Tag Archives: Ed Polcer

FEBRUARY COULD BE THE WARMEST MONTH, IF YOU’RE PROPERLY SITUATED: THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 21-23, 2014)

Although it is the shortest month, February has a well-deserved reputation for unpleasantness.  But this February could change all the bad press, if you can make it to the San Diego Jazz Party.

The Party begins Friday, February 21 and continues at a leisurely pace to Sunday, February 24, 2014, at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar (15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014-1901 — (800) 833-7904 (toll-free) / (858) 792-5200 (local) / (858) 792-9538 (fax).

Here is the Party’s site.

They’ve been doing a fine job of presenting classic mainstream jazz since 1988, when these musicians who appeared at the first Party, a list that makes me very nostalgic:

John Clayton, Jr. (b); Bob Haggart (b); Milt Hinton (b); Kenny Davern (cl); Peanuts Hucko (cl); Bob Wilber (cl); Jake Hanna (d); Gus Johnson, Jr. (d); Butch Miles (d); Herb Ellis (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g); Dick Hyman (p); Paul Smith (p); Ralph Sutton (p); Scott Hamilton (ts); Flip Phillips (ts); Marshal Royal (as); Buddy Tate (ts); Al Grey (tb); George Masso (tb); Bill Watrous (tb); Ed Polcer (co); Warren Vaché (co); Snooky Young (t).

The 2014 list of players and singers is just as inspiring: Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Mundell Lowe, Ed Metz Jr., Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpilla, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.

On that list, players born in 1922 and 1926: will we have decades to see their like again? And — to balance it all out — there are Youngbloods born in 1978 and only a little earlier. Men and women, American and European, a lovely diversified mix — but with one common goal, to swing memorably and melodically.

And when you look here, at how the sets have been planned — you can see how intelligently this Party has been laid out. All the music is in one ballroom of a comfortable hotel (so no rushing from room to room); the music runs from late afternoon Friday to late afternoon Sunday with breaks for meals, and the layout of who-plays-when is wise and sensible. There’s a comforting awareness of an audience’s need for dynamics, for variety, so solo piano sets and duos for piano, for guitar, alternate with quartets and quintets.  There is one eleven-person blowout and that is appropriately on Saturday night.

As to those important questions, “Can I / we get there?” “Can I / we afford it?” you’re on your own and only by visiting the site will you find answers to these questions. I do think that a weekend like this is worth its weight in YouTube videos and CDs, but that’s me.

Worth repeating, I think: many jazz fans spend much energy lamenting What Was. “Were you there at the sessions when Kitty Katz and the Persian Hairballs would play MY LITTLE BIMBO or C JAM BLUES for weeks at a time? That club / festival / party is now gone and I miss it so.”  I miss it too. But I know why it’s no longer here, and so do you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Scatman Crothers said, “It is better to Do Something than to Lament in your den.  The things you love will evaporate if you aren’t participating in them.”

See you at San Diego on February 21st! Details here. And if you want to tell them, “I only did it to stop that pesky JAZZ LIVES from tugging at my cyber-clothes and hissing “Carpe diem!” in my ear, I will accept the stigma and the guilt.

May your happiness increase!

COME CELEBRATE APRIL IN ATLANTA at THE ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 25-27, 2014)

During the weekend of April 25-27, 2014, the Atlanta Jazz Party will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary.  I’ve joined the Party twice and it was an extravagant banquet each time, supervised with generosity and common sense by Pualani and Philip Carroll.

Details! Here is  the Facebook site for the AJP.

The musicians at this year’s Party (as always) are a wonderful bunch, linked by a common urge to swing, to surprise us with new melodies, to play sweet, to get us all excited with the music: Ed Polcer, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, cornet / trumpet and an occasional vocal; Allan Vaché, Dan Block, reeds; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibes, piano, vocal; Freddy Cole, vocal, piano; Randy Napoleon, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Frank Tate, Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz Jr., Danny Coots, drums; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal.

The music is beautifully conceived, with something for everyone: pretty ballads, rocking New Orleans, hot Goodman-style small groups; timeless Mainstream. And no one will go away hungry for music: I counted thirty sets in four sessions (Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, Sunday) Guarantors and Patrons get to attend all four sessions plus the exclusive Saturday morning jazz brunch just for patrons, guarantors and musicians.

More details can be found at the AJP site. You can sign up for a single session or for all four.  The hotel (the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North*) is exceedingly comfortable; the ballroom is also, with good sight lines and nice sound.  There is a pleasing democracy at work here: everyone gets to lead a session, and the results are nicely situated between Old Favorites and New Surprises.

*The hotel is located at 7 Concourse Pkwy. NE, Sandy Springs, Georgia, 30328 — about thirty minutes from downtown Atlanta. Be sure to mention the Party for the best room rate! Click here to reserve rooms.

Here are two examples of uplifting jazz I recorded at the 2012 AJP.

STEALIN’ APPLES, performed by Allan Vache, John Cocuzzi, Rossano Sportiello, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Chuck Redd:

Bucky, solo, tenderly considering TRES PALABRAS:

If you need tres palabras from me, they could be “Mark your calendars,” or “Make your reservations,” or “Don’t miss this.”

May your happiness increase!

GOIN’ TO SAN DIEGO (and YOU CAN COME, TOO)

I’ve been listening to a bootleg Jimmy Rushing lp where he sings GOIN’ TO CHICAGO, with the famous lines, “Goin’ to Chicago / Sorry, but I can’t take you.”

Thus my title: the Beloved and I are thrilled to be making our debut voyage to the 2014 San Diego Jazz Party, and we can — in a manner of speaking — take you. And even if you don’t want to be Our New Pals, you owe it to yourself to check out what the SDJP is offering from Friday, February 21 to Sunday, February 24, 2014, at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar (15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014-1901 — (800) 833-7904 (toll-free) / (858) 792-5200 (local) / (858) 792-9538 (fax).

Here is the Party’s site.

They’ve been doing a wonderful job of presenting classic mainstream jazz since their first party in 1988: I looked at their archives and found these musicians who appeared at the first Party, a list that makes me very nostalgic.  It’s also proof of fine taste:

John Clayton, Jr. (b); Bob Haggart (b); Milt Hinton (b); Kenny Davern (cl); Peanuts Hucko (cl); Bob Wilber (cl); Jake Hanna (d); Gus Johnson, Jr. (d); Butch Miles (d); Herb Ellis (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g); Dick Hyman (p); Paul Smith (p); Ralph Sutton (p); Scott Hamilton (ts); Flip Phillips (ts); Marshal Royal (as); Buddy Tate (ts); Al Grey (tb); George Masso (tb); Bill Watrous (tb); Ed Polcer (co); Warren Vaché (co); Snooky Young (t).

Some of those heroes are gone, but the 2014 list of players and singers is just as inspiring: Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Mundell Lowe, Ed Metz Jr., Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpilla, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.

On that list, players born in 1922 and 1926: will we have decades to see their like again?  And — to balance it all out — there are Youngbloods born in 1978 and only a little earlier.  Men and women, American and European, a lovely diversified mix — but with one common goal, to swing memorably and melodically.

And when you look here, at the lineup — how the sets have been planned — you can see how intelligently this Party has been laid out. All the music is in one ballroom of what I see is a comfortable hotel (so no rushing from room to room); the music runs from late afternoon Friday to late afternoon Sunday with breaks for meals, and the layout of who-plays-when is wise and sensible. Some parties put one seven-piece band (three or four horns with rhythm) on after another and the results can seem similar.

At this Party, there’s a very comforting awareness of an audience’s need for dynamics, for variety, so solo piano sets and duos for piano, for guitar, alternate with quartets and quintets; there’s only one eleven-person blowout and that is appropriately on Saturday night.

As to those important questions, “Can I / we get there?” “Can I / we afford it?” you’re on your own and only by visiting the site can you find answers to the second question. I do think that a weekend like this is worth its weight in YouTube videos and CDs, but that’s me.

What follows might seem overly gloomy, but it’s no less true.  Many fanciers of the music who have long memories spend much energy lamenting What Was.  “Were you there at the sessions when Big Barko and his Leash-Pullers used to play IN A MELLOTONE (or UNDER THE BAMBOO TREE) for forty-seven minutes?  That club / festival / party is now gone and I miss it so.”

I miss it too.  But I know why it’s no longer here, and so do you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Eddie South used to say, “It is better to write a check, make a hotel reservation, and be there now than to sit in your living room lamenting that The Great Things are here no more.  The Great Things need you to preserve them.”

See you at San Diego on February 21st! Details here.  And if you want to tell them, “I only did it to stop that nagging JAZZ LIVES from plucking at my sleeve and whispering “Carpe diem!” in my ear, I will bear the emotional burden.

May your happiness increase!

GOODBYE, RED BALABAN. FAREWELL, BOB GREENE

I’ve written very sparingly about the deaths of jazz musicians in JAZZ LIVES — for one reason, thinking that turning this blog into an ongoing necrological record was at odds with its title. But without saying that one musician is more important than another (Bobby Gordon, Frank Wess, Al Porcino, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Sam Ulano, and a dozen others I am not mentioning here) I want to write and share a few words about two deaths of late 2013.

One was the bassist / guitarist / singer / impresario Leonard “Red” Balaban, the other, pianist Bob Greene.  Both of them were ardent workers in the jazz vineyards, and both (in their own subtle ways) did as much to advance the music as more-heralded musicians.

I had occasion to observe and interact with Red Balaban many times in 1972-5, again in 1975-the early Eighties, and once in 2013. In the summer of 1972, I learned from reading the listings in THE NEW YORKER that Sunday-afternoon jazz sessions were being held at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage — sic transit gloria mundi) on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street.  I and several friends made pilgrimages there.  The Mustache was a huge hall with sawdust on the floor, creaking long tables and wobbly chairs.  But for a nominal admission charge and the purchase of food and drink of dubious quality, we could sit as close to the bandstand as possible and (often) illicitly record the music.  The house band — Balaban and Cats — harking back to Red’s heritage in show business with the Chicago movie theatre chain created by Balaban and Katz — was usually a sextet, with Red playing string bass and singing, occasionally guitar or banjo, rarely tuba.  He called the tunes in consultation with the guest star, chose tempos, and led the session.  The Cats I remember were Marquis Foster, Buzzy Drootin, Dick Wellstood, Bobby Pratt, Chuck Folds, Red Richards, Sal Pace, Kenny Davern, Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Herb Gardner, Ed Polcer, Doc Cheatham, and I am sure there were others.  The guest stars, stopping in from Olympus or Valhalla, were Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Bob Wilber — enough stiumlation for a lifetime.  I was a college student with limited funds, so I didn’t see every session: missing Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, Lou McGarity, and others.  But I did see Eddie Condon in the audience, which would make the Sunday sessions memorable even if no music had been played.  And his daughter Liza was there now and again, photographing the musicians.

A few years later, I saw Red occasionally as a member of Mike Burgevin’s little band at Brew’s, playing alongside Vic Dickenson and other luminaries.  Eventually, Red and Ed Polcer created the “last” Eddie Condon’s, on 54th Street, and I went there when I could — the house band, as I recall it, included Ed, Vic, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, John Bunch, Connie, Kay, Ronnie Cole, and another galaxy of visitors, including Helen Humes, Al Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Kerr, Marty Grosz, Bob Sparkman, Ruby Braff, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones.  At Condon’s one could also see Billy Butterfield, Dan Barrett, Soprano Summit, Zoot and Al — a midtown oasis, now gone.

Finally, I got to meet Red once again, after a lapse of decades, at the October 2012 house party created by Joel Schiavone and Jeff Barnhart. I introduced myself as someone who had good reason to be grateful to him for those Sunday sessions, and we chatted a bit.

Thanks to CineDevine, we have two samples of Red, late in his career, gently entertaining the room, with assistance from Jim Fryer, Jeff Barnhart, and others.  In a Waller-Razaf mood:

and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:

A musician I respect, someone around in those New York years, had this to say about Red: “Not only did he love the music, but thousands upon thousands of dollars went through his hands and into the hands of musicians.  What he did with Condon’s # 3 is part of New York City jazz history.  He was a kind man who came from a very interesting family.  He wasn’t Ray Brown or Bob Haggart, but he kept jazz alive.”

Without Red Balaban, I doubt that I — and many others — would have heard as much memorable music as we did in those New York years.  So we owe him a great deal.  And he will be missed.  Another view of Red can be found here.

Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.

Bob devoted his life to celebrating Jelly Roll Morton and his music. He wasn’t the only pianist who has done so, but his emulation was fervent. I saw him summon up the Master at Alice Tully Hall in 1974 with a lovely little band (Pee Wee Erwin, Ephie Resnick, Herb Hall, Alan Cary, Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford).  They couldn’t quite turn that austere space into a Storyville bordello or the Jungle Inn (it would have required an architectural reconstruction taking years) but the music floated and rocked.  Across the distance of the decades, I think of Bob as a brilliant actor, committed with all his heart and energy to one role and to the perfection of that role — not a bad life-goal.

Bob was respected by his peers.  Mike Lipskin said, “Bob was a fine performer of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, and devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of this giant early jazz pioneer alive. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert many years ago.”  And a man we just lost, Bobby Gordon, told me, “I have fond memories of Bob for 40 years. He was always enthusiastic about music. I recorded with him 40 years ago and most recently for Jazzology. It was wonderful to record with him again, and a joy to be with such a remarkable talent. I will miss him……..a dear friend.”

Here’s a beautiful expansive piece by Hank O’Neal, a very lively evocation of Bob:

The first time I saw Bob Greene, he was playing a poor electric piano with a fairly loose ensemble, on the back of a flat bed truck. The band on the truck was trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the feeling generated by old time bands on wagons in New Orleans. It is a long way from New Orleans to Manassas, Virginia, and 1967 was a half a century removed from those heady days in the Crescent City. I don’t remember the enterprise stirring up much support for the first Manassas Jazz Festival, but Bob was on board because his old friend, Edmund “Doc” Souchon was also there, and Doc had probably asked him to come along. I know it happened because I have a snapshot to prove it. In another snapshot from the same day he’s playing cornet.

You had to look pretty hard to find out anything about Bob. He’s not well-known today, rarely mentioned in any of the standard jazz reference books, and you have to dig pretty deep to come up with any information at all, but the bits and pieces are there if you look for them. And the story and the music he’s made along the way are both wonderful.

Bob’s first love was Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy and the swing guys who were all over the place when he was a teenager. He could still, when asked, do the best imitation of Stacy I’ve ever heard, but at some point he heard Jelly Roll Morton, and was hooked. Until his death in 2013, he remained one of the foremost exponent of Jelly’s music in the land. There are other guys who could play more notes, play King Porter Stomp louder or Fingerbuster faster, but when it came to really delivering the goods, with just the right mix of technique, exuberance and sentiment, nobody else even came close.

There are other guys who play Morton’s compositions well, in the style, often with more sheer technique, but, for the most part, this is just a portion, usually a small portion, of their repertory. The music of Jelly Roll Morton and some of his circa 1900 contemporaries, made up about 90 percent of Bob’s playbook, and the telephone doesn’t ring very often these days, or any other days for the past few decades, for someone to play a recital of Morton’s music. Which was just fine for Bob. He never had any intention of being a full time musician. The world was just full of too many other things to try.

Bob made his first recordings in 1950 with Conrad Janis (Circle) and in 1951 with Sidney DeParis (Blue Note) and recorded intermittently for the next sixty years, whenever it was convenient. His performance schedule was about the same. He played in and around New York City in the 1950s and Washington D.C. in the 1960s because he was writing some pretty fancy stuff for assorted notables to read on radio or in political speeches. Goodness knows what else he may have been up to. When he wrote a book about the OSS exploits of his cousin, Paul Blum, he had no difficulty gaining access to the highest levels of the intelligence community. But back to the music.

After Bob climbed down off the back of the truck during the ill-fated parade in Manassas, I discovered he could also play a real piano and when he played Morton it was special. As I’ve suggested, he made up in spirit and authenticity what he may lacked in a formidable technique. Not that he made mistakes, he didn’t, but to this particular pianist, passion was the point, not technique. He had all he needed to get his point across. Much in the same as Thelonoius Monk. Other people played Just A Gigolo better than Monk, but nobody played it with more quirky feeling.

The first time I really heard Bob was when I was asked to round up the gear to record a band to be led by the then legendary, now largely forgotten drummer, Zutty Singleton. The gear came from Squirrel Ashcraft, the recorder, microphones, even the take-up reels. It was February 12, 1967, I remember the date with great affection because it was the very first commercially released record I ever worked on. It was also my first encounter with Zutty, still a marvelous drummer, and the only person I ever heard in person who could almost simulate a melody on the drums.

Bob Greene was a strong presence among many exceptional players that day and the highlight of the recording, to me at least, was a duo, just Zutty and Bob, on Cake Walking Babies From Home. I don’t know if Jelly ever played the tune, but if he did, he would have played it like Bob played it that day, and maybe Zutty would have been around to make sure. This was Johnson McRee’s first record for his Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and except for a solo outing by Don Ewell, perhaps the best record he ever produced.

In the 1970s, I asked Bob to record for Chiaroscuro on many occasions, but he always declined. There was always a semi-legitimate excuse. He was the only person I asked to record in those years who didn’t jump at the chance, including Bob’s first idol, Jess Stacy. In the late 1970’s Bob assembled his World of Jelly Roll Morton band, made a fine record for RCA, played Carnegie Hall a few years and toured successfully with the group. But most of the time he was in between New Orleans, Paris, Tokyo and New York, rarely in any place for very long. He slowed down long enough to record all the Jelly Roll Morton tracks for Louis Malle’s fine film, Pretty Baby and he enthralled audiences with his Jelly Roll show at numerous Floating Jazz Festivals. I recorded one of these shows in the late 1980s. Maybe I’ll listen to it one day and see if it should be released.

In 1994 we produced an event for Cunard on Queen Elizabeth 2, a 12-day survey of the music of New Orleans, and Bob was on board, as both Jelly Roll Morton and as the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Yorker’s noted critic, Whitney Balliett, was also on board, in disguise as Baby Dodds, tastefully accompanying Bob on a snare and cymbal. Romantic that he was, Bob fell in love with the ship and was heartbroken when he learned that much of the furniture in the ship’s Theater Bar, where he held forth nightly with Whitney, was to be taken off QE2 when it reached New York, and given to the Salvation Army. He decided he had to have a table and four leather chairs and set about finding a way to work it out.

When we docked, I left via the crew gangway, and saw Bob at the other end of the pier in heated conversation with a man in a Salvation Army uniform. Longshoreman were hauling the furniture and putting it inside a truck. I later learned that Bob got his furniture. The deal was for a table and four leather chairs, in the best condition possible, delivered to his home on 92nd Street. In exchange, Bob promised to assemble a band, including Whitney, to play for a Salvation Army Christmas party. A decade or so later Bob moved out to the end of Long island and that old Theater Bar furniture moved with him, a few miles closer to Southampton. This is the kind of thing that appealed to Bob.

If Bob had worked at a career in music half as hard as he worked at getting that furniture, who knows what might have happened? But perhaps nothing would have happened, which is the case with most people who try to have a career in jazz, and he wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time as he had for the past 91 years. He was one of a handful of pianists I’d go out of my way to hear because he always made me happy. He had the same effect on others.

In November 2006 he toured Japan and a lot of other people went out of their way to hear him. After that he began working on a project to present a Jelly Roll Morton show at Jazz At Lincoln Center but it didn’t work out. A year or so after that he asked what I thought of getting him together with Joshua Bell for some duets. I thought it sound like a good idea, that Bell could do a lot worse. That didn’t work out either but an awful lot did and the music that resulted with simply wonderful.

Bob and friends:

MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):

I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):

TIGER RAG (2011):

Thinking about these men, all I can say is this.

Not everyone is a Star, but everyone counts.  And fortunate are those who can follow their life’s calling and share their passions with us.

May your happiness increase!

UNDER WESTERN SKIES, JAZZ HORIZONS

Long-Beach-California-Sunrise

With great pleasure, I have transplanted myself from one coast to the other, from suburban New York to Marin County in California, where I will be for the next eight months.  So what follows is a brief and selective listing of musical events the Beloved and I might show up at . . . feel free to join us!

Clint Baker and his New Orleans Jazz Band will be playing for the Wednesday Night Hop in San Mateo on January 8: details and directions here.

Emily Asher’s Garden Party will be touring this side of the continent in mid-January, with Emily’s Hoagy Carmichael program.  On January 16, she, friends, and sitters-in will make merry at a San Francisco house concert: details here.  On the 17th, the Garden Party will reappear, bright and perky, at the Red Poppy Art House, to offer another helping of subtle, lyrical, hot music: details to come here.

Clint and Friends (I don’t know the official band title, so am inventing the simplest) will be playing for the Central Coast Hot Jazz Society in Pismo Beach on January 26.  Details are not yet available on the website, but I have it on good authority that the band will include Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Mike Baird, Carl Sonny Leyland, and Katie Cavera.

A moment of self-advertisement: I will be giving a Sunday afternoon workshop at Berkeley’s The Jazz School  — on February 9, called LOUIS ARMSTRONG SPEAKS TO US.  Details here.’

And, from February 21-23, the Beloved and I will be happily in attendance at the San Diego Jazz Party — details here — to be held at the Del Mar Hilton, honoring guitar legend Mundell Lowe and featuring Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpila, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.  The sessions will offer solo piano all the way up to nonets, with amiable cross-generational jazz at every turn.  In a triumph of organization, you can even see here who’s playing with whom and when, from Friday afternoon to Sunday farewell.

In March, the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey . . . make your plans here!

And — a little closer to the here and now — if you don’t have plans for a New Year’s Eve gala, check out ZUT! in Berkeley.  Good food — and Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz (with singer Kallye Gray) will be giving 2013 a gentle push at the stroke of midnight.  Details here.

We hope to see our friends at these events!

May your happiness increase!

THE JAZZ BOOKSHELF: “JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ” and “MR. B”

A quarter-century ago, in actual bookstores, I could find shelves devoted to books on jazz.  That reassuring sight still exists (I saw it in the Strand in New York last week) but the great era of print publishing is, understandably, over. Thus it’s always a pleasure to encounter new books on jazz, and the two below are quite different but will both reward readers.

Jazz-Beat-review--195x300

JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ, by Lew Shaw (AZtold Publishing) is a very amiable collection of profiles written by an admiring, long-time fan and former sportswriter.

What makes these brief affectionate portraits different from the norm is that all (except one) the musicians in this book are living.  Not all of them are stars, but they have devoted followings — from the youthful Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, Pete and Will Anderson, Josh Duffee, Michael Kaeshammer, Ben Polcer, Molly Ryan, Bria Skonberg, Andy Schumm, Stephanie Trick, to the veterans Bill Allred, Jim Cullum, Bob Draga, Yve Evans, Chet Jeager, Flip Oakes, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Mike Vax, Pat Yankee, and Ed Polcer — the book’s inspiration, whose picture is on the cover.

Shaw also profiles other regulars on the festival circuit, Tom Rigney, the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, the Natural Gas Jazz Band, the New Black Eagles, Igor’s Jazz Cowboys.

His emphasis is on musicians exploring older jazz forms and repertoire, but the book is happily free from ideological bickering (with one exception, and the words aren’t the author’s*.  The book is comfortable and easy: I sense that the musicians are delighted to find someone sympathetic, interested, willing to get the facts right for publication.

I was pleased to find a number of my jazz friends and heroes profiled, among them Clint Baker, Kevin Dorn, Banu Gibson, Nicki Parrott, Carl Sonny Leyland, Randy Reinhart, Hal Smith, Rossano Sportiello, and the late Mat Domber.  I know I’ve left several people off this list, but readers will have fun seeing some of their favorites here.

Shaw’s method is simple: he establishes the musician’s place in the world of contemporary traditional jazz, constructs a brief biography — a story rather than a collection of dates and a listing of names and places.  Some comments from a writer or blogger offer different insights (I’m even quoted here a few times) and the musician speaks for him or herself.  The result is a fast-moving collection of short pieces (somewhere between journalistic features and extensive liner notes) that capture their subjects’ personalities in only a few pages.

Shaw is frankly admiring — from a literate fan’s perspective.  For instance (I picked this at random), the opening of his piece on Bob Draga: “Clarinetist Bob Draga is considered the consummate entertainer, having mastered the art of pleasing an audience with musical talent, classy appearance and entertaining repartee.”  That’s Bob, to the life.

One particularly moving episode in this book is the profile of drummer Joe Ascione — and his life with multiple sclerosis since 1997.  If Shaw had done nothing but allow Joe to speak for himself, JAZZ BEAT would still be well worth reading. Many fans come up to musicians at gigs, concerts, and festivals, and ask questions; it is reassuring to see that Lew Shaw has willingly shared his energies and research with us.  The 211-page book is nicely produced with many black-and-white photographs, and copies can be ordered here.

*Chet Jaeger, of the Night Blooming Jazzmen, told Shaw about playing in a Disneyland marching band when Dizzy Gillespie was also performing there, and his reaction: “I decided I would attend and try to learn something about modern jazz, but I gave up after a few numbers.  I always say that when I hit a bad note, everyone knows it’s a bad note. When Miles Davis hits a bad note, people will say, ‘Isn’t that creative.'”

MISTER B

Cary Ginell, author of a fine book on the Jazz Man Record Shop (reviewed here) and a rewarding biography of Cannonball Adderley (here) has produced another first-rate book in the same series: MR. B: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF BILLY ECKSTINE (Hal Leonard, 228+ pages).  Ginell may turn out to be this generation’s model for jazz biography, for he doesn’t indulge in pathobiography (chronicling every time his subject is supposed to have left no tip for a waitperson or some other example of bad behavior) and he isn’t a secret Destroyer (appearing to write admiringly of the subject then deflating the Hero(ine) chapter after chapter).

His books are tidy, graceful, compact affairs — full of stories but never digressive, sticking to chronology but never mechanical.

Eckstine has been treated gingerly by the jazz community: yes, he was Earl Hines’ band vocalist, bringing the blues to a larger audience with JELLY, JELLY, then someone given credit for his “legendary” band featuring Dizzy, Bird, Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, and others . . . but once Eckstine comes to even greater prominence as an African-American balladeer (think of I APOLOGIZE), the jazz audience loses interest and the naughty word “commercialism” enters the dialogue.

Ginell doesn’t over-compensate, and he — unlike Mister B — doesn’t apologize, but he makes a serious case for Eckstine being one of the important figures in the slow struggle for White Americans to respect people of color.

One of Eckstine’s sons remembered, “Until the day he died, whenever he ordered a sandwich, he always separated the two pieces of bread and gently ran his fingers over the meat, because on a number of occasions while touring the South, they would send the band boy. . . to pick up food from a white restaurant. When they got the sandwiches, they would discover finely ground glass, or vermin feces mixed in with the tuna, chicken, egg, or potato salad.”  We also learn about the repercussions of a LIFE magazine photograph where Eckstine was captured amidst young White female fans — a horrifying example of racist attitudes in 1950. Stories such as that are invaluable, and make a book both readable and memorable, no matter who its subject might be.

The band business was difficult even when the enemy wasn’t trying to poison you so directly; Ed Eckstein also recalled that the critic Leonard Feather subtly attacked his father’s band because Eckstine refused to record Feather’s compositions.  Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie created a parody — sung to the tune STORMY WEATHER, with these lyrics:

I know why, we can’t get a gig on Friday night, / Leonard Feather / Keeps on makin’ it hard for me to keep this band together, / Talkin’ shit about us all the time . . .  

We learn about the relationship between June Eckstine and the promising young Swedish clarinetist Stan Hasselgard; we learn of Eckstine’s close friendship with Dr. King, his devotion to his fans, his generosities.  And as for Eckstine’s apparent “selling-out,” he had this to say, “Some creeps said I ‘forsook’ jazz in order to be commercial. So I saw one of these creeps, a jazz critic, and I said, ‘What are you, mad at me because I want to take care of my family?  Is that what pisses you off? You want me to end up in a goddamn hotel room with a bottle of gin in my pocket and a needle in my arm, and let them discover me laying there? Then I’ll be immortal, I guess, to you . . . It ain’t going to work that way with me, man. I want to take care of my family and give them the things that I think they deserve.'”

And we learn that Eckstine’s last word was “Basie,” which should go some distance in supporting his deep feeling for jazz.

It’s an admirable book.  Although nearly everyone who worked with Eckstine is dead, Ginell has had the cooperation of the singer’s family and friends; he has done thorough research without allowing minutiae to overwhelm the narrative, and the book moves along at a fine 4 / 4 pace.  With rare photographs, as well.

Ginell’s work — and this series in general — is very fine, and these books fill needed spaces in jazz history.  Who’s next?

May your happiness increase!

BROADWAY GOES BECHET (September 9, 2013)

It’s not exactly what you might think: David Merrick hasn’t returned from the Great Beyond to stage a musical autobiography of Sidney Bechet.  A pity, because Bechet’s life is dramatic in itself, even leaving aside his heroic music.

But we don’t have to wait for a Broadway producer to take this on, nor do we have to wait until the right actor is found.   (I suspect a modern producer would insist on calling the show SIDNEY!)

Symphony Space

What I’m referring to is the opening concert of the Fall 2013 season of the Sidney Bechet Society.  Once again, the SBS has collected some of New York’s finest hot players to celebrate Bechet’s sweeping talents: as musician, composer, bandleader.

The players span the generations, but they all have the same spirit: exuberant swing.  Leader Ed Polcer, cornet, knows how to kick a band along — as he’s proven so often.  Next to him in the front line are the Midiri Brothers, Paul (trombone / vibraphone); Joe (clarinet / soprano saxophone), making their debut at a Bechet Society concert.  The rhythm section is made up of Three Rhythm Men of Great Renown: Mark Shane, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

And the press release hints at evocations of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, so you know the music will alternate between tenderness and dangerously incendiary.

Here’s one of the original 1940 masterworks, with Carmen Mastren, guitar, and Wellman Braud, string bass:

The concert will take place on Monday, September 9, 2013, beginning at 7:15, at Peter Norton Symphony Space (95th Street and Broadway, or 2537 Broadway) in Manhattan.  Tickets are $35 ($10 students / children) and can be purchased by visiting symphonyspace or calling 212-864-5400.

May your happiness increase!

ONWARDS IN SWING WITH THE SIDNEY BECHET SOCIETY (November 2012 – October 2013)

As of today, November 2, the first concert is on!

Monday, November 5 (7:15 PM): Jon-Erik Kellso’s “New Orleans Trumpet Greats,” featuring Evan Christopher, Matt Munisteri, Ehud Asherie, Pat O’Leary, Marion Felder.  Tickets $35, available by sending check to: Sidney Bechet Society, 20 Joy Drive, New Hyde Park, New York 11040 — or by phone from the Kaye Playhouse box office (212) 772-4448 / and in person.  The Kaye Playhouse is part of Hunter College and is at 68th Street between Park & Lexington, New York City.

In 2013, the concerts move back to Symphony Space, at Broadway at 95th Street.  The March 20, 2013 (Wednesday) concert will feature the Jim Cullum Jazz Band; the April 15 (Monday) concert will star the dazzling Catherine Russell; June 3 (Monday) reedman Dan Levinson takes the stage; September 9 (Monday) will be Ed Polcer’s night; October 7 will be a showcase for Evan Christopher.  (And I hear, very quietly, that some hot surprises are in store for the 2014 season.)  The SBS is offering a discount package — five shows for $125 if you get your check to 20 Joy Drive, New Hyde Park, New York 11041, by December 1.  After that the price goes back to $150.  Visit bechet  for details.

I hope to be at Kaye Playhouse on Monday night — if the Fates, British Airways, the Long Island Rail Road and the Long Island Power Authority allow . . . . join us if you can!  It might take our minds off destruction and wreckage for a few hours.

May your happiness increase. 

BABY SODA JAZZ BAND “AT THE HIGHLINE” (LIVE AND IN PERSON, Oct. 15, 2012)

Yesterday, I wrote a very approving review of the new CD by the BABY SODA JAZZ BAND, which found them at Radegast in Brooklyn with a variety of players including Kevin V. Louis, Jared Engel, Kevin Dorn, Adrian Cunningham, Emily Asher, and Peter Ford —  with guest appearances by Bria Skonberg, Will Anderson, Satoru Ohashi, and Ed Polcer.  Here’s  my blogpost.  (In retrospect, I am sorry that I didn’t call it THAT’S SOME BABY, but it’s too late to change the title.)

Last Monday, October 15, it was raining vigorously in New York City, but I had found out that Baby Soda was going to be playing at the Highline — a combination difficult to resist.  I packed my umbrella and appropriate shoes and headed west.  Oh, I also brought my video camera, tripod, and trusty notebook.  Thus, some fine new performances by Baby Soda . . . for your dining, dancing, and listening pleasure.

Peter Ford led the band from his one-string box bass (which he plays magnificently) and he sang with a sweet, focused surge; Gordon Au played soaring trumpet solos with every risk-taking note in place; Will Anderson built logical clarinet choruses, phrase upon sweet-toned phrase; Emily Asher held it all together with lovely terse trombone lines, then told us the truth when it was her time to solo or sing; Jared Engel kept the rhythm going on both plectrum banjo and lowboy cymbal . . . and the front line passed around one drumstick and a magic woodblock for spare but swinging rhythmic effects.

I don’t ordinarily post incomplete performances . . . but the second half of MUSKRAT RAMBLE was so satisfying that here it is:

As an acknowledgment of the general sogginess, Peter sang I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS — an overstatement, for the band was making people very happy:

ONCE IN A WHILE is, of course, the Louis Hot Five romp:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP, mixing nostalgia, romance, and botany, provoked an almost-band vocal (a power-packed two minutes!):

I GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES might have been true, but the band seemed happy to play this melancholy Arlen song:

MILENBERG JOYS — at a brimming tempo, never too fast:

MARIE, warbled by the eminent Miss Asher:

THAT’S A-PLENTY for sure:

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE, that jazz carpe diem, was not the end of the world:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS — with no need to grumble about this band:

I went off after this session feeling so elated — Gene Kelly with a knapsack full of heavy video gear, very happy.  Baby Soda can do that to you!  And these performances sound as good at the eighth or ninth playing as they do at the first. I guarantee this.

May your happiness increase.

BABY SODA “LIVE AT RADEGAST” (ON COMPACT DISC)

Although the name BABY SODA conjures up weird visions of toddlers working their way through quart-sized paper cups of Diet Coke (tell me it’s all a dream?), the BABY SODA JAZZ BAND has no artificial ingredients and Science has shown that their joyous music extends rather than shortens human life.  Here’s a recent sample — JAZZ ME BLUES from Stompology in Rochester, New York, recorded this June:

Their most recent disc is a delightful encapsulation of their essence.  For those of my readers who doubt that they will get to the Radegast Bierhalle in Brooklyn any time soon, this disc can act as an effective flying carpet.  For those familiar with the delights to be found there, this disc — with equally magic powers — can make a night at Radegast portable . . . compressing the whole experience so that it can reverberate through your earbuds or car audio system.

The music was recorded live on June 29, 2011, by an all-star cast: Emily Asher, trombone, vocal; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Kevin Dorn, drums; Jared Engel, plectrum banjo; Peter Ford, box string bass, vocal; Kevin V. Louis, cornet, vocals . . . and guests Will Anderson, clarinet; Satoru Ohashi, trumpet; Ed Polcer, cornet; Bria Skonberg, trumpet.  The songs are YOU RASCAL YOU / WEARY BLUES / MARDI GRAS IN NEW ORLEANS / JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP / WININ’ BOY BLUES / JOSHUA FIT THE BATTLE OF JERICHO / PALM COURT STRUT / SUGAR / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / GLORY GLORY.

Now, I know that some readers — looking at the song list and not knowing many of the musicians — might sniff derisively and think, “Oh, New York Dixieland — the same routines I heard, better, in 1956 / 1971 / whenever.”  Wrong.  Sorry, but Wrong.

Most of the musicians in this band (with the exception of the Senior Ambassador, Mister Polcer) are still within hailing distance of their thirties, and they approach this music with a good deal of expert enthusiasm and precise vigor.  They have heard the records but they are going for themselves, which is always a good thing.  So rather than this being a routine gathering of players who can do BOURBON STREET PARADE in their sleep, this session conjures up much of the joyous unbridled energy of a New Orleans street band in this century.  It isn’t Jazz By The Numbers.  There is good humor, lyricism, and a deep understanding of jazz as a dance music with cadences designed to make Grandma get up and Shake That Thing.

For more information and delight, visit the BABY SODA homepage.  And if you would like to buy the music in MP3 form, here is the link to do just that.

As a colleague of mine says (it’s her highest accolade), THEY ROCK.

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: ED POLCER, DUKE HEITGER, RUSS PHILLIPS, ALLAN VACHE, MATT MUNISTERI, JOHN COCUZZI, FRANK TATE, CHUCK REDD (April 21, 2012)

A set of hot music by Ed Polcer, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Allan Vache, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Cocuzzi, piano, Frank Tate, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums. Recorded April 21, 2012 at the Atlanta Jazz Party.

Ageless music — even if the repertoire comes from 1917-1935, the energy, wit, and passion are unabated.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (for Louis and Papa Joe, Bix and his Gang, Condon and his boys, whether at the Park Lane, the Newport Jazz Festival, 47 West Third Street, or the New School):

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE (in honor of Fats Waller, Danny Coots’ “Uncle Fred,” and the crew of THIS OLD HOUSE):

FIDGETY FEET (recalling the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the Big 72 and all the bands worldwide in between):

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD for ED POLCER

As a cornetist and bandleader, Ed Polcer is both amazingly durable (could running marathons have anything to do with it?) and beloved.  He’s done so much to keep swinging jazz alive and well that we all thank him.  And the Atlanta Jazz Party made it official in 2012 by giving him a Lifetime Achievement Award — with a filmed tribute and hot music with surprise guests from the Family Polcer.

Here’s J. Scott Fugate’s heartfelt film:

Scott says, “This video was produced on the Friday night of the party – after filming a few sets of music and getting testimonials from the musicians and audience – and it premiered to a live audience during the Saturday evening set to serve as an introduction, and set the stage as to why Ed was receiving this Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Scott’s film is © 2012 Jazz Evangelist Production – http://jazzevangelist.net/

For more information on the Atlanta Jazz Party:
http://www.atlantajazzparty.com/

For more information on Ed Polcer:
http://edpolcer.com/

And Scott’s other YouTube videos can be seen here.

Here’s the musical part of the celebration, featuring Ed and a young trumpeter who calls himself Ben Polcer; a sweet singer named Judy Kurtz; trombonist Russ Phillips; clarinetist Allan Vache; pianist / singer Mark Shane; bassist Frank Tate; drummer Ed Metz:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

2:19 BLUES, featuring a fine vocal by Mark:

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Congratulations and thanks a million, Ed!

May your happiness increase.

MR. MASSO CAME TO TOWN (March 6, 2012)

I would have been eager to visit clarinetist Ron Odrich’s monthly session at San Martin on East 49th Street, New York City (it happens the first Tuesday of each month) for his swooping playing — and the lovely work of his colleagues James Chirillo (guitar); Gary Mazzaroppi (string bass); “Cenz” (drums).  But last Tuesday’s session was even more special because it allowed me to hear one of the quiet masters of jazz in person.

I refer to trombonist George Masso: veteran of the late Forties Jimmy Dorsey band (a band whose trumpet section had Charlie Teagarden and Maynard Ferguson!) and then right-hand man to Bobby Hackett, Ken Peplowski, Barbara Lea, Spike Robinson, Harry Allen, Wild Bill Davison, the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, Warren Vache, Ed Polcer, Joe Wilder, Urbie Green, Helen Ward, Al Klink, Scott Hamilton, Ruby Braff, Tom Pletcher, Maxine Sullivan, Mike Renzi, Kenny Davern, Carl Fontana, Dave McKenna, Eddie Higgins, Randy Sandke, Charlie Ventura, Dan Barrett, Dick Hyman, Bob Wilber, Lou Columbo, Ralph Sutton, Jake Hanna, Woody Herman, and the King of Swing himself.

Obviously, if all those people had called upon Mr. Masso, he was special: this I already knew from the recordings: his accuracy and fine, broad tone — his remarkable combination of swing-time and ease with a broad harmonic palette and astonishing technique, always in the service of melody and logical improvisations.

Two additional facts you should know before you watch the videos that follow (featuring superb playing by everyone in the group).  George Masso is one of the most gentle, humble people it will be my privilege to know — so happy that a fan (myself) would make a small pilgrimage to hear and capture him (his lady friend June is a dear person too, no surprise).

Mister Masso is eighty-five years old, obviously one of the marvels of the age.  Cape Cod and Rhode Island must agree with him.  And his playing certainly agreed with everyone there.

They began their set with TANGERINE:

I’M OLD-FASHIONED, taken at a walking tempo:

BLUE BOSSA, lilting and graceful:

A romping I FOUND A NEW BABY:

And — not dedicated to anyone in the room! — George’s ballad feature on OLD FOLKS:

Masterful.

P.S.  I hope George comes back to New York City — with his trombone — soon!  In April, Ron’s guest star will be baritone saxophone wizard Gary Smulyan.

GEORGIA ON OUR MINDS: THE ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY 2012 IS COMING!

Forgive me for pulling at your coat or plucking at your sleeve, but a gentle reminder is in order.  If you haven’t bought your tickets for the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party, the twenty-third, which takes place April 20-22, 2012, what in the name of W.C. Handy might you be waiting for?

I don’t want to be excessively grim, but my Latin friends CARPE DIEM and TEMPUS FUGIT make their presence known as I write this.  And at my back I always hear Time’s swinging chariot drawing near . . . which is to say (more plainly) that parties and festivals don’t always return year after year, nor do the participants.  There!  Now that the ominous murmurings are over, we can return to our regularly scheduled program of lifting the spirit.

Many jazz parties (I say this quietly) tend to rely on the same circle of artists — not necessarily a terrible thing: why choose novelty for its own sake?  But the AJP has some special added attractions.  One of them is singer / pianist Freddy Cole.  Some know Freddy only as Nat’s younger brother — this is accurate but quite limiting.  Freddy is a fine sinuous singer and swinging pianist — both facets evident in this romantic 2008 reading of FLY ME TO THE MOON.  The applause at the end is well-deserved, and since some parties and festivals specialize in Fast and Loud, a swinging crooner is always welcome.  And just in case you were wondering, he isn’t his Brother:

Here’s the eternally vigorous Bucky Pizzarelli — at 85! — in March 2011, with guitarist Ed Laub, paying tribute to Les Paul:

Even at this easy tempo, Bucky’s essential swing is as natural to him as breathing.  Will you be swinging this expertly at 85 . . . ?

Sometimes virtue is rewarded while it’s still around to hear the cheers: at the 2012 AJP, cornetist / bandleader Ed Polcer will be given a richly-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award.  I don’t know if you first heard Ed as a swinging Princetonian, at a long string of Atlanta Jazz Parties, at Eddie Condon’s (which is where I first heard him, in 1975, standing next to Ruby Braff and Vic Dickenson) and other parties and clubs all around the world.  Like Bucky, Ed always swings.  Here he is only a year ago, amidst West Coast friends, playing MOTEN SWING:

And there’s something new and exciting — Joe Gransden and his sixteen-piece big band.  Dance music of the highest order!  Here they are in 2011, sweetly moving through NIGHT AND DAY:

All of this will take place on the weekend of April 20-22, 2012, starting Friday evening and continuing until Sunday afternoon.

But wait!  There’s more!

How about a brass section to impress Gabriel: Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, Ed Polcer, Bob Schulz, Joe Gransden, John Allred, Russ Phillips?

Reeds by Allan Vache, Harry Allen; John Cocuzzi, Freddy Cole, Mark Shane, Rossano Sportiello, piano; Ed Metz, Chuck Redd, percussion; Matt Munisteri, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Richard Simon, Frank Tate, bass; John Cocuzzi, Becky Kilgore, Freddy Cole, Francine Reed, Bob Schulz, vocals.

I can already imagine the bands I would like to hear, and one of the nice things about the AJP is that everyone gets a chance to lead sets.  I know who my favorites are and expect to be exhausted by pleasure on Sunday night.

The 23rd AJP will take place at the Westin Atlanta North — clean and friendly — and there will be a cornucopia of hot jazz, tender ballads, and good feeling.  I know from experience.  I guarantee it!

You can purchase tickets here — either online or fill out the form and mail it in.

I believe that the best seats go to those who sign up early . . . so don’t wait for the middle of April to make up your mind.  Here’s a 2011 video with highlights — exuberant ones! — from the AJP:

APRIL IN ATLANTA! (April 20-22, 2012)

You need more for a great party than a football game and nachos.  Remember the guests make the occasion.  And the music . . . .

Just a reminder that the Atlanta Jazz Party is going full speed ahead — the great jazz artists there will include Rebecca Kilgore, Freddy ColeRichard SimonJohn AllredRuss Phillips, Chuck Redd, Harry Allen,Ed Polcer, Bob Schulz, Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, Allan Vaché, , John CocuzziMark ShaneRossano SportielloMatt MunisteriBucky PizzarelliEd Metz Jr..  Add to this the Joe Gransden sixteen-piece big band . . . and you have a Party

I’m already arranging imaginary set listings in my head. 

Visit the AJP website  to learn more, make reservations, to get excited about what’s coming — this, the 23rd AJP.  So they know how to do it correctly to make sure everyone’s glowing.

THE ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 2012) IS ON THE WAY!

It’s only the beginning of December 2011 but I am fortunate enough to know where I will be on the weekend of April 20-22, 2012.  The 32nd Atlanta Jazz Party!

If you need to ask WHY . . . .

How about this brass section: Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, Ed Polcer, Bob Schulz, John Allred, Russ Phillips; Allan Vache, Harry Allen, reeds; John Cocuzzi, Freddy Cole, Mark Shane, Rossano Sportiello, piano; Ed Metz, Chuck Redd, percussion; Matt Munisteri, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Richard Simon, Frank Tate, bass; John Cocuzzi, Becky Kilgore, Freddy Cole, Ashley Locheed, Bob Schulz, vocals.

I can already imagine the bands I would like to hear, and one of the nice things about the AJP is that everyone gets a chance to lead sets.

It will take place at the Westin Atlanta North — clean and friendly — and there will be a profusion (or perhaps a satiety) of hot jazz, tender ballads, and good feeling.

You can purchase tickets here — either online or fill out the form and mail it in.

My own story is that I have a deeply sentimental attachment to the AJP: the first time I went there was in 2007, because many of my heroes were playing.  I got to meet Eddie Erickson face to face (and of course receive the first of many hugs) and to hear the world-shaking rhythm quartet of Mark Shane, Matt Munisteri, Vince Giordano, and Kevin Dorn.  But I have personal, romantic memories of my Atlanta experience.  I had met the Beloved about three weeks before and recognized that she was far beyond the ordinary.  And of course she liked jazz.  So one of our nice early shared memories was my opening my cellphone during a Becky Kilgore set so that the Beloved could come home, check her voicemail, and hear Miss Kilgore sing ALL I DO IS DREAM OF YOU.  Right place, right time.  Amor vincit omnia, you cats!

Oh.  I will be bringing my camera, but don’t let that stop you.  I believe that the best seats go to those who sign up early . . . so don’t wait for the end of March to make up your mind.  I didn’t.

And as for the ATLANTA BLUES — I don’t expect to have them at all.  The Westin is very plush: no pallets on the floor for us!

“ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: A GRAND FINALE: SWEET AND HOT 2011

Everyone on stage!

This ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, a hilarious jazz extravaganza, closed the festivites at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  You’ll have to navigate the solo order yourself, but the participants (more or less) include the guiding genius of festival, Wally Holmes.  Then you’ll encounter John Sheridan, piano; Allan Vache, Bob Draga, clarinet; Richard Simon, bass; Connie Jones, cornet, Jennifer Leitham, Nedra Wheeler, bass; Jim Galloway, reeds; Ed Polcer, Corey Gemme, Randy Reinhart, cornet; Tim Laughlin, Dan Levinson, reeds; Russ Phillips, John Allred, Dan Barrett, trombones; Mark Shane, Johnny Varro, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Dick Shanahan, Frank DiVito, drums . . . and perhaps some unidentified flying swingers in the background as well. 

When the applause had died down, I heard a woman near me say happily, “Boy, that was fun!”  Absolutely right, ma’am.  I never thought I would want to spend Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles, but I’ve already (mentally) marked my 2012 calendar.  You come, too.

SUNDAY MORNING with THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS, ED POLCER, and DAWN LAMBETH at SWEET AND HOT 2011

Depending on your habits and pleasures, Sunday morning might be a time to sleep in, to curl up with the metropolitan paper and your Beloved, to have a leisurely breakfast, to go to church, to visit friends and relatives . . . . all of them fine responses to a day of rest.  (All, that is, except for heading to the mall.)

But I propose one activity more singular and much more gratifying: spending Sunday morning with the Reynolds Brothers, those irrepressible rhythm rascals, and their friends.  I don’t know if the Brothers do house calls, so you will have to bask in the music they made on Sunday, September 4, 2011, at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival.

The Brothers were reliably themselves: Ralf on washboard and rulebook; John on guitar, vocal, and whistling; Marc Caparone on cornet and vocal; Katie Cavera on string bass and vocal; Larry Wright on alto saxophone and ocarina, with guest artists Ed Polcer, cornet and vocal; Dawn Lambeth, vocal . . . and a special (although unseen) member of the audience in his stroller, James Arden Caparone, the happy child of Marc and Dawn.

Just to be perverse, perhaps, Ed called FROM MONDAY ON as an opening selection (possibly preparing the audience for the idea of having to go back to work, even though that Monday was Labor Day) — playing and singing it:

It was just after breakfast, so in other hands a beef dish might have seemed too heavy to tolerate, but with the Brothers, PEPPER STEAK went down very easily:

Katie Cavera sweetly and wistfully asked the question raised by the Boswell Sisters and the Washboard Rhythm Kings– a plea to the somewhat hard-hearted lover in question: WAS THAT THE HUMAN THING TO DO?

After such knowledge, nothing but a rouser would suffice, so the band offered NAGASAKI.  By jingo, it was worth the price:

SUNDAY was appropriate in mood as well as on the calendar, and it offered Dawn Lambeth a too-brief chance to serenade us.  And the serenade took place off the bandstand as well, as Ed strolled over to James in his stroller to blow a chorus just for him.  I was sitting there and saw James grin — a baby in jazz bliss!

Who gathers all the talk of the town?  Why, DR. HECKLE AND MR. JIBE, according to Johnny Mercer:

With James in the audience, Papa Marc decided to sing a chorus of the Louis Dunlap – Charlie Carpenter song YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME — the lyrics don’t always fit, but the sentiment comes right from the heart:

I don’t think John Reynolds was following up on some subliminal associative strain by calling for PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY, but one never knows:

And — as is their habit — the Brothers ended with a truly hot AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

Keeping live music alive!

“SWING, BROTHERS, SWING!”: MORE FROM THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS, ED POLCER and FRIENDS at the 2011 SWEET AND HOT MUSIC FESTIVAL

When I was happily whirling around the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, over the long Labor Day weekend, I circled every Reynolds Brothers set on the schedule.  Happily for us, there were nine . . . and I was only sorry the schedule didn’t break out into double-digit territory.

If you’ve been following my entirely understandable devotion to this sublimely hot band, you don’t need an explanation.  If you’re new to the Reynolds Brothers, latch on, as Fats Waller would say.  They are Ralf on washboard, refereeing, and exhortations; John on guitar, vocals, whistling, and commentary; Marc Caparone on incendiary cornet; Katie Cavera on string bass and sweet-hot singing; Larry Wright on alto saxophone, ocarina, and interpolations.

For this set, the Brothers were joined by their friend and ours, Ed Polcer, who turned up the flame right away for this September 3 set.  He wasn’t the only surprise guest, as you will see.  The Brothers began with something logical: the evergreen and always-delightful LADY BE GOOD:

The next selection suggests that the lady in question is very, very good — WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA:

The swinging pianist David Boeddinghaus, who loves to sit in with the Brothers, did just that on ALL GOD’S CHILDREN GOT RHYTHM, proving the song’s title true:

The sweet singer Molly Ryan, who (legend has it) sat in with the Brothers when she was very young, joined the throng for MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS:

And Dawn Lambeth, having settled young James Arden down for a moment in congenial hands, came aboard to sing one of her classic numbers, BLUE ROOM.  The fellow on clarinet to Ed’s left?  Allan Vache, of course:

And the set closed off with a too-brief but also accurately-titled I GOT RHYTHM, with Marc taking over the string bass and Katie picking up her National steel guitar:

“Deep rhythm capitivates me,” whenever the Brothers take the stand.  Don’t you agree?

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING (WILL BE WONDERFUL): SWEET AND HOT, Sept. 2011

The sentiments, slightly modified, come from Mae West (by way of Oscar Wilde, two people who knew the delights of overabundance.  But this post is about jazz, not sex, even though the words SWEET and HOT are in the title.

I have just seen the schedule for the September 2011 Sweet and Hot music extravaganza — to be held at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott over Labor Day weekend.  You, too, can see it here:

http://www.sweethot.org/schedule/2011/SH_Schedule_2011.pdf

These five pages are wonderful.  I see my heroes and heroines and friends — those I’ve met and those I’ve only heard — in profusion.  There’s Chris Dawson, Connie Jones, Rebecca Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, Katie Cavera, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Ralf and John Reynolds, Mark Shane, Dan Levinson, Molly Ryan, Hal Smith, Clint Baker, Tim Laughlin, Randy Reinhart, Dan Barrett, John Sheridan, Joel Forbes, Chloe Feoranzo, Corey Gemme, John Allred, Howard Alden, Bob Draga, Sue Kroninger, Richard Simon, Johnny Varro, Dan Levinson, Carl Sonny Leyland, Marty Eggers, Allan Vache, Ed Polcer, Jim Galloway, Banu Gibson, Dave Koonse, Russ Phillips, Herb Jeffries, Jennifer Leitham, Janet Klein and her Parlor Boys . . . . and I know I’m leaving out a dozen more.

This amplitude, this cornucopia isn’t in itself a problem.  Better to have your plate heaped high with deliciousness than have one elderly green bean to gnaw on.  The problem — if you see it as such — is in the choosing.

When scientists experimented on the subject of choice, they found that children asked to decide between three breakfast cereals did fine; children asked to choose among twelve burst into tears.

I’m in slightly better shape, especially because I never eat cold cereal.  But I wish JAZZ LIVES readers would come up with a solution to my jazz dilemma.  There’s only one of me, and when in one room the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet is swinging away, in another the Reynolds Brothers are romping, in a third it’s Jones-Clint Baker-Laughlin-Dawson-Hal Smith, in a fourth Levinson, Ryan, and Shane . . . what’s a fellow to do?

The Beloved, bless her heart, offered to take another video camera to another set . . . and I thank her for it . . . but perhaps my readers have some suggestions.

I know!  Come to Sweet and Hot and help me solve the dilemma of abundance.  By the time Labor Day weekend is over, we’ll have worked something out.  Right?

LIFE STUDIES from the SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE 2011

Always in motion, Brother Hal Smith brings swing:

Bob Schultz in fourth gear:

Katie Cavera, characteristically dour and grim:

Kevin Dorn of The Big 72:

Anita Thomas, reimagined as Sixties UK pop diva:

Clint Baker and his faithful Tuba:

The winner and still champion!

Bria Skonberg shines her light:

Danny Coots embodies the sign:

Don’t even think of putting your glass there:

Katie, Anita, and Kim Cusack swing out:

Ed Polcer, living the jazz life:

A happy fan meets Brother Hal Smith:

Bisected by bass:

Someone call the police: that boy has picked up another instrument:

Vintage merchandising, Sacramento-style:

SACRAMENTO, HERE I COME!: SACRAMENTO JAZZ FESTIVAL and JUBILEE 2011

The sheer numbers are impressive: over 450 sets of music planned in 24 venues with over 70 bands.  And the Sacramento Jazz organizers are not narrow in their tastes: in addition to traditional jazz, there’s blues, zydeco, and other forms of danceable music.

But for me the desire to go somewhere I’ve never been before is fueled by the jazz-lover’s carpe diem.  Inside me the sentence forms, more urgent than other impulses: “I have to go _____ because I could die never having heard _____ in person.”  The thought of my death or of someone else’s may seem morbid (especially over the Memorial Day weekend) but it is a profoundly deep motivator.

Awareness that the days dwindle down to a precious few got me on an airplane to hear and meet Bent Persson, Frans Sjostrom, Matthias Seuffert, Nick Ward, and two dozen others at Whitley Bay.

At Monterey, I met the Reynolds Brothers, Bryan Shaw, Sue Kroninger, Clint Baker, Carl Sonny Leyland, Danny Coots, Rae Ann Berry . . . as well as surprising the musicians I already knew (Dan Barrett, Joel Forbes, Becky Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, Jeff Barnhart, Marc Caparone, and Dawn Lambeth) by my presence.

At Sacramento, I will re-encounter some associates from New York end elsewhere: Jon-Erik Kellso, John Allred, Bill Allred, Jim Fryer, Bria Skonberg, Dan Block, John Sheridan, and Kevin Dorn . . . but I’ll also finally — meet up with Hal Smith and the International Sextet.  Here’s a taste of what Anita Thomas, Kim Cusack, Clint Baker, Katie Cavera, Carl Sonny Leyland, and Hal do with THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Then, there will be clarinetist Bob Draga, cornetists Ed Polcer and Bob Schulz, pianists Johnny Varro and David Boeddinghaus, and the wonderful singer Banu Gibson (here’s a little taste of Banu with Jon-Erik, trombonist David Sager, reedman Dan Levinson, Kevin Dorn and others):

And because not everyone who lives with or loves a jazz fancier shares his / her obsession, there’s a Bloody Mary Festival, zydeco bands including Tom Rigney and Flambeau, blues, soul, rhythm ‘n’ blues, Johnny Cash and Steely Dan tribute bands, Latin bands, “Afrobeat,” marching bands and more — how can you lose, to quote Benny Carter?

I’ll be there — Rae Ann and I will be operating video cameras and wearing PRESS badges, so we’ll be hard to miss.  And here’s more information about the all-event price, hotel rates, and the festivities.  Something happening all through the weekend!

Don’t miss this party!