Tag Archives: Ed Polcer

HELEN’S DREAMS

I saw and heard Helen Humes in person only once, in 1975, but she made a lasting impression.  When Ed Polcer was leading the band at the last “Eddie Condon’s,” marvelous players and singers were invited to get up on the narrow bandstand and astonish us.  I was there because Ruby Braff was leading the group; Helen came up and sang IF I COULD BE WITH YOU and ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and I have a clear memory of her beautiful smile, heartfelt delivery, and warm voice.

At the early peak of the Swing Era, John Hammond had yet another one of his good ideas: to feature Harry James (then in his first year as a star of the Goodman band) with a small group drawn from the Basie band.  There was a clear rapport, and these under-acknowledged records stand alongside the more heralded Wilson-Holiday sessions.  Helen had recorded a decade earlier, but she was then perceived as a classic blues singer, and those records show only one side of her considerable talent.  In these 1936-38 sides, we hear what made her memorable.  (On YouTube, you can hear the other sides from the James sessions.)

The first session (on December 1, 1937) had Harry, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Earl Warren, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Jess Stacy, Walter Page, Jo Jones.  Helen sang several songs; here is I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?:

On January 5, 1938, the same group reassembled, with Vernon Brown replacing Eddie Durham, and Helen sang IT’S THE DREAMER IN ME:

Other aspects of these recordings (of the two glorious sessions) are memorable: the warm sounds of Harry and Herschel, the beautiful distractions of Jess Stacy at the piano, joined by Walter Page and Jo Jones . . . but at this remove, Helen wins my heart — her deep sincerity, her vibrato, the way she delivers two love songs with complete conviction, even at the faster tempo of the first.  She’s been overshadowed for decades, but what a great artist she is.  In a few minutes, she invites us to live her dreams.

May your happiness increase!

THE NALEPKA FAMILY MUSICALE: BRIAN NALEPKA, NORA NALEPKA, TERRY WALDO, JOHN GILL, JAY LEPLEY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN (FAT CAT, December 18, 2016)

Talent runs in the family, they say.  And in this case, they’re right.  Brian Nalepka, string bassist, tubaist, accordionist, singer, and sage jester, is someone I admire: when he’s on the scene, I know the beat will be there too, and it will be swinging.  His wife, Mary Shaughnessy, doesn’t sing; nor, as far as I know, does daughter Ella.  But Nora Nalepka does, and she’s very good at it.  This isn’t a post about swing nepotism, but one about music.

On the most recent appearance of Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) — Sunday, December 18, 2016 — I was there to document and enjoy not one, but two Nalepka musical offerings.

how_keep_em_on_farm1

Here’s Brian — “asking the musical question” HOW YA GONNA KEEP ‘EM DOWN ON THE FARM?, a Walter Donaldson melody and one of the witty and relevant hits of 1919, after the Great War had ended. His colleagues are Terry Waldo, piano; John Gill, banjo; Jay Lepley, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet (for the occasion); Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds.  If you haven’t noticed it this far, Brian is not only a great rhythm player and soloist, but he is that most rare thing, a swinging entertainer.

Nora — more modern, a child of the late twentieth century — picked a more “contemporary” song . . . from 1934: the Nacio Herb Brown – Arthur Freed ALL I DO IS DREAM OF  YOU, which many of us know from its delightful part in the 1952 film SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.

all-i-do-is-dream-of-you

and, for a reason, here is the first page of that folio:

all-i-do-page-two

Although this sweet song is a love ballad, most bands and singers take it at a brisk tempo, which flattens its yearning appeal.  Note “Slowly (with expression),” which is the way Nora sings it.

She knows how to convey feeling; she improvises gently; she swings.  Not surprising, perhaps, but immensely pleasing.

This is my second Nora-sighting (I wish it would happen bi-annually at the very least); here is my first, eleven months ago, her sweet rendition of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME.

And — a secret pleasure — the phrase that Terry improvises on in his solo is Jess Stacy’s introduction to the issued take of DIANE (Commodore, 1938) featuring Jack Teagarden.  Years of obsessive listening pay off.

Dear Ms. Nalepka, if you plan to make a CD — call it, perhaps, NORA NALEPKA SINGS ANCIENT SONGS OF LOVE — let me know and I’ll contribute to the crowdfunding.  And Father Brian, keep on doin’ what you’re doin’!

May your happiness increase!

SQUEEZINGS

squeeze-3

I try to avoid soda, the beverage of my childhood, but I once bought a bottle of SQUEEZE because its affectionate logo charmed me.  The bottle vanished in one of several moves, but the melody lingers on.

Fats Waller’s first published song — although it was liberally based on a bawdy tune called THE BOY IN THE BOAT, whose central image was not nautical.  But here are a few versions . . . . the first one from Jazz at Chautauqua in 2011 with Marty Grosz, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Frank Tate:

with a pause for liquid enlightenment here:

squeeze-2

and a solo version by Ray Skjelbred, recorded at Cline Cellars in California, June 2013:

with one more icon:

squeeze

and from the 2014 Atlanta  Jazz Party, with Dan Block, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, Ed Polcer, John Cocuzzi, Paul Keller, Ed Metz:

Reading this post and listening to the music, I don’t know if you’ll suddenly crave an orange soda, look around for the right person to squeeze and be squeezed by . . . in such things, you’re on your own.  But perhaps at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — starting September 15 — someone will give this wonderful song another squeeze.  You never know.

May your happiness increase!

BOB AND RUTH BYLER + CAMERA = HOURS OF GOOD MUSIC

Bob and Ruth Byler

Bob and Ruth Byler

I first became aware of Bob Byler — writer, photographer, videographer — when we both wrote for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG, but with the demise of that wonderful journalistic effusion (we still miss Leslie Johnson, I assure you) I had not kept track of him.  But he hasn’t gone away, and he is now providing jazz viewers with hours of pleasure.

“Spill, Brother Michael!” shouts a hoarse voice from the back of the room.

As you can see in the photograph above, Bob has always loved capturing the music — and, in this case, in still photographs.  But in 1984, he bought a video camera.  In fact, he bought several in varying media: eight-millimeter tape, VHS, and even mini-DVDs, and he took them to jazz concerts wherever he could. Now, when he shares the videos, edits them, revisits them, he says, “I’m so visual-oriented, it’s like being at a jazz festival again without the crowd.  It’s a lot of fun.”  Bob told me that he shot over two thousand hours of video and now has uploaded about four hundred hours to YouTube.

Here is his flickr.com site, full of memorable closeups of players and singers. AND the site begins with a neatly organized list of videos . . .

Bob and his late wife Ruth had gone to jazz festivals all over the world — and a few cruises — and he had taken a video camera with him long before I ever had the notion.  AND he has put some four hundred hours of jazz video on YouTube on the aptly named Bob and Ruth Byler Archival Jazz Videos channel. His filming perspective was sometimes far back from the stage (appropriate for large groups) so a video that’s thirty years old might take a moment to get used to. But Bob has provided us with one time capsule after another.  And unlike the ladies and gents of 2016, who record one-minute videos on their smartphones, Bob captured whole sets, entire concerts.  Most of his videos are nearly two hours long, and there are more than seventy of them now up — for our dining and dancing pleasure.  Many of the players are recognizable, but I haven’t yet sat down and gone through forty or a hundred hours of video, so that is part of the fun — recognizing old friends and heroes.  Because (and I say this sadly) many of the musicians on Bob’s videos have made the transition, which makes this video archive, generously offered, so precious.

Here is Bob’s own introduction to the collection, which tells more than I could:

Here are the “West Coast Stars,” performing at the Elkhart Jazz Party, July 1990:

an Art Hodes quartet, also from Elkhart, from 1988:

What might have been one of Zoot Sims’ last performances, in Toledo, in 1985:

a compilation of performances featuring Spiegle Willcox (with five different bands) from 1991-1997, a tribute  Bob is particularly proud of:

from the 1988 Elkhart, a video combining a Count Basie tribute (I recognize Bucky Pizzarelli, Milt Hinton, Joe Ascione, and Doc Cheatham!) and a set by the West End Jazz Band:

a Des Moines performance by Jim Beebe’s Chicago Jazz Band featuring Judi K, Connie Jones, and Spiegle:

and a particular favorite, two sets also from Elkhart, July 1988, a Condon memorial tribute featuring (collectively) Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Dave McKenna, Marty Grosz, Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones, John Bany, Wayne Jones, in two sets:

Here are some other musicians you’ll see and hear: Bent Persson, Bob Barnard, Bob Havens, the Mighty Aphrodite group, the Cakewalkin’ Jazz Band, the Mills Brothers, Pete Fountain, Dick Hyman, Peter Appleyard, Don Goldie, Tomas Ornberg, Jim Cullum, Jim Galloway, Chuck Hedges, Dave McKenna, Max Collie, the Salty Dogs, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, Butch Thompson, Hal Smith, the Climax Jazz Band, Ernie Carson, Dan Barrett, Banu Gibson, Tommy Saunders, Jean Kittrell, Danny Barker, Duke Heitger, John Gill, Chris Tyle, Bob Wilber, Gene Mayl, Ed Polcer, Jacques Gauthe, Brooks Tegler, Rex Allen, Bill Dunham and the Grove Street Stompers, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the Harlem Jazz Camels, and so much more, more than I can type.

Many musicians look out into the audience and see people (like myself) with video cameras and sigh: their work is being recorded without reimbursement or without their ability to control what becomes public forever.  I understand this and it has made me a more polite videographer.  However, when such treasures like this collection surface, I am glad that people as devoted as Bob and Ruth Byler were there.  These videos — and more to come — testify to the music and to the love and generosity of two of its ardent supporters.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE THE QUALITY MEETS: CHARLIE HALLORAN AND THE “QUALITY SIX”

CHARLIE HALLORAN QUALITY SIX

It is possible I have clothing older than jazz trombonist Charlie Halloran, but I am thrilled to let you know about his CD, which contains some wonderful music.

The first thing you might notice about the disc’s cover above — leaving aside the energetic graphic design — is that it advertises a band rather than a soloist, and that is all to the good.  When you notice that Charlie has surrounded himself with people who have been making recordings longer than he has — their names follow this extended sentence — you know that he knows quality, as do they.

Who are those people surrounding Mister Halloran and his slide trombone? How about Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Steve Pistorius, piano; Tom Saunders, string bass; Charlie Fardella, trumpet; Walter Harris, drums; Jimbo Mathus, vocals.  I know half of this band personally, and even if I’d never heard the CD, their presence would be a living testament to their faith in Charlie and the sincerity and joyous wisdom of his music.

Back to the band and to the overall idea of this disc.  Since it is a band whose members embody an ensemble tradition in their work, something is always going on, even surreptitiously, throughout each of the tracks.  In fact, the music is dense with surprises: backgrounds behind a soloist, interesting ensemble modifications, a rhythm section that is part Second Line, part timeless Mainstream.  But everything has a fluid romping motion underneath it.

And each of the front-line players is perfectly poised, a distinctive voice, immediately recognizable.  I’d call the general aesthetic of this disc a modern version of hot lyricism.  The Quality 6 swings throughout — no tempo too slow or too fast for dancers — but every note has a particular singing quality. And Jimbo’s voice, tough-tender, is the perfect counterpart to the instrumental glories.

You’ll know that a great deal of music is marketed these days as “authentic” New Orleans.  I keep away from any debates on authenticity, but will say only that the music on this disc is not loud jive for the tourists, nor is it museum-safe reverent recreation.  It sounds like music, where the individuals are fully aware (in the most affectionate ways) of the tradition but know that their task on the planet is to express themselves — and that’s glorious.

The repertoire is another treat.  There are times in my life when a beautifully done JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE has hit the spot, but I take a special pleasure from picking up a disc and seeing, “Wow, they’ve done that song?  I can’t wait to hear what they’ve done with it.”

The songs are:  In The Gloaming / Bouncing Around / St. Louis Cemetery Blues / Dreaming The Hours Away / The Ramble / Let’s Put Our Heads Together / Beautiful Dreamer / Memphis Blues / If We Never Meet Again / Weather Bird / June Night.

I asked Charlie for his thoughts on the repertoire, and he told me, “Most of these tunes are songs I’ve learned in the past 4 or 5 years and just don’t have the opportunity to play very often. Although, as I’m playing with these veterans more, that is starting to change.  I play Dreaming the Hours Away with Steve Pistorius pretty regularly and Tim has been calling If We Never Meet Again at the Palm Court recently. St. Louis Cemetery Blues is a Squirrel Nut Zippers song that we never played when the band was touring, so I really wanted to get that down and have Jimbo, the composer, sing it. I share his love of Stephen Foster, so I thought he would be perfect for Beautiful Dreamer, the arrangement and cadenza I ripped off a bootleg recording of Pops on the Ed Sullivan show via Ricky Riccardi. The Ramble is from those killer, Lawrence Brown heavy, recordings of the Paul Howard band. I get a kick out of how the song holds up to a New Orleans treatment. Bouncing Around I’d only ever played from the music with Orange Kellin’s band. I was trying to give it more just a raggy feel, how a band where not everybody could read might play it, half from memory, approximation. June Night I learned from Ed Polcer, Weather Bird I was thinking of those Jelly Roll trios as much as the Louis/Hines version.

A few more words about Charlie (someone who knows his history but is not condemned to repeat it).  The trombone is a delicious but devouring instrument, one that leads the incautious into acrobatics, self-parody, or restrictive styles. Charlie clearly knows the whole range of the instrument from Ory to the present, and although I hear echoes of other big-toned players from Quentin Jackson to Benny Morton to Sandy Williams to Teagarden, what I hear most is an affecting personal synthesis of the Past — operating gleefully and skillfully in the Present. (Did I say he was a wonderful ensemble trombonist, someone who knows how just the right harmony or the right epigram can add so much in just a few notes? And although he knows and can do a properly rough-hewn style, he loves melody and has a deep awareness of contemporary traditional jazz — which words should not scare anyone away.  Nothing is fake or faux or glaring here. It all sounds good.)

Enough words for the moment.

Here’s a minute with this amiable expert fellow:

Charlie’s biography, for those who like that thing, is here.

Here are two links to the music — and the music.  And of course, here’s Charlie’s Facebook page.

Young Mister H is not someone I greet at the beginning of his brilliant career.  He’s already living it, and his debut CD shows it beautifully.  The only fault I could find with this issue is that it isn’t a two-disc set.  And I do not write those words casually.

May your happiness increase!

JUST ANOTHER “DIXIELAND TUNE,” BUT OH HOW GOOD IT SOUNDS: DAN BARRETT, ED POLCER, DAN BLOCK, JOHN COCUZZI, FRANK TATE, ED METZ at the 2014 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY

Even though now and again I feel the signs of a ROYAL GARDEN BLUES overdose approaching, there’s new life in “old music” that nobody can deny.

JAZZ ME BLUES

The JAZZ ME BLUES is surely an old chestnut, a “Dixieland classic,” a “good old good one” that some listeners and musicians assume comes from the era of faux-jazz: straw hats and striped jackets, jazz half-recreated rather than created.  But no material is in itself alive or dead; it depends on the energy, wit, ingenuity, and feeling that musicians can bring to it.

Thus, this artifact —

JAZZ ME BLUES 78

became something quite vivid and lively in an April 25, 2014 performance at the Atlanta Jazz Party by Dan Barrett, trombone; Ed Polcer, cornet; Dan Block, clarinet; John Cocuzzi, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Ed Metz, drums (and a cameo appearance by Chair):

Notice the nice relaxed tempo, the little ingenuities, the backing figures, the eloquent but understated playing.  Nothing’s dead unless we choose to make it so is the moral of this particular story.  Also that the Atlanta Jazz Party is alive and well in 2016!  More details as the date approaches.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE JAZZ BOROUGH: DENNIS LICHTMAN’S QUEENSBORO SIX, PART TWO (August 29, 2015)

Manhattnites think theirs is the jazz borough: Harlem, Fifty-Second Street, the Village.  Sorry, but no.  It’s Queens, home to Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Bix Beiderbecke, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Clarence Williams, Count Basie, Milt Hinton, Bobby  Hackett, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Heath, Roy Eldridge, Clark Terry, Benny Goodman, John Coltrane, Lester Young, Ben Webster . . .

QUEENS map

And the jazz glories of this borough aren’t only historical (read: dusty).  Dennis Lichtman proved that vividly in his concert — with his Queensboro Six — at the Louis Armstrong House Museum (34-56 107th St, Corona, Queens, by the way) on August 29, 2015.  The band was Dennic, clarinet, compositions, arrangements; Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Nathan Peck, string bass; Dalton Ridenhour, keyboard; Rob Garcia, drums; Terry Wilson, vocal, with guest stars Ed Polcer, cornet; Tamar Korn, vocal.  And there were luminaries not on the bandstand: Michael Cogswell and Ricky Riccardi, Brynn White, Cynthia Sayer, Jerome Raim, among others.

Here‘s the first half of the concert for those who missed my posting.  And now the second.  Dennis explains it all, so watch, listen, and savor.

UNDECIDED:

MIDNIGHT AT THE PIERS:

STOMPIN’ AT MONA’S:

I CRIED FOR YOU (vocal Terry Wilson):

BLACK AND BLUE (vocal Terry):

THE POWER OF NOT-THEN:

I’D REMEMBER HAVING MET YOU IF I’D MET YOU:

WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO (add Terry WIlson, Ed Polcer, Tamar Korn):

May your happiness increase!