

HASHIM tenor

Ehud Asherie is simply one of the finest pianists of this or any other jazz era, as a soloist or a wonderfully subtle accompanist.  But I think this is the first opportunity I’ve had to observe and record Ehud and Michael as a duo.  And the results, although too brief, are spectacular.

Ehud portrait

A dazzling CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

And a campanologist’s delight, RING DEM BELLS:

Thank you, Michael and Ehud.  Give this duo a gig!  A CD!  A weekly gig . . . !

May your happiness increase!

IMPRESSIONISMS BY TURNER AND STRAYHORN: HOWARD ALDEN, HARRY ALLEN, DAN BARRETT, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI (Cleveland, Sept. 11, 2015)

Here’s one kind of inspiration: the J.M.W. Turner painting of Old Battersea Bridge, which Billy Strayhorn saw on an early trip to Europe — presumably in 1939 when the Ellington band went overseas:

Battersea Church and Bridge, with Chelsea Beyond 1797 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Battersea Church and Bridge, with Chelsea Beyond 1797 J.M.W. Turner 1775-1851

Strayhorn wrote CHELSEA BRIDGE with this painting (or one by Whistler) in his consciousness.  That composition became a splendid evocation in sound for the Ellington orchestra, featuring Ben Webster.  Seventy-five years later, I and others in the audience were privileged to see and hear Howard Alden, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Frank Tate, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums, create their own sensitive evocation of all the inspirations that had come before them, sweetly and memorably adding their own:

Strayhorn when young:

STRAYHORN young

And two delicious additions.  First, Billy at the piano:

Second, in the video of CHELSEA BRIDGE from Cleveland, Dan mentions that the preceding song was their performance of Ray Noble’s THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS.  It would be a shame to deprive listeners of this.

I’ll see you at the 2016 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party this September.

May your happiness increase!

DANCE ME TO THE START OF SWING, 2016

Photograph by Doug Coombe

Photograph by Doug Coombe

How do you move your bodies to the rhythm in ways that are aesthetically delightful, that mirror the music without distracting from it, with no period caricature?  How do you make deep careful rehearsed expertise look as easy and casual as three young women prancing around the living room?  I don’t know, but Erin Morris and her Ragdolls not only have the answers but enact them in swingtime.

The soundtrack is Ellingtonia — a Johnny Hodges small band, I believe, but the real pleasure for me is watching the music made flesh, the sounds echoed by every caper and wiggle.  To learn more about Erin Morris and Her Ragdolls, you can easily do it at their Facebook page or here.

An exalted lovely funny nonchalance.

May your happiness increase!