Tag Archives: Earl Hines



I have been listening ardently to the Mosaic Records Coleman Hawkins 1922-1947 set, which is like reading all the works of a great author in chronological order — a wondrous journey.  (It’s now no longer available: Mosaic is serious about “limited editions,” so the race is to the somewhat-swift.)

There are many points on the journey where I put down my coffee and listened to one track a half-dozen times, marveling, before moving on.  But here’s a glorious interlude: a brief visit to a studio in New York City on March 8, 1934, for a series of duets between Hawkins and the seriously underrated pianist Buck Washington (born Ford Lee) who had recorded with his partner John W. Bubbles as well as Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong.

Together, they recorded IT SENDS ME (two versions), I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, OLD-FASHIONED LOVE (a piano solo), and ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (two versions).  The session was one of John Hammond’s ideas: the sides were released first in England, where the listening public was much more aware of African-American creative improvisers.

The alternate takes of SENDS and SUNNY are available only on the Mosaic set, but I can offer here YouTube transfers of the issued sides, slightly out of sequence.

I’ve been drawn back to this music by its beauty and assurance.  Hawkins seems so much in command of both his instrument and his imagination.  It’s not arrogance but mastery, the grace of a great artist sure of his powers, rather like a magnificent actor or athlete who is sure of what needs to be done, what can be done, and what is possible beyond the expected.

Hawkins displays his marvelous embracing tone — play this music in another room and you might think there is a small orchestra at work or a glorious wordless singer, caressing the melody, pausing to breathe, to reflect.  Nothing is rushed; all is both serene and deep.  And on the faster sections, he offers us a joyous playfulness.

About Hawkins as a “singer”: you can find his recording of LOVE CRIES (which I think is very dear) also on YouTube . . . but for me, the people traveling on the same path are not other instrumentalists but Connee Boswell and Bing Crosby. Listen and consider.


Washington, never given his due, presents a relaxed but never lazy stride piano but we hear an elegant wildness in his embellishments (and a harmonic sophistication) that shows he, like others, had assimilated not only James P. Johnson but also Earl Hines and Art Tatum.  He’s a superb accompanist, but his sparkling playing demands our attention, and his solo passages do not disappoint.

The four sides are a venerable pop / jazz / vaudeville classic, almost a decade old; a newer pop song, a small homage both to James P. Johnson and the folk tradition, and a Hawkins ballad.  I gather that there was some rivalry between Hawkins and Louis, and I imagine that a Hawkins – Washington duet date was a way for Hawkins to say, “I’ve heard Louis and Buck on DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, and I have my own statement to make to Louis and to anyone who thinks Louis is the sole monarch.”  So SUNNY SIDE, taken at that tempo, was a Louis specialty in 1933 — Taft Jordan recorded his own Louis-impersonation before Louis had made his own record of it.  It would have been impossible for Hawkins, a champion listener / absorber, to not know what Louis was doing in New York and elsewhere.


and the recording that, to me, is the gem:

and — in a jaunty, assured mood, here’s Buck:

Orchard Enterprises could find a copy of that track that doesn’t start with a hiccup, although I find such eccentricities nostalgic in small doses, having spent decades listening to dusty and scratched records.

And something about the history of listening, one’s personal history.  When I began to buy records in wallet-depleting seriousness in the very early Seventies, there were so many Coleman Hawkins recordings available — from his early work with Henderson up to the beautiful and touching late recordings (SIRIUS, on Pablo) that I glutted myself.  And predictably I burned out for a long time on Hawkins — hearing the swooping majesty of the Thirties and Forties get more powerful but occasionally almost mechanical in the Fifties and beyond (a similar thing happened, rhythmically, to Don Byas).  I turned with obsessive love to Lester Young and Ben Webster: one who never seemed predictable, one who wrapped me in the softest blanket of loving sounds.  So I confess I bought the Mosaic Hawkins box set on the principle of “You’re going to be sorry when this one goes away,” which is a valid notion . . . but I have been reminding myself of his genius, over and over, from the early work with Mamie Smith to the 1947 I LOVE YOU.  There are many good reasons to love Coleman Hawkins, and, not incidentally, Mosaic Records as well.

Listen, and be startled by beauty.  Or remember the beauty that is there, perhaps overlooked for a moment.


May your happiness increase!


Ray Skjelbred, away from the piano.

Ray Skjelbred, away from the piano.

I tell the Youngbloods, “Yes! Go see Ray Skjelbred play piano and (once in a great while) sing.  It is a magical experience.”

Here are two more beauties from his solo session at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2015.  Ray loves what we call the tradition — as distinguished from “OKOM,” a term I don’t use — by honoring the Ancestors while being himself all the time.  And he continues to surprise and transform, skirting cliche always.

ROSETTA (for Earl Hines and Henri Woode) with a wondrous brooding beginning:

ELGIN BREAKDOWN (in honor of / in mourning for Cassino Simpson):

I hope to see you at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, which will take place over the Thanksgiving weekend — November 23 through 27.  Here’s another piece of the magic Ray (with friends Dawn Lambeth and Marc Caparone) created at that same festival:

May your happiness increase!



Is surrender capitulating to an enemy, saying “I give up.  You are stronger.” or is it an enlightened act, a realization that there are powers we can’t conquer and that the idea of conquering anything is futile?


I’ve always found I SURRENDER, DEAR — so powerfully connected to Bing Crosby — both touching and mysterious.  As Gordon Clifford’s lyrics tell us, the singer is saying, in effect, “Take me back. Here is my heart.  I give up all pretense of being distant.  I need you,” which is deeply moving, a surrender of all ego-barriers and pretense.  But I’ve never been able to figure out whether “Here, take my heart,” is  greeted with “I’d love to welcome you back,” or “No thanks, I’m full.”  Other songs hold out the possibility of reconciliation (consider IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE or WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE) but this one ends unresolved.  It’s also one of those songs that lends itself to a variety of interpretations: both Bing and Louis in the same year, then a proliferation of tenor saxophonists, and pianists from Monk to Garner to Teddy. And (before the music starts) probably thanks to Roy Eldridge, there’s also an honored tradition of slipping into double-time.


Here, however, are ten versions that move me.

January 1931: Bing Crosby with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra.  Note the orchestral flourishes:

Later that same year: Victor Young and the Brunswick Concert Orchestra, featuring Frank Munn, not enough of the Boswell Sisters (acting as their own concert orchestra) and a few seconds of Tommy Dorsey.  I think this was an effort to show that Paul Whiteman didn’t have a monopoly on musical extravagance, and I’ve never seen a label credit “Paraphrased by . . . “.  I also note the vocal bridge turns to 3/4, and Munn sings “are doing” rather than “were doing,” but we wait patiently for the Sisters to appear, and they do:

Imagine anyone better than Ben Webster?  Here, in 1944, with our hero Hot Lips Page:

Forward several decades: Joe Venuti, Zoot Sims, John Bunch, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden 1975:

1978 — a duet of Earl Hines and Harry Edison:

Raymond Burke, Butch Thompson, Cie Frazier in New Orleans, 1979:

and something I was privileged to witness and record, flapping fan blades and all, from February 2010 (Tamar Korn, Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Marcus Milius, Debbie Kennedy):

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Jim Buchmann, Katie Cavera, Beau Sample, Hal Smith, at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2014:

Nobody follows Louis.  1931:

and the majestic version from 1956:

A little tale of the powers of Surrender.  In years past, I would drive into Manhattan, my car full of perishables, and search for a parking spot.  Of course there were none.  I could feel the gelato melting; I could feel my blood pressure rising contrapuntally.  Frustrated beyond belief, I would roll down my window and ask the Parking Goddess for her help.  “I do not ask for your assistance that often, and I admit that I cannot do this on my own.  I am powerless without your help.  Will you be merciful to me?”  And I would then circle the block again and a spot would have opened up.  My theory is that such supplication works only if one is willing to surrender the ego, the facade of one’s own power.  Of course it has also been known to work for other goals, but that is an essay beyond the scope of JAZZ LIVES.

For now, surrender whole-heartedly and see what happens.

May your happiness increase!


Ray, a few days a go

Ray, a few days ago

I think that Ray Skjelbred, in all his varied incarnations, is too expansive for one blogpost at a time, so here — two performances by Ray and his Cubs plus Marc Caparone — is what I offered yesterday.  But the urge to honor Ray while he honors the music continues today, so I present four more performances, solo piano, from that same November 27, 2015, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

“Solo piano” might be somewhat misleading.  In the past seventy years, there has been some redefinition of what that sounds like.  Of course, it is one person at the keyboard.  But with the advent of three and four-piece rhythm sections, the idea of what a pianist might do when seated alone at those white and black keys has changed.  Once, the pianist’s role was orchestral: think of Hines, Waller, Tatum — then it got pared down — from Wilson onwards to Haig and his descendants.

Ray Skjelbred is not limited to any one conception of playing, but he likes to make the piano a small but legendary orchestra, all by itself.  And in this solo set, he explicitly said that he likes playing “band” repertoire — songs associated with great jazz ensembles — I think not only for their evocative power (think of a magician who can evoke Louis, Don Redman, Bix, Adrian Rollini, Guy Kelly, Jimmie Noone) but for the larger space they offer, the freedom of repertoire that doesn’t arrive with its own set of prescribed conventions.

So here are four  beauties.  Muse on them, delight in them.

A groovy lowdown version of that new dance, THE BALTIMORE:

Don Redman’s NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU (revived in this century by Ruby Braff and Jon-Erik Kellso and friends):

THE BLUES JUMPED A RABBIT with a slow, sad, half-spoken vocal.  We’ve all felt that way:

BEAU KOO JACK (which of course means LOTS OF MONEY, thanks to Louis, Don Redman, and Earl):

Observe this man and his musical transformations closely.  He has much to teach us about the poetry of jazz.

May your happiness increase!


Through the generosity of the musicians, I present some more glorious music created and recorded at The Ear Inn just this month, on March 20, 2016.  And for those who missed the first helping, here it is: swing happiness with great feeling created by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, mellophone, and more; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.

EAR INN 2012

All of this happens when the EarRegulars assemble for one of their Sunday evening raptures (around eight o’clock to around eleven, flexibly) at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

And I now present two more delights from that evening.  (I was going to call this post THE EGGS AND YOU, but the legal staff was not amused, so I dropped the idea.)

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET is the EarRegulars’ nod to Easter, and to Irving Berlin, and to Fred Astaire, and to Louis (whose 1936 Decca recording of this song also features brightly popping drum accents from Stan King).  No drums here, just floating improvisations:

IF I HAD YOU — very groovy, very mello(w), but also sweet and tender:

There’s more to come.  Bless these musicians and their Spring Street shrine.

May your happiness increase!


EAR INN 2012

The EarRegulars and The Ear Inn (the latter at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York — pictured above in October 2012) offer us sweet rewards.  The Inn will soon celebrate its two hundredth anniversary; the EarRegulars are younger but no less beloved.  On Sunday nights at The Ear, a small, gloriously congenial group of musicians gathers to remind us how fine being alive — with ears — can be.  The EarRegulars are led by trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, and on March 20, 2016, Jon was joined by his brilliant colleague, Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone (with the delicious sounds of the mellophone added on later); Pat O’Leary, string bass.

The EarRegulars can tussle in swingtime with the very best, but that Sunday the mood was more gently ruminative: rather than abducting us by force, they wooed and persuaded.  “Hey, do you have a free evening?  Come along with us for sweet swinging music.  You’ll love it.”  As we do.




A note about Jon-Erik’s horn, which not only sounds beautiful but has a beautiful personal connection, as he explains: “That horn was my first, and was my dad’s.  A Martin Handcraft Imperial.  About 1934, my dad bought it new as a kid with money earned working in his father’s gas station/garage in Detroit.  I messed it up in high school marching band, and it sat in a closet in my mom’s house all these years.  I recently had it fixed up, to honor my dad’s memory and have it as a memento, and lo and behold, it plays great now!”

It certainly does.  I think we are privileged to share the planet with these musicians, who so generously give of themselves . . . and not on Sunday nights only.  We live in a Golden Age, if we are only wise enough to recognize it.

More to come.

May your happiness increase!


Ehud portraitPianist Ehud Asherie has been one of my heroes — and I am not alone in this — for a decade now.  His imagination is immense, matched only by his whimsically elegant and expert technique.  A dazzling soloist, he’s also a wonderfully generous and intuitive accompanist and ensemble player.  And he is immediately recognizable: like James P. Johnson or Bud Powell, you know it’s Ehud in four bars.

Ehud is fascinated by “old” music — songs composed by Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, Willie “the Lion” Smith (with delicious detours into the music of Nazareth and Noel Rosa) but he is not devoted to replaying what he’s heard on the records or read from the music manuscript.  Rather, he loves the older songs because they haven’t been played so often as to have their own conventions and routines.  He says, speaking of Eubie, “[These songs] are amazingly fresh . . . harmonically very open, creating a lot of room for musicians to play in.  He was writing before jazz got really codified, so his music has none of the cliches we know.”

With his lyricism, individuality, sense of fun and his deep feeling, Ehud reminds me greatly of Ruby Braff, and it’s a pity the two didn’t meet and play together. The closest thing we have to this exalted pairing is the duets that Ehud and Jon-Erik Kellso do for us, and they are glorious.  (A few are on YouTube.)

Here is an example of Ehud as glorious imaginer, someone who knows that the way to bring the past to life is to forget about how old it is, and to treat it with affectionate energy.  I recorded this amazing performance at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street on February 16, 2016 — where Barbara Rosene and Ehud were performing in duet.  Ehud chose as his second-set feature of medley of WEATHER BIRD, written by Louis, and TWO DEUCES, by Lillian Hardin — both of these songs also memorably recorded by Louis, Lil’s husband.  (There’s a good deal of Earl Hines, pianist on these 1928 discs, there as well.)

The lovely woman who leaves the stage at the start is the wonderful singer Barbara Rosene, whose gig with Ehud this was, and the happy eminence bouncing in rhythm next to the piano is the great jazz scholar and writer Dan Morgenstern:

If you want to hear more of the elegantly raucous inventiveness that Ehud offers us whenever he sits down at the piano, he is at Mezzrow on alternating Friday evenings for their “happy hour” — check their schedule — and he’s also made a wildly rewarding solo piano CD of the music from SHUFFLE ALONG for blueheron records: details here.  I prefer the actual CD, but perhaps the best way to acquire one is to come to a Mezzrow gig, where Ehud will have some on top of the piano, or visit here and here.

May your happiness increase!