Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

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

Here is Part One.

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

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

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

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

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

And an unfettered STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

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

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

Yeah, man.

May your happiness increase!

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

Island palm tree

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

And here are six charmers.

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

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

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

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

I’LL GET BY:

MY IDEAL:

MAKE BELIEVE:

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

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

May your happiness increase!

SOLACE IN SWING (June 26, 2015)

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

Fats Waller’s declaration of high fidelity:

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

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

May your happiness increase!

EDDIE CONDON, BUD FREEMAN, and THE CREATION OF JOY

Commodore Love

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

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

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

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

CONDON MOSAIC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t make that up.

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

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

May your happiness increase!

May your happiness increase!

LOVE, NOT DEATH. SONG, NOT HATE.

I feel immersed in the grief created by the 21-year old white supremacist Dylann Roof who killed nine African-Americans in the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, after sitting with them for an hour at a prayer meeting.  I will not show his picture or a picture of his gun.

In this immense sadness, I wonder, “Why does it seem so difficult for people to act lovingly to one another?  So many people have every advantage, every materialistic reward, the most sophisticated technology, but they still are ruled by hatred and fear of those they should recognize as brothers and sisters.”

As an antidote to hatred, I offer beauty in the shape of song.  Music is love floating through the air, an aural embrace aimed right at us. I do not mean the lyrics of these songs to be particularly relevant to our grief, but I remember the sensation of everyone — musicians and audience — connected by love and hope, optimism and joy.  It is the way we should be.

AZALEA, by Duke Ellington, performed by Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie at Mezzrow on May 18, 2015:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, performed by Terry Blaine and Mark Shane at the Croton Free Library on May 8, 2015:

I know the four musicians in these videos would not object to my offering their performances in the name of healing.

May music — embodied love — help cleanse our hearts of anger, insecurity, and rage.  Please notice I do not say “Dylann Roof’s heart,” but our hearts.

And if any of my readers find my politics deplorable, I encourage them to unsubscribe from JAZZ LIVES: there’s a place at the bottom of the post to do this.  I won’t post inappropriate comments.

If the music and the sentiments move you, please share them.

Let the air be filled with something not stifled tears.

May our griefs grow lighter.  May we remember how to love.

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

I will say only that this is the band I flew to Colorado to hear and video-record in July 2014 at the Evergreen Jazz Festival.  James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band.  Accept no substitutes.  Dogs bark for it.  Ask for it wherever better bands are booked.

The players?  James Dapogny, piano, arrangements, leader; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Christopher Smith, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone; Russ Whitman, tenor and baritone saxophones; Dean Ross, string bass; Rod McDonald, guitar; Pete Siers, drums.

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

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

STRIKE UP THE BAND (with the verse!):

TOOT-TOOT, DIXIE BOUND:

HOW JAZZ WAS BORN (take a lesson from Fats):

IT WAS A SAD NIGHT IN HARLEM (homage to Helmy Kresa, Duke Ellington, and Barney Bigard):

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

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

Yeah, man.

May your happiness increase!

SARAH SPENCER STOMPS IT DOWN (June 7, 2015)

SARAH SPENCER

I feel so fortunate to have met the delightfully authentic Sarah Spencer about 72 hours ago.

Although Sarah didn’t bring her tenor saxophone to Tamar Korn’s Sunday afternoon soiree at Casa Mezcal, she did sit in and sing a 1928 Ma Rainey blues, HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YOU.  Her singing initially hits with the force of a phenomenon that should be reported on the Weather Channel, but those who listen closely will hear an entreaty, a tenderness beneath the seriously forthright power.  She’s accompanied by Andy Stein, baritone saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano (the latter bringing some Ellington and Hines down to New Orleans):

If you weren’t at Casa Mezcal, you have another chance right away to immerse yourself in Sarah’s swinging world — a Saturday-night gig on June 20 from 8 to midnight.  It’s at the Windmill Tavern at 400 Hollister Street, Stratford, Connecticut.  The phone number for reservations is 203-378-6886.  No cover, no minimum.

Sarah explains, “The band is Sarah Spencer’s Transatlantic Band and we play New Orleans Music – from Piron to Professor Longhair (and always hot and dirty!)  People can check out my website here.  The personnel for the gig is Sarah Spencer, tenor sax and vocal; Fred Vigorito, cornet; Bill Sinclair, piano; Art Hovey, tuba and string bass; Molly Sayles, drums.  It looks like there is a load of room to dance so people should come with their dancing shoes and be prepared to shake it in good New Orleans fashion (or any other way they see fit)!”

You know what to do.  And obviously so does Sarah.

P.S.  I told Sarah that her photograph was terrifying, and she grinned and said, “That’s my best butt-kicking, hard-blowing, get outta ma way cos I’m comin’ through photo — my cutting contest face.  But I’m a big squishy inside.”  She is both of those people, and I hope you get a chance to find out for yourself.

May your happiness increase!